Madagascar Fish-eagle Haliaeetus vociferoides


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely small population which is probably in decline, and it is therefore classified as Critically Endangered. Although the species is susceptible to a number of on-going threats, recent data have suggested that its population is stable, and may have been for some time; if this is confirmed, the species may warrant downlisting in the future.

Population justification
The current population is thought to be around 120 breeding pairs, equating to 240 mature individuals and roughly 360 individuals in total (R. Watson in litt. 2010, Razafimanjato et al. 2014).

Trend justification
Recent evidence has suggested that the population is stable, and may have been stable for some time (Johnson et al. 2009, R. Watson in litt. 2010). However, the southern portion of the species's range appears to have contracted and it has disappeared from the SW coast since 2005/2006 (L.-A. Rene de Roland in litt. 2011, Safford and Hawkins 2013). These observations add weight to the suspicion that the species's population is negatively affected by the on-going threats of habitat conversion and persecution. On this basis it is suspected to be undergoing a moderate decline.

Distribution and population

This species survives in low numbers along the west coast of Madagascar. Surveys during 1991-1995 recorded at least 222 adults and 99 breeding pairs from 105 sites, apparently concentrated into three main regions: the Antsalova region west of Bemaraha Reserve, along the Tsiribihina River, and the coast from Mahajamba Bay to the island of Nosy Hara (Rabarisoa et al. 1997). Although this estimate is double an estimate from the period 1980-1985, this is probably due to more comprehensive surveying, and a decline in some areas was still recorded (Rabarisoa et al. 1997). Recent surveys suggest that the Antsalova district is the main stronghold, with 12 pairs in the Manambolomaty complex and a further 15 pairs elsewhere in the district in 2008 (L.-A. Réné de Roland in litt. 2008), and the population is currently thought to comprise c.120 breeding pairs (R. Watson in litt. 2010). Immature birds wander widely, making the non-breeding population difficult to assess (Langrand 1990, Rabarisoa et al. 1997).


The species is found predominantly in wooded areas adjacent to waterbodies (Rabarisoa et al. 1997). It favours sites with large trees by the shoreline suitable for perching (Berkelman 1997), and feeds mainly on fish (Langrand 1990, Berkelman et al. 1999a, b), with the majority of prey in one study comprising two species of non-native tilapia (Berkelman 1997). Breeding pairs are territorial (May-October) (Rabarisoa et al. 1997), and nest in a large tree or rock cliff. In the coastal zone they are known to nest in Rhizophora mucronata and Ceriops tagal mangrove trees as well as a number of other tree species (Kemp et al. 2014, Razafimanjato et al. 2014). Annual productivity is low (0.15 young fledged per territory [Watson et al. 1999]) because clutch-size is only one or two (three recorded at one nest in 2005) and only one chick is raised, due to siblicide (Watson 1998, Watson et al. 1999); and in one third of breeding attempts no eggs are laid (Watson et al. 1999). However, there is evidence for the species exhibiting polyandry and co-operative breeding (Watson et al. 1999, Razafimanjato et al. 2017), and polyandrous breeding attempts may show greater productivity than pairs (Razafimanjato et al. 2017).


The species is threatened by direct human competition for fish-stocks (Watson 1998, Watson and Rabarisoa 2000), persecution through the taking of nestlings and shooting of adults, accidental entanglement in fishing-nets, disturbance at breeding sites by human activities and, according to local people, use of eagle body parts in food and traditional medicine (Rabarisoa et al. 1997, H.R. Ratsimba in litt. 2006, Safford and Hawkins 2013). Capture of eagles for the pet trade is also a threat (Razafimanjato et al. 2014). Deforestation, soil erosion and the development of wetland areas for rice-paddies is causing the on-going loss of nesting and foraging habitat (Rabarisoa et al. 1997, Berkelman et al. 1999a, Watson and Rabarisoa 2000, L.-A. Réné de Roland in litt. 2011, Safford and Hawkins 2013). Unsustainable harvesting of Rhizophora mucronata and Ceriops tagal trees which the species nests in is also a threat (Razafimanjato et al. 2014). Water pollution poses a potential threat (H. R. Ratsimba in litt. 2006), given the species's reliance on fish and the tendency for pollutants to accumulate in prey tissues. The species has been recorded to have low genetic diversity compared to other Haliaeetus species; however, this is not thought to be because of the recent population bottleneck, hence it is not thought to be a major threat (Johnson et al. 2009).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Since 1991, the species has been studied in the Antsalova region, where an on-going conservation programme aims to increase the known breeding population to at least 250 pairs. Activities to reach such a target include the enforcement of existing traditional laws at the local community level, and in two cases through the release of captive-reared birds rescued from siblicide (Rabarisoa et al. 1997, Peregrine Fund 1998, Watson 1998), with the latter almost doubling the number of young fledged per nest in one study (Watson et al. 1999). Manambolomaty Three Lakes Complex is a Ramsar Site in the Antsalova area and official protection was confirmed for this site in 2015. It is now called the “Tsimembo-Manambolomaty New Protected Area", which protects 62,745 hectares of lakes, forests, mangroves and savanna habitats (Peregrine Fund in litt. 2016). This site and surrounding areas supported 20 territorial pairs and 50 adults in 2015, and a community-based, resource management programme (Local Management Secured System; GELOSE) means that threats to the species and its habitat both inside and outside of this area are relatively low (Razafimanjato et al. 2017). The Mandrozo Lake New Protected Area, a new Ramsar site near Tambohorano was officially ratified in 2015 to protect 5 territorial pairs and 11 adults too. These two new protected areas are conserving more than 25% of the global breeding population of Madagascar Fish Eagles (Peregrine Fund in litt. 2016). Persecution has been reduced at Soamalipo Lake through the establishment of a research camp by The Peregrine Fund in 1991, accompanied by community outreach activities, resulting in increased breeding productivity (Razafimanjato et al. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor the population size and distribution to detect changes (Rabarisoa et al. 1997). Increase awareness within local communities in order to reduce persecution and protect habitat around nest sites (Rabarisoa et al. 1997). Manage the wild population to increase the population size and distribution in suitable habitat (Rabarisoa et al. 1997). Investigate the factors limiting the number of available breeding territories, survival rates of immatures and adults, and breeding productivity (Watson et al. 1999), as well as investigating the impacts of various human pressures on wetland ecosystems in Madagascar and management strategies that benefit both wildlife and local communities (Bamford et al. 2017). Collar and Butchart (2013) suggested, albeit tentatively, that captive breeding should be considered.


70-80 cm. Large fish-eagle. Dark reddish-brown back and underparts (latter streaked rufous), dark brown cap, whitish cheeks and throat. Dark brown wings, rather short white tail. Juvenile streaked on head, with pale fringes to flight feathers and paler underparts, and dark tail. Similar spp. Could only be confused with Madagascar Buzzard Buteo brachypterus or Madagascar Harrier-hawk Polyboroides radiatus, from which separated by white tail and cheeks in adult, and huge size, strong head and short tail of juvenile. Hints Much the largest raptor in Madagascar. Hunts near or over water, often perches for long periods on tall trees.


Text account compilers
Martin, R., Calvert, R., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Bird, J., Evans, M.

Ratsimba, H.R., Réné De Roland, L.A., Safford, R., Watson, R., Thorstrom, R. & Peregrine Fund

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Haliaeetus vociferoides. Downloaded from on 03/10/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 03/10/2023.