Lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina)
|Size||Length: 55 – 65 cm (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
The lesser spotted eagle is a medium-sized bird of prey with dark brown plumage, broad wings and a small bill (2) (4). While there can be significant variation between the brown plumage tones exhibited by different individuals, the head, neck and upperwing coverts are generally paler than the body, and the flight feathers are usually particularly dark. In most specimens, but especially noticeable in younger adults, there is also a white patch on the upperwings that can be seen during flight (4) (5). In contrast to the brown plumage, the eyes, feet and the skin at the base of the beak are yellow (5). The juvenile is darker than the adult, with a rufous-yellow patch on the nape, spots on the upperwing coverts, and white tips on tail and the trailing edge of the wing (2) (4).
The lesser spotted eagle’s breeding range extends throughout much of central, east and south-east Europe, through Turkey and the Caucasus mountains, as far as southern Russia and Iran (2) (4). Vagrant individuals occur even further afield, from France and Spain, east to Kazakhstan, north as far as Finland and south to the Arabian Peninsula (2) (6). During migration, the entire population heads south, passing through Israel (1) on route to the wintering grounds in southern and eastern Africa (2) (4).
Within its breeding range, the lesser spotted eagle can be found in patchy woodland areas, often near meadows and fields, and constructs its nest close to the forest edge (4) (5). The highest densities of breeding lesser spotted eagles are found in moist lowland areas, although breeding pairs have also been recorded in dry mountain forests up to elevations of 2,200 metres (4). At its African wintering grounds, this species mainly occupies moist, sparsely wooded savanna (5).
An opportunistic and versatile predator, the lesser spotted eagle feeds upon a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Its major source of prey varies according to location, with populations in humid lowlands consuming large numbers of amphibians, while those in hills and mountains are more reliant on mammals. At the wintering grounds, this species commonly consumes nestlings of the red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea), along with swarms of alate termites. Three hunting techniques are employed by the lesser spotted eagle: soaring at around 100 metres before diving down; swopping down from a perch; and walking along the ground (4).
Breeding populations of the lesser spotted eagle in central Europe commence egg laying in late April and early May. The birds build a large platform of twigs, usually high up in a tree, but on rare occasions on the ground, with a central nest cup, around 30 centimetres wide, lined with green twigs and sometimes with grass. A clutch of two eggs is normally laid, which are incubated for 36 to 41 days. During the following eight-week fledging period, the older chick frequently kills its younger sibling. Sexual maturity is not reached until three to four years old and the lifespan is believed to be 26 years (4).
With an expansive range and a relatively large population, the lesser spotted eagle is not currently considered to be globally threatened (1). Nevertheless, as a result of habitat alteration and persecution, this species has disappeared from several parts of its breeding range and has undergone an overall decline in numbers (1) (2). There is ongoing concern regarding activities such as the shooting of this species during migration, which is popular in some areas through which it travels, along with loss of foraging and nesting habitat due to forestry and conversion to agriculture (4) (7). Fortunately, however, the most recent surveys of the lesser spotted eagle indicate that its population is increasing overall (2).
A European Species Action Plan in currently in place for the lesser spotted eagle, which is helping to promote the conservation of this species in the European Union. By protecting foraging and nesting habitat, reducing hunting pressure, reintroduction programs and long-term population monitoring and research, it is hoped that the continued survival and abundance of this charismatic raptor will be assured (7).
To learn more about the conservation of the lesser spotted eagle visit:
- Natura International:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Alate: the winged, reproductive stage of the termite or ant life-cycle.
- Coverts: small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- Flight feathers: the large feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
IUCN Red List (July, 2009)
BirdLife International (July, 2009)
CITES (July, 2009)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume Two: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Prey of the World. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
- Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.
- Meyburg, B.U., Haraszthy, L., Strazds, M. and Schäffer, N. (2001) European Species Action Plan for Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina). In: Schäffer, N. and Gallo-Orsi, U. (Eds) European Union action plans for eight priority bird species. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.