Short-toed snake-eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

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Short-toed snake-eagle, anterior view head detail
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Short-toed snake-eagle fact file

Short-toed snake-eagle description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyAccipitridae
GenusCircaetus (1)

The short-toed snake-eagle is a large, long-winged eagle with a broad head, a relatively small beak, and long, bare legs. The plumage is quite variable, but is usually brown above, with a brown head, throat and chest, and a white lower breast and belly, marked with dark bars or blotches. The flight feathers of the wing are usually dark, and the tail bears three to four dark bands. The eye is bright yellow (2) (4) (5). The male and female short-toed snake-eagle are similar in appearance, although the female is heavier and has a slightly longer tail. Juveniles resemble the adult (4). The short-toed snake-eagle is rather noisy during the breeding season, using a range of calls including a harsh, plaintive jee, a melancholy peek-o and a rather weak ok-ok-ok (5). The species can be distinguished from the related Beaudouin’s snake-eagle (Circaetus beaudouini) and black-chested snake-eagle (Circaetus pectoralis) mainly by its paler colouration (2) (4).

Also known as
short-toed eagle, Short-toed snake eagle.
Size
Length: 62 - 67 cm (2)
Wingspan: 170 - 185 cm (2)
Male weight: 1.2 - 2 kg (2)
Female weight: 1.3 - 2.3 kg (2)
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Short-toed snake-eagle biology

As its name suggests, the short-toed snake-eagle specialises in feeding on snakes, which can measure up to 150 centimetres or more in length and are usually eaten whole, head first (2) (4) (8). Although some venomous species are taken, most are non-venomous. Other reptiles may also be taken, particularly lizards, as well as occasional amphibians, small mammals, and, rarely, birds or invertebrates. Most hunting takes place in open areas, the eagle soaring or circling, sometimes at great heights, and often hovering as it searches for prey (2) (4) (5).

The short-toed snake-eagle breeds from April to October in western parts of its range, and from December to May in the Indian subcontinent. The nest, which is relatively small for such a large bird, is built in a tree, and is constructed from sticks and twigs and lined with green leaves or grass. A new nest is built each year, although the breeding pair may also take over the old nest of another bird species, or, more rarely, nest on a cliff ledge. A single egg is laid, hatching after an incubation period of 45 to 47 days. Fledging takes place after 60 to 80 days, although the chick may move from the nest into the surrounding branches 10 to 15 days before this. The young short-toed snake-eagle becomes independent soon after fledging, and may live up to 17 years (2) (4).

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Short-toed snake-eagle range

The short-toed snake-eagle has a wide distribution, occurring from southwest Europe and northwest Africa, north to the Gulf of Finland, and east to Central Asia. Populations also occur in the Indian subcontinent and the Lesser Sunda Islands, in Southeast Asia. Western populations of the short-toed snake-eagle are migratory, wintering in the Sahel zone of sub-Saharan Africa, whilst elsewhere the species is resident year-round (2) (4) (6).

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Short-toed snake-eagle habitat

The short-toed snake-eagle uses a range of habitats, from fairly dense forest, to open woodland, to arid grassland and semi-desert (2) (4) (6). It generally prefers mixed habitat that combines open areas, rich in reptile prey, with tree cover for nesting (2) (7).

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Short-toed snake-eagle status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Short-toed snake-eagle threats

The short-toed snake-eagle has a wide distribution, and, despite declines during the 19th and 20th Centuries, thought to be a result of habitat loss and shooting, the population is now thought to be relatively stable (2) (4) (6). However, shooting is still a problem in some areas, particularly on migration, with many birds illegally shot at the crossing point of Malta each year (2) (4). In 1993, 50 birds arriving on Malta in a single day were all shot (2) (4).

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Short-toed snake-eagle conservation

As well as receiving some protection from international trade under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3), the short-toed snake-eagle is listed on Annex II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (9), and is protected under Annex I of the EC Birds Directive (10). BirdLife Malta are working to monitor and prevent the illegal hunting of migratory birds on Malta, meaning the short-toed snake-eagle, together with many other migratory species, may be safer at this important crossing point in future (11).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
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Find out more

To find out more about the short-toed snake-eagle, and about bird conservation on Malta, see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Flight feathers
The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
Incubation
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (June, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A & C Black Publishers, London.
  5. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (2001) A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.
  6. BirdLife International (June, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=32257&m=0
  7. Moreno-Rueda, G. and Pizarro, M. (2007) Snake species richness and shrubland correlate with the short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) distribution in south-eastern Spain. Ann. Zool. Fennici, 44: 314 - 320.
  8. Gil, J.M. and Pleguezuelos, J.M. (2001) Prey and prey-size selection by the short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) during the breeding season in Granada (south-eastern Spain). Journal of Zoology, 255(1): 131 - 137.
  9. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (June, 2009)
    http://www.cms.int
  10. EC Birds Directive (June, 2009)
    http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1373
  11. BirdLife Malta (June, 2009)
    http://www.birdlifemalta.org/index.aspx
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Short-toed snake-eagle, anterior view head detail  
Short-toed snake-eagle, anterior view head detail

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