Bird of the Month – September 2020

Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus

Most of us will be familiar with this large member of the snake-eagle family. It is fairly common throughout the region and especially so during migration periods.

There are two recognised subspecies. Circaetus gallicus gallicus that breed with us, also throughout southern Europe as well as the Arabian Peninsula, northern China, Mongolia and is a resident in Pakistan, Nepal and India. Our birds winter in the Sahel and as far south as western Kenya. The other subspecies is Circaetus gallicus sacerdotis distributed throughout the Lesser Sundas and also reported in eastern Java and Bali.

Short-toed Eagle
We often more easily see these large eagles perched on a vantage point such as this pylon.

Our birds are not likely to be confused with other species in the region. Although the plumage can be variable it is not polymorphic and is usually pale overall. The female is only marginally larger than the male, so sexing can be difficult through observation, yet the female can be 20% heavier than the male. They are often seen perched on vantage points such as trees and pylons, even on cliff edges and high rocky outcrops. They require open areas with sparse vegetation for hunting, but in the breeding season these areas nearly always have tree cover or adjacent woodland for nesting. A small number winter here.

Migration is solitary or in pairs (can be accompanied by young birds in autumn), but large gatherings occur at short sea crossings, as is the case here around Tarifa etc..

The most recent study in 2009-10 (Palomino and Vallis 2011) put the Spanish population at 10,000 pairs, with over 60% being in Andalucía.

Distribution of Short-toed Snake Eagle

Article: Peter Jones
Photos: Peter Jones

NoteThe views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

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