Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)

Crested Hawk-Eagle

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Nisaetus cirrhatus | [authority] Gmelin, 1788 | [UK] Crested Hawk-Eagle | [FR] Grebe microptere | [DE] Haubenadler | [ES] Aguila-azor variable | [NL] Indische kuifarend


Monotypic species


Nisaetus is a genus of eagles found mainly in tropical Asia. They were earlier placed within the genus Spizaetus but molecular studies show that the Old World representatives were closer to the genus Ictinaetus than to the New World Spizaetus (in the stricter sense). They are slender bodied, medium sized hawk-eagles with rounded wings, long feathered legs, barred wings, crests and usually adapted to forest habitats

Physical charateristics

The adult of the nominate race, which lives in India south to the Ganges and Bangladesh has a rufous head, streaked black, with a long flexible black crest. The rest of its upper parts are brown, the wing coverts being generally paler. The tail is light brown with a broad sub-terminal and three to four narrower dark brown bars. Wing quills are brown with a broad black tip and four or five other dark brown bars. The sides of its head and neck are rufous streaked with black. The chin and throat are white, streaked with black. The breast and flanks are white, streaked with dark brown. The hind flanks and under-tail coverts are buff, barred with white on the thighs and under-tail coverts. The under-wing coverts are barred with dark brown and white. The underside of the tail and wing quills are white, broadly barred with black, the wing quills white at the base forming a pale patch. The eyes are yellow, the cere greyish-greenish brown, and the legs yellow. There is much racial variation. On the continent of Asia occur also Spizaetus cirrhatus linnaetus. North India (Himalayan foot hills) south-east to Malaysia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Philippines. There are two phases – a melanistic form, all dark brown or nearly black, with some faint paler bars and a greyish tail base being common. The pale form is darker and more heavily spotted and barred below than the nominate race. It is brown on thighs and belly, and generally crestless, or with a only very small crest.

Listen to the sound of Crested Hawk-Eagle

[audio: Hawk-Eagle.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 127 cm wingspan max.: 138 cm
size min.: 57 cm size max.: 79 cm
incubation min.: 36 days incubation max.: 44 days
fledging min.: 65 days fledging max.: 75 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Oriental Region : Himalayas, Central,s India and Sri Lanka to Greater Sundas and Philippines. The Crested or Changeable Hawk-eagle is found in India, Ceylon and Tropical continental Asia east to Indonesia and the Philippines.


In India this is basically a bird of savannah forests with plenty of open ground, but can also be found in cultivated areas or villages within forests, where it becomes a poultry thief. The Malaysian and Indonesian races are more likely to be found in dense rain forest, but also frequents open country, even rice fields. It perches a great deal, and sits very upright on a perch. In savannah country it is most likely to be found along lines of big trees near water-courses, hunting from there out into the open jungle. Many of the island forms are true forest birds, perching within cover, and frequently using the same perch day after day. All forms soar a good deal over their haunts, but probably spend more of the day perched than on the wing.


The display is restricted to soaring and calling above the breeding site. The nest is built in a tree. It is a large structure of sticks, lined with green leaves, up to three-and-a-half feet across by four feet deep. It is used year after year, and pairs do not appear to have more than one nest. It is usually more than 40 feet up in a big tree, often over a stream. Both sexes build, and take part in nest repair. One egg is laid, coarse and gloss-less, white, sparsely and faintly speckled and blotched with light reddish, usually about the broad end, sometimes unmarked. In the northern part of the range the breeding season is in the cold, dry season, but may be more elastic in tropical forest areas The female only incubates, and does not breed every year. She will breed in sub-adult plumage. Incubation lasts for about 40 days. One chick fledged after about 10 weeks.

Feeding habits

Mostly small mammals and lizards, occasionally larger mammals. Game-birds such as jungle fowl and spur fowl, and poultry are taken, but only rarely. Prey is taken from the ground, but some birds are also caught in trees.

Video Crested Hawk-Eagle


copyright: Stefan Behrens


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Crested Hawk-Eagle status Least Concern


Resident and sedentary

Distribution map

Crested Hawk-Eagle distribution range map

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