Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)

Imperial Eagle

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Aquila heliaca | [authority] Savigny, 1809 | [UK] Imperial Eagle | [FR] Aigle Imperial | [DE] Kaiseradler | [ES] Aguila imperial | [NL] Keizerarend


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Aquila have long, broad wings and a medium tail. There are currently fourteen species of large predominantly dark-coloured eagles in the genus Aquila. This genus has a worldwide distribution.

Physical charateristics

Large, dark eagle. Generally dark brown with white scapular markings and pale golden-cream nape. Grey base to tail. Juvenile brown fading to pale buff with dark flight feathers. Shows flat wings in flight. Similar spp. Golden Eagle A. chrysaetos is paler with less obviously bicoloured tail. Holds wings in flattened “V” shape. Steppe Eagle A. nipalensis lacks pale rusty yellow ventral area, bicoloured tail and pale scapulars. Voice Repeated barking.

Listen to the sound of Imperial Eagle

[audio: Eagle.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 180 cm wingspan max.: 215 cm
size min.: 72 cm size max.: 83 cm
incubation min.: 42 days incubation max.: 44 days
fledging min.: 65 days fledging max.: 44 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 3  


Eurasia : Southwest, Central


The Imperial Eagle is predominantly a lowland species but has been pushed to higher altitudes by persecution. In central and eastern Europe the breeding habitat consists of forests in mountains, hills and along rivers, at an altitude of up to 1,000 m, but also steppes, open landscapes and agricultural areas. In the Caucasus it occurs in lowland and riverine forests, semi-deserts and old forests. It hunts in open areas and wetlands. A variety of habitats is used during migration, though birds seem to prefer wetlands for wintering.


The Imperial Eagle builds a large stick nest on the tops of trees; these may be solitary or in shelterbelts in flat landscapes, or in deciduous or coniferous forests; very occasionally nests are built on electricity pylons. The clutch is completed in late March or early April and usually consists of 2-3 eggs; breeding success is around 1.5 young per successful pair, but can vary a great deal depending on food availability. The young remain with their parents throughout the summer and then migrate. Adult plumage is acquired at 5-6 years old but pairs with both birds in immature plumage have successfully reared young. Birds will accept purpose-built artificial nest structures.

Feeding habits

The diet is largely mammals, mainly suslik, hamster and hare, but also small rodents and carrion. Birds comprise 15-25% of the diet and include Quail, Pheasant, Partridge, domestic chicken and passerines. Imperial Eagles in the Caucasus feed largely on rodents, corvids, lizards and carrion.

Video Imperial Eagle


copyright: youtube


This species has a small global population, and is likely to be undergoing continuing declines, primarily as a result of habitat loss and degradation, adult mortality through persecution and collison with powerlines, nest robbing and prey depletion. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable.
The Imperial Eagle is sparsely distributed from central, south-east and eastern Europe east to Lake Baikal in Russia.
The species breeds in Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYRO Macedonia, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and mainland China.

Following expansion of the eastern European population, breeding has been reported in the Czech Republic and Austria. Passage or wintering birds from eastern populations occur in the Middle East, east Africa south to Tanzania, the Arabian peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and south and east Asia, and has been reported in Hong Kong (China). Some European birds winter in Greece and Turkey. The population is probably only a few thousand pairs, with a total population of 1,051-1,619 pairs estimated in Europe.

There has been a rapid decline in Europe and probably in Asia. In Europe, the non-Russian population has been estimated at 224-318 pairs, with populations in Hungary and Slovakia now increasing. The population in European Russia may total 600-900 pairs (with the entire Russian population estimated at 900-1000 pairs), and in Kazakhstan 750-800 pairs. Although currently stable, the Russian population is predicted to decline in the next three to five years.

In the Middle East the species occurs widely on passage and in winter. The migrant/wintering population has been estimated at 500-1,000 birds between October and March. In the marshes of southern Iraq the total wintering population probably exceeds 100.
Imperial Eagle status Vulnerable


The adult eagles are partially migratory, with some birds moving south or south-east, though in severe winters Europe may be totally vacated. The young are fully migratory and winter in Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey and Yemen. Leaves breeding grounds mid-Sept to mid-Oct; in Slovakia and Hungary, adults often seem to remain at or near breeding areas.

Distribution map

Imperial Eagle distribution range map


Title Gelegegrosse und Bruterfolg des Schreiadlers (Aquila pomarina) und des Kaiseradlers (Aquila heliaca) in den ostslowakischen Karpaten 1966-1978
Author(s): Jan gvehlik und Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg
Abstract: Seit lngerer Zeit widmen wir uns dem Studium der ..[more]..
Source: J. Orn. 120, 1979: S. 406–415

download full text (pdf)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *