Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Short-toed Snake Eagle

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Circaetus gallicus | [authority] Gmelin, 1788 | [UK] Short-toed Snake Eagle | [FR] Circaete Jean-le-Blanc | [DE] Schlangenadler | [ES] Aguila culebrera | [NL] Slangenarend


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Circaetus gallicus EU, OR w,c EU, India


Members of the genus Circaetus are the snake eagles. They form a monophyletic group Circatinae that is sister to the Old World vulture group, Aegypiinae. These are mainly birds which specialise in feeding on snakes and other reptiles, which is the reason most are named as “snake-eagles” or “serpent-eagles”. They are restricted to warmer parts of the Old World. They have hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs and powerful talons. They also have extremely keen eyesight to enable them to spot potential prey from a distance.

Physical charateristics

Distinctly larger than buzzards Buteo. Medium-sized, broad-faced, usually dark-hooded, grey-brown snake-eagle, with head and thick neck protruding in all attitudes. Underparts strikingly white, variably speckled and barred darker, markings usually forming band across chest. Black tips to primary coverts and primaries and 2-3 tail bands fairly prominent even in palest birds.

Listen to the sound of Short-toed Snake Eagle

[audio: Snake Eagle.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 162 cm wingspan max.: 178 cm
size min.: 62 cm size max.: 69 cm
incubation min.: 45 days incubation max.: 47 days
fledging min.: 70 days fledging max.: 47 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Eurasia, Oriental Region : West, Central Eurasia, India


Prefers open cultivated plains, stony deciduous scrubs and foothills and semi-desert areas throughout the country.


The time of arrival of Short-toed Eagles in the breeding area (mid-March to mid-April) with the activity of snakes and lizards after winter hibernation (mid-March). The brooding period (mainly June and July) preferably coincides with warm and dry weather and the peak of prey abundance, which increases the probability of eaglet survival and successful fledging. The Short-toed Eagle has a clutch size of only a single egg.
In top of low tree, mostly 3-7 meter above ground but can be as low 2 meter and as high as 25 meter Occasionally in nest of another bird species. Always well hidden from ground. Nests are often reused, though not necessarily in successive years. The nest is relatively small for the size of this bird, 50-100 cm diameter, 20-30 cm high, with deep cup. Built of small sticks, 5-10 cm long; lined with greenery.

The incubation period is 45-47 days. Both sexes are known to incubate, but female does most of the work. The fledging period 70-75 days, young may leave nest for surrounding branches at about 60 days. The age of first breeding is probably at least 3-4 years.

Feeding habits

Short-toed Eagle feeds on snakes (poisonous and non-poisonous), Lizards (Varanus spp.), some species of frogs, mammals (rabbits, hares, and rats), sick and disabled birds and large insects.

Video Short-toed Snake Eagle


copyright: youtube


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). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not 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.
This species is breeding in a large part of southern and Eastern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. It is wintering mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population of the European Union amounts to 3000-4500 breeding pairs, and seems to be fairly stable. It has undergone a strong decrease and contraction during last century, and the species has disappeared from Germany and Denmark. The main reasons for this decline are intensification of agriculture and disappearance of extensive livestock economy.
Short-toed Snake Eagle status Least Concern


Migratory in Palearctic; sedentary in India, Pakistan and Lesser Sundas. Most migrants winter in tropical North Africa, from Senegambia to Ethiopia. Eastern birds winter in Indian Subcontinent, occasionally in South east Asia. Exceptional in winter in south Europe, north Africa and Middle East; more common in Arabian Peninsula. Most birds leave Europe from mid-September to mid-October, returning during March and the first half of April. Birds gather at crossing points: main route between Africa and Europe passes over Straits of Gibraltar; between Africa and Asia over Gulf of Suez.

Distribution map

Short-toed Snake Eagle distribution range map


Title A conservative strategy in migrating Short-toed Eagles Circ tus gallicus
Author(s): Agostini, N., Baghino, L., Panuccio, M. & Premuda, G.
Abstract: […].The aim of this study was to provide informa..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 49(2), 2002, 287-291

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Title Nest spacing and breeding performance in Shorttoed Eagle Circaetus gallicus in northeast Greece
Author(s): Dimitris E. Bakaloudis, Christos G. Vlachos and Graham J. Holloway
Abstract: Capsule There is some evidence of susceptibility t..[more]..
Source: Bird Study (2005) 52, 330-338

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