Short-toed snake eagle

The short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus), also known as short-toed eagle, is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards and harriers. The genus name Circaetus is from the Ancient Greek kirkos, a type of hawk, and aetos, "eagle". The specific gallicus means "of Gaul".[2]

Short-toed snake eagle
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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Circaetus
C. gallicus
Binomial name
Circaetus gallicus
(Gmelin, 1788)
Circaetus gallicus distribution map
Range of C. gallicus      Breeding range     Resident range     Wintering range
Short-toed snake eagle in its nest
Short-toed snake eagle in its nest, Rollapadu wildlife sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh, India

Range and habitat

The short toes that give the name

This is an Old World species found throughout the Mediterranean basin, into Russia and the Middle East, and parts of Asia, mainly in the Indian Subcontinent and also further east in some Indonesian islands.

Those present on the northern edge of the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe migrate mainly to sub-Saharan Africa north of the equator, leaving in September/October and returning in April/May.[3] In the Middle and Far East the populations are resident. In Europe, it is most numerous in Spain where it is fairly common but elsewhere it is rare in many parts of its range. A bird on the Isles of Scilly, Britain, in October 1999 was the first confirmed record for that country.

The short-toed snake eagle is found in open cultivated plains, arid stony deciduous scrub areas and foothills and semi-desert areas.[4] It requires trees for nesting and open habitats, such as cultivations and grasslands for foraging.[5]


Adults are 62–67 cm (2 ft 0 in–2 ft 2 in) long with a 170–185 cm (5 ft 7 in–6 ft 1 in) wingspan and weigh 1.2–2.3 kg (2.6–5.1 lb).[6] They can be recognised in the field by their predominantly white underside, the upper parts being greyish brown. The chin, throat and upper breast are a pale, earthy brown. The tail has 3 or 4 bars. Additional indications are an owl-like rounded head, brightly yellow eyes and lightly barred under wing.

The short-toed snake eagle is an accomplished flyer and spends more time on the wing than do most members of its genus. It favours soaring over hill slopes and hilltops on updraughts, and it does much of its hunting from this position at heights of up to 500 m (1,600 ft). When quartering open country it frequently hovers like a kestrel.[7] When it soars it does so on flattish wings.


Circaetus gallicus MWNH 0845
Egg, Collection Museum Wiesbaden

Its prey is mostly reptiles, mainly snakes, but also some lizards.[8] Sometimes they become entangled with larger snakes and battle on the ground.[9] Occasionally, they prey on small mammals up to the size of a rabbit, and rarely birds and large insects.

This eagle is generally very silent. On occasions, it emits a variety of musical whistling notes. When breeding, it lays only one egg. It can live up to 17 years.

The short-toed snake eagle has suffered a steep decline in numbers and range in Europe and is now rare and still decreasing in several countries due to changes in agriculture and land use. It needs protection. In the middle and far eastern part of its range, this species is not yet threatened.

Historical material

In his description of the species, Buffon says that he kept one of these eagles in captivity and observed its behavior. The captive bird ate mice and frogs, and he states that the Jean-de-blanc was well known by French farmers for raiding poultry.[10]


Short Toed Snake Eagle

In flight


Swallowing prey while flying

Short-toed Eagle 02


Short-toed Eagle Feathers

Detail of the feathers

Short-toed Eagle with rat

With a rat

Short-toed Snake Eagle 2




  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Circaetus gallicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 108, 170. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Bakaloudis, D.E.; C. Vlachos; G. Holloway (2005). "Nest spacing and breeding performance in Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus in northeast Greece". Bird Study. 52: 330–338. doi:10.1080/00063650509461407.
  4. ^ Bakaloudis, D.E.; C. Vlachos; G.J. Holloway (1998). "Habitat use by short-toed eagles Circaetus gallicus and their reptilian prey during the breeding season in Dadia Forest (nort-eastern Greece)". Journal of Applied Ecology. 35: 821–828. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.1998.tb00001.x.
  5. ^ Bakaloudis, D.E. (2009). "Implications for conservation of foraging sites selected by Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus) in Greece". Ornis Fennica. 86: 89–96.
  6. ^ del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J., eds. (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
  7. ^ Bakaloudis, D.E. (2010). "Hunting strategies and foraging performance of the short-toed eagle in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli National Park, nort-east Greece". Journal of Zoology. 281: 168–174. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2010.00691.x.
  8. ^ Bakaloudis D.E. & C.G. Vlachos (2011). "Feeding habits and provisioning rate of breeding short-toed eagles Circaetus gallicus in northeastern Greece". Journal of Biological Research. 16: 166–176.
  9. ^ Jerdon, T.C. (1862). The Birds of India. Volume 1. Military Orphan Press. p. 77.
  10. ^ "The White John". The natural history of birds from the French of the Count de Buffon. vol. 1. Translated by Anonymous. London. 1793. pp. 86–95.

External links

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Beaudouin's snake eagle

Beaudouin's snake eagle (Circaetus beaudouini) is a species of snake eagle in the Accipitridae family found in the Sahel region of west Africa. It forms a superspecies with the Palearctic short-toed snake eagle Circaetus gallicus and the black-chested snake eagle Circaetus pectoralis. This bird seems to be declining in numbers and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated it as a "vulnerable species".

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Black-chested snake eagle

The black-chested snake eagle or black-breasted snake eagle (Circaetus pectoralis) is a large African bird of prey of the family Accipitridae. It resembles other snake eagles and was formerly considered conspecific with the short-toed and Beaudouin's snake eagles, to which it is closely related.

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Blackbuck National Park at Velavadar is situated in the Bhavnagar District of Gujarat state, India.

Established in 1976 in the Bhal region of Saurashtra, the park is located around 42 km from the district headquarters city of Bhavnagar. Hugging the coasts of the Gulf of Khambhat on the south, it is spread over an area of 34.08 km2, which was primarily a "vidi" (grassland) of the maharaja of the princely state of Bhavnagar for hunting the blackbucks with his famous hunting cheetahs. On the northern side, it is surrounded by wastelands and agriculture fields. The national park has been classified as 4B Gujarat-Rajwada biotic province of semi-arid bio-geographical zone.

Flat land, dry grasses and herds of antelope have always attracted visitors to this park which has a grassland ecosystem. Successful conservation programs for the blackbuck, wolf and lesser florican (a bustard) are ongoing. Considered to be an endemic Indian species, the lesser florican, which once lived throughout the country, has become endangered in recent decades. Today, the largest population is in this park. Local wolf numbers are increasing, as are striped hyena, with sightings quite frequent during daylight in winter 2012-2013.

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Circaetinae is a bird of prey subfamily which consists of a group of medium to large broad-winged species. 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". The exceptions are the bateleur, a more generalised hunter, and the Philippine eagle, which preys on mammals and birds.

All but one of the subfamily are restricted to warmer parts of the Old World: Spilornis and Pithecophaga in south Asia, the others in Africa. The short-toed eagle Circeatus gallicus migrates between temperate Eurasia and Africa, as well as being resident in India.

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.


Circaetus, the snake eagles, is a genus of medium-sized eagles in the bird of prey family Accipitridae. The genus name is from the Ancient Greek kirkos, a type of hawk, and aetos, "eagle".These are mainly resident African species, but the migratory short-toed snake eagle breeds from the Mediterranean basin into Russia, the Middle East and India, and winters in sub-Saharan Africa and east to Indonesia.

Snake eagles are found in open habitats like cultivated plains arid savanna, but require trees in which to build a stick nest. The single egg is incubated mainly or entirely by the female.

Circaetus eagles have a rounded head and broad wings. They prey on reptiles, mainly snakes, but also take lizards and occasionally small mammals.

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