Eagles are majestic birds of prey known for their powerful appearance, sharp vision, and impressive hunting abilities. These birds belong to the family Accipitridae and there are over 60 different species of eagles found across the world.
Eagles have strong, hooked beaks for tearing flesh and powerful talons used for capturing and gripping prey. Their plumage can be from dark brown to light tan and some species have striking patterns on their feathers.
Eagles too can be found from mountains and forests to coastal areas and grasslands. Their choice of habitat usually depends on the availability of prey species.
Eagles are carnivorous and primarily hunt live prey. Their diet typically includes a variety of animals, such as fish, mammals, birds, and even reptiles. Some eagle species are known for their remarkable fishing skills, like the bald eagle, which is famous for catching fish from the water’s surface.
Eagles are carnivorous and hunt live prey. Their diet includes fish, mammals, birds, and even reptiles. Some eagle species are known for their remarkable fishing skills, like the bald eagle, which is famous for catching fish from the water’s surface.
Eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight. They can spot prey from high in the sky and then swoop down with great speed and accuracy to capture it.
Eagles can be found in almost all countries and continents, with the exception of Antarctica. Eagles are usually seen as symbols of power, freedom and strength. For example, the bald eagle is the national bird and symbol of the United States, representing the nation’s ideals and values.
Classification of Eagle Species
While there are several types of eagles globally, these kinds of them can be grouped based on specific similar characteristics and species.
- Serpent Eagles
- Hawk Eagles
- True Eagles
- Sea Eagles
Let us now talk about the different eagles under each category.
Serpent eagles, also known as snake eagles, are a group of eagles with preference for feeding on snakes and other reptiles. These eagles have evolved remarkable adaptations for hunting snakes, including powerful talons and keen eyesight. They often perch high in trees, scanning the forest floor for their serpentine prey. When they spot a snake, they swoop down swiftly and skillfully capture it with their sharp talons.
Their hunting prowess is not limited to snakes alone; they also consume a variety of other prey, including small mammals and birds. Their adaptability to different forested habitats, from dense rainforests to open woodlands. Here are different types of Serpent Eagles.
Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
The Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) is medium-sized and found in various parts of Asia, including the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and parts of East Asia.
Adults have a dark brown plumage, and they sport a prominent white patch on their throat and breast. The bird gets its common name from the crest of feathers on its head, which adds to its distinctive look. Their eyes are large and yellow, and their hooked, sharp beaks.
Philippine Serpent Eagle (Spilornis holospilus)
The Philippine Serpent Eagle is a small to medium-sized raptor with a length ranging from 45 to 55 centimeters (18 to 22 inches). It has a short, rounded tail and broad wings. Its plumage varies between individuals, but it typically has a dark brown upper side with white or pale underparts. Some individuals may have a crest of feathers on their head.
This eagle is endemic to the Philippines, meaning it is found nowhere else in the world. It is distributed throughout the islands of the Philippines, from Luzon in the north to Mindanao in the south. The Philippine Serpent Eagle is often found in forests, particularly in lowland and montane forests. It prefers dense, forested habitats and can be found in both primary and secondary forests.
Andaman Serpent Eagle (Spilornis elgini)
The Andaman Serpent Eagle is a relatively small raptor, measuring about 45-56 cm in length. It exhibits sexual dimorphism, with males and females having different plumage.
Adult males have a dark brown plumage with a distinctive white head and neck, giving them a striking appearance. Adult females, on the other hand, have a predominantly dark brown plumage without the white head and neck.
This species is endemic to the Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. Within these islands, they are primarily found in lush evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. They are a rare and lesser-known species.
The Andaman Serpent Eagle is classified as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Madagascar Serpent Eagle (Eutriorchis astur)
The Madagascar Serpent Eagle is a relatively small eagle with distinct plumage characteristics. It has a dark brown to blackish upper body and wings, while the underparts are white with prominent dark streaks. Its tail is relatively long and rounded, and it has a hooked beak and sharp talons, typical of raptors.
Found exclusively on the island of Madagascar, this serpent eagle is one of the rarest raptors globally.
The Madagascar Serpent Eagle is classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its population is estimated to be extremely small and declining.
Blyth’s Serpent Eagle (Spilornis kinabaluensis)
Blyth’s Serpent Eagle is a medium-sized raptor. It has a dark brownish-black head and crest, which contrasts with a white throat and belly. The upperparts are dark brown, and the wings are marked with pale bands. The tail is relatively long and has narrow white bars.
These eagles are found in montane and hill forests, often at higher elevations. They prefer wooded habitats and are known to inhabit both primary and secondary forests. The species is found in parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Borneo.
The conservation status of Blyth’s Serpent Eagle is categorized as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This classification indicates that the species is not currently critically endangered but faces various threats.
Hawk eagles, often referred to as crested hawk-eagles or simply hawk-eagles, are a group of majestic raptors. Hawk eagles are characterized by their large size, strong build, and striking plumage. They have a crest of feathers on their head, which gives them their common name “crested hawk-eagles.” Their plumage can vary in color, usually featuring a combination of dark brown, black, and white feathers.
These eagles are medium to large-sized raptors, with an average wingspan ranging from 70 to 110 centimeters (28 to 43 inches) and a body length of about 50 to 75 centimeters (20 to 30 inches). They also have powerful beaks and sharp talons. These eagles are skilled hunters, primarily preying on birds, small mammals, and occasionally reptiles.
Hawk eagles are territorial birds and will fiercely defend their nesting sites and hunting territories. They are known for their loud and distinctive calls, which they use to communicate with other eagles and establish their presence.
Some well-known species of hawk eagles include:
Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)
Changeable Hawk-Eagles are medium-sized raptors with a wingspan ranging from 90 to 110 centimeters (approximately 35 to 43 inches). Like many hawk eagles, they have a prominent crest of feathers on their head.
Juveniles have brown feathers with prominent white spots on their wings and body. As they mature into adults, their plumage gradually changes to a more striking black and white pattern. Adults have a dark brown to black upper body with white undersides, and they exhibit bold white bars on their wings and tail feathers.
Changeable Hawk-Eagles are adaptable and can be found in a variety of forested habitats, including tropical and subtropical forests, woodlands, and hilly or mountainous regions. They are distributed across a vast range that includes countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Southeast Asian nations, and parts of Indonesia.
The Changeable Hawk-Eagle is generally considered to be of least concern in terms of conservation status, as its population appears to be relatively stable.
Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus)
Black Hawk-Eagles are medium to large-sized raptors with a wingspan ranging from approximately 90 to 110 centimeters (around 35 to 43 inches). As their name suggests, these eagles have predominantly black plumage that covers their entire body, including the head, wings, and tail. This black coloration contrasts sharply with their bright yellow legs and cere (the fleshy, waxy skin around the base of the bill).
Black Hawk-Eagles are typically found in various forested habitats, including tropical rainforests, woodlands, and hilly or mountainous regions. Their range extends across Central and South America, encompassing countries such as Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.
The Black Hawk-Eagle is not considered globally threatened and is listed as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, like many raptors, they may face local threats such as habitat loss due to deforestation, illegal hunting, and habitat fragmentation.
Mountain Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus nipalensis)
These eagles are medium-sized raptors, with an average length of about 55-75 centimeters (22-30 inches) and a wingspan of 110-140 centimeters (43-55 inches).It typically has dark brown to blackish feathers on its upperparts and wings, while its underparts are white with bold black streaks. The head has a prominent crest, and its eyes are surrounded by a white patch. The beak is hooked and sharp, well-suited for hunting.
Mountain Hawk-Eagles are skilled hunters, primarily preying on small to medium-sized birds and mammals. They are known for their powerful flight and agile hunting techniques, which include soaring, gliding, and swooping down on prey.
Their range extends from the Himalayan region in Nepal, Bhutan, and India to parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam. The Mountain Hawk-Eagle is classified as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
African Hawk-Eagle (Aquila spilogaster)
African Hawk-Eagles are medium-sized raptors with a wingspan typically ranging from 100 to 135 centimeters (approximately 39 to 53 inches). They have a black head and upperparts, while the underside of their body, including the chest and belly, is predominantly white. The wings are black with white bars, and the tail is also banded in black and white.
African Hawk-Eagles primarily prey on a wide range of birds, particularly smaller species, as well as small mammals and reptiles. They are often seen perched in tall trees or on elevated vantage points, from which they can survey their surroundings for potential prey.
African Hawk-Eagles are found in a variety of habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, including woodland, savannah, and open forests. They have a broad range that includes countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and many others.
The African Hawk-Eagle is generally considered to be of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Javan Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus bartelsi)
The Javan Hawk-Eagle has a dark brownish-black upper body, a white belly with black streaks, and striking white plumage on its head. These eagles measure around 55-60 centimeters (21.5-23.5 inches) in length and have a wingspan of approximately 120-135 centimeters (47-53 inches). Males and females are similar in size, with females generally being slightly larger.
The Javan Hawk-Eagle is endemic to the island of Java in Indonesia, which means it is found nowhere else in the world. Its habitat includes tropical and subtropical forests, ranging from lowland rainforests to montane forests at higher elevations.
These eagles are carnivorous and primarily hunt for a variety of prey, including birds, mammals, and sometimes reptiles. They are often observed soaring high above the forest canopy or perching in tall trees while scanning for prey.
These eagles typically build large nests in tall trees. They lay one to two eggs, and both the male and female share the responsibility of incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks. The chicks fledge and become independent after a few months.
The Javan Hawk-Eagle is considered a vulnerable species due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Deforestation and illegal hunting are the primary threats to their population.
Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus lanceolatus)
The Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus lanceolatus), also known as the Celebes Hawk-Eagle or Sulawesi Crested Hawk-Eagle, is a raptor species endemic to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.
Adults have a distinctive appearance with a striking black and white plumage. They have a black crest of feathers on their head, which gives them their “crested” name. Their body is predominantly white with black markings on their wings, back, and tail. have a hooked beak, sharp talons, and yellow eyes.
These eagles have an average length of about 50 to 58 centimeters (20 to 23 inches) and a wingspan of approximately 120 to 150 centimeters (47 to 59 inches). Their diet mainly consists of birds and small mammals.
Sulawesi Hawk-Eagles are solitary and territorial birds. They are often observed perched high in the canopy, scanning for potential prey.
The conservation status of the Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle is currently listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
True eagles are generally larger in size compared to other types of eagles. True eagles are identifiedby having feathers that continue down to the feet of the bird.
Their plumage varies among species but is often characterized by shades of brown, black, and white. Some species may have distinctive markings, such as spots or streaks.
True eagles are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannas, open woodlands, and sometimes even mountainous regions. They tend to prefer habitats where they have a clear line of sight to spot potential prey. Some well-known species of true eagles:
Indian Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)
The Indian Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) is a majestic eagle native to the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Indian Tawny Eagles have tawny or rufous-brown plumage. They are often seen in open grasslands, savannas, agricultural areas, and even semi-arid regions.
They are known for their soaring flight, where they ride thermal currents high in the sky, scanning the ground for potential prey. Once they spot a target, they swoop down with remarkable speed and precision to capture it.
Breeding pairs build large stick nests in tall trees or on cliffs. They lay one to two eggs during the breeding season. The Indian Tawny Eagle is not considered globally threatened.
Lesser Spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina)
The Lesser Spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) can be found in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. Adults have dark brown plumage with a pale head and neck. They have a characteristic white patch on the shoulder, which helps distinguish them from other eagle species. They are smaller than some other eagle species.
Lesser Spotted Eagles are migratory birds that breed in northern and eastern Europe and parts of Asia, including Russia, and then undertake long-distance migrations to spend the winter months in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan regions.
Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, birds, insects, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians.
Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
Steppe Eagles are named after the vast steppes and open grasslands where they are often found. They inhabit a wide range of open habitats, including grasslands, savannas, desert fringes, and agricultural areas.
Adult Steppe Eagles typically have a dark brown or blackish-brown plumage on their body, with a lighter, pale head and neck. Immature individuals may have more mottled or streaked plumage.
Their range extends from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to parts of the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
Sea eagles, also known as sea eagles or fish eagles, are a group of large birds of prey that are primarily found near bodies of water, such as coastlines, lakes, rivers, estuaries and wetlands.
Sea eagles are among the largest raptors in the world. They have long wingspans, powerful talons, and sharp, hooked beaks. Their plumage can be a combination of white, brown and gray feathers.
Fish is the primary food source for sea eagles, and they are expert fishermen. They can spot prey from high in the sky and swoop down to snatch fish from the water’s surface with their sharp talons. They are also known to feed on birds, mammals, and carrion when fish are scarce.
Sea eagles are known for their large and sturdy nests, which they build in tall trees, cliffs, or other elevated locations near water. They often return to the same nest site year after year.
Sea eagles are monogamous and form long-lasting breeding pairs. They typically lay one to three eggs, and both parents share incubation and chick-rearing duties.
Some well-known species of sea eagles include:
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
The bald eagle is one of the most iconic and recognizable bird species in North America.
Adults have a distinctive white head and tail, which contrasts with their dark brown body and wings. Immature bald eagles, however, do not have the characteristic white plumage and are often mistaken for other large raptors.
The bald eagle is a powerful symbol of freedom, strength, and patriotism in the United States. Its image is featured on the Great Seal of the United States and appears on various national emblems, including the U.S. dollar bill and the presidential seal.
White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)
his species is also known as the sea eagle or erne. It is found in Europe and parts of Asia and is one of the largest eagle species in the world.
Adults have a distinctive appearance with a large, powerful body, broad wings, and a white tail that becomes more prominent as they mature. Their plumage is predominantly brown, with a white head and a hooked yellow beak.
Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus)
Steller’s sea eagle is one of the largest and heaviest eagles globally. It is native to northeastern Asia, particularly Russia and Japan.
They have a dark brown plumage, a white head and neck, and a large, powerful yellow beak that has a pronounced hooked tip. The contrast between their dark body and white head.
Grey-headed Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus)
The grey-headed fish eagle gets its name from the grey feathers on its head, which contrast with its brown body and wings. Adults have a white underside with brown spots, and their beak and legs are yellow. Immature birds usually lack the grey head and resemble other large raptors. This species is primarily found in parts of South and Southeast Asia.
The African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
African Fish Eagles have a white head, chest, and tail, contrasting with their dark brown to black body feathers. Their wings are also dark, and they have a distinctive black band across their chest. They are medium to large eagles with a wingspan from above 3 feet.
African Fish Eagles are found around freshwater habitats, including lakes, rivers, marshes, and coastal estuaries. Their range extends across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from the southern tip of the continent to the Sahara Desert and from the west coast to the east coast.
As their name suggests, African Fish Eagles are well-known for their piscivorous (fish-eating) habits. They primarily feed on fish, although they may also consume birds, reptiles, and other small animals.
In terms of conservation status, the African Fish Eagle is generally considered a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.