Black-chested Snake-Eagle

Circaetus pectoralis
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
63–71 cm (24.8-28 in)
160–185 cm (63-72.8 in)
1178–2260 g (41.5-79.7 oz)
Black-breasted Snake Eagle

Munir Virani

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Did You Know?

  • This species is known by a few other names, including Black-breasted Harrier-Eagle or Black-breasted Snake-eagle
  • The Black-chested Snake-Eagle is often seen almost right alongside the Brown Snake-Eagle, sometimes even perching together on the same perch or adjacent pylons. 
  • Though this eagle is generally a diurnal species, it has figured out a way to get in some more hunting time beyond daylight hours. It has occasionally been observed hovering and hunting at night, in areas where artificial light is present.
  • Researchers documented an incredible moment when one of these eagles was killed by a Peregrine Falcon, when the eagle wandered too close to the falcon's nest!

Other Eagles

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

In Kenya, our scientists are working hard to learn about and protect all raptors and their habitats. Through environmental education efforts, we are also working to put a stop to the common practice of poisoning carcasses to kill large predators, which also kills a host of wildlife including vultures, eagles, and other scavenging birds. These efforts will certainly benefit all raptors of the region, including the Black-chested Snake-Eagle.

Where They Live

The Black-chested Snake-Eagle is a species of the African continent. Found from Eritrea and Ethiopia, its range extends further south and west into South Africa.

Though it has a relatively wide range on the continent, it isn't found in all habitat types. When searching for this snake-eating eagle, the best places to begin would be scanning the skies and exposed perches in open, savanna woodlands, dwarf shrublands, thornbush, and semi-desert, often near water. Like the Brown Snake-Eagle, it tends to stay away from very forested areas. This species if found from low to middle elevations, generally between sea-level to 3,400 meters.

What They Do

True to its name, the Black-chested Snake-Eagle has a dark chest. In facts its head, back and wings are all blackish. This bird's dark upperparts contrast beautifully with its  lower breast and belly, which are nearly pure white. It has a banded tail and yellow eyes. 

Though this bird tends to be mostly solitary during the day - meaning that outside of breeding season, it goes about its business of hunting, perching and flying all by itself. But, when night falls it carries out some unique behaviors not reported in any other eagle species!  At night, this species roosts (or rests) in large groups. Sometimes up to 200 birds can be seen perched together. 

Even though this species doesn't leaves the continent of Africa, it is considered to be very nomadic - meaning it moves a lot from place to place. It is likely that it makes relatively short migrations within the continent.  

Why They Need our Help

Thankfully, the Black-chested Snake-Eagle is categorized as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. This means that scientists aren't too worried about the future of this species. This is probably so because the species has a large range over much of sub-Saharan Africa, even though it is considered uncommon in most areas. Also, this species can live in a wide variety of habitats, is quite secretive, and seems to be highly adaptable to human altered habitats. 

While there is a lot for us to learn about this beautiful raptor, sadly, some of these birds have drowned in sheer-walled reservoirs. Many others are killed by people who shoot them, electrocution, and collision with power lines.  

What They Eat

With a name like Black-chested Snake-Eagle, it is quite clear that this eagle mainly preys on snakes, including some particularly venomous ones. For the most part, once it catches and kills a snake, it will simply swallow it whole! It will also hunt small lizards, rodents, bats, small birds, and amphibians, particularly toads. This species' diet also includes several arthropods including beetles, locusts and termites. 

In order to catch such a wide variety of prey, the Black-chested Snake-Eagle will employ several different hunting techniques. It probably spends most of its time hanging out on a perch waiting for unsuspecting prey animal to slither, hop or walk by. When not perch-hunting, it might soar in the sky while it keeps an eye out for prey. It might also hover quite low above the ground waiting for something tasty to appear.  

This species has also learned to take advantage of grassfires. Animals fleeing from the smoke and flames make easy prey, as they are too distracted by the fire to notice a predator lurking nearby.

Nests, Eggs, and Young

The Black-chested Snake-Eagle, like most other eagles, builds its own nest. Using sticks and twigs it constructs a small, platform nest in relatively small trees, such as Acacia. They have also been known to build their nests in clumps of epiphytes or mistletoe.

When the nest is ready, the female will lay one white eggs. After the eggs are laid, the female is responsible for incubating her egg. This means she will spend the following 51–52 days sitting on the egg, and occasionally turning it, to make sure it stays at just the right temperature so that the embryo inside can develop into a healthy eaglet. During this time, the male works hard to hunt prey to feed himself and the female.  After the nestling hatches, it will grow quickly. After just about 3 months, 89–90 days, it will fly from the nest for the first time.  

Black-chested Snake-Eagle and the World Center for Birds of Prey

The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about raptors of all kinds. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets and quizzes to costumes and a touch table are available for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-round, including several eagle species! Though we don't have any resident Black-chested Snake-Eagles at the World Center for Birds of Prey, if you visit you will be rewarded with an opportunity to meet Fancy, our resident Ornate Hawk-eagle, and Grayson a Harpy Eagle. At the visitor center, you will see these amazing birds of prey, and others, up close in our outdoor aviary. Our knowledgeable staff is on hand to answer any questions you may have. 


BirdLife International. 2016. Circaetus pectoralisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22734223A95079134. Downloaded on 17 August 2021.

Demey, R. and Kirwan, G. (2005). Peregrine Falcon kills Black-chested Snake Eagle. Bull. African Bird Club. 12(2): 97.

Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Black-breasted Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis. Downloaded from on 16 Aug. 2021

Kemp, A. C., G. M. Kirwan, A. Bonan, J. S. Marks, and E. F. J. Garcia (2020). Black-chested Snake-Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.