Crested Serpent-Eagle

Spilornis cheela
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
50–74 cm (19.6-29 in)
Wingspan:
109–169 cm (41.7-66.5 in)
Weight:
420–1800 g (17-63.4 oz)
Crested Serpent-Eagle

Marta Curti

Share this raptor:

Did You Know?

  • The Crested Serpent-Eagle will sometimes lay their eggs in old nests built by other raptors
  • There is some debate in the scientific community about this species. Some scientists believe that there are up to 21 different subspecies of Crested Serpent-Eagle. While others consider at least some of these to be separate, full species. Clearly, a lot more studies need to be done about this eagle!

 

Other Eagles

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

The Peregrine Fund is not working directly with Crested Serpent-Eagles, but our conservation efforts through habitat protection, education, and community outreach extend to all raptor species, including this eagle. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation. We also run the Global Raptor Impact Network which gives raptor researchers tools to more efficiently conduct their own studies while contributing to a global program. GRIN also provides citizen scientists a way to participate in raptor science and conservation.

Where They Live

The Crested Serpent-Eagle is found throughout much of southeast Asia. It prefers to spend its time in primary forests, forest edge, well-wooded hills near agricultural fields and plantations, rocky hilltops, gallery forests, savanna, mangroves, and even near villages. It is most often observed from sea-level up to 2,000 meters, though researchers have documented this eagle at elevations of around 3,000 meters or higher.

What They Do

Crested Serpent-Eagles can actually vary quite a bit in size and coloration.  But, one of their defining characteristics is the dark, short, round crest it sports. This eagle has wide wings, and in flight, it displays a distinctive white band near the end of its tail and along the trailing edge of its wings.

Most of the time, researchers have observed this bird spending time by itself, or sometimes in pairs. However, they have witnessed small groups of four or five of these eagles hanging out in close proximity to each other. This spectacular eagle spends quite a bit of time soaring over marshes, wooded areas, and rocky hilltops in search of sunning snakes.

Researchers have described this eagle as being "fairly noisy" as it often calls while it is perched, or soaring, and particularly during breeding season when it is engaged in courtship displays.  

Why They Need our Help

The Crested Serpent-Eagle is categorized as a species of Least Concern. This is likely because it is common and widespread throughout a relatively large range. Also, it seems able to adapt well to some habitat disturbance, as long there are some large trees remaining in the area.

What They Eat

The Crested Serpent-Eagle, as its name suggests, is primarily a snake-hunter. It seems to particularly favor tree snakes. But its diet isn't limited to serpents. It will also take lizards, frogs, toads, mammals, eels, small birds, termites and large earthworms. In order to catch its prey, it waits patiently on a perch until something good to eat passes by. Then it will drop down to snatch it from the ground, or pluck it from vegetation.  

Nests, Eggs, and Young

If you are in Crested Serpent-Eagle territory, you will be able to tell when breeding season has begun. The pair participates in some beautiful aerial displays. They will soar together amid their chorus of calls, engage in undulating flight patterns and other displays. When the time is right,  both the male and female will work together to collect sticks which they will then fashion into a cup-shaped nest high up in trees. They line the nest with fresh leaves and grasses.

The female will lay one egg. She will take on the delicate task of incubating her eggs for the next 40 days or so. All the while, the male will work hard to find enough food to feed himself and the female. When the nestling hatches, it is covered in white down. Both parents take turn caring for and feeding their young. At first, the nestling will be too small to tear up food on its own.  So the parents will delicately rip off small pieces of food with their beak, which they then feed to their nestlings. But, like many raptors, the nestling will grow quickly. After only about 2 months, it will be ready to fly! 

We don't yet know how long a young Crested Serpent-Eagle must stay with its parents before it becomes independent and able to care for itself. 

Crested Serpent-Eagle and The World Center for Birds of Prey

The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about raptors. 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.  A visit to the World Center for Birds of Prey will reward you with a close-up look at several different eagle species from around the world including the beautiful Bateleur, the powerful Harpy Eagle and the majestic Bald Eagle. On display in an outdoor aviary, Stoffel, the Bateleur, delights visitors with his colorful plumage and entertaining behavior. Our experts and volunteers at the visitor center will help you learn more about the interesting traits, feeding habits, and reproductive behavior of this unusual eagle. Housed in our outdoor facilities, Sky the Bald Eagle greets visitors year-round from her chamber. When you walk the interpretive trail that looks out over the Boise valley in the winter, you may be able to spot a Bald Eagle soaring over the grasslands or perched in a tree or on a distant power pole. Grayson, the Harpy Eagle, will delight you with his gentle demeanor. We have a mounted eagle on display, real Harpy Eagle feathers you can touch, and a short video that chronicles the exciting journey of our biologists as they work to hatch young eagles, raise them, and ultimately release them into the dense forests of Panama. Fancy, our resident Ornate Hawk-eagle is an amazingly colorful bird of prey. Our knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about Crested Serpent-Eagles or other raptors

References:

Clark, W.S., J. S. Marks, and G. M. Kirwan (2020). Crested Serpent-Eagle (Spilornis cheela), 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. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.crseag1.01

Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 2 Sep. 2021