Short-toed Snake-Eagle

Circaetus gallicus
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
62–70 cm (24-27.5 in)
Wingspan:
166–188 cm (65-74 in)
Weight:
1200–2300 g (42-81 oz)
Short-toed Eagle

Munir Virani

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Did You Know?

  • The Short-toed Snake-Eagle will sometimes forage at grass fires, catching prey fleeing the smoke and flames.
  • The oldest known Short-toed Snake-Eagle is 17 years old. 
  • Snakes make up 80% or more of this raptor's diet. 
  • In one very sad case, in 1993, 50 Short-toed Snake-Eagles arrived in Malta during migration. All 50 of these birds were shot in a single day! 

Other Eagles

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

Though The Peregrine Fund doesn't work directly with Short-toed Snake-Eagles, our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve birds of prey around the world. 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.

Where They Live

This species has a wide geographic range in parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Throughout its range, it hunts or nests in a wide variety of habitats. In some parts of its range, it might nest in woodland, but prefers to hunt over open terrain. In other areas, it is more often found in damp lowland forests mixed with grassy fields and wetlands. In the southern-most part of its breeding range it is most often found in sunny, arid rocky or sandy areas with scattered open woodlands. It seems to especially prefer cliff formations interspersed with areas cleared for cultivation. 

What They Do

Throughout parts of its range this diurnal raptor is migratory. This relatively large eagle spends a lot of time in flight, often at a great height. When not on the wing, it perches in the tops of tall trees, often on large exposed bare limbs. 

Similar to other snake-eagles, the Short-toed Snake-Eagle is silent for much of the year and starts to become vocal during breeding season. They will call both while they are flying and when they are perched. Their different calls have been described as musical whistles, and sad-sounding cries. 

Why They Need our Help

This species is categorized as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. This is probably because the Short-toed Snake_eagle has a very large range and it is considered generally common throughout. However, shooting and habitat loss, particularly as wild areas are converted to farmlands, are threats that this species faces on a daily basis.  Collisions and electrocution on powerlines are also causes of mortality for this eagle. 

What They Eat

True to its name, the Short-toed Snake-Eagle eats a lot of snakes! However, unlike the Brown Snake-Eagle, this species mainly takes non-venomous snakes. It will also feed on other reptiles, such as lizards, chameleons, and geckos, as well as amphibians. But its list of menu items doesn't stop there. It will also prey upon mammals such as rodents, rabbits and hares, and hedgehogs. It might take advantage of finding injured or sick birds to feed on and it will also consume invertebrates, such as millipedes. Researchers believe that non-reptilian prey may actually be a more important part of their diet than is currently known, especially in areas where reptiles are often underground during cold winter months. 

It generally uses two types of hunting techniques. It might stoop down on prey from a high perch, or it hovers in more open areas, waiting to spot prey. When it does, it drops to the ground where it captures its prey with its strong feet and sharp talons. 

Nests, Eggs, and Young

During courtship, the pair may perform some aerial acrobats, though more observations need to be made. The pair will build a nest placed in a tree, or less commonly on a cliff. It will also sometimes skip building a nest altogether, and instead use an old nest built by another species, usually a corvid or other raptor.  They use sticks and twigs to build a relatively small nest considering the size of this eagle. Usually nests measure about 50-75 cm wide and 20-25 cm deep. Once the nest is completed, the pair will line it with soft substances such as green leaves, grass, and pine needles. Though the pair of this eagle will generally build a new nest each breeding season, sometimes they do re-use the same nest. When this happens, and new sticks are added, the nest can grow to be quite large.

The female will lay one egg, which is white without any unique markings. The egg must be incubated for around 47 days. During this time, the female will take on these duties, caring for her eggs and keeping them warm. The male will make sure the female is well-fed and will also help defend his nest and territory. 

After the eaglet hatches, it is covered in fluffy, white down. Short-toed Snake-Eagles are great parents. Both the male and female will care for, protect, and feed the young. When the eaglet is very small, the adults will tear off tiny bits of food which they pass to their young from beak to beak. As the nestling grows, it will actually pull prey from the adult's crop! It can start to swallow relatively small snakes whole by the time it is just a few weeks old.  This nestling will fly for the first time when it is between 60–80 days old. 

Short-toed 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 Bonelli's Eagle or other raptors.

References:

Bakaloudis, D.E., C.G. Vlachos, and G.J. Holloway. 1998. Habitat use by Short-toed Eagles Circaetus gallicus and their reptilian prey during the breeding season in Dadia Forest (north-eastern Greece). Journal of Applied Ecology 35:821-828.

Bakaloudis, D.E., C.G. Vlachos, and G.J. Holloway. 2000. Nest features and nest-tree characteristics of Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus) in the Dadia-Lefmimi-Soufli Forest, northeastern Greece. Journal of Raptor Research 34:293-298.

Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 18 Aug. 2021

Orta, J., G. M. Kirwan, and E. F. J. Garcia (2020). Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), 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.shteag1.01