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Greater Spotted Eagle - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India, 5 February 2018
Clanga clanga


59–71 cm (23¼-28 in)
Adults and juveniles look quite different in this group of plain brown eagles, so first step in identification of a flying bird is to age the bird. This is easiest done by moult and feather status: juveniles have one generation of similar fresh or worn flight feathers thus showing a regular and bulging trailing edge formed by the secondaries and inner primaries with no signs of moult in the fingers either. In older birds including in adults, the trailing edge is irregular as it is formed by secondaries of different age and thus the length differs as the tips wear off quite fast and the typical bulging in juveniles of many raptors is disappearing too.

Fulvescens type
Photo © by Saverio Gatto
Qurrayat, Oman, 16 November 2013

Juveniles are overall dark birds, almost blackish. They have heavy spotted (large white tips) greater and medium coverts on the upper wing as well as almost white upper tail coverts and are unique and easy to identify when seen perched. The exception to the above is the "fulvescens" variant (rare) that has body feathers and coverts pale buff but flight feathers and tail normal.

In Flight from below: in juveniles the coverts are darker as the flight feathers on an otherwise rather uniform bird with the exception of one short but obvious white crescent on the bases of the outer primaries and a more or less extensive light vent. The barring of the secondaries is most important for identification: fine barring which stops well before the tips of each feather. Inner primaries form a pale window and are sometimes not barred at all, secondaries of the “fulvescens” form are always all dark without barring.

Photo © by tombac
Petcaburi, Thailand, Feb. 2010
Notice the barring on the secondaries which Lesser Spotted Eagle of similar age does not show
Click on image to view larger version

Adult birds are quite uniform brown eagles (the lighter vent of juveniles becoming brown) and to make things even more complicated, some older birds show under wing coverts lighter than the adult flight feathers, which themselves are becoming more and more dark with age and the diagnostic barring is fading away leaving only the light crescent of the outer primaries on an otherwise uniform brown bird. The upper side is quite uniform too, with the exception of the light upper tail feathers, while a white area on the bases of the primaries is inconspicuous as only formed by the white shafts of the outer primaries and almost no contrast between coverts and flight feathers. The 7th primary being quite long, the hand looks large and square, not giving the impression of a small eagle.

On the close up, look for rounded nostril (found in spotted eagles but not in the larger aquilas). Also, the iris remains dark, so any spotted eagle with yellow iris is a Lesser Spotted Eagle.

Similar Species

Other eagles, especially Lesser Spotted Eagle and Steppe Eagle, in India also Indian Spotted Eagle and in Africa Wahlberg's Eagle (showing longer tail), as well as Tawny and Imperial Eagle.


Photo © by Neil
Hong Kong, China, December 2006

Eurasia and Africa. Breeds from northern European Russia south to Ukraine and east across Asia to the Pacific coast of the Russian Far East and eastern China. In Europe very rare outside Russia but small numbers breed in eastern Poland, northern Romania, Moldova and Belarus. Has bred in Sweden and Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia and Yugoslavia, Israel and Jordan.

Most western birds winter in sub-Saharan Africa but also in northern Greece and Turkey, the Middle East and Egypt. Also occurs in very small numbers in the Po Valley of Italy and southern France, especially the Camargue, in winter. "Tonn" the Estonian satellite-tagged bird has for the past nine years overwintered at El Hondo reserve in Alicante, Spain where in some years he has been accompanied by up to 5 other birds.

Undergoes a broad-front migration in September-October and does not concentrate at the major migration stations. Return movement in March-April. Regularly wanders to south-east Sweden, Denmark and sometimes the Netherlands in autumn and winter but not seen in Britain since the early 20th Century.

Photo © by vaibhav mishra
Kutch, Gujarat, India, Nov-2009

A vagrant to Norway, west to Iberia, the Balearic Islands and Morocco, also recorded as a vagrant in Sardinia. Also winters from Iran to Pakistan and throughout most of India and in South-East Asia south to southern Burma and Thailand. A vagrant to Malaya.


This is a monotypic species1.
Formerly included in the genus Aquila.


Breeds in large forests with lakes and swamps, open meadows or heath. Sometimes in more open areas but usually near water.

Fulvescens and dark-phase in flight
Photo © by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, India, 1 March 2016



They eat a wide variety of small mammals.


Call given in flight in the file below. It was circling above the wetland and calling. Healthy population of water fowl attracts large predators to the Keoladeo National Park.

Recordings © by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, India, July-2016


Most frequently a nest is found in a larger broadleaf tree but may be in Acacia or in a cliff or a bush if local conditions dictate. The nest may be based on an existing structure or constructed anew by both sexes, reaching size of >1 m/almost 4 feet. Most often two eggs are incubated for more than 40 days and the young takes another about 65 days before fledging (at this time, usually only one chick survives). After fledging, the young is usually depending on the parents for another month or so.


Click images to see larger version


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2021. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2021. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved September 2014)
  3. Birdforum member observations, especially member Tom provided id information
  4. Meyburg, B.-U., G. M. Kirwan, and E. F. J. Garcia (2020). Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga), 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.grseag1.01

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