Christopher Taylor Bird Nature Wildlife Mammal Photography
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Greater Spotted Eagle Image @
Location: Pak Thale, Phetchaburi, Thailand
GPS: 13.1N, 100.1E, elev=3' MAP
Date: January 13, 2011
ID : B13K6453 [4896 x 3264]

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The Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga), occasionally just called the "Spotted Eagle", is a large bird of prey. Like all typical eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. The typical eagles are often united with the buteos, sea eagles and other more heaviset Accipitridae, but more recently it appears as if they are less distinct from the more slender accipitrine hawks than believed.

At Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India. At Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India. At Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India. Juvenile, museum specimen


It is about 65 cm in length and has a wingspan of 160 cm. This is a medium-large eagle, very similar in general appearance to the Lesser Spotted Eagle, which shares part of its range. Head and wing coverts are very dark brown and contrast with the generally medium brown plumage (Lesser Spotted has pale head and wing coverts). The head is small for an eagle. The similarites of the Greater Spotted to the Lesser Spotted often results in misidentification as being that species. This is further complicated by occasional hybrids between the two species.

There is often a less obvious white patch on the upperwings, but a white crescent on the primary remiges is a good field mark. The white V mark on the rump is less clear-cut in adults than in the Lesser Spotted Eagle. The juvenile has white spots all over its wings and lacks a lighter nape patch.

The call is a dog-like yip.

In winter, it occurs in the range of the Indian Spotted Eagle. From this recently-validated species, it can be distinguished by the darker color, the lighter eye (lighter than the body plumage at least at close range), and in juveniles, the strong spotting. It is also a bit larger - though this cannot be reliably estimated in the field - and in the winter quarters prefers wetland habitat.

Systematics, taxonomy and evolution

The Lesser Spotted Eagle is this species' closest living relative; their common ancestor seems to have diverged around the middle Pliocene, perhaps some 3.6 million years ago (mya), from the ancestors of the Indian Spotted Eagle. The "proto-Spotted Eagle" probably lived in the general region of Afghanistan, being split into a northern and a southern lineage when both glaciers and deserts advanced in Central Asia as the last ice age began. The northern lineage subsequently separated into the eastern (Greater) and western (Lesser) species of today, probably around the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary not quite 2 mya.

The spotted eagles as a group are quite distinct from the typical members of Aquila, the "true eagles". They will probably be separated in Lophaetus, Ictinaetus or a genus of their own in the near future.

Distribution, ecology and status

This is a species of fairly wooded country, which hunts small mammals and similar, mainly terrestrial prey. It breeds from northern Europe across Asia, and winters in southeastern Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.

An adult Greater Spotted was tagged with a satellite transponder in 1993 in order to track migration. The tagged eagle migrated a total of 5,526 kilometers (3,434 miles) from its wintering grounds in Yemen to it breeding grounds in western Siberia. It moved 150 km (94 miles) on average each day, but this increased to 280 km (175 mi) per day as the bird flew through Mesopotamia

This eagle lays 1-3 eggs in a tree nest.

It is classified as Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. As of 2000, the world population of this eagle was estimated at less than 3,000 breeding pairs. The primary threats are habit degradation and loss as well as human disturbance during mating season.

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