Steppe Eagle, Aquila nipalensis

Steppe Spotted Eagle

Steppe Eagle, Oman, © Jochen Fünfstück

Names

English: Steppe Eagle
Scientific: Aquila nipalensis
German: Steppenadler
Spanish: Águila esteparia
French: Aigle des steppes

Taxonomy & Subspecies

Formerly thought to be the same species as the Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax with witch the Steppe Eagle is closely related. Today they are definitely regarded as seperate species.
Other close relatives are the Eastern Imperial Eagle and the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

No subspecies recognized [GRIN 2009].

Size

Length: 66-79 cm
Wingspan: Males 165-180 cm, Females 180-200 cm
Weight: Males 2,000-3,100 g, Females 2,300-3,900 g

Maximum Age

41 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

As the name already says, the Steppe Eagle is a bird of open habitat like steppes, desert, semi-desert, grasslands and even agricultural areas.
In the winter quarters, for example in India or Oman, also found at garbage dumps.

Distribution

In Europe only found in Russia north and north-west of the Caspian Sea. Formerly also nested in Moldova and Romania but it is long extinct in those countries. Also gone from the Ukraine since the 1980s [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Outside of Europe the species is found in the steppes of central Asia eastwards to Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, Tibet and northeastern China [GRIN 2009]. During winter in Africa and southwestern Asia.

Migration

The Steppe Eagle is a migratory species. Most European birds and those from western Asia spend the winter in eastern and southern Africa. Some also spend the winter on the Arabian Peninsula.
Birds from farther east spend the winter in India and neighbouring countries.

Breeding and Reproduction

Age of first breeding not yet known, probably around 4 years [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Often nests on the ground, slope of a hill and also on bushes and power poles.
1 - 4 eggs are laid. Incubation time is about 45 days [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. The young stay in the nest for about 60 days. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006] assume that cainism (the killing of young eagles by their older siblings) does not occur with this species as often 2 or 3 young fledge.

Food and hunting

Mostly preys on small mammals but also on birds and reptiles when mammals are scarce. The most important prey species are susliks like the Little Ground Squirrel Spermophilus pygmaeus, in some places also takes Great Gerbil Rhombomys opimus [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
In it's winter range, the species also feeds on insects like locuts and termites and also on queleas (small songbirds ) colonies [GRIN 2009].
Steppe Eagle also take carrion and will even visit landfills.
Steppe Eagles mostly hunt from perches, but also from flight.

Population

The population in the European part of Russia was estimated at about 20,000 pairs at the beginning of the 1990s, but today the population is smaller. Exact data is not available [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
[BirdLife International 2004] gives 5,000 - 20,000 for the year 1994.

Threats

Electrocution is a serious problem which causes the death of many Steppe Eagles. The taking of young eagles out of the nest in order to sell them to western European countries also occurs [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
[GRIN 2009] also mentions persecution.
Beside that, the large scale destruction of steppe habitat and conversion the agricultural land (and the following reduction of prey like susliks) is the major reason for the decline of the Steppe Eagle.

Conservation

The habitat for the Steppe Eagle must be protected. Agricultural practices should respect the habitat and the conservation of steppe birds like the Steppe Eagle.
Power lines must be made safe for birds. Illegal trade and persecution must be stopped.
More research about the current population size is also needed.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk

References

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Steppe Eagle species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/BirdsInEuropeII/BiE2004Sp3533.pdf)

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 12 Sep. 2009

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Steppe Eagle

GRIN species account for the Steppe Eagle