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Eastern Imperial Eagle
Aquila heliaca

Status: Vulnerable

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Asian Imperial Eagle, Imperial Eagle.

Aquila heliaca
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Breeds in central Europe and TURKEY east to Transbaikalia, northern PAKISTAN, and MONGOLIA; winters south to Middle East, northeastern Africa, Arabian Peninsula, northern INDIA, and eastern CHINA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic. more....

Taxonomy: Formerly considered to include Aquila adalberti as a subspecies (e.g., Brown and Amadon 1968, Stresemann and Amadon 1979, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001), but recent authors have treated the two as separate species based on morphological, ecological, and molecular differences (Hiraldo et al. 1976, Gonzalez et al. 1989, Seibold et al. 1996, Helbig et al. 2005). The cytochrome b gene study of Seibold et al. (1996) suggested that there was no evidence of gene flow between these populations since they became separated during the Pleistocene. Gonzales et al. 1989 and Gonzalez 1991 suggested that the two forms may have been parapatric as recently as the middle of the 19th century. Molecular phylogenetic analyses by Helbig et al. (op cit.) and Lerner and Mindell (2005), based on DNA sequences from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes, indicated that A. heliaca (and thus A. adalberti) forms a monophyletic group with A. nipalensis and A. rapax. The latter authors recommended that a taxonomic revision be undertaken to show the distinctiveness of this group from other Aquila eagles.

Movements: Partial migrant (Shirihai 1996, Bildstein 2006). Most of the European breeding population winters in the Middle East. Usually migrates singly, or in pairs, and rarely in small flocks (Rasmussen and Anderton 2005). more....

Habitat and Habits: On its breeding range in Russia, this species is found in forest-steppe, steppe, and desert, frequenting plains with isolated trees, pine forests, and small woods (Flint 1984). Wintering birds on the Indian subcontinent are found in open deserts, plains, dry paddyfields, and in wetland areas (Rasmussen and Anderton 2005). Tends to occur singly. Unwary and allows close approach (Adamian and Klem 1999). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: A specialist hunter of small mammals, including susliks, marmots, and hares, but also takes waterfowl and feeds on carrion. Like some other eagles, this species waits on the ground by rodent burrows for the occupants to emerge, but on the wintering grounds it takes more carrion and engages in kleptoparasitism (Rasmussen and Anderton 2005). Gathers in small groups at carrion, and this species is aggressive and dominant over other eagles (Rasmussen and Anderton op cit.). more....

Breeding: Bullds a large stick nest, which is placed in a tree, usually near the top, or on a power pole. Clutch size is 1-2 unmarked white eggs. more....

Conservation: This is one of the rarest birds of prey in Europe, although populations have generally increased for the last 20 years in some parts of its range (Belik and Galushin 1997, 1999), including Kazakhstan (Lindeman et al. 2005). The main threats to breeding populations are habitat alteration, which negatively affects both nesting and feeding areas, human disturbance of breeding sites, nest robbing, taking of nestlings for illegal trade, shooting, poisoning, reduction of prey populations, and electrocution by powerlines. Several of these factors also affect birds on migration (BirdLife International 2009). This species is classified globally as Vulnerable by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) thought that the total world population was probably a few thousand pairs, perhaps no more than about 2,000 pairs, and that the number of individuals is unlikely to reach five figures in the future. BirdLife International (2009) estimated the total population of mature birds at 5,200 to 16,800 individuals, but noted that the supporting data are poor. The European population was estimated at 800 to 1,100 breeding pairs by BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council (2000) and later at 850 to 1,400 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). more....

Important References: 
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened birds of the world. Lynx
  Edicions, Barcelona, Spain, and BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Danko, S., and J. Chavko. 1996. Breeding of the Imperial Eagle Aquila
in Slovakia. Pp. 415-423 in B.-U. Meyburg and R.D. Chancellor
  (eds.), Eagle Studies. World Working Group for Birds of Prey, Berlin.
Fefelov, I.V. 2004. Observation on the nesting of Imperial Eagle Aquila
in the Kultun-Zima steppe area, Baikal region, Russia. Forktail
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Heredia, B. 1996. Action Plan for the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca in
  Europe. Pp. 159-174 in B. Heredia, L. Rose, and M. Painter (eds.), Globally
  threatened birds in Europe: action plans. Council of Europe and BirdLife
  International, Strasbourg, France.
Katzner, T.E., E.A. Bragin, S.T. Knick, and A.T. Smith. 2005. Relationship
  between demographics and diet specificity of Imperial Eagles Aquila heliaca
  in Kazakhstan. Ibis 147:576-586.
Meyburg, B.U. 1994. Eastern Imperial Eagle. Pp. 194-195 in del Hoyo, J.,
  A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2.
  New World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Naoroji, R. 2006. Birds of prey of the Indian subcontinent. Christopher
  Helm, London.
Ryabtsev, V.V., and T.E. Katzner. 2007. Severe declines of Eastern
  Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca populations in the Baikal region, Russia: a
  modern and historical perspective. Bird Conservation International

Sites of Interest:
BirdLife International
Information on current status and recommended conservation actions.
Imperial Eagle listserver
For persons conducting research on the species.
Eastern Imperial Eagle photos.
Red Data Book Threatened Birds of Asia
Detailed information on status, threats, and proposed conservation actions.
Save the Raptors
Conservation of the Imperial Eagle and Saker Falcon in Bulgaria.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.

Angelov, Ivaylo
BT, Sowmithri
Demerdzhiev, Dimitar
Dobrev, Dobromir
Galushin, Vladimir
Gurung, Surya
Jais, Markus
Karyakin, Igor
Katzner, Todd E.
Meyburg, Bernd-U.
Nikolenko, Elvira
Saharudin, Muhd Hakim
Sandor, Attila
Vetrov, Vitaly
Vyas, Virag
Yotsova, Tsvetomira

Last modified: 1/15/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2017. Species account: Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 23 Feb. 2017

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