Greater spotted eagle -- 乌雕 (Aquila clanga)

Juvenile greater spotted eagle, showing spotted plumage
IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable VULNERABLE

Top facts

  • Despite the greater spotted eagle’s name, it is only has white spots as a juvenile which fade away into adulthood.
  • The greater spotted eagle holds the feathers at the tips of its wings downward when in gliding flight.
  • The nest of the greater spotted eagle consists of a large platform made of sticks in a tree, on a rock face or even on the ground.
  • The greater spotted eagle is threatened by shooting and deliberate poisoning across parts of Europe and Southeast Asia.
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Greater spotted eagle fact file

Greater spotted eagle description

GenusAquila (1)

A medium-sized eagle, the greater spotted eagle only has white spots as a juvenile, when they extend in bands across the upperwing. By adulthood, the spots have faded leaving dark brown feathers across the head, body and wings, with slightly paler flight feathers on the upper side. In gliding flight, the greater spotted eagle holds the feathers at the tips of the wings downward. Although mainly a quiet bird, this eagle has a barking ‘kyak’ call during the breeding season (2).

Aigle criard.
Aguila Moteada.
Length: 62 – 74 cm (2)

Greater spotted eagle biology

Large platforms of sticks are constructed in trees, on rock faces, and even on the ground in early May, and these nests may be sparsely lined with dried grass and assorted plant stems. In mid May, between one and three eggs are laid, hatching 42 to 44 days later in mid to late June. Both parents care for the chick, providing it with food until it fledges in August (7).

Frogs constitute the majority of the diet in some areas (7), but the greater spotted eagle is also known to consume small mammals, waterbirds and snakes (2). It will eat carrion and may force black kites (Milvus migrans) to surrender prey (7).

The migratory movements of the greater spotted eagle are not well understood, but it seems the majority of the birds move from the main breeding areas in northeast Asia between late September and October to wintering grounds in southern China and south and Southeast Asia, returning to the breeding grounds in mid April (7).


Greater spotted eagle range

The range of the greater spotted eagle is fragmented, with breeding taking place in Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, mainland China and Mongolia. A migratory species, it leaves the breeding grounds for the winter, and may be found in central and eastern European, north and east Africa, the Middle East, the Arabian peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and east and Southeast Asia over winter (2).


Greater spotted eagle habitat

During the breeding season, the greater spotted eagle is found in lowland forests near wetlands, where it nests in tall trees and hunts over swamps and wet meadows (2). During the migration and in winter, it visits deserts, shrubland, wetlands, and mangroves, congregating around shallow water and perching on low bushes and small trees (7).


Greater spotted eagle status

The greater spotted eagle is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendices I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4), on Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (5) and on Annex I of the EC Birds Directive (6).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Greater spotted eagle threats

The threats faced by the greater spotted eagle are numerous and diverse. Their habitat is destroyed as a result of wetland drainage, afforestation, urbanisation and agricultural intensification as well as abandonment of traditional methods of floodplain management. In Belarus, Poland, Russia, the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, greater spotted eagle populations have suffered as a result of shooting, and across much of the range, deliberate and accidental poisoning has also caused greater spotted eagle deaths (2).

There is some evidence of hybridisation between the greater spotted eagle and the lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), but as yet it is not clear whether this is a natural phenomenon or a result of an increasing difficulty in finding a mate. Additionally, the greater spotted eagle is now thought to be competing for food with the introduced American mink (Mustela vison) where this mammal has colonised wetlands in Belarus (2).


Greater spotted eagle conservation

The greater spotted eagle is legally protected in Belarus, Estonia, France, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Russia, and is the subject of a European action plan (published in 2000) and a Belarusian national action plan. An International Lesser and Greater Spotted Eagle Working Group has been formed, and its proposed actions include a survey of the range and population, long-term monitoring schemes, research into breeding habitat requirements and protection of breeding grounds, the maintenance of traditional wet meadows, and the prevention of illegal shooting. Belarus has been particularly dedicated to the recovery of the greater spotted eagle, researching the hybridisation with the lesser spotted eagle and looking at habitat requirements. Site protection measures have come into force at key Belarusian sites, and include the restriction of forestry activities at nest sites in the winter season (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Dead flesh.
Cross-breeding between two different species or subspecies.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (February, 2005)
  3. CITES (February, 2005)
  4. Global Register of Migratory Species (May, 2008)
  5. Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (February, 2005)
  6. EC Birds Directive (February, 2005)
  7. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

Image credit

Juvenile greater spotted eagle, showing spotted plumage  
Juvenile greater spotted eagle, showing spotted plumage

© Bernard Castelein /

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