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Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater spotted eagle
Information
Common Name Spotted Eagle
Range northern Europe eastwards across Asia, and winters in south-eastern Europe, north-eastern Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Accipitriformes
Family Accipitridae
Genus Clanga
Species Clanga clanga
Conservation Status
VUSpecies
Vulnerable

The Greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga), occasionally just called the spotted eagle, is a species of large bird of prey in the Accipitridae family.

Systematics, Taxonomy and Evolution

The typical eagles are often united with the buteos (Buteo), sea eagles (Haliaetus) and other more heavy-set Accipitridae, but they may be less distinct than formerly believed from the more slender accipitrine hawks.

The lesser spotted eagle is the greater spotted eagle's 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 that lives across Iran, Pakistan and India. 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 are quite distinct as a group from the typical members of Aquila, the "true eagles". They will probably be included with their putative tropical relatives in Lophaetus or Ictinaetus, or moved to a genus of their own in the future.

Description

The eagle is 59–71 cm (23–28 in) in length and has a wingspan of 157–179 cm (5.15–5.87 ft). Typical body mass is 1.6–2.5 kg (3.5–5.5 lb), with an occasional big female weighing up to 3.2 kg (7.1 lb).

There is often a less obvious white patch on the upperwings, but a light 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 (Clanga pomarina). The juvenile has white spots all over its wings and lacks a lighter nape patch.

The call is a dog-like yip.

Identification

This medium-sized eagle is very similar in general appearance to its closest relative 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; the lesser spotted eagle has a paler head and wing coverts. The head is small for an eagle. The similarities 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.

In winter, it occurs in the range of the Indian spotted eagle (Clanga hastata). From this recently validated relative, it can be distinguished by the darker color and lighter eye (not darker than the body plumage at distance, lighter 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.

Distribution and Habitat

This is a species of wooded country. The population is entirely migratory. It breeds from northern Europe eastwards across Asia, and winters in south-eastern Europe, north-eastern Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. Migration to the breeding grounds takes place fairly late; in Bhutan, for example, birds can be seen with some regularity until the end of March.

Movements

This species is prone to vagrancy. Its regular breeding range no longer extends as far westwards as Germany but birds are still occasionally seen there with a few records per decade. Even young birds disperse widely; the Staatliches Museum für Tierkunde Dresden has a specimen (C 21845) shot in November 1914 near Bernsdorf in Saxony. It is a juvenile, and though its exact age cannot be determined it is heavily spotted and probably less than 20 months old.

Behavior

In its winter range, the species is more social than when breeding. Small flocks of up to ten birds or so, of varying age, can be seen to patrol the land together. They also associate with other Accipitridae such as local and/or migrant black kites (Milvus migrans lineatus and govinda) or steppe eagles (A. nipalensis), distinctly smaller and larger raptors, respectively.

Feeding

The eagle hunts small mammals and similar, mainly terrestrial, prey.

Breeding

This eagle lays 1–3 eggs in a tree nest. Generally territorial, juveniles spend some time with their parents after fledging, until they reach sexual maturity and seek out a territory and a mate of their own.

Status and Conservation

It is classified as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. As of 2000, the world population of this eagle was estimated at less than 4,000 breeding pairs. The primary threats are habit degradation and habitat loss, as well as human disturbance during the mating season.

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