What Types of Eagles Live in Europe? (11 species w/pics)

What types of eagles can you find in Europe?

 

Whenever they appear, I make sure to stop and watch these incredible birds of prey. I’m always amazed at their beauty, large size, and astonishing ability to soar at extreme heights! And I’m not alone, as eagles have a special place in many people’s hearts and minds.

 

Below are the eagles that live in Europe!

 

Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which eagles live near you! In addition, I’ve included a few photographs to help you identify any birds you are lucky enough to observe for each species.

 


#1. Golden Eagle

  • Aquila chrysaetos

species of eagles in the united states

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a length of 66 to 100 centimeters and a wingspan of 1.8 to 2.3 meters.
  • The coloring is dark brown on the body, with a golden-brown head and yellow feet.
  • The head seems small for the body and includes a hooked beak.

 

Golden Eagles are incredibly fast and agile, which makes them expert hunters. Where other eagles primarily eat fish or reptiles, these eagles almost always eat mammals. Their favorite prey includes rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and marmots. But these raptors have been known to hunt and kill animals as large as small deer, badgers, or a bear cub. Talk about bravery (or stupidity?)! 🙂

 

Golden Eagles typically mate for life. To impress a female, male birds pick up a stick or a rock and fly up high, only to drop it. Then the eagle dives to catch the object again before it hits the ground! Once paired up, it’s common for them to hunt cooperatively, where one individual ambushes the prey and drives it towards the second bird to make the kill.

 

Golden Eagles are common to see in Europe.

These birds prefer vast open areas that include cliffs, mountains, or hills. However, you can also spot these birds in grasslands, farmlands, shrublands, arctic tundra, and coniferous woodlands.

 

These eagles are not extremely noisy, and their calls sound like weak, high whistles. For such a powerful raptor, you’d think Golden Eagles would have a much more intimidating sound!

 


#2. Short-Toed Eagle

  • Circaetus gallicus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 59 to 70 centimeters long with a wingspan of 162 to 195 centimeters.
  • Their coloring is brown with a predominantly white underside.
  • Black bars line the underside of their wings and belly and are visible when flying.

 

Short-Toed Eagles fly more than any other eagle in Europe! They soar over their territory from a height of up to 500 meters, hunting from the air and diving to catch their prey.

 

Sometimes called Short-Toed Snake Eagles, this species primarily eats reptiles and occasionally birds and mammals. If they attempt to snatch a snake too large to pick up, they’ll fight it on the ground, grabbing at it with its claws and beak until the snake dies.

 

This species primarily lives in open plains and semi-desert regions where snakes are plentiful.  Short-Toed Eagles in Europe migrate to avoid cold winters, while those in Asia and the Middle East are year-round residents.

The species has a wide range and a large population, but it isn’t immune to threats from humans. For example, in 1993, 50 Short-Toed Eagles stopped in Malta during their migration, and they were all illegally shot and killed in one day.

 

You might have heard the call of a Short-Toed Eagle and assumed it was another water bird since they sound similar to gulls!

 


#3. Lesser Spotted Eagle

  • Clanga pomarina

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically up to 60 centimeters long with a wingspan of 150 centimeters.
  • Their small, light brown head contrasts with their dark brown wings and body.
  • Typically they have a white patch on the wings and a V-shaped marking near the base of the tail.

 

Lesser Spotted Eagles live in open country and lightly wooded grasslands. They are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and hunt during the day. They primarily live in trees and hunt from perches, gliding down to capture small mammals for meals.

It’s rare for Lesser Spotted Eagles to hunt while flying, but they’ll walk on the forest floor to forage for food. They have keen eyesight and often hunt with other Lesser Spotted Eagles.

 

This species is one of the most territorial eagles in Europe and will regularly fight other birds that encroach on its home range. Male Lesser Spotted Eagles are more aggressive than females and usually display aggression toward other males, while females protect nesting and roosting sites. Here, you can see a female doing just that on a nest camera.

 

Lesser Spotted Eagles are the only species in Europe with the unusual habit of nest visitation.

 

The reason isn’t known, but females will often visit the nests of other females and stay for short periods before returning to their own territory. Researchers have discovered that females make these visits even if they aren’t closely related, almost as if they’re visiting for a neighborly chat!

 


#4. Booted Eagle

  • Hieraaetus pennatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically are up to 40 centimeters long with a wingspan of 110 to 132 centimeters.
  • Two distinct color morphs:
    • The light morph is pale gray with a dark gray head and wings.
    • The dark morph is mid-brown with dark gray wings.
  • This species is relatively small and has a very short neck.

 

Booted Eagles in Europe are migratory, living during the breeding season in open forests and hilly terrain. Then, they travel south toward Sub-Saharan Africa during winter. They will nest in nearly any protected area except for dense forests, which don’t allow them to fly freely.

The less-common dark morph of this species is often confused with the Black Kite due to their similar coloring and size. One way to tell the two apart is to look at the tail feathers. In Black Kites, the tail feathers are spread straight across and end in a sharp line. Booted Eagles have a fan-like tail with a curved edge.

 

Booted Eagles hunt from the air, circling above clearings and diving to catch smaller birds on the ground. They occasionally eat reptiles and mammals. Breeding pairs mate for life and can often be seen flying and hunting together. The best time to observe Booted Eagles in Europe is March and September when they migrate. The birds are often secluded during the breeding season in forested nesting areas, and males only leave to hunt.

 

Even though the Booted Eagle’s habitat is threatened due to development and agricultural activity, its population is steady and not in decline.

 

Like other eagle species, Booted Eagles’ voices don’t really match their fierce looks! The short, high chirping notes sound more like a garden songbird.

 


#5. White-Tailed Eagle

  • Haliaeetus albicilla

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 66 to 94 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1.78 to 2.45 meters.
  • Their coloring is grayish-brown with a lighter, striped head. They have black and yellow beaks and yellow feet.
  • The tail feathers are white above and below.

 

White-Tailed Eagles are the largest eagle in Europe!

 

They are one of the largest living birds of prey, growing to nearly a meter in length and a wingspan of almost 2.5 meters!

 

This species is associated with water and primarily lives in coastal regions of Europe. Their habitats include estuaries, coastal marshes, and rocky beaches. If these habitats aren’t available, White-Tailed Eagles will nest and live in forested areas with nearby water.

You shouldn’t have any trouble recognizing this species since they’re the only eagle in Europe with a completely white tail! They are also so large that they’re impossible to miss, whether flying or perching in a tree or at the edge of a cliff.

 

White-Tailed Eagles are patient, calm birds and can remain still, only occasionally calling, for hours at a time! They spend up to 90% of their day perched in trees or on cliff edges, occasionally taking flight and soaring over bodies of water.

 

Their primary diet is fish and water birds, but they’ll occasionally eat mammals if they’re more readily available. To catch fish, they perch until they spot their target near the surface of the water, then soar down and take it alive. Hunting water birds is trickier since most species are faster than the White-Tailed Eagle. As a result, they often use the element of surprise or wait until a bird is exhausted from hunting to catch and eat it.

 


#6. Greater Spotted Eagle

  • Clanga clanga

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 59 to 71 centimeters long with a wingspan of 157 to 179 centimeters.
  • They have a black head and wings and a brown body. Their wings have pale gray stripes that are visible when they are perched.
  • In flight, the entire underside appears brown with some lighter tan dappling.

 

Greater Spotted Eagles live in the wooded countryside and regularly migrate each year. They spend summers in their breeding grounds to the north and travel south for winter, stopping along the way to rest and hunt. During migration, they travel up to 5,526 kilometers, reaching distances of 280 kilometers per day!

During winter, Greater Spotted Eagles are more social than most other birds of prey. They congregate in flocks of up to ten birds and even hunt with other species, like Black Kites and Steppe Eagles.

 

However, because their wintering location is further south, your best chance to see a Greater Spotted Eagle in Europe is during its migration to or from its breeding home. Look for a large brown bird perched in a tree or a single pair of brown eagles flying overhead.

 

Unfortunately, sightings of this species are rare because of its small population. Greater Spotted Eagles are vulnerable to extinction, and only about 4,000 of the species remain in the wild. Habitat loss due to human development and disturbance of nesting sites from deforestation are the two leading causes of its population decline.

 

The call of the Greater Spotted Eagle is a high, drawn-out chirp that is surprisingly faint for such a large bird!

 


#7. Imperial Eagle

  • Aquila heliaca

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 68 to 90 centimeters long with a wingspan of 1.76 to 2.2 meters.
  • Their coloring is dark brown to black, with a light tan head and neck and bright white spots on the back.
  • When in flight, the underside appears grayish with small white markings.

 

Imperial Eagles live primarily in taiga forests but range into grasslands and other open areas as well. You may even find one in an agricultural field, foraging for a meal. Look for them soaring over open areas searching for prey or perched in trees, taking a rest.

This species almost always hunts from above and takes its prey on the ground, soaring down to intercept it from its perch or the sky. Typically, the Imperial Eagle prefers small and medium-sized mammals, and also eats birds, frogs, and fish. Sometimes larger animals like foxes or domestic cats can fall victim to Imperial Eagles, but this is rare.

 

Like many other eagles in Europe, Imperial Eagles mate for life and are often found as mating pairs in the wild. These mating pairs face the challenges of low breeding success and low survival rates to adulthood, which are rare problems for large raptors. Unfortunately, mating pairs of Imperial Eagles only have about a 50% success rate of raising their young to fledglings, and only 84% of fledglings reach adulthood.

 

These factors combined with nesting habitat loss, unintentional poisoning from wolf baits, and intentional killings have caused a widespread population decline of Imperial Eagles. Conservation efforts have been in place for the last 40 years across Europe, which has helped this species regain some of its population. Habitat protection programs, the installation of artificial nesting platforms, and regulations on the use of traps and baits have all contributed to an increase in Imperial Eagles in Europe.

 


#8. Bonelli’s Eagle

  • Aquila fasciata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 55 to 74 centimeters long with a wingspan of 143 to 180 centimeters.
  • The back and wings are dark brown, with a mottled white chest and a light brown head.
  • The legs are unusually long, and the feet and talons are enormous for their size.

 

Bonelli’s Eagles live near large bodies of water like the Mediterranean Sea. They are permanent residents of their range and don’t typically migrate.  Look for them in foothills and mountain areas with plenty of rocky cliffs to perch on.

Researchers have found that Bonelli’s Eagles also hunt in tandem with their mating partner. However, this doesn’t seem to help their success or increase the size of their meal. It’s more likely that this tandem hunting is done to strengthen the pair’s relationship. That’s a pretty unique date activity!

 

Bonelli’s Eagles hunt a wide selection of prey, including mammals, lizards, and smaller birds. They specialize in hunting European rabbits and partridges, and they will almost always seek them out to eat when available.

 

After they leave the nest for the final time, Bonelli’s Eagles disperse to find their own territory and begin the process of finding a mate. They have the widest dispersal area of any eagle in Europe, traveling up to 536 kilometers away from their nest. This is thought to contribute to a healthier gene selection by diversifying the population.

 


#9. Steppe Eagle

  • Aquila nipalensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 60 to 89 centimeters long with a hugely variable wingspan of 165 to 262 centimeters.
  • The coloring is dark brown with black and white bars on the chest and wings. In flight, the wings appear striped.
  • Its body is broader than most other eagles, with a thick neck and small head.

 

The Steppe Eagle is the most unusual eagle in Europe!

 

If you compare this peculiar species to its cousins, it’s hard to believe it could be an eagle at all! Steppe eagles live and nest primarily on the ground, away from forests, and in areas with very few tall trees or plants.

They hunt from the ground, usually perched on small hills or outcrops. They are a specialized predator of ground squirrels, which they eat almost exclusively when they are available. Additionally, Steppe Eagles are adapted to feed on them better than any other prey. They can chase the squirrels on foot in addition to flying after them and even drop stones to distract the squirrels and sneak up on them!

 

In winter, Steppe Eagles take their strange feeding habits even further. They become sluggish and seem to stop actively hunting altogether, preferring to wait for swarms of insects to pass by so they can catch one, feeding on carrion, and even visiting landfills for a quick snack.

 

Despite mating for life, Steppe Eagles spend most of the breeding season in solitude and only spend a short time together during the mating process. However, they are much more social over winter, roosting in groups and occasionally eating with other species like the Greater Spotted Eagle.

 

Their call is just one more thing that sets them apart from other eagles. Instead of the characteristic chirping call, Steppe Eagles sound like crows!

 


#10. Spanish Imperial Eagle

  • Aquila adalberti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 72 to 85 centimeters long with a wingspan of 177 to 220 centimeters.
  • Their coloring is dark, oily brownish-black with a pronounced white bar on the wings and a sandy-colored head and neck.
  • Young members of the species are very different in appearance, with a uniform sandy coloring and dark bars on the wings.

 

This species has the smallest range of all eagles in Europe.

 

Spanish Imperial Eagles are only found on the Iberian Peninsula, in Spain and Portugal. Their population is very low and, until recently, they were considered critically endangered.

This species prefers dry, mature forests as its habitat and will usually choose nesting sites close to the edge of a forest in a shrubby, secluded area. They are shy and wary of human disturbance, so observing one in the wild can be tricky! If you do spot one, stay as still as possible and observe from a distance.

 

Typically, Spanish Imperial Eagles eat rabbits, but as this prey becomes scarce due to disease, the eagles have turned to water birds as the main food source. Geese, ducks, and other large waterfowl are all on the menu.

 

Nesting Spanish Imperial Eagles lay clutches of one to three eggs, which hatch in about 43 days. Once the hatchlings begin moving around the nest, an intense rivalry starts. Siblings are so aggressive toward one another that fights between nestmates account for 50% of juvenile deaths!

 


#11. Osprey

  • Pandion haliaetus

osprey

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 50 to 65 centimeters long, and their wingspan is 150 to 180 centimeters.
  • Coloring is dark brown on the wings and back with a white neck, chest, and underparts.
  • The beak and talons are black.

 

The first thing you need to know about Ospreys is they are NOT eagles! They are not hawks either and, scientifically speaking, have been given their own Family (Pandionidae) and Genus (Pandion), separate from all other birds of prey.

 

So, why include them on a list of common eagles in Europe?

 

Even though Ospreys are not eagles, they certainly resemble them. Therefore, many people think they are looking at some species of eagle or hawk when they first observe an Osprey. These raptors have also been given nicknames, such as Sea Hawk, River Hawk, and Fish Hawk, hinting at the association between an Osprey and other birds of prey.

When you think of an Osprey, think of fish because that is what these birds eat 99% of the time. Even an Osprey’s talons are perfectly adapted for catching fish. If you take a close look, you’ll see they are extremely curved and even intersect when fully closed, making them perfectly designed for holding onto slippery fish!

 

And these guys don’t just skim the surface and grab their prey near the top like an eagle. Instead, Ospreys hit the water HARD and plunge right in to assure themselves of a catch. Amazingly, they can then take off while submerged and with a fish in their talons!

 

Because of their specialized diet, you’ll almost always find Ospreys living, breeding, and raising their young around bodies of water. They mate for life, and it’s common for them to use human-made nesting platforms. If you live near a large body of water, I recommend installing one to see if you can attract a nesting pair!

 

Listen for Ospreys next time you’re near a large body of water. Their alarm call is a series of short high-pitched whistles that descend in pitch. The noise has been compared to a teapot taken off a stove.

 


Do you need additional help identifying eagles in Europe?

 

Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist! (Links below take you to Amazon)

 


Which eagles have you seen before in Europe?

 

Leave a comment below!

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