What types of eagles can you find in Italy?
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 Italy!
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
- 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 Italy.
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
- 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 Italy! They soar over their territory from a height of up to 500 meters, hunting from the air and diving to catch their prey.
- RELATED: The 2 BEST Birding Tours in Italy!
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 Italy 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
- 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 Italy 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 Italy 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
- 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 Italy 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 Italy 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. Greater Spotted Eagle
- Clanga clanga
- 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 Italy 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!
#6. Bonelli’s Eagle
- Aquila fasciata
- 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 Italy, traveling up to 536 kilometers away from their nest. This is thought to contribute to a healthier gene selection by diversifying the population.
- Pandion haliaetus
- 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 Italy?
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 Italy?
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 Italy?
Leave a comment below!