Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The tawny eagle is most frequently seen soaring high in the air or perched at the top of a tree, scanning the ground for prey (6). A formidable hunter, the tawny eagle will tackle mammals as large as hares, as well as sizeable birds and lizards, which it catches by making a rapid dive from its perch or during flight, seizing the animal in its powerful talons. When available, this species will also exploit a variety of other food sources such as carrion, insects, amphibians and fish, and frequently steals food from other birds, such as storks, raptors and ground-hornbills (2). The tawny eagle's breeding season varies according to location, but most commonly occurs in the dry season (2). Courtship consists of aerial displays, during which this normally silent species makes a series of noisy croaks and grunts (7). After mating, a large, flat nest is constructed from sticks lined with grass and leaves, usually at the top of a thorny tree or very occasionally on a power pylon (2) (6). A clutch of two eggs is laid, which hatch after around 39 to 44 days. During the early stages of the 77 to 84 day fledging period, while the chicks are still small, the eldest chick may kill the younger sibling (2) (8). A single nest may be used repeatedly for many years, so long as the crown of the tree remains unaltered (8). Tawny eagles have a relatively long lifespan, reaching up to 16 years (5).
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Description

Common and widespread, the tawny eagle is a relatively large, handsome bird of prey, with heavily feathered legs (4) (5). The plumage is generally tawny to rusty brown in colour, often with dark markings on the wings, especially the flight-feathers (2) (4). Three subspecies are currently recognised, which occupy different geographical regions, and vary slightly in size, markings and colouration (2). During its first year, the immature tawny eagle's plumage is much paler than the adults, often whitish, especially on the underparts (2) (4).
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Distribution

Tawny eagles occur from Romania east to southern Russia and Mongolia, and south through India and much of Africa.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); ethiopian (Native )

  • Campbell, B. 1983. The Dictionary of Birds in Color. New York, NY: Exeter Books.
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Range

There are two African tawny eagle subspecies, Aquila rapax rapax, which can be found throughout southern Africa, as well as south-eastern parts of Central Africa, and Aquila rapax belisarius, which is found in Morocco, Algeria, much of tropical Africa between the Sahara and the equator, and also southern Arabia. In Asia, the subspecies Aquila rapax vindhiana occupies much of India, Pakistan and southern Nepal as well as parts of Myanmar and Vietnam (1) (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Aquila rapax plumage varies from very dark brown to light brown shades with blackish flight feathers and tail, light colored stripes or bars on the wings, and a pale lower back. Tawny eagles with darker shades of brown generally have tawny coloration on the body, distinguishing them from similar species of eagles, which lack any tawny coloration. The eyes are brown and the beak is yellow with a dark tip. Females are typically larger than males, otherwise the sexes are similar. Immature tawny eagles are paler and more streaked than are adults, sometimes "blonde" (white). Tawny eagles were thought to be synonymous with steppe eagles (Aquila nipalensis). Steppe eagles are larger than tawny eagles (up to twice the size in weight) and are darker in color.

Range mass: 1950 to 2500 g.

Range length: 65 to 72 cm.

Range wingspan: 1.72 to 1.85 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

  • Brown, L. 1977. Eagles of the World. New York, NY: Universe Books.
  • Clancey, P. 1964. Birds of Natal and Zululand. London: Oliver and Boyd Ltd.
  • Maclean, G. 1988. Robert's Birds of Southern Africa. London: New Holland Publishers Ltd.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology

Behaviour The species is resident across the Afrotropical, Indomalayan and fringing Palearctic regions (34N to 31S) but occurs in discrete populations. It is common across its range, and generally sedentary, although individuals are nomadic and will occasionally wander long distances. In West Africa individuals will make short distance seasonal movements south into the damper woodlands during October November and return in April (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Habitat The species occupies dry open habitats from sea level to 3000m, and will occupy both woodland and wooded savannah. In India it can be found near cultivated areas, settlements and slaughterhouses (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Diet The species has a wide prey base, taking mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and occasionally fish and amphibians. It will also regularly consume carrion and pirate other raptors prey (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Breeding Site Nesting occurs on a large stick platform that may also incorporate animal bones, and is located on top of tall isolated trees or occasionally on top of a pylon. The breeding season in Africa spans March to August in the north, October to June in the West, April to January in central and southern areas, and year-round (but mainly May-November) in Kenya. In India the season spans November to August (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Tawny eagles favor arid climates but occupy a wide range of habitats including deserts, steppes, open savannah, open grassland, mountainous regions, and cultivated steppes. The tend to avoid dense forests.

Range elevation: 600 to 4500 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

  • Brown, L., E. Urban, K. Newman. 1982. The Birds of Africa Vol. 1. London: Academic Press Inc.
  • Burton, P. 1983. Vanishing Eagles. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc.
  • Channing, K. 2006. "The Hawk Conservancy Trust" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at http://www.hawk-conservancy.org/priors/frodo.shtml.
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Throughout its wide range the tawny eagle may be found in a variety of habitats, but principally open savanna and arid steppe. It is absent from forests and areas of true desert (2).
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Trophic Strategy

Tawny eagles are generalist carnivores, they will eat insects, carrion, and small animals such as rodents. They are the only type of eagle that scavenge from humans regularly. Tawny eagles are also well known for robbing prey from other raptors, even birds much larger than they are.

Animal Foods: mammals; carrion ; insects

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

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Associations

Tawny eagles are primary predators. They are also piratical and opportunistic. They will steal prey from other animals as well as scavenge already dead prey.

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Nest predation by crows occurs more regularly in the nests of tawny eagles than in other species, possibly due to the openness of the nest site. There is very little other information on other predators or behaviors to prevent predation in tawny eagles. Tawny eagles are large birds of prey once they reach adulthood, they are probably do not have many predators.

Known Predators:

  • crows (Corvus)

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Tawny eagles are generally fairly silent, except when aggravated or displaying. Their call can be described as a sharp kwok  kwok. Occasionally tawny eagles will call during acts of piracy. Females may call from the nest, soliciting food. In general, vision is acute among eagles, and is likely to be their most important sense. They are able to see prey clearly at distances and up close. Their acute vision may also help in establishing territories. Hearing is also an important sense for tawny eagles, as it helps them locate prey when they are hunting.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The lifespan of adult eagles is difficult to determine in the wild. The oldest golden eagles, also in the genus Aquila, are recorded to have lived for sixty years. The average lifespan of golden eagles is 18 years, and they live approximately 40 to 45 years in captivity. The lifespan of tawny eagles may be similar to these values. In East Africa it is estimated that the lifespan of tawny eagles is 16 years on average, assuming that there is a 75% mortality rate before sexual maturity. Eagles live much longer in captivity, rarely reaching the same ages in the wild due to the high mortality rate within the first twelve months of life.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
40.3 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
16 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
40 to 45 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 40.3 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

Tawny eagles are monogamous, pairing for life. Behavior prior to and during mating varies for this species, but usually involves undulating displays made by the male followed by mutual soaring displays. Epigamic display, display that occurs during breeding, may involve high circling, alone or in pairs, over the nesting site. The male may perform a series of "pot hooks" which involves a series of gradual dives and swoops, with little to no wing flapping. The female may turn over and present her claws in response to the male swooping over her. Males and females may lock claws in flight. Actual mating usually occurs at or near the nesting site.

Mating System: monogamous

Tawny eagles breed once yearly. Breeding season varies by geographic location, but typically occurs from April to July. Males and females both build the nest. Males collect nest material, while females assemble the nest. Nests are usually in trees or telephone poles and are occupied for one to three years before they are abandoned. Female tawny eagles lay one to three eggs at three day intervals and incubate them for approximately 45 days. Although males primarily feed offspring while they are young, both parents bring food during fledging, which occurs at approximately 76 to 85 days old. Tawny eagles begin to fly around ten weeks, but chicks remain in the nest for approximately 5 more weeks after their first flight and remain reliant on their parents for food during this period. After that, the young become independent. Siblings are aggressive towards one another, many times resulting in the death of the younger hatchling, usually within the first few days of hatching.

Breeding interval: Tawny eagles breed once yearly.

Breeding season: The breeding season of tawny eagles is generally from April to July.

Range eggs per season: 1 to 3.

Range time to hatching: 39 to 45 days.

Range fledging age: 76 to 85 days.

Average fledging age: 84 days.

Average time to independence: 120 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 4 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 to 4 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Female tawny eagles generally incubate the eggs, occasionally assisted by males. For the first ten days females remain by the nest, brooding day and night, and males may also brood or shade the chicks from the sun. After 7 days females leave the chicks for extended periods, but stay near the nest to protect them. They continue to perch near the nest for approximately forty days. At fifty days, neither males nor females are near the nest during the day. Males brings most of the food for the chicks, but may be assisted by females after fifty days. Chicks make their first flight around 84 days old and may remain in the nest for up to forty days after the first flight. However, some young remain with the parents until the following breeding season.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)

  • Brown, L. 1977. Eagles of the World. New York, NY: Universe Books.
  • Brown, L., D. Amadon. 1968. Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of the World. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  • Brown, L., E. Urban, K. Newman. 1982. The Birds of Africa Vol. 1. London: Academic Press Inc.
  • Burton, P. 1983. Vanishing Eagles. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc.
  • Campbell, B. 1983. The Dictionary of Birds in Color. New York, NY: Exeter Books.
  • Knystautas, A. 1993. Birds of Russia. London: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Maclean, G. 1988. Robert's Birds of Southern Africa. London: New Holland Publishers Ltd.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Aquila rapax

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • 2013
    Least Concern (LC)
  • 2012
    Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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