Europe’s smallest eagle, the booted eagle, otherwise known as the Booted Hawk Eagle, prefers the warmer climes of southern Europe and south central Asia and whilst not threatened globally, its population within Europe is showing signs of decline.
Booted Hawk Eagle
The booted eagle is a polymorphic medium build bird of prey similar in size to a common buzzard. The two colour morphs are distinct and mainly confined to the bird’s underparts with the pale form being the most common. The upper parts of both forms including the upper wing and tail are similar with dark grey flight feathers (primaries and secondaries) and lighter brownish coverts fading to a paler almost white at the tips, forming a diagonal pale band. The rump has a white crescent and there are two distinct bright white spots on the shoulders immediately next to the neck. Upper tail coverts are also a pale brown and the trailing edges of both the wings and the tail are almost white and appear as translucent, which is particularly obvious in flight. The pale morph has white underparts and underwing coverts with white feathered legs and a grey brown head. Underwing flight feathers are a dark grey and brown and the wing tips are distinctively well fingered. The fan shaped under tail feathers and coverts are white. The dark form bird is a dull brown overall across the underparts with a pale patch running from the base of the fingered wingtips to the edge of the primaries where they meet the secondary flight feathers. Under tail feathers and coverts are similarly pale. The feet of both forms are yellow as is the cere with the rest of the hooked bill being dark grey to black. Eyes vary in colour from a yellowy brown to a reddish brown and juvenile birds are similar to the adults and are also polymorphic.
A repeated and loud medium pitched ‘kli – kli – kli’ is often used in display although the booted eagle is more commonly a silent predator.
Booted Eagle in flight
Whilst larger insects such as locusts form part of the diet, more commonly a variety of birds, reptiles and mammals are selected even up to the size of rabbits. Prey is frequently located whilst the eagle is perched nearby and can be caught from a fast almost vertical swoop from above.
Booted Eagle with prey
The booted eagle breeds in southern Europe, particularly along the Mediterranean coastline including Gibraltar and the Balearic Islands. Then eastwards through Greece and Israel into the Caucuses, Iran and the Middle East and across to the Himalayas. South of the Mediterranean they also breed in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and down into South Africa. During the winter months the majority of the species breeding within Europe migrate into sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and the Indian sub-continent.
Booted Eagle from behind
The adult female can be up to twice the size of the male and is thus easy to spot if seen as a pair together. Booted eagles settle in a variety of habitats including open woodlands, semi desert and deserts, mountain areas, open scrubland and grass plains. Rarely seen in areas with other birds of prey and usually solitary or with a mate. They often perch in the tops of dead trees close to their nest whilst scanning the nearby ground for prey. In flight, from above or head on, both morphs can be identified by the distinctive bright white spots on top of the wing at the shoulder.
Nests are usually built of large twigs and sticks lined with leaves and located in trees or occasionally on cliff ledges, although old nests from other species may also be utilised. One clutch averaging two white, green tinted, eggs is laid annually between March to May, dependent upon location and incubated mainly by the female for between thirty six to thirty eight days. Fledging normally occurs approximately fifty four days after hatching and the young may stay with the parents for a further five to seven weeks.
Booted Eagle nest with eggs
A pair of Booted Eagles
The expected lifespan of a booted eagle is up to fifteen years in the wild although there have been examples of ringed birds exceeding twenty years of age.
A member of the sub-family of booted eagles due to its feather covered legs and named after the famous Italian ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli, the species is considered endangered across Europe but secure elsewhere within its range.