Crested Serpent-eagle

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Image:CrestedSerpentEagle.jpg

Common Name: Crested Serpent-eagle
Scientific Name: Spilornis cheela

Size: 25.5-29.5 inches (65-75 cm); Wingspan: 48.5-61 inches (123-155cm)

Habitat: Asia; widespread range across tropical portions of the Indian subcontinent and southern Asia, from the Himalayas, the Kashmir region, and Nepal east to Tibet, southern China, and the Malay peninsula, along with the Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo, and the Andaman Islands.

They occur in a wide range of habitats, including rain forest, open savannah, mangrove swamps, plantations, ravines, evergreen and deciduous forest, and tidal creeks. Crested Serpent Eagles tolerate habitat disturbance, as long as there are some large trees. They live from 0-1,500 meters above sea level, but go as high as 2,500 m in Taiwan and 3,350 m in Nepal. They are irruptive or local migrants.

Status: Least Concern to Critically Endangered. Global population: adult individuals with a stable to decreasing population trend depending on location.

Diet: Reptiles; primarily snake and some lizards.

They roost in the interiors of trees with dense foliage. A radio-telemetric study of the species in Taiwan found that the birds spend 98% of the day perched and usually finding food in the morning hours. They appear to use a sit and wait foraging strategy. They will sometimes follow snakes on the ground.

Nesting: This medium-large, dark brown eagle is stocky, with rounded wings and a short tail. Its short black and white fan-shaped nuchal crest gives it a thick-necked appearance. The bare facial skin and feet are yellow. The underside is spotted with white and yellowish-brown. The wings are short and the tail appears long in comparison. In soaring flight, the broad and paddle-shaped wings are held in a shallow V. The tail and underside of the flight feathers are black with broad white bars. Young birds show a lot of white on the head. The tarsus (legs) are unfeathered and covered by hexagonal scales. The upper mandible does not have an overhanging festoon to the tip.

The call is a distinctive Kluee-wip-wip with the first note being high and rising. They call a lot in the late mornings from their perches where they spend a lot of time and they rise on thermals in the mornings. When alarmed, they erect the crest and the head appears large and framed by the ruff.

The breeding season begins in late winter when they start courting and establishing territories. The nest is a large platform built high on a tree. Both birds in a pair build the nest but the female alone incubates. The nests are lined with green leaves collected from nearby and are placed facing down on the nest floor. The eggs are laid in early summer. The male guards when the female forages. The usual clutch is one egg but two are sometimes laid and only a single chick is successfully raised in a season. When eggs are lost, a replacement is laid two to seven weeks later. The eggs hatch after about 41 days and the young fledge after about two months. Nests are defended by the parents.

Cool Facts: The specific name cheela is derived from the Hindi name for kites.

There are 21 populations that have been named as subspecies:

  • S. c. cheela is the most widespread subspecies. They are the nominate from along the sub-Himalayan range in India and Nepal.
  • S. c. melanotis is found in Peninsular India. It is smaller and has gray cheeks and two tail bands.
  • S. c. spilogaster is found in Sri Lanka. It has a brown breast and gray cheeks and throat.
  • S. c. burmanicus is found in most of Indochina. It is lighter in color with more barring and browner cheeks and throat than the nominate species.
  • S. c. ricketti is found in northern Vietnam and southern China. It is pale brown with little spotting and barring.
  • S. c. malayensis is found in the Thai-Malay Peninsula and northern Sumatra.
  • S. c. pallidus is found in northern Borneo. It is medium-sized, and darker.
  • S. c. richmondi is found in southern Borneo. It is pale brown with gray cheeks and * S. c. bido is found in Java and Bali. It is medium-sized, has a dark breast and upperparts, and clear white spots on the belly.
  • S. c. batu is found in southern Sumatra and Batu. It is smaller, and darker in color than the nominate species.
  • S. c. hoya is found in Taiwan. It has dark brown cheeks and throat and white barring and spots on underparts.
  • S. c. rutherfordi is found in Hainan. It is darker with clearer markings.
  • S. c. palawanensis is found in Palawan. It is medium-sized with rufous barring.
  • S. c. davisoni is found in the Andamans. It is paler with dark barring on the breast and two tail bands.
  • S. c. minimus (Central Nicobar serpent eagle) is found in the central Nicobars. It has a black head with brown underparts and clear white spotting on underside.
  • S. c. perplexus (Ryukyu serpent eagle) is found in Ryukyu.
  • S. c. natunensis (Natuna serpent eagle) is found in Natuna.
  • S. c. abbotti (Simeulue serpent eagle) is found in Simeulue.
  • S. c. sipora (Mentawai serpent eagle) is found in Mentawai.
  • S. c. asturinus (Nias serpent eagle) is found in Nias.
  • S. c. baweanus (Bawean serpent eagle) is found in the Baweans. The Bawean serpent eagle with a declining population has about 26–37 pairs left, which makes it critically endangered.


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume IV: Eagles of the World

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