email a friend
printable version
Short-toed Snake-eagle Circaetus gallicus

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 10 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 10 years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
Clark, W. S. 1999. Plumage differences and taxonomic status of three similar Circaetus snake-eagles. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 119: 56-59.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Circaetus gallicus (including beaudouini) and C. pectoralis (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) were previously lumped into C. gallicus following Dowsett and Forbes-Watson (1993). Following a review by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group all three are now considered distinct species based on evidence provided by Clark (1999) and Kemp (1994).

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 17,600-20,900 breeding pairs, equating to 35,100-41,800 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms approximately 34% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 103,000-123,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed. It is placed in the band 100,000 to 200,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be stable in the absence of evidence for any declines or substantial threats. The European population is considered Stable (BirdLife International 2015). However declines have been reported in West Africa (Thiollay 2007).


Behaviour Birds breeding in the Palearctic are migratory, with the population in South-East Asia resident. Most migrants winter in tropical North Africa, with some eastern birds moving to the Indian Subcontinent (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Migrants move south between August and November, and north between February and May (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Birds are usually observed singly or in pairs, even on migration, though migrants will sometimes form groups of up to 12 (Snow and Perrins 1998, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). They soar at c.20-100 m above the ground (Brown et al. 1982). Habitat It uses a variety of habitats within warm temperate and tropical environments, and is recorded up to 2,300 m (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Diet It specialises in feeding on reptiles, particularly snakes (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Breeding site The nest is almost always built relatively low in a tree (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Management information Although occurring in many habitats, the species always requires some degree of tree cover (del Hoyo et al. 1994).


The species suffered a marked decline in northern Europe in the 19th-20th centuries, due to habitat loss and persecution (Snow and Perrins 1998, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In Europe, changes in agriculture and land use have reduced the extent of suitable hunting habitat. In addition snake populations have been reduced by increased cultivation of monocultures, hedge destruction, use of pesticides and the abandonment of traditional farmland and subsequent afforestation. Habitat fragmentation in Europe has resulted from forest fires and road construction. It still suffers from shooting on Malta (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Nest destruction and powerlines represent additional threats (Tucker and Heath 1994). It is also very highly vulnerable to the effects of potential wind energy development (Strix 2012). In its West African range, the species is vulnerable to habitat degradation through wood harvesting and overgrazing as well as exposure to pesticides (Thiollay 2007).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Brown, L.H., Urban, E.K. and Newman, K. 1982. The Birds of Africa, Volume I. Academic Press, London.

Clark, W. S. 1999. Plumage differences and taxonomic status of three similar Circaetus snake-eagles. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 119: 56-59.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1994. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Liège, Belgium.

Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. 2001. Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, London.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Sibley, C.G. and Monroe, B.L. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Sibley, C.G. and Monroe, B.L. 1993. A supplement to 'Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World'. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

STRIX. 2012. Developing and testing the methodology for assessing and mapping the sensitivity of migratory birds to wind energy development. BirdLife International, Cambridge.

Thiollay, J.-M. 2007. Raptor population decline in West Africa. Ostrich 78(2): 405-413.

Tucker, G.M. and Heath, M.F. 1994. Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Khwaja, N., Temple, H. & Ashpole, J

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Circaetus gallicus. Downloaded from on 26/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Short-toed snake-eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles)
Species name author (Gmelin, 1788)
Population size 100000-200000 mature individuals
Population trend Stable
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 6,880,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment