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Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
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This species has undergone extremely rapid population declines within its European range. The majority of its range lies outside Europe where it was not thought to be declining at a sufficiently rapid rate to approach the threshold for Vulnerable. However recent information suggests that the population outside Europe may be exposed to greater threats than was previously thought and has also undergone very rapid recent declines across much of the range. It is therefore classified as Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
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.

72-81 cm, wingspan 160-200 cm. Dark-brown, medium-large Aquila. Juvenile usually has broad whitish band along greater underwing coverts. Primaries banded, iris brown (Meyburg and Boesman 2013). Similar spp. Larger than Tawny Eagle A. rapax and separated by width and length of gape. Generally darker than Lesser Spotted Eagle A. pomarina and paler than Greater Spotted Eagle A. clanga and has oval nostrils rather than round as in both these species.

Distribution and population
This species breeds east of 42°E in European Russia from the Astrakhan to Stavropol regions (Hagermeijer and Blair 1997), across Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan, China and Mongolia (Meyburg and Boesman 2013). It also breeds in a small area of Turkey. It formerly bred in Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. Birds from European Russia, eastern Kazakhstan and Turkey (A. n. orientalis) winter in the Middle East, Arabia and east and southern Africa (Meyburg and Boesman 2013). Birds from Altai, Siberia eastwards (A. n. nipalensis) winter mainly in south and south-east Asia.

Population justification
Even assuming densities as low as one pair / 100 km2 across eight million km2 range there would be 80,000 pairs or 160,000 mature individuals (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The European population is estimated at 800-1,200 pairs, which equates to 1,600-2,400 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms approximately 9% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 17,800-26,700 mature individuals. The estimate based on the European population is much lower than the 160,000 mature individuals estimated by Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) and may be explained by differing densities of the species across its range. Combined totals from across the whole range estimate the number of pairs at 31,372 (26,014-36,731) which equates to 62,744 (52,028-73,462) mature individuals or 94,116 (78,042-110,193) individuals (I. Karyakin in litt. 2015). The population is placed in the band 100,000 to 499,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population is declining owing to habitat destruction (especially conversion of steppe into agricultural land), persecution, and collisions with power lines. Locally populations are declining owing to heavy predation of chicks (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 80% or more in 49.8 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015) however the European population represents only a small proportion of the global population. Combined totals from across the species's range suggest a decline of 58.6% between 1997-2011 and 2013-2015 (I. Karyakin in litt. 2015).

It inhabits areas of steppe and semi-desert, and is recorded breeding up to 2,300 m in mountainous regions (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It feeds mainly on small mammals on its breeding grounds, with susliks forming the vast majority of its diet in some areas; when wintering it appears to feed mainly on mole rats in East Africa, and termites and Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea predominate in southern Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Nests have traditionally been built as large platforms on the ground, although recent habitat alterations seem to have caused a shift to building a few metres higher in bushes or trees (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It also nests on artificial structures. The species is migratory, with birds wintering in south-east Africa and southern Asia (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Migrants leave their breeding grounds between August and October, returning between January and May (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It avoids sea crossings and thus forms large concentrations at bottleneck sites (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Snow and Perrins 1998, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001).

The species has declined in the west of its breeding range, including extirpation from Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, as a result of the conversion of steppes to agricultural land combined with direct persecution (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Meyburg and Boesman 2013). It is also adversely affected by power lines and is very highly vulnerable to the impacts of potential wind energy developments (Strix 2012, Meyburg and Boesman 2013). It was recently found to be the raptor most frequently electrocuted by power lines in a study in western Kazakhstan (Levin and Kurkin 2013). Young eagles are taken out of the nest in order to sell them to western European countries (Mebs and Schmidt 2006). A decline in the number of birds and a reduction in the proportion of juveniles migrating over Eilat, Israel began immediately after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, leading Yosef and Fornadari (2004) to suggest that the species may have been affected by radioactive contamination. This species is vulnerable to the veterinary drug diclofenac (Sharma et al. 2014).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. CITES Appendix II. Bern Convention Appendix II. There are currently no conservation actions known to be in place for this species. 

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Protect remaining grassland steppes in Europe and the rest of its range. Dangerous electric powerline constructions should be replaced or fitted with protective devices. Educate herdsmen and other locals in the ecological value and vulnerability of this species (Tucker and Heath 1994). Continue research into the impacts of diclofenac and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to establish the sensitivity of this species to veterinary drugs. Promote a ban on the use of diclofenac in Europe.

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.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

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.

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).

Levin, A. S. and Kurkin, G. A. 2013. The Scope of Death of Eagles on Power Lines in Western Kazakhstan. Raptors Conservation 27(240-244).

Mebs, T. and Schmidt, D. 2006. Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Meyburg, B.U. and Boesman, P. 2013. Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Sharma, A.K., Saini, M., Singh, S.D., Prakash, V., Das, A., Dasan, R.B., Pandey, S., Bohara, D., Galligan, T.H., Green, R.E., Knopp, D. and Cuthbert, R.J. 2014. Diclofenac is toxic to the Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis: widening the diversity of raptors threatened by NSAID misuse in South Asia. Bird Conservation International 24: 282-286.

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.

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

Yosef, R. and Fornasari, L. 2004. Simultaneous decline in Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) populations and Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) reproductive success: coincidence or a Chernobyl legacy? Ostrich 75(1&2): 20-24.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

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
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Khwaja, N., Symes, A., Ashpole, J, Wright, L, Pople, R., Burfield, I., Ieronymidou, C. & Wheatley, H.

Horvath, M., Karyakin, I., Perlman, Y. & Vyas, V.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Aquila nipalensis. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

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 - Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles)
Species name author Hodgson, 1833
Population size 100000-499999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 6,580,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment