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Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has a small global population, and is likely to be undergoing continuing declines, primarily as a result of habitat loss and degradation, adult mortality through persecution and collision with powerlines, nest robbing and prey depletion. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable. More information is needed to confirm the size and trends of populations in Asia. Should this information show that the population is larger than currently thought, or declining at a more moderate rate, the species will warrant downlisting to a lower threat category.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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

75-84 cm. Large, dark eagle. Generally dark brown with white scapular markings and pale golden-cream nape. Grey base to tail. Juvenile brown fading to pale buff with dark flight feathers. Shows flat wings in flight. Similar spp. Golden Eagle A. chrysaetos is paler with less obviously bi-coloured tail. Holds wings in flattened "V" shape. Steppe Eagle A. nipalensis lacks pale rusty yellow ventral area, bi-coloured tail and pale scapulars. Voice Repeated barking.

Distribution and population
Aquila heliaca breeds in Austria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine (Heredia 1996). Breeding has not been proved but possibly occurs in Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Pakistan, Romania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. On passage and in winter, birds are found in the Middle East, east Africa south to Tanzania, the Arabian peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent and south and east Asia (from Thailand to Korea). The European population comprises 1,800-2,200 pairs (Demerdzhiev et al. 2011). This number is considerably higher than previous estimates of 1,051-1,619 pairs were reported in 2000 (Horváth et al. 2002) and 1,110-1,624 pairs in 2008 (BirdLife International 2008, Barov and Derhé 2011), and is partly due to increased survey effort rather than a genuinely large population increase. There was a rapid decline in Europe and probably in Asia in the second half of the 20th century. Recently the central European population (177-192 pairs mostly in Hungary and Slovakia) appears to have been increasing (Horváth et al. 2005, Demerdzhiev et al. 2011) as a result of conservation efforts, although the majority of the threats to the species persist (D. Horal in litt. 2012). In the last six years the occurrence of persecution incidents significantly increased (Horváth et al. 2011), with more than 50 Eastern Imperial Eagles poisoned in Hungary (M. Horváth in litt. 2012). The Balkan population (76-132 pairs mostly in Bulgaria and Macedonia [Demerdzhiev et al. 2011] ) is apparently stable (although the last proven breeding in Greece took place in 1993). Recent surveys in Azerbaijan found relatively high densities in the north-western plains, estimating 50-60 pairs within a 6,000 km2 study area (Horváth et al. 2007), and a total population size of 50-150 pairs (Horváth et al. 2008, Sultanov 2010). This suggests that the Caucasian population may have been underestimated (it was previously assumed that less than 50 pairs bred in Azerbaijan and Georgia) (Horváth et al. 2007). Populations in the Volga Region of Russia are relatively stable, but are suspected to decline in the future due to the presence of threats at breeding sites (M. Korepov and R. Bekmansurov in litt. 2012). At least half of the world population (and possibly more) breeds in Russia (900-1,000 pairs [Belik et al. 2002]) and Kazakhstan (750-800 pairs [Bragin 1999]). More recent surveys conducted by Karyakin et al. (2008, 2011) estimated 3,000-3,500 pairs in Russia and 3,500-4,000 pairs in Kazakhstan. However these figures have yet to be confirmed and should be treated with caution. Although these populations currently seem to be stable, the Russian population has been predicted to decline in the next three to five years [V. Galushin in litt. 1999].

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 1,800-2,200 breeding pairs, equating to 3,600-4,400 individuals. Recent population estimates from Russia and Kazakhstan suggest the global population may exceed 10,000 mature individuals, but in light of criticism of these estimates the population is precautionarily retained in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals here. This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification

Recent reports from Russia and Kazakhstan indicate these populations may be stable, however, these reports need further confirmation. As such, the global population of this species is precautionarily estimated to remain in decline, owing to habitat loss and exploitation across its range.

This is a lowland species that has been pushed to higher altitudes by persecution and habitat loss in Europe. In central and eastern Europe, it breeds in forests up to 1,000 m and also in steppe and agricultural areas with large trees, and nowadays also on electricity pylons. In the Caucasus, it occurs in steppe, lowland and riverine forests and semi-deserts. Eastern populations breed in natural steppe and agricultural habitats. Both adults and immatures of the eastern populations are migratory, wintering in the Middle East, East Africa south to Tanzania, the Arabian peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent and south and east Asia; wintering birds have also been reported in Hong Kong (China). These birds make their southward migration between September and November, returning between February and May (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Wetlands are apparently preferred on the wintering grounds. Birds are usually seen singly or in pairs, with small groups sometimes forming on migration or at sources of food or water (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In exceptional cases large groups of up to 200 have been known to form on autumn migration (Snow and Perrins 1998). Adults in central Europe, the Balkan peninsula, Turkey and the Caucasus are usually residents, whilst most immatures move south. Non-territorial birds often associate with other large eagles such as A. clanga and Haliaeetus albicilla on wintering and temporary settlement areas.

Breeding sites are threatened primarily by intensive forestry in the mountains, and by the shortage of large indigenous trees in the lowlands (e.g. illegal tree cutting affected several pairs in Russia [Karyakin et al. 2009a] and Bulgaria). Other threats are loss and alteration of feeding habitats, shortages of small and medium-sized prey species (particularly ground-squirrels Spermophilus spp.), human disturbance of breeding sites, nest robbing and illegal trade, shooting, poisoning and electrocution by powerlines. An average of c.450 Eastern Imperial Eagles were killed by powerlines during the 2009 breeding season in the Altai region – 25% of the total population of the region (Karyakin et al. 2009b). Habitat alterations associated with agricultural expansion threaten historical and potential breeding sites in former range countries. Hunting, poisoning, prey depletion and other mortality factors are also likely to pose threats along migration routes and in wintering areas. Competition for nest sites with Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga has been reported in the Altai region, Russia (Karyakin et al. 2009c).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. CMS Appendix I and II. It is legally protected in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine. The Eastern Imperial Eagle Working Group was established in 1990. A European action plan was published in 1996 and its implementation reviewed in 2010 (Barov and Derhé 2011). Regional Action Plans have been published for the Balkan Peninsula (Stoychev et al. 2004) and for the Southern Caucasus (Horváth et al. 2006). The Eastern Imperial Eagle Management Guidelines for Hungary were published in 2005 and are under preparation for Slovakia (Kovács et al. 2006). Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys in Asia (particularly Russia and Kazakhstan) to determine population size and trends. Conduct surveys to identify breeding and wintering sites, and migration routes. Improve protection of species and sites. Implement beneficial forestry policies. Maintain large trees in open land and protect old woodland on slopes (B. Hallmann in litt. 1999). Prevent mortality from nest robbing, nest destruction, illegal trade, poisoning and electrocution on medium-voltage powerlines, as well as persecution in wintering grounds and migratory routes. Maintain feeding habitats by preserving traditional land use. Increase the availability of prey species by habitat management. Raise public awareness and involve stakeholders in conservation activities.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Anon. 2008. The 6th International Conference on the Conservation of the Eastern Imperial Eagle. Resolution, 4-7 September 2008, Topolovgrad, Bulgaria. Raptors Conservation: 14-16.

Bagyura, J.; Szitta, T.; Haraszthy, L.; Firmánszky, G.; Viszló, L.; Kovács, A.; Demeter, I.; Horváth, M. 2002. Population increase of Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) in Hungary between 1980 and 2000. Aquila 107-108: 133-144.

Barov, B and Derhé, M. A. 2011. Review of The Implementation Of Species Action Plans for Threatened Birds in the European Union 2004-2010. Final report. BirdLife International For the European Commission.

Belik, V. P.; Galushin, V. M. 1996. Final report on the project Imperial Eagle inventory in European Russia, 1996.

Belik, V.; Galushin, V.; Bogomolov, D. 2002. Results of the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) Project in Russia during 1996 and 1997. Aquila 107-108: 177-181.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

BirdLife International. 2008. Species factsheet: Aquila heliaca.. Available at:

Bragin, E. A. 1999. Status of the Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca in Kazakhstan. Buteo 1999: 16.

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

Demerdzhiev, D., Horváth, M., Kovács, A., Stoychev, S. and Karyakin, I. 2011. Status and Population Trend of the Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) in Europe in the Period 2000-2010. Acta Zoologica Bulgarica. Suppl. 3: 5-14.

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

Heredia, B. 1996. International action plan for the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca). In: Heredia, B.; Rose, L.; Painter, M. (ed.), Globally threatened birds in Europe: action plans, pp. 159-174. Council of Europe, and BirdLife International, Strasbourg.

Horváth M., I. Fatér, E. Sultanov, S. Isayevand T. Karimov. 2008. Status of imperial eagles in North-western Azerbaijan: population size, density, breeding success and prey composition. Proceeding of 6th International Conference on the Conservation of the Eastern Imperial Eagle 5-7 September 2008, Topolovgrad, Bulgaria.

Horváth, M.; Kovács, A.; Demeter, I. 2005. The biology of the Imperial Eagle in the Carpathian Basin. In: Kovács, A., Demeter, I., Horváth, M., Fülöp, Gy., Frank, T., Szilvácsku, Zs (ed.), Imperial Eagle Management Guidelines, MME/BirdLife Hungary, Budapest.

Horváth, M.; Kovács, A.; Gallo-Orsi, U. 2006. Action Plan for Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) in the Southern-Caucasus.

Horvath, M., Fater, I., Isayev, S. Karimov, T. & Sultanov, E. 2007. Imperial Eagle population survey in north-western Azerbaijan (April 2007) - Project Report..

Horvath, M.; Haraszthy, L.; Bagyura, J.; Kovacs, A. 2002. Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) populations in Europe. Aquila 107-108: 193-204.

Karyakin I., Niklenko, E., Levin, A. and Kovalenko, A. 2011. Imperial Eagle in Russia and Kazakhstan: Population status and trends. Acta zoologica bulgarica Supplementum 3: 95-104. (In English, Bulgarian summary).

Karyakin, I. V.; Nikolenko, E. G.; Bekmansurov, R. H. 2009. Imperial Eagle in the Altai Mountains. Raptors Conservation: 66-79.

Karyakin, I. V.; Nikolenko, E. G.; Bekmansurov, R. H. 2009. Results of monitoring of Greater Spotted Eagle and Imperial Eagle breeding grounds in the Altai pine forests in 2009, Russia. Raptor Research 17: 125-130.

Karyakin, I. V.; Nikolenko, E. G.; Vazhov, S. V.; Bekmansurov, R. H. 2009. Raptor electrocution in the Altai region: results of surveys in 2009, Russia. Raptors Conservation 16: 45-64.

Karyakin, I. V.; Nikolenko, E. N.; Levin, A. S.; Kovalenko, A. V. 2008. Imperial Eagle in Russia and Kazakhstan: population status and trends. Raptors Conservation: 18-27.

Kovács, A.; Demeter, I.; Horváth, M.; Fülöp, Gy.; Frank, T.; Szilvácsku, Zs. 2005. Imperial Eagle management guidelines.

Magyar, G.; Hadarics, T.; Waliczky, Z.; Schmidt, A.; Nagy, T.; Bankovics, A. 1998. [an annotated list of the birds of Hungary] Magyarorszag madarainak nevjegyzeke. BirdLife Hungary, Budapest.

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

Stoychev, S.; Zeitz, R.; Grubac, B. 2004. Plan for the Conservation of the Imperial Eagle in the Balkan Peninsula.

Sultanov, E. 2010. Research study of Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) population in Azerbaijan. . Project Report. Azerbaijan Ornithological Society, Baku.

Further web sources of information
Conservation of the Imperial Eagle in the Carpathian basin

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)

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

International Action Plan

Jump to the case study for this species in Wildlife comeback in Europe: The recovery of selected mammal and bird species (Deniet et al. 2003)

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

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Derhé, M., Gilroy, J., Harding, M., Pople, R., Khwaja, N.

Galushin, V., Hallmann, B., Horváth, M., Katzner, T., Kovács, A., Stoychev, S., Bekmansurov, R., Korepov, M., Horal, D., Moshkin, A., Gradev, G., Velevski, M., Stanislav, V., Ryabtsev, V., Mátyás, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Aquila heliaca. 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 - Imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles)
Species name author Savigny, 1809
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 9,440,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment