life Schreiadler: Habitat and behavior

Woods, meadows and waters

Spotted Eagles are probably our most demanding birds of prey and occur only in very specific habitats. They only find their ideal living conditions in a sparsely populated agricultural landscape with a variation of forest and open land.
At the breeding grounds, the forest is composed of a variety of tree species. The most common deciduous trees are selected as nesting-trees e.g. alder, oak, birch and beech. Often the high proportion of dead wood does contribute to a natural appearance of the hatchery.
Typically the territories are characterized by long, highly structured forest edges. These intersect the breeding places with hunting grounds in open areas. LSEs are not the "Forest Eagles" as many people think. Rather agricultural areas, rich on small mammals and amphibians have a crucial importance as hunting grounds. Grasslands in particular play an important role here.

Lesser Spotted Eagles are called "Väike konnakotkas", or "Little Frog Eagle" in Estonian. This admirable name demonstrates that water plays a major role in the habitats of the spotted eagles. Commonly ponds, forest bogs, wet woodland areas or small rivers are found in the vicinity of their nests.

From the perspective of a flying LSE it becomes apparent that its habitat is unfragmented and undeveloped.


searching flight
raised stand
hunting by foot

Concerning the prey Lesser Spotted Eagles have a problem: because of their small body size they can not forage on big size prey animals. On the other hand, a hunting flight of several kilometers should provide more energy than it costs. A hunting flight for a grasshopper is not efficient. LSEs are not aible to transport lots of small insects. So they should forage on pieces of prey of a certain size. Thus, especially during breeding season, LSEs need a large, diverse and continuous offer of prey: (voles, mice, common frogs, moor frogs, lizards, grass snakes and moles).
They hunt by foot, from look outs (fence posts, round bales of hey, branches) or by searching flights.
The hunting area may be small, if the nest is surrounded by a landscape with good food supply. In landscapes with a superior food supply, it may occur, that LSEs never leave their breeding forest. But in years with poor food supply, long foraging flights are necessary. Recent telemetry data have shown, that foraging flights more than 15 km often occur then.

Kain and Abel

This breeding attempt was especially successful because of an extraordinary good "mouse year" (Photo: Carsten Rohde)

In Lesser Spotted Eagles, there ist the phenomenon of cainism. The female lays 2 eggs in a distance of a few days. One after the other hatches, but usually only the first one ("Kain") survives. The smaller second chick ("Abel") normally does not survive. It is the looser during parental feeding and is attacked and "mobbed" from its older sibling. Consequently, it dies a few days after hatching. This behavior is widespread among several species of prey. The reason why, remains unclear.

autumn and spring migration

Migration life on the web

Despite its special habitat requirements, special hunting behavior and a small reproduction rate, Lesser Spotted Eagles moreover travel south after their breeding time. The migration distance is about 10 000 km, for one way only.

That means, for the oldest ever documented Spotted Eagle (26 years old), a fligth distance of about 500 000 km during its whole life.

They LSEs migrate because of the evolutionary tradition, and also because of the lack of food during winter in Europe. While White-tailed eagles may feed on carrion and water fowl,  LSEs can not hunt for rodents and amphibians on frozen grounds.
Due to their wing construction spotted eagles efficiently use ascending air currents, that enables them to achieve long distances with gliding flight. But because they are dependent on these special wind conditions theyy may only use a narrow flyway. This leads along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey,  Syria, Lebanon, Israel und 10 further countries to the south of Africa. In an triangel between Tanzania, Tansania, Namibia and South Africa spotted eagles spend about 5 month in wet, savanna-like landscapes hunting for similar prey as in their breeding areas. In Africa, spotted eagles also hunt for insects, mainly termites, and for birds.

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