Lesser Spotted Eagle

Lesser Spotted Eagle

(Clanga pomarina)

The Lesser Spotted Eagle is a raptor of moist lowland forests with adjacent wetlands in Eastern Europe.

Photo of Lesser Spotted Eagle in flight
Lesser Spotted Eagle in flight

The westernmost extent of its range is in the eastern part of Germany, and its distribution extends eastwards to the western part of Russia. 

Similar to other raptors that require wetlands and marshes to thrive, the Lesser Spotted Eagle population in Europe has declined heavily since many of these habitats have been drained and converted to farmland. 

Protecting and recreating suitable habitats for Lesser Spotted Eagles in Europe is well worth the effort, since it will also benefit many other species that have suffered a similar decline.

Lesser Spotted Eagle facts

A medium sized eagle, the Lesser Spotted Eagle is predominantly found nesting in moist lowland forests and hunting over adjacent wetlands..

Lesser Spotted Eagle size

A medium sized eagle, the Lesser Spotted Eagle is bigger than a Common Buzzard, but smaller than a Golden Eagle.

  • Wingspan: 145-168 cm
  • Length: 60-65 cm
  • Weight: 1,900-2,150 g (female), 1,050-1,500 g (male)

Since male Lesser Spotted Eagles are considerably smaller than females, they are just slightly larger than most buzzard species, but can be distinguished on the basis of their different coloration and proportions.


The overall appearance of the Lesser Spotted Eagle is that of a darkly colored eagle species with long wings, and with a relatively short tail compared to the length of its wings. This feature helps to distinguish it from many other Eagle species in Europe.

Photo of Lesser Spotted Eagle hunting in open ground
Lesser Spotted Eagle hunting in open ground

In general, it’s hard to tell the Lesser Spotted Eagle from its close relative, the Greater Spotted Eagle. However, adult Lesser Spotted Eagles generally have much smaller white markings on top of their wings, which makes them look more uniformly dark, compared to Greater Spotted Eagles.

Sexual dimorphism

Similar to most other bird of prey species in Europe, female Lesser Spotted Eagles are significantly larger than their male counterparts, to the extent that there is no overlap in size between males and females.


A maximum age of 26 years has been observed in the wild. 

Scientific name and taxonomy

The scientific name of the Lesser Spotted Eagle is Clanga pomarina. It used to be grouped together with the true eagles belonging to the genus Aquila.

However, DNA analysis has shown that the 3 species of Spotted Eagles found in the world are very distantly related to the genus Aquila, and have hence been grouped together in their own genus, which was initially called Lophaetus, and now Clanga.

So the scientific name of the Lesser Spotted Eagle was initially changed from Aquila pomarina to Lophaetus pomarina, and then to Clanga pomarina. Its closest relative in Europe is the Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga), with which it can hybridize.

Lesser Spotted Eagle distribution

The Lesser Spotted Eagle is found in eastern and southeastern Europe. Its westernmost breeding pairs are found in eastern Germany. Its range extends eastwards from Europe to western Russian, and from Turkey to the Caucasus region.

Lesser Spotted Eagle habitat

The Lesser Spotted Eagle prefers lowland forests interspersed with wetlands (similar to the Greater Spotted Eagle). Outside of Europe it is also found at higher elevations in upland forests. In general it prefers moist areas, and usually frequents rainforests and wetlands in its wintering range.

Lesser Spotted Eagle population size

The total European population of the Lesser Spotted Eagle is estimated to be between 14,000 and 19,000 breeding pairs by BirdLife International, which is considerably more than the Greater Spotted Eagle (which only has around 1,000 breeding pairs in Europe).

Lesser Spotted Eagle behavior

The Lesser Spotted Eagle hunts from a perch, or by flying slowly above the ground in search of prey on the ground. In general it hunts similar prey to that taken by Common Buzzards.

Feeding and diet

The largest part of the diet of Lesser Spotted Eagles consists of voles and other small rodents, followed by insects, reptiles and amphibians. Also takes small birds, especially young birds and nestlings of species that nest on the ground. 


Builds a large stick nest in trees close to the edge of a forest. The female lays 1-3 eggs, which are incubated for up to 45 days. The hatchlings of the Lesser Eagle display a higher degree of cainism than most other Eagle species.

In other words, the first born chick usually kills its younger siblings, and as a result most Lesser Spotted Eagle pairs only manage to raise one fledgling per brood. After leaving the nest, juveniles continued to be fed by their parents for up to 4 weeks.


The Lesser Spotted Eagle is a strict migratory bird that spends the winter in Africa south of the Sahara. In this regard it is more migratory than the Greater Spotted Eagle, which winters in Turkey and Greece in small numbers. 

Lesser Spotted Eagle conservation status

The overall population of Lesser Spotted Eagles in Europe has been stable for the past decade, and with up to 19,000 breeding pairs, the conservation status of the Lesser Spotted Eagle is classified as of “Least Concern” by BirdLife International


The biggest threat to Lesser Spotted Eagles is destruction of their habitat, due to wetlands being drained and converted into farmland. This European raptor cannot survive in intensively cultivated agricultural areas. After habitat destruction, the biggest threat is direct persecution, most often in the form of illegal shooting on migration.

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