Lesser Spotted Eagle: The Ultimate Guide

The lesser spotted eagle (scientifically known as Clanga pomarina) is an Eastern European bird of prey in the Accipitridae family. This is a medium-sized eagle with a conservation status of Least Concern that was once considered the same species as the Indian spotted eagle. 

Despite its conservation status and widely distributed population, there are still gray areas of research about this species. Therefore, it can be quite difficult to find everything there is to know about singular species in just one place. 

Luckily for you, here is the ultimate guide to the lesser spotted eagle!


The lesser spotted eagle is about 24 inches in length with a wingspan of 1.5 meters, making it a medium-sized eagle that is smaller than its cousins, the steppe eagle and the greater spotted eagle.

This species is predominantly brown all over and doesn’t feature the distinctive spots of the Indian spotted eagle, except for the white tips to the wings. 

The head and wing coverts of the lesser spotted eagle are brown, while the breast area ranges from pale brown to gray. When in flight, the wings are dark brown with the distinctive white tips to give the namesake “spotted” effect. 

Interestingly, the head and bill of the lesser spotted eagle are smaller than most other eagle species.

Still, the beak and talons make up for this size in deadly sharpness. Unlike some other eagle species, the lesser spotted eagle has light brown eyes rather than piercing amber ones. 

The lesser spotted eagle weighs roughly 1.2-2.2 Kg. While the adult bird doesn’t exhibit spots, juveniles possess white speckles over their wings and backs, hence the “spotted” name. 

Male vs Female

There is currently little research about the differences between male and female lesser spotted eagles.

This is mostly because the lesser spotted eagle is a sexually monomorphic animal, which means that the lack of physical differences makes it hard to distinguish the sexes. However, in general, the female lesser spotted eagle is larger than the male. 

Are They Aggressive?

The lesser spotted eagle isn’t an aggressive species. It’s fairly common for this eagle to be trained when kept in captivity for eagle shows to educate the public. Of course, they are still wild and unpredictable animals, but they aren’t inclined to attack humans. 

For animals, it’s another story. These are birds of prey, after all, so they won’t be kind to their favorite forms of food.

This species is incredibly territorial – especially if they are nesting – which means they won’t hesitate to fight other birds or birds of prey if they come too close to their area. Both male and female lesser spotted eagles are equally territorial, but it is said that males are particularly more aggressive. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The lesser spotted eagle doesn’t seem to exhibit many adaptations, other than its unique ability to leave a nest and form a new one. This species is a long-distance migratory bird, which means that they are good at adapting to totally new environments and ecosystems.

Their thick feathered coats help to keep them warm in the winter, though it intentionally migrates to countries south of the equator to avoid the cold weather. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior

The lesser spotted eagle is mostly a solitary animal, except for when it comes to breeding season, when they travel around in pairs. It is hard to say whether they are a monogamous species or not due to how far they travel during winter.

They tend to breed in Europe before moving to Africa to spend the cold winter months there. 

There isn’t much information about the courting and mating rituals of the lesser spotted eagle, but it is believed to be the standard amongst most birds of prey.

This usually consists of an aerial display performed by the male eagle, who will accompany this with distinctive calls and sounds that the female will replicate. The female will eventually submit, and when the mating has been successful, she is likely to lay 1-3 white, spotted eggs. 

Likewise, there is little information about the incubation period of this species. It is estimated that the incubation period lasts between 43-45 days, with the female and male alternating the role of incubating, while the other will hunt for food.

Once the eaglets have learned to fly, they aren’t likely to leave their immediate area until they have matured enough to join in the migration. 

Unfortunately, it’s fairly common for the female lesser spotted eagle to begin incubating when only the first egg has been laid, which causes the first eaglet to outgrow its siblings. This results in the hatchling killing and eating its fellow siblings. 

Their Calls / Sounds

The call of a lesser spotted eagle is fairly distinctive – similar to a dog’s bark, the call sounds like a high-pitched “yip” noise that they repeat over and over again. This call is usually made to communicate with other eagles and when they are nesting. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The lesser spotted eagle most commonly hunts by themselves or with a partner. This is a carnivorous bird of prey, and they will primarily hunt and eat small mammals, reptiles, insects, rodents, other birds, amphibians, and sometimes even small fish.

In Europe before they migrate, this species mostly feasts on voles and rodents like rats and mice as these are the most easily accessible. 

In the winter once they have migrated to Africa, the lesser spotted eagle will attempt to eat all the above, but they will mostly indulge on nutritious termites. These eagles aren’t likely to hunt mid-flight like other raptor species – instead, they will sit on a low perch of a tree.

The only time they will hunt mid-flight is during the migration time. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

The lesser spotted eagle mostly occupies Central and East Europe, as well as the Caucasus Mountains, South-East Turkey, Iran, and Southern Russia. It’s also common to see single lesser spotted eagles in France, Spain, parts of southern Kazakhstan, and Finland.

During winter, the species will migrate towards the warmth of Africa. 

Lesser spotted eagles mostly reside in open forest areas that are heaving with small mammals and rodents. They like to perch on the edge of forest areas next to open meadows and crop fields. When it comes to nesting, they mostly nest in lowland areas.

However, some eagles have nested in mountainous ranges. When they migrate to Africa, this species mostly lives in humid open savanna areas. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Little is known about the nesting habits of the lesser spotted eagles, but it is suggested that both the male and female will build their nests in tall trees. These nests are made out of sticks and lines with leaves for comfort.

Unlike most birds of prey, these eagles will leave these nests and never return as they are so used to migrating. 

During the hatching season, female lesser spotted eagles often visit the nests of other female lesser spotted eagles, though the reasons for this are unclear. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

The lifespan of a lesser spotted eagle is 20-25 years, but the average lifespan is 8-10 years in the wild. 

What Predators Do They Have?

The lesser spotted eagle doesn’t have any predators, other than the one unavoidable one – humans. Deforestation and climate change have caused mass habitat destruction, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for the lesser spotted eagle who is so used to moving nests.

However, farmers who use the land for agricultural purposes will use chemical agents to prevent rodents from ruining their crops, which means less food for the eagles. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The feathers of a lesser spotted eagle are predominantly brown, with the head and tail having the darkest feathers of all. The most distinctive feature of these feathers are the white tips on the feathers of the wings.

As juveniles, the feathers are dotted with white speckles that eventually disappear, hence the name of the species. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

The poop of the lesser spotted eagle is the same as any eagle’s – it’s brown, often black, yellow, or white, and has a runny consistency. 

Do They Migrate?

The lesser spotted eagle is a migratory bird! They don’t do well in extremely cold temperatures, which is why they migrate to the humid countries in Africa during winter. Therefore, this species is known as a long-distance, trans-equatorial migrant as they migrate below the equator.

Most of these birds will winter in East Africa, but some have been spotted in Cameroon, Mali, and Nigeria. 

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, the lesser spotted eagle has the conservation status of Least Concern. The only real threat this species has is deforestation and destruction of habitats, but due to its adaptation to different environments and widespread population, the conservation status isn’t too concerning. 

Fun Facts

  • There are reports of cross-breeding between the lesser spotted eagle and the greater spotted eagle, resulting in a hybrid that is indistinguishable from its parent species. 
  • The lesser spotted eagle is considered a rare species in Poland, where only 2000 pairs are estimated to live in the wild. 
  • The total population of lesser spotted eagles in the wild is estimated between 40,000-60,000 adults.