Spanish Imperial Eagle: The Ultimate Guide

The Spanish Eagle, also known as the Iberian Imperial Eagle is a species of eagle that is native to the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal.

Its Latin name, or binomial, Aquila adalberti, was given to it as a way of celebrating and remembering the life of Prince Aldabert of Bavaria, who was a member of the Bavarian Royal Family.

Once thought to be a subspecies of the Eastern Imperial Eagle, biologists, and zoologists now consider the Spanish Imperial Eagle to be a unique species due to differences in its morphology and molecular makeup. 

Appearance – What Do Spanish Imperial Eagles Look Like?

The Spanish Imperial Eagle is covered in rich, thick dark brown to black feathers which envelop most of its body.

Superficially the eagle closely resembles its genetic cousin the Golden Eagle and can weigh anywhere between seven and nine pounds (three and a half to four and a half kilograms). It has an average wingspan of one and a half and two and a quarter meters (five and a half feet) and is usually around eighty-five centimeters (two feet) in length.

A thick white band runs across its shoulders and the tips of its wings and its crown, and nape are often lighter than the rest of its body.

Before they reach adulthood, juvenile birds are much paler in color than adults, and the feathers that adorn their bodies are usually sandy to light brown in color. 

While they resemble the Golden Eagle physically, Spanish Imperial Eagles tend to be smaller, thinner, and less powerful physically, but are nonetheless still regarded as being a fierce example of their genus, Accipitridae. 

Male vs Female – What Are THe Differences Between The Sexes? 

The only discernible and reliable way to quickly tell the difference between the males and females of the species is by their size.

The female’s feet, in particular, their tarsus tend to be larger than that of the male and females are often slightly longer, and weigh more than the males do. 

But in order to definitively tell which is which is if you see a mating pair, is to get closer than either you or the birds will probably be comfortable with. Therefore the easiest way to tell them apart is by their size, with the females usually being bigger than the males. 

Are Spanish Imperial Eagles Aggressive?

Like all raptors, Spanish Imperial Eagles are incredibly territorial and will fight with any other raptors who challenge their established territorial boundaries.

They are also known to fight with other birds of prey over food, and will at times kill each other’s offspring. 

Their aggressive tendencies toward other birds of prey have been known to extend to the much larger vulture and the eagle’s predilection for violence has seen it single-handedly kill other much larger carnivorous birds such as the world’s biggest accipitridae (bird of prey), the cinereous vulture. 

What Adaptations Do They Have? 

Perfectly evolved hunting birds, the Spanish Imperial Eagle, like the other members of its genus, has a sharp hooked beak and incredibly long talons, both of which help it to kill its prey. 

Being a bird of prey, the Spanish Imperial Eagle also possesses incredible eyesight, which allows it to see, and hone in on the small mammals that make up the majority of its diet. 

Breeding & Reproductive Behavior

Spanish Imperial Eagles usually begin to mate between the ages of four and five, and after building a nest that can be anything up to four and half in diameter, the female usually lays between one and four eggs, that have an incubation period of between forty and forty-four days. 

Despite the fact that the female lays more than two eggs, most nests only produce between one and two fledglings that make it to adulthood, as the species is prone to siblicide, their nests have been known to collapse and the young are sometimes preyed upon by other raptors.

The birds become fledglings after a period of sixty-five to eighty days and usually leave the nest and their parents one hundred and sixty days after they become fledglings. 

What Do Their Calls Sound Like? 

As well as the usual bird “song” that all eagles use, and as well as a call that sounds like they’re saying “owk” over and over again, Spanish Imperial Eagles also make a chirping sound that isn’t dissimilar to the noise that young adult cats make when asking to be fed. 

What Do They Eat? The Diet Of A Spanish Imperial Eagle

The Spanish Imperial Eagle subsists mainly on a diet of European rabbits, but when the species population plummeted following widespread outbreaks of myxomatosis, the Spanish Imperial Eagle altered its hunting habits and became particularly adept at catching waterfowl, pigeons, and other small mammals.

On rare occasions, the eagle has also been known to prey on hedgehogs, red foxes, and domestic cats and dogs, but will only pursue the latter; it has absolutely no other choice and no other, much easier to catch prey is available to them. 

Where Do They Live? The Spanish Imperial Eagle’s Habitat

Spanish Imperial Eagle

The eagle makes its home in South and South Western Spain, on the Iberian Peninsula, and in Portugal. It has a stable stronghold in the Dehesa woodlands of Ciudad Real, Huelva, and Sierra Norte. 

As it is a sedentary, territorial bird it doesn’t tend to wander far from the areas that it has established itself in, even though some birds have been seen as far away as Morocco. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits? 

Spanish Imperial Eagles build their nests when mating, in secluded areas of dry, mature woodland, far from the probing eyes and unwanted attention of humans. Their nests tend to be between four and four and a half feet in diameter.

Even though the bird will go out of its way to avoid any contact with man, their nests have been discovered at the top of power lines – although, in all likelihood, they mistook the pylons for trees. 

The Lifespan Of A Spanish Imperial Eagle

In captivity, Spanish Imperial Eagles have been known to live for up to forty years, but in the wild, even though they can live to the ripe old age of thirty-one, the average lifespan of the eagle tends to be sixteen and half years. 

What Predators Do They Fear? 

In their native habitat, Spanish Imperial Eagles are apex predators and are at the top of the food chain. They have no natural predators and the only creatures that prey on the eagle are other members of its own species.  

What Are Their Feathers Like? 

Their feathers are long and are usually dark brown or black in color, as apart from a white band that runs across the tips of their wings and shoulders, most Spanish American Eagles are either brown, black, or a combination of the two. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like? 

All eagles eat a lot, so all eagles poop a lot, and Spanish Imperial Eagles follow their genus genetic blueprint to the letter.

Their poop tends to be mostly liquid “whitewash”  that surrounds darker, more solid fecal matter that sometimes contains undigested bits and pieces of their prey. 

Do They Migrate? 

Sedentary by nature, by the time Spanish Imperial Eagles reach adulthood, they don’t tend to fly far from the area that they think of as their “territory” even when they’re hunting, and have adapted to the seasonal climate of the geographical region that they call home.  

The Conservation Status Of The Spanish Imperial Eagle

The Spanish Imperial Eagle was first listed as being “vulnerable” during the nineteen sixties when there were only thirty reported pairs of the bird in the wild.

Even though that number has now risen to close to three hundred pairs, the bird is still considered to be vulnerable. 

The major threats that it faces are electrocution from power lines, being poisoned by man (for some inexcusable, and ridiculous reason), and loss of its natural habitat, all of which are closely monitored and where possible prevented in order to give the species a chance to breed its way off the vulnerable list. 

Fun Facts About Spanish Imperial Eagles

They’re a monogamous species, and when they mate, they mate for life. After they’ve built a nest, they tend to stay there, much like humans do when they marry and settle down. 

Despite the fact that the Spanish Imperial Eagle is notoriously shy and tends to shun the company of other species, especially men, their nests are often found on top of pylons that support power lines.

While the popular consensus is of the opinion that they often mistake the pylons for trees, no one actually knows EXACTLY why these eagles choose to nest on top of pylons. 

They’re a particularly long-lived bird and have an average life span of just over sixteen years, but have been known to live as long as four decades in captivity. 

If you listen to their call carefully, you’ll soon start to think that they’re saying the word “owk” over and over again. Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy, and the more you listen to this reclusive bird’s call, the more you long to hear it.