The dwarf eagle is the smallest representative of the hawk family and, according to some opinions, the most attractive. Despite the name, the bird does not belong to the eagle family. In physique, they are more similar to buzzards. Unlike the falcon, they hunt not only in the sky, but also on the ground. The difference with kites is the habit of nesting on rocks.
Origin of the species and description
The species was first described by the German botanist I.F. Gmelin in 1788. The Russian name fully justifies the size and proportions of the predator. The species Aquila pennata (Hieraaetus pennatus) belongs to a small division and includes only 2 subspecies: the common pygmy eagle and the Caucasian pygmy eagle. The first is characterized by dark plumage, the second is lighter.
A molecular study by German scientists conducted in the early 2000s showed that all species of the genus Hieraaetus belong to one monophyletic group. Thus, the Aquila group is considered a common ancestor for all existing species. According to the study, almost all species that are characterized by small sizes must be included in the central genus Aquila.
Video: Booted Eagle
All Slavic bird names come from Proto-Slavic. Those have an Indo-European root. The Indo-Europeans attached special importance to creatures. The Latin aquila is related to the word aqua (water). Because of their name, birds cause rather conflicting feelings. For most, the eagle is associated with a large predator, such as a golden eagle or a bald eagle.
The word “dwarf” certainly does not correspond to the appearance of a harsh, dangerous bird. However, creation should not be underestimated. Small size is compensated by powerful paws with tenacious claws and a sharp beak. Previously, the species was assigned to the genus hawk eagles, birds with similar features, due to unusually narrow wings and a long tail.
Appearance and features
Despite his aquiline appearance, the physique of a dwarf is no more than that of a kite. Females are significantly larger than males.
The size of adult predators is quite modest:
- length – 47-53 cm;
- wing length – 34-36 cm;
- wingspan – 105-130 cm;
- tail length – 17-19 cm;
- weight – 550-1100 d.
The color of females and males is the same. You can meet a light-colored or dark eagle. Light-colored individuals are distinguished by a brown top and a dirty gray bottom. Brown streaks run across the chest. Birds with dark plumage are equally brownish-brown both above and below.
The head is a golden hue, which is typical for other species. The tail of birds from below is always light, without transverse stripes. There are 6 fingers on the paws, unlike the buzzard, which has only 5. However, the fingers of the birds do not spread out as much as their relatives.
In flight, the dwarf can be confused with the honey buzzard, they can only be distinguished by rounded tail. In the honey buzzard, it is cut evenly. The head of individuals of this species is large, the beak is black and short, curved and powerful, the paws are strong, hairy along the tarsus itself. The flight, like that of other eagles, is even, in a straight line.
The fingers are yellow, the nails are black. The voice is like a shrill whistle. In the breeding season, a scream characteristic of the genus is heard. Dwarfs are excellent fliers. In flight, they gain a fairly high speed. In the natural environment, under favorable conditions, birds live up to 25 years, in captivity – up to 30-32 years.
Where does the dwarf eagle live?
Habitat includes most of Europe – Spain, France, Mongolia, Transbaikalia. They live in South Africa, Central Asia. In a significant part of the range, only migratory birds can be found. Birds lead a sedentary lifestyle in India, Pakistan, and the Balearic Islands.
In northwestern Africa, it is found along the Mediterranean Sea. The largest populations live on the Iberian Peninsula. There are isolated concentrations of birds in Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Mongolia, Ukraine, Belarus. In Russia, the range includes the Tambov and Tula regions, the Altai Territory, the Baikal region, Transbaikalia.
Most of the European dwarfs migrate to Africa – the forest-steppe or savannah. Lonely birds remain in the Middle East, Mallorca, Southern Europe, North America. Populations from the East fly to the Indian subcontinent. The flight through large bodies of water is carried out in narrow places. They fly away mainly in September, returning at the end of March.
During nesting, they settle in steppes and forest-steppes, deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests, not far from open wetlands. They also nest on the plains, but more often in hilly, foothill areas with sparse vegetation, at an altitude of up to 3 thousand meters above sea level. The ideal habitat is an arid oak forest located on a hill. If there is no forest nearby, they settle in areas near clusters of tall trees, near meadows and swamps. For wintering they go to the same habitats – steppes and forest-steppes, savannahs.
The dwelling is constantly updated with branches with green leaves. Nowadays, the nest is usually built on the trunk of deciduous trees – oak, elm, aspen. Previously, in most cases, the building stood on a pine tree. Sometimes nests can be located at a height of up to 20 meters.
Now you know where the dwarf eagle is found. Let's see what this bird eats.
What does the pygmy eagle eat?
These birds have no food preferences. They eat everything they can catch on the ground or in the air. The small size of the predator does not prevent hunting larger animals.
Strong legs, a powerful beak and sharp claws help the birds catch fast-moving game, such as:
- hares ;
On the ground or in flight, other birds may become prey of the pygmy eagle:
- turtle doves;
- forest larks;
Predators do not disdain to destroy the nests of other birds. They hunt both from an ambush, hiding in the branches of trees, and in flight, looking for prey from above. Seeing the movement, the birds descend to a height of about 20 meters and fall down like a stone. They beat the victim with sharp claws in the neck or head. In arid regions, lizards, snakes, frogs, geckos form the basis of food.
An interesting fact: They do not disdain poisonous reptiles: with a precise movement of a sharp beak, they beat the victim in the head. But sometimes such a hunt becomes a death for birds – the snake manages to bite the dwarf and he loses his sight or dies.
Sometimes, especially on wintering grounds, with a lack of prey, up to 20% of the diet can be insects. Particular preference is given to creation of termites. In the air, eagles contrive to catch flying birds. Like their relatives, dwarfs are burial grounds and can pick up animal corpses from the ground.
Character and lifestyle features
Birds spend most of their lives in flight. Less commonly, they are found sitting on a tree branch located on the outskirts of an open area, examining the territory. At high altitude, creatures do not fly, so as not to miss the movement of game. They hover low, only to frighten away and detect animals. Southern populations like to hunt from bushes.
Nests are built when a pair is formed. They can reconstruct the nests of other birds. They equip a dwelling at a fork in the trunks at a height of 7 meters. The diameter of the dwelling reaches one meter, the depth is about 15 centimeters. Branches and sticks are used for construction, the bottom is lined with dried leaves and grass.
Interesting fact: Eagles are monogamous birds. The couple goes to warm countries together and returns together to the same nest. But they spend the winter apart.
Sharp vision allows the creatures to see the victim at a height of up to 200 meters. In general, the eyes of a predator are arranged in such a way that if he sees a color picture, he will perceive it as millions of multi-colored dots, and not as a complete photograph. Birds are able to combine images from two eyes into one stereoscopic one.
Predators easily maneuver between the dense crowns of trees, managing not to touch a single branch. After the hunt, the prey is usually eaten immediately. The exceptions are cases when it is necessary to feed the offspring. After dinner, dwarfs drink a lot of water, and then carefully clean their feathers. Food can be stored in the goiter of birds for several days. This makes it possible not to hunt every day.
Social structure and reproduction
During the formation of a pair, birds perform mating dances. The male starts, soaring up to 800 meters in height. He drops down and rises again. Sometimes performs a dead loop. At the end of mating games, the female joins and the pair flies together. Immediately after this, the construction of the nest begins.
Interesting fact: In addition to the concept of “swan fidelity”, there is also “eagle fidelity”. If suddenly one of the partners dies, the second one waits one season, after which he tries to find a partner and start a new family.
Eagles do not hide their presence at nesting sites. They squawk loudly or make vibrations, like “cheeee-dee”. In the middle of spring, the female lays and incubates 1-3 white, yellow or green eggs, in a brown speck. After 36-39 days, chicks of different ages appear. The babies are covered with white-yellow fluff, the cere and paws are light yellow, the iris is blue.
The first days the mother is always with the offspring, warms the eagles, the father takes care of the food. By the second half of July, all babies are feathered. After a couple of months, the chicks can get food on their own, but they do not leave the parental nest until the end of summer. At the beginning of autumn, the juveniles are the first to go to warmer climes, after 2 weeks adults fly out after them.
Natural enemies of the pygmy eagle
Despite their strength and dexterity, birds are a vulnerable link in the ecological chain. Birds have very few natural enemies. The main ones are wolves, other, stronger individuals and humans. The food competitor for the eagle is the kite, which takes prey from the dwarf at every opportunity.
One of the enemies of creatures is hunger. In search of larger game, birds go south, as some species of animals disappear from the flora, virgin soil is plowed up, and food becomes difficult for them to access. Power lines repeatedly became the cause of death when the couple tried to equip their dwelling on poles.
The special structure of the wings allows the dwarf to soar up even during a hurricane, which makes the predator the master of the air element, whose main enemy is man. Extermination by people has led to a significant decrease in the number of birds.
As a result of agricultural activities, landscapes are changing. Birds not only lack food themselves, the lack of food also affects their offspring. If there are several chicks in the nest, starvation leads to the survival of only one baby – the strongest. Poaching and the ecological situation have a negative impact on the decline of the population.
Population and species status
In areas where deciduous forests are well preserved, the number reaches a high density. Nesting sites are located at a distance of about 200 meters from each other, there are 80-100 individuals per 2489 acres, about 5 nesting sites per 4 square kilometers.
Changing the biotope leads to a rapid decrease in the population. By the middle of the 20th century in the Kharkiv region, 4 eagle nests in a certain area after 3 years turned into only one occupied habitat. In France, at the beginning of the 20th century, the population declined sharply.
The European part of Russia has about 900-1500 thousand pairs, about 500 pairs live in the south. In the Saratov region in the 1990s, the population consisted of 100-150 pairs, in the Krasnodar Territory – 5-8 pairs. The Republic of Mordovia now has 25-40 pairs, there is a tendency to increase the population. About 20-30 pairs live in the Ulyanovsk region.
There are about 60 pairs in the Samara forest, the Orili valley. The total number of the European population reaches 8 thousand pairs, 3 thousand of which live in Spain. In Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian Research Center, about 450-500 pairs nest. On the coast of Lake Baikal, you can meet up to 250 birds per day. Solitary individuals are found in the Usinskaya and Gagulskaya basins.
Protection of the pygmy eagle
The species is in the Red Book of the Russian Federation (Appendix II), where it has been assigned the status of “Endangered”. Listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora II CITES, Bonn (Appendix II) and Berne (Appendix II) Conventions, Appendix 2 to the order of the State Committee for Ecology of the Russian Federation.
Limiting factors include poaching, disturbance of biotopes, low reproductive capacity, fragmentation of forests, changes in the structure of the forest stand as a result of agricultural activities, deterioration of food supply, disturbance factor, cutting down trees suitable for nesting.
activities for areas suitable for habitation, cessation of cutting down trees in the area, suppression of poaching, protection of nesting sites.
The dwarf eagle is an intelligent and agile bird, noble and majestic. Despite its modest size, it still remains a powerful predator. Credulity has done a disservice to the birds, as a result of which they are easy to catch. Now the creatures need protective measures, and if they are not taken in time, the dwarf eagle will disappear as a species.