Conservation of nest zone protected birds in the selected Natura 2000 sites in Lubelszczyzna region

Short-toed Eagle

Species characteristics

The short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus) is an extremely rare bird of prey in Poland. It is larger than the common buzzard, measuring about 60 cm in length and 175-195 cm in wingspan. Seen from below, the bird is very pale, apart from a dark head, black edges to the broad wings and 3-4 dark strips on the tail. On its chest, remiges and coverts is a fine, brown banding of varying intensity. During soaring the bird keeps its wings straight. During hunting it often hovers like the common buzzard. Sexual dimorphism does not occur, though females are slightly larger than males.

The short-toed snake eagle is a migratory species. European birds spend the winter in Africa, mainly on savannas to the south of the Sahara. They return to the breeding grounds in April and May. Pairs occupy very extensive nesting grounds, of even over 100 km2.

This is a monogamous species, forming pairs only for the breeding period. The nest is in the form of a flat platform, constructed of small sticks. It is usually placed in the top part of a high tree. The short-toed snake eagle is a strongly territorial bird and nests are sometimes used by the same pair for several years. The female lays one large egg and incubates it for 45-47 days. Young birds reach sexual maturity at the age of 3-4 years. 


Nesting habitat

This bird lives in forest complexes of varying size, with a high proportion of swamp coniferous forests, mires and open areas used as feeding grounds.  



The short-toed snake eagle mainly feeds on reptiles, more rarely on amphibians. It hunts for lizards and snakes, even venomous ones. Mammals, birds and insects can form dietary supplements. This bird is a very skilful predator. It usually kills snakes with a blow to the head and by digging its claws into the body of its prey. It swallows reptiles whole. This bird hunts in the early afternoon, when snakes and lizards lie in the sun and are easier to observe.



The short-toed snake eagle occurs in south-western and central Europe, northern Africa and in Asia. In Poland it is an extremely scarce breeding species. It occurs almost only in the east of the country and the number of birds probably does not exceed 10 pairs.


Conservation status

The short-toed snake eagle is under strict and zonal protection. It is placed in the Polish Red Data Book of Animals in the highest category, as a critically endangered species and listed in Attachment 1 to the Birds Directive. Protection zones are established around short-toed snake eagle nests: with a radius up to 200 m for the whole year and periodically (from 1 March to 30 September) with a radius up to 500 m from the nest.



  • wetland drainage;
  • disturbing birds during breeding period near the nests;
  • poaching;
  • collisions with transmission lines and wind turbines.



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