Beaudouin's Snake-eagle Circaetus beaudouini


Justification of Red List category

This species is suspected to be undergoing rapid declines due to habitat degradation and hunting. It is therefore listed as as Vulnerable.

Population justification
It occurs at low densities and survey data suggest there are a minimum of 1,000 individuals (J. M. Thiollay in litt. 2006), but in the context of the species' large range, the population is suspected to fall in the range of 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Thiollay (2006a) estimates that this species declined globally by 86-93% between 1969-1973 and 2004. Declines are conservatively suspected here to have taken place at a rate of 30-49% in three generations (27 years), but may prove to have been higher.

Distribution and population

Circaetus beaudouini occupies a relatively narrow band of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal, Gambia and south Mauritania in the west to southern Sudan and South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya in the east (per S. Thomsett in litt. 2013), and south to Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Central African Republic. It should be noted that this species may not be considered a full resident of the middle of its range, it may simply be present here almost all year round as it performs regular north to south seasonal movements. It travels between the Sudano-Guinean belt in the dry season, and between the Sahelo-Sudanian belt in the rainy season (JM Thiollay, pers. comm., 2020). The species' population is generally sparsely distributed. For example, in four months of extensive field work in eastern Guinea-Bissau during early 2013, only seven individuals of this species were recorded (one of the records was obtained during a systematic biodiversity assessment and the remaining observations were opportunistic) (P. Rodriguez et al. in litt. 2013). As it occurs at low densities, its global population is not thought to exceed 10,000 individuals (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It is estimated to have decreased by more than 86-93% over the last 30-35 years, based on comparative roadside counts conducted across its range between Senegal and Niger (Thiollay 2006a). In general, however, confusion with wintering Short-toed Snake-eagles C. gallicus may mean that C. beaudouini has previously been under-recorded (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2013), thus hampering the estimation of population trends.


It inhabits dry savannah, but prefers more open areas of grassland and even cultivated areas. It is a seasonal migrant, moving between the Sudan zone (and northern Guinea zone) in the dry season and the Sahel (and northern Sudan) zone in the rainy season (e.g. Thiollay 1978), but can be seen in some areas all year round, such as The Gambia, and while there has been no nest records there, juveniles have been seen (Clark and Barlow 2004). It is thinly distributed, territorial and generally solitary.


West African raptors have declined owing to a number of threats associated with increases in the human population within the region (Thiollay 2006a,b). Over the past 50 years, there has been a four-fold increase in the human population (J. M. Thiollay, pers. comm., 2020). Habitat destruction has resulted from agricultural intensification, overgrazing, woodcutting (Thiollay 2006a,b) and major developments (G. Rondeau in litt. 2007), such as urbanisation. Woodcutting for fuelwood, timber and charcoal has caused conversion of woodland into shrubland (Thiollay 2006a). Agricultural intensification has led to aerial and ground spraying of insecticides to control insect outbreaks (Thiollay 2006a). More specifically, the species is threatened by the spread of cotton fields and the associated use of organochlorine insecticides (G. Rondeau in litt. 2007). Insect swarms were previously an important source of food for raptors directly, or their prey. Livestock are virtually ubiquitous, especially in the Sahel where overgrazing is a major cause of desertification (Thiollay 2006a). In addition, hunting has exacerbated the decline.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs in a number of protected areas across the region which are of increasing importance for it and other large raptors in West Africa. They currently cover just 0.85% of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further coordinated surveys to establish population estimates and global trends for the species. Establish protection for remaining habitat where grazing and wood-cutting can be kept to a minimum. Investigate potential threats to this species across its range, in particular, the impact of trade on birds in West Africa.


60-66 cm. Large snake-eagle. Grey-brown above with a barred white belly. Three to four tail bands. Plain grey legs and cere. Sexes similar. Juveniles are all dark brown above and below with some white streaking on the head, and barring on the flanks. Similar spp very similar to Short-toed Snake-eagle which occurs within the range in winter. That species is slightly larger with proportionately longer wings. Adult Beadouin's has plain underwing coverts whereas Short-toed typically has dark barring.


Text account compilers
Clark, J.

Barlow, C., Dowsett, R.J., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Guilherme, J.L., Mirinha, M., Ndang'ang'a, P.K., Rodrigues, P., Rondeau, G., Thiollay, J.-M., Thomsett, S., Bird, J., Westrip, J.R.S., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Circaetus beaudouini. Downloaded from on 29/11/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/11/2023.