Justification of Red List category
This species has undergone extremely rapid population declines within its European range. The majority of its range lies outside Europe where it was not thought to be declining at a sufficiently rapid rate to approach the threshold for Vulnerable. However recent information suggests that the population outside Europe may be exposed to greater threats than was previously thought and has also undergone very rapid recent declines across much of the range. It is therefore classified as Endangered.
Combined totals from across the whole range estimate the number of pairs at 31,372 (26,014-36,731), which equates to 62,744 (52,028-73,462) mature individuals or 94,116 (78,042-110,193) individuals (I. Karyakin in litt. 2015). The global population is hence below 37,000 pairs (Karyakin et al. 2016).
The population is declining owing to habitat destruction (especially conversion of steppe into agricultural land), persecution, and collisions with power lines. Locally populations are declining owing to heavy predation of chicks (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 80% or more in 42.06 years (three generations [Bird et al. 2020]) (BirdLife International in prep.) however the European population represents only a small proportion of the global population. Combined totals from across the species's range suggest a decline of 58.6% between 1997-2011 and 2013-2015 (I. Karyakin in litt. 2015), however counts of birds passing through the migration bottleneck of Eilat, Israel have not recorded a significant decline in a comparison of data from 1977-1988 and 2015-2018, although the mean number of birds counted had reduced (19,540 to 15,192) (Weiss et al. 2019). Overall, the rate of population reduction is suspected to be very rapid, exceeding 50% over the past and current three-generation periods, and in the absence of evidence that the threats impacting the species have been adequately addressed this reduction is suspected to continue at this rate over the next three generations.
This species breeds east of 43°E in European Russia from the Republic of Kalmykia (I. Karyakin in litt. 2016), across Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan, China and Mongolia (Meyburg and Boesman 2013). In 2015 it was proven to breed in a small area of Turkey, although the exact range, numbers and trends are still unknown (M. Horvath and I. Karyakin in litt. 2016). It formerly bred in Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. An isolated breeding population exists in Turkey, encompassing the Ankara, Konya, and Kayseri triangle (M. Horvath in litt. 2020, eBird 2020). Birds from European Russia, eastern Kazakhstan and Turkey (A. n. orientalis) winter in the Middle East, Arabia and east and southern Africa (Meyburg and Boesman 2013). Birds from Turkey also winter in the Eastern part of the Sahel (M. Horvath in litt. 2020). Birds from Altai, Siberia eastwards (A. n. nipalensis) winter mainly in south and south-east Asia.
The European population is estimated at 750–1,200 breeding pairs or 1,500–2,300 adults (BirdLife International in prep.). In Russia the population is estimated to be 2,478–3,688 breeding pairs (including 1,176–1,895 breeding pairs in European Russia), in Kazakhstan there are an estimated 22,000–31,000 pairs (I. Karyakin in litt. 2016). The largest numbers are found within the Russian Federation: Republic of Kalmykia – 194 known breeding territories with an estimated 500-700 breeding pairs; Volgograd district – 50 known breeding pairs, estimated 300–500 breeding pairs; Orenburd district – 139 known breeding pairs, estimated 200–350 breeding pairs; Republic of Altai – 301 known breeding pairs, estimated 400–600 breeding pairs; Republic of Tyva – 140 known breeding pairs, estimated 300–400 breeding pairs (I. Karyakin in litt. 2016). The most important breeding populations are: Western Kazakhstan (Usturt Plateau, Emba river basin, Mugodzhary mountains, Or river basin) which forms the transboundary Russian-Kazakh population consisting of approximately 12,000 breeding pairs in an area of c.419,867 km2; Eastern Kazakhstan population estimated at approximately 9,000 breeding pairs (in an area of c.188,080 km2); Western Mongolia (forming the transboundary Russian-Mongolian population, the majority of which are in the Altai-Sayan region in Russia in an area of c.372,283 km2) with an estimated 3,000 breeding pairs; approximately 2,600 breeding pairs in the Volga-Urals (steppe region between the Volga and Ural rivers to the south to the Urda sands) (in an area of c.69,472 km2); approximately 2,000 breeding pairs in Dahuria (transboundary Russian-Mongolian population) (in an area of c.153,896 km2) and an estimated 4,000 breeding pairs in Central Mongolia (410,736 km2) (Karyakin et al. 2016). In Mongolia the population may range from 1,500-2,000 up to 6,000-18,000 pairs (Karyakin 2013, I. Karyakin in litt. 2016). Migration studies observed 572 Steppe Eagles leaving the Tibetan plateau and heading to wintering grounds (possibly in the Middle East or Africa) in 2012, with a maximum observance of 1,102 individuals in 2013 and 6,166 individuals in 2014 at Thoolakharka, Nepal (Subedi 2014). More recently, 4,900 individuals were observed at a dump sites northwest of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2019 (Keijmel 2019). The latest estimates indicate that the global population is not more than 37,000 breeding pairs (Karyakin et al. 2016).
It inhabits areas of steppe and semi-desert, and is recorded breeding up to 2,300 m in mountainous regions (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It feeds mainly on small mammals on its breeding grounds, with susliks forming the vast majority of its diet in some areas; when wintering it appears to feed mainly on mole rats in East Africa, and termites and Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea predominate in southern Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Nests have traditionally been built as large platforms on the ground, although recent habitat alterations seem to have caused a shift to building a few metres higher in bushes or trees (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It also nests on artificial structures and will occur on rubbish grounds and waste sites (Keijmel 2019). The species is migratory, with birds wintering in south-east Africa and southern Asia (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Migrants leave their breeding grounds between August and October/November, returning between January and May (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Subedi 2014). It avoids sea crossings and thus forms large concentrations at bottleneck sites (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Snow and Perrins 1998, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001).
The species has declined in the west of its breeding range, including extirpation from Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, as a result of the conversion of steppes to agricultural land combined with direct persecution (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Meyburg and Boesman 2013). It is also adversely affected by power lines and is very highly vulnerable to the impacts of potential wind energy developments (STRIX 2012, Meyburg and Boesman 2013). It was recently found to be the raptor most frequently electrocuted by power lines in a study in western Kazakhstan (Levin and Kurkin 2013) and in Saudi Arabia (Shobrak et al. 2021). Three sets of factors have been identified as having detrimental impacts on the species in Russia and Kazakhstan: increased mortality owing to collisions with power lines, pesticide poisoning and direct persecution; a reduction in the area of suitable habitat and availability of food, historically due to overgrazing but now due to undergrazing, and to a lesser extent logging and mining; poor breeding success owing to destruction of nests and juvenile mortality during spring fires, entanglement of nestlings in artificial nest materials, and disturbance by people and livestock (Strategy of the Steppe Eagle Conservation in the Russian Federation 2016). Young eagles are taken out of the nest in order to sell them to western European countries (Mebs and Schmidt 2006). Recent studies using social media to assess impacts on wildlife found that the species was also being illegally killed in Jordan, of which the species is legally protected in the country (Eid and Handal 2018). A decline in the number of birds and a reduction in the proportion of juveniles migrating over Eilat, Israel began immediately after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, leading Yosef and Fornadari (2004) to suggest that the species may have been affected by radioactive contamination. This species is vulnerable to the veterinary drug diclofenac (Sharma et al. 2014), which was intensively used in the species's wintering range in Pakistan and India (Oaks et al. 2004).
Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CMS Appendix I & II. CITES Appendix II. Bern Convention Appendix II. Raptors MOU Category 1. The species is listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation as a rare species (Category 3), and in regional Red Data Books for 31 territories of the Russian Federation (Strategy of the Steppe Eagle Conservation in the Russia Federation 2016). Tagging and tracking programmes are in place in some wintering sites of Oman (Keijmel 2019).
Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Protect remaining grassland steppes in Europe and the rest of its range. Dangerous electric powerline constructions should be replaced or fitted with protective devices. Protect nests from fires (e.g. through regular grass mowing/ controlled burning). Investigate the possibility of using artificial nests to reduce nest destruction due to fires/ disturbance. Educate herdsmen and other locals in the ecological value and vulnerability of this species (Tucker and Heath 1994). Continue research into the impacts of diclofenac and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to establish the sensitivity of this species to veterinary drugs. Promote a ban on the use of diclofenac in Europe. Use GPS tracking to confirm migration routes and identify threats during migration (M. Horvath in litt. 2016).
72-81 cm, wingspan 160-200 cm. Dark-brown, medium-large Aquila. Juvenile usually has broad whitish band along greater underwing coverts. Primaries banded, iris brown (Meyburg and Boesman 2013). Similar spp. Larger than Tawny Eagle A. rapax and separated by width and length of gape. Generally darker than Lesser Spotted Eagle A. pomarina and paler than Greater Spotted Eagle A. clanga and has oval nostrils rather than round as in both these species.
Text account compilers
Martin, R., Haskell, L.
Ashpole, J, Burfield, I., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Horvath, M., Ieronymidou, C., Karyakin, I., Khwaja, N., Perlman, Y., Pople, R., Subedi, T., Symes, A., Vyas, V., Wright, L, Fernando, E. & Wheatley, H.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Aquila nipalensis. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/steppe-eagle-aquila-nipalensis on 02/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 02/12/2023.