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Tawny Eagle or Steppe Eagle?


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In a number of TRs recently there have been photos of Steppe Eagles that at first glance I thought were Tawny Eagles.


Well actually at second glance I still thought they were Tawny's 'cos I don't know the difference and I'm hoping someone can help with explaining this.


Perhaps in the past I've seen a Steppe without knowing it.

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Brown eagles are very difficult. Tawny eagle, steppe eagle, lesser spotted eagle can be very difficult to tell apart. They are all brown, variable (juvenile plumages and colour phases).

The lesser spotted eagle has a relative small bill.

The steppe eagle supposedly a pale throat, while the tawny eagle hasn't. But in light phases of the tawny eagle the throat is light.

Steppe eagle winters in Africa, making it a rare sighting in Africa in during the Eurasian spring, summer and autumn. But I suspect juveniles stick around in Africa year round.

Steppe eagles are larger than tawny eagles, but to estimate size without direct reference in the field is never reliable, both are big raptors!

Tawny eagles often have darker flight feathers and darker tails.

I just went through my pictures and I had 4 labelled as 'lesser spotted eagle' (2 birds). Looking at them again I think 2 of those (same bird) are actually tawny eagle. I have no pictures labelled as steppe eagle, but labelled as tawny eagle might actually steppe eagles.

In theory, in Kenya, greater spotted eagles could also occur, making things even more difficult!

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Thanks @@egilio your input is much appreciated.


Do steppe eagles winter all over Africa or only in certain areas?


My trips to Africa have always been in the June to September months so I gather that I'm unlikely to have seen a steppe eagle.


However you've now added lesser spotted eagle to the mix which were never on my radar!

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@Caracal Yes, you are unlikley to have seen a mature Steppe Eagle, although I think they can get to Kenya as early as October and I too kind of wish @@egilio hadn;t added Lesser Spotted Eagle to the list. One addiitonal thing, and actually the most useful if you take a photograph with a nice clear side-on view of the head, is that line of hte mouth (which is nicely outlined in bright yellow on both birds) extends beyond the eye in the Steppe eagle, but not in the Tawny Eagle. Of course there are annoying Tawny Eagles who have longer than averagte lines (sorry can't remember the proper term) and you have to be aware of the angle of the head, but I find this generally to be very useful for quick identification. I hope it is correct information as I can't rememebr where I learned it, but I am pretty sure it was a reliable souce.,



Okay, I googled - it is called hte "gape".

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If forgot about that! The gape is a good characteristic but you have to remember it is quite variable, and like pault mentioned it can be hard to see in the field if the gape extends to the middle of the eye or beyond it, taking the distance to the bird, light conditions, angle between you and the head etc into consideration.

You can expect steppe eagles in most of eastern Africa, up to northern South Africa, and across Zambia, Angola, southern DRC and northern Namibia.

There are at least two other brown eagles in Africa..the golden eagle. But that one is mostly restricted to mountain ranges. And the greater spotted eagle, but that mostly winters in the east up to northern Kenya.

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