Archived 2018 topic: Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax): revise global status?

Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) is a widespread raptor species found across Sub-Saharan Africa and the South Asian subcontinent, with isolated populations in North Africa and the Middle East (see Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Kemp and Kirwan 2017). Most populations are largely resident, though the species will make seasonal movements in some areas (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Kemp and Kirwan 2017), favouring more open wooded areas, and avoiding dense forest and completely open desert (see Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Kemp and Kirwan 2017).

Tawny Eagles feed on a wide range of prey, both vertebrate and invertebrate, and scavenge at carcasses, road-kills and slaughterhouses (see Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Kemp and Kirwan 2017). This feeding behaviour could be having a major impact on the species, as has already been noticed in Old-world Vultures. The species may face deliberate and incidental poisoning at carcasses in Africa, and may be persecuted by farmers (see Taylor 2015); and while the impact of NSAIDs on this species is not clear, a congener, the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), has recently been shown to be affected by diclofenac (Sharma et al. 2014).

The species is also affected by a range of other threats including collisions with traffic when feeding on road-kill, drowning in reservoirs, habitat degradation leading to the loss of nesting sites, and electrocution as a result of collisions with power lines (see Taylor 2015). Overall, the threats that Tawny Eagle faces appear to be driving potentially rapid declines at least across Africa, and the species may be becoming increasingly dependent on protected areas there (e.g. Thiollay 2006, 2007, Virani et al. 2011, Simmons 2015, Taylor 2015).

Given these declines the species will now be compared to all Red List criteria based on the current best information.


Criterion A – The Red Data Book of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland assessed the rate of decline as >60% over the past 50 years (Taylor 2015), and in Namibia the decline has been estimated at 63% over 30 years (Simmons 2015) (roughly equating to a decline of 80.8% over 3 generations [49.8 years]). Declines elsewhere in Africa have also been rapid, estimated in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger at >87% between 1969-1973 and 2000-2004 (Thiollay 2006); and 28% between 1976-1988 and 2003-2005 in the Masai Mara, Kenya (Virani et al. 2011), roughly equivalent to 43.1-66.4% over 3 generations.

The status of the species in India is uncertain, however. Given the well-reported declines in vultures in this region it would be surprising if declines in this species had gone unnoticed; but if the species is affected by NSAIDs it may be appropriate to say that it is declining there too. The population of this species in South Asia does seem to be considerably less than that of Africa; with the global population estimated in 2001 as within the range of 100,000-999,999 individuals by Ferguson-Lees and Christie, whereas the population in South Asia was estimated at between 10,000-99,999 individuals. This would suggest that even if the population in South Asia was stable, the global population may still be in rapid decline.

For the species to be listed as Vulnerable under this criterion, the global rate of decline should be at least suspected to fall in the range 30-49% over three generations, whereas to list the species as Endangered or Critically Endangered, the rate of decline should fall in the range 50-79% or >80% respectively, over the same time frame.

It may be tentatively assumed that declines have taken place throughout its African range (given the spread of areas where declines have been reported), although it may be inappropriate to assume these declines extend into its South Asian range. Therefore, if the population in South Asia is considered to be stable, the overall rate of decline likely falls either in the range for Vulnerable or Endangered. Further information about population trends in South Asia are therefore sought to better assess which category this species meets under criterion A.


Criterion B – At 52,700,000km2, the Extent of Occurrence far exceeds the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion B, and the Area of Occupancy is also strongly suspected to greatly exceed the threshold for Vulnerable.


Criteria C and D – Even though the population size is considered to have declined (potentially considerably) since the estimate of Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001), the overall population size is still likely too large to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under these Criteria.


Criterion E – To the best of our knowledge no quantitative analysis on extinction risk has been conducted.


We therefore request any further information regarding population trends across its range, but particularly in South Asia; though given the reported rates of decline the species likely warrants uplisting to at least Vulnerable or Endangered under criteria A2bcde+3bcde+4bcde.


Please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of the species’ Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are about the proposed listing.



Ferguson-Lees, J.; Christie, D. A. 2001. Raptors of the world. London: Christopher Helm.

Kemp, A. C.; Kirwan, G. M. 2017. Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 19 October 2017).

Sharma, A. K.; Saini, M.; Singh, S. D.; Prakash, V.; Das, A.; Dasan, R. B.; Pandey, S.; Bohara, D.; Galligan, T. H.; Green, R. E.; Knopp, D.; Cuthbert, R. J. 2014. Diclofenac is toxic to the Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis: widening the diversity of raptors threatened by NSAID misuse in South Asia. Bird Conservation International 24: 282-286.

Simmons, R. E. 2015. Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax. In: Simmons, R. E.; Brown, C. J.; Kemper, J. (ed.), Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species, pp. 127-129. Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia Nature Foundation.

Taylor, M. R. 2015. Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax. In Taylor, M. R., Peacock, F. & Wanless, R. M. (eds). The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Thiollay, J.-M. 2006. The decline of raptors in West Africa: long-term assessment and the role of protected areas. Ibis 148: 240-254.

Thiollay, J.-M. 2007. Raptor declines in West Africa: comparisons between protected, buffer and cultivated areas. Oryx 41: 322-329.

Virani, M. Z.; Kendall, C.; Njoroge, P.; Thomsett, S. 2011. Major declines in the abundance of vultures and other scavenging raptors in and around the Masai Mara ecosystem, Kenya. Biological Conservation 144: 746-752.

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5 Responses to Archived 2018 topic: Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax): revise global status?

  1. Munir Virani says:

    I have no doubt in my mind that the Tawny Eagle population has plummeted throughout Kenya. My colleague Dr Darcy Ogada and I are in the process of analysing the last nine years of consistent road count data both in Northern and Southern Kenya but these will take some time. During the time I was conducting field research in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (early to mid 1990s) at the Kenyan coast, we would see at least 10-15 Tawny Eagles along the Nairobi Mombasa Road. Today you may see only 4 to 5. Ditto in the Lake Naivasha basin. A 97 km road survey around Lake Naivasha would yield 6-7 Tawny Eagles but today you would be lucky to see 1. My colleague Simon Thomsett and I have been conducting bird of prey research in the Masai Mara since 2003 and we have some extensive road side data on Tawny Eagles and other eagles as well. The road from Mahi Mahiu to Narok and then onward to Sekenani Gate would yield 7 – 8 Tawny Eagles in the mid 2000s. Today there are zero Tawny Eagles from Mahi Mahiu to Narok and maybe 1 or 2 from Narok to Sekenani. There is also a certain reduction in the number of Tawny Eagle nests in the Masai Mara. No question that the Tawny Eagles are in trouble. The most likely culprits retaliatory poisoning and electrocutions. The rapid development of an advanced road system in Kenya will certainly compound the problem as many Tawny Eagles foraging on small road kills are hit and killed by vehicles. I have also always struggled to observe Tawny Eagles in India. I know they occur in the far western part of Rajasthan and I do have some road side data to show relative abundance but haven’t replicated those surveys since 2007.
    Not knowing the situation in places like Ethiopia, I would err on the side of caution and uplist the Tawny Eagle to Near-threatened. This will hopefully churn some interest to collect more definitive information about the species, its reproductive cycle and the threats facing them.

  2. I think this species also has plummeted through North Africa. At least at South Morocco Tawny Eagle is now very rare and it is possible that last few observation could be mistaken with young Spanish Imperial Eagles which are dispersing along Morocco, West Algeria and Sahara dessert. Many ornithologists have been searching it at South Morocco and to my knowledge from 15 years to now there are not reliable data about it. I am working with Spanish Imperial Eagle monitoring tagged eagles and through field surveys and I talk with Moroccan raptor experts, so the impression is the species is near to extinction. At Algeria it has been watching sometimes in the Parc Culturel de l’Atlas Saharien where it is possible there is a breeding population (data from the Algerian administration)

  3. Fernando Feás says:

    I am colaborating in a rescue centre in South Africa. The number of arrivals of Tawnys has declined during last years. Other raptors as A. melanoleucus has fully increased.

  4. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2018 Red List would be to list this species as Vulnerable under criteria A2ace+3ce+4ace.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.
    The final 2018 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  5. Clive R Barlow says:

    mostly disappeared from coastal areas in The Gambia where it was a daily occurrence upto 20 years ago at well watched sites – bricks & mortar is the likely cause – similar issues with whalbergs & African hawk eagle and a list of others ….. gone . Situation improves in land (for now).

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