Possible Indian Spotted Eagle,

Basai, Haryana; 14 December 2002.

Mike Prince


I took some photos of an Imperial Eagle together with a Greater Spotted Eagle in a tree at Basai (Haryana, north India) in December 2002. It was several months later that I was looking at the photos again and began to doubt the identification of the "spotted" Eagle. Whilst obviously either Greater Spotted (A. clanga) or Indian Spotted (A. hastata), it looks relatively too long-tailed for the former, and slimmer and lighter in overall build. The legs, or at least what can be seen of them, are thin but completely feathered and the gape line appears to extend close to the rear of the eye instead of ending centrally. It also looks quite thick and fleshy.

I'm not clear of other useful features to separate the two and there seems to be a lot of irrelevant and misleading information about this. Comments would be welcomed from anyone who has more (i.e. any!) experience of Indian Spotted.

Comments received so far include a note from Sudhir Vyas on an eagle seen in the 1970s:

I would hesitate to pronounce on Indian Spotted Eagles for obvious reasons. But your photograph brought back memories of an Eagle that nested in Kanpur, in shisham (Dalbergia) woodland near the IIT campus, that I observed closely on several occasions in the 1970s. I do not have my notes handy, but have vivid memory of the juvenile that fledged from the nest, which approximated, in shape and colour, to the bird in your photograph. The very dark head and body with prominent fleshy yellow gape (can't comment on its length), thin feathered legs, tail and body proportions were very similar, and particularly the pattern of the closed upper wing with broad whitish fringes to greater upperwing coverts and pale mottling elsewhere. My juvenile also showed narrow white uppertail coverts, and was very confiding even after fledging, allowing close observation when perched. At that time, I (quite inexperienced in these frontiers of aquila id) had put it down tentatively as "Lesser Spotted"; it was obviously not a Tawny, the adults did not show the underwing pattern of Spotted and the habitat was not right for Spotted either.

Other identification comments include:

  • I would tend to the view that it is an Indian Spotted for the reasons you mention, but I really haven't been able to get to the bottom of what the distinguishing characters really are. There's still too much confusion about them. (Krys Kazmierczak)
  • I believe that this is a Greater Spotted Eagle. Because of the large head and long nape feathers. Indian Spotted Eagle has a more rounded head. I don't think that the gape is particularly large. Further, the tips of the secondaries are pale, another character of juvenile Greater Spotted. (Bill Clark)

The conclusion so far is probably a Greater Spotted, based on Bill Clark's comments above. More opinions would be helpful.

Mike Prince, August 2003.