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Crested Serpent Eagle - BirdForum Opus

Spilornis minimus redirects here. For the species Nicobar Serpent Eagle, see Spilornis klossi.

Subspecies cheela
Photo © by mikemik
Kanha National Park, Mandla, India, November 2015
Spilornis cheela


Subspecies spilogaster
Photo © by Steve G
Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka, August 2009

Medium large raptor about 50–74 cm (19¾-29 in) in length.

  • Dark brown upperparts and head
    • Hooded appearance at rest
  • Pale brown underparts and underwing coverts
  • Appears large-headed and owl-like due to face s hape and position of eyes


  • Shallow dihedral in soaring flight
  • Tail and flight feathers black with broad white stripes


Southern Asia. Widespread and generally common from northern India south to Sri Lanka east to southern China, Hainan, Taiwan and the southern Ryukyu Islands and south to the Andaman Islands and Malay Peninsula. Also breeds on Palawan, Borneo, Sumatra, Java and many smaller islands.



Subspecies spilogaster. Juvenile practising his hunting skills
Photo © by Windrider
Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka, August 2016
Subspecies burmanicus
Photo © by robby thai
Tai Rom Yen NP, Thailand, October 2016

There are 21 subspecies currently recognised, some of which may be deserving of full species status[1]:

  • S. c. cheela in northern India and Nepal
  • S. c. melanotis in the Indo-Gangetic plain
  • S. c. spilogaster in Sri Lanka
  • S. c. burmanicus from Burma to southwestern China, Thailand and Indochina
  • S. c. davisoni on the Andaman Islands
  • S. c. ricketti in southern China and northern Vietnam
  • S. c. hoya in Taiwan
  • S. c. rutherfordi on Hainan (southern China)
  • S. c. palawanensis on Palawan (southwestern Philippines)
  • S. c. pallidus in the lowlands of northern Borneo
  • S. c. richmondi in southern Borneo
  • S. c. malayensis on the Malay Peninsula, northern Sumatra and Anambas Islands
  • S. c. batu on southern Sumatra and Batu Islands
  • S. c. bido on Java and Bali
  • S. c. minimus on Nicobar Islands, India
  • S. c. perplexus on southern Ryukyu Islands
  • S. c. natunensis on Natunas and Belitung islands (off Borneo)
  • S. c. abbotti on Simeulue Island (off western Sumatra)
  • S. c. asturinus on Nias Island (off western Sumatra)
  • S. c. sipora on the Mentawai Archipelago (off western Sumatra)
  • S. c. baweanus on Bawean Island (off northern Java)


Forest and forest edge, riverine woodland, farmland and sometimes near villages. Occurs up to 3,000m in the Himalayas.



They specialise in reptiles, hunting over woodland for tree snakes and lizards.

They will, occasionally, take mammals, crabs, eels and birds.


They are very vocal, especially in breeding display flights.

Recording &cpy; by Alok Tewari
Jim Corbett NP, India, 9 June 2016
Call given by two individuals sitting across river Ramganga, on its two banks. Recorded in peak breeding season.


Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Birdforum thread discussing identification of Crested Serpent Eagle
  3. Birdforum thread discussing differences between Crested Serpent Eagle and Mountain Serpent Eagle

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