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Crested Serpent Eagle - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Spilornis cheela)

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

Subspecies cheela
Photo © by mikemik
Kanha National Park, Mandla, India, 20 November 2015

Includes: Simeulue Serpent-eagle, Mentawai Serpent-eagle, Nias Serpent-eagle, Bawean Serpent-eagle, Natuna Serpent-eagle

Spilornis cheela


Subspecies spilogaster
Photo © by Steve G
Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
7 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.


Taxonomy confused and confusing in the face of little research and multiple distinct forms.

Subspecies abbotti may be elevated as "Simeulue Serpent-eagle", S. abbotti, sipora as "Mentawai Serpent-eagle", S. sipora, asturinus as "Nias Serpent-eagle", S. asturinus, baweanus as "Bawean Serpent-eagle", S. baweanus and (sometimes) natunensis as "Natuna Serpent-eagle", S. natunensis [4].


Subspecies spilogaster. Juvenile practising its hunting skills
Photo © by Windrider
Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka, 31 August 2016
Subspecies burmanicus
Photo © by robby thai
Tai Rom Yen NP, Thailand, 6 October 2016

Clements recognises the following subspecies [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: "Natuna Serpent-eagle". Natunas and Belitung islands (off Borneo)
  • S. c. abbotti: "Simeulue Serpent-eagle". Simeulue Island (off western Sumatra)
  • S. c. asturinus: "Nias Serpent-eagle". Nias Island (off western Sumatra)
  • S. c. sipora: "Mentawai Serpent-eagle". Mentawai Archipelago (off western Sumatra)
  • S. c. baweanus: "Bawean Serpent-eagle". Bawean Island (off northern Java)
Immature Nominate subspecies
Photo © by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, India, 6 February 2018


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.


A large stick nest is constructed in the middle of a tall tree. The clutch consists of 1, occasionally two, eggs. These are incubated by the female for about 35 days, with the male helping to feed them once they are hatched. They leave the nest when they are about 2 months old.


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., P. C. Rasmussen, T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, A. Spencer, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2023. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2023. Downloaded from https://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
  4. Eaton, JA, B van Balen, NW Brickle, FE Rheindt 2021. Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago (Greater Sundas and Wallacea), Second Edition. Lynx Editions. ISBN978-84-16728-44-2#https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Spilornis_cheela/ Animal Diversity Web

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