Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Eastern imperial eagle

Thai: นกอินทรีหัวไหล่ขาว, nok in-sree hua lai khao

Binomial name: Aquila heliaca, Marie Jules César Savigny, 1809

The eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) is a large species of bird of prey that breeds from southeastern Europe to western and central Asia. Most populations are migratory and winter in northeastern Africa and southern and eastern Asia. The Spanish imperial eagle found in Spain and Portugal, was formerly lumped with this species, the name imperial eagle being used in both circumstances. However, the two are now regarded as separate species due to significant differences in morphology, ecology and molecular characteristics.


The eastern imperial eagle is a large eagle with a length of 72 - 90 cm, a wingspan of 1.8 - 2.16 m and a weight of 2.45 - 4.55 kg. Females are about a quarter larger than males. It closely resembles the Spanish imperial eagle, but has far less white to the "shoulder" and it is slightly larger.

Habitat and Breeding

In Europe, the eastern imperial eagle is threatened with extinction. It has nearly vanished from many areas of its former range, e.g. Hungary and Austria. Today, the only European populations are increasing in the Carpathian basin, mainly the northern mountains of Hungary and the southern region of Slovakia. The breeding population in Hungary consists of about 105 pairs. The most western breeding population on the border between Austria and Czech Republic consists of 15–20 pairs.

There are many eastern imperial eagle nests in the Bulgaria/Turkey section of the European Green Belt (the uncultivated belt along the former Iron Curtain.)

The monarchy of Austria-Hungary once chose the imperial eagle to be its heraldic animal, but this did not help this bird. The eagle's preferred habitat is open country with small woods; unlike many other species of eagle, it does not generally live in mountains, large forests or treeless steppes.

Eastern imperial eagles generally prefer to construct a nest in a tree which is not surrounded by other trees, so that the nest is visible from a considerable distance, and so that the occupants may observe the surroundings unobstructed. Tree branches are taken in order to build the nest, which is upholstered with grass and feathers. Very rarely it nests on cliffs or the ground.

In March or April the female lays two to three eggs. The chicks hatch after about 43 days and leave the nest after 60–77 days. Often, however, only one will survive to leave the nest, with the others dying before becoming fully fledged. In at least a part of its range, more than a third of all nesting attempts are entirely unsuccessful.

The eastern imperial eagle feeds mainly on European hares, European hamsters and common pheasants as well as a variety of other birds and mammals.

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Scientific classification

Aquila heliaca

Common names

  • Thai: นกอินทรีหัวไหล่ขาว, nok in-sree hua lai khao


  • Aquila heliaca heliaca

Conservation status

Vulnerable (IUCN3.1)

Vulnerable (IUCN3.1)

Distribution map of Eastern imperial eagle, Aquila heliaca in Thailand
  • Bueng Boraped Non-hunting Area
  • Doi Lo District, Chiang Mai
  • Doi Tao District, Chiang Mai
  • Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
  • Khao Yai National Park
  • Mueang Phetchaburi District, Phetchaburi
  • Pak Phli District, Nakhon Nayok
  • Phaisali District, Nakhon Sawan
  • Taphan Hin District, Phichit

Range map of Aquila heliaca in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits, Parinya Pawangkhanant, Ian Dugdale and many others for their contribution for range data.

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