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Little Eagle
Aquila morphnoides

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Australian Little Eagle.

Aquila morphnoides
click to enlarge
Distribution: Australasian. AUSTRALIA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: The study by Helbig et al. (2005), using DNA sequences from one mitochondrial and two nuclear genes, indicated that the smaller Hieraaetus species, including H. ayresii, H. morphnoides, and H. pennatus, form a monophyletic groups with H. (Aquila) wahlbergi as their sister. Based on molecular sequences of two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear gene, Lerner and Mindell (2005), found that weiskei, a New Guinea endemic which has usually been treated as a subspecies of the Little Eagle, is actually more closely related to the Booted Eagle, H. pennatus than to H. morphnoides. The amount of sequence variation between the latter form and weiskei is as great as that found between unquestioned species in their analysis. Therefore, weiskei is treated here as a full species and morphnoides is regarded as monotypic. The majority of raptor systematists (e.g., Wink and Sauer-Gürth 2004, Gjershaug 2006) and several national committees on classification and nomenclature (e.g., those in the United Kingdom and Germany) now favor merging the species formerly assigned to Hieraaetus into Aquila, and they are followed here.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant (Bildstein 2006). Juveniles may disperse widely (up to 3,000 km) after achieving independence (Debus 1998). more....

Habitat and Habits: A solitary species occurring in most wooded habitats except for dense forest and is most common in woodland in rough hilly country and of river gums in inland areas (Olsen 1995, Debus 1998). It spends much of its time soaring over forest or forest edge at great heights, or perched in a living or dead tree (Beehler et al. 1986, Debus op cit.). Capable of very swift diving flight. Common, but inconspicous. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on mammals, birds, reptiles (mostly lizards), insects, and rarely fish (pirated from the Whistling Kite) (Debus 1998). It prefers young rabbits in the south, primarily birds in the north, and lizards in the arid zones (Debus op cit.). This species also occasionally feeds on road kills and other carrion (Debus 2009). It forages by quartering and soaring, low gliding flights, or still-hunts from a perch. It rarely takes prey in flight, but usually glides or stoops to the ground to capture food. more....

Breeding: In Australia, the laying season varies with latitude, being later in the north, occurring in the dry season from March to September, and shorter in the center and south, usually from August to October (rarely May to December) (Debus 1998). This species is a solitary nester, building a platform nest of sticks lined with green leaves and located 5-45 m high in the fork of a living tree (Debus 1998). Occasionally, the nest of another species is used, and both parents participate in nest-building. Clutch size is usually 2 eggs (sometimes 1 or 3). The female performs most of the incubation and brooding duties. The incubation period is 36-40 days (Bollen 1989), and the nestling period is 54-66 days (Debus op cit.). The period of dependence after fledging lasts about two months. more....

Conservation: Widespread and formerly regarded as common throughout most of its range, but it is now classified as Vulnerable in the ACT (olsen 2009, Debus 2009), is under review for possible listing in Victoria, and is proposed as Vulnerable in New South Wales (Debus 2008). Its reporting rate has declined nationally by 14%, mostly in the sheep-wheat belt (where the rate is down by 20%), and by 39% in New South Wales (Debus op cit.). Its breeding population has crashed in the ACT, its atlas reporting rate has declined by about 50% in southeastern New South Wales over the past 30 years, and it is also declining in South Australia (Debus op cit.). Categorized globally as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) estimated the total population, including adults and non-breeding immatures at the start of the breeding season, at between 10,000 to 100,000 birds. BirdLife International (2000) estimated the number of adults as between 10,000 to 100,000 individuals, although it noted that the supporting data are poor.

Important References: 
Debus, S.J.S. 1983. Behaviour and vocalisations of nesting Little Eagles.
  Australian Bird Watcher 10:73-78.
Debus, S.J.S. 1984. Biology of the Little Eagle on the northern Tablelands
  of New South Wales. Emu 84:87-92.
Debus, S.J.S. 1994. Little Eagle. Pp. 199-200 in del Hoyo, J., A.
  Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New
  World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Debus, S. 1998. The birds of prey of Australia: a field guide. Oxford
  University Press, Melbourne.
Debus, S.J.S. 2009. Aspects of the breeding cycle of the Little Eagle.
  Australian Field Ornithology 26:76-99.
Debus, S.J.S., T.S. Hatfield, and A.B. Rose. 2007. Breeding biology and
  diet of the Little Eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides in the New England region of
  New South Wales. Australian Field Ornithology 24:137-157.
Marchant, S., and P. Higgins (eds.). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
  and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Olsen, P. 1995. Australian birds of prey. John Hopkins University Press,
  Baltimore, MD.
Olsen, P., F. Crome, and J. Olsen. 1993. Birds of prey & ground birds of
  Australia. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Australia.

Sites of Interest:
Little Eagle photos.

Debus, Stephen
Olsen, Jerry

Last modified: 4/15/2011

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Little Eagle Aquila morphnoides. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 18 Oct. 2021

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