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Species Guide
A photo of a Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malaiensis)
Black Eagle

Black Eagle

Ictinaetus malaiensis

The Black Eagle, known scientifically as Ictinaetus malaiensis, is a majestic bird of prey belonging to the family Accipitridae. It is the sole representative of the genus Ictinaetus. This large yet slender eagle, with a length of about 75 cm and a wingspan ranging from 148 to 182 cm, is a sight to behold as it soars over the forests of tropical and subtropical South and Southeast Asia, and southeastern China. Its plumage is predominantly black, with a striking yellow bill base and feet, which stand out against its dark feathers.

Identification Tips

When observing the Black Eagle, one can note its long wings that pinch at the innermost primaries, giving it a distinctive shape. The tail is faintly barred, and the upper tail covers are paler. At rest, the wing tips reach or even exceed the tail tip. In flight, the wings are held in a shallow V, just above the horizontal plane. The sexes appear similar, but juveniles can be distinguished by their buff head, underparts, and underwing coverts. The tarsi are fully feathered, and the toes are stout and short with long claws, less strongly curved than those of other raptors.


This eagle favors forests with dense canopy cover and is typically found in regions where the forest cover exceeds 50%.


The Black Eagle is a resident species throughout its range, which includes the Himalayan foothills, the Indian subcontinent, and parts of Southeast Asia. It is divided into two subspecies: I. m. perniger in the northern and southern parts of India and Sri Lanka, and the nominate I. m. malaiensis in Myanmar, southern China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.


The Black Eagle is known for its slow and characteristic flight, often seen scouring the treetops for nests to raid during hot afternoons. It is a solitary bird, with a remarkable ability to remain aloft for extended periods with minimal effort.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Black Eagle have not been detailed in the provided content.


During courtship, these eagles perform steep dives with folded wings, swooping up in a U shape into a vertical stall. They construct platform nests on tall trees overlooking steep valleys, where they lay one or two white, brown, and mauve-blotched eggs between January and April. The nest sites may be reused annually.

Similar Species

The Black Eagle can be confused with the dark form of the Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus), but its wing shape is a reliable distinguishing feature.

Diet and Feeding

A proficient nest-predator, the Black Eagle feeds on mammals such as bats and squirrels, birds, and eggs. It has a unique habit of carrying away entire nests with nestlings to a feeding perch. Its curved claws and wide gape are adapted for picking up eggs and swiftlets from nests.

Conservation status

The Black Eagle is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, it is uncommon in large parts of its distribution, and the shrinking of forested areas has reduced its range.

Relationship to Humans

The Black Eagle has been noted in human culture, particularly among the Lepcha people, who admire its ability to soar for long periods, and the Soliga people, who recognize it by its black color and forested habitat.

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Black Eagles on Birda

A map showing the sighting location
Amy Mitchell
25 Jun 2024 - 4:07am
Sri Lanka

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