Circaetus cinereus (Brown snake-eagle) 

Bruinslangarend [Afrikaans]; Ekangakodi (also applied to some of the other eagles) [Kwangali]; Ghama (generic term for eagle) [Tsonga]; Bruine slangenarend [Dutch]; Circačte brun [French]; Brauner schlangenadler [German]; Įguia-cobreira-castanha [Portuguese]

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Circaetus cinereus (Brown snake-eagle)  Circaetus cinereus (Brown snake-eagle) 

Brown snake-eagle. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Brown snake-eagle, Gambia. [photo Tristan Bantock ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occupies much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the lowland forest of West Africa. In southern Africa, it is locally common across Mozambique, northern and eastern South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the northern half of Namibia (including the Caprivi Strip). It generally prefers more wooded habitats than the Black-chested snake-eagle, such as Mopane (Colosphermum mopane) and miombo (Brachystegia) woodland, Kalahari thornveld and wooded granite hills in Matopo, Zimbabwe.

Distribution of Brown snake-eagle in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Little known, as it is thought to be nomadic in some areas and resident in others. It is most common in Namibia in summer and Zimbabwe in winter, suggesting that it might migrate from east to west.


It mainly eats snakes, doing most of its hunting from a perch, dropping onto prey from above and smashing its spine with its feet. If the prey is a snake, it crushes the head to discharge any venom then swallows it whole. Its legs are thickly scaled to protect it from snake bites, but it is not immune to venom, and is sometimes blinded by spitting cobras. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Probably a monogamous solitary nester, performing an aerial display in the breeding season in which it dives and rises repeatedly.
  • The nest is built by both sexes in roughly a month, consisting of a platform of thin sticks with a deep cup set into it, lined with leaves. It is typically placed in the canopy of a flat-topped tree, especially a large Euphorbia, Knob-thorn (Acacia nigrescens), Beechwood (Faurea saligna) or Horn-pod tree (Diplorhynchus condlyocarpon). It may use the nest of another bird, such as the Tawny eagle, Wahlberg's eagle, African hawk-eagle or African harrier-hawk.
  • Egg-laying season is nearly year-round, peaking from about October-January.
  • It lays a single egg, which is usually incubated solely by the female for 48-53 days; the male rarely assists with incubation, but regularly provides the female with food.
  • The chick is brooded almost constantly by the female for the first ten days of its life, thereafter brooding more intermittently, ceasing completely when the chick becomes about 35 days old. The chick eventually leaves the nest at 95-112 days old, becoming fully independent about a week to two months later.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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