Bonelli’s eagle
Bonelli’s eagle

Algarve eagles

The Iberian Peninsula is home to a few eagle species, and I’m often sent photos asking to identify them.

This month, I bring you the eagle species you may be lucky to spot in the Algarve region.

Booted eagle

Starting with a commonly seen species, the booted eagle. This smallish eagle is roughly the same size as a common buzzard with a wingspan up to 130cm. It is often seen soaring gently, but this eagle is a very aggressive hunter and folds its wings, diving at high speed to catch its prey. It also performs this flight display when courting.

Identifying this eagle can be tough due to there being two colour morphs, a dark and a pale. The dark morph is mainly brown coloured with dark grey patches on the wings. The light morph is mainly grey with dark patches on the wings and a dark head.

If you are able to see close up, there are six wing fingers, which is easy to distinguish between the similar-sized common buzzard which only has five. The call of the booted eagle is a high-pitched “Kli Kli Kli Kli” sound. Although migratory, you can often see them during the winter period as some decide to stay for the winter.

Short-toed eagle
Short-toed eagle

Short-toed eagle

A very easily identified species, much larger than the booted eagle with a wingspan of almost 200cm. It’s a very common eagle and, as I type this article, I can hear one close by with its “keeeeaaaaaa” call. They are very vocal birds; I always think they sound similar to a gull, but not everyone agrees with this.

They have specially adapted feet to be able to catch its favourite food – snakes. They are often known as the short-toed snake eagle. They can look for prey soaring at 500m and are often seen soaring in the hills of the Algarve. They have an almost white appearance underneath and are the only eagle that you will witness hovering. They are migratory and are an early returner in the month of February.

Bonelli’s eagle

The Bonelli’s eagle (named after the Italian ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli) is an incredible sight. Its wingspan can be up to 160cm making its size between that of the booted eagle and short-toed eagle. Its appearance is white streaks with dark wings. They are not a common species, but can be seen in the Algarve hills, particularly in the area around Monchique.

I have witnessed them close up due to a pair last year preying on a neighbouring farm’s pigeons which reduced in numbers daily. Its call is a typical eagle sound, a “kleee” sound, however, in my experience, they are not very vocal.

Booted eagle (light morph)
Booted eagle (light morph)

Spanish imperial eagle

Often referred to as just imperial eagle, you can count yourself lucky if you spot one. They are becoming a rare species to spot. They are large, with a wingspan up to 220cm. Colouring is a very dark brown with noticeable white areas on the shoulders. These can be seen in flight on the leading edge of the wings. I was incredibly lucky as I spotted one recently perched on electric cables along the IC1 road near São Bartolomeu de Messines.

Their favourite food is rabbits which, interestingly, after a long spell of not seeing rabbits in my local area, the last few weeks I have spotted rabbits almost every morning on my dog walk. This could bring a complete change in the local wildlife who prey on rabbits. The call of the Spanish imperial eagle is difficult to explain, but it’s almost crow-like.

Golden eagle

This may shock some people that the golden eagle occurs in the Algarve and, strictly speaking, it doesn’t. You can see them in the northern mountains of Portugal and the plains of the Alentejo.  However, I have seen one in the hills of the Algarve at least once a year, probably as it is moving around locally.

As with the Spanish imperial eagle, this is a large bird with a wingspan of up to 230cm. They are also a very dark brown colour, but the give away is the “golden” colouring to the back of the crown. They are usually a very quiet bird, but the call is almost like a high-pitched yappy dog with a “kew” sound.

Common buzzard

Why have I included the common buzzard in this list? It’s not an eagle, however, the Portuguese name for a common buzzard is ‘águia-d’asa-redonda’, which translates to round-winged eagle.  Therefore, if you spot a buzzard, then you can cheat and tell everyone you spotted an eagle, even if it’s not really an eagle!

By Craig Rogers
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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit