Aquila (genus)

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Temporal range: Middle Miocene to present
Aquila chrysaetos Flickr.jpg
Aquila chrysaetos
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Aquilinae
Genus: Aquila
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Aquila chrysaetos
(Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Hieraaetus Kaup, 1844

and see text

Aquila is the genus of true eagles. The genus name is Latin for "eagle", possibly derived from aquilus, "dark in colour".[1] It is often united with the buteos, sea eagles, and other more heavyset Accipitridae, but more recently they appear to be less distinct from the more slender accipitrine hawks than previously believed. Eagles are not a natural group, but denote essentially any bird of prey large enough to hunt sizeable (about 50 cm long or more overall) vertebrate prey.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

Aquila belongs to a close-knit group of "typical" eagles including genera Hieraaetus, Lophaetus, Ictinaetus, Clanga, and the extinct Harpagornis. This group occurs as a clade within the larger group of "booted" eagles (tribe Aquilini or subfamily Aquilinae).[2]

The plumage of the more basal members of the booted-eagle group, such as Spizaetus and Nisaetus, generally has barred underparts in adults, and is distinctly different in juveniles which have plain, pale underparts. In contrast, within the Aquila–Hieraaetus–Lophaetus clade, adults are generally dark, with juveniles more closely resembling the adults. Hieraaetus species have both dark and light (or "pied") morphs, with the latter having light, unbarred under-parts.[3]

Research in molecular genetics found Aquila and Hieraaetus to be polyphyletic. Between 2005 and 2014, the British Ornithologists' Union included both Bonelli's and the booted eagle in Aquila. Also, Clements' Checklist merged all Hieraetus species into Aquila from 2001 to 2009. The current approach is to keep Hieraaetus as a separate genus, with Bonelli's eagle and the African hawk-eagle moved into Aquila and Wahlberg's eagle moved into Hieraaetus.[4]

The spotted eagles (previously Aquila clanga, A. pomarina, A. (p.) hastata) are thought to be genetically closer to Ictinaetus and Lophoaetus than to other Aquila species, and may be placed into a separate genus, Clanga.[2]

Members of Aquila (excluding those moved to Clanga and Hieraaetus, but including A. fasciata/spilogaster) share two deletions in the (nuclear) LDH gene, as well as similarities in mitochondrial cyt-B gene sequence, though one of these deletions is reverted in A. chrysaetos.[3]


Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Aquila fasciata (Wadi Hinna, Oman).jpg Aquila fasciata (formerly Hieraaetus fasciatus) Bonelli's eagle southern Europe, Africa both north and south of the Sahara Desert and across the Middle East and South Asia to Indonesia
Cassin's Hawk-Eagle - Ghana.jpg Aquila africana (formerly Spizaetus africanus) Cassin's hawk-eagle West, central and marginally east Africa; from Sierra Leone east to western Uganda south through the Congo Basin to northern Angola
African hawk eagle (Aquila spilogaster).jpg Aquila spilogaster (previously a subspecies, H. f. spilogaster) African hawk-eagle tropical Sub-Saharan Africa
Aquila chrysaetos Flickr.jpg Aquila chrysaetos Golden eagle almost worldwide
Eastern Imperial Eagle cr.jpg Aquila heliaca Eastern imperial eagle northeastern Africa and southern and eastern Asia
Aquila adalberti.jpg Aquila adalberti Spanish imperial eagle central and south-west Spain and adjacent areas of Portugal, in the Iberian peninsula
Steppe Eagle (15792351262).jpg Aquila nipalensis Steppe eagle Romania east through the south Russian and Central Asian steppes to Mongolia
2012-tawny-eagle-0.jpg Aquila rapax Tawny eagle Africa both north and south of the Sahara Desert and across tropical southwestern Asia to India.
Witkruisarend.jpg Aquila verreauxii Verreaux's eagle southern and eastern Africa (extending marginally into Chad), and very locally in West Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the southern Middle East.
Aquila gurneyi Gurney's eagle Moluccas to Irian Jaya and most of New Guinea
EagleWedgetail2.jpg Aquila audax Wedge-tailed eagle Australia, southern New Guinea, part of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia

Former species[edit]

Fossil record[edit]

Numerous fossil taxa of eagles have been described.[5][6] Many have been moved to other genera, but several appear to be correctly assigned to this genus:

Whether "Hieraaetus" edwardsi (Middle -? Late Miocene of SW Europe) belongs into Aquila or the hawk-eagles (if the latter are indeed distinct) is unclear. Its initial name, "Aquila" minuta Milne-Edwards, 1871, is preoccupied by a junior synonym of the booted eagle, A. minuta Brehm, 1831.

Not placed in Aquila anymore are:

"Aquila" danana (Snake Creek Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Loup Fork, USA), occasionally placed in Geranoaetus or Buteo, was a bird of prey of unclear relationships.

For paleosubspecies of living Aquila, see the species accounts.


  1. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. ^ a b Boyd, John Accipitriformes", Taxonomy in Flux Checklist.
  3. ^ a b Helbig, A.J.; Kocum, A.; Seibold, I. & Braun, M.J. "A multi-gene phylogeny of aquiline eagles (Aves: Accipitriformes) reveals extensive paraphyly at the genus level" (PDF). Science Direct, Journal of Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Retrieved 2013-04-01.
  4. ^ See article Hieraaetus for details.
  5. ^ Brodkorb, Pierce (1964). "Catalogue of Fossil Birds: Part 2 (Anseriformes through Galliformes)". Bulletin of the Florida State Museum. 8 (3): 195–335.
  6. ^ a b Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague, p. 194.
  7. ^ Boev, Z., 2013. Aquila kurochkini sp. n., a New Late Pliocene Eagle (Aves, Accipitriformes) from Varshets (NW Bulgaria). - Paleontological Journal, 2013, Vol. 47, No. 11, pp. 1344–1354. Pleiades Publishing, Ltd., 2013.
  8. ^ Salotti, Michelle; Bellot-Gourlet, Ludovic; Courtois, Jean-Yves; Dubois, Jean-Noël; Louchart, Antoine; Mourer-Chauviré, Cécile; Oberlin, Christine; Pereira, Elisabeth; Poupeau, Gérard; Tramoni, Pascal (2000). "La fin du Pléistocène supérieur et le début de l'Holocène en Corse: apports paléontologique et archéologique du site de Castiglione (Oletta, Haute-Corse)" [The end of the Late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene in Corsica: New paleontological and archaeological data from Castiglione deposit (Oletta, Haute-Corse)]. Quaternaire (English abstract) (in French). 11 (3): 219–230. doi:10.3406/quate.2000.1671.
  9. ^ Madagascar and other Islands. Human Settlers Invade Paradise. Endangered Species Handbook. Retrieved on 2013-04-17.