Snake-eagles Are a Serpent’s Worst Nightmare

This raptor can decapitate and swallow its prey whole—all on the wing.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

Snake-eagles are pretty incredible. That name — “snake-eagle” — may conjure up some kind of fearsome sci-fi hybrid, spawned in a secret laboratory. But snake-eagles are for real. 

And they are awesome, big birds of prey. When a soaring snake-eagle spots a delicious snake, it swoops down suddenly, grabbing with its talons. Then it immediately flies upward, as the snake writhes and strikes. The first order of business is to minimize the danger, so the eagle crushes or tears off the snake’s head. Still on the wing, it then swallows the entire snake, head first. Snake-eagles are a bit smaller than Bald Eagles. There are six different species. And they live mainly in Africa, although one ranges as far as Europe and India. 

Snake-eagle legs and toes are covered in thick scales that help protect them from bites. And bites are a serious risk: snake-eagles take on some of the swiftest and deadliest snakes in the world, like cobras and black mambas. But not every meal is a battle with a deadly adversary. When not snatching snakes, snake-eagles may also hunt lizards, rodents, and even bats or fish.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

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Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Written by Bob Sundstrom

Narrator: Michael Stein

Bird sounds provided by XENO CANTO 366048 recorded by Marco Dragonetti and  XC240492 recorded by Jarek Matusiak.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2017 Tune In to   December 2017   ID#     snake-eagle-01-2017-12-05     snake-eagle-01