Family Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)

Least Concern

Crested Serpent-eagle (Spilornis cheela)


French: Serpentaire bacha German: Schlangenweihe Spanish: Culebrera chiíla

Falco Cheela


, 1790,

India = Lucknow


Closely related to S. holospilus, S. klossi, S. kinabaluensis and S. rufipectus, and may be conspecific with any or all of these taxa. Races perplexus, minimus, abbotti, asturinus, sipora, natunensis and baweanus have recently been treated as valid individual species#R, but none of these appears to fulfil the required criteria for species status when compared with all other taxa in the complex, even though the nearest neighbour may be very different; for the moment, therefore, pending a more detailed and comprehensive analysis, these taxa are retained as subspecies of S. cheela. Situation in Nicobar Is somewhat complicated, although presence of two different species of Spilornis generally agreed upon: C Nicobars form minimus, when treated as a full species, often considered to include S. klossi as a race, but minimus is closer to other forms of S. cheela group#R; an undescribed form of present species (based on three specimens) in S Nicobars was previously thought to be of race malayensis, but clearly distinct from latter and from sympatric klossi#R. Several further races have been described, e.g. tonkinensis (from N Vietnam), but considered invalid. Twenty-one subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. c. perplexus Swann, 1922 – Ryukyu Serpent-eagle – S Ryukyu Is (Miyako Is, Yaeyama Is).
  • S. c. cheela (Latham, 1790) – Crested Serpent-eagle – extreme NE Pakistan (rare)#R and N India E to Nepal, Assam and NE & C Bangladesh; winter visitor in Gangetic Plain.
  • S. c. melanotis (Jerdon, 1841) – peninsular India S from Gujarat and Gangetic Plain.
  • S. c. spilogaster (Blyth, 1852) – Sri Lanka.
  • S. c. burmanicus Swann, 1920 – Myanmar, S China, Thailand and Indochina.
  • S. c. davisoni A. O. Hume, 1873 – Andaman Is.
  • S. c. ricketti W. L. Sclater, 1919 – SC & SE China and N Vietnam.
  • S. c. hoya Swinhoe, 1866 – Taiwan.
  • S. c. rutherfordi Swinhoe, 1870 – Hainan.
  • S. c. malayensis Swann, 1920 – Malay Peninsula (from S Tenasserim), Anambas Is (off E Peninsular Malaysia) and N Sumatra.
  • S. c. batu Meyer de Schauensee & Ripley, 1940 – Batu Is (off W Sumatra) and mainland S Sumatra.
  • S. c. palawanensis W. L. Sclater, 1919 – W Philippines (Calamian Is and Palawan group).
  • S. c. pallidus Walden, 1872 – lowlands of N Borneo.
  • S. c. richmondi Swann, 1922 – S Borneo.
  • S. c. bido (Horsfield, 1821) – Java and Bali.
  • S. c. minimus A. O. Hume, 1873 – Central Nicobar Serpent-eagle – C Nicobar Is.
  • S. c. abbotti Richmond, 1903 – Simeulue Serpent-eagle – Simeulue I (off W Sumatra).
  • S. c. asturinus A. B. Meyer, 1884 – Nias Serpent-eagle – Nias I (off W Sumatra).
  • S. c. sipora Chasen & Kloss, 1926 – Mentawai Serpent-eagle – Mentawai Is (off W Sumatra).
  • S. c. natunensis Chasen, 1934 – Natuna Serpent-eagle – N Natuna Is (off W Borneo) and Belitung I (off SE Sumatra).
  • S. c. baweanus Oberholser, 1917 – Bawean Serpent-eagle – Bawean I (off N Java).
  • Also occurs (race undescribed) in S Nicobar Is (Menchal, Kondul, Great Nicobar)#R.

    Descriptive notes

    50–74 cm (cheela), 50–56 cm (perplexus); 420–1800 g (palawanensis 688 g males, 853 g females; pallidus 675–925 g... read more


    Fairly noisy, especially during aerial displays in breeding season; also vocalizes while perched.... read more


    Present in a wide variety of tropical and subtropical forest habitats, including dry to wet primary... read more

    Food and feeding

    Feeds mainly on reptiles, especially tree snakes; less commonly on mammals, crabs, eels, frogs and birds. Recent study in India documented... read more


    Nesting chronology varies with locality, depending on elevation, latitude and timing of rainy season (laying mostly in dry season in N of... read more


    Usually considered sedentary aside from juvenile dispersal, but birds that clearly were northbound... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Throughout extensive range generally widespread and common, sometimes abundant, but locally uncommon. No threats known at... read more

    Recommended citation

    Clark, W.S., Marks, J.S. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Crested Serpent-eagle (Spilornis cheela). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 12 December 2019).