Third International Scientific and Practical Conference “Eagles of the Palearctic: Study and Conservation”

Raptors Conservation. Suppl. 2. Proceedings of Conferences

On the Steppe Eagle Nesting of Dagestan

Tsapko N.V. (Stavropol Anti-Plague Institute, Stavropol, Russia)
Dzhamirzoev G.S. (Dagestansky State Nature Reserve, Makhachkala, Russia)
Kesyan A.A., Khalidov A.Kh. (Dagestan anti-plague station, Makhachkala, Russia)
Ashibokov U.M., Dubyansky V.M. (Stavropol Anti-Plague Institute, Stavropol, Russia)

Nikolai Tsapko
Gadzhibek Dzhamirzoev
Artem Kesyan
Arslan Khalidov
Umar Ashibokov
Vladimir Dubyansky
Recommended citation: Tsapko N.V., Dzhamirzoev G.S., Kesyan A.A., Khalidov A.Kh., Ashibokov U.M., Dubyansky V.M. On the Steppe Eagle Nesting of Dagestan. – Raptors Conservation. 2023. S2: 228–232. DOI: 10.19074/1814-8654-2023-2-228-232 URL:

Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a nesting, migratory, and partially wintering species in Dagestan. It is listed in the Red Books of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Dagestan. Until the middle of the last century, Steppe Eagle was found nesting from the lower reaches of the Kuma River to the northern arid foothills, and by the end of the century it practically disappeared from the region, occasionally being recorded during breeding period in the extreme northwest of the republic, the Agrakhan Peninsula and the foothills of the Buynak Basin (Behme, 1925; Volchanechky, 1959: Kharchenko, 1968; Dzhamirzoev, Bukreev, 2020; our data).

In the south of Russia as a whole, the main Steppe Eagle breeding group is currently located in Kalmykia (Tsapko, 2009; Medzhidov et al., 2011; Muzaev, Erdnenov, 2013; 2014; Karyakin et al., 2016; Korepov, 2020; Abushin, Erdnenov, 2021). In the regions adjacent to Kalmykia, in the Volgograd and Astrakhan regions species population is consistently low, and in the eastern regions of the Rostov region and Stavropol Territory individual pairs have been preserved (Reutsky, 2014; Ilyukh, Khokhlov, 2013; Belik, 2014; 2017; Malovichko et al., 2019). The latest data on Steppe Eagle nesting in Dagestan dates back to the late 1990s (Dzhamirzoev, Ilyukh, 1999; Dzhamirzoev et al., 2001). The catastrophic decline in species population and its disappearance from vast lowland areas of the republic was associated with the destruction of Small Ground Squirrel colonies and hunting eagles in 1960s–1970s (Dzhamirzoev, Bukreev, 2020).

We discovered Steppe Eagle nesting colony on April 26, 2021, in the northern part of the Nogai region, 20 km north of the village of East Sukhokumsk. Area is a low-hilled semi-desert plain interspersed with pure windswept sands, sometimes overgrown with tamarisk and calligonum bushes. Light sandy loam soils are covered with wormwood-grass plant communities. Agricultural activity in the area is reduced to grazing of small cattle, and human settlements are represented by a few transhumance farms (kutans). In an area of about 15 km, ten nests were found (all on the ground), probably belonging to three pairs. Six nests within two breeding territories were examined. In one of the territories, the pair had four nests (three were inspected). All nests were built using tamarisk and calligonum branches and were located linearly at 200 and 700 m from each other. It was not possible to inspect another nest, approximately 600 m to the south. Judging by the level of decay of uninhabited nests, Steppe Eagles used them for nesting in previous seasons. A clatch of three eggs was found in an occupied nest. The tray was lined with pieces of sheep wool, roots of herbaceous plants, pieces of manure, and scraps of paper. The nest had a height of 80 cm and was more than 1 m in diameter. The nature of nest distribution in the area made it possible to detect them from a long distance, despite the characteristic low hilly relief. All nests were located on tops of small sandy mounds and were visible from afar. The distance to the nearest sheepfold was about 2 km. Eagles nested on the outskirts of a large Ground Squirrel colony in low-hilled turfed sands, overgrown with low bushes of calligonum and tamarisk.

Nests were located 100 and 300 m from each other, there was an occupied nest containing a clutch of two eggs. This pair’s nesting stereotype differs from the previous one. All nests of this pair were located in micro-depressions among sandy mounds and hillocks, and therefore were only visible at a close range or from towering landscape elements. The distance between occupied nests of these two pairs was about 2.5 km. The Ground Squirrel colonies were located to the south and north on a low-hilled plain. In comparison with a previous year, an increase in the number of Small Ground Squirrels was noted, population density reaching 20 individuals per one hectare in optimal habitats. Up to 5–7 Steppe Eagles, including juvenile birds, were observed here at once.

Steppe Eagle breeding territories are closely associated with areas where Small Ground Squirrel abundance is high. Despite the fact that the Ground Squirrel sporadically inhabits a large area of lowland Dagestan, Steppe Eagle nesting is only known in the north of the Republic. However, we regularly observed Steppe Eagles in other regions of Dagestan during breeding period, in particular, on the Agrakhan Peninsula and in the Buynak Basin, where fairly dense Ground Squirrel colonies have been preserved. The most favorable conditions for Steppe Eagle in the Agrakhansky Nature Reserve are preserved in the northern, steppe-filled part of the peninsula of the same name, where agricultural activity is reserved to a minimum. In the Buinaksk depression with the adjacent arid foothills, encounters with migratory and non-breeding eagles are usually allocated to Ground Squirrel colonies and landfills where waste from poultry farms is dumped.

Thus, currently the southern border of the Steppe Eagle breeding range in the European part of Russia has shifted northward to the lower reaches of the Kuma River, where in some locations Small Ground Squirrel colonies remain. These breeding territories are apparently not permanent and periodically disappear, and then return thanks to replenishment from the core of Steppe Eagle nesting group in Kalmykia. The further species dispersal in Dagestan is probably hampered by a number of facts: disturbance and destruction of nests, lack of food resources in breeding period, deaths on power lines, etc.

Female of the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) with nestlings in the nest. Photo by A. Abushin.