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

Raptors Conservation. Suppl. 2. Proceedings of Conferences

The present status of the Steppe Eagle in Kazakhstan

Pulikova G.I. (Biodiversity Research and Conservation Center Community Trust, Astana, Kazakhstan)
Kaptyonkina A.G. (Biodiversity Research and Conservation Center Community Trust, Astana; Institute of Zoology of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, Kazakhstan)
Smelansky I.E. (Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan; Sibecocenter LLC, Novosibirsk, Russia)
Zinevich L.S. (All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection, Moscow, Russia)
Nikolenko E.G., Karyakin I.V. (Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network; Sibecocenter LLC, Novosibirsk, Russia)

Genriyetta Pulikova
Alyona Kaptyonkina
Ilya Smelansky
Lyudmila Zinevich
Elvira Nikolenko
Igor Karyakin
Recommended citation: Pulikova G.I., Kaptyonkina A.G., Smelansky I.E., Zinevich L.S., Nikolenko E.G., Karyakin I.V. The Present Status of the Steppe Eagle in Kazakhstan. – Raptors Conservation. 2023. S2: 247–252. DOI: 10.19074/1814-8654-2023-2-247-252 URL:

Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a bird without which it is impossible to imagine Kazakhstan. According to the latest 2018 population estimate, there were 20950–31570 breeding pairs in the country (68.5–82.2% of the world population). The Kazakhstan population has been steadily declining since at least the 1990s (Karyakin, 2018). In the present period, an unfavorable trend is observed throughout the entire Kazakhstan range of the Steppe Eagle, but the lack of regular and geographically representative monitoring does not allow a correct assessment of the rate of decline.
Steppe eagles on breeding in Kazakhstan are unevenly distributed in three breeding groups: western, central and eastern.

The largest – western – is the population core of the species. In 2006, it was estimated at 12273–29566 pairs of Steppe Eagle, with an average of 20658 pairs (Karyakin, Novikova, 2006). At present, this estimate is 10–25,000, with an average of 17,200 pairs (-16.7%), but the status of several breeding groups in the Volga-Ural interfluve, on the Sub-Urals Tableland and in the Southern Mugodzhary, where monitoring has not been carried out for the last 10 years, is unclear, and it is possible that this estimate is already higher than the actual number of the species.

A negative trend was confirmed in Aktobe Region. The proportion of occupied nests (active and reserved) consistently decreased: 81% in 2010, 68% in 2012, 57% in 2015, 41.5% in 2017. The proportion of lost nests (destroyed and burned) was high – 14% in 2017, although it ranged from 1.6% to 6% in earlier studies. On average, there were 1.58±0.61 nestlings per successful nest in 2017 (our data).

Other authors also conducted monitoring in Aktobe Region in 2018–2023 (Bragin, pres. coll.). The share of active nests amounted to 35.94% in 2018, 14.68% in 2019, 21.43% in 2021, 15.74% in 2022, 21.26% in 2023. The authors note that there is a trend of smooth decrease in the number of the Steppe Eagle. The maximum brood size was observed in 2019 (2.1±0.23 nestlings per successful nest) and the minimum brood size was observed in 2021 (1.7±0.16 nestlings per successful nest).

In the Northern Chink of Ustyurt (Donyztau Chink, Zheltau butte plateau and Sholkara ridge), 14 breeding territories of the Steppe Eagle were localized in 2018– 2019 (6 of them inhabited, 3 with unsuccessful breeding) (Smelyansky et al., 2020). Successful nests had 1–2 nestlings. Actual breeding density (1.3 pairs/100 km2) was much lower than potential.

In the Aktobe part of Doniztau in 2022, only one nest was found inhabited out of 13 examined breeding territories, and 12 territories (92%) were found uninhabited. The presence of eagles was recorded in 11 territories (85%) (Smelyansky et al., pres. coll.).

The number of steppe eagles nesting in trees and power lines along the Aktobe-Uralsk highway has decreased dramatically over the past 10 years.

West of the Ural River in the basin of the drainless Aschiozek River, monitoring began in 2022 (Smelyansky et al., pres. coll.). Only 36% of active nests were observed. Average brood size was 1.69±0.79 (n=16). In 2023 the rate of active nests was 31%, including 22% with successful breeding.

In Central Kazakhstan (Karaganda Region), the species' abundance decreased by 27.08 % from 2007 to 2017. In 2017, there were between 4794 and 5814 breeding pairs in the region, with an average of 5,275 (Karyakin et al., 2017). Monitoring in 2018 confirmed a rapid decline in abundance with a loss of 222 to 548 individuals in a single year (Karyakin et al., 2019).

In the east, an estimate was made in 2006 in the Kalbinsk Highlands: 1200 breeding pairs, brood size 2±0.53 (n=8) (Smelyansky et al., 2006). In 2009 in the Northern Pribalkhashie the species abundance was estimated at 460 pairs. Brood size was 1.9±0.5 (n=15) (Barashkova et al., 2009). In 2012–2013, researchers observed 2±0.9 (n=7) eggs/nestlings (Barashkova, Smelyansky, 2014). In 2020, the estimate of Steppe Eagle abundance for the entire East Kazakhstan region was from 1110 to 2368 pairs, with an average of 1617 pairs. The number of nestlings in broods was 1 nestling per successful nest (n=11). The productivity of the population was the lowest in the range of the species in Kazakhstan according to studies in 2020 (Pulikova et al., 2021).

In 2023, the negative trend continued. In the northern foothills of the Dzungarian Alatau we observed only 2 active nests of the Steppe Eagle. As we move northward, active nests begin to appear after crossing the Balkhash-Alakol Basin, but very low productivity is observed. It looks more stable northward in the Kalbinsky Highlands.

Now we observe a narrowing of the breeding range of the Steppe Eagle due to the exclusion of peripheral territories, especially desert and semi-desert ones. By excluding these territories, we come to an estimate of 16750–28070 breeding pairs as of 2023 (loss after 2018 of about 3850 pairs minimum).

There are a number of current threats to the Steppe Eagle in Kazakhstan:
- habitat loss and degradation;
- electrocution on power lines;
- reduction of food resources;
- targeted and unintentional poisoning;
- intentional shooting and hunting.

Wind and (to a lesser extent) solar power generating facilities pose a growing potential threat.

Reduction in the amount and/or availability of food resources today plays a leading role in the decline of the species. In the south and southeast of Kazakhstan, there has been a prolonged depression in rodent numbers, affecting all species from the Great Gerbil (Rhombomys opimus) and Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus fulvus) to Voles (Microtus socialis) (Karyakin et al., 2022). To the north, for example, in the Kalbinsky Highlands, the food reserve of the Steppe Eagle consists of the RedCheeked and Long-Tailed Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus erythrogenys, S. undulatus), the Altai Myospalax (Myospalax myospalax), the Steppe and Altai Pika (Ochotona pusilla, O. alpina) (Smelyansky et al., 2006). No such catastrophic depression in rodent populations is observed here, which contributes to the preservation of a fairly stable local breeding group of the Steppe Eagle.

In addition to nesting, large numbers of immature individuals move within Kazakhstan during summer migrations (Karyakin et al., 2019). The migrating individuals prefer to stay in food-rich areas, mainly in Central and Western Kazakhstan, which is evident from telemetry data. Steppe eagles from Russia, Western Mongolia and Northwest China also fly through Kazakhstan. For example, 15536 (13584–17942) individuals are found on migration through Karatau alone (Karyakin et al., 2021), and in general up to 90% of the entire world population of the species may fly through Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is a key country in the conservation of the Steppe Eagle and conservation organizations need to strengthen activities aimed at this species. Especially as the list of threats continues to grow.

Female and nestlings of the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) in the nest on the rock. Photo by I. Karyakin.