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Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

As the name implies this eagle feeds largely on snakes so it has to leave Europe in the winter when snakes are inactive in most places. The birds arrive back in late February and we see birds migrating over Gibraltar until June. These birds are aiming for the Iberian Peninsula but some may be going as far as southern Italy. They don't like crossing over the open sea so they gather in the Strait of Gibraltar. Better to cross here and go all the way into France and back down to southern Italy than risk a crossing of the Mediterranean Sea further east.

Why such a long period of migration?

The reason is that there are two peaks to this migration. The first peak is at the end of February and early in March. These are adult birds trying to get to their nesting grounds as soon as possible. You can identify them easily by their dark head and throat feathers. Then, we get a second arrival which is protracted over a long period. These are immature birds, individuals born in previous years which are not ready to breed. You can tell them by their pale heads. Why do these birds bother to return at all if they are not going to breed? It's likely that they are learning the migration routes and exploring future breeding sites.

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