Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)_DSC1480-1

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)_DSC1480-1

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)

Other common names: Red-backed Kite, White-headed Kite, Maroon-backed Kite, Chestnut-white Kite, Rufous Eagle, Rufous-backed Kite, White and Red Eagle-kite, Red-backed Sea Eagle, White-headed Sea Eagle, White-headed Fish Eagle, Whistling Eagle.

Taxonomy: Haliastur indus (Boddaert) 1783, Pondicherry, India.

Sub-species & Distribution: Sometimes placed within the genus Milvus. It ranges from Pakistan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka through to S China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Sula Islands, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Greater and Lesser Sundas, Wallacea, Moluccas, New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Australia and the Solomon Islands.

The nominate form, indus, more heavily marked with narrow dark stripes, is found in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands to S China, south to Myanmar, N Thailand and C Vietnam. South of the Tenasserim, however, it intergrades with intermedius, and is less heavily streaked than those from the northern parts of its range (Baker 1928, Robinson 1927). Given the great individual variation in the strength of dark shaft-streaks in adults, Wells (1999) considered it better to treat the whole of Malaya as a zone of intergradation between these two races.

Of the four sub-species currently recognised, only one is found in this region:

intermedius Gurney 1865, Java. Found in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Greater and Lesser Sundas, Sulawesi, the Philippines and Sula Islands. Towards the easternmost parts of this range, the stripes tend to disappear altogether as it grades into the Australian race (Robinson 1927).

Size: Length 18 to 20" (46 to 51 cm). Sexes alike. Females slightly larger than males (Baker 1928).

Description: Head, nape, hind-neck, chin, throat, breast and upper belly white, the feathers with narrow but distinct dark brown to blackish shaft-streaks. Remaining upperparts rich reddish-chestnut, darker on mantle, the feathers sometimes with black quill shafts. Outer six primaries black with varying amounts of chestnut at base, the chestnut basal third of the first primary progressively increasing towards the sixth primary which has the basal half entirely chestnut. Remaining primaries, secondaries and wing coverts chestnut, paler and duller on under-surface of wing. Tail chestnut with narrow pale tips, under-surface of tail pale dull rufous. Lower abdomen, undertail coverts, axillaries and underwing coverts chestnut.

Soft parts: Iris dark brown. Bill dull bluish-horn, paler and yellower at tip, cere dull yellowish. Legs and feet greenish-yellow.

Immature plumages Juveniles have upperparts mainly brown, the secondaries and wing coverts darker with pale buffy-white tips, the tail with pale whitish tip. Head, nape, hind-neck, chin, throat, breast and upper belly pale rufous-brown, with buffy-white shaft stripes and tips, the lores whitish, with brown around the eyes and on ear coverts. Belly and undertail coverts more rufous, with narrow dark streaks, the feathers whitish at the base (Robinson 1927). Outer six primaries blackish with varying amounts of greyish-white at base, the greyish-white basal third of the first primary progressively increasing towards the sixth primary which has the basal half entirely greyish-white. The remaining primaries greyish-white, tinged with greyish-rufous at tip. Axillaries, lesser and median underwing coverts dark blackish-brown, greater underwing coverts dark grey, paler at base.

After fledging, with wear, the dark plumage fades to brown or rusty-brown, the buff markings lightens to cream streaks. Later, after a body moult, the worn and faded juvenile feathers include variable amounts of new whitish and red-brown feathers on the head, body, lesser and median coverts; the forehead and throat more whitish; the crown, face, hind-neck, breast, upper belly and flanks now mottled with cream and pale brown; the back, lower belly, vent and thighs dull chestnut. The flight feathers, wing coverts and tail, not moulted in the first year, now appear faded and worn (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). In flight, the greyish-white on the primaries appears almost white.

Similar species: The White-bellied Fish Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster, a very much larger bird, can be recognised by its wedge-shaped white-tipped tail, its black primaries and secondaries contrasting with white underwing coverts and white underparts. Brahminy Kites have dark chestnut underwing coverts, rounded chestnut tail and chestnut wings, only the wing tips being black.

Immature Brahminy Kites can be separated by their smaller size, dark brown to chestnut lower belly, thighs and vent, and rounded tail. The similar Black Kite Milvus migrans has its tail forked, not rounded.

Status, Habitat & Behaviour: A common resident throughout Singapore (Wang & Hails 2007), it is most frequently found near water, along the sea coast by fishing villages and islands, near rivers, marshes, mangrove mudflats, lakes and rice fields. They habitually feed around large harbours and ports.

Though it can be seen by mouths of large rivers or in open country, over inland marshes and rice fields, it normally avoids dry areas, dense forests and jungles. However, it does hunt over the forest canopy, and travel up into the interior along large rivers. In Sarawak, it is found in Bario, at 1100 m, hawking over padi fields, or perched high up on dead trees overlooking forest clearings and rivers.

It occurs singly, in pairs, or in small groups, and is seen circling over coastal or riverine towns and fishing villages. In India, it is very tame and fearless, freely scavenging close to human habitation (Jerdon 1862) but, inland, it is often a shy bird (Whistler 1949).

Essentially a scavenger and an opportunistic feeder, it shows great versatility in its hunt for food. Along the coastline and in open country, it soars high over its territory in search of prey or quarters the area at lower heights, sometimes perching prominently on trees, utility posts or on the roofs of houses and, in harbours, on derricks alongside the docks or the masts of ships. Its flight is effortless and graceful.

It swoops down in long gliding or diving flight to pick food off the surface in its claws, the legs held rigid and, sometimes, even splashes into the water, riding high on the waves, and taking off again without effort (Ali & Ripley 1968). Unlike White-bellied Fish Eagles Haliaeetus leucogaster or Ospreys Pandion haliaetus, it does not pursue fish travelling in shoals (Robinson 1927). It has been seen taking fish up to one pound in weight (Smythies 1968). Small prey items are devoured in flight (see Willis 2008). With larger catches, the bird sits on the ground, on padi field bunds or perches high up a tree (Jerdon 1862).

Adults are sedentary and do not migrate. Immature birds usually disperse from the parental territory.

Food: In large cities and towns, it frequently feeds on garbage thrown out in the streets and roads. On large rivers or lakes, it picks fish, prawns or water insects off the water and, in wooded country, it takes mice, shrews, young birds, and insects such as large cicadas or locusts (Jerdon 1862). Inland, it eats crustacea, frogs and shellfish taken in padi fields, an occasional young chicken or duckling from villages (Robinson 1927), as well as lizards, snakes and swarming termites taken on the wing (Salim Ali 1941).

In large harbours, it is a scavenger, any refuse thrown overboard from ships being instantly picked up off the water (Oates 1895). Near fishing villages, it can be seen taking fish from the sea and beaches even as fishing nets are being emptied (Robinson 1927), feeding on discarded fish and fish offal, often swooping down to steal fish within a few feet of a fisherman (Baker 1928) and, when in hot pursuit of gulls, crows and kites to rob them of food, shows some considerable turn of speed (Jerdon 1862). It is equally adept, when served in like manner, in evading predators, sometimes unsuccessfully (Lee 2007).

Voice and Calls: The cry is a peculiar squealing sound, uttered on the wing (Oates 1895), a shrill mew, like that of a kitten, uttered on the wing or when fighting for food with others of its kind (Robinson 1927).

Breeding: In Singapore, breeding was first recorded in 1949, with current records of nest building from January to March and October to December, brooding in March, and nestlings in February, March, May and June (Wang & Hails 2007). In West Malaysia, eggs were found from December to March, nestlings from April to May (Robinson & Chasen 1939).

The nest, a loosely constructed structure of coarse twigs and sticks, is usually placed not less than 12 to 15 m above ground, generally near the top of a tall tree in the mangroves, the eggs being laid on a pad of dried clay (Robinson & Chasen 1939). A nest was found on a flat-topped electricity pylon, and also on Tembusu Fagraea fragrans trees (Wells 1999).

In India, where they breed from December to March, nests were found usually in the neighbourhood of water, along the coasts on coconut palms and casuarina trees (Salim Ali 1941), on trees in the middle of a fishing village and on the roofs of houses (Baker 1928). The nests were large loose structures, 46 to 61 cm in diameter and 8 to 12 cm in depth, the central depression for the eggs sometimes unlined, sometimes lined with a few green leaves but, more commonly, the inner part of the nest included pieces of rag, wool and human hair, and was sometimes lined with mud (Hume 1890).

They lay two dirty-white eggs, lightly marked with rusty reddish-brown, sometimes without markings, the average size of twenty eggs being 52.8 x 41.1 mm (Robinson 1927). Both sexes share duties in building the nest and feeding the young. The birds were prone to deserting the nest on the slightest provocation (Hume 1890). Incubation, done mostly by the female, takes about 26 or 35 days. Young hatchlings are covered in white down, take 40 to 56 days to fledge, and remain dependent on their parents for another two months (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001).

Moult: Very little information is available about its moult strategy. Like many small Accipitrids, it probably undertakes complete wing and tail moult every year. According to Wells (1999), replacement of inner primaries is regular and descendent, with evidence of mid-wing suspension or precocious moult of the wing tip, P5 to P10 often newer than P1 to P4.

Miscellaneous: The name of Brahminy Kite given to it in India because the bird is considered sacred to Vishnu, a Hindu deity. The word, Brahmin, refers to a Hindu priestly caste. Its Muslim name, Rumuharik or lucky face, arises from a belief that when two armies are about to engage, the appearance of this bird over either party foretold victory to that side (Jerdon 1862).


Posted by BoonHong Chan on 2021-07-25 03:09:21

Tagged: , Brahminy_Kite_(Haliastur_indus) , Brahminy_Kite , Haliastur_indus , Kite , Eagle , Raptors , Singapore , Singapore_Bird , BoonHong , Nikon_D500 , Nikkor_200-500mm_F5.6 , Nikon , NIkkor , Yishun_Dam

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