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Brahminy Kite
Haliastur Indus

Lang Merah/Tikus (Malay)

The Brahminy Kite is a familiar bird of prey and often referred to as the Singapore Bald Eagle.

Brahminy Kites are more scavengers than hunters. But they also hunt for small prey (fish, crabs, shellfish, frogs, rodents, reptiles, even insects). They forage both over water and land, soaring 20-50m above the surface.

Prey on the water surface is snatched with their talons, Brahminy Kites don't dive into the water. They may even snatch swarming termites on the wing with their talons.

They scavenge from food scraps and garbage and are thus quite common at harbours and coastal fish/food processing sites.

But Brahminy Kites don't just passively forage. They flush shorebirds roosting on the mudflats into flight to identify the weak. They are attracted to fires to catch any fleeing animals. They may steal from other raptors including large ones like the White-bellied Fish Eagle. Their catch is eaten on the wing, to prevent theft. When several quarrel over a meal, they squeal.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Medium (43-51cm), wings long broad rounded; tail short and rounded when fanned. Head, neck, breast white; rest of body bright chestnut; primaries tipped black; feet yellow.

From below chestnut wing coverts contrast with paler brown flight feathers; wingtips black; tail pale.

From above: all chestnut except primaries, base pale and black tips.
Juvenile: Uniformly dark brown plumage; white parts streaked with buff. In flight, pale patch at base of primaries.

Call: Described as a thin mewing scream kweeaa or kyeeer usually while soaring.

In flight: Long but broadly angled wings. Slow deep flapping.

Similar birds: Juveniles hard to distinguish from visiting Black Kite (which has a square tail) and resident immature White-bellied Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster). The mature White-bellied's white extends to the belly, wings and tail and the rest is grey instead of bronze.

Status in Singapore: Very common resident throughout, including North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Coastal areas in India through China to the Philippines and Australia.

Classification: Family Accipitridae. World 240 species, Singapore 27 species.
Habitats best suited to Brahminy Kites are broad mudflats such as those found in mangroves, estuaries and coasts. They are also found in freshwater wetlands such as ricefields and marshes. In Singapore, they are also found inland near water and even in cultivated areas (gardens, parks). They may roost together in trees along the coast.

Breeding: During mating season (November-December), Brahminy Kites perform aerial acrobatics. They mate on or near the nest.

Brahminy Kites prefer to nest in mangroves, usually in tall emergent trees. Some use dead trees (perhaps the tree was alive when it was first used as a nest site). On swampy sites that are more secure from land predators, they may nest as low as 5-6 m. But on dry land, usually at 20-25 m. In Singapore, they also nest along the coasts in casuarina trees, and near reservoirs. Although they do not share nesting trees, pairs may nest less than 100 m apart.

Their nest is compact and made of twigs and sticks, usually 60-90 cm wide and 15-30 cm deep. The nest is often lined with dried mud. A first-time nest is usually thin, but as the pair reuse the site, the nest thickens. 2 eggs are laid, white with sparse red-brown blotches. Both parents raise the young.

Migration? Brahminy Kites are sedentary and do not migrate.


Status and threats: Brahminy Kites are very common in Singapore mostly because they are very tolerant of humans. Being unfussy scavengers also allow them to survive in a wide range of habitats, but they still require mangroves for nesting sites. In nearby Java, however, they are rarely seen; we don't know why. Elsewhere, while they are still commonly seen along mangrove coasts, their numbers are declining due to habitat loss. They are also hunted in Thailand, along with other kites, and their young taken for pets. Their tendency to raid prawn and fish farms, and even steal chickens, also cause them to be considered as pests in some areas.
It is believed that their name Brahminy results from their association with the Indian God Vishnu.

To the Iban of Malaysia it is the Bird-God of War. The Brahminy Kite's presence is an omen to guide them in major decisions such on warfare and house building.

LINKS
REFERENCES
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 73: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p.11: habits, habitat, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 134-136: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Morten Strange, "Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia", New Holland, 1998 (p. 18: photo, facts)
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 73: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 23: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 114: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 52: habit, habitat).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 6: status in Singapore).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 61: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 18: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 64: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 98-100: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
  • Prof. Dr. Yong Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals"; Birds of Prey by Siti Hawa bt Yatim, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 42-43: habits, habitats, traditional Iban beliefs about the bird).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001