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Brahminy kite

Brahminy kite
In Pilbara, Western Australia
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Haliastur
Species: H. indus
Binomial name
Haliastur indus
Boddaert, 1783

The brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) also known as the red-backed sea-eagle in Australia, is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors, such as eagles, buzzards, and harriers. They are found in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Australia. They are found mainly on the coast and in inland wetlands where they feed on dead fish and other prey. Adults have a reddish brown plumage and a contrasting white head and breast which makes them easy to distinguish from other birds of prey.


  • Description 1
  • Taxonomy 2
  • Distribution and status 3
  • Behaviour 4
  • In culture 5
  • References 6
    • Cited texts 6.1
  • Other sources 7
  • External links 8
    • Historical material 8.1


In flight the rounded tail and plumage of adults is distinctive

The brahminy kite is distinctive and contrastingly coloured, with chestnut plumage except for the white head and breast and black wing tips. The juveniles are browner, but can be distinguished from both the resident and migratory races of black kites in Asia by the paler appearance, shorter wings, and rounded tail. The pale patch on the underwing carpal region is of a squarish shape and separated from Buteo buzzards.

Beak of Haliastur showing the characteristic circular nostril

The brahminy kite is about the same size as the black kite (Milvus migrans) and has a typical kite flight, with wings angled, but its tail is rounded unlike the Milvus species, red kite, and black kite, which have forked tails.[2] The two genera are however very close.[3]

The call is a mewing keeyew.[2]



The brahminy kite was described by French ornithologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 as l'Aigle Pondicery, and given the Latin binomial Aquila pondiceriana. Dutch naturalist Pieter Boddaert first used the name Falco indus in 1783.

Four subspecies are recognized:

  • H. i. indus (Boddaert, 1783) is found in South Asia.
  • H. i. flavirostris Condon & Amadon, 1954 is found in the Solomon Islands.
  • H. i. girrenera (Vieillot, 1822) is found in New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, and Australia.
  • H. i. intermedius Blyth, 1865 is found in the Malay Peninsula and into the islands of the Sundas, Sulawesi, and the Philippines.

Distribution and status

A subadult

This kite is a familiar sight in the skies of Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and southeast Asia and as far south as New South Wales, Australia, through which region it is widespread and resident. They perform seasonal movements associated with rainfall in some parts of their range.[4]

They are mainly seen in the plains but can sometimes occur above 5000 feet in the Himalayas.[5]

It is evaluated as being of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However the species is on the decline in some parts such as Java.[6]


Boonooroo, SE Queensland, Australia

The breeding season in South Asia is from December to April.[7] In southern and eastern Australia, it is August to October, and April to June in the north and west.[8] The nests are constructed of small branches and sticks with a bowl inside and lined with leaves, and are sited in various trees, often mangroves.[8] They show considerable site fidelity nesting in the same area year after year. In some rare instances they have been seen to nest on the ground under trees.[9][10] A clutch of two dull white or bluish-white oval eggs measuring 52 x 41 mm is laid. Both parents take part in nest building and feeding but it is suggested that only the female incubates. The incubation period is about 26 to 27 days.[11]

It is primarily a scavenger, feeding mainly on dead fish and crabs, especially in wetlands and marshland[7] but occasionally hunts live prey such as hares and bats.[12] They may also indulge in kleptoparasitism and attempt to steal prey from other birds.[13] Brahminy kites have even been recorded taking advantage of Irrawaddy dolphins herding fish to the surface, in the Mekong River.[14] A rare instance of a bird feeding on honey at the hive of Apis florea has been recorded.[15]

Young birds may indulge in play behaviour, dropping leaves and attempting to catch them in the air.[16] When fishing over water, they may sometimes land in the water but manage to swim and take off without much trouble.[17]

They roost communally on large and isolated trees and as many as 600 have been seen at just one location.[18]

They may mob larger raptors such as the Aquila eagles. In some incidents where brahminy kites mobbed steppe eagles (Aquila rapax), they were attacked and injured or killed.[19]

A number of ectoparasitic bird lice in the genera Kurodaia, Colpocephalum and Degeeriella have been reported.[20]

In culture

Immature with a fish at Pocharam lake, Andhra Pradesh, India

Known as Elang Bondol in Indonesia, the brahminy kite is the official mascot of Jakarta. In India it is considered as the contemporary representation of Garuda, the sacred bird of Vishnu. In Malaysia, the island of Langkawi is named after the bird ('kawi' denoting an ochre-like stone used to decorate pottery, and a reference to the bird's primary plumage colour).

A fable from central Bougainville Island relates how a mother left her baby under a banana tree while gardening, and the baby floated into the sky crying and transformed into Kaa'nang, the brahminy kite, its necklace becoming the birds feathers.[21]

For the Ibans of the Upper Rajang, Sarawak, Borneo, a brahminy kite is believed to be the manifestation of Singalang Burung when he comes down to earth. Singalang Burung is the ultimate deity of incomparable qualities and superior abilities in every dimension. He is also known as the god of war.[22]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b Rasmussen, PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 86. 
  3. ^ Wink M, Sauer-Gürth H (2000). "Advances in the molecular systematics of African Raptors". In Chancellor RD, Meyburg B-U. Raptors at Risk (PDF). WWGBP/HancockHouse. pp. 135–147. 
  4. ^ Hill,LA (1966). "Heralders of the monsoon".  
  5. ^ Dodsworth,PTL (1912). "Extension of the habitat of the brahminy kite (Haliastur indus)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 21 (2): 665–666. 
  6. ^ van Balen, B. S., I. S. Suwelo, D. S. Hadi, D. Soepomo, R. Marlon, and Mutiarina (1993). "Decline of the Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus on Java". Forktail 8: 83–88. 
  7. ^ a b Whistler, Hugh (1949). Popular Handbook of Indian Birds. Gurney and Jackson. pp. 370–371. 
  8. ^ a b Beruldsen, G (2003). Australian Birds: Their Nests and Eggs. Kenmore Hills, Qld: self. p. 200.  
  9. ^ Balachandran,S; Sakthivel,R (1994). "Site-fidelity to the unusual nesting site of Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus (Boddaert)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 91 (1): 139. 
  10. ^ Morrison, William; Rosalind,Lima; Balachandran,S (1992). "Unusual nesting site of Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 89 (1): 117–118. 
  11. ^ Ali, S & S D Ripley (1978). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan 1 (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 230–232. 
  12. ^ Manakadan, Ranjit; Natarajan,V (1992). "Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus (Boddaert) preying on bats". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 89 (3): 367. 
  13. ^ Kalsi, R S & Rahul Kaul (1992). "Kleptoparasitism by Brahminy Kite on Purple Herons".  
  14. ^ Ryan, Gerard Edward (2012). in the Mekong River"Orcaella brevirostris fishing with Irrawaddy dolphins Haliastur indus"Brahminy Kites . Forktail 28 (1): 161. 
  15. ^ Nayak, Geetha (1999). "Brahminy Kite feeding on honey from an active bees hive".  
  16. ^  
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Foulkes,R (1905). "A congregation of Brahminy Kites Haliastur indus". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 16 (4): 757. 
  19. ^ Rajan,S Alagar; Balasubramanian,P; Natarajan,V (1992). "Eastern Steppe Eagle Aquila rapax nipalensis Hodgson killing mobbing Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus (Boddaert) at Pt. Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 89 (2): 247–248. 
  20. ^ Emerson KC & R A Ward (1958). "Notes on Philippine Mallophaga. I. Species from Ciconiiformes, Anseriformes, Falconiformes, Galliformes, Gruiformes and Charadriiformes". Fieldiana Zoology 42 (4). 
  21. ^ Hadden, p. 244
  22. ^ Sutlive & Sutlive (eds.), 2001, The Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies, Tun Jugah Foundation, volume 2, p. 938

Cited texts

  • Hadden, Don (2004). Birds and Bird Lore of Bougainville and the North Solomons. Alderley, Qld: Dove Publications.  

Other sources

  • Jayabalan,JA (1995) Breeding ecology of Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus in Cauvery Delta, south India. Ph.D. Dissertation, Bharathidasan University. Mannampandal, Tamil Nadu.
  • Raghunathan,K (1985) Miscellaneous notes: a peculiar feeding habit of Brahminy Kite. Blackbuck. 1(3), 26-28.
  • Jayakumar,S (1987) Feeding ecology of wintering Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) near Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary. M.Sc. Thesis, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli.
  • Hicks, R. K. 1992. Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus fishing? Muruk 5:143-144.
  • van Balen, B. S., and W. M. Rombang. 2001. Nocturnal feeding by Brahminy Kites. Australian Bird Watcher 18:126.

External links

  • Video of re-introduction of Brahminy Kites in their natural habitat in Indonesia from BBC Sci-Tech
  • BirdLife Species Factsheet

Historical material

  • Pondicherry eagle, colour drawing by Thomas Watling, between 1792 and 1797.
  • Description of Pondicherry eagle or Malabar eagle by  
  • "Aigle des grandes Indes", by Francois Nicolas Martinet. Plate 416 of Planches enluminées d'histoire naturelle.
  • First use of "Falco indus", by Boddaert: Table des planches enluminéez d'histoire naturelle de M. D'Aubenton : avec les denominations de M.M. de Buffon, Brisson, Edwards, Linnaeus et Latham, precedé d'une notice des principaux ouvrages zoologiques enluminés, page 25. The entire entry is "416. Aigle de Pondichery, Buff. I. p. 490. Briss. Ornith. p. 450. pl. XXXV. Falco Indus mihi Linn. Gen. 42. o. Lath. birds I. p. 41."
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