Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Haliastur indus (Boddaert, 1783)

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum/Division:Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Accipitriformes
Family:Accipitridae
Genus:Haliastur
Species:H. indus
Common Names:Brahminy Kite, Red-backed Kite, Lang Tikus, Lang Merah
Status:Common resident

Description

Sexes alike. The adult has its head, nape, chin, throat and breast white, with narrow but distinct black shaft stripes. The rest of its upperparts is rich rufous chestnut, darker on mantle. The tip of its tail is whitish, most of the feathers with dark shafts. Its abdomen and undertail coverts are more brownish chestnut.

The immature lacks the pure white and chestnut of adults and their plumage is of various shades of brown, almost buffy on the head, darkest and more richly coloured on the upperparts. The feathers of the upperparts are tipped with buff and the underparts are streaked buff. Size 44-52 cm.

In flight, the Brahminy Kite shows a large pale patch on the underside of base of primaries.

Soft parts: Iris deep brown. Cere pale clear yellow. Bill pale whitish green. Gape whitish. Legs and feet greenish yellow. Claws black. Immature: bill and cere greenish lead; feet dirty yellowish grey

Read more about the Accipitriformes order.
Read more about the Accipitridae family.

Localities

This raptor is found throughout Singapore and its offshore islands.

General Biology

Often called the crow of the sea, the Brahminy Kite frequents the coasts and harbours, picking up garbage from the surface of the sea. It has a very graceful flight, making rapid turns as it scavenges. Food is often eaten on the wing. It does not pursue fish like the ospreys and fish-eagles although it can catch fish by swooping, legs held rigid, plunging into the water and taking fish up to one pound in weight (Smythies 1968).

Sometimes flocks and roosts in large numbers, this bird can be noisy and the call is of a high-pitched mew or squeal, like that of a cat. It is often heard when flying or fighting for food with others of its kind.

Often in flight, the raptor can be seen with one or more wing feathers missing. The missing feathers can be due to aerial fights leading to loss of feathers as a result of fright moult if moulting is asymmetrical as in a fight between this raptor and a Changeable Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus). In normal moulting the feather loss is symmetrical.

Brahminy Kites are often mobbed by crows, sometimes to the extent of discouraging nesting by the former.

Diet

Mostly feeds on rubbish from the sea. It also eats small crustaceans, frogs, rats, shellfish and fish - often on the wing. Courtship feeding can similarly be undertaken on the wing. If can indulge in aerial piracy, grabbing food from other smaller raptors or even juvenile Brahminy Kites. One was seen catching a live rat from the surface of the water, to meet up with its mate and pass it to to the latter - unsure whether in an act of courtship feeding or for the other to bringing the prey to the nest to feed it to the chicks. 

Life Cycle

Nest building in Jan- Mar, Oct-Dec. Brooding in Mar. Chicks seen in Feb, Mar, May, Jun.

The nest is usually built on a tall tree and is made of a compact platform of sticks. Two eggs are usually laid on a dried mud pad. The shells are smooth, without gloss and are dirty-white and often has a greenish tinge and slightly speckled with rusty-brown. Average egg size 2.08 x 1.62, 52 x 40.6 mm, 53 x 41.1 mm.

Ecological Role

Scavenger

Records

BM 1 (1 imm), RMBR 4 (2 FF, 2 MM), USMN 1 (1 MM), UWBM 2 (1 FF, 1 MM)

References

Wang, L. K. 2011. Accipiters. Pp. 218–219. In: Ng, P. K. L., R. T. Corlett & H. T. W. Tan (editors). Singapore Biodiversity. An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet, Singapore. 552 pp.

Wang, L. K. & C. J. Hails, 2007. An annotated checklist of the birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1–179.

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