The Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus), also known as the Red-backed Sea-eagle, 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 from Asia to Australia.
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 Kite in Asia by the paler appearance, shorter wings and rounded tail.
Beak of Haliastur showing the characteristic circular nostril
The Brahminy Kite is about the same size as the Black Kite 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. The two genera are however very close.
The call is a mewing keeyew.
Four subspecies are recognized:
- indus (Boddaert, 1783)
- flavirostris Condon & Amadon, 1954
- girrenera (Vieillot, 1822)
- intermedius Blyth, 1865
Distribution and status
This kite is a familiar sight in the skies of Sri Lanka, 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.
It is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However the species is on the decline in some parts such as Java.
Behaviour and ecology
The breeding season is from December to April. This species nests in trees, often close to water. 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.
It is mainly a scavenger, feeding ondead fish and crabs, especially in wetlands and marshland.
Boonooroo, SE Queensland, Australia
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 the mythical Garuda. 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). In Bangladesh it is known as Shonkho Chil. In the Philippines, it is known as "Lawin."