Formerly thought to be a resident of the Himalayan foothills, the Lesser Fish-Eagle has pleasantly surprised us by nesting along rivers in southern India
|Formerly thought to occur only in the Himalayan foothills, the Lesser Fish-Eagle has now been confirmed as a resident breeder along the Cauvery River in Karnataka as well as river islets in Kerala, both in southern India|
The Lesser Fish-Eagle (Ichthyophaga humilis) was believed to be a resident of the Himalayan foothills until recently when there has been a flurry of sightings along the Cauvery river in Karnataka. Other recent reports also confirm that the bird is a resident in southern Kerala (see notes below).
Let me tell you before I begin that ‘lesser’ is a relative term, to be taken literally only when comparing this raptor to the Grey-headed Fish-Eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus). In no way should this bird be mistaken for a diminutive creature as it is more than two feet tall when perched, with an impressive wingspan.
|The extent of white in the Lesser Fish-Eagle’s plumage are a distinguishing mark to identify it against the closely related Grey-headed Fish-Eagle|
As its name suggests the Lesser Fish-Eagle feeds on fish and is hence found mostly along riversides. The head is grey, the chest brown and the wings are a deep brown. The belly and thighs are white and the tail is dark. In the field, the primary distinguishing feature to tell it apart from the Grey-headed Fish-Eagle is to observe the area where the white parts of the bird end. In the Lesser Fish-Eagle, the white area ends abruptly at the beginning of the tail. In the Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, it extends all the way to the tip of the tail where it terminates in a thick, dark band.
Both the Lesser Fish-Eagle and the Grey-headed Fish-Eagle are listed as vulnerable (VU) in the IUCN Red List.
1. The latest issue of the journal Indian Birds (Vol. 7, No. 1), April 25, 2011 carries a comprehensive report on the breeding of the Lesser Fish-Eagle in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka, India. The report is authored by Dinesh Ramarao, Dipu Karuthedathu, Mohanram K, Prakash H L, Raju A K, Sreekumar H, Srikanth Kumar and Vinay Das
2. A separate report in the same issue of the journal, by C Sashikumar, C K Vishnudas, S Raju, P A Vinayan and S Kannan, informs us that the Lesser Fish-Eagle is a breeding resident in Kerala including reservoir islets in the Parambikulam and Periyar forest areas.
Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan
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