Raptor Friday – The Lesser Fish-Eagle

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.

All of my three sightings have been in the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary near Mysore. The bird would perch on a branch overlooking the river, appearing pensive. On all three occasions, when our boat drew close the bird took off, never to be seen again that day. To watch it fish remains a dream unfulfilled.
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
All rights reserved



  • Sandy

    Sandeep Somasekharan (or Sandy as friends call him) took his headlong plunge into photography with a three-megapixel Nikon point-and-shoot he purchased in 2003. The avid reader and an occasional scribbler started enjoying travel and nature more as he spent more time photographing. Meeting Beej in 2008 helped him channel his creative energies in the form of essays and nature photographs that he started publishing on the Green Ogre. Sandy loves to photograph birds and landscapes, and considers photography and writing as his meditation. He is an engineer by education, IT professional by vocation, and a hopeless dreamer since creation.

    View all posts
Newsletter signup

It's more fun when you subscribe.
Great content. Zero spam. And your data stays safe. Promise!

Newsletter signup

It's more fun when you subscribe.
Great content. Zero spam. And your data stays safe. Promise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.