Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Lesser fish eagle

Thai: เหยี่ยวปลาเล็กหัวเทา, yiow plaa lek hua thao

Binomial name: Haliaeetus humilis, Hermann Schlegel & Salomon Müller, 1841

The lesser fish eagle (Ichthyophaga humilis) is a species of Ichthyophaga found in the Indian subcontinent, primarily in the foothills of the Himalayas, and south-east Asia. There have been some stray reports from Gujarat and Central India and in more recent times from the Kaveri river valley in southern India. The distribution in southern India is not yet confirmed.

Lesser fish eagles are fish-eating birds that have feet adapted to aid in gripping slippery fish. They have strongly curved talons, and spicules along the underside of the birds' toes help to grip fish as they pull them from the water.

There are two subspecies: Ichthyophaga humilis humilis, which is native to the Malaysian Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and Sulawesi; and Ichthyophaga humilis plumbea, which is native to Kashmir through southeast India, Nepal, and Burma towards Indochina.

Description

The lesser fish eagle is a medium sized bird of prey that is primarily gray-brown in colour with broad, blunt wings and coarse featherless legs. They are smaller than the similar Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus (gray-headed fish eagle) and may often get confused with the similar species. The lesser fish eagle has a brown breast with white thighs and belly. They have a short, rounded tail with a long neck and a small head. Juvenile lesser fish eagles are similar in appearance to adults, although they have brown eyes whereas an adult has yellow. Adults have a wingspan reaching 1.2 m and can grow to up to 64 centimeters tall.

Diet and feeding habits

The lesser fish eagle feeds primarily on fish, which it snatches from the water as it observes them from above on a perch, which may be an overhanging tree or rock in the middle of a stream. They have several personal perches that they often switch between throughout their feeding time. As their diet is primarily fish, lesser fish eagles have large, curved talons specialized for catching fish and taking them from the water.

Habitat

They inhabit various forms of rivers, lakes, and wetlands and are seen most often along hill streams and fast moving water. They have been known to reach heights up to 2, 400 m, but usually create their habitats below 1, 000 m. Some specific eagles have been recorded to reach heights exceeding 4, 000 m in Nepal.

Range

The lesser fish eagle has been known to live in India and the Kashmir region, spanning eastward into Nepal, China, and other parts of Southeast Asia. In India, they are restricted to the Himalayan foothills and move north-eastern. Adults move south of the Himalayan mountain ranges, but remain partial and altitudinal in the Himalayas throughout the year. They have been known to live in a variety of widespread locations such as Bangladesh and Nepal, to Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Researchers believe that there are 1, 000 to 10, 000 individuals. The numbers of the lesser fish eagle are in decline for various reasons such as habitat loss, human disturbance, as well as hunting and nest robbery. They have recently been listed as Near Threatened by BirdLife International.

Reproduction

Although incubation and fledging periods are unknown, the breeding season in the lesser fish eagle begins in March and ends in August for those in Northern India and Nepal, but in other areas, may begin in November and end in April. Roughly 2-4 eggs are laid in a clutch, and their nests consist of sticks and green leaves. After enough use, the nest may reach 1 m across and up to 1.5 m deep.

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Scientific classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Accipitriformes
Family
Accipitridae
Genus
Haliaeetus
Species
Haliaeetus humilis

Common names

  • Thai: เหยี่ยวปลาเล็กหัวเทา, yiow plaa lek hua thao

Synonyms

  • Ichthyophaga humilis

Conservation status

Near Threatened (IUCN3.1)

Near Threatened (IUCN3.1)

Distribution map of Lesser fish eagle, Haliaeetus humilis in Thailand

Range map of Haliaeetus humilis in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits and Parinya Pawangkhanant for their help with many range data.

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