Lang Merah/Tikus (Malay)
The Brahminy Kite is a familiar bird of prey and often referred to as the Singapore Bald Eagle.
Brahminy Kites are more scavengers than hunters. But they also hunt for small prey (fish, crabs, shellfish, frogs, rodents, reptiles, even insects). They forage both over water and land, soaring 20-50m above the surface.
Prey on the water surface is snatched with their talons, Brahminy Kites don't dive into the water. They may even snatch swarming termites on the wing with their talons.
They scavenge from food scraps and garbage and are thus quite common at harbours and coastal fish/food processing sites.
But Brahminy Kites don't just passively forage. They flush shorebirds roosting on the mudflats into flight to identify the weak. They are attracted to fires to catch any fleeing animals. They may steal from other raptors including large ones like the White-bellied Fish Eagle. Their catch is eaten on the wing, to prevent theft. When several quarrel over a meal, they squeal.
Habitats best suited to Brahminy Kites are broad mudflats such as those found in mangroves, estuaries and coasts. They are also found in freshwater wetlands such as ricefields and marshes. In Singapore, they are also found inland near water and even in cultivated areas (gardens, parks). They may roost together in trees along the coast.
Breeding: During mating season (November-December), Brahminy Kites perform aerial acrobatics. They mate on or near the nest.
Brahminy Kites prefer to nest in mangroves, usually in tall emergent trees. Some use dead trees (perhaps the tree was alive when it was first used as a nest site). On swampy sites that are more secure from land predators, they may nest as low as 5-6 m. But on dry land, usually at 20-25 m. In Singapore, they also nest along the coasts in casuarina trees, and near reservoirs. Although they do not share nesting trees, pairs may nest less than 100 m apart.
Their nest is compact and made of twigs and sticks, usually 60-90 cm wide and 15-30 cm deep. The nest is often lined with dried mud. A first-time nest is usually thin, but as the pair reuse the site, the nest thickens. 2 eggs are laid, white with sparse red-brown blotches. Both parents raise the young.
Migration? Brahminy Kites are sedentary and do not migrate.
Status and threats: Brahminy Kites are very common in Singapore mostly because they are very tolerant of humans. Being unfussy scavengers also allow them to survive in a wide range of habitats, but they still require mangroves for nesting sites. In nearby Java, however, they are rarely seen; we don't know why. Elsewhere, while they are still commonly seen along mangrove coasts, their numbers are declining due to habitat loss. They are also hunted in Thailand, along with other kites, and their young taken for pets. Their tendency to raid prawn and fish farms, and even steal chickens, also cause them to be considered as pests in some areas.
Main features: Medium (43-51cm), wings long broad rounded; tail short and rounded when fanned. Head, neck, breast white; rest of body bright chestnut; primaries tipped black; feet yellow.
From below chestnut wing coverts contrast with paler brown flight feathers; wingtips black; tail pale.
From above: all chestnut except primaries, base pale and black tips.
Juvenile: Uniformly dark brown plumage; white parts streaked with buff. In flight, pale patch at base of primaries.
Call: Described as a thin mewing scream kweeaa or kyeeer usually while soaring.
In flight: Long but broadly angled wings. Slow deep flapping.
Similar birds: Juveniles hard to distinguish from visiting Black Kite (which has a square tail) and resident immature White-bellied Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaste). The mature White-bellied's white extends to the belly, wings and tail and the rest is grey instead of bronze.
Status in Singapore: Very common resident throughout, including North and South offshore islands.
World distribution: Coastal areas in India through China to the Philippines and Australia.
Classification: Family Accipitridae. World 240 species, Singapore 27 species.