The brahminy kite (scientifically known as Haliastur indus) is a medium-sized bird of prey in the Accipitridae family found in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Australia.
This species was once known as the red-backed sea eagle in Australia due to its favorite habitat (the coast) and its distinctive reddish plumage that stands out amongst other birds of prey.
The brahminy kite is certainly one of the most interesting birds of prey because they have particularly weak feet, meaning that despite their size, they cannot catch large prey. They are also commonly known for their unique wetland habitats and stunning, one-of-a-kind plumage.
Here is the ultimate guide to the brahminy kite!
The brahminy kite is a medium-sized raptor, measuring at 18-20 inches in length and with a wingspan of 1.09-1.24 meters. The average weight of this species is between 320-670 grams.
This species is most distinctive for its plumage. The brahminy kite exhibits a contrasting plumage, with a white head, neck, throat, flanks, and chest. The rest of their body is covered with a reddish-brown, often chestnut color. The tail is usually tipped with white feathers and, contrastingly again, the wings have black tips.
In contrast to their white heads, these birds possess dark eyes as opposed to amber irises (which most birds of prey exhibit). Their beaks are a pale yellow all over, and their matching pale legs are not covered by feathers.
As juveniles, the brahminy kite is predominantly brown until they develop the distinctive chestnut plumage.
Male vs Female
The brahminy kite, like many birds of prey species, is sexually monomorphic. This means that there are few physical differences to distinguish the male from the female without doing a full DNA test.
As with most sexually monomorphic birds of prey, the female brahminy kite is generally larger than the male. This is because her body is adapted to carry eggs.
Are They Aggressive?
Like most birds of prey, the brahminy kite is a territorial bird that will be incredibly protective over their nest, eggs, and chicks.
This means that if a human were to go too close to a brahminy kite’s nest, then they wouldn’t hesitate to become aggressive. They are persistent and determined to protect their young, so it’s wise to never get too close to the brahminy kite.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
The brahminy kite is a surprisingly adaptable bird when it comes to habitat. While they mostly reside near the coast and in wetlands, the species has been known to live in forests and even 5000 ft above sea level in the Himalayas. This is because the species often makes movements depending on the rainfall seasons.
Interestingly, these birds don’t have the strongest feet. This means that they have had to adapt their diets to avoid taking down large prey, and instead, their diet mostly consists of dead animals and fish. More on their diet later in this guide!
Breeding / Reproduction Behavior
For the brahminy kite in South Asia, the breeding season is between December and April. For the birds in Australia, the breeding season is either between August and October (in the south and east) or April and June (north and west). These vast breeding seasons are one of the reasons why the brahminy kite is thriving as a species!
Not much is known about the courting rituals of the brahminy kite, but it is assumed that the ritual consists of an aerial display performed by the male to the female with a series of calls and sounds.
They will make the nest together, and when successful, the female will lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs. Both parents share the incubation period evenly, which lasts 26-35 days, with the other on feeding responsibilities. After 40-56 days from the incubation period, the young are technically ready to fly away, but they remain dependent on their parents for a further two months.
Their Calls / Sounds
The call of a brahminy kite is a unique one to say the least, though they aren’t a particularly vocal species. It’s something like a mixture between an eagle and a regular seagull, sounding like a mewing noise.
This noise is mostly made when the birds are communicating with one another, especially during the courting ritual and when the hunter is looking for food during the incubation period.
What Do They Eat? (Diet)
As the brahminy kite’s favorite habitat is wetlands and coastal areas, it makes sense that the most popular part of their diet is fish. They will swoop low just above the water line, and then catch the unsuspecting fish.
This is their main method of catching prey, as their feet don’t have the strength to wrestle prey without the strength of their flight (as opposed to from a perch).
The brahminy kite is a scavenger bird of prey, which means they will eat just about anything – from dead animals to insects, small birds and reptiles, small mammals and food waste from rubbish dumps. One of their favorite meals includes crabs and dead fish on the banks of rivers and on the shore. They are also seen catching bats in mid-flight.
Where Do They Live? (Habitat)
The brahminy kite is most commonly found in Sri Lanka, India, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal. Bangladesh, and most of Southeast Asia (including China, Vietnam, and the Philippines just to name a few countries) into Australia. In Australia, these birds are mostly found near the coast. The reason for their widespread distribution is that they often follow the rainfall patterns.
The brahminy kite is predominantly a coastal bird, which is either due to their fish-hunting diet or for another reason entirely, so they are mostly found in wetlands. This includes near the sea, along rivers, marshes, mangrove swamps, estuaries, mudflats, and other wetland areas. However, they are also often found in forests.
What Are Their Nesting Habits?
Both the male and female brahminy kites will build an untidy but secure nest consisting of twigs, sticks, seaweed, leaves, grass, and anything else they can find. Some nests might even be built of pieces of litter due to their scavenging nature. Once built, the nest sizes are 23-34” wide and 6-12” deep.
It’s common for these nests to be made around 7-99 ft above water, most usually on the fork of a tall tree. However, some nests have been built on the ground underneath trees. It’s suggested that these nests will be refurbished and reused for the next breeding season by the same pair.
How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)
The suggested lifespan of the brahminy kite is up to 30 years both in the wild and in captivity. This impressive lifespan is because of their lack of predators.
What Predators Do They Have?
Due to the main habitats of the brahminy kite, this species is fortunate in that it faces very few life-threatening predators. The main animalistic predator this species faces are egg-eating reptiles like lizards and snakes who could feed off the eggs before they hatch.
It can be assumed that large water-based animals such as crocodiles (particularly in Australia) could be a predator to the brahminy kite, but as they spend most of their time in the air, this isn’t common.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
The brahminy kite has distinctive feathers, consisting of a predominantly reddish-brown body with a contrastingly white head, neck, throat, chest, and flanks. Their feathers are smooth to allow water to easily slide off their bodies, which is down to their water-based habitats.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
Unfortunately, there is little information to suggest what the poop of a brahminy kite looks like. It can be assumed that it mostly depends on their diet for the day, but the poop probably looks brown or black.
Do They Migrate?
The brahminy kite is a sedentary bird who does not migrate. They often like to make movements depending on the rainfall, but this is usually only to help them find food in wetland areas.
The conservation status of the brahminy kite is Least Concern. This is mostly due to their widely distributed population. However, the population is slowly decreasing due to habitat destruction, pollution (particularly in the waters), pesticides, disturbances, and hunting.
It is believed that some farmers will shoot a brahminy kite if it flies too near to their farmland, even though the species does not generally attempt to hunt poultry.
- Juvenile brahminy kites are a particularly playful species. They will often fly with a leaf in their mouth, drop it, and then attempt to catch it as it drops.
- When roosting, the species is known to roost in large colonies, sometimes of up to 600 brahminy kites.
- The brahminy kite is the official mascot of Jakarta, and is known as the elang bondol in Indonesia.
- The species is considered to be the contemporary representation of Garuda in Hinduism. Garuda is the bird of Vishnu.
- Male brahminy kites are known as “cocks”, while females are known as “hens”.