Brahminy Kite

The Brahminy Kite is one of the medium-sized raptors (birds of prey), with a white head and breast. The rest of its body is a striking chestnut brown. The very tip of its tail is white. The wings are broad, with dark ‘fingered’ wing tips and the tail is short. The legs are short and not feathered, the eye is dark and the lemon yellow coloured bill is strongly hooked. It sails on level wings along shorelines and mudflats.

The adult Brahminy Kite is unmistakable, though juveniles may be confused with the Whistling Kite (longer tail and distinctive underwing pattern) or light Little Eagle. First-year juveniles may also be mistaken for Ospreys, but are dark underneath rather than white.

The Brahminy Kite is widespread across northern Australia, mainly along the coastline from Western Australia to northern New South Wales, and is more common in the north of its range. It is widespread throughout tropical Asia. The Brahminy Kite is a bird of the coast, particularly mangrove swamps and estuaries. It is sometimes seen over forests and along rivers. The Brahminy Kite is mostly resident and possibly locally nomadic.

The Brahminy Kite feeds on carrion (dead animals), insects and fish. It swoops low over water, the ground or tree tops and snatches live prey or carrion from the surface. It also steals from fish-hunting birds, snatching prey in flight. It harries or bothers other birds such as gulls, Whistling Kites.

The nest of the Brahminy Kite is built in living trees near water, often mangrove trees. The nest is large, made from sticks, seaweed or driftwood and lined with a variety of materials such as lichens, bones, seaweed and even paper. Both parents incubate the eggs and the young are fed bill to bill with small pieces of food .

Brahminy kites are known to be opportunistic scavengers that will eat just about anything, including food waste (from boats and rubbish dumps); carrion (dead animals), such as dead fish; and crabs. They will also hunts live prey, such as small mammals (hares and bats), small birds, crustaceans (crabs), amphibians (frogs and snakes), small reptiles, fish and insects. Their diet varies considerably between different populations and is influenced by what is readily available in their habitat. They forage by flying low above the ground or over water and snatch live prey or carrion from the surface. They also hunt from a waterside perch and capture prey in flight. They may also feed on the ground.

In South Asia, most breeding takes place from December to April. In Australia, they usually breed from August to October in southern and eastern parts; and April to June in the north and west.

Brahminy pairs build untidy, compact nests using twigs, sticks, grass, seaweed, flotsam and other materials found in their habitat. The nest, once completed, is usually about 24 – 35 inches (60 – 90 cm) wide and 6 -12 inches (15 – 30 cm) deep. The nest is typically situated close to water, 7 up to 99 feet (~2 – 30 meters) above the ground – often in a prominent fork of a tall tree; however, on rare occasions, they have nested on the ground under trees. The nests may be refurbished and reused over several seasons.

The average clutch consists of 1 – 3 dull white or bluish-white eggs, which are incubated for 26 – 35 days before hatching. The young leave the nest 40 to 56 days later, but remain dependent on their parents for another two months. Both parents share the incubation duties and the feeding of the young.

The brahminy kite species is a medium sized bird. The female kite is slightly larger than the male. The male measures 45 to 50 cm in length and weighs 400 to 650 grams. The female kite weighs 430 to 700 grams. The wingspan is 110 to 125 cm. The adult has chestnut back, wings and belly. The head and breast have a contrasting white plumage. It has relatively short wings when compared to other kites in the region and the tail is rounded. The underwing carpal region has squarish shaped pale patch. Its call sounds a mewing keeyew.

The brahminy kite species inhabits coastal plains, estuaries, rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes, reservoirs, rice fields and urban areas. These brahminy kite species feed mainly on dead fish, crabs and carrion. They also catch and feed on live preys such as small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. They are known to snatch feed from other birds.

The breeding season of these kite species is from December to April in Asia. They build nest with sticks and twigs on trees. The nest contains a clutch of two eggs. Both the partners take part in building nest. The female kite appears to do much of incubating. Both the parents take part in rearing the chicks.

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.

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.