Lesser fish eagle

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Lesser fish eagle
Lesser fish eagle.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Haliaeetus
H. humilis
Binomial name
Haliaeetus humilis
(Müller & Schlegel, 1841)
  • H. h. plumbeus - (Jerdon, 1871)
  • H. h. humilis - (Müller, S & Schlegel, 1841)

Ichthyophaga humilis

the lesser fish eagle with fish kill

The lesser fish eagle (Haliaeetus humilis) is a species of Haliaeetus found in the Indian subcontinent, primarily in the foothills of the Himalayas, and south-east Asia. There are records from Gujarat, Central India and in more recent times from the Kaveri river valley in southern India.[3] Some taxonomic authorities place this species in the monotypic genus Ichthyophaga. Others place it in the genus Haliaeetus.

Lesser fish eagles are fish-eating birds that have feet adapted to aid in gripping slippery fish. They have strongly curved talons,[4] and spicules along the underside of the birds' toes help to grip fish as they pull them from the water.[5]

There are two subspecies: Haliaeetus humilis humilis, which is native to the Malaysian Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and Sulawesi;[4] and Haliaeetus humilis plumbeus, which is native to Kashmir through southeast India, Nepal, and Burma towards Indochina.[4]


Lesser fish eagle on the banks of river Kaveri, India

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.[6] They are smaller than the similar Haliaeetus ichthyaetus (grey-headed fish eagle)[7] and may often get confused with the similar species. The lesser fish eagle has a brown breast with white thighs and belly.[5] They have a short, rounded tail with a long neck and a small head.[7] 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.[5]

Diet and feeding habits[edit]

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.[4] They have several personal perches that they often switch between throughout their feeding time.[5] As their diet is primarily fish, lesser fish eagles have large, curved talons specialized for catching fish and taking them from the water.[7]


They inhabit various forms of rivers, lakes, and wetlands[7] and are seen most often along hill streams and fast moving water.[7] They have been known to reach heights up to 2,400 m, but usually create their habitats below 1,000 m.[5] Some specific eagles have been recorded to reach heights exceeding 4,000 m in Nepal.[7]


The lesser fish eagle has been known to live in India and the Kashmir region,[7] spanning eastward into Nepal, China, and other parts of Southeast Asia.[7] In India, they are restricted to the Himalayan foothills and move north-eastern.[5] Adults move south of the Himalayan mountain ranges, but remain partial and altitudinal in the Himalayas throughout the year.[7] They have been known to live in a variety of widespread locations such as Bangladesh and Nepal, to Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.[5] Researchers believe that there are 1,000 to 10,000 individuals.[7] 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.[7] They have recently been listed as Near Threatened by BirdLife International.[7]


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,[7] but in other areas, may begin in November and end in April.[7] Roughly 2-4 eggs are laid in a clutch,[7] and their nests consist of sticks and green leaves.[7] After enough use, the nest may reach 1 m across and up to 1.5 m deep.[7]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Ichthyophaga humilis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Gill F, D Donsker & P Rasmussen (Eds). 2020. IOC World Bird List (v10.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.10.2.
  3. ^ Ramarao, D.; Karuthedathu, D.; Mohanram K.; Prakash H. L.; Raju A. K.; Sreekumar H.; Kumar, S.; Das, V. (2011). "On the breeding of Lesser Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga humilis in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka" (PDF). Indian Birds. 7 (1): 9–13.
  4. ^ a b c d "Lesser Fish Eagle: Ichthyophaga humilis". Global Raptor Information Network. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Lesser Fish Eagle (Icthyophaga humilis)". Planet of Birds. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  6. ^ "Lesser Fish-eagle Ichthyophaga humilis". Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Lesser Fish Eagle – Ichthyophaga humilis". Archived from the original on 27 March 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2014.