White-bellied sea eagle

The white-bellied sea eagle or Haliaeetus leucogaster is the largest common raptor or bird of prey in Singapore. It is usually sighted soaring above reservoirs or off the coast hunting fish. The nests can be seen in large emergent trees.

It is reported that ten nest sites were found between 1987 and 1992 in Singapore. Up to five of those nest sites were active in any one year. The second series of currency notes for Singapore featured birds (issued 1976 to 1984). The highest denomination note: the $10,000 note, featured a white-bellied sea eagle on the front.

The young eagle is brown in colour with a lighter coloured head. When mature, the whole upper body is dark brown with a white head and white undersides. When seen from below in flight, the eagle appears all white with dark wing flight feathers and a distinctive wedge-shaped tail. The bird has long broad wings that are narrower at tips. The call of the eagle is a loud goose-like honk made by established resident pairs.

The eagles form stable sedentary pairs which choose the tallest suitable tree in the vicinity as their nest. The tree is usually an emergent and over 30 m tall. They have also tried to nest in communications pylons. Nests are used year after year with building or repairing starting in September. They are built of twigs in a branch fork and usually measure about 1.5 m across. Two plain chalky white eggs are usually laid. Incubation and brooding has been reported from mid-October to early June.

It hunts for fish, sea snakes, crustaceans, turtles and the like.

Habitat and range
They live and hunt along coasts, large rivers, lakes and reservoirs where there is enough fish to catch. It can often be seen soaring over water hunting. Solitary wanderers may be found ranging far from water into the mountains. The range of the species starts in the west from Southwestern and Eastern India. It is found throughout Southeast Asia and Australia extending to Southern China in the north and Tasmania in the south.

Variant names
English names: White-bellied sea eagle, white-bellied fish eagle.
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucogaster.
Chinese name: Bai fu hai diao (White-bellied sea raptor).
Malay names: Helang siput (snail raptor), lang laut (sea eagle), burung hamba siput (bird [that is a] slave [of the] shellfish).

Why is the eagle known as helang siput in Malay? The old name for the raptor was burung hamba siput or "slave of the shellfish". According to folklore, the bird would scream when the tides changed to warn shellfish. The original name for the Malaysian state of Selangor is Sarang Lang Laut (nest of the sea eagle), which explains why the white-bellied sea eagle is used to symbolise Selangor.

Timothy Pwee, 2002

Lim, K. S. (1999). Pocket checklist of the birds of the Republic of Singapore. Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), Bird Group Records Committee.
(Call no.: RSING 598.095951 LIM)

Lim, K. S. (1997). Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing.
(Call No: RSING 598.095957 LIM)

Madoc, G. C. (1985). Burung-burung semenanjung Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Pencinta Alam. 

Madoc, G. C. (1956). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature Society.
(Call no: R 598.29595 MAD)

Wells, D. R. (1999). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula (Vol. 1). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
(Call no: RSING 598.0959 WEL)

Animals. (1998). In the Encyclopedia of Malaysia (Vol. 3). Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no: R959.5003 ENC)

Times advanced Chinese dictionary.
(1998). Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no: 495.13 TIM)

A national bird for Malaysia? (2000, September 5). The New Straits Times, p. 3.

Monetary Authority of Singapore. (2004). Singapore circulation notes: Bird Series - $10,000. Retrieved January 5, 2004, from www.mas.gov.sg/masmcm/bin/pt1Singapore_Circulation_Notes_Bird_Series__100001.htm

The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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White-bellied fish eagle--Singapore

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