The Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) is a medium-sized raptor or bird of prey.1 Nicknamed the “Singapore Bald Eagle”,2 it is one of the commonest raptors in Singapore, and is frequently seen in flight over urban areas and suitable sites such as Jurong Lake. Large groups also roost on some offshore islands, such as Coney Island.3 While it commonly hunts fish, it also feeds on carrion.
The second series of Singapore’s currency notes, issued between 1976 and 1984, featured birds. The second-highest denomination note in this series – the S$1,000 note – featured a perched Brahminy kite on the front.4 The bird also appeared on 50-cent postage stamps in 1984.5 In Malaysia, the Brahminy kite is the Iban god of war, Singalang Burung.6 It is also Kedah’s symbol. Langkawi is named after the Brahminy kite.7
The Brahminy kite is a distinctive-looking bird with its rich chestnut brown body and wings, and white head and breast. In flight, its black wing tips and rounded tail base are visible. It calls with a high-pitched mew.8 Its size ranges from 44 to 52 cm. Juveniles are dark brown overall, with pale streaks on their underparts.9
For nesting, the bird typically uses emergent trees in mangroves. It also nests in casuarina trees. Nests are between 60 and 90 cm wide and lined with dried mud. The building and repair of nests occur from late October to March. The bird’s eggs are a dull chalky white, and are laid either between December and March, or in mid-June. Usually two chicks are raised between January to mid-August, but mostly in the earlier part of the season.10
The Brahminy kite typically hunts for fish above water. However, it is opportunistic and will take small birds, amphibians, carrion and even flying termites. The bird is also kleptoparasitic, in that it will snatch food from other raptors. It often eats while in flight.11
Habitat and range
The Brahminy kite lives along the coast, especially where there are mangroves and mudflats. It can also be found inland where there are open spaces like paddy land and old dredge mines, or over larger rivers and canals.12 Found throughout Southeast Asia, its range extends from India in the east to New Guinea, the Bismarck islands and Australia in the west.13
In Singapore, it can be found at Kranji Marshes,14 and West Coast Park.15
Scientific names: Haliastur indus; Milvus indus16
English names: Red-backed kite17
Malay names: Helang kembara merah (“blood-coloured eagle”);18 Lang kawi (“reddish-brown eagle”);19 Lang tikus; Lang merah20
Chinese name: 栗鸢 (Li yuan)21 (“Chestnut kite”)
1. David R. Wells, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, vol. 1 (San Diego: Academic Press, 1999), 134. (Call no. RSING 598.0959 WEL)
2. Ellen Whyte, “Eye on the Eagle,” Straits Times, 19 February 2013, 20; “Singapore Wildlife,” Straits Times, 6 February 2007, 128. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Lim Kim Seng and Jimmy Chew, A Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore (Singapore: Nature Society, 2010), 10 (Call no. RSING 598.095957 LIM); Yong Ding Li and Lim Kim Chuah, A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore (England: John Beaufoy Publishing, 2016), 34. (Call no. RSING 598.095957 YON)
4. Sim Chuan Hup, Singapore Money Book (Singapore: Moneyworld Asia, 1994), 35 (Call no. RSING 769.5595957 SIN); Wee Yeow Chin, Tan Wee Kiat and Wang Luan Keng, One for the Birds: Singapore Stamps & Money (Singapore: Tan Wee Kiat, 2011), 8, 12. (Call no. RSING 769.5695957 WEE)
5. Singapore Postage Stamps Catalogue, 3rd ed (Singapore: CS Philatelic Agency, 2011), 63. (Call no. RSING 769.5695957 SPSC)
6. Helen Oon, Wildlife Guide Malaysia (London: New Holland, 2008), 98. (Call no. RSEA 639.909595 WGM)
7. Anna Ponnampalam, “A National Bird for Malaysia?” New Straits Times, 5 September 2000, 3 (From ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website); Douglas Chew, “The Jewel of Kedah,” Straits Times, 6 September 2011, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Lim Kim Seng, Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore (Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, 1997), 73 (Call no. RSING 598.095957 LIM); Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 136; Yong and Lim, Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore, 34.
9. Yong and Lim, Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore, 34.
10. Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 136; Morten Strange, “The Gregarious Kite That Swoops and Kills,” Straits Times, 7 October 1990, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 135; Muhammad Iqbal, et al., “Feeding on a Large Prey Item By a Brahminy Kite: Haliastur Indus,” Australian Field Ornithology 26, nos. 1–2 (March–June 2009): 33–35. (From PERIND via NLB’s eResources website)
12. Christopher Hails, Birds of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2018), 61. (Call no. RSING 598.095957 HAI)
13. Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 134–35; Yong and Lim, Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore, 34.
14. National Parks Board (Singapore), Birds of Our Wetlands: A Journey Through Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Singapore: National Parks Board, 2018), 113. (Call no. RSING 779.328095957 BIR)
15. “Haliastur Indus,” National Parks Board, Singapore, accessed 18 July 2019.
16. Wells, Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, 134; Lim and Chew, Field Guide to the Birds, 10.
17. Wang Luan Keng and Christoper J Hails, “An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Singapore” Raffles Bulletin of Zoology no. 15 (2007): 99.
18. Yong and Lim, Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore, 34.
19. Chew, “Jewel of Kedah.”
20. Wang and Hails, “An Annotated Checklist of the Birds,” 99.
21. Yong and Lim, Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore, 34.
Craig Robson, Birds of South-East Asia, 2nd ed (London, Christopher Helm, 2015), 171. (Call no. RSING 598.0959 ROB)
G. C. Madoc, An Introduction to Malayan Birds (Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature Society, 1956). (Call no. RCLOS 598.29595 MAD)
John A.S. Bucknill and F.N. Chasen, Birds of Singapore and South-east Asia (Scotland: Tynron Press, 1990). (Call no. RSING 598.095957 BUC)
Lim Kim Seng, Pocket Checklist of the Bbirds of the Republic of Singapore (Singapore: Nature Society, Bird Group Records Committee, 1999). (Call no. RCLOS 598.095957 LIM)
Peter K.L. Ng, Richard T. Corlett and Hugh T.W. Tan, eds., Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011), 218–19. (Call no. RSING 333.95095957 SIN)
Yong Hoi Sen, ed., The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, vol. 3. (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 1998). (Call no. SBGR 959.5003 ENC)
The information in this article is valid as at July 2019 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.