Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus)

Also known as: Chestnut-white kite, red-backed kite, rufous eagle, rufous-backed kite, white and red eagle-kite, white-headed fish eagle, white-headed kite, white-headed sea-eagle.
GenusHaliastur (1)
Top facts

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

With its sharply contrasting plumage, the widespread Brahminy kite is an unmistakeable bird of prey (3) (4). While its head, neck, throat, upper belly, and flanks are generally white, the rest of the body, including the wing coverts, thighs and tail, is largely bright chestnut (3). The only conspicuous exceptions are the black outer flight feathers and the white tipped tail (3) (4). The sexes are similar in appearance but while there is some overlap in size, females tend on average to be slightly larger than the males. Juvenile Brahminy kites are various shades of brown, with darker upperparts and a lighter head and underparts (3). Four subspecies, occupying different ranges and differing slightly in appearance, are currently recognised: Haliastur indus indus, H. i. intermedius, H. i. girrenera and H. i. flavirostris (3) (5).

Occurs on the Indian subcontinent, through southern China and south-east Asia, south to northern Australia (3) (5). Haliastur indus indus is found in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka through southeast Asia to southern China; H. i. intermedius occurs on the Malay Peninsula, and in the Greater and Lesser Sundas, Sulawesi, the Philippines, and the Sula Islands; H. i. girrenera occupies the Moluccas, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Australia; and H. i. flavirostris is restricted to the Solomon Islands (5).

The Brahminy kite is typically found on tropical and subtropical coasts, where it occupies a wide range of habitats including estuaries, mangroves, beaches, coral reefs, dunes, saltmarshes, cliffs and village harbours. However, in India and in parts of south-east Asia, it also occurs inland, by rivers, lakes, swamps, rice paddies and other wetlands, where it can be found at altitudes of up to 3,000 metres (3).

An opportunistic scavenger, the Brahminy kite has a varied diet that differs considerably from one population to another (3). Although it often feeds on offal and food waste from boats and rubbish tips, as well as other forms of carrion, it also hunts for live food including crabs, crustaceans, amphibians, small reptiles, fish, insects, small mammals and birds. Usually it forages by soaring low above the ground or over water, but will also hunt from a waterside perch and will occasionally forage on the ground (3) (5).

The Brahminy kite is normally seen alone, in pairs or occasionally in small family groups, but rarely in the large flocks formed by some kite species (5). The timing of the breeding season differs across its range, with populations on the equator being most variable (3). Breeding pairs build an untidy nest from 2 to 30 metres above the ground usually in a prominent fork of a tall tree. The nests, which are made from sticks, grass, seaweed, flotsam and other rubbish, are reused in successive years (3) (5). The female lays one to three eggs, which are incubated for 28 to 35 days before hatching. The young fledge after 40 to 56 days but remain dependant on the parents for a further two months (3).

The Brahminy kite is generally common throughout its extensive range (5) and consequently is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1) (6). Although this species seems to co-exist well with humans, some populations, particularly in south-east Asia, have been negatively affected by hunting, habitat loss, and pesticide use (3).

There are currently no known conservation measures in place for the Brahminy kite.

For further information on the Brahminy kite and other birds of prey see:



For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. CITES (October, 2008)
  3. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Christopher Helm, London.
  4. Whistler, H. (1963) Popular handbook of Indian birds. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.
  5. Global Raptor Information Network (June, 2009)
  6. BirdLife International (June, 2009)