White-bellied Sea Eagle: Not just a fishing expert

“On May 1st, I was at Tekek Village at Pulau Tioman, Malaysia with my collegues, Bridget Hedderman, Chua Sek Chuan and Karen Chen. We were awaiting for our vehicle transfer. Above us, we could see and hear the large colony of Island Flying Foxes (Pteropus hypomelanus) roosting in the various trees, including casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia) and sea almond (Terminalia catappa), along the river. These fruit bats have a wingspan of about a metre and are offshore island specialists.

“Suddenly, there was a loud commotion from the colony of bats. Karen said a White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) had flown low over our heads and landed on one of the nearby trees. I could see some movement at the top of a sea almond tree across the small river. Then, I saw the eagle fly out and away with something in its talons. Almost immediately, it dawned on me that the eagle had taken one of the bats!

“We looked around and soon observed the White-bellied Sea Eagle flapping toward the central hills with a struggling Island Flying Fox firmly locked in its talons. What a sight and what a surprise! This eagle species specialises on catching fish offshore or over bodies of inland water. Indeed, it is a regular joy to see these majestic raptors flying out to sea and fishing the waters around Tioman. Often, individuals can be seen flying back to the hills with a fish in their talons, heading for a favourite perch. Occasionally, they may be seen carrying an eel, a crab or even a snake.

“A large Island Flying Fox being taken by a White-bellied Sea Eagle is practically unheard of – at least I have not heard of anything like this! Yet, the colony of large bats provides an easy target for a gutsy and suitably sized raptor. In the sea eagle’s talons, the flying fox looked relatively small and an ideal meal. Adapting to changing situations is what survival is all about and I feel truly fortunate and humbled to have witnessed this amazing raw spectacle.” R. Subaraj

Note: White-bellied Fish-eagle is now known as White-bellied Sea Eagle. We thank Subaraj for the exciting and unusual account and K. C. Tsang for the use of his image.

5 Responses

  1. budak

    Back in my hometown, the housing estate borders a forest reserve. In the evenings, small bats would emerge while it is still light to flit around and once I saw a raptor (large kite-size, definitely not a bat hawk though) appearing and attempting to grab the bats inflight.

  2. Anonymous

    Recently, i witnessed a Spotted Wood Owl trying to perch on banana leaf which happened to be too weak to hold its weight. This fellow was actually preying
    on the roosting fruit bats on a cherry tree at Punggol.

    Kind of funny to see how he catch bats at night.

  3. YC

    Tha above two comments are valuable contributions to ornithology. If they could be elaborated a little, the observations would definitely be worth posting in the blog.

  4. Robert Teo

    I remembered watching an documentary many years back on the Australian WBFE/WBSE. They actually hunted rabbits!

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