Grey-headed Fish Eagle

on 28th May 2007


There are two genera of specialist fish eating eagles – Haliaeetus and Ichthyophaga. They live around aquatic habitats and feed almost exclusively on fish. But this does not mean that they do not take other prey. Sometimes they also feed on birds and small mammals.

The eight species of Haliaeetus are typically coastal and large inland water body species. Ichthyophaga, of which there are two species, both found in Asia, are associated with rivers and streams.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus) is a rare resident usually confined to the Central Catchment forest (left). The eagle has a small greyish head on a longish neck. The wings and body are dark brownish grey and the lower belly, thigh and under tail coverts are white, the last with terminal or subterminal black band.


The eagle hunts from a vantage perch by the water. Once it spots a fish, it lunges at it, grabbing it with its talons (above). Generally these eagles catch fish near the surface of the water, normally immersing only the feet and legs. Once the fish is caught, it is brought back to the perch to be eaten (below).


Central montage top left and right and bottom left by Lee Tiah Khee; the rest by Chan Yoke Meng.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

9 Responses

  1. i almost got hit by a bus trying to snap a pic of this bird along Mandai Lake Road. But I must say it is really beautiful and it was my first time seeing this bird here. A lifer for me this one. Great pics everyone!

  2. the prey fish in the third picture looks like a Geophagus sp. cichlid, which is now common in the reservoirs. Maybe all these introduced fishes are doing ‘a little’ good after all, as native fish species tend to be cryptic rather than open water dwellers.

  3. Great photos of a rare bird.

    I wonder if they interact with white-bellied sea eagles and Brahminy kites, and if any competition exists between the species.

  4. Well Hai~Ren I believe the grey headed fish eagles are found in the forested areas along streams/river/reservoirs and not so much in the coastal/mangroves areas where you get brahminys and white bellieds.I say this because i have never seen the grey headed fish eagle before for the past 17 years i was living along Pasir Panjang Rd next to Labrador Park/beach. I have seen many brahminy kites and WBS eagles there. Maybe our field ornithologist, Wang Luang Keng can help solve this pondering question? =)

  5. White-bellied Sea Eagle is pretty common at MacRitchi, seen it flying around often. & I had seen a Grey-headed Fish Eagle there once too.

  6. Grey-headed Fish Eagle prefers forests to coastal areas although it has been reported at Sungei Buloh, Poyan and Khatib Bongsu. There could be competition with the similar-sized White-bellied Fish Eagle, which can also be found in our forests fringing the central reservoirs. Sutari reported a pair of GHFE flying in the company of a pair of WBFE in 1994. As far as I know, no studies have been made on whether these two species compete with each other for resources. I have never observed it myself. Lim Kim Seng hypothesised that competition with WBFE is a threat to GHFE but no one has reported any aggression between the two species.

  7. My pet chicken just got pecked to death by one of these birds! This was horrible because I know that once it finds its home of the prey, they are not leaving until they are all killed. This is horrible because I did have 4 chickens, now I only have 3! If i could, I would do anything I can to get this thing away from my pets. I love them and this was not the way for them to die. And i do not eat them. I have them to eat the bugs away and lay eggs. I love these animals so much and I could not stop crying once I found out! =(

  8. Interesting article. Recalled one incident when i saw a WBSE chasing a Grey-headed at Macritchie. Another time i remember seeing a WBSE trying to kleptoparasitize a GHFE

  9. Did you know that its not advisable to feed the grey-headed fishing eagle with saltwater fishes? They have the tendency to move and act like a drunken bird.

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