The Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) is an extremely rare resident of the central forest of Singapore, where it is believed that one to two pairs still survive. However, for the last few years the eagle was barely seen at all. Thus the excitement it generated when the bird was recently sighted.
The eagle hunts from a high perch. It sits still until it spots a potential prey among the grass. The toad probably stayed very still, but with the eagle’s sharp senses, it suddenly lunged down to snatch it from the vegetation. The bird then flew back to its favourite perch in the tree to enjoy its meal.
With the toad held tightly between the talons of its right foot, it used its sharp bill to rip off the skin. The first tear drained the toad of its body fluid, barely visible in the images above (arrow). In the video clip made by Melinda, the draining of the toad was more dramatic as the fluid poured out of the body cavity.
Then the rapid but systematic dismembering of the carcass began. The lifeless body was then held firmly against the surface of the branch by the left foot and piece by piece was torn out and eaten. At one stage the main piece slipped out of the foot and the bird had to manage it with its beak until every bits were eaten, leaving only fragemnts of bones.
It completed its meal in less than five minutes. Satisfied, it carefully wiped its bill on the branch it was perching on (below).
According to our bird specialist R. Subaraj: “This adult Crested Serpent Eagle hunts reptiles, birds, small mammals… etc. It is the dominant forest raptor of the lowland forests of Malaysia but can also be found in woodlands, plantations, coastal forest and even mangrove there.
“In Singapore, it is almost extinct as a resident with what is believed to be the last pair at Upper Seletar Reservoir Park for many years now… though it has become very difficult to see it now. It is also a visitor from Malaysia, especially during the post-breeding period and there are records from other parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah, Sungei Buloh, Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin… all believed to be visitors.”
Chan Yoke Meng (images and observations); R Subaraj (comment).