Raptors and prey that managed to get away

“Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus) and White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) are raptors that are fond of soaring along the sea coast to forage food from the sea. I have always admired the ability of these raptors holding on to their slippery preys while in flight. I have not come across any prey that has managed to slip out of the powerful talons of these raptors. Not until three weeks ago when I was to witness preys getting away from these two species of raptors; all happening on the same day.

“A Brahminy Kite was up in the sky early and was already in the hunt at 7:20 am that morning (above left). At 7:50 am, it dived steeply to snatch a fish off the surface of the sea. As it lifted off, the outline of a long fish that became twisted in its talons could be seen (above centre). In less than a second, the slippery prey managed to wriggle free and fell back into the sea. Prey no. 1 had managed to slip away (above right).

“At 8:26 am, the kite had another attempt. This time, the kite caught nothing as its talons clutched at emptiness after striking at its target in the sea (above left). As seen from the continuous images, both predator and prey were headed in about the same direction (above centre). After the narrow escape, the fish actually sped faster than the kite and had almost caught up with the kite when it leaped out of the water (above right). In all likelihood, the kite was surprised and reacted by turning its head to look at the fleeing fish. There was no second chance for the kite to make another attempt at catching this fish. Prey no. 2 had got away.

“Later in the afternoon, two White-bellied Sea Eagles were soaring in the sky. At 4:55 pm, one of them caught a fish (above left) and was ascending when it somehow lost its grip on the fish (above centre). The prey fell from an estimated height of 20 metres into the sea and was likely to be dead upon impact. In an instant, the eagle decided to turn and glide down as it attempted to retrieve the prey (above right). All of a sudden, the script was dramatically changed when a Brahminy Kite appeared, almost right above the eagle (below left). The eagle aborted its descent and swept towards the kite. The faceoff was brief with the eagle looking up, poised to do battle with the kite. However, the kite was in no mood for a fight and avoided the eagle. It kept a distance from the eagle and flew away after circling the area once.

“All this while, I had my camera trained on the eagle and the kite. In the meantime, unknown to me, a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) must have seized the opportunity to pick up the prey that was dropped by the eagle earlier (above centre). It was seen flying away from the area with a similar fish in its beak. Prey No. 3 was stolen from the distracted raptors but did not escape from being a meal.

“It may be of interest to note that the fish involved in all three episodes could well be from the same species as all looked strikingly similar in appearance with a long body and snout.

“PS: Please note that images are not of optimum quality due to poor light, wrong setting and heavy cropping. Image of WBSE holding on to prey was attached for reference – it was taken on another day (above right).

Kwong Wai Chong
15th April 2010

Images by Kwong Wai Chong.

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