Grey-headed Fish-eagle caught a bittern

As usual, on the morning of 13th September 2018, Chan Yoke Meng went to photograph the pair of Grey-headed Fish-eagle (Icthyophaga ichthyaetus) that regularly dive for fish in the river – see image below.

This morning, the fish-eagle was diving again near the bank of the river. But this time it was after a Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) (below). On the first assault, it did not manage to grab the bittern.

The bittern was in a state of shock, spreading out its wings in defence. Had it moved into the grassy area, it might have escaped. Instead, it dashed across the water. The fish-eagle made a quick U-turn and launched another assault.

This time it managed to grab the bittern with its sharp talons (above). According to the time stamp on the series of photos, the bittern died within a second upon impact.

The dead bittern was brought back to the fish-eagle’s perch (above, below) where the feathers were plucked before bits and pieces of the bittern were torn off and swallowed.

Grey-headed Fish-eagle is a rare resident in Simgapore, usually seen around the Central Catchment area (Wang & Hails, 2007). It hunts from waterside branches, zooming down to snatch prey. According to Thiollay (1994), prey is almost exclusively fish, probably also some birds and small mammasl. Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) mention occasional reptiles, terrestrial birds like junglefowl and small mammals like squirrels may be added to its main fish diet.

A Cinnamon Bittern prey may well be a new food record for the Grey-headed Fish-eagle.

Chan Yoke Meng & Melinda Chan
17th September 2018

Ferguson-Lees, J. & D. A. Christie, 2001. Raptors of the world. London: Christopher Helm. 992 pp.
2. Thiollay, J. M. (1994). Family Accipitridae (Hawks and Eagles). Pp. 52-205 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 2. New world vultures to guineafowl. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.
3. Wang, L.K. & C. J. Hails, 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1-179.

Postscript: Thanks to Martin Kennewell and Subaraj Rajathurai for pointing out the bird is a Cinnamon Bittern.

3 Responses

  1. Am

    Had no idea it ate other water birds! I think the bittern must have been just as surprised as well, considering that it did not know how to escape. Was this feeding entirely opportunistic? Or are water birds a regular part of the eagle’s diet?

  2. BESG

    Thanks, Subaraj for the ID. As for Am’s comment: The fish-eagle does take birds, although a bittern may well be a first food record.

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