What is a Brahminy Kite?

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  • Written By: Todd M.
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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The Brahminy Kite, Haliastur indus, is a bird of prey native to Australia, India, and regions of Southeast Asia that is a prominent member of the Accipitridae family. Also known as the Red-Backed Sea-Eagle, the Brahminy Kite was discovered in 1783 by Dutch physician and naturalist Pieter Boddaert and is considered one of the most common birds of prey in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. While Brahminy Kites prefer the plains of these regions, some Brahminy Kites have been reported at elevations in the Himalayas in excess of 5,000 feet (about 1,500 m).

These birds generally forage for their prey by surveying the territory from flight elevations of 65 to 165 feet (about 20 to 50 meters) above land and sea. The primary sources of prey for a Brahminy Kite include a variety of dead animals, especially fish and crabs. These birds have also been known to fish for live food from a high altitude by dipping into the surface of the water during precise nosedives in order to catch fish. On some occasions, Brahminy Kites will even steal food from other airborne birds of prey, such as the Osprey and the Australian White Ibis.


A Brahminy Kite is a medium-sized raptor that can be recognized by its bright-white and red head and rusty brown plumage. The legs of the Brahminy Kite are short and bold, and the bird's wings are broad with tips that are much darker than the rest of the bird's feathers. Unlike many birds of prey, Brahminy Kites prefer to stick to a single territory and rarely migrate due to changing weather conditions.

The call of these birds consists of a light mewing sound that is created while in flight. They typically produce this call during mating season when males attract the attention of females by performing a series of complex and challenging flight maneuvers. Females lay two eggs at a time in nests composed of twigs that are protected by a layer of dried mud, and both male and female Brahminy Kites participate in raising the young.

Due to the prominence of the Brahminy Kite in its native habitat, the bird has some cultural significance for people who share their habitat with these birds. For example, the Brahminy Kite is considered a sacred symbol of the Hindu god Vishnu in India. The bird also plays a key role in a fable on Bougainville Island in which an abandoned baby transforms into a Brahminy Kite with plumage that is colored by the beads hanging around the child's neck.


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