(1778) Haliaetus leucogaster.
THE WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE.
Falco leucogaster Gmelin, Syst. Nat., i, p. 257 (1758) (New South Wales). Haliaetus leucogaster. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 368.
Vernacular names. Kohassa (Hind.) ; Samp-mar (in Orissa); Ala (Tarn, and Tel.); Loko-rajaliya (Cing.); kadal-Ala (Tarn, in Ceylon); Pa-kat (Burma).
Description. Whole head and lower plumage pure white; upper plumage ashy-brown ; primaries blackish-ashy; basal two-thirds of tail very dark ashy ; terminal third white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris hazel-brown; bill dark leaden, the cere paler bluish-grey; legs and feet pale yellowish-white to greyish-white, claws darker; there are no lanceolate feathers on breast or hind neck and the legs are exceptionally powerful.
Measurements. Wing, 526 to 589 mm., 588 to 606 mm.; tail 208 to 260 mm.; tarsus about 92 to 99 mm.; culmen 48 to 55 mm.
Young birds are very dark brown above, the edges of the feathers fulvous and those of the head and neck mostly of this colour ; wing-coverts much barred with fulvous; tail white, the sub-tip dark brown and also mottled with brown towards the end ; chin and throat pale fulvous; lower parts fulvous, fulvous-brown, rufous-fulvous, varying much in depth of colour. It is interesting to note that young birds have the feathers of the hind-neck and breast distinctly lengthened and pointed.
Distribution. Coasts of India, Ceylon and Burma, from about the latitude of Bombay to the Malay Peninsula and through the Malay Archipelago to Australia, Tasmania and Western Polynesia. It ascends the great tidal rivers of Eastern Bengal as far as the districts of Mymensingh, Dacca and Noakhali and I procured one specimen on the Megna in Sylhet. It has also been recorded from Chota Nagpore, probably a storm-pressed individual only.
Nidification. This Sea-Eagle breeds in numbers along the Malabar coast to the extreme South and in lesser numbers over the whole of the rest of its range. They make their nests as a rule in trees on the very edge of the coast, both in the wildest parts and in among villages and cultivation. The nests are very large and are often made of sticks and branches of considerable size. A nest seen by De Roepstorff in the Nicobars was more than nine feet across and many nests are five or six feet deep. The number of eggs is invariably two and these are pure white, coarse-grained and with an inner membrane of very deep green. Twenty-two eggs average 72.2 x 53.8 mm. : maxima 74.8 X 53.5 and 73.0 X 58.0 mm.; minima 65.1 X 51.0 and 69.0 x 50.0 mm. The normal breeding-time is from December to March but in Burma October and November seem to be the months for eggs, whilst Bulkley took an egg on the Malabar coast in August, possibly a second laying. The same nest is used year after year, merely patched and mended with a few more sticks when necessary.
Habits. The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is entirely a coastal bird, though it may follow the great tidal rivers some distance from their mouths. Nor does it wander far from its breeding-haunts, fishing in the close vicinity of its nest and often using this as a storeroom or larder after the young are hatched. When building away from human habitations it is said to be very wary and shy but when, as is often the case, its nest-tree is surrounded by huts and markets the birds take no notice at all of human beings. Their main diet is fish and this is mixed with snakes, lizards and frogs. Occasionally they will kill domestic fowls and other birds, though this is rare, whilst any carrion lying about is not despised. Their call is a very loud clanging cry of many notes, audible at a great distance, especially in the mornings and evenings when they are most noisy.