(1778) Haliaetus leucogaster (Gmelin).
The White-BELLIED Sea-Eagle.
Haliaetus leucogaster, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 111.
I can add nothing to the distribution of this Eagle given in the ‘Fauna’ : “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."
This most interesting Eagle breeds in some numbers on the coasts and islands of Malabar and Travancore and in smaller numbers over the whole of the rest of their range. Normally it is solitary in its breeding habits, though in some places two or three pairs may be found together, as in some of the islands off the coast of Akyab. Jerdon, however, recorded that “In Pigeon Island, 30 miles or so South of Honore (Honawa), which is well wooded with large forest trees, a whole colony of these hirda have their nests, at least 30 or 40 of them, and the ground beneath their nests is strewed and whitened with bones of sea-snakes chiefly, and also of fish.” They nest very often in most public places and seem to have no fear of humanity, Vidal says “where, as frequently happens, they build in large trees in the midst of houses and cocoanut-gardens, they become very familiar and are not easily disturbed. Their loud clanging note when close overhead is almost deafening, and is audible a mile or more distant.” Shopland, again, took an egg from a nest in the garden of the Public Hospital at Akyab, and I have other recorda of nests built in the middle of villages, especially those situated actually on the coast. Sometimes the birds make their nests on very small islands, just a few rocks with a scanty scrub growth and a few large trees. They are common on the Andamans and Nicobars, and both Davison and de Roepstorff took eggs from nests in Nancowry Island in the latter group.
The Eagles select almost, if not quite, invariably only the largest trees upon which to construct their nests. In Nancowry Davison says that the nest was placed "between two great branches of a large tree at a height of about 80 feet from the ground,” while de Roepstorff obtained an egg from a nest which “was in the top of a very high straight tree and was about nine feet across.” Sometimes they are built, as Vidal got them, in “an old Banyan-tree over¬hanging the massive walls of the mined island-fort of Suvamdurg,” This nest I heard of many years after Vidal first found it in 1869 and again in 1879 took two eggs from it. In 1903 it was still there on the same Banyan-tree, about 30 feet from the ground below the wall.
The age of these nests in many cases no doubt accounts for their great sine, which often approaches the one described by de Roepstorff. Vidal describes them as “gigantic platforms, built of strong thick sticks, fully five feet in diameter, with a com¬paratively slight depression in the centre.” Hume nowhere records the depth of the nest, but many years ago Davidson, in writing to me, gave the following interesting account of one seen by him on the Malabar coast:—“No one seems to know how old this nest is, and to my questions as to this the only answer I got WAS ‘always.’ It must have been there many years, as it was between five and six feet deep, the bottom layers being just crumbliug rubbish, as the sticks decayed and fell away so, really, the depth of the nest in no way disclosed its age, for, as the new superstructure was added year by year, so also yearly part of the bottom of the nest had fallen to the ground in dust, the nest itself settling down to the same extent between and on the great limbs where it rested.”
The breeding season on the Malabar coast is October, November and December, and I have one egg taken near Ratnagiri on 23rd August, a very unusual date, Stewart took eggs occasionally in January on the same coast, while in Ceylon Legge gives the breeding season as December, January and February. In Burma also November and December seem the favourite months, but in the Nicobars Davison saw the birds incubating in March and de Roep¬storff took an egg on the 24th January.
The number of eggs laid is without exception two.
They are pure white. Vidal calls them greenish-white but, probably, only refers to a tinge given if held to the light from the dark green lining. The texture is coarse, the surface varying from quite smooth, or smooth with a few tiny pores, to very pimply or heavily pitted with pores. In shape they vary from broad to rather long ovals, distinctly pointed at the smaller end.
Thirty-two eggs average 71.7 x 53.4 mm. : maxima 74.8 x 53.5 and 73.0 x 58.0 mm. ; minima 63.5 x 53.5 and 69.0 x 50.0 mm.
Both birds assist in making their nest, and it is interesting to note that de Roepstorff shot a male on the nest, so that probably he takes part in the incubation also. Another interesting trait is recorded by Vidal, who says:—“When once paired these Eagles make the tree on which they have built their nest their permanent head-quarters all the year round, returning to the tree after each foraging trip with great regularity and using the nest as a larder and a refuse pit for fish and snake-bones and other waste food. Once, when the young birds of the season had long left the nest, I found a half-eaten fowl in it, freshly killed.”
1778. Haliaetus leucogaster
(1778) Haliaetus leucogaster (Gmelin).