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Brahminy Kite (Red-backed Sea Eagle) as Garuda

Updated on November 14, 2012

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus) also known as Red-backed Sea Eagle, belongs to the family Accipitridae, which are birds of prey. These include hawk, kite, eagle, vulture and harrier.


Medium-sized bird with body of up to 50cm. Male and female birds look alike, with deep reddish brown back, white head, neck and breast.Pale brown under the wings. Broad wings with black tips or primaries and short, light brown tail that appear round when fanned out. Juvenile birds have dark brown plumage with streaks of light brown. It is often misidentified as other birds of prey by the layman, such as Black Kite and White-bellied Fish Eagle.


Habitat and Distribution

Brahminy Kite is generally a bird of the wetlands. Its habitat includes coastal estuaries, rivers, lakes, mangroves, mudflats and further inland where there is open space such as paddy land, mines and industrial towns.

Distribution of this species is extremely wide, including parts of China, India, entire northern coasts of Australia; Bangladesh; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia;Indonesia; Laos; Macao; Malaysia; Myanmar; Nepal; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Singapore; Solomon Islands; Sri Lanka; Taiwan; Thailand; Timor-Leste; Viet Nam.


Garuda depicted as a mount of Vishnu.
Garuda depicted as a mount of Vishnu. | Source
Statue of Brahminy Kite at Eagle Square (Dataran Lang) , Langkawi, Malaysia.
Statue of Brahminy Kite at Eagle Square (Dataran Lang) , Langkawi, Malaysia. | Source

Qualities, Legends and Symbols
Like other birds of prey, the raptor has a razor sharp beak that can cut through the skin and tear out the flesh of its prey. Excellent eyesight, sharp talons and versatile flight skill are essential for the high speed aerial attack of its prey. When hunting, it displays the admirable qualities of power, elegance, lightning speed and precision of strike.

It is no surprise that the bird is associated with some legend in the regions where it is found. Brahminy Kite is generally regarded as a contemporary representation of the mythological deity of Garuda, in Sanskrit गरुड. In the Indian epic of Mahabharata, Garuda, the eagle king is an enemy of the serpent king Naga and a mount of Vishnu. The mythological Garuda exists not just in Hinduism, but also in Buddhism, both of which originate from India. To the Chinese, Garuda is Jia Lou Luo (迦楼罗) the Golden-winged Illumination King and to the Japanese, Garuda is Karura.

Garuda as a national symbol of Indonesia (left); Garuda as a national symbol of Thailand (center); Garuda as the symbol of Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
Garuda as a national symbol of Indonesia (left); Garuda as a national symbol of Thailand (center); Garuda as the symbol of Ulan Bator, Mongolia. | Source
A statue of Garuda at a temple in Laos.
A statue of Garuda at a temple in Laos. | Source

In Malaysia, it is the state symbol of Kedah. Langkawi island is named after the bird; Lung Kawi being an old Malay name meaning Strong Eagle. According to local legend, Langkawi is the final resting place of Garuda, after its fiery death.

Garuda also appears as a symbol or emblem of some regions or countries. These include National Emblem of Indonesia, National Emblem of Thailand, Emblem of Thai Royalty, symbol of Jakarta and symbol of Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

Throughout the regions it inhabits, Brahminy Kite is a symbol for swift action, precision, elegance, efficiency and is a guardian against the occurrence of misfortune. In coastal India, Indo-China countries likes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar; the legend of Garuda is well alive and appear in the form of wall carving, roof decoration and guarding statue.


Brahminy Kite can be seen soaring majestically on thermals, usually alone or occasionally in groups. Flight is by gliding on raised wings with occasional slow, deep flapping of wings that form an acute angle with the body. Call is a docile mewing when stationary. This changes to a somewhat haunting Kee-arhhh when in flight.

The raptor hunts by swooping and gripping onto its prey of fish or small mammals from the air or from its tree top perch. When hunting for fish, the bird may get into momentary and partial contact with water. Somehow, it always manage to skim off the water surface without any trouble and often with a fish in the firm grips of its talons. Occasionally indulge in kleptoparasitism, an attempt to steal prey from other birds by snatching. Ability to feed on prey while in flight.

Inspite of being an excellent hunter, the bird has weak legs, compared to other larger birds of prey. More often, it prefers to be an oppotunistic scavanger that feeds on carrion. The bird is known for its agility at removing road kills on the road while dodging speeding vehicles.

Mainly solitary; ocasionally becoming gregarious with family members and during breeding season. Also seen in groups where there are large quantities of dead fish or animals.

Braminy Kite is more a beneficial bird to man; by flushing out and removal of weak birds from their hideouts. Scavaging for fish waste or scraps at garbage dump near fishery port or marketplace help to control the population of pests and the spread of deseases. Only occasionally does the bird raid on fish farm, so it's unjustifiable to regard the bird as a pest.

Nest built on tall, solitary tree.
Nest built on tall, solitary tree. | Source

Feeding Braminy Kite at Langkawi, Malaysia.


Nest is built on tall and isolated tree near to the water. In swampy areas, where there is less disturbance from the ground, nest may be built on trees that are closer to the ground. Another suitable nesting site is at the edge of rocky cliff. The bowl-shaped nest looks somewhat coarse and untidy, with twigs, piling onto tree branches. Lining materials include dry grass, seaweed, dry mud, wool, hair, scraps of paper, bits and pieces of rags. The same nest is used, year after year, by piling new branches onto existing nest. Materials piling on top of old nest can get so heavy that occasionally tree branch may break off. Guarding of nest is done by both male and female birds. Transportation of nesting materials and food supply for female bird is done by male bird. Nest building is done by the female bird. Each nest may contain 1-4 eggs, more likely 2-3 eggs. Egg is oval shaped, color varies from white to light blue, with some brownish spots. Hatching is done by female bird. Incubation period 26 - 27 days. Chicks hunt for food with parent birds for 50 - 55 days. After which juvenile birds leave and fly off the nest.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i have a brahminy kite , it has a round shaped flash cavity over its tail, is it normal or its a disease.

      tell me on

    • sgphilgoh profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you for visiting and for the valuable comment. I've amended the title of this hub, so that it is more reader friendly.

    • snakebaby profile image

      Sabrina Yuquan Chen (陈玉泉) 

      8 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

      A nice and interesting topic. Thought Braminy Kite was a type of kite people fly (maybe there is such kite?). Pictures are so beautiful, now I began to think about writing more hubs about nature too, time to dig out :)


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