Bhadra Tiger Reserve lies in the Western Ghats, which is a bio-diversity hot spot, with rich flora and fauna. It is also my place of work.
I am very keen on the winged jewels of the forest and one of my favourite birds is the Crested Hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus). It is one of the large raptors, with a beautiful crest, sharp talons, acute vision and varied colours. I have been fortunate to spend time watching this fascinating bird and capture photographs of its many moods and behaviours.
Crested Hawk-eagles have varying colour morphs. Juveniles have a white to buffish head and under parts. Adults are brown with a prominent white-tipped black crest and brown streaking from the neck to the belly. They weigh between 1.3 to 1.9 kg and have a wingspan of over 4 feet.
Crested Hawk-eagles are found throughout southern and Southeast Asia and in India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands, Philippines, Borneo, and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and the Greater Sundarbans.
There are five subspecies that occur in southern and Southeast Asia, throughout forested areas. They live in deciduous, semi-evergreen, and logged forests, along with savannah woodland, tea plantations, cultivated regions, and even along the edges of suburban areas. They usually live from 0-1,500 m above sea level, but are known to occupy habitats as high as 2,200 m. Pairs remain in the same territory all year, although they do not hunt together. The juveniles disperse from their parents’ breeding areas.
Most of the breeding is observed from November to May in southern India.
The nest is a large structure built with sticks and lined with leaves, and often placed high up in a tree. Usually a single egg is laid and incubated for 35-44 days; fledging takes well over 2 months.
Crested Hawk-eagles mainly feed on a variety of birds and smaller mammals.
Little Cormorants are both aquatic and terrestrial; while they spend most of their time in water looking for food, they also come out to dry their wings and bask in the sun. A Crested Hawk-eagle seized this opportunity and had managed to hunt one down.
And here’s one butchering a Little Egret, relatively a weak flier.
One of my most unforgettable moments in the wild was watching this Crested Hawk-eagle feeding on a Mouse Deer, a predominantly nocturnal animal.
There is another instance when I saw the bird with langur kill. Langurs are social animals and live in groups. Though they are arboreal, they spend a lot of time on the ground as well. They are active and issue warning calls upon spotting a predator, both from the treetops and while on the ground. But I guess, when predators like the Crested Hawk-eagle are around, there are no safe spots.
I also witnessed an interesting interaction between an eagle and an owl. When the eagle landed on this tree, it surprised a roosting Brown Fish Owl, which then proceeded to flap its wings to ward off the eagle.
The Crested Hawk-eagle is a handsome predator. Seeing one perched on a tree keeping a look out for that unsuspecting prey or simply preening or basking in the morning sun is always a nice experience.