Lesser Fish Eagle - Ichthyophaga humilis | The Eagle Directory

Lesser Fish Eagle - Ichthyophaga humilis

Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Ichthyophaga
Species: I. humilis
Subspecies: I. h. humilis, I. h. plumbea (Himalayan Grey-Headed Fish Eagle)

Lesser Fish Eagles are small, gray-brown eagles that live in India and Southeast Asia and are found in wet habitats.

Physical Description:

Lesser Fish Eagles are mostly gray-brown from above, except for some black streaking on the head and black primary feathers. The breast is brown and the belly and thighs are white. The tail is mottled with white at the base, but the center is brown and there is an indistinct subterminal band. They have a small head, long neck, and a short, rounded tail. Eyes are yellow, and the cere is gray. The legs are white to a pale bluish color and are short and unfeathered.

They resemble and may be confused with Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus (Grey-Headed Fish Eagle), but the latter is larger and has a white tail base, black subterminal band, and no color contrast in the primary feathers.

Juveniles are similar to adults. Their eyes are brown.

Lesser Fish Eagle calls are a repetitive "hak hak hak". Listen to a recording.


Weight: 780-785 g

Habitat and Distribution:

They inhabit forested rivers, lakes, and wetlands, but they are rarely found around open bodies of water. Unlike the related Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus (Grey-Headed Fish Eagle), which prefers standing and sluggish wetlands, Lesser Fish Eagles occur more often along hill streams, fast-flowing rivers, and other moving water. They usually live below 1,000 meters above sea level, but have been recorded as high as 4,250 m in Nepal.

Their range spans from India and the Kashmir region east to Nepal, China, and Southeast Asia, and through the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, and the Maluku Island of Buru. The total area spans 34°N to 6°S. Adults are partial and altitudinal migrants in the Himalayas, moving to plains south of the mountain range in the winter. There are approximately 1,000-10,000 individuals.

Diet and Hunting:

True to their name, Lesser Fish Eagles eat primarily fish. They hunt along overhanging tree branches or on a rock and snatch their prey from below in the water. Like Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus (Grey-Headed Fish Eagle), Lesser Fish Eagles have large, curved talons specialized for catching fish.


The breeding season is from March-August in northern India and Nepal and November-April in Burma.

The nest is made out of sticks and can be over 1 m across, growing up to 1.5 m deep after enough use. The nest is placed in a tree close to water and lined with green leaves. 2-4 eggs are laid. Incubation and fledging periods are unknown.


Lesser Fish Eagles are rare throughout their range, and the population is declining due to habitat loss, increasing human disturbance, and persecution in the form of shooting and nest robbery. As they are related to a species in the genus Haliaeetus that is vulnerable to DDE (a breakdown product of pesticide DDT) it is possible that poisoning is also playing a role in their decline. They are currently listed as Near Threatened by BirdLife International.

Conservation measures proposed include conducting surveys to determine important areas, regular monitoring at various sites throughout the birds’ range, protecting forest habitat, and doing research to see if there is an actual link between pesticide use and the population decline.


Ichthyophaga humilis used to be classified as I. nana but was changed to humilis. Genus Ichthyophaga is closely related to genus Haliaeetus, which includes sea eagles.


There are two subspecies of Ichthyophaga humilis: I. h. humilis is found in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, and the Maluku Island of Buru, and I. h. plumbea (Himalayan Grey-Headed Fish Eagle) lives in the Kashmir region, India, Nepal, Burma, and Hainan Province in China.

Other Names:

Himalayan Gray-Headed Fishing Eagle, Lesser Fishing Eagle, Lille Flodørn (Danish), Kleine Rivierarend (Dutch), Väike-jõgikotkas (Estonian), Pikkukalakotka (Finnish), Pygargue nain (French), Braunschwanz-Seeadler (German), Aquila pescatrice minore (Italian), Kouokuiwashi (Japanese), Helang Kangok (Malay), Småelveørn (Norwegian), Rybozer brunatny (Polish), Pigarguillo Menor (Spanish), Mindre fiskörn (Swedish).

Video of a Lesser Fish Eagle:


BirdLife International (2011) Species factsheet: Ichthyophaga humilis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/12/2011.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2011. Species account: Lesser Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga humilis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 29 Dec. 2011
BirdLife International 2008. Ichthyophaga humilis. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 29 December 2011.
Ferguson-Lees, James, and Christie, David A. Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.