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White-bellied sea eagle numbers decline

Nivedita Ganguly

VISAKHAPATNAM: Researchers at Andhra University have concluded that the population of the globally threatened species of white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) is on the decline along India’s south-western coast.

There are only about 25 of the birds along the Visakhapatnam coast, with no increase in their numbers noticed over the past five years. According to B. Bharatha Lakshmi of the Department of Zoology, Andhra University, habitat disturbances and coastal pollution are the main reasons behind the fall in the numbers of this magnificent raptor.

“They are very sensitive to any kind of disturbances and may desert the nests and young ones if disturbed. Habitat destruction also affects breeding success.”

The white-bellied sea eagle that belongs to the Accipitridae family is an endangered species listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. It is listed in the Red Data Book as a vulnerable species. It is one of the largest raptors in South-East Asia, and the second largest in the world.

The species is also found in Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, China and some countries of South-East Asia. In India, the largest concentration is in the Sunderbans: there are 50 to 60 birds here.

Uniquely, the birds are monogamous. They form pairs for life and are mostly sedentary once a home range is established. They are tolerant of humans.

The males grow up to about 75 cm and females to 85 cm in height. The adult has a white head, the white extending to its breast and underwing coverts. The upper parts are grey and the black underwing flight feathers contrast with the white coverts.

The tail is short and wedge-shaped and has similarities with the bald eagle and the white-tailed eagle.

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