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Black Eagle
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Ictinaetus
Blyth, 1843
Species: I. malayensis
Binomial name
Ictinaetus malayensis
(Temminck, 1822)

Neopus malayensis

The Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis) is a bird of prey. Like all eagles, it is in the family Accipitridae, and is the only member of the genus Ictinaetus. They soar over forests in the hilly regions of tropical Asia and hunt mammals and birds, particularly at their nests. They are easily identified by their widely splayed and long primary "fingers", the characteristic silhouette, slow flight and yellow ceres and legs that contrast with their dark feathers.



The Black Eagle breeds in tropical Asia. Race perniger (Hodgson, 1836) is found in the Himalayan foothills west through Nepal into northeastern Murree in the forests of the Eastern and Western Ghats in peninsular India and Sri Lanka.[2][3][4] The species also extends into the Aravalli range of northwestern India.[5] The nominate race malayensis (Temminck, 1822) is found in Burma, southern China (Yunnan, Fujian) and Taiwan, into the Malay Peninsula. They are generally residents and no migrations have been observed.[6]

In a study in southern India, it was found to favour forests with good forest cover and was absent from areas where the cover was less than 50%.[7]


Flight silhouette showing narrowing at the base of wing

The Black Eagle is a large raptor at about 70-80cm in length. Adults have all-black plumage, with a yellow bill base (cere) and feet. The wings are long and pinched in at the innermost primaries giving a distinctive shape. The tail shows faint barring and upper tail covers paler. When perched the wing tips reach till or exceed the tail tip. The wings are held in a shallow V in flight. Seen on hot afternoons, scouring the treetops for a nest to maraud, this bird is easily spotted by its jet black colour, large size, and a 'characteristic' slow flight, sometimes just above the canopy.[8]

Sexes are similar, but young birds have a buff head, underparts and underwing coverts. The wing shape helps to distinguish this species from the dark form of Changeable Hawk Eagle, (Spizaetus cirrhatus). The tarsi are fully feathered and the toes are relatively stout and short with long claws that are less strongly curved than in other birds of prey.[9]


The Black Eagle eats mammals, birds and eggs. It is a prolific nest-predator and is known for its slow flight just over the canopy.[8] Due to this eagle's ability to remain aloft for long periods with minimal effort, the Lepcha people of India's Darjeeling District often say of it, "this bird never sits down."[10]The curved claws and wide gape allow it pick up eggs of birds from nests.[11] Along with Swallow-tailed Kites they share the unique habit of carrying away an entire nest with nestlings to a feeding perch.[12] Squirrels, macaques and many species of birds emit alarm calls when these birds are spotted soaring over the forest. The Indian Giant Squirrel has been noted as a prey of this species[13] and young Bonnet Macaque's may also fall prey to them.[14]

The courtship display involves steep dives with folded wings with swoops up in a U shape into a vertical stall.[8] They build a platform nest, 3 to 4 feet wide, on a tall tree overlooking a steep valley. One or two white eggs which are blotched in brown and mauve may be laid during the nesting season between January and April.[15][16][17] The nest site may be reused year after year.[9]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2008). Ictinaetus malayensis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 6 September 2009.
  2. ^ Prater,SH (1940). "The Indian Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayanus perniger Hodgs.) in Salsette". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 41 (4): 899. 
  3. ^ Rao,VUS (1968). "The Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis perniger within Bombay limits". Newsl. for Birdwatchers 8 (12): 6–7. 
  4. ^ Burgess,HE (1937). "Eagles on the Nilgiris". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 39 (2): 399–403. 
  5. ^ Dharmakumarsinhji,KS (1985). "The Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayensis Temm. at Sawai Madhopur, (Rajasthan)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 82 (3): 655. 
  6. ^ Tordoff, AW (2002). "Raptor migration at Hoang Lien Nature Reserve, northern Vietnam" (PDF). Forktail 18: 45–48. 
  7. ^ Thiollay, Jean-Marc (1993). "Response of a Raptor Community to Shrinking Area and Degradation of Tropical Rain Forest in the South Western Ghats (India)". Ecography 16 (2): 97–110. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0587.1993.tb00062.x. 
  8. ^ a b c Rasmussen PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Vol. 2.. Smithsonian Institution & Lynx Edicions. p. 104. 
  9. ^ a b Ali S & SD Ripley (1978). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. 1 (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 283-285. 
  10. ^ Swann, H. Kirke, edited by Alexander Wetmore. (1924-1945). A Monograph of the Birds of Prey (Order Accipitres), Part XI.. Wheldon & Wesley, London. p. 93. 
  11. ^ Nijman, V (2004). "Seasonal variation in naturally occurring mobbing behaviour of drongos (Dicruridae) towards two avian predators" (PDF). Ethology Ecology & Evolution 16: 25–32. 
  12. ^ Coulson, Jennifer O. (2001). "Swallow-tailed Kites Carry Passerine Nests Containing Nestlings to Their Own Nests". The Wilson Bulletin 113 (3): 340–342. doi:10.1676/0043-5643(2001)113[0340:STKCPN2.0.CO;2]. 
  13. ^ Borges,Renee (1986). "Predation attempt by Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis perniger) on Indian Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica elphinstonii)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 83: 203. 
  14. ^ Ali, Rauf (1986). "Feeding ecology of the Bonnet Macaque at the Mundanthurai Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 83 (1): 98–110. 
  15. ^ Buchanan,Kenneth (1899). "Nesting of the Black Eagle". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 12 (4): 776–777. 
  16. ^ Daly,W Mahon (1899). "Nesting of the Black Eagle". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 12 (3): 589. 
  17. ^ Baker,ECS (1918). "Notes on the nidification of some Indian Falconidae. III. the genera Ictinaetus and Microhierax". Ibis 60 (1): 51–68. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1918.tb00770.x. 

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