Grey-headed Fish-eagle Icthyophaga ichthyaetus


Justification of Red List Category
Although widespread, this species is now only locally common and may have a moderately small population, which is thought to be undergoing a moderately rapid population reduction owing to habitat degradation, pollution and over-fishing. It is therefore classified as Near Threatened as it almost qualifies for listing under criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd;C1+2a(i).

Population justification
This species's global population is preliminarily estimated at 10,000-100,000 mature individuals on the basis that it may not exceed a five-figure total. This estimate equates to 15,000-150,000 individuals in total.

Trend justification
A moderately rapid and on-going population decline is suspected on the basis of rates of habitat degradation and levels of pollution and over-fishing.

Distribution and population

Icthyophagus icthyaetus occurs in India (widespread and locally frequent in the north-east, scarce and local in the peninsula, though there has been a potentially rapid decline in recent years in some areas [Choudhury 2012]), Nepal (now rare and local, mainly below 250 m), Sri Lanka (rare in the dry lowlands), Bangladesh (widely distributed but uncommon and local), Myanmar (rare to scarce resident), Philippines (formerly quite common in the north and east, now rare and apparently declining), Thailand (formerly a widespread resident, now absent from north and centre, rare and local in the south), Laos (now rare), Vietnam (scarce in south, disappearing from north), Cambodia (scarce and declining [P. Davidson in litt. 2003]), Peninsular Malaysia (previously common, now uncommon and sparse, perhaps 40 pairs remaining), east Malaysia, Singapore (scarce), Brunei (scarce), and the Greater Sundas and Sulawesi, Indonesia (widely distributed but uncommon in Sumatra and Borneo, and now very rare in Java) (Collar et al. 2000). Although widely distributed, the species is local and declining in most parts of its range through loss of forested wetlands. However, historical and even recent records are difficult to interpret, in South-East Asia at least, due to identification difficulties between this species and Lesser Fish-eagle I. humilis.


It is found near slow-moving rivers and streams, lakes, reservoirs and tidal lagoons in wooded country, usually in lowlands but ascending locally to 1,525 m. Research into the breeding behaviour of this species at Lake Tonle Sap, Cambodia has shown that it may depend on taller trees with a more open canopy to nest in, that are found near to areas of permanent water (Tingay et al. 2012). The population at Lake Tonle Sap also appears to use water snakes as a food source, as well as fish (Tingay et al. 2012).


The most pertinent threats are the loss of undisturbed wetlands, over-fishing, siltation, pollution and persecution. There are also reports that this species may be deliberately targeted by poachers for meat (Choudhury 2012). The construction of dams on the Mekong River has potential for the deposition of large amounts of mercury into the wetland area of Lake Tonle Sap as well as negative implications for the flood regime of the area and the Fish-eagle population there (Tingay et al. 2012). The population at Lake Tonle Sap also appears to feed on water snakes and so the unsustainable harvest of water snakes may have a large impact on this species, at least at this locality (Tingay et al. 2012).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions UnderwayNesting surveys have taken place since 2005 at Prek Toal Ramsar Site (see Visal and Mahood 2015).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to reveal important areas and regularly monitor at various sites throughout its range. Protect forest in areas known to be important to the species. Conduct awareness campaigns involving local residents to engender pride in the species and encourage better care of wetland habitats.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Mahood, S., Ashpole, J, Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Davidson, P., Naoroji, R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Icthyophaga ichthyaetus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/10/2021.