Pallas's Fish-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small, declining population as a result of the widespread loss, degradation and disturbance of wetlands and breeding sites throughout its range. The global population is now estimated to be considerably lower than was previously thought, and is now thought to comprise a single, migratory subpopulation. It has therefore been uplisted to Endangered.

Population justification
The previous estimate of 2,500-9,999 mature individuals made in the year 2000 is likely to have been an overestimate. The actual number of mature individuals is likely to be fewer than 2,500, and may be considerably lower than this given the high visibility and accessibility of much of what is now known to be the breeding range. Here the global population is placed in the band 1,000–2,499 mature individuals, and considered to comprise a single migratory population, rather than multiple isolated subpopulations.

Trend justification
A moderate and on-going population decline is suspected on the basis of rates of loss, degradation and disturbance of wetland habitats and adjacent nesting trees throughout its range.

Distribution and population

This species was previously thought to be a migratory breeder north of the Himalayas, with a stronghold in Mongolia, and a resident population in the Indian subcontinent, recent evidence and re-evaluation of historical data has since suggested that this is not, and may never have been, the case. Surveys in Mongolia between 2005-2009 found the species to be absent from 13 of 21 historically known sites (Gilbert et al. 2014), and found very little evidence for the species breeding anywhere north of the Himalayas. Further surveys in Mongolia between June-August in 2012-2015 similarly found no evidence of breeding (M. Steele in litt. 2017).

The species may instead breed only in northern India (apparent strongholds in Assam and Uttarakhand), Bangladesh and Myanmar, with very small numbers in Bhutan, dispersing north of the Himalayas to Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia in its non-breeding season (May to September). There is no recent record of breeding in Afghanistan (S. Ostrowski in litt. 2017), the current status in Pakistan appears to be uncertain, and there is uncertainty around the extent of any historical breeding in central China, though virtually all Chinese records also fall outside of the time of year the species has been confirmed breeding, and while there are many records of adults and juveniles together, there is a notable lack of records of nests or collected eggs from north of the Himalayas. Further evidence for this hypothesis comes from recent telemetry studies which confirmed connectivity between India and Mongolia (Steele 2017, M. Steele in litt. 2017).

Formerly considered one of the most numerous Asian raptors, declines were first noticed as early as the 1960s. Long term declines are well known from the west of the range, and the species is now virtually extirpated from former sites in west Asia. Analysis of recent records from India and Bangladesh are also indicative of a substantial decline throughout the historic range (Gilbert et al. 2014, S. U. Chowdhury in litt. 2017, M. Steele in litt. 2017).


It is closely associated with wetlands, principally large lakes and rivers, from the lowlands to 5,000 m. It generally nests in trees near water. Breeding takes place from September-February in northern India and Myanmar (BirdLife International 2001), and in Bangladesh it returns to nest sites in late August (Sourav et al. 2011).

Three satellite-tracked birds recently provided evidence that the species undertakes extensive, seasonal migrations of over 4,000 km from India to Mongolia and Russia. Tracked individuals also demonstrated a previously unknown capability to fly directly over the Himalayas at altitudes exceeding 6,000 m (Steele 2017).


Key threats are habitat loss, degradation and disturbance. Across the Indian subcontinent, and probably most of its range, wetlands have been drained or converted for agriculture and human settlements. The felling of large trees near wetlands has reduced the availability of nest and roost sites. The spread of water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes is a problem in India, as is the siltation of lakes due to catchment deforestation. Pollution of wetlands with pesticides and industrial effluents reduces breeding success. Habitat loss and degradation are compounded by disturbance of wetlands. Reductions in the prey base, primarily through hunting and over-fishing, are further consequences of increasing human pressure. In Myanmar, the development of oil and gas fields is a threat and, in China, hunting is a localised problem. In Mongolia, during surveys in summer 2009, it was noted that two recently completed hydroelectric dams were severely disrupting water levels in the affected drainage basins and could potentially affect all sites where the species occurs in the Great Lake Basin (Gilbert and Gombobataar 2009). Over-fishing was also noted at several sites and low rainfall was leading to falling water levels in some areas (Gilbert and Gombobataar 2009). Loss of mature trees following two major cyclones may have affected breeding sites in Odisha, India (M. Bhujabal in litt. 2017).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix II. It occurs in many protected areas across its range such as Corbett, Kaziranga and Manas, India and Chitwan, Nepal.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out research into the species's breeding ecology (Gilbert and Gombobataar 2009). Conduct surveys in central Asia and Myanmar to establish its status, distribution and threats. Establish protected areas for key populations. Encourage sustainable management of wetland resources. Limit the use of pesticides and control of industrial discharges around wetlands. Control water hyacinth at important breeding/feeding sites. Protect remaining nest-trees and re-establish them around wetlands. Protect nest-sites (and adjacent feeding sites) from disturbance. Promote rural education programmes concerned with wetland birds. Study the impact of hydroelectric dam projects, such as those in Mongolia (e.g. Gilbert and Gombobataar 2009), and monitor the levels of pesticide residues in prey species to indicate whether further measures are required (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Conduct research into the species's ecology and behaviour (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012) and carry out further satellite tracking to study the species's movements (Gilbert and Gombobataar 2009).


76-84 cm. Large eagle with pale brownish hood and black-and-white tail. Adult dark brown, with warm buffish to whitish head, neck and upper mantle and blackish tail with broad, white central band. Juvenile more uniformly dark, with all-dark tail, but in flight shows strongly patterned underwing, with whitish band across coverts and prominent, whitish primary flashes. Similar spp. Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus and White-tailed Eagle H. albicilla both lack combination of dark body, contrasting pale hood and black-and-white tail pattern. Grey-headed is also much smaller. Voice Loud, guttural kha-kha-kha-kha or gao-gao-gao-gao, and sometimes high-pitched, excited yelping. Hoarse guttural continuous kook-kook-kook is commonest call.


Text account compilers
Peet, N., Taylor, J., Benstead, P., Symes, A., Martin, R., Bird, J.

Gilbert, M., Ahmed, S., Subedi, T., Choudhury, A., Rahmani, A., Thompson, P., Zockler, C., Jayadevan, P., Naoroji, R., Kabeer, B., Inskipp, C., Chowdhury, S., Fefelov, I., Baral, H., Steele, M., Bhujabal, M., Ostrowski, S., Jamtsho, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Haliaeetus leucoryphus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/01/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/01/2021.