The lackluster village that the crested serpent eagle calls home

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We have lost the eagle in most of our villages. Baagchala is an exceptional village with two of these eagles

September 18, 2021, 11:40 a.m.

Last modification: September 18, 2021, 11:48

Crested serpent eagle in a grove of mango trees. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Crested serpent eagle in a grove of mango trees. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

A few howling starlings drew our attention to a large brown bird hidden in a grove of soggy mango trees in Baagchala – a quiet village in Kaliakoir. We sneaked into the thicket and saw the big raptor. It was a beautiful crested serpent eagle.

The crested serpent eagle, once a common sight in every village, has all but disappeared. Nowadays, it is only seen from time to time at the edge of certain forests!

However, Baagchala is a rare village in our purlieu to lodge the bird of prey.

Baagchala, however, is no ordinary village; and the eagle’s presence there was not entirely inexplicable. The village lies near a forest of Sal and has a lot of woods, shrubs and orchards between the houses. An eagle could breathe there and even fly away.

The crested serpent eagle loves to fly. With its wide, barred wings, it flies over the warm air that rises from farmland and forest at noon. Heaven is not where it hunts from; he stays in the air for sheer pleasure and to show that he owns the territory below.

Crested serpent eagle soaring at noon. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Crested serpent eagle soaring at noon.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Crested serpent eagle soaring at noon. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

In order to survive, every crested serpent eagle needs a large area to move. It hunts snakes, lizards, frogs, mice and other small mammals that are not in a small area day in and day out. The need for a larger territory increases as snakes, lizards, frogs, etc. villages disappear.

Baagchala looked like a village where reptiles, rodents and amphibians could continue to live. Most of the farms were not fenced but surrounded by gardens, groves, bamboo and shrubs. The streets were lined with trees, no glitzy shops. We passed through the quiet village without acquiring a rear appendage of onlookers.

The skyline of Baagchala was dominated by a huge white fig tree or “pakur” tree. We caught a middle-aged monitor lizard under the tree. The lizard and the crested serpent eagle hunt the same prey and compete for the same resources in the villages.

Unlike eagles, however, the monitor lizard is a scavenger and readily picks up rotting flesh. Even with this advantage over the eagles, the mighty lizard is not doing well in our villages these days. However, the eagle is worse off since it has to hunt living creatures for food.

Crested serpent eagle about to melt. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Crested serpent eagle about to melt.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Crested serpent eagle about to melt. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

To hunt, the Crested Serpent Eagle sits quietly on a high branch of a leafy tree and watches the ground below for a snake, lizard, frog, or mouse to show up. Unlike ubiquitous kites, the eagle has not developed a taste for village domestic poultry or offal from a landfill.

The Crested Serpent Eagle descends from its perch as soon as it sees prey crawling, crawling, or walking on the ground. It elevates its enormous fan-shaped crest as it strikes the prey with its powerful talons. It prefers to eat its meal on the ground unless threatened by large adversaries such as monitor lizards, humans or dogs.

Interestingly, we saw almost no domestic dogs on our short walk through Baagchala village. Us and the lizard would probably be the only threat to the hungry eagle if it found a large snake crawling on the ground. We therefore decided to continue wishing the eagle good appetite.

Few of the people in the village noticed the eagle and did not know its name. Although the word “eagle” is a colloquial Bangla word, no bird has been named an “eagle” in Bangladesh. The crested serpent eagle is locally called “Tila-baaz”, which means “spotted baza”.

The Bengali version of “Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh” attempted to correct the incongruity in 2009. The crested serpent eagle was named “Tila Naag-eagle”, which means “the serpent eagle”. spotted ”. The bird is now known by this name or simply as the “Tila Eagle” in the birdwatching community.

At noon we were surprised to see a second eagle in the village of Baagchala. Finding two Crested Snake Eagles in a village in Bangladesh was a very rare experience, especially in August, well outside of their winter breeding season.

Crested Serpent Eagle during the breeding season. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Crested Serpent Eagle during the breeding season.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Crested Serpent Eagle during the breeding season. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Crested Snake Eagles begin to court in the winter. Their courtship displays involve musical whistles, shrill songs, and lots of circling. In his captivating poem “The Dalliance of the Eagles”, poet Walt Whitman carefully describes these thefts in the following words:

She his, he his, continuing.

Our short winter ends when the crested snake eagles make their large nest with dead branches on top of a tree. The female lays and incubates a single egg. The male guards the nest when the female goes hunting and helps feed the chick when the egg hatches.

The survival of the chick largely depends on the hunting success of its parents. About 20 years ago, I was fortunate enough to see a chick grow up with its huge erect crest in a nest in the Adampur reserve forest and a few chicks in the Sundarban mangrove swamp. I haven’t seen any chicks or young birds since.

The population of crested snake eagles has been steadily declining. We have lost the eagle in most of our villages. Baagchala is an exceptional village with two of these eagles, probably a breeding pair. We hope that they will flourish well in this quiet village which is not yet overwhelmed with opulence and pomp.


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