Archived 2017 topics: Pallas’s Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus): uplist to Endangered?

Pallas’s Fish-eagle (BirdLife International factsheet) is currently listed as Vulnerable on the basis that it has a small, declining population as a result of the widespread loss, degradation and disturbance of wetlands and breeding sites throughout its range. Concern has been raised that the population may be smaller than previously thought, following a considerable range contraction and better understanding of its dispersal behaviour and occupied breeding range.

An investigation into the status of the species in Mongolia revealed that the previous assumption that the country is a breeding stronghold for the species was erroneous, and the species was absent from 13 of 21 historically known sites (Gilbert et al. 2014). In fact, the study has found very little evidence for the species breeding north of the Himalayas, and it appears that the full extent of the breeding range is actually restricted to northern India, Bangladesh and Myanmar with uncertainty around the extent of previous 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.

As noted in Gilbert et al. 2014, this has negative implications for the estimated overall population size and the present estimate of 2,500-9,999 mature individuals made in the year 2000 is too high. The actual number of mature individuals is likely to be fewer than 2,500 mature individuals, 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 of 1,000–2,499 mature individuals, and considered to comprise a single migratory population, rather than multiple isolated subpopulations. There is no evidence to suggest that the decline in the population is slowing or has ceased, and so it is proposed that Pallas’s Fish-eagle is uplisted to Endangered under Criterion C2a(ii). However, an improved population estimate is needed. A co-ordinated count during December/January at sites with historical records in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan would account for the great majority of the potential breeding population and should be a priority action for the species.

We would greatly welcome any comments or further information.



Gilbert, M., Tingay, R., Losolmaa, J,. Sureda, N., Gilbert, C., Batmunkh, D. and Gombobaatar, S. Distribution and status of the Pallas’s Fish Eagle Haliaseetus leucoryphus in Mongolia: a cause for conservation concern? Bird Conservation International 24: 379-388.

This entry was posted in Archive, Asia, Europe & Central Asia and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Archived 2017 topics: Pallas’s Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus): uplist to Endangered?

  1. The Pallas’s Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) has been a subject matter of observation by Wild Orissa (an organization working in the field of wildlife & nature conservation since 1997 in India-Odisha), since about 1997. Intermittently, over this period, the members of this organisation have undertaken specific surveys for ascertaining the distribution as well as breeding status of this species. Findings have revealed that this species is restricted to Chilka Lake ecosystem and Bhitarkanika Mangroves ecosystem. Sightings have been extremely sporadic, suggesting low numbers. Nalabana Islands, a notified wildlife sanctuary under the provisions of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, is one of the extremely few sites where this is seen more frequently. Prior to 1999 and also during years, prior to 2013, i.e. the two important date-lines when inclemental weather conditions most possibly adversely affected the Pallas’s Fish Eagle. Extremely severe cyclonic storm Phailin was the most intense tropical cyclone to make landfall in India since the 1999 Odisha cyclone. Prior to the 1999 cyclone, members from Wild Orissa had surveyed the northern part of the Chilka Lake ecosystem and had come across 10 nests in different villages. Subsequently prior to 2013 during sporadic surveys the number of nests of this species observed was in single digits. During 2014 to 2017 members from Wild Orissa, have been making efforts to understand the status of this species, but findings have revealed there could be drastic fall in numbers, since there were absolutely no reports from most of the earlier documented areas. The coastal areas of Odisha lost a extremely large number of mature trees due to the 2 (major) cyclonic storms and it has been gathered from local field observations as having been a major adversarial factor. Reports from Bhitarkanika have been comparatively more sporadic. There is a need to uplist Pallas’s Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) to ‘Vulnerable’.

  2. Praveen J says:

    Based on publicly available records in eBird and Oriental Bird Images, the states of Uttarakhand and Assam seems to be the strong hold for this species in India – while records have come from other parts of the peninsular India except the south.

    Records from 2010-2017 from eBird

    Oriental Bird Images from India

    There is an observer bias as the numbers could indicate places where birders visit (E.g. Assam records are mostly from three IBAs; Uttarakhand records concentrated around three IBAs) – but being such a prominent and diagnostic species, any large concentrations outside these areas would have got noticed quickly. Hence, an estimate of birds focused around the below IBAs would give a fairly decent assessment of the current status.

    1/ Kaziranga, Assam
    2/ Manas, Assam
    3/ Nameri, Assam
    4/ Chilika, Odisha (See previous comment from Wild Orissa)
    5/ Bharatpur, Rajasthan
    6/ Corbett, Uttarakhand
    7/ Rajaji, Uttarakhand
    8/ Asan Barrage, Uttarakhand

  3. Stephane Ostrowski says:

    The recent records from Afghanistan include in June 2008, Rob Timmins (WCS-contracted) observation of an individual in Little Pamir, Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. I can’t recall if it was a juvenile but I remember that I thought that it could very well be a dispersing individual from India or at least south-Asian breeding grounds. Then two adult specimens recorded by Naqib Mostafawi (WCS Afghanistan) in Darqad, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, in November 2008. They could have been migrating/wintering adults from some breeding area in Central Asia or more likely wandering specimens from South Asia?
    To my knowledge, there are no recent records of breeding of this species in Afghanistan. Needless to mention that most wetlands are very irregularly (or never) surveyed by ornithologists because of difficulty of access and insecurity.

  4. Here in United Arab Emirates, we do not have wintering/feeding grounds for the Pallas’s Fish Eagle. It has never been sighted in the UAE side of the Arabian Gulf.

  5. Igor Fefelov says:

    For Russian Federation, I don’t have information on change in the status of this species as well as on some changes in the frequency of its appearing. It is being a rare vagrant in the territory of the southern RF yet. As for adjacent areas i.e. Mongolia and Kazakhstan, it appears more frequently there, but please consult with experts from those countries for more details.

    • Igor Fefelov says:

      PS: writing “appears more frequently” I mean ‘more frequently than in Russia’, not ‘more frequently than before’.

  6. Pallas’s fish eagle should be upgraded to Endangered category. Its numbers are declining. The sighting outside the protected areas has become extremely rare (not so till the early years of 21st century). I spotted the bird in more than 40 localities in Assam during pre-2000 (mentioned in my book THE BIRDS OF ASSAM). In post-2010, it was less than 25 although I visited all those sites (I might have missed during my visits but the rend is conspicuous). Recently I sighted a breeding pair in Arunachal Pradesh and two breeding sites in Manas NP of Assam. A breeding and regular sight in Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary till about late 1990s, now it is occasional with no breeding birds. In Kaziranga, its stronghold, also decline is visible. There were regular sightings in larger wetlands of Darrang, Nagaon, Barpeta and Nalbari districts besides other areas, all outside the protected areas, which are now occasional.

  7. Bilal Kabeer says:

    Sir Bani Yas Isand is the largest island in the UAE located 180km southwest of Abu Dhabi(250km from Abu Dhabi by road. With more than 110 different types of wild birds, Sir Bani Yas Island is a paradise for bird lovers. Many birds use the island as a stop-over during migration but some have settled and made Sir Bani Yas Island their permanent home. The largest birds can often be observed around the mangrove areas, we do not find occurrence of Pallas’s Fish Eagle. It has never been sighted on Sir Bani Yas Island.

  8. This breeding visitor was once common in Bangladesh in the freshwater wetlands and along major rivers with regular nesting records. However, to date the species has become a rarity and nesting in only a few sites (e.g. Hakaluki Haor, Tanguar Haor, northern Sundarbans and villages of Netrokona, Sunamgonj and Moulovi Bazar districts). The national status of the Pallas’s Fish Eagle is now Endangered (IUCN Bangladesh 2015).

    One study in 2001–2 found 15 nests in 13 villages in Sunamgonj district. Villagers reported a substantial decline in the numbers of nesting Pallas’s Fish Eagles over the preceding 20 years – in the early 1980s, 61 villages had at least one nesting pair, and even 3–5 years earlier there were 35 nests spread over 39 villages, whilst even in 1999, there were 22 nests amongst 19 villages (Sourav et al. 2011).

    Given the apparent reduction in the number of nesting trees, areas of swamp forest and seasonal wetland habitats, the Pallas’s Fish Eagle has undergone a steady but substantial decline over the last decade in Bangladesh. Moreover, almost nothing is known about its reproductive success, migration route and rate of decline in important country like Bangladesh. Therefore, I believe the Pallas’s Fish Eagle should be uplisted to “Endangered” in order to ensure its long-term conservation in coming years.

  9. Sherab Jamtsho says:

    The occurrence of Pallas’s Fish Eagle is also believed to be in decline stage in Bhutan. In the past there are reports of regular sightings of PFE in several districts of Bhutan. However during my recent field survey only few were sighted in former stronghold areas. In some places the observation was nil. Even local people were aware of its decline population trend comparing to past. Base on those facts i feel it’s timely for IUCN to upgrade its status to Endangered category.

    Sherab Jamtsho

  10. Carol Inskipp and Dr Hem Sagar Baral says:

    In the Nepal national Bird Red Data Book (Inskipp et al. 2016), Pallas’s Fish Eagle was assessed as Critically Endangered based on the criteria A2ace?, C2a(i) and D1. It is a very rare visitor mainly up to 305 m. The species is now chiefly found at Koshi Barrage/KoshiTappu Wildlife Reserve in the far east, although it is seen there less regularly than in the past. The species’ population has also declined and the total was estimated between 5 and 10 birds, although numbers must always have been small. In Nepal Pallas’s Fish Eagle is seriously threatened by habitat loss, shortage fish (caused by illegal fishing in protected areas and overfishing outside the protected areas’ system) and possibly also by pollution including pesticides, especially as they are used widely and often intensively in the lowlands where it mainly occurs. More details of the species’ occurrence in Nepal can be found in Volume 1 national Bird Red Data Book which is available for free download at:
    Inskipp C., Baral H. S., Phuyal S., Bhatt T. R., Khatiwada M., Inskipp, T, Khatiwada A., Gurung S., Singh P. B., Murray L., Poudyal L. and Amin R. (2016) The status of Nepal’s Birds: The national red list series. Zoological Society of London, UK.

    We agree that a coordinated survey for the species is needed in its historic ranges in winter including Nepal where old accounts have mentioned its resident status and possible breeding at least in two localities of the lowland Nepal.

  11. Martin Gilbert says:

    I agree with the assessment that Pallas’s fish eagle warrants re-listing as Endangered (it likely satisfies conditions under a number of justifications, but most certainly under EN A2+C2a(ii)+C2b). Based on my experiences in Mongolia, and discussions with other observers in Central and South Asia, I fear that it may not be long before we are assessing proposals for re-listing as Critically Endangered.

    In Mongolia the species is a highly local summer visitor (from May through September), rarely seen encountered outside several sites in the Great Lakes region of western Mongolia (particularly Airag Nuur, Khar Us Nuur, Khar Nuur, Achit Nuur), and two sites in Central/Southern Mongolia (Ugii Nuur and Boontsagaan Nuur). Most of these sites support only small numbers of birds (single figures), although larger congregations have been observed at Airag Nuur (where up to 15 were observed in 1995, although more recently numbers have been lower such as the 6 that we observed there in 2009, and often fewer than this). The species is very rarely encountered outside these sites, and my own observations have all been close to these locations (although I am aware of one satellite tagged bird spending time in Eastern Mongolia, where I have spent extended periods without any observations, so the species may be overlooked to some degree).

    Despite previous assertions, there is little (or no?) evidence of breeding in Mongolia either now, or in recent historic times (we were unable to verify the report of an egg being collected in Khar Us Nuur in June 1999 – see Gilbert et al 2014 cited above). Based on our observations and an assessment of the Mongolian and Russian literature, Mongolia does not support a breeding population, and may never have done so.

    Many observations from early in the summer (May and June) refer to juvenile birds in fresh first year plumage. Clearly they are too advanced to have hatched in Mongolia (given the level of ice coverage that extends into early May), therefore it is likely that they are dispersing from southerly breeding areas (presumably south of the Himalayas).

    Beyond Mongolia, I have been unable to find much contemporary data from neighbouring countries. In China the species seems to have a similar status, with observers in Tibet reporting it as highly localized (i.e. a single traditional site). In Tajikistan a juvenile was photographed in a market in Dushanbe in June 2017, and inquiries locally indicate that the species is only known from a single location (Zorkhul Nature Reserve).

  12. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classification outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 4 August, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  13. Paul Thompson says:

    In addition to comments already made by Sayam regarding Bangladesh winter-nesting trends that support uplisting to Endangered. There appears to be some decline in numbers of wintering non-breeding immatures in recent years (last 5 years) which appear not to be associated with habitat changes and may reflect a) possible but as yet undocumented persecution by expanding fish farms in wintering areas, or b) consequences of lower breeding populations/success, or c) issues outside Bangladesh – additional problems for survival on migration or in summering areas.

  14. Tulsi Subedi says:

    I agreed with the proposal of current status change.

    Pallas’s fish eagle is extremely rare winter visitor to Nepal. However, there is regular but rare record at Thoolakharka raptor migration watch site. Juvenile (mainly) pass from the south of Himalayan Mountains during each autumn (mainly in October and November) and also in early summer (in May). Maximum bird recorded was two during autumn migration. Although there is no spring monitoring of raptors, opportunistically I observed two individuals migrating north in May 2016 and one bird in 2017 within short period (1 week). Therefore the spring number can be presumed little higher than that of autumn migration.

  15. Marla Steele says:

    I concur with the re-listing to Endangered and Martin’s assessment that at least EN A2+C2a(ii)+C2b is applicable. This past May 2017, I completed my dissertation, entitled “Where in the World are Pallas’s Fish Eagles? Migration and Ecology of Haliaeetus leucoryphus in Asia.” In cooperation with the National University of Mongolia, Mongolian Ornithological Society, and the Bombay Natural History Society, I conducted country-wide surveys for Pallas’s Fish Eagles, compiled a century of observation records throughout Asia to develop hierarchical models that estimate detection and occupancy probabilities on a state/province and country-wide scale, and tracked one juvenile and two fledglings Pallas’s Fish Eagles from Mongolia and India, respectively. Long term declines are well known from the west of the species range, and they are now virtually extirpated from former sites in west Asia. Analysis of recent records in the Indian subcontinent are also indicative of a substantial decline throughout the historic range.

    I surveyed Pallas’s Fish Eagles in Mongolia from June – August 2012 – 2015 and in India from December – February 2013 – 2014. Despite active nest searches, my team and I found absolutely no evidence of breeding behavior in Mongolia, while several active nest were located within India’s Jim Corbett National Park and Kaziranga National Park. Based on surveys and available data from across the species extant distribution, the population is likely to fall well below 2,500 mature individuals.

    Further, recent the recent telemetry studies involving fledglings hatched in northeast India, and a juvenile bird trapped in Central Mongolia confirmed connectivity between the Mongolian and Indian population, and strongly supports the hypothesis that northern populations represent breeders from the Indian subcontinent, dispersing northward during the post-breeding period. We also have evidence of at least one juvenile Pallas’s Fish Eagle that has returned to a territory in Myanmar for the past three winters.

    • Christoph Zöckler says:

      Dear Marla,

      This is very interesting! I am working currently on the biodiversity assessment of the Ayeyarwaddy Basin in Myanmar and your data on Pallas’s Fish-eagles migrating to Myanmar would be very interesting and I wonder if you could send me more details of wintering locations in Myanmar or the flight path if possible.
      My email is cz(at)
      We have very few records in Myanmar but I managed to see an immat. bird on the Ayeyawaddy River near Myitkyina in February this year. It could well be from Mongolia as well. There are several sat tracked Black Kites from Mongolia last year that also ended up in Myanmar!
      Any information on the location much appreciated.
      Thank you

Comments are closed.