A White-tailed Eagle, an extremely rare fish-eating raptorial bird, has faced a tragic death at Muhuri Dam, Feni. This piteous event makes only the second sighting record of the species in Bangladesh; the first one dated back to 1996.
The eagle was spotted by bird-watchers on 15 December. A photo of the soaring bird was posted on Birds Bangladesh – the largest Facebook platform for country's bird-watchers, ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. The photo shared by Shafaet Alam Abir, a young bird enthusiast, moved nature-lovers deeply.
On the very next day, troops of bird-watchers rushed to Muhuri Dam to have a glimpse of this rarity, only to find the bird in its last moment.
"We found the bird perching on a tree. Several black kites were harassing the bird, but it was unresponsive. It was on the tree for more than an hour. Its wings were droopy, which is a very unusual sign for an eagle," said Sultan Ahmed, a bird watcher studying zoology at Dhaka University.
"Making our worries true, the bird made some rapid flaps and fell from the tree. We rescued the bird and brought it to our boat. It was very weak and didn't show any sign of resistance," he added.
Later, the bird-watchers and photographers contacted the Bangladesh Forest Department. Upon direction from Mihir Kumar Doe, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle, they handed over the bird to forest department personnel in Feni. The bird was immediately carried to the nearby veterinary hospital. However, after a while, the bird died on its way to the clinic, making all the efforts vain. Its stomach was unusually swollen. As a convulsive response, the bird tried to throw up before death. However, the bird had no external injury, reported the rescuers.
Enam Ul Haque, an avid bird-watcher, conservator and founder of Bangladesh Bird Club, and ABM Sarowar Alam, an ornithologist and Senior Program Officer of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Bangladesh suspected poisoning for the sad demise of the bird.
"The bird might have ingested a poisoned prey," Enam Ul Haque said.
White-tailed Eagle is the largest of all fish-eating Haliaeetus eagles of Bangladesh. Like all other fish eagles, the species is associated with water bodies, in particular, coastal waterbodies. It is known to wander off to a great extent before reaching complete adulthood.
"It is likely a second-year specimen," said Enam Ul Haque on the age of the Feni eagle.
According to a research paper published in journal Forktail, the 1996 sighting observed by Paul Thompson came from the riverine grassland mosaics of Gaibandha, northwest Bangladesh. In general, White-tailed eagle is a bird of Eurasia with its main population concentrated in Northern Hemisphere. It is equally rare in India.
White-tailed eagle is categorised as a least-concern species by the IUCN. It is a data-deficient species in Bangladesh. The other three relatives of this species are Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Pallas's Fish Eagle and White-bellied Sea Eagle; all are highly threatened in Bangladesh.