I woke up with a terrifyingly beautiful sound that was bone-chilling for chicks and ducks and rung through the whole area. I went out and it was already daybreak.
After strolling quite far, I saw the bird of prey and it was pretty large indeed, perched on the branch of a rajshirish tree (lebbeck tree) beside a pond. The bird kept calling out enticingly in a loud voice, facing the sky.
Sensing my presence, the bird stopped and started scrutinising me with skeptical eyes. By then its calls had already gone a long way around, warning the hens and cocks grazing in farmers’ yards. Even the ducks abandoned their ponds along with their ducklings.
That’s how the drill is, because, whenever these birds get the chance, they snatch up chicks and ducklings, diving with the swiftness of a fighter jet. A prey trapped in their talons is left with no way of escape.
This vicious bird can nail down rats, geckos, skinks, chameleons, turtles as well as non-venomous snakes with precise skills. However, their staple food is fish.
The reason behind the bird’s shrill call at this wee hour is that, it was the beginning of their mating season. Usually, they start nesting from autumn and continue up to spring.
They make larger nests using dry and slender twigs on top of vast trees and lay a pair of eggs there. It takes 25 to 28 days for their eggs to hatch. After the nestlings are born, the responsibilities of the bird couple increase.
Those glutton-like newborns will cry incessantly throughout the day for food. And the parent birds will hunt local fish like rui, katla, mrigal, carp and kalibaush from village ponds, lakes or fish enclosures and bring them to their nests.
Pinning down the fish firmly under their claws, they tear the whole fish into bits, pecking at it with their strong and sharp beaks. Then they feed those bits to their young ones with utmost care.
Nervous at seeing me, the bird flew out of sight that day. This incident occurred on 17 September last year, while I was visiting my village. I visited my village again on 25 February this year. I stayed there for 23 days and returned to Dhaka on 19 March.
The bird I had the chance to behold last September had nested with its partner on a high rajshirish tree. Once the couple had their offspring in that nest, they started hunting fish riskily from the neighbourhood. In consequence, the pair had to die pathetically in the hands of local people.
For there are no natural or open reservoirs left anywhere in our Fakirhat-Bagerhat area or in the greater Khulna district now from where those birds of prey can hunt fish freely without any fear to feed themselves and their nestlings.
Currently, there are thousands of fish enclosures containing different types of fish across the Khulna division. Fish firming is going on in full swing in the ponds and lakes.
This bird hunts five to seven fish weighing 100 to 700 grams a day. Once the eggs in their nests hatch, the prey goes up in bounds. The nestlings start hunting only after they learn to fly. So, the fish farmers are not willing to accept that loss. In fact, the loss is not so trivial in terms of money either.
The picture is more or less the same, almost all over the Bangladesh. What are these birds supposed to eat! However, there were a lot of natural reservoirs or lake even just 50 or 60 years ago.
And, there were abundance of fish in those water bodies. But, now it seems like there is an unofficial curfew imposed against these birds of prey across the whole country!
I travelled many villages of Khulna and Bagerhat during my 23-day visit. I even explored the forests there. Two or three members of Bangladesh Wildlife Club were with me as well. We saw 37 of those predator birds then. But, we didn’t notice any young ones among those 37.
The reason is that people destroy their nests, eggs and nestlings when they hunt fish from fisheries for survival. Still, I got to hear their ‘shrill call’ that petrifies the chicks and ducks.
This majestic bird of prey suffering from food and breeding crises is the grey headed fish eagle. In Bengali it is known as ‘Mecho Eagle’, ‘Machmural’ or ‘Ukhs’.
Locally in Bagerhat region it is recognised with names like ‘Machal’, ‘Boro Baaj’ and ‘Bashkurol’. The scientific name of this bird is ichthyophaga ichthyactus.
The bird has a length of 74 centimetres with a weight of 1.6 to 2.7 kilograms. It seems like their sturdy legs are adorned with superb ash-grey woolen socks. It is delightfully beautiful.
When they are air-borne, if someone looks at them from down below, they’ll find the beauty of their fully-spread white tail and feathers fascinating.
The neck, head and chin of the bird is grey. The back is brown and chest olive-brown with a whitish undercarriage. Their beaks are blackish while, their hook-like strong and curved talons are jet black.