Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
For a birder, raptors or birds of prey are one of the most difficult birds to identify. Among those magnificent and powerful carnivores, the Crested Serpent Eagle stands out. You are sure not to mistake it for any other bird once you’ve seen it. As its name suggests, it has got a small crest on the head. But, this crest is not always visible. The bird has got a loud piercing voice which is quite obvious. And, it usually make the call while it is airborne.
The call of the Crested Serpent Eagle reverberates almost all the forests in Kerala. Infact, this is the dominant raptor here. These birds have a special affinity towards snakes. Besides snakes, they can satisfy their belly with small lizards, birds etc..
Trekking through the forests of Kerala will definitely cross your paths with this predator. But, photographing this bird is a difficult task if you are on foot. They can detect minute disturbances in the forest ground and will take off immediately on detecting your presence. Still I remember the day I missed a good chance to capture the beauty of this bird in my camera. Myself along with the friends were wandering through some tea estates near Valpprai (Kerala – Tamilnadu border) and I spotted a large bird about 300m from us. And, it was not difficult to identify it as the Crested Serpent Eagle. Equipped with my camera, I wriggled through the 1m high tea plants. Decided to stoop as much as possible to avoid detection by the bird. Covered around half of the distance and I peeped through the bushes to see the bird. The bird was still there. Without making any noice, popped the lense above the tea plants and got ready for the shot. While doing so, my leg accidently hit on a small twig which made a feeble crackling sound. And, it was enough to make the hunter alert and with a swift movement took to wings leaving me disappointed. At the same time, I could watch the beautiful patterns on its outstretched wings.
The Crested Serpant Eagle in Flight
Thereafter, I got some excellent chances to photograph the bird while on the vehicle. And the best one was at Bandipur when a bird did not bother to move at all for about 10 minutes. A trip to the forest is not complete without the sighting of this majestic bird.
By: Biju P.B. Read more about the birds of Kerala on Biju’s blog