Nature

eagles – on lazy migrants and sly natives…

Eagles of India, Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan

Eagles, one of the half a dozen raptor forms that punctuate the skies with their circular vigils… an unflinching stare, lightening reflexes and uptight demeanour culturally befitting of a messenger from the higher powers… neither a motion wasted, nor any emotion extolled… the loneliness of embellishing emblems…

Eagles of India, Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Steppe eagle

The narratives of steppe and tawny eagles are intriguing in the sense that the similarities are ironic and differences hardly discernible… not the largest, but still quite hefty birds of prey, although they manage to hold up their own in the company of (larger) vultures… spending a couple of mornings stalking these booted eagles in Chhapar, we marvelled at their panache while brooding on their plight…

Eagles of India, Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Tawny eagle

Both these eagles were considered related (conspecific) but then it turned out that appearances can be excruciatingly deceptive in faunal realms too… and thus the slate was wiped clean, splicing molecules and the likes… now one has to look for the slightly longer gape in steppe eagles to distinguish them from tawny eagles, a difference of millimetres…

Eagles of India, Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Steppe eagle

But there are other distinctions which makes it easier… unlike the rest of their brethren, steppe eagles mostly hunt on the ground, specializing in catching rodents, insects and smaller mammals… they even nest on the ground… for us they are winter visitors, breeding in Eastern Europe and Central Asia before migrating to South Asia and Africa… ‘tis the national bird of Egypt, why not the Egyptian vulture, one muses, buy maybe connoisseurs of rotten flesh don’t make particularly good symbols  of national pride…

Eagles of India, Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Steppe eagle

Tawny eagles are, contrastingly, residents, of dry, arid scapes punctuated by trees, their habitat occurring in broken patches but extending extensively over Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent… conforming to the stereotype, they perch and nest high on the trees, probably one way to tell them apart easily from steppe eagle in the field…

Eagles of India, Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Tawny eagle

Both birds are quite accommodating, not sticklers for meat off their own toil but okay with carrion (albeit fresh) too… their kleptoparasitism is rather unbecoming for creatures that are commonly a symbol of uprightness, snatching food from other birds not fitting for those accorded characteristics of nobility… their predatory demeanour must be rather embarrassing for those other magnificent raptors, spotting prey from miles away, flying at breakneck speeds and giving fighter pilots a bouquet of mid-air acrobatics…

Eagles of India, Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Steppe eagle

Ironically, both species are threatened (steppe eagles are ‘endangered’ and tawny eagles ‘threatened’ in the IUCN Red List)… one for venturing too far and wide and the other for refusing to leave its homeland yet the underlying reasons being the same – reducing prey base, shrinking habitats, poisoning and poaching… the ever so philanthropic Anthropocene

Steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India
Steppe eagle & blackbuck

Steppe eagles were dime a dozen inside the sanctuary, the wide open grasslands full of skittling prey and the occasional canine carcass, while the tawny eagle preferred the barren tree stumps along the highway, an air of melancholy and pensiveness lilting around both… birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes, but these days, they seem to fall together too…

Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax), Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India
Tawny eagle

Musing on eagles, Chhapar, Rajasthan

Author: Parth Joshi

Mountain lover ⛰️ | Hiker 🥾| Runner 🏃‍♂️ | Cyclist 🚴 | Photographer 📷... allured by the outdoors, the author is a quintessential lost soul craving for the outdoors while suffering in a desk job...

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