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Meet The National Bird of Indonesia, The Javan Hawk-Eagle

Nestled in the vast archipelago of Southeast Asia, Indonesia is home to a myriad of flora and fauna that are as diverse as its thousands of islands. However, amongst its vibrant biodiversity, one bird soars high as the embodiment of the nation’s natural beauty—the Javan Hawk-Eagle.

Known locally as Elang Jawa, this majestic raptor not only dominates the Javanese skies but also holds significant cultural relevance to the Indonesian people.

But did you know that this bird, while being celebrated as a national symbol, is also teetering on the brink of extinction? Join us as we embark on a journey through Java’s lush forests to explore the world of the Javan Hawk-Eagle.

Quick Info About The Javan Hawk-Eagle

Scientific Name:Nisaetus bartelsi (formerly Spizaetus bartelsi)
Average Size:Around 60 cm (24 in)
Average Wingspan:110-130 cm (43-51 in)
Average Lifespan:Not available (Typical raptors live 10 – 20 years)
Geographical Range:Island of Java, Indonesia
Habitat:Humid tropical forests
Conservation Status:Endangered (IUCN Red List)

Meet The Javan Hawk-Eagle, National Bird of Indonesia

Perched high amidst the canopies of Java’s tropical forests, the Javan Hawk-Eagle exudes an aura of royalty and grace. With its intricately patterned plumage, a crown of rufous that complements its chestnut head and nape, and the long, strikingly black crest extending vertically, tipped with pristine white—this bird is undeniably a natural spectacle.

Though sexual dimorphism isn’t significantly prominent in these eagles, both sexes share the beautifully patterned dark brown back, blending into the lighter brown tail adorned with broad cream stripes. Contrasting this is their whitish breast and underparts, which are accentuated by heavy chestnut barring.

In the ecosystem, the Javan Hawk-Eagle stands as an apex predator. Relying mainly on a diet of birds, lizards, fruit bats, and smaller mammals, they play a vital role in controlling the population of these creatures, and maintaining ecological balance. Their distinct predatory prowess ensures they have minimal natural threats, but human activities remain a looming danger.

Indonesia Javan Hawk-EagleSource: Wikimedia Commons

Where Does The Javan Hawk-Eagle Live?

Java, one of Indonesia’s most populated islands, is home to the Javan Hawk-Eagle. It finds solace in the island’s humid tropical forests, a haven where it can freely soar and hunt. The climate here is typically tropical, with a more pronounced wet and dry season.

Within Java, the Javan Hawk-Eagle’s territories are predominantly concentrated in national parks such as Bromo Tengger Semeru, Meru Betiri, and Alas Purwo. The bird also extends its presence to smaller areas like Sempu Island. Even within zoos like Kebun Binatang Bandung, these majestic creatures can be observed, albeit in captivity.

Why and When Did The Javan Hawk-Eagle Become The National Bird of Indonesia?

In 1993, the Javan Hawk-Eagle was declared Indonesia’s national bird—a symbol of the nation’s dedication to conserving its rare species. The choice wasn’t made lightly; the bird embodies several qualities revered in Indonesian culture. Its regal appearance and soaring flight symbolize freedom, majesty, and power.

Moreover, the Javan Hawk-Eagle is often referred to as “Garuda” in Indonesia, a name resonating deeply with the country’s spiritual and cultural beliefs.

In Hindu and Buddhist mythologies, the Garuda is a bird-like deity, a mount of Lord Vishnu, representing birth and heaven, and an enemy of serpents, symbolizing the cycle of life and death. Indonesia, with its diverse religious background, finds the Garuda as a connecting symbol bridging various beliefs.

However, the elevation of the Javan Hawk-Eagle as a national symbol was not without controversy. Conservationists feared that this special recognition would bolster the bird’s demand in the illegal pet trade, inadvertently putting it at greater risk. Sadly, these fears materialized, with more eagles being captured, further endangering an already dwindling population.

Where is The Javan Hawk-Eagle Featured in Indonesia?

While the Javan Hawk-Eagle itself is not directly represented on Indonesia’s flag or banknotes, its symbolic counterpart, the Garuda, is deeply embedded in the country’s national identity.

The Garuda Pancasila is Indonesia’s national emblem, a representation of the mythical bird Garuda with a heraldic shield on its chest and a scroll gripped by its legs. This emblem is featured prominently on official state documents, government buildings, and even the country’s passport.

Though the bird’s name hasn’t been used directly for currency or other entities, its essence as Garuda permeates various facets of Indonesian culture, from airlines (Garuda Indonesia) to statues and monuments throughout the country.

Names of The Javan Hawk-Eagle

Known for its regal presence and distinct appearance, the Javan Hawk-Eagle goes by various names. Most commonly, it’s referred to as Elang Jawa in the local language.

Scientifically, it’s recognized as Nisaetus bartelsi, although it was formerly classified under the Spizaetus genus. This change reflects the nuances of avian taxonomy, where plumage variability played a role in its classification.

Internationally, the bird is often referred to by its English name, “Javan Hawk-Eagle.” Yet, its spiritual significance in Indonesia sees it colloquially called “Garuda,” echoing the bird-like deity from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies.

Is The Javan Hawk-Eagle Endangered?

Tragically, the Javan Hawk-Eagle faces the threat of extinction, with its status officially listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Primary threats include ongoing habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture and infrastructure development. Another grim danger is the illegal pet trade. The bird’s national symbol status ironically increased its demand in this illicit market.

As of 2012, only around 325 pairs of Javan Hawk-Eagles were estimated to live in the wild. Conservationists warn that without significant intervention, the bird might go extinct by 2025. There are efforts underway to protect this species.

National parks on Java island, such as Bromo Tengger Semeru and Meru Betiri, have become crucial sanctuaries. Captive breeding programs, awareness campaigns, and stronger law enforcement against illegal trade are among the strategies being employed to save this iconic bird.

Indonesia Javan Hawk-Eagle

Interesting Facts About The Javan Hawk-Eagle

  1. Majestic Crest: One of the most striking features of the Javan Hawk-Eagle is its long, vertical black crest, which stands almost erect and is tipped with white. This unique crest gives it a regal and distinctive appearance.
  2. Dietary Preferences: This raptor has a diverse palate, feeding on birds, lizards, fruit bats, and mammals. Their keen eyesight and agile flight make them formidable hunters.
  3. Monogamous Nature: Javan Hawk-Eagles are believed to be monogamous, forming lasting pair bonds. The female typically lays a single egg in a nest high atop a forest tree.
  4. Cultural Resonance: As a symbolic representation of Garuda, the Javan Hawk-Eagle carries immense cultural and spiritual weight in Indonesia, resonating with tales of ancient mythologies.
  5. Rare Raptors: Among the world’s raptors, the Javan Hawk-Eagle stands out not just for its appearance but also its rarity. Its declining numbers and restricted habitat make every sighting a special one.
  6. Evolving Taxonomy: The bird’s classification has seen shifts, moving from Spizaetus to Nisaetus, highlighting the intricate nature of avian taxonomy.

Other Beautiful Birds Native To Indonesia

Indonesia, with its extensive archipelago, houses a plethora of bird species, each unique in its own right. Here are five other native birds that captivate the heart of bird enthusiasts:

  1. Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi): An iconic white bird with striking blue streaks around its eyes, this bird is native to Bali and is also critically endangered.
  2. Helmeted Friarbird (Philemon buceroides): Recognizable due to its unique “helmet,” this bird is found across the islands of Indonesia.
  3. Wallace’s Standardwing (Semioptera wallacii): Named after the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, this bird is known for its magnificent display of its “standards” or wing feathers during mating dances.
  4. Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo): Exclusive to Sulawesi, this bird is known for its peculiar reproductive process where it buries its eggs in volcanic sand.
  5. Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros): With a striking large casque (a kind of horn) on its beak, this bird, native to Sumatra and Borneo, is also a symbol of deep cultural significance in many indigenous cultures of Indonesia.

Garuda, The National Emblem of Indonesia

Garuda is not just a name associated with the Javan Hawk-Eagle but is a revered mythical bird that holds significant importance in Indonesian culture. Derived from ancient Hindu and Buddhist mythologies, Garuda is often depicted as a bird-god, usually the mount (vahana) of Lord Vishnu.

In Indonesia, Garuda symbolizes strength and might. Its image, a golden eagle, has been adopted as the national emblem (Garuda Pancasila) and reflects Indonesia’s foundational philosophy. Every feather, claw, and component of the emblem represents aspects of the country’s belief system, aspirations, and its diverse island groups.

The choice of Garuda for the country’s emblem stems from ancient tales of this bird’s valor, might, and its role as a protector – characteristics that Indonesia sees as its own guiding principles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why was the Javan Hawk-Eagle chosen as the national bird of Indonesia?

The Javan Hawk-Eagle was selected for its rarity, majesty, and its strong cultural ties to the mythological bird Garuda, which holds immense significance in Indonesian culture.

How many Javan Hawk-Eagles are left in the wild?

As of 2012, there were approximately 325 pairs left in the wild. Conservation efforts are ongoing to protect this endangered species.

Is it legal to keep the Javan Hawk-Eagle as a pet in Indonesia?

No, it is illegal to keep the Javan Hawk-Eagle as a pet. This bird is protected by law, and capturing or trading it can lead to severe penalties.

Does the Garuda on Indonesia’s emblem represent the Javan Hawk-Eagle?

While the Javan Hawk-Eagle is colloquially called Garuda in Indonesia, the Garuda on the national emblem is a representation of the mythical bird from Hindu and Buddhist tales, symbolizing strength and might.

Are there conservation efforts in place to protect the Javan Hawk-Eagle?

Yes, several national parks on Java island serve as sanctuaries. There are also initiatives for captive breeding, awareness campaigns, and stronger law enforcement against illegal trade.

Other National Symbols of Indonesia

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