No. 60. Strix Indica. BLYTH.*
THE INDIAN SCREECH OWL.
The Indian representative of the European Barn Owl lays (apparently,) in "Upper India, from the middle of February, to the middle of June ; Mr. R. M. Adam obtained the eggs on the 10th June, near Agra; Mr. Brookes obtained them near Etawah on the 17th of February; and I have obtained them on three occasions in March, in Allygurh, near Jeypoor, and near Lucknow.
As far as I yet know, they breed either in holes of old buildings or in wells, the latter being the favourite locality, but at Ajmere, some native fowlers snowed me a pair in a small and easily accessible cave, in which they asserted that these birds had bred for years.
In some instances, the eggs appear to be laid on the bare ground with but a few grass stems or feathers about them, in others there is a small stick nest, much like that of a Pigeon's.
According to my experience they lay three eggs, but according to native trappers, sometimes as many as six, and usually four.
The eggs, like those of all owls, are unspotted white, but most of the specimens that I have seen had, like many of our larger owls, eggs, a very faint creamy tinge. In shape, the eggs appear to be more oval and less round than those of the European Strix Flammea to which they closely approximate. Of all our Indian Owls too, so far as my experience goes, this species lays the least spherical egg. The texture is compact and fine, but there is less gloss than in most species of this family.
The eggs vary from 1.68 to 1.79 in Length, and from 1.2 to 1.35 in breadth, but the average of nine eggs measured was 1.74 by 1.27.
In regard to this and nearly allied species, I reproduce the following remarks by Mr. Blyth, which appeared in the Ibis for 1866.
" Strix Indica, nobis, n. sp.
Syn. S. Javanica, Jerdon, B. Ind. 1. p. 117 ; S. Flammea, Gould, P. Z. S. 1859, p. 151 (ex. Siam) ?. Prof. Schlegel (Mus. P. B. Striges, p. 4) unites S. Javanica with S. Flammea, and remarks of " individus des Indes orientales" that " II parait que leur taille est tant soit peu moins forte que dans ceux de l'Europe, et que le bas de leur tarses est un peu moins emplume." The late Hugh Strickland identified Horsfield's type Javan specimen with S. Candida; and the species which is figured by Gray and Mitchell (Gen. Birds, pl, 15) is considerably more akin to S. Candida than it is to S. Flammea, and again still less so to & Indica (which I now distinguish) of the Indian and Indo-Chinese subregions. The latter, as Dr. Jerdon remarks, as compared with S. Flammea, " differs by being larger, with more robust feet and toes, and in being more spotted beneath." The last character, however, is by no means of constant occurrence. At a time when I erroneously supposed the Indian Screech Owl to be identical with the European, I at once discriminated a specimen of the latter, (from an unknown locality, Egypt, as I afterwards learned), and placed it as a separate species, (No. 172, of ray Catalogue of the Birds in the Asiatic Society's Museum, Calcutta, 1849). Subsequently, I named it & Pusilla, (J. A. S. B. XVIII. p. 801) and was not a little surprised, when it proved to be the real S. Flammea. The distinction I have ever since found to be constant; and the difference of the two races is so very conspicuously apparent, upon comparison of specimens, that I cannot understand Prof. Schlegel identifying a Nepalese example, (presented by Mr. Hodgson) with his Javan race They belong even to different sections of Striginae, with much difference of habit. S. Indica ranking with S. Flammea in Strix proper, and S. Javanica in Scelostrix of Kaup, together with S. Candida, and S. Capensis, Prof. Kaup considers the Australian S. Delicatula, Gould (B. Austr. i. pl. 31,) to be identical with S. Javanica (vera) ; remarking.
" I cannot find any difference between the examples of this species from Australia, and those from Java (?), and I feel quite sure that S. Delicatula and S. Javanica belong to one and the same species" (Trans. Zool. Soc. IV. p. 247.) Mr. Cassin, in his ' Catalogue of Strigidae,' keeps S. Delicatula apart from S. Javanica (Proc. Acad. Nat. Sc. Phil. 1849); but then all his specimens were Indian, and of course S. Indica: yet he cites the beautiful and correct. figure of S. Javanica, published by Messrs. Gray and Mitchell, as representing his supposed 8. Javanica. Finally, Mr. Gould, in his Handbook to the birds of Australia, retains S. Delicatula, but refers to S. Javanica " of India" (i. e. S. Indica) and not to the true S. Javanica of the Malayan sub-region. Numerous specimens of & Delicatula in the British Museum, seem to make a very, close approach to S. Indica and not to S. Javanica, which latter is a small Scelostrix* (as distinguished from Strix) with white bill and claws, like the Indian Neophron. S. Affinis, nobis (Ibis 1862, P. 388,) from South Africa, proves to the S. Poensis, Fraser. Mr. Wallace has a fine true Strix from Macassar,f which is still more robust than S. Indica, and closely approximates S. Personata of Australia (Gould's B. Austr. i. p. 29)."
I have a few remarks to make on this interesting note. In the first place, although the amount of spotting on the lower surface of our Indian bird, varies much, yet out of the fifty odd specimens that I have seen, I have never seen one with the perfectly spotless, almost indescribably pure white, which so often characterizes the whole under surface of the adult European bird. In Indica there are always I believe, some few spots and some faint trace of fulvous tinging.
Fortunately, all 3 species, Delicatula, Indica and Flammea are well represented in my museum, and the much greater robustness of the tarsi, toes and claws of Indica, as compared with both the others, is very conspicuous.
S. Javanica, vera, I have never seen, but S. Indica. (Javanica, apud Jerdon, &c.) is unmistakably distinct from 8. Delicatula, Gould. It differs not only in the much stouter tarsi, toes and claws, but also, in its slightly larger size, longer wings and decidedly (taking a series of each species) more rufous tone of colouring. Flammea again, is intermediate in tone between these two, (though decidedly nearest to Indica) but has I think, somewhat less of pencilling on the upper surface, than either of them.
As regards the colouring of the claws, it should be noted, that in some specimens even of Indica, the claws are yellowish horny, only slightly tinged on the ridge with pale brown.
S. Indica is found throughout India, Ceylon, and Burmah, and probably as Mr. Blyth supposes, extends throughout the Indo-Chinese sub-region.
* STRIX INDICA.
DIMENSIONS. - : The females average larger, but I find some males as large and heavy as any females that I have examined, and I therefore do not give separate dimensions for the sexes.
Length, 13 to 15.2; expanse,37 to 43.5; wing, 11.1 to 12.2. Tail from vent, 5.8 to 6.12. Tarsus, 2.46 to 285. Foot, greatest length,3.4 to 3.67; greatest breadth, 3.52 to 3.8. Mid toe, to root of claw, 1.3 to 1.5; its claw, straight, 0.7 to 0.85; hind toe, 0.65 to 0.75 ; its claw, 0.7 to 0.8; inner toe, 1.08 to 1.35; its claw, 0.83 to 0.95. Bill straight from margin of cere to point, 0.78 to 0.88 ; from gape, 1.5 to 1.75; width at gape from 0.86 to 0.97. Height at front at margin of cere, 0.38, to 0.43. Length of cere on culmen, 0.5 to 0.6. The second primary is the longest, the first is from 0.12 to 0.8, and the third from 0.05 to 0.3 shorter. The tail is as nearly as possible even. The closed wings extend from 0.25 to 1.2 beyond end of tail.
DESCRIPTION. - : The tarsus is feathered to the feet, but the feathers become very sparse and bristly towards the latter, and are little more than bristles at the foot; the toes are fleshy or dirty white, or light brown with a pinkish tinge, thinly covered on the whole upper surface with whitish bristles. The claws horny brown, as a rule, but in some very dark, and in others yellowish horny, tinged only with brown on the ridges.
Bill slightly yellowish white, faintly tinged with pinkish towards the cere, which is fleshy.
Irides. Brown, sometimes almost black.
* The species of Scelostrix are distinguished by their long and slender tarsi, which are not feathered on the lower half. They are ground-birds, which conceal themselves in long grass during the day, and affect the open country away from human habitations - : habits considerably diverse from those of the birds which constitute the genus Strix as here limited.
The Owl here referred to is apparently - :
S. Rosenbergi, Schlegel. N. T. D. iii p. 181, from Celebes, Macassar and Menado. A. H.