(1803) Astur badius dussumieri Temm.
The INDIAN SHIKRA.
Astur badius dussumieri, Fauna B. I., Birds 2nd ed. vol. v. p. 149.
With the exception of Travancore in the South, Sind in the North-West and Assam in the North-East the Indian Shikra is found over the whole of India.
Wherever found the Shikra is resident and breeds, but this little Hawk eschews extremes and never breeds in evergreen humid forests or, on the other baud, in actual deserts or the driest areas, such as occur in Rajputana and elsewhere. It frequents for prefer¬ence well-wooded country, both cultivated and waste land, and it ascends the hills in suitable places up to about 5,000 feet or rather higher. Perhaps its favourite site is a Mango-tree, either solitary or in a grove near a village, for they are fearless little birds, and in Bihar and elsewhere more than one nest has been taken in a garden and many from trees actually in villages. Occasionally they breed in thin forest; indeed, Thompson writes :—“This is a regular breeder in our forests (Garhwal) and always chooses trees standing on the edge of streams or stagnant pools.” Prom the same hills Whymper also records a nest taken about 25 feet up “in a small tree in thin forest,”
A. A. Anderson found this Hawk making use of a parasitic plant as a site for the nest. He writes (‘Nests and Eggs,' vol. iii, p. 120):— “Four out of six nests which were taken in my presence this last summer were built in the parasitical shrub (Loranthus globosus ?) which grows to such perfection on Mango-trees, The branches of the so-called mistletoe radiate sideways and upwards to a con¬siderable height above the parent tree from a large excrescence or knot, thus forming, as it were, the outer structure of a ready-made nest. Viewed from below the nest looks about the size a common Crow would build ; but on examining one I had cut down (the parasitical plant was four feet above the tree) it was clear that the nest itself was particularly small, and so clumsily made as to fall to pieces on being removed from the knob which supported it.” Everyone compares the nest to an ill-made, loosely put together nest of a Crow. Butler, describing a nest in Deesa, says “much like an old Crow’s-nest.” Inglis and Coltart in sending me egga from various places in Bihar mention “nests like old and rather dilapidated neats of Crows.” Benjamin Aitken, says that in Berar he took four white eggs of the Shikra “in an old Crow’s nest up in a large tamarind-tree” ; while, finally, Hume himself says that “these little Hawks take, I should say, a full month in preparing their nest, only putting on two or three twigs a day, which they place and replace as if they were very particular and had a great eye for a handsome nest ; whereas) after all their fuss and bother, the nest is a loose, ragged-looking affair, that no respectable Crow even would condescend to lay in.” The nest is small, being about 10 inches on an average and only 3 or 4 inches deep.
The nests are made entirely of sticks except, in some cases, for a scanty lining of grass, and they seem invariably to be loosely and very untidily put together. They prefer big trees in which to build but do not necessarily place them very high up, 20 to 40 feet being the normal limits. So far as my own experience goes—not very exhaustive—they select trees with dense foliage, and the nests are not so situated as to be conspicuous, hut I have heard more than once of nests being built low down in small, almost leafless trees growing in the open.
All over their breeding range April and May are the two months in which most eggs are laid. Butler found young some six weeks old on the 24th May at Deesa, in which case the eggs must have been laid in March, and Vidal says that in the Konkan they breed in March and April, while Howard Campbell took three eggs from a nest at Gooty on the 22nd February, and Kinloch, in the Nelliam¬pathy Hills, took three eggs on the 27th March. At Gujranwala, however, Whistler found two fresh eggs on the 3rd July.
Hume says that three eggs form the normal clutch, a dictum which Inglis, Coltart and my own experience confirms, but Anderson considered four to be the usual full clutch and once found five. Whistler also records (Journ. Bomb. Nat, Hist. Soc. vol. xxiv, p. 704, 1916) once taking five eggs in a nest at Gujranwala.
The eggs are a pale skimmed-milk blue or pale bluish-grey, very faint in tint, yet they are only exceptionally white. Very rarely they may be lightly speckled at the larger end with blackish pin-pricks or with rather larger sub-shell blotches of pale grey or lavender.
The texture is fine and the grain dose and compact, the surface generally smooth, though glossless, I have quite a number of eggs, however, which have curious little corrugations and one clutch in which the surface has numerous little raised lines scattered here and there over the surface. In shape the eggs are broad ovals and exceptions are rare.
One hundred eggs average 38.8 x 31.1 mm. : maxima 42.6 x 31.6 and 41.3 x 33.0 mm. ; minima 36.1 x 29.2 mm.
Incubation lasts about twenty-one days, the female beginning to sit sometimes when the first egg is laid, though at other times She does not incubate until the clutch is complete, I have no information as to whether the male ever assists in incubation, but when building he brings material to his wife for her to employ on the construction of the nest.
They are brave little birds and will boldly attack an intruder intent on stealing eggs or young, even venturing to swoop on human beings under such circumstances. If the eggs are taken they will sometimes lay again in the same nest, but it is unusual for them to breed in it for more than one year.
1803. Astur badius dussumieri
(1803) Astur badius dussumieri Temm.