No. 23. Micronisus Badius, GMEL.
The Shikra lays in April and May, building for itself a moderately sized nest on trees, large and lofty ones being, as far as my experience in the plains goes, always selected. Writing from Gurhwal, Mr. Thompson says—" This is a regular breeder in our forests, and always chooses trees standing on the edges of streams or stagnant pools. The birds are very fond of frogs, which they are constantly stooping at. They are noisy, and quarrelsome, if any large bird approaches their nest."
The nest is usually placed in a fork high up, and near the. top of the tree. It is but loosely built of twigs, and smaller sticks lined with fine grass roots, is much smaller and less compact than those of the Toorumtee, (Lithafalco Chicquera) often are, and may average about ten inches in diameter.
The greatest number of eggs I have ever taken in a nest was four, but I am inclined to think that the generality only lay three. The eggs do not vary much in shape. They are a little shorter and stouter than those of L. Chicquera. They are oval or somewhat pyriform, a rather longer egg in proportion to its breadth than one expects to find in this class of bird. They belong to the Goshawk and not to the Sparrow Hawk type. Smooth, fine, glossless shells, of a pure, delicate, pale bluish white, as a rule absolutely devoid of markings; at most, thinly sprinkled all over with very faint grayish specks and spots, thus differing widely from the apparently closely allied A. Nisus, whose eggs are often richly, and always, I believe, more or less marked.
In size the eggs vary from 1.5 to 1.63 in length and from 1.2 to 1.26 in breadth, but the average of a dozen eggs was 1.50 X 1.24. 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. I can never help thinking of the Public Works Department, when I see these Shikras busy building. All the fuss they make about scientific training, and elaborate plans, estimates, budgets and what not, and how after all, the result of their labours, is only some hideous, straight up and down, blank wall, barn-like, mud and plaster affair, with which no respectable, unscientific native would have ventured to disfigure the face of the earth.
M. Badius, Brachydactylus, Sphenurus, are said by Bree to be very close to each other. Length of wing and tail; length and thickness of tarsus; and length of mid toe, and proportions of primaries are what chiefly assist in discriminating these nearly allied species. Plumage, owing to its extreme variability in this family, going for little. I have recorded carefully the measurements of ten males and ten females of this species, and subjoin the result which may be useful for comparison with those of nearly allied races.
Wing F. 7.9 to 8.3; M. 6.8 to 7.3. Tail F. 6.8 to 7.2; M. 5.5 to 5.9. Tarsus F. 1.9 to 2.0; M. 1.8 to 1.9; mid toe to root of claw F. 1.25 to 1.4 ; M. 1.06 to 1.15. Circumference of tarsus, at middle F. 0.65 to 0.73 ; M. 0.6 to 0.65;
1st primary shorter than the 4th by F. 2.5 to 2.7 M. 2.38 to 2.55
2nd........do..................... do................ F. 0.9 to 1.0 M. 0.84 to 0.9
3rd.........do.....................do................. F. 0.12 to 0.25 M. 0.05 to 0.15
5th..........do................... do................. F. 0.2to 0.25 M. 0.12 to 0.15
In reading remarks in regard to the various species of Accipiters, I often see stress laid on the absence or presence of bars on central, or outer feathers, and on the showing through or the contrary, of these bars, on the under surfaces, especially of the outer feathers. This class of characters appears to me of but little value, depending, as I believe them to do, mainly upon age. I have kept numbers of M. Badius for years at a time, rearing them from the nest, and from the following notes drawn up, when I had peculiar opportunities of watching the changes, it will be seen, that in this species at any rate, the presence or absence of bars on any part of the tail, is simply worthless as a specific character.
The young Shikras have (with the subnoted exception) all the tail feathers barred "on both webs, with normally six bars in the female, and five in the male (though this difference is not invariable) including one near the base, hidden by the upper tail coverts, always feeble and sometimes wanting. The outer web, of the outer feather, on each side, commonly (even in very young birds) shows only a terminal and none of the other bars.
At this stage, the bars show through on the under surface of all the feathers.
Even in the quite young birds, the bars on the inner webs of the outer feathers, are less than half the breadth of those on the other feathers, and are not unfrequently much more numerous. As they get older, the birds begin to lose all but the terminal bar on the centre tail feathers, the other bars turn into spots; then these disappear and only lighter and darker alternate patches on the shafts indicate where the bars once were, and then these also disappear, and leave the central feathers of a pure grey brown, or perhaps, I should say, brownish dove-colour in the females, and french grey in the males, narrowly tipped with white, and with one moderately broad subterminal deep brown bar, which itself soon disappears in the males, and even in the females, as time runs on, becomes more feeble, and more of a spot, and in one old female I now have, has entirely disappeared. Simultaneously, the bars on the inner web of the outer tail feather on each side, begin to show less and less on the under surface, from which after a time they altogether disappear, and having during this process, grown feeble on the upper surface too, go on fading and fading, till at last they disappear there also.
The lateral tail feathers share in the change; those immediately next the central ones, lose all bars on their outer webs, except the terminal one, which is much reduced; while in the next two, on either side, the bars on the outer webs become very faint, and though this seems exceptional in the females, I have a specimen in which all the lateral tail feathers have lost all the bars except the terminal one from their outer webs, and in the old males this seems the rule; even the terminal bar in these latter, becoming feeble and ill-defined.
Besides the minor differences pointed out in the foregoing, between the sexes and the important one of size, it should be noted that while the old male, becomes a sort of hoary ashy blue on the back and scapulars, the females seem never to become more than a pale brownish ashy; moreover, the rufous brown of the breast and upper abdomen is deeper in the adult female than in the male, and there is more of it.
The changes above described, do not always take place at the same period; specimens may be met with, with the back and scapulars ashy, and yet with bars on all the tail feathers, white at other times, quite brown birds that show still, here and there, faint traces of rufous margins to the back plumage, will be found to have lost most of the tail bars.
In almost every case, the chin and throat are white and free from longitudinal stria, but have a conspicuous dark central stripe. I had, however, an adult female with plenty of these striae, and in old males, the central stripe often grows very faint, and has entirely disappeared in one specimen in my museum. The length of wing, tarsus and mid toe, varies a good deal, as will have been seen j the thickness of the tarsus even, is not invariable, and the more I study this group, the more doubtful do I feel of the value of most of the characters relied on as specific, and on the strength of which species are at times instituted from a single specimen.
Even the colour of the iris is not invariable. Usually the irides of the adults are bright yellow, but both Mr. Brookes (who first pointed this out to me) and myself, have repeatedly shot specimens, in which the iris was the brightest ruby red, much the same colour as that of Elanus Melanopterus usually is. Bree, by the way, figures the iris of this latter as bright yellow, and having shot numbers, and always found the iris bright red, I conceived this to be a simple mistake ; but Mr. Brookes assures me, that he has met with specimens, in which the irides really were yellow, though this, in India at least, is most exceptional.
I carefully compared a young bird, in Col. Tytler's museum, sent by Layard from the Cape, ticketed: " A. Tachiro, young male; Damara Land," with a series of young male Badius, and I was utterly unable to see how they could be separated; compared with some specimens, the tarsus was a trifle slenderer and the wings longer, but with others again, the bird was absolutely identical. Perhaps the difference is clearer in the adult or possibly (a good number of the birds sent by him are clearly wrongly named) Layard may have sent one of his old Indian birds by mistake, but if no error has been committed, the resemblance between the young of these two species, is most remarkable ; so far as plumage and such dimensions as can be ascertained in the dry skin go, they seem positively identical.
Accurate and detailed measurements and descriptions taken from the flesh are often useful for comparison, and I therefore subjoin such, of a nearly fully adult male, killed on the 10th of March.
Dimensions. Length, 12.13. Expanse, 23. Weight, 4.75 oz. Wing, 6.88; the 4th primary the longest; 1st, 2.38 ; 2nd, 0.88 ; 3rd, 0.07; 5th, 0.13 shorter. Tail, from vent, 5.88 ; exterior tail feathers, 0.5 shorter than central ones. Tarsus, 1.88; feathered in front for 0.56. Foot, greatest length, 2.63 ; greatest width, 2.13 ; mid toe, 1.06; its claw, 0.47; hind toe, 0.59 ; its claw, 0.56. Bill, straight, 0.72; along curve, 0.81; from gape, 0.78; width at gape, 0.63; height at front at margin of cere, 0.31; length of cere, 0.25. Wings when closed reach to within 3 inches of end of tail. Lower tail coverts, 2.88 of ditto.
Description. Legs and feet, rather dingy greenish yellow, scutellation on front of tarsus and toes transverse, rather feeble; on sides and back of tarsus, obscure. Toes slender, 2nd joint-pad of mid and outer toes, well developed. Claws, slender, sharp-pointed, pretty well curved, black; inner edge of mid toe, claw scarcely perceptibly dilated.
Irides, yellow. Bill, blackish horny; blue at gape, base of lower, and sides of upper, mandible.
Tongue small, somewhat fleshy bluish and like lower mandible, dusky at tip; obtuse ended, with a conspicuous depression down the centre.
Plumage. The lores, cheeks, chin and throat, slightly greyish white. The ear coverts having the faintest possible shade of fulvous, and the chin and throat having just the trace of a central dark line.
The whole top and back of the head, a pale rather brownish slaty, paler just at the forehead and immediately above the eyes. Sides of the neck, behind the ear coverts, pale fulvous, or faintly reddish brown, nearly meeting on the nape; the whole of the base of the neck in front, and at sides, the breast, sides, and upper abdomen, white, with numerous, close, regular, narrow, transverse bars of the same pale faintly reddish brown, closer on the upper breast, and wider apart, and slightly feebler lower down. The base of the neck behind, shoulders, scapulars, back, rump, tail feathers, and their coverts, and whole upper surface of the wings, generally slaty. The first five primaries being dusky at the tips, and all the primaries, winglet, and anterior portion of wing, being a shade darker. In the basal portion of the scapulars probably more than half the feathers are white, though this, owing to the over-lapping of the feathers is little seen ; about half the interior webs of all the quills (except the first four primaries in which the white only begins above the notches) white, all, with several incomplete moderately broad transverse dark bars in the inner webs, which are faintly visible even on the dusky tips of the early primaries. The central tail feathers have darker patches on their shafts, corresponding with the transverse bars on the lateral feathers, but no bars, narrow white tips, or subterminal dark bands. The lateral tail feathers all with narrow white tips and an oblique patch of white on the inner webs on the basal halves, and the rest of the inner webs rather lighter than the outer. All the lateral feathers but the outermost with a pretty broad subterminal dark band, and four somewhat narrower similar dark transverse bands, traceable on both webs but much more conspicuous on the inner. The exterior tail feathers are browner and less slaty than the rest of the tail, have no subterminal band, and seven or eight narrow, brownish, transverse bands on the inner web only. The lower part of abdomen, vent, thigh coverts, flanks, and lower tail coverts, pure white. The lower surface of the tail, greyish white, the broad blackish bars of the four lateral feathers on each side showing through conspicuously, and the narrow bars of the outermost pair being faintly visible. The lesser and median lower wing coverts are very pale fulvous, or creamy white, with a tinge of fawn. The larger lower coverts, are nearly pure white with a few imperfect faint, narrow, grey bars. The under surface of the quills is nearly pure white, greyish at the tips of all but the earlier primaries, which are dusky, and all with the incomplete bars on the inner webs, showing through; strongly on the earlier primaries, and very feebly on the later secondaries.
NOTE.— There is another nearly allied species, Micronisus Brevipes, in regard to which the following remarks appeared in the Ibis for 1865.
" Dr. Kruper has made another valuable discovery also relating to a rare and hitherto somewhat obscure European bird of prey. In the 'Bulletin' of the Moscow Society of Naturalists for 1850 (ii pp. 234-239) M. N. Severzow described, under the name of Astus Brevipes, a new species of Sparrow Hawk of which he had obtained three examples from the Government of Voroney in Southern Russia; and Herr Seidensacher has communicated to the Vienna Transactions (the paper being reprinted in the Journal fur Ornithologie, p. 464) the intelligence that in May 1864, Dr. Kruper found a nest with four eggs of this little-known bird near Smyrna. Dr. Sclater kindly informs us that, when he was at Vienna last autumn, he became aware that Astur Brevipes was no other than the Accipiter Gurneyi, founded on examples received from Beyrout (Ibis, 1859, p. 390) and described and well-figured by Dr. Bree (B, Eur. IV. p. 158) of which mention has before been made in this Journal (Ibis, 1863, p. 463) and Mr. Gurney has written to us to corroborate this identification. But what is still more interesting, Mr. Gurney finds that the ' specimens obtained in Galilee by Mr. Tristram, and supposed by him (P. Z. S. 1864, p. 429) to be the A. Sphenurus of Ruppell, also belong to this species. This discovery was made just in time to insert the right specific name in the paper on the Ornithology of Palestine' printed in our present number (supra p. 260) though not soon enough to admit of Mr. Tristram's there giving an explanation of the facts of the case. The species, however, as we are informed by Mr. Gurney, should be referred to the genus Micronisus, and accordingly will take its place as Micronisus Brevipes (Severzow). All we at present know of its history, may be condensed into these few words, that it occurs in Southern Russia from April to August, and probably breeds there, as it certainly does in Asia Minor, and that it has been met with once in Greece and several times in Syria. Herr Seidensacher considers Micronisus Brevipes to be identical with the Indian M. Badius, and it is probably the species referred to under this last name in Professor Blasius's List of the birds of Europe, p. 4 ; but Mr. Gurney is very confident that the two birds, though nearly allied, are quite distinct." Mr. Bree's dimensions and descriptions are as follows:—
Length. Carpus to tip of wing. Tarsus. Tail. Middle Toe.
14.2 8.5 1.8 0.7 1.4
14.5 9.6 0.2 0.7 1.4
15.5 0.9 1.7 0.7 1.4
13.3 8.3 1.8 6.5 1.2
" 1. Asia, male adult, Lauretta, Beyrout,
2. Syria, female adult, Verreaux,
3. Young female, Lauretta, Beyrout,
4. Young male, Lauretta, Beyrout,
" Description. The adult male has the upper plumage dark slaty brown, with some white spots on the nape and upper tail coverts. Primaries nearly black, and barred with lighter black on the basal half beneath. Below, the general tint is rufous, lighter on the croup ; the chin and sides of the head are slaty, light slate colour; the rest of the body, thighs and under wing coverts barred with ferruginous and silvery gray; under tail coverts white. Tail above, dark slaty brown, below lighter; the two central feathers, both above and below, being rare colorous; the others silvery gray, broadly barred through the feathers with black. Beak, black; tarsi and toes yellow; claws black.
" The female has the upper plumage lighter than that of the male, and the upper tail feathers have traces of black bands, while all the under ones are barred through. Primaries nearly black, barred on their inner webs with white, the whole length of the feather, chin and sides of the head grey with light brown bars and spots. The rest of the body, under wing coverts and thighs barred with hair brown and silvery grey; under tail coverts white, slightly barred with brown. Beak black ; tarsi and toes yellow.
" Young birds of the year have the head prettily striped longitudinally with rich brown of two shades and white. The upper plumage rich dark brown; the edges of the primaries, wing and upper tail coverts bordered with fawn colour. The chin is white with a few longitudinal dark streaks; the crops and chest broadly marked with brown and white longitudinal spots, which assume a crescentic shape and lighter colour on the abdomen, thighs, and under tail coverts; under wing coverts above fawn colour, below cream colour, barred with grey and brown on all the feathers, less distinct on the two above and below; beak horn colour; tarsi and feet yellow."
Mr. Bree further adds: " In addition to the measurements, the male adult Levant Sparrow Hawk differs from that of A. Nisus. 1st. In the darker upper plumage. 2nd. In the closer barring of the under plumage. 3rtf. In the under wing coverts being lighter rufous, and less barred, and by the deep black uncolorous primaries beneath, those of A. Nisus being barred to the end. 4th. By the two first under tail feathers being uncolorous grey, while those of Nisus are strongly barred. 5th. By the primaries being black brown and uncolorous above, while those of Nisus are lighter and distinctly barred, and 6th. The cheeks of the Levant Sparrow Hawk are slight grey, while those of Nisus are rufous."
* This female, it will he observed, is shorter than the male, though otherwise larger. This depends entirely upon the mode in which the skin has been prepared.