21. Astur palumbarius

No. 21. Astur Palumbarius, LIN.


The Goshawk breeds in India, so far as I have been able to ascertain, only in the higher regions of the Himalayas, in the immediate neighbourhood of the snows. A pair of very young birds were brought late in July, while I was at Simla, for the Rajah of Putialla from near the Chor, and the Shikaree asserted, that he had taken them out of a nest, placed near the top of some kind of Fir or Pine tree.

Mr. E. Thompson, an enthusiastic falconer by the way, tells me that " they breed from March to June, building on trees, a large circular nest of coarse twigs, in which they lay three or four nearly pure white eggs. They confine themselves peculiarly to the interior of the deep precipitous woody valleys, lying close to the snowy peaks. They usually, I am told, select a tree of the Birch, Alnus Boojputtia, or one of Cupressus Tomentosa to build their nests on.

" During this period, the birds are very daring, and will readily attack a man, attempting to climb up to the nest. In these woods, the Moonal Pheasant is very abundant, and no doubt affords capital quarry for these Hawks."

Of the Goshawk in Europe, Mr. Hewitson, quoting Mr. Hay, says that it " builds its own nest, and if undisturbed in its possession, will frequently occupy it for several years, making the necessary repairs. It is placed in some high tree on the out-; skirts of the forest, and is rarely found in the interior, except in those parts which are open and free from timber. The eggs are three or four, and are frequently hatched by the middle of May; they are, for the most part, spotless, but are sometimes indistinctly marked with brown." The one he figures is a delicate bluish white, like that of Micronisus Badius, and measures 2.17 by 1.72.

Mr. Yarrell tells us that " the eggs of the Goshawk are rare, the few that I have seen were in size and colour, 2.19 in length by 1.69 in breadth, of a pale bluish white, without any spots or streaks."

Compare the above with what Gould tells us of the nearly allied Astur Approximans of Australia.

" Its nest is usually built on a large swamp-oak (Casuarina) growing on the side of a brook, but I have occasionally met with it on the gum trees {Eucalypti) in the forest, at a considerable distance from water; it is of a large size, and is composed of sticks, and lined with gum leaves. The eggs are generally three in number, of a bluish white, smeared over with blotches of brownish buff; they are one inch and ten lines long, by one inch and five lines broad. The nesting season commences in August and continues till November."

Kaup separates this species under Uraspiza, and the eggs, as above described, appear to differ from the typical Astur egg, but I have to note that the man who brought the young birds from near the Chor, affirmed that he had looked down into the nest, from the distance of a few yards, when it contained eggs, and that these latter were blotched with brown like those of a kite (M. Govinda), except that the brown was lighter and more earthy.

Dr. Jerdon lately mentioned to me (in epist.) that " the Goshawk is occasionally taken in the plains of the Punjab during the cold weather. I saw," he adds, " a pair in July 1864, that evidently had their nest in a wood in the Asrang valley above Chini, about 12000 feet high."

My friend, Mr. Thompson, sends me the following account of hawking with the Goshawk in the forests of Gurhwal and the Terai.

" Several axe caught on the high peaks of Josheemat, Tomynaut, Tuppobund, &o. during October and November, when it would appear that the birds leave their snow-girt valleys, and betake themselves to others lower down, and free from snow. The trap consists of vertical nets six feet high, of stout thread enclosing three sides of a square and open at top. In the centre, a Pigeon is tied to the end of a small stick, which again is fastened by the other end to a peg in the ground; two other pegs, one on each side of this first peg are driven in, and from these, fine strings are carried to the point of the stick to which the Pigeon is fastened. These strings assist in keeping the stick in its place, when the man pulls another string, by which the stick is alternately raised, and then suddenly allowed to fall, thereby giving that fluttering motion to the Pigeon's wings which best serves to attract the Hawk. The trapper hides under some bushes, and as his trap is usually set on the very summit of the ridge or peak, can keep a good look out for any bird approaching, when he sees one he begins to pull at his Pigeon and watches with keen anxiety every movement of the Goshawk. The latter, as a rule, the instant he sees the Pigeon, dashes at it either from one of the enclosed sides, or through the open one, and striking against the net is enveloped in it. The nets, I should note, are supported on four slender posts firmly driven into the ground one at each corner of the square, and to these the nets are loosely hung by fine threads, or hairs from a cow's tail!

" The price of a young female varies from Rs. 40 to 60. Birds of first, second and third plumage, are valued at considerably less, not even a fourth of what a young bird will fetch. The males are of proportionately less value. Nearly all of the birds caught in British and foreign Gurhwal are taken to the Punjab, a few only finding their way down to Rohilcund.

" Despite of all that is said about short wing Hawks, this bird is capable of attaining a high degree of efficiency as a bold and rapid flyer, a fagless worker, and affording decidedly the best sport that can be had in a forest country. When first put to the quarry, they fly with outspread wings, with a listless slow motion like that of a great Owl, admirably described in Sir John Sebwright's little pamphlet on hawking, but by every day practice, and constant flying at the black Partridge, high feeding, and carefully training it to become familiar with men, dogs, and all other objects, likely to frighten it, it becomes in about two or three months perfect at its work. The docility of the bird in the hands of a good trainer, is wonderful. Its intelligence is almost equal to that of the dogs. I have had them (and it must be said that the natives of India are the only people who seem to understand rightly the training of this bird) so docile and intelligent, that by the mere putting out of my hand, the birds have flown from the falconer's fists and settled on mine whilst seated on an elephant; and this, because I was in the habit of receiving the birds on my fists to fly at blacks* Other birds have shown equal intelligence; one I lately had, used to be unleashed at my tent door, would fly to the nearest tree, and as the party set out through forest and glade, would fly from tree to tree, and thus keep on, quite up to the beaters and dogs, never lagging behind till a bird was flushed, but always sufficiently forward to receive the quarry as it rose. This was the best bird I ever had at taking black Partridge, which it always caught on the wing.

" It was a beautiful sight to see ' Sultana* shoot out of a tree like a cannon shot, at a Partridge just flushed, often striking it before it knew where it was. Sometimes, however, there would be a race — Partridge ahead, Sultana immediately behind, each straining every nerve, the Partridge must go on, it dare not settle in the grass, for to do this it must slacken its pace, each moment bringing the Hawk closer to it, till at last it is clutched. This, over a fine sjnread of grass, without much interruption to the view, is a splendid sight! Another fine flight often to be witnessed with these birds, is the taking the Francolin in tall heavy grass. A line of elephants are beating up the game. The flushed Partridge rising out of the grass towers straight up; the Hawk is slipped, and follows horizontally the direction of the other, until it sees it descending, when, springing up almost perpendicularly, the Hawk seizes the quarry.

" The Goshawks I have had, after a preliminary education of Partridge hunting, have generally been put at Jungle Fowl, Kalleege Pheasant, Hares, and Peacocks. At all of which they have done well. I have taken a dozen Jungle Fowl in a couple of hours with them, using dogs to flush the birds. They have also killed Peacocks in a single flight, and Hares without ever having been booted. I have also taken Teal and Ducks in woody swamps, by appearing at the water from a point whence a distant view could be had of the Water-fowl. The Hawk, on being shown the Ducks, would fly at once to the tree nearest to them, and there wait in ambush. The beaters were then sent to flush the Fowl, one of which the Hawk caught in the air as the flock rose, almost perpendicularly, out of the water."

* There are Hierax Sericeus (Kittle) from the Philippine Islands and China. H. Fringillarius (Drapiez) from Malay (extending, Blyth says, sparingly into the southern Tenasserim provinces, where it meets Eutolmus) Malacca, Sumatra, Borneo and Java, H. Melanoleucus from Assam, and if distinct, H. Erythrogenys (Vigors), from the Philippines.

* As instances :— I have taken Coturnix Communis in the middle of April with my Goshawks flying straight off the fist at the Quail. My Goshawks have flown at Partridge and Quail 800 to 1,000 yards from where they were slipped.

* I hasten to explain that Mr. Thompson means black Partridges and not as some of our English philanthropists (?) would certainly conclude, natives of India.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
21. Astur palumbarius
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Northern Goshawk
Accipiter gentilis
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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