24. Accipiter melaschistos

No. 24 (bis). Accipiter Melaschistos, SP. NOV.


Under the above name, I venture to draw attention to what I believe to be a perfectly distinct species, although hitherto confounded with the true Nisus.

The chief distinctive features are, its greater size, and the much greater intensity of the colour of the upper plumage, especially in the female.

When at Simla I examined the numerous specimens of A. Nisus from France and England in Col. Tytler's museum ; of these, the wings and tails measured as follows :

Females. Wings 9.25—9.62. Tails 7.75 to 7.88.
Males. „ 8.13—8.38. „ 6.55 to 6.88.

And these measurements are much the same as those given by European authors.

Length. Wing. Tarsus. Tail.
Adult Male 14.2 8.5 1.8 7.0
Young Male 13.3 8.3 1.8 6.5
Adult Female 14.5 9.3 2.0 7.0
Young Female 15.5 9.0 1.7 7.0
The same dimensions for two of our birds are:
Length. Wing. Tarsus. Tail.
Young Male 15.75 9.75 2.25 8.5
Adult Female 16.5 10.5 2.35 8.7
Of all these birds, none of the females are ashy above, several are apparently quite adult, but all are brown above; a drab brown, rufous drab brown, clove brown, or what you will, dusky at times on the head, but still brown, and this seems to be insisted on by all the English describers whom I have quoted. Now the females of my new (?) species, have in the first place the wings 10.12, 10.25, 10.5, and the tails 8.25, 8.4, 8.5. They are very much darker than any of the European specimens, and of a wholly different shade; it can hardly be called brown at all, a sort of blackish slaty, or in some, inky olivaceous, especially on the head and nape (it is paler elsewhere) which reminds one of the same parts of F. Perigrinator or Atriceps. The bill appears far more powerful, the tooth or festoon larger and more conspicuous, the bars of wing and tail broader and stronger, the bars on the lower surface broader and more decided, being as broad as the white interspaces. I am aware that these characters are not absolute, that in this genus, all these points vary widely, in individuals of the same species, but taken altogether, these differences give the bird a distinctive character.

Bree's figure of the male A. Br wipes (A. Gurneyi, Bree. Vol. IV. p. 185) would do well enough for our females, but the difference of size is irreconcileable; he gives the following dimensions for that species.

The primaries of our bird moreover are strongly marked instead of being unicolorous, as he says. As for there being no marks on the outer laterals, which if I understand him rightly, he rather insists on, this I take it, is pretty often in this family dependent on age, the marks are very faint in one European Nisus before me, they wholly disappear in the old Badius, and are disappearing in one Melaschistos. Setting the minor points aside, the left hand drawing in his plate (the male) though scarcely dark enough, especially about the upper parts, and the description so far as colour goes, would answer well enough for our female, though the bill, as figured, is neither long enough, nor powerful enough, nor the tooth strong enough.

I think it will be admitted that this species is distinct from Nisus. Unfortunately I have not long enough discriminated this species to have a good series. The only specimens I know, are a pair (female adult, male in second plumage) sent by me to my friend Mons. Jules Verreaux at Paris, a young male and second plumage female, now in my museum, and two old birds both probably females in Col. Tytler's.

I proceed to give a description of these latter, sex. not ascertained, but from the length of the wings, 10.25 and 10.5, probably females.

The head, nape, and upper back, deep blackish, olivaceous brown, with even a tinge of slaty on the head and nape, where there are traces of a white patch owing to the bases of the feathers showing through. The scapulars, slightly less deep, blackish brown. Lower back, rump, and upper tail coverts, somewhat slaty brown. Upper wing coverts, and quills hair brown. The secondaries, and some of the primaries, with traces of darker bars on the outer webs. Tail, greyish brown, or brownish slaty with five broad transverse dark brown bars; the upper bar hidden by the upper tail coverts. The subterminal bar broadest; a narrow white tipping, most conspicuous on the centre feathers. The lores white, a trace of a whitish streak behind the eye, cheeks rufous white, the feathers with dark brown linear central stripes. The ear coverts rufous, with dark central stripes and the longer feathers tipped blackish brown. A black line immediately under the eye running over the ear coverts and lost in the dark tips of these. Chin, and throat, rufous white, most rufous towards the sides of the neck, and each feather with a dark shaft, or narrow dark central stripe. The whole of the breast, abdomen, sides, thigh coverts, axillaries, and lining of the wing, white; conspicuously, closely and broadly barred with dark brown; many of the feathers with a rufous tinge towards the tips, and some of them especially in the flanks, with rufous more or less taking the place of the brown bar. The lower tail coverts nearest the vent, narrowly barred with paler brown; the longer tail coverts pure white. A conspicuous patch of rusty or pale chestnut on the sides. Inner webs of the primaries strongly barred white, or greyish white, and dark brown ; the bars perpendicular or nearly so to the shaft, and not slanting as in the European specimens of Nisus that I have examined; the whole barring of the under surface is much closer and more conspicuous than in any of the nine specimens of Nisus from Europe, with which I have compared it, the bars being in one quite as broad, and in the other, nearly as broad as the white interspaces. The feet are larger; the hind toe and claw, and inner toe and claw, conspicuously so. The wings appear to be more pointed and much larger than in any of the apparently adult European specimens (females) from France, and from England with which I compared them. Of the second plumage male, which I sent to Mons. Verreaux I have no detailed notes, but the whole upper plumage, had a dark olivaceous tint, unlike anything I have ever seen in Nisus.

The female in second plumage, a small bird comparatively, measured. Length, 16.5. Wing, 10.12. Tail, 8.6. Expanse, 0.31. Tarsus, 2.5. Mid toe to root of claw, 1.8. The upper parts are grey brown, darker and more slaty about the head, nape and upper back, whitish about the forehead, over the eye, and with a mottled white patch (owing to the white bases of the feathers showing through) on the nape. The scapulars, lesser wing coverts, upper tail coverts and most of the feathers of the back, with darker shafts, and the longest upper tail coverts tipped white and with a dark subterminal band. Tail, a sort of dove colour slightly paler on the lateral feathers, tipped white and with five broad transverse dark brown bands (one hidden by the upper tail coverts) on both webs of all the feathers, except in the outer web, of one of the exterior laterals, from which the bars have nearly disappeared. The chin, throat, and sides of neck yellowish white, tinged rufous towards the sides, all the feathers dark shafted. Lores and ear coverts whitish, the latter dark shafted, tinged rufous towards the tips, and the hinder-most ones tipped blackish brown. A blackish brown line through the lores, (where it is very narrow,) running under the eyes, (where it is about 0.15 wide,) and joining into the dark tips of the hinder ear coverts. The whole breast, abdomen and lower parts generally, fulvous white, regularly barred transversely with mingled dark brown and rufous, the bars on the breast being as broad as the interspaces and diminishing in width as they recede from the breast, till those on the tibial plumes, are only half as wide, and those on the lower tail coverts only average one-fourth as wide as the interspaces. There is a regularity, straightness, and closeness in the barrings of the lower parts, unlike any of the European Nisus, that I have been able to compare them with and unlike the figures in Yarrell and in the Naturalist's library.

The sides are much tinged with rufous, which there nearly wholly displaces the brown.

Then there is the young male in first plumage (sex ascertained by dissection) shot by my friend, Capt. Marshall, R. E., at Solon on 30th September, and measured by him in the flesh.
Dimensions. Length, 15.75. Expanse, 29.75. Wing, 9.75. Tarsus, 2.25. Mid toe to root of claw, 1.75. Foot, greatest length, 3.25; width, 2.8. Tail from vent, 8.5. Closed wings fall 3.8 short of end of tail.

Description. Irides, bright yellow. Legs and feet, dingy yellow. Upper plumage, umber brown, edged rufous and cen¬tered darker (almost black) on head and nape. Upper tail coverts (a trifle paler than the back,) dark shafted. Tail a drab brown narrowly white tipped, with five moderately broad, dark brown transverse bars, on both webs of all the feathers, except the outer webs of the external laterals, where they are indistinct, though not altogether wanting, one of the five bars being high up and hidden by the upper tail coverts. Forehead whitish, a conspicuous yellowish white band, feathers brown shafted, running backwards from top of the eye, over ear coverts, fully 1 inch long. Lores dingy white, a trace of a dark line through them to the eye-line under the eye, and terminal halves of ear coverts, reddish or umber brown, rest of ear coverts, whole chin, throat and sides of neck, pale fulvous, with conspicuous, very narrow, central stripes to feathers. Breast and upper abdomen pale buffy with numerous conspicuous narrow transverse arrow-head bars, the central portion of the bar bright rufous, the lateral portions dark brown; these bars are much the shape that sea- gulls are often represented in pictures, the head and body portion of the bar (if I may so express myself,) being rufous and the wings dark brown. The sides are very rufous. The lower abdomen and tibial plumes are buffy white with still narrower transverse arrow head brown bars. The lower tail coverts, yellowish white, each faintly tipped rufous. This is a veritable young bird, the rufous edgings to the whole upper plumage shows this, but how different it is to a young of the veritable Nisus sent me from Kumaon by my friend, Mr. R. Thompson. In this, the central tail feathers have four, the external laterals six instead of five throughout, as in this. The chin, throat, and breast are white with huge, central, longitudinal, umber brown streaks, the abdomen and tibial plumes have very broad, transverse, rufous brown bars, and the lower tail coverts, truly cordate brown spots. The wing measures 7.6; the tail, 6.4; the tarsus, 2.2; the mid toe without the claw, 1.45.

I cannot doubt the distinctness of the species, and though I am fully conscious that more specimens are required to enable us to characterize it as it should be done, I think the best way to ensure the matters being cleared up, is to insert this notice, imperfect as it is. I call this the Dove Hawk, because both specimens that I shot, had killed Doves (T. Rupicola); the one struck a Dove before my eyes, at the back of Jacko (Simla) and fell to my shot at the same moment, the other was perched on a bare branch, between Simla and Kalka, devouring a Dove, when I killed it. This may be accidental but I mention it, because I doubt whether the true Nisus (especially the male as one of mine was) would strike so large a bird.

The only specimens that I know of were shot, more or less in the interior of the Himalayas. I know nothing as yet of its nidification or breeding habits.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
24. Accipiter melaschistos
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Dove Hawk
Accipiter nisus melaschistos
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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