(1812) Accipiter nisus nelanosehistus Hume.
THE INDIAN SPARROW-HAWK.
Accipiter nisus melanoschistus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 158.
Breeding throughout the Himalayas from Baluchistan, where Ticehurst says it is a common resident in the Juniper-forests, through Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim to Eastern Assam, Burma. Yunnan and Setchuan.
It occurs during the breeding season at all heights between 4,000 and 10,000 feet, sometimes higher still and occasionally a little lower.
In Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ descriptions are given of the nidification of two species or races of Sparrow-Hawk, nisus and melanoschistus ; both of which we may without doubt refer to the second race. Some individuals are with difficulty assigned to either one or the other, but the birds breeding within our limits, unless of the virgatus group, are all melanoschistus.
I have taken many nests of this Hawk myself in Assam ; Whymper and Mackinnon took several in the Kuman ; Blair and Hume himself obtained nests at Kotegarh ; Dodsworth, Jones and Thomp¬son in Simla ; Rattray, Buchanan and others in the Murree Galis and, finally, Cock, Ward and others in Kashmir. Williams also found a nest with four eggs near Quetta which he attributed to this species. Whitehead says that it breeds freely in the Timb (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxi, p. 306, 1912) when quoting Donald on certain methods of trapping this Hawk.
The Sparrow-Hawk is found nearly always either actually in forest or in exceptionally well wooded country, though it may also be seen hunting for its prey at odd times in quite open country. All the nests I have taken myself have been built on trees in forest, though in one or two cases the forest has consisted of a narrow strip running between cultivation and. a stream. This Raptore, like so many others, seems to prefer large trees with dense foliage growing on the banks of streams to any other, but I have seen more than one right in the interior of deep shady forest with no water, still or running, anywhere Hear them.
In India this Sparrow-Hawk almost invariably makes use of another bird’s nest as a base for its own, even though that may consist of remnants only. Nests I have personally examined have been superstructures on those of Corvus coronoides sp., Green Pigeon sp., Macropygia tusalia and others too tattered and broken to show to what bird they had originally belonged. Sometimes when a Crow’s nest is used it is merely enlarged and improved, a few sticks added and a lining of green leaves, or a few green twigs, placed in the egg-chamber. At other times, especially when Pigeons nests are used, the original nest may not form a quarter of the completed home for the Hawks, who pile up twigs and sticks on the fragile foundation provided by the Pigeons. All the nests I have seen appear to have been based on those of other birds ; Rattray and Buchanan have had the same experience, and they say also that the nests have been always on large trees, very high up, standing in deep forest. This trait is not referred to by other collectors nor has any one recorded such an instance in respect of the Sparrow-Hawk in England ; yet in my own rather small experience of that bird I have seen two nests, one in Cumber¬land definitely built on a Crow’s nest and the other in Norfolk equally obviously built on an old nest of a Wood-Pigeon.
Sometimes this Sparrow-Hawk makes its nest on ledges of cliffs. Hume says that an egg sent him by Mr. Blair was found on the 28th April in “a nest, a very shght one of sticks, placed on a ledge of a high cliff,” and again he writes : “On the 29th May I obtained a second nest near the same place and very similarly situated.”
The breeding season is during April, May and early June.
In 1917, before I bad obtained or seen the wonderful collections of Whymper, A. E. Jones and others, I wrote (Ibis, 1917, p. 353) that I had never seen a clutch of more than four eggs. This number seems to be true of Cachar, but in the North-West Himalayas clutches of five are common, while I have also received one of six eggs from the Khasia Hills.
The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the European Sparrow-Hawk, though as a series they are, perhaps, not quite so handsome. The ground is white, sometimes suffused with huff, reddish or greenish-blue, and the surface is generally boldly blotched with deep reddish-brown to deep blackish-brown. Some eggs are freckled rather than spotted or blotched, while occasionally the marks are smudges or small clouds. The secondary markings are of pale reddish-brown, sienna or pale lavender-grey. As a rule these are scanty or wanting altogether, but in a few, especially the smudgily marked eggs, they are more numerous. Many eggs get stained in the neat, probably from some colouring matter in the green leaves of the lining.
In shape the egga are broad ovals, the texture fairly fine the surface smooth and rarely with a faint gloss.
Sixty eggs average 39.1 x 32.6 mm. : maxima 40.3 x 32.0 and 40.0 x 33.0 mm. ; minima, 36.0 x 30.6 and 38.9 x 29.0 mm.
Both sexes take part in the construction of the nest, though the male seldom does more than bring the materials for his wife to use. He takes no part in incubation, hut may be generally seen near the nest unless absent procuring food. Incubation in the English Sparrow-Hawk is said to take thirty-four to thirty-five days (Owen, 'British Birds,’ vol. xii, pp. 61 & 74), but I do not think the eggs in India take more than thirty, at the most thirty-one, days to hatch.
The male frequently feeds the female when she is incubating, and when he brings the food she comes either to the edge of the nest or to an. adjoining branch to receive it and eat it. During the heat of the day the eggs are often left uncovered. The birds demonstrate when their eggs are being taken and keep on swooping towards the thief, but I have never known them do more than this. If their nest is handled they usually desert hut, on the other hand, I have known them continue to lay in the same nest after eggs have twice been taken from it. They do not normally use a nest for more than the one season.
1812. Accipiter nisus melanosehistus
(1812) Accipiter nisus nelanosehistus Hume.