No. 24 Accipiter Nisus, LIN.
THE SPARROW HAWK.
A Sparrow Hawk, but whether the present or the next species, I am unable to decide, breeds commonly enough in woody valleys in the interior of the Himalayas. I have repeatedly seen their nests and once (in May) took one about two marches on the Mussourie side oi Gungootree, containing four bluish white, red blotched eggs exactly like, it seemed to me, the Sparrow Hawk's eggs I had so often taken as a boy at home. Unfortunately I was then a mere sportsman, and troubled myself little about anything but game, and therefore neither shot the parent nor preserved the eggs.
Capt. Thompson of Simla, (not Mr. E. Thompson of Gurhwal) assures me, that two pairs of the true Sparrow Hawk, breed yearly in Anandale, just below Simla, laying in May and June.
Of the breeding of this species in England Mr. Tarrell tells us that " the Sparrow Hawk generally takes possession of some old or deserted nest in a tree, most frequently that of the Crow, in which the female deposits four or five eggs, each about one inch seven lines long, by one inch four fines broad, of a pale bluish white, blotched and spotted with dark red brown. The young are covered with a delicate and pure white down, and are abundantly supplied with food."
Mr. Hewitson tells us that the eggs of this species may sometimes be found upon the ledge of some lofty cliff, but are more frequently to be met with in trees, lor the most part occupying the usurped nest of a Crow or Magpie. Occasionally it would seem to make its own nest in low trees or thorn bushes, a flat shallow structure, composed of slender twigs similar to that of the King Dove, but larger. " The eggs of the Sparrow Hawk, although usually very readily distinguished from those of any other species, are subject to varieties, which sometimes rather resemble those of the Kestrel, but are never marked with the same rich crimson colouring. There are some specimens on which all the markings are very obscure and indistinct; and others on which all the dark blotches of colour are at the smaller instead of the larger end. I know of no egg which is so subject to this variety. Mr. Walter's collection contains one that is white, except a few black dots ; another that is pointed at the small end like the egg of a Wader." The eggs he figures are very broad ovals, measuring 1.5 X 1.3, and 1.52 X 1.26, a whitish ground, profusely blotched and spotted, with different shades, of brownish red and reddish brown, very similar to well marked eggs of our common Kite (M. Govinda).
Compare in regard to the breeding of this species, what Gould tells us of Accipiter Torquatus a nearly allied Australian form. " The breeding season lasts from August to November, and the nest, which is rather a large structure, composed of sticks and lined with fibrous roots and a few leaves of the gum tree, is usually placed in the fork of a Swamp Oak (Casuarina) or other trees growing on the banks of creeks and rivers, but is occasionally to be met with in the depths of the forests. The eggs are generally three in number, of a bluish white, in some instances stained and smeared over with blotches of buff; in others, I have observed square-formed spots and a few hair-like streaks of deep brown; their medium length is one inch and six lines by one inch and two lines in breadth."
As regards the Sparrow Hawk commonly flown by native falconers, (whether the present or the next species I cannot say) Mr. R. Thompson writes as follows :
" Though a highly prized bird by the natives for its speed and coin-age, it does not really come up to the Besra, (Accipiter Virgatus) even for courage ; its powers of endurance are much less and it is less easily reclaimed. Many birds appear regularly at Nynee Tal every year about October. I have had several specimens alive, sent in to me from the interior where they have been caught in traps set for the Goshawk, having readily flown at the live Pigeon bait. It is a delicate and difficult bird to keep. And with all its boasted speed, is but second to the Besra for every kind of hard field or wood work. What the Besra would do at the first throw, the other could not do till the quarry was exhausted. To hunt with the Basha, requires a deal of tact, you must not throw it whilst the wind is high, you must keep well within the proximity of woods and trees, and not baulk it with birds larger than it can afford to strike and clutch."
One thing is to be said, native falconers generally over-do the training of this bird, and make it too delicate — probably if more hardily reared and trained, it would do better, and turn out as tough and useful in its way as its larger relative, the Goshawk. Descriptions of the European Sparrow Hawk vary a good deal. It is very essential to have as minute a record as possible of the plumage &c, of these various Accipiters and I shall quote one or two descriptions of this present species from English works, the more so that this will help to show the distinctness of the species I shall next have to deal with.
Mr. Yarrell says, " The adult male measures about twelve inches in length; the beak blue, lightest at the base; the cere greenish yellow, the irides yellow; the top of the head, nape of the neck, back, wings, and wing coverts, rich dark brown, in very old males with a tinge of bluish grey; feathers of the tail greyish brown, with three conspicuous transverse bands of dark brown ; the chin, cheeks, throat, breast, belly, thighs, and under tail coverts, rufous with numerous transverse bars of darker rufous brown, legs and toes, long, slender, and yellow; the claws curved, sharp and black.
" The female is generally three inches longer than the male; the beak, bluish horn colour; cere yellowish, the irides yellow; the top of the head, upper part of the neck, back, wing, and tail coverts, brown, the base of many of the feathers white, which extending beyond the edge of the feather immediately above it, causes a white spot or mark; primaries and tail feathers light brown, barred transversely with darker brown; under surface of the neck, body, wing coverts, and thighs, greyish white, barred transversely with brown; under surface of the wing and tail feathers of the same colour, but the light and dark bars much broader; the first six wing primaries emarginated; the fourth and fifth quill feathers equal, and the longest, the first quill feather the shortest; the legs and toes yellow; the claws long, curved, sharp, and black.
" The young male Sparrow Hawk resembles the female; but the brown feathers of the back and the wing coverts are edged with reddish brown; feathers of the tail reddish brown, particularly toward the base, with three conspicuous dark brown transverse bands. In other particulars like the female, and both have a collar formed by a mixture of white and brown, which extends from the sides of the neck to the nape." From the Naturalist's Library, I quote the following— " The male has the upper plumage of an uniform pale blackish grey; tip of the tail and nuchal collar white; quills clove brown, darkest at the tips, with clouded bars on their inner webs. Tail with a dark bar after the white tip, shading upwards, and three bars afterwards indistinct above, decidedly marked beneath. Auriculars, buff orange, darker along the shafts. Throat and chin pale ochraceous, with dark shafts; breast, belly, vent, and thighs, ochraceous; shafts dark, and thickly marked with reddish buff orange ; in the centre of the belly tinted with brown, under tail coverts white. Length above twelve inches; from shoulders to tip of fifth quill, eight and a quarter.
" The female, with the upper parts clove brown, darkest on the crown, and sometimes tinted with rufous ; on the tips of the auriculars, above the eyes, and on the hind head, the tips of the feathers only are dark, and the light bases appearing, produce a pale line above- the eyes, and a variegation with white on the hind head; the quills and tail are barred with narrow darker bands, conspicuous on the under surface of both. The underparts are of a delicate yellowish white, on the throat and neck streaked with clove brown, sometimes tinted with rufous, and on the other parts, except the lower tail coverts, barred with the same colour, which also runs to a point on the apical bands, and sometimes along the shafts ; at times these bars are much darker than at others, and shew beautifully and distinctly on the pure white breast; feet and legs gamboge yellow; irides rich safron yellow. Length from 14 to 15 inches; one shot this morning (in November, 1836) 14 inches 3 quarters; expanse of wing 24 or 25 inches. In a young female before us, the upper parts are nearly yellowish brown, tinted with grey, and have the edge of each feather ochraceous ; on the head and back of the neck darker, and edged with rufous. The lower parts yellowish white, on the breast, a yellowish brown streak along the shaft of the feather, which, on the lower part of the breast, or on the belly, stretched out at the base to a bar, and produced an appearance at once both barred and streaked. On the thighs and vent, the distribution is in bars of a brownish tint. In the young Goshawk, the breast marking is all longitudinal bars, here it assumes somewhat that of the adult bird, in both the colouring of the markings in the young is brown, the adults a rich black."