33. Eutolmaetus bonellii

No. 33. Eutolmaetus Bonelli! Temm.*

Bonelli's Eagle.

This Eagle, in the plains of India, lays in the latter half of December and in January; but in the Himalayas, it lays, I believe, in April and May. The nest is usually placed on ledges of precipitous earthen or rocky cliffs, and in the plains I think preferentially in the immediate neighbourhood of some large river or jheel. I have repeatedly seen their nests in the high clay cliffs of the Jumna and Chumba! in the Etawah districts, and I found a pair breeding in the ruined and cyclopean walls of the ancient Togluckabad, south of Delhi. Occasionally, however, they build on trees; and I found a nest containing a single egg in a large Peepul tree near Bhurtpore. The nest (as I said before, commonly placed on some convenient ledge or suitable recess in the cliff's face) is very large, from four to six feet in diameter, and is composed of thickish and moderate-sized sticks, varying from 1.5 to 0.5 in diameter. The nest itself varies in thickness from a few inches to a couple of feet, and being always finished off to a level; when placed, as often happens, on a more or less shelving declivity, is much thicker exteriorly than interiorly. In the nests that I have examined, branches and twigs of various kinds of thorny Acacias were the chief materials used. In no nest that I have seen, not even in that one mentioned as found on a Peepul tree, was there any very perceptible depression in the interior of the nest. In the centre of the platform, a circular space, of some eighteen inches in diameter, is commonly smoothed over with a thin layer of green twigs ; and in the centre of this again, a smaller space of perhaps one foot in diameter is carefully carpeted with green leaves, those of the Neem, Peepul, Peeloo, and other trees being apparently indifferently made use of.

Normally, they lay two eggs, but I have once found three in a nest, and on two occasions have known of a single, much incubated egg being met with.

I have not seen many eggs of this species. All I have seen were oval, varying slightly in size and in the comparative length of the minor axis. Many are unspotted, the rest are more or less faintly blotched, streaked, or spotted with pale yellowish or reddish brown. I have never seen a richly coloured egg of this species. The ground colour is that of all Eagles of this type, a pale greyish or bluish white, often becoming, during the course of incubation, much soiled and discoloured.

In size they vary from 2.56 to 3 in length and from 1.95 to 2.22 in breadth, but the average of nine eggs was 2.83 by 2.1.

My friend, Mr. Brookes, whom I first put up to the breeding places of this bird in the Etawah district, and who has since taken many eggs there, I believe, writes, (this has since appeared in the Ibis) - :

" The eggs were usually two, but in two instances only one. Two were white, unmarked, but all the others sparingly blotched and spotted with bright reddish brown, and sometimes intermixed with blotches of light reddish grey. The largest egg measures 2.96 inches by 2.16 inches, and the smallest 2.79 inches by 2.04 inches. I have a pair of eggs out of the same nest, one plain white, the other well marked.

Capt. Hutton, writing from Mussooree, says " Eutolmaetus Bonellii remains here all the year, breeding in places similar to those selected by G. Barbatus, but although we have several times found the nests, we never could get at them. It stoops to fowls and is destructive to the larger game birds."

Mr. R. Thompson has the following note in regard to this species in Kumaon and Gurhwal. " I have never been up to examine the nests of these birds, because they are always placed on the most inaccessible precipices, but I can vouch for the time of their breeding, viz. from April to June. I had a nest for several years in view, but never could get at it; it was on a steep precipice and none would volunteer to assist me. That the birds had their nests there, was more than established, because during other periods of the year, the pair used to carry off my poultry and eat it wherever they found a place suitable; but in the breeding season they always carried their plunder to the nest.

" One year I caught the young birds, two in number, the first in July, and the second in August.

" I have subsequently caught young nestling birds at Nynee Tal along with the old ones, thus taking the whole family. This was in the month of August.

" In February last, I saw a pair apparently courting, which flew to and out of a large nest placed in a tree in the forest, at a place called Bunderjewrah, eight miles east of Ramnuggur."

Elsewhere (in the Ibis) I have thus described the taking of a nest of this species.

" About a mile above the confluence of the clear blue waters of the Chumbal and the muddy stream of the Jumna, in a range of bold perpendicular clay cliffs, that rise more than a hundred feet above the cold weather level of the former river, I took my first nest of Bonelli's Eagle. In the rainy season, water trickling from above, had, in a way trickling water often does, worn a deep recess into the face of the cliff, about one-third of the way down. Above and below, it had merely broadly groved the surface, but here, finding a softer bed I suppose, it had worn in a recess some five feet high and three feet deep and broad. The bottom of this recess sloped downwards, but the birds, by using branches with large twiggy extremities, had built up a level platform that projected some two feet beyond the face of the cliff. It was a great mass of sticks, fully half a ton in weight, and on this platform (with only her head visible from where we stood at the water's edge) an old female Eagle sat in state. This was on Christmas day ! It is not many holidays a really working official gets in India, or at least can afford to give himself, and part of mine are generally spent in the open air, gun in hand.

" At the foot of the cliffs is a talus of rough blocks of clay, that it will take many a flood yet to amalgamate, and up this I crept until I was only about sixty feet below the nest. Here, however, I could see nothing of the bird, I shouted and kicked the cliff, the men below screamed, threw fragments of kunker (one of which very nearly blinded me) and by various signs attempted to indicate to Mrs. Bonelli that a change of locality was desirable. Serenely sublime in the discharge of her maternal duties, that lady took no notice whatsoever of the uproar below; accustomed to the passage of noisy boat crews, and, like some other sovereigns who sit calmly aloft, unable to realize that it is really against their sacred selves that the mob beneath is howling, the Eagle never moved. Beaten at our first move, we changed our plan. I crept down the talus, and sent up a man to throw down dust and small pieces of earth, (we were afraid of breaking the eggs), in the hopes of driving her off the nest. Luckily the very first piece of earth hit her, then came a shower of sand, and concluding I suppose that the cliff was (as it often does) about to fall, she flew off the nest with a rapid swoop. Bang, bang, both barrels, 12 bore, No. 3 green cartridge, fall in the chest, (as the body snowed when we skinned it), and yet with a naif fall, like a tumbler Pigeon, through some fifteen or twenty feet she recovered herself and swooped away as if unhurt, close along the face of the cliff; a hundred yards further I saw a tremor, then in a moment it was clear that she was in the death struggle, she began to sink, and an instant after fell over and over on to a flat block of clay with almost incredible violence. The dust flew up from where she fell, as if a shell had dropt there, but as a specimen, the bird was scarcely injured.

" We had hardly secured the female, after the maimer of bird-stuffers, plugging nostrils and shot holes, stuffing throat and smoothing feathers, when we heard a shrill creaking cry and saw the male coining straight for the nest with a bird, (which turned out to be a Turtur Cambayensis) in his talons. Coming to the nest, the bird seemed surprised to find it empty, it took no notice whatsoever of us, nor did it apparently catch sight of its mate, stretched out with her white breast uppermost on the deck-like platform of our barge, but it straightway settled itself down in the centre of the nest and became entirely invisible. Again tiny stones were thrown down and after standing up, staring proudly round and stalking to the edge of the platform, where he was hailed with shouts, the male bird flew off slowly, swooping down to within twenty yards of where I sat, and the next moment dropped stone dead with only a loose charge of No. 6 through him.

He was a much less bird than the female. She measured 29 inches in Length, nearly 70 in expanse, and weighed close on 6 lbs. He was only 26 in Length, 62 in expanse, and about 4 lbs. in weight.

We had now to get the eggs, if eggs there were, because as yet we could only guess and surmise in regard to these. Just above the recess, the cliff bosomed out with a full swell for some two or three feet, effectually preventing any one's looking down into the nest from above, or, except by an accidental cannon in the broad groove, such as my boatman had made by a fluke at the very first shot, from even throwing anything down into it. Above the swell, the cliff was as nearly perpendicular as might be, and it really did seem as if getting into that nest would be no easy matter. However, some six feet east of the nest, passed a sort of fault or crack which traversed the cliff at an angle of about 45 degrees and down this, a stout rope round the waist, with infinite trouble and no little danger, a way was found after all to the nest. Once there, it was a firm platform of sticks at least five feet by three and a half. In the centre of this, a circle of about twenty inches in diameter was smoothed over with fine green twigs of the Peeloo, (Salvadora Persica), and on this again, a circle of about a foot in diameter was smoothly spread with the green leathery leaves of the same tree, and on these reposed the coveted treasures, two fresh eggs. One of these eggs was bluish white, blotched and speckled very feebly, but thickly towards the larger end, with pale reddish brown. It measured 3 in length by 2.19 in breadth. The other was almost pure bluish white, with scarcely any traces of markings any where, and measured 2.81 in length by 2.13 in breadth. I had always felt morally certain, that the egg figured as this bird's by Dr. Bree never belonged to this species, but was probably only a well coloured Neophrons, but now the thing was certain. No aquiline bird that laid the eggs I had in my hand could ever have laid an egg similar to that given in the " Birds of Europe not observed &c."

A few days later in similar cliffs a few miles higher up, I found another nest. This time, however, the platform was much larger, and was only about six feet below the top of the cliff. One could look into it without the slightest difficulty, and a Jackal could assuredly have made his way there with ease, as even I got down to it without help and without a rope. The platform of sticks was fully five feet in diameter, there was the same smooth patch of twigs and smaller smooth circle of green leaves, this time of the Peepul (Ficus Religiosa) and, as in the former case, on the leaves, about five inches, apart lay two fresh eggs. These had a bluish white ground blotched all over, but thinly and very feebly, with pale dingy reddish brown ; and they measured, the one, 2.62 by 2, and the other 2.51 by 2. The eggs were therefore considerably smaller than those above described, while the female, which I shot as she left the nest, was a much younger and smaller one than the magnificent bird first killed."

Mr. Tyrwhitt Drake, in his notes on the Birds of Tangiers and Eastern Morocco, tells us that this species breeds at Tetuan and also at Cape Spartel.

Mr. Tristram in the Ibis for 1865, writing of Palestine, remarks - :

" Bonelli's Eagle is rather common in every part of the country; but seems to avoid the plains, being much attached to the wadys and rocky terraces with which the country abounds. Most of the birds we saw ,were in the adult plumage; but in early spring we noted several with the ruddy breast of the second year's plumage, which evidently had not paired. It frequents the gardens behind Sidon and Jaffa, but is more generally found in the wooded hill regions about Carmel, Tabor, and the Lake of Galilee, from which places we procured the eggs in April, as well as two nests of one egg each in the neighbourhood of Gerasch, east of the mountains of Gilead. It does not appear to lay till the end of March ; and then generally a single egg. These are either white, or with the faintest russet spots. One nest, which contained two eggs, both fairly coloured, baffled all our attempts at its capture. It was comfortably placed under an overhanging piece of rock near the top of the cliffs of Wady Hamam, in such a position that no rope could be thrown over to let down an adventurous climber; and yet from another point, which projected nearly parallel to it, we could look into the nest with longing eyes."

Mr. W. H. Simpson, in his notes on the birds of Mesolonghi and Southern Etolia, gives the following account of the nest and eggs of a Bonelli's Eagle which he took on the 27th of February.

" This done I was in possession, and able to make a closer inspection of the nest itself, which consisted principally of branches of wild olive, terebinth and thorn, arranged according to their size. There was no lining of wool, as is usual in Eagles' nests, but the eggs lay on a thin layer of olive leaves. The eggs themselves, which I retain in my collection, are slightly unequal in size. The larger is of a smooth texture and bluish white ground colour, very sparingly marked with rust-coloured spots and minute dottings."

This Eagle is pretty common in the plains of Upper India, and is generally distributed through the country, though, (except in the North Western Provinces,) it is chiefly found in hilly and woody tracts. Layard found it in Ceylon, but it does not appear to go eastward. I can nowhere find it recorded from Burmah, and Wallace did not meet with it in the Indian Archipelago.

Swinhoe does not appear to have met with it anywhere in China north or south; it is not amongst the Birds of Japan, and Radde does not include it in his Avi-fauna of south-east Siberia. Throughout the south of Europe, it is found, though nowhere common, and in Palestine as we have seen, it is plentiful. I do not find it noticed from Egypt, nor from the Red Sea coast country. In the north of Africa, it occurs in Morocco, Algeria and Tunis, but not it would seem further east. Layard gives it from South Africa, on the strength of a single specimen identified by Mr. Gurney, but the latter gentleman has since avowed grave doubts of the correctness of this identification, and it seems in the highest degree improbable that this species should occur in Southern Africa.

On the whole, the range of this noble and powerful, though short-winged, Eagle, appears to be comparatively restricted.

I subjoin exact dimensions of three fine females, recorded from fresh birds. Similar measurements of males have unfortunately been lost.

No.1 No.2 No.3
Length 28.5 28.0 27.5
Expanse 64.5 64.5 67.0
Weight (in lbs.) 4.75 5.25 5.0
Wing 20.0 19.63 19.65
Which primary the longest 4th 4th 4th
1st Primary falls short of longest by 6.0 5.75 5.0
2nd Primary falls short of longest by 2.0 2.5 2.0
3rd Primary falls short of longest by 1.0 0.75 0.2
Tail, length from vent 12.0 12.0 12.75
Tarsus 3.75 3.69 4..0
Foot, greatest length 6.63 7.0 7.0
Foot, greatest width 5.25 5.75 6.0
Mid toe to root of claw 2.5 2.69 2.63
Its claw along curve 1.5 1.5 1.69
Hind toe to root of claw 1.5 1.31 1.5
Its claw along curve 2.13 2.06 2.25
Bill, straight, including cere, from forehead to point, 1.88 1.94 1.94
„ along curve „ „ 2.25 2.38 2.38
Bill, from gape „ „ 2.13 2.19 2.13
„ width at gape „ „ 1.31 1.38 1.56
Height at front, at edge of cere 0.94 0.81 0.75
Length of cere only 0.69 0.75 0.71
Lower tail coverts fall short of end of tail by 5.25 5.0 5.3
Wings, when closed, fall short of end of tail by 2.7 2.95 3.0

In all these, the feet were pale, dingy, whitish brown, with a tinge of yellow, most distinct on the first joint of the mid toe. Five, or rarely four, large transverse scutes at the end of the inner, hind, and mid toes; three, or rarely four of these on the end of the exterior toe. Claws, black. Irides, in some bright yellow, in the others brownish yellow; orbits, greenish with small down-like white feathers; edges of lids, fleshy plumbeous; eye-shelf dingy green or in some plumbeous; bill, bluish gray at base, horny black or blackish brown towards the tips; cere and gape, pale dingy, or in some dingy yellow, bluish about nostrils.

Plumage. No. 1, female, shot from the nest. Banks of Chumbal, Mohwa Sonda, December 26th, 1866. The whole of the lores and portion under the eye densely clothed with tiny white feathers, the long naked black shafts of which, project like bristles. The forehead and the whole top of the head, rich dark brown, here and there slightly mottled with white owing to the white bases of the feathers showing through. A few of the feathers of the hind head narrowly and inconspicuously margined with white. The whole of the back of the neck and upper back, dark brown, more or less mottled with white, owing to the tips only of the feathers being brown, and the white of the basal portions showing through. Scapulars dark brown, the longest ones darker and richer coloured. The whole of the lesser coverts, and the greater coverts of the tertiaries and of a few of the secondaries, dark brown. Winglet, greater coverts of primaries, and of most of the secondaries, very dark, almost blackish, brown. Feathers under the winglet deep brown, tipped or mottled with white. Upper tail coverts very dark brown, some of the longest obscurely barred with greyish, and here and there some of the white of the basal portion of the feathers showing through. Tail feathers, dull grey, with a broad band of dusky at the tip, and several other narrower indistinct wavy bands, most clearly seen on the inner webs of all but the central feathers. Ear coverts whitish, and tipped brown. Chin and throat pure white, a few only of the feathers with dark shafts. The whole of the breast and abdomen, pure white; most of the feathers with a narrow, linear ovate patch, of dark brown along the shafts. Thigh-coverts dark brown, a little speckled and mottled with white. Feathers of the tarsus mingled pale brown, and white, with dark shafts. Under tail coverts pale brown, with ill-defined and irregular bars of pure white. Lesser lower coverts of the wing, white, with very dark brown patches. The rest of the wing lining nearly pure dark brown, with only here and there a few specks of white. The first six primaries conspicuously notched on the inner web, and the inner webs of these primaries, above the notches, much mottled with white. Lower surface of the tail feathers, greyish white, with brownish tips, somewhat mottled with dusky especially on the inner web. Axillaries dark brown, irregularly blotched with pure white.

No. 2, female, (shot on the banks of the Chumbal near Chick-nee, December 29th, 1866, beside the nest which was ready for laying in,) had the whole top and crown of the head moderately dark brown, only a few of the feathers towards the front of the head having assumed the rich dark brown hue, described in the first bird. The two central tail feathers also were a pale sandy brown, tipped with a broad band of dusky brown, and with five or six transverse, wavy, indistinct bars of the same, across both webs. The rest of the feathers being of the same hue as those described in the first specimen, except the second and third exterior on one side, which were also, of the sandy brown tint, indicative of an earlier stage of Plumage. The ear coverts were nearly entirely dull brown with scarcely a trace of white about them, and the whole chin, throat, breast and abdo¬men were white, every feather with a conspicuous central linear stripe of a somewhat dark brown, larger and more conspicuous on the sides and abdomen, and some of the feathers of these parts with traces of edgings or imperfect bars of the same colour. The thigh coverts were a paler brown, conspicuously dark shafted and mottled with fulvous. Feathers of the tarsus were slightly fulvous white with dark shafts. There was more white in the wing lining than in No. 1. The axillaries were of a paler hue, and more variegated with white; a few of the feathers of the point of the chin have elongated naked bristle-like shafts.

No. 3, female, shot on the banks of the Senghur near Chuchowlee, January 10th, 1867. The hue of the upper parts in this, was darker on the whole, than in No. 1, and the plumage was closer and firmer, moreover, almost the whole of the feathers of the head, back of neck, upper back, lesser scapulars and lesser wing coverts, were margined inconspicuously, with a somewhat pater and more rufous brown; in the feathers of the sides of the neck and a patch behind the ear coverts, running back and almost meeting at the nape, the contrast between the margin and centre is considerable, but in the parts previously enumerated, it is very slight, and might pass unnoticed by a careless eye. Except in the middle of the back, the white bases of the feathers scarcely show through any where. The tail feathers are of two shades, the one set grey, as in No. 1, the others a sort of olive brown, with darker brown tips and wavy bars. The ear coverts are pale rufous, each feather centered with dark brown. The whole of the chin, throat, breast, sides and abdomen, white, the feathers with broad central stripes (narrowest on chin and throat) of darkish umber brown, and many of those of the breast, sides and abdomen, with traces of somewhat paler brown borders. The thigh coverts are mostly dull brown, with darker brown central stripes and with but a trace here and there towards the base of the tibia of white mottling. The tarsus feathers are pale fulvous brown, with darker centres and shafts. The smaller lower wing coverts in this, may be most properly said to be brown, with white patches, though some few, just about the carpal joint, are more white than brown. There is much less white, and more of the rich dark brown about the whole lower surface of the bird's body and wings than in No. 1. Of these, No. 3 was the oldest, and No. 2 the youngest bird.

* It seems probable that Vieillot's specific name, Fasciatus, has the priority, but I have not the necessary works by me to enable me to decide this point.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
33. Eutolmaetus bonellii
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Bonellis Eagle
Bonelli's Eagle
Aquila fasciata
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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