No. 29. Aquila Fulvescens. Gray.
The Indian Tawny Eagle.
This species breeds in different parts of upper India, from the middle of November to the middle of June, but the great majority I think, lay in January. Out of one hundred and fifty-nine eggs of which I have a record, eighty-three were taken in January, thirty-eight in December, twenty-eight in February, the rest in November, March, April and June. Only one in this latter month, and none at all in May. The very hot dry weather puts a stop to the laying of most species. The nest is always, as far as my experience goes, placed on trees. I have never met with one placed on rooky ledges, although I have found them on trees at the foot of, or near to precipices, which contained apparently most " eligible sites."
They build a large flat nest of sticks between two and three and a half feet in diameter, and from four inches to one foot in thickness, according to situation. The nests are generally lined with green leaves, sometimes with straw or grass intermingled with a few feathers, and sometimes have no lining at all. They are generally placed at the very top of the tree, and though I have found them occasionally on Peepul and Tamarind trees, the great majority were on moderate sized, but dense, Babool trees, standing apart in the midst of fields or low jungles.
The normal number of eggs seems to be two, but it is by no means uncommon to find three. The eggs of this species appear to me, to vary prodigiously in size and shape; but it is not improbable, as already remarked, when treating of Gyps Bengalensis, that this excessive apparent variation, is due to the enormous series I have before me. I have taken more than a hundred of this bird's eggs myself, and from first to last, have had more than double this number sent me by other observers. Normally this bird's egg is a somewhat broad oval, slightly pointed towards one end, and answering both in size and shape very well to Dr. Bree's figure of the Tawny Eagle's egg; very often, however, the eggs are somewhat smaller than this, and occasionally a great deal larger; some are very long and pointed. A pair which I took in the Goorgaon district, (shooting the old bird) are folly as broad as the egg in Bree's figure, and as long as his figure of the Lammergeyer's egg; so that they appear a long and narrow egg; the cubic contents of these must be fully twice that of some of the smaller specimens ; they each contained a fully developed chick, ready to hatch off. A few of the eggs are nearly spherical, but the broad oval greatly predominates. The ground colour of the eggs is the usual greyish white, unspotted in about half the specimens and exhibiting more or less conspicuous markings in others. Of the markings, the most common are a few large blotches and splashes of yellowish brown accompanied by pretty numerous specks or spots of the same colour, distributed pretty evenly, over the whole egg. In some, the blotches are more extensive and numerous, and exhibit a tendency to cluster towards one end more than the other, and the colour becomes a reddish brown or in some a purplish brown, while in others all three colours are mingled. In no egg that I possess is more than one-third of the surface covered with markings, and as a rule, even the richest coloured eggs (and these are comparatively rare) have not above a seventh or eighth of the surface of the egg covered with markings.
Elsewhere I have remarked, "The eggs vary extraordinarily both in size and shape from a very long oval, much pointed at one end, to almost a sphere; but the ordinary type, is a rather broad oval, slightly narrower at one end. In colour, they are most commonly white, with a very faint tinge of bluish green; but many of them are more or less streaked, spotted, or blotched, with different shades of brown, or reddish brown, and occasionally purple of varying intensity, and here and there, one may be found richly marked with sharply defined spots and blotches of bright, though slightly brownish, red. Many of the eggs, when taken from the nest, have a faint gloss on them ; but they lose this by washing, and the eggs become so soiled during incubation, that it usually is necessary to wash them. The texture is generally close and compact, the egg lining is a pure sea-green."
In size the eggs vary from 2.35 to 3.25 in length and from 1.8 to 2.25 in breadth; but the average of one hundred and fifty-nine eggs measured, was 2.63 by 2.11.
Mr. William Blewitt remarks, that he found great numbers of the nests of this bird, in the neighbourhood of Hansie, during January, February, March, and April 1868. None contained more than two eggs, and many of these latter were considerably incubated. The nests were without exception in dense Keekur trees (Acacia Arabica) at heights of from sixteen to twenty-four feet from the ground. The nests, sometimes loosely and at others densely constructed, were composed of twigs and small branches of Keekur, Ber (Z. Jujube) and similar thorny trees; more than one had a thin lining of grass or leaves, but the majority had no lining. In diameter (excluding straggling ends) the nests varied from sixteen inches to nearly two feet, and in depth from barely four to nearly nine inches.
During the latter part of 1868, great scarcity prevailed in Hansie and the whole neighbouring country, owing to the failure of the rains. Fodder, especially, was unprocurable, and throughout vast tracts, all the Babool, Ber, and Peepul trees were entirely denuded of their foliage, in order to feed the cattle. The result has been that A. Fulvescens has entirely deserted the neighbourhood, and where in 1868, with but little trouble Mr. Blewitt met with scores of nests, he has this year only succeeded in finding two!
My Mend, Mr. G. F. L. Marshall, R. E., writing of this species, says, " Very common in the Saharunpoor District. Is said to catch fish by all the natives; but I do not believe it. The native name is Machopa, or Machoka. It builds on trees, a nest of sticks, and lays two white eggs, sometimes pure, sometimes blotched with dusky and brownish. It commences building in the end of March, but the eggs are not laid, till the end of May; and I have taken fresh eggs up to the middle of June, and at Shamlee, in the Mozuffernugger District, I took five nests early in June, all with fresh eggs.
It is a curious fact, that in many parts of the country, the natives believe that the " Ruggur" as they usually designate it, catches fish. I have examined the stomachs of probably some fifty specimens, but though I have often found them full of small frogs, I have never detected any remains of fish.
Most birds when they have eggs, even before they begin to sit, watch their nests closely. I have, however, repeatedly found nests of this Eagle, containing one or more eggs, with no parent bird any where near. I have several notes of this, I quote one.
" On the "Western Jumna Canal, near Hissar, on the 15th December, I found a large nest on the top of a Babool tree. The nest seemed rather fresh and therefore, though there was no bird near, I sent up a man to examine it. It proved to contain two large eggs. Whilst the man was near the nest, no bird made its appearance, only after we had waited about a quarter of an hour, a large Fulvescens in dark plumage, soared slowly past, at a great height over head. This was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We did not touch the eggs, called the man down, and withdrew to watch the nest; hiding ourselves carefully some little distance off. It was not till the sun was setting that this same Fulvescens suddenly made its appearance, and descended to the nest, where it was shot. It was a female, and from first to last, we saw nothing of the male."
The plumage of the young is very pale. I find a note of one we met with " February 18th, 1867, a fine young one in a nest, a nice plump little white woolly chap, as Brookes said, for all the world like a well-washed poodle dog !"
Great differences of opinion exist, as to the identity or otherwise, of this species and Naevioides ; and as to the changes of plumage, whether the dark, or the light birds are the oldest, &c.
As regards its identity with Naevioides, Mr. Blyth says, " This species is united with the African A. Naevioides by Mr. G. E. Gray (B. M. Cat. B. Nepal, 2nd Edition) ; but it is a considerably smaller bird, and varies much more in its colouring. I have had many alive, three or four of them together; but never saw any approaching the size of the three fine specimens of A. Naevioides, at present in the Zoological Gardens."
I am not in a position to decide this point, but I subjoin a number of accurate measurements from the fresh bird, which will facilitate the decision of this question elsewhere.
As regards changes of Plumage. The young one in the nest is yellowish white, and the young of the first year are little else but whity brown. In the second stage, early in their 2nd year, they become wood brown, and in this stage are found breeding although rarely. In an intermediate stage, as I take it, late in the 2nd, or early in the 3rd year, they are about half wood brown, and half deep brown, and in the last or third stage, as I take it, by the beginning of the 4th year (or the end of the 3rd) they are throughout, deep umber, or in some, liver brown; which is perhaps not so dark in the first year it is assumed, as it becomes later. In both the intermediate and third stages, they are commonly found breeding, but according to my notes, out of every ten breeding birds, about one is in the second plumage, three in the intermediate, and six in the more or less dark garb. In all stages, there is a more or less apparent transverse barring in the central tail feathers, often mottled, irregular and ill-defined, but still distinctly visible in all but three of the enormous series in my museum; and in these three, the feathers in question are so abraded and bleached, that they very probably may have originally exhibited the bars.
I regret extremely, that most of my notes* on this species have been lost, and that I have now at hand, full details of only four specimens.
Dimension 1 2 3 4
Male. Female. Female. Female.
Length, 24.0 28.0 27.0 27.0
Expanse,.... 60.0 67.0 69.0 67.0
Weight (in lbs.) 4.6 4.0 4.06
Wing, 18.0 210 19.5 19.5
Which primary longest 5th 5th 4th & 5th 4th & 5th
1st Primary falls short of longest by 5.0 4.75 4.78
2nd „ „ „ ... 1.75 1.5
3rd „ ,, „ 0.75 0.6
Length of tail from vent, 10.0 11.25 10.0 10.0
Tarsus, . 2.75 3.25 3.31 3.25
Foot, greatest Length, 5.0 6.0 5.75 6.5
" " width, 4.38 5.0 5.0 4.63
Mid toe to root of claw, 2.0 2.5 2.5 2.38
Its claw along curve. 1.25 1.38 1.25 1.25
Hind toe to root of claw, 1.0 1.13 1.13 1.06
Its claw along curve,. 1.5 1.75 1.75 1.5
Bill, including cere from forehead
straight to point, .. 1.5 1.8 2.0 2.0
„ „ along curve 2.44 2 .56 2.63 2.63
Bill, from gape 2.25 2.5 2.56 2.56
„ width at gape, 2.13 2.25 2.0 2.06
„ height at margin of cere 0.75 0.78
Cere, length on culmen, 0.75 0.81
Besides this, the great majority of my specimens have recorded on their tickets, certain leading measurements, taken from the fresh bird, before skinning, (along with date, place, colours of soft parts, contents of stomach, and sex,) and from these I transcribe a number of measurements.
Length. Expanse. Wing. Tail. Wings when closed reached to within how much of end of tail. Weight in lbs.
Male 1st, ... 25.25 66.5 20.4 10.25 0.5 4.0
„ 2nd, ... 25.5 65.0 20.0 10.0 3.0
„ 3rd, ... 26.0 64.0 19.5 10.5 2.75
„ 4th, ... 26.0 64.0 20.7 10.4 3.0
„ 5th, ... 25.25 64.25 19.5 11.0 1.75 3.0
Female 1st,. 27.5 69.0 21.4 12.0 1.5 4.5
„ 2nd,... 27.63 70.0 21.3 11.0 1.26 4.75
„ 3rd,.,. 28.0 73.0 21.75 12.0 1.55 4.5
„ 4th,... 27.5 70.5 21.0 11.5 1.75 4.5
„ 5th,... 28.5 73.25 22.0 11.13 0.5 4.5
„ 6th,... 27.38 69.25 20.75 11.5 2.13 4.5
„ 7th,... 28.0 69.5 21.6 11.75 2.0 5.0
I have selected these, as small, large, and average examples out of over forty ticketed birds, and this set of measurements, with the more detailed ones given above, ought to enable European naturalists to decide, whether there is really, in point of size, any great difference between A. Naevioides and A. Fulvescens.
The female No. 3 (killed near Etawah, January 4th) of which I have above given detailed measurements, was a characteristic enough example of a bird changing from what I consider the second, into the third stage; as I have it by me, I give an exact description of this specimen.
DESCRIPTION. Legs and feet, dirty greenish white; claws, black; feet and toes, with reticulate scales, but with five large transverse scutes at the tip of the middle, and hind toe, and four at the tips of each of the lateral ones.
Irides, brown; edges of lids, bluish; orbits, bluish white, sparsely feathered with white down; membrane of bare eye-shelf, pale bluish grey.
Cere and gape, dirty cream colour, bluish about nostrils; upper mandible, at junction with cere, and lower mandible except at the tip, pale bluish grey; tip of both black.
Tongue, thick, fleshy, entire, slightly bilobed, of nearly uniform width throughout, very narrow in proportion to width of gape.
Plumage. Lores, greyish white, densely clothed with long, fine, dark brown, hair-like feathers. A patch on the forehead, on each side, dark brown, the feathers narrowly edged with pale brown. The whole of the rest of the top of the head a sandy brown, mingled or mottled with a somewhat darker hue. Feathers of the nape, and upper hind neck, much elongated, lanceolate, and mingled fulvous white, and pale brown. Base of the neck behind, and upper back, somewhat light umber brown, each feather tipped and margined with whitish brown. Lower back, pale brown, the white bases of the feathers showing through in places; rump, a rather darker brown. Upper tail coverts, lighter again, and whitish towards the tips. Scapulars mingled three shades of brown, from very dark to light fulvous brown. Tail feathers dingy greyish brown, tipped paler; very narrowly, and closely but obscurely, barred with very dark brown. Lower wing coverts, pale whitey brown, irregularly blotched with patches of rich dark brown. The median wing coverts pale brown, tipped and margined still lighter. Coverts under winglet, mingled white, fulvous and brown. Wing-let very dark brown, the interior feather whitish on the inner web ; greater coverts of primaries brown, those of the first few primaries very dark brown, especially on the outer webs, and scarcely perceptibly tipped with white. Those of the later primaries a lighter brown and conspicuously tipped with white ; and all of them with a good deal of greyish white on the inner web, which, however, is not visible without raising the feathers. Greater coverts of secondaries brown, some darker and some lighter, but all much darker than the median coverts. All of them with a good deal of greyish white on the inner web, and many of them more or less noticeably tipped with white. The primaries beyond the emarginations, which are conspicuous from 2nd to 7th, nearly black. Above the emarginations, the general colour is a fighter brown, barred, and freckled with greyish white, obscurely on the outer, and conspicuously on the inner web. The last three primaries, however, have the ground colour grey, with dark brown, wavy, transverse bars on both webs. The secondaries dark brown on the outer web, tipped greyish; and with a number of large transverse oval spots or incomplete bars of grey, on the inner webs. Below the gape, and behind the eye, a brown patch. Chin and centre of upper part of throat, darkish brown, the sides being pale fulvous brown. Lower part of throat and neck in front, dark brown, each feather with a narrow, central, fulvous white streak. Sides of neck, pale fulvous brown, with a few dark feathers intermingled. Breast, abdomen, sides, thigh coverts, and axillaries, dingy fulvous brown, some feathers rather darker than others; vent feathers, and lower tail coverts, white, tipped with fulvous; some almost entirely light fulvous. Lesser lower wing coverts, pale fulvous brown with, here and there, a single, very dark feather. Greater lower wing coverts, brownish grey. First five or six primaries, conspicuously notched on inner web. These, above the notches, and the rest of the quills throughout their whole lengths, have the lower surfaces obscurely barred greyish white and blackish brown. A faint trace of similar barring observable on the lower surface of tail feathers. The wings extend to tips of exterior tail feathers, which are 1 1/2 inch shorter than central ones.
Of the female, No. 4, shot on the same date, in nearly the full adult plumage, I have the following note:
" Almost exactly the same size as preceding and with the lores, quills and tail feathers much the same, though the latter were somewhat darker, but the whole of the rest of the plumage was a nearly uniform umber brown, darkest on rump, some of the largest scapulars, eye streak, and breast, and palest, on middle of back, upper and lower tail coverts, and lesser and median wing coverts (the former of which have a trace of sandy). There is some white about the chin, throat, and vent, owing to the bases of the feathers showing through. The feathers of the top of the head very narrowly, and inconspicuously margined paler, and the elongated lanceolate ones of the nape, and back of neck, with tiny, inconspicuous paler tips."
* I take this opportunity of again remarking, that one of my chief reasons for printing these crude, ill-digested notes, is my inability to find time to arrange them properly, and my fear, that if I delay putting them on permanent record, they may be lost altogether. In May 1857, I had completed a work on Indian ornithology, very inferior to Dr. Jerdon's subsequently published one, and therefore on this account not to be regretted; but still containing much that his volumes do not supply about the Birds of the Punjaub and the N. W. Provinces, and the first work of its kind. The fair copy, en route to the printer, was destroyed, with the rest of the contents of the mail bags, by rebels; while the original notes, with my vast collections, including nearly 2000 species of Asiatic and Australian birds were burnt a few weeks later at Etawah by mutineers. I see nothing improbable in the recurrence of an equally serious cataclysm, in the event of England's becoming involved in a general European war.