No. 76. Athene Brama, TEM.
THE SPOTTED OWLET.
This species breeds in February, March and April; but the great majority of the birds lay in March.
Holes in old trees, (scantily lined with a few dry leaves and feathers, decayed wood, or a little grass,) are their favourite laying places, but holes in old buildings, and clefts in rocks are sometimes resorted to. I remember Mr. Brookes telling me, that in his office at Etawah two Rollers (C. Indica) had chosen a hole, or rather spot to build in, on the top of the central wall of a gable roof, just under the main longitudinal beam. Two of these Owlets came and determined to breed there, and after a couple of days' fighting and screeching, &c, the Owls took possession of the Boilers' comfortable nest and there laid. The Rollers went round the corner of the same house, chose a new hole, built a new nest and bred there. Generally when met with out of holes in trees, their nests are more substantial, than when in the latter, and in such oases, I suspect the nests are more often theirs by right of conquest than by construction.
They lay four or five eggs : most commonly the former. All are when blown a beautifully pure white, but until blown, have, when quite fresh, a beautiful pink tinge, and when a good deal incubated, are an opaque marble white. Most of them are of a close, uniform, satiny texture^ but a good many are thickly covered in part or whole with minute pimples, if I may use the word, white, but owing to the shell there being thicker, of a rather deader white than the ground.
Typically the eggs of Athene Brama are oval. In some oases broad and approaching the normal Owl shape, but more commonly a moderately broad oval, differing little in colour, size and texture from those of some of our green pigeons, and some of the smaller specimens are positively undistiuguishable from large eggs of Turtur Risoria.. The largest specimen I have seen is smaller than the eggs of Noctua Tegmalmi figured by Hewitson and as above remarked much less spherical. Out of some hundreds, I have only one specimen nearly as spherical as his figure.
The eggs vary from 1.15 to 1.45 in length and from 0.93 to 1.1 in breadth, but the average of 54 eggs measured was 1.25 by 1.04.
Mr. W. Blewitt writes, " I took four nests of this bird between the 16th and 21st March. Two contained three and two four eggs, one set of the latter only being at all incubated. The nests were in decayed hollows of Sheeshum, Jamun (Eugenium Jambolanam) and Neem trees, the eggs were in each case more or less bedded in dry leaves, or feathers, or both." On another occasion he wrote, " I found several nests of this species near Hansie in the latter half of April. They were in holes of Peepul and Siriss trees, and each contained three eggs laid upon a few blades of straw with a few dry leaves or feathers."
This is a very bold little bird, and always issues from its diurnal roosting-place long before dusk. It is one of the birds which really seem to think that Telegraph wires wore erected for their sole and especial benefit, and the numbers that one some times sees, perched on these in a run of two or three miles down a railway line on a trolly about sunset, is surprising. Very often it will not even move for a train, or if it does, only takes a short undulating flight, alternately opening the wings widely and closing them again entirely, and then re-alights on the wire. It is a great bird for a kind of whispered chattering, which the natives try to imitate in its name " Khoosuttia," which recalls to us the French word for the same sound, " chuchoter."
As regards its geographical distribution out of India, Mr. Blyth remarked in the Ibis for 1866 - :"I believe that Dr. Jerdon is mistaken in noting this bird from Ceylon, as also from ' Persia and other parts of Asia,' west of India. Noctua indica, one of the synonyms of this species, is described as being ' common about the foot of the mountains near the town of Erzeroum,' (P. Z. S. 1839, p. 119). This, I believe, is the only authority for noting it from Persia; and the species was doubtless A. Persica (Vieillot.)"
* This latter, probably confounded with Lempigi, is said to have occurred in Burmah. I quote Bonaparte's description " Affinis praecedente (Lempigi) sed minor, alis vix quinque pollicaribus (say 5.35 Eng.). Ferrugineus, albo-rufescente fuscoque varius, maculis supra parvis, pallidis, sagittatis, subtus minimis, elongatis; fronte albo-rufescente."
NOTE. Col. Tytler showed me specimens of an Ephialtes from Barrackpore, which he called Lempigi ana which (1 had not then studied the group) may have been so; but what was most remarkable was, that these were altogether undistinguishable from specimens which he had received from Mons Verreaux as Braziliensis from South America.
DIMENSIONS. (Sexes vary but little in size, but the female weighs considerably heavier.)
Length, 8.0 to 9.5. Expanse, 21 to 22.5. Wing, 6.15 to 6.65. Tail, 2.75 to 3. Tarsus, 1 to 1.1. Foot greatest Length, 2.1 to 2.2 ; greatest width, 2.15 to 2.23; mid toe to root of claw, 0.72 to 0.82; its claw straight, 0.4 to 0.45 ; hind toe to root of claw, 0.38 to 0.42; its claw, 0.36 to 0.41; inner toe to root of claw, 0.6 to 0.65; its claw, 0.38 to 0.4. Bill straight from margin of cere to point, 0.48 to 0.52; from gape, 0.78 to 0.84; width at gape, 064 to 0.72; height at front at margin of cere, 0.30 to 0.36; length of cere, on culmen, 0.25 to 0.31. Wings when closed reach to end of tail or fall short of them by not more than 0.5 inch. Lower tail coverts reach to within 0.76 to 1.5 of end of tail. The third and fourth primaries are the longest. The first from 0.9 to 1.1; and the second from 0.2 to 0.35 shorter. The exterior tail feathers are from 0.13 to 0.42 shorter than the central ones. The weight is from 3.5 to 6 oz. A particularly large female from Saugor, weighed 7.5 ounces.
DESCRIPTION. Feet, dingy greenish, front of toes sparsely clad with whity brown bristles. Claws, very sharp, blackish horny ; inner edge of mid claw a good deal dilated. Papillae of soles, small distinct, soft. Irides bright pale yellow. Bill, horny green. Cere, dusky, much swollen above the nares. Tongue, obtusely hastate; slightly membraneous and emarginate at the tip.
Plumage. Facial disk, which is nearly obsolete, partially defined, by a dark, earthy, brown tipped, row of feathers, running right across the throat and upwards behind the ear coverts. The general colour of the facial disk or space enclosed, by the above line, including apex of forehead, and broad supercilium, white, but the ear coverts themselves are very pale brown, obscurely barred with darker brown ; there is a dusky patch in front and below the anterior angle of the eye ; most of the bristle-like feathers of the prominent lore tufts are only dingy white, and the naked tips of their elongated shafts are dark brown. Middle of forehead, top and back of head, and sides of ditto behind facial disk line, dull earthy brown, the feathers with pairs of small white spots, or narrow incomplete white bars. These spots are most numerous, on the forehead, and largest on the sides of the head. The back of the neck is generally the same dull earthy brown, but at the base of the occiput, and down the back of neck, there is an ill-defined and mottled, white, triangular patch, owing to some of the feathers being broadly tipped, or marked near the tip, with white; this is only clearly seen, when the neck is extended. The neck in front, below the brown disk line, is white, and this colour extends as a sort of collar, backwards, but does not quite meet at the back. The whole back, scapulars, upper tail coverts, and wing coverts are the same dull earthy brown, the upper back nearly spotless, the feathers of the other parts with numerous pairs of white spots towards the tips and more or less imperfect white bars higher up, which latter are hidden by the overlapping of the feathers. The ground colour of the tail feathers, and quills, is the same, as that of the back. The tail feathers have about four transverse white bars, narrow on the centre tail feathers, and the outer webs of the lateral ones, but broad, and somewhat scallop-like on the inner webs of the latter. The first five quills are notched on the inner webs, the second to the fourth slightly emarginate, on the outer ones. The first five primaries, and the secondaries, have several white spots on the outer webs, and the last five primaries exhibit traces of the same, and all (but the first five primaries below the notches, where there are only faint traces of them) have large, broad, pure white scallops, on the inner webs, corresponding with the white spots, on the outer webs, which, with them may be considered, portions of incomplete bars. The base of the neck in front the breast, sides, flanks, and thigh coverts, white, the feathers with subterminal, brown bands and triangular spots, which at the base of the neck predominate, owing to the overlapping of the feathers, and form a sort of mottled zone. The middle of the abdomen, vent, lower tail coverts, and tarsi feathers, a slightly dingy white.