69. Ascalaphia bengalensis

No. 69. Ascalaphia Bengalensis.* FRANKLIN.


This species breeds as a rule, in February, March, and April, but eggs are occasionally met with in both December and January, and in the lower valleys of Gurhwal, according to Mr. R. Thompson, may be met with as late as the end of May.

The birds make no nest, but merely scoop a small hollow in the earth, in which to deposit the eggs. Occasionally, they will lay on the level ground under some over-hanging bush or tuft of grass, but almost without exception, they choose some little cave or recess in, or projecting ledge or shelf of, some rocky or earthy cliff in the neighbourhood of water. The precipitous banks of canals and rivers, are perhaps their favorite brooding-places, and as my friend, Capt. G. F. L. Marshall, first pointed out to me, they (in northern India) almost invariably select a cliff face looking westward.

The normal number of the eggs is perhaps four; but I have often found three and, more than once, only two eggs much incubated.

The eggs of this species appear, comparatively speaking, very uniform in size and shape. Very perfect broad ovals, white with a faint creamy tinge, they are, but for a slight superior glossiness, scarcely distinguishable from those of B. Ocellata. In texture, they are finer than the eggs of A. Coromanda, and for the size of the bird, seem to me decidedly small. I note that I can scarcely believe that the egg figured by Bree as that of A. Savignyi really belongs to that nearly allied species. The egg being barely two-thirds the size of the smallest A. Bengalensis I have yet seen.

The eggs of the Indian species, vary from 2.05 to 2.20 in Length, and from 1.65 to 1.8 in breadth, but the average of ten eggs measured is 2.10 by 1.73. The egg figured by Bree is only 1.54 by 1.34.

This species is very common in the Saharunpoor district, especially towards the North, and from thence Mr. G. Marshall sent me the following account of its nidification. - :" The Rock Horned Owl breeds from December to April,.the middle of March being the best time for searching for its eggs. On one occasion only, I found the eggs on the level ground, on a plain, at the foot of a tuft of grass; on every other occasion, I have found them on a ledge, in the perpendicular bank of a ravine, generally by the canal and, without exception, on the left bank facing the west. It lays four, very round, pure white eggs, slightly hollowing the ground to receive them, but making no attempt at a nest or even a lining to the hole. I have always found the nest close to water.
" I found two fresh eggs, on 16th December.
I found four set eggs, on 3rd April.
I found two fresh eggs, on 21st March.
I found two young birds, on 3rd April.
I found four fresh eggs, on 16th April.
I found two fresh eggs on 28th March.

I found four half-fledged young on 26th March. " The birds keep close to water as a rule, and the male bird seldom wanders far when the female is sitting; they seldom perch on trees, and, during the breeding season, the male bird may be seen sitting on the top of the bank, somewhere near the nest, at all hours of the day. They are rather shy birds, and leave the nest at once, if approached."

Capt. Hutton remarks, that this species is " common along the foot of the hills in the Doon ; I have had the young ones in March from a hole in a steep bank of a ravine, at Rajpur ; in April also a man brought word, that he had found a nest, with nothing in it, but it was only just completed; waited for a fortnight, and sent a man to bring the eggs, but it again proved blank. The bird ascends sometimes in the summer to 5,500 feet."

Capt. Cock says, " Coming, home on the 17th March, at Dhurumsalla, I took a nest of Ascalaphia Bengalensis with eggs. I shot the old bird. The nest was in a little cave in the face of a steep precipice full of little bones of rats and mice, one or two feathers, and only a slight depression in the sandy floor. Eggs hard set."

Mr. Blyth remarked in the Ibis for 1866, that the Indian species is " distinct from A. Ascalaphus, though closely approximating to that species. Dr. Jerdon omits to give the colouring of the irides, which are of a redder and deeper flame-yellow than those of a specimen of A. Ascalaphus at present in the Zoological Gardens."

Of the nidification of A. Ascalaphus (Savigni Tem.,) I quote the following from a paper of Baron Warthausen, which appeared in the Ibis for 1860. " This species has been observed by Heuglin in Upper Egypt and Nubia in pairs and in small companies; it breeds also in Lower Egypt, where Wilke found two nests on the pyramids of Abusir and Lakara on the 26th and 27th of March, 1858. Each of the cavities scratched in the sandy surface, at a shadowy but not dark locality, contained three fresh eggs.

" The eggs of the one brood are more elongated, those of the other more rounded; all having a very regular form, the greatest diameter passing through the centre and the profile descending the poles sometimes in a more gentle, sometimes in a more abrupt, elliptical curve. The length {given in French lines) varies between 22 (1.97) and 24 (213) lines, the breadth between 18 1/2 (1.67) and 20 (1.80); the largest specimen is 24 (2.13) lines long and 20 (1.80) broad, the smallest, 22 (1.97) long and 19 (1.71) broad; the weight is 48 to 60 grains."

It will be observed that the dimensions of these eggs correspond precisely with those of our Indian birds, so that the egg, figured by Bree, must necessarily have belonged to some other species, but it is only fair to state that it is M. Moquin Tandon, who furnished the figure, and not Dr. Bree, who is responsible for this error.

Dr. Jerdon says, that the Indian species is found throughout India and Ceylon ; but I cannot find it recorded by any authority from the latter locality. Eastward it certainly extends to British Burmah; but I do not find it noted from Singapore and the Straits, and it probably does not extend, to the Malay Peninsula; westward it has been sent from Afghanistan.

I have already at page 226, noticed the Homble F. J. Shaw's apocryphal account of the breeding of this species. It is only explicable, as there suggested, by supposing that he intended to refer to Spilornis Cheela.


DIMENSIONS. (The sexes do not appear to differ sufficiently to make it worth while giving the dimensions separately, but the females are usually somewhat larger.)

Length 21 to 23. Expanse 52.5 to 580. Wing 14.75 to 16.0. Tail 8.25 to 8.75. Tarsus, 2.94 to 3.25. Foot, greatest Length, 4.2 to 4.35; greatest width, 4.2 to 4.38; mid toe to root of claw, 1.5 to 1.82; its claw straight, 1.06 to 1.92; hind toe, 0.81 to 1.00; its claw straight, 0.8 to 0.88; inner toe, 1.65 to 1.72; its claw straight 1.05 to 1.12. Bill straight, from margin of cere to point, 1 to 1.06 ; from gape, 1.7 to 1.76; width at gape 1.45 to 1.56; height at front, at margin of cere, 0.58 to 0.61. Wings when closed, reach to within 1.5 to 1.9 of end of tail. Lower tail coverts reach to within 1 to 1.25 of end of tail. The 4th Primary is the longest; the 1st is from 1.5 to 2 ; the 2nd from 0.45 to 0.55; and the 3rd from 0.06 to 0.2 shorter. Exterior tail feathers from 0.7 to 0.85 shorter than central ones.

DESCRIPTION. Legs and feet feathered; the toes above only, but almost to the very points, where there are 3 large transverse scales on the inner, and 2 similar ones on each of the other toes; the scales greyish horny. Soles with prominent pads, thickly covered with prominent papillae, a sort of buffy white. Claws dusky almost black, lighter at the roots; inner edge of mid-claw dilated into a narrow knife-like edge. Irides narrow, of great diameter, intense orange yellow, brightest internally. Bill horny black. Tongue rather short and broad, fleshy, somewhat spatulate. The tip obtuse and slightly emarginate.

The lores and sides of upper mandible at base are occupied by two dense tufts of nearly pure white bristly feathers having the webs much disunited, and having the extreme tips black ; the shafts of most are prolonged as bristles. They completely overhang the nostrils and reach to within from three-eighths to one-fourth of an inch of the end of upper mandible. The edges of the eyelids are brown, the eyelids bluish white and bare, except for 2 dense rows of short feathers near the margins, with very disunited webs, which are white with the tips of most of the shafts, blackish on lower and posterior half of upper lid, and brown on anterior portion of the latter. Feathers of forehead, immediately overhanging the upper mandible, and the anterior one-third of eye very similar to those of the lores. A broad band of similar feathers, but tinged with pale buffy brown, from near the base of the egrets, behind and below the eye, embracing the ear coverts, and every where bounded posteriorly by a narrow dark brown band, which commencing above the eye, runs to the base of the egrets, and thence downwards behind the ear, to a little below the gape. Forehead, top and back of the head a sort of umber brown, with whitish marginal and terminal spots giving a mottled appearance; these spots are much larger proportionally and more buffy towards the front of the forehead, where the brown almost disappears; the warm buffy tint of the bases of the feathers shows through a good deal in some, towards the back of the head. There is an ill-defined, mottled, buffy streak from above the eye, above the dark brown band, to the very base of the egret, up the interior side of which it almost seems to run, since a portion of the inner web of the longest and the outer webs of some of the snorter are buffy or buffy white. The rest of the egrets (which are some 2 5/8 long) are a rather darker brown than the top of the head. The sides of the head and upper part of sides of neck for about 1 inch behind the dark brown band are mingled buff, buffy white and brown, no colour showing clearly, but the feathers if closely examined, are mostly buff at the base, and whitish towards their extremities where there are 2 or 3 narrow, wavy, brown, transverse bars. The chin is occupied by a dense tuft of feathers similar to those of the lores, (but entirely white) which curve out quite to the end of the lower mandible. There is a similar tuft on each side of the lower mandible, and a line of similar feathers round the gape, and running up (overhung and nearly hidden by the buffy, or brownish white feathers below the eye) to the lores; from where the narrow dark brown line terminates a little below the gape, a broad, irregular band of buffy feathers with darker or lighter brown central streaks runs right across the throat, separating the white of the chin from a pure white, somewhat triangular patch in the centre of the throat or upper neck in front. The feathers of the rest of the neck all round are a rich buff colour with more or less white towards the tips, and conspicuous, broader or narrower, central stripes of dark brown. The upper back, shoulders, scapulars, median, secondary and tertiary greater coverts, are brown, varying somewhat in shade but still dark, with two or more, mottled, or even freckled pairs of large spots or incomplete bars, of white, buff or buffy white. The tertiaries are similar, but having a much lighter and more rufous ground colour, and more of the mottled incomplete bars. The extreme edge of the wing is white, and the immediately adjoining feathers much mottled, with a rich buff, but the lesser wing coverts as a whole are a rich dark brown, towards the tips (which alone show) with only one or two pairs of rather small, buff, or fulvous white, irregular, marginal spots, and this is the character of the winglet. The greater coverts of the primaries are a rich rufous buff at the base, and dusky brown at the tip, the centres banded with freckled and mottled bars of both colours. The primaries are the same rich rufous buff, tipped with a lighter shade of dusky brown, which tips are much longer in the first than in the succeeding primaries. The first two primaries have the whole outer webs banded brown and rufous buff, freckled with brown, but in the succeeding primaries the rufous buff above the tips is nearly pure except for two or three, narrow, brown, bands towards the end on the outer, and one or two similar ones on the inner webs. The dusky tips themselves are a good deal banded and freckled, especially towards the secondaries, which want the well marked dusky tips, and, with a less pure rufous buff ground, have about four or five brown bars on the outer and three or four on the inner webs, the interspaces on the outer webs being a good deal dashed with white and mottled and freckled with brown. The central tail feathers resemble the outer webs of the later secondaries, the lateral ones their inner webs. The brown bars growing narrower and narrower on each succeeding feather, as they recede from the centre. The second primary is clearly and the third slightly emarginate on the outer web, and the three first, the first especially, are conspicuously notched on the inner webs. The inner surface of the quills except at the tips or where the bars show through, is a delicate, pale, rufous buff, almost salmon colour, as are also the larger lower primary coverts, which have dusky tips. The edge of the wing, as above noticed, is white, the rest of the wing lining is rufous buff, the median lower coverts broadly but irregularly margined with slightly rufous or buffy white, and a few of those near the carpal joint, with ill-defined, brownish, sub-terminal spots. The lesser lower coverts, with faint, narrow, wavy, transverse, brown or rufous brown bars. The breast, abdomen, sides, flanks and lower tail coverts are a rich rufous buff, with very numerous, narrow, transverse, wavy, brown bars, darkest and closest on the sides and feeblest and widest apart on the lower tail coverts, and almost wanting in the immediate vicinity of the vent. The feathers of the upper breast adjoining the base of the neck, with conspicuous very dark brown (in some almost black) central stripes. The thigh coverts the same hue as the rest of the lower part of Dody, but altogether unspotted and unbarred. The tarsi and toe feathers, buffy white, also unspotted and unbarred.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
69. Ascalaphia bengalensis
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Rock Horned Owl
Indian Eagle-Owl
Bubo bengalensis
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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