No. 70. Ascalaphia Coromanda.* LATHAM.
THE DUSKY HORNED OWL.
The vast majority of this species lay (in Upper India at any rate) in December and January, but I have found the eggs on several occasions in February and once early in March.
As a rule, they construct stick nests (which from the same pair resorting to them for many successive seasons, and adding to them yearly, are at times enormous) in the fork of some large tree. At times they appropriate some old nest of the Tawny Eagle (A. Fulvescens) placed in some thick and thorny, but comparatively low Acacia tree. In most cases, the nests contain some lining of more or less green leaves, and a few feathers or a little grass. Occasionally I have found the eggs laid in the hollow of some huge stump, or in the depression at the fork of three or more large branches, with no stick nest, and only a few dry leaves as a bed, but out of more than thirty nests that I found one December in trees along the banks of the canal near Hansee and Hissar, all but one were regular stick structures. One nest contained no lining but a little dry earth. The great majority of the nests, that I have examined, contained two eggs, often much incubated, but I once found three, and have heard of four being met with. In two instances, I see by my notes that single fully incubated eggs were found. The eggs of this bird vary surprisingly in size and shape. Typically they are a broad oval, comparatively very large for the size of the bird, but long, oval, pyriform and nearly spherical varieties occur. I have taken a very great number of these eggs myself, and have extreme sizes of which the cubic contents of the one are fully double those of the other. In colour they are a decidedly creamy white, in texture often somewhat coarse, but, with all, more or less glossy. I have many specimens greatly exceeding in size the egg of Bubo Maximus figured by Hewitson, while I have one specimen scarcely exceeding the egg of S. Stridula which he figures.
The eggs vary from 2.2 to 2.55 in Length, and from 1.75 to 2 in breadth, but the average of 56 eggs measured was 2.33 by 1.89.
In this species I have invariably found the female sitting, but the male is always near at hand, and very commonly sitting on some branch immediately above the nest. I once shot a female, sitting on a partly incubated egg and on skinning her, found a second egg in the oviduct ready for expulsion, I have repeatedly taken one perfectly fresh, and one partially incubated egg out of the same nest, and it seems clear that these birds, like the Harriers and many Owls, begin to sit directly the first egg is laid.
Capt. G. Marshall remarks, - :" The Dusky Horned Owl is rather rare in the Saharunpoor district. I shot one at Seengrah, one at Shamlee, one at Kulsea and one at Dhalapie; this last I shot at four o'clock in the afternoon, it had a freshly killed Teal in its claws, which it was eating from the head downwards when it was killed. It breeds in hollow trees in February. I have taken but one egg, round and white, it was in a hollow formed by a rotten stump of a Toon tree in the Kulsea compound, about fifteen feet from the ground."
I can, from personal observation, confirm the above remarks, as to this Owl's being by no means strictly nocturnal. I have on several occasions killed it in the act of devouring birds, or rats, early in the afternoon, and have repeatedly seen it hunting along the banks of the canal, a good hour before sunset.
This well-marked species has been most unaccountably confounded by European writers with other distinct species or grouped, with very different types. Mr. Blyth had the following remarks on this subject in the Ibis for 1866. " The late Prince Bonaparte associated this bird with Huhua Orientalis (erroneously placing H. Pectoralis, Jerdon, as a synonym of the latter,) in the ' Revue de Zoologie' for 1854 (p. 542). Prof. Kaup also, as strangely associates A. Coromanda with Huhua Nipalensis and H Orientalis, as also the. African Bubo (?) lacteus (Temm.,) in his division Urrua, while A. Bengalensis and A. Ascalaphus are assigned by him to typical Bubo ! A. Bengalensis happens to be the type of Urrua of Hodgson. The irides of A. Coromanda, in all that I have seen and kept alive, were of a bright deep yellow, rather than ' orange-yellow' as Dr. Jerdon asserts."
Mr. Blyth is certainly correct in giving the irides as deep yellow.
This is perhaps, if we except Athene Brama, the most common species of Owl in the North West Provinces. As far as my experience goes, it is most common in comparatively open country, greatly affecting mango topes, so common in Upper India. It is perhaps most numerous in the narrow belts of trees which fringe our canals. In such localities about Christmas time, a nest may be found, on an average, in every mile of canal, and in the Western Jumna Canal where the trees are somewhat old, I have met with half a dozen pairs in a morning's walk. The birds seem to be omnivorous; no doubt rats and birds, especially the latter, are their favourite food, but I have found in their stomachs remains of both frogs and jungle lizards (Urotnastix).
They doubtless occur, as Dr. Jerdon says, in the lower ranges of the Himalayahs, but I have never happened to come across them in the North Western portions of the hills (they have I know been sent from Nepaul) and my impression is, that they somewhat eschew dense forests, and much prefer open and well cultivated, and watered, though of course tolerably well-wooded, country.
Eastward they extend to Tipperah and into British Burmah, but not, it would appear into the Malayan Peninsula or further south. In Rajpootana, and the North-West Punjab they are excessively rare, and I can find no record of their having been found west of the Indus.
Length 22.01 23.50 23.00 25.00
Expanse. 54.00 57.00 56.00 60.00
Wing. 15.75 16.45 16.90 17.50
Tail from vent 8.13 9.00 8.75 9.25
Tarsus 2.18 2.40 2.30 2.56
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 1.83 1.95 1.83 2.00
Its Claw straight. 1.09 1.16 1.16 1.25
Hind toe to root of claw. 1.05 1.10 1.01 1.13
Its claw, straight 1.00 1.05 1.00 1.12
Inner toe to root of claw. 1.60 1.70 1.65 1.80
Its claw, straight 1.10 1.20 1.20 1.30
Bill, straight, from margin of cere to point. 1.05 1.12 1.09 1.18
Bill from gape. 1.60 1.70 1.65 1.68
Bill width at gape. 1.12 1.28 1.12 1.32
Bill, height, at front, at margin of cere. 0.58 0.60 0.59 0.62
Distance by which closed wings fall short of end of Tail. 1.15 3.75 1.75 2.75
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 1.70 2.00 2.00 2.23
Weight Lb 3 Lb 4 4 6
Length of cere on culmen. 0.51 0.65 0.60 0.70
(Three males and three females, measured, and weighed.)
The third, fourth, or third and fourth primaries the longest. The first is 2.70 to 3.20 shorter, the second 0.90 to 1.10, and the third nil to 0.90 shorter. Exterior tail feathers 0 25 to 0*60 shorter than central ones.
DESCRIPTION. Legs and feet feathered; the latter sparsely; terminal joint bare, pale grey, with one or two, large, soft, transverse scales. Claws, black. Irides, deep yellow. Bill, greyish white, or pale lavender, with the tips and culmen, pale yellowish horny.
Plumage. Upper parts, except primaries and tail feathers, earthy brown ; in some specimens greyer, in others more umber; often considerably darker on the head, lesser scapulars, and interscapulary region. The feathers of the head, nape, interscapulary region, and often many of the scapulars and lesser coverts with narrow, ill-defined, dark brown, shaft stripes; all the feathers, more or less vermicillated very finely with excessively narrow, irregular, imperfect, wavy bars of a paler colour, producing a freckled appearance. This pale colour, is in some a dull fulvous white, in others grey, in others pale greyish brown; in some this marking is very conspicuous; in others, -it is almost obsolete, especially about the shoulders. The long ear tufts, which in some specimens are fully 275 inches long, are of the same dark brown as the narrow, central, shaft stripes, which brown varies much in shade, in different specimens, being in some, very dark, almost black, in others a moderately dark hair brown. There are large white, or pale yellowish white patches, on the outer webs of the exterior scapulars, and towards the tips of most of the larger and median coverts. The tail is a dull rufous fawn, nearly pure white towards the tip, with four, and on the central feathers, generally five, broad, transverse, umber brown bands, darker in some, lighter in others, and the pale interspaces on the central tail feathers are much freckled, and in some cases entirely suffused with the same colour; this freckling occurs, though in a less degree on the succeeding feathers, the interspaces growing clearer and brighter as they recede from the centre. The primaries are similar to the tail feathers, the tips infuscated or freckled like the central ones, and the interspaces clearer and brighter towards the bases.
The lower parts are greyish white, with a faint yellow tinge, everywhere except on the middle of the throat, each feather with a narrow dark brown shaft stripe, and with numerous very fine, wavy and freckled transverse greyish brown bars, or vermiculations. The extent and depth of colour of these delicate markings vary much in different specimens, in some almost entirely obscuring the ground colour on the breast and abdomen.
Tibial and tarsal plumes yellowish or pale fulvous white, in some specimens with faint, longitudinal, dark brown streaks, and in others with narrow, clouded, imperfect, transverse bars of the same colour.