44. Buteo vulgaris

44. Buteo Vulgaris, BECHSTEIN.


I have never seen any specimen, of this species, which had been obtained in India. The specimen to which Dr. Jerdon refers, (Birds of India, Vol. I. p. 87) as killed on the Neilgherries, and which he figured, (Ill. Ind. Orn. pl. 27) belonged to a different species, B. Desertorum ? (No. 44 bis.) I very much question, whether the common Buzzard of Europe, really does occur in India; every Indian killed example, as yet sent me, as belonging to this species has proved to belong to that next to be noticed.

Mr. Blyth says, that this species " certainly occurs in the N. W. Himalayas, near Mussouree, where several specimens were collected by Dr. Stewart." I saw two of the specimens, to which I believe Mr. Blyth refers, and though not then acquainted with the difference between the two species, remember these specimens well, and believe them to have belonged to the next species. In another place, Mr. Blyth says " numerous examples from the N. W. Himalayas, several of which are in the same collection" (the Calcutta Museum) " I consider to be unmistakably B. Vulgaris." When I visited it early in 1868, the Calcutta Museum only contained two Indian killed specimens, labelled B. Vulgaris, one from Darjeeling and the other from Nepal, (none at all from the N. W. Himalayas,) and both these two I should refer to the next species.

After all, this species may occur in the Himalayas, and, indeed, the natural presumption is, that Blyth is right, and that I am wrong, and that it does so occur. Still I have thought it necessary to put my own doubts on the subject prominently forward, in view to stimulating enquiry.

Of the nidification of the common Buzzard in India, nothing has been recorded. Of its nidification in Great Britain, I take the following from Mr. Yarrell: " In Scotland, the Buzzard forms its nest on rocks, or on the edges of steep scars or beds of torrents; one nest described by Mr. MacGillivray, was plaoed on the top of a steep bank or rut of a stream, and was composed of twigs, heath, wool and some other substances. In England, the Buzzard usually builds, or takes to a nest, in the forked branches of a tree in a large wood; the materials with which the nest is made, or repaired, are similar to those that have been already named.

The female lays two or three, and sometimes, four eggs, of a short oval form, two inches three lines in Length, by one inch and ten lines in breadth, of a soiled white colour, slightly spotted with pale brown."

Mr. Hewitson tells us that, where trees are available, its nest is built on them, and is composed of sticks lined with a quantity of wool, fur and such like soft materials, but that in Scotland, where it inhabits treeless districts, it makes its nest, (which is very much like an Eagle's, except in size, and lined with the same kind of dry grass,) upon the ledges of rocks. He further tells us, that the eggs, which are three or four in number, vary according to the age of the bird, (I wonder whether this is a well ascertained fact) and are sometimes spotless white. He mentions one egg as beautifully colored, with different tints of lilac and purple, as also that eggs were brought to a friend of his, for several successive years from the same locality, and doubtless the produce of the same pair, which the first year were white, or nearly so, the second year slightly marked with indistinct yellowish brown, increasing each year in the intensity of their colouring, till the spots became of a rich dark brown. The two eggs which he figures are broad ovals, (one of them indeed is almost spherical) and measure 2.33 X 1.84, and 2.08 X 1.77. The one is boldly blotched and spotted, with clear brownish red, (in which a few dark lines are mingled) and reddish fawn colour, on a pale bluish white, but somewhat soiled ground, the markings being almost exclusively confined, to the broad-end half of the egg; and the other is more thickly clouded, streaked and spotted, with pale brownish red and purplish black, on a ground almost entirely over clouded with reddish fawn.

Dr. Jerdon gives the wing of the female of this species at 18 inches; this seems to me too large. Mr. Yarrell gives it at 14.37, and those of two specimens in my collection, from Europe, marked females, measure, 15., and 15 inches respectively.

I find the following description in the Naturalist's Library, which may be useful to observers in India. " The common Buzzard varies considerably in the colouring of the plumage, scarcely two specimens being similar. The difference consists chiefly, in the intensity of the tint of the upper parts, and in the presence of a greater or lesser degree of marking below. The general colour above, is some shade of umber brown, varying to hair brown, and brocoli brown; the feathers darker in the centre, often edged with a paler tint, or with reddish yellow, and generally glossed with a rich shining purple, which is most prevalent in dark coloured specimens. Wings at the tips are deep umber brown, shading into pure white at the base, where the feather becomes soft and downy; they are crossed with irregular, clouded, dark bars, which decrease in breadth and intensity, towards the roots. The under parts are sometimes pale yellowish white, streaked on the throat and breast, with shades of brown, of different intensity, and on the belly and vent crossed by broad irregular bars: sometimes they are of a uniform tint, nearly as dark as the upper surface of the body, and very little interrupted, and sometimes a very dark and deep band, tinted with purple, occupies the whole belly, while the other parts are streaked and marked with a moderate proportion of brown; the plumes of the thighs are generally dark, crossed with reddish ; the tail is slightly rounded, the ground colour whitish, of a chaste grey tinted with ochraceous, or of a reddish yellow ; it is crossed by a broad bar of umber brown, near the tip, and by seven or eight narrow ones, of the same colour. In many of its variations it is extremely beautiful. The length of a male specimen before us is twenty inches, that of a female, nearly twenty-three."

Mr. Yarrell's description is as follows :

" The beak is bluish black, darkest in colour towards the point, the cere yellow, the irides generally yellow ; but as the common Buzzard, and indeed all the Buzzards, are subject to considerable variation in the colour of their plumage, the irides are observed to vary also, presenting some reference to the prevailing tone of the colour of the feathers. The upper part of the head, occiput, and cheeks, pale brown, streaked longitudinally with darker brown ; the whole of the back, wing coverts, upper tail coverts, and upper surface of the tail feathers, dark clove brown, the latter barred with lighter brown, the feathers of the former named parts having lighter coloured edges ; the wing primaries, brownish black ; the chin and throat, almost white ; front of the neck, breast, under wing coverts, belly and thighs, greyish white, spotted and streaked with brocoli brown ; under tail coverts, white; under surface of the tail feathers, greyish white, barred transversely with dark wood brown ; legs and toes yellow; the claws black."

As it seems most essential to afford observers in the Hills, the utmost assistance possible, in determining, whether any of the Buzzards that they may obtain, really belong to this species or not, I proceed farther to quote largely from Mr. Macgillivray's admirable history of British Birds.

The following are his characters of the species: " Male, with the upper parts, deep brown, the feathers margined with paler, the lower parts, yellowish-white, with longitudinal, oblong, brown spots, the tail with numerous brown and pale bands. Female, deep brown above, and beneath the throat streaked with whitish, the breast spotted with the same. Young, with the feathers margined with light red.

He gives the following detailed description of the male, female, and young.

MALE. The wings are large and rounded, with twenty-five quills, the first four primaries abruptly cut out on the inner web, the first six attenuated on the outer; the first quill four inches shorter than the third, which is longest, but exceeds the fourth only by one-twelfth of an inch, the fifth very little shorter, the second intermediate between the fifth and sixth, the first equal to the eighth. The tail is rather long, broad, and slightly rounded, the middle feather being about three quarters of an inch longer than the lateral.

The bill is black, at the base greyish blue, its soft margins at the base, yellow, the cere and bare space over the eye, greenish-yellow; the irides, brownish yellow; the feet, bright yellow, the claws black, tinged with blue at the base. The general colour of the upper parts is umber brown, glossed with a tinge of purple; but on the head and hind neck streaked with yellowish-white, the bases and margins of the feathers being of that colour. The feathers of the back and wings with the margins pale, or brownish-grey ; they and the scapulars barred with white in their concealed parts, the bases of all being white, which becomes apparent on the lined neck when they are raised; the upper tail coverts are barred with whitish. The primary quills are brownish-black towards the end, the secondaries brown, a great part of the inner webs towards the base white, barred with brown, the bars more extended on the secondaries. The tail is marked with ten or twelve brown bars, alternating with others of a pale greyish-brown, the tips whitish. The cheeks and sides of the neck are yellowish-white, with brown lunar or oblong markings; the throat, fore-neck, and middle of the breast yellowish-white, with the shafts brown ; the ground color of the other parts the same, but each feather with an oblong, brown, longitudinal mark; the lower tail coverts barred, the feathers of the legs tinged with reddish, and barred or patched with brown. The lower wings-coverts yellowish-white, spotted and barred with brown; and the white of the inner webs of the primaries forming a conspicuous patch.

Length to end of tail 19.5 inches; extent of wings, 49 ; wing from flexure, 16.5 ; tail, 9 ; bill along the ridge, 1.58, along the edge of lower mandible, 1.55 ; tarsus, 2.83 ; hind toe 0.74, its claw 1; second toe, 1, its claw, 1.08; third toe 1.55 ; its claw, 0.83; fourth toe, 1, its claw, 0.581.

FEMALE. The female is considerably larger than the male, and although similar in colouring, differs in several respects. The colors of the bill, iris, and feet are the same as in the male. The upper parts are of a darker and more uniform brown, the bases of the feathers dull grey; and only white on the hind-neck ; the whitish bands on the scapulars more obsoure. The wings and tail are colored as in the male, only the last brown bar, on the latter, is much broader than the rest. The predominant color of the lower parts is chocolate-brown; but the cheeks and throat are streaked with dull brownish-white, the fore-neck obscurely, the middle of the breast conspicuously, transversely spotted or barred with yellowish white, intermixed with reddish; the inner and anterior feathers of the legs barred with brownish-red; the lower tail-coverts white, barred with brown, the lower surface of the wing as in the male, but much darker, the white patch, consequently, more conspiouous.

Length to end of tail, 22 inches; extent of wing, 61; wing from flexure, 17; tail, 9.75 ; bill along the ridge, 1.58; tarsus, 3 ; first toe, 1, its claw, 1.25 ; second toe, 0.91, its claw, 1.25 ; third toe, 1.5, its claw, 1.08; fourth toe, 1.08, its claw, 0.83.

Another individual, shot in Aberdeenshire, in May, 1817, was similar to the above; the whole upper surface, rich brown; on the upper part of the back, the feathers laterally margined with light ferruginous, the scapulars and wing coverts with that colour and white; the primary quills nearly black, glossed with purple toward the end; the secondaries nearly of the general tint; all with the inner webs edged with white, and barred with a deeper shade of brown; on its lower surface, the wing much lighter, there being a white patch, including part of the inner webs of the five outer quills; the coverts barred with white, their ground colour being, toward the base, light ferruginous, toward the end deep brown; the tail deep brown, barred with greyish and reddish, or marked with alternate bars of brown and brownish grey, the last dark bar being the broadest, and the tips reddish-white ; nine dark bars on the middle, and ten on the lateral feathers; on the lower surface the prevailing colour brown, of a lighter shade than the upper; on the fore-neck spotted, on the breast barred, with white; the tibial feathers brown, tipped with ferruginous.

Length, 21.5 inches; extent of wings, 50.

These differences between the adult male, and the adult female, I have found to be very constant, although individuals of each sex vary considerably.

VARIATIONS. Males vary, in having the white of the lower parts, more or less extended, and the streaks and spots of greater or less breadth. Sometimes the white is so extended on both surfaces, that it might be said to form the ground colour, which is then merely spotted with brown. Females differ also in the extent of the white spots and bars beneath, but they are always darker and more uniformly coloured than the males. Great differences are observed in the number of the scutella, and I have seen a male, which had none on the fore part of the tibia, it having been covered with small scales. When the feathers are old, they become very ragged and pointed, change from deep glossy brown to greyish-brown, with the edges yellowish or even whitish-brown; so that individuals in this state, seem very different from those of which the plumage is fresh, and in those which are moulting, the contrast between the old and new feathers is very conspicuous.

YOUNG. A male shot in October, having its plumage complete, and known to be a young bird by the softness and vascularity of its bones, was as follows :

The cere and soft margins of the bill greenish-yellow, the iris hazel, the tarsi and toes, yellow with a tinge of green, the bills and claws black. The upper part of the head, and the hind-neck are dark brown, longitudinally streaked with yellowish-white, the lateral margins of the feathers being of that colour. The rest of the upper parts deep brown, glossed with purple, all the feathers laterally margined with light-red; the scapulars and some of the large wing-coverts, with several bands of white on their inner webs, of which the edge is mottled with reddish. The hind part of the back is of a uniform dark brown; but the upper tail coverts are barred with light red. The primary quills are brownish black, with the outer webs tinged with grey toward the end, the inner white from the base to beyond the middle, and having several irregular dusky bands. Tail banded with brownish-grey and blackish brown, there being ten bands on the middle feathers, and twelve on the outer, the last dark band little larger than the next, the tips whitish. The sides of the head and throat are yellowish white streaked with brown ; the rest of the lower parts yellowish white, longitudinally marked with oblong brown spots, the sides chiefly brown; the lower tail-coverts with a brown spot; the plumage of the legs and tarsi irregularly banded with brown and light red. The dull light red edgings of the feathers are characteristic of the young, as is also the case in the Sparrow-Hawk, Merlin, and many other species.

A female of the same age, differs chiefly, in having less white on the lower parts, the breast being of a nearly uniform brown, although on many of the feathers, there are large reddish-white spots. The feathers of the legs and tarsi are variegated with brown, white, and light red, as are those of the abdomen, and the lower tail-coverts yellowish, barred with brown.

PROGRESS WITH MATURITY. - : At the next moult, the bird assumes a more uniform brown colour on the upper parts, the light red markings becoming light brown, or brownish-white. It appears that, as it advances in age, the marginal white of the feathers extends, until the lower parts in the males become nearly white, there being merely an oblong brown spot on each feather, and the white predominates over the brown on the upper parts. In the females, similar changes take place, but the lower parts are always more brown than in the males. I have seen some individuals that had the plumage white, with the exception of the quills, tail and some oblong spots on the upper parts and breast. It thus appears that at first the colors of the plumage are darker than when the bird has attained maturity, and that the white predominates over the brown in old age ; but it must be confessed that sufficiently correct observations have not been made on this subject, and that much remains to be done, before the variations of color, in the species, are well understood. The iris, in young birds is brown, in adult birds yellow.

Mr. Temminck states, that in adult individuals, the upper parts, the neck and breast, are dark brown; the throat and belly brownish grey but variegated with spots of a darker brown, the tail with twelve transverse bands, the bill lead-colour, the cere, iris and feet yellow. Very old individuals, he says, have the plumage very deep brown, or chocolate colour, the throat whitish with small longitudinal brown streaks, some white transverse bands on the belly, and yellowish bands towards the abdomen. The young of the year, according to him, have the general colour light brown, variegated with whitish and yellowish, the throat white with longitudinal spots, the feathers of the breast bordered with white, the middle of the belly whitish, with large longitudinal oval or cordate spots. Birds of this latter kind, I think, are old males, those described in the preced-* ing sentence, old females.

* The wings of two specimens in Colonel Tytler's collection, measure 16.25, and 15 inches respectively.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
44. Buteo vulgaris
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Common Buzzard
Common Buzzard
Buteo buteo
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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