45. Buteo desertorum

44 BIS. Buteo Desertorum, DAUDIN.


Buteo Rufiventer, Jerdon.

„ Capensis, Schlegel.

„ Cirtensis, Le Vaill. Junr*

Falco Vulpinus, Licht.

I have already ventured to express some doubts as to the occurrence of Buteo Vulgaris in India, and it is certain that whether this species does or does not occur, the present species figured by Jerdon as Rufiventer (Ill. In. Orn. plate 27,) which is common in the Himalayas, is the one that in most Indian collections, does duty for it. This is the species which Dr. Jerdon describes at page 87 of the " Birds of India," when he mentions the specimen shot in the Neilgherries; this is the species to which belong specimens obtained in Cashmere by Dr. Jerdon, and given to Colonel Tytler and myself, by him, as B. Vulgaris ; and this also, is certainly the species of which Dr. Stewart obtained some specimens near Mussourie, (vide Mr. Blyth's remarks already quoted, page 261) though I cannot assert that he may not have procured others of the true B. Vulgaris. Whether this Indian species, be really identical with B. Desortorum, Daudin ; and B. Cirtensis, Le Vaill. Jun., figured by Mr. Bree as B. Tachardus, Daudin, I cannot pretend* to say. In this identification cation I merely follow Mr. Gurney, admittedly the best authority in such matters. I quote his remarks on the subject from the Ibis. (1862, p. 361.)

" I have myself no doubt that the " Tachard" of Le Vaillant, and consequently the Buteo Tachardus of Daudin, is identical with Pernis apivorus, a species which I have twice received from the colony of Natal."

Most ornithologists have erroneously attributed the name of Buteo tachardus of Daudin, to the Lesser Buzzard of South Africa, for which M. Des Murs now suggests the new specific appellation of Buteo delalandi. This is, as it seems to me, unnecessary; for I cannot but think, that this small Buzzard is the "Rougri" of Le Vaillant, (Buteo desertorum of Daudin,) the description and figure of which appear to me to agree with the species now under consideration in all points except one, namely, that the cere and bill are both described as yellow, instead of the cere only. But may not this have been a mere lapsus calami of the author, copied by the artist into his drawing, which was probably made from a skin, of which the bill was faded, or (as is frequently the case in skins, brought from hot countries) in which the horny covering of the upper mandible had shelled off?

Such at least seems to me the probability, and with that view, I consider the small Buzzard of South Africa, as entitled to the specific name desertorum.

M. Des Murs expresses a strong opinion, that the small Buzzard of South Africa, is specifically distinct, from that of North Africa, (Buteo Cirtensis of the " Exploration de l' Algerie,") but the only difference I can perceive between them is, that the South African bird is usually less rufous, and is somewhat paler on the breast, which are hardly sufficient grounds for a specific distinction.

The geographical range of Buteo Cirtensis, (even if it be distinct from its South African Congener) is still very extensive, as it is found generally in North Africa, from Mogador to Egypt; and it also occurs in European Turkey, in Southern Russia on the Volga, at Smyrna, at Erzeroum, in Madras, and in Nepal.

The Indian specimens which I have seen, and also that from Erzeroum, are less rufous and more chocolate coloured, especially on the under parts, than more western specimens. This darker form of colouring, would seem to he as worthy of specific distinction, as the paler breasted race of South Africa, and it has been figured and described, as distinct, by Mr. Jerdon, in his ' Illustrations of Indian Ornithology,' (pl. 27,) under the title of Buteo rufiventer.

M. Des Murs well remarks, that Buteo Cirtensis is closely allied to the large rufous Buzzard of North Eastern Africa, South Eastern Europe and Asia."

The present species, (I mean the Indian race,) so far as I yet know, is confined to the Neilgherries, and the Himalayas. A very large number of specimens from the Himalayas, have passed through my hands, and though I have never shot one myself, the bird appears to be not uncommon anywhere in these Hills from Murree to Darjeeling.

In size, they appear to differ little from the common Buzzard of Europe, though their form seems somewhat slenderer, but the wings which reach to or very near to, the end of the tail, are proportionally longer I think. Unfortunately, European writers as a rule, give very few dimensions, and I cannot therefore be sure in regard to this latter point.

Mr. Yarrell gives the wing of the female European Buzzard, at 14.37 inches; those of two specimens in my collections measure 15 and 15.1, and of two in Colonel Tytler's, 16.25 and 15, while the wings of the present species, measure from 15.5 in males, up to 17.0 in females. Dr. Bree, whose figure, tolerably well accords with some of my specimens, gives the wing as only 14.5, but none of the numerous Indian examples that I have examined, have had the wings so short. I note that Dr. Bree correctly represents, (p. 97, Vol. I.) the wings as reaching to the end of the tail; while in Jerdon's figure (above referred to) they are drawn out of position, the carpal joint being advanced too high upon the neck, and the tips of the wings falling considerably short of the end of the tail.

Besides the greater length of wing, this species appears to differ from the common Buzzard, in the prevailing rufous cha¬racter of its under surface. There is often a yellow tinge in these parts, in B. Vulgaris, and the tibial and tarsal plumes are banded reddish, but in no specimen of the common Buzzard that I have yet seen, or can find described, does there appear that predominance of rufous, which characterizes the present species. Again, the adult of this species, (herein resembling Ferox) always has the outer webs of the second to the sixth or seventh primary, silvered above the emarginations, and this would not appear to be the case in B. Vulgaris. From B. Ferox, its smaller size distinguishes it; the wings in this latter species varying from 16.25 and upwards in males, to fully 19 inches in large females. The feet and claws too are smaller, and while in no instance have I found the tarsus of Ferox less than 3.2, (and it is no less than 3.7 in one large female now before me) in no instance have I found the tarsus of the present species to exceed 2.9, and in the males it often barely exceeds 2.7. I am aware that Bree gives the tarsus 3; but in no one, out of 21 Indian killed specimens, has it exceeded 2.9 scant.

Mr. Gurney, quoted by Dr. Bree says: " The appearance of this bird when alive, is less heavy and more elegant than that of B. Vulgaris. My living specimen, which was dull brown when I bought it a year ago, has moulted into a rich rufous plumage, and one that was alive in the Zoological Gardens, a few years ago, underwent a similar change."

This bird of Mr. Gurney's, is described as having " the crown of the head, back, and scapulars a dark ashy brown, each feather having a narrow streak of brown down the centre, shadowed with a rusty red." The tail, tibial and tarsal plumes are figured an uniform dark cinnamon red. " The cere, feet and tarsi," Mr. Gurney tells us, " are lemon yellow, and the iris is sometimes a light hazel, and sometimes yellow, probably assuming the latter colour as the bird advances in age : a similar variation, which exists in the iris of the common Buzzard, is, however, not always referable to age, as I have ascertained by experience. The bill is dark lead colour, but somewhat lighter adjoining the throat and cere."

The plumage of our Himalayan birds, varies most remarkably, but no single specimen that I have yet seen, agrees very closely with either Dr. Bree's figure, or any description of B. Desertorum or B. Cirtensis to which I have access.

One common type of plumage is as follows. The whole of the top of the head, occiput, nape and back of the neck dark brown, (the shafts almost black) each feather more or less narrowly margined at the sides, (not at the extreme tips) with bright rufous fawn. The interscapular region similar, but a still darker brown, often glossed with purple and but little of the rufous showing, owing to the close overlapping of the feathers, leaving little but their tips visible. The middle of the back deep hair brown, the rump and upper tail coverts very pure, deep, cinnamon rufous, with conspicuous white shafts. The central tail feathers, a slightly paler cinnamon rufous, somewhat infuscated towards the margins, and with freckled and mottled traces of a single, broad, subterminal, umber brown, transverse bar. The lateral tail feathers similar, but, with the subterminal bar somewhat better marked, and running up the outer margins for an inch or so, and paling on the inner webs towards the bases. (One specimen in this stage has two or three, much abraded, unmoulted feathers in the tail, these have a dirty yellowish white ground, tinged with cinnamon towards the tips, which for the terminal one inch, are dull hair brown, above which are traces of three or four, wavy, irregular, more or less mottled, quarter inch, transverse bars of the same colour.) The wings and scapulars are umber brown, many of the feathers with a purple gloss, and all the shorter scapulars, and lesser coverts, margined, except quite at the tips, with bright rufous, or in some, rufous fawn. The outer webs of the second, and succeeding primaries, above the emarginations, are silver grey, tinged, and in some cases freckled, and mottled, with cinnamon rufous, and the white on the upper surfaces, of the inner webs of all the later primaries, and most of the secondaries, replaced by the same colour, with which even the earlier primaries are tinged. The ear coverts are fulvous white, each feather with a dull, rufous brown, shaft stripe. There is a dark brown cheek stripe from the base of the lower mandible, running under the ear coverts, and this is more or less distinctly marked, in every stage of Plumage. The chin and throat are yellowish white, the feathers with narrow dark brown shaft stripes. The whole of the breast, and upper abdomen is buffy white, the shafts rufous, and the feathers of the sides of the breast, with broad, rather pale, and somewhat brownish, rufous centres. The lower portion of the abdomen, vent, flanks, tibial and tarsal plumes, rich ferruginous, deepest on the tibial plumes which are dark shafted, and on the lower abdomen somewhat mottled with rufous, or in some yellowish white. The lower tail coverts are white, altogether unbarred, greyish towards the tips, yellowish towards the bases ; the axillaries, and the greater portion of the wing lining, bright cinnamon rufous, some of the larger lower coverts, however, being mingled deep, brown and deep ferruginous.

In another type, the general appearance of whose upper surface closely resembles that above described, the rump and upper tail coverts are deep purplish umber brown, only narrowly margined with ferruginous. The central tail feathers are dull brownish grey, slightly tinged with rufous near the shafts, with from seven to eight moderately broad, transverse, hair brown bars, broadest at file tips, where the terminal bar may be nearly three-quarters of an inch broad, and narrowest towards the bases of the feathers, where they may be about three-eighths of an inch; the lateral feathers are similar, but the grey of the inner webs is less tinged with brown, and slightly more rufescent. The silver grey on the outer webs of the primaries, is replaced by ashy brown, and the bright rufous mottling there, and tinting of the inner webs of the quills, by dingy rufous buff, or dull fulvous. The chin is whitish, the feathers with dull, dark brown, central stripes, and the whole of the rest of the lower parts a dull uniform umber brown, (in some specimens suffused with ferruginous,) the feathers of the breast and upper abdomen, narrowly, and not very conspicuously, margined with a dingy rufous buff, or pale ferruginous, and the tibial and tarsal plumes, and lower tail coverts spotted, or imperfectly barred, with dingy fulvous or rufescent white. The axillaries and wing lining, are a deep hair brown, more or less mottled, and margined, with ferruginous, the amount of which, varies very greatly, in specimens of this type.

A third type, has the brown of the upper surface exceedingly dark, and the rufous edgings of the feathers more ferruginous; the rump and upper tail coverts deep chocolate brown, with a rich purple gloss, and no trace of rufous edgings. The tail somewhat as in the last, but much more strongly tinged with ferruginous, with one huge, terminal, blackish brown band, and above this, eight or nine very narrow, and irregular, wavy, transverse bars of the same colour, but paling towards the bases of the feathers. Below, the whole breast, axillaries, sides, flanks, tibial and tarsal plumes intense ferruginous, brightest and most rusty on the centre of the breast, deepest and tinged with chocolate in the tibial and tarsal feathers. The whole of the abdomen, vent, and lower tail coverts, yellowish or rusty white, more or less densely banded, or mottled, in twin spots, with deep ferruginous, (which in some specimens, so far predominates, that it might more properly be called the ground colour, and the white the barring,) which in some is bright and rusty, and in others deep, and tinged with umber, or chocolate. Some specimens have the heads paler than I have described, and in these the foreheads, an ill-defined streak over the eye, the ear coverts, chin, and throat are nearly pure white, all the feathers, however, having dark shafts. Where this is the case, the whole tone of colouring is somewhat paler, than I have above described, but all the specimens that I have yet examined, are referable to, or are clearly intermediate between one or other of these three types, that I have attempted to sketch.

Of the nidification of this species in India, I as yet know nothing; Dr. Bree tells us that" according to M. Favier, it nests among the rocks, and the male takes its turn in sitting." It seems a pity that M. Favier was not a little more communicative. He sent an egg, alleged to belong to this species, (no particulars are vouchsafed of how, when, or where it was obtained) in regard to which, Dr. Bree who figures it, remarks, that "it bears a strong resemblance to the egg of the Black Kite, but it is a little more pointed, and has the ground colour a creamy white, while that of the former has a greenish tinge." According to the figure, the egg is a broad oval, a good deal compressed towards one end, is sparingly blotched, and spotted, with a sort of burnt umber brown, and measures 2.17 by 1.8.

* My own private belief is, that ours is a larger bird. Layard gives the wing of the South African species, as 14 inches. For comparison, I quote his description &c.

" Upper parts brown ; each feather having pale edges, and a black shaft. Head, pale fulvous, streaked with brown. Wing feathers dark brown. Tail feathers fulvous, inclined to rufous, and narrowly barred with brown; the broadest bar at the tip. Under parts, pale fulvous ; almost white on the chin and throat; streaked on the two latter, and blotched on the former with, brown. Thighs rufous, faintly blotched with fulvous. Vent feathers pale fulvous. Length 1' 8" ; wing, 14" ; tail, 7." Irides yellow." Fully adult birds become throughout, of a deep rufous brown, blotched with dark markings. In this stage they constitute Le Vaillaint's species, called Le Rouqri, Ois d* Af., Pl. 17."

I may add that a particularly fine male, unquestionably B. Desertorum, from South Africa, now in Colonel Tytler's museum, measured - : Length 22, wing 14.5, tail 8.38, tarsus 2.5, feathered in front for one inch. In plumage it greatly resembled some of our Himalayan birds, but, was much smaller than any of these. Personally, I feel by no means satisfied that our Indian bird is Desertorum.

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

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