(1796) Buteo rufinus rufinus.
THE LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD.
Falco rufinus Cretzschmar in Rupp. Atlas, p. 40, pl. 27 (1826) (Astrakan). Buteo ferox. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 390.
Vernacular names. Chuhuma (Hind.).
Description. Very variable; the following, however, represent those phases most often met with, individuals intermediate between these being also common. The second to the fifth primaries are notched on the outer webs, the notch on the second being small.
(1) Prevailing plumage dark brown, in a few cases almost blackish-brown ; the feathers of the head more rufous with black shafts and more or less rufous edges; chin, throat and upper breast with the rufous edges broader, making these parts generally lighter; lores, feathers above and below the eye whitish with black bristles ; primaries blackish, outwardly grey-brown at the base, white-shafted and with most of the inner webs from the notch to the base white, edged brown and mottled with the same; inner primaries brown with blackish tips and more or less barred with darker brown ; tail pale brown or rufous brown, mottled with darker, tipped paler and with one broad penultimate band of dark brown; bars absent or obsolete.
(2) Brown of upper plumage lighter, the feathers of the back and wing-coverts broadly edged with pale rufous and those of the head and neck more rufous than brown; below also, the plumage is much lighter and the rufous marks dominate the colour of chin, throat and breast, whilst the abdomen, vent, etc., instead of being deep chocolate-brown are dark rufous-brown, mottled and edged with rufous; the tail is pale rufous instead of pale brown; the markings on wings, tail and head are, of course, as in the darker form.
(3) A still paler form, the head and neck-feathers being edged with fulvous rather than rufous, whilst the edges to the feathers of the rest of the upper parts are wider and paler rufous and extend on to the rump and upper tail-coverts; the tail is pale rufous-white, the end being more rufous than the base; on the underparts the chin, throat and breast are pale fulvous with brown streaks; the abdomen, vent and thigh-coverts rufous mottled with brown ; centre of abdomen and under tail-coverts-pale fulvous.
(3) Equally pale but browner and less rufous, the markings being almost white and making the head and shoulders look very pale ; the whole underparts white with light brown streaks.
Colours of soft parts. Iris golden-brown or yellowish-brown; bill horny or brownish-slate, black at the tip, yellowish at the base of the lower mandible and gape ; cere yellowish-green ; legs and feet dingy or pale lemon-yellow.
Measurements. wing 415 to 431 mm.; tail 228 to 250 mm.; tarsus 56 to 62 mm.; culmen 32 to 34 mm. wing 428 to 458 mm.; tail 230 to 257 mm.; tarsus 60 to 77 mm.; culmen 230 to 257 mm.
Young birds. I can find no definite juvenile plumage in this Buzzard beyond the fact that young birds have numerous dark bars on the tail-feathers. Kirke-Swann's description of the juvenile plumage (Mon. B. of Prey, vi, p. 379) is merely a description of a phase and not one of any particular age. Possibly young birds are more heavily edged with pale rufous above but our Indian nestlings certainly do not show this though we have very dark brown youngsters taken from the nest and all intermediate forms to the very pale bird with white underparts.
Distribution. Breeds in Greece and the South Russian Steppes, through Asia Minor and Palestine, East to Central Asia as far South as the Himalayas, in Winter straggling to the Central Provinces and the Deccan, being common at that season in the North-West Provinces, Punjab and Oude. East it extends to Bhutan. It should be noted that the darkest phase, which is also the most common in the Himalayas, is not found outside India, so that it would appear that here we have a subspecies in the making, whilst probably the paler phases will eventually disappear altogether from India.
Nidification. The records of the nidification of the Indian Buzzards are so mixed that they are not easy to unravel. We certainly have three species breeding in India. The present one, rufinus, is not uncommon in the Western Himalayas; hemilasius-(=Archibuteo hemitolophus) breeds in Tibet and possibly in other parts of the higher Himalayas. These are both big birds, whilst the third, vulpinus, which also breeds in the North-West of India, is a much smaller bird laying a much smaller egg.
The Long-legged Buzzard breeds within Indian limits from the Afghan and Baluchistan border to Kashmir and Garhwal and South to Nowshera, where eggs were obtained with the bird by Cock. Rattray took the nest in the Murree Hills (thought to be desertorum=vulpinus at the time) and Parker had one egg from a nest below Simla. The nest may be placed either on a tree or a rocky cliff and is made of sticks, lined with smaller twigs and any rubbish such as straw, scraps of cloth, wool, etc. The full clutch seems to be two or three in India, rarely four outside that country; in appearance they are like badly-marked Kites' eggs, but there is one type with a white ground, beautifully clouded with reddish-brown and lavender-grey, which is very typical of Buzzards' eggs, the degree of clouding and blotching varying greatly. Twelve Indian eggs average 56.9 x 46.0 mm.: maxima 62.4 x 48.0 mm.; minima 52.1 x 41.4 and 53.8 x 40.5 mm.
The breeding-season seems to be April and May, but I have eggs taken in March at Kohat and one taken on the 1st of June by Buchanan in Kashmir. Theobald's eggs were probably mostly those of vulpinus.
Habits. The Long-legged Buzzard is a bird of open lands, both stony arid countries and grass- or flower-covered steppes and fields. It is a sluggish bird, slow and heavy in its movements and much given to squatting either on the ground or on some post, mound or tree. At the same time it can and does soar most gracefully and may often be seen wheeling in wide circles overhead. It feeds on frogs, snakes, lizards, mice, rats, small weakly birds and also on dead animals of all kinds. It has a long wailing cry and also a short rather weak note sounding like " kiew-kiew-kiew," which has been likened to a kitten mewing.