1239. Buteo ferox.
The Long-legged Buzzard,.
Accipiter ferox, S. G. Gmel. Nov. Com. Petrop. xv, p. 443, pl. x (? 1770). Falco rufinus, Cretzschm. in Rupp. Atlas, Vogel, p. 40, pl. 27 (1826). Buteo canescens, Hodgs. Beng. Sport. Mag. viii, p. 180 (1836); Blyth, J. A. S. B. xii, p. 308; id. Ibis, 1863, p. 20; Jerdon, B. I. i, p. 88; Stoliczka, J. A. S. B. xxxvii, pt. 2, p. 16. Buteo longipes, Jerdon, Madr. Jour. L. S. x, p. 75 (1839). Buteo rufinus, Blyth, Cat. p. 28; Horsf. & M. Cat. i, p. 61. Buteo ferox, Jerdon, B. I. iii, p. 869; Blyth, Ibis, 1866, p. 244; Hume, Rough Notes, p. 274 ; id. Ibis, 1871, p. 25; Jerdon, Ibis, 1871, p. 338 ; A. Anderson, P. Z. S. 1872, p. 78; Stoliczka, J. A. S. B. xii, pt. 2, p. 230; Hume, S. F. i, p. 159; iv, p. 359; vii, p. 199; id. Cat. no. 45; Sharpe, Cat. B. M. i, p. 176; Butler, S. F. iii, p. 447; ix, p. 374; Gurney, Ibis, 1876, p. 367; Fair-bank, S. F. iv, p. 253; Davidson & Wenden, S. F. vii, p. 74; Scully, S. F. viii, p. 225; Wardl. Ramsay, Ibis, 1880, p. 47 ; Biddulph, Ibis, 1881, p. 42 ; Scully, ibid. p. 420 ; Barnes, S. I. ix, p. 452; id. Birds Bom. p. 42; Beid, S. F. x, p. 450; Oates in Hume's N. & E. 2nd ed. iii, p. 125. Buteo fuliginosus, Hume, Ibis, 1869, p. 356; nec Sclater. Buteo desertorum, apud Hume, Rough Notes, p. 268, partim; nec Daud. Chuhumar, H.
Coloration very variable: there are two principal phases—dark and pale, with numerous varieties of both. In the pale or rufous form the crown, nape, hind-neck, upper back, scapulars, and wing-coverts, are brown, with broad light rufous edges and white bases, the rufous borders wearing off and the white bases becoming more conspicuous in worn plumage, the brown sometimes reduced to shaft-stripes on the crown and nape; sides of head generally paler than crown, often buff or white, with dark shaft-stripes; lower back and upper tail-coverts brown, the latter with rufous edges; quills, tipped with blackish brown, extending up the first primaries to the notch on the inner web, basal portion of quills white, the primaries silvery grey on the outer web externally, and the secondaries mottled and barred with brown; tail pale rufous, bases of feathers, especially near the shafts, white, the rufous, especially on the outer web, sometimes passing into grey ; traces of a broad penultimate dark band often occur, and frequently several other bands are more or less distinct; throat and breast white or buff, with dark shaft-stripes; abdomen usually brown or rufous-brown, more or less mixed with white, not unfrequently white with dark elongate spots in the middle; flanks and thigh-coverts brown or rufous-brown, the latter occasionally edged or banded with rufous or buff. Sometimes the lower parts are almost entirely white.
In the dark plumage the general Coloration is brown, the head, neck, and breast generally rendered paler or more rufous by the margins of the feathers, which, however, are not so broad as in the pale birds; occasionally the head and neck are whitish with dark shafts ; the quills as in the pale form, except that the white bases to the quills are often mottled with brown; tail, with rare exceptions, barred throughout or towards the end, the bars dark brown, the interspaces pale brown, grey or rufous, the last or subterminal bar generally, but not always, much broader than the others, and the other dark bars sometimes as broad as the interspaces, sometimes much narrower, occasionally broken and irregular.
The dark phase passes into a uniformly dark chocolate-brown or even blackish-brown bird (B. fuliginosus), with only the bases to the primaries white, and pale or sometimes whitish bars on the tail.
All these plumages vary and pass into each other. There is no distinctively young plumage. Sharpe (I. c.) and Hume (S. F. iv, p. 363) describe the pale form as young, the dark form as older, the blackish-brown bird as very old. The last, however, is certainly not necessarily aged, for Wardlaw Ramsay obtained a nestling covered everywhere with very dark feathers not fully grown, there are no rufous edges, and the tail is barred; whilst Dresser in the ' Birds of Europe' describes another nestling dark rufous and brown with a barred tail. He also records a moulting bird with a worn banded tail, and one new feather pale creamy rufous and unhanded. Gurney (Ibis, 1876, p. 367) regards the barred tail as a sign of immaturity.
It is evident that the dark birds are a melanistic form, and that the colour is not due to age. Such birds are common in the Himalayas, the Northern Punjab, and in Sind, rare elsewhere, and almost unknown out of India. Hume's darkest specimens were all males, but an equally dark female was shot by Capt. Butler at Hyderabad, Sind, and is now in the national collection.
Bill brownish plumbeous, tip black; cere yellowish green; irides brownish yellow; legs dingy pale lemon-yellow (Hume).
Length of female about 24 inches ; tail 10.5; wing 18 to 19.25: tarsus 3.75; mid-toe without claw 1.65; bill from gape 2: length of male 22; wing 16.25 to 17.9.
Distribution. S.E. Europe, N. E. Africa, S. W. Asia, and Western Central Asia. In India this Buzzard is found throughout the Himalayas as far east as Sikhim and, in the cold season, abundantly in the N.W. Provinces, Oudh, Rajputana, Sind, and the Punjab, but only an occasional straggler finds its way farther east or south. There is, however, one skin in the Hume collection from Raipur, and a few occurrences are recorded from the Deccan.
Habits, &c. Migratory, visiting North-western India from October to March, and very abundant in desert and semi-desert tracts, where it lives mainly on the Indian Desert Gerbille (Gerbillus hurrianae). It is also common in marshy ground, and it feeds on frogs, rats, mice, lizards, and large insects. It is a sluggish bird, solitary, by no means shy, and generally to be seen perched on a low tree, or bush, or the ground during the day ; it flies about very often in the evening and, according to Mr. A. Anderson, has somewhat crepuscular habits. Many breed in the Himalayas and Central Asia, a few in the Northern Punjab, about March and April; the nest is a loose structure of sticks lined with wool, rags, or dead leaves, placed either on a tree or on a cliff. The eggs, 2 to 4 in number, are broad regular ovals, greenish white richly blotched with reddish brown, and measure about 2.3 by 1.8.