45. Buteo ferox

No. 45. Buteo Ferox.* GMELIN.


This large and handsome Buzzard breeds in great numbers, in March and April, in the N. W. Punjab, the lower hills of the N. W. Himalayas, and Kashmeer. East of the Jheelum, so far as I have yet been able to gather, very few pairs remain to breed in the plains.

During the cold season, they swarm all over the N. W. P., the Punjab, and Rajpootana, making their way far down into Central India, throughout Oudh, and into Behar, but although, as Jerdon says, they are found much in low cultivated lands, especially irrigated fields, edges of jheels, &c, (where they prey mostly on Frogs) their winter quarters, par excellence, is in the half desert tracts of Northern and Western India, amongst the interminable colonies of the Desert Rat, (Gerbellus Erythrourus) which is unquestionably their favourite food. In these localities, they occur during the winter in surprising numbers; a dozen may be seen sitting within a circle of half a mile, and fifty counted in a morning's ride. Directly, however, the hot weather begins to set in, their numbers decrease, and by the first of April, all, but solitary stragglers, have retreated northwards, to the Himalayas, or westwards, across the Sutledge.

I have never seen or taken a nest myself, but have had them often described to me by others who have, as large clumsy stick structures, placed usually, high up, in the fork of some large tree, and lined with hair, wool and rags. They lay usually, I am informed, three eggs, but many lay only two, and four are sometimes found. The eggs that I have seen, said to belong to this species, appeared to me undistinguishable from large eggs of the common Kite. I did not, unfortunately, record an exact description, or the dimensions at the time, and my collection contains no specimens at present.

Mr. W. Theobald makes the following note of this bird's breeding, in the neighbourhood of Pind Dadan Khan, and Katas, in the Salt Range.

" Lays in the first and fourth weeks of March. Eggs two to three. Shape ovato pyriform. Size, varies from 2.00 to 2.19 inches in Length, and 1.66 inches in breadth. Colour greenish white, or white, blotched with red or claret brown, vary greatly. Nest large in trees, sticks lined with cotton, rags, &c, and daubed with mud."

Of their breeding in the valley of Kashmeer, he says, " Lays in the fourth week of April. Eggs two in number, ovato pyriform, measuring from 2.10 to 2.40 inches in Length, and from 1.77 to 1.80 inches in breadth. Nest and eggs as in plains."

A pair or two may occasionally breed, well down into the plains, as in the case mentioned in the following note; but such an occurrence is quite exceptional. Mr. F. R. Blewitt says, " In 1845 and 1846 when at Bunchari Z. Gourgaon, I well remember seeing a pair of birds during the two hot and rainy seasons. In a clump of high trees, to the left of the road, as you come from Pulwul, just near to Bunchari, there was one of remarkable size, of which each year they took possession, about May, reared their young, and with the young birds, departed in October. The third year, as I was subsequently told, the tree was struck by lightning, and the birds killed."

Of the breeding of this species in Palestine, Mr. Tristram had the following remarks in the Ibis for 1865 - :" We found the nests, both on trees, and on rocks, generally on the latter. The complement of eggs is two, or three, generally the latter. The first nest we took was on Mount Carmel, on a rocky ledge, easy of access, on March 22nd, and which contained three eggs, quite fresh and beautifully marked; the last fresh eggs we found, were a pair near Mount Tabor on May 1st. The eggs are of course larger than, but no way differently coloured from, those of the Common Buzzard. The nest is large, but more neatly made than those of the Eagles, and well lined with woollen rags,and the soft withered leaves of bull-rushes, and flags, and plastered with mud. The plumage of the Palestine speci¬men is very rufous, and we shot breeding birds, both with and without the bars on their tails."

There seems now no reason to doubt, that our Indian species, named Canescens, by Hodgson, and Longipes* by Jerdon, is really identical, with Ferox of Gmelin, Rufinus of Riippel, and Leucurus of Naumann. It occurs throughout northern and central India, in Afghanistan, and Persia ; Palestine, and North Eastern Africa. Mr. Gurney has received specimens from the mouths of the Volga, and Radde procured it in the Baikal, and Daurian districts of Asiatic Russia, where also he took several nests in April and May, the eggs of those taken in the latter month being hard set. He gives the dimensions of the largest and smallest of 19 eggs as 2.73 by 2.05 and 2.4 by 1.83.

There are two very distinct forms, so far as plumage goes, which, as well as I am able yet to judge, are both referable to this species. The dimensions are identical, and the shape, and contour of wings, tail, bill, legs and feet, are the same, but the plumage is so very widely different, that in the absence of clearly intermediate stages, I cannot feel perfectly certain that both forms belong to one and the same species. Moreover, while the one form (the one usually brown, and described as Buteo Canescens and Ferox) occurs in vast numbers all over the North West Provinces, Punjab, and Rajpootana, the other, which I characterized in the Ibis as Fuliginosus, no where, as far as I have yet ascertained, occurs, except as a mere straggler, east of the Jumna, and is only plentiful from about Hansie, northwards and westwards. Nowhere does it appear to be so plentiful as the other form, and to judge from the plumage, bills and feet, if it really be identical with Ferox, it is the old bird, and these we know in many species, extend their migrations considerably less than the young. Dr. Jerdon tells me, ( in epist.) that " a very dark colored Buzzard is not rare near Hissar and Sirsa, in the cold weather. The tail is generally conspicuously albescent; I unfortunately did not procure a specimen to ascertain if it differed, (as I think it does) from the common Buzzard or not." Mx. Gurney writing of B. Ferox says, " This species is sometimes of an uniform, dark chocolate brown, all over. I have seen only two such examples, one from India, and one from Abyssinia. This is out of, at least, thirty specimens of the bird, which I have at different times seen ; whether this is accidental, or a regular plumage, I cannot tell; but being so rare, in proportion to those in the usual dress, I am disposed to consider it an accidental variation."

Clearly, the Buzzards thus referred to are identical with my supposed Fuliginosas, of which I have now twelve specimens before me, varying a good deal in many respects, but only one of them approaching at all closely any (and those only the most dingily colored) of the enormous series of the typical Canescens that my collection contains.

The plumage of this Buzzard varies of course very considerably, even in the pale or Canescens stage, just as it does in that which constitutes my supposed Fuliginosus, but the specimens representing these two stages, (if they really are only stages), constitute groups so separate, that in scarcely any case can a moment's doubt exist as to which group they are to be referred to. The only explanation I can give of this, is, that all my specimens have been obtained between the 1st of November, and the end of March, with the exception of two of the very dark ones, obtained in the Himalayas during the summer.

In the typical Ferox, (assuming Ferox and Canescens to be really identical,) the chief variations in plumage are as follows: At one end of the series, the whole of the chin, throat, breast, abdomen, vent, and lower tail coverts, in fact, the whole lower parts are white, with only the faintest possible fulvous tinge in some places, and a few only of the feathers with dark shafts. A few of the feathers of the sides have irregular, patchy, rufous brown bars. The axillaries are pure white, with a faint rufous spot towards the tips; the tibial plumes are pale rufous, mottled with rufous white; and the tarsal plumes are white, broadly barred with pale rufous. At the other end of the series, the chin, throat, breast, and lower tail coverts, are a rich rufous buff, all the feathers, except those of the lower tail coverts, with conspicuous dark shafts, and rich brown, or rufous brown, linear, lanceolate, shaft stripes. The whole of the sides, abdomen, vent, tibial and tarsal plumes, a very rich rufous brown, edged with brighter rufous, and the axillaries pure cinnamon colour. Between these two extremes, there is every intermediate type of colouring of the lower parts. Then again of the upper parts, especially of the tail, there is an equally marked amount of variation. Taking the tail first; in some, the whole of the tail feathers are pure pale cinnamon colour, becoming albescent at the shaft, towards the base of the central feathers, and pure white there, on the inner webs of the lateral feathers; and with a faint silvery greyish shade or bloom, about the middle of the exterior webs. In the perfect form of this type there is not the faintest trace of any bar, on any of the feathers. Then there is precisely the same tail, as it were bleached, the cinnamon being confined to the tips and the outer margins of both webs of the central feathers, and to the tips and outer margins of the exterior webs only, of the lateral feathers ; all the rest being pure white. Then there is the same tail as the last described, with the white on the central feathers; and the external webs of the lateral feathers, replaced by a silver grey, only slightly browner, than that of the exterior webs of the earlier primaries. Then we have each of these three forms of tail, more or less barred, with every intermediate form between a mere trace of a single narrow brown bar, near the tip, up to ten narrow, well marked but wavy, and irregular, transverse brown bars. There is still another type of tail, in which the central feathers are a uniform, dull, earthy brown, except along the shafts, where alternate, irregular patches, of a slightly darker brown, and dingy fulvous, remain as it were traces of the fully barred tail. The outer webs of the lateral tail feathers, are in this form, a nearly uniform brown, with but little traces of the markings exhibited by the central tail feathers, but the inner webs are dull fulvous, growing white towards the bases, with numerous, broad, irregular, freckled, brown bars, becoming obsolete towards their bases. Between this form, and the grey banded one, every intermediate stage occurs. The rest of the upper plumage, in specimens exhibiting this latter form of tail, is a uniform, dull, pale, hair brown, without a trace of rufous anywhere, but darker on the rump, the longer scapulars, and primaries, and somewhat paler on the head, (where owing to the white bases of the feathers showing through, a good deal of white is intermingled) and the median wing coverts. The silvery grey tinge, of the outer webs of the primaries, of this form, is inconspicuous, and overlaid with brown. The upper plumage of the specimens with bar-less tails, is much richer, and in fact so different from that just described, that but for the existence of intermediate links, one could scarcely believe in the identity of the two forms. Here we have the whole head, neck, and mantle, a rich rufous buff, the feathers with conspicuous dark brown centres; the feathers of the occiput conspicuously tipped blackish brown, so as to produce the effect of a sub-crest. The rump rich blackish or deep chocolate brown, the upper tail coverts rich rufous, with traces of blackish brown bars. The outer webs of the first four or five primaries conspicuously silvered, reminding one of the wings of the adult Circus Aerugi nosus, and many of the lesser scapulars with patches of silver grey. The longer scapulars, and secondaries, tipped conspicuously, and the former obscurely mottled, with greyish brown. In other forms of the same plumage, these tippings and mottlings are wanting, as are the grey patchings on the lesser scapulars, while the dark centres of the feathers are so broad, as to reduce the rufous buff to broad edgings. In some again, the rump, instead of being blackish brown, is rufous brown, broadly edged with deep rufous; and in others, the upper tail coverts, instead of being bright rufous, with traces of brown bars, are deep brown, tipped with pale rufous. As the bars on the tail begin to appear, the colours of the upper surface appear to grow dingier; the bright rufous buff becomes rufous white, then dingy buff, and dingy yellowish white; the brown growing paler and more earthy, and as the tail begins to assume the dingy earth brown tinge, the rufous or fulvous edgings to the feathers begin to disappear altogether, and we get to that nearly uniform, dull brown, upper surface, (whitened about the head, owing to the white feathers showing through,) already described.

The great difficulty we meet with, in assigning any chronological value to these changes is, that the changes on the upper surface, do not correspond with those on the lower.

It is easy enough to arrange any number of specimens, in what, looking at the upper or under surfaces only, appears a very perfect series, in which no links are wanting, but directly we ton the specimens over, all traces of any arrangement seems to vanish, and birds at the opposite ends of the chain, when arranged by the plumage of one surface, ought, if arranged according to that of the other, to be placed side by side. This provoking want of correspondence, in the changes of the plumage, of the two surfaces, has already been noticed, page 147, when treating of Aquila Imperialis, but it is much more conspicuous and perplexing in the present species. The only points in which the changes in the upper and lower surfaces correspond, is, that as we approach the uniform, dull brown, upper surface stage, the whole of the colours of the lower surface, grow duller, and lose the rufous tinge.

Taking now the typical form, of what I have styled B. Fuliginosus, the whole of the head, neck, cheeks, ear coverts, throat and breast, is a deep hair or umber brown, narrowly, and indistinctly margined, with dingy rufous, and the whole of the rest of the bird, except the primaries and tail feathers, are a more or less rich and deep hair brown, tinged with umber on the lower surface, and glossed with purple on the rump, upper tail coverts, longer scapulars and tertiaries. The tail is silver grey, with a very broad, subterminal, blackish brown band, beyond which, there is a narrow, pale tipping, and above which, there are five other, somewhat irregular, and wavy, transverse, dark-brown bars; the grey becoming albescent, on the inner webs of the lateral tail feathers. In all specimens, both of this, and the Canescens type, the bases of the primaries, I may mention, are white, forming a very large and conspicuous pure white patch, on the lower surface of the wing.

In another form of my supposed Fuliginosus, the whole head, neck, chin, throat, and breast, may be said to be a rich, deep rufous, broadly centred with umber brown. The rest of the lower parts, are an excessively rich, deep, umber brown, with here and there, rufous white spots, or imperfect bars, most conspicuous and numerous on the lower tail coverts.

The upper surface is a darker brown even than that of the first form described, and the longer upper tail coverts, are conspicuously tipped with rufous, while the tail feathers are much tinged with rufous towards the tip, have the terminal bar considerably reduced in width, the grey ground more albescent, and the other bars more or less obsolete.

I have one specimen which appears to be intermediate, between Fuliginosus and Canescens, the tail is precisely similar to that first described, as typical of Fuliginosus, but the whole of the rest of the upper surface, is that of the uniform, dull, earth brown stage, of Canescens; the lower surface, however, is unlike any of those which I have described as Canescens. It has the chin and throat yellowish white, with brown central stripes, but the whole of the rest of the lower surface, a very dull, rather pale, umber brown, more or less margined on the breast, with rufous.

There are other specimens again, more or less intermediate between this example and the typical Fuliginosus, and though I can express no positive opinion on the subject as yet, my conviction is, founded chiefly on their perfect structural identity, that both the dark and light forms, (Fuliginosus and Canescens) must be referred to one and the same species.
Bute Forox
From Male
To Female
From Female
Length 20.75 23.50 22.75 25.00
Expanse. 50.25 59.00 56.25 62.00
Wing. 16.00 17.60 18.20 19.75
Tail from vent 9.25 10.50 10.18 10.75
Tarsus 3.20 3.75 3.20 3.80
Foot, greatest length. 3.80 4.40 4.50 4.70
Foot, greatest Width. 3.50 3.70 3.65 3.85
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 1.45 1.72 1.50 1.82
Its Claw straight. 0.75 0.85 0.75 0.90
Hind toe. 0.78 1.12 0.90 1.10
Its claw, straight 0.90 1.05 1.02 1.20
Inner Toe. 0.78 1.08 0.90 1.12
Its claw, straight 0.88 1.02 0.97 1.12
Bill straight, from edge of cere to point. 0.90 1.00 1.03 1.20
Bill a long Curve, do. 1.10 1.25 1.20 1.35
Bill from gape. 1.80 2.00 1.90 2.08
Bill width at gape. 1.40 1.69 1.35 1.75
Bill height at margin of Cere. 0.45 0.53 0.50 0.60
Distance by which closed wings fall short of end of Tail. Nil 1.25 Nil 2.00
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 2.82 4.00 3.30 3.90
Weight Lb oz 1.15 2.12 Lb oz 2.4 3.8
Length of cere on culmen 0.45 0.55 0.44 0.55

(Eight males and females measured and weighed.)

Males. The 3rd, or 3rd and 4th primaries the longest. The 1st is from 3.9 to 5.21 shorter, the 2nd from 0.82 to 1.7, and the 3rd from 0.4 to 0.43, shorter. Exterior tail feathers, 0.2 to 0.88, shorter than interior ones.

Females. The 3rd, 4th, or 5th primaries the longest. The 1st is from 4.2 to 5.5 shorter, the 2nd, from 1.15 to 2, and the 3rd, from 0.15 to 0.6, shorter. Exterior tail feathers 0.7 to 1.3, shorter than interior ones.

DESCRIPTION. (Of a very fine male, in the light stage of plumage, shot on the l\th January, 1867.

Legs and Feet. A dingy, rather pale lemon yellow ; a row of large transverse scute, on the front of the tarsus, below the feathered portion, nearly to the foot; a row of still larger transverse scute, at the hack of the tarsus, from the foot to about half way up; three, four and five scute at tip of toes, rest of scutellation reticulate, well marked, with the small plates rather convex; claws black, well curved, sharp ; inner edge of mid toe claw much dilated.

Irides. Brownish yellow. Edges of lids, and small bare shelf above eye, dusky greenish.

Bill. Upper mandible at junction with cere, and base of lower mandible, brownish plumbeous; tips of both mandibles horny black, gape more yellow ; cere yellowish green.

Tongue. Moderate, fleshy, entire, hastate, obtuse tipped, ciliated or finely serrated on posterior margin.

PLUMAGE. Lores thickly clothed with tiny white feathers, with greatly elongated, naked, dark brown or black, hair-like shafts, some of which, as usual, curve up, over the nostrils and front of forehead, while the rest point down over commissure, some being sloped away over the gape. Orbits feathered white. A trace of a very narrow dark brown streak, just above the bare shelf of the eye ; the whole of the forehead, crown and occiput, a pale sandy brown, the feathers shafted darker, and with more or less white at the base, which shows through more or less in different places, most, in a patch above each nostril, and slightly above each eye, and least on the crown. Nape and back of the neck, a somewhat darker brown, very much mottled with white, owing to a great deal of the basal portions of the feathers showing through. Upper back, scapulars, and lesser wing coverts a sort of umber brown; somewhat rufous on the lesser scapulars, which with the feathers of the upper back, are faintly, while the lesser coverts are distinctly, margined with rufous or pale rufous brown. The lower and middle back, and rump, are a nearly uniform umber brown. The upper tail coverts are paler, the tips and exterior webs, much mottled, blotched, or imperfectly barred, with buffy or pale rufous. Tail feathers umber brown, narrowly tipped paler. Centre feathers with traces of about eight darker, and somewhat wavy, transverse, brown bars, with the interspaces, (specially on the inner web) near the shafts, mottled with pale rufous, or fulvous white, all the lateral tail feathers, with the greater portions of the inner webs, white, incompletely barred towards the tips, with wavy blotches of brown and pale rufous. The three exterior, on each side, with some white on the outer webs, also at the bases, and beyond this an inch or so of mottling or freckling, with pale rufous, chiefly close to the shaft. On the dark portion of the exterior webs of all, there are in a good light, faint traces of darker bars. The medium wing coverts, are a uniform, but rather pale, umber brown, palest towards the edges, while the winglet and greater coverts are an equally uniform, but rather darker shade, the coverts with traces of paler tippings.

The first five primaries (of which the 3rd, 4th and 6th are emarginate on the outer webs) are grey on the outer webs, except the last two, just below their larger coverts, where they are a rather pale umber brown. They are all five conspicuously emarginate or notched on the inner webs, on which, below these emarginations or notches, they are nearly black, while above these, they are nearly pure white, with only a little pale brown, running along the shaft.

The rest of the primaries and secondaries, are dark brown on the outer webs, and tips ; and pure white, and pale brown towards the shafts, on the inner webs, with four or five rather ill-defined, and incomplete, darker brown, transverse bare. The ear coverts, chin and throat are white, the feathers have pale, rufous brown shafts. There is a trace of an uniform, rufous brown streak from the posterior angle of the eye, along the tops of the ear coverts. The feathers from the base of the lower mandible, below the ear coverts, and behind them, with small central streaks of the pale rufous brown, as well as the shafts of that colour. The centre of the neck in front, and breast, white, the feathers with darker shafts, and many of them with linear, or narrowly, oval streaks of rufous brown towards the tips, these being most conspicuous on the lower part of the breast. A patch on each side of neck, feathers rufous brown, dark shafted, margined rather narrowly, with fulvous white ; centre and lower part of abdomen, vent and lower tail coverts, unspotted, yellowish or dirtyish white; sides uniform umber brown, with darker shafts and feeble whitish margins. Thigh coverts a still darker brown, with a greyish bloom on one web in a good light, darker shafted, and margined, with rufous above, and fulvous white towards the tarsus. Axillaries bright rufous, somewhat mottled, and shafted, with umber brown. Lesser and median, lower wing coverts, pale rufous, to rufous white, with dark shafts, and a narrow rufous brown streak. Coverts beyond carpal joints, umber brown, mottled, and blotched with rufous. Greater lesser coverts, of primaries and secondaries, pale greyish brown, variegated towards the margins, the former with white, the latter with pale rufous.

* Von Pelzeln, says of a specimen sent from the neighbourhood of Kotegurh, (Himalayahs) by Dr. Stoliczka.

" The specimen sent belongs to the variety B. rufinus, and agrees with the examples of the adult birds of that variety collected by Herr Kotschy in Nubia (compare my ' Uebersicht der Geier und Falken, 147 D) only that the Himalayan bird has the tail banded, and consequently must be considered somewhat younger."

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 ferox
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Long Legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Buteo rufinus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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