The true Buzzards, to which the next two genera belong, are, as Blyth and Jerdon long ago pointed out, closely allied to Eagles, from which, indeed, they chiefly differ structurally by their less powerful bills and claws. By far their most distinctive character is one on which very little stress had been laid by ornithologists, though it has not escaped Prof. A. Newton, and consists in the want of any distinct immature garb; all Buzzards, so far as is known, assuming the adult plumage at once from the downy stage. It is true that a slight change is believed to be produced by age, the bars on the tail gradually disappear, and in some species there is a tendency to barring on the lower surface in old birds. The Coloration. despite the want of a distinct immature phase is exceedingly variable—pale, rufous, and melanistic forms being found in several species. These colour variations were, until recently, attributed to age, but, so far as I can ascertain, wrongly. A series of moulting specimens*, for instance of B. ferox, would afford valuable information, it being borne in mind that the plumage which is being shed is always faded.
In the genus Buteo the bill is small or moderate, the culmen is curved from the cere, the commissure nearly straight, the festoon being only slightly developed; the nostrils are oval and oblique; the wings ample and long, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th quills subequal, the 4th generally a little the longest, the first four quills deeply notched on the inner web; tail moderately long, rounded at the end; tarsus long, partly or wholly feathered in front, naked and more or less covered with transverse scutellae behind; toes short, lateral toes and claws very unequal.
Buzzards are comparatively sluggish birds, with a heavy flight, and less given to soaring than Eagles are, though occasionally they may be seen far up in the air. They feed on small mammals, reptiles, and insects, which they seize on the ground. They make nests of sticks, lined with grass or other soft material, on rocks or trees, and their eggs are greenish white, deeply blotched with brownish red.
This genus ranges throughout a great part of the world, but only occurs in parts of India, and is unknown in Burma, the Malayan countries, and Australia. The forms found in India may be classed in three species.
Key to the Species.
a. Wing more than 16 inches.
a1. Tarsus half-feathered, naked part in front scutellate………………………B. ferox, p. 390.
b1. Tarsus two-thirds feathered, naked part in front reticulated………………………B. leucocephalus, p. 392.
b. Wing less than 16 inches………………………B. desertorum, p. 393.
* In selecting specimens for museums and private collections, it has been generally the practice to pick out the fine freshly moulted skins and to reject the comparatively ragged specimens that were moulting when 6hot; both, however, are needed for study.