(1764) Circaetus gallicus.
THE SHORT-TOED EAGLE.
Falco gallicus Gmelin, Syst. Nat. i, p. 259 (1788) (France). Circaetus gallicus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 355.
Vernacular names. Sampmar (Hind.); Sapmaril (Beng.); Malpatar (Can.) ; Pamula gedda (Tel.) ; Pambu prambu (Tam.); Rawal (Wagri); Kondatele (Yerkli).
Description. Lores, forehead, fore-cheeks, eyebrow and a patch under the eye white ; the loral and other bristles black; general upper plumage earthy-brown, the long lanceolate feathers of crown, nape and neck with black shaft-lines; longest scapulars darker brown; tail margined with white at the tip, with three blackish bands, the terminal very broad, alternating with grey-brown bands; inner wing-coverts paler grey-brown; the white on the bases of the inner webs showing through here and there; outer coverts darker brown; primaries blackish-brown, diagonally white on the basal halves of the inner webs ; secondaries white on the edge of the inner webs and barred faintly with blackish ; chin, throat, and upper breast earthy-brown, with black shafts and white bases showing through everywhere; remainder of lower parts white barred with pale brown, the bars sometimes absent on the centre of the abdomen.
Colours of soft parts. Iris yellow to bright orange-yellow ; bill pale greyish-blue, darkest at the tip ; cere whitish or pale plumbeous-grey; legs and feet dirty yellowish-white to pale earthy greyish-brown; claws black.
Measurements. , wing 530 to 571 mm.; tail 287 to 330 mm.; tarsus 92 to 97 mm.; culmen 40 to 43 mm. wing 520 to 536 mm.; tail 252 to 288 mm.; culmen as in female.
Young birds have the upper parts paler and the head and neck almost white, the central pale grey streaks and dark shafts covering a very small portion of the white feathers; the lower parts are white, more or less suffused with buff and with brown shafts to the feathers of the chin, throat and breast; a few spots of pale fulvous-brown occur here and there on the flanks and abdomen.
Rather older specimens than the above have the spots on the lower plumage more and more pronounced; the dark shafts and fulvous tint on the breast gradually disappear and broader, darker spots take their place; above the plumage becomes darker and the dark parts of the head cover more and more of the white, till, finally, the complete adult plumage is acquired.
Distribution. South Europe and North-East Africa, Western Asia as far South and East as India and Northern China. In India it occurs practically over the whole continent as far East as Lower Bengal. I never saw it in Assam and it has not been recorded from Ceylon. It occurs occasionally in Siam and has once been recorded from the Malay Peninsula.
Nidification. The Short-toed Eagle breeds in India from December to March except in the lower Himalayan hills, where it breeds from March to May. The nest is not very large, usually under two feet in diameter and is roughly and untidily made of sticks, sometimes unlined, sometimes lined with finer twigs, with grass or with green leaves. The tree selected may be big or small but nearly always it is one in open country or in very thin scrub-jungle. Only one egg is laid, which is pure white and very broad in shape, the two ends hardly differing in size. Thirty Indian eggs average 73.6 x 58.4 mm.: maxima 80.0 x 64.6 mm,; minima 67.7 x 50.4; the latter is abnormally small.
On two occasions it is recorded that the nest of this bird was found built on ledges of clay cliffs on the Jumna river.
Habits. This Eagle is a bird of open country, both of dry plains and of wetter cultivated country. It spends much time circling round high up in the air, often in pairs and, during the breeding-season, indulges in wonderful evolutions. At other times it sits on the branch of a tree or on some post and thence swoops on its prey, which consists largely of snakes, lizards and frogs. It also eats small mammals and birds and will carry off ducks and small game when wounded. Its cry is described as a plaintive scream.