38. Circaetus gallicus

No. 38. Circaetus Gallicus, Gmel.

The Short-Toed Eagle.

The Short-toed Eagle lays in the plains of Upper India in January, February, and March, and, according to Mr. R. Thompson, in April and May in the Gurhwal forests.

As a rule, its nest is placed on trees, but on two occasions in the Etawah district, we have found this species breeding on small platforms, in the face of the high clay cliffs of the Jumna.

In different localities, it varies in its choice of trees; where trees are plentiful, it will build on the topmost boughs of a very tall one, while in the bare country, in Humana, and in Western Rajpootana, you will find the nest not half way up some stunted Neem tree, or scraggy thorny Acacia, a mere apology for a tree.

The nest is a large circular stick structure, some two to three feet in diameter and from six inches to a foot in depth, externally very loose and straggling, but composed of rather slighter materials than Fulvescens generally uses, and with a rather deeper internal depression.

Some nests are entirely devoid of lining, rather finer twigs compose the floor of the internal depression and on these the egg reposes. Some nests again have the egg bedded in straw and grass, positively as if packed to travel; under some I have found a few green leaves spread, after the fashion of Bonelli's Eagle, and under many, a little grass. There appears to be no rule in this matter, season does not affect the question, nor, as far as I can see, locality; in the early part of January, and late in March, in the Agra and Sirsa districts, and in the far west beyond Jodhpoor, I have observed the same diversities in the "internal arrangements" of the nests.

I have taken a great number of the nests of this species, and many of my friends have found them also, but in no instance out of between forty and fifty recorded cases, did any of us meet with more than a single egg in the same nest.

The eggs of this bird are typically broad ovals with a slightly pyriform tendency. They are of a pale bluish white colour; bluer than those of any other of our Indian species of Eagle, and are, to judge from a very large series, invariably spotless: moreover they seldom appear to be discoloured during the process of incubation in the way most other Eagles' eggs are. In my whole collection, only one egg is in any way as small as that figured by Dr. Bree, and more than one are all but as large as the egg of the bald Eagle figured on the same page. The colour of the shell in this species when held up to the light is a peculiarly bright sap green, very different from the deep green of Haliaetus Leucoryphus, or the sea green of Fulvescens. In size they vary from 2.65 to 3.15 in length and from 2.05 to 2.45 in breadth, but of twenty eggs measured the average was 2.91 by 2.31.

When deprived of their egg, the short-toed Eagles, will hang for weeks about their desolated homestead, but apparently they never lay a second time, as many other species do.

Mr. W. Blewitt informs me, that he took nine nests of this bird in the neighbourhood of Hansie between the 18th January and the 26th February and four between the 6th and 26th of March, some of the eggs were fresh, some more or less incubated ; but no nest contained more than a single egg. Eleven of the nests were on Keekur (Acacia Arabica) trees, one on a Jhand (Prosopis spicigna) tree and one on a Seeshum (Dalbergia Seesoo.) The nests were placed at heights varying from fourteen to twenty-two feet from the ground.

They were composed of twigs of the Keekur (Acacia Arabica), Kheyr (Acacia Catechu) native plum, (Zyzyphus Jujube). They varied in diameter from fourteen to twenty-four inches, excluding straggling ends, and in thickness from four to eight inches. Some were slightly and loosely put together, others were very densely and closely constructed. Most of them appeared to have no lining; but three were thinly lined with straw, two with leaves and one with fine grass.

Mr. G. Marshall, R. E., writes to me - : " Of this bird I have found but one nest. I found it on the 13th of March with one egg, and, left it till the 6th April, in hopes that more would be laid, and when I took it at last, it was rather hard set, so that probably the bird lays but one egg. The nest was in a Seeshum tree, so high up among the smaller branches that I reached it with difficulty; it was made of twigs and so loose in structure, that I could see that there was only one egg from below, before I had reached the nest. The egg was well shaped and pure dull white."

Mr. R. Thompson writing from Gurhwal says that the situation of the nest is "usually on the highest branches of a tall tree, in a moderately wooded country, and mostly in one standing by itself." He adds : " Breeds in the Patla Dhoon, and all along the lower open forests. During the pairing season, utters a loud and plaintive cry, usually when the pair are mounted high in the air, when they may be observed tumbling about and darting at each other in a most remarkable manner."

In Mr. Salvin's " Bird-nesting in the Eastern Atlas" we have the following:

" The first nest of this species we obtained, was brought from Blad el Ghua, a village to the south of Djebel Kekma; it contained two eggs, both of which had been incubated sometime, so that the long bare tarsi and large eyes of the embryo left little doubt as to the identity of the species. Of these eggs, one had slight indications of colouring ; a feature I have never observed in other specimens. The eggs are usually deposited in March; but some birds defer laying till April. The Arabs call this bird 'White Eagle.' "

Mr. Tristram in his ornithology of Palestine (Ibis, 1865) remarks. - :

" In its breeding habits it varies, choosing generally some low ledge in a wady, but sometimes also building a great platform of sticks in the top of a large Oak or Terebinth. The first egg we took was in a wady on Carmel, on March 23rd, quite fresh, the second in a wady near Heshbon, east of the Dead Sea, on April 30th, equally fresh; after which we obtained several others, not yet incubated, so late as to the 10th of May. One egg we took was prettily spotted, all the others were white. On one occasion, the sitting bird we shot from the nest was ascertained by dissection to be a male. In Africa, I have found two eggs in the nest, but in Palestine we never found more than one. The same rule seems to hold throughout all the Raptors, that wherever the species is abundant, the number of young is proportionally fewer than when the individuals are scarce."

As I have already remarked, when speaking of another species, I rather question, this plausible little generalization with which the most charming of all ornithological writers, rounds off the above passage. The short-toed Eagle is certainly scarcer in the south of France than in the north of Africa, so that if there are two eggs in the latter place, to one in Palestine and India, there ought surely to be three in the former locality. The best account, however, that I can find of the nidification of this species in the south of France is that quoted by Bree. ' Dr. Alexander Savatier wrote to me from Beauvais, Sur Matha, (Charente-inferieure) "I have killed on its nest, in a forest in our neighbourhood, a female of Jean-le-Blanc. This nest was placed upon a very high tree, it was sixty or seventy centimetres in diameter; it was composed of dry twigs; it only contained one egg, half sat upon. It was May the 16th. The shell was a dirty white and rugose. The peasants assured me, they had seen other nests always with only one egg, and that this was never spotted."

I have noticed that this bird may often be seen soaring high over a nearly dry jheel, then descending and hovering from place to place almost like a Kestril, but with a scarcely perceptible movement of the wings. When on the wing they are readily distinguished, by the white, slightly spotted or barred under surface, and broad rounded wings.

When they come down on their prey, they drop on it softly and silently, and not with a rush like the Fulviventer, or Imperialis. The feet are covered with Armadillo-like scales, of which a few seem to be shed from time to time; new ones (at first of a pure pearly white) growing up from below to replace them. The bird by its enormous head and eyes, and huge ear holes, and by its inner toe claw larger than any of the others; email cere and comparatively silent flight, reminds one much of the larger Owls.

Although this present species extends, according to Mr. Wallace, as far east as Timor and Floris, and is found throughout India, Syria, and the south of Europe as well as in the north of Africa, this latter continent is par excellence, the head quarters of the dry plains-loving Circaeti. Besides C. Gallicus, G. Pectoralis, Zonurus, Fasciolatus and Beaudoni are enumerated by Verreaux from various parts of Africa, and I have seen subsequently notices of two other distinct species, whose names I have unfortunately forgotten.

Dr Jerdon's measurements strike me as too large to represent average examples. I subjoin measurements recorded from fresh birds, of whioh Nos. 1 and 2 were old birds, Nos. 3 and 5, two-year old, and No. 4 a yearling.

Length. Expanse. Tail. Wings Weight, fall short of tail by Wing
No. 1 Female,.... 29.5 76.5 13.25 1.25 4 lbs. 22.5
No. 2 Female,.... 27.25 70.0 12.25 1.13 4 lbs. 21.5
No. 3 Male, , 25.75 70.0 11.75 0.25 3 lbs. 20.8
No. 4 Y. Female, 27.69 71.0 12.0 0.0 2.5lbs. 21.25
No. 5 Female. 27.75 70.0 ? 0.5 3.25 lbs. 21.0

I will add detailed measurements and descriptions of two other females, the one No. 6, a very old, the other No. 7, quite a young bird; in weight they differed vastly, in linear dimensions very little.

No. 6, an old female, shot 23rd February. No. 7, young female, shot 26th February.

Dimensions (those first given are of No. 6, the second ones those of No. 7.)

Length, 28.75-27.5. Expanse, 68-69. Weight in lbs., 4.19-2.81. Wing, 20.75-20.63. In both, the 3rd and 4th primaries were the longest, and these exceeded the first primary by 5.63-4.63; and the second by 1.1 .25. Length of tail from vent, 12-12.25. Tarsus (feathered in front for 1 inch) 3.69-3.69. Foot, greatest Length, 5-4.88; greatest width, 4.75-4.38; mid toe to root of claw, 2.19-2.06; its claw along curve, 1.38-1.19; hind toe, 1.13-1, its claw, along curve, 1.5-1.19; inner toe, 1.72-1.7, its claw, along curve 1.56-1.53. Bill including cere, from forehead to point, straight, 1.88-1.75; along curve, 2.5-2.25 ; from gape, 2.5-2.25 ; width at gape, 1.81-1.69 ; height at front, at margin of cere, 0.88-0.81; length of cere on culmen, 0.44-0.5. In both, the wings when closed reach to within 0.5 of end of tail; and the lower tail coverts to within 4..25 of end of tail. Description of No. 6.

The legs and feet are a pale earthy greyish brown, covered with prominent, sharp-edged, armour plate, overlapping, loose-looking, hexagonal scales. Three large scales at the end of each toe, the upper generally divided, claws black, inner edge of middle one, conspicuously dilated into a cutting edge.

Irides, bright orange yellow; orbits thickly covered with white down.

Bill, pale greyish blue at base, blackish horny at tips; cere which is small, whitish, with a tinge of bluish grey in places.

Tongue large, fleshy, hastate, obtuse ended.

The forehead, lores, chin and patch on each side of lower mandible whitish, and, except on the forehead, with black, naked, much prolonged, bristle-like shafts. The whole top and back of head, throat, neck all round, back, rump, upper tail coverts, scapulars, and upper wing coverts, except primary greater coverts, a sort of earthy brown, of more shades than one; the throat and neck in front being the palest and most fulvous, (all the feathers conspicuously dark-shafted,) and the scapulars (the longest of which are a dark, almost umber, brown) and mid back the darkest. Many of the feathers especially of the back of the neck, and lesser wing coverts inconspicuously margined paler. Winglet, primaries and their greater coverts, a dark brown, but the primaries from the 2nd to the 6th emarginate on the outer webs and with a greyish shade on the outer web above the emarginations. First three primaries conspicuously notched, and the 4th and 5th with a trace of similar notches on the inner webs, which in all five are nearly wholly white above the said notches. The later primaries and the secondaries, (the brown of which latter pales as they recede from the primaries, until, like the tertials, they are nearly concolourous with their coverts) with half the inner webs diagonally white; and with four conspicuous, broad, dark brown, transverse bars.

In the new feathers, the white runs as a narrow hand round the tip, and the transverse bars are obscurely visible on the outer, as well as the inner webs; all the tail feathers are white at the base; but this is hid, except in the lateral ones, by the upper tail coverts; all are narrowly tipped with white ; all have a broad subterminal, and two other conspicuous, transverse, dark brown bars. The ground colour of the whole of the central feathers is pale brown, but in the lateral feathers, nearly the whole ground of the inner web is pure white, and in the exterior feather, more than the basal one-fourth is white on the outer web also. The bars decrease slightly in width and strength, as the feathers recede from the centre.

There is an inconspicuous blackish brown supercilium, and a good deal of faint blackish brown is mingled in the ear coverts. The whole breast, sides, abdomen, thigh coverts, lower tail and wing coverts pure white, each feather with a broad subterminal bar, (or in some of the wing coverts, spot,) of pale earthy brown. The axillaries are similar, but have two or even three of the brown transverse bars.

Description of No. 7.

Feet and legs almost a pearl grey, irides a gamboge yellow. The whole of the head, chin, throat, and neck all round is white, but all the feathers have the shafts, a sort of fulvous brown; there is a little dusky and fulvous mingled with the ear coverts, and many of the feathers of the back of the neck, and most of those at the base of the same all round, are tinged at the tips with fawn colour or pale fulvous brown. The breast, abdomen, thigh coverts, sides, axillaries, lower wing, and tail coverts are pure white, not a few of the feathers, however, having inconspicuous, subterminal, transverse bands of a sort of fawn, or pale fulvous brown. The rest of the bird is much as in the adult, but everywhere of a lighter shade; there are only two or at most three bars on the inner webs of the last five primaries and the secondaries, and these are much less conspicuous, and feebler than in the adult. On the tail, the white tipping and broad dark subterminal band are barely to be traced; while the other bars ure feebler than in the adult.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
38. Circaetus gallicus
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Short Toed Eagle
Short-toed Snake Eagle
Circaetus gallicus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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