51. Circus swainsoni

No. 51. Circus Swainsoni,* A. SMITH.


Of the nidification of this species, nothing certain seems known. Bree figures an egg, said to belong to this species, from Thienemann, but furnishes no particulars. The figure represents a somewhat broad, oval egg, of an uniform, pale bluish white, measuring 1.62 by 1.63. In the plains of India, this bird certainly does not breed. We first see them in Upper In dia early in October, (I have twice seen specimens in the last week of September,) and the great majority leave by the close of March, or early in April, according as the season is a early or late one. In the Terai and Dhoon, they may linger somewhat longer, as I have a specimen from the latter, killed on the 20th of April.

Whether they breed in the Himalayahs, on this side of the Snowy Range, I cannot say ; I have never met with a single one, during my summer rambles in the Hills, and very much doubt their breeding south of the snows.

This bird apparently unknown in Northern Europe and Asia, (where neither Kadhe, Pallas, Middendorf nor Schrenk appears to have met with it,) is found alike in North Eastern and Southern Africa and Palestine, occurs in Burmah, and has been procured on the Yangtzee, by Captain Blackeston, but it does not seem to find its way either eastwards to Japan, or southwards to Malayana, or the Archipelago.

The livery of the young is rather peculiar, the whole under parts being a uniform, unstreaked, rufous buff, such as is met with in the young of Cineraceus, and in one stage of Ranivores. Dr. Jerdon has not noticed this stage, in which I have numerous specimens, and I have therefore, as will be seen in the note, described it at length.

Circus Swainsoni.

From Male
To Female
From Female
Length 17.60 18.50 18.65 20.65
Expanse. 41.00 42.25 40.00 47.50
Wing. 13.50 13.95 13.75 15.15
Tail from vent 9.00 10.00 9.50 11.25
Tarsus 2.64 2.8 2.65 2.92
Foot, greatest length. 3.30 3.45 3.38 3.59
Foot, greatest breadth. 2.70 2.90 2.79 3.0
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 1.10 1.30 1.31 1.50
Its Claw straight. 0.55 0.66 0.62 0.67
Hind toe to root of claw. 0.56 0.62 0.68 0.76
Its claw, straight 0.65 0.71 0.75 0.82
Inner toe to root of claw 0.50 0.60 0.55 0.68
Its claw, straight 0.63 0.72 0.70 0.78
Bill straight, from margin of cere. 0.57 0.69 0.70 0.78
Bill a long Curve, ditto. 0.64 0.77 0.8 0.86
Bill from gape. .99 1.15 1.20 1.38
Bill width at gape. 0.86 0.91 1.00 1.09
Bill height at margin of Cere. 0.34 0.39 0.37 0.42
Distance by which closed wings fall short of end of Tail. 1.00 1.75 1.75 2.75
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 3.80 4.75 4.00 5.00
Weight Oz 10 Oz 14 Oz 15.5 Oz 1.3
Length of cere on culmen 6.3 6.3 6.3 6.4

(Might males and eight females measured and weighed.)

The 3rd primary the longest. The 1st is from 3.25 to 4.25 shorter, the 2nd from 0.75 to 1.18 and the 4th from 0.10 to 0.50, shorter. Exterior tail feathers from 0.50, to 1.50 shorter than central feathers.

DESCRIPTION. - : Legs and feet, bright orange to lemon yellow, according to age. Claws black. Irides bright yellow in adults, dark brown in the young, Orbits yellow, dingier in the young. Bill. Cere greenish, or dusky greenish in the adult, somewhat yellower in the young,especially on the culmen, and hidden at sides by the bristles of the lore. Gape, and base of lower mandible, blue, or sometimes greenish blue. Upper mandible and tip of lower mandible, bluish or horn-black.

PLUMAGE. - : Male. Lores closely clothed with tiny white feathers, with elongated, naked, black brown, hair-like shafts. Forehead, and streak above eyes, and feathers of orbits greyish white, slightly paler than surrounding parts, the whole of the rest of the top of head and nape, to where the ruff joins in, grey, tinged with brown, most strongly so on nape feathers, and with dark shafts. Cheeks and ear coverts grey, the feathers broadly edged with greyish white, so as to produce a striated appearance. Feathers of ruff, which as regards colour is very conspicuous greyish white, with narrow, central, grey streaks, back of the neck, below brownish grey patch of nape, greyish white, the feathers slightly darker shafted, and some of them with the greyish traces of faint, brownish grey, transverse, subterminal spots. The whole of the base of the neck behind, upper back and scapulars, a sort of ash grey, more or less tinged towards the tips with brownish grey, and the longer scapulars frosted with a purer grey. The middle and lower back, a shade lighter grey, the white bases of the feathers showing through, more or less. Upper tail coverts pure white, with regular, broad, transverse, grey or slightly brownish grey, bars. The whole of the wing coverts, winglet tertials, and outer webs of secondaries and last four primaries, grey, more silvery on quills, and browner on lesser coverts. The median coverts narrowly pale margined, and most of the other feathers of the corners narrowly paler tipped. The second, and last four primaries, have the central halves of the inner webs pure grey, and the marginal halves white The first primary is silver grey on the outer web, dusky grey on the inner, as far as the notch, and above this chiefly white. The next four are nearly black, with a good deal of silver grey however, on the outer webs of the first two, and of white, more or less mottled with dusky, on the inner webs of all towards the base ; the sixth is dusky grey on the outer web and tip, and paler and browner grey on inner web, which has a broad marginal stripe broadest towards base, where it occupies nearly the whole web, of white, irregularly mottled with grey. The central tail feathers are a uniform silver grey, slightly shaded, with dusky on the terminal half. The next feather, on each side, is similar, but there are six or five white patches on the shafts, and traces of corresponding, paler bars, on the inner webs, which are very narrowly, paler margined, in each succeeding feather, the white patches on the shaft are better marked, and extend further and further across the outer webs, while the corresponding broad pale bars,on the inner webs at first only mottled with white, become pure white, and larger, and at the same time, the white margin of the inner webs spreads inward, so that the two exterior feathers have the inner webs pure white, with only four or five, somewhat narrow bars of grey, or brownish grey, (which do not extend to the margin,) and here and there a little freckling, chiefly towards the base of the same colour. Chin, throat and front of the neck pearl grey, whitish on chin. Breast, abdomen, vent, sides, wing lining and thigh coverts pure white, with just the faintest possible grey mottling, or freckling, in places on sides, and base of thighs. Lower tail coverts white, with rather brownish grey, broad, incomplete, rather wavy, transverse bars; about one or two on each feather. Inner surface of the wings, mingled white and very pale grey, only the terminal 1/3 to 1/2 of the second to the fifth primaries, blackish brown. The first to the third quills are conspicuously notched on inner web, the second to the fourth, emarginated on outer webs.

Female. - : The lores dusky, covered with black bristle-like hairs, as is also the point of the chin. A patch (scarcely noticeable in some specimens) over the eye, and in front of it, white, tipped with brownish. Below the eye, and front of the ear coverts, somewhat purer, while a band, inside the ruff, from the base of the lower mandible, over the ear coverts to the sides of the nape, dark umber brown, usually darkest towards the nape, the feathers narrowly edged with rufous, and centred darker. A dark streak from the posterior corner of the eye, meeting the top of this band. Forehead, and a line from the forehead over the eye, and the last mentioned dark streak, nearly unstriated rufous brown. The rest of the forehead, and top and back of the head, and nape, where the ruff joins in, and back and sides of the neck, rufous, the feathers all more or less, broadly centred with umber brown. The centres being larger, proportionably, at the case of the neck. Upper back and smaller scapulars umber brown, most of the feathers, usually slightly tipped with rufous. The longest scapulars, somewhat lighter coloured, with scarcely a trace of the rufous tipping; middle back often of a somewhat lighter brown than the upper back, and the feathers, with conspicuous rufous tips or margins. Bump feathers slightly darker, and with somewhat less conspicuous rufous tips. Upper tail coverts pure white, with only a spot or incomplete bar, of dark or pale brown, or rufous, towards the tips. Centre tail feathers dark umber brown, inconspicuously tipped with grey, scarcely perceptible in some and with four or five, transverse, grey bars, the broadest bars towards the tip. The next feather darker brown, conspicuously tipped with white or rufous white, and with one broad, and two or three narrow, pale rufous, and greyish transverse bars, the rufous being chiefly next the shaft. The next feather much the same, but the white or rufous (some are whiter some more rufous) of the bar, and tipping, purer, and a considerable patch at the base, on the outer web, mingled white and rufous, with only a tinge of brown. The second, exterior feather, nearly pure white, or a pale rufous, as the case may be, with subterminal, central, and basal bands of brown, which are more or less rufous in the two latter, on the outer web. The exterior feather has almost the whole outer web rufous white, and the interior more or less rufous white, with traces of a subterminal and two other bands, of mingled, darkish rufous, and brown. The whole of the lesser wing coverts umber brown, broadly margined with rufous, or rufous white. The median coverts the same colour, in some conspicuously, in some faintly tipped with the same rufous white tint. The greater coverts of the secondaries, and the tertials themselves, still the same umber brown, but only very narrowly (in some not at all) tipped with rufous white. The winglet, primaries and their greater coverts, and secondaries, slightly darker brown, all but the first four primaries, and most of the secondaries, with a very narrow, whitish tipping and the outer webs of the first primary, and the next three, which are conspicuously marginate, below the margination more or less silvered with grey. The inner webs of all the primaries above the tips, more or less white or rufous white, with conspicuous, broad, dark brown bars. In some specimens the brown bars are so broad that the ground of the web appears brown, and the rufous interspaces appear like pale bars. There are traces of similar markings on the secondaries, most conspicuous in those nearest the primaries, and less so in those adjoining the tertials. Chin white or rufous white. The ruff in front, and on either side towards the nape, white or rufous white, the feathers centred darkish brown. The whole of the front of the throat, breast and abdomen white or fulvous or pale rufous white, the feathers all broadly, or conspicuously centred with brown and rufous. The feathers of the vent, lower tail coverts, and external thigh coverts, pure white or pale rufous brown, shafted, and with two or more irregular spots of pale rufous along the shafts. The axillaries mostly light rufous brown, with indistinct incomplete fulvous white bars, the lesser under wing coverts fulvous, or pale rufous white, the feathers mostly darker centred. The greater lower wing coverts mostly a brown or rufous brown, and for the most part, edged and tipped with fulvous white or pale rufous. The longest of the lower tail coverts are rather conspicuously tipped with pale rufous.

Females differ considerably, in the amount of rufous, on the top and back of the head, back and sides of neck, etc. In some, the prevailing line is rufous, there being only very narrow brown centres to the feathers, but in others, the brown much predominates, the feathers having only somewhat narrow rufous margins. The extent and amount of the rufous tippings to the feathers of the back and rump varies much, as also the extent and depth of rufous in the tail, and on the lower parts.

Young . - : Lores, forehead, a patch under the eyes, a streak over the eyes, to upper corner of the ruff, and a broad patch on the nape, (which latter has several of the central feathers brown tipped, white. Bristles of the lores black. A patch in the anterior corner of the eye, continued as a very narrow streak over the eye, under the white line, and beyond the posterior angle of the eye, backwards, till it joins the top of the ear coverts, dark umber brown. The whole top of the head warm umber brown, faintly margined with rufous, where it infringes on the white supercilium, and white nape patch. The whole of the nape, upper back, scapulars, and wings (except in some specimens some of the median coverts) nearly uniform umber brown, but the quills with a trace of darker banding. Most of the median wing coverts in some specimens so broadly edged with pale ferruginous or buff, as to show but little of the brown : these edgings entirely wanting in others. The winglet, greater coverts, secondaries, and most of the primaries very narrowly paler tipped. Feathers of the lower back and rump, the same brown as the rest of the upper parts, but each feather distinctly tipped with buff. The upper tail coverts often pure white. One or two of them only, with an ill-defined brown patch : in other cases marked as in the adult female. Two centre tail feathers dark umber brown, with four bars of lighter greyish brown. The next four feathers the same dark brown, but tipped and barred with ferruginous or buff, which is brighter and more extensive, as the feathers recede from the centre. Exterior tail feather almost entirely rufous buff, with two, irregular, dark brown bars, and a trace of a third. Patch from the lower mandible, over the cheeks, and embracing the ear coverts, rich dark umber brown. Round this, posteriorly, the ruff uniform pale rufous buff, except just where it separates the white eye streak from the white nape patch, where the feathers are mingled with dark brown. Sides of the neck, below the ruff, which is thus clearly defined, dark umber brown. Chin whitish, with black bristles at the tip, Whole lower parts of the body, including lower tail coverts, uniform, rufous, fawn or pale ferruginous. The lining of the wing the same, but paler, and the largest of the lower wing coverts mottled with brown.

The lower surface of the quills greyish brown. The primaries very distinctly barred, and with more or less white replacing the brown. The first three primaries conspicuously emarginate on the inner webs, and the third and fourth on the outer webs. Lower surface of the tail exterior feathers nearly uniform pale fawn, with only an indistinct trace of three ill-defined bars. The four next feathers umber brown, with fulvous white tips, and two well marked, fulvous white, broad bars. The two centre feathers with scarcely a trace of paler tipping, and with three narrower greyish bars.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
51. Circus swainsoni
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Pale Chested Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Circus macrourus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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