(1793) Circus melanoleucus.
THE PIED HARRIER.
Falco melanoleucus Forst., Ind. Zool., p. 12 (1781) (Ceylon). Circus melanoleucus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 385.
Vernacular names. Pahatai (Hind.); Allah petaha (Nepal) Thane-Kya (Burmese).
Description. Whole head, neck, breast, back to rump, shorter scapulars, median wing-coverts and first six primaries black; a nuchal patch of the white bases to the feathers sometimes showing ; longer scapulars grey with broad white edges ; rump white or pale silvery grey with white tips ; tail-coverts grey with white tips and bands ; tail grey with whitish tips and white edges to the inner webs of the outer feathers; lesser wing-coverts white, more or less sullied grey and with a succeeding band of black feathers to the shoulder of the wing ; remaining coverts and inner quills silver-grey, more or less suffused with brown; remaining underparts, axillaries and wing-coverts pure white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris golden-yellow; bill slaty-blue with black tip ; cere dull or greenish yellow; legs orange-yellow, duller and paler yellow in females and young, which also have brownish-blue irides.
Measurements, wing 344 to 367 mm.; tail 197 to 217 mm.; tarsus 76 to 80 mm.; culmen 22 to 24 mm. wing 366 to 387 mm.; tail 211 to 240 mm.; tarsus 81 to 88 mm.; culmen 25 to 27 mm.
Female. Plumage generally as in the females o£ the other species. From macrourus and pygargus it can be separated by the presence of a notch on the fifth primary; the coverts along the forearm are white with rufous-brown centres ; the median wing-coverts have grey or white spots and marks; greater coverts dusky grey with broad bands of dark brown; the feathers of the head and ruff are white or pale buff, the feathers with broad brown lanceolate centres; lower plumage white to pale fulvous or rufous, streaked with brown; upper tail-coverts white, marked with light brown.
Young birds are darker brown above with dark rufous edges to the feathers of the head and neck; the nuchal patch is almost invariably present in marked degree; the lower parts are dark brownish-rufous, with dark brown streaks on breast and flanks ; the ruff is very well marked.
Distribution. Breeding in Eastern Siberia, Mongolia and Northern China; in Winter South to Eastern India, Burma, China, the Indo-Chinese countries to the Philippines, etc. In India it is very common in Assam and Eastern Bengal, spreading South to Ceylon and West to the North-West Provinces, where it is very rare. It does not occur in any part of Central and Western India. It is common throughout Burma, extending thence through the greater part of South China and the Malay Archipelago.
Nidification. The Pied Harrier breeds on the Amur in April and May, making its nest in reeds and grass at the edge of swamps or on the ground in desert country. So far as is known, the eggs are white or but faintly marked and number three to five. Twenty-eight eggs average 43.6 x 34.5 mm.: maxima 45.0 x 35.9 and 43.0 x 36.0 mm.; minima 40.5 x 34.0 and 40.6 x 32.0 mm. It is practically certain that odd pairs remain to breed in the N. Cachar Hills, as I frequently saw pairs of birds there during July and August when out Gour or buffalo shooting. The birds were nearly always hawking over a few wet rice-fields and small marshes in the centre of a vast plateau of grassland.
Habits. This and the Marsh-Harrier are the commonest of the Harriers all over Eastern Bengal, Assam and Burma from October to April, generally hunting in pairs over the wide stretches of rice-fields or the bigger swamps and grasslands. Flight, food, etc., is similar to that of the other Harriers, but large grasshoppers seem to form their staple food though they will often carry off wounded small birds before the sportsman can retrieve them. Their call is a weak but rapid " wek-wek-wek" not often uttered.