52. Circus cineraceus

No. 52. Circus Cineraceus.* MONTAGUE.


I cannot say that I myself believe that this species breeds in India, but my collector, Mr. A. G. R. Theobald, who sent me specimens of the bird, correctly named, and measured in the flesh, forwarded at the same time, the following note on its nidification:

" Breeds on the top of high trees. I took the nest of one in December, (Christmas day) which was placed in the fork of a Tamarind tree, about 25 to 30 feet from the ground."

This is not at all in accordance with the habits of this species elsewhere, and I cannot help thinking that Mr. Theobald must be in error, but in another note, still writing from Salem, (Madras) he says, - :" It frequents open jungles and cultivated fields, and flies low in search of prey. On one occasion the first one (measurements given,) made a dart at one of my young Pigeons, but failed in its attempt; it did not return to the attack, but was going away, when I shot it. It is not a shy bird when on the wing. On one occasion, I took a nest of one, with three young ones which were of a brindled color on the wings, tail and back, ashy on the other parts; they lived for a fortnight, when they died one after another; they fed greedily on raw mutton."

" The young birds had a sort of shrill whistle."

And speaking of two specimens which he forwarded, he farther says, - :" Both of these birds were shot in Salem; they are most common about here from December to May or June. I found locusts in the stomachs of both."

All my enquiries and observations lead me to believe that Mr. Theobald is in error, but his assertions are so positive and circumstantial, that being, as he is, familiar with the species, I have thought it only right to direct attention to the subject, by inserting his remarks.

Of the nidification of this species in England, Mr. Yarrell gives the following notice : " The nest is placed on the ground, generally among furze; the eggs, seldom exceeding four in number, are very similar, as might be expected to those of the Hen Harrier; they are white, one inch seven lines (1.58) in Length, and one inch four lines (1.33) in breadth. The young, according to Mr. Jenyns, are hatched about the second week in June."

Mr. Hewitson says that " the nest, which is placed upon the ground, is more slight than that of the marsh or Hen Harrier, but is composed, like theirs, of flags, sedge, and rushes. The eggs are usually four or five in number, but six were found in a nest which was forwarded to me; the eggs are of a clear white, distinctly tinted with light blue, and are never, to the best of my information, spotted. The time of incubation is early in May. Mr. Alfred Newton informs me that the Harriers, like the Owls, the Eagles, and probably all the Hawk tribe, begin to sit upon the first egg, and as there is also most likely an interval of some days between the production of each egg, the young are of very different ages, and much more easily supplied with food."

This species is at once distinguished, at all ages, and in both sexes, from all our other Indian species of Harriers, by its extremely short tarsus and by its short fourth primary. In the Hen Harrier, the fourth quill is the longest; in the other three species, the third is the longest; in the pied and pale-chested Harrier the fourth quill averages probably 0.25 inches shorter, while in the present species it averages nearly 0.75 of an inch shorter. As regards the tarsus, Dr. Jerdon gives it at 2.75" in the male, and 3" in the female, but in no female even that I have yet examined, has it exceeded 2.5 inches, and I am pretty confident that there must be some mistake in Dr. Jerdon's measurements.

This species occurs in England; (where at one time it bred freely,) in Scandinavia, in fact almost throughout Europe; in Algeria, Egypt, South Africa, Babylon, Persia and Afghanistan. I do not find it noticed from Northern Asia, nor from China, nor does it seem to extend to Malayana or the Archipelago. In Ceylon, British Burmah and throughout India, it is found, but very locally distributed, always, I think, affecting damp and more or less wooded localities, and scarcely ever found, in the comparatively dry, though richly cultivated plains, of the N. W. Provinces and the Punjaub, and almost, if not entirely unknown in Rajpootana, where the pale chested Harrier is not uncommon. It is most numerous as far as my experience goes, in damp cultivated lands, lying at the bases or on the lower slopes of tho Himalayahs, (the Dhoon is a great place for it,) or the Nielgherries, and feeds much, to judge from the specimens I have killed, on large insects.

Circus Cineraceus.

From Male
To Female
From Female
Length 16.5 17.7 18.60 19.50
Expanse. 40.00 43.50 41.8 43.9
Wing. 14.50 15.30 15.00 16.00
Tail from vent 9.30 10.20 9.87 10.5
Tarsus 2.17 2.35 2.28 2.46
Foot, greatest length. 2.45 2.82 2.87 3.19
Foot, greatest width. 2.12 2.32 2.22 2.35
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 1.02 1.14 1.22 1.31
Its Claw straight. 0.45 0.50 0.56 0.62
Hind toe to root of claw. 0.50 0.62 0.56 0.62
Its claw, straight 0.43 0.55 0.51 0.60
Inner toe to root of claw 0.56 0.62 0.59 0.65
Its claw, straight 0.48 0.54 0.50 0.59
Bill straight, from margin of cere. 0.56 0.62 0.60 0.70
Bill a long Curve, ditto. 0.70 0.70 0.69 0.81
Bill from gape. 1.00 1.12 1.07 1.20
Bill width at gape. 0.79 0.82 0.80 0.87
Bill height at margin of Cere. 0.28 0.31 0.30 0.33
Distance by which closed wings fall short of end of Tail. 0.05 0.21 0.6 0.9
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 4.25 4.9 4.4 4.8
Weight 8 oz. 10 oz. 10 oz. 13. oz.
Length of cere on culmen 0.33 0.37 0.32 0.38

(Four males and three females measured and weighed.)

The third primary is the longest. The first is from three to four inches shorter, the second from 0.6 to 0.9, and the fourth from 0.7 to 1 shorter. Exterior tail feathers from 0.4 to 1 shorter than the central ones.

DESCRIPTION. Legs and feet yellow, claws black. Irides, Bright yellow in the adult, sometimes brownish yellow in the female, almost white in one young one examined. Bill black, dusky in the young. Cere, greenish yellow, yellower in the young.

PLUMAGE. Adult male. The whole head, chin, throat, neck all round, breast, back, scapulars, wings (except the first seven primaries which are blackish) and central tail feathers, gray of different shades. The neck, cheeks and ear coverts, bluish; crown of the head, and occiput (below which there is a white mottled nape patch owing to the white bases of the feathers showing through) here and there tinged with rufous brown; the scapulars infuscated and brownish; the back, darker and more ashy, and the wings and centre tail feathers more silvery. The secondaries have a broad, blackish, transverse band, across both webs, forming a conspicuous wing band (not unlike that of the common pigeon, C. Intermedia) and with traces of another, or, in some specimens, two other bands on the inner webs. The central tail feathers unbarred, the laterals with four, very broad, transverse, dark bars on the inner webs, and traces of the same on the outer webs of some of the feathers. The grey fading, as the feathers recede from the central ones, to pure white on the exterior ones, and the dark brown bands changing gradually to dull chestnut on the latter. A broad circle round the eye whitish. The lower parts from the breast downwards, and the whole wing lining (except a few of the longer lower coverts which are ashy grey with large white spots) pure white; the feathers of the abdomen with narrow, rather pale chestnut central streaks ; there are lanceolate chestnut dashes in the wing lining, the axillaries are broadly and irregularly barred with blotches, and lower tail and thigh coverts, have the shafts of the same colour, a few faint streaks of which are also generally to be seen mingling with the blue gray of the breast.

Adult female. Forehead and a band round the eve slightly rufous white. Crown and occiput rufous brown, streaked with dark hair brown. A streak from the base of the lower mandible, widening so as to involve the whole ear coverts, darkish brown, in some very dark. Some of the feathers, commonly, very narrowly margined rufous. Back, wings, scapulars and central tail feathers dark umber brown, the quills and central tad feathers, darkest. The lateral tail feathers, paling as they recede from the central ones, which are unbarred, with four or five broad transverse, lighter and generally more rufous brown, bars, often more or less obsolete on the outer webs. The whole of the lower parts are light rufous buff, with narrow, deeper rufous, shaft stripes. Bump and upper tail coverts, mingled white, rufous buff and reddish brown.

Young male of the 2nd year, (I quote this from Yarrell, I have never obtained a specimen in this stage) killed while undergoing his second moult.

" The top of the head and the feathers round the cheeks a mixture of brown and rufous, ear coverts grey; occiput varied with white; the nape, back, scapulars, tertials, and upper tail coverts, lead grey; upper surface of all the tail feathers, except the two in the middle, barred with shades of brown and rufous ; middle tail feathers, with the outer webs uniform pearl grey; the inner webs with fine dark brown bands on a greyish ground ; wing primaries and secondaries blackish brown; greater wing coverts dark brown; lesser wing coverts lighter brown, varied with rufous and two or three grey feathers: chin, and front of neck, pearl grey; breast, belly, thighs, and under tail coverts white, with a longitudinal rufous stripe on the centre of each feather; under surface of tail feathers barred with greyish white and brown; legs, toes and claws as in the adult male."

A young male of the year; a narrow frontal band, a line above, and a patch below and behind the eye, and two broad patches on either side of the nape, white, the feathers of the latter with brown shafts. Chin and throat whitish, bristles, at point of chin black. The top of the head rusty rufous, the feathers, with more or less narrow, lanceolate or linear, dark brown shaft stripes. Ear coverts and a line extending to them from the base of the lower mandible dark brown, the feathers mostly narrowly margined with ferruginous. Wings, back, and scapulars rich brown of different shades, palest on the upper back, rump and lesser wing coverts, more umber on the secondaries and longer scapulars, and greyer, except at the extreme tips, on the primaries; all the quills, the primary greater coverts, back, rump, and scapulars, narrowly but conspicuously margined at the tips with rufous buff, or faintly rufous white. The lesser and most of the median coverts more broadly margined with brighter rufous. The first few primaries silvered on their outer webs towards their bases, and with three or more irregular, dark, transverse bars on the inner webs, (which are mostly brownish white above the notches,) and faint traces of these on the grey brown, outer webs, above the emarginations ; all the tail feathers tipped with pale rufous, most broadly in the external feathers. The central tail feathers deep brown, with four broad, transverse, greyish brown bars, greyer at the bases and browner towards the tips. The lateral tail feathers similar in character, but the grey brown bars change, as the feathers recede from the central ones, to rufous grey, rufous and rufous white; and the deep brown interspaces change similarly to nearly pure cinnamon rufous. The upper tail coverts are absolutely pure white in some, in others with very narrow, rufous brown, shaft stripes. From the throat, the whole lower parts including the wing lining, are pure, pale cinnamon rufous. Some of the feathers of the sides of the breast with dark, linear, brown, shaft stripes, and all the feathers with the shafts slightly deeper coloured than the webs.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
52. Circus cineraceus
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Montagues Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Circus pygargus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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