(1789) Elanus coeruleus vociferus.
THE BLACK-WINGED KITE.
Falco vociferus Lath., Ind. Orn., i, p. 46 (1790) (India). Elanus coeruleus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 379.
Vernacular names. Kapassi (Hind.); Masunwa (Oude); Chanwa (Nepal); Adavi Ramadasu (Tel.); Argellur (Yerkli) ; Ukussa (Cing.).
Description. Anterior lores and forehead white, shading into pearly ashy-grey on the crown, nape, back rump and upper tail-coverts ; posterior lores and a line over the eye black; lesser and median wing-coverts black; greater coverts more ashy-grey; primaries grey, becoming more and more brown, inwardly and with brown tips : the inner secondaries like the greater coverts ; central tail-feathers pale grey; outer feathers white, those next the central ones having the outer webs and. tips more or less tinged grey; lower parts, sides of head and neck, axillaries and under wing-coverts white; in some specimens the breast and flanks are tinged with pale pearly-grey but never to the same extent as in the African form.
Colours of soft parts. Iris crimson; yellow or yellow-brown in the young ; bill black ; cere and gape pale light yellow ; legs and feet deep yellow, claws black.
Measurements. Wing, 259 to 268 mm., 262 to 268 mm.; tail 116 to 119 mm.; tarsus 30 to 34 mm.; culmen 20 to 21 mm.
Young birds have the crown-feathers brown with broad white edges; the upper parts are more brown and the feathers are broadly edged with white; the wing-coverts, black and grey, are also edged with white; the feathers of the breast have narrow brown shaft-lines and are tinged with fulvous and grey at the sides; the tail-feathers and quills are tipped white.
Distribution. India, from the base of the Himalayas to Ceylon, where it is rare; Hume also obtained it in the Laccadives. It is found sparingly in the plains of Assam and in Burma from the extreme North to Northern Tenasserim but is common nowhere.
Nidification. The Black-winged Kite seems to have two breeding-seasons, one in the cold weather from December to early March and the other after the rains break from July to October. Eggs, however, have been taken in practically every month of the year. They breed wherever found in the plains and also in the Himalayas up to some 5,000 feet on the outer valleys and hills. The nest is made of sticks rather loosely and clumsily put together and not large for the size of the bird. Sometimes there is a good lining of roots and coarse grass, etc., sometimes none at all. They affect rather small trees for building-purposes, their nests seldom being more than 30 feet from the ground and in many parts of India babool trees and tall thorn-bushes form favourite sites. The tree selected, large or small, is most often one in the open. The eggs number three to five aud are decidedly handsome. The ground-colour varies from white to pale cream, yellowish-stone or buff but most of this is covered by bold blotches, smears and spots of deep red or red-brown. Some eggs appear a uniform brick-red, others show up the paler ground, setting off the bold markings, whilst many have a deep cap at the larger end. There is often one egg in a clutch very sparsely marked with deep red-brown or purple-black and Herbert proves that normally this is the last egg laid. One hundred eggs average 39.3 x 30.9 mm.: maxima 41.7, X 30.6 and 38.3 x 32.1 mm.; minima 35.9 x 30.1 and 41.2 x 29.0 mm.
Habits. This handsome little Kite prefers well-wooded country, mixed with cultivation and thin deciduous or bush Jungle but it is also found in very bare, sparsely-treed places such as Cutch and Sind and it is common in Behar. It is not migratory but seems to make sudden irruptions into various places, then dying out again. It was extraordinarily common in Poona in 1877 to 1879, again in Gujarat 1902 to 1904, whilst in Behar it was specially numerous in 1899. It occurs still in all these places but in much smaller numbers. It is a rather slothful bird in the day-time, perching on trees, whence it descends on passing insects, but it is much more active in the mornings and evenings, when it works over plains and open country much like a Kestrel, hovering occasionally like that bird and pouncing on rats, mice and locusts, etc. It also feeds on crabs in the rice-fields and will carry off small birds which are wounded or ill. Its cry is a thin, high-pitched squeal, very seldom uttered.