(1789) Elanus coeruleus voeiferus (Lath.).
THE INDIAN BLACK-WINGED KITE.
Elanus coeruleus voeiferus Fauna. B. I., Birds. 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 125.
The Black-winged Kite is found over the greater part of Ceylon, India and Burma and has also been obtained in the Laccadives. In Burma it only occurs as far South as Northern Tenasserim and is common nowhere ; in Assam it is equally scarce but, in some other parts of India, it is very plentiful. In some districts of the North-West, in Bombay and in Sind they are very numerous, Davidson says that in the Deccan “they are moderately common” and that they “breed abundantly in the Calagdi district, some 50 miles from Sholapur, in December.” It is also plentiful in the Saugur district in the Central Provinces. Some forty or fifty years ago it was also very plentiful in many parts of Bihar, but is much more scarce at the present time.
In Kharaghora it is extraordinarily plentiful in some years. In 1892 Davidson and Bulkley (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. vii, p. 544, 1893) found ten or twelve nests, all with eggs, in about three weeks.
It is a bird of open country or quite thin forest and is resident, breeding wherever found. It undoubtedly, on the whole, prefers rather dry areas of wide open spaces, cultivated or waste, in which there are a good many trees, small or large, growing singly or in groups or else covered by thin deciduous forest, such as sal or other timber, without much undergrowth. In wetter areas, such as Assam and parts of Bengal, the birds have, perforce, to be content with groves or single trees with dense foliage but, in these districts, the birds are rare.
They do not seem to mind much what sort of tree they nest in. In Bihar they may be found 50 or 60 feet up in great Mango-trees standing singly or in groves, or the nests may form conspicuous objects in small Acacia or other trees standing alone in rice-fields or other cultivation. In Bihar also Inglis found them occasionally breeding in clumps of bamboos (Journ, Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xiv, p. 559, 1903). In the greater part of their Western and North-Western area, where miles of country may be found with only scattered trees of small or stunted growth, except round villages etc., the birds seem actually to prefer small, scanty foliaged trees. Butler writes :—“I found several nests of the Black-winged Kite this year (1876). The whole of the nests were built near the top of low thorny trees growing in grass-banks, at heights varying from 9 to 15 feet from the ground.” Yule (Capt. J. N.) also says that in Poona the nests “are nearly all on Babool-trees, two or three on another thorny tree in thin jungle, and one on a small Mango-tree.” Yet again, in Sholapur, Davidson remarks that “I have seen at least 25 nests, almost all along the sides of a nullab, on small babool- trees, 15 feet or so from the ground.”
The nest is small for a Raptore’s and might easily be mistaken for that of a Crow. It is built entirely of twigs and these, unlike those to be found in Crows’ nests, are much of a muchness in size, seldom much bigger or smaller in thickness than a thin lead-pencil and from 4 to 8 inches in length. The nest itself varies from 8 inches to a foot in diameter and from 3 to 5 in depth. Its composition seems to vary much in compactness. Blewitt calls them “somewhat compactly put together.” Adam says it is “loosely constructed,” and elsewhere : “The nest was so loosely constructed that with my binoculars I could see that it contained eggs”; while Thompson uses the term “densely constructed” and other writers speak of it as “well built,” “well put together,” “more compact than a Crow’s nest ” and so on.
The depression for the eggs is usually shallow, 1 to 3 inches, and is often lined with grass or oddments, though at other times quite unlined.
The breeding season is very extended, but there appear to be two fairly definite periods during which most eggs may be found. Of these two the more important is from November to early March, while the second is after the Bains break in June to early October. There are no months, however, in which eggs have not been taken in some portion of its habitat. Bulkley and Davidson took them in Cutch in July, November and December, and the former also in January to March. Inglis, in Bihar, found eggs from September to November and in January and July ; Adams took a clutch on the 14th August near Sambhur. Yule obtained nests with eggs or young round Poona in February and every month from June 10th to October 10th.
In Ceylon Legge records it as breeding from December to March and, in Siam, Herbert found eggs in the same months.
The eggs number three to five or, very rarely, six in a clutch, three or four being most often the full complement.
They are very richly coloured handsome eggs. The ground¬colour varies from white to pale cream, yellowish-stone or buff, the greater part of the white surface being covered by bold blotches, smears and spots of deep red or red-brown, occasionally with a few specks or marks of almost black blood-red here and there. The variation is great, much as in Kestrels’ eggs, which they closely resemble. Some are so closely vermiculated all over that they appear uniform rich brick-red, and I have seen a few eggs with a pink tinge. Other eggs have bold blotches rather more sparsely scattered and showing up against the paler ground ; in some these are scattered all over the egg, in others they are more numerous at the larger end and in some entirely confined to this end, where they may form an ill-defined cap. In many clutches one egg is much less freely marked than the others, sometimes having only a few deep red or purple-black specks, spots or hieroglyphics on the higger half Herbert, who took several nests of this bird, proved that in every case the feebly marked egg was the last laid. As each egg was laid it was examined and marked and, no matter whether the clutch contained three or four egga, the result was the same.
One hundred eggs average 39.3 x 30.9 mm. : maxima 41.7 x 30.0 and 38.3 x 82.1 mm. ; minima 35.9 x 30.1 and 41.2 x 29.0 mm.
Both sexes incubate and both assist in building the nest, but the male’s share is the smaller of the two ; in building he only brings material to the female, while his hours of incubation appear to be short. On the other hand, he sometimes feeds the female on the nest and, when the young are hatched, does the major part of the food-collecting for them.
Beyond squealing and hovering round, the parents make no further demonstration against the theft of young or eggs and, some¬times, are content to watch proceedings, sitting in sulky silence on an adjacent tree.
This Kite seems to have extraordinary breeding irruptions into various districts which have no visible cause, though doubtless due to food-supply. Davidson (Str. Feath, vol. viii, p. 415, 1879) writes of Sholapur :—“The bird used to be a rare one in the district, but since the famine a great deal of land has returned to its pristine condition and this little Kite is now the commonest bird of prey,” Bulkley (op. cit) recorded a sudden influx of birds in Guzerat in 1902, the birds remaining equally common until 1904, after which the number returned to normal. In Bihar it became suddenly much more numerous in 1909, remained so for three or four years and then dropped to its usual numbers. In Sind also its numbers fluctuate greatly, and Eates tells me that in some years he sees many nests and in others only one or two. The same occurs in the Deccan, and probably rainfall, with its effect on insect-life and consequent food-supply, is the main factor in their movements.
1789. Elanus coeruleus voeiferus
(1789) Elanus coeruleus voeiferus (Lath.).