(1730) Falco chiquera chiquera.
THE RED-HEADED MERLIN
Falco chiquera Dauden, Traite, ii, p. 121 (1800) (Bengal); Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 427.
Vernacular names. Turumti, Turumtari (Hind.); Chetwa (Hindi) ; Jellaganta, Jelgadda (Tel.) ; Jelkat (Yerkli).
Description. Crown, nape, sides of neck, posterior ear-coverts and a cheek-stripe chestnut; lores and sides of the forehead whitish; upper parts clear pale bluish-ashy, the wing-coverts and scapulars with narrow bars of black; tail the same with a very broad sub-apical black band, the extreme tip almost white ; primaries dark brown edged with pale grey and the inner tipped and edged also on the inner webs, which are all closely barred with grey turning white as the feathers bleach; edge of wing generally mottled with rufous and white all round the shoulder ; anterior ear-coverts and lower plumage white, the breast with a few black central streaks and the remainder of the lower parts clearly barred with blackish.
Colours of soft parts. Iris light brown; bill dark plumbeous, black at the tip, greenish-yellow on the basal half; cere, orbital skin and legs yellow, claws black.
Measurements. Wing, 190 to 201 mm., 220 to 232 mm.; tail, 124 to 131 mm., 152 to 155 mm.; tarsus, 35 to 37 mm., 38 to 39 mm.; culmen, 17 to 19 mm., 20 to 21 mm.
Young birds are more heavily barred than adults and quite young birds have the upper parts also barred throughout, whilst the chestnut of the head is duller, more rufous and is streaked with black; the throat and breast are also heavily marked with black.
Distribution. Himalayas to extreme South India. East it occurs in the Surrma Valley, where it is rare, and Hume saw it in Manipur. We never saw it anywhere in Assam in the Brahmapootra Valley.
Nidification. The Turumties, or Red-headed Merlins, breed during January, February and March, a few birds laying as late as May, though these are probably second layings. As a rule they build new nests every year but some birds repair their old nests and a few appropriate the nests of other birds, such as those of Crows and Kites. The nests are well built of small sticks and twigs and lined with grass and roots, the roots of the khas khas grass being a favourite material for this purpose. Where big trees are available they are placed high up and well hidden in these, but in the more arid districts, where large trees are not to be found, they are often placed quite low down in small babool or other trees. Three or four eggs are laid, which closely resemble those of the Hobby but are more red, less brown in general tint. Very washed-out pale eggs are not at all uncommon. One hundred eggs average 41.7 x 32.1 mm.: maxima 46.7 X 31.0 and 41.4 X 34.0 mm.; minima 40.2 X 32.0 and 41.3 X 30.0 mm. The parent-birds guard their nesting-area with great jealousy, and will attack even Kites and the larger Falcons if they approach too near.
Habits. The Turumti is a bird of the open country and is never found in forest but, on the other hand, is quite common in many almost desert districts. Its flight is intermediate between that of the true Falcons and the Kestrels and it sometimes hovers in the air as the latter do. It was formerly em ployed in Falconry for the pursuit of small birds, more especially the Boiler or " Blue Jay," and differs from the true Falcons in following its quarry into trees and driving it therefrom. It is occasionally trained to work in couples. In a wild state it regularly hunts hedges, banks and the edges of groves and orchards, seizing on any small bird or mammal it may espy. Jerdon says that it also feeds on bats in the dark. Its cry is a high-pitched squeal like that of the Merlin and it has also a chattering screech when angry similar to the anger-note of that bird.