No. 16. Lithofalco Chiquera DAUDIN.
The Toorumtee breeds in February, March, April, and May; the majority, I think, laying in March. I have, as yet, obtained no egg earlier than the loth February, or later than the 15th of May, and all those obtained in May, were from the Punjaub, where many birds breed later than in more southern parts of the country.
They nest, I believe, exclusively on trees: I have seen no record of their building on rocks, as so many of the Falcons often do, and I once took a nest in the Siwaliks, in a Peepul tree, at the foot of a cliff, full of ledges and boulder holes, which, had the bird any sort of inclination for such localities, would have been sure to have attracted it.
Where such occur, they prefer large trees, Peepul, Mango, and Tamarind, (more commonly the two latter) usually selecting one of a small group, standing by itself. In the Punjaub, and Rajpootana, where large trees are scarce, their nests may be found on mere bushes, not above 10 feet from the ground.
The nest is generally, firmly fixed in a fork near the top of the tree, and is typically a very neat, compact and characteristic structure; it is usually circular, some 12 inches in diameter, and from 6 to 9 inches in thickness, with a deep egg cavity, some 5 to 6 inches in diameter, and from 3 to 3.5 in depth; but I have seen some nests comparatively thin platforms with only a depression of 1.5 to 2 in depth, towards the centre. The lower portion of the nest is constructed of pretty stout twigs, of various kinds of wood, closely put together; the upper portion of finer twigs, still more closely interwoven. The egg cavity or depression, is lined with fine roots, or vegetable fibre, the roots of the Khus grass (Andropogon Muricatum,) being commonly chosen for this purpose; along with straw, a few feathers, and occasionally a shred or two of cloth. The lining being firmly intertwined, with the twigs, forming the walls of the cavity.
These birds make, I think, their own nests, fresh and fresh every year — I have repeatedly seen them building new nests, in trees containing very nice last year's nests of Crows and other birds, and though I have very often looked them up again, I have not, as yet, ever found a nest tenanted by the Toorumtee during two successive seasons. Both sexes assist in building, and they make no little fuss about the placing of each twig that is brought up. The normal number of the eggs is four, but I have found the female sitting on only three. Two nests, each containing five eggs, have been reported to me, but these are very exceptional.
The eggs vary somewhat in shape; but are generally, I think, much like those of a common hen, though perhaps slightly narrower. In colour, they vary from very pale yellowish brown, with just a few reddish brown specks, to a nearly uniform dark brownish red, obscurely mottled and blotched with a somewhat purer and darker red; typically they may be said to have a reddish white ground, so thickly freckled and speckled with dull brownish red, as to have but little of the ground colour visible. Often, they have a sort of ring of more or less feeble blotches near the large end; and at times, a zone of rather higher colour than the rest of the egg, near the middle. The eggs are normally a long oval; and with the exception of shape, which is invariably less round than those of that species, the eggs of the Toorumtee are perfect miniatures of the Jugger's. As far as colouring goes, every egg of the one in my collection, can be matched by some one of the other I possess. In size and colouring, they remind us not a little of the eggs of the Merlin, but, as a rule, they are somewhat narrower than these, and a greater number of them belong to the dingy, yellowish brown, Falcon type, and fewer to the deep red type.
In length, they vary from 1.6, to 1.75, and in breadth, from 1.25, to 1.32, but the average of 32 eggs measured was 1.68, by 1.27.
Mr. William Blewitt mentions taking several nests of this bird, which at Hansie is known as the Koohee (a name elsewhere applied to the Shaheen,) in March, April, and May. The nests were placed on Peepul and Jhand trees, at heights of from 10 to 24 feet from the ground; were most of them scantily and looserly, but one or two densely and compactly, constructed of fine Babool (A. Arabica) and other twigs, lined with fine straw, feathers, and a few rags; and measured from 8 to 10 inches in diameter, with a cavity from 2 to 3 inches deep. None contained more than four, and one had only three much incubated eggs.
Mr. R. Thompson communicates the following note in regard to this species.
" I do not remember ever seeing the Toorumtee circling aloft or sailing like Falco Perigrinator or Jugger. It invariably flies rapidly, in a direct horizontal line, and with very frequent flappings of its wings. The young birds are out of the nest in June; in Gurhwal I have never seen one earlier. The Toorumtee is very courageous, as remarked by Jerdon, but it does not, as he seems to think, confine its attacks to small birds. I have frequently seen it take Mynas, Starlings, Quails, and the smaller Doves. I once saw one strike a Pigeon, killing it on the spot, with the first blow. I have trained this species to be thrown from the hand, at Quails, and Partridges. The bird readily learns the lesson, and makes a good bag. The Quail, or Partridge is allowed a good start, the Toorumtee being held up, so as to eye the receding bird, and then thrown in the di¬rection of the latter, with some force, shooting off at once, more like a dart than anything else, at the quarry, which it rarely misses. I have been told, that this bird affords peculiar sport, with Turtur Suratensis, striking at the quarry, several times, and even often losing it altogether, owing partly to the softness of the Dove's feathers, which give way at the least touch, and partly to its rapid dodging flight."
I remember once, after robbing a nest of this species, to have seen the parent birds fall foul of all the Crows in the neighbourhood, in the most surprising manner; the strangest thing being, that the Crows submitted very tamely, (only seeking refuge in flight) to the most vindictive buffets from the little Falcons. Mr. Brookes tells me that on a similar occasion, he witnessed a similar scene. Whether the Toorumtees conceived that the Crows, whose egg-stealing propensities all birds seem well aware of, had some hand in the robbery of their penates, or whether being afraid to attack us, they, on the Hindustani principle of "Koomhar pur bus na chulla, gudhe ha kan ametha"* flew at the Crows whom they did feel equal to thrashing, I cannot pretend to decide. I have twice found portions of a Squirrel in the stomachs of these birds.
Mr. Gurney has the following note in the Ibis for 1868, on the nearly allied Chequera Rufficollis (Swains) of South Africa.
" Vierthaler, who met with this species, somewhat plentifully, in Sennaar, states, (Nannannia, 1852, Pt. II. pp. 48, 49) that it usually perches, and always breeds on the Dhelleb Dolleb, or Debbel Palm, (Borassus aethiopicus) and Dr. von Heughlin, who also observed this Falcon on the upper part of the Blue Nile, refers to its preference for this tree. (Ibis, 1860, p. 409.) Both Vierthaler (loo. cit.) and his companion, Dr. A. E. Brehm (J. F. C. 1858, p. 408,) remark, that Columba Guinea also selects the same species of Palm for its nest, and that a pair of these Falcons, and a pair of Guinea Pigeons, frequently have their nests on the same tree, and live as neighbours in apparent amity; both species were found thus in Sennaar in the month of January, 1851.
According to the account given by Sir Andrew Smith in the South African Quarterly Journal, (Vol. I. No. April, June, 1830, pp. 233-235) both the manner, and the season of breeding adopted by this Falcon, in South Africa, somewhat differs from its habits in these respects, as observed in Sennaar.
His account of its nidification in South Africa, is as follows:—
" Specimens of this Hawk, are not unfrequently found, along the Western Coast, and I have also met with some, about the Langikloof, at least three hundred miles to the eastward of Cape Town. In these situations, it is often seen resorting in the evenings, to the Poplar, and other trees in the vicinity of farm houses, and upon such also it often builds its nest. The latter is constructed externally of dry twigs, and within, of hair and feathers, and in it are deposited from three to four eggs, during the months of August and September. I think that Bonaparte was fully justified in assigning this species, and its Indian congener Falco Chiquera, (Daud) to the separate genus which he instituted (Rev. Zool. 1854, p. 535) under the title of Chiquera, as they appear to me to form a group generically distinct, both from the typical Falcons, and also from the various genera most nearly allied to the genus Falco."
In connection with this note, I would remark, first, that a native once brought me a nest, with four eggs belonging to the Toorumtee, which he declared that he had found in the crown of a Borassus flabelliformis, our toddy Palm, which he had ascended to search for nests of the Palm swift. This was in Bhowgaon in the Mynpooree district, where these trees are very common. At the time, I utterly disbelieved the story, but now I think that it may have been true, especially as he had no earthly object in deceiving me. Even if true, the bird here very rarely chooses this situation, most probably because the majority of these Palms, are with us, regularly tapped year by year, and no birds will build where they are liable to disturbance, day by day, throughout the breeding season. It will be seen, that Sir Andrew Smith's account of the breeding of the African species, agrees well enough with the habits of our bird. Secondly, I would note, that I fully concur with Mr. Gurney, that the Hobbies, Merlins, and Toorumtees, all require generic separation, indeed the latter differ more from the two former, than these two do inter se; but I have been compelled to retain the name Lithofalco Chiquera, from ignorance ( Valde deflendus,) of the specific name proposed for our Chiquera. I append exact measurements, and a full description, (taken from the freshly killed bird) of a fine adult female.
Dimensions. Length, 13.5. Expanse, 27.25. Weight, 8.5 oz. Wing, 8.62; the 3rd primary the longest; 1st, 0.94 shorter; 2nd, 0.19; 4th, 0.56. Tail from vent, 6.13 ; exterior tail feather, 0.75 ; shorter than central ones. Tarsus, feathered in front, for half an inch, 1.63. Foot, greatest length, 3.13; greatest width, 2.8; mid toe, 1.56; its claw along curve, 0.63 ; hind toe, 0.63; its claw along curve 0.69. Bill straight, 0.75; along curve, nearly 1. From 0.88; width at gape, 0.88; height at front, at margin of cere, 0.34; length of cere, 0.19. Wings when closed reach to within 2.25 of end of tail.
Description. Legs and feet, pure, slightly orange, yellow; claws "black; toes, long and slender, with pads, especially of penultimate joint, much developed. Scutae of tarsus, reticulate; those of front, comparatively large; three or four scutae at base of tarsus, over foot; and those of upper surface of toes; transverse ; claws, fine and very sharp; the inner edge of mid claws, slightly dilated.
Irides, rather light brown. Orbits, yellow, brightest at the angles of the eye. Bill, greenish yellow, at base; bluish black at tips. Tongue, rather short, narrow compared with gape; nearly square-ended; emarginate at tip.
Plumage. A narrow band across forehead; not quite pure white. Lores dingy white, but with a dark brown line, running through them, and under the eye as far as the cheek stripe ; and over the eye, as a narrow supercilium; and for a little distance behind the eye as an ill-defined patch, of dark brown, mingled with chestnut. The whole of the top, and back of the head, and sides and back of upper neck; a rich deep chestnut. Lower neck behind, upper back, and scapulars, a pure, uniform, pale, slaty blue, or blue grey, the shafts of the feathers being darker. The lower back, and rump similar, but slightly paler, except at the very tips of the feathers. Upper tail coverts similar, until separately examined, when they prove to be much paler, (almost white at the base) than at the tips, and white 3, 4, or 5 arrowhead, transverse, darker bars, which though, (with the exception of the terminal one, which is faint,) well marked, are concealed by the over-lapping of the feathers. The tail feathers are the same colour as the back, (the central ones being rather more dingy and the exterior ones, whiter) with greenish white tips, an inch and a half subterminal black band and above this about five somewhat imperfect, narrow, blackish, transverse bars, feeble on the central feathers, and outer webs of the rest, and well marked on the inner webs. The lesser wing coverts are the same colour as the scapulars, but the darker shafts are perhaps slightly more conspicuous, and there is a tinge of chestnut along the upper margin of the wing. The greater coverts of secondaries and tertiaries are perhaps a slightly dingier blue, with narrow, not sharply defined, transverse, blackish brown bars. The winglet, and primary greater coverts, are similar, but the blue is dingier, the brown though paler, of greater extent, covering in some, nearly the whole inner webs. The first five primaries are brown; with numerous parallel, whitish, long oval, transverse spots, or incomplete bars, from the base, to near the tip. The secondaries are blue on the outer, white or nearly so on the inner webs, with numerous transverse brown bars; narrow on the outer but wider on the inner webs. The last five primaries are intermediate in character, between the first five, and the secondaries. The 2nd and 3rd primaries are emarginate, the former noteably so on the outer web; and the 1st and 2nd are conspicuously notched on the inner webs, near the points. The chin and upper part of the throat, are pure white. From the gape, there is a chestnut cheek stripe, or moustache, about 5/8th of an inch long. Between this and the chestnut of the sides of the back of the head, and back of the neck, there is a broad white band coming down from the eye. The lower part of the throat, and the uppermost portion of the breast is white, the feathers having each a single linear, central, subterminal, browner spot, or speck it should perhaps be called.
The whole of the rest of the lower parts, including axillaries, wing lining, thigh, and lower tail coverts, a bluish white, with numerous close narrowish, greyish, brown bars ; most conspicuous on sides, axillaries, larger lower wing coverts and thigh coverts, and feeble and more or less obsolete, on abdomen, vent, and lower tail coverts. The bars of the body feathers, specially on the middle of breast and abdomen, have a point developed downwards at the shaft, having a tendency in fact to become arrowhead bars as they are often called.
* This proverb is a very characteristic Indian one, it means—" He was not man enough to punch the potter's head, so contented himself with wrenching the ear of the potter's donkey;" a true picture of the manner in which natives so often revenge themselves on the helpless dependents of enemies they are afraid to attack.