12. Falco babylonicus

No. 12. Falco Babylonicus, Gurnet.

The Red-cap Falcon.

I have, as yet, been unable to obtain any detailed account of the nidification of this species. It breeds, I know, in, or close to, the Peshawur valley, as well as in Cashmere, laying three or four eggs in March and April, but I have hitherto failed to procure the eggs. The type specimen of this bird, was obtained by Capt. Irby, in October 1858, at Nawabganj, (Barabunkee) Oudh, and is now in the Norwich Museum. In regard to this, Mr. Sclater remarked, that Capt. Irby's specimen, seemed to be referable to a new species of true Falcon, most nearly allied to F. Barbarus (Ibis, 1859, p. 184,) which is the F. Peregrinoides of Temminck. Mr. Gurney proposed the name Babylonicus, the first specimen of the bird having been obtained in Babylonia, by the Euphrates Exploring Expedition. This latter bird was in immature plumage,- and was erroneously entered in the catalogue of the East India Company's Museum, where it was deposited as F. Perigrinator. Besides these examples, there are two adults in the Norwich Museum, one of which, is said to be from Abyssinia. The following are the dimensions given by Mr. Sclater.

Locality. Length. Wing. Tail Tarsus. Mid toe.
Oudh, 17.3 13.0 7.0 1.95 2.05
Babylon, 17.0 12.5 6.6 1.95 1.95
Abyssinia, 18.0 12..8 6.5 2.00 1.95

I doubt whether these dimensions are altogether reliable, I expect they were taken from dry skins; under any circumstances I should suppose that all these specimens were females.

I proceed to give exact measurements, and a description (recorded from the specimen when fresh) of a young male, shot by me at Suhson in the Etawah district, and I would add, that this description, agrees very closely, with a specimen given by Dr. Jerdon (who procured it in Cashmere,) to Col. Tytler, though being a female, it is somewhat larger than my bird, having the wing, 12.6, and the tail, 7 inches.

Length, 16 inches. Expanse, 38 inches. Weight, 12 ozs. Wing, 11.87 inches; the 2nd primary the longest. Tail of 12 feathers, length from vent, 6 inches. Tarsus, (feathered for 0.5 inches, in front) 1.87 inches. Foot, greatest Length, 4 inches; greatest width, 3.75 inches; mid toe, 1.94, its claw, 0.73; hind toe 0.94, its claw, 0.81. Bill, straight, 1.06; along curve, 1.25; from gape, 1.19 ; width at gape, 1.19 ; height at front, at edge of cere, 0.53 ; length of cere only, 0.27. Contents of stomach, portions of a Turtur Cambaiensis, feathers and all.

Legs and feet, bright yellow, whitish at the joints of the reticulated scales of the tarsus; soles with large pads, very conspicuous under second joint of middle, and exterior toe; claws, horn black; middle toe, very slender and elongated. Irides, dark brown; edges of the lids, greenish yellow, with tiny dark lashes; membrane of the orbits, pale greenish.

Cere, pale sea-green with only a tinge of yellow on the ridge. Bill pale bluish green; points, and culmen, horny bluish black.

Tongue, small, thick, fleshy, obtuse ended, of nearly the same size throughout, deeply divided by a groove down the centre.

Plumage. Forehead, buffy white, feathers dark shafted. Line over the eye, continued round the back of the head, whitish or fulvous white; feathers, dark shafted. Whole crown of the head, brown, a few feathers in centre, towards the front, very broadly margined, the rest very narrowly margined, with fulvous or buffy white. The nape below the white stripe, darkish brown in the centre, the feathers margined with buffy white, and with a patch of white on either side, the feathers of which have dark spots towards the tips. The whole of the rest of the back of the neck, upper back, scapulars, and wing coverts, a nearly uniform brown, with a faint tinge of slaty, and all the feathers tipped and margined with fulvous white, very narrowly towards the head, and more broadly towards the points of the scapulars. The hue of the back of the neck is slightly darker. The quills are much the same colour, but somewhat more bluish. All the quills have a number of incomplete bars, or oval spots, of rufous white on the inner web ; the last five primaries, the secondaries, and the tertiaries have each two or three tiny rufous white spots, on the outer webs also; and the greater coverts of the secondaries,. and tertiaries, have similar small inconspicuous spots on both webs; and all the secondaries and tertiaries, and the last few primaries, are narrowly tipped with buffy white. The rump, and lower back are a somewhat paler, and more sandy brown, margined with pale rufous; the upper tail coverts are a still more sandy brown, tipped and margined, with dingy white, and with one or more incomplete bars of fulvous white. The tail feathers are brown, paler and sandier on the centre feathers, and darker, and more slaty on the outer feathers, all narrowly tipped with dirty white, and all with six or seven 1/4 inch broad transverse bars on both webs, fulvous white on the centre feathers, and rufous white on the exterior feathers. These bars are scarcely visible on the outer web of the exterior feather. Chin, and upper part of throat, pure white, a dark brown cheek stripe from under the eye, margined with pale rufous ; ear coverts mingled pale brown and rufous white. Hinder portion of the cheeks white, some of the feathers tinged pale rufous; an ill-defined brown stripe (the feathers slightly tipped with fulvous white,) running backwards from the posterior angle of the eye, and dividing the white of the hind cheeks, from the white of the sides of the nape. The lower throat, and upper portion of the breast, fulvous white, each feather dark shafted, and with a narrow somewhat pear-shaped streak, of dark brown, towards the tip. The rest of the breast, sides, and upper abdomen, fulvous white ; each feather with a well marked central stripe of brown, narrowest in front, broadest towards the sides. Lower abdomen, and vent, white, slightly tinged with fulvous, a few of the feathers dark shafted. Lower tail coverts, (which do not reach within two inches of the end of the tail) white, with two or three transverse, somewhat wavy bars, of pale brown. Interior thigh coverts, white. Exterior thigh coverts, white, tinged with fulvous, each feather dark shafted, and with a central lanceolate stripe of brown. Under surface of tail, and quills, greyish brown, the bars above mentioned showing through. The lower wing coverts, all reddish brown, conspicuously margined at the tip, and the longer ones barred with somewhat fulvous white.

Of Col. Tytler's female, - : a slightly younger bird than mine, I think, - : I have the following note, made when I examined it. "The back wings and scapulars are just like those of a young Jugger, but the upper tail coverts, and the tail, have broad, buffy, more or less imperfect bars, conspicuous on the tail. The under parts, are dirty, buffy white, palest on the chin and throat. The feathers of the breast, and abdomen, with imperfect irregular, more or less broad, central stripes of dull reddish brown. The tarsus is less feathered in front than even in Perigrinator I think, to which bird it seems to me to approximate not a little. The head, however, is of the Lanner type, and has a narrow, but pretty long, and well marked cheek stripe. The head is a rather warm red brown; forehead, and centre of head, a rusty red brown. There are a number of pale rufous white feathers at the back of the neck. The white bars on the primaries, are broader than in Perigrinator, about the same size as the Peregrine, but not so broad, as the Juggers, or a fortiori, those of the Sacer. According to Mr. Blyth, this bird is the F. Peregrinoides of Hodgson. (J. A. S. B. XXIV. 574,) Mr. Blyth also tells us, (Ibis, 1866, p. 237,) that " there is a fine specimen, of an adult female, (as adjudged) of this rare Falcon, in the Worcester Museum, alleged to be from Java, which must needs be a mistake. Its general colouring is very pallid, but I would refer the species to the Peregrine sub-group, rather than to that of the Sakir, and Lanner. The specimen in the Worcester Museum, is like an adult female Peregrine, only much paler, with all the markings considerably less developed; nape, light cinnamon rufous, marked with dusky, the moustachial streak, small, the feathers of the upper parts, cross banded, as in adult Peregrines. A recent communication from Dr. Jerdon, proves, that F. Babylonicus is not uncommon in Kashmere." It seems possible, that two allied species, have been confounded under this name. All the birds that I have seen of this species, are so unmistakably of the Lanner type, white or pale foreheads, rufous heads, small cheek stripes, and slaty brown or grey plumage, that I cannot understand Mr. Blyths referring this same species, to the Peregrine sub-group; and I doubt the propriety of identifying the Worcester Museum bird, with Babylonicus.

The adult female figured by Wolf in the Ibis, has a conspicuous white frontal band. The whole top, and back of the head, and nape, are of a warm rufous, most of the feathers dark shafted, and with dark central streaks, which, on the nape, occupy nearly the whole surface of the feather, leaving only a narrow rufous margin. The whole back, scapulars, wing coverts, and tail, slaty grey, everywhere barred with dark slaty. Many of the coverts and scapulars are obscurely tipped with pale rufous, or buffy, and the tail feathers are conspicuously, but not broadly tipped with rufous white. There is a narrow, dark brown moustachial streak, from the gape, and a narrow dark line under the eye, a trace of which is observable over and behind the ear coverts; cheeks, ear coverts, chin, throat, and centre of upper breast, unspotted white; rest of lower parts, white, slightly tinged with fulvous, each feather with a subtermural brown, or rufous, and brown spot, small and dot-like in the centre of the lower breast and abdomen, and widening towards the sides, flanks, and lower tail coverts, into arrow head bars, not quite extending to the edge of the feathers. The cere, gape, and orbits, are bright wax yellow, the base of the corneous portion of the bill, is pale horny blue, the tips of the mandibles horny black. The legs and feet are yellow. I take this description from the figure - :a very unsafe method in most cases - :but Mr. Wolfs figures are sui generis, unapproached and unapproachable, to my fancy, and may, I believe, be implicitly relied on.

Since the above was written, I myself shot (on the 27th November) a fine adult female, at Sirsa, in the Punjaub, of which I proceed to give measurements and description taken in the flesh.

DIMENSIONS. Length, 17.25. Expanse, 41. Tail, from vent, 7.25. Foot, greatest Length, 4.5, greatest width 4. Wing 13 ; wings, when closed, reach to within 1.87 of end of tail. Tarsus, 1.75. Mid toe to root of claw, 1.9. Weight 1.87 lbs.

DESCRIPTION. The irides were deep brown. The cere, gape, and orbital skin, as well as the legs, and feet, were bright yellow. The claws were black, and the corneous portion of the bill was blue, changing to horny black at the tip. The forehead, and the centre of the top of the head, were sandy rufous, each feather with a dark brown shaft. The sides of the top, and the back, of the head were a somewhat ashy or slaty brown, the feathers more or less margined with sandy rufous. A broad, rufous, half collar, ran round the back of the neck, a little mottled behind the ear coverts, and again in the centre of the back of the neck, with dusky slaty. The whole mantle was slaty grey, dark and dusky towards the base of the neck, and paling towards the rump and upper tail coverts. Most, if not all of the feathers were narrowly margined paler, - :those towards the nape, with rufous, and those lower down with greyish white. Most of the feathers also were somewhat conspicuously darker shafted, and all exhibited broad, transverse, somewhat ill-defined, dusky slaty, bands. The rump, and upper tail coverts were pale slaty, or french grey, with brown shafts, and transverse arrow head, dusky bars. The tail feathers, were pale slaty grey, tipped with rufous, and with numerous broad, transverse, well defined, slaty brown bars, broadest towards the tips. There was a blackish line under the eye, continued downwards for about an inch and a quarter, as a narrow cheek stripe. The two cheek stripes nearly meet on the throat, about an inch and a half below the base of the lower mandible. The whole of the lower parts were a rich rufous salmon colour, somewhat paler on the chin, and centre of the throat, and deeper on the ear coverts, sides of the neck, and centre of the abdomen. The breast, chin, and throat were perfectly spotless, the abdomen, flanks, lower tail coverts and tibial plumes were regularly, but rather widely barred with slaty brown; the bars, everywhere narrow, being nearly obsolete in the centre of the abdomen, and best marked on the flanks. The under wing coverts, were of a pale salmon colour, conspicuously barred with brown.

I have never seen Falco Biarmicus, Temm. (p. col. T. t. 324.,) nor even Temminck's figure, but Layard's description and dimensions of this species, (Birds of South Africa, No. 27) recall to me the bird above described, and I cannot help suspecting a possible identity. Major E. Delme Radcliffe, our best Indian falconer, tells me that the back in this species becomes very pale slaty from age, the red of the head becomes slightly paler, but the rufous colour of the breast is maintained, or becomes deeper. In some, he has seen the head as red as that of the Toorumtee (Lithofalco Chiquera). He found it breeding near Murree.
Dr. Jerdon gives the following dimensions, of a fresh bird, taken at Umritsur. Adult female. Length, 17, Expanse, 42. wing 12. Tail, 6.5. Mid toe, and claw, 2.5. He also sends me the following brief note.

"This is the common Shahin of the Punjab falconers. In the cold weather it visits the plains of the Punjab, N. W. P. and Oudh. I have had trained ones in my possession, but found it a very inferior bird for hawking, to Falco Perigrinator."

I believe, we may say that the Red cap occurs throughout Northern India, during the cold weather, as far south as Gwalior, being rare east of the Jumna, less rare between the Sutledge and Jumna, and decidedly common west of the Sutledge, specially in the Peshawur valley, and the tract west of the Indus, and that it breeds in Cabool and Cashmere, and throughout the southern ranges of the Himalayas, west at any rate of Dalhousi, at heights of from four to seven thousand feet; but further information in regard to this species is much required.

* I am now doubtful whether these discriminative points are quite con¬stant, but I let what I have written stand, for the present.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
12. Falco babylonicus
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Red Cap Falcon
Falco pelegrinoides babylonicus
Vol. 1

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