(1719) Falco peregrinus peregrinator.
THE SHAHIN FALCON.
Falco peregrinator Sund., Phys. Sail. Tid., i, p. 177 (1837) (Indian Ocean off Nicobar Is.); Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 415.
Vernacular names. Shahin Kohi, Kohila , (Hind.); Jowalum (Tel.); Wallur (Tam.).
Description. Similar to the preceding bird but it is at all ages much darker above and much more ferruginous below; the abdomen, breast and vent vary from deep ferruginous to pale ferruginous-buff but I have seen no specimen either of the true Peregrine or of F. p. calidus approaching even the latter in depth of colour; the head and nape is almost black, there is far more black on the sides of the head whilst the cheek-stripe is also much broader.
Colours of soft parts as in the other races.
Measurements.— Male. Wing 265 to 339 mm.; tail 128 to 162 mm.; tarsus 48 to 50 mm.; culmen 25 to 27 mm.; mid-toe with claw about 53 to 55 mm.
Female. Wing 312 to 342 mm.; culmen 28 to 29 mm.; mid-toe about 60 to 63 mm.
Young birds in their first plumage are intensely black on the whole of the upper parts, wings and tail, they then become paler brown and go through the same phases as Falco p. calidus but are always age for age darker everywhere and also more ferruginous below.
Distribution. The whole of India and Burma from the sub-Himalayas to Ceylon and to Tounghoo and the Hills of South and Central Burma. It is found in the Yangtse Valley and Southern China, the birds from this country being inseparable from individuals from Assam and from Dharmsala, except that on the whole they are much less ferruginous below and more blue-grey on the abdomen, vent and posterior flanks. Birds from Bonin Island are much smaller and nearer F. p. pealei and belong to a small insular form.
Nidification. The Shahin breeds over the Northern portion of its habitat during the end of March, April and early May, second layings sometimes being found in late May and early June. In the South it breeds in suitable localities in January and February. Wherever there are steep cliffs the Shahin may be found breeding from the Himalayas to Travancore, for the nest is invariably placed on a ledge or in a rocky crevice or cave in the face of a cliff or high river-bank. In most cases the nest is a comparatively well-built affair of sticks, sometimes more or less mixed with tufts of grass, weeds, wool or other oddments; sometimes it is lined with wool or with green leaves, sometimes unlined. Not infrequently, however, no nest at all is built, the eggs being deposited on the ground, such having been taken by Jones and Dodsworth near Simla and by Hop wood in Burma. The eggs are exactly like those of the Peregine and go through the same variations. The ground-colour is pale stone-colour, pale yellowish-cream or pale brick-red and the markings consist of blotches of brick-red or reddish-brown, sometimes boldly and rather sparsely distributed so as to contrast finely with the ground-colour, sometimes small and numerous, covering practically the whole surface. Sixty eggs average 51.8 x 40.7 mm.: maxima 58.5 X 42.0 and 56.0 x 44.0 mm.; minima 48.9 x 39.2 and 51.2 x 38.8 mm. Many pairs of birds seem to have alternative eyries, breeding sometimes in one, sometimes in the other.
Habits. The Shahin is not rare along the lower hills of the Himalayas up to some 3,000 or 9,000 feet but over the rest of India it is nowhere at all numerous and in most places very rare. In the hills of South Assam the immense cliffs next the plains are a very favourite resort, and here wherever the cliffs are steep every few miles form the haunt and breeding-home of a single pair, who allow no breeding interlopers of their own kind within it, although they seem to have no objection to the presence of Hobbies and Kestrels. They feed freely on all and any game-birds from quail to the largest pheasants, but their favourite prey seems to consist of pigeons, parrots, bats and, in the Winter, duck and teal. Their stoop is wonderful in its speed and accuracy, all their game being killed by a stroke from" the powerful hind claw, which will rip the back of a duck or similar-sized bird from end to end. Large birds when killed are allowed to fall on the land or water and are then retrieved but bats and small birds are seized in the air and carried off. I have seen one of these birds devouring an Eagle-Owl but this may not have been killed by the Shahin, for sometimes this Falcon will partake of a meal from a carcase of a dead animal or will pick up a duck previously shot and lost by some sportsman.
Jerdon describes the method of hawking with this Falcon: "The Shahin is always trained for what, in the language of Falconry, is called a standing quit, that is, is not slipped from the hand at the quarry, but to hover and circle high in the air over the Falconer and party and, when the game is started, it then makes its stoop, which it does with amazing speed. It is indeed a beautiful sight to see this fine bird stoop on a partridge or florikin, which has been flushed at some considerable distance from it, as it often makes a wide circuit round the party. As soon as the Falcon observes the game which has been flushed, it makes two or three onward plunges in its direction, and then darts down obliquely with half-closed wings on the devoted quarry, with more than the velocity of an arrow. The Shahin is usually trained to stoop at partridge or florikin, occasionally at the stone-plover and jungle-fowl. It will not hover so long in the air as a Laggar, which, being of a more patient and docile disposition, will stay up above an hour."
Falcons for Falconry are either taken from the nest or, preferably, caught in many ways after they have left it. A very common way is with a fall-net beside a bird pegged to the ground as a lure. Another way described by Jerdon is by affixing a lime-covered piece of cane to a bird which is made to soar; the Falcon strikes the bird, becomes entangled with the cane and falls to the ground.
They are said to be long-lived birds and certain eyries to have been occupied by, presumably, the same pair of birds for about forty years. Certain stretches of country seem to be favoured by these birds above others and if one pair is killed another promptly takes its place. In the same way if one of a pair dies the remaining bird mates again at once, and thus an eyrie may be occupied almost indefinitely.
* Probably wrongly sexed, the next biggest male has a wing of 295 mm. only.