No. 9. Falco Perigrinator, Sundwall.
The Shaheen Falcon.
I have, as yet, no detailed information as to the breeding of this species. The bird most commonly known as the Shaheen, in upper India, at any rate in the Himalayahs, is distinct, I believe, from the true Perigrinator (Sund.), and to it I have, provisionally, applied the name of F. Atriceps, (No. 9 (bis) q. v.). The true Perigrinator, doubtless occurs in upper India, but its real habitat is, I believe, Southern and Central India, F. Babylonicus, Gurney, and F. Atriceps, nobis, being its representatives in the North West.
Dr. Jerdon mentions, that the true Shaheen breeds on steep and inaccessible cliffs, and that he has seen three eyries, one on the Neilgherries, another, at the celebrated Hill fort of Antoor, and the third, at the great water-fall at Mhow. It lays its eggs, he remarks, in March and April, and the young fly in May and June, when they are caught by falconers.
The only other Indian Falcons, for which Perigrinator could be mistaken, are Perigrinus. and Atriceps, and how it may be at once distinguished from the former of these two, I have indicated when speaking of this bird. But there are other differences, which, so far as the limited number of specimens that I have examined, enables me to judge, are constant. In the first place, the Shaheen is smaller, I have four average males before me, two of each species, and I find the wings of the Peregrine, 12.25, and 12.87, while those of the Shaheen are only 11.47 and 11.64. Then not only are the head, nape and upper back almost black, far blacker than in any Peregrine that I have ever seen; but the cheek stripe also is blacker, and proportionably to the size of the bird, longer. Then, on the nape, a number, (greater or less) of buffy patches are always seen, owing to the feathers there, being bufly, with broad blackish tips, and the buffy bases showing through. Lastly, the white bars on the inner web of the first primary, are more numerous, and age for age, narrower in Perigrinator, than in Peregrinus. Thus in two specimens, one of each species, both males, and as I take it, of much the same age, Perigrinator has thirteen white bars, each averaging 0.15, on the first primary of a wing 11.47; while Peregrinus has only eleven bars, averaging 0.23, on the first primary of a wing measuring 12.5.
From Atriceps, to which it is more closely allied, it differs in three important points. This latter is never quite so rufous beneath, as Perigrinator often is. It has no separate cheek stripe, but has this, the cheeks, ear-coverts, head and neck, black, all in one ; and whereas, the true adult Perigrinator has the rest of the upper parts, slatey blue, almost unbarred, Atriceps has them closely and clearly barred with dusky slatey, as in Peregrinus.
I mentioned, when talking of the primary differences between Peregrinus, and Perigrinator, the rufous tinge on the lower parts of the latter bird, but it must not be supposed, that all specimens show this, as markedly as others. I have one specimen, an adult too, the whole lower part of which, including chin and throat, are a pure bright (but not deep) chestnut. On the other hand, Col. Tytler has a fine specimen ; an undoubted Perigrinator, which has the chin, throat, and neck, in front, pure white ; ear-coverts, and sides of neck, with only a faint salmon coloured tinge, towards the tips of the feathers; breast, some feathers pure white, others, chiefly towards the sides, with a decided, but not deep, salmon tinge ; centre of abdomen alone, pure salmon colour; vent feathers, yellowish, and only a very very faint yellowish salmon tinge on sides, flanks, thigh coverts, and lower tail coverts. But the head, nape, and upper back of this bird, are positively black; there are the buffy patches on the nape, and the numerous narrow primary bars, so the bird is an unmistakable Perigrinator, though, (if I except the salmon coloured patch, in the centre of the abdomen,) I have seen many Peregrines more rufous. This bird of Col. Tytler's, in common with most that I have seen, (but not all) has an obscure pale frontal band.
Mr. R. Thompson sends me the following note, but I am by no means sure, whether his remarks, and those which he quotes from Major Radcliffe, H. M.'s 88th, really apply to this species, or to F. Atriceps.
" In the Field newspaper of the 2nd of May, 1868, Major E. D. Radcliffe, 88th Regiment, gives some interesting accounts of the Shaheen and its habits. Amongst others, having described one that had been kept, and moulted for fourteen years, flying still in capital style, and killing vast quantities of game of a miscellaneous description, he goes on to notice a habit of the wild ones, of catching Bats, after having gone to roost with full crops. This the Shaheen will often do, and I have known of an instance, when the Falcon eat the Bat it had just caught. It was apparently still hungry. The Shaheen is not the only bird of prey that will do this, I have seen the Shikra, Micronisus badius catch and kill Bats, sometimes eating, at other times throwing them down dead. My Goshawks often fluttered at Bats, which happened to pass close over where they were picketted, to enjoy the cool of the evening.
" The Shaheen is an early bird. In the first gleam of daylight one may just see it shoot past, like an arrow, at some unlucky early bird. Late in the evenings, it will often sit and watch for returning flocks of Mynas, and Parrots, and having selected one, will dash at it, surely nailing a victim, which it will carry back to its perch and devour. It takes the Turtur risorius more than any other bird, though Pigeons are not safe from it. I once saw one dash into a vertical net set with a small quail for a bait, it was late in the evening, and the Shaheen was on a tree not a hundred yards from the net.
" When used to take Pigeons, it becomes very destructive to dove cots, usually selecting the highest mounted and best flyer of the flock.
" After a full meal in the daytime, or early morning, the Shaheen will retire to some tank or rivulet, and there enjoy a good bath. It remains for hours seated on a tree, cleaning and drying its feathers after its ablutions.
"I have lately seen one, an adult, doing its best with a small flock of wild Pigeons, without succeeding in striking a single bird. I have seen this once or twice before, but the Falcons in those instances were young birds, this one was an adult."
I append exact dimensions of a male. Length, 14.87. Wing, 11.49; (second primary the longest, 1st 0.35 shorter, 3rd 0.5 shorter. Tail, 6 ; exterior tail feathers, 0.4 shorter than central ones.) Tarsus, 1.85. Foot, greatest Length, 3.3; greatest width, 3.2 ; mid-toe, 1.7 ; its claw on curve, 0.8; hind toe, 0.75; its claw on curve, 1.1; outer toe 1.2 ; its claw, 0.75; inner toe, 1; its claw, 0.87. Bill, straight from margin of cere, 0.72 ; on curve, from cere, 0.87; from gape, 1.1; width at gape, 0.89; height, at margin of cere, 0.4; width of cere, 0.3.
"This bird," Mr. Blyth mentions, "is F. Ruber Indicus (Aldrovandi) and F. Communis indicus, Gmel. and undoubtedly F. Sultaneus, Hodgson. Mr. Layard obtained this species in Ceylon."