(1719) Falco peregrinus peregrinator Sund.
The Shaken FALCON.
Falco peregrinus peregrinator, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 34.
The breeding range of this beautiful Falcon extends from Afghanistan and Baluchistan to the Northern hills of Burma and to the Yangtse in China. It occurs over the whole of India as far South as Travancore and breeds wherever there are steep cliffs and gorges suitable ascites for the nest.
In Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ there is a record of a nest taken by Blewitt on the 25th January, near Raipur, containing one egg, under the name of “the Shaheen,” while Cock records one under the name of Falco atriceps from Dharmsala in which he found two eggs on the 10th of March and a third on the 17th March. Jerdon also describes how it breeds on the, Nilgiris, placing its nest on steep cliffs and precipices. Since these records were written many observers have taken eggs or young. I myself took many in North Cachar and the Khasia Hills ; Dodsworth, Jones, Mackinnon and Whymper took nests in the Western Himalayas ; Mackenzie obtained a nest with three eggs, almost pigmies, in the Chin Hills, while K. Macdonald and C. Hopwood also took eggs in other parts of Burma. In the Shan States Livesey failed to obtain eggs hut found a nest with three young in the month of March.
My own experiences seem to cover all that can be said about their breeding habits, and I gave a very full account of them in ‘The Ibis’ (1917, pp. 224-235), too long to quote in the present work.
In the North Cachar Hills this Falcon was rare, the country being too heavily forested, though a few pairs bred on some of the cliffs and rocks over rivers and valleys. In the Khasia Hills several pairs bred on the Lilancote cliffs and the abrupt precipitous ridges facing the Sylhet Plains but towering some 3,000 to 4,000 feet above them. The nests were always built on very steep parts of the cliffs, resting either on ledges or in clefts in rocks, while each pair had two eyries, sometimes using one and sometimes the other. In most eases the two nests were far apart, half a mile or so, but in one case they were within a couple of hundred yards of each other. We found that if we took the eggs from one nest the birds generally then went to the other and laid a second clutch, which we never interfered with. The first nest I ever took was obtained from a rather typical site. “Mahadeo” is a peak some 5,000 feet high overlooking the Mahor and Diyung Valleys. The summit is covered with stunted Oak, their branches twisted and distorted with the prevailing South wind but covered with dense streamers of vivid green moss and great bunches of many orchids, whose flaming flowers hlazed out from among the green. Great rocks rose every¬where, some higher than the Oaks, but in between them grew the Oaks, with a scanty undergrowth of Begonias, Gloxinias, Jasmine and other plants. On one side the slopes of the Peak were climbable, though by no means easy, but on the other a sheer cliff of over 1,000 feet fell away almost straight down. Shrubs grew here and there where the soil bad lodged in crevices, while on the bigger ledges small trees and bushes maintained a precarious hold. About 20 feet below the summit was a small ledge and under this two Shaheens kept darting in and out, showing that there was a nest there—a fact confirmed by my Naga friends, who said that the birds had bred there for some 14 or 15 years. The nest was inaccessible from above, but from below, at a point of some 40 feet from the nest, it looked as if a really good climber might do it. A Naga hoy who had already shown a climbing ability little inferior to that of a cat, offered to try, hut he had barely got half-a-dozen feet before he slipped and dislodged a stone which rumbled away into eternity below him. This was enough for me, and I ordered him back. The next day we returned with canes. One long cane was held by two or three men from above which we tied round the boy’s waist, and then he was carried along the cliff-face till opposite the nest, which contained four grand eggs. These secured, we then hauled the boy back by a second cane we had tied to the other. The nest was built well under the ledge in a crevice in the rock and was a rather bulky affair entirely of sticks, some with the leaves attached, measuring about 18 inches across by abont the same in depth.
While the Naga was being towed to the nest the two birds kept swooping at him, screaming the whole time, though never striking him. When the eggs were actually in the hoy’s hands they got more and more excited and swooped still closer, yet never touched him, though the female more than once came very near to striking him.
All the Shaheens’ nests I have seen personally, eight in number, have been built, with one exception, in places inaccessible without the aid of ropes. Though not far below the top of the cliff, they were nearly always protected from above by an overhanging ledge, boulder or jutting clump of bushes. The one exception was built on the edge of a broad ledge sloping downwards from within 4 feet of the top of the cliff. The rocks were rather crumbling, but sturdy bushes grew in the face of the cliff and on the ledge itself, by the aid of which it was easy to scramble down to the nest.
The nests I have seen have all been made of sticks and branches, varying in size from that of a lead-pencil to others of about an inch in diameter. Some nests had no real lining beyond softer, more pliant twigs and leaves, but others had a considerable amount of wool, bits of akin, feathers etc. placed in the bottom of the receptacle for the eggs.
Dodsworth describes a nest taken by him as “a loose, irregular platform of sticks -with a central depression ; a few pieces of string, rope, rags and other odds and ends were mixed up with the structure.” Sometimes no nest at all is made. Dosdworth found two eggs laid on the ground inside a crevice in a cliff-face, while Hopwood took two beautiful incubated eggs in a cleft in the sandstone banks of a river some 60 miles from Monywa on the 7th March (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxi, p. 1091, 1912). In 1911 (the previous year) be had found three young in the same place on the 15th April.
The normal breeding season is front the middle of March to the first week in May, most eggs being laid during April. In the North¬-West the breeding season commences rather earlier, while in the South of India birds probably breed in January and February. Second layings are of course late, and I have seen some as late as early June. In Burma I have records of clutches of eggs laid from the 7th March to the 25th May.
The eggs go through the same range of variation as those of an English Peregrine and are very handsome. The majority of those I have taken myself have been the produce of two pairs of birds which laid eggs unusually large and unusually beautiful. Those of one pair are of the type with a rather pinkish brick-red ground, the whole surface finely mottled with dark brick-red specks and mottlings, one egg in the clutch often being more decidedly pink in colour and with deeper purplish-red markings than the rest. The second pair laid eggs with a paler yellowish-buff to pinkish buff ground-colour, boldly but not so densely blotched with deep red. The various clutches laid by these two pairs over a long period, lasting from 1905 to 1925, differed more from one another than do those of most birds, but they keep fairly well to the one type. The unicoloured brick-red type, not uncommon in Peregrines’ eggs, is exceptional in the eggs of this bird ; on the other hand, the dull buff, poorly coloured egg is not rare. A very beautiful pair of hard set eggs taken by Hopwood has the ground a rich buff, the larger ends capped with deep brick-red, while the rest of the surface is more sparsely speckled and has also small blotches of the samp colour.
In size the eggs are much smaller than those of the Peregrine. Sixty-five eggs average 51.8 x 40.7 mm. : maxima 68.5 x 42.0 and 56.0 x 44.0 mm. ; minima 48.9 x 39.2 and 51.2 x 38.0 mm.
Out of the above sixty-five eggs no less than forty are my own taking and, as I have said above, are nearly all the produce of two pairs of birds which laid unusually large eggs. Of eggs taken elsewhere I have records of two taken by Hopwood, three by
Mackenzie, seven taken near Simla by Dodsworth and Jones and two taken by Mackinnon near Mussoorie, Hume also has measure¬ments of six. These twenty eggs give an average measurement of only 51.5 x 40.0 mm., and this latter will, I expect, more nearly represent the normal.
I think the female only incubates, while during the heat of the day the eggs are generally left to look after themselves. Dodsworth records of one pair which had two chicks and a nearly hatched egg on the 27th April that, though he had watched the birds from the 18th March to the 27th April, he had always seen both sitting on the cliff above the nest and never on it. In Assam, possibly because of the greater chance of rain, the hirda sat closer and we generally disturbed the female off the nest. Both birds assist in building and repairing the nest, the male bringing and the female placing the material in position.
When the eggs or young are interfered with the birds generally soar overhead, screaming and sometimes swooping at the intruder but never, so far as I know, actually striking him. Incubation takes twenty-five to twenty-seven days, this being ascertained and confirmed by the watching of some second layings of birds in the Khasia Hills.
These birds either live to an immense age or else the surviving male or female takes a new mate and keeps to the same nest, for these are sometimes occupied for at least forty years in succession.
1719. Falco peregrinus peregrinator
(1719) Falco peregrinus peregrinator Sund.