No. 13. Hypotriorchis Subbuteo, Lin.
Of the breeding habits of this species in India, I as yet know nothing. Although common enough in some parts of the Himalayahs, it is a rare visitant, and then only in the cold season, to the plains, and if it breeds any where within our limits, it will be, I apprehend, in the higher ranges of the Hills. Mr. E.. Thompson, writing from Kumaon, the 16th September, says, " I saw yesterday, our English Hobby, numbers of which visit India during the cold weather ; every mountain top of 12,000 feet and upwards had flocks of them hunting about for insects, last September, when I was out in the interior. I am inclined to doubt whether the Hobby breeds any where in the Himalayahs, south of the snowy range."
Of the breeding of this species in England, Mr. Yarrell gives the following particulars : " The Hobby, though a well known bird, is not very numerous as a species. It chooses a high tree to make its nest on, occasionally taking to the remains of one of suitable size, that has been deserted. The female lays three or four eggs, like those of all the true Falcons in shape and colour, that is, of a short oval form, speckled all over with reddish brown, on a dirty white ground; the Length, 1.67 inches; the breadth, 1.33.
Mr. Hewitson, quoting Mr. Hoy, tells us that "the Hobby is a late breeder; seldom having eggs before the first week in June; that it very rarely, if ever, builds its own nest, but takes possession of that of a Crow, or Magpie, preferring those which are placed near the tops of high trees; and that, though it may be met with, breeding in large woods, it seems to prefer isolated groves of fir, and other trees, situated in open country, where it can not only pursue small birds, but readily capture coleopterous and other insects on which it feeds very much. Mr. Hewitson, himself, found a nest, in Norway, in the month of June, placed upon a projecting ledge of rock, on the face of a steep precipice. The Hobby he tells us, lays two or three eggs.
The one he figures, has a pale salmon coloured ground, closely freckled and mottled with salmon red, and measures 1.58 by 1.26. He says that the eggs are not subject to much variety, but that specimens entirely devoid of dark markings are met with. The eggs are usually very regularly freckled, over the whole surface, and more nearly resemble (in colour) the eggs of the Iceland Falcon, than those of any other species. The darkest varieties, he adds, are rather like some lightly coloured eggs of the Kestrel, being, however, of a pinker hue, and without any large blotches of colour. Mr. R. Thompson sends me the following note on this species, " In October, on the highlands, immediately below the snow, both young and adult birds are met with in abundance. Of the young, several that I killed, appeared not to have long left the nest; they were hawking about for insects, and often swept past close to where I was standing. I think they are strictly migratory, only appearing as a rule within our territories early in October, though I have seen a few adults at Nynee Tal as early as 15 th September.
" I have been a close observer of these birds for some years now, yet I cannot say, I ever saw one take a bird in the wild state. Hundreds I have seen hawking about, but taking nothing but insects. Those shot under the snows on the high bare boogials, had nothing but insects in their stomachs. Many, are taken in the cold weather, in the plains, and trained to fly at the Hoopoe, Upupa Nigripennis, affording wonderful sport; also at Dicrurus Macrocercus which, from their undulatory flight, are very difficult for the little Falcon to strike. The Hobby is a courageous bird, especially in self-defence. I have seen them, after being bullied by Crows, turn on these, and strike them almost to the ground, with repeated blows.''
This bird seems to have a very wide range. It is found throughout Europe, in north and south Africa, (including Egypt), Palestine, and northern China.
A male in Col. Tytler's collection, answers Jerdon's description of the adult bird well enough, but the whole upper surface is a black brown, of much the same colour as the cheek stripe; there appears to be a broad half collar of buffy white, the feathers only narrowly tipped with the brown. The chin and throat are pure white, the breast and abdomen, deep brown, the feathers, edged with rusty white. The primaries, with a few spots, or obsolete bars, of greyish white, very slightly tinged in some with rufous. The tail, a warm, clove brown, the inner webs of the laterals, with obsolete rufous bars. What is noticeable about this bird, is, that it is neither slaty, as all adult true Hobbies are described, nor have the feathers, the pale or ferruginous edgings of the young; it is, I suppose, in an intermediate stage.
A very fine female that I procured at Kotegurh, which was only 14.5 inches long, had the wing no less than 11.5, she had the lores, narrow frontal band, and well marked supercilium, white; the cheek stripe, (which was very broad) and a broad patch behind, and below the eye, including the ear coverts, were blackish brown, and the upper portion of the head and nape, dusky slaty, each feather, rather narrowly centred with blackish brown, and some few of the feathers, with a trace of excessively narrow paler edgings; chin, throat, and upper breast, and sides of the neck, prolonged behind the ear coverts, (so as almost to meet the ends of the broad buffy half collar on the base of the back of the neck) unspotted yellowish white. The whole of the rest of the upper parts, slaty blue, dark, and tinged almost blackish, immediately below the half collar, and on the lesser wing coverts, elsewhere pale, and pure. All the feathers of the back, and the scapulars, somewhat conspicuously darker shafted, central tail feathers, and outer webs of laterals, paler slaty than the rest of the upper parts, entirely unbarred or unspotted ; inner webs of laterals, with numerous transverse, rufous bars; quills a rather dusky slaty, on outer webs, and with the inner ones dark brown, with numerous long oval, transverse, imperfect, bar-like, rufous spots. Lower breast, abdomen, and sides, a mixture of buffy, and rufous white, each feather, with a broad dark brown central stripe. Thigh coverts, bright ferruginous, a few of the feathers with dark central stripes. Lower tail coverts, and vent feathers, pale ferruginous. I note that the oheek stripe is distinctly separated from the dark ear coverts, by the white of the throat; in the next species, the Indian Hobby, the cheek stripe and ear coverts are all in one.