(1740) Cerchneis tinnunculus tinnunculus.
THE EUROPEAN KESTREL.
Falco tinnunculus Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed. i, p. 90 (1758) (Sweden). Tinnunculus alaudarius. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 428 (part.).
Vernacular names. Karontia, Koruttia, Khermutia (Hind, in the North); Narzi, Narzinak (Hind, in the South); Tondala-muchi-gedda, Tondala-doshi-gadu (Tel.); Ting-kyi (Lep-cha) ; Gyo-thane (Burmese).
Description.— Adult male. Lores and forehead white or creamy-white ; crown, nape and sides of the neck ashy-grey with fine black shaft-lines ; back, scapulars and wing-coverts bright brick-red, spotted, sparsely on the upper back, with black rather arrow-shaped spots; rump and upper tail-coverts paler grey; tail grey with a narrow white tip and broad subterminal band of black; wing-quills and primary greater-coverts dark brown, more or less edged with white, the quills broadly barred with white on the inner webs except at the tips; a black patch next the eye in front running into a cheek-stripe; ear-coverts and cheeks mixed grey and fulvous, more white on the ear-coverts ; lower plumage pale buff to vinous-fawn, paler and immaculate on the chin and throat; streaked with black on the breast and spotted with black on the abdomen and flanks; under wing-coverts and axillaries white barred and spotted with black.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown; bill slaty-blue, the tip black, the gape, base and cere yellow; orbital skin yellow; legs yellow to orange-yellow, claws black. These colours seem to be the same in all races.
Measurements. wing230 to 259 mm.; tail 153 to 175 mm.; tarsus about 36 to 39 mm.; culmen 17 to 18 mm.; , wing 243 to 267 mm.; tail 162 to 175 mm.
Female. Whole upper parts pale rufous, bleaching to sandy-rufous, the head streaked with black and the other parts banded, the subterminal band on the tail being very broad and the tip white; wing-quills as in the male ; lower parts as in the male but the streaks and spots more numerous and more brown, less black; typically also the lower parts are paler and more dingy in tone.
In very old females the rump and tail sometimes become tinged with grey.
Young males are like the female but soon acquire a good deal of grey on the tail and a grey rump and upper tail-coverts.
Distribution. Practically all Europe, Western Asia to the Yenesei and Central Asia. In Winter South to North-West Africa and to North-West India. Very common in Sind and the Punjab, spreading East to the United Provinces and South to the Northern Bombay Presidency. Less commonly it extends throughout India to Ceylon and East to Yunnan and Burma, though a great number of the specimens attributed to this form from the latter places are really interstinctus or japonicus. There is no proof that it breeds anywhere in the Himalayas, though it is possible that it does so in Gilgit.
Nidification. The Kestrel breeds from the middle of April to the end of May, laying four to six, occasionally seven or eight, eggs in the deserted nests of Magpies, Crows and other birds or in holes in walls, roofs, masses of ivy, etc. The eggs are very handsome, the ground varying from white to pale pink, yellowish or stone-colour profusely blotched, speckled or smudged with blood-red, reddish-brown or light red. In most cases but little of the ground is visible, the whole being covered with minute freckles of reddish in addition to larger spots and blotches. In some eggs the freckles are absent or sparse and the blotches bolder, showing up more on the ground-colour. One hundred eggs average 39.7 x 31.7 mm.: maxima 43.7 x 33.5 and 41.6 x 34.2 mm.; minima 35.4 x 29.7 mm. (Witherby).
Habits. The Kestrel is only a Winter visitor to India, arriving in September and October and leaving in March and early April. It is to be found in almost any kind of country from desert to forest but prefers well-wooded yet open country. Here it may be seen regularly quartering the ground lor game, every now and then checking in its flight and hovering, with rapidly-beating wings, over one spot, suddenly swooping down on some mouse or insect or continuing its leisurely flight when it decides there is nothing worth stooping for. At times it spends long hours in soaring high up in the sky and this it does much during the hottest hours of the day. It feeds on small mammals, birds and insects, but field-mice form its staple diet. It seldom destroys game, though a few individuals have been known to kill young pheasants, partridge and grouse during the breeding-season. The call a sharp scream, rather prolonged and a low " chip chip" as it flies and hovers.