17. Tinnunculus alaudarius

No. 17. Tinnunculus Alaudarius, BRISS.


The Kestrel with us breeds in April, May and June; as far as I am yet aware, it breeds in India, only in the Himalayahs and the Dhoon; natives informed me that they had seen its nest in the Salt Range of the Punjaub near Pind Dadun Khan.

In the Himalayahs, it almost invariably breeds on rocky ledges, or small holes, in cliffs. I know no well recorded instance of its nest having been found on trees in India. The nest is round, oblong, or semicircular, according to the shape of the site chosen, and is a thicker or thinner platform from 12 to 20 inches in diameter and 2 to 6 in thickness, made of small twigs, in which grass roots, rags and, as Mr. R. Thompson informs me, at times strips of cloth, a yard and a half in length, are incorporated, and serve as lining.

The eggs are normally five in number, I believe, but two nests taken near Kotegurh, contained only four each, in both cases, considerably incubated. The eggs resemble those of the preceding species, but are slightly broader, and less uniform in their colour. In shape, they are broad ovals, more or less pointed or compressed towards one end. The ground colour is a darker or lighter brick or blood red, blotched, or mottled and freckled with a deeper shade of the same colour, the blotches being in some eggs strongly defined, and well marked, and the whole tint of the egg being, in one specimen that I have seen, browner and yellower than 1 have above described. The eggs are glossless, and the shell though fine and compact, has the sort of chalky texture, noticed in the eggs of F. Jugger and L. Chiquera. The eggs vary from 1.63 to 1.75 in length, and from 1.28 to 1.35 in breadth, the average of eight eggs measured, being 1.68 by 1.31.

Although I have no record of the birds actually breeding in the plains, I shot a female in the Etawah district, late in March, which was one of a pair, that I saw frequenting a cleft in the clay cliffs of the Chumbul, near Oodee. The oviduct of this bird contained a white egg, the size of a Dove's, and when, on seeing this, I next day examined the cleft, I found that it contained a new, nearly finished nest, such as a Kestrel would build. The native fowlers, however, by no means despicable observers, assured me positively that this bird never breeds in the district, so I hardly know what to think; especially as on another occasion (11th February, 1867) I shot a young male at the mouth of a similar cleft in the clay cliffs of the Jumna, below Sheregurh, in which was a new nest, apparently ready to lay in. Perhaps these birds search clefts like these for the young of other birds, but the stomachs of those I have killed, have generally contained insects, bees, black ants, beetles, and the like.

Captain Hutton remarks (in Epist.) " The Kestrel is very common, both in the outer hills and the Doon; at Mussoorie I have known it to breed upon a lofty ledge of rooks above the Superintendent's offices.”

Mr. W. Theobald makes the following remark on the breeding of this bird in the valley of Kashmir. " Lays in the 3rd week of April; eggs six in number, blunt ovate pyriform ; measuring from 1.51 to 1.68 inches in length, and from 1.22 to 1.27 in. in breadth. Colour, pale reddish brown, freckled and blotched with brownish red. Nest, hole in serai wall of Thanna, south of Buranegala, Shahabad, and valley generally."

It will be observed that his dimensions are smaller than those of the eggs that I have measured; and that he found the nest on a building.

Dr. F. Stoliczka remarks that " Tinnunculus Alaudarius is common all through the N. W. Himalaya, on the southern side as well as in W. Tibet. I found this common European Hawk breeding near Chini in narrow crevices of rocks. The eggs are dirty white, mottled and irregularly spotted with reddish brown. The young birds vary extremely in colour of their plumage; but the old ones axe in every way identical with those from Europe."

Since the above was written, Capt. Cock has sent me the following: " Tinnunculus Alaudarius. This bird remains with us all the year round, although it retires higher up the mountain during the month of May. I noticed a pair of birds about a precipice some two or three times, and concluded that they built there. On the 27th of May, I went with a rope and found that there were three young ones only a few days old, in a niche in the precipice that was overhung with grass, rendering the entrance to the nest difficult to be seen. This nest was on the mountains at a height of 7,000 feet above the sea level, and I doubt their breeding lower down, though an officer assured me he saw a Kestrel breeding on a cliff on the banks of the Beas in February. I found another nest at about 8000 feet elevation on the 27th of May with one egg in it, I had watched the birds pairing some days before, and with the help of a rope managed to secure the solitary egg. On the 5th of June I sent up a party who got three more eggs out of this same nest.— Two of the eggs, the largest and smallest measured 1.55 by 1.16 and 1.35 by 1.14."

Mr. R. Thompson sends me the following," The Kestrel breeds in this country, preferring the shelving of a rock to any other situation. I have seen the nest and young on the precipices of the Sewaliks. A dozen nests might be pointed out on the precipices overhanging the Kossilla river between Khyrna and the Lat bridge. In the valley here noted, it may be seen breeding in company with the Neophron."

" At Pooree in the interior of Ghurwal, a Kestrel carried off a large piece of a pugree belonging to one of my Shikarees and took it off to its nest, whence it was recovered by the fellow letting himself down by a rope. I was witness to the whole transaction. At Nynee Tal, two pairs breed early— one on the western precipices, the other on the south-eastern, not far from where I live."

Mr. Brookes writes to me that " the Kestrel is tolerably common in Kumaon. I saw a young bird taken from a nest near Almorah. The colours of the adult male do not appear to be so pure as those of the English bird. The grey of the head is darker, I think, and the chestnut of the back more dingy."

Dr. Jerdon tells me that "he has seen this bird breeding everywhere in the interior of the Himalayas, at heights of from 8000 to 10,000 feet, in May, June and July." (?)

Out of India Mr. Swinhoe remarks that this bird is " resident all the year at Amoy, and several pairs build on the Amoy rocks."

In Palestine (vide Ibis, 1865) Mr. Tristram writes—" The Kestrel is excessively common in every part of the country throughout the year, up to the confines of the southern desert. In the Ghor and in the eastern forests, among the ruins of Amman and Gerash, in the desolate gorges of the Dead Sea, among the luxuriant gardens of the coast, and in the sacred recesses of the mosques of Omar and Hebron, it equally abounds. It is generally gregarious, ten or twenty pairs breeding in the same ruins, and rearing their young about the end of March. It often builds its nest in the recesses of the caves which are occupied by the Griffons, and is the only bird which the Eagles appear to permit to live in close proximity to them. At Amman, too, it builds in the ruins in company with the Jackdaws; and in several places, as at Lydda and Nazareth, large colonies are mixed indiscriminately with those of the lesser Kestrel. The number of nests we came across without searching for them, was enormous."

It is found throughout Europe, in Siberia, in northern and possibly central Africa, but, in the south of that continent, seems to be replaced by the brighter coloured T. Rupicolus.

As regards its nidification in England, Mr. Yarrell says, " In spring the Kestrel frequently takes possession of the nest of a Crow or a Magpie, in which to deposit its eggs. Sometimes these birds build in high rocks, or on old towers, and among the ruins of buildings, laying four and occasionally five eggs, about one inch seven lines long, by one inch three lines across, mottled all over with dark reddish brown, and sometimes with blotches of reddish brown upon a pale reddish white ground.

The fifth egg has been known to weigh several grains less than either of those previously deposited and it has also less colouring matter spread over the shell than the others; both effects probably occasioned by the constitutional exhaustion the bird has sustained in her previous efforts. The young are hatched about the end of April, or the beginning of May, and are covered for some time with a yellowish white down."

In Scotland where the physical contour of the country more nearly resembles that of the tract within which in India our Kestrels breed, Macgillivray (I quote from Hewitson) says that " twenty nests of this species might be pointed out on rocks, for one in a tree." Hewitson adds that he is inclined to believe that the true Falcons very rarely make a nest for themselves, and I have no doubt that if observation be directed to this matter, it will be found that in the Himalayas, as elsewhere, the Kestrel often borrows or steals a nest originally belonging to some other bird.

Mr. Blyth (Ibis, 1866) has the following remarks—" There is a Tenasserim (Siamese province) Kestrel to which attention should be directed— T. Saturates, Blyth (J. A. S. B. XXXVII. p. 277) an adult female received from Ye" is noticed in my catalogue of the birds in the Calcutta Museum (No. 69) as perhaps the female of a distinct race, remarkable for the great development of the black markings of its plumage. A young female of the same race was subsequently obtained in which the cap is fuscous, with scarcely any indication of rufous margining the feathers. The fuscous colour also predominating over the rufous upon the whole upper plumage, and on the tail the rufous bands are narrower than the black bands. An adult male Kestrel, from the vicinity of Moulmain (though rather deeper coloured than usual) differed in no respect from the common T. Alaudarius, or perhaps, though less probably, the adult male of T. Saturatus may prove to be less strongly distinguished, as indeed is exemplified by T. Japonicus (Faun. Japon. Tab. 1 and 1 b.) T. Saturatus is quite distinct from T. Molliccensis (Hombr. et Jacq. voyage au Pole Sud ; Ois. tab. 1 and 2)."

With reference to the deeper coloured example from Moulmain I may remark, that the Southern Indian specimens in my museum, are markedly of a far deeper hue than any of the large series obtained by me in various parts of upper India. I cannot learn that the bird breeds in Southern India, but the intensity of the rufous colouring, recalling that of T. Rupicolus or even the American Paecilornis Sparverius would from analogy lead us to suspect, a local southern race, and this should be carefully investigated by observers in Southern India.

To Dr. Jerdon's description of the adult male, we must add; that the tail is tipped with white, the breadth of the tipping increasing from the centre to the exterior feathers; the black band mentioned by him being a subterminal one; all but the two centre tail feathers have at times linear black brown spots on the inner webs; as for the quills, they are often narrowly edged and tipped with white, and the spots on their inner webs are generally more or less rufous. The cere and orbits are bright yellow, the legs and feet bright orange yellow. The bill yellowish at the base; bluish black on culmen and at tips. The claws horny black; the irides brown.

The young male is not, as Jerdon would lead one to suppose, exactly like the female; it is always in the first place more rufous I think, and there are minor differences difficult to express perhaps, but very perceptible to the practised eye. I subjoin accurate measurements and a detailed description of the young male.

Dimensions. Length, 14. Expanse, 30. Weight, 7 ozs. Wing, 9.8; the 2nd and 3rd primaries equal, and the longest; 1st 1.0 shorter; 4th; 0.8 shorter. Tail from vent, 7.5; exterior tail feathers 1.3 shorter than centre ones. Tarsus, (feathered in front for 0.5), 1.53. Foot, greatest length, 2.35; greatest width, 2.35; mid toe, 1.1; its claws straight, 0.44; hind toe, 0.5 ; its claws straight, 0.5. Bill, straight, 0.69 ; along curve, 0.88; from gape, 0.85; width at gape, 0.76; height at front at margin of cere, 0.32; cere, only 0.19. Lower tail coverts reach within about 3.38 of end of centre tail feathers. Wings, when closed, reach to within about 2 inches of the end of the centre tail feathers.

Description. Legs and feet yellow, feet slender, claws black, centre and outer toes connected by a membrane as far as the first joints.

Orbits, yellowish green. Irides, brown.

Cere and gape, yellow or pale or greenish yellow. Bill, pale greenish or bluish green at margin of the cere and base of lower mandible, pale blue beyond, deepening almost to blue black at the tips. Tongue, short, rather broad, thin and membraneous towards the tip which is slightly divided.

Plumage. Feathers of forehead, rufous white, feathers, dark shafted. Feathers of the top and back of head and nape, a somewhat vinous rufous, each with a narrow central dark brown stripe. The whole of the base of the back of the neck, the upper back, scapulars and upper wing coverts, except the greater coverts of the primaries, vinous rufous, all the feathers with conspicuous broad bars of dark brown, the bar nearest the tip, especially on the lesser wing coverts, being somewhat triangular in shape. Winglet, dark brown, narrowly margined with rufous on the outer web, and with spots or incomplete transverse bars of the same on both webs. Greater coverts of the primaries, dark brown (with a trace of or in some a well-marked paler tipping), paler towards the margins of the interior webs, and with a few blotches of the same warm rufous hue as characterizes the wing coverts on the outer webs and broad bars of the same, more or less incomplete on the inner webs. Primaries dark brown on the outer webs (which have an excessively narrow paler or pale rufous edging, and are unspotted, with the exception of three or four rufous spots, on those of the last two or three), and inner webs brown at the tips, white at the base; the intermediate portions being partly white and partly brown, a set of brown teeth or scallops of brown, running out from the shaft towards the margin, and a set of similar white teeth or scallops running out alternately with them from the margin towards the shaft. The tips of the white scallops deeply tinged with rufous, where they approach the shaft. In some of the primaries before the regular scallops commence, there are near the tip in the inner webs one or more oval rufous spots. The secondaries are a lighter brown, narrowly but distinctly tipped with rufous, or in some dingy, white, and barred transversely with broad rufous bars, which pale and become almost or quite pure white towards the margins of the inner webs, and tins more so towards the bases, where on the inner webs, these is scarcely any rufous and less so towards the tips where there is scarcely any white. It is to be noted that in the earlier secondaries, the brown and in the latter the rufous and white predominate. The tertials connect the scapulars and secondaries and resemble both; but are more uniformly rufous and brown, and have less (if any) white on the inner webs than the later secondaries. Lower back, rump and upper tail coverts grey, with a vinous or pinkish tinge, regularly barred with pretty broad bars of brown. In some, the lower back and rump are uniform with upper back and scapulars, only slightly paler; while the upper tail coverts are fulvous white but barred as usual. The tail feathers are a vinous rufous, tipped with white most broadly so in the exterior, least broadly so, on the centre ones, and with a broad subterminal band of blackish brown usually narrower on the 2nd exterior feather, and much narrower on the exterior feathers. Above the subterminal band, each feather is conspicuously barred with transverse dark brown bars, somewhat irregular; those on the two webs, not exactly coinciding at the shaft, and somewhat incomplete, as not extending quite to the margin. The exterior feather often has a narrow and obscure white margin to the outer web, and a trace of this is also at times visible on the 2nd exterior, while all but the centre feathers are more or less whitish towards the margins of the inner webs.

The lores are white, thickly overlaid by fine, dark brown, hair-like feathers. There is a trace of a narrow brown stripe over the back of eye and ear-coverts ; ear-coverts lax, mingled white (with or without a faint rufous tinge) brown or dusky; a brown cheek stripe, not very conspicuous, from the eye, past the gape, on either sides of the upper throat, with commonly a branch from the base of the lower mandible just below the gape. Chin white Upper throat unspotted rufous white, or pure white; sides of neck below ear coverts, front of neck, breast and upper abdomen, pale rufous or nearly pure white, most of the feathers with narrow central dark brown stripes, most conspicuous on sides of neck and body (where the stripes are dilated towards the tips of the feathers into broadish blotches) and least so on the upper abdomen, where they become mere specks at the tips of dark shafted feathers. Lower abdomen, vent, lower tail, and thigh coverts white or very pale rufous white, dingy about lower tail coverts and vent, at tunes with two or three minute dark brown specks on the thigh coverts. Axillaries white, barred with brown; lesser lower wing coverts pure white, with tiny oval subterminal spots of dark brown. Larger lower wing coverts also pure white, with subterminal heart-shaped spots of dark brown, and most of them, chiefly those of the secondaries however, with more or less incomplete bars of a somewhat lighter brown. On the under surfaces of the quills and tail feathers, the markings described on the upper surfaces show through.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
17. Tinnunculus alaudarius
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Kestrel Or Windver
Common Kestrel
Falco tinnunculus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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