No. 77. Athene Radiata. TICKELL.
THE JUNGLE OWLET.
The Jungle Owlet breeds in the early part of the hot weather, laying in April and May, in holes in trees. Though I have twice found nests containing young ones, neither I myself nor any of my numerous correspondents, have yet, it would seem, obtained the eggs, which, however, we may safely prophesy, will prove to be three or four in number, pure white, spheroovoidal, measuring some 1.26 by 1 or thereabouts. Mr. R. Thompson, writing from Gurhwal, says - :" This species breeds in May and June, in holes in small trees. It is very common in all the warmer valleys. Young birds are quite fledged in June, from three to four young ones at a time. I have never seen them living in families as Dr. Jerdon asserts. I have always found them either in pairs or single. The male? of this species are considerably smaller than the females, so much so, that one would easily take them to belong to another species. The cry is a too - :roo-roo - :roo - :roo, &o., drawn out to a considerable Length, and resembling that of the com¬mon Goanna lizard. This cry is sometimes terminated with double or treble notes, resembling somewhat those of A. Brama.
Its flight is both rapid and strong, with closed wings, like that of the Besrah. It kills and devours all kinds of small birds, even taking them in the day-time. I had one caught which came down at a chicken three times all by itself, and killed it in broad daylight. The chicken was set in a trap for Limnaetus Niveus"
Dr. Jerdon describes the soft parts differently to what I should; the feet are yellow, bristled to the toes, the bill light yellowish horny and the irides, bright yellow. He is wrong in saying, " beneath, throat white, the rest of the body &c."; in good fresh specimens, the lores and chin are white, the ends of the bristle-like elongated shafts, blackish. From the base of the lower mandible, joining into the white of the chin, runs a broad white stripe under the ear coverts and round the lower half of the posterior margin of the aural orifice, this latter portion of the stripe, not being visible in the dry skin, unless the ear coverts are lifted, but being very conspicuous in the living bird, who, especially when teased, sets the ear coverts out, nearly at right angles to the bill. Between these white stripes, and below them, joining the feathers of the neck, the throat feathers are closely barred rufous or rufescent white and dusky brown, precisely unicolorous with the sides of the neck ; below this there is a large white patch at the base of the neck in front. Most of my skins show all this, but in some, in which owing to the size of the head, the skin, and feathers of the throat have been injured in turning, it is not so apparent, but it is invariably found in fresh specimens, And in living birds of which I have kept several.
These birds in confinement tame readily, and eat raw or cooked meat, insects, frogs, in fact any thing, animal. I have seen them in the day-time, in the shady verandah in which they were kept, kill and eat crickets, ants and butterflies. A pair of sparrows made a nest on the interior cornice of the enclosed end of the verandah, in which they lived. At first, the sparrows, teased, and bothered the Owls, the whole day long at intervals, the Owls merely retreating inside their box, chattering angrily, but one night two of the three got loose, killed both sparrows, eating their breasts and entrails, and all the young ones, of which not a trace was left. They did not attempt to leave the place, (this was at Dehra) and I let the third loose, after which they gradually grew wilder, (returning, however, for some weeks for the day to their box,) and at last left the house altogether, although, when I gave it up they were still hanging about the trees in the very jungly compound. They were excessively noisy birds, both by night and even at intervals by day, in fact at times a perfect nuisance. Dogs were their abomination and the way in which, menaced by a puppy of mine, who evidently thought it famous fun, they would lower their heads, set out their wings and ear coverts, and " curse and swear," (a mixture of hissing and chattering utterly indescribable in words) was really quite ' edifying !'
Specimens from Dehra, Saharunpoor, Kumaon, and Kaladoongee, in fact (as far as I have had the opportunity of observing them) northern birds, differ apparently constantly in tint from those sent me from the Madras Presidency, Aboo and other comparatively southern localities. The whole of the barred portions of the upper half of the body, breast, throat, head, neck, upper back and lesser coverts, in the northern birds are more rufous, the light bars conspicuously so, than in the southern birds, in some specimens of the former, the light bars are bright rufous buff, and in no specimens can they be called merely " rufescent whitish" (a correct description of those of the southern birds) being in every case distinctly rufous, although it may in some birds be rather pale, dull or slightly fulvous. Again, in the southern birds the bars of the longer scapulars are either pure white or greyish white, while in the northern they are tinged with rufous or fulvous. It is true I have only five of each before me now, and I have only now noticed the difference in comparing the whole series, but it is constant in all these and seems very marked. There is more white too in the lower parts, and the rufous of the primaries is brighter and clearer in the southern than the northern specimens, and generally the whole tone of colouring in the two races differs markedly to the eye, and if really constant, is noteworthy.
This genus, or perhaps I should say the type form of this genus, is one which appears to have a great tendency to vary ; the species it contains are very numerous, each for the most part restricted to a natural territorial division, in many instances of very limited extent. The present species does not extend, I believe southwards far beyond the Neilgherries. Further south and on the west coast, it is replaced by Malabaricus and in Ceylon by Castaneonotus. It does not appear to be found in lower or Eastern Bengal, nor in Burmah, although Dr. Cantor procured " a single specimen of this pretty little Owl, at Keddah (Malayan Peninsula) agreeing in every respect with those obtained from India." Westwards in upper India, I do not find it noticed from Cashmere, and though it may be found there, it has not occurred in any of the many collections that I have examined from thence, and the neighbourhood of Murree. Even within the limits, within which it is known to occur, it is very locally distributed, affecting forests and jungles, intermingled with rocky ridges or broken ground, and almost if not quite unknown in the level open portions of the Punjaub, Rajpootana, the North-West and Central Provinces. Throughout the sub-himalayan country and the lower ranges of the hills themselves, as far west as Mandi ; (rarely if ever ascending above 3000 feet in height) in the Rajmahal hills, the Siwalikhs and the more considerable ridges of the Aravallis, where these are not bare, the Jungle Owlet, is more or less common, according to the supply of insects, which in a wild state, to judge from those that I have examined, form its chief food.