(1716) Gypaetus barbatus hemachalanus Hutton.
THE HIMALAYAS BEARDED VULTURE, or LAMMERGEYER.
Gypaetus barbatus hemachalanus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. v, p. 26.
This grand bird is found breeding from Afghanistan and Balu¬chistan through the outer Himalayas and the Punjab Salt Range to Bhutan. It breeds principally between about 4,500 up to 8,000 feet or exceptionally up to 10,000 feet, at which elevation Meinertzhagen found it near Quetta, where also Williams obtained eggs in the Marachak Valley at about the same elevation. Occasionally it breeds at comparatively low levels ; in Kuman Whymper took several nests at about 3,000 feet, while Jones actually took one pair of eggs at Jhalar, Campbellpur District, at 1,200 feet. On the other hand, birds have been recorded as breeding at far higher levels, though I believe all these refer really to altaicus.
Mr. P. Dodsworth when in Simla devoted two Cold Weathers to hunting down nests of this fine bird for me and, in addition to this, he had already had considerable experience of its nidification. In 1912 and 1913 he visited, about thirty nests, and the following remarks include almost all that can be said about them :—
“Practically all the eggs of the Lammergeyer are laid between the 1st December and the 15th February, and when eggs are found later, as in March, I believe they are laid by birds whose first eggs have been robbed or whose nests have been destroyed by wind and weather, an accident of not uncommon occurrence as the nests are so often built in most exposed positions. They are always built on the faces of cliffs, being placed either on ledges, in caves or in deep crevices in the rocks. Sometimes, though this is cer¬tainly rare, they are built on ledges quite close to the tops of sloping cliffs, and I have seen more than one which I could walk down to without even having to use my hands for holding on. In one instance a wide ledge led from the top of the hill down some 40 or 50 feet, the grade so gentle and the ledge so firm and wide that we could saunter down to the nest at the far end and inspect it in the greatest comfort. This nest I should say was in a very wild part of the hills and not near any village. Most nests are built in places which are difficult of access without ropes and some of them almost or quite inaccessible, even with every artificial aid, while several of the nests I got for you could never have been reached without the aid of the fine ropes you, sent out to me. One such nest was built on a narrow ledge on a tremendous cliff overhanging a gorge and, though it was not far from the top, it was overhung by another ledge wider than that upon which the nest rested. It was quite invisible from above, though we could locate the spot by noting where the parent birds went in. To add to our difficulties the top of the cliff was somewhat brittle and dry, so that to get a proper purchase for our ropes we had to drive in an iron bar some 20 feet or more from the edge. Making a loop round this, another man and I held on to the rope and gradually paid it out so that a third man could be gradually lowered over the edge. We had to pay out nearly 40 yards before the tug came to say he had arrived at the nest, but it must have been ten minutes before another tug told us to start hauling. Eventually the rope came back to us intact and the man’s head appeared over the top, and soon we were in possession of our prize, a grand pair of fresh eggs. The man had, however, great difficulty in getting them. When he arrived level with the nest he found it was well out of reach, and it was only by swinging backwards and forwards that he eventually got a foot¬hold on the ledge and was. able to take the eggs. The great diffi¬culty with many of the other nests we found was this fact of their being overhung by other ledges, a difficulty aggravated by crumbling rooks or earth, the latter causing us to give up one or two nests as hopeless.
“The nests we found, varied almost as much as the situations in which they were placed. Some nests were huge, bulky affairs nearly filling the cave or crevice in which they were placed, or taking up some four or five feet of the ledge they were built on. In some of the biggest I estimated that there were a couple of cartloads, of materia). Other nests were very different ; in some perhaps half a cartload of various articles were used, while in others there was nothing more than a few sticks and the eggs rested practically on the bare ground.
“The materials used were always the same ; sticks and branches, sometimes almost as thick as one’s wrist, sometimes little thicker than a pencil, formed the greater propertion of all. With these, however, were mixed coarse tufts of grass, rags, wool, bits of skins of all description and any other rubbish the birds could collect in the vicinity of the villages near them. Animal remains were present in many of them and, when built on ledges, the nests were sometimes surrounded by a great deal of such fitter. The birds are awful cowards and never attack anybody and seldom make any demonstration of any kind, but it must be rather terrifying to a man sitting in a loop at the end of a long rope, many feet down a precipice, to have one of these huge birds sweep close past him.
“The eggs are either two or one, quite as often the latter as the former. Of this I am certain, as when one egg has been found, unless obviously incubated, it has always been left so that another could be laid if the birds intended to do so.”
Dodsworth has never mentioned lining of any sort, but Cock says of one nest : “well lined with flocks of wool quite fresh” ; and of another ; “It was fined with locks of the hair of hill-goats ” ; while Jones says that he found one more or less lined with tufts of coarse grass.
Cock says also that all the nests are placed on cliffs facing East and South, but I have never been able to corroborate this. The same gentleman narrates how a nest which had been robbed was destroyed by the birds, who scattered the materials of which it was composed.
Everyone else agrees that the bird lays either one or two eggs, but Cook saw three in a nest, and Thompson remarks that “three may, not infrequently, be found.”
In colour the eggs range from a pale creamy yellow or pale rusty orange to a deep reddish-buff. Many eggs appear to bo uni coloured, the stippling being so fine that it can hardly bo noticed. Other eggs are fairly well marked. I have seen a few eggs which appear to be uniform deep brick-red, others similar but with large blotches of a still deeper red brown ; some appear to bo mottled all over with a deeper shade of whatever colour the ground may be. One egg in my collection is white with dull pale blood-red longi¬tudinal streaks covering the whole surface, the small end being all densely mottled with this colour. Some eggs have a very rusty orange appearance, possibly due to the same iron stains which discolour the lower plumage of the parent birds. This rusty stain is more prevalent in eggs from Kuman and the Western Himalayas than those from Simla, in which it is exceptional. The eggs are not like those of the Neophrons in spite of what Hume says, for a series of the eggs of these birds are definitely blotched, while a, series of Lammergeyer’s eggs give one the impression of far more uniform pigmentation.
In shape most eggs are broad ovals, but I have seen a few rather long ovals and one a pointed oval. The texture is coarse but much harder and closer than in Vultures’ eggs. The surface is generally smoother but occasionally rather pimply and corrugated, while any gloss is exceptional.
Sixty-three eggs average 85.0 x 67.4 mm. : maxima 91.5 x 70.0 and 87.0 x 72.0 mm. ; minima 76.5 x 62.0 mm.
There appears to be nothing on record as regards period of incu¬bation and as to what part the two sexes take in this or in nest- building.
1716. Gypaetus barbatus hemaechalanus
(1716) Gypaetus barbatus hemachalanus Hutton.