42. Haliaetus pelagicus

42 BIS. Haliaetus? Pelagicus. PALLAS.

(Kitll. Kupf. der. vog. t. 2. f. 1. - : Falco Leucopterus, Temm. Pl. Col. 489. The type of Thallassaetus, Kaup. (1844.) Grays Gen. Vol. I.)

It is with much hesitation, that I provisionally refer to the above-named species, two* examples, now in my museum, of an Haliaetus, differing apparently from any species yet recorded from India.

I shot these birds, the one in February 1866, and the other in February 1867, in the neighbourhood of one of the huge jheels which, situated between Mynpooree and Etawah, are a favourite resort of all descriptions of waterfowl and waders, as well as of birds of prey.

They are both young birds; in both, the plumage is mottled and obviously in a transition stage, and in the absence of speci mens with which to compare them, I can only conjecturally refer them to H. Pelagicus.

The shape of the hill and feet, and the excessively rough shagreen-like soles to the feet, would sufficiently prove that they were sea, or fishing Eagles, even if I had not myself observed them in the act of striking at, and capturing, fish.

Their huge size, (female; Length, 34; wing 26: male; length 32.8 ; wing, 25.0) would alone preclude the possibility of their belonging, either to, Polioaetus Ichthaetus, or Pontoaetus Leucogaster. Besides, they are true Haliaeti, and not Pontoaeti, the tarsi covered posteriorly (as on the sides) with small, (and not large,) irregularly placed scales. In this respect, their tarsi correspond precisely with those of H. Leucoryphus. Again, Dr. Jerdon tells us, that Pontoaetus Leucogaster has been separated by Hodgson, as Cuncuma, differing, in the tarsi being less feathered in front, than the true Haliaeti, whereas these birds have the tarsi considerably more feathered than Haliaetus Leucoryphus ever has. Moreover, the transverse scutation does not descend on to the foot, as in Pontoaetus, in fact, there is even less of this on the front of the tarsi, in these two specimens, than in H. Leucoryphus.

From this latter species they differ, first, in the much deeper and far less sinuated upper mandible; 2nd, in the tarsus, feathered in front, for from five-eighths to three-fifths of the length; 3rd, in the excessively rounded, or in fact, wedge-shaped tail, and 4th, in the very long and broad upper tail coverts. Moreover, I have specimens of H. Leucoryphus, in every stage of plumage, from the half-fledged nestling, to the old adult, and the plumage of the two birds that I provisionally identify with Pelagicus, differs, most conspicuously, from any stage of Leucoryphus.

So far as the very slight sinuation of the bill goes, these birds correspond apparently, with H. Albicilla. I have no specimen of this latter species, but the large figures of the head, in Macgillivray, (Fig. 217, Vol. III.) and in Gray's genera of birds, (Aquilinae, Details, No. 8,) agree in this respect, although, it must be admitted that, in every other respect, they differ so widely, that no one would imagine, that they were intended to represent the same species.

These Eagles, be they what species they may, (and if not Pelagicus, they may be new, in which case I name them Brooksi, after my valued friend and coadjutor W. E. Brooks, C. E.,) are excessively wary. I have seen many examples, always in the neighbourhood of very large jheels, and on two occasions, apparency in company, with one, or two huge, seagull looking Eagles. I never could get within a quarter of a mile of these latter, but from what I could make out of them, with binoculars, they appeared to correspond well with Cuncuma Leucogaster, and it was to this species, that I formerly referred these young birds.

The size, however, (females, even, of this latter species, never apparently exceeding 31 inches in Length, with wing 24.5,) the scarcely sinuated bill, the tarsus feathered in front, for nearly three-fifths, the bare portion of the tarsus, with only 4, (in one specimen), or 5, (in the other), rather broad, transverse scutae, render any such identification impossible.

Whenever I have observed them, these birds have either been sitting on some post in the middle of, or on the bare branch of some high tree overlooking some large sheet of water,, or else, busy fishing, circling round and round, at no great height above the water, and after a time suddenly striking with great rapidity at some fish. Although there were multitudes of Teal and water fowl, I never saw them attempt to capture any.

These birds are known to the native fowlers, at the Najjuffgurh jheel, but only as occasional visitants, in the cold weather, and they must be rare, as the natives have no proper distinctive name for them, that I could learn, though they recognized their distinctness from the common H. Fulviventer, some twenty pairs of which, breed usually in the neighbourhood of the jheel.

Temminck figures this species, (Pelagicus) (Pl. Col. 489) under the name of Falco Leucopterus, and the bill as shown in his plate, (the upper mandible very high, the lower comparatively slender, and the commissure almost perfectly straight,) corresponds exactly with our Indian specimens.

He thus describes the adults. Bill, cere, bare orbital space, bare portion of tarsus and feet, bright yellow; irides golden; a broad frontal band, the upper half of the wings from the carpal joint, to the greater coverts, the tibial and tarsal plumes, vent, lower tail coverts and tail, pure white. The whole of the rest of the plumage, blackish brown. He adds, that the old female attains a length of 38 inches, but these being French inches, and equal, each to 1.06577 English inches, are equivalent to 40.5 English inches. His measurements, however, were mostly taken from skins, and are in many cases excessive, so that this difference in size, (our young female only measuring 34 inches) does not bar the possibility, of our birds being really Pelagicus. What, however, puzzles me is, that in his figure, the tail is shown as almost square, while in our bird, it is not merely conspicu ously rounded, but is actually wedge-shaped, recalling the tails of the Lammergeyer, or of the Australian Aquila Audax, which latter, however, is smaller, and has the tarsi feathered to the feet.

I have sometimes fancied, that these birds might belong to the European species H. Albicilla. This latter species, is found not only throughout Enrope, extending to Sicily and Corfu to the South, and Iceland and Greenland to the North, but almost throughout Siberia, at Lake Baikal, in the upper and middle Amoor where Radde procured it, and in the lower Amoor, and generally the east coast of northern Asia, where H. L. v. Schrenk obtained it, but only, if I remember rightly, in the winter months. Pelagicus, on the other hand, has only as yet, I believe, been obtained in Japan, and the extreme east of Siberia; Middendorf procured it in Stanawoi, and Pallas originally described it, I believe, from Kamschatska, so that, of the two, probabilities would be in favour of our birds being the young of Albicilla. With the plumage of these, as described by European writers, they agree well enough, but then the bills are so much higher, in proportion to their Length, than those of the European species, as figured by Gray, and Macgillivray,* that I cannot help doubting their belonging to it.

Since the above was written, I have learnt from Mr. Brooks, that he has obtained a specimen, precisely similar to one of mine. Others will doubtless occur, and I therefore, to aid other observers, in determining the species to which any specimens that they may obtain, belong, append full descriptions, and measurements, of H. Albicilla, taken from Macogillivray.

" MALE. The cere and bill are pale yellow, the iris bright yellow; the tarsi and toes gamboge, the claws black, with a tinge of greyish blue. The plumage of the head, neck, forepart of the back and breast, with the upper wing coverts greyish yellow, the feathers all greyish brown at the base; of the other parts greyish brown, edged with yellowish grey, the scapulars and feathers of the rump glossed with purple, those of the abdomen, tibiae, and sub-caudal region inclining to chocolate brown ; the quills and alular feathers brownish black, with a tinge of grey, the inner secondaries inclining to greyish brown; the shafts of all, white towards the base; the lower surface of the quills, and the large coverts tinged with greyish blue. The upper tail coverts and the tail are white (generally freckled with dusky grey at the base). The down on the breast is pale grey, that on the sides darker.

Length, to end of tail, 36 inches; extent of wings, 72 ; bill, along the ridge, 3.41 inches, along the edge of lower mandible, 3, its height, 1.41; wing from flexure, 24 ; tail, 11.5 ; tarsus, 4; first toe, 1.33, its claw, 2.16; second toe, 1.58, its claw, 2.16; third toe, 3, its claw, 1.41; fourth toe, 2.08, its claw, 1.58.

FEMALE. The female does not differ from the male in color, and her superiority in size is often not very remarkable.

Length to end of tail, 40 inches ; extent of wings, 80; bill along the ridge, 3.91, along the edge of lower mandible, 3.33, its height, 1.66; wing from flexure, 27.5; tail, 12; tarsus, 4.5; first toe, 1.5, its claw, 225; second toe, 1.16, its claw, 2.33 ; third toe, 3.08, its claw, 1.64; fourth toe, 1.66, its claw, 1.41.

YOUNG. The bill is brownish black, the base of the lower mandible yellow, the cere greenish yellow ; the feet yellow, the claws black. The bases of all the feathers are brownish white, their middle parts light reddish brown, their tips only blackish brown. The head and nape are dark brown, each feather with a minute, brownish white spot on the tip. On the middle of the back, and on the wings, fight reddish brown is the prevalent color, the black tips of comparatively small extent; on the third part of the back, there is much white, that color extending farther from the base. The quills and larger wing coverts, are blackish brown, with a tinge of grey; the tail feathers brownish white in the centre, black towards the margins, with irregular white dots, the lower parts are of the same colors as the back, or are pale reddish brown, marked with longitudinal streaks and spots of dark brown; the lower wing coverts brown, the tail coverts white, with light brown tips.

PROGRESS TOWARD MATURITY. In the second year, the young exhibit little difference, being, however, of a darker tint on the back and wings. An individual at this age, has the bill brownish black, tinged with blue, its base and the cere greenish yellow; the iris hazel brown; the feet gamboge, the claws brownish black. The head and nape are dark brown, the base of all the feathers, on the upper parts, is white: on the hind neck and fore-parts of the back that colour, tinged with yellowish brown, prevails, a lanceolate or obovate deep brown spot, being on each feather towards the end; on the middle of the back, the brown prevails, on the hind part white, and the rump and upper tail coverts are light brown, tipped with darker. The scapulars are dark brown, with a purplish tinge, the wing coverts dark brown at the end, but most of the larger pale brown in the greater part of their extent; the quills black, with a purplish grey tinge, the secondaries gradually becoming more brown, and all faintly variegated with light grey and brown on the inner webs. The tail is brownish black, with a tinge of

Dimension Male Female
Length 32.8 34.0
Expanse. 86.25 88.0
Wing. 24.8 26.0
Tail from vent. 12.5 13.0
Tarsus 3.52 4.2
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 2.1 2.5
Its claw, straight 1.3 1.35
Hind toe. 1.4 1.55
Its claw, straight 1.52 1.52
Inner Toe. 1.45 1.52
Its claw, straight 1.48 1.5
Bill straight. 2.0 2.05
Bill a long curve 2.5 2.6
Bill from gape. 2.6 3.05
Bill width at gape. 1.7 2.0
Bill height at margin of Cere. 1.05 1.12
Length of Cere only. 0.68 0.85
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 4.0 4.7

The 4th primary is the longest. The 3rd is subequal, the 2nd is 1.4 shorter, the 1st, 4.5, and the 6th 06, shorter. Exterior tail feather ; M. 1.4 F. 2.2, shorter then the central ones.


Male. The legs and feet were bright orange yellow, the gape, and a portion of the cere yellow, the upper portion of the cere yellowish brown. Bill blackish horny. Irides, (?) (not recorded). The head, nape, cheeks, ear coverts, and sides of the neck, hair brown ; all the feathers white at their bases; in some, for the basal half, in some for fully the basal two- thirds, but very little of the white shewing through, the feathers being densely set; all the feathers of these parts long, and linear, those of the occiput especially. The back of the neck, the whole of the back and rump, scapulars, and wing coverts, except the greater primary coverts, as well as the feathers of the breast, and abdomen, a warm buffy fawn color, changing to white at their bases, and more or less broadly tipped with hair brown. The longer scapulars and the upper tail coverts, which latter are very broad, and come down to within some 4 1/2 inches of the tip of the tail, a mixture of yellowish and hair brown, mottled and freckled with white, and yellowish white. Tail, which is very wedge-shaped, reminding one of that of the Lammergeyer, dark brown, mottled all over with dingy yellowish white, which color predominates on the inner webs. The quills, winglet, and greater primary coverts, chocolate brown. The second to the fifth primaries, conspicuously emarginate on the outer web, and with a grey silvery tinge above the emarginations. The first to the fifth primaries, conspicuously notched on the inner webs. The chin and throat, pale buffy brown, the feathers whitish at the base and darker at the tips. The flanks, and thigh coverts, pale yellowish brown, the feathers tipped darker, the lower tail coverts, dingy white, broadly tipped with brown, which in the longer ones is a dark hair brown, in the shorter a dull yellowish brown. Wing lining a sort of umber brown, the bases of all the feathers paler, some of them fawn-colored, and some of them white.

Female* The legs, feet, cere and grape, a sort of brownish yellow. The upper mandible, and claws, blackish horny. The tip of the lower mandible, yellowish horny. The whole of the head, nape, sides of the neck, cheeks, chin, and throat, pale yellowish brown, the feathers white, tipped with yellowish brown, which, owing to the feathers being closely set, is the predominant color, especially on the top of the head. The ear coverts a darker brown, the whole of the back of the neck, back, rump, and upper tail coverts, breast, sides, abdomen, vent, and lower tail coverts, white, comparatively narrowly tipped with yellowish brown, and many of the feathers, with a narrow linear ovate, hair brown, shaft spot, near the tip. As in the male the upper tail coverts are ovate lanceolate, very broad, and long, and reach to within less than six inches of the end of the long wedge-shaped tail. Most of the scapulars, and the tail feathers, are a mixture of dull dark, and pale dingy yellowish brown, every where mottled and freckled with dirty white, which occupies almost the whole of the inner webs of the lateral tail feathers. The wing coverts, except the greater primary coverts, are wood brown, shewing little or nothing of the white bases; most of the tertiaries are mottled white, and dingy yellowish brown, like the tail. The secondaries are a dull, slightly rufous brown, much mottled on the interior webs with white, and the primaries are dark chocolate brown, greyish above the emarginations. Some of the primary greater coverts, are dark chocolate brown, and others are a pale rufous brown.

* According to Dr. Jerdon, Pontoaetus Leucogaster has a more sinuated bill than even H. Leucoryphus.

* But then while figuring a long, comparatively low bill, Macgillivray tells us, that " the bill is larger and higher, than in any species known, excepting Haliaetus Washington !"

grey, and more or less finely mottled with whitish. The lower parts may be described as brownish white, longitudinally streaked with dark brown, there being a lanceolate patch of the latter on each feather; the lower wing coverts and feathers of the legs dark brown; the lower surface of the quills bluish grey; the lower tail coverts white, tipped with brown; the down on the breast pure white.

REMARKS. In this species, the bill and iris change from dusky brown to pale yellow, and the plumage, at first white at the base, and dark brown at the end, gradually loses its white, while the dark parts become paler and more extended, the final colouring being more uniform.

The tail forms no exception, for its basal white also dimi┬Čnishes ; but the white which is gradually substituted for the brownish black, spreads from near the end to the base."

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
42. Haliaetus pelagicus
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Steller's Sea Eagle
Haliaeetus pelagicus
Vol. 1

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