(1784) Haliastur indus indus.
THE BRAHMINY KITE.
Falco indus Bodd., Tabl. En., p. 25 (1783) (Pondicherry). Haliastur indus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 373.
Vernacular names. Brahmini Chil, Sankar Chil, Dhobia-chil, Ru-mubarik (Hind.); Khemankari (Sansc); Garuda (Can.); Guruda-lawa, Garuda mantaru (Tel.); Clem Prandu (Tam.); Shemberrid (Yerkli); Pis Gonda (Gond.); Zoon-koun-byoo (Burm.); Ranga chilani (Assam).
Description. Whole head, neck, extreme upper hack, breast and upper abdomen white, with distinct dark brown or blackish shaft-streaks ; primaries black, the luner web chestnut on the base of the outer primaries below the notch, gradually increasing until the secondaries are all of this colour; tail tipped paler and with the under aspect pale greyish-chestnut; remainder of plumage chestnut, the feathers sometimes dark-shafted, more distinctly so on the interscapulars, innermost secondaries and wing-coverts than elsewhere.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown * bill bluish-horny, the culmen and tip paler and sometimes yellowish; cere yellow; legs and feet dull yellow, greyish-yellow or greenish-yellow.
Measurements. Wing 362 to 394 mm. ; tail 188 to 207 mm.; tarsus 52 to 59 mm.; culmen 32 to 35 mm. Females average a little larger than males.
Young birds are brown above, the feathers pale-tipped and, mostly, with black shafts ; head and neck paler with broad terminal streaks of fulvous; ear-coverts dark brown; chin and throat fulvous, lower parts rufous-brown broadly streaked with fulvous; centre of abdomen and under tail-coverts fulvous with black shafts.
In the intermediate plumage the head, neck and breast are pale brown tinged with rufous and with black shaft-lines ; upper plumage brown, the feathers pale-edged; the bases of the secondaries and greater coverts mottled more or less with white.
Distribution. India, Burma and Ceylon, Indo-Chinese countries and South China. Birds from the whole of Tenasserim are certainly more lightly streaked in many cases than are Northern individuals. They are, however, for the most part, nearer to indus than to intermedins though the Southernmost birds must be referred to the latter.
Nidification. The Brahminy Kite breeds wherever found between December and April. In Assam, Bengal, Burma and South-West India January and February are the favourite months but in North-West India February and March. It places its nest in almost any kind of tree in any position, sometimes fifty feet up, sometimes not ten. The tree selected may be a single one growing in cultivation, or it may be one of a clump or in a fruit-grove, less often one in thin deciduous jungle. It is a very rough untidy affair, made principally of small sticks but mixed with these may be found grass, wood, skins, bits of cloth, human and other hair and or other rubbish obtainable from the neighbourhood of villages. Often the nest is placed in a tree in the middle of a fishing village and twice I have seen them placed on the roofs of houses. They Jay two or three eggs in most districts but in Dacca I often found four. Normally they are small poorly-coloured replicas of Kites' eggs, often all white, sometimes with a few flecks, smudges or lines of light red, reddish-brown or purple. A few eggs, however, perhaps one in fifty, are really handsome, with numerous deep patches and spots of red-brown or blood-red. One hundred eggs average 50.7 X 40.2 mm.: maxima 55.6 x 44.0 and 49.0 x 45.0 mm.; minima 46.9 X 42.3 and 53.0 x 37.6 mm.
Habits. The Brahminy Kite is one of those birds which prefers to live in the vicinity of towns and villages, more particularly those which are on big rivers or close to swamps and large tanks. It may there be seen lazily floating about in wide circles overhead, every now and then uttering its long rather melancholy squeal. When tired of flight it perches on a tree, post or ridge of a house, from which it pounces on any scrap of offal thrown away or any small reptile or large insect which passes. In every fishing village there are one or more pairs of these birds which live almost entirely on the offal of the fish thrown away or upon such fish as it can steal. It is a very bold bird in its thefts and will swoop down to clutch a small fish within a few feet of its lawful owner. It also fishes for itself and catches fish, water insects, prawns, etc., but its principal diet is crabs and frogs. It derives its name of Brahminy Kite from the fact that the Hindus consider it sacred to Vishnu.
* Birds from the South of Tenasserim approach this race from Java but are generally nearer true indus; some individuals, however, from Tenasserim are almost indistinguishable from Sumatra birds.