No. 55. Haliastur Indus.* BODD.
THE BRAHMINY KITE.
The Brahminy Kite lays in March, the latter half of February, or the early part of April, according to season and locality, like many other species, it breeds earlier in Lower Bengal than up-country. In Upper India, where it is comparatively rare, it almost invariably makes its nest in the neighbourhood of water, building a rather large, loose, stick structure, scarcely if at all distinguishable from the common Kites, (M. Govinda,) high up on some large mango, tamarind or peepul tree. The nest which is from eighteen inches to two feet in diameter, and from three to five inches in depth, with a rather considerable depression internally, is sometimes perfectly unlined, at other tunes, has a few green leaves laid under the eggs, as in an Eagle's nest, but most commonly is more or less lined, or has the materials of the inner part of the nest intermingled with pieces of rag, wool, human hair, and the like.
Most commonly only two eggs are laid, but three are by no means uncommon, and one of my correspondents notes finding four in one nest; a very unusual number.
The eggs vary in shape, of course, but typically are very perfect moderately broad ovals, only slightly compressed towards one end; as a rule they are smaller, and as far as my experience goes, far less richly coloured than those of M. Govinda, The ground colour is greyish white, sometimes unspotted, but dingy, sometimes feebly speckled and spotted, at times towards one end only, with pale dingy brown, and sometimes scantily blotched and spotted with reddish brown. In size, the eggs vary, from 1.89 to 2.28 in length and from 1.5 to 1.79 in breadth, but the average of 15 eggs measured was 2.07 X 1.63.
Mr. G. Marshall, E. E. says of this species, " Breeds in the Saharunpoor District. I saw a female on her nest in a huge dry tree in the early part of March, but as the tree was inaccessible, I was obliged to leave it, the nest was of sticks about fifty feet from the ground."
Mr. E. Thompson, remarks:
" At Shahgunj, Pergunnah Bhurrur, District Mirzapore, I saw on the 6th March, 1869 a pair of these birds building their nest which was placed in a mango tope, in a tall tree. There were no eggs, as the birds had not then laid, but the nest was as complete as it could be.
The nest was like that of M. Govinda, and placed on a very high branch.'
Of the nidification of the nearly allied H. Leucosternus of Australia, Mr. Gould says - :" It breeds from the beginning of July to the end of August. I succeeded in finding two nests, each of which contained two eggs; but I am told that three are sometimes found. The nest is formed of sticks, with fine twigs or coarse grass as a lining ; it is about two feet in diameter, and built in a strong fork of the dead part of a tree; both of those I found were about thirty feet from the ground, and about two hundred yards from the beach. The eggs which are about 2.17 in Length, by 1.67 in breadth, are of a dirty white, having the surface spread over with numerous, hair-like streaks and very minute dots of reddish brown, the former prevailing and assuming the form of hieroglyphics, these singular markings being most numerous at one end, sometimes at the larger, at others at the smaller. The difference even occurring in the two eggs of the same nest."
Mr. E. Ramsay, in regard to the same species, remarks, in the Ibis for 1865 - :" In almost every instance the examples found by Mr. Rainbird were placed near the tops of the larger trees in belts of mangroves skirting the edges of salt water swamps and marshes in the neighbourhood of Port Denison, They were composed of twigs and dead branches of mangrove, lined with a finer material. One, from which that gentleman shot the bird, and brought me the egg upon which she was sitting, was lined with tufts of lichen; and in this instance, the egg was placed upon various fish-bones, shells and claws of crabs, &c.; the edges and sides were beautifully ornamented with long streamers of bleached sea-weed, which gave the nest a novel and pleasing appearance. The egg has a rough ground of a bluish white colour, with a few minute spots of brownish red near the larger end, it is of an oval form. 2.08 in length by 1.50 in breadth."
This Australian race which differs from the Indian in the absence of the median black stripes of the white feathers, and which was figured by Viellot, as Haliastus Girrenera (Gal. d'ois. T. 10) without, however, his discriminating it from the Indian species, extends to Celebes, all the Moluccas and the New Guinea group, while intermediate both as regards geographical position and the intensity of the black shaft stripes, another race appears to occur in Java, Siam, Sumatra, Timor, Flores, Borneo, and the Philippine islands, which is probably Falco Pondicerianus of Horsf. but which Mr. Gurney considers, should be distinguished as H. intermedium. Mr. Wallace, however, as I gather from his paper in the Ibis for 1868, considers this form identical with the Indian.
Mr. Blyth had the following interesting remarks, on these closely allied species.
" According to Pro. Schlegel, this species (H. Indus) is spread from Nepaul to the Philippines. H. Leucosternus, Gould, he remarks, is founded on the absence of the black median stripes on the feathers of the white portion of the plumage, " a character, purely accidental.,, This view is irreconcilable with the fact that these marks are invariably strongly developed in the Indian race, while in the Javan race (extending to Siam) they are present but only slightly developed, the white feathers being merely black-shafted. Specimens from Bouru, Gilolo, and Aru are of the true Australian race, without even the shafts of the white feathers, black and contrasting. Three Indian specimens and a Javan one were lately to be seen together in the Gardens of the Zoological Society, the difference between them being very conspicuous. Of the immense number which I have examined or beheld close in India, I certainly never saw even one resembling or approximating to the Javanese bird. The intermediate Javan race (H. intermedius,' Ibis,' 1865, p. 28,) is possibly the result of intermixture, and it may be, that there is a greater or less development of the black streaks in the Malayan province according to the proportions of that intermixture, constituting a gradation or transition from the Indian race to the Australian, as in some other instances, where conterminous races blend; and this would lead observers in that particular Zoological province, to suppose the absence, or amount of development of the streaks, to be " purely accidental." The near affinity of the fine large African Haliastur vocifer to the " Brahminy Kite," noticed by Professor Schlegel, struck me immediately, on beholding the pair of the former, now living in the Zoological Gardens; but the voice is very different, that of H. indus being a peculiar sort of bleat, quite unlike the shrill cries of most of the Falconidae, and the barking notes of Others."
It is the Indian species that occurs in Ceylon; at any rate a specimen received thence is undistinguishable from our up-country birds, and the same may be said of a specimen sent me from Rangoon.
* Haliastur Indus. - :
Young female, (about 6 months old).
DIMENSIONS. - : Length, 19; Expanse, 67 ; Wing, 15; Tarsus, 2; Tail, 7.5; Mid toe, 1.36 ; its claw, 0.7; Hind toe, 0.75; its claw, 0.72 ; Inner toe, 0.7; its claw, 0.7; Bill, straight, from edge of cere to point, 0.9 ; from gape, 1.4; width at gape, 1; height at front, at margin of cere, 0.5 ; Length of cere, on culmen, 0.46. The 4th primary the longest; the 1st 4.3, the 2nd 1*4, and the 3rd 0.2 shorter. The wings when closed reach to 0.6 beyond end of tail. The exterior tail feathers fall short by 0.7 of the central tail feathers; the lower tail coverts reach to within 3 inches of end of tail.
DESCRIPTION. - : Bill and cere horny blackish brown. Legs and feet, light greenish yellow. Irides, brown.
Plumage. - : The forehead whitish, the feathers dark shafted; a dark brown streak, commencing at the anterior angle of the eye and running backwards over the eye to the top of the ear coverts; chin and throat with the cheeks fulvous white, the shafts brown. The ear coverts pale brown. Feathers of the top of the head, nape, and back of the neck, slightly reddish brown, margined with pale whity brown, and the shafts dark brown. Upper back and scapulars umber brown, many of the feathers paler and abraded at the tips. Bump umber brown, some of the feathers faintly tipped rufous. Upper tail coverts similarly but not conspicuously tipped with ferruginous towards the tip. Tail brown, all the feathers tipped narrowly with whitey brown, the brown, greyish in patches, and all the feathers marginally tinged with ferruginous towards their bases, on the outer webs. First 6 primaries brownish black, with more or less of rufous white or grey on the inner webs towards the bases, the rest of the quills darker or lighter umber brown, narrowly tipped with fulvous white, and the outer webs of the last few primaries much tinged with pale chesnut, and with a good deal of the inner webs, towards the base, of the same colour. The tertiaries a paler brown. The greater primary coverts and winglet deep brown, tipped with reddish white and strongly tinged with chesnut towards the tips. The rest of the coverts paler brown, more or less tipped with whitey brown, and tinged with ferruginous, except the lesser ones, m the neighbourhood of the scapulars which are deep brown, strongly tinged with ferruginous ; most of the coverts have dark brown shafts as indeed have most of the scapulars; the base of the neck in front, breast, and abdomen, are rufous brown, with narrow, central, fulvous white stripes, which disappear towards the vent, and on the tibial plumes, which instead of a white, central stripe have the shafts dark brown. The larger lower wing coverts are greyish white, with imperfect, greyish brown, clouded bars, and a faint salmon coloured tinge; the rest of the wing lining, is a more or less ferruginous brown, the feathers with darker brown shafts. The lower tail coverts are fulvous or rufous white, the shafts brown.
I think the dimensions given by Dr. Jerdon are too large; I have unfortunately no detailed measurements of adults by me, but I have noted the length of a fine adult male at 18 inches.