31. Hieraetus pennatus

No. 31. Hieraetus Pennatus. Gmel.

The Booted Eagle.

Of the nidification of this species in India, we know but little, and yet it is by no means an uncommon bird, in Upper India at any rate. Mr. Brookes says, " I have seen several at a time near Chunar in company with Milvus Govinda, they were seated on the ground during the heat of the day, near a shallow tank in which they had been bathing; allowing me to go within twenty yards of them as they did, I could easily distinguish them from the Kites."

Mr. R. Thompson writes: " I have commonly met with these birds in Gurhwal and Kumaon. The young are distinguished by having a deal of white underneath. I once saw one dash into a tree in which a number of Parrakeets were assembled and catch and kill one. I have also seen them fly down to a Rat, and try and catch it on the ground."

I have shot them myself, in the Groorgaon district and near Umritsur in the Punjaub.

Of their breeding elsewhere, I have seen but few detailed accounts. Lord Lilford has the following note on their nidification in Spain.

" A little further on in the forest, we found a large nest on the lower branch of a Pine. Manuel crept cautiously up towards it, and shot a fine female Booted Eagle as she dashed off. He then made a cache with Pine boughs within shot of the nest, and in about half an hour another shot proclaimed to us that the male bird also had fallen. The nest contained two eggs; this appears to be the invariable number laid by this Eagle, which is one of the most common of the raptorial family in this district, arriving about the end of April, and remaining in the country till October. The nests, of which we found several, were generally placed on the lowest branches of a tall Pine, at their junction with the main trunk, and were built of sticks, but inside invariably contained fresh twigs with the green leaves adhering to them. This Eagle has a shrill piercing scream, different from that of any other raptorial bird with which I am acquainted."

In Spain they appear to lay in the latter part of April, May and June. Two of Lord Lilford's eggs, figured in the Ibis, have greyish white grounds; the one has only the faintest trace here and there of pale yellowish clouds, the other is more richly streaked, clouded and blotched with a dull ferruginous red. The former is a rather perfect broad oval measuring 2.05 by 1.7; the other, a large egg, still a broad oval, but somewhat pointed and compressed towards one end, measures 2.25 by 1.83.

Of the breeding of a very nearly allied (if really distinct) species, H. Morphnoides in Australia, Mr. Gould gives the following account – :

" I was led to the discovery of the bird by finding its nest, containing a single egg, upon which it had been sitting for some time. The nest was of a large size, and was placed close to the bole, about one-fourth of the height from the top of one of the highest gum-trees; the egg was bluish white with very faint traces of Drown blotchings; two inches and two lines long, by one inch and nine lines broad. Very recently I have received a second specimen of the egg of this species which, although very similar to the one above described, differs in being more extensively blotched with yellowish brown and pale purple, the latter hue appearing as if beneath the surface of the shell."

As to the distinctness of H. Morphnoides, the nidification and eggs of which are, it will have been observed, similar in many respects to those of H. Pennatus, Mr. Blyth had the following remarks in the Ibis for 1867 - :

" I have already remarked (Ibis, 1866, p. 241) that a rudimentary crest is always observable in Indian specimens, at least I found it so in all which I obtained in Bengal, in one which I shot near Moulmein, and in one or two South Indian specimens received from Dr. Jerdon; but I cannot perceive a trace of rudimentary crest in two mounted Nepal specimens in the British Museum, received from Mr. Hodgson. The rudimentary crest referred to, resembles that of Spizaetus Limnaetus of Bengal, and also of many Bengal examples of Pernis Cristatus, and as the subcrested Hieraetus averages a rather larger size than the European H. Pennatus, I do not think that it can be distinguished from the Australian H. Morphnoides, Gould. Mr. Swinhoe's crested specimen of Poliornis Poliogenys (Ibis, 1864, p. 429) should here be borne in mind. Mr. H. E. Dresser agrees with me in the opinion, that the white-breasted specimens of H. Pennatus are adults, as in Eutolmaetus Bonellii; whereas in Spizaetus Limnaetus and S. Cirrhatus, the white-breasted birds are the young."

As regards the second point raised by Mr. Blyth, viz. as to whether the dark plumage is that of the adult or young, I think further investigation is necessary. Mr. Tayler, in his notes on the Birds of Egypt, which appeared in the Ibis for 1867, has the following remarks in regard to this species: - :

" This pretty little Eagle, which is by no means common in Egypt, is subject to considerable variation in colour, for a specimen shot by one of our party, which showed no sign of immaturity, was of a uniform dark brown."

This statement I can confirm, from a careful examination of a specimen in the dark plumage, now in Col. Tytler's museum, which is, I consider, manifestly an old bird. A female, apparently an old one, shot from the nest and off the egg which I shall notice later, was also of an uniform dark brown colour.

I subjoin detailed measurements and description, taken from the fresh bird, of a male which I shot in the Goorgaon district on the 12th December. In company with this bird were three others; two in the dark plumage which seemed to me to take the lead and be the old birds, and the other similar to this one.


Length, 18.75. Expanse, 49. Weight, 1.75 1bs. Wing, 15; the 4th primary the longest, 1st, 4.53 ; 2nd, 1.85; 3rd, 0.45 shorter. Length of tail from vent, 8.25; the longest tail feathers exceeds shortest by 0.25. Tarsus, 2.3. Foot, greatest Length, 3.48; greatest width, 3.5; mid toe, 1.58; its claw, straight, 0.8; hind toe, 0.78; its claw, straight, 0.1; inner toe, 0.9 ; its claw, straight, 0.9. Bill, straight from edge of cere, 0.88; along curve, 1.05; from gape, 1.4 ; width at gape, 1.1; height at front at margin of cere, 0.5; length of cere, 0.45 ; Wings when closed reach to within 1 of end of tail. Distance by which lower tail coverts fall short of end of tail, 3.43.

DESCRIPTION. Legs and feet, pale wax yellow. Irides, somewhat pale brown. Bill, bluish black at tip, pale blue at base. Cere and gape, bright wax yellow. Lores and forehead, pale buffy white, a very narrow blackish streak, running at the lower border of the lores, between the lores and the eyes, and over the eyes, and a somewhat similar stripe running immediately under the eye. Cheeks and ear coverts, dull rufous, the feathers with narrow central blackish brown streaks. Crown, occiput, nape, sides and back of neck, pale rufous buff, the feathers centered with umber brown, broadly on the centre of the crown and occiput, where there is a trace of a rudimentary crest; and narrowly elsewhere, and most of the feathers paling off at their margins.

Upper back and inter-scapulary regions, rather pale umber brown. Mid back, a pale wood brown ; middle of rump, umber brown ; sides of rump and upper tail coverts, buffy, or rufous white. Scapulars, mingled fulvous white and pale wood brown; a few of the longest scapulars only being a rich umber brown. Lesser wing coverts, a rather rufous umber brown, the feathers conspicuously darker centered; median wing coverts, wood brown, broadly margined with fulvous white; secondary greater wing coverts, a rather pale umber brown, very narrowly tipped with fulvous white. Secondaries a deep umber brown, narrowly tipped with fulvous white; primaries and their greater coverts, very deep umber brown; some of the hinder primaries somewhat lighter brown, and narrowly margined towards the tips with fulvous white. Tertiaries, pale wood brown, exterior webs nearly entirely buffy white. Tail feathers, pale dingy umber brown, very narrowly tipped with fulvous white, and with traces of a terminal and three or four other, darker, transverse bands. Chin, throat, breast, and whole lower parts, fulvous or buffy white, palest on the leg feathers, lower tail coverts, and wing lining. The feathers of the chin, throat, and sides of the breast more rufous, and with long, narrow, central, dark brown streaks, broadest on the sides of the breast. Axillaries, wing lining, and sides, white, mostly with dark shafts, and with irregularly shaped, more or less cordate, spots, on the shaft near the tip. Some of the axillaries have three or four such spots along the shaft. The lower surface of the earlier primaries, is a peculiarly glossy bronze brown; the first five have most conspicuous notches on the inner webs, and the second to the sixth have well marked emarginations on the outer web.

In examining this bird, one is impressed by the fact, that all the light wood brown feathers of the scapulars, and wing coverts, are old and abraded ones, whilst all the deeper coloured ones, are new.

So far as this and another similar example, now before me, go, I should be inclined to say, that the dark brown form was the older one. Of this darker form, Col. Tytler has a specimen, killed at Umballa, a female, and to my notion clearly an old bird. The dimensions of this specimen, taken from the skin, are as follow.

Length, 21.5. Tail, 9.25. Wing, 15.88. Cere on culmen, 0.56. Bill from edge of cere to point along curve, 1.13; from gape, 1.5 ; height at margin of cere, 0.53. Tarsus, 2.25. Mid toe, to root of claw, 1.88; its claw along curve, 1.06; inner toe, 1.0 ; its claw along curve, 1.34; hind toe, 0.88; its claw along curve, 1.47.

DESCRIPTION. The head and neck are dingy brown with dark shafts and traces of dark central streaks, the rest of the upper surface is a dull brown, (except the longer upper tail coverts which are white); the upper back, longer scapulars and secondaries (which are narrowly tipped yellowish white) being darker than the rest; tertials and lesser and median coverts paler, and tail, (also narrowly tipped yellowish white) with all but the uropygials (and even on these a trace of the same is discernable) exhibiting obscure, irregular, clouded bars of a darker colour. Beneath, a more rufous brown, slightly paler on vent and lower tail coverts; tibial plumes and the feathers of the throat, breast, abdomen and sides, darker shafted. Lower surface of tail, greyish white, with the brown bars showing through more or less, on all but the outer laterals. Traces of banding on the inner webs of all the primaries above the notch.

I can see no trace of a rudimentary crest, no superciliary stripe, no band from the angle of the mouth, no dark central stripe to the chin.

Mr. Layard, who gives this species from South Africa, says, "The only specimen I have seen is a young bird shot by Mr. Jackson at Nel's Port. It is entirely of a dark brown colour, in some places inclining to black. He tells me he was attracted to it by its peculiar cry."

The shrill note of this Eagle, which has, as noticed by Lord Lilford, a peculiar intensity of character, was what first drew my attention to the bird which I shot in the Goorgaon district and have above described.

Mr. Blyth tells us, that this species occurs in the Indo-Chinese sub-region. Mr. Wallace does not include it in the Hoptores of the Malay Archipelago.

Since the major portion of the above was written, my collector, Mr. Theobald, found a nest of H. Pennatus on the 21st February, 1869, at Hurroor in the district of Salem and from it shot the old brown birds, above noticed. " The nest," he says, " was on the branch of a high Banyan tree (Ficus Indica,) about forty or fifty feet from the ground. It consisted of dry twigs, and was in shape a circular platform, with a slight depression in the centre, devoid of lining." The eggs were two in number, only one of which reached me in safety. This one is a very broad oval, almost exactly the same size as the one figured by Mr. Bree. The ground is a dead white, devoid of gloss and pretty thickly blotched and streaked throughout with reddish brown. The egg reminds one much of some of the richer coloured eggs of Milvus Govinda, but the markings are smaller, and the shell when held up against the light is a very pale sea-green, much lighter than in any of the numerous specimens of M. Govinda that I have yet examined. It measures 2.13 by 1.78.

Mr. Howard Saunders, in the Ibis for April, 1869, gives us some further particulars of the nidification of this species in Spain. He says, " The Coto del Rey, which we first entered, is principally covered with scrub and small timber, mingled with clumps of large size, generally in a ring with a marshy clearing in the centre. I cautiously crept round to the front, and stood out to give myself as fair a shot as possible. Off went the bird, and down came a very old female Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata,) just as I expected. The nest was lined with green boughs, and contained two eggs, very hard set. This was on the 1st of May."

Hastatas. Let us hope, that under the new regime, this noble collection may be restored to something like its former condition.

Talking of Mr. Blyth's great services in the cause of science, during his twenty years' slavery (for it was little else) in Calcutta, one cannot help feeling, that there is a sort of retributive justice, even in this world. The pompous Jacks in office, who alternately neglected, and attempted to patronize Mr. Blyth, (whose invaluable services they pretended to remunerate by a pittance less than they would have presumed to offer to their French cooks) are now either dead, or dragging out their crotchety existence in some old-Indian-peopled watering-place; in either case, unknown and unhonoured ; while the name of Blyth, the naturalist, is known, and respected by men of science throughout the civilized globe.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
31. Hieraetus pennatus
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Booted Eagle
Booted Eagle
Hieraaetus pennatus
Vol. 1

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