(1755) Ictinaetus malayensis perniger.
THE INDIAN BLACK EAGLE.
Heteropus perniger Hodgs., J. A. 8. B., v, p. 227 (1836) (Nepal). Ictinaetus malayensis. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 347.
Vernacular names. Laknangbang (Lepcha) ; Hugong (Bhutea); Adari nalla gedda (Tel.) ; Dao-ling gashim (Cachari).
Description. A patch under the eye white; lores dull white, the bristles black; tail blackish barred with grey; remaining plumage dark blackish-brown, generally not so dark below, where the pale bases to the feathers often show through a good deal.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; bill greenish or plumbeous-horny with black tip; cere and gape yellow; legs yellow, claws black.
Measurements. Wing, 520 to 553 mm., 538 to 568 mm.; tail 285 to 312 mm.; tarsus 69 to 73 mm.; culmen 37 to 38 mm.
Young birds are a paler brown, the feathers of the head, nape and neck tipped with pale buffy-brown; the upper tail-coverts are fringed with white; below the throat and breast are marked with oval drops of fulvous-brown and the abdomen and flanks have dark central streaks. The adult plumage seems to be attained more quickly than in most Eagles, probably in the second year.
Distribution. Himalayas from Chamba to Eastern Assam, Bengal and Chota Nagpur (Ball). The West coast of India from Kanara to Cape Comorin; Ceylon. Jerdon also says he saw this quite unmistakable bird in the Eastern Ghats and at Bastar in Central India. It is a rare straggler in parts of Burma and has occurred in Perak and Malacca in the Malay Peninsula.
Nidification. The Indian Black Eagle breeds over all its range from the level of the foot-hills up to at least 6,000 feet. Every pair of birds has alternate nesting-sites, sometimes a mile or more apart and if one nest is robbed will then resort to the other but otherwise occupy one or the other indifferently. The nests vary considerably; one taken by myself was a compact neat nest, not more than 24 inches across and less than a foot deep. Other nests are more than double this size and Stewart records them over four feet in diameter. They are always built very high up on big forest-trees and almost invariably in dense evergreen forest, though in Travancore they also resort to deciduous forest. The birds are probably the fiercest of all the Eagles in defence of nest and eggs and it is practically impossible to take eggs or young unless the female is shot and killed or driven away by severe blows. They return again and again to the assault and are most determined birds. As a rule, only one egg is laid but occasionally two. They are the most handsome of all Eagles' eggs and also of the most varied description. The ground-colour is white or nearly so, in a few cases only with a warm pink tinge though in some eggs the ground is almost covered with the finest of pale brick-red freckles. In these eggs there are generally only a few grey-brown cloudings and blotches. In other eggs the markings consist of large bold blotches of deep brown and reddish-brown ; in a third type they consist of deep grey blotches and clouds, whilst in yet a fourth there are primary blotches of deep brown and purple-red, with others underlying them of grey, pale purple and lavender. Sixteen eggs average 62.7 x 49.9 mm.: maxima 65.0 x 50.1 and 63.4 X 51.2 mm.; minima 55.0 x 48.0 mm. The nesting-season is very prolonged. Stewart took eggs as early as the 8th December, whilst I and Rattray have taken them as late as the 2nd and 4th of May. Most eggs, however, are laid between November and March.
Habits. This magnificent Eagle is entirely a bird of forests and generally of those which are evergreen. It is true it may be seen on rare occasions hawking on the outskirts of these but for the most part it keeps well to their interior. It feeds often on worms, frogs, lizards and large insects and has the reputation of being a confirmed robber of eggs and young birds. It, however, also attacks nobler prey and I have seen it kill pheasants, jungle-fowl and wood-partridges, which, in spite of its long straight hind claw, it seems to rip up along the back as effectively as do the short-clawed Eagles. Its flight is generally deliberate and easy but it is capable of immense speed and is wonderfully active through heavy forest. The only call I have heard is a plaintive squeal and, when attacking disturbers of its nest, a series of harsh croaks and discordant cries.