(1755) Ictinaetus malayensis perniger (Hodgs.).
THE INDIAN BLACK EAGLE.
Ictinaetus malayensis perniger, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 83.
No addition has been made to the range of this bird since the ‘Fauna' was written. It is resident in the Himalayas from the Murree Hills to Eastern Assam, Bengal and Chota Nagpur. It is a rare straggler into parts of Burma and has been recorded from Perak and Malacca in the Malay Peninsula. Like so many other birds from the wet North-East of India it is also found on the South-West coast of India from Kanara to Cape Comorin, and Jerdon states that he has seen it in the Eastern Ghats and in Bastar in Central India.
The Black Eagles frequent evergreen, humid forest at all eleva¬tions from the plains up to nearly 8,000 feet, but principally between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. In Travancore Stewart took eggs between 1,000 and 4,000 feet, while I took an egg in North Cachar at 5,500 and a second in the Khasia Hills at about 4,000 feet. The egg I took in North Cachar came from a typical nest of this Eagle, except that it was larger than usual. I quote the description I gave of it (Ibis, 1918, p, 52, pl. xi.) :- "The nest was a huge affair of sticks lined, with green leaves, and was placed high up in a large tree in deep evergreen forest at an elevation of about 5,500 ft. Like all other nests which I have seen, this one was built on a tree growing in very rugged country, but was not particularly hard to get at owing to the tree being covered with a network of the ‘Elephant-creeper’ and other plants which made climbing it an easy matter. The tree itself grew on the side of a very narrow ridge, joining two hills together, and forming a narrow bridle-path, three or four feet wide, which zig-zagged its rocky and difficult way from one Naga village to another. Looking over the edge of this path, on one side one could see through the straggling tree tops into a depth below of many hundreds of feet, the drop being almost sheer, the trees seeming to hang on by their roots, in the most precarious way, between jutting boulders and rocks. On the other side, though not quite so sheer, the cliff fell away very precipitously, yet holding enough soil to encourage ft dense growth of oaks and other trees. Fortunately it was on this side of the ridge that the Block Eagles had selected a tree on which to build their nest, and climbing down the rocks we were soon at the foot of the tree and in another five minutes I was up to the nest.
“Up to this point in the proceedings the parent birds had taken but little interest beyond wheeling round and round the tree and uttering their shrill and rather melancholy call. As, however, I got to the nest both birds swooped down time after time within a few feet of me and once, indeed, the female almost struck me in passing. Leaving the egg I then descended and, before I was half¬way down, the female was back again on her nest and crouching over her egg.
“Later when I returned to take the egg the birds were much fiercer, and commenced their attacks directly I began to climb the tree, so that after once trying to get up I had to come down and shoot the female before again attempting to tackle the nest. Both birds swooped at me repeatedly, but the female again and again came within inches of my head, whereas the male never came nearer than two or three feet. A fall at that height would have meant certain death and it would have been quite impossible to carry the egg down and at the same time protect oneself, so that the murder of the parent bird was absolutely necessary.
“The nest must have been over four feet in diameter and about 18 inches deep, with a well-made depression in the centre lined with a pad of green leaves and the ends of green branches. The leaves were nearly all those of the 'Elephant Creeper’ and so large that it only took about a dozen to make a thick, cool pad. The branches were just the tips of oak twigs with the green leaves adhering.
“In the body of the nest the sticks were of considerable size, some of them fully an inch in diameter and many of them over three fect in length. Most of these appeared to be dead sticks and branches either picked up by the birds off the ground or torn off dead boughs. The sticks which were on the upper part were much smaller and more pliant and seemed in some cases to have been tom from living trees.
“The male secured another partner within a very short time of the death of his wife, and in the subsequent years built a nest on the opposite side of the ridge, where they were quite safe from molestation, for though we could see it well enough, we could not get at it.”
The above gives a very good general idea of the majority of nests and of the bird’s behaviour, except that I have never seen another nest so big as this. All the birds seem equally brave, Stewart says it is difficult to take an egg until one or both the birds are shot.
Rattray, who obtained one egg at Danga Gali in 1904, said that the birds repeatedly attacked his climber and eventually he had to shoot one of the pair before he could take the egg.
Among other eggs of this bird which have been taken was one found by Parker on the 13th April, 1883. By some mistake the egg and the bird, which was shot off it, were marked Spilornis rutherfordi but the bird, which I saw after Parker’s death, was a Black Eagle. Possibly tickets were wrongly affixed, being inter¬changed between this and a Serpent-Eagle.
Stewart took a wonderful series of this bird’s eggs in Travancore, and while his notes generally endorse my description they add considerably to it. He says that, like Lophotriorchis, this Eagle has generally two nests, often some miles apart, and that they resort to the one or the other for no particular reason, and that he has known a bird lay again in a neat from which an egg had already been taken although it had a second nest available. Some years the birds do not breed at all, and Stewart writes of one pair that they began to repair a nest in October but, after hanging about it for months, never laid at all. Before letting his climbers go up to a nest he had always to pepper the birds with small shot and sometimes had to kill them outright to prevent his men being injured. If one of a pair was killed the survivor always seemed to find a mate at once and, though they might use their alternative nest for a year or two, they would return to the other eventually.
Stewart obtained nests in trees which were so densely covered with creepers that in spite of their size they were difficult to detect, and others in trees almost bare in which the nest was conspicuous from a great distance. With one exception he never saw a nest in any position other than in trees, but once he took an egg from a nest built “on a crag.” This would seem to show that the eggs sent to Hume and said to have been taken from nests built “on ledges on the face of cliffs ” may have been correctly identified. One of these was taken at Kooloo, the other at Bussahir. Parker’s egg, it should be noted, was laid in a nest in a tree at Kooloo, and was taken on the 16th April, but this egg was very hard set, while Hume’s eggs were found on the 4th and 7th January.
The normal breeding season is November to February, while Stewart took an egg on the 9th September but, on the other hand, I obtained a perfectly fresh egg in the Khasia Hills on the, 2ud May ; Rattray also took one on the 4th of that month, and again Buchanan found a nest with a fresh egg 10 miles from Murree on the 29th April ; the season seems to be very irregular and protracted.
As a rule one egg only is laid and Stewart has only thrice taken two, a number found by no other collector except the gentleman recorded by Hume who took one clutch of three.
The eggs of this Eagle, are, in my opinion, the most handsome and most varied of all our Indian Raptores except, perhaps, those of the Indian Honey-Buzzard. It is only possible to describe them by taking individual eggs. The most usual type has the ground white to creamy white, with primary blotches, spots and specks of rich vandyke-brown, the majority of the blotches hold, irregular and large, some measuring as much as 25 x 15 mm. Here and there are specks of an almost black-brown ; the secondary markings, few in number, consist of specks and small blotches of pale sienna. A second type is similar to the foregoing but is altogether paler and less richly marked with earth-brown, tinged here and there with grey or purple. A third type has the ground a pale cream with primary specks, spots and small blotches of rich vandyke-brown and blackish, while the secondary markings of lilac and lavender grey form mottling or clouding over the whole surface, contrasting with the deep-coloured primary blotches. The marbling coalesces to form a broad ring round the upper, third of the surface. Here and there, in addition to the others, there are a few smears of reddish-brown. Yet a fourth type has the ground light reddish-ochre or pink brick-red, the markings varying from faint blotches of a deeper shade of the same to deep brick-red clouds and smears with under¬lying marks of grey and lavender. Intermediate forms may be seen but are exceptional, while poorly coloured eggs still more so.
In shape the eggs are very constant, broad ovals, the ends almost equirounded. The texture is coarse and not close, but the surface varies from dull to almost smooth with the faintest gloss.
Twenty eggs average 62.7 x 49.9 mm. : maxima 65.0 x 60.1 and 63.4 x 51.2 mm. ; minima 65.0 x 43.0 mm. The latter might be considered abnormal, my next smallest egg being 58.7 x 48.8 mm.
1755. Ictinaetus malayensis perniger
(1755) Ictinaetus malayensis perniger (Hodgs.).