No. 32. Neopus Malaiensis, Reinw.
The Black Kite Eagle.
This is another species, in regard to whose nidification we are profoundly ignorant. The structure of this bird is very peculiar, and its eggs would materially aid in elucidating its true affinities.
I have seen it in the Himalayas as far west as Simlah, and have shot it, not far from, but several thousand feet below, Nynee Tal. It is doubtful whether it breeds westwards of Nepal. Mr. R. Thompson, writing from Kumaon, says : " They appear to come into the lower spurs of the Himalayas about the middle of September, and to stay with us till about April, when they disappear; where they go to, I can't say, but they are not to be found during the summer either on the frontier, or in the interior of the Himalayas here, as far as I am aware."
I am by no means sure that Mr. Thompson is right; I believe I have seen it in Kumaon in June, and I certainly saw one near Simlah in the middle of July; it is to be hoped that ornithologists in the Himalayas will watch this bird a little more closely.
There has been a rather amusing difference of opinion about a supposed young bird of this species. Dr. Stoliczka shot a young Eagle, at Rogi near Chini. Capt. Beavan and Col. Tytler who saw it, pronounced it to be a young Neopus, and Capt. Beavan thus announced the fact in the Ibis - :
" Perhaps the best thing he has, or at least the greatest novelty to me, is a young Neopus Malaiensis, Reinwardt, in a phase of plumage, never before I believe recorded. Beneath, entirely dark brown, like the under parts of Milvus Govinda, each feather black shafted; the top of the head rufous, (the feathers also black shafted) a conspicuous shoulder spot of a pure white; primaries of wings, black; secondaries and tertiaries, dark brown, their coverts being broadly margined with ashy grey; tail, the same. The upper back is dark brown, with here and there a purplish gloss; legs, dark yellow, with black claws; bill, horny; cere, yellow. This specimen cannot have long left the nest, judging from the but partial development of the tail"
Dr. Stoliczka, per contra, affirms, that this bird is a young Pennatus; he says, " The only species which I have obtained in the beginning of August, 1866, in a forest near Chini, was a young specimen of what I believe to be Aquila Pennata, Gmel. (Jerd. Vol.. I. p. 63.) The specimen is only about three-fourths grown; in colouring it exactly agrees with the old bird, except that the inner webs of the tail feathers are not barred; a white shoulder tuft is distinctly traceable. Dr. Jerdon says, that the young bird of A. Pennata is white beneath. This makes the question of the identity of our bird doubtful, although, as I have said, there is no difference in its colouring from that of an old A. Pennata. The specimen is not a young Neopus, which always has the beak in proportion somewhat more slender."
Yon Pelzeln, (Ibis, 1868) confirms Dr. Stoliczka's view, remarking that the plumage is very like that of a young A. Pennata shot in Lower Austria. Whichever is right, what strikes one is, that both parties dwell on the plumage, whereas the structure of N. Malaiensis is so peculiar, that a single glance at the feet would have settled the matter conclusively. The inner toe in this species. is nearly as long and much thicker than the mid toe, while its claw is considerably larger than that of even the hind toe; moreover, the claws are not merely, as Dr. Jerdon describes them, " moderately curved." They are so little curved that, for the claws of an Eagle, one might designate them as almost straight. I cannot conceive how Hieratus Pennatus and Neopus Malaiensis could possibly be confounded at any stage of their existence; I shrewdly suspect that even chicks, extracted from eggs nearly ready to hatch off, would be at once distinguishable by their characteristic feet.
Besides India, Burmah and Malayana proper, Wallace notes the occurrence of this species in Java, Sumatra, Celebes and Ternate; but it must be rare in the Archipelago, as our author, himself, has never met with it there.
I subjoin dimensions of a female.
Length, 31.5. Expanse, 75.0. Wing, 25.5 ; the 6th primary the longest, the 1st, 8.4 ; the 2nd, 3.92; the 3rd, 1.55; the 4th, 0.8; and the 5th, 0.3 shorter. Length of tail, 14.75 ; the longest tail feather, 0.75 longer than the shortest. Tarsus, 3.62. Length of foot, 6.3 ; greatest width, 5.2 ; mid toe to root of claw, 1.87; its claw along curve, 1.25 ; hind toe, 1.4 ; its claw along curve, 1.63; inner toe, 1.63 ; its claw along curve, 1.78, Bill, straight from margin of cere, 1.15 ; along curve from margin of cere, 1.37 ; from gape, 2; width at gape, 1.6; height at front at margin of cere, 0.6 ; length of cere, 0.58 ; distance by which the lower tail coverts fall short of end of tail, 6.2 ; weight 4 lbs.
Of a male (from a skin).
Length, 27.0. Wing, 21.75. Tail, 13.38. Tarsus, 3.25. Mid toe to root of claw, 1.69 ; its claw along curve, 1; inner toe, 1.44; its claw along curve, 1.56 ; hind toe, 1.25; its claw along curve, 1.38. Bill, along curve from margin of cere to point, 1.19 ; from gape, 2; height of bill at margin of cere, 0.55 ; length of cere, 0.5.