No. 20. Hierax Eutolmus, HODGSON.
THE RED LEGGED FALCONET.
Nothing is known of the breeding of this species. Mr. Blyth says, that an account of the habits of the nearly allied black legged Falconet (H. Fringillarius) is given in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society for 1863, p. 206, but of our Indian species, I have failed to find any record.
It is not, I think uncommon, anywhere in the Himalayas east of the Ganges. I have shot it low down at Jewlee in August, and at the height of nearly 9000 feet, on the Takhil at the end of October. The first I shot, I took as it passed me, from its flight and glossy black, white and rufous plumage, to be some sort of Swallow, and so did the native with me; but on its falling to my shot, and his going to pick it up, he rapidly changed his opinion, the fierce little creature having buried its talons and the point of its beak in his hand, inflicting wounds quite surprising, when the size of the bird, scarcely so large as a Skylark, is considered.
Mr. R. Thompson remarks—" I have observed these birds make their appearance in our Gurhwal forests in March. I have never found a nest, nor do I know when they breed.
" They are quick and lively in their motions, hawking insects with swallow-like agility, and after a long flight, betaking themselves to a tree, always getting on some nigh dead branch.
" Their flight is rapid, direct, and made with frequent flappings of the wing, like the Sand Martins. On one occasion at Almorah, one passed close to where I was standing; it was, I think during the month of October."
I believe this species to be migratory, spending the warmer portion of the year, from March to November, in well-wooded portions of the hilly country; between 2500 and 9000 feet altitude. They must therefore breed with us, and their first nest is a prize that I hope yet to see secured ; but where do they spend the winter ? As yet no one seems to have seen them in the plains or even in the Terai, and it seems pretty certain that they are not permanent residents in our territories. Do they recross the snow (as the red-footed Hobby seems to do) when the cold weather begins to set in ? and if so, where do they go ? Where, in the barren steppes of Central Asia, can they find food ? (to judge from the specimens that I have killed, they are entirely insectivorous) or do they work eastward towards the provinces that form the head-quarters of the genus, which is essentially a south-eastern* type ?
* Three species of this genus may well be separated by the colour of their tibial plumes. The present which has these red, under the name above given. H. Fringillarius, Drapiez. (H. Malayensis, Strickland and Falco Candescent, Viellot) as the black legged, and S. Melanoleucus, Blyth, (of which I have only seen a drawing) as the white legged Falconets. Mr. Blyth pointed out this distinction long ago.