Milvus govinda, Sykes.
56. :- Jerdon's Birds of India, Vol. I, p. 104 ; Butler, Guzerat; Stray Feathers, Vol. III, p. 448; Deccan, Stray Feathers, Vol. IX, p. 374; Murray's Vertebrate Zoology of Sind, p. 90; Swinhoe and Barnes, Central India; Ibis, 1885, p. 58; Hume's Scrap Book, p. 320.
THE PARIAH KITE.
Length, 22 to 25 ; expanse, 51 to 60; wing, 17 to 19 ; tail, 11 to 13.75 ;' tarsus, 2 to 2.25 ; bill from gape, 1.5 to 1.8. The males are generally the smallest, but large males exceed small females in size, so I have not' given the measurements of the sexes separately.
Legs and feet from pale lemon-yellow in young birds to wax-yellow in older ones, pale greenish-grey in very young birds; claws black; irides varying from deep brown to pale or yellowish-brown ; bill blackish-horny; cere and gape vary from greenish-grey in the young to yellow in the old bird.
Adult: top of the head, back and sides of the neck dingy or pale umber-brown; the feathers with a narrow dark shaft stripe, and a narrow stripe, towards the tips, on each side of this; the rest of the upper parts brown, darker on the first few primaries, paler on the tertials and lesser wing-coverts ; tail tinged grey, and with obscure traces of transverse darker bars; some of the lesser-coverts, tertials, upper tail-coverts, and tail-feathers are narrowly but obscurely tipped paler; chin and throat whity-brown; the shafts darker; the breast, abdomen, lower tail-coverts, and tibial plumes, dull hair-brown, dark shafted; those of the breast with narrow, pale stripes on each side of the shaft stripes ; the rest, in most birds, with a pale spot towards the tips.
Young bird: head, neck, breast, abdomen, and sides umber-brown, each feather broadly streaked fulvous-yellow or buff; chin and throat dingy-fulvous, some of the feathers inconspicuously darker shafted; back, scapulars, upper tail-coverts, and wing, (except the first few primaries which are almost black) a more or less rich umber-brown, glossed in many cases with purple, and every feather more or less narrowly tipped with fulvous or fulvous-white; the tail and lower tail-coverts much as in the preceding; in some specimens the light streaks are almost pure white, in others rufous-buff.
All intermediate stages are met with; the changes are not regular, and have no chronological value, and even amongst adult birds considerable variations occur.
The Pariah Kite is common everywhere, and is a most important feature in an Indian landscape. To visitors from England, on their first arrival in Bombay Harbour, (which is literally swarming with these birds) they must appear strange and their numbers incredible, unaccustomed as they (the visitors) are to the presence of birds of prey. They hang round the ships on the eager look-out for scraps of food, which sailors and others amuse themselves by throwing to them ; long before the scrap reaches the water, it is pounced upon by one of the kites, who rarely misses a fair chance. If the scrap be small, it is devoured upon the wing ; if large, the kite perches upon the rigging, but is not allowed to consume the morsel in peace as the other kites try to get it from him, and it, in general, changes hands, or rather feet, several times before it is finally disposed of. Garbage washed through the scupper holes, if at all eatable, is eagerly pounced upon; in fact, they are excellent scavengers, inland as well as in the harbour. The kite is fearless and venturesome in the pursuit of food ; it has been known to swoop down on,-and snatch food from the hand of a child, or even a grown up person; meat or other food in a plate, carried in hand, is not safe from their attacks, and it would be the height of folly to carry anything eatable on the head (the usual custom with natives in this country), unless it was well covered over. They are easily caught, by placing a light blanket on the ground and throwing a piece of meat upon it. The kite swoops down on the meat, its claws become entangled in the blanket, and the bird can be secured before it can release itself. Soldiers often amuse themselves in this way, and after cutting the webs of the quills and tail-feathers into fantastic shapes, let them go. Kites, although far more numerous near the haunts of man, are by no means uncommon elsewhere. A camp is sure to be infested by some scores of them ; they seem to know instinctively when a meal is under preparation, and show increased activity at these times. They have a peculiar habit of assembling together in some favorite spot at the close of the day before retiring to roost.
All writers on the subject seem to agree that they breed during the first three months in the year, and a nest taken on Christmas day has been spoken of as exceptionally early. I have taken nests from October to April, not in one year, or in one district only, but habitually, as the following extracts from my nesting memoranda will show: :-
Deesa ... ....
Hyderabad, Sind ...
" " Mhow
Poona ... ...
Ncemuch ... ...
„ ... ... 7th October, 1876 20th October, 1876 25th October, 1877 6th November, 1878 8th November, 1880 15th October, 1881 25th October, 1881 4th December, 1883 5th October, 1884 8th April, 1877.
7th April, 1877. 25th March, 1878. 10th March, 1879.
5th April, 1881.
20th March, 1882.
9th April, 1884. 31st March, 1885.
Most of these nests were observed inside cantonment limits ; indeed, in the breeding season, there is scarcely a compound, containing a suitable tree, that is not tenanted by a pair of these birds; in fact, they have a decided penchant for breeding in the vicinity of man. This, considering the persecution they receive at times, on account of the havoc they make in a brood of chickens, is not a little to be wondered at. A pair of kites with their hungry brood are not desirable neighbours near a poultry yard. I am inclined to think that they have two broods in a year; more especially as I notice in Poona that a nest in a neem tree in my garden was occupied twice in the same season, whether by the same birds or not I cannot say. The nests are more numerous in the months of November and February than at other times ; this also points to two broods in the year.
The nests are clumsy structures, often of large size, built generally in a stout fork, or junction of the limbs, but occasionally on a horizontal bough of a tree. The eggs are usually two (rarely three) in number, broad oval in shape, greyish-white in color, boldly and handsomely blotched, streaked, and spotted bright red-brown. They vary much in coloring. In size they average 2'2 inches in length by about 1.8 in breadth.