56. Milvus grovinda

No. 56. Milvus Govinda.* SYKES.


This species lays at very different seasons in different localities. In the plains of Upper India and the Punjab, the great majority lay in February; a few only breeding in the previous and succeeding months. Lower down country, they are, I believe, earlier, and I myself have taken eggs as early as Christmas day. In the districts bordering on the bases of the Himalayahs, March is the more general time, while in the Himalayahs, where our bird is common up to a height of six or seven thousand feet, they mostly lay in April and May. Everywhere, stragglers breed earlier and later, by nearly six weeks, than the great body of the birds do, so that even in the neighbourhood of Agra, we have eggs recorded as early as the 29th December, and as late as the 13th April. In Bareilly, I took a nest of fresh eggs, on the 9th May, and at Simlah found three much-incubated ones, as late as the first week in June. They build almost without exception on trees, but I have found two nests (out of many hundreds that I have examined) placed, Neophron like, on the cornices of ruins.

The nest, mostly placed in a fork, but not uncommonly laid on a flat bough, is a large clumsy mass, of sticks and twigs, the various thorny accacias appearing to be the favourite material, lined or intermingled with, rags, leaves, tow, &o. The birds are perfectly fearless, breeding as freely on single stunted trees, situated in the densest populated bazars, or most crowded grain markets, as on the noblest tree in the open fields. The great majority breed in the suburbs of the towns and villages, the offal of which supplies their daily food, but single nests may be found far away from human habitations, in almost virgin jungle.

Two, appears to be the normal number of the eggs, but they often lay three. Twice I have obtained four, and on several occasions, I have met with a single hard-set egg, or young one, in a nest.

When robbed of their eggs, the old birds as a rule mope about the place without laying more eggs, or attempting to build a fresh nest, but I have known several instances, in which more eggs were laid in the same nest, and one in which an entirely new nest was constructed by the old birds in an adjoining tree, in which a single egg was laid and hatched.

As regards the eggs themselves, the countless varieties of types of coloration which they exhibit, defy description. I have before me now specimens absolutely devoid of any trace of colour which might well stand for gigantic specimens of Poliornis Teesa, but these of course are very exceptional; I have only two such in a series of several hundred. The ground colour is almost invariably a pale greenish or greyish white, more or less blotched, clouded, mottled, streaked, pen-lined, spotted or speckled with various shades of brown and red from a pale buffy brown to purple, and from blood-red to earth brown. Many of the eggs are excessively handsome, having the boldest hieroglyphics, blotched in blood-red, on a dear white or pale green ground. Others again are covered with delicate markings, as if etched on them with a crow quill, but no doubt, the markings in the majority, are more or less smudgy, and but dingily coloured. In some few, the ground colour is a dull mottled purple, clouded over with deeper shades of purplish brown. Compared with many other species, the eggs do not vary so very much, in size or shape; they are normally, a very perfect oval, scarcely more compressed at one end than at the other, but elongated, pointed, spherical and pyriform varieties occur. The color of the shells, when held up to the light, varies a good deal, in some it is as light a green as Circaetus Gallicus, in others, as deep as in Haliaetus Leucoryphus. I may here note, that Dr. Bree's figure of the egg of the Arabian Kite, correctly enough represents one common variety of the eggs of Milvus Govinda.

Although, as a rule, the eggs are glossless, a good many, when freshly laid, hear more or less of a natural glaze, which vastly brightens their colouring.

In size, the eggs vary from 1.9 to 2.35 in Length, and from 1.55 to 1.85 in breadth, but the average of 2.73 eggs measured, was 2.19 by 1.77.

Capt. G. F. L. Marshall, writing from Saharunpoor, remarks that this species " generally breeds in February and March, but I have taken eggs as late as the end of April. It usually lays three eggs, but will lay more, if some of the eggs are taken. I took two out of three eggs from one nest, leaving one to prevent the bird forsaking the place. A short time after, I sent a shikaree to shoot and bring me the bird; he mistook my orders and brought the eggs, there were three then, two more had been laid; after this, one other egg was laid, and then the nest was forsaken ; the nest was in my own compound, so that I had ample opportunities for watching it."

Mr. W. E. Brookes remarks, that this species is, " tolerably common both at Nyneetal and Almorah, at both of which places it breeds about two months later than it does in the plains."

That there are certainly two distinct species of Kites in India, my remarks, when treating of the next species (No. 56 bis), will I hope, sufficiently clearly show, but besides this, it seems by no means improbable, that a third species, M. affirm of Australia and the Archipelago, also occurs, and further, it appears by no means impossible, that M. Melanotis of China and Japan, may also be found within our limits.

The following are Mr. Blyth's remarks on these three species, in the Ibis for 1866.

" Professor Schlegel (Mus. P. B. MM, p. 2) identifies this with the M. melanotis, Schlegel, (Faun. Japon. Aves, tab. V. and Y. B.) of China and Japan. Of the myriads of Indian Kites, which have been familiarly observed by me for more than twenty-one years, I certainly never saw one even approaching to the rufous colouring represented in the ' Fauna Japonica' (tab. V. B.) ; and so far as I have seen, the adults of M. melanotis exhibit a mottling of the feathers of the upper parts, as shown in the figures cited, which is never seen in adults of the Indian Kite. The Chinese species has, moreover, a rather stouter bill. In former years, I held this opinion in opposition to that of my friend Mr. Swinhoe (in epistolis) ; but I observe that he now gives melanotis (and not govinda) in his " Catalogue of the Birds of China" (P. Z. S. 1863, p. 260.) Mr. Gould, in his recently published ' Hand-book to the Birds of Australia,, states of M. affinis, that it " appears to enjoy a very wide distribution, since it not only inhabits Australia, but appears to extend its range through the (so-called) Indian Islands, to the peninsula of India. Mr. Gurney informs us, that it occurs in Macassar, and certainly in India as far north as Nipal, though it is generally confounded, in the latter country, with its larger relative M. govinda. In every assemblage of Indian Kites, there is much disparity of size, some males being considerably smaller than the largest females, and the former would seem to be undistinguishable from the Australian Affinis, but I am not disposed to accept the opinion, that there are two separable races of Milvus, in the Indian and Indo-Chinese sub-regions. In Mr. Gould's representations of the Common Pariah Kite of India, (Part IV. of the Birds of Asia) the cere and feet should have been coloured of a much paler or dull light sulphur yellow, or what might rather be termed, dull yellowish white; while the dark iris is correct, and conspicuously distinguishes both this species and M. melanotis when alive, from M. migrans, as may now be seen in the Zoological gardens."

On this, Mr. Gurney made the following note : " With reference to the question of the supposed occurrence in India of Milvus affinis, I may mention, as one distinction between that species and the smaller individuals of M. govinda, that so far as I have observed, there is no appreciable difference between the old and young bird in the former, whilst in the latter, it is very strongly marked, as it is also in M. melanotis, if we may follow Mr. Blyth in considering this a distinct race."

It is to be hoped, that observers in India, in all parts, will from time to time, kill specimens of all the Kites big and little, that they see about them, and preserve these, recording Length, weight, expanse and sex. No collection in the world, contains a really good series of the Indian Kite, not even my own, and until such a series be got together, and carefully examined, it is impossible to say whether Affinis and Melanotis do, or do not occur in India.
As regards these two species, the following is Mr. Gould's description of M. affinis - :

" The sexes are nearly alike in size and colouring. Feathers of the head, and the back and sides of the neck reddish fawn colour, with a central stripe of dark blackish brown; all the upper surface glossy brown inclining to chocolate, and passing into reddish brown on the wing coverts, the shaft of each feather being black, and the extreme tip pale brown; primaries black ; secondaries blackish brown; tail which is slightly forked, brown, crossed by several, indistinct bars of a darker tint, and each feather tipped with greyish white; throat brownish fawn colour, with the stem of each feather black; the remainder of the under surface rufous brown, with a central line of dark brown on each feather, which is broadest and most conspicuous on the chest; cere, gape, and base of the lower mandible yellow ; upper mandible and point of the lower, black; tarsi of toes yellow; claws, black ; irides very dark brown."

He gives no dimensions, (why are European ornithologists invariably so careless about these matters ?) but the following are some dimensions taken from a skin in my own collection, said to be of a male: Length, 24 ; wing, 16.75; tail, 10.6 ; tarsus, 1.9 ; mid toe to root of claw, 1.45; its claw straight, 0.7 ; hind toe, 0.8; its claw, straight, 0.78 ; bill from edge of cere to point, straight, 0.98 ; bill from gape, 1.65 ; height at front, at margin of cere, 0.5; cere only, 0.5. The central tail feathers are 1.9 shorter than the external one. The fourth primary is the longest ; the first is 4.7, the second 1.6, and the third 0.07 shorter.

It is only right to notice, that I have Indian specimens in my collection, to my (perhaps unpractised) eye, absolutely undistinguishable from this specimen sent me from Australia, by Gerrard Krefft, Esquire.

As regards M. Melanotis, I have neither description nor measurements by me. Radde and Schrenk affirm, that it is not specifically distinct from " Niger" i. e. Migrans, and say, " If we collate together the described differences of colour, the character of the eastern form (Melanotis) will be found to consist in this, that a more pronounced contrast (in the young extending to portions of individual feathers) exists between the clear, yellowish and dark, grey brown shades, while in the western form (Migrans) the colours blend into an almost uniform, (and with advancing age, more and more predominating) ferruginous brown." And Radde goes on to affirm, that specimens of the European Niger, (or Migrans, Bodd, and this latter name has the priority) have been obtained, showing the brighter plumage of melanotis.

It is clear from this, that whether distinct or not, Melanotis and Migrans, cannot differ much in size. Of Migrans (which he calls Ater) Bree gives the length 22 inches, and of a male, 20 inches, with the wing 17.

Layard, who unites both Affinis and Govinda with Migrans, (in which, however, he is clearly wrong, because the latter is distinct, whatever the former two may be) gives the length as 21, the wing at 18 and the tail at 10 inches.

The dimensions of Melanotis, must, since the distinctness of the species is disputed by so many writers, be very similar, and it must therefore be a much smaller bird than the one which I have described as M. Major (No. 56 bis) and which so far as plumage goes, it seems to resemble very closely.

The present species, M. Govinda, seems (if really distinct from Affinis) to be confined to India, Ceylon, and Burmah. In China and Japan, it is replaced by Melanotis; in Australia and part, at any rate, of the Archipelago, by Affinis. In Arabia, South Eastern Europe, Egypt and South Africa, we have M. Parasiticus, and in the latter three localities, and throughout southern and central Europe and northern Africa M. Migrans, (from which Badde and others consider Melanotis doubtfully distinct,) while in England, and in many parts of Europe, the red Kite Milvus Regalis (vel Vulgaris) though now perhaps somewhat scarce, was at one time nearly as common, as the Pariah Kite with us.

Milvus Govinda

Dimension Male
From Male
To Female
From Female
Length 22.0 23.50 22.19 25.00
Expanse. 51.00 56.50 55.6 60.00
Wing. 17.00 17.80 18.25 19.10
Tail from vent 11.00 12.40 10.90 13.70
Tarsus 2.10 2.24 2.00 2.25
Foot, greatest length. 3.75 3.90 3.75 4.00
Foot, greatest breadth. 3.00 3.50 3.25 3.50
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 1.45 1.58 1.45 1.70
Its Claw straight. 0.70 0.78 0.72 0.80
Hind toe. 0.73 0.95 0.80 0.95
Its claw, straight 0.78 0.80 0.85 0.90
Inner toe. 0.78 0.80 0.85 0.90
Its claw, straight 0.78 0.80 0.80 0.90
Bill straight, from margin of cere to point. 1.00 1.04 0.95 1.22
Bill a long Curve, do. do. 1.20 1.25 1.25 1.50
Bill from gape. 1.50 1.66 1.48 1.85
Bill width at gape. 1.10 1.20 1.11 1.22
Bill height, at front, at margin of Cere. 0.48 0.52 0.50 0.55
Distance by which closed wings fall short of end of Tail. Nil 1.40 Nil 1.50
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 4.40 5.20 3.70 5.90
Weight Lboz. 1”2 Lboz. 1”7 1”8 2”2
Length of cere on culmen 0.40 0.50 0.40 0.45

(5 males and 5 females measured and weighed.)

The 4th (3rd rarely sub-equal) primary the longest. The 1st is 4.2 to 5.75 shorter, the 2nd 1.00 to 2.15, and the 3rd nil to 0.78, shorter. Central tail feathers 1.00, to 2.29, shorter than external ones.

DESCRIPTION. - : The legs and feet are yellow; wax yellow, in the old birds and pale lemon yellow in somewhat younger ones ; very pale greenish grey in young ones. The claws are black. Irides are brown ; yellowish brown in some, pale brown in others, and deep brown in others. The bill is black, or blackish horny. The cere and gape in the old bird yellow, in younger birds the cere and gape are greenish grey, and in others again the lower mandible, cere and gape are horny brown.

Plumage. - : (I have not sufficiently worked out the different stages of plumage, but there are two leading types.)

1st, - : Fully adult. The whole of the top of the head, back and sides of the neck, dingy wood or pale umber brown; the feathers with an excessively narrow, dark, shaft stripe ; and with a very narrow, paler stripe, on each side of this, towards the tips. The whole of the rest of the upper parts unstriped brown, very dark upon the first few primaries, and much paler on the tertials and lesser wing coverts. The tail tinged with grey and with obscure traces of transverse darker bars ; many of the lesser coverts and of the tertials, as well as most of the upper tail coverts and the tail feathers themselves, narrowly, but somewhat obscurely, tipped paler. The chin and throat whity brown, the shafts more or less conspicuously darker. The breast, abdomen, lower tail coverts, and tibial plumes, dull hair brown, dark shafted, or with narrow, dark, central, shaft stripes; those of the breast, with narrow, pale stripes, on each side of the shaft stripes, towards the tips; the rest, in many birds, with a pale spot towards the tips.

In some specimens, the whole upper plumage is greyer, the chin and throat are white instead of whity brown, under parts are more of an umber brown, and the pale stripes on either side the shaft stripes, are pale dull rufous. The tippings of the feathers of the back, scapulars, upper tail coverts, and tail, a purer white, and better defined, and the paler brown, median coverts of the wing, have a conspicuous, though very narrow, dark brown, shaft Stripe. In all, the shafts of the lower tail coverts are dark.

2nd. - : The young bird has the whole head, neck, breast, abdomen, and sides, umber brown, each feather with a conspicuous, broad, fulvous yellow or buffy streak. The chin and throat, are dingy fulvous, some of the feathers inconspicuously darker shafted. The 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 rufous 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. In some, whilst the upper plumage is nearly that of the adult, the whole of the lower parts exhibit the white, yellowish white, or rufous buff, central stripes characteristic of the young.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
56. Milvus grovinda
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Pariah Kite
Milvus migrans govinda
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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