(1787) Milvus migrans govinda Sykes.
THE COMMON PARIAH KITE.
Milvus migrans govinda, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 122.
The Common Pariah Kite is resident over the whole of India, Burma and Ceylon, extending rarely into the Malay Peninsula, while it has also been recorded in Siam.
Originally the Kite was probably purely a bird of the plains, and it is only where human beings have gradually worked up to health resorts in the mountains that the Kites also have made their appearance in any number. In the thirty years I was in India I had personal experience of this. In the North Cachar Hills the only breeding birds were lineatus when I first went to the district in 1886, Later a railway was made to link up the Surrma and Brahmapootra valleys, a station was built at Haflang, some 2,300 feet elevation, and in 1900, when I left, two or three pairs of Kites were already breeding there and others making casual appearances in the bazaar. In Simla I am informed that they are now more numerous than they used to be, and that there are several pairs breeding round the native town. In the Nilgiris, according to Davison, Kites are present even at the highest elevations. Where there is scavenging to be done these Kites are always willing to come and do their share of it.
In the plains they breed everywhere. Nine pairs out of ten prefer to make their nests actually in towns and villages or in the trees immediately round them. Others build their homes in trees, large or small, standing in the cultivated fields, waste-land, orchards etc. within easy distance, while a few may be found nesting in actual forest a good distance away from the bigger towns and villages, but even these are almost invariably close to some small forest settlement or the huts of a jungle tribe.
Generally the Kite constructs her nest on a tree, but does not seem to mind what kind of tree or at what height from the ground. I have seen a nest built in the compound of a “dak-bungalow” perched on a large bough of an almost dead and leafless tree, so low down that I could look inside from the ground, and I have had another in my own garden at least 100 feet up in an enormous Mango, perched among the small branches at the very top. Most nests, however, are built at heights anything between 20 and 40 feet from the ground.
Occasionally they breed on buildings. In Dacca where, with hard work, one could possibly inspect a couple of hundred nests in a day, I have twice seen nests on houses and several times on ruined mosques and mausoleums.
Butler says —“In Karrachee, as there are no trees, the Kites generally build their nests on the tops of the houses, often on a sloping roof, parapet of a wall, chimney, etc. One nest I saw built halfway up the flagstaff outside the brigade office on a wooden platform extended for the man to stand on when raising or lowering the signal flags."
Occasionally several birds will breed in company. In Barisal I once saw three nests, all occupied, on one tree in a garden and I have, perhaps half a dozen times, seen two nests on the same tree.
The nests are not works of art, being very roughly and untidily made of sticks, twigs, branches with leaves attached and of various other oddments such as rags, skins, coarse reeds, grass, jute remains, hair, wool etc. Generally there is a lining of grass, wool, large feathers, rags etc., while sometimes there is none at all.
Occasionally one comes across queer nests. Among those I have seen myself was one composed of a turban, placed folded upside down, on a couple of horizontal branches and then filled with grass, twigs and wool. A second was made almost entirely of the greater part of a sheep’s skin, over which was a layer of small sticks ; a third was made entirely of jute refuse, the lining being of the same material, all picked up from a jute refuse-heap close to the tree.
In Dacca we more than once found golf-balls in Kites’ nests, not taken with a view to hatching them, but probably under the impression they were hens’ eggs and good for food.
The breeding-season in the plains runs roughly from November to February, but often as early as October and sometimes as late as March. In the lower Himalayas Hume says the usual month is March, while in the higher hills at 6,000 and 7,000 feet they breed in April and May. Even in Bareilly Hume obtained eggs on the 9th May. Davidson says that in the Deccan they breed freely from September to March, while Aitken (B.) obtained them breeding in Karachi in January, February, April, July etc. Scrope Doig, however, in Sind records them as breeding from the 9th February to the beginning of April, while Ticehurst notes they have eggs in January (Ibis, 1923, p. 253). In Burma Oates says the breeding season is from January to March and Davison took eggs at Moulmein in January.
Two or three eggs constitute a full clutch, while a single egg is sometimes incubated, and rarely four are laid. Hume found four on two occasions, Jones took a four in Campbellpur and I took four eggs at least a dozen times in Dacca, one season taking four such clutches.
The eggs vary from pure spotless white, which is exceptional, to white faintly tinged with grey or greenish, heavily blotched, mottled or scrolled with any shade of brown, red-brown, deep blackish-brown or blood-red. Among other types in my own series, which is fairly exhaustive, are the following, and it must be remembered that every intermediate description may also be met with :—
1. Immaculate white, sometimes tinged grey or green.
2. White, lightly flecked, blotched or speckled with pale reddish or reddish-brown, sometimes with secondary similar markings of lilac-grey. These may be all over the surface, more numerous at, or entirely confined to, the larger end.
3. Boldly blotched or spotted with deep brown, red-brown or blood-red at the larger end, almost spotless elsewhere ; in these eggs the secondary blotches are very scanty or wanting.
4. Streaked or scrolled all over with lines and hieroglyphics, sometimes all of pale colours, rarely of deep blood-red, usually the lines are very fine, rarely broader and bolder.
5. Pale reddish ground, freckled, spotted or blotched all over with light brick-red, reddish-brown or dark brown.
6. White, with clouds and smears of dark brown with lilac underlying marks. These very beautiful eggs are exactly like those of Pernis.
7. White, with three or four huge smears of brown and lilac at the larger end.
8. White, the primary markings, of whatever character, few or obsolete, the secondary characters of grey and lilac, numerous and dominant.
9. Hume adds to these : “ground-colour a dull mottled purple, clouded over with deeper shades of purple-brown.”
Many eggs of the Kites are superficially indistinguishable from those of the Honey-Buzzards, but Kites’ eggs have a bright deep green inner membrane, while those of the Buzzard are pale yellow or yellow-white.
In shape the eggs are rather constant, being broad ovals, almost equal at both ends. The texture is coarser, but the surface varies from fairly smooth to rough and pimply.
Two hundred eggs average 52.7 x 42.7 mm. : maxima 57.0 x 45.0 and 56.4 x 45.1 mm.; minima 49.1 x 40.9 and 50.0 x 39.1 mm.
Northern Indian eggs average larger than Southern ones.
Both birds incubate and both assist in the construction of the nest. I have never seen either parent show any real resentment to the taking of young or eggs, but Scrope Doig says “in some instances the parent birds showed a very determined objection to having their nests robhed,” The only demonstration I have ever noticed was the swooping of the bird towards the intruders but always at a very discreet distance, and even this was most excep¬tional.