56. Milvus major

No. 56 BIS. Milvus Major.* SP. NOV.


This new species may be at once distinguished from the Pariah Kite, by its superior size, although approaching more nearly in its plumage to M. Melanotis, and (in a slightly less degree) to M. Govinda, it is fully as large as M. Regalis, has quite as strong, bill, feet and claws, and, like it, has the tarsus further feathered than in the common Indian Kite. The tail is large and well forked, and the tail feathers very broad; in a specimen before me, the central tail feathers, are 2.5 inches broad, 3 inches from the tip; at present I only know of five specimens, one in Col. Tytler's museum and four in my own (one lent by Mr. W. Brooks).

At all stages, the colouring is richer than in the common type, and the patch behind the eye and over the ear coverts is darker and more strongly marked. This peculiarity, and the fact that Radde's figure of the young of Melanotis, almost exactly agrees with one stage of the young of the present species, led me at one time to identify the latter with the former. European naturalists, as a rule, give dimensions but sparingly, but after consulting such works of reference as were available to me, it appeared certain that birds, of which the females measure from 26.75 to 27.75 in Length, and of which the wings vary from 21 to 23 inches, measured from the carpal joint, could not possibly belong to any known, old world species of Kite, with the exception of Regalis, from which their plumage differ toto caelo, and I have therefore been compelled to consider them as belonging to a distinct species which I have characterized as Milvus Major.

It is not only in size and a somewhat richer colouring that the present species differs from M. Govinda, The latter is a bold, tame bird, a denizen of the most crowded haunts of man. The greater Kite is a wild wary bird very difficult to approach, and found only in the open fields or in swamp or jungle. Its flight is heavier and more Buzzard-like, and though I have often seen it, since I first began to distinguish it, I have invariably failed to procure specimens. This peculiarity of its habits, has been noticed by others besides myself. The gentleman from whom Col. Tytler years ago received the specimen he now possesses, and which was procured in Lower Bengal, writing of it at the time, said that he had procured it with great difficulty, and had been induced to pursue it persistently, believing it to have been some species of Buzzard. Mr. Brooks has, equally with myself, noticed its extreme wariness, and has failed to obtain a second specimen, though he too has continually seen and pursued it.

It appears to be only a winter visitant to the plains, at which season I procured a specimen near Ajmeer, (Mr. Brooks shot his in Etawah,) but I feel confident that I have observed it throughout the summer and rainy season, in the Himalayahs, from which Capt. Hutton, not long ago, sent me a specimen, with the remark that it was " the finest Kite" he had ever seen.

I know as yet nothing of its nidification, and nothing further of its distribution than I have already mentioned, but doubtless, now that its distinctness has been pointed out, other observers will supply the necessary information.

I cannot think, how, in writing the above, I overlooked the following remarks by Mr. Blanford, in regard to which, I at the time wrote, remarking that the species alluded to, was (as I then thought it) M. Melanotis: they obviously refer to this new species.

"Milvus, sp. I shot near Woon, north-west of Chanda, a Kite considerably exceeding the common M. Govinda in size, but otherwise undistinguishable. It is a male, and measures, closed wing, 20; bill from gape, 1.7; tarsus, 2.5; tail, 13. The bird is evidently young, for the inner portions of the feathers are rich brown; but the feathers of the head and neck are rich brown with dark centres, not whitish, as usually in a young M. Govinda, and the abdomen, and lower tail coverts are pale rufous." This I take to be nearly fully adult.


DIMENSIONS. - : (I only have accurate measurements of 2 specimens, both females.) Length 26.75, 27.75 ; Wing, 21, 215 ; (Col. Tytler's specimen has the wing 22.") Tail 13.3, 13.75; length of tarsus. 2.5, 2.4, ( both feathered for 1.4); mid toe to root of claw 1.62, 1.7; its claw, straight 0.7, 0.82; hind toe, 0.88, 0.91; its claw, straight, 0.8, 0.96; inner toe, 0.85, 0.89; its claw, 0.72, 0.9; bill straight, from edge of cere to point, 1.05, 1.06 ; from gape, 1.75, 1.78 ; width at gape, 1.32, 1.38; height at margin of cere, 0.55, 0.58; length of cere on culmen, 0.45, 0.48; lower tail coverts fell short of end of tail by 5, and 6.85. The 4th primary is the longest; the 1st is 5.35, the 2nd 2.00, and the 3rd 0.20, shorter.

(The smaller of the two birds is in the second stage of plumage, described below, the larger is in the first or adult Plumage.)

DESCRIPTION. - : 1st adult female. Bill and claws horny black. Legs dull yellow. Toes, mingled dingy greenish and yellow. Cere, pale greenish yellow.

Plumage. - : General plumage, much as in the common Kite, but the whole of the upper part with a more or less purple gloss. Forehead and lores whitish, crown, occiput, nape, back of the neck, breast and upper abdomen rich umber brown, dullest on the head, with very narrow, black or blackish brown, shaft stripes, which again are bordered on either side, in some feathers throughout their whole lengths, in others only towards their tips, with narrow, more or less pale, rufous stripes. The lower abdomen and flanks, similar, but the black shaft stripe almost obsolete, and the two rufous stripes broader and blending. A blackish brown stripe, from the posterior angle of the eye, over the top of the ear-coverts. Chin, throat, cheeks and greater portion of the ear-coverts white, the feathers black shafted, and, as they approach the breast, tinged with dull rufous. Scapulars, umber brown, beautifully glossed with purple, and tinged with an almost golden yellow towards the extreme tips. The whole of the lesser and median coverts, purplish brown, but with nearlj- the whole visible portion of the tips, rufous, or orange, with the shafts conspicuously darker. The winglet, the greater primary coverts, and the first few primaries, almost black, but with a purple gloss. The later primaries, secondaries, and tertials, umber brown, all more or less glossed with purple. The secondaries, darkest and most richly glossed. The tail, with excessively broad feathers, (central ones 2'6 in breadth) and much forked, (the external tail feathers being fully 2 inches longer, than the central pair,) a dull umber brown, growing deeper in shade as the feathers recede from the centre, all narrowly tipped with white, and obscurely banded with 8 or 9 broad transverse somewhat darker bars. The rump and upper tail coverts like the scapulars, but somewhat paler. The vent, and lower tail coverts, and the tibial and tarsal plumes, are dull rufous buff, some of the feathers more or less mottled with greyish brown, and the tibial plumes faintly streaked with brown. There is a great deal of white, mottled with imperfect greyish brown bars, on the inner webs of the primaries, towards their bases; a few of the larger, lower, wing-coverts are mingled grey and dark brown. The rest of the wing lining and axillaries are a rich, somewhat rufous, umber brown ; the feathers more or less tinged towards the tins, or streaked with rufous. The lateral tail feathers, like the primaries, are white or greyish white on the inner webs towards the bases, and on these parts of course, the transverse bars are more apparent.

2nd. Young Female. - : The forehead and lores whitish, feathers dark shafted, a narrow dark line over the eye, joining the conspicuous blackish brown patch, which runs from the posterior angle of the eve, over the ear coverts. The whole of the feathers of the top and back of the head, back and sides of the neck and upper back, rich purple brown, with a narrow, central, buffy white stripe. The feathers of the top of the head, dark shafted. The whole of the scapulars, tertiaries, rump and upper tail coverts, lesser and median wing coverts, a rich purple brown; all the feathers, more or less conspicuously dark shafted, tinged golden towards the tips, and more or less pure white at the extreme tips. The secondaries, the richest glossy purple brown, tipped similarly to the feathers above described, but to a less extent. The first 6 primaries purplish black, very narrowly tipped with fulvous white, the other primaries similar to the secondaries ; but somewhat paler. The central tail feathers, not so broad, as in the adult, being only 2.2, wide; and the tail not so forked; the exterior being only 0.75 longer than the central. The tail is an umber brown, purpler and less grey than in the more adult bird, somewhat broadly tipped with yellowish white, and with traces of dark bars, and much white on the inner webs towards the bases, as in the adult. The chin is whitish, the throat, cheeks, and basal portion of the ear-coverts dull rufous brown, the feathers white at their bases and inconspicuously darker shafted. Breast and upper abdomen and sides, rich umber brown, with moderately broad, rufous, buff, central stripes, the rufous buff, fading to pale fulvous towards the lower abdomen. Lower abdomen, vent, and tibial and tarsal plumes, pale fulvous, with ill-defined, brown stripes towards the margins of the feathers. Lower tail coverts slightly more rufous, a good deal freckled above the tips with pale greyish brown.

The whole of the wing lining and axillaries (except a lew of the greater lower primary coverts which are greyish black,) rich purplish umber brown, tipped with rufous buff, or with a stripe of that color running a short distance up the shafts from the tips. There is more white on the inner webs of the quills, and the white is purer, in this stage, than in the adult; in this respect, again, corresponding with Milvus melanotis.

3rd Nestling. - : Obtained near Mussourie. Male. Measurements from the shin. Length 24 ; wing 19.5 ; tail 11.5; tarsus 2.4; mid toe, 1.65; its claw, straight, 0.61; hind toe, 0.70; its claw, straight, 0.80; inner toe, 0.75; its claw, straight, 0.78, Bill, straight from margin of cere to point, 1.07; from gape, 1.8; height at front at margin of cere, 065; length of cere, on culmen, 0.41. Lower tail coverts fall short of end of tail by 4.5. Quill and tail feathers very much abraded.


Plumage. - : The general character of the plumage is a mixture of rufous, slightly infuscated, and pale fulvous and fulvous white; only the primaries, secondaries and some of the greater coverts being dark in their visible portions. The whole chin and throat, cheeks, and basal halves of the ear coverts, and generally the under parts, pale fulvous, or dingy yellowish white, the feathers of the breast and abdomen, much tinged towards the sides of the feathers with a slightly brownish or infuscated rufous ; the axillaries, and the wing lining in the neighbourhood of the shoulder joint, bright cinnamon' rufous, infuscated towards the margins ; the rest of the wing lining, (except the greater lower primary coverts which are mingled blackish grey, and rufous white,) a rich rufous umber brown, tipped and tinged towards the tins with cinnamon rufous. Almost the whole of the inner webs of the primaries, above the notches, are pure white in this stage. The lores and forehead are fulvous white. There is a broad, rufous brown stripe from the posterior angle of the eye, over the tips of the ear-coverts. The crown, occiput and nape, brownish rufous, dark-shafted and the feathers margined with yellowish white or pale fulvous; sides and back of the neck and upper back, yellowish white, the feathers, broadly freckled towards the margins with brownish rufous. Lower back and rump, rufous, the feathers dark shafted, tipped paler (almost white in the longer upper tail coverts) and more or less freckled or suffused with greyish brown ; the visible portion of the scapulars and tertiaries, a sort of rufous buff, freckled or suffused with greyish brown, tipped paler and with conspicuous dark shafts. Tail feathers, dull, greyish rufous, with traces of 8 or 9, incomplete, irregular, narrow, clouded, transverse, umber brown bars. The lateral tail feathers being less rufous, and their inner webs paler, and towards the bases almost white, but even there, tinged with rufous grey. The visible portion of the lesser and median coverts dingy rufous buff, fading towards the tips, to very pale yellowish or almost pure white. The basal portions of the feathers, umber brown in the median coverts, and more or less freckled with this color in the lesser ones. The greater primary coverts and first five primaries, deep brown, tinged at the tips with rufous and very narrowly tipped with almost pure white; the greater secondary coverts pale umber brown, tinged towards the tips and freckled and mottled towards the margins, with rufous buff, and tipped more or less broadly with very pale yellowish white. The 7th and succeeding primaries, the visible portions, rufous buff narrowly tipped with white, and clouded in obscure bars with purplish brown. Secondaries the richest purple brown, narrowly tipped with rufous buff, fading at the extreme tip to pale yellowish white.

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 major
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Larger Indian Kite
Red Kite
Milvus milvus
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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