36. Spizaetus nipalensis

No. 36. Spizaetus Nipalensis, Hodgson.

Hodgson's Hawk Eagle.

This beautiful species breeds, as far as I yet know, only in the Himalayas, laying during March, April, and the early part of May.

Its nest, a large coarse stick structure, is placed upon some large tree, either hidden in a dense forest, or projecting from the face of some inaccessible cliff.

It lays two eggs I think as a rule, but single eggs are often found much incubated.

Although I have, in former years, seen several of its nests, the only specimen that I now possess of the eggs of this species I owe to Capt. Hutton. In shape it is a broad regular oval, almost symmetrical at both ends. The shell is coarse, dull and glossless, the ground colour a slightly greenish white, spotted thinly with reddish brown, and with numerous large blotches and streaks of very pale inky purple. It measures 3.78 by 2.23.

My friend, Capt. Hutton, favours me with the following note: " This species is common at Mussoorie and occurs also during winter in the Doon; at Mussoorie it is a permanent resident, and most destructive to pigeons, fowls and game; its loud shrill musical whistle may often be heard far up in the heavens even when the bird itself is lost to sight. It breeds at about 5,500 feet of elevation, constructing a thick basket-like nest of twigs and small branches, placed on a lofty tree often growing out of the fissure of a rock overhanging a precipice, which is apt to turn the head of any but a mountaineer, and to look into which reminds one of the bottomless pit! Nevertheless we have on more than one occasion contrived to rob the nest. One of these was found on the 5th of March and contained one egg, which was left for the purpose of ascertaining whether the bird would lay another. A few days afterwards, on finding no addition, a man ascended the tree which was of tolerably easy access and the old bird making no warlike demonstration, the prize was secured. On attempting to clean it, however, it was found to contain a fully formed young bird. On another occasion we did not rob a nest so easily. It was found on the 18th March, and contained two eggs, which were left to hatch. On the 1st of April, the nest was again visited and found to contain two young ones covered with a rufous coloured down; on the 16th April, finding that one young one had fallen from the nest, preparations were made for lowering a man down the precipice to the root of the tree, which leaned ominously out of a cleft in the rock obliquely overhanging an awful chasm On reaching the tree, the man began to ascend, but before he had reached the nest, one of the old birds made a dash at him, and struck him sharply on the shoulder, causing the blood to flow. Nothing daunted, the man proceeded on his perilous course, under cover of one or two shots from above to scare the old birds away; but without the desired effect, for on the man's arrival at the nest, another charge was made by the female who struck the poor fellow on the head and again caused blood to flow, but luckily the man's greasy linen skull-cap became firmly fixed upon the talons of the bird, which scared her to such a degree, that uttering a loud scream of alarm she sailed away, rapidly followed by her mate, and the young one was then brought in safety from the nest. It was nearly half fledged with small slaty coloured feathers, and grew to maturity in a large roomy cage, when it was set at liberty, and after hanging about the place to be fed for several days, finally took unto itself the wings of the morning and disappeared. These birds sometimes breed in the same nest for two or three years, and apparently only abandon it when it becomes old and rotten, when they select another tree whereon to construct a new habitation at no great distance from the other."

Mr. R. Thompson says "I have always found two young with this bird, which is the most beautiful Hawk of the kind we have. He is great at poultry, when living in the vicinity of a station. I have caught them regularly with the vertical net. On an Oak tree on the Ayarpatta hill, a pair bred this year, the result, two young ones. I have not seen their eggs. The notes of this bird are similar to those of S. Caligatus.

I once saw one fly at some wild Kalij Pheasants. The difference in habits between this bird and S. Caligatus is this. The one is generally confined to the deep wooded hills ascending far into the interior of the Himalayas to almost the snow line, feeds much on Pheasants, Hares, Black Partridge, Monaul and Cheer Pheasants, and sometimes on young Deer. Whereas the other, S. Caligatus, is always found in the Bhabur forests and does not ascend the hills to any great height, and never is found in the interior of them. It chiefly lives on Pea-hens, Jungle Fowl, Partridge and Hares, and I have seen it kill and eat a full grown Civet Cat. I have also seen young birds watching and taking Rats near corn stacks in the Bhabur cultivated tracts, and more than once, have seen one dash into a tree in which a lot of Parrakeets were assembled for the night, and take a bird. I might sum up with the following:

" S. Nipalensis is a shy forest bird, not at all common except in suitable localities, and even there, more than a single couple are rarely seen. 8. Caligatus is a common, bold bird, found in very many localities, and in the hills entirely confined to the very outside range of the Himalayas. I saw one the other day in South Mirzapore."

I subjoin exact measurements of four specimens, three young and one adult, and I would remark that one matter which may have contributed to lead some observers to class young specimens of Nipalensis as Cirrhatus, is the excessive variability of dimensions in the former species. To give an instance of this I would refer to the measurements of No. 3; here the inner toe claw is given as 2.63. Looking through the measurements, this struck me as excessive, and I had the very specimen brought out of the Museum. On measuring the claw in question on one foot, the original measurement proved correct, but the corresponding c}aw of the other foot measured only 2.1. Testing other figures, and the measurements of other specimens, all of which are still in my Museum, I found similar though not such striking diversities, in corresponding parts of the same birds. This may explain the extraordinary discrepancies in the following dimensions, all of which were carefully recorded at the time; I may mention that I have a larger specimen than any of these; a female with the wing 19.5, but no measurements are recorded of this.

Young. Adult.
No. 1 Male. No. 2 Female. No. 3 Female. No. 4 Female.
Length 27.5 29.0 28.5 29.25
Expanse. 51.0 55.0 54.0 56.0
Wing, 17.87 18.3 18.87 18.5
Which primary longest,.... 5th 4th& 5th 5th 5th
Amt. by which other primaries fall, 1st 40 6.4 6.8 5.7
„ „ „ short of longest, 2nd 1.5 2.3 2.9 2.7
„ „ „ short of longest, 3rd 0.6 0.95 1.15 1.3
Length of tail from vent............. 12.75 12.75 13.5 12.63
Longest tail feathers exceed shortest, 0.9 1.0 1.0
Tarsus, 4.2 3.7 3.75 4.4
Foot, greatest length 6.4 7.25 6.87 6.6
Foot, greatest width 6.75 5.5 6.19 5.13
Mid toe 2.13 2.25 2.88 2.26
Its claw, along curve 1.44 1.44 1.25 1.37
Hind toe 1.3 1.37 1.37 1.25
Its claw, along curve 1.87 2.13 2.05 2.25
Inner toe 1.24 1.37 1.25 1.37
Its claw, along curve 1.69 2.0 2.63 2.17
Bill, straight, from edge of cere,... 1.2 1.2 1.18 1.3
Bill, along curve, ditto, ............ 1.41 1.44 1.25 1.5
Bill, from gape......................... 1.62 1.72 1.6 1.9
Bill, width at gape, .................. 1.28 1.22 1.33 1.1
Bill, height at margin of cere,...... 0.65 0.72 0.7 0.7
Length of cere (if any),............... 0.36 0.43 0.35 0.4
Lower tail coverts fall short of end of tail. 6.76 6.4 6.4 6.25
Longest crest feather, ............... 4.2 4.0 3.5 4.5

No. 1, a young male, shot on the 17th November, had the bill black; the cere, hoary black; the irides, yellow; the feet, dirty yellowish white. The whole of the head, back and sides of the neck, and ear coverts, rufous buff, each feather with a narrow dark brown central stripe, a long, conspicuous, occipital crest, black, narrowly tipped with white; scapulars and inter scapulary region, hair brown, the feathers paling at the margins, and towards their bases to a pale wood brown; rump and upper tail coverts, dingy somewhat rufous wood brown; central tail feathers, a sort of olive brown, very narrowly tipped with white, with a one inch subterminal, and four other half inch broad, transverse, dark brown bars. Lateral tail feathers, remains of nesting plumage, much abraded, with sandy brown grounds, and barred like the central feathers. Wing coverts, except the greater primary coverts, a rather pale wood brown, most of them, especially the smaller ones, with dark brown centres, not sharply defined, but fading into the paler margins. Most of the secondary greater coverts almost wholly white on the inner webs. Quills and primary greater coverts, umber brown, darkest on the points of the earlier primaries where it is almost black, paling to a wood brown on the tertiaries. The second to the fifth primaries with conspicuous emarginations on the outer webs, above which they are paler, and obscurely barred with dingy buff. The first five primaries conspicuously notched on the inner web; white on the under surface above the notches ; below the notches greyish white, tipped, and strongly barred with blackish brown. Chin and throat spotless white, base of neck in front, breast, and abdomen, pure white, the shafts of each feather blackish brown, but only towards the tip, and the feathers either tipped with rufous buff, or with a spot of that colour near the tip. Vent feathers and lower tail coverts dingy rufous or pale rufous brown, obscurely barred with fulvous white; tarsus yellowish white with a few faint brownish spots ; sides pale, more or less rufous brown, with here and there a trace of white mottling. Flanks and tibial plumes pale rufous brown, distinctly though. irregularly barred with white. Axillaries pale dingy rufous with a series of double white spots or imperfect transverse bars. Wing lining white, barred, the larger lower coverts with blackish brown, the smaller ones with mingled, dingy rufous and hair, brown.

No. 2, a female, killed 1st November. In its upper plumage, it greatly resembles the preceding, but from the nostril right over the eye it had a broad stripe of buffy fawn, without any dark centres to the feathers. The feathers of the top and back of the head and nape, instead of having narrow blackish brown central stripes, had the whole centres of this colour, leaving only moderately broad rufous buff borders. The back was slightly darker brown, as were also the wings and rump; the longest upper tail coverts were narrowly tipped with white and showed traces of one or two transverse white bars higher up. The central tail feathers were wood brown without a trace of any bars, and on the lateral tail feathers which were a dingy umber brown, the dark brown bars so conspicuous in No. 1 were obscure and almost obsolete. The crest is slightly fuller and the white tipping broader. The cheeks, ear-coverts and sides of the neck have a more spotty and less lineated appearance than in the preceding bird. The chin and throat is a pure pale buff, or rufous white with the faintest trace of a dark brown line down the centre. The upper part of the breast is rufous or buffy white, each feather with a conspicuous linear ovate central brown stripe. Lower breast, abdomen, vent, and tibial plumes, sides and axillaries, a sort of pale rufous buff, salmon coloured on the axillaries. Two feathers on the abdomen and one or two on the flanks a wood brown, each with two rather conspicuous fulvous white transverse bars. The axillaries and the rest of the lower parts above mentioned are entirely unbarred and unspotted, except the tibial plumes which here and there contained brown feathers with obscure rufous white transverse bands. Tarsus, fulvous white, with a few pale rufous brown spots, lower tail coverts pale, slightly rufous, brown, with conspicuous broad transverse fulvous white bars. Wing lining rufous white with only a few small brown spots towards the ends of the longer ones.

No. 3, a female, shot December 15th, in its general upper plumage is intermediate between No. 1 and No. 2, but the tail is yellowish brown with one terminal and six other broad, transverse, umber brown bars, the terminal being no broader than the others. Underneath, the bird closely resembles No. 2, but, there is no trace of a central throat stripe and only some dozen feathers of quite the upper breast, have narrow, central, dark brown stripes. Per contra, the sides and an irregular broad band, across the abdomen have the feathers pale wood brown, with well marked broad transverse, whitish bars. The barrings on the lower tail coverts and tibial plumes are very obscure, mere nothings. The wing lining, axillaries &c. correspond with No. 2.

These three are all of known parentage, undeniable specimens of S. Nipalensis, shot in the interior of Kumaon, near Mussourie and above Kotegurh, and might easily, so far as general appearance goes, be mistaken for S. Cirrhatus. The extreme variability of the tail markings is remarkable.

The fully adult female, No. 4, has the whole top of the head, nape, ear coverts, cheeks and sides of the neck blackish brown, in some lights almost black. The feathers especially of the hind head and sides of the neck, narrowly margined with rufous fawn, and the bases of the feathers of the same colour more or less tinged with brown, showing through a good deal, here and there. The scapulars and back, are deep umber brown. The larger scapulars, with traces of broad, darker brown transverse bars and the longer upper tail coverts narrowly tipped with white, and with broad and conspicuous transverse white bars. The tail very narrowly tipped with white, with a greyish brown ground, a very broad sub-terminal, and four other broad transverse deep brown bands; the fourth lost under the upper tail coverts, and the bars being considerably broader than the interspaces. The chin and throat, fulvous white; base of the neck in front, and upper breast a mixture of brownish and fulvous white, the feathers broadly centred with blackish brown, so broadly towards the sides as to have only a narrow margin of the paler colour. The lower part of the breast, abdomen, vent, sides, flanks, axillaries, tibial and tarsal plumes, and lower tail coverts, brown of various shades; in some places yellower, in others more of an umber tint, with conspicuous, transverse, white, or fulvous white bars, narrowest and closest on the tibial plumes, broadest and furthest apart on the sides. Larger lower wing coverts white, broadly banded with blackish brown; lesser lower wing coverts, buffy white, broadly barred with somewhat buffy brown.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
36. Spizaetus nipalensis
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Hodgsons Hawk Eagle
Mountain Hawk-Eagle
Nisaetus nipalensis
Vol. 1

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