No. 74. Ephialtes Pennatus.* HODGSON.
THE INDIAN SCOPS OWL.
The Indian species of Scops Owls are, as Kaup justly remarks, exceedingly difficult to discriminate, and my collection is too weak to permit of my solving all difficulties as I should wish. The plumage in all, varies so much in different indivi¬duals of the same species, and is of a nature so difficult to convey a really correct idea of, by mere verbal description, that the confusion that appears hitherto to have existed, in regard to this beautiful little group, can be no matter for surprise. As far as the specimens before me enable me to judge, we have six distinct species in India. Two with slender tarsi of the Pennatus type, and four with stouter tarsi, larger birds of the Lempigi type.
I shall now briefly enumerate these six species, noticing one or two of the chief points of difference. (A) with slender tarsi. - :
1 EPHIALTES PENNATUS Hodg. Feet feathered to base of toes. Wing 5.5 to 5.75, reaches to end of tail; third and fourth primaries longest.
2 „ GYMNOPODUS. Gray. ? Feet and extreme point of tarsus, bare. Wing 5.25 to 5.5, extends over three-fourths of tail; fourth and fifth primaries longest.
(B) with stout tarsi. - :
3 EPHIALTES LETTIA. Hodg. Toes quite bare, or only just over-hung at their bases by the feet feathers. Wing 6.6 to 7.2.
4 „ PLUMIPES. Nobis. Toes feathered, in some, half way down the terminal point, in all, to end of sub-terminal point. Wing, 6.7 to 7.3.
5 „ GRISEUS. Jerdon. General tone of plumage greyer and more silvery. Wing, 5.6 to 6.63.
6 „ MALABARICUS. Jerdon. General plumage darker and more rufous. Wing 5.5 to 6.0.
Other differences are noticeable in tone of color, proportional length of primaries, &c., which I shall notice, in dealing with each species, the above will, I believe, suffice to enable any one to determine to which species any specimen he possesses may belong: that is, provided that there are no other Indian species of Scops Owl, but as my collection at present only contains twenty-three representatives of this group, I cannot feel at all certain as to this point.
Of the present species (E. Pennatus) I have never yet taken the eggs, but Mr. E. Thompson to whom I owe an undoubted specimen of this species in the rufous phase, informs me that " they breed from March till August, in holes of trees, usually at no great height from the ground.'' He adds, " this is a common Bird in our forests, (Gurhwal,) but I never yet took the trouble to take their eggs. Several pairs used to breed in the Botanical Gardens at Seharunpore. A pair has been breeding for three seasons in a small tree in front of the forest Bungalow at Kotedwara. Four years ago, a young one, in the rufous phase, was brought to me in the month of July."
Dr. Jerdon's description of this species in both phases of plumage appears to me sufficiently correct, and the specimens that I possess agree, so far as the quills are concerned, with Kaup's subgenus Scops. The third and fourth quills are the longest, the first is emarginate on the inner web, and the second and third only slightly so. The wing, which is comparatively long and pointed, reaches to the end of the tail, whereas in the next species, as I shall notice further when dealing with that, the fourth and fifth quills are the longest, and the wing which is much rounded only extends over, at most, three-fourths of the tail.
Capt. Hutton remarks that Ephialtes " as a genus, was long since pre-occupied in Entomology, and ought, therefore, to be changed, unless it has been banished from the nomenclature of that branch of Natural History." I hope that some of my English correspondents will decide this question for us.
I reproduce Mr. Blyth's remarks on this species, which appeared in the Ibis for 1866 ; premising merely, that E. Gymnopodus, Gray, is I believe a good species (vide No, 74 Bis) and Indian, and that I am almost certain, for reasons that I shall explain when dealing with that species, that Mr. Blyth's own
E. Spilocephalus is in reality identical, not with Pennatus, but with Gymnopodus.
" 74. Ephialtes Bakkamaena (Pennant); Otus Scops Japonicus, Schlegel (Faun. Japon. Aves tah. IX.); Scops Zorca Asiatica, Idem. Mus. P. B. Oti, p. 30.
Of this small Indian Scops Owl, the Calcutta Museum can show a very complete gradation from the grey Scops Pennatus to the bright chestnut or ferruginous S. Sunia of Hodgson ; or if one semilink in the chain be wanting, it is supplied by an Indian specimen referred to the European Scops Owl by Mr. F. Moore. The specific identity of S. Pennatus and S. Sunia is certain, and they cannot even be admitted as different races; yet Mr. G. R. Gray (in his B. M. Cat. of Birds of Nipal, 2nd edit., 1863) adopts S. Sunia for the rufous bird, while the grey bird (with S. Malayensis, A. Hay, and S. Spilocephalus, nobis, as synonyms) he refers to the European E. Scops. Mr. F. Moore makes the same confusion. I am decidedly of opinion, as I have before stated (Ibis., 1863, p. 27), that the proper name for the Indian bird, whether grey or rufous) is E. Bakkamaena (Pennant.) It is the only Scops Owl which I know of as an inhabitant of Lower Bengal, and I have occasionally obtained specimens in a curious way; they would lodge by day within the moveable " leaves" of a jilmil (or " Jalousie"), in which singular retreat I have captured them. I have also known Mus. Flavescens to resort by day (with the vain notion of concealing itself) to the same very insufficient hiding place. Of course the jilmils being a little open, to permit of their ensconcing themselves, the animals intercept the light from without, and are so discovered.
The Indian (or more probably Chinese) E. Gymnopodus, Gray, is surely no other than E. Bakkamaena (vide Ibis, 1863, p. 27) ; but the Malacca race (S. Malayensis, A. Hay) seems to be somewhat different, and I have not found it to vary in shade of hue; while in India the rufous specimens are certainly more common than the grey; I even think, considerably so."
I have not as yet adopted Pennants specific name, because I have been as yet unable to satisfy myself that E. Bakkamaena is really identical with Pennatus.
Whether the supposed rufous phase of this species be really a mere phase of plumage, and not a characteristic of a distinct species, I am by no means certain. My friend Capt. Hutton (who, however, mis-calls this species Lempigi, while he calls E. Gymnopodus, E. Pennatus) informs me that he has on several occasions obtained the nestling as rufous as the parents. Further observation is necessary, and should the rufous variety prove entitled to specific separation, it will form a seventh species of Indian Ephialtes, under the name of E. Sunia, Hodgson. As for what Mr. Blyth says about the Calcutta Museum exhibiting a complete series between Pennatus and Sunia, I can only say that I could find nothing of the kind in February, 1868 ; the rufous and grey specimens that I saw, exhibited no indication of grading the one into the other; every single example being separable at a glance, as pertaining unquestionably to the one or other race. Of course this in no way proves that Mr. Blyth is wrong, or that the rufous is not merely one phase of plumage ; specimens that existed in Mr. Blyth's time may have been lost, or may have been put away where the Baboo in charge could not find them : all I mean is that I do not consider the identity of the two forms established, and that I hope ornithologists will endeavour to settle the question satisfactorily one way or the other.
* The following are the dimensions and description of a specimen in the rufous stage.
Length, 8.25; expanse, 15.5 ; wing, 5.7; third and fourth primaries longest; first 1.1, and the second 0.3 shorter; tail, 2.5; tarsus, 1.0; mid. toe to root of claw, 0.8; its claw straight, 0.39 ; hind toe, 0.39 ; its claw, 0.32; inner toe, 0.65 ; its claw straight, 0.4; hill straight, from edge of cere, 0.5; from gape, 0.8; width at gape, 0.65 ; height at margin of cere, 0.32; length of cere, 0.32 ; closed wings reach to end of tail; lower tail coverts fall short of end of tail by 0.7.
DESCRIPTION, The legs and feet dingy fleshy; irides, yellow; bill, greenish horny, and yellowish on lower mandible.
Plumage. The prevailing colour is a very bright chestnut, a few of the feathers on the forehead and above the eye, are greyish white, and the loral bristles are white, tipped with chestnut and black, a few of the feathers of the crown have the shafts dark brown, one row of the exterior scapulars are tipped blackish brown, and have the outer webs yellowish white. The primaries which are of a duller and paler chestnut towards the tips, have the outer webs above the tips broadly barred with yellowish white and dark brown ; the brown bars being, if I may so term it, hollow, namely dark at their margins, and chestnut coloured or buffy inside. The inner webs are mottled and barred with dusky and yellowish fawn, the secondaries and tertiaries are more or less barred, irregularly and cloudily about the tips. The tail chesnut like the rest, though somewhat paler than the back, with four or five, ill-defined, narrow, dusky, transverse bars. The edge of the wing at the carpal joint is white ; the outer webs of one or two of the feathers of the winglet are white, barred brown and chesnut. The chin is whitish, the whole of the throat, neck, and ruff, chesnut like the upper parts, only one or two of the feathers of the ruff broadly dark shafted towards the tips. Feathers of the breast and sides, chesnut, dark shafted at the tips where also they are mottled and freckled with pure white. The whole of the feathers of the abdomen, flanks, and vent, with dark shaft stripes, and with delicately mottled and freckled, chesnut and rufous brown, transverse bars upon a pure white ground. Tarsal and tibial plumes plain rufous fawn colour, with a few tiny brown spots towards the ends of the tarsi. The wing lining is chesnut and buffy white, indistinctly barred with dusky brown.
I have seen this bird from various localities in the lower ranges of the Himalayahs from Kussowlee to Darjeeling, and concur in Capt. Hutton's remarks to me (in Epist.) that, " it is less common in its own haunts" than E. Gymnopodus, " it frequents valleys at about 3500 to 4000 feet, and generally near a stream of water."
It has a low soft call, very different from the bell-like notes of E. Gymnopodus and Glaucidium Brodiei, which, as Capt. Hutton has proved, are very similar, both being low, sweet, whistled ejaculations, if I may use the phrase.
This bird doubtless occurs in the Hilly ranges of Southern India, but all the specimens as yet sent me thence were either E. Griseus, or E. Malabaricus, which latter, it should be noted, Mr. Blyth identifies, and possibly correctly, with E. Lempigi.