No. 75 TRIS. Ephialtes Griseus.* JERDON.
This species breeds in the spring, laying three or four very round white eggs, in holes of trees, commonly more or less lined with leaves and straw. The eggs are pure white, glossy, and very spherical.
Although I have taken the eggs of this species several times, I have, I regret to say, only one note on the subject " Puhpoondh" (Z. Etawah,) " March 10th, 1867. I caught a female Scops Griseus to-day on her nest, at least, on one egg, in a hole in a mango tree, which also contained about a dozen dry leaves and a few feathers, whether blown in by accident or placed there by the bird, I cannot say. .The little animal bit and scratched so vigorously, that I had to use a cloth to get her out; she fought so valiantly for her penates, that I was sorry to sacrifice her, but it was important to preserve her skin to prevent future doubts as to the species to which the egg really belongs. She contained another fully developed egg, which my stuffer stupidly broke in skinning her. The egg was quite fresh, it looked a large egg as compared with those of A. Brahma (though it is shorter than some of these latter), owing to its great width. It is pure white, without any tinge, either of blue or cream colour, fine in texture, and almost as glossy as a dove's egg. In size and shape though a trifle more spherical than this latter, it corresponds almost exactly with Hewitson's figure of the egg of Scops Aldrovandi. It measures 1.25 by 1.15."
Mr. W. Blewitt found two nests, both in Sheeshum trees on the canal bank near Hansi. Both nests were in holes, the one contained one, the other two fresh eggs, a bed of leaves and straw being placed under the eggs. The nests were found on the 25th March and 2nd April. Mr. Blewitt shot, preserved, and sent me one of the parent birds, which belonged unmistakably to Jerdon's Griseus, and exhibited the pale greyish plumage, unbarred legs, and Bix-inch wing, characteristic, according to him, of that species.
The eggs are very round, considerably larger than those of Athene Brahma, and than the egg of this species already described. They are fairly glossy and, of course, pure white, and only vary from 1.32 to 1.36 in Length, and from 1.15 to 1.18 in breadth.
As 1 have pointed out in the description, the absence of bars on the tarsi, although the rule in this species, is by no means an invariable characteristic The female which I captured on the egg has the tarsi barred. Of a pair which I caught at Bareilly in May in a hole, with three half grown young ones, one had the tarsi barred, while in the other they were pure white and absolutely spotless. Judging from my notes, at least one in every six specimens has the tarsi more or less clearly barred, and at least two more out of the six, exhibit traces of the same, I have not been able to satisfy myself, whether these differences are accidental, or depend upon age or sex.
This species is widely distributed in India, and though rarely seen is really by no means uncommon. Jerdon gives it from the Eastern Ghats, whence I also have received a specimen, and I have before me now specimens from Saugor, Jhansee, Etawah, Bareilly, a low valley near Almora, Dehli, Hansie, and Mount Aboo, all of which though varying slightly in size and colour, are manifestly one species, and clearly distinct from the five other species that I have separately noticed.
All the specimens that I have hitherto examined in the flesh, had fed exclusively on beetles, crickets and the like.
This species (and very possibly all the other Ephialtes, but this is the only one that I have had opportunities of watching closely), is entirely nocturnal in its habits, and except when disturbed from some hiding-place, will never be seen abroad, so long as there is the least bit of daylight about. During the day, they roost in holes of trees, or, where the foliage is very dense and the branches very close, on some leaf embowered branch A pair that I used to watch at Bareilly, roosted in a dense clump of young Sakoo trees ((Shorea Robusta) which grow in the public gardens. They always sat in the same places, about three feet apart. At night, long after Athene Brahma was chattering angrily every where, and perching out openly on bare boughs and telegraph wires and posts, long alter the two horned Eagle Owls (Ascalaphia Bengalensis and Coromanda) were about, and Bulaca Ocelata was busy trying to awake the echoes (there did not happen to be any there to wake unfortunately) ; the two little Scops Owls would still sit motionless, and never once did they leave their retreats whilst light enough remained to see them. In the early morning, it was the same thing; no matter how early I went, as soon as it was light enough to distinguish them from the leaves, (in which except from one single point of observation they were completely hidden,) there they were, looking for all the world as if they had never moved since the preceding evening. Their cry or at least what I believe to be their cry, for I heard it very often in Bareilly where this species is very plentiful, is a low, monotonous, double note, a sort of bell sound, or low, short whistled, tew, tew, repeated for hours together at short intervals ; it much resembles the note of the so-called Bell Bird of the Himalayana, one of the utterers of which at any rate, Capt. Hutton has proved to be E. Gymnopodus, (74 bis,) but it is somewhat louder and less musical.
As far as my experience goes, this species is exclusively confined to localities in which there are plenty of trees, and where either from natural or artificial causes, the soil is more or less damp and insects are plentiful Trees on canal banks, and canal irrigated lands, are, in upper India at any rate, their favourite haunts.
* EPHIALTES GRISEUS.
DIMENSIONS. (The sexes do not appear to differ in size. I have recorded numerous measurements of both males and females, and though the majority of the females are slightly larger than the majority of the males, I have measured males quite as large as any females, and females as small as any males.)
Length, 7.88 to 8.5. Expanse, 20.5 to 21.5. Weight, 4 oz. to 6.25 oz. Wing, 5.6 to 6.63; the fourth primary the longest; sometimes the fifth and rarely the third sub-equal; the first, 1.25 to 1.63 snorter; the second, 0.5 to 0.65 shorter; the third from sub-equal to 0.06 shorter. Tail of twelve feathers ; length from vent, 2.5 to 3.37; exterior tail feathers about 0.35 shorter than central ones. Tarsus from 1.06 to 1.19. Foot, greatest Length, 1.63 to 1.94; greatest width, 1.63 to 2.06 ; mid toe to root of claw, 0.69 to 0.81 ; its claw, straight, 0.36 to 0.44 ; hind toe, 0.38 to 0.46; its claw, 0.31 to 0.38. Bill, straight, from edge of cere, 0.56 to 0.63 ; from gape, 0.88 to 0.94 ; width at gape, 0.75 to 0.78; height at front at margin of cere, 0.31 to 0.38 ; length of cere, 0.3 to 0.4. Wings when closed reach to within 0.31 to 0.75 of end of tail; lower tail coverts reach to within 0.9 to 1 of end of tail.
DESCRIPTION. Toes and claws very pale greyish brown, the latter darker at the points and not much curved, soles creamy white, pads and papilla much developed and soft, scutellation obscure, three or four transverse quasi scales at the end of each toe; interior ridge of mid claw slightly dilated. Irides, in some, brownish yellow, in others, dark brown; in one nearly pure yellow. (All the specimens whose irides 1 have described are now before me ; these belong unmistakably to one and the same species, and are quite distinct from any of our other five species of Scops Owls, specimens of all of which are also before me.) Bill; upper mandible dark brown, lower mandible paler especially towards the chin. Cere, dusky greyish, swollen and with circular nares pierced at the edge of the swollen ridge. Tongue, moderate, rather thin, of equal width as far as the triangular tip, hastate at the base, and slightly divided at the tip.
Plumage. (A female caught on her eggs at Puhpoondh, Zillah Etawah, March 10th, 1867). A prominent tuft of disunited-webbed, bristly, white feathers (with dark naked tips to the shafts', and traces on those nearest the eye, of dark cross bars,) on each side of the upper mandible at its base. A faint tinge of buffy at the anterior angle of the eye, rest of lores, feathers below and behind eye, including ear coverts, loose webbed, silky, greyish white with traces of faint, minute, transverse, brown bars ; chin white, the feathers of the extreme tip somewhat bristly and curving upwards round lower mandible. Across the throat and upwards immediately behind the ear orifice, as far as the base of the aigrettes, a band of creamy or pale buff feathers, with numerous, minute, transverse, wavy, brown pencillings and bars, those from the aigrettes to the sides of the throat with conspicuous, dark brown tippings, which form the defining line of the disk, and a few of those in the centre of the throat with similarly colored spots at the tips. Forehead and a broad supercilium running up the inside webs of the aigrette feathers, and a curved band at the back of the head, extending from the point of one aigrette, to the point of the other (when laid flat on the head), a silvery grey or greyish white, the feathers with dark brown shafts, and numerous, minute, transverse, pencillings of that colour, and some of them with terminal spots. Centre of forehead and top of head, a triangular space surrounded by this grey band, a rich dark brown, purest on the centre of the forehead, with small twin spots or imperfect transverse bars, and mottlings, to a greater or less extent, of pale buff. The outside webs of the aigrettes are similar, as are the feathers of the band, outside and contiguous to the curved grey band, which latter seems continuous with the dark line of the outer webs of the aigrette, while the former seems to start immediately above the centre of the eye. Below the dark band, at the base of the back of the neck, is another band of very similarly marked feathers, but whereas the dark brown predominates in the former, the buff much predominates in the latter. The back, rump, upper tail coverts, scapulars, wing coverts, except the greater ones of the primaries, a mixture of pale brownish grey, and pale buffy ; with dark brown, central streaks, and numerous, transverse, wavy, brown pencillings, and mottlings. In the outside line of the scapulars, the buff is very pure, and in some positions conspicuous, and while the rump, upper tail and lesser wing coverts are dingier and greyer, the centre of the upper back and the median and secondary wing coverts show more of a pale buff. The primary greater coverts are very dark brown, with broad, transverse, buffy, mottled bars. The quills are darkish brown, with numerous, broad, transverse, greyish, more or less dingy, white bars, much more conspicuous on the outer webs ; with the exception of a- few bars on the upper portion of the outer webs of the earlier primaries, which are unmottled and slightly tinged with creamy, all the rest of these bars are closely mottled and pencilled with brown. The second, third and fourth primaries are just perceptibly emarginate on the outer webs, and the first to the fourth are conspicuously notched on the inner webs. The sides of the neck behind the dark line, the breast, sides, abdomen and thigh coverts, a sort of creamy grey, very soft and silky, the feathers with narrow, rich, brown, central streaks, and numerous, minute, irregular, wavy, transverse pencillings. Greater portion of wing lining, vent feathers, and lower tail coverts, silky greyish white, the latter, some of them, with dark central streaks towards the tips. Tarsus feathers silky greyish white, with a faint buffy tinge towards the joint, and with several, narrow, somewhat irregular, transverse, brown bars. Tail feathers, greyish brown, with imperfect, transverse, mottled bars of very pale dingy buff, and with the interspaces too, more or less mottled with the same colour.
Other specimens killed at Bareilly in May, answered well to the above description, except that in some specimens, the whole of the colours were dingier, while the white of the lower abdomen, vent, lower tail and thigh coverts was purer. The tarsal plumes in some were entirely unbarred, and generally, the markings were less pronounced, and clear, than in the first described specimen. Specimens from numerous other localities, undistinguishable with these. In most birds (six out of eight of those now before me) the tarsal plumes are entirely unbarred.
Very few of the specimens show the silvery half collar on the neck described in the Puhpoondh specimen, in most, the deep brown of the top of the head is continuous down to the broad buffy collar, at most a few feathers on the nape, being greyish towards the tips.
On the whole, however, the coloration of specimens from the most distant localities differs but little.