(1819) Pernis ptilorhynohus ruflcollis Lesson.
THE INDIAN CRESTED HONEY-BUZZARD.
Pernis ptilorhynchus ruficollis. Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 167.
This beautiful Buzzard is resident in Ceylon and all over India North to the Himalayas. It is rare in the Punjab but has been recorded as occurring in Sind by Blyth (Str. Feath, vol. i, p. 103).
It is comparatively common in Bihar, extending through Assam into Northern Burma, where it has been recorded as far East as the Ruby Mines district by Harington and the Southern Shan States by Cock.
Although really a resident non-migratory bird, it moves about locally under the influence of food-supply. Thus Currie says that it only visits Lahore during the breeding season and, again, it appears to be found in Panchmari only when the bees are there to furnish it with its daily diet.
The Honey-Buzzard, though it may be occasionally found in thin and deciduous forest and still more rarely in overgreen forest, is a bird which by preference haunts well-wooded open country, both cultivated and waste, and frequently breeds in gardens, compounds, factory surroundings and in the vicinity of villages. It ascends the hills up to at least 4,000 feet but, even in these, it generally frequents rice-fields and cultivation patches round villages or grass-covered hillsides merely dotted with trees, singly or in small clusters.
In Bihar, where they are more numerous than in any other part of India known to me, most birds made their nest in solitary Mongo or other trees in indigo or other cultivated tracts, though a few build in gardens and others in Mango-groves. Inglis and Coltart, who obtained a really wonderful series of the most beautiful eggs of this Buzzard, found nests in very many kinds of trees. Both certainly found more in Mango-trees than in any others, but they recorded nests in Peepul, Banyan, Casuarina, Siris, Tamarind, Jack Fruit, Coconut-palms, Date-palms, Babool and other Acacias and in some others the names of which were not noted. Marshall found nests also in Toon-trees (Cedrela toona) and in Sheeshums (Dalbergia, sissoo), while Blewitt added the Neem-tree to the number of those occupied.
The nest is usually placed fairly high up in the tree selected, most often between 20 and 30 feet, but many are much higher and a few are lower. Inglis records one at 15 feet in a Mango and Blewitt one in a Sheeshum at 16 feet, while I have seen one at about 12 feet in a Mango, resting in a deep fork made by three large boughs. A nest taken by Coltart from a tree in his garden was right up in among the quite small branches of the tree, but two out of three nests, or an even greater proportion, are placed on big branches and forks in the upper half of the tree chosen.
I believe it is exceptional for the Honey-Buzzard to make use of other birds’ nests for breeding purposes, but Coltart took two eggs from an old Kite’s nest in his garden, and gives the following interesting account of another pair of birds usurping the nest of a Shikra (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xvii, p. 545, 1906)
“A pair of these birds had been under observation of my friend Mr. N. L. Hervey and myself for some weeks and had laboriously completed a very nice nest high up in a Tamarind-tree in a compound.
Fifty yards away in a Sissoo-tree was a nest of a Shikra (Astur badius) from which we removed two eggs on April the 23rd, To our surprise, and for no apparent reason, on May 5th the Honey-Buzzard deserted her own capacious home and transferred her headquarters to the deserted nest of the Shikra, piling in her furniture, in the shape of green leaves and additional sticks, with a feverish haste, which was in marked contrast to the leisurely manner in which she and her mate had built their own nest. On the following day she laid a particularly handsome egg, but a cyclone visited the district on the next day and it was blown from the nest.
“Since I wrote the above the Shikra has returned to her original nest and has laid two eggs. The Honey-Buzzards, probably the same two individuals, have built again in the same compound and we are now (14th June) anxiously awaiting the next move.” Normally they construct their own homes, untidy stick affairs, with a good lining of green leaves, sometimes mixed with grass. Marshall (G. F. S.) gives a good description of a thoroughly typical nest :—“The nest is situated in the short fork of a tree, generally about two-thirds of the way up. The nest is cup-shaped in the first instance hut so filled up with the lining as to appear more like a flat platform. It is a compact structure composed entirely of twigs, and lined with a thick layer of dead leaves, chiefly sheeshum- leaves, almost filling up the hollow space ; in one instance I found the nest lined with perfectly fresh green leaves, and as there were two eggs in it the lining must have been partially renewed after the eggs were laid. The outer diameter of the nest is about 16 to 18 inches and of the egg-receptacle about 10 inches ; the depth of the structure including lining is about 9 inches.
“The bird is rather familiar in its habits and by no means shy ; I took three of its nests from compounds in the station and three more from the compounds of canal chowkies.”
That the bird is not shy seems to be generally accepted, but this is not always so, for Inglis says that in the breeding season he considers them to he shy birds and that they quickly desert their nests (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xiv, p. 589, 1893).
The breeding season is April, May and early June, but in Southern India more birds lay in February than later, and again in Dacca I took a pair of eggs on the 10th of that month. On the other-hand, Blewitt took eggs as late as the 10th July at Hansie.
The clutch numbers two but occasionally a single egg may be laid and incubated. As regards description, it would take pages to do justice to these most beautiful eggs, their wonderful variety and range of coloration.
In shape they are broad ovals, practically the same at both ends, the surface is smooth and rarely faintly glossy, hut the texture is rather coarse.
As a series they are not like the eggs of the European Honey- Buzzard, though a few individual eggs may be indistinguishable.
Most eggs have a ground-colour of pale cream, pale reddish-buff, reddish or yellowish-buff The markings vary so greatly that I give descriptions of certain types between which every intermediate form also occurs :—
1. Like the English Pernis, a very rare type, ground pale cream or reddish, the whole surface blotched, mottled and clouded, sometimes so thickly as to practically obliterate the ground, with deep blood-red, red-brown or chestnut-red. Occasionally in this type there are a few still deeper spots and lines of the colour of clotted blood or black.
2. Pale cream ground mottled with reddish-brown or chestnut-brown, very like a Kestrel’s egg, the extent and depth of colour of the blotching varying to the same extent.
3. Pale salmon-buff or pale stone-buff, lightly freckled all over with reddish.
4. Pale reddish or buff, with brown markings varying in depth from light sienna-brown to deep chestnut-brown or van¬dyke-brown. Many of these are exactly like common types of the Sparrow-Hawk, some even having the pure white ground usual in the eggs of that species.
5. White, with a faint indication of some shade of reddish or buff, freckled, mottled or blotched with sienna-brown, pale or dark, with numerous underlying blotches and cloudings of lavender.
6. Any of the above tints of ground-colour, with beautiful cloudings and smears of deep brown or reddish-brown and secondary markings of grey, the two running into each other and often blending. A very beautiful type.
7. Practically uniform brick-red, the tiny red freckles so numerous as to entirely obscure the ground-colour.
In all the above types there are sometimes observable hair-lines, hieroglyphics etc. of deeper, darker colour, generally almost black. As a rule the markings, whether numerous or scanty, are distributed, fairly evenly over the whole surface, hut in a minority of eggs, more especially those which are clouded and smudged, they are entirely or partly confined to the larger end.
I have only seen one egg which was pure white.
The eggs when specially poorly marked might be mistaken for Kites’ eggs, but the inner membrane is yellow always and never green, as it is in the eggs of the latter.
Eighty eggs average 52.8 x 42.8 mm. : maxima 57.0 x 45.3 and 53.2 x 45.5 mm. ; minima 49.5 x 43.0 and 50.0 x 39.0 mm.
Both sexes incubate and both assist in making the nest, the male actually incorporating the material into the nest as well as bringing it to the female. I do not know bow long incubation lasts, but it is not less than thirty-two days, as a pair of eggs found on the 3rd May had hatched on the 4th June and may have been laid earlier than the date when found. The parent birds, especially the female, sit very close and sometimes refuse to move even when things are thrown at them. They are, however, undemonstrative when their eggs are taken and never attack a human intruder, though they will drive Crows and other avian tresspassers away from their domain.
1819. Pernis ptilorhynchus rufieollis
(1819) Pernis ptilorhynohus ruflcollis Lesson.