57. Pernis cristata

No. 57. Pernis Cristata.* CUVIER.


(Schleg. Mus. P. B. Pernes, p. 2, Valkv. Nederl. Ind. pl, XXV. fig. 1-3, XXVI. fig. 1-2. Tem. Pl. Col. 44.)

This species lays in May and June, and in the latter and former halves respectively, of April and July. It builds in trees, placing its moderately sized,-stick and twig nest, in a fork, usually some considerable height from the ground. In texture, the nests differ much, some are compactly and neatly, others loosely and carelessly put together, but all are more or less thickly lined with leaves or occasionally grass. As a rule they lay two eggs, but it it not uncommon to find a single, fully incubated egg.

Normally, the shape of the eggs, of this species, is nearly spherical, and even the most aberrant are a very broad oval. Typically, they are very highly coloured eggs, and remind one much of the eggs of the European Honey Buzzard. I have a specimen which corresponds closely with the second figure in Hewitson's Pl. XV. and I have others fully as richly coloured, but of a different type. The ground colour varies from white or pinkish white to buffy yellow, and the markings from reddish brown to intense blood red. In one, the markings are a rather dingy though deep purple. In another, the whole egg is buff brown, faintly but thickly mottled and clouded with yellowish brown. Another egg, with a reddish brown ground, is entirely capped, and thickly mottled, over the whole of the rest of the surface, with a very dull but deep cinnamon red, reminding one forcibly of some of the richest coloured Neophrons. As a rule, these eggs are glossless, but one or two have a trace of gloss about them. The lining, or rather the colour of the eggshell, when held up against the light, varies from greenish white to dingy yellowish green.

In size, the eggs vary from 1.82 to 2.22 in Length, and from 1.55 to 1.85 in breadth, but the average of ten eggs measured was 2.03 by 1.72.

I owe to Capt. G. F. L. Marshall, E. E., the following interesting note, on the nidification of this species, in the Saharunpoor district, which renders further remarks of my own on the subject unnecessary. " The Crested Honey Buzzard builds in May, the young being usually hatched in the beginning of June. The season for building is, however, spread over a long period, as in one case, I noticed a bird building on the 23rd March; the nest was completed by the end of April, but the first egg was not laid till the 12th May, and the second egg on the 14th; I took the nest on the 15th.

" The nest is situated in the stout fork of a tree, generally about two-thirds of the way up; of the ten nests I nave taken, one was in a Toon tree (cedrela toona) and all the rest in sheeshum trees (Dalbergia Sissoo.) The nest is cup-shaped in the first instance, but so filled up with the lining, as to appear more like a flat platform. It is a compact structure, composed entirely of twigs, neatly put together 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 nave been partially renewed after the eggs were laid. The outer diameter of the nest is about sixteen to eighteen inches, and of the egg receptacle about ten inches ; the depth of the structure, including lining, is about nine inches.

" The eggs, two in number, are deposited in the middle of the platform, the colour varies greatly, from a white ground, more or less blotched with every shade of reddish brown, to a red¬dish brown ground, clouded and blotched with a darker shade. Some are exactly like gigantic Falcon's eggs, while others again, closely resemble richly blotched Kite's eggs: in shape they are mostly very round. The shell is thin, and rather brittle, and smoother than is usual among the Raptores.

" The bird is rather familiar in its habits, and by no means shy ; I took three of its nests, from compounds in the station of Saharunpoor, and three more from the compounds of the Canal Chokees. It seldom flies far and is easily approached. When the eggs are near the hatching point, the bird sits excessively close ; I have found it impossible to drive it off by throwing stones, and on one occasion the female only flew when my hand was actually on the nest, though she had been struck pretty sharply by several of the stones. The male bird assists in building and is more wary than the female.

" On one occasion, I noticed a male bird with a stick in its claws fly into a tree and return without it. I went up to the place, and noticed the commencement of the nest; while I was standing there the male bird returned with another twig, but catching sight of me from the distance he turned off and went into another tree some distance off, and nothing would induce him to come near the place, till I was well away, though the female kept going and coming all the time."

Mr. W. Blewitt says, "We found one nest of this species near Hansie, on the 16th June, which contained a single fresh egg. The nest was placed on a Neem tree, at the height of about sixteen feet from the ground, and was slightly built of Keekur and Zisyphus twigs and scantily lined with a reed grass. It measured ten inches in diameter and four in depth."

In another letter, also from Hansie, he remarks, - :" We got two nests, of the Honey Buzzard, on the 5th and 10th July, out of Sheeshum trees on the canal banks. One contained a single, fresh, the other a solitary, fully incubated egg. The nests were respectively, about fifteen and twenty feet from the ground, were constructed of Keekur and Sheeshum twigs, and were lined with leaves."

Mr. E. Thompson, writing from Gurhwal, remarks that " The Honey Buzzard breeds from April to June, building its circular, pan-shaped nest (which no little resembles that of Spizaetus. Caligatus) in large trees, in open forest country.

" These birds steadily arrive in our forests, along with swarms of bees, in March, when they begin to pair. In April they begin to select trees to build on. During the coupling season, both birds utter a loud yet plaintive cry, very similar to that uttered by Spizaetus Caligatus, but from which it is distinctly recognizable. The food of these birds is varied. I have seen them eating frogs and even young birds, and have often found the craw fully distended with honey.

"The flight is rapid and direct, with occasional upward sweeps. Dr. Jerdon is wrong in stating, that it does not soar gracefully. It soars vigorously, rising to a very great height. As many as five or six couples might be seen here, in a single day well mounted in the air. The bird can dart down from a great height very rapidly, which it always does when tired of soaring, and is the cause of terrible alarm to Mainas and Parakeets, who set up awful screams at its approach to their nesting trees. I firmly believe this bird to be an arch robber of nests, having more than once detected him at work hunting about a tree very carefully, to the intense terror of the inhabitants."

In a later letter he adds, " I saw a pair soaring, not only very gracefully, but very high in the air in the Agoree pergunnah, district Mirzapore, and in proof of this, I shot one of the birds which, whilst I was watching the couple, darted down and settled in a tree. The skin was sent to you from Allahabad."

The colouring, of different specimens of the Crested Honey Buzzard, differs so conspicuously, even amongst birds of apparently the same age, that I have thought it necessary to describe several specimens. Dr. Jerdon seems to consider the stages of plumage, at different ages, tolerably well characterized, but after examining a great number of specimens, the only marks by which I could certainly distinguish the older from the younger birds, were, - : first, that the old have two, very broad, well marked, dark, brown bands visible on the tail feathers, and the space of paler brown enclosed between them is freckled and mottled with a lighter colour, but not barred - : while in younger birds, the tail is invariably banded, more or less plainly, with numerous, pale, narrow, wavy streaks, besides two or more brownish bands of darker brown, which broadish bands however are neither half the width, nor so well defined, nor so dark as in the old; and secondly a very similar difference in the banding of the primaries beyond the emarginations. All other signs of age appear deceptive. Year old birds have at times, the lores, cheeks and face quite gray, while old birds may be seen nearly white below, each feather with a conspicuous, median stripe of the darkest brown. Some young birds too are so dark a brown above, as in some lights to appear almost black, while the old are often a mixture of pale brown and grayish. The light edgings to the feathers of the upper parts are, (contrary to all analogy,) met with occasionally in the old, as well as in the young, and there are really very few points in the plumage of this species, which seem constant in all specimens, at all ages.

Capt. Marshall concurs with me in this: he tells us that " the birds vary considerably in plumage even in the adult, as every specimen I have got was shot off a nest, and they vary from dark brown to almost white in the general ground colour, the commonest tinge being brownish ashy. I also noticed that the brown specimens, and the whitish ones, always had a distinct incipient occipital crest of black feathers, whereas in the ashy type there was never even the faintest indication of it."

This species seems to be confined to India, south of the Himalayahs, Burmah, the Malay Peninsular, Sumatra, Bangkok and Java. I have never seen it recorded from Ceylon, nor have I seen any specimen killed at a greater elevation, than 4000 feet in the Himalayahs, or even at this height, any where except along the outer ranges. It is very locally distributed in upper India, but the double lines of trees, that every where border our canals, throughout their whole Length, are beyond doubt among its most favourite haunts. It is essentially a wood and water loving species.

Mr. Blyth, at one time, described a specimen of a Crested Honey Buzzard from Mergui, under the name of Pernis Brachypterus, in the following terms.

" Colour dark hair Drown above; crest simple, broad, two and a half inches long, the feathers composing it, white tipped as are also those adjacent. Lower parts white, with dark central streaks or tears on the breast and flanks."

Does any one know what became of this specimen ? and what ultimate verdict, if any, was pronounced as to its specific distinctness ?

I cannot find that this supposed new species has ever been confirmed, or suppressed. The description would apply well enough to many examples of P. Cristata, that I have seen, except that the crest is longer than any I have yet noticed in this species. If distinct, it should stand as No. 57 bis.

Pernis Cristata

Dimension Male
From Male
To Female
From Female
Length 24.00 25.50 26.00 28.00
Expanse. 49.00 54.00 55.00 57.00
Wing. 15.50 16.00 15.75 17.25
Tail from vent 10.30 11.00 11.50 12.75
Tarsus 1.90 2.10 2.19 2.70
Foot, greatest length. 4.70 4.80 5.00 5.25
Foot, greatest breadth. 4.50 4.60 4.75 5.13
Mid Toe to root of Claw. 1.80 2.05 2.03 2.13
Its Claw straight. 1.00 1.05 0.94 1.19
Hind toe to root of claw. 1.10 1.20 1.06 1.13
Its claw, straight 0.88 0.95 0.75 1.06
Inner toe to root of claw. 1.35 1.40 1.44 1.54
Its claw, straight 0.92 0.95 1.09 1.15
Bill straight, from edge of cere. 0.80 0.90 0.95 1.08
Bill a long Curve, do. do. 0.98 1.05 1.09 1.20
Bill from gape. 1.40 1.45 1.63 1.76
Bill width at gape. 0.95 1.10 1.05 1.25
Bill height, at front, at margin of Cere. 0.40 0.43 0.38 0.48
Distance by which closed wings fall short of end of Tail. 1.30 2.50 2.25 3.00
Distance by which lower Tail Coverts fall short of end of Tail. 5.00 5.90 5.00 7.00
Weight Lb oz 1.12 Lb oz. 2.2 2.80 2.15
Length of cere on culmen 0.60 0.64 0.50 0.69

(Three males and six females measured and weighed.)

The fourth primary the longest. The first is 3.50 to 5.00 shorter, the second 1.09 to 1.50, and the third nil to 0.50 shorter. Exterior tail feathers 0.37 to 1.00, shorter than central ones.

DESCRIPTION, The legs and feet, which are very full and puffy, vary from dingy yellowish white in the young, to bees-wax yellow in old adults. Scutellation, well marked and reticulate, (the plates somewhat concave, especially at back of tarsus,) except about three or four, transverse scutae, at the tips of all the toes ; a mere trace of a connecting membrane, between the central and outer toes, at the base. Claws black, and except the mid toe claw, compressed ; hind claw much curved, and mid claw with the interior margin, usually much dilated, especially towards the tip. Irides brilliant yellow, duller or slightly brownish in younger birds. Cere black, greenish at nostrils and towards commissure. Gape and two-thirds of the commissure from gape, and greater portion of lower mandible pale blue; greater portion of upper mandible and tip of lower, black ; a small dingy greenish patch on each side of the lower mandible towards the base. Tongue, moderate, obtuse, entire; rather stiff and membraneous towards the tip, (where it is slightly emarginate) and margins.

Plumage. - : Of one quite young bird, the whole head, neck, and under parts are fawn coloured : the throat and chin paler and unstreaked, the crown of the head and nape more rufous, all the feathers, except those of the chin and throat, darker shafted, and those of the crown, nape and breast with a conspicuous, median, dark brown streak. The whole or the wing coverts and back are a light brown, lighter on the wing coverts many of which are margined paler. The longer scapulars, secondaries, and tertiaries are a somewhat darker brown. The quills are somewhat darker still. The upper tail coverts are of nearly the same pale rufous or fawn that pervades the lower parte. The tail is a light brown, the usual narrow white tip, then there narrow wavy bars of paler hue, banding the terminal five inches of the tail feathers, and showing in one place, about four inches from the end, a small spot of dark brown, on both sides of the shaft. About five inches from the end, is a tolerably well marked bar of darker brown, about half an inch wide, then again nearly an inch of the same brown as the rest of the tail, with three narrow, irregular, pale bars, and then just under the upper tail coverts, a trace of another, half inch broad, ill-defined, darker brown bar. The tail in this instance, presents scarcely a trace of the almost constant, subterminal dark brown band. The lining of the wing is the same colour as the rest of the lower parts, and its feathers similarly darker shafted. There is a faint greyish streak covering the lores and eyes, and extending for about a quarter of an inch behind the eye.

In other specimens of somewhat older birds, the fawn colour is everywhere replaced by a rich rufous, in others by a dingy rufous brown, in others by a very dark wood brown, and lastly, in some, by an almost pure white. To all these the above description would answer mutatis mutandis, remembering that the difference in the colour in the under parts, and head, extends, to a certain degree, to the brown of the upper parts. The wing lining, in almost every case, being exactly the same shade of colour as the breast. The tail, however, in most specimens, differs from that of the young bird above described. First, there is the narrow tipping of white, then a bar of more or less dark brown about an inch wide, then about three inches of a lighter brown, with five or six narrow wavy bars of a still lighter colour, then a half or three quarter inch of the same dark brown as the subterminal band, then another inch and a half of the paler brown, with two or three of the still lighter wavy bars, and then just under the tips of the upper tail coverts, another half or three quarter inch, darker brown band. Many of the birds have three or four, somewhat lengthened, black brown feathers on the neck, margined with the same colour as the rest of the head, which form a sort of incipient crest. Laying six or seven, well chosen specimens, of the above described type, varying but little except in their shades of colour, beside each other, these shades of colour differ so extraordinarily, that one might almost believe that specimens of the creamy, white-breasted kind had been dipped in a series of dyes of every shade, from the most delicate fawn, to the deepest burnt sienna.

There is, however, a somewhat different type. The crown is brown, the feathers with very dark central stripes, a broad supercilium, the ear coverts and the sides and back of the neck are pale, somewhat rufous brown, the feathers dark shafted, and those towards the base of the neck broadly centered with very dark brown. The whole of the scapulars, upper back, wing coverts, secondaries and tertiaries very dark brown, the back less dark, and the upper tail coverts light brown, the tail of the ordinary type, above described, but altogether much darker. The grey of the lores and eye streak more ashy, the chin, throat, and upper neck nearly pure white, only slightly tinged with fulvous and no dark shafts; a row of feathers on each side of the lower portion of this pale patch, conspicuously tipped with black brown. The breast somewhat pale rufous, or rufous brown, all the feathers with dark brown, linear, central stripes. The whole of the rest of the lower parts nearly uniform fawn, with scarcely a trace of dark shafting to the feathers. The wing lining and the axillaries the same tint as the breast, not dark shafted, but the axillaries distinctly banded with a lighter tint.

In the old bird the tail has the usual white tip, then a two inch band of dark brown, then a similar space of lighter brown, freckled (not barred), with a still paler colour, then another two inch, dark brown band, then an inch or so of the lighter freckled or mottled brown, and then another dark brown band showing just under the upper tail coverts.

In the primaries at all ages, the inner web is white, or nearly so, above the emarginations, with some few pale brown spots or incomplete bars. Beyond the emarginations in the old bird, there is a white tip, two dark, and one light bar, exactly as above described in the tail, which though most conspicuous below, are very visible above, but in younger birds, the dark portion of the primaries are clouded and indistinctly barred like their tails, this barring being often scarcely visible above. In some specimens, as in that first described, scarcely any barring or clouding is visible, even beneath. The secondaries and tertiaries are usually, at all ages, very faintly barred with a slightly lighter shade, and this is most visible when the bird has recently moulted. In some birds whilst the head, neck, and ear coverts are a dark rufous brown, darker centered, and the rest of the upper parts a very dark brown, the chin, throat, breast, and abdomen are pure white, most of the feathers of the two former dark shafted, and the two latter with large, subterminal, dark brown lunules, each set in a round spot of somewhat pale rufous brown, and the axillaries, thigh and lower tail coverts are broadly, though regularly banded, with this latter colour. In some birds, the lesser wing coverts are so broadly margined with fawn or creamy white, that there is almost more of this than the brown visible, and this is not dependant on age or sex, or even altogether on the colour of the lower parts, since, though I have never observed this in any birds which were of a dark hue beneath, I have specimens of which the entire ground of the lower parts is creamy white, the wing coverts of which show no trace of a paler margin. One old bird with tail and wings bearing the signs of maturity above indicated, will have the whole of the lores, forehead, round the eyes, and top of the head dark slaty gray, with a black brown occipital crest of three feathers about an inch long. The occiput and back of the neck, very dark rufous brown, darker shafted, and the rest of the upper parts and sides dark brown. The whole lower parts pure white ; the feathers of the chin with very narrow,'dark brown, longitudinal, central stripes, and those of all the rest of the lower parts with similar, rather wider stripes, and large, broad, subterminal, pale, rufous brown blotches, the axillaries and some of the thigh coverts being distinctly banded. Another old bird not only has the whole lores, forehead, crown, sides of the head and occiput bluish grey, with only a tinge of brown on the occiput, but the whole brown of the upper parts, which is pale compared with the majority of specimens, has more or less of a greyish tint, some feathers being browner and some greyer, but all pale, and with no trace of a crest. The whole lower parts a nearly uniform, wood brown, (paler on the throat) with the shaft (and the shafts only) dark brown.

Almost every possible combination of the varying plumage, and shades of colour, of different parts, above described, may be met with.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
57. Pernis cristata
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Crested Honey Buzzard
Crested Honey Buzzard
Pernis ptilorhynchus
Vol. 1

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