(1706) Sarcogyps calvus.
THE BLACK, OR PONDICHERRY, VULTURE.
Vultur calvus Scop., Del. Flora et Faun. Insubr., ii, p. 88 (1786) (Pondicherry), Otogyps calvus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 318.
Vernacular names. Raj-gidh, Mulla-gidh, Bhaonra (Hin.); Raj Shagon (Beng.); Raj-hogon (Assam); Loong-nong-loong (Lepcha);Nella Borawa (Tel.); Rannapanta (Yerkli).
Description. A ring of black feathery bristles round the ear and a few scattered black bristles on the cheeks, lores and sides of the crown; general plumage above glossy black, the scapulars, rump and lower back browner; secondaries pale brown with black tips ; crop-patch brown, ruff and lower plumage black, the feathers with white bases which show through everywhere; upper thighs and posterior flanks covered with white downy feathers.
Colours of soft parts. Iris yellow, red-brown or crimson; bill dark brown, yellowish at the base of the lower mandible; cere, bare skin of head and neck deep yellowish-red; wattles often more red; bare skin on either side of the crop and inside the thighs duller yellowish-red; legs dull livid-fleshy to dull red.
Measurements. Wing 600 to 625 mm.; tail 226 to 257 mm.; tarsus 108 to 116 mm.; culmen 74 to 80 mm.
Young birds have the crown covered with white down and a certain amount of light brown down on chin, throat and crop-patches ; the general plumage is brown above, the feathers with paler edges ; quills and tail darker brown, the former nearly black; below the crop is white; breast, anterior flanks and abdomen pale brown; posterior flanks and abdomen, vent and under tail-coverts white.
Distribution. Throughout India and Burma but not in Ceylon; it is also found East and South into Siam, Cochin China, and the Malay Peninsula.
Nidification. The Black Vulture breeds in Western and Southern India principally in February and March, though eggs have been taken as early as October and again in December. In Eastern India the principal breeding months are December and January. This Vulture invariably makes its nest on trees or, where these are scarce, on high bushes, cacti, etc.; never, so far as authentic records go, do they build them on cliffs. The nest may be anything from two to four feet in diameter and from six to eighteen inches or more in depth and is built of sticks and branches, normally well lined with green leaves and branches, less often with straw, grass or rubbish.
In most cases the nest is built in trees in orchards, village surroundings, or open cultivated country but occasionally in forest or thin scrub- and tree-jungle. Both birds assist in building the nest but as a rule the male brings the material and the female constructs the nest. Only one egg is laid and this is always pure white. Hume obtained one egg very faintly flecked with reddish but among the hundreds I have personally seen I have only come across one, taken by Howard Campbell, which was marked at all, though this particular specimen is very handsomely blotched and spotted with red. Sixty eggs average 83.9 x 66.0 mm.: maxima 89.5 x 65.3 and ? x 71.1 mm. (Hume); minima 79.5 X 64.5 and 79.6 x 61.5 mm. Incubation takes 42 to 47 days.
During the hottest hours of the day neither bird sits on the egg, at night the male seems always to be on the nest and in the mornings and afternoons the female. The birds pair either on the nest or on one of the branches adjoining and the ceremony is always attended by extraordinary roarings, uttered by both sexes. The female seems to be the more prominent of the two birds in making advances prior to copulation. In Eastern Bengal, where they are unusually common, I have known two nests on adjacent trees but usually each pair has a wide territory to itself.
Habits. The Black or King Vulture, as this bird is commonly called, is scattered widely all over the Indian Empire but is nowhere seen in flocks like the Common Vulture; I once saw eight, probably four pairs, feeding on a dead Gaur, but usually they are only seen in pairs or alone. Although smaller than most of the other Vultures it is far bolder, more pugnacious and more powerful and its arrival at a carcase is the signal for the dispersion of the Vultures already assembled and feeding, who take up their position at a little distance until his majesty is gorged. On the ground his movements are more dignified though easier and quicker, whilst in the air his flight is equally graceful and picturesque.