(1765) Spilornis cheela cheela.
THE INDIAN CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE.
Falco cheela Lath., Ind. Orn., i, p. 14 (1790) (Lucknow). Spilornis cheela. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 357 (part.).
Vernacular names. Fury baj, Dogra chil (Hind. Sabaranpore) ; Tilai baj, Sabchur (Beng.); Sin (Assam).
Description. Crown, nape and full crest black, the white bases of the feathers showing through more or less, the feathers of the nape edged with fulvous-brown and those of the posterior crown to a lesser degree; upper parts dark brown, often with a distinct gloss; lesser wing-coverts blackish-brown with white spots ; other wing-coverts like the back, sometimes, perhaps in younger birds, with narrow white edges; quills blackish-brown with a broad paler brown band near the end and two narrower bands below this, inner webs mottled and marked with white on the inner webs below the notches; there are also narrow white tips to the quills in freshly-moulted birds; upper tail-coverts tipped white; tail black, narrowly tipped whitish, brownish at the base and with one broad pale brown or white band across the centre; lower parts rufous or tawny-brown; chin and throat ashy-brown with narrow rufous bars and tips; the breast generally all brown or grey-brown with little barring and very narrow rufous fringes; remainder of lower parts with white spots, having black patches above and below them ; on the abdomen these spots and patches become more like bars, whilst on the lower tail-coverts they appear as alternate bars of brown, white and black.
Colours of soft parts. Iris golden yellow; bill slaty-blue, nearly black on the culmen and tip ; cere and lores yellow, brighter in the breeding-season, rather dull and dingy at other times ; legs and feet dull yellow, the tarsi naked and covered with hexagonal scales, claws black.
Measurements. Wing 468 to 507 mm.; tail 295 to 315 mm. tarsus 100 to 102 mm.; culmen 41 to 45 mm. The sexes in this genus do not differ in size.
Young birds have the feathers of the head, nape and crest fulvous-white, with dark brown sub-apical patches ; the upper parts are brown, often paler than in the adult, with broad white fringes; the inner wing-coverts have broad white edges and broken bars ; the tail has six bands of dark brown and pale brown, the latter often mottled with white; the lower parts are at first white, sullied brownish-white or fulvous-white with a few dark streaks on the breast and flanks; the bars on the wings are more numerous than in the adult.
The occellated brown under plumage seems to be acquired before the upper adult plumage but the chin and throat remain white for some time.
Distribution. Northern India from Sind and Kashmir to Eastern Assam but not the extreme East of Assam or to the countries South of the Brahmapootra. Birds from extreme Eastern Bengal are somewhat intermediate between the typical form and Kirke-Swann's burmanicus and the Southern Indian albidus.
Nidification. This magnificent Eagle breeds from the foot-hills up to some 7,000 feet in the Himalayas, building a large stick-nest high up on some tall forest-tree, preferably one standing by a stream or some natural opening. Some nests are well lined with green leaves, others quite unlined. The eggs, of which one only is laid, are very handsome. The ground is white, creamy white, or very faintly yellowish white and they are boldly blotched with rich brown and red-brown, with sparse secondary markings of lavender and purple-grey. In a few eggs the markings are more clouds than blotches and the underlying lavender blotches better defined; in most eggs the markings are more numerous at the larger end, in some confined entirely to it and in others distributed over the whole egg. Sixteen eggs average 71.8 x 56.2 mm.: maxima 77.3 X 57.6 mm,; minima 66.3 x 52.7 mm. The birds breed principally in May and June but some lay as early as February.
Habits. This Serpent-Eagle is found both in forests and in the open country round them, spending most of the time soaring at an immense height, often invisible to human sight. Their own sight must be very marvellous, for a pair of these birds which I had tame, though unrestrained in any way, would recognise me as I walked or rode home, though they themselves were quite out of sight. The first notice I had of their presence was the loud screaming cry, commencing with two or three loud " kok-koks " and then specks would appear in sight high above me, gradually enlarging as they sailed down in wide circles to within a few feet of me, or actually alighted on my shoulder. They feed much on snakes and will attack those of great size. The rat-snake, even when as big as 7 or 8 feet, are tackled and killed with ease and they seem to destroy poisonous snakes with as little fear as the harmless ones. When no snakes are to be found they will eat reptiles, birds of all kind up to the size of the largest pheasants, partridges and ducks and also grubs and the larger insects.
* I have not seen any specimen of S. klossi but from the description can find no character which could be used to define it as a species from S. cheela.