1217. Spilornis cheela

1217. Spilornis cheela.

The Crested Serpent-Eagle.

Falco cheela, Latham, Ind. Orn. i, p. 14 (1790). Haematornis undulatus, Vigors, P. Z. S. 1831, p. 170. Circaetus nipalensis, Hodgson, As. Res. xviii, pt. 2, pl. p. 17 (1833). Haematornis cheela, Blyth, J. A. S. B. xiv, p. 180; id. Cat. p. 19; Horsf. & M. Cat. i, p. 60; Layard, A. M. N. H. (2) xii, p. 99. Spilornis cheela, Jerdon, B. I. i, p. 77; Blyth, Ibis, 1866, p. 242; Hume, Rough Notes, p. 222; Godw.-Aust. J. A. S. B. xxxix, pt. 2, p. 93 ; A. Anderson, P. Z. S. 1872, p. 77 ; Sharpe, Cat. B. M. i, p. 287; Blyth & Wald. Birds Burm. p. 60; Hume & Oates, S. F. iii, p. 28; Fairbank, S. F. iv, p. 253; Wardlaw Ramsay, Ibis, 1877, p. 454 ; Blanford, S. F. v, p. 245; Hume, Cat. no. 39 ; Scully, S. F. viii, p. 224; Vidal, S. F. ix, p. 31; Reid, S. F. x, p. 8; Davidson, ibid. p. 288; Davison, ibid. p. 336; C. H. T. Marshall, Ibis, 1884, p. 407; Oates, B. B. ii, p. 193 ; id. in Hume's N. & E 2nd ed. iii, p. 153 ; Barnes, Birds Bom. p. 37 ; Salvadori, Ann. Mus. Civ. Gen. (2) iv, p. 571; Littledale, Jour. Bom. N. H. Soc. i, p. 195. Spilornis undulatus, Gurney, Ibis, 1878, p. 90. Spilornis rutherfordi, Swinhoe, Ibis, 1870, p. 85; Blyth & Wald. Birds Burm. p. 60; Hume, S. F. iii, p. 28 ; v, p. 10; Hume & Dav. S. F. vi, p. 14; id. Cat. no. 39 ter; Bingham, S. F. ix, p. 144; Oates, B. B. ii, p. 194 ; id. in Hume's N. & E. 2nd ed. iii, p. 166; Cripps, S. F. xi, p. 11. South-Indian and Ceylonese Race. Falco albidus, Cuv. Temm. Pl. Col. pl. 19 (1824). Buteo melanotis, Jerdon, Madr. Jour. L. S, xiii, p. 166 (1844). Haematornis spilogaster, Blyth, J. A. S. B. xxi, p. 351 (1852); Layard, A. M. N. H. (2) xii, p. 100. Spilornis spilogaster, Blyth, Ibis, 1866, p. 243; Blanford, J. A. S. B.xl, pt. 2, p. 270; Hume, S. F. vii, p. 512; id. Cat. 39 bis A ; Legge, Birds Ceylon, p. 61; Parker, Ibis, 1886, p. 182; Oates in Hume's N. & E. 2nd ed. iii, p. 157. Spilornis bacha, apud Jerdon, Ibis, 1871, p. 335; Holdsworth, P. Z. S. 1872, p. 412. ' Spilornis minor, Hume, N. & E. p. 42 (1873). Spilornis melanotis, Sharpe, Cat. B. M. i, p. 289; Hume & Bourd. S. F. iv, p. 358 ; Fairbank, S. F. v, p. 392; Gurney, Ibis, 1878, p. 97 ; Davidson & Wenden, S. F. vii, p. 74; Ball, ibid. p. 199; Hume, ibid. p. 340; id. Cat. no. 39 bis; Vidal, S. F. ix, p. 32; Butler, ibid. p. 373 ; Davison, S. F. x, p. 337 ; Oates in Hume's N. & E. 2nd ed, iii, p. 156; Barnes, Birds Bom. p. 37. Andaman Race. Haematornis cheela, Beavan, Ibis, 1867, p. 314; Ball, J. A. S. B. xxxix, pt. 2, p. 240. Spilornis bacha, apud Hume, Rough Notes, p. 230, pt. Spilornis davisoni, Hume, S. F. i, p. 307 (1873); ii, pp. 147, 491; iv, p. 281; Gurney, Ibis, 1878, p. 98 ; Hume, Cat. no. 39 quat. Spilornis rutherfordi, apud Walden, Ibis, 1873, p. 298.
Furj baj, Dogra Chil, H. (Sabaranpur); Tilai baj, Sabchur, B.; Nalla pamula gedda, Tel; Botta Genda, Gond; Goom, Can.; Murayala, Mahr.; Rajaliya, Cing.; Kadumbien, Tam. (Ceylon); Doun-zoon, Bunnese.

Coloration. Adult. Crown and nape with full crest black, basal half or more of the feathers white; nape-feathers generally tipped with brown; lores nearly naked, bearing a few black bristles only; car-coverts blackish ashy; upper parts dark brown with a rich purple or ruddy gloss; smaller wing-coverts blackish, generally with small white spots ; quills blackish, with three bars brown above, whitish below, that farthest from the base of the feathers is by far the broadest, and is 3 or 4 inches from the tips, the basal two are sometimes confluent; upper tail-coverts tipped white, as are sometimes the back-feathers, scapulars, and secondary quills; tail brown at the base, thence almost black, with one broad white or whity-brown bar, tip pale; lower parts brown, sometimes dark umber, sometimes pale and tawny, sometimes rufous ; chin and throat more or less tinged or streaked with black or ashy; fore-neck and upper breast, as a rule, closely barred with pale brown; lower breast and abdomen, flanks, under wing-coverts, and axillaries ornamented with ocelli that are white surrounded with dark brown, these spots passing into dark-edged cross-bars, more or less broken, on the vent, thigh-coverts, and lower tail-coverts. The variation in the Coloration of the lower parts and in size is unusually great in this Eagle.

In young birds the crown and nape-feathers are white, with black and brown tips; the upper plumage of various shades of brown, the ends of the feathers generally darker, and the base white, many feathers with white tips ; lower parts, including the wing-lining, white with dark shafts or shaft-stripes on the breast; the whitish bars on the wings and tail are more numerous than in adults, generally there are 2 well-marked pale bands on the tail beyond the coverts.

As the bird grows older bars and ocelli appear on the lower parts. When nearly adult, there is still much white on the wing-lining, and remains of the second pale tail-bar may often be traced even in full-grown birds. In the intermediate stage the chin is very black, there are still dark shaft-stripes to the barred breast-feathers, and sometimes a few small white ocelli on the upper breast.

Bill plumbeous, bluish black at tip and on culmen; cere, skin of lores, and gape bright, or in some dingy lemon-yellow; irides intense yellow ; legs and feet pale dingy yellow.

Distribution. Throughout the Oriental region in suitable places, ascending the Himalayas to 4000 or 5000 feet. Very rare in the north-west of India, but I have seen this bird even in the Sind hills. There are several well-marked races so different in size and Coloration as to have been generally kept distinct; these are:—

(1) Typical S. cheela. This is the largest form—length about 29 inches; tail 13; wing 20 ; tarsus 4; bill from gape 1.9 : male rather smaller than female in general, but there is no constant difference. The breast and fore-neck are closely and distinctly barred, sometimes the throat also, the chin and throat are often black, and in adults there is a single broad whitish band on the tail. This form is found in Northern India from Sind and Kashmir to Bengal, especially at the base of the Himalayas, and stragglers have been met with throughout the Peninsula, there being one from Mysore in the Hume collection.

(2) The race found in Assam, Cachar, and Burma is by Hume, rightly, I think, identified with the Hainan S. rutherfordi. The breast is generally barred, though less distinctly than in typical S. cheela, and the barring becomes less distinct in many Southern specimens. The chin and throat are dark ashy grey. As a rule, there is a second pale tail-bar, less distinct than the posterior one, just beyond the coverts; wings 17 to 18 inches long in Assamese and North-Burmese birds, in Tenasserim specimens the whole length is 23 to 28, tail 9.5 to 11, wing 15.25 to 18, tarsus 3.5 to 3.62.

(3) The Andaman race S. davisoni, specimens of which have also been obtained in the Nicobars. This is simply a miniature of S. rutherfordi. Length 22 to 24, tail 10, wing 15, tarsus 3.7, bill from gape 1.7. Some Tenasserim specimens seem undistinguishable.

Further south, in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo, is another small form, S. pallidas, Walden (Ibis, 1872, p. 363; Cat. B. M. i, p. 290, pl. ix), without any bars on the breast; wing about 14.

(4) The common form throughout the Indian Peninsula differs from typical S. cheela in wanting the barring on the breast, or only exhibiting the merest trace of it, in rarely having any black on the chin, and in often having two bands on the tail, the upper
band being more or less indistinct. To the northward this race is but little smaller than S. cheela, and has a wing of about 18, but to the southward and in Ceylon the wing varies from 14.5 to 17. This form is S. melanotis; the Ceylon race has been distinguished as S. spilogaster. If we had only this race and typical S. cheela to consider they might well be separated, but some small South-Indian and Ceylonese birds are, as Gurney has
shown, not distinguishable from specimens from the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, and these pass gradually into the large northern S. cheela through S. rutherfordi. This case is therefore similar to that of Caprimulgus macrurus (p. 189). Probably Spilornis cheela offers the most remarkable instance in Indian birds of the diminution of size to the southward.

Habits, &c. This Eagle is usually found on trees near water, especially the fine trees along irrigation-channels and canals in Upper India, and along stream-beds in the lower Himalayas and in the Central Provinces and Southern India. It may also be seen soaring and may be at once recognized by the strongly marked bars on its wings and tail, and by its loud plaintive cry, which it frequently utters on the wing. It feeds on snakes, lizards, and frogs, occasionally on small mammals, on birds, and on insects. It breeds on trees in March, April, and May, making a nest of sticks about 2 feet in diameter, lined with a pad of green leaves. It lays usually one egg, sometimes two, more or less densely streaked and spotted with brownish red and purple, and measuring about 2.78 by 2.2.

The Fauna Of British India including Ceylon and Burma
Blanford, William Thomas, ed. The Fauna of British India: Including Ceylon and Burma. Vol.3 1895.
Title in Book: 
1217. Spilornis cheela
Book Author: 
William Thomas Blanford
Page No: 
Common name: 
Crested Serpent Eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle
Spilornis cheela
Vol. 3
Term name: 

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