39. Spilornis bacha

No. 39 (BIS.) Spilornis Bacha, DAUDIN.


[S. Spilogaster, Blyth. Haematornis Elgini, Tytler. Falco Bido, Horsf. Circaetus Bacha, Schlegel.]

I know nothing myself of the nidification of this species, which I have never seen alive; but Mr. Layard who knew this species well (though he gives the wing eighteen inches!) in Ceylon where it is common, remarks, " They were very plentiful at Point Pedro, in the north of Ceylon, and frequented the jungle-dotted plains throughout the Northern provinces. It was no uncommon thing to see three or four on the wing at once, wheeling round in airy circles ; and from their peculiar markings they could be recognized at a great distance. They built on Banyan trees, usually a large, strong nest of sticks, without any lining, and laid three eggs, of dull white colour, with a few, dried blood coloured blotches at the obtuse end. Axis, 2" 7".' Diameter 2. They fed on Snakes, Lizards, and other reptiles and insects. They were particularly partial to the large trees on the banks of tanks, and from them swooped down on the Frogs which came up to sun themselves on the floating logs or weeds."

Col. Tytler very kindly furnishes me with the following dimensions (taken from the dry skins), and descriptions of Andamanese examples, with some notes on the habits of the species: - :

DIMENSIONS. Adult Male. Young Male. Adult Female. Young Female.
Length, 21.62 23.25 22.5 22.75
Expanse, 44..0 40.0 46.0 41.0
Wing, 14..25 14.25 14.25 14.0
Which primary longest, 4& 5 5th 3rd 5th
Amount by which other primaries fall short of 1st 3.5 1st 3.65 1st 1.3 1st 1.4
longest, 2nd 1.1 3rd 0.5 2nd 6.0 2nd 1.37
Length of tail from vent, 10.0 10.0 9.6 9.8
By how much longest tail feathers exceed shortest, 0.7 1.0 0.8 1.2
Tarsus, 3.2 3.2 3.2 3.15
Foot, greatest length,.... 3.5 3.5 3.2 3.0
Foot, greatest width, .... 2.9 2.55 2.45 2.35
Mid toe, 1.6 1.65 1.7 1.7
Its claw straight, ..... 0.8 0.8 0.85 0.75
Hind toe, 0.7 0.85 0.8 0.85
Its claw straight, 0.9 0.9 0.95 0.85
Inner toe, 0.9 1.1 0.95 1.05
Its claw straight, 0.85 0.9 0.9 0.85
Bill straight from edge of cere. 1.15 1.15 0.9 1.1
Do. along curve ditto, 1.37 0.9 1.25
Do. from gape, 5.7 1.5 1.6 1.75
Do. width at gape, .. 1.05 0.92 1.05 0.85
Do. height (or at margin of cere), 0.55 0.55 0.55 0.57
Length of cere (if any), 0.4 0.35 0.45 0.45
Distance by which lower tail coverts fall short of tail, 4.5 4..65 4.5 4.8

DESCRIPTION. Adult, Male. Head blackish brown, as also the primaries; neck, back, rump, upper tail coverts, scapularies, secondaries and tertiaries, dark brown, all the under surface of a lighter brown than the upper; tail blackish with the tips albescent greyish brown, with two broad bands of the same colour on each tail feather, and the rudiments of a third at the base; the bands of the two centre tail feathers are perhaps more albescent than those on the lateral ones ; the rump and upper tail coverts are spotted with white, as also some of the upper wing coverts. Breast, abdomen, flanks, vent, lower tail coverts, under wing coverts, and thighs dotted profusely with roundish spots, largest on some of the under wing coverts, and abdomen, and smallest under the head of the wing, and thighs. Chin and throat unspotted, the feathers on the head forming a full broad crest nearly two inches in Length, each feather of the head more or less margined with light rufous brown, a trace of which is perceptible in all the feathers of the back. All the feathers of the head and crest have their basal half white. All the primaries, which are of a blackish brown, the secondaries, and tertiaries have white greyish bands, beginning with a white tip to most of the feathers ; the first primary has two bars, the second four, the third four. A yellow naked skin passes from the cere, which is also yellow, through the lores to over, and under the eyes, the portion over the eye being slight. Bill at point dark slate, basal portions of both mandibles, yellow ; feet, yellow ; claws, black ; irides, dark brown.

Adult, female, similar to the last in all its markings, colours, &c.

2.Young female, lighter brown than Nos. 1 and 2, the margins of the feathers on the head more albescent rufous ; the spots on the wing coverts and rump, larger, rounder and more numerous than in either of the two preceding specimens, otherwise very like them.

3.Young male, in colour very like No. 3, as also in all its markings, but being a much younger bird, the head is more albescent, each feather being margined with white, then a dark brown band 0.3, the rest of the feather white; a few dark blackish brown feathers on the forehead of the same hue as the head of the adult No. 1, the rump and upper tail coverts are less spotted than in No. 3.

Remarks. This species is by no means uncommon on all the islands of the Andaman group, but being the first new bird discovered there by me, I named it after the then reigning Viceroy of India, the Earl of Elgin. By the measurements and colouring, it will at once be seen how different it is from S. Cheela of India. I am not familiar with Bacha, not having a specimen of that bird in my museum, to compare the Andaman birds with, so on this head I am unable to make any remarks, though I have reason to believe it is a totally different bird from Falco Bacha, Daud., which is the type of Spilornis, G. R. Gr. 1840.

" The Spilornis Elgini frequents swampy grounds, particularly where there are abundance of trees; here they feed on Frogs, Reptiles and Fish, the two former being their principal food. I have never seen more than one, or occasionally two together; on being disturbed they fly up at once into a tree, and remain so stationary amongst the branches and foliage, that notwithstanding being a large-sized bird they are difficult to discover. I have never seen them, on Pass, Chatham or Viper island, but constantly on all other parts of the settlement, particularly in the vicinity of Phoenix Bay, nor have I ever seen this species soaring in the air, which I have on some few occasions seen the Indian S. Cheela doing."

In uniting Spilogaster, Elgini, and Bacha, I am merely following the best authority on these points, I mean of course Mr. Gurney; knowing the bird only by the specimens in the Asiatic Society's and Col. Tytler's museums, I am not competent to form any independent opinion. Mr. Blyth had the following remarks on this species in the Ibis : - :

"S. Spilogaster, nobis (J. A. S. B. XXI. p. 353.) Haematornis Elgini, Tytler (J. A. S. B. XXXIL. p. 87,) from the Andaman Islands, where it occurs together with the preceding; also H. Bacha of Colonel Sykes's list of the birds of the Dukhun (P. Z. S. 1832, p. 79,) as identified from a specimen in the India Museum presented by Colonel Sykes, being doubtless that referred to (loc. cit.). This well-marked race inhabits the Indian peninsula and Ceylon, and also the Andamans, from which last named locality a fine pair are now living in the Zoological Gardens. It is a smaller bird and not so handsome as S. Cheela, with less developed crest and much less of black upon the crown, the tail markings quite different, having the black subterminal band conspicuously much less broad. Some individuals may very probably show considerable similarity to the Malayan & Bacha, which would account for Professor Schlegel identifying a Cinghalese specimen with the Malayan bird; still the tail bands should be differently placed." On this the edition had the following note - :

" We learn from Mr. Gurney that he has never seen an Indian example of this bird, but that specimens from Ceylon and the Andamans appear to be absolutely identical with S Bacha, (Falco Bido, Horsf.) from Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and Singapoor."

Two specimens of the Andaman bird were sent by Colonel Tytler, when he was Governor of the settlement, to Calcutta, for the Zoological Society, which birds seem somehow to have been presented to the Society in Mr. Grote's name; in regard to these, Blyth tells us in the Ibis for 1868 - :

" The live birds sent to the Zoological Gardens by Mr. Grote belong not to this species, as stated, but to the next H. Elgini, which Mr. Gurney considers to be identical with H. Bacha of the Malay countries, described by me, from Ceylon, as H. Spilogaster (Cf. Ibis, 1866, pp. 242, 243)."

For the present we may, therefore, safely assume the identity of the Ceylonese, Andaman, Malayan &c, forms.

As the head quarters of the Circaeti are to the west, so those of. Spilornis are to the east. The Indo-Chinese region, besides S. Cheela and Bacha, includes three other species, S. Holospilus, Vigors, from the Philippines and South China, S. Rufipectus, Gould, from Celebes, and S. Salaensis, Schlegel, from the Sala Island, which latter species, however, Wallace considers to be " hardly more than a slight local modification," though where exactly distinct species begin, and local modifications end, is more than I pretend to know.

My Scrap Book
Hume, Allan Octavian, ed. My Scrap Book: Or, Rough Notes on Indian Oology and Ornithology. Vol. 1. 1869.
Title in Book: 
39. Spilornis bacha
Book Author: 
Allan Octavian Hume
Page No: 
Common name: 
Malay Harrier Eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle
Spilornis cheela
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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