No. 66. Syrnium Nivicolum,* HODGSON.
THE HIMALAYAN WOOD OWL.
Of the nidification of this species nothing seems to be as yet known. Of the nearly allied Syrnium Aluco of Europe (S. Stridula auct.) Mr. Hewitson says, " The tawny owl usually lays its eggs in a hollow tree, sometimes in the holes of rooks and occasionally in the deserted nest of some other bird; they are round, large, bright and glossy, from three to five in number, and are deposited at irregular intervals, the first being sat upon as soon as laid; the young of the same nest differ in consequence very considerably in their size." He figures an egg 1.95 by 1.6.
Yarrell says, " The eggs of this species are large, compared with those of either of the three Owls (Otus Vulgaris, O. Brachyotus, Strix Flammea) last described. They are smooth and white, measuring one inch ten lines (1.83) in Length, by one inch six lines (1.5) in breadth."
Montague states, that it breeds in the hollows of trees and sometimes in barns; it prepares very little nest, and at times deposits its eggs merely on the decayed wood. Temminck, on the other hand, affirms that it lays in the deserted nests of Buzzards, Crows and Magpies.
I cannot understand how our Indian species could ever be considered identical with the European Aluco.
Both species vary a good deal in colour, but the Indian species is invariably considerably darker, and less rufous than the European. Again the Indian species is very markedly larger. The following are dimensions* recorded from fresh specimens of fine females of both species.
* SYRNIUM NIVICOLUM.
DIMENSIONS. (Of an adult female).
Length, 17.5. Expanse, 42. Wing, 12.15. Tail from vent, 7.9. Tarsus, 2. Foot, greatest Length, 3.6 ; greatest width, 3.75 ; mid toe, to root of claw, 1.25 ; its claw straight, to point, 0.81 ; hind toe, 0.6 ; its claw, 0.73 ; inner toe, 0.95 ; its claw, 0.86. Bill, straight from forehead to point, 1.33 ; from gape, 1.55 ; width at gape, 1.1 ; height at front, 0.6.
The closed wings fell short by 1, and the lower tail coverts by 4 inches, of end of tail.
The fifth primary was the longest. The first was 3.1 ; the second, 1.35 ; the third, 0.4 ; and the fourth, 015, shorter. The exterior tail feathers fell short by one inch of the central ones.
DESCRIPTION. The legs and feet densely feathered to the terminal joints of the toes, which had two or three moderate transverse scales, of a dull plumbeous colour. Claws, brown, paler at tips and bases. Irides, dark brown. Bill, pale fleshy yellow. Cere, which is very faintly marked, plain brown.
Plumage. Feathers of the face greyish white, dark shafted, more or less tinged with dingy rufous brown, and all but those of the lores more or less distinctly banded with narrow dark brown bars. Feathers of the ruff, deep brown, more or less spotted, or mottled or narrowly barred at the tips with mingled white and pale fawn colour. The top of the head, nape, back, scapulars, lesser and median wing coverts, deep, almost blackish brown, mottled and freckled, with dull, slightly rufous, buff or buffy white. Tail and quills, a duller and somewhat paler brown, with irregular, imperfect, more or less mottled, dull, buffy white, transverse bars, and more or less freckling of the same colour on the interspaces towards the margins of the feathers. The central tail feathers have six, the external eight, transverse bands ; all are narrowly white tipped. Large, irregular, white or buffy white blotches, on the outer webs of the external scapulars, and the earlier, greater, primary coverts. The feathers of the breast and abdomen are mingled pure white and buff coloured, with very deep brown, central stripes, and two or three, narrow, irregular, transverse, brown bars. Sides, flanks and wing lining (except the greater,, lower primary coverts which are mingled brown and white) dull, silky buff, more or less imperfectly barred, with brown. Tibial and tarsal plumes dull, more or less infuscated buff, irregularly banded with narrow, imperfect, dull brown, transverse bars. Lower tail coverts similar but paler, and the bars more obscure and further apart. The feathers over the eye are whiter, than the rest of the face, forming a broad, ill-defined, pale, superciliary band.
* I am indebted for these measurements to Messrs. C. L. Gordon, and G. F. L. Marshall respectively. The European specimen, my correspondent informs me, was a particularly fine bird.
Dimension S. Nivicolum S. Aluco,
Length 17.5 16.2
Expanse. 42 35
Wing. 12.15 11.13
Tail 7.9 7.1
Tarsus 2.0 1.9
Mid claw straight from root to point 0.81 0.67
Hind claw straight from root to point. 0.73 0.59
Inner claw straight from root to point. 0.86 0.72
Outer claw straight from root to point 0.69 0.58
Bill straight, from anterior margin of nares to point. 0.68 0.61
Not only is the bird larger as a whole, but the claws and bill are more than proportionally larger and stronger.
There seems to be a difference too in the shape of the wings; in all the specimens of Aluco, which I have examined, the fifth primary fell perceptibly short of the fourth, while in Nivicolum (I have only examined, however, three examples of each) the fifth quill is either equal to or exceeds, the fourth.
I cannot doubt that the two species are perfectly distinct.
Dr. Stoliczka has the following note on this species : - :" 1 procured one specimen of this species above Chini, at an elevation of 14,000 feet, and another specimen was shot by my shikarees at Kotegurh in winter 1866. It is in this portion of the hills rather a rare bird.
" The greater coverts of the primaries have a white, terminal spot on the outer webs. The spots on the outer webs of the quills are fulvous brown, paler on the inner; the cross bands on the two central tail feathers are indistinct, and the plumage is generally finely mottled with light brown all over; the tips of all tail feathers are white ; below, on the sides of the breast, and on the abdomen, most of the feathers are centrally streaked brown, each being marked with three cross bars."
This species, as far as is yet known, is confined to the Himalayahs, I have seen it from as far west as Murree. Eastwards I only know of it as far as Darjeeling. Capt. G. F. L. Marshall shot one at Kussowlee, at a height of only 5000 feet above the sea, and this is the lowest level at which I have known it to occur.