The Nepal Scops Owl.
Two comparatively large species of Scops Owls are found in the Himalayas, the first E. Lettia, altogether paler and some what more rufous in its tints; the eastern form, apparently not going further west than Kumaon, and most plentiful at Darjeeling with toes quite bare or only just overhung at their bases by the feet feathers; and the second E. Plumipes (Sp. nov.) as I provisionally designate it, altogether a darker and browner bird; the western form it would seem, from Dhurmsalla, Kotgurh and Simlah, extending to Gurhwal, with the toes feathered, (not bristled as in the Athene's), in some specimens, half way down the terminal joint, and in all, to the end of the subterminal one.
In size they do not differ greatly, but from the three* specimens of each that I possess, Lettia seems somewhat the bulkier bird, and Plumipes to have the longest wings and most powerful claws.
The only eggs that I have seen, unmistakably pertaining to this species, were taken on the 22nd May, 1869, out of a narrow cleft (completely hidden by a small drooping shrub) in an overhanging precipice, in the valley of the Surjoo, between Petoragurh and Almora, in Kumaon. They were described as laid on a few small sticks, or twigs, amongst which a few feathers were interspersed. In all other instances in which I have myself found, or have known of the finding of, the eggs of any species of Scops Owl in India, they have been in hollows of trees, but both parent birds were sent me in this instance with the eggs, and I had no reason for doubting my collector's good faith, who, although a native, is a very tolerable ornithologist, and so far as my experience goes, very careful and reliable. The eggs, three in number, were very spherical in shape, pure white and very glossy, and varied from 1.33 to 1.38 in Length, and from 1.18 to 1.2 in breadth.
Two other eggs, purporting to belong to this species, were sent me from near Darjeeling. I cannot vouch for their authenticity. They measured 1.28 and 1.3 respectively in Length, and 1.4 and 1.15 in breadth.
Mr. Blyth had the following remarks on this sub-group in the Ibis for 1866.
" Although Prof. Schlegel does not know of this species (E. Lempiji) as Indian, it is nevertheless common in Malabar and Ceylon, where it is undistinguishable from examples from the Malayan sub-region. It differs from the series next to be noted by its yellow irides.
There is a series of three, very similar, dark-eyed races, of different sizes, and each having its respective range of distribution. The largest is E. Rufitorques, Bonap. (Faun. Japon. Aves., tab. 8, where it is figured with yellow irides, which I suspect is a mistake): wing, 7 to 7.5 inches. The next is E. Lettia, Hodgson, of the Indo-Chinese sub-region, spreading westward along the lower regions of the Himalaya; wing, 6.5 to 7 inches. The third and smallest is E. Griseus, Jerdon, (E. Lettioides, nobis,) from the Coromandel or eastern Ghats of the Indian peninsula, where only it has been observed as yet, being replaced in the western or Malabar Ghats and in Ceylon by the golden-eyed E. Lempiji: wing, 5.5 to 6 inches only. I believe that all of these will have to be eventually recognized as specific races, as also E. Rufescens (Horsf.) (E. Mantis, S. Muller) from Sumatra, Java, and Borneo, and a much larger species which is otherwise very like it, E. Sagittatus, Cassin (Journ. Acad. Phil. II. pl. 12,) of which I have seen several specimens not differing in color, all of them from the Malayan peninsula. This fine Scops Owl bears just that relationship to E. Rufescens which E. Rufitorques does to E. Griseus (E. Lettioides,) and I should long ago have named it, had I not been under the impression that it was the true Rufescens of Horsfield."*
In regard to the above I must remark, first, that I somewhat doubt the identity of the Malabar Scops Owl (vide 75 quatuor) with E. Lempiji, Horsfield ; secondly, that I do not attach much importance to the colour of the irides in this sub-group, this being unquestionably variable, in one species at least, viz. E. Griseus,* in which I have observed them, dark brown, brownish yellow, and almost pure yellow; and, thirdly, that, as I shall more particularly note when speaking of that species, (75 tris) Griseus is not by any means confined to the Eastern Ghats, but occurs in the Central and N. W. Provinces, the Punjaub and Rajpootana, in suitable localities.
As for the present species, E. Lettia, although very probably it does, as Mr. Blyth remarks, occur throughout the Indo-Chinese sub-region, all the specimens that I have yet seen were procured in the Himalayahs, in Sikhim, Nepaul and Kumaon at heights of from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above the sea; it seems to affect the warmer and more wooded valleys and preys largely on beetles and insects, these being the only contents of the stomachs of three specimens that I myself examined.
* E. Lettia.
Plumage. The forehead, a broad streak over the eye running down the interior web of the aigrettes, feathers under the eye and most of the ear coverts, loral bristles and chin, white, with a greyish or yellowish tinge, most of the feathers tipped and some imperfectly barred with dark brown. The ear coverts in most specimens, much suffused with rufous, and the longest of them broadly tipped with a deep umber brown, which tippings form a continuation of the ruff band. The whole of the top of the head, and back of the neck, and the exterior webs of the aigrettes, back, scapulars, tertiaries, lesser wing coverts, rump, and upper tail coverts with a rufous fawn, or in some buffy yellow ground colour, everywhere (except on the outer webs of the outer scapulars, and in a broad irregular half collar at the base of the neck,) very closely and finely freckled, or irregularly barred, with minute, zig-zag lines of dark brown. Many of the feathers, specially of the head and aigrettes, with large, deep brown blotches, or irregular stripes or spots towards the tips, confined in the aigrettes to the outer webs. In some specimens these dark brown spots are peculiarly conspicuous on the tips of the comparatively unmarked feathers, which form the irregular half collar already referred to. The outer webs of the quills have the same ground colour, but as usual, palest on the first few primaries, with five or six broad, irregular, mottled and imperfect, transverse, brown bars, which are continued as perfect bars, on to the inner webs, where the interspaces are much mottled, and instead of having the clear fawn colored or buffy tint of the outer webs, are much suffused with brown, and towards the bases become almost obsolete. The outer webs of the secondaries also, have the buffy portions much freckled and mottled with brown. The tail might perhaps be best described as brown, with five or six imperfect and irregular, transverse, rufous fawn bars. The interspaces much freckled with the same color; the brown predominating at the bases, the rufous fawn towards the tips. The throat and feathers of the ruff are white, suffused with rufous fawn towards the tips, those of the throat with two or three, very narrow, transverse, brown bars towards the end, and those of the ruff broadly blotched at the tips with deep brown. The breast and the abdomen, are white, pale yellowish, or rufous white, closely but irregularly barred, with delicate, wavy, brown lines, and many of the feathers with irregular, dark brown, shaft stripes or lengthened blotches. The vent feathers and lower tail coverts are white with, in most specimens, one or more imperfect bars, at the tip. The tibial and tarsal plumes are similar, but the former are generally much more rufous, and the latter more purely white than the ground color of the breast, and the markings, always coarser than those of that part, are, in some specimens, close and regular, in others mere spots.
This species is always paler and more rufous or more buffy than the next (E, Plumipes) and the dark blotches of the head, back, ruff and lower parts, are always smaller and much less conspicuous, but inter se, the specimens of this present species, vary a good deal in general tone of colouring, some being decidedly browner, some more rufous, and some more buffy.
* Since the above was written I have obtained several other specimens.
* " I have looked over Mr. Wallace's collection of Scops Owls (obtained by himself) and found no difficulty in resolving them into six species, viz. .* - :
(1.) E. Sylvicolus (Wallace,) Flores. The largest of them, a young specimen having the closed wing, 8.5 inches.
(2.) E. Magicus (Muller); E. Leucospila, G. R. Gray. From the Moluccas. Since identifying these, I have found that Professor Schlegel has likewise done the same.
(3.) E. Menadensis (Quoy and Gaim.) From Celebes and Flores.
(4.) E. Lempiji, Horsfield (Strix noctula, Reinw. and Temm.) Malayan sub-region, Ceylon and Malabar.
(5.) E. Rufescens, Horsf. (Otus mantis, Muller.) Sumatra, Java, Borneo.
(6.) E. Malayanus (A. Hay.) Malayan peninusula." (See further, p. 403.)