Common Pariah Kite (Milvus migrans)



Length 24 inches. Sexes alike. Upper plumage brown, the top of the head and hind neck rather paler and the sides of the wings rather darker ; a dark patch behind the eye ; the outer flight-feathers blackish and the quills more or less banded with dark cross-bars and mottled with whitish towards their bases ; tail brown above, whity-brown below, with numerous darker cross-bars ; lower parts a paler brown than the upper, whitish about the chin and rufous towards the tail. The whole body plumage is more or less marked with dark shaft-stripes, and the white bases of the feathers are conspicuous the moment the plumage is ruffled or worn.

Iris brown ; bill black, cere and gape yellowish ; legs yellow, claws black.

The bill is hooked but rather weak ; head flat; legs short, feathered for about half the length of the tarsus ; wings long and pointed ; tail rather long and strongly forked.

Field Identification:-

One of the most familiar birds of India: the large brown bird of magnificent easy flight which soars and scavenges about every bazaar and house. The forked tail at once identifies it.

The Common Pariah Kite, Milvus migrans govinda, a race of the Black Kite, which in various forms has a very wide distribution in the Old World, is found throughout India, Burma and Ceylon, extending still farther east to Hainan. Its abundance varies in accordance with that of the human population, but it avoids densely afforested tracts. It ascends the Himalayas up to about 12,000 feet but is not common over 8000 feet. Mainly a resident species, it is in places locally migratory.
In the Kashmir Valley it is replaced by a larger race, M, m, lineatus, with the white wing-patch more pronounced.

Habits, etc:-
There is very little need to introduce the Pariah Kite, which is one of the most noticeable and abundant birds of India, attracting the notice of the new arrival even before he has disembarked from the ship.

It is a fearless scavenger, and more or less spends its whole life in attendance upon man, either robbing him of food that he would fain keep or scavenging the offal that he has thrown away. Numbers frequent every bazaar and village, sitting on the buildings and trees awaiting something worthy of their attention, or patrolling with sweeping easy flight in wide circles and searching the ground for food.    The flight is quite unmistakable with its lightness and buoyancy, a mixture of flapping with long leisurely strokes and short glides, while the direction is continuously changing with spirals and cants. The wings are frequently flexed from the first joint, and the primaries often appear to be below the level of the body. All food is taken in the same way, with a swift stoop and snatch ; and as the bird flies away it transfers the morsel from its foot to its beak, though with larger fragments which cannot be eaten in the air, it flies to some favourite perch to feed at leisure. If there are several Kites about, the capture of food by one of them is the signal for an immense amount of chivying and stooping, combined with much shrill screaming, in the course of which the desirable booty frequently changes owners many times.

When watching such a scene in the bazaar, it is interesting to remember that the allied Red Kite (Milvus milvus) was a similar scavenger in Mediaeval England, and that in the fifteenth century Strangers in London were taken to see the Kites round London Bridge as one of the sights of the town. It was from seeing the birds float all day over their heads that our ancestors named the child's paper toy.

At seaports this Kite joins the Gulls and Brahminy Kites in the harbour, perching on the rigging of ships and picking refuse off the water.

The call of the Kite, a shrill mewing squeal, long drawn and almost musical, is most frequently heard in the breeding season, though it is uttered at all times of the year. To it is due the vernacular name of " cheel " used for the bird.

The breeding season is rather variable according to locality from December to May, but the majority of eggs will be found in February.

The nest is a large clumsy mass of sticks and thorny twigs lined and intermingled with rags,* leaves, tow and other rubbish. It is generally placed in the fork of a tree, but often also on a horizontal bough, usually 20 feet from the ground. The tree chosen may be either in the middle of the most crowded bazaar or solitary in the fields.  Nests on buildings are very rare.

One to four eggs are laid, but the usual clutch consists of two or three. They are a very perfect oval, sometimes slightly pointed at one end ; the texture is hard and fine, often with a slight glaze. In coloration they are exceedingly variable ; the ground-colour is pale greenish and greyish-white, blotched, clouded, speckled, streaked or Spotted with various shades of brown and red from a pale buffy-brown to purple, and from blood-red to earth-brown.

In size they average about 2.20 by 1.75 inches.

* As Autolyses remarks (Winter's Tale, iv., sc. 3) " when the Kite builds, look to lesser linen."

Fig. 65-Common Pariah Kite   (1/8 nat. size)
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