Both sexes will kill partridges freely, not waiting on so often when the quarry has put in as taking perch on a neighbouring tree, and waiting, like a sparrow-hawk, to start from there. The female has also been known to take wild-duck well, and will wait on, when she likes, at a stupendous height. For magpies the lanner would hardly be quick enough. Pheasants can usually be taken by the females at the first stoop.
It is said that the Arabs fly the lanner at small gazelles and a kind of bustard, which it stoops at whenever it takes wing, and without actually striking it, frightens it on to its legs, so that it can be run down with hounds. This bird has the faculty of ejecting a slimy matter from its mouth and vent, which, if it reached the hawk, would incapacitate her from flying. The Arabs also fly the lanner at sand-grouse and francolin. Neither of them bear the heat well in temperate climates. The South African Lanner F.
Female—Length, 17 inches; wing, Male—Length, 15 inches; wing, 12; tail, 7.
An Indian hawk, rarely found out of the peninsula. It is much used by the natives for a variety of quarry, and does a lot of useful work. This is a hawk of the hobby type, much darker on the under parts, and with a good deal of black and rufous on the under surface of the wings. The feet are at first pale yellow, developing later into orange.
This hawk is common on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
Both the above-named naturalists maintain that its food consists principally of birds, and Dr. Kruper declares that he found in its nests the remains of six different kinds of bird, including quail and hoopoe. A specimen was trained by Lord Lilford in , who found it very obedient to the lure, but of no use in the field.
This very beautiful and graceful little hawk may at once be identified by the exceeding length of its wings, which, when closed, extend a full half-inch beyond the end of the tail. It is conspicuous also by its very marked colouring, which is in young birds almost black on the upper parts, each feather, however, being tipped with fulvous brown. The lower plumage is creamy white, streaked profusely with dark brown splashes, and tinted on the throat and sides of the head with a warm buff.
There is a broad black patch below the eye, and a black eyebrow, with a small streak of buff above it. The moustache is broad and strongly marked. The cere is greenish grey; and the feet, originally of the same hue, develop gradually into light yellow, and later into gamboge and bright orange. The deck feathers are plain, but all the others are barred both above and below by about ten cross-bands of lighter brown. In adults the upper plumage changes to a uniform dark slate colour, nearly black towards the head. The flanks and thighs, especially in the male, assume a more and more distinct rufous colour.
The feet are proportionately small, and the legs decidedly weak. The failure of modern falconers to make any practical use of this elegant and prepossessing hawk, is noticed in detail in the same chapter. A wild hobby has been seen by credible witnesses to take a swift on the wing in Bulgaria. A trained female has been known in England to take house-pigeons.
Females and young males have the whole upper plumage a rich chocolate brown, with reflections of purplish grey, each feather on the back and upper wing coverts tipped with a somewhat lighter brown, and crossed by a buff bar, which is usually not to be seen except when the plumage is disarranged or ruffled.
Each feather also has a black shaft, which is conspicuous in strong lights on a close view. The primaries and all the principal feathers of the wing are very dark brown on the upper surface, barred with several patches of light brown or buff. The under surface of the wing is very light silvery grey, with numerous bars and spots of brownish grey, each feather having a dark grey shaft, which is white underneath.
The tail feathers on the upper surface are of a slightly lighter brown than the back, and light grey underneath, barred with more or less oblique bands, which are buff-coloured above, and light grey-brown underneath, and are all tipped with white.
The under plumage of the body is creamy white, more or less tinged with light buff, especially on the sides of the head and throat. It is liberally streaked with longitudinal splashes of dark brown, which on the upper throat are very small, but on the lower flanks are broad and large. There is a facial patch and a moustache of dark brown, but these are not so strongly marked as in the peregrine and hobby.
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The beak is light blue, darkening to indigo, and at the tip to black. The cere and eyelids, light bluish grey. The legs and feet vary from light greenish or blueish grey to light yellow. The toes are long, thin, and flexible. Adult females do not change, except that they lose much or all of the purplish sheen of nestlings, and that the edging of the feathers is less marked. Adult males undergo a very striking transformation. The whole upper plumage changes from brown to a rich bluish slate colour, deepening in the long wing feathers to greyish black.
Instead of the light bars on the tail, there is a single broad grey-black band nearly at the extreme end. The cere, eyelids, legs, and feet assume a deep golden or light orange colour. The wing and tail feathers have a stronger and stiffer appearance than before the moult, and those of the tail are generally somewhat shorter as well as stouter than they were. Very old females occasionally, but not often, put on the livery of the adult male; and this is the case sometimes also with old female kestrels.
In merlins of both sexes the third feather of the wing is usually exactly equal in length to the second, and it is only exceptionally that it is even fractionally shorter. The name merlin is in orthodox phraseology reserved to the female merlin only, the male being more properly spoken of as a jack.
The former, when exceptionally strong and courageous, may be flown with some success at partridges, and will also take house-pigeons and probably doves. They have been known to capture and kill wood-pigeons. Both sexes may be flown at quails, and are more deadly at this business than sparrow-hawks.
In the wild state they kill blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, and almost all kinds of small birds, and the trained birds may be kept with more or less success to any one of these birds of quarry.
It has been thought that a good cast of merlins might take snipe, and it is said that such a feat has been in former times achieved. With tropical snipe in an overfed or moulting condition, it is possible that this might still be done; but it is to be greatly doubted whether any trained merlin or merlins could take fully-moulted English snipe. The flight, however, for which merlins are usually reserved, and for which they are renowned, is that at moulting skylarks, and in this sport the jacks are very nearly as successful as their sisters, as will be seen in the chapter on lark-hawking. The merlin will follow her quarry when she can into covert; and when her victim is larger than herself, kills it by strangulation, gripping it tightly round the neck.
This hawk, a little larger than the European merlin, is flown at much the same quarry, but also at rollers and hoopoes, which latter afford a fine ringing flight. The African Merlin F.
Female—Length, about 13 inches; wing, 9; tail, 7. Females and young males have the upper plumage reddish brown, transversely barred on the shoulders, wing coverts, and tail with black; the flight feathers, blackish brown; the under plumage, very pale fawn colour, streaked on the breast, and splashed on the lower part with brown.
Adult males have the head, lower part of the back, and upper surface of tail, light slatey grey. The tail with a broad black band near the end, and tipped with white; and the head with dark shaft-streaks; the shoulders, upper back, and upper wing coverts, pale chestnut, with small black spots of a triangular shape. The wings, dark horn colour, with lighter edging. The under plumage, pale fawn colour, becoming more rufous at the lower part and on the thighs; streaked with dark brown splashes on the breast, and spots on the abdomen. The cere, feet, and legs are pale greyish yellow in the young, and brighter in the adult.
This little hawk has, structurally, all the characteristics of what the naturalists call a true falcon—more so, in fact, than the more highly reputed merlin. Its shape, indeed, but for a want of size in the feet and a somewhat exaggerated length of tail, is very symmetrical, and indicative of fine flying powers. It is the least shy and most familiar of all European hawks, and survives in tolerably large numbers throughout England, where, together with the owls, it is a chief agent in keeping down the inordinate increase of mice.
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Its powers of flight are very considerable; and it remains on the wing generally for a considerable part of the day, not soaring so much as beating the ground at a height of two or three score feet, and hovering from time to time with its eye on any small creature that may be moving about or hiding in the grass below. But notwithstanding its fine proportions, its muscular power is not great, and its extreme pace is not to be compared with that of the merlin. If pursued by a fairly good peregrine in a pretty open place, it frequently succumbs.
In the field a kestrel is of no practical use. It will indeed generally take sparrows and other small birds thrown up from the hand when it is waiting on. And instances have been known where it has flown and taken a few wild birds.
There is even a story extant of an eyess kestrel which was flown at a young partridge and took it. But these facts, if true, must have been entirely exceptional. I am not sure whether a fair attempt has been made to fly her at rats, which would probably afford the best chance. But kestrels can be reclaimed and taught to fly to the lure in exactly the same way as the proudest peregrine or the most majestic ger. They will wait on beautifully, and stoop very prettily at the lure. And while at hack their movements are exceedingly lively and graceful. Thus for a beginner the kestrel is, in my opinion, undoubtedly the most suitable hawk upon which he can try his hand.
In the breeding season eyesses may be procured pretty easily, and at an insignificant cost; and throughout the year many of both sexes are captured in the nets of bird-catchers, who would part with them readily for a few shillings if they were notified beforehand that any amateur would give a fair price for the captives. In reclaiming and manning a kestrel, in learning how to keep her feathers unbroken and clean, how to hood her, bathe her, house her, and weather her, and how to diet her, the tyro can very easily and cheaply acquire all that elementary knowledge of the difficult art of falconry which it is advisable that he should possess before he attempts to succeed in training and flying a valuable hawk.
Whereas if, without any preliminary experience, he begins, as so many writers advise him, with an eyess merlin, he is almost certain to meet with a more or less discouraging failure. She kills her quarry, when taken, by crushing it in her strong foot and piercing it with her long and sharp claws, or pounces. As a general rule she does not need to be kept to any one particular quarry, or flown at any particular time of day, but may be thrown off at anything, whether fur or feather, which she thinks she can take, and will do almost any amount of work at almost any hour.
There is, it is true, in the flight of the latter little of the grandeur and dramatic excitement which so often attend the efforts of the former. No silent pause while the pointer stands and the hawk mounts steadily to her lofty pride of place above him. No spiral climbing of quarry and hawk into the distant blue sky. But there is plenty of excitement of a different and not less healthy kind. The wary stalking of a shy quarry while the well-trained hawk on the fist trembles with eagerness for the chase.
The rush and bustle of the start; the quick burst of riding or running to keep the chase in view; the hurry and scurry when the quarry has to be routed out from his place of refuge; the tussle for mastery when he has once been seized; and, last but not least, the abundance and variety of the bag which on a successful day is carried home.
One very great advantage attached to the short-winged hawk is that she can be flown in an enclosed country, or at least in places which are only very moderately open.