The Nesting of the Black Kite (''Milvus migrans'') in the Territory of Verona, Arrigoni Degli Oddi 1899
No. 696.— June, 1899.
THE NESTING OF THE BLACK KITE (MILVUS
MIGRANS) IN THE TERRITORY OF VERONA.
By Count ,
Member of the Royal Venetian Institute of Sciences.
The Black Kite (Milvus migrans, Boddaert) has, until now, been considered a bird rarely seen in any part of Italy, occurring in some places as a rare straggler, and almost unknown; in others as a breeding species, but without becoming permanently established.
The following are the principal opinions of our ornithologists as to the appearance of the Black Kite in Italy: —
Italy generally.—Salvadori, T.: This Kite is rare in Italy; still there is scarcely a province in which it has not been found, and it has even bred in several places. Savi, P.: "It is very rare in almost every part of Italy," &c. He says that it lives constantly along the Riviera di Levante on the mountains. Giglioli: A rare species in Italy, but it has been found in small numbers everywhere in the central and southern regions, in which it has also bred, &c. Idem: It is not a common species, but perhaps resident in Italy, in all parts of which a few individuals have been taken. Salvadori, T.: A summer bird, but rare; it has nested in some localities. Martorelli, G.: "The Black Kite cannot be said to be common in any part of Italy, though it breeds in some localities.... It is much more easily found in our country in the fine than in the bad season, and it is therefore a summer bird, and one of passage." Continuing, the author says that Giglioli had five examples of the Black Kite, caught at one and the same time at Lanzo. I cannot tell how Martorelli could have made such a blunder, for the renowed Professor of Florence says:—"In the Central Italian collection I have eight specimens, caught at Lanzo (October), Nice (December), Genoa (July), Florence (autumn), Terracina (April, May); so that the eight specimens were taken in the five above-mentioned localities. This species is not cited as Italian in the 'Storia Naturale degli Uccelli.'
Piemonte.—It is omitted by Bonelli; considered rather rarer than Milvus ictinus by Camusso. Giglioli speaks of an adult male which he had from the neighbourhood of Turin, May 15th, 1886.
Lombardia.—Monti states that the Black Kite is rare at Como; he notes a specimen from Lugano. Messrs. Prada, Mazza, and Pavesi record this species from the Province of Pavia; Zanni and Bettoni record it for Brescia; Paglia records it for Mantovano; Ferragni for Cremona; Carlini does not record it for Valtellina; Pavesi excludes it from the region of Tessin, but Riva had previously recorded a single specimen. Authors agree in saying that it is rare in these places, except Ferragni, who says that in the Province of Cremona it is scarce, but passes regularly in May.
Venetian Territory.—Count Ninni says:—"It lives in the wood of Cansiglio, but it is not certain that it nests there. It has nested in the wood of the Marquis of Canossa at Grezzan (Perini)." Naccari does not record the Black Kite from Venetian territory, and Contarini refers to it as a rare bird. Ninni had a nestling, but he calls it an accidental visitor, and very rare. A specimen from the Province of Treviso, caught at the mouth of the Sile, is preserved in Scarpa's collection. I have mentioned a specimen killed at Vigodarzere on May 25th, 1885. We do not find it mentioned among the birds of the Province of Belluno (Doglioni), nor among those of Friuli (Vallon, Pirona); but recently my friend Professor Tellini has included this species among those which are probably caught in the aforesaid region, but which cannot yet be declared as such for certain. It is not noticed among the birds of Bassano (Baseggio), nor among those of the Province of Rodigino (Dal Fiume). We have no precise information for the Province of Vicenza. As for Verona, Perini, an author who cannot always be relied upon, wrote, in 1858, that, during a period of fifteen years, he had only succeeded in observing two examples of the Black Kite. "We are assured, however," he adds, "by the Marquis Bonaventura, of Canossa, that this Kite breeds in his wood at Grezzan, where it lays from three to four eggs of a yellowish white colour, with obscure spots very close to one another." In his edition of 1874 the same author remarks: "It is rare in our Province; its nest has, however, been found sometimes," without naming a locality. De Betta says it is rare, and, relying simply on Perini, states that it has bred in Canossa's wood. I do not find the Black Kite mentioned in Garbini's works, but this author has applied himself only to water-animals (aquatic animals). Lastly, Dal Nero, in an article contributed to the 'Bollettino Agrario Veronese' of 1892, mentions the appearance of A. migrans in the Province of Verona; he says that it is rare and appears casually, that it is seen in very irregular numbers, and that it breeds at Grezzano. All these authors therefore agree in admitting the appearance and breeding of this Kite at Grezzano as an exceptional circumstance. Kolombatovich, Schiavuzzi, and Bonomi call the Black Kite a rare species in Dalmatia and in the Tyrol.
Emilia.—Bonizzi, Doderlein, Carruccio, and Picaglia say that the Black Kite is rare in this region.
Marche.—It is not mentioned either by Paolucci, Carpegna, or Gasparini. On the contrary, Professor Paolucci, of Ancona, a well-known and eminent ornithologist, has recently favoured me with the following information:—"I have never seen (in the Marche) Milvus migrans, which is, of course, unrepresented in our collections; nor have I ever heard of this species being caught in our district, though, from the obvious character of its forked tail, it might have been reported by sportsmen. So far as my information goes, it is quite unknown in the Marche (in lit. June 21st, 1897).
Tuscany.—Dei does not mention the Black Kite in 1862, in treating of the Province of Siena; but at a later date he had a specimen. It is noted by Griffoli for the Val di Chiana; by Savi for the Province of Pisa; by Professor Giglioli for the Florentine region; by the Marchese Paolucci for the Province of Siena; by Bianchi as a bird of passage in the Isola del Giglio.
Liguria.—Durazzo says that it breeds, but that it is rarer than Milvus ictinus. Savi and Carazzi say that it is rare at Spezia; a straggler at Nice. Milvus migrans is said to constantly inhabit the mountains of the Riviera di Levante, and Giglioli had one from Nice in December. I have spent many months in winter in the Riviera, but I do not remember ever having seen the Black Kite flying among the mountains, and I have little faith in its being a stationary species in that country.
Romagna; Roman Provinces.—Prince Bonaparte states that the Black Kite breeds in the mountains, which does not seem very probable. Salvadori, Giglioli, and Martorelli had specimens from these regions. The Marquis Lepri writes to me as follows:—"This Kite is with us a summer visitor, and fairly abundant without being positively common. It appears between the end of March and the beginning of April. It continues to pass until the latter end of May. It is then easily met with, being less shy than M. ictinus. I have this year seen more than one about the country-side. Several specimens are brought every year to the shop of the taxidermist De Dominicis, generally birds that have been caught in the Royal Domain of Castel Porziano, situated on the coast between Ostia and Anzio. So far as I have been able to observe, the Black Kite frequents running water, especially streams bordered by large trees. In the case of a specimen which I procured a few days ago, the stomach was full of fish. As for the breeding of the Black Kite, at least as far as concerns our province, I do not think that it occurs on the mountains, as Bonaparte states. I have never seen it on the mountain, neither is it known there. M. ictinus is also very rare on these heights; it does not breed here, though so abundant on the plain. M. ictinus breeds on large trees in woods on the plain, or beside running water; I have observed its nest several times. Referring to the extensive information which I have gathered on the subject, I think that the same holds good of M. migrans, and this is confirmed by the fact that at the beginning of July last year I saw in the shop of a bird-dealer a M. migrans scarcely covered with feathers that had been taken from its nest on one of those gigantic elm trees that border the Tiber near Castel Giubileo, a few chilometres from Rome."
Southern Italy.—It is rare, according to the eminent De Romita, in the Puglie. De Fiore excludes it from Catanzaro, and Moschella mentions it doubtfully in his Catalogue of the Birds of Reggio, Calabria. He writes to me, however, in a letter of June 3rd, 1897:—"I have frequently observed the Black Kite this year; about twenty specimens have been caught. I have only been able to procure one specimen for myself—a male—and certainly not cheap." I also secured two specimens caught in that district on the 7th and 18th of May, kindly sent to me by Dr. Angelo Pertile. Our ornithological information from this vast region is, unluckily, very incomplete.
Sicily.—Very rare, according to Benoit, who adds:—"I am told, however, that it often appears in the interior of the island." Doderlein says that it is very rare, confuting the assertion of Schembri, who mentions it as very common. Giglioli also says that it is rare; it is very rare in the Province of Messina (Ruggeri, Pistone); rare but resident upon the mountains in the district of Modica (Dellafonte, Garofalo); finally, Leonardi excludes the Black Kite from his list of the birds of Girgenti. At Malta it is rare, according to Schembri, Wright, and Blasius.
Sardinia.—Cara notices the Black Kite as being less common than Milvus ictinus. It has been mentioned by Salvadori and Lepori on the strength of this assertion; Giglioli found a young specimen in the Cagliari Museum, labelled Falco barbarus.
It is evident from the facts just stated that the Black Kite is seen almost all over Italy, but nowhere with any degree of certainty; that it has been found breeding in some places, but always as a rare and isolated circumstance, except perhaps in the Roman Campagna Romagna, where it appears to occur with a certain regularity. In the present paper I shall make known a locality where the important phenomenon occurs of a real and constant breeding station of the Black Kite, which is resorted to every year by a number of pairs—quite a novel event in the history of our avifauna. This happens on an estate belonging to the noble and historical family of the Marquis of Canossa, i.e. in the wood of Grezzano, near Villafranca, in the Province of Verona. Vittorio dal Nero, a modest but conscientious and diligent observer, was the first to speak to me of this fact; and it is indeed strange that this has until now been unknown to the ornithologists of Italy—and particularly to those of Verona, Perini and De Betta—who have mentioned the breeding of the Black Kite at Grezzano as quite a casual fact. Here I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Marquis of Canossa, of Verona, for his kindness in allowing me to go to Grezzano, for sending me some specimens, and for supplying me with information; I must likewise return thanks to the Rev. Don Pietro Carcereri. He is very fond of sport, and an intelligent observer and has diligently studied the habits and life-history of the Black Kite; he has sent me several notes, which I have found most useful. Grezzano wood is about an hour and a half's drive from Verona, beyond Villafranca. It is very near the magnificent Villa Canossa, from which it is separated by an iron gate; it is surrounded by a wide ditch, and marshes on one side, with a field partly laid out as a garden; on the other two with the country, which is covered with rice fields, meadows, and corn fields. The ground is intersected by numerous narrow channels. The wood is composed of plane trees, elms, oaks, poplars, chestnuts, &c, the greatest height of which may be about forty metres; it has a flourishing appearance, and the vegetation is splendid, but there are no firs. Ardea cinerea and A. purpurea, Corvus cornix, Nycticorax ardeola, Ardeola ralloides, and Corvus corax breed here; there are also quantities of Turtle-Doves, Golden Orioles, Blackbirds, Woodpeckers, and other smaller birds. In winter Buteo vulgaris is also found here, but, according to the inhabitants of the Castle, disappears as soon as Milvus migrans arrives.
In the Province of Verona, Milvus migrans is only to be found at Grezzano, "perhaps," says the Rev. Carcereri, "because it is attracted by the high trees; perhaps, because in that region and the neighbourhood it procures the food which it prefers, which consists of young chickens, when it can find them. Only two specimens are believed to have been killed at Chiesanuova, a mountainous spot to the north of Verona. One of these has been cited by Dal Nero. With these exceptions none have been seen except at Grezzano. It is simply a summer bird, since it arrives in spring, and leaves at the end of summer after having bred.
The following dates represent our information as to the arrival and departure of the Black Kite at and from Grezzano:—
1883.... March 18th— May 12th.... July 25th—August 18th.
1884.... April 5th—May 10th.......... August 1st—September 3rd.
1885.... March 28th—May 6th...... July 18th—August 29th.
1886.... March 16th—April 24th.... August 2nd—August 30th.
1887.... March 12th—May 5th....... August 5th—August 28th.
1888.... March 16th—May 1st....... July 28th—September 1st.
1889.... March 10th—May 8th....... August 6th—August 29th.
1890.... March 18th—May 5th....... August 3rd—September 2nd.
1891.... March 20th—May 9th....... August 4th—August 29th.
1892.... March 11th—May 2nd....... August 5th—August 19th.
1893.... March 16th—May 1st....... August 1st—September 2nd.
1894.... March 10th—May 6th....... August 4th—August 31st.
1895.... March 12th—May 8th....... August 9th—September 1st.
1896.... March 15th—May 5th....... August 6th—September 9th.
1897.... March 18th—May 11th...... July 20th—August 12th.
Egg found on May 25th, 1891, at Grezzano.—This specimen is almost entirely of a dirty white, with a few spots of light brown, most numerous at the larger end; the smaller end is colourless. Another egg found on the same day.—It is almost entirely of a dirty white, with fine brownish spots widely dispersed as if sprinkled over all the surface, and so delicate that the egg, viewed at a little distance, appears to be colourless.
Egg found in June, 1892, at the same place.—This specimen is pure white, with large dots of a lively brown tint, darker round the edge of the dots, which are most numerous at the larger end; there are also many little spots of the same colour spread here and there. This egg approaches the one figured by Seebohm on plate v., fig. 1, of his above-mentioned work.
Egg found in June, 1893, at the same place.—The ground tint is of a less pure white, spread with little brown spots of dull brown, and there are some larger spots of the same colour, forming a kind of zone in the middle part of the same egg. It bears some resemblance to the egg figured as No. 2 on the plate v. of Seebohm's work, but would resemble still more that of the Common Bunting, and appears to be a rare variety. Colonel Irby mentions the great variety of colour noticed in the eggs of the Black Kite, and Seebohm has described several of them.
The following are the dimensions of the eggs which I have preserved: —
Egg of May, 1891.Length, 5·68 cm.; breadth, 4·30 cm.
Egg of June, 1892. Length, 5·54 cm.; breadth, 4·15 cm.
Egg of June, 1893. Length, 5·18 cm.; breadth, 3·79 cm.
The females only incubate, and that for a period of from eighteen to twenty days. The male does not share the duty of incubation, but flies continually round his mate at a very great pace, and, unless disturbed, he continues to wheel gently around the eyrie. If he is aware of anyone's presence, he rises high in the air, flying round in wide circles, as though desirous of touching the tops of the highest trees, but always keeps out of shot, and, if shot at, he rises still higher; if he is left alone, he slowly descends again. The inhabitants of the castle say that if they gently strike the tree in which a female Black Kite is sitting, the bird at once flies away. I could never observe this fact, and the birds which I killed were males.
It is difficult to reach the nest, which is always situated at a great height, involving a perilous climb. The Black Kite exhibits great affection for its young, which are fed by both the male and female parents. Young chickens are their favourite food, being plentiful in the country. Like other birds of prey (Circus æruginosus, C. cyaneus, Buteo vulgaris, &c.), the Black Kite feeds its young at more or less regular hours; that is, according to what the Rev. Carcereri says, in the morning from about 9 to 11 a.m., and in the evening one or two hours before sunset. I have commonly observed this fact with C. æruginosus, which also feeds its young ones with chickens, and which breeds regularly in the marshes of Monselice. Its hours for feeding were about eight in the morning, and three in the afternoon. This may be explained by the fact that it cannot always get hold of chickens without being exposed to danger, and it must generally lie in wait for them in the open country, and far from human habitations. The housewife usually lets out the young chickens at hours most convenient to her; that is, either when she returns from market or after dinner; at her leisure time, that is, when it is most suitable for her to look after them, and keep them out of danger.
The Black Kite is decidedly a pest to chickens. It pursues them everywhere, even in the midst of people, and when it is sure of its aim, it pounces among them with a flight swift as lightning, snatches one, and carries it to its nest. M. migrans does not confine its chase for chickens to Grezzano, but it haunts the country round about, sometimes even at the distance of from seven to ten kilometres, to find its favourite prey, and then it goes back to its wood. The poor little chickens are often heard crying from the Kite's nest in which they are about to be devoured. This Kite also victimises the nestlings of other birds. It has on several occasions been seen to hover above Canossa's Palace where Starlings breed, and then to pounce upon the young birds which were hopping about the tiles. Besides this, remains of the following fishes have been found in the stomachs of Black Kites:—Esox lucius, Tinca vulgaris, Scardinus erythrophthalmus, Cottus gobio, and Gobio fluviatilis. A Black Kite, killed on June 15th, 1894, by the Rev. Carcereri, contained the bones of Rana esculenta. That gentleman tells me also that a Kite caught in May, 1893, and stuffed by Dal Nero, contained the remains of numerous aquatic insects. In two birds which I killed on the 3rd of June last year I found entire remains of Rana esculenta and Grillotalpa vulgaris.
The following is a list of substances found in the stomachs of about twenty Black Kites. These results have been procured by Dal Nero, the Rev. Carcereri, and myself, and they show how varied the diet of this greedy bird really is. I return thanks to Prof. Adriano Garbini, of Verona, for his kind assistance in classifying the worms and insects: —
Vermes (A) Nematoda.—Gen. Lumbricus (the species could not be identified).
Arthropoda (A) Crustacea.—Cypris pubera, 0.F. Müller; Cyclops sp.?; Asellus vulgaris, Latr.; Palæmonetes varians, Leach. (B) Insecta.—Smynthurus aquaticus, Bourlet; Libellula depressa, L.; L. rubiconda, L.; Phryganea reticulata, L.; Hydroporus marginatus, Dft.; Hydrophilus piceus, L.; Stratiomis chamæleon, Deg.; Grillotalpa vulgaris, Latr.; gen. Acridium; Cicada plebeja, Scop.
Mollusca.—Limnæus ampullaceus, L.
Pisces.—Cottus gobio, L.; Esox lucius, L., Gobio fluviatilis, Cuv.; Leuciscus erythrophthalmus, Linn.; Tinca vulgaris, Cuv.
Amphibia.—Rana esculenta, Linn.; Bufo vulgaris, Laur.; Triton cristatus, Laur.
Reptilia.—Lacerta viridis, Daudin; Tropidonotus natrix, Linn.; T. tessellatus, Linn.
Aves.—Sturnus vulgaris, Linn.; Gallus gallinorum (chiefly small chickens).
Mammalia.—Gen. Talpa; Crossopus fodiens, Pallas; gen. Mus; gen. Arvicola.
The Black Kite is almost always in pursuit of prey during the day, but is most frequently seen flying about the wood at mid-day and towards evening. It soars so high that it is sometimes scarcely visible, but seems to be a Swallow, and continues wheeling about in circles, or resting suspended upon the expanded wings for some minutes; or, as Allèon says, describing great spiral lines, making various evolutions, rising and descending. Now and then, suddenly closing its wings, it drops down with an extraordinary swiftness and almost touches the highest tops of the trees, and then it recommences its slow spiral flight; if it is left alone, it comes down about the wood, flying among the lofty trees, probably in search of insects. I have several times seen them fly close to the surface of rice fields when over-flooded, and to running water, intent, as Bailly says, on fishing. That author has seen them plunge into the water and take small fishes. I have also noticed them flying over fields where they find Acridium and Grillotalpa, as has also been observed in Spain by Werner.
The number of Black Kites that every year arrive at Grezzano, breeding in companies in the wood, varies from forty to fifty birds. I think that the number given me by the inhabitants of that country must be exaggerated when they say that it amounts to two hundred birds. In 1892 the Rev. Carcereri shot as many as twenty-five Black Kites; but in the following years, 1893-96, only three or four fell to his gun. From what I have been able to observe, it is not easy to kill successive individuals, for the birds are very wary, and after the first few shots they soar very high; but, if the gunner hide himself carefully, the Kites fly down again, and can be killed with a good gun, especially when they enter or leave their nests. On the 3rd of June last year, without using all those precautions that the occasion would require, I was able in the space of a few hours to shoot down three fine Kites. They can be caught more easily when they have young ones. This species is commonly called Poja negra or P. mora by the inhabitants of Grezzano, and those who kill any Black Kites are blessed by the country people, for they see that the risk of their chickens being carried off is thus reduced. The following is a list of those collections that include Black Kites killed at Grezzano:—
- (a) Collection Perini, of Verona, two specimens.
- (b) Count Brasavola, of Verona, two specimens.
- (c) Count Reali, of Treviso, two specimens.
- (d) Collection Cipolla, of Verona, three specimens.
- (e) Collection De Betta, of Verona, one specimen.
- (f) Collection Bennati, of Verona, two specimens.
- (g) My own collection, eight specimens.
Besides these twenty specimens, the Rev. Carcereri had several birds, which he killed himself, stuffed by Dal Nero, which he then gave to his friends.
The Black Kite is a species which varies very little in its dress. When young, the colours are darker and brighter than when at full maturity. The Rev. Carcereri informs me that almost all those he killed resembled one another. As for size, the female is always larger than the male.
- Mr. Seebohm ('British Birds,' vol. i. p. 80), after having criticised Messrs. Newton and Dresser, who call this species by the name of M. migrans, Boddaert (1783), and Dr. Sharpe, who called it M. korschun, Gmelin (1771), adds that some future ornithologist, evincing more zeal than discretion, may adopt the name of M. milano, Gerini (1767), in homage to the law of priority. Mr. Seebohm has here fallen into a singular error; the bird drawn by Gerini on plate i. No. 38, of vol. i. of his remarkable work, 'La Storia degli Uccelli,' is not our M. migrans, but simply a variety of Buteo vulgaris, and the identical bird which Savi elevated to the rank of specific rank under the title of Falco pojana. Italian ornithologists all agree in referring Gerini's milano to Buteo vulgaris, and they place the same name under the synonyms of this species. Gerini speaks of M. migrans in the course of his work, but under the title of "Falco detto Nibbio nero." These are his words (l.c. p. 71):—"Falco detto Nibbio nero, Falx = Falco Milvus niger Schwenk et Sibbald, &c. Asturis magnitudine, remigibus majoribus nigris, cauda supra fusca, collo et uropygio albicantibus; cera lutea, rostro nigro, pedibus gracilioribus luteis." He does not mention it as an Italian species; he only adds, like Brisson, "Mures et Locustas in agris inquirit; Pullos tamen Avium adhuc volandi impotentes avidissime rapit."
- Faun, d'Italia, ii. Uccelli, p. 13 (1872).
- Orn. Toscana, vol. i. p. 38 (1827).
- Elenco, p. 40 (1881).
- Avif. Ital. n. 245, p. 248 (1886).
- Elenco Ucc. Ital. p. 47 (1887).
- Monogr. Ucc. Rap. d'Ital. p. 116 (1895).
- Orn. Ticinese, p. 63 (1865).
- In Giglioli, Avif. Ital. vol. i. p. 400 (1889).
- Cat. Ucc. del Veneto, in Comment, ecc. i. p. 9 (1868).
- Uccelli Veronesi, p. 15 (1858).
- Giglioli, Avif. Ital. i. p. 401 (1889).
- 'British Birds,' vol. i. p. 83 (1883).