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The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds - A. O. Hume

The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds  (Volume 1) Second Edition 1889  -  by  Allan O. Hume

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134. Timelia pileata, Horsf. Red-capped Babbler

Timelia pileata, (Horsf.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 24; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 396.

Mr. Eugene Oates records that he "found the nest of this bird at Thayetmyo on the 2nd June with young ones a few days old. The nest was placed on the ground in the centre of a low but very thick thorny bush."

Subsequently he wrote from Pegu, further south: "The nest is placed in the fork of a shrub, very near to, or quite on, the ground, and is surrounded in every case by long grass. A nest found on the 4th July, on which the female was sitting closely, contained three eggs slightly incubated. The breeding-season seems to be in June and July.

"The nest is made entirely of bamboo-leaves and is lined sparingly with fine grass. No other material enters into its composition. It is oval, about 7 inches in height and 4 in diameter, with a large entrance at the side, its lower edge being about the middle of the nest.

"When the bird frequents elephant-grass, where there are no shrubs, it builds on the ground at the edge of a clump of grass, and I have found two nests in such a situation, only a few feet from each other.

"In looking for the nest a good deal of grass is necessarily trodden down; the consequence is that if you do not find eggs, there is little chance of their being laid later on. I have found some ten nests, more or less completed, but only three eggs."

And again, later on: "This bird would appear to have two broods a year, for I procured two sittings of three eggs each this year in April, former nests having been found in June and July. With many eggs before me I find that the density of the markings varies considerably. The size is very constant; for the length of numerous eggs varies only from 75 to 72, and the breadth from 6 to 54 inch."

I was, I believe, myself the first to obtain the eggs of this species, but the first of my contributors who sent me eggs, nest, and a note on the nidification of this species was Mr. J. C. Parker. Writing to me in September 1875, he said:

"On the 14th August I took a nest of Timelia pileata on my old ground in the Salt Lakes. I discovered this by a mere accident, for I happened to see a female Prinia flaviventris (whose eggs I was in quest of for you) perched on the top of a bush inland about 10 feet from the bank of the canal, and from her movements I thought she must have a nest near at hand.

"Accordingly I landed, although not in trim for wading through a bog. Sure enough I was not mistaken; the Prinia had a nest, but it contained only one egg. Close by, however, I saw a nest, from out of which a bird flew, and although I did not shoot it I am quite sure it was Timelia pileata. The jungle was particularly thick just about where I stood, indeed impenetrable, and I could not follow the bird, but I soon heard the male bird talking to his mate in that extraordinary way which these birds have, and which once heard cannot be mistaken.

"The nest was placed on the spikes growing from the joints of a species of grass very thick and stiff, and forming a secure foundation for the nest. This latter is 6 inches high and 4 inches broad. Egg-cavity 2 inches, entrance-hole 1 by 2. The nest itself is very loosely put together with the dead leaves of the tiger-grass twisted round and round, and lined roughly with coarse grass. The nest was quite open to view and about three feet from the ground. I suppose the birds never expected that such a wild swampy spot as they had selected would be invaded by any oologist."

Mr. J. R. Cripps writing from Eastern Bengal says: "Pretty common. Permanent resident. Oftener found in the patches of cane brushwood jungle found in and around villages than in unfrequented jungle and thickets as Dr. Jerdon says. I have, however, once seen it in a field of jute, which was alongside a village. Its well-known note can be heard a long way off. I have several times found nests in course of construction, but only once secured a clutch of eggs. When the nests are being built, if the bush is at all disturbed the nest is deserted. The earliest date on which I found a nest was the 1st April, 1878; it was half finished, and as I pulled the cane-leaves asunder to see if there were eggs, the birds deserted it. After this I found four nests in cane-clumps on the sides of roads, but they were empty, and as the birds abandoned them in due course I despaired of getting any eggs; but on the 15th June, while going along a road, the edges of which were bounded by the small embankments natives throw up round their holdings, and which are always overgrown with 'sone' grass, I saw one of these birds with a straw in its bill disappear at the root of a small date-tree. The nest could be discerned from the road. On the 20th June I returned and found two fresh eggs; the nest was placed at the junction of the frond and the stem of the date-tree about five inches from the ground, and was an oval deep cup and measured externally 5 inches deep by 3 broad. Egg-cavity 2 broad and 1 deep, composed exclusively of 'sone' grass with no lining."

The eggs of this species are broad ovals with a tolerably fine gloss. The ground-colour is pure white. The whole of the larger end of the egg is pretty thickly speckled and spotted with brown, varying from an olive to a burnt sienna intermingled with little spots and clouds of pale inky purple, and similar spots and specks chiefly of the former colour, but smaller in size, scattered thinly over the rest of the egg. In size they vary from 069 to 075 in length, and from 055 to 06 in breadth.

135. Dumetia hyperythra (Frankl.) Rufous-bellied Babbler

Dumetia hyperythra (Frankl.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 26; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 397.

The Rufous-bellied Babbler breeds throughout the Central Provinces, Chota Nagpur, Upper Bengal, the eastern portions of the North-West Provinces, parts of Oudh, and even in the low valleys of Kumaon.

It lays from the middle of June to the middle of August, building a globular nest of broad grass-blades or bamboo-leaves some 4 or 5 inches in diameter, sparingly lined with fine grass-roots or a little hair, or sometimes entirely unlined. The nest is placed sometimes on the ground amongst dead leaves, some of which are not unfrequently incorporated in the structure; sometimes in coarse grass or some little shrub a foot or two from the ground, but by preference, according to my experience, in amongst the roots of a bamboo-clump.

Four is the usual number of eggs laid.

Mr. Brooks writes: "On the 26th June, 1867, in the broken ground above Chunar, I took two nests in the foot of a thick bamboo-bush about 2 feet from the ground. The nests were made of bamboo-leaves rolled into a ball with the entrance at the side, and no lining except a few hairs. There were two eggs in one nest and three in the other. They were all fresh. The eggs in the two nests varied somewhat: the ground of the one was nearly pure white, and it was finely speckled with reddish brown, which at the large end was partly confluent: the other nest had the eggs with a pinkish-white ground, the spots larger and less neatly defined, and with a rather large confluent spot at the large end."

Writing from Hoshungabad, Mr. E. C. Nunn remarks: "I found two nests of this species, each containing two eggs, on the 20th July and 6th August, 1868. Both nests were ball-shaped, of coarse grass very firmly and compactly twisted together, and with numerous dead leaves incorporated in the body of the nest and towards the base, forming the major portion of the material. They were thinly lined inside with fine grass-roots. One was placed at the root of a small thorny bush: the other on the ground in a thick clump of rank grass." The nest Mr. Nunn sent to me was peculiarly solidly made. The cavity was small, about 225 inches in depth and 15 in diameter. The bottom of the nest was some 2 inches and the sides 125 inch thick.

From Raipur Mr. F. R. Blewitt tells us that "in July and August four nests of this Babbler were taken; in two there were four eggs each, in the third, three, and in the fourth, two--thirteen in all. The nests were carefully made on the ground, at the base of clumps of long grass growing very near to bamboo thickets. Three are made exclusively of the dry leaves of the bamboo; the fourth of coarse grass. They were nearly globular, about 4 inches in diameter, and without any regular lining, although in the interior of the cavity a good deal of fine grass-stems had been incorporated in the nest. They were well hidden in the grass."

Mr. Henry Wenden writes: "On July 18th, about 15 miles from Bombay, on the line of railway, I found a nest and eggs of the following description: nest, a rough loose ball of soft flat grasses, lined with hard but fine grass-stems, entrance at side near top; situated in a thorny bush in cactus-hedge, by a narrow lane, not 4 feet wide, through which numerous people passed. The nest, about 3 feet from the ground, was in no way concealed. On the 18th there were two eggs, and on the 20th, when there were four eggs, the bird was snared and nest taken."

The eggs are short, broad ovals, very slightly compressed towards one end. The ground-colour is white or pinkish white, and it is streaked, spotted, and speckled most thickly at the large end (where there is a tendency to form an irregular confluent cap or zone), and thinly towards the small end, with shades of red, brownish red, and reddish purple, varying much in different examples. In some the markings are pretty bold and blotchy, in others they are small and speckly; in some they are smudgy and ill-defined, in others they are clear and distinct. Some of the eggs are miniatures of some types of Pyctorhis sinensis, but many recall the eggs of the Titmouse. They are much about the size of those of Parus caeruleus and P. palustris, but a trifle less broad than either of these. The eggs have a faint gloss.

In length they vary from 063 to 07, and in breadth from 05 to 056; but the average of twenty-four eggs now before me is 067 by 053.

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