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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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136. Dumetia albigularis (Blyth). Small White-throated Babbler

Dumetia albogularis (Blyth), Jerdon B. Ind ii, p. 26; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 398.

Miss M. B. Cockburn, writing from Kotagherry, tells me that "the White-throated Babbler builds its nest in the month of June. One was found by my nest-seekers on the 17th of that month in the year 1873. It was constructed on a coffee-tree, and contained three eggs, which were white, profusely covered with reddish spots of all sizes. The bird was very shy, and would not return to the nest for some hours after it had been discovered; when, however, she did so, she was shot. This year (1874) I found another similar nest on the 9th of June, also containing three eggs."

The nest with which she favored me was small and nearly globular (say at most 4 inches in external diameter), composed entirely of broad flaggy grass without any lining or any admixture whatsoever of other material. The nest was loosely put together, and had a comparatively narrow circular entrance near the top.

From Mysore Mr. Iver Macpherson writes: "This is an exceedingly common bird in parts of this district, and their nests are so plentiful that I never now take them.

"I send you all the eggs I have at present, but can procure you any number more next season. The birds are to be found in all kinds of wooded country except the heavy forests, and appear to breed from the middle of April to the end of July, and possibly later.

"The nest is a largish globular structure loosely made of either bamboo-leaves or blades of grass, and all that I have ever seen have been lined inside with a few fine fibres. "Four appears to be the usual number of eggs, but very often there are only three. "The nests are always built near the ground, sometimes almost touching it, and are fixed in either small bushes, tufts of grass, or young bamboo-clumps."

Mr. J. L. Darling, Jun., states that this bird is very common in Culputty in the Wynaad, at an elevation of about 3000 feet, and that he has found the nests from the end of May to the middle of October. The nest is built in high grass nearly on the ground, or in date-palms, or in arrowroot in the jungle up to heights of 3 feet. The nest is built entirely of grass, lined with finer grass; a nearly round ball 6 inches in diameter outside and 5 inside, with a hole on the side. The eggs are laid at the rate of one a day, and three are usually found in one nest, occasionally only two. On one occasion after securing the female bird, he found the cock bird sitting on the eggs and he continued to sit there for three days.

Mr. J. Davidson tells us that he found a nest of this bird on the 15th July at Kondabhari with four fresh eggs.

Colonel Legge writes in his 'Birds of Ceylon': "The breeding-season lasts from March until July, the nests being built in a low bush sometimes only a few inches from the ground."

In shape the eggs are moderately elongated ovals. The shell is very fine and smooth, and has in some a rather bright, in some only a very slight gloss. The ground is a China-white. The markings consist of a profusion of specks and spots of a very bright red, which, though spread over the whole surface, are gathered most densely into an imperfect, more or less confluent, cap or zone at the larger end, where also a few purplish-grey spots and specks not usually found on any other part of the egg, are noticeable.

In length the eggs vary from 0·66 to 0·78, and in breadth from 0·5 to 0·55. The average of 28 eggs is 0·72 by 0·53.

139. Pyctorhis sinensis (Gm.). Yellow-eyed Babbler

Pyctorhis sinensis (Gm.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 15; Hume, Rough Draft N.& E. no. 385.

The Yellow-eyed Babbler breeds throughout the plains of India, as also in the Nilgiris, to an elevation of 5000 feet, and in the Himalayas to perhaps 4000 feet. It lays in the latter part of June, in July, August, and September. Gardens are the favorite localities and in these the little bird makes its compact and solid nest, sometimes in a fork of the fine twigs of a lime-bush, sometimes in a mango-, orange-, or apple-tree, occasionally suspended between three stout grass-stems, or even attached to a single stem of the huge grass from which the native pens are made. I have taken a nest, hung between three reeds, exactly resembling in shape and position the Reed-Warbler's nest (Salicaria arundinacea), figured in Mr. Yarrell's vignette at page 313, vol. i. 3rd edition.

The nest is typically cone-shaped (the apex downwards), from 5 to 6 inches in depth, and 3 or 4 in diameter at the base; but it varies of course according to situation, the cone being often broadly truncated. In the base of the cone (which is uppermost) is the egg-cavity, measuring from 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and from 2 to 2·5 inches in depth. The nest is very compactly and solidly woven, of rather broad blades of grass, and long strips of fine fibrous bark, exteriorly more or less coated with cobwebs and gossamer-threads. Interiorly, fine grass-stems and roots are neatly and closely interwoven. I once found some horse-hair along with the grass-roots, but this is unusual.

The full number of eggs is, I believe, five. I have repeatedly taken nests containing this number, and have comparatively seldom met with a smaller number of eggs at all incubated.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall says: "I found a nest of this species at Roorkee in the early part of July. It contained three eggs and was beautifully made, a deep cup fixed on to an artichoke-stock, and at a little distance much resembled an artichoke."

Mr. E. C. Nunn, writing from near Agra on the 26th September 1867, says: "I got a Pyctorhis' nest yesterday, suspended between two stalks of jowar (Holcus sorghum), the nest firmly bound with strips of fibrous bark, at two opposite points of its circumference, to the two stems. This is, I imagine, something out of the usual order of things with these birds. The nests which I have hitherto found have been situated in young mango-trees, rose-bushes, or peach- and orange-trees."

From Futtehgurh the late Mr. A. A. Anderson sent me the following note: "The nest and eggs of this bird are very beautiful. A pair once built in a pumplenose-tree (Citrus decumana) in my garden, laying five long eggs. The nest, still in my collection, was placed in the fork of four small upright twigs; it was composed entirely of dry grass-stems (no soft material inside), and laced outwardly, in and out of the twigs, with dry fibre belonging to the plantain-tree.

"The eggs are small for the size of the bird, and scarcely so large as those of the Hedge-Sparrow."

Captain Hutton remarks: "This likewise is a Doon bird; its nest was found there on the 1st July, when it contained four eggs of a dull white colour, thickly speckled and blotched all over with ferruginous spots, forming also an open darker colored ring at the large end, and intermixed with brown.

"The nest is a deep cup, placed in the trifurcation of the slender upright branch of a low shrub, and is constructed externally of coarse grass-blades held together by cobwebs and seed-down, the lining being fine grass-seed stalks. Diameter of the top 2½ inches; depth within 2 inches; externally 3½ inches."

Mr. F. R. Blewitt tells us that "the Yellow-eyed Babbler breeds from July to September, or, I should say, up to the middle of September. Its selection of a tree for its nest is not confined to any one species, but by preference the bird selects those of small growth, and even frequently high-growing brushwood. The nests are very neatly made, and what is singular is that, as regards build and shape, they are always almost exactly alike. If I have seen one, I must have seen at least fifty this year, all with the same exterior material of closely interlaced vegetable fibre over grass, and the inner lining of fine grass, deep cup-shaped, and in diameter, outer and inner, varying but little. Where it could be effected, the nest was suspended to, or rather fastened between, two forks; or where these were not available, between three twigs. The outer diameters of the nests were from 2·7 to 2·9 inches, inner from 2·3 to 2·5. Four is the regular number of eggs, though occasionally five in one nest have been obtained."

Mr. R. M. Adam remarks: "This species builds about Agra in May, June, and July. The nest is a beautiful deep cup-shaped structure, almost always fastened to a branch of a low bush. The normal number of eggs appears to be four."

From Kotagherry, near Ootacamund, Miss Cockburn records that "this bird builds a neat cup-shaped nest, generally choosing a branch consisting of three upright sprigs, at the bottom of which the building is placed. The nests (one of which is now before me) are begun with broad grass-leaves, and the inside compactly lined with fine fibres of the same material: to render the whole firm, a few cobwebs are added to the outside, thus fixing the nest securely to the sprigs. These birds build in the months of June and July, and, as far as I have observed, lay only three eggs."

Mr. Philipps, quoted by Dr. Jerdon, says that this bird "generally builds on banyan-trees." This is clearly a mistake. I have known of the taking, or have myself taken, altogether upwards of fifty nests in the North-Western Provinces, whence Mr. Philipps was writing, and never yet heard of or saw a nest of this species on a banyan.

Mr. H. Wenden writes: "At Egatpoora, the top of the Thull Ghât incline, I noticed, on 30th September, a partly-built nest of this species. Watching for some time, I ascertained that both birds shared in the labour of construction. It was situated in the trifurcated stalk of that plant which bears a clover-like blossom (called Kessara-Hind and Koordoo-Mhar), about 3 feet above the ground, the stalks passing through the side-walls of the nest, which cannot have a better description than that given by Mr. Hume (page 238, 'Rough Draft'). The first egg was laid on 2nd October, and another each succeeding day until there were five. On the 10th the hen-bird was shot and the nest taken.

"On 30th October, in a garden near the same place, another nest was found, on the twigs of a pangra tree, containing three young birds and one egg."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden say: "Tolerably common in the Sholapur district; more so in the better-wooded parts, and breeds."

Finally, Colonel Butler sends me the following note:

"Belgaum, 14th September, 1880: A nest in sugar-cane about 2 feet from the ground, containing five fresh eggs. 17th September: another nest in a sugar-cane field, containing five eggs about to hatch. In both instances the nest was built, not on the blades of sugar-cane, but on a solitary green-leaved weedy-looking plant growing amongst the sugar-cane. The Yellow-eyed Babbler breeds during the rains. I have taken nests on the following dates:

"July 26, 1875. A nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
"July 30, 1875. " " 3 fresh eggs.
"Aug. 14, 1875. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"Aug. 21, 1875. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"July 18, 1876. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"July 20, 1876. " " 3 fresh eggs.
"July 28, 1876. " " 4 fresh eggs.

"From this date to the end of August I found any number of nests containing eggs of both types. The nest is usually built in the fork of some low thorny tree from 3 to 7 feet from the ground. The outside of the nest is usually smeared over with cobwebs, reminding one of the nest of a Rhipidura".

Mr. Oates writes: "Breeds abundantly throughout Pegu in June, and probably in the other months of the rains up to September."

The eggs vary a good deal in size and shape, and very much in coloring. They are mostly of a very broad oval shape, very obtuse at the smaller end. Some are, however, slightly pyriform, and some a little elongated. There are two very distinct types of coloration: one has a pinkish-white ground, thickly and finely mottled and streaked over the whole surface with more or less bright and deep brick-dust red, so that the ground-colour only faintly shows through, here and there, as a sort of pale mottling; in the other type the ground-colour is pinkish white, somewhat sparingly, but boldly, blotched with irregular patches and eccentric hieroglyphic-like streaks, often Bunting-like in their character, of bright blood- or brick-dust red. The eggs of this type, besides these primary markings, generally exhibit towards the large end a number of pale inky-purple blotches or clouds. There is a third type somewhat intermediate between these, in which the ground-colour, instead of being finely freckled all over as in the former, or sparingly blotched as in the latter, is very coarsely mottled and clouded, as if clumsily daubed over by a child, with a red intermediate in intensity between that usually observable in the two first-described types. Combinations of these different types of course occur, but fully two thirds can be separated distinctly under the first and second varieties. Though much smaller, many of the eggs recall those of the English Robin. The eggs have often a fine gloss. I have one or two specimens so uniformly colored that, though perhaps slightly shorter and broader in form, they might almost pass for the eggs of Cetti's Warbler.

In length they vary from 0·65 to 0·8, and in breadth from 0·53 to 0·68; but the average of seventy-seven eggs measured is 0·73 by 0·59.


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