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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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164. Alcippe phaeocephala (Jerd.). Nilgiri Babbler

Alcippe poiocephala (Jerdon), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 18; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 389.

The Nilgiri Babbler breeds, apparently, throughout the hilly regions of Southern India. It lays from January to June. A nest taken near Neddivattam by Mr. Davison on the 5th April was placed between the fork of three twigs of a bush, at the height of 5 or 6 feet from the ground. It was a deep cup, massive enough but very loosely put together, and composed of green moss, dead leaves, a little grass and moss-roots. It was entirely lined with rather coarse black moss-roots. In shape it was nearly an inverted cone, some 3 inches in diameter at top, and fully 5 inches in height. The cavity was over 2 inches in diameter and nearly 2 inches in depth. A few cobwebs are here and there intermingled in the external surface, but the grass-roots appear to have been chiefly relied on for holding the nest together.

Another nest found by Miss Cockburn on the 5th June on a small bush, about 7 or 8 feet in height, standing on the banks of a stream, was somewhat different. It was placed in the midst of a clump of leaves, at the tips of three or four little twigs, between which the nest was partly suspended and partly wedged in. It was composed of fine grass-stems, with a few grass-and moss-roots as a lining interiorly, and with several dead leaves and a good deal of wool incorporated in the outer surface, the greater portion of which, however, was concealed by the leaves of the twigs amongst which it was built. It was only about 3 inches in diameter, and the egg-cavity was less than 2 inches across, and not above 1 inch in depth.

Mr. Davison writes: "This bird breeds on the slopes of the Nilgiris in the latter end of March and April. The nest is uncommonly like that of Trochalopterum cachinnans, but is of course smaller; it is deep and cup-shaped, composed externally of moss and dead leaves, and is lined with moss and fern-roots. It is always (as far as I have observed) fastened to a thin branch about 6 feet from the ground. All the nests I have ever observed were on small trees in the shadiest parts of the jungle, far in, and never near the edge of the jungle or in the open. The eggs are very handsome, and are, I think, the prettiest of the eggs to be found on the Nilgiris and their slopes. The ground-colour is of a beautiful reddish pink (especially when fresh), blotched and streaked with purplish carmine."

Mr. J. Darling, junior, says: "The Nilgiri Quaker-Thrush breeds on the slopes of the Nilgiri hills, generally in the depths of the forest. I have, however, taken nests in scrub-jungle. I have also found the nest at Neddivattam in April. In October I found a nest of this bird at Culputty, S. Wynaad, about 2800 feet above the sea, built at the end of a branch 4 feet from the ground."

Mr. T. F. Bourdillon writes from Travancore: "This bird breeds commonly with us, and its nest is more often met with than that of any other. The nest is cup-shaped and made of lichen, leaves, and grass. It is usually placed 4 to 8 feet from the ground in the middle of jungle, and is about 2 inches in diameter by 1-2 in depth. The full number of eggs is two, and I have obtained on

"April, 1871. 2 fresh eggs.
Mar. 21, 1873. 2 fresh eggs.
Feb. 16, 1874. 2 fresh eggs.
April 11, 1874. 2 young birds, and many nests just vacated."

As in the case of Pyctorhis sinensis, the eggs differ much in colour and markings. The two eggs of this species sent me by Miss Cockburn from Kotagherry are moderately broad ovals, very obtuse at the larger end and somewhat compressed towards the smaller. The shell is fine and somewhat glossy. The ground-colour is white or pinkish white, and they are thickly mottled and freckled, most thickly at the larger end, where the markings form a more or less confluent mottled cap, with two shades of pinkish-, and in some spots slightly brownish, red, and towards the large end, where the markings are dense, traces of pale purple clouds underlying the primary markings are observable. In general appearance these eggs not a little resemble those of some of the Bulbuls, and it seems difficult to believe that they are eggs of birds of the same genus as Alcippe atriceps*, the eggs of which are so much smaller and of such a totally different type. Two eggs of the same species taken by Mr. Davison are moderately broad ovals, somewhat compressed towards one end; have a fine and slightly glossy shell. The ground-colour is a delicate pink. There are a few pretty large and conspicuous spots and hair-lines of deep brownish red, almost black, and there are a few large pinkish-brown smears and clouds, generally lying round or about the dark spots; and then towards the large end there are several small clouds and patches of faint inky purple, which appear to underlie the other markings. The character of the markings on some of these eggs reminds one strongly of those of the Chaffinch. Other eggs taken later by Miss Cockburn at Kotagherry on the 21st January are just intermediate between the two types above described.

*[Alcippe atriceps and Alcippe phaeocephala, as they have hitherto been styled by all Indian ornithologists, are not in the least congeneric, as I have pointed out in my 'Birds of India.' I am glad to see my views corroborated by Mr. Hume's remarks on the eggs. There is no reason why these two birds should be considered congeneric, except a general similarity in colour and habits. Their structure differs much.--ED.]

All the eggs are very nearly the same size, and only vary in length from 075 to 086, and in breadth from 058 to 065.

165. Alcippe phayrii, Bl. Burmese Babbler

Alcippe phayrii, (Blyth), Hume, Cat. no. 388 bis.

Major C. T. Bingham writes from Tenasserim: "In the half-dry bed of one of the many streams that one has to cross between Kaukarit and Meeawuddy, I found on the 23rd February a nest of the above species. A firm little cup, borne up some 2 feet above the ground on the fronds of a strong-growing fern, to three of the leaf-stems of which it was attached. It was made of vegetable fibres and roots, and lined interiorly with fine black hair-like roots, on which rested three fresh eggs, in colour pinky white, blotched and streaked with dull reddish pink, and with faint clouds and spots of purple. The eggs measure 79 x 58, 78 x 58, and 76 x 59."

Mr. J. Darling, junior, informs us that on the 9th April he "took three fresh eggs of Alcippe phayrii, in heavy jungle, at a very low elevation, at the foot of Nwalabo in Tenasserim. The nest was built in a small bush 4 feet from the ground (hanging between two forked twigs), of bamboo and other leaves, moss, and a few fine twigs, and lined with moss and fern-roots, 2 inches in diameter, 1 deep. It was exactly like very many nests of A. phaeocephala, taken on the Nilgiri Hills, though some of the latter are much more compact and pretty."

Mr. W. Davison, also writing of Tenasserim, says: "On the 1st March, in a little bush about 2 feet above the ground, I found the above-mentioned bird seated on a little moss-made nest, and utterly refusing to move off until I almost touched her, when she hopped on to a branch a few feet off, and disclosed three little naked fledglings struggling or just struggled out of their shells. I retired a little way off, and she immediately reseated herself. The eggs, to judge by the fragments, were of a vinous claret tinge, spotted and streaked with a darker shade of the same."

These eggs closely resemble those of A. nepalensis. They are neither broad nor elongated ovals, often with a slight pyriform tendency, always apparently very blunt at both ends.

The ground-colour, of which but little is visible, in some eggs varies from pinky white to pale reddish pink, and the egg is profusely smeared and clouded with pinky or purplish red, varying much in shade and tint. Here and there, in most eggs, are a few spots, or occasionally short, crooked or curved lines, where the colour has been laid on so thick that it is almost black, and such spots are generally, though not always, more or less surrounded with a haze of a rather deeper tint than the rest of the smear in which they occur. The markings are often deepest colored, or most conspicuous, about the large end, where occasionally a recognizable cap is formed and there a decided purplish tinge may be noticed in patches. The general character of the eggs is very uniform; but the eggs vary to such a degree inter se, that it is hopeless to attempt to describe all the variations. They vary in length from 068 to 078 and in breadth from 053 to 059, but the average of nine eggs is 075 by 058.


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