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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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Subfamily TIMELIINAE     (continued...)

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166. Rhopocichla atriceps (Jerd.) The Black-headed Babbler

Alcippe atriceps (Jerd.), Jerd. B. Ind. ii, p. 19; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 390.

Writing from Coonoor in the Nilghiris, Mr. Wait tells me that the Black-headed Babbler breeds in his neighborhood in June and July: "It builds in weeds and grass beside the banks of old roads, at elevations of from 5000 to 5500 feet. The nest is placed at a height of from a foot to 2 feet from the ground, is domed and loosely built, composed almost entirely of dry blades of the lemon-grass, and lined with the same or a few softer grass-blades. In shape it is more or less ovate, the longer axis vertical, and the external diameters 4 and 8 inches. They lay two or three rather broad oval eggs, which have a white ground, speckled and spotted, chiefly at the large end, with reddish brown."

Miss Cockburn sends me a nest of this species which she found on the 17th June amongst reeds on the edge of a stream, about 2 or 3 feet above the water's edge. It appears to have been a globular mass very loosely put together, of broad reed-leaves, between 3 or 4 inches in diameter, and with a central unlined cavity.

Mr. Iver Macpherson, writing from Mysore, says: "I have only met with this bird in heavy bamboo-forest, and have only found two nests, viz., on the 25th May and 2nd July, 1879. Both nests were fixed low down (2 to 3 feet) in bamboo-clumps, and each contained two eggs, which, for the size of the bird, I considered very large. Nest globular, and very loosely constructed of bamboo-leaves and blades of grass."

An egg sent me from Coonoor by Mr. Wait is a moderately broad, very regular oval, only slightly compressed towards the smaller end. The shell is very fine and satiny, but has only a slight gloss. The ground-colour is white or slightly greyish white, and towards the large end it is profusely speckled with minute dots of brownish and purplish red, a few specks of the same colour being scattered about the rest of the surface of the eggs.

Another egg sent me from Kotagherry by Miss Cockburn exactly corresponds with the above description.

Both are precisely the same in size, and measure 0·75 by 0·55. Other eggs measure from 0·75 to 0·79 in length by 0·53 to 0·58 in breadth.

[Footnote: Mr. T. Fulton Bourdillon (S.F. ix, p. 300) gives an interesting account of the nest and eggs of a species of Rhopocichla, which he failed to identify satisfactorily. It may have been R. atriceps or R. bourdilloni. Most probably, judging from the locality, it was the latter. As, however, there is a doubt about it, I do not insert the note.--ED.]

167. Rhopocichla nigrifrons (Bl.). The Black-fronted Babbler

Alcippe nigrifrons, (Bl.), Hume, cat. no. 390 ter.

Colonel Legge writes regarding the nidification of the Black-fronted Babbler in Ceylon: "After finding hundreds of the curious dry-leaf structures, mentioned in 'The Ibis,' 1874, p. 19, entirely void of contents, and having come almost to the conclusion that they were built as roosting-places, I at last came on a newly-constructed one containing two eggs, on the 5th of January last; the bird was in the nest at the time, so that my identification of the eggs was certain. The nest of this Babbler is generally placed in a bramble or straggling piece of undergrowth near a path in the jungle or other open spot; it is about 3 or 4 feet from the ground, and is entirely made of dead leaves and a few twigs; the leaves are laid one over another horizontally, forming a smooth bottom or interior. In external form it is a shapeless ball about 8 or 10 inches in diameter, and has an unfinished opening at the side. The birds build with astonishing quickness, picking up the leaves one after another from the ground just beneath the nest. When fresh the eggs are fleshy white, becoming pure white when emptied; they are large for the size of the bird, rather stumpy ovals, of a smooth texture, and spotted openly and sparingly with brownish red, over bluish-grey specks; in one specimen the darker markings are redder than in the other, and ran mostly in the direction of the axis. Dimensions: 0·74 by 0·56 and 0·74 by 0·55."

169. Stachyrhis nigriceps, (Hodgs.) The Black-throated Babbler

Stachyris nigriceps, (Hodgs.), Jerd. B. Ind. ii. p, 21; Hume. Rough Draft N. & E. no. 391.

I have never taken a nest of this species, the Black-throated Babbler, but Mr. Gammie, a careful observer, in whose neighborhood (Rungbee, near Darjeeling) this bird is very abundant, has taken many nests, two of which he has sent me, with many eggs.

One nest, found at Rishap, on the 14th May, at an elevation of about 4000 feet, contained four nearly fresh eggs. It was a very loose structure, a shallow cup of about 3½ inches in diameter, composed of fine grass-stems without any lining, and coated externally with broad coarse grass-blades.

Another nest taken low down in the valley, at about an elevation of 2000 feet, on the 17th June, contained three fresh eggs. It was placed in a bank at the foot of a shrub. Like the previous one, it was a loose but rather deeper cup, interiorly composed of moderately fine grass, exteriorly of dead leaves. The egg-cavity measured about 2 inches in diameter, and 1½ inch in depth. In situ, both probably were more or less domed, the cups more or less overhung by a hood or canopy.

Mr. Gammie remarks: "I have seen numerous nests of this species in former years, and have found two this season, but have never seen eggs with 'faint darker spots' as mentioned by Jerdon. Hodgson's description is quite correct. The eggs are a 'pale fawn-colour' before they are blown, the shells being so translucent that the yolk shows through partially. The shell is pure white in itself. The cavity of the cup-shaped part of one nest beside me is 2 inches deep by 2 inches wide; outer dimensions 5¾ inches deep (from top of hood) by 4 inches wide across the face of entrance. It is loosely though neatly made of bamboo-leaves and fern, lined with dry grass. The bird breeds in May and June, and lays four or five eggs."

Mr. Eugene Oates tells us that he "procured only one specimen of this bird, and that was in the evergreen forests of the Pegu Hills. I shot it off the nest on the 29th April. The nest was on a bank of a nullah well concealed among dead leaves, about 2 feet above the bottom of the bank. The nest is domed, about 7 inches in height and 5 inches in diameter externally, with the entrance at the side near the top. The outside is a mass of bamboo-leaves very loose, being in no way bound together; each leaf is curled to the shape of the nest. The inside, a thin lining only of vegetable fibres. There were three eggs, just on the point of hatching; colour, pure white."

The Black-throated Babbler breeds, according to Mr. Hodgson, in April and May, and builds a large deep cup-shaped nest, either upon the ground in the midst of grass, or at a short distance above the ground between five or six thin twigs; a nest which he measured was externally 4·5 inches in diameter and 3·5 in height, while the cavity was 2·5 in diameter and 2 in depth. The nest is composed of dry bamboo- and other leaves wound together with grass and moss-roots, and lined with these, and is a very firm compact structure, considering the materials. They lay four or five eggs, which are figured as very regular rather broad ovals, of a nearly uniform, very pale café-au-lait colour (these were the unblown eggs), measuring about 0·75 by 0·58.

Dr. Jerdon remarks: "A nest and eggs were brought to me at Darjeeling, and said to be of this species. The nest was rather large, very loosely made of bamboo-leaves and fibres, and the eggs were of a pale salmon-colour, with some faint darker spots."

There is no doubt that these must have been the eggs of some other species.

Major C. T. Bingham tells us: "This little bird, though not at all common, breeds in the Sinzaway Reserve, in Tenasserim. I took five hard-set eggs, placed in a beautiful little domed nest, at the foot of a clump of bamboos, on the bank of a dry choung or nullah. This was on the 20th March. The nest was composed exteriorly of dry bamboo-leaves, and interiorly of fine grass-roots, the entrance being on one side. I shot the female as she crept off the nest."

It does not seem that in the Himalayas this species domes its nest. Numerous other nests that have been sent me from Sikkim, taken in May, June, and July, were all of the same type - shallow or deeper cups loosely put together, exteriorly composed of coarse blades of grass, dead leaves, bamboo-spathes and the like, held together with a little vegetable fibre or fibrous roots, and interiorly of fine grass generally more or less mingled with blackish roots, which in some nests greatly predominate over the grass.

The eggs are broad ovals, somewhat compressed towards one end, in some cases slightly pyriform. They are pure white, spotless, and fairly glossy.

They vary from 0·68 to 0·84 in length, and from 0·55 to 0·61 in breadth, but the average of thirty-four eggs is 0·76 by somewhat over 0·58.

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