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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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189. Myiophoneus horsfieldi. Vigors. The Malabar Whistling-Thrush

Myiophonus horsfieldii, (Vigors), Jerdon. B. Ind. ii, p. 499; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 342.

Mr. W. Davison says: "The Malabar Whistling-Thrush (rather a misnomer, by the way) breeds on the slopes of the Nilghiris, never ascending higher than 6000 feet. The nest is always placed on some rock in a mountain torrent; it is a coarse and, for the size of the bird, a very large structure, and though I have never measured the nest, I should say that the total height was about 18 inches or more, and the greatest diameter about 18 inches. Exteriorly it is composed of roots, dead leaves, and decaying vegetation of all kinds; the egg-cavity, which is saucer-shaped and comparatively shallow, is coarsely lined with roots. It breeds during March and April."

Miss Cockburn says: "A nest of this bird was found on the 22nd of March in a hole in a tree situated in a wood at a height of about 40 feet from the ground. Two bamboo ladders had to be tied together to reach it, for the tree had no branches except at the top. The nest consisted of a large quantity of sticks and dried roots of young trees, laid down in the form of a Blackbird's nest. The contents of it were three eggs. They were quite fresh, and the bird might have laid another. The poor birds (particularly the hen) showed great boldness and returned frequently to the nest, while a ladder was put up and a man ascended it."

Such a situation for the nest of this bird may seem incredible; but my friend Miss Cockburn is a most careful observer, and she sent me one of the eggs taken from this very nest, and it undoubtedly belonged to this species; moreover, there is no other bird on the Nilghiris that she, who has figured most beautifully all the Nilghiri birds, could possibly have mistaken for this species. At the same time, the situation in which she found the nest was altogether unusual and exceptional.

I now find that such a situation for the nest of this bird is not even very unusual. On the 3rd of July Miss Cockburn took another nest in a hole in a tree, about thirty feet from the ground, containing three fresh eggs, which she kindly sent me; and writing from the Wynaad Mr. J. Darling, jun., remarks that there this species commonly builds in holes in trees. He says: "July 22nd. Nest found near Kythery, S. Wynaad, in a crevice of a log of a felled tree in a new clearing 11 feet from the ground. Nest built entirely of roots. The foundation was of roots from some swampy ground and had a good deal of mud about it. Another nest was in a hole of a dead tree 32 feet from the ground."

Mr. Frank Bourdillon writes from Travancore: "Very common from the base to near the summit of the hills, frequenting alike jungle and open clearings, though generally found in the neighborhood of some running stream; I have known this species to build on ledges of rock and in a hollow tree overhanging a stream, in either case constructing a rather loosely put together nest of roots and coarse fibre with a little green moss intermixed. The female lays two to four eggs, and both birds assist in the incubation."

Mr. T. Fulton Bourdillon records the finding of eggs on the following dates:

"April 29, 1873. Two hard-set eggs.
May 15, 1873. Three " "
May 15, 1874. One fresh egg.
May 30, 1874. Two slightly set eggs."

Col. Butler sent me a splendid nest of this species taken in the cliffs at Purandhur, 15 miles south of Poona. It was placed in the angle between two rocks; it measures in front 7 inches wide, and 1·5 in. high; posteriorly it slopes away into an obtuse angle fitting the crevice in which it was deposited; the cavity is 4 in. in diameter, perfectly circular, and 2·25 in depth. The compactness of the nest is such that it might be thrown about without being damaged. It is composed throughout of fine black roots, only a stray piece or two of light colored grass being intermixed, and the whole basal portion is cemented together with mud.

He gives the following account of the mode in which he acquired it:

"I got this nest in rather a singular way which is perhaps worth relating. At a dance last year in Karachi, in a short conversation I had with Colonel Renny, who was then commanding the Artillery in Sind, he mentioned that he had three Blue-winged Thrushes in his house that he had procured at Purandhur the year before. The following day I went over to his bungalow, and after inspecting them and satisfying myself of their identity, ascertained from him where the nest they were taken from was situated and the season at which it was found. Possessed with this information I wrote in May to the Staff Officer at Purandhur, and told him where and when the bird built and asked him if he would kindly assist me in procuring the eggs. In reply I received a very polite letter saying 'that he knew nothing about eggs or birds himself, but that he would be most happy to offer me any assistance in his power in procuring the eggs referred to, and that he would employ a shikarri to keep the hill-side that I had mentioned watched when the breeding-season arrived.' I wrote and thanked him, sending him at the same time a drill and blowpipe by post, with full instructions how to blow the eggs, in case he got any; and to my delight, at the end of July a parcel arrived one morning with the nest and eggs above described.

"Colonel Renny told me that the birds built on this cliff-side every monsoon."

Mr. E. Aitken has furnished me with the following note: "Of this bird I have seen two nests - one containing two hard-set eggs on April 29, 1872, situated in a hole in a tree overhanging a stream about 20 feet from the ground; the other containing three hard-set eggs on May 22nd, 1872, and situated on a ledge of rock in the bed of a stream; both the nests were rather coarsely made of roots. My brother says he has also found three other nests, two placed in holes of trees and the other on a rocky ledge, but the nests were in every case near to running water. The bird stays with us all the year, and is one of our commonest species. Its clear whistle is always to be heard the first thing in the morning before the other birds get up, and daring the violent rains of the S.W. monsoon it seems almost the only bird which does not lose heart at the incessant downpour. April and May appear to be the breeding months."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden remark: "Scattered all over the Deccan in suitable localities. W. got two nests, one on the Bhore Ghât on 5th August, and one on the Thull Ghât on 17th of same month. That on the Bhore Ghât was built on a ledge of rock some 15 feet in from the face of a railway tunnel where 30 or 40 trains daily passed within a few feet of it. That on the Thull Ghât was in a cutting at the entrance of a tunnel, and about the same height above and from the rails as the one on the Bhore Ghât. In both cases the eggs were much discolored by the smoke from engines, but on being washed, W. observed that one of the three eggs in each nest was of a decidedly greenish blue, finely speckled and splashed with pinky brown, while the others were of the pale salmon-pink, as described in Mr. Hume's Rough Draft of 'Nests and Eggs.' The male bird was sitting on one of the nests and was shot. W. saw numerous other nests, some high up on cliffs, beyond the reach of a 15-foot ladder. Two nests in holes in trees were reported to him, but he could not go to examine them. The nests were about 4 inches diameter by 2½ inches deep inside and 8 to 10 inches broad outside, and not more than 10 inches high. The foundation portion contained a great deal of clay and earth, which seemed to be necessary to secure the nests in positions so exposed to the heavy gusts of wind which prevail on these ghâts during the monsoon."

Mr. Rhodes W. Morgan, writing from South India, says: "I found the nest of this Thrush on the Seeghoor Ghaut of the Neilgherries. Mr. Davison was with me at the time; and the nest being built on an open ledge of rock, we both sighted it at the same moment; and I having managed to make better use of my legs than my friend, was fortunate enough to secure it, and one egg, which was of a pale flesh-colour, with a few faint spots and blotches of claret towards the larger end. The nest was made of leaves and moss mixed with clay, and lined with fine roots. The dimensions of the egg are 1·3 inch in length by ·85 in breadth. It was in May that I found this egg; but the nest had evidently been deserted for some time; for the egg has a hole in its side, through which the contents had escaped or been sucked by a snake or some animal."

Dr. Jerdon says: "I once procured its nest, placed under a shelf of a rock on the Burliar stream, on the slope of the Nilghiris. It was a large structure of roots, mixed with earth, moss, etc., and contained three eggs of a pale salmon or reddish-fawn colour, with many smallish brown spots;" and such is unquestionably the usual situation of the nest.

The eggs of this species, which I have received from Kotagherry and other parts of the Nilghiris, are broad, nearly regular ovals, slightly compressed towards the lesser end; considerably elongated, and more or less spherical, and pyriform varieties occur. The shell is fine, and has a slight gloss; the ground-colour is pale salmon-pink or pinkish-white, occasionally greyish white. The whole egg is, as a rule, finely speckled, spotted, and splashed with pinkish brown or brownish pink. The markings, in most eggs, everywhere very fine, are often considerably more dense at the large end, where they are not unusually more or less underlaid by a pinkish cloud, with which they form an irregular ill-defined and inconspicuous cap.

At times more boldly and richly marked eggs are met with; one now before me is everywhere thickly streaked with dull pink, in places purplish, and over this is thinly but rather conspicuously spotted and irregularly blotched (the blotches being small however) with light burnt sienna-brown.

In length they vary from 1·18 to 1·48 inch, and in breadth from 0·92 to 1 inch.

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