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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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Page 13c

Subfamily SIBIINAE


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226. Zosterops palpebrosa (Temm.). The Indian White-eye

Zosterops palpebrosus (Temm.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 265; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 631.

The Indian White-eye, or White-eyed Tit as Jerdon terms it, breeds almost throughout the Indian Empire, sparingly in the hotter and more arid plains, abundantly in the Nilghiris and other ranges of the Peninsula to their very summits, and in the Himalayas to an elevation of 5000 or 6000 feet.

The breeding-season extends in different localities from January to September, but I think that everywhere April is the month in which most eggs are to be met with. Sometimes they have two broods; whether this is always the case I do not know.

The nest is placed almost indifferently at any elevation. I have taken one from amongst the topmost twigs of a huge mohwa tree (Bassia latifolia) fully 60 feet high, and I have found them in a tiny bush not a foot off the soil. Still I think that perhaps the majority build at low elevations, say between 2 and 6 feet from the ground.

The nest is always a soft, delicate little cup, sometimes very shallow, sometimes very deep, as a rule suspended between two twigs like a miniature Oriole's nest, but on rare occasions propped in a fork. The nest varies much in size and in the materials with which it is composed.

Pine grass and roots, tow, and a variety of vegetable fibres, thread, floss silk, and cobwebs are all made use of to bind the little nest together and attach it to the twigs whence it depends. Grass again, moss, vegetable fibre, seed-down, silk, cotton, lichen, roots and the like are used in the body of the nest, which is lined with silky down, hair, moss, and fern-roots, or even silk, while at times tiny silvery cocoons or scraps of rich-colored lichen are affixed as ornaments to the exterior.

One nest before me is a very perfect and deep cup, hung between two twigs of a mohwa tree and almost entirely hidden by the surrounding leaves. The exterior diameter of the nest is 2 inches, and the depth 2 inches. The egg-cavity measures scarcely more than 1 inch across and very nearly as much in depth. It is composed of very fine grass-stems and is thinly coated exteriorly with cobwebs, by which also it is firmly secured to the suspending twigs, and externally numerous small cocoons and sundry pieces of vegetable down are plastered on to the nest. Another nest, hung between two slender twigs of a mango tree, is a shallow cup some 2 inches in diameter, and not above an inch in depth externally. The egg-cavity measures at most 1 inch across by three-fourths of an inch in depth. The nest is composed of fine tow-like vegetable fibres and thread, by which it is attached to the twigs, a little grass-down being blended in the mass, and the cavity being very sparsely lined with very fine grass-stems. In another nest, somewhat larger than, the last described, the nest is made of moss slightly tacked together with cobwebs and lined with fine grass-fibres. Another nest, a very regular shallow cup, with an egg-cavity 2 inches in diameter and an inch in depth, is composed almost entirely of the soft silky down of the Calatropis gigantea, rather thickly lined with very fine hair-like grass, and very thinly-coated exteriorly with a little of this same grass, moss, and thread. Another, with a similar-sized cavity, but nearly three-fourths of an inch thick everywhere, is externally a mass of moss, moss-roots, and very fine lichen, and is lined entirely with very soft and brilliantly white satin-like vegetable down. Another, with about the same-sized cavity, but the walls of which are scarcely one-fourth of an inch in thickness, is composed entirely of this satiny down, thinly coated exteriorly and interiorly with excessively fine moss-roots (roots so fine that most of them are much thinner than human hair); a few black horsehairs, which look coarse and thick beside the other materials of the nest, are twisted round and round in the interior of the egg-cavity. Other nests might be made entirely of tow, so far as their appearance goes; and in fact with a very large series before me, no two seem, to be constructed of the same materials.

I have nests before me now, taken in September, March, June, and August, all of which when found contained eggs.

Two is certainly the normal number of the eggs; about one fifth of the nests I have seen contained three, and once only I found four.

From Murree Colonel C. H. T. Marshall informs us that he took the eggs in June at an elevation of about 6000 feet.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall says: "I have taken eggs of this species at Cawnpore (Kanpur) in the middle of June. I found six nests, five of which were in neem-trees. I also found the nest in Nainital at 7000 feet above the sea, with young in the middle of June; one only of all the nests I have seen was lined, and that was lined with feathers: they were, as a rule, about eight feet from the ground, but one was nearly forty feet up."

Capt. Hutton gives a very full account of the nidification of this species. He says: "These beautiful little birds are exceedingly common at Mussoorie, at an elevation of about 5000 feet, during summer, but I never saw them much higher. They arrive from the plains about the middle of April, on the 17th of which month I saw a pair commence building in a thick bush of Hibiscus, and on the 27th of the same month the nest contained three small eggs hard-set. I subsequently took a second from a similar bush, and several from the drooping branches of oak-trees, to the twigs of which they were fastened. It is not placed on a branch, but is suspended between two thin twigs, to which it is fastened by floss silk torn from the cocoons of Bombyx Huttoni, (Westw.), and by a few slender fibres of the bark of trees or hair according to circumstances.

"So slight and so fragile is the little oval cup that it is astonishing the mere weight of the parent bird does not bring it to the ground, and yet within it three young ones will often safely outride a gale that will bring the weightier nests of Jays and Thrushes to the ground.

"Of seven nests now before me four are composed externally of little bits of green moss, cotton, and seed-down, and the silk of the wild mulberry-moth torn from the cocoons, with which last material, however, the others appear to be bound together within. The lining of two is of the long hairs of the yak's tail, two of which died on the estate where these nests were found, and a third is lined with black human hair. The other three are formed of somewhat different materials, two being externally composed of fine grass-stalks, seed-down, and shreds of bark so fine as to resemble tow; one is lined with seed-down and black fibrous lichens resembling hair, a second is lined with fine grass, and a third with a thick coating of pure white silky seed-down. In all the seven, the materials of the two sides are wound round the twigs, between which they are suspended like a cradle, and the shape is an ovate cup, about the size of half a hen's egg split longitudinally. The diameter and depth are respectively 2 inches and 1 inch by three-fourths of an inch. The eggs are usually three in number."

Mr. Brooks, writing from Almorah, says: "This morning, 28th April, I found a nest of Zosterops palpebrosa containing two fresh eggs. Yesterday I found one of the same bird containing three half-fledged young ones. Near the Tonse River, in the Allahabad District, I found these birds in July nesting high in a mango-tree, the nest suspended like an Oriole's to several leaves; now I find it in low bushes, at heights of from 3 to 5 feet from the ground. The eggs, as before, skim-milk blue, without markings of any kind."

From Garhwal Mr. R. Thompson says: "A small cup-shaped elegant nest is built by this bird suspended by fastenings from the fork of a low branch. The nest is about 2 inches in diameter and three-fourths of an inch in depth, composed of cobwebs, fine roots, hairs, etc., neatly interwoven and lined internally with vegetable down. The eggs, two, three, or four in number, are of a pale whitish-blue, oval, and somewhat larger than those of Arachnechthra asiatica. The birds select all kinds of trees, but the nest is always suspended. The breeding-season is about March and April, and the brood is quickly hatched and fledged.

"A nest found by me on the 22nd April, and containing four eggs, was built most ingeniously in a creeper that hung from a small tree. The birds had arranged it so that the long down-bearing tendril of the creeper blended with the nest, which in the main was composed of the material surrounding it.

"Another nest found on the 26th contained three young ones. It was built in a low branch of a large mango-tree, and might have been 12 feet from the ground. It was a neat compact structure, deeply hollow, and made up of cobwebs, fine straw, and hair, and lined with vegetable down, closely and neatly interwoven.

"The parent birds were evidently feeding the young on the ripe fruit of the Khoda or Chumroor (Ehretia laevis). I got one fruit from the old birds, being anxious to know what the young ones were getting for their dinner.

"The pairing-season commences about the end of March, when the males may be heard uttering a feeble kind of rambling song, which in reality is merely modified repetitions of a single note."

Mr. A. Anderson remarked that "the White-eye breeds throughout the North-Western Provinces and Oudh during the months of June, July, and August. The nest is a beautiful little model of the Oriole's; and according to my experience it is invariably suspended, and not fixed in the fork of small branches as stated by Jerdon. I have on several occasions watched a pair in the act of building their nest. They set to work with cobwebs, and having first tied together two or three leafy twigs to which they intend to attach their nest, they then use fine fibre of the sun (Crotalaria juncea), with which material they complete the outer fabric of their very beautiful and compact nest. As the work progresses more cobwebs and fibre of a silky kind are applied externally, and at times the nest, when tossed about by the wind (sometimes at a considerable elevation), would be mistaken by a casual observer for an accidental collection of cobwebs. The inside of the nest is well felted with the down of the madar plant, and then it is finally lined with fine hair and grass-stems of the softest kind. Sometimes the nest is suspended from only two twigs, exactly after the fashion of the Mango-birds (Oriolus kundoo); and in this case it is attached by means of silk-like fibres and fine fibre of sun for about 1 inch on each side; at others it is suspended from several twigs; and occasionally I have seen the leaves fixed on to the sides of the nest, thus making it extremely difficult of detection.

"In shape the nest is a perfect hollow hemisphere; one now before me measures (inside) 15 in diameter. The wall is about 03 in thickness. Almost all my nests have been built on the neem tree, the long slender petioles of which are admirably adapted for its suspension. As a rule the nest is built at a considerable height, and owing to its situation there is not a more difficult nest to take. Great numbers get washed down in a half-finished state in a heavy fall of rain.

"The eggs are, exactly as Jerdon describes them, of a pale blue, 'almost like skimmed milk,' and the usual number is three, though four are frequently laid."

"On the 7th September," writes Mr. E. M. Adam, "in my garden in Lucknow, I discovered a nest of this bird in course of construction, but when it was nearly finished the birds left it. The nest was a beautiful little cup made of fine grass and cobwebs. It was situated in a slender fork of a mango-tree about 15 feet from the ground."

Major C. T. Bingham says: "Common both at Allahabad and at Delhi; breeds in both places in May, June, and July. All nests I have seen have been finely made little cups of fibres, bits of thread and cobwebs, lined interiorly with horsehair, generally suspended between two slender twigs at no great height from the ground."

Mr. E. Aitken writes: "I have only actually taken one nest of the White-eye. That was in Poona (2000 feet above the sea) on the 21st July. The bird, however, builds abundantly in Poona about gardens, trees on the roadside, etc.

"This particular nest was fixed to a thin branch of a tamarind-tree on the side of a lane among gardens. It was within reach of my hand, and was attached both to the thin branch itself and to two twigs. It was well sheltered among leaves.

"The nest was a cup rather narrower at the mouth than in the middle. Its external diameter at the top was 2 inches; internal diameter 1 inch; depth 1 inch internally. It was composed of a variety of fibres closely interwoven with some kind of vegetable silk, and was lined principally with horsehair and very fine fibres. It contained three eggs."

Mr. Davison tells us that "the White-eye breeds on the Nilghiris in February, March, April, and the earlier part of May.

"The nest is a small neat cup-shaped structure suspended between a fork in some small low bush, generally only 2 or 3 feet from the ground, but sometimes high up, about 20 or 30 feet from the ground. It is composed externally of moss and small roots and the down from the thistle; the egg-cavity is invariably sparingly lined with hair. The eggs, two in number, are of a pale blue, like skimmed milk."

From Kotagherry Miss Cockburn remarks: "Their nests are, I think, more elegantly finished than those of any of the small birds I have seen up here. They generally select a thick bush, where, when they have chosen a horizontal forked branch, they construct a neat round nest which is left quite open at the top. The materials they commence with are green moss, lichen, and fine grass intertwined. I have even found occasionally a coarse thread, which they had picked up near some Badagar's village and used in order to fasten the little building to the branches. The inside is carefully lined with the down of seed-pods. White-eyes' nests are very numerous here in the months of January, February, and March. They are extremely partial to the wild gooseberry bush as a site to build on. One year I found ten out of eleven nests on these bushes, the fruit of which is largely used by the aborigines of the hills. A pair once built on a thick orange-tree in our garden. We often stood quite close to one of them while sitting on the eggs, and it never showed the slightest degree of fear. They lay two eggs of a light blue colour."

Mr. Wait, writing from Conoor, says that "Z. palpebrosa breeds in April and May, building in bushes and shrubs, and making a deep round cup-shaped nest very neatly woven in the style of the Chaffinch, composed of moss, grass, and silk cotton, and sparsely lined with very fine grass and hair. The eggs are two in number, of a roundish oval shape, and a pale greenish-blue colour."

Finally Colonel Legge informs us that this species breeds in Ceylon in June, July, and August.

The eggs are somewhat lengthened ovals (occasionally rather broader), and a good deal pointed towards the small end. The shell is very fine but almost glossless; here and there a somewhat more glossy egg is met with. They are normally of a uniform very pale blue or greenish blue, without any markings whatsoever, but once in a way an egg is seen characterized by a cap or zone of a somewhat purer and deeper blue. Abnormally large and small specimens are common. They vary in length from 053 to 07, and in breadth from 042 to 058; but the average of thirty-eight eggs is 062 by 047, and the great majority of the eggs are really about this size.

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