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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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278. Molpastes haemorrhous (Gm.). Madras Red-vented Bulbul

Pycnonotus haemorrhous (Gm.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 94.
Molpastes pusillus (Blyth), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 462.

The Madras Red-vented Bulbul, which by the way extends northwards throughout the Central Provinces, Chota-Nagpur, Rajpootana (the eastern portions), the plains of the North-Western Provinces, Oudh, Bihar, and Western Bengal, breeds in the plains country chiefly in June and July, although a few eggs may also be found in April, May, and August. In the Nilgiris the breeding-season is from February to April, both months included.

Elsewhere I have recorded the following notes on the nidification of this species in the neighborhood of Bareilly:

"Close to the tank is a thick clump of sāl-trees (Shorea robusta), the great building-timber of Northern India, whose natural home is in that vast sub-Himalayan belt of forest which passes only 30 miles to the north of Bareilly.

"In one of these a Common Madras Bulbul had made its home. The nest was compact and rather massive, built in a fork, on and round a small twig. Externally it was composed of the stems (with the leaves and flowers still on them) of a tiny groundsel-like (Senecio) asteraceous plant, amongst which were mingled a number of quite dead and skeleton leaves and a few blades of dry grass: inside, rather coarse grass was tightly woven into a lining for the cavity, which was deep, being about 2 inches in depth by 3 inches in diameter.

"This is the common type of nest; but half an hour later, and scarcely 100 yards further on, we took another nest of this same species. This one was built in a mango-tree, towards the extremity of one of the branches, where it divided into four upright twigs, between which the Bulbul had firmly planted his dwelling. Externally it was as usual chiefly composed of the withered stems of the little asteraceous plant, interwoven with a few jhow-shoots (Tamarix dioica) and a little tow-like fibre of the putsan (Hibiscus cannabinus), while a good deal of cobweb was applied externally here and there. The interior was lined with excessively fine stems of some herbaceous exogenous plant, and there did not appear to be a single dead leaf or a single particle of grass in the whole nest.

"The eggs, however, in both nests, three in each, closely resembled each other, being of a delicate pink ground, with reddish-brown and purplish-grey spots and blotches nearly equally distributed over the whole surface of the egg, the reddish brown in places becoming almost a maroon-red. Two eggs, however, that we took out of a nest, similar to the first in structure but situated like the second in a mango-tree, were of a somewhat different character and very different in tint. The ground was dingy reddish pink, and the whole of the egg was thickly mottled all over with very deep blood-red, the mottlings being so thick at the large end as to form an almost perfectly confluent cap. Altogether the coloring of these two eggs reminded one of richly colored types of Neophron's eggs. Some of the Bulbuls' eggs that we have taken earlier in the season were much feebler colored than any of those obtained to-day, and presented a very different appearance, with a pinkish-white ground, and only moderately thickly but very uniformly speckled all over with small spots of light purplish grey, light reddish brown, and very dark brown. These eggs scarcely seem to belong to the same bird as the boldly blotched and richly-mottled specimens that we have taken to-day."

Writing from the neighborhood of Delhi, Mr. F. R. Blewitt says: "This Bulbul breeds from the middle of May to about the middle of August. Its selection of a tree for its nest is arbitrary, as I have found the latter on almost every variety of bush and tree. The nest is neatly cup-shaped, generally fragile in structure, though I have seen many a nest strong and compact. The outer diameter of the nest varies from 3 to nearly 4 inches, and the inner diameter from 2 to almost 3 inches.

"The chief material of the nest is, on the outside, coarse grass, with fine khus or fine grass for the lining. Very frequently horsehair is likewise used for lining the interior of the cavity. I have seen some nests bound round on the outside with hemp, other kinds of vegetable fibres, and even spider's web. The regular number of the eggs is four."

Mr. W. Theobald found the present species breeding in Monghyr in the fourth week of June.

Mr. Nunn remarks: "I took a nest of this species at Hoshungabad on 26th June, 1868, which contained four eggs; it was placed in a lime-tree, was composed of very small twigs, and lined inside with fine grass-roots; it was cup-shaped, and measured internally 2·25 inches in breadth by 1·75 in depth."

The late Mr. A. Anderson wrote from Futtehgurh: "On the 30th April last (1874) I took a very beautifully and curiously constructed nest of Common Bulbul. In shape and size it resembled the ordinary nest, but the curious part of it was that the upper portion of the nest for an inch all round was composed entirely of green twigs of the Neem tree on which it was built, and the under surface (below) was felted with fresh blossoms belonging to the same tree. The green twigs had evidently been broken off by the birds, but the flowers were picked up from off the ground, where they were lying thick."

Colonel Butler says: "The Madras Red-vented Bulbul breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa all through the hot weather and in the monsoon. I found a nest at Mount Abu in a garden on the 15th of April in the middle of a pot of sweet peas, containing three fresh eggs. I found other nests in Deesa, from the 11th May to 20th August, each containing three eggs.

"The nest is usually built of dry grass-stems, lined with fine roots and a few horsehairs neatly woven together. One nest I found was in a very remarkable situation, viz. inside an uninhabited bungalow upon the top of a door leading out of a sitting-room; the door was open and the bolt at the top had been forced back, and it was between the top of the door and the top of the bolt that the nest rested. The old bird entered the building by passing first of all through the lattice-work of the verandah, and then through a broken window-pane into the room where the nest was built."

Mr. R. M. Adam informs us that this bird breeds at Sambhur during June and July.

Lieut. H. E. Barnes, speaking of Rajpootana in general, states that this Bulbul breeds from April to September. Nests are occasionally found even earlier than this, but they are exceptions to the general rule.

Major C. T. Bingham writes: "The first nest I have a note of taking was at Allahabad on the 2nd April. At Delhi it breeds from the end of April to the end of July; I have, however, found most nests in May. All have been firmly made little cups of slender twigs, sometimes dry stems of some herbaceous plant, and lined with fine grass-roots. Five is the usual number of eggs laid."

Mr. G. W. Vidal, writing of the South Konkan, says: "Abundant everywhere. Breeds in April, and again in September."

Dr. Jerdon, whose experience of this species had been gained mainly in Madras, states that "it breeds from June to September, according to the locality. The nest is rather neat, cup-shaped, made of roots and grass, lined with hair, fibres, and spiders' webs*, placed at no great height in a shrub or hedge. The eggs are pale pinkish, with spots of darker lake-red, most crowded at the thick end. Burgess describes them as a rich madder colour, spotted and blotched with grey and madder-brown: Layard as pale cream, with darker markings."

[* This is some lapsus pennae. Spiders' webs are sometimes used exteriorly never as a lining.]

Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes: "The Common Bulbul lays at Khandalla in May, but I never found a nest in the plains till after the rains had set in. I have found one nest in Bombay, one in Poona, and two in Berar, as late as October; and my brother found a nest in Berar in September, with three eggs which were duly hatched."

Writing from the Nilgiris, Miss Cockburn says that "the nests, which in shape closely resemble those of the Southern Red-whiskered Bulbul, are composed chiefly of grass. The eggs are three in number, and may occasionally be found in any month of the year, though most plentiful during February, March, and April."

In shape the eggs are typically long ovals, slightly pointed towards the small end. Some are a good deal pointed and elongated; a few are tolerably perfect broad ovals, and abnormal shapes are not very uncommon. The ground is universally pinkish or reddish white (in old eggs which have been kept a long time a sort of dull French white), of which more or less is seen according to the extent of the markings. These markings take every conceivable form, defined and undefined; their combinations are as varied as their colors, which embrace every shade of red, brownish, and purplish red. Besides the primary markings, feeble secondary markings of pale inky purple are exhibited, often only perceptible when the egg is closely examined, sometimes so numerous as to give the ground-colour of the egg a universal purple tint. In about half the eggs there is a tendency to exhibit an irregular zone or cap at the large end, but solitary eggs occur in which there is a cap at the small end. Three pretty well marked types may be separately described. First, an egg thickly mottled and streaked all over with deep blood-red, which is entirely confluent over one third of the surface, namely at the large end, and leaves less than a third of the ground-colour visible as a paler mottling over the rest of the surface. Then there is another type with a very delicate pure pink ground, and with a few large, bold, deep red blotches, chiefly at the large end, where they are intermingled with a few small pale inky-purple clouds, and with only a few spots and specks of the former colour scattered over the rest of the surface. Lastly, there is a pale dingy pink ground, speckled almost uniformly, but only moderately thickly, over the whole surface, with minute specks and spots of blood-red and pale inky purple.

The dimensions are excessively variable. In length the eggs vary from 0·7 to 1·02, and in breadth from 0·6 to 0·75, but the average of sixty eggs measured was 0·89 by 0·65.

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