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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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315. Sitta himalayensis, Jardine & Selby. White-tailed Nuthatch

Sitta himalayensis, (J. & S.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 385; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 248.

According to Mr. Hodgson's notes and drawings this species begins to lay in April, constructing a shallow saucer-like nest of moss lined with moss-roots, in holes of trees at no great elevation from the ground. One such nest, the measurements of which are recorded, was 3.25 inches in diameter and 2 in height externally; the cavity was 225 inches in diameter and 125 inch in depth. They lay three or four pure white eggs slightly speckled with red, which measure about 072 inch in length by 055 inch in width. They breed once a year, and both sexes assist in incubating the eggs and rearing the young.

Mr. R. Thompson says: "In Kumaon the White-tailed Nuthatch breeds in May and June, laying five or six eggs, in holes in trees, especially in oaks."

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall writes: "This bird is an early breeder in Nainital; a nest found on the 25th April contained half-fledged young. It was in a natural hollow of a tree about 10 feet from the ground in a thick trunk; the hole was closed up with a kind of stiff gummy substance, leaving only a circular entrance about an inch in diameter, just as I have seen in nests of Sitta europaea. The old birds were busily engaged in feeding the young. Another nest containing young was found on the 28th April in an oak tree at about 7000 feet elevation; both birds were feeding the young, and the nest was similar to the last except that in this case it was so low down in the trunk that, sitting on the ground, I could put my ear against the hole. From a third nest, found on the 2nd May, the young had apparently just fled. My experience bears out Mr. Hodgson's observations: I have often been up here in May and June searching closely and never found a nest; this year I came up for the first time in April, and within a few days find three nests with young. I may add that after the 10th May all the Nuthatches I have seen were in small parties, apparently parents with their young."

316. Sitta cinnamomeiventris, Blyth. Cinnamon-bellied Nuthatch

Sitta cinnamomeoventris, (Blyth), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 387.

Writing from Sikkim, Mr. Gammie says: "I lately took the nest of Sitta cinnamomeiventris at 2000 feet. It was 20 feet from the ground in a soft decaying bamboo on the edge of large jungle. The birds had made a small hole just below an internode, and from the next internode below had filled up the hollow of the bamboo with alternate layers of green moss and pieces of tree-bark of about an inch or more square to within a few inches of the entrance-hole. Each layer of moss was about an inch thick, but the bark layer not more than a quarter of an inch, the thickness of the bark itself. On the top of this pile, which was a foot high, was a pad three inches wide by two in depth, of fine moss, fur, a feather or two, and a few insects' wings intermixed, for the eggs to rest on. The fur looks like that of a rat. There were four hard-set eggs, which, unfortunately, got broken in the taking. One of them only was measurable, and it was 065 inch by 05. I send the shell-fragments to show the coloration."

317. Sitta neglecta, Walden. Burmese Nuthatch

Sitta neglecta, (Walden), Hume, cat. no. 250 bis.

The Burmese Nuthatch probably breeds throughout Pegu and Tenasserim. Of its nidification in the latter division Major C. T. Bingham writes: "On the 21st March, wandering about in a deserted clearing, I saw a couple of Nuthatches (Sitta neglecta) flying to and from a tree, carrying food apparently. Watching them closely with a pair of binoculars, I saw them disappear near a knot in a branch. The tree was a dead dry one and rather difficult to climb, but a peon of mine went up and reported five young ones unfledged, the nest-hole being 6 inches deep, and the opening, which was originally a large one, and probably caused by water wearing into the site of a broken branch, narrowed by an edging of clay. The young lay on a layer of broken leaves. As they were featherless, blind little things I left them alone, and was delighted to see the parents continuing to feed them."

321. Sitta castaneiventris, Frankl. Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch

Sitta castaneoventris, (Frankl.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 386.

The late Captain Cock furnished me with the following note a long time ago regarding the breeding of this Nuthatch: "A very common bird at Sitapur in Oudh, every mango-tope containing one or more pairs. They pair early and commence making their nests in February, laying their eggs in March. The nests are in cavities of trees, at no great height from the ground, and unless observed in course of construction are difficult to find--the bird filling the whole cavity up with mud consolidated with some viscid seed of a parasitical plant, and merely leaving a small round hole for entrance. This composition hardens like pucca masonry in a very short time, and secures the nest from all marauders except the oologist. The nest consists of a few dry leaves at the bottom of the cavity at no great depth, and upon this four eggs are laid. The birds sit close and do not easily desert their nests, as the following instance will show. In 1873 I found a Sitta's nest in a mango-tree, and after watching the birds for some days, when the eggs had been laid I took the nest, placing my handkerchief in the nest to prevent bits of mud falling in on the eggs. I opened out the cavity, cleaning away the mud, and putting in my hand I caught the female bird. I looked at her and let her go. In 1874 curiosity induced me to look at the place again, and to my surprise I saw the cavity had been built up again. I caught a bird on the nest and took four eggs; it may have been a different bird, but there was only one pair in that tope of trees, and was probably the same bird I caught in 1873. I found another nest in my garden about 2 feet from the ground, and I often used to flash the sunlight from a small hand-mirror, that I use out birds' nesting, onto the hen bird while she sat on her eggs. Our collection contains a large series of these eggs, the produce of some five-and-twenty nests taken by myself at Sitapur."

Major C. T. Bingham writes: "At Allahabad I found two nests of this little Nuthatch, one in July and one in September. I regret to say neither contained any eggs, though the birds were going in and out constantly. The nests were in tiny holes in mango-trees, the entrances being still more contracted by earth being plastered round."

Colonel C. H. T. Marshall observes: "A nest of the Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch was pointed out to me at Ambala (Haryana) in the next garden to mine. It was about 12 feet above the ground in an old mango-tree; the locality chosen was the stump of a branch which had been cut off and had rotted down. Outside there was a great deal of masonry work as hard and firm as that on white-ant hills, in the middle of which was a neat circular hole just large enough for the passage of the bird. The masonry continued down inside the hole as far as I could see; I did not break it open, as there were nearly fledged young ones inside. I knew this because the parent birds had been seen for some days carrying in food. I did not see the nest till the end of May. The following spring I found another nest at Karnal in a bokain tree; it was constructed after the same fashion; the nest itself, which consisted only of dead leaves, was not very far down. I was unfortunately this time (March 15th) too early for the eggs. The holes are not easy to see from the ground, as they are most skillfully concealed from view."

The eggs of this species are very regular, slightly elongated ovals, scarcely compressed or pointed towards the small end at all. The shell is fragile, and is either entirely glossless or has only a trace of gloss. The ground-colour is white, with at times a faint pinkish tinge, and the markings consist of spooks, spots, and splashes (always most numerous at the large end, where they usually form a more or less conspicuous though irregular cap) of dull or bright brick-red, more or less intermingled in most specimens with dull reddish lilac. The arrangement and size of the markings are very variable. In some eggs they are all mere specks, forming a small speckly cap at the large end, and elsewhere very thinly scattered about the surface; in others many of the spots are (for the size of the egg) large, the majority are well-marked spots and not mere specks, and the whole surface of the egg is pretty thickly studded with them, while the broad end exhibits a large blotched and mottled cap. The majority of the eggs are intermediate between these two extremes.

In length the eggs vary from 061 to 072 and in breadth from. 05 to 054, but the average of numerous specimens is 067 by 052.*

[* SITTA TEPHRONOTA, Sharpe. Eastern Rock-Nuthatch

Sitta neumayeri, (Mich.), Hume, cat. no. 248 quint.

The Eastern Rock-Nuthatch is abundant in Baluchistan, and without doubt breeds there. The following note by Lieut. H. E. Barnes will therefore be interesting. He writes from Afghanistan: "This Nuthatch is very common on the hills. It appears to choose very different localities to build in. In some instances a hole in the face of a rock is selected, and this it lines with agglutinated mud and resin, continuing the lining-case until it, projects in the shape of a cone to fully 8 inches. It seems fond of decorating its little palace with feathers to a distance of 2 or even 3 feet, and it is thus a conspicuous object; but most nests are found in holes in trees, and even here feathers are stuck into crevices all around. They are usually well lined with camel-hair.

"They breed in March and April. The eggs are usually four in number (I have sometimes found five), oval in shape, more or less glossy white, and more or less densely or sparsely (generally most densely towards the large end) spotted and blotched with varying shades of chestnut to reddish brown, more or less intermingled with pale purple and occasionally purplish grey. Some eggs are very richly marked. Some are almost pure white. They average 087 by 057."

The eggs of this species are typically moderately broad ovals, slightly pointed towards the small end, but elongated and more or less blunt-ended pyriform examples occur. The shell is extremely fine and smooth, but has only moderate amount of gloss in any specimen that I have seen and in some specimens has only a trace of this. The ground colour is pure white, and the eggs are generally thinly speckled, spotted, or blotched, about the broad end only, with a pale red; occasionally a few greyish-purple spots and blotches are intermingled with the other markings, and specks and tiny spots of both red and grey sometimes extend to the smaller end of the egg also. I have seen no such examples myself, but very probably in some eggs the principal markings may be at the small end. Eighteen eggs vary from 081 to 091 in length by 061 to 069 in breadth.]

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