The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds (Volume 1)
Second Edition 1889 - by Allan O. Hume
323. Sitta leucopsis, Gould. White-cheeked Nuthatch
Sitta leucopsis, (Gould), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 385; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 249.
Captain Cock took the eggs of the White-cheeked Nuthatch late in May and early in June (1871) in Kashmir at Sonamurg.
Captain Wardlaw Ramsay says, writing of Afghanistan: "I observed it hanging about a nest-hole on the 21st May, but on returning to take the eggs some days later was unable to find the tree:" and he adds, "On the 21st of June I shot a young bird just fledged near the Peiwar Kotul."
The eggs of this species vary somewhat in size. In shape some are moderately elongated, some are somewhat broad ovals, and all are, more or less, compressed towards the smaller end, which, however, is obtuse and not at all pointed. The ground is white and has a slight gloss. The markings consist of small spots and minute specks, some eggs exhibiting only the latter. In all cases the markings are most dense towards the large end, where they generally form an irregular and ill-defined mottled cap or zone. In colour the markings are red and pale purple, the red varying from bright brickdust-red to brownish and even purplish red, and the purple being sometimes lilac and sometimes grey, and here and there in a single speck, almost black. In length the eggs vary from 0·67 to 0·75 inch, and in breadth from 0·5 to 0·55 inch.
Dendrophila frontalis (Horsf.), Jerdon B. Ind. p. 388; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 253.
The Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, lays from the middle of February to the end of May. It breeds in the forest-tracts of the Sub-Himalayan ranges, in the Central Indian forests, the Ghâts of Southern India, and the well-wooded slopes of the Nilgiris, Palnis, etc.
It builds a compact little nest of moss and feathers in a tiny hole in a tree, selecting, I believe, generally a natural cavity, but certainly trimming the entrance and interior itself.
Mr. B. Thompson says: "This species is common in all the low densely-wooded valleys of the Sub-Himalayan ranges of Kumaon, at an elevation of from 1500 to 2500 feet. It breeds in May and June in hollows of trees. Any small hole suits for a nest, and it lays four or five eggs, for I have seen it with as many young, though I never took the trouble of getting out the eggs themselves."
Mr. Davison says: "This Nuthatch breeds on the Nilgiris as high up as Ootacamund, nesting in holes of trees, and laying three or four eggs, spotted with chestnut, pinkish red, or reddish brown. The nest is composed of moss, moss-roots, etc., and lined with feathers. I am not quite certain how long the breeding-season lasts, but I think that it is from the middle of April to the early part of May."
Miss Cockburn, of Kotagherry, sends me the following account of the first nest she took of this species:
"After having wished for some years to obtain the eggs of this bird, I was delighted to hear from my brother that he had seen a Nuthatch go into a small hole in a tree, and that, on looking into it, he had seen something like a nest. I went prepared with a chisel and hammer, but wished first to ascertain fully who the owner of the nest was. After watching at a respectful distance for a long time, an Indian Grey Tit flew to the hole and peeped in. My first thought was one of great disappointment at having ridden many miles with such high expectations to find only a Common Titmouse's nest; but it did not last long; the inquisitive Grey Tit found the hole too small for him, and flew off just as happily as he had flown to it. I continued to watch, and was quite repaid by seeing a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch fly to the top of the tree containing the nest, and descend rapidly down the trunk (which was about 12 or 13 feet high), as if it knew where the wee hole was, and disappear into it. This was sufficient proof as to the proprietor of the nest; I walked quietly up to the tree, and when within a foot of it out flew the bird. My handkerchief was stuffed into the hole to prevent any chips breaking the eggs, should there be any: and making use of the chisel and hammer, I soon made the hole large enough to admit my hand. The nest contained three eggs, which I most carefully extracted one by one. The nest was then brought out, and consisted of a quantity of beautiful green moss, feathers (many of which belong to the bird), some soft fine hair, and a few pieces of lichen. This nest was discovered on the 10th February. The tree it was found in grew nearly alone, at the side of a road not much frequented.
"The eggs were quite fresh, and most probably the bird would have laid at least one more; but these were sufficient to show the colour of the eggs, which were pure white, with dark and light red spots and blotches, chiefly at the thick end, besides a circle of spots like a Flycatcher's eggs."
Mr. Rhodes W. Morgan, writing of South India, says, in 'The Ibis': "It breeds in holes of trees, preferring the deserted ones excavated by Megalama caniceps. The nest is built of moss, and lined with the fluff of hares and soft feathers. The eggs are always four in number, spotted with pinkish red on a white ground, the spots being more numerous towards the larger end. They breed in March. Dimensions, 0·71 inch long by 0·57 broad."
Mr. Mandelli sent me a small pad-like nest of this species found on the 4th May in Native Sikkim. It was placed in a hollow of a trunk of a large tree about 3 feet from the ground. It is composed of very fine moss felted together with a little fine vegetable fibre, and the upper surface coated with a little fine short silky fur, probably that of a rat.
Major Bingham, writing from Tenasserim, says: "Fairly common in the Thoungyeen valley. On the 18th February I found a nest in a hole in a branch of a pynkado tree (Xylia dolabrifomis), but I was too early for eggs."
One egg of this very beautiful species was sent me by Miss Cockburn. It is intermediate in size and colour between those of the European Creeper and Nuthatch, while at the same time it strongly recalls the eggs of Parus atriceps. In shape the egg is a broad oval (not quite so broad, however, as those of the European Nuthatch are), slightly compressed towards one end. The ground-colour is white, and the egg is blotched, speckled, and spotted, chiefly, however, in a sort of irregular zone round the large end, with brickdust-red and somewhat pale purple. The shell is fine and compact, but devoid of gloss. The egg measures 0·08 by 0·55 inch.
Three other eggs from the Sikkim Terai measure 0·68 by 0·51.