Drongos - The Nests & Eggs of Indian Birds

The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds  (Volume 1) Second Edition 1889  -  by  Allan O. Hume

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328. Dicrurus longicaudatus. A. Hay. Indian Ashy Drongo

Dicrurus longicaudatus, A. Hay, Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 430.
Buchanga longicaudata (A. Hay), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 280.

The Indian Ashy Drongo, a species that, with the really large series before me from all parts of India, I find it impossible to subdivide into two or more species, breeds alike in the plains, in well-watered and wooded districts, and in the Himalayas up to an elevation of 6000 to 7000 feet, and lays during the months of May and June. They build generally in large trees, at a considerable height from the ground, placing their somewhat shallow cup-shaped nests in some slender fork towards the summit or exterior of the tree.

The nest is neatly and firmly built, of fine grass-stems, slender twigs, and grass-roots, closely interwoven, and externally bound together with cobwebs, in which, as in the body of the nest, lichens of several species are much intermingled. Exteriorly the nests are from 4 to 5 inches in diameter, and from 2 to 2½ in height. Interiorly they are lined with moss, roots, hairs, and fine grass; the cavity measuring from 3 to 3·5 inches in breadth, and from 1·1 to 1·4 inch in depth. The normal number of the eggs is four.

Mr. Brooks says: "The nest is usually fixed on the upper surface of a thin branch about 15 to 20 feet from the ground, and at its junction with another branch, the nest being partly embedded in the fork of two horizontal branches. It is composed of grass, fibres, and roots, and lined with finer grasses and a few hairs. The nest is broader and much shallower than that of D. ater; outside it is covered with spiders' webs and small bits of lichen.

"The eggs are four in number, sometimes only three, and vary much in size, shape, and colour; size 1·0 by 0·7 inch: some are buff, blotched with light reddish brown and pale purple-grey; others are lighter buff, almost white in fact, spotted and marked more sparingly than the first described with the same two colors, but each of a darker tint; others are white, marked sparingly with spots and blotches of dark purple-brown and reddish brown, and intermixed with larger blotches of deep purple-grey, the markings principally forming a zone at the larger end. Others, again, are pale purplish white, spotted with dark and light purple-brown, and intermixed with spots and blotches of purple-grey. The shape of the egg varies as much as the coloring, some being of a fine oval form, while others are quite pyriform. Laying in Kumaon from the middle to end of May."

As I shall notice further on, I think that Mr. Brooks is mistaken about some of his eggs.

Captain Hutton remarks: "This species, the only one that visits Mussoorie, arrives from the Doon about the middle of March, and retires again about September. It is abundant during the summer months, and breeds from the latter end of April till the middle of June, making a very neat nest, which is placed in the bifurcation of a horizontal branch of some tall tree, usually an oak tree; it is constructed of grey lichens gathered from the trees, and fine seed-stalks of grasses, firmly and neatly interwoven; with the latter it is also usually lined, although sometimes a black fibrous lichen is used; externally the materials are kept compactly together by being plastered over with spiders' webs. It is altogether a light and elegant nest. The shape is circular, somewhat shallow; internal diameter 3 inches. The eggs are three or four, generally the latter number, and so variable in colour and distribution of spots that until I had got several specimens and compared them narrowly, I was inclined to think we had more than one species of Dicrurus here. I am, however, now fully convinced that these variable eggs belong to the same species. Sometimes they are dull white with brick-red spots openly disposed in form of a rude ring at the larger end; at other times the spots are rufescent claret, with duller indistinct ones appearing through the shell; others are of a deep carneous hue, clouded and coarsely blotched with deep rufescent claret; while again some are faint carneous with large irregular blotches of rufous clay with duller ones beneath the shell."

Some of Captain Hutton's eggs which he sent me were clearly those of Hypsipetes psaroides (of which also be sent me specimens), and the fact is that in thick foliage where the Red-bill is not seen nothing is easier than to mistake this bird for D. longicaudatus. I have taken a great many of these nests, and I never found eggs other than of the two types to be below described.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall writes: "In Kumaon this species breeds from 4000 to 5000 feet above the sea; the eggs are laid in the last week of May. I have never seen a nest at Nainital itself (6000 to 7000 feet), but at Bheem Tal (4000 feet) I found numerous nests within three days, in the first week of June; all without exception had young. The next season I visited the place in the last week of May, and found the eggs just laid.

"The nests were of the usual Dicrurus type, wedged in a fork at heights varying from fifteen to fifty feet from the ground, but as far as my experience goes always in conspicuous places and generally on trees almost or quite bare of leaves. The nests are usually only to be obtained by sawing off the bough they are built on."

Long ago Captain Cock, writing from Dharamshala, said: "I took a nest on the 8th of May, containing four eggs. The eggs are regular, roundish ovals, somewhat pointed towards one end. The ground-colour is white, here and there suffused with a faint pinkish tinge, and it is spotted and blotched with purplish red and pale lilac, most of the spots being gathered into an irregular zone about the large end."

Colonel C. H. T. Marshall, writing from Murree, says: "Breeds in May, in almost inaccessible places, about 7000 feet up, choosing a thin fork at the outermost end of a bough about 50 or 60 feet from the ground, and always on trees that have no lower branches. The nest is almost invisible from below, as it is very neatly built on the top of the fork; and when the female sits on it, she places her tail down the bough so as entirely to hide herself. The eggs are only to be obtained either by climbing higher up the tree than the nest is, and extracting the eggs by means of a small muslin bag at the end of a long stick, or else by lashing the bough on which the nest is to an upper bough as the climber goes along so as to make it strong enough to support him. The nest is much neater than that of D. ater; the eggs are light salmon-colored, with brick-red blotches sparsely scattered over them, and are ·95 by ·7 inch."

Dr. Scully records the following note from Nepal: "This species lays in the valley in May and June, the nest being placed high up in trees, often in Pinus longifolia. The eggs are usually four in number, fairly glossy, in shape moderate ovals, smaller at one end. The ground-colour is pinkish white, with a tinge of buff, sparingly spotted and blotched with brownish red, chiefly at the large end, where the marks tend to coalesce, so as to form an irregular incomplete ring. Four eggs taken on the 28th May measured 1·09 to 1·12 in length, and 0·75 to 0·76 in breadth. The race which I identify with D. himalayanus was found, in very small numbers, on the summit of Sheopuri, at an elevation of about 7500 feet, and was breeding at the time I shot my specimen, viz. the 20th May."

Mr. Gammie found a nest at Mongpho, near Darjeeling, at an elevation of about 3500 feet on the 13th May. It was placed on an outer branch of a tall tree and contained only one partially incubated egg. The nest was a beautifully compact, but shallow cup, placed on the upper surface of the bough, composed externally of roots and coated with a little lichen and a great deal of cobweb. Interiorly lined with the finest grass and moss-roots. The cavity measured about 3 inches in diameter and scarcely more than 1 inch in depth. At the bottom, where it rested on the bough, the nest was not above ¼ inch thick, and consisted only of the lining materials. Laterally it was about ¾ inch thick.

The egg was a broad oval, slightly compressed towards one end, but not at all pointed. The shell very fine and with a slight gloss, the ground-colour a delicate salmon-pink, and with a broad ring of deep brownish-pink spots and blotches intermingled with pale purple subsurface-looking clouds and spots round the large end. The rest of the egg with some half-dozen similar spots.

He subsequently sent me the following note: "This species is common in the Darjeeling district up to 4000 feet or so. It rather affects the neighborhood of bungalows, and is a very lively neighbor, especially in the mornings and evenings. These birds are continually quarrelling among themselves, sallying after insects, or making their best attempts at singing. They are dead on Kites, Crows, and such-like depredators. For several days an Owl (Bulaca newarensis) was flying about near the Cinchona Bungalow at Mongpho, and being a stupid creature at the best, and doubly so during daylight when it had no business to be abroad, was evidently considered fair game by the Long-tailed Drongo and Swallow-Shrikes, and so awfully 'sat upon' by them, that its life must have become a burden to it until it left the place in despair of ever getting either peace or comfort about Mongpho.

"They lay in April and May, and have but one brood in the year. The nest is generally either built against a tall bamboo, well up, supported on the branch of twigs at a node, or near the extremity of a branch of a tree, sometimes on quite slender branches of young trees, which get so tremendously wafted about by the wind as to make the retention of the eggs or young in the nest appear almost miraculous. When anyone meddles with the nest, the owners make bold dashes at the head of the robber. The Darjeeling birds are not so knowing as their fellows of Murree, the females of whom are said to sit on the nests with their tails along the boughs so as to entirely conceal themselves. I have seen dozens of the nests here, and never once saw the female in this position, but always with her tail across the bough. The nest is a compact shallow cup, measuring externally 4·5 inches across by 1·75 in height, while the cavity is 3 inches in diameter by about 1·2 in depth. It is made of twigs bound up with cobwebs, among which a few lichens are intermingled. The lining is a mixture of straw-colored root-fibres and fine branchlets of the same colored grass-panicles."

Mr. Mandelli sent me nests of this species, which were taken, at Ging, near Darjeeling, on the 26th April and on the 22nd May, the one contained one fresh egg, the other three. They were both placed on branches of large trees at heights of about 20 feet from the ground. They are broad shallow cups, from 4 to 5 inches in diameter, about 2 in height, compactly composed of fine twigs and grass-stems, bound together with cobwebs and with many pieces of lichen and some tiny dry leaves worked in on the outer surface. Interiorly, they are lined with very fine hair-like grass-stems. The saucer-like cavities are about 3 inches in diameter and about 1¼ in depth.

Dr. Jerdon says: "I found its nest on one occasion, in April, in Lower Malabar. It was shallow and loosely made with roots, and lined with hair, about 20 feet from the ground, on the fork of a tree; and it contained three eggs of a pinkish-white colour, with some longish rusty or brick-red spots."

There are two very strongly marked types of this bird's eggs. The eggs of both types are moderately broad, or, at most, somewhat elongated ovals, and comparatively devoid of gloss. The first, in its coloring, exactly resembles the eggs of Caprimulgus indicus; a pinkish salmon-colored ground, streaked, blotched, and clouded, but nowhere densely (except towards the large end, where there is a tendency to form a cap or zone), with reddish pink, not differing widely in hue from, though deeper in shade than, the ground-colour. Here and there, where the markings are thickest, under-clouds of very faint purple occur, but these are too feeble to attract attention, unless the egg is looked into closely. In the other type of egg, the ground-colour is pale pinkish white, pretty boldly blotched and spotted almost exclusively towards the large end, where there is a broad irregular imperfect zone, with brownish red, intermingled with blotches of very faint inky purple. My description possibly fails to make this as apparent as it should be, but no two eggs can, to a casual observer, appear more distinct than these two types. There is yet, according to Mr. Brooks, a third type of this bird's eggs; of this he has given me a single example. In shape it is excessively long and narrow, of the type of the eggs of Chibia hottentotta, but its coloration and character of markings are unlike those of any Shrike or Drongo with which I am acquainted, and exactly resemble those of many types of the eggs of the several Bulbuls. The ground-colour is pinkish white, and is thickly speckled and spotted throughout with primary markings of rich brownish red, and feeble secondary ones of excessively pale inky purple. This egg, moreover, possesses a degree of gloss never observable in those of the Dicruri, and therefore, well assured though Mr. Brooks is of the parentage of this egg which he took with his own hands, I feel confident, having since obtained many eggs of Hypsipetes psaroides which are exactly similar to this last described egg, that in, perhaps, indifferent light he mistook this bird for a Dicrurus. I may add that the first described type, of which I have procured numerous specimens from different parts of the Himalayas, taking several nests with my own hands, is most characteristic of this species.

In the type with the pinky-white ground, large or small spots often occur about the large end of a deep purple colour, so deep as to be almost black, and but for the absence of gloss some of these paler eggs are very close to those of some of the Orioles. Intermediate varieties between the two types above described occur, but in not one of more than sixty specimens that I have examined has there been any perceptible gloss.

The eggs vary in length from 0·85 to 1·01 inch, and in breadth from 0·7 to 0·75 inch, but the average of fifty-one eggs is 0·95 by 0·74 inch.

329. Dicrurus nigrescens, Oates. Tenasserim Ashy Drongo

Dicrurus nigrescens, (Oates); Oates, B.I. i, p. 315.

Mr. Oates found the nest of this Drongo in Pegu. He says: "I found one nest on the 27th April at Kyeikpadein, near the town of Pegu, on a small sapling near the summit. It contained four eggs*; they are without gloss; the ground-colour in all is white. In three eggs the whole shell is marked with spots of pale purple; these are perhaps more numerous at the thick end, but not conspicuously so. The fourth egg is blotched, not spotted, with the same colour.

*[I recorded the nest and eggs of this bird under the name of Buchanga intermedia (S.F. v, p. 149). The parent birds of these eggs are fortunately still in the British Museum, and I am able to identify them with this species, which occurs generally throughout Tenasserim and many parts of Lower Pegu.--ED.]

"The nest is composed of fine twigs and the dry branches of weeds; it is lined very firmly and neatly with grass. Exterior diameter 5 inches and depth 2; egg-chamber 3½ inches across and 1¼ deep. The outside of the nest is profusely covered with lichens and cobwebs. The eggs measure from ·83 to ·95 in length, and ·68 to ·71 in width."

330. Dicrurus caerulescens (Linn.). White-bellied Drongo

Dicrurus caerulescens (Linn.), Jerdon B. Ind i, p. 432.
Dicrurus caeruleus (Müll.), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 281.

I have never seen a nest of the White-bellied Drongo. Mr. R. Thompson says: "This bird's breeding habitat is from 2500 to 6000 feet in the Himalayas. It is common on the south-eastern slopes of Nainital. It lays in May and June, placing its shallow cup-shaped nest in some little fork near the top of a moderate-sized oak-tree, if breeding on a mountain-side, but of some tall Alnus nipalensis, Acacia elata, or Acer oblongum, if nesting in deep dells or valleys. The nest appeared to be exactly like that of D. ater; but I can say nothing very positive about it or the eggs, as, though continually seeing them, I never, I think, took the trouble of getting one down."

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall, commenting on Mr. Thompson's remark that this Drongo is common near Nainital, says: "My experience on this point is negative; I have carefully searched the south-eastern slopes of Nainital for four years without even seeing the bird, so that I do not think it can be classed as a common breeder here."

Mr. J. Davidson informs us that on the 16th July he saw a brood of Dicrurus caerulescens on the Kondabhari Ghât, just able to fly. Referring to Western Khandeish, he tells us that he saw only two nests. They were on adjoining trees in the Akrani; they were largish nests, not like those of D. ater, but more resembling those of D. longicaudatus described in 'Nests and Eggs.' One nest contained three young ones, the other was only building; and nothing could have been more plucky than the way the old ones defended their nest.

331. Dicrurus leucopygialis, Blyth. White-vented Drongo

Buchanga leucopygialis (Blyth), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 281 bis.

Colonel Legge gives us the following account of the breeding of this Drongo, which is confined to Ceylon: "The breeding-season of this Drongo is from March until May; and the nest is almost invariably built at the horizontal fork of the branch of a large tree, at a considerable height from the ground, sometimes as much as 40 feet. It is a shallow cup, measuring about 2¼ inches in diameter by 1 in depth, and is compactly put together, well finished round the top, but sometimes rather loose on the exterior, which is composed of fine grass-stalks and bark-fibres, the lining being of fine grass or tendrils of creepers. The number of eggs varies from two to four, three being the most common. They vary much in shape, and also in the depth of their ground-tint; some are regular ovals, others are stumpy at the small end, while now and then very spherical eggs are laid. They are either reddish white, 'fleshy,' or pure white, in some cases marked with small and large blotches of faded red, confluent at the obtuse end, and openly dispersed over the rest of the surface, overlying blots of faint lilac-grey; others have a conspicuous zone round the large end, with a few scanty blotches of light red and bluish grey on the remainder; in others, again, the markings are confined to a few very large roundish blotches of the above colors at one end, or, again, several still larger clouds of brick-red at the obtuse end, with a few blotches of the same at the other. Dimensions from 1·0 to 0·86 inch in length, by 0·72 to 0·68 in breadth. I once observed a pair in the north of Ceylon very cleverly forming their nest on a horizontal fork by first constructing the side furthest from the angle, thus forming an arch, which was then joined to the fork by the formation of the bottom of the structure.

"The parent birds in this species display great courage, vigorously sweeping down on any intruder who may threaten to molest their young."

334. Chaptia aenea (Vieill.). Bronzed Drongo

Chaptia aenea (Vieill.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 433; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 282.

The Bronzed Drongo breeds, according to Mr. Hodgson's notes, in the central hills of Nepal, or rather in the plains near to these hills, rarely quitting large woods. They begin to lay in March, and build a broad somewhat saucer-shaped nest some 4 or 5 inches in width and 2 to 3 in depth externally. The nest is placed in some slender horizontal fork, to one at least of the twigs of which it is firmly attached by vegetable fibres; it is composed of fine twigs and grass, and bound round with, cobwebs in which pieces of lichen and small cocoons are often intermingled. Mr. Hodgson specially notes: "June 6th, valley. Female, nest and eggs; nest on fork of upper branch of large tree, 4·5 inches wide by 2·25 deep, cup-shaped, made of fibres of grass bound with cobweb, lining none; three eggs, obtusely oval, the ground fawn tinged white, blotched (especially at larger end) with fawn or reddish brown,"

It appears that four is the maximum number of eggs laid; both sexes participate in the work of incubation and rearing the young, but they are very jealous of the approach of any birds when they have eggs or young, driving all such intruders away with the utmost bravery. The eggs measure from 0·88 to 0·95 inch by 0·65.

From Sikkim Mr. Gammie writes: "I have found the Bronzed Drongo breeding from April to June in the low hot valleys at about 2000 feet above the sea. It suspends its nest in a slender horizontal fork at 10 feet or more from the ground, and appears, like its frequent neighbor Dicrurus longicaudatus, to prefer a bamboo-clump to breed in. The nest is a compact cup, neatly made of fine grass-stalks, with an outer coating of dry bamboo-leaves plastered over with cobwebs; it is fastened to the supporting branches by cobwebs. Externally it measures 3·5 inches wide by 2 inches deep, internally 2·5 by 1·5.

"The usual number of eggs is three."

Major M. Forbes Coussmaker, writing from Bangalore, tells us: "I took the nest of this bird on 6th April in the Shemagah District, Mysore. It was built on the fork of a bare branch about 20 feet from the ground in big tree-jungle, and was composed of fine grass, fibre, and a few dry bamboo-leaves woven together with cobwebs, making a small compact cup-like nest which measured 3 inches in diameter externally, 2·5 internally, and 1·4 deep.

"From where I stood I saw the bird come and sit on the nest and fly off again a dozen times at least. The eggs, three in number, measured ·9 by ·65, and were pinkish white with darker pink and light purple blotches and spots all over, principally at the larger end."

Mr. J. R. Cripps informs us that at Furreedpore, in Eastern Bengal, this species is "rather common; generally to be found perching on the dead branches of high trees overlooking water, especially whenever there is a dense undergrowth of jungle. On the 1st June, 1878, I secured a nest with three fresh eggs; it was built on a slender twig on the outer side of a mango-tree which was standing near a ryot's house, and was about 15 feet off the ground. External diameter 3½ inches, depth 2; internal diameter 2-1/3, depth 1-1/8. Saucer-shaped; the outside consisted of plaintain-leaves torn up into slips, all of which were firmly bound together by fibres of the plaintain-leaf and jute, which were wound round the twigs and secured the nest. Inside lining was made of very fine pieces of 'sone' grass. The pair were very pugnacious, attacking any birds coming near their nest. These birds have a clear mellow ringing whistle."

Mr. Oates writes from Pegu: "I procured one nest on the 23rd April. It was placed at the tip of an outer branch of a jack tree, and attention was drawn to it by the vigorous attacks the parents made on passing birds. The nest was suspended in a fork; the outside diameter is 4 inches and inside 3, total depth 2½, and the egg-cup is about 1½; deep. The nest is composed of fine grass, strips of plaintain-bark, and other vegetable fibres closely woven together; the edges and the interior are chiefly of delicate branchlets of the finer weeds and grasses. It is overlaid at the edges, where it is attached to the branches, with cobwebs, and a few fragments of moss are stuck on at various points.

"There were two fresh eggs; the ground-colour is a pale salmon-fawn, and the shell is covered with darker spots and marks of the same. They are only very slightly glossy. The two eggs measure 0·85 by 0·62."

Major C. T. Bingham writes from Tenasserim: "On the 10th March, 1880, being encamped at the head-waters of the Queebawchoung, a feeder of the Meplay, and having an hour to spare, I took my gun and climbed up a steep hill to the very sources of the Queebaw. Here, hanging over the trickling stream, was a nest of Chaptia aenea firmly woven and tied on to a fork in the branch of a little tree, at a height of about 10 feet from the ground. The nest was of roots and grass lined by soft fine black roots, and held three eggs, of a rich salmon-pink, obscurely spotted darker at the large end; they measure 0·83 by 0·61, 0·82 by 0·61, and 0·80 by 0·61 respectively.

"On the 15th March, 1880, in the fork of a branch of a small zimbun-tree (Dillenia pentagyna), hanging over a pathway along the bank of the Meplay stream, I found a nest of the above species. A neat strongly-made little cup of vegetable fibres and cobwebs, containing two fresh eggs; ground-colour dull salmon, obscurely spotted with brownish pink. They measure 0·86 by 0·64 and 0·88 by 0·65."

Mr. J. L. Darling, Jun., records the following notes: "26th March. Found a nest of Chaptia aenea, building, when on the march from Tavoy to Nwalabo, some seven miles east of Tavoy, in the fork of a bamboo-branch 12 feet from ground.

"29th March. Took two fresh eggs of Chaptia aenea, and shot the bird off nest, about twenty-three miles east of Tavoy, in open bamboo-land, very low elevation. The nest was built in the fork of an overhanging branch of a bamboo some 50 feet from the ground.

"13th April. Found a nest of Chaptia aenea with two large young ones. Nest built in a tree some 40 feet from ground, in open forest about twenty miles east of Tavoy.

"22nd April. Found a nest of Chaptia aenea with two large young ones. Nest built at the end of a bough about 30 feet from ground, near Tavoy."

The nests of this species are quite of the Oriole type, more or less deep cups suspended between the forks of small branches or twigs of some bamboo-clump or tree. Exteriorly they are composed of dry flags of grass, bits of bamboo-spathes, or coarse grass, bound together with vegetable fibres and often with a good deal of cobweb worked over them; sometimes a tiny bit or two of moss may be found added, and often the fine thread-like flower-stems of grass. Interiorly they are generally lined with excessively fine grass. In one or two nests very fine black fern-roots are intermingled with the grass lining. The nests vary a good deal in size, but are all extremely compact, and while some are decidedly massive, nearly an inch thick at bottom, others are scarcely a quarter of this in thickness beneath. In one the cavity is 2·5 inches broad by 3 long, and fully 2 deep; in another it is about 2·5 inches in diameter by scarcely 1·25 inches in depth. In one nest four fresh eggs were found; in another three fully incubated ones. The nests were suspended at heights of from 10 to 30 feet from the ground.

The eggs sent by Mr. Gammie very much recall the eggs of Niltava and others of the Flycatchers. They are moderately elongated ovals, in some cases slightly pyriform, in others somewhat pointed towards the small end. The shell is fine and compact, smooth and silky to the touch, but they have but little gloss. The ground-colour varies from a pale pinkish fawn to a pale salmon-pink, and they exhibit round the large end a feeble more or less imperfect and irregular zone of darker-colored cloudy spots, in some cases reddish, in some rather inclining to purple, which zone is more or less involved in a haze of the same colour, but slightly darker than the rest of the ground-colour of the egg.

The eggs vary in length from 0·76 to 0·88, and in breadth from 0·6 to 0·64. The average of fifteen eggs is 0·82 by 0·61.

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