The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds (Volume 1) Second Edition 1889 - by
Allan O. Hume
Order PASSERES Family SYLVIIDAE (continued...)|
462. Prinia lepida, Blyth. Streaked Wren-Warbler
Burnesia lepida (Blyth), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 185.
I have never happened to meet with the nest of the Streaked Wren-Warbler, and all the information I possess in regard to its nidification I owe to others. The late Mr. Anderson remarked: "Although this species was far from uncommon, I found it very local and confined entirely to the tamarisk-covered islands and 'churs' along the Ganges. The first nest was taken on the 13th March last, and contained three well-incubated eggs; of these I saved only one specimen, which is now in the collection of Mr. Brooks. The second was found on the following day, and contained two callow young and one perfectly fresh egg.
"The nest is domed over, having an entrance at the side; and the cavity is comfortably lined, or rather felted, with the down of the madar plant. It is fixed, somewhat after the fashion of that of the Reed-Warbler, in the centre of a dense clump of surpat grass, about 2 feet above the ground. On the whole the structure is rather large for so small a bird, and measures 6 inches in height by 4 inches in breadth.
"But while the nest corresponds exactly with Canon Tristram's description* of those taken by him in Palestine, there are differences, oologically speaking, which induce me to hope that our Indian bird may yet be restored to specific distinction**. In the first place, my single eggs from each nest have a green ground colour, and are covered all over with reddish-brown spots. Now Mr. Tristram describes his Palestine specimens as 'richly colored pink eggs, with a zone of darker red near the larger end, and in shape and colour resembling some of the Prinia group.' Is it possible for the same birds to lay such widely different eggs? If I had taken only one specimen, it might have been looked upon as a mere variety. Again, our Indian bird lays three eggs, and I have never seen the parent birds feeding more than this number of young ones, occasionally only two. Mr. Tristram, per contra, mentions having met with as many as five and six. The egg is certainly the prettiest, and one of the smallest, I have ever seen; indeed, I found it too small to risk measurement."
*[Tristram on the Ornithology of Palestine, P. 2. S. 1864, p. 437; Ibis, 865, pp. 82, 83.]
**[The two birds are now considered distinct by all ornithologists.--ED.]
He adds: "Since writing the above, which appeared in 'The Ibis,' I have discovered that this species breeds in September and October, as well as in February and March, so some of them probably have two broods in the year. I took a nest on the 9th October at Futtegurh, which contained two callow young and one fresh egg, which I send you, and which is exactly similar to all the others I have taken from time to time."
The egg sent me by Mr. Anderson is a very broad oval in shape, a good deal compressed however, and pointed towards the small end. The shell is very fine and has a decided gloss. In coloring the egg is exactly like those of some of the Blackbirds - a pale green ground, profusely freckled and streaked with a bright, only slightly brownish, red; the markings are densest round the large end, where they form a broad, nearly confluent, well-marked, but imperfect and irregular, zone. It measures 0·55 by 0·41.
Colonel C. H. T. Marshall says: "The Streaked Wren-Warbler breeds in great numbers near Delhi in March; Mr. C. T. Bingham has found several of them in the clumps of surpat grass that had been cut within three feet of the ground on the alluvial land of the Jumna. It was when out with him in the end of March 1876 that I first saw the nest of this species. The locality of the nest is exactly that described by Mr. Anderson; it is oval in shape, with a large side entrance near the top; it is built of fine grass and seed-down, no cobweb being employed in the structure; it is loosely made, and there are always a few feathers in the egg-cavity. The whereabouts is generally pointed out by the cock bird, who, seated on the top of the highest blade of grass he can find near where his hen is sitting, pours out with untiring energy his feeble monotonous song, little knowing that by so doing he has betrayed the spot where he has fixed his nest to the marauder. The eggs, of which I have seen about fifteen or twenty, answer the description given in 'Stray Feathers' exactly."
Major C. T. Bingham tells us: "Between the 12th and 31st March this year I found ten nests of this bird, which is very common in the grass-covered land of the Jumna. These nests were all alike, of fine dry grass mixed with the down of the surpat, which also thickly lined the inside. In shape the nests are blunt ovals, with a tiny hole for entrance a little above the centre. Seven out of the ten nests contained four eggs each, the rest three each. The eggs in colour are a pale yellowish white with a tinge of green, thickly speckled with dashes rather than spots of rusty red, tending in some to form a cap, in others a zone round the large end. The average of twenty eggs measured is 0·53 by 0·44 inch. The nests were all, with one exception, supported by stems of the grass being worked into the sides. The one exception was a nest I found in the fork of a tamarisk bush. It is not a difficult nest to find, for when you are in the vicinity of one, one of the birds will flit about the stems of the surrounding clumps of grass and above you freely, opening its tiny mouth absurdly wide, but giving forth the feeblest of feeble sounds."
Writing on the Avifauna of Mt. Abu and N. Gujarat, Colonel E. A. Butler says: "I found a nest in a tussock of coarse grass in the sandy bed of a river, amongst a number of tamarisk-bushes, on the 8th July, 1875, in the neighborhood of Deesa. It was composed of fine dry fibrous roots and grass-stems exteriorly, and lined with silky vegetable down. It was a long bottled-shaped structure with a small entrance on one side. The nest, eggs, situation, locality, etc. all agree so exactly with the descriptions quoted by Dr. Jerdon and with Mr. Anderson's note in 'Nests and Eggs,' Rough Draft, that I should have found it difficult to avoid copying these two gentlemen in describing my own nest.
"The nest contained three hard-set eggs and one young one just hatched."
Referring to its occurrence in the Eastern Narra District, Mr. Doig tells us: "This little Warbler is very common. I took the first nest in March and again in May; they build in stunted tamarisk-bushes; the nest is circular dome-shaped, with the entrance on one side the top, the inside being very beautifully and softly lined with the pappus of grass-seeds. Four is the usual number of eggs in one nest."
The Blackbird type of egg above described is by no means the commonest
one; the great mass of the eggs have the ground greyish, greenish,
or pinkish white, and they are very thickly and finely freckled and
speckled all over, but most densely about the large end, with a
slightly brownish, rarely a slightly purplish grey. Occasionally when
the markings are very dense in a cap at the large end there is a
distinct purplish-grey tinge there, and on the rest of the surface
of the egg the markings are somewhat less thickly set, leaving small
portions of the ground-colour clearly visible. Typically the eggs are
moderately broad ovals, a little compressed towards the small end, and
though none are very glossy, the great majority have a fair amount of gloss.
463. Prinia flaviventris (Deless.). Yellow-bellied Wren-Warbler
Prinia flaviventris (Deless.) Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 169: Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 532.
Of the Yellow-bellied Wren-Warbler's nidification I know personally nothing. Tickell describes the nest as pensile but quite open, being a hemisphere with one side prolonged, by which it is suspended from a twig. The eggs, he says, are bright brick-red without a spot.
Mr. H. C. Parker tells me that "this bird breeds in the Salt-Water Lake, or rather on the swampy banks of the principal canals that intersect it. The nest is nearly always placed on an ash-leaved shrub-like plant growing on the banks of the canal and overhanging the water. One taken on the 26th July, 1873, containing four nearly fresh eggs, was almost touching the water at high tide. The male has the habit, when the female is sitting, of hopping to the extreme point of a tall species of cane-like grass which grows abundantly in these swamps, whence he gives forth a rather pleasing song, erecting his tail at the same time, after which he drops into the jungle and is seen no more. It is almost impossible to make him show himself again."
The nest, which I owe to Mr. Parker, and which was found in the neighborhood of the Salt-Water Lake, Calcutta, on the 26th July, is of an oval shape, very obtuse at both ends, measuring externally 4 inches in length and about 2¾ inches in diameter. The aperture, which is near the top of the nest, is oval, and measures about 1 inch by 1½ inch. The nest is fixed against the side of two or three tiny leafy twigs, to which it is bound lightly in one or two places with grass and vegetable fibre; and two or three leafy lateral twiglets are incorporated into the sides of the nest, so that when fresh it must have been entirely hidden by leaves. The nest was in an upright position, the major axis perpendicular to the horizon. It is a very thin, firm, close basket-work of fine grass, flower-stalks, and vegetable fibre, and has no lining, though the interior surface of the nest is more closely woven and of still finer materials than the outside. The cavity is nearly 2½ inches deep, measuring from the lower edge of the entrance, and is about 2 inches in diameter.
During this present year (1874) Mr. Parker obtained several more nests of this species, all built in the low jungle that fringes the mud-banks of the congeries of channels and creeks that are known in Calcutta by the name of the "Salt Lake." This jungle consists chiefly of the blue-flowered holly-leaved Acanthus ilicifolia and of the trailing semi-creeper-like Derris scandens. It is in amongst the drooping twigs of the latter that the nest is invariably made.
The nests vary a good deal in shape; some are regular cylinders rounded off at both ends, with the aperture on one side above the centre - a small oval entrance neatly worked. Such a nest is about 4.5 inches in length externally from top to bottom, and 2·75 in diameter; the aperture 1·3 in height, and barely 1·0 in width.
Others are still more egg-shaped, with a similar aperture near the top, and others are more purse-like. The material used appears to be always much the same - fine grass-stems intermingled with blades of grass, and here and there dry leaves of some rush, a little seed-down, scraps of herbaceous plants, and the like; the interior, always of the finest grass-stems, neatly arranged and curved to the shape of the cavity. The nests are firmly attached to the drooping twigs, to and between which they are suspended, sometimes by line vegetable fibre, but more commonly by cobwebs and silk from cocoons, a good deal of both of which are generally to be seen wound about the surface of the nest near the points of suspension or attachment.
Four appears to be the full number of the eggs. Mr. Doig, writing from Sind, says: "This bird is tolerably common all along the Narra, but as it keeps in very thick jungle it is not often seen unless looked for. I took my first nest on the 12th, and my second on the 17th of May. This evidently is the second brood, as I noticed on the same day a lot of young birds which must have been fully six weeks old. One nest was lined with horsehair and fine grasses. Four was the normal number of eggs."
Mr. Gates writes: "The Yellow-bellied Wren-Warbler is very abundant throughout Lower Pegu in suitable localities. In the plains between the Sittang and Pegu rivers they are constant residents, breeding freely from May to August and September. In Rangoon also, all round the Timber Depot at Kemandine, and in the low-lying land between the town proper and Monkey Point, they are very numerous."
The eggs are of the well-known Prinia type - broad regular ovals, of a nearly uniform mahogany-red, and very glossy. To judge from the few specimens I have seen, they average a good deal smaller, and are somewhat less deeply colored, than those of P. socialis. They vary from 0·52 to 0·6 in length, and from 0·43 to 0·48 in breadth.
Prinia socialis, (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. ii. p. 170: Hume, Rough
Draft N. & E. no. 534.
The Ashy Wren-Warbler breeds throughout the southern portion of the Peninsula and Ceylon, alike in the low country and in the hills, up to all elevation of nearly 7000 feet. The breeding-season extends from March to September, but I am uncertain whether they have more than one brood.
Dr. Jerdon says: "Colonel Sykes remarks that this species has the same ingenious nest as O. longicauda. I have found the nest on several occasions, and verified Colonel Sykes's observations; but it is not so neatly sewn together as the nest of the true Tailor-bird, and there is generally more grass and other vegetable fibres used in the construction. The eggs are usually reddish white, with numerous darker red dots at the large end often coalescing, and sometimes the eggs are uniform brick-red throughout."
Now, first, as regards the eggs, it is clearly wrong to say that the eggs are usually reddish white; that such eggs, as exceptions, may have occurred I do not doubt, but I have seen more than fifty eggs of this bird taken by Miss Cockburn, Messrs. Carter, Davison, Wait, Theobald, and others, and all were without exception mahogany- or brick-red, at times mottled, somewhat paler and darker here and there, but making no approach, even the most distant, to what Dr. Jerdon says is the usual type. Moreover, I have taken many hundreds of the eggs of stewarti (the northern, rather smaller form), which is not only most closely allied but really very doubtfully distinct, and yet I never met with one single egg of this type. At the same time Mr. Swinhoe ('Ibis,' 1860, p. 50) tells us that P. sonitans also at times exhibits a reddish-white egg; so I do not for a moment question that Dr. Jerdon had seen such eggs, only it must be understood that, so far from constituting the usual type, it is in reality a most abnormal and rare variety. Out of eight correspondents who have collected for me in Southern India, I cannot learn that any one has ever yet even seen an egg of this type.
As regards the nest, this species often constructs a Tailor-bird nest, the true nest being filled in between two or more leaves carefully stitched together to the nest; but it also, like that species, often builds a very different structure.
A nest now before me, sent from Conoor, is a loosely-made cup - a very slight fabric of grass-stems, matted with a quantity of the downy seed of some flowering grass and with a lining of fine grass-roots. It is an irregular cup about 2½ inches in diameter and 2 inches in depth.
Four seems to be the regular number of the eggs.
From Kotagherry Miss Cockburn writes that "the Ashy Wren-Warbler builds a neat little hanging nest very much in the Tailor-bird style, for it draws the leaves of the branch on which the nest is constructed close together, and sews them so tightly as sometimes to make them nearly touch each other, while a small quantity of fine grass, wool, and the down of seed-pods is used as a lining and also placed between the leaves. These nests are built very low, and contain three beautiful little bright red eggs, a shade darker at the thick end. They are easily discovered; for the birds get so agitated if any one approaches the bush on which they have built that they invariably attract one to the very spot they most wish to conceal. They build in the months of June and July."
Mr. Davison says: "This bird breeds on the Nilgiris in March, April, and May, and sometimes as late as the earlier part of June. The nest is generally placed low down near the roots of a bush or tuft of grass. It is made of grass beautifully and closely woven, domed, and with the entrance near the top. The eggs, three or four in number, are of a deep brick-red, darker at the larger end, where there is generally a zone, and are very glossy. I once obtained a nest made of grass and bits of cotton, but instead of being built as above described it was placed between, and sewn to, two leaves of the Datura stramonium. It contained three eggs of a deep brick-red; in fact, precisely like those described above."
Mr. Wait tells us that "in September I found two nests, the one deeply cup-shaped, the other domed, both constructed of similar materials. The latter of the two was placed at the bottom of a large bunch of lemon-grass, and was constructed of root-fibre and grass, grass-bents, and down of thistle and hawkweed, all intermixed. Exteriorly it measured between 3 and 4 inches in diameter. The nests contained three and five eggs, all highly glossy and of a deep brownish-red, deeper than brick-red, mottled with a still deeper shade."
Colonel "W. Y. Legge, writing from Ceylon, tells us that "P. socialis breeds with us in the commencement of the S.W. monsoon during the months of May, June, and July. It nests in long grass on the Patnas in the Central Province, in guinea-grass fields, and in sugarcane-brakes where these exist, as in the Galle District for instance. I can scarcely imagine that Jerdon is correct about this Warbler's nesting.
"Nothing can be more un-Tailor-bird-like than the nest which it builds in this country, and this led me to think that ours was a different species until my specimens were identified by Lord Walden. In May 1870 a pair resorted to a large guinea-grass field attached to my bungalow at Colombo, for the purpose of breeding. I soon found the nest, which was the most peculiarly constructed one I have ever seen. It was, in fact, an almost shapeless ball of guinea-grass roots, thrown as it were between the upright stalks of the plant at about 2 feet from the ground: I say 'thrown,' because it was scarcely attached to the supporting stalks at all. It was formed entirely of the roots of the plant, which, when it is old, crop out of the ground and are easily plucked up by the bird, the bottom or more solid part being interwoven with cotton and such-like substances to impart additional strength. The entrance was at the side in the upper half, and was tolerably neatly made; it was about an inch in diameter, the whole structure measuring about 6 inches in depth by 5 inches in breadth. I found the nest in a partial state of completion on the 10th of May; by the 19th it was finished and the first of a clutch of three eggs laid. The nest and eggs were both taken on the evening of the 24th, and the following day another was commenced close at hand. This was somewhat smaller, but constructed in the same peculiar manner as the first. This was completed, and the first of another clutch laid. The eggs are somewhat pointed at the smaller end, and of an almost uniform dull mahogany ground-colour, showing indications of a paler underground at the point."
Birds like these, that build half-a-dozen different kinds of nests, ought to be abolished; they lead to all kinds of mistakes and differences of opinion, and are more trouble than they are worth.
Colonel E. A. Butler writes: "Found numerous nests of this species at Belgaum on the following dates:
"July 13. A nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
"All of the above nests were built in sugarcane-fields or in corn-fields; and most of them were stitched up in leaves of various plants after the fashion of Tailor-birds' nests; but in some instances they were of the other type, simply supported by the blades of sugar-cane or corn they were built in. In addition to the above I found numerous other nests all through August, many of which were destroyed by something or other - what, I do not know! In fact, it has always been a puzzle to me what it is that takes the eggs of these small birds: three out of four nests, when visited a second time, are either empty, gone altogether, or pulled down; and how the birds ever manage to hatch off a brood at all with so many enemies I do not know.
"I found a nest of the Ashy Wren-Warbler at Deesa on the 21st July, containing three fresh eggs, of a highly polished deep mahogany-red colour, with an almost invisible cap of the same colour a shade darker at the large end. The nest, which was placed in the centre of a low bush and fixed to a few small twigs, was oval in shape, measuring 3¾ inches in length exteriorly and 2-5/8 in width, with a small round entrance near the top about 1¼ inch in diameter. It was composed of fine dry fibrous grass, with silky vegetable down (Calotropis giganten) and cobwebs smeared over the exterior. The walls were very thin, but the bottom of the nest somewhat solid. The whole well woven and compactly built. Later on I got nests on the following dates:
"Aug. 1. A nest containing 3 fresh eggs.
"In addition to the above, I found nests containing young birds on the 15th, 17th, and 23rd August.
"The nests are of two distinct types. One as above described; the other, which is the commoner of the two, a regular Tailor-bird's nest stitched between two leaves but without any lining. The eggs vary a good deal in shade, some being paler than others. Some eggs I have look almost like little balls of red carnelian. Creepers (convolvulus etc.) growing up low thorny bushes in grass-beerhs are a favorite place for the nest."
Lieut. H. E. Barnes informs us that in Rajpootana this Warbler breeds from July to September.
Messrs. Davidson and Wenden state that this bird is common in the Deccan and breeds in August.
Mr. Rhodes W. Morgan, writing from South India, says: "It builds in March, constructing a very neat pendent nest, which is artfully concealed, and supported by sewing one or two leaves round it. This is very neatly done with the fine silk which surrounds the eggs of a small brown spider. The nest is generally built of fine grass, and contains three eggs of a bright brick-colour with a high polish. The entrance to the nest is at the top and a little on one side. An egg measured 0·7 inch in length by 0·48 in breadth."
As for the eggs, it is unnecessary to describe them; they are precisely similar to those of P. stewarti, fully described below. All that can be said is that as a body they are slightly larger, and possibly, as a whole, the least shade less dark. In length they vary from 0·52 to 0·72, and in breadth from 0·45 to 0·52; but the average of twenty-one eggs measured is 0·64 by rather more than 0·47*
*[As a matter of convenience I keep the notes on P. socialis and P. stewarti separate, as is done in the 'Rough Draft'; but there is no doubt whatever now that the two birds are the same species.--ED.]
Stewart's Wren-Warbler is one of those forms in regard to which at present great difference of opinion prevails as to whether or no they merit specific separation. P. stewarti from the N.W. Provinces and P. socialis from the Nilgiris differ only in size; the latter is somewhat more robust, and probably weighs one fifth more than the former. But then in the Central Provinces you meet with intermediate sizes, and I have plenty of birds which might be assigned indifferently to either race as a rather small example of the one or rather large one of the other. I myself consider all to belong to one species, but as this is not the general view I have kept my notes on their nidification separate.
This species or race breeds almost throughout the plains of Upper India and in the Sub-Himalayan ranges to an elevation of 3000 or 4000 feet. In the plains the breeding-season extends from the first downfall of rain in June (I have never found them earlier) to quite the end of August. In the moist Sub-Himalayan region, the Terais, Doons, Bhaburs, and the low hills, they commence laying nearly a month earlier.
This species often constructs as neatly sewn a nest as does the Orthotomus; in fact, many of the nests built by these two species so closely resemble each other that it would be difficult to distinguish them were there not very generally a difference in the lining. With few exceptions all the innumerable nests of O. sutorius that I have seen were lined with some soft substance - cotton-wool, the silky down of the cotton-tree (Bomlax heptaphyllum) grass-down, soft horsehair, or even human hair, while the nests of P. stewarti are almost without exception lined with fine grass-roots.
Our present bird does not, however, invariably construct a "tailored" nest. When it does, like O. sittorius, it sews two, three, four, or five leaves together, as may be most convenient, filling the intervening space with down, fine grass, vegetable fibre, or wool, held firmly into its place by cross-threads, sometimes composed of cobwebs, sometimes made by the bird itself of cotton, and sometimes apparently derived from unraveled rags. It also, however, often makes a nest entirely composed of fine vegetable fibre, cotton, and grass-down, and lined as usual with fine grass-roots. Sometimes these nests are long and purse-like, and sometimes globular, either attached to, or pendent from, two or more twigs. One nest before me, a sort of deep watch-pocket, suspended from five twigs of the jhao (Tamarix dioica), measures externally 2·75 inches in diameter, is a good deal longer at what may be called the back than the front, and at the back fully 5·5 long. Internally the diameter is about 1·5, and the cavity, measuring from the lowest portion of the external rim, is 2·5. This is a very large nest. Another, built between three leaves, has an external diameter of about 2½ inches, and is externally not above 3 inches long. It is unnecessary here to describe the beautiful manner in which, when it makes use of leaves, this bird sews them together, as this has already been well described by others where O. sutorius is concerned, and P. stewarti is, in some cases, when forming a nest with leaves, fully as neat a workman.
The nests vary so much, and I have heard so much, discussion about them, that having seen at least a hundred and having taken full notes of some twenty of them, I shall reproduce a few of these notes:
"Agra, July 17th - Two nests - one nearly globular, composed entirely of fibrous roots, hair, wool, and thread, and lined with fine grass, suspended by a few fibres and hairs between the fork of a branchlet in a little dense bush of Indian box; the other, suspended from the tendril of an elephant creeper, was principally formed by one of the leaves of this, to which, to form the remaining third of the exterior, a second leaf of the same plant was carefully sewn. Interiorly there was a little wool, and at the bottom fine grass.
"July 20th - On a furash-tree (Tamarix furas), beautifully made of fine soft wool, shreds of tow and string, very fine grass and grass-roots, and the bottom neatly lined with very fine grass-roots. In shape the nest is like one half of a long old-fashioned silk purse, round-bottomed and very compact, with a long slit-like opening on one side towards the top. It contained five eggs.
"July 26th - Two nests, one formed almost entirely in a single mango-leaf, the sides of which are curled round so as nearly to meet, and then laced by a succession of cross-threads of cobweb, carefully knotted at each place where the margin of the leaf is pierced. The intervening space is closed by fine tow, wool, and the silky down of the cotton-tree, with just the top of a small mango-leaf caught in from above so as to form an arched roof. The other nest was rounder in form, having less of a leafy structure. It had, however, the leaf of the Phalsa forming the back and sides (partly), whilst the whole of the front was composed of soft wool, tow, dry grass-roots, thread, and a few pieces of the soft tree-cotton. It had a neighboring leaf just caught in on one side. This contained four fresh eggs.
"July 30th - A beautiful nest between three twigs, several of the leaves of each of which had been tacked on to the outside of the nest. The nest itself was firmly put together with fine grass-roots, and was nearly globular in shape, with one side continued upwards into a sort of hood overhanging the greater portion of the aperture. It contained four eggs of the usual deep red colour.
"August 8th - At Bichpoori found a number of nests, and some of them of a strangely different type. One was inside a tiny hut on the line, about 3 feet above the head of the chaprassie's bed. It had no leaves about it, and was composed of thread, wool, and a few very fine grass-stems, and lined thinly with fine grass-stems and a little black horsehair. It was about two thirds of a sphere, the external diameter of which was about 3¼ inches, and the internal 2½ inches. The bird was on the nest, so that there could be no mistake, otherwise it would have been impossible to believe that it belonged to P. stewarti, of which we have taken so many sewn in leaves. A little further on another nest of the same species, built in the ragged eaves of a thatch, externally composed almost entirely of cotton-wool, with a little tow-fibre binding the structure together, internally as usual lined with very fine grass-roots with a few horsehairs. Another nest of the Prinia was in one respect even more remarkable. It was built in the usual situation in a low herbaceous plant, sewn to and suspended from two leaves, and two or three others worked into its sides. It was constructed almost entirely of fine grass-roots and fibres, with a few tiny tufts of cotton-wool, and the leaves as usual firmly tacked on with threads and cobweb fibres. It would seem that, after constructing the nest, but before laying, a large female spider took possession of the bottom of the nest, and shut herself in by constructing a diaphragm of web horizontally across the nest, thus occupying the whole of the cavity of the nest. The little bird accepted this change of circumstances, built the nest a little higher at the sides, and over the spider's web placed a false bottom of fine grass-roots, on which she laid her four eggs, and there she was sitting when the nest was taken, the spider, alive and apparently happy in the cell below, plainly visible through the interstices of the grass, with a huge sac of eggs which she was incubating. Her chamber is fully one half of the nest."
I may add that this latter nest, with the now dead spider, in situ, is still in our museum.
In number the eggs are sometimes four, sometimes five, and I have heard of six being found. They rear usually two broods; if their eggs are taken they will lay three or four sets; sometimes they use the same nest twice; sometimes, directly the first brood is at all able to shift for themselves, the parents leave them in the old nest, and commence building a new one at no great distance.
The late Mr. A. Anderson remarked: "Owing to the inclemency of the weather (August) the geranium-pots in the garden were placed in the verandah of the house I am at present living in, and, strange to say, a pair of these Warblers commenced building in the leaves of one of the plants immediately under my window.
"When the nest was about half-finished the birds' forsook it without apparently any reason, as they were never molested in any way. On examining the nest, however, the cause was evident, and afforded a remarkable instance of instinct on the part of the little architects. The leaves that had been pierced and sewn together had actually commenced to wither, and in the course of a few days later the whole structure came down bodily.
"This is the only Prinia to be found at Futtehgurh, and they are one of our most common garden-birds. Their beautiful brick-red eggs and neatly-sewn nests are too well known to require description. Four generally, and five frequently, is the number of eggs they lay. I have one record of six on the 17th August, 1873; in this case one egg was laid daily, the first having been laid on the 12th, and the sixth on the 17th."
Captain Hutton remarks: "This is a true Tailor-bird in respect to the construction of the nest, which is composed of one leaf as a supporting base stitched to two others meeting it perpendicularly, the apices of all three being neatly sewn together with threads roughly spun from the cottony down of seeds. Between or within these leaves is placed the nest, very slightly and loosely constructed of fine roots, grass-stalks, and seed-down, the latter material being interwoven to hold the coarser fibres of the nest together. There is no finer lining within, and the edges of the exterior leaves are drawn together round the nest and held there partly by roughly-spun threads of down, and partly by the ends of the stiff fibres being thrust through them. The whole forms a very light and graceful fabric. Within this nest were four beautiful and highly polished eggs of a deep brick-red colour, darkest at the larger end, faint specks and blotches of a deeper colour being indistinctly discernible beneath the surface of the shell, which shines as if it had been varnished. The nest is not closed above, but is open and deeply cup-shaped. This was taken in the Dhoon on the 30th May."
Major C. T. Bingham says: "Breeds at Allahabad in June, July, and August. At Delhi I have not yet found its nest. I once found in July three nests all attached together in a sort of triangle, but whether built by separate pairs of birds I cannot say. Only one nest contained eggs."
Colonel G. F. L. Marshall writes: "A nest found in July in the Kanpur district was built of grass, a deep oblong domed nest with the entrance at the side near the top. It was placed close to the ground in a tuft of surkerry grass sloping rather backwards. The position is, I believe, unusual. The old birds were still putting finishing touches to the building when I found it."
The eggs are ovals, as a rule, neither very broad nor much elongated. Pyriform examples occur, but a somewhat perfect oval is the usual type, and the examination of a large series shows that the tendency is to vary to a globular and not to an elongated shape. The eggs are brilliantly glossy, and, though considerably smaller, strongly resemble, as is well known, those of the little short-tailed Cetti's Warbler.
In colour they are brick-red, some, however, being paler and yellower, others deeper and more mahogany-colored. There is a strong tendency to exhibit all ill-defined cloudy cap or zone, of far greater intensity than the colour of the rest of the egg, at or towards the large end.
In length the eggs vary from 0·6 to 0·68, and in breadth from 0·45 to 0·5; but the average of seventy eggs measured is 0·62 by 0·46.
Drymoipus sylvaticus, Jerdon B. Ind ii, p. 181; Hume, Rough
Draft N. & E. no. 545.
Dr. Jerdon says: "I found the nest in low jungle near Nellore, made chiefly of grass, with a few roots and fibres, globular, large, with a hole at one side near the top, and the eggs white, spotted very thickly with rusty red, especially at the thick end."
Mr. Blewitt appears to have taken many eggs of this species in the Raipoor District, and he has sent me the following notes, together with numerous eggs. He says:
"The Jungle Wren-Warbler breeds in the Raipoor District from about the middle of June to the middle of August. Low thorn-bushes on rocky ground are chiefly selected for the nest, and both parent birds assist in building it and in hatching and rearing the young. A new nest is made each year, and four is the maximum number of eggs.
"On the 1st July this year I found a nest of this species in the centre of a low thorny bush, growing in rocky ground, about two miles north of Doongurgurh in the Raipoor District.
"The nest was about 4 feet from the ground, firmly attached to and supported by the branches. It was of a deep cup shape, 3·6 in diameter and 4·9 in height, composed of coarser and finer grasses firmly interwoven, and contained four fresh eggs. In the same locality we secured a second similarly situated nest, about 2½ feet from the ground, and it contained a single fresh egg. It was rather more neatly and massively made than the former. It was about 4 inches in diameter and 5 inches in height, and the egg-cavity was nearly 3 inches deep. The lining is of fine grass-stalks well interwoven. The exterior is composed of coarse grass mixed with a little greyish-white fibre.
"Subsequently several other similar and similarly situated nests were found."
Colonel E. A. Butler writes: "The Jungle Wren-Warbler breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa in the months of July, August, and September. The following are the dates upon which I found nests this year (1876):
"July 28. A nest containing 4 young birds.
"In addition to the above, I found nests in the same neighborhood in 1875. One on the 14th August containing four young birds almost ready to leave the nest. It was placed in the middle of a tussock of coarse grass on the side of a nullah on a bank overgrown with grass and bushes, and my attention was attracted first of all to the spot by the incessant chattering and uneasiness of the two old birds, one of which had a large grasshopper in its mouth. After hiding behind a bush for a few minutes, I saw the hen bird fly to the nest, which led to its discovery. The nest was dome-shaped, with an entrance upon one side, composed exteriorly of blades of rather coarse dry grass (green, however, as a rule when the nest is first built), and interiorly of similar, but finer, material. It is an easy nest to find when once the locality in which the birds breed is discovered, as it is a conspicuous ball of grass, smeared over, often more or less, exteriorly with a silky white vegetable-down or cobweb, and many of the blades of the tussock in which it is placed are often drawn down and woven into the nest, which at once attracts attention. Then, again, the cock bird is almost always to be found on the top of some low tree near the nest, uttering his peculiar ventriloquist note tissip, tissip, tissip etc. All the above nests were exactly alike and in similar situations, viz. fixed in the centre of a tussock of coarse grass on the banks of some deep nullahs running through a large grass 'Beerh.' The eggs remind me more of the English Robin's eggs than those of any other species I know. The ground-colour is dull white, sometimes tinted with pale green, and the markings reddish fawn. In some cases the eggs are peppered all over with a conspicuous zone at the large end, sometimes a dense cap instead of a zone. In other cases the markings, though always present, are almost invisible, as also the zone or cap. They are about the size of the eggs of the Spotted Flycatcher. I found a few other nests besides those I have mentioned during July and August 1875."
Captain Cock informed me that this species is "common in the jungles around Seetapore. Nest is largish, dome-shaped, and placed low down in a thorny bush. The bird lays in August five eggs, the fac-simile of the eggs of Pratincola ferrea, perhaps of a more elongated type than the eggs of that bird."
Mr. H. Parker, writing on the birds of North-west Ceylon, refers to this bird under the titles D. jerdoni and D. valida, and informs us that it breeds from January to May.
The eggs of this species are somewhat elongated ovals. The ground-colour is a greenish or greyish stone-colour, and they are finely and often rather sparsely freckled all over with very faint reddish brown, or brownish pink in most eggs; these frecklings are gathered together into a more or less dense zone round the large end, forming a conspicuous ring there much darker-colored than the frecklings over the rest of the surface. The eggs have a faint gloss.
In length they vary from 0·68 to 0·75, and in breadth from 0·49 to 0·52, but the average appears to be 0·7 by 0·5.
Drymoipus inornatus (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. ii. p. 178; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 543.
The breeding-season of this Wren-Warbler commences with the first fall of rain, and lasts through July and August to quite the middle of September.
The birds construct a very elegant nest, always closely and compactly woven, of very fine blades, or strips of blades, of grass, in no nests exceeding one-twentieth of an inch in width, and in many of not above half this breadth. The grass is always used when fresh and green, so as to be easily woven in and out. Both parents work at the nest, clinging at first to the neighboring stems of grass or twigs, and later to the nest itself, while they push the ends of the grass backwards and forwards in and out; in fact, they work very much like the Baya (P. baya), and the nest, though much smaller, is in texture very like that of this latter species, the great difference being that the Baya, with us, more often uses stems, and Prinia strips of blades of grass. The nest varies in shape and in size, according to its situation: a very favorite locality is in amongst clumps of the sarpatta, or serpent-grass, in which case the bird builds a long and purse-like nest, attached above and all round to the surrounding grass-stems, with a small entrance near the top. Such nests are often 8 or 9 inches in length, and 3 inches or even more in external diameter, and with an internal cavity measuring 1½ inch in diameter, and having a depth of nearly 4 inches below the lower margin of the entrance-hole. At other times they are hung between bare twigs, often of some thorny bush, or are even placed in low herbaceous plants; in these cases they are usually nearly globular, with the entrance-hole near the top; they are then probably 3½ inches in external diameter in every direction. In other cases they are hung to or between two or more leaves to which the birds attach the nest, much as a Tailor-bird would do, using, however, fine grass instead of cobwebs or cotton-wool for ligaments. I have never found more than five eggs in any nest, and four is certainly the normal number.
Mr. R. M. Adam remarks: "I had a nest brought me in Oudh on the 17th April, containing four eggs. About Agra and Mathura, where as you know the birds are very common, I have always obtained the greatest number of eggs during August; four is the regular number; in one taken on the 16th August I found five eggs."
Mr. W. Blewitt writes: "During July, August, and the early part of September I found multitudes of nests of this species in the neighborhood of Hausie, almost exclusively in the Dhasapoor, Dhana, and Secundapoor Beerhs or jungle-preserves.
"The nests, of which numerous specimens were sent to you, were of the usual type, and were nearly all found in ber (Z. jujuba) and hinse (Capparis aphylla) bushes, at heights of from 3 to 4 feet from the ground. I did not meet with more than four eggs in any one nest."
Colonel E. A. Butler says: "The Indian Wren-Warbler is very common in the plains, frequenting low scrub-jungle and long grass studied with low bushes (Calotropis, Zizyphus, etc.). It breeds during the monsoon, commencing to build in July, during which month and August in the neighborhood of Deesa I must have examined some three or four dozen nests. There are two distinct types of nests, and there may be two species of this genus in this part of the country; but I must confess that after shooting a large number of specimens of both sexes, and after examining an immense series of the eggs, I have failed to make out more than one species, and that Mr. Hume informs me is his Drymoipus terricolor. The nests alluded to vary as follows: One type is very closely and compactly woven, as described of D. terricolor ('Nests and Eggs, Rough Draft,' p. 349), with the entrance almost at the top. The other type is built of the same material, with the exception that the grass is rather coarser, but is more in shape like a Wren's nest, and the grass is somewhat loosely put together instead of being woven, and it has the entrance with a slight canopy over it upon one side. The eggs four, and not uncommonly five, in number, were exactly alike in both types, as also were the specimens of the birds themselves that I obtained.
"Nearly all the nests I have seen have been built on the outside of ber bushes (Z. jujuba), at heights varying from 2½ to 5 feet from the ground."
Mr. B. Aitken says: "I found this nest at Bombay on the 13th October, 1873, at the edge of a tank some 2 feet above the ground. I have found four or five precisely similar ones before, generally in similar situations. The nest was strongly attached to the stems and leaves of four herbaceous plants growing close together. In many cases the strips of grass had been passed through and pierced the leaves. The nest is deep and purse-shaped; the sides were prolonged upwards, except in front where the entrance was, and joined above so as to form a canopy. The nest has no lining, and none of the nests of this species that I ever saw have ever had any lining. The whole nest inside and out is composed of fine strips of blades of grass interwoven. The eggs, five in number, varied much in size. In colour they were bright blue, most irregularly blotched with various shades of purplish brown: some of the blotches very large, some mere specks. Each egg had also washed-out stains or blotches. The smaller eggs were by far the brighter.
"By reason of the roof and walls the entrance to the nest was at one side, but there was nothing that could be called a hole. The roof projected over the entrance, forming a porch. Six or eight nests which I have seen of this species were all over water. But the birds are by no means confined to marshy localities. Even in the middle of the rains the nests are invariably made of dry yellow grass. One nest found in Berar was in a babul bush, where of course there could have been no leaves pierced."
Mr. E. Aitken writes: "I have found a good many nests in Bombay, and it breeds in Poona too. My notes only mention two nests with eggs, on the 22nd and 25th August, but I found some much later; and I am almost certain it begins to lay much earlier, if not actually at the beginning of the monsoon, like Orthotomus and Prinia. It builds in gardens and cultivated fields, especially in the vicinity of water, and often among plants growing in water.
"The nest is very firmly attached to the twigs of some plant where long grass or other plants completely surround and conceal it. It is usually about 3 foot from the ground. It varies much in size and shape, some being much deeper than others, and some having the top open; others an entrance somewhat to one side.
"I have always found three or four eggs - bright blue, with large irregular purplish-brown blotches and no hair-lines. I should have said that the nest is a bag, very uniformly woven, of fine grass, and never with any lining - at any rate in none that I have ever found. They never use the same nest twice, always building a fresh one even if you only rob without injuring the first. I think they have only one brood in the year, but, like Orthotomus and Prinia, one or two nests are generally deserted or destroyed by some accident before they succeed in rearing a brood."
Major C. T. Bingham informs us that this Wren-Warbler is a common breeder both at Allahabad and at Delhi from March to September. Builds a neat bottle-shaped nest in clumps of surpat grass, of fine strips of the grass itself, which I have repeatedly watched the birds tearing off. The eggs are lovely little oval fragile shells of a deep blue, blotched and speckled and covered with fine hair-like lines, chiefly at the large end, of a deep chocolate-brown.
The eggs are a moderately long, and generally a pretty perfect, oval, often pointed towards one end, sometimes globular, seldom, if ever, much elongated. The shell is fine and glossy, and comparatively thick and strong. The ground-colour is normally a beautiful pale greenish blue, most richly marked with various shades of deep chocolate and reddish brown. Nothing can exceed the beauty or variety of the markings, which are a combination of bold blotches, clouds, and spots, with delicate, intricately interwoven lines, recalling somewhat, but more elaborate and, I think, finer than, those of our early favorite - the Yellow Hammer. The markings are invariably most conspicuous at the large end, where there is very commonly a conspicuous confluent cap, and the delicate lines are almost without exception confined to the broader half of the egg.
Very commonly the smaller end of the egg is entirely spotless, and I have a beautiful specimen now before me in which the only markings consist of a ring of delicate lines round the large end. Some idea of the delicacy and intricacy of these lines may be formed when I mention that this zone is barely one tenth of an inch broad, and yet in a good light between twenty and thirty interlaced lines making up this zone may be counted.
The intricacy of the pattern is in some cases almost incredible, and, what with the remarkable character of the patterns and the rich and varying shades of their colors, these little eggs are, I think, amongst the most beautiful known. Occasionally the ground-colour of the eggs, instead of being a bright greenish blue, is a pale, rather dull, olive-green, and still more rarely it is a clear pinkish white. These latter eggs are so rare that I have only seen six in about as many hundreds.
In size the eggs vary from 0·53 to 0·7 in length, and from 0·42 to 0·5 in breadth; but the average of one hundred and twenty eggs measured was 0·61 by 0·45.
Drymoeca jerdoni (Blyth), Hume, cat. no. 544 ter.
Mr. Davison says: "The Southern Wren-Warbler breeds chiefly on the slopes of the Nilgiris about the Badaga cultivation. The nest is entirely composed of fine grass, and is generally placed about 2 or 3 feet from the ground, either in a clump of long grass or attached to the branch of a small bush. It is often suspended, domed, and with the opening near the top. The eggs, generally three, are blue, spotted and lined with deep red-brown."
From Kotagherry Miss Cockburn tells us that "the Common Wren-Warbler has no song, but is loud and frequent in its repetition of a few notes during the breeding-season. Its nest, which is globular, is built in the same shape as that of P. socialis, with the entrance at one end, on some low bush, but it only uses one material, namely fine long grass, and does not add any soft lining. The colour of its eggs, however, is totally different, of a light bluish green, and having a number of spots and streaks like dark threads carried round and through the spots, which are mostly at the thick end. The breeding-season lasts from April to July."
Mr. C. J. W. Taylor, writing from Manzeerabad, Mysore, says: "Fairly common throughout the district. Eggs taken on the 15th July, 1882."
Mr. Rhodes W. Morgan, writing from South India, remarks: "It builds a neat pendent nest in long grass on the Nilgiris. The nest is composed entirely of short pieces of grass fitted together, and is very compact. The eggs are three in number, and are of a blue colour, with large blotches and hair-like streaks of a dark reddish brown at the upper end. An egg measured ·69 inch by ·5."
The eggs of this species do not differ materially in size, shape, or markings from those of P. inornata which are very fully described above.
Drymoeca blanfordi, (Walden), Hume, cat. no. 543 ter.
Mr. Oates, who found this bird very common in Pegu, writes: "The Burmese Wren-Warbler is perhaps the commonest bird of the Pegu plains. From Myitkyo on the Sittang, and possibly from further north, down to Rangoon, it is to be found in all the low tracts covered with grass. Where it occurs it is a constant resident and breeds from May to August. I have found the nest in the middle of May, but it is not till July that the bulk of the birds lay.
"The nest is never more than 4 feet from the ground, and is attached either to two or more stalks of elephant-grass or to the stem of a low weed, or to the blades of certain tender grasses which grow in thick tufts. There is little or no attempt at concealment. The materials forming the nest are entirely fine grasses, of equal coarseness or fineness throughout, gathered green, and so beautifully woven together that it is almost impossible to destroy a nest by tearing it asunder, although it may be looked through. In shape it is somewhat of a cylinder, with a tendency to swell out at the middle. Its length, or rather height (for its longer axis, being invariably parallel to the stalks to which the nest is attached, is generally upright), is from 6 to 8 inches, and its extreme width 4. The entrance is placed at the top of the nest, the sides of which are produced an inch or two above the lower edge of the entrance. The thickness of the walls is very small, seldom reaching half, and generally being only a quarter, of an inch. Occasionally the nest is almost globular, but the back of the entrance is in every case produced upwards some inches. There is no lining at all.
"The eggs never exceed four, and frequently are only three, in number, and the female does not commence sitting till the full number is laid. She deserts the nest on the slightest provocation; and if a nest with only one or two eggs is found, and the fingers inserted, it is useless to leave the eggs in hopes of getting more. She will lay no more. I have tested this in at least ten cases."
Major C. T. Bingham tells us: "About Kaukarit, on the Houndraw river in Tenasserim, I found this species, in June 1878, very common. They were then breeding, and I found several nests, all, however, unfinished; these were, in material and make, very like the nests of P. inornata which I had taken years ago in India."
The eggs of this species recall in many respects those of P. inornata, but the ground-colour is much more variable, and the markings are more blotchy and less intricate in shape. They are pretty regular ovals, and while some are very glossy others exhibit but little of this. The ground-colour is perhaps typically pale greenish blue, but in a great many specimens this is more or less obliterated by a reddish or pinkish tinge, as if the colour of the markings had run; in some the ground is a sort of reddish olive, in some pinky white. The markings are large blotches and spots, often forming zones or caps about the larger end, where they seem almost always to be most conspicuous, as they vary in colour from an intense burnt-sienna which is almost black, through a dingy maroon, and again to a dull, somewhat pale reddish brown; here and there individual eggs exhibit a hair-line or two, or a hieroglyphic-like mark, but these are the exceptions.
The eggs vary in length from 0·53 to 0·64 inch, and in breadth from 0·42 to 0·45; but the average of fourteen eggs is 0·58 by 0·44.
Very constantly smears or clouds of a paler shade than the blotches cover large portions of the surface between these. Occasionally all the markings are smeared and
ill-defined, and in some eggs they are almost entirely wanting, and nothing but a scratch or two about the large end is to be seen.