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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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Page 23

Order PASSERES     Family LANIIDAE   Subfamily LANIINAE

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469. Lanius lahtora (Sykes). Indian Grey Shrike

Lamus lahtora (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 400.
Collyrio lahtora, (Sykes), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 256.

The Indian Grey Shrike lays from January to August, and occasionally up to October, but the majority of my eggs have been obtained during March or April. It builds, generally, a very compact and heavy, deep, cup-shaped nest, which it places at heights of from 4 to 10 or 12 feet from the ground in a fork, towards the centre of some densely growing thorny bush or moderate-sized tree, the various carounders, capers, plums, and acacias being those most commonly selected. As a rule it builds a new nest every year, but it not unfrequently only repairs one that has served it in the previous season, and even at times takes possession of those of other species.

The nest is composed of very various materials, so much so that it is difficult to generalize in regard to them. I have found them built entirely of grass-roots, with much sheep's wool, lined with hair and feathers, or solidly woven of silky vegetable fibre, mostly that of the putsun (Hibiscus cannabinus), in which were incorporated little pieces of rag and strips of the bark of the wild plum (Zizyphus jujuba); but I think that most commonly thorny twigs, coarse grass, and grass-roots form the body of the nest, while the cavity is lined with feathers, hair, soft grass, and the like.

Generally the nests are very compact and solid, 6 or 7 inches in diameter, and the egg-cavity 3 to 4 in diameter, and 2 to 2 in depth, but I have come across very loosely built and straggling ones. They have at times two broods in the year (but I do not think that this is always the case), and lay from three to six eggs, four or five being the usual number.

Mr. F. R. Blewitt, writing from Jhansi and Saugor, and detailing his experiences there and in the Delhi Districts, says:

"The Common Indian Grey Shrike breeds from February to July; it builds on trees; if it has a preference, it is for the close-growing roonj tree (Acacia leucophlaea). I have particularly noticed this fact both here and at Gurhi Hursroo (Delhi). The nest in structure is neat and compact (though I have occasionally seen some very roughly put together), and generally-well fixed into the forks of an off-shooting branch. In shape it is circular, varying from 5 to 7 inches in diameter, and from 1 to 3 inches in thickness; thorn twigs, coarse grass, grass-roots, old rags, etc. form the outer materials of the nest, and closely interwoven fine grass and roots the border-rim. The egg-cavity is deeply cup-shaped, from 3 to 5 inches in diameter, and lined with fine grass and khus; exceptionally shreds of cloth are interwoven with the khus and grass.

"On one occasion I got a nest with the cup interior entirely lined with old cloth pieces, very cleverly and ingeniously worked into the exterior framework. Five is the regular number of eggs, though at times six have been obtained in one nest. The birds often make their own nests each year, but this is not invariably the case. When at Gurhi Hursroo in February last, I found on an isolated roonj tree four nests within a foot of each other. The under centre one, an old Shrike nest (the other three were of other birds), was occupied by a Shrike sitting on five eggs. I very carefully examined it, and my impression at the time was that the parent birds had returned, to rear a second progeny, to the nest constructed by them the year previous.

"I do not know whether you have noticed the fact, but both L. lahtora and L. erythronotus often lay in old nests, of which they first carefully repair the egg-cavity with new materials. It is not only, however, in old nests of their own species that these birds make a home in the breeding-season. At times they take possession of fabrics clearly not the work of any Shrike. Quite recently I found a pair of L. lahtora with four eggs in a small nest entirely woven of hemp, the bottom of which was thickly coated with the droppings of former occupants. Again, on the 8th June, a nest with four eggs was found on a roonj tree. This wonderful nest, which I have kept, is entirely composed of what I take to be old felt and feathers, the bottom of the cavity of which, when found, was almost covered with the dung of young birds.

"Evidently this nest was not originally made by the Shrike, but, as would appear, was taken possession of by it, after the brood of some other species of birds had left it."

Mr. W. Theobald makes the following note of this bird's breeding in the neighborhood of Pind Dadan Khan and Katas in the Salt Range: "Lays in the last week of March to the end of April. Eggs five only, shape ovato-pyriform, size 106 inch by 08 inch; colour pale greenish white, blotched and tinged with yellowish grey and neutral markings; vary much in intensity and colour. Nest of twigs, lined with cotton or wool, and usually placed in stiff thorny bushes."

Lieut. H. E. Barnes, writing from Chaman in Southern Afghanistan, remarks: "The Grey-backed Shrike is extremely common, breeding about the end of March, in much the same situations as in India. I have collected many specimens, and failed to detect any difference between the Indian bird and the one found here. The average of twelve eggs is 97 by 75."

He adds subsequently: "This is the commonest Shrike in the country; it breeds in March and April, and the young are easily reared in captivity."

Mr. W. Blewitt says that he "took four nests of this bird near Hansi on the 28th-30th March; they contained, one 5, two 4, and one 3 eggs; all but the latter (which, curiously enough, were a good deal incubated) quite fresh. The nests were placed in acacia and caper bushes, at heights of from 6 to 14 feet from the ground; they were from 6 to 7 inches in diameter exteriorly, rather loosely constructed of thorny twigs, with egg-cavities from 2 to 2 inches deep, lined with fine straw and leaves." Again he writes: "Took numerous nests in the neighborhood of Hansi during the month of July; most of the eggs were much incubated, and four was the largest number found in any one nest.

"The nests were all placed upon Kikar trees at an average height of some 10 feet from the ground; they were composed of thorny twigs, some with and some without a lining of fine grass and feathers, and averaged some 5 or 6 inches in diameter by 2 to 4 inches in depth."

Major C. T. Bingham says that "this bird is excessively common about Delhi, far more so than at Allahabad. At the latter place I only found it breeding in March and April, but at Delhi I have found nests in every month from March to August. One evening in June I remember counting in my walk thirteen nests within the radius of a mile; some of these contained fresh eggs, some hard-set, some young. One nest I robbed in April of eggs contained young in the latter end of May, and I believe many of them have two if not more broods in the year. All nests that I have seen have been well made, firm, deep cups of babul branches, lined with grass-roots, and occasionally with bits of rag and tow. The eggs are broad ovals of a dead chalky bluish-white colour, spotted, chiefly at the large end, with purple and brown. Five is the greatest number of eggs I have found in a nest."

Mr. George Reid informs us that this Shrike breeds from March to July in the Lucknow Division, making a massive nest in babul trees, generally in solitary ones on open plains.

Colonel Butler writes: "The Indian Grey Shrike breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa in February, March, April, May, June, and July. I nave taken nests on the following dates:

"Feb. 19. A nest containing 4 slightly incubated eggs.
March 13. " " 4 fresh eggs.
" 16. " " 4 "
" 19. " " 4 "
" 20. " " 3 "
" 20. " " 4 "
" 28. " " 4 incubated eggs.
April 9. " " 4 " "
June 1. " " 2 fresh eggs.
" 7. " " 4 young birds.
" 7. " " 2 incubated eggs.
July 9. " " 4 " "

"The nest is usually placed in some low, isolated leafless thorny tree (Acacia, Zizyphus, etc.), from six to ten feet from the ground. It is solidly built of small dry thorny twigs, old rags, etc. externally, with a thick felt lining of the silky fibre of Calotropis gigantea. The eggs vary a good deal in shape, some being much more pointed at the small end than others; some I have are almost perfect peg-tops. They vary in number from three to five; and as a rule the colour is a dingy white, spotted and speckled sparingly all over with olive-brown and inky purple, which together form a well-marked zone at the large end."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden remark: "Common, and breeds abundantly in the Poona and Sholapoor Collectorates at the end of the hot weather. W. has noticed it breeding at Nuluar and Raichore. Davidson observed that it was very rare in the Satara Districts."

Mr. J. Davidson further informs us that L. lahtora is a permanent resident in Western Khandeish, and breeds in every month from January to July.

My friend Mr. Benjamin Aitken furnishes me with the following interesting note: "You say that the Indian Grey Shrike lays from February to July. Now, in Berar, where this bird is very common, I have found their eggs frequently in the first week of January, and on not only to July, but to September; and I once found a nest in October. I was never able to satisfy myself that the same pair had two broods in the year, but I scarcely think there can be any doubt about the matter. I once found, like your correspondent Mr. Blewitt, four nests in a small babul tree, and only one of them occupied. This was at Poona. My brother first pointed out to me that this species affects the dusty barren plain, whereas L. erythronotus prefers the cool and shaded country. This difference in the habits of the two birds is very observable at Poona, where both species are exceedingly common. Where a jungly or watered piece of country borders upon the open plain, you may see half a dozen of each kind within an area of half a mile radius, and yet never find the one trespassing upon the domain of the other. When you say you have never found a nest more than 1500 feet above the level of the sea, I would remind you that although L. lahtora never ascends the hills, it is yet very abundant in the Deccan, which is 2000 feet above the sea-level.

"I think I have written to you before that during a residence of twelve years I never saw L. lahtora in Bombay."

This Shrike is, however, essentially a plains bird, and never seems to ascend the Himalayas to any elevation. I have never myself found a nest more 1500 feet above the level of the sea.

Typically, the eggs are of a broad oval shape, more or less pointed towards one end, of a delicate greenish-white ground, pretty thickly blotched and spotted with various shades of brown and purple markings, which, always most numerous towards the large end, exhibit a strong tendency to form there an ill-defined zone or irregular mottled cap. The variations, however, in shape, size, colour, extent, and intensity of markings are very great; and yet, in the huge series before me, there is not one that an oologist would not at once unhesitatingly set down as a Shrike's. In some the ground-colour is a delicate pale sea-green. In some it is pale stone-colour; in others creamy, and in a few it has almost a pink tinge. The markings, commonly somewhat dull and ill-defined, are occasionally bold and bright; and in colour they vary through every shade of yellowish, reddish, olive, and purplish brown, while subsurface-looking pale purple clouds are intermingled with the darker and more defined markings. In one egg the markings may be almost exclusively confined to a broad, very irregular zone of bold blotches near the large end. In others the whole surface is more or less thickly clotted with blotches and spots, so closely crowded towards the large end as almost wholly to obscure the ground-colour there. As a rule, the markings are irregular blotches of greater or less extent, but occasionally these blotches form the exceptions, and the majority of the markings are mere spots and specks. In some eggs the purple cloudings greatly predominate; in others scarcely a trace of them is observable. Some eggs are comparatively long and narrow, while some are pyriform and blunt at both ends; and yet, notwithstanding all these great differences, there is a strong family likeness between all the eggs. In size they are, I think, somewhat smaller than those of L. excubitor. They vary in length from 09 to 117 inch, and in width from 075 to 083 inch; but the average of more than fifty eggs is 103 by 079 inch.


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