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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 23a

Order PASSERES     Family LANIIDAE   Subfamily LANIINAE

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473. Lanius vittatus. Bay-backed Shrike

Lanius hardwickii (Vigors), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 405.
Lanius vittatus, (Dum.), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 260.

The Bay-backed Shrike breeds throughout the plains of India and in the Sub-Himalayan Ranges up to an elevation of fully 4000 feet. The laying-season lasts from April to September, but the great majority of eggs are found during the latter half of June and July; in fact, according to my experience, the great body of the birds do not lay until the rains set in.

The nests are placed indifferently on all kinds of trees (I have notes of finding them on mango, plum, orange, tamarind, toon, etc.), never at any great elevation from the ground, and usually in small trees, be the kind chosen what it may. Sometimes a high hedgerow, such as our great Customs hedge, is chosen, and occasionally a solitary caper or stunted acacia-bush.

The nests (almost invariably fixed in forks of slender boughs) are neat, compactly and solidly built cups, the cavities being deep and rather more than hemispherical, from 2·25 to fully 3·5 inches in diameter, and from 1·5 to 2 inches in depth. The nest-walls vary from 0·5 to 1·25 inch in thickness. The composition of the nest is various. The following are brief descriptions which I have noted from time to time:

"Compactly woven of grass-stems and a few fine twigs, but with more or less wool, rag, cotton, or feathers incorporated; there is no lining.

"The nest was rather massive, externally composed of wool, rags, cotton, thread, and feathers, and a little grass; the cavity rather neatly lined with fine grass.

"Composed almost entirely of cobweb, with a few soft feathers, wool, string, rags, and a few pieces of very fine twigs compactly woven. The interior was lined with fine straw and fibrous roots."

Elsewhere I have recorded the following note on the nidification of this species:

"This bird, or rather birds of this species, have been laying ever since the middle of April, but nests were then few and far between, and now in July they are common enough. The nest that we had just found was precisely like twenty others that we had found during the past two months. Rather deep, with a nearly hemispherical cavity; very compactly and firmly woven of fine grass, rags, feathers, soft twine, wool, and a few fine twigs, the whole entwined exteriorly with lots of cobwebs; and the interior cavity about 1¾ inch deep by 2¼ in diameter, neatly lined with very fine grass, one or two horsehairs, shreds of string, and one or two soft feathers. The walls were a good inch in thickness. The nest was placed in a fork of a thorny jujube or ber tree (Zizyphus jujuba), near the centre of the tree, and some 15 feet from the ground. It contained four fresh eggs, feebly colored miniatures of the eggs of L. lahtora, which latter so closely resemble those of L. excubitor that if you mixed the eggs, you could never, I think, certainly separate them again. The eggs exhibit the zone so characteristic of those of all Shrikes. They have a dull pale ground, not white, and yet it is difficult to say what colour it is that tinges it; in these four eggs it is a yellowish stone-colour, but in others it is greenish, and in some grey; near the middle, towards the large end, there is a broad and conspicuous, but broken and irregular zone of feeble, more or less confluent spots and small blotches of pale yellowish brown and very pale washed-out purple. There are a few faint specks and spots of the same colour here and there about the rest of the egg. In some eggs previously obtained the zone is quite in the middle, and in others close round the large end. In some the colors of the markings are clear and bright, in others they are as faint and feeble as one of our modern Manchester warranted-fast-colored muslins, after its third visit to a native washerman. In size, too, the eggs vary a good deal.

"The little Shrike had a great mind to fight for his penates, and twice made a vehement demonstration of attack; but his heart failed him, and he retreated to a neighboring mango branch, whence a few minutes after we saw him making short dashes after his insect prey, apparently oblivious of the domestic calamity that had so recently befallen him."

Mr. F. R. Blewitt, then at Gurhi Hursroo, near Delhi, sent me some years ago the following interesting note:

"Breeds from March to at least the middle of August. It builds its nest in low trees and high hedgerows, preferring the former. In shape the nest is circular, with a diameter, outside, of from 5½ to 6½ inches, and from 1·5 to 2 in thickness.

"For the exterior framework thorny twigs, old rags, hemp, thread-pieces, and coarse grass are more or less used, and compactly worked together. The egg-cavity is deep and cup-shaped, lined with fine grass and khus; pieces of rag or cotton are sometimes worked up with the former.

"Five to six is the regular number of eggs. In colour they are a light greenish white, with blotches and spots generally of a light, but sometimes of a darker, reddish brown. The spots and blotches vary much in size, and they are mostly confined to the broad end of the eggs.

"I had frequently noticed on a tree in the garden an old Shrike's nest. It was in the beginning of May that a male bird suddenly made his appearance and established himself in the garden, and morning and evening without fail did he sit and alternately chatter and warble away for hours. His perfect imitation of the notes of other birds was remarkable.

"In the beginning of June his singing suddenly ceased, the secret of which I soon discovered. He had secured a mate, and daily did I watch for the nest, which I thought they would prepare. Late on the evening of the 23rd June, happening to look up at the old nest, to my surprise I found it occupied by the female, the male the while sitting on a branch near her. Next morning on searching the nest I found four eggs. Whether this nest was prepared the year previous by these birds or by another pair I cannot tell.

"That day, the day of the robbery, the female disappeared. The male followed next day, but only to return after two or three days and recommence with renewed energy his chattering and warbling. This he continued daily till near the end of July, when, as before, he suddenly ceased to sing. I then found that he had again secured a mate, whether the old female or a new bride I am not certain; they soon set about making a nest on a neighboring tree, very cunningly, as I thought, selected; and now the young birds reared are nearly full-fledged. An old nest, evidently of last year's make, was brought me the other day with five eggs, but the lining, as by the way was done in the one in the garden, had been wholly removed and new grass and khus substituted."

Major C. T. Bingham writes: "Breeds both at Allahabad and at Delhi in May, June, and July. At the former place I never got the eggs, but have seen some that were taken; but at Delhi I found numbers of their nests in June and July, and one in May. It makes a much softer nest than either of the two above-mentioned Shrikes. One nest I took on the 15th June was composed wholly of tow, but generally they have an outer foundation of twigs, and are lined with tow, bits of cotton, human hair, or rags. Some eggs are a yellow-white, with very faint marks, others are miniatures of the eggs of L. lahtora.

"Five is the greatest number I have found in one nest."

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 from the commencement of May to the middle of June. Eggs three or four in number; shape varies from ovato-pyriform to blunt ovato-pyriform, and measuring from 0·73 to 0·87 inch in length and from 0·55 to 0·65* inch in breadth. Colour, same as L. erythronotus, also creamy or yellowish white, spotted with darker. Nest compact, in forks of thorny trees; outside fibrous stalks, bound with silk or spider-web, and covered with lichens or cocoons, imitating a weathered structure; inside lined with fine grass and vegetable down."

*[I think that there must be some error in these dimensions, for mine are taken from forty-five specimens, the largest and smallest, out of some hundreds of eggs.--A.O.H.]

Colonel C. H. T. Marshall, writing from Murree, says: "These little Shrikes breed in the hills, as well as the plains, up to 5000 feet high."

Colonel Butler has the following notes on the breeding of this Shrike in Sind:

"Karachi, 7th May, 1877. - I found two nests on this date, one in the fork of a babul tree, the other on the stump of a broken-off branch of a tree between the stump and the trunk of the tree. The former contained four incubated eggs, exact miniatures of many eggs I have of L. erythronotus, the latter two small chicks. - May 12th, same locality, a nest containing two fresh eggs, and another containing two fully fledged young ones. - June 20th, same locality, one nest containing three fresh eggs, another containing four young birds. Eggs most typical are those which have a well-marked zone near the centre."

"Hyderabad, Sind, 19th June, 1878. - A nest on the outer bough of a babul tree about ten feet from the ground, containing three fresh eggs."

And he further notes: "The Bay-backed Shrike breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa at the end of the hot weather. The nest is a very firm and compactly built cup, usually placed in the fork of some low thorny tree at heights varying from seven to ten feet from the ground.

"June 15th, 1875. A nest containing 3 fresh eggs.
July 1st, 1876. " " 4 " "
July 15th, " " " 5 incubated eggs.
July 29th, " " " 4 young birds.

"These birds always retire from the more open parts of the country to low thorny tree-jungle to breed."

Mr. R. M. Adam says: "This species breeds about Sambhur in July. On the 1st August I saw numbers of nests and fledglings in the Marot jungle."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden, writing of the Deccan, say: "Abundant, and breeds all over the Deccan."

And the former gentleman informs us that this species is also very common in Western Khandeish, and that it breeds in the plains in June and July, and in the Satpuras in March.

Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes: "This is a very familiar bird, and builds readily in some roadside tree, where men and carts are passing all day long. I have the following notes of its nests:

"1st-8th May, 1869. Nest and three eggs taken at Khandalla, above the Bhore Ghât.

"12th May, 1871. Nest and four eggs at Poona.

"16th-18th May, 1871. Nest and four eggs at Khandalla. This nest was in a corinda bush, placed about 1½ feet from the ground.

"13th May, 1873. A clutch of young birds left the nest this morning at Poona.

"19th May, 1873. I found a nest of half-fledged young birds this day at Poona. The tree was almost denuded of leaves, and the heat of the sun being very intense, the parent bird was nevertheless sitting close. Its eyes were closed, and it was gasping hard. One of the young ones had crawled out from under the parent, and was sitting on the edge of the nest, also gasping hard.

"I do not exactly gather from your notes in the 'Rough Draft' what form the spots usually take. In my nest taken on the 12th May all four eggs had the zone quite as distinct as the eggs of a Fan-tailed Flycatcher. The seven eggs taken from two nests at Khandalla, on the other hand, had not the least appearance of a zone, but were spotted, after the manner of Sparrows' eggs. In both the latter cases I saw the old bird fly off the nest and alight on a tree a few yards off.

"I remember one little Shrike of this species which used to come down every day to pick up crumbs of bread and pieces of potato put out for the Sparrows. (Being a true naturalist I love Sparrows.)

"My brother on one occasion saw one of these Shrikes trying to catch a garden lizard - not a gecko.

"Of course you know that the young of this handsome and brightly colored Shrike have a plain and curiously marked plumage, reminding one a little of the pateela Partridge. I never saw this Shrike in Bombay."

The eggs of this, the smallest of all our Indian Shrikes, differ in no particular, so far as shape, colour, and markings go, from those of its larger congeners; that is to say, for every egg of this species an exactly similar one might be picked out from a large series of L. lahtora or L. erythronotus; but at the same time there is no doubt that pale-creamy and pale-brownish stone-colored grounds predominate more amongst the eggs of this species than in those of the two above-named. The markings are also, as a rule, more minute and less well-defined; indeed, in the large series I possess there is not one which exhibits the bold sharp blotches common in the eggs of L. lahtora, and not uncommon in those of L. erythronotus.

In length they vary from 0·75 to 0·95 inch, and in breadth from 0·62 to 0·71 inch; but the average of forty-five eggs is 0·83 by 0·66 inch nearly.

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