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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 23b

Order PASSERES     Family LANIIDAE   Subfamily LANIINAE

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475. Lanius nigriceps (Franklin). Black-headed Shrike

Lanius nigriceps (Frankl.), Jerdon. B. Ind. i, p. 404.
Collyrio nigriceps, (Frankl.), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 259.

I have never myself taken the eggs or nests of the Black-headed Shrike.

Mr. E. Thompson says: "This Shrike breeds all along the south-western termination of the Kumaon and Garhwal forests, and is usually found in swampy, high grassy lands. It lays in July, August, and September, building a large cup-shaped nest, composed of roots and fine grasses, in small trees or shrubs in low, open grass-covered country.

"I found this the Common Shrike in the hilly jungly tracts in Southern Mirzapore, but I do not know whether it breeds there. The cry is quite like that of L. erythronotus.

"The southern limit of Lanius nigriceps is interesting and remarkable. It disappears after you go south-west of the Mykle Range, and on the Range itself it is found only near marshy places. This Mykle Range extends as far east as Ummerkuntuk, with a spur going off north of that, and joining on with the Kymore Range, parts of which I explored in March last in Pergunnahs Agrore and Singrowlee. Down in those places this Lanius was the Common Shrike, but south and west of Ummerkuntuk all the Shrikes disappear more or less, and L. nigriceps entirely."

According to Mr. Hodgson's notes and figures this species breeds in the Valley of Nepal, laying in April and May, and building in thorny bushes, hedges, and trees, often in the immediate neighborhood of villages. The following are two of Mr. Hodgson's notes:

"Valley, May 18th. - Nest near the top of a fir of mean size, fixed securely in the midst of several diverging branches, made compactly of dry grasses, of which the inner ones, which constitute the lining, are hard and elastic, and well fitted to preserve the shape, which is a deep cup with an internal cavity 35 inches in diameter and nearly 3 deep. It contained six eggs, milk-and-water white, with pale olive spots, chiefly at the large end, measuring 095 by 068 inch.

"Jahar Powah, May 16th. - Ascent of Sheopoori, skirts of large forests; nest on lateral branches of a large tree made of downy tops of plants, of moss and thick grasses strongly compacted, and lined with fine elastic hair-like grass; the cavity is circular, 3 inches in diameter by more than 2 inches in depth; the whole nest is a solid deep cup; it contained four eggs, bluish white, with grey-brown remote spots."

Of another nest he gives the dimensions as: external diameter 425 inches; external height 387; internal diameter 287; depth of cavity 275. He figures it as a very compact and deep cup resting on a horizontal fir branch between four or five upright sprays. He states that the young are ready to fly towards the end of June, and that it breeds only once a year.

Dr. Scully, also writing of Nepal, says: "This Shrike breeds on the hillsides of the valley, usually in places where there is no tree-forest, and not uncommonly in the neighborhood of hamlets. Several nests were obtained in May and June; these were large cup-shaped structures, composed of grass-roots, fibres, and fine seed-down intermixed. The egg-cavity was circular, lined with fine grass-stems, about 4 inches in diameter, and 2 inches deep in the middle. The usual number of eggs is five; the ground-colour pale greenish white, boldly blotched and spotted with olive marks in an irregular zone round the large end. A clutch of five eggs taken on the 14th June gave the following dimensions: 094 to 097 in length, and 065 to 07 in breadth."

Mr. Gammie found a nest of this species on the 17th May at Mongfoo, near Darjeeling, at an elevation of 3500 feet. The nest was placed in a wormwood bush, and was supported between several slender upright shoots, to which the exterior of the nest was more or less attached. The nest was a deep compact cup, externally composed of fine twigs, scraps of roots, and stems of herbaceous plants, intermingled with a great deal of flowering grass. Internally it was lined with very fine grass and moss-roots. The cavity measured about 3 inches in diameter, and was fully 2 inches deep. The external diameter was about 5 inches, and height 3 or thereabout.

Subsequently he sent me the following full account of the nidification of this Shrike:

"I have found this Shrike breeding abundantly in the Cinchona reserves in May and June, at elevations of from 3000 to 4500 feet above the sea. It affects open, cultivated places, and builds, from 6 to 20 feet from the ground, in shrubs, bamboos, or small trees. The nest is often suspended between several upright shoots, to which it is firmly attached by fibres twisted round the stems and the ends worked into the body of the nest; sometimes against a bamboo-stem seated on, and attached to, the bunch of twigs given out at a node; or in a fork of a small tree, or end of an upright cut branch where several shoots have sprung away from under the cut and keep the nest in position, when it has a large pad of an everlasting plant or of the downy heads of a large flowering grass to rest on - when the former material is handy it is preferred. The nest is sometimes exposed to view, but generally is tolerably well concealed. It is of a deep cup-shape, very compactly built of flowering grass and stems of herbaceous plants intermixed with fibry twigs, and lined with the small fibry-looking branchlets of grass-panicles.

Externally it measures 5 inches across by 3 inches in depth; internally the cavity is 3 inches in diameter by nearly 2 inches deep. Usually the eggs are either four or five in number. On one occasion only have I seen so many as six. The coloration is of two distinct types, but one type only is found in the same nest. I suspect that the age of the bird has something to do with the variation of colour in the eggs. In a nest containing four eggs one had the majority of the spots collected on the small, instead of the thick end as usual, and, strange to say, it was addled white. The other three were hard-set. The parents get very much excited when their young are approached, and, as long as the intruder is in the vicinity, keep up an incessant volley of their harsh grating cries, at the same time stretching out their necks and jerking about their tails violently."

Mr. J. R. Cripps, writing from Furreedpore in Eastern Bengal, says: "Excessively common and a permanent resident. Prefers open plains interspersed with bushes, also the small bushes on road-sides are a favorite haunt of theirs. Breeds in the district. I took ten nests this season from the 11th April to 4th June, with from one to five eggs in each. Four nests were placed in bamboo clumps from 9 to 30 feet high; one 40 feet from the ground on a casuarina-tree, one 20 feet up in a but-tree, and the rest in babul-trees at from 6 to 15 feet high from the ground. There is no attempt at concealment. The nest is a deep cup fixed in a fork, and is made of grasses with a deal of the downy tops of the same for an outside lining; this peculiarity at once distinguishes the nest of this species. The description given by Mr. Hodgson of a nest found by him on the 16th May at Jahar Powah, in 'Nests and Eggs,' p. 172, correctly describes the nests I have found. This species imitates the call of several kinds of small birds, as Sparrows, King-Crows, etc., and I have often been deceived by it."

The eggs of this species, of which, thanks to Mr. Gammie, I now possess a noble series, vary very much in shape and size. Typically they are very broad ovals, a little compressed towards one end, but moderately elongated ovals are not uncommon. The shell is very fine and smooth, and often has a more or less perceptible gloss; in no case, however, very pronounced.

There are two distinct types of coloring. In the one, the ground-colour is a delicate very pale green or greenish white, in some few pale, still faintly greenish, stone-colour; and the markings consist as a rule of specks and spots of brownish olive, mostly gathered into a broad zone about the large end, intermingled with specks and spots of pale inky purple. In some eggs the whole of the markings are very pale and washed-out, but in the majority the brownish-olive or olive-brown spots, as the case may be, are rather bright, especially in the zone. In the other type (and out of 42 eggs, 12 belong to this type) the ground-colour varies from pinky white to a warm salmon-pink, and the markings, distributed and arranged as in the first type, are a rather dull red and pale purple.

In fact the two types differ as markedly as do those of Dicrurus ater; and though I have as yet received none such, I doubt not that with a couple of hundred eggs before one intermediate varieties, as in the case of D. ater, would be found to exist - as it is, two more different looking eggs than the two types of this species could hardly be conceived. I may add that in eggs of both types it sometimes, though very rarely, happens that the zone is round the small end.

In length they vary from 082 to 101, and in breadth from 068 to 079; but the average of forty-two eggs measured is 092 by 075.

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