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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 23d

Order PASSERES     Family LANIIDAE   Subfamily LANIINAE

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477. Lanius tephronotus (Vigors). Grey-backed Shrike

Lanius tephronotus (Vig.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 403.
Collyrio tephronotus, (Vigors), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 258.

As far as I yet know, the Grey-backed Shrike breeds, within our limits, only in the Himalayas, and chiefly in the interior, at heights of from 5000 to 8000 feet above the sea-level. In the interior of Sikkim, in the Sutluj Valley near Chini, in Lahaul, and well up the valley of the Beas, they are pretty common during the summer; they lay from May to July, and the young are about by the end of July or the early part of August. I have never seen a nest, although I have had eggs and birds sent me from both Sikkim and the Sutluj Valley. There were only two eggs in each case, but doubtless, like other Shrikes, they lay from four to six.

Mr. Blanford remarks that L. tephronotus was "common at Láchung, in Sikkim, 8000 to 9000 feet, in the beginning of September, but three weeks later all had disappeared. Many of those seen were in young plumage, with hair on the breast, back, and scapulars."

Colonel C. H. T. Marshall records from Murree: "This species much resembles L. erythronotus, but the eggs differ considerably, being more creamy white, blotched and spotted (more particularly at the larger end) with pale red and grey. They are the same size as those of the preceding species. Lays in the beginning of July at the same elevation as L. erythronotus."

As to the size I cannot concur with the above.

Colonel Marshall has since kindly sent me two of the eggs above referred to; they are clearly, it seems to me, eggs of Dicrurus longicaudatus, or the slightly smaller hill-form named himalayanus, Tytler.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall writes: "A nest found at about three feet from the ground in a thick bush at Bheem Tal, at the edge of the lake, contained five fresh eggs on the 28th May: the nest was a coarsely built massive cup; the eggs were about the same size as those of L. erythronotus, but the spots were larger and less closely gathered than is usual with that species."

Dr. Scully says: "The Grey-backed Shrike is common in the Valley of Nepal from about the end of September to the middle of March; it is the only Shrike found in the Valley during the winter season, but it migrates further north to breed. In December it was fairly common about Chitlang, which is higher than Kathmandu, but seemed to be entirely replaced in the Hetoura Dun by L. nigriceps. It frequents gardens, groves, and cultivated ground, perching on bushes and hedges and small bare trees. It has a very harsh chattering note, louder than that of L. nigriceps, and appears to be most noisy towards sunset, when its cry would often lead one to suppose that the bird was being strangled in the clutches of a raptor."

Mr. O. Möller has kindly furnished me with the following note: "On the 7th June, 1879, my men brought a nest containing four fresh eggs, together with a bird of the present species; I send two of the eggs: perhaps you recollect the eggs of L. tephronotus, in which case you of course will be able to see at a glance if I am correct. I have never come across such large eggs of L. nigriceps, the eggs of which also as a rule have well-defined spots and no blotches; the two other eggs the nest contained measure 1 by 0·74, and 1·01 by 0·76 inch."

The eggs of this species are of the ordinary Shrike type, moderately elongated ovals, a little compressed towards the small end. The shell extremely smooth and compact, but with scarcely any perceptible gloss. The ground-colour pale greenish or yellowish white; the markings chiefly confined to a broad irregular ill-defined zone round the large end--blotches, spots, specks, and smears of pale yellowish brown more or less intermingled with small clouds and spots of pale sepia-grey or inky purple. In some eggs a good number of the smaller markings and occasionally one or two larger ones are scattered over the entire surface of the egg, but typically the bulk of the markings are comprised within the zone above referred to.

In length four eggs vary from 0·97 to 1·06 inch, and in breadth from 0·76 to 0·81 inch.

481. Lanius cristatus, Linn. Brown Shrike

Lanius cristatus, (Linn.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 406: Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 261.

I am induced to notice this species, the Brown Shrike, although I possess no detailed information as to its nidification, in consequence of Lord Walden's remarks on this subject in 'The Ibis' of 1867. He says "Does it, then, cross the vast ranges of the Himalaya in its northern migration? or does it not rather find on the southern slopes and in the valleys of those mountains all the conditions suitable for nesting?"; and he adds in a note, "It is extremely doubtful whether any passerine bird which frequents the plains of India during the cooler months crosses to the north of the snowy ranges of the Himalaya after quitting the plains to escape the rainy season or the intense heat of summer."

Now, it is quite certain, as I have shown in 'Lahore to Yarkand,' that several of our Indian passerine birds do cross the entire succession of Snowy Ranges which divide the plains of India from Central Asia, and it is tolerably certain from my researches and those of numerous contributors that L. cristatus breeds only north of these ranges. True, Tickell gives the following account of the nidification of this species in the plains of India:

"Nest found in large bushes or thickets, shallow, circular, 4 inches in diameter, rather coarsely made of fine twigs and grass. Eggs three, ordinary; 29/32 by 21/32: pale rose-colour, thickly sprinkled with blood-red spots, with a darkish livid zone at the larger end. June." But Tickell, though he warns us at the commencement of his paper (Journal As. Soc. 1848, p. 297) of the "attempts at duplicity of which the wary oologist must take good heed," gives the egg of the Sarus as plain white, and says he has seen upwards of a dozen like this, those of the Roller as full deep Antwerp blue, those of Cypselus palmarum as white with large spots of deep claret-brown, and so on, and it is quite clear that his supposed eggs and nest of L. cristatus belonged to one of the Bulbuls.

Of more than fifty oologists who have collected for me at different times in hills and plains, from the Nilgiris to Huzára on the one side, and to Sikkim on the other, not one has ever met with a nest of L. cristatus. This is doubtless purely negative evidence, but it is still entitled to considerable weight.

From the valleys of the Beas and the Sutluj, as also from Kumaon and Garhwal, these Shrikes seem to disappear entirely during the summer, and they are then, as we also know, found breeding in Yarkand. It is only in the latter part of the autumn that they reappear in the former named localities, finding their way by the commencement of the cold season to the foot of the hills.

Mr. R. Thompson, to quote one of many close observers, remarks: "This bird appears regularly at Haldwani and Ramnagar at the foot of the Kumaon Hills during the cold weather, confining itself to thick hedges and deep groves of trees. Where it goes to in summer I cannot say, it certainly does not remain in our hills."

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