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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 23e

Order PASSERES     Family LANIIDAE   Subfamily LANIINAE

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484. Hemipus picatus (Sykes). Black-backed Pied Shrike

Hemipus picatus (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 412; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no 267.

I quite agree with Mr. Gray that this bird is a Flycatcher and not a Shrike; no one in fact who has watched it in life can have any doubt on this subject; but yet, except for their being more strongly marked, its eggs have no doubt a very Shrike-like character, at the same time that they exhibit many affinities to those of Rhipidura albifrontata and other undoubted Flycatchers.

Mr. W. Davison says: "About the first week in March 1871, I found at Ootacamund a nest of this bird placed in the fork of one of the topmost branches of a rather tall Berberis leschenaulti. For the size of the bird this was an exceedingly small shallow nest, and from its position between the fork, its size, and the materials of which it was composed externally, might very easily have passed unnoticed; the bird sitting on it appeared to be sitting only on a small lump of moss and lichen, the whole of the bird's tail, and as low down as the lower part of the breast, being visible. The nest was composed of grass and fine roots covered externally with cobweb and pieces of a grey lichen, and bits of moss taken apparently from the same tree on which the nest was built: the eggs were three in number. The tree on which this nest was built was opposite my window, and I watched the birds building for nearly a week; and, again, when having the nest taken, the birds sat till the native lad I had sent up put out his hand to take the nest. I am absolutely certain, as to the identity of this nest and these eggs."

The eggs brought me by Mr. Davison, of the authenticity of which he is positive, are very Shrike-like in their appearance; they are rather elongated ovals, somewhat obtuse at both ends, and entirely devoid of gloss. The ground-colour is a pale greenish or greyish white, and they are profusely blotched, spotted, and streaked with darker and lighter shades of umber-brown; in both eggs these markings are more or less confluent along a broad zone, which in one egg encircles the larger, in the other the smaller end: these eggs measure 07 by 05 inch and 069 by 049 inch.

Captain Horace Terry writes from the Palani Hills: "Pittur Valley. I had a nest brought me which from the description of the bird must, I think, have belonged to this species. Nest rather a shallow cup placed in a thorny tree about ten feet from the ground, neatly made of grass and moss, lined with fine grass and a few feathers, covered a great deal on the outside with dusky-colored cobwebs, 25 inches across and 15 inch deep inside, and 325 inches to 35 inches across, and 225 inches deep outside: contained five very much incubated eggs; shape and marking exactly like those of L. caniceps, having a well-defined zone round the larger end; size about the same or rather smaller than those of Pratincola bicolor."

485. Hemipus capitalis (McClelland). Brown-backed Pied Shrike

Hemipus capitalis (McClell.), Hume, cat. no. 267 A.

I must premise that to the best of my belief there is no such thing as H. capitalis, McClell., in India, or, in other words, that this latter name is a mere synonym of H. picatus.*

*[Mr. Hume would probably now agree with me that H. picatus and H. capitalis are distinct species. H. picatus, however, is not confined to Southern India, but occurs along the Terais of Sikkim and Nepal, and throughout Burma. H. capitalis occurs on the Himalayas from Garhwal to Assam. There is little doubt that Captain Hutton's nest did not really belong to a Pied Shrike.--ED.]

Mr. Blyth remarks, Ibis, 1866: "Hemipus picatus. Under this name two very distinct species are brought together by Dr. Jerdon: H. capitalis (McClell., 1839; H. picaecolor, Hodgson, 1845) of the Himalaya, which is larger, with proportionally longer tail, and has a brown back; and H. picatus (Sykes) of Southern India and Ceylon, which has a black back. Mr. Wallace has good series of both of them.

"Hemipus capitalis has accordingly to be added to the birds of India."

Now, out of India, Mr. Wallace may have got hold of some brown-backed Hemipus, which is really distinct, but nothing is more certain (I speak after comparison of a large series from Southern India with a still larger, gathered from all parts of the Himalayas) than that the Southern and Northern Indian birds are identical, and that in both localities the males have black and the females brown backs.

Capt. T. Hutton says: "On the 12th of May I procured a nest of this bird in the Dehradoon; it was placed on the ground at the base of an overhanging rock, and was composed entirely of the hair of horses and cows and other cattle, which had doubtless been collected from the bushes and pasture-lands in the vicinity. There were four eggs of a pale sea-green, spotted with rufous-brown, and forming an indistinct and nearly confluent ring at the larger end. The bird had begun to sit.

"This curious little species is not uncommon in the outer hills up to 5000 feet in the summer months."

The three eggs sent me by Captain Hutton appear to differ somewhat conspicuously from any other eggs of the Laniidae that I have yet seen. The ground-colour is a very pale greenish white, and they are moderately thickly freckled and mottled all over, but most densely towards the large end (where, in one egg, there is a well-marked, though somewhat irregular, zone), with pale brownish pink and very pale purple. In shape the eggs are very regular, rather broad ovals, and appear to have but little or no gloss. They vary in length from 066 to 07 inch, and in breadth from 053 to 055 inch.

Dr. Jerdon's evidence, so far as it goes, tallies with Captain Hutton's account. He says: "I obtained its nest once at Darjeeling, made of roots and grasses, with three greenish-white eggs, having a few rusty-red spots."

From Sikkim, Mr. Gammie writes: "At page 178 of 'Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds' (Rough Draft), Captain T. Hutton's description of the nest and eggs of Hemipus picatus is given, and at page 179 that of Mr. W. Davison. The two descriptions differ so radically that, as there remarked, one of the two must be in error. Permit me to record my limited experience of the nesting of this bird.

"Common as it is in Sikkim I have but once taken its nest, and that in the first week of May, at 4000 feet elevation. The nest, which is well described by Mr. Davison, is made of black, fibry roots, sparingly lined with fine grass-stalks, and covered outwardly with small pieces of lichens bound to the sides with cobwebs. It is a very neat diminutive cup, measuring externally 19 inch across by an inch deep; internally 15 by half an inch.

"The whole nest, although quite a substantially built structure, is barely the eighth part of an ounce in weight. It was placed on the upper side of a horizontal branch close to its broken end, about fifteen feet from the ground, and contained two fresh eggs. I send you the nest and an egg, both of which will, I think, be found on comparison to agree exactly with those taken by Mr. Davison."

Mr. Mandelli has sent me two nests of this species, found on the 15th August above Namtchu in Native Sikkim. They were placed about two feet from each other, each in a small fork of the branches of a small tree which was situated in heavy forest. Each contained two fresh eggs. The nests are very similar, but one is rather larger and less tidily finished-off than the other. Both are shallow cups, miniatures of some of the nests of Dicrurus, composed of excessively fine grass-stems, coated exteriorly all round the sides with cobwebs, and, in the case of one of them, plastered exteriorly with tiny films of bark and dry leaves like some of the nests of the Pericrocoti. Both have a little soft silky vegetable down at the bottom of the cavity. The one nest is about two inches, the other about two and a half inches in diameter exteriorly, and both are a little less than three quarters of an inch high outside. The cavity in the one is about an inch and a half, in the other about an inch and three quarters in diameter, and both are about half an inch deep.

Eggs received from Sikkim are broad ovals, glossless, with greenish-white grounds, profusely speckled and mottled with slightly varying shades of brown, here and there intermingled with dull, pale inky purple. The markings are densest generally round the broadest part of the egg. They measured from 061 to 07 in length, and from 051 to 055 in breadth.

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