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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 24a

Order PASSERES     Family LANIIDAE   Subfamily LANIINAE (continued...) & ARTAMINAE 

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488. Tephrodornis pondicerianus (Gm.). Common Wood-Shrike

Tephrodornis pondiceriana (Gm.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 410; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 265.

The Common Wood-Shrike lays during the latter half of March and April. This at least is, I think, the normal season, but Mr. W. Blevutt found a nest at Hansi on the 2nd of June containing two fresh eggs.

I have only taken one nest myself (though I have had many others sent me), and that was on the 2nd of April at Chundowah in Jodhpur, Rajpootana. The nest was in the fork of a ber tree (Zizyphus jujuba), on a small horizontal bough, about 5 feet from the ground. It was a broad shallow cup, somewhat oval interiorly, with the materials very compactly and closely put together. The basal portion and framework of the sides consisted of very fine stems of some herbaceous plant about the thickness of an ordinary pin. It was lined with a little wool and a quantity of silky fibre; exteriorly it was bound round with a good deal of the same fibre and pretty thickly felted with cobwebs. The egg-cavity measured 2·5 inches in diameter one way and only 2 the other way, while in depth it was barely ·86. The exterior diameter of the nest was about 4 inches and the height nearly 2 inches. It contained three fresh eggs, of a slightly greyish-white ground, very thickly spotted and speckled with yellowish brown, dark umber-brown, and a pale washed-out inky-purple. In all, the spots were thickest in a zone round the large end, where they became more or less confluent. I have, however, a large series of these nests, and taking them as a whole, although much more massive, they remind one no little of those of Rhipidura albifrontata and Terpsiphone paradisi and even Aegithina tiphia. They are broad shallow cups, measuring internally 2¼ inches across and about 7/8 inch in depth. They are placed in a horizontal fork of a branch, and are composed of vegetable fibre and fine grass-roots, thickly coated externally with cobwebs, by which also they are fixed on to branches, and lined internally with silky vegetable down or fibre. Externally their colour always approximates closely to the bark of the branch on which they are placed; they are not thin, basket-like structures like those of Aegithina or Rhipidura, but are fully ½ inch thick at the sides and probably ¾ inch thick at the bottom.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall writes: "The Common Wood-Shrike builds in the Saharanpur district in the latter half of March, the young being hatched early in April. The bird is common; but owing to the small size and bark-like colour of its nest, the latter is very difficult to find. On the 8th April I fired at a specimen and missed it; it then flew off and settled in a fork of another tree about 30 feet from the ground. On looking carefully with an opera-glass, I found that it was sitting on its nest. I drove it off and shot it. The nest was very small and shallow, cup-shaped, and wedged in between two small boughs at their junction, and not appearing either above or below. The egg-receptacle was 2¼ inches in diameter. The nest was made of grass and bits of bark, beautifully woven together and bound with cobwebs, and exactly resembling the boughs between which it was placed, or, I might say, wedged in. The eggs, four in number, were slightly set; they were small for the bird, and of a rather round oval shape; the colour was a creamy-yellow ground, thickly spotted and blotched with the different shades of brown and sienna, the bulk of the spots tending to form a zone near the thick end, as in the typical form, of the eggs of the Laniidae and a number of faint purple blotches underlying the zone."

Major C. T. Bingham says: "I have only found three nests of this bird, and these at Delhi. At Allahabad it was not very common. It is a difficult nest to find, being generally well hidden in the forks of leafy trees. All three nests I got were of one type - shallow saucers, made of vegetable fibre matted together into a soft felt-like substance. In two of the nests I found three and in the third one egg. These are thickly spotted and blotched with brown and a washed-out purple, on a pale greyish-yellow ground. The average measurements of the seven eggs are - length 0·77, breadth 0·61."

Colonel E. A. Butler writes from Sind:

"Hyderabad, 19th April, 1878: Noticed two young birds scarcely able to fly; fresh eggs were laid, therefore, about the beginning of March. On the 20th April near the same place I found a nest containing young birds. It consisted of a neat little cup composed of dry grass smeared all over exteriorly with cobwebs, and fixed in a fork of one of the outer branches of a large babul-tree about 10 feet from the ground. The nest was very small for the size of the bird, and had I not seen the old bird on it. I should have taken it for a nest of Rhipidura albifrontata."

The late Captain Beavan remarked that this bird "appears to come to the Maunbhoom District for the purpose of breeding. I procured the nest and eggs early in April, and the young were nearly fledged by the 20th of that month; they appear to come year after year to particular localities to breed.

"Several nests were brought me from the neighborhood of Kashurghur both in 1864 and 1865, whereas none were seen elsewhere. The nest is very small for the size of the bird, and the material of which it is composed closely resembles the bird's plumage in colour. The nest is round and very shallow, something like a Chaffinch's, being very neatly made; diameter inside 2 inches, depth 1 inch; composed of grey fibres, bits of bark, grass, and the like, cemented with spider's web. The eggs are two in number, greenish white, spotted with brown and slate-colored dots, which in most specimens form a well-defined zone round the thickest part of the egg, leaving both ends without marks. Length of the egg ·75 inch; breadth ·59 inch. This bird was not observed in Maunbhoom except during the breeding-season."

Mr. G. W. Vidal, writing from the South Konkan, remarks: "Common, as also at Sávant Vádí. Nest found with three hard-set eggs on the 18th February, low down in a mango-tree. Nest a very neat compact cap of grasses and fibres, woven throughout with spiders' webs. Eggs greyish white, with brown and inky-purple spots."

Dr. Jerdon remarks: "The nest has been brought to me in August at Nellore, chiefly made of roots and lined with hair; and the eggs, three in number, were greenish white with large brown blotches."

Major M. F. Coussmaker sends me the following note from Mysore: "I took the nest of this bird on April 16th. It was composed of fine roots and fibres closely woven into a compact nest, secured to a horizontal bough with cobweb and covered externally with lichen to match the tree. It measured in diameter 4·1 inches externally and 2·2 internally and ·8 deep. The parent bird was shot from the nest.

"The nest contained two eggs, white with brown spots and markings. They were so broken when I got them that no reliable measurements could be taken."

Lastly, Mr. Gates writes from Pegu: "Nest with three fresh eggs on the 3rd March near Pegu."

The eggs are very Shrike-like in appearance, and many of them are perfect miniatures of the eggs of Lanius lahtora, but some of them have a more uniformly brown tint than any of this latter species that I have yet met with. The ground-colour is generally either a very pale greenish white or a creamy-stone colour, and more or less thickly spotted and blotched with different shades of yellowish and reddish brown; many of the markings are almost invariably gathered into a conspicuous, but irregular and ill-defined, zone near the large end, in which zone clouds of subsurface-looking, pale, and dingy purple, not usually observable on any other portion of the egg, are thickly intermingled. The texture of the shell is fine and close, but scarcely any gloss is ever perceptible. Occasionally the eggs are very faintly colored, and have a dull white ground, while the markings consist of only a few spots and specks of very pale purple and pale rust-colour confined to a zone near the large end.

In length the eggs vary from 0·69 to 0·8 inch, and in breadth from 0·57 to 0·65 inch; but the average of a dozen eggs is 0·75 by 0·61 inch nearly.

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