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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 24d

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

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500. Pericrocotus peregrinus (Linn.). Small Minivet

Pericrocotus peregrinus (Linn.), Jerdon B. Ind. i, p. 423; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 276.

Our Small Minivet lays during the latter half of June (as soon, in fact, as the rains set in), and throughout July and August. I believe it breeds pretty well all over India and Burma. The nest is small and neat, and done up generally like a Chaffinch's, to resemble the bark of the tree on which it is placed. The nests that I have seen have been invariably placed at a considerable height from the ground in the fork of a branch, most commonly, I think, a mango-tree, though I have occasionally noticed them in other trees.

The nest is a small moderately deep cup, with an internal cavity about 17 inch to 19 in diameter, and nearly an inch in depth. The sides of the nest are about 3/8 inch thick, and the thickness of the bottom of the nest varies according to the shape of the fork chosen, whether obtuse or acute-angled. In the former case the bottom of the nest is sometimes not above inch in depth. In the latter case, it is sometimes as much as an inch in thickness. It is composed of very fine, needle-like twigs (with at times here and there a few feathers) carefully bound together externally with cobwebs, and coated with small pieces of bark or dead leaves, or both, so that looked at from below with the naked eye it is impossible to distinguish it from one of the many little excrescences so common, especially on mango-trees. There appears to be rarely any regular lining, a very little down and cobwebs forming the only bed for the eggs, and even this is often wanting. Sometimes a few tiny dead leaves or a little lichen will be found incorporated in the nest, and occasionally, but rarely, fine grass-stems take the place of very slender twigs.

Three is, I believe, the normal number of the eggs. I extract a couple of old notes I made in regard to the nests of this species: "August 5th. Took three eggs of this bird, shooting the two old birds at the same time. The tree was a mango, the nest was in the fork of a branch, some 40 feet from the ground, built interiorly with very small twigs, with here and there a very few feathers intermixed, and was exteriorly coated with fine flakes of bark held in their place by gossamer threads. It was cup-shaped, with an interior diameter of 1-7/8 by inch.

"The eggs had a slightly greenish-white ground, thickly spotted and speckled, and towards the larger end blotched, with somewhat brownish red; the markings showing a decided tendency to form a zone round, or cap at the larger end."

"Aligarh, August 27th.  Another beautiful little nest in a mango-tree high up, a tiny cup about 1 inch internal diameter by inch deep, woven with very fine twigs, and exteriorly coated with tiny fragments of bark and dead leaves firmly secured in their places with gossamer threads and cobwebs. It contained two fresh eggs; a pale slightly greenish-white ground, richly speckled and spotted and sparsely blotched with a purplish and a brownish red, the markings greatly predominating towards the larger end."

Mr. F. R. Blewitt, detailing his experiences in Jhansi and Saugor, says: "Breeds in June and July. The tamarind-tree is by preference chosen by this bird for its nest; at least the three I saw were all on tamarind-trees. The nest, cup-shaped, is a compactly made structure; the exterior appeared to be composed of the very fine petioles of leaves, with a thick coating all over of what looked like spider's web; attached to this web-like substance here and there, for better disguise, were the dry leaves of the tamarind-tree; the lining of very fine grass. The outer diameter of a nest may fairly be given at 22 inches, inner at 18, depth of nest 09. Two is the regular number of eggs, at least that was the number in the three nests I took. In colour they are of a pale greenish white, sparingly speckled on the narrower half of the egg with brownish spots, but they have on the broader half the spots more dense, and forming at the end a more or less complete cap. The feat of securing a nest is a most hazardous one, for it is always fixed close in between two delicate forks at the extreme end of a slight side-branch near to the top of the tree. On each occasion that the nest was detected the male bird was found flitting about near to it, the female all the while sitting on the eggs. On the last two occasions of finding the nests, it was this flitting to and fro of the male that attracted us; otherwise the nest, is so small that from the ground the eye can scarcely distinguish it from the branch. The bird appears to be migratory, for since the termination of the breeding-season it has disappeared from these parts."

Major C. T. Bingham writes to me: "Although this bird is common enough both at Allahabad and at Delhi, I have found it difficult to find its nest, from the fact that it is placed at the very extreme tip of leafy branches. However, with careful watching and patience, I managed to find one nest at Allahabad and five at Delhi. The first I found on the 3rd July at Chupree near Allahabad. It contained two well-fledged young ones, that hopped out as soon as the nest was touched. Out of the five at Delhi I managed to get six eggs; three of the nests when found being empty, were afterwards deserted by the birds. Of the two nests with eggs, one contained four and the other two. The nests are tiny little cups, made of very fine grass, and coated externally with cobwebs, to which are attached bits of bark and dry leaves. The eggs are a greenish stone-colour, thickly speckled with light purple and brownish red. The earliest nest I have found was on the 21st March, on the banks of the canal at Delhi, so that the bird occasionally, at Delhi at least, lays in spring. The average of eggs I have is 068 in length, and 055 in breadth."

Colonel E. A. Butler furnishes us with the following interesting note: "Found a nest at Belgaum, containing two fresh eggs, on the 3rd September, 1879. It was situated in the fork of one of the small outer top branches of a tall mango-tree, and was on the whole about the prettiest nest I have seen in India. It consisted of a tiny cup about 1 x 2 inches measured interiorly, and 1-7/8 x 2 inches exteriorly. Depth inside 1 inch, outside 1 inches from rim to proper base, excluding about an inch of lichen continued down one side of the bough below the fork in which the nest was built. It was composed, so far as I could judge after a very minute examination, almost entirely of the white lichen which grows so freely on the bark of every tree during the rains, with a few cobwebs incorporated and wound round the outside to keep it together, assimilating so perfectly with the branch upon which it was placed, which was also overgrown with the same kind of lichen, that without watching the old birds closely it never could have been discovered.

"It contained no regular lining, though a few coarse dry leaf-stems of a dark colour were encircled within. I observed the birds building first on the 21st August, and the nest from below looked then almost finished. The cock and hen worked together, flying to and fro very busily with bits of lichen picked off the branches of another tree adjoining. On the 25th I watched the nest for some time, but the birds only came to it once, and then the hen bird went on and smeared some cobwebs round the outside, at least that is what she seemed to me to be doing. On the 28th I watched it again, and although both birds were in the adjoining tree, I did not see them go to the nest. On the 31st, about 10 A.M., I found the hen on the nest, and she remained on till about 10.30, when she flew off and joined the cock, who was sitting pluming himself on a branch of the next tree the whole time she was on the nest. Immediately she joined him, he commenced catching flies and feeding her, as if she were a young bird, and eventually they both flew away together. Arriving at the conclusion that she only went on the nest to lay, I decided on taking the nest three days later, and accordingly returned for that purpose with a small boy on the 3rd Sept., and found, as I expected, the hen sitting and the cock in another tree close by.

"I sent the boy up the tree, and as he approached the nest, which was some 30 or 35 feet from the ground, the hen bird became very uneasy, moving her head from side to side, and looking down to see what was going on below. When the boy was within about 10 feet of the nest she flew off and joined the cock, after which I saw her no more. The eggs were then secured with difficulty, as the branches surrounding the nest were very thin and blown about a good deal by the wind.

"After breaking off the bough, nest and all, the boy descended. One branch of the fork in which the nest was placed was rotten, and broke off at the junction at the base of the nest as the boy was descending the tree; but the nest, which was firmly bound to it with cobwebs, remained in its place and was not injured, and I had the nest and bough beautifully painted for me by a lady friend the same day. The eggs were pale bluish green, speckled and spotted, most densely at the large end, with two shades of dusky purple, the markings of the lighter shade appearing to underlie those of the darker. On the 6th Sept., the same pair of birds commenced a new nest on another mango-tree about 20 yards off. This time it was placed in a fork of one of the small outside lateral branches about 25 feet from the ground, and resembled in every respect the first nest. On the 15th Sept., the hen bird began to sit, and on the 18th I sent a boy up the tree by means of a ladder, and secured two more fresh, eggs, similar to those already described. On this occasion the two old birds evinced signs of the greatest anxiety, the hen remaining on the nest till the boy was close to her, and, joined by the cock immediately she left it, the pair kept flying from bough to bough in the greatest possible state of excitement the whole time the nest was being taken, the hen actually once or twice going on to the nest again after she had left it, when the boy was within 3 feet of her. On examining the nest I found that one of the branches of the fork consisted of a small rotten stump, similar to the one described in the first nest, and in the bottom of both nests there were three or four small black downy feathers, intermingled with the dead leaf-stems that constituted the lining."

In his recent "Notes on Birds'-nesting in Rajpootana," Lieut. H. E. Barnes writes, "The Small Minivet breeds during July and August."

Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes: "You say that the Small Minivet lays during the latter half of June and throughout July and August. I would therefore remark that on the 11th November, 1871, I saw several newly-fledged young ones at Poona. There could be no mistake about this, as I stood under the tree, which was a small one, and saw the young ones being fed."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden remark that in the Deccan it is "common, and breeds in the rains."

The latter gentleman subsequently added the following note: "In July, my men found a nest with two eggs at Nulwar, Deccan. It was built on a small branch of a tamarind-tree, 20 feet from the ground. The nest is similar to that described in the 'Rough Draft' as being found at Allyghur. The whole of the bark used on the outer coating is that of tamarind-tree, and there are a good many feathers and much down incorporated into the structure, inside and out. The eggs differ considerably in coloring. In both the ground-colour is greenish white. One is profusely speckled all over, but more thickly at the smaller end, with brownish red and a few purple blotches, whilst the other egg has the specks less numerous but larger, and chiefly on the larger end, with little or no purple, and the small end almost unsullied."

Finally, Mr. Oates records that "in Lower Pegu nests of this bird may be found from the end of April to the middle of June."

The eggs are of a rather broad oval shape, and, as is often the case even in the typical Shrikes, very blunt at both ends. The ground-colour is a pale delicate greenish white, and they are more or less richly marked with bright, slightly brownish-red specks, spots, and blotches, which, always more numerous at the large end, have a tendency there to form a mottled irregular cap. In many eggs, besides these primary markings, a number of small faint, patches and blotches of pale inky purple are observable, almost exclusively at the large end. The eggs appear to be quite devoid of gloss. I have eggs both of Copsychus saularis and Thamnobia cambaiensis, strange as it may seem, closely resembling, except in size, some types of this bird's egg; and I have one egg of Merula simillima from the Nilgiris, which, though immensely larger, so far as tint, colour, and character of ground and markings go, is positively identical with eggs that I have of this species.

In length the eggs vary from 06 to 07 inch, and in breadth from 05 to 056 inch, but the average of twenty-eight eggs is 067 nearly by 053 inch.

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