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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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518. Oriolus kundoo, Sykes. Indian Oriole

Oriolus kundoo, (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. ii. p. 107; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 470.

The Indian Oriole breeds from May to August (the great majority, however, laying in June and July) almost throughout the plains country of India and in the lower ranges of the Himalayas to an elevation of 4000 feet. In Southern and Eastern Bengal it only, so far as I know, occurs as a straggler during the cold season, and I have no information of its breeding there. It does not apparently ascend the Nilgiris, and throughout the southern portion of the peninsula it breeds very sparingly, if at all; indeed, it is just at the commencement of the breeding-season, when the mangoes are ripening, that Upper India is suddenly visited by vast numbers of this species migrating from the south.

The nest is placed on some large tree, I do not think the bird has any special preference, and is a moderately deep purse or pocket, suspended between some slender fork towards the extremity of one of the higher boughs. From below it looks like a round ball of grass wedged into the fork, and the sitting bird is completely hidden within it; but when in the hand it proves to be a most beautifully woven purse, shallower or deeper as the case may be, hung from the fork of two twigs, made of fine grass and slender strips of some tenacious bark and bound round and round the twigs, and secured to them much as a prawn-net is to its wooden framework. Some nests contain no extraneous matters, but others have all kinds of odds and ends - scraps of newspaper or cloth, shavings, rags, snake-skins, thread, etc. interwoven in the exterior. The interior is always neatly lined with fine grass-stems.

Very commonly the bird so selects the site for its nest that the leaves of the twigs it uses as a framework form more or less of a shady canopy overhead; in fact, as a rule, it is from very few points of view that even a passing bird of prey can catch sight of the female on her eggs. Possibly the brilliant plumage of the bird, which has endowed it amongst the natives with the name of Peeluk, (The Yellow One) may have had something to do with the concealment it so generally affects.

The nests vary a good deal in size. I have seen one with an internal cavity 3 inches in diameter and over 2 deep. I have seen others scarcely over 2 inches in diameter and not 2 in depth, which you could have put bodily, twigs and all, inside the former. As a rule, the purse is strong and compact, the material closely matted and firmly bound together; but I have seen very flimsy structures, through which it was quite possible to see the eggs.

Four is the greatest number of eggs I have ever found in one nest, but it is quite common to find only three well-incubated ones.

Colonel C. H. T. Marshall reports having found several nests of this species about Murree at low elevations.

Mr. W. Blewitt tells me that he obtained two nests near Hansi (now in Haryana) on the 1st and 14th July respectively. The nests (which he kindly sent) were of the usual type, and were placed, the one on an acacia, the other on a loquat tree, at heights of 10 and 12 feet from the ground. Each contained three eggs, the one clutch much incubated, the other perfectly fresh.

Dr. Scully writes: "The Indian Oriole is a seasonal visitant to the valley of Nepal, arriving about the 1st of April and departing in August. It frequents some of the central woods, gardens, and groves, and breeds in May and June."

Colonel J. Biddulph remarks regarding the nidification of this Oriole in Gilgit: "A summer visitant and common. Appears about the 1st of May. Nest with three eggs hard-set, taken 8th of June; several other nests taken later on."

Writing from near Rohtak, Mr. F. R. Blewitt says: "The breeding-season is from the middle of May to July. The nest is made on large trees, and always suspended between the fork of a branch. I have certainly obtained more nests from the tamarind than any other kind of tree.

"The nest is cup-shaped, light, neat, and compact. The average outer diameter is 48 inches; the inner or cup-cavity about 36. Hemp-like fibre is almost exclusively used in the exterior structure of the nest, and by this it is firmly secured to the two limbs of the fork. Cleverly indeed is this work performed, the hemp being well wrapped round the stems and then brought again into the outer framework. Occasionally bits of cloth, thread pieces, vegetable fibres, etc. are introduced. On one occasion I got a nest with a cast-off snake-skin neatly worked into the outer material.

"The lining of the egg-cavity is simply fine grass, if we except the occasional capricious addition of a feather or two, an odd piece of cotton or rag, etc. Three appears to be the regular number of eggs. This bird is to be found in small numbers all over the country here; its habits are well described by Jerdon. It is, as I have observed, hard to please in its choice of a nest site. I have watched it for days going backwards and forwards, from tree to tree and from fork to fork, before it made up its mind where to commence work."

Capt. Hutton records that "this is a common bird in the Dhoon, and arrives at Jerripanee, elevation 4500 feet, in the summer months to breed. Its beautiful cradle-like nest was taken in the Dhoon on the 29th of May, at which time it contained three pure white eggs, sparingly sprinkled over with variously sized spots of deep purplish-brown, giving the egg the appearance of having been splashed with dark mud. The spots are chiefly at the larger end, but there is no indication of a ring. The nest is a slight, somewhat cup-shaped cradle, rather longer than wide, and is so placed, between the fork of a thin branch, as to be suspended between the limbs by having the materials of the two sides bound round them. It is composed of fine dry grasses, both blade and stalk, intermixed with silky and cottony seed-down, especially at that part where the materials are wound round the two supporting twigs; and in the specimen before me there are several small silky cocoons of a diminutive Bombyx attached to the outside, the silk of which has been interwoven with the fibres of the external nest. It is so slightly constructed as to be seen through, and it appears quite surprising that so large a bird, to say nothing of the weight of the three or four young ones, does not entirely destroy it."

From Futtehgurh, the late Mr. A. Anderson remarked: "The nest and eggs of this bird so closely resemble those of its European congener (O. galbula) that little or no description is necessary. The Mango-bird lays throughout the rains, July being the principal month. One very beautifully constructed nest was taken by me on the 9th July, 1872, containing four eggs, which, according to my experience, is in excess of the number usually laid. I have frequently taken only a pair of well-incubated eggs.

"Two of the four eggs above alluded to were quite fresh, while the other two were tolerably well incubated. The nest is fitted outwardly with tow, which I have never before seen. One of the pieces of cloth used in the construction of this nest was 6 inches long."

"At Lucknow," writes Mr. R. M. Adam, "I found this species on the 20th May building a nest in a neem-tree, and on the 24th I took two eggs from the nest. On the 10th June I saw another pair, only making love, so they probably did not lay till the end of that month."

Dr. Jerdon notes that he "procured a nest at Saugor from a high branch of a banian tree in cantonments. It was situated between the forks of a branch, made of fine roots and grass, with some hair and a feather or two internally, and suspended by a long roll of cloth about three quarters of an inch wide, which it must have pilfered from a neighboring verandah where a tailor worked. This strip was wound round each limb of the fork, then passed round the nest beneath, fixed to the other limb, and again brought round the nest to the opposite side; there were four or five of these supports on either side. It was indeed a most curious nest, and so securely fixed that it could not have been removed till the supporting bands had been cut or rotted away. The eggs were white, with a few dark claret-colored spots."

Major Wardlaw Ramsay says, writing from Afghanistan: "At Shalofyan, in the Kurrum valley, in June, I found them in great numbers: some were breeding; but as I saw quite young birds, it is probable that the nesting-season was nearly over."

Colonel Butler contributes the following note: "The Indian Oriole breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa in the months of May, June, and July. I took nests on the following dates:

"24th May, 1876. A nest containing 1 fresh egg.
29th " " " " 3 fresh eggs.
12th June " " " 2 much incubated eggs.
12th " " " " 3 fresh eggs.
13th " " " " 2 "
19th " " " " 3 "
29th " " " " 2 "
29th " " " " 2 "
29th " " " " 3 "
3rd July " " " 2 "
6th " " " " 3 "
30th " " " " 2 "

"The nest found on the 24th May was suspended from a small fork of a neem-tree about ten feet from the ground, and was very neatly built of dry grass (fine interiorly, coarse exteriorly), old rags, and cotton (woven, not raw). The rim was firmly bound to the branches of the fork with rags and coarse blades of dry grass. It is an easy nest to find when the birds are building, as both birds are always together and keep constantly flying to and from the nest with materials for building. The cock, as before mentioned, always accompanies the hen to and from the nest whilst she is building; but I do not think he assists in its construction, as I never saw him carrying any of the materials, neither have I ever seen him on the nest. On the contrary, whilst the hen is at the nest building he is generally waiting for her, either on the same tree or else on another close by, occasionally uttering his well-known rich mellow note. On the 29th May I sent a boy up a tree to examine a nest. The hen bird had been sitting for a week, and was on the nest when the boy ascended the tree. The cock bird flew past, and being a brilliant specimen I shot him, thinking of course that the nest contained a full complement of eggs. To my astonishment, however, though the hen bird sat very close, there were no eggs in the nest, and although she returned to it once or twice afterwards, she eventually forsook it without laying. Possibly she may have laid, and that the eggs were destroyed by Crows. In addition to the materials already mentioned, this nest was also composed of tow, string, and strips of paper, all neatly woven into the exterior, and many of the other nests mentioned were exactly similar; sometimes I have found pieces of snake-skin woven into the exterior.

"On the 9th of July I observed a pair of Orioles building on a Neem tree in one of the compounds in Deesa. When the nest was nearly finished a gale of wind rose one night and scattered it all over the bough it was fixed to. The birds at once commenced to remove it, and in a couple of days carried off: every particle of it to another tree about 100 yards off, upon which they built a new nest of the materials they had removed from the other tree. I ascended the tree on the 17th of July, and found it contained three fresh eggs.

"The eggs are pure white, sparingly spotted with moderately-sized blackish-looking spots, if washed the spots run. They vary a good deal in shape and size, some being very perfect ovals, others greatly elongated, etc."

Major C. T. Bingham writes: "The Indian Oriole builds at Allahabad and at Delhi from the beginning of April to the end of July. In the cold weather this bird seems to migrate more or less, as but few are seen and none heard during that season. The nests are built generally at the top of mango-trees and well concealed; they are constructed of fine grass, beautifully soft, mixed with strips of plaintain-bark, with which, or with strips of cotton cloth purloined from somewhere, the nest is usually bound to a fork in the branch. The egg-cavity is pretty deep, that is to say from 1 to 3 inches."

Mr. George Reid records the following note from Lucknow: "The Mango-bird, or Indian Oriole, though a permanent resident, is never so abundant during the cold weather as it is during the hot and rainy seasons from about the time the mango-trees begin to bloom to the end of September. It frequents gardens, avenues, mango-topes, and is frequently seen in open country, taking long flights between trees, principally the banian and other Fici, upon the berries and buds of which it feeds. I have the following record of its nests:

"June 16th. Nest and no eggs (building).
July 2nd. 2 eggs (fresh).
July 2nd. 1 egg (fresh).
July 5th. 3 eggs (fresh).
July 25th. 3 young (just hatched).
August 5th. 2 young (fledged)."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden, writing of this bird in the Deccan, say: "Common, and breeds in June and July."

Colonel A. C. McMaster informs us that he "found several nests of this bird at Kamptee during June and July; they corresponded exactly with Jerdon's admirable description. Has any writer mentioned that this bird has a faint, but very sweet and plaintive song, which he continues for a considerable time? I have only heard it when a family, old and young, were together, i.e. at the close of the breeding-season."

Lieut. H. E. Barnes, writing of Rajpootana in general, tells us that this Oriole breeds during July and August.

Mr. C. J. W. Taylor, speaking of Manzeerabad in Mysore, says: "Abundant in the plains. Rare in the higher portions of the district. Breeding in June and July."

The eggs are typically a moderately elongated oval, tapering a good deal towards one end, but they vary much in shape as well as size. Some are pyriform, and some very long and cylindrical, quite the shape of the egg of a Cormorant or Solan Goose, or that of a Diver. They are always of a pure excessively glossy china-white, which, when they are fresh and unblown, appears suffused with a delicate salmon-pink, caused by the partial translucency of the shell. Well-defined spots and specks, typically black, are more or less thinly sprinkled over the surface of the egg, chiefly at the large end. Normally, as I said, the spots are black and sharply defined, and there are neither blotches nor splashes, but numerous variations occur. Sometimes, as in an egg sent me by Mr. Nunn, all the spots are pale yellowish brown. Sometimes, as in an egg I took at Bareilly, a few spots of this colour are mingled with the black ones. Deep reddish brown often takes the place of the typical black, and the spots are not very unfrequently surrounded by a more or less extensive brownish-pink nimbus, which in one egg I have is so extensive that the ground-colour of the whole of the large end appears to be a delicate pink. Occasionally several of the clear-cut spots appear to run together and form a coarse irregular blotch, and one egg I possess exhibits on one side a large splash. The eggs as a body, as might have been expected, closely resemble those of the Golden Oriole, to which the bird itself is so nearly related; and as observed by Professor Newton in regard to the eggs of that species, so in my large series, the prevalence of greatly elongated examples is remarkable.

The eggs vary in length from 103 to 132, and from 075 to 087 in breadth; but the average of fifty eggs measured was 111 by 081.

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