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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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521. Oriolus melanocephalus (Linn.). Indian Black-headed Oriole

Oriolus melanocephalus, (Linn.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 110; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E no. 472.
Oriolus ceylonensis, (Bonap.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 111.

I have already noticed ('Stray Feathers,' vol. i, p. 439) how impossible it is to draw any hard-and-fast line, in practice, between this the so-called "Bengal Black-headed Oriole" and the supposed distinct southern species, (O. ceylonensis), Bp.

The present species certainly breeds in suitable (i.e. well-wooded and not too bare or arid) localities throughout Northern and Central India, Assam, and Burma, and I have specimens from Mahableshwar, from the Nilgiris, and even Anjango, that are nearer to typical O. melanocephalus than to typical O. ceylonensis. Of its nidification southwards I know nothing. I have only myself taken its eggs in the neighborhood of Calcutta.

It appears to lay from April to the end of August. The nest of this species, though perhaps slightly deeper, is very much like that of O. kundoo; it is a deep cup, carefully suspended between two twigs, and is composed chiefly of tow-like vegetable fibres, thin slips of bark and the like, and is internally lined with very fine tamarisk twigs or fine grass, and is externally generally more or less covered over with odds and ends, bits of lichen, thin flakes of bark, etc. It is slightly smaller than the average run of the nests of O. kundoo. The egg-cavity measures about 3 inches in diameter and nearly 2 inches in depth. I myself have never found more than three eggs, but I daresay that, like O. kundoo, it may not unfrequently lay four.

The late Captain Beavan writes: "A nest with three eggs, brought to me in Manbhoom on 5th April, 1865, is cup-shaped; interior diameter 3·5, depth inside 2 inches. It is composed outside of woolly fibres, flax, and bits of dried leaves, and inside of bents and small dried twigs, the whole compact and neat. The eggs are of a light pink ground (almost flesh-colored), with a few scattered spots of brownish pink, darker and more numerous at the blunt end. They measure 1·125 by barely 0·8."

From Raipur, Mr. F. R. Blewitt remarks: "Oriolus melanocephalus indiscriminately selects the mango, mowah, or any other kind of large tree for its nest, which is invariably firmly attached to the extreme terminal twigs of an upper horizontal branch, varying from 20 to 35 feet from the ground. Owing to the position it selects for the safety of its nest, it sometimes happens that the latter cannot be secured without the destruction of the eggs. It nidificates in June and July, and it would appear that both the birds, male and female, engage in the construction of the nest. Three is the normal number of the eggs, though on one occasion my shikaree found four in a nest."

Buchanan Hamilton tells us that this species "frequents the groves and gardens of Bengal during the whole year, and builds a very rude nest of bamboo-leaves and the fibres that invest the top of the cocoanut or other palms. In March I found a nest with the young unfledged."

I confess that I believe this to be a mistake: neither season nor nest correspond with what I have myself seen about Calcutta. The nests, so far from being rude, are very neat.

Mr. J. R. Cripps writes from Furreedpore in Eastern Bengal: "Very common, and a permanent resident. On the 20th April I found a nest containing two half-fledged young ones; in the garden was a clump of mango-trees, and attached to one of the outer twigs, but overhung by a lot of leaves, and about 12 feet from the ground, hung the nest, of the usual type."

Mr. J. Davidson met with this Oriole on the Kondabhari Ghât in Khandeish. On the 16th August he saw a brood, while on an adjoining tree there was a nest with two slightly-set eggs. He says: "It was a very deep cup on the end of a thin branch, and though in cutting the branch to get at the nest, it got turned at right angles to its proper position, the eggs were uninjured. I do not think this nest belonged to the same pair as that which had young ones flying.

"These Orioles are very common here, and I found three nests: one was new and empty; from another the birds had just flown; while the remaining one contained one fresh egg. The bird would no doubt have laid more; but to get at the nest I had to cut the branch off, and it was only then I discovered that only one egg had been laid."

Major C. T. Bingham says: "Plentiful at Allahabad across the Ganges, notwithstanding which I only found one nest, and that I have no note about, but I remember it was some time in June, and contained four half-fledged young ones; the materials of the nest were the same as those used by O. kundoo."

Writing of his experience in Tenasserim he adds: "On the 5th March I found a nest of this bird in a small tree near the village of Hpamee. It, however, contained three unfledged young, so I left it alone.

"On the 21st April I found a second nest suspended from the tip of a bamboo that overhung the path from Shwaobah village to Hpamee. This contained two awfully hard-set eggs, white, with a few dark purple blotches and spots at the larger ends. Nest made of grass and dry bamboo-leaves, lined with the dry midribs of leaves, and firmly bound on to the fork of the bamboo with a strip of some bark."

Mr. Oates writes from Pegu: "My nests of this Oriole have been found in March, April, and May, but I have no doubt they also breed in June. No details appear necessary."

Typically the eggs are somewhat elongated ovals, only slightly compressed towards one end, but pyriform as well as more pointed varieties may be met with. The shell is very fine and moderately glossy. The ground-colour varies from a creamy or pinky white to a decided but very pale salmon-colour. They are sparingly spotted and streaked with dark brown and pale inky purple. In most eggs the markings are more numerous towards the large end. Some have no markings elsewhere. The dark spots, especially towards the large end, are not unfrequently more or less enveloped in a reddish-pink nimbus. Though much larger and much more glossy, some of the eggs, so far as shape, colour, and markings go, exactly resemble some of the eggs of Dicrurus ater. The eggs of O. kundoo are typically excessively glossy china-white, with few well-defined black spots. The eggs of O. melanocephalus are typically somewhat less glossy, with a pinky ground and more numerous and less defined brownish-purple spots and streaks. I have not yet seen one egg of either species that could be mistaken for one of the other, although of course abnormal varieties of each approach each other more closely than do the typical forms.

The dozen eggs that I possess of this species vary from 1·1 to 1·2 in length, and from 0·78 to 0·87 in breadth, and the average is 1·14 by 0·82. Although the average is somewhat larger than that of the preceding species, and although none of the eggs are quite as small as many of those of O. kundoo, still none are nearly so large as the finest specimens of the latter's egg. Probably had I an equally large series of the eggs of the present species, we should find that as regards size there was no perceptible difference between the two.

522. Oriolus traillii (Vigors). Maroon Oriole

Oriolus traillii (Vigors), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 112; Hume, cat. no. 474.

From Sikkim Mr. Gammie writes: "I took a nest of this Oriole on the 24th April, at an elevation of about 2500 feet. It was suspended, within ten feet of the ground, from an outer fork of a branch of a small leafy tree, which grew in a patch of low dense jangle. It is a neat cup, composed of fibrous bark and strips of the outer part of dry grass-stems, intermixed with skeletonized leaves and green moss, and lined with fine grass. Besides being firmly bound by the rim of the cup to the horizontal forking branches by fibrous barks, several strings extended from one branch to the other, both under and in front of the nest, while other strings from the body of the nest were fastened to an upright twig that rose immediately behind the fork, thus most securely retaining it in its position.

"Externally the nest measured 5 inches wide by 2·75 in height; internally 3·25 wide by 2 deep. It contained three fresh eggs.

"The female came quite close, making loud complaints against the robbing of her nest."

The nest is that of a typical Oriole, usually very firmly and substantially built, and of course always suspended at a fork between two twigs. A nest taken by Mr. Gammie in Sikkim on the 20th April, at an elevation of about 2500 feet, is a deep substantial cup, nearly 4 inches in diameter and 2½ in depth internally. It is everywhere nearly an inch in thickness. The suspensory portion composed of vegetable fibres; towards the exterior dead leaves, bamboo-sheaths, green moss, and tendrils of creeping plants are profusely intermingled; interiorly, it is closely and regularly lined with very fine grass.

A nest sent me by Mr. Mandelli was found on the 3rd April at Namtchu, and contained three fresh eggs. It is precisely similar to the one above described, except that in the lining roots are mingled with the fine grass, and that instead of being suspended in a fork, it was partly wedged into and partly rested on a fork.

As a rule, however, as I know from other nests subsequently obtained, the nests are always suspended like those of the Common Oriole.

Two eggs of this species obtained by Mr. Gammie closely resemble those of O. melanocephalus. In shape they are regular moderately elongated ovals; the shell is strong, firm, and moderately glossy. The ground is white with a creamy or brownish-pink tinge; the markings are blackish-brown spots and specks, almost confined to a zone about the large end, where they are all more or less enveloped in a brownish-red haze or nimbus. In length they measure 1·12 by 0·82, and 1·14 by 0·83.

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