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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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550. Acridotheres melanosternus, Legge. Common Ceylon Myna

Acridotheres melanosternus, (Legge), Hume, cat. no. 684 bis.

Colonel Legge tells us, in his 'Birds of Ceylon,' that "this species breeds in Ceylon from February until May, nesting perhaps more in the month of March than in any other. It builds in holes of trees, often choosing a cocoanut-palm which has been hollowed out by a Woodpecker, and in the cavity thus formed makes a nest of grass, fibres, and roots. I once found a nest in the end of a hollow areca-palm which was the cross beam of a swing used by the children of the Orphan School, Bonavista, and the noise of whose play and mirth seemed to be viewed by the birds with the utmost unconcern. The eggs are from three to five in number; they are broad ovals, somewhat pointed towards the small end, and are uniform, unspotted, pale bluish or ethereal green. They vary in length from 107 to 12 inch and in breadth from 085 to 092 inch.

"Layard styles the eggs 'light blue, much resembling those of the European Starling in shape, but rather darker in colour.'"

551. Acridotheres ginginianus (Latham). Bank Myna

Acridotheres ginginianus (Latham), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 326; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 685.

The Bank Myna breeds throughout the North-West Provinces and Oudh, Bihar, and Central Bengal, the greater portion of the Central Provinces, and the Punjab and Sindh. Adams says it does not occur in the Punjab; but, as Colonel C. H. T. Marshall correctly pointed out to me years ago, and I have verified the facts, it breeds about Lahore and many other places, and in the high banks of the Beas, the Sutluj, the Jhelum, and the Indus, congregating in large numbers on these rivers just as it does on the Jumna or the Ganges.

It builds exclusively, so far as my experience goes, in earthen banks and cliffs, in holes which it excavates for itself, always, I think, in close proximity to water, and by preference in places overhanging or overlooking running water. The breeding-season lasts from the middle of April to the middle of July, but I have found more eggs in May than in any other month.

Four is the usual number of the eggs; I have found five, but never more. If Theobald got seven or eight, they belonged to two pairs; and the nests so run into each other that this is a mistake that might easily be made, even where coolies were digging into the bank before one.

There is really no variety in their nesting arrangements, and a note I recorded in regard to one colony that I robbed will, I think, sufficiently illustrate the subject. All that can be said is that very commonly they nest low down in earthy cliffs, where it is next to impossible to explore thoroughly their workings, while in the instance referred to these were very accessible:

"One morning, driving out near Bareilly, we found that a colony of the Bank Myna had taken possession of some fresh excavations on the banks of a small stream. The excavation was about 10 feet deep, and in its face, in a band of softer and sandier earth than the rest of the bank, about a foot below the surface of the ground, these Mynas had bored innumerable holes. They had taken no notice of the workman who had been continuously employed within a few yards of them, and who informed us that the Mynas had first made their appearance there only a month previously.

On digging into the bank we found the holes all connected with each other, in one place or another, so that apparently every Myna could get into or out from its nest by any one of the hundred odd holes in the face of the excavation. The holes averaged about 3 inches in diameter, and twisted and turned up and down, right and left, in a wonderful manner; each hole terminated in a more or less well-marked bulb (if I may use the term), or egg-chamber, situated from 4 to 7 feet from the face of the bank. The egg-chamber was floored with a loose nest of grass, a few feathers, and, in many instances, scraps of snake-skins.

"Are birds superstitious, I wonder? Do they believe in charms? If not what induces so many birds that build in holes in banks to select out of the infinite variety of things, organic or inorganic, pieces of snake-skin for their nests? They are at best harsh, unmanageable things, neither so warm as feathers, which are ten times more numerous, nor so soft as cotton or old rags, which lie about broadcast, nor so cleanly as dry twigs and grass. Can it be that snakes have any repugnance to their 'worn out weeds,' that they dislike these mementos of their fall*, and that birds which breed in holes into which snakes are likely to come by instinct select these exuviae as scare-snakes?

*["When the snake," says an Arabic commentator, "tempted Adam it was a winged animal. To punish its misdeeds the Almighty deprived it of wings, and condemned it thereafter to creep for ever on its belly, adding, as a perpetual reminder to it of its trespass, a command for it to cast its skin yearly."]

"In some of the nests we found three or four callow young ones, but in the majority of the terminal chambers were four, more or less, incubated eggs.

"I noticed that the tops of all the mud-pillars (which had been left standing to measure the work by) had been drilled through, and through by the Mynas, obviously not for nesting-purposes, as not one of them contained the vestige of a nest, but either for amusement or to afford pleasant sitting-places for the birds not engaged in incubation. Whilst we were robbing the nests, the whole colony kept screaming and flying in and out of these holes in the various pillar-tops in a very remarkable manner, and it may be that, after the fashion of Lapwings, they thought to lead us away from their eggs and induce a belief that their real homes were in the pillar tops."

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall remarks: "This species breeds in the Bolundshahr District in June and July. It makes its nest in a hole in a bank, but more often in the side of a kucha or earthen well. A number of birds generally breed in company. The nest is formed by lining the cavity with a little grass and roots and a few feathers. On the 8th July I found a colony breeding in a well near Khoorjah, and took a dozen fresh eggs."

Writing from Lucknow, Mr. G. Reid says: "During the breeding season it associates in large flocks along the banks of the Gomti, where it nidificates in colonies in holes in the banks of the river. From some of these holes I took a few fresh eggs on the 15th May, and again on the 30th June on revisiting the spot. In the district it breeds in old irrigation-wells and occasionally in ravines with good steep banks."

Major C. T. Bingham, writing from Allahabad, says: "Breeds in June, July, and August in holes in sandy banks of rivers and nullahs. Eggs, five in number, laid on a lining of straw and feathers."

Colonel E. A. Butler notes: "The Bank Myna lays about Deesa in June and July. On the 26th June I lowered a man down several wells, finding nests containing eggs and nests containing young ones, some nearly fledged. The nests are generally in holes in the brickwork, often further in than a man can reach, and several pairs of birds usually occupy the same well. The eggs vary much in shape and number. In some nests I found as many as five, in others only two or three. In colour they closely resemble the eggs of A. tristis, but they are slightly smaller, the tint is of a decidedly deeper shade, and the shell more glossy. July 5th, several nests, some containing eggs, others young ones. July 13th, numerous nests in wells and banks, some containing fresh, others incubated eggs, and others young birds of all sizes. The eggs varied in number from two to five. I took twenty-six fresh eggs and then discontinued."

Lieut. H. E. Barnes informs us that in Rajpootana this Myna breeds about May.

The eggs are typically, I think, shorter and proportionally broader than those of other kindred species already described; very pyriform varieties are, however, common. They are as usual spotless, very glossy, and of different shades of very pale sky- and greenish blue. Although, when a large series of the eggs of this and each of the preceding species are grouped together, a certain difference is observable, individual eggs can by no means be discriminated, and it is only by taking the eggs with one's own hand that one can feel certain of their authenticity.

In length they vary from 095 to 116, and in breadth from 072 to 087; but the average of forty-seven eggs is 105 by 082.

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