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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 3a

Order PASSERES     Family CORVIDAE     Subfamily CORVINAE

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4. Corvus macrorhynchus, Wagler. Jungle Crow

Corvus culminatus, (Sykes,) Jerdon B, Ind. ii, p. 295,
Corvus levaillantii; (Less.), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 660.

The Jungle Crow (under which head I include* C. culminatus, Sykes, C. intermedius, Adams, C. andamanensis, Tytler, and each and all of the races that occur within our limits) breeds almost everywhere in India, alike in the low country and in the hills both of Southern and Northern India, to an elevation of fully 8000 feet.

*[See 'Stray Feathers,' vol. ii. 1874, p. 243, and 'Lahore to Yarkand,' p. 85.]

March to May is, I consider, the normal breeding-season; in the plains the majority lay in April, rarely later, and in the hills in May; but in the plains a few birds lay also in February.

The nest is placed as a rule on good-sized trees and pretty near their summits. In the plains mangos and tamarinds seem to be preferred, but I have found the nests on many different kinds of trees. The nest is large, circular, and composed of moderate-sized twigs; sometimes it is thick, massive, and compact; sometimes loose and straggling; always with a considerable depression in the centre, which is smoothly lined with large quantities of horsehair, or other stiff hair, grass, grass-roots, cocoanut-fibre, etc. In the hills they use any animal's hair or fur, if the latter is pretty stiff. They do not, according to my experience, affect luxuries in the way of soft down; it is always something moderately stiff, of the coir or horsehair type; nothing soft and fluffy. Coarse human hair is often taken, when it can be got, in lieu of horsehair.

They lay four or five eggs. I have quite as often found the latter as the former number. I have never myself seen six eggs in one nest, but I have heard, on good authority, of six eggs being found.

Captain Unwin writes: "I found a nest of the Bow-billed Corby in the Agrore Valley, containing four eggs, on the 30th April. It was placed in a Cheer tree about 40 feet from the ground, and was made of sticks and lined with dry grass and hair."

Mr. W. Theobald makes the following remarks on the breeding of this bird in the Valley of Kashmir:

"Lays in the third week of April. Eggs four in number, ovato-pyriform, measuring from 1·6 to 1·7 in length and from 1·2 to 1·25 in breadth. Colour green spotted with brown; valley generally. Nest placed in Chinar and difficult trees."

Captain Hutton tells us that the Corby "occurs at Mussoorie throughout the year, and is very destructive to young fowls and pigeons; it breeds in May and June, and selects a tall tree, near a house or village, on which to build its nest, which is composed externally of dried sticks and twigs, and lined with grass and hair, which latter material it will pick from the backs of horses and cows, or from skins of animals laid out to dry. I have had skins of the Surrow (Noemorhaedus thar) nearly destroyed by their depredations. The eggs are three or four in number."

From the plains I have very few notes. I transcribe a few of my own.

"On the 11th March, near Oreyah, I found a nest of a Corby - good large stick nest, built with tamarind twigs, and placed fully 40 feet from the ground in the fork of a mango-tree standing by itself. The nest measured quite 18 inches in diameter and five in thickness. It was a nearly flat platform with a central depression 8 inches in diameter, and not more than 2 deep, but there was a solid pad of horsehair more than an inch thick below this. I took the mass out; it must have weighed half a pound. Four eggs much incubated.

"Etawah, 14th March: Another nest at the top of one of the huge tamarind-trees behind the Asthul: could not get up to it. A boy brought the nest down; it was not above a foot across, and perhaps 3 inches deep; cavity about 6 inches in diameter, thickly lined with grass-roots, inside which again was a coating of horsehair perhaps a rupee in thickness; nest swarming with vermin. Eggs five, quite fresh; four eggs normal; one quite round, a pure pale slightly greenish blue, with only a few very minute spots and specks of brown having a tendency to form a feeble zone round the large end. Measures only 1·25 by 1·2. Neither in shape, size, nor colour is it like a Corby's egg; but it is not a Koel's, or that of any of our parasitic Cuckoos, and I have seen at home similar pale eggs of the Rook, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, and Raven.

"Bareilly, May 10th: Three fresh eggs in large nest on a mango-tree. Nest as usual, but lined with an immense quantity of horsehair. We brought this home and weighed it; it weighed six ounces, and horsehair is very light."

Major C. T. Bingham writes: "This Crow, so common at Allahabad, is very scarce here at Delhi. In fact I have only seen one pair.

"At Allahabad it lays in February and March. I have, however, only found one nest, a rather loose structure of twigs and a few thick branches with rather a deep depression in the centre. It was placed on the very crown of a high toddy palm (Borassus flabelliformis) and was unlined save for a wad of human hair, on which the eggs, two in number, lay; these I found hard-set (on the 13th March); in colour they were a pale greenish blue, boldly blotched, spotted, and speckled with brown."

Colonel Butler has furnished me with the following note on the breeding of the Jungle-Crow:

"Belgaum, 12th March, 1880: A nest containing four fresh eggs. It consisted of a loose structure of sticks lined with hair and leaves, and was placed at the top of and in the centre of a green-foliaged tree in a well-concealed situation about 30 feet from the ground. 18th March: Two nests, each containing three slightly incubated eggs; one of the nests was quite low down in the centre of an 'arbor vitae' about 12 feet from the ground. 31st March: Another nest containing four slightly incubated eggs. Some of the latter nests were very solidly built, and not so well Concealed. 11th April: Two more nests, containing five incubated and three slightly incubated eggs respectively; and on the 14th April a nest containing four slightly incubated eggs. These birds, when the eggs are at all incubated, often sit very close, especially if the nest is in an open situation, and in many instances I have thrown several stones at the nest, and made as much row as I could below without driving the old bird off, and I have seen my nest-seeker within a few yards of the nest after climbing the tree before the old bird flew off. On the 26th of April I found two more nests, one containing four young birds just hatched, the other three fresh eggs. On the 27th another nest containing three fresh eggs, and on the 28th a nest of three fresh eggs. On the 5th May two more nests containing four fresh and four incubated eggs respectively."

"In the Nilgiris," writes Mr. Davison, "the Corby builds a coarse nest of twigs, lined with cocoanut-fibre or dry grass high up in some densely-foliaged tree. The eggs are usually four, often five, in number. The birds lay in April and May."

Miss Cockburn again says: "They build like all Crows on large trees merely by laying a few sticks together on some strong branch, generally very high up in the tree. I do not remember ever seeing more than one nest on a tree at a time, so that they differ very much from the Rook in that respect. They lay four eggs of a bluish green, with dusky blotches and spots, and nothing can exceed the care and attention they bestow on their young. Even when the latter are able to leave their nests and take long flights, the parent birds will accompany them as if to prevent their getting into mischief. The nests are found in April and May."

Mr. J. Darling, jun., writes from the Nilgiris: "I have found the nest of this Crow pretty nearly all over the Nilgiris. The usual number of eggs laid is four, but on one occasion, near the Quinine Laboratory in the Government Gardens at Ooty, I procured six from one nest. The breeding-season is from March to May, but I have taken eggs as early as the 12th February."

From Ceylon, we hear from Mr. Layard that "about the villages the Carrion Crow builds its nest in the cocoanut-trees. In the jungles it selects a tall tree, amid the upper branches of which it fixes a framework of sticks, and on this constructs a nest of twigs and grasses. The eggs, from three to five, are usually of a dull greenish-brown colour, thickly mottled with brown, these markings being most prevalent at the small end. They are usually laid in January and February."

Mr. J. E. Cripps informs us that in Eastern Bengal it is "common and a permanent resident. Occasionally found in the clumps of jungle that are found about the country, which the next species never affects. Breeds in the cold weather. I had noticed a pair building on a Casuarina tree in my garden, about 50 feet off the ground, and on the 18th December, 1877, I took two perfectly fresh eggs from it; and again on the 9th January, 1878, I found two callow young in this same nest, the birds never having deserted it. The lining used for this nest was principally jute-fibre - any tree is selected to build on; the nests are placed from 15 to 50 feet off the ground. Some nests are very well concealed, whereas others are quite exposed. On the 15th January I found a nest about 15 feet up a small kudum (Kadam?) tree, standing in a large plain, and which had a lining of hair from the tail-tufts of cows. There was one fresh egg, and a week later I got another fresh egg from this very nest. From two to four eggs are in each nest."

Mr. Oates writes from Pegu: "These birds all begin to build about the same time, and I have taken numerous nests at the end of January. At the end of February most nests contain young birds."

Mr. W. Theobald gives the following notes on the nidification of this bird in Tenasserim and near Deoghur:

"Lays in the third week of February and fourth week of March: eggs ovato-pyriform; size 1·66 by 1·15; colour, dull sap-green much blotched with brown; nest carefully placed in tall trees."

The eggs, though smaller, closely resemble, as might have been expected, those of the Raven, but they are, I think, typically somewhat broader and shorter. Almost every variety, as far as coloration goes, to be found amongst those of the Raven, are found amongst the eggs of the present species, and vice versā; and for a description of these it is only necessary to refer to the account of the former species; but I may notice that amongst the eggs of C. macrorhynchus I have not yet noticed any so boldly blotched as is occasionally the case with some of the eggs of the Raven, which remind one not a little, so far as the character of the markings go, of eggs of Oedicnemus crepitans and Esacus recurvirostris. Like those of the Raven the eggs exhibit little gloss, though here and there a fairly glossy egg is met with. Eggs from various parts of the Himalayas, of the plains of Upper India, of the hills and plains of Southern India, do not differ in any respect. Inter se the eggs from each locality differ surprisingly in size, in tone of colour, and in character of markings; but when you compare a dozen or twenty from each locality, you find that these differences are purely individual and in no degree referable to locality.

There are just as big eggs and just as small ones from Shimla and Kotgarh, from Kashmir, from Etawah, Bareilly, Futtehgurh, from Kotagherry, and Conoor; all that one can possibly say is that perhaps the Plains birds do on the average lay a shade larger eggs than the Himalayan or Nilgiri ones.

Taking the eggs as a whole, I think that in size and shape they are about intermediate between the eggs of the European Carrion Crow and Rook. But they vary, as I said, astonishingly in size, from 1·5 to 1·95 in length, and in breadth from 1·12 to 1·22, and I have one perfectly spherical egg, a deformity of course, which measures 1·25 by 1·2.

The average of thirty Himalayan eggs is 1·73 by 1·18, of twenty Plains eggs 1·74 by 1·2, and of fifteen Nilgiri eggs 1·7 by 1·18. I would venture to predict that with fifty of each, there would not be a hundredth of an inch between their averages.

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