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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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Order PASSERES     Family CORVIDAE     Subfamily CORVINAE

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7. Corvus splendens, Vieill. Indian House-Crow

Corvus splendens, (Vieill.) Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 298.
Corvus impudicus, (Hodgson), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 663.

Throughout India and Upper Burma the Common Crow resides and breeds, not ascending the hills either in Southern or North India to any great elevation, but breeding up to 4000 feet in the Himalayas.

The breeding season par excellence is June and July, but occasional nests will be found earlier even in Upper India, and in Southern and Eastern India a great number lay in May. The nests are commonly placed in trees without much regard to size or kind, though densely foliaged ones are preferred, and I have just as often found several in the same tree as single ones. At times they will build in nooks of ruins or large deserted buildings, where these are in well inhabited localities, but out of many thousands I have only seen three or four nests in such abnormal positions.

The nest is placed in some fork, and is usually a ragged stick platform, with a central depression lined with grass-roots; but they are not particular as to material; I have found wool, rags, grass, and all kinds of vegetable fibre, and Mr. Blyth mentions that he has "seen several nests composed more or less, and two almost exclusively, of the wires taken from soda-water bottles, which had been purloined from the heaps of these wires commonly set aside by the native servants until they amount to a saleable quantity." Four is the normal number of eggs laid, but I often have found five, and on two occasions six. It is in this bird's nest that the Koel chiefly lays.

Writing of Nepal, Dr. Scully remarks: "In the valley it lays in May and June; some twenty nests were once examined on the 23rd June, and half the number then contained young birds."

Major Bingham says: "Very common, of course, both at Allahabad and at Delhi, and breeds in June, July, and beginning of August. At Allahabad it is much persecuted by the Koel (Eudynamys orientalis), every fourth or fifth nest that I found in some topes of mango-trees having one or two of the Koel's eggs."

Colonel Butler informs me that in Karachi it "begins to lay in the mangrove bushes in the harbor as early as the end of May;" and that it "breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa in June, July, and August, commencing to build in the last week of May."

Later, he writes: "Belgaum, 15th May, 1879. Found numerous nests in the native infantry lines in low trees, containing fresh and incubated eggs and young birds of all sizes. In the same locality, on the 30th March, 1880, I found a nest containing four young birds able to fly; the eggs must therefore have been laid quite as early as the middle of February, if not earlier."

Mr. G. W. Vidal writes: "The Common Crow appears to have two broods in the year in our district (Ratnagiri), the first in April and May, and the second in November and December. In these four months I have found nests, eggs, and young birds in several different places in the district, and as yet at no other times. It is extremely improbable that there should be one breeding-season lasting from April to December, and I think I may state with certainty that the Crows do not breed at Ratnagiri during the months of heaviest rainfall, viz. July, August, and September. As their breeding in November and December appears to be exceptional, I subjoin a record of the few nests I examined.

"Nov. 22, 1878. Ratnagiri:
One nest with 3 young birds.
" " 1 fresh egg.

"Nov. 23, 1878. Ratnagiri:
One nest with 1 fresh egg.
" " 1 fresh egg.

"Dec. 4, 1878. Saugmeshwar: One nest with 3 eggs hard-set; another nest probably containing young birds, but the Crows pecked so viciously at the man who was climbing the tree, that he got frightened and came down again without reaching the nest. Crows with sticks and feathers in their mouths are flying about all day.

"Dec. 5, 1878. Aroli: Found a nest with a Crow sitting in it; no one to climb the tree."

Mr. Benjamin Aitken has favored me with the following interesting note: "I send you an account of a nest of the Common Crow, found in October, 1874, in the town of Madras. My attention was first directed to the remarkable pair of Crows to which the nest belonged, in the end of July, when they were determinedly and industriously attempting to fix a nest on the top ledge of a pillar in the verandah of the 'Madras Mail' office. The ledge was so narrow that one would have thought the Sparrow alone of all known birds would have selected it for a site; and even the Sparrow only under the condition of a writing or toilet-table being underneath to catch the lime, sticks, straws, rags, feathers, and other innumerable materials that commonly strew the ground below a Sparrow's nest. I was told that the Crows had been at their task for two months before I saw them, and I then watched them till nearly the end of October. The celebrated spider that taught King Bruce a lesson in patience was eager and fitful compared with this pair of Crows. I kept no account of the number of times their structure was blown down, only to be immediately begun again; but as there was a good deal of rain and wind at that season, in addition to the regular sea-breeze, it was a common thing for the sticks to be cleared off day after day. But perseverance will often achieve seeming impossibilities, and, moreover, the Crows worked more indefatigably as the season went on, and used to run up their nest with great rapidity (no doubt, also, they improved by their practice); so that several times the structure was completed, or nearly completed, before being swept to the ground, though how it remained in its place for a moment seems a mystery; and twice I saw a broken egg among the scattered debris. At length, about the middle of September, the Crows determined to try the pillar at the other end of the verandah. By this time, of course, all the Crows in Madras had long brought up their broods and sent them adrift; and what they thought to see an eccentric pair of their own species forsaking society, and building in September, may be imagined. The new site selected differed in no respect from the old one, and was no less exposed to the wind; but the birds had grown expert at building 'castles in the air,' and now met with fewer mishaps. In the first week of October the hen bird was sitting regularly, so on the 8th of the month I sent a man up by a ladder, and he held up four eggs for me to look at. It fairly seemed after this that patience was to have its reward, but on the night of the 20th there came a storm of wind and rain, and when I went to the office in the morning, the nest was lying on the ground, with two young Crows in it, with the feathers just beginning to appear. The other two, I suppose, had fallen over into the street. And thus ended one of the most persevering attempts on record to overcome a difficulty insurmountable from the first. The old birds thought it time now to stop operations, and frequented the office no more.

"I am told by a gentleman in the 'Mail' office that the Crows have built in that verandah regularly for five or six years past, but nobody seems to have watched the nests. I am, therefore, hopeful that the attempt will be repeated this year, in which case I will keep a diary of all that takes place."

He writes subsequently: "I sent you a long story in my last batch of notes about two eccentric Crows that succeeded in building a nest upon the narrow ledge of a pillar in the verandah of my office, several months after all well-conducted Crows had sent out their progeny to battle with the world. I mentioned to you that they were said to build in that unnatural place every year, and I said that I would watch them this year.

"Well, would you believe it? on the 26th July, when every other Crow's nest in Madras had hard-set eggs, or newly-hatched young ones, these two indefatigable birds set methodically to work to construct a nest on the south pillar - the one where all their earlier efforts were made last year, but not the one on which they succeeded in fixing their nest. They worked all the 26th and 27th, putting up sticks as fast as they fell down, and then desisted till the 4th August, when they began operations on the opposite (north) pillar with redoubled energy. Meeting with no better success they left off operations after a couple of days' fruitless labour. Yesterday (after a delay of five weeks) they set to work on the south pillar again and succeeded in raising a great pile, which, however, was ignominiously blown down in the afternoon. To-day they are continuing their work indefatigably."

Mr. J. E. Cripps has the following note in his list of birds of Furreedpore, Eastern Bengal (present day Bangladesh): "Very common, and a permanent resident, affecting the haunts of man. They build and lay in May. The Koel lays its eggs in this bird's nest. In April, 1876, I saw two nests in the compound of the house in which I lived at Howrah, which were made entirely of galvanized wire, the thickest piece of which was as thick as a slate pencil. How the birds managed to bend these thick pieces of wire was a marvel to us; not a stick was incorporated with the wires, and the lining of the nest (which was of the ordinary size) was jute and a few feathers. The railway goods-yard, which was alongside the house, supplied the wire, of which there was ever so much lying about there."

Typically the eggs may, I think, be said to be rather broad ovals, a good deal pointed towards the small end; but really the eggs vary so much in shape that, even with nearly two hundred before me, it is difficult to decide what is really the most typical form. Pyriform, elongated, and globular varieties are common; long Cormorant-shaped eggs and perfect ovals are not uncommon. As regards the colour of the ground, and colour, character, and extent of marking, all that I have above said of the Raven's eggs applies to those of this species, but varieties occur amongst those of the latter which I have not observed in those of the former. In some the ground is a very pale pure bluish green, in others it is dingier and greener. All are blotched, speckled, and streaked more or less with somewhat pale sepia markings; but in some the spots and specks are a darker brown and, as a rule, well defined, and there is very little streaking, while in others the brown is pale and muddy, the markings ill-defined, and nearly the whole surface of the egg is freckled over with smudgy streaks. Sometimes the markings are most numerous at the large end, sometimes at the small; no two eggs are exactly alike, and yet they have so strong a family resemblance that there is no possibility of mistaking them. Generally the markings as a whole are less bold, and the general colour of a large body of them laid together is bluer and brighter than that of a similar drawer-full of Ravens' eggs. As a whole, too, they are more glossy. I have one egg before me bright blue and almost as glossy as a Mynah's, thickly blotched and speckled at the broad end, and thinly spotted elsewhere with olive-green, blackish-brown, and pale purple. Another egg, a pale pure blue, is spotless, except at the large end, where there is a conspicuous cap of olive-brown and olive-green spots and speckles, and there are numerous other abnormal varieties which I have not observed amongst the Ravens.

On the whole the eggs do not vary much in size; out of one hundred and ninety-seven, one hundred and ninety-five varied between 128 and 165 in length, and 098 and 115 in breadth. One egg measures only 12 in length, and one is only 096 in breadth; but the average of the whole is 144 by 106.

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