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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     (continued...)


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10. Pica rustica (Scop.). Magpie

Pica bactriana, (Bp.), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E, no. 668 bis.

The Magpie breeds, we know, in Afghanistan, and also throughout Ladakh from the Zojee-la Pass right up to the Pangong Lake, but it breeds so early that one is never in time for the eggs. The passes are not open until long after they are hatched.

Captain Hutton says this bird "is found all the year round from Quettah to Girishk, and is very common. They breed in March, and the young are fledged by the end of April. The nest is like that of the European bird, and all the manners of the Afghan Magpie are precisely the same. They may be seen at all seasons."

From Afghanistan, Lieut. H. E. Barnes writes:

"The Magpie is not uncommon in the hills wherever there are trees, but it seldom descends to the plains. They commence breeding in March, in which month and April I have examined scores of nests, which in every case were built in the 'Wun,' a species of Pistacia - the only tree found hereabouts. A stout fork near the top is usually selected.

"The nest is shallow and cup-shaped, with a superstructure of twigs, forming a canopy over the egg-cavity. The eggs, generally five in number, are of the usual corvine green, blotched, spotted, and streaked, as a rule, most densely about the large end with umber mingled with sepia-brown. The average of thirty eggs is 1·25 by ·97."

Colonel Biddulph writes in 'The Ibis' that in Gilgit he took a nest with five eggs, hard set, in a mulberry-tree at Nonval (5600 feet) on the 9th May. Also another nest with three fresh eggs at Dayour (5200 feet) on the 25th May.

The eggs are typically rather elongated ovals, rather pointed towards the small end, but shorter and broader varieties, and occasionally ones with a pyriform tendency, occur. The ground is a greenish or brownish white. In some eggs it has none, in others a slight gloss. Everywhere the eggs are finely and streakly freckled with a brown that varies from olive almost to sepia; about the large end the markings are almost always most dense, forming there a more or less noticeable, but quite irregular and undefined cap or zone. In one or two eggs dull purplish-brown clouds or blotches underlie and intermingle with this cap, and occasionally a small spot of this same tint may be noticed elsewhere when the egg is closely examined.


12. Urocissa occipitalis (Blyth). Red-billed Blue Magpie

Urocissa sinensis (Linn.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 309.
Urocissa occipitalis (Blyth), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 671.

I have never myself found the nest of the Red-billed Blue Magpie; although it does breed sparingly as far east as Shimla and Kotgarh, it is not till you cross the Jumna that it is abundant. East of the Jumna, about Mussoorie, Teeree, Garhwal, Kumaon, and in Nepal, it is common.

From Mussoorie Captain Hutton tells us that "this species occurs at Mussoorie throughout the year. It breeds at an elevation of 5000 feet in May and June, making a loose nest of twigs externally and lined with roots. The nest is built on trees, sometimes high up, at others about 8 or 10 feet from the ground. The eggs are from three to five, of a dull greenish ash-grey, blotched and speckled with brown dashes confluent at the larger end, the ends nearly equal in size. It is very terrene in its habits, feeding almost entirely on the ground."

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall remarks:

"The Red-billed Blue Magpie is, as far as I know, an early breeder at Nainital; common as the bird is I have only found one nest and that on the 24th April; it was a shallow slenderly built structure of fine roots, chiefly of maiden-hair fern, in a rough outer casing of twigs, placed on a horizontal bough overhanging a nullah about fifteen feet from the ground. The tree had moderately dense foliage, and was about twenty-five feet high in a small clump on a hillside covered with low scrub at 5000 feet elevation above the sea. Around the nest several small boughs and twigs grew out, and being very slight in structure it was not easy to see. The old bird sat very close. There were six eggs in the nest about half-incubated: in two of them the markings were densest at the small end. The egg-cavity was 6 inches in diameter by about 1¼ deep. On the 5th June I saw old birds accompanied by young ones able to fly, but without the long tails."

The eggs of this species much resemble those of the European Magpie, but are considerably smaller. They are broad, rather perfect ovals, somewhat elongated and pointed in many specimens. They exhibit but little gloss. The ground-colour varies much, but in all the examples that I possess, which I owe to Captain Hutton's kindness, it is either of a yellowish-cream, pale café au lait or buff colour, or pale dull greenish. The ground is profusely blotched, spotted, and streaked (the general character of the markings being striations parallel to the major axis), with various shades of reddish and yellowish, brown and pale inky purple. The markings vary much in intensity as well as in frequency, some being so closely set as to hide the greater part of the ground-colour; but in the majority of the eggs they are more or less confluent at the large end, where they form a comparatively dark, irregular blotchy zone.

The eggs vary from 1·25 to 1·4 in length, and from 0·89 to 0·96 in breadth; but the average of 11 eggs is 1·33 by 0·93.

Major Bingham, referring to the Burmese Magpie, which has been separated under by the name of U. magnirostris, says: "This species I have only found common in the Thoungyeen Valley. Elsewhere it seemed to me scarce. Below I give a note about its breeding.

I have found three nests of this handsome Magpie - two on the bank of the Meplay choung on the 14th April, 1879, and 5th March, 1880, respectively, and one near Meeawuddy on the Thoungyeen river on the 19th March, 1880. The first contained three, the second four, and the third two eggs.

These are all of the same type, dead white, with pale claret-colored clashes and spots rather washed-out looking, and lying chiefly at the large end. One egg has the spots thicker at the small end. They are moderately broad ovals, and vary from 1·19 to 1·35 in length, and from 0·93 to 1·08 in breadth.

The nests were all alike, thick solid structures of twigs and branches, lined with finer twigs about 8 or 9 inches in diameter, and placed invariably at the top of tall straight saplings of teak, pynkado (Xylia dolabriformis), and other trees at a height of about 15 feet from the ground".

All the eggs of the Burmese bird that I have seen, nine taken by Major Bingham, were of one and the same type. The eggs broad ovals, in most cases pointed towards the small end. The shell fine, but as a rule with scarcely any perceptible gloss. The ground-colour a delicate creamy white. The markings moderate-sized blotches, spots, streaks, and specks, as a rule comparatively dense about one, generally the large, end, where only as a rule any at all considerable sized blotches occur, elsewhere more or less sparsely set, and generally of a speckly character. The markings are of two colors: brown, varying in shade in different eggs, olive-yellowish, chocolate, and a grey, equally varying in different eggs from pale purple to pale sepia. None of my eggs of the Himalayan bird (I have unfortunately but few of these) correspond at all closely with these.

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