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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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16. Dendrocitta rufa (Scop.). Indian Tree-pie

Dendrocitta rufa (Scop.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 314; Hume, Rough Notes N. & E. no. 674.

The Indian Tree-pie breeds throughout the continent of India, alike in the plains and in the hills, up to an elevation of 6000 or 7000 feet.

I personally have found the nest with eggs in May, June, July, and during the first week of August, in various districts in the North-West Provinces, and have had them sent me from Saugor (taken in July) and from Hansi (taken in April, May, and June); but perhaps because the bird is so common scarcely any one has sent me notes about its nidification, and I hardly know whether in other parts of India and Burma its breeding-season is the same as with us.

The nest is always placed in trees, generally in a fork, near the top of good large ones; babul and mango are very commonly chosen in the North-West Provinces, though I have also found it on neem and sisso trees. It is usually built with dry twigs as a foundation, very commonly thorny and prickly twigs being used, on which the true nest, composed of fine twigs and lined with grass-roots, is constructed. The nests vary much: some are large and loosely put together, say, fully 9 inches in diameter and 6 inches in height externally; some are smaller and more densely built, and perhaps not above 7 inches in diameter and 4 inches in depth. The egg-cavity is usually about 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches in depth, but they vary very much both in size and materials; and I see that I note of one nest taken at Agra on the 3rd August: "A very shallow saucer some 6 inches in diameter, and with a central depression not above 1½ inch in depth. It was composed exclusively of roots; externally somewhat coarse, internally of somewhat finer ones. It was very loosely put together."

Five is the full complement of eggs, but it is very common to find only four fully incubated ones.

Mr. W. Blewitt writes that he "found several nests in the latter half of April, May, and the early part of June in the neighborhood of Hansi (now in Haryana).

"Four was the greatest number of eggs I found in any nest.

"The nests were placed in Neem, Kikar, and Shisham trees, at heights of from 10 to 17 feet from the ground, and were densely built of twigs mostly of the Kikar and Shisham, and more or less thickly lined with fine straw and leaves. They varied from 6 to 8 inches in diameter and from 2 to 3 inches in depth."

Mr. A. Anderson writes: "The Indian Magpie lays from April to July, and I have once actually seen a pair building in February. Their eggs are of two very distinct types,--the one which, according to my experience, is the ordinary one, is covered all over with reddish-brown spots or rather blotches, chiefly towards the big end, on a pale greenish-white ground, and is rather a handsome egg; the other is a pale green egg with faint brown markings, which are confined almost entirely to the obtuse end. I have another clutch of eggs taken at Budaon in 1865, which presents an intermediate variety between the above two extremes; these are profusely blotched with russet-brown on a dirty-white ground.

"The second and third nests above referred to contained five eggs; but the usual complement is not more than four. On the 2nd August, 1872, I made the following note relative to the breeding of this bird: The bird flew off immediately we approached the tree, and never appeared again. The nest viewed from below looked larger; this is owing to dry babul twigs or rather small branches (some of them having thorns from an inch to 2 inches long!) having been used as a foundation, and actually encircling the nest, no doubt by way of protection against vermin; some of these thorny twigs were a foot long, and they had to be removed piecemeal before the nest proper could be got at. The egg-cavity is deep, measuring 5 inches in depth by 4 in breadth inside measurement; it is well lined with khus grass".

Major Bingham says:

"Common as is this bird I have only found one nest, and that was at Allahabad on the 9th July, and contained one half-fledged young one and an addled egg. The nest, which was placed at the very top of a large mango-tree, was constructed of branches and twigs of the same lined with fine grass-roots. The egg is a yellowish white, thickly speckled, chiefly at the large end, with rusty. Length 1·10 by 0·82 in breadth."

Colonel Butler tells us that it "breeds in Sind, in the hot weather. Mr. Doig took a nest containing three fresh eggs on the 1st May, 1878. The eggs, which seem to me to be remarkably small for the size of the bird, are of the first type mentioned in Rough Draft of 'Nests and Eggs,' p. 422."

Lieut. H. E. Barnes says in his 'Birds of Bombay': "In Sind they breed during May and June, always choosing babul trees, placing the nest in a stoutish fork near the top; they are composed at the bottom of thorny twigs, which form a sort of foundation upon which the true nest is built; the latter consists of fine twigs lined with grass-roots; the nest is frequently of large size."

Mr. G. W. Vidal, writing of the South Konkan, says: "Common about all well-wooded villages from coast to Ghâts. Breeds in April".

With regard to Cachar Mr. Inglis writes: "This Magpie is very common in all the neighboring villages, but I have not often seen it in the jungles. It remains all the year and breeds during April and May."

The eggs are typically somewhat elongated ovals, a good deal pointed towards the small end. They vary extraordinarily in colour and character, as well as extent of markings, but, as remarked when speaking of the Raven, all the eggs out of the same nest closely resemble each other, while the eggs of different nests are almost invariably markedly distinct. There are, however, two leading types - the one in which the markings are bright red, brownish red, or pale pinkish purple; and the other in which they are olive-brown and pale purplish brown. In the first type the ground-colour is either pale salmon, or else very pale greenish white, and the markings are either bold blotches, more or less confluent at the large end, where they are far most numerous, and only a few specks and spots towards the smaller end, or they are spots and small blotches thickly distributed over the whole surface, or they are streaky smudges forming a mottled ill-defined cap at the large end, and running down thence in streaks and spots longitudinally; in the other type the ground-colour is greenish white or pale yellowish stone-colour, and the character of the markings varies as in the preceding type. Besides these there are a few eggs with a dingy greyish-white ground, with very faint, cloudy, ill-defined spots of pale yellowish brown pretty uniformly distributed over the whole surface. In nine eggs out of ten, the markings are most dense at the large end, where they form irregular, more or less imperfect caps or zones. A few of the eggs are slightly glossy.

Of the salmon-pink type some specimens in their coloration resemble eggs of Dicrurus longicaudatus and some of our Goatsuckers, while of those with the greenish-white ground-colour some strongly recall the eggs of Lanius lahtora.

In length the eggs vary from 1·0 to 1·3, and in breadth from 0·78 to 0·95; but the average of forty-four eggs is 1·17 by 0·87.

17. Dendrocitta leucogastra, Gould. Southern Tree-pie

Dendrocitta leucogastra, (Gould), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 317; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 678.

From Travancore Mr. Bourdillon has kindly sent me an egg and the following note on the nidification of the Southern Tree-pie:

"Three eggs, very hard-set, of an ashy-white colour, marked with ashy and greenish-brown blotches, 1·12 long and 0·87 broad, were taken on 9th March, 1873, from a nest in a bush 8 or 10 feet from the ground. The nest of twigs was built after the style of the English Magpie's nest, minus the dome. It consisted of a large platform 6 inches deep and 8 or 10 inches broad, supporting a nest 1½ inch deep and 3½ inches broad. The bird is not at all uncommon on the Assamboo Hills between the elevations of 1500 and 3000 feet above the sea, seeming to prefer the smaller jungle and more open parts of the heavy forest."

Later he writes: "On the 8th April I found another nest containing three half-fledged Magpies (D. leucogastra). The nest was entirely composed of twigs, roughly but securely put together; interior diameter 3 inches and depth 2 inches, though there was a good-sized base or platform, say, 5 inches in diameter. The nest was situated on the top fork of a sapling about 12 feet from the ground. I tried to rear the young birds, but they all died within a week."

The egg is very like that of our other Indian Tree-pies. It is in shape a broad and regular oval, only slightly compressed towards one end. The shell is fine and compact and is moderately glossy. The ground is a creamy stone-colour. It is profusely blotched and streaked with a somewhat pale yellowish brown, these markings being most numerous and darkest in a broad, irregular, imperfect zone round the large end, and it exhibits further a number of pale inky-purple clouds and blotches, which seem to underlie the brown markings, and which are chiefly confined to the broader half of the egg. The latter measures 1·13 by 0·86.

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