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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 6

Subfamily PARINAE

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31. Parus atriceps, Horsf. Indian Grey Tit

Parus cinereus, (Vieill.), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 278.
Parus caesius, (Tickell), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 645.

The Indian Grey Tit breeds throughout the more wooded mountains of the Indian Empire, wherever these attain an altitude of 5000 feet, at elevations of from 4000 or 5000 to even (where the hills exceed this height) 9000 feet.

In the Himalayas the breeding-season extends from the end of March to the end of June, or even a little later, according to the season. They have two broods - the first clutch of eggs is generally laid in the last week of March or early in April; the second towards the end of May or during the first half of June.

In the Nilgiris they lay from February to May, and probably a second time in September or October.

The nests are placed in holes in banks, in walls of buildings or of terraced fields, in outhouses of dwellings or deserted huts and houses, and in holes in trees, and very frequently in those cut in some previous year for their own nests by Barbets and Woodpeckers.

Occasionally it builds on a branch of a tree, and my friend Sir E. C. Buck, found a nest containing six half-set eggs thus situated on the 19th June at Gowra. It was on a "Banj" tree 10 feet from the ground.

The only nest that I have myself seen in such a situation was a pretty large pad of soft moss, slightly saucer-shaped, about 4 inches in diameter, with a slight depression on the upper surface, which was everywhere thinly coated with sheep's wool and the fine white silky hair of some animal. The nest is usually a shapeless mass of downy fur, cattle-hair, and even feathers and wool, but when on a branch is strengthened exteriorly with moss. Even when in holes, they sometimes round the nest into a more or less regular though shallow cup, and use a good deal of moss or a little grass or grass-roots; but as a rule the hairs of soft and downy fur constitute the chief material, and this is picked out by the birds, I believe, from the dung of the various cats, polecats, and ferrets so common in all our hills.

I have never found more than six eggs, and often smaller numbers, more or less incubated.

Mr. Brooks tells us that the Indian Grey Tit is "common at Almorah. In April and May I found the nest two or three times in holes in terrace-walls. It was composed of grass-roots and feathers, and contained in each case nearly fully-grown young, five in number."

From Dharamshala Captain Cock wrote: "Parus cinereus built in the walls of Dr. C.'s stables this year. When I found the nest it contained young ones. I watched the parents flying in and out, but to make sure put my ear to the wall and could hear the young ones chirrupping. The nest was found in the early part of May 1869."

Colonel Butler writes: "Belgaum, 12th June, 1879. A nest built in a hollow bamboo which supported the roof of a house in the native infantry lines. I did not see the nest myself, as unfortunately the old bird was captured on it, and the nest and eggs destroyed; however, the hen bird was brought to me alive by the man who caught her, and I saw at once, by the bare breast, that she had been sitting, and on making enquiries the above facts were elicited. The broken egg-shells were white thickly spotted with rusty red.

"Belgaum, 8th June, 1880: A nest in a hole of a tree about 7 feet from the ground, containing five fresh eggs. The nest consisted of a dense pad of fur (goat-hair, cow-hair, human hair, and hare's fur mixed) with a few feathers intermixed, laid on the top of a small quantity of dry grass and moss, which formed the foundation."

Lieut. H. E. Barnes notes from Chaman in Afghanistan: "This Tit is very common, and remains with us all the year round. I found a nest on the 10th April, built in a hole in a tree; it was composed entirely of sheep's wool, and contained three incubated eggs, white, with light red blotches, forming a zone at the larger end. They measured 69 by 48."

Mr. Benjamin Aitken says:

"When I was in Poona, in the hot season of 1873, the Grey Tits, which are very common there, became exceedingly busy about the end of May, courting with all their spirit, and examining every hole they could find. One was seen to disappear up the mouth of a cannon at the arsenal. Finally, in July, two nests with young birds were discovered, one by myself, and one by my brother. The nests were in the roofs of houses, and were not easily accessible, but the parent birds were watched assiduously carrying food to the hungry brood, which kept up a screaming almost equal to that of a nest of minahs. On the 27th July a young one was picked up that had escaped too soon from a third nest. The Indian Grey Tit does not occur in Bombay, and I never saw it in Berar."

Speaking of Southern India Mr. Davison remarks that "the Grey Tit breeds in holes either of trees or banks; when it builds in trees it very often (whenever it can apparently) takes possession of the deserted nest-hole of Megaloema viridis; when in banks a rat-hole is not uncommonly chosen. All the nests I have ever seen or taken were composed in every single instance of fur obtained from the dried droppings of wild cats."

From Kotagherry, Miss Cockburn sends the following interesting note:

"Their nests are found in deep holes in earth-banks, and sometimes in stone walls. Once a pair took possession of a bamboo in one of our thatched out-houses - the safest place they could have chosen, as no hand could get into the small hole by which they entered. These Tits show great affection and care for their young. While hatching their eggs, if a hand or stick is put into the nest they rise with enlarged throats, and, hissing like a snake, peck at it till it is withdrawn. On one occasion I told my horse-keeper to put his hand into a hole into which I had seen one of these birds enter. He did so, but soon drew it out with a scream, saying a 'snake had bit him.' I told him to try again, but with no better success; he would not attempt it the third time, so the nest was left with the bold little proprietor, who no doubt rejoiced to find she had succeeded in frightening away the unwelcome intruder. The materials used by these birds for their nests consist of soft hair, downy feathers, and moss, all of which they collect in large quantities. They build in the months of February and March; but I once found a nest of young Indian Grey Tits so late as the 10th November. They lay six eggs, white with light red spots. On one occasion I saw a nest in a bank by the side of the road; when the only young bird it contained was nearly fledged the road had to be widened, and workmen were employed in cutting down the bank. The poor parent birds appeared to be perfectly aware that their nest would soon be reached, and after trying in vain to persuade the young one to come out, they pushed it down into the road but could get it no further, though they did their utmost to take it out of the reach of danger. I placed it among the bushes above the road, and then the parents seemed to be immediately conscious of its safety."

Mr. H. R. P. Carter notes that he "found a nest of the Grey Tit at Coonoor, on the Nilgiris, on the 15th May. It was placed in a hole in a bank by the roadside. It was a flat pad, composed of the fur of the hill-hare, hairs of cattle, etc., and was fluffy and without consistence. It contained three half-set eggs."

Mr. J. Darling, Jun., says: "I have found the nests at Ooty, Coonoor, Neddivattam, and Kartary, at all heights from 5000 to nearly 8000 feet above the sea, on various dates between 17th February and 10th May.

"It builds in banks, or holes in trees, at all heights from the ground, from 3 to 30 feet. It is fond of taking possession of the old nest-holes of the Green Woodpecker. The nest is built of fur or fur and moss, and always lined with fine fur, generally that of hares. Its shape depends upon that of the hole in which it is placed, but the egg-cavity or depression is about 3 inches in diameter and an inch in depth. It lays four, five, and sometimes six eggs, but I think more commonly only four."

Dr. Jerdon remarks: "I once found its nest in a deserted bungalow at Kallia, in the corner of the house. It was made chiefly of the down of hares (Lepus nigricollis), mixed with feathers, and contained six eggs, white spotted with rusty red."

The eggs resemble in their general character those of many of our English Tits, and though, I think, typically slightly longer, they appear to me to be very close to those of Parus palustris. In shape they are a broad oval, but somewhat elongated and pointed towards the small end. The ground-colour is pinkish white, and round the large end there is a conspicuous, though irregular and imperfect, zone of red blotches, spots, and streaks. Spots and specks of the same colour, or occasionally of a pale purple, are scantily sprinkled over the rest of the surface of the egg, and are most numerous in the neighborhood of the zone. The eggs have a faint gloss. Some eggs do not exhibit the zone above referred to, but even in these the markings are much more numerous and dense towards the large end.

In length the eggs vary from 065 to 078, and in breadth from 05 to 058; but the average of thirty-eight is 071 by 054, so that they are really, as indeed they look as a body, a shade shorter and decidedly broader than those of P. monticola.


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