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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 6b

Subfamily PARINAE

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42. Machlolophus xanthogenys (Vig.). Yellow-cheeked Tit

Machlolophus xanthogenys (Vigors) Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 279; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 647.

The Yellow-cheeked Tit is one of the commonest birds in the neighborhood of Shimla, yet curiously enough I have never found a nest.

I have had eggs and nest sent me, and I know it breeds throughout the Western Himalayas, at elevations of from 4000 to 7000 feet; and that it lays during April and May (and probably other months), making a soft pad-like nest, composed of hair and fur, in boles in trees and walls; but I can give no further particulars.

Captain Hutton tells us that it is "common in the hills throughout the year. It breeds in April, in which month a nest containing four fledged young ones was found at 5000 feet elevation; it was constructed of moss, hair, and feathers, and placed at the bottom of a deep hole in a stump at the foot of an oak tree."

Writing from Dharamshala, Captain Cock says: "Towards the end of April this bird made its nest in a hole of a tree just below the terrace of my house. Before the nest was quite finished a pair of Passer cinnamomeus bullied the old birds out of the place, which they deserted. After they had left it I cut the nest out and found it nearly ready to lay in, lined with soft goat-hair and that same dark fur noticed in the nest of Parus monticola".

Later he wrote to me that this species "breeds up at Dharamshala in April and May. It chooses an old cleft or natural cavity in a tree, usually the hill-oak, and makes a nest of wool and fur at the bottom of the cavity, upon which it lays five eggs much like the eggs of Parus monticola. Perhaps the blotches are a little larger, otherwise I can see no difference. I noticed on one occasion the male bird carry wool to the nest, which, when I cut it out the same day, I found contained hard-set eggs. I used to nail a sheepskin up in a hill-oak, and watch it with glasses, during April and May, and many a nest have I found by its help. Parus atriceps, P. monticola, Machlolophus xanthogenys, Abrornis albisuperciliaris, and many others used to visit it and pull off flocks of wool for their nests. Following up a little bird with wool in its bill through jungle requires sharp eyes and is no easy matter at first, but one soon becomes practiced at it."

The eggs are regular, somewhat elongated ovals, in some cases slightly compressed towards one end. The ground is white or reddish white, and they are thickly speckled, spotted, and even blotched with brick-dust red; they have little or no gloss.

They vary in length from 07 to 078, and in breadth from 052 to 055; but I have only measured six eggs.

43. Machlolophus haplonotus (Bl.). Southern Yellow Tit

Machlolophus jerdoni (Blyth), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 280.

Col. E. A. Butler writes: "Belgaum, 12th Sept., 1879: Found a nest of the Southern Yellow Tit in a hole of a small tree about 10 feet from the ground. My attention was first attracted to it by seeing the hen-bird with her wings spread and feathers erect angrily mobbing a palm-squirrel that had incautiously ascended the tree, and thinking there must be a nest close by, I watched the sequel, and in a few seconds the squirrel descended the tree and the Tit disappeared in a small hole about halfway up. I then put a net over the hole and tapped the bough to drive her out, but this was no easy matter, for although the nest was only about foot from the entrance, and I made as much noise as a thick stick could well make against a hollow bough, nothing would induce her to leave the nest until I had cut a large wedge out of the branch, with a saw and chisel, close to the nest, when she flew out into the net.

"The nest, which contained, to my great disappointment, five young birds about a week old, was very massively built, and completely choked up the hollow passage in which it was placed. The foundation consisted of a quantity of dry green moss, of the kind that natives bring in from the jungles in the rains, and sell for ornamenting flower vases, etc. Next came a thick layer of coir, mixed with a few dry skeleton-leaves and some short ends of old rope and a scrap or two of paper, and finally a substantial pad of blackish hair, principally human, but with cow and horse hair intermixed, forming a snug little bed for the young ones. The total depth of the nest exteriorly was at least 7 inches.

"The bough, about 8 inches in diameter, was partly rotten and hollow the whole way down, having a small hole at the side above by which the birds entered, and another rather larger about a foot below the nest all choked up with moss that had fallen from the base of the nest. It is strange that it should have escaped my eye previously, as the tree overhung my gateway, through which I passed constantly during the day. Immediately below the nest a large black board bearing my name was nailed to the tree.

"At Belgaum, on the 10th July, 1880, I observed a pair of Yellow Tits building in a crevice of a large banian tree about 9 feet from the ground. The two birds were flying to and from the nest in company, the hen carrying building-materials in her beak. I watched the nest constantly for several days, but never saw the birds near it again until the 18th inst., when the hen flew out of the hole as I passed the tree. I visited the spot on the 19th and 20th inst., tapping the tree loudly with a stick as I passed, but without any result, as the bird did not fly off the nest.

"On the 21st, thinking the nest must either be forsaken or contain eggs, I got up and looked into the hole, and to my surprise found the hen bird comfortably seated on the nest, notwithstanding the noise I had been making to try and put her off. As the crevice was too small to admit my hand, I commenced to enlarge the entrance with a chisel, the old bird sitting closer than ever the whole time. Finding all attempts to drive her off the eggs fruitless, I tried to poke her off: with a piece of stick, whereupon she stuck her head into one of the far corners and sulked. I then inserted my hand with some difficulty and drew her gently out of the hole, but as soon as she caught sight of me, she commenced fighting in the most pugnacious manner, digging her claws and beak into my hand, and finally breaking loose, flying, not away as might have been expected, but straight back into the hole again, to commence sulking once more. Again I drew her out, keeping a firm hold of one leg until I got her well away from the hole, when I released her. I then extracted five fresh eggs from the hole by means of a small round net attached to the loop end of a short piece of wire. The nest was a simple pad of human and cows' hair, with a few horsehairs interwoven, and one or two bits of snake's skin in the lining, having a thin layer of green moss and thin strips of inner bark below as a foundation - in fact a regular Tit's nest. The eggs, of the usual parine type, were considerably larger than the eggs of P. atriceps, broad ovals, slightly smaller at one end than the other, having a white ground spotted moderately thickly all over with reddish chestnut; no zone or cap, but in some eggs more freely marked at one end (either small or large end) than the other, some of the markings almost amounting to blotches and the spots as a rule rather large."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden remark of this bird in the Deccan: "Specimens of this Tit were procured at Lanoli in August and at Egutpoora in March. They certainly breed at these places, as in September, at the latter place, W. observed two parent birds with four young ones capable of flying out very short distances."

And Mr. Davidson further states that it is "common throughout the district of Western Kandeish. I saw a pair building in the hole of a large mango tree at Malpur in Pimpalnir in the end of May."

44. Lophophanes melanolophus (Vig.). Crested Black Tit

Lophophanes melanolophus (Vigors) Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 273: Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 638.

The Crested Black Tit breeds throughout the Lower Himalayas west of Nepal, at elevations of from 6000 to 8000 feet. The breeding-season lasts from March to June, but the majority have laid, I think, for the first hatch by the end of the first week in April, unless the season has been a very backward one. They usually rear two broods.

They build, so far as I know, always in holes, in trees, rocks, and walls, preferentially in the latter. Their nests involve generally two different kinds of work - the working up of the true nests on which the eggs repose, and the preliminary closing in and making comfortable the cavity in which the former is placed. For this latter work they use almost exclusively moss. Sometimes very little filling-in is required; sometimes the mass of moss used to level and close in an awkward-shaped recess is surprisingly great. A pair breed every year in a terrace-wall of my garden at Shimla; elevation about 7800 feet. One year they selected an opening a foot high and 6 inches wide, and they closed up the whole of this, leaving an entrance not 2 inches in diameter. Some years ago I disturbed them there, and found nearly half a cubic foot of dry green moss. Now they build in a cavity behind one of the stones, the entrance to which is barely an inch wide, and in this, as far as I can see, they have no moss at all.

The nests are nothing but larger or smaller pads of closely felted wool and fur; sometimes a little moss, and sometimes a little vegetable down, is mingled in the moss, but the great body of the material is always wool and fur. They vary very much in size: you may meet with them fully 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick, comparatively loosely and coarsely massed together; and you may meet with them shallow saucers 3 inches in diameter and barely half an inch in thickness anywhere, as closely felted as if manufactured by human agency.

Six to eight is considered the full complement of eggs, but the number is very variable, and I have taken three, four, and five well-incubated eggs.

Captain Beavan, to judge from his description, seems to have found a regular cup-shaped nest such, as I have never seen. He says: "At Shimla, April 20th, 1866, I found a nest of this species with young ones in it in an old wall in the garden. I secured the old bird for identification, and then released her. The nest contained seven young ones, and was large in proportion. The outside and bottom consists of the softest moss, the nest being carefully built between two stones, about a foot inside the wall; the rest of it is composed of the finest grey wool or fur. Diameter inside 25; outside about 5 inches. Depth inside nearly 3 inches; outside 36."

Captain Cock told me that he "found several nests in May and June in Kashmir. The first nest I found was in a natural cavity high up in a tree, containing three eggs, which I unfortunately broke while taking them out of the nest. The interior of the cavity was thickly lined with fur from some small animal, such as a hare or rat. I found my second nest close to my tent in a cleft of a pine, quite low down, only 3 feet from the ground. I cut it out and it contained five eggs of the usual type - broad, blunt little eggs, white, with rusty blotches."

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall writes: "I have only found two nests of this species in Nainital, both had young (two in one nest, in the other I could not count) on the 25th April; they were at about 7000 feet elevation, built in holes in walls, the entrance in both cases being very small, having nothing to distinguish it from other tiny crevices, and nothing to lead any one to suppose that there was a nest inside. It was only by seeing the parent birds go in that the nest was discovered."

The eggs of this species are moderately broad ovals, with a very slight gloss. The ground-colour is a slightly pinkish white, and they are richly blotched and spotted, and more or less speckled (chiefly towards the larger end), with bright, somewhat brownish red.

The markings very commonly form a dense, almost confluent zone or cap about the large end, and they are generally more thinly scattered elsewhere, but the amount of the markings varies much in different eggs. In some, although they are thicker in the zone, they are still pretty thickly set over the entire surface, while in others they are almost confined to one end of the egg, generally the broad end.

These eggs vary much in size and in density of marking. The ordinary dimensions are about 061 by 047, but in a large series they vary in length from 057 to 072, and in breadth from 043 to 054. The very large eggs, however, indicated by these maxima are rare and abnormal.

47. Lophophanes rufinuchalis (Bl.). Shimla Black Tit

Lophophanes rufinuchalis (Blyth). Jerdon B. Ind. ii. p. 274.

Mr. Brooks informs us that this Tit is common at Derali and other places of similar elevation. "I found a nest under a large stone in the middle of a hill foot-path, up and down which people and cattle were constantly passing; the nest contained newly-hatched young. This was the middle of May."

Dr. Scully, writing of the Gilgit district, tells us that this Tit is a denizen of the pine-forests, where it breeds.

Finally Captain Wardlaw Ramsay, writing in the 'Ibis,' states that this Tit was breeding in Afghanistan in May.

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