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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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82. Trochalopterum erythrocephalum (Vig.). Red-headed Laughing-Thrush

Trochalopteron erythrocephalum (Vigors), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 43; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 415.

From Kumaon westwards, at any rate as far as the valley of the Beas, the Red-headed Laughing-Thrush is, next to T. lineatum, the most common species of the genus. It lays in May and June, at elevations of from 4000 to 7000 feet, building on low branches of trees, at a height of from 3 to 10 feet from, the ground.

The nests are composed chiefly of dead leaves bound round into a deep cup with delicate fronds of ferns and coarse and fine grass, the cavities being scantily lined with fine grass and moss-roots. It is difficult by any description to convey an adequate idea of the beauty of some of these nests--the deep red-brown of the withered ferns, the black of the grass- and moss-roots, the pale yellow of the broad flaggy grass, and the straw-yellow of some of the finer grass-stems, all blended together into an artistic wreath, in the centre of which the beautiful sky-blue and maroon-spotted eggs repose. Externally the nests may average about 6 inches in diameter, but the egg-cavity is comparatively large and very regular, measuring about 3 inches across and fully 2 inches in depth. Some nests of course are less regular and artistic in their appearance, but, as a rule, those of this species are particularly beautiful.

The eggs vary from two to four in number.

Sir E. C. Buck sent me the following note: "I found a nest of this species near Narkanda (about 30 miles north of Shimla) on the 26th June. It was placed on the branch of a banj tree, some 8 feet from the ground, and contained two eggs, half set. Nest and eggs forwarded."

Dr. Jerdon says that Shore, as quoted by Gould in his 'Century,' says that "it is by no means uncommon in Kumaon, where it frequents shady ravines, building in hollows and their precipitous sides, and making its nest of small sticks and grasses, the eggs being five in number, of a sky-blue colour." But Shore, as the showman would say, is, so far as eggs and nests are concerned, "a fabulous writer," and the eggs are always more or less spotted, and no nest that I ever saw of this species was composed of "small sticks."

Mr. Blyth says: "Mr. Hodgson figures a green egg, spotted much like that of Turdus musicus, as that of the present species;" but in all Hodgson's drawings this green represents a greenish blue, as I have tested in dozens of cases.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall remarks: "I found a nest of this species on the 15th May at Nainital on the top of Ayar Pata, at an elevation of about 7500 feet above the sea. The nest was a rather deep cup, neatly made and placed about 5 feet from the ground amongst the outer twigs of a thick barberry bush, the leaves of which entirely concealed it. It was composed of a thick layer of dead oak- and rhododendron-leaves, bound round outside with just enough of grass-stems and moss to keep the leaves in place; it had no lining of any description. The egg-cavity was 3 inches broad by nearly 2 inches deep. The eggs, two in number, were blue, with a few spots, streaks, and scrawls of brown tending to form a zone at the larger end. They were large for the size of the bird. The ground-colour was like that of the eggs of a Song-Thrush in England.

"Several more nests found subsequently with eggs up to 4th June were similar in structure, but placed in small oak trees from 5 to 15 or 18 feet from the ground. I found a nest of this species containing a single hard-set egg on the 17th August; both parent-birds were by the nest; this is unusually late, the chief breeding-month being June."

The eggs are very long ovals, of a delicate pale greenish-blue ground-colour, with a few spots, streaks, and streaky blotches of a very rich though slightly brownish red at the large end. These eggs, though somewhat longer in shape and less freely marked, are exactly of the same type as those of T. cachinnans and T. variegatum. The texture of the shell is very fine and compact, and they have a slight gloss. In some eggs the spottings are more numerous, and, besides the primary markings already mentioned, a few purple spots and blotches, mostly very pale, are intermingled with the darker markings. In almost all the eggs that I have seen the markings were absolutely confined to the larger end.

In length the eggs vary from 115 to 122, and in breadth from 08 to 086; but the average is about 12 by 082.

85. Trochalopterum nigrimentum, Hodgs. Western Yellow-winged Laughing-Thrush

Trochalopteron chrysopterum (Gould), apud Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 43; Hume, Rough Draft N & E no. 416.

The Western Yellow-winged Laughing-Thrush breeds, so far as is yet known, only in Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, from all which localities we have quite young birds, but no eggs.

Dr. Jerdon says: "The eggs are greenish blue, in a nest neatly made with roots and moss." This, of course, is wrong, as the eggs are now well known to be spotted.

From Sikkim, Mr. Gammie writes: "The Yellow-winged Laughing-Thrush breeds from April to June at elevations from 5500 feet upwards. It prefers scrubby jungle, and places its nest in bushes about six feet or so from the ground. It is a broad, cup-shaped structure, neatly and strongly made of fine twigs and dry grass-leaves, lined with roots and with a few strings of green moss wound round the outside. Externally, it measures about 6 inches wide, and 4 deep; internally 3 by 2.

"The eggs are usually three in number."

Six nests of this species found between the 4th May and 2nd July in Native and British Sikkim were sent me by Mr. Mandelli. They were placed in small trees or dense bushes at heights of from 3 to 8 feet, and contained in some cases two, and in others three fresh or fully incubated eggs, so that sometimes the bird only lays two eggs. Three nests were also sent me by Mr. Gammie, taken in the neighborhood of the Sikkim Cinchona-Plantations. All are precisely of the same type, all constructed with the same materials, but owing to the different proportions in which these are used some of the nests at first sight seem to differ widely from others. Some also are a good deal bigger than others, but all are massive, deep cups, varying from 525 to 65 inches in diameter, and from 3 to fully 4 in height externally; the cavities vary from 3 to 35 in diameter, and from 2 to 25 in depth. The body of the nests is composed of grass; the cavity is lined first with dry leaves, and then thickly or thinly with black fibrous roots. Externally the nest is more or less bound together by creepers and stems of herbaceous plants. Sometimes only a few strings of moss and a few sprays of Selaginella are to be seen on the outside of the nest; while, on the other hand, in some nests the entire outer surface is completely covered over with green moss, not only on the sides, but on the upper margin, so as to conceal completely the rest of the materials of the nest, and in all the nine nests before me the extent to which the moss is used varies.

The eggs of this species are typically somewhat elongated ovals, some are much pointed towards the small end, others are somewhat pyriform, and others again are subcylindrical. The shell is fine and soft, but has only a moderate amount of gloss. The ground-colour, which varies very little in shade, is a delicate pale, slightly greenish blue, almost precisely the same colour as that of Trochalopterum erythrocephalum. The eggs are sparingly (in fact, almost exclusively about the large end) marked with deep chocolate. These markings are in some spots and blotches, but in many assume the form of thicker or thinner hieroglyphic lines. As a rule, three fourths of the egg is spotless, occasionally a single speck or spot occurs towards the small end of the egg. One or two eggs are almost spotless. In length the eggs vary from 11 to 123, and in breadth from 073 to 087, but the average of sixteen eggs is 117 nearly by 082.

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