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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 9

Subfamily CRATEROPODINAE (continued...)

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104. Argya earlii (Blyth). Striated Babbler

Chatarrhaea earlii (Blyth), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 68; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 439.

The Striated Babbler breeds in suitable localities throughout Continental India, from Sindh to Tipperah and Assam, as also in Burma. Reedy-margined lakes, canals and perennial streams are its favorite haunts, and wherever within the limits above indicated these abound, and the locality is moist and warm, A. earlii is pretty sure to be met with.

They lay twice during the year, between the latter end of March and the early part of September, building a neat, compact, and rather massive cup-shaped nest, either between the close-growing reeds, to three or more of which it is firmly bound, or in some little bush or shrub more or less surrounded by high reed-grass. The broad leaves and stringy roots of the reed, common grass, and grass-roots are the materials of which it generally constructs its nest, which varies much in size, according to the situation and fineness of the material used.

I have seen them composed almost wholly of reed-leaves, fully 7 inches in diameter and 5 in height, and again built entirely of fine grass-stems not more than 4 inches across and 3 inches in height. When semi-suspended between reeds, they are always smaller and more compact, while when placed in a fork of a low bush they are larger and more straggling. The cavity (always neatly finished off, but very rarely regularly lined, and then only with very fine grass-stems or roots) is usually about 3 inches in diameter by 2 inches in depth.

Colonel G. F. L. Marshall remarks: "In the Saharanpur district (Uttar Pradesh) A. earlii commences building about the middle of March, and the young are hatched towards the middle of April. The nest is usually placed in the middle of a tuft of Sarkerry grass, and sometimes in a bush or small tree, generally 3 or 4 feet from the ground. It is a deep cup-shaped structure, rather neatly made of grass without lining, and woven in with the stems if in a clump of grass, or firmly fixed in a fork if in a bush or low tree. The interior diameter is about 3 inches, and the depth nearly 2 inches.

"The eggs, four in number, are of a clear blue colour without spots of any kind. In shape they are oval, rather thinner at one end; the shell is smooth and thin. The eggs are of the same colour, but considerably larger than those of Argya caudata. Argya earlii breeds commonly in the Sub-Shivalik district of the Doab; it seems fond of water, as most of the nests I have found were close to the canal bank. It is gregarious even in the breeding-season; small flocks of seven or eight keeping together, fluttering in and out of the low bushes, but seldom alighting on the ground, and occasionally making a noisy chattering cry, especially when disturbed."

From the Pegu District Mr. Oates writes: "I found two nests on the 24th May, one quite empty though finished, the other containing three eggs. The nests were placed a few feet apart in an immensely thick patch of elephant-grass, the undergrowth being fine, once tall, but now dead, grass. It was upon this dead stuff, which in May is much flattened down, that I found the nests. They were not attached to anything, but simply laid in a depressed platform about a foot above the ground, in among the thickest of the stalks of elephant-grass.

"The nest is a bulky structure, some 6 or 8 inches in external diameter, and 4 inches in height, composed chiefly of coarse reeds, becoming finer interiorly till the egg-cup is reached, where the grasses employed are tolerably fine and neatly interwoven. The cavity itself is more than a hemisphere, the diameter being 3 inches and the depth about 2 inches.

"The eggs are of a beautiful blue colour, rather pointed at one end."

Colonel Tickell has the following note on the nidification of this species in the Asiatic Society Journal, 1848, p. 301: "Burra phenga. - Nest hemispherical, of grasses rather loosely interwoven; generally on bushes in jungle. Eggs two to four; rather lengthened shape; clear, full, verditer blue.--June."

Mr. J. R. Cripps writes of this bird in Eastern Bengal "Very common, and a permanent resident, keeping to grass-fields in small parties of seven to ten. Very noisy. On the 2nd December, 1877, I found a nest with three slightly-incubated eggs in a small babul bush which stood in a 'sone' grass-field. The nest was a deep cup, whose foundation was a few leaves over which sone-grass was woven rather loosely.

Lining of fine grass-roots. The nest was placed in amongst some coarse grass which grew up in the centre of the bush, and was three feet from the ground. External height 4, diameter 4¼, internal diameter 2½, depth 2½ inches. Both Messrs. Marshall and Hume in their works on 'Birds' Nesting' give March and September as the two periods for these birds to lay, but the clutch I found were exceptionally late."

Mr. J. Inglis writes from Cachar: "The Striated Reed-Babbler is exceedingly common during the whole year. It breeds from March onwards, making its nest in longish grass."

The eggs closely resemble those of A. caudata both in colour and shape, but they are conspicuously larger. To judge from Hewitson's figure, for I have never seen the egg, they in shape, size, and colour closely resemble the eggs of Accentor alpinus, some I have being very slightly larger, and others exactly the same size as the figure referred to.

In length the eggs vary from 0·78 to 1·01, and in breadth from 0·65 to 0·75, but the average of a large series is 0·88 by 0·7.

105. Argya caudata (Duméril). Common Babbler

Chatarrhaea caudata (Duméril), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 67; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E no. 438.

The Common Babbler breeds throughout India, not, however, ascending any of our many mountain-ranges to any great elevation. They lay pretty well all the year round; at any rate from early in March, to early in September their eggs are common. Mr. W. Blewitt took a nest at Hansi on the 3rd January, and single nests are recorded by others as found in October, December, and February. They certainly have two broods a year, and perhaps more, the first being hatched from March to May, the second from June to August.

They build in low thorny bushes, and occasionally in clumps of high grass, the nest being rarely more than 3 feet from the ground. The nest itself is cup-shaped, and composed of grass and roots, often unlined, at times lined with very fine grass-stems or horse-hair. As a rule, it is neatly and compactly built, with a deep cavity some 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and 1·75 to 2·25 in depth, but I have seen straggling, ragged, and comparatively shallow nests of this species, having an external diameter of fully 7 inches. Three is the normal number of the eggs, but four are occasionally met with.

Mr. Brooks says: "This species builds in much the same sort of places as A. malcolmi, but it chooses a low thick bush, the nest not being more than 3 feet from the ground. Nest neatly built of grass, roots, hair, etc., and the eggs bright bluish green, very glossy, and much resembling those of Accentor modularis".

Mr. R. M. Adam remarks: "I took a nest of this bird in Oudh on the 22nd April. It contained a young bird and one unhatched egg. The nest was made of grass not well worked together, and had a lining of finer grass. The ground-work was composed of twigs and stems of creepers interlaced. The exterior diameter of the nest measured 5 inches, and the egg-cavity was 2 inches deep. In one case this bird did not lay till the fifth day after the nest was finished. About Agra this bird breeds during July and August.

"This Bush-Babbler is very common about the Sambhur lake. I have noted it breeding from the beginning of March till the beginning of July. Although this species generally prefers building in the hedges of prickly-pear, I have taken the nests in orange-trees, the karounda, the babul, etc."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden state that in the Deccan it is "very common and breeds."

Major C. T. Bingham says: "This bird, uncommon at Allahabad, is plentiful here at Delhi. I found several nests between March and June, all of the Babbler type, deep cups, rather more firmly built than those of the preceding bird, but constructed like them of coarse roots of grass, with finer ones for the inside. They are never placed at any great height from the ground, and generally in some thorny bush. I have found mostly three, rarely four eggs in any one nest."

Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes: "I never saw the Common Babbler in Poona, and it certainly does not occur in Bombay. But it is very abundant on the arid plains of Berar, breeding in the low babul-bushes, where large numbers of its eggs are destroyed by lizards. I have found four eggs in a nest oftener than three."

Colonel Butler writes: "The Common Babbler breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa principally during the monsoon; but I have found nests occasionally at other seasons of the year, as the following table of dates will show:

"April 29, 1876. A nest containing 3 fresh eggs.
"May 16, 1876. " " 3 fresh eggs.
"May 21, 1876. " " 2 fresh eggs.
"Nov. 15, 1876. " " 4 young birds.

"I found numerous nests from the middle of July to the beginning of September. On the 26th July, 1876, I saw upwards of a dozen nests, some containing fresh eggs, and others incubated. In many instances they contained eggs of Coccystes jacobinus. The nest is usually placed 3 or 4 feet from the ground in low thorny bashes (Zizyphus jujuba preferred) or in a tussock of sarpat grass. It is built of twigs, roots, grass, etc., loosely put together exteriorly but closely woven interiorly, the lining being composed of fine roots and grass-stems. The eggs vary in number from three to five."

Lieut. H. E. Barnes, writing of Rajpootana, says: "The Striated Bush-Babbler breeds from March to July. The nest is usually placed in a low thorny bush, and is composed of grass-roots and stems; it is deep cup-shaped, neatly and compactly built."

The eggs are typically of a moderately elongated oval shape, slightly compressed towards one end, but more or less spherical and pyriform varieties occur; and I have one specimen, a very long pointed egg, which, so far as size and shape go, might pass for an egg of Cypselus affinis; and though this is a peculiarly abnormal shape, I have others which somewhat approach it in form. The eggs are glossy, often brilliantly so, and of a delicate, pure, spotless, somewhat pale blue. The shade of colour in this egg varies very little, and I have never met with either the very pale or very dark varieties common amongst the eggs of C. canorus and occasionally found amongst those of A. malcolmi. In colour, size, and shape they are not very unlike those of our English Hedge-Sparrow, whose early eggs formed the prize of our first boyish nesting-expeditions, but they are slightly larger and typically somewhat more elongated.

In length they vary from 0·75 to 0·92, and in breadth from 0·6 to 0·7; but the average of one hundred and fifteen eggs measured was 0·82 by 0·64.

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