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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 9a

Subfamily CRATEROPODINAE (continued...)

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107. Argya malcolmi (Sykes). Large Grey Babbler

Malacocercus malcolmi (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 64.
Argya malcolmi (Sykes), Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 436.

The Large Grey Babbler breeds throughout the central portions of both the Peninsula and Continent of India from the Nilgiris to the Doon. It does not extend westwards to Sindh or the North-West Punjab, or eastwards far into Bengal Proper. In the Central and North-West Provinces it lays from early in March well into September, having at least two and, as I believe, often three broods.

It builds on low branches of small trees or in thick shrubs, at no great elevation from the ground, say at heights of from 4 to 10 feet, a somewhat loosely woven, but yet generally neat, cup-shaped nest, composed, as a rule, chiefly of grass-roots, but often with an admixture of thin sticks and grass. Generally there is no lining, but I have found nests scantily lined with very fine grass and even horse-hair. Even when, as is the rule, entirely unlined, the inside is finished off very nicely and smoothly. I have often seen ragged and untidy nests, but these are the exception. Externally the nest is some 5 or 6 inches in diameter and 3 or 4 inches in height; the cavity is from 3 to 4 inches across and from 2 to nearly 3 inches in depth.

Four is the normal number of the eggs laid, but I have several notes of finding five.

Mr. Brooks says: "This species breeds in waste lands overgrown with scanty jungle. The nest is made of sticks, roots, grass, etc., is rather bulky, and is placed in some moderate-sized bush about 7 or 8 feet from the ground. The eggs are greenish blue, bluer and not so brightly colored as those of C. terricolor".

Mr. R. M. Adam remarks: "Near Muttra, on the 31st October, I found a pair of birds busy lining the interior of a nest which they had built in a plum-tree. At the Sambhur lake it is very common, and commences to breed about the end of March."

Writing from Kotagherry (Nilgiris), Miss Cockburn remarks: "Their nests are built of a few twigs and roots, very loosely put together (on some low branch of a tree), and so few of even these as hardly to keep the eggs from falling through. These Babblers lay four oval eggs of a greenish-blue colour, but I once saw a nest with eight, and as there were several of these birds close to it, I have no doubt two or three shared it together, perhaps to avoid the necessity of each pair building for itself. Their nests are found in the months of March and April.

"It is in the nests of this species and our Common Laughing-Thrush (T. cachinnans) that I have chiefly found the eggs of the Pied Crested Cuckoo."

Of this species Colonel G. F. L. Marshall remarks: "I have taken eggs on the 20th June in Kanpur, the 31st July in Bulandshahar, and the 25th August in Aligarh. The nest is almost always in a Kikar tree in a fork about halfway up, and near the end of a branch. It is composed of Kikar-twigs and lined with roots. It is thinner in structure than that of M. terricolor, but has an outer casing of thorns which the latter wants. They lay four blue eggs, larger and paler than those of M. canorus".

Lieut. H. E. Barnes writes that in Rajpootana the Large Grey Babbler is "very common. I have found nests in each month from January to December. They have, I believe, several broods in the year; and even when nesting associate in small parties of seven or eight."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden say: "Common, and breeds in the Deccan."

Major C. T. Bingham says: "Breeds both at Allahabad and at Delhi from March to quite the end of August, placing its loosely constructed (rarely firmly built) nest of twigs and fine grass-roots generally at no great height in babul-trees. Twice only I have found them in dense mango-trees at about thirty feet from the ground. The nests are not, I think, as a rule, so deep as those of Crateropus terricolor; once or twice I have found the soft down of the Madar (Catatropes hamiltonii) incorporated into the lining of grass-roots. The eggs are generally three or four in number."

Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes: "All the nests which I have seen of the Large Grey Babbler have been on babul-trees. At Akola (Berar) in 1870, a great many had their nests during the month of July. I have recorded two instances of nests placed at a height above the ground of 15 feet and 20 feet. These were at Poona, one on the 21st April, and the other on the 10th May. I could not go up to the nests, but the birds in both cases were sitting closely. I have twice found nests with only three newly-hatched young ones."

Colonel Butler informs us that "the Large Grey Babbler breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa during the rains. Both the nest and eggs closely resemble those of C. terricolor, but the latter differ slightly in being less elongated, not so pointed at the small end, rounder at the large end, and somewhat paler in colour. I have taken nests on the following dates:

"July 19, 1875. A nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
"June 30, 1876. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"July 15, 1876. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"July 20, 1876. " " 3 fresh eggs.

"The nest in every instance was similar to that described by Jerdon, viz.: - a loose structure of dead roots, twigs, and grass, the interior being neatly lined with closely-woven roots of 'khus-khus.' The old birds generally select some thorny tree (Mimosa etc.) to build on, and the nest is usually from 8 feet to 20 feet from the ground. "Even in the nesting-season these birds are gregarious, joining a flock generally as soon as they leave the nest."

The eggs of this species do not appear to me to differ perceptibly from, those of Crateropus canorus. When one first takes a nest or two of each of them, one is apt to draw distinctions and fancy that the eggs of the two species can be discriminated; but after taking forty or fifty nests of each species, it becomes obvious that there is no variety of the one in either colour, shape, or size that cannot be paralleled in the other. All I have said of the eggs of C. canorus is applicable to the eggs of this species, and the only difference that, with a huge series of each before me, I can discover is that, as a body, there is less variation in the colour of the eggs of Argya malcolmi than in those of C. canorus.

In length they vary from 088 to 11, and in breadth from 073 to 085; but the average of fifty eggs measured is 099 by 077.

108. Argya subrufa (Jerdon). Large Rufous Babbler*

*[The accompanying incomplete account of the nidification of this bird is all I can find among Mr. Hume's notes. I cannot ascertain who was the discoverer of the nest and eggs described.--ED.]

Layardia subrufa (Jerdon), Hume, Cat. no. 437.

The nest is a deep massive cup placed in the fork of twigs, coarsely and roughly but still strongly built. The body of the nest is chiefly composed of leaves, some of which must have been green when used. Outside, the leaves are held in position by blades of grass, creepers, and stems of herbaceous plants, carelessly and roughly wound about the exterior. The cavity is rather more neatly lined with tolerably fine grass-bents. Exteriorly the nest is about 7 inches in height and 5 in diameter. The cavity is about 3 inches deep by 3 in diameter.

The eggs are precisely like those of the several species of Argya, moderately broad ovals rather obtuse at both ends, often with a pyriform tendency. The colour is a uniform spotless clear blue with a faint greenish tinge, and the eggs have usually a fine gloss. The eggs measure 098 by 075.

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