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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 9b

Subfamily CRATEROPODINAE (continued...)

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110. Crateropus canorus (Linn.). Jungle Babbler

*[In the 'Birds of India,' I have united C. malabaricus and C. terricolor. Mr. Hume probably still considers these two races distinct, and others may agree with him. To avoid confusion, therefore, I have kept the notes appertaining to these two races distinct from each other.--ED.]

Malacocercus terricolor (Hodgson), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 59; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 432.
Malacocercus malabaricus, (Jerdon), Jerdon t.c. p. 62; Hume, t.c. no. 434.

C. terricolor

The Bengal Babbler breeds throughout the plains of the Bengal Presidency (including Bengal, North-Western Provinces, Central Provinces, Oudh, and the Punjab), and I may add in the less desert portions of Sindh, although the race found in that province is not exactly identical with the Bengal bird, and in some respects closely approaches the Malabar race. In Northern Rajpootana it is rare, and further south in the quasi-desert tracts of Central and Western Rajpootana it disappears according to my experience.

Eastward in Cachar and Assam it appears to occur as a mere straggler, but I have no record of its having bred there. It lays from the latter half of March until the close of July, but the great majority lay during the first week after the setting in of the rains, which varies according to locality and season, from the 1st of June to the 15th of July.

They build very commonly in gardens, in thick orange-, citron-, or lime-shrubs, but their nests may be found almost anywhere, in thick shrubs or small trees of any kind, or in thick hedges, at heights of from 4 to 10 feet from the ground, always placed in some fork towards the centre of the shrub or hedge. The nests are rather loosely-put-together cups, composed of grass-stems and roots varying in fineness, and often lined with horse-hair. Some are deep and neatly constructed, others loose, straggling, and shallow, the cavity varying from 3 to more than 4 inches in diameter and from less than 2 to nearly 3 inches in depth.

Three is the normal number of the eggs, but I have repeatedly found four.

Captain Hutton writes to me: "A nest of this bird was taken in the Dehradoon on the 14th May, and was composed entirely of fine roots, the thinnest being placed within as a lining. Subsequently three others were procured, one of which was externally composed of coarse dry grasses and leaves, with a scanty lining of fine roots; the other two were constructed of the fine woody tendrils of climbing-plants and lined like the others with fine roots. These latter had a strong resemblance to some of the nests of Garrulax albogularis, while the difference exhibited in the nature of the materials used arises from the various character of the localities in which the bird may choose to build. Each nest contained four beautiful eggs of a full bright turquoise-green, shining as if varnished. The eggs were nearly all hard-set. This species does not ascend the hills, but appears to be confined to the Doon, where it may be seen in small parties in gardens, hedgerows, and low brushwood, turning over the dead leaves in search of seeds and insects. Its flight is low, short, and apparently labored, from the shortness and rounded form of the wing, but on the ground it hops along with speed. The note is clamorous and chuckling and uttered in concert."

The late Mr. A. Anderson remarked: "Although one of the most common birds in the North-West Provinces, and in fact verging on a nuisance, its nidification is interesting, inasmuch as its nest (in common with that of A. malcolmi) is used as a nursery for the young of Hierococcyx varius and Coccystes melanoleucus.

"This Babbler builds, as a general rule, during the early part of the rains (June to August), laying usually three or four eggs of a bright greenish-blue colour. The nest itself recalls that of the Blackbird, but it is frequently very clumsily made. On the 21st June last a boy brought me a nest of this species containing eight eggs. Two, if not three, of this clutch are easily separable from the others, being more oval and somewhat smaller, and are unquestionably parasitical eggs; but it is quite impossible to say whether they belong to H. varius or C. melanoleucus.

"Again, on the 9th July, I took a nest in person, which also contained eight eggs. Seven of these are all alike and are well incubated, while the eighth is quite fresh, and doubtless owes its parentage to one of the above-mentioned Cuckoos.

"Strange to say I have now another nest marked down, which in like manner contains the same number of callow young. It is just possible that the foster-parents may have to perform double duty in this case. From the foregoing it may be inferred that M. canorus does occasionally lay more than four eggs, or as the birds are gregarious even during the breeding-season, it is possible enough that two birds may occasionally deposit eggs in the same nest.

"I should not think that H. varius (the "Brain-fever and Delirium-tremens Bird" as it is frequently called) had much difficulty in depositing her eggs in the nest of the Malacocerci, for I have frequently noticed that all the Babblers in the neighborhood make a clean bolt of it immediately this Cuckoo puts in an appearance, no doubt owing to its great similarity to the Indian Sparrow-Hawk (M. badius).

"During the months of September and October I have observed several Babblers in the act of feeding one young H. varius, following the bird from tree to tree, and being most assiduous in their attentions to the young interloper."

Mr. H. M. Adam remarks: "I took a nest of this bird in Agra on the 17th July. It contained five eggs, all of which were nearly hatched. Again on the 21st I took another nest containing only one hard-set egg."

Writing from Calcutta, Mr. J. C. Parker says: "I found a nest of this bird, near my house in Garden Reach, on the 23rd June. It contained four fresh eggs."

Colonel Butler observes: "The Bengal Babbler breeds in the neighborhood of Deesa as a rule, I think, during the rains and in the cold weather, but I have found nests as late as March. The nest is usually placed on the outside branch of some moderate-sized tree (Neem etc.). It is a somewhat solidly built structure composed almost entirely of dead twigs, stems of dead leaves, and stalks of coarse dry grass, being lined with a few fine fibrous roots or stems of grass. I found nests on the following dates:

"July 16, 1875. A nest containing 4 fresh eggs.
"March 20, 1876. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"May 29, 1876. " " 3 fresh eggs.
"June 17, 1876. " " 3 fresh eggs.
"June 17, 1876. " " 4 young birds.
"Oct. 15, 1876. " " 4 fresh eggs.
"Nov. 3, 1876. " " 4 slightly incubated.

"In some nests I have noticed a breach upon one side of the nest as if intended for the convenience of the bird's tail. It is not unusual to find an egg of C. jacobinus in the nest."

Major C. T. Bingham writes: "Common both at Allahabad and at Delhi; I have found this bird breeding from April to the end of July. All nests that I have found have, with the exception of one, been placed in low babul bushes; once only I found a nest near Delhi in the fork of a low bough of a mango-tree, this was on the 31st July. The nests are more or less loosely constructed cups of slender twigs and grass-roots and inclined."

Mr. J. R. Cripps writing from Eastern Bengal says: "On the 15th April I found a nest on the very top of a mango-tree about 30 feet off the ground, shooting the male as it flew off the nest."

The eggs of this species are very variable in colour, shape, and size. Typically they are rather broad ovals, somewhat compressed towards one end, and much the shape of, though a good deal smaller than, those of our English Song-Thrush. Some are, however, long and cylindrical; others more or less spherical. The colour varies from a pale blue, like that of Trochalopterum lineatum, to a deep dull blue, recalling, but yet not so dark as, that of Garrulax albigularis. The eggs are typically glossy, but it is remarkable that in a large series the deepest colored are always far the most glossy. Some deep blue eggs of this species are most intensely glossy, more so than almost any other of our Indian eggs, except those of Metopidius indicus. I need scarcely say that the eggs are entirely spotless and devoid of all markings, but I may note that each egg is invariably the same colour throughout, and that I have never met with a specimen in which the shade of colour varied in the same egg.

In length the eggs vary from 088 to 115, and in breadth from 075 to 082; but the average of fifty-one eggs measured is 101 by 078.

C. malabaricus

The Jungle Babbler, like the White-headed one, breeds pretty well over the whole of Southern India, but while the latter is chiefly confined to the more open plain country, the former is the bird of the uplands, hills, and forests. Still the Jungle Babbler is found at times in the same localities as the White-headed one, and what is more, specimens occur, as in Cochin, which partake of the distinctive characters of both. A great deal still remains to be done in working out properly this group; both in Sindh on the west and the Tributary Mehals on the east, and again in some parts of the Nilgiris, races occur quite intermediate between typical C. terricolor and typical C. malabaricus, while in the south, as already mentioned, forms intermediate between this latter and C. griseus seem common. Three distinguishable races again of C. griseus are met with, but running the one into the other, while intermediate forms between this species and C. somervillii (Sykes) are also met with.

Mr. Davison remarks: "This bird seems to be very irregular in its time of breeding. I have taken the nest in May, June, October, and December. The nest is rather a loose structure of dry grass and leaves, lined with fine dry grass; it is generally placed in the middle of some thick thorny bush, and cannot generally be got at without paying the penalty of well scratched hands. The eggs, generally five in number, are of a very deep blue with a tinge of green, but of not so decided a tinge as in the eggs of M. griseus. It breeds on the slopes of the Nilgiris, not ascending to more than about 6000 feet."

Mr. Wait, writing from Coonoor, says: "C. malabaricus builds a cup-shaped nest in small trees and bushes, and lays from three to five very round oval verditer-blue eggs."

Captain Horace Terry says of this species: "Rather rare at Pulungi, but very common lower down on the slopes and in the Pittur valley. I got a nest on April 5th at Pulungi with three incubated eggs, and on the 6th one with two incubated eggs, in the Pittur valley. The last was built in a hollow in the top of a stump of a tree that had been broken off some ten feet from the ground."

Mr. I. Macpherson writes from Mysore: "This bird is occasionally found with C. griseus in the bigger scrub forests, but its chief habitat is the larger forests. Its breeding-season is much the same as C. griseus but unlike it, it does not select thorny bushes for building in, its nests being generally found in small trees or bamboo-clumps. Four is the usual number of eggs laid, but five are often found, and the fifth I expect is frequently that of H. varius."

Three eggs sent me by Mr. Carter from Coonoor, in the Nilgiris, are absolutely undistinguishable from those of Argya malcolmi. Like these they are a uniform, rather deep greenish blue, devoid of spots or markings, and very glossy. I do not think that, if the eggs of A. malcolmi, C. malabaricus, and C. terricolor were once mixed, it would be possible to separate them with certainty. Other eggs taken by Mr. Davison are similar but slightly smaller, and, taking them as a whole, I think they average rather darker than those of the two species just mentioned.

The eggs vary in length from 093 to 102, and in breadth from 071 to 082; but the average of nine eggs is 097 by nearly 077.

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