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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 9e

Subfamily CRATEROPODINAE (continued...)

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120. Pomatorhinus horsfieldii, Sykes. Southern Scimitar Babbler

Pomatorhinus horsfieldii, (Sykes), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 31; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 404.

The Southern Scimitar Babbler breeds throughout the hilly tracts of Southern India, up to an elevation of fully 7000 feet. They are common in Ootacamund, and even on Dodabet as high up as it is wooded. They seem to breed less plentifully about Kotagherry than they do at Ootacamund itself, Coonoor, Neddivattam, etc. They lay from February to May, building a largish globular nest of grass, moss, and roots, placed on or very near to the ground in some bush or clump of fern or grass. They lay five eggs.

A nest of this species which I owe to Mr. Carter, and which was found at Coonoor on the 7th April, 1869, is a huge globular mass of moss and fine moss-roots some 7 inches in diameter, with, on the upper side, an entrance to a small egg-cavity some 3½ inches in diameter, and 2 inches in depth. It is a most singular nest, a great compact ball of soft feathery moss and very fine moss-roots, which latter predominate in the interior of the cavity, and so form a sort of lining to it. The great body of the nest is below the cavity, the overhanging dome-like covering of the cavity being comparatively thin.

Mr. Davison remarks: "The nest of this bird is very peculiar in structure, more like the nest of a field-mouse than of a bird, being in fact merely a ball of grass rather loosely put together, the grass on the exterior being intermingled with dry leaves and other rubbish. The nest is generally placed either in a clump of fern, or at the roots of some grass-grown bush. The eggs are pure white, very elongated, and with a remarkably thin and delicate shell. The normal number appears to be five. The breeding-season is, I think, the latter end of April and May."

Later, he writes: "It must, I think, breed twice, as I found a nest on the 10th March with fully-fledged young, and late in April another nest with perfectly fresh eggs."

Writing of this species Dr. Jerdon says: "I procured its nest near Neddivattam on the Nilgiris, on a bank on the roadside, made with moss and roots, and containing four white eggs of a very elongated form."

Miss Cockburn, of Kotagherry, furnishes me with the following note on the nidification of this species: "These birds build rather large nests, among the roots of bushes, and generally prefer those which grow on the slopes of steep hills. Their nests are composed of coarse grass, a few roots of the same, and the bark of a bush, which cracks when dry and is very easily pulled off. These materials are put together into a round nest, and also form a covering above, which makes the inside look very snug indeed. But if any attempts are made to remove the nest, it generally falls to pieces, the materials having no tenacity. This bird commonly uses no lining to its nest, but lays its eggs (three to five in number) on the coarse grass of which the inside is composed. The eggs are pure white, particularly thin-shelled, and consequently perfectly translucent. They are found during the months of February and March."

Messrs. Davidson and Wenden, writing from the Deccan, remark: "Very common along tops of ghâts. D. got a nest with two eggs in March."

Mr. T. Fulton Bourdillon writes from Travancore: "I have been so fortunate as to obtain two nests of this bird lately, though I have never found any before. The first contained three fresh eggs on the 5th December last, and was situated in a bank on the roadside at an elevation of about 3000 feet above sea-level. The nest was very loosely made of grass, with finer kinds of grass for the lining. I endeavored to preserve it, but it fell to pieces on being taken from its position, and I only succeeded in saving the eggs. As the bird, usually a very shy one, flew off on my approach and remained close by while I was examining the nest, I have no doubt of its identity. Whether she would have laid more eggs I cannot say, but I fancy not; three seems to be the usual number judging from the two clutches taken. The other nest I found on the 8th of this month just completed. It was in much the same position as the last, viz. a bank by the roadside, and as it was near my bungalow I watched to see how the eggs were deposited. The bird laid one egg each day on the 11th, 12th and 13th, and then began to sit, so on the 15th I took the nest. When fresh the eggs are beautifully pink from the thinness of the shell."

Mr. J. Darling, junior, remarks: "Mr. Davison makes a very good remark on the nest of this bird, but I found one once under the roots of a tree at Neddivattam, and it was a most beautiful nest, built entirely of the fibrous bark of the Nilgiri nettle, in the shape of an oven, with a hole to go in at one side. It contained four pure white delicate eggs. Another one found near the same place was of the same nature, only resting on some fern-leaves and under a rock, and contained five eggs.

"I found a nest down at Vythery, Wynaad, in a hole in the bank of a road, in December 1874, made entirely of broad grass, very untidy, and containing three eggs."

Mr. Rhodes W. Morgan writing from South India, says: "Breeds in April, constructing a neat domed nest of leaves on the ground, at the foot of a bush. The nest is lined with fine grasses, and almost always contains three eggs, which, when fresh, are of a beautiful pink colour, owing to the yolk shining through the shell, which is exceedingly fragile. The egg, when blown, is of a very beautiful glossy white. If suddenly approached whilst on its nest, this bird runs out like a rat, and flies when at a distance from the nest. An egg in my collection measures 1·04 by ·7 inch."

The eggs sent me from the Nilgiris by Miss Cockburn and Mr. Carter are nearly perfect ovals, usually much elongated, but sometimes moderately broad, and very slightly compressed towards one end. They are very fragile, and perfectly pure spotless white in colour. Typically, although smooth and satiny in texture, they have but little gloss, but occasionally a fairly glossy egg is to be met with.

In length they vary from 0·98 to 1·12, and in breadth from 0·75 to 0·79; but the average seems to be about 1·08 by 0·77.

122. Pomatorhinus ferruginosus, Blyth. Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler

Pomatorhinus ferruginosus, (Blyth), Jerdon B. Ind. ii, p. 29; Hume, Rough Draft N. & E. no. 401.

The Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, according to Mr. Hodgson's notes, breeds in Sikkim, at an elevation of 5000 or 6000 feet. Its nest is placed about a foot or 2 feet above the ground, in a bamboo-clump or some thick bush, and is firmly wedged in between the twigs and shoots. It is composed internally of dried bamboo-leaves, grass, and vegetable fibres, outside which bamboo-sheaths are bound on with creepers and fibres of different kinds. The nest is more or less egg-shaped, with the longer diameter horizontal, some 7 inches or so in length and 5 inches in height, and with the entrance at one end, measuring some 3 inches in diameter. Four or five eggs are laid, elongated ovals, somewhat pointed towards the small end, pure white, and measuring about 1·08 by 0·7.

From Sikkim Mr. Gammie writes: "I took a nest of this bird on the 19th May, at an elevation of about 5000 feet. It was placed on the ground, among low scrub, near the outskirts of a large forest, and was neatly made, for a Pomatorhinus, of bamboo-leaves and long grass, with a thin lining of fibry strips torn from old bamboo-stems. In shape it was a cone laid on its side. Externally it measured 9 inches in length by the same in height at front, while the egg-cavity measured 3·5 inches across, and 1·75 in depth. The entrance, which was at the end, measured 3 inches in diameter.

"Next to the lining was a layer of broadish grass-blades, placed lengthways, i.e. from base to apex of the cone, then came a cross layer of broad bamboo-leaves succeeded by a second layer of bamboo-leaves placed lengthways. By this arrangement the nest was kept perfectly water-tight. So nicely were these simple materials put together that they held each other in their places without the assistance of a single fibre.

"The nest contained four partially incubated eggs: three of them pointed and exactly alike, but the fourth rounded, and apparently of a different texture, so that it may have been introduced by a Cuckoo."

Two eggs sent by Mr. Gammie are moderately elongated ovals, somewhat obtuse even, at the smaller end. The shell is very fine, pure white, and has a fine gloss. They measure 1·1 by 0·83, and 1·06 by 0·78.

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