These rough notes are merely intended as a sort of nucleus, round which future observations, (which it is hoped that they may somewhat tend to systematize) may, as it were, crystal¬lize. In them, I have thrown together all the information in regard to Indian Oology and Ornithology, supplementary to my Mend Dr. Jerdon's excellent work, that I have happened to collect.
Much of this information is original, the result of recent observations of my own, or of the different gentlemen who have kindly communicated it, and whose names are duly recorded in loco, but much has also been extracted from the pages of the Ibis, Yarrell, Bree, Gould, &c, works with which every ornithologist ought to be acquainted, but which no working Indian field naturalist, (for whose use these notes are chiefly designed), can possibly carry about with him.
My object in now printing these avowedly miserably imperfect and disjointed scraps is, primarily, to enable my numerous coadjutors, in different parts of India, to ascertain what I have already on record, and what portion of the information they may happen to possess, will help to fill in many of the woeful blanks remaining in that record.
Hereafter* I propose, (D. V.,) to republish these notes in a revised form, in which I shall embody all the additional information that their circulation may elicit, and I earnestly entreat all who can to aid me in gathering together materials, for a really satisfactory account of the nidification and eggs of our Indian Birds.
If I be blamed for the innumerable errors and defects certain to occur in these notes, I can only plead - :
1st That they were jotted down in those rare leisure moments, that the control of a vast public department (whose operations extend over nearly 2,00,000 square miles, and whose employe's number nearly 14,000 officers and men), leaves me for recreation, and
2nd. That they contain, I believe, some little new and useful matter which I am unwilling should be lost, and that life being so uncertain, as it is in India, and I, having absolutely no time to work up the materials I have collected, and separate the wheat from the chaff, just print the whole as it is, so that, even if I do not live to do so, others at least may hereafter utilize whatever little good there is in it.
Gentle reader, if these notes chance to be of the slightest use to you, use them; if not, burn them, if it so please you, but do not waste your time in abusing me or them, since no one can think more poorly of them than I do myself.
* I have not, in the present notes, offered any general remarks on oology, nor attempted, as I shall hereafter do, to show how peculiarities, both in the eggs themselves and in nest architecture, are reproduced, not only in representative species, but even in representative genera, in distant portions of the globe. I reserve these subjects for a future edition, when, with ampler materials before me, I may hope to generalize both more usefully and more safely.
* To enable me to select good characteristic type specimens for figuring, it is absolutely necessary to have before one a large series of the eggs of each species. - : Moreover safe and useful generalizations can seldom be made, or in many cases useful descriptions written from only a few specimens. - : I therefore trust that all those who have it in their power, will favour me not only with particulars as to the nidification, but also with as many specimens as they conveniently can of the eggs of all those species, of which the text shows that these are still desiderata. Those disposed to assist, should address me direct at Agra.
So few, even of professed ornithologists, in India, at all realize the importance of oology as an element in classification, that I venture to reproduce some pregnant remarks on this subject, which appeared in the Ibis of 1867, from Mr. Tristram's pen.
" There are two very distinct tides of sylviad immigration in Palestine, In October and November, thousands of the hardier species pour down into the lowlands and wadys, where they remain till February or March. Then, for a month, the land is left almost deserted till in April and May the spring arrivals commence, and every thicket is tenanted by species either strange to our shores, or known only by the occasional capture of a straggler. Such are S. Orphea, Aedon Galactodes, Hypolais Elaica and H. Upcheri. We were especially fortunate in our opportunities of watching the nidification of the less known species, and I believe there is no class of birds in which the style of architecture, with the coloration and form of the egg, casts more light on the true grouping of species and the arrangement of genera. Possessed of a good series of the eggs of the Luscinidae, we might classify the species accordingly, and find that we had scarcely in one instance diverged from the recognized order of our best systematists. Thus the unique egg of Cettia Sericea separates it at once from all our other Palaearctic warblers, and points out its affinities to the long-tailed Prinia group of the Indian region. Then the the eggs of Savi's, and the grasshopper warbler, group them apart and link them to the very similar eggs of the Australian Megalurus and Calamanthus, Cisticola and Drymoeca, varying, as they do still vary, within the same limits as the oriental Prinia and Orthotomus, to which we must admit their affinities. The egg of Aedon stands out alone, steadily demanding a distinct and isolated position, which all who are familiar with its manners and note will readily grant, but approaching in habit, as in its eggs, the Indian Thamnobiae.
The great group of Calamoherpe, from whatever part of the world they come, have but one unmistakable character of egg, sharply defined from all the other groups. The beautiful and fragile eggs of every member of the genus Hypolais, though each distinct in markings and in ground-colour, from the richest salmon hue to pale ashy white, but all of a peculiar rough texture, are a group almost as isolated and peculiar as Pycnonotus, with no affinities approaching Phyllopneuste. These again, though infinitely varying within themselves, disclaim alliance with any of the other sylviads. We then have the genus Sylvia as restricted by Bonaparte, of which our white throat is the type, with its greenish ground colour and the spotting different in each species, while Melizophilus and Pyrrhophthalmus are evidently aberrant members of the same family. Next we may take the Curruca, as restricted by Bonaparte, with the eggs always of a whitish or brownish white ground, and the markings set each in a nimbus of fainter colour, as in our black cap and garden warblers; while Nisoria Undata, a good genus, comes next them by its ground colour, but wants the spots.
The Redbreast, pugnacious as he always is, stands aloof from any entangling alliances, and asserts an independent position as Erythacus, which introduces us to Mr. Gray's sub-family of Luscinidae comprising all the remaining sylviads. Here we find a character, pervading almost the whole sub-family, in the coloration of the eggs, which is never found in the first sub-family Sylvinae, viz. the blue or bluish white ground colour; Copsychus, Myiomela, Saxicola, Ruticilla, Thamnobia, and all their subdivisions, nave this common feature. The most aberrant are the genera Luscinia and Cyanecula with their uniform olive green coloration, but, as we well know, the nightingale's egg is not unfrequently blue, and the identity of the colour in the eggs of the blue throats attests their affinity to the nightingale. All the innumerable species of Saxicolinae lay blue eggs, either plain or spotted, and frequently, as in the Turdina, we find two closely affined species laying one a plain the other a spotted egg; while, occasionally, the eggs of comparatively distant members of the family are identical, as in the case of Saxicola Oenanthe and S. Isabellina. Of the five species of the sub-genus Dromolaea, of which I have taken the eggs, four are of the faintest bluish white with ruddy spots, and the fifth a rich blue ground with similar spots. Prom these we are led on to Ruticilla, the eggs of which are never spotted, though the ground colour varies from pure white in the single instance of R. Tithys, to the most delicate white with the faintest tinge in R. Moussieri, up to the very dark blue of It. Semirufa, a bird most closely allied to It. Tithys. Finally, we have the spotless blue of Sialia and Accentor, with which last I find much difficulty in grouping Mr. Grays Acanthiza, or the Siurus of the new world."