(362) Aegithina tiphia tiphia (Linn.).
THE COMMON IORA.
AEgithina tiphia tiphia, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 340.
I can add nothing to the distribution of this Iora given in the 'Fauna,’ and where found it is resident and. breeds. “All India except South Travancore, East of a line, roughly speaking, from the head of the Gulf of Cambay through Abu to Simla and excluding that portion of South Central India occupied by Ae. t. humei. It extends through Assam, Burma, certainly to the North of the Malay Peninsula ; East to Western Siam ; Annam (Robinson and Kloss) and the Kachin Hills. There is also a speci¬men in the British Museum from Khoorassan, in Persia.”
It is normally a bird of the plains but ascends the Himalayas to some height. In Sikkim Stevens gives its extreme limit as 5,000 feet (Teesta Valley). In the Simla States it apparently occurs, though, perhaps, exceptionally, up to 8,000 feet and, finally, Whymper obtained its nest at about 5,000 feet in Naini Tal. At all these higher elevations it is quite possible the bird moves up and down to some extent with the seasons, though this cannot be called a migratory movement.
Wherever found it is a common bird, frequenting gardens, orchards and open cultivated country but, at the same time, it breeds in the less inhabited parts both in forest, if open, and in bamboo- and scrub-jungle. So far as I know it never nests in the more heavy humid forests unless at the very edge of them.
The nests are cups deeper than hemispherical ; Hume gives the average of the nests he has seen—“cavity about 2" x 1.1/4" in depth”—and this agrees well with my own experience. They are very beautifully made compact little nests, the walls being so closely matted and welded together that they may be less than a quarter of an inch thick and are very seldom as much as half an inch. The materials used are shreds of grass-blade, fine soft fibres and, sometimes, a few very fine soft roots all thickly coated with cobwebs. If placed between upright twigs the materials are wound round them, as are the cobwebs, but if placed on a horizontal branch, a very favourite position, it seems generally to be attached to it by cobwebs alone, although the base of the nest may come some quarter inch or so down the sides of the supporting branch or twig. The lining is nearly always of the finest grass-stems but, in the jungles, I have seen brown rachides used and, now and then, a few very fine hair-like roots.
A rather exceptional nest taken by myself at Dacca was made of very fine shreds of reed-blades and strips of wild indigo leaf, and was placed on a small bush among reeds in a sandbank in the Brahmapootra.
In some instances, when the nests are placed in upright twigs, the bottoms of the nests are built to conform to the shape made by the twigs. Hume mentions one such as conical in shape, and I have seen others with the base prolonged to fit into an inch or more of the vacancy below the real base of the nest.
They do not, as a rule, place their nests at any great height from the ground. Often they are built in bushes between two and four feet from the ground but, even more often, in Mango-trees from six to fifteen or even twenty feet up. Blewitt, writing from Raipur, says that “both birds assist in the building of the nest and there evidently appears to be no choice of any particular kind of tree on which to build. I have found them indiscriminately on the mango, mowa, neem and other trees.” An unusual site is a bamboo-clump, but even this is sometimes selected, the birds choosing a horizontal twig on which to build their home.
When building their nests they are rather shy birds and resent being watched, deserting on very little provocation but, once they have laid, they sit very close and stand a great deal of inter¬ference before leaving for good. Davidson records that in Satara and Sholapur he thrice in one year took eggs from the nests of Ioras, yet the birds continued to lay and did not forsake the nest. In North Cachar, also, I once took a clutch of exceptionally beautiful eggs from a nest in a Beauganvillea hedge in my garden, yet the birds returned and laid another clutch which, though I admit with reluctance, I allowed them to hatch and rear. These two little birds became very tame and confiding and would feed their babies when I was standing within a few feet of them.
The breeding season varies considerably. In Assam, Behar and Bengal May to July seem the favourite months, whilst in the driest parts the birds wait for the Rains to break before starting their domestic arrangements. On the other hand, Mr. E. Tooth records the taking of the nest of an Iora on the 13th March, containing two fresh eggs, at Dumdum, near Calcutta.
Hume gives the time generally for India as May to September, Brooks gives July for Mirzapur, whilst Blewitt says July to September in Raipur. In the Bombay Presidency, Satara and Sholapur, Davidson says “this bird lays from June to August,” and in Burma Oates and Bingham found nests in May, June and July. In Siam E. G. Herbert got some of his eggs in March, but says that May is the general time for laying, though odd nests may be taken in June. Herbert, it should be recorded, found one nest in a very unusual position—“ on the horizontal part of the centre stem of a cocoanut palm leaf.”
The eggs number two or three, very exceptionally four, and are curious and yet beautiful eggs. The colour varies very consider¬ably but there are two main types, one giving the general impression of a grey egg, the second that of a pink egg. The following types, given in more detail, are all frequently met with :—
1. Ground-colour very pale creamy-grey with long streaks of brownish-grey running down the egg lengthways. These eggs look as if someone had spilt some grey-brown wash over the large end of the egg and it had trickled down towards the small end, making a mark en route like that of a drop of rain running down a window-pane.
2. Exactly the same but with a soft pink ground-colour and streaks of reddish-brown, with others underlying of pale neutral tint.
3. Like the two above types but with much shorter streaks, and these more or less mixed with a few blotches, in the one type of grey-brown, in the second typo of reddish-brown and neutral tint.
4. Very like eggs of Rhipidura (the Fantail Flycatchers), a creamy- yellow ground with a ring at the larger end of dark brown and lavender blotches, with a few of the same scattered elsewhere.
5. Pure white ground with chestnut and lavender blotches, mostly at the larger end. There are a few longitudinal blotches (one cannot call them streaks), but these eggs do not give the impression of streaked eggs. This type I have only seen in eggs taken in Siam.
All sorts of intermediate types occur, and I have one red clutch and one grey clutch so heavily pigmented that the streaks all run into one another and nearly cover the whole egg. One egg in a clutch of the ordinary grey type has one streak of blood-red, looking curiously out of place on the grey surface.
Sixty eggs average 17.6 x 13.9 mm. : maxima 19.0 x 14.3 and 18.1 x 15.0 mm. ; minima 16.2 x 14.0 and 18.2 x 13.2 mm.
Siam eggs, in addition to their unique colouring, are very small, running down to a minimum of 16.0 x 12.4 mm.
The courting display of this little bird is very beautiful. The cock rises up some 20 or 30 yards into the air in front of the place where the female is sitting and then, when at the top of his rise, puffs out all the long fluffy feathers of the lower back and rump until he looks like a little powder-puff with quivering wings. Very slowly he drops almost vertically to the ground, often slowly revolving as he does so, apparently with the aid of his tail, which is wide-spread all the time. This demonstration may be carried out many times, and is sometimes echoed to some extent by the female before further addresses are made.
362. Aegithina tiphia tiphia
(362) Aegithina tiphia tiphia (Linn.).