(1266) Aethopyga ignicauda ignicauda.
The Fire-tailed Yellow-backed Sunbird.
Cinnyris ignicauda Hodgs., Ind. Rev., ii, p. 273 (1837) (Nepal). Aethopyga ignicauda. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 351.
Vernacular names. None recorded.,
Description. - Male. Forehead, crown and sides of chin and throat merallic blue; sides of the crown, from the eye, nape, back and sides of neck, back, scapulars and upper tail-coverts crimson ; rump bright yellow; middle tail-feathers crimson brick-red, outer feathers brown edged with crimson ; wing-feathers brown, edged with ruddy olive-yellow; chin and throat purple; breast yellow, suffused in the centre with scarlet-crimson ; remainder of lower plumage dull greenish-yellow.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; bill, legs and feet black.
Measurements. Wing 55 to 60 mm.; tail 108 to 118 mm.; tarsus 14 to 15 mm. ; culmen about 17 to 19 mm.
Female. Upper plumage ashy-green, brighter on the back and with the feathers of the rump and upper tail-coverts fringed with yellow; wing like that of the male; central tail-feathers blackish, edged with rufescent brown and tipped paler ; chin, throat and breast ashy-green, changing to greenish-yellow on the abdomen and posterior flanks.
Distribution. Nepal, Sikkim, Assam, Cachar, Sylhet, Manipur and Tippera in Eastern Bengal. West it extends to Garhwal and Kuman.
Nidification. I found this Sunbird breeding occasionally in the highest hills South of the Brahmaputra in April and May at about 6,000 feet. The nests were pear-shaped, made of the finest seed-down, held together with spiders' webs, scraps of moss and grass, and were attached to bracken-fronds in stunted oak forest. One nest taken in the Khasia Hills was similar but mixed with fine black fibrous roots. A nest taken by Osmaston on the Tons River in Tehri-Garhwal at 11,000 feet differed considerably from this, as did one taken by Whymper in the hills-above Naini Tal. Both these latter nests were oval in shape, made externally of moss and fibre, then a layer of " thin pink papery rhododendron bark" and finally a lining of fine grass, flowers and feathers, or of cotton-seed. The eggs number two or three and vary greatly both in size and colour. In one clutch in my collection the eggs are pure white, scantily marked with small blotches of pinky-brown; another is creamy-pink with more numerous markings; whilst a third is livid pink, freckled all over with purplish-red, coalescing to form a cap at the larger end. In size they vary from 14.3 x 11.0 to 18.8 x 12.5 mm. (Osmaston). The average of 13 eggs is 15.7 X 11.8 mm.
Habits. This handsome Sunbird is an inhabitant of very high elevations, generally breeding above 8,000 feet, whilst Blanford and Osmaston both found it breeding at 11,000 feet and the latter also saw it up to 12,000 feet in Sikkim and up to 11,500 in Garhwai. It is a forest bird; Whymper and Osmaston found it mostly in forests of silver fir, birch and rhododendron, whilst the few seen by myself were all in forest, either of oak, Quercus serratifolia, or in mixed oak- and rhododendron-jungle. I found it to be a shy, retiring bird, though in the cold weather it used often to enter gardens and cultivated country. At this time of the year it descends commonly to 3,000 or 2,000 feet and Stevens actually obtained it in the Dejoo Tea Estate in the plains of Lakhimpur and shot some specimens which were feeding in the tea-bushes.