(1262) Aethopyga siparaja seheriae.
The Indian Yellow-backed Sunbird.
Nectarinia seheriae Tickell, J.A. S.B., ii, p. 577 (1833) (Seheria,. Borablium). Aethopyga seheriae. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 348. Aethopyga andersoni. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 349.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description. - Male. Forehead and crown metallic green extreme hinder crown and nape dull greenish-brown; sides of the head, neck, back, scapulars, lesser and median wing-coverts dark crimson ; rump bright yellow ; upper rail-coverts and central tail-feathers metallic green, lateral tail-feathers black suffused with purple-violet and edged with metallic green ; greater coverts and quills dark brown edged with olive-yellow; a long moustachial streak metallic violet; above the streak, the chin, throat and breast deep scarlet-crimson, never so dark as in the upper plumage remainder of lower plumage olive-green, more yellow in some individuals than in others.
The principal difference between this and the succeeding forms and those preceding it is the darker crimson hue below, the green instead of purple tail and the brown nape.
Colours of soft parts as in the other races.
Measurements. Wing 52 to 59 mm.; tail 55 to 74 mm.; tarsus about 14 to 16 mm.; culmen about 17 to 19 mm.
Female. Differs from the females of the preceding races in being more yellowish below and iu its longer tail.
Young birds are like the female.
Distribution. The foot-hills of the Himalayas from the Kuman Terai to the extreme East of Assam and Eastern Bengal. The dividing line between this and the next form cannot be given with much accuracy but it is possible that birds breeding above 5,000 feet throughout the Himalayas should all come under mussooriensis. The present race, seheriae, was originally taken by Tickell in Seheria, Borabhum ; Ball saw an Aethopyga, almost certainly of this species, in Singhbhum ; and D'Abreu records a male from Laugher, 1,933 feet, in the district of Balaghat, Central Provinces.
On the material available I cannot separate Hodgson's Nepal bird, miles, from the typical form. It is true that all his specimens have the underparts a very dark dull grey, practically without any olive-green, but this is a feature in all Hodgson's birds due, apparently, to his method of curing the skins. Until fresh and better skins are available for comparison it would be unsafe to maintain it as separate.
Aethopyga andersoni of Oates is founded on some specimens from the Shan States and Kauri Kachin Hills having the foreheads lilac instead of green. At the same time there are other specimens from the same places with green crowns and it is probable that the violet in the crowns of andersoni has been caused by getting wet whilst being prepared. For the present I do not recognize this race as sufficiently proved.
Nidification. Very many years ago Moller took several nests of this Sunbird in Sikkim, three in May and one in August, but he does not say at what elevation. The nests he describes as made of fine black rootlets lined with grass and then with seed-down ; all four were pear-shaped structures hanging from the ends of small branches of bushes. Primrose and Inglis took many of these nests in Goalpara and these were quite like others taken by myself and Coltart elsewhere in Assam. They were made nearly entirely of cotton-down, almost covered externally with moss, caterpillar excretae and other oddments; all were pear-shaped, with their necks composed of moss and moss-roots strong enough to sustain the weight of the nest. In nearly every instance the nests were strongly attached to the roots of bushes dangling down from the overhanging banks of small ravines and water-courses running through dense and very humid evergreen-forest. In rare-instances only did we find the nests on bushes. The eggs number two or three and are of two fairly definite types. In one the ground-colour is a pale cream or grey and the markings consist of numerous patches, small blotches and spots of light purplish-brown, numerous everywhere but even more so at the larger end, where they form fairly distinct rings or caps. Rarely the markings are paler reddish-brown but the only two clutches I have seen of this description were taken at high elevations, over 6,000 feet, in Sikkim and the Naga Hills and the birds breeding at these elevations may be the form I have recently described as mussooriensis. The second type has the ground pure white with markings of deep vandyke-brown, sparse over the greater part of the egg but forming a cap or ring at the larger end. Twenty-seven eggs average 15.1 x 11.4 mm.: maxima 16.3 x 11.6 and 15.9 x 12.0 mm. ; minima 14.3 x 11.2 mm.
In Assam and the foot-hills of the Himalayas they breed during May, June and July. A very large number of the nests contained eggs of the little Cuckoo, Chalcites maculatus.
Habits. This subspecies of AS. siparaja is a bird of the plains and foot-hills of the Himalayas, wandering up to about 4,000 or, perhaps, even 5,000 feet but normally inhabiting the wettest and hottest areas stretching from Eastern Assam to the foot-hills of Kuman. More breeding material is still wanting of both seheriae and mussooriensis.
In Winter this beautiful Sunbird is found alike in forest, thin jungle, cultivated lands and in gardens and orchards. Where there are flowers, flowering shrubs or other insect attractions there will the Yellow-backed Sunbird assuredly be found, clinging to the stem of the flowers and rapidly inserting its bill like a bee, first into one, then into another of the flowers, reaching the honey and also eating the many insects engaged in a like repast. Sometimes it will hover for seconds in front of a flower as it feeds on its contents, sometimes but for a moment before darting off at wonderful speed, only to return again to the same flower or to one a few inches away. Where there are no flowers it hunts the under surface of leaves for insects and I have also seen it feeding on small spiders. When the breeding-season commences it resorts far more to forest, and far less to gardens, though it never quite deserts the hitter. The note is a sharp trill and is uttered on the wing; males when feeding in company, as they often do, constantly make this call to one another, but they are very pugnacious as well as gregarious and their social clubs often break up in disorder over some trivial dispute. They feed most often on flowers and bushes near the ground but I have seen them feeding in the flowers of the cotton-tree over 100 feet up.