(2022) Amaurornis Phoenicurus chinensis (Bodd.).
THE CHINESE WHITE-BREASTED WATER-HEN.
Amaurornis phoenicurus chinensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. vi, p. 24.
This, the best known of all the races of phoenicurus, is found over almost the whole of India except the Southern half of Travancore, all Burma and China South to the islands of Hainan and Formosa and again to Malacca.
Where there is ample water and a heavy rainfall there the White¬breasted Water-Hen is a resident breeding bird but, where there are not and the country is desert, semi-desert or without great lakes and swamps, it does not occur. In the North-West and Punjab it is a comparatively rare bird ; in. Rajputana it is even more uncommon hut, in the Sind lakes, it is often almost abundant, though rare or absent elsewhere. In Sind, also, as doubtless in the other drier districts, much depends on the rainfall and, when this fails and lakes, swamps etc. shrink up or disappear, the birds make their way to other haunts where their requirements are to be found.
The nest varies very much both in character and in position. Sometimes it is placed in among tangles of reeds, coarse grass, cane¬brakes or any of the other forms of vegetation which grow either in the swamps or immediately round them. In these cases the nest may be just clear of the water or several feet above it, while in appearance it is just a heavy, large edition of the nest of the common Coot or Moorhen, made of grass, reeds, weeds etc. At other times it is built quite high up in bushes, trees or palms and it is then often made of twigs, creepers and such other material as may be handy for the purpose. Oates states that most of the nests he found in South Burma were high up in trees, not below 10 feet from the ground. In Assam most of the nests we found were in swamp-growth and were resting on reeds etc. only just dear of the water, sometimes actually in it, but one we discovered high up in a Peepul-tree, while another pair of birds had laid in the deserted nest of a Fishing- Eagle fully 25 feet from the ground.
In Sumbulpore Blewitt found one nest, with five eggs, five feet from the ground, well made and situated in a thick bush ; in Bombay Aitken took four eggs from a neat, which looked as if it had belonged to a Crow, built in the crown of a Date-palm.
Theobald in Monghyr and Scrope Doig in Sind found the nests in more normal positions, the latter describing them as “made of coarse sedge, generally in some thorny bush in the water which had grass growing up through it.”
In Sitapore Cock says that it is common; “the bamboo clumps on the outskirts of every village would always yield one or two nests in July or August. The nests are usually placed high up in the clumps and arc difficult to get at except by a ladder.” Oates says that in Burma also “A bamboo-bush, the branches of which are well entangled, is also much affected” as a site for the nest. Every¬ where the birds breed after the rains break, i.e., from the end of Jane until the middle of October, the majority of birds laying in July and August. In Assam over most of the plains, especially in Cachar and Sylhet, where the birds swarmed, we took few nests with full clutches until the end of July but, in North Lakhimpur, wo found that many birds laid in May in some of the Sub-Himalayan swamps, which were always well filled with water.
The number of eggs found in a clutch is normally five to seven but often four eggs are incubated and exceptionally eight eggs are laid. Bingham found this number in a nest in Tenasserim and clutches of the same number have been seen in Assam, Bengal and Bihar.
In shape the eggs are rather long ovals, blunt at the smaller end and sometimes almost cylindrical. The texture is moderately fine, not very close, while the surface, though fairly smooth, has little or no gloss, though an exceptional clutch has this more pronounced. The ground-colour varies from a pale cream or yellowish-stone to a rather warm salmon-buff, never very deep. In one Chinese clutch taken by Staff-Surgeon Jones in Sham Shui the ground is a warm reddish-buff, but this colour is exceptional. The primary markings consist of irregular blotches and spots, often rather longitudinal in character, of brick-red or rather light reddish-brown, with fewer secondary blotches of grey. In most eggs the markings are fairly numerous everywhere and only slightly more so at the larger end but, in some, the blotches are larger and decidedly more numerous at the larger end, sometimes coalescing to form an indefinite cap. Sometimes the blotches are sparser and sometimes they are all more in the nature of specks and spots, but weakly marked eggs are few in number.
One hundred eggs average 40.5 x 29.7 mm, : maxima 45.0 x 31.0 and 41.1 x 31.9 mm. ; minima 37.0 x 29.5 and 37.8 x 28.0 mm.
Both sexes incubate, as I have trapped the male on the eggs, but I have no information as to whether he assists the female with house-building.
The birds sit close and, when nests are made on village ponds— as sometimes happens—they are ridiculously tame and have to be almost pushed off their nests. Otherwise they generally creep quite quietly away just before they can be spotted.
The males are pugnacious hut seldom do one another much harm.
The display, or nuptial dance, which I have only once seen, is quite typical of the Emails.
2022. Amaurornis phoenicurus chinensis
(2022) Amaurornis Phoenicurus chinensis (Bodd.).