(1206) Arachnothera longirostre longirostre (Lath.).
THE INDIAN SMALL SPIDER-HUNTER.
Arachnothera longirostra longirostra, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 418.
This little Spider-hunter is not rare in South-Western India from Belgaum to Southern Travancore, where it was found breeding by Bourdillon and Stewart. It is then again obtained in great numbers in East and South Assam, whence it extends throughout the whole of Burma, South to the Malay States. To the East it is common in Siam, Annam and Cochin China.
It is essentially a bird of green forest, frequenting alike the deeper, darker recesses and the sunlit glades and exteriors, while it also haunts secondary growth and, in Travancore only, land covered with elephant-grass. It is undoubtedly more common below 2,000 feet than above this height, but I have found it breeding occasionally up to 5,000 feet in Assam, while it is recorded as occurring in the Himalayas up to 6,000 feet. In Travancore Stewart says that it is a bird of the green, humid forests below about 2,000 feet, but that it does range up to 4,000 feet. In Kanara, however, Davidson says that so far from being a forest bird he has “only seen it on a few occasions, and then all in gardens above the Ghats.” He gives, after this remark, the first description of its nesting recorded. (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. vi, p, 337, 1891):—“The bird chooses a large plantain-leaf a few feet from the ground, and to its underside sews its nest. This is composed of skeleton leaves an inch or two thick, and is nearly a foot sometimes in length. It has an entrance at each end and in the middle there is a hollow thickly padded with fine grass. I have always found two eggs or young the nests have always been found by me in February and March."
In Assam the nests made differ from the above in being smaller, neater and very seldom having two entrances. They may be placed under almost any big leaf. The favourite sites are the under surface of Castor-oil or Plaintain-leaves, but I have seen them built under leaves of “Tannahs,” “Khydias,” Ginger, Dock and those of the Giant Elephant-creeper, while in Travancore Stewart found nests built under the broad blades of elephant-grass. A deseription of a nest taken by me in Cachar and sent to ‘The Asian’ newspaper is typical of nine out of ten:— “This nest was of the same shape as the last, cup-shaped, and was attached to the under-side of a leaf of a stunted Plantain-tree. In measurements externally it was 4.1 inches across and slightly less in depth ; the walls were very thick and compact, being 4" at the edge, .6 just below and almost an inch at the bottom. The materials consisted principally of skeleton leaves and very fine soft grass with a few shreds of the outer bark of ekra stalks, the lining being a mass of vegetable down, most beautifully matted and felted down to the bottom and walls of the nest.”
Sometimes the nests are more oval in shape, say about 6 inches long by 4 inches wide. All are fastened to the leaf, in the same way as that of the Great Streaked Spider-hunter, by a vast number of threads of silk and spiders’-web fastened through the supporting leaf, with a knot on the upper side. In some nests the threads form a three-quarter circle round the upper edge of the nest, the remaining quarter being without threads and hanging well below the leaf so as to form an entrance. In some nests, however, the whole rim is drawn taut to the leaf and a regular circular hole is made for the ingress and egress of the parent birds. I have seen no nests in Assam or Burma anything like as big as the 9-inch nest recorded by Davidson.
In Assam this little Spider-hunter breeds principally from May to August, but I have taken eggs from the 24th March to the end of September, and many birds have two broods, never, I believe, in the same nest. In Kanara (fide Davidson) they breed in February and March, but I have seen eggs taken by him in August, while Stewart and Bourdillon took eggs in Travancore from the 7th March to the end of May.
The eggs are nearly always two only in number, occasionally three, and bear no resemblance to those of the larger Spider-hunters. The ground varies from white, faintly tinged with pink to a fairly warm salmon-pink, which is, however, exceptional. They are marked with tiny specks, like pin-points, of reddish, very thinly everywhere except in a sharply defined ring round the larger end. The depth of colour of the markings varies a little from pale to dark reddish or brick-red, but the eggs are remarkably constant and the only real variation I have seen is in two pairs of eggs from Siam, which are pure dead white with a narrow ring of black spots with grey specks underneath them.
The texture of the eggs is fine but not close and the shells are very fragile. In shape they are normally long obtuse ovals, short broad ones are exceptional.
One hundred eggs average 18.46 x 13.1 mm. : maxima 19.1 x 13.1 and 18.1 x 13.9 mm. ; minima 17.0 x 13.3 and 18.8 x 12.5 mm.
Both sexes incubate and the cock bird certainly helps in the construction of the nest in so far as fetching materials goes, but I have not seen him putting these into position.
1296. Arachnothera longirostra longirostra
(1206) Arachnothera longirostre longirostre (Lath.).