(763) Artamus fuscus.
The Ashy Swallow-Shrike.
Artamus fuscus Vieill., Nouv. Dict. d'Hist. Nat., xvii, p. 297 (1817) (Bengal) ; Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 498.
Vernacular names. Tori ababil (Hind.); Tal-chatak (Beng.); Tati-pittorh (Tel.); Muro-sing (Mussal. in Beng.); Silliangchi-pho (Lepcha).
Description. Lores, feathers next the culmen and under the eye black; head and neck dark slaty-grey shading into dark vinous-brown on the back, rump, scapulars and shorter tail-coverts ; longer upper tail-coverts white; tail slaty-black, tipped with white; wings dark grey, the inner quills very finely edged with white; lower plumage pale vinous-brown, paler on the vent and middle of the abdomen; under tail-coverts white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris blood-red; bill bright mauve-blue in the male, grey-blue in the female, tipped with black; the younger the bird the less and the duller the blue; legs slate-colour or bluish-slate, more blue in the breeding-season than at other times.
Measurements. Total length about 180 mm.; wing 126 to 138 mm.; tail 53 to 64 mm.; tarsus 17 to 38 mm.; culmen 18 to 19 mm.
Young. Above brown, the feathers edged with pale rufous and with dark subterminal bars ; below pale rufescent narrowly barred with faint brown. The iris is dull glaucous-brown; the bill is blackish brown with a yellow gape; legs brownish livid or dull slate.
Nestling. More freely and strongly barred than the fully fledged young and with the wing-coverts broadly edged with rufous and with subterminal dark bars.
Distribution. Throughout the Empire from Ceylon to the Himalayas East of a line draw n from Godra in the Panch Mahals to Naini-tal in Kumaon; resident throughout the Plains and foothills up to 2,000 feet, and ascending the mountains up to 5,000 feet in Summer. It extends throughout Burma, Shan States, Siam, Cochin China, Yunnan and Western China.
Nidification. Throughout its habitat this Swallow-Shrike breeds during April, May and June, constructing a rather shallow flimsy nest of roots, fibre from cocoanut and date palms, or from palm-ferns and other odds and ends of various kinds, such as feathers, scraps of grass, etc., which have caught on the trees and bushes, for this bird never takes its nest-material from the ground. There is no lining as a rule but sometimes a few feathers are used for this purpose. The nest may be placed in any hole in a tree-stump or, more often, on a ledge or projecting stump or broken bough. A very favourite site is at the base ot the leaves of palms or palm-ferns or on the rough projections from which the leaves have fallen. The eggs number two or three, very rarely four, and are rather Shrike-like in appearance. The ground-colour varies from almost white to a rich yellowish-cream or buffy-cream; the primary markings consist of blotches of reddish brown to deep purple-brown and there are always secondary, or subsurface, markings of lavender and purplish grey. The markings are generally sparsely scattered about over the greater part of the egg, though more numerous at the larger end, where they sometimes form a ring or cap. Fifty eggs average 23.4 X 17.1 mm. and the extremes are: maxima 25.3 x l7.2 and 25.1 x 18.0 mm.; minima 22.0x16.6 and 23.0 X 16.3 mm.
Habits. The Swallow-Shrikes are essentially gregarious birds, the males collecting in flocks even during the breeding-season and they often, especially in Siam, build their nests in small colonies or in very close proximity to one another. They are not really migratory, though birds which are resident near the hills forsake the plains to breed and, where monsoons are very heavy, they seek drier haunts during the heaviest rains. They are most elegant birds when on the wing and, hut for their constant harsh cry and their comparative slow sailing through the air, might be taken for a a bevy of large Grey Swallows on the wing. They are very crepuscular during the hotter months of the year, feeding principally before 10 am. and again after the sun gets low down. They catch all their food on the wing, sailing from some lofty perch in wide circles all together and then once more collecting on one branch, 30 or 40 birds huddled close up in the smallest space possible. A few minutes of shuffling about and getting comfortable and, for no apparent reason, a further launching into the air again. This may go on for an hour before darkness descends and they finally settle down to sleep.