(794) Agrobates galactotes familiaris (Menetr.).
THE GREY-BACKED WARBLER.
Agrobates galactodes familiaris, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 386.
This Warbler breeds from Southern Caucasus to Persia, Mesopo¬tamia, Transcaspia, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and North-West India.
How far South and East it breeds in India is doubtful. Ticehurst (Ibis, 1922, p. 547) says that in the North-West and in Sind it is only a passage-migrant, and for some reason doubts Currie’s state¬ment that it breeds in Multan. It, however, undoubtedly breeds at that place, whence Currie sent me a skin for identification and several nests and eggs. Again, Whitehead writes:—“It may interest you to hear that Aedon familiaris breeds freely in a certain patch of thorn scrub close to Kohat. I only found this out too late, May 19th, and so only got one clutch and one addled egg, though I found a number of nests with young. This is interesting, as Oates says this species is not likely to be found breeding within Indian limits. I shot the old bird which had the eggs for identifi¬cation. The bird is one of familiar habits, rather like the Brown-backed Robin, but not such a ground-lover. It has a fine reddish tail, which it is very proud of constantly raising and spreading.”
Currie records (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxiii, p. 365, 1914):—“Aedon familiaris.—It may be of interest to ornitho¬logists to know that it is one of the commonest birds in Multan and Montgomery ‘Burs’ during the months of May and June.
“I first noticed this bird at Kamalia, near the border of Lyallpur and Multan districts, during May 1912 but could find no nests. Later on in the same month, in the same locality, I took two nests containing 3 and 4 eggs respectively. During 1913 and 1914 I found this bird common in almost every part of the jungles in Multan and took numerous nests. The jungle as found in Multan and Montgomery is not jungle as generally known : it is really bush scrub, the bushes being Jand, Van or Jai, and Karil or wild caper— I cannot at present recall their scientific names. The soil is in some places sandy, sometimes rising in regular ranges of sand¬hills 60' or 70' high, but for the most part of it as flat as a billiard table. In other places it is what is known as ‘put,’ a rich loam on which excellent crops are grown in the parts brought under cultivation. The Jal and Jand occasionally grow into trees of considerable size but, as a rule, they only average some 15' or 20' in height. It is in jungle such as the above the Grey-backed Warbler is to be found, and I have taken its nest in all three of the above bushes.
“In the Jal, the branches of which generally drop towards the ground, the nest is usually to be found placed between two or three thick branches where they cross one another ; in the Jand and Karil generally up against the trunk of the tree, resting on a thickish branch. I have never seen a nest over 3' from the ground.
"An interesting feature as regards the nidification is the different types of nests one meets with. In the Jand the nest is small and compact, in Jal and Karil large and loosely put together. From this I strongly suspect that advantage is often taken of a deserted nest of Molpastes leucotis, as this bird almost invariably builds in Jand trees in this locality and the nests are exactly alike. In Karil bushes the nests always resembles that of Argya caudata, which commonly builds in this bush, while in the Jal the nest is a large loose structure quite different from the other two, and this type of nest I take to be the work of Aedon familiaris himself, as no other bird, with the exception of Doves, breeds in these bushes. Of course it may be that the bird suits its type of nest to the bush it builds in, but I do not think so. On one occasion I found a nest in a Jal bush, containing one egg, placed on the top of another nest, also containing one egg, addled. Mr. Cumming, of the Quetta Museum, tells me he has found this bird in Persia breeding in small date palms and in holes in walls, but so far in Multan I have only found it in the above-mentioned trees ; indeed, in the areas in which crops are grown it is entirely absent. Four eggs is the largest clutch I have found, three appearing to be the usual number, which are of the grey type, none of the red type having so far been found.”
In Kohat Whitehead says it breeds in dry scrub-jungle and, "of five nests found, three were placed in thorn bushes close to the ground, the other bred on the ground under low shrubs.”
In India this bird breeds in May, some eggs near Kohat being laid in the end of April, but in Mesopotamia Pitman, Tomlinson, Cox and Cheeseman all found them breeding in June, and Currie also found them breeding in this month in Persia.
In India three or four eggs seem to form a full clutch, but in Mesopotamia and Persia four or five.
The ground-colour of the eggs is a very pale grey, sometimes tinged with clear pale sea-green and at other times a brownish- grey. In the first type the whole surface is profusely covered with small specks, blotches and spots of greyish-brown, generally still more numerous at the larger end, though very seldom showing any signs of ring or cap. In the second type the markings are more brown but are disposed in the same way. In the first type one gets the impression of grey or greenish-grey eggs and in the second of brown eggs. There is a third type which has a pink ground with reddish freckles, but this erythristic type has not been taken in India.
In shape the eggs vary from broad, blunt ovals to long, pointed ones. The texture is only moderately fine and gloss is unusual, except in some of the greenish eggs.
Seventy eggs, measured by myself, average 20.9 x 15.4 mm. : maxima 23.5 x 16.3 mm. ; minima 18.9 x 15.0 and 19.2 x 14.0 mm.
794. Agrobates galactotes familiaris
(794) Agrobates galactotes familiaris (Menetr.).