(2067) Chlidonias leucopareia indica.
THE INDIAN WHISKERED TERN.
Viralva indica Stevens in Shaw's Gen. Zool., xiii, pt. 1, p. 169 (1832) (Cawnpore). Hydrochelidon hybrida. Blanf. «& Oates, iv, p. 307.
Vernacular names. None recorded
Description. Whole upper part of head to extreme hind-neck velvety-black: upper plumage light ashy-grey, the upper back rather darker; first primary dark grey-brown edged internally with lighter grey; second primary silver-grey on the outer web, dark grey-brown with pale grey edging to the inner web; the grey increasing until the inner primaries are all grey, rather darker than the back; secondaries like the back; chin, sides of head and feathers next the black almost white; throat and fore-neck grey, shading away to black on the abdomen, vent and posterior flanks; under tail-coverts and under wing-coverts white, axillaries pale grey.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown ; bill red; legs and feet bright to dark red.
Measurements. Wing 220 to 242 mm.; tail 78 to 82 mm.; tarsus 21 to 22 mm.; culmen 26 to 32 mm.
In Winter the forehead and fore-crown, sides of head, hind-neck and whole lower plumage are white; hind-crown streaked with black and almost wholly black on the nape and in a line from the lores to behind the eye; upper parts much paler grey than in Slimmer.
Young birds have the crown and mantle brown, the head darkest, each feather broadly edged with mottled rufous; under-parts and hind-neck white.
Distribution. All India to tbe extreme South. Birds from Mesopotamia seem to be nearer to this race than the true leucopareia but may possibly belong to yet another and intermediate race occupying Palestine, Arabia and Mesopotamia to Persia.
Nidification. This little Tern breeds in great numbers from Mesopotamia to Western Bengal and all over Northern India. In Southern and Central India it is less common. They make nests of reeds and rushes, more or less mixed with water-weeds and often of considerable bulk, which are built partly or wholly supported by lily leaves and other water-plants on swamps and lakes. The colonies are often of great size, the nests sometimes scattered widely over a great area, at other times placed so closely that they almost touch, one another. The eggs number two or three and vary very greatly in colour; the ground-colour ranges from pale to deep stone-colour, yellowish, olive-green, olive-brown or buffy-brown, whilst the markings consist of blotches of blackish-brown, red-brown or light brown, generally fairly dense at the larger end, sparse and more freckly in character elsewhere. Secondary markings are scant and in colour are of a pale grey or neutral tint. Two hundred eggs average 36.9 x 27.4 mm.: maxima 40.8 X 26.4 and 37.0 x 29.3 mm.; minima 34.3 x 27.4 and 35.3 x 20.0 mm. This bird breeds from the middle of May to the middle of July.
Habits. The Indian Whiskered Tern is a bird of lakes and marshes and, though in the non-breeding season it may be seen on the larger rivers, it seldom resorts to them. It is, however, often found working over rice-fields when the rice is still too young to prevent their fishing. They live principally on water insects and larvae, dragonflies, grasshoppers etc. but also on fish and tadpoles and are very systematic in their hunting. The whole flock generally works in unison, commencing at the end of a lake and working their way gradually to the other end,, when they once more return to their original starting-point. Their flight is most light and elegant, and the sight of a flock feeding is a really beautiful one. The call is a rather soft " jek-jek."
It is a resident bird wherever found but in the driest part of its habitat is absent during the hot weather months.