(1278) Leptocoma asiatica asiatica.
The Indian Purple Sunbird.
Certhia asiatica Lath,, Ind. Orn., i, p. 288 (1790) (India. Gurgaon, Central India). Arachnechthra asiatica. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 359 (part).
Vernacular names. Slxakar khora (Hind.); Juggi jugi (Bhagal pur): Than-kudi (Tam.); Gewal kurulla (Cing.); Thun-thuni (Beng.).
Description. - Adult male. Whole upper plumage, lesser and median wing-coverts metallic purple, sometimes washed with violet and sometimes all more greenish ; tail deep blue-black ; greater coverts black, those next the scapulars edged with purple; quills dark brown; chin, throat, fore-neck and breast metallic violet-blue with a tinge of copper across the breast; remainder of underparts violet or purple-black; pectoral tufts mixed scarlet and yellow, the latter predominating.
Colours of soft parts. Iris hazel to deep brown ; bill and legs black.
Measurements. Wing 55 to 57 mm.; tail 35 to 36 mm.: tarsus 15 to 16 mm. ; culmen about 16 to 19 mm.
Female. Upper plumage and wings dull greenish-brown ; the tail dark brown, the lateral feathers tipped with white; lower plumage dull to rather bright yellowish.
Young birds are like the adult female with rather more grey lower plumage. The young males acquire a broad metallic purple stripe from the chin to the lower breast and the metallic upper plumage at the first Spring moult.
Males in Winter lose the dark metallic plumage and become greenish above and light yellow below with a broad median stripe of metallic black. Finn and Ticehurst have shown that in addition to the complete Spring moult the males have a body-moult in the Autumn and the latter has in his collection specimens of the Sind race showing the new yellow feathers of the abdomen appearing among the old metallic feathers. In the Common Indian Purple Sunbird both Spring and Autumn moult must be most irregular as males in full breeding-plumage are common throughout the Winter, but with a bird having so prolonged a breeding-season this is to be expected.
Nidification. The Indian Purple Sunbird breeds principally from January to May but the time varies greatly in different Provinces and in Saugor aud Jhansi May to August seem the favourite months. Around Calcutta, where they are exceptionally common, I have seen nests with eggs in every month of the year but it is exceptional for them to breed just before or just after the break of the rains in June and July. In the Nilgiris, where they breed up to 8,000 feet, March to June forms the breeding-season, whilst in the Himalayas, which they ascend to about 4000 feet, most eggs are laid in May and June. In Ceylon they breed, principally, from November to May. The nest is pear-shaped with a rather long neck, a tail of oddments and an entrance rather high up, generally with a porch hiding or semi-hiding it. Almost any materials may be used in its construction, but scraps of moss, lichen, leaves and bits of grass form the basis always much mixed with cobwebs. One nest I saw was built almost entirely of scraps of tissue-paper, another in great part of bits of red flannel, whilst a third, the builders not content with an odd feather or two, was composed of hardly anything but chicken-feathers. The lining is of down, fine seeding grass or wool. The nest may be placed almost anywhere but nearly always within six feet or so of the ground. This Sunbird does sometimes breed in thin forest or scrub-jungle but it is essentially a bird of the garden and often, indeed, of the house, fastening its nest to the lattices of verandahs,, to branches of verandah pot-plants or even to ropes and other convenient points inside the houses. It lays two or three eggs, but most often the former in Southern India and Ceylon. The ground-colour is normally a pale grey but they are often tinted with yellow, buff, red or green. In the great majority of eggs the markings consist primarily of flecks and freckles of greyish-brown covering the whole egg profusely but nearly always most numerous at the larger end. In some there is a well-defined ring and in others a blurred cap. In a few eggs the markings are sparse elsewhere but form broad rings or caps at the larger ends. Exceptional eggs are rich red-brown in general tint rather than grey-brown. One hundred eggs in my own collection average 16.3 x 11.6 mm.: maxima 17.9 x 11.8 and 16.9 x 12.3 mm. minima 14.1 X 11.0 and 15.1 x 10.9 mm. A very large egg taken by Blewitt measured 19.3 x 12.4 mm.
Most birds have two broods, and many, three, in the year.
Habits. This sprightly little bird is a feature of every Indian garden, which he adorns with his presence and helps to keep cheerful with his song, which Inglis likens "in some respects to that of a canary." The ordinary note is the shrill, but pleasant, trill of the genus. It is a most active and energetic little bird, ever on the move; sometimes dodging about the branches of a flowering shrub, first hanging head downwards to peer into some flower, then dashing at a leaf to secure a tiny insect and, anon, poised on quivering wing it hovers in front of another bloom seeking its dinner of nectar, seasoned with small insects. Its display is very beautiful. It hovers vertically in the air, its wings beating so quickly that only a haze of feathers is seen, in front of which its pectoral plumes show like a blaze. For a few seconds this attitude is maintained, then with a flick of its wings it is away, only to return in a few moments to the same spot and repeat the performance.
In the greater part of its habitat this bird is resident, but it deserts the higher hills in Winter and in the Punjab also it seems to be only a Summer visitor.