(557) Saxicoloides fulieata cambaiensis (Lath.).
THE BROWN-BACKED INDIAN ROBIN.
Saxicoloides fulieata cambaiensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 111.
The Northern race of Indian Robin is found North of the area occupied by the preceding subspecies practically to the foot-hills of the Himalayas from Sind and the Punjab to the drier, less heavily wooded portions of Eastern Bengal, Midnapore, Chota Nagpur and Western Behar. It does not occur in the flat alluvial districts of the Sunder bands or in Mymensingh, Dacca and adjoining districts. It ascends hills to about 2,000 feet or, perhaps, a little higher, whilst Whitehead found it in the Kurram Valley up to 3,000 feet.
There is little that can be said about the breeding habits of this Robin which has not been already said about its Southern repre¬sentative. Hume summarizes his information as follows:— “The Brown-backed Indian Robin breeds throughout the plains of Upper India from March to August, during which period it has always two and often three broods. If disturbed, especially if the nest be robbed, it generally (but not always) constructs a fresh nest ; otherwise it uses the same nest (only cleaning out the old and replacing it by new lining) for the whole season, and at times for two or three successive seasons. One pair reared eight broods in one and the same hole in my compound in three seasons. It builds commonly in holes in walls or banks, in niches in temples, under the eaves of huts etc. ; but it also builds not infrequently in thick bushes. In Mr. Nunn’s garden in Bichpooree I found two nests between the bayonet-shaped leaves of plants of the Yucca globosa, wedged in against the stems.
“The nest varies much in shape, size and materials, according to the situation and locality. When placed in holes they are usually merely soft, more or less circular, pads of soft grass, with a small central depression lined with horse, or even human, hair, fine roots OR vegetable fibres, cotton, wool or anything else that comes handy, with very frequently scraps of snakes’ skins incorporated. Sometimes even in holes a regular, but shallow, cup-shaped nest is built, and this is always the case when bushes and, as a rule, when ledges in buildings or banks are chosen, and then roots and grass, loosely but sufficiently firmly interwoven, form the body of the nest, which is lined with similar materials to those used when nesting in holes. I have seen very neat nests, very different to the ragged pads which commonly satisfy our Robin, between 4 and 5 inches in diameter externally and nearly 3 inches in height, with a cavity some 2.5 in diameter and 1.5 in depth.”
Although bushes as sites for the nests are very rarely chosen by the Southern birds, the Northern form often makes use of them. Marshall, Blewitt, Adam, Barnes, Jones and others have all recorded nests taken from bushes and small trees. Not infrequently, also, it makes its nest in tussocks of thick grass or in hollows among the roots of either grass or low bushes, while it has also been found wedged in among the spear-shaped leaves of both Aloes and Pine-apple plants.
As with most other common birds, curious sites are often selected for the nests. Marshall records one “built between two bricks in a native brick-kiln in course of preparation. The hen bird was sitting on the nest with the people working within a few feet of her. Another nest was on the sill of a blind window, and a third was in the hole for the punkah rope to pass through the wall.”
Anderson writes:—“Two pairs of these Robins built close to the Futtehgurh church three years ago ; one pair took up their abode in a tin watering-pot which had been placed in a slanting direction in a bush ; the other pair took possession of an old piece of cloth that had been thrown over the bough of a tree, and which formed a sort of loop or bag at the bottom, inside of which the nest was built.”
In Sind Eates has found nests, containing three or four eggs, in the walls of wells, in addition to the other normal positions already referred to. Ticehurst, however, notes (Ibis, 1922, p. 369) about Sind:—“The Indian Robin is very much a bird of the desert, where scattered Euphorbias and a few camel-thorn bushes alone struggle for existence, or in places which, where more bushes occur, might be dignified by the name of open scrub-jungle. Here it is more noticeable, as birds are very scarce. It seemed, therefore, all the more remarkable to me to find it common in quite thick damp ‘kaku’ grass and ‘kandi’ jungle on the Narra Canal ; to cul¬tivation, however, and the vicinity of habitations it seemed quite foreign, and I do not remember meeting with it in such situations.”
They seem sometimes to breed in company, two pairs of birds having often been recorded as breeding within a few yards of one another, whilst Col. A. C. McMaster says that three pairs built in the roof of his house in Kamptee.
Many observers have noted this little bird’s liking for cast snake-skin as a material both for the body and the lining of their nests. Arundel Begbie, commenting on this, writes :—“I have found so many cases where this has been done, and invariably with what seemed to be an attempt at a pattern, that it appears to me impossible that it was mere chance. In each case the nest has been lined with the usual horsehair, and worked into the lining have been two narrow strips of snake-skin in the form of a cross.” Both McMaster and Adam found scraps of mica also in the nests. Possibly the glistening of the skin and the mica attracted the birds, which seem to have a liking for bright material for nesting purposes. One of the three pairs nesting in McMaster’s house built their abode of scraps of coir-matting and lined it with red wool.
The breeding season, as noted by Hume, lasts from March to August, but the great majority of eggs are laid in March and April.
The eggs number three or four in a full clutch, though occasionally two only are laid. In Sind Ticehurst says that “four to six is the more usual number” and that “Ludlow has a clutch of seven eggs.” In colour and shape they are much the same as those of S. f. fulieata, already described, only varying from them in being larger.
One hundred eggs average 21.1 x 14.9 mm. : maxima 23.0 x 15.7 and 22.1 x 16.0 mm. ; minima 17.1 x 5.0 and 18.0 x 13.3 mm.
557. Saxicoloides fulicata cambalensis
(557) Saxicoloides fulieata cambaiensis (Lath.).