(556) Saxicoloides fulieata fulieata (Linn.).
THE BLACK-BACKED INDIAN ROBIN.
Saxicoloides fulieata fulieata. Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 109.
This familiar little Robin breeds over the whole of Ceylon and Southern India, roughly North to a line drawn across the peninsula from Ahmadnugger on the West to the Godaveri on the East, though the birds on and about this line are intermediate between this, the Southern form, and the Brown-backed or Northern Indian form. It is found in practically any kind of country which is not too heavily forested but is more numerous in dry areas than in those which are very wet, whilst it does not seem ever to ascend hills over 3,000 feet and not often those over 2,000 feet. On the whole it may be said to be a bird of towns and villages, a haunter of the precincts of humanity, but it is also found breeding on waste lands, in scrub and broken country far from villages, as well as in roadside banks and walls. It is difficult to say what this Robin’s favourite breeding site is. Normally it makes use of a hole of some kind, but, what kind, does not seem to be a matter of any importance. Holes in banks, in walls, in buildings, occupied or empty, in trees, in rocks, in the ground under stones are all frequently made use of, whilst empty tins, boxes etc. often take their fancy equally well.
Most extraordinary sites are sometimes selected. Aitken often found nests in haystacks and “one between the broad leaves of a cactus and another in a lamp hanging under the porch of a bunga¬low” ; Wenden obtained nests “in railway cuttings, where several trains passed daily within 8 feet of them ; one on the top of a wall under the thatch of an inhabited hut ; another in a hole in the gate-post at the entrance to my compound” ; Blanford came across a nest “inside the bamboo of a dhooly in the verandah of Captain Glasfurd’s house at Sironcha” ; finally, Mr. Ivor Macpherson had a pair in his garden which made their nest in an elephant-skull.
On open rocky hill-sides they build commonly under the rocks and stones as well as in holes in the former, while occasionally a nest may be found in a hollow at the roots of a tuft of coarse grass or under a bush.
The nests may be made of almost any material. Those most often used are small fine twigs, roots, coarse and fine grasses, coir, leaves and dried moss. Wenden’s description of the nests would do for most. He writes :—“The exterior dimensions of the nest vary with the nature of the hole in which it is built ; but no matter how large the hole may be, it seems to be the habit of the bird to fill up the whole space level with the top of the nest. The internal dimensions are about 2.1/2 inches diameter by 1.1/2 deep. The outer materials are coarse, but soft grasses of sorts, dry stems of neem seeds, and here and there a feather. This is generally carelessly and raggedly put together ; but the lining of very fine roots, grass, hair, wool and often pieces of onion-peel and snake-skin is neatly interwoven.”
Blanford, referring to the nest built in the dhooly, says that it was made of fragments of string, grass, horsehair and a snake- skin. Davison found a nest in a roadside wall made of rotten grass, straw and some threads of woollen cloth. Cast snake-skins seem to be very commonly used and, among other materials reported as having been employed in the construction of nests, have been feathers, cotton-wool, strips of cloth, boot-laces, bits of fur and skin of various animals, lichen and fibre from Plantain-trees.
The breeding season in Ceylon may be said to be all the year round, for there is no month in which Wait, Phillips, Tunnard and others have not taken eggs, and it is difficult to say which are the favourite months. November, December and January are those in which eggs are seldom laid and, of the remaining nine, perhaps May and September are those in which most eggs are laid. In Southern India more birds breed in April, May and June than during the rest of the year, but many breed in July and August (Wenden, Betham), whilst others lay as early as March (Vidal and B. Aitken in Bombay Presidency) and “February and earlier” (E. Aitken, Poona).
Most birds breed twice during the year and sometimes three broods are raised. More often than not the same nest is used twice and at other times a new nest is built within a few yards of the old one.
In Ceylon the number of eggs laid is almost invariably two and very seldom three, while in Southern India the reverse is the case, three being usually laid. Four eggs are, apparently, never laid by this subspecies.
The ground-colour of the eggs is a very pale greenish-, greyish-, or yellowish-white, never, so far as I am aware, quite pure white. The markings vary from rather large specks to small blotches of various shades of reddish-brown or, less often, greyish-brown, with others underlying them of neutral tint and lavender. Both primary and secondary marks are distributed numerously over the whole surface but never sufficiently thickly to hide the ground-colour. They are nearly always more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere, yet seldom form very marked rings or caps. In most eggs the secondary markings are hardly visible but, in some, they dominate the others and give a very grey tone to the colour. Taking into consideration a large series of this very common egg, variation is small in comparison with the eggs of many other species.
In shape the eggs are rather long ovals, seldom rather pointed. The texture is only moderately fine, the shell fragile and either glossless or only faintly glossed.
One hundred eggs average 20.8 x 14.8 mm. : maxima 23.9 x 15.0 and 21.3 x 15.9 mm. ; minima 18.3 x 14.5 and 20.6 x 14.0 mm.
The male bird helps in the construction of the nest but, according to Wenden, does not share in the incubation. He adds : “I have for hours watched a male flirting about in front of the hole where the hen was sitting, or perched close by, warbling prettily, and several times he took food to her.”
Although such a confiding little bird, taking but little notice of people passing backwards and forwards within a few feet of its nest, it deserts on very small provocation, and objects to it being handled or even too closely inspected.
556. Saxicoloides fulicata fulicata
(556) Saxicoloides fulieata fulieata (Linn.).