(558) Copsychus saularis saularis (Linn.).
THE INDIAN MAGPIE-ROBIN.
Copsychus saularis saularis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 113.
The range of this very common bird may, roughly, be said to be the whole of India except extreme South-West Travancore. It also occurs over the whole of Burma from the North to South Tenasserim, the Shan States, Yunnan and China. It is not found in certain tracts in the North-West of India, though there are very few places from which it is totally absent. Ticehurst, however, says that “there are enormous areas in N.W. India where it is quite unknown or very local and rare.” He does not mention these areas or say where they are and, probably, it will be found that over most of them the “Dayal” does occur, though,perhaps, locally migratory and not in great numbers. It is said also to be very rare in parts of Central Burma in the driest areas, though nowhere is it entirely absent.
It ascends the Himalayas to a height of about 6,000 feet and higher in some places, where it has followed, like the Kite and the House-Sparrow, mankind in his search for cooler climes. It is common in the Khasia Hills up to 6,200 feet, is found in Sikkim, according to Stevens, up to 5,500, but has occurred and bred at Darjiling over 7,000 feet. Jones records them up to 6,500 feet in the Simla Hills, where Dodsworth also found one pair breeding at about 7,000 feet. At these higher elevations it appears to be only a Summer visitor, returning to the lower hills and plains in Winter.
Although the Magpie-Robin is most common in cultivated tracts round towns and villages, where it breeds frequently in the gardens of the former and in the scrub and bushes around and in the latter, it is also found in light forest, scrub-jungle and more or less open country far from any human habitations. In the Assam Hills I have found several nests built many miles from the nearest traces of man’s handiwork.
Normally the “Dayal” places its nest in holes in trees, walls, banks or buildings or under the eaves of the latter. They also make use of holes in bamboos, both those which have been used in building and in those lying derelict in the jungle or still remaining in the original clump ; occasionally they are built inside bamboo-clumps, hidden in among the masses of fallen leaves, spathes and other wind-blown rubbish which always accumulates in them. In Shillong one pair bred every year in such a position in a clump of giant bamboos standing in my garden. Every year the birds selected the same site, renewing or rebuilding the old nest and always bringing up two broods, though each year only one or two out of the ten hatched lived to be more than a few months old.
Sometimes, though very rarely, the “Dayal” builds on small trees and bushes. The first nest I ever took was an untidy cup of twigs, grass and rubbish, built on a platform of twigs on a horizontal branch of a dense thorny bush overhanging a pond. Hodgson says that they build their nests sometimes “in the interior of a low prickly plant” ; Bingham records a nest said to have been taken from a thick bush ; according to Hume, Beavan also obtained a nest, or nests, from a thick bush and, finally, E. Aitken saw birds taking nesting material “up to the middle of a Cypress tree” in which there were no holes to breed in.
As a rule the Magpie-Robin builds his nest at no great height from the ground, but Bates, who found it to be the most common of birds in the station of Mercara, says :—“From many notes on the subject in Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds’ it is evident that the Magpie-Robin does build at considerable heights from the ground, but as art exception rather than as a rule. In Morcara, however, nests at some 40 feet from the ground-level seemed to me to be the rule, and nests built in gables of houses and other low situations the exceptions. One nest I observed to be in the crown of a very tall palm. It must certainly have been at least 60 feet from the ground.”
The nest is a very rough affair, an untidy cup made of grass, roots, leaves, twigs and all sorts of oddments which, if the nest is built in a town or village, may include scraps of cloth, cotton, rags, bits of skin, goat and cattle-hair etc. The lining may be made of anything, a fairly neat one of grass or roots, a less tidy one of wool or hair, or a most untidy one of feathers and other miscellaneous articles. When placed in a hole in a tree the nest is often little more than an untidy ill-made pad ; sometimes, indeed, it is barely as much as this, looking more like a collection of wind¬swept debris, caught by chance, rather than by design, in the hole.
For so common a bird the breeding season is not a very long one. In most places the great majority of birds breed during May and June ; in Belgaum most breed in the latter half of April and early May, and in Assam the same weeks are selected. Odd nests with fresh eggs may, however, be found any time from the last week in February up to the end of July, and many pairs, perhaps most, have two broods in the season, generally using the same nest for both families.
The number of eggs laid ranges from four to six, but the latter number is exceptional.
The ground-colour varies from a pale sea-green, pale clear blue or pale yellowish-green to rather darker shades of the same colours. In two clutches out of every three the eggs are boldly and profusely blotched over the whole surface with primary markings of light to rather dark reddish-brown or dark umber-brown, with others underlying of pale lavender and purple-grey. In most eggs the markings are numerous but distinct, with the ground-colour showing up well ; in others they are still more numerous and less well defined, covering nearly all the ground, whilst in others again the blotches are reduced to small spots or even specks. In nearly all they are rather more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere, but rings or caps at this end are rare.
Immaculate blue eggs sometimes occur, and I have seen two clutches of these and one or two others bright pale blue with just a few bold spots and specks of blackish-brown. A very beautiful clutch taken by Inglis in Behar has two eggs bright unspotted blue, one bright blue with a very large patch of neutral tint underlying a whorl and two or three small blotches of rich brown ; the other two eggs are yellowish-brown, with patches of light brown and scrawls and lines of blackish-brown.
In shape and in size the eggs differ greatly, but the normal shape may be said to be a rather long oval. The texture is fine and close, the shell stout and moderately glossy.
One hundred eggs average 21.9 x 17.1 mm. : maxima 25.0 x 18.5 mm. ; minima 18.1 x 15.3 mm. Pigmies and abnormally shaped eggs are not rare, but these have not been included in the above measurements.
Both birds take part in incubation, though the hen sits more than the male in the daytime ; both sexes also help in the con¬struction of the nest.
Incubation is said to take twelve or thirteen days, but I have not verified this myself.
558. Copsychus saularis saularis
(558) Copsychus saularis saularis (Linn.).