(758) Graucalus macei macei Lesson.
THE INDIAN LARGE CUCKOO-SHRIKE.
Graucalus macei macei, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 343.
This handsome but very noisy Cuckoo-Shrike is found over the whole of India from Travancore, North into the Western Himalayas, up to some 4,000 feet, as far East as Garhwal. On the North-East it extends to Western Bengal and Southern Behar. Its distribution in Southern India on the East is not defined, but it is possible that the results of the Vernay Expedition will assist in showing this.
It frequents both thin forest (as it has been found breeding in Sal forests) and open well-wooded country. It appears not to be a very shy bird, nests being sometimes built on large trees close to human habitations or by frequented roadsides. More often, however, it selects trees standing in cultivation a little way from villages and towns.
In the Kherapore Hills, near Jamalpore, E. M. Ollenbach found many nests of this bird but was very unlucky in getting eggs, these nearly always being smashed in bringing down the nest. He writes, in epistola :—“The bird is very common here, making its nest in Sal-trees in the Sal forest round Jampalpore in the Khera¬pore Hills. The forest is not very dense and is easy to get about in, but the trees are particularly fine and big, and the birds seem to select the biggest as building-sites and, even then, not content with placing them in quite thin branches on the outside of the tree, generally choose branches at great heights. I have taken nests at about 25 feet from the ground but, more often, they are about 40 feet up, and I have taken them at 60. I don’t think they are very hard to find ; it is true they are small and inconspicuous, but they are not hidden at all carefully, and the birds themselves are so noisy and fussy that they themselves cannot escape attention and, once the birds are spotted, they soon give away the position of the nest. But a nest found is not a nest obtained and, of those I have seen, nothing like half have yielded their contents in safety. The small boys—one cannot employ heavy ones—can clamber like monkeys to within a few feet of where the nest swings gently backwards and forwards on branches too frail even to bear their weight. Then the branch has to be cut off and, in doing so, the eggs are very possibly jerked out of the shallow nest or, if the branch is sawn off successfully, the eggs fall out before they can be secured.
“The nests are very typical of the Minivets and other Cuckoo- Shrikes, quite shallow saucers, very small for so big a bird, seldom measuring more than 4.1/2 to 5 inches in breadth, and never more than 1.1/4 in depth. The walls are thin and frail-looking and the cavity for the eggs probably averages about 4 inches in breadth and 1 in depth.
“The nests are made of very thin, soft twigs—not branching ones—and of roots, fibres and grass-stems. These are all woven together and plastered over with cobwebs, but the materials are not tightly woven, and look as if they would fall apart. Outside the nest the birds use bits of lichen, bark, dead leaves, etc., to adorn the walls, these also being bound on with cobwebs. In spite of their frail looks, however, the cobwebs which are used in such abundance keep the structure together so well that it stands a lot of handling.”
Hume describes two nests sent him by Blewitt as follows :— “They are broad shallow saucers, with an egg-cavity about 3 inches diameter and 3/4 inch in depth, composed of very fine twigs, chiefly those of the furash (Tamarix orientalis). Exteriorly they are bound round with cobwebs, in which a quantity of lichen is in¬corporated. The nests are loose flimsy fabrics, which but for the exterior coating of cobwebs would certainly never have borne removal.”
Blewitt says that the birds pair in May, starting actual building operations in June, and lay throughout July and August.
Davidson found them breeding in North Kanara, where the birds were not uncommon, in March and April, but he says that in that district they were very shy, and the only three nests he obtained were found with difficulty.
In Ghazepur, United Provinces, Gill also took a nest in April, and Vidal took nests with eggs in the South Konkan in February and March.
On the other hand, Littledale found no less than six, nests near Baroda in August and one as late as the 10th October, while Betham also took many nests at Baroda in August and September.
Davidson also took one near the Kondabhari Ghat in September, so that it would appear that this bird has two periods of breeding on the West of India—first February to April and again August to October.
The number of eggs laid is two or three, while single eggs have more than once been found to be incubated. As, however, the nests are built in such precarious places, it might be quite possible for them to be blown out of the nest.
A description of the eggs of this race will suffice for those of the other races also.
When first laid, the ground-colour varies from a pale to rich olive-buff, more rarely a pale but almost bright sage-green, and sometimes a pale grey sea-green. Generally they are handsomely blotched with rich chocolate-brown and with underlying blotches of lavender ; in some eggs the blotches of both colours are smaller and, in one or two, quite small. They are distributed fairly numerously over the surface, but more so at the larger end, where, however, they never form caps or definite rings. Very shortly after being taken and blown the green tinge becomes much less pronounced and often, after three or four years, practically disappears ; the buff, on the contrary, gets brighter and richer. They are very hand¬some eggs but, despite what Hume and other collectors have said, they do not remind me of Shrikes’ eggs beyond being a little like some types of Lalage.
In shape the eggs are broad but very distinctly pointed ovals ; the texture is hard, close and fine, the surface having a strong gloss, which does not wear off like the green colour.
Twenty-two eggs average 31.0 x 22.4 mm. ; maxima 33.2 x 23.2 mm. ; minima 28.8 x 22.5 and 30.2 x 21.3 mm.
Both sexes share in the incubation and I have seen both sexes in the Nepal race also active in carrying on building operations, the male both carrying and placing the materials.
758. Graucalus macei macei
(758) Graucalus macei macei Lesson.