(756) Lalage sykesi Strickl.
THE BLACK-HEADED CUCKOO-SHRIKE.
Lalage sykesi, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 340.
This little Cuckoo-Shrike is found in India South of a diagonal line drawn from Bombay City on the Western coast of India to the North of the Eastern districts in Bengal and Assam South of the Brahmapootra. It is said to have occurred also North of the Brahmapootra but, in my thirty years’ experience of that part of Assam, I never met with it myself nor heard of anyone else doing so.
It is a bird of well-wooded open land or thin forest and scrub, and is never found breeding in dense or humid evergreen forests. Blewitt, writing from Bundelkund, gives the following excellent account of its breeding habits :—
“It is to be found in wooded tracts of country, but more frequently among thin large trees surrounding villages. Dr. Jerdon has correctly described its restless habits. In the latter end of July I procured one nest. It was found on a mowa-tree (Bassia latifolia), placed on and at the end of two small outshooting branches. When my man, mounting the tree, approached the nest, the parent birds evinced the greatest anxiety, flew just above his head, uttering all the while a sharply repeated cry. Even when one of the birds was shot, the other would not leave the spot, but remained hovering about and uttering its shrill cry. The nest is slightly made and constructed of thin twigs and roots ; the exterior is covered slightly with spiders’ webs. If we except the size, the formation of this Cuckoo-Shrike’s nest is almost identical with that of Graucalus macei.”
It does not place its nest at any great height from the ground. In Mysore Macpherson obtained two nests from Sandal-wood trees at 8 and 10 feet, respectively, from the ground. MacArthur took several nests in the Bilaspur district between 20 and 25 feet up in Acacia-trees.
Davidson writes (Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs,’ p. 347):—“This pretty little Cuckoo-Shrike is one of the earliest migrants in the rains, arriving about the 8th June, and breeding all along the scrub-jungles, which stretch between the Nassic and Khandeish Collectorates. It appears particularly partial to the Angan forests and, so far as I remember, all the many nests I have seen have been in forks of Angan-trees. The nest is a pretty firm platform composed of fine roots.”
In epistola Mr. Davidson informed me that he took nests in smalhsh trees, as a rule at heights between 10 and 20 feet.
Gill also took a nest near Ghazepur from about 20 feet up in a “Surram” tree overhanging the railway line, along which many trains passed daily.
In Ceylon Phillips took several nests, which he kindly gave me, at and around Matugama, which were all built on rubber-trees at about 10 feet from the ground. The nests he describes as neat little cups or saucers made of fine roots or grass well plastered over with cobwebs and decorated outside with bits of moss. As a rule the outer walls are not decorated much with anything but, occasion¬ally, they have lichen, bark, or broken bits of leaves attached to make them agree with their surroundings, though they are always so small and inconspicuous that they are hard to find. He gives the dimensions of one nest as 2.1/2 by 1.1/4 inches deep internally and 3.1/4 by 1.1/2 externally.
In Ceylon they breed principally from the end of February to the end of April and in Travancore and Mysore during April and May but, farther North, in Bombay and the Deccan, and farther East, they breed just before or after the rains break, in June, July and August.
This Cuckoo-Shrike lays either two or three eggs, one number as often as the other, and I have never seen four. In Ceylon the number appears always to be two only, and Phillips once found a single egg on the point of hatching on the 5th March.
The eggs are small facsimiles of those of the Dark and Pale Grey Cuckoo-Shrikes but, perhaps, vary a little more. I have some Ceylon clutches which have quite a bright green ground boldly blotched with rich brown, thickly at the bigger end, sparsely at the smaller. Taken as a series, also, the blotches are less longitudinal in character.
Fifty eggs average 22.4 x 16.2 mm. : maxima 24.0 x 17.1 mm. minima 19.9 x 15.1 and 21.0 x 15.0 mm.
756. Lalage sykesi
(756) Lalage sykesi Strickl.