(753) Lalage melaschista melaschista (Hodgs.).
THE DARK GREY CUCKOO-SHRIKE.
Lalage melaschista melaschista, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 337.
I can add nothing to the distribution of this Cuckoo-Shrike given in the ‘Fauna,’ which is : “The Himalayas, Murree to Eastern Assam, both North and South of the Brahmapootra ; Manipur, Lushai Hills, Tippera, Chittagong, and the plains of India North of latitude 16°,” but not breeding in the plains or the lower foot-hills.
In Murree Rattray and Buchanan took nests between 5,000 and 8,000 feet ; in Mussoorie Hutton, Mackinnon, and others have found the birds breeding between these same elevations ; in Northern Assam we found them breeding down to about 2,500 feet ; in Southern Assam I obtained many nests, both in the Khasia and North Cachar Hills, between 3,000 and 5,000 feet, whilst in the adjoining Naga Hills they breed up to 7,000 feet.
Although in the Winter they may often be seen in quite open country, especially if well wooded, I think that for breeding purposes they keep almost exclusively to forest. In Assam we found them both in the wet evergreen forests and the more open Oak forests at 5,000 feet, as well as in the Pine forests, both open and dense, between 4,500 and 5,000 feet. The birds were not uncommon but the nests are so inconspicuous that they were very hard to find, nor do the birds give them away so badly as the Minivets. Every now and then a male bird might be noticed flitting from one tree to another in an anxious manner and, if watched, might eventually be marked on to its nest, but they are not everlastingly flitting backward and forwards to it, whether the hen is sitting or not. They are said generally to build their nests at great heights from the ground. Hutton, writing from Mussoorie, notes :— “This too is a mere Summer visitor to the hills, arriving up to 7,000 feet, about the end of March, and breeding early in May. The nest is small and shallow, placed in the bifurcation of a horizontal bough of some tall oak-tree, and always high up ; it is composed externally almost entirely of grey lichen picked from the tree, and lined with bits of very fine roots and thin stalks of leaves. Seen from beneath the tree the nest appears like a bunch of moss or lichens, and the smallness and frailty would lead one to suppose it incapable of holding two young birds of such size. Externally the nest is compactly held together by being thickly pasted over with cobwebs.”
Hodgson, who says that this Cuckoo-Shrike breeds in the Central Hills of Nepal from April to July, gives a similar description of the nest, the dimensions of one such nest being 4 inches in external diameter by 1.75 in height.
Hutton’s description of the nest would do well for most of those found by myself. They were all shallow saucer-shaped cups with the outer walls vertical or nearly so. They were all made of very fine pliant twigs, coarse roots and fibres, nearly always matted well together with cobwebs, both inside and outside. Sometimes chips of dead leaves are worked in with the other materials, and in one nest I found a long thin brown weed-stem taken twice round the inside, the roots and twigs crisscrossing it everywhere. Out¬side the nests are decorated with all sorts of oddments. Some, if built on lichen-covered branches, are plastered over the whole of the walls with the same. Others merely have scraps of leaves, bits of bark, moss, or brown lichen stuck on, but the Result, whatever the material used, is to make them look exactly like the branch on which they are fastened. The site selected varies considerably ; some nests are built on boughs as wide, or wider than, the nests themselves ; others are built in forks of biggish branches, while many are fastened to forks of one small branch or to two or three small branches, nearly always horizontal but, rarely, vertical. Nests taken by myself have not been at any great height from the ground, all, in fact, between 15 and 25 feet. The most massive nest I have seen measured externally 4.3/4 inches across by 1.1/2 deep, the egg-cavity being about 3.1/2 x 1. Most nests are a good deal smaller than this but, though they look frail, they are really exception¬ally tough little structures.
They breed in May and June and I have taken all my nests in these two months.
Three is the almost invariable number of eggs laid, but I have taken two incubated eggs occasionally and once four.
In ground-colour the eggs are generally a pale grey-green or sea green, very rarely a buffy green or pale buff. In the former the markings consist of longitudinal blotches of dark umber-brown and of secondary markings of inky grey and neutral tint. The two types are equally numerous all over the egg, becoming more numerous and tending to form rings at the larger end. In the buffy eggs the marks are red-brown, similar in character and distribution. The eggs vary very little but I have one clutch, taken by Mackinnon, in which the marks coalesce to form caps at the larger end and are sparse elsewhere, showing up the bright sea-green ground.
Thirty-three eggs average 24.3 x 17.4 mm. : maxima 26.5 x 18.0 and 23.0 x 16.3 mm. ; minima 22.0 x 15.8 mm.
Both birds incubate and both take part in the construction of the nest.
753. Lalage melaschista melaschista
(753) Lalage melaschista melaschista (Hodgs.).