(26) Dendrocitta rufa rufa (Latham).
THE INDIAN TREE-PIE.
Dendrocitta rufa rufa, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 48.
This Tree-Pie breeds throughout West Southern India, Central India and Eastern India north of the Godavari and South of Bengal and Behar. The United Provinces form seems to be the same as the Bengal race. In the Eastern Ghats it is replaced by Whistler’s Dendrocitta rufa vernayi.
The Tree-Pies are amongst the most common and familiar of our Indian birds and breed wherever found. They are birds of cultivated and inhabited, areas, more common in and. round about towns and villages than in country remote from them. It frequents open country which is well wooded, breeding in Mango-orchards clumps of trees close to roads, single trees standing in cultivation or in gardens of houses and in parks. As a rule it selects a large tree in which to build its nest, placing it high up in the top branches where it is well concealed from view by the thick foliage. The concealment, however, does not appear to be intentional, for the birds inform the whole neighbourhood of the fact that they have a nest in the tree by their demonstrations when any stranger, mammal or avian, approaches it and by their noisy chatter and calls at all times. Big trees are not always considered essential and though, perhaps, two out of three nests may be built in Mango, Pepul or Banyan, yet the third may be placed on some small tree in the rice-fields, a cactus hedge in a garden or even some tall thorny Ber-bush (Zyiziphus jujuba) or high hedge of thorns. Both birds take part in the building of the nest, during which they are even more noisy than at other times. Both also take part in incubation and in feeding the young ones. The breeding season is protracted and varies a good deal in different parts of its range. In Travancore Bourdillon and Stewart found it breeding almost entirely in March and April, though a few birds continued to lay until the end of June. In Baroda Sir Percy Cox obtained nearly all his nests in June and July, whilst eggs were occasionally laid as early as March or as late as August in the same district. Jesse and Whymper, round about Lucknow, seemed to find it breeding equally freely in April, May and June, whilst Betham in Ferezepore took eggs from early April to late July.
The nest is a very untidy structure of twigs and sticks, really consisting of two parts, an outer nest or platform made entirely of twigs, very often unpleasantly thorny ones, and an inner one, which is the true nest, built of twigs, roots, grass, fibre and leaves with a lining almost exclusively of roots. In size they vary greatly and I have seen a nest fully 10 inches across the rough, untidy platform and perhaps 6 inches or more deep, whilst the neater part, containing the true root nest, was certainly not more than 6 inches in diameter by about deep. On the contrary I remember a nest built in a Babool-tree in which the platform was dispensed with, but the outside of the nest was well encased in prickly Babool-twigs, the whole measuring about 6 inches by 4 inches or rather less.
The full number of eggs in a clutch is four or five, generally four, three only being occasionally laid.
Incubation takes 14 days, sometimes a day less or more, perhaps according to the month in which they are laid, as, during the greater part of the day neither bird sits much, though one or both keep close to the nest.
The eggs vary greatly, but nine out of ten are of one or the other, of two types. The first has the ground-colour pale salmon or creamy pink, handsomely blotched with reddish, the blotches generally numerous at the larger end, where they may form a ring or cap, and less numerous elsewhere, always showing up boldly against the ground-colour. The second type has the ground-colour pale bluish and the markings of pale olive-grey to rather rich reddish-brown. The secondary or underlying marks are of pale grey in both forms but seem to be more numerous and more notice¬able in the second. Intermediate eggs are rare but carious sets in both types are numerous. In the first-mentioned group I have one set of the palest salmon-white with a ring of red spots round the larger end of each egg. In another clutch the ground is white with a few red blotches scattered about as on some Rails’ eggs. Among those of the second type I have blue eggs unspotted and one with a few red specks only. Perhaps the most extraordinary clutch of eggs is one taken by Mr. E. H. Gill in Ghazipur*, the eggs pure white and double the bulk of an ordinary egg, with quite different texture. Fortunately in this instance the nest was one built under the eyes of Mr. Gill in his garden, each egg inspected as laid and, finally, the hen bird put off the nest and the eggs taken.
One hundred eggs average 27.7 x 21.9 mm : maxima 30.4 x 24.1 mm. (not including Mr. Gill’s set) ; minima 25.6 x 21.1 and 27.8 x 20.9 mm.
* These seem to be referable to the Bengal form, Dendrocitta r. vagabunda.
26. Dendrocitta rufa rufa
(26) Dendrocitta rufa rufa (Latham).