(765) Dicrurus annectens Hodgs.
THE CROW-BILLED DRONGO.
Dicrurus annectens, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 353.
This fine Drongo, or King-Crow, as birds of this genus are locally called in India, is found, though rarely, in Nepal and extends East to Eastern Assam, North and South of the Brahmapootra River, all through the hill regions of Burma and the Malay States, into Java, Sumatra and Borneo, whence individuals cannot, according to Kloss, be distinguished from the typical form. It also occurs in the Shan States and Siam.
This Drongo breeds in the plains where there is forest, or in heavily wooded open country, and in the foothills up to some 2,000 feet. In 1891 I found them very common and breeding in numbers round about Guilong, in the North Cachar Hills, between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. This irruption into the higher hills must, however, have been something quite abnormal, for I never again obtained them breeding at this elevation. In the plains of Lakhim¬pur and the foot-hills round Margherita Coltart and I found them to be very numerous, and they were, in fact, the most common of the breeding Drongos. Here we took nests between 1900 and 1907 in forest of the most dense, in thin forest, in bamboo and scrub-jungle, and right out in the open in Tea land, and even occasionally by roadsides and in gardens. If breeding in dense forest the nests were never far in the interior, being generally placed on small trees about 10 to 50 yards from the edge. They also occurred at the base of the Khasia Hilla and in Sylhet, but not in such numbers as in Lakhimpur. Here most of the nests we found were in evergreen forest, but either by bridle-paths or in patches of cultivation.
The nest reminds one at once of those of the Cuckoo-Shrikes and Minivets, though not so well built or highly decorated as many of the latter. They are built, cradle-fashion, in between the forks of horizontal branches very high up on the outside of big trees and are among the most difficult of nests to get at, some being quite inaccessible. Many nests were at 30 or 40 feet from the ground, a few even higher than this, and very few below 25 feet. At the same time every now and then a pair of birds will place their nest in a ridiculously unsafe position low down. Such a nest was found by Coltart in the Makum Tea Estate, about 6 feet up in a small tree beside a path regularly used by the coolies on their way to and fro between the lines and their work, whilst another nest, which I could reach comfortably from the saddle of my pony, was seen by myself beside a bridle-path.
The nests are very small. Some are not more than 4 inches across, but they may average about 5, with an outer depth of about 2, the shallow egg-cavity being about 3.1/2 to 2.1/2 inches in diameter by about 1 deep. They are made of small, supple twigs, stout grass-stems, weed-stems and roots, all well interlaced and strength¬ened with many cobwebs, both inside and out. Here and there may be odd scraps of broken leaves, lichen, a tuft of dry moss, or other odd material incorporated with the nest, but not used as decorations. They look very fragile but stand a lot of pulling about, and are really very strong, well made and firmly affixed to the supporting branches, round which some of the materials and many cobwebs are invariably bound.
Owing to their position the getting of the eggs was always a matter of risk, especially as the shallowness of the nests allowed the eggs to roll out without much provocation. This, however, we used to turn to account by getting small boys to climb as near as possible to the nest, and then jerking the eggs out, one by one into a shallow, soft butterfly-net. The birds sat very close and would often allow the boys to get within a few feet of them before quitting the nest, and even then would swoop at and pretend to attack them.
The breeding season is April and May, but a few birds continue to lay up to the end of June.
The number of eggs in a full clutch is three or four, one number as often as the other, while in North Cachar I found several clutches of two being incubated. The eggs are extremely handsome and extremely varied both in colour and in character, but nine out of ten clutches can be recognized at a glance by the longitudinal character of the markings, a feature found in the eggs of no other member of the Dicruridoe.
Occasionally the ground is really pure white, but this is most exceptional and, normally, it ranges from a very pale cream to a warm salmon or salmon-buff, sometimes with a livid or lilac tinge.
The following are definite types taken either by Coltart or my¬self :—
1. Pale to bright,salmon, profusely marked with broad streaks of deep red- brown, with others underlying them of pale grey ; the streaks, of both descriptions, more numerous at the larger end.
2. The same, with purple-brown and pale grey streaks, less numerous than in (1).
3. Bright salmon-buff, with very numerous short streaks of light to dark brick-red, with lilac secondary marks, thicker, and sometimes running into one another, at the bigger extremity.
4. Very pale clear cream, with narrow longitudinal lines, small blotches and specks of deep purple and secondary similar markings of lilac and lavender.
I have also taken abnormal clutches coloured exactly like small eggs of Chibia hottentotta, with a yellowy cream ground covered with innumerable freckles of light brick-red and a few of deeper purple red at the large end.
Another unusual clutch has the ground pale yellow-pink, with a few irregular blotches of light red, deep purple-brown and lavender scattered sparsely and irregularly over their surface.
The texture is rather coarse and not very close, but the surface is smooth, though glossless, and the shell stout. In shape the eggs are generally long ovals, often well pointed at the small end.
One hundred eggs average 26.3 x 19.4 mm. : maxima 29.5 x 20.0 and 26.5 x 20.2 mm. ; minima 24.1 x18.4 and 27.0 x 18.3 mm.
Both birds assist in building the nest, but I believe that only the hen incubates, though the cock is always within calling distance, and joins with her in the boldest manner in defence of eggs and young.
A nest, apparently, takes somewhere about five days to build, as one commenced on the 3rd May was finished on the 8th and received the first egg on the 9th. It must always, however, be
remembered that the time taken by birds in building their nests, depends much on the conditions of the building furore in the birds themselves. In the early stages birds will often be very fitful in their building work, whilst others, which have delayed building until the furore of incubation is fast approaching, will work most indefatigably at their nests in order to finish them in time for the eggs.
765. Dicrurus annectens
(765) Dicrurus annectens Hodgs.