(775) Dicrurus leucophaeus longicaudatus Hay.
THE INDIAN GREY DRONGO.
Dicrurus leucophoeus longicaudatus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 362.
This, the most widely distributed of the Indian Drongos, occurs over the whole of Western India from Travancore to the Himalayas as high as 8,000 feet, while Osmaston took one nest in Tehri-Garhwal at 8,500 feet. In the extreme South of Travancore its place may be taken by the small Ceylon form (minor), but more material is necessary to confirm this. Its distribution in South-East India is uncertain, though the Vernay collections may clear this up. Jerdon recorded it from Bastar. The Orissa birds would appear to be of this race, but here again I have only seen two specimens, and more material is wanted.
To what extent this bird breeds in the true plains is very doubtful, and the sole record of its breeding in Hume’s ‘ Nests and Eggs ’ other than in the Himalayas is that of Jerdon, who says :—“I found its nest on one occasion, in April, in Lower Malabar,” but this was probably in the hills. Barnes says that it is a permanent resident “ on the Western Ghats and in the adjoining forests, also on the Sahyadri Range as far North as Khandalla.” Major Butler notes “ that it is common in Belgaum in the Cold Weather ” (‘ Birds of Bombay,’ p. 156).
Davidson also remarks that, though common in Kanara in the Cold Weather, “I have never seen any signs of its breeding and do not think it does so.”
Aitkin’s supposed nest of this bird, taken near Castle Rock, was undoubtedly that of Chaptia (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. ix, p. 661, 1898).
No description of this nest or site is really necessary, as it differs in no way from that of hopwoodi, which I have given already at length. An excellent note of Osmaston’s gives, however, so many additional points that I quote it herewith. Writing of Garhwal he remarks (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxvii, p. 143, 1921)
“This is the common Drongo of these hills, and it breeds at all elevations up to 8,000', and possibly higher. They leave the hills in the cold weather, returning in April and May for the nesting season, the eggs being usually laid in May. I noticed birds as far north as Tapoban, beyond which they probably do not go. In the outer ranges they breed in the sal-forest, but in the central hills they are most numerous in the forests of “banj” oak, whilst in the forests to the North they seem to prefer above all those mixed strips of deciduous forest in which horse-chestnut, elm, birch, and similar species abound.
“The nest is usually placed from 10 to 20 feet from the ground, wedged in a half-suspended position into the fork of a bough. The material of which the nest is constructed is invariably strengthened and more or less covered on the exterior (but especially the rim) with cobwebs, which are also used to bind the nest to its support. The nest is a lightly-built deep saucer composed outside of herbaceous stems and grasses, and for this part of the work the birds exercise considerable skill in selecting material which has a natural stickiness and is of suitable shape to conform to the curves of the nest. Thus, where the tree Phyllanthus emblica is found, these birds, like many others, use the curved, leafless and discarded deciduous shoots, which easily attach themselves by means of the numerous slightly- raised leaf-bases on either side of the twig. Similarly, in the forests beyond the region of Phyllanthus emblica, these birds commonly use the dry fruiting-spikes of Desmodium concinnum, which not only possess a natural curvature suitable to the nests, but are also somewhat sticky, owing to their hairiness. The interior of the nest is lined with fine grass-stems or the heads of grasses or, occasionally, fine black rhizomorphs.”
It will be noticed that Osmaston says the nest is placed 10 to 20 feet from the ground. Brooks also speaks of 15 to 20 feet being the usual height, and Cook says that in Dharmsala the height may anything between 15 and 50 feet, whilst Marshall (C. N. T.), writing from Murree, says they choose “a thin fork at the outer¬most end of a bough about 50 or 60 feet from the ground, and always on trees which have no lower branches.”
On the other hand, Dodsworth took nests as low as 5 feet from the ground in the Simla States, though he took others at 50 feet, and Jones, in the same States, at 35 feet.
Most observers also describe the nest as shallow rather than deep, and Osmaston’s experience in this respect was certainly unusual.
Everywhere its breeding season seems to be May and June, a few birds laying in the end of April at the lower elevations.
The eggs number three or four in a full clutch, but two only are often incubated.
The range of variation in the eggs is realty wonderful, and every variation noted as occurring in the eggs of the King-Crows already described may be matched by eggs of this bird. White, unspotted eggs are, however, very rare indeed. As a series they are much more richly coloured than the eggs of the Black Drongos, being more boldly marked with blotches rather than with spots, and having a much deeper ground-colour.
Some eggs are a very rich salmon or deep terra-cotta in ground¬colour, and many eggs have a rosy tint, which is most exceptional, in the eggs of the macrocercus group.
Two hundred eggs average 23.6 x 18.2 mm. : maxima 25.5 x 18.1 and 25.2 x 19.2 mm. ; minima 21.2 x 17.4 and 20.3 x 17.3 mm.
Jones records, in reference to a clutch given to me, that he saw the birds building on the 5th June, the third egg being laid on the 18th or 19th, so that in this case the nest took under ten days to complete. Both birds took part in the construction of the nest.
775. Dicrurus leucophseus longicaudatus
(775) Dicrurus leucophaeus longicaudatus Hay.