(766) Dicrurus macrocercus peninsularis Ticehurst.
THE INDIAN BLACK DRONGO.
Dicrurus macrocercus macrocercus *, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 350.
Dicrurus macrocercus peninsularis Ticehurst, Bull. B. O. C. vol. liii, p. 20, 1932.
After careful re-examination of the Drongo-Shrikes, my note on the distribution of this race appears to me to require no alteration. It is found over the whole of the Peninsula of India from Travancore and the Southern Madras Province to the Himalayas, excluding the foot-hills on the West and the foot-hills on the East plus the immediately adjoining plains in North Behar and North Bengal, where the birds, though, perhaps, rather intermediate, are nearer the Himalayan form. Birds from Southern Bengal, and certainly from Orissa (at one time part of Bengal), which I wrongly gave as the type-locality for macrocercus, are certainly of the Southern race, now to be known as peninsularis.
The Black King-Crow is certainly one of the best-known birds of India, living and breeding, as it does, in towns, villages and their surroundings, present in every park and garden, perching con¬stantly on telegraph wires, roadside trees and even entering verandahs in pursuit of their insect prey.
The nest is quite typical of all the Drongos, a cradle built in a fork of some slender branch, generally placed at a considerable height from the ground and, nearly always, almost on the outside of the tree, so that, however visible it may be, it is hard to get at and even harder to bring down the eggs in safety. Some nests are, however, built lower down in vertical forks of lower branches and thus easy to reach. The majority of nests are probably built between 15 and 25 feet from the ground, but others have been found as high up as 40 feet, and others again between 7 and 10 feet.
* Ticehurst (Bull. B. O. C. vol. liii, p. 20, 1932) shows that this name cannot be used, as the plate on which it is founded (plate 174, vol. iv, Le Vaillant’s Ois. d’Afr.) is the same as that on which Lichtenstein, in 1823, based his name of Dicrurus bilobus, for which Cabanis, in 1850, gave the type-locality as Java. In addition, Lord Walden, in Blyth’s ‘Birds of Burma’ (1875, p. 129) again fixes Java as the type-locality for Dicrurus bilobus. Ticehurst, however, is not correct in stating that the Bengal breeding bird is the same as the Himalayan, and should, therefore, bear the name albirictus. I went very fully into this matter in ‘Novitates Zoologicae,’ vol. xxv, p. 297, and see no reason to alter the conclusion there arrived at.
It does not seem to mind much what kind of tree it builds in, but Hume says that the Mango-tree is probably the favourite ; but they also nest in Acacias, Tamarinds and, indeed, any other tree which may strike their fancy. This may be one in a garden, park, roadside, orchard, or just a solitary tree standing in culti¬vated land.
The nests of the various races are all alike and Hume’s excellent description will suffice for all or any. He writes:— “The nest of the King-Crow we took was of the ordinary type ; in fact I have noticed scarcely any difference in the shape or the materials of all the numerous nests of this common bird that I have yet seen. They are all composed of tiny twigs and grass-stems, and the roots of the khus-khus grass, as a rule neatly and tightly woven together, and exteriorly bound round with a good deal of cobweb, in which a few feathers are sometimes entangled. The cavity is broad and shallow, and at times lined with horsehair or fine grass, but most commonly only with khus. The bottom of the nest is very thin, but the sides or rim rather firm and thick ; in this case the cavity was 4 inches in diameter, and about 1.1/2 in depth.”
As Hume says, the nests are remarkably constant in description, while even in size they vary very little. It should, however, be noted that Inglis, in Cachar, records that “this King-Crow is extremely common. It breeds all through the summer. It lays four or five pure white eggs on the top of a few grasses placed in the fork of a tree.” As Inglis was a good observer, and knew his birds well, it must be presumed that he really did see one nest of this description.
Personally I can add little to Hume’s description, but I have never seen nests with any feathers used in their construction, though I have seen leaves used occasionally, and also odd scraps of lichen, bark etc. in with the other materials. I have also seen nests with no pretensions to a lining.
The normal breeding season is after the rains break in the middle of June, but many birds make their nests in the end of May, while others do not lay until July.
Hume says that a few eggs may be found towards the close of April and again during the first week of August, but May, June and July are the principal months. Blewitt says that it breeds from the middle of May well into August ; Adams, writing of the Sambhur Lake, says they breed in June and July ; while Barnes considers May and June the usual months in Rajputana. Other observers over Southern and Central India give May, June and July as the breeding months, and Bourdillon alone has found eggs in March—these in Travancore.
The normal clutch laid is four, but Hume says he has taken five, and, I believe, both Inglis and Coltart have seen clutches of the same number. Three eggs, however, are often incubated.
The range of variation in the eggs is great. Some are actually pure white, with no trace of any marking. They vary from this to a warm salmon-pink in ground-colour, with every shade of creamy pink between the two extremes. In the white eggs with markings, as in the very pale pink ones, these are most often small spots and blotches of blackish-brown or very deep red-brown, without any secondary blotches. In the eggs with the warmest salmon ground¬colour the blotches, or big round spots, are larger and of a very rich chocolate-red, with a few underlying blotches of lilac-grey. In most eggs the markings are fairly numerous at the larger end, but never form rings or caps, while over the rest of the egg they are very scanty. A few eggs have one or two irregular blotches larger than the rest, and these generally look as if the edges had run. Intermediately marked eggs are, of course, more common than the extremes.
In shape the eggs are generally broad ovals, but long ovals are not uncommon ; indeed, Hume calls these latter the normal shape. The texture is rather fine but there is no gloss, except in rare instances.
Hume gives the average of 152 eggs as 1.01 x .75 inch (=25.65 x 19.05 mm.), but this, of course, includes all four races.
Two hundred eggs of the present race measured by myself average 25.5 x 19.0 mm. : maxima 29.3 x 20.0 and 25.1 x 20.1 mm. ; minima 23.0 x 18.5 and 25.2 x 17.1 mm.
766. Dicrurus macrocercus peninsularis
(766) Dicrurus macrocercus peninsularis Ticehurst.