(1139) Melophus melanicterus.
The Crested Bunting.
Fringilla melanictera Gmelin, Syst. Nat. i, p. 910 (1788) (Macao). Melophus melanicterus. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 265.
Vernacular names. Pathar-chirta (Hind.).
Description. - Male. Head, neck, back, rump, tips of upper tail-coverts, lesser wing-coverts, whole lower plumage except thighs and under tail-coverts black ; tips of wing- and tail-feathers and inner webs of inner secondaries black, glossed on the head,, back, breast and wings with deep blue-green; thighs and under tail-coverts mixed with brown and chestnut; remainder of plumage chestnut.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; bill dusky, blackish above and fleshy at the base of the lower mandible ; feet fleshy-brown, the toes darker, claws blackish, paler at the tips (Scully).
Measurements. Total length about 160 mm.; wing 79 to 88 mm.; tail 67 to 71 mm.; tarsus 20 to 21 mm.; culmen about 11 to 12 mm.
The male after the Autumn moult has all the feathers of the black parts edged with olive-brown and traces of these fringes generally show to some extent even in the most abraded plumage.
Female. Whole upper plumage and short crest dark brown, each feather edged with ashy-olive: tail dark brown edged with cinnamon and the outer feathers except at the tip and base all dull cinnamon; wing-feathers brown edged with cinnamon and the quills cinnamon on the inner webs, tipped with brown only; ear-coverts and cheeks brown mottled with olive; below dull buff, the flanks and sides of the neck darker and more olive and these parts with the throat and upper breast more or less mottled and streaked with dark brown.
Young birds are like the female but the male partly assumes the colour of the adult at the first Autumn moult.
Distribution. The Crested Bunting extends throughout the lower Himalayas from Kashmir to B. Assam ; the hilly country of Western India and Rajputana to Lohardaga and Bihar. In Burma it extends throughout the hills from Manipur, Chin and Kachin Hills to Tenasserim,
Nidification. This Bunting breeds in the hills from a few hundred feet high to some 6,000 feet, possibly reaching its highest breeding-range in the Naga Hills, where it certainly breeds up to 8,000 feet. The only place where it breeds actually in the Plains is, 1 believe, Bihar. It breeds during April to August, making a cup-shaped nest of grass, often mixed with other materials such as roots, mos»s, plant-stems etc., lined with fine grass, fine roots or hair. Home nests are quite shallow, ill put together and fragile, whilst others, the majority perhaps, are strong, compact little cups. They are placed on the ground under shelter of a stone, clod or bush, or are built in holes in walls, banks and even buildings. The eggs number three or four and in ground¬colour vary from pure white to creamy or yellowish stone-colour. The markings consist of specks, spots and blotches of dark brown or reddish-brown, numerous everywhere but frequently more so at the larger end, where they may form a ring or cap. The underlying marks are of lavender or pale grey. Fifty eggs average 20.1 x 15.6 mm.: maxima 21.3 x 15.2 and 21.1 x 16.7 mm.; minima 17.9 x 13.9 and 18.1 x 13.0 mm.
Habits. The Crested Bunting is a bird of open dry country, both cultivated and more or less desert, keeping almost entirely to hills but resident wherever found, throughout the year. It is by no means a shy bird, often frequenting towns, villages and forts where the surrounding country is suitable. It seems to have no song but its notes are sweet and full and it is a cheerful, lively little bird in its ways.