(1139) Melophus melanicterus (Gmelin).
THE CRESTED BUNTING.
Melophus melanicterus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 221.
The Crested Bunting extends throughout the Himalayas from Kashmir to Western China. It is also found, and is resident, in the hilly country of Western India and Rajputana to Lohadagga and Bihar. They breed from the foot-hills up to at least 6,000 feet throughout its range, but in the hills South of the Brahmaputra it certainly breeds up to 8,000 feet and possibly higher, while in the Shan States Livesey records it as “common above 6,000 feet as well as lower down.”
This Bunting is a bird of open country, cultivated or covered with grass and scrub, and is especially partial to open rocky hills and the outskirts of towns and villages. The site for the nest varies con¬siderably, and Hume thus sums up his own experiences:—“The nest is placed in holes in banks or walls, on the ground under some overhanging clod or rock, or concealed in some thick tuft of grass and, very exceptionally (I have only seen one such), in a low thick bush within a few inches of the ground.”
On Mount Abu Butler found a nest “placed on the ground on the side of a sloping bank by the road-side,” and the following year a second nest “situated in a small hollow, behind a tuft of short grass on a sloping bank by the side of a road.”
Roadside banks seem to be very favourite resorts, for many other collectors have seen nests on such. Betham remarks:— “A great many nests are built on the banks and road-side cuttings where the hill has been cut away, and by walking along these in July and August they can easily he found as the bird flies off very close to one. They are usually well concealed in small hollows, overhung with grass and weeds, and would not be easy to find but for the birds’ departure so close to one. Often they are buried, or half buried, in fallen leaves.”
Wenden found five nests on the sides of railway cuttings on the Bore Ghat incline in the Bombay District, and says that he found “all of them in clefts or on ledges of rock within 5 to 10 feet from and from 2 to 15 feet above the rails. One nest was quite exposed to view, but the others were concealed behind weeds or maiden¬hair fems.”
In the Naga Hills Tytler found many nests between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, most of them on banks of roadside cuttings, hut some under clods and weeds in cultivation or among the growth just starting in abandoned rice-fields.
The nest itself is a cup, sometimes shallow hut generally fairly deep, composed of grass and grass-stems, more or less mixed with fine and coarse roots, vegetable fibre and weed-stems, whilst the lining is usually of finer grass sometimes mixed with hair. In the Naga Hills roots seem always to be much used in the outer part of the nest, while the lining is practically entirely “Mithna” hair. On the Mhow Ghats, on the contrary, Betham found that the outer part of the nest was made chiefly of fine elastic twigs and tiny bits of stick, while the hning was always of fine roots.
Moat nests are well and compactly constructed, but Hume says they are often very shght, loosely put together, shallow saucers, composed entirely of fine grass-roots, without any lining.”
The breeding season is a very well marked one. Hume says that in the Himalayas the breeding season is from April to June, but neither he nor I have had any April record, and possibly May to early July would be nearer the correct time. Elsewhere July and August are the two regular breeding months and, though a few eggs may be taken in late June or the first few days of September, the breeding times for all hirda vary very little.
The number of egga in a clutch is three or four, one as often as the other. I have seen no fives and no two showing inclination. The ground is white or white faintly tinged with greenish, lilac or huff, the latter occasionally fairly pronounced. The markings consist of freckles, spots and tiny blotches varying in colour from pale reddish or reddish-grey to deep brown or purplish-brown. Sometimes the spots are rather larger and, in a very few instances, become bold blotches. In most egga the spots are numerous everywhere and especially dense at the larger end, but the bigger the blotches the fewer in number. There are no typical Bunting scrawls and lines and the eggs are more Lark- than Bunting-like in appearance.
In shape they are normally broad ovals, very obtuse, and but little compressed at the smaller end.
Sixty 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.
The male bird, according to Betham, takes no part either in the construction of the nest or in incubation, but spends his time, when not feeding, in singing lustily near where his wife is sitting on the nest.
1139. Melophus melanicterus
(1139) Melophus melanicterus (Gmelin).