(665) Eumyias thalassina thalassina (Vigors).
THE COMMON VERDITER FLYCATCHER.
Stoparola melanops melanops, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 239.
Eumyias thalassina thalassina, ibid. vol. viii, p. 630.
This Verditer Flycatcher has a very wide breeding area. It is to be met with over practically the whole of India North of Mysore, Travancore and Madras, though it is not found in Sind. In Burma it occurs over the whole of the Northern districts and as far South as Tenasserim, where it is replaced by the Malayan form, S. t. thalassoides. It is common on the East in the Shan States, Siam, Annam and Yunnan. It in not found in the Andamans and Nicobars.
Buchanan, Marshall, Rattray and many others observed it breeding commonly round Murree, between 5,000 and 8,000 feet ; Hume, Cock, Jones and Dodsworth record it as equally numerous in the Simla States, whilst at Mussoorie Hutton says : “This is a common species throughout the mountains up to about 12,000 feet.” In Sikkim Jerdon, Gammie, Mandelli and many others found it in great numbers between 3,000 and 8,000 feet in the breeding season and, finally, in the hills South of the Brahmapootra this Flycatcher was one of the commonest breeding birds of any family between 4,000 feet and the highest hills, but more often over than under 4,500 feet, though, on the other hand, it bred sometimes as low as 3,000 feet.
Normally this Flycatcher places its nest in a hole in a bank, in among rocks and boulders or in a hole or crevice in some big rock. The place selected is almost invariably a ravine in heavy evergreen forest and, if it has a small stream running down the centre, so much the better. Of these rocky ravines, those with steep precipitous sides, covered with moss, ferns and other vegetation, whether in evergreen or in coniferous forest, are the favourite kind of place ; here the nests are tucked away well inside the holes and out of sight while, at the same time, they are well screened from view by the vegetation growing luxuriantly over the rocks. Sometimes it is placed in a comparatively shallow niche but, in such cases, it is made of the moss which surrounds it and cannot be detected without very careful search. After banks and rocks the site next most often chosen is a hole in some rotten stump or dead tree not too high from the ground.
Other places for the nests are given by different observers. Hume mentions one built in the wall of a shed, and both he and Hodgson recorded one which was “resting on the fork of a branch,” a position in which I have never seen one. Col. C. H. T. Marshall writes that in Murree “the Verditer Flycatcher always builds under the small wooden bridges that cross the hill-streams. We found more than half a dozen nests all situated under these bridges.” Thompson says that these Flycatchers have the same habit in Naini Tal and that one bred regularly every year under a small bridge near his house. Brooks found nests in holes in steep banks “or in a hole in some unfrequented building, under the rafters of the verandah of a dwelling- house and under the eaves of a house-roof. Once I found one in a small niche inside a building or cover built over a well or spring ; the size of the little building, which had a domed roof, was about 6 feet square. The floor was water, about 3 feet deep, and directly opposite the door was the small niche in the wall, about 8 inches wide, and here the bird sat on its nest, in full view of every native who came to draw water.” Jerdon also says that at Darjiling they sometimes build their nests under the eaves of houses.
The nest is, I think, always much the same. The outer lines conform more or less to the shape of the hollow in which it is built when placed in a small hole, but it is very neat and well finished, the outer wall always being most carefully rounded off. The egg cavity, very compact and well finished, measures about 2 inches across the top and is often deep in proportion, sometimes as deep as wide and never less than an inch. The greater part of the material used is green moss, which may be more or less mixed with roots and a little fine fibre, with, perhaps, a few dead leaves in the base. The lining is always fine roots, generally of the moss of which the walls are composed. Brooks and Jerdon both say that hair is sometimes employed in the lining and Thompson says that in Naini Tal the walls are sometimes partly constructed of dry coarse grass.
The breeding season is a long one and, in the Assam Hills, I have taken or seen fresh eggs from the 4th April to the 13th August, and I think many pairs have two or even three broods. Godwin Austen had fully-fledged young brought to him in the middle of May. Probably the majority of eggs are laid between the 15th April and the 15th June.
Both sexes incubate and we have frequently caught both on the nest. Both also help in the construction of the nest, though the male does little more than bring the materials to his wife, who fashions them into the nest. The male seems to sit during the early mornings and the evenings and the female during the day.
The nest, if made early in the season, may take anything from a week to a fortnight to construct but, if late in the season, is some¬times completed in three or four days, both birds working feverishly at it, long hours at a time. Incubation takes twelve to thirteen days.
The normal full complement of eggs is four, rarely five, and some¬times only three.
Most eggs are a pale creamy pink, with a faint ring of tiny reddish blotches round the bigger end, the freckles sparse inside the ring and even more scanty elsewhere. I have never seen a clutch of pure white eggs but some are so nearly white that they appear to be so unless matched with really white ones ; nor have I ever seen a completely unmarked set, though the freckles are some¬times very faint and scanty. At the other extreme one gets eggs of a fairly warm cream, more richly and deeply marked with bright reddish, and I have one set almost white, with broad zones of rich deep chestnut blotches, all coalescing.
In shape the eggs vary between broad and long ovals, often con¬siderably pointed at the smaller end. The texture is rather fine, decidedly close, and in many eggs there is a strong gloss, whilst in but very few is this altogether absent.
Two hundred eggs average 19.3 x 14.6 mm. : maxima 22.0 x 15.2 and 20.3 x 16.0 mm. ; minima 17.0 x 14.0 and 19.0 x 13.8 mm.
Many eggs are almost inseparable from the eggs of Niltava sundara, though the eggs of this latter bird are generally a good deal larger and, taken as a series, are warmer in colour and a little more definitely flecked all over and less definitely zoned.
665. Eumyias thalassina thalassina
(665) Eumyias thalassina thalassina (Vigors).