(1551) Halcyon smyrnensis fusca (Bodd.).
THE INDIAN WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER.
Halcyon smyrnensis fusca, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. iv, p, 269.
The present race is found practically all over India with the exception of the extreme South of Travancore and the area occupied by the typical form in the North-West and Sind, It is one of the most common birds in Assam and thence throughout the whole of Burma, the Malay Peninsula and Siam.
This bird is one of forests and jungles as well as of all kinds of open and cultivated country. It is found throughout the plains wherever there are suitable rivers, tanks etc. on the banks of which it can breed. At the same time it is often found away from these. Betham says that round about Poona “This bird does not frequent rivers and lakes but is found away from these. The nests from which I took eggs were all situated in the banks of dry nullahs some distance from water. The nests were about two feet in and are used again and again even when the eggs have been stolen from them.”
In North Cachar this Kingfisher bred in very great numbers on some of the bigger streams, the forest coming down to the banks on either side. When boating down these streams I have sometimes come on twenty or thirty nests in a day, just the usual tunnels dug in a bank for 2 or 3 feet, the eggs being laid on the bare sand except for odd scraps carried in by the birds accidentally or wind¬blown. Sometimes, however, in these hills the birds make very abnormal nests. An article written by me, for ‘The Asian’ news¬paper, before I had visited the rivers on which these birds commonlynested, is perhaps worth quoting :—“It has another and, at least so far as these hills are concerned, a far more general habit of building a nest for itself, which may he said to roughly resemble a large, untidy edition of an English Wren’s place of abode.
“First I had some eggs brought to me by a native, who said that he had taken them from a moss nest built amongst the over¬hanging roots of a tree growing at the side of a nullah. Some time after some more eggs were brought in to me and a similar deseription of the nest given, but on this occasion I went with the man to the nullah from which the nest was said to have been taken and we could find no trace of it, so I concluded he had been lying. The native, a Cachari, was, however, very positive in his assertions and went away swearing at my incredulity. Within a few days he came back with two newly laid eggs, a quantity of moss and a hen Kingfisher of this species alive in a basket. In this case he had found the nest embedded in a hollow in a rock and, setting a noose for the parent bird, had, on catching it, brought it to me with the remnants of the nest and the two eggs. Eventually I was fortunate enough to find a nest of this description for myself. I was creeping down a deep nullah, along the bottom of which a little water was trickling, and, making a false step, I splashed into a little pool of water, the noise frightening a Kingfisher, which flew from the bank close to my head and, looking up, I saw the nest—a mass of moss of a large oval in shape wedged into a hollow between two stones, covered at the top by another, and supported under¬neath by a projecting root. It contained four eggs which I took ; but the nest fell to pieces on being removed and appeared to be merely a lot of moss pushed into the hollow and then roughly fashioned into a hollow oval. Next year a pair of these birds were seen to frequent a nullah near a camping house where I was then halting. On some natives and myself searching about, one of the former discovered a nest just commenced to be built in a hollow, caused by a large oval stone, which had been previously half embedded in the earth, falling out., Dismissing my men, I seated myself on the opposite bauk about twenty-five or thirty yards off, and behind a bush. Taking out a pair of opera-glasses I had not long to wait before one of the birds came back and, after taking a good look at the nest, went away again and returned in a few minutes with a mass of wet moss in his bill ; clinging to the edge of the hole it commenced forcing this moss into that already placed at the base of the hollow, pushing it with the front and pressing it with the sides of the bill, seeming to use all the force it was capable of I could see no attempt at fastening it together or of intertwining it in any way, and this nest, when afterwards examined, proved to consist of layers of moss placed one on the top of the other. The force used in pressing the wet and muddy material together had rendered it sufficiently stable to stand the work required of it by the bird but, finally, on one piece at the base being removed, the whole structure at once came to pieces. Both birds worked hard at the nest, for upwards of an hour, until nearly 10 A.M., when, as they seemed to have finished work for the time being, I went away.
“Returning nearly a month later I took sis eggs from this nest, two showing signs of incubation and four fresh.”
After I had written the above I found that for every bird which nested in the forest a hundred nested in the banks of streams, making the usual tunnel and chamber, Twice, however, after this I succeeded in finding other nests similar to the above, small natural holes, faced and backed by wet muddy moss.
In the rivers etc, I found the birds bred in the end of March to early May, and these seem to be the breeding months over most of the plains of India and Burma and in the Kuman Terai. Blewitt, however, found them breeding near Hansie in June and July ; Adam says they breed up to June in the Sambhur Lake, during which month also Oates took eggs in Pegu.
In the nullahs and ravines in the forest, where flooding bad not to be guarded against, I took eggs, full clutches, from the 4th April to the 26th August.
The normal full clutch of eggs is six ; five or seven is quite common, while Whymper once took one of eight in the Nepal Terai.
It breeds there, as in the Assam hills, up to 4,000 but is much more common below 2,500 feet.
One hundred eggs average 28.0 x 26.2 mm. : maxima 31.1 x 27.7 and 30.3 x x 28.0 mm, ; minima 26.0 x 25.6 and 26.2 x 25.0 mm.
Both birds incubate, both excavate their home and both tend and feed the young, at first in the nest and after about a month outside the nest. The young then perch in a row on the top of the bank above the tunnel or on any convenient branch or twig over¬hanging it. At night all the young and both the parents retire to the nest to sleep, and continue to do so until the young, or what remains of them, are dispersed.
1551. Halcyon smyrnensis fusca
(1551) Halcyon smyrnensis fusca (Bodd.).