HIRUNDO NEOXENA, Gould.
Hirundo javanica (nec Sparrm.), Vig. & Horsf. Trans. Linn. Soc. xv. p. 191 (1827) ; J. E. Gray in Griffith’s An. Kingd, ii. p. 95 (1829).
Hirundo pacifica (nec Lath.), J. E. Gray in Griffith’s An. Kingd, ii. pl. to p. 90 (1829).
Hirundo neoxcna, Gould, P. Z. S. 1842, p. 131 ; id. B. Austr, fol. ii. pl. 13 (1848) ; Blyth, Cat. B. Mus. As. Soc. p. 198 (1849) ; Bp. Consp, i. p. 338 (1850) ; Cab. Mus. Hein. Th. i. p. 46 (1850) ; Diggles, Orn. Austr, pl. 22. fig. 1 (1870) ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. x. p. 144 (1883).
Hirundo frontalis (nec Q. & G.), Gray, Cat. Fissir. Brit. Mus. p. 22 (1848) ; Cass. Cat. Hirund. Bhilad. Mus. p. 2 (1853) ; Gould, Handb. B. Austr, i. p. 107 (1865) ; Ramsay, Ibis, 1868, p. 275 ; Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 70, no. 812 (1869, pt.) ; Ramsay, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. ii. p. 179 (1878).
Hirundo rustica, var. frontalis, Seebohm, Hist. Brit. B. iii. p. 172 (1883).
H. minor : uropygio et pileo dorso concoloribus : fronte rufa : gutture quoque rufo : rectricibus intus albo notatis : subcaudalibus pallide fumosis, subterminaliter nigro cordatim fasciatis.
Hab. in Australia.
Adult male. General colour above glossy blue, the mantle slightly varied with greyish-white bases to the feathers ; lesser and median wing-coverts like the back ; greater coverts, bastard-wing, primary-coverts, and quills blackish brown, externally washed with steel-blue, more distinet on the inner secondaries ; tail-feathers blackish, slightly glossed with green, the two centre feathers and the outermost on each side without any spots, the others with a small rounded spot of white on the inner web ; frontal hand deep brick-red, extending from above each eye ; lores dusky blackish ; ear-coverts glossy blue like the back ; checks and throat brick-red, remainder of under surface of body smoky brown from the fore neck downwards ; the lower abdomen inclining slightly to ashy whitish ; under tail-coverts pale smoky brown with dull whitish edgings and tips, with a heart-shaped subterminal spot of black ; under wing-coverts and axillaries pale smoky brown, all edged with pale rufous ; quills dusky brown below : “bill and legs black ; iris dark brown" (Gould). Total length 5.8 inches, culmen 0.3, wing 4.25, tail 2.75, tarsus 0.35.
Adult female. Docs not differ from the male.
Young. Similar to the adult, but duller in colour, the rufous of the forehead and throat paler, and the white spots on the tail-feathers much more rounded and not so oblique. The tail likewise is not nearly so forked.
Hab. Nearly the whole of Australia and Tasmania.
THE nearest ally of the Australian Swallow is Hirundo javanica, a widely spread species over the Malayan subregion and the Moluccas. The Australian bird, however, is a somewhat larger and paler bird, the rufous of the throat being of a brick-red colour and not so deep chestnut, while the smoky brown of the sides of the body has somewhat of a ruddy tinge, and is not nearly so dark as the deep mouse-brown colour of the sides in H. javanica, which has also very dark under wing-coverts.
H. neoxena is apparently confined to the continent of Australia, in nearly every part of which country it is found, though its migrations have not yet been strictly accounted for. The following are Mr. Gould’s notes on the species :—
“The arrival of this bird in the southern portions of Australia is hailed as a welcome indication of the approach of spring, and is associated with precisely the same ideas as those popularly entertained respecting our own pretty Swallow in England. The two species are in fact beautiful representatives of each other, and assimilate not only in their migratory movements, but also most closely in their whole habits, actions, and economy. It arrives in Tasmania about the middle or end of September, and, after rearing at least two broods, departs again northwards in March ; but it is evident that the migratory movement of the Swallow, and doubtless that of all other birds, is regulated entirely by the temperature, and the more or less abundant supply of food necessary for its existence ; for. 1 found that in New South Wales, and every country in Australia within the same latitude, it arrived much earlier and departed considerably later than in Tasmania ; and Mr. Caley, who resided in New South Wales for several years, and whose valuable notes on the birds of that part of the country have been so often quoted, states that ‘the earliest period of the year that I noticed the appearance of Swallows was on the 12th of July, 1803, when I saw two ; but I remarked several towards the end of the same month in the following year (1804). The latest period I observed them was on the 30th of May, 1806, when a number of them were twittering and flying high in the air. When I missed them at Paramatta, I have some¬times met with them among the north rocks, a romantic spot about two miles to the northward of the former place.’ A few stragglers remain in New South Wales during the winter, but their numbers cannot for a moment be compared with those observed in the summer, which have passed the colder mouths in a warmer climate.
“The natural breeding-places of this bird are the deep clefts of rocks and dark caverns ; but since the colonization of Australia it has in a remarkable degree imitated its European prototype, by selecting for the site of its nest the smoky chimneys, the chambers of mills and out-houses, or the corner of a shady verandah ; the nest is also similarly constructed, being open at the top, formed of mud or clay, intermingled with grass or straw to bind it firmly together, and lined first with a layer of fine grasses, and then with feathers. The shape of the nest depends upon the situation in which it is built, but it generally assumes a rounded contour in front. The eggs are usually lour in number, of a lengthened form ; their ground-colour pinky white, with numerous fine spots of purplish brown, the interspaces with specks of light greyish brown, assuming in some instances the form of a zone at the larger end ; they are from eight to nine lines long by six lines broad. At Swan River the breeding-season is in September and October. In the spring of 1862 two nests of this species were sent to me by George French Angas, Esq. These very closely resembled those of our own bird, both in form and materials ; they were, however, somewhat more square and more stoutly built. The interior was composed of the usual plastered mud strengthened with a little hair, and thickly lined with the downy feathers of various domestic birds. These nests are now in the British Museum. The following note by Mr. Angas was attached to one of them :—‘ Built on a rafter of my stable at Collingrove, South Australia : taken Oct. 3, 1861.’ ”
Mr. E. Pierson Ramsay has published the following account of the species in the neighbourhood of Sydney :—
“ Although the present species is strictly migratory, yet it is no easy task to deter¬mine the exact date of its arrival or departure, owing to the number of stragglers which remain with us during the whole of the year.
“ I believe, however, that the visitants arrive early in July, or perhaps late in June, and leave us again in the end of January and February. After their arrival, and again just before their departure, they may be, seen in great numbers flying to and fro over the fields, and often skimming the water-holes and lagoons, but keeping very high, sometimes almost out of sight, during the middle of the day.
“I have frequently observed them, in company with the Fairy Martin (Petrochelidon ariel) flying over the lawn of the inner domain in Sydney. Tree-Swallows (Petrochelidon nigricans) also accompany this species in search of food. We met with all three species mixed up in one immense flock, during December 1864, at Lake Bathurst ; here they were following in our wake as we walked through the rushes on a small island, obtaining a rich feast on the small Libelluloe which flew up in countless numbers at every step we took. The pupa-cases of these insects were lying piled up between the rushes to the height of two, and even three feet, while the edges of the island at dusk were alive with the pupae crawling out of the water.
“The proper breeding-season of Hirundo neoxcna is during the months of August and throughout to the end of December ; stragglers, however, may be found breeding almost at any time. I have found them building in the Dobroyde stables, both in the months of February and June ; and on April 17th, 1864, I took a nest with fresh eggs from the same buildings.
“In choosing a site For the nest they seem to be less particular than in their time for breeding. Almost any building will serve them where they ean obtain a horizontal beam or ledge. On this they place their round bowl-shaped nest, the wall of which is composed of pellets of mud, mingled with grass, and securely fastened on the beam. As soon as the mudwork is dry, it is warmly lined with grasses, horsehair, or leathers ; and the nest is then ready for the eggs, which are usually from three to five in number, •75 inch in length, by .5 in breadth. The ground-colour is of a delicate white, having numerous dots and freckles of yellowish brown and faint lilac sprinkled over the whole surface, but more thickly at the larger end. The nests are 4 to 6 inches wide, by 2.5 inches deep.
“Sometimes a band of this species and the Fairy Martin will take possession of the upper story of some deserted house, the latter building their long flask-shaped nests in clusters under the caves, while the former enter at the windows and take possession of the cross beams and rafters. I have seen both species breeding under the same roof at the Glebe, Sydney.
“ In 1858, while fishing off a small steamer, which, having been out of use for some months, was moored a few hundred yards from the north shore, in the Sydney harbour, observed a pair of these Swallows fly round the boat, and frequently dive underneath the paddle-box. After a long search I discovered their nest, which was composed of black pitchy mud, lined with seaweed and feathers. It was placed upon one of the horizontal beams of the paddle-box, and contained three young ones, about half-fledged. The man in charge informed me that the nest had been made when the steamer was lying lower down the harbour, and upon its being tugged to where it then lay the birds dew round and round it the whole time, evidently in a great state of excitement.
“Several pairs have for some time past taken possession of an old bathing-house at Dobroyde, where every year they build on the lower beams, within a few inches of high-water mark : these nests are always composed of black pitchy mud, mixed with seaweed, obtained, I have no doubt, from the flats at low tide ; the lining consists of soft dry pieces of bleached seaweed.”
The description is from the British Museum 'Catalogue,’ and the figure in the Plate has been drawn from a specimen in Mr. Seebohm’s collection.
HIRUNDO NEOXENA, Gould.