(950) Irena puella puella.
The Fairy Blue-bird.
Coracias puella Lath., Ind. Orn., i, p. 171 (1790) (India). Irena puella. Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 240.
Vernacular names. Hnet-pya-sate (Burmese); Dao-gatang-(Cachari) ; Pana-kara-kuravi (Tel.).
Description. - Adult male. Crown, nape, back to upper tail-coverts, lesser and median wing-coverts brilliant ultramarine, generally tinged with lilac; remainder of plumage deep velvety black; "the inner greater coverts tipped with ultramarine. In very freshly-moulted birds the black parts in certain lights have deep blue reflections.
Colours of soft parts. Iris orange-chrome to crimson ; bill, legs and feet black,
Measurements. Total length about 270 mm.; wing 121 to 135 mm.; tail 89 to 107 mm.; tarsus 18 to 19 mm.; culmen 21 to 23 mm.
Female. Lores and round the eye blackish ; quills dark brown; greater coverts and secondaries suffused with green; tail dark brown, the two central feathers and tips of next two pairs suffused with ultramarine; remainder of plumage dull blue-green.
Colours of soft parts. Iris orange to vermilion ; bill, feet and claws black.
Measurements. Wing 118 to 137 mm.
Young male similar to the female but with the feathers of the upper parts fringed with brighter blue, varying much in degree.
It is very difficult to say whether the adult plumage is acquired by moult or by pigmentation of the feathers. Many specimens in the British Museum seem to be acquiring the change of colour by moult, whilst in other specimens the feathers themselves seem to be changing colour; this refers both to the black and blue portions of the plumage.
Quite young birds have the upper parts heavily streaked with black.
Distribution. Lower hills of Travancore, Malabar, Nilgiris and adjoining ranges, north to Nelliampathy Hills and Kanara. Himalayas from Sikkim and Bhutan to Eastern Assam ; the whole of Burma, Siam, Annam, Cochin China and South to the Malay Peninsula, where it grades into the next race, I. p. cyanea.
The type-locality of /. p. puella may be restricted to Malabar.
Nidification. The Fairy Blue-bird breeds from the South of Travancore to Kanara and Khandesh from February to June but principally in March and April. Davison and Bingham took nests in April in Tenasserim, whilst in the Assam Hills it breeds in May and early June. The nest is a rather flimsy, shallow cup of roots, fine twigs and tendrils, much mixed with moss and lined with moss-roots. It may be placed on any high bush or small sapling between eight and twenty feet from the ground but, practically invariably, in evergreen forest. The eggs are always two in number ; in shape rather long ovals though obtuse at the smaller end. In colour the ground varies from a pale grey stone-colour to a rather warm buff or reddish grey. The markings consist of rather longitudinal blotches of dull neutral-tint brown; in some they* are all very grey in colour, in others they are a purer redder brown. The secondary marks are more mottled in character and are grey, greenish grey, or purplish neutral tint. In the majority of the eggs the marks are numerous everywhere, in others more scanty and confined principally to the larger end. Forty eggs average 28.2 x 20.2 mm. : maxima 30.7 X 20.5 and 30.5 x 21.3 mm.; minima 25.3 X19.3 and 28.2 x 18.9 mm.
Habits. This beautiful bird is an inhabitant of evergreen forests at low levels, being found occasionally in the foot-hills under 500 feet and wandering as high as some 4,000 feet or even 5,000, I have only seen it in pairs but, where more common, it is said to associate in small parties. It affects both the lower bushes and high trees, feeding on the fruit of both as available. It has the quick, level flight of a Thrush and is a shy, retiring bird, resenting observation.