(950) Irena puella puella (Lath.).
THE INDIAN FAIRY BLUE-BIRD.
Irena puella puella, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 1.
This most beautiful bird is a resident in South-West India from the extreme South of Travancore as far North as Kanara in the Bombay Presidency. So far it has not been found East of the Nilgiri Hills, but it is found in Ceylon. In the Himalayas it occurs from Sikkim East to Assam, both North and South of the Brahma¬pootra, and thence through the whole of Burma to Southern Tenasserim, where it is replaced by I. p. malayensis (I. p. cyanea auct). It is also to be found over the greater part of Siam, Annam and Cochin-China.
The Fairy Blue-Bird is an inhabitant of the deepest evergreen forest from about 500 feet up to 3,000 feet, ranging sometimes as high as 5,000 feet, and, on the other hand, being sometimes found in the more rugged broken plains, adjacent to the hills. Unlike most birds which breed in dense tree-forest, they do not select open glades or the comparatively open banks of streams, but breed in the heart of the thickest and most humid places. I found that they preferred very high tree-forest, so high and dark that there was not much undergrowth except a few straggling bushes, weeds, Balsams, Caladiums, and much parasitic growth on the trees themselves and on the rocks and boulders which were strewn everwhere between the trees. The birds did not have a great range of choice in the sites selected and all the nests taken by myself in the North or reported to me from other parts of the Empire were placed either in small saplings or in bushes. As a rule the bushes were tall, thinly foliaged and straggling but, occasionally, low and bushy. Nests taken by myself were all between 5 feet and 20 feet from the ground, with the exception of one taken from a dense scrubby bush about three feet high.
Stewart rook many nests of this bird in Travancore and I have series of the eggs taken by him and the brothers Bourdillon as well as others from Davidson (Kanara), Kinloch (Nelliampathy Hills) and from Hopwood (North Tenasserim).
All these collectors repeat the information already recorded by the Bourdillons in Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs.’ Their notes may be summarized as follows:—The birds breed commonly between 500 and 3,000 feet, ascending fairly often some 1,000 feet higher in Travancore. In Kanara they are not so common and keep below 2,500 feet, while in the Nelliampathy Hills the bird, is comparatively rare. They build principally in saplings between 10 and 20 feet from the ground, sometimes in the leaves of palm- ferns and occasionally in low bushes three or four feet from the ground. Always they choose trees well in the interior of deep, damp forest, and nearly always that part of the forest with the tallest trees, which exclude the sun and light.
The nests are of two types. The most common—the only one found by myself in fact—is a very fragile looking shallow saucer of roots twigs, and a few bents much mixed with green moss, and with the whole of the outside covered with this material. The nest does not measure more than 5 inches across and is often even smaller. Bourdillon (F.) gives the measurements of one taken by him as only 4 inches. The depression for the eggs is very shallow, perhaps 1/2 to 1 inch, and the nest is not 2 inches deep, outside measurement. Occasionally the nests are just saucers made of twigs, without any moss, badly interlaced and looking as if they must fall to pieces before the eggs have time to be hatched. One nest taken by Bourdillon (T. F.) was the usual moss saucer but was lined with plant-stems.
The breeding season on the South-West coast is principally March and April, nearly all the eggs taken by the Bourdillons and Stewart being found in these two months. Kinloch, however, took two eggs on the 26th February in the Nelliampathy Hills, and Stewart took another clutch of two as late as the 1st of June near Aneichardi. He also informs me that he has taken eggs in every month from January to June.
In Burma they breed in April and May, but in Assam all the nests found by myself had fresh eggs in May.
The number of eggs laid is practically invariably two. Stewart once took three eggs in a clutch and both he and Bourdillon occasionally found a single egg incubated.
Stewart has on two or three occasions taken the egg of Hiero¬coccyx varius from nests of the Fairy Blue-Bird.
The eggs are sui generis and I know of no others for which they could be mistaken. The ground-colour is generally a pale dull grey or olive-grey, sometimes with a faint tinge of reddish-buff or buff. The markings consists of irregular blotches, small and large, of dark brown or grey-brown, with underlying paler shades of the same. In most eggs they are numerous everywhere, often coalescing and forming caps at the larger ends. The extremes in variation are shown in two clutches. The first has a pale grey-green ground with streaky blotches of light brown scattered everywhere, but showing up the ground quite boldly and forming tiny caps at the larger end. The other clutch has a buffy grey ground, almost obliterated by dense blotching of rich dark brown, almost confluent over the whole of the bigger half.
In shape the eggs are blunt ovals, less often rather long, pointed ovals. The texture is coarse but close and some eggs have a moderate gloss.
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 x 19.3 and 28.2 x 18.9 mm.
950. Irena puella puella
(950) Irena puella puella (Lath.).