(706) Lanius excubitor lahtora.
The Indian Grey Shrike.
Collurio lahtora Sykes, P. Z.S., 1832, p. 86 (Deccan). Lanius lahtora. Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 459.
Vernacular names. Dudiya latora (Hind.); Safed latora (Hind, in the U.P. and N.W.); Kach-kacha-latora (Beng.); Chinka-bilinchi, Pedda-kiriti-gadu (Tel.).
Description. Eorehead, lores, a band passing round the eye, ear-coverts, down the side of the neck and often turning down towards the breast as a semi-collar black; upper plumage bluish grey, palest on the rump and upper tail-coverts; two middle pairs of tail-feathers black with very small white tips, the next two pairs with increasingly broader tips and also white bases ; outer pairs white with only the shafts and a small portion of the inner webs black; scapulars white; wing-coverts black, the innermost lesser coverts more or less tipped with grey; primaries black, with broad white bases and the innermost with narrow white edges to the tips; secondaries with the outer webs black with white tips and most of the inner webs white except the innermost secondaries which are black with white tips only; whole lower plumage pure white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; bill, legs and feet black.
Measurements. Total length about 250 mm.; wing 104 to 116 mm.; tail 100 to 115 mm.; tarsus 31 to 32 mm.; culmen 18 to 20 mm.
Young have the feathers of the underparts, except on the abdomen, faintly barred and edged with brown and the wing-coverts edged with fulvous.
Nestling is heavily barred above and below with dark brown and the edges of the wing-coverts are broadly edged with fulvous. There are no nestling specimens of this extremely common bird in the British Museum collection.
Distribution. Throughout the plains of India as far South as Belgaum and throughout the Deccan and Central Provinces, as far East as Calcutta, where it is rare and probably not resident. North it is found from Sind all along the bases of the Himalayas as far East as Behar, Chota Nagpore and the drier districts of "Western Bengal.
Nidification. The Indian Grey Shrike is resident and breeds wherever found except in the wetter, more heavily forested portions of Eastern Bengal and possibly the Western Ghats, into which it only wanders in the dry season. It breeds throughout the plains, in the Deccan tableland up to 2,000 feet and in the Himalayas to about the same height. It makes a deep bulky nest of grass, roots, bark or almost any vegetable material, mixing it with oddments of cloth, wool, hair, feathers, etc., lining it with any soft material such as hair, wool or grass but not feathers. It places it low down in any bush or tree but prefers such as are in the open, especially if they are thorny and dense, and it never breeds in forest or in damp shady cover. The eggs number three to six, generally four or five and are typical Shrikes' eggs but of the duller type. The ground-colour varies from the palest sea-green, buffy or white to a fairly warm buff or dull grey-green, whilst the markings consist of small specks and larger blotches of brown or reddish brown, with secondary markings of neutral tint and dark grey. As a rule, the blotches are most numerous at the larger end and rather sparse elsewhere but in a few eggs they are numerous everywhere. The creamy or pink type of egg is very rare in this species.
Habits. The Indian Grey Shrike is a bird o£ open country and prefers plains with thin scrub, thorny bushes or small trees and, though it is also often found in cultivated country or in the vicinity of towns and villages, it certainly keeps for choice to the wilder less frequented parts. It watches for its prey from the top of a tall bush or low tree, generally seizing it on the ground or taking it from a branch or twig though occasionally it will seize a passing grasshopper on the wing, often, also, catching termites in this manner. It feeds on all kinds of insects and also on young or weak birds, mice and small reptiles and is not above robbing a nest when unguarded. It does sometimes fix its captures on thorns, though it does not seem to keep a larder so regularly as does the Red-backed Shrike. Most of its notes are very harsh and grating, but during the breeding-season it has a sweet song. In the North-west it is said to have been formerly trained to catch small birds like a Falcon but this form of native sport seems now to have died out.