(714) Lanius schach erythronotus (Vigors).
THE RUFOUS-BACKED SHRIKE.
Lanius schach erythronotus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 295.
There is little I can add to the remarks in the ‘Fauna’ on the breeding range of this Shrike, which I gave as follows :—
“From the extreme North of India as far South, about, as Surat on the West, and thence in a semicircular line to the mouths of the Godavery River on the East. The birds in the Southern parts of the Central Provinces are of the next race, while those from the Northern Central Provinces are quite typical of this one, those in between being, as we should expect, intermediate in their character¬istics. It occurs commonly throughout Sind in the West and as far East as Eastern Bengal, where, however, it is rare. It ascends the Himalayas up to at least 8,000 feet.”
Harington found it very common at Peshawar, where he took many nests, though the birds may not be quite typical erythronotus. Ticehurst says that it is a Summer visitor up to 6,000 feet in Baluchistan and that it has been recorded as far West as Omarra in Mekran.
In Kashmir the highest altitude at which it has been found breeding is at about 8,000 feet near Gulmerg, but it is rare in that State above 6,000 feet and very common everywhere below that elevation.
Osmaston records a pair as having a nest and young at Kargil, Ladak, 8,900 feet. They were not shot and, probably, were tephro¬nota, which occurs undoubtedly in Ladak.
Rattray, annotating his ‘Nests ana Eggs,’ writes :—“Very common at and below 5,000 feet at Koti Mardan ; D(era) I(smail) K(han) ; Mian Meer ; Murree and Mussoorie.”
This Shrike, I think, prefers open cultivated country, dotted about with small and big trees, orchards and gardens, to any other kind. At the same time it breeds in waste land, grass land scattered with trees, and in scrub-jungle round villages and towns. It apparently also sometimes actually breeds in forest, as Ticehurst, writing of this bird in Sind (Ibis, 1922, p. 607), says :—“Both equally affect forest and scrub-jungle ; in the desert proper, however, this species is seldom rare.” In Rajputana it is not common, but breeds sometimes in small thorny Acacias in very arid country. Both in Behar and in Western Bengal it occasionally nests in gardens, and Bingham found it nesting in the Nicholson Gardens in old Delhi.
As to the sites selected for the nests, Hume writes:—“The nests of this species are almost invariably placed in forks of trees or of their branches at no great height from the ground ; indeed, of all the many nests that I have myself taken, I do not think that one was above 15 feet from the ground. By preference, I think, they build in thorny trees, the various species of Acacia, so common throughout the plains of India, being apparently their favourite nesting haunts, but I have found them breeding on toon (Cedrela toona) and other trees.”
Balbool and Acacia trees seem certainly to be their favourite nesting-trees, and in these they build at any height from 5 to 20 feet, the nest often being very conspicuous from a considerable distance when thus placed in small solitary trees. They have, however, been recorded as building at great heights in large trees. Thus in Bitchpoorie Mr. Munro took one nest in a Mango-tree, built in a fork 40 feet from the ground, and Coltart took two in Behar at about the same height from the ground, also in Mango-trees. Other places in which nests have been built are Cactus hedges (Gill), Casuarina-tree (Inglis), thorny creepers (Wardlaw-Ramsay) and trellis over garden bower, (Baker).
As regards the nests, Hume thus sums up his own experiences and those of his correspondents :—
“ Internally the nest is always a deep cup, from 3 to 3.1/4 inches in diameter and from 1.3/4 to 1.1/8 deep. The cavity is always circular and regular, and lined with fine grass. Externally the nests vary greatly. They are always massive, but some are compact and of moderate dimensions, say not exceeding 5.1/2 inches in diameter, while others are loose and straggling, with a diameter of fully 8 inches. Grass-stems, fine twigs, cotton-wool, old rags, dead leaves, pieces of snake-skin, and all kinds of odds and ends are incorporated in the structure, which is generally more or less strongly bound together by fine tow-like vegetable fibre. Some nests indeed are so closely put together that they might almost be rolled about without injury, while others again are so loose that it is scarcely possible to move them from the fork in which they are wedged without pulling them to pieces.”
Of individual nests Hume mentions one made almost entirely of sun (Crotalaria juncea) fibre and cotton-wool, scantily lined with human hair and sheep’s wool. Often the nests are made of thorny twigs and grass, or thorny twigs, roots and other fibrous material. Some nests are built of grass with the seeding ends still attached, and others entirely of coarse and fine grass-stems and blades.
The breeding season is principally May and June but many birds in the plains continue breeding on to August and even September, while others commence to lay in March. Bell took one nest with five eggs on the 24th March, while Ticehurst found four half-feathered young on the 13th April, both these nests being found in Sind. Ticehurst also refers to a pair using the same nest for two broods, a trait not nearly so common with this bird as with the little Bay-backed Shrike.
Many pairs have two broods in the year.
The eggs number four to six in a full clutch, five being the number usually laid.
On the whole the eggs are very like those of the Black-headed Shrikes, far more like them, indeed, in character of marking than they are to the eggs of the Great Grey Shrike, to which Hume compares them. As he says, the markings are feebler and less numerous than they are in lahtora, whilst the rings at the larger end are conspicuous, as in nigriceps. On the other hand, the red or salmon-pink type of egg seems to be much more rare and I have been able to get very few for my series. Probably not one clutch in twenty is of this type.
In shape and texture they also agree more closely with the eggs of the Black-headed than with those of the Great Grey group.
One hundred eggs measured by myself average 23.9 x 18.2 mm. ; one hundred measured by Hume average 23.4 x 18.0 mm. : maxima 27.4 x 18.0 and 25.0 x 19.5 mm. ; minima 21.3 x 18.0 and 24.0 x 17.0 mm.
There appear to be no notes on record regarding incubation or nest-building.
714. Lanius schach erythronotus
(714) Lanius schach erythronotus (Vigors).