(712) Lanius nigriceps nigriceps.
The Indian Black-headed Shrike.
Collurio nigriceps Frank., P. Z. S., 1831, p. 117 (Ganges, Calcutta, Benares). Lanius nigriceps. Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 463.
Vernacular names. Sakrik-pho (Lepcha).
Description. "Whole upper part of head, cheeks and neck black; upper back, shading from the black, ashy, this again merging into the light chestnut of the back, rump, scapulars and upper tail-coverts: tail tipped with pale dull chestnut, the two outermost pairs nearly all of this colour with black shafts and more or less black shading on the inner webs; wing-coverts blackish brown, with narrow rufous edges when quite fresh; primaries black with a rather small white patch at their bases; inner secondaries brown with broad chestnut edges ; chin, throat and breast white grading into fulvous-chestnut on the flanks, vent and under tail-coverts; under wing-coverts and axillaries white with black bases.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown ; bill black in the breeding-season, but with horny-coloured base in winter; legs and feet dark slaty-black or dark brown.
Measurements. Wing 88 to 99 (1 specimen, Yunnan, 108)mm.; tail 108 to 126 mm., rarely up to 130 mm.; tarsus about 28 mm.; culmen about 16 mm. (Sikkim) to 18 mm. (Yunnan).
Young. Above fulvous-chestnut or chestnut-grey, each feather barred and edged with brown or black; below white washed with fulvous, well barred on the flanks with brown and less strongly barred on the breast. Some birds are almost unmarked below, whilst others are barred throughout distinctly.
Distribution. The Himalayas from Garhwal East to Assam, N. Chin Hills, Kachin Hills, N. Siam and Yunnan.
Nidification. The Indian Black-headed Shrike breeds in great numbers in the Hills of South Assam between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. In the Hills North of the Brahmaputra it is not nearly so common but ascends them up to 7,000 feet or perhaps even higher. It lays during April, May and June, sometimes having two broods. The nest is a very large compact cup made entirely of grass with the white feathery ends attached and so placed that all these are on the outside, making the nest look like a huge white powder-puff. It is placed in any kind of bush or small tree but, generally, more or less in the open or on the outskirts of forest, never far inside heavy forest. The eggs number four to six and range through an even greater variation than the Bed-backed Shrike. The ground-colour may be pink, cream, yellowish, buff, greyish or greyish green or clear pale green ; the markings consist of blotches and spots of reddish brown or light reddish on the pinker eggs or of grey-brown, greenish brown or purplish brown on the grey and green types, in each there being also a certain number of secondary markings of pale grey and neutral tint. In most eggs the markings form a ring at the larger end and are sparse elsewhere, but in some they are scattered all over the surface. Two hundred eggs average 23.6 x 17.9 mm.: maxima 26.2 X 19.0 and 24.0 x 19.2 mm.; minima 21.0 x 17.0 and 23.0 x 16.5 mm.
Habits. This fine Shrike is very common in the greater part of Assam wherever the country is at all open or wherever there is a certain amount of cultivation, even if this only means a few scattered fields of hill rice in among heavy forest. It is a bold fearless bird, in no way shunning observation and even breeding close to human habitations. It is, perhaps, the finest of all Indian songsters and, when the hen is sitting, the cock-bird will sing for a quarter of an hour at a stretch from some adjacent branch or post. The notes are very rich and full, wonderfully modulated, and the song itself varied and sustained.
It feeds principally on insects, especially grasshoppers, but does not disdain small birds and other prey, making a larder just as the English butcher-bird does but always at some distance from the nest.
In Winter it is found all over the foot-hills and also in the plains for some distance from them.