(712) Lanius nigriceps nigriceps (Frank.).
THE INDIAN BLACK-HEADED SHRIKE.
Lanius nigriceps nigriceps, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 292.
This handsome Shrike occurs throughout the Central and Eastern Himalayas from Garhwal to Assam, both North and South of the Brahmapootra, and thence through the Chin and Kachin Hills to the Shan States and North-West Siam. It has also been found in Yunnan. It breeds at all heights from the plains up to 4,000 feet and thence, less commonly, up to at least 7,000 feet and, probably, at higher elevations still. North of the Brahmapootra it is not nearly so common as it is in the hills South of that river, or in Manipur and the Chin Hills. In Winter, of course, it wanders far into the plains. We found it breeding in some numbers in the low country in Margherita, where there is an avifauna which is found elsewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 feet, but I never knew it to breed in the plains of the Surrma Valley or any of the districts of Eastern Bengal where it is common in Winter. In Furreedpore, however, Cripps recorded it as a common breeding bird, preferring “open plains interspersed with bushes ; the small bushes on road¬sides also being a favourite haunt.”
Thompson notes of its breeding “all along the south-western termination of the Kumaon and Garhwal forests, and is usually found in swampy, high grassy lands." He also found it in Mirzapore, but could not ascertain whether it bred there. He remarks of its Southern limit:—“It disappears after you go south-west of the Mykle Range, and on the range itself is only found near marshy places. This Mykle Range extends as far as Ummerkuntuk, with a spur going off north of that, and joining on with the Kymore Range, parts of which I explored in March last in Parganas Agrore and Singrowlee. Down in these places this Lanius was the common Shrike.”
Although this Shrike breeds occasionally in evergreen forest and, more commonly, in thin Pine forest, it prefers quite open country and especially, perhaps, plateau grass-lands scattered with high straggly bushes which raise their heads only 3 or 4 feet above the surrounding long grass. In these and in the small stunted Oaks, which grow here and there in the same plateaus, they place their nests between 5 and 15 feet from the ground. Sometimes they build in orchards and gardens and often in cattle-grazed lands round villages. In North Cachar, between 4,000 and 6,000 feet, I found that most nests were placed in saplings and tall bushes bordering openings in the forest where the hill men grew their rice or cotton. They also were often to be found in deserted fields in which the jungle had not yet had time to get too dense and tangled.
In Sikkim Gammie found them breeding in similar places. He writes :—“I found this Shrike breeding abundantly in the Cinchona reserves in May and June at elevations of from 3,000 to 4,500 feet above the sea. It affects open, cultivated places and builds, at 6 to 20 feet from the ground, in shrubs, bamboos, or small trees.”
The very great majority of nests are placed in small trees and high bushes between 5 and 20 feet from the ground, but Cripps records that in Furreedpore he “took ten nests this season from the 11th April to the 4th June, with from one to five eggs in each. Four nests were placed in bamboo-clumps from 9 to 30 feet high ; one 40 feet from the ground on a casuarina-tree, one 20 feet up in a but-tree, and the rest in babool-trees from 6 to 15 feet high from the ground.”
The nests, of which I have seen an enormous number in situ, some in my own gardens and orchards, have all been much alike. They are very large, bulky cups, the depth almost invariably greater than the diameter. Those I have personally measured have varied in external diameter from about 5 to 7.1/2 inches, and the depth from 5.1/2 to just on 8 inches, but the majority would be just over 5 across by nearly 6 inches deep. The walls and base are very massive, measuring from 1 to 1.1/2 inch thick, whilst the base may sometimes be 2 inches thick. The egg-cavity is comparatively small, measuring about 3.1/4 to 4 inches across and from 3 to 4 deep. It is often so deep that the sitting bird shows only her beak and tail above the rim.
All the Assam nests were built alike. The outer walls were constructed solely of the feathery white flowering ends of seeding grass, the long stems very firmly and compactly wound round so as to leave the flowering ends outside, making the nest a con¬spicuous feathery white mass. Inside the outer wall is an inner wall of coarse grass-stems and roots but, with these grass-stems, many other materials may be used to a varied extent. I have seen nests made almost entirely of very thorny twigs, the thorns pro¬truding through the fluff of the outer wall ; often roots, a few odd leaves, tendrils, rachides and even bamboo leaves are made use of. The lining is always of grass, sometimes alone, sometimes mixed with roots and fibre.
Scully, writing of Nepal, gives a rather different description of the nest, and says that they are “large cup-shaped structures composed of grass-roots, fibres and fine seed-down intermixed. The egg-cavity was circular, lined with fine grass-stems.”
Gammie describes his nests as being exactly like those found by myself and, like them, exteriorly chiefly composed of flowering grasses.
The nests are very compact and exceedingly well put together ; they are almost invariably placed in an upright fork or between two or more vertical shoots, and the supporting twigs are very firmly fastened into the fabric of the nest.
The breeding season almost everywhere seems to be April, May and June, though I have taken belated nests with fresh eggs in July. An exception to this season is given by Thompson, who says that in Kuman and Garhwal they breed in July, August and September. The only eggs, however, I have seen from these districts have been taken in May and June.
The full clutch of eggs is from four to six, generally five.
In appearance the eggs are quite typical of the genus and, con¬sidering them as a series, they give one the impression of being very brightly coloured, definitely spotted eggs, the smudgy, untidily blotched eggs being in a very small minority. They go through the same range of variation as the eggs of the preceding bird except that I have never seen any with the very large ill-defined blotches not rare in the eggs of the Burmese bird. In the present species, also, the rings at the larger end are not so invariably well defined, and quite a number of clutches are fairly well marked all over the surface, though always more numerously at the larger end. The red type of egg is quite common, about one clutch in every three being of this description and many being extremely handsome, having a deep pink ground freely blotched with chestnut-red. Eggs with a very pale olive-grey ground, zoned or otherwise marked with darker grey, are exceptional, though I have examples of all the various types in my own series. One exceptional clutch has a bright yellow sea-green ground, with very bold zones of almost black spots mingled with secondary marks of lavender-grey. Another unusual clutch has a very pale salmon-cream ground, with markings of three colours scattered irregularly over the whole surface. The primary small blotches are a rich chestnut, the secondary of pinkish grey, and the third, evidently pigment deposited very early on the inner shell, of the faintest lilac.
In shape the eggs are typically rather broad ovals, very little compressed at the smaller end. A few are rather longer ovals, and yet fewer still are long ovals decidedly pointed. The texture is fairly fine, very close, and in a few eggs shows a faint gloss, quite absent in most.
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.
So far as I know, the male takes no part in incubation beyond relieving his wife for about half an hour in the mornings and evenings, at which times we have trapped a few on the nest. As regards the building work, all he does is to bring the materials and hand them over to his wife. At the same time he is a good husband, intensely energetic in feeding the young and even feeding the female on the nest and, when not so engaged, he sits by her and pours forth continually one of the most beautiful of all bird¬songs, one of infinite variety, and pulsating with the joy of living and loving.
Incubation takes fourteen or fifteen days and the young leave the nest, fully fledged, in about the same period.
They are not as a rule double brooded, but a good many birds have two broods in a year.
712. Lanius nigriceps nigriceps
(712) Lanius nigriceps nigriceps (Frank.).