(351) Leiothrix lutea callipyga (Hodgs.).
THE INDIAN RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX.
Liothrix lutea callipyga, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 328.
The Red-billed Leiothrix breeds between 4,000 and 8,000 feet and, less commonly, down to 3,000 feet throughout the Himalayas from Simla to Eastern Assam, North and South of the Brahma¬pootra, the Chin Hills and Arrakan.
It is extremely common in the Khasia Hills over 4,000 feet but, in comparison, rare in the adjoining North Cachar Hills, possibly because the latter have no Pine forests at suitable elevations. At the same time the Leiothrix does not seem to mind much what kind of country it breeds in. I have taken their nests from Pine forests, humid evergreen forest, thin and rather scattered Oak forest, scrub and secondary growth and even from bamboo- and tree-jungle mixed. In Sikkim Gammie found that they bred in all kinds of cover but preferred dense scrub. Possibly in Assam they prefer rather thin, open Pine forest with plenty of undergrowth, and I have taken nests from deep forest where the Pines exclude light and have no undergrowth.
A very favourite and very typical breeding ground for this bird was a ravine, the upper end of which started close to my house in Shillong. The ravine ran through rather open Pine forest growing on a very steep hill on one side and on a gently sloping hill on the other. This ravine was about twenty yards across but, here and there, opened out to more than twice this width : the sides were steep and rocky and, in some places, great masses of moss- and fern-covered rocks rose to a height of fifteen feet or more. Pines in the ravine itself were few and stunted but, all along it, grew Rhododendron-trees, stunted Oaks and a wealth of undergrowth, consisting of Jasmine, brambles of all kinds, bracken in patches and ferns and moss everywhere. Here every year two or three pairs of birds bred, selecting low bushes or tangles of brambles and Raspberry vines in which to place their nests. All over the Khasia Hills similar ravines abound in the Pine-woods, and few of these would fail to yield one or more nests if worked in May and June.
They do not keep entirely to such places even in the Khasia Hills, for I have taken nests in that district in abandoned strips of cultivation, in the dampest and densest of Rhododendron and Oak forest, from the evergreen forests at 3,000 to 4,000 feet com¬posed of miscellaneous trees of great size, from open scrub-jungle, and even, though but very rarely, from bamboo-jungle.
The nest is nearly always placed rather low down, sometimes in matted brambles within a few inches of the ground, sometimes in low bushes two to four feet up and, at other times, in high bushes or in small saplings up to six or eight feet from the ground. It may be placed in a horizontal or vertical fork or in between several supports but, most often, between two or three horizontal twigs or vines. It is a well-made substantial cup, but not a very neat one and, often, a decidedly bulky one in proportion to the size of the bird. The materials of which it is composed are many and various—dead leaves, bamboo-leaves, scraps of moss, dry or green, lichen, roots and a few small pliant twigs. Generally these miscellaneous articles are first wound round with two or three bamboo-leaves quite loosely and then bound more tightly and carefully with tendrils, long roots and creeper-stems, these being also wound thoroughly round the supporting twigs as well. The lining is almost as varied as the walls and base. Most often roots are used, but these may be fine roots of fems and moss, coarse roots of bamboo and bracken, black rhizomorph or the bright red wiry tendrils of Convolvuli. Sometimes hair, gaur or buffalo, may be used, but the Sikkim birds appear to employ hair for the lining of their nests more than the Assam birds do.
Concealment does not seem to be much sought for. Some, from the denseness of the surrounding leaves or vines, may not be too obvious, but others will be placed in quite conspicuous outer positions in a bush when, to a human being’s ideas, there seems to be an infinitely better one a few inches inside the same bush.
The breeding season is a very long one ; in and round Shillong I have taken them from the 1st of April up to the 4th of September, whilst Gammie took a nest with three eggs at Rishap, near Darjiling, on the 17th October. May and June are, however, the two months in which three out of every four nests with eggs will be taken.
The eggs number three or four, probably three more often than four, whilst two only are often incubated. On the other hand I have two or three times taken as many as five eggs in a clutch.
The eggs are very beautiful. The ground-colour varies from pure white, which is rare, to a pale blue, in a few cases almost a Thrush-egg blue. The markings vary somewhat. In most they consist of rather large bold blotches of dark red-brown or umber- brown sparingly dotted about the larger end and smaller and still more scanty elsewhere. In other eggs the markings are more spots than blotches, and often form a ring round the bigger end. In a few eggs there are, in addition to the blotches, pale smudges with darker edges, a coarse line or two, or spot almost black. Other eggs, again, have the marks much paler, but it is the exception for them to be so. The secondary markings are few in number, sometimes practically absent, consisting of a few rather dark lavender or blue-grey spots. In shape the eggs are broad ovals, decidedly smaller at the small end but seldom at all pointed. The texture is very hard and fine and the shell strong with a bright gloss.
Two hundred eggs average 21.9 x 16.1 mm. : maxima 23.2 x 17.0 and 23.0 x 17.1 mm. ; minima 18.9 x 15.2 and 21.4 x 15.0 mm.
Both birds take part in incubation but the female is probably the one which sits during most of the day, as it is nearly always the female which is trapped on the nest. The male has, however, been noosed more than once. The female seems to do most of the nest-building, the male bringing her the material, which she refuses or makes use of as she thinks fit.
They are very fussy birds at the nest and, even when it is not conspicuous, soon give away its position. They leave it when the intruder is still some paces away but, instead of slipping quietly away and hoping that the nest may escape notice, they at once begin to abuse and swear at him and, if he gets still closer, flutter over his head and round about the bush in which it is placed.
351. Leiothrix lutea callipyga
(351) Leiothrix lutea callipyga (Hodgs.).