(1994) Megapodius nicobariensis nicobariensis.
THE NICOBAR MEGAPODE.
Megapodius nicobariensis Blyth, J. A. S. B., xv, p. 52 (1840); Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 147.
Vernacular names. Kongah (Nicobars).
Description. The feathers of the nape, sides of the head and surrounding the posterior portion of the crown greyish; chin and throat sparsely feathered with pale grey, sometimes more rufescent, sometimes more albescent; remainder of plumage rufescent-brown, generally darker above than below, where it is often a rufous-grey, more rarely almost a pure grey.
The general tone of the upper plumage varies from a rather bright rufescent to a dull rufescent occasionally somewhat olive in tint.
The feathers round the neck are sparse and this part is sometimes almost bare, whilst in many specimens the feathers of the head and crown are scanty or wanting altogether and the skin is more or less covered by a black scab, looking as if the bird was suffering from some skin disease.
Colours of soft parts. Iris light to dark brown; eyelids red, the skin of the lores, sides of head and neck shows through from cherry-red to bright brick-red or, according to Richmond, mauve-pink; bill greenish- or yellowish-horny, paler along the commissure; legs and feet greenish-horny, darker in front and more red or brick-red on the back.
Measurements. Total length 374.5 to 409.5 mm. (Richmond) ; wing 228 to 250 mm.; tail 69 to 88 mm.; tarsus about 59 to 68 mm.; culmen about 23.5 to 26 mm.
Weight of males 21 to 34 oz., females 30 to 36 oz.
Birds not quite adult have the bead and neck completely clothed with feathers, those on the chin and fore-neck being greyish-white; the underparts seem to be invariably brown or rufous-brown with no tinge of grey.
Young birds the size of a Quail are " uniform snuff-brown all over, everywhere densely feathered, even about the throat and neck, and with the feathers of the forehead and back of the neck much longer, actually and not merely relatively, than in the adult; no bare space in front of or round the eye, no tail developed, only a large bunch of fur-like feathers, but the wings large, strong and well-formed, the bill very short. One such bird measured 5.5 inches in length and had a wing of 4 inches " (Hume, Str. Feath.).
Distribution. Nicobars, where they have been found on every island except Choura and Car Nicobar. Butler recorded them from Battye Malve ; whilst Hume saw traces of their mounds on Table Island, though no birds or even their mounds have ever been found there since. The birds from the Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar are, however, of the nest race.
Nidification. These birds make no nest, in the usually accepted terms for such, but deposit their eggs in huge mounds of sand and vegetable-matter, the latter in decaying and fermenting sufficing with the hot tropical sun to create sufficient heat to incubate the eggs. The mounds are generally built close to the coast and average, according to Davison, as much as five feet high and thirty feet in circumference, those built inland being much smaller, only about three feet high and twelve or fourteen feet round. The basis is of vegetable matter and then a layer of sand—really coral dust and minute shells—is put over this and each succeeding year fresh layers of vegetable refuse and sand are added. In the mound holes are dug out by the birds and eggs deposited therein and left to hatch, the young birds so far as is known working their way out unaided. The eggs, which are enormous for the size of the parent, are laid at intervals of several days and each bird probably lays four or five eggs. The exact number, however, is not known, as, though one pair start a mound, their young ones as they arrive at maturity also use the same, and twenty eggs, more or less fresh, have been taken from a single mound. When first laid the eggs are a beautiful salmon-pink or rose-pink but this colour soon fades to a yellow clay and then becomes duller and browner as incubation advances. Eighty-four eggs average 82.6 x 52.3 mm.: maxima 85.5 x 50.3 and 82.0x 57.1 mm.; minima 76.4 x 49.9 and 81.6 x 46.2 mm.
The chick as soon as it emerges from the shell and has dried itself either flies or runs to the nearest cover and associates with others of its kind.
Eggs have been taken in April, May and June but it is impossible to say how long the breeding-season lasts.
Habits. The Megapodes frequent the dense forest growing along the shores of the islands a little above high-water mark and during the day never leave it but, at night, they may be seen on the shore, often running along the very f?dge of the sea. They may be found singly or in pairs but more often in parties of considerable size feeding on land-shells, seeds, vegetable-matter, insects, etc. The flocks consist of birds of all ages and in the bigger flocks together with five or six older birds others will be found some just hatched, some half-grown and some as big as the old birds, though still wearing their head-feathers. When disturbed they prefer to escape by running, as they are extremely active on their feet but they can fly well, though at no great speed. The newly-hatched and very young birds are said to run more speedily and to fly faster than the old birds. Their call has been syllabified as " Kuk-a-kuk-kuk " by Davison.