(1523) Merops orientalis orientalis Lath.
THE INMAN GREEN BEE-EATER.
Merops orientalis orientalis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iv, p. 234.
This Bee-eater is found over practically the whole of Ceylon and India, exchiding Sind, Baluchistan and the North-Western Frontier in the North-West and Assam in the North-East. In Ceylon it is said to be found in the hills at an elevation, of 1,000 feet only, but in the hills of Southern India it occurs up to about 6,000 feet and in the Himalayas also nearly as high.
It is a bird of open cultivated country and of dry desert-land alike, but is never found in forest and infrequently in heavy wooded land unless these are intersected by wide open spaces. It has no fear of humanity and often breeds in the immediate vicinity of villages and towns.
For breeding purposes rivers with sandy shelving banks are perhaps its favourite resort, but it is by no means confined to these and often makes its nesting burrow in open, almost flat land. Sometimes it breeds in very extraordinary places. In Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ there is a record by Bingham of several birds breeding in the front face of a butt on a rifle-range at Allahabad, where the bullets con¬stantly struck the bank close to their burrows. Butler records one built in a “mud-bank about a foot high, made to mark the limits of a Badminton Court in the Artillery Mess compound” at Deesa. Often they treed in roadside hanks, banks of borrow-pits, in the sides of ravines and so on. The depth of the tunnel depends on the soil ; when this is hard 18 inches to about 3 feet is the usual depth, but in the sandy banks of rivers they may be some 4 to 6 feet. The width of the passage is anything between 2 and 2.1/2 inches but, frequently, this widens a little inside and the egg-chamber is from about 4 to 6 inches in length by rather Jess in width and not more than 3 to 3.1/2 in height. The tunnels normally run straight into the bank or ground, sloping downwards for the first half of its length. When the birds meet with sonic opposition, such as a stone or root, they sometimes turn off at right angles and continue the tunnel as far as they deem necessary ; often, however, in such circumstances they abandon the tunnel and start afresh. I have seen a pair of Burmese hirda make four attempts before succeeding in completing a nest-tunnel. Twice it was stopped by stones within a few inches, once at a depth of about a foot and once by a root only 3 inches from the surface.
The reason for the tunnel being run downwards is obscure, but the habit obtains with all the various races of this Bee-eater. Adam puts the angle of descent at 30o, this being rather steeper than in most of the tunnels I have seen.
There is no nest but when, as occasionally happens, a chamber is used a second year there is always a mass of insect remains, the discarded portions of the food brought in for the previous brood.
The breeding season all over India is from the middle of March to the middle of May, a few birds laying still later in June.
Legge also gives the breeding season in Ceylon as April and May, while he found fledged young in June which had left the nest. Wait, however, found fresh eggs on the 2nd August at Pattalam.
The full clutch may be anything from four to eight, but six is the complete number most often laid.
One hundred eggs average 19.3 x 17.3 mm. : maxima 21.4 x 18.0 mm. ; minima 17.6 x 16.0 and 18.8 x 15.8 mm.
Both birds incubate, but the male much less than the female ; both also take part in digging out the nest-hole. The work of digging is carried out by the beak only, but as the sand or earth falls it is thrown out behind by the feet. The action is very vigorous and, when the hole is only a few in dies deep, a little cloud of sand is almost continuous behind the working bird.
As with the eggs of other Bee-eaters, incubation often commences with the laying of the first egg, so that the young present a variety of ages. This is accentuated by there sometimes being a gap of a day or two in the laying of the eggs.
The breeding habits of the various races of Green Bee-eater are identical and descriptions are, therefore, not repeated for each one.
1523. Merops orientalis orientalis
(1523) Merops orientalis orientalis Lath.