(1231) Mirafra assamica assamica.
The Bengal Bush-Lark.
Mirafra assamica McClell., P. Z. S.? 1839, p. 162 (Assam) ; Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 334.
Vernacular names. Aggia (Hind.); Bhiriri (Bhagalpur).
Description. Whole upper plumage ashy-brown streaked with black, the black streaks obsolete on the hind-neck and not present on the rump; tail blackish-brown broadly edged with rufous, the penultimate pair of feathers with the outer web all of this colour and the outermost pair the same with paler brown inner webs; lesser wing-coverts brown edged with ashy ; median coverts the same but sometimes tinged with rufous: greater and primary coverts dark brown broadly edged with rufous; primaries and outer secondaries dark brown, the bases of the outer webs of all but the two first and the greater part of the inner webs chestnut; inner secondaries dark brown edged with fulvous-ashy; chin and throat fulvous-white; a pale to bright fulvous supercilium ; cheeks and ear-coverts mixed fulvous and brown; lower plumage dull fulvous, broadly streaked with black on the lower throat, breast and sides of the neck.
Colours of soft parts. Iris pale brown; bill above dark horny-brown, nearly black at the tip, yellowish next the gape, lower mandible yellowish-horny; legs and feet pinkish-brown, yellowish-brown or dull fleshy.
Measurements. Wing 82 to 84 mm.; tail 45 to 50 mm.; tarsus 24 to 25 mm,; culmen about 13 to 14 mm.
Young birds have the feathers of the upper parts fringed with rufous-white and with subterminal bars of black; lower parts pale fulvous, streaked with black on the breast.
Distribution. Assam, Eastern Bengal, Bihar, Cental Provinces, Oudh, Nepal, Sikkim and the whole of the Terai from Nepal to Eastern Assam; Cachar, Sylhet and Manipur. South it extends on the East to Orissa. In Bengal it is confined to the rather well-wooded Eastern districts and in Bihar is not found apparently any great distance from the Terai.
Nidification. The Bengal Bush-Lark breeds at the commencement of the rains, making its nest in the end of May and early June so that the young hatch when the whole country is teeming with food. They probably have two broods, as fresh eggs have been taken as late as September and early October. The nest varies from a scanty pad of grass, loosely and carelessly thrown together, to a well-made cup with a dome made of dry and living grass with an entrance near the top. The site selected may either be in grass or weeds or less often under a clod, a fallen log or a pile of debris but in nearly every case it is well hidden. The eggs number three or four, sometimes only two and very rarely five. They are typical Larks' eggs; the ground varies from pure white to pale greyish, yellowish or stone-colour, profusely speckled, spotted and blotched all over with various shades of brown, from pale yellowish-brown to deep purple-black. The secondary markings are of grey or neutral tint. The eggs have a much more decided gloss than those of Anthus rufulus, with which they might well be confused. Fifty eggs average 20.7 x 15.3 mm.: maxima 22.1 X 16.0 mm.; minima 18.9 x 14.2 mm.
Habits. This Lark is a bird of well-wooded, well-watered country; it is very abundant in Bengal, Assam and the low country at the foot of the Himalayas, extending in lesser numbers into Bihar, Western Bengal and the Nepal Terai. It becomes numerous again in the better-watered parts of the Central Provinces. It is a tame, familiar bird and though it keeps much to fairly long grass and bushes it does sometimes enter compounds and is common in cultivated fields. It has a sweet but not very powerful song, which it sings either seated on some bush or tall patch of grass, or as it flutters a little way into the air and then sails down on outstretched wings. It never soars and its flight is neither very strong nor sustained. 1 have heard this Lark singing on bright moonlight night in Bengal, a most unusual thing for any Indian bird to do unless roused by some passing jackal or other vermin.