(1231) Mirafra assamica assamica McClell.
THE BENGAL BUSH-LARK.
Mirafra assamica assamica, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 337.
This Lark, which was described from Assam, almost its Eastern limit, extends on the West as far as the United Provinces and terai of Nepal and Sikkim, South it occurs in the Central Provinces and East it only extends to Manipur.
It is a bird of well-watered and well-wooded country and seems, to prefer, above all other types of country, an admixture of culti¬vated fields and patches of grass, in the latter of which it breeds. It also breeds, however, in many other places. In Bihar the favourite site is the grass verge or bank of an indigo-field, or in the indigo crop itself. It may often he found placing its nest on the grass embankments of village roads or on the grass growing on the banks which divide the rice-fields. Sometimes it will nest in long “sun’’ grass, 3 feet high, at other times it will hide its nest under clods or tufts of grass in fields which have been ploughed for Spring sowing. The nest is always placed on the ground in hollows, sometimes natural, sometimes scratched out by the birds or, often, in the footprint of a cow or some other animal.
The nest is typical of the genus and, indeed, of most Larks. Normally it is a cup, sometimes shallow and fragile, more often fairly deep, well built and compact, made of grass and grass-roots. The size varies considerably ; most of those I have seen or taken were some 4 or 5 inches across externally and anything from 1/2 to 2 inches deep. Hume says of one nest : “The largest and most perfect nest I ever saw was rather more than a hemisphere, the curved surface uppermost, 7 inches in diameter and 5 inches high, and with a neatly made circular aperture 2 inches in diameter nearly at the top. More roots had been used in this than is customary and these had been, especially internally, at the bottom.”
This nest was of the second, or domed type, which is also often made by this Lark. Cripps describes one of these nests found by him in Faridpore as follows :— “The nest, the lower half of which rested in a small hollow, was a domed structure of ‘soni’ and ‘doob’ grass with a lining of very fine roots of these grasses ; there were also some roots of matted fur like that of a rat in the nest ; the entrance was at the side ; the whole thing was very artfully concealed,”
These domed nests are often partially made of the grass growing round the cup-nest. In some instances the grass is merely bent over and over and hardly interlaced at all. In others the living grass is twisted in with other pieces of grass, forming quite a well- made, substantial dome.
The breeding season over most of its area is May and June, hut in Assam I found nests also in July and August, no doubt second broods, while Lindsay Harvey, Inglis and Coltart all took nests in Bihar in March and April.
The eggs number three or four in a full clutch. Hume says that five is the usual complement, and Marshall (G. F. L.) also found five, but I have never seen this number, though I have seen two only incubated.
In colour the eggs are like those of the Siam Singing-Lark or the previous species, cantillans. Compared as a series with the eggs of the Siam bird they are very pale, poorly-marked eggs and have a much duller surface. The two extremes of coloration in my own aeries are shown in two pairs of egga, both complete clutches. Of these one has a white ground rather sparsely marked with a few biggish blotches of sienna-brown and pale grey, with a good many specks of the same colours, most of both being at the larger end, The second pair has a warm pinkish-buff ground, the whole surface densely covered with small blotches of purplish-brown, still more dense at the big end. Other eggs are between these two extremes but most are nearer to the pale type.
Sixty eggs average 20.3 x 15.3 mm, : maxima 22.3 x 15.8 and 22.1 x 16.0 mm, ; minima 18.9 x 14.2 mm.
The nuptial flight of this Lark is rather striking. The bird sits on some bush, rail or other prominent site and then launches itself into the air, fluttering its wings very quickly and singing a sweet but not powerful song. When it has risen to some 50 feet or so, it stretches both wings out very stiffly and makes a long sliding stoop towards the ground but, before reaching it, again flutters upward, The glide and rise are repeated two or more times before the bird actually drops to the ground or to its original perch, where it often sings for a few seconds after its arrival.
Both birds incubate, though I do not think the male does much. They sit very close as soon as the full clutch of eggs has been laid, and may sometimes be caught on the nest before they will leave, but as a rule they quit just in time to avoid being stepped on.
Both sexes assist in the construction of the nest.
Incubation takes twelve days or perhaps only eleven in some cases, though I have not verified the latter.
1231. Mirafra assamica assamica
(1231) Mirafra assamica assamica McClell.