(1129) Mirafra cantillans cantillans Jerdon.
THE BENGAL SINGING BUSH-LARK.
Mirafra cantillans cantillans. Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 334.
This Singing Bush-Lark is found in suitable country in India from Sind, the North-West Provinces and the Punjab to Western Bengal and Bihar on the East. To the South it occurs as far as Travancore on the West and Madras on the East. In Sind Harington Bulkly found it a not uncommon breeding resident near Karachi, but Ticehurst considers it to be a rare resident in that part of India. Whitehead found it “fairly numerous” at Kohat in Summer between 1,000 and 2,000 feet.
Although so common a bird, practically nothing has been recorded about its nidification since Hume’s time, and I have been unable to extract any more information of special value from my numerous correspondents.
It is a bird of fairly well-watered tracts, and will not be found in the drier, more arid parts of Rajputana and the Deccan. It is very capricious in its selection of breeding sites, and Hume says :— “The bird has always been a puzzle to me. At distances of 50 miles or more apart you come upon small colonies, while in hundreds of intermediate and apparently exactly similar localities you never see it.”
The nest, like that of all Larks, is placed on the ground, the site moat often selected being one in plains of long grass. At other times it is built in short grass in pasture-land, rarely in growing crops, and rather more often in thin, open scrub-jungle. In all these situations the nest is well hidden and difficult to find, but Hume says that “at times in little frequented localities, such as the ravines of the Jumna on the South of the Cawnpore District ; it will be found in a shght depression in the soil or niche in a bank quite open to view,”
The nest varies greatly in construction. The majority are small cups, often mere shallow pads or saucers, of grass lined with the same and tucked well into the roots of the grass or of the protecting shrub or weeds, whatever these may be. It is always constructed of coarse and fine grass, being lined with the latter, and the only additional material ever used consists of a few grass-roots. Other nests are much more elaborate ; the body of the nest is a compara¬tively deep cup, and over this is raised a dome made either of dried grass or of the grass actually surrounding the nest, which is bent over and, to a shght extent, interlaced. Often the surrounding grass is used and then added to so as to form a more compact canopy. Blewitt describes a nest taken by him in July near Hansie as “formed of fine grass, almost meeting above and with a hole in the side for ingress and egress and, though much smaller, reminding one of a Munia’s nest."
Butler also took a nest near Deesa “almost spherical, with a hole near the top for ingress and egress, consisting of dry grass somewhat massively put together and neatly lined with similar material of a finer quality.”
It has been suggested that these almost domed nests are only built during the rains for the sake of protection. I know little about this bird myself, but certainly all records of this kind of nest have been made of those found after the rains have broken, while those built in March and April have all been of the cup or pad type. The breeding season is a long one, lasting from March to September, the greater number of eggs being laid after the rains break in the middle of June. Many birds have two broods, but I have been unable to ascertain if in these instances the first neat is open and the second covered in.
The full complement of eggs laid is two to four. Hume, Blewitt and Butler all found four eggs in nests, though three more often, but my correspondents all speak of two or three as normal and four as exceptional. In appearance some eggs are just like those of Calandrella, while others are much darker. They range from eggs with a white ground, tinged with grey, green, yellow or buff, sparsely speckled or blotched with some shade of brown, to eggs which are so densely speckled all over as to appear uniform grey-brown, olive-brown or brown. Often there are indications of a zone at the larger end, but I have seen no capped eggs. In all eggs, if closely examined, secondary spots of lavender or grey may be seen, but these are never prominent.
In the ‘Fauna’ the measurements of the eggs, including those of Hume, were given. Now it is possible to give the measurements of forty eggs taken by myself, which are as follows :—
Average 20.1 x 15.4 mm. : maxima 22.9 x 15.6 mm. ; minima 17.9 x 14.1 and 18.1 x 13.2 mm. As this small series contains two or three clutches almost abnormally small, a larger series would probably give larger measurements.
The nuptial display seems to be very similar to that of other Mirafras and is described later on under Mirafra assamica.
1229. Mirafra cantillans cantillans
(1129) Mirafra cantillans cantillans Jerdon.