(1182) Motacilla citreola calcarata Hodgs.
THE INDIAN YELLOW-HEADED WAGTAIL.
Motacilla citreola calcarata, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 274.
The Indian Yellow-headed Wagtail breeds within our limits from the North-West Frontier to Garhwal and Ladak, and is very common in certain parts of Kashmir. In this State it breeds at much lower elevations than over most of its range. Betham one year (1917) found it very common round Srinagar, breeding abundantly in many of the marshes and surrounding grassland. So numerous indeed were these birds that one morning, without specially searching for them, he found three nests, containing four, four and five eggs respectively. Osmaston also says that he found them breeding on the big swamps, e. g., the Hokra Jhil, in the, Kashmir Valley, at 5,200 feet. In the Khagan and Kurram Valleys Whitehead found this bird “extraordinarily numerous, breeding between 8,800 and 13,000 feet wherever there was suitable country.” In Ladak Osmaston and Ludlow obtained them nesting between 10,000 and 14,000 feet, and sometimes up to 15,000 feet.
Nests and nesting sites are very much like those of the Grey Wagtails. They are invariably built on open land, sometimes in swamps and marshes and sometimes in, open pasture or grassland. Wherever placed, however, they are always very well hidden, tucked away in some natural hollow at the foot of a little bush or, more often still, in among the roots of thick soft grass. In Gyantse Steen, Kennedy and my other numerous correspondents obtained most nests in grass of this nature, but nests were also found in broken-down reed-beds, under tussocks of grass or bushes on the banks of streams and, often, in rank grass at the edge of irrigation ditches. In the N.W. Frontier hills Whitehead and Harington found then breeding in most cases on the banks of streams, the nests being concealed in hollows in rank grass or under bushes. All correspondents agree in considering the nests very hard to find, concealment being very complete. When, however, one knows the kind of place in which to search for them, or sees the cock bird hovering around, one has only to continue hunting until the female leaves at one’s feet, for they are very close sitters.
The nest is quite typical of those of the Grey Wagtails, a neat cup of grass and roots thickly lined with wool or hair, or with both. One or two of the nests found by Whitehead were lined with white goats’ hair, the lining showing up against the darker grass walls of the nest. The cavity for the eggs varies from 2 to 2.1/2 inches across by under 1 inch in depth, while externally they fit into the hollow in which they are built and may be anything from 4 to 7 inches in diameter.
The breeding season is chiefly June and the first half of July, but in the lower elevations, as in the Kashmir Valley, they commence laying in the middle of May. They do not appear normally to bo double-brooded.
Both males and females breed in immature plumage, the females perhaps more often than the males. Whitehead, Osmaston, Ward and many others have commented on this, and Osmaston considers that more breeding females are in immature plumage than in adult dress,
The number of eggs laid is four or five, occasionally three only, but I have never seen more than five.
In appearance the eggs are like those of the European Grey¬headed Wagtail hut less definitely freckled or spotted and, of course, much bigger. As a series they look very unicoloured pale grey faintly tinged with olive or, in one or two, with brown or yellowish stone-colour. The ground is the faintest of greys with innumerable almost indistinguishable specks and stippling of darker grey, grey-brown or olive-grey, or, exceptionally, sienna-grey. I have seen only one clutch in which the markings are sufficiently more numerous at the larger end to justify calling them capped, and I have only seen three or four eggs marked with the short hair-lines sometimes seen in the eggs of this group.
In shape the eggs are broad to moderate ovals, occasionally rather longer and pointed. The texture is rather fine and some eggs are faintly glossy.
Eighty eggs average 20.7 x 15.0 mm. : maxima 22.2 x 15.4 and 20.6 x 16.0 mm, ; minima 18.5 x 14.5 and 20.5 x 14.0 mm.
Both birds assist in building the nest and the cock bird also incubates, though not for such long hours as the female. White¬head on several occasions shot the male off the nest, both these and the females he obtained being now in the British Museum (Natural History).
1182. Motacilla citreola calcarata
(1182) Motacilla citreola calcarata Hodgs.