(613) Myophonus horsfieldii Vigors.
THE MALABAR WHISTLING-THRUSH.
Myiophoneus horsfieldii, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 178.
Myophonus horsfieldii, ibid. vol. viii, p. 625.
This fine Thrush, often known as the Whistling Schoolboy, is resident in Western India, South of Bombay City to Travancore. The only other place in which it has occurred is in the Jetinga Valley, Cachar. These latter birds were the descendants of some tame birds liberated by a Tea-planter from the Nilgiris, and were much in evidence in 1886 but, fifteen years later, had all died out or become merged in the Northern Indian form.
According to Bourdillon and Ferguson, this Thrush breeds at all elevations from the foot-hills up to 6,000 feet in Travancore, while in the Nilgiris and the Wynaad they apparently breed still higher, wherever there are running streams and suitable building sites. The variation in these sites is, however, extreme. Perhaps the favourite position is a ledge or crevice in a rock on or near the bank of some small stream in forest, open or dense, or tucked away in the bank of the stream itself.
Sometimes it makes its nest in a hole in a tree at great heights from the ground. Darling took one from a stump 11 feet from the ground in the Wynaad, whilst Miss Cockburn took two nests in the Nilgiris from holes in trees, one no less than 40 feet up and the other 30 feet from the ground. At other times it will build the nest on boulders in streams or on logs and tree-trunks which have fallen into them. Davidson and Wenden took two nests in the Deccan, one from a ledge of rock 15 feet inside a railway tunnel and the second from a cutting just outside the tunnel. In both cases numerous trains passed daily within a few feet of the nests, the dust and the smoke from them settling on both nests and eggs. A more curious site than any of these is one described by Betham. He writes (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xiv, p. 815, 1903):— “I happened to sit down on the path just above the Roman Catholic Church at Khandalla on the 16th August when two ‘ Whistling Schoolboys’ flew into a tree hard by ; from there they went on and disappeared under the roof of the church. On going down, one of my men pushed his head through a broken pane and said he could see the bird on the nest. I followed his lead and was surprised to find the nest on the window-sill, with madam at home. I got hold of the keys and a long ladder to investigate. On going up I found three eggs. The female sat very tight and only left by compulsion. The men told me the birds built there regularly every year. This certainly seemed to be the case, as the nest was about a foot high, if not more, and one could easily see the remains of the old nests, which had been used as a foundation year by year.”
The nest of this Thrush seems to be nearly always made of roots, generally taken from very muddy places, so that the nest is a very heavy affair. Davison says that it is “a very large structure. Exteriorly it is composed of roots, dead leaves and decaying vege¬tation of all kinds ; the egg-cavity, which is saucer-shaped and comparatively shallow, is coarsely lined with roots.” Darling describes the nest as “built entirely of roots. The foundation was of roots from some swampy ground and had a good deal of mud about it.”
Both Frank and T. F. Bourdillon again describe it as made almost entirely of roots and fibre, though the former says that a little moss, and the latter a little grass, is also used. Aitken, Butler and others also state that muddy roots form the only material used but Betham and Stewart, who took many nests in Travancore, say that generally the outsides of the nests they saw were more wet green moss than anything else. Stewart found most nests built on ledges of rocks near streams and torrents in dense, damp forest and in each case these had been made of the moss growing on the rocks on which they were placed.
The nest seems invariably to be bulky as well as heavy, the materials, whether moss or roots, being compacted together, especially at the base, with wet mud. The measurements externally may be anything from 8 inches to a foot across and from 4 to 8 inches deep, the egg-cavity measuring about 4 x 2.1/2 inches.
In the Nilgiris there would appear to be two breeding seasons, first in March and April and again in June, July and August. In Travancore and Bombay the three latter months seem to be the usual season, as it is also in the Deccan but, in the two former provinces, there may be two breeding periods, as I have eggs taken by the Bourdillons in April and May, whilst Stewart took one nest as early as the 13th February. Probably throughout their range most birds breed twice.
The eggs number two to four, three being most often laid. In general appearance they are nearest to the eggs of Oreocincla dauma. The ground-colour is generally a pale clay, sometimes tinged with pink or buff. The whole egg is sparsely covered with specks, spots and small blotches of pale reddish, nearly always more numerous at the larger end, where they may rarely form small caps. In some eggs the markings are so small as to appear mere freckling, in others they are rather larger and become well-defined blotches. Most, eggs have a few secondary markings of very pale lavender or neutral tint, but these are invariably small and inconspicuous. In many clutches one egg is strikingly different to the others, either more heavily blotched or more free from markings and, less often, with a different ground-tint. Pale green eggs are rare but I have one beautiful clutch of this colour taken by Osmaston at Pachmarhi.
In shape they are normally long ovals, often decidedly compressed and pointed at the smaller end. The texture is rather coarse, though the surface is smooth, and there is sometimes a slight gloss.
Forty-six eggs average 33.1 x 23.9 mm. : maxima 36.3 x 24.1 and 33.2 x 25.3 mm. ; minima 30.3 x 23.4 and 34.0 x 23.2 mm.
613. Myophonus horsfleldii
(613) Myophonus horsfieldii Vigors.