(516) Cercomela fusca (Blyth).
THE BROWN ROCK-CHAT.
Cercomela fusca, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 54.
This Chat, the best known and most familiar of all our Indian Chats, is a resident practically throughout the United Provinces, the Southern Punjab, the extreme North-East of the Central Provinces and Rajputana East to Cutch.
Whistler (‘Popular Handbook of Indian Birds,’ p. 72) gives a very good summary of the haunts of this bird:—“The Crown Rock-Chat is a common and familiar species, found both in arid stony wastes, in deep ravines and on earthy cliffs, on rocky hills and in and about villages and towns. It is a great frequenter of buildings, flitting in and out of the empty chambers and through the gaping windows of ancient palaces and forts, perching in the cornices of tombs and mosques, and living even in the more fre¬quented houses and offices of a work-a-day world, the friend alike of rich and poor. It comes into rooms even when there are people moving and talking within.”
As regards their nesting-places, little can be added to what Hume wrote long ago:—
“It is a great frequenter of old buildings, and all the grand Mahomedan and Hindu ruins, forts and palaces, mosques and temples afford nesting-sites for one or more pairs of this species. They are tame and fearless. A pair built for years regularly in my house at Etawah and they often build about native huts. Deep ravines and earthy cliffs also attract them, and thousands of birds build yearly in that vast network of ravines that fringes the courses of the Jumna and Chumbul from opposite Agra to Calpee. Others nest in quarries, and I got several nests from these in the neigh¬bourhood of Futtehppor Sikri.
“Holes in walls, whether mud or stone, and in earthen cliffs and banks, ledges and chinks in rocks and quarries and the like, are the sites chosen, and in these they build.”
Very often they will build their nests in houses which are occupied and Mr. W. H. Mathews (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxvi, p. 845, 1919) says that “a very favourite nesting-site is the ledge that often runs round the top of a wall inside the bungalow, about three inches or so below the level of the ceiling ; while corners of shelves in the unused rooms are also very frequently used.” Again, Mr. L. S. White (ibid. p. 667) says that in the Banda district of Bundelkhand “every Inspection House had its pair of Brown Rock-Chats, which nested inside the house, usually in the bath-room, to which they had access through the drain-opening when the house was shut up. I found several of the nests, which are placed either in the corner of one of the shelves on the wall or else on the cornice, and I was surprised to find that they were invariably built on a foundation of small pebbles or gravel. Mathews, already quoted, also refers to this last feature of their nests, though in the nest described by him the pebbles were replaced by a pile composed of broken bits of earthen pots, some of them over two inches in diameter.
It is curious that this trait should not have been referred to by Hume himself or by any of his correspondents except Butler, but Jesse, in one of his notes, says:—“This Chat, like the Wheatear, sometimes has pebbles in the base of the nest or surrounding it, especially on the outside when it is in a hole.”
Butler says : “The nest is usually built in holes in rocks, buildings or stone walls and, when in the former, is often supported by a heap of small stones and pellets of dry earth, forming an embankment that extends 6 to 10 inches beyond the side of the nest. I have noticed it in so many cases that I look upon it now as a rule rather than an exception.”
Curious places in which this bird’s nest have been found are recorded. Bingham notes :—I have found nests ..... and on one occasion at the base of a thick growing bush.” Again, Col. A. E. Butler at Mt. Aboo found one made in the empty nest of a Swallow, probably Cotyle concolor.
The nest is a very rough cup, when placed in a hole, fitting into it ; when on a ledge measuring anything between 4 and 5 inches in diameter externally and with an egg-cavity about 2.1/2 inches across by 2 inches or less deep.
The articles used most often in its construction are grass, both fine and coarse, and roots, but all sorts of material are made use of— Khuskhus, wool, hair, feathers, moss, weed-stems, bits of rag, cotton, a scrap of cast snake-skin or any soft oddment lying about close to where the nest is being built. Sometimes only an odd bit or two of one or more of these items are woven into the nest ; at other times a great deal is used, especially wool or hair, half the bulk of the nest possibly consisting of these. As a rule there is a good lining of wool, hair or feathers ; sometimes all three, sometimes one only, sometimes hardly any at all and, rarely, of fine grass only.
The nesting season is very prolonged and many birds breed twice and three times in the season. Eggs may be found over the greater part of its breeding area any time between March and August, most being laid in April and May, whilst on Mt. Aboo Butler took them as early as February.
The normal full clutch of eggs is three, but four are not uncommon, while Barnes once took five.
The eggs are quite typical Chats’ eggs. The ground-colour is the usual pale blue, perhaps not quite so bright as in the eggs of the deserti and other groups, yet darker than in the Wheatear type of egg. I have seen no eggs quite spotless but some are nearly so, whilst others have very faint frecklings of pale red at the larger end only. Most eggs are fairly well marked with small specks and spots of pale red at the larger end, where they often form a ring. A few eggs have the markings darker, a reddish-brown, while a few have them more evenly distributed over the whole surface of the egg.
In shape the eggs are generally rather broad, short ovals, but others tend to a long, rather pointed oval. The surface is fine and smooth but only moderately glossy.
Fifty eggs, including some of Hume’s, average 20.5 x 15.5 mm. : maxima 22.3 x 16.5 mm. ; minima 18.5 x 15.1 and 19.0 x 14.7 mm.
Apparently only the female incubates and I can find nothing on record to show whether the male assists in building the nest.
Butler says that “during the period of incubation both birds are extremely pugnacious and vigorously attack any small birds, squirrels, rats, lizards etc. that venture to approach the nest.”
Enicurus maculatus maculatus.
The Western Spotted Forktail. (Near Pahlgam, Kashmir, 7,200 ft., 13.6.32.)
Like most Chats and Wheatears, these birds as a rule have a very definite breeding territory which they defend against all others of their own kind but, occasionally, this system must be abandoned, as two or more nests have been found in the same building or close together in the same cliff or rock-face, the two pairs of birds living in perfect amity, though it is quite possible that they may have well-defined hunting areas.
516. Cercomela fusea
(516) Cercomela fusca (Blyth).