(506) Oenanthe picata Blyth.
THE PIED CHAT.
Oenanthe picata, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 42.
This Chat breeds in South-East Persia, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier of India as far North as Samana, Chitral and Gilgit. Rattray took a good many nests from 1895 onwards at Parachinar, Kurram Valley, between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. Betham obtained really magnificent series around Quetta in 1906, where Williams took a yet further, and equally representative, series in 1924-5. Here they were breeding in considerable numbers between 4,000 and 8,000 feet. Professor Valentine Ball found it breeding in the Suliman Hills, beyond Dera Ghazi Khan, and obtained three young birds in a nest on the 10th of July at 5,880 feet. Barnes found this “Pied Stone-Chat very common and breeding in Chaman, arriving at the end of February and leaving in September.” He found one neat on the 20th March “built in a hole in a tree, composed of dry grass, lined with feathers and containing four eggs.”
Betham furnishes the following summary of its breeding round Quetta:—“I first noticed this bird building on the 1st April, taking my first clutch on the 12th of that month, and I continued to find nests with eggs up to the 28th May. The nesting habits of this bird are very similar to those of Tkamnobia, that is, the Brown-backed and Black-backed Robins, except that they do not haunt inhabited houses. They are very plentiful round Quetta, where the favourite nesting sites are in holes in steep river banks or under rocks and stones in the barer hill-sides ; I have also taken eggs from nests placed in old walls round cultivated fields, deserted huts, built either in holes or under the eaves, the latter only rarely, and some¬times in the roofs. The nest is very much of the Robin type, made of roots, twigs or straw, mixed with all sorts of odds and ends and grass. The lining is of hair, wool or any other soft material which may be handy, the cavity usually being of some depth and quite well finished off.
“The number of eggs most usually found in a full clutch was five but I once took six.”
To the above summary a few interesting points are added by Williams, who says that this Chat “is to be found wherever there are banks, fallow fields, broken and tumble-down buildings. It is found in the hills up to about 8,000 ft.
“In the breeding season, April to June, the cock bird has a fine song and shows off his black and white plumage to advantage while dancing before his mate.
“The nests are pads or shallow saucers, with no definite cup, of various materials such as grass, feathers, wool, tow and bits of rag, lined with hair and wool. They are placed in holes in banks, walls, houses, under rocks and in piles of dried silt at the mouths of ‘karezes’ (underground passages for the carriage of water to cultivated patches).”
The latest nest taken by Major Williams contained four hard-set eggs on the 10th June.
From the above we see that the breeding season lasts from the last week of March to the middle of June but, in three out of every four instances, the eggs are laid in April, except at Parachinar, where Rattray took nearly all his nests in May.
The eggs number four to six, Wilhams taking several clutches containing the latter number. Five is the usual number, but four only by no means unusual.
The wonderful series of eggs in my collection, which I owe to the three gentlemen quoted above, show a very fine range of variation. The most common type of egg has the ground-colour a very pale blue, grading from skim-milk blue to a fairly definite, though still pale, blue-green. This is never so deep as in the eggs of Thrushes or Hedge-Sparrows, but is much the same in tint as a dark egg of a Starling. The markings consist of tiny specks and freckles— they are never big enough to be called blotches—which are thinly scattered at the larger end. In most eggs the freckles are very pale reddish, in a few rather darker and, very rarely, almost a reddish- brown. A good many eggs have thinly marked but fairly definite rings about the larger end and a few have a good number of spots scattered everywhere over the surface. Occasionally a clutch of unspotted eggs may be met with and, more often, a clutch with some of the eggs unmarked and the others only very feebly freckled. I have seen only one clutch of eggs with a truly white ground and with the usual red specks in rough zones round the larger ends. This was taken by Betham at Quetta, and neither he nor Williams obtained any others like it.
The texture of the eggs is quite fine and close and nearly all eggs have a gloss, sometimes highly developed. In shape they vary from ordinary to rather long ovals, a good many eggs being decidedly pointed at the smaller end. Occasionally they are short, broad ovals.
Eighty eggs average 20.8 x 15.4 mm. : maxima 23.0 x 16.1 and 21.5 x 16.4 mm. ; minima 18.0 x 14.4 mm.
506. Cenanthe picata
(506) Oenanthe picata Blyth.