(813) Orthotomus sutorius sutorius (Forst.).
THE INDIAN TAILOR-BIRD.
Orthotomus sutorius sutorius, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 410.
The typical form of Tailor-Bird, which was described from Ceylon, extends over most of the Southern Indian continent as far north on the West as the Himalayas ; on the East it is found as far as Behar and the drier districts of Chota Nagpur in Western Bengal. Birds of Eastern Bengal, 24th Parganas and East of the Bay of Bengal, are of the darker Burmese race, patia.
The Tailor-Bird is probably, with the exception of the House-Crow and Common Myna, the best known of all Indian birds. There is no garden, big enough to hold a few bushes, which has not a pair of these birds as visitors from time to time, whilst those of any greater size nearly always entertain a few breeding birds. They nest freely in scrub round and in villages and in large-leaved crops or crops among which weeds offer leaves large enough to sew into homes. They are alike equally common all over the plains and on the Himalayas and Southern hills up to about 4,000 feet, whilst in Ceylon they are found practically to the tops of the highest hills. Tunnard took several nests at about 5,100 f6et in the Ramboda Central Province in the Labookellie Estate.
The Tailor-Bird has derived his name from his habit of sewing a leaf or leaves together in which to place his nest. I think most often the Tailor-Bird selects a single leaf just big enough, when the two edges are brought almost together, to hold a nest sufficiently roomy for him or her to sit in comfort. Sometimes the tip of the leaf is also turned up and sewn to the sides to form the bottom of the nest but this is quite exceptional. Very often two, or even three, leaves are sewn together and rarely four or more, while Anderson says that he has seen a nest composed of seven or eight leaves. The leaves selected, whether one or more, are always pendent and I know of no record of a nest made in an upright leaf. The sewing of the leaf, or leaves, is always completed before the actual nest is begun. The female alone, I believe, sews the leaves, and this she does with vegetable cotton, cobwebs, or the very finest of grass-stems, probably the last only when she has failed to get either of the other two. Having obtained the material she considers suitable for her work, she then punctures a small hole with her bill and draws the material through it, leaving a knotted portion outside, though how she makes the knots I have never discovered. Having done this, she makes another hole on the far edge of the leaf and passes the material through this also, using both bill and feet to draw the two edges together. When they are near enough to satisfy her, she again makes a knot on the far side and the leaf is prevented from getting out of position or springing back. Continuing the process, she makes more and more punctures, and through them passes more and more material until, eventually, she has the edges firmly fixed. The later punctures and sewing are done very quickly, but often the first bringing of the edges together is very laborious and not always successful, the birds giving up in despair after repeated failures. Once the sewing is completed, the little birds then start on the nest itself, which is made principally of soft vegetable down, a little grass and oddments of all kinds, such as horsehair, soft wool scraps etc.
For sewing, the birds sometimes use silk from cocoons and, when building alongside houses, will often steal and make use of waste bits of cotton, thread or silk.
If two or more leaves are used they are chosen from those which lie close together, so as to make the sewing of them an easy matter. At one time many people believed that the birds picked up one leaf and sewed it on to the outside of the nest to conceal it. Anderson, Hume and others explain this. Jerdon also writes:—“I have often seen nests made between many leaves, and I have seen plenty with a dead leaf stitched to a yet living one ; but in these points my experience entirely coincides with that of the late Mr. A. Anderson, whose note I proceed to quote :—
“ ‘ The dry leaves that are sometimes met with attached to the nest of this species, and which gave rise to the erroneous idea that the bird picks up a dead leaf and, surprising to relate, sews it to the side of a living one, are easily accounted for.
“ ‘ I took a nest of the Tailor-Bird a short time ago (11th July, 1871) from a brinjal plant (Solanum esculentum) which had all the appearance of having had dry leaves attached to it. The nest originally consisted of three leaves, but two of them had been pierced (in the act of passing the thread through them) to excess and had in consequence not only decayed, but actually separated from the stem of the plant. These decayed leaves were hanging from the side of the nest by a mere thread, and could have been removed with perfect safety.’ ”
Of whatever number of leaves the nest is composed, it is generally completely, or nearly completely, enclosed on three sides, one side, or the top alone, being left open as an entrance to the nest.
The nest itself is a rather deep little cup, often deeper than it is wide. An average-sized nest might be about 2 inches across, or less, by nearly 2 inches deep, but many nests are far deeper than this and a few are more shallow.
The site selected for the nest is normally low down and, possibly, three out of every four are within 2 to 4 feet from the ground. On the other hand, nests are now and then built at great heights. Anderson found one at “the very top of a high tree.” They also sometimes build on Mango-trees, Guava-trees and suchlike at 6 to 14 feet from the ground.
Over most of India the Tailor-Bird breeds in June after the break of the rains, and probably most eggs are laid between the 20th Juno and the 20th August; many eggs are, however, laid both later and earlier and, possibly, there is no month in the year in which odd eggs could not be taken.
From Ceylon I have eggs taken at all dates from early March to the end of June, but Wait says (‘Birds of Ceylon,’ 2nd ed. p. 91, 1832) “they may be found breeding almost throughout the year, except during long periods of dry weather,” i. e., when insect food becomes scarce.
In Poona Betham took eggs from June to the end of August.
The number of eggs laid is three or four over most of its breeding area but, in Ceylon, four eggs are rare and two only not uncommon.
In colour they vary greatly. The ground ranges from a pure-white to a cream or pale pink or from white with the faintest imaginable tinge of green or blue to a clear bright blue or a rather dull pale sea-green.
In the two types the markings vary from pale pinkish-red to deep red or red-brown, the white and pink eggs generally having redder marks, the blue having browner ones. In all the character and distribution are much the same—a few fairly large blotches, spots and specks at the larger end, where they may form an ill-defined, ring, and smaller marks scattered scantily about elsewhere.
In shape the eggs are generally long ovals, occasionally rather pointed at the smaller end ; the texture is fine and close and the surface smooth and often rather glossy.
One hundred eggs average 16.4 x 11.6 mm. : maxima 18.4 x 12.0 and 16.1 x 12.2 mm. ; minima 15.1 x 10.8 and 15.2 x 10.6 mm.
I can find nothing on record as to which sex incubates or builds the nest, nor does there seem to be anything recorded as to the period of incubation. These points are, however, certain to be the same as they are in the Eastern form.
813. Orthotomus sutorius sutorius
(813) Orthotomus sutorius sutorius (Forst.).