(51) Parus major cinereus Vieill.
THE INDIAN GREY TIT.
Parus major cinereus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 74.
This Titmouse breeds throughout its range, which is practically all Northern India, Assam, and Western Burma, in hills and hilly country from the foot of the hills up to 5,000 feet commonly and 7,000 feet frequently.
The nidification of this little bird is well known to every egg- collector or bird-watcher. The nest is always placed in a hole of some sort but the situation varies to the most extraordinary extent. I have myself taken it from tiny holes low down and high up in all sizes of trees, sometimes in the trunk itself, sometimes in a branch. Generally the hole is self-made or is finished off and neatly rounded about the entrance, at other times it is in a natural hollow and is untouched by the birds, whilst at other times again they will occupy the deserted nest of a Barbet or Woodpecker. It often builds its comfortable little nest in posts or walls in buildings and once I took it from a hole in a thatched roof made the previous year by sparrows. Occasionally a nest may be placed in a bank or among the roots of a tree. These nests are rare ; on the other hand nests in between the stones of walls are very common and in the Khasia Hills, where this Tit is numerous, four out of five nests will be found in the last position. Now and then a hole in a semi-decayed bamboo is considered suitable for a nest, more especially so if these form part of the supports or roof of an outhouse or stable.
The nest itself seems to vary but little. The base is nearly always of moss, a pad one inch to four inches deep. This may sometimes be mixed with a few feathers, a little grass or lichen or some other material but, often, it is of moss alone. Over, this is built another soft pad of fur anything up to 2 inches deep. Here again, whilst fur is generally used alone, feathers and hair are sometimes mixed with the fur and, more rarely, vegetable down and wool.
Occasionally nests are not placed in holes. Mr. E. C. Buck found one built on a branch of a tree and Hume obtained another of which he writes :—
“The only nest I have myself seen in such a position was a pretty large pad of soft moss, slightly saucer-shaped, about four inches in diameter, with a slight depression on the upper surface, which was everywhere thinly lined with sheep’s wool and the fine white silky hair of some animal.” Hume adds that he believes the hair and fur of the nest is obtained by the birds “from the dung of cats, pole-cats and ferrets so common in our Hills.”
The nest is made to fit well into the hole and, if this is big, it sometimes takes a mass of material, but the cup itself is always tiny, neat and very compact, measuring a couple of inches across and varying from one to two in depth.
It is a confiding bold little bird and in Burma Wickham found it took readily to nesting-boxes in his garden. I have known it nest in a tiny hole about 4 feet up in a tree forming one of an avenue on a main road in Dibrugarh town, entering and leaving the hole without fear of passers-by. When making use of inhabited houses it takes little notice of the occupiers, though it may resent close inspection, showing its anger by a fierce hissing and the biting of any finger of enquiry which may be inserted into its home. Wher¬ever it builds its nest it almost invariably refuses to leave it until literally pushed off, when once incubation has commenced. They breed from March to June and many birds have two broods even in the higher hills. In the hills South of the Brahmapootra I have taken fresh eggs from the 23rd March to the loth August.
The normal clutch of eggs is five or six, sometimes four, and I have seen as many as nine in a clutch. In appearance they are, of course, just like the eggs of the English Great Tit. The ground¬colour is white, with the faintest pink tinge imaginable in most, rather stronger in others ; the markings are dark red or brownish- red and these are generally scattered freely over the whole surface and still more numerous at the larger end. In character they range from specks, small, yet distinct, in some eggs, to fair-sized blotches in other eggs. In a few clutches the markings are very bold and large and in a few others they are much more numerous at the larger and less so at the smaller end. One clutch of four in my collection are pure white with a dense narrow ring of deep brownish-red round the larger end. In shape the eggs are broad blunt ovals ; the texture is fine and close, the shell stout for so small an egg an d the surface often rather glossy.
One hundred eggs average 17.0 x 13.3 mm : maxima 18.6 x 13.2 and 16.5 x 14.0 mm. ; minima 16.1 x 12.7 and 17.0 x 12.3 mm.
51. Parus major
(51) Parus major cinereus Vieill.