(1102) Passer montanus malacoensis Dubois.
THE MALAY TREE-SPARROW.
Passer montanus malaccensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. iii, p. 177.
This, the most widespread race of Indian Tree-Sparrows, has a breeding range throughout the lower hills of the Himalayas from Kuman and Kashmir to Eastern Assam and the hills of Northern Burma. Thence it extends throughout Burma and the Malay Peninsula to Java, Sumatra and Borneo. It is common in Yunnan, Siam and South-West China ; while Delacour obtained it practically throughout French Indo-China.
This little Sparrow is found up to 7,200 feet near Darjiling and to about 8,000 feet in Kashmir. Their breeding habits are very similar normally to those of the House-Sparrow and they prefer above all other breeding sites the thatched roofs of human habitations. When, however, its objectionable cousin, the common House-Sparrow, appears it at once usurps their homes, and not infrequently steals the wives also, as happened to my own knowledge on several occasions in Assam. In the roofs of houses it scratches out burrows for itself or it builds a nest on laths under the eaves. Pushed out of human habitations it will place its nest in holes in walls and trees or in the nesting holes of Bee-eaters, Kingfishers and Sand-Martins. The nests I have seen in situ, a very great number, have all been in holes of some sort or else tucked away in comers between or over laths and beams of houses but, apparently, they sometimes build in trees, for Hume states:—“The nest is a huge warm cup, at least huge for the size of the eggs, exteriorly 6 inches by 4.5, and nearly 2 inches in height, with a cavity 3 inches by 3.5 by 1.5 in depth. Interiorly it is very closely and smoothly and softly lined with feathers. Round this is a quantity of tow or similar soft vegetable fibre, while, exteriorly the nest is composed of more or less coarse grass-blades and stems.”
The nests I have seen have varied greatly. Some built in holes in thatch consisted of nothing but a mass of soft feathers fitting into the end of the hole as a lining for the eggs to Me on. Others were as described by Hume and must have contained several handfuls of materials, whilst others again have been intermediate in size. Two or three nests I have taken from holes in trees con¬sisted of about a dozen small feathers and nothing more. Many which I have examined in the burrows of Sand-Martins are just the old Sand-Martins’ nests, sometimes relined with a number of soft feathers.
A nest taken by Rattray at Nagtiba in the Murree Hills is the furthest West record I have, though Whymper obtained nests and eggs at Naini Tal, It is also the highest elevation, about 9,000 feet. This appears to be the only time Rattray obtained it breeding, the nest being in a hole in a tree.
In Burma, where Oates, Mackenzie and many other collectors have taken eggs, from the Northern hills to South Tenasserim, all the nests have been built in holes in thatched roofs.
In Northern India the Tree-Sparrow breeds from May, rarely April, to August, and certainly has two, or sometimes three, broods in that time. In Burma and Siam I have eggs in my series taken from January to August and, doubtless, if trouble had been taken to hunt for them, eggs might have been obtained in almost any month of the year.
In Northern India a full clutch of eggs numbers four to six, but in Burma and Siam only three or four eggs are laid and very exceptionally five. They are typical little House-Sparrow eggs and go through all the same variations. Sir F. Williamson in Siam
obtained several clutches almost plum-coloured, the ground being a pale purply grey almost obliterated by tiny freckles of blackish and lavender-grey. Even these clutches, however, have each one egg with a white ground handsomely blotched with sooty brown and pale inky grey. A curious clutch taken by Mackenzie in Prome has the ground terra-cotta pink, this being almost covered with tiny specks of brick-red which coalesce at the larger end to form small reddish- black caps. In this clutch the usual differing egg has a cream ground lightly smudged and blotched with pale reddish.
One hundred and forty eggs average 19.2 x 14.2 mm. : maxima 21.8 x 15.0 and 19.2 x 15.2 mm. ; minima 17.0 x 13.5 and 18.6 x 13.1 mm.
I do not know if both parents incubate, but both have been caught in the nesting holes, sometimes both together, sometimes singly. Both take an equal share in bringing materials and, probably, in building the nest. Incubation takes thirteen days, occasionally, perhaps, only twelve days, though it is generally rather hard to tell exactly how long a bird is sitting in a hole, often of considerable depth. They are bold little birds and stand a great deal of inter-ference before they will desert the nest, so that, if one chances on the first or second egg of a clutch when first laid one can visit the nest daily and inspect it until the last is laid.
1102. Passer montanus malaecensis
(1102) Passer montanus malacoensis Dubois.