(745) Pericrocotus cinnamomeus iredalei Stuart Baker.
THE INDIAN SMALL MINIVET.
Pericrocotus peregrinus peregrinus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 329, Pericrocotus cinnamomeus iredalei, ibid. vol. viii, p. 636.
Ticehurst (Ibis, 1922, p. 613) goes at some length into the distribu¬tion of the race from Sind and shows, quite rightly, that the pale form is found as far West and South as Sirsa, in the Hissa district of the Punjab. This I fully accept and, some years ago, when examining some birds from Lahore collected by Jesse, I came to the conclusion that they would have to be included in the Sind trinomial. The typical form comes between the pale Sind form and the deep red form in the East, which comes as far West as Eastern Bengal. It would, perhaps, have been better had I designated some place in the eastern United Provinces as the type-locality. In my opinion, however, Ambala birds are definitely of the (peregrinus peregrinus) cinnamomeus iredalei form, and longi¬tude 75° may be safely, even if arbitrarily, considered the Eastern limit of the Sind race. The fact that peregrinus appears to be merely a synonym of cinnamomeus, and to come, like that bird, from Ceylon, would not enable me to change my designation of the type-locality of the Northern bird.
The Small Minivet is a bird of the open country, breeding either in single trees standing in cultivation, waste land, roadsides and, though not commonly, even in gardens. More often, however, it breeds in trees in Mango orchards, and it seems to be particularly fond of the Mango-tree for nesting purposes. Inglis (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xiii, p. 628, 1900), writing of the Madhubani District, says:—“Very common. It breeds from the end of March to the middle of June. Hume invariably found their nests at a considerable height from the ground, but most of mine were taken at heights from 9 to 15 feet. The larger number were situated on young Mango-trees, one or two were on Babools (A. arabica), another was built on the nearly leafless branch of a pipul (F. religiosa). Only three nests were got on immense Mango-trees at heights varying from 30 to 50 feet. It is almost impossible to locate this nest, unless the birds are watched carefully, so closely do they resemble the tree on which the nest is built. I once found a young one and three fresh eggs in a nest, but three are the usual complement, and some birds lay only two.”
The nest may be placed on almost any kind of tree, and in certain places certain trees seem to be favoured in preference to others. Blewitt says that in Jhansie and Saugur the Tamarind-tree is the favourite ; in other places Babools seem to be most frequently used, while in yet others no particular kind of tree attracts them.
Most collectors have found in their experience that the nests are built at great heights, anything between 30 and 50 feet from the ground, but in Behar and Western Bengal I think under 20 feet is much more usual than over that height, and many nests are built almost within hand-reach without any climbing. As Hume, Inglis and everyone else has pointed out, the nest is most incon¬spicuous and difficult to detect, though the anxiety of the parent birds, more especially the cock, which continually visits the nest when the hen is sitting, gives it away.
The nest, like that of all Minivets, is very beautiful. Coltart gives, in epistola, an excellent account of the nest:—“In Somastipore the favourite site for the nest is an old Mango-tree, generally one growing in an orchard of these trees ; in this it may be placed at any height between 5 and 25 feet and, personally, I have never come across any at the great heights at which it is generally said to build. In shape the nest is a small, very neat, compact cup, sometimes very shallow, sometimes very deep, the former when it is built on a fair-sized horizontal bough, the latter when it is placed in a fork, horizontal or perpendicular. Often it is built in tiny forks of slender branches on the extreme outside of the tree, but I think most of mine were on the upper sides of quite stout branches and invisible from below, though the tail of the sitting bird might sometimes be seen projecting over it. The nest is made of the finest twigs, not thicker than a hair-pin, grass-stems, roots and chips of dead leaves, all most beautifully bound together and then plastered over with cobwebs. There is no lining, the eggs being laid on the materials mentioned above, but the outside of the nest is plastered all over with tiny scraps of bark to make it look just like a knob of the tree on which it is built. When the tree has lichen growing on it this is made use of instead of bark-chips. The shallow nests may measure about 2 to 2.1/2 inches in diameter, the external vertical walls being not more than an inch. The walls are very thin, especially at the lips, and the cavity only measures some 1/4 inch less than the outside. The deeper cups, built in forks, are often as deep as they are broad, but this depends much on the fork in which they are placed. Often, too, they are smaller across than the shallower nests, and Hume gives the external diameter of two nests as 1.7/8 to 1.1/2 inch only. The full clutch of eggs is three, sometimes two only, these being nearly always laid in March and April, though I have taken them up to the end of June.”
To the above I can add but little. Hume says that a few feathers are sometimes used in the construction of the nest, and he also says that “there appears to be rarely any regular lining, a very little down and cobwebs forming the only bed for the eggs, and even this is often wanting.”
Blewitt’s three nests, found by him in Tamarind-trees, were all coated externally, “for better disguise, with dried leaves of the tamarind-tree ; the lining of very fine grass.”
In regard to this little Shrike we actually have some record of the building of the nest, for Butler writes (Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs,’ vol. i, p. 342) : —“I observed the birds first building on the 21st August, and the nest from below looked then almost finished. The cock and hen worked together, flying to and fro very busily with bits of lichen picked off the branches of another tree adjoining. On the 25th I watched the nest for some time, but the birds only came to it once, and then the hen bird went on and smeared some cobwebs round the outside, at least that is what she seemed to me to be doing. On the 28th I watched it again, and although both birds were in the adjoining tree, I did not see them go to the nest. On the 31st, about 10 a.m., I found the hen on the nest, and she remained on until about 10.30, when she flew off and joined the cock, who was sitting pluming himself on a branch of the next tree the whole time she was on the nest. Immediately she joined him he commenced catching flies and feeding her as if she were a young bird, and eventually they both flew away together. On the 3rd Sept. I found, as I expected, the hen sitting and the cock in another tree close by.
“I sent a boy up the tree and, as he approached the nest, which was some 30 or 35 feet from the ground, the hen bird became very uneasy. When the boy was within about 20 feet of the nest she flew off and joined the cock, after which I saw her no more.
“On the 6th September the same pair of birds commenced a new nest on another mango-tree about 20 yards off. On the 15th the hen bird began to sit, and on the 18th I sent a boy up the tree by means of a ladder and secured two more fresh eggs.
“In the bottom of both nests were three or four small black downy feathers, intermingled with the dead leaf-stems which formed the lining.”
From the above we learn that the nest takes eight or nine days to build and that both sexes assist in its construction.
The breeding season in Behar and Western Bengal is chiefly March and April, but a good many birds lay in May and a few until the end of June. Elsewhere they seem to lay more after the rains have broken in June, and from thence on to August and even September. Even in these provinces, however, some birds lay earlier. In Ghazipur Gill took eggs in March and in Poona Williams took others in April, while around Lucknow Jesse took many from March to May. Bingham, also, took a nest at Delhi on the 27th March. Probably many birds have two broods, one in the early months and a second after the rains break and insect food is once more plentiful.
The normal clutch is undoubtedly three, though many birds lay only two eggs and very few four. H. E. Barnes took one four in Saugur, and I have one other four from Bareilly in the United Provinces.
The eggs vary very greatly. The most common type is one with an almost white ground, very faintly tinged green or, more rarely, with a buffy yellow. The primary markings consists of specks and small blotches of red-brown, deep purple-brown or blackish- brown, fairly numerous everywhere, but more so at the larger end, where they sometimes form zones. The underlying or secondary marks are of pale lavender, but are not at all conspicuous. Some eggs are pale greenish, with numerous small specks of brown ; some, whether marked with blotches or specks, have well-defined zones at the larger end and are sparsely marked elsewhere. I have one clutch of two and another of three with pale pink ground blotched with bright brick-red, looking just like many Tits’ eggs. Another has a pale stone ground with a few very large blotches of chocolate- brown mixed with secondary marks of pale lavender. Yet another has the ground a very pale grey-green, almost white, very faintly speckled with pale reddish at the larger end, where the marks form ill-defined rings.
In shape the eggs are broad ovals, never compressed at the small end. The texture is close, rather fine, and quite glossless.
Eighty eggs average 16.4 x 13.1 mm. : maxima 18.0 x 14.0 mm. ; minima 15.0 x 13.0 and 16.0 x 12.3 mm.
745. Pericrocotus cinnamomeus iredalei
(745) Pericrocotus cinnamomeus iredalei Stuart Baker.