(749) Pericrocotus erythropygius (Jerdon).
THE WHITE-BELLIED MINIVET.
Pericrocotus erythropygius, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 332.
The White-bellied Minivet is resident and breeds over a great portion of Central and Southern India. It occurs in Central India and over practically the whole of the Bombay Province, North¬-West to Sind as a rare straggler, Rajputana and, in the North-East, to Oudh, Behar and the dry districts of Western Bengal. South it is found as far as Travancore, where Stewart obtained its nest and eggs.
In Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ the only notes on this Shrike’s breeding are those of Davidson and now, after an interval of 33 years, there are still no others. Stewart obtained one nest in Travancore in a bush in forest, and Bell has also taken nests, while Barnes, so long ago as 1882, also took nests and eggs in Khandeish.
Unlike most Minivets, which prefer trees, very often at great heights, for nesting purposes, the present bird is a bush-builder, nearly always placing the nest in dense thorny bushes between 2 and 4 feet from the ground.
Davidson says of its nesting :—“Yesterday I took two nests of Pericrocotus erythropygius. Both nests were like those of P. perigrinus [=cinnamomeus] and were placed about 2.1/2 feet from the ground in a fork of a straggling thorn-bush among thin scrub-jungle. One contained 3 young birds and the other 3 hard-set eggs. I watched the nest, and found the cock sitting on the eggs, so there is no possibility of mistake ; but the eggs are not the least like what I expected.”
This was written on the 25th August and, later on, apparently the following year, he writes again :—“I happened to be staying a few days at Arvee, in the extreme South of Dhulia, and found this bird breeding there in considerable numbers. This was at the end of August (26th to 31st), and I was rather late ; most of the nests contained young, and in some cases the young were able to fly. I, however, found eight nests with eggs (most of them hard set). All the nests, which are small and less ornamented than those of P. peregrinus, were placed, from 3 to 4 feet from the ground, in a small common thorny scrub. They were all placed in low thin jungle and never where the jungle was thick and difficult to walk through. A great deal of the jungle round Arvee is full of anjan-trees, but none of the birds seem to breed in these.
“The nests are elegant little cups, reminding one of those of Rhipidura albifrontata, measuring internally about 1.75 inch in diameter and 1 inch in depth, the thickness of the walls of the nest being usually somewhat less than quarter of an inch. Interiorly the nest is composed of excessively fine flowering-stems of grasses, and externally and on the upper edge it is densely coated with fine, rather silky greyish-white vegetable fibres, in places more or less felted together. It is not ornamented exteriorly with moss and lichen, as those of so many of the Pericrocoti so commonly are, only occasionally one or two little brown patches of withered glossy vegetable scales are worked into the exterior of the nest.”
The few notes that I have had from other collectors merely confirm the above and show that the birds always breed in thin forest or in thin scrub-jungle, that they always place their nests low down in thick thorny bushes and, finally, that the nests themselves are more like those of Leucocirca than of other Minivets.
It should be noted, also, that they are always placed in forks, sometimes horizontal, but generally vertical, and that they are never built on the upper side of horizontal branches.
Davidson took many nests in July, August and early September in Dhulia, Khandeish etc., but they also breed during March and April, though not so commonly, and probably many birds have two broods.
The full complement of eggs is two or three, the former quite as often as the latter. I have never heard of four eggs being laid.
The eggs are very different from those of any of the Minivets so far referred to. The ground-colour is greyish-white or, very rarely, greenish-grey, and they are densely covered with primary longitudinal blotches of grey-brown and paler secondary marks of grey, both being generally more numerous at the larger end, but not forming rings or caps. There is very little variation but, in some, the primary blotches are more brown and in others they are grey-black, with no tinge of brown at all. They are rather like, in fact, small darkly-marked eggs of the Tree-Sparrow.
The texture is finer and smoother than in most Minivets’ eggs and, occasionally, there is a fair gloss. In shape they are stumpy ovals, sometimes slightly pointed.
Thirty eggs average 17.3 x 13.5 mm. : maxima 19.0 x 13.3 and 18.0 x 14.4 mm. ; minima 16.5 x 13.0 mm.
As Davidson shows, both sexes take part in incubation.
749. Pericroeotus erythropygius
(749) Pericrocotus erythropygius (Jerdon).