(63) Lophophanes melanolophus Vigors.
THE CHESTED BLACK-TIT.
Lophophanes melanolophus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 83.
This is one of the most Common Tits of North-West India, being found almost throughout the Himalayas from the extreme West to Nepal. Hume gives the elevation of its habitat as 6,000 to 8,000 feet but since his time it has been found breeding at far higher elevations. Whymper took several nests in the Nila Valley in Garhwal at 10,000 and 11,000 feet, whilst in Chitral Pulton says it is common between 5,000 and 12,000 feet.
According to Hume the breeding season lasts from “March to June, but the majority, I think, have laid for the first hatch by the end of the first week in April, unless the season has been a very backward one. They usually rear two broods.” Davidson, however (Ibis, 1898, p. 9), writes : “It was in flocks at Sonamurg on the 5th May, but paired immediately afterwards, as we saw a pair building on the 8th. We took several nests between the 24th May and 16th June ; that taken on the 24th May containing seven eggs just being hatched, while one of those taken on the 16th June contained 6 fresh eggs.” This account agrees with those of my other correspondents, Whymper, Jones, Rattray and many others, who consider May the normal month for eggs, early June almost as much so, though eggs may be found in both late June and April. Two broods are probably exceptional at the higher elevations. Jones took a set of six fresh eggs near Simla at an elevation of about 8,000 feet on the 13th April.
The favourite site for the nest is in a natural hollow in a tree. Those found by Davidson in Kashmir “were at various heights, but most did not exceed four or five ; we found one, however, over forty feet from the ground. All were in holes in trees, but generally so near the entrance that it was easy to get at the nest by merely breaking away the rotten wood round the hole with a knife.”
They often also build in holes in stone walls and rarely in holes in banks, whilst Rattray took one nest “from a hole in wall of the house occupied by the Chaplain. It was within two feet of a door through which servants were passing in and out all day.”
The nest is a pad of moss with a superstructure of soft fur. The pad of moss varies according to the size of hole in which the nest is placed. Hume describes one nest built in a hole in a stone wall of his garden. The hole was a foot high and six inches wide, the whole being filled in with nearly half a cubic foot of dry green moss. In smaller holes much less moss is used and in some of the smallest the moss may be dispensed with altogether, the birds contenting themselves with a pad of fur only. This is very much worked together so as to form a pad of what looks more like soft felt than fur until it is pulled to pieces. The fur is sometimes mixed with a little hair, or a little wool ; sometimes with both of these or, occasionally, with a little Simul cotton or other vegetable down. Now and then the upper pad of the nest is made all of wool but such nests seem to be rare.
The full clutch of eggs varies from five to ten but six seems to be the number most often laid.
The eggs are pure white without any pink tinge when blown. The markings consist of reddish-brown or light Indian-red specks and blotches. In some eggs the specks are very small and numerous, in others they are considerably larger and less numerous. In a few eggs they are scattered freely over the whole surface but in most they are more plentiful at the larger end, where they frequently form a quite distinct ring but very seldom a cap. In shape they are normally the usual broad, blunt oval of Tit’s eggs, but in this genus, more than in Parus etc., they do sometimes run to a rather long oval.
One hundred eggs average 15.7 x 11.7 mm. : maxima 16.8 x 11.9 and 16.0 x 12.4 mm. ; minima 14.0 x 11.8 and 14.1 x10.0 mm.
63. Lophophanes melanolophus
(63) Lophophanes melanolophus Vigors.