PHEDINA BORBONICA (Gm.).
BOURBON STRIPED SWALLOW.
La Grande Hirondelle brune a ventre tachete, ou l'Hirondelle des Bles, Month. Hist. Nat. Ois. vi, p. 694 (1779).
Hirondelle de l'isle de Bourbon, Daubent, Pl. Enl. vii. pl. 544.
Wheat Swallow, Lath. Gen. Syn. ii. pt. 2, p. 581 (1783).
Hirundo borbonica, Gm. Syst. Nat. i. p. 1017 (1788) ; Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 58 (1846) ; Schl, & Pollen, Hist. Nat. Madag., Ois. p. 68 (1868, pt.) ; Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 71. no. 834 (1869).
Cotyle borbonica, Bp, Consp, i. p. 312 (1850).
Phedina borbonica, Bp. C. R. xli. p. 977 (1851) ; id. Rivist. Contemp. Torino, 1857. p. 4 ; E. Newton, Ibis, 1861. p. 271 ; Maill. Notes Reunion, p. 13 (1863) ; E. Newton, Ibis, 1862, p. 270, note ; id. Ibis, 1863, p. 340, note ; Coquerel, Alb. Reunion, 1865, pp. 19, 20, fig. 2 ; Sharpe, P. Z. S. 1870, p. 295 ; id. Cat. Afr. B. p. 45 (1871) ; A. & E. Newt. Ibis, 1870, p. 284 ; Hartl. Vog. Madag, p. 63 (1877) ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. x. p. 122 (1885) ; E. Newton, Trans. Norfolk Nat. Soc. iv. p. 549 (1888).
P. saturate brunnea, anguste nigro striolata : alis caudaque nigrieantibus coneoloribus : loris et facie laterali saturate brunueis : subtus brunnea, latius nigro striolata, gutture, abdomine imo et sub-caudalibus albicantioribus.
Hab. in insulis Mascarenis, ‘Mauritius’ et ‘Reunion’ dietis.
Adult. Above dark greyish brown, the centres of the feathers marked down the shaft with a narrow streak of black, very distinct on the rump ; wing-coverts dark blackish brown : quills black above, greyish underneath ; tail blackish brown above, dark brown beneath, paler on the inner web ; lores black ; checks, sides of the neck, and breast greyish brown, with darker shaft-stripes : rest of the under surface of the body white, longitudinally striped with dark brown, the upper part of the breast and flanks somewhat greyish: “bill and feet black : iris brown ’ Pollon. Total length 5.4 inches, wing 4.65, tail 2.
Hab. Mauritius and La Reunion.
From the notes which are given below it will be seen that this Swallow is in danger of becoming extinct, and there cannot be the slightest doubt that it exists now in painfully diminished numbers in places where it was common one hundred years ago.
Writing of the species in 1779, Montbeillard gave the following note on its habits in La Reunion :—“ The Vicomte de Querhoent has frequently observed these Swallows Hying about in the neighbourhood of a cutting which he had made in one of the moun¬tains, and this induced him to believe that the birds roosted for the night in holes in the ground or in clefts of the rocks, like our Sand-Martins and Swifts. They nest in all probability in the same holes, and this is the more likely, as their nests are not known elsewhere in the island. The only information which this gentleman could gain respecting the nidification of the species in La Reunion was derived from an old Creole, who informed him that the breeding-season was in September and October, that he had taken many nests in caves and holes in the rocks, that the nests were composed of straw and leathers, and that all the eggs which he had seen were greyish white, minutely dotted with brown.”
Sir Edward Newton in his “Ornithological Notes from Mauritius,” published in ‘ The Ibis ’ for 1861, wrote as follows :—
“This very local species is tolerably common. They seem fond of feeding over the sand at low water and sitting on it, after the manner of Sand Martins in England, uttering at the same time a most peculiar whistle for a Martin. When flying they have a note which very much resembles that of a Bee-eater, as far as my recollection goes of that bird’s cry when passing through Egypt in 1859. These birds are also given to perching on trees ; and I noticed three that were in the habit of taking up their position on the same bough every day at about the same hour, probably awaiting the falling of the tide. They are, I think, early breeders. In a small cavern on the western face of the east side of the Baie du Cap, I saw several, and, from their manner, I am certain that they either had nests or were about to build. I observed one which had its back of a dark ash-brown ; I had no gun with me at the time, and the individual never showed itself again.”
In his address recently delivered, as President of the Norfolk and Norwich Natural History Society, Sir Edward speaks of this Swallow :—“ That other birds of Mauritius are dwindling in numbers there is, I think, no doubt. Since my residence in the island, a law has been passed which affords them, I trust, some protection, and may possibly preserve them to future generations. Yet there is one which very nearly came to an end in my time, and though not quite extinct in the island, I may just mention the circumstance relating to it. This is a Swallow or Martin belonging to the genus Phedina, and is one of the few land-birds that is found in Mauritius and Reunion. In Mauritius it seems, so far as my experience goes, to have been always very local, and its numbers were so much reduced by a cyclone which ravaged the island between the 12th and 17th February, 1861, that I never afterwards saw hut three or four from that time till my departure in 1878.”
The following note is taken from Mr. Pollen’s account of the species in the ‘ Faune de Madagascar ’ :—
“With regard to the species in Reunion, M. Coquerel says:—-‘This Swallow, which is found in Mauritius and Madagascar, is common in Reanion. A very remark¬able variety, which is known in this country under the name of the Hirondelle des galets, and which rests, in fact, on the shingle of the sea-side banks, constitutes perhaps a distinet species : it is a little larger, with the bill stronger, the tarsus and the toes are more slender, and the claws less stout and longer ; the upper part of the body and tail and the larger quills have less buff in the brown, and the underparts of the body are clear grey streaked with brown. This indicates a bird similar to that of Madagascar, but it probably does not differ from true H. borbonica, except by being in fuller plumage.
“This species is becoming every day rarer in the island of Reunion as well as in Mauritius, and, as a matter of fact, it is confined to certain localities ; we have observed it in the mountains situated between La Possession and the town of St. Paul, principally near the manufactory of our good friend Retout. These birds often rest on branches of trees or on rocks, but it is a mistake when the illustrious Button pretends that they fly round about the ships which happen to be in the roads : their flight is very swift and resembles that of our Swallows. According to M. Jean Petont, a clever hunter living at Possession, this species is also found in the Savannah which extends between that place and St. Paul, and is known as the Point des galets ; the inhabitants of Reunion pretend that of this species, which they call the Hirondelle des bleu, there is found a variety to which they give the distinguishing name of Hirondelle des galets. I furnished some notes as well as a figure of this species to our friend M. Coquerel, who has inserted them in his memoir in the fourth volume of his album of La Reunion.”
The description and figure of this species are taken from a specimen in the British Museum.
PHEDINA BORBONICA (Gm.).