(530) Phoenicurus hodgsoni (Moore).
THE CHESTNUT-BREASTED REDSTART.
Phoenicurus hodgsoni, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 74.
The breeding range of this Redstart is Ladak, South and Eastern Tibet, Western China and, probably, Central Northern China.
This bird breeds in great numbers in Tibet. Ludlow (Ibis, 1898, p. 60) writes :—“What has been said of rufiventris applies almost verbatim to this species. It arrives and departs at the same time, nests in the same situations, lays similar coloured eggs, of the same size, and seems to be equally abundant.”
Of rufiventris he says :—“This bird begins to arrive in Gyantse during the last week of March and departs during the first half of October. It is very common all along the Gyantse-Phari road and nests in May and June at all elevations between 13,000 and 15,000 feet. The nest is placed in stone walls, holes in banks and underneath rocks on hill-slopes and is composed of dry grass, fibres and moss, with a hair lining. The eggs are pale blue and the normal clutch is either four or five.”
One nest of this bird was obtained on the 18th June, 1905, by Ward at Chusal, Ladak, and the female shot off the nest, but it must be very rare there, as no subsequent observers have met with it.
A very large series of these eggs has been collected for me on the Gyantse Plain, Phari, and Yatung by many collectors, who all speak of it as one of the most common Tibet breeding birds at all elevations above 12,000 feet.
Curiously enough, although so many observers speak of this Redstart as affecting the vicinity of water, I have no records of its nest having been placed in holes of trees or banks of streams, or by cultivation water-ways. The favourite site seems to be a hole in one of the stone boundary walls of the Tibetan fields, which may be either a hole caused by a single stone falling out of place or one in among a pile of those where the wall has crumbled away and fallen down. At other times the nest may be built in the hole of a wall of some deserted hut, a hole in a bank or some hollow under a boulder on the ground or inside a cleft in a rock-face.
The nest itself is a shallow saucer, sometimes more a pad than even a saucer, of roots, grass, fine stems of plants and moss. In a few nests dried moss is the principal material used but, in most of them, grass and roots form the major part of the nest. The lining is of fur, hair and wool, sometimes all three mixed, sometimes only one or two of these materials. In some nests, also, there is wool mixed in with the body of the nest.
The breeding season is during May and June but numerous nests may be taken with eggs during July and August, and it is possible that many birds have two broods during the year.
The earliest eggs sent to me were taken on the 9th of May but I have been told that they occasionally are to be found in the last week of April. My latest eggs were taken on the 3rd August.
The normal full clutch of eggs is four or five, very rarely six. In colour they are pale blue but, as a series, they are decidedly darker than those of P. ochruros, though any individual clutch may be matched by the eggs of this bird. On the other hand, I have clutches of P. ochruros phoenieuroides which are paler, nearer pure white, than any I have seen of the Chestnut-breasted Redstart and, again, one clutch which is an even deeper blue.
Marked eggs are very rare, though in two clutches in my series some of the eggs are very faintly freckled at the larger end with pale reddish. One clutch of four eggs has deeper blue bands round the smaller end, very strongly marked in three, only faintly in one. In other clutches I have seen similar bands, but these are only due to excessive constriction during reverse oviposition causing excessive flow of pigment by pressure on the colour-ducts.
In shape the eggs are rather long, pointed ovals, though abnormal shapes seem common. Thus in one clutch taken in Tibet the eggs are all ellipses, varying from short to long ; in another they are very narrow, long ovals, much compressed at the smaller end.
Fifty eggs average 20.4 x 14.7 mm. : maxima 22.3 x 14.5 and 21.2 x 16.0 mm. ; minima 19.1 x 14.5 and 21.0 x 14.0 mm.
Apparently only the hen bird incubates, but it is possible that the cock shares a part of this duty by night.
530. Phoenicurus hodgsoni
(530) Phoenicurus hodgsoni (Moore).