(16) Pica pica bactriana Bonap.
THE PERSIAN MAGPIE.
Pica pica bactriana, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 38.
The Persian Magpie breeds throughout the greater part of Northern Central Asia, South to Gilgit, Kashmir and Ladak. It occurs in Kuman and the Simla Hills but has not been reported as breeding, though it has been met with in Garhwal in July, so probably does breed there. In Baluchistan it is very common and equally so in Afghanistan.
In Persia this Magpie breeds in great numbers during April and early May. Two clutches taken in Astore were both obtained in June. In Ladak Osmaston found numerous nests in May, whilst in Quettah Major Williams found them breeding freely in March and April. Over the greater part of the area in which these Magpies breed they seem to prefer well-wooded open country, not forest, but open plains and even cultivated tracts in which there are many trees growing singly or in clumps. In Ladak, however, as Meinertz- hagen notes, it “is essentially a bird of the wind-swept open and almost treeless” plains (Ibis, 1927, p. 371). Osmaston gives the following interesting account of its habits in the same country (Ibis, 1925, p. 673):—
“This Magpie is very common in Ladakh, between 9,000 and 13,000 feet.
“As Ladakh is almost treeless, except near villages, where Poplars and Willows have been planted on irrigated lands, and as the Magpie requires a tree, or at least a bush on which to place its nest, these birds are only found in the neighbourhood of villages.
“In some villages there are small willow or poplar plantations covering an acre or more. In other cases the number of trees in a village may be counted on the fingers of one or both hands, with the result that there may be as many pairs of Magpies in a village as there are trees. In the village of Gya, elevation 13,000 feet, there is only a single tree, which was occupied by a pair of Magpies. Mr. Ludlow, who visited this spot two years before also saw a single pair in possession of this tree.
“In certain villages where trees are scarce Magpies’ nests were found in thorny bushes as low as five feet from the ground.
“Nests are similar to those of the English Magpie, being built of sticks reinforced inside with a thick layer of mud, and finally lined with fine roots, the whole being roofed over with a dome of thorns, In many instances several nests, in one case as mam¬as five, were found superimposed, the top nest only being occupied, those below being old ones of previous years.
“Altogether twenty-eight nests were examined. Two of these contained 7 eggs, three with 6 eggs, five with. 5 eggs, eight with 4 eggs.
“The eggs do not vary a great deal in colour, and all varieties could be matched, I think, with eggs of the English Magpie. They do vary, however, considerably in size. Eggs vary in length from 43.1 to 32.4 and in breadth from 27.1 to 23.1.”
It is interesting to note that the single tree at Gya, referred to above, again contained a Magpie’s nest when visited by Meinertz hagen two years later.
The eggs of all the races of Magpie are exactly alike and, except for the measurements, a description of one suffices for all, as indeed does the description of the nest.
The eggs of the Magpie are very like small, dull and rather brownish eggs of Crows and abnormally coloured eggs of the two genera run into one another. It is rare, however, for a Magpie’s egg to have the ground-colour either pure pale blue or blue-green, this being almost invariably an olive, brown or even yellowish tint. In most eggs the markings consist of primary small blotches of dark umber-green with secondary blotches few in number and pale lavender in colour. The primary markings are generally numerous over the whole surface, sometimes less so at the smaller end, but rarely forming caps at the larger. In a minority of eggs the markings are more sparse and are bolder.
Two hundred eggs average 36.1 x 24.6 mm. : maxima 43.1 x 23.4 and 38.6 x 27.1 mm. ; minima 29.5 x 22.5 and, in a pigmy egg, 22.7 x 19.1 mm.
In shape the eggs are fairly long ovals, sometimes a little com¬pressed, sometimes quite obtuse at the smaller end. The texture is rather fine and close, often with a faint gloss. The full clutch of eggs varies from four to seven, generally five or six.