(1008) Plooeus philippinus (Lina.).
Plooeus Philippines, Fauna B, I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iii, p. 87,
The Baya is found oyer the whole of Ceylon and India, to Sind In the West and to the Himalayas in the North. East it extends to Nepal, the Sikkim Terai and West Bengal. In Nepal and Sikkim this Weaver-Bird and Plooeus atrigula overlap for a great stretch of country and I retain them as separate species.
The Baya may be found in any kind of country other than heavy forest or the bleakest of deserts, and in provinces like Sind and Rajputana they will only be found in the better watered and cultivated parts. Of human habitations it has no fear, breeding freely in gardens, compounds and all round and in villages, their nests often hanging from trees shading huts and houses. On the other-hand colonies may be found built on single trees, or groups of trees, standing in wide expanses of rice or other cultivation. In the plains of India undoubtedly the birds prefer palm-trees of various kinds as sites for their nests and, failing palm-trees, they often make use of bamboos. At odd times, however, all kinds of trees are built on, though they seldom select trees with dense foliage such as Banyan, Pepal etc. I have seen colonies of nests on Tamarind, many species of Acacia, Neem, Casuarina and many other kinds of trees, in some cases even when palms or bamboo-clumps were quite handy. As a rule the trees selected are fairly lofty and the nests some 15 to 30 feet from the ground, but Ticehurst records one very curious site (Ibis, 1922, p. 643):— “One colony consisting of fifteen nests was situated in a ‘Kandi’ growing out of the inside of a well, and all the nests were below the level of the ground." The birds seem to like trees or bamboos which hang over water, whether this be stream, pond. or well, perhaps because it may possibly afford them some additional protection from their numerous vermin enemies.
The colonies vary greatly in size ; usually the nests may number anything from a dozen to fifty, while many are far larger and very few smaller. Ticehurst records an instance of only two nests being built together and I, myself, have seen two little colonies of five and six nests respectively, but such are rare. The largest colony of which I have heard was one in Behar of about 150 nests, built on a clump of about a dozen small Babool-trees, standing in an indigo-field.
The nests are wonderful works of art. In shape they are rather like one-sided pears with a long tubular entrance from below— Jerdon calls them "Retort-shaped.” The birds commence to build by fastening very firmly their first pieces of material to the support from which they are to hang. They then continue this work downwards, forming the elongated pear-neck, which is lightly built but not hollow. As the neck of the pear widens to some three or four inches it becomes hollow and commences to bulge out in retort-shape. When this reaches its widest part a tie, or loop, of twisted material is built across it and from below this tie is completed the cup which forms the egg-chamber, after which the further wall of the retort is brought straight down to the level of the bottom of the chamber. In some nests this formation of the cup finishes the work ; the little Weavers pop in through the hole left below and then over the tie into their nesting-chamber. In most nests, however, the entrance to this chamber is prolonged into a tube which may be only an inch or two in length or which may be over a foot or eighteen inches. Both birds work at the construction of the nest, and the manner in which they work is well desorbed by Mr. Home (‘Nests and Eggs,' vol. ii, p. 118):— “It was pretty to see a little bird fly up with a tiny bit of grass in his beak. He would sit outside the nest, holding on by his claws with the gross under him. He would then put the right end into the nest with his beak, and the female inside would pull it through and put it out for him again, and thus the plaiting of the nest went on. All this was done amidst tremendous chattering, and the birds seemed to think it great fun. When a piece was used up one would give the other a peck, and he or she would fly off for more material, the other sitting quietly till the worker returned.
“Noticed to-day how the birds obtain their grass. The little bird alights at the edge of the high strong sarpat grass (Andropogon euripeta ?) with its head down, and bites through the edge to the exact thickness which it requires. It then goes higher up the same blade of grass, and having considered the length needed then bites through it again. It then seizes it firmly at the lowest notch and flies away ; of course the strip of grass tears off and stops at the notch. It then flies along with the grass streaming out behind."
Sometimes a second nest is attached to the bottom of the first by another pair of birds ; in such eases the junction of the two nests being hollow and allowing free passage to the pair of tenants of the “upper flat.” In some instances, however, the second nest closes the entrance to the upper one, which has then to be abandoned. Interesting notes on such nests are given by Prater (Journ. Bomb. Nat, Hist. Soc. vol. xxxv, pp. 681-3, 1932), and here also he gives a sketch of three nests woven together, but all three with entrances open. The nests are made of strips of blades of grass or reeds, fibre, jute or coir, and Hume says that he has seen nests made entirely of the latter material and that these are the most handsome nests of all. In Ceylon Phillips says that many nests are made of rice-straw. There is no lining. Inside almost every nest will be found little lumps of mud attached to the walls, probably to weight the nests and make them steadier in a wind. The natives, however, have a far prettier reason for the lumps and say the birds put them in as candlesticks and then catch fireflies which they stick in the mud head first with the glowing tails outside to serve as candles
Nests of Weaver-Birds (Plooeus Philippines).
The male birds are indefatigable in building and often continue to build nests long after their mates have begun to sit on the eggs, though, as soon as these hatch, he drops building and helps to feed the young with soft insects etc. I do not think he ever helps with incubation though he often sleeps inside the nest with, his wife and family or in one of the half-finished nests he has occupied his time with previously.
The breeding season is from April to August hut in the drier areas the birds often do not commence to breed until the rains break in June, and they may then continue to lay up to the middle of September. In Kanara Barnes, Davidson and Vidal all took nests with eggs in April, and Bourdillon took many in Travancore in May and thence onwards to August.
Over the greater part of India two is the number of eggs almost always laid but, in the North, three, four and even five eggs are not uncommon, and I have seen ft colony in which three eggs formed the smallest clutch. Curiously, also, in Ceylon, where birds usually lay very small clutches, this Weaver-Bird lays from three to five eggs.
The eggs are a pure unspotted white with a hard but rather coarse texture and no gloss. In shape they vary from a rather broad oval to a moderately long oval, very seldom at all pointed.
One hundred eggs average 20.3 x14.5 mm. : maxima 22.3 x 15.0 and 21.9 x15.2 mm. ; minima 18.9 x 13.7 mm.
Hume gives an extraordinary instance of this Weaver’s tenacity in sitting. He writes:—“One day driving out during the rains at Mynpoorie, my eye was caught by a particularly fine nest hanging from a Keekur tree. I made one of my people climb the tree and bring the nest carefully down. The nest was laid at the bottom of my wagonette and on our arrival home was hung from one of the antlers of the many stags horns that adorned my dining¬room. Three days, later, taking it down, I found a female Baya dead upon two half-hatched chicks.” It may have been, however, that mother and chinks were, dead when Hume took the nest.
1008. Ploceus philippinus
(1008) Plooeus philippinus (Lina.).