(471) Pnoepyga squamata squamata.
The Scaly-breasted Wren.
Microura squamata Gould, Icon. Aves, pi. v (1837) (Cachar). Pnoepyga squamata. Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 342.
Vernacular names. Marchok-bong (Lepcha); Inrui-ba gadiba. (Kacha Naga).
Description.— Adult male. Whole upper plumage and lesser wing-coverts rich golden-brown, the forehead, feathers above the eye and sides of neck with fulvous shaft-stripes, the remaining upper plumage with fulvous subterminal drops and with black edges, the latter becoming bolder on the rump where the drops often become bars; median and greater coverts brown, broadly edged with chestnut-brown and often with terminal fulvous spots ; primaries and secondaries chestnut-brown on the visible portions and the innermost secondaries often tipped with fulvous; chin and throat white with brown edges to the feathers; breast and centre of the abdomen white, the feathers with broad black centres and edges ;. sides of the breast and flanks fulvous-brown with similar dark centres and margins; under tail-coverts and vent fulvous.
Colours of soft parts. Iris bright hazel to deep brown; bill horny-brown above, pale fleshy-horny on lower mandible, gape and commissure; legs fleshy-brown to light brown.
Measurements. Length about 100 mm.; wing 59 to 64 mm. ; tail about 14 mm.; tarsus 21 to 23 mm.; culmen 11 to 12 mm.
Adult female. Similar to the male but with the whole lower plumage fulvous instead of white, every part marked as in the male, though in some specimens the chin and throat are almost immaculate.
Distribution. The Himalayas from the Sutlej Valley to Eastern Assam, both North and South of the Brahmaputra; Chin Hills and West and South-West Burma to Tenasserim.
Nidification. The Scaly-breasted Wren breeds from the end of April to the middle of June between 3,500 and 7,000 feet. It makes two very distinct types of nest, either of which is among the most beautiful specimens of birds' architecture. That most commonly made is built in and of the long strands of brilliant green moss which clothes the trunks and branches of so many trees in the more humid forests. The inner strands are compactly and firmly woven together to form a tiny cup, well lined with "black moss roots, over all of which the outer green strands fall in natural profusion so that the tiny entrance, little more than an inch across, can never be found without most careful search. The second type of nest is a tiny ball of the same brilliant green moss, tightly wedged in amongst the masses of orchids, ferns and creepers growing over trees, dead and alive, or fallen logs. A third type of nest, a cup-shaped one of moss, was found by Mandelli in a bush„ but this sort of nest must be quite abnormal. The height selected may be anything between a foot and six feet from the ground.
The eggs vary from three to five, but four is the full number normally laid. They are pure white, glossless and very fragile, regular ovals, sometimes a little pointed at the smaller end. Eighty eggs average 18.6 x 13.7 mm. and the extremes are: maxima, 19.3 x 14.4 and 19.0x14.6 mm.; minima, 16.9x13.9 and 17.1x13.1 mm.
Habits. This quaint little tailless bird is a typical Wren in all its habits but is even more of a pedestrian and less of a flyer than the birds of the genus Troglodytes. It is an inhabitant of wet, evergreen forest, loving the vicinity of jungle-streams where it scrambles over the mossy boulders, the fallen trees and decaying vegetation. In and out of the hollows and crevices, under and through the luxuriant moss and climbing plants, ever on the move yet never on the wing, at the first hint of danger it dodges out of sight, only to reappear once again when quiet is restored. It is insectivorous in its diet and seems especially fond of the smaller spiders and ants, pursuing these with great activity and restless energy. Its ordinary note is a loud, rather shrill whistle but it attempts a little song in the breeding season which rather reminds one of the English Wren.
This Wren is found up to at least 9,000 feet and possibly a good deal higher in Sikkim. In winter it occasionally may be found as low as 3,000 feet but it does not descend much below its ordinary breeding range, even in the coldest weather.
This species has been split up into numerous races on rather slender reasons, for the variations are, for the most part, individual rather than geographical. The two points most usually dwelt upon are the amount of spotting and barring, more especially on wing-coverts and innermost secondaries, and the rufous or brown colouring on the sides of the head. The extremes of both these features are to be found in birds obtained in Nepal and Sikkim, now in the British Museum Collection, and the greatest care should be exercised when naming subspecies that not only the series named is a full one but that ample material for comparison is available. With more material it is possible that some of the subspecies at present accepted will have to be suppressed.