(2028) Porphyrio poliocephalus poliocephalus (Lath.).
The Indian Purple Gallinule.
Porphyria poliocephalus poliocephalus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. vi, p. 32.
This grand Coot, or Moorhen, breeds throughout the plains of India, Burma and Ceylon wherever there are swamps and lakes with sufficient water and cover for breeding purposes. In India it does not ascend the hills but it breeds in the Inl6 Lake in the Shan States at about 4,000 feet, where Livesey has seen many nests and the bird is common.
The situation for the nest varies considerably ; most of those I have found personally have been large structures of reeds and grass mixed with a little water-weed and, curiously enough, very often having the wettest weeds on the top of the nest. The materials are fairly well put together but they are very untidy nests, with odds and ends of rushes etc. sticking out in every direction. The nests are between 10 and 15 inches in diameter, while in depth they may be anything from 4 to 15 inches.
The favourite site for the more bulky nests is in among the tangled masses of reeds which grow in clumps here and there in all the Bengal and Assam swamps. Some of these clumps may be as much as 30 or 40 yards across each way and, when the birds are especially numerous, as in Sylhet and Lakhimpur, I have sometimes seen five or six nests in the same dump, placed not a dozen yards from one another. Where they are less common one pair of birds takes possession of a clump to the exclusion of all other birds. Probably the birds are numerous because food is so plentiful, and so a division into territories is not necessary. Another common site for the nest is on the curious floating islands of weeds that one sees almost everywhere in the lakes of Burma and India, So matted are these weed-beds that they will often bear the weight of a man walking over them so long as he keeps moving. The leaves and flowers of some of these weeds project a few inches above the water and provide sufficient concealment for the Purple Gallinule’s nest, which in such positions is only 2 or 3 inches deep and also less wide than usual. In these places it is generally built of weeds and dead —sometimes very evil-smelling—leaves of the water-lilies etc., with an intervening layer of rush-blades and reeds between the tops and the bottom.
Hume also found “floating” nests though not free. Of these, he says, “the bottom of the cavity will not be more than an inch or two above the surface of the water, but there will be a, mass of stuff submerged.”
Occasionally a nest may be found placed on one of the banks, between rice-fields, which are always densely covered with vegetation of sorts. One such nest was composed entirely of young rice-stems, pulled up by their roots and matted into a neat little nest barely
6 inches across. Other sites sometimes made use of are the flat tops of dense bushes which grow round the edges of swamps, on dry land in whiter, but which are nearly submerged in a sea of water when the rains are advanced.
The breeding season nearly everywhere seems to be July, August and September but, in Assam, I have taken eggs from the 14th June to the 10th October. In Ceylon most birds, according to Parker, breed from February to April, but Phillips took a clutch of six eggs at Torrapane on the 31st May.
In Burma they breed in the same months as in India.
The normal clutch varies from four to six but seven are not unusual, and Jesse took a clutch of nine in a lake near Lucknow.
The eggs vary in ground-colour from a pale pinkish or buff-stone to a fairly warm buff, often flushed with rosy or salmon when quite fresh. The markings consist of fairly bold small blotches and spots of brown, red-brown, purple-brown or nearly black, scattered sparingly over the whole surface but a little more densely at the larger end, where, however, they never form a cap or zone. The secondary markings are fewer and are of lavender-grey or purple- grey. The character of the markings varies very little, though in a few they are smaller and less pronounced. Of unusual clutches two are worth recording. One taken by Vidal in Kanara has the ground a pale greenish- or yellowish-stone, on which the normal markings stand out in very bold relief. Another taken by Primrose in Goalpara has the ground a deep rich buff, while the markings consist of large, smudgy blotches of reddish-brown, some measuring as much as 12 mm. across.
In shape the eggs are long ovals, the texture hard, close and fairly fine, while the surface has a slight gloss when the egg is just laid.
One hundred eggs average 50.5 x 35.7 mm. : maxima 54.6 x 36.9 and 52.1 x 37.2 mm. ; minima 45.7 x 36.1 and 49.3 x 34.2 mm., I can find no difference in the average size of Southern and Northern eggs but it should be noted that Hartert gives the average of fifty birds, mostly from Ceylon and Southern India, as 48.0 x 35.3 mm.
The nest takes a very short time to make, as I have examined clumps of reed in the early part of the week which contained no vestige of nest yet, at the end of the week, contained nests with one or two eggs. The cock-bird may help to make the nest in so far as collecting material goes, as I have seen him walking about with his mouth full of weeds, though, it must be confessed, these were generally dropped before being made use of.
I have frequently seen the courtship of the male. The two birds, male and female, may be seen quietly feeding or swimming together when he suddenly considers it is time to show off. Collecting a few weeds in his bill, he approaches his mate by swimming or running and, when within a foot or two of her, bobs his head ener¬getically up and down several times, repeating a little clucking note all the time. He then draws himself up as high as he can, raises both wings and flaps hard, after which he once more bobs and ducks. Finally he finishes up by bringing both wings up and forward, quivering them all the time and ending with a deep loud cackle. The same procedure takes place whether swimming, walking or climbing in the reeds. In the latter case his excitement is sometimes greater than his caution and he tumbles headlong into the water. In this particular courtship display the hen-bird often takes some interest and will join in the duckings and bohbings.
There is no proof that the male assists the female in incubation.
2028. Porphyrio polioeephalus polioeephalus
(2028) Porphyrio poliocephalus poliocephalus (Lath.).