(931) Prinia gracilis lepida Blyth.
THE INDIAN STREAKED WREN-WARBLER.
Prinia gracilis lepida, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 526.
This quaint little Warbler breeds in Baluchistan, Afghanistan, the North-West Frontier Provinces, Sind, Punjab, Rajputana and parts of the United Provinces, where Gill and others took numerous nests in the Jhow Scrub Jungle along the banks of the Gogra River.
This pretty little Warbler is extremely plentiful in many suitable places along our North-West Frontier, in Sind and in many places in the Punjab, notably Lahore ; it is also common in many parts of Rajputana. Indeed wherever it does turn up it seems to be resident in great numbers, but it is very local and does not occur in large stretches of country which would appear to be quite suitable.
It appears to like dry but not desert areas, and Betham says that he only found it breeding in Lahore after the rains broke and there was plenty of water about, but that it kept to wide stretches of grass, sometimes scattered with bushes, and seemed to greatly affect ravines and watercourses through which some water ran, or in which pools remained all the year round. Ticehurst also refers to the fact that it does not haunt deserts ; he says :—“It particu¬larly affects tamarisk-jungle, and is not uncommon in reeds and thick herbage round jheels, in ‘khan’ grass-jungle, and I have also seen it in cotton fields. Gonsalves found it breeding in long grass in ditches round the wheat fields in Sukkur, while elsewhere its favourite haunt seems to be grass jungle on the banks in the beds of rivers.”
Anderson describes nests taken “on the tamarisk-covered islands and ‘churs’ of the Ganges” as follows :—“The nest is domed over, having an entrance at the side ; and the cavity is comfortably lined, or rather felted with the down of the madar plant. It is fixed, somewhat after the fashion of that of the Reed-Warbler, in the centre of a dense clump of surpat grass, about 2 feet from the ground. On the whole the structure is rather large for so small a bird, and measures 6 inches in height by 4 inches in breadth.”
Anderson took other similar nests in September and October, his previous nests having been found in February and March. Round Delhi Bingham took many nests in March which he describes as exactly like Anderson’s, and adds :—“It is oval in shape, with a large side-entrance near the top ; it is built of fine grass and seed-down, no cobweb being employed in the structure ; it is loosely made and there are always a few feathers in the egg-cavity.”
The feathers in the lining seem to have been quite abnormal. Butler found a nest lined with silky vegetable down. Betham found nothing but seed-down or feathery grass-ends in the many nests examined by him. Pitman on the North-West Frontier and Lindsay Smith round Multan describe the nests as being always lined with this latter.
As a rule the nest is attached to grass but, occasionally, it is built in twigs of low bushes. Most nests are placed between one and three feet from the ground and their position is often given away by the male, who sings constantly on some conspicuous twig or tall grass alongside it.
They probably have two regular breeding seasons : first in February and March before the country has become too dry and, secondly, after the rains have broken from July onwards ; round Lahore and Ferozepore Betham only found nests in July and August. On the Frontier nests were to be found in February, March and April and again in July and August. In Sind Ticehurst says they breed from March to September, but my other correspondents refer to a break in the breeding season in Sind as from the end of April to July.
The normal clutch of eggs is four, but both three and five are not rare.
Hume likens the eggs to those of the Blackbird, and I should call this a very happy comparison. Except for their tiny size and rather broad shape, I think every egg in my series could be matched in colour with those of our English Blackbird. The ground-colour is most often pale greenish, rarely at all bright, or pale grey-green, and it is profusely covered with little blotches of light to dark reddish. In some eggs they are more numerous still at the larger end but I have none in which they form rings or caps. Many eggs have a stone ground-colour and red freckling, such as is so often found in the red type of Blackbird’s egg. Rarely the marks are scanty and show boldly against the ground-colour, and sometimes they are exceptionally dense everywhere.
The texture for so tiny an egg is fine, close and stout and there is a fine gloss.
One hundred eggs average 13.8 x 10.7 mm. : maxima 15.1 x 11.4 and 14.1 x 11.8 mm. ; minima 11.9 x 9.9 mm.
The male does no incubation, nor does he assist in building the nest, though he is assiduous in feeding the young when they are hatched. They are very tame and do not resent being watched, even when breeding, but are not easy to obtain a sight of as, except when the males are singing, they keep low down in the grass and bushes.
931. Prinia gracilis lepida
(931) Prinia gracilis lepida Blyth.