(827) Franklinia gracilis (Frank.).
THE ASHY-GREY WREN-WARBLER.
Franklinia gracilis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 425.
It is difficult to find a trivial name to suit this bird, as in winter it is much more rufous, but its unicoloured upper plumage suffices to distinguish it from other species of the genus.
It has an enormous range and extends from Ceylon, all over India, Burma to Tenasserim, Siam and Assam. It is not, however, found in some of the driest areas, such as Sind and desert Rajputana, while Harington told me that he did sot think it occurred in the driest zone in Central Burma. It is to be found in almost any kind of country, other than desert, except in deep or evergreen forest. Where gardens are very large and contain plenty of bush-cover it is no rare visitor and breeds. I have found it nesting in scrub-jungle, secondary growth, cultivation and bushes in and round villages. Occasionally they will make their nests in weeds growing in fields of grass, but they are essentially birds of bush and bracken rather than grass. Very favourite spots in Margherita were the patches of weeds and grass growing on the banks of a tiny stream running beside the principal road and trolley line. Here two or three nests were built annually.
They breed throughout the plains and in the Assam Hills up to 6,000 feet, but not so freely over 4,000 feet as below this elevation.
The nests remind one at once of those of the Tailor-Birds, the most important difference being that they are not lined with felted grass-flowers. The lining, if it can be so called, consists merely of fine grass-stems wound round and round. Like the nests of Tailor-Birds, they are built inside leaves of plants, generally quite low down. The favourite plant, wherever it is to be found, is the “khydia,” a broad-leafed humble weed which has a leaf admirably adapted to this Warbler’s needs, an average-sized leaf being just large enough to hold the nest comfortably when the edges are sewn together. I have never seen the end of the leaf drawn up to form the bottom of the nest, as is sometimes done by Orthotomus, and it is exceptional for more than one leaf to be used to enclose the nest. The greatest number of leaves I have seen sewn to one nest is three,and. that very rarely. It is always placed in pendent leaves and never in upright ones, but I once found a nest built in the turned-down tip of a Ginger-leaf, a most cosy little nest, well roofed in from the worst weather.
The breeding season over the whole area seems to be the same, the birds commencing to breed after the middle of June and con¬tinuing until September. Over a great part of Northern and Eastern India the breeding season is governed by the breaking of the rains, which may be said, roughly, to start about the middle of June, but the birds also nest at this time in other parts of India, such as Pegu (Oates), Maymyio (Osmaston) etc. In Assam a good many birds lay after the early rains in the end of April and first part of May and, as might be expected with so common a bird, odd nests may be taken almost any time between March and September.
The eggs vary very greatly. Pure unspotted white and blue eggs are quite common, especially the latter. Other eggs are pale blue or white, very rarely pale pink, marked in various ways with very pale reddish to a deep reddish-brown. In most cases the marks consist of tiny specks and spots distributed fairly evenly over the whole surface ; in some they are more numerous at the larger end, where they may form faint or well-defined zones. Occasionally they consist of rather larger but very washed-out-looking blotches, sometimes hardly visible. In my “Birds of North Cachar”
I commented on the fact that unspotted eggs were much more common in the early part of the year than the latter, and I gave figures showing that out of 178 eggs laid in April-June, 60 were plain blue and 12 pure white. Of 266 eggs seen in July-September, only 9 were unspotted blue and 2 white.
In shape the eggs are most often broad ovals, but long ovals are not rare. For so small an egg the shell is very strong, the texture fine and close, generally with some gloss and often with a strong one.
Four hundred eggs average 14.7 x 11.7 mm. : maxima 16.6 x 11.3 and 15.6 x 12.0 mm. ; minima 13.1 x 11.0 and 14.1 x 10.2 mm.
Unspotted eggs, curiously, are bigger than those which are marked, and in the paper already referred to on Cachar birds I showed that the spotted eggs exceeded the marked ones by practically 1.5 x 0.6 mm., a great difference in such tiny eggs. In the great number I have since measured the difference is less but still appre¬ciable, about 1.0 x 0.3 mm.
Both sexes take a share in the incubation and both assist in building the nest, which is an operation taking a comparatively short time. Nests built in my own garden, or just on the outskirts, took from four to eight days to build, eggs being deposited on the fifth to ninth day following their being commenced. Early nests are, I think, always better built and take longer to construct than late nests, when the birds have to build against time, in order to have them ready for the first egg.
Incubation takes ten to eleven days, generally the latter.
827. Franklinia gracilis
(827) Franklinia gracilis (Frank.).