(940) Prinia inornata inornata Sykes.
THE COMMON INDIAN WREN-WARBLER.
Prinia inornata inornata, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 534.
The Common Indian Wren-Warbler extends over practically the whole of India, North of the Nilgiris and Travancore.
Except that it does not breed in forest, it is resident and breeds in suitable places everywhere from Sind to Eastern Assam North, but not South, of the Brahmapootra. Its range South on the Eastern side of India has not been determined, but the Vernay Expedition to the Eastern Ghats may have elucidated this question among others.
The birds breed in gardens and parks, cultivated land, open waste land and in scrub and low jungle and grass round villages. Some¬times they nest in grass plains where the thatching grass is mixed with bushes, but I have never heard of their nesting in beds of long reeds or in elephant-grass or “ekra.” The nest itself maybe placed in clumps of grass and weeds but, more often, is built in bushes, where it may be wedged in between twigs, either vertical or pendent, or attached to leaves.
The nest varies very much. Personally I have only seen two types. First the completely domed nests, which may differ much in construction. Generally they are small, regular ovals, well and fairly neatly constructed of thin strips of grass-blades, torn off the living grass and used when green and pliant. The shreds are beautifully interwoven, but not very tightly, leaving the whole strong but very pliable. There is no lining of any kind, and the walls may be anything from 5 to 10 mm in. thickness. The nest itself measures between 4 and 5.1/2 inches vertically by about 3.1/2 to 4 in breadth, while some nests are almost spherical, being between 3.1/2 and 4 inches either way. In most nests the entrance is near the top, in some quite neatly finished off, in others very rough and unfinished, while in many the materials of the dome hang over the entrance, forming a hood over it.
The second type of nest is the long purse-shaped affair sometimes adopted by Cisticolas and others. This kind consists of a long narrow bag, with the circular top quite open and averaging some¬thing under 3 inches in internal diameter. It is made of the same materials and is similar in weaving and neatness or the reverse. The size varies greatly. In most nests the egg-cavity is about 3 inches or less across by about 2 to 4 inches in depth, but the nest itself often hangs far below this. I have seen nests 8 or 9 inches deep and Hume refers to nests of the same dimensions, while Tice¬hurst writes of nests seen by him in Sind, which were “rather more than 9 inches deep.” As a rule, with these deep nests only the top 2 to 4 inches are fastened to their supports, the remainder hanging pendent between them.
A third kind of nest, somewhat of the Tailor-Bird type, seems common in some parts of India, though I have never seen it. Thus Hume says :— "In other cases they are hung to or between two or more leaves, to which the birds attach the nest, much as a Tailor bird would do, using, however, fine grass instead of cobwebs or cotton-wool for ligaments.”
Aitken (B.) also describes a similar type of nest:—“The nest was strongly attached to the stems and leaves of four herbaceous plants growing close together. In many cases the strips of grass had been passed through and pierced the leaves. The nest is deep and purse-shaped ; the sides were prolonged upwards, except in front, where the entrance was, and joined above so as to form a canopy.”
E. Aitken, Bingham, Adam, Cock, Blewitt and many modern collectors all describe nests similar to one or all three of the above descriptions.
In all nests grass-shreds, very narrow and soft, form the principal material, and in many the only one, but occasionally seed-down, flowering ends and grass-stems are also used, while cobwebs are employed fairly often both to attach the nest to the supports and to strengthen the outside of the nest itself.
Many observers have referred to a penchant of this species for building in or near water. Aitken (E. H.) says :—“Six or eight nests I have seen of this species were all over water.” Betham refers to their preference to bushes close to or overhanging water, and both Field and Gill say that in some districts of Gonda in the United Provinces the birds build round lakes.
Nesting operations are in full swing by about the last week in June, when the rains have well started, and most eggs are laid in July and August ; on the other hand, odd birds over the whole of their breeding range commence to lay in March, while others continue to the end of September. In Sind many birds must breed in March, as Ticehurst saw young birds on the wing on the 27th April and young in the nest a fortnight earlier still. In the Nepal Terai also Whymper found breeding advanced in April and I have had eggs sent me from Ambala taken in March.
The eggs number four or five, three and six being sometimes incubated.
In appearance the eggs are among the most beautiful there are ; in addition to this they are certainly among the most interesting, for I know of no other species with parallel variations in the eggs of its various geographical forms.
The eggs of the present and typical race are normally a bright pale blue, a little less deep than Hedge-Sparrow-egg blue. The ground-colour varies but little in depth of blue or in tint but some are a trifle duller than others and, in a few, there is a very faint indi¬cation of green. The markings are exceptionally bold and handsome, consisting of large blotches and long twisted lines of deep red- brown, blackish-brown or purple, with others underlying of pinkish lavender, pale reddish or neutral tint. The blotches are nearly always large ; sometimes there may be a couple of dozen of these, at other times less than a dozen, while I have eggs in my series with huge blotches covering nearly a third of the egg. The hair¬like lines are generally confined to the larger end, where they may be carelessly scattered about here and there but, more often, form a ring of intertwisted lines, many of great length, round the egg. In some eggs the lines are altogether wanting, in others they are but few, but in some they are comparatively numerous.
I have two types of egg which are really abnormal. In many hundreds of clutches I have seen only two or three examples. In one of these the ground-colour is a deep sage green with normal marking. In the others the ground is pale bluish, boldly freckled all over with deep reddish-brown, forming caps at the larger end. In character these latter eggs are more like those of a Franklinia than normal eggs of the present bird.
Another variation, abnormal in this race, but normal in another, has the ground white, or a beautiful creamy pink with charac¬teristic bold blotches and lines of chestnut-red or purple-red. This last type seems to be confined almost entirely to Northern birds. I have one such clutch from each of the following places : Baroda, Somastipur, Rosehar and Ambala. On the other hand, this type is less rare generally in the United Provinces, whence I have three clutches from Lucknow etc., while in one small area, Wasirgunj, in the Gonda district, the egg with the white ground is apparently the common type, though all round this area the blue type of egg is found everywhere.
Messrs. Field and Gill have been kind enough to furnish me with a lovely series of these wonderful eggs, and the former gives a full account of them (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxvi, p. 1042, 1920). In this he describes how he obtained in Wasirgunj seventeen nests of eggs with white ground (later he took many more), and it is interesting to note that he says :—“The general features of Wasirgunj are in no way different from other parts of the district, except that there are some large pieces of water, lakes in fact.” In a letter he tells me that his white eggs were taken from bushes and grass around or in these same lakes. Later on we shall see that the normal egg of the Siam bird is exactly like these eggs, or else have a pink ground but never a blue one.
In texture the eggs are hard, close and fine, with a strong gloss. The normal shape is a broad, blunt oval, and long pointed ovals are rare.
Two hundred eggs average 15.6 x 11.5 mm. : maxima 18.0 x 12.5 and 16.1 x 12.7 mm. ; minima 13.2 x 10.0 mm.
Both birds incubate and I have often caught the male on the nest. Both also help in building their home. Hume writes :— "Both parents work at the nest, clinging at first to the neighbouring stems of grass or twigs, and later to the nest itself, while they push the ends of the grass backwards and forwards in and out ; in fact they work very much like the Baya, and the nest, though much smaller, is in texture very like that of this species.”
Incubation, I think, takes eleven days but I am not positive, and my observations want confirmation.
940. Prinia inornata inornata
(940) Prinia inornata inornata Sykes.