(935) Prinia socialis socialis Sykes.
THE. SOUTHERN ASHY WREN-WARBLER.
Prinia socialis socialis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 530.
Over the extreme Northern limits of its area this Wren-Warbler merges into the next race, but an arbitrary line for its Northern boundary may be given as running from Surat, Khandeish and Nagpore and thence South-East to the mouths of the Godaveri River. It is also resident in Ceylon.
The birds breed in grass-land, scrub and bush-jungle, cultivated tracts in which there are patches of grass and scrub, in gardens and round villages, but not in forests. Often its nest may be found in sugar-cane fields, crops of millet and in unpruned hedges. In Ceylon T. E. Tunnard also found them nesting low down in Tea- bushes.
In parts of the Deccan it is extremely numerous and every garden has its pair or more of these little Warblers breeding in it, and in this area, more especially round Hyderabad, they are frequently cuckolded by the little Cuckoo Cacomantis.
The nests vary more than do those of any other Indian bird known to me, and descriptions of all are to be found in Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs’ (vol. i, pp. 291-5). A very common type of nest is one sewn into leaves or a leaf, like that of a Tailor-Bird. One of these is described by Miss Cockburn in the following words:—“The Ashy Wren-Warbler builds a neat little hanging nest very much in the Tailor-bird style, for it draws the leaves of the branch, on which the nest is constructed, close together, and sews them so tightly as sometimes to make them nearly touch each other, while a small quantity of fine grass, wool, and the down of seed-pods is used as a lining and also placed between the leaves.”
Next Davison describes one of the domed type :—“The nest is generally placed low down near the roots of a bush or a tuft of grass. It is made of grass, beautifully and closely woven, domed and with an entrance near the top.”
Then Legge describes quite a different kind of nest seen by him in Ceylon :—“In May 1870 a pair resorted to a large guinea-grass field, attached to a bungalow at Colombo, for the purpose of breeding. I soon found the nest, which was the most peculiarly constructed one I have ever seen. It was, in fact, an almost shapeless ball of guinea-grass roots, thrown, as it were, between the upright stalks of a plant at about 2 feet from the ground : I say thrown, because it was scarcely attached to the supporting stalks at all. It was formed entirely of the roots of the plant, which, when it is old, crop out of the ground and are easily plucked up by the bird, the bottom or more solid parts being interwoven with cotton and such-like substances to impart additional strength. The entrance was at the side of the upper half, and was tolerably neatly made ; it was about an inch in diameter, the whole structure measuring about 6" in depth and 5" in width. I found the nest in a partially completed state on the 10th May ; by the 19th it was finished and the first of a clutch of three eggs laid. The nest and eggs were both taken on the evening of the 24th, and the following day another was commenced close at hand.”
Then we have an occasional deep cup-shaped, or purse-shaped, one such as found by Wait in the Nilgiris, Sparrow at Trimulgherry, or Williams in Wellington.
They seem to breed at all elevations up to about 5,000 feet, and less often up to 7,000 feet, as well as throughout the plains, and the shape of the nest has little to do with the particular breeding area, though certain types of nest preponderate in certain localities, and these may be family characteristics, the parents handing down their special traits to their descendants.
It is curious, however, that Butler, who found numerous nests in Belgaum, took two types of nest from the same sugar-cane fields. He says “most of them were stitched up in leaves of various plants, after the fashion of Tailor-birds’ nests, but in some instances they were of the other type, simply supported by the blades of the sugar¬cane or com they were built in.”
The breeding season over the greater part of its habitat begins in May and lasts until September. In Wellington, however, Wilhams took a series of nests between the 28th February and the end of May, and over a great part of the Nilgiris many birds breed in April. In Ceylon they breed from March to August, and here, as doubtless elsewhere, most birds have two broods.
The number of eggs laid is three to five, the last very rarely.
In colour they cannot be separated from those of Prinia flavi¬ventris, which they also resemble in shape and texture.
I have one remarkable clutch taken by Phillips which is light bright pink, with broad rings of deep chestnut-red at the larger extremity.
Sixty eggs average 16.2 x 12.0 mm. : maxima 17.1 x 12.4 mm. ; minima 15.1 x 12.0 and 15.2 x 11.3 mm.
935. Prinia socialis socialis
(935) Prinia socialis socialis Sykes.