(356) Pteruthius aenobarbus melanotis.
THE HIMALAYAN CHESTNUT-THROATED SHRIKE-BABBLER.
Pteruthius melanotis melanotis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 333.
Pteruthius oenobarbus melanotis, ibid. vol. viii, p. 610.
This Shrike-Babbler extends over the outer hills of the Himalayas from Nepal to Eastern Assam, Cachar and Manipur, but apparently not into the Lower Chin Hills, where it is replaced by the next bird. Hodgson records it as breeding in Nepal at 6,000 and 7,000 feet, Stevens gives its Summer distribution in Sikkim as between 2,700 and 6,200 feet, whilst in the Miri-Abor Hills he found them at 5,000 feet. In the hills South of the Brahmapootra in Assam they breed from 4,000 feet up to at least 7,000
According to Hodgson “the nest is placed at a height of 6 to 10 feet from the ground, between some slender, leafy, horizontal fork, between which it is suspended like that of an Oriole or White- eye. It is composed of moss and moss-roots and vegetable fibres, beautifully and compactly woven into a shallow cup some 4 inches in diameter, with a cavity some 2.5 in diameter and less than 1 inch in depth. Interiorly the nest is lined with hair-like fibres and moss- roots.”
Since these notes were written I have taken many nests in Assam. The birds keep much to evergreen forest and I have never noticed them breeding in Pine forests. They like humid, but cool, deep forest with ample undergrowth, where they place their nests either on small trees or saplings between five and fifteen fect from the ground or in bushes from four to twelve feet up. The nest is always suspended from small horizontal twigs, never placed in upright forks, and is either a pendent cup or shallow cradle. The nests are very well made and strong in fact, even when they are more or less transparent from below and look fragile. They are made principally of rather coarse fern and bracken-roots but with these are mixed tiny twigs, odd scraps of leaves, bits of tendril and lichen, whilst the outside is nearly always more or less covered with moss and lichen and strengthened with spiders’ webs. There is often no real lining but the innermost part of the nest is of finer material, such as fine hair-like rhizomorph or rachides, while some¬times there is a well-made lining of these.
The breeding season lasts from the end of April—I have eggs taken in the last week of that month—up to about the middle of June.
The eggs number four or five but I have taken two hard set, and have seen two young in a nest. On the other hand I have taken clutches of six, though this number is, perhaps, unusual.
The eggs are pretty, delicate looking things and the colour varies considerably, though the character and distribution of the markings is fairly constant. One type is just a small finely-marked replica of the preceding bird. The ground is a pale lilac-white and the stipplings are purplish-brown, numerous everywhere, but coalescing to form a ring round the larger end. Another type has the spots rather larger and sparser and of a light rufous, whilst the ground-colour is a pale cream or pinkish-white. A third type has a white ground with reddish-brown spots. Both the second and third types have a few underlying spots and blotches of lavender or pinky grey.
Intermediately coloured eggs seem quite exceptional, practically all the eggs I have taken being definitely of one type or the other.
Forty-two eggs average 17.9 x 13.5mm. : maxima 19.1 x 14.4 mm. ; minima 16.8 x 13.0 and 17.4 x 12.6 mm.
The texture is rather fine and close but glossless and the eggs decidedly fragile. In shape they are broad ovals, occasionally somewhat longer.
Both birds take part in incubation. They are very shy and slip quietly off the nest, often before one is in sight of it, but, if silence is kept, they return, and I have several times caught both parents on the nest within a quarter of an hour of finding it.
356. Pteruthius senobarbus melanotis
(356) Pteruthius aenobarbus melanotis.