(398) Molpastes cafer cafer (Linn.).
THE CEYLON RED-VENTED BULBUL.
Molpastes hoemorrhous hoemorrhous, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 383.
Molpastes cafer cafer, ibid. vol. viii, p. 613.
The Ceylon Red-vented Bulbul is found over the whole of Ceylon plains and up to about 3,000 feet in the hills. In Southern India it occurs as far North as about 18° in the East and about 20° in the West. It is found over practically the whole of this area, plains, foot-hills and the higher hills, ascending many of these up to some 8,000 feet. It is essentially a bird of towns, villages and cultivation and, where mankind is, there the Red-vented Bulbul will also be found. Where there is only virgin forest, great expanses of uninhabited country of any sort, there no Bulbul will be found, but let mankind cut down the forest, cultivate the wastes and, within a very few years, our little friend will arrive, take up his abode and increase rapidly.
Nearly all the old accounts under the name of M. hoemorrhous (=cafer) in Hume’s ‘Nest and Eggs’ refer to the more Northern form, which I have separated as pallidus, and the descriptions of nests are too meagre to be worth quoting. Indeed, so common is this bird that hardly any observer or collector has bothered about writing descriptions of its nests and breeding habits.
In Ceylon Legge says “it is found abundantly throughout the whole island to a general altitude of about 3,500 feet and in Uva ranges to about 5,900 feet, its highest point being the neighbourhood of Hakgala. It is most numerous in open and cultivated districts, particularly in the west and south of the island and in the maritime portions of the eastern and northern divisions. In the extensive forests of the east and north-central portions it inhabits chiefly those localities which have been cleared and are now open or covered with low jungle, but in the depths of the woods it is less common than the White-eyebrowed Bulbul.”
Jerdon says that “it frequents gardens and cultivated ground and low bushy jungle but is never found in forests, and it ascends the Neelgherries. to about 6,000 feet only.”
To put it briefly, this Bulbul breeds in the haunts of man, and it may be found in any garden, park, hedgerow, or village surroundings, less often in cultivated lands and scrub-jungle away from humanity, and never in forests or the wilds.
The nest is a cup made of dead leaves, grass, twigs, creeper- stems and odd scraps of dry moss, lichen etc. In some nests grass and a few leaves are almost the only materials used, in others bamboo-leaves and roots may form the staple articles of construction. As a rule they are fairly well put together, though never very tidy but, sometimes, they are flimsy, carelessly built and very untidy little nests. In Ceylon, according to Wait and Phillips, grass seems generally to constitute the principal material employed in the construction of the nests, some being built entirely of it. In Bangalore, also, Williams says that grass is used more than any¬thing else and he at that cobwebs are used to strengthen the outside. The lining of fine roots or fine grass-stems, usually pretty plentiful, sometimes rather scanty. The measurements vary a good deal but in diameter the extremes are probably 3.1/2 and 4.1/2 inches and in depth about 2 to 3.
They are seldom placed at any great height from the ground and never quite on it, but within these limits may be built almost anywhere ; bushes, flowering shrubs or small trees in gardens or by paths and roads, scrub round villages, half grazed down by the cattle, a patch of thick grass in an orchard, a trellis over a verandah, or on the walls for creepers to climb up. Rarely they may be placed on a bough of a bigger tree such as a Mango or Jack-fruit, but such sites are exceptional.
Wherever they may be placed concealment is never sought ; It may sometimes happen that thick foliage screens them well from casual view, but often they seem to deliberately choose sites of the most conspicuous nature. In consequence they suffer very greatly from the depredations of Magpies, Lizards and other vermin.
The breeding season varies greatly. Wait gives the breeding time in Ceylon as November till May, but both he and Phillips have taken fresh eggs up to the end of July, though March and April are the two months in which they have found the greatest number of nests.
In Travancore T. P. Bourdillon took nests with eggs in May and June ; Williams, in Bangalore, took them from March to July ; Vidal, in the South Konkan, in April and again in September, whilst in the Nilgiris nests may be found practically throughout the year, though Miss Cockburn gives the favourite months as February, March and April. Finally, Aitken found nests in Berar and Bombay in September and October.
Three seems to be the normal number of eggs laid, often two only and very rarely four.
They vary very greatly in colour. The ground-colour ranges from a pink or cream, so pale as to appear almost white, to a fairly warm pink or creamy buff. In most eggs the markings consist of numerous small blotches, or specks, or small spots scattered freely over the whole egg, nearly always more numerous at the larger end and often forming rings or caps on that half. These markings may be of almost any shade of red, red-brown or purple- brown but, in the great majority of eggs, there is a decided purple tinge. In addition to these primary markings, nearly all eggs have secondary blotches of pale lavender or inky grey, in some sparse, in others so numerous as to give a purple-grey tint to the larger end. In some eggs the markings form very definite rings and caps, and in these eggs they are generally scanty over the smaller half of the egg. In a few eggs the small blotches become larger and bolder and, as these are nearly always proportionately fewer in number, such eggs are very handsome. Two extreme specimens of this latter type have in one instance a salmon ground with bold blotches of deep red and purply black with clouds of inky grey ; the other has a cream ground with irregular splashes and blotches of deep red, running into one another, mixed with small secondary marks of grey.
A very unusual pair taken by Phillips in Ceylon has the ground¬colour a pale cream-grey minutely freckled all over with lilac-grey in one egg and by lilac-red in the other. Another pair of his eggs has a warm pink ground freely speckled all over with bright pale brick-red, still more numerous at the larger end, where they are mixed with the secondary markings of grey.
In spite of the great variation as shown by the foregoing descrip¬tion, the eggs of the Southern Bulbuls do not vary to anything like the extent the eggs of the Bengal form do and, as a whole, are not nearly so richly or boldly marked and coloured.
One hundred eggs average 21.1 x 15.5 mm. : maxima 24.3 x 16.5 and 20.2 x 16.9 mm. ; minima 19.0 x 15.1 and 21.4 x 15.0 mm.
The texture of the eggs is neither very fine nor very close ; few show any gloss and the shell is rather brittle for the size of the egg.
There appears to be no information as to how long incubation lasts but it is almost certainly thirteen days, as in the Bengal bird. Both sexes take part in incubation but I can find nothing on record as to whether the cock undertakes an actual share in the construction of the nest. So far I have been told that he has been seen to bring materials to his wife but, beyond this, my informant could tell me nothing definite.
398. Molpastes cafer cafer
(398) Molpastes cafer cafer (Linn.).