(410) Otocompsa jocosa emeria Linn.
THE BENGAL RED-WHISKERED BULBUL.
Otocompsa emeria emeria, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 394.
Elathea jocosa emeria, ibid. vol. viii, p. 614.
Our Indian bird is very close to the Chinese O. jocosa jocosa but is just separable. It is found in the Himalayas, Sikkim and Bhutan to Eastern Assam, North and South of the Brahmapootra, Bengal, the Northern half of Orissa, North Chin and Kachin Hills. Rothschild includes both jocosa and emeria in his ‘Birds of Yunnan’ (Nov. Zool. vol. xxxiii, p. 306, 1926) as occurring in that country. Admittedly the birds here are somewhat intermediate, though I should, on the whole, prefer to place them all with typical jocosa, recognizing the fact that in this intermediate area intermediate forms are to be met with.
The Red-whiskered Bulbuls are as much birds of houses and humanity as are their cousins with the red flannel seats to their trousers and are, if anything, even more confiding and even more restricted to the environment of towns, villages and cultivated areas. It is but rarely they will be seen in thin scrub, bamboo- jungles or the edges of forest at any distance from the above. They are found all over the inhabited parts of the plains and in the hills up to 7,000 feet, but any appearance over about 2,500 seems to be a desultory visit only, except in North Cachar, where they breed sometimes up to 4,000 feet. I have seen them more than once in Shillong, 5,000 feet, but this only for a day or two, and then they are gone.
In my own experience, as already stated, these Bulbuls are frequenters of inhabited areas, and their breeding excursions into jungle and forest are very rare. Hume, however, says that they sometimes breed quite away in the jungle, and it is interesting to note that Stevens also found them in winter “in heavy forest” in Upper Assam. In North Cachar they were common enough in evergreen forest, but only on the outskirts and only when the forest was alongside villages and clearances for rice and other cereal cultivation.
Probably more nests are found in gardens and parks and in the middle of villages and their immediate vicinity than anywhere else, but they are common enough in all cultivated or grazing country in which there are hedges, odd clumps of bushes or even long coarse grass. Adams found in Oudh the next race nesting in clumps of moong-grass, but a more curious site than this was one absolutely on the ground in quite short grass, found by myself. The nest was neatly hidden in among the roots of the grass but had no other support than the actual earth and grass¬roots. Often they will make their nests in creepers over verandahs and sometimes even in the verandahs themselves, on the posts or in shrubs in pots. Hedges of Cacti in Upper Behar are common sites, small Mimosa trees are often made use of, but bigger trees, such as Tamarind, Mango etc., very seldom. Most nests are placed between 18 inches and 4 feet from the ground, a fair number both lower and higher, but not many over 15 or 20 feet.
The nest varies considerably. Hume says : “It is a typical Bulbul’s nest, a broad shallow saucer, compactly put together with twigs of herbaceous plants, amongst which, especially towards the base, a few dry leaves are incorporated, and lined with roots and fine grass. Exteriorly a little cobweb is wound round to keep twigs and leaves firm and in their places.” Most of the nests I have seen have also been fairly substantial but they have generally been rather deep cups, a rough average of their outside dimension being about 4 inches across by nearly 2.1/2 inches deep. Flimsy, badly-built nests are, however, not rare, though our Bengal bird seems better in this respect than its cousin in the South.
The materials used differ a good deal, according to whatever suitable article may be handy. Leaves seem always to form a considerable portion of the nest ; bamboo-leaves also, when these are lying close by, are popular ; grass, roots, fibre of all sorts, bits of bracken and fern, creeper and weed-stems and, more rarely, moss, both green and dry, and lichen are all used in turn to a less or greater degree.
Generally they are placed in upright forks or among vertical twigs but, when placed in creepers, they are often pendent, the hanging creepers being worked into the sides of the nest. Cripps says that in Eastern Bengal cane-brakes form a favourite site, and those I have seen in this position are also occasionally pendent but, more often, built on the top of two or three canes.
As regards the breeding season, Hume gives March to the end of May, Cripps says March to May ; Davison, who found it breeding in a low mangrove bush in the Andamans, took a nest in April. In Assam and Eastern Bengal I have taken nests from April to July, but May and June are the months in which most eggs are laid.
The number of eggs laid, in my experience, is three or four, one about as often as the other, and I have taken several clutches containing five eggs. On the other hand, I have but seldom found two eggs showing signs of incubation. Hume says that three is the normal number but that he once took four. Adams never found more than three and on several occasions only two. In the Chin Hills, where they breed in March, April and May, Mackenzie and Hopwood found two to four eggs being incubated.
In colour the eggs go through just as great variety as do the eggs of the genus Molpastes and can be matched always by eggs of the various Red-vented Bulbuls. Taking large series into consideration, they are not quite so dark in colour and not quite so bold in blotching as the eggs of the Bengal Red-vented Bulbul. On the other hand, the very pale egg with nearly white ground and purple specklings is not nearly so common with Otocompsa.
Among abnormal eggs the following may be mentioned:— (1) Pale purple white ground, densely freckled all over with pale neutral tint, the frecklings coalescing and forming a broad ring at the larger end ; (2) pale salmon ground almost concealed by large blotches of deep reddish-brown, running into one another.
Two hundred eggs average 22.2 x 16.2 mm. : maxima 24.1 x 16.0 and 23.6 x 17.1 mm. ; minima 19.0 x 14.5 and 20.2 x 14.4 mm.
In texture, shape etc. they are very similar to the eggs of Molpastes. Most eggs are quite glossless and few have the gloss at all highly developed.
Both birds incubate and both assist in building the nest.
I believe incubation takes twelve or thirteen days, whilst Cripps mentions an incomplete nest found on the 27th March which contained two young, just hatched on the 12th April, giving about the same time for the incubation period.
They are bold birds and, though perhaps they do not build their nests in quite such conspicuous positions as does the Red- vented Bulbul, they do not seem to make much attempt at con¬cealment. Even the nests which, from their natural position, are well hidden are given away by the birds’ actions, which are always fussy and noticeable when they have a nest near by. Often, when building in or near verandahs, the birds go about their work of building without paying any attention to people who may be sitting there, and will continue their task, fetching materials and working them into the nest within a few feet of the watcher.
Otocompsa jocosa provineialis Whistler, Bull. B. O. C. vol. lii, p. 40, 1931. Kuman Bhabar. Distribution. Nepal, U.P. and Behar. This is a very doubtful subspecies but Mr. Whistler must have had more material than I had for comparison, so that I include it for the present.
410. Otocompsa jocosa emeria
(410) Otocompsa jocosa emeria Linn.