(411) Otocompsa jocosa fuscicaudata Gould.
THE MADRAS RED-VENTED BULBUL.
Otocompsa emeria fuscicaudata, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 396 (part.).
Otocompsa jocosa fuscicaudata, ibid. vol. viii, p. 613 (part.).
Practically the whole of Southern India South of the ranges of the two last races and omitting Mt. Abu and the neighbouring parts of Rajputana (Ajmere, Nasirabad).
This is probably the most common of all birds in Southern India from the plains up to the highest hills wherever there is open country, towns, villages or cultivated lands In Travancore it occurs up to 6,000 feet according to Ferguson, Bourdillon and Stewart, while on the Nilgiris, Palni Hills and other ranges it seems to wander higher still.
It frequents gardens, parks and any kind of open land about villages and towns. In Tea-gardens and Coffee-plantations it is excessively common, breeding in the Tea- and Coffee-bushes.
It nests in all kinds of places but chiefly in low bushes two to four feet from the ground and sometimes up to six feet. Col. R. H. Baker and Inglis (‘Birds of S. India’ p. 26) record two nests taken on the ground. One taken by Baker himself “at about 5,000 feet, placed in a bank at the side of a steep zig-zag path through a coffee plantation,” the other also taken in the Nilgiris. by Mr. T. N. Wapshare, in a similar position. They often breed in trellises and creepers over houses and verandahs and Darling says that “in a friend’s house in the Wynaad there were three nests built on the wall-plate of the verandah and two eggs laid in each nest. The young were safely hatched.
“This year the nests have been rebuilt and contain eggs. As I am writing, there are two pairs building in a rose-bush about 3 yards from me. They breed from the 15th February to the 15th May.” Hume sums up the breeding habits of the common Bulbuls, with descriptions of the nests, in a most interesting paragraph, which I quote in full:—
“They breed any time from the beginning of February to the end of May. The nests are usually placed at no great height from the ground (say from 2 to 6 feet) in some thick bush.
“The nests that I procured of this species from Mt. Aboo , and which have been sent me by Mr. Carter from Coonoor and Salem, and by other friends from other parts of the Nilgiris, where the bird is excessively common, very much resemble those of O. emeria, but they are somewhat neater and more substantial in structure. They differ a good deal in size and shape, as the nests of Bulbuls are wont to do. Some are rather broad and shallow, with egg-cavities measuring 3.1/4 inches across, and perhaps 1 inch in depth, while others are deeper and more cup-shaped, the cavity measuring only 2.1/2 inches across by fully 1.1/2 inch in depth. They are composed in some cases almost wholly of grass-roots, in others of very fine twigs of the furash (Tamarix fur as), in others again of rather fine grass, and all have a quantity of dead leaves or dry ferns worked into the bottom, and all are lined with very fine grass or very fine grass-roots. The external diameter averages about 4.1/2 inches but some stand fully 3 inches high, whilst others are not above 2 inches in height. As might be expected, the White-cheeked and White-eared and the two Red-whiskered Bulbuls’ types of architecture differ considerably ; inter se, the nests of M. leucotis and M. leucogenys differ just sufficiently to render it generally possible to separate them, and the same may be said of the nests of O. emeria and O. fuscicaudata. But there is a very wide difference between the nests of the two former and the nests of the two latter species, so that it would be scarcely possible to mistake the nest belonging to the one group for that of the other. The incorporation of a quantity of dead leaves in the body of the nest is characteristic of the Red-whiskered Bulbul, and is scarcely to be met with in those of the White-cheeked or White-eared ones.” The nest, however, is by no means always substantial and many observers have commented on its frailty.
Bates, referring to one of the subjects of his photographs, writes :— “The owner of the jerry-built Southern Red-whiskered Bulbul’s nest provided me with considerable entertainment, The nest, as one can see, was built with the usual disregard for durability and concealment and the usual want of forethought displayed by many species of Bulbul. All the support being on one side only, the increasing weight of the fast-growing youngsters was causing it to heel over to an increasingly perilous angle every day.
“The bravery of the bird I took to be the female was really most amazing. On my discovery of her treasures she retreated but to a twig within a few inches of the nest and danced there in a perfect fury, swearing and spitting like an infuriated Lynx, and, when I presumed to put my fingers into the nest and snap off one or two twigs which were in the way, it really looked as if she was about to attack my hand.”
The disregard by this Bulbul of all attempts at concealment leads to an appalling mortality among the eggs and young, which are greedily eaten by many other birds, lizards, snakes and four¬footed vermin.
In the Western Ghats Davidson says they are less remiss in this respect, and the nests he took in March and May “were placed in bushes 2 to 4 feet high, some of them most carefully concealed among thorny.”
The breeding season seems to be mainly in February, March and April but they almost certainly have two or more broods in the year, for Cardew found them breeding in July and Betham saw many nests with eggs in August.
In and round Madras Packard took eggs in February and again in May. In Travancore Stewart and Bourdillon took many nests from February and March up to the end of July.
The normal number of eggs laid is two or three but I have two fours, one taken by Col. Wilson in May in Madras and one by Barnes at Khandalla, also in May.
The eggs are typical Otocompsa eggs but, on the whole, they vary very little. My eggs of this race, with very few exceptions, like Hume’s, “all belong to one type of egg. Almost all have dull pinkish or reddish-white ground, very thickly freckled, mottled and streaked all over with a rich red ; in most blood-red, in others brick-red, underneath which, when closely looked into, a small number of pale inky purple spots are visible. In half the number of eggs the markings are much denser at the larger end ; these eggs are all more brightly and more intensely coloured than any of those that I possess of M. leucotis, M. leucogenys or 0. emeria ; they are, moreover, larger than any of these.”
All the above would do well for the description of my own series, only I should have left 0. emeria out of the last two lines as, really, taking them as series, there is not very much between the eggs of emeria and fuscicaudata, though as a whole the latter are the richer.
A few rather unusual types consist of (1) eggs very much like those of Xanthixus flavescens and, like them, curiously enough, very long in shape ; (2) bright pink, closely speckled all over with bright pale brick-red ; (3) eggs densely freckled all over with purple-red and with such numerous secondary specks showing through that the eggs look an almost uniform reddish-purple.
Most eggs are broad, short ovals in shape ; the texture is smooth but not very fine, and there is either no gloss on the surface or only a slight one.
One hundred eggs average 21.4 x 16.1 mm. : maxima 25.4 x 15.8 and 21.4 x 17.6 mm. ; minima 19.3 x 14.3 mm.
There seems to be no information on record as to whether both birds take part in the construction of the nest, or which sex carries on incubation, two very easy questions to settle with so common a bird, and which should soon be answered now attention has been drawn to them.
According to F. N. Betts (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. vol. xxxv, p. 1026, 1931) the period of incubation is only eleven days, which seems a very short time in comparison with the size of the bird and the egg. This information is given in a most excellent account of the habits, nidification etc. of the Bulbuls of the Nilgiris, and those who would like further details of these should refer to the article, which is full of information.
411. Otocompsa joeosa
(411) Otocompsa jocosa fuscicaudata Gould.