(705) Leucocirca pectoralis pectoralis Jerdon.
THE NORTHERN WHITE-SPOTTED FANTAIL FLYCATCHER.
Rhipidura pectoralis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 282.
Leucocerca pectoralis, ibid. vol. viii, p. 634.
Since vol. viii of this Fauna was written Whistler has described (Bull. B. O. C. vol. lii, p. 40, 1931) the race from the Eastern Ghats of Madras under the name Leucocirca p. vernayi. Excluding, there¬fore, the Ghats, this little Fantail Flycatcher is found from Cape Comorin, North throughout Travancore, Mysore and Bombay, to the Aravalli Hills in Rajputana. East it extends to Raipur Chikalda, Goona, and Chanda. It is extremely common in the Nilgiris and other hill-ranges of Mysore and the South-West, but does not extend into the true plains East of these. Williams found it very numerous at Khamptee.
This is, perhaps, the most familiar and confiding of all the Fan¬tail Flycatchers for, though it breeds in any thicket, shola, or small wood, it is just as often found nesting in gardens and in scrub round or in villages, where its ever restless movements and constant little song soon draw attention to it.
Miss Cockburn’s notes to Hume (‘Nests and Eggs,’ vol. ii, p. 38) on this bird’s habits and nesting are so charming that I quote them in full:—
“Though not very common in these hills [Nilgiris], they are to be found in pairs in certain localities, and their pleasing little song is frequently repeated.
“These Fantails are most restless and active, constantly flitting from one spray to another and snapping up small insects while on the wing. When seated on a branch their tails are raised and spread to the full extent, while their wings are lowered and their heads slightly thrown back. Sometimes they alight on the ground, where it is amusing to watch their activity, which is evinced in a kind of dance (with expanded tails), varied by a snap (like the noise of castanets) aimed at some unfortunate little insect, whose winged progress has suddenly been stopped by the keen-eyed Fantail.
“A pair of these birds are constantly in our garden, and do not show the slightest degree of shyness or fear, often allowing me to stand and watch them quite close. They build an extremely pretty nest, very much resembling a wine-glass in shape, which, however, appears to be unfinished, and is left with straws hanging down in a careless manner. The upper portion of the nest is entirely composed of very fine straws, with a thin addition of spiders’ webs outside to keep the whole structure firm, and also to strengthen its hold on the slender branch to which it is attached. I have sat for hours watching their untiring industry, and have been much amused to see the manner in which the latter part of the building was constructed. One of the birds would fly to the nest with a spider’s web in its bill, and, after fixing one end, the little creature, taking hold of the other, would seat itself in the nest and give a sudden twist round and round until it had drawn the material sufficiently tight, when it would fasten it securely, thus giving a neatly finished appearance to the outside. They build low on large trees and always lay three eggs. These birds have built on peach-trees in our garden and, although we were most careful that no one should touch their nests, Squirrels, Crows, and Crow Pheasants used to deprive them of their young. On these occasions the distress of the parents was sad to witness, but it seemed to last for only a few hours ; before the day was ended their sweet song was renewed, and in less than a week another nest would be commenced.
“A pair of these Fantail Flycatchers once had their nest of young ones on an orange-tree, and when my cat went too near it (as they thought) they attacked her in such a manner, fluttering and chattering close to her ears, as to oblige her to take refuge under a wheelbarrow. These birds build in April and the following three months.”
Butler, writing from Mt. Aboo, gives a more detailed account of the nest and the kinds of position selected for it. He writes :— “The nest is one of the neatest little structures I ever saw. It is cup-shaped, with often a long untidy tail in continuation of its base. The interior is composed of fine grass compactly woven together, and the exterior is bound with cobwebs, which are wound round it so thickly that from the outside it looks perfectly white. Many of these cobwebs are attached to twigs, to give the nest support. It is generally placed in a fork of one of the small branches of some low thick bush about 2.1/2 or 3 feet from the ground, or on small branches of big trees or low bushes overhanging dry or watery nullahs running through thick jungle or clumps of high trees, in the shade of which these birds are so fond of hunting for insects.
“In one or two nests I found a few horsehairs in the lining.”
Most nests closely resemble those described above, but many people consider the nests shaped more like wineglasses than like cups, though the tail is not always present. Sometimes, also, as with the other Fantails, the nest is placed on a horizontal branch or twig, the materials incorporating the whole of the supporting twigs and the cobwebs wound tight round it.
Rhodes Morgan says :—“The nest of this lively little bird is very difficult to find,” but most observers note quite to the contrary. Betham writes to me :— “The nest is easy to find, as the birds give it away by fussing around. It is, however, difficult to obtain full clutches of their eggs, as this same fussiness attracts the attention of their enemies, who steal both eggs and young.”
The breeding season over most of its area continues from April to July, inclusive, as stated by Miss Cockburn, but in Poona and Khamptee Betham and Williams obtained most of their nests in the latter part of June and in July, whilst Davidson and Wenden took a nest at Egutpoora, with three eggs, on the 6th September.
The normal full clutch consists of three eggs though two only are sometimes incubated. The eggs are typical of the genus and, individually, not to be separated from those of the other species, but, as a series, the ground-colour has, perhaps, a more decided brown tint, and most eggs might be termed a brownish-cream.
In texture and shape the eggs of the present species resemble those of the other species of the genus.
Fifty eggs average 16.2 x 12.7 mm. : maxima 18.2 x 12.3 and and 17.3 x 13.0 mm. ; minima 15.0 x 11.6 and 16.2 x 11.5 mm.
705. Leucocirca pectoralis pectoralis
(705) Leucocirca pectoralis pectoralis Jerdon.