(700) Leucocirca aureola aureola (Lesson).
THE INDIAN WHITE-BROWED FANTAIL FLYCATCHER.
Rhipidura aureola aureola, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 277.
Leucocerca aureola aureola, ibid. vol. viii, p. 634.
This race of the White-browed Flycatcher is found over the whole of the plains of India with the exception of the extreme South of Travancore and Ceylon. It ascends the hill-ranges of Southern India and the Himalayas up to at least 5,000 feet, though its normal breeding range may be accepted as under 3,000 feet. Hutton found it breeding up to 5,000 feet in the Dhoon, and Rattray took nests up to 5,000, and probably rather higher, near Danga Gali, in the Murree Hills.
It frequents gardens, parks, the outskirts of villages and towns, open country and cultivated lands, and also, though to a much less extent, thin forest such as Sal. It is especially fond of Mango orchards, and a large percentage of its nests will be found on these trees, built at any height from 5 to 20 feet from the ground. Betham,who took many nests round Baroda, found they were generally placed “rather high up, ten feet or over” ; Whymper also says that in Bareilly “they nest generally on Mango-trees in gardens, rather high up, sometimes fifteen feet or so.”
The nests are described by Betham as “rather wineglass-shaped than cup-shaped, and often even longer and cone-shaped.” The extremes vary, however, very greatly, and a nest may be a flat saucer measuring nearly 4 inches across by less than 2 deep, as taken by E. H. Gill in the United Provinces, or a long, thin, wine¬glass-shaped affair, resting on a thin horizontal branch, and with a thin tail of surplus material hanging below the nest. Either extreme is rare, but the shallow one much the more so, whilst a tail hanging pendent from the bottom of the nest is quite a common appendage. Probably most nests measure about 2.1/4 to 2.1/2 inches in width and the same, or rather more, in depth, with an egg-cavity half an inch less both in breadth and depth.
The nests are beautifully made little affairs, composed of fine grass-stems, sometimes, but not always, supplemented with fine soft vegetable fibre. There is no lining but, outside, the whole surface is plastered with cobwebs. The walls are very thin and very firm, in thickness varying between 1/16 and 1/4 of an inch, broad¬ening towards the base, which is thicker and may even be as much as half an inch.
The nests are nearly always placed on horizontal boughs and, when these are of any size, the bottoms of the nests are thinnest in the centre and deepest at the sides, where they are more or less plastered into the bough with cobwebs. When placed on thin twigs the materials of the bottom of the nest embrace the whole of the twig, and then we often have the tail above referred to. Occasionally it may be built into a small upright fork or on the upper surfaces of the prongs of a horizontal fork.
The birds are very bold when breeding and are very hard to drive away from a site once chosen. Colonel A. E. Butler writes about a pair which he found nesting at Deesa :—“I found a nest on the 1st June containing one egg. The nest was placed on a small bough of a Ficus religiosa about 20 feet from the ground. I found another nest on the 18th June in another tree about 10 yards off, built by the same pair of birds, containing three much incubated eggs.
“On the 22nd inst. I visited the place again, and found, to my surprise, that the same pair of birds had built another nest on a small branch of the same tree within a few feet of the one I had taken on the 18th inst. On the 29th I sent a boy up the tree and found the nest contained three eggs. On the 1st July they built a nest on the stump of the bough broken off with the nest taken on the 18th June, and on the 10th July I took three fresh eggs from it. I visited the place again on the 24th July and found another nest (the sixth) built on the other side of the tree. Strange to say, the old birds had built another perfect nest, this time on the same bough about one foot above, for what reason I do not know, as, of course, only the one (the lower) contained eggs.”
According to Hume, “eggs may be found from the latter end of February to the early part of August, but the two chief periods are March and July.”
Blewitt found them breeding in Jhansie and Saugor in July and August, taking four nests, all built on Neem-trees.
Adams took nests in Somastipur in April, and Inglis and Coltart took many nests in May, June and July on into August, most eggs being laid after the break of the rains in the middle of June. In Sind they breed indifferently from March to the end of June.
In the sub-Himalayas most birds breed during May and June.
The number of eggs laid is generally three but, sometimes, two only are incubated. I have never seen a four-clutch of this race.
It would be impossible to improve on Hume’s description of the -eggs, which I quote in extenso :—
“The eggs are typically moderately broad ovals, a good deal compressed towards one end, and almost invariably exhibit the typical Shrike-like zone. The ground-colour varies from pure white to very pale yellowish-brown or dingy cream-colour, and the markings are, as a rule, almost confined to a broad irregular zone, near the large end, of greyish-brown specks and spots, of greater or less intensity of colour, often more or less confluent or connected together by a dull haze of the same shade, and at times intermingled with spots or tiny clouds of very faint inky purple. The upper end of the egg inside of the zone is commonly thinly speckled with spots similar to those composing it. The lower portion of the egg below the zone is, as often as not, spotless ; in other cases it is very thinly speckled like the space inside the zone.”
As regards the very large number of eggs which have passed through my hands, all I can say is that I have never seen one with a really pure white ground, and very few indeed with the surface below the zone completely spotless.
One hundred eggs average 16.8 x 12.8 mm. : maxima 18.6 x 13.0 and 17.1 x 13.9 mm. : minima 15.4 x 12.3 and 16.3 x 12.1 mm.
700. Leucocirca aureola aureola
(700) Leucocirca aureola aureola (Lesson).