(2100) Rhyncops albicollis.
THE INDIAN SKIMMER.
Rhyncops albicollis Swains., An. in Menag., p. 300 (1838) (India) ; Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 327.
Vernacular names. Panchira (Hind.).
Description. Forehead, face, cheeks, a broad collar and all the lower plumage white; crown, nape, back and wings dark brown; primaries blackish, with a paler wedge on the inner webs of all but the first; a broad wing-bar formed by the tips of the greater coverts and secondaries ; some of the scapulars also edged white; centre of rump and upper tail-coverts mottled brown and white; sides of rump and upper tail-coverts and the tail white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown; bill orange-red, yellow at the tip and more red at the base; legs and feet bright vermilion.
Measurements. Wing 344 to 398 mm.; tail 104 to 112 mm.; tarsus 24 to 26 mm.; culmen 58 to 75 mm.; lower mandible 78 to 100 mm.
Young birds have the brown of the upper parts a lighter brown, each feather edged with fulvous-white; the tail is mottled with white near the tip.
Distribution. The larger rivers of India and Burma, rare in the South and not known in Ceylon.
Nidification. The Skimmers breed during March, April and early May on all the larger rivers, whilst in Assam I have known them to breed as early as February. They breed in colonies, often of considerable size, laying their eggs in hollows scratched out by
themselves on the bare sand of sand-banks in the rivers. The nests are placed close together but generally apart from the Terns and other birds, which frequently breed on the same banks. In the North-West of India four seems to be the normal clutch but
farther East three is more often found, whilst in Assam and Burma twos and threes form the full clutch. The eggs are very Tern-like but have a character of their own which is hard to describe. They are handsome eggs with a ground of pale cream, yellow-stone, olive or buff, sometimes quite a warm tint, marked with blotches of dark brown or reddish-brown and even more numerous secondary ones of neutral tint. Sometimes the primary marks take the form of scrolls and often have a curious spiral effect. Sixty eggs average 41.0 x 29.9 mm.: maxima 44.2 x 31.0 and 42.9 X 32.0 mm.; minima 37.4 X 31.0 and 43.1 x 28.0 mm. The parent birds do not sit as close as Terns do, nor do they become so excited and noisy as these birds when their nests are being robbed.
Habits. The Indian Skimmers keep almost entirely to wide rivers, on which they fly up and down close to the surface of the water, their knife-shaped lower bill just catching the surface of the water as they fly. They feed on tiny surface Crustacea and very small fish fry but as a rule the stomachs of those examined held nothing but a thick oily fluid. Some examined by myself had tiny freshwater shrimps and " sand-hoppers " and these birds, which were busy feeding young in May, were skimming along the extreme edge of the water, very slowly, their bill-tips submerged and, possibly, cutting through the surface of the sand and so disturbing their prey. Whether this was so or not it was, however, impossible to see. They occasionally frequent the edges of marshes and lakes for feeding purposes. Their normal flight is slow and leisurely, with steady flapping of the wings, but they can go at immense speed when frightened. Their note is a shrill, chattering scream.