(494) Saxicola caprata bicolor* Sykes.
THE NORTHERN INDIAN STONE-CHAT.
Saxicola caprata bicolor, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 26.
This little Chat is remarkable chiefly for the fact that, being a Northern form, it is yet much smaller than the Southern race, a reversal of the ordinary rule which is very rare. It is found over practically the whole of Northern India from the Deccan, Central and Northern Bombay Presidency to the Himalayas, and East from Sind to Western Assam. Over all this area it is found alike in the plains and in the hills up to at least 8,000 feet in the Sutlej Valley, but it is not found in the Himalayas farther East than Nepal, though in the plains it occurs in Behar and Bengal and has straggled into Kamroop, in Western Assam.
Like the other races, it frequents open country and is almost as tame and confiding in the way it haunts the surroundings of villages and towns as its Southern cousin and, like that bird, often breeds in gardens and in dwellings and outhouses. It is never found in forest, deep or open, but may sometimes be found breeding in scrub- and bush-covered fields.
The sites selected are not quite the same as those which the Southern bird most favours. This race in many parts of its habitat makes its nest more often than not on the ground among the roots of grass. Thus Blewitt says that all the way from Saugur to Sambalpur “the nests were always on the ground, of very simple construction, composed of grass-roots externally and lined with fine grasses or a little hair.”
Again, from Saharanpur Col. G. F. L. Marshall writes to Hume :— ‘‘The only two nests that I have taken of this bird were structures of a most unique type ; they were situated in the middle of tufts of sukery grass, the insides of which had teen hollowed out so as to leave a circular space of bare ground in the middle about a foot in diameter, which was sparsely covered over with bits of grass ; this circular space was roofed over by drawing the surrounding grass- stems together and wearing in other pieces so as to form a sort of dome.”
Frequently, of course, it makes its nest in holes in banks, as found by Bingham at Allahabad and by Hutton in the Dhoon ; many are made in holes in the sides of wells, as recorded by Adam from Sambhur, by Butler from Belgaum and by Hume himself. Wenden obtained a nest from a hole in the wall of a stable.
The nest is just like that of S. c. atrata, a roughly-made shallow saucer of grass, leaves and other oddments, more or less fitting into the hollow in which it is placed, but generally with a good lining of fur, hair or fine grasses. Hume found nests made entirely of human hair and wool, while others have taken nests partly built of these materials or built of grass and only lined with them.
* Ticehurst retains the name rossorum for the Sind birds, but only on the grounds that they differ from atrata. If he had compared them with typical bicolor he would probably have seen that they were one and the same bird.
Nests found by Jones at Lahore were comparatively neat cups made of fine grasses, lined with hair and built in the bases of half-burnt tufts of grass in open burnt-out grass-land. Whymper at Naini Tal took most of his nests from banks on road-sides.
In Quetta Williams says that they are seasonal visitors, “arriving late in Spring and frequenting the open spaces near orchards. The breeding season is late, no birds nesting before May, although the male bird, who helps build the nest, is in full song before nesting operations commence. They continued to lay until mid-June.
“The nests are built in various places, holes in walls, under bushes, in the banks of nullahs and even in the holes in the karezes.
“They are merely pads of wool and horsehair, intermixed with fibrous materials and lined with horsehair.”
The breeding season is almost entirely confined to March, April and May but, in Sind, Doig gives the season as March to August, and I have eggs from H. E. Barnes taken on the 5th August in the Eastern Narra.
The eggs number three to five and are individually indistinguishable from those of S. c. bicolor except in size. In my series there are a few unusual clutches worth describing. One clutch of five might be matched by many eggs of Saxicola torquata indica. ; the ground-colour is a grey-green minutely freckled all over with pale reddish, the freckles very faint and blurred. Another clutch has a pale but rather bright blue ground comparatively handsomely blotched with dark red-brown, dense in a ring at the larger end and sparse elsewhere.
One hundred eggs average 17.6 x 13.9 mm. : maxima 19.2 x 14.5 and 18.2 x 15.0 mm. ; minima 16.2 x 13.4 and 17.0 x 12.9 mm.
Although these measurements indicate that the eggs of the race are proportionately rather longer ovals than those of the two other races, this does not appear at all noticeable when one has series of all three before one.
The males of these Chats take part both in incubation and in the construction of the nest, a feature rare, though by no means unknown, in those cases in which the male is much brighter than the female in colour or colour-pattern.
The display of nearly all the Chats during the breeding season is much the same. The little cock mounts on to the top of some stone or bush, fluffs himself out, droops and quivers his wings and then flies high and quickly up into the air, descending slowly with outspread, rapidly beating wings and the white pattern of his plumage showing up vividly among the distended feathers. Sometimes after the descent he will sidle along the ground round or towards his mate, whilst at other times he will repeat his love-flight several times before making any further advances.
494. Saxicola caprata bicolor
(494) Saxicola caprata bicolor* Sykes.