(116) Sitta neumayer tephronota.
THE TURKESTAN ROCK-NUTHATCH.
Sitta tephronota Sharpe, A. M. N. H., (4) x, p. 450 (1872) (Ferghana, Turkestan); Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 305.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description. Whole upper plumage, wing-coverts and secondaries ashy-blue; the usual black eye-band; primaries pale brown; central tail-feathers pale ashy-blue, the others brown broadly edged with pale ashy on the outer webs, this colour gradually changing to pale fulvous, the outermost feather having the inner web brown with a fulvous tip and the outer web fulvous with a brown tip; sides of the head and lower plumage fulvous, darker and becoming strongly tinged with pink on the flanks, lower abdomen, vent and under tail-coverts, these last having ashy centres.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown ; bill horny-brown or slaty-brown, darker at the tip ; legs clay-slate.
Measurements. Length about 160 to 170 mm.; wing 75 to 90 mm.; tail about 50 to 60 mm. ; tarsus 21 to 24 mm.; culmen 20 to 23 mm.
Distribution. Baluchistan and Afghanistan to Ferghana in Turkestan and the Tianschan. Birds from the Tianschan seem to have more of a dull rufous tinge on the breast and lower throat as well as being rather bigger, and should possibly be kept separate; I cannot, however, distinguish S, n. obscura from North and East Persia.
Nidification. This bird breeds both in Afghanistan and Baluchistan from early March to the end of April or early May. The nest-hole may be either in a tree or in a rock but in the very great majority of cases it will be in the latter. The hole is lined, sometimes partially, sometimes throughout, with a clay which becomes very hard when set, and this lining is continued until it projects in a cone beyond the entrance for from 6 to 9 or 10 inches. In addition to this, however, the bird decorates the face of the rock or the bark of the tree all round the entrance for some distance with feathers stuck in the crevices of the rock or bark. The lining to the nest is generally fur or hair, sometimes with a few feathers, but underneath this is often a bed of leaves, chips of bark, touch-wood or similar material. The eggs vary from four to six or rarely seven in number; the ground is a white of a purer, harder tint than that of most Nuthatches and the spots of brown are sparser and more definite. They are generally rather scanty in number but more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere. The normal shape is a broad, blunt oval, and twenty-four Indian eggs average about 21.2 x 16.0 mm. These were all taken by General Betham at Quetta.
Habits. This bird is common in Baluchistan, where Betham took many nests, and extends in some numbers along the frontier in suitable localities between 3,000 and 7,000 feet, ascending yet higher than this in the northern portion of its range. In general habits, flight, voice and food it is a typical Nuthatch, but rocks form its principal hunting-ground rather than trees, though it does resort to these also on occasions. It is never, however, a forest bird and frequents bare hillsides with but little cover of any sort just as often as it does those a little less bare which have a few scattered trees and an odd ravine or so with bush or tree forest. It is said not to be a shy bird or to shun observation.