(416) Spizixos eanifrons eanifrons Blyth.
THE ASSAM FINCH-BILLED BULBUL.
Spizixus eanifrons eanifrons, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 400.
This curious, but handsome, Bulbul is very common in the Hills South of the Brahmapootra in Assam between 2,500 feet and the highest forest-covered peaks of the Barail and other ranges, breeding freely between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. In the Chin Hills it is almost equally common at similar heights. Further East they stretch to Yunnan, where Forrest obtained a big series of birds between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, whilst Harington found them fairly common in the Bhamo Hills at about 5,000 feet upwards.
In Assam it frequents both open and dense forest but it is most common in places near the peaks of hills between 4,000 and 6,000 feet where there are patches of forest interspersed with open spaces of rock and grass, small stretches of scrub- and bush-jungle or the thick growth which soon appears on deserted rice-fields. In Sinlum Kaba, in Bhamo, they appear to breed in Country of much the same kind but, possibly, still more open.
The first nests I found were nearly all in rather high bushes and small saplings between 5 and 10 feet up. This was in 1892 but, later, when I got to know the birds and their ways better, I found that far more nests were placed in bushes etc. under 5 feet rather than over, though the latter, being the more conspicuous, were the easier to find. They seem to be especially fond, for nesting purposes, of matted creepers and tangled vines growing either in a dense mass close to the ground or climbing over bushes or up trees. I have also found them in clumps of sturdy weeds and, more than once, in Raspberry vines growing in thick beds of stinging-nettles, which were very common in the Laisung Valley, growing as high as five feet and effectually keeping out four-footed vermin. Pershouse and Harington both remark on the affection displayed by the birds for tangles of wild raspberries for their nests, all of which were placed quite low down in them. In the Khasia Hills, where they are one of the birds which breed in the Pine-woods, they may place their nests either in tall scraggy bushes, densely foliaged Rhododendrons and Azaleas, in Daphne-bushes or, most often of all, in Blackberry and Raspberry bushes.
The breeding season is May, June and July in Assam but I have taken eggs in April also. My earliest recorded nest with eggs is the 16th April, the latest 24th July. I do not think they have two broods.
The nest is one which cannot be mistaken for that of any other bird breeding in India known to me. The nests of some of the birds of the genus Ianthocincla bear some resemblance to them but their size alone is at once sufficient to distinguish them.
The Finch-billed Bulbul uses one material, and practically one material only, for its nest, and that is a quantity of the small curly tendrils of Convolvuli, looking like long narrow corkscrews ; other tendrils may be, and probably are, used but I cannot distinguish any—they all seem alike, though they vary in coarseness and elasticity. The most coarse and the most curly are used for the outer part of the nest and the finest, though not necessarily the least curly, are used internally and must, one would think, be very uncomfortable for the young when hatched. I have seen odd scraps of bracken in a few nests as lining and in a few other nests a few fine twigs have been incorporated, but the nests have generally to be broken up and examined before these can be found. An interesting feature I have noticed in many nests is that the bird seems to select reddish tendrils for the lining and brown ones for the body of the nest. The inner measurements of the nest are generally between 2.1/2 and 3 inches in diameter by about 1 in depth ; the outer measurements are impossible to give, as the ends of the tendrils stick out in every direction.
The full clutch of eggs is two or three—two, probably, rather more often than three—though I have taken one or two fours. In Burma, round about Sinlum Kaba, Harington never took more than two eggs in a nest but Pershouse was more fortunate and took clutches of three in the same place in the Bhamo Hills.
The eggs are quite distinctive and do not vary normally much in colour. The ground-colour is always a dull pink, in some eggs quite pale and rather creamy and ranging from this to a warm reddish-pink. The markings consist of numerous freckles, in a few they might almost be called blotches, of pinkish-red to deep brownish-red. In an occasional clutch of eggs the ground-colour shows up rather boldly but in most it is more or less covered with the freckles, and in some these are so thick that the eggs look an almost uniform dull deep mottled-red. In the great majority of eggs the markings are more numerous, often confluent, at the larger end, where they sometimes form well-marked caps or rings. The underlying blotches, often difficult to detect, are of inky purple and, though difficult to see, are sometimes sufficiently numerous to give a dull purplish tint to the egg.
Two pairs of very unusually marked eggs in my collection are almost pure white stippled with pinkish-red, fairly heavily at the larger end and very sparsely elsewhere. These eggs could be matched with some of Molpastes, though unusual even for them.
In shape the eggs are long ovals, generally obtuse, rarely rather pointed at the larger end. The texture is not very fine or close, the egg surface having a smooth, soft appearance but with no gloss except in very few cases.
One hundred eggs average 25.7 x 17.6 mm. : maxima 29.0 x 17.0 and 26.0 x 19.3 mm. ; minima 22.2 x 17.8 and 24.0 x 16.1 mm.
416. Spizixos canifrons canifrons
(416) Spizixos eanifrons eanifrons Blyth.