(277) Stachyridopsis ruficeps ruficeps Blyth.
THE ASSAM RED-HEADED BABBLER.
Stachyridopris ruficeps ruficeps, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 268.
Hodgson recorded this Babbler as breeding in Nepal from April to June but he does not state at what elevations ; Gammie took two nests in Sikkim at 3,500 and5,000 feet ; Stevens says it is common and breeds at all moderate elevations up to 7,400 feet, whilst Osmaston took nests near Darjiling at 6,500 and 7,500 feet. In the hills South of the Brahmapootra I took nests between 3,400 and 6,000 feet.
This bird may be found in almost any kind of forest or jungle both in the breeding and non-breeding season. For instance, of four nests taken by Osmaston near Darjiling the types of jungle are recorded as “low jungle growth,” “low undergrowth in secondary forest,” “low undergrowth in open forest,” and “under¬growth in mixed forest of Oak and Chestnut.”
Nests taken by myself have, I think, in the majority of cases, been found in low shrubs, or under low shrubs growing in the deep humid forests of Assam where it is always green, deep in shade and more or less cool shelter from the sun, however hot one gets with hard exercise in such humid atmosphere. Many nests, however, were taken both in deserted cultivation and in bamboo-jungle, especially when this latter was on the banks of rivers or streams and had a certain amount of undergrowth.
The nest is sometimes placed on the ground but not nearly so often as is that of the Golden-headed Babbler. More often it is placed low down in a thick bush or in a clump of bamboos, whilst a very favourite position is a tangle of Raspberry or Black¬berry vines growing over a steep bank. Hodgson describes the nest as “a large massive cup-shaped nest [I have never seen such] amongst bamboos as a rule, at heights of from 7 to 10 feet from the ground.”
The nest is of two descriptions—a deep cup or domed. Gammie describes one of the latter as follows :—“ I took two nests of this Babbler in April. They are of a neat egg-shape, with entrance at side, and were fixed vertically between a few upright sprays, within 3 feet of the ground, in open situations near large trees. The external dimensions are about 5.5 inches in height and 4 inches in diameter. Internally, the diameter is 2 inches and the depth from roof 3.25. The entrance is 2 across. They are composed of dry bamboo leaves only, put neatly and firmly together, and are lined with a very few grassy fibres. They each contained four well set eggs.”
Mandelli’s non-domed nest was taken by him “at Lebong on the 23rd June, in the middle of a tea bush which grew at the side of a small ravine, which was neither hooded nor domed. The nest was about 18 inches from the ground and was completely sheltered from above by tea-leaves. It was a deep cup composed externally chiefly of bamboo leaves, but with a good many dead leaves of trees incorporated in the base, and lined with very fine grass stems. It contained four fresh eggs.”
The many nests I have taken come well under the above two descriptions. On the whole they are better made, more compact nests than those of S. chrysoea and stand more handling, even if not strong enough to remove as a whole without damage. The bamboo leaves, instead of being carelessly put one straight above another, are often somewhat interlaced and help to hold one another in position. When, as occasionally happens, the nest is made of grass, it will actually stand removal and remain intact for some days. I have taken one nest made entirely of fern-fronds and others with a little bracken, a few leaves or pieces of grass woven into the other materials, whilst a bed of dead leaves for the nest to rest on is quite commonly collected.
A very unusual nest taken by Mackenzie in the Chin Hills is described by him as “a most beautiful little nest like an Oriole’s, hanging in a horizontal fork. Made of bamboo leaves with moss and cobwebs outside and the finest grass stems inside.”
They breed during May and June principally, but Gammie near Darjiling, Mackenzie in the Chin Hills and Coltart at Margherita all took eggs in April, whilst a good many birds also lay early in July. The eggs are white in ground, marked with small spots and blotches of brown or reddish-brown, generally fairly numerous at the larger end and sparse elsewhere. In some eggs the spots and blotches are reduced to very small freckles of pinkish-brown or very pale brown, while in a few they are enlarged to fair-sized blotches, making a handsome ring at the larger end. The shell is fine and close with a moderate gloss.
Fifty eggs average 15.8 x 12.6 mm. : maxima 18.2 x 12.6 and 17.1 x 13.0 mm. ; minima 14.6 x 12.4 and 15.0 x 12.0 mm. A clutch of abnormally large eggs taken by Osmaston near Darjiling average- no less than 19.2 x 14.0 mm., one egg being 19.5 x 14.1 mm., and it is noticeable that a series of the eggs taken North of the Brahma¬pootra average much bigger than those taken South of it.
277. Stachyridopsis ruficeps ruficeps
(277) Stachyridopsis ruficeps ruficeps Blyth.