(729) Tephrodornis pondiceriana pondiceriana (Gmelin).
THE INDIAN SMALL WOOD-SHRIKE.
Tephrodornis pondiceriana pondiceriana, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed vol ii p. 312.
Kloss having separated the Siam form under the name of Tephro¬dornis p. thai (Bull. B. O. C. vol. xlvi, p. 58, 1926), the range of the Indian Small Wood-Shrike has to be restricted accordingly. It occurs on the West coast of India, extending North to, but not including, Sind or Rajputana or further North ; it ranges East to the Southern and Eastern Central Provinces and United Provinces, and thence again into Eastern Bengal, Behar and the greater part of Burma to Tenasserim. East of Burma it is replaced in Siam and elsewhere (?) by T. p. thai.
In South-West India Ticehurst says his pallidus extends to Khandeish, but probably does not mean to include this province in its range, as the birds thence seem to be much the same, and as dark as, the birds from the wet Malabar districts, which are the same as those from Bengal and Behar.
The Small Wood-Shrikes are birds of open country and, for the most part, breed in cultivated lands, waste land, abandoned cultivated land, scrub and pastures round villages, and even in gardens and bushes in villages and towns. Occasionally, however, they breed in thin deciduous forest and in secondary growth or scrub-jungle.
Col. G. P. L. Marshall (Hume’s ‘Nests and Eggs,’ vol. i, p. 333) gives a good description of the nest, and writes :—“The Common Wood-Shrike builds in the Saharunpoor district in the latter half of March, the young being hatched early in April. The bird is common ; but owing to its small size and bark-like colour of its nest, the latter is very difficult to find. On the 8th April I fired at a specimen and missed it ; it then flew off and settled in a fork of another tree about 30 feet from the ground. On looking carefully with an opera-glass, I saw that it was sitting on its nest. I drove it off and shot it. The nest was very small and shallow, cup-shaped, and wedged in between two small boughs at their junction, and not appearing either above or below. The egg receptacle was 2.1/4 inches in diameter. The nest was made of grass and bits of bark, beauti-fully woven together and bound with cobwebs, and exactly resembling the boughs between which it was placed or, I might say, wedged in. The eggs, four in number, were slightly set.”
All collectors refer to this bird’s nest as being very hard to find owing to its being externally finished off with scraps to resemble the branch on which it is built. If this is lichen-covered the nest will be the same ; if of dark bark only the nest is covered with scraps- of bark similar to that on the branch.
Davidson writes to me, in sending me eggs :—“The nests are small shallow saucers, made of fine stems of grass, weeds, fine elastic twigs and roots, closely worked in together with cobwebs, and covered on the outside with bits of bark, lichen, or moss to resemble the branch on which, or the fork in which, they are placed. They are rather stout little nests, measuring anything between 2.1/2" and 3" in diameter by less than an inch in depth. They are placed sometimes on a horizontal bough, sometimes in a fork, and often wedged in between two thick boughs, when they are very hard to spot.”
Inglis and Coltart took many nests in Behar, and the latter remarks :—“They are very common birds, and in Tirhut they breed on trees and even bushes in compounds, roadsides, orchards, etc., as well as in light forest and secondary jungle. Their favourite trees are, without doubt Mangoes, and next to them Acacias. The nests may be within 6 to 10 feet of the ground, or they may be 30 feet up, but I think they like best branches not more than 10 or 12 feet from the ground. The nests are very hard to find, but the bird sits close and can be spotted on it whilst the pair to it is con¬stantly passing backwards and forwards to the nest.”
Over the greater part of its breeding range March to June seem to be the principal breeding months and, of these, March and April the two in which most eggs are laid. Vidal found one nest at Savant Vadi, South Konkan, on the 18th February, with three hard-set eggs, “built low down in a mango-tree.” Jerdon, however, obtained one nest at Nellore in August. In Poona Betham found it very common, taking many nests in March, all with three eggs, and all built “on branches low down in mango-trees.”
The eggs number three or four, about two clutches in three being the former.
Many eggs are just small facsimiles of those of the Tephrodornis gularis group, eggs with white, or almost white, ground, boldly but not very heavily spotted with primary markings of blackish-brown, and other secondary ones of inky grey.
Other eggs have the ground a pale buff or grey-green and are marked with rather larger blotches of brown or grey-brown, rather smudgy in character and numerous everywhere, though more so at the larger end. The secondary markings are as in the other type. In one clutch of three taken by Betham at Poona the two classes of blotches, primary and secondary, combine to form a complete unicoloured ring round the big end. The normal shape is a broad blunt oval, but a few eggs are longer in shape, though never pointed. The texture is fairly fine and close but there is never any gloss, and the eggs are rather fragile for their size.
Fifty eggs average 19.3 x 15.8 mm. : maxima 21.0 x 13.8 and 19.3 x 16.2 mm. ; minima 17.7 x 15.3 and 21.0 x 13.8 mm.
729. Tephrodornis pondicerlana pondiceriana
(729) Tephrodornis pondiceriana pondiceriana (Gmelin).