The Indian Paradise Flycatcher.
Muscicapa paradisi Linn., S. N., 12th ed. p. 324 (1766) (India). Terpsiphone paradisi. Blanf. & Oates, ii,p. 45.
Vernacular names. Shah Bulbul, Hosseini Bulbul, Sultana Bulbul, Taklah, Doodhraj (Hind.) ; Tonka pigli pitta (Tel.); Wat Bunda-lati (Tam.).
Description.— Adult male. Whole head and neck metallic-blue black; remainder of plumage pure white; the feathers of the back and scapulars have very fine black shafts: the wing-quills are black, the primaries and outer secondaries edged on the outer webs with white, the inner secondaries nearly all white with broad black mesial lines and narrow black edges; the shafts of the tail-feathers are black and there are also black edges to the lateral feathers ; the long central tail-feathers have generally only the basal half of the shaft black, but the extent of the black varies greatly.
Colours of soft parts. Iris bright hazel to dark brown ; bill pale blue, the tip almost black ; legs and feet dull leaden-blue to bright mauve-blue.
Measurements. Wing 89 to 99 mm.; tail, outer feathers 100 to 115 mm.; the long central feathers anything from 350 to 500 mm.; tarsus about 16 mm,; culmen about 16 to 17 mm.
Male in third year. Head as in adult, the breast grey shading into white on the abdomen; upper plumage, wings and tail rich chestnut, the shafts, including those of the long tail-feathers, also chestnut. Males breed freely both in this plumage and in the next.
Male in second year. Forehead, crown with rather short crest and nape glossy blue-black; hind neck, chin, throat and upper breast dark ashy changing to white on the abdomen. The long tail-feathers are not fully assumed until the second autumn moult, though they are generally prolonged some 20 to 60 mm. beyond the lateral ones.
The changes noted above are approximate only. Some individuals moult into full adult male plumage at the second autumn moult, but this is very exceptional. Most males, even after the third moult, retain signs of immaturity such as a red feather or two or a suffusion of chestnut on some of the wing or tail-feathers. The wholly white plumage is assumed most irregularly but the black head sharply defined from the white breast is always fully attained at the third moult.
Female. Similar to the male in its first and second year. The female often acquires lengthened central tail-feathers, though these seldom exceed 250 mm.; the breast, chin and throat are always grey.
Colours of soft parts as in the male but much duller.
Measurements. Wing 82 to 90 mm.; central tail-feathers normally about 10 to 30 mm. longer than the next pair.
Nestling. Above chestnut, the head darker and brownish; wing-feathers brown edged chestnut; chin, throat and breast brownish tinged with chestnut fading to white on belly and posterior flanks. The breast shows obsolete pale centres and dark fringes to the feathers, as would be expected in a young Flycatcher, but there is no spotting to the upper plumage, though there are often obsolete dark tips to the feathers, especially on the wing-coverts.
Distribution. Ceylon and the whole of India including the foot-hills of the Himalayas but not the higher hills. The birds from Mahabaleshwar are very pale and must, for the present, be referred to leucogaster. East this form extends to the Bay of Bengal but is replaced in Assam, South of the Brahmaputra, by the Burmese form. I include Ceylon and South Travancore in the typical race, though specimens from these localities are all very richly coloured in the chestnut stages.
The type-locality as given by Linnaeus ex Brisson is Cape of Good Hope; this is corrected by Stephens in Shaw's 'Zoology,' pt. ii, vol. xiii, p. Ill (1826), to India. This may now be restricted to Madras.
Nidification. The Paradise Flycatcher breeds in Ceylon and Travancore in February and March, in South India in March and April, and in Northern India in May and June. The nest is a very neat cup of soft grass, scraps of leaf and moss, all very firmly and compactly wound together and bound with spiders' webs and often decorated outside with spiders' " egg-bags," scraps of moss and lichen, etc. The lining consists merely of the finest grasses, sometimes mixed with hair. In shape the nest varies from a shallow to a very deep cup and it is placed in a vertical or upright fork in a small branch of almost any kind of tree, generally within six to ten feet from the ground. "When, however, it is placed in Mango-trees, which form very favourite sites in Bengal, the nest may be thirty or even forty feet from the ground. It is not very well concealed and the cock-bird, which shares in the duties of incubation, is a very conspicuous object when sitting. The eggs number three to five, most often four. In ground-colour they vary from the palest cream to a fairly rich salmon-pink and they are rather sparsely speckled and blotched with bright reddish brown, the markings sometimes forming a ring or cap at the larger end.
One hundred eggs average 20.2 x 15.1 mm.: and the extremes are: maxima 22 2x 15 6 and 21 9 x 16 0 mm.; minima 19.0 X 15.0 and 20.7 x 14.2 mm.
Habits. There is no more beautiful avian sight in India than a graceful, long-tailed, white, male Paradise Flycatcher, as it flits backwards and forwards in the deep green shade of the Mango-orchards it so often haunts. They are tame confiding birds, frequenting gardens, open country and the vicinity of villages but they are also found in forest-land, especially deciduous light forests such as Sal etc. They feed entirely on the wing, never descending to the ground and never searching the foliage lor insects as some Flycatchers do. Their ordinary flight is rather slow, the long tail undulating behind as the bird flies but they are capable of very quick movement when hawking for insects. Their notes are normally very harsh and shrill but they sometimes copy the softer notes of other birds not unsuccessfully. It is a common bird in plains and low hills alike but above 3,000 feet its place seems to be always taken by the Himalayan Paradise Flycatcher. The Paradise Flycatcher is a resident bird wherever found, but moves about locally in parts of its habitat, probably on account of food-conditions.