(192) Argya caudata caudata (Dumont).
THE COMMON BABBLER.
Argya caudata caudata, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. i, p. 198.
This is another Babbler which breeds over a very great area. With the exception, perhaps, of the hills in the North and East of Sind (where the Afghan Babbler, A.c. huttoni, may take its place) the N.W. Punjab, Trans-Indus, the low hills leading into Kashmir and Baluchistan (occupied by the Punjab Babbler, A. c. eclipes), it extends over the whole of Northern India as far East as Calcutta. South it is found down to the Palni Hills and also occurs in Rameswaram Island and in the Laccadives. It does not breed in Assam or in the districts of Bengal East of the Bay, nor did I ever meet with it in Mymensingh or Dacca.
It affects open grass-lands, cultivation, scrub-land round villages and even gardens and orchards. It does not breed in very wet country or in swamps like A. earlii nor, on the cither hand, does it affect heavy forest. It is a bird of low levels and never ascends the hills to any height, though it does occur in some of the plateau land of Central India up to some 1,500 or even 2,000 feet.
The nest is a typical Babbler’s nest, a cup constructed of grass and roots, smaller, neater and more compactly put together than most nests of either this genus or of Turdoides. The grass and roots, though generally forming the major portion of material used, is often mixed with fine twigs, strips of bamboo-leaves, a dead leaf or two or even a soft weed-stem or tendril. The lining is practically always of fine grass or fine grass and roots but Brooks also mentions hair as one of the materials seen by him. Adams also says that a nest found by him in Oudh had a ground-work composed of twigs and stems of creepers interlaced.
The nests are invariably placed low down in bushes, generally between 2 and 4 feet from the ground but, whilst many are placed even lower than this, very few nests will be found as much as 5 feet up. Occasionally, as described by Captain Butler, they may be built in thick tussocks of grass.
A very favourite situation for their nests near the Sambhur Lake is said by Adams to be in the hedges of Prickly Pear and, in these, it is possible the nests may sometimes be as much as six feet from the ground.
Nests with eggs have been taken in every month of the year and these Babblers must breed twice or often three times within the twelve months. On the whole, June, after the Rains break, is probably the favourite month in Northern India whilst in Southern India March to May seems to constitute a regular breeding season, with July to October a second period in which almost as many birds breed, possibly for the second time.
Hume gives three as the normal full clutch but most of my own correspondents—Field in Gya and Ferozepore, Lindsay Smith in the Eastern Punjab, C. G. Nurse in Central India, Betham, Osmaston and others—all agree in saying that four eggs are found more often than three. Five seems to be quite exceptional and I have only one such clutch, taken by Col. K. Buchanan in the Punjab.
The eggs are of the usual blue and vary little in depth, though they are proportionately longer ovals in shape than are any of those Babblers of the genus Turdoides already dealt with.
One hundred and eighty eggs average 21.2 x 16.1, mm. : maxima 24.0 x 17.3 and 22.4 x 17.7 mm. ; minima 19.0 x 15.3 and 19.2 x 14.8 mm.
None of the Babblers of the genera Argya and Turdoides seem to be very close sitters and all slip off their nests before an intruder gets close to them. They are, however, very noisy and very fussyand soon give away the sites of their nests if watched. Even during the breeding season the birds not actually engaged in sitting meet and form little parties, hunting, feeding—and generally quarrelling—in company.
So far as I have been able to ascertain, incubation takes thirteen to fifteen days for the different Babblers’ eggs.
Turdoides terricolor eggs laid on the 3rd and 6th July hatched on the 20th and 21st. Two nests of Argya caudata, each with four eggs, hatched on the thirteenth day after the laying of last egg. In none of these cases, unfortunately, have I any notes as to when the parent bird really began to incubate, i. e., on the laying of the first egg or on the laying of the last. I have, however, seen so many nests of the “Seven Sisters” tribe in which the hen never seemed to commence incubation until the last egg had been laid, that it may be taken for granted that this is the usual custom.
192. Argya caudata caudata
(192) Argya caudata caudata (Dumont).