(197) Argya longirostris.
THE SLENDER-BILLED BABBLER.
Pyctorhis longirostris (Hodgs.), Moore, P. Z. S., 1854, p. 104 (Nepal)* Argya longirostris. Blanf. & Oates, i, p. 108.
Vernacular names. Dao-ling titri (Cachari).
Description. Upper plumage, tail and exposed parts of wings deep reddish brown; lores, cheeks, chin and upper throat white;, the whole lower plumage and the ear-coverts ferruginous,, becoming albescent on the abdomen ; tail cross-rayed.
Colours of soft parts. Iris white or bluish white; -bill black;. legs and feet dark brown.
Measurements. Length about 240 mm.; wing 75 to 79 mm.; tail about 115 to 120 mm.; tarsus about 30 mm.; culmen about 18 to 19 mm.
At first sight this bird with its more slender, curved, black bill looks as if it should be put in a genus separate from the Common Babbler with its shorter bill of almost bright yellow. Its somewhat spiny-shafted feathers of the forehead are also a feature which differentiates it from caudata; but their differences are bridged over by the Large Rufous Babbler, which has an intermediate shaped bill which is partly black and has the feathers of the forehead with the shafts distinctly stiff and bare at the tips. Blyth placed both subrufa and longirostris in a separate genus, Layardia, but in view of the gradation in degree n the characteristics defining them, I keep them altogether under Argya.
Distribution. The Nepal Terai, Bhutan and Buxa Duars, the Terai at the foot of the Himalayas, North of the Brahmaputra to Sadiya and the grass plateaus of the 'hills South of that river to Manipur and Chittagong.
Nidification. This Babbler breeds not uncommonly on the grass plateaus in the Khasia Hills during May and June, making a cup-shaped nest of grass, lined with grass stems and placed in amongst grass or reeds, a bush or tangle of brambles, or even on an old stump or a broken-down wall or bank. The eggs number three or four, but are a rather paler blue than are the eggs of most of those of the genera Argya or Turdoides though quite similar in shape and texture. Twenty-one eggs average about 21.5 x 16.7 mm.
Habits. These are of the gregarious, noisy and restless nature of the rest of the group. Hume, in Manipur, and myself, in the Khasia Hills, found them nearly always in the long grass covering wide extents of hill and valley, where they fed both on the ground and on the grass and reeds. Several of their notes were quite pleasant, but the majority were of the discordant character common to all these Babblers.