(565) Turdus merula maximus.
The Central Asian- Blackbird.
Merula maxima Seebohm, Cat. B. M., v, p. 405 (1881) (Kashmir, restricted to Gulmerg, Jerdon, Ibis, 1872, p. 137); Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 123.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description.— Adult male- All black, in fresh plumage deep and glossy but rather brownish in old bleached plumage, especially below.
Colours of soft parts. 64 Iris dark brown ; bill dull yellow, tip and narial region dusky; legs and feet very dark brown" (C. H. T. Whitehead).
Measurements. Total length about 280 nun.; wing 150 to 157 mm.; tail 107 to 120 mm.; tarsus 38 mm.; culmen 20 mm. Hartert gives the wing as up to 160 mm. in the male.
Female. Dark brown, the feathers of the upper part tinged with slaty but not distinctly greyish as in some races ; the throat is concolorous with the breast in the fully adult bird.
Colours of soft parts and Measurements similar to male but the bill is much duller.
Nestling. Dark brown, the mantle streaked and the lower back, rump and upper tail-coverts barred with fulvous; centre of chin and throat mottled rufous and black; breast, head and sides of neck blackish; lower breast, abdomen and flanks barred rufous, fulvous and dark brown.
Distribution. The only Indian birds in the British Museum are the type, a young male, and another bird from Kashmir; the series obtained by Captain C. H. T. Whitehead on the N.B. Frontier, two specimens obtained by the Mount Everest Expedition and one from Bhutan. It is also found in North and North-West Kashmir, whence it extends into the highest ranges of Garhwal, and Mr. S. L. Whymper found it in the Niti Valley in Kumaon.
Nidification. Mr. Whymper first found this bird breeding in some numbers on the Garhwal Hills at an elevation between 13,000 and 14,000 feet in the Nila Valley. Col. Buchanan took its nest in Kashmir at Apharwat, over 14,000 feet and just under the snow line, and finally Capt. C. H. T. Whitehead found several nests in the Kohat and Kurram country at 11,000 feet upwards. The nest is described as a bulky cup of moss and grass, lined with mud and with an inner lining of grass. It is sometimes placed in a tree such as an ilex or Cyprus, sometimes on a bank or ledge of rock or in a hole in a cliff. The eggs number three or four and are just like large specimens of the English Blackbird's. They measure 31.2-34.5 x 24.2-22.l mm. The breeding-season seems to be June and July but some birds are very early breeders for Whymper saw young: birds from which he calculated the eggs must have been laid by the 5th of May, when the whole valley was deep in snow and quite inaccessible. The male bird sometimes breeds in immature plumage.
Habits. The Central Asian Blackbird should, perhaps, more properly be called the Himalayan Blackbird, for its range outside these mountains is not known with any certainty. It is doubtful if it is migratory in the true sense of the word, probably only changing its elevation with the seasons and never descending far into the plains or low hills. In Summer it is found up to 17,000 feet, well above the snow line, and it is said to be a wild, wary bird, generally going about singly or in pairs, less often in small parties of three or four. Its flight is similar to that of other Blackbirds but very powerful and swift. Whitehead, who found it fairly common near Hazara above 12,000 feet, says he never heard it utter the wild alarm note of the English Blackbird but only the "low chuckle characteristic of the genus." He adds that it was "usually found feeding on small white caterpillars, which were very common on the grassy slopes, or amongst rocks and sometimes in Juniper scrub."