(567) Turdus merula kinnisii Blyth.
THE CEYLON BLACKBIRD.
Turdus merula kinnisii, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 126.
This little Blackbird is confined to the mountains of Ceylon, breeding principally between 4,000 feet and the summits of the highest hills. Phillips has taken nests with eggs at Mousakandi, below Gammadawa, about 3,000 feet and again at Patanagalla, above Gammadawa, at 5,000 feet. Tunnard also took several nests on the Upper Labookellie Estate at 5,500 feet.
Legge writes of the breeding habits of this bird :—“The Blackbird breeds from April to June, building in a niche of a trunk, on a stump, or in a forked branch of a low tree ; its nest is composed of moss, grass and roots, strengthened with a few twigs, and is somewhat massive in structure, the interior being a deep cup lined with roots, most probably underlaid by a foundation of mud, as in the nests of other species. The eggs are four in number.
“In the matter of situation it has a variety of choice, sometimes nesting, according to Holdsworth, in outbuildings in Nawara Eliya, and occasionally choosing the site of a rock, as will be seen from the following experience of Mr. Bligh. He writes me :—‘I have often found this charming bird’s nest ; on one occasion it proved to be a strange structure, composed of seven distinct nests, which were fixed among the roots of a bush which grew out of a per¬pendicular rock above the ‘Swallow’s Cave’ at Dambetenne : it contained three young ones. The situation no doubt proving very safe and suitable, induced, perhaps, the same pair to build successively on the old nests, all of which presented a fresh green appearance, from the moss not readily drying in such a moist climate. These birds nest regularly near the Catton bungalow.' ”
Aldworth, Tunnard and Phillips have taken nests and eggs in more recent years. The first-named found them breeding in dense jungle near the top of the Bhopal Range. Tunnard obtained his nests in unpruned Tea-bushes at 12 feet or under from the ground, these bushes being at no great distance from a “Store,” where naturally many people came and went. One nest was built in a tree close beside a tank where a Dhobie, or washerman, was busy at work.
Phillips sends me the following interesting note on its breeding near Mousakandi, in 1931 :—“Last year the Strobilanthus flowered and there was a great influx of Blackbirds and other species which eat the seeds, some of the former remaining to breed. Several nests were found, all of the same general type as those of Oreocincla spiloptera, i. e., a deep cup in the centre of a large mass of loose material, differing from those of that bird in being neater, better built and with deeper cups. The material used was in every case moss collected from the nearby tree-trunks, with a few scraps of dead leaves and rootlets, or a little fine grass and rootlets. All the nests were placed in low forks, some four to eight feet from the ground, in rather open situations in the jungle between 3,800 and 5,000 feet. The crowns of palm-ferns were also favourite sites for the nest. We took nests in March and April and one in November.”
The nests seem to agree well with Legge’s description, some being built in the immediate vicinity of buildings and human habitations and others well away in the interior of dense forest. They may be built on almost any kind of low tree or bush between 5 and 20 feet from the ground, but none of my correspondents have taken them from ledges of rock or from buildings, as found by Bligh and Holdsworth.
They seem to have a very irregular or else a very protracted breeding season. Legge gives the time as April to June, but Tunnard took nests with eggs in October, February and March, Phillips in March and November, and Aldworth in April and May. It is, of course, possible that they have two breeding seasons.
Although Legge says that they lay four eggs, this number must be quite unusual. Two eggs seems to be the normal number, for such clutches, well incubated, have been taken repeatedly. One egg only is sometimes laid, while three eggs seems to be an exceptionally big clutch. They are handsome eggs and vary from the numerously blotched type of somewhat erythristic colour to eggs with grey-blue ground boldly blotched with dark reddish brown or lighter chestnut-brown, the latter being very handsome. In all eggs there are freckles or blotches of lavender or grey, rather pinkish in tinge in the chestnut-marked eggs.
In shape they are rather short, broad ovals, obtuse at the smaller end ; in a few eggs the shape is not quite so squat. The texture is rather finer than in the eggs of T. m. simillimus.
Fourteen eggs average 26.6 x 20.6 mm. : maxima 29.2 x 20.4 and 27.2 x 21.4 mm. ; minima 23.3 x 20.6 and 25.6 x 20.1 mm.
567. Turdus merula kinnisil
(567) Turdus merula kinnisii Blyth.