(566) Turdus merula simillimus.
The Nilgiri Blackbird.
Tut dus simillimus Jerdon, Madr. J. L. S., x, p. 253 (1839) (Nilgiris). Merula simillima. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 124.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description.— Adult male. Forehead, crown and nape black; whole upper plumage and exposed wings and tail dark ashy brown: the lower plumage, axillaries and under wing-coverts dark brown, the feathers obsoletely edged paler.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown ; bill yellow to reddish orange; legs orange-yellow.
Measurements. Total length about 260 mm.; wing 122 to 134 mm ; tail 88 to 99 mm.; tarsus about 35 mm ; culmen about 24 mm.
Female. Above dark ashy brown, below brownish grey, the chin and throat paler and streaked with dark brown ; in some specimens there are obsolete pale shaft-stripes on the feathers of the breast and abdomen.
Colours of soft parts as in male but the bill paler and duller. Measurements. Wing 118 to 130 mm.
Nestling. Dark brown above, the feathers of the mantle with pale centres and shafts, below fulvous, the feathers with pale centres and dark edges ; the squamations boldest on breast, flanks, and sides of neck, wing-coverts streaked and tipped with fulvous.
Distribution. The higher ranges of the Nilgiris, Brahmagiris and Palni Hills in South India.
Nidification. The Nilgiri Blackbird breeds from March right on to August, during which months Captain Packard found both incompleted nests and nests with eggs. The nests are massive but well-built cups made of moss, roots, grass and leaves, more or less plastered together with mud and with a neat lining of grass. They are placed as a rule in small trees from 5 to 20 feet from the ground, standing in the " sholas " and more open country, on the edges of nullahs and ravines or, more rarely, inside the denser forests of the big valleys. The eggs vary from three to five, the latter number very rare, and are a sort of halt-way type between those of the English Blackbird and those of the English Thrush. The ground-colour is a pale to fairly strong blue-green and the markings consist of numerous spots and small blotches of reddish brown, more numerous than in the Thrush but never confluent and smudgy as in the Blackbird. In shape they are broad obtuse ovals with a stout hard texture and fair gloss. The average of fifty eggs is 29.3 x 21.3 mm. and the extremes are: maxima 33.2 x 22.8 and 30.0 x 23.4 mm.; minima 27.1 x 22.1 and 27.2 x 19.8 mm.
Habits. This fine Blackbird frequents alike forests and open country, often entering gardens and orchards and, except in the breeding season, is comparatively tame and fearless. Its vocal powers have been much contested but General Betham and many others claim that it is a fine songster. It is principally a ground feeder but also frequents both high and low trees for this purpose. It is very active on its feet and also is a powerful flier.