(566) Turdus merula simillimus Jerdon.
THE NILGIRI BLACKBIRD.
Turdus merula simillimus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. ii, p. 125.
The Nilgiri Blackbird is found in the Brahmagiri and Palni Hills, as well as in the Nilgiris, where it is an exceedingly common bird from about 3,000 feet to the summits of the hills.
Hume (‘Nests and Eggs,’ p. 88) gives a very full summary of this bird’s breeding:—“The nests of this species, of which I owe a magnificent series to my friend Mr. Carter, are always, apparently, very massive structures, containing an inner skeleton of mud, completely hidden from sight by an exterior coating of moss or lichen, or fine or coarse grass-roots, and an interior lining of fine grass-roots. The bird appears to lay a slight foundation of dead leaves, lichen or fern, and on this to build a more or less deep cup on the wattle and dab principle—a few coarse grass-roots twisted together as a skeleton, and then thickly plastered with mud or wet mould. The cup thus made is often about 4.1/2 inches in diameter and 2.1/2 deep. It is then covered externally, to the thickness of one or two inches,! with whatever materials are nearest to hand, grass or other roots, dry slender fems, soft green moss, or masses of tree-lichen. The interior of the cup is first lined with rather coarse roots and then finished off with fine ones. No particle of the clay skeleton is visible in the finished nest, which may average 7 inches in external diameter, stands about 4 inches high, and has an egg-cavity some 3.1/2 inches in diameter by 2 inches deep. In all nine nests now before me the inner earthen framework is present, but in some it extends scarcely more than inch up the sides of the nest, while in others it comes up to within 1/4 inch of the upper margin. Owing to the different materials used in different localities for the external coating of the nest, these vary much in appearance ; but some of them, entirely coated with moss or lichen, are among the most beautiful structures I know.”
In spite of the size of the nest, it is built in a very short time, and Carter says :—“This Blackbird builds its nest in a remarkably short time. On one occasion I saw a nest completed in four days. It is just possible there may have been a portion of a day’s work before I saw it ; but even five days is a very short time for so small a bird to complete a nest which must weigh at least lbs.”
The nest is always placed in a bush or small tree in forest, generally in one of the sholas or wooded valleys found all over the higher Nilgiris. They are nearly always well concealed and are never placed at any great height from the ground, seldom, if ever, over 20 feet, and often not over three or four. Williams, who obtained many nests in Wellington, obtained them all in bushes between five and fifteen feet from the ground ; Carter found them between three and twenty feet, while Bates’s nests were also all within these limits. They are said to be very fond of dense bushes close to running streams, and one of the few exceptions to their building in bushes was a nest found by Miss Cockburn which was “built in a bank in a place a Robin would have chosen. The nest was quite exposed to view, and I frequently saw the birds sitting in the nest while I rode past.”
Morgan, Williams and others all give fine twigs as one of the materials sometimes employed by this bird on the outside of the nest and Wilhams found some lined quite neatly with grass-stems.
Occasionally this Thrush breeds in gardens and both Howard Campbell at Kodaikanal and Packard at Ooty obtained nests built in such places. Both birds seem to take part in the con-struction of the nest, though the female does the greater part of the work. She also does the whole of the incubation, so far as is known at present.
The breeding season begins in March and continues till the end of June, but eggs have been taken both earlier and later. Carter took eggs from the 25th March to the 18th May ; Miss Cock¬burn says the breeding season is from April to July. In the Palni Hills Capt. Terry found nests in March and says that they were still breeding when he left in June. Williams took nests near Wellington between the middle of April and the 3rd July.
The number of eggs laid varies from two to four, possibly occasionally five. Davison, who says he took a hundred nests, gives the number as four or five ; Jerdon gives the normal clutch as four ; Miss Cockburn says they seldom lay more than four ; Carter found one to three laid and never more. Of more modern collectors, the only one who seems to have found a four-clutch was Packard. Cardew, Betham, and Williams all found three to be the number most often laid and, finally, Bates found that in five nests two eggs only were laid and, of these, three pairs were in an advanced state of incubation.
The eggs differ from those of the Central Asian Blackbird, as the eggs of the latter do from the common Blackbird. Most eggs have a pale, rather greyish-blue ground, boldly blotched with fairly dark rich brown, with a few underlying blotches of neutral tint, both primary and secondary markings more numerous at the larger end than elsewhere. In some eggs the markings are more numerous, smaller, and are distributed over the whole surface, but even these would be boldly marked for an English Blackbird’s egg. Rarely the ground-colour is a slightly yellowish grey. A very beautiful pair in my series has a pale but rather bright blue ground, the rich red-brown markings coalescing to form caps at the larger end, becoming scanty about the centre of the egg and absent altogether at the smaller end.
In shape the eggs vary from broad to long ovals, generally pointed at the smaller end, but sometimes obtuse and sometimes truly oval. The grain of the egg is rather coarse but the surface is smooth, and there is sometimes a distinct gloss, which, however, wears off rather quickly and is seldom to be seen in old specimens.
The average of fifty eggs is 29.3 x 21.3 mm. : maxima 34.0 x 22.9 mm. and 30.0 x 23.4 mm. ; minima 27.1 x 22.1 and 27.2 x 19.0 mm.
566. Tardus merula similllmus
(566) Turdus merula simillimus Jerdon.