(498) Saxicola torquata leucura.
The White-tailed Bush-Chat.
Pratincola leucura Blyth, J. A. S. B., xvi, p. 474 (1847) (Sind); Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 63.
Vernacular names. Khar-pidda (Hind, at Monghyr).
Description. Like the Indian Bush-Chat but very much paler, the rufous below is confined to a patch on the breast and the upper parts in winter are also much paler in both sexes. The tail is quite different; all other forms of the Stone-Chat or Bush-Chat have the white, if any, confined to the extreme base, straight across. In this bird the pair next the centre pair is typically all white on the inner web decreasing slightly in extent to the outermost pair; on the outer web the white varies from a line at the base to about half the feather, also decreasing in extent to the outermost pair which is generally pale brown throughout.
Colours of soft parts and Measurements as in S. t. indica.
Distribution. Himalayas from Assam to Sind and also in the foot-hills and plains adjoining them. It has also been found in the low hills of Northern and Eastern Burma through to Pahpoon in Tenasserim.
Nidification. The White-tailed Bush-Chat breeds in the sub-Himalayan plains and foot-hills from Assam to Grarhwal and Currie obtained them breeding at Multan* in considerable numbers. In Assam they breed in the tracts of thatch Lag-grass land which run for many miles without a break except for swamps and patches of coarse ekra and reeds. Of Grarhwal, Whymper writes : "I never saw them in our parts except in the Terais and Bhabers, so that 1,500 or, at the outside, 2,000 feet is their limit, though, doubtless, if there was swampy ground and heavy grass I can imagine their following it up hill considerably higher. Their nests are very well concealed and a favourite site is a tangled mass of grass brought down by floods and stranded, and I have seen a nest fully two feet inside one of these masses. The only way I could find nests was to go about until a female joined a male and then watch the former back on to her nest, a very difficult job in the long grass they frequented Mr. P. W. Mackinnon said that he had found this Chat at Dehra Dun and, finally, Mr. Stevens obtained them breeding in the Mai Valley in East Nepal. The eggs, which number three to five, cannot be distinguished from those of P. f. indica but taken as a whole are paler, less blue or blue-green in tint and rather more profusely freckled with reddish. Twenty-four eggs average 18.0 x 14.0 mm.: maxima 19.1x14.1 and 16.8 x 14.6 mm.; minima 16.4 x 14.4 and 17.5 x 13.6 mm. They breed from the end of April to the end of May.
Habits. This subspecies is merely a form of the Indian Bush-Chat breeding in the plains and low-levels but, curiously enough, instead of being darker and more richly coloured than its relations breeding in the mountains, reverses the usual rule and is paler and less richly coloured. It frequents grass-lands, reed-beds and stretches of elephant-grass but keeps to such as are in swampy land or in the vicinity of swamps. It is probably a much more-common bird all along the Terai than is supposed but its haunts are seldom visited by Europeans except when shooting big game and they are easily overlooked or merely accepted as the common Chat on migration.
* An imperfect specimen was wrongly described by me in 1913 as Pratincola mama (= Saxicola torquata indica)*