"Singer and Tailor am I." -: Kipling.
Herein, and in the pretty stanza that follows, our poet sadly flatters the Tailor-bird, for any one who waits to hear " durzee " sing will have much the same experience as Mark Twain's young pilgrim in Palestine, who was discovered waiting patiently for a vocal effort on the part of a mud-turtle, on the strength of the text " the voice of the turtle is heard in the land." Singer our small cock-tailed friend is not, though his note is something astonishing for loudness, and gives reason, as has been justly remarked, for thankfulness that the elephant does not possess a voice in like proportion. Orthotomus sutorius, however, doubtless feels that as the only member of the melodious family of warblers commonly seen about here, it is due to his position to make his presence felt. So, when the spirit moves him, he shouts " to-whee, to-whee, to-whee," with such vigour that he gets black on the side of the neck, having a cunningly concealed patch of that colour there which only shows when he is calling. Mrs. Durzee, no doubt, admires both hue and cry, for, unlike most of our warblers at home, Durzee goes in for conspicuous superiority to his mate, at any rate in the breeding season, for then he alone sports a tail about twice the usual length, and elegantly tapered off. Except for this, the Tailor-bird is in build very like our English wren, and were it brown, instead of green above and white below, might pass for one with a hasty observer, especially as its habits are very similar; it is generally solitary, and equally lively on its legs when hopping on bush or lawn, and weak on the wing when it trusts itself to flight. Like '' Jenny," too, our sartorial artist is insectivorous, and will tackle insects of good size, though he relies on his bill alone to manipulate them. This makes it the more remarkable that he is able to build the wonderful nest which gives him his name and his reputation. A bird which puts its foot to a thing, as the even more clever weaver-bird does, has a great advantage over one which has but one instrument to work with. But probably both of the tailors work at their wonderful structure, which is simply a big living leaf, or several, actually sewn into a rough bag for the reception of the inner nest, with silk or fibre somehow procured by the bird, passed through holes bored in the leaves by its slender bill, and finished off at the end with what is said to be a knot. The nests vary very much in construction as far as the details of tailoring are concerned ; there may be,as above implied, one leaf or many pressed into the service, and the thread may be of cobweb, cocoon-silk, vegetable fibre, or real sewing-thread pilfered from a verandah ; for the Tailor-bird is one of the most familiar of our birds, and is to be seen even in town, tamely hopping about pot-plants a few feet from a room. Nevertheless, though broods have been often brought off in the Museum compound, I have never seen the nest in situ, and it is naturally not easy to find. There is a good specimen of a single-leaf nest in the Museum for any one to see who has not met with an actual specimen ; but the Tailor-bird's reputation is a century old in Europe, and many people must have seen pictures giving more or less of an idea of it and its abode. The young birds are cradled for the most part in cotton-wool, of which the inner nest is composed, and when they come out in the world are charmingly tame little things, with a very strong likeness to their parents, except that the chestnut cap which marks the old birds is not so bright in the young ; although in many warblers the young birds are actually brighter than their parents while keeping the same pattern.
The eggs are, according to Mr. Hume, from whom I take my details about the nests, most remarkably variable, for although always spotted with reddish brown, they may have either a white or a bluish-green ground colour. But as these two types do not occur in the same nest, it is very probable that the disposition to produce eggs of one or other colour '' runs in the family '' in certain strains of Tailor-birds, just as a common duck has been known to secure her destruction and that of her descendants (who took after her) by laying eggs which always had yolks of the very unappetising appearance of melted glue! There are only three or four in the clutch, so that Durzee has not to- work so hard for the family as Jenny Wren, who is wont to resemble the traditional old lady who lived in a shoe in the exuberance of her family. Presumably the reason for the difference in two so similar birds is that the hanging cradle won't accommodate safely more than a very limited number of infants, while the wren's nest in a hedge can be packed with impunity. Besides, the bitter struggle for existence in a cold climate requires a considerable prolificacy to keep a small weak species going against many risks. Now, though Durzee has doubtless a great many ill-wishers, his food-supply is never likely to fail, nor is it ever cold enough in his home to nip the smallest bird, seeing that he only inhabits warm climates, not ascending our hills more than 4,000 feet, and only ranging, outside India, into Burma, Siam, and South China. Needless to say, he is not a migratory bird, and any day at all seasons his tiny form may be noticed in our gardens even in the middle of the town. Here, then, is an opportunity for any of our amateur naturalists. It is doubtful if every detail of the building of Durzee's nest has ever been watched, as it has in the case of our other wonderful architect, the weaver; and any one who can locate a pair of Tailor-birds in his or her compound, and, penetrating into their secrets, tell us exactly how the thing is done, they will be doing a service to ornithology ; so much is there to study even in our commonest birds here, for India is the home of wonderful nest-builders There are other warblers in the tailoring trade besides Orthotomus, and curiously enough these also are on-migratory birds of insignificant vocal attainments; the migratory warblers, who do most of the warbling, like our blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) at home, being nothing out of the way as architects. Darwin has observed that beauty and the power of song seem to a great extent to replace each other; the songlessness of beautiful birds is almost proverbial. And similarly songsters do not seem to run to architecture, and vice versa ; the tailor and weaver are more remarkable for noise than melody, and the nightingale, with twenty centuries of reputation for music, is but a poor nest-constructor compared with many humbler birds. Another curious fact is that clever birds of any sort display the infirmities of genius in a most marked way by having nasty tempers ; song birds are generally solitary, and a weaver colony admirably exemplifies the definition of a sociable animal as one which always sits within quarrelling distance of another. I fear that Durzee, although belonging to a profession usually credited with peaceful proclivities, comes under this indictment. He is certainly only about the ninth part of a bird, but one never sees two Tailor-birds together, unless they are husband and wife or members of a family ; and oftener the little artist is alone. Herein probably is the reason why with habits so well calculated to preserve his species, he is not more common ; two of a trade never agree, and Durzee, like Cock Robin, has doubtless long ago learnt that a private pitch is the first necessity of life, and that after a time even the little apprentices must be compelled to move into the next street.