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Full text of "Birds of the plains"

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FORTHE PEOPLE 

FOR EDVCATION 

FOR SCIENCE 






LIBRARY 

OF 

THE AMERICAN MUSEUM 

OF 

NATURAL HISTORY 





BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 



BV THE SAME AUTHOR 

BOMBAY DUCKS: An account of 
some of the Every-day Birds and Beasts 
found in a Naturalist's El Dorado -;:> 
With Numerous Illustrations from 
Photographs of Living- Birds by 
Captain F. D. S. Fayrer, I. M.S. 

ANIMALS OF NO IMPORTANCE 

THE INDIAN CROW: HIS BOOK 




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:V I'Kl.K A.\. (I'l-:i,K( AM ^ !■ 



BIRDS OF 
THE PLAINS 

BY DOUGLAS DEWAR, F.Z.S., I.C.S. 
WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS 
FROM PHOTOGRAPHS OF LIVING BIRDS 
BY CAPTAIN F. D. S. FAYRER, I.M.S. 



LONDON : JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD 
NEW YORK : JOHN LANE COMPANY MCMIX 



yj>l- (ilc4^/^ 



WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD., PRINTERS, PLYMOUTH 



PREFACE 

IT is easy enough to write a book. The difficulty- 
is to sell the production when it is finished. 
That, however, is not the author's business. 
Nevertheless, the labours of the writer are not 
over when he has completed the last paragraph of his 
book. He has, then, in most cases, to find a title 
for it 

This, I maintain, should be a matter of little difficulty. 
I regard a title as a mere distinguishing mark, a brand, 
a label, a something by which the book may be called 
when spoken of — nothing more. 

According to this view, the value of a title lies, not 
in its appropriateness to the subject-matter, but in its 
distinctiveness. 

To illustrate : some years ago a lady entered a book- 
seller's shop and asked for " Drummond's latest book — 
Nux Vomica!' The bookseller without a word handed 
her Lux Mundi. 

To my way of thinking Lux Mundi is a good title 
inasmuch as no other popular book has one like it. 
So distinctive is it that even when different words 
were substituted the bookseller at once knew what was 
intended. That the view here put forward does not 



yj'l- (ili4f^/w- 



^<iy*y/ 



WILLIAM BRKNDON AND SON, LTD., PRINTERS, PLYMODTH 



PREFACE 

IT is easy enough to write a book. The difficulty- 
is to sell the production when it is finished. 
That, however, is not the author's business. 
Nevertheless, the labours of the writer are not 
over when he has completed the last paragraph of his 
book. He has, then, in most cases, to find a title 
for it. 

This, I maintain, should be a matter of little difficulty. 
I regard a title as a mere distinguishing mark, a brand, 
a label, a something by which the book may be called 
when spoken of — nothing more. 

According to this view, the value of a title lies, not 
in its appropriateness to the subject-matter, but in its 
distinctiveness. 

To illustrate : some years ago a lady entered a book- 
seller's shop and asked for " Drummond's latest book — 
Nux Vomica" The bookseller without a word handed 
her Lux Mundi. 

To my way of thinking Lux Mundi is a good title 
inasmuch as no other popular book has one like it. 
So distinctive is it that even when different words 
were substituted the bookseller at once knew what was 
intended. That the view here put forward does not 



vi PREFACE 

find favour with the critics may perhaps be inferred 
by the exception many of them took to the title of my 
last book — Bombay Ducks. 

While commending my view to their consideration, 
I have on this occasion endeavoured to meet them by 
resorting to a more orthodox designation. I am, doubt- 
less, pursuing a risky policy. Most of the reviewers 
were kind enough to say that Bovibay Ducks was a 
good book with a bad title. When criticising the 
present work they may reverse the adjectives. Who 
knows? Y) D 



CONTENTS 



I. 


British Birds in the Plains of India 


PAGE 

I 


II. 


The Bird in Blue .... 


lO 


III. 


Sparrows in the Nursery 


i6 


IV. 


The Care of Young Birds after the\ 






LEAVE the Nest . 


23 


V. 


The Adjutant Bird .... 


29 


VI. 


The Sarus 


35 


VII. 


The Stability of Species . 


40 


VIII. 


The Amadavat 


46 


IX. 


The Nutmeg Bird .... 


52 


X. 


The Did-he-do-it .... 


56 


XL 


Cobbler or Tailor? .... 


62 


XII. 


A Crow in Colours .... 


68 


XIII. 


Up-to-date Species Making 


73 


XIV. 


HONEYSUCKERS 


78 


XV. 


A Hewer of Wood .... 


84 


XVI. 


A Feathered Sprinter 


89 


XVII. 


A Bird of Character 


94 


CVIII. 


Swifts 


99 


XIX. 


Birds as Automata .... 


104 



viii CONTENTS 

PACK 

XX. Playing Cuckoo . , . . iii 

XXL The Koel 117 

XXII. The Common Doves of India . .124 

XXIII. Doves in a Verandah . . . 130 

XXIV. The Golden Oriole . . . • i3S 
XXV. The Barn Owl 140 

XXVI. A Tree-top Tragedy . . . .145 

XXVII. Two Little Birds . . . -150 

XXVIII. The Paradise Flycatcher . . .156 

XXIX Butcher Birds 163 

XXX. Ducks 168 

XXXI. A Dethroned Monarch . . . i73 

XXXII. Birds in the Rain . . . .178 

XXXIII. The Weaver Bird . . . .183 

XXXIV. Green Parrots 190 

XXXV. The Roosting of the Sparrows . -197 

XXXVI. A Gay Deceiver . ... 202 

XXXVII. The Emerald Merops . . . .208 

XXX VIII. Do Animals Think? . . . .213 

XXXIX. A Couple of Neglected Craftsmen . 219 

XL. Birds in their Nests .... 224 

XLI. BuLBULS 229 

XLII. The Indian Corby . . . .235 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

FACING PAGS 

The Grey Pelican {Pelecanus philippensis)^ a Bird of 

THE Plains Frontispiece 

The White-breasted Kingfisher {Halcyon smyrnensis) 4 

The Redshank {Tetanus caldidris\ one of the British 

Birds found in India 8 

The Indian Roller, or "Blue Jay" {Coradas indica) 12 

The Indian Adjutant {Leptoptilus dubius) 



Loten'S Sunbird {Arachnechthra lotenia) . 

(Note the long curved bill, adapted to insertion in flowers.) 
The Yellow Sunbird {Arachnechthra zeylonica) . 

Nest of Loten's Sunbird 

(Notice that it is built in a spider's web.) 

Loten's Sunbird (Hen) about to enter nest . 

The Indian Spotted Owlet {Athene brama) 

The Indian Paddy Bird {Ardeola grayii) 

The Common Kingfisher {Alctdo ispida), one of the 

British Birds found in India 
The Indian Kite {Milvus govinda) .... 
The Grey-necked Crow {Corvus splendens) . 
The Bengal Red-whiskered Bulbvl {Otocompsaemeria) 230 



28 
34 
78 

80 
82 

90 

94 
114 

144 
148 
190 



BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 



BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 



BRITISH BIRDS IN THE PLAINS 
OF INDIA 

MOST birds are cosmopolitans and belong 
to no nationality. Strictly speaking, 
there is only one British bird, only one 
bird found in the British Isles and no- 
where else, and that is the red grouse ( Tetrao scoticus). 

For this reason some apology seems necessary for 
the heading of this article. " Birds common to the 
Plains of India and the British Isles" would doubtless 
be a more correct title. However, I write as an 
Englishman. When I meet in a foreign land a bird 
I knew in England I like to set that bird down as a 
fellow-countryman. 

In India most of the familiar birds : the thrush, the 
blackbird, the robin redbreast, the wren, the chaffinch, 
and the blue tit are conspicuous by their absence ; their 
places being taken by such strange forms as mynas, 
bulbuls, seven sisters, parakeets, etc. The Englishman 
is therefore prone to exaggerate the differences between 
the avifauna of his own country and that of India. The 



2 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

dissimilarity is indeed great, but not so great as is 
generally supposed. 

A complete list of British birds comprises some four 
hundred species ; of these nearly one-half occur in India. 
But a list of British species is apt to be a misleading 
document. You may keep a sharp look-out in England 
for a lifetime without ever setting eyes on many of the 
so-called British birds. Every feathered thing that has 
been blown by contrary winds, or whose dead body has 
been washed by the waves, on to the shores of Albion 
has been appropriated as a British species. This sounds 
very hospitable. Unfortunately the hospitality is of 
a dubious nature, seeing that every casual bird visitor 
promptly falls a victim to the gun of some self-styled 
naturalist. Having slaughtered his " feathered friend " 
the aforesaid naturalist proceeds to boast in the press of 
his exploit. 

I do not deem it correct to speak of these occasional 
visitors as British birds. On the other hand, I think 
we may legitimately call the birds we see constantly in 
England, at certain or all seasons of the year, English 
birds. Of these many are also found in India. More 
of them occur in the Punjab than in any other part of 
the country because of our long cold weather, and 
because, as the crow flies, if not as the sahib travels, the 
Punjab is nearer England than is any other province. 

The ubiquitous sparrow first demands our attention. 
This much-abused little bird is, thanks to his " push," 
quite as much at home in the " Gorgeous East " as he 
is in England. He is certainly not quite so abundant 
out here ; the crows and spotted owlets take care of 



BRITISH BIRDS IN PLAINS OF INDIA 3 
that. They are very fond of sparrow for breakfast. 
Nevertheless, Passer domesticus is quite plentiful enough 
and is ever ready to nest inside one's bungalow. 

The Indian cock sparrow differs slightly in appear- 
ance from the English bird, having more white on the 
sides of his neck. This is not, as might be supposed, 
due to the fact that he is not coated with soot to 
such an extent as the cockney bird. Every widely 
distributed species, including man, has its local pecu- 
liarities, due to climatic influences, isolation, and other 
causes. If the isolation be maintained long enough the 
process of divergence continues until the various races 
differ from one another to such an extent as to be 
called species. Local races are incipient species, species 
in the making. The barn owl {Strix flammed) is another 
case in point. This is a familiar owl in England, and 
is common out here, but not nearly so abundant as the 
little spotted owlet that makes night hideous by its 
caterwaulings. The Indian barn owl, which, in default 
of barns, haunts mosques, temples, deserted buildings, 
and even secluded verandahs, differs from our English 
friend in having stronger claws and feet, and the breast 
spotted instead of plain white. These trivial differences 
are not usually considered sufficient to justify the division 
of the barn owl into two species. 

Some of our English birds assume diminutive pro- 
portions in India, as, for example, the kingfisher and 
the raven. This may perhaps be attributed to the 
enervating Indian climate. The common kingfisher 
(Alcedo ispida) is exceedingly common in all parts of 
India except the Punjab. It does, indeed, occur in 



4 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

that province, but not abundantly. The commonest 
kingfisher in the Land of the Five Rivers is the much 
more splendid white-breasted species (Halcyon smyr- 
nensis), which may be recognised by its beautiful blue 
wings with a white bar, and by its anything but 
melodious " rattling scream." 

This winter the ravens are invading Lahore in very 
large numbers. It is impossible not to notice the great 
black creatures as they fly overhead in couples or in 
companies of six or eight, uttering solemn croaks. 

But the Indian raven, large as it is, is a diminutive 
form ; its length is but twenty-four inches as compared 
with the twenty-eight of its English cousin. Moreover, 
there are slight anatomical differences between the two 
races; hence the Indian bird was at one time considered 
to be a separate species and was called Corvus law- 
rencii. There certainly does seem to be some justi- 
fication for this procedure, since the Indian raven has 
not the solitary, shy, and retiring disposition of the bird 
at Home. It consorts with those feathered villains the 
Indian crows, and, like them, thieves from man and 
delights to tease and annoy birds bigger than itself by 
pulling their tail ! But there exist ravens of all sizes 
intermediate between the large European form and the 
small Indian one, so that it is not possible to find a 
point at which a line may be drawn between them. 
For this reason the Indian raven is now held to be one 
and the same species as the English bird — Corvus corax. 

Two cousins of the raven, namely, the rook and the 
jackdaw, also occur in the Punjab. They both visit us 
in the cold weather and fraternise with the common 




THE WHITK-BKKASTEI) K 1 N(;KIS1IEK. (HALCYON SMYKNENSIS) 



BRITISH BIRDS IN PLAINS OF INDIA 5 
crows. The rook may be readily distinguished from 
these by the bare whitish patch of skin in front of its 
face. Last year hundreds of rooks were to be seen in 
the fields between the big and the little Ravi. They 
are not so abundant this winter owing to the compar- 
ative mildness of the weather. 

The jackdaw is very like Corvus splendens in appear- 
ance. It may, however, be easily distinguished by its 
white eye. There is at present a jackdaw in confine- 
ment in the Lahore " Zoo," 

The coot {Fulica atra) is another bird common at 
Home which is also abundant in India. He needs 
no description, being familiar — too familiar — to every 
sportsman in India. He is the " black duck " of 
Thomas Atkins that remains on the jhil after all the 
duck have disappeared. It is unnecessary to say that 
the bird is not a duck, but a water-hen that apes the 
manners of one. His black plumage, white face, and 
the difficulty he experiences in rising from the water 
prevent him being confounded with a duck. 

Ornithological text-books tell us that the skylark 
{Alauda arvensis) visits India during the winter. This 
may be so, but I do not think I have ever seen one in 
the Punjab. I have seen thousands of the Indian 
skylark {Alauda gulguld) — a very similar bird, which is 
said to soar and sing "just as the lark in England does." 

As a rule it soars only at daybreak. There are in 
India so many birds of prey, ever on the look out for 
quarry, that our larks are not able to sing with im- 
punity at heaven's gate. They usually put forth their 
vocal efforts from a less exalted platform. 



6 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

"The eel's foe, the heron" {Ardea cinered), need not 
detain us long, although he is a common bird in 
both England and India, for the Punjab is too dry to 
be a favourite resort of waders. There is, however, a 
heron in the "Zoo" at Lahore who lives happily enough 
among the ducks and storks in spite of the way in 
which the kites worry him when he is at supper. 

The blue-rock pigeon {Coluniba livid) is another 
English bird found in the Punjab. This must not 
be confounded with its cousin {Columba ititennedid) the 
very common Indian blue pigeon, of which so many 
have taken up their quarters in the Montgomery Hall. 
The European form is not nearly so abundant, and is 
distinguished by its paler colour and by the fact that its 
lower back is white instead of bluish grey. 

The family of birds of prey affords us a large number 
of species common to England and India. Almost all 
the well-known English raptores are found in India 
— the peregrine falcon, the marsh harrier, the hen- 
harrier, the merlin, the kestrel, the sparrow-hawk, and the 
buzzard. All these are considerably more abundant in 
India than in the British Isles. 

Thus far we have spoken chiefly of birds that are 
found in the plains of India all the year round. Wc 
have now to deal with migrants. As was to be 
expected, many of these are common to Hindustan and 
to England. 

Surprising as it may seem, stationary birds are the 
exception rather than the rule. The majority of 
species, like viceroys and lieutenant-governors, divide 
their time more or less equally between two different 



BRITISH BIRDS IN PLAINS OF INDIA 7 
places. It is by no means always easy to determine 
whether any particular species is a migrant one or not. 
The mere fact that specimens of it are seen in any 
given place at all seasons of the year is not sufficient to 
prove that it is non-migratory. For the birds of a 
species we saw six months ago are not necessarily the 
same ones that we have with us to-day. To take a 
concrete example, the crested lark {Galerita cristata) is 
found in Lahore all the year round, but is far more 
plentiful in summer than in winter, which is the only 
time when it is seen in England. The species is 
therefore a migratory one. 

The general rule as regards migratory birds is that 
they breed in the north and then go south for a season 
to enjoy themselves. Great Britain is further north 
than India and has a much colder climate, hence we 
should expect birds to crowd to India for the pleasant 
cold weather and go to England for the genial summer. 
This does happen to a large extent. Yet there are 
surprisingly few birds which winter in India and 
summer in England. The only common ones that I 
can call to mind are the wagtails, the pipits, and the 
quail {Coturnix communis). There are two reasons for 
this. The first is that migration takes place in a more 
or less northerly and southerly direction, and the 
British Isles are not due north of India. The second 
reason is that England is a long way south of the Arctic 
Circle. Its winter is therefore not cold enough for the 
taste of many birds. Geese, ducks, and snipe are cold- 
loving creatures. Their idea of nice mild weather is 
the English winter ! In order to avoid anything in the 



8 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

shape of heat they migrate very far north in summer, 
and in winter, being driven southwards by the intense 
Arctic cold, spread themselves all over the temperate 
zone. Thus it comes to pass that the full and the jack 
snipe, the grey lag-goose, the mallard, the gadwall, the 
pintail and the shoveller ducks, the widgeon and the teal, 
are winter visitors both to India and the British Isles. 
But whereas snipe, geese, and most ducks leave India 
for the hot weather, many of them remain in Great 
Britain for the summer and nest there. It is probable 
that the birds which spend the winter in Great Britain 
go further north to breed, their place in the British Isles 
being taken by species that have wintered in Africa. 
The north of Scotland, even, is too far south to serve as 
a breeding place for some species. The little jack snipe 
{Gallinago gallim^la) is one of these ; he never breeds 
in England, whereas the common or full snipe {Galli- 
nago ca^lestis) does. Hence the former is set down as a 
migrant in England, while the latter is thought to be a 
permanent resident. In point of fact both are migrants, 
as we see in India, but while some full snipe find a 
Scotch summer cool enough for them to breed in, all 
jack snipe find it insufferably hot. 

A curious fact regarding snipe in India is that these 
birds appear in the south earlier than they do in the 
north. I do not know the earliest date after the end of 
the hot weather on which a snipe has been shot in the 
Punjab, but believe it to be considerably later than the last 
week in August, at which time snipe are regularly shot 
in the Madras Presidency, This is not what we should 
have expected. It is but reasonable to suppose that 




THE REDSHANK. (TOTANU^ 
(One of the British birds foun,, 



CALIDRIS) 
/// India) 



BRITISH BIRDS IN PLAINS OF INDIA 9 
the earliest birds to arrive in India would take up their 
winter quarters in the north, and that the later arrivals, 
finding all eligible residences in the north already 
occupied, would go farther afield. The only explana- 
tion of the phenomenon which occurs to me is that the 
most northerly birds are the first to feel the approach- 
ing Arctic winter and so are the first to migrate. These, 
when they arrive in India, find the northern portion of 
the peninsula too hot for them, so pass on southwards 
until they come to the places where the temperature is 
at that season lower. 

This article has already reached an undue length, 
yet quite a number of birds, more or less common in 
England and in India, have not been mentioned. On 
this account I owe apologies to the cuckoo, the stint, 
the sandpiper, the redshank, the ringed and the Kentish 
plovers. But the names of these and of eight score 
others, are they not written in the appendix ? 



THE BIRD IN BLUE 

^ S I write my tympanic membranes are being 
/^L somewhat rudely shaken by the clamorous 

/ — m voices of a brood of young blue jays, which 
-^ -^^ are in a nest somewhere in one of the 
chimneys of my bungalow. 

From the point of view of the blue jays the site they 
have chosen for their nursery is an admirable one ; 
indeed, had the architect of the bungalow received a 
handsome "tip" he could not have provided the birds 
with more comfortable accommodation. 

The shaft of the chimney is not straight, as, in my 
humble opinion, it should be. At a few feet from the 
top it is bent at a right angle, and runs horizontally for a 
short distance before it again assumes what I consider 
to be its normal course. 

The architect was, however, not such a fool as he 
may appear, for it is quite impossible to clean properly 
the chimney of his design ; it must therefore take fire 
sooner or later, and the fire may spread and result in 
the destruction of the house. The re-erection thereof 
would of course mean more work for the said 
architect. 

The blue jays are as satisfied as the designer with the 
chimney, because the horizontal portion forms a shelf 



THE BIRD IN BLUE ii 

upon which they can lay their eggs. These are visible 
neither from above nor from below, and they are as 
inaccessible as invisible, for the chimney is so narrow as 
to baffle all attempts at ascent or descent on the part 
of human beings. 

The blue jays make good to my ear what they deny 
my eye. The young hopefuls utter unceasingly a loud 
cry resembling that of some creature in distress. This 
is what I have to listen to all the time I am in the 
bungalow. Outside, the parent birds make the welkin 
ring with their raucous voices. Never were father and 
mother prouder of their offspring or fonder of pro- 
claiming the fact. When not cumbered about much 
serving they squat either on the roof or on a blue gum 
tree hard by, and, at regular intervals, utter a short, 
sharp, harsh " Tshow." This is emphasised by a jerk of 
the tail ; the blue jay does nothing without first consult- 
ing its caudal appendage. 

On the occasions when I made vain attempts to 
obtain a look at the young birds the parents took to 
their wings, and, as they sped through the air, uttered 
cries so harsh and dry-sounding as to make me feel 
quite thirsty ! 

The blue jay is so familiar to us Anglo-Indians as to 
need no description. We have all admired the bird as 
it lazily sailed through the air on outstretched pinions 
of pale blue and rich ultramarine. We have, each of us 
watched it perched on a railing looking out for its insect 
quarry. It is then comparatively inconspicuous, its 
neck and wing coverts being the hue of a faded port- 
wine stain. We have seen it pounce upon some object 



12 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

too small for us to distinguish, and either devour it then 

and there or bear it off in triumph. 

We all know that the bird is not a jay at all, that its 
proper name is the Indian roller {Coracias indica), that 
it is related to the kingfisher family, and that it is called 
a jay merely on account of its gaudy plumage. 

Next to its colour the most striking thing about the 
blue jay is its wonderful power of flight. Ordinarily the 
bird is content to flap along at an easy pace, but, when it 
likes, it can move for a little as though it were shot out 
of a catapult ; moreover, it is able to completely change 
its course with startling rapidity ; hence even the swiftest 
birds of prey find it no child's play to catch a roller bird. 
A good idea of its aerial performances may be obtained 
by watching it attack a kite that persists in hovering 
about in the neighbourhood of the nest. Blue jays, like 
king-crows and doves, are exceedingly short-tempered 
when they have young. 

This species seems to indulge in very little sleep ; it 
is up betimes, and may be seen about long after every 
other day bird, with the possible exception of the king- 
crow, is fast asleep. 

The blue jay is a good friend to the gardener, since 
it feeds exclusively on insects and small animals. Jerdon 
cites as the chief articles of its diet, large insects, grass- 
hoppers, crickets, mantidae, and beetles, with an occa- 
sional field-mouse or shrew. To this list he might have 
added-frogs and small snakes. 

At most seasons of the year the blue jay strikes one 
as a rather sluggish bird, being content to squat on a 
perch for a great part of the day and wait patiently for 




THE INDIAN ROLLER, OR "BLUE JAV." (CORACIAS INDICA) 



THE BIRD IN BLUE 13 

quarry to come its way. At the breeding season, how- 
ever, it becomes very sprightly. It is then more than 
usually vociferous and indulges in a course of aerial 
gymnastics. It may be seen at these throughout the 
month of March, now towering high above the earth, 
then dropping headlong down, to suddenly check itself 
and sail away, emitting the while the hoarsest and 
wheeziest notes imaginable, and behaving generally 
like the proverbial March hare. These performances 
are either actual love-making or a prelude to it. By 
the end of March the various birds have sorted them- 
selves out, and then the billing and cooing stage begins. 

At this season the birds are invariably found in 
pairs ; the cock and hen delight to sit side by side on 
some exposed branch. Like the young couples that 
moon about Hyde Park on Sundays, blue jays do not 
mind spooning in public. As the sexes dress alike 
it is not possible to say which of a couple is the 
cock and which is the hen. Under such circumstances 
naturalists always assume that the bird which makes 
the advances is the cock. I am not at all sure that 
this assumption is justified. Among human beings the 
ladies very frequently set their caps at the men. Why 
should not the fair sex among birds do likewise ? 

In many species the sexes dress differently, and it is 
then easy to discover which sex " makes the running," 
and in such cases this is by no means always the cock. 
I have seen one hen paradise flycatcher drive away 
another and then go and make up to a cock bird. Simi- 
larly I have seen two hen orioles behave in a very un- 
ladylike manner to one another, all because they both had 



14 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

designs on the same cock. He sat and looked on from 
a distance at the contest, and would assuredly have 
purred with delight had he known how to do so ! But 
of this more anon. The blue-jay lovers sit on a branch, 
side by side, and gaze upon one another with enraptured 
eyes. Suddenly one of them betakes itself to some 
other tree, uttering its hoarse screeches as it flies. Its 
companion follows almost immediately and then begins 
to bow and scrape, puff out its neck, slowly wave its 
tail, and utter unmusical cries. The bird which is being 
thus courted adds its voice to that of its companion. 
The raucous duet over, silence reigns for a little. Then 
one of the birds moves on, to be followed by its com- 
panion, and the above performance is repeated, and will 
continue to be repeated dozens of times before the 
birds give themselves over to family cares. 

The greatest admirer of the blue jay could not call 
its nest a work of art. The eggs are laid in a hole in a 
tree or building. Usually the hole is more or less lined 
by a promiscuous collection of grass, tow, feathers, and 
the like, but sometimes the birds are content to lay 
their eggs in the bare cavity. 

The blue jay, although so brazen over its courtship, 
strongly objects to having its family affairs pried into, 
so if you would find its nursery you must, unless you 
are lucky, exercise some patience. The birds stead- 
fastly refuse to visit the nest when they know they are 
being watched. If patience be a virtue great, the blue 
jay is a most virtuous bird, for, if it is aware that it is 
being observed, it will take up a perch and sit there for 
hours, mournfully croaking, rather than betray the 



THE BIRD IN BLUE 15 

whereabouts of its eggs or young. Most of the nests 
I have seen have been discovered by accident. For 
example, when going along a road I have had occasion 
to look round suddenly at some bird flying overhead 
and caught sight of a roller entering a hole in a tree. 

Some days ago I was out with a friend, when we saw 
a hoopoe, with food in its mouth, disappear into a hole 
in the wall of a Hindu temple. The aperture was about 
seven feet from the ground, so, in order to look into it, 
I mounted my friend's back. While I was investigating 
the hoopoe's hole, a blue jay flew out of another hole in 
the wall within a yard of my face ! 

Like Moses of old, I turned aside to investigate this 
new wonder, and found that the hole went two and a 
half feet into the wall, and that its aperture was a 
square six inches in both length and breadth. The 
floor of this little alcove was covered with earth and 
tiny bits of dirty straw, which may or may not have 
been put there by the blue jay. On this lay a clutch of 
four glossy white eggs, nearly as large as those laid by 
the degenerate Indian murghi. Fortunately for those 
blue jays I am not an ^gg collector. As it was, I did 
remove one of them for a lady who was anxious to have 
it, but this was not missed. Birds cannot count. 



SPARROWS IN THE NURSERY 

THE sparrow, as every Anglo-Indian knows, 
is a bird that goes about dumping down 
nests in sahibs' bungalows. It is greatly 
assisted in this noble work by the native of 
India, who has brought to the acme of perfection the art 
of jerry-building. In the ramshackle, half-finished 
modern bungalow the rafters that support the ceiling 
never, by any chance, fit properly into the walls. There 
are thus in every room a number of cracks, holes, and 
crevices in which the sparrows love to nest. As a 
matter of fact, these are not at all safe nesting places. 
Apart from the fact that the nest is liable to be pulled 
down at any moment by an angry human being, the 
situation is dangerous, because there is nothing to 
prevent a restless young bird from falling out of the 
nest and thus terminating a promising career. A few 
days ago a servant brought me a baby sparrow that had 
fallen out of a nest in the pantry. I always feel inclined 
to wring the neck of any sparrow that fate has put 
within my grasp, for I have many a score to pay off 
against the species. Upon this occasion, however, I 
felt mercifully inclined, so took the young bird, which 
was nearly covered with feathers, and offered it bread 
soaked in milk. This it swallowed greedily. When 
i6 



SPARROWS IN THE NURSERY 17 

the youngster was as full up inside as the Hammersmith 
'bus on a wet day, I told the bearer to put it in the 
cage in which my amadavats dwell. When I left for 
office I directed the man to feed the new arrival. On 
my return in the evening the bearer informed me that 
the young hopeful had declined its food. Now, a young 
sparrow refuses to eat only when it is stuffed to the 
brim. It was thus evident that its parents had found it 
out and were feeding it, in spite of the fact that the nest 
from which it came was in the pantry on the east side 
of the house, while its new quarters were in the west 
verandah. 

The next day a second sparrow fell out of the nest in 
the pantry and was also consigned to the amadavats' 
cage. At bed -time that night I took a look at the 
birds, and found that the two young sparrows had 
tucked themselves snugly in the seed tin ! The next 
morning a third sparrow from the same nest was 
brought to me ; it was put in the cage along with 
its brethren. As my office was closed on the day in 
question, I had the cage placed in front of my study 
window. I could thus watch the doings of the latest 
additions to my aviary. The hen sparrow does the 
lion's share of the feeding ; she works like a slave from 
morning to night. At intervals, varying from one to 
ten minutes, throughout the day she appears with a 
beakful of food, which consists chiefly of green cater- 
pillars. 

It is the custom to speak of the sparrow as a curse to 
the husbandman. The bird is popularly supposed to 
live on grain, fruit, seedlings, and buds — those of 
c 



i8 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

valuable plants by preference. There is no denying 
the fact that the sparrow does devour a certain amount 
of fruit and grain, but, so far from being a pest, I 
believe that the good it does by destroying noxious 
insects far outweighs the harm. Adult sparrows fre- 
quently feed on insects. I have watched them hawking 
flies in company with the swifts, and the skill displayed 
by the " spadger " showed that his was no 'prentice 
hand at the game. 

Sparrow nestlings in the early stages are fed almost 
exclusively on caterpillars, grubs, and insects. As there 
are usually five or six baby sparrows in a brood, and as 
these have appalling appetites, they must consume an 
enormous number of insects. Let us work out a little 
sum. We may assume that the sparrow brings at 
least three caterpillars in each beakful of food she 
carries to her brood. She feeds them at least fifteen 
times in the hour, and works for not less than twelve 
hours in the day. I timed the sparrows in question to 
commence feeding operations at 5.30 a.m., and when I 
left the bungalow at 6 p.m. the birds were still at it. 
Thus the hen sparrow brings in something like 540 
insects per diem to her brood. She feeds them on this 
diet for at least twenty days, so that the brood is re- 
sponsible for no less than 10,000 insects, mostly cater- 
pillars, before its units are ready to fend for themselves. 
According to Hume, the sparrow in India brings up 
two broods in the year. I should have doubled this 
figure, since the species appears to be always breeding. 
But it is better to understate than exaggerate. We 
thus arrive at the conclusion that the hen sparrow 



SPARROWS IN THE NURSERY 19 

destroys each year over 20,000 insects, mostly injurious, 
in the feeding of her young. Add to this number those 
she herself consumes, those the cock eats, and those he 
brings to the nest, and you have a fine insect mortality 
bill. 

The movements of the mother bird when feeding 
her young are so rapid that it is not easy to determine 
what it is she brings to the nest, even though the objects 
hang down from her beak ; the same applies to the cock. 
In order to make quite certain of the nature of the food 
she was bringing, I sought, by frightening her, to make 
her drop a beakful ; accordingly, at one of her visits I 
tapped the window-pane smartly just as she was about 
to ram the food down the gaping mouth of a young 
bird. She flew off chirruping with anger and alarm, 
but kept her bill tightly closed on the food she was 
carrying. As the parents had to feed the young ones 
through the bars of a cage the process required some 
manipulation, and, in spite of its care, the bird some- 
times dropped part of its burden ; but, almost before 
I had time to move, it had dashed down to the ground 
and retrieved it. However, by dint of careful watching 
I managed to bang the window immediately after the 
hen had dropped something of a dark colour. Having 
frightened her away I rushed outside and found that the 
object in question was part of a sausage-shaped sac 
containing a number of tiny green grubs. After a few 
minutes the hen returned with her beak full. Her fright 
had made her suspicious, so she perched on the verandah 
trellis-work and looked around for a little. Nine times 
she flew towards the cage, but on each occasion her 



20 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

courage failed her, to the intense disgust of her 
clamouring brood. At the tenth attempt she plucked 
up sufficient courage to feed the young birds. 

At a subsequent visit she dropped a caterpillar, and 
I frightened her away before she could retrieve it. I 
found it to be alive and about an inch in length. 

On another occasion I saw her ramming something 
black down the throat of a young hopeful. Frightening 
her away, I went outside and found the youthful bird 
making valiant attempts to swallow a whole mulberry. 
But it was not often that she gave them fruit ; green 
caterpillars formed quite nine-tenths of what she brought 
in ; the remainder was composed chiefly of grubs, with 
an occasional grasshopper or moth. As the young 
grew older the proportion of insect food given to them 
diminished until, when they were about twenty-two 
days old, their diet was made up principally of grain. 

The day on which the third young sparrow was put 
into the cage was a warm one, so at 2 p.m., when the 
shade temperature was about 115°, I brought the cage 
into the comparatively cool bungalow, for the sake of 
the amadavats. The cock sparrow witnessed the re- 
moval of the cage and did not hesitate to give me a bit 
of his mind. In a minute or so the hen returned with 
her beak full of green caterpillars. When she found 
the cage gone, she, too, expressed her opinion of me 
and of mankind in general in no uncertain terms. It 
was the last straw. Earlier in the day I had removed 
one of the baby sparrows from the cage and placed it 
in a cigar-ash tray outside the cage. The hen had 
affected not to notice that anything had happened, and 



SPARROWS IN THE NURSERY 21 

fed it in the ash-tray as though she were unconscious 
of the removal. When, however, the whole cage and 
its contents disappeared it was quite useless for her to 
pretend that nothing was wrong, so she treated me to 
her best " Billingsgate." 

After the cage had been inside for about three- 
quarters of an hour the young "spadgers" began to 
feel the pangs of hunger, and made this known by 
giving vent to a torrent of chirrups which differed in 
no way from those that make the adult so offensive. 
All that the poor mother could do was to answer from 
the outside. I felt, that afternoon, that I was paying 
off with interest some of my score against the sparrow. 

The next day I did not take the cage into the bunga- 
low, because I wanted to ascertain whether sparrows 
feed their young throughout the day, or whether they 
indulge in a noonday siesta. They kept it up, at their 
respective rates, throughout the day, although the ther- 
mometer in the shade must have risen to 115°. After 
the hen had disburdened herself of the food she brought, 
she would perch for a moment on the trellis, and pant 
with open beak as though she were thoroughly ex- 
hausted. 

I have long been trying to ascertain how birds in the 
nest obtain the liquid they require. Do the succulent 
caterpillars, on which young sparrows are fed, provide 
them with sufficient moisture, or do the parents water 
them? Although I spent several hours in watching 
those sparrows, I am not able to answer the question 
satisfactorily. I placed a bowl of water on the ground 
near the cage, hoping that this would tempt the hen 



22 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

bird to drink, and that I should see her carry some of 
the liquid to her offspring. But she took no notice of 
the water. She certainly used to come to the cage 
sometimes with her beak apparently empty, and yet 
insert it into the open mouth of a young one. Was 
she then watering the nestling, or did her beak hold 
some small seeds that did not protrude? It seems 
incredible that unfledged birds exposed to the tempera- 
ture of an Indian summer require no water ; neverthe- 
less, I never actually saw any pass from the crop of the 
parents to those of the youngsters. 



THE CARE OF YOUNG BIRDS 
AFTER THEY LEAVE THE NEST 

IT has been urged as an objection to the Darwinian 
theory that Natural Selection, if that force exists, 
must tend to destroy species rather than cause 
new ones to come into being. Nearly all birds 
leave the nest before they are fully developed. When 
they first come out of the nursery they have attained 
neither their full powers of flight nor complete skill 
in obtaining food. Every young bird, no matter how 
fine a specimen it be, leaves the nest an inexperienced 
weakling, and can therefore stand no chance in com- 
petition with the fully grown and experienced members 
of the species. Natural Selection takes an individual 
as it finds it and pays no attention to potentialities. 

That such an objection should have been urged 
against the theory of Natural Selection is proof of the 
fact that naturalists are inclined to forget that, with 
many, if not all, species of birds, the duties of the 
parents towards their offspring by no means cease 
when the young birds leave the nest. 

The parent birds, in many cases, continue to feed 

their young long after these are apparently well able 

to fend for themselves. This fact is not sufficiently 

emphasised in books on natural history. On the other 

23 



24 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

hand, such works lay stress upon the fact that in many- 
species of birds the parents drive their offspring away 
from the place of their birth in order that the numbers 
of the species in the locality shall not outgrow the food 
supply. How far this is a general characteristic of 
birds I do not know. What I desire to emphasise is 
that the driving-away process, when it occurs, does not 
take place until some time after the young have left the 
nest. The fact that the parent birds tend the young 
long after they have left the nest, and even after they 
are fully capable of holding their own in the struggle 
for existence, disposes of the above-cited objection to 
the theory of Natural Selection. Nature is so careful 
of the young warriors that she prolongs the instinct 
of parental affection longer than is absolutely necessary. 
So important is it that the young should have a fair 
start in life that she errs on the safe side. 

It is common knowledge that foster-parents feed 
cuckoos when these have grown so large that, in order 
to reach the mouth of their spurious babes, the little 
foster-mothers have to perch on their shoulders. 

The sight of a tiny bird feeding the great parasite 
is laughable, but it is also most instructive. It demon- 
strates how thoroughly bird mothers perform their 
duties. 

Crows tend their young ones for weeks after they 
have left the nest. I have had ample opportunity of 
satisfying myself as to this. 

It was my custom in Madras to breakfast on the 
verandah. A number of crows used to assemble daily 
to watch operations and to pick up the pieces of food 



THE CARE OF YOUNG BIRDS 25 

thrown to them. They would go farther when the 
opportunity occurred, and commit petty larceny. 

The crows were all grey-necked ones, with the excep- 
tion of two belonging to the larger black species. But 
these latter are comparatively shy birds, and conse- 
quently used to hang about on the outskirts of the 
crowd. 

Among the grey-necked crows was a family of four 
— the parents and two young birds. Every day, without 
fail, they used to visit the verandah ; the two young 
birds made more noise than all the rest of the crows 
put together. They were easily recognisable, firstly, by 
their more raucous voices, and, secondly, by the pink 
inside of the mouth. When I first noticed them they 
were so old that, in size, they were very nearly equal to 
the mother. Further, the grey of the neck was sharply 
differentiated from the black portions of the plumage, 
showing that they had left the nest some time ago. 

Unfortunately I did not make a note of the day 
on which they first put in an appearance. I can, 
however, safely say that they visited my verandah 
regularly for some weeks, during the whole of which 
time the mother bird fed them most assiduously. It was 
ludicrous to see the great creatures sidle up to mamma 
when she had seized a piece of toast, and open their 
red mouths, often pecking at one another out of 
jealousy. 

They were obviously well able to look after them- 
selves; their flight was as powerful as that of the mother 
bird, yet she treated them as though they were infants, 
incapable of doing anything for themselves. 



26 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

At the beginning of the cold weather I changed 
my quarters, so was not able to witness the break-up 
of the crow family. Probably this did not occur 
until the following spring, when nesting operations 
commenced. 

The feeding of the young after they have left the nest 
and are full-grown is not confined to crows. 

I was walking one morning along a shady lane when 
I noticed on the grass by the roadside a bird which 
I did not recognise. It was a small creature, clothed in 
black and white, which tripped along like a wagtail. It 
had no tail, but it wagged the hind end of its body just 
as a sandpiper does. While I was trying to identify 
this strange creature, a young pied wagtail came running 
up to it with open mouth, into which the first bird 
popped something. I then saw that the unknown bird 
was simply a pied wagtail {Motacilla maderaspatensis) 
which had lost her tail ! The young bird was fully as 
large as the mother, and having a respectable tail, which 
it wagged in a very sedate manner, looked far more 
imposing. The parts of the plumage which were black 
in the mother were brownish grey in the young bird. The 
white eyebrow was not so well defined in the youngster 
as in the adult, while the former had rather more white 
in the wing, but as regards size there was nothing to 
choose between the two. The young bird remained in 
close attendance on the mother. It was able to keep 
pace with her as she dashed after a flying insect. It ran 
after her begging continually for food. The mother 
swallowed most of the flies she caught, but now and 
again put one into the mouth of the young bird, but she 



THE CARE OF YOUNG BIRDS 27 

did so very severely, as if she were saying, " You are 
far too old to be fed ; it is no use to pretend you cannot 
catch insects, you are a naughty, lazy, little bird ! " But 
the lackadaisical air of the young one expressed more 
plainly than words : " Oh, mother, it tires me to chase 
insects. They move so fast. I have tried, but have 
caught so few, and am very hungry." 

For several minutes the young wagtail followed the 
mother ; then something arrested its attention, so that 
it tarried behind its parent. The mother moved away, 
apparently glad to be rid of the troublesome child for a 
little. Then she suddenly flew off. Presently the 
young wagtail looked round for its mother, and I was 
interested to see what would happen when it noticed 
that she had flown away. My curiosity was soon 
satisfied. Directly the young bird perceived that the 
mother had gone, it set itself most philosophically to 
catch insects, which it did with all the skill of an old 
bird, turning, twisting, doubling, with the elegance of an 
experienced wagtail. 

I describe these two little incidents, not as anything 
wonderful, but as examples of what is continually going 
on in the world around us. 

The parental instinct is probably developed in some 
birds more than in others, but I believe that in all cases 
the affection of a bird mother for her young persists 
long after they have left the nest, and for some time 
after they are fully capable of looking after them- 
selves. 

Birds are born with many instincts, but they have 
much to learn both before and after they leave the nest. 



28 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

It is not until their education is complete, until the 

mother bird has taught them all she herself knows, 

until they are as strong or stronger than she, that the 

young birds are driven away and made to look after 

themselves. 




HIE INDIAN ADJUTANT. (i.EPTOPTILUS DUBIU< 



THE ADJUTANT BIRD 

THE adjutant bird {Leptoptilus dubiiis) is one 
of Nature's little jokes. It is a caricature of 
a bird, a mixture of gravity and clownish- 
ness. Everything about it is calculated to 
excite mirth — its weird figure, its great beak, its long, 
thin legs, its conspicuous pouch, its bald head, and every 
attitude it strikes. The adjutant bird is a stork which 
has acquired the habits of the vulture. Forsaking to 
a large extent frogs and such-like delicacies, which 
constitute the normal diet of its kind, it lives chiefly 
upon offal. Now, most, if not all, birds which feed on 
carrion have the head and neck devoid of feathers. 
This arrangement, if not ornamental, is very useful. 
The bare head and neck are, as " Eha " remarks, " the 
sleeves tucked up for earnest work." The adjutant 
forms no exception to the rule, it wears the badge of its 
profession. But let me here give a full description of 
this truly comic bird. It stands five feet in its stockings. 
Its bill is over a foot in length and correspondingly 
massive. As we have seen, the whole head and neck 
are bare, except for a few feathers scattered over it like 
the hairs on an elephant's head. The bare skin is not 
lacking in colour. On the forehead it is blackish ; it 
becomes saffron-yellow on the upper neck, while lower 
29 



30 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

down it turns to brick-red. There is a rufif of white 
feathers round the base of the neck. This ruff, of 
course, appears entirely out of place and adds to the 
general grotesqueness of the bird. The back and wings 
are ashy black, becoming slaty grey at the breeding 
season. The lower parts are white. 

As if the creature, thus arrayed, were not sufficiently 
comic, Nature has given it a great pouch which dangles 
from the neck. This is over a foot in length and hangs 
down like a bag when inflated. It is red in colour, 
spotted with black. Its situation naturally leads one to 
believe that it is connected with the gullet, that it is 
a receptacle into which the bird can hastily pass the 
garbage it swallows pending more complete disposal. 
But it is nothing of the sort. It does not communicate 
directly with the oesophagus. Knowing this, one is able 
to appreciate to the full the splendid mendacity of the 
writer to Chambers's Journal m 1861, who declares that 
he witnessed an adjutant swallow a crow which he 
watched " pass into the sienna-toned pouch of the gaunt 
avenger. He who writes saw it done." 

Note the last sentence. The scribe was evidently of 
opinion that people would not believe him, so thought 
to clinch matters by bluffing ! But, to do him justice, 
it is quite possible that he did see an adjutant swallow 
a crow, for other observers have witnessed this, but the 
remainder of the story rests upon the sandy foundation 
of the imagination. If the truth must be told, we do 
not know for certain what the use of this pouch is. 
Blyth suggested that it is analogous to the air cell 
attached to one lung only of the python or the boa- 



THE ADJUTANT BIRD 31 

constrictor, and, as in that case, no doubt supplies 
oxj^'gcn to the lungs during protracted meals. The 
bird can thus " guzzle " to its heart's content without 
having to stop every now and then to take a "breather." 

But we must return to the appearance of the bird, for 
the account of this is not yet complete, since no 
mention has been made of the eye. This is white and 
very small, and so gives the bird a wicked, knowing 
expression, like that of an elephant. Colonel Cunning- 
ham speaks of " the malignantly sneaking expression of 
the pallid eyes." This is perhaps a little severe on the 
adjutant, but it is, I fear, quite useless to deny the fact 
that he has " a canister look in his heye." 

A mere description of the shape and colouring of the 
adjutant does not give any idea of his comicality. It is 
his acts rather than his appearance that make him so 
ludicrous. Except when floating high above the earth 
on his great pinions the bird always looks grotesque. 
To say that he, as he walks along, recalls a hunch- 
backed old man who is deliberately " clowning " is to 
give a hopelessly inadequate idea of the absurdity of 
his movements. Lockwood Kipling is nearer the mark 
when he says : " For grotesque devilry of dancing the 
Indian adjutant beats creation. Don Quixote or Mal- 
volio were not half so solemn or mincing, and yet there 
is an abandonment and lightness of step, a wild lift in 
each solemn prance, which are almost demoniacal. If 
it were possible for the most angular, tall, and demure 
of elderly maiden ladies to take a great deal too much 
champagne and then to give a lesson in ballet dancing, 
with occasional pauses of acute sobriety, perhaps some 



32 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

faint idea might be conveyed of the peculiar quah'ty of 

the adjutant's movements." 

Sometimes the bird struts along solemnly with bent 
back and forvvardly pointed bill, at others it will jump 
or skip along with outstretched wings and clap its beak. 
It cannot even stand still without striking ludicrous 
attitudes. Seen from behind, it looks like a little hunch- 
backed old man with very thin legs, dressed in a grey 
swallow - tail coat. Adjutants sometimes vary the 
monotony of existence by standing on one leg ; occa- 
sionally they sit down, stretching their long legs out in 
front, and looking " as though they were kneeling wrong 
side foremost." 

Colonel Cunningham gives a most entertaining 
account of the habits of these birds, many of which 
used, until quite recently, to be seen about Calcutta. 
My observations are chiefly confined to birds in cap- 
tivity ; this perhaps accounts for the fact that they do 
not agree in all respects with those of the Colonel. 
According to him, adjutants "are singularly ill-tempered 
birds, constantly squabbling with one another, even in 
the absence of any cause of competition, such as 
favourite roosts or specially savoury stores of offal. 
Even whilst several of them are standing quietly about, 
sunning themselves and apparently buried in deep 
thought, a quarrel will suddenly arise for no apparent 
reason ; and then you may see two monstrous fowls 
begin to pace around, cautiously stalking one another, 
and watching for a favourable opportunity of striking 
and buffeting with beak and wings. The expression of 
slow malignity with which such duellists regard one 



THE ADJUTANT BIRD 33 

another is gruesome, and the injuries resulting from the 
fray are often ghastly ; blinded eyes and bloody cocks- 
combs being matters of everyday occurrence." 

Captive adjutants seem to be most placid birds. 
There are three of them in the " Zoo " at Lahore, kept 
in a large park-like enclosure, and I have never seen 
these fighting. They appear to be always, if not on the 
best of terms, at any rate, indifferent to one another. 
The three will stand for many minutes at a time in 
a row, motionless as statues. Sometimes a male and 
a female will huddle up to one another and remain thus, 
with their heads almost touching, looking like carica- 
tures of Darby and Joan. 

The table manners of adjutants, like those of most 
other carrion feeders, are not polite. I will therefore 
not attempt to describe them. In the good old days, 
feeding adjutants used to be a favourite pastime of 
Mr. Thomas Atkins at Calcutta. I regret to have to 
say that his motives were not always purely philan- 
thropic. To connect two pieces of meat by a long 
string and then throw them among a crowd of adju- 
tants savours of practical joking. One bird, of course, 
swallows one piece of meat, while a second adjutant 
secures the other morsel. All goes well until each of 
the birds tries to go its own way — then a tug-of-war 
results, fraught with gastronomical disturbance to the 
combatants. 

Adjutants are nowhere very abundant ; they are 
nevertheless spread over the whole of Northern India, 
but do not appear to be found so far south as 
Madras. Another species, however — the smaller adju- 

D 



34 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

tant {L. javaniais) — has been observed on the Malabar 

coast. 

Some natives make adjutant-catching their profession. 
The birds are captured on account of their down-Hke 
feathers, which are of considerable commercial value. 

The catcher fits the skin of an adjutant over his head 
and shoulders, and in this attire creeps up to a com- 
pany of the birds as they stand half-asleep, knee-deep 
in water. Great is the surprise of the unsuspecting 
birds when one of them is unceremoniously seized by 
the wolf in the adjutant's skin. 



THE SARUS 

HAVING discoursed upon the adjutant, it 
seems but fitting that we should turn our 
attention to another long-shanked gentle- 
man — the sarus. The adjutant is, as we 
have seen, a stork, while the sarus is a crane. I do not 
know whether this conveys very much information 
to the average mind. Most people will, I imagine, 
" give it up " if asked, *' What is the difference between 
a stork and a crane ? " Yet there are considerable dif- 
ferences between the two ; they belong to different 
families, and, like rival tradesmen of the same name, 
" have no connection with one another." I do not pro- 
pose to detail the anatomical differences between storks 
and cranes, for the excellent reason that I myself do 
not know them all, nor have I the least intention of 
acquiring such knowledge. It forms part of the dry 
bones of science, and these are best left to museum 
ornithologists to squabble over. There are, however, 
one or two simple points which suffice to enable us to 
distinguish at a glance a crane from a stork. The hind 
toe of the stork is well developed, while that of the 
crane is small and does not touch the ground ; the con- 
sequence is that the stork likes to rest on trees, while 
the crane prefers to stand on terra jirma on its flat feet. 
35 



36 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

The nostrils of the crane are half-way down the beak, 
while they are at the base in the bill of the stork. The 
crane nests on the ground ; the stork builds in a tree. 
Young storks are helpless creatures, while little cranes 
hop and run about from the moment they leave the 
egg. Lastly, the crane has a voice, a fine loud voice, 
a voice that can be heard a mile away, a voice like a 
trumpet, for its windpipe is coiled. King stork, on the 
other hand, has no voice ; when he wants to make a 
joyful noise he is obliged to clap together his great 
mandibles. 

Cranes have been favourites with man from time 
immemorial. The result is that ancient and mediaeval 
writers have plenty to say about them. Now the 
naturalist of old considered himself in honour bound 
to attribute some wonderful characteristic to every 
beast of which he wrote. If he did not know of any 
clever thing done by any creature, he invented some- 
thing for it to do. This method had the advantage of 
making natural history a very exciting and interesting 
study. Cranes were supposed to perform all manner 
of tricks with stones. As we have seen, they are blessed 
with powerful voices, and, like other loud-voiced people, 
find it difficult to keep silent. They are fully persuaded 
that silence is golden ; but, when it comes to acting up 
to this belief, the flesh proves itself very frail. Thus it 
came to pass that the sagacious birds, when migrating, 
used to stop up their mouths with stones. As they are 
far too well-bred to speak with the mouth full, they 
were able to maintain a decorous silence when travel- 
ling. 



THE SARUS 37 

I can cite plenty of authority for this statement. 
There is, in particular, no less a personage than " Robert 
Tanner, Gent. Practitioner in Astrologie and Physic." 
" The cranes," he writes, " when they fly out of Cilicia, 
over the mountain Taurus, carried in their mouths a 
pebble stone, lest by their chattering they should be 
ceased upon by eagles." 

The cranes had yet another use for their stones. 
When the main body were resting at night, sentinels 
were posted to guard against surprise, so that the com- 
pany could go to sleep in security. To ensure necessary 
vigilance, the sentinels stood on one foot and held in the 
other a large stone. If they inadvertently nodded, 
their muscles relaxed and the stone dropped. This, of 
course, used to wake them up. Even Alexander the 
Great was glad to learn a lesson from the cranes. He 
used to go to roost with, not a stone in his hands, but a 
silver ball, as more befitting his royal dignity. On the 
slightest movement the ball would fall and he wake up. 
Thus it was that he never overslept himself. We do 
not do such heroic things nowadays ; nor do cranes. 

Cranes are birds which will not stand nonsense. The 
pigmies used to go egg-collecting among them ; the 
result of this was, to translate Homer : — 

When inclement winters vex the plain. 

With piercing frosts, or thick descending rain, 

To warmer seas the cranes embodied fly. 

With noise and order, through the midway sky : 

To pigmy nations wound and death they bring. 

Notice that as the cranes were on the war-path there 
was no necessity for them to fill their mouths with 



38 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

stones ; they wanted all their lung power to bark at 
their pigmy foes. 

Having considered cranes as they are not, it behoves 
us to glance at them as they are. The sarus is a hand- 
some creature. It stands over five feet high. The 
general colour of the plumage is a beautiful French 
grey. The head and long neck are devoid of feathers, 
but are covered with numerous tiny crimson warts or 
papilla;. These assume a deeper hue at the breeding 
season, which occurs from July to September. There 
is a patch of grey on the sides of the head. The throat 
and a ring round the nape are covered with black hairs. 

Saruses feed upon vegetable substances, insects, earth- 
worms, frogs, lizards, and other small reptiles, with an 
occasional snake thrown in by way of condiment. 
"This," remarks Babu Ram Brama Sanyal, "shows 
the kind of accommodation they must have." 

Saruses are not gregarious birds, but hunt in couples 
and are said to mate for life. It is further asserted that 
when one of a pair is killed the other pines away and 
dies. I believe this to be true, although I cannot vouch 
for it, and am certainly not going to put the statement 
to the test by shooting one of a pair : for these cranes 
are such tame, confiding birds that to shoot them savours 
strongly of murder. 

According to Jerdon, a young sarus is not bad eating, 
but old birds are worthless for the table. Lucky old birds ! 
Saruses thrive very well in captivity. As they habitu- 
ally indulge in all manner of eccentric dances they make 
most amusing pets. They are usually gentle and let 
strangers caress them and tickle their heads. But I 



THE SARUS 39 

always let others try this on for the first time with a 
strange crane, because some birds resent this head- 
tickling ,and, to again quote from the worthy Babu 
above mentioned, " appear to exist only as it were for 
pecking at everything, bird, beast, and man : children 
being the special object of their wrath." 

There are two cranes in the " Zoo " at Lahore ; they 
are a most mischievous couple. They used to be kept 
with the ducks and geese, and amused themselves by 
rooting up all freshly planted rushes. At feeding time 
it was their habit to hop from one dish of food to 
another with outstretched wings and thus frighten off 
the ducks and secure the lion's share for themselves. 
They were then removed to the enclosure where the 
adjutants are. They started playing tricks on these, 
but the adjutant has a powerful beak which he is quite 
ready to use when necessity arises. The result is that 
the saruses are not on speaking terms with the 
adjutants. 

Unlike the adjutant, whose nest is a huge platform 
of sticks placed on the top of a very lofty tree, the sarus 
builds its nursery on the ground. This takes the form 
of a large cone, several feet in diameter at the base and 
two or three feet high. It is composed of reeds, rushes, 
and straw, and placed by preference in shallow water. 
Great care is taken to keep the eggs above water level. 
If, as is apt to happen in India, heavy rain comes on , 
after the completion of the nest, the parents speedily set 
to work to raise the eggs by adding more material to 
that upon which they rest. 



THE STABILITY OF SPECIES 

IF two crows be taken to an ornithologist and he 
be told that one of them was caught in the 
Himalayas while the other was captured in 
Madras, he will not be able to tell which in- 
dividual came from which area : in other words, the 
crows of Madras resemble those of the Himalayas. 
This, of course, is no unusual phenomenon. The same 
may be said of the myna, the king-crow, and a great 
many other birds and beasts. Yet the phenomenon is 
a remarkable one if we take into account the facts of 
variation. 

If several hundred thousand crows be collected and 
carefully examined, it will be found that no two of them 
resemble one another in all respects. This being so, 
we should expect the crows of Madras to differ from 
those of the Himalayas, since the two environments 
are so dissimilar. We may say with tolerable certainty 
that no intercrossing takes place between the crows of 
the two localities : for these birds are stay-at-home 
creatures, and do not wander far afield. In this case, 
therefore, it is not intercrossing that has prevented the 
origin of local races. 

A consideration of the main causes which conduce 
to the stability of species may not be devoid of in- 
40 



THE STABILITY OF SPECIES 41 

terest ; for the subject is one which has hitherto at- 
tracted but Httle attention. Since the Darwinian 
hypothesis was given to the world we have heard so 
much of variation and the origin of new species that 
the other phenomenon — that of the fixity of species — in 
spite of varying environments has been almost entirely 
overlooked. Yet it was just this feature of animal life 
that attracted the attention of the older zoologists and 
led them to believe that species had been created once 
and for all, and that, when created, they were immutably 
fixed. 

Most biologists, if asked to explain the comparative 
fixity of species, the slowness of evolution, would, I 
think, refer to the fact that variations appear to take 
place indiscriminately in all directions. Take, for 
example, a large number of birds of any species and 
measure any one organ, let us say the first primary 
wing feather. Suppose the average length be six inches. 
We shall find that in a considerable percentage of the 
individuals measured the wing is exactly six inches in 
length : that six inches is what we may call the favour- 
ite or fashionable length of the wing. The next com- 
monest lengths will be 5'99 and 6"Oi inches, and so on. 
We shall find that only a very small percentage of the 
individuals have wings shorter than 5| inches or longer 
than 6| inches ; and if we measured a thousand in- 
dividuals we probably should not find any in which the 
wing was shorter than five inches or longer than seven. 

Now, the commonly accepted theory is that in those 
cases where there is free interbreeding the long-winged 
varieties and the short-winsfed varieties tend to neutralise 



42 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

one another, hence no change in character takes place. 
The effects of variation are swamped by intercrossing. 
It is only when intercrossing is checked, as when 
natural selection weeds out certain varieties, that 
evolution occurs. 

This theory, of course, explains, or helps to explain, 
why species are so stable ; but it involves the assump- 
tion that there is no such thing as sexual selection 
among animals in a state of nature. The theory 
assumes that individuals mate in a haphazard manner, 
that a long-winged hen is as likely to select a short- 
winged husband as a long-winged one. Are we justified 
in assuming this? At present there is little evidence 
on the subject. Evidence can only be procured by 
measuring a number of pairs of birds that have mated, 
and seeing whether large hens mate chiefly with large 
cocks or with small cocks, or indifferently with large or 
small cock-birds. 

That sexual selection is a reality and not a mere 
hypothesis there can, I think, be but little doubt. It 
is with the theory that supposes that the females alone 
exercise selection that I feel compelled to quarrel. The 
male selects his partner just as much as the female 
selects hers. The choice is mutual. 

In the Zoological Gardens at Lahore there are a 
number of ordinary coloured peacocks and a number of 
albinos. No coloured hen will mate with a coloured 
cock if she is allowed to exercise a choice between him 
and an albino. Here, then, is a clear example of sexual 
selection. 

Professor Karl Pearson has spent much time in trying 



THE STABILITY OF SPECIES 43 

to discover whether there is such a thing as sexual 
selection — what we may call unconscious selection — 
among human beings. His experiments tend to show 
that there is. 

If we take a thousand married men whose stature is 
not less than six feet, and a thousand also who are none 
of them taller than 5 ft. 8 in., we shall find that the 
average height of the wives of the former is greater 
than that of the wives of the shorter men. 

If wild animals display a similar characteristic, it is 
evident that to say that intercrossing swamps variation 
and causes species to remain stable is not altogether 
accurate ; for, if like select like as partners, we should 
expect a number of races to rapidly arise, or, at any 
rate, three races — a large, medium, and small one. So 
far, however, as we can see, species display no such 
tendency. We are therefore driven to the conclusion 
either that there is among species in a state of nature 
no tendency for like individuals to select like as their 
partners, or, if there be such a tendency, there is some 
force at work which counteracts it. 

It may be thought that the case of the peafowl in 
the Lahore " Zoo " tends to show that among animals 
it is dissimilarity, not similarity, that attracts, for the 
coloured hens mate with white cocks in preference to 
those like themselves. 

As a matter of fact the hens select the white 
cocks, not because they are white, but because of 
the strength of the sexual instincts of these latter. 
The white cocks continually show off before the hens ; 
the sexual desire is developed more highly in them 



44 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

than in the ordinary cocks, and it is this that attracts 

the hens. 

We must also bear in mind that abnormal variations 
have a strong tendency to perpetuate themselves. If 
a white cock mates with an ordinary peahen, the 
majority of the offspring are pure white. 

If there be such a thing as sexual selection, and 
if it be, as I believe, the strongest, the most mettle- 
some individuals, those in which the sexual instincts 
reach the highest development, that attract the opposite 
sex, then the question arises : is there any connection 
between these characteristics and the size and colour 
of their possessor ? We are not in possession of 
sufficient data to answer this question in the affirmative. 
Nevertheless I believe that such a relation does exist. 

The researches of Professor Pearson seem to point to 
the fact that there exists a definite relation between 
variation and fertility. For every species there is a 
mode or typical size and form, and from this there are 
deviations in all directions, and, speaking generally, the 
greater the deviation from the mode the less the fertility 
of the individual. 

If this be a general law we have here a very potent 
factor tending to make species stable. Those indi- 
viduals which deviate least from the common type are 
the most fertile ; they produce the most offspring ; 
moreover, they are the most numerous, hence they, by 
sheer force of numbers, keep a species stable. The 
abnormal individuals are comparatively few in number, 
and they beget comparatively few of their kind, so have 
no chance of establishing themselves and crushing out 



THE STABILITY OF SPECIES 45 

the normal type, unless natural selection steps in to 
their aid. 

Is comparative infertility the result of feebleness of 
the sexual instinct ? If so, sexual selection must be 
conducive to the stability of species. 

For if the rule be the greater the deviation of an 
individual from the normal the less the development in 
it of the sexual instinct and the less its fertility, it 
follows that an abnormal organism is less likely to 
find a mate than a normal individual is ; and if it do 
succeed in forming a union, that union will probably 
produce less than the average number of offspring. 



THE AMADAVAT 

" X'"^ ENTLEMEN," said a Cambridge professor 

■ to his class, " I regret that owing to the 

^ W forgetfulness of my assistant, I am unable 
to show you a specimen of the shell of the 
mollusc of which we are speaking. You have, however, 
but to step into the parlour of any seaside lodging- 
house and on the mantelpiece you will see two of the 
shells in question." Every undergraduate immediately 
knew what the shell was like ; so will my readers at 
once recognise the bird of which I write when I inform 
them that the amadavat is the little red bird with white 
spots that occurs in every aviary in India. The bird is, 
indeed, not all red, but the bill is bright red and there 
are patches of this colour all over the plumage — more in 
the cock than in the hen, and more in the former in the 
breeding season than at other times. Thus the general 
effect is that of a red bird ; hence the native name Lai 
munia, which, being interpreted, is the red munia. This 
is the proper English name of the bird, although fanciers 
frequently call it the red waxbill. Men of science know 
it as SporGeginihus amandava. I may say here that the 
name avadavat or amadavat is derived from Ahmeda- 
bad, whence great numbers used to be exported, for thg 
bird is a great favourite in England. 
46 



THE AMADAVAT 47 

It is the cage bird of India, par excellence. Hundreds 
of thousands of amadavats must at this moment be 
living in captivity. The bird takes to cage Hfe as a 
Scotsman to whisky. Within five minutes of capture 
the Httle creature is contentedly eating its seed and 
singing quite gaily. This is no exaggeration. I was 
recently out with a friend when we came upon a small 
boy catching munias. We saw captured a fine cock 
which my friend purchased for two annas. Not hap- 
pening to have a cage in his pocket, he put the tiny 
creature into a fold of his handkerchief and placed the 
remainder of the handkerchief in his pocket. While we 
were walking home our captive began twittering in 
answer to his companions who were still free. If this 
be not philosophical behaviour, I do not know what is. 

Nothing is easier than to catch munias. All that is 
required is the common, pyramidal-shaped, four-anna 
wicker cage in which birds are usually carried about in 
India. To the base of one of the walls of this a flap is 
attached by a hinge. The flap is the same size and 
shape as the wall of the cage, and composed of a frame 
over which a narrow-meshed string net is stretched. A 
string is fastened to the apex of the flap. The cage, 
with a captive bird inside, is placed in the open so that 
the flap rests on the ground. On this some groundsel 
is thrown. In a few minutes a passing amadavat is 
attracted to the cage by the song of the bird inside. 
The new-comer at once begins to feed on the groundsel. 
Then the bird-catcher, who is seated a few yards away, 
pulls the string sharply, so that the flap closes over the 
side of the cage and thus the bird is secured. It is then 



48 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

placed inside the cage and the flap again set. In this 
manner a dozen or more amadavats can be captured in 
an hour. As nine red munias are sold for a rupee, and 
as they will live for years in captivity and cost next to 
nothing to keep, it is not surprising that they are 
popular pets. 

Moreover, the amadavat is no mean songster. "Eha" 
is, I think, a little severe on the bird when he states 
that "fifty in a cage make an admirable chorus." The 
bird is small, so is its voice, but what there is of the 
latter is exceedingly sweet. Were its notes only louder 
the bird would be in the first rank as a songster. A rip- 
pling stream of cheery twitters emanates unceasingly 
from a cage of munias. The birds seem never to tire. 
The cock frequently utters, in addition to this perpetual 
twitter, a warble of five or six notes. The birds love to 
huddle together in a row on a perch and twitter in 
chorus. Suddenly the chorus ceases ; one of the birds 
raises his head above the level of the others and sings a 
solo, while the rest listen in silence with the air of 
connoisseurs. When he has finished, another bird has a 
" turn," then another. The whole performance always 
puts me in mind of one of those impromptu concerts 
which soldiers are so fond of getting up. 

Quite apart from their song, munias afford him 
who keeps them much pleasure, because they are 
most amusing birds to watch. They are very fond 
of heat. They are happiest when the thermometer 
stands at about a hundred. When they huddle 
together for the sake of warmth, all are content except 
the two end birds, who are kept warm only on one 



THE AMADAVAT 49 

side. No bird, therefore, likes to be an outside one 
of a row. If two or three, sitting close together, are 
joined by another, this last does not take up a position 
at the end of the line. He knows a trick worth two of 
that. He perches on the backs of two in the middle 
and tries to wedge himself in between them. Some- 
times he succeeds. Sometimes he does not. When he 
does succeed he frequently upsets the equilibrium of 
the whole row. 

Needless to say, the birds roost huddled together, and 
at bed-time there is great manoeuvring to avoid an 
outside position. Each tries to get somewhere in the 
middle, and, in order to do so, adopts one of two 
methods. He either flops on top of birds already in 
position, and, if he cannot wedge himself in, sleeps 
with one foot on the back of one bird and the other 
on its neighbour's back. The birds do not seem to 
mind being sat upon in this way. The other method 
is for the two outer birds to press inwards until one of 
those in the middle of the row is squeezed so hard 
as to lose its foothold and be violently ejected upwards. 
The bird thus jockeyed out of its position then hops to 
one end and in its turn begins to push inwards, and so 
the process continues until the birds grow too sleepy to 
struggle any more. All this contest is conducted with- 
out a sound. There is no bickering or squabbling. 
The only thing I know like it is the contest in the 
dining-room of an Indian hotel, when two "boys," 
each belonging to a different master, seize a dish 
simultaneously. Each is determined to secure that 
dish, and neither dares utter a sound for fear of 



50 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

angering his Sahib. Thus they struggle in grim 
silence. Eventually one is victorious and walks off 
in triumph with the dish. The defeated servant at 
once accepts the situation ; so is it with a munia ejected 
from a central position. 

Although amadavats are widely distributed in India 
and fairly common in most parts of the country, they 
usually escape notice on account of their small size. 
When flying overhead they are probably mistaken for 
sparrows. Moreover, they do not often visit gardens ; 
they prefer open country. 

Amadavats belong to the finch family, to the great tribe 
which includes the sparrow, the canary, and the weaver- 
bird. By their coarse, stout beak, tapering to a point, 
you may know them. The use of this big beak is to 
husk grain. Finches do not gobble up their seed whole 
as pigeons or fowls do ; they carefully husk each grain 
before swallowing it. Hence the meal of a bird of this 
family is a somewhat protracted affair. He who keeps 
an aviary should remember this and provide his birds 
with several seed-boxes, otherwise one or two bullies 
(for there are bullies even among tiny birds) are apt to 
monopolise the food. 

He should also bear in mind that Nature does not 
provide her feathered children with teeth. Seed-eating 
birds, therefore, habitually swallow small stones and 
pieces of grit. These perform the function of millstones 
inside the bird. From this it follows that it is cruel to 
keep seed-eating birds without supplying them with 
sand and grit. 

The bone of a cuttle-fish, tied to the wall of the cage. 



THE AMADAVAT 51 

is much appreciated by all the finch tribe and helps to 
keep them in condition. 

The nest of the amadavat is a large ball of fibrous 
material, somewhat carelessly put together, with a hole 
at one side by way of entrance. Winter is the season 
in which to look for the nests, but they are not easy to 
find, being well concealed in low bushes. Six pure 
white glossless eggs are usually laid. 



THE NUTMEG BIRD 

THE nutmeg bird or spotted munia {Uro- 
loncha punctulata) is second only to the 
amadavat as an aviary favourite. The two 
species are almost invariably caged together* 
This is, perhaps, the reason why I was once gravely 
assured by a lady that the spotted munia is the hen 
and the amadavat the cock of one and the same species ! 
Needless to say, the birds, although relatives, belong to 
different genera. The stouter bill of the spotted munia 
proclaims this. In colour the beak is bluish black or 
dark slate colour, and contrasts strongly with the 
chocolate-brown of the head, neck, back, wings, and 
tail. The breast is white with a number of black rings, 
which give it the appearance of a nutmeg-grater, hence 
the popular name of the bird. Fanciers go one better 
and call it the spice bird. If in years to come the 
former name be forgotten, etymologists will put their 
wise heads together and puzzle and wrangle over the 
derivation of the name " spice bird " ! 

The habits of the spotted munia are those of the 
amadavat. Like the latter, it seems to thrive in cap- 
tivity ; it also loves warmth, and likes to go to roost with 
a warm companion on each side of it. Red and spotted 
munias live together very amicably in a cage ; but as 
52 



THE NUTMEG BIRD 53 

the latter, owing to their less showy plumage, are 
usually in a minority, they have to be content with 
outside positions at roosting-time. Sometimes my 
munias take it into their tiny heads to sleep on a perch 
which runs across a corner of the cage, and is barely 
long enough to accommodate them all. There are 
several other finer and longer perches, but, for some 
reason or other, they seem to prefer this one. Possibly 
its breadth is better adapted to the grip of their feet 
than that of any of the others. I may here say, in 
parenthesis, for the benefit of those who keep cage 
birds, that every cage should contain several perches of 
varying diameter, so as to permit the inmates of the 
cage the luxury of a change of grip. 

Well, when a dozen birds persist in roosting on a 
perch intended only to seat ten, at least one of them is 
unable to find room on the perch, and is obliged either 
to sleep on the backs of some of his companions or 
make-believe that he is roosting on the perch. This 
latter feat is accomplished by the bird clutching hold of 
the two wires between which the perch passes and 
maintaining himself at an angle of 45° with the vertical. 
In this attitude a bird will sometimes sleep ! Of course, 
its body is in part resting on that of its neighbour, but, 
allowing for this, a more uncomfortable position is in- 
conceivable to a human being. The spotted munia, 
however, seems to find it tolerably comfortable. 

Birds sleep standing, often on one leg. Did this 
require any appreciable muscular effort on the part of 
the bird there could be no rest in such an attitude, and 
the bird would fall off its perch as soon as it went to 



54 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

sleep. As a matter of fact, the muscles and tendons of 
a bird's hind -limb are so arranged that, to use the 
words of Mr. F. W, Headley, "when the leg bends 
at the ankle, there is a pull upon the tendons, the 
muscles are stretched, the toes are bent and grasp the 
perch on which the bird sits. Thus he is maintained 
by his own weight, which bends the leg and so causes 
the toes to grip." Thanks to this feature of their 
anatomy, passerine birds are able to sleep on branches 
of trees out of reach of prowling beasts of prey. 

The great force with which a bird grasps its perch 
is worthy of note. As every hawker is aware, a falcon, 
when carried on the wrist, grips the leather gauntlet so 
tightly as to almost stop the circulation of the blood in 
the hand of the carrier. A fox cannot open its mouth 
when once its snout is in the iron grip of an eagle. 
Examples of the power of the grip of the foot of a 
passerine bird will occur to every one who has had much 
to do with our feathered friends. Crows habitually 
roost in the topmost branches of trees, which must be 
very violently shaken in a gale of wind ; yet the birds 
never seem to lose their hold. 

I have said that the habits of the spotted munia are 
those of the amadavat ; what was said of the latter 
applies to the former, with one exception. The spotted 
munia is no songster. Those who keep the bird must 
have seen him go through all the motions of singing, 
with a considerable display of energy, but scarcely a 
sound seems to issue. You may perhaps hear the 
feeblest noise, like that made by a wheezy and de- 
crepit mosquito. When you see the bird's mandibles 



THE NUTMEG BIRD 55 

moving nineteen to the dozen with scarcely a sound 
issuing, you are inclined to think that he is either play- 
ing dumb crambo or that he has taken leave of his 
senses. Nothing of the kind. The bird is singing his 
top notes, which are doubtless greatly appreciated by 
his mate. Sound is, as we all know in this scientific age, 
vibration appreciable to the ear. Air is the usual vibrat- 
ing medium. Only certain vibrations are perceptible 
to the human auditory organ. Those having a recur- 
rence of below thirty or above sixteen thousand per 
second do not produce the sensation of sound to the 
average human ear. There are thus numbers of vibra- 
tions continually going on which are lost to us; to this 
category belong the vibrations in the air produced by 
the vocal cords of the spotted munia. The ear of a 
bird is constituted very differently from that of man, 
so that it is not surprising if birds can hear certain 
sounds imperceptible to us human beings. I may here 
say that the range of the human ear varies greatly in 
different individuals. Some men can hear vibrations 
of which the recurrence is but fifteen in the second, 
while others are said to appreciate notes caused by forty 
thousand vibrations per second. I have a friend who 
cannot hear a black partridge when it is calling ; its 
notes are too high for the unusually limited range of his 
ear. I do not know if there are any people to whom 
the note of the nutmeg bird sounds quite loud ; if 
there be, and these lines meet their eye, I hope they will 
give their brethren of more limited capacity the benefit 
of their experience. 



THE DID-HE-DO-IT 

MR. " did-he-do-it " is a dandy of the first 
water. I should like to add "and so is 
his wife," for she dresses exactly as he 
does, and is every bit as particular 
regarding her personal appearance, but owing to the 
peculiarity of our Anglo-Saxon tongue, it is incorrect 
to apply the term " dandy " to a lady, and there appears 
to be no feminine equivalent of it. I must therefore 
be content to say that Mrs. Did-he-do-it is a dressy 
little person. Before describing the attire of the Did- 
he-do-it let me say that the bird is correctly styled the 
red-wattled lapwing. Ornithologists used to call it 
Lobivanellus goensis, but this was found to be a bit of a 
mouthful for even an ornithologist ; accordingly the 
bird is now named Sarcograimnus indicus for short. 

The Did-he-do-it belongs to the noble family of 
plovers. Its head, neck, and upper back are black, 
and the under parts are white. A broad white band 
runs down each side of the neck from the eye to join 
the white of the under parts. The wings are of a 
beautiful greenish-bronze hue ; the legs are bright 
yellow. The beak is crimson-red, as is the forwardly 
pointing wattle which forms so conspicuous a feature of 
the bird's physiognomy. The lapwing is thus an easy 
56 



THE DID-HE-DO-IT 57 

bird to identify. Even if you cannot see him, you 
know he is there the moment you hear his loud, 
shrill "Did he do it, pity to do it." The only bird 
with which he can possibly be confounded is his cousin, 
the yellow-wattled lapwing {Sarciophonis malabaricus). 
This latter, however, has a yellow wattle and one 
syllable less in its cry. 

The Did-he-do-it is a bird which frequents open 
plains in the neighbourhood of water. I have never 
seen it perched on a tree, and as it does not possess 
the luxury of a hind toe, I imagine that, like the old 
lady after a rough Channel crossing, it likes to feel 
itself on ^^ terra cottar 

This bird is not likely to be seen within municipal 
limits, but it is fairly abundant outside Madras. It 
feeds chiefly upon insects and small Crustacea. It is 
not a gluttonous fowl. " Eha " declares that you never 
find it where there is food and that it does without 
sleep, since you never catch it napping. Jerdon, how- 
ever, informs us that in the South of India it is said 
to sleep on its back with its legs in the air — a distinctly 
undignified position for a dandy. It sleeps thus so as 
to be able to catch on its toes the sky in case this 
should happen to fall down. As " Eha " says, the chief 
point about this truly native yarn is that it is impossible 
to contradict it, for who has seen a lapwing asleep ? 

The nesting habits of the Did-he-do-it are most 
interesting. Strictly speaking, it does not build a nest. 
It scrapes a cavity, about a quarter of an inch deep, 
in some stony place. This is the nest. Round 
it there are a few pieces of kankar or some twigs; 



58 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

whether these are brought thither by the bird, or have 
merely been brushed there in the making of the cavity, 
I know not. Very frequently the nest is situated 
in the ballast of the railway line. Sometimes it is so 
placed that the footboard of every carriage passes over 
the head of the sitting bird. There is no accounting 
for tastes ! Four eggs are usually laid ; they are much 
more pointed at one end than at the other, and are 
invariably placed in the nest so as to form a star, the 
blunt ends projecting outwards and the thin ends nearly 
meeting at the centre. 

Lapwings' eggs are protectively coloured. Being 
laid in the open and not hidden away in a nest, it is 
important that they should not be conspicuous, other- 
wise they would soon be espied and devoured by some 
egg-eating creature. Thus they are coloured so as to 
assimilate with their surroundings. The ground colour is 
greenish and is boldly splotched with sepia, some of the 
splotches being darker than others. The eggs are dull 
and not glossy, hence are very difficult to distinguish from 
the stones which lie round about them. From the above 
description it will be seen that the Did-he-do-it's egg is 
very like that of his cousin the English plover, whose 
eggs are held to be so great a delicacy. Why these 
eggs are so much esteemed I do not know. I suspect 
that it is because they are difficult to find, and so 
costly. If tripe and onions cost fifty shillings a pound, 
this dish would probably form the piece de resistance of 
every millionaire's banquet. 

The eggs of the Did-he-do-it, then, are interesting 
as forming perfect examples of protectively coloured 



THE DID-HE-DO-IT 59 

objects. As I have previously remarked, the theory of 
protective colouration has my deepest sympathy. It is 
an unfortunate jade upon which every biologist seems 
to think that he is entitled to take free rides ; the 
result is that the poor beast's ribs are cutting through 
its skin ! For example, every bird's egg is supposed to 
be protectively coloured — even the gorgeous shining 
blue egg laid by the seven sisters, which is, in truth, 
about as much protectively coloured as the I Zingari 
Cricket Club blazer is. The majority of eggs are laid 
in nests which are either covered in or more or less 
well concealed among foliage, hence there is no neces- 
sity for them to be protectively coloured. Dame Nature 
is free to exercise on them to the uttermost her artistic 
temperament, with the result that there are few things 
more beautiful than a collection of birds' eggs. 

So well do the eggs of the lapwing assimilate with 
their surroundings, that, if you would discover a clutch 
of them, your only chance is to watch the actions of the 
possessors of the nest. But the Did-he-do-it is a wily 
bird, and if you are not very cute he will live up to his 
name by " doing you in the eye." He does not, like 
babblers and bulbuLs, make a tremendous noise as you 
approach the nest. He assumes a nonchalant, I might 
say jaunty, air, hoping thereby to put the intruder off 
the scent. The other day I had the pleasure of circum- 
venting a couple of lapwings. Feeling tolerably certain 
that a pair had a nest on a flat piece of ground near a 
canal bank, I determined to find that nest. My wife 
accompanied me. On arriving at the spot we took 
cover under some trees and scanned the horizon with 



6o BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

field-glasses, but saw no trace of a lapwing. I began to 
think I had made a mistake. After a time we walked 
on towards the canal ; when we had gone some three 
hundred yards my wife noticed a bird on a ridge by the 
canal. By the aid of glasses I saw it was a Did-he- 
do-it. We both dropped down and watched. The bird 
had " spotted " us, for he had assumed the air of an old 
sailor who is smoking a pipe over a mug of beer, the air 
of a man without a care in the world. Presently he 
quietly disappeared behind the little ridge. We then 
made a big detour so as to reach the other side of this. 
Having arrived there we sat behind a tree. The lap- 
wing was now eyeing us suspiciously. We affected to 
take no notice of him. Presently a second Did-he-do-it 
came out from behind a clump of low plants only to 
disappear into it almost immediately, and then ostenta- 
tiously reappear after a few seconds. Had we not 
known the wiles of the lapwing we should have located 
the nest behind that clump. But we knew better and 
waited. One of the birds again disappeared behind the 
clump, but emerged at the other side and strolled along 
very slowly ; presently it came to some stones, where it 
stood motionless for a few seconds. It then sat down, 
or rather slowly sank into a sitting position. There 
was no doubt that the bird was now on the nest. We 
made for it. As we approached, the bird that was not 
on the nest flew off, making a noise with the object of 
putting us off the scent. The lapwing on the nest 
quietly got up and strolled off without a sound. On 
arriving at the place where she had been sitting we 
found three eggs. I took one of them for a lady who was 



THE DID-HE-DO-IT 6i 

anxious to have one. Meanwhile both birds had flown 
away without making any noise. Having examined 
the nest, we returned to our watching place. In about 
ten minutes the bird was again sitting quite happily. 
She had not missed the egg. 



COBBLER OR TAILOR? 

THE disagreement between the popular and 
the scientific name of the tailor-bird 
{Oi'thotomus sutorius) must, I suppose, be 
attributed to the fact that the average 
ornithologist is not learned in the Classics. I freely 
admit that I did not notice the discrepancy until it was 
pointed out to me. Orthotomus sutorius means, not the 
tailoring, but the cobbling Orthotomus. It was, I 
believe, Forester who, considerably over a century ago, 
gave the bird the specific name which it now possesses, 
or rather the allied name, sutoria. If he wrote this in 
mistake for sartoria, the error was a stroke of genius, 
since the bird should certainly be called the cobbler 
rather than the tailor. The so-called sewing of the nest 
is undoubtedly a great performance for a little bird that 
does not possess a workbox. Nevertheless, if the dirsie 
who squats in the verandah did not work more neatly 
than the tailor-bird he would soon lose his place. 
Orthotovms sutorius does not sew leaves one to 
another, it merely cobbles them together, much as 
the " boy " cobbles together the holes in his master's 
socks. 

When last I wrote about the tailor-bird, I had honestly 
to admit that I did not know how the bird did its work. 
62 



COBBLER OR TAILOR? 63 

My attitude towards its sewing was then that of the 
child who sings — 

Twinkle, twinkle, little star. 
How I wonder what you are ! 

To-day I can boast with the learned astronomer — 

Twinkle, twinkle, little star. 
Now we all know what you are ! 

for I have found out how the bird does its sewing. 

Some months ago Mr. G. A. Pinto, a very keen 
ornithologist, informed me that a tailor-bird built regu- 
larly every year in the verandah in front of his drawing- 
room window. He told me that he had never thought 
of watching the stitching operation, and was much 
surprised when I informed him that, so far as I knew, 
no one had ever observed the complete process. He 
said that as the bird would undoubtedly begin building 
shortly, he would follow the whole process from the 
other side of the window. He was as good as his word. 
It is thanks to his patient watching that I am in a 
position to pen this article. Towards the end of May 
the hen tailor-bird began "prospecting" for a likely site, 
for the hen alone works at the nest, and selected a 
Dracana plant on the left-hand side of the entrance to 
the verandah. One of the leaves of the plant was so 
curved that its terminal half was parallel with the 
ground. Upon this she commenced operations. The 
first thing she did was to make with her sharp little 
beak a number of punctures along each edge of the leaf. 
In this particular case the punctures took the form of 
longitudinal slits, owing to the fact that the veins of the 



64 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Draccena leaf run longitudinally. In leaves of different 
texture the punctures take other shapes. Having thus 
prepared the leaf, she disappeared for a little and 
returned with a strand of cobweb. One end of this she 
wound round the narrow part of the leaf that separated 
one of the punctures from the edge ; having done this, 
she carried the loose end of the strand across the under 
surface of the leaf to a puncture on the opposite side, 
where she attached it to the leaf and thus drew the 
edges a little way together. She then proceeded to 
connect most of the other punctures with those opposite 
to them, so that the leaf took the form of a tunnel con- 
verging to a point. The under surface of the leaf formed 
the roof and sides of the tunnel or arch. There was no 
floor to this, since the edges of the leaf did not meet 
below, the gap between them being bridged by strands 
of cobweb. This was a full day's work for the little 
bird, and more than sufficient to disqualify her for 
membership in any trade union. 

She next went on to line with cotton this cul-de-sac 
which she had made in the leaf. She, of course, com- 
menced by filling the tip, and the weight of the lining 
soon caused the hitherto horizontal leaf to hang down- 
wards, so that it eventually became almost vertical, with 
the tip pointing towards the ground. When lining the 
nest the bird made a number of punctures in the leaf, 
through which she poked the lining with her beak, the 
object of this being to keep the lining in situ. It was 
Mr. Pinto who first called my attention to these punc- 
tures in the body of the leaf. He informed me that he 
had never seen a tailor-bird's nest in which the lining 



COBBLER OR TAILOR? 65 

did not thus project through holes in the leaf, and that 
when searching for such nests he always looked out 
for this. My subsequent observations have tended to 
confirm his statement. 

All this time the edges of the leaf that formed the 
nest had been held together by the thinnest strands of 
cobweb, and it is a mystery how these can have stood 
the strain. However, before the lining was completed, 
the bird proceeded to strengthen them by connecting 
the punctures on opposite edges of the leaf with threads 
of cotton. Her inodtis operandi was to push one end of 
a thread through a puncture on one edge and the other 
end through a puncture on the opposite edge of the leaf. 
The cotton used is soft and frays easily, so that that 
part of it which is forced through a tiny aperture issues 
as a fluffy knob, which looks like a knot and is usually 
taken for such. As a matter of fact, the bird makes 
no knots ; she merely forces a portion of the cotton 
strand through a puncture, and the silicon which 
enters into the composition of the leaf catches the 
soft, minute strands of the cotton and prevents them 
from slipping. 

Every one must have noticed how brittle a dead leaf is. 
This brittleness is due to the silicon which is deposited 
in the epidermis of the leaf. When the leaf is green the 
silicon is not so obvious ; it is nevertheless there. Some 
leaves take up more silicon than others ; grasses, for 
example, contain so much that many will cut one's hand 
if roughly plucked. I imagine that the tailor-bird usually 
selects for her nest a leaf or leaves in which there is 
plenty of silicon. Thus the bird does not make a knot 

F 



66 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

as is popularly supposed, nor is there any necessity for 
her to do so. Sometimes the connecting threads of 
cotton are sufficiently long to admit of their being 
passed to and fro, in which case the bird utilises the 
full length. 

I may mention that when the nest, the building of 
which I have attempted to describe, was about three 
parts finished, Mr. Pinto noticed that the bird had ceased 
to work at it. He was surprised and disappointed. He 
then discovered that the little builder was at work on a 
DraccBna plant on the right-hand side of the entrance to 
the verandah, not two yards distant from the first nest. 
He was much astonished at the strange behaviour of 
the bird, and still more so when, the next day, she had 
resumed work at her first nest, which she completed, 
leaving the second unfinished at the stage when the 
punctures had been made and the edges of the leaf 
drawn together by strands of cobweb. Presently an 
explanation of the bird's unusual behaviour occurred to 
him. His dog which, ordinarily, is chained up at one 
end of the verandah, was, on the day the tailor-bird left 
her first nest, fastened up in the middle of the verandah, 
so that the bird while working at her nest would be 
within its reach. She evidently objected to this, so 
began a new nest; but next day, when the dog had been 
removed, she returned to her more advanced nursery. 
This accident of chaining up the dog for one day in the 
middle of the verandah was particularly fortunate, for it 
enabled me to examine carefully a nest in an early state 
of construction. 

This account must, I fear, close with a tragedy. 



COBBLER OR TAILOR? ty 

When the little cobbler had been sitting on her eggs for 
about ten days one of the garden coolies broke them, 
out of mischief, and thought he had done a clever thing. 
He is now a sadder if not a wiser rascal ! 



A CROW IN COLOURS 



From bough to bough the restless magpie roves, 
And chatters as she flies. 



THE magpie has been well called a crow in 
gay attire. The two species are related, 
and, as regards character, they are " birds 
of a feather." Both are bold, bad creatures, 
both rogues, thieves, and villains, and, as such, both 
appeal to me. The magpie with which we are familiar 
in England can scarcely be called an Indian bird. It 
does disport itself in happy Kashmir, and has been seen 
in the uninviting tract of land over which the Khan of 
Khelat presides. But India, as defined in the Income 
Tax Act, extends neither to Kashmir nor to Baluchistan, 
hence Pica rustica may decline to be considered an 
Indian subject. In this land of many trials his place 
is taken by his cousins the tree-pies. One of these — 
the Indian tree-pie {Dendrocita rufd) — is distributed 
throughout the plains of India, at least, so the 
books tell us. As a matter of fact, I have never seen 
the bird in or about Madras. This is curious, 
for Madras is a garden city (I speak not of George- 
town), and the bird ought to revel in the well- 
wooded compounds which beautify the capital of the 
Southern Presidency. Lest its absence from Madras 
68 



A CROW IN COLOURS 69 

be attributed to the profession tax, let me say that the 
best legal authorities are of opinion that the bird would 
not be liable to pay the tax. Not that it would make 
any difference if the bird were liable. If I know him 
aright, he would say to the importunate tax collector, 
" Go and get your hair cut," or words to that effect. 
Nor is there, so far as I can see, anything in the 
much-abused climate of Madras to frighten away the 
bird. Perhaps the doves are too much for him. If 
there be one thing more than another calculated to 
disturb the easily upset equilibrium of the gentle dove 
it is the sight of a tree-pie. In those places where it 
occurs you may, any day of the week, see one of these 
long-tailed rascals being pursued and buffeted by a pair 
of irate and hysterically screaming doves. In this 
particular case the doves have some excuse for their 
anger. The tree-pie, or the Indian magpie as Jerdon 
calls him, is, to use a colloquialism, dead-nuts on a new- 
laid egg for his breakfast, and, as doves always display 
their oological productions on a shakedown in a tree, 
and as I defy even a museum ornithologist to discover 
any trace of protective colouration about the aforesaid 
oological treasures, we cannot be surprised if the tree- 
pie thinks that doves lay eggs for his especial benefit. 
Even if the tree-pie does not happen to have been 
breakfasting off their eggs the doves have ample excuse 
for chastising him, for does not tradition tell us that 
Noah's curse is upon the bird? The rascal flatly re- 
fused to enter the Ark with the other birds, so that the 
Patriarch had actually to send Japhet to catch it ! 

Unfortunately, the tree-pie does not draw the line 



70 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

at eggs. It is said that it makes no bones about 
devouring a young bird. I have never seen the creature 
commit this enormity, but Jerdon is my authority for 
the fact that " Mr. Smith " has known a bird to enter 
a covered verandah of a house and nip off half a dozen 
young geraniums, visit a cage of small birds, begin by 
stealing the grain, and end by killing and eating the 
birds, and repeating these visits daily until destroyed. 
Facilis est descensus Averni. 

This is only one side of the bird's character. I have 
seen a tree-pie literally obey the Biblical doctrine of 
turning the smitten cheek to the smiter ; nor, so far as 
I know, did it, like the well-brought-up boy, after 
having allowed its second cheek to be smitten, take off 
its coat and thrash the smiter. The bird in question 
sat motionless on a branch with a seraphic smile on its 
face, and appeared to be ignorant of the fact that two 
little furies, in the shape of fantailed flycatchers, were 
making puny pecks at its plumage. 

But before discoursing further upon the merits and 
demerits of our crow in colours, let me describe him. 
What applies to him applies to her. To the human eye 
there is no external difference between the two sexes. 
This by way of introduction. The tree-pie is a foot 
and a half long, one foot being tail and the remaining 
inches body. The head, neck, and breast are sooty 
brown, and the greater part of the remaining plumage 
is reddish fawn. The wings are brown and silver-grey. 
The tail is ashy grey broadly tipped with black. It is 
impossible to mistake a tree-pie; there is no other bird 
like it. Its flight is very characteristic, consisting of half 



A CROW IN COLOURS Ji 

a dozen rapid flaps of the wing followed by a little sail. 
The two middle tail feathers are much longer than the 
others, the pair next to the middle ones are the second 
longest, and the outer ones shortest of all. The bird, 
like all others, spreads out its tail during flight, and the 
expanded tail gives it a curious appearance. 

The Indian tree-pie, as its name implies, dwells 
principally in trees, and spends most of its time in 
picking insects off the leaves and branches. When 
fruit is in season, it feeds largely on that. It moves 
with great agility from branch to branch, but it fre- 
quently descends to the ground to feed and drink. It 
does not, I think, ever accompany cattle, as does our 
poor, persecuted magpie at home. It is a sociable bird 
and is frequently seen in little companies of six or 
seven. 

Like all socially inclined birds, it is very conver- 
sational. It has a great variety of notes, many of 
which are harsh and angry-sounding, others are 
whistling, metallic calls, acceptable to the human 
ear. The commonest of these sounds something Hke 
coch-lee, coch-lce. If, in a place where magpies abound, 
you hear any new and strange cry, you are tolerably 
safe in attributing it to one of those birds. 

The Indian pie is not so expert a nest-builder as its 
European cousin. This latter, it will be remembered, 
builds a large domed structure of prickly twigs with an 
entrance at one side, well protected by thorns. I have 
not been able to discover why this bird is at such pains 
to protect the entrance to its nursery. It is so aggres- 
sive and pugnacious that no sane thing in feathers 



72 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

would dream of attempting to rob its nest. One 
ornithologist has put forth the brilliant suggestion 
that the protection is against its brother magpies. I 
cannot accept this, for I take it as an axiom that where 
one magpie can enter, there can another. We must 
also bear in mind that the Indian species manage to 
thrive very well in spite of their roofless nests. 



UP-TO-DATE SPECIES MAKING 

THE ornithological world is peopled by two 
classes of human beings. There are those 
who study nature inside the museum with 
the microscope and the scalpel ; and there 
are those who love to observe birds in the open and 
study their habits. The former, if kept in their place, 
perform a very useful function, for they co-ordinate 
and elaborate the observations of the field naturalist. 
They should be most useful servants to him. Unfor- 
tunately these museum men are growing very powerful, 
and, like trade unions, are beginning to dictate to their 
masters. Indeed, they bid fair to become the masters 
and turn the field naturalists into their slaves. The 
chief aim of the arm-chair or museum ornithologist 
appears to be the multiplication of new species. Nowa- 
days more species seem to be brought into being by 
these men than by natural selection. When they are 
not manufacturing new species, they are tampering with 
those that already exist. 

I have repeatedly had occasion to speak of the marvel- 
lous, kaleidoscopic changes undergone by ornithological 
terminology — changes which are the despair of the field 
naturalist. I am not a statistician, but at a rough guess 
I should say that every species of bird has its name 
72, 



74 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

changed about once in each decade. The object of 
having a classical terminology is that naturalists of all 
countries shall have a common name for every bird and 
beast, and thus not be at cross-purposes when con- 
versing or corresponding. But this object is most 
successfully defeated when the classical name is con- 
tinually undergoing alteration. It is practically im- 
possible for any one but the professional ornithologist 
to keep pace with these changes. A poor dilettante 
like myself has not a look in. For example, I received 
by the last mail * the latest issue of the Avicultural 
Society's Magazine and noticed in it an article on the 
collared turtle-dove of Burma. Wondering what this 
bird might be, I looked at its scientific name and found 
it to be Turtur decaocta. I looked this up in both Jerdon 
and the Fauna of British India, but could not find it; 
nor could I see any mention of the collared turtle-dove. 
On reading through the paper I found, to my astonish- 
ment, that the bird referred to was our familiar friend 
the common or garden Indian ring-dove, which for 
years has been called Turtur risorius. Risorius was a 
name good enough for Jerdon, Hume, Vidal, Legge, 
Barnes, Reid, Davison, and a hundred other good 
ornithologists ; but because, forsooth, one Salvadori 
would like a change, we shall, I suppose, be obliged 
to adopt the latest new-fangled appellation. 

The museum ornithologist has yet another craze. 
He sees that there must be some limit to the present 
multiplication of species, so he has hit upon the brilliant 
idea of making sub-species. Just as the inhabitants of 

* Written towards the end of 1906. 



UP-TO-DATE SPECIES MAKING 75 

every town and village have little local peculiarities, so 
have birds of the same species which live in different 
provinces. The latest idea is to make each of these a 
different sub-species with a special name of its own. 
In the near future the scientific name of every bird 
will be composed of three parts, the generic, the spe- 
cific, and the sub-specific. Thus Mr. T. H. Newman 
has discovered that the skin round the eye of the 
ring-dove of Burma is not whitish, as it is in India, 
but yellow ; Mr. Newman therefore manufactures a 
new sub-species, which he calls Turtur decaocta xantho- 
cydus as opposed to the Indian bird which he calls 
Tiirtur decaocta douraca. We may consider ourselves 
lucky that he has not made a new species of the Bur- 
mese bird ! 

This is not an isolated case. Almost every unfor- 
tunate species in the universe is being split up into a 
dozen or more sub-species. Any local variation in the 
colour of the plumage is considered sufficient justifica- 
tion for the formation of a sub-species, and we shall 
undoubtedly, ere long, hear of sub-sub-species ! ! 

The hopeless thing is that any Juggins can make 
new sub-species. It is as easy as falling out of a tree. 
Let me show how it is done. Take the common spar- 
row. This pushing little bird, this " feathered Hooligan," 
as Mr. Finn calls him, is found all over the world, and 
every one is able to recognise the sparrow wherever he 
,meets him as the same bird that insults people in 
London. But the sparrows of each country have their 
little peculiarities. For example, the cock sparrow in 
India has more white on his neck than his brother in 



ye BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

England. Hence we may make a sub-species of the 

Indian bird and call him Passer doviesticiis indiais. 

Now, close and patient observation during a pro- 
longed sojourn in Madras has convinced me that the 
sparrow in the Southern Presidency (I will no longer 
call it the Benighted Presidency, for experience has 
shown me that there are other parts of India far more 
benighted) is quite twenty per cent, more impudent 
than the sparrows in Northern India. Hence we have 
no option but to make a sub-sub-species of him. Let 
us call him Passer domesticus indicus maderaspatejtsis. 
We may go even a step further. The sparrows that 
hold chorus along the ledges of the iron rafters of the 
Connemara Hotel are far more insulting and exasper- 
ating than any other sparrows I have set eyes upon. 
This surely is quite sufficient provocation for making a 
sub-sub-sub-species of those birds. I propose to call 
them Passer domesticus indicus maderaspatejisis connemara 
hotelwalla — a name which I am sure will be received 
with acclamation both by sparrows and human beings. 

But enough of this foolery. The multiplication of 
species is really a very serious matter, for it is likely to 
deter sane persons from taking up the most delightful 
of studies. If the ornithological societies of every 
country in the world would combine to suppress the 
evil, it could easily be put down. But there is, I fear, 
no likelihood of such combination, because these socie- 
ties are composed mostly of museum ornithologists, and 
it is too much to expect of these men that they will 
voluntarily suppress their chief enjoyment in life. To 
persuade them to act in this altruistic manner it will be 



UP-TO-DATE SPECIES MAKING tj 

necessary to offer them a quid pro quo. The only quid 
that suggests itself to me is to invite each of them to 
name a bird after himself. Let the name of every known 
species (I mean proper and indisputable species) be put in 
a hat and let each member draw one out. The bird he 
draws will henceforth be called after him. If any birds 
are left undrawn after every man has shed his name on 
one species, the remainder could be balloted for, and 
thus some lucky dogs would be able to give their name 
to two birds. When this is once done, it should be made 
an offence punishable with death to change the specific 
name of any feathered thing. Newly discovered birds 
and beasts could, as heretofore, be named after the happy 
discoverer. This proposal will, if adopted, cure the evil. 
My point is that it does not matter a jot what a bird be 
called ; the important thing is to give it a fixed and 
immutable name, so that we poor field naturalists shall 
know where we are. 



HONEYSUCKERS 

HONEYSUCKERS are birds that have 
adopted the manner of living of the butter- 
fly, and a charming mode of life it is. To 
flit about in the sunshine and drink sweet 
draughts of the nectar that lies hidden away at the base 
of the petals of flowers is indeed an idyllic existence. 

The sunbird, as the honeysucker is frequently called, 
is provided with a curved beak and a long tubular 
tongue to enable it the better to rob cup-like blossoms 
of their honey. The bird must perforce be very small 
and light, or it would find it impossible to reach the 
nectar of many flowers. As a matter of fact, it is 
almost as light as air, so is able to support itself on one 
flower when drinking honey from another. Sometimes, 
if no perch be available, the little honeysucker will 
hover in the air on rapidly vibrating wings and thus 
extract the sweets from a flower. In this attitude it 
looks very like a butterfly. I may here mention that 
sunbirds do not live exclusively upon honey : they 
vary this diet with minute insects which they pick off" 
flowers and leaves. 

Honeysuckers are frequently called humming-birds 
by Anglo-Indians. This is not correct. Humming- 
birds are confined to the New World, and are smaller 
78 



i 



{ 




LOTEN S SUNBIRI). (AKACHNEC- 
(Xote the long curved bill. n,fa/>ieci to in 



OTEMA) 
r JJowers) 



HONEYSUCKERS 79 

and more ethereal than our little honeysuckers, but 
their methods of feeding are so similar that the mistake 
is a pardonable one. 

As every one knows, butterflies and bees, in return 
for the honey they receive, render service to the flowers 
by carrying the pollen from the stamen of one to the 
stigma of the other and thus bring about cross-fertilisa- 
tion, which most botanists believe to be essential to the 
well-being of a species. Honeysuckers probably perform 
a similar service, for, as they flit from flower to flower, 
their little heads may be seen to be well dusted with 
yellow pollen. 

Sunbirds are found all over India, but they are most 
plentiful in the South, being essentially tropical birds ; 
they are merely summer visitors to the Punjab ; when 
the short, cold winter days come, they leave that 
province and betake themselves to some milder clime. 

Three species may be seen in our Madras gardens — 
Loten's, the purple, and the yellow honeysucker. 

Of the cocks of the first and second species {Arach- 
nechthra lotenia and A. asiatica) it may perhaps be said 
that they are clothed in purple and fine linen, for their 
plumage is a deep, rich purple with a sheen and a gloss 
like that on a brand-new silk hat. Sometimes the bird 
looks black, at others green, and more frequently 
mauve, according to the intensity of the light and the 
angle at which the sun's rays fall upon it. It is not 
very easy to distinguish between these two sunbirds 
unless specimens are held in the hand, when the violet- 
black abdomen of the purple species can be easily 
distinguished from the snuff"-brown lower parts of 



8o BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Loten's. However, the latter has a much longer and 
stouter beak, and is very abundant in Madras, while the 
purple bird is comparatively rare, so that the Madrassi 
is fairly safe in setting down all the purple birds he sees 
as Loten's honeysuckers. If, however, he espies a purple 
sunbird, with an unusually short bill, a bird that sings 
like a canary, he may be certain that that particular 
one is A. asiatica. If the cock Loten's sunbird is 
clothed in purple and fine linen, that of the yellow 
species {^A, zeylonica) may be said to be arrayed in a 
coat of many colours, each of which is so beautiful as 
to defy imitation by the painter. There is a patch on 
the crown which appears metallic lilac in some lights 
and emerald-green in others. His neck and upper back 
are dull crimson, the lower back, chin, and throat are 
brilliant metallic purple. The tail and wing feathers 
are dark brown. There is a maroon collar below the 
throat, and the plumage from this collar downwards is 
bright yellow. Verily, Solomon in all his glory was not 
arrayed like one of these. 

The hens of all three species are homely-looking 
birds, difficult to distinguish one from the other. The 
upper plumage of each is dingy brown and the lower 
parts dull yellow. Many ornithologists declare that 
sexual dimorphism, such as is here displayed, is due to 
the greater need of the hen for protection when sitting 
on the eggs. These people allege that if the hens of 
brightly plumaged species were as showy as the cocks, 
they would be conspicuous objects when brooding, and 
so fall easy victims to birds of prey. This is a theory 
typical of the arm-chair naturalist, or of him who studies 




THE VEI.l.OW SL'NBIKI). (ARACHNEC-THRA ZEVI.O.NICA) 



HONEYSUCKERS 8i 

nature through the grimy panes of a museum window. 
Like all such theories, it is tempting at first sight, but 
is untenable because it fails to take cognisance of facts 
with which every field-naturalist should be acquainted. 
In the first place, birds of prey rarely attack stationary 
objects : they look out for moving quarry. Secondly, 
the cock of many species, such as the paradise flycatcher 
{Terpsiphone paradisi), although he is far more showy 
than the hen, sits on the eggs in the open nest quite as 
much as she does. In this case what is sauce for the 
goose is sauce for the gander ; if she needs protective 
colouring, so does he. It is true that the cock sunbird 
never takes a turn on the nest ; he is not a family man, 
but a gay young spark, who goes about bravely attired, 
with his hand upon the handle of his sword, ready to 
draw it upon the least provocation. A more pugnacious 
little bird does not exist. While the hen is laboriously 
building the wonderful little nest, he spends his time in 
drinking and revelry, with an occasional visit to the 
growing nursery to criticise its construction. Hence it 
might seem that, in the case of the sunbird, the above- 
mentioned explanation of the sexual dimorphism is the 
true one. Unfortunately, the nest is not an open one, 
but a little mango-shaped structure with an entrance at 
the side, so that the hen when sitting in it is not visible 
from above. In this case, therefore, as in so many 
others, we must seek a new explanation of this difference 
in the appearance of the cocks and hens. 

The nest is in shape and size like a mango. It 
hangs down from the end of a branch, or any other 
convenient object. It is composed of dried grass, 

G 



82 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

leaves, cocoons, bits of paper, and any kind of rubbish, 
held together by means of cobweb and some glutinous 
substance. There is an entrance at the side, over 
which is a little porch that serves to keep out rain and 
sun, but this porch is seen in every nest, even when the 
bird builds, as it very frequently does, in a verandah. 
A sunbird recently made its nest in the verandah of a 
friend of mine ; the latter came to me and expressed his 
contempt for the intellect of the little architect, since she 
had been fool enough to construct a porch, although the 
nest was built under cover. He forgot that the building 
of nests is largely an instinctive act, that each bird 
builds on a fixed plan, learned by it in " the school of 
the woods." 

The nest is cosily lined with cotton down. No 
attempt is made to conceal it ; nevertheless it frequently 
escapes the notice of human beings, because it does not 
look like a nest ; one is apt to mistake it for a mass of 
dried grass and rubbish that has become caught in a 
branch. A sunbird in my compound completely covered 
her nest with the paper shavings that had once formed 
the packing for a tin of biscuits. The khansamah, 
when opening the tin, had, after the manner of his kind, 
pitched the shavings out of the window of the cook- 
house. 

It is doubtful whether predacious creatures mistake 
the sunbird's nest for a mass of rubbish ; but it is so 
well placed that they cannot get at it. It is invariably 
situated sufficiently far above the ground to be out of 
reach of a four-legged animal ; it hangs from an out- 
standing branch so that no crow or kite can get a 




NKsr OK I.OTEN S SUNBIRI) 
Xotke that it is Iniilt in a spider s ', 



HONEYSUCKERS 83 

foothold anywhere near it, and the squirrel who ventured 
to trust himself on to the nest would, I believe, look 
very foolish when attacked by the owners. 

As is usually the case with birds that build covered 
nests, the hen is not at all shy. If her nursery happens 
to be in a verandah, she will sit in it with her head out 
of the window, and watch with interest the owners of 
the bungalow taking afternoon tea three feet below her. 



A HEWER OF WOOD 

NOT the least of the many benefits which 
birds confer upon man is the unceasing 
warfare which the majority of them wage 
upon insects. Insects maybe said to domi- 
nate the earth ; they fill every nook and cranny of it, 
preying upon all other living things which they out- 
number. If this is the state of affairs when hundreds of 
millions of insects are devoured daily by their arch-foes, 
the fowls of the air, what would it be were there no 
birds ? The earth would certainly not be inhabited by 
men. 

Most insectivorous birds specialise, that is to say, lay 
themselves out to catch a particular class of insect. 
Swifts, swallows, and flycatchers have developed pheno- 
menal mastery over the air, so prey upon flying insects. 
Mynas, hoopoes, " blue jays," magpie-robins, and others 
feed upon the hexapod hosts that crawl on the ground. 
Not a few birds confine their attention to the creeping 
things that inhabit the bark of trees. Such are the 
wryneck, the tree-creeper, and the woodpecker. Of 
these the woodpecker is chief A mighty insect hunter 
is he, one who tracks down his quarry and drags him 
out of his lair. How must the insects which lie hidden 
away in the crevices of the bark tremble as they hear 
84 



A HEWER OF WOOD 85 

this feathered Nimrod battering at the walls of their 
citadel ! 

No bird is better adapted than the woodpecker to the 
work which nature has given him. He is a perfect 
hunting machine, constructed for work in trees. Note 
the ease with which he moves over the upright trunk. 
His sharp claws can obtain a foothold on almost any 
surface. I have seen a golden-backed woodpecker hunt- 
ing insects on a smooth well-wheel ! 

His tail, which is short and composed of very stiff 
feathers, acts almost like a third leg. The bristle-like 
feathers stick in the crevices of the bark and enable the 
bird to maintain his position while he hammers away 
with might and main. His head is his hammer and his 
beak his chisel. The chisel is fixed rigidly in the 
hammer so that none of the force of the blow is lost. 
It is exhilarating to watch a woodpecker at work. He 
stands with his legs wide apart, the tip of his tail 
pressed firmly against the bark, and puts all he knows 
into each stroke, drawing his head back as far as it will 
go and then letting drive. The manner in which his 
strokes follow one another puts me in mind of the 
clever way in which workmen drive an iron bar into a 
macadamised road by raining upon it blows with sledge- 
hammers. Almost before the hammer of the first striker 
is off the head of the bar the second has struck it, this 
is immediately followed by the hammer of the third, 
then, without a pause, the first hammerer gets his 
second blow home, and so they continue until a halt is 
called. As a small boy I would stand for hours watch- 
ing the operation. I am ashamed to do so now, so 



86 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

have to content myself with observing woodpeckers at 
work ! There are few things more fascinating to watch 
than an operation in which skill and brute force are 
deftly combined. 

Even more useful than the beak as a weapon is the 
woodpecker's tongue. This is such an important organ 
that its owner is known in some parts of England as the 
tongue bird. It is so long that there is a special 
apparatus at the back of the bird's head for stowing it 
away. Its surface is studded with backwardly pointing 
bristles and the whole covered with sticky saliva. 
When the woodpecker espies a crack in the bark it 
inserts into it the long ribbon-like tongue. To this the 
luckless insects stick and are ruthlessly dragged out to 
their doom. 

The commonest woodpecker in India is the beautiful 
golden-backed species {Bi'achypternus aurantius). The 
head and crest of the cock are bright crimson, the 
upper back is a beautiful golden yellow, hence the 
popular name of the bird. The lower back and tail are 
black ; the wing feathers are black and golden yellow, 
spotted with white, and the sides of the head show a 
white background on which there is a network of black 
lines and streaks. 

The hen differs from the cock in having the top of 
the head black with small white triangular spots. 

The golden-backed woodpecker is one of our noisiest 
birds. It constantly utters its loud screaming call, which 
is similar to that of the white-breasted kingfisher. Its 
flight, like that of most, if not all woodpeckers, is labo- 
rious and noisy, the whir of its wings being audible at a 



A HEWER OF WOOD 87 

considerable distance. The bird gives one or two vig- 
orous flaps of its wings and thus moves in an upward 
direction, then it sails and sinks ; a few more flaps again 
send it upwards, and so it continues until it reaches 
the tree trunk for which it is bound. 

I do not think that the woodpecker ever takes a 
sustained flight. It is seen at its best when on the stem 
of a tree, over which it moves with wonderful ease in a 
series of silent jerks, like a mechanical toy. It always 
keeps its head pointing heavenwards and hops or jerks 
itself upwards, downwards, or sideways, with equal ease, 
just as though it went by clockwork. It sometimes 
ventures on the ground, from which it digs out insects. 
On the earth it progresses in the same jerky manner. 

I have never seen a woodpecker sitting like an 
ordinary bird on a perch. It is often seen on branches, 
but always lengthwise, never sitting across the branch. 
It can move along the under surface of a horizontal 
bough as easily as a fly walks on the ceiling. 

I sometimes wonder how woodpeckers roost. Do 
they sleep hanging on to the trunk of some tree, do they 
sit lengthwise on a branch as a nightjar does, or do 
they repair to some hole? I should be inclined to 
favour the last of these alternatives but for the fact that 
woodpeckers seem to excavate a new nest every year. 
This would not be necessary if each bird had a hole in 
which it slept at night. 

Sometimes the bird digs out the whole of its nest, but 
this is not usual. The woodpecker belongs to the 
" labouring classes," and, true to the traditions of its 
caste, it is averse to work, so generally utilises a ready- 



88 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

made cavity. It taps away at tree after tree until it 
comes upon a place in a trunk that sounds hollow ; it 
then proceeds to excavate a neat, round passage leading 
to this hollow. In this ready-made cavity it deposits 
its white eggs, not troubling to add any lining to the 
nesting chamber. 

Woodpeckers in England suffer much at the hands of 
rascally starlings. These latter nest in holes, but not of 
their own making. If they cannot find any ready-made 
hollow they listen for the hammering of a woodpecker. 
They wait until he has completed the nest, and then 
take possession while his back is turned. When the 
rightful owner returns the starling looks out of the 
entrance with finely simulated indignation and asks the 
woodpecker what he means by intruding. In vain does 
the latter expostulate. J'y suis, fy reste is the attitude 
of the starling. The result is that our feathered car- 
penter, not being over-valorous, retires and proceeds to 
hew out another nest. Woodpeckers in India do not 
suffer such treatment, for starlings do not breed in this 
country. Their cousins, the mynas, are not so im- 
pudent. The only Indian birds which nest in holes, and 
have sufficient impudence to eject a woodpecker, are the 
green parrots ; but these breed in January, so that their 
family cares for the year are over long before the wood- 
pecker begins nest building. 



A FEATHERED SPRINTER 

WHICH is the most difficult bird to shoot? 
You may put this question to a dozen 
sportsmen ; probably no two will name 
the same bird, and each will be able to 
give excellent reasons why the particular fowl he men- 
tions is the hardest to hit. The reason for this diversity 
of opinion is simply that there exists no bird more 
difficult to shoot than all others. Even as beauty is 
said to be in the eye of the beholder, so does the diffi- 
culty, or otherwise, of shooting any particular species 
depend upon the idiosyncrasies of the would-be slayer. 
To some shooters all birds, with the possible exception 
of the coot, are difficult to bring down, while others are 
able to make every flying thing appear an easy mark. 

To my way of thinking the chukor {Caccabis chucar) 
takes a lot of hitting, but this species receives much 
help on account of its mountainous habitat. It is diffi- 
cult to hit even a hoary old peacock if the bird gets up 
when you, already pumped to exhaustion by a stiff 
climb, are engaged in scrambling from one terraced 
field to another with your gun at " safe." The chukor, 
thanks to the fact, conclusively proved by our friend 
Euclid, that any two sides of a triangle are greater 
than the third, enjoys so great an advantage over the 
89 



90 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

wingless skzkarz that it would be a contemptible creature 
were it not difficult to shoot. Were I the leader of a 
covey of chukor, I should thoroughly enjoy an attempt 
to shoot me. Having taken up a strategic position 
near the summit of a steep hill, I should squat there in 
full view until the sportsman had by laborious effort 
climbed to a spot some hundred and twenty yards from 
where I was sitting ; I should then gracefully retire with 
my retinue across the k/iud to the opposite hill, and 
watch with interest the shooter clamber down one 
limb of an isosceles triangle and swarm up the other. 
Some time before he had completed the operation I 
should again proceed to give him a practical demonstra- 
tion of the fact that the base of certain triangles is con- 
siderably shorter than the sum of the other two sides. 

If you take away from the chukor his natural ad- 
vantages I am inclined to think that the grey partridge 
{Francolinus pondicerianus) is the more difficult bird to 
shoot. This species is common in most parts of India, 
yet I do not remember ever having heard of any one 
making a big bag of grey partridge. Some there are 
who say that the bird is not worth shooting. If these 
good folk mean that the shooting of the partridge in- 
volves so large an expenditure of ammunition as to 
deter them from the undertaking I am inclined to agree 
with them. Given a fair field in the shape of a plain 
well studded with prickly pear, there is, in my opinion, 
no bird more difficult to hit than the grey partridge. It 
is, like all game birds proper, a very rapid flier for a 
short distance. But it is not so much this which makes 
it hard to shoot as the rapidity with which it can run 




I'NHIKI) (.HK.N) ABOL'T TO ENTER 



A FEATHERED SPRINTER 91 

along the ground and the close manner in which it lies 
up. According to Mr. Lockwood Kipling, the grey 
partridge, as it runs, " suggests a graceful girl tripping 
along with a full skirt well held up." In a sense the 
simile is a good one, for the lower plumage of the 
partridge is curiously " full," and so does make the bird 
look as though it were holding up its skirts. But until 
graceful young ladies are able to gather up their ample 
skirts and sprint the " hundred " two or three yards in- 
side " level time," it will be inaccurate to compare the 
tripping gait of the one to the speedy motion of the 
other. The grey partridge is a winged sprinter, a 
feathered Camilla. It can for a short distance hold its 
own comfortably against a galloping horse. Frequently 
have I come upon a covey, feeding in the open and 
giving vent to the familiar call, and have immediately 
proceeded to stalk it in the hopes of obtaining a couple 
of good shots. Before getting within range, one of the 
birds invariably " spots " me and gives the alarm. The 
calling immediately ceases and the partridges walk 
briskly to cover. The instant they disappear I dash 
towards the cover, hoping to surprise and flush them, 
but they run three yards to my two, and by the time I 
reach the bushes into which they betook themselves 
they are laughing at me from afar. 

Then the way in which a partridge will sometimes lie 
up in comparatively thin cover is remarkable. One 
day, when shooting snipe at sunrise, I surprised a 
partridge feeding in a field. I fired, but apparently did 
not hit the bird, for it disappeared into a clump of palm 
trees and prickly pear. Taking up a position close to 



92 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

this clump, I instructed my beaters to throw stones into 
it. This they did, but half a dozen stones, to say 
nothing of as many chunks of clay and the most 
frantic yells and shouts, elicited no response from the 
partridge. I therefore moved on, and the moment I had 
turned my back on the clump the bird flew out ! This 
is typical of my experience as a partridge shooter ; the 
birds almost invariably get up from cover at a moment 
when I cannot possibly take a shot at them. Well 
might I sing with Cowper — 

I stride o'er the stubble each day with my gun 
Never ready to shoot till the covey is flown. 

For these reasons partridge shooting is to me a par- 
ticularly exasperating form of sport. There are few 
things more annoying than to hear — " the partridge 
burst away on whirring wings," from a bush on which 
you have just turned your back after having thrown 
into it half the contents of a ploughed field ! 

I am not a bloodthirsty individual, and enjoy watching 
birds through a field-glass quite as much as, if not more 
than, shooting them with a gun, but there is something 
in the call of the grey partridge which makes me want 
to shoot him. His shrill " pateela, pateela, pateela," 
seems to be a challenge. Grahame sings — 

Cheerily 
The partridge now her tuneless call repeats. 

For " cheerily " write " cheekily " and you have a good 
description of the call of our Indian grey partridge, 
which may be heard in Madras every morning during 
the winter months. 



A FEATHERED SPRINTER 93 

This bird does not build an elaborate nest. There is 
no necessity for it to do so. A nest is a nursery in 
which young birds are for a time sheltered from the 
dangers that beset them in the world. When they have 
developed sufficiently to be able to look after them- 
selves they leave the nest. 

It is one of the characteristics of the gallinaceous 
family of birds, which includes grouse, poultry, pea- and 
guinea-fowl, pheasants, turkeys, and quail, that their 
young are able to run about almost immediately after 
issuing from the egg. They are born covered with 
down, and are thus at first very unlike their parents. 
They are in reality larvae, that is to say, embryonic 
forms which are able to fend for themselves with little 
or no assistance from their parents. They change into 
the adult form, not hidden away in a nursery, but in the 
open world. 

The nest, then, of the partridge is a very in- 
significant affair. It is usually a depression in the 
ground, so shallow as to be barely perceptible, and 
always well concealed in a bush or tuft of grass. Some- 
times the eggs are laid on the bare soil, but more usually 
the depression is lined with grass or leaves. Occasionally 
the lining is so thick as to form a regular pad. From 
six to nine whitish eggs are laid. These do not match 
the ground or material on which they lie, hence cannot 
be considered as examples of protective colouring. 
Their safety depends on the fact that they are hidden 
away under a bush or tuft of grass. The hen, too, is a 
very close sitter, and her plumage assimilates well with 
the surroundings of the nest. 



A BIRD OF CHARACTER 

I HAVE hinted more than once at the possibiHty 
of there being some understanding between the 
architect of my bungalow and the feathered folk. 
On this hypothesis alone am I able to account for 
the presence of a rectangular hole in the porch, about 
eight feet above the level of the ground, a hole caused 
by the deliberate omission of one or two bricks. The 
scramble for this cavity by those species of birds which 
build in holes is as great as that of Europeans to secure 
bungalows in a Presidency town. Last year a pair of 
spotted owlets (^Athene braind) secured the prize and 
reared up a noisy brood of four. These were regarded 
with mingled feelings by the human inhabitants of the 
bungalow. On the one hand, a bird more amusing than 
the clownish little owlet does not exist, on the other, 
it is excessively noisy. Each member of the family talks 
gibberish at the top of its voice, sixteen to the dozen, 
and as all will persist in speaking at once, the result is a 
nocturnal chorus that will bear comparison with the 
efforts of the cats which enliven the Londoner's back 
yard. 

This year a couple of mynas {Acridotheres tristis) 
secured the highly desirable nesting site. Immediately 
on entering into possession they proceeded to cover the 
94 




IK INDIAN SI'tnTKl) DWI.KT. (AIHKNI-. HKAMA) 



A BIRD OF CHARACTER 95 

floor of the cavity with a collection of rubbish, com- 
posed chiefly of rags, grass, twigs, and bits of paper. 
There was no attempt at arranging this rubbish, it was 
bundled pell-mell into the hole and four pretty blue 
eggs were laid on top of it. 

One might suppose that the more intelligent the bird 
the greater the degree of architectural skill it would dis- 
play. This, however, is not the case. Were it so, crows, 
mynas, and parrots would build palatial nests. 

Mynas do not always nestle in holes in buildings ; 
they are content with any kind of a cavity, whether it be 
in a building, a tree, or a sandbank. In default of a hole 
they are content with a ledge, provided it be covered 
with a roof. A few years ago a pair of mynas reared 
up a brood on a ledge in the much-frequented verandah 
of the Deputy Commissioner's Court at Fyzabad. 

To return to the nest in my porch. The eggs in due 
course gave rise to four nestlings of the ordinary ugly, 
triangular-mouthed, alderman-stomached variety. When 
they were nearly ready to leave the nest I took away 
two of them by way of rent for the use of my bungalow. 
This action was in complete accord with oriental custom. 
In India the landlord has, from time immemorial, taken 
from his tenants a portion of their produce as rent or 
land revenue. The Congress will doubtless declare that 
in levying 50 per cent, of the family brood I assessed 
the family too highly ; but I defy even a Bengali orator 
to take 33 per cent, of four young mynas. I might, it is 
true, have assessed the rent at 25 per cent, but the life 
of a solitary myna cannot be a very happy one, so I took 
two, a cock and a hen. 



96 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

To the ordinary observer the cock myna is as like the 
hen as one pea is like any other pea. To one, however, 
who has an eye for such things, the bigger head and more 
massive body of the cock render him easily recognisable 
when in company with his sisters. The brood consisted 
of two cocks and two hens, so that I made a fair division. 
Some there are who may question the ethics of my 
action. I would remind such that, incredible as it may 
seem, the parent birds, in all probability, did not miss 
the two young ones. Birds cannot count. Even the 
wily crow is unable to " spot " the extra egg which the 
koel has surreptitiously introduced into the nest. It is, of 
course, possible that although those mynas could not 
count, they missed the two young birds to the extent of 
noticing that something was wrong with their brood. 
If they did all I can say is that they concealed their 
feelings in an admirable manner.forthey continued to feed 
the remaining young as though nothing had happened. 
If it be thought incredible that the young birds were not 
missed, is it not equally hard to believe that not one of 
the lower animals can tell the difference between two and 
three? If a dog has three bones before him and you 
remove one of them, he will not miss it unless he sees 
you remove it ! 

A chaprassi was appointed to nurse my two young 
mynas, with instructions to keep them until they should 
become somewhat more presentable. At the end of three 
weeks they were adjudged fit to appear in public, being 
somewhat smaller and rather lanky editions of their 
parents, with the patch behind the eye white instead 
of yellow. Having been taken from the nest they were 



A BIRD OF CHARACTER 97 

perfectly tame, showing no fear of man, and readily- 
accepting food from the hand. 

Young nestlings display no fear of man, and do not 
appear to mind being handled by a human being ; but 
as they grow older they learn to fear all strange 
creatures, hence it is that captive birds taken from 
the nest are always tamer than those which are 
caught after they are fledged. It was amusing to see 
the way in which my young mynas ran towards the 
chaprassi when he called " Puppy, puppy." " Puppy " is 
apparently a term applied by native servants indis- 
criminately to any kind of pet kept by a sahib, 

Mynas make excellent pets because they are so alert 
and vivacious, and, above all, because they have so 
much character. 

A myna is a self-assertive bird, a bird that will stand 
no nonsense. 

I know of few things more amusing than to witness a 
pair of mynas give a snake a bit of their minds as they 
waltz along beside it in a most daring manner. 

Owing to the self-assertion of the myna he is apt to 
be quarrelsome. 

Street brawls are, I regret to say, by no means 
uncommon. In these two or three mynas attack one 
another so fiercely that they get locked together and 
roll over and over — a swearing, struggling ball of brown, 
yellow, and white. 

The myna, although by no means a songster, is able 
to emit a great variety of notes, all of which must be 
familiar to every Anglo-Indian. 

A bird which can produce a large number of sounds 
H 



98 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

is almost invariably a good mimic, and the common 
myna is no exception to this rule. In this respect, 
however, he does not compare favourably with the 
grackles or hill-mynas, as they are commonly called. 
These can imitate any sound, from the crack of a whip 
and the exhortations of a bullock-cart driver to the 
throat-clearing operation in which our Indian brethren 
so frequently indulge. 



SWIFTS 

SWIFTS are extraordinary birds ; there are no 
others like unto them; they are the most mys- 
terious of the many mysterious products of 
natural selection; their athletic feats transcend 
the descriptive powers of the English language. What 
adjective is there of suitable application to a bird that 
speeds through the air without an appreciable effort at 
the rate of a hundred miles an hour, that traverses a 
thousand miles every day of its existence ? 

These wonderful birds are everywhere common, yet 
much of their life history requires elucidation. 

Probably not one man in fifty is able to distinguish 
between a swallow and a swift. Some think that "swift" 
and "swallow" are synonymous terms, while others 
believe that a swift is a kind of black swallow. As a 
matter of fact, the swift differs more widely from the 
swallow than the crow does from the canary. There is, 
it is true, a very strong professional likeness between 
the swift and the swallow, but this likeness is purely 
superficial ; it is merely the resemblance engendered by 
similar modes of obtaining a livelihood. Both swallows 
and swifts feed exclusively on minute insects which they 
catch upon the wing, hence both have a large gape, 
light, slender bodies, and long, powerful wings. But 
speedy though it be, the swallow is not in the same 
99 



lOO BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

class with the swift as a flyer. When both birds are 
in the hand nothing is easier than to tell a swift from 
a swallow or a martin. The latter have the ordinary 
passerine foot, which consists of three forwardly directed 
toes and a backwardly directed one. This foot enables 
a bird to perch, so that one frequently sees swallows 
seated on telegraph wires. But one never sees a swift 
on a perch, because all its four toes point forward. It 
cannot even walk. It spends its life in the air. It eats 
and drinks on the wing, it does everything, except 
sleeping and incubating, in the air. 

But it is not often that one has a swallow or swift 
in the hand ; it is difficult to get near enough to them 
to put salt on the tail, so that it is necessary to have 
some means of distinguishing them when sailing through 
the air. There is a very marked difference in the manner 
in which these birds use their wings. This is inimitably 
described by Mr. E. H. Aitken : "As a swallow darts 
along, its wings almost close against its sides at every 
stroke, and it looks like a pair of scissors opening and 
shutting. Now a swift never closes its wings in this 
way. It whips the air rapidly with the points of them, 
but they are always extended and evenly curved from 
tip to tip like a bow, the slim body of the bird being the 
arrow." As a swift speeds through the air it looks some- 
thing like an anchor, with a short shaft and enormous 
flukes. If this be borne in mind, it is scarcely possible 
to mistake a swift for a swallow. Swifts are abundant in 
Calcutta, but one is not likely to come across a swallow 
there except when the moon happens to be blue. 

The two swifts commonly seen in Calcutta are the 



SWIFTS loi 

Indian swift {Cypselus affinis) and the palm swift {C. 
batassiensis). 

The latter need not detain us long. It is a small 
and weak edition of the former. It builds a cup- 
shaped nest on the under side of the great fan-like 
leaves of the toddy palm. 

The Indian swift is, in size and appearance, much 
like the swift which visits England every summer, except 
for the fact that it has a white patch on the lower part 
of the back. The chin is white, but all the rest of the 
plumage, with the exception of the above-mentioned 
patch, is black or smoky brown. 

This bird nests in colonies in the verandahs of houses 
and inside deserted buildings. The nest is a cup- 
shaped structure, usually built under an eave in the 
angle which a roof-beam makes with the wall. Thus 
the swift finds, ready-made, a roof and a couple of walls, 
and has merely to add the floor and remaining walls, 
in one of which it leaves a hole by way of entrance to 
the nursery. Thus the swift reverses the usual order 
of things, which is to erect a nest on some foundation 
such as a branch or ledge. 

As we have seen, all four toes of the swift are for- 
wardly directed and each is terminated by a sharp 
hook-like claw. Thus the swift is able to cling with 
ease to such a vertical surface as that of a wall, and is 
therefore quite independent of any ledge or perch. 
The nest is a conglomeration of grass, straw, and 
feathers, which are made to adhere to one another, and 
to the building to which the nest is attached, by the 
cement-like saliva of the bird. 



I02 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Some species of swift build their homes entirely of 
their glutinous saliva, and so manufacture "edible birds' 
nests." The Indian swift, however, utilises all manner 
of material by way of economising its saliva. 

Nest building is a slow process. Each tiny piece of 
material has to be separately stuck on to the structure, 
and the saliva, which is, of course, liquid when first 
secreted, takes about five minutes to dry. During the 
whole of this time the bird remains motionless, holding 
in situ whatever it is adding to the structure. 

I once timed a pair of swifts at work, and found that 
on an average they took forty-five minutes in bringing 
each new piece of material. Much of this time was un- 
doubtedly spent in seeking for food, for so active a bird 
as the swift must have an enormous appetite, and, 
as it feeds on the minutest of insects, must consume 
thousands of them in the course of the day, each of which 
has to be caught separately. But, even allowing for 
this, the rate at which the material is added is very 
slow. Some naturalists declare that the swift is unable 
to pick anything off the ground. If this be so, the labour 
of obtaining material must be great, for the creature 
must fly about until it espies a feather or piece of straw 
floating in the air. 

I am not yet in a position to say whether it is really 
impossible for the bird to pick anything from off the 
ground. I have never seen it do so, and it is a fact 
that the birds will, when building, eagerly seize anything 
floating in the air. On the other hand, the helplessness 
of the swift when placed upon the ground has been 
much exaggerated. It is said that the bird, if put upon 



SWIFTS 103 

a flat surface, is unable to rise and will remain there 
until it dies. Quite recently some Indian swifts were 
brought to me and I placed one of them on my desk. 
In less than twenty seconds the bird was flying about 
in the room. Then, again, the grasping powers of its 
hook-like claws have been somewhat magnified. The 
bird in question made several unsuccessful attempts to 
cling on to the whitewashed wall, and eventually fell 
to the floor, where it was seized and then liberated in 
the open. It flew off none the worse for its adventure. 
Nevertheless, its claws are very sharp ; the bird in 
question stuck them quite unpleasantly into me when I 
held it. A swift can certainly cling to any vertical 
surface that is the least rough. 

Unlike most birds, swifts use their nests as houses 
and sleep in them at night. One frequently hears 
issuing from the rafters in the dead of night the 
piercing scream so characteristic of swifts. This 
disposes of the silly story, so prevalent, that at evening 
time the swifts mount into the higher layers of the 
atmosphere and there sleep on the wing. 

In conclusion, I must mention the characteristic 
flight of swifts just before sundown. The birds close 
the day in what has been called "a jubilant rout" ; as 
if they had not already taken sufficient exercise, they fly 
at a breakneck pace round about the building in which 
their nests are placed, dodging in and out of the pillars 
of the verandah, and fill the air with their shivering 
screams. This seems to be a characteristic of swifts 
wherever they are found. 



BIRDS AS AUTOMATA 

THE sudden change that comes over the 
nature of most birds at the nesting season is, 
perhaps, the most wonderful phenomenon 
in nature. Active, restless birds, which 
normally spend the whole day on the wing, are content 
to sit motionless in a cramped position upon the nest for 
hours together. Birds of prey, whose nature it is to 
devour every helpless creature that comes within their 
grasp, behave most tenderly towards their young, actually 
disgorging swallowed food in order to provide them with 
a meal. Timid birds become bold. Those which under 
ordinary circumstances will not permit a human being 
to approach near them, will sometimes, while brooding, 
actually allow themselves to be lifted off the nest. 

At the breeding season intelligence, which counsels 
self-preservation, gives way before the parental instinct, 
which causes birds to expose themselves to danger, and, 
in some cases, even to sacrifice their lives for the sake of 
their offspring. 

From the construction of the nest until the time when 
the young ones are fledged the actions of the parent 
birds are, at any rate in the neighbourhood of the nest, 
those of automata, rather than of creatures endowed with 
intelligence. 

104 



BIRDS AS AUTOMATA 105 

On this hypothesis alone are many of the actions of 
nesting birds comprehensible. 

That the construction of the nest is in the main an 
instinctive habit and not the result of intelligence is 
proved by the fact that a bird which has been hatched 
out in an incubator will, at the appointed season, build 
a nest. If birds were not guided by instinct they would 
never take the trouble to do such a quixotic thing. 
What benefit can they derive from laboriously collecting 
a number of twigs and weaving them into a nest? 

It is, of course, natural selection that has originated 
this instinct ; for those species in which the parental 
instinct is not developed, or in which there is not some 
substitute for it, must inevitably perish. When once 
this instinct has taken root natural selection will tend 
to perpetuate it, since those species which take the 
best care of their young are those which are likely to 
survive in the struggle for existence. 

Many instances can be adduced to show how auto- 
matic are the actions of birds at the nesting season. 

It sometimes happens that a bird lays an egg and 
then proceeds to build a nest on top of it. 

Again, some birds do not know their own eggs. 
A whole clutch of different ones may be substituted for 
those upon which the bird is sitting and the bird will 
not discover the change. 

The well-known bird-photographer, Mr. R. Kearton, 
was desirous of obtaining a good photograph of a 
sitting thrush, and as he was afraid that her eggs would 
be hatched before a fine, sunny day presented itself, had 
some wooden dummies made. These he painted and 



io6 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

varnished to look like those of the thrush, and put them 
in the nest, wondering whether the bird would be de- 
ceived. He need not have wondered ; she would probably 
have sat upon the shams even had they not been 
coloured. 

Upon another occasion Mr. Kearton replaced some 
starling nestlings by his wooden eggs, and waited to see 
what would happen. " In a few minutes," he writes, 
" back came the starling with a rush. She gazed in 
wonder at the contents of the nest for a few seconds, 
but, quickly making up her mind to accept the strangely 
altered condition of things, she sat down on the bits of 
painted wood without a trace of discontent in either 
look or action. Putting her off again, I reversed the 
order of things and waited. Upon returning, the starling 
stared in amazement at the change that had come over 
the scene during her absence ; but her curiosity soon 
vanished, and she commenced to brood her chicks in the 
most matter-of-fact way." Then Mr. Kearton took out 
the chicks and put his fist into the nest, so that the back 
of his hand was uppermost. The starling actually 
brooded his knuckles. We must, of course, remember 
that a starling's nest is in a hole, where there is but little 
light. But, provided the starling could not see him, I 
believe that she would have brooded his knuckles in 
broad daylight. 

Crows, the most intelligent of birds, will sit upon and 
try to hatch golf balls and ping-pong balls. One famous 
kite in Calcutta sat long and patiently in a vain attempt 
to make a pill-box yield a chick, while another member 
of this species subjected a hare's skull to similar treat- 



BIRDS AS AUTOMATA 107 

ment. Upon one occasion I took a robin's egg that was 
quite cold and placed it among the warm ones in a 
blackbird's nest. The hen came and brooded the egg 
along with her own without appearing to notice the 
addition, although it was much smaller than her eggs 
and of a totally different colour. 

In the same way, if a set of nestlings of another species 
be substituted for those already in the nest, the parent 
birds will usually feed the new family without noticing 
the change. Instinct teaches a bird to brood all in- 
animate objects it sees in the nest and to feed all living 
things, whether they be its own offspring or not, and 
many birds blindly obey this instinct. It is, of course, 
to the advantage of the species that this should be so. 
For it is only on very rare occasions that foreign objects 
get into a nest, and nature cannot provide for such 
remote contingencies. 

Similarly, instinct will not allow a bird to pay any 
attention to objects outside the nest, even though these 
objects be the bird's own offspring. 

As everybody knows, the common cuckoo nestling 
ejects its foster-brethren from the nest, and if the true 
parents were able to appreciate what had happened, 
how much sorrow among its victims would the cuckoo 
cause ! As a matter of fact, no sorrow at all is caused. 
Incredible as it may seem, the parent birds do not miss 
the young ones, nor do they appear to see them as they 
lie outside the nest. In this connection I cannot do 
better than quote Mr. W. H. Hudson, who was able to 
closely observe what happened when a young cuckoo 
had turned a baby robin out of the nest. " Here," 



io8 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

writes Hudson, "the young robin when ejected fell a 
distance of but five or six inches, and rested on a broad, 
light green leaf, where it was an exceedingly con- 
spicuous object ; and when the mother robin was on 
the nest — and at that stage she was on it the greater 
part of the time — warming that black-skinned, toad- 
like, spurious babe of hers, her bright, intelligent eyes 
were looking full at the other one, just beneath her, 
which she had grown in her body and had hatched with 
her warmth, and was her very own, I watched her for 
hours ; watched her when warming the cuckoo, when 
she left the nest, and when she returned with food and 
warmed it again, and never once did she pay the least 
attention to the outcast lying there close to her. There 
on its green leaf it remained, growing colder by degrees, 
hour by hour, motionless, except when it lifted its head 
as if to receive food, then dropped it again, and when at 
intervals it twitched its body as if trying to move. 
During the evening even these slight motions ceased, 
though the feeblest flame of life was not yet extinct ; 
but in the morning it was dead and cold and stiff; and 
just above it, her bright eyes upon it, the mother robin 
sat on the nest as before warming the cuckoo." 

Even those actions of nesting birds which appear to 
be most intelligent can be shown to be merely automatic. 
Take, for example, the curious habit of feigning injury, 
which some birds have, when an enemy approaches the 
young, in order to distract attention from them to itself 
and thus enable them to seek cover unobserved. This 
surely seems a highly intelligent act. But birds some- 
times act thus before the eggs are hatched, and by so 



BIRDS AS AUTOMATA 109 

doing actually attract attention to the eggs. This action 
is purely instinctive, and is perpetuated and strengthened 
by natural selection because it is beneficial to the race. 

We have seen how at the nesting season all a bird's 
normal actions and instincts are subordinated to those of 
incubation. It is therefore but reasonable to suppose 
the incubating bird to be in a very peculiar and excitable 
state, a state bordering on insanity. 

A bird in this condition might be expected to go into 
something resembling convulsions on the approach of 
an enemy, and, provided its acts under such circum- 
stances tended to help the offspring to escape, and were 
at the same time not sufficiently acute to cause the 
mother bird to fall a victim to the enemy, natural 
selection would tend to perpetuate and fix such actions. 

Want of space prevents further dilation upon this 
fascinating subject. 

To sum up the conclusions I desire to emphasise. A 
bird has during the greater part of its life only to look 
after itself, and the more intelligent it be the better will 
it do this, hence natural selection tends to increase the 
intelligence of birds. But, at certain seasons, it becomes 
all-important to the species that the adults should attend 
to their young, even at risk to themselves. To secure 
this Nature has placed inside birds a force, dormant at 
most times, which at periodic intervals completely over- 
rides all normal instincts, a force which compels parent 
birds to rivet their attention on the nest and its contents. 
Thus the sudden conversion of birds into automata is a 
necessity, not a mere whim of Dame Nature. The 
instinct is not of very long duration ; for as soon as the 



no BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

young are able to fend for themselves, the parents some- 
times behave in what seems to human beings a most 
unnatural way : they drive off their offspring by force. 
As a matter of fact, this behaviour is quite natural ; it 
is dictated by Nature for the benefit of the species. 
Strong as the maternal instinct is, it is liable to be over- 
ridden by stronger instincts, such as that of migration. 
When the time for the migratory journey comes round, 
the parent birds will desert, without apparently a pang 
of remorse, or even a thought, the broods for whose 
welfare they have been slaving day and night. This 
desertion of later broods by migratory birds is far 
commoner than is generally supposed. In 1826 Mr. 
Blackwell inspected the house-martins' nests under the 
eaves of a barn at Blakely after the autumnal migration 
of these birds. Of the twenty-two nests under the eaves 
inspected on nth November, no fewer than thirteen 
were found to contain eggs and dead nestlings. 



PLAYING CUCKOO 

ORNITHOLOGICAL experience led me 
some time back to the belief that at the 
nesting season a bird becomes a creature 
of instinct, an organism whose actions are, 
for the time being, those of a machine, a mere auto- 
maton. This view, which has been set forth in the 
preceding article, is not held by all naturalists. I there- 
fore determined to undertake a systematic series of 
experiments with a view to putting it to the test. In 
other words, I decided to play cuckoo. I selected the 
Indian crow {Corvus splendcns) as the subject of my 
experiments, because it is the most intelligent of the 
feathered folk. If it can be proved that when on the 
nest the actions of this bird are mechanical, it will follow 
that the less intelligent birds are likewise mere automata 
when incubating. Another reason for selecting the crow 
as my victim is that I have been investigating the 
habits of the koel {Eudynamis honorata), which is para- 
sitic on the crow, and in so doing have had to visit a 
large number of crows' nests. 

The crow lays a pale blue Qg% blotched with brown, 

while the egg of the koel is a dull olive-green also blotched 

with brown. It is considerably smaller than the crow's 

^%%. I have seen dozens of koel's eggs, but never one that 

III 



112 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

a human being could possibly mistake for that of a crow, 
yet our friend Corviis is unable to detect the strange egg 
when deposited in the nest and sits upon it. It is not that 
birds are colour-blind. The koel is able to distinguish 
its own c^^ from that of the crow, for, after it has 
deposited its ^'g'g, it frequently returns to the nest and 
removes one or more of the crow's eggs ! I am con- 
vinced that ordinarily a crow would have no difficulty in 
distinguishing between the two kinds of &%^ ; but at the 
nesting time it throws most of its intelligence to the 
winds and becomes a puppet in the hands of its in- 
stincts, which are to sit upon everything in the nest. 

I have myself placed koel's eggs in crows' nests, and 
in every case the crow has incubated the eggs. On one 
occasion I came upon a crow's nest containing only two 
koel's eggs. As the nest was some way from my bunga- 
low and in an exposed situation, I knew that, the 
moment I left, it would be robbed by some mischievous 
native boy, so I took the eggs and placed them in a 
crow's nest in my compound. This already contained 
three crow's eggs, two of which I moved, substituting 
the koel's eggs for them. The crow's eggs had only 
been laid three or four days, but the koel's eggs were 
nearly incubated, since both yielded chicks on the third 
day after I placed them in the nest. If nesting crows 
think, that pair must have been somewhat surprised at 
the speedy appearance of the chicks ! 

In all, I have placed six koel's eggs in four different 
crow's nests, and as I have already said, in no single 
instance did the trick appear to be detected. In the 
majority of cases, I did not trouble to keep the number 



PLAYING CUCKOO 113 

of eggs in the nest constant. I merely added the koel's 
egg to those already in the nest. 

But I have put my theory to a much more severe test. 
In a certain crow's nest containing two eggs I put a 
large fowl's egg. This was cream-coloured and fully 
three times the size of the crow's egg, yet within ten 
minutes the crow was sitting comfortably on the 
strange egg. She did not appear to notice the con- 
siderable addition to her clutch. She subsequently 
laid three more eggs, so that she had six eggs to sit 
upon, five of her own and the large fowl's egg ! Day 
after day I visited the nest and watched the progress of 
the strange egg. On the twentieth day the chick inside 
was moving, but when I went to the nest on the twenty- 
first day I discovered that some one had climbed the 
tree, for several branches were broken. Two young 
crows had been taken away and the fowl's egg thrown 
upon the ground. There it lay with a fully formed black 
chicken inside ! I have that chicken in a bottle of 
spirit. Subsequent inquiry showed that the dhobi's son 
had taken it upon himself to spoil my experiment. 
However, it went sufficiently far to prove that crows 
may one day become birds of economic value ; why 
not employ them as incubators ? Had the crow come 
across that chick's egg anywhere but in its nest, it 
would undoubtedly have made its breakfast off it. 

I repeated the experiment in another nest. This 
time the chick hatched out. When it appeared the 
rage of the crows knew no bounds. With angry 
squawks the scandalised birds attacked the unfortunate 
chick, and so viciously did they peck at it that it was 



114 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

in a dying state by the time my climber reached the 

nest. 

With a view to determining at what stage the incu- 
bating instinct secures its dominance, I placed another 
fowl's egg in a crow's nest that was almost ready to re- 
ceive eggs, wondering whether the presence of this egg 
would stimulate the crow to lay, without troubling to 
give the final touches to the nest. The bird devoured 
the egg. It is my belief that the acts of a nesting bird 
do not become completely automatic until it has laid 
an egg in the nest. If one visits a crow's nest which is 
in course of construction, the owners will as likely as 
not desert it ; but I have never known a crow desert its 
nest when once it has laid an egg — provided, of course, 
he who visits the nest leaves any eggs in it. 

In another nest containing two crow's eggs I placed 
a golf ball ; on returning next day I found the crow 
sitting tight upon her own two eggs and the golf ball ! 

But in another case, where I had found two eggs and 
substituted for them a couple of golf balls, the crow 
refused to sit. I suppose the idea was, " I may be a bit 
of a fool when I am nesting, but I am not such a fool as 
all that!" I once came across a young koel and a crow's 
egg in a nest. I removed the former and placed it in a 
crow's nest containing four crow's eggs. The owner of 
the nest showed no surprise at the sudden appearance 
of the koel, but set about feeding it in the most matter- 
of-fact way. The young koel was successfully reared ; 
it is now at large and will next year victimise some 
crow. I may say that no human being could possibly 
fail to distinguish between a young koel and a young 



i 




THE INDIAN PADDY BIRD. (ARDEOI.A (IRAYIl) 



PLAYING CUCKOO 115 

crow. When first hatched the koel has a black skin, 
the crow a pink one. The mouth of the crow nestHng 
is an enormous triangle with great fleshy flaps at the 
side ; the mouth of the koel is much smaller and lacks 
the flaps. The feathers arise very differently in each 
species, and whereas those of the crow are black, those 
of the koel are tipped with russet in the cock and white 
in the hen. 

In another nest containing a young koel (put there 
by me) and two crow's eggs, I placed a paddy bird's 
{Ardeola grayii) Qgg^ hoping that the gallant crow would 
hatch it out and appreciate the many-sidedness of her 
family. She hatched out the egg all right, at least 
I believe she did. I saw it in the nest the day before the 
young paddy bird was due ; but when I visited the nest 
the following morning neither egg nor young bird was 
there. It would seem that the crow did not appreciate 
the appearance of the latest addition to the family and 
destroyed it. It is, of course, possible that the young 
koel declined to associate with such a neighbour and 
killed it ; but I think that the crow was the culprit, for 
I had previously placed a paddy bird nestling, four 
days old, in a crow's nest containing only young crows, 
and the paddy bird had similarly disappeared. 

These, then, are the main facts which my game of 
cuckoo has brought to light. They are not so decisive 
as I had expected. They seem to indicate that the 
actions of birds with eggs or young are not quite so 
mechanical as I had supposed. Were they not largely 
mechanical a crow would never hatch out a koel's egg, 
nor would it feed the young koel when hatched out ; it 



ii6 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

would not incubate a fowl's or a paddy bird's egg, and 
it would assuredly decline to sit upon a c^olf ball. On 
the other hand, were the acts of nesting birds altogether 
mechanical, the young paddy birds would have been 
reared up, and the substitution of two golf balls for two 
eggs would not have been detected. There is apparently 
a limit to the extent to which intelligence is subservient 
to blind instinct. 



THE KOEL 

jA NGLO-INDI ANS frequently confound the koel 
/ ^ with the brain-fever bird. There is certainly 

/ ^ some excuse for the mistake, for both are 
cuckoos and both exceedingly noisy crea- 
tures ; but the cry of the koel {^Eudynamis honorata) 
bears to that of the brain-fever bird or hawk-cuckoo 
{Hierococcyx variiis) much the same relation as the 
melody of the organ-grinder does to that of a full 
German band. Most men are willing to offer either the 
solitary Italian or the Teutonic gang a penny to go into 
the next street, but, if forced to choose between them, 
select the organ-grinder as the lesser of the two evils. 
In the same way, most people jfind the fluty note of the 
koel less obnoxious than the shriek of the hawk-cuckoo. 

The latter utters a treble note, which sounds like 
" Brain fever." This it is never tired of repeating. It 
commences low down the musical scale and then as- 
cends higher and higher until you think the bird must 
burst. But it never does burst. When the top note 
is reached the exercise is repeated. 

The koel is a bird of many cries. As it does not, like 
the brain-fever bird, talk English, its notes are not easy 
to reproduce on paper. Its commonest call is a cres- 
cendo kuil, kuil^ kuil, from which the bird derives its 
117 



ii8 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

popular name. This cry is peculiar to the cock. The 
second note is, to use the words of Colonel Cunningham, 
"an outrageous torrent of shouts, sounding like k!ik,k2h~i, 
kihi, kiiu, kiiu, kiifi, repeated at brief intervals in tones 
loud enough to rouse the ' Seven Sleepers.' " The koel 
is nothing if not impressive. He likes to utter this note 
just before dawn, when all the world is still. As the 
bird calls chiefly in the hot weather, when it frequently 
happens that the hour before sunrise is almost the only 
one in the twenty-four in which the jaded European can 
sleep, this note is productive of much evil language on 
the part of the aforesaid European. 

The koel's third cry is well described by Cunningham 
as a mere cataract of shrill shrieks — heekaree, karees. 
This is heard mostly when the hen is fleeing for dear 
life before a pair of outraged crows. So much for the 
voice of the koel, now for a description of the singer. 
The cock is a jet-black bird with a green bill and a red 
eye. The hen is speckled black and white, with the eye 
and beak as in the cock. Add to this the fact that the 
koel is a little larger than the " merry cuckoo, messenger 
of spring " which visits England, and it is impossible not 
to recognise the bird. 

This cuckoo, like many of its relatives, does not hatch 
its own eggs. It cuckolds crows. This is no mean 
performance, for the crow is a suspicious creature. It 
knoweth full well the evil which is in its own heart, and 
so, judging others by itself, watches unceasingly over its 
nest from the time the first egg is deposited therein 
until the hour when the most backward young one is 
able to fly. Now, a koel is no match for a crow in open 



THE KOEL 119 

fight, hence it is quite useless for the former to attempt 
by means of force to introduce its egg into the crow's 
nest. It is obliged to resort to guile. The cock 
entices away the crows, and while they are absent the 
hen deposits her egg. 

Crows appear to dislike the cry of the koel quite as 
much as men do. But whereas man is usually content 
with swearing at the noisy cuckoo, crows attack it with 
beak and claw whenever an opportunity offers. This 
fact is turned to account by the koel. The cock alights 
in a tree near a crow's nest and begins to call. The 
owners of the nest, sooner or later, " go for " him. He 
then takes to his wings, continuing to call, so as to 
induce the crows to prolong the chase. As he is a 
more rapid flier than they, he does not run much risk. 
While the irate corvi are in pursuit, the hen koel, who 
has been lurking around, slips into the nest and there 
lays her egg. If she is given time she destroys one or 
more of those already in the nest. She does this, not 
because the crows would detect the presence of an 
additional egg, but in order that her young, when 
hatched, will not be starved owing to the large number 
of mouths to feed. 

Crows, although such clever birds, are, as we have seen, 
remarkably stupid at the nesting season. They are 
unable to distinguish the koel's egg from their own, 
although the former is considerably smaller, with an 
olive-green background instead of a bluish one ; and 
when the young koel emerges from the egg, they are 
unable to differentiate between it and their own off- 
spring, although baby koels are black and baby crows 



120 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

pink, when first hatched out. The koel nesthng has 
one point in common with young crows, and that is a 
large mouth of which the inside is red. This is opened 
wide whenever a parent approaches, so that the latter 
sees nothing but a number of yawning caverns ; thus 
there is some excuse for its failure to distinguish between 
the true and the spurious nestlings. 

To return to the koel who is laying her egg in the 
momentarily deserted nest. She does not carry her egg 
thither in her beak as the common cuckoo is said to do, 
but sits in the nest and lays it there. Sometimes the 
crows return before she is ready and, of course, attack 
her, but as she can fly faster than they, they do not 
often succeed in harming her, although there are 
instances on record of crows mobbing female koels to 
death. It will thus be seen that cuckolding crows is 
dangerous work. The life of the cuckoo is not all beer 
and skittles, and the birds seem to feel the danger of 
their existence, for at the breeding season they 
appear to be in a most excited state, and are manifestly 
afraid of the crows. This being so, I am inclined to 
think that the latter are responsible for the parasitic 
habit of the koel. It is not improbably a case of the 
biter bit. Crows are such aggressive birds that they are 
quite capable of evicting any other bird from its nest if 
this be large enough to suit their purpose. Now 
suppose a koel to be thus evicted by force when ready 
to lay; it is quite conceivable that she might make 
frantic efforts to lay in her rightful nest, and if she 
succeeded, and the crows failed to detect her egg, they 
would hatch out her offspring. If the koels which acted 



THE KOEL 121 

thus managed to have their offspring reared for them, 
while those that attempted to build fresh nests dropped 
their eggs before the new nurseries were ready, natural 
selection would tend to weed out the latter and thus 
the parasitic habit might arise, until eventually the koel 
came to forget how to build a nest. 

In this connection it is important to bear in mind 
that the nearest relatives of the koel are non-parasitic. 
It is therefore not improbable that in the koel the para- 
sitic habit has an independent origin. 

This instinct has undoubtedly been evolved more 
than once. It does not necessarily follow that similar 
causes have led to its origin in each case. 

The suggestion I have made is made only with 
reference to the koel, which differs from other cuckoos 
in that it dupes a bird stronger and bigger than itself. 
But this is a digression. 

If the koel have time, she destroys one or more of the 
existing eggs, and will sometimes return later and 
destroy others. Although the crow cannot distinguish 
between her own and koel's eggs, the koel can, I have 
come across several crows' nests which each contained 
only two koel's eggs. 

The young koel is a better-behaved bird than some 
of its relations, for it ejects neither the eggs still in the 
nest when it is hatched nor its foster-brethren. But 
the incubating period of the koel is shorter than that of 
the crow, so that the koel's egg is always the first to 
hatch out. The koel seems never to make the mistake 
of depositing its egg among nearly incubated ones. 
Thus the young koel commences life with a useful start 



122 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

on its foster-brethren. It soon increases this start, 

as it grows very fast, and is ready to fly before the 

earliest feathers of its foster-brothers are out of their 

sheaths. 

It does not, however, leave its foster-parents when 
able to fly. It sits on the edge of the nest and makes 
laudable, if ludicrous, efibrts at cawing. The crows 
continue feeding it long after it has left the nest, looking 
after it with the utmost solicitude. A young koel is 
somewhat lacking in intelligence ; it seems unable to 
distinguish its foster-parents from any other crow, for it 
opens its mouth at the approach of every crow, evidently 
expecting to be fed. 

The natives of the Punjab assert that the hen koel 
keeps her eye on the crow's nest in which she has laid her 
egg or eggs during the whole of the time that the young 
cuckoo is in it, and takes charge of her babe after it 
leaves the nest. This assertion appears to be incorrect. 
I have never seen a koel feeding anything but itself. 
Moreover, the koel lays four or five eggs, and these are 
not usually all deposited in one nest. It would therefore 
be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for the hen to 
keep an eye on each of her eggs. 

In view of the hatred which crows display towards 
koels in general, naturalists have expressed surprise 
that the young koels are not mobbed directly they 
leave the nest. Their plumage differs in no way from 
that of the adult. It has been suggested that young 
koels retain the crow smell for a considerable time after 
they are fledged. This I cannot accept. The olfactory 
organ of birds is but slightly developed. Indeed, I am 



THE KOEL 123 

inclined to wonder whether birds have any sense of 
smell. The truth of the matter is that crows look after 
their foster-children most carefully for several weeks 
after they have left the nest, and see that no strange 
crow harms them. 



THE COMMON DOVES OF INDIA 

THE dove family ought to have become 
extinct ages ago, if all that orthodox 
zoologists tell us about the fierce struggle 
for existence be true. They form a 
regular " Thirteen Society." They do everything they 
should not do, they disobey every rule of animal 
warfare, they fall asleep when sitting exposed on a 
telegraph wire, they build nests in all manner of foolish 
places, their nests are about as unsafe as a nursery 
can possibly be, and they flatly decline to lay pro- 
tectively coloured eggs — their white eggs are a standing 
invitation to bird robbers to indulge, like the Cambridge 
crew of 1906, in an egg diet; yet, in spite all of these 
foolhardy acts, doves flourish like the green bay tree. 
This is a fact of which I require an explanation before 
I can accept all the doctrines of the Neo-Darwinian 
school. 

There are so many species of dove in India that 
when speaking of them one must perforce, unless one 
be writing a great monograph, confine oneself to two 
or three of the common species. I propose to-day to 
talk about our three commonest Indian doves, that 
is to say, the spotted dove {Turtur suratensis), the 
Indian ring-dove {Turtur risorius), and the little brown 
124 



THE COMMON DOVES OF INDIA 125 
dove {Turtur cmnbayensis). I make no apology for 
discoursing upon these common species. I contend 
that we in India know so very little about even our 
everyday birds that it is a needless expenditure of 
energy to seek out the rarer species and study their 
habits ; we have plenty to learn about those that come 
into our verandahs and coo to us. 

The curious distribution of our common Indian 
doves has not, so far as I know, been explained. In 
very few places are all three common. One or other of 
them is usually far more abundant than the others, and 
this one is usually the spotted dove. It is the com- 
monest dove of Calcutta, of Madras, of Travancore, of 
Tirhoot, of Lucknow, but not of Lahore or Bombay or 
the Deccan. Why is this .? Why is it that, whereas 
the Deccan is literally overrun by the ring- and the 
little brown dove, one can go from Bombay to Mala- 
bar without meeting one of these species, but seeing 
thousands of the spotted dove ? 

The only explanation that I can offer of this pheno- 
menon is that the spotted dove is the most pugnacious 
and the most pushing ; that where he chooses to settle 
down he ousts the other species of dove more or less 
completely; but he, fortunately for the other species, 
does not choose to settle down in all parts of India. 
He objects to dry places. Hence he is not seen at 
Lahore or in the Deccan, or in the drier parts of the 
United Provinces, such as Agra, Muttra, Etawah, and 
Cawnpore. 

This is only a theory of mine, and a theory in favour 
of which I am not able to adduce very much evidence. 



126 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

since my personal knowledge of India is confined to 
some half-a-dozen widely separated places. Moreover, 
this theory does not explain the absence of the spotted 
dove from Bombay. I should be very glad to know if 
there are any other moist parts of India where the 
spotted dove is not the most abundant of the cooing 
family. 

The nest of the dove is a subject over which most 
ornithologists have waxed sarcastic. A more ram- 
shackle structure does not exist ; yet the absurd thing 
is that doves are most particular about the materials 
they use. 

The other day I watched, with much amusement, a 
little brown dove at work nest building. It was con- 
structing a shake-down in a small Lonicera bush. Now, 
obviously, since the nest is just a few twigs and stalks 
thrown together, any kind of short twig or stem will 
serve for building material. This, however, was not the 
view of the dove. If that creature had been construct- 
ing the Forth Bridge it could not have been more 
particular as regards the materials it picked up. It 
strutted about the ground, taking into its bill all man- 
ner of material only to reject it, until at last it picked 
up a dead grass stalk and flew off with it in triumph ! 

Presumably doves take the same trouble in selecting 
a site for their nest, nevertheless they sometimes event- 
ually choose the most impossible spot. Thus Mr. A. 
Anderson has recorded the existence of a nest of a 
pair of little brown doves that " was placed close to 
the fringe of the kunnaut of his tent on one of the 
corner ropes, where it is double for some six inches 



THE COMMON DOVES OF INDIA 127 
and there knotted. The double portion was just broad 
enough, being three inches apart, to support the nest 
with careful balancing ; the knot acted as a sort of 
buffer and prevented the twigs from sliding off, which 
most assuredly would otherwise have been the case, for 
the rope just there was at an angle of 45°." 

Those foolish birds were not permitted to bring up 
their young, because the tent had to be struck before 
the eggs were laid. 

In Lahore a favourite nesting site for the little 
brown dove is on the top of the rolled-up portion of 
the verandah chik. As the cJiik is composed of stout 
material, the rolled-up portion forms an excellent plat- 
form some four inches broad. But as the doves nest 
just as the weather is beginning to grow warm, the 
little home is apt to be somewhat rudely broken up. 
One pair, however, has this year successfully reared up 
two young hopefuls in a nest on this somewhat pre- 
carious site. The doings of these form the subject of 
the next article. 

I once came across a nest of this little dove in a 
low, prickly bush beside a small canal distributory, three 
miles outside Lahore. The dove appeared to have used 
as the foundation for its nest an old one of the striated 
bush babbler {Argya caudata). (I object to calling this 
bird the common babbler, since, like common sense, it 
is not very common.) In the same bush, at the same 
level, that is to say, about a yard from the ground and 
only a couple of feet from the dove's nest, was that of a 
striated bush babbler containing three dark blue eggs. 
This is a case upon which those who believe that eggs 



128 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

laid in open nests are protectively coloured would do 

well to ponder. 

There, side by side, in precisely the same environment, 
were two nests — one containing white and the other dark 
blue eggs. Obviously both sets of eggs could not be 
protectively coloured ; as a matter of fact, both clutches 
of eggs were conspicuous objects. It not infrequently 
happens that the Indian robin {Thainnobia cambayensis), 
which lays white eggs thickly spotted with reddish 
brown, brings up a family in a disused nest of a striated 
bush babbler's. The eggs of this latter are dark blue. 
It is surely time that zoologists gave up throwing at us 
their everlasting theory of protective colouring. If this 
were a si7ie qua non of the safety of birds' eggs, then the 
whole dove tribe would, long ago, have ceased to exist. 

This family presents the ornithologist with yet 
another problem in colouration. In every species, 
except the red turtle-dove {Oenopopelia tranqiiebaiicd), 
both sexes are coloured alike. In this latter, however, 
there is very pronounced sexual dimorphism. The 
ruddy wing feathers of the cock enable one to dis- 
tinguish him at once from his mate and from every 
other dove. Now the habits of this dove appear to be 
exactly like those of all other species. It constructs 
the same kind of nest and in similar situations ; why 
then the sexual dimorphism in this species and in no 
other species? If the lady rufous turtle-dove likes nice 
ruddy wings, and thus the red wing has been evolved in 
the cock bird, why has she too not inherited it? I 
presume that even the most audacious Neo-Darwinian 
will not talk about her greater need of protection when 



THE COMMON DOVES OF INDIA 129 
sitting on the nest, for if she needs protection, how much 
more so do her white eggs ? Further, it is my belief 
that the cock bird takes his turn in the incubation. 

It must not be thought that I am needlessly poking 
fun at modern biologists. I merely desire to call atten- 
tion to the unsolved problems that confront us on all 
sides, and to protest against the dogmatism of biology 
which declares that the Darwinian theory explains the 
whole of organic nature. As a matter of fact, it seems 
to me that the field naturalist cannot but feel that 
natural selection is turning out rather a failure. 

In conclusion, one more word regarding the red 
turtle-dove. Its distribution has not been carefully 
worked out, and what we do know of it is not easy 
to explain. Hume says that it breeds in all parts of 
India, but is very capriciously distributed, and he is 
unable to say what kind of country it prefers, and why 
it is common in one district and rare in a neigh- 
bouring one in which all physical conditions appear 
identical. 

It is very common in the bare, arid, treeless region 
that surrounds the Sambhur Lake. It is common in 
some dry, well-cultivated districts, like Etawah, where 
there are plenty of old mango groves. It is very com- 
mon in some of the comparatively humid tracts, like 
Bareilly, and again in the sal jungles of the Kumaun 
Bhabar and the Nepal Terai. On the other hand, over 
wide extents of similar country it is scarcely to be seen. 
Doubtless there is something in its food or manner of 
life that limits its distribution, but no one has yet been 
able to make out what this something is. 



DOVES IN A VERANDAH 

THE office building in which for some time 
past I have rendered service to a paternal 
government was once a tomb. That it is 
now an office is evidence of the strict 
economy practised by the Indian Administration. 
Since the living require more light than the dead, 
skylights have been let into the domed roof. In these 
the brown rock-chat {Cei-comela ficscd) loves to sit 
and pour forth his exceedingly sweet little lay, while 
his spouse sits on four pale blue eggs in a nest on a 
ledge in a neighbouring sepulchre. But it is not of this 
bird that I write to-day ; I hope to give him an innings 
at some future date. 

Two little brown doves {Turtur cambaiensis) first 
demand our attention, since these for a time appro- 
priated my skylights. This species is smaller than the 
spotted dove so common in Madras, and, to my way 
of thinking, is a much more beautiful bird. Its head, 
neck, and breast are pale lilac washed with red. On 
each side of the neck the bird carries a miniature chess- 
board. The remainder of its plumage is brown, passing 
into grey and white. The legs are lake-red. 

It has a very distinctive note — a soft, subdued musical 
cuk-cuk-coo-coo-coo. There is no bird better pleased with 
130 



DOVES IN A VERANDAH 131 

itself than the little brown dove. In the month of 
March the two doves in question were " carrying on " in 
my office skylight to such an extent as to leave no 
doubt that they had a nest somewhere. I discovered it 
on the rolled-up end of one of the bamboo verandah 
chiks. These are not let down in the cold weather, so 
that the doves had been permitted to build undisturbed. 

" Eha " has humorously described a dove's nest as 
composed of two short sticks and a long one ; that of 
the little brown dove is a little more compact than the 
typical nest, a little less sketchy, and composed of grass 
and fine twigs. There was plenty of room for it on 
the top of the rolled-up portion of the chik. 

When I found the nest there were two white eggs in 
it. Every species of dove lays but two eggs. I do not 
know whether the smallness of the clutch has anything 
to do with the helplessness of the young birds when first 
hatched. Young doves and pigeons have not, like other 
baby birds, great mouths which open to an alarming 
extent. They feed by putting their beaks in the mouth 
of the parent and there they obtain " pigeon's milk," 
which is a secretion from the crop of the old birds. 

Being at that time less versed in the ways of the 
little brown dove than I now am, I was under the im- 
pression that this nest was in rather a curious situation, 
so I determined to obtain a photograph of it with the 
young birds. I may here say that I dislike photo- 
graphy, and not without cause. Some years ago I 
visited the Himalayan snows, and dragged up a great 
camera and a number of plates to an altitude of 12,000 
feet. Having no portable dark room, I endured untold 



132 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

agonies while changing the plates under the bedclothes. 
Being anxious lest the light should reach the exposed 
negatives, I wrapped them up very carefully, using 
newspaper, which was the only wrapping available. 
When I returned from the expedition I developed the 
plates, but lo and behold ! instead of snowy peaks 
and sunny valleys, advertisements of soaps and pills 
appeared on the plates. Why do not books on the 
camera tell one not to wrap up plates in newspaper? 
I made a vow to leave photography to others, and I 
kept the vow until I saw those young doves perched so 
temptingly on the chik. 

Having risked both life and limb in mounting a chair 
placed upon a table, I obtained a " snap " at the nest. 
On developing the plate everything appeared with 
admirable clearness except the nest. There was nothing 
but a blur where this should have been ; the rest of the 
chik came out splendidly. The only explanation of this 
phenomenon that I can offer is the natural " cussed- 
ness " of the camera. I have now renewed my vow to 
eschew photography. 

The first young doves were successfully reared. No 
sooner had they been driven forth into the world than 
the parents set about repairing the nest, for doves are 
not content with one brood ; when once a pair com- 
mence nesting there is no knowing when they will stop. 
As it was then April and the sun was growing uncom- 
fortably hot, the letting down of the cJiik became a matter 
of necessity, and this, of course, wrecked the nest. I 
expected to see no more of the doves. In this I was mis- 
taken. Before long they were billing and cooing as merrily 



DOVES IN A VERANDAH 133 

as before. A little search showed that this time they had 
built a nest on the top of the same chik — a feat which I 
should have thought impossible had I not seen the 
nest with my own eyes. Some sacking was attached to 
the chik, and this, together with the bamboo, presented 
a surface of about half an inch. On this precarious 
foundation the nest rested ; the twigs, of course, reached 
over to the wall from which the chik was hung. Thus 
the nest received some additional support. Needless to 
say, the young birds had to remain very still or they 
would have fallen out of the nest. 

The second and the third broods were raised without 
mishap. One of the birds of the fourth family was more 
restless than his brethren had been ; consequently he 
fell off the nest on to the floor of the verandah. He was 
picked up and brought to me. Although not strong 
enough to walk, or even stand, he showed unmistakable 
signs of that evil temper which characterises all doves, by 
opening his wings and pecking savagely at my hand. 
In spite of this behaviour I set natural selection at 
naught by putting him back into the nest. He fell out 
again next day and was again replaced. This time he 
stayed there, and is now probably at large. 

When the fifth clutch of eggs was in the nest my 
chaprassi, who, since I have shown him how to play 
cuckoo, has been upsetting the domestic affairs of any 
number of birds, asked whether he might substitute two 
pigeon's eggs for those laid by the dove. The substitu- 
tion was duly effected without rousing any suspicions 
on the part of the doves. The young pigeons soon 
hatched out and were industriously fed by their foster- 



134 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

parents, nor did these latter appear to notice anything 
unusual when the white plumage of the pigeons ap- 
peared. Two days before the changelings were ready 
to fly a terrific storm arose and so shook the chiks that 
the poor pigeons were thrown off and killed. Nothing 
daunted, the doves have since successfully reared a sixth 
family ! Can we wonder that doves are numerous in 
India? 



THE GOLDEN ORIOLE 

DAME Nature must have been in a very 
generous mood when she manufactured 
golden orioles, or she would never have 
expended so much of her colour-box upon 
them. Orioles are birds which compel our attention, 
so brilliant are they ; yet the poets who profess to be 
the high-priests of Nature give us no songs about these 
beautiful creatures ; at least I know of no maker of 
verse, with the exception of Sir Edwin Arnold, who 
does more than mention the oriole. Here then is a fine 
opening for some twentieth-century bard ! 

Two orioles, or mango birds as they are sometimes 
called, are common in India, They are the Indian 
oriole {Oriolus kundod) and the black-headed oriole 
{O. melanocephalus). The Indian oriole is a bird about 
the size of a starling. The plumage of the cock is a 
splendid rich yellow. There is a black patch over and 
behind the eye. There is some black on the tail, and 
the large wing feathers are also of this colour. The bill 
is pink and the eyes red. In the hen the yellow of the 
back is deeply tinged with green. 

The black-headed oriole may be distinguished by 
his black head, throat, and upper breast. The habits 
of both species are similar in every respect. The 
135 



136 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Indian oriole seems to be merely a winter visitor to 
Madras, and it is seen in the Punjab only during 
the hot weather. In the intervening parts it may be 
observed all the year round ; hence the species would 
appear to perform a small annual migration, leaving 
the South in the hot weather. In those parts where 
orioles are found all the year round it is not improb- 
able that the birds one sees in the winter are not 
those that are observed during the summer. 

The oriole is essentially a bird of the greenwood tree ; 
if you would see him you should betake yourself to 
some well-irrigated orchard. I have never seen an 
oriole on the ground ; its habits are strictly arboreal, 
but it does not seem to be at all particular about taking 
cover. It perches by preference on the topmost bough 
of a tree, and if this bough be devoid of leaves, so much 
the better, for the bird enjoys a more extensive view of 
the surrounding country. Very beautiful does such 
a bird look, sitting outlined against the sky, as the first 
rays of the morning sun fall upon and add fresh lustre 
to its golden plumage. Orioles feed upon both fruit 
and insects, and so cannot be regarded as unmixed 
blessings to the agriculturalist. 

As I have already said, Dame Nature has been 
exceedingly kind to this bird ; not content with deck- 
ing him out in brilliantly coloured raiment, she has 
endowed him with a voice of which any bird might 
well be proud. It is a clear, mellow whistle, which 
is usually syllabised as peeho, peeho, or lorio, lorio ; 
indeed, the name oriole is probably onomatopoetic. 
In addition to this the bird has several other notes. 



THE GOLDEN ORIOLE 137 

These are not pleasant to the ear and may be described 
as blends, in varying proportions, of the harsh call of 
the king-crow and the miau of a cat. The hen almost 
invariably utters such a note when a human being 
approaches the nest ; but the cry apparently does not 
always denote alarm, for I have heard an oriole uttering 
it when sitting placidly in a tree, seemingly at peace 
with all the world ; but perhaps that particular bird 
may have been indulging in unpleasant day dreams ; 
who knows? 

We hear much of the marvellous nests of tailor- and 
weaver-birds, but never of that of the oriole. Natural- 
ists, equally with poets, have neglected this beautiful 
species. An oriole's nest is in its way quite as wonder- 
ful as that of the tailor-bird. If a man were ordered to 
erect a cradle up in a tree, he would, I imagine, con- 
struct it precisely as the oriole does its nest. This last 
is a cup-shaped structure slung on to two or three 
branches of a tree by means of fibres which are wound 
first round one branch, then passed under the nest, and 
finally wound round another bough. The nest is 
therefore, as Hume pointed out, secured to its support- 
ing branches in much the same way as a prawn net is 
to its wooden framework. 

In places where there are mulberry trees the oriole 
shaves off narrow strips of the thin, pliable bark and 
uses these to support the nest. Jerdon describes one 
wonderful nest, taken by him at Saugor, that was 
suspended by a long roll of cloth about three-quarters 
of an inch wide, which the bird must have pilfered from 
some neighbouring verandah. " This strip," he states, 



138 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

" was wound round each limb of the fork, then passed 
round the nest beneath, fixed to the other limb, and 
again brought round the nest to the opposite side ; there 
were four or five of these supports on either side." The 
nest was so securely fixed that it could not have been 
removed till the supporting bands had been cut or had 
rotted away. Here then is an example of workman- 
ship which the modern jerry-builder might well 
emulate. 

I have made repeated attempts to see orioles at 
work on the supports of the nest, but so far have only 
managed to observe them lining it. Upon one occasion 
I came upon a nest some fifteen feet from the ground 
from which hung two strips of fibre about sixteen inches 
long that had been wound round one branch. I waited 
for some time, hoping the birds would return and allow 
me to see them finish the adjustment of these fibres ; 
but unfortunately there was no cover available, and the 
oriole is an exceedingly shy bird ; it will not do any- 
thing to the nest if it knows it is being watched. 

The completed nursery, viewed from below, looks like 
a ball of dried grass wedged into the fork of a branch, 
and may easily be mistaken for that of a king-crow, but 
this last is, of course, not bound to the branches like 
that of the oriole. 

A very curious thing that I have noticed about the 
Indian oriole's nest is that it is always situated either 
in the same tree as a king-crow's nest or in an adjacent 
tree. I have seen some thirteen or fourteen orioles' 
nests since I first noticed this phenomenon, and have, 
in every case, found a king-crow's nest within ten yards. 



THE GOLDEN ORIOLE 139 

The drongo builds earlier, for it is usually feeding its 
young while the oriole is incubating. It would therefore 
appear that it is the oriole which elects to build near the 
king-crow. I imagine that it does so for the sake of 
protection ; it must be a great thing for a timid bird to 
have a vigorous policeman all to itself, a policeman who 
will not allow a big creature to approach under any 
pretext whatever. 

The oriole lays from two to four white eggs spotted 
with reddish brown. These spots readily wash off, and 
sometimes the colour " runs " and gives the whole egg a 
pink hue. Although both sexes take part in the con- 
struction of the nursery, the work of incubation appears 
to fall entirely upon the hen. I have never seen a cock 
oriole sitting on the nest. 



THE BARN OWL 

THE barn owl is a cosmopolitan bird. It 
is an adaptive species, and so has been able 
to make itself at home all the world over. 
Like every widely distributed species, in- 
cluding man, it has its local peculiarities. The barn 
owls of India are somewhat different from those of 
Africa, and these latter, again, may be readily distin- 
guished from those that dwell in Europe. This any 
one may see for himself by paying a visit to the 
Zoological Gardens at Regent's Park, where barn owls 
from all parts of the world blink out their lives in 
neighbouring cages. Needless to say, species-mongers 
have tried to magnify these local peculiarities into 
specific differences. The European bird is known as 
Strix flammea. An attempt was made to differentiate 
the Indian barn owl. If you look up the bird in 
Jerdon's classical work you will see that it is called 
Strix javaiiica. Jerdon's justification for making a new 
species of it was its larger size, more robust feet and 
toes, and the presence of spots on the lower plumage. 
If such were specific differences we ought to divide up 
man, Homo sapiens, into quite a large number of 
species : Homo major, H. minor, H. longirostris, H. 
brevirostris, etc. 

140 



THE BARN OWL 141 

However, neither with the barn owl nor with man 
has the species-maker had his own way. Ornithologists 
recognise but one barn owl. This bird, which is fre- 
quently called the screech owl, is delightfully easy to 
describe. Everybody knows an owl when he sees one ; 
but stay, I forgot the German Professor, mentioned by 
Mr. Bosworth Smith, who held up in triumph the owl 
which he had shot, saying : " Zee, I have shot von 
schnipe mit einem face Push cat." Let me therefore 
say it is easy enough for the average man to recognise 
an owl, but it is quite another matter when it comes 
to "spotting" the species to which an individual happens 
to belong. As a rule the family likeness is so strong 
as to overshadow specific differences. The barn owl, 
however, differs from all others in that it has a long, 
thin face. Take any common or garden owl, and you 
will observe that it has a round, plum-pudding-like head. 
Place that owl before one of those mirrors which make 
everything look long and thin, and you will see in the 
glass a very fair representation of the barn owl. The 
face of this owl, when it is awake, is heart-shaped ; 
when the bird is asleep it is as long as that of a junior 
Madras Civil Servant as he looks over the Civil List. 
Whether awake or asleep, the bird has an uncanny, 
half-human look. It is innocent of the "ears" or 
" horns " which form so conspicuous a feature of some 
owls. In passing, I may say that those horn-like 
tufts of feathers have no connection with the well- 
developed auditory organ of the owl. 

The barn owl's face is white, as is its lower plumage, 
hence it is popularly known in England as the white 



142 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

owl. The back and upper plumage are pale grey. 
The tail is buff, and there is a good deal of buff scat- 
tered about the rest of the plumage ; it is on this 
account that the bird is called flavimea. 

The barn owl is, I believe, common in all parts of 
India, but it is not often seen owing to its strictly 
nocturnal habits. It ventures not forth into the dazzling 
light of day as does that noisy little clown, the spotted 
owlet {Athene brama). Should it happen to be abroad 
in daylight the crows make its life a burden. Friend 
Corvus is a very conservative individual. He sets his 
face steadfastly against any addition to the local fauna. 
As he seldom or never sees the barn owl, he does not 
include it among the birds of his locality ; so that when 
one does show its face, the crows proceed to mob it. 
Their efforts are well seconded by the small fry among 
birds, who seem instinctively to dislike the whole owl 
tribe. 

During the day the barn owl sleeps placidly in the 
interior of a decayed tree, or in a tomb, mosque, temple, 
or ruin, or even in the secluded verandah of a bungalow. 
The last place of abode is unsatisfactory from the point 
of view of the owl, for Indian servants display an 
antipathy towards it quite as great as that shown by the 
crows. They believe that the owls bring bad luck, and 
are in this respect not one whit more foolish than 
ignorant folk in other parts of the world. This useful 
and amusing bird is everywhere regarded with super- 
stitious dread by the uneducated. 

It lives almost exclusively on rats, mice, shrews, and 
other enemies of the farmer. And as an exceptional 



THE BARN OWL 143 

case it will take a young bird, which is usually a 
sparrow. Most people will agree that we can spare a 
few sparrows ; nevertheless, that cruel idiot, the game- 
keeper, classes the barn owl as vermin and shoots it 
whenever he has the chance. This is fairly often, 
owing to the confiding habits of the creature. It will 
enter a bungalow after rats or moths, and will sometimes 
terrify the timid sleeper by sitting on the end of his bed 
and screaming at him 1 

The owl is blessed with an appetite that would do 
credit to an alderman. Lord Lilford states that he saw 
" a young half-grown barn owl take down nine full- 
grown mice, one after another, until the tail of the 
ninth stuck out of his mouth, and in three hours' time 
was crying for more." Let me anticipate the captious 
critic by saying that it was the owl and not the tail of 
the ninth mouse that, like Oliver Twist, called for more. 
Moreover, the tail did not, as might be supposed, stick 
out because the bird was " full up inside." The barn owl 
invariably swallows a mouse head first ; it makes a mighty 
gulp, with the result that the whole of the mouse, except 
the tail, disappears. Thus the victim remains for a 
short time in order that the owl may enjoy the bomie 
bouche. Then the tail disappears suddenly, and the 
curtain is rung down on the first act of the tragedy. 
The second and third acts are like unto the first. The 
last act is not very polite, but it must be described in 
the interests of science. After an interval of a few 
hours the owl throws up, in the form of a pellet, the 
bones, fur, and other undigestible portions of his victims. 
This is, of course, very bad manners, but it is the inevit- 



144 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

able result of bolting a victim whole. One vice, alas ! 

leads to another. 

Kingfishers, which swallow whole fish, likewise eject 
the bones. This habit of the owl has enabled zoologists 
to disprove the contention of the gamekeeper that the 
barn owl lives chiefly upon young pheasants. The 
bones found in these pellets are nearly all those of 
small rodents. 

The screech owl, as its name implies, is not a great 
songster. It hisses, snores, and utters, during flight, 
blood-curdling screams, which doubtless account for 
its evil reputation. It lays roundish white eggs in a 
hole in a tree or other convenient cavity. Three, four, 
or six are laid, according to taste. I have never found 
the eggs in India, but they are, in England at any rate, 
laid, not in rapid succession, but at considerable intervals, 
so that one may find, side by side in a nest, eggs and 
young birds of various ages. I do not know whether 
the owl derives any benefit from this curious habit. 
It has been suggested that the wily creature makes the 
first nestling which hatches out do some of the incu- 
bating. Pranks of this kind are all very well when the 
nest is hidden away in a hole ; they would not do in 
an open nest to which crows and other birds of that 
feather have access. 




THE COMMON KINGFISHER. (ALCEDO ISTIDA) 
(One of the British I'irds /oniui in India) 



A TREE TOP TRAGEDY 

IF I were a bird I would give the Indian crow a 
very wide berth, and, whenever I did come into 
unavoidable contact with him, I should behave 
towards him with the most marked civility. A 
clannishness prevails among crows which makes them 
nasty enemies to tackle. If you insult one of the 
" treble-dated " birds you find that the whole of the 
corvi of the neighbourhood resent that insult as if it had 
been addressed to each and every one individually, and 
if you get back nothing more than your insult plus very 
liberal interest, you are indeed lucky. In the same 
way, crows will revenge an injury tenfold. The eye-for- 
an-eye doctrine does not satisfy them ; for an eye they 
want at least a pair of eyes, to say nothing of a com- 
plete set of teeth. I recently witnessed an example of 
what crows are capable of doing by way of revenge. 

A couple of kites built high up in a lofty tree the 
clumsy platform of sticks which we dignify by the 
name " nest." This was furnished, soon after its com- 
pletion, by a clutch of three straw-coloured eggs, hand- 
somely blotched with red. 

The uglist birds seem to lay the most beautiful eggs ; 
this is perhaps the compensation which Dame Nature 
gives them for their own lack of comeliness. 
L 145 



146 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

The kite is a very close sitter. Like the crow, she 
knoweth the wickedness of her own heart, and as she 
judges others by herself, deems it necessary to con- 
tinually mount guard over her eggs. Patience eventually 
meets with its reward. Three weeks of steady sitting 
result in the appearance of the young kites. 

This long and patient sitting on the part of parent 
oirds is, when one comes to think of it, a most remark- 
able phenomenon. No sooner do the eggs appear in 
the nest than the most active little bird seems to lose 
all its activity and become quite sedentary in its habits. 
Take, for example, the sprightly white-browed fantail fly- 
catcher {Rhipidtira albifrontata), a bird which ordinarily 
seems to have St. Vitus's dance in every organ and 
appendage. This species will, when it has eggs, sit as 
closely or more closely than a barndoor hen, and will 
sometimes allow you to stroke it. I often wonder what 
are the feelings of such a bird when incubating. One 
is tempted to think that it must find the process in- 
tensely boring. But this cannot be so, or it would 
refuse to sit. The fowls of the air are not hampered 
by the Ten Commandments ; they are free to do that 
to which the spirit moveth them, without let or hindrance, 
without fear of arrest or prosecution for breach of the 
law. Hence birds must positively enjoy sitting on their 
eggs. At the brooding season avine nature undergoes 
a complete change. Ordinarily a bird delights to ex- 
pend its ebullient energy in vigorous motion, just as a 
strong man delights to run a race ; but at the nesting 
season its inclinations change ; then its greatest joy is 
to sit upon its nest. Even as human beings are suddenly 



A TREE-TOP TRAGEDY 147 

seized with the Bridge craze and are then perfectly con- 
tent to sit for hours at the card table, so at certain 
seasons are birds overcome by the incubating mania. 
If my view of the matter be correct, and I think it 
must be, a sitting bird is no more an object for our pity 
than is a Bridge maniac. But this is a digression. 

Let us hie back to our kite and her family of young 
ones in their lofty nursery. For a time all went well 
with them. But one day the sun of prosperity which 
had hitherto shone upon them became darkened by 
great black clouds of adversity. I happened to pass 
the nest at this time and saw about twenty excited 
crows squatting on branches near the nest and cawing 
angrily. The mother kite was flying round and round 
in circles, and was evidently sorely troubled in spirit. 
She had done something to offend the crows. Ere long 
she returned to her nest, whereupon the crows took to 
their wings, cawing more vociferously than ever. As 
soon as the kite had settled on the nest they again 
alighted on branches of the tree, and, each from a re- 
spectful distance, gave what the natives of Upper India 
call gali galoj. She tolerated for a time their vulgar 
abuse, then left the nest. This was the signal for all 
the crows to take to their wings. Some of them tried 
to attack her in the air. For a few minutes I watched 
them chasing her. After a little the attack began to 
flag, I, therefore, came to the conclusion that the corvi 
were recovering their mental equilibrium, and that the 
whole affair would quickly fizzle out, as such incidents 
usually do. Accordingly, I went on my way. Return- 
ing an hour later, I was surprised to find the crows still 



148 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

engaged in the attack. Moreover, the kite was not 
visible and the crows had grown bokler, for whereas 
previously they had abused the kite from a safe dis- 
tance, some of them were now quite close to the nest. 
Being pressed for time, I was not able to stay and await 
developments. In the afternoon when I again passed 
the nest I saw no kite, but the tree was alive with crows, 
and part of the nest appeared to have been pulled down. 
The nestlings had probably been destroyed. Of this I 
was not able to make certain, for I was on my way to 
fulfil a social engagement. I was, I admit, sorely tempted 
to " cut " this, and nothing but the want of a good 
excuse prevented my doing so. " Dear Mrs. Burra 
Mem, I much regret that I was prevented from coming to 
your tennis party this afternoon by a domestic bereave- 
ment — of a kite," seemed rather unconvincing, so I went 
to the lawn-tennis party. 

When I saw the nest the following morning it was a 
total wreck. There were still one or two crows hanging 
around, and while I was inspecting the ground beneath 
the scene of the tragedy they amused themselves by 
dropping sticks on my head. The crow is an ill- 
conditioned bird. I found, lying about on the ground, 
the debris of the nest, a number of kite's feathers, in- 
cluding six or seven of the large tail ones, and two 
crow's wings. These last furnished the clue to the be- 
haviour of the crows. The kite must have attacked 
and killed a sickly crow, in order to provide breakfast 
for her young. This was, of course, an outrage on 
corvine society — an outrage which demanded speedy 
vengeance. Hence the gathering of the clans which I 




HE INDIAN KITE. (MILVUS GOV 



A TREE-TOP TRAGEDY 149 

had witnessed the previous day. At first the crows 
were half afraid of the kite, and were content to call 
her names ; but as they warmed up to their work they 
gained courage, and so eventually killed the kite, 
destroyed her nest, and devoured her young. Thus did 
they avenge the murder. 



TWO LITTLE BIRDS 

THERE is, hidden away in a corner of North- 
ern India, a tiny orchard which may be 
Hkened to an oasis in the desert, because the 
trees which compose it are always fresh and 
green, even when the surrounding country is dry and 
parched. Last April two or three of the paradise fly- 
catchers who were on their annual journey northward 
were tempted to tarry awhile in this orchard to enjoy 
the cool shade afforded by the trees. They found the 
place very pleasant, and insect life was so abundant that 
they determined to remain there during the summer. 
Thus it chanced that one morning, early in May, a cock 
flycatcher was perched on one of the trees, preening his 
feathers. A magnificent object was he amid the green 
foliage. The glossy black of his crested head formed a 
striking contrast to the whiteness of the remainder of 
his plumage. His two long median tail feathers, that 
hung down like satin streamers, formed an ornament 
more beautiful than the train of a peacock. He was so 
handsome that a hen flycatcher, who was sitting in a tree 
near by, resolved to make him wed her ; but there was 
another hen living in the same orchard who was equally 
determined to secure the handsome cock as her mate. 
Even while the first hen was admiring him, her rival 
150 



TWO LITTLE BIRDS 151 

came up and made as if to show off her dainty chestnut 
plumage. This so angered the first hen that she attacked 
her rival. A duel then took place between the two little 
birds. It was not of long duration, for the second hen 
soon discovered that she was no match for the first, 
and deeming discretion to be the better part of 
valour, she flew away and left the orchard before she 
sustained any injury. Then the triumphant hen, flushed 
with victory, went up to the cock and said, " See what I 
have done for love of thee. I have driven away my rival. 
Wed me, I pray, for I am worthy of thee. Behold how 
beautiful I am." The cock looked at her as she stood 
there spreading her chestnut wings and saw that she 
was fair to gaze upon. He then fluttered his snowy 
pinions and sang a sweet little warble, which is the way 
a cock bird tells the lady of his choice that he loves her. 

For the next few days these little birds led an idyllic 
existence. Free from care and anxiety, they disported 
themselves in that shady grove, now playing hide-and- 
seek among the foliage, now making graceful sweeps 
after their insect quarry, now pouring out the fulness of 
their love — the cock in sweet song and mellow warble, 
the hen in her peculiar twittering note. Their happiness 
was complete ; never did the shadow of a cloud mar the 
sunshine of their springtime. 

One day they were simultaneously seized by the im- 
pulse to build a nest. First a suitable site had to be 
chosen. After much searching and anxious consultation, 
mingled with love-making, they agreed upon the branch 
of a pear tree, some eight feet above the ground. During 
the whole of the following week they were busy seeking 



152 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

for grass stems, which they fastened to the branch of 
the tree by means of strands of cobweb. They did not 
hunt for material in company, as some birds do. The 
cock would go in one direction and the hen in another. 
Each, as it found a suitable piece of dried grass, or moss, 
or cobweb, or whatever it happened to be seeking, would 
dash back joyfully to the nest with it and weave it into 
the structure. Sometimes one bird would return while 
the other was at work on the nursery; the former would 
then sit near by and wait until the latter had finished. 

At the end of the first day the nest appeared to the 
uninitiated eye merely a tangle of grass stems stuck on to 
the tree, but owing to the united efforts of the energetic 
little builders, it soon took definite shape. By the third 
day it was obvious that the nest was to have the form 
of an inverted cone firmly bound to the branch of the 
tree. The birds took the utmost care to make the nest 
circular. In order to ensure a smooth, round cavity they 
would sit in it and, with wings spread over the edge, turn 
their bodies round and round. At the end of about five 
days' steady work the nursery had assumed its final 
shape. But even then much remained to be done. The 
whole of the exterior had to be thickly covered with 
cobweb and little silky cocoons. This was two full days' 
work. 

Great was the delight of the little birds when the last 
delicate filament had been added. Their joy knew no 
bounds. They would sit in the nest and cry out in pure 
delight. The whole orchard rang with their notes of 
jubilation. Then a little pinkish egg, spotted with red, 
appeared in the nest. This was followed, next day, by 



TWO LITTLE BIRDS 153 

another. On the fifth day after its completion the 
nursery contained the full clutch of four eggs. 

Most carefully did the birds watch over their priceless 
treasures. Never for a moment did they leave them 
unguarded ; one of the pair invariably remained sitting 
on the nest, while the other went to look for food and 
dissipate its exuberant energy in song or motion. Dur- 
ing the day the cock and hen shared equally the duties 
of incubation, but the hen sat throughout the night 
while the cock roosted in a tree hard by. So healthy 
were the little birds and so comfortably weary with the 
labours of the day that they slept uninterruptedly all the 
night through ; nor did they wake up when a human 
being came with a lantern and inspected the nest. Thus 
some ten days passed. But these were not days of 
weariness,because the hearts of the little flycatchers were 
full of joy. 

Then a young bird emerged from one of the eggs. It 
was an unlovely, naked creature — all mouth and stomach. 
But its parents did not think it ugly. Its advent only 
served to increase their happiness. They were now able 
to spend their large surplus of energy in seeking food 
for it. 

Ere long its brethen came out of their shells, and there 
were then four mouths to feed ; so that the father and 
mother had plenty to do, but they still found time in 
which to sing. 

Thus far everything had gone as merrily as a marriage 
bell. The happiness of those lovely little airy fairy 
creatures was without alloy. It is true that they some- 
times had their worries and anxieties, as when a human 



154 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

being chanced to approach the nest ; but these were 
as fleeting as the tints in a sunset sky, and were half 
forgotten ere they had passed away. This idyllic exist- 
ence was, alas, not destined to endure. 

One day, when the man who kept guard over the 
orchard slumbered, a native boy entered it with the 
intention of stealing fruit. But the pears were yet green, 
and this angered the urchin. As he was about to leave 
the grove he espied the beautiful cock flycatcher sitting 
on the nest. The boy had no soul for beauty ; he was 
not spell-bound by the beautiful sight that met his eyes. 
He went to the tree, drove away the sitting bird, tore 
down the branch on which the nest was placed and bore 
it off with its occupants in triumph, amid the distressed 
cries of the cock bird. These soon brought back the 
hen, and great was her lamentation when she found that 
that which she valued most in the world had gone. Her 
sorrow and rage knew no bounds. Poignant, too, was 
the grief of the cock bird, for he had been an eye-witness 
of the dastardly act. For a few hours all the joy seemed 
to have left the lives of those little birds. But they 
were too active, too healthy, too full of life to be miserable 
long. Soon the pleasantness of their surroundings 
began to manifest itself to them and soothe their 
sorrow, for the sun was still shining, the air was sweet 
and cool, the insects hummed their soft chorus, and their 
fellow-birds poured forth their joy. So the cock began 
to sing and said to his mate, " Be not cast down, the year 
is yet young, many suns shall come and go before the 
cold will drive us from this northern clime ; there is 
time for us to build another nest. Let us leave this 



TWO LITTLE BIRDS 155 

treacherous grove and seek some other place." The 
hen found that these words were good. Thus did these 
little birds forget their sorrow and grow as blithe and 
gay as they had been before. But that orchard knew 
them no more. 



THE PARADISE FLYCATCHER 

THE cock paradise flycatcher {Terpsiphone 
paradisi), when in full adult plumage, is a 
bird of startling beauty. I shall never 
forget the first occasion upon which I saw 
him. It was in the Himalayas when night was falling 
that I caught sight o^ some white, diaphanous-looking 
creature flitting about among the trees. In the dim 
twilight it looked ghostly in its beauty. 

It is the two elongated, middle tail feathers which 
render the bird so striking. They look like white satin 
streamers and are responsible for the bird's many 
popular names, such as cotton - thief, ribbon - bird, 
rocket-bird. But this flycatcher has more than striking 
beauty to commend it to the naturalist ; it is of sur- 
passing interest from the point of view of biological 
theory. The cock is one of the few birds that undergo 
metamorphosis during adult life, and the species furnishes 
an excellent example of sexual dimorphism. 

Since the day, some years back, when I first set eyes 
upon the bird, I determined to learn something of its 
habits ; but I had to wait long before I was able to 
carry out my determination. It was not until I came 
to Lahore that I saw much of the species. Here let me 
say that the capital of the Punjab, unpromising as 
iS6 



THE PARADISE FLYCATCHER 157 
it looks at first sight, is, when one gets to know it, a 
veritable gold mine for the ornithologist. 

I'aradise flycatchers migrate there in great numbers 
in order to breed. They arrive at the end of April and 
at once commence nesting operations. Before de- 
scribing these, let me, in order to enable non-ornith- 
ological readers to appreciate what follows, say a few 
words regarding the plumage of the bird. The young 
of both sexes are chestnut in colour, with the exception 
of a black head and crest and whitish under parts. 
This plumage is retained by the hen throughout life. 
After the autumn moult of the second year the two 
median tail feathers of the cock grow to a length of six- 
teen inches, that is to say, four times the length of the 
other tail feathers, and are retained till the following May 
or June, when they are cast. After the third autumn 
moult they again grow, and the plumage now begins to 
become gradually white, the wings and tail being the 
first portions to be affected by the change; thus the cock 
is for a time partly chestnut and partly white, and it is 
not until he emerges from the moult of his fourth 
autumn that all his feathers are white, with, of course, 
the exception of those of his head and crest. The bird 
retains this plumage until death. Cock birds breed in 
either chestnut or white plumage ; this proves that the 
metamorphosis from chestnut to white takes place after 
the bird has attained maturity. 

In Lahore this species nests in considerable numbers 
along the well-wooded banks of the Ravi. Since the 
birds keep to forest country it is not easy to follow their 
courting operations for any length of time ; the birds 



158 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

engaged in courtship appear for a moment and then 
are lost to view among the foliage, but the species is 
certainly monogamous, and 1 think there can be but 
little doubt that the hen courts the cock quite as much 
as he courts her. On 28th April I was out with Mr. 
G. A. Pinto, and he saw a couple of hens chasing a cock 
in white plumage. Presently one of the hens drove 
away the other, then the cock showed off to the triumph- 
ant hen, expanding his wings and uttering a sweet little 
song, like the opening bars of that of the white-browed 
fantail flycatcher {Rhipidnra albifrontatd). I myself 
was not a witness of that incident, the birds not being 
visible from where I was standing at the time ; but on 
3rd June I saw a cock bird in chestnut plumage and a 
hen fighting ; before long the birds disengaged them- 
selves and the male flew off; then a cock in white 
plumage came up to the hen and gave her a bit of his 
mind. After this they both disappeared among the 
foliage. Presently I saw two hens chasing a chestnut- 
coloured cock. I do not understand the full significance 
of these incidents, but they tend to refute Charles 
Darwin's contention that there is competition among 
cocks for hens but none among hens for cocks, and to 
show that the hen takes an active part in courtship. 
To this I shall return. 

It does not seem to be generally known that the cock 
paradise flycatcher is capable of emitting anything 
approaching a song. Thus Oates writes in The Fauna 
of British India of these flycatchers, " their notes are 
very harsh." This is true of the usual call, which is 
short, sharp, and harsh, something like the twitter of an 



THE PARADISE FLYCATCHER 159 
angry sparrow. But in addition to this the cock has two 
tuneful calls. One resembles the commencement of 
the song of the white-browed fantail flycatcher, and the 
other is a sweet little warble of about four notes. I 
have repeatedly been quite close to the cock when thus 
singing and have seen his throat swell when he sang, 
so there can be no question as to the notes being his. 
He thus furnishes one of the many exceptions to the 
rule that brilliantly plumaged birds have no song. 

The nest is a deepish cup, firmly attached to two or 
more slender branches ; it is in shape like an inverted 
cone with the point prolonged as a stalk. It is com- 
posed chiefly of vegetable fibres and fine grass ; these 
being coated outwardly by a thick layer of cobweb and 
small white cocoons. Let me take this opportunity of 
remarking that cobweb affords a most important building 
material to bird masons ; it is their cement, and many 
species, such as sunbirds and flycatchers, use it most 
unsparingly. 

The paradise flycatcher seems to delight to build in 
exposed situations, hence a great many of their nests 
come to grief, especially in the Punjab, where, if there 
be anything in phrenology, the bumps of destructive- 
ness and cruelty must be enormously developed in 
every small boy. 

The nesting habits of the paradise flycatcher have 
been described in detail in the preceding article. They 
are of considerable biological importance. I would lay 
especial stress on the active part in courtship played 
by the hen, the large share in incubation taken by the 
cock, and the change in the plumage of the cock bird 



i6o BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

from chestnut to white in the third year of his 
existence. 

Darwin, as I have aheady pointed out, devoted much 
time and energy in trying to prove that there is in most 
species competition among males for females, and that 
these latter are in consequence able to exercise a selec- 
tion. They choose the most brilliant and beautiful of 
their numerous suitors. Thus we have what he calls 
sexual selection, or, as I should prefer to call it, feminine 
selection. On this theory the poor cock exercises no 
selection ; any decrepit old hen is good enough for 
him ! He is all eagerness, while the hen is blase and 
indifferent. This theory is, I submit, improbable on 
a priori grounds. It is certainly opposed to human 
experience, and is, I believe, not borne out by animal 
behaviour. 

I have paid some attention to the subject lately, and 
am convinced that in most cases the desire of the hen 
for the cock is as great as the desire of the latter for the 
hen. It was only this morning that I watched two hen 
orioles trying to drive each other away, while the cock 
was in a tree near by. 

To repeat what I have already said, the hen courts 
the cock quite as much as he courts her. When a 
pair of birds mate they are mutually attracted to one 
another. That there is such a thing as sexual selection 
I am convinced, but I do not believe that this selection 
is confined to the hens. The hen selects the best cock 
she can get to pair with her, while the cock selects the 
best hen available. 

I speak here of monogamous species ; among poly- 



THE PARADISE FLYCATCHER i6i 

gamous ones there must of necessity be considerable 
competition for hens. 

The second point upon which I desire to lay stress 
is the active part taken by the cock paradise flycatcher 
in incubation. This, again, is, I believe, nothing very 
uncommon, even in sexually dimorphic species, for 
I have myself put a cock minvet {Pericrocotus peregrinus) 
off the nest. Yet this fact seems to dispose of Wallace's 
theory that the more sombre hues of the hen are due 
to her greater need of protection, since she alone is 
supposed to incubate. 

As a matter of fact, a bird sitting on a nest is not, in 
my opinion, exposed to any special danger, for it seems 
that birds of prey as a rule only attack flying objects. 

Finally, there is the extraordinary metamorphosis 
undergone by the cock in his fourth year. It is 
difficult to see how this can have been caused by the 
preference of the hen for white cock birds, since a great 
many chestnut ones are observed to breed ; the di- 
morphism must, therefore, have originated late in the life 
history of the species, and although a hen bird might 
prefer a white to a chestnut husband, it is difficult to 
believe that she would prefer a skewbald one, and this 
skewbald state must have been an ancestral stage if we 
believe that the transition is due to feminine selection 
of white birds. I may be asked, "If you decline to 
believe that the hen has greater need of protection 
than the cock, how do you account for the phenomena 
of sexual dimorphism, and if it is not sexual selection 
which has caused the white plumage of the cock 
paradise flycatcher to arise, what is it ? " 

M 



i62 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

This article has already attained such a length that 
even had I complete explanations to offer I could not 
set them forth in this place. I must content myself 
with giving what I believe to be the key to the solution 
of the problem. I think that there is little doubt that 
what a bird looks for in its mate is, 7iot beauty or brilliance 
of plumage^ but vigour and strength. If beauty is a 
correlative character to strength, then the hen selects 
the most beautiful of the cocks willing to mate with 
her, not because of his beauty, but on account of his 
strength ; likewise the cock. Now there is a very 
intimate connection between the generative cells and 
the body cells, and the male element tends to dissipate 
energy and the female element to conserve it. Thus it is 
that the general tendency of the cock is to become gaily 
coloured and to grow plumes and other ornaments, 
while the tendency of the hen is to remain of com- 
paratively sombre hue. 



BUTCHER BIRDS 

BUTCHER birds are so called because they 
are reputed to have a habit of impaling on 
thorns their larger victims, or as much of 
them as they, owing to want of accommo- 
dation, are incapable of eating at the time of the murder, 
A bush which displays a number of impaled victims — 
young birds, lizards, locusts, and the like — is supposed, 
by a stretch of the ornithological imagination, to look like 
a butcher's shop. All that is wanted to perfect the illu- 
sion is a sign-board, bearing the legend " Lanius vittatus, 
Purveyor of Meat." I must here admit, with charac- 
teristic honesty, that I have never set eyes upon such a 
butcher's shop, or larder, as it should be called, for the 
shrike does not sell his wares — he merely stores them for 
personal consumption. Nor have I even seen a shrike 
impale a victim. My failure cannot, I think, be attri- 
buted to lack of observation ; for I never espy one of 
these miniature birds of prey without watching it atten- 
tively, in the hope that it will oblige me by acting as all 
books on ornithology tell me shrikes do. Every butcher 
bird I have witnessed engaged in shikar has pounced 
down upon its insect quarry from a suitable perch, 
seized the luckless victim upon the ground, imme- 
diately carried it back to its perch and devoured it then 
163 



i64 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

and there. I have seen this operation repeated scores 
of times. I, therefore, think I am justified in suggesting 
that the habit of keeping a larder is probably restricted 
to the larger species of shrike, and that these only im- 
pale their victim when there is still something of it left 
over, after they have eaten so much that for the time 
being they cannot possibly stow away any more. 
Jerdon, I notice, makes no mention of ever having seen 
a butcher bird behave in the orthodox manner. Colonel 
Cunningham, who is a very close observer of bird life, 
says, as the result of a long sojourn in India, that 
shrikes " do not seem very often to impale their victims, 
probably because these are usually easily broken up ; 
but when they have secured a lizard they sometimes 
fix it down upon a stout thorn so as to have a point of 
resistance whilst working at the hard, tough skin." If 
any who read these lines have seen a shrike's larder, 
either in India or in England, I should esteem it a great 
favour if they would furnish me with some account of it. 
Let me not be mistaken. I do not say that butcher 
birds never keep larders, for they undoubtedly do ; of 
this I am satisfied. Thus Mr. E. H. Aitken says of the 
shrike : " It sits upright on the top of a bush or low 
tree, commanding a good expanse of open, grassy land, 
and watches for anything which it may be able to sur- 
prise and murder — a large grasshopper, a small lizard, or 
a creeping field mouse. Sometimes it sees a possible 
chance in a flock of small birds absorbed in searching 
for grass seeds. Then it slips from its watch-tower and, 
gliding softly down, pops into the midst of them with- 
out warning, and forgetting all about the true nature of 



BUTCHER BIRDS 165 

its deep plantar tendons, strikes its talons into the 
nearest. No other bird I know of makes its attack in 
this way except the birds of prey. The little bird shrieks 
and struggles, but the cruel shrike holds fasts and ham- 
mers at the victim's head with its strong beak until it is 
dead, then flies away with it to some thorn bush which 
is its larder. There it hangs it up on a thorn and 
leaves it to get tender. . . . This is no fable, I have 
seen the bird do it." Again, the Rev. C. D. Cullen, 
with whom I have enjoyed many an ornithological 
ramble in England and on the continent of Europe, 
informs me that once in Surrey he came upon a shrike's 
larder, and on that occasion the " shop " consisted of the 
legs of a young green finch. 

The usual food, then, of the butcher bird appears to be 
small insects. When a suitable opportunity offers, the 
larger species will attack a lizard or a young or sickly 
bird, especially a bird in a cage. Of the rufous-backed 
shrike Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes : " It will come 
down at once to a cage of small birds exposed at a 
window, and I once had an amadavat killed and partly 
eaten through the wires by one of these shrikes, which I 
saw in the act with my own eyes. The next day I 
caught the shrike in a large basket which I set over the 
cage of amadavats." But, of course, it is one thing to 
catch a bird in a cage and another to capture it in the 
open. Shrikes are savage enough for any murder, but 
most little birds are too sharp for them. 

Fifteen species of shrike occur in India. The com- 
monest are, perhaps, the Indian grey shrike {Lanius 
lahtord) and the bay-backed shrike {Lanius vittatus). 



i66 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

The latter is the one that frequents our gardens. He 
is not a large bird, being about the size of a bulbul. 
The head and back of the neck are a pretty grey. The 
back is chestnut-maroon, shading off to whitish near the 
tail. There is a broad black streak running across the 
forehead and through the eye, giving the bird a grim, 
sinister aspect. The breast and lower parts are white ; 
the wings and tail black, or rather appear black when 
the bird is at rest. During flight the pinions display a 
conspicuous white bar, and the white outer tail feathers 
also come into view. The stout beak is black, and the 
upper mandible projects downwards over the lower one. 
This further adds to the ferocity of the bird's mien. It 
is impossible to mistake a butcher bird ; look out for 
its grey head, broad, black eyebrow, and white breast. 

The usual note of the shrike is a harsh cry, but during 
the breeding season, that is to say, from March to July, 
the cock is able to produce quite a musical song. 

At all times the butcher bird is a great mimic. I am 
indebted to a correspondent for the following graphic 
account of his histrionic performances : " Of late one of 
these birds has daily perched himself on a neeui tree in my 
compound and treated me to much music. His hours of 
practice are early in the morning and at sunset. He 
begins with his natural harsh notes, and then launches 
out into mimicry. I gave him a patient hearing this 
morning, and he treated me to the following : the lap- 
wing, the sparrow-hawk, the partridge, the Brahminy 
minah, the kite, the honeysucker, the hornbill (of these 
parts), the scream of the green parrot, and the cry of 
a chicken when being carried off by a kite." 



BUTCHER BIRDS 167 

The nests of the various species of shrike resemble 
one another very closely. Speaking generally, the nest 
is a neatly made, thick-walled, somewhat deep cup. 
All manner of material is pressed into service — grass, 
roots, wool, hair, leaves, feathers, pieces of rag, paper, 
fine twigs, and straw. The whole forms a compact 
structure firmly held together by cobweb, which is the 
cement ordinarily utilised by bird masons. 

The nursery is usually situated in a small tree, a 
thorny one for preference, in the fork of a branch, or 
the angle that a branch makes with the main stem. 
Seen from below it looks likes a little mass of rubbish. 
As a rule one or two pieces of rag hang down from 
it and betray its presence to the egg-collector. 

The normal clutch of eggs is four. The ground 
colour of these is cream, pale greenish, or grey, and 
there is towards the large end a zone of brown or pur- 
plish blotches. 

The shrike is not a shy bird. I have sat within eight 
feet of a nest and watched the parents feeding their 
young. No notice was taken of me, but a large lizard 
that appeared on the branch on which the nest was 
placed was savagely attacked. The young seem to be 
fed chiefly on large green caterpillars. 

Newly fledged butcher birds difier considerably from 
the adults, and while in the transition stage are some- 
times rather puzzling to the ornithologist. 



DUCKS 

"^ ■ '^HE duck," says a writer in the Spectator, 

■ "is a person who seldom gets his deserts." 

I As regards myself I cannot but admit the 

"^^ truth of this assertion. I mean, not that I 

am a duck, but that I have returned that bird evil for 

good. He has given me much pleasure, and I have either 

eaten or shot him as a quid pro quo. 

One of the greatest delights of my early youth was 
to feed the ducks that lived on the Serpentine. How 
vividly do I remember the joy that the operation 
gave me ! In the first place, I was allowed to enter the 
kitchen — that Forbidden Land of childhood's days, 
presided over by a fearsome tyrant, yclept the cook — 
and witness dry bread being cut up into pieces of a size 
supposed to be suited to the mastication of ducks. The 
bread thus cut up would be placed in a paper bag and 
borne off by me in triumph to the upper regions. Then 
my sister and I, accompanied by the governess, would 
toddle up Sloane Street, through Lowndes Square, past 
the great French Embassy, into Hyde Park, along 
Rotten Row, and thus up to that corner of the Serpentine 
where the ducks were wont to congregate. There, amid 
a chorus of quacks, the bread would be thrown, piece by 
piece, to the ever-hungry ducks. The writer in the 
i68 



DUCKS 169 

Spectator states that "the domestic duck, unlike his wild 
brother, is a materialist, and where dinner is concerned 
is decidedly greedy." The avidity with which the ducks 
used to make for those pieces of dry bread certainly 
bears out this statement. Every time a crust was thrown 
on to the water there would be a wild scramble for it. 
One individual, more fortunate than the others, would 
secure it, and, sprinting away from his comrades, would 
endeavour to swallow it whole. I have said that the 
pieces of bread were cut up into portions of a size 
supposed to be convenient for the mastication of a duck; 
but, if the truth must be told, the cook invariably over- 
estimated the size of the bird's gullet ; hence the frantic 
muscular efforts to induce them to descend " red lane." 
It is a miracle that not one of those ducks shared the 
sad fate of Earl Godwin. 

Some of them must certainly have lost the epithelial 
lining of the oesophagus in their desperate efforts to 
dispose of those pieces of dry bread. An exceptionally 
unmanageable morsel would be dropped again into the 
water, and there would be a second scramble for it. By 
this time, however, it would have become so much softened 
as to be comparatively easy to swallow. How we used 
to enjoy watching the efforts of those ducks to negotiate 
the pieces of bread ! We were, of course, blissfully ig- 
norant of the unnaturalnessof the process. Ourgoverness 
used to read, in preference to natural history, fiction of 
the class in which the fortunate scullery-maid always 
marries a Duke. Thus it was that my sister and I knew 
nothing of the wonderful structure of the duck's 
beak. We were not aware that the mandibles were 



170 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

lamellated or toothed to form a most efficient sieve. 
We were not acquainted with the fact that the natural 
food of the duck is composed of small, soft substances, 
that as the bird puts its head under water it catches up 
its breath to suck in the soft substances that may be 
floating by, that these become broken up as they pass 
through the duck's patent filter, only those that are 
approved being retained and swallowed. But the want 
of this knowledge did not diminish by one jot or tittle 
our enjoyment. When all the bread was disposed of, 
we would inflate and " pop " the paper bag — a perform- 
ance which gave us nearly as much pleasure as feeding 
the ducks. 

As I grew older I came to regard the feeding of 
ducks as a childish amusement, and in no way suited 
to one who had attained the dignity of stand-up collars. 
So, for some years, I took but little interest in the birds, 
except on the occasions when one confronted me at 
table. 

It has again become a pleasure to feed ducks, but I 
fear that, in spite of this, I shoot them more often than 
I feed them. I must confess that, when I see a great 
company of the quacking community, the sportsman in 
me gets the upper hand of the naturalist, the lust of 
killing prevails over the love of observation. I know 
of few greater pleasures than to spend a morning at a 
well-stocked y/^// on a superb winter's day in Northern 
India, accompanied, of course, by a number of fellow- 
sportsmen ; for duck shooting is poor sport for a single 
gun. With but one man after them it is the ducks 
rather than the human being who enjoy the sport. But, 



DUCKS 171 

given three or four companions, what better sport is 
there than that afforded by a day on a well-stocked y////? 
At a preconcerted signal the various shooters, each in 
his boat, put off from different parts of the bank of the 
lake and make for the middle, which is black with a 
great company of quack-quacks, composed chiefly 
of white-eyed pochards, gadvvalls, and spotted-bills. 
Suddenly a number of duck take alarm and get up ; 
then the fun begins. For half an hour or more one 
enjoys a succession of good sporting shots ; the firing is 
so constant that one's gun grows almost too hot to hold. 
Soon, however, all the duck that are not shot down 
betake themselves to some other jhil, and only the 
coots remain. 

Excellent sport though duck shooting be, I am thankful 
to say that in these latter days my acquaintance with 
the duck tribe is not confined to shooting and eating 
members of it. I occasionally have the opportunity of 
coming into more friendly relations with it. 

The duck is a bird worth knowing. He is a fowl of 
character, a creature that commands not only our respect, 
but our affection. He makes an excellent pet, as any one 
may find out by purchasing some bazaar ducks. 

Some years ago the cook of the Superintendent of 
Police of a certain district in the United Provinces pur- 
chased a couple of these birds. When bought they were 
in an emaciated condition, and it was the intention of 
the cook to fatten them up and then set them before his 
master. But before the fattening process was completed 
the small sons of the policeman took a great fancy to 
the birds, and the birds reciprocated the fancy. The 



172 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

result was that their lives were spared, and they became 
friends of the family. They went everywhere with 
the children, and used even to accompany them when 
on tour with their father. They were allowed to enter 
the tents as though they were dogs, and in return used 
to permit the children to do anything they pleased with 
them. They even submitted to being carried about like 
dolls. Most amusing was it to see the good-natured 
boredom on a duck's face as a small boy staggered along 
with it tightly clasped in his arms. Its expression would 
say more plainly than words, " I don't altogether relish 
this, but I know the child means well." 

Nor was this behaviour in any way exceptional. A 
better-disposed creature than the duck does not exist. 
" I have kept and closely watched hundreds of ducks," 
writes Mr. S. M. Hawkes, " but I never saw them fight 
with each other, nor ever knew a duck the aggressor in a 
dispute with some other kind of fowl." Yet the duck is 
no coward. The drake is a warrior every inch of him, 
constant in affection, and violent in love and wrath. If 
the adult duck is so lovable, how much more so is the 
duckling ! What a source of delight are those golden 
fluff balls to a child. On seeing them for the first time 
nine out of ten children will cry — 

But I want one to play with— Oh I want 
A httle yellow duck to take to bed with me ! 



A DETHRONED MONARCH 

THE eagle is a bird that deserves much sym- 
pathy, for he has seen better times. Until 
a few years ago the pride of place among 
the fowls of the air was always given to 
the eagle. " Which eagle ? " you ask. I reply, " The 
eagle." The poets, who have ever been the bird's 
trumpeters, know but one eagle upon which they lavish 
such epithets as " the imperial bird," " the royal eagle," 
" the monarch bird," " lord of land and sea," " the wide- 
ruling eagle," " the prince of all the feathered kind," 
" the king of birds," " the bird of heaven," " the Olympic 
eagle," " the bold imperial bird of Jove," and so on, ad 
nauseam. 

The eagle of the poets was truly regal. But some- 
body discovered, one day, that this bird is, like the 
phoenix, a mythical creature. Eagles do exist — many 
species of them — but they are very ordinary creatures, 
in no way answering to the description of the poet's 
pet fowl. This, of course, is not the fault of the eagles. 
They are not to blame because the bards have, with 
one accord, combined to idealise them. Nevertheless, 
men, now that they have found out the truth, seem to 
bear a grudge against the eagle. They are not content 
with dethroning him, they must needs throw mud at 
173 



174 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

him. It is the present custom to vilify the eagle, to 
speak of him as though he were an opponent at an 
election, to dub him a cowardly carrion feeder, little if 
anything better than a common vulture. Let us, there- 
fore, give the poor out-at-elbows bird an innings to-day 
and see what we can do for him. 

But how are we to recognise him when we see him ? 
This is indeed a problem. There is a feature by which 
the true eagles may be distinguished from all other 
birds of prey, namely, the feathered tarsus. The true 
eagles alone among the raptores decline to go about 
with bare legs ; their " understandings " are feathered 
right down to the toe. Thus may they be recognised. 

This method of identification is on a par with that of 
catching a bird by placing a small quantity of salt 
upon its tail. Eagles show no readiness to come and 
have their legs inspected. There is, I fear, no feature 
whereby the tyro can distinguish an eagle as it soars 
overhead high in the heavens. Nothing save years of 
patient observation can enable the naturalist to identify 
any particular bird of prey at sight. Colour is, alas ! 
no guide. The raptores are continually changing their 
plumage. It were as easy to identify a woman by the 
colour of her frock as a bird of prey by the hues of 
its plumage. We read of one eagle that it is tawny 
rufous, of another that it is rufous tawny, of a third 
that it is tawny buff. The surest method of dis- 
tinguishing the various birds of prey is by their flight ; 
but is it possible to describe the peculiar flap of the 
wings of one eagle, and the particular angle at which 
another carries its pinions as it sails along? The length 



A DETHRONED MONARCH 175 

of the tail is a guide, but by no means an infallible one. 
The shikra, the sparrow-hawk, the kestrel, and the kite 
are long-tailed birds, the caudal appendage accounting 
for half their total length. In the eagles the tail is 
considerably shorter in proportion to the size of the 
bird. Thus the female of the golden eagle {Aquila 
cJuyscetus) — which, en passant, is not gold in colour, but 
dirty whitish brown — is 40 inches long, while the tail is 
but 14 inches. The vultures have yet shorter tails in 
proportion to their size. If, therefore, you see soaring 
overhead a big bird of prey, looking like a large kite, 
with a moderate tail and curved rather than straight 
wings, that bird is probably an eagle. So much, then, 
for the appearance of our dethroned monarch ; it now 
behoves us to consider his character and habits. There 
are many species of eagle, each of which has its own 
peculiar ways, hence it is impossible for the naturalist 
to generalise concerning them. In this respect he is 
not so fortunate as the poet. Let us briefly consider 
two species, one belonging to the finer type of eagle 
and the other to the baser sort. 

Bonelli's eagle {Hieraetus fasciatus), or the crestless 
hawk eagle as Jerdon calls him, is perhaps the nearest 
approach of any to the poet's eagle. This fine bird is 
common on the Nilgiris, but rare in Madras. It is said 
to disdain carrion ; it preys on small mammals and 
birds of all sizes. It takes game birds by preference, 
but when hungry does not draw the line at the crow. If 
it has hunted all day without obtaining the wherewithal 
to fill its belly, it repairs to the grove of trees in which 
all the crows of the neighbourhood roost. As the sun 



176 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

sinks in the heavens the crows arrive in straggling 
flocks. Suddenly the eagle dashes into the midst of 
them and, before the crows have realised what has 
happened, one of them is being carried away in the 
eagle's talons. Then the corvi fill the welkin with their 
cries of distress. It is very naughty of the eagle to 
prey upon crows in this way, because by so doing it 
mocks the theory of protective colouration. No one 
can maintain that our friend Corvus splendens is pro- 
tectively coloured, that is to say, so coloured as to be 
inconspicuous. No one but a blind man can fail to see 
a crow as he steadily flaps his way through the air. No 
one can deny that the bird flourishes, in spite of the fact 
that eagles eat him, and that his plumage is as con- 
spicuous as the blazer of the Lady Margaret Boat Club 
at Cambridge. If, as the theory teaches, it is of para- 
mount importance to a bird to be inconspicuous, why 
was not the whole clan of corvi swept off the face of the 
earth long ago ? 

We have, in conclusion, to consider an eagle of the 
baser sort. The Indian tawny eagle {Aquila vindhiand), 
which is the commonest eagle in India, will serve as an 
example. This bird eats anything in the way of flesh 
that it can obtain. If the opportunity offers, it will 
pounce upon a squirrel, a small bird, a lizard, or a frog ; 
but it is a comparatively sluggish creature, and so robs 
other raptores in preference to catching its own quarry. 
Most birds of prey are robbers. This the falconer 
knows, and profits by his knowledge. He first captures 
some small bird of prey, such as a white-eyjd buzzard. 
Having tied up two or three of its wing feathers so that 



A DETHRONED MONARCH 177 

it cannot fly far, he attaches to its feet a bundle of 
feathers, from which hang a number of fine hair nooses. 
He then flies this lure bird. Every bird of prey in the 
neighbourhood espies it and, seeing the bundle of 
feathers and remarking the laboured flight, jumps to 
the conclusion that it is carrying booty, and promptly 
gives chase with the object of relieving it of its burden. 
The first robber to arrive is caught in one of the nooses. 
The tawny eagle is not above feeding upon carrion. 
It has not the pluck of Bonelli's eagle, but is apparently 
not the contemptible coward it is made out to be by 
some writers. A few weeks ago I noticed, high up in a 
farash tree, the platform of sticks and branches that 
does duty for the nest of this species. I sent my 
climber to find out what was in the nest. While he 
was handling the two eggs it contained, the mother 
eagle swooped down upon him, scratched his head 
severely, and flew off with his turban. As she sped 
away, her prize attracted the notice of some kites, who 
at once attacked her. In the melee which ensued, the 
puggaree dropped to the ground, to the joy of its lawful 
owner and the disgust of the combatants. I must add 
that I was not an eye-witness of the encounter ; I how- 
ever saw the marks of the bird's claws on my climber's 
scalp. 



BIRDS IN THE RAIN 

THERE are occasions when one is tempted 
to wish that one were a bird, for the fowls 
of the air are spared many of the troubles 
which we poor terrestrial creatures have 
to endure. 

Most of us in India have received a telegram ordering 
us off to some far-away station ; then, when distracted 
by the worry and bustle of packing ; when the hideous 
noises of the Indian railway station " get on the 
nerves " ; as we sit in the dusty, jolting train, we begin 
to envy the birds who are able to annihilate distance, 
who have no boxes to pack up, no baggage to go astray, 
no bills to pay, no chits to write, no cards to leave, no 
time-table to worry through, no trains to lose, no 
connections to miss, but have simply to take to their 
wings and away. 

Most of us, again, have been caught in the rain. 
As the watery contents of the clouds slowly but surely 
percolated through our clothes, as our boots grew heavier 
and heavier until the water oozed out at every step, we 
must have envied the birds. They know naught of 
rheumatism or ague. Their clothes do not spoil in the 
rain. They wear no boots to become waterlogged. 
Their wings rarely become heavy or sodden. For them 
178 



BIRDS IN THE RAIN 179 

the rain is a huge joke. They enjoy the falh'ng rain- 
drops as keenly as a man enjoys his morning shower-bath. 
There is no bath like the rain bath, and if the drops do 
fall very heavily there is always shelter to be taken. 

It is of course possible for birds to have too much 
rain ; but this does not often happen in India, except 
occasionally in the monsoon. 

As I write this it is pouring " cats and dogs," and 
sitting in a tree not five yards away from the window 
are a couple of crows thoroughly enjoying the blessings 
which Jupiter Pluvius is showering down upon them. 
I am high up, seventy or eighty feet above the level of 
the ground, and can therefore look down upon the 
crows. They are perched on the ends of the highest 
branches, determined not to miss a drop of the rain. 
One of them is not quite satisfied with his position; 
he espies another bough which seems more exposed, 
so to this branch he flies, although it is so slender that 
it can scarce support him. Nevertheless he hangs on 
to his swaying perch and opens out his wings and flaps 
his tail — does, in fact, everything in his power to make 
the most of the passing tropical shower. The other 
crow has caught sight of me, and thinks he will 
stare me out, so sits motionless with his eye fixed 
on mine, while the rain pours upon him and falls 
off" his tail in a little waterfall. Occasionally he gives 
his friend an answering "squawk," and then shakes 
his feathers, and is altogether enjoying himself; he is as 
jolly as the proverbial sandboy. In other trees near by 
sit more crows, and, so far as one can judge, each seems 
to have taken up a position in which he is likely to 



i8o BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

secure the maximum of rain. All round there is ample 
shelter ; there are numerous ledges, outhouses, and 
verandahs, in any of which the crows could obtain 
shelter if they desired it. Shelter? Not a bit of it, 
they revel in the rain. 

Two pied wagtails fly by, chasing one another glee- 
fully in the pouring rain ; they too are regular " wet 
bobs." 

On the telegraph wires hard by the king-crows sit 
with their tails projecting horizontally so as to catch 
as much of the downpour as possible. The dragon-flies 
are seeking their prey regardless of the rain ; this is 
somewhat surprising, when we consider that to them a 
drop of rain must bear about the same relation as a 
glass of water does to a human being. As they are 
hunting, it is obvious that the minute creatures on which 
they feed must also be out in the rain, although every 
drop contains quite sufficient water in which to drown 
them. 

The mortality of small insects in a heavy fall of 
rain must be enormous. What a strange sight a shower 
must look to an insect ! Each drop must seem like a 
waterspout. 

Are tiny insects aware that the falling drops are 
fraught with danger to them ? Do they attempt to 
dodge them ? I think not. They can know nothing 
of death or of the danger of drowning. They probably 
fly about as usual in the rain in blissful ignorance of the 
harm that threatens them. Some escape unscathed, but 
others less fortunate are overwhelmed as in a flood, and 
in a few minutes their little spark of life is extinguished. 



BIRDS IN THE RAIN i8i 

But to return to the birds. They are all making the 
most of the downpour, ruffling their feathers so that 
the water shall penetrate to the skin. 

But the rain is more to the birds than a very pleasant 
form of bath. It is for them a ini-careiiie, a water 
carnival, an hour of licence when every bird — even the 
oldest and most staid — may throw appearances to the 
wind, when it is " quite the thing " to look dishevelled. 

What a transformation does a shower of rain effect 
in the myna. As a rule the bird looks as smart as a 
lifeguardsman ; its uniform is so spick and span that 
the veriest martinet could find no fault with it. But 
after the rain has been falling for ten minutes the 
myna looks as disreputable as a babbler. A shower 
is the signal for all the birds to let themselves go and 
have a spree. No bird then minds how untidy it is, 
for it knows that there is none to point the finger of 
scorn at it ; all are in the same boat, or, at any rate, 
in the same shower of rain. So each one makes the 
most of the period of licence. The most staid birds 
splash about in puddles and revel in the experience 
in much the same way as a child enjoys paddling 
on the seashore. 

And when the rain is over, what a shaking and 
preening of feathers there is ! What a general brushing 
up ! The bird world seems for a time to have turned 
itself into a toilet club. Presently, the last arcana of 
the toilet being completed, the birds come forth 
looking as fresh and sweet as an English meadow 
when the sun shines upon it after a summer shower. 

Then there are all the good things which the rain 



i82 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

brings with it. How luscious and sweet the fruit must 
taste when the raindrops have washed away all the 
dust and other impurities with defile it. What a 
multitude of edible creeping things does a shower 
bring forth. In England it causes to emerge all 
manner of grubs and worms which before had been 
lurking in their burrows. In India is it not the rain 
that ushers in the red-letter day for insectivorous 
birds — the day that witnesses the swarming of the 
" white ants " ? What a feast do these myriads of 
termites provide for the feathered things. In addition 
to these there is all the multitude of winged and 
crawling insects which the rain brings to life as if by 
magic. How badly would the birds fare but for the 
barsath which brings forth these insects, upon which 
they are able to feed their young. 

Perhaps the hoopoes most of all appreciate the rain, 
for it makes the ground so delightfully soft ; they are 
then able with such ease to plunge their long beaks 
into the earth and extract all manner of hidden 
treasures which are usually most difficult of access. 

Is there anything in the world more complete than 
the happiness of birds in a shower of rain ? 



THE WEAVER BIRD 

THE weaver bird has, thanks to its marvel- 
lous nest, a world-wide reputation. It is 
related to our ubiquitous friend the house 
sparrow, and is known to men of science as 
Ploceus bay a. 

Except at the breeding season, the weaver bird looks 
rather like an overgrown sparrow, and frequently passes 
as such. But the cock decks himself out in gay attire 
when he goes a-courting. The feathers of his head 
become golden, while his breast turns bright yellow if 
he be an elderly gentleman, or rusty red if he still 
possess the fire of youth. 

Weaver birds are found all over India. In most 
parts they seem to shun the haunts of man, but in 
Burma they frequent gardens. Jerdon mentions a 
house in Rangoon which had at one time over one 
hundred weaver birds' nests suspended from the thatch 
of the roof! In India proper the favourite site for a 
nest is a tree that overhangs water. Toddy palms are 
most commonly chosen, but in Northern India, where 
palms are but rarely seen, a babul tree is usually 
utilised. 

Weaver birds or bayas, as they are invariably called 
by Hindustani-speaking people, live almost exclusively 
183 



i84 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

on grain, hence they are easy birds to keep in captivity. 
Given a commodious aviary and plenty of grass, cap- 
tive bayas amuse themselves by weaving their wonder- 
ful nests. They are, however, not very desirable as 
pets if they have to share a cage with other birds, for, 
as Colonel Cunningham remarks, " every weaver bird 
appears to be possessed by an innate desire to hammer 
in the head of his neighbour." To this the neighbour 
is apt to take exception, so that unpleasantness ensues. 

Natives frequently train bayas to do all manner of 
tricks. 

The man with performing birds is quite an institution 
in India. Parrots, bayas, and pigeons are most fre- 
quently trained. 

A very effective trick, which is performed alike by 
parrots and weaver birds, is the loading and firing of a 
miniature cannon. First the bird places some grains of 
powder in the muzzle of the cannon, then it rams these 
home with a ramrod. It next takes a lighted match 
from its master, which it applies to the touch-hole. The 
result is a report loud enough to scare every crow in 
the neighbourhood, but the little baya will remain 
perched on the giin, having apparently thoroughly 
enjoyed the performance. 

The nest of the baya is one of the most wonderful 
things in nature. Description is unnecessary. Every 
one who has been in India has seen dozens of the 
hanging flask-shaped structures, while those who know 
not the Gorgeous East must be acquainted with the 
nest from pictures. 

On account of its champagne-bottle shaped nest, the 



THE WEAVER BIRD 185 

weaver is sometimes known as the bottle bird ; I have 
also heard it called the hedge sparrow. 

It makes no attempt to conceal its exquisitely woven 
nest. It relies for protection on inaccessibility, not 
concealment. Every animal badmash can see the nest, 
but cannot get at it. It hangs sufficiently high to be 
out of reach of all four-footed creatures. The ends of 
the entrance passage are frayed out so as to baffle all 
attempts on the part of squirrels and lizards to reach 
the treasures hidden away in it. 

Both cock and hen work at the nest, the cock being 
the more industrious. The fibres of which it is com- 
posed are not found ready-made. The birds manufac- 
ture them out of the tall elephant grass which is so 
common in India. The weaver alights on one of the 
nearly upright blades and seizes with its beak a neigh- 
bouring blade near the base and makes a notch in it ; it 
next seizes the edge of the blade above the notch and 
jerks its head away. By this means it strips off a thin 
strand of the leaf; it then proceeds to tear off in a 
similar manner a second strand, retaining the first one 
in its beak ; in precisely the same way a third and per- 
haps a fourth strand are stripped off. The tearing 
process is not always continued to the extreme end of 
the blade ; the various strands sometimes remain at- 
tached to the tip of the blade. The force with which 
the bird flies away usually suffices to complete the 
severance ; sometimes, however, it is not effected so 
easily, and the bird is pulled back and swings in the 
air suspended by the strands it holds in its bill. 
Nothing daunted, the weaver makes a second attempt 



186 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

to fly away, and if this is not successful, continues until 

its efforts are crowned with success. 

The grass which is used in nest construction is im- 
pregnated with silicon to such an extent that I ex- 
perienced considerable difficulty in extricating from my 
pocket some of the fibres which, on one occasion, I took 
home with me. The material is thus eminently suitable 
for weaving purposes. 

The fibres first collected are securely wound round 
the branch or leaf from which the nest will hang. 
The fibres added subsequently are plaited together 
until a stalk four or five inches long is formed ; this is 
then expanded into a bell-shaped structure. The bell 
constitutes the roof of the nursery. When the roof is 
completed a loop is constructed across its base, so that 
the nest at this stage may be likened to an inverted 
basket with a handle. 

Up to this point the cock and hen do the same kind 
of work, both fetch strips of grass or of palm leaves and 
weave these into the structure of the nest. But when 
once the loop or cross-bar is completed the hen takes 
up a position on it and makes the cock do all the 
bringing of material. She henceforth works from the 
interior of the nest and he from the exterior. 

They push the fibres through the walls to one another. 
Thus the work progresses very rapidly. On one side of 
the loop the bell is closed up so as to form a chamber 
in which the eggs are laid, and the other half is pro- 
longed into a neck, which becomes the entrance to the 
nest. This may be nearly a foot long ; six inches is, 
however, a more usual length. 



THE WEAVER BIRD 187 

The entrance to the nursery is thus from below. The 

way the owners shoot vertically upwards into it, with 

closed wings, without perceptibly shaking it is really 

marvellous. 

Nest construction obviously gives the little builders 
great pleasure. They frequently build supernumerary 
nests, purely from the joy of building. Each time the 
cock bird approaches the nest with a beakful of material 
he cries out with delight. Every now and again in the 
midst of weaving material into the structure of the nest 
he bursts into song. 

Weaver birds usually build in company ; ten or a 
dozen different nests being found in the same tree. As 
each little craftsman is in a very excited state, fights 
between neighbouring cocks frequently ensue, but these 
are never of a serious nature. I was once the witness 
of an amusing piece of wickedness on the part of a cock 
baya. The bird in question flew to a branch near the 
nest belonging to another pair of weaver birds who 
were absent. After contemplating it for a little he flew 
to the nest, and having deliberately wrenched away a 
piece of it with his beak, made off with the stolen 
property and worked it into his own nest ! Four times 
did he visit his neighbour's nest and commit larceny ; 
two of the stolen strands he utilised and the remaining 
ones fell to the ground. I am inclined to think that 
the thief was actuated by motives of jealousy ; for he 
deliberately dropped some of the stolen material on to 
the ground and extracted it from the place at which 
the nest was attached to its branch, thus weakening 
its attachment. The victim of the outrage on his 



i88 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

return did not appear to notice that anything was 

amiss. 

Not the least interesting feature of the nest is the 
clay which is studded about it in lumps. In one nest 
Jerdon found no fewer than six of these lumps, weigh- 
ing in all three ounces. The clay has, I think, three 
uses : it helps to balance the nest, it prevents it being 
blown about by every gust of wind, and keeps it steady 
while the bird is entering it. 

A story is abroad, and is repeated in nearly every 
popular book on ornithology, to the effect that the 
weaver bird sticks fireflies on these lumps of clay, and 
thus illuminates the nursery, or renders it terrifying to 
predacious creatures. Jerdon scoffs at this firefly story, 
and I, too, am unable to accept it. Nevertheless it is so 
universally believed by the natives of India that there 
must be some foundation for it. 

Some time ago a correspondent living on the West 
Coast of India informed me that weaver birds are very 
abundant in that part of the country, that their nests 
are everywhere to be seen, and that he had noticed 
fireflies stuck into many of them. He asked if I could 
explain their presence. I suggested in reply that he 
had made a mistake and requested him to look care- 
fully next nesting season, that is to say in August, and, 
if he came upon a single nest on to which a firefly was 
stuck, to take it down, fireflies and all, and send it to 
me at my expense. Since then August has come and 
gone thrice, and I have heard nothing from my corres- 
pondent ! Thus it is that I am still among those that 
disbelieve the firefly story. 



THE WEAVER BIRD 189 

My theory is that the bird brings the clay to the ne.st 
in its bill in a moist condition. Now wet clay retains 
moisture for some time and would shine quite brightly 
in the moonlight, so might easily be mistaken for a 
firefly. Unfortunately the weaver bird is not common 
where I am now stationed, so that I have not had an 
opportunity of putting this theory to the test. I have, 
however, noticed how the nests built by solitary wasps 
shine when the clay that composes them is wet. 

The natives of Northern India attribute great medi- 
cinal value to the nest of the weaver bird. They assert 
that a baby will never suffer from boils if it be once 
washed in water in which a weaver bird's nest has been 
boiled ! 

A great many half-finished weaver birds' nests are 
seen in India. Most of these are the work of the cock, 
who thus amuses himself while his wife is incubating. 
A few are nests which have gone wrong, nests which do 
not balance nicely and so have not been completed. 

Two eggs are usually laid ; they are pure white and 
without any gloss. On these the hen sits very closely. 
On one occasion Hume took home a very fine specimen 
of the nest and hung it from one of a pair of antlers on 
his dining-room wall. Three days later the inmates of 
the bungalow became aware of a very unpleasant odour, 
which was traced to the nest. On taking it down it 
was found to contain a female baya dead upon two 
dead half-hatched chicks. 



GREEN PARROTS 

GREEN parrots, as the long-tailed paroquets 
of India are popularly called, although fairly 
abundant during the cold weather, cannot 
be said to be common birds in Madras. 
This is a small mercy, for which all Madrassis should be 
duly thankful. The green parrot is one of those good 
things of which it is possible to have too much. Where 
the beautiful birds are not too plentiful they are always 
greatly admired and considered most pleasing additions 
to the landscape ; where they abound most people find 
it difficult to speak of them in parliamentary language. 

The Punjab is the happy hunting-ground of green 
parrots. I am now in a station where these birds prob- 
ably outnumber the crows, where we are literally steeped 
in green parrots, where we hear nothing else all day long 
save their screeches and chuckles. 

Green parrots owe their unpopularity to their mis- 
chievousness and their noisiness. *' In their malignant 
love of destruction and mischief," writes Colonel Cunning- 
ham, " they run crows very hard, and seem only to fall 
short of that standard through the happy ordinance that 
their mental development has halted a good way behind 
that of their rivals. They are, therefore, incapable of 
devising such manifold and elaborate schemes of mischief 
190 



GREEN PARROTS 191 

as the crows work out, but in so far as intent and dis- 
interested love of evil goes, there is not a pin to choose 
between them. They take the same heart-whole delight 
in destruction for destruction's sake, and find the same 
bliss in tormenting and annoying other living things." 
While fully endorsing the above, I feel constrained to 
remark that the parrot is no fool ; he may not be quite 
as 'cute as an Indian crow, but he is gifted with sufficient 
brain-power for all practical purposes. If the green 
parrot is less harmfully mischievous than the crow he is 
far more offensively noisy. He is able to produce an 
almost endless variety of sounds, but unfortunately there 
is not a single one among them all which by any 
stretch of the imagination can be called musical. 

All species of green parrots have similar habits. All 
are gregarious and feed almost exclusively on fruit and 
seeds. They do much damage to the crops, destroying 
more than they eat, since they have a way of breaking 
off a head of corn, eating a few grains, and then attacking 
another head. Where green parrots are plentiful the 
long-suffering ryot sets them down among the ills to 
which the flesh is heir. When the crops are cut the 
parrots feed among the stubble, picking up the fallen 
grain. 

The exceedingly swift, arrow-like flight of the green 
parrot is too familiar to need description. The flocks 
usually fly high up, screaming loudly ; at times, however, 
they skim along the ground ; occasionally they thread 
their way among trees, avoiding the branches in the 
most wonderful manner, considering the pace at which 
they move. 



192 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Very amusing it is to watch a little company of 
parrots in a tree. Sometimes the birds perch on the 
topmost branches and there chuckle to one another; at 
others they cling to the trunk, looking very comic, 
pressed up against the bark with tails outspread. 
Not infrequently one sees two of them sitting together 
in a tree indulging in a little mild flirtation, which, in 
green parrot communities, takes the form of head tick- 
ling. These birds are very skilled climbers ; they move 
along the branches foot over foot, using the beak when 
they have to negotiate a difficult pass. Thus they 
clamber about, robbing the tree of its fruit and keeping 
up a running conversation. Suddenly the flock will take 
to its wings and fly off, screeching boisterously. The 
members of each little community seem to live in a 
state of rowdy good-fellowship. No one who watches 
parrots in a state of nature can doubt that existence 
affords them plenty of pleasure. 

Green parrots nest in January or February in Southern 
India, and somewhat later in the North. The courtship 
of the rose-ringed species is thus described by Captain 
Hutton : " At the pairing season the female becomes 
the most affected creature possible, twisting herself into 
all sorts of ridiculous postures, apparently to attract the 
notice of her sweetheart, and uttering a low twittering 
note the while, in the most approved style of flirtation, 
while her wings are half spread and her head kept 
rolling from side to side in demi-gyrations ; the male 
sitting quietly by her side, looking on with wonder as if 
fairly taken aback — and wondering to see her make 
such a guy of herself. I have watched them during 



GREEN PARROTS 193 

these courtships until I have felt humiliated at seeing 
how closely the follies of mankind resembled those of 
the brute creation. The only return the male made 
to these antics was scratching the top of her head with 
the point of his beak, and joining his bill to hers in a 
loving kiss." 

Note that it is the hen that makes the advances. 
There can be no mistake about this, for the presence of 
the rose-coloured ring round the neck enables us to dis- 
tinguish at a glance the cock from the hen. 

The more I see of birds the more convinced do I 
become that, in the matter of selecting mates, the hens 
do not have things all their own way. In monogamous 
species the cock frequently chooses his spouse; selection 
is mutual. 

The nest is a cavity in a tree, and is thus described 
by Hume : " The mouth of the hole, which is circular 
and very neatly cut and, say, two inches on the average 
in diameter, is sometimes in the trunk, sometimes in 
some large bough, and not unfrequently in the lower 
surface of the latter. It generally goes straight in for 
two to four inches, and then turns downwards for from 
six inches to three feet. The lower or chamber portion 
of the hole is never less than four or five inches in 
diameter, and is often a large natural hollow, three or 
four times these dimensions, into which the bird has cut 
its usual neat passage." 

My experience differs from that of Hume, inasmuch 
as it tends to show that green parrots do not excavate 
their own holes, or even the entrances to them. I sup- 
pose I have seen over a hundred green parrots' nests, 
o 



194 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

and all have been in existing hollows. Green parrots 
frequently evict the squirrels which tenant a cavity in a 
tree and use it for nesting purposes. 

They sometimes nest in holes in buildings. There is 
in Lahore an old half-ruined gateway, known as the 
Chauburgi. In this dozens of green parrots nest 
simultaneously. 

The rose-ringed paroquet {Palcsornis torqu xtus) seems 
usually to nest in trees, while the larger Alexandrine 
paroquet {Palcsornis nepalensis) nests by preference in 
holes in buildings. 

The nest hole is not lined. 

Four white eggs are usually laid. Both parents take 
turns at incubation. 

Parrots are birds which thrive remarkably well in 
captivity. This, I fear, is a doubtful blessing, for it 
leads to a vast number of the birds being taken prisoner. 
Many of those which are kept by natives, and even 
some kept by Europeans, are, I am afraid, cruelly 
treated. It is true that the cruelty is in many cases 
unintentional, but this does not afford the poor captive 
much consolation. 

Parrot-catching is a profitable occupation in India ; 
since nestlings fetch from four to eight annas each. 
Thousands of young birds are dragged out of their 
nurseries every year and sold in the bazaars. 

Nor are the young birds immune from capture after 
they have left the nest. They roost for a few nights in 
company before dispersing themselves over the face of 
the country. The wily bird-catcher marks down one of 
these nesting spots — he has possibly had to pay rent for 



GREEN PARROTS 195 

it, for parrot-catching is quite a profession, so large is 
the demand for captive birds — and then sets in likely 
places split pieces of bamboo smeared over with bird- 
lime. When daybreak comes the unlucky birds that 
have chanced to roost on the limed bamboos find that 
they cannot get away, that they are stuck to their 
perches ! 

Natives of India are very fond of taming parrots. 
They capture the birds at an age when they are unable 
to feed themselves. These young parrots are considered 
as members of the family, and are allowed to roam 
about at large in the room in which their master lives. 
They make a great noise and so are not very desirable 
pets. 

I am sometimes asked by those who keep parrots 
how to make them talk. This is not an easy question 
to answer. Some birds are much more ready to learn 
than others. I do not consider that the various Indian 
species make such good talkers as some other kinds, as, 
for example, the West African parrot — the grey one 
with the red tail. Nevertheless, what follows applies 
indiscriminately to all species of parrot. If you want 
to make a bird learn quickly to talk, use plenty of bad 
language before it. It is really wonderful how rapidly 
a parrot will pick up swear words. There appears to 
be an incisiveness about them which appeals to parrot 
nature. As a rule it requires much patience to teach a 
parrot anything except profanity. Constant repetition 
of the same sound before the bird is necessary. The 
gramophone is said to make the best teacher. The in- 
strument should be made to repeat slowly and steadily 



196 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

the phrase it is desired to teach the bird, and placed 
quite close to the parrot's cage, which should be covered 
up. A word of warning to those who try this up-to- 
date method of instruction. Polly's lesson should not 
last much longer than ten minutes, and only one a day 
be given ; otherwise the poor bird may get brain fever. 



THE ROOSTING OF THE SPARROWS 

MOST species of birds like to roost in com- 
panies, partly because it is safer to do so, 
partly for the sake of companioriship, and 
sometimes, in England at any rate, be- 
cause by crowding together they keep each other warm. 
Birds have their favourite roosting places. Certain 
trees are patronised while others are not. Perhaps one 
clump will be utilised every night for a month or longer, 
then a move will be made to another clump. Later on 
a return may be made to the original site. I do not 
know what determines these changes of locality. 

The sunset hour is, I think, the most interesting at 
which to watch birds. They seem to be livelier then 
than at any other time of the day ; they are certainly 
more loquacious. The dormitory of the crows, the 
mynas, or the green parrots is a perfect pandemonium. 
Whilst listening to the uproar one can only suppose 
each member of the colony to be bubbling over with 
animal spirits and intent on recounting to his fellows 
all the doings of the day. 

Most people may be inclined to think that it is im- 
possible to derive much pleasure from observing so 
common a bird as the sparrow. This is a mistake. 
Often and often have I watched with the greatest 
197 



198 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

pleasure the roosting operations of this despised bird. 
I know of a row of bushes that forms the dormitory of 
hundreds of sparrows. To enable the reader to appre- 
ciate what follows, let me say that the hedge in question 
is only some twenty yards long, its height is not much 
greater than that of a man, it is nowhere more than 
eight feet in breadth, and is within a hundred yards of 
an inhabited bungalow. Less than six yards away from 
it is a well, fitted with a creaking Persian wheel, at 
which coolies are continually working. 

If you happen to pass this hedge within an hour of 
sunset, you will hear issuing from it the dissonance of 
many sparrows' voices. You stop to listen, and, as you 
wait, a flock of sparrows dives into the thicket. You 
look about to see whether any more are coming and ob- 
serve nothing. Suddenly some specks appear in the air, 
as if spontaneously generated. In two seconds these are 
seen to be sparrows. Within half a minute of the time 
you first set eyes upon them they are already in the 
bushes. They are followed by another little flock of 
six or seven, and another and another. Flight after 
flight arrives in quick succession, each of which shoots 
into the roosting hedge. I use the word " shoot" ad- 
visedly, for no other term describes the speed at which 
they enter the bushes. Their flight, although so rapid, 
is not direct ; it takes the form of a quavering zigzag. 
Some of the flocks do not immediately plunge into the 
bushes. They circle once, twice, thrice, or even oftener, 
before they betake themselves to their leafy dormitory. 
Sometimes part of a flight dive into the hedge imme- 
diately upon arrival, while the remainder circle round 



THE ROOSTING OF THE SPARROWS 199 
and then fling themselves into the bushes as though 
they were soldiers performing a well-practised man- 
oeuvre ; the first bird to reach the bush entering at the 
nearest end, the next a little farther on, the third still 
farther, and so on, so that the last sparrow to arrive 
enters the hedge at the far end. Sometimes a flock 
perches for a time on a tree near by before entering the 
hedge. Those who have only noticed sparrows potter- 
ing about will scarcely be able to believe their eyes 
when they see the speed at which they approach the 
roosting place. For the moment they are transformed 
into dignified birds. 

All this time those individuals already in the hedge 
are making a great noise. Their chitter, chitter, chitter 
never for a moment ceases or even diminishes in in- 
tensity. Once in the hedge, the sparrows do not 
readily leave it. There is much motion of the leaves 
and branches, and birds are continually popping out of 
one part of the bushes into another. It is thus evident 
that there is considerable fighting for places. If, while 
all this is going on, you walk up to part of the hedge and 
shake it, the birds disturbed will only fly a yard or two 
and at once settle elsewhere in the thicket. 

Meanwhile the sun has nearly set ; the coolies near 
by have ceased working and are kindling a fire within a 
couple of yards of the bushes. But the sparrows appear 
to ignore both them and their fire. Settling down for 
the night engrosses their whole attention. 

As the sun touches the horizon the incoming flights of 
sparrows become fewer and fewer; and after the golden 
orb has disappeared only one or two belated stragglers 



200 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

arrive. Sparrows are early roosters. Something ap- 
proaching three thousand of them are now perched in 
that small hedge, yet none are visible except those that 
pop in and out, when jockeyed out of positions they 
have taken up. But although only a few sparrows come 
in after the sun has set, it is not until fully fifteen minutes 
later that there is any appreciable abatement of the din. 
It then becomes more spasmodic ; it ceases for half a 
second, to burst forth again with undiminished intensity. 

Twenty minutes or so after sunset the clamour be- 
comes suddenly less. It is now possible to discern in- 
dividual voices. The noise grows rapidly feebler. It 
almost ceases, but again becomes louder. It then nearly 
stops a second time. Perhaps not more than twenty 
voices are heard. There is yet another outburst, but the 
twitterers are by now very sleepy. Suddenly there is 
perfect silence for a few seconds, then more feeble twit- 
tering, then another silence longer than the last. 

It is not yet dark, there is still a bright glow in the 
western sky. The periods of silence grow more pro- 
longed and the outbursts of twittering become more 
faint and of shorter duration. 

It is now thirty-nine minutes after the sun has set and 
perfect stillness reigns. The birds must have all fallen 
asleep. But no ! one wakeful fellow commences again. 
He soon subsides. It has grown so dark that you can 
no longer see the sparrow-hawk perched on a tree hard 
by. He took up his position there early in the evening, 
and will probably breakfast first thing to-morrow morn- 
ing off sparrow ! 

You now softly approach the bushes until your face 



THE ROOSTING OF THE SPARROWS 201 

touches the branches. There are twenty or thirty spar- 
rows roosting within fifteen inches of you. You cannot 
see any of them, but if you were to stretch forth your 
hand you could as likely as not catch hold of one. You 
disturb a branch and there is a rustling of a dozen pairs 
of wings, so close to you that your face is fanned by the 
wind they cause. You have disturbed some birds, but 
they are so sleepy that they move without uttering a 
twitter. You leave the bush and return an hour later. 
Perfect silence reigns. You may now go right up to the 
roosting hedge and talk without disturbing any of the 
three thousand birds. You may even strike a match 
without arousing one, so soundly do they sleep. 

Those who wish to rid a locality of a superabundance 
of sparrows might well profit by the fact that the birds 
sleep so soundly in companies. Could anything be 
easier than to throw a large net over such a hedge and 
thus secure, at one fell blow, the whole colony ? 



A GAY DECEIVER 

THE drongo cuckoo {Surnicuhcs lugubris) is 
a bird of which I know practically nothing. 
I doubt whether I have ever seen it in the 
flesh. It is, of course, quite unnecessary to 
apologise for discoursing upon a subject of which one's 
knowledge is admittedly nil. In this superficial age the 
most successful writers are those most ignorant of their 
subject. When you know only one or two facts it is 
quite easy to parade them properly, to set them forth to 
best advantage. They are so few and far between that 
there is no danger of their jostling one another or be- 
wildering the reader. Then, if you are conversant only 
with one side of a question, you are able to lay down 
the law so forcibly, and the public likes having the law 
laid down for it, it does not mind how crude, how absurd, 
how impossible one's sentiments are so long as one is 
cocksure of them and is not afraid to say so. 

My lack of knowledge of the habits of the drongo 
cuckoo is, however, not my chief reason for desiring to 
write about it. I wish to discuss the bird because 
natural selectionists frequently cite it as bearing striking 
testimony to the truth of their theory, whereas it seems 
to me that it does just the opposite. Stcrniculus lugubris 
is, so far as I am able to judge, an uncompromising 
202 



A GAY DECEIVER 203 

opponent of those zoologists who pin their faith to the 
all-sufficiency of natural selection to account for evolu- 
tion in the organic world. 

The drongo cuckoo is as like the king-crow as one 
pea is to another. This bird, says Blanford, " is remark- 
able for its extraordinary resemblance in structure and 
colourisation to a drongo or k'lng-crow (Dzcrurus). The 
plumage is almost entirely black, and the tail forked 
owing to the lateral rectrices being turned outwards." 
Blanford further declares that the bird, owing to its 
remarkable likeness to the king-crow, is apt to be over- 
looked. 

This being so, it is quite unnecessary for me to 
describe the drongo cuckoo ; it is the image of a king- 
crow. But stay, perhaps there are some who do 
not know this last bird by sight. Such should make its 
acquaintance. They will find it sitting on the next 
telegraph wire they pass — a sprightly black bird, much 
smaller than the crow (with which it has no connection), 
possessing a long, forked tail. Every now and again it 
makes little sallies into the air after the " circling gnat," 
or anything else insectivorous that presents itself. 
When you see such a bird you may safely bet on its 
being a king-crow ; the off-chance of its proving a 
drongo cuckoo may be neglected by all but the ultra- 
cautious. 

Not much is known of the habits of this cuckoo ; but 
what we do know shows that, sometimes, at any rate, it 
makes the king-crow act as its nursemaid. Mr. Davison 
saw two king-crows feeding a young Surnicidus. The 
consequence is that every book on natural history trots 



204 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

out our friend the drongo cuckoo as an example of 

mimicry. The mimicry is, of course, unconscious : 

it is said to be the result of the action of natural 

selection. 

King-crows are, as every one knows, exceedingly pug- 
nacious birds ; at the nesting season both cock and hen 
are little furies, who guard the nursery most carefully 
and will not allow a strange species to so much as perch 
in the tree in which it is placed. 

It is thus obvious that the cuckoo who elects to victim- 
ise a king-crow is undertaking a "big thing," yet this 
is what Siirnicidus does. It accomplishes its aim by 
trickery ; it becomes a gay deceiver, disguising itself like 
its dupe. Now I readily admit that the disguise may be 
of the utmost use to the Siirnicidus ; I can well under- 
stand that natural selection will seize hold of the dis- 
guise when once it has been donned and possibly perfect 
it ; but I cannot see how natural selection can have 
originated the disguise as such. 

The drongo cuckoo may be called an ass in a lion's 
skin, or a lion in an ass's skin, whichever way one looks 
at things. When once the skin has been assumed 
natural selection may modify it so as better to fit the 
wearer ; but more than this it cannot do. 

I do not pretend to know the colour of the last com- 
mon ancestor of all the cuckoos, but I do not believe 
that the colour was black. What, then, caused Surni- 
culus liigubris to become black and assume a king-crow- 
like tail ? 

A black feather or two, even if coupled with some 
lengthening of the tail, would in no way assist the 



A GAY DECEIVER 205 

cuckoo in placing its egg in the drongo's nest. Suppose 
an ass were to borrow the caudal appendage of the 
king of the forest, pin it on behind him, and then 
advance among his fellows with loud brays, would any 
donkey of average intelligence be misled by the feeble 
attempt at disguise ? I think not. Much less would a 
king-crow be deceived by a few black feathers in the 
plumage of a cuckoo. 

I do not believe that natural selection has any direct 
connection with the nigritude of the drongo cuckoo. It 
is my opinion that, so far as the struggle for existence is 
concerned, it matters little to an animal what its colour 
be. Every creature has to be some colour : what that 
actual colour is must depend upon a great many factors ; 
among these we may name the metabolic changes that 
go on inside the animal, its hereditary tendencies, 
sexual selection, and natural selection. Is it natural 
selection that has caused the king-crow to be black ? I 
trow not. 

The drongo is black because it is built that way ; its 
tendency is to produce black feathers. Just as some 
men tend to put on flesh, so also some species of birds 
tend to grow black plumage. In the case of the king- 
crow sexual selection has possibly contributed to the 
bird's nigritude. It is possible that black is a colour 
that appeals to king-crow ladies. " So neat, you know ; 
a bird always looks well in black, and a forked tail gives 
him such an air of distinction." 

As the hen drongo is a bird capable of looking after 
herself, even when incubating, there is no necessity for 
her to be protectively coloured. As I have repeatedly 



206 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

declared, one ounce of good solid pugnacity is a better 
weapon in the struggle for existence than many pounds 
of protective colouration. 

Again, in the case of king-crows nigritude may be an 
expression of vigour, the outward and visible sign of 
strength. 

Let me make myself clear. Suppose that in a race of 
savages those that had fair hair were stronger, bolder, 
more prolific, and more pushing than the dark-haired 
men. Fair hair, in some inexplicable way, always 
accompanied strength and the like. It is obvious that, 
under these conditions, the race would in time become 
fair-haired : the milder dark men would eventually be 
hustled out of existence. Fair hair would then be the 
outward expression of vigour : it would not be the cause 
of vigour, merely the accompaniment of it ; nor would 
it be a direct product of natural selection. In the 
same way it is possible that among drongos nigritude is 
in some manner correlated with vigour. This idea is 
not altogether fanciful. Are there not horses of *' bad 
colour " ? Are not white " socks " a sign of weakness ? 
Is not roan a colour indicative of strength and en- 
durance in a horse? 

May not the blackness and the forked tail of the 
drongo cuckoo have arisen in the same way as they 
arose in the king-crow? In each case it may be an 
accompaniment of vigour, or it may be the result of 
sexual selection. Mrs. Surniculus may have had similar 
tastes to Mrs. Dicrurus, and, since cuckoos seem 
to be very plastic birds, her tastes have been grati- 
fied. As another example of this plasticity I may cite 



A GAY DECEIVER 207 

Ce7itropns phasianus — a cuckoo which is a very fair imi- 
tation of a pheasant. 

On this view the resemblance is a mere chance one. 
The cuckoo is not an ass in a lion's skin, but an ass 
that looks very like a lion. His lion-like shape was 
not forced upon him by natural selection. A variety 
of causes probably contributed to it. It was not until 
the resemblance had arisen and become very striking 
that it was directly affected by natural selection. 

I am far from saying that the above is a correct ex- 
planation of the nigritude : it is all pure hypothesis. 
Even if it be correct, we are really very little further 
than we were before towards an explanation of the 
colours and shape of either the king-crow or the drongo 
cuckoo. 

Why did these birds tend to grow black feathers 
rather than red, green, or blue ones ? 

This is a question which " stumps " us all. 



THE EMERALD MEROPS 

IF I have a favourite bird it is the little green 
bee-eater {Merops viridis). There is no winged 
thing more beautiful or more alluring. More 
showy birds exist, more striking, more gorgeous, 
more magnificent creatures. With such the bee-eater 
does not compete. Its beauty is of another order. It 
is that of the moon rather than of the sun, of the 
violet rather than of the rose. The exquisite shades 
of its plumage cannot be fully appreciated unless 
minutely inspected. Every feather is a triumph of 
colouring. No description can do the bird justice. 
To say that its general hue is the fresh, soft green of 
grass in England after an April shower, that the head 
is covered with burnished gold, that the tail is tinted 
with olive, that a black collarette adorns the breast, that 
the bill is black, that a streak of that colour runs from 
the base of the beak, backwards, through the eye, which 
is fiery red, that the feathers below this streak are of 
the purest turquoise-blue, as are the feathers of the 
throat — to say all this is to convey no idea of the 
hundred shades of these colours, or the manner in 
which they harmonise and pass one into another. Nor 
is it easy for words to do justice to the shape of the 
bird ; even a photograph fails to express the elegance 
208 



THE EMERALD MEROPS • 209 
of its carnage and the perfection of its proportions. 
Were I to string together all the superlatives that I 
know, I should scarcely convey an adequate im- 
pression of the grace of its movements. I can but try 
to make the bird recognisable, so that the reader may 
see its beauties for himself. 

He should look out for a little green bird with a 
black beak, slender and curved, and a tail of which 
the two middle feathers are very attenuated and project 
a couple of inches as two black bristles beyond the 
other caudal feathers. The bird should be looked for 
on a telegraph wire or the bare branch of a tree, for 
the habits of bee-eaters are those of fly-catchers. The 
larger species prey upon bees, hence the popular name, 
but I doubt whether the little Merops viridis tackles 
an insect so large as a bee. It feeds upon smaller 
flying things, which it captures on the wing. As it 
rests on its perch its bright eyes are always on the 
look out for passing insects. When one comes into 
view, the bird sallies forth. Very beautiful is it as it 
sails on outstretched wings. The under surface of 
these is reddish bronze, so that their possessor seems 
to become alternately green and gold as the sun's rays 
fall on the upper or lower surface of its pinions. Its 
long mandibles close upon its prey with a snap suffi- 
ciently loud to be audible from a distance of five or 
six yards. This one may frequently hear, for bee- 
eaters are not shy birds. They will permit a human 
being to approach quite near to them, as though they 
knew that the fulness of their beauty was apparent 
only on close inspection. 



2IO BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Tlie little green bee-eater utters what Jerdon calls 
" a rather pleasant rolling whistling note," which, if 
it cannot be dignified by the name of song, adds con- 
siderably to the general attractiveness of the bird. 
Bee-eaters are, alas ! not very abundant in Madras, but, 
if looked for, may be seen on most days in winter. The 
Adyar Club grounds seem to be their favourite resort. 
When driving into the club at sunset I have often 
surprised a little company of them taking a dust bath 
in the middle of the road. The bath over, the little 
creatures take to their wings and enjoy a final flight 
before retiring for the night. 

Bee-eaters are, I think, migratory birds. It is true 
that they are found all the year round in many parts 
of India, but such places appear to be the winter 
quarters of some individuals and the summer resi- 
dences of others. There is an exodus of bee-eaters 
from Calcutta about March. A similar event occurs 
in Madras, although in the latter place the birds are 
seen all the year round, a few remaining to breed. 
In Lahore, on the other hand, the birds arrive in March, 
and, having reared their young, leave in September. 

The nest is a circular hole excavated by the bird, 
usually in a sandbank, sometimes in a mud partition 
between two fields. I saw a nest in Lahore in one 
of the artificial bunkers on the golf links. Major 
C. T. Bingham states that in 1873, when the musketry 
instruction of his regiment was being carried on at 
Allahabad, he observed several nest holes of this species 
in the face of the butts. The birds seemed utterly 
regardless of the bullets that every now and then 



THE EMERALD MEROPS 211 

buried themselves with a loud thud in the earth close 
beside them. Colonel Butler gives an account of a 
bee-eater nesting in an artificial mudbank, about a 
foot high, that marked the limits of the badminton 
court in the Artillery Mess compound at Deesa. One 
of the birds invariably sat upon the badminton net 
when people were not playing, and at other times on 
a tree close by, while its mate was sitting on the eggs. 
As I have already said, bee-eaters are not afflicted with 
shyness. 

Very soon after their arrival at Lahore the birds 
begin their courtship. At this period they seem to 
spend the major portion of the day in executing 
circular flights in the air. They shoot forth from their 
perch and rapidly ascend by flapping their wings, then 
they sail for a little on outstretched pinions and thus 
return to the perch. 

Courtship soon gives place to the more serious busi- 
ness of nest construction. When a suitable spot has 
been found, the birds at once begin excavating, digging 
away at the earth with pick-like bill and holding on 
to the wall of the bank by their sharp claws until the 
hole they are making becomes sufficiently deep to 
afford a foothold. As the excavation grows deeper 
the bird throws backwards with its feet the sand it 
has loosened with its beak, sending it in little clouds 
out of the mouth of the hole. While one bird is at 
work its mate perches close by and gives vent to its 
twittering note. After working for about two minutes 
the bird has a rest and its partner takes a turn at 
excavation. Thus the work proceeds apace. Bee- 



212 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

eaters look spick and span, even when in the midst 
of this hard labour. The dry sand that envelops 
them, far from soiling their plumage, acts as a dust 
bath. When the hole, which is about two inches in 
diameter, has reached a length of some four feet, it is 
widened out into a circular chamber about twice the 
size of a cricket ball. In this three or four white eggs 
are laid. These have been well described as " little 
polished alabaster balls." They are placed on the bare 
ground. Young bee-eaters lack the elongated bristle- 
like tail feathers of the adult birds. A very pleasing 
sight is that of a number of the youngsters sitting in 
a row on a telegraph wire receiving instruction in 
flying. 

In conclusion, mention must be made of a near 
relative of the little bee-eater. I allude to the blue- 
tailed species {^Merops philippimis), which also occurs 
in Madras. This is a larger and less beautiful edition 
of the green bee-eater. It is distinguishable by its size, 
the rusty colour of its throat, and its blue tail. It is 
usually found near water. He who shoots snipe in the 
paddy near Madras comes across numbers of these 
birds sitting on the low walls that divide up the fields. 
The habits of the blue-tailed bee-eater are those of its 
smaller cousin. Although its song is more powerful, 
it is a less attractive bird. 



DO ANIMALS THINK? 

MR. JOHN BURROUGHS contributed 
some time ago to Harper's Magazine an 
article bearing the above title. The lead- 
ing American naturalist is so weighty an 
authority that I feel chary about controverting any 
statement made by him ; but I cannot believe that he 
is right when he boldly asserts that animals never 
think at all. I agree with Mr. Burroughs when he says 
" we are apt to speak of the lower animals in terms 
that we apply to our own kind." There is undoubtedly 
a general tendency to give animals credit for much 
greater intelligence, far more considerable powers of 
reasoning, than they actually possess ; in short, to put 
an anthropomorphic interpretation on their actions. 

But it seems to me that Mr. Burroughs rushes to the 
other extreme. To deny to animals the power of 
thought is surely as opposed to facts as to credit them 
with almost human powers of reasoning. Says Mr. 
Burroughs : " Animals act with a certain grade of 
intelligence in the presence of things, but they carry 
away no concepts of those things as a man does, 
because they have no language. How could a crow 
tell his fellows of some future event or of some experi- 
ence of the day ? How could he tell them this thing is 
213 



214 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

dangerous save by his actions in the presence of those 
things? Or how tell of a newly found food supply 
save by flying eagerly to it ? " 

Even if we admit that a crow is not able to recount 
the experiences of the day to his companion, it does 
not follow that the crow does not remember them, or 
cannot picture them in his mind. With regard to the 
last question, I have frequently seen a crow, at the 
sight of some food thrown out to him, caw loudly, and 
his friends, on hearing his cry, at once fly to the food. 

Of course it is open to any one to assert that, in this 
case, the crow that discovers the food does not con- 
sciously call its companions ; at the sight of its food it 
instinctively caws, and its companions obey the caw 
instinctively, without knowing why they do so. No 
one, however, who watches crows for long can help 
believing that they think. The fact that they hang 
about the kitchen every day at the time the cook 
pitches out the leavings seems inconsistent with the 
theory that birds cannot think. The crows obtained 
food at this place yesterday and the day before at a 
certain hour, and the fact that they are all on the look 
out for food to-day shows, not only that they possess 
a good memory, but that they are endowed with a 
certain amount of reasoning power. 

Many animals have very good memories. Now, in 
order that an animal may remember a thing it must 
think. Its thoughts are of course not clothed in lan- 
guage as human thoughts are, but they nevertheless 
exist as mental pictures. 

According to Professor Thorndike, the psychic hfe of 



DO ANIMALS THINK? 215 

an animal is " most like what we feel when our con- 
sciousness contains little thought about anything, when 
we feel the sense impressions in their first intention, so 
to speak, when we feel our own body and the impulses 
we give to it (or that outward objects give to it). 
Sometimes one gets this animal consciousness ; while 
in swimming, for example. One feels the water, the 
sky, the birds above, but with no thoughts about them, 
or memories of how they looked at other times, or 
aesthetic judgments about their beauty. One feels no 
' ideas ' about what movements he will make, but feels 
himself make them, feels his body throughout. Self- 
consciousness dies away. The meanings and values and 
connections of things die away. One feels sense-im- 
pressions, has impulses, feels the movements he makes ; 
that is all." 

This is probably a good description of the state of 
mind of a dog when he is basking in the sunlight ; he 
is thinking of nothing. But he hears the shrill cry of 
a squirrel — this at once recalls to him the image of the 
little rodent and past shikar. In a moment the dog is 
on the alert ; he is now thinking of the squirrel, and his 
instinct and inclinations teach him to give chase to it. 
Or he hears a footstep ; he recognises it as that of his 
master, sees that the latter is wearing a topi, and at 
once pictures up a run in the compound with his 
master. But his owner chains him up. The dog looks 
wistfully at his master's retreating figure and pulls at 
his chain ; it is surely absurd to say that the dog is not 
thinking. The picture of a scamper beside his master 
rises up before him, and he feels sad because he knows 



2i6 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

that the scamper is not likely to become a fait 

accompli. 

Again, you have been accustomed to throw a stick 
for your dog to run after and carry back to you. You 
are out walking accompanied by your dog ; he espies 
a stick lying on the ground ; at once images of previous 
enjoyable runs after the stick rise up in his mind ; he 
picks up the stick and brings it to you, drops it at your 
feet and looks up at you. You pretend to take no 
notice. The dog then picks up the stick and rubs it 
against your legs. To believe that the dog while acting 
thus does not think, that he is merely obeying an inborn 
instinct, is surely a misinterpretation of facts. Animals 
have but limited reasoning powers, and their thoughts 
are not our thoughts, they are not clothed in language, 
they are merely mental pictures, called up either sub- 
jectively, as when a dog barks while dreaming, or 
objectively by some sight or scent, but nevertheless 
such sensations are thoughts. 

While maintaining that the higher animals can and 
do think, I am ready to admit that a great many of 
their actions which are apparently guided by reason are 
in reality purely instinctive. Thus the building of a 
nest by a bird must, at any rate on the first occasion, 
be a purely instinctive action. The creature cannot 
know what it is doing. Nor can it have any thoughts 
on the matter ; it suddenly becomes an automaton, 
a machine, acting thoughtlessly and instinctively. 

Some internal force which is irresistible compels it to 
seek twigs and weave them into a nest. The bird has 
no time to stop and think what it is doing, nor does it 



DO ANIMALS THINK? 217 

wish to, for it enjoys nest building. It is, of course, 
impossible for a human being to understand the frame 
of mind of a bird when building its first nest. The only 
approach to it that we ever experience is when we are 
suddenly seized with an impulse to do something un- 
usual, and we obey the impulse and are afterwards 
surprised at ourselves. 

There is a story told of a wealthy man who had been 
out hunting and was returning home tired and thirsty. 
He dismounted at a farm-house, went inside and asked 
for a drink. While this was being obtained he noticed 
a lot of valuable old china on the dresser : seized by a 
sudden impulse, he knocked it all down, piece by piece, 
with his riding whip. His hostess on her return with 
the drink looked surprised. The hunting man smiled, 
asked her to name the value she set on the china, sat 
down and, there and then, wrote out a cheque for the 
amount. 

It always seems to me that when a bird begins for the 
first time to collect materials for a nest she must act 
impulsively, without thinking what she is doing. Just 
as the hunting man was seized with a sudden desire to 
smash the crockery with his whip, so is she suddenly 
impelled to collect twigs and build a nest. 

Another instinctive act which is apparently purpose- 
ful is the feigning of injury by a parent bird when an 
enemy approaches its young. Superficial observation 
of this action leads the observer to imagine that the 
mother bird behaves thus with deliberate intent to 
deceive, that in so doing she consciously endeavours to 
distract attention while her young ones are betaking 



2i8 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

themselves to cover. As a matter of fact, the bird will 
behave in precisely the same way if she have eggs 
instead of young ones. This has, of course, the effect of 
drawing attention to the eggs, and proves that the 
action is instinctive and not the result of reasoning. 

Most people have remarked the cautious manner in 
which many birds approach the nest when they are 
aware that they are being watched. This has the 
appearance of a highly intelligent act. It is, however, 
nothing of the kind. 

I have taken young birds from a nest, handled them 
and replaced them in full view of their frantic parents. 
Then I have retired a short distance and watched the 
parents. These invariably display the same caution in 
approaching the nest as they did before I had discovered 
its whereabouts. 

Birds and beasts think much less than they are 
popularly supposed to do. It is absurd to attribute to 
them reasoning powers similar to those enjoyed by 
man ; it is equally absurd to assert that they do not 
think at all. 



A COUPLE OF NEGLECTED 
CRAFTSMEN 

TWO Indian birds have a world-wide repu- 
tation. Every one has heard of the weaver 
bird {Ploceus bayd) and the tailor-bird 
(Orthotomus sutovius). Their wonderful 
nests are depicted in every popular treatise on ornith- 
ology. They are both master-craftsmen and deserve 
their reputation. But there are in India birds who build 
similar nests whose very names are unknown to the 
great majority of Anglo-Indians. The Indian wren- 
warbler {Prinia inornatd) weaves a nest quite as skil- 
fully as the famous weaver bird. This neglected crafts- 
man is common in nearly all parts of India, and, if you 
speak of the weaver bird to domiciled Europeans, they 
will think you mean this wren-warbler, for among such 
he is universally called the weaver bird ; the famous 
weaver, whose portrait appears in every popular bird 
book, is known to them as the baya. 

As its name implies, Prinia inovnata is a plainly 
attired little bird. Its upper parts are earthy brown. 
It has the faintest suspicion of a white eyebrow, and 
its under plumage is yellowish white, the thighs being 
darker than the abdomen. Picture a slenderly built 
wren with a tail three inches in length, which looks as 
219 



220 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

though it were about to fall out and which is constantly 
being waggled, and you have a fair idea of the appear- 
ance of this little weaver. But this description applies 
to dozens of other birds found in India. The various 
warblers are so similar to one another in appearance 
as to drive ornithologists to despair. The inimitable 
" Eha " admits that they baffle him. " There is nothing 
about them," he writes, "to catch the imagination of the 
historian, and they will never be famous. I have been 
perplexed as to how to deal with them. ... To attempt 
to describe each species is out of the question, for there 
are many, and they are mostly so like each other that 
even the title ornithologist does not qualify one to 
distinguish them with certainty at a distance. If you 
can distinguish them with certainty when you have 
them in your hand you will fully deserve the title." 

It is, however, possible to recognise the Indian wren- 
warbler by its note. When once you have learned this 
you are able to identify the bird directly it opens its 
mouth. But how shall I describe it ? It is a peculiar, 
harsh but plaintive, twee^ twee, twee ; each twee follows 
close upon the preceding one, and gives you the idea 
that the bird is both excited and worried. If you see a 
fussy little bird constantly flitting about in a cornfield 
and uttering this note, you may be tolerably certain 
that the bird is the Indian wren- warbler. It never rises 
high in the air ; it is but an indifferent exponent of the 
art of flying. It moves by means of laborious jerks of 
its wings. It is a true friend to the husbandman, since 
it feeds exclusively on insects. The most remarkable 
thing about it is its nest. This is a beautifully woven 



A COUPLE OF NEGLECTED CRAFTSMEN 221 

structure, composed exclusively of grass or strips of 
leaves of monocotyledonous plants which the bird tears 
off with its bill. These strands are invariably very 
narrow, and are sometimes less than one-twentieth of 
an inch in breadth. The nest may be described as an 
egg-shaped purse, some five or six inches in depth and 
three in width, with an entrance at one side, near the 
top. It is devoid of any lining, and its texture puts 
one in mind of a loosely made loofah. The nest is 
sometimes attached to two or more stalks of corn, or 
more commonly it is found among the long grasses 
which are so abundant in India. When the nest is 
built in a cornfield the birds have to bring up their 
family against time. They are unable to begin nest- 
building until the corn is fairly high, and must, if the 
young are to be safely started in life, have brought them 
to the stage when they are able to leave the nest by the 
time the crop is cut. 

In India nearly every field of ripe corn has its family 
of wren-warblers ; the two parents flit about, followed 
by a struggling family of four. These little birds do 
not by any means always defeat time. Numbers of 
their nests containing half-fledged young are mown 
down at every harvest by the reaper's sickle. The nest 
is woven in a manner similar to that adopted by the 
baya ; the cock and hen in each case work in combina- 
tion. Its texture is looser than that of the more famous 
weaver, but it is not less neatly put together. In it are 
deposited four or five pretty little green eggs, marked 
with brown blotches and wavy lines. 

Our second neglected craftsman is a tailor. It sews 



222 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

a nest so like that of the world-famous tailor as to be 
almost indistinguishable from it. Some authorities 
declare that the two nests are distinguishable. They 
assert that the nest of OrtJiotonms is invariably lined with 
some soft substance, such as cotton-wool, the silky down 
of the cotton tree, soft horse-hair, or even human hair, 
while that of the species of which we are speaking is 
lined with grass or roots. This distinction does not, 
however, invariably hold. I have seen nests of this 
species which have been lined with cotton-wool. 

This bird is known to ornithologists as the ashy 
wren- warbler {Prinia socialis). Anglo-Indian boys call 
it the tom-tit. It is a dark ashy-grey bird, with the 
sides of the head and neck and the whole of the lower 
plumage buff. There is a tinge of rufous in the wings 
and tail. It is most easily distinguished by the loud 
snapping noise it makes during flight. How this noise 
is produced we do not know for certain. Reid was of 
opinion that the bird snapped its long tail. What exactly 
this means I do not know. Jesse believes that the 
sound is produced by the bird's mandibles. I have 
spent much time in watching the bird, and am inclined 
to think that the noise is caused by the beating of the 
wings against the tail. This last is constantly being 
wagged and jerked, and it seems to me that the wings 
beat against it as the bird flits about. When doves and 
pigeons fly, their wings frequently meet, causing a 
flapping sound. I am of opinion that something similar 
occurs when the ashy wren-warbler takes to its wings. 

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this bird 
is the well-authenticated fact that it builds two types of 



A COUPLE OF NEGLECTED CRAFTSMEN 223 
nest. Besides this tailor-made nest, the species makes 
one of grass, beautifully and closely woven, domed, and 
with the entrance near the top, I have never seen this 
latter type of nest, but so many ornithologists have 
that there can be no doubt of its existence. 

The strange thing is that both types of nest have 
been found in the same neighbourhood, so that the 
difference in the form of nursery is not a local pecu- 
liarity. 

I am at a loss to account for the existence of these 
two types of nest. I have no idea how the habit can 
have arisen, nor do I know what, if any, benefit the 
species derives from this peculiarity. So far as I am 
aware, no one can say what it is that leads to the con- 
struction of one type of nest in preference to the other. 
The nests of this species present a most interesting 
ornithological problem. I hope one day to be in a 
position to throw some light on it ; meanwhile I shall 
welcome the news that some one has forestalled me. 
The ashy wren-warbler is a common bird, so that most 
Anglo-Indians have a chance of investigating the 
mystery. The same kind of eggs are found in each 
type of nest. They are of exceptional beauty, being a 
deep mahogany or brick-red, so highly polished as to 
look as though they have been varnished. 



BIRDS IN THEIR NESTS 

JUST as every Englishman is of opinion that his 
house is his castle, so does every little bird resent 
all attempts at prying into its private affairs in 
the nest. For this reason we really know very 
little of the home-life of birds. It is not that there are 
no seekers after such knowledge. Practical ornithology 
is a science that can boast of a very large number of 
devotees. 

Many men spend the greater part of their life in 
endeavouring to wrest from birds some of their secrets, 
and such must admit that the results they obtain are as 
a rule totally disproportionate to the magnitude of the 
efforts. At present we know only the vague generalities 
of bird life. 

We know that the hen lays eggs ; that she, with or 
without the help of the cock, as the case may be, in- 
cubates these eggs ; that the young, which are at first 
naked, are fed and brooded until they are ready to 
leave the nest, when they are coaxed forth by the 
parents, who hold out tempting morsels of food to them. 
But these are mere generalities. Our ignorance of de- 
tails is very great. 

The nestsof most passerine birds are scrupulously clean. 
Young birds have enormous appetites, and much of the 
224 



BIRDS IN THEIR NESTS 225 

food which they eat is indigestible and must pass out as 
droppings, yet in the case of many species no sign of 
these droppings is visible, either in the nest, or on the 
leaves, branches, or the ground near the nest. What 
becomes of these droppings ? Ornithological treatises 
are silent upon this subject. 

Again, young birds are born naked, and in India are 
frequently exposed to very high temperatures, so that 
much liquid must pass from their bodies by evaporation. 
How is this liquid made good ? Do the parents water 
the birds, if so, how ? I have never seen any mention 
of this in an ornithological treatise. 

Let us to-day consider these two subjects : the sanita- 
tion of the nest and the method of assuaging the thirst 
of young nestlings. 

As regards the first we have some knowledge, thanks 
to the patient labours of Mr. F. H. Herrick, an Ameri- 
can naturalist, whose book. The Home Life of Birds, I 
commend to every lover of the feathered folk. Un- 
fortunately, Mr. Herrick's book is to some extent 
spoiled for Englishmen, because it deals with birds with 
which they are unfamiliar ; nevertheless, its general re- 
sults apply to all passerine birds. 

Mr. Herrick is a very keen bird photographer. As 
every one knows, he who wishes to obtain good photo- 
graphs of birds has two great difficulties to overcome. 
The first is to get near to his subjects, and the second 
is to find them and their nests in situations suitable for 
photography. 

The former is usually overcome by the photographer 
concealing himself and his camera in a tent or other 
Q 



226 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

structure. At first the birds are afraid of the conceal- 
ing object, but soon maternal affection overcomes their 
fear. 

Mr. Herrick's method of overcoming the second of 
these two difficulties is to remove the nest to be photo- 
graphed from the concealed situation in which it is 
usually built, and place it in a more open place. If the 
nest be thus moved when the young are some seven or 
eight days old, the parents will almost invariably con- 
tinue to feed their young in the new situation, for at that 
particular period the parental instinct is at its zenith. 
In addition to obtaining a splendid series of photo- 
graphs, Mr. Herrick has observed, from a distance of a 
few inches, the nesting habits of several American 
birds. As the result of these observations he is able 
to declare that nest-cleaning follows each feeding with 
clock-like regularity. " The excreta of the young," he 
writes, " leave the cloaca in the form of white opaque 
or transparent mucous sacs. The sac is probably 
secreted at the lower end of the alimentary canal, and 
is sufficiently consistent to admit of being picked up 
without soiling bill or fingers. The parent birds often 
leave the nest hurriedly bearing one of these small white 
packages in bill, an action full of significance to every 
member of the family. . . . Removing the excreta 
piecemeal and dropping it at a safe distance is the 
common instinctive method, not only of insuring the 
sanitary condition of the nest itself, but, what is even 
more important, of keeping the grass and leaves below 
free from any sign which might betray them to an 
enemy." These packets of excrement are quite odour- 



BIRDS IN THEIR NESTS 227 

less, and they are often devoured by the parent bird 
instead of being carried away. The digestion of very 
young birds must be feeble, and doubtless much of the 
food given them passes undigested through the aliment- 
ary canal, so that it is capable of affording nourishment 
to the parents. Birds are nothing if not economical. 

Of course, all birds are not so careful of the sanitation 
of the nest. Every one knows what a filthy spectacle a 
heronry is. According to Mr. Herrick, the instinct of 
inspecting and cleaning the nest is mainly confined to 
the great passerine and picarian orders. It is obviously 
not necessary in the case of those birds, such as fowls, 
of which the young are able to run about when born ; 
nor is it needful in the case of birds of prey, who take 
no pains to conceal the whereabouts of the nest. Young 
raptores eject their semi-fluid excreta over the edge of 
the nursery ; thus the nest is kept clean, but the drop- 
pings on the ground betray its presence to all the world. 

Coming now to our other question : How do young 
birds obtain the water which they require ? we have no 
help from Mr. Herrick. He makes no mention of this 
in his most interesting book. It is possible that nest- 
lings are not given anything to drink, that the juicy, 
succulent insects or fruits with which they are supplied 
contain sufficient moisture for their requirements. We 
must remember that the skin of birds is very different 
from that of man. It contains no sweat glands, so that 
a bird, like a dog, can only perspire through its mouth. 

The breath of mammals is so surcharged with mois- 
ture that when it is suddenly cooled the water vapour 
in it condenses ; the result is we can " see the breath " 



228 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

of a mammal on a cold day. I have never succeeded 
in seeing a bird's breath, so am of opinion that the fowls 
of the air do not exhale so much moisture as mammals 
do. But even allowing for this, a considerable amount 
of moisture must be given out in expiration, so that 
it seems probable that young birds require more mois- 
ture than they obtain in their food. Drops of water have 
to be administered to hand-reared birds. Many birds 
fill up the crop with food and then discharge the contents 
into the gaping mouths of their young. In this con- 
dition the food must be mixed with a considerable 
quantity of saliva and possibly with water. The crop 
of a bird is a receptacle into which the food passes 
and remains until actually utilised. There seems no 
reason why water should not be stored for a short 
time in this receptacle just as food is. Perhaps birds 
" bring up " water as they do solid food, and thus assuage 
the thirst of their young. Such a process would be very 
difficult to detect ; it would be indistinguishable from 
ordinary feeding to the casual observer. I hope that 
some physiologist will take up the matter. A quantita- 
tive analysis of the air exhaled by a bird should not be 
very difficult to make. 



BULBULS 

MORE than fifty species of bulbul are 
found in India — bulbuls of all sorts and 
conditions, of all shapes and sizes, from 
the brilliant green bulbuls (which, by the 
way, strictly speaking, are not bulbuls at all) to the dull- 
plumaged but blithe white-browed member of the com- 
munity, so common in Madras ; from the rowdy black 
bulbuls of the Himalayas to the highly respectable and 
well-behaved red-vented bulbuls. He who would write 
of them is thus confronted with an embarras de richesses. 
The problem that he has to solve is, which of the many 
species to take as his theme. 

The polity of birds is said to be a republic. The 
problem may, therefore, well be elucidated on demo- 
cratic principles. The first and foremost of these — the 
main plank of every demagogue's platform — is, of 
course, " one bulbul, one vote." The second is like 
unto the first, " every bulbul for itself." Therefore, on 
being asked to elect a representative to be the subject- 
matter of this paper, each will vote for his own species, 
and the result of the poll will be : Bulbuls of the genus 
Molpastes first, those of the genus Otocompsa a good 
second, and the rest a long way behind. Let us then 
conform to the will of the majority and consider for 
229 



230 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

a little these two species of bulbul, which resemble one 
another very closely in their habits. 

Molpastcs is a bird about half as big again as the 
sparrow, but with a longer tail. The whole head is 
black and marked by a short crest. There is a con- 
spicuous crimson patch of feathers under the tail. The 
remainder of the plumage is brown, but each feather on 
the body is margined with creamy white, so that the 
bird is marked by a pattern that is, as " Eha " points 
out, not unlike the scales on a fish. Both ends of the 
tail feathers are whitish. 

Otocompsa is a more showy bird. The crest is long 
and projects forward over the forehead. The crimson 
patch, so characteristic of bulbuls, also exists in this 
species. There is a similar patch on each side of 
the head — whence the bird's name, the red-whiskered 
bulbul. There is also a white patch on each cheek. 
The white throat is separated from the whitish abdo- 
men by a conspicuous dark brown necklace. This 
bird must be familiar to every one who has visited 
Coonoor or any other southern hill station. The less 
showy variety — the red-vented bulbul, as it is called — 
is common in and about Madras. 

It will be noticed that I have refrained from giving 
any specific name to either of these two genera. This 
is due to the fact that these bulbuls are widely dis- 
tributed and fall into a number of local races, each 
of which has some little peculiarity in colouring. For 
this reason, bulbuls are birds after the heart of the 
museum ornithologist. They afford him ample scope 
for species-making. 





THE BRNGAl. RED-WHISKKUEI) Bri.BlM,. (OTOCOMPSA EMERIA) 



BULBULS 231 

If you go from Madras to the Punjab you will there 
meet with a bulbul which you will take for the same 
species as the bulbul you left behind in Madras. But 
if you look up the birds in an ornithological text-book 
you will find that they belong to different species. 
The Punjab bulbul is known as Molpastes intermedius, 
while the Madras bird is called M. hcemorrhous. The 
only difference in appearance between the two species 
is that in the Madras bird the black of the head does 
not extend to the neck, whereas in the Punjab bird 
it does. Similarly, there is a Burmese, a Tenasserim, 
a Chinese, and a Bengal red-vented bulbul. 

Now, I regard all these different bulbuls as local 
races of one species, which might perhaps be called 
Molpastes indicus ; and I think that I am justified in 
holding this view by the fact that the bulbuls you come 
across at Lucknow do not fit in with the description of 
any of these so-called species. The reason is that the 
Bengal and the Madras races meet at Lucknow, and of 
course interbreed. The result is a cross between the 
two races. 

In addition to the above there are some Molpastes 
which have white cheeks and a yellow patch under the 
tail. In all, nine or ten Indian "species" of Molpastes 
have been described. 

The same applies in a lesser degree to Otocompsa. 
This is a widely distributed species, but is not so plastic 
as Molpastes, There is the Bengal red-whiskered bulbul 
{Otocompsa enteria), which is distinguishable from the 
southern variety {O. fuscicaudatd) by having white tips 
to the tail feathers, and the dark necklace interrupted 



232 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

in the middle. There is also an Otocompsa with a 

yellow patch under the tail. 

This division of a species or genus into a nun:iber 
of races or nearly allied species is interesting as 
showing one of the ways in which new species arise 
in Nature quite independently of natural selection. 
It is unreasonable to suppose that the extension 
into the neck of the black of the head in the Punjab 
bulbul and its non-extension in the Madras bulbul 
are due to the action of natural selection in each 
locality, that a bulbul with black in its neck is unfitted 
for existence in Madras. 

Whenever a group of animals becomes isolated from 
its fellows, it almost invariably develops peculiarities 
which are of no help to it in the struggle for existence. 
Thus isolation is the cause of the origin of dialects 
and languages. A dialect is an incipient language, 
even as a race is a potential species. 

But let us return to our bulbuls. The habits of both 
Otocompsa and Molpastes are so similar that we can 
speak of them together. They are what Mr. Finn 
calls thoroughly nice birds. They are, none of them, 
great songsters, but all continually give forth exceed- 
ingly cheery notes. The twittering of the red-whiskered 
bulbuls is not the least of the charms of our southern 
hill stations. 

Bulbuls feed on insects and berries, so are apt to be 
destructive in gardens. They built nests of the ortho- 
dox type — cups of the description always depicted on 
Christmas cards. These are built anywhere, without 
much attempt at concealment. Rose bushes are a 



BULBULS 233 

favourite site, so are crotons, especially if they be in 
a verandah. A pair of bulbuls once built a nest in my 
greenhouse at Gonda. Among the fronds of a fern 
growing in a hanging basket did those unsophisticated 
birds construct that nest. Every time the fern was 
watered the sitting bird, nest, and eggs received a 
shower-bath ! 

Sometimes bulbuls do by chance construct their nest 
in a well-concealed spot, but then they invariably " give 
the show away" by setting up a tremendous cackling 
whenever a human being happens to pass by. 

I have had the opportunity of watching closely the 
nesting operations of seven pairs of bulbuls ; of these 
only one couple succeeded in raising their brood. The 
first of these nests was built in a croton plant in a 
verandah at Fyzabad. One day a lizard passed by and 
sucked the eggs. The next was the nest at Gonda 
already mentioned. In spite of the numerous water- 
ings they received, the eggs actually yielded young 
bulbuls ; but these disappeared when about four days 
old. The mali probably caused them to be gathered 
unto their fathers. The third nest was situated in a 
bush outside the drawing-room window of the house 
in which I spent a month's leave at Coonoor. This 
little nursery was so well concealed that I expected the 
parents would succeed in rearing their young. But one 
morning I saw on the gravel path near the nest a 
number of tell-tale feathers. Puss had eaten mamma 
bulbul for breakfast ! The fourth nest — but why should 
I detail these tragedies? Notwithstanding all their 
nesting disasters, bulbuls flourish so greatly as to 



234 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

severely shake one's faith in the doctrine of natural 

selection. 

In conclusion, a word or two must be said concerning 
bulbuls in captivity. These birds make charming pets, 
but as their diet is largely insectivorous, they cannot 
be fed on seed. They become delightfully tame. One 
I kept used to fly on to my shoulder whenever it saw 
me, and open its mouth, flutter its wings, and twitter, 
which was its way of asking to be fed. It would insist 
on using my pen as a perch, and as one's handwriting 
is not improved by an excitable bulbul hopping up and 
down the penholder, I was obliged to shut the bird up 
in a cage when I wanted to write. The bulbul used to 
resent this, and did not hesitate to tell me so. In 
young birds the tail is very short, and the patch of 
feathers under it is pale red instead of being bright 
crimson. 

Natives of India keep bulbuls for fighting purposes. 
These birds are not caged, but are tied to a cloth- 
covered perch by a long piece of fine twine attached 
to the leg. Bulbuls, although full of pluck, are not by 
nature quarrelsome. In order to make them fight 
they are kept without food for some time. Then two 
ravenous birds are shown the same piece of food. This, 
of course, leads to a fight, for a hungry bulbul is an 
angry bulbul. 



THE INDIAN CORBY 

I HAVE never been able to discover why the 
great black crow {Corvus macrorhynchus), so 
common in India, is called the jungle-crow. It 
is, indeed, true that the corby is found in the 
jungle, but it is found everywhere else in most parts of 
India, and is certainly abundant in villages and towns, 
being in some places quite as much a house bird as its 
smaller cousin, the grey-necked crow. 

Considering the character of the larger species and 
its extensive distribution, one hears remarkably little 
about it. The explanation is, of course, that the house- 
crow absorbs all the attention that man has to bestow 
upon the sable-plumaged tribe. The prevailing opinion 
seems to be that the black crow is merely a mild edition, 
a feeble imitation of, a scoundrel of lesser calibre than, 
its smaller cousin, Corvus splendens, and, therefore, every- 
thing that applies to the house-crow applies in a lesser 
degree to the big-billed bird. This is, I submit, a mis- 
taken view, the result of imperfect observation. Corvus 
macrorhynchus has an individuality of his own, and we 
do him scant justice in dismissing him with a short 
paragraph at the foot of a lengthy description of Corvus 
splendens. 

In saying this, I feel that I am speaking as one having 
235 



236 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

authority, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees, whose 
zoological horizon coincides with the limits of the 
museum. For a period of eighteen months I lived in 
a station which should be renamed and called Crow- 
borough. To assert that the place in question swarms 
with crows is, of course, to assert nothing, for it shares 
this feature with every other place in India. The point 
I desire to bring out clearly is that in this particular 
place the black crows are nearly as numerous as the 
grey-necked birds. The former are certainly in a 
minority, but their minority is, like Sir Henry Campbell- 
Bannerman's in the previous House of Commons, a 
large one, and what they lack in numbers they make up 
in weight and beak-force. It was truly delightful to 
watch them lord it over the grey-necked birds. Gram- 
marians will observe that I here use the past tense. 
This is a point of some importance. Just as it is 
impossible to properly estimate the character of an 
eminent man during his lifetime, so is it to form a 
proper opinion of the personality and behaviour of 
a species of crow while one is in the midst of that 
species, while one is subjected to the persecutions, the 
annoyances, and the insults to which it thinks fit to 
treat one. 

But I am now far away from Crowborough, and I may 
never again return thither. As I sit upon the Irish 
shore and see the blue waters of the North Atlantic roll 
softly up against the black rocks of Antrim, I feel that 
I am in a position to form a true estimate of the 
character of Corvus viacrorJiyncJms. 

Until I went to Crowborough I laboured under the 



THE INDIAN CORBY 237 

delusion that the grey-necked crow knew not the mean- 
ing of the word " respect." The deference with which 
the big-beaked species is treated by his smaller cousin 
came as a complete surprise to me. 

Most Anglo-Indians are so embittered against the 
whole tribe of the corvi that they will on no account 
feed them. I do not share this prejudice. I am able to 
see things from the corvine point of view. Were I a 
crow I should most certainly consider man fair game. 

While in Crowborough I invariably gave the surplus 
of my tiffin to the crows. Those in the locality of my 
office window did not take long to find this out. The 
grey-necked crows were the first to make the discovery. 
It takes these less time to put two and two together 
than it does the more sluggish-brained black crows. At 
the end of a few days quite half-a-dozen grey-necked 
fellows had learned to hang about my windows at the 
luncheon hour. They used to sit in a row along each 
window-ledge. One day a corby appeared upon the 
scene. His arrival was the signal for the departure of 
his grey-necked brethren. From that day onwards he 
regarded that ledge as his special preserve, and whenever 
a house-crow ventured on to the ledge he "went for" it 
savagely with his great beak. The intruder never waited 
long enough to enable him to get a blow home. Thus 
the hunting-ground of the grey-necked crows became 
restricted to one of the window-ledges. 

In order to tease the black fellow I used sometimes 
to throw all the food to the window in which the grey 
crows were perched. He would fly round and drive 
them off that ledge and then give me a bit of his mind ! 



238 BIRDS OF THE PLAINS 

Later on he introduced his wife. She took possession 
of one window and he of the other; so that the poor 
house-crows no longer had " a look in," Some of the 
bolder spirits among them used certainly to settle on 
the shutters in hopes of catching a stray crumb, but 
none durst venture on to the ledge while a black crow 
was there. 

Upon one occasion I put a whole milk pudding upon 
the ledge ; the corbies would not allow the house-crows 
so much as a peck at the dainty dish until they them- 
selves had had their fill. 

Every one knows that the grey-necked crows, when 
harassing a creature more powerful than themselves, 
work in concert. It is my belief that two of these 
birds acting together are more than a match for any 
other creature. The way in which a pair of them will, 
by alternate feint and attack, take food away from a 
great kite or a dog is truly admirable. But so great is 
the respect of the grey-necked crows for the corby that 
I have never seen them attack him in this way. This 
says volumes for the force of character of Corvus 
macrorhynchus. He is quite an Oliver Cromwell among 
birds. He is a dour, austere, masterful, selfish bird — 
a bird which it is impossible to like or to despise. 

When he has once made up his mind to do anything 
there is no deterring him from the accomplishment 
thereof. Early in the year one of these birds spent at 
least the greater part of a day in trying to secure for 
its nest one of the twigs in a little circular fence erected 
for the protection of a young tree. The fence in ques- 
tion was composed of leafless branches, interlaced and 



THE INDIAN CORBY 239 

tied together. One of these twigs, being loose at one 
end, was pounced upon by a black crow who intended 
to carry it to his or her nest. But the other end was 
securely fastened. I watched that crow at intervals for 
several hours. Whenever I looked it was grappling in 
vain with the refractory twig. The work was, it is true, 
frequently interrupted, for natives kept passing by. But 
immediately the human being had gone, the crow re- 
sumed the attack. Every now and again it would fly 
to a dust-bin hard by and alight on the rim in order to 
take a breather. Occasionally it would dive into that 
bin in order to secure the wherewithal to feed the inner 
crow. It would then return to work like a giant 
refreshed. 

I am of opinion that that dust-bin was to the crow 
what the public-house is to the British working man. 



APPENDIX 

A LIST OF THE BIRDS WHICH HAVE BEEN RECORDED 
BOTH IN THE BRITISH ISLES AND IN INDIA 



Corvus corax. The Raven. 
Corvus corone. The Carrion Crow. 
Corvus frugilegus. The Rook. 
Corvus comix. The Hooded Crow. 
Corvus monedula. The Jackdaw. 
Graailus eremita. The Red-billed Chough. 
Pyrrhocorax alpimis. The Yellow-billed Chough. 
Pica rustica. The Magpie. 
Regulus cristatus. The Goldcrest. 
Lanius collurio. The Red-backed Shrike. 
Ampelis garruhis. The Waxwing. 
Oriolus galbula. The Golden Oriole. 
Pastor roseus. The Rose-coloured Starling. 
Siphia parva. The European Red-breasted Flycatcher. 
Muscicapa grisola. The Spotted Flycatcher. 
Geocichla sibirica. The Siberian Ground Thrush. 
Motiticola saxatilis. The Rock Thrush. 
Saxicola aenanthe. The Wheatear. 
Cyanecula wolfi. The White spotted Bluethroat. 
Turdus viscivorus. The Missel Thrush. 
Turdus pilaris. The Fieldfare. 
Turdus iliacus. The Redwing. 
Linota cayinabina. The Linnet. 
R 241 



242 APPENDIX 

24. Passer montanus. The Tree Sparrow. 

25. Passer domesticus. The House Sparrow. 

26. Emberiza schoenidus. The Reed Bunting. 

27. E7nberiza pnsilla. The Dwarf Bunting. 

28. Emberiza hortulana. The Ortolan Bunting. 

29. Emberiza melanocephala. The Black-headed Bunting 

30. Erttjgilla moniifri?igilla. The Brambling. 

31. Alazida an>ensis. The Skylark. 

32. Calandrella brachydactyla. The Short-toed Lark. 

33. Galerita cristata. The Crested Lark. 

34. Anthus trivialis. The Tree Pipit. 

35. Anthus richardi. Richard's Pipit. 

36. Anthus campestris. The Tawny Pipit. 

37. Atithiis spinoktta. The Water Pipit. 

38. Anthus prafensis. The Meadow Pipit. 

39. Hirundo rustica. The Swallow. 

40. Cotile riparia. The Sand Martin. 

41. Chelidon urbica. The Martin. 

42. Motacilla alba. The White Wagtail. 

43. Motacilla melanope. The Grey Wagtail. 

44. Motacilla borealis. The Grey-headed Wagtail. 

45. Motacilla flava. The Blue-headed Wagtail. 

46. lynx torquilla. The Wryneck. 

47. Merops phillippinus. The Blue-tailed Bee-eater. 

48. Merops apiaster. The European Bee-eater. 

49. Upupa epops. The Hoopoe. 

50. Coracias garrula. The European Roller. 

51. Cypselus alpinus. The Alpine Swift. 

52. Cypselus apus. The European Swift. 

53. Caprimulgus europaeus. The European Nightjar. 

54. Strix fiammea. The Barn Owl. 

55. Scops giu. The Scops Owl. 

56. Asio otus. The Long-eared Owl. 



APPENDIX 243 

57. Asio accipttrinus. The Short-eared Owl. 

58. Bubo ignavus. The Eagle Owl. 

59. Nyctea scandiaca. The Snowy Owl. 

60. Alcedo ispida. The Common Kingfisher. 

61. Cuculus canorus. The Cuckoo. 

62. Gyps fulvus. The Griffon Vulture. 

63. Neophron percnopterus . The Egyptian Vulture. 

64. Milvus migrans. The Black Kite. 

65. Haliaetus albidlla. The White-tailed Sea Eagle. 

66. Pandion haliaetus. The Osprey. 

67. Accipiter nisus. The Sparrow Hawk. 

68. Astur palumbaritis. The Goshawk. 

69. Aquila chrysaeUis. The Golden Eagle. 

70. Aquila maculata. The Large Spotted Eagle. 

71. Buteo deseriorum. The Common Buzzard. 

72. Circus cineraceus. Montagu's Harrier. 

73. Circus cyaneus. The Hen Harrier. 

74. Circus aeruginosus. The Marsh Harrier. 

75. Elanus cae?-uleus. The Black-winged Kite. 

76. Falco peregrinus. The Peregrine Falcon. 

77. Falco subbuteo. The Hobby. 

78. Aesalon regulus. The Merlin. 

79. Tinnunculus alaudaris. The Kestrel. 

80. Tinnunculus cenchris. The Lesser Kestrel. 

81. Columbia livia. The Blue Rock Pigeon. 

82. Turtur communis. The Turtle Dove. 

83. Coturnix communis. The Quail. 

84. Rallus aquaticus. The Water-Rail. 

85. Crex pratensis. The Corn Crake. 

86. Porzana parva. The Little Crake. 

87. Porzana maruetta. The Spotted Crake. 

88. Fulica atra. The Coot. 

89. Gallinula chloropus. The Moorhen. 



244 APPENDIX 

90. Grus communis. The Crane. 

91. Atithropoides virgo. The Demoiselle Crane. 

92. Otis tarda. The Great Bustard. 

93. Otis teirax. The Little Bustard. 

94. Oedicnemus scolopa. The Stone Curlew. 

95. Glareola pratincola. The Pratincole. 

96. Ciirsorius gallicus. The Cream-coloured Courser. 

97. Strepsilas interpres. The Turnstone. 

98. Charadriiis fulviis. The Eastern Golden Plover. 

99. Charadrius pluvialis. The Golden Plover. 

100. Vanellus vulgaris. The Lapwing. 

1 01. Squatarola helvitica. The Grey Plover. 

102. Aegialitis alexandrina. The Kentish Plover. 

103. Aegialitis dubia. The Little Ringed Plover. 

104. Aegialitis hiaticula. The Ringed Plover. 

105. Haematopus ostralegus. The Oystercatcher. 

106. Hima7itopus candidus. The Black-winged Stilt. 

107. Ltmosa belgica. The Black-tailed Godwit. 

108. Limosa lapponica. The Bar-tailed Godwit. 

109. Numenius arquata. The Curlew, 
no. Numenius phaeopiis. The Whimbrel. 

111. Recurvirostra avocetta. The Avocet. 

112. Totanus hypoleuais. The Common Sandpiper. 
113 Totanus glareola. The Wood Sandpiper. 

114. Totanus ochropus. The Green Sandpiper. 

115. Totanus callidus. The Redshank. 

116. Totanus fuscus. The Spotted Redshank. 

117. Totanus glottis. The Greenshank. 

118. Tringa minuta. The Little Stint. 

119. Tringa temmincki. Temminck's Stint. 

120. Tringa subarqtiaia. The Curlew Stint. 

121. Tringa alpina. The Dunlin. 

122. Tringa platyrhyncha. The Broad-billed Stint. 



APPENDIX 245 

123. Calidris arenana. The Sanderling. 

124. Pavoncella pugnax. The Ruff. 

125. Phalaropus hyperborms. The Red-necked Phalarope. 

126. Phalaropus fulicarius. The Grey Phalarope. 

127. Scolopax nisticula. The Woodcock. 

128. Gallinago coelestis. The Common Snipe. 

129. Gallinago gallinula. The Jack Snipe. 

130. Larus ichthyaetus. The Great Black-billed Gull. 

131. Larus ridilnmdus. The Laughing Gull. 

132. Larus affinis. The Dark-backed Herring Gull. 

133. LLydrochelidon hybrida. The Whiskered Tern. 

134. Hydrochelidon leucoptera. The White-winged Black 

Tern. 

135. Sterna angelica. The Gull-billed Tern. 

136. Sterfia cantiaca. The Sandwich Tern. 

137. Sterna fluviatilis. The Common Tern. 

138. Sterna dougalli. The Roseate Tern. 

139. Sterna nmiuta. The Little Tern. 

140. Sterna fuliginosa. The Sooty Tern, 

141. Hydroprogne caspia. The Caspian Tern. 

142. Stercorarius crepidatus. Richardson's Skua. 

143. Stercorarius pomatorhinus. The Pomatorhine Skua. 

144. Oceanites oceanicus. Wilson's Petrel. 

145. Anous stolidus. The Noddy. 

146. Phalacrocorax carbo. The Cormorant. 

147. Platalea leucorodia. The Spoonbill. 

148. Nycticorax griseus. The Night Heron. 

149. Ardea manillensis. The Purple Heron. 

150. Ardea cinerea. The Common Heron. 

151. Herodias alba. The Large Egret. 

152. Herodias garzetta. The Little Egret. 

153. Bulbulcus coromandus. The Cattle Egret. 

154. Ardetta minuta. The Little Bittern. 



246 APPENDIX 

1 55. Ciconia alba. The White Stork. 

156. Ciconia nigra. The Black Stork. 

157. Plegadis falcinellus. The Glossy Ibis. 

158. Phoenicoptenis roseus. The Flamingo. 

159. Cygnus olor. The Mute Swan. 

160. Cygmis musicus. The Whooper. 

161. A?tser ferns. The Grey-lag Goose. 

162. Anser albifrons. The White-fronted Goose. 

163. Anser erythroptis. The Lesser White-fronted Goose. 

164. Anser brachyrhytichus. The Pink-footed Goose. 

165. Tadorna cornuia. The Sheld-Duck. 

166. Casarca riitila. The Brahminy Duck. 

167. Mareca penelope. The Widgeon. 

168. Anas boscas. The Mallard. 

169. Chaulelasmus streperus. The Gadwall. 

170. Nyroca ferruginea. The White-eyed Duck. 

171. Nyroca ferina. The Pochard. 

172. Nyroca marila. The Scaup. 

173. Nyroca fuligula. The Tufted Duck. 

174. Netta rufina. The Red-crested Pochard. 

175. Dafila acuta. The Pintail. 

176. Clangula glaucion. The Golden-Eye. 

177. Spatula clypeata. The Shoveller. 

178. Querquedula urcia. The Garganey Teal. 

179. Nettium crecca. The Common Teal. 

180. Podiceps cristatus. The Great Crested Grebe. 

181. Podiceps nigricollis. The Eared Grebe. 

182. Mergus albellus. The Smew. 

183. Merganser castor. The Goosander. 

184. Merganser serrator. The Red- breasted Merganser. 



GLOSSARY 

Babul. Acacia arabica. A thorny tree. 

Badmash. A bad character, a ruffian. 

Barsath. Rain. 

Bhabar. The waterless tract of forest-clad land between the 
Himalayas and the Terai. It is from ten to fifteen miles 
in breadth and higher than the general level of the 
plains. 

Chaprassi. Lit. a badgeman. A servant who runs messages, 
an orderly. 

Chik. A number of thin pieces of bamboo strung together 
to form a curtain. Thin chiks are usually hung in front 
of doors in India with the object of keeping out flies but 
not air. Chiks of stouter make are hung from the ver- 
andah in order to keep out the sun. 

CM^. Short for Chitti^ a letter or testimonial. 

Coolie. An unskilled labourer. 

Dhak. Buiea frondosa. A common tree in low jungle. 

Dhobi. Washerman. 

Dirzie. Tailor. 

Farash. Tamarix indica. 

Gali galoj. Abuse. 

Jhil. A lake, broad tank, or any natural depression which is 
filled with rain water at certain seasons or permanently. 

Kankar, or Kunkar. Lumps of limestone with which roads 
are metalled in Northern India. 

Kannaut. The sides of a tent. 
247 



248 GLOSSARY 

Khansamah. Cook. 

Khud. A deep valley. 

Mali. Gardener. 

Murghi. Barndoor Fowl. 

Neem. Azadirachta melia, a common tree in India. 

Faddy. Growing rice. 

Fuggarree. A turban. 

J?yof. A cultivator, small farmer. 

Sa/. The iron-wood tree {Shorea robusta). 

Sahib. Master, sir, gentleman; a term used to denote a 

European. 
Shikar. Hunting or shooting. 
Shikari, (i) The man who goes hunting or shooting. 

(2) The native who accompanies him and directs 
the beat. 
Terai. Lit. " Moist land." A marshy tract of land about 

twelve miles broad, between the Bhabar and the plains 

proper. It is low-lying. 
Tiffin. Lunch. 
Topi. A sun-helmet. 



With the exception of British Birds in the Plains 
of India, which appeared in The Civil and Military 
Gazette, and The htdian Corby, Birds in the Rain, and 
Do Anijuals Think? which came out in The Times of 
India, the articles which compose this book made their 
debUt in one or other of the following papers : The 
Madras Mail, The hidian Field, The Englishman. 

The author takes this opportunity of thanking the 
editors of the above-named newspapers for permission 
to reproduce these essays. 



R 2 



INDEX 



INDEX 



Acridotheres tristis, 94 
Adjutant, 29-35 
Aitken, Mr. Benjamin, 165 
Aitken, Mr. E. H., 100, 164 
Alauda arvensis, 5 
Alauda gulgida, 5 
Alcedo ispida, 5 

Amadavat, 17, 20, 46-51, 52, 165 
Anderson, Mr. A., 126 
Aquila chrysaetus, 1 75 
Aquila vindhiana, 175 
Arachnechthra asiatica, 79, So 
Arachneckthra lotenta, 79 
Arachnechthra zeylonica, 80 
Ardea ctnerea, 6 
Ardeola grayii, 115 
Argya caudata, 127 
Athene brama, 24, 142 
Automata, birds as, 104-110 
Avicultural Society's Magazine, 
74 

Babbler, 181 
Babbler, common, 127 
Babbler, striated bush-, 127 
Barnes, 74 

Baya, 183-189, 219, 221 
Bee-eater, blue-tailed, 212 
Bee-eater, little green, 208-212 
Bingham, Major C.T., 210 
Biology, dogmatism of, 129 
Blackbird, i, 107 
Blackwell, Mr., no 
Blanford, 203 



"Blue Jay," 10-15, 84 
Blyth, 30 

Bonelli's eagle, 175 
Bottle bird, 185 
Brachypternus aurantmSf 86 
Brain-fever bird, 117 
Bulbul, I, 166, 229-234 
Bulbul, black, 229 
Bulbul, green, 229 
Bulbul, red-vented, 229-234 
Bulbul, red-whiskered, 228-234 
Bulbul, white-browed, 229 
Burroughs, Mr. John, 213 
Butcher bird, 163-167 
Butler, Colonel, 211 
Buzzard, 6 
Buzzard, white-eyed, 176 

Caccabis chucar, 89 

Centropus phasianus, 207 

Cercomela fusca, 130 

Chaffinch, i 

Chambers'' s Jotirnal, 30 

Character, bird of, 94-98 

Chick, 113 

Chicken, 113, 116 

Chukor, 89, 90 

Cobbler, 62 

Colouration, protective, 59, 128 

Coluviba intermedia, 6 

Colutnba livia, 6 
\ Coot, 14 

j Coracias indica, 12, 54 
I Corby, Indian, 235-239 

53 



254 



INDEX 



Corvus, 112, 142, 145, 147, 176, 

237 
Corvus corax, 4 
Corvus lawrencti, 4 
Corvus macrorhynchus, 235, 236, 

238 
Corvus splendenSy 5, in, 176, 235 
Coturnix cantmunis, 7 
Cowper, 92 
Craftsmen, a couple of neglected, 

219-223 
Cranes, 35-37 
Crow, 5, 24-26, 30, 40, 68, 95, 

106, 111-115, 118-123, 142, 

144, 145-149. 175. 176, 179, 

180, 184, 190, 191, 197, 213, 

214, 235-239 
Cuckoo, 9, 24, 107, 108, 117, 118, 

120 
Cuckoo, drongo-, 202-207 
Cuckoo, playing, 111-116, 133 
Cullen, Rev. C. D., 165 
Cunningham, Colonel, 31, 32, 1 18, 

164, 184, 190 
Cypselus affinis, lOI 
Cypselus batassiensis, 10 1 

Darwin, Charles, 158, 160 

Darwinian theory, 23, 129 

Davison, 74, 203 

Deceiver, gay, 202-207 

Dendrocita rufa, 68 

Dicrurus, 203 

Did-he-do-it, 56-61 

Difficulties of bird photography, 

225 
Dimorphism, sexual, 80, 81, 128^ 

156 
Dog, 215, 216 
Dogmatism of biology, 129 
Don Quixote, 31 
Dove, 12, 124-129 
Dove, little brown, 124-134 
Dove, red turtle, 128, 129 



Dove, ring-, 124-129 
Dove, spotted, 134-129 
Dragon-fly, 181 
Drongo, 139 

Drongo-cuckoo, 202-207 
Duck, 8, 168, 169 

Eagle, 54, 173-177 

Eagle, Bonelli's, 175, 177 

Eagle, golden, 175 

Eagle, tawny, 176, 177 

Edible birds' nests, 102 

" Eha," 29, 48, 57, 131, 220, 230 

Endynaviis honorata. III, 1 17 

Falcon, 6, 54 

Fauna of British India, 158 

Feminine selection, 160 

Finn, Mr. Frank, 75, 232 

Firefly, 188, 189 

Flycatcher, paradise, 13, 81, 150- 

162 
Flycatcher, white-browed fantailed, 

146, 158 
Fowl's egg, 113, 114 
Fox, 54 

Francolinus pondicerianus , 90 
Fulica atra, 5 

Gadwall, 8, 171 
Galerita cristata, 7 
Gallinago coelestis, 8 
Gallinago gallinula, 8 
Godwin, Earl, 169 
Goose, grey-lag, 8 * 
Crackle, 98 
Grahame, 92 

Green parrot, 88, 190-196, 197 
Grey partridge, 90-93 
Grouse, 93 
Grouse, red, i 
Guinea-fowl, 93 

Halcyon stnyrnensis, 4 



INDEX 



Harpei^s Magazine, 213 

Harrier, hen, 6 

Harrier, marsh, 6 

Hawk-cuckoo, 117 

Hawkes, Mr. S. M., 172 

Hawk, sparrow-, 6 

Headley, Mr. F. W., 54 

Heron, 6 

Herrick, Mr. F. H., 225, 226, 227 

Hewer of wood, 84 

Hieraetus fasciaius, 1 75 

Hierococcyx varius, 117 

Hill-myna, 98 

Home Life of Birds, 225 

Homer, 57 

Homo sapiens, 140 

Honeysucker, 78-83, 166 

Hoopoe, 14, 84, 182 

Hornbill, 166 

House martin, 1 10 

Hudson, Mr, W. H., 107, 108 

Hume, 18, 74, 129, 137, 189, 193 

Humming-bird, 78 

Hutton, Captain, 192 

Instinct, 27, 107, 109, 121 

— maternal, no 

— parasitic, 120, 121 

— parental, 27, 104 
Isolation, 232 

Jackdaw, 4, 5 

Jay, blue, 10-15, 84 

Jerdon, 38, 69, 70, 74, 137, 140, 

164, 175, 183, 188, 210 
Jesse, 222 
Jungle crow, 235-239 

Kearton, Mr. R., 105, 106 

Kestrel, 6, 175 

King-crow, 12,40, 138, 139, 203-207 

Kingfisher, 3, 144 

Kingfisher, white-breasted, 4, 86 

Kipling, Lockwood, 31, 91 



106, 144-149, 166, 175, 



Kite, 
177 
Koel, ni-115 

Lai munia, 46 
Laniiis lahtora, 165 
Lanius vittatus, 163, 165 
Lapwing, 166 

Lapwing, red-wattled, 56-61 
Lapwing, yellow-wattled, 57 
Larder, shrike's, 163-165 
Lark, crested, 7 
Legge, 74 

Leptoptilus dubius, 29 
Leptoptilus javanicns, 34 
Lilford, Lord, 143 
Lobivanellus goensis, 56 
Lockwood Kipling, 31, 91 

Magpie, 68-72 
Magpie-robin, 84 
Mallard, 8 
Malvolio, 31 
Martin, 100, 1 10 
Merlin, 6 

Merops, emerald, 208-212 
Merops philippinus, 212 
Merops viridis, 208-212 
Milk, pigeon's, 131 
Minah, brahminy, 166 
Minivet, 161 
Molpastes, 229-234 
Molpastes hcemorrhoits, 231 
Molpastes indictis, 231 
Molpastes intermedins, 231 
Monarch, dethroned, 173-177 
Motacilla maderaspatensis, 26 
Munia, red, 45-51 
Munia, spotted, 52-55 
Myna, I, 40, 84, 86, 94-98, 181, 
197 

Natural Selection, 23, 24, 42, 105, 
109, 129, 202-207, 232, 234 



256 



Neo-Darwinian School, 124, 
Nest, sanitation of, 224 
Nests, birds in their, 224-228 
Nests, edible birds', 102 
Newman, Mr. T. H., 75 
Nutmeg bird, 52-55 

Gates, 158 

CEiiopopclia tranquebarica, 128 

Oriole, black-headed, 135 

Oriole, Indian, 13, 134-139 

Oriolus kundoo, 135 

Oriolus melanocephabis, 135 

Orthotonus, 222 

Orthotomus siitorius, 62-67, 219 

Otocompsa, 229-34 

Otocompsa emeria, 231 

Otocompsa fuscicaudata, 23 1 
Owl, barn, 3, 140-144 
Owl, screech, 144 
Owl, white, 141, 142 
Owlet, spotted, 94, 142 

Paddy bird, 115, 116 
PalcEornis nepalensis, 194 



INDEX 

28 



194 



PalcEornis torquatus. 

Palm swift, loi 

Paradise flycatcher, 13, 81, 150- 

162 
Parakeet, i 

Parental instinct, 27, 104 
Paroquet, Alexandrine, 194 
Paroquet, rose-ringed, 194 
Parrot, 95, 184 
Parrot catching, 194 
Parrot, green, 88,166, 190-196, 197 
Parrot, West African, 195 
Partridge, grey, 90-93, 166 
Passer domesticus, 2, 75, 76 
Peacock, 42-44 
Peafowl, 93 

Pearson, Professor, 42, 44 
Peregrine falcon, 6 
Pericrocotus peregrinus , 1 6 1 



Pheasant, 92, 144 

Photography, difficulties of bird, 

225 
Pica rustica, 68 
Pie, tree, 68-72 
Pigeon, 6, 133, 134, 184 
Pintail, 8 

Pinto, Mr. G. A., 63, 64, 66, 158 
Pipit, 7 

Playing cuckoo, III-I16 
Ploceus bay a, 183, 219 
Plover, Kentish, 9 
Plover, ringed, 9 
Pochard, white-eyed, 171 
Prinia iitontata, 219 
Prima socia/is, 222 
Protective colouration, 59, 93, 128 

Quail, 7, 93 

Rain, birds in the, 178-182 

Raven, 3, 4 

Red munia, 46-51, 52-54 

Redshank, 9 

Reid, 74, 222 

Rhipidura albifrontata, 146, 158 

Robin, Indian, 128 

Robin redbreast, i, 107 

Rock chat, brown, 130 

Roller, 12 

Rook, 4, 5 

Salvadori, 74 
Sandpiper, 9 
Sanyal, Babu, 38, 39 
Sarciophoriis malabariciis, 57 
Sarcograiiitmis indicus^ 56 
Sarus, 35-39 

Selection, feminine, 160, 161 
Selection, natural, 23, 24, 42, 105, 

109, 129, 202-207, 232, 234 
Selection, sexual, 42, 160, 161, 205- 

207 
"Seven sisters," i 



i 



INDEX 



257 



Sexual dimorphism, 80, 81, 128, 
156 

Sexual selection, 42, 160, 161, 205- 

207 
Shikra, 175 
Shrike, 164-167 
Shrike, bay-backed, 165 
Shrike, Indian grey-backed, 165 
Shrike, rufous-backed, 165 
Shoveller, 8 
Sisters, seven, i 
Skylark, 5 
Skylark, Indian, 5 
Smell, sense of, in birds, 123 
Smith, Mr. Bosworth, 141 
Snipe, full, 8 
Snipe, Jack, 8 
Sparrow, 2, 3, 16-22, 75, 76, 143, 

197-201 
Sparrow, hedge, 1S5 
Sparrow-hawk, 6, 166, 175, 200 
Spectator, 168, 169 
Spice bird, 52-55 
Sporaginthus a^nandava, 46 
Spotted-bill duck, 171 
Spotted owlet, 94 
Sprinter, feathered, 89-94 
Stability of species, 40-45 
Starling, 88, 106 
Stint, 9 
Stork, 35, 36 
Strix Jlatnmea, 3, 141 
Strix j'avaiiica, 141 
Sunbird, 78-83 
Surntailtis higiibris, 202-207 
Swallow, 84, 99, 100 
Swift, 84, 99-103 

Tailor-bird, 62-67, 137, 219 



Teal, 8 

Terminology, ornithological, 73 

Terpsiphone paradisi, 81, 156 

Tetrao scoticits, i 

Thavmobia cambaycnsis, 128, 130 

Think, Do animals? 213-218 

Thirst of young birds, assuaging of, 

225-228 
Thorndike, Professor, 214 
Thrush, I, 105, 106 
Tit, blue, I 

Tragedy, tree-top, 145-149 
Tree creeper, 84 
Turkey, 93 
Turtle dove, red, 128 
Tjtrtur cambayensis, 125 
Turtur decaocta, 74, 75 
Turtur risorius, 74, 75, 124 
Ttirttir stiratensis, 124 

Uroloncha piinctulata, 52 

Vidal, 74 
Vulture, 175 

Wagtail, 7 

Wagtail, pied, 26, 27, 180 

Wallace, 161 

Warbler, 219, 220 

Weaver-bird, 137, 183-189, 219 

"White ant," 182 

White-breasted kingfisher, 4, 86 

Widgeon, 8 

Woodpecker, golden-backed, 84-88 

Wren, i, 219 

Wren-warbler, ashy, 222, 223 

Wren-warbler, Indian, 219-222 

Wryneck, 84 




THE WORKS OF 
ANATOLE FRANCE 

T has long been a reproach to 

England that only one volume 
by AlvfATOLE FRANCE 
has been adequately rendered 
into English ; yet outside this 
country he shares with 
TOLSTOI the distinction 
of being the greatest and most daring 
student of humanity now living. 

^ There have been many difficulties to 
encounter in completing arrangements for a 
uniform edition, though perhaps the chief bar- 
rier to publication here has been the fact that 
his writings are not for babes — but for men 
and the mothers of men. Indeed, some of his 
Eastern romances are written with biblical can- 
dour. " I have sought truth strenuously," he 
tells us, " I have met her boldly. I have never 
turned from her even when she wore an 




THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE 

unexpected aspect." Still, it is believed that the day has 
come for giving English versions of all his imaginative 
works, and of his monumental study JOAN OF ARC, 
which is undoubtedly the most discussed book in the world 
of letters to-day. 

H MR. JOHN LANE has pleasure in announcing that 
he will commence publication of the works of M. 
ANATOLE FRANCE in English, under the general 
editorship of MR. FREDERIC CHAPMAN, with the 
following volumes : 

THE RED LILY 

MOTHER OF PEARL 

THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS 

THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD 

THE WELL OF ST. CLARE 

THE OPINIONS OF JEROME COIGNARD 

JOCASTA AND THE FAMISHED CAT 

BALTHASAR 

THE ASPIRATIONS OF JEAN SERVIEN 

THE ELM TREE ON THE MALL 

MY FRIEND'S BOOK 

THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN 

THAIS 

AT THE SIGN OF THE QUEEN P^DAUQUE 

JOAN OF ARC (2 vols.) 

H All the books will be published at 6/- each with the 
exception of JOAN OF ARC, which will be 25/- net 
the two volumes, with eight Illustrations. 

H The format of the volumes leaves little to be desired. 
The size is Demy 8vo (9 X 5f in.), that of this Prospectus, and 
they will be printed from Caslon type upon a paper light in 
weight and strong in texture, with a cover design in crimson 
and gold, a gilt top, end-papers from designs by Aubrey 
Beardsley and initials by Henry Ospovat. In short, these are 
volumes for the bibliophile as well as the lover of fiction, 
and form perhaps the cheapest library edition of copyright 
novels ever published, for the price is only that of an 
ordinary novel. 

^ The translation of these books has been entrusted to 
such competent French scholars as MR. Alfred allinson, 

HON. MAURICE BARING, MR. FREDERIC CHAPMAN, MR. 



THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE 

ROBERT B. DOUGLAS, MR. A. W. EVANS, MRS. FARLEY, 
MRS. JOHN LANE, MRS. NEWMARCH, MR. C. E. ROCHE, MISS 
WINIFRED STEPHENS, and MISS M. P. WILLCOCKS. 

II As Anatole Thibault, dit Anatole France, is to most 
English readers merely a name, it will be well to state that 
he was born in 1844 in the picturesque and inspiring 
surroundings of an old bookshop on the Quai Voltaire, 
Paris, kept by his father. Monsieur Thibault, an authority on 
eighteenth-century history, from whom the boy caught the 
passion for the principles of the Revolution, while from his 
mother he was learning to love the ascetic ideals chronicled 
in the Lives of the Saints. He was schooled with the lovers 
of old books, missals and manuscripts ; he matriculated on 
the Quais with the old Jewish dealers of curios and o^y^^^i'ar/ ; 
he graduated in the great university of life and experience. 
It will be recognised that all his work is permeated by his 
youthful impressions ; he is, in fact, a virtuoso at large. 

H He has written about thirty volumes of fiction. His 
first novel was JOCASTA ^ THE FAMISHED CAT 
(1879). THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD 
appeared in 1881, and had the distinction of being crowned 
by the French Academy, into which he was received in 1896. 

f His work is illuminated with style, scholarship, and 
psychology ; but its outstanding features are the lambent wit, 
the gay mockery, the genial irony with which he touches every 
subject he treats. But the wit is never malicious, the mockery 
never derisive, the irony never barbed. To quote from his own 
GARDEN OF EPICURUS : "Irony and Pity are both of 
good counsel ; the first with her smiles makes life agreeable, 
the other sanctifies it to us with her tears. The Irony I 
invoke is no cruel deity. She mocks neither love nor 
beauty. She is gentle and kindly disposed. Her mirth 
disarms anger and it is she teaches us to laugh at rogues and 
fools whom but for her we might be so weak as to hate." 

H Often he shows how divine humanity triumphs ovei 
mere ascetism, and with entire reverence ; indeed, he 
might be described as an ascetic overflowing with humanity, 
just as he has been termed a "pagan, but a pagan 
constantly haunted by the pre-occupation of Christ." 
He is ii? turn — like his own Choulette in THE RED 
LILY — saintly and Rabelaisian, yet without incongruity. 



THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE 

At all times he is the unrelenting foe of superstition and 
hypocrisy. Of himself he once modestly said : " You will find 
in my writings perfect sincerity (lying demands a talent I do 
not possess), much indulgence, and some natural affection for 
the beautiful and good." 

IF The mere extent of an author's popularity is perhaps a 
poor argument, yet it is significant that two books by this 
author are in their HUNDRED AND TENTH THOU- 
SAND,and numbers of them well into their SEVENTIETH 
THOUSAND, whilst the one which a Frenchman recently 
described as " Monsieur France's most arid book " is in its 
FIFTY-EIGHTH THOUSAND. 

^ Inasmuch as M. FRANCE'S ONLY contribution to 
an English periodical appeared in THE YELLOW BOOK, 
vol. v., April 1895, together with the first important English 
appreciation of his work from the pen of the Hon. Maurice 
Baring, it is peculiarly appropriate that the English edition 
of his works should be issued from the Bodley Head. 



ORDER FORM 

„ 1 90 



To Mr.. 



*Please send me the following works of <Anatole France 

to be issued in June and July : 
THE RED LILY 
MOTHER OF PEARL 
THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS 
THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD 

for which I enclose 

O^me „ 

tAddress 

JOHN LANE.PuBLisHKR, The Bodley Head, Vigo St. London, W, 



BOMBAY DUCKS 

AN ACCOUNT OF SOME OF THE EVERYDAY BIRDS 
(&^ BEASTS FOUND IN A NATURALIST'S EL DORADO 

By DOUGLAS DEWAR, F.Z.S., I.C.S. 

With Numerous Illustrations from Photographs of 
Living Birds by Captain F. D. S. Fayrer, I. M.S. 



PRESS OPINIONS. 

spectator. — " Mr. Douglas Dewar's book is excellent. ... A feature of the 
book is the photographs of birds by Captain Fayrer. They are most remark- 
able, and quite unlike the usual wretched snapshot and blurred reproductions 
with which too many naturalists' books are nowadays illustrated." 

Standard. — " The East has ever been a place of wonderment, but the writer 
of ' Bombay Ducks ' brings before Western eyes a new set of pictures. . . . 
The book is entertaining, even to the reader who is not a naturalist first and a 
reader afterwards. . . . The illustrations cannot be too highly praised." 

Daily News. — " This new and sumptuous book. . . . Mr. Dewar gives us a 
charming introduction to a great many interesting birds." 

Pall Mall Gazette. — " 'Mo?,\. entertaining dissertations on the tricks and 
manners of many birds and beasts in India." 

Graphic. — "The book is written in a most readable style, light and easy, yet 
full of information, and not overburdened with scientific words and phrases. 
. . . The habits of the different birds are fully described, often in a very amus- 
ing and interesting manner." 

Outlook. — " Pleasant reading, with pretty touches of the author's own fancy ; 
a good deal of information agreeably conveyed. . . . The illustrations are of 
an extremely high order, constituting not only a beautiful, but a really valuable 
series of portraits." 

County Gentleman. — "Thoroughly entertaining to all who can appreciate 
either animal life as seen through practised eyes, or witty and humorous writing 
in any form. . . . The book is handsomely produced, and is altogether an 
attractive acquisition." 

Illustrated Lotidon News.— "'^i.'Dcviar . . . has collected a series of essays 
on bird life which for sprightliness and charm are equal to anything written 
since that classic, ' The Tribes on my Frontier,' was published." 

Indian Daily News. — " Mr. Dewar's excellent book. . . . We sincerely 
hope that our readers will derive the same lively pleasure from the reading of 
this book as we have done." 

Yfrkshirt Daily ObserTier. — "This handsome and charming book . . . the 
author has many interesting observations to record, and he does so in a very 
racy manner." 

Dublin Express. — " Mr. Dewar's account of the ' Naturalist's El Dorado ' is 
particularly captivating, and is rendered not the less so by the splendidly 
produced photographs of living birds." 

Manchester Guardian.—" . . . A series of clever and accurate essays on Indian 
natural history written by a man who really knows the birds and beasts. . . ." 

Shootings Times.—" ... a more delightful work than ' Bombay Ducks ' has 
not passed through our handsfor many a long day, and the way the themes are 
written are so much to the point. There is not a dull line in the book, which is 
beautifully illustrated. . . ." 

Truth. — " ... A naturalist with a happy gift for writing in a bright and 
entertaining way, yet without any sacrifice of scientific accuracy. . . ." 

Western Daily Press. — " . . . The descriptions of the habits and character- 
istics of these ' Bombay Ducks ' is a solid and welcome contribution to science, 
quite as valuable as the dry-as-dust descriptions of new species. . . ." 



INDIAN BOOKS 



KASHMIR : The Land of Streams and Solitudes. By 
P. PiRiE. With Twenty-five Full-page Plates in Colour, 
and upwards of loo other Illustrations by H. R. Pirie. 
Crown 4to (iox6i in.). 2is.net. 

*»* This book is the result of three years' wandering on the ouifiosts o/ 
civilization, inhere author and artist proceeded by special perviission of 
the Governor of India, thus being enabled to penetrate far into the wilds, 
especially along the Gilgit road, where, as a rule, none but a sportsman 
or an officer on duty penetrates. The ziolunie has numerous illustrations 
reproduced in colour, line, and lialf-tone, and forms a work in which 
Kashmir is described by pen, pencil, and brush. In the colour illustra- 
tions the artist has caught the atmospht-re as well as the natural fea- 
tures of the country she so ably portrays. 

RIFLE &- ROMANCE IN THE INDIAN JUNGLE: 

Being the Record of Thirteen Years of Indian Jungle Life. 
By Captain A. I. R. Glasfurd (Indian Army). With 
numerous Illustrations by the Author and Reproductions 
from Photographs. New and Cheaper Edition. Crown 8vo. 
7s. 6d. net. 

ORNITHOLOGICAL AND OTHER ODDITIES. 

By Frank Finn, b.a. (Oxon.), f.z.s., late Deputy-Super- 
intendent of the Indian Museum, Calcutta. With numerous 
Illustrations from Photographs. Demy 8vo. lOs. 6d. net. 

CEYLON : The Paradise of Adam. The Record of 
Seven Years' Residence in the Island. By Caroline 
Corner. With Sixteen Full-page Illustrations. Reproduced 
from Photographs. Demy 8vo (9 x 5J in.), ios.6d.net. 

*i(* A comprehensive account of Life in Ceylon, written in a breezy 
and bracing style. A Imost every variety of subject interesting to human 
nature one finds within its pages. The domestic life of the .Anglo- 
Cingalese, with its attendant 7t<orries in connection with the native ser- 
vants, is graphically and humorously portrayed. Many a hint from 
this alone may be taken by the unsophisticated European contemplating 
residence or ez'en a visit to the Paradise of Adam, a hint that might be of 
value in the expenditure of both time and 7~upees. The narrative of the 
authoress' s gipsying in the jungle is intensely interesting, instructive, and 
funny. In the many CLdventures narrated one gets a keen insight into the 
lives and characteristics of peoples beyond the pale and ken of the ordinary 
European in Ceylon. The authoress makes it her business to see and 
become intimate luith all : hence this original and unique volume. With 
the hand of a born artist she depicts scenes never yet brought before 
the notice, much less the actual vision, of Europeans, for in this 
lovely Island there are wheels rvithin ivheels, forming a complexity 
zvhich, though a crazy patchwork, is fascinating as it is picturesque. 
Caroline Corner secured the golden key to this unexplored labyrinth, 
and by its magic turn opened for others the portals of this wonderful 
Paradise of Adam. 

JOHN LANE: LONDON AND NEW YORK 



AMNH LIBRARY