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Full text of "The common birds of Bombay"

, X'.n\i 



BIRDS 










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THE LIBRARY 

OF 
THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 



PRESENTED BY 

PROF. CHARLES A. KOFOID AND 
MRS. PRUDENCE W. KOFOID 







WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR. 



To be had of all publishers in India. 

THE TRIBES ON MY FRONTIER. 
BEHIND THE BUNGALOW 
A NATURALIST ON THE PROWL 
THE FIVE WINDOWS OF THE SOUL. 



THEjCOMMON BIRDS 
OF BOMBAY. 



BY 
E H A 



ILLUSTRATED WITH PEN AND INK. 



THACER & Co., BOMBAY. 

THACKER, SPINK & Co., CALCUTTA. 

HIGGINBOTHAM & Co., MADRAS. 



PRINTED AT THE 

TIMES OF INDIA " PRESS 

BOMBAY. 



uib 



PREFACE. 

THESE papers were published first in the TIMES OF 
INDIA. They are republished with some additions, 
at the instigation of friends, in the hope that they 
may be helpful even beyond the limits of the Bombay 
Presidency ; for the common birds of Bombay are 
for the most part identical with the common birds of 
India. 

E H A 



ivISi 



CONTENTS AND CLASSIFICATION. 



PAGE 

CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY i 

FIRST ORDER RAPTORES : OR BIRDS OF PREY. 

Family, Vulturida. 
CHAPTER II. THE VULTURES 9 

Family, Falconidce. 

CHAPTER III. THE KITES, BUZZARDS, AND HARRIERS... 15 
CHAPTER IV. THE HAWKS, FALCONS, AND EAGLES ... 21 

Family, Strigidce. 
CHAPTER V. THE OWLS 29 

SECOND ORDER INSESSORES : OR PERCHING BIRDS. 

Tribe, Fissirostres. 
CHAPTER VI. THE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS 35 

CHAPTER VII. THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS, AND 

KINGFISHERS 42 

Tribe, Scansores. 

CHAPTER VIII. THE PARROTS 49 

CHAPTER IX. THE CUCKOOS 53 

CHAPTER X. THE WOODPECKER AND THE COPPERSMITH. 57 

Tribe, Tenuirostres. 

CHAPTER XL THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE 62 

Tribe, Denlirostres. 

CHAPTER XII. THE SHRIKES 70 

CHAPTER XIII. THE FLYCATCHERS 76 

CHAPTER XI V. THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 80 

CHAPTER XV. THE BULBULS 87 

CHAPTER XVI. THE ORIOLES , 91 



Vlll CONTENTS AND CLASSIFICATION. 

PAGE 

CHAPTER XVII. THE ROBINS AND CHATS 97 

CHAPTER XVIII. THE WARBLERS 103 

CHAPTER XIX. THE WAGTAILS, PIPITS, AND TITS ... in 
Tribe , Conirostres. 

CHAPTER XX. THE CROWS 117 

CHAPTER XXL THE MYNAS 124 

CHAPTER XXIL THE WEAVER BIRD 131 

CHAPTER XXIII. THE AMADAVATS AND MUNIAS 137 

CHAPTER XXIV. THE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS, AND 
LARKS 142 

THIRD ORDER. GEMITORES : OR MOANERS. 
CHAPTER XXV. THE PIGEONS AND DOVES 148 

FOURTH ORDER RASORES : OR SCRAPERS. 
CHAPTER XXVI. POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS 155 

FIFTH ORDER GRALLATORES : STALKERS. 
Tribe, Pressirostres. 

CHAPTER XXVII. THE PLOVERS 161 

Tribe, Longirostres. 

CHAPTER XXVIII. THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS 166 

Tribe, Latitores. 

CHAPTER XXIX. THE WATERHENS, THE COOT, AND 
JACANAS 173 

Tribe, Cultirostres. 
CHAPTER XXX. THE HERONS 178 

SIXTH ORDER. NATATORES : OR SWIMMERS. 

CHAPTER XXXL THE DUCKS, CORMORANTS AND 
GREBES ^4 

CHAPTER XXXIL THE GULLS AND TERNS ... , 190 



INDEX OF ENGLISH NAMES. 



PAGE 

Adjutant 179 

Amadavat, Common 138 

, Green 139 

Avocet 171 

Babbler 82 

, Wren 84 

Barbet 60, 61 

Bee-eater, Common 44 

, Blue-tailed 45 

Blackcap no 

Blue-throat 102 

Bulbul, Common 87 

, Green 93 

, Persian 90 

, Red- whiskered ... 89 

, White-browed 90 

Bunting, Blackheaded 144 

, Chestnut-headed ... 145 

Butcher-bird 72 

Buzzard, White-eyed 18 

Cock, Jungle 56 

Coot 175 

Coppersmith 60 

Cormorant 186 

Coucal 56 

Cranes .. 179 

Crow, Black 120 

, Grey-necked 120 

Crow-pheasant 56 

Cuckoo, Pied 56 

, Plaintive 55 

Cuckoo-shrike 74 

Dabchick ... 188 

Dove, Turtle 151 

Drongo 73 

Pucks, Wild , 185 



Egret, Ashy 182 

, Cattle ... 182 

, Little 181 

Falcon, Laggar 23 

Finch-lark, Black-bellied ... 147 

, Rufous-tailed ... 147 

Flower-pecker 67 

Flycatcher, Brown 79 

, Fantailed 78 

, Paradise 77 

Goatsucker 42 

Grebe 188 

Greenshanks 169 

Gulls 193 

Harrier, Common 19 

, Marsh 19 

, Montague's 19 

Hawk, Fish 26 

, Sparrow 21 

Heron, Blue 183 

, Night 183 

, Pond or Blind 180 

Honey-sucker (see Sunbird) 

Hoopoe 68 

lora 92 

Jacana, Bronze-winged ... 177 

, Pheasant-tailed ... 177 

Kestril ... 24 

King-crow 73 

, White-bellied ... 74 

King-fisher, Common 46 



-, Pied 

-, White-breasted 



Kite, Common 

, Brahminy 

Koel ... 



48 

45 
16 
16 
54 



INDEX OF ENGLISH NAMES. 



Kullum 179 

Lapwing, Black-sided 164 

, Red- wattled ... 162 

, Yellow-wattled ... 163 

Lark, Common Sky 145 

, Malabar 146 

, Small, Crested 146 

Lorikeet 52 

Love-bird ... 52 

Minivet 75 

Munia, Black-headed 139 

, Plain Brown 139 

, Spotted 139 

, White-backed 139 

Myna, Bank ... 127 

, Bengal 129 

, Brahminy 128 

, Common 126 

, Dusky 127 

, Grey-headed 128 

Nightjar 44 

Oriole, Common 95 

, Black-headed 96 

Osprey 26 

Owl, Fish 33 

, Screech 30 

Owlet, Spotted 32 

Oyster-catcher 165 

Paddy-bird 180 

Parrakeet, Alexandrine ... 51 

, Rose-headed ... 51 

, Rose-ringed ... 50 

Parrots 49 

Partridge 158 

Pharaoh's Chicken ... ... 14 

Pigeon, Common 151 

> Fruit 153 

Pipit, Tree 115 

Plover, Golden 163 

, Grey 163 



Plover, Ring, or Sand 164 

Quail, Bush 158 

Bustard, or Button... 159 

Rail, Pigmy 175 

Redbreast, Tickell's *. 79 

Redshanks 169 

Redstart 101 

Robin, Indian 98 

, Magpie 99 

, White-winged, Black. 101 

Sandpiper, Common 168 

, Spotted and Green 169 

Satbhai 82 

Sea Pie 165 

Seven Brothers 82 

Schoolboy, Idle 86 

Shrike, Bay-backed 72 

1 Gre y 7 2 

, Red-backed 72 

Shrike-Cuckoo 74, 75 

Shrike-Wood 75 

Skylark 145 

Snake-bird 187 

Snipe 167 

Snippet 168 

Sparrow, Common 142 

, Yellow-throated... 144 

Spoonbill 172 

Starling, Rosy 129 

Stint 172 

Stilt 172 

Storks 179 

Sunbird, Common 64 

, Loten's 66 

, Purple 66 

Tailor-Bird 105 

Terns 194 

Thrush, Ground 85 

, Rock 81 

Timla 170 



INDEX OF ENGLISH NAMES. 



XI 



Tit, White-eyed, Grey, and 

Yellow 116 

Titlark 115 

Turtle Dove 151 

Vulture, Bengal and Long-- 
billed 12 

, King and Scavenger 14 

Wagtails, Grey 112 

, Yellow and Field 113 

, Pied 114 



PACE 

Warblers, Wren 104 

, Tree 108 

, Reed no 

Waterhen 173 

Waxbill 138 

Weaver Bird 131 

Wheatear 101 

Whimbrel ... ... 171 

Whitethroat no 

Woodpeckers 57 



INDEX TO SCIENTIFIC NAMES AS GIVEN 
BY JERDON. 



Actitis hypoleucus 

glareola 

Acridotheres fuscus 



gmgmianus 

tristis 

Acrocephalus dumetorum 
stentorius 



PAGE 

168 
169 
127 
127 
126 
no 
no 



/Egialitis philipensis 164 

Alauda gulgula *45 

malabarica 146 

Alcedo bengalensis 46 

Alseonax latirostris 79 

Ammomanes phcenicura ... 147 

Arachnecthra asiatica 66 

. lotenia 66 

zeylonica ... 64 

Ardea cinerea 183 

Ardeola lencoptera 180 

Astur badius 21 

Athene (or Carine) brahma. 32 
Brachypternus aurantius ... 59 

Budytes viridis "3 

Buphus coromandus 182 

Butaster teesa 18 

Calobates sulphurea 113 

Caprimulgus asiaticus 44 

Centropus rufipennis 56 

Ceryle rudis 48 

Chettusia gregaria 164 

Circus aeruginosus 19 



cineraceus 

1 macrurus 

Coccystes jacobinus .. 
Columba intermedia .. 
Copsychus saularis 
Corvus macrorhynchus 
splendens 



'9 
J 9 
56 

'5 1 
99 

1 20 

120 



PAGE 

Corydalla rufula 115 

Cotyle concolor ... 38 

Crocopus chlorigaster 154 

Cyanecula suecica 102 

Cyornis tickelli 79 

Cypselus affinis 40 

batassiensis 39 

melba 41 

Demiegretta asha 182 

Dicaeum minimum 67 

Dicrurus caerulescens ... ... 74 

macrocercus ( or 

ater) 73 

Drymoipus inornatus 108 

Dumetia albogularis 84 

Estrelda amandava i3 8 

formosa 139 

Eudynamys orientalis ( or 

honorata) 54 

Euspiza luteola 145 

melanocephala ... 144 

Falcojugger 23 

Francolinus pictus 158 

Gallinula phcenicura 174 

Geocichla cyanotis 85 

Graculus javanicus 186 

Graucalus macei 75 

Gyps bengalensis 12 

indicus and pallescens. 12 

Hasmatopus ostralegus ... 165 

Halcyon smyrnensis 45 

Haliastur indus 16 

Haliaetus leucogaster 25 

Herodias garzetta . ... 181 
Hirundo daurica (or erythro- 

pyg>a) 38 

filifera 37 



XIV 



INDEX TO SCIENTIFIC NAMES. 



PAGE 

Hirundo fluvicola 41 

rustica 37 

Hydrophasianus chirurgus. 177 

lora zeylonica (or tiphia) ... 92 

Ixos luteolus 90 

Ketupa ceylonensis 33 

Lanius erythronotus 72 

hardwickii (or vitta- 

tus) 72 

lahtora 72 

Larus affinis (or fuscus) ,.. 193 

brunneicephalus ... 

hemprichi 

ichthysetus 

ridibundus 



193 

194 
194 
193 
78 
162 

52 
84 
44 
45 
59 
16 



Leucocerca pectoralis ... 
Lobivanellus goensis ... 

Loriculus vernalis 

Malacocercus somervillei 
Merops philippensis 

viridis 

Micropternus gularis ... 

Milvus govinda 

Motacilla alba 113 

... dukkhunensis ... 113 

maderaspatana ... 114 

Munia striata, &c 139 

Myiophonus horsfieldii 86 

Neophron ginginianus 14 

Nycticorax griseus 183 

Oriolus kundoo ... 95 

melanocephalus ... 96 

Orthotomus sutorius 105 

Otocampsa jocosa 89 

Otogyps calvus 14 

Palaeornisalexandri(or eupa- 

tria) 51 

torquatus 51 

rosa 5 1 



PAGE 

Pandion halisetus 26 

Parra indica 177 

Passer domesticus 142 

flavicollis 144 

Pastor roseus 129 

Perdicula asiatica 158 

Pericrocotus peregrinus ... 75 
Petrocossyphus cyaneus ... 81 

Phyllornis jerdoni 93 

Picus mahrattensis 59 

Pipastes agilis 115 

Pitta bengalensis 85 

Ploceus baya 131 

Plotus melanogaster 187 

Podiceps philippensis 188 

Polyphasia nigra 55 

Porzana pygmsea 175 

Pratincola caprata 101 

Prinia socialis 107 

Pycnonotus haemorrhous ... 89 

Pyrrhulauda grisea 147 

Ruticilla rufiventris 102 

Saxicola oenanthe 101 

Spizalauda deva 146 

Sterna bergii 194 

"' ' media, &c 195 

Strix javanica (or flammea). 32 

Tchitrea paradisi 77 

Temenuchus malabaricus ... 128 

pagodarum ... 128 

Tephrodornis pondiceriana... 75 
Thamnobia fulicata ... ... 98 

Tinnunculus alaudarius ... 24 

Tringa minuta 172 

Turnix taigoor 160 

Turtur cambayensis, &c. ... 152 

Volvocivora sykesii 74 

Xantholsema indica 60 

Zosterops palpebrosus ... 116 



CHAPTER I. 



INTRODUCTORY. 

DURING the last year or two I have been repeatedly 
pressed to 
write a 
simple ac- 
count of 
the Birds 
of Bom- 
bay. It has 
been re- 
presented 
to me that 
there are 
many who 
would like 
to know 
the com- 
mon birds 
that ap- 
pear in 
their gar- 
dens and 
abouttheir 
houses, to 
learn their 
names and 




H. R. H. The Kino Crow. 

something of their natures, without "collecting" 
them, and that there is no book from which such 



2 INTRODUCTORY. 

persons can get much help. I confess that scarcely 
any argument could appeal more strongly to my 
nature than this. For I think that the study of 
natural history fails of its finest fruit if it does 
not lead us to regard living creatures generally 
with a kindly and sympathetic interest which 
tends to make all needless sacrifice of their lives 
more and more repugnant to our feelings. The 
first steps may have to be taken through blood, and 
I must own that in my boyhood I was murderous 
in heart, but not in hand, for I had no gun, only a 
catapult ; and for this I am thankful. I seldom 
killed anything, while the hours I spent in stalking 
my game and watching for a chance of getting a 
fair shot taught me more about the personal habits 
of birds than I could have learned in any other way. 
Since that I have shot a great many beautiful and 
harmless birds with ever-increasing reluctance, but 
there was no other means of becoming acquainted 
with them. The descriptions in Jerdon and Barnes 
and Oates all presuppose a specimen in your hand, 
to be measured with a foot-rule and examined feather 
by feather. There was no museum to which I could 
resort, and it was seldom my lot to fall in with 
anybody who could enlighten me if I asked, What 
bird is that ? Most gladly therefore would I try to 
make atonement now by helping others to know 
without killing, as far as it lies in me. 

But I am afraid that the kind friends who ask me to 
write an account of the Birds of Bombay have a very 
faint idea of the difficulties of the task. In the first 
place nobody knows, till he has tried it, how difficult 
a matter it is to make such an object as a bird in a 



INTRODUCTORY. 3 

tree recognisable by means of words. A picture 
would often do it in an instant, but there are no 
pictures of the birds of India, at least none worth 
mentioning. I hope that the simple drawings which 
head these chapters will prove usetul so far as they go. 
Again, what are the Birds of Bombay ? Imagine 
one undertaking to describe the human inhabitants 
of Bombay. I am told that the Czar of Russia has 
eight hundred subjects in our island. I suppose 
that the Ameer of Afghanistan has many more, to say 
nothing of the Khan of Khelat and the Akhund of 
Swat. The heathen Chinee is not scarce, and I have 
seen the Jap, there are certainly Persians and Turks 
and Egyptians and Negroes and Burmans and 
Malays and Jews of several varieties and Armenians ; 
and every nation in Europe is represented. In short, 
\\hatcountryisthereofwhichonecansay with any 
confidence that there is not one native of it in 
Bombay ? Franz Joseph Land perhaps. And the 
case is pretty much the same with the feathered 
population. Bombay has of course its own peculiar 
resident avifauna ; but it lies between the Indian 
continent on the one hand and the ocean on the 
other, and receives contributions from both. A 
storm at any time may toss the Frigate Bird or the 
Booby on our shores, and a misguided Hornbill may 
make its appearance on Malabar Hill. Then there 
is a host of birds of passage which regularly visit us 
every cold season, or drop in on us en passant, as 
quails drop on board of a P. and O. steamer on its 
way through the Mediterranean. And last, but by 
no means least as an element of perplexity, there are 
at all times escaped captives from the cages in the 



4 INTRODUCTORY, 

Crawford Market, which wander about the island in 
vagabondage until the crows kill them, or settle 
down and make themselves comfortable among us. 
I have heard a cockatoo making the primasval forests 
of Cumballa Hill echo with the joyful roar of free- 
dom. A Persian Bulbul once escaped from one of 
my own cages and re-appeared next morning with a 
companion ! If I remember I caught them both. 
Canaries of course are common. I once caught a 
fine one with my hand in one of our churches, I 
had better not say which, though the Bishop 
and the Archdeacon of that time have both re- 
tired. It came in during the service and perched 
above the pulpit, where the sermon soon put 
it to sleep. But the most perplexing foreigners 
are those which find that the climate suits them 
and make themselves at home. The Blue Java 
vSparrow is an example. I should not be much 
surprised if I found that bird making its nest in some 
bush about Worlee or Sewree. In these circum- 
stances I have decided to protect myself with the title 
The Common Birds of Bombay. If anybody con- 
victs me of omitting a well-known bird, I can 
maintain that it is not "common " as I understand 
the term. And if I succeed in making it even a little 
easier for any one to take an intelligent and kindly 
interest in the lives of those bright beings which do 
so much to enliven our surroundings, still more if I 
succeed in any measure in staying the hand of 
slaughter, whether raised in the name of sport or 
science, I shall have my reward. 

Birds constitute the second class of the vertebrate 
animals, being higher than the reptiles in that their 



INTRODUCTORY. 5 

blood is warm, and lower than the beasts in that they 
do not suckle their young but lay eggs. There are 
other points in which they differ from both. They 
have no lips nor teeth, their mouths being encased 
in horn and consolidated into a beak. That they 
are clothed with feathers we all know, but few have 
any idea of the properties of that wonderful garment. 
The long, stiff feathers of the wing, called " quills," 
are little oars, or fans, for beating the air, and those 
of the tail form an expanding and collapsing rudder ; 
but the body clothing is of softer plumes, so con- 
structed and so arranged as to combine all the 
diverse qualities of all the fabrics that man has ever 
woven for his own comfort or adornment. Each 
feather is at its point a scale, or leaf, smooth, soft, 
porous and yet waterproof ; but at the base it is 
dishevelled and downy. Each keeps its place and 
overlaps the next so as to form a smooth and even 
surface and an unbroken pattern ; but the down is 
underneath. When the bird goes to bed it shakes 
up its plumage and is wrapped in an eiderdown quilt; 
but startle it and in an instant every feather is pressed 
firmly down and the compact little body is prepared 
to cleave the air as a scale-clothed fish cleaves the 
water. 

But the most vital difference between birds and all 
other vertebrate animals lies in the fact that their fore- 
limbs are converted into organs of flight. This 
handicaps them in many ways, as any one may see 
for himself by watching a squirrel and a sparrow 
dealing with a crust of bread : but it admits them 
to a realm which is closed against fourfooted creatures. 
The sky is their territory and the trees arc their 



6 iNTRObijCTORV* 

home. They breathe pure air, they look round them 
on fields and hills and sky, and they see the beasts 
and man himself crawling on the ground beneath 
them. Conditions such as these modify the charac- 
ters of nations and it would be foolish to suppose that 
they are without effect on birds. It is from these 
surely that they draw that joy of life which is their 
richest inheritance, which opens the eye to beauty 
and the ear to music, which expresses itself in all 
grace of form and movement, and inclines spon- 
taneously to love. And so, though beasts rank 
above them anatomically and physiologically, birds 
have in many respects a higher nature. Their wits 
are quicker, their thoughts sweeter, their tastes finer 
and their passions and appetites less gross. With 
respect to manners and morals they stand on a higher 
plane altogether. The institution of the family, 
which is the most sacred thing in our own social 
system, is almost unknown among beasts, but it 
exists among birds in its purest form. The great 
majority of them indeed are monogamous during the 
nesting season, and many pair for life and become 
devotedly attached to each other. Brides are won 
by courtship. 

In their personal habits birds are particularly tidy 
and clean. Much of their time is spent in the duties, 
or pleasures, of the toilet. Many of them bathe 
regularly in water, while others prefer a dust bath : 
some, like the common Sparrow, indulge in both as 
they have opportunity. Nature gives them an entire 
new suit every year, sometimes two, in which case 
the summer and winter suits are often different. If 
there ib any difference between the sexes it is the 



INTRODUCTORY. ) 

male which is most beautifully, or at least most 
brilliantly, dressed ; as is fit, for he is in the front 
ranks, fighting and making love, while her place 
is in the sweet backgrounds of life, and quietness 
and modesty adorn her best. Why civilised man 
has proceeded upon exactly the opposite principle 
is a question for philosophers. The male bird is 
generally the larger and stronger, but this rule is 
reversed among the birds of prey : the mothers of 
eagles need to be Amazons. 

I wish to avoid everything technical as far as I can, 
but some sort of classification is necessary. And I 
have decided to follow that adopted by Jerdon. It is 
said to be unscientific and out of date, and doubtless 
it is ; but it is familiar (which is the main thing) and 
all our bird literature was founded on it until lately. 
Even now, though The Fauna of British India must 
displace all previous publications as the standard 
text-book of naturalists in India, Jerdon is not super- 
seded. His three volumes contain an account of 
Indian birds and their ways which has no rival yet. 
Besides this, I must confess that I consider Cuvier's 
classification (which Jerdon adopted with slight modi- 
fications) is practically more helpful than any of the 
tentative systems which are now competing for its 
place. He based his arrangement almost entirely 
upon the form of the beak and feet, which are the 
instruments by which a bird makes its living. This 

J o 

is a simple and a sound principle, which we put in 
practice when we recognise a Hindoo barber by the 
case of instruments which he wears on his stomach, 
and a coolie by his basket. In an Appendix will be 
found some brief directions for the application of this 



INTRODUCTORY. 

principle, and the Index will show how the birds are 
distributed into Orders and Tribes, or Families. 
Here, we may proceed without further formality, 
beginning with Cuvier's first Order, the Raptores, or 
birds, of prey, which have sharp, curved talons for 
seizing their game, and hooked beaks for tearing 
its flesh. 






CHAPTER II. 



THE VULTURES 

IF the city of Bombay had a tutelary bird, there is 
no manner of doubt what bird that should be. I do 
not know why the ancient Egyptians deified the Ibis, 
but if Bombay bore the proud figure of a Vulture 




rampant on her shield, everybody would know why. 
Of all the unsalaried public servants who have iden- 
tified themselves with this city and devoted their 
energies to its welfare, no other can take a place 
beside the vulture. Unfortunately the vulture has 
never lent itself to the spirit of heraldry. The eagle 
has, strangely enough, though the difference between 



10 THE VULTURES. 

the two is not very clearly marked in the popular 
mind. The translators of our Bible had no notion of 
it. Modern natural history has disentangled the two 
names and assigned them to two very different 
families of birds, the distinction between which in its 
essence is just this, that, while the eagle kills its prey, 
the less impatient vulture waits decently till its time 
comes to die. Popular sentiment persists in regard- 
ing the former as the more noble, but there can be 
no question which is the more useful. It is not easy 
indeed to realise to oneself the extent and beneficence 
of the work carried on throughout the length and 
breadth of India, from year's end to year's end, by 
the mighty race of vultures. Every day and all day 
they are patrolling the sky at a height which brings 
half a revenue district within their ken. The worn- 
out bullock falls under the yoke, never to rise again, 
and is dragged off the road and left ; or the old cow, 
which has ceased to be profitable and has therefore 
ceased to be fed, lies down in a ditch for the last time. 
Before the life has left the old body some distant 
" pater-roller " has seen it, and, with rigid wings 
slightly curved, is sloping down at a rate which 
wipes out five miles in a few seconds. A second sees 
the first and, interpreting its action, follows with all 
speed. A third pursues the second, and so on till, 
out of a sky in which you could not have descried 
two birds half an hour ago, thirty or forty dark forms 
are converging on one spot. When they get right 
over it, they descend in decreasing spirals and settle 
at various distances and wait for the end like 
American reporters. When the end comes, if you 
tire squeamish or fastidious, go away. All that will 



THE VULTURES. it 

corrupt, everything in short but the bones, is to be 
removed from that carcase within twenty-four hours, 
and the vultures have taken the contract to do it. 
Such work cannot be made artistic and the vulture is 
not an sesthete. That bald head and bare neck are 
not ornamental, but they mean business ; they are 
the sleeves tucked up for earnest work. It is a merci- 
ful and, I suppose, a necessary provision of nature, 
that every creature gets reconciled to its task and is 
able even to take pleasure in that which would be 
painful to others. The vulture enjoys the full benefit 
of this provision. It is in fact an enthusiast in its 
profession, and these funeral wakes become scenes 
of riotous and ghoulish glee to which I confess 
that even philosophic reflection fails to impart moral 
beauty. The gourmands jostle and bump against 
each other, and chase each other round the board 
with long, ungainly hop and open wings. One 
has no sooner thrust its head well into the carcase 
than another leaps upon its back with loud laughter. 
Two get hold of opposite ends of a long strip of offal 
and dance before each other with wings outstretched. 
And the cackling and grunting and roaring that go 
on all the while may be heard for half a mile. When 
darkness overtakes the revellers some of them have 
so shamefully over-eaten themselves that they cannot 
rise from the ground and are forced to spend the 
night where they are. They seem to be quite safe, 
however. The jackal is not a fastidious feeder, but 
it draws the line at vultures. These scenes used not 
very long ago to be enacted regularly on the Flats, 
where the carcases of horses and cattle were skinned 
and left. 



12 THE VULTURES. 

The vultures that one sees in such numbers on 
Malabar Hill belong to two species, which are easy 
enough to distinguish when once one's attention has 
been turned to the difference between them. The 
commoner of the two, the White-backed or Bengal 
Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), is a smokey-black bird, 
with a band of white extending nearly the whole 
length of each wing on the under side. This band 
is broken by the dark body, and that serves to 
distinguish the bird at a glance. The other species is 
the Long-billed Vulture (Gyps pallescens ). Jerdon 
confounded it with another species and called \\.<Gyps 
indicus. Its general colour is brown, darker or 
lighter according to age, sometimes almost whitey- 
brown ; but, however light the under parts may be, 
body and wings are alike. The two species are about 
the same size and larger than one would suspect who 
has only seen them at a distance. A good specimen 
will measure over seven feet from tip to tip of the 
wings. There is one curious difference in their 
habits. The Long-billed Vulture breeds always on 
high cliffs, while its Bengal brother is content to 
build its nest on any tree big enough to bear the 
weight of such a ponderous edifice. I have seen .a 
single mango tree groaning under several nests. 
Each nest contains one egg, generally white (if 
clean), but sometimes blotched with brown. The 
breeding season extends over the greater part of the 
year and eggs may be found from September to 
March at least. Most young birds are hungry and 
clamorous, like the daughters of the horseleach, 
crying give, give, from dawn till dusk. But the 
young vulture learns patience early. Its mother 



THE VULTURES. 13 

leaves it before sunrise and it sits hour after hour, 
motionless and noiseless, waiting for her return. 
Noon may be on before it descries her, a mere speck 
in the sky, but growing bigger every moment as she 
slopes down towards the nest. At last, with heavy 
flapping, she lets herself down, and great is the cack- 
ling, for though she carries nothing in her beak, the 
youngster knows that she is loaded. What follows 
is not polite. In plain language she disgorges great 
lumps of meat and thrusts them into its mouth. A 
crow sits close by, mindful of the proverb that there's 
many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. A vulture 
cannot feed her young in any other way than this, 
for the carcase on which she dined may be ten miles 
away. And indeed I never saw a vulture carrying 
food, or anything else, except a stick for its nest, and 
that in its beak. All other birds of prey carry with 
their feet, but this is impossible to the vulture because 
it is incapable of swooping and cannot even rise off 
the ground without taking a run. Once fairly in the 
air, no bird surpasses the majesty of its flight. 
The question has often been hotly discussed whether 
birds can sail without flapping their wings. The 
difficulty originated of course with somebody of 
that unfortunate class who must reason about 
questions of fact instead of looking. He demons- 
trated that such a feat was impossible. The vultures 
kept en doing it all the same, and any one may 
watch them. For hours together they will sail in 
circles, or rather in spirals, without the slightest 
motion of their wings, beyond trimming them to 
the wind, like the sails of a boat. Of course there 
must be a wind, 



14 THE VULTURES. 

There are two other kinds of vultures which may 
occasionally be seen in Bombay. One is the King- 
Vulture (Otogyps calvus), a royal bird, not indeed 
larger than the others, but of nobler aspect and 
prouder character. It appears singly, or with its mate, 
and will not consort with the herd. When it comes 
to a carcase, the others have to stand by till it has 
dined. There is no difficulty in recognising this 
species by its deep black colour, relieved only by two 
pure white patches on its thighs and by the blood- 
red tint of its bare head and neck. It builds on some 
solitary tree and lays a single white egg. 

Our fourth vulture is that foul bird known as 
Pharaoh's Chicken, and by other more opprobrious 
nicknames. Its title in science is Neophron ginginia- 
mis. It is one of the commonest birds about Poona and 
everywhere on the plains of the Deccan, but seldom 
visits the coast. I have, however, seen a pair on 
more than one occasion about the Flats. It is a 
white bird, not much bigger than a kite, with only 
the quill feathers of the wing black. Its bill is long 
and thin, its naked face yellow, and its tail wedge- 
shaped. Its neck is not bare, but clothed with long, 
rusty-white feathers, pointing backwards. It does 
not stand upright, like the true vultures, but carries 
its body like a duck and steps like a recruit. 
By these signs you may know Pharaoh's Chicken. 
It makes its shabby nest, of sticks, rags and 
rubbish, on trees, ledges of public buildings, or 
anywhere, about March, and lays two white eggs, 
more or less blotched with brown. For the first 
year the young birds are brown all over and look 
rather like mis-shapen kites, 



CHAPTER III. 



THE KITES, BUZZARDS AND HARRIERS. 

BY an easy and natural ascent we pass from the 
Vultures to the Kite. This bird also prefers to he 
saved the trouble of catching its prey, but it has not 
fallen so far from the freebooting traditions of its 




Harriers 

stock as to relish the idea of sitting down upon a 
defunct cow for its meals. It turns its attention 
therefore to such corpses as may be carried away and 
consumed in private, to Avit, rats, mice, small birds 
and even fishes. To find these it must sail at a 
lower level than the vulture, and it has no equal at 



1 6 THE KITES, BUZZARDS AND HARRIERS. 

that easy, undulating motion, which glides down a 
street, tops a house, dips into a lane, rounds a 
corner, all with the same effortless grace. There is 
more steering required for these evolutions than for 
the circling of a vulture, hence the Kite carries an 
expansive, forked tail, a kind of twin helm, which 
it manages with a skill that is perfectly beautiful. 
All the while you may see its head turning this way 
and that, as it scans every corner with its keen eyes 
for anything that may be " lifted." It does not insist 
that life shall be extinct. Any bird or little animal 
which is sickly, wounded, or young enough to be 
picked off the ground with a swoop, is welcome. 
Chicks not over a month old are particularly eligible, 
as everybody knows to his sorrow who has tried to 
keep poultry in India. When a Kite becomes a 
confirmed chicken-eater there is nothing to be done 
but to shoot it, which is a pity, for they deserve to 
be protected. The quantity of dead rats, scraps of 
offal, and other refuse which they remove from our 
streets and the precincts of our outhouses in the 
course of the year, must be enormous. The Crows 
offer their services for the same work, and I would 
not underrate their usefulness, but a Crow sitting 
down to breakfast on a dead bandicoot in the middle 
of the street is itself an offence. The Kite removes 
the nuisance, and what it does with it afterwards is 
no concern of ours. 

We have two kinds of Kites in Bombay, the 
Common (Milvus gomnda) and the Brahminy 
(Haliastur indus) , so called because it seems to be 
a bird of higher caste. It is smaller than the other 
and very much handsomer. Its head, neck and 



THE KITES, BUZZARDS AND HARRIERS. 17 

breast are pure white, while all the rest of the 
plumage is of a rich chestnut colour. Young birds 
are of a more earthy hue and have not white heads, 
but even in that stage they can be distinguished at 
a glance from Common Kites by their tails, which 
are not forked, but rounded. For the avoidance of 
family brawls nature seems to have assigned separate 
portions to these two birds, giving the refuse of the 
land to the one and the refuse of the water to the 
other. It is not that one eats flesh and the other 
fish. Nothing that goes overboard from a ship 
comes amiss to the Brahminy, and the Common 
Kite will snatch fish from the very basket on a 
woman's head. But the one likes to pick its food off 
the water and the other off the ground. So the one 
haunts the harbour, while the other takes charge of 
the bazaar. I do not say that they never invade 
each other's preserves. Both build on trees about 
the beginning of the year, and generally lay two 
eggs, which are white, spotted with reddish-brown. 
The Common Kites go to Poona, with Government, 
for the monsoon months. In Bombay there are 
always some that do not manage to get away, but 
down the coast I have looked in vain for a Common 
Kite from the beginning of June till the end of 
August. When they return there is for some weeks 
much squealing and quarrelling until the boundaries 
of each one's beat are fixed and the usurpations of 
crows and Brahminies repelled. The Brahminies 
do not go away. They like water even in the form 
of rain. 

The Buzzards and Harriers follow close upon the 
Kites. This is not exactly Jerdon's order, but one of 



1 8 THE KITES, BUZZARDS AND HARRIERS. 

my own which seems suited to that outside view of birds 
that we are taking. The Vultures and Kites are the jack- 
als and hyaenas of the bird world. The Buzzards and 
Harriers are a step higher. They like fresh meat and 
will have their prey alive, but, not possessing strength 
or speed to master any very noble quarry, they turn 
their attention chiefly to reptiles and creeping things. 
A Buzzard's idea of life is to sit upon a pole, or on 
the top of a small tree, commanding a good expanse 
of grass land, and to watch for a field mouse, or a 
lizzard, or even a fat grasshopper. If you see a 
biggish, untidy hawk, of a sandy-brown colour more 
or less dashed with whitish, spending the morning 
in this way, you may put it down as Butaster teesa, 
the White-eyed Buzzard, which is the only member 
of that branch of the family often seen in Bombay. 
Even it is not common, except in famine years, for 
Bombay contains very little of that kind of grassy 
land which suits it. In the Deccan it is everywhere. 

The Harrier is a more frequent visitor to our island, 
and it is not a bird that one can pass without wanting 
to know what it is. There is something stylish in 
the get-up of a Harrier, and also something unique. 
It is not like any other bird that you meet with on 
land. On the sea you may find something to compare 
with it, for widely as the anatomist is obliged to 
separate them, I can imagine a classification in which 
the Harriers and the Gulls would form one family. 
They are wonderfully alike in the life that they lead 
and alike in the qualities which fit them for it. As 
the unwearied Gull ranges over the ocean and pounces 
on the careless fish, so the Harrier ranges from 
morning till night over hill and plain and drops on 



THE KITES, BUZZARDS AND HARRIERS. 1 9 

the unlucky young lark or incautious quail. If it 
alights, it alights on the ground, but the sole of 
this bird's foot does not seem to require much rest. 
Long-winged and light-bodied, it skims along the 
grass and skirts the bush, dips to the hollow and rises 
to the mound, as if it knew some charm to cancel the 
laws of gravitation. The sexes of the common 
Harrier are so unlike that no one who did not know 
would suspect their relationship. The male is like a 
Gull even in colour, pale blue-grey on all the upper 
parts and white underneath. The female is a dark, 
umber-brown bird, mottled with reddish, the under 
parts being spotted or dashed with reddish on a white 
or pale ground. The lady is larger than her lord, as 
is the fashion among hawks. I am referring to the 
Common or Pale Harrier (Circus macrurus ). 
Montague's Harrier (Circus cineraceiis ) is very like 
it in both sexes on a passing view, and either species 
may be seen occasionally in Bombay, for they are 
very common all over India in the cold season. 
They arrive about October and depart in March or 
April to colder regions, where they will lay their eggs 
and bring up their young on the ground, strange 
hawks that they are. 

These birds have a relation called the Marsh 
Harrier (Circus ceruginosus), which leaves the dry 
land to them and devotes its energies to swamps, 
tanks and all shallow waters ; a bird well cursed of 
sportsmen, for though its chief business is with 
frogs, it never refuses a wounded snipe or duck. 
What is almost more irritating is that, as it advances, 
slow-flapping, over rice-field or rushy marsh, every 
snipe takes wing. In the air they have no reason to 



2O THE KITES, BUZZARDS AND HARRIERS. 

fear it, but they will not risk being surprised among 
the grass. I am afraid that with the ordinary Bombay 
sportsman the Marsh Harrier generally passes for a 
Kite ; but it is a smaller and altogether flimsier bird, 
and is also distinctly darker in colour. Besides, the 
top of its head is usually white. Young birds, how- 
ever, want this mark : they are dark-brown all over. 
In old age, again, the Marsh Harrier assumes a very 
handsome dress, in which nobody would recognise it 
for the same bird without an introduction. The 
shoulders, part of the wings, and the tail, are then of 
a fine, silvery, grey colour, and the rest is dark-brown, 
except the head, throat and breast, which are light- 
reddish. Birds in this plumage are rare, but once in 
a year or so I meet one. I well remember how the 
first puzzled me. Like its cousins, the Marsh Harrier 
is a winter visitant to this country, and in times now 
almost ancient, when the Flats were inundated every 
monsoon and did not dry for months after, it was very 
fond of Bombay. Things are changing sadly, but 
from Mahaluxmee station northwards and westwards 
there is still ground on which it can find a living. 



CHAPTER IV. 



HAWKS, FALCONS AND EAGLES. 

THE princes of the house of the birds of 
do not 
find much 
to tempt 
them to 
Bombay, 
with the 
exception 
of the In- 
dian Spar- 
rowHawk, 
which will 
be wher- 
ever there 
are spar- 
rows. Not 
that spar- 
row meat 
is better 
than that 
of larks or 
b u 1 b u Is, 
or other 
small 
birds, but 



prey 




Sparrow Haivk. 



a community of sparrows, at ease in the 
blished security of their urban life, offers 



esta- 
rare 



22 HAWKS, FALCONS AND EAGLES. 

chances to an assassin of the Sparrow Hawk's 
methods. It never pursues and rarely soars. Noise- 
lessly it glides into your garden, and plunging into 
the middle of some thick tree, stands bolt upright, 
taking in the situation. If its arrival has been un- 
detected, the chances are that a chirpy little company 
will be feeding in some open space, or better still, 
engaged in one of those social squabbles which 
occupy so much of every sparrow's time. Just when 
they are in the thickest of it, the enemy is in the 
midst of them, and has plunged its sharp talons into 
the nearest. A moment more and it is flying swiftly 
over the trees, quite callous to the piteous screams 
of its captive, which will not last long. But happily 
for the little birds, the Sparrow Hawk does not always 
succeed in arriving undetected. Some lively bulbul, 
or wide-awake myna, catches sight of the detested 
shadow and gives a shrill cry of warning, and every 
little bird dives into the nearest bush, where it can 
dodge the enemy as a small boy dodges a big one 
round the dining table. It is remarkable that, though 
each species of bird has its own language, the warn- 
ing signal of any one is understood by all. It is 
phonetic and needs no interpretation. I am often in- 
formed of the passage of a bird of prey overhead simply 
by hearing the cry of " Ware hawk " passed from bird 
to bird about me. The Sparrow Hawk is just about 
the length of a pigeon, but it is decidedly a smaller 
bird. There is more tail and less body. The colour 
of the upper parts ranges from dusky-brown to slatey- 
gray according to age ; the under parts are whitish, 
spotted with brown, or, at a later age, closely barred 
with reddish fawn. The wings and tail are dusky- 



HAWKS, FALCONS ANtf EAGLES. $$ 

barred, and this is generally a conspicuous mark if 
the bird flies overhead. But to try to make out 
hawks by their colour is at the best a short road to 
despair. Naturalists learn to recognise them as 
David's watchman recognised the courier who 
brought tidings of the victory over Absalom : " His 
running is like the running of Ahimaaz, the son of 
Zadok." Every bird of prey has its own character, 
some trick of flight, some peculiarity of attitude when 
at rest, something in its figure and proportions which 
serves to distinguish it decisively. The Sparrow 
Hawk flies with a few rapid strokes of the wings and 
then a gliding motion, and this, together with its 
short, rounded wings and long tail, distinguishes 
it from any other common bird of prey. I learn of 
its presence oftener by the ear than the eye. Its 
sharp, impatient, double cry arrests attention among 
all other bird-voices. The Sparrcnv Hawk makes 
its nest in a tree in the hot season and lays three or 
four white eggs. 

The Falcons have longer and more sharply pointed 
wings than the hawks and their flight is fierce and 
very swift. They resort to no surprises, like the 
Sparrow Hawk, but give chase to their prey in the 
open sky and fairly hunt it down. The Peregrine 
Falcon, which has a peculiar fondness for wild ducks, 
is not uncommon about the coast and doubtless often 
flies over Bombay, but there is only one species 
which really inhabits the island, and that is the 
J.aggar Falcon (Falco Jugger). It finds living cheap 
and good in our city, for it is partial to a diet of 
pigeons. A wild pigeon, pursued by one of these 
birds, once tumbled into my house in such a panic 



24 HAWKS, FALCONS AND EAGLES. 

of fear that it almost allowed me to pick it up. Many 
years> ago a pair of Laggars used to have their head- 
quarters, and perhaps their nest, at the University 
v Tower, and I sometimes see one there still. They 
build in January or February, on large trees, cliffs, 
or high buildings, and lay three or four eggs so 
thickly spotted and blotched with reddish-brown 
that sometimes there is little of any ground colour 
.visible. 

There is one other Falcon which must be mentioned, 
namely, the Kestril, which is very common all over 
India in the cold season and will be met with wherever 
there is open, grassy ground, like the Bombay Flats. 
It is about the size of the Sparrow Hawk and more 
easily recognised than most hawks by its colour. 
The back and wings are chestnut, or almost brick- 
red, but the quills are black and the tail is gray. 
The contrast is^ striking and unmistakable. The 
under parts are light-buffy, spotted with brown. 
The Kestril is also distinguished by its peculiar habit 
of hovering in air when looking for its prey of grass- 
hoppers, lizzards, mice and larks. The Duke of 
Argyll has devoted three pages of " The Reign of 
Law " to an exposition of this performance. A few 
pairs of Kestrils seem to spend the year in India, 
making their nests on high cliffs on the mountains, 
but the majority of those which we see in the cold 
season are tourists. In Barnes' book the Kestril 
appears as Cerchneu tinnunculus, but I am glad to 
see tha,t Mr. Blandford has restored Jerdon's name, 
Tinnunculus alaudarius. 

To the- lay mind the word Eagle conveys the idea 
of a .royal bird of gigantic size and noble aspect, 



HAWKS, FALCONS AND EAGLES. 25 

which has its eyrie on some inaccessible mountain 
cliff, from which it descends to carry off lambs 
and occasionally babies. This is the Eagle of the 
poets : 

He clasps the crag with hooked hands, 
Close to the Sun in lonely lands, 
Ringed with the azure world he stands. 
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls, 
He watches from his mountain walls 
And like a thunderbolt he falls. 

I need scarcely say that the naturalist classes a 
good many birds as Eagles which are not quite so 
grand. But even the least noble of them requires 
more than Bombay can afford. The handsome 
Crested Hawk-eagle, so common in the surrounding 
districts, may visit us sometimes, but I have not seen 
it. There is one, however, which we may fairly 
claim, and to my thinking it is one of the very 
noblest of the race. I mean the Sea Eagle (Haliaetus 
leucogaster). It is exceedingly common on this west 
coast, and I know of at least one eyrie not ten miles 
from Bombay, so the sea on both sides of our island 
is well within its range. It needs little description 
to make it recognisable. Though smaller than a 
vulture, it is larger than any other bird of prey that 
comes our way. Viewed from below the whole bird 
is snowy-white, with the exception of a broad black 
border on the wings and the tail. The back and 
upper parts of the wings are of a fine slatey-grey 
colour. But further even than you can make out 
its colours you may know the Sea Eagle by its flight. 
When it sails, as it does most majestically, it does 
not carry its wings horizontally, like a kite or vulture, 



26 HAWKS, FALfcONS AND EAGLES. 

but inclined upwards, so that the figure of the whole 
bird is like a very flat V. The Sea Eagle lives 
chiefly on sea serpents. They are forced to come to 
the surface frequently to breathe and are more easily 
caught than fishes. They are all venomous, but the 
Eagle does not mind that. The fact is that a sea 
snake is so utterly helpless out of water that, when 
clutched by the middle and borne away through the 
air, it can do nothing but dangle like a string. The 
Sea Eagle makes an enormous nest of sticks in 
a tree and uses it year after year, till all the ground 
under it is thickly sown with the bones of snakes and 
and fishes. On the mainland the tree selected is 
generally a very high one, but on small, solitary 
islands I have seen nests scarcely fifteen feet from 
the ground. About November two eggs are laid, of 
a greenish-white colour, and as the young ones grow 
up there is great ado about satisfying their voracious 
appetites. In a nest I visited one January, with only 
a single young one, I found a fresh fish 9 or 10 inches 
long and a half-eaten snake. For months after they 
leave the nest the young follow their parents about, 
crying, like the daughters of the horseleach, " Give, 
give," and the loud and harsh kak, kak, kcik, from 
which the bird gets its native name Kakan, may be 
heard all day. 

Another water bird must come in here, though the 
latest investigations into its inside seem to convict it 
of being half an owl. I mean the Osprey, or Fish 
Hawk (Pandion halicetus). It is not a resident with 
us, but comes for the cold season, when it may be 
seen all along the sea coast and on every large river. 
The Osprey is an exceedingly handsome bird in the 



HAWKS, FALCONS AN EAGLES. 27 

hand, but when seen at a distance it has nothing of 
the imposing aspect of the Sea Eagle. In fact, one 
who has not been accustomed to notice birds may 
easily pass it by as some vulgar fowl of the kite sort. 
In the Ratnagiri district I have seldom met a 
native who could give me a name for it. Yet the 
Osprey, when once you know it, is not to be con- 
founded with anything else. There it sits on the 
point of a fishing stake, a dark-brown bird with a 
white cap, the breast and under parts also white, but 
interrupted by a necklace of brown beads ; there is 
nothing else like it. And when it flies it is equally 
peculiar : its wings are very long, and it beats the air 
rapidly with the points of them. And if you are still 
in doubt, the matter is settled when it suddenly closes 
its wings and from a height of forty or fifty feet 
falls headlong into the water. That is one of the finest 
sights I know. With a tremendous splash the sea 
receives the bird and closes over it, and a ring 
of expanding waves starts from the spot where 
it perished. But a second later it reappears, and, 
lifting itself and a great fish out of the heaving 
water, shakes the drops off its shoulders with a 
peculiar shrug and hies to a favourite rock, white 
with the remains of many fish dinners. This is 
a marvellous feat, especially when you remember 
that, like all birds of prey, the Osprey strikes with 
its feet and not with its beak. The fishes which 
it catches are sometimes so heavy that it can scarcely 
carry them to the nearest land. It is often pursued 
and forced to deliver up its well earned booty by its 
more powerful, but less plucky and skilful, neigh- 
bour, the Sea Eagle. 



28 HAWKS, FALCONS AND EAGLES. 

I have said that the Osprey is a cold season visit- 
ant. I have myself seen one, however, in the month 
of August, and I suspect that a few pairs remain and 
rear their young on this coast. 



CHAPTER V. 



OWLS. 

OWLS were classed by Cuvier with eagles, hawks 
and vul- 
tures, and 
J e r d o n 
fol lowed 
him, as all 
the old na- 
turalists 
did. More 
careful ex- 
amination 
of their 
anato m y 
has shown 
that they 
difTerwide- 
ly from 
all other 
birds of 
prey in 
many re- 
spects, and 
resemble 

parrots ; so they are now placed by most in an order 
by themselves, mid-way between the hawks and 




30 OWLS. 

the parrots. The outward and visible characteris- 
tics of this order are a short, parrot-like beak, the 
outer toe reversible (in parrots it is permanently 
reversed), very large eyes directed forwards, and 
uncommonly well developed ears. They make their 
nests in holes and lay white eggs like parrots. 
Their plumage is peculiarly soft, even the quills, 
so that they fly noiselessly. If you want more, 
I may tell you that there is no ambiens muscle, 
but basypterigoid processes are present. On the 
other hand, the accessory femoro-caudal and the 
semitendinosus and the accessory semitendinosus 
are wanting. Now all this is very important and 
not to be laughed at. These solemn words were 
not invented only to bamboozle the unlearned, but 
represent facts in the plan on which the frame of an 
owl is constructed. And the question on which these 
facts bear is more than curious. Expressed in popular 
language the question is this. Is the owl only a 
weak-eyed hawk that cannot bear the light of day, 
or is it a bold and bad parrot which has taken to 
night-walking and murder ? There is a great parrot 
in Australia which has taken, within recent years, to 
the extremely reprehensible practice of killing sheep 
by fastening on them and tearing out their livers. 
However, all such questions, fascinating though they 
be, are outside of our present scope. We are con- 
cerned with the outward aspect and habits of the two 
or three kinds of owls which are domiciled in 
Bombay. 

The Screech Owl is more common in our island 
than in any other part of India with which I am 
acquainted. This statement may surprise people 



OWLS. 31 

who have lived for twenty years in Bombay without 
seeing one, but the Screech Owl does not ordinarily 
put itself much in the way of being seen. A dark ob- 
ject, like a Flying Fox, passing overhead as you drive 
home from dinner, and a loud, harsh, husky screech, 
suggesting sore throat and loss of voice, are all the 
indications you will commonly have of its presence. 
But should a pair take up their residence in any 
deserted building, or old ruin, in your neighbour- 
hood, then you will know more about them. I often 
wonder what the Screech Owls did before man was 
created, for they cannot get on without him now. If 
he did not build churches with steeples and bel- 
fries, and forts and castles with towers, and barns 
with roomy lofts, where would they live? In this 
Presidency they are under deepest obligations to the 
Portuguese. Under one of the remaining walls of an 
ecclesiastical ruin in Bassein Fort Mr. Phipson and I 
once noticed the ground glittering with small white 
bones. We gathered a handful of them and brought 
them home for examination, and could scarcely be- 
lieve in ourselves or each other when they proved 
to consist chiefly of the jaw-bones of muskrats ! 
In a high niche of that old wall a worthy pair of 
Screech Owls had, for who knows how many years, 
brought up an annual family of 3, 4, or 6 insatiable 
owlets on this nutritious food, varied only with 
an occasional house rat or field mouse. As is 
well known, owls swallow their prey whole, and 
after digesting all that is digestible, throw up the 
bones and hair rolled up into little balls. Why 
the bones we found were chiefly jaw-bones I cannot 
tell, unless the parent birds were in the habit of 



32 OWLS. 

snipping off the heads of little animals as delicacies 
for their offspring and consuming the bodies them- 
selves. 

I need not describe the Screech Owl. It is just the 
same bird as from yonder ivy-mantled tower, 

" does to the moon complain 
Of such as, wandering near her secret bovver, 
Molest her ancient, solitary reign. 

Specimens from different parts of the world do 
indeed differ a little, and Jerdon described the Indian 
bird as a distinct species under the name Strix 
javanica, but in the Fauna of British India, as I am 
glad to see, it appears under the name given by 
Linnaeus to the Barn Owl of Europe, Strix flammea. 
Our second owl is a very different character. Repu- 
diating all the austere, exclusive and mystical ways 
of its race, and encumbered with no superfluous 
solemnity, the Spotted Owlet (Carine brama} makes 
itself one of the most familiar objects of Indian life. 
It does not wait for the darkness of night, but 
appears before the sun has fairly set, and occasionally 
gives us a look even in the middle of the day. Who 
does not know the little Punchinello, its unfailing 
vivacity, its inimitable drolleries, and the volubility of 
its eloquence. Often, sitting at the door of my tent at 
dusk and listening to that torrent of squeak and gibber 
and chatter, I have wearied myself with surmising 
what could be the meaning of it all. It seems to be 
conversational or controversial, for there are always 
two engaged in it and both speak at once. Perhaps 
it is a domestic quarrel, but the character of the 
Spotted Owlet almost forbids that idea. He is truly, 
in the language of the tombstones, an affectionate 



OWLS. 33 

husband and fond father. Rarely will you see him 
twenty yards from his spouse. If she flies across the 
garden to another tree, he waits a few seconds, then 
flies across too and sits by her side. And never will 
you see a third in the party, except it be their own olive 
branches, of which there may be four. These appear 
about April, and are the drollest little beings im- 
aginable. They all live happily together in a hole 
in some old tree, and if you tap the tree at any 
hour of the day, a puzzled, round face will appear 
at the hole and ask more plainly than in words what 
you want. Then the owner of the face will dart out and 
sit on a branch and begin bowing to you with sarcastic 
effect. A hole in the roof of the house, or anywhere 
else, will do as well as one in a tree, if it is roomy 
and comfortable. The Owlet is very promiscuous in 
its diet. I have seen it hawking flying ants from its 
perch on a telegraph wire, darting out after them and 
catching them in its feet, and if a mouse or a lizzard 
goes by, it will treat that in the same way. Mr. 
Steuart Baker says that it kills little bats, not catching 
them on the wing, but pulling them out of their 
hiding places. 

Besides these two species it is not unlikely that the 
great, horned, Fish Owl (Ketupa Ceylonensis) may be 
seen in Bombay about such places as Worlee or 
Sion, but I have never met with it. It is called the 
Fish Owl because it is generally found near water and 
is supposed to feed principally on fish and frogs and 
crabs, but I have seen one stoop on a hare. It had 
actually clutched the hare when my appearance divert- 
ed it. It has a ghostly hoot, a hoo, hoo-hoo, far-reach- 
ing but coming from nowhere in particular. When it 
5 



34 OWLS, 

sits on the top of a native house, uttering this dismal 
sound, the devil is walking about inside, marking 
somebody for death. I know this, because the Hamal 
told me. 



CHAPTER VI. 



THE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 

WE have done with the Birds of Prey now, and 
come to 
Cuvier ' s 
second 
order, 
?'?., the 
Insessores 
or Perch- 
ing Birds, 
which in- 
elude s 
more than 
two-thirds 
of all crea- 
tures that 
go clad in 
feathers. 
All "com- 
mon or 
ga rde n" 
birds be- 
long to 
this order; 
fowls and House Swift and red-backed Swallow. 

turkeys and ducks and waterfowl are excluded 
from it. Jerdon divides it into certain Tribes 
according to the form of the beak, Each Tribe 




36 THE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 

is again divided into Families and Sub-families, 
with which, however, we need not trouble ourselves 
here. The first Tribe is the Fissirostres, or gape- 
mouthed birds. They are rather a heterogeneous 
lot, unlike in many points, but they have one family 
bond, namely, a mouth that gapes from ear to 
ear and gives them a peculiar facility in gulping 
down the flies and flying insects on which they 
all feed. First among them come the Swallows and 
Swifts, to which I will devote this paper. I am 
afraid that the distinction between a Swallow and a 
Swift is not generally present to the popular mind ; 
but they are separated by very radical differences, 
of which, however, I need mention only those that are 
most obvious outwardly. One is that in the foot of a 
Swift all the four toes are turned forwards. It is, 
in fact, like a human hand without a thumb. Now 
observe the consequences. Such a foot cannot grasp, 
ergo a Swift cannot perch, ergo a twig or a telegraph 
wire offers it no resting place. If it gets tired 
it must go to bed. But a bird that lives on the 
midges in the air cannot afford to stay by its bedside. 
It must range far and wide. So it cannot afford 
to get tired. Therefore a Swift learns to spend 
the night in its nest and the day on its wings. 
Wonderful wings they need to be and are. They 
are so long that, when closed, they extend far beyond 
the tail, and they are worked quite differently 
from the wings of even a Swallow. 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 



THE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 37 

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. I have 
dwelt on this at some length because it is by far the 
plainest outward difference between a Swift and 
a Swallow. 

I reckon that two Swifts and at least four Swallows 
may be included among the Common Birds of 
Bombay (Hiriindo rustled). First comes our own 
familiar English Swallow, which spends the winter 
with us and the summer with our families ; at least, it 
is pleasant to fancy so, though I am afraid that the line 
of migration does not lie exactly from England to 
India However that may be, passengers on their way 
home in the month of May are often joined in the Red 
Sea, or the Mediterranean, by a Swallow travelling 
the same way, which spends a night perhaps in the 
rigging, then tires of such sluggish progress and goes 
on alone. It returns to India in September or October, 
and is tolerably common in Bombay all the cold sea- 
son. I need not describe it. 

Another purely Indian species, sufficiently like the 
English bird to be mistaken for it by a careless 
observer, is the Wire-tail Swallow (Hirundo filifera), 
which is also found in Bombay and loves to course 
up and down wet, grassy ditches. It is a splendid 
bird. The upper parts are dark, glossy, "steel blue," 
gleaming in the sun, the top of the head is rich, 
rusty red, and the under-parts are as white as a shirt 
front fresh from the dhobie I mean from a laundry. 
But its most distinctive mark is the tail, which is not 
long and forked, like the tail of the English Swallow, 
but short and almost square, with the outermost 



3 TriE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 

feather on each side prolonged for four or five inches 
and as thin as a fine wire. This bird makes its " clay 
built nest" in the hot season, or the beginning of the 
monsoon, not so often about the dwellings of man as 
about his other works, bridges, for example, and 
wells, and especially road culverts. It likes to be 
near water. It usually lays three prettily speckled 
eggs. 

But by far the commonest of the whole family in 
this Presidency is the Red-backed Swallow (Hirundo 
erythropygia ; Jerdon calls it dauricd). It is especially 
abundant about hilly or rocky country. Just at the 
beginning of the cold season, in the morning, 
one comes upon them in some places in such numbers 
that the air feels overcrowded and they jostle each 
other on the telegraph wires. The upper parts of the 
Red-backed Swallow, including the wings and tail, 
are black, excepting only the sides of the head 
and the "small" of the back, which are light, rusty 
red. The under-parts are white. The whole bird, 
especially when young, looks dingy by comparison 
with the Wire-tail. The tail is deeply forked. This 
species also builds a mud nest in the hot season, 
under some bridge or overhanging rock, or a ledge 
in any building not regularly, inhabited ; but its 
architecture is eccentric. The egg chamber is glo- 
bular, and the entrance to it is by a neck as long 
as the bird has leisure to make it. Barnes says that 
the bird goes on lengthening the neck after the eggs 
are laid. There are usually three white eggs. 

Our fourth swallow is the Dusky Crag Martin. 
Jerdon called it Cotyle concolor, but that has been 
improved upon, and it appears in Barnes as 



THE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 39 

Ptyoprogne concolor. The first word ought to be 
hooted down, but concolor is good, for the bird is of 
one colour, and that is the colour of smoke. There 
is a little, round, white spot on each feather of the 
tail, but this is hardly noticeable. The Crag Martin 
loves rocks and makes its nest on them, under 
some overhanging ledge ; the material is of course 
mud, with feathers for a warm lining. The season 
is either just before or just after the monsoon, 
and it lays three or four white eggs, speckled with 
brown. It is common about Malabar Hill and 
spends much of its time flying up and down the face 
of the cliffs under The Ridge. It is not remarkable 
for swiftness or grace of flight. In fact, I should not 
say that it was remarkable for anything. It is a 
commonplace bird. 

But the most abundant and familiar of this whole 
family in Bombay itself is the Palm Swift (Cypselus 
batassiensis), which in other parts of t{ie Presidency 
is a very rare bird. The reason may be found in 
its name. It cannot live without palm trees. Any 
palm will not do ; it requires the Brab, or Tar, palm ; 
for it cannot think of any situation for its nest except 
one of the wrinkles on the underside of the broad leaf 
of this tree. I have indeed seen a pair trying to ac- 
commodate themselves about a cocoanut tree, but they 
were in difficulties. As may be inferred, the Palm 
Swift is a bird of small intellect, a feeble creature 
indeed in all respects. Even its flight is feeble for 
a Swift, and it seldom wanders far from home. Conse- 
quently it is an unknown bird in the Deccan general- 
ly and in large tracts of the Konkan, and if ever you 
do see it you may safely lay odds that there is a Brab 



4^ TtiE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 

palm within a mile of you. I have tested this. In 
Bombay the Brab is one of the commonest trees, and 
therefore the Palm Swift is one of the commonest 
birds. It is a slim bird, with long, narrow wings, 
and a thin, deeply-forked tail, which opens out when- 
ever the bird turns suddenly in the air. Its colour is 
a brownish-smokey, rather lighter on the under-parts. 
As I have said, its flight is comparatively feeble, but 
it is a true Swift, spending the whole day on the wing 
without apparent effort, and flying much higher than 
the Swallows generally do. Its nest is a small, 
shallow cup, made of feathers worked up with a 
whitish substance like isinglass, which is really the 
saliva of the bird. All Swifts use this substance in 
the construction of their nests, and some use little else, 
producing those clear, semi-transparent, white struc- 
tures which the heathen Chinee converts into toothsome 
soups. The Palm Swift lays three white eggs, which 
may be looked for in the hot season. You must secure 
the assistance of a toddy-drawer to obtain them. 

The Common Indian Swift, (Cypselus affinis] as 
Jerdon calls our sixth species of this family, might 
rather be named the House Swift, for it comes nearer 
taking the place which the House Swallow fills in Eng- 
land than any other. It does not often build under the 
eaves of a private house, but the arched entrance to 
Messrs. Greaves, Cotton & Co.'s offices, the central hall 
of the Post Office, the porch of the old High Court, in 
short, any spacious porch, or verandah, or high-arched 
door- way, will do. The Indian House Swift is a soci- 
able bird and will not build alone, but founds regular 
villages, which may consist of half a dozen nests or 
half a hundred. They are large and solid, generally 



THE SWALLOWS AND SWIFTS. 4 1 

clustered together, and so stuck over with feathers on 
the outside that they look like one great, fluffy mass ; 
but each of them has its own private entrance at the 
side. These are not only cradles for eggs and young, 
but dwellings in which the birds live all the year 
round. Regularly every evening the community 
gathers together, and after spending some time in play- 
ful evolutions in the air, as Jerdon says, " with much 
fluttering of their wings and a good deal of twittering 
talk," one after another swoops, with a "shivering 
scream," and pops into its bed. When there are young 
to be fed (which may be at any season, for they seem 
to have several broods in the year), the parent birds 
are coming and going all the day. Only two or three 
eggs are laid at a time, which are white, like the 
eggs of all Swifts. The Common Indian Swift is a 
black, or blackish, bird, with the chin and the small 
of the back pure white, so it need not be mistaken for 
any other bird. Its tail is short and square. 

I have seen other Swifts and Swallows in Bombay. 
Of the Cliff Swallow ( Hirundo flimicola) I am 
certain, and I think I have seen a Crag Martin about 
Malabar Hill which was larger and paler than the 
common one. Then there is that grand bird, the 
Alpine Swift ( Cypselus melba), which I have shot 
within a few miles of Bombay. But a bird that gets 
up before daylight and goes to bed long after dark 
and flies all day at a hundred miles an hour may be 
seen anywhere. 



CHAPTER VII. 



THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS AND 
KINGFISHERS. 




Bee-eaters. 



How shall I describe a Goatsucker? If you are 
walking by day in scrubby ground on some still 



THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS & KINGFISHERS. 43 

unreclaimed part, say, of Cumballa Hill, and a brown- 
ish bird starts from under a bush at your foot and flies, 
with jerky strokes of its very long wings, for a dis- 
tance of twenty or thirty yards, and then drops under 
a bush again, it is a Goatsucker. You have disturbed 
it in its sleep. Or after sunset, in the dusk of the 
evening, you may come upon it sitting in the dust, 
right in the middle of the road, in some unfrequented 
neighbourhood. It will jump up suddenly as often 
as you approach it, and fly before you for a little dis- 
tance, then drop into the middle of the road again and 
squat, looking just like a large frog, or toad, dimly 
seen. This is how it spends the night, or rather, I 
should say, the times of dusk and dawn, for I believe 
it sleeps at midnight. At intervals it springs up and 
takes a circuit, performing somersaults and other 
antics in the air. It is catching moths or beetles. 
Sometimes it perches on a bough of a low tree, not 
across it, as any other bird would, but along it. Such 
is a Goatsucker in the bush. In the hand it is a weird 
thing, with a flat head and very large, lustrous, dark 
eyes, like those of the heroine in a penny dreadful. 
Its feet are small and its bill is a mere apology, but 
its head is almost split in two by the width of its gape. 
Its soft plumage is very beautiful, but hardly de- 
scribable. It consists of earthy and ashy and reddish 
shades, mottled, barred, or curiously pencilled with 
darker tints. 

This bird is called a Goatsucker from its wicked 
habit of milking domestic goats. In modern books 
of Natural History you will find this habit denied and 
the bird called a Nightjar, but they cannot get rid of 
its Latin name, Caprimulgus, with which it has been 



44 THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS & KINGFISHERS. 

branded from the days of Pliny. The Goatsuckers, or 
Nightjars, belong, of course, to the Tribe Fissirostres. 
There are half-a-dozen species of them in India, of 
which one occurs in Bombay. I have only caught 
occasional glimpses of it, but it can be no other than 
Caprimulgus asiaticus, the Common Indian Nightjar. 
Its voice is a strange sound and has been compared 
to a small stone skimming along on ice. All the 
members of this family lay their eggs, only two, on 
the bare ground, in the hot season. They are of a 
pale salmon, or stone colour, patched and blurred 
with purplish brown. 

The next family of the Fissirostres contains the Bee- 
eaters. Everybody knows the little grass-green bird, 
with a long bill and two long, thin feathers, outgrow- 
ing the rest of its tail by a couple of inches, which sits 
on a twig, or telegraph wire, and darts after passing 
flies ; but I have met many who did not know what to 
call it. It is the Common Indian Bee-eater ( ' Merops 
viridis). In Bombay it is to be seen everywhere from 
the end of the rains till the beginning of the hot 
season, but disappears in the interval. Yet it is not 
ranked as a migratory bird, and it is not so in the 
usual sense. It only leaves us during the breeding 
season, because it cannot find comfortable family 
quarters in our island. It makes its nest in a burrow, 
as long as a man's arm, which it digs for itself. Its 
only pickaxe is its own slender beak, so it seeks some 
river bank, or similar situation, where the soil is 
soft. At such a place hundreds of them will congre- 
gate and bring up their young in company. That busi- 
ness over, they disperse again and pursue their useful 
mission of keeping down the flies ; for though they 



THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS & KINGFISHERS. 45 

are certainly fond of bees, they do not confine them- 
selves to that diet. The little Bee-eater has always 
been a favourite of mine. Wherever and whenever you 
meet it, it looks bright, happy, sociable and good- 
humoured. No one ever saw Bee-eaters quarrel- 
ling. Indeed, they appear to be so pleased with each 
other's society that they always sleep together, hun- 
dreds sometimes in one tree. They are very particu- 
lar about their personal appearance, taking a dust bath 
frequently in the middle of the road, and trimming 
their feathers with care. And they have a personal 
appearance worth paying attention to. The general 
colour is a vivid green, but the effect is heightened by 
the most tasteful little touches of other hues. The 
back of the head and neck are reddish golden, and 
there is an expressive black stripe across the eye. 
The chin and throat are of a fine verdigris green, 
bordered by a demi-collar of black. The quill feathers 
are reddish, and each one is tipped with black : the 
effect of this is very fine when the wing is stretched 
out in the sunlight. 

Another species, which Jerdon calls The Blue-tailed 
Bee-eater ( Merops phillipensis ), is pretty common at 
some places on the coast, and I have seen it in Bom- 
bay. It is a larger bird than the common kind and 
darker in colour. 

The last family of the gape-mouthed birds with 
which we have to do comprises the Kingfishers, of 
which we -have two species, perhaps I should say 
three. The White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon 
smyrnensis), most gorgeous of all Bombay birds, is, 
I hope, familiar to everybody. No habit of observa- 
tion is required for noticing it : it compels notice. 



46 THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS & KINGFISHERS, 

Its beak is coral red and three inches long, its shirt 
front spotless white, its vest and also its whole head 
and neck rich chestnut brown, its shoulders glossy 
black, and the rest of its wings, back and tail, brilliant 
blue. When it flies, a broad white band opens on its 
wings. The White-breasted Kingfisher is a bird of 
gardens and hence fond of Bombay. Wherever there 
is anything like a tank, or pond, or even a shallow 
well with a tree overhanging the water, there you will 
find it. It will even visit a garden tub and enjoy a 
plunge bath. The two conditions'it asks for are shade 
and water. Doubtless it enjoys these itself, but that 
is a secondary reason for its seeking them. The pri- 
mary reason is that little frogs enjoy them and it enjoys 
little frogs, for, though a member of a fishing caste, it 
is itself but a poor fisher. It is happily not fastidious. 
Water insects, crabs, anything in short that it can 
catch and swallow, is welcome. A friend of mine intro- 
duced one into an immense aviary, in which he kept 
a great variety of small birds, and forthwith the little 
amadavats began to disappear rapidly and mys- 
teriously. He caught the culprit at last in flagrante 
delicto and ejected it. The White-breasted Kingfisher 
lays five or six pure white eggs, during the hot sea- 
son, in a hole in a bank, or in the side of a well. 
This bird has not a musical voice: few brilliant birds 
have. Its commonest cry is a rattling scream, which 
it utters when flying ; but it has also a shrill, plaintive 
call, which seems to relieve the monotony of sitting 
alone, watching for fishes. 

A far cleverer fisher is the little bird which Jerdon 
calls the Common Indian Kingfisher (Alcedo ben- 
galensis ), but which is now admitted to be identical 



THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS & KINGFISHERS. 47 

with the only Kingfisher found in England. It used 
to be regarded as a distinct species, chiefly because it 
grows to a larger size in a cold climate ; but so does 
man. It is a little bird, about the size of a sparrow, 
which sits on twigs, or stones, beside all waters, 
pointing its long, sharp, black beak this way and 
that way, as it scans the pools, and jerking its pert 
little tail. When it sees a chance, it takes it in- 
stantly, popping obliquely into the water and snap- 
ping up the fish with its little forceps in a trice. 
When it emerges, the fish is across its beak, in 
which position it cannot be swallowed ; so the 
bird alights on a stone and knocks the slippery 
morsel about in a business-like way until it gets 
hold of it endways with the head pointing throat- 
wards. Then the fish disappears suddenly. The Com- 
mon Kingfisher lives almost exclusively on fishes from 
one to two inches in length, and wherever these are 
to be found you will find it. There are usually a 
pair together, which have their own preserves and 
drive off every intruder. They fly from pool to pool, 
straight and swiftly, just above the surface of the 
water, answering to each other in shrill chirps. They 
lay five, six, or even seven, eggs, in a hole in a 
bank, which they dig for themselves. From March 
till June is the season. The Common Kingfisher is 
a lovely bird, though less dazzling than the last 
species. The head is dusky, speckled with blue, the 
rest of the* upper parts are blue, or greenish blue, 
brightest on the back, and the whole of the under- 
parts are the colour of bright rust. There is a strik- 
ing crescent-shaped patch of pure white on each side 
of the neck, 



48 THE NIGHTJARS, BEE-EATERS & KINGFISHERS. 

I said that perhaps a third species might be 
included among the Common Birds of Bombay. 
I meant the beautiful speckled bird (Jerdon's Pied 
Kingfisher, Ceryle rudis), which is so common on 
the Poona river and on all rivers and large 
tanks and backwaters. I have seen a pair of them 
fishing on some flooded ground near Dadar station. 
This is the cleverest fisher of the whole tribe. It will 
not work from a perch, but hovers like a Kestril, 
ten or fifteen feet above the water, with its long bill 
pointed downwards, and drops perpendicularly on 
its prey. Jerdon says that he never saw one plunge 
into the water and come out without a fish. 
They always hunt in pairs, cheering each other with 
shrill cries, and stopping now and then to rest on a 
wall and get their breath. Like the rest, they lay 
their eggs in holes from February to April. 




CHAPTER VIII. 



THE PARROTS.! 

THE second tribe of the perching birds is the 
Scansores 
or Climb- 
ers, which 
comp rise 
the Parrots, 
Woodpeck- 
e r s, and 
Cue koos. 
In all these 
the outer 
toe of each 
foot is turn- 
ed back, so 
that two 
toes point 
fo r w a r d s 
and two 
backwards . 
This a r - 
ran gem e n t 
gives the 
foot a pecu- 
liarly firm grasp, and leads to a difference in gait 
which every one has noticed who ever kept a Parrot. 
The Parrot does not sit upright and hop from perch 
to perch, as a canary docs ; it clambers about the 




Prisoner. 



SO PARROTS. 

cage hand over hand, or rather, foot over foot : hence 
the name, Climbers. Except this peculiarity in the 
form of the foot, Parrots have little in common with 
Woodpeckers or Cuckoos, and in all modern systems 
they are widely separated, being, as I have already 
said, ranked in an order by themselves and placed 
near the Owls. They have proportionally a larger 
brain than almost any other birds, and the tongue, 
which is thick and fleshy, is endowed with a very 
discriminating sense of taste. They have also, as a 
rule, a fine ear. The short, curved, bill is partly 
covered with a cere cf bare skin, a feature in which 
they resemble the birds of prey. 

India possesses a good many representatives of the 
family, but, with a single exception, they all belong to 
one division of it, namely, the Parrakeets, which 
are green birds of moderate size, with long tails. 
Cockatoos, Macaws, true Parrots, Lories, are all 
absent from India. And of the Parrakeets, only 
one, the Rose-ringed, or Common, Parrakeet, makes 
its home in Bombay. I was once told by a gentle- 
man, whose memory must have gone back to the 
early fifties, that even this was a recent settler. 
He said that when he came to Bombay there were 
no Parrots. Statements of this kind, except from 
very careful observers, must be received with caution, 
but it is not impossible that the wild Parrots, 
which now swarm about Malabar Hill, are for the most 
part descendants of escaped prisoners. For Bombay 
has long been a veritable Botany Bay to this perse- 
cuted race. Hundreds upon hundreds every 
season are drafted from the mainland to the great 
slave mart in the Crawford Market, crowded together 



PARROTS. 51 

in dark and noisome baskets, like slaves in a dhow. 
Thence they find their way to every lane and 
alley in the native town, where they spend the short 
remainder of their days in little iron and tin prisons, 
with a cold, cutting wire to perch on, and nothing to 
do. Happily, a great many escape through the care- 
lessness of their keepers, and, though the short, 
ragged tail, dirty plumage, and uneasy manner, betray 
them for a time, they soon adapt themselves again 
to wild life. 

This bird scarcely needs description. The female 
is green all over, while the male has a rosy collar and 
black necktie. The beak is coral red. The scientific 
name of this species is Paloeornis torquatus* There 
is a much larger bird, Paloeornis eupatria, called 
by Jerdon the Alexandrine Parrakeet, because it is 
the kind which Alexander the Great is supposed 
to have taken back with him from India. It is 
much the same in colour, except that the male has a 
patch of red on each wing and all the tints are coarser. 
It learns to speak better than the common one, and a 
good many are kept in Bombay as pets. Of course 
they escape too, but they have never effected a settle- 
ment in the island. Then there is the lovely little 
Rose-headed, or, as Blandford aptly names it, Blossom- 
headed, Parrakeet (P. rosa). The whole head of the male 
is rosy, that of the female plum-blue, and the beak 
in both sexes is light yellow. These are also on 
sale in the Crawford Market in hundreds, and I do 
not know why one never sees them wild in Bombay. 
But the little Blossom-head is nowhere a garden 
bird. It swarms on the coast, ravaging the corn- 
fields, in spite of little boys on mutchans slinging 



52 PARROTS. 

stones and hurling anathemas. All the Parrakeets 
lay white eggs, usually four, in a hole, about the 
beginning of the year. A hole in either a tree or a 
wall will do, and I have seen a pair prospecting a 
little architectural orifice in the dome of the 
Mahaluxmee temple. I said that, with one exception, 
the Parrots of India belonged to the group distin- 
guished as Parrakeets. The exception is the Indian 
Lorikeet (Loriculus vernalis), that quaint little 
grass-green bird, with crimson back and blue throat, 
about the size of a sparrow, which is offered for sale 
in pairs under the name of Lovebird. It lives on 
plantains and soft fruits, and sleeps hanging by its 
feet from the top of its cage. This is one of the birds 
of Bombay, though I daresay few know it. It flies 
very swiftly, and when it alights among foliage as 
green as itself, it is practically invisible ; so it escapes 
observation ; but its sharp, triple chirp, always 
uttered when flying, may be heard about the lower 
road to Malabar Point. 



CHAPTER IX, 



THE CUCKOOS. 

CUCKOO is properly the name of a particular migra- 
t ory bi rd, 
which spends 
the spring 
and summer 
in Europe 
and the win- 
ter in warmer 
latitudes 
(India, for 
example), 
and is noto- 
r i o u s for 
shirking its 
parental res- 
ponsibilities 
and foisting 
its offspring 
upon other 
birds to 
bring up. 
But the name 
is applied to Pied Crested Ciickoo. 

a whole group of birds which resemble the European 
Cuckoo in structure and have the same disreputable 
habit. There are many species of the family in India, 




54 THE CUCKOOS. 

and all, like the home bird, are better known to the 
ear than the eye. The most familiar of them all is 
the Koel (Eudynamys orientalis, or honorata). It is 
a great black fowl almost as large as a crow, with a 
much longer tail and a green bill. That is the male. 
The female is of a dark-greenish dusky hue, spotted 
and banded with white. But the Koel is seldom 
seen. It is 

No bird, but an invisible thing", 
A voice, a mystery. 

Early in the morning, through the hottest hours 
of the day, late in the evening, sometimes in the 
dead of night, its loud and mellow voice calls to us 
in a rising crescendo, " Who-be-you? Who-be-you ? 
Who-be-you ? " And we call it the Brain-fever Bird. 
We are strange and whimsical creatures. An old 
English poet complains 

For here hath ben the lend cuckovv- 
I pray to God will fire her bren. 

But the fashion has changed now, and the lend 
cuckow has become a favourite of the poets. It is 
the u darling of the spring," a "blessed bird," and 
its note is a " mellow May song, clear and loud." 
Meanwhile, its own cousin in India is the Brain-fever 
Bird. Yet the Koel also is a darling of the spring. 
It does not altogether leave us in winter, but at that 
season it is silent. As the weather grows warm it 
begins to utter its joyful note, and its spirits rise with 
the temperature ; in May it cannot contain itself at any 
hour of the twenty-four. One is prompted to ask, 
What is all the excitement about ? That is easily an- 
swered. In May the crows are busy building their 
qests, and it is to them that the Koel intends to com- 



THE CUCKOOS. 55 

mit the care of its offspring. The crows seem to have 
a shrewd suspicion that they are played upon in some 
way by the Koel, and they never see the bird without 
mobbing him, but he dives into some thick tree with 
loud screams, and dodges them among the foliage, 
while the silent and insidious hen Koel takes advan- 
tage of their absence to drop an egg or two into their 
nests. Crows cannot count above three at the most, 
and the new egg is not unlike their own, so they 
never discover the trick, and when the young bird 
grows up and develops its long tail, they are quite 
proud of it. Only yesterday I saw a pair of crows 
fondly feeding a clamorous young Koel, together 
with its foster brother, their own child. It was hun- 
gry and clamorous too, but the Koel appeared to be 
the favourite with the parents. The European Cuckoo 
coolly ejects the rightful occupants of the nest and 
takes their inheritance. The young Koel is not so 
base. 

There is another Cuckoo whose voice is more de- 
pressing to me than that of the Koel, and it is 
more persistent ; at least, it cries more in the night. 
Its Latin name, Cacomantis passerinus (in Jerdon, 
Polyphasia nigra\ is particularly happy. Jerdon calls 
it the Plaintive Cuckoo, and likens its cry to the 
syllables, Kaveer, Kaveer, Kaveer. It is also black, 
or dark ashy, and long-tailed like the Koel, but it is 
a little bird. Its eggs have been found in the nests 
of wren-warblers, bulbuls, and other small birds. It 
is seldom seen. 

Neither of these two Cuckoos is nearly so common 
in Bombay as on the mainland. But there is another 
species which appears to prefer our island to any 



56 "THE CUCKOOS. 

other part of India. This is the Pied-Crested Cuckoo 
(Coccystes jacobinus), a very handsome bird, much 
like a magpie in colour, but smaller and slighter in 
build. The under-parts and a bar across the wings 
are pure white, all the rest of it is glossy black, and 
an elegant, pointed crest gives style to its head. It 
has a loud, clear, excited cry, but is not so addicted 
to needless reiteration as the last two. The crows 
appear to be under some misapprehension with re- 
gard to this bird, and persecute it even more savagely 
than the Koel. Almost every specimen I have had 
in my hands has been rescued from an avenging mob 
of crows when it had no strength to go further. There 
is no ground, as far as I know, for their hatred, for 
this species does not interfere with their domestic life, 
but commits its offspring to the Seven Brothers. 
The pied youngster grows up as one of the brother- 
hood, and is treated brotherly, but its wild gypsy 
nature is stronger than habit and it leaves them as 
soon as it is able to take care of itself. 

That great, awkward, black bird, with reddish 
chestnut wings and a long tail, which is known by 
various nicknames, such as Crow Pheasant, or Jungle 
Cock, is classed among the Cuckoos, though it does 
not lay its eggs in the nests of other birds, but makes 
one for itself and brings up its own family respect- 
ably. It is the Coucal, Centropits rufipennis. It is 
hardly a common Bombay bird, but it is very common 
in the surrounding country and has been seen, I 
think, within municipal limits. 



CHAPTER X. 



THE WOODPECKER AND THE 
COPPERSMITH. 

I HAVE met with only one species of Woodpecker 
in B o m- 
bay, . but 
it is fairly 
common. 
To give a 
d e s c r i p- 
tion of its 
colours by 
which one 
who d i d 
not know 
it would 
be likely to 
recog n i s e 
it, is not 
easy ; but 
anybody 
who has 
once seen 
a Wood- 
pecker 
will know 
i t again, 
for there 




is no other 



The Coppersmith. 



bird like it. It does not perch among the branches of 

8 



58 THE WOODPECKER AND THE COPPERSMITH. 

a tree, like the other fowls of the air, but runs up the 
trunk and boughs like a squirrel, clinging with its 
strong claws and propping itself up with its short, stiff 
tail. Its head, set crosswise on the thin, supple neck, 
looks like the hammer of a gun, and it stops at 
intervals to hammer fiercely at the trunk of the tree. 
Its blows are delivered with extraordinary rapidity and 
energy ; indeed, all its actions are impulsive and hasty. 
The Woodpecker's trade is a curious one. While 
other birds are hunting for all sorts of insects that fly 
in the air, or crawl on the ground, or hide among the 
leaves of trees, it lays siege to those which fancy they 
have defied their enemies by burrowing into the solid 
trunk. Its beak is a regular chisel, square at the 
point, with an edge kept always sharp, on what grind- 
stone I know not. Its tongue, which can be thrust out 
for a distance of three or four inches, is armed at the 
point with strong and sharp hooks, and also smeared, 
I think, with birdlime, so that it forms at once a very 
searching and a fast holding instrument. I remember 
once watching a pair of Woodpeckers which had dis- 
covered the burrow of some fat timber grub and were 
determined to have it out. They first thrust their bills 
in at the entrance, but evidently the occupant had 
retired beyond the reach of their tongues. Then they 
tried to tap the burrow some inches further down. 
For a quarter of an hour they hammered away with 
almost painful energy, but the wood proved to be 
perfectly sound and very hard. Then they tried 
another point and another, returning every now and 
then to the orifice to thrust in their tongues and take 
the exact direction of the hole. At last their patience 
or their strength, wore out, and, with a cry of impa- 



THE WOODPECKER AND THE COPPERSMITH. 59 

tience, they darted off in quest of something more 
promising. 

Our one Woodpecker is a little bird, scarcely bigger 
than a bulbul, but more stoutly built. It is the 
Yellow-fronted Woodpecker of Jerdon (Picus mah- 
rattensis), a striking and beautifully coloured bird. 
The head is bright yellowish brown, or brownish 
yellow, the crown of the male being adorned with a 
scarlet crest. The throat is white and so are the sides 
of the face and neck. This gives a peculiar piquancy 
to the sharp countenance of the keen little bird. The 
shoulders, wings, and tail are black, speckled with 
white, but the lower part of the back is pure white. It 
wears a 4< stomacher "of bright scarlet, but this you 
will not see unless you have the bird in your hand. 
Like most of its kind, it generally goes in pairs, one 
following the other from tree to tree, with short, 
sharp, impatient cries. They lay their eggs, from 
February to March, in a deep hole in some dead 
branch of a tree. Of course they make the hole them- 
selves, working like navvies. The Red Woodpecker 
(Micropternus gularis), having rather a weak bill, 
saves itself this labour by burrowing into the nests of 
tree ants, and brings up its family among them. No- 
body has yet discovered how it " squares" the vicious 
little ants. We in the same situation would be bitten 
to death in half an hour. This species is common in 
the country round about, and is very likely to be found 
in Bombay, but I have not seen it. The great 
Golden Back (Brachypternus aurantius) may occa- 
sionally visit us too. 

When a native Coppersmith has roughly shaped out 
a kettle, or handy, the next thing he does is to put it 



60 THE WOODPECKER AND THE COPPERSMITH. 

on a small iron anvil and hammer it patiently for 
hours, I cannot say certainly what purpose this 
serves, but it is the proper thing to do, and every 
Coppersmith's workshop resounds with the monoton- 
ous clink of the small hammer. And on the very top 
of a tree near by sits a little bird, possessed with the 
conviction that the proper thing for it to do during all 
the hottest hours of the day is to cry, in a sharp, 
metallic voice, took, took, took, nodding its head the 
while and turning from side to side. The likeness 
between the voice of the bird and the hammer of the 
man has struck Englishman and Hindu alike, and the 
name of Coppersmith has taken hold of the bird in the 
languages of both. But in science it is the Crimson- 
breasted Barbet (Xantholcema indicd]. The Barbets 
are placed by Jerdon next the Woodpeckers, which 
they resemble in some respects and not at all in others. 
While the Woodpeckers eat nothing but insects, the 
Barbets live almost entirely on fruit. I once kept a 
Coppersmith for some weeks, and tried it with insects 
of various kinds, but it refused them all and lived on 
plantains and dried dates. Yet I have seen one 
catching flying white ants in the air. The Barbets 
also perch, like common birds, instead of clambering 
about trunks. But they lay their eggs in holes, which 
they make for themselves, and then they are true 
Woodpeckers for the time, clinging with their feet 
and hammering fiercely with their stout bills. Their 
holes are sometimes several feet deep, and Jerdon says 
that they go on deepening them from year to year. 

The Coppersmith is a bird about the size of a 
sparrow, but more dumpy altogether, with a shorter 
tail and heavier bill. Its colour is green above, a 



II IK WOODPECKER AND THE COPPERSMITH. 6 1 

dark but rich and shiny green, while the under-parts fl^ ^ <y 
are whitish, coarsely streaked with green. Its fore- < / 
head and a sort of collar under the throat are bright , 
crimson, but the throat itself and a patch on each !j 
side of the face, round the eye, are pale yellow. The b^< 
bird is gaudy rather than neat, and its figure and "' 
gait are clumsy. It flies very straight and rather 
swiftly, but may generally be recognised by its 
figure. Its favourite food is the fig of the banian tree. 
When a banian tree is in full fruit, crowded with 
crows and mynas, you will not look in vain for the 
Coppersmith, less conspicuous and obtrusive than 
the others, but holding its own and repelling interfer- 
ence with open beak and curious, snarling noises. It 
lays its three white eggs about the beginning of the 
hot season, in a hole in a tree, as I have already said. 

Every one who has visited Matheran, or Khandalla, 
during April or May, must know the " Kootroo, " 
which "tires the echoes" of every valley with its 
ringing repetition of its own name, Koor-r-r, kootroo, 
kootroo, kootroo. It is also a species of Barbet, much 
larger than the Coppersmith, and of a bright, grass- 
green colour. It abounds on the ghauts everywhere, 
and further down the coast it may be met with even 
at the level of the sea, but only where there are well- 
wooded valleys. It will not live in Bombay. 



CHAPTER XL 



THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 

THE nextTribe of Perching Birds is 
or T h i n _ 
bills, the 
most ill- 
assorted 
group, I 
think, o f 
the whole 
system. 
Modern 
classifica. 
t i o n has 
scattere d 
it, of course. 
The bond of 



union 



as 



the name 
implies, is a 
long and 
slender bill, 
but some 
birds have 
to be in- 




Sunbirds. 



eluded, by reason of other marks of affinity, whose 
bills are neither long nor slender, while the snipe 
and curlew are excluded because they do not come 



THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 63 

into the order of Perching- Birds at all. However, we 
are not concerned with the merits of this or that system 
of classification. It is enough to remember that in 
Jerdon's book and Barnes and all Mr. A. O. Hume's 
publications, certain of the most striking and attractive 
of our birds, namely, the Sunbirds, or Honey-suckers, 
and the Hoopoe, will be found in this Tribe. 

Sunbirds are not the same as Humming-birds. The 
Humming-bird, u Half bird, half fly, the fairy king 
of flowers," belongs to the peculiar glories of the 
New World. But its place in the old is taken by the 
Sunbird, and there are so many outward resemblances 
between them that it was natural at first to regard 
them as very nearly allied. Their anatomy, however, 
shows that they are radically different, and we must 
conclude that their outward likeness depends upon 
the fact that they are called upqn to fill a similar place 
in the economy of things. We are all moulded by the 
conditions of our life. Men of the same trade in differ- 
ent countries will show similar traits of character, or 
even a similarity of feature, in spite of all national 
divergences. The Koli women of this coast are dis- 
tinguished from the women of all other castes by a 
volubility of vituperative eloquence which betrays at 
once that they are " fish-wives, " and the barber is the 
town gossip here as in Europe. So the warm-blooded 
whale, living always in water, has turned its limbs 
into fins and assumed the mask of a cold-blooded fish, 
while the Australian Platypus has its snout trans- 
formed into a bill like a duck, for it lives the life of a 
duck. Examples of this kind are so common in nature 
that we need not be surprised to find Sunbirds exhibit- 
ing a likeness to Humming-birds in those character- 



64 THE StJNBlRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 

istics which fit the latter for their peculiar butterfly 
life ; but it is, indeed, curious that they should even 
be clad, like them, with a radiance given to no other 
birds. What is the connection between a diet of 
nectar and a vesture of rainbow? A poetic fitness I 
can see, but science is prosaic and wants a reason 
why. I am afraid we shall not solve the riddle until 
we know a great deal more than we yet do of the 
meaning of colour. 

Our commonest Sunbird (Arachnecthra zeylonica) 
seen at a distance, and in a dull light, is a tiny bird of 
a dark brown colour, except on the breast and lower 
parts, which are yellow. But see it at close quarters, 
with the sun shining on it, as its admiring mate sees 
it ! The top of its head glitters with a hue which 
Jerdon defines as " bright, metallic, glossy green," 
while Mr. Gates calls it " metallic lilac." Perhaps 
one looked at it from the front and the other from 
behind. Its throat and the whole of its back glow with 
the tints of an amethyst, the shoulders and wings are 
of the richest maroon red (Mr. Gates says " dull crim- 
son "), and the tail is black. The admiring mate is 
herself dressed in the beauty of simplicity. She also 
is yellow on the under-parts, but paler than her lord, 
\\hileher head, back, and wings are of a greenish 
dusky colour. Yet the effect of the whole is very 
tasteful and pleasing. They are a loving couple, and 
I think the union is for life, for one seldom sees a 
single Sunbird. Belt and other observers have stated 
that Humming-birds frequent flowers less for the nec- 
tar than for the little insects in them. I am sure this 
is not true of the Sunbird. It eats plenty of little 
insects, especially spiders, but it seeks flowers for 



THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 65 

their nectar. Sometimes it hovers in front of them, 
like a hawkmoth, exploring their recesses with its long, 
tubular tongue ; oftener it clings with its minute? 
black feet, throwing its lithe body into all manner 
of acrobatic attitudes, while it thrusts its slender, 
curved bill into each tube in turn. And " between 
whiles " it skips about, slapping its sides with its tiny 
wings, spreading its tail like a fan, and ringing out 
its cheery refrain, ching-ching, chikee, chikee, chikee, 
as if it could not contain all the happiness that rilled 
its little frame. Suddenly it darts off to another tree, 
followed by its faithful mate, both traversing the air 
in a succession of bounds and sportive spirals. I am 
glad that Sunbirds are never caged, but cannot help 
wondering why. I once caught one with a butterfly 
net and kept it for two months, feeding it principally 
on syrup. 

The Sunbird's nest is one of the most wonderful 
examples of bird architecture in the world. It is 
suspended from the very end of some down-hanging 
branch, often in an exposed situation by the wayside. 
The foundation is a pear-shaped bag made of various 
fibres, with an opening on one side, near the top. 
Over the opening there is a little porch to keep 
out sun and rain. Having finished this, the bird 
turns ragman and scours the country for scraps of 
rubbish. Fragments of bark, moss, lichens, withered 
petals of flowers, tags of white silk from the nests of 
red ants, the conglomerated pellets of chewed sawdust 
with which woodboring caterpillars conceal the en- 
trances to their burrows, anything in short that looks 
old and shabby, is pounced upon and brought home 
and carefully stuck about the outside of the nest, 



66 THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 

with shreds of cobweb, until the birds feel that they 
have made their future home a thoroughly disreput- 
able object, like nothing so much as the unsightly 
collections of rubbish which one often sees gathered 
about the ruins of the deserted web of some large 
garden spider. And this, in fact, is just what you are 
meant to take it for. Finally, the nest is well stuffed 
inside with silk cotton, and the hen bird settles down 
to her maternal duties, cozy and secure, with her chin 
resting on the window sill, so that she can see the 
passers-by. There are just two eggs, of a greenish 
white colour, with brown spots gathered in a ring- 
round the larger end. But as a rule, I think, only 
one of the two is hatched. There are probably two 
broods in the year, and nests may be found at any 
season. They last long after the birds have done 
with them and are common objects on the trees. 

Another species of Sunbird, which Jerdon calls the 
Purple Honeysucker (Arachnecthra asiatica), may 
frequently be met with in Bombay, though it is not 
nearly so common here as in the Deccan. The 
foundation colour of this kind may be said to be 
black, but it glitters all over with a sheen which 
ranges from green to purple. The female is very like 
that of the last. I have seen a third species in 
Bombay, the rare and splendid Arachnecthra lotenia 
(Loten's Sunbird), which Mr. Gates seems to say is 
not found further north than Ratnagiri. It is very 
like the last, but is larger and has a noticeably longer 
and more curved bill. Two other very lovely 
species are found on the hills, but they have no right 
to a place in this paper. We have, however, one 
pther bird which is classed by Jerdon with the Sun- 



THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 67 

birds and called a Flowerpecker (Dices um minimum), 
but it has none of the splendid colours of the Sunbirds. 
It is, indeed, a bird of the humblest aspect, of a uni- 
form grayish-greenish colour, only paler on the under- 
parts, with a very short beak and tail and nothing 
striking or remarkable about it, except this, that it is 
quite the smallest bird to be seen in Bombay. By 
this it may be recognised, and by its fussiness, for it 
appears to be charged with an importance quite out 
of proportion to its size. It is always bustling about 
and uttering its one note, chick, chick, chick, in a very 
loud voice. It is said to feed upon minute insects and 
flowerbuds, but I do not recollect that I ever saw it 
eating anything except the soft, yellow berries of the 
so-called "Mistletoe" (Loranthns], which burdens 
and half kills all our old mango trees. Of course it 
must sometimes eat other things, but I do not think 
you will find the bird far from the plant. 

By its nest the Flowerpecker is a Sunbird. I can 
remember still the delight with which I first beheld 
that truly exquisite piece of workmanship. In its 
general plan it is the same as the nest of the Sunbird, 
a purse, with the entrance at one side, hung at the end 
of a branch ; but there is a difference in the idea that 
the two birds work up to. The Sunbird, trusting to 
a bare-faced fraud, almost courts observation, while 
the simple-minded Flowerpecker seeks concealment. 
It discards all superfluities, builds a compact little 
structure of silk cotton and other fibres, hardly larger 
than a duck's egg, and hides it among overhanging 
leaves. I am sure also that it chooses a site, if possi- 
ble, near to a colony of vicious red ants. It eludes 
their notice in some of those mysterious ways known 



68 THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 

to birds, while their presence is a protection against 
prying crows and squirrels. The nest is usually built 
in March or April, and the eggs, of which there are two 
(I once found three), are pure white, just like little 
sugar comfits. 

It is a wide step from the Flowerpecker to the 
Hoopoe, a bird about the size of a Myna, or Starling, 
which in the Fauna of British India appears in the 
company of Hornbills and Kingfishers. If I could get 
anybody to support me, I would advance the theory 
that it is a species of land snipe. Its beak is more than 
two inches in length and very slender, and just as the 
snipe thrusts its sensitive forceps into soft mud for 
aquatic worms, so the Hoopoe probes the dry land and 
draws out " ant-lions " and other subterranean grubs. 
The legs of the snipe are long, for it has to wade in 
water, but those of the Hoopoe are very short indeed, 
so that it is obliged to carry its body very level in order 
to keep its tail off the ground. This, together with 
its erect neck and prim gait, gives it the appearance 
of being a very precise sort of person, which no 
doubt it is. It is always exquisitely dressed, in a 
suit of reddish fawn, with the skirts (called in bird 
language, wings and tail) of some black material, 
with broad white bars, which flash out with beautiful 
effect when it starts to fly. On its crown it wears a 
crest, which is usually folded down and projects 
behind, giving its head and neck the appearance of 
a toy pickaxe ; but at times, when it is startled, and 
always in the act of alighting, the feathers start up 
into a lovely corona of cinnamon red bordered with 
black. The Hoopoe is found all over India and 
may be seen occasionally on Cumballa Hill and 



THE SUNBIRDS AND THE HOOPOE. 69 

perhaps in other parts of Bombay. It breeds during 
the hot season, in holes in trees or walls, but I do not 
think its nest is likely to be found in Bombay. It lays 
half-a-dozen white eggs, or more. In spite of the 
dainty appearance of the bird, its nest gives off an 
abominable stench, the cause of which does not 
appear to have been well ascertained. The object 
may be to keep unwelcome visitors at a distance. 




CHAPTER XII, 



THE SHRIKE AND THE KING CROW. 



WE come 
birds which 
have not 
gaping 
mouths, nor 
long and 
slender bills, 
nor any 
other peculi- 
arity, which 
are, in short, 
just ordinary 
" d i c k y 
birds." Cu- 
vier divided 
these into 
two Tribes, 
d i stingui sh- 
ed by their 



beaks 

their 

Those 

stout, 

bills, 



and 

food. 

with 

hard 

which 



now to a mixed multitude of little 




The Butcher Bird, 



eat seeds, 

he called Conirostres ; and the insect eaters, with 

weaker bills, Dentirostres^ because they have gene- 



THE SHRIKE: AND THE KING ckow. 71 

rally a tooth, or notch, near the point of the upper 
mandible. The division is a natural one on the 
whole, or would be if we could get rid of certain 
awkward birds which do not fit well into either sec- 
tion ; the crows, for example, which eat everything 
and have bills neither very stout nor thin. Jerdon 
takes the Dentirostres first, and divides them into a 
number of families, the Shrikes, Thrushes, Fly- 
catchers, and so on. These appear to form a natural 
flight of steps which has only been spoiled by recent 
attempts to improve it. 

The Shrike stands at the head, as it should. They 
say that its palate is a^githognathous and its deep 
plantar tendons are passerine, and, if this is true, the 
fact must be respected ; but I cannot help feeling that 
it is a pity, for, if the Shrike only had a desmogna- 
thous palate and a different set of tendons, it would 
be a miniature hawk, which is manifestly what 
Nature meant it for. Its strong, hooked and toothed 
bill, and its sharp talons are, in proportion to its size, 
as powerful weapons as those of a Harrier or Buz- 
zard, and it is a bolder and fiercer marauder than 
either of those. Its manner of life is the same as 
that of a Buzzard. 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 surprise and murder, a large grass- 
hopper, a small lizard, or a creeping field mouse. 
Sometimes it sees a possible chance in a flock of 
little birds absorbed in searching for grass seeds. 
Then it slips from its watch tower and, gliding softly 
down, pops into the midst of them without warning, 
and, forgetting all about the true nature of its deep 



72 THE SHRIKE AND THE KING CROW. 

plantar tendons, strikes its talons into the near- 
est. No other bird that 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 
fast and hammers at the victim's head with its 
strong beak until it is dead, then flies away with it to 
some thornbush which is its larder. There it hangs 
it up on a thorn and leaves it to get tender. Hence 
its popular name of Butcher Bird. This is no fable. 
I have seen the bird do it. 

The Red-backed Shrike (Lanius erythronotus) 
is the only kind commonly to be met with in Bom- 
bay. The large grey species (L. lahtora] and the 
handsome little Bay-backed Shrike (L. hardwickii, or 
mttatus], both so plentiful in the Deccan, do not like 
our moist climate. Occasionally, indeed, I have seen 
a young Bay-back, or a Brown Shrike, about the sea 
face near the Church Gate Street Station ; but these 
were stragglers. Even the one species we have will 
not bring up its family in Bombay. It leaves us before 
the weather gets hot, and stays away till the rains are 
over. Its return in September is announced by much 
harsh, sad screeching. By this it may be recognised, 
and by its conspicuous white shirt front, long tail and 
grim black eyebrows. The top of its head and its 
shoulders and upper back are of a fine grey colour, 
but the lower part of its back is reddish. Its tail ind 
wings are black. Though its usual cry is raucous and 
somewhat dolorous, the Shrike has a flexible voice and 
is not a bad mimic, I remember one particularly 
talented individual which lived in a friend's garden 
and used to entertain him with comic dialogues be- 
tween bulbuls, lapwings and other birds. The Shrike 



THE SHRIKE AND THE KING CROW. )$ 

makes a deep large cup-shaped nest in the thorniest 
bush it can find, and lays four or five handsome, 
spotted eggs. The usual season is from May to 
August. 

Next come the Drongo Shrikes. A Drongo appears 
to be connected on the father's side with the true 
Shrikes and on the mother's with the Flycatchers. Or 
it may be the other way : at any rate it has kinship 
with both families. The King Crow is a Drongo. 
It may seem to be superfluous to describe a King 
Crow, but I have met persons who supposed that 
it was some targe and royal sort of Crow, so I will 
describe it. A King Crow (Dicrutus macrocercus, or 
ater) is a shining black bird, not the size of a starling, 
with a long, deeply forked tail, which perches on a 
telegraph wire, or a dry twig, and makes sallies into 
the sky after dragon flies or bees. It has nothing to 
do with Crows, save to vex their lives. The occasion 
for that is generally its nest, which it builds on some 
outstanding branch of a conspicuous tree, scorning 
concealment. Round this it establishes a " sphere 
of influence/' and the Crow, being a notorious 
poacher and damaged character, is forbidden to enter 
that. But the Crow is always sounding the depths of 
our patience with the plummet of insolence, and it 
will try the experiment of flying lazily past the King 
Crow's nest, or even alighting on a neighbouring 
tree. Then the little bird gives a fierce, shrill scream, 
and shoots out like an arrow from a bow. Its aim is 
true and its beak is sharp and its target is the back 
of the lawbreaker. The Crow is big enough to carry 
off its puny enemy and pick its bones, if it could catch 
it, but who can fight against a " bolt from the blue?" 



74 THE SHRIKE AND THE KING CROW. 

The first onset may, perhaps, be dodged, but the nim- 
ble bird wheels and rises and plunges again with 
derisive screams, and again and again piling pain 
and humiliation on the abject fugitive till it has 
gone far beyond the forbidden limits. Then the 
King sails slowly back to its tree and resumes its 
undisputed reign. Over the length and breadth of 
India this bird is found, and wherever it is found it 
takes the first place by sheer force of character 
and high spirit. Its cheery voice is one of the first 
sounds that greet the dawning of the day. It has not 
much of a song, though Jerdon says he has heard it 
profanely called the Scotch Nightingale. It makes 
a little cupshaped nest on any moderately high tree, 
i^^ usually about April in this part of the country, and 
L <rx t lays three whitish eggs with claret-coloured blotches. 
In other parts of India there are several species of 
Drongos besides the common one, but the only other 
that I have ever seen in Bombay is Jerdon's White- 
bellied Drongo (Dicrurus ccemdescens}. It is white 
from the breast downwards and a little smaller than 
the King Crow. It has a charming song. 

This is the proper place to mention a few birds 
which are allied to the Shrikes and may occasionally 
be seen in Bombay. One is a medium-sized bird, 
with a slate-coloured, or blue-grey, back, passing 
into white on the under parts. The male has the 
head, throat, and breast deep black. The under- 
parts are narrowly banded with dusky in immature 
birds. This is the Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike (Vol- 
vocivom sykesii\ It attracts little attention except 
in the hot season, when it constantly utters a loud, 
not unmusical, exclamation. I have found its nest 



THE SHRIKE AND THE KING CROW. 75 

not far from Bombay, in June ; a little nest, fixed in 
a fork of a thorny tree, scarcely more than big 
enough to hold the three brown-spotted eggs. 

Then there is the large Cuckoo Shrike (Graucalus 
macei), a bird nearly as big as a pigeon, of a pale, 
slaty-grey colour. The under parts are greyish 
white, narrowly banded more or less distinctly with a 
darker shade. It eats large insects of any soft kind 
and also Banian figs and other fruit. As it passes, 
with a peculiar undulating 'flight, from one tree-top 
to another, it calls attention to itself by a loud, shrill 
cry of a single note. I have seen and heard it 
frequently on Malabar Hill. 

Perhaps I should also mention the Woodshrike 
(Tephrodornis pondiceriand), a plain, brownish-ashy 
bird about the size of a bulbul, which is very com- 
mon in thin, open jungle, but is not often seen, I 
think, in Bombay. They are insect hunters and go 
in pairs, or small flocks. As they fly from tree to 
tree, one calls to another, in sweet, whistling notes, 
" Be thee cheery?" 

Last and least, but not to be passed by without 
notice, is the Mini vet (Pericrocotus peregrinus)< a 
dainty little bird, reminding one of a Longtailed Tit, 
both by its appearance and habits. They go about 
the trees in flocks of half-a-dozen, conversing in a low, 
cheeping voice, and accomplishing a diligent search 
for little caterpillars and other insects among the 
foliage. Each flock is generally led by a male, black- 
throated and scarlet-breasted. The bevy of plainly 
attired birds that follow him may be either females or 
youngsters. They are not all his wives, for he is 
monogamous. 



CHAPTER XIII. 



FLYCATCHERS. 

THE Flycatchers are a distinct and important branch 
of that 
st a n d i n g 
army of 
birds which 
nature 
keeps to 
make war 
upon the in- 
sect hordes 
that threat- 
en to eat 
her up. 
Their duty 
is well de 
fined and 
they keep 
to it. They 
hunt for no 
caterpillars 
among 
leaves, nor 
tap trees for 




Paradise and Fantailed Flycatchers. 



grubs, nor 

rum mage 

about the ground for beetles and worms. There are 

Others whose office it is to do all these things. The 



FLYCATCHERS. 77 

Flycatchers concern themselves only with things that 
fly, and they catch these on the wing. The King Crow 
and the Bee-eater, as we have seen, do business in 
that line too, but they take their stations on high 
places and pursue their quarry into the sky. The 
Flycatcher haunts sylvan shades and darts about 
among the branches, snapping up its tiny prey. 

Indian Flycatchers may be divided into two sorts, 
the plain and the fancy. Of the fancy we have two 
species in Bombay. The first is the Paradise Fly- 
catcher (Tchitrea paradisi), which wears two streamers 
of white satin ribbon in its tail and looks 'like a 
meteor as it flits from tree to tree. Its body and 
wings are white too, exquisitely white, but its head 
and throat and distinguished crest are glossy black, 
with green reflections. It is a bird that would catch 
the eye of a blind man, and everybody who has 
roamed about Matheran or Mahableshwar must be 
familiar with it, but I daresay some will be surprised 
to hear that it is a Bombay bird. The fact is that 
the white plumage is the livery of the male only, and 
even he does not attain it until he is well advanced in 
years. Before that the upper parts of his body and 
his wings and tail, including streamers, are of a rich 
chestnut hue. At an earlier stage he wants the stream- 
ers, and the female never has them. A young bird, 
in fact, or a female, though handsome enough in its 
chestnut suit and black hat, looks like a sort of Bulbul 
and attracts little notice. And, as we know, ladies and 
children generally form the majority of a community. 
Besides this, I believe that the Paradise Flycatcher 
only visits us for a short time during the cold season. 
I have never heard of its nest being found on this 



78 FLYCATCHERS. 

coast. For these reasons it is little known as a 
Bombay bird. 

From a Mahomedan tradition we learn that the 
Paradise Flycatcher belongs to that unhappy class 
who are spoken of as having u seen better days." 
At one time it was a truly glorious bird, clad from tip 
to toe in dazzling white and adorned with a magni- 
ficent tail of snowy plumes. But it gave way to pride 
and got so puffed up at length that it presumed to 
compare itself with the Birds of Paradise and claimed 
a place among them. For this it was shorn of its tail 
and utterly disgraced. It repented, however, and 
Allah was merciful and allowed it to retain two of the 
feathers of its tail, but he blackened its face that it 
might never forget its shame. 

Our second fancy Flycatcher is the Fantail, Jerdon's 
Leucocerca pectoralis. This is quite another style. 
It is a little bird of a squat figure and smoky brown 
colour, with white eyebrows and a merry face, but no 
particular points except the length and breadth of its 
tail. But there is not a jollier spirit among creatures 
clothed in feathers. With wings dropped after the 
manner of a turkey-cock, and tail not obtrusively 
stuck up but held gracefully and spread like a half- 
open fan, it waltzes and pirouettes among the lower 
branches of a shady mango tree, 

So buxom, blithe, and debonnair, 

that I always feel prompted to stop and ask it, " Pry- 
thee, why so gay ? " Every few second it executes a 
wonderful flourish in the air to capture a fly, or 
lets off its tinkling little song. In March or 
April it chooses a fork of some under-branch of a 
shady tree, and toils merrily with its mate to fit in a 



FLYCATCHERS. 79 

dainty little cup of fine grass or fibres, compacted 
and draped with cobwebs. The whole thing, when 
finished, is not much bigger than an egg-cup, and 
as the bird sits on her three ring-spotted eggs, her 
head projects on one side and her tail stretches away 
on the other. But the site is so well chosen, with 
just a few leaves to come in the way of the prying 
eye, that you may look long before you find that nest. 
Of the plain Flycatchers (plain in form, I mean, 
not in colour), there are many species in India, 
and some of them are very brightly attired. Blue 
is the most fashionable colour, and one common 
kind has a red breast, like a robin. Jerdon calls it 
Tickell's Blue Redbreast (Cyornis tickelli). I should 
not be surprised to meet with this or some of the 
others in Bombay, but the only species of which I 
can say that it is found in our island is the Southern 
Brown Flycatcher (Alseonax latirostris). It is just 
" a tiny brownie bird," and no description of it would 
be of much assistance in identifying it at a distance. 
But just as you may recognise a man by his figure 
and walk when you cannot see his features, so you 
may know a bird without the help of its colour. 
And the Brown Flycatcher has more character than 
most. Its very way of sitting, bolt upright, on the 
undertwigs of a tree, and the ceaseless, nervous move- 
ment of its little tail, and the nimble little sallies 
after flies, all declare it, and, at closer quarters, its 
great black eyes, too big for its little head, are unmis- 
takeable. It is a creature of habit, frequenting the 
same corner of the garden day after day, and sitting 
on the same twig. But it comes to us for the cold 
season only, like M, P.'s and Commissions. 



CHAPTER XIV, 



THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 

THE Thrushes come next after the Flycatchers. 
The home Thrush is not found here, nor any bird very 
like it, but its kindred are very numerous and n.itur- 










The Seven Brothers. 

alists call them all Thrushes. They are mostly much 
bigger birds than Flycatchers, and are more liberal 
in their diet, many of them being fond of fruit as 
well as insects of all sorts and snails and worms and 
" creeping things" generally. Many are musical. 
Some feed chiefly on the ground, while others keep 
to thej trees. In these matters every caste has its 



THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 8 1 

customs, and you will never understand birds unless 
you note them. The first species of Thrush that 
we have to notice is the Rock Thrush (Petrocossyphus 
cyaneus in Jerdon), so called because its custom is 
to live about rocks. Gardens and groves have no 
attraction for it ; fields and meadows are positively 
repulsive. But on the seashore you will find it, 
sitting on the rocks, quite happy in its own way. 
In the Deccan, but not in Bombay, it comes about 
houses and may often be seen perched on the ridge 
of the roof. Somebody has made the suggestion that 
it may be the " sparrow " of Scripture, which sitteth 
alone on the housetop. Sometimes, in sultry weather, 
it comes in and sits among the rafters, fancying it 
is in a rocky cave. It is a solitary and silent bird, as 
we know it ; but in April, when the prospect of going 
home begins to make its spirits gay, it will suddenly 
break out into a charming song. I forgot to say that 
the Rock Thrush is about the size of a starling and 
of a uniform, dark, indigo-blue colour. It is not by 
any means uncommon in Bombay. 

Next come the Babbling Thrushes, which spend 
much of their time on the ground and rummage 
among fallen leaves. We are not accustomed to 
speak of Autumn in India, but there is a time of year 
in this country, as much as in any other, when each 
tree puts off its old clothes and gets a new suit. The 
only difference is that tropical trees for the most part 
manage the matter more decently than those of cold 
countries. They do not strip themselves before the 
new suit is ready and stand naked till it arrives. 
They undress and dress at the same time, as respect- 
able people do. In this transaction avaricious Mother 



82 THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 

Earth plays the part of Moses. She receives the 
" old clo " and opens a shop, and her customers are 
numerous and beggarly. The earthworm sneaks up 
from the ground and draws a rotten leaf down into its 
burrow, the white ants swarm everywhere, bargain- 
ing for remnants ; earwigs and vagabond cockroaches 
wander about, examining everything and taking no- 
thing. In such a crowd it goes without saying that 
there will be no lack of sharpers, pickpockets, and 
cut-throats, making victims of the ignorant and un- 
wary. These are called centipedes, scorpions, pre- 
dacious beetles, wolf-spiders and so forth. In short, 
the carpet of dead leaves which is spread in every forest, 
grove, and neglected garden, affords a habitation and 
a livelihood to a vast and very varied multitude of 
creatures, which have this special interest for us to-day, 
that there are many kinds of birds whose sole business it 
is to look sharply after them. Among these are many 
species of long-legged ground Thrushes, and foremost 
among them is the Babbler. The Babbler is seldom 
spoken of in the singular. The natives call it Satbhai, 
the Seven Brothers ; in other parts it is known as the 
Seven Sisters. You cannot think of it except as a 
member of a small party. It may be a family party, 
father, mother, and grown-up children ; but I do not 
think so. I believe it is simply a social party. Among 
animals there is not the same diversity of individual 
character as among men, nor the same variety : all 
the individuals of one species are cast pretty much in 
the same simple mould. But for this very reason each 
species exhibits more distinctly some one or other of 
the elements that go to make up the complex human 
character. IJvery virtue and every vice in the moral 



THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 83 

catalogue may be found typified in some beast or bird. 
So I hold. And if this be true, then the phase of 
character which is expressed by the Babbler is 
jolly-goodfellowism. Not being acquainted with the 
method of distilling spirits, it does not pass the flowing 
bowl, but a large portion of its life is devoted to at 
fresco eating parties, in which the excitement of 
finding the viands is combined with the pleasure of 
consuming them, and the utmost conviviality prevails. 
These parties are not too large for true sociality. 
They consist of about half-a-dozen, whence the popular 
name of the bird. There is no distinction of host and 
guest : all are equal. They begin under some tree 
where the leaves have fallen thick, and proceed as 
humour leads. Each helps himself to what he can 
find, turning over the dead leaves and pouncing on any 
tempting morsel that tries to hurry away. If one is 
lucky and lights on a particularly fat lot, his neigh- 
bours come to his aid, and there is a good-humoured 
squabble over the partition of it. There is a regular 
flow of small talk, a good deal of mirth and laughter, 
occasionally an eager dispute, but never a quarrel. 
" Fighting? " says Phil Robinson, " Xot at all ; do not 
be misled by the tone of voice. That heptachord cla- 
mour is not the expression of any strong feelings. It 
is only a way they have." They will light for each 
other, but not with each other. Woe to the sparrow 
hawk that thinks to make a prey of any one of that 
party. Only a rash young fool would attempt such a 
thing, and it will be taught wisdom. But. though the 
Babblers dine together, they do not live together. Each 
pair makes its nest apart, affecting great secrecy and 
deluding the egg-collector with mingled impudence 



84 tHE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 

and wiles. The nest itself is an artless and shabby 
affair, made of twigs and stuck into almost any situa- 
tion in a small dense tree. There are usually three 
eggs, of an intense colour between green and blue. 
You may find them in the hot season. But I find I have 
not described the bird. It seems an insult to such a 
well-known public character to describe him. For the 
benefit of strangers, however, I may say that the 
Bombay Babbler (Malacocercus somervillei) is an 
earthy-coloured bird, tinged with reddish about the tail. 
It is nearly the size of an English Thrush, with less 
body and more tail. It carries its tail a little raised, 
as ground birds generally do. Its wings droop, its 
feathers are loose and puffy, and altogether it reminds 
you of old Jones, who passes the day in his pyjamas. 
But it is a shrewd old bird and has a wicked white eye. 
The Poona Babbler is bigger and wants the reddish 
tinge about the tail, the Malabar Babbler has a hoary 
head, and so on ; for there are many clans of them. 
But they are all of one blood : you cannot mistake a 
Babbler. 

There is a little bird, about the size of a Robin, 
which is said to be related to the Babblers and must 
be described here, for you may often see it in Bombay, 
though it would rather you did not. It seems to be 
suspicious of man and tries to keep a bush between 
you and it, eyeing you through the leaves. A bushy 
I say, for the White-throated Wren-Babbler (Dumetia 
albogularis), asjerdon calls it, is a bird of bushes and 
hedges. It is not the custom of its caste to go into 
trees. It is a plain bird, of a light brown colour, but 
not difficult to recognise, if you catch a fair sight of 
it, by the contrast of its pure white throat and its 



THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 85 

reddish buffy under-parts. It makes a curious nest, 
a regular ball of coarse grass, with a hole in one side. 
The first I ever found was in a Bombay garden and 
was not made of grass, but of the curly paper shav- 
ings in which eau-de-cologne bottles are packed. 
How the bird came by this material is a question on 
which the imagination may exercise itself pleasantly. 

Besides these there are several Thrushes which, 
though they do not like to reside in Bombay, belong to 
this part of the country and are too pretty and too in- 
teresting to be omitted altogether. Among them is the 
White-winged Ground Thrush (Geocichla cyanotis)^ 
most common and least seen of all the beautiful birds 
that haunt the cool shades of Matheran. As you walk 
along any quiet path you may hear it whisking the 
fallen leaves about with its beak, and if you bear 
yourself gently, it will let you come very near. Its 
back and Avings are slaty, or leaden, blue, but the rest 
of its costume is of a fine, golden fawn colour. The 
sides of its face are white, with two dark cheek 
stripes, by which you may know it among a hundred. 
Though generally so silent, it can sing sweetly and 
would make a charming cage-bird. 

There is another rainbow-tinted creature to which 
good Jerdon has done injustice by his clumsy and 
pointless name the Yellow-breasted Ground Thrush 
(Pitta bengalensis). Its native name, Nowrung, or 
" Nine colours," is better. The crown of its head is 
golden olive and black, its mantle green, lower back 
pale blue, chin and throat white, breast yellowish 
fawn, tip of tail bottle green, under tail coverts crim- 
son, legs and feet pink. This bird seldom leaves the 
ground, even making its nest at the root of a bush, 



86 THE ROCK THRUSH AND THE BABBLERS. 

Then there is the Idle School Boy {Myiophonus 
horsfieldii)) better known to the ear than the eye, for 
few birds have been endowed with so rich a voice, 
and it would be world-famous as a songster if it could 
only learn a tune. It is always practising, but makes 
no progress. It is as large as a Blackbird and almost 
blacker, but its forehead and shoulders are brilliant 
cobalt blue, and its back and breast slightly spattered 
with the same. It loves mountain streams and water- 
falls and batters snails upon a smooth rock as the 
dhobie does shirts. 






CHAPTER XV, 



THE BULBULS. 

WE eome now to the short-legged Thrushes, which 
have little 
business on 
the ground, 
but live 
amongtrees 
and feed 
much on 
fruit. The 
Orioles and 
Bulbuls aie 
included in 
this group, 
and the first 
place be- 
longs b y 
right to 
everybody's 
familiar 
friend, the 
Common 
B u 1 b u 1. 
This is not 
the Bulbul 

of Lalla Rookh. Whether that musical creature has 
any existence in Persia I cannot say, but the Bulbul of 
India is not a musician. It is only a happy bird, to 
which nature has given a cheery voice and a merry 




Common and Red-whiskered Bulbuls. 



88 THE BULBULS. 

heart, and it twitters with the artless joy of a child, 
but it cannot sit and compose a song. Yet it is 
second only to the parrot as a favourite with those 
castes of natives who keep pets at all. Easily reared, 
easily fed, easily tamed, it has almost every quality 
that goes to make an engaging pet. It is spirited 
and pugnacious, too, and serves sporting Mussulmans 
as a pocket edition of the fighting cock. They carry 
it about perched on the finger, with a thin cord tied 
about its middle, and challenge rival Bulbuls, betting 
of course on the result ; else where would be the fun ? 
In Hyderabad much money is won and lost over this 
sport and a famous fighting Bulbul has been sold for 
Rs. 500. Natives feed all soft-billed birds on flour of 
parched gram made into a paste with ghee. If you 
are a poor man, water will do instead of ghee^ except 
for song birds, which require their throats oiled. As 
a staple food I do not believe there is anything better 
than this, but you will make your Bulbul happier if 
you give it fruit of all kinds, pudding, rice, anything 
in short that comes to your own table. In a state of 
nature it feeds largely on berries and knows of many 
kinds for which we have no names. 

The Bulbul looks a plain creature at a distance, but 
it is really a very handsome bird. Its face and the 
whole of its fine crested head are glossy black. The 
rest is of a rich smoky brown colour, but each feather, 
especially on the upper part of the back, has a pale 
edge, which makes a very effective pattern, like the 
scales of a fish. The " under-tail' coverts," as they 
are called in polite society, are crimson. This is the 
only bit of colour about the bird's costume, and cor- 
responds to a gentleman's necktie. 



THE BULBULS. 89 

For all I have said, the Bulbul is a silly bird. 
Being of a social and domestic disposition, it always 
has a wife, and would like to have a family, to which 
end it collects thin roots and twigs and makes a neat, 
if not artistic, cup-shaped nest. But as it sticks the 
thing in any wayside bush and visits it fussily many 
times a day, the crow knows exactly where it is and 
takes the eggs, one by one, as they are laid, if they 
have not been taken already by a snake or by the big 
red-throated goblin lixard. The Bulbul is sorry, but 
not discouraged. It makes another nest and lays 
three eggs more, which are taken like the first. So it 
plays the part in nature of a domestic hen, providing 
fresh eggs for others to eat. But sometimes a nest, 
luckily placed, escapes detection, and the Bulbul 
becomes a happy father. The eggs are pinkish white, 
richly spotted and blotched with claret colour. The 
scientific name of this poor bird, I am ashamed to say," 
is Pycnonotits hcemorrhous . 

First cousin to the Common Bulbul is the still more 
sprightly Red-whiskered Bulbul (Otocampm jocosa 
in Jerdon), whose crest rises to a sharp point and 
curves forward a little over the beak. It is a very 
perky little head-dress, and milliners might take a 
hint from it, but the girl would need to have an 
appropriate nose. It would not suit a Roman. The 
Red-whiskered Bulbul is the bird that enlivens all our 
hill stations with its vivacity, but it is not so common 
in Bombay as the other. It is of a glossy hair-brown 
hue on the upper parts and whitish on the under, but 
the cheeks (or ears) of the male are crimson and those 
of the female pure white. A dark brown gorget, or 
necklace, which does not quite meet in front, makes 



9O THE BULBULS. 

the white of the throat more conspicuous. The head 
and crest are black, and it has the red patch under the 
tail which belongs to the livery of the family. Its 
nests and eggs are very like those of the common 
Bulbul and may be found at any time of the year. 

In the preface to these papers I mentioned that I 
once bought a pair of Persian (or Sind) Bulbuls in the 
Crawford Market, one of which escaped, but appeared 
in the garden next day with a companion. I have 
since heard that this bird is often to be seen now on 
Malabar Hill, and I have seen a pair myself across the 
harbour, so I suppose it is in a fair way to become one 
of the birds of Bombay. This bird is very like the Red- 
whiskered Bulbul, but the cheeks are broadly white, 
not red, and the patch under the tail is yellow. Next 
there is a second cousin, which Jerdon calls the White- 
browed Bush Bulbul (Ixos luteolus). This is a clumsier 
bird than the other Bulbuls, uncrested and clad in an 
una?sthetic garb of brownish-greenish olive, passing 
into dusky greenish-yellowish white on the under parts. 
There is no bright colour about it, not even under its 
modest tail, but its eyebrows are conspicuously white. 
It goes about the garden in pairs and every now and 
then utters a loud, abrupt, rattling, but mellifluous 
snatch of a song. This bird is not found generally 
throughout India, but affects certain localities, and one 
of these localities is the island of Bombay. Nowhere 
have I found it more common. Its nest and eggs are 
very like those of the Common Bulbul, but it is a 
much deeper bird and will neither build where any 
crow may find, nor betray its secret by coming and 
going when an enemy is looking on. It usually 
builds on a swinging branch near the ground. 



CHAPTER XVI, 




J 






</, 



THE ORIOLES, 

THERE are yet two birds to be described which 
Jerdon calls 
B u 1 b u I s, 
though 1 can 
see nothing 
bulbuline 
about them 
and am in- 
dined to 
agree with 
those who 
would put 
them with 
the Orioles. 
But Jerdon 
had to invent 
E n g 1 i s h 
names for 
more than 
a thousand 
birds, and it 
is little 

wonder if he 

The lora's NcsL 

was some- 
times hard-pressed. The one which I will mention 
first, because it is one of the very commonest birds 










92 THE ORIOLES. 

in our gardens, is the beautiful little lora (lor a 
zeylonica, or tiphia as it is called now), a black 
and yellow bird, about the size of a tomtit. The 
top of its head, with all its back and upper parts, 
is as black as a newly brushed boot, with a white 
band across the wing. In sharp contrast with 
this, the Avhole under parts, from chin to tail, are 
bright gamboge yellow. This is a dandy costume 
enough for any bird, but the lora has concealed 
finery besides. At that season when "the young 
man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," you 
will see the male lora spring up into the air and 
hover for a moment, and all at once the long, white 
downy plumes that keep its ribs warm will start out 
on each side. Then, like a white puff ball, dashed 
with black and gold, it will slowly descend, quivering 
and glittering in the rays of the morning sun. This 
is not flirtation, nor fickle courtship. The bird is 
making love indeed, but to its own true-hearted 
spouse ; for I believe that these birds, like all the 
Bulbuls, when once united, remain true to each other 
till death do them separate. The spouse is almost 
as lovely as her lord, but not so striking, for the top 
of her head and back are green instead of black. 
So are his for the most part during the cold season : 
the glossy black back is part of his summer suit. 
They go through life together, and if you watch him 
as he hops from twig to twig, hunting every leaf for 
caterpillars, you may notice that, every time he 
utters his low whistle, there is a soft echo from 
another tree. The lora has no song, but scarcely 
any other bird has such a variety of sweet notes. Its 
voice is heard in every garden, and if you catch sight 



ORIOLES. 93 

of it you cannot mistake it. A little bird, like a 
tomtit, in black and yellow, followed by its mate in 
green and yellow, can be nothing else than the lora. 
The nest of this bird is a beautiful piece of work, a 
little cup, the size of a small after-dinner coffee cup, 
compactly woven of fine fibres and bound all round 
the outside with white cobwebs. A pair built in my 
garden last August, in a little fork, embowered in 
leaves, at the end of a low branch of a tree not four 
yards from my verandah. He discovered the place 
first, and with much low cheeping and flapping of his 
wings, invited her to come and see it. She seemed 
to approve, but could not quite make up her mind 
for some days, though he often brought her in 
and went through the funniest little pantomime to 
show her what a cosy and delightful site he thought 
it. At last she agreed and they set to work furnish- 
ing, but so slyly did they come and go that I 
could not watch the progress of the work. After 
a week, however, I could see from one particular 
point the finished nest. Another week and her tail 
was projecting over the edge of it, and I knew 
that two or three little speckled eggs were under her. 
Every morning he would slip in and take her place, 
while she went to stretch her wings and get a 
little food. I was looking forward to the pleasure 
of watching the upbringing of the family, but just 
about the time when the eggs should have hatched, 
some evil beast, or blackguard crow, found and 
devoured them. That nest is now in my museum. 

Whatever the true affinities of the lora may be, 
1 think there can be little question that the bird which 
Jerdon calls the Green Bulbul (Phyttornis jerdoni) is 



94 THE ORIOLES. 

more an Oriole than anything else. It will always 
be known- however, as the Green Bulbul. The 
Green Bulbul is too little known among bird fanciers. 
Not only is it beautiful, exquisitely beautiful, but it 
is a bird of talent, and it is a wag. Disguised in the 
hue of the foliage among which it lurks, it plays bo- 
peep at the other birds and mocks them all in turn. 
Now it is a King Crow, now a Sunbird, now a 
Sparrow Hawk. You stare into the tree and see 
neither King Crow, nor Sunbird, nor Sparrow 
Hawk ; but the crimson eye of the little mocker 
is fixed on you, as, with head turned to one side, 
he watches your perplexity. Not till he flits across to 
another tree and begins the same game there will you 
find out who has been fooling you. For this reason 
few even of those who take an interest in birds know 
how very common the Green Bulbul really is. But 
I cannot account for its being so little sought after as 
a cage-bird. They are occasionally to be seen 
for sale at the Crawford Market, and I once had 
a young one which I took from a nest. It was 
progressing well and would soon have been able 
to feed itself, when a vile tree snake got through 
the bars of the cage and killed it. I cannot think 
of any bird that would make a more charming pet, 
or a more ornamental. Its forehead is touched with 
gold, its chin and throat are velvet black, its mous- 
taches are hyacinth blue, and the tip of its shoulder 
is touched with the same : all the rest of it as green 
as a field of young rice with the de\v on it. The 
Green Bulbul makes a loose, cup-shaped nest, usually 
at the end of a branch of some large tree, and lays 
two or three eggs, which are white with claret- 



THE ORIOLES. 95 

coloured spots. I think March or April is the usual 
season, but I have only once myself found a nest. 

Of the true Orioles, or Golden Orioles, there are 
several species in India, two of which may be seen in 
Bombay. They are all splendid birds, more gor- 
geous than the Green Bulbul, and larger, being 
nearly the size of a starling. The commonest is the 
Indian Oriole (Oriolits kundoo), which is of a unir 
form, bright beautiful yellow, excepting on the eye- 
brows, the points of the wings (the quill feathers) and 
part of the tail, which are black. The beak is pink 
and the eyes are red. The female is tinged with 
greenish, and the young are very green and 
altogether a little "dowdy" compared with their 
parents. The Indian Oriole's nest is a loose cup, or 
bag, hung in a fork of a high tree. It is made of 
fine grass and fibres and any other materials that the 
bird finds serviceable. Jerdon found a nest tied 
about with a long, strip of cloth, three-quarters of an 
inch in width, which had been stolen from the dirzie 
in the verandah. The theft was not actually proved, 
but there was strong ground for suspicion. There 
arc usually three eggs, white with dark claret-colour- 
ed spots. But you arc r.ot likely to find an Oriole's 
nest in Bombay. These birds leave us at the begin- 
ning of the hot season and go to drier climes inland 
to bring up their young. They return in September, 
with their families, and are very noisy on first 
arrival. The usual note of the Indian Oriole is a 
rich mellow whistle, which Jerdon spells peeho. 
The French name of the bird, loriot, seems to me 
to give the sound better. It has also a harsher 
cry. 



96 THE OklOLES. 

The Black^headed Oriole (O. melanocephalus or 
ceylonettsis t -~tht two are probably the same bird) 
differs from the other in having the whole head 
black. The yellow of the body is of a coarser 
shade, or, if you prefer the word, a richer. 
To my mind the whole bird is less tastefully got up, 
but it is a glorious bird. This species is very 
common on the whole coast during the cold 
season, and no doubt in Bombay too. I cannot 
speak with certainty, because it is easily confounded 
with the other unless you get a fair sight of it. All 
the Orioles are great fruit-eaters and frequent banian 
and peepul trees with the mynas and coppersmiths. 
But they also gobble up great, hairy caterpillars and 
other large, soft-bodied insects. 




CHAPTER XVII. 



THE ROBINS AND CHATS. 

WE have now done with the Thrushes and come 
to a group 
of birds 
bound toge- 



ther by cer- 
tain well- 
marked fa- 
mily fea- 
t u r e s . 
They are 
small birds, 
usually 
dressed in 
black and 
white, or 
brown and 
white, al- 
ways neat, 
but never 
gaudy. 
They are 
all afflicted 
with some 
form of 
St. Vitus' The Magpie Robin. 

dance in the muscles of the tail ; they are either twist- 
ing it, or throwing it up over their backs, or doing 




98 THE ROBINS AND CHATS, 

something else than letting it hang down decently. 
Lastly, they are all groundlings, collectors of crickets 
and beetles and other small hard-backed insects that 
run upon the face of the earth, but taking little inter- 
est in caterpillars, or flies of any kind, and seldom 
touching fruits. In all these respects they differ from 
the Thrushes. 

I feel that the one which ought to head the list 
is the Indian Robin ; but you must not let your 
thoughts run on the bird which is begging for crumbs 
at our windows in the old country. Mr. Phil Robin- 
son, speaking of the difficulty of getting up anything 
like a Christmas feeling in this land of. regrets, 
complains that the very Robin, instead of wearing 
a red waistcoat, wears a red seat to its trousers. This 
is true if not expressed with prudery ; but it is not 
the only difference between the two birds. The 
Indian Cock Robin (Thamnobia fulwata) is a jet-black 
bird, with the exception of the rusty patch above- 
mentioned and a narrow band of pure white across 
the wing, which scarcely appears except when it flies. 
Nevertheless it is by nature a Robin', making a friend 
of man, sitting on his house top, coming into his 
verandah, or even singing to him from his own 
window sill. You will not find it in orchards or 
shady gardens, for it has a prejudice against perching 
on a tree ; but wherever there are old stone walls, 
humble human habitations, ruins, rocky wastes, or 
stony fields, there it is at home with its smoke-coloured 
mate, running a few steps on the ground, perching 
on some point of rock, tossing up its tail till it almost 
touches the back of its head, and throwing out snat- 
ches of cheery song. No more description is needed, 



THK ROBINS AND CHATS. 99 

Everybody knows the Indian Robin. In March or 
April it makes its nest in a niche in a wall, or in some 
recess in a pile of stones, never very far above the 
ground ; and there it lays three dingy looking eggs, 
of a greenish white colour, speckled with brown. 
You will not find the nest very easily, for the Robin 
is cunning, like all birds that build near the ground, 
and will not come or go in sight of an enemy. And 
in that connection man is an enemy. 

A larger and more imposing bird is the Magpie 
Robin (Copsychus saularis}, which is also black, 
glossy blue-black, on the upper parts, but from the 
breast downwards pure white. There is a broad 
white band across the wing and two-thirds of the tail 
is white. In short, it is coloured very like a magpie. 
The female is like the male, except that the shade of 
black is duller and runs to a smokey gray on the 
throat and breast. Thfs bird is like the common 
Indian Robin in all its ways, except that, though it 
feeds on the ground, it perches on trees and is parti- 
cularly fond of cool shady gardens. For this reason 
it is a better known bird in Bombay than the common 
Robin, though not nearly so familiar in the Deccan. 
With the exception of one bird, which haunts the 
deep forests of the ghauts, the Magpie Robin is the 
finest songster that we have in Western India. In 
March and April, when the Thrush and Blackbird 
are singing to our friends as they lie in their beds, 
the Magpie Robin at the same hour is pouring 
forth a continuous torrent of far-reaching song 
from the top of some palm or old mango tree. 
And we scarcely say, "Thank you." Whether it 
is that we leave our ears at home when we come out 



100 THE ROBINS AND CHATS. 

here, or that we leave our hearts at home and the ear 
counts for little without the heart, I do not know ; but 
it is a melancholy fact that there are many English- 
men in this country on whom the music of its birds 
appears to be wholly lost. I have been assured by a 
man who had spent many years in India that the birds 
here never sang, but only cawed, or shrieked, or jab- 
bered. When I told him that skylarks, scarcely dis- 
tinguishable from the " embodied joy " of English 
fields, were singing every morning in the blue sky 
above the very road by which he went to his work, 
he scoffed at me. He had never heard a skylark in 
India. There are of course more birds of song in this 
country than in England, because there are more 
birds altogether, and because the sun that cheers 
them is brighter and the sky that inspires them more 
blue. As to the quality of their songs, comparisons 
are odious and unprofitable, because we cannot invest 
Indian birds with the associations which endear those 
of England. The voice of the Blackbird, heard in 
bed in the cold silence of a spring morning, will sink 
into one's heart in a way which is impossible in this 
country, where we are not much given to lying in bed 
of a morning, and where the cawing of crows, the 
crowing of cocks, the yelping of pariah dogs, and a 
medley of other unmusical noises come in at the open 
windows with the first streak of dawn. Nevertheless, 
if you do chance to be awake while the crows are still 
asleep, the song of the Magpie Robin is rich and 
sweet, and wonderfully powerful for so small a bird. 
It will go on till eight or nine o'clock, but does not 
sing, like the Nightingale, during the early hours of 
the night, As the Magpie Robin perches on trees, so 



THE ROBINS AND CHATS. IOI 

it also builds its nests high, in any commodious hole 
or recess in a wall or tree. A favourite place is under 
one of the large ridge tiles at the corner of your roof. 
There are generally, I believe, four eggs, which are 
of a pale greenish colour, spotted or blotched with 
brown. Look for them in April or May. 

The Stonechats and Whinchats are for the most 
part lovers of sandy wildernesses, and though several 
species are common on the arid plains of Guzerat and 
the Deccan, they avoid the coast. There are two, 
however, which may be mentioned here. One is 
what Jerdon calls the White-winged Black Robin 
(Pratincola capratti}, a dapper little black-and-white 
bird, which balances itself on the point of a reed, or 
the topmost twig of a bush, and jerks its tail about 
and utters little warbling Robin-like notes. All who 
cross the harbour in search of snipe must know it 
very well, and on the outskirts of Bombay you may 
fall in with it. It builds its nest in similar places to 
the Common Robin. The other is a sandy-coloured 
bird, with black-and-white tail, which. Jerdon called 
the Wheat-ear (Saxicola oenanthe). It is not the true 
Wheat-ear, however, but a spurious imitation, and 
is stigmatised in "The Fauna of British India" as 
the " Isabelline Chat." On cold weather mornings 
you will sometimes find it perched on railings about 
the Esplanade. 

The Redstart is another bird every one ought to 
know, which fits in here. It is common in Poona 
and all over the Deccan, and very familiar, coming 
about our houses and sometimes hopping in at the 
door. On the coast it is not so common, but you 
may meet with it anywhere, and it is a distinguished 



IO2 fHE ROBINS AND CHATS. 

looking bird about which one naturally wants to 
know. It is in fact a globe-trotter, coming to India 
for the cold season from its home in Cashmere or 
Turkestan ; and it has the ague in its tail. By the 
peculiar shivering of that organ you may recognise 
it. It is a little larger than an English Robin, and of 
a dark-brown, or almost black, colour, which passes 
into a rusty-red on the lower back and the whole 
hinder part of the body and the tail. 

There is another little fairy creature which few 
notice, except those who are curious about birds, 
but I must mention it, because it was in Bombay that 
I first made its acquaintance. I mean the Blue-throat 
(Cyanecula suecica). Near the house in which I lived 
there was a field of Lucerne grass, irrigated from a 
well with a Persian wheel, and here I used to notice 
the happy little bird enjoying the pleasures of solitude 
in the rivulets that ran in the cool shade of soft green 
leaves. It is quite a Robin in its figure and gait, but 
quiet and retiring in its disposition, and simple but 
neat in its suit of olive-brown. But its throat and 
breast are bright azure blue, and by this you may 
know it. This is full dress, however. Immature 
birds and females show scarcely a trace of it and are 
not so easily recognised. This bird comes to us for 
the cold season only, and is not uncommon across 
the harbour wherever there are cool shades and 
running waters. 



CHAPTER XVIII. 






THE WARBLERS. 

IN the days of Imperial Rome there were, 1 suppose, 
almostevery- 
where large 
communities 
of humble 
brickmakers, 
who made 
cheap bricks 
for poor folks' 
houses, and 
other sorts of 
obscure, but 
necessary, 
people ; but 
Tacitus does 
not mention 
them, so far 
as I recollect. 
There are 
birds which 
fill a similar 
place in the 
feathered Tailor Bird and Wren-warbler. 

common- 

wealth. The Wren Warblers and Tree Warblers 
do an inestimable amount of useful work and appear 
to enjoy as large a measure of contentment and 




1O4 THE WARBLERS. 

happiness as their betters ; but there is nothing about 
them to catch the imagination of the historian and 
they will never be famous. I have been perplexed as 
to how I should deal with them in these papers. 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 " ornitho- 
logist " does not qualify one to distinguish them at a 
distance. If you can distinguish them with certainty 
when you have them in your hand, you will fully 
deserve the title. Jerdon was all in confusion about 
them. With the aid of the large collections now in 
the British Museum they are supposed to have been 
successfully unravelled, and those who please may 
study them in Mr. Oates's book. The best I can do 
here is to try to help the ordinary lover of birds to 
know a Wren Warbler and a Tree Warbler when he 
sees them, and to particularise a few species which 
have enough of distinctive character to separate them 
from the crowd. 

To begin with the Wren Warblers, they are small, 
dingy birds with long tails, which go about among 
bushes and rushes and reeds, exterminating little 
insects. They enjoy this life so much that they 
moved the envy of Charles Kingsley, and you may 
almost recognise them from his description 

I would I were a tiny, browny bird from out the south, 
Sitting among" the alder holts and twittering by the stream. 

I would put my tiny tail down and put up my tiny mouth, 
And sing my tiny life away in one melodious dream. 

But you must .not suppose that the said " melodious 
dream " is a high class composition from a musician's 
point of view. These little birds are not without a 
humble conceit of their vocal powers, all the same, 



THE WALLERS. 105 

and the following inimitable passage from Richard 
Jefferies will refresh every one who has witnessed 
their performances : " He got up into the willow 
from the hedge parsley somehow, without being seen 
to climb or fly. Suddenly he crosses to the tops of 
the hawthorn and immediately flings himself up into 
the air a yard or two, his wings and ruffled crest 
making a ragged outline ; jerk, jerk, jerk, as if it 
were with the utmost difficulty he could keep even at 
that height. He scolds and twitters and chirps, and 
all at once sinks like a stone into the hedge, and out 
of sight like a stone into a pond." 

All I have said above requires abatement if applied 
to the Tailor Bird (Orthotomus sutorius), which is 
nevertheless a Wren Warbler by nature and feature. 
But it is a bird of some character and holds its tail up. 
It is such a prominent feature of the bird life of our 
gardens, that, if I cannot make it recognisable, these 
pages may as well cease. But before describing it let 
me remove a popular error by stating that the Tailor 
Bird is not called by that name because it makes a 
curious nest, nor because it comes out of an egg, nor 
for any other senseless reason. More than twenty 
years ago I was shown the cup-shaped nest of a Fly- 
catcher, as a great curiosity, and was informed that 
this was the nest of the famous Indian Tailor Bird. It 
did not occur to my informant to ask why the maker of 
that nest should be called a tailor rather than a potter 
or a watchmaker ; and I have discovered since that his 
kind is common. Therefore I take this opportunity 
to explain that a Tailor Bird is called a Tailor Bird 
because it sews. When its nesting time approaches, 
which is during the monsoon, it searches fora shrub 

14 



Io6 TkE WARBLERS. 

or bush, with large, soft leaves, and drawing two of 
them together, proceeds to stitch them to one another 
round their edges. At that season the silk-cotton tree 
is bursting its pods and scattering its white clusters, 
so the tiny tailor has seldom any difficulty in finding 
cotton, which it spins into thread with its deft little 
feet and beak. But if it can get ready-made thread, 
so much the better. Jerdon tells of one which 
regularly watched the dirzie in the verandah, and 
as soon as he had left his seat for the day, pounc- 
ed down upon his carpet and carried off his ends 
of thread in triumph. The bird's needle is its sharp 
beak. Piercing a hole in the leaf, it passes the 
thread through and knots it at the other side, and 
so on till it has joined the two leaves by their edges 
all round and made a neat pocket, or purse, with its 
mouth at the top, or a little to one side. Then a soft 
padding of cotton inside makes it ready to receive its 
treasure of three or four pretty little eggs. They 
vary a good deal in colour, but are generally white, 
thinly spotted with light-red. I have often seen a 
nest made of a single large leaf, and, on the other 
hand, where broad-leaved plants are scarce, the bird 
will use more than two ; but the fewer leaves the less 
tailoring, as the bird knows. 

Last monsoon I was standing in the verandah of a 
friend's house in Bombay when I saw an eager Tailor 
Bird tugging desperately at a coir mat. 1 felt sure 
that it must be in straits for something to make its 
nest of, and knowing that my friend had a kind heart 
for the deserving poor, I brought the case to his 
notice the same evening. He promptly stuck a 
bunch of clean cotton wool in the trellis, and almost 



THE WARBLERS. 

before I was out of bed next morning the bird had 
noticed it and was carrying off large beak-fulls. He 
practised a certain amount of guile, but was easily 
tracked to a low, dense bush in the garden, where, 
with such charitable assistance, he did not take long 
to make his wife a very cosy house. It may encour- 
age others in doing good to know that in due course 
a fine family was reared and sent out into the world 
in spite of the crows. 

The Tailor Bird is green, or greenish-brown, on 
the upper parts, with a golden tinge on the fore- 
head. The under parts are white. When the neck 
is stretched, a narrow dark mark appears on each side 
of it, as if the bird had been trying to cut its throat. 
In figure and gait it is very like the Jenny Wren at 
home, but, instead of the apologetic stump which 
that bird holds up behind, it has a long and elegant 
tail, with the two centre feathers prolonged beyond the 
rest. It is no musician, but has a remarkably loud 
and clear voice, and is constantly saying tow/lit, 
tow/tit, towhit, or else tow/tee, tow/tee, tow/tee. 

There is another kind of Tailor Bird, which Jerdon 
calls the Dark Ashy Wren Warbler (Prinia socMis). 
It is remarkable for laying red eggs. They are 
meant to be thickly spotted with red on a white 
ground, but often the spots are so thick that there is 
no ground colour left. This bird is larger and has a 
longer tail than the other, and is of a dark, ashy- 
brown on the upper parts. The under parts are 
buffy, or reddish-white, and the two colours, dark 
and light, are sharply separated on the sides of the 
neck. This is the feature by which I recognise the 
bird most casilv. It is not nearlv so common in 



IO8 THE WARBLERS. 

Bombay as the true Tailor Bird. As a tailor, ladies 
say it is not such a neat worker. 

Another species which is everywhere in Bombay is 
the one which Jerdon calls the Common Wren 
Warbler (Drymoipus inornatus). Its scientific name 
is a happy one. " Inornate " describes the bird in a 
word. It is a typical member of the group, a tiny, 
dingy, homely, long-tailed bird, with nothing striking 
about it. Jefferies' account of the song fits it exactly. 
It is not a tailor, but it constructs a very ingenious 
and beautiful nest, woven of fine grass and worked 
into three or four high reeds, or stems of upright 
shrubs. The nest is always well concealed by foliage, 
but after the monsoon, when the leaves have fallen, it 
comes into view. Old nests of this kind are often to 
be seen in Bombay. There are few prettier eggs 
than those of tHis unornamented bird. They are of a 
pale blue-green colour, thickly marked at the larger 
end with spots and blotches and fine lines of chocolate- 
brown. There are four or five of them. 

The Tree Warblers differ from the Wren Warblers 
in this, that they pass their lives in trees and not 
among grass and low bushes. There are other differ- 
ences too. The Wren Warbler is flimsy and feeble, 
loose-jointed and fluffy-feathered, encumbered with a 
long pendulous tail and fitted with little wings that 
just serve to carry it in a jerky way from bush to bush. 
The Tree Warbler is a shapely bird, slim but firm, 
wiry, athletic, with a well-proportioned tail and wings 
that will, when the season arrives, take it from 
continent to continent. For all our Tree Warblers 
are foreigners. One of the commonest makes its 
nest in Sind, but others go to the Himalayas or 



THE WARBLERS. 1 09 

Cashmere, Central Asia or Europe. In the cold 
season they turn southwards again and diffuse 
themselves over every corner of India. Many 
reasons have been assigned for this strange " mi- 
gratory instinct," as it is called, which affects so 
many species of birds. No philosopher, as far as 
I know, has bestowed as much thought upon this 
same instinct as it manifests itself in Viceroys and 
Governors, members of Council, wives and other spe- 
cies of the genus Homo. To me the matter appears to 
lie in a nutshell. When a place becomes too hot, ortoo 
cold, or too wet, the inhabitants feel a very natural in- 
clination to leave it and go to some place which is more 
comfortable. And they do so. Not all; some humble 
creatures, muskrats, for example, and frogs and 
toads and husbands and some others, cannot get 
away. Others are kept back by a love of home, 
or a disinclination for change. But those that can 
go generally do go, and so it grows into a fashion. 
Among birds a fashion soon acquires a hereditary 
force and we call it an instinct. In the case of the 
Tree Warblers there is a simple and all-sufficient 
reason for this annual journey southwards, which is, 
that if they remained they would starve. Birds that 
live entirely on small, soft-bodied insects, cannot 
afford to spend the winter in a climate in which the 
lower forms of life almost cease during that season. 
But in the tropics there is no time of the year when 
spiders and little insects of many kinds may not be 
had. So to the tropics they go, as Jacob and his 
family went to Egypt. And in every green tree, at 
almost any hour of the day, you may see them hop- 
ping from twig to twig, flitting, clinging, looking 



I TO THE WARBLERS, 

under spray and leaf, ceaselessly and silently. For 
they hardly make a sound, except a low tik at intervals. 
They hold no intercourse with each other : even family 
ties seem to be sundered for the season. I have 
said that there are many species, but the differences 
between them seldom amount to more than this, that 
one is greenish-brown and another is brownish-green, 
and another is a little yellowish on the under-parts, 
or has a pale eyebrow, or a faint band on the wing, 
or is half-an-inch longer or half-an-inch shorter. 
Some few are marked more distinctly, but they be- 
long to a side-branch of the family. Among these is 
the English Whitethroat, which spends the winter 
with us, and the Blackcap, a much larger bird with a 
black cap. I believe that both these may occasionally 
be seen in Bombay. 

Among the long reeds that grow near water about 
the Flats there is a plain brown bird, larger than a 
sparrow, which has an invincible objection to being 
seen. And it would succeed without difficulty if it 
could keep quiet ; but it feels impelled to say chuck 
every few seconds, in a loud, emphatic tone of voice. 
Then, when you look for it, it gets a dense bush, 
or clump of reeds, between itself and you, and as 
you move round the one side it moves round the 
other and says chuck. It is a most exasperating bird. 
I have spent hours trying to get a sight of it, with 
little enough success, but I believe it is the Large Reed 
Warbler (Acrocephalus stentorius), which also belongs 
to a different branch of the great family of Warblers. 
There is a lesser edition of the same, Acrocephalus 
dumetorum, which may be met with in Bombay also 
during the cold season, 



CHAPTER XIX, 



THE WATER-WAGTAILS, PIPITS 
AND TITS, 

WHEN I was a boy the Wagtails had a peculiar 
fascination 
for me, and 
the feeling 
has not quite 
faded away 
yet. There 
is something 
so original 
and droll 
about their 
idea of life 1 
To hold a 
long tail 
horizontally 
behind you 
and wag it 
v igorously 
and inces- 
santly, to 
spend your 
days near 
cool waters, 




Wagtail and Tree Pipit 

running about on the ground not hopping like a spar- 
row, but running with alternate steps and catching 
little somethings in the air, this is the Wagtail's 



112 THE WATER-WAGTAILS, PIPITS AND TITS. 

notion of the way to be happy. And it is happy : the 
vivacity and nimble eagerness of all its motions leave 
no doubt about that. No other bird behaves in this 
fashion. I feel sure that there must be some depart- 
ment of insect life which other birds have missed, 
or despised, atrl which the Wagtails have appropriat- 
ed. There are green caterpillars on the tender shoots 
and little birds to seek for them, there are grasshop- 
pers in the grass and mynas to chevy them, there are 
beetles and earwigs under the fallen leaves and bab- 
blers to dislodge them, there are midges in the air and 
swallows to hawk them, there are grubs in the rotten 
bough and woodpeckers to dig them out ; but besides 
all these it appears that there are minute winged things 
on moist ground in great abundance, which rise like 
snipe when startled, and these are the game of the 
Water-wagtail. It runs and turns and twists and 
leaps into the air, and you cannot see what it is after, 
but you distinctly hear the snap of its little bill, like 
the pop of a distant snipe-shooter's gun. It follows 
the cattle in the pastures and runs in and out among 
their feet ; they are its beaters, which drive the game 
for it. Or it hunts by itself in cool places, on the 
shady side of the house and wherever large trees keep 
out the sun. 

I am thinking of the Grey Wagtail, which often 
wanders far from water, but not from coolness and 
shade. It is by far the commonest species we 
have and a very familiar bird throughout the cold 
weather. In the costume which it wears at that 
season the upper parts are bluish-grey, but its fore- 
head and whole face are white. On its breast there 
is a black patch, exactly like a child's bib, and below 



THE WATER-WAGTAILS, PIPITS AND TITS. 113 

that again it is white. In summer it dons a different 
costume, in which the throat and breast and the back 
of the head and neck are all black, but we seldom, 
if ever, see this, because at that time it is in Siberia 
or thereabouts. There is a difficulty about the name 
of this bird. There are in fact two species of Grey 
Wagtails, quite distinct from each other, but very 
difficult to distinguish, so much alike are they in 
their winter plumage. In the early seventies Mr. 
A. O. Hume was very much exercised about these 
two birds, and at that time he was very innocent of 
any leaning towards Buddhist principles in the 
matter of taking animal life. He engaged all his 
friends and helpers in a jehad against the whole race 
of Grey Wagtails, that he might determine to which 
species they belonged. I never heard the number of 
the slain, but some survived, and I believe that by 
far the greater number of those which visit us are of 
the species known in Europe as the White Wagtail 
(Motacilla alba). In Jerdon's book this and the other 
are lumped together under the name Motacilla duk- 
khiinensis, the Black-faced Wagtail, a most unfortu- 
nate name for a bird whose most striking feature, 
when it comes to us, is its clean white face. 

Then there are the Yellow and Green Wagtails, 
birds with olive or slaty backs and yellow breasts, 
perplexingly like each other in their winter plumage. 
The two commonest kinds are described by Jerdon 
under the names the Grey-and-Yellow Wagtail 
(Calobates sulphured] and the Indian Field Wagtail 
(Budytes viridis). All these come to us in September 
and remain till nearly May, disporting themselves in 
all open places. They are always to be found among 
15 



ti4 TriE WATER-WAGTAIL^, PIPITS ANt> TITS. 

the tents on the Esplanade, enchanting the children, 
a&d those whose hearts are still child-like, with their 
pretty familiarity. 

There is only one other species which 1 need 
mention. It is a permanent resident and is very 
common all over the Deccan, but not so often seen in 
Bombay, because it is more a water bird than the 
others and will not wander far from its river or tank. 
It will have nothing to do with salt water. The 
species I mean is, of course, the Pied Wagtail, 
(Motacilla maderaspatana). It is a larger bird than 
the others and is coloured very like the Magpie 
Robin, shining black on the upper parts, with a 
broad white patch on the wing, and pure white from 
the breast downwards. Its tail is half black and half 
white. It has also a broad white eyebrow, which the 
Magpie Robin has not. It is a very sweet singer 
and is sometimes caged. While all our other 
Wagtails are migratory, the Pied Wagtail not only 
remains with us the whole year, but sticks to one 
spot. One reason for this appears to be that it is 
always engaged in bringing up a family. Barnes 
mentions one pair which made five nests, or at least 
laid eggs five times, in less than half a year, and I 
once found a large series of old nests of all ages on 
the beams of a bridge. Any ledge, or shelf, or niche 
near to water will do. An old boat affords endless 
eligible sites, and I do not believe you will find a 
discarded hulk on a river anywhere in the Deccan 
without a pair ot Pied Wagtails in possession, singing 
and swinging their long tails and driving off all rivals. 
There are usually three or four eggs, of a greenish- 
white colour, spotted and splashed with brown. 



tHE VVATEk-WAGTAlLS, PIPlTS AND flTS. li^ 

The Pipits are birds midway between the Wagtails 
and the Larks. Their tails are long, but not very 
long, and they wag them a little. In plumage they 
resemble Larks. There are many kinds in India, 
most of which love stony hills and barren plains. 
One species, however, which Jerdon calls the Indian 
Titlark (Corydalla rufula), meets us almost every- 
where, often consorting with the Wagtails. It is a 
permanent resident, making its nest on the ground 
like a lark. I ought also perhaps to mention the 
Indian Tree Pipit (Pipastes agilis), so called because, 
though it lives and feeds on the ground, it always 
flies up into a tree when frightened. In its tastes it 
resembles the Wagtail, seeking moist and cool places, 
and the shade of trees, but in its character it is quite 
the reverse of that restless creature. It is a quiet 
bird, seldom uttering a sound, walking softly and 
picking up little insects gently, while its tail wags 
slowly like a mechanical toy. It is of a sociable 
disposition, and you will often see half-a-dozen 
feeding under the shade of one tree. In the country 
which lies opposite our harbour, where the roads are 
often avenues of fine trees, you may meet scores of 
these birds in a morning's walk. They let you come 
very near and then all fly silently into the tree above 
them. They will not hop about there, but sit silently 
for a little and then fly down again. You will recog- 
nise them more easily by these traits than by colour 
or shape, for there is nothing striking about the Tree 
Pipit. It leaves us as the hot season comes on and 
goes to bring up its young on the Himalayas. 

The Larks outfit to follow next, for they arc in 
many respects very near to the Pipits, but in the 



l 1 6 THE WATER-WAGTAILS, PIPITS AND TITS. 

arrangement which Jerdon adopted they were widely 
separated on account of their stouter bills and more 
vegetarian habits. Of the soft-billed, insect-eating, 
birds, there is only one family left, that of the Tits, 
and in that family there is only one bird which Bom- 
bay can claim. That is the White-eyed Tit (Zoste- 
rops palpebrosus), a bright little creature scarcely 
larger than an Amadavat, of a clear green colour 
passing into canary-yellow on the breast. " It gets 
its name from a narrow ring of white round each eye, 
which gives a peculiar expression to its face. In the 
cold season flocks of these birds wander about the 
trees, uttering a soft cheeping note, and, though I 
cannot say I have actually seen them in Bombay, 
they are so often seen just across the harbour that they 
cannot possibly pass us by. In the rains the flocks 
break up into pairs and make their neat little nests 
and lay their pretty blue eggs, but not on the coast. 
I suppose the rainfall is too heavy here. 

The Indian Gray Tit, that dapper little bird, with 
black head and white cheeks, which makes itself so 
familiar in our gardens in Poona, does not appear 
to come below the Ghauts. The pretty Yellow Tit, 
easily recognised by its foppish little black-and-yellow 
crest, is not very rare on the coast, but I have not 
seen it in Bombay. 



CHAPTER XX. 




THE CROWS. 

WE have now done with the Dentitostres and 
come to the 
Conirostre s , 
or Conical 
Bills, Cuvi- 
e r 's next 
tribe. The 
d i ffer ence 
between 
these two 
tribes is one 
that presents 
itself to every 
boy who 
keeps pets. 
The "soft- 
billed "birds, 



of which the 
Robin or 
Nightingale 
may be taken 
for an exam- 
p 1 e, must 




Black and Grey-necked Crows. 



be fed on artificial foods representing, as nearly as 
possible, the insects which are their natural diet. 
They seem to be delicate and difficult to rear, but it 
is only because you cannot give them exactly the 



I 1 8 THE CROWS. 

kind of food that their constitutions require. They 
are like sailors fed on salt pork and ship's biscuit, 
who must have a little lime juice regularly, or else 
they will get scurvy. So these birds will get ill 
unless you supply them with living insects occasion- 
ally, and " Every Boy's Book" gives directions to 
juvenile bird-fanciers for breeding meal-worms and 
maggots. The " hard-billed " birds, on the contrary, 
need little else than good seed and fresh water, for 
that is their natural diet. For this reason the birds 
of that tribe are more commonly kept as pets. Of 
course there are many birds which do not fit quite 
neatly into either division. The Starling, for exam- 
ple, has not a very stout bill and will eat anything. 
But this difficulty meets every system of classification. 
Nature has not done birds up in bundles and labelled 
them, and on whatever principle we attempt to sort 
them, we soon find that there are many which seem 
to belong to one lot in some respects and to another 
lot in others. I have followed the arrangement 
adopted by Dr. Jerdon, as I said at the beginning, 
because his book is the only readable account of 
Indian birds which yet exists, and it is not likely to be 
superseded in our time. He divides the Conirostres, 
as far as India is concerned, into four families, the 
Crows, the Starlings, the Finches, and the Larks. 

To begin with the first, there is surely little for me 
to say about the Common Crow. It speaks for itself. 
We all know enough about it. And yet this is not 
true, for in another sense we never know enough 
about it. The subject is inexhaustible. In any 
company in India, if conversation flags, bring the 
Crow upon the tapis and it will start into animation 



THE CROWS. Iig 

again. Zoologically considered, the Crow is merely 
a bird of the corvine family, which is found abun- 
dantly throughout the peninsula of India, and is, as 
the phrase goes, " too well known to require descrip- 
tion." But then its chief point is that you cannot 
consider it zoologically, except, indeed, as you may 
consider man zoologically, There are said to be men 
of science in Germany who have succeeded in purging 
their minds completely from all taint of sentiment and 
unreason, and can think of man with scientific pre- 
cision as one of the many species of the mamalian order 
Quadrumana. But to most of us this is impossible. 
We think habitually of man and animal as contrasted, 
and the Crow takes its place in our minds with man, 
not, indeed, as a kind of man, but as an appendage to 
him, one of the conditions of his life, an element of 
his social system. This is the peculiarity of the 
Crow. It has separated itself from the category of 
birds which live in the fields and woods and belong 
to nature. It lives in towns and belongs to man in 
the sense in which we contrast man and nature. Like 
the Mahar outside an Indian village, whose perquisite 
is the hides of all the cattle that die in the village, the 
Crow lives outside the bungalow and claims the 
refuse of all food eaten within it. But if you do not 
provide a reasonable amount of refuse, the Crows 
will come inside and help themselves, as the Mahars 
will poison cattle if enough do not die of themselves ; 
for there is no right to which the Crows cling more 
tenaciously than the right to be fed by the man whose 
compound they clean. Sometimes Crows feed on 
fruits, or hunt for worms in ploughed fields, or gather 
to catch the winged white-ants which issue from the 



120 THE CROWS. 

ground before rain. But that is as boys gather black- 
berries, or trespass in a field and eat raw turnips. 
Crows will not look to nature for a living. A " wild " 
Crow, living in a forest or field and foraging for itself, 
is a thing I have not seen. 

Of course I am referring to the common, or " grey- 
necked," Crow. The black Crow, which Jerdon calls 
the Indian Corby, is different. Though it often 
haunts our back premises in company with the others 
and snatches a share of anything that may be going, 
it is still a wild bird, and you will often find it at home 
in the jungles, far from all human habitations. It is 
very abundant on shady country roads, feeding on 
the fruit of the banian tree or the peepul, and when 
the traveller sits down in a cool place and lights a fire 
to cook his mid-day meal, the black Crows see the 
smoke from afar and come to wait upon him. They 
kill lizards and spit frogs on their black beaks, and I 
am afraid that eggs and young birds form no small 
part of their diet. Compared with the grey-necked 
Crow, the black species is not common in Bombay, but 
it gets commoner as you go south and in some places 
quite replaces the other. It is known to science as Cor- 
vtts macrorhynchus. Macrorhynchus is a formidable- 
looking word, but only means Big Beak. The common 
grey-necked Crow has got the name of Corvus splen- 
dens ; whether from the glossy blackness of its wings, 
or the splendour of its impudence, I will not pretend 
to say. It was once more aptly named Corpus impu- 
dicus, and one could wish that name had remained. 

Crows are fond of sleeping together. Near almost 
every village there is a large tree which is the dormi- 
tory, and to this they gather from long distances as 



THE CROWS. 121 

vening comes on. When the total eclipse of the sun 
occurred in January 1898, the Crows of Viziadroog, 
where I was encamped, were quite taken in and all 
gathered together in the sleeping-tree. When day 
reappeared, almost before they had got their heads 
tucked in, they all started into the air with a simul- 
taneous shout of surprise and indignation. They 
seemed to think that a practical joke had been played 
upon them. I do not know why they sleep together. 
It may be for safety, for, though Crows have not 
many enemies, there is a large horned owl which 
wrings their necks at night. I esteem the horned owl 
for that. It may seem uncharitable in me, but I con- 
fess that I cannot extend to the Crow those feelings 
with which I regard all other birds, I have never felt 
a qualm of conscience about taking a Crow's life. It 
is not their depredations, nor their impudence, nor 
their rowdy noises. I could endure all these. What 
I cannot forgive is the constant and ruthless massacre 
of innocents that goes on where Crows are allowed to 
have their own way. They watch every little bird 
to find out if it has a nest, they count the days 
tilt the first young sparrow flutters out on its untried 
wings, they pounce upon it and carry it to the 
nearest tree and hold it under one foot and pick it 
to pieces, absolutely callous to the shrieks of the 
parents as they flutter round, distracted but helpless. 
For this I shoot the Crow without remorse. 

Though they sleep together, the Crows do not 
breed in company. Each pair makes its nest apart, 
in a mango tree if there is one at hand. The nest is 
a clumsy-looking structure, but very strongly put 
together, and in the centre there is a neatly-made 

16 



122 THE CROWS. 

hollow, the shape of a finger bowl, lined with coir, or 
with horse-hair stolen from a mattress, or with what- 
ever material can be had, not excepting brass wire 
from old sodawater bottles ; for in Bombay the Crow 
population has multiplied to such an extent of late 
years that the competition for nesting materials has 
become terrible. In Marine Lines, as the season 
advances, the Crows patrol the road, or the garden- 
walks, waiting for sticks to fall, or they get up into 
the trees and tug at twigs which are still green and 
will not come off. It is not many years since a pair 
living in the Fort discovered a real El Dorado in an 
Optician's shop. They worked that mine so 
stealthily and cleverly that before they were discovered 
they had succeeded in abstracting about Rs. 400 
worth of spectacle frames, which they had worked up 
into a very superior nest, combining durability and 
lightness like a " helical tube." The museum of the 
Bombay Natural History Society contains a ponderous 
nest made entirely of iron wire, taken apparently 
from the ruins of railway fences. There are generally 
four eggs, of a dull bluish-green colour, blotched 
with brown. They are laid in May, so that, if all 
goes well, the youngsters will have arrived at the 
most expensive age just when the monsoon comes, 
bringing frogs and all manner of plunder. But if all 
does not go well the mother and her naked infants 
stand a chance of being washed out of bed together 
some stormy night. In Canara the Crows will not 
risk this, and have their nests at the end of the 
monsoon. The eggs of the Black Crow are some- 
what larger than those of the common kind, and its 
nest is usually made earlier in the season. 



THE CROWS. I 23 

Though Crows are not gregarious, like Rooks, 
I am certain there is such a thing as Crow society, 
with its accepted rules of propriety and etiquette. 
When two Crows quarrel, the neighbours always 
arbitrate, and I have seen them helping the weaker 
party by pulling off the other. They hold assemblies, 
which certainly have a definite common purpose. We 
cannot guess what that purpose is, but how should 
we ? Could any intelligent Crow guess the purpose of 
a meeting of our Municipal Corporation? Sometimes 
also they combine clamorously to punish some 
member of the community. I believe this is for an 
offence against propriety. Crows are great sticklers 
for propriety. 




CHAPTER XXI. 



THE MYNAS. 

THE European Starling is common enough in the 
north of India, but does not roam so far south as 
Bombay. Its place is taken, however, by a group 
of birds which, though very differently dressed, can- 




Brahminy ' Mynas. 

not disguise their relationship to the starling, for 
the family features are too plain. In the air they 
have the same direct, business like flight ; on the 
ground the same parade-step ; they have the same 
flexible voice and talent for mimicry; they make 
their nests in holes and lay blue eggs. Of course I 



THE MYNAS. 125 

mean the Mynas, which, among all classes of natives 
who keep pets at all, are favourite cage-birds for 
many reasons, but chiefly because they can be 
taught to speak. The performance is rather like 
a Punch-and-Judy dialogue, and you need to be 
told what the bird is saying before you can recognise 
it. But that matters little ; it amuses people who can 
find little interest in the really amusing traits of the 
bird's natural character. 

For the Myna has a character. I once had a Myna 
and a canary in cages which hung at my window. 
A ruffianly crow came in one day and perched on the 
top of the canary's cage. Of course the silly bird 
fluttered all round the cage, clinging to the bars, and 
gave the crow the chance it wanted. It caught a 
leg in its powerful beak and tried to pull it through 
the bars. But the canary's body could not pass 
through, so the poor bird's leg was literally torn out 
by the roots, and it died in a few minutes. I 
suppose the crow swallowed the leg, and shortly 
afterwards it returned, thinking to have a leg of 
the Myna for its next course. I was in the room, 
but it did not see me ; so, after glancing round 
the room with a proprietary air, it bounced on to the 
top of the Myna's cage. But the Myna, sitting on its 
perch, knew it was quite safe and felt no agitation ; 
so it was free to take an interest in the crow, and its 
interest fixed instantly on an ugly black toe which 
hung down through the bars over its head. It caught 
that toe in its sharp beak and made an example of it, 
I tell you, it was exhilarating to observe the sudden- 
ness with which that crow jumped to the conclusion 
that it had urgent business elsewhere. Here is the 



126 THE MYNAS. 

difference between a Myna and a canary. A canary 
cannot learn that it is safe inside a cage. The 
name of the common Myna, given it by Linnasus 
himself, is Acridotheres tristis, which means the sad 
grasshopper-hunter. Grasshopper-hunter is admir- 
able, but why it should be called sad is a puzzle, for 
no bird seems to be more uniformly in good spirits. 
Jerdon suggests an explanation in its sober suit of 
quaker brown, the " sad colour " of our forefathers. 
The whole of its body is of this colour, getting grad- 
ually paler on the underparts. Its head and throat 
and breast are glossy black, but the black passes into 
the brown without striking contrast. All is sober 
and unobtrusive, yet the Myna never looks other- 
wise than well-dressed. When it flies a white bar 
opens out on the wing, and its tail is also bordered 
with white. Its beak and legs are yellow, and there 
is a small patch of bare yellow skin behind each eye. 
No bird is a more characteristic feature of Indian life 
than the Myna. It is everywhere, in town or village, 
held or garden, sometimes walking after cattle and 
catching the grasshoppers they startle, sometimes 
patrolling a field on its own account, nodding its 
head at every step. It is always among the scarlet 
flowers of the Coral Tree when they are in bloom. 
Mynas are eminently sociable. They go in pairs, or 
small parties, talking a great deal. They sleep in 
company like Crows, and jabber incredibly while 
getting to bed. In the heat of the day a Myna likes 
to retire to some cool, dark nook, in a shady tree, and 
enjoy a siesta, or carry on a gentle soliloquy. Keeky^ 
keeky, keeky, it says to itself, then chitrr^ churr, kok, 
kok, kok. Each time it says kok it points to the 



THE MYNAS. 

ground with its beak and bobs its head. What the 
exercise means is more than I can tell. It is so hard 
to understand a bird. A caged Myna lightens its 
captivity by practising all the sounds which it hears. 
But it is not necessary to cage a tame Myna. If you 
get it young enough it will become a member of the 
family and live about the house like the cat. Mynas 
make their nests in holes and lay four or five blue 
eggs. They have two or three broods in the year, 
generally in the monsoon, when grasshoppers are 
cheap and plentiful. In the jungles they will appro- 
priate holes made by woodpeckers and barbets, or 
find hollows in rotten boughs, but in a town there are 
always enough of suitable holes to be had in walls 
and roofs. They do not build in chimneys like Star- 
lings, because there are no chimneys. 

There is another species of Myna called by Jerdon 
AcridotheresfuscuS) the Dusky Myna, which is so 
like the common one that it is not usually distin- 
guished, except by naturalists, but if you get a near 
view of it you may recognise it at once by a little tuft, 
or crest, not on the crown of its head, where birds 
generally wear their crests, but on the bridge of its 
nose. It also wants the little patch of yellow skin 
behind the eye, and its general hue is more dusky. 
This is more of a jungle bird than the other, and 
therefore avoids Bombay, but it is common enough 
on the other side of the harbour. The pale Bank 
Myna (Acridotheres ginginianus), so common in 
Guzerat, is not found here. 

Next we have some charming birds belonging to 
another branch of the Myna family. They are small- 
er and daintier birds than the Common Myna, and 



1 28 THE MYNAS. 

walk less on the ground, for they live chiefly on fruit. 
The commonest is the Brahminy Myna (Temenuchus 
pagodarum), a good name, for it is a high-caste bird. 
It is smaller than a Starling, but looks more stoutly 
built, being fuller about the neck and shorter in the 
tail. Its back and wings are ashy-brown, while the 
throat, breast, and all the underparts are of a soft, 
reddish-fawn, or terra-cotta colour. On its head it 
has a crest of long, narrow, silky black feathers, 
which lie gracefully on the back of its neck, except 
when it raises them to express surprise. Its beak is 
blue at the base and yellow at the point. With this 
exception there is nothing gaudy about the bird, and 
you almost need to have it in your hand to know 
what a beauty it is. The way in which the soft 
colours pass into each other and are shaded off on the 
margins of the wings and tail cannot be told in 
words. The Brahminy Myna is a regular frequenter 
of the Coral Tree and the Silk-cotton Tree when in 
flower, and of the Banian and Peepul when in fruit. 
It is not uncommon in parts of Bombay. It breeds, 
like its relations, in holes, and lays blue eggs. There 
are usually some at the Crawford Market, for it is a 
favourite cage-bird. It has a sweet voice and a little 
song. 

The Grey-headed Myna (Temenuchus malabaricus) 
is very like the Brahminy, but all its colours are 
paler and it has no black on the head. Its crest is 
striped grey and white. I do not think it ever breeds 
in this part of the country, but in the cold season, 
or just after the rains, it haunts the Banian trees in 
little flocks, picking holes in the bright red fruit. It 
is a quiet bird, and you must look for it if you wish 



THE MYNAS. I 29 

to see it. Both this and the last fly like Starlings, 
straight and swiftly. 

The best-known of all the tribe among bird-fanciers 
is the Bengal Myna, a big, rather coarse, glossy 
black bird, with an orange-yellow beak and two 
" ears " of bare yellow skin. But it is only a Bombay 
bird in the sense that it is never absent from the 
Crawford Market. Scarcely any bird in India is 
held in higher esteem as a talker, for it has a rich 
voice of great variety and compass and is really a 
clever mimic. A friend of mine came into possession 
of one which had taught itself the whole series of 
noises with which a Hindoo lets the world know that 
he is scouring his teeth and cleansing his mucous 
membranes generally, and it used to rehearse these 
in the morning. It had to be sent into exile till 
chotee hazree was over. 

There is yet another bird which, though not 
usually called a Myna, must go with them. Un- 
fortunately it lacks a good English name. Up- 
country it is commonly called the Jowaree Bird, for 
it is an incorrigible plunderer of ripening grain. 
Jerdon calls it the Rose-coloured Starling (Pastor 
roseus). This bird spends the sumrrier and brings 
up its family somewhere in Syria, or Mesopotamia, 
but almost before the rains are over it returns and 
overruns India in vast hordes, driving the farmer 
to despair. On the coast we know it best as the 
most rowdy habitue of the Coral Tree and the Silk- 
cotton Tree, already mentioned. These two trees, 
botanically so different, unite in filling a very curious 
place in the economy of nature. Soon after the 
monsoon is over they part with every leaf and stancl 
'7 



I3O THE MYNAS. 

out bare, gaunt, and thorny. Then, after an interval, 
they hang out a signboard of scarlet, or crimson, 
flowers at the end of every naked branch, to invite 
the weary wayfarer to stop and have a drink. For 
each separate blossom is a flowing bowl, and the 
liquor in it is as delicious to a bibulous bird as 
11 sherris sack" was to Falstaff. Every tree becomes 
a public-house and a scene of revelry and riot. The 
Crows are there, of course, and the King Crows and 
the Mynas, and even the temperate Bulbul and the 
demure Coppersmith, and many another, and here 
and there a Palm Squirrel, taking his drink with 
the rest, like a foreigner. But the rowdiest element 
in all the motley rout is the jolly company of Rosy 
Starlings. They drink and swagger and babble 
and brawl, from before sunrise till the heat of noon- 
day sends them off to sleep. But the days of riot 
are soon over. By March the birds are getting 
their new costume for the fashionable season in their 
Syrian home. And a beautiful costume it is. The 
head, with its long, silky crest, and the breast and 
wings and tail are glossy black, but the back and all 
the underparts, from the breast downwards, are of 
a pure rosy-cream colour. 



CHAPTER XXII. 



THE WEAVER BIRDS. 

AFTER the Mynas come the Fringillidas, or Finches, 





the little seed-eating- 
birds which form so 
large a proportion of 
our cage pets. Jerdon 
divides them into several 
[families, among which 
he gives the first place to the Weaver Birds. There 
are several species in India, but we know only 
one, Ploceus baya^ the Weaver Bird par excellence 
and the head of the clan. And we know it by 
its works : of itself few of us know much ; most 
of us nothing. It is like Cheops, whose pyramid 
we gape at. Yet it were surely worth while to learn 
something of the marvellous little workman who 
weaves champagne bottles of grass and hangs them 
upside down on the trees so securely that two monsoons 
will not wash them away. That workman is a com. 



1 32 THE WEAVER BIRDS. 

monplace little bird, about the size of a sparrow and 
marked very like a sparrow. It easily passes for a 
sparrow and does not care, but on a near view the 
two are easily distinguished, for a sparrow is grey and 
brown, whereas the prevailing tone of a Weaver 
Bird is yellow. Its underparts are all of a dull 
yellow tint, and the feathers of the back and wings 
are bordered with brownish-yellow. Its very bill is 
yellow. As the hot season advances the male gets 
itself a wedding suit, in which, I confess, it is rather 
a dandy. The crown of its head and its breast then 
become bright yellow and its face becomes black. 
But it resumes its humble, workaday costume at the 
end of the rains. 

Weaver Birds are more than sociable. They not 
only feed together in large numbers and sleep 
together in thousands among the mangroves that 
border all our large creeks, but they like to make 
their nests and bring up their young in company. 
At that time they become especially jovial and noisy. 
The books all say that the Weaver Bird has no song, 
and I will not maintain that its voice is musical, or 
that it makes any pretence to be a soloist ; but it is 
grand at a chorus. When a glorious company of 
Weaver Birds join in song, the likeness to an after- 
dinner performance of " He's a Jolly Good Fellow " 
is most striking. Or sometimes I compare it to a 
party of British soldiers returning home from a festive 
meeting, whom the spirit of patriotism makes vocal. 

To come to those wonderful nests. The birds usually 
begin operations in July or August. They are whim- 
sical in the choice of a site. One essential condition 
js that the nest must hang from the end of a drooping 



THE WEAVER 43IRDS. 13^ 

branch, with nothing directly under it, and, as a Palm 
Tree affords many such situations, a palm tree, espe- 
cially a Date Palm, is often fixed upon by a whole 
company. In the museum of the Bombay Natural 
History Society there is a branch of a Brab Palm with 
fourteen nests attached to it. Where Palms are scarce 
a thorny Babul or Bore tree, drooping over a tank, is a 
favourite site for a colony. But you may find single 
nests, or groups of nests, in all sorts of situations. 
Jerdon says that in Burma the eaves of a thatched 
bungalow are often fringed with nests. He counted 
over a hundred hanging from the roof of a single 
bungalow in Rangoon. One thing to note is that 
there is never the slightest attempt at concealment. 
The Weaver Bird will not elude its enemies : it defies 
them. Having fixed on a site, the birds go to work 
with a will, making their own yarn and weaving from 
dawn till evening. Several kinds of material are 
used. The best is very thin strips of cocoanut leaves. 
The bird notches the edge of a leaf with its beak, and 
then by main force tears off a long, thin fibre, scarcely 
thicker than darning cotton. Any kind of rank grass 
can be treated in the same way of course, and is much 
easier to rend than a palm leaf, but the fibres are 
softer and not nearly so strong. Grass nests are, 
therefore, always more bulky and less closely woven 
than those made of palm leaf. The process of build- 
ing is as follows. The fibres are first wound and 
twined very securely about the twigs and leaves at 
the end of the branch, and then platted into each other 
to form a stalk, or neck, several inches in length. As 
this progresses it is gradually expanded in the form 
of an inverted wine-glass, or a bell, till it is large 



134 THE WEAVER BIRDS. 

enough for the accommodation of the family, and then 
the mouth of the bell is divided into two equal parts 
by a strong band woven across it. This is a critical 
stage in the progress of the work. For now the birds 
can sit on the cross-band and judge how the nest 
swings. If it is' badly balanced, they bring lumps of 
clay and stick them on one side or the other till the 
defect is remedied. At least this is Jerdon's explana- 
tion of the curious patches of clay which are generally 
found inside of Weaver Birds' nests. The native 
theory is that they are wall brackets, in which fireflies 
are stuck for the illumination of the nest. This is one 
of those things which one cannot help washing were 
true. The scientific spirit which we of this century 
worship, with its relentless demand for whole burnt 
offerings of sentiment and oblations of proof, is a 
spirit of a dry wind, withering the garden of the soul. 
But nobody really knows, except the Weaver Bird 
itself, why those lumps of clay are stuck on the walls 
of the nest. One thing certain is that, for some 
reason or other, the birds often get dissatisfied with 
the nest at this stage, and give it up and begin 
another. In every colony of nests there are several 
of these bells with a band across the mouth. In them 
the cock-birds will sit in rainy weather, each chatter- 
ing to his spouse as she broods on her eggs. But if 
the nest, when it has reached that stage, pleases 
them, they proceed to finish it. The hen sits on 
the cross-band while her mate fetches fibres. He 
pushes them through to her from the outside and she 
returns them to him. So they weave, closing up the 
bell on one side of the cross-band so as to form a 
little hollow for the eggs, and prolonging the other 



THE WEAVER BIRDS. 135 

into a long tunnel or neck. The rim of this neck is 
never bound or hemmed. It grows thinner and more 
flimsy to the end, which is frayed out, affording no 
firm hold to an enemy. The most daring squirrel 
will not attempt to clamber round it and get into the 
nest, especially if there is a well beneath. The 
mother and her young in their water-tight and wind- 
proof chamber will swing in perfect security from 
every foe but man. There is a curious difference of 
opinion about the number of eggs laid by the Weaver 
Bird. Jerdon says two, or at the most three, and is 
supported by Hume and other good authorities ; but 
the late Mr. Barnes protests that he has examined 
scores of nests and never found fewer than four, and 
sometimes as many as six. I have never been a 
plunderer of nests, but from such experience as I have 
I should be inclined to agree with Jerdon. It is not 
impossible that the nests in which Barnes found five 
or six eggs were chummeries occupied by more than 
one family. 

It used to be the fashion to speak of beasts and 
animals as being endowed with some mysterious 
faculty called " instinct," which was a sort of compen- 
sation to them for the want of reason. When a bird 
made a wonderful nest it was supposed to be working 
by this faculty, without using its intelligence. I 
think this way of speaking, or thinking, is pretty well 
exploded now, and I should like to explode it a little 
more. It is quite true that the lower animals have 
by inheritance the knowledge of many things which 
we have to learn for ourselves ; but the difference is 
one of degree, not of kind. So when a bird does a 
clever thing you may be sure it is a clever bird* 



136 THE WEAVER 

The Weaver Bird is no exception. If taken young 
it may be taught almost anything. Jerdon quotes 
the following account of its performances from Mr. 
Blyth : " The truth is that the feats performed 
by trained Bayas are really very wonderful, and 
must be witnessed to be fully credited. Exhibitors 
carry them about, we believe, to all parts of the country, 
and the usual procedure is, when ladies are present, 
for the bird, on a sign from its master, to take a 
cardamom, or sweetmeat, in its bill and deposit it 
between a lady's lips, and repeat this offering to every 
lady present, the bird following the look and gesture 
of its master. A miniature cannon is then brought, 
which the bird loads with coarse grains of powder, 
or more commonly with small balls of powder made 
up for the purpose ; it next seizes and skilfully uses 
a small ramrod, and then it takes a lighted match from 
its master, which it applies to the touch-hole. We 
have seen the little bird apply the match five or six 
times successively before the powder ignited, which it 
finally did with a report loud enough to alarm all the 
crows in the neighbourhood, while the little Baya 
remained perched on the cannon, apparently quite 
elated with its performance." 

Jerdon also says that the Weaver Bird is very ready 
to make its nest and bring up a family in captivity if 
it is only allowed room enough. 



CHAPTER XXIII. 



THE AMADAVATS AND THE MUNIAS. 

FROM "Amidavad," the learned Dr. Fryer tells us, 
come small 
birds, "spot- 
ted with red 
and white 
no b i gger 
than mea- 
sles," of 
which " fifty 
in a cage" 
make an ad- 
m i r able 
chorus. That 
was more 
than two 
hundred 
years ago. 
I do not 
know whe- 
ther they still 
come from 
Ahmedabad, 
but the name 
has stuck to 

them and they still come, more than " fifty in a cage " 
sometimes, to people our aviaries. They need no 
description, for everybody knows them. They arc 







W kite-backed and Brown M 



138 THE AMADAVATS AND THE MUNI AS. 

the tiniest of cage-birds, and have red beaks : whence 
they are sometimes called Waxbills. The Munias are 
twice as large, though still very small, and have 
black, or slaty, bills. But they are all one brother- 
hood, and will live together in amity, though you 
pack them so thick that some have to find a perch on 
the backs of others. So you will find them packed in 
the cages at the Crawford Market. But they are 
not unhappy, like most of the birds there, for their 
wants are small. Give them dry seed and clean water 
and they will look on the bright side of things. It is 
to this happy disposition that they owe their popularity 
as pets, for they have no accomplishments and are as 
silly and uninteresting as birds can be. The common 
Amadavat has, indeed, a little piping song, which is 
sweet, though feeble, and the Brown Munia some- 
times warbles a love-sick ditty to its mate, hopping 
absurdly with its legs straddled out, but you must put 
your hand to your ear to catch the sound. And the 
rest confine themselves to a note of one syllable, 
which they repeat about thirty-five times in a minute 
when they are in good spirits. But it is a pleasant 
note, and I think a cage-full of Amadavats and 
Munias in the verandah always adds to the cheerfulness 
of the house. The common Amadavat (Estrelda 
amandavd) is found in most parts of India, but I 
doubt its right to be called a native of Bombay. 
There are always some in the island, and I have seen 
a pair making a nest at Tardeo, but I suspect they 
are all escaped prisoners. The male Amadavat has 
two suits in the year. In summer it is a sparkling 
gem, splashed all over the face, breast, and back with 
crimson, which, however, keeps its brilliance only in 



THE AMADAVATS AND THE MtJNIAS. 139 

the light of the sun. In caged birds it becomes brick- 
red. In winter the crimson feathers are mostly doffed 
and both sexes dress alike. 

There is another lovely Amadavat, which Jerdon 
calls the Green Waxbill (Estrelda formosa). It is 
light green above, pale yellow beneath, and prettily 
banded on the sides. This is certainly not a Bombay 
bird, though common enough in cages, together with 
some beautiful foreign species, which need not be 
mentioned here. 

Of the Munias there are at least two species which 
seem to be really resident in Bombay. The common- 
est is Jerdon's White-backed Munia (Munia striata}^ 
a black-and-white bird with a bluish beak. The 
" smalT' of its back and its underparts, from the 
breast downwards, are white. All the rest is very 
dark brown, almost black in parts. Then there is the 
Spotted Munia (M. undulata or puncttilata), of a rich 
brown colour, passing into chestnut on the face and 
throat. The underparts are white, or greyish, with 
zebra stripes on the side. Young birds are of a dull, 
earthy-brown colour. Two other species may be 
described here, because they belong to our Presidency 
and are common in cages. One is the Black-headed 
Munia (M. malacca}^ a handsome bird, which has 
its home in Canara and Malabar. Its head, throat, 
and breast are glossy black, and its back, wings, and 
tail bright chestnut. Below the breast it is white. 
The other is the Plain Brown Munia (M. malabarica), 
which may be found wild in Bombay, for it is every- 
where, and in the Deccan is one of the commonest of 
small birds, making its silly nest in every wayside 
bush for schoolboys and crows to do what they like 



THE AMADAVATS AND THE MU 

with. It is the utterest simpleton of a not-talented 
family. Its nest is constructed, after the Munia 
fashion, of fine grass, in a globular form, and should 
contain, I believe, about half a dozen pure white 
eggs. But the Brown Munia is " promiscuous " in 
family matters. It will lay eggs in a neighbour's 
nest instead of its own, or because it has none of its 
own, and its neighbour will never be so unneigh- 
bourly as to object. Sometimes two or more families 
will chum together, and others will use the nest as 
a dormitory, leaving an egg, perhaps, as payment. 
So it happens that any number of eggs may be found 
in a Brown Munia's nest, some fresh, some "cook- 
ing," and some beyond even that. Theobald found 
twenty-five eggs in one nest. In an aviary, if you 
provide little nest-boxes, these birds will behave in 
the same happy-go-lucky way. I do not understand 
how they succeed in keeping their place in the 
world and escaping extermination, but they are 
making nests and laying plentiful eggs all the year 
round, so I suppose that the doctrine of chances 
secures a certain percentage of offspring. The Brown 
Munia differs from the other species in having a 
pointed tail and not holding it up. It is a light- 
coloured bird, pale-brown when fresh caught, but 
inclining to French-grey if kept out of the sun. 
Its tail is black, and its breast and underparts are 
almost white. 

I once saw a professional bird-catcher on Malabar 
Hill trapping Munias. Nothing is easier. I have 
trapped a good many myself. If you put out a cage 
with a few birds in it, every passer-by of the same 
species will come down to inquire after their health, 



THE AMADAVATS AND THE MUNIAS. 

and if you put an empty cage beside the other, and 
scatter some seed in it, they will hop in quite good- 
naturedly. All you want is some contrivance to 
close the door upon them. When they find them- 
selves prisoners they are not the least discomposed, 
but make themselves at home and behave in a friend- 
ly manner to the former occupants. 

There are many kinds of foreign Munias, and some 
species from other parts of India, which find their 
way to the market and thence to the aviaries, but 
those I have mentioned are all that we have to do 
with here. 



CHAPTER XXIV. 




THE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS, AND LARKS. 

The House Sparrow is one of the common birds 
of Bombay. 
It is a hand- 
somer bird 
here than 
it is in Eng- 
land. Its 
c olours are 
brighter and 
better defin- 
ed. On this 
account a n 
ill-ad vi sed 
attempt was 
made to raise 
it to the rank 
of a distinct 
species, and 
it appears in 
Jerdon a s 
Passer indi- 
<cus. No good 

C O m e S of Black-headed Bunting an.i Finch Lark. 
these u n- 

necessary distinctions. The Sparrow is a cosmo- 
politan, and its name in science is Passer domes- 
ticus. It is a vulgar little body, which tries to 





THE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS, AND LARKS. 143 

be a gentleman and attains to being a gent. In 
dress it affects smartness and in manners gentility. 
In the company of ladies it becomes a masher. 
Nevertheless, I like the little Sparrow out of doors. 
But in this country you cannot keep it out of doors. 
It comes in and makes up its mind that it will have 
its nest in the corner of your ceiling. And when a 
Sparrow makes up its mind nothing will unmake it 
except the annihilation of that Sparrow. Its faithful 
spouse is always, and very strongly, of the same mind 
as itself. So they set to work to make a hole in the 
corner of the ceiling-cloth, and they tear and tug 
with an energy which leaves no room for failure. 
Then they begin to fetch hay. The quantity of hay 
which a couple of Sparrows will carry in a day is 
almost miraculous. Most of it tumbles down in their 
efforts to stuff it into the hole, for they always bring 
larger loads than they can manage. I remember a 
pair which made a hole directly over one of the pic- 
tures on my drawing-room wall, and I declare 
solemnly that you might have fed a horse on the hay 
which I removed daily and hourly from behind that 
picture. This savours of exaggeration, perhaps, but 
I mean a hack-victoria horse. At such times the 
House Sparrow requires an antidote, a u Gem Air- 
gun," or something of that sort. I once saw, with 
unfeigned satisfaction, a pair of Sparrows making 
their nest in the top of a street-lantern near to the 
Victoria Station. They had no idea that that lamp 
was lighted every night after they had gone to bed, 
and, when they arrived each morning and found yes- 
terday's work reduced to ashes, they did no doubt 
what a brave Sparrow always does in such circum- 



144 THE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS, AND LARKS. 

stances : they looked adversity in the face and began 
again. I hope they are at it still. That was ten 
years ago. 

There are several near relations of the House Spar- 
row which have not attached themselves to man, like 
it, and one of them, the Yellow-throated Sparrow 
(Passer flavicollis), is common enough in Bombay. 
It is a more elegant and shapely bird than our house 
pest, but an unmistakeable Sparrow. Its colour is a 
pretty, uniform, pale ashy-brown, with a double 
white band on the wing and a touch of dark chestnut 
on the shoulder. The underparts are a little paler 
than the upper. It gets its name from a patch of 
pure yellow on the throat, but you must get near it 
to see that. It makes its nest during the hot season 
in any convenient hole, often outside, but never 
inside, of a house. The end of a hollow bamboo 
affords exactly the sort of accommodation it requires, 
for which reason you will find it haunting scaffoldings, 
plague huts, and other forms of temporary archi- 
tecture. When the hen is on the eggs the cock sits 
within hearing and chirps by the hour with the true 
Sparrow accent. The eggs are usually three or four 
in number and of a greenish-white colour, thickly 
blotched and clouded with brown. 

We have one Bunting which almost takes the 
place in India of the Yellow-hammer at home, swarm- 
ing about fields and hedges and singing with more 
cheer than music. But it is with us only in the cold 
season, being a Greek, or Syro-Phcenician, by birth. 
On a careless view the Black-headed Bunting (Euspiza 
tnelanocephalci) may pass for a Weaver Bird on 
account of its yellow front, but it is a larger and 



?HE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS AND LARKS. 145 

noticeably longer bird, and its colours are different. 
In a mature bird the whole head and face are black 
and contrast with the bright yellow of the breast. 
The shoulders and upper back are rich chestnut. 
In the Deccan the Black-headed Bunting visits the 
bajree and jowaree fields in hordes and takes toll from 
the poor farmer. Many are trapped and brought to 
Bombay for sale. They are handsome but uninter- 
esting pets. 

The Red-headed, or Chestnut-headed, Bunting 
(Euspiza hiteola] is another species which is not 
unlikely to be met with in Bombay. 

The Larks constitute our last group of little seed- 
eating birds. After them we pass on to pigeons and 
game-birds. In a former paper I referred to the 
sort of man who holds the dogma that in India 
birds do not sing. Of course that man never 
saw a Lark in this country and does not believe it 
contains such a thing. He disputed the point with 
me once from dinner till bed-time, propping himself 
with pegs as he went along. As a matter of fact the 
Indian Skylark (Alauda gulgula), which is scarcely 
distinguishable from the English bird in colour and 
not distinguishable in habit or song, is found through- 
out this country wherever there is an acre of corn land 
or open grassy ground. I have pleasant recollections 
of standing on the Flats in Bombay and watching it 
" float and run in the golden lightning of the sunken 
sun," till it was out of sight, and then listening to 
the shower of melody which it continued to pour 
down. I suppose it is less common there now. 
Town sweepings and refuse are not conducive to 
Larks. 



146 THE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS AND LARKS. 

There are two other species of Larks found through- 
out the Presidency, which may easily be confounded 
with the true Skylark. The chief difference is that 
they have both a sharp-pointed crest rising from the 
crown of the head. Jerdon calls one of them the 
Malabar Crested Lark (Alauda malabarica] and the 
other the Small Crested Lark (Spisalauda devd). 

They both soar and sing, but I am ashamed to say 
that I know very little about their song, or I should 
be ashamed if I had not noticed that Jerdon and 
Barnes and Gates all seem to avoid saying anything 
definite on the subject, from which I infer that they 
knew no more than I. The fact is that when the Lark 
is singing it is generally out of sight, or too high up to 
be distinguished clearly, so it is not easy to be sure 
which species you are listening to. It seems to follow 
that there cannot be a very marked difference in their 
songs. The Small Crested Lark at any rate is very 
highly esteemed by natives, especially Mahomedans, 
both as a songster and a mimic. They keep it in a 
very small cage, wrapped in folds of cloth which keep 
out every ray of light. I suppose the idea is that a 
hermit's cell is the nearest approach to heaven, but it 
is a curious answer to Shelley's question 

What objects are the fountains 

Of thy happy strain, 
What fields or waves or mountains, 

What shapes of sky or plain ? 

It succeeds. Withdrawn from all terrestrial distrac- 
tions, the birds sing as they do when they are 
" ringed with the azure world." 

Besides these we have two birds of the Lark tribe 
which are not exactly Skylarks. They do not sing 



THE SPARROWS, BUNTINGS AND LARKS. 147 

at heaven's gate, but they try to keep up the tradi- 
tions of the family by soaring to a little height 
and then closing their wings and warbling, or whist- 
ling, as they fall. Jerdon calls them Finch Larks. 
The commonest is the Black-bellied Finch Lark 
(Pyrrhidauda grisea)^ a happy little dust-coloured bird 
with a very squat figure. The breast and underparts 
of the male are black and there is a black cross on 
the throat. You may disturb this bird at its dust 
bath on any of the roads that cross the Flats. The 
other species is the Rufous-tailed Finch Lark {Ammo- 
manes phoenicura), a large, dark brown bird, easily 
recognised by a rich rusty red colour about the tail. 
It also has a noticeably squat figure, too broad for 
its size. It goes in pairs and may be seen anywhere 
in the open region between Tardeo, Worlee, and Parel. 
All the Larks make their nests on the ground, or 
rather lay their eggs on the ground, for there is 
sometimes not much nest. They usually choose the 
hot season, when the ground is dry, and their dingily- 
speckled eggs are hard to find. 



CHAPTER XXV. 



THE PIGEONS AND DOVES. 

EVERY system of classification puts the pigeons and 
doves Ln 
an order 
by [them- 
selves, for 
they are 
distin- 
guished 
from a 1 1 
other birds 
bynotone, 
but many, 
family 
features, 
which can- 
not be mis- 
take n . 
Their 
beaks are 
swollen 
and soft at 
the base, 
but hard at 
the point. 

Their eyes Turth Doves ' 

are large and lustrous, and set far back in the 
head, which is small. Their bodies are compact 




THE PIGEONS AND DOVES. 149 

and shapely, their tails neither very long nor very 
short, their wings generally fitted for swift and 
strong flight. They rarely carry any meretricious 
ornament, such as crests, or trains, or fancy plumes, 
but they are all beautiful and some of them 
exquisitely lovely. Yet their loveliness is not 
that of golden orioles and kingfishers, but rather 
of clouds and distant hills and soft sunsets. Nor 
is their beauty in their feathers only ; their eyes 
and their feet, and even their beaks, match their 
plumage and complete the effect. I think also 
that all the motions and attitudes of pigeons 
are more graceful than those of other birds. But 
these are outward features. There are also inward 
characters by which the tribe is not less markedly 
distinguished. They are all vegetarians, some 
feeding on grain and some on fruit, but refusing 
animal-food in every shape. It is said, indeed, that 
they sometimes eat snails, but, if this is true, I 
believe they must have swallowed them by mistake 
for seeds. Such mistakes will happen to all of us. 
I knew a person whose fate it was once to mistake 
lizard's eggs for small white " sweeties." But let 
us leave that subject and get back to pigeons. They 
drink like horses, and not by sips as other birds do. 
They all lay white eggs, never more than two in 
number, and make simple, flat nests of twigs, which 
they generally place in trees or bushes, but some- 
times in holes. They never sing, nor chirp, nor 
screech. Their voice is a plaintive moan, or coo, 
verging sometimes on a mellow whistle. But their 
highest distinction lies in the strength of their social 
affections and the purity of their domestic life, In 



I5O THE PIGEONS AND DOVES. 

these respects they arc far ahead of the majority of 
the human race. Polygamy and polyandry are alike 
unknown among them. They are all monogamous, 
and, as far as my observation goes, a pair once united 
remain true to each other till death do them separate. 
Their arts of love and courtship are strangely like 
our own, and after they are married they are always 
assuring each other of their affection by pretty tokens 
of tenderness. They are also devoted to their children. 
I had a pair of pigeons of which the hen died suddenly, 
leaving two naked and helpless infants. I thought 
they must die, but the father took the whole care of 
them on himself and brought them up successfully. 

After all this, it is painful to say, what is never- 
theless true, that pigeons appear to have been 
designed in a special degree for the food of other 
creatures. Being, as I have said, strict vegetarians, 
their plump bodies are both wholesome and tasty. In 
this opinion hawks and cats are at one with man. 
And having no means of protection and no resource 
in danger, except their swiftness, they are fair game. 
But they hold their own and multiply, for, though 
they lay only two eggs at a time, they go on making 
nest on nest all the year through in warm countries 
at least. A pair of domestic pigeons, if provided 
with two nest boxes, will have eggs in the second 
before the young are out of the first. 

The whole tribe may be divided for our purposes 
into three groups, namely, Pigeons, Turtle Doves 
and Fruit Pigeons. We have one of each in Bom- 
bay. The Blue Rock, parent of all domestic pigeons, 
is one of the commonest birds of Bombay. It differs 
from the Blue Rock of Europe in having the lower 



THE IMC, ICONS AND DOVKS. 151 

part of the back ashy instead of pure white, and, 
as this difference is constant, our bird has been 
separated under the name Columba intermedia, but 
it is in all other respects the same bird. It has been 
less affected by domestication than any other bird 
or beast which man has taken under his care, except 
the Guinea Fowl. I do not refer, of course, to fancy 
Pigeons, Pouters and Fantails and the like. I 
regard these as monstrosities, like the Japanese fishes 
with spare heads and tails. The ordinary domestic 
Pigeon, which is kept for practical purposes, differs 
from the original stock in scarcely anything but 
colour. Accordingly it "reverts" to a state of 
nature without difficulty, and many white and parti- 
coloured pigeons may be seen about the Fort, which 
have deserted some dovecote for a life of greater 
freedom, or perhaps eloped with some blue lover. 
But the great majority of the birds are pure Blue 
Rocks that have never known the care of man. The 
race is found in every part of India, breeding on 
cliffs, or in the sides of wells, or under railway 
bridges, and plundering the peafields for miles 
around. They are attracted to Bombay by two things, 
plentiful house accommodation and the benevolence 
of pious Hindoo grain merchants. 

We have also one Turtle Dove, the species which 
Jerdon calls the Plain Brown Dove (Turtur cavi- 
bayensis). It is a humble little bird, of an earthy- 
brown colour, passing into slaty-gray on the wings 
and tail, and tinged on the head, neck and breast, 
with that tender tint, peculiar to doves, which the 
natural history books call " vinaceous," like a faded 
claret stain on the table cloth. On each side of the 



152 THE PIGEONS AND DOVES, 

neck there is a miniature chessboard in red and black. 
The feet are red. That this kind of dove should be 
found only in Bombay is a very curious fact, which I 
do not know how to account for. India is rich in 
species of doves, some of which are widely distri- 
buted and some rather local. All over the plains 
of the Deccan two species divide the land. The 
large, pale-gray Ringdove (Turtur risoria} swarms 
in the open country, and the little Turtle Dove 
above-mentioned frequents the stations and gardens. 
In Poona it is the " common or garden " Dove, 
walking in the middle of the paths and uttering 
its broken disyllabic coo from the pricklypear 
hedges. But you may go down the whole west 
coast, from Bombay southwards to Malabar, without 
meeting it, or the Ringdove either. Their place is 
taken by the beautiful Spotted Dove, with its 
mournfully sweet voice. On the mainland and 
islands just across our harbour it is very plentiful ; but 
I have never seen it in Bombay. The doves I have 
met with about Cumballa and Malabar Hills all 
belong to the species so common in Poona. I do not 
know whether it ever breeds in Bombay. Elsewhere 
it makes its nest in a prickly-pear, or any other thick 
bush, if you can apply the word nest to a flimsy 
platform of sticks, so thin that the two white eggs 
can be seen through it from below. 

The name of the Plain Brown Dove in Jerdon is 
Turtur cambayensis^ but in later books T. senegalensis. 
The Spotted Dove is T. suratensis. These names 
are historical monuments, indicating the places from 
which the first specimens of these doves found their 
way to Europe. 



THE PIGEONS AND DOVES. 153 

The Fruit Pigeons are green birds, which try to be 
parrots, but nature has stamped them doves. They 
live entirely on fruit, which they swallow whole, not 
having parrot beaks to carve it with. A very wide 
gape and a most capacious and elastic throat make 
amends to some extent for this defect, but still the 
Fruit Pigeon is obliged to do without mangoes and 
guavas. It finds compensation in the many varieties 
of wild figs which every forest in India produces in 
such liberal profusion. When a fig tree fruits, it 
fruits all over and all at once, offering a feast to the 
whole country such as a Rajah gives when an heir is 
born to his throne ; and as mendicant Brahmins 
gather from distant provinces to the Rajah's feast, so 
the Fruit Pigeons from afar flock together to the tree 
while it lasts, and gorge themselves twice a day, first 
about 8 in the morning, and again about 4 in the after- 
noon. Then is the time to shoot them, for they are 
excellent eating, especially if their tough skins have 
been taken off before cooking. It is difficult at first 
to see them, for they are verdant like the foliage 
among which they sit strangely silent and motionless, 
bat after much peering among the leafy boughs you 
may catch sight of a tail oscillating slowly like a 
pendulum. There is a solitary green bird, sitting like 
a wooden figure. You fire and two fall and a dozen 
fly off. If you are as other men you will probably 
utter loud and naughty words, for if you had known 
there were so many birds you might easily have had a 
second shot at them as they flew. But if you are wise, 
you will rule your spirit and be still. For there may 
be a score of pigeons in the tree yet, and others will 
come in small parties from time to time, so that, with 

20 



154 THE PIGEONS AND DOVES. 

patience, you may make a very respectable bag before 
the feeding hour is over. Then remorse will have its 
turn, perhaps, as you gather up the fallen and see 
what perfect loveliness you have destroyed for the 
sake of your stomach. Body and wings are vivid 
green, becoming almost yellow on the breast and 
under parts, head and tail are pure dove gray, a 
slanting yellow bar lights up each wing, and the 
shoulder is finished off with a splash of lilac. The 
feet are orange yellow and the eyes carmine with a 
narrow outer ring of the most intense blue. This is 
Jerdon's Southern Green Pigeon (Crocopus chlori- 
gaster], which is the common species of the Bombay 
Presidency. My reason for counting it among the 
Birds of Bombay is that I believe it has been seen 
about Malabar Point ; and indeed, where Banian and 
Peepul trees are so plentiful, it is not likely to be 
absent, 



CHAPTER XXVI. 



POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS. 

THE next great Order of birds, of which the domestic 
moorghee is for ever the type, is by no means so 
homogeneous as the Pigeons. Indeed, the variety 
of forms and fashions in which it exhibits itself has 



,it v ,;-.y,. 
1'fc'Il 




Bush Quails. 

no parallel except among fashionable womankind. 
Some of the Pheasants have tails twice as long as 
their bodies ; the Quail has a tail, but you must 
search for it if you wish to see it ; the Peacock has an 
average tail, but the feathers of the back above it are 
developed into a train four feet long. Head-dresses 
are as various, The Peacock wears a corona of 



156 POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS. 

peculiar, racket-shaped feathers ; the domestic Cock a 
fleshy comb and wattles ; the Turkey an extensile red 
nose, while some of the Pheasants have beautiful 
crests. To come to colour, that mixture which is 
known as " game," is very much in vogue. It con- 
sists of light upon dark shades of brown, in bars, 
or borders, or little splashes, or fine wavy lines, a 
sort of tartan, always the same in character, but 
varying in detail with each clan. This is the costume 
of Quails and Partridges and many others through 
life, and it is characteristic of the young of all, or 
almost all. But the aristocracy of the race, the 
Peafowls and Pheasants and Jungle Cocks, when 
they come of age, are apparelled with an extravagance 
of splendour which no other race of bird can ap- 
proach, except the Humming Birds. This finery is 
usually the peculiar badge of the male. The other 
sex is attired with modesty, though always taste- 
fully and often beautifully. This is doubtless con- 
nected with another point in which these birds differ 
from Pigeons, namely, that they are nearly all 
polygamists. To win a harem and keep it is for them 
success in life. To this end the young beau must 
dress and strut and dance and bow and scrape and 
practise all the arts that enslave the female heart, 
and he must fight too. Almost all the birds of this 
order are armed with spurs on their legs and practise 
the art of fence from their very chicken-hood. If one 
has a harem it follows that many must do without 
wives. These are the unsuccessful, which go about 
alone, moody and resentful, trying to sow dissension 
in the homes of the more lucky, sometimes getting 
thrashed for their pains and sometimes thrashing the 



POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS. 157 

master of the house and taking possession of his wives, 
who are nothing loth. This form of social life has also 
been tried among men, but its influence on character 
has not proved elevating. It does not tend to produce 
good fathers nor worthy sons, as David found out 
and Solomon too. And among gallinaceous birds the 
father does not take much interest in his offspring. 
The mother retires into solitude and brings them 
up herself. Fortunately they need far less care than 
the young of other birds generally. Born on the 
ground, they get on their own legs as soon as they 
leave the egg, and they do not open their little mouths 
to be fed, but pick up food for- themselves, the mother 
showing them the way. So they are very soon able 
to shift for themselves, though they follow the mother 
for months. Under these conditions a mother can 
manage a much larger family than if she had to feed 
each one with a spoon, and the mothers of this order 
are usually like the old woman who lived in a shoe, as 
I remember her represented in my early picture books. 
But there is usually only one brood in the year. 

Gallinaceous birds are not musical ; in fact, there 
is a defect in their vocal organs, so that they cannot 
modulate their voices. They utter clucks or clicks, 
or a long shrill note, dislocated in the middle, 
which is called a crow. Jerdon quotes the obser- 
vation that there is an analogy in many points be- 
tween this order and the Ruminants among beasts, 
namely, the cattle and sheep and deer. Certainly 
the gallinaceous birds appear to be even more dis- 
tinctly designed for food than the Pigeons. There 
is no race of birds that man persecutes more per- 
sistently. 



158 POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS. 

This is a very long preface, but in truth there is 
little else to be said, for the gallinaceous order is 
almost unrepresented among the wild birds of 
Bombay. From a sporting paper that once flourished 
amongst us it appears that, in the early years of 
the century, when a Griffin arrived, it was considered 
a good joke to lend him a couple of pariah dogs, 
with ears and tails cropped, and send him to Old 
Woman's Island (i.e. Colaba) to shoot Partridges ; 
but I do not know whether the point of the joke 
was that there were Partridges in Old Woman's 
Island or that there were none. There are none now. 
On the other side of the harbour the Painted 
Partridge (Francolinus pictiis) is still found and 
would be plentiful if so many were not snared during 
the breeding season for the Bombay market. I 
caught one once on Cumballa Hill, or rather my 
dog did, but it had evidently escaped from the hands 
of the executioner. The Grey Quail and the Rain 
Quail spread everywhere during the cold season, 
but there is scarcely an acre of ground left in Bombay 
on which they could find a living. There is one 
bird, however, of that family which can still make 
itself happy among us. I mean the Rock Bush 
Quail, as Jerdon calls it (Perdicida asiaticci), though 
it is rather a miniature Partridge than a Quail. It 
is a globular bird, about the size of a cricket ball, 
and nearly the same colour from the point of view 
from which it is generally seen. That is when you 
put up a covey out of a bush, and it explodes like 
a shell, the fragments flying in all directions. They 
do not fly far, but drop into bushes again and crouch 
for a while in silence. Then one and another utters 



POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS. 1 59 

its soft call-note, and is answered from different 
directions, and the covey is soon united again. 
They live habitually in bushes and hedges, but come 
out into the open to feed early in the morning and 
again in the evening, moving softly with no visible 
feet. You may watch them if you keep very still, 
and it is a pretty sight. Seen at close quarters the 
Bush Quail is rather a handsome bird, with fat cheeks 
and a round good-natured face. Though the general 
colour is rather a dull brown, each feather is prettily 
freckled with black and buff. The male is much 
darker above than the female, but his under parts are 
white, banded with black, and his chin and throat are 
bright chestnut. Nobody shoots the Bush Quail, 
which is not worth much for the table; but it is snared 
by natives, and you will often find them for sale 
in the Crawford Market. It lays six or seven pale 
creamy eggs, about the end of the rains, under a bush 
or tuft of grass. 

There is another group of small game birds known 
as Bustard Quails, or Button Quails, which has cost 
the classificators(this word is not in the dictionary, but 
\ cannot dispense with it) no small perplexity. They 
mostly want the hind toe (the birds I mean, not the 
classiricators) and have other peculiarities, on account 
of which they are given a whole Order to themselves 
in "The Fauna of British India." Jerdon puts them 
at the end of the game birds as a Family. They are 
quiet, shy birds, that live solitary lives in fields and 
scrub jungle, creeping about among the grass and 
feeding on seeds and insects. If you chance to tread 
on one's toes it will start out of the grass and fly 
swiftly for a few yards and drop again. And this is 



i6o POULTRY AND GAME BIRDS. 

all you will ever see of it. But you may hear it. In 
the morning and evening, and even at dead of night, it 
gives vent to some feeling in one of the strangest 
sounds ever uttered by bird. Jerdon describes it as " a 
loud, purring call." To me it suggests a nail drawn 
across the teeth of a sonorous comb of endless length. 
If it proceeds from the lungs of the bird, then the 
mystery is still unsolved how the quantity of air which 
must be required to keep up such a sustained effort can 
be compressed into so small a body. One of the eccen- 
tricities of the Bustard Quail is that the female makes 
all the noise. The male, as far as I know, is silent. 
He, is smaller than she, and though I cannot say 
whether he is literally henpecked, there can be little 
doubt that he is l sair hauden doun.' He has to stay 
at home and mind the babies while she goes gadding 
about and fighting with her female neighbours. This 
is not scandal, but a fact. She differs from him in 
having a good deal of black on the head, throat 
and breast. The general colour of both is reddish 
brown, marked- with a game pattern of fine, black, 
cross lines, with buff edges to the feathers. I am 
speaking of the species which Jerdon calls the Black- 
breasted Bustard Quail (T-urnix taigoor). There are 
two others, but this is the one that makes the curious 
noise described above, and the only one, I think, that 
is likely to be found in Bombay. I once came upon 
its nest in June, not far from Bombay. It was a most 
artistic structure for a Quail to build, completely dom- 
ed over with fine grass, with only a little hole at one 
side for the owner to go in and out by. I did not catch 
the bird, so it may have been one of the other species, 
but there is not much difference. 



CHAPTER XXVII. 




THE PLOVERS. 

WE come now to the Fifth Order of birds, namely, 
the Gralla- 
tores. Gral- 
lator means 
one who 
goes on 
stilts, and 
this Order 
includes all 
those long- 
s h a n k e d 
birds which 
bare their 
legs and 
walk about 
in shallow 
waters, and 
also many 
which do not 
go into water 
but walk 
upon dry 
ground on 
stilts. It 

must be admitted that this Order comprises a very 
mixed lot, differing from each other in habits and 
manner of life as well as in outward form and inward 
31 




Red-wattled Lapwing. 



1 62 THE PLOVERS. 

structure. Long-leggedness is almost the only com- 
mon feature. They are divided into five Tribes, and 
these again into many Families. The First Tribe 
contains the Ostrich and Emu and other giant fowls, 
whose wings are reduced to stumps for growing 
feathers to ornament ladies' hats. These are the 
Cursores, or Runners, of some authors. Next come 
the Bustards, Floricans, Plovers, and all that lot, 
which also run well, but can fly too. Like the Ostrich, 
they have no hind toe. As they never perch on trees, 
or anywhere else, a hind toe would be a superfluity. 
They all lay their eggs on the ground, and the young 
run as soon as they are hatched. In this Tribe there 
are some which must be noticed here. The Lapwing, 
Peewit, or Plover, which has the misfortune to lay 
fashionable eggs in England, is not found here, but it 
has a near relation which is one of our most familiar 
birds. It has no crest, but on its cheeks there are 
two bright red lappets, like the wattles of a cock, and 
Jerdon calls it the Red-wattled Lapwing (Lobivanelhts 
goensis). It is a greenish-brown bird with a good 
deal of black and white upon it. The head is black, 
with the throat, down to the upper part of the breast. 
Below this the under parts, with the lining of the 
wings, are pure white, as you see when it flies. But 
why should I describe the Lapwing? It needs no 
description and wants no introduction. It introduces 
itself to you ; impresses itself on you ; dins itself 
into you. Where it sprang from, I cannot tell, but 
there it is in the air, circling round and round, now 
far, now very near, now high, now low, now seeming 
to go, but wheeling round and coming swiftly back 
again ; for it will not go. And all the time it is 



THE PLOVERS. 163 

reiterating, with piercing emphasis, that mysterious 
taunt, " Did you do it ? Did you do it ? Pity to do 
it." What does the creature mean? I have done 
nothing. Suddenly its mate springs into visibility 
and joins it. I have a suspicion, a strong suspicion, 
that somewhere on the ground, not far from my feet, 
there are four stone-coloured eggs, with black blotches 
on them and like pegtops in shape, arranged in a 
cross with their points inwards. But it is no use 
looking for them. The Lapwing is such an accom- 
plished liar that it will throw you off the scent one 
way. or another. The poet has said it, 

" The lapwing- lies, 
Says here when it is there." 

It is altogether a wonderful character. It seems 
to do without food and sleep. As regards food, you 
never find it where there is anything to eat, and as 
regards sleep, the natives have a saying that it sleeps 
on its back with its legs turned up, for it says, " If 
the sky should fall, I will catch it on my feet ; " but I 
suspect the chief point of this saying is that it cannot 
be contradicted, for nobody ever caught a Lapwing 
asleep. 

There is another kind of Lapwing, with yellow 
instead of red wattles on its cheeks. Otherwise it is 
very like the common one, but somewhat paler in 
colour and with less black on it. There is a syllable 
less in its cry. It, however, likes a dry climate, and 
I have not often seen it on the coast. 

The Grey Plover and the Golden Plover are small 
compact birds with very large eyes, quite different in 
their aspect from the Lapwing. They are found all 
over India in the cold season and wander a great 



164 THE PLOVERS. 

deal, so one might fall in with a flock on the Flats, 
or about Worlee or Colaba ; but it is not likely. The 
Ring Plovers, or Sand Plovers, (./Egialitis) have 
more right to a place in our list, for they are regular 
shore birds, loving sandy beaches, and they swarm 
all along the coast in the cold season. On the Espla- 
nade you will meet them in scores, especially in the 
morning. I dare say they generally pass for 
"snippets," but comprehensive as that genus is, it 
cannot be stretched to take in the Ring Plovers. 
They are true Plovers, three-toed and swift running, 
with broad heads, large eyes and stout bills. They 
live in small parties, running nimbly before you on 
the sands, or getting up and flying ahead with a swift 
and sinuous flight, not far above the ground. There 
are several species of them, which it would be useless 
to describe separately here. They are all small, 
sandy-coloured birds, with a dusky collar from which 
they get their common name. The one which 
frequents our Esplanade is the Indian Ring Plover 
(./Egialitis phillipensis). 

In December last year (1899), when the famine 
inland drove many strange birds to Bombay for a 
living, a flock of forty or fifty large Plovers appeared 
on the Esplanade and remained for some weeks. 
They attracted much attention and were productive 
of letters in the newspapers. These belonged to the 
species which Jerdon calls the Black-sided Lapwing 
(Chettusia gregaria). It is a greyish brown bird, 
with wings and tail partly white and partly black. It 
is said to be common in the Punjab and north-west. 

One bird of the Plover connection remains, which, 
though rather rare in most parts of India, seems to 



THE PLOVERS. 165 

like Bombay and is too striking and handsome to 
escape notice. I mean the Oyster-catcher, or Sea Pie. 
Why it should be called an Oyster-catcher I cannot 
guess, for I do not think it feeds on oysters, and 
oysters do not need much catching. But the other 
name, Sea Pie, is good, and is almost sufficient to 
recognise it by. Its breast and under parts, with the 
lower back and a broad band on the wings, are pure 
white, and all the rest is pure black. It is a large 
bird, not so big as a Curlew, but bigger than a Lap- 
wing. All the books speak of it as a winter visitant, 
and Mr. Blanford says that it breeds in Northern 
Europe and on the Caspian, but I have seen a 
flock of fifteen or more, not far from Bombay, on the 
29th of June, looking very much at home. So there 
may be something still to be discovered about their 
habits. The name of this bird in science is Hcematopus 
ostralegus. 






CHAPTER XXVIII. 



THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 

HAVING done with the Plovers we come to the fowl 
of the waters, 
and I am 
much per- 
plexed how 
to deal with 
them. The 
monsoon has 
sea r c e 1 y 
ended when 
the saltpans 
and still 
flooded rice 
fields on the 
other side of 
the harbour 
are alive with 
long-leg g e d 
waders and 
web-f o o t e d 
swimmers of 
many sizes 
and shapes. 
S n i pe an d 

Curlew, Stint and Sandpiper, Heron and Cormorant, 
Duck and Teal, seem to have arrived by one train, 
and having no home to go to, are wandering 




Snipe and Snippet (i. e., Common Sandpiper). 



THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 167 

about in search of refreshments. Strange birds 
are in that crowd sometimes. Not far from Hog 
Island I have seen a Flamingo in the same field, I 
think, in which I shot a Merganser another year. 
Are all these to be reckoned as birds of Bombay? 
Five or ten miles are nothing to them, and there is 
not one of them of which it can safely be said that 
it will not be found on our island. But to describe 
half of them would defeat the very purpose of these 
papers, which is not to perplex, but to help the seden- 
tary Bombayite, who is not a naturalist nor a sports- 
man, nor a murderer under any name, so that he may 
recognise the birds that he sees as he takes his morn- 
ing walk, drives to office, sits in his garden, or enjoys 
a sail in the harbour. The best way perhaps to accom- 
plish this in the case of the waterfowl will be to notice 
chiefly the family features by which one may know to 
which clan to refer any fowl he may see, and only 
to describe separately those species which are likely to 
attract attention, either by their commonness or on 
some other account. 

Snipe are shot on the Flats every year, but these 
papers are not for shooters, and the chief peculiarity 
of the Snipe is that it is rarely seen except by those 
who seek its destruction. It feeds in secret, where 
grass and rushes grow in soft mud or shallow water, 
and does not fly till forced. Then it flies indeed. This 
constitutes its value for purposes of " sport. " Those 
who are not sportsmen do indeed see it sometimes 
under other conditions, when it reclines on a bed of 
toast, with its poor beak thrust through its own ribs 
and its footless legs pointing at the ceiling. To 
recognise it then you need only look at its beak 



1 68 THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 

which is 2^ inches long and perfectly straight. No 
other bird of the same size has such a beak. The 
Jack Snipe is a much smaller bird, and its beak is 
only i y 2 inches long, but Jacks are not often seen on 
Bombay tables. 

The word " Snippet" is not in the dictionary, but 
it is a word of very common use in India and may be 
defined as including any bird which purports to be a 
Snipe and is not a Snipe. There are many such, and 
since they are much easier to shoot than a real Snipe, 
they find their way more readily to the market and to 
the tables of those who buy their game. The butler 
calls them " Ishnap " and he gives the same name to 
Snipe, for he ignores the distinction. But, as I have 
already said, you may know them by their beaks ; and 
you may know them by their flavour too, for beak and 
flavour are cause and effect in this case. The long 
beak of the Snipe is soft and sensitive at the point, 
being a peculiar instrument, wherewith the fastidious 
bird, probing the spongy mud, feels and draws out 
the tasty worm. Thus it grows fat and very savoury. 
The Snippet's bill is a pair of forceps merely, with 
which it picks up any vulgar fare that offers, small 
crab, or snail, or water-flea ; and they impart to it 
their flavours mingled. Not that Snippets are to be 
despised. Some of them are very good eating. But 
they are not Snipe. 

The majority of Snippets are either Sandpipers, 
Greenshanks, or Redshanks. There are three kinds 
of Sandpipers, of which the smallest is the common- 
est. Jerdon says it is the least common, but he knew 
little of this coast. Actitis hypoleucus, the Common 
Sandpiper, is a very familiar bird here, found beside 



THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 169 

all waters and not to be mistaken for any other when 
once you know it. It seems to fancy itself a Wagtail, 
and since nature has not given it a tail worth wagging, 
it wags its whole hinder end, constantly and vigorous- 
ly, tripping merrily about in its own company, for you 
never see a flock of Sandpipers. When it is frighten- 
ed it skims away, just over the surface of the water, 
holding its wings bent like a bow. It is of a greyish 
brown colour above, but white on the under parts. 
On each quill feather there is a round white spot, 
and when the wing is spread in flight these spots 
arrange themselves into a white band. Of all our 
cold season birds the Sandpiper is the first to arrive. 
I have seen it in July. 

The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis glareola) is quite 
a distinct bird from the last, not only larger and 
much darker, but different in its character. I would 
put it in a different genus if I had the disposal of 
these matters. It is also solitary, but is seldom found 
at the seaside, or near any open water. It seeks small 
ponds and ditches in secluded places. When disturb- 
ed it rises into the air and flies clean away, with a 
shrill note of alarm. It is of a dark, smoky colour 
on all the upper parts, except the lower back and tail, 
which are white, with narrow black bars on the tail. 
The under parts are white, streaked on the neck and 
breast with dusky brown. The third species, which 
Jerdon calls the Green Sandpiper and says is the 
commonest of all, does not appear to be so fond of 
the sea coast as the others and is not a striking bird 
in any way, so I need not describe it. 

The Greenshanks and Redshanks are very like 
Sandpipers, but larger. They differ from each other, 

22 



1 70 THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 

as their names indicate, by the colour of their legs. 
There are two of each, a greater and a lesser, and I 
do not think I can give any directions by which an 
amateur will be able to distinguish these four birds 
from each other. I cannot always do it myself. The 
greater Greenshanks may be known by its size and 
the greater Redshanks by the amount of white on its 
back and tail and wings, and these are the commonest. 
Jerdon says that the name of the greater Greenshanks 
in Hindustanee is Timtimna from its call. In 
these parts all the species are known as Timla for the 
same reason. The wild, ringing, cheery note of the 
Timla is one of those sounds which lay hold of the 
memory and in after years call back the scenes in 
which you first heard them. It must be a familiar 
sound to those who go snipe-shooting across the 
harbour, for both the Greenshanks and the Redshanks 
are very common among the saltpans and rice-fields. 
The greater Greenshanks is really a fine bird for the 
table, being almost as good as a Snipe and much 
larger. There is not much left in Bombay to attract 
birds of this sort, but they may be found in what still 
remains of the ancient " Flats." They are cold 
season visitors, of course, coming in September and 
leaving about April. 

The Curlew is common on the whole coast, and 
when the tide has run far out and bared the black 
rocks round Colaba and Breach Candy, its wild and 
plaintive scream often comes in on the breeze. It is 
not a " Snippet, " being much too large, but it 
deserves a place not far from the Snipe by reason of 
its bill, which is five or six inches in length ; not 
straight, however, but much curved. This also is a 



THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 17! 

special instrument, and its use is to draw small 
crabs, or shell fish, from their burrows in soft sand. 
When the tide is far out Curlews may be seen, on 
sandy spits or beaches, intent on this interesting 
occupation, walking much faster than the paddy 
birds with which they are often associated. They are 
well worth shooting, for the Curlew is usually very 
good eating, though occasionally rank. And it is 
almost the biggest wildfowl we get in these parts. 
But the Curlew is a wary bird and not at all willing 
to be shot at. When one falls, however, the neigh- 
bours gather and fly round it, screaming and wanting 
to know what is the matter, and you may get two or 
three more before they fly away. It is a cruel 
advantage to take of their kind-heartedness, but sport 
makes men cruel, whatever sportsmen may say to the 
contrary. Experto crede. At a distance the Curlew is 
a dingy brown bird with a little white on the back, but 
at close quarters it shows the game pattern so usual 
among these birds, each feather being dark-centred 
and light-edged. The Whimbrel, or Lesser Curlew, 
is just a smaller edition of its big brother, its bill being 
three inches in length, or a little more. It is even 
better on the table than the Curlew. Both birds 
arrive very early, before August is far on, and im- 
mediately after their arrival, while they are still 
strangers, many Whimbrels are netted forthe Bombay 
market. 

Another waterfowl which is sure to catch the eye, 
if it should chance to visit Bombay, is the Avocet, a 
beautiful white bird with black pointed wings and 
a little black on the head and shoulders. Its long, 
delicate bill is curved upwards, and I do not know 



1^2 THE SNIPES AND SNIPPETS. 

how the bird uses it. The Avocet is common enough 
at times on the mainland. Then there is the Stilt, 
easily known by the ridiculous length of its bright 
red legs, which trail behind it when it flies. Its cap, 
wings and back are black ; the rest of it is white. 
Both these are good eating. The Spoonbill and the 
Ibis are striking birds, but very unlikely to be seen 
in Bombay. There is only one other bird I need 
mention here, and that is the Stint (Tringa minuta), 
tiniest of water-fowl. If you see a hundred dingy 
little birds, about the size of sparrows, all feeding 
together knee-deep in water, you may safely put them 
down as Stints. 



CHAPTER XXIX. 



THE WATERHENS. 

IF you see a bird like a long-legged chicken, with 
its tail stuck 
up and its 
head nod- 
ding at every 
stride, and it 
skulks away 
and d i s- 
appears i n 
a hedge, or 
among the 
grass and 
rushes on the 
margin of a 
pond, then 
that is a 
Waterhen. 
There are 
many kinds 
in India, 
including 
the British 
M oorhen , 

and several of them are likely enough to be found 
in Bombay, but they are great skulkers and do 
not willingly give you a good view. There is 




White-breasted Waterhen. 



174 THE WATERHENS. 

one, however, which is very easily recognised, 
and I know that it is resident among us, because 
1 have found its nest in Girgaum, not far from 
the Grant Road station, where there is, or used 
to be, some marshy land devoted to the cultivation 
of rice. The bird I mean is the White-breasted Water- 
hen (Galltnula phcsnicura) a blackish bird, with a 
pure white face, throat and breast. The under parts 
are chestnut, especially towards the tail, and as it is 
generally walking hastily away from you, with its tail 
cocked up, this is important. The contrast of these 
colours catches the eye and is not easily forgotten. 
And if the aspect of the White-breasted Waterhen 
catches the eye, its voice does more than catch the ear. 
The clamour which this little bird can raise is some- 
thing astounding. During the dry season it is silent 
enough, but as soon as the rain begins it gets 
boisterous, and roars and hiccups and cackles as if it 
were some great wild beast and not a small fowl. 
The precise import of the uproar I have never been 
able to make out, but it must be either a serenade or 
a family quarrel, for the monsoon is the season when 
the Waterhen aspires to have a family. It lives by 
preference among flooded rice fields, bordered by 
high hedges overrun with rank creepers, among which 
it clambers like a cat with its great spreading feet. 
And in the thickest part of some such hedge it makes 
its clumsy nest and lays four or five beautiful eggs, 
of a light buff colour, spotted with reddish brown 
and pale blue. In default of any situation of this 
kind, the nest I found in Bombay had been built in 
the top of a date palm. The young of Waterhens 
run as soon as they are hatched, so the parents had 



THE WATERHENS. 175 

to get their offspring down somehow from this perilous 
height. I was unfortunately absent when the feat 
was accomplished, but a malee assured me that he saw 
the old birds bringing the young ones down in their 
beaks. The White-breasted Waterhen, like the rest 
of its tribe, trusts more to its legs than its wings, but 
it will fly sometimes for a short distance, its legs 
hanging down like tasselled cords. 

Among other species of Waterhens I think the 
Pigmy Rail (Porzana pygmaed) is the one most like- 
ly to be met with in Bombay. It is a dainty little bird 
about the size of a Quail, though very different in 
shape. The upper parts are olive brown, spotted 
with white and black, while the breast, throat and 
underparts are bluish grey. The bill is green. I 
believe I have seen this bird in one of the cages of a 
strolling bird-seller, but that was many years ago. 

The Coot must come in here, as I am following 
Jerdon, though for the purposes of these papers I 
would rather leave it till we come to the wild ducks, 
with which it is much more likely to be confounded. 
Many a Coot is not only shot, but eaten, for a duck 
by sportsmen of the class that shoot Snippets for 
Snipe. It is not a Duck, however. Its bill is not the 
flat bill of a Duck and, ergo, its diet is not the same, 
nor its flavour ; nor are its feet webbed like a Duck's, 
but each separate toe is furnished with a curious fringe 
of webbing. It is, in fact, a Waterhen which, being 
specially equipped for swimming, does not live about 
water but in it. Its favourite haunts are large tanks, 
or sheets of water, with reedy and weedy margins. 
Swimming about among these it looks very like a 
Duck and at a distance may be mistaken by anybody; 



176 THE WATERHENS. 

but its dumpy figure and very short tail serve to distin- 
guish it even before one gets near enough to make 
out its uniform black colour and conspicuous white 
bill. The presence of Coots on any water is said to 
encourage and attract Ducks, and the two are often 
found in company ; but when a gunner gets among 
them the Ducks are soon gone, while the Coots 
remain. When they do take wing they rise with 
difficulty, beating the water with their wings and 
feet. Then they fly slowly round and soon settle 
again. For this reason they are very satisfactory 
game to a " sportsman " who finds that he has no 
luck with Ducks. I have not seen a Coot in Bombay, 
except in the guise of a present of game, but it is very 
common everywhere in the neighbourhood. 

Near to the Waterhens Jerdon.puts the Jacanas. 
Blanford relegates them to a different Order, and he may 
be right ; but we are not concerned with their " true 
inwardness" here. Outwardly they are Waterhens 
which neither haunt the borderland of rushes, like the 
Rail, nor swim out into the deep, like the Coot, but 
walk upon the water. Their toes are so long that, 
wherever the weeds and water-lilies are at all thick, 
they can travel with as much ease as a Laplander on 
his snow shoes. The paradise of the Jacana is one of 
those ancient tanks, choked with crimson and white- 
flowered lotus, which are at once the wealth and the 
glory of an Indian village ; where the women fill their 
waterpots and wash their clothes, and the men bathe 
and the buffaloes wallow and everybody is happy ; 
where no thought of microbe and bacillus blows 
across the placid calm of life, and the Pasteur-Mallie 
filter is unknown. We are rapidly infecting the 



THE WATERHENS. 177 

people with our own esteem for ugly utilities, and the 
rusty water-tap is dispossessing the picturesque tank ; 
but there are many left yet in the suburbs of Bombay, 
though the villages which they once vitalised may 
have disappeared. And there is one left in our very 
midst, the Gowalia tank. In such places, if you look 
for it, you may perhaps see the Jacana gingerly tread- 
ing the floating leaves. There are two species, the 
Bronze-winged (Parra indica) and the Pheasant- 
tailed (Hydrophasiamts chirurgus}. The latter is 
a bird never to be forgotten if seen in its wed- 
ding dress. Its head, face and throat are then 
white, the back of its neck golden yellow, its body 
mostly dark chestnut brown, and its wings black 
and white. Its tail is black and shaped like the tail 
of a domestic cock or a pheasant, the middle feathers 
being ten inches long. In the cold season it drops 
this ornament and assumes a plainer plumage, brown 
above and white beneath. A black line from the 
corner of the mouth runs down each side of the neck 
and forms a broad gorget on the breast. The nest of 
the Jacana is a floating heap of weeds among the 
rushes and lilies that it loves. The eggs are always 
four, those of the Bronze-winged being buff, or olive, 
crossed all over with a maze of black lines, while 
those of the Pheasant-tailed are of a uniform, glossy, 
bronze-brown colour. 

The Purple Coot and Water Cock, though familiar 
enough to sportsmen everywhere, can scarcely claim 
a place here. 



2 3 



CHAPTER XXX. 



THE HERONS. 

THERE is a good deal of confusion in the popu- 
lar mind 
about 
H erons , 
Storks and 
Cranes, 
which are 
really very 
different 
tribes o f 
b i r d s , 
though 
they all 
have long 
necks and 
legs and 
are mostly 
of large 
size and 
are all 
more o r 
less given 
to spend- 
ing their 

time near 

Pond Herons. 

water. 

Cranes feed chiefly on grain. They make their nests 

on the ground and the young get on their own legs 








THE HERONS. 179 

almost as soon as they are hatched, like chickens. In 
this respect they resemble Plovers and all the water- 
fowl which we have been considering hitherto. 
Storks and Herons, on the other hand, build their nests 
on trees, and the young are at first naked and helpless, 
like young crows or sparrows. To my mind this is 
a very important difference, entailing greater parental 
responsibility and implying higher intelligence. 

In modern systems these birds are rightly classed 
in a different order from the Cranes, and though Jerdon 
put them in the same order, he separated them by a 
wide interval. The difference between Storks and 
Herons is not so great nor so easily explained. The 
Storks are heavier birds, with large and clumsy bills ; 
but the most obvious outward sign by which they 
may be known from one another is this, that when 
a Stork flies, it holds its neck out straight and stiff, 
and looks like a man carrying his hat on the point 
of his walking stick ; while the Heron doubles back 
its more flexible neck and rests its head between 
its shoulders. 

The great Sarus, the Common Crane and the 
beautiful and savoury Demoiselle, or Kullum of 
sportsmen, are very familiar birds in Guzerat and the 
north of India ; but I have never seen them, or heard 
of their occurrence, on this coast, except during last 
cold season, when the famine in Guzerat forced them to 
wander in search of water. Of Storks there are 
several species which may be met with up the creeks, 
and the well-known Adjutant, the Goliath of the 
whole Stork tribe, consorts with the Vultures at the 
Towers of Silence, as I learned recently from the 
veracious sketches of a well-known " special artist " 



l8o THE HERONS. 

sent out by one of the illustrated papers. We 
all know that the British public demands palm 
trees in an oriental scene and perhaps it demands 
Adjutants too. But that special artist is an honorable 
man they are all honourable men. Somehow it 
happens that I have never seen that Adjutant at the 
Towers of Silence, nor any other Stork in Bombay. 
Of Herons, however, we have no lack. The common- 
est is the Pond Heron, or Blind Heron, or Paddy 
Bird (Ardeola leucoptera), which despises not the most 
paltry tank or pool that will hold a frog. Even the 
native Christians of Salsette do not esteem this a very 
dainty bird for the table, so it is little persecuted and 
grows very familiar, allowing you to approach within 
a few paces before it suddenly produces a pair of 
snowy wings from its pockets and flaps away. Till 
it unfolded those wings it was a yellowish-grey bird, 
darker on the back and streaky about the neck and 
breast. During the breeding season, that is in the 
rains, its back and shoulders are clothed with a mantle 
of rich maroon, and a crest of long, pointed, white 
feathers adorns its head. It is then a handsome bird, 
though its snakey, yellow eyes spoil its expression. 
Its legs are green and its beak greenish yellow, black- 
ened at the tip as if burnt. Like all Herons, it has 
a great deal of feather and little solid .body. The 
length of its serpentine neck is quite disguised by the 
long plumes that hang down in front and behind. 
The small frogs and fishes and even the cautious 
crabs have little suspicion of the length of its reach. 
To watch for these, standing ankle-deep in dirty 
water, is its sole occupation, and that long, hard, 
sharp beak is a perfect pair of forceps for plucking them 



THE HERONS. l8l 

out of their element. Then they go down "the red 
lane" without further ceremony, for the throat of the 
Heron, slender as it looks, is wonderfully elastic. 
Almost all the Herons make their nests in company 
in some large tree. The Pond Herons of Back Bay 
have appropriated a large tamarind tree in Marine 
Lines, on the top-most twigs of which, from the 
month of May onwards, you will find a whole village. 
The nests are like those of crows, but not so well 
built.. The eggs, four or five in number, are of a 
greenish blue colour. At nesting time the Pond 
Heron is rather noisy. Its voice is a short croak, or 
cough, not the least musical. 

Next come the White Herons, or Egrets, pure 
white birds, more graceful in every way than the 
podgy Pond Heron. There are three species, which 
differ from one another only in size. The largest is 
about the size of the English Heron, but pure white 
all over. It is not very common here, nor is the next, 
which is a size smaller. The third, which Jerdon 
calls The Little Egret (Herodias garzetta), is very 
plentiful and would be more so if Goanese gunners 
did not persecute it for its flesh and its feathers. The 
feathers are exported to Europe in large quantities for 
the decoration of women's hats, or some such shame- 
ful purpose. The Little Egret is somewhat larger 
than the Pond Heron and much taller. During the 
breeding season it is adorned with long, flowing 
plumes on the back and breast, and two thin, hair- 
like feathers droop from the back of its head. Wher- 
ever there is shallow water, or flooded ground, this 
species may be seen in companies wading for little 
frogs and fishes. I once saw one trying to swallow a 



1 82 THE HERONS. 

snake. They build like the Pond Heron and often in 
its company. 

About the same size as the Little Egret, but of a 
slatey-grey colour, is the Ashy Egret (Demiegretta 
asha). It is common enough, but haunts the sea- 
shore rather than fresh waters, and is well named by 
Dr. Blanford the " Reef Heron." 

There is yet another species, which is very easily 
mistaken for the Little Egret, being white like it and 
about the same size ; but it belongs to a lower caste 
and its habits are not quite respectable, on which 
account Mahomedans will not eat it. It lives princi- 
pally on insects and follows cattle diligently when 
they are grazing, for the sake of the grasshoppers 
stirred by their feet, and also for the chance of useful- 
ness in relieving the poor beasts of various small tor- 
mentors. The cattle appreciate the kindness and 
repay it by giving the birds the freedom of their backs. 
Sometimes you will see a meek buffalo chewing the 
cud, while a " Cattle Egret" stands on its head and 
performs surgical operations on its ears. The name of 
this species in Jerdon is Buphus coromandus. During 
the monsoon its whole neck is clothed with plumes of 
a rich orange buff colour, and you may easily distin- 
guish it. In the cold season it is all white, but even 
then you may always recognise it, if you get near 
enough, by its yellow bill. The bill of the Little Egret 
is black. It nests in company with Pond Herons and 
other Egrets, laying paler eggs. The common native 
name for all these birds is Bugla, but the Cattle Egret 
is sometimes distinguished as Gai-bugla. 

The European, or Blue, Heron, which our fore- 
fathers delighted to hawk, is not uncommon in all the 



THE HERONS* 183 

creeks and rivers of this coast, and if it is not often 
seen in Bombay, the reason is that it is afraid to show 
itself where its great enemy, man, is in such force. 
Even in quiet country places it learns to be very wary, 
for there is scarcely any waterfowl which is more 
sought after by native shikarees. The mouths of 
my Mussulman lascars water when they see one and 
many a time have I been urged to shoot that grand 
" shikar." Yet they will not eat Pond Herons at 
all, and are suspicious of even the White Egrets 
on account of the disreputable character of the Cattle 
Egret. The Blue Heron (Ardea cinered) is a less 
sociable bird than the Egrets and does not generally 
go in flocks, but both at home and here they form 
"heronries" at nesting time. 

One of the handsomest of the whole family is the 
Night Heron (Nycticorax griseus], but I need scarce- 
ly describe it here, because the chance of its being 
seen is small. It may be heard everywhere, uttering 
its loud wak as it flies overhead after darkness has set 
in. Strange to say, it keeps most promiscuous com- 
*pany at nesting time, consorting not only with other 
Herons but with Cormorants. As these feed in the 
day and it never goes abroad till night, they must be 
an unmitigated nuisance to each other, which may 
explain the incessant bad language that goes on at 
one of these nesting trees. I know a giant tree not 
ten miles from Bombay in which there is scarcely a 
space to spare in which a nest could stick. The ground 
underneath is strewn with eggshells and other less 
savoury fragments. 



CHAPTER XXXI. 



THE DUCKS, CORMORANTS AND GREBES. 

WE have arrived at the last Order of birds, the 
Natatores, or Swimmers, whose home is on the face 
of the waters. Some of them cannot walk at all, and 
few are at ease on dry land, but in their own element 



t! r .-.' "I,.- ' k ' "' 



Dab chicks. 

they are happy and graceful. Their bodies are long 
and boat-shaped, their plumage close-set and well 
oiled, so that any fluid rolls off them " like water off 
a duck's back," their legs are short and set far back, 
and their feet are converted into paddles by a web 
which stretches from toe to toe. With these pro- 
pellers they make their way swiftly over the surface of 



THE DUCKS, CORMORANTS AND GREBES. 185 

the water and most of them dive well. Some feed on 
fishes and some on water-weeds, or insects, or snails. 
Their habits in this respect have a practical interest 
for us, because we feed on them and their taste in one 
sense depends on their taste in another. 

The domestic duck is the type of the Natatores. 
In a wild state the same bird is known to sportsmen 
as the Mallard, which is abundant in Sind and the 
Punjab, but rarely strays so far south as this. There 
are several species of wild Ducks, however, which 
visit us regularly, such as the Pintail, the Gadwall, 
the Common and Garganey Teals, and the Shoveller. 
The last is a coarse feeder and its flavour is variable, 
but the other four are among the most tasty of the 
whole tribe. They are all migratory birds, spending 
the summer in Central Asia, or Europe, or even the 
Arctic Regions. They arrive here in September or 
October, and at first wander about in an aimless way, 
settling on any water that seems to offer a chance of a 
meal. Large flocks may be seen crossing our har- 
bour in different directions, and of course they will 
settle at times on the inundated parts of the Flats. 
This is the native shikaree's opportunity. His idea of 
sport is to bag a maximum of meat with a minimum 
expenditure of powder and shot. So he gets up 
before dawn, and, having marked a flock, wriggles 
like a mudfish, under cover of a ridge of earth, or a 
tuft of grass, till he gets within range, then sends a 
heavy charge of large shot into the thick of them. I 
have known of fourteen Ducks being bagged in this 
way by a single shot. The wild Duck is no fool, 
and a few sharp lessons of this kind soon teach the 
survivors wisdom, which is the reason that there is 
24 



1 86 THE DUCKS, CORMORANTS AND GREBES. 

so little duck-shooting to be had in the vicinity of 
Bombay. The ducks are here, and they feed wher- 
ever there is food, but they get away before day-light 
and sleep on the open sea. All through the cold 
season you may hear the sound of wings at night, as 
a flock passes overhead, in places where you will look 
for them in vain by day. 

I need not try to describe the different species of wild 
Ducks, for a man who does not shoot will not easily 
learn to distinguish one from another, but he may know 
enough not to confound them with the Coot, which 
has already been described, or with the Cormorant. 
The little Cormorant (Graculus javanicus in Jerdon) 
is a very common bird on this coast, especially up 
the creeks, and I daresay it often passes for a sort 
of black Duck, but it differs from a Duck as a gentle- 
man differs from a loafer. The Cormorant is a 
thoroughly shabby bird, with a large, ragged tail, and 
coloured all over a sordid black, like the Sunday coat 
of a Goanese cook. At least, this is its aspect at a 
distance. In its habits also it is unlike a Duck. It 
seldom rests on the water, but perches on rocks, or 
even on trees, sitting very upright. It flies well, but 
generally at no great height and slowly, compared 
with a wild Duck ; not in orderly flocks either, but sing- 
ly, or in small, loose parties. Its beak is not flat, but 
narrow and a little hooked at the tip, the use of it 
being to catch and hold a slippery fish, for the Cormo- 
rant is a fisher by trade. The Chinese tame them and 
employ them as divers, fitting a ring on their neck to 
prevent them swallowing what they catch, which 
seems mean. The Hindoo fisherman is not so ingeni- 
ous as the Chinaman and has not discovered this use 



THE DUCKS, CORMORANTS AND GREBES. 1 87 

of the Cormorant. Jerdon states that these birds have 
the power of inflating the gullet to enable them "to 
swallow considerable sized fish," and their digestion 
is "very rapid," to which may be added that they 
have a healthy appetite. I imagine that, when the 
Government takes the Indian fisheries in hand, as it 
has done those at home, it will be found expedient to 
exterminate the Cormorants. I hope that day is far 
distant, however. A crowd of Cormorants after a 
great shoal of little fishes affords a most exciting 
spectacle. They hem the shoal in and drive it 
towards the shore, diving and coming up and diving 
again in breathless haste. All the white Egrets in the 
neighbourhood come down to share in the fun and run 
along the edge of the water, plucking out any shiver- 
ing refugee that comes within reach. So there is 
black death behind and pale death in front, and the 
massacre must be terrible. 

There are two other species of Cormorants, the Large 
and the Lesser, as Jerdon calls them, but they are not 
nearly so common. The Snake Bird (Plotus melano- 
gaster), so called from its serpentine head and neck, is 
more familiar. At a distance, sitting on a low tree, 
with its wings held out to dry, it looks like a big Cor- 
morant with the neck of a Heron fitted on to its shoul- 
ders ; but at close quarters it is a very handsome bird. 
Its plumage is peculiar, the feathers on the shoulders 
especially being long and narrow, like the hackles of 
a cock. Each feather is black or dark brown, with a 
silvery border, or spotted with silvery white, and the 
effect is very beautiful. When the snake-bird is 
swimming it often lets the whole of its body sink un- 
der the surface, so that nothing is visible except the 



188 THE DUCKS, CORMORANTS AND GREBES. 

head and neck. At such time it looks like a sea-snake 
coming up to breathe All these birds breed on trees 
and lay greenish-white eggs during the rainy season. 
The snake-bird generally chooses a small tree growing 
out of water and is not gregarious, but the little 
Cormorants form great societies and resort to the 
biggest trees they can find. As I have said already, 
they do not object to the company of Herons. 

One little bird remains to be described which is 
more thoroughly aquatic than any that I have yet 
mentioned. The Dabchick, or Little Grebe (Podiceps 
philippensis), can just stand up and toddle a few steps 
on land, and though it evidently can fly much better 
than any one would infer from its puny wings, and 
makes its way over long distances from one tank to 
another, it never thinks of taking to flight when shot 
at or disturbed. It dives, leaving scarcely a ripple, 
and does not appear again for a very long time. 
Under water it swims with great facility, for the 
paddles which take the place of legs in its anatomy 
are so placed that they do not work only under its 
body, like the legs of a Duck, but sideways, or even 
upwards. It lives chiefly, I think, on little fishes and 
shrimps, which it pursues and catches under water. 
The Dabchick is on almost every tank in India, and 
I have even seen it in a well. I do not know how to 
describe it better than to say that you might take it 
for a small chicken without a tail. Its colour is dark, 
glossy brown on the upper parts, with some rich 
chestnut on the sides of the neck. Young birds are 
lighter. The nest of the Dabchick is a massive island 
of weeds collected by itself. In a little hollow on the 
top of this it lays four or five white eggs. They do 



CORMORANTS AND GREBES. 189 

not remain white very long, for the cautious little bird 
never leaves them without covering them with wet 
weeds, to conceal them from hostile eyes, and their 
chalky texture gets so stained that before they are 
hatched they have usually acquired a rich brown, or 
bronze, hue. As soon as the little ones come out they 
take to the water and swim after their mother, or sit 
upon her back when they want a rest. The breeding 
season is of course the rains, when the tanks are full. 
At that time the Dabchicks get noisy, constantly 
uttering a shrill, querulous cry. 

I ought to mention that Grebes are not classed 
with Ducks in any modern system, and are in truth 
very different. Their feet are not webbed in the same 
way, but each toe has its own web and forms a 
separate oval paddle. 



CHAPTER XXXII. 



tv 



THE GULLS AND TERNS. 

WITH the Gulls and Terns these papers close. 
J e r d o n ' s 
book ends 
with the 
C o r m o- 
rants, the 
Gulls com- 
ing bet- 
ween them 
and the 
Ducks; 
but I de- 
scribed the 
Cormo- 
rants i n 
my last 
paper, 
along 
with the 
Ducks, 
because 
they pre- 
sent them- 
selves t o 
us in simi- 
lar situa- 
tions and are in many respects alike in their habits, 
while the Gulls form a distinct group which is in no 



/I 




Gull and Terns. 



THE GULLS AND TERNS. 

danger of being confounded with any other. They are 
web-footed birds, whose home is on the waters, but 
not in the mild sense in which you may say the same 
of a Duck. For the wings of a Gull are more than 
its feet, and the winds are its element as much 
as the waves. Some kinds follow the larger rivers 
inland, and even visit lakes and large tanks, but 
most prefer the sea coast and the restless waves 
with which their own wild spirits are in sym- 
pathy. They often rest on reefs, or sandbanks, or 
fishing posts, or floating spars, and they are persuad- 
ed that the buoys in the harbour have been provided 
only for their convenience : but failing such solid 
resting-places they will take their seat on a dancing 
wave, with an easy grace which is all their own, and 
eye the passing boat with a happy and triumphant 
smile. They feed entirely on the wing, roaming up 
and down the coast, visiting all harbours and follow- 
ing ships at sea. Watching the flight of Gulls is one 
of the many delights of a sea voyage to me. For 
hours together they will keep their place about the 
stern of a fast steamer, as if it drew them on without 
effort on their part. They rise or sink, fall back a 
little or forge ahead, or pass [from one side to the 
other, as if there were some hidden motive po\ver at 
work within them. Outwardly there is nothing to be 
seen but a few lazy flaps now and then of their snowy 
wings. A plateful of scraps goes over-board, and in 
an instant they are a screaming and scrambling crowd, 
growing smaller and dimmer till they pass out of 
sight altogether as the swift ship goes on her way. 
But in a quarter of an hour, lo ! they are about us 
again as if they had never been absent. 



THE GULLS AND TERNS. 

There is a fashion in dress among birds as among 
their betters, and with Gulls and Terns the fashion is 
to wear a grey cloak, or mantle, over a suit of imma- 
culate white. There are a few eccentric species, but 
as a rule almost the only difference between one and 
another is in the tint of the mantle. One will be a 
pale, French grey, while another is dark slaty. The 
tips of the wings and the end of the tail may be black, 
and in summer the correct thing is a sable cap, or a 
silky black topknot. Add to this that the young birds 
differ considerably in these same points from those 
that are advanced in age, and you will see that it is 
no easy matter for a man who has not made a special 
study of the subject to distinguish the different species 
of Gulls that may be seen about the Bombay harbour. 
He certainly will not do it with the aid of any descrip- 
tion that I can give. But any one may learn the 
difference between a Gull and a Tern. Terns are 
smaller birds, with much longer and more pointed 
wings and deeply forked tails. These differences are 
accounted trivial by the anatomist, but they have the 
advantage of being obvious to the unlearned ; and, as 
far as my own observation goes, they indicate a differ- 
ence which ought not to be overlooked between the 
habits of the two groups of birds. Terns are fishers, 
which catch their slippery prey by dropping head- 
foremost into the water, often disappearing entirely 
for a second or two. When the bird emerges it is 
holding a wriggling little fish cross-wise in its sharp 
beak, in which position the fish cannot possibly go 
down its throat ; so, giving a pretty little shrug of its 
shoulders to shake off the water, it rises ten or twenty 
feet-and then tosses the fish into the air and catches 



THE GULLS AND TERNS. 193 

it again by the head. This manoeuvre is followed by 
the magical disappearance of the fish. It is a pretty 
sight to watch a flock of Terns following a shoal of 
little fishes with clamorous glee, dropping one after 
another with a splash and rising again and chasing 
each other, as if they had a stock of breath like the 
widow's cruse of oil. Now all this is impossible to a 
Gull. It is a tramp, following ships for the offal and 
scraps that may be thrown overboard, picking up 
dead and sickly fishes, helping itself, in short, to 
anything that floats, but never dipping below the 
surface of the water. This is the difference between 
a Gull and a Tern, and to me it seems of more conse- 
quence than the number of feathers in the tail, or the 
bristles about the nose. 

The commonest Gull on our coast is, I think, the 
Brown-headed Gull (Larus brunneicephalus), but it is 
not easily distinguished on the wing from the Laugh- 
ing Gull (L. ridibundus), which is also plentiful. 
Both birds are pearl-grey on the mantle and pure 
white on the head, neck, body and tail. Before they 
leave us in the hot season (for they breed in Europe 
or Central Asia) their heads become dark brown or 
sepia. Their bills and feet are red. In young or 
youngish birds the tail is edged with black. The 
points of the wings are always black, with a broad 
white band across them, and the principal difference 
between the Brown-headed and the Laughing Gulls 
is in the shape of this white band. Another common 
species is the Herring Gull (Larus affinis L. fuscus 
in Jerdon), a larger bird, with a slate-coloured mantle. 
Its bill and feet are yellow, and it does not put on a 
brown cap in winter. Young birds are brown, and 
25 



194 THE GULLS AND TERNS. 

though they change as they grow older, it is about 
three years before they acquire the pure grey and 
white plumage ; so tjiere may be a good deal of 
variety in the colour of a flock. The Herring Gull 
breeds in Siberia. 

Occasionally you will see a gigantic Gull sitting 
solitary on a buoy. If the hot season is approaching, 
its whole head and upper neck will be black, but in 
the cold season it will be pure white all over, save for 
the pale grey mantle and a little black on the tips of 
the wings. If it is a youth, it will be more or less 
brown or mottled. This is the Great Black-headed 
Gull (Larus ichthycetus), which breeds in Siberia but 
roams all over India in the cold season. One other 
species may be mentioned, which attracts attention at 
once by its unusual colour. The body and tail are 
white, but the mantle is dark brown, and the head, 
neck and breast are more or less brown according to 
season. This is the Sooty Gull (Larus hempnchi), 
which meets us in crowds at Aden on the voyage 
home, and is common, I believe, along the coast as 
far east as Sind, but only occasionally appears in 
Bombay harbour. 

Among the Terns one may be distinguished by its 
size. This is the Large Sea Tern, as Jerdon calls it. 
In the "Avifauna of British India" it is the Large 
Crested Tern (Sterna bergii). It is pure white, with a 
grey mantle and a silky black crest. The bill is 
yellow and the feet black. This large Tern is very 
common all along the coast, and has a great fancy 
for perching on the tops of fishing stakes. There is 
a smaller species which is very like it in colour, but 
much paler. Jerdon calls it the Smaller Sea Tern 



THE GULLS AND TEPNS. 195 

\Sterna media). Then there is the Gull-gilled Tern 
(Sterna anglica), which has a black bill, and the 
White-cheeked Tern (S. albigena), and the Roseate 
Tern (S. dougallt), which is not mentioned in Jerdon 
at all. These all, and some others, visit this coast in 
large numbers during the cold season, and even 
during the height of the monsoon they are seldom 
altogether absent. The Roseate Terns breed on the 
Vingorla Rocks during the monsoon, when they are 
inaccessible to every enemy except man and almost 
so to him. Among the rank grass which covers the 
tops of the islands the birds lay their eggs, jostling 
each other for room and killing each other's young 1 
and behaving like the wild savages that they are. 
Other species breed on islands in the Persian Gulf, or 
along the Mekran coast, but I do not think any of 
them migrate to such distant regions as the Gulls do. 

There are several ocean birds more or less nearly 
related to the Gulls and Terns which roam over the 
Arabian Sea and between Bombay and Aden, such as 
the Booby and the Shearwater and the Frigate Bird 
and the beautiful Tropic Bird. At times, in violent 
storms, these may be wrecked on our shores, but they 
do not belong to the Common Birds of Bombay. 




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