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Full text of "Some Indian friends and acquaintances; a study of the ways of birds and other animals frequenting Indian streets and gardens;"

LIBRARY 

OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA. 

Class 



SOME INDIAN FRIENDS AND 
ACQUAINTANCES 




Purple Honeysucker Challenging, p. 131. 



Frontispiece. 



SOME INDIAN FRIENDS 
AND ACQUAINTANCES 

A STUDY OF THE WAYS OF BIRDS 
AND OTHER ANIMALS FREQUENTING 
INDIAN STREETS AND GARDENS 



BY LT.-COLONEL D. D. CUNNINGHAM, 
C.I.E., F.R.S. 



LONDON 

JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W. 
1903 



1 



To THE GUESTS 




OF THE RED LION, CALCUTTA. 




229784 



CONTENTS 

CHAP. 'AGE 

I. AN APOLOGY . 1 

COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

n. KITES .-. _., , . . ... 9 

III. MYNAS . . . . . .23 

iv. CROWS . ^ . . , ... . . 36 

v. CROWS continued . . ,., . . . 53 

vi. CUCKOOS . . . . . .63 

VII. BABBLERS AND BULBULS ''.' . . '. 82 

VIII. DOVES AND PIGEONS . . . . . 95 

IX. BARBETS . . . . . 105 

X. DAYALS, ETC. . . . . . 116 

XL HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS . . . 128 

XII. BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS . . . 141 

XHI. KINGFISHERS . . . . . 156 

XIV. EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. . . . .165 

XV. WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. . . . 179 

XVI. SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS . . . 191 



vi CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

xvn. OWLS .... . 203 

XVIII. PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS . . .215 

XIX. STORKS . . . . . . 227 

XX. VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. . . . .237 

XXI. SWIFTS, GOATSUCKERS, MUNIAS, ETC. . . 251 

COMMON MAMMALS or AN INDIAN GARDEN 

XXII. MONKEYS . . . . . \ 262 

XXIII. JACKALS, ETC. . . . % '* 267 

XXIV. SHREWS AND BATS . . 284 
XXV. SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. . . ^ . 300 

COMMON REPTILES or AN INDIAN GARDEN 

XXVI. LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES ^ . 318 

XXVII. SNAKES ^ . . . . .331 

XXVIH. COMMON FROGS AND TOADS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN . 359 

XXIX. COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN . .370 

APPENDIX . 385 



ILLUSTRATIONS. 

Purple Honey sucker challenging (p. 131) . 

Vulture from a lintel in the great Temple at Philae (p. 21) 
A Kite drying itself after heavy rain (p. 20) 
Kites on the Hugli (p. 9) . . . . . To face p. 20 

Common Myna (p. 22) Black-headed Mynas on a Silk- 
cotton-tree (p. 34) .. . . . . . . 34 

Indian Crows and Corbies (pp. 58 and 62) . . 60 

Crow-pheasants courting and calling (p. 78) Red-winged 

crested Cuckoo (p. 80) 80 

Common Bengal Bulbuls (p. 87) Red- whiskered Bulbuls 

(p. 87) ... . 88 

Blue-throated Barbet and Nest (p. 112) Section of a Nest 

of the Blue-throated Barbet (p. 113) . ... 112 

Male Honeysucker (p. 128) Black-headed Oriole (p. 185) 

Female Dayal (p. 116) ..... 128 

Common King-crows (p. 148) . . . . . . 148 

Fish dropped by a Kingfisher (p. 161) Pied Kingfishers 

(P- 163) ... 162 

Colony of Night-herons at Sunset (p. 171) Cattle-egrets 

resting (p. 170) 170 

In an Indian Garden . 198 

Young Parrots for sale (p. 221) Rose-ringed Paroquet 

(p. 219) . . . . ... . . 220 

Adjutants by day (p. 232) Adjutants at roost (p. 230) . 232 



viii ILLUSTRATIONS 

Indian Swifts (p. 251) . To face p. 250 

Indian Pitta (p. 255) . . . . . . . 256 

A Jackal calling his friends to a Feast (p. 268) Large 

Civet (p. 274) 268 

Small Flying-foxes on a Plantain-leaf (p. 297) . . . 296 

Fruit of Parkia biglobosa simulating Flying-foxes . . 298 

Eat in its nest (p. 308) Palm-squirrels (p. 300) .% . 308 

Blood-sucker and Water-tortoise (p. 323) . . . 324 

Grass-snake swallowing a Toad (p. 335) Tree-frog (p. 369) 

Common Indian Toad (p. 365) .... 366 

Mudskippers (p. 375) . . . . ... . 376 



ERRATA 

Page 34. For Acridotheres fuscus read ^Ethiopsar fuscus. 

Page 34. For Temenuchus malabaricus read Sturnia tnalabarica. 

Page 60. For Corvus culminatus read C. macrorhynchus. 

Page 93. For Phyllornis aurifrons read Chloropsis aurifrons. 

Page 116. In fourth line of the motto read " rarely " in place of " cheerly." 

Page 127. For D. erythrorhyncus read D. erythrorhynchus. 

Page 164. For Pelargopsis amauropterus read P. amauroptera. 

Page 170. For Leptorodius asha read Lepterodius asha. 

Page 174. For Metopodius indicus read Metopidius indicus. 

Page 178. For " widgeon" read " wigeon." 



SOME INDIAN FRIENDS AND 
ACQUAINTANCES 



AN APOLOGY 

" Only the weakness of our organs prevents us from seeing that we 
are in Fairyland." Novalis. 

THE materials included in the following pages are 
derived from the entries in a series of note-books that 
were in almost daily use during a period of nearly 
thirty years' residence in India, and, in greater 
part, in Calcutta and the immediate neighbourhood. 
They do not deal with the abstruser parts of natural 
science, and, for the most part, are merely fairly 
accurate records of common events, such as may 
occur in any garden in the lower deltaic region of 
the Valley of the Ganges. They deal, in fact, with 
matters that must be familiar to botanists and 
zoologists, but which may be of some interest to 
general readers with a taste for "natural history," 
who, as a class, would seem to be of a comfortably 

A J 



2 AN APOLOGY 

indulgent nature, judging at least by the lenient 
reception that they accord to many of the works 
that are specially addressed to them. The present 
set of notes would, however, hardly have been 
offered to their indulgence had it not been for 
the prickings of a certain remnant of hereditary 
Scottish conscience, which insistently suggest that 
the unfailing interest and pleasure attending their 
collection through such a long term of years was a 
gift too great for any one to lay up for his own 
benefit without some attempt to share it with 
others, and especially with those whose lot it might 
be to spend the best part of their lives in India. 

Any one with some experience of India must be 
only too familiar with complaints of the dulness of 
existence there, especially from people who are not 
wholly overwhelmed by obligatory work. It may 
seem strange that any one should fail to find the 
means of killing time in a land thronging with such 
varied interests, but the fact remains that many 
people do so, and that there is ample occasion for 
even the humblest attempts to point out sources of 
pleasure that lie open to all, even in the smallest 
and most remote country stations. Even in desert 
regions countless problems and fields for observa- 
tion constantly offer themselves to those who are 
on the look-out, and in most localities the wealth of 
material is so great as to become a positive snare 
in the tendency that it has to lure the observer 



AN APOLOGY 3 

from one interest to another at the expense of 
continued study of any individual subject. Even 
in the midst of the largest towns human interests 
are not the only ones inviting attention, for the 
most densely peopled areas contain an abundant 
resident Fauna and Flora, and the surrounding 
country is constantly overflowing and sending in 
streams of animal and vegetable immigrants to 
establish themselves for a time within urban limits. 
Maiden-hair and other ferns nestle among the irregu- 
larities of the mouldering masonry of walls and the 
lining of wells ; fig-trees of various kinds crop out 
on roofs and cornices and send down reptilian coils 
of roots in complicated and disintegrative network ; 
and in all open spaces and garden plots the vegeta- 
tion, in place of presenting the poverty-stricken 
and blighted look that it ordinarily has in British 
towns, is constantly asserting itself and striving to 
develop into a dense jungle. This alone would be 
enough to render the Fauna of an Indian town 
relatively rich, but an equally potent factor is to 
be found in the habits of the human inhabitants, 
who are free from the desire to capture or kill any 
strange or beautiful living thing that they may 
meet with, who have no youthful hereditary instinct 
for bird-nesting, and in mature life no natural appre- 
ciation of "murder as a fine art." 

It takes one some time, however, to realise the 
force of these influences, and to cease to wonder at 



4 AN APOLOGY 

the variety and confidence of the birds of an Indian 
town. With an experience of an urban bird popula- 
tion consisting mainly of smoke-dyed sparrows and 
occasional rooks and jackdaws, it comes as a strange 
revelation to a native of the British islands to learn 
how many different kinds of birds can adapt them- 
selves to a life among crowded streets. It seems 
strange to see green parrots clinging and fluttering 
about the walls ; mynas pacing the streets with 
alert, stare-like gait ; doves nesting and calling in 
the trees ; bulbuls leaping by, volatu undoso, as 
Gilbert White has it of woodpeckers ; barbets busily 
occupied with excavations in dead boughs ; honey- 
suckers twinkling about among the garden shrubs ; 
kingfishers sitting "still as a stone" over pools of 
dirty water ; gigantic storks wheeling about over- 
head like the dragons in old German woodcuts or 
standing in statuesque attitudes on the roofs; every- 
where a busy throng of crows and kites ; and, in 
addition to all these resident birds, occasional repre- 
sentatives of the temporary visitors who every now 
and then stray in from the surrounding country 
along the highways furnished by the roadside and 
garden trees. 

Birds certainly form the most conspicuous 
element in the lower vertebrate Fauna of an Indian 
town, but mammals, reptiles, batrachians, and fishes 
are not absent. Rats and mice of several kinds are, 
like the poor, always with one, and more obtrusive 



AN APOLOGY 5 

visitors are not wanting, especially in outlying areas. 
Thirty years ago troops of jackals coursed and 
yelled about the streets of Calcutta from dusk to 
dawn every night, and, even now, although sanitary 
improvements have made the streets less favourable 
hunting-grounds than they were of old, they are 
still frequently to be met with. During the rainy 
season especially, when many of their rural and 
suburban haunts are flooded, one may even yet 
occasionally be suddenly awakened by their fiendish 
cries as they quest round the house in search of 
food, or may hear the calling of a pack far off, 
and softened down in transit to such a degree as 
to be not unpleasant, or even almost melodious, in 
the stillness of an airless night, when the silence 
is otherwise unbroken save by the ceaseless whir 
of insect life and the explosive concerts of the 
frogs in the pools. Palm-cats and small civets now 
and then visit the gardens, or may even establish 
themselves and rear young families in them. They 
would, doubtless, do so more frequently were it not 
for the crows, who highly resent their presence, and 
usually manage to put them to flight by dint of 
persistent mobbing. Palm-squirrels abound in all 
the outlying gardens, quarrelling with the parrots 
over the monopoly of the ripening heads of sun- 
flowers, and participating in the riotous drinking 
parties that are held by many kinds of birds every 
morning whilst the silk- cotton-trees are in bloom. 



6 AN APOLOGY 

Even otters sometimes make their appearance, 
attracted by the abundance of fish in many of the 
ponds ; small bats of various species throng the 
air at dusk, and may be seen at sundown issuing 
in streams from unused chimneys and the recesses 
of decaying walls; flying-foxes flap about amongst 
the fruit trees in the evening, and occasionally 
establish permanent colonies in which they hang 
and wrangle all through the heat of the day. 

Reptiles, as a rule, are relatively scarce, with the 
exception of the common house-geckos, who run 
clucking about over all the walls, and who are 
always welcome in any house from their unfailing 
appetite for insects. Venomous snakes rarely occur 
within the limits of the town of Calcutta, though 
both cobras and vipers abound in the suburbs ; but 
common rat- and water-snakes, together with various 
other smaller harmless species, are often to be met 
with in gardens in company with geckos and other 
kinds of lizards. Toads swarm in every garden ; 
almost every pond contains a population of small 
frogs, and towards the outskirts of the town huge 
bull-frogs annually hail the onset of the rainy 
season in deafening chorus. All the ponds swarm 
with plants and animals ranging from Nelumbiums 
and Nymphseas to Desmids and Diatoms and from 
tortoises to Infusoria. Insects of the most various 
types, and too often of the most offensive habits, 
abound everywhere ; white ants plaster the stems 



AN APOLOGY 7 

of trees with mud, make destructive forays into 
houses, and occasionally issue forth into the air in 
winged swarms ; arboreal ants hang their curious 
tents among the foliage of the trees ; great butter- 
flies flap about and chase one another in the 
gardens ; clouds of dragon-flies herald the approach 
of the rainy season, swooping and circling about 
over the streets and sitting motionless on the 
telegraph wires with widely expanded wings ; and 
almost every night the air thrills and vibrates 
with the ringing cries of hosts of cicadas and 
crickets. 

In Europe it may no longer be an easy matter 
for any one save a specialist to observe and record 
anything of novelty or interest in regard to common 
animals and plants, but this is certainly not yet the 
case in India. There, a troublesome conscience 
may still find comfort in the thought that periods 
of "wise passiveness" are not necessarily barren 
of profit to all save those who indulge in them, 
but may become a source of pleasure to others 
through a record of their casual events. The habit 
of keeping up such a record may render the 
observer liable to the jeers of his friends as a 
disciple of Captain Cuttle, but, if he persevere in 
it, he will find that he has been laying up heavenly 
treasure in vivid memories of times of quiet enjoy- 
ment; memories that, unless reinforced by con- 
temporaneous record, must inevitably become dulled 



8 AN APOLOGY 

by lapse of time and change of circumstance, but 
which, when aided by it, continue to walk in their 
"whiteness the halls of the heart." In a country 
like India, so many " fountains of immortal bliss " 
lie open to every one in the observation and record 
of events of daily occurrence that it seems to be 
almost a duty for any one, who has realised how 
copious and unfailing they are, to do his best to 
make them known to others, however conscious he 
may be of his inability to do so in an attractive 
and adequate fashion. 



II 

COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN KITES 

" The kites sailed circles in the golden air." 

The Light of Asia. 

" We stryve, as doth the houndes for the boon, 
They foughte al day, and yet here part was noon ; 
Ther came a kyte, whil that they were wrothe, 
And bar awey the boon bitwixe hem bothe." 

The Knightes Tale. 

AFTER a long course of years spent in India it is 
not easy to recollect exactly what features in the 
new environment were the most striking on first 
arriving in the country, but among the mental 
pictures left by them, some that are even now 
very clearly defined are associated with two of the 
commonest birds of the country. It seems only 
yesterday that I first saw the kites wheeling over 
the stream of the Hugli and sitting in long rows 
on the rigging of the vessels in the harbour (Plate 
I.), or heard their shrill, whistling calls on awak- 
ing after the first night spent in Calcutta only 
yesterday that 1 first saw the mynas, with bronzy 



10 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

plumage and ye] low cere, pacing along the grass and 
parapet-walls at the sides of the road between the 
jetty and the town. The mental effect produced 
by these first experiences was so powerful that 
even now, after an interval of more than thirty 
years, whenever these birds casually come into my 
thoughts, it is as they were then seen and heard. 
Later experience might have led one to imagine 
that the crows would have been equally impressive, 
but superficially they are not so strange to British 
eyes, and it is only by dint of continued acquaint- 
ance that a just appreciation of their diabolical 
peculiarities and astounding cleverness is arrived 
at. This will account for the fact that I have no 
distinct impression of my earliest introduction to 
them. 1 must have met with them as soon as I 
arrived as soon, that is, as kites and mynas, but 
any vivid mental pictures that I have of them date 
from later periods, and have not the quality of 
surprise and novelty that adheres to those of the 
other birds. The exotic characters of the latter 
can, however, only partly account for the persistent 
impressions which the first sight of them left, since 
no such effect has been produced by that of much 
more strikingly unfamiliar forms at a somewhat later 
time. At the time of year at which I first arrived 
in Calcutta no gigantic storks are present, but only 
a few months later they must have begun to make 
their appearance, and yet the event has left no 



KITES 11 

\ 

permanent trace on my memory. The exception- 
ally vivid impression produced by the sight of the 
kites and mynas would, therefore, seem to have 
been due to a certain mental alertness, dependent 
on fresh arrival, and which had already had time 
to subside during the comparatively brief period 
that elapsed before the coming of the storks. 

The common kites, Milvus govinda, can hardly 
fail to attract the notice of any one on first arriving 
in India from the British islands. The mere 
presence of large numbers of raptorial birds within 
thickly populated areas is in itself a new experi- 
ence ; and, when the birds are of diurnal habits 
and of such large size and fearless nature as Indian 
kites are, even the most careless observer must 
inevitably be impressed by it. Their extreme 
abundance and quiet colouring lead to their being 
held in little regard, and certain of their habits tend 
to give them a positively evil repute ; but, in truth, 
they are very beautiful birds. Their bright, bold, 
brown eyes and cruel talons are splendid objects ; 
the soft shading of their plumage is admirable, 
especially when seen at a short distance, as the 
great birds glide gently to and fro, passing and 
repassing through alternate zones of sunshine and 
shadow; and nothing can prevent their flight, with 
its easy evolutions, smoothly sweeping spires and 
headlong plunges, from being an endless source of 
delight to the onlooker. They are so confident that 



12 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

one has the fullest chance of studying all the details 
of their flight ; the slight variations in inclination of 
the great wings, the constant fluctuations in the 
degree of divergence of the feathers of the tail, 
and the sudden exchanges of gentle gliding and 
sailing for furious flapping on the incidence of any 
disturbance or alarm. When hungry, and especially 
at times when they have to meet the demands of 
a growing family, their boldness often merges into 
active aggressiveness, so that every one is familiar 
with tales of hostile encounters with them. I well 
remember expending some of my choicest store of 
bad language under the impression that my chum 
had treated me to a violent buffet whilst I was 
conveying a plateful of scraps to my dogs, when 
the real offender was a kite, who had a nest in the 
garden, and had swooped suddenly down to clear 
the plate, and how, for the rest of the season, I 
was fain to carry all doles to the kennel enclosed 
between two plates in order to escape further high- 
way robbery. An adventure of this kind is very 
startling, and may even be attended by serious 
results, as there is always a chance that the talons 
aimed at the desired plunder may take effect on 
the hands of its bearer, and scratches from a kite's 
claws are uncanny things, owing to the septic nature 
of so many of the articles entering into the bird's 
bill of fare. Even worse things may happen. A 
friend, who was due to make up a tennis party one 



KITES 13 

evening, arrived very late, and excused himself on 
the very sufficient ground that, shortly after he had 
driven out of his own garden, resplendent in all 
the glory of a fresh suit of flannels, and was 
traversing a street near a large bazaar of butchers' 
shops, a kite, flying about overhead, dropped a 
huge mass of putrid offal into his lap with results 
demanding immediate return home and change of 
attire. 

They are seemingly rather stupid birds, judging 
by the frequent difficulties that they get into in 
building and the ease with which they are outwitted 
by crows. It can hardly call for much mental effort 
to construct the heaps of sticks that satisfy them as 
nests, but the work seems to tax their intellects to 
the utmost, and they are often to be seen obstinately 
trying to utilise sticks that, either from size or form, 
are hopelessly unsuited to the end in view. Even 
after the difficulties of building have been overcome 
they are sometimes subject to strange delusions. A 
kite sat patiently for many days in the vain hope 
of hatching out a pill-box that it had secured from 
a terraced roof overlooked by the rooms occupied by 
a hypochondriacal member of the United Service 
Club in Calcutta. In obtaining their food, too, 
they show no craft, but depend entirely on force 
and courage, and they very often lose the fruits 
of these, owing to imprudence and folly. One 
would have been disposed to think that a long 



14 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

course of disaster might have taught them to 
beware of crows, but they do not seem to have 
in any way profited by it, and, in place of con- 
veying their plunder to sheltered spots, such as 
are afforded by almost any tree, they alight with 
it haphazard, and, as often as not, in perfectly 
exposed sites on the top of a wall, the projecting 
cornice of a roof, or even on the open ground. In 
such circumstances two crows are a match for any 
kite, and, even a solitary one, although usually 
having small chance of success, and so well aware 
of this that he generally confines his attention to 
irritating conversation and insulting gestures, occa- 
sionally rises to the level of the situation. I once 
saw an instance of this where a kite was busily 
occupied with a piece of meat on the cornice of a 
house. The crow in attendance kept on cawing 
aloud in an insistent fashion that evidently got on 
the nerves of the kite. He began to shift restlessly 
about in vain effort to keep his enemy behind him, 
and as often as he turned round had his tail sharply 
tweaked. At last craft prevailed over force; for, 
in one of his abrupt revolutions, he lost his hold 
on his dinner, which fell over the ledge, and, 
whilst he was still gazing sadly after it, was 
secured by the crow, who darted down, and, 
having seized it, retired to a safe shelter among 
the twigs of a neighbouring tree, leaving his 
victim to look around in bewildered fashion, and 



KITES 15 

finally sail off, whistling plaintively, in quest of 
further supplies. 

The heaps of debris, that used every evening 
to adorn the sides of suburban roads awaiting the 
coming of the scavengers' carts, were the sites of 
many entertaining conflicts, but in these it was 
usually the kites who played the part of robbers. 
Pariah dogs were, of course, always present, attended 
by mobs of crows, who formed rings around them, 
hopping warily about and every now and then 
venturing to secure a savoury morsel. The dogs 
did not seem to heed this, but objected strongly 
to the rude onslaughts of the kites, who at 
intervals came sweeping silently and swiftly in from 
behind and bore away treasures of garbage from 
beneath their noses. This was past endurance, and 
gave rise to ill-tempered barks and growls, and now 
and then to a savage rush when some particularly 
dainty morsel was abstracted a very short-sighted 
indulgence in temper, as it left the field open to 
the incursion of other robbers, who dashed in 
scolding and colliding with one another in the effort 
to secure a due share of the plunder. 

In ordinary circumstances kites are by no means 
ill-tempered birds, and, in spite of their great 
abundance and its attendant struggle for existence, 
serious quarrels seem seldom to take place among 
them. Now and then, however, a squabble does 
arise, and then a very fine show of flight is to be 



16 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

seen as the great brown birds chase one another 
about and try to obtain a good chance of an efficient 
stroke. When one of them realises that he has 
been taken at advantage he suddenly turns com- 
pletely over in the air so as to present a fiercely up- 
turned beak and cruel talons to his adversary in 
place of the broad, defenceless back that was aimed 
at by the latter. Even when mobbed by other birds 
they seldom show any active resentment, and 
generally move quietly off when the annoyance 
becomes no longer endurable. They are not, how- 
ever, always so patient. I once had the joy of 
seeing one at Delhi, who was inoffensively and 
quietly sitting on a water- spout projecting from the 
face of the town wall over the Jamna, entirely lose 
his temper under the ceaseless persecution to which 
he was subjected by a noisy troop of green parrots, 
and, dashing out suddenly among them, strike off 
the tail of one of his tormentors. No one who has 
ever lived in a parrot-infested place could have failed 
to sympathise with him and to enjoy the sight of 
the drunkenly wobbling flight of the tailless and 
shrieking victim of his wrath. 

During the nesting season their temper alters 
for the worse, and they become very irritable, often 
indulging in wholly unprovoked assaults on one 
another, on other birds, and even, sometimes, on 
human beings who may unwarily approach their 
habitations too closely. An old hen-kite, who had 



KITES 17 

a nest in the crown of a coco-nut tree at the side 
of my garden, used to be amusingly jealous of the 
intrusion of any outsiders of her own species into 
her neighbourhood. Even whilst quite innocently 
busy over their own affairs and thinking no evil of 
her and her precious nest, they were never safe from 
sudden assault. Whilst quietly seated on the lawn, 
and fully occupied in the dissection of a grasshopper 
or other large insect, they would be suddenly swooped 
down upon, overturned, and fiercely grappled with. 
A noisy scuffling, scolding, and waving of great brown 
wings would follow; and then the intruder would 
make off, leaving the old lady to walk about in sedate 
triumph for a time and finally retire to her tree and 
settle down placidly once more on the nest. 

They are very methodical in their habits. Night 
after night they return to certain favoured roosts in 
the tops of high trees ; and year after year they 
continue to occupy the same nests, setting about 
their annual repairs with such regularity that the 
sight of one beginning to collect and carry about 
sticks is looked for as one of the very earliest 
harbingers of the approach of the cold weather, or, 
rather, of the onset of the latter part of the rainy 
season. Their repeated return to former nesting 
places would seem to be determined rather by sloth 
than by sentiment. During the nesting season 
1876-7 there were three nests in my garden. In 
the period intervening between that and the next 



18 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

building season some of the servants appropriated 
the sticks of one of the nests as firewood ; and, 
when the building-time again came round, the two 
other nests were repaired and occupied, but the 
missing one was not replaced. They are remarkably 
regular even in the time that they come in to roost. 
Even when their favourite perches are for a time 
quite exposed by the vernal fall of the leaves they 
faithfully adhere to them, and one feels quite un- 
comfortable on a cold night to see them sitting 
without any shelter from the chilly breezes. As a 
rule, they settle down for the night shortly after 
sundown, but occasionally the routine is interrupted, 
owing to the attractions of an abundant store of 
dainty food at a late hour, such as present themselves 
when a swarm of white ants emerges. In such cases 
belated stragglers continue to come sailing in through 
the gloaming until it is almost dark. The deftness 
with which they can secure such small, floating 
objects as the bodies of white ants, is remarkable, 
and it is a pretty sight to see them, sweeping and 
circling about through a swarm of these insects, 
picking one after another up in their claws and 
transferring them to their beaks without disturbing 
the regularity of their flight. 

The majority of the kites in Calcutta begin to 
think of building at the end of August or begin- 
ning of September, but an anticipative bird may 
occasionally be seen carrying a stick about quite 



KITES 19 

early in the former month. The action seems for 
a time to be simply reflex, but presently comes to 
bear a definite and direct relation to the foundation 
or repair of nests ; by the middle of September, 
steady building is going on everywhere, and in the 
following month laying and sitting are in full swing. 
Accidents, however, overtake many nests, owing to 
occasional violent storms of wind, and all through 
the course of winter processes of repair are in 
progress. This is specially the case towards the end 
of January and the beginning of February, when the 
autumnal broods have been disposed of and prepara- 
tions are being made for those due in spring. Eggs 
may be obtained during a long series of months, but 
are most abundant in October, and again towards 
the end of winter ; they are beautifully marked with 
bold reddish-brown splashes on a white ground. 
The curious feeble whistling and mewing of the 
young birds are constantly to be heard from early 
in the cold weather until well on in the following 
May, and, so long as they have to be provided for, 
the parents have hard work to satisfy their own 
healthy appetites and the demands of their children. 
The young ones for some time after they leave the 
nest are of a much warmer brown tint than their 
parents, and their plumage, mottled and shaded in 
a very decorative way, shows little traces of its later 
uniformity of colour. 

I have never seen a kite take any of the common 



20 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

small birds native to Calcutta in mature and healthy 
condition, but any conspicuously foreign one, such 
as a canaiy, is almost at once carried off. They 
have many interesting habits. When bathing, which 
they are very fond of doing (and with ample reason, 
considering the nature of so much of their normal 
diet and the places from which it is obtained), they 
do their washing quite quietly and without any of 
the noisy splashings and fluttering^ that attend that 
of most other birds. When conducting it in a pond 
they alight near the margin of the water, wade 
leisurely in, and squat down so as to soak their 
plumage ; when utilising a heavy downpour of rain, 
they do not dash and plunge about among wet foliage 
as crows and other birds usually do in like circum- 
stances, but sit quietly down with their heads turned 
to one side, and their wings widely extended so as 
to expose as much surface as possible to the shower- 
bath. After a bath, and also during cold weather, 
they, like vultures and adjutants, have a way of 
sunning themselves with widely extended wings, 
and, specially in the rainy season, may often be seen 
on the cornices of houses, spread out and flattened 
against the wall like architectural ornaments. 
Jerdon, in referring to the habit, says that Buchanan 
Hamilton remarks that they then appear " exactly 
as represented in Egyptian monuments." This is 
hardly a correct statement, seeing that the birds 
with extended wings on the monuments are vultures 



KITES 21 

and not kites, and that, in place of having "their 
breast to the walls," as the kites have, they always 
face directly outwards (Plate I.). He also mentions 
that "they are said to leave Calcutta almost 
entirely for three or four months during the rains." 
This most assuredly is not the case. The onset of 
the monsoon, or, indeed, of any continuous heavy 
rainfall, is doubtless followed by their departure 
from the town in large numbers, but their absence 
is never of longer duration than a few weeks, and 
is often much briefer. Whilst absent they do not 
seem to go far afield, for any considerable pause in 
the rainfall is at once followed by their reappearance 
within urban limits, and, even when the weather 
favours their continued absence from the streets, they 
may often be seen drifting inwards high over head 
from the surrounding country, and sailing about in 
flocks before violent rain-squalls. In the summer 
of 1878 an unwontedly abundant fall of rain took 
place in May and the beginning of June, and caused 
an exceptionally early exodus of the kites; a com- 
paratively dry period followed, during which they 
returned to town ; the regular monsoon rains set 
steadily in in the early part of July, and a second 
emigration, followed by a second return, took place. 
The explanation of these villeggiaturas is probably 
to be found in the fact that heavy rainfall both 
washes the streets and so tends to diminish the 
supply of garbage in them, and at the same time 



22 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

floods the low-lying areas around the town and 
provides store of attractive food there in the shape 
of drowned animals. As the floods increase this 
supply diminishes as its sources are either swept 
away or driven to take refuge in the higher parts of 
the country, and with this the streets resume their 
normal attractions as hunting-grounds. 

On evenings of those specially oppressive days 
in summer that wind up with a violent storm from 
the north-west, the kites mount in hundreds into 
the upper air, where they wheel and drift about 
seemingly without purpose, but probably really in 
pure enjoyment of the cool currents that set in aloft 
long before there has been anything to relieve the 
stagnant heat at lower levels, and whilst any breeze 
moving there is still breathing from the south. 

Very slight defects in their plumage often give 
rise to curiously great effects in the flight of kites. 
Any imperfection in the tail-feathers specially serves 
to impart a markedly unsteady character to it. One 
feels disposed to wonder how they manage to get on 
at all during their moults, unless they either change 
their feathers in the insensible fashion in which many 
evergreens change their foliage, or in the kaleido- 
scopic way characteristic of deciduous trees in the 
tropics ; the habits of most raptorial birds seem to be 
quite incompatible with any prolonged period of 
seriously impaired flight, such as that attending the 
moult of most other birds. 



Ill 

MYNAS 

" Striped squirrels raced, the mynas perked and picked." 

The Light of Asia. 

1 The stare, that the counseylle kan bewrye." 

The Assembly of Foulis. 

" Before her goes, nodding their heads, 
The merry minstrelsy." Ancient Mariner. 

IT seems hardly right in any way to associate mynas 
with kites, for, in place of being carrion-fed robbers, 
they are birds of most genteel and refined habits, and 
it was only because my first introduction to both of 
them was almost simultaneous with arrival in India 
that I come to think of them together. As we get 
to know more of the country we begin to realise that 
there are several very distinct kinds of mynas, but 
almost everywhere Acridotheres tristis is our first 
familiar acquaintance among them (Plate II. 1). A 
very creditable acquaintance he is, too, with his 
sober dress, that in the level sunshine of mornings 
and evenings is glorified by bronzy tints, and his 
familiar and amusing ways. Starlings have the 



24 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

same eager and dainty way of pacing and running 
about over the grass, but the common mynas have 
none of their mean and cheap look, and, though 
they may be as self-satisfied as any starling ever 
was, it must be allowed that they have much more 
reason to be so. A starling in spring, sitting on a 
bough in an ecstasy of self-content over the 
strangely creaking torrent of noises that he fondly 
believes to be a song, may make one feel as one 
does whilst listening to an amateur recitation; but 
this is never the case where a myna is concerned. 
One has no sense of shame or sadness in listen- 
ing to him as he nods his head and flutters his 
wings to give point to his song. 

I can never cease to have a grateful memory of 
the way in which a myna helped to while away the 
weary and rather home-sick hours of my first hot- 
weather in Calcutta. He and his wife had elected to 
place their nest on the cornice beneath the beams in 
one corner of the open roof of my room, and were 
constantly coming in with fresh stores of building 
materials. It was quite refreshing to see the supreme 
satisfaction that they derived from the progress of 
their work a satisfaction that every now and then 
became so acute as to call for a short rest and 
jubilant little song. Merely to watch the construc- 
tion of a myna's nest is a liberal education ; it is like 
watching the steps in the formation of a local museum. 
Their taste in materials is so catholic that one never 



MYNAS 25 

knows what curio may not be brought in. Sticks, 
straws, feathers, rags, small bones, and pieces of paper 
are all deemed valuable, and a very special worth 
would seem to attach to the cast skins of snakes, for, 
in any case where these are attainable, they are 
almost sure to be worked into the growing heap of 
rubbish. The pity is that in their effort to bring in 
exceptionally bulky materials they are apt to drop 
them about, and, although snake-skins and feathers 
may be interesting and even decorative additions to 
the furniture of a room, great pieces of paper or rag, 
of unknown origin and very doubtful purity, can 
hardly be regarded as desirable additions to one's 
surroundings. 

Mynas always make themselves entirely at home 
in a house, taking it completely for granted that 
they are quite at liberty to drop in and stay whenever 
and for as long as they like. Even when the open 
spaces above the railings of a verandah are netted or 
wired up, they refuse to recognise it as a notice of 
warning against trespass, but squeeze their way in 
between the rails whenever the whim seizes them to 
do so. They persist in asserting a right-of-way, and 
never show any sense of guilt or confusion when 
detected, but merely quietly withdraw without any 
unseemly haste or flurry. In this they are curiously 
unlike the crows, who are just as ready to pay 
uninvited visits, but who are so well aware that they 
ought not to do so, that the terrors of detection at 



26 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

once reduce them to a state of helpless, hopeless 
idiocy whenever they are caught poaching in a place 
from which there is no way of precipitate exit. 
There is, of course, this great difference in the two 
cases, that the mynas have only looked in from 
civility or polite curiosity, whereas the crows have 
done so with felonious intent ; but, even allowing 
this, it seems strange that a sense of guilt should 
lead such hardened and habitual criminals as crows 
are to lose their heads so completely as they do in 
such a case. 

It is a never-ending joy to watch mynas pacing 
and racing about over the grass in search of worms 
and insects. They never hop, but step and run 
lightly from place to place, always looking alert and 
well-dressed. When a pair of them have come across 
a desirable lawn, they very soon come to look upon it 
as their private property, returning to it every morn- 
ing and evening with the greatest regularity, and, 
where the space is a limited one, showing extreme 
jealousy of any intrusion by other birds, and specially 
by any of their own relatives. During one season 
a pair appropriated the little lawn at the back of 
my house, and would not endure the incursions of 
the brown shrikes who haunted the neighbouring 
shrubbery and were occasionally tempted out upon 
the grass by the presence of specially alluring insects. 
They were also constantly engaged in hunting away 
a pair of pied starlings who had a nest in a tall tree 



MYNAS 27 

in the corner of the garden, and, not unreasonably, 
thought that they were entitled to the run of the 
turf. Their extreme excitability and overflowing 
energy make them rather apt to quarrel among 
themselves, and one sometimes sees an otherwise 
most affectionate couple squabbling fiercely over the 
possession of a worm destined to be food for their 
nestlings. Their scuffles often take place in odd 
places, and I have seen a party of them having a free 
fight on the body of a cow, who lay, placidly and 
indifferently chewing the cud, quite undisturbed by 
their struggles and cries. They love the company of 
cattle, and, along with common white egrets, are 
constantly to be seen following the cows and 
buffaloes, who, in pushing their way along through 
the grass, dislodge clouds of insects from their lurking 
places in it. Whilst questing for worms and insects 
in the grass they pace quietly along, spying warily 
about, turning over all the heaps of cow-dung to 
have a look beneath them, and every now and then, 
making a sudden dash at some desirable object at a 
little distance. 

Few birds venture to stand up to a myna, and 
there are very few that a myna will hesitate to 
assault. Even crows are afraid of them, although 
quite ready to torment them when a chance of 
doing so advantageously happens to turn up. One 
may often see a crow teasing a myna who is busy 
on the grass near the foot of a tree, dodging round 



28 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

and round, running out to tweak the myna's tail 
when his back is turned, and then fleeing from 
his wrath to the other side of the tree. A party 
of mynas, consisting of several males and females, 
once selected the top of a low terraced roof, just 
below my verandah, as a site for courting and 
quarrelling. The ladies formed a sedate and 
attentive gallery of spectators on the top of the 
parapet, whilst the gentlemen held a tournament 
below, pacing around, singing at one another, and 
every now and then engaging in furious scuffles, 
in which they grappled with beak and claw and 
fell over, so that the roof was often strewn with 
struggling couples of fluttering and scolding com- 
batants. Crows are always on the spot in the event 
of a shindy of any kind, and, in this case, quite 
a mob of them very soon gathered to criticise the 
conduct of the fray. For a time they were content 
to play the part of mere onlookers and form excited 
and conversational rings around the duellists, but 
presently their irrepressible desire to interfere in 
other people's affairs led them on, first to crowd 
in more and more closely, and then to pluck at the 
skirts of the fighters. The latter were so com- 
pletely absorbed in mutual attack and defence 
that, for a time, they paid no attention to the 
impudent interference, but, when they did con- 
descend to notice it and separated, it was pretty to 
see the precipitate flight of the crows, 



MYNAS 29 

In the neighbourhood of Calcutta their pairing 
season seems to take place in the beginning of the 
year, for it is then that one oftenest sees violent 
contests among the males, such as that just 
mentioned. The birds that take part in these frays, 
either as spectators or as actors, are seemingly 
young ones of the previous season, or widows and 
widowers who have lost their mates ; for the 
constancy with which they are to be met with in 
pairs at all times of year seems to indicate that 
their matrimonial alliances are permanent. During 
the intervals between nesting seasons they assemble 
every evening in countless numbers in order to 
roost in certain favourite trees, coming into these 
in pairs and small parties that continue to converge 
from all quarters long after every available perch 
must seemingly have been occupied. The trees 
selected as bed-chambers are such as provide very 
dense cover, and in Calcutta mangoes and Mimusops 
elengi, trees that abound in urban gardens, are those 
usually chosen. During the latter part of autumn 
and the whole of the cold weather, many of the 
gardens in the European part of the town are 
nightly tenanted by countless multitudes of mynas, 
who go out in the morning to the suburbs and the 
country around, and return to town again towards 
sundown. Were they content to go quietly to bed 
there could be no objection to this, but, unfortun- 
ately, they cannot settle down for the night without 



SO COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

much wrangling for accommodation and vociferous 
gossip over the events of the day ; practices which, 
in popular sites, give rise to an ear-splitting and 
well-nigh deafening din. Every one must be familiar 
with the discordant hubbub that emanates from a 
large roost of common starlings, but that is nothing 
to the din that a flock of mynas can give rise to. 
The Residency at Katmandu lies on the brow of 
a slope overlooking a wide expanse of rice-fields 
on the farther side of which are some dense groups 
of trees. These used to be, and very likely still 
are, tenanted every night of the cold weather by 
myriads of mynas ; and, evening after evening, the 
tumult attending their settling down for the night 
could be distinctly heard all across the wide inter- 
vening space. A second fit of noisy talk precedes 
their outgoing in the morning ; and, on brightly 
moonlit nights, it is never certain that some of 
them may not awake to chatter or even sing. 
At all times they seem to be light sleepers, 
for any sudden gust of wind during the night, 
though in many cases it leaves the crows quite 
undisturbed, is generally enough to rouse them 
up to shout. Like most of their near relatives 
and many other kinds of birds, they are very 
fond of the liquor that is to be found in the 
lower part of the great, stiff corollas of the silk- 
cotton-trees in the early morning, and, when a 
number of them are competing for it, a din, 



MYNAS 31 

almost equal to that of roosting-time, issues from 
the trees. 

In the neighbourhood of Calcutta mynas nest 
all through the hot weather and the early part 
of the rainy season, and as, in the plains at least, 
they prefer to use buildings rather than trees as sites 
for their nests, it is not always easy to keep them 
from invading the interior of houses in their quest 
for eligible places. There are certainly some grounds 
for refusing to allow them to settle in inhabited 
rooms, for, though they do not, like sparrows, 
resent the entrance of any one into their domain 
with noisy vociferation, they are very apt to scatter 
unpleasing rubbish over the floors, and one is not 
always disposed to listen gratefully to the loud and 
cheerful songs with which they diversify their 
labours. When once they are fairly settled, how- 
ever, it is almost impossible to harden one's heart 
to the point of turning them out ; their complete 
assurance that they have a perfect right to be 
where they are, and their outspoken satisfaction 
over the progress of their work appeal to one's 
feelings in a way that can hardly be resisted. After 
the eggs are hatched out the parents have a rough 
time of it. They spend the entire day from dawn 
to dusk in incessant journeys backwards and 
forwards between their hunting-grounds and nests ; 
indeed, as has been already mentioned, so eager 
are they over their work as often to have little 



32 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

tiffs over the possession of specially delectable worms 
or insects in total forgetfulness of the fact that 
they are labouring for a common end. When either 
of them has collected as much as its bill will hold 
it comes in, generally pausing at the brim of the 
nest to answer the eager cries of the young birds 
with one or two cheerful notes, before proceeding 
to feed them and then emerge to sail off once more 
on widespread, white-barred wings in quest of fresh 
supplies. They are very attentive to their young, 
and carefully escort and feed them long after 
they are well able to provide for themselves. Such 
family parties are for some time readily recognisable, 
owing to the colouring of the young birds and to 
the fact that the latter every now and then make 
exorbitant and wholly unreasonable demands to be 
fed. In many cases the association would seem to 
last up to the next breeding season, as, all through 
autumn and the early half of winter, mynas are 
very often to be found going about in small parties 
that may well represent one or two parents with 
a brood of the previous season. 

The only other representatives of the Sturnidce 
that are permanent residents of the immediate 
vicinity of Calcutta are the pied starlings, Sturno- 
pastor contra. They are not nearly such attractive 
birds as the common mynas ; for their colouring is 
coarsely laid on in a way that recalls that of certain 
of the ornithological inmates of a Noah's ark ; their 



MYNAS 33 

heads have a debased look, and they have neither 
the pleasant notes nor the alluringly familiar ways 
of their relatives. Like the latter, and very often in 
company with them, they spend their nights, save 
during the nesting season, in huge mobs, which, 
if possible, are even more vociferous than those 
of mynas. At sundown the din proceeding from 
such assemblies is often so overpowering as to render 
even the concerts of the crows or of the great 
autumnal crickets temporarily inaudible. Although 
roosting in and haunting gardens, they never show 
any desire to enter houses, and they invariably nest 
in trees. Their choice of nesting materials is almost, 
if not quite, as indiscriminate as that of mynas, and, 
as they have no special desire for privacy in family 
life, and often build gregariously, trees, such as 
tamarinds, that provide convenient sites, are often 
much disfigured by the results of their architecture. 
The nests, although to all appearance very incoherent 
and carelessly ordered, are, in fact, wonderfully dur- 
able, and seem to be used for many successive years 
by their proprietors. Processes of annual repair 
begin to take place in April, and by the middle of 
May the nests are in good order and tenanted. The 
relatively late period of nesting is probably connected 
with the nature and position of the nests. Those of 
the common mynas are placed in holes in walls or 
other protected sites in or about buildings, and must, 
consequently, be equally safe at any time of year; 



34 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

but where large and conspicuous heaps of rubbish 
are to be attached to trees there is an obvious reason 
why the process should be deferred until the crop 
of leaves that falls in spring has been replaced by 
a fresh supply of protective foliage. Like mynas, 
the pied starlings manifest entire satisfaction with 
their nests, and when busily engaged in feeding 
their young can never enter their houses, even when 
their mouths seem to be inconveniently full, with- 
out pausing to utter one or two cheerful notes of 
self-congratulation . 

Pied starlings overflow with energy and always 
seem to be in a hurry. When questing over a 
plot of grass they never pace daintily about as the 
mynas do, but race along in a frenzied way that 
almost recalls the air of possession with which 
mason-wasps go about their business. They are 
almost as jealous of any intrusion on their favourite 
hunting-grounds as mynas are, but by no means so 
plucky in resenting it by active assault. 

Several other kinds of mynas and starlings appear 
in Calcutta as visitors, usually during the winter 
months. At the time that the silk-cotton-trees are 
in bloom they are regularly visited by large flocks 
of Acridotheres fuscus l and Temenuchus malabaricus? 
the latter species perhaps furnishing the very noisiest 

1 Owing to the kaleidoscopic revolutions in zoological nomenclature, 
these birds will be found in the " Fauna of British India " as j&thiopsar 
fuscus and Sfocpwa malabarica. 




Common Mvna. i>. 2: 




Black-headed Mynas. p. 34. 



To face p. 34. 



MYNAS S5 

members of the mixed company that attends these 
drinking bouts. A few stray specimens of Temenu- 
chus pagodarum, the beautiful black-headed myna so 
abundant in Southern India (Plate II.), and of the 
bank-rnyna, Acridotheres ginginianus, also make their 
appearance at the same time. I have never seen the 
common starling in the open near Calcutta. Large 
numbers of specimens are brought into the bazaars 
of the town in winter, but they are all derived from 
Behar. Blyth records the visits of flocks of rose- 
pastors to the flowering silk- cotton-trees, but, what- 
ever may have been the case in his time, they 
would seem now to be very rare birds in the 
neighbourhood of Calcutta. Owing to its very 
conspicuous plumage and habits, it is very unlikely 
to escape notice, but I find no note of its occurrence 
in the records of thirty years' observation. 



IV 

CHOWS 

" The Craw put up her sooty heid, 
Frae the nest whar she lay, 
And gied a flaff wi' her roosty wings, 
And cried ' Whar tae, whar tae ! ' 
' Tae pike a deid man lying 
Ahint yon muckle stane.' " 

Border Ballad. 

" As I was walking all my lane 
I heard twa corbies makin' a mane, 
The tain until the tither say, 
' Whar'll we gang and dine the day.' " 

Border Ballad. 

REMINISCENCES of the common Indian 1 crow are 
concerned with experiences which ranged from rage 
and disgust to the keenest admiration and amuse- 
ment. There surely never was such an impishly 
clever bird. The common English magpie may 
run him close, but it is only when domesticated 
that he can be regarded as a serious competitor, 
and, even then, the devil by which he is possessed 
is hardly so inventive and constantly on the alert 

1 Corvus splendens is considerably larger than a jackdaw, but smaller 
than a rook. 

36 



CROWS 37 

as that which is immanent in an Indian crow. 
Even the most depraved magpie seems to be subject 
to occasional intervals of comparative innocence, 
during which his appetite for malignant mischief 
slumbers, but this can hardly be said of the crow, 
who, even when you think him fully occupied in 
attending to his own affairs even when busily 
feeding or in all the throng of nest-building seems 
to have an eye open all the time for any opportunity 
for wanton mischief, and whose keen sense ol 
humour and restless energy seem hardly ever to 
flag. During the stifling heat of a thunderous 
afternoon he may for a time be reduced to sit, 
gasping through gaping mandibles and incapable 
of anything beyond sotto voce talk ; or, again, during 
a storm of driving rain, sodden plumage, and 
incapacity to struggle against the fury of the blast 
may lead to temporary depression. But in all other 
circumstances he is prepared to show himself in 
his normal character as an irrepressible street gamin, 
ready for any fray, opportunity for theft, or occasion 
for annoying and tormenting his neighbours. As a 
rule, he is quite ready to say, with Madame de 
Longueville, when exiled from Paris and condemned 
to stay with her husband in Normandy, " Je n'aime 
pas les plaisirs innocents," but at rare intervals he 
unbends so far as to partake of them, and I once 
saw a party of crows playing a harmless game 
among themselves for quite a long time. They 



38 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

had come in for the evening and, before going to 
roost, had assembled on a flat roof on which a 
number of fragments of wood were lying about, in 
order to play a game of the following kind. One 
of them, taking up a stick, ran off, and was pursued 
by his comrades until one of them succeeded in 
twitching it out of his beak, and, in his turn, became 
the object of pursuit ; the process being repeated 
again and again, and seeming to give the utmost 
satisfaction to the company. A solitary bird may 
sometimes be seen playing about in a vague way, 
but it is only rarely that a number of them rise to 
the level of playing a continuous and co-operative 
game, as in this instance. 

When one thinks of the endless series of excite- 
ment and more or less disreputable adventures that 
crows must have gone through during the course 
of their day's outing, it seems strange that they 
should have energy enough left, on returning to 
the neighbourhood of their roosts, for anything but 
quietly going to bed. But they never show any 
signs of fatigue, and invariably, unless they return 
unusually late, spend quite a long time in bathing 
and gossiping over the events of the day. As 
they come in, they do not at once make for the 
trees in which they intend to pass the night, but 
congregate on the tops of buildings or the upper 
boughs of thinly-foliaged trees and there converse 
noisily for some time. Every now and then one 



CROWS 39 

of the company seems to make a remark or tell a 
story that shocks even their depraved sense of 
propriety, and a general dispersion takes place 
amid loud cries of reprobation; but the desire for 
further scandal soon brings them all back, and it 
is only after several such interruptions that they 
finally separate for the night. Every evening 
throngs of crows, mynas, and common pond-herons, 
Ardeola grayi, come trooping in from their 
hunting-grounds in the surrounding country, and 
converge towards their roosts in the trees of the 
gardens and streets of the European quarter of 
Calcutta. The mynas usually fly in small flocks 
or family parties, the crows either solitarily or in 
packs, and the herons always singly. The mynas 
make straight for their roosts ; the crows interrupt 
their journey in order to bathe, and on reaching 
home, waste much time in idle talk before going 
to bed; and the herons often vary their homeward 
flight by swooping aside after passing insects. 

Crows never show the tranquil enjoyment of 
cool evening breezes that kites do, but are always 
fully occupied in bathing, gossiping, or playing 
until the last moment before retiring to rest. 
Even during the coldest weather they persist in 
having a bath either on their homeward journey or 
after they have arrived at their night-quarters, 
going down to the ponds and splashing and 
fluttering most energetically in the shallows. When 



40 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

once they have betaken themselves to their roosts 
they very rapidly settle down and never make a 
din like that which issues nightly from a tree 
tenanted by mynas ; they have, of course, had a 
good talk beforehand, and, as they do not roost so 
closely packed together as the mynas, there is less 
occasion for disputes for the possession of particular 
perches than there is among the latter birds. They 
seem to sleep more soundly than mynas do, but 
on moonlit nights occasional drowsy utterances 
may be heard ; and, in event of a thunder-storm 
with vivid lightning or violent gusts of wind, 
sudden outbursts of expostulation occur at intervals. 
At dawn they fully make up for any reticence 
that they may have shown overnight; the clamour 
is then truly astonishing and quite preventive of 
sleep until use has inured one to it. I cannot 
forget the feeling of almost desperate nervous 
irritation that beset me for many weeks after I 
had come into town from living in the Botanic 
Garden, which in those days was practically free 
from crows, to a house in a garden where dawn 
was made hideous by crows. To any one in full 
health the uproar may soon cease to be annoying, 
but it remains a persistent source of trouble to 
invalids by rousing them up at the very time at 
which they have the best chance of a little 
refreshing sleep. It is odd that so serious a 
nuisance should be so passively endured as it is. 



CROWS 41 

One constantly hears complaints of it, but it is very 
seldom that any serious attempt is made to reduce 
it. On the contrary, any action of that sort which 
may be taken is often objected to on the ground 
that crows are excellent scavengers. Now this is 
quite true ; but at the same time there can be no 
question that the number of crows who roost in 
Calcutta is very much in excess of the supply of 
food provided by the refuse of the streets, and 
that a very large percentage of the birds are mere 
night-lodgers who do their scavenging in the 
surrounding country, and only come into town 
when their day's work is over. Moreover, the 
number of such crows tends to increase steadily, 
not only owing to annual increments of young 
birds, but also to the diminution in local supply of 
food that ought to attend improved sanitation of 
the streets. So long as no steps are taken to limit 
the population of useless lodgers, it must go on 
growing until all available sites for nests and roosts 
in the trees within the limits of the town have 
been fully occupied, and this without any local 
benefit whatever. A very little observation will be 
enough to satisfy any one that this is the case. 
Every morning sees the departure of innumerable 
crows streaming out into the country; and every 
evening sees the process reversed, the outgoing and 
incoming streams of birds crossing those of the 
babus who spend their days in the shops and 



42 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

offices of the town and their nights in the suburbs 
and the outlying villages beyond. 

There are several reasons why so large a number 
of crows should be found at night within town limits. 
In the first place, crows must always, owing to the 
nature of their diet, find areas thickly peopled by 
human beings convenient hunting-grounds. They 
need not necessarily be permanent residents there ; 
but wherever trees of a suitable kind are found in 
the streets and gardens of a town, they will naturally 
offer special attractions as sites for roosting and 
nesting, because of the restrictions regarding the use 
of firearms and the relative security from birds and 
beasts of prey within urban limits. An abundant 
supply of food and relative security will, therefore, 
account for the presence of a certain number of 
crows as permanent residents, but the chief cause of 
the excessive number of the population is the per- 
sistent habit that the birds have of returning to 
roost and nest in the immediate neighbourhood of 
the sites in which they were born. It is, however, 
this very habit, annoying as it is to the occupants 
of neighbouring houses, that provides an effective 
means of largely mitigating the evil. Every garden, 
and to a certain extent every tree, constitutes a 
separate parish, and is inhabited by a distinct com- 
munity, which is being constantly recruited by the 
birth of young natives ; but only exceptionally by the 
arrival of immigrants from other and overcrowded 



CROWS 43 

places. All, therefore, that is necessary in order to 
prevent the increase of the population, or to diminish 
or ultimately abolish it, is to check the annual 
increments of young birds. Even crows, clever and 
cunning though they be, are subject to accidents, 
and, apart from these, must eventually die of old 
age ; so that any strictly localised community of them 
will gradually diminish and ultimately die out if not 
recruited. All, then, that is necessary to convert 
any garden from a pandemonium to a haunt of peace, 
is the exercise of a certain amount of patience, and 
the steady destruction of all nests for a term of years. 
The work of destruction involves a good deal of toil, 
more especially where many trees have to be dealt 
with, as the old birds are most persevering in their 
desires for a family, and go on building nest after 
nest to make good those that have been done away 
with. But the labour is amply repaid by the result- 
ing quiet, and after a few years a very little attention 
is enough to keep this up permanently. My last 
garden in Calcutta was, when I acquired control of 
it, in the possession of a great colony of crows ; but, 
for many years before I left India, very few roosted 
or attempted to nest there, because I had set my 
face from the outset steadily against all successful 
local hatching. 

When a colony of crows has been allowed to 
establish itself in any urban garden it is difficult to 
deal efficiently with it in any other way ; municipal 



44 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

regulations interfere with any effectual use of fire- 
arms ; poison, besides being open to other objections, 
is inefficient owing to the extreme wariness of its 
intended victims ; and attempts at establishing a 
reign of terror, by means of fireworks or other 
noisy demonstrations, seem generally to cause more 
annoyance to the human inhabitants of the neigh- 
bourhood than alarm in the desired quarter. 
Almost the only speedily effective means of 
reducing the number of crows in a garden is to 
secure the services of a professional bird-catcher for 
a time. This has the advantage of being not only 
a profitable but also a highly entertaining adventure. 
The expert arrives about sundown, provided with 
a sufficiency of bird-lime and a bundle of bamboo 
rods fitting into one another like the joints of a 
fishing-rod, and, when the crows have settled down 
for the night, but whilst a certain amount of light 
remains, he sets to work. He quietly approaches 
the foot of the tree he has chosen, and, having 
determined on an eligible point by careful scrutiny, 
applies some of the lime to the slimmest of his rods, 
and goes on quietly and steadily passing it upwards 
among the branches, fitting in joint after joint of 
the series until the tip has arrived at striking 
distance, when a sudden, slight inclination brings it 
into adhesive contact with his victim, who is forth- 
with hauled down by main force, struggling and 
expostulating wildly as he descends. The whole 



CROWS 45 

performance is a very curious one ; one wonders 
at the amazing tenacity of the lime that can with- 
stand the struggles of such powerful birds; and, 
even more, that the capture and outcries of one 
after another of them causes so little alarm among 
their neighbours that several of them may be taken 
almost from the same perch. It is no easy matter 
to disturb crows who have settled down for the 
night, or to determine beforehand what will serve 
to do so. I once spent a long and happy evening 
in helping a friend to send fireworks into a tree 
tenanted by an obnoxious colony of crows, without 
eliciting any result save the utterance of a few 
drowsy caws ; and yet, a little later on in the same 
night, the sudden striking of a match in order to 
light a pipe was enough to give rise to a perfect 
torrent of outcries and the precipitate exodus of 
a throng of crows from among the branches. 

Crows show evidence of a truly disinterested love 
for mischief, and, consequently, never know what it 
is to spend a dull moment ; there is always some- 
thing at hand to be tormented or destroyed in the 
spare moments that may intervene in the pursuit 
of things to eat. Should one be suffering from a 
fit of fever and have lain down in the hope of for- 
getting discomfort in sleep, a crow is almost sure 
to find one out and light on the shutters of any 
open door or window in order to peer into the 
room and make offensive remarks. When the 



46 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

punkahs are carefully wrapped up in paper and 
stowed away for the winter beneath the roof of 
the verandah, it is not long before the crows are 
hard at work unpacking them and strewing the 
floor with a litter of torn paper. If one leaves a 
book lying in any place to which they can gain 
access, one may surely reckon on finding pages torn 
out of it within a very short time ; and, if one has 
any particularly pet plant coming into bloom, they 
are as likely as not to tear off the flowers as 
quickly as they unfold. Any animal pets are, of 
course, even more subject to their attentions, and, 
unless in wholly inaccessible places, are constantly 
liable to having their food purloined and their lives 
rendered a burthen by persistent and ingenious 
persecution. Most wild animals, too, have a bad 
time wherever crows abound. As a rule, kites and 
vultures are left in peace unless when a competi- 
tion for food arises. Occasionally, however, after 
the kites have begun to nest, and long before their 
own building time has set in, a party of crows will 
be suddenly smitten by a sense of the possibilities 
of sport to be derived from interference with their 
neighbours, and will assemble to criticise and some- 
times even to intervene actively in the work of 
building. Even king-crows, Dicrurince, in spite of 
the respect that their pluck and dash usually inspire, 
occasionally come in for a share of annoyance. I 
once saw a party of crows in the Valley of Nipal 



CROWS 47 

interrupt their homeward journey at sundown, in 
order to return again and again for the pleasure of 
disturbing some drowsy king-crows and causing them 
to rush forth in pursuit. Any strange raptorial bird 
is at once surrounded by a noisy mob ; a belated 
owl has a very bad time of it until he can find 
some impregnable retreat, and any stray sea-eagle 
that may venture into a garden to have a look 
at the ponds, is very soon driven off by intolerable 
persecution. The arrival of a palm-cat or civet in 
a garden is announced by a tumultuous assembly 
of crows, and even palm-squirrels, should they stray 
out into the open, and especially among grass long 
enough to hamper their movements, are immedi- 
ately set upon. Monkeys are certainly not very 
canny subjects for persecution, and seem to be 
generally respected in places where they abound, 
but when some were let loose in the Zoological 
Garden .in Calcutta they were constantly escorted 
about by vociferous retinues of crows. 

When crows are engaged in mobbing any formid- 
able bird or mammal they assemble in immense 
numbers, blackening the branches of the neigh- 
bouring trees with their hosts, and keeping up a 
continuous hubbub of cawing ; gradually crowding 
in closer and closer around their victim, but ready, 
on any sudden movement on its part, to disperse 
for the time being in a perfect tempest of execra- 
tion. Crows were always among the worst enemies 



48 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

to contend with in the Zoological Garden at Alipur. 
Large collections of captive animals must everywhere 
demand very careful supervision, but there are 
certain special difficulties attending their manage- 
ment in tropical countries. In a Zoological Garden 
in Europe, if sufficient space, suitable temperature, 
good water-supply and housing, judicious feeding, 
and general sanitation be provided, there is hardly 
anything left to be attended to save precautions 
against invasion by rats and mice. But the in- 
mates of tropical gardens are constantly exposed to 
the attacks of hosts of other enemies. Venomous 
snakes haunt the shrubberies and other coverts, and 
cause much mortality, especially among ruminants ; 
crocodiles are always ready to avail themselves of 
any opportunities of establishing themselves in ponds 
and playing havoc among the water-fowl; civets, 
mungooses, Paradoxuri, and wild cats are for ever 
on the alert for forays on the aviaries; troops of 
jackals race howling around every night, and, if 
they can, invade the paddocks and terrify and 
injure the inmates ; kites and eagles are for ever 
floating about overhead, ready to stoop on any un- 
protected bird or small mammal; and, as though 
all this were not enough, multitudes of crows throng 
ceaselessly around, busy with misdeeds of one sort 
or other; stealing food, tormenting animals out of 
pure devilry, disturbing them when trying to rest, 
inflicting serious and often fatal injuries on those 



CROWS 49 

that are sickly, and especially on any that may be 
suffering from skin diseases or cutaneous wounds. 
Even where they inflict no serious injuries they 
constantly worry and annoy animals to such an 
extent as to give rise to a degree of nervous irrita- 
tion that must seriously affect their well-being. 
Even the stolid indifference of a ruminant cow is 
not always proof against the attentions of one or 
two crows as they go hopping and cawing about 
over her body, pickaxing in her back, mining in 
her ears and nose, and now and then giving a 
dangerous dig at one of her eyes. 

Hardly any living things seem to be permanently 
exempt from their annoyance ; even in places where 
particular animals have every right to be, and crows 
are pure intruders, any casual encounter is almost 
certain to expose the former to insult if not to 
actual injury. One would have thought that river- 
tortoises might have escaped, but even they are 
sometimes as hardly tried as other less protected 
animals are. I once had an excellent occasion of 
observing this during the course of one of many 
golden forenoons spent in "wise passiveness," in a 
kiosk at a corner of the river-face of the lower 
platform of the Taj. The Jamna was just begin- 
ning to fall after the end of the rains, and large 
banks of yellow sand were forming islands in its 
shining stream. One of these lay immediately 
beneath the bank of the Taj Garden, and numbers 

D 



50 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of large tortoises were " coming up out of the 
river," like Joseph's cattle, to bask, or rather to try 
to bask, in the sunshine, for it was only here and 
there that one for a time escaped the attentions 
of a party of crows, who were enjoying themselves 
to the utmost in tormenting them. It was really 
quite exhilarating to see how the birds danced round 
their victims, watching for chances to run in and 
plant incisive digs "in safe and soft places," and 
then beat a precipitate retreat. The tortoises were 
certainly as " grieved " as those that, according to 
the pages of " Nature," are frequently added to the 
collections in Regent's Park; now and then they 
snapped viciously at their tormentors, but for the 
most part they were content to draw themselves 
as far as possible under cover of their armour, and 
await an opportunity of edging their way down- 
wards towards the water. Even when they had 
been fairly routed the crows gave them no rest, 
but danced around them and obstructed their retreat 
as much as possible to the very end. After a time 
the charms of this game palled, and the demons 
took to running up and down at the edge of the 
water and frightening away any fresh tortoises who 
might be foolish enough to wish to land. When 
tired of this, too, they had a high time in digging 
a huge bull- frog out of his burrow in the sand, 
but, when he suddenly emerged and went off in 
a series of great leaps, they were so much startled 



CROWS 51 

as to leave him in peace and return to their former 
play. Soon, however, judgment fell upon them, 
for a couple of red-wattled plover, Sarcogrammus 
indicus, who had for some time been looking on 
with manifest disapproval, suddenly assaulted them 
and drove them off, complaining loudly, to the 
bank. 

Almost the only occasions in which one sees 
crows behaving respectfully are those in which they 
come into close quarters with their immediate rela- 
tives, for they certainly never venture to treat the 
Indian corbie, Corvus culminatus, with unseemly levity. 
Where one or two corbies are in possession of some 
gruesome delicacy, the crows cannot help congre- 
gating enviously around them, but they do so with 
the utmost respect, are relatively silent, and never 
venture to approach very closely, far less to make 
any attempts at theft. 

Quite independently of their artistic apprecia- 
tion of the value of mischief for mischiefs sake, and 
of their morning and evening concerts, many of their 
habits are very annoying to their human neigh- 
bours. It is never safe to leave articles of food 
for a moment unguarded in any place to which they 
can gain access, and the trouble that they give in a 
garden is endless. It is bad enough at any time, 
but comes to a climax in the nesting season, when 
their eager search for building materials leads them 
to play havoc among treasured shrubs and creepers 



52 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

by wrenching off twigs and sprays in the most 
recklessly destructive fashion. In the neighbour- 
hood of Calcutta they begin to build in the latter 
part of January, and thereafter, until the end of 
May, the work goes on more or less continuously. 
In some seasons nesting is over much sooner than 
in others, as its duration is, to a great extent, 
determined by the nature of the weather. Should 
their first nests be plundered by any predaceous 
animal, destroyed by human agency, or wrecked by 
storm, they at once begin to build anew, and, 
therefore, in seasons in which violent storms abound, 
nesting necessarily goes on much longer than when 
only a few occur. When a catastrophe does over- 
take a nest containing young birds in an advanced 
stage of development, but not yet fit to do with- 
out a habitation, and should any of them survive, 
their parents sometimes show great intelligence in 
providing for them. In April 1883 a crow's nest 
was pulled down in a garden in the European 
quarter of Calcutta. One of the two young birds 
that were in it fell to the ground and was killed, 
but the other lodged among the branches in its 
descent without serious injury. Great excitement 
of course prevailed among all the crows of the 
neighbourhood, and then the parents proceeded to 
make a new platform of sticks beneath and around 
their surviving offspring. 



CROWS continued 

" Wahrend ich nach andrer Leute, 
Andrer Leute Scliatzen spahe, 
Und vor fremden Liebesthiiren 
Schmachtend auf und niedergehe : 

" Treibt's vielleicht die andren Leute 
Hin und her an andrem Platze. 
Und vor meinen eignen Fenstern, 
Augeln sie mit meinem Schatze." HEINE. 

ONE of the most curious points connected with 
the nesting of crows is that birds so strong and 
bold and of such exceptional intelligence birds 
that are so constantly full of nefarious schemes in 
regard to the nests of other species should be 
victimised by the koils, Eudynamis orientalis, as 
successfully as the most feeble and foolish birds 
are by other kinds of cuckoos. It seems very 
strange that they should not recognise and get rid 
of the intrusive eggs and young birds, neither of 
which at all closely resemble the proper inmates 
of their nests, and it is even more remarkable 



54 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

that the young koils should escape persecution on 
leaving the nests in which they have been reared. 
Mature birds are at once, attacked and bullied, 
and one would certainly have expected to find 
young ones, after they have left the nests of their 
involuntary foster-parents, subject to like treat- 
ment from the general body of crows. But they 
are not; and one may see them for a long time 
going about quite at their ease and wholly un- 
molested in an environment swarming with crows. 
Their immunity is certainly not to be accounted 
for by the appearance of their plumage, for, by the 
time that they are ready to leave the nest, they 
are fully dressed in speckled grey suits so closely 
resembling those of mature females of their own 
species that, when I first observed the phenomenon, 
I was filled with astonishment at what at first 
sight seemed to be an exceptional instance of an 
unmolested hen-bird. It is, however, possible that 
for some time their coats retain enough smell of 
crows to protect them from assault. 

However loose their morals may be in some 
respects, crows seem to be very faithful in their 
sexual relations. At all times of year affectionate 
couples may be seen going about in company, or 
sitting sociably side by side during the heat of the 
day, conversing in low tones and carefully attend- 
ing to each other's toilet. Under such circum- 
stances they are apt to be morose to outsiders, 



CROWS 55 

driving them off contumeliously should they attempt 
to intrude on their privacy. They are also very 
affectionate parents, and it is quite ludicrous to see 
the way in which young birds, almost up to the 
time that they are about to enter family life on 
their own account, will every now and then affect 
to be fledglings, cowering down in front of their 
parents with fluttering wings and gaping beaks, 
and successfully persuading them that they ought 
to be fed. It is not easy to imagine what their 
moral code can be, but they certainly seem to have 
one, any transgression of which meets with general 
reprobation, and sometimes with condign punish- 
ment, during the course of which the sinner is 
fallen upon, hustled, knocked down, and generally 
maltreated by an indignant and vociferous mob. 
The punishment in such cases, moreover, is not 
the result of any precipitate impulse, or the mere 
sequel to a fray, for it is usually only carried out 
after prolonged and serious discussion of the matter. 
They are always deeply affected by the sight of a 
dead relative, collecting in crowds to gaze at the 
corpse and discuss the sad event, and becoming 
wildly excited over any human interference with 
the remains. A crowd of crows is as easily 
assembled as one of human beings, and often on 
quite as futile grounds. Only let one or two 
crows settle down together and begin to clamour, 
and forthwith the air is blackened by troops of 



56 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

them streaming in in order to find out what is up. 
The emergence of a flight of white ants is certain 
to assemble all the crows of the neighbourhood, 
and the event can be detected at a considerable 
distance by the throngs of crows, kites, and bats 
that attend it. The crows for the time being 
assume a habit of flight like that of insectivorous 
birds, fluttering and wheeling about in the air, like 
bee-eaters, as they drift to and fro through the 
ascending swarm and pick up insects with their 
beaks. 

As a rule, crows do not quarrel much among 
themselves; indeed, they are usually so fully occu- 
pied in attending to the affairs of other animals 
as to have little time for this. Now and then, 
however, tiffs do take place, and, in the course of 
one of these, I have seen one of the combatants 
hold his adversary for a time dangling by the tail 
and protesting wildly at the indignity of his treat- 
ment. Disputes, again, are not uncommon during 
the nesting season, as there are always some 
depraved couples who prefer stealing materials from 
their neighbours' edifices to taking the trouble of 
collecting them for themselves. Crows are so wary 
and suspicious that merely to look at them from a 
distance through a field-glass is enough to make 
a party of them disperse as soon as they become 
aware that they are being watched. At the same 
time, however, they are so impudent as to crowd 



CROWS 57 

about one whenever there is any food in evidence. 
Even when they are habitually fed they very rarely 
show any signs of real tameness or gratitude, but, 
like common sparrows, take their benefactions as 
though they were stealing, and had a profound 
contempt for the donor as an easy victim to their 
predatory craft. At one time I used to feed a 
great troop of them every morning and evening; 
but, although they so fully identified me as a 
source of supply that they never assembled for 
their daily dole whilst I was absent from Calcutta, 
and immediately resumed attendance on my return, 
only two out of the whole throng ever ventured to 
take anything directly from my hands. They were 
very proud of themselves for doing so, and used 
to alight close to me, one on either side on the 
top of the railings of a flight of steps leading down 
from the verandah to a long terrace-roof a little 
below. There they would wait in dignified com- 
posure, never condescending to join the noisy 
scuffling of their companions. As a reward for 
their civilised behaviour they were usually treated to 
a biscuit each, in place of the scraps of bread that 
were thrown to the mob, and used to wait quite 
composedly whilst their friends were struggling for 
the inferior diet, in full confidence that their turn 
would arrive with the end of the vulgar entertain- 
ment. So fully persuaded were they that they 
would eventually be treated with distinction that 



58 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

pieces of bread handed to them were thrown away 
as beneath their notice. It was hard to resist the 
temptation of occasionally teasing them by affect- 
ing an intention of defrauding them of their special 
tribute. If the biscuits were in evidence from the 
outset of the entertainment, their minds were at 
rest; but if kept hidden, it was amusing to note 
the anxiety that gradually set in as the distribution 
went on, and the growing doubt as to the wisdom 
of rejecting actual bread in favour of hypothetical 
biscuit (Plate III. 1). 

The great variety in the notes that crows are 
masters of seems to come very near to definite 
language ; it is more especially difficult not to 
credit them with articulate talk when one comes 
across a pair of them sitting for a long time side 
by side, conversing gently in low tones, and wholly 
absorbed in an exchange of sentiments. Crows are 
really very handsome birds, and it is a pleasure to 
see two of them together on the mid-rib of a 
curving coco-nut leaf, and to note their untiring 
and restless curiosity that rarely flags for a moment 
save during the hottest part of an oppressive 
summer's day. Their heads are never at rest, but 
are ceaselessly jerking from side to side. Their 
ear-coverts are constantly elevated, and their crests 
every now and then are raised with an air of 
critical attention. The metallic scale-like feathers 
on the throat are beautiful, and are frequently 



CROWS 59 

erected owing to the curious way in which the 
upper part of the surface to which they are attached 
is puffed out. The plumage generally seems to 
be very easily wetted ; and, at times when that of 
other birds looks quite normal, becomes so soaked 
and matted as to show numerous whitish streaks 
and lines where the pallid down beneath the large 
feathers is exposed. In consequence of this, crows 
detest continuously wet weather, and are more 
subdued under its influence than at other times, 
sitting perfect images of hopeless misery in the 
most sheltered sites they can find, and hardly 
caring even to converse whilst things are at the 
worst. Their discomfort naturally reaches a climax 
when violent wind accompanies the rain. During 
the course of the only severe cyclone that visited 
Calcutta in my time, there was an enormous 
mortality among the crows, and for some days all 
the roads and open spaces were strewed with dead 
and crippled birds. Whilst the storm was at its 
worst all the crows who could manage to do so 
took refuge at the lee-side of walls, where they lay 
flat on the ground, beaten upon by the pitiless and 
pelting rain. One does not ordinarily sympathise 
with crows, but under these circumstances one 
could hardly fail to do so. Even during the brief 
but violent storms that form such a characteristic 
feature of the hot weather in Calcutta, large 
numbers of crows often come to grief from being 



60 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

dashed against buildings by the force of the wind, 
and the havoc among nests and nestlings is very 
great. 

The only other kind of crow that occurs about 
Calcutta is the great Indian corbie, Corvus culmin- 
atus. 1 He is strangely unlike his smaller relative 
in all his ways, being a solemn, serious- minded 
bird, quite devoid of levity, and intent on his own 
material interests in place of always keeping one 
eye open for chances of wanton mischief and idle 
amusement. This does not, however, render him 
a desirable neighbour, for he is always ready to 
attack any weak or injured animal with his cruel 
pickaxe of a bill. But his assaults are conducted 
on strictly utilitarian principles, and do not spring 
from any aesthetic sense of the beauty of being a 
nuisance ; they mean business, and it is the desire 
of food, and not any sense of humour, that prompts 
them. Corbies are not nearly so common as crows, 
and are never found in large flocks, but only in 
pairs or, at utmost, in small parties that never 
venture far into the town, but haunt the out- 
lying areas and the suburbs. Wherever the body 
of a dead animal of any considerable size may 
chance to lie exposed, one or more corbies are almost 
sure to be in attendance, along with common crows 

1 Corvus culminatus of Jerdon is C. macrorhyncus of the "Fauna of 
British India " ; it is a bird considerably larger than C. splendens, and 
nearly of the size of a rook. 




Indian Crows and Corbies (pp. 58 and 62). 



[To face p. 60. 



CROWS 61 

and vultures ; and any stray corpses that may float 
down the river usually carry them as passengers. 
Human corpses are, fortunately not nearly so often 
to be seen in the Hugli as they used formerly 
to be; but, when one does come drifting along, it 
generally conveys one or two of these black ghouls, 
excavating in it with their great beaks and now and 
then cawing aloud with sombre satisfaction. 

Their ordinary call is very distinct from that of 
the crows, being a high-pitched, prolonged " Keeah," 
in place of a short querulous caw, but they have an- 
other strangely grunting note oddly like the sound 
uttered by buffaloes. The common call is very 
characteristic, and at once announces the presence 
of one or two corbies even when the air is ringing 
with the cries of hosts of common crows. They 
never build in colonies, like those of the crows, but 
isolated nests are to be met with in trees in the 
outskirts of Calcutta at the same time of year that 
their relatives are building. The eggs bear a close 
resemblance to those of the crow, but are of con- 
siderably larger size. During winter, like many 
other animals, they rejoice in the rise in temperature 
that takes place when the sun gets up in the 
morning, and in order to get the benefit of it as 
early and as fully as possible, they usually take up 
positions on the summits of lofty trees when the 
light is growing. There they sit on exposed 
branches, sunning and warming themselves and 



62 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

calling aloud at intervals. In such circumstances 
they generally say alternately, " Kah, kah, kah," and 
" Keeah, keeah, keeah, kok," but sometimes the 
last syllable of the second phrase is omitted. At 
the same time, they perform a series of strange 
gesticulations, depressing their heads, stretching 
out and fluttering their wings, and extending their 
necks to the utmost. As the sun gets higher their 
talk is often interrupted by the need of dressing 
their feathers, and a little later they take flight for 
the day. When they have hit upon a good site 
for this morning ceremony they return to it day 
after day with wonderful regularity, and seem to 
resent any intrusion upon it very highly. A party 
of them used to frequent the tops of some of the 
tall casuarinas near the superintendent's house in 
the Botanic Garden at Shibpur, and one morning 
when they arrived, one bird found his usual perch 
occupied by a kite. In his indignation he first tried 
to dislodge the intruder by a torrent of outcries, 
and then, as this failed to produce any result, laid 
a firm hold with his beak on the tip of the long 
slender bough on which the kite was seated, and, 
closing his wings, hung down, swinging in mid-air, 
and bending the branch so abruptly that the kite, 
in order to avoid being thrown off it, was fain to 
take wing and leave the coveted perch to its right- 
ful owner (Plate III.). 



VI 

CUCKOOS 

"Sure he's arrived, 

The tell-tale cuckoo ; spring's his confidant, 
And he lets out her April purposes." 

Pippa passes. 

"The merry cuckoo, messenger of spring, 
His trumpet shrill hath thrice already sounded." 

SPENSER. 

ONE can hardly imagine an Indian garden without 
a large population of cuckoos without the ringing 
notes of ko'ils, the crescendoes of " brain-fever birds " 
and the hootings of " crow-pheasants," not to speak 
of the shrill pipings of the pied Coccystes and the 
melodious voices of plaintive and common cuckoos. 
The koi'l l is the best known and most widely diffused 
of all the commoner species, and the only one that 
habitually ventures far into the interior of towns ; 
for wherever crows elect to build, one may be sure 
that ko'ils will accompany them in order to make 
use of their nests. Sir Edwin Arnold writes of 
their " nest-notes rich and clear " ; but whilst this 

1 The koil, Eudyna/mis honor ata, is a good deal larger than a common 
cuckoo, but the uniform and intense black colour of the male birds seems 
in some degree to act as a visual diminutive. 



64 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

description of the notes may be accepted as fairly 
correct as regards their sound, it is likely to give rise 
to some confusion as to the nests. They certainly 
are not the property of the ko'il, as neither he nor 
his wife either know or care to know how to build 
one. All honour, however, is due to birds that can 
successfully cuckold the Indian crows, and, whilst 
other cuckoos are content to impose upon birds of 
relatively feeble physical power and intellect, pit 
themselves against such really formidable antagonists. 
Even the physical and mental advantages that the 
crows possess afford insufficient protection, and, 
indeed, it is questionable whether the very elabora- 
tion of intellect that renders them so exceptionally 
suspicious does not, in this instance, make for their 
undoing. The order of events is this : when every- 
thing is ready and a desirable nest has been chosen, 
the cock-koil, conspicuous in his shining black 
plumage and crimson eyes, seats himself on a 
prominent perch, whilst the hen, in modest 
speckled grey garb lurks hidden among dense 
masses of neighbouring foliage. He then lifts up 
his voice and shouts aloud, his voice becoming 
more and more insistent with every repetition of 
his call, and very soon attracting the attention of 
the owners of the nest, who rush out to the attack 
and chase him away. Now comes the chance for 
his wife, who forthwith nips in to deposit her egg. 
Very often she does this successfully before the 



CUCKOOS 65 

crows have returned, but every now and then she 
is caught in the act and driven off like her husband, 
uttering volleys of shrill outcries. 

The extreme differences between the plumage 
of the cock and that of the hen in this case leave 
no room for doubt as to the part that each sex 
plays in accomplishing their felonious purpose ; 
that of the male being clearly to distract attention 
by his conspicuous appearance and imperative out- 
cry, and that of the female to utilise her sober 
colouring as a means of lying hidden until she sees 
a favourable chance for invading the coveted nest. 
They certainly serve to show very clearly how 
efficiently the insistent cry of the male makes for 
the successful conduct of the nefarious schemes of 
his wife. Had such differences in sexual plumage 
been normal to cuckoos as a group, no debate could 
ever have arisen as to the limitation of the charac- 
teristic call to the male sex. But it can hardly be 
supposed that they have arisen in this case merely 
in order to afford a clue for the solution of an 
ornithological problem, and, hence, some other and 
more satisfactory explanation of their origin must 
be looked for. It may possibly be found in the 
exceptional difficulties that the species has to 
encounter in successfully foisting off its eggs upon 
foster-parents of great strength and high intellectual 
endowment. Crows are not only formidable 
enemies when provoked, but are also exceptionally 



66 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

clever and wary. Hence the possession by the 
male cuckoo of an insistent and distracting call is 
not enough to give the female such a good chance 
of doing her part, as it will where she has to deal 
with birds of lower mental and physical power ; and 
it has accordingly been reinforced by the evolution 
of differences in plumage, serving to render the 
one sex very conspicuous and the other protectively 
obscure. The shining black plumage and bright 
red eyes of the male koil are specially adapted to 
attract attention in the sites he chooses to call 
from, while the subdued greenish-grey tints and 
white spots and bars of the feathering of the female 
serve to make her almost invisible among the 
broken lights and shades of the coverts in which 
she lurks when awaiting a chance for depositing 
her eggs. 

The male koil has three very distinct calls ; 
the first "the nest-note" is the well-known one 
from which the species derives its common name ; 
the second is entirely different, and is constantly 
uttered at dawn; and the third, which is common 
to both sexes, consists of a torrent of ear-splitting 
shrieks indicative of alarm. The name-call is 
constantly to be heard during the earlier part of 
the year, and specially from the end of January until 
far on into the hot weather; or, in other words, 
during the whole of the nesting-time of the crows, 
but at other times it is almost entirely replaced by 



CUCKOOS 67 

the two other cries. During the time that it 
prevails it is for ever ringing through the air, so 
that in the neighbourhood of Calcutta it is the 
ko'il, far more than the hawk- cuckoo, that merits 
the name of the " hot-weather-bird." To what 
extent it is voluntarily purposive how far the 
bird realises its utility in attracting crows remains 
uncertain ; but to some extent, at all events, it is 
evidently purely reflex in origin, as on moonlit 
nights, and even sometimes on very clear nights 
devoid of moonshine, it may be heard ringing out 
at intervals all through the night. The second 
cry is one of the trials of the dawn, and must have 
been the cause of much cursing in houses sur- 
rounded by trees supplying abundant food to 
frugivorous birds. It consists of an outrageous 
torrent of shouts, sounding "kuk kuu, ktiu, kuu, 
kuu, kuu," repeated at brief intervals in tones loud 
enough to rouse the Seven Sleepers, and most 
exasperating from its occurrence just at the time, 
when after a hot night, rendered ghastly by oppres- 
sive air and sluggish pankhawalas, a certain degree 
of coolness sets in to give some chance of a little 
refreshing sleep. The third cry is a mere cataract 
of shrill shrieks " heekaree karees " like those of 
Angelica in The Rose and the Ring, when she 
heard that Bulbo was about to be executed uttered 
under stress of alarm and often to be heard during 
the course of the laying season on occasions when 



68 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

either a male or a female koil is fleeing before the 
just wrath of infuriated crows. It is apparently 
the only loud call that the females are able to 
produce, and in their case is not invariably an index 
to alarm, for I have heard a caged hen utter it 
in response to the normal dawn-cry of a male, and 
when she was quite free from any cause for anxiety. 
Whilst uttering the name- cry the male ko'il sits 
well down in a slouching attitude, characteristically 
cuculine, throws up his head, opens his beak widely, 
puffs out his throat, and dispreads the feathers of 
his tail. 

The number of koils haunting any particular 
garden is mainly determined by the nature of the 
trees that it contains and the number of crows nest- 
ing in them. Their diet consists mainly of fruits and 
buds, and though their taste is very catholic, there are 
certain trees affording supplies that they specially 
esteem. Among fruits that appear to be most 
popular are those of the wild date-palm, Phoenix syl- 
vestris ; the berries of various species of Livistona ; 
the receptacles of the common banyan, of Ficus nitida 
and F. comosa ; and the red-coated seeds of Amoora 
rohituka ; and wherever a number of such trees are 
present koils are sure to be in attendance when the 
fruits are ripening. I cannot forget the consequences 
attending an abundant crop of fruit on some 
Livistonas which had been allowed to grow up 
immediately below a verandah in which I used to 



CUCKOOS 69 

spend my nights, and how morning after morning 
I was aroused by the hubbub of shouts that 
issued from the trees. Getting up in order to drive 
the birds off only served to wake one more 
effectually, and at best put a stop to the din for a 
few minutes, so that, until the trees were cut down, 
each successive day was ushered in by a state of 
nervous irritation during the whole of the time when 
the fruit was maturing. 

The nature of their diet makes it very easy to 
keep them in good health as cage-birds, but, as a rule, 
they are very uninteresting pets. They are extremely 
voracious and greedy ; so much so that they will feed 
from the hand almost immediately after being caught, 
but they are equally stupid, and, owing to the way 
in which they smear their feathers during their eager 
attacks on pulpy fruits, they are by no means so 
ornamental as they ought to be, and as they are 
whilst at liberty. Now and then an individual bird 
may be met with who does show some signs of in- 
telligence, and even of somewhat interested affection. 
At a time when I had two very tame hen koils, the 
man in charge of the aviary in which they were 
confined managed to let one of them escape. She 
flew off at once into the garden, which was a very 
large and abundantly wooded one, and for some days 
nothing more was seen of her. One morning, 
however, whilst I was going down one of the paths, 
she suddenly flew down from a neighbouring tree, 



70 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

and, lighting on a shrub close to me, showed evident 
signs of a desire to attract my attention. I forthwith 
returned to the house and, having secured a plantain 
from the breakfast-table, went out into the verandah 
and showed it to her. Almost at once she flew over 
towards me and lighted on one of the cane blinds 
of the verandah, and as I retired inwards, first 
followed me and then lighted on one of my hands 
and began to feed eagerly on the fruit, so that I was 
able to carry her quietly to the aviary and pass her 
in through the door. As a rule they are very 
peaceable birds, but I have seen one suddenly fly 
down from a tree to commit a quite gratuitous 
assault on a bulbul who was quietly busy over its own 
affairs in a flower-bed below. They are light sleepers, 
often waking up to call aloud at any hour of a 
brightly moonlit night. As has been already men- 
tioned, they constantly begin to shout at or even 
before dawn, and they continue to call in the even- 
ing far on into the gloaming, and long after the bats 
are flickering about in the growing dusk. They have 
a strange way of basking in the sunshine, with their 
tail widely expanded, their wings drooping, and the 
head thrown right over on to the back, so that the 
crown of it rests between the shoulders, and the beak 
is reversed and points obliquely downwards towards 
the tail. The character of their flight varies greatly 
at different times ; when they are quite at their ease 
it is noisy, laborious, and flapping, like that of the 



CUCKOOS 71 

" crow-pheasant," but when alarmed, and especially 
when pursued by infuriated crows, they can fly very 
rapidly, although still in a fluttering fashion, and seem- 
ing to drag their long tails after them with a certain 
degree of effort. 

Common hawk-cuckoos, Hierococcyx varius, 1 do 
not seem to abound so much in the neighbourhood of 
Calcutta as they do in many other parts of India, and 
the numbers that are present vary very considerably 
from year to year. There is hardly any season at 
which their characteristic notes may not occasionally 
be heard ; but, as a rule, it is during the rainy months 
that they are most frequent, so that the designation 
"hot-weather-bird," that is often applied to the 
species in other parts of the country, is hardly 
applicable to it in Calcutta, where, if any birds 
deserve the name, it is either the ko'il or the common 
small barbet. They have two very distinct calls. 
The first of these, and that from which their common 
name of " brain-fever-bird " is derived, corresponds 
in function with the " nest-note " of the ko'ils, and 
consists of a highly pitched, trisyllabic cry, repeated 
many times in ascending semitones until one begins 
to think, as one sometimes does when a Buddhist is 
repeating his ordinary formula of prayer, that the 
performer must surely burst. The other either begins 
with one or two of the trisyllabic utterances, and then 
passes on into a volley of single descending notes, or 

1 They are a little larger than the common European cuckoo. 



72 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

sometimes consists of the latter alone. The name- 
call is not so closely associated with any special 
season is not so definitely a nest-note as that of the 
ko'il is, but from its insistent character it is probable 
that its primary purpose is that of distracting atten- 
tion, even though the incidence of the two cries seems 
to be greatly influenced by meteorological conditions. 
During periods of continuous dry weather the name- 
call alone is to be heard, whilst the other becomes 
more and more audible when damp air and frequent 
showers prevail, until during the height of a normal 
rainy season it alone occurs. No matter how fine and 
settled the weather may seem to be, should the 
second kind of call be heard of a morning, it is almost 
safe to venture to predict that rain will fall during 
the course of the day. Owing to this association of 
the cry with the occurrence of rain, no observant 
resident of Calcutta is inclined to connect the idea of 
the bird with that of extreme heat ; and, in place of 
resenting the occurrence of the sound, one comes to 
welcome it as the harbinger of grateful moisture and 
relative coolness. 

They are very pretty birds; the soft greyish 
brown and white of their feathering contrasts 
pleasantly with the brilliant yellow of their eyes and 
legs, and the general effect of the colouring is 
strangely hawk-like. So much so is this the case 
that whilst they are on the wing it is often very 
difficult to distinguish them from shikras, Astur 



CUCKOOS 73 

Radius, and one often finds oneself looking at a bird 
that one thinks is a hawk until it alights and suddenly 
assumes a cuculine pose. The likeness is so striking 
as to be a positive evil to ihem ; it renders them 
liable to be mobbed and hunted by troops of small 
birds, who pursue them, not from any disapproval of 
their immoral designs on nests, but because they have 
mistaken their nature, and (as Linnseus, according to 
Gilbert White, did in respect to the common cuckoo) 
regard them as birds of prey. When once they have 
alighted no such mistake is possible, as they forthwith 
sit down in a limply slouching attitude, with their 
wings dropping forward so as to touch their perch, 
and the tail slightly raised and expanded, altogether 
presenting an aspect very unlike the compact and 
alert look of a hawk. They have all the furtive, 
peering ways of common cuckoos, constantly jerking 
themselves from side to side as koils do, and at the 
same time puffing out their throats frequently in a 
strange way. Whilst at rest, almost the only hawk- 
like habit that they show is that of very often 
moving their tails about from side to side. They 
rarely come to the ground, but now and then one of 
them will venture to do so, and alights on a patch of 
grass containing store of particularly alluring insects. 
They are very wakeful birds ; on brightly moonlit 
nights they are constantly to be heard from time to 
time ; and, even when there is no moonshine, it is not 
uncommon to hear them calling, their notes acquir- 



74 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

ing an almost startling accentuation as they ring out 
into the darkness. As they usually lay in the nests of 
the common babblers the frequency with which they 
are to be met with in any particular garden is to 
some extent determined by the number of the latter 
birds who are in the way of building in it. 

The only other cuckoos that are permanent 
residents of gardens in Calcutta are the common 
" crow-," or " griffs-pheasants," Centropus sinensis, 1 
who, although not very often seen, constantly 
announce their presence by deep-toned hootings 
that resound from the thickets and shrubberies in 
the mornings and evenings. It is strange that such 
large and conspicuously marked birds should be so 
invisible as they are, but, owing to their extremely 
wary, furtive habits, and the way in which their tints 
match those of the dead leaves of the dense coverts 
in which they usually lurk, it is only at times of 
year when the foliage is unusually thin that they can 
often be detected. When they do happen to be 
seen they certainly present nothing to suggest to 
the uninitiated that they really are cuckoos, so much 
so that even within my own experience two instances, 
justifying their vulgar name of "griffs-pheasants," 
have occurred. In one of these a friend of mine 
came to me one morning in much excitement to 
announce that he had seen a pheasant walking on 
the lawn ; and in the second a young fellow, who 

, l They are considerably larger than koiils. 



CUCKOOS 75 

had recently arrived in the country, complained with 
good reason of the evil flavour of a "pheasant" that 
one of his chums had shot near a native village, and 
had, much to the astonishment of the servants, 
brought home to be cooked and partaken of as a 
game-bird. " Crow-pheasants" differ from the 
majority of their relatives, not merely physically, but 
also morally, as they are not above building for 
themselves, but construct nests, consisting of great 
hollow masses of sticks, and lay their eggs in them. 
The sites that they choose are usually thickets so 
dense and impenetrable that, even when one is sure 
of the presence of a nest, it is very difficult to detect 
it. A pair of them once built in a great tangled 
brake of Congea, quite close to my house, and were 
constantly to be seen furtively conveying sticks and 
rubbish into it, or heard hooting from its recesses ; 
but although I often searched for the nest it was 
always in vain, as in order to its discovery, it would 
have been necessary to clear away so much of the 
cover as to disfigure the plant permanently. 

It is only by luck that a near view of them is 
to be obtained, as they are so well aware of their 
incapacity for sustained flight as very rarely to 
venture out into the open at any considerable 
distance from cover. They certainly could not do so 
without running serious risks, as their flight is a 
pathetically rudimentary performance, and it is to 
their power of rapid running and walking and a 



76 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

truly wonderful agility in creeping and climbing 
about among the thickest jungle, that they trust as 
a means of escape. They may, however, occasionally 
be seen in the late evening or early morning, 
sauntering in leisurely and meditative fashion over 
an open piece of grass, but in these cases they are 
always ready for a precipitate retreat to the nearest 
cover on the slightest alarm, usually running to it 
rapidly, and only attempting to fly in the presence 
of very imminent danger. When on the wing 
they alternately execute a series of laboured 
flappings and short sails on widely- extended, short, 
rounded pinions, sinking rapidly as they go, and 
seeming to be hardly able to drag their great tails 
along after them. They are, however, very orna- 
mental objects during their progress when the sun- 
light strikes on the rich russet and shining black 
of their plumage. Only very rarely is one to be 
seen on the wing unless under the influence of 
sudden alarm, but I have seen one come flying low 
across an open to light on a paling and pace along 
it deliberately for some distance before descending 
to the grass. 

Crow-pheasants begin to cry shortly before dawn, 
and are very noisy at a time when the crows are 
just beginning to talk, and before the spotted owlets, 
Athene brama, have begun their morning fits of 
chattering. During the greater part of the day 
they are dumb, but in the gloaming they once more 



CUCKOOS 77 

become vocal, and continue to call until it is almost 
quite dark. The common call consists of a series 
of deep hooting notes, beginning rapidly, and broken 
by pauses that go on progressively increasing in 
length. There is a perceptible difference in the 
notes of the sexes ; that of the male being the 
resonant hooting that usually attracts notice, and 
that of the female not so strong and sounding " uk, 
uk, uk, uk." A moist state of the atmosphere seems 
to prompt them to cry, and in the early part of the 
year, during which they are usually comparatively 
silent, any heavy fall of rain rouses them up to call 
loudly on the morning or evening after its occurrence. 
The only condition that seems to be completely 
repressive is exceptionally low temperature, but 
during the continuance of this they become as silent 
as the little " coppersmith " barbets are in like 
circumstances. In addition to their ordinary calls 
they are able to utter a variety of cries indicative 
of alarm. When suddenly startled they sometimes 
make off uttering notes like strangled sneezes. At 
other times they replace these by a low, shrill cry, 
and occasionally, when indignant at the invasion 
of some particularly favourite covert, they give 
vent to their outraged feelings by a series of 
extraordinary " kurrings " and " guckings," not unlike 
those that some goat-suckers occasionally utter, and 
very alarming to dogs who may have intruded on 
their privacy. Sometimes, too, they call very like 



78 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

game-birds, walking about and repeating " Kok, kok," 
"kok, kok," very much as a kalij -pheasant often does. 
Whilst uttering their common call they certainly do 
not always raise their tails, as Jerdon affirms, but 
usually keep them well down and jerking about 
from side to side, at the same time depressing their 
heads and inflating their throats, whilst the whole 
body thrills with every successive hoot. When 
about to call, they, like other cuckoos, squat down 
in a hunched-up attitude, and when they have once 
begun to cry they seem to have a great difficulty 
in arresting the flow of the series of notes ; for, when 
suddenly alarmed whilst calling and too much 
afraid to go on hooting aloud, they often continue 
the performance under their breath. When engaged 
in courting, the male birds make a great show of 
their plumage, erecting and spreading out their 
great tails and extending and drooping their wings 
before the females, who attentively and critically 
survey the display. (Plate IV.) 

All through the course of the hot weather, pied- 
crested cuckoos, Coccystes jacobinus, 1 may very often 
be seen and heard. They are extremely pretty 
birds, with bright black and white plumage, and 
conspicuous crests, that make them look so like 
great Otocompsas when they take up a position on a 
prominent twig, that one can readily understand 
why the Bengalis should regard them as "black 

1 They are very nearly of the same size as the common European cuckoo. 



CUCKOOS 79 

bulbuls," and this although they are the chataks 
so often mentioned in Hindi and Sanskrit literature. 
They resemble koils and differ from "brain-fever- 
birds," and " crow-pheasants," in their liking for 
conspicuous positions whilst calling. They are 
unlike most other cuckoos in frequently calling 
whilst on the wing and not in any alarm or anxiety. 
When at rest they droop their wings, just as most 
of their relatives do, and usually remain quite silent, 
but when on the wing they are constantly calling. 
The cry is sometimes a highly pitched trisyllabic 
one, " pee, pee, pee," and at others a prolonged series 
of shrill notes, "pee pe, pee pe, pee pe, peep peep, 
peep pe pe peep, peep pe pe peep, peep, peep." 
Either of these calls is to be heard very often all 
through the course of the dry hot months, but, as 
the rainy season approaches, they become less 
frequent, and when it is fairly established they cease 
to be audible until the succeeding spring. The birds 
rarely venture within the limits of the town, but 
abound in all the bowery gardens of the suburbs, 
flying about from tree to tree, calling loudly all day 
long, and usually descending at dusk in order to 
roost in the cover of dense shrubs. Like "brain- 
fever-birds," they seem generally to lay in the nests 
of common babblers. The latter quite recognise 
them as undesirable neighbours, and are always 
ready to assault them during the nesting season. 
Whether they now and then make use of other nests 



80 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

is uncertain, but there can be no question that many 
kinds of birds regard them with great suspicion. 
A pair of bulbuls who had nested in a shrub of 
Diospyros in my garden would not hear of any 
crested cuckoos roosting in it, and crows and mynas 
may often be seen furiously pursuing them. The 
lovely Goccystes coromandus l does not occur nearly 
so frequently in the neighbourhood of Calcutta as 
the previous species does, but isolated specimens make 
their appearence at almost every time of year. 
They are wonderfully beautiful birds, and have 
extremely pretty ways. The rich chestnut and 
black of their plumage gives them a certain likeness 
to male Paradise-flycatchers in intermediate feather- 
ing. When seen at a distance whilst at rest, they 
may be mistaken for diminutive " crow-pheasants," 
but when on the wing their rapid flitting progress 
serves at once to distinguish them. It is seemingly 
unknown in what nests they lay in this region, but 
during their visits they certainly must sometimes 
want accommodation for eggs, as one that was caught 
in the beginning of April deposited a curiously blunt 
pale blue finely speckled egg almost immediately 
after being caged. 

The common Indian cuckoo, Cuculus micropterus, 
although, owing to its constant preference for dense 
cover, rarely seen, may very often be heard uttering 
the peculiar call which is so accurately rendered by 

1 It is a much larger bird than C. jacdbinus. 




Crow-pheasants courting and calling (p. 78). 




Red-winged Crested Cuckoo (p. 80). 



[To face p. 



CUCKOOS 81 

the Bengali name for the bird, " Boukotaku." It 
avoids the immediate neighbourhood of the town, 
but abounds among the trees in the Botanic Garden 
at Shibpur every hot weather. At rare intervals 
during the same time of year the melodious notes 
of the plaintive cuckoo, Cacomantis passerinus, are 
audible for a day or two. Curiously enough, this 
cuckoo, like the koil, ventures to visit gardens 
well within urban limits. 



Vll 

BABBLERS AND BULBULS 

" The nine brown sisters chattered in the thorn." 

The Light of Asia. 
" The shrike chasing the bulbul." 

The Light of Asia. 
" It were the bulbul ; but his throat, 
Though mournful, pours not such a strain." 

The Bride of Abydos. 

BABBLERS so often act as the foster-parents of 
cuckoos that there is some excuse for dealing with 
them next in order to their nurslings, in spite of 
the fact that they have no structural affinity to 
them. There are surely very few birds less attractive 
on first acquaintance than common Bengal babblers, 
Crateropus canorus, 1 but the longer one knows them 
the more one comes to appreciate their quaintly 
diverting ways, and to realise that a garden devoid 
of them would be wanting in a constant source of 
entertainment. Fortunately they are to be met 
with in all real gardens except those situated in 
the very centre of large towns, and it is seldom 
that the sound of their incessant and voluble con- 

1 It is about the same size as a blackbird. 

82 



BABBLERS AND BULBULS 83 

versation is absent for any length of time, unless it 
be in periods of violently tempestuous weather, which 
is very incommoding to birds of such lax plumage 
and feeble flight. They are quite surprisingly ugly 
and mean-looking ; something like debased thrushes, 
with loose, dirt- coloured feathering, limply s waggling 
tails, degraded heads, and a general air of low, 
fussy curiosity ; but one cannot but respect the 
social and affectionate nature that leads them to 
go about so constantly in small companies. Except 
during the nesting season they are always to be 
found in small parties, usually of six or seven 
individuals, from which circumstance they derive 
their common Hindi name of sdt bhai, or seven 
brothers. These groups, I am disposed to believe, 
really consist of family parties representing excep- 
tionally persistent examples of those which are 
often to be seen in the case of other birds for some 
time after the nesting season. In the case of the 
common little barbets and in that of the tree-pies, 
the young broods of each season go about with their 
parents for some time after they are fully able to 
provide for themselves, and it may well be that, 
in the case of such foolish and feeble birds as 
babblers, such family association may have been 
of sufficient practical utility to have led to the 
gradual evolution of an exceptional persistence of 
the habit. The nucleus of any group of babblers, 
according to this view, is to be regarded as repre- 



84 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

senting a family, but now and then parties ot 
twelve or fourteen individuals may be met with, 
and in such cases a family group must have been 
recruited from without, or two distinct families must 
have fused with one another. More frequently 
groups are seen in which the number of individual 
birds falls below the normal standard, but this may 
be readily accounted for as the result of casual 
reduction owing to accidents taking place before the 
onset of a new breeding season has intervened to 
give rise to a general dispersion of the community. 

During the greater part of the year every well- 
conditioned garden is alive with parties of babblers, 
who go rustling around everywhere among the dead 
leaves in the shrubberies and keep up a ceaseless 
gabble of conversation as they follow one another 
about, turning over the fallen leaves and twigs, and 
peering and prying beneath them for insects, snails, 
and worms. Whilst busy among the leaves they 
always have an air of dreading to find some terrify- 
ing or gruesome object concealed among them, and 
are constantly leaping into the air and starting 
backwards as they toss the litter about and call 
"peyh, peyh, peyh, peyh." They have no depressing 
consciousness of their unsightly look, but seem to 
be in the highest of spirits, and are constantly 
running races and chasing one another about. 

When a party of them is busy among an 
accumulation of dead leaves or long withered grass, 



BABBLERS AND BULBULS 85 

the way in which individual birds are constantly 
bobbing up and down, appearing and disappearing 
abruptly as they flounce about, has a very comic 
effect from a little distance, and it is often hard 
to say whether the objects that suddenly leap into 
the air are birds or withered leaves. Their flight 
is a sad performance. When crossing narrow spaces 
of open ground, they either run, or, after executing 
an initial series of feeble flappings, sail onwards 
with widely expanded wings, their pace flagging 
and their line of flight sinking rapidly as they 
advance towards their goal. Should they wish to 
fly across any comparatively wide space, they can 
only do so by climbing a tree at one side of it 
to a height sufficient to allow for the rapid descent 
that attends their flight. In such cases their mode 
of advance is very like that of a flying squirrel, 
who, starting from a point high up in one tree, 
sails downwards in an oblique line towards the 
base of the one that he wishes to reach. Their 
feeble flight is made up for by their great activity 
in running, and by the wonderful way in which 
they can cling to almost vertical surfaces. When 
in trees they race along the branches in Indian 
file, often jumping over one another as they go, 
and run up and down the stems, clinging to the 
bark like creepers. The prehensile power of their 
feet not only gives them great ease in climbing, but 
is also of great use to them in grasping articles of 



86 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

food that call for dissection. They are so singularly 
inconspicuous in their plumage so accurately 
" dirt "-coloured that, could they only make up 
their minds to give up talking, they might readily 
escape notice among the surroundings that they 
specially haunt. But this they can by no means 
do, and, save when temporarily hushed by the 
excess of midday heat in summer, they ceaselessly 
gabble from dawn to dusk. Even after they have 
retired for the night and are roosting on a horizontal 
branch in a closely huddled row, it is long before 
they fairly settle down and low-toned drowsy talk 
ceases. 

They are by no means timid birds, and are 
possessed by a spirit of curiosity that almost always 
urges them to examine and discuss any strange 
visitor who may enter their domain. Should a cat 
or dog come strolling by, they hurry up to have a 
look at it, coming quite close and low down in 
the shrubs in their anxiety to get a good view 
of it. Pure curiosity seems to determine their 
behaviour in such cases, as they very rarely show 
any signs of desiring to mob or annoy their visitors 
except during the nesting season, when they become 
very aggressive to hawks, king-crows, and cuckoos. 
When suddenly alarmed they often flutter off, 
uttering a series of shrill outcries very unlike their 
common notes. During April and May they cease 
to go about in parties, and pairs of them are every- 



BABBLERS AND BULBULS 87 

where busily occupied in nesting. The nests are 
great untidy heaps of rubbish quite worthy of their 
architects. They are usually placed at about 
eighteen or twenty feet above the ground among the 
boughs of small trees or tall shrubs, Lagerstrcemia 
regia being seemingly esteemed as affording 
especially desirable sites. The material of which 
the nests are built is, in many cases, mainly com- 
posed of the finer aerial roots of fig-trees, those of 
Ficus retusa being particular favourites, owing to 
their slender tufted nature ; and the structure is 
usually so loose, that, in the absence of the birds, the 
eggs and the blue of the sky above can often be 
clearly seen through it from beneath, just as in the 
case of the nests of some king-crows. When the 
birds are sitting an obscurely barred grey tail may 
be seen projecting over one side of the nest, and, if 
one remain long enough, a cunning alarmed head 
is soon thrust out over the other to gaze indignantly 
at the intruder. Shortly after mid-summer, or in 
Anglo-Indian language, early in the rains, nesting is 
quite over and the usual family parties of birds are 
to be seen everywhere in full force. 

Bulbuls as a group are just as smart and well set- 
up as babblers are debased and dowdy. Otocompsa 
emeria, and Molpastes bengalensis (Plate V. 1, 2), 
are constant inhabitants of the gardens of the 
suburbs of Calcutta, and the latter birds may often 
be seen and heard well within the limits of the town. 



88 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

Both of them are truly delightful, the Otocompsas l 
especially being so attractive that one feels quite 
sorry for any one who is not familiar with their cheery 
notes and dainty ways. The mere sound of their 
call is enough to drive care away ; and the sight of 
a pair of them coming leaping in through the air to 
pitch lightly on the summit of a shrub ought in 
itself to make for light-heartedness. It would be 
hard indeed to imagine anything more delicately 
gay than their plumage is, the rich brown of their 
wings, the clear white of their under parts, and 
the shining black of their high and pointed crests, 
harmonising so well with one another, and being 
accentuated by the spots of bright scarlet on the 
sides of the head. They are so alluringly tame 
and confiding in their favourite haunts, constantly 
coming quite close to houses, entering verandahs, 
and even nesting in plants in them or under 
porticoes, that it seems strange that they should 
hardly ever venture out of the suburbs to visit 
gardens within the town, whilst their relatives, who 
are by no means so familiar in the country, are 
regular visitors of many urban enclosures. In 
most suburban gardens Otocompsas are always 
present, and if there be any caged birds, and 
specially any caged birds of their own kind there, 
they are constantly in and out of the verandahs in 
order to visit them. It is curious that, whilst they 

1 They are a little larger than the common red-backed shrike. 




,22 





BABBLERS AND BULBULS 89 

are so common in most suburban gardens on the 
south-east bank of the Hugli, they are very rarely 
to be met with in the Botanic Garden on the 
opposite one ; during the course of several years of 
residence there, and in spite of keeping a constant 
outlook for them, I hardly ever saw any specimens 
of the species, and never came across a single nest. 
Otocompsas almost always go about in pairs, 
and when more than two are seen in company the 
party usually consists of two parents and one or two 
young birds who have left the nest not long before. 
They seem to be very faithful and affectionate 
birds, and it is pretty to note how, when one of a 
pair has found some specially delightful fruiting 
shrub, it will spread out its tail, flutter its little 
wings and call aloud with cheerful notes of summons 
to its mate to come and share the feast. They 
build from the latter part of February until well on 
in June, and always place their nests so low down, 
as to make it very easy to study all the details of 
building and hatching. It is not, however, always 
easy to mark down the exact position of the nests 
owing to the crafty way in which they are hidden 
away among dense masses of foliage, and to the 
elaborate precautions that the .owners take in 
approaching them. The precautions are indeed 
sometimes overdone, and, in place of securing 
the end in view, only serve to attract attention. 
A pair of Otocompsas once built in the midst of a 



90 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

tangled mass of Banisteria close to one corner of 
my house, and had they gone straight in and out of 
the cover, the presence of the nest might veiy well 
have escaped notice. Instead of doing so, however, 
on coming in they went through a regular series of 
elaborate manoeuvres that could hardly fail to excite 
suspicion. As each bird arrived with a fresh store of 
building materials, it pitched first on a tangle of 
Petrcea on the near side of the path, hopped about 
for a time there in an ostentatiously degage fashion, 
then passed on to a neighbouring pot-plant, and 
from this crossed over to the Banisteria and 
disappeared beneath the foliage at a point close 
to which the nest lay. 

Whilst a pair is occupied in building, both birds 
always come in and go out together. When they 
come in with new materials one of them waits 
patiently on a neighbouring twig whilst its partner 
works its burthen into the nest, then they exchange 
places and duties, and finally fly off to collect a 
new store, calling out jubilantly to one another as 
they go. There are very few birds who seem to 
enjoy life more thoroughly than they do, and, even 
when hardest at work building or feeding their 
chicks, they always seem to be in the highest spirits. 
When the nest has been finished three lovely little 
eggs, thickly sprinkled with red and purple specks 
on a delicate pink ground, are laid at intervals of 
twenty-four hours. Incubation lasts for thirteen 



BABBLERS AND BULBULS 91 

days, and the young birds are so quickly developed 
as to be able to leave the nest a week after they 
are hatched. They remain, however, for a time 
in its immediate neighbourhood, sedulously attended 
by their proud parents, who in their anxiety utter 
peculiar high-pitched notes, very unlike their 
common jubilant cries of " did you, did you, do it." 
It is not uncommon for only two of the three eggs 
to hatch out, and in such cases the third one, after 
having been given a fair chance of showing its 
intentions, is ejected from the nest. The nests are 
usually placed in shrubs in the open, but now and 
then are to be met with in creepers trained on walls, 
or in dense pot-plants, such as Panax or crowded ferns. 
The other common bulbuls, Molpastes bengalensis, 1 
are coarser, commoner-looking birds than Otocompsas, 
but have many of their alluring ways ; and their 
plumage, when looked at closely, shows very special 
beauty in the delicate edges of grey and white 
that border many of the feathers. Like several of 
their relatives, they are great favourites as pets with 
the natives of India, one of their special attractions 
being their ready pugnacity. One often meets a 
man going out for a morning or evening stroll, 
carrying a bulbul on the top of a little crutched 
stick, and, in the case of people of wealth, the 
perch is often composed of valuable materials, such 
as jade or one of the precious metals. Like 

1 It is a little larger than 0. emeria. 



92 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

Otocompsas. common bulbuls usually go about in 
pairs, who come leaping along through the air, and, 
as they alight, call aloud cheerfully, " hickory dickory 
dock." They are not at such pains to hide their 
nests as Otocompsas are, and are very catholic 
in their choice of sites, sometimes taking one quite 
near the ground in a shrub, and at others preferring 
a place high aloft in some great tree. They have 
a great liking for spider-web as a means of imparting 
cohesion to their otherwise rather loosely built nests, 
and, where the needles of Casuarinas abound, nests 
are often almost entirely composed of them bound 
together by strands of web. In consequence of 
this, during the nesting season any trees containing 
spiders' webs, and especially the great, globular 
edifices of social spiders, are constantly visited and 
plundered. Although they are ordinarily very tame 
and familiar, they have a strong objection to being 
watched whilst building, and the only means of 
successfully following the details of the process is 
to remain at some distance from the site of their 
labours and make use of a good field-glass. They 
resent any close approach to their nests by torrents 
of chattering outcries that are strangely like those 
uttered by the common brown shrikes every morning 
and evening. The young birds, for some time after 
they leave the nest, can be readily distinguished 
from mature ones by the rusty tint of their plumage, 
and by their foolish, fussy way of getting up 



BABBLERS AND BULBULS 93 

excitements over dead leaves and other useless and 
harmless objects. Their diet is a very varied one; 
fruits and buds seem to form their staple food, but 
many different sorts of insects are regarded with 
favour. During the nesting season especially, they 
may often be seen hunting about over the belts of 
grass and water-weeds around the edges of ponds, 
hovering above them and making sudden descents 
in order to pick off the dragon-flies' eggs adhering 
to the stalks and leaves. Among the fruits that 
they have a great liking for are those of various 
gourds, particularly one with beautiful, bright red 
pulpy fruits. Like Otocompsas, they seem always 
to be in a state of entire content with themselves 
and their surroundings. You may often see them 
make curious little flights, fluttering outwards from 
their perches, and then sailing round again to them 
in a way that at first sight suggests the pursuit of 
some flying insect, but which in reality is merely 
the expression of exuberant nervous energy that 
is worked off by active exercise and the utterance 
of pleasant little songs. 

A very different kind of bulbul that is now and 
then to be seen in gardens near Calcutta is the lovely 
green one, Phyllornis aurifrons. 1 It is certainly 
seldom noticed, but this by no means implies that 
it is very rare, as birds of such quiet habit and 

1 This bird is now known under the name of Cliloropsis aurifrons; it is 
of the same size as Otocompsa emeria. 



94 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

singularly protective colouring may well fail to 
attract attention even where they are relatively 
common. Whilst at liberty they are very tame, 
doubtless owing to confidence correlated to their 
colouring, which renders them almost invisible 
among masses of green foliage. In captivity they 
are characterised by their greed and by the readiness 
with which they become used to cage-life. Almost 
at once after being caught they are willing to take 
any specially attractive food, such as ripe plantains, 
out of their captor's hand. When feeding on such 
pulpy fruits they behave very differently from 
Otocompsa or Molpastes ; for, in place of breaking 
off small pieces and at once swallowing them, as 
the latter birds do, they detach large masses and 
keep them for some time in the mouth, working 
their mandibles about and gradually sucking down 
the softened material. They are particularly fond of 
the ripening heads of inflorescence of the Kadam- 
tree, Nauclea Kadumba, and allow themselves to 
be very closely approached whilst busy over them. 
Like other kinds of green bulbuls, they are highly 
decorative objects as inmates of an aviary, and 
are easily kept in good condition, so long as care 
is occasionally taken to remove the curious, horny 
epidermal sheaths that are apt gradually to form 
over the surface of their tongues, and to interfere 
with their power of sucking and swallowing their 
food. 



VIII 

DOVES AND PIGEONS 

"Who could tell 

The freshness of the space of heaven above, 
Edged round with dark tree-tops, through which a dove 
Would often beat its wings." KEATS. 

" The palace that to Heaven his pillars threw, 
And kings the forehead on his threshold drew 
1 saw the solitary ring-dove there, 
And 'Coo, coo, coo/ she cried, and 'Coo, coo, coo.'" 

Persian quatrain at Persepolis. 
Quoted by ED. FITZGERALD from BINNING. 

SEVERAL kinds of doves and pigeons haunt the 
gardens in and around Calcutta. Even in the 
smallest garden-closes in the very centre of the 
town, so long as they afford a little grass and 
a few trees and shrubs, common spotted doves, 
Turtur suratensis, are always to be met with, 
calling, quarrelling, and building all through the 
course of the year. In the well-wooded enclosures 
of the outskirts and suburbs they are accompanied by 
two species of green pigeons, the hariydl, Crocopus 
ph&nicopterus, and the chhota hariydl, Osmotreron 

95 



96 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

bicincta, together with the surprisingly beautiful 
ground -dove, Calcophaps indica. The common 
ring-doves, Turtur risorius, and the small brown 
doves, T. cambayensis, who are such characteristic 
inmates of the gardens of Upper India, are not to be 
met with near Calcutta ; indeed, the area is already 
so fully occupied by spotted doves, that they would 
find it no easy matter to obtain a footing in it 
among such aggressive and ill-tempered neighbours. 
The geographical distribution of the spotted and 
the brown doves presents some noteworthy points. 
In a journey by rail from Calcutta to the Punjab 
it is curious to observe the abruptness with which 
the former species is replaced by the latter near 
Moghal Sarai, in the lower part of the North- West 
Provinces; and how, from this point onwards to 
Lahore, the only locality in which spotted doves 
abound seems to be the Botanic Garden at Sahar- 
anpur, in which they are present in large numbers 
and to the apparent exclusion of the brown species. 
Even without seeing the birds, the boundaries of 
areas occupied by either species are at once declared 
by the great differences in their common calls, for 
whilst the brown dove ordinarily cries, " Ku ku ku, 
kii ku kii ku ku ku, kti ku kti," the spotted one 
says, Kuk ku ku ku," or " Kruu km km kru kru." 
Spotted doves, like most of their relatives, are 
perfect whited sepulchres of "envy, hatred, and 
malice," and are continually squabbling and fight- 



DOVES AND PIGEONS 97 

ing with one another and with other birds. How 
any kind of dove should ever have come to be 
regarded as " harmless " must remain an insoluble 
problem, for even a very casual observation of their 
manners and customs is enough to show that their 
meek and peaceable air is an arrant fraud, veiling 
selfishness and ill-temper of the deepest dye. A 
fairly wide experience of the ways of many distinct 
kinds of pigeons and doves has taught me to be 
very cautious in confining more than a single pair 
of any species within a limited space. No matter 
of what kind they may be; all alike Gouras, 
Nicobar-pigeons, fruit-pigeons, turtle- and ground- 
doves are exceptionally irascible and malignant. 
The great Gouras are just as ill-natured as any of 
their smaller relatives, and are always ready to 
annoy and bully any birds that they may come 
in contact with, running sidelong up to them and 
striking viciously with their raised wings. It was a 
pleasant sight to see a Goura, who had just been bully- 
ing an unoffending Polyplectron have the conceit 
knocked out of him when he proceeded to try on 
the same game with a newly imported English 
pheasant. He had hardly had time to get his wings 
well up ere his intended victim ran in under his 
guard and gave him such a healthy dab in the side, 
that he was fain to collapse and flee for refuge to 
a perch on a neighbouring branch. Nicobar-pigeons 
are also very bad neighbours, but their malignity 

G 



98 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

pales before that of the beautiful green and bronze- 
ground-doves. The latter are really quite fiendish 
in their ferocity ; and occasionally, not content 
with plucking out all the feathers from the necks 
of their enemies, actually lay bare the bones of the 
spinal column below. Fruit-pigeons appear to be 
somewhat better tempered, but this is probably to 
be ascribed to their excessive greed, for they are 
usually so fully gorged as to be indisposed for any 
active exertion. 

During their nesting-times spotted doves become 
perfect little furies, 1 and are always on the war- 
path, assaulting and driving off any birds who 
may approach their domiciles. No matter how 
formidable the intruders may be, the energy with 
which they are attacked generally puts them to 
immediate flight. Not without good cause, tree- 
pies are the objects of their acute dislike, and are 
constantly exposed to quite unprovoked assaults 
even when there is no nest in question. Spotted 
doves, when fighting, strike violently with their 
wings, and also pluck out large mouthfuls of feathers 
from their enemies' bodies. Under climatic con- 
ditions such as those of Calcutta there is no time 
of year in which they do not build, but a larger 
number of nests are usually to be met with during 
the latter part of the cold weather and throughout 
the succeeding hot and dry months than at other 

1 They are a little larger than common turtle-doves, 



DOVES AND PIGEONS 99 

seasons. Like those of other doves, their nests are 
such foolish little platforms of twigs loosely laid 
together, that the wonder is that the eggs can 
escape rolling over the sides of them. Rudimentary 
though they seem, they are at any rate a step in 
advance of the nests constructed by Nicobar- 
pigeons in captivity, which are so hopelessly futile 
that accidents constantly occur to the eggs and 
young birds. They are usually placed in shrubs 
or small trees at no great height from the ground, 
and are seldom, if ever, built on the inner cornices 
of verandahs as those of the common ring-dove of 
Upper India often are. 

In the morning and evening spotted doves very 
often make short, almost vertical ascents into the 
air, rushing upwards on " loud-clapping " wings, and 
then sailing downwards on a gentle incline with 
widely expanded wings and tail. Such flights are 
probably sexual displays by the male birds, as the 
broad white band, crossing the tail a little above 
the tip, is shown off to great advantage during 
their downward course. The same band is also 
momentarily displayed during the brief expansion 
of the tail that takes place at the time of pitching 
from a flight. They spend much of their time on 
the ground, and are constantly to be seen morning 
and evening, trotting about over lawns and garden- 
walks. Some seeds appear to be regarded as very 
great delicacies, and the fruiting of amaranths, and 



100 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

sunflowers is almost surely attended by the presence 
of troops of doves. Just before retiring to roost 
they come down to have a long drink and a leisurely 
promenade on the sloping bank of some pond near 
their night-quarters. They are almost always to 
be met with in pairs except for short times immedi- 
ately after nesting, when family parties, consisting 
of two parent birds and one or two young ones, 
may be seen going about in company. In spite 
of their natural fearlessness and the confidence with 
which they go about close to houses, they do not 
readily become really tame. Even in places in 
which they might well have learned by experience 
that they run no risk of being molested they do 
not like to be watched, and fly off at once when- 
ever they become aware that any one is looking at 
them. 

The two common green pigeons, the hariydl 
and the chhota hariydl, are not uncommon in 
suburban gardens at the times when the fruits 
of certain trees are ripening ; but it is very difficult 
to say to what extent such singularly invisible birds 
occur. At times at which trees that they particu- 
larly haunt, such as Ficus comosa and F. religiosa, 
are in full leaf, it is only when on the wing that 
green pigeons are likely to attract casual notice. 
One may see a large flock of them come in, but 
as they settle down among the foliage the birds 
seem to vanish, and it is only by the closest 



DOVES AND PIGEONS 101 

scrutiny that they can be detected even where 
they have been correctly marked down. So closely 
does their brilliant green and vinous colouring match 
with that of the surrounding leaves, and so quiet 
and leisurely are their movements among them, 
that almost the only thing that is likely to reveal 
their presence is the stripe of bright yellow that 
traverses their wings. So invisible, indeed, are 
they, that in most cases they are only discovered 
when they suddenly take alarm and fly out from 
among the branches on their resting-place being 
approached even more closely than their well- 
founded confidence in the protective properties of 
their plumage can stand. This may perhaps have 
given rise to the idea that they are commoner 
during the latter part of winter and the beginning 
of the hot season than at other times of year. 
Many trees are then either completely bare or in 
very thin leaf, and such large green birds are very 
conspicuous when resting on them, but it is 
questionable how far any seasonal variation in 
their numbers occurs, unless it be in direct rela- 
tion to the number of trees supplying suitable food. 
Both species are delightful inmates of an aviary, 
from their wonderful beauty of colouring, and the 
pleasant sound of their calls, which, although not to 
be compared with the call, or, rather, the song, of 
the green pigeon of the hills, the Kokila, Spheno- 
cercus sphenurus, are very melodious and soothing 



108 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

in character. As already remarked, they are not 
quite so troublesomely pugnacious in captivity as 
most of their relatives are, and, as they are very 
readily kept in good condition, almost the only 
fault that they have as cage-birds lies in the fact 
that they very often disfigure the plumage of their 
heads in their greedy attacks on pulpy fruits. In 
spite of their comparative mildness, it is always 
well to be cautious in introducing new specimens 
into an aviary already containing a pair ; for, although 
they may not do the fresh arrivals any serious harm, 
the original tenants are very likely to be inclined 
to bully them for a time. When on the war-path 
they have a curious way of keeping their tails in 
continuous up and down movement. 

Bronze- winged ground-doves, Chalcophaps indica, 
are fairly common in well-wooded gardens, and their 
deep-toned cooing may often be heard. They are, 
however, so wary and timid that a casual observer 
seldom notices them. A momentary view of one 
may occasionally be had, as it darts in rapid, strong- 
winged flight from one dense covert to another, but, 
as a rule, it is only by dint of careful and patient 
observation that there is a chance of seeing them 
at close quarters and at their ease. It is, however, 
a privilege well worth the time and patience it 
costs, to see one of these beautiful birds stepping 
rapidly along beneath a dense shrubbery, with the 
straggling sunbeams playing over all the wonderful 



DOVES AND PIGEONS 103 

bronzes, browns, purples, and greens of its plumage, 
and the vivid red of the bill and legs, so that it 
seems to appear and disappear as it passes in and 
out of the patches of light and shade. When in 
deep shade they are almost invisible, owing to the 
way in which the colouring of their plumage matches 
the tints of the green foliage above, and the brown 
and purple of the fallen leaves and ground below. 
Like most other doves, they are easily kept in 
captivity; but they are uninteresting birds, and, 
owing to their outrageous pugnacity, it is very 
difficult to keep more than a single pair in any 
enclosure of moderate size. With almost all Indian 
doves and pigeons this is the only difficulty that 
arises. The single exceptional case that I ever met 
with during a long and varied experience was that 
of a purple wood-pigeon, Alsocomus puniceus, obtained 
as a nestling from the jungles of Chutia Nagpur. 
Although it survived for many months it never 
throve in spite of being supplied with everything in 
the way of food that seemed most likely to suit it ; 
and when it died, clear signs of imperfect nutrition 
were found in almost complete absence of ossifi- 
cation throughout the whole of its skeleton. The 
most striking example of the ease with which 
pigeons, as a rule, can adapt themselves to exist- 
ence under abnormal conditions is afforded by the 
snow-pigeon, Columba leuconota. In the wild state 
it is rarely to be seen far from the snow-line, inhabit- 



104 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

ing places in the hills at elevations of from 10,000 
to 14,000 feet in summer, and only descending to 
lower levels with the snow in winter. But, in 
spite of this, it will live for years in seeming health 
in the damp heat of Calcutta only a few feet above 
the level of the Bay of Bengal. It is noteworthy 
that two Himalayan organisms the snow-pigeon and 
the dwarf juniper that thrive exceptionally well in 
the lower delta of the Ganges, are not to be found 
in the lower hills, but are natives of the inner ranges 
on the confines of perpetual snow. Although all 
Indian doves and pigeons are, in one way or other, 
attractive in captivity, there is none of them to be 
compared to the Kokila as a pet, by reason of its 
refined beauty, dainty ways, and entrancing call a 
call that is always refreshing to listen to, and that, 
even in the worst of the stifling heat of a summer's 
day in the plains, is enough to raise visions of the 
cool hill-forests in which it is so often heard. 



IX 

BARBETS 

"Alone at his green forge 
Toiled the loud coppersmith." 

The Light of Asia. 

Two kinds of barbets, the coppersmith, Xantholcema 
hcematocephala, and the blue - throated species, 
Cyanops asiatica, abound in suburban and out- 
lying gardens, and the first may often be heard 
and seen, and sometimes even nests, in trees at 
the sides of crowded thoroughfares. Coppersmiths 
are odd little birds, 1 and most fully characteristic 
of the group to which they belong in their gaudy 
colouring, harsh, dry plumage, wonderfully tough 
skin, and insistent vociferation. During periods of 
settled, sunny weather, the only thing that seems 
effectually to check their desire to call is a certain 
degree of cold ; but this is so influential that during 
the course of the variable winter in Calcutta it may 
safely be assumed that the temperature in the shade 
stands at or over 70 F. on any day when their call 

1 Their length is somewhat greater than that of a common nuthatch, 
but they are proportionately very stoutly built. 

105 



106 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

is to be heard. As the thermometer rises above 
the prohibitive limit they begin to call more and 
more frequently, until in the height of summer the 
monotonously metallic ringing of their notes goes 
on, almost constantly, from dawn to sunset. When 
preparing to call they usually take up a prominent 
place in the crown of a tree, often clinging to the side 
of an upright twig ; and all the time that they cry 
they go on constantly turning their heads from side 
to side whilst their throats swell and their whole 
bodies thrill with the force of their vocal efforts. 
The movements of the head give rise to a strangely 
ventriloquial effect, so that the successive sounds 
might readily be mistaken for the answering notes 
of two birds instead of the continuous call of one. 
Towards the end of the hot weather, and during 
the early part of the rainy season, they cease to 
cry so incessantly, because the care of their young 
families takes up too much time to leave them 
much leisure for any other occupation. 

With the onset of the hot weather, they begin 
to nest, usually choosing a place on the under 
surface of a slanting dead bough, especially at a 
point where a side branch has been broken off 
and the wood has been softened by the invasion 
of fungal mycelium. Though preferring sites of 
this nature in cases where they propose to excavate 
on their own account, sloth very often prompts 
them to make use of ready-made hollows in other 



BARBETS 107 

positions. The caverns of their blue - throated 
relatives are particularly tempting to them, and 
they are always on the outlook for chances of 
appropriating them ; the fact being so well recog- 
nised by the proper owners as to render them very 
intolerant of the neighbourhood of coppersmiths 
whilst excavating or occupying a burrow. Various 
other kinds of birds that nest in hollows also look 
upon them with great suspicion and indignantly 
drive them away whenever they come prying about 
too closely. A pair once fixed on the stump of a 
fallen bough on a Poinciana-tree close to my house 
as a suitable place for a nest, and set about 
excavating vigorously in it. The progress of 
their work was, however, seriously retarded for 
some time by a pair of dayals, Copsychus saularis, 
who were already housed in a natural hollow a 
little higher up in the tree. At the outset the 
barbets could hardly manage to do anything, as, 
whenever they came in and began to dig, they 
were forthwith assaulted and driven away. Perse- 
verance, however, eventually triumphed, and one 
of the birds managed to get in at a time when 
neither of the dayals was at home. After a little 
envious inspection of their cave, it set steadily to 
work on the stump, clinging to the bark with its 
fat, pink feet, and hammering and picking away 
so energetically that the strokes were quite audible 
at a considerable distance, and were soon accom- 



108 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

panied by the fall of showers of chips. The chips 
were sometimes hammered directly off, but oftener 
they were merely loosened by a series of blows and 
then picked off and thrown away. Whilst working, 
the bird clung to the bark like a wood-pecker, 
with the end of its tail pressed closely against the 
surface, so as to serve as an additional support 
save when it was momentarily jerked outwards on 
each successive blow. For a time all went well; 
presently the male dayal returned to the tree, but 
as he alighted at a point from which the barbet 
was invisible, and as, curiously enough, his atten- 
tion did not seem to be attracted by the sounds of 
the hammering, the work went on uninterrupted 
by his arrival. Now, however, the female dayal 
also turned up, and settled on a twig commanding 
a good outlook, a fact of which the barbet seemed 
to be fully aware, as it at once stopped hammering 
and lay flat and motionless against the bark. In 
spite of all its precaution it was almost at once 
detected, and the dayal, after looking at it atten- 
tively for a few moments, flew down, drove it away, 
and having critically examined the result of its 
labours, retired to her own nest. Once again one 
of the barbets returned, and was very soon joined 
by its mate. The arrival of the latter, was, however, 
more than the male dayal could tolerate ; so he flew 
over, alighted close to it, set up his tail, held his 
bill well aloft, sang in an insulting fashion, and 



BARBETS 109 

then, falling suddenly upon his enemy, put him 
to flight. Encounters of a like nature frequently 
recurred, and it was a long time before the dayals 
yielded to the pertinacity of the intruders, and 
allowed them to go on with their work in peace. 

Coppersmiths are ill-natured little birds, and are 
apt to commit unprovoked assaults on one another, 
or on any other small birds whom they may meet 
in the course of their wanderings. This in itself 
is enough to make them undesirable inmates of a 
mixed aviary, but, in addition to this, there are 
difficulties in regard to their food when they are 
associated with many other kinds of birds. It is 
easy enough to supply them with food that they 
like, but unless special precautions are taken they 
seldom survive for any length of time. The reason 
for this has been pointed out quite recently by 
Major Alcock, who has discovered that the sattu, 
of paste of gram-flour, which forms such a staple 
in the food of many cage-birds, is, in spite of its 
being poisonous to coppersmiths, greedily devoured 
by them, and that by confining them alone, or only 
along with birds that are not fed with .this material, 
the difficulty of keeping them in good condition is 
done away. Whilst at large they feed on fruits and 
buds of many different kinds, the ripening re- 
ceptacles of many figs, and especially those of Ficus 
nitida and F. rumphii, being particular favourites. 

The blue-throated barbet is certainly a much 



110 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

more attractive bird, for the colouring of its 
plumage, although quite as brilliant as that of 
the coppersmith, is free from any crude vulgarity, 
and the call, whilst certainly not musical, is not 
irksome in its persistence ; and, as it may often be 
heard at a considerable elevation in the hills, it is 
not necessarily associated with ideas of heat and 
blazing sunshine. 1 The call is very unlike that of 
any of the other common barbets, and consists of 
a long series of thrilling notes that are ordinarily 
syllabled as " kurrawuk, kiirrawuk, etc., " but are 
frequently more like " kukarruk, kukarruk, etc." 
They are usually preluded by a number of low, 
clucking notes, which often also fill up the pauses 
between successive volleys of vociferation. After 
the prelude they usually utter one or two half- 
hearted calls, and then go off in full cry, as though 
worked by machinery, their throats swelling, their 
wings quivering, and their tails vibrating with the 
successive impulses of thrilling sound. When call- 
ing, the birds prefer dense coverts to the con- 
spicuous sites chosen by the coppersmiths, and, 
unlike the latter, they do not turn their heads 
from side to side. They are to be heard during 
the whole course of the year, and continue to call 
vigorously in the coldest weather. During the 
nesting period they are not so noisy as at other 

1 It is a much larger bird than the coppersmith, and is not so awkwardly 
shaped as the latter is. 



BARBETS 111 

times, and they take care never to call in the 
immediate neighbourhood of their nests. 

They are much shyer than the coppersmiths, 
never nesting in crowded streets, and being usually 
careful to choose well- hidden places as sites for 
their caverns. When they do nest close to a 
path, the opening of the burrow is always placed 
so as to be hidden from view by overhanging 
masses of foliage or aerial roots. So well hidden 
are the nests, and so cautious are the owners in 
approaching them that, in spite of the brilliant 
plumage of the latter, it is often only after much 
patient use of a field-glass that their exact location 
can be made out. That a nest is somewhere near 
may often be suspected from the frequent visits of 
a pair of birds to a particular tree, but the 
information thus obtained is very vague. The 
owners carefully avoid going directly to the opening 
of their cave on coming in, and will not come in 
at all whilst aware of being watched, so that the 
work of discovery must be carried on from some 
distance. A nest in an old banyan-tree near my 
house had its opening so artfully concealed among 
a number of descending roots as to be quite in- 
visible from the base of the stem, and, as the birds 
obstinately refused to approach it so long as any 
one remained at all near, it was some time before its 
precise site could be found. A field-glass showed 
that the birds always came into and went out 



COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

from a point near the projecting stump of a 
branch at about twenty feet from the ground. 
This was accordingly accurately focussed from a 
place at a considerable distance; and, after a 
weary pause of a quarter of an hour, one of the 
birds came into the tree, cautiously approached to 
the stump, and at last flew directly to it, and in a 
moment vanished into a small round opening on 
its sloping, lower surface (Plate VI.). A couple of 
minutes elapsed, then a head was seen cautiously 
looking out of the opening, and presently thrust out 
to take a careful survey of the neighbourhood. 
The result seemed to be satisfactory, as the bird 
suddenly darted out and went off across the 
garden like a streak of green light. An attempt 
at closer examination of the nest by climbing up 
the tangled network of aerial roots around the 
stem of the tree was very speedily put a stop to 
by swarms of stinging ants, Sima rufonigra, who 
were running about over the bark and resented 
the intrusion on their thoroughfare in a fashion 
that made it desirable to drop to the ground 
without delay. The presence of the ants must 
have been a great protection to the nest, but it is 
curious that its owners should seemingly have 
escaped all molestation from them as they went in 
and out. 

The vigour with which the birds work affords 
a real mental tonic by showing that hard work can 



BARBETS 113 

be efficiently done even under the conditions of 
damp heat characteristic of a summer's day in 
Lower Bengal. Much happy time was once spent 
in watching the progress of a nest in the dead 
stump of a mango-tree at the edge of a paddock 
from the other side of which all the details of the 
work could be telescopically followed without risk 
of alarming the miners. They began to dig on the 
morning of the 4th of May at a point about five 
feet from the ground, and it was most satisfactory 
to see how chips of the wood began to fly under 
their vigorous efforts. The work went on in a 
series of shifts, each bird taking a turn at it for 
about a quarter of an hour, and then going out 
for a holiday of the same duration, but always 
being back in a neighbouring tree in good time to 
relieve its partner. In the course of twenty-four 
hours the cavity had become so deep that the bird 
at work in it disappeared completely for twenty 
or thirty seconds at a time, and then came to the 
orifice in order to throw away a mouthful of chips, 
have a careful look round, and again vanish. They 
continued hard at work for the next few days, 
and, as the length of the tunnel increased, were 
longer and longer hidden in it, until, on the 10th 
of May, it was ready to be occupied. Another nest 
was examined after the young birds had left it. 
(Plate VI.). The entrance was smoothly circular, and 
had a diameter of 1'87 inches. On cutting a vertical 

H 



114 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

section through the stump a complete view of the 
nest was obtained. The opening led into a horizontal 
tunnel 3 inches in length, forming the vestibule of 
a vertical shaft which ended in an oval chamber. 
The front of the shaft was 175 inches distant from 
the outer surface of the side of the stump in which 
the opening was situated. The outer wall of the 
terminal chamber was of course proportionately 
thinner. The depth from the floor of the vestibule 
to the bottom of the chamber was 9 inches, and 
the diameter of the chamber at its widest part was 
375 inches. The walls of the cavity were through- 
out blackened, and those of the narrower parts of 
it were polished, owing to the friction exerted on 
them by the plumage of the birds in going in and 
out. In this case the nest was placed very low, 
with its opening only 4 feet above the ground, 
but, in spite of this and the fact that it faced 
directly out upon the main approach to a house, 
it remained for some time undiscovered, owing to 
the perfect concealment afforded by the drooping 
foliage of a great clump of Cymbidium aloefolium 
that capped the stump, and to the extreme wari- 
ness with which the birds usually visited it. So 
effectual was the concealment that the nest would 
probably never have been discovered had it not 
happened that one of the birds came out one day 
just when some one was passing by the stump. 
In specially retired places they seem to become 



BARBETS 115 

much more reckless in their choice of sites, as I 
have known a pair to nest in the top of a small 
headless palm in the Botanic Garden in an open 
space of grass, which they had to traverse every 
time they came and went. 

As in so many other points, blue-throated 
barbets differ from coppersmiths in being quite 
easy to keep in good condition in an aviary 
without any special precautions in regard to their 
diet, but whether this be owing to their not being 
addicted to sattu, or to their being able to eat it 
with impunity, remains uncertain. One would 
hardly have imagined that such strong birds were 
ever liable to be caught in spiders' webs, but my 
friend Major Prain once sent me a specimen that 
he picked up in the Botanic Garden, lying helpless 
on the ground and closely enshrouded in strong 
strands of web. This took place at a time of year 
when gigantic black and yellow spiders hang their 
huge nets vertically across openings between adjoin- 
ing trees, and the bird, in pursuing its ordinarily 
headlong course, had come in contact with one of 
these, carrying the greater part of the fabric with it 
by the force of sudden impact, but, at the same 
time, wrapping itself up so closely that further 
flight was impossible. 



X 



DAYALS, ETC. 

" Proud Maisie is in the wood, 

Walking so early ; 
Sweet robin sits on the bough, 

Singing so cheerly." SCOTT. 

IN recalling the experiences of Indian gardens there 
are very few birds to which thought reverts more 
affectionately than to dayals or "magpie robins," 
Copsychus saularis. 1 They have so often been the 
occasion of "home thoughts from abroad," as 
they superintended gardening operation almost as 
confidently and sang almost as sweetly and 
plaintively as robins do in England ; and, moreover, 
they are such pretty birds the males in brilliant, 
shining black and white and the females modestly 
clad in slate and grey (Plate VII.), and both with 
such large bright eyes and daintily lively ways that, 
quite apart from old associations, they can hardly fail 
to be objects of very friendly regard. Then, in the 
plains of India there are so very few birds whose 
notes really deserve to be described as songs, that 

1 They are considerably larger than common robins. 



116 



DAYALS, ETC. 117 

one feels specially grateful to any who, as they do, 
sing truly and strongly throughout the greater part 
of the year. As with English robins, their songs 
begin to be heard early in autumn ; and from that 
time onward they go on increasing in strength and 
frequency until, after a short time of comparative 
quiescence while the nests are being built, they come 
to their fullest perfection during the period when 
incubation is going on. The song, as soon as heard, 
is gladly welcomed as confirming the promises of the 
returning migrants, not, "that winter is over and 
gone," but that it will soon make its much-longed-for 
arrival. At the opposite side of the year, too, the 
cool, clear little songs are very refreshing and cheer- 
ing in the mornings and evenings of cruelly hot days, 
when they serve to suggest that, after all, life is quite 
tolerable, even under the trying conditions of the 
time. 

With all their familiarity, they have not quite the 
assurance that so often leads the brown-backed robins 
of Upper India to invade the interior of houses* 
One of the latter birds, Thamnobia cambaiensis, 
served greatly to enliven the tedium of a long 
solitary day spent in the dak-bungalow at Jullundur 
by the frequent visits that he paid to my dressing- 
room. The attraction in it was the mirror, in which 
he admired himself with ceaseless satisfaction ; afford- 
ing a striking example of the ease and readiness 
with which birds generally recognise their reflected 



118 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

images, whilst animals of much higher intelligence, 
such as dogs, seem to have so little natural aptitude for 
doing so. Dayals, however, make up for any slight 
want of confidence by the distinction and grace of 
their sprightly habits. Like European robins, they 
are very pugnacious little beings, and many fierce 
duels take place among the males during the pairing 
and nesting seasons. Some of the conflicts that 
precede marriage seem to point to no very highly 
developed aesthetic sense in the male birds, as violent 
feuds may often be seen to rage over very dowdy and, 
as one would fancy, unattractive females. Whilst a 
pair of rivals are contending for the favour of a lady, 
they make a brave show of all their attractions, 
spreading their tails and partially expanding their 
wings so as to display their brilliant black and white 
markings to the fullest advantage, nodding their 
heads, and singing loudly and defiantly at one 
another. When once paired they seem to be very 
faithful and affectionate, and at all times of year 
whenever one bird makes its appearance it is pretty 
certain that its mate is not far off. 

They breed during the hot- weather months, and 
usually place their nests in hollows in trees. In most 
large gardens, several pairs will be found nesting 
every year, each of them having a certain, well-defined 
territory of its own, and furiously resenting the 
intrusion of neighbouring couples. They are very 
methodical in their habits at all times of year, and 



DAYALS, ETC. 119 

may almost always be met with in particular places 
at particular hours. Regularly each successive 
morning and evening during the nesting season the 
male bird of each pair takes his place on some 
prominent twig close to the nest, and treats his 
sitting mate to a series of sweet, cold, plaintive little 
songs. The sight of one of them, " bright in a light 
and eminent in amber," sitting on the summit of a 
mango-tree in fresh, spring foliage, with his bright 
black and white plumage shining out in brilliant 
contrast to the golden green and bronze of the young 
leaves and the clear pale blue of a cloudless sky 
above, is one not to be readily forgotten. Should 
any of his neighbours intrude on the territory of the 
songster he breaks off his music at once and goes 
upon the war-path. The intruder is usually so 
conscious of ill-doing that he rarely ventures to 
show fight until he has reached the narrow zone of 
neutral ground intervening between his own estate 
and that of his neighbour. Here, however, repeated 
conflicts occur, and then the warriors retire, each 
within his own marches, and there strut about for 
some time, singing insolently at one another before 
returning to their domestic duties. 

When alarmed they utter hoarsely chatting 
notes, and the male birds, if suddenly startled whilst 
on the ground, accompany these with a series of jerk- 
ing movements, in the course of which their tails 
become so extremely erected as to point obliquely 



120 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

forwards. In addition to such alarm-notes, they 
have a churring cry that is usually repeated for some 
time after they have retired for the night. Their 
flight is of a peculiarly violent jerking nature ; and 
with every successive impulse in it there is a brief 
divergence of the snow-white feathers of the tail. 
In the evening they are usually to be met with in 
pairs on open spaces of grass, moving about in short 
series of hops, and every now and then pausing for 
a moment in order to pick an insect daintily up. 
When so engaged they soon become very tame in 
places where they are not molested, and will follow 
one about very closely, seeming to take advantage 
of the disturbance among lurking insects caused by 
passing footsteps. Now and then one of them will 
take to behaving exactly like a flycatcher, settling 
on a projecting bough and making repeated fluttering 
excursions to secure passing insects and return with 
them to its perch. Like so many other common 
Indian birds, they seem to continue to go about 
in family parties for a good while after the young 
ones of the past nesting season are well able to 
take care of themselves, as they may be observed 
in groups of three or four until quite far on in the 
rainy season. The young birds, until after their 
first moult, bear a general likeness to the mature 
females ; but are greyer, have less defined markings, 
and show a reddish brown tinge in their primary 
wing-feathers. The Indian redstart, Ruticilla rujiven- 



DAYALS, ETC. 121 

tris, which appears as a winter-visitor, has a great 
resemblance in many of its ways to the dayal, but 
has a quite peculiar habit of wriggling its tail about 
in tremulous movement either on alighting after a 
flight, or after a series of hops along the ground. 

Dainty and attractive as the ways of dayals are, 
they are certainly not so elfishly alluring as those 
of the white-throated fantails, Rhipidura albicollis. 1 
There is something quite uniquely fascinating in the 
sight of one of them hopping, wheeling, and darting 
about among the leaves, and, whilst it lasts, it seems 
very doubtful whether Spenser was right in saying, 
"Sith none that breathe th living aire doth know, 
Where is that happy land of Faerie." 

They are very common in the neighbourhood of 
Calcutta, especially during the cold weather, when 
the clumps of bamboos in the bowery suburban 
lanes are full of them going through all their 
fantastic evolutions. They are never at rest, and 
their surplus energy is constantly overflowing in 
sweet little songs that begin more or less like 
those of the dayals, but soon subside into a series 
of mere chirping twitters. When not actually 
singing they often repeat a note, sounding like 
"twait" and very similar to the common call of 
the Paradise flycatcher, or that of the beautiful 
blue Hypothymis azurea. Their tails are almost 
ludicrously large, and, when fully expanded like 

1 It is of the same size as a common pied wagtail. 



122 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

miniature peacock trains, they become so con- 
spicuous that, as the birds perform their curiously 
abrupt revolutions, it seems almost as though the 
rest of the body were turned by them. When 
a fantail flies across an open space with its train 
trailing along behind it, the broad end seems so 
much detached from the rest of the body that, 
like the racketed end of the tail of a flying 
bhimraj, Dissemurus paradiseus, it looks like a 
second bird or a large insect pursuing its owner at 
a fixed distance. They are wonderfully plucky 
little birds, and will fearlessly attack dogs that 
intrude on their privacy, flying out at them with 
widely expanded tails, and coming down to the 
lowest boughs of shrubs to sing defiance at them. 
Mango-trees are very great favourites with them, 
probably because the horizontal habit of the 
branches affords specially convenient sites in which 
they can dance, spread out their tails, and revolve 
with ease and security. 

Whilst fantails are most attractive when perch- 
ing, Paradise flycatchers, Terpsiphone paradisi, 1 are 
specially delightful on the wing ; and the first 
sight of one of them, floating softly along and 
seeming to swim through the air in a series of 
gentle impulses, gives rise to a very lasting mental 
impression. As one of the mature male birds flies 

1 The body is little larger than that of a common grey wagtail, but a 
male bird, with fully developed train, may have a total length of as much 
as 21 inches. 



DAYALS, ETC. 123 

along through the leafy coverts, in which they 
are most at home, the snowy whiteness of his long 
waving train gleams out in the light of the 
scattered sunbeams that struggle downward through 
the branches, and produces effects quite unlike those 
that attend the flight of any other kind of bird. 
They are not very common inmates of gardens 
about Calcutta, but stray specimens may now and 
then be met with at almost any time of the year, 
and, at the beginning of summer, small parties 
of them, apparently in quest of good sites for 
nests, often visit quiet areas, such as those afforded 
by the more secluded parts of the Botanic Garden. 
Such parties include birds of both sexes, some of 
the males being in all the splendour of fully 
developed trains and mature black and white 
colouring, whilst others have trains of chestnut 
or are still feathered like the females. At all 
other times of the year it is very rare to 
see any but short-tailed, chestnut and black birds. 
There are few other birds that pass through such 
an astonishing change in the characters of their 
plumage as the males of this species do. Even 
in their first dress, and before they have acquired 
their wonderful trains, they are strikingly beautiful. 
They have such full, bright, black eyes, such rich 
chestnut tints in the wings and tail, contrasting 
with the shining black of the head and the snowy 
white of their underclothing, and their movements 
are so exceptionally graceful that it is hard to 



124 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

cease from watching them, and when they are in 
all the glory of full dress, they must be to every 
one a source of wondering admiration as they leap 
lightly about from twig to twig and float hither 
and thither among the branches. 

Whilst travelling about over the boughs, they 
continually utter twittering notes, with occasional 
louder calls, so like those of the blue flycatcher 
that, until the birds come into view, it is im- 
possible to make out which species one is listening 
to. Now and then, too, the male birds break 
out into sweet little songs. They are very lively 
and cheerful birds, always on the move ; and the 
males constantly flirt their great trains about, 
separating and closing and undulating the long, 
trailing plumes in a wonderful way. 

The blue flycatchers, Hypothymis azurea, 1 although 
not so strikingly conspicuous as the preceding species, 
are hardly less beautiful and have all the fascinating 
ways of their relatives. They seem to visit Calcutta 
only during winter, but are fairly common then, 
going about among the trees and constantly calling 
to one another in loudly imperative double notes. 
They seem to overflow with nervous energy, erecting 
their crests and jerking and opening their tails as 
they hunt systematically over the leaves, and every 
now and then darting out to secure a flying insect. 
When they are working over trees in fading foliage, 
the beautifully soft, dusky cobalt of their plumage 

1 This is altogether a smaller bird than the Paradise flycatcher, and has 
no train like that of the males in the latter species. 



DAYALS, ETC. 125 

comes out in striking contrast with the surrounding 
tints of brown and yellow. They are shy birds, 
and absolute stillness is necessary in order success- 
fully to study their ways, but no one would 
grudge the exercise of a little self-control where 
the reward of it is such an exhibition of graceful 
beauty. When a pair of them have found a garden 
to their liking, they seem to visit particular parts of 
it regularly at special hours, so that, after their 
presence has once been detected, there is little diffi- 
culty in securing opportunities for observing them. 

It is comforting to find that the common iora, 
Mgithina tiphia, 1 is no longer regarded as a sort 
of bulbul ; for, though one was fain to believe that 
there might be satisfactory grounds for this view, 
it always remained a mystery to the casual observer 
how any close relationship could co-exist with such 
extreme unlikeness of habit. loras are constant 
inmates of gardens in Bengal, and, though they 
may often escape notice owing to their small size 
and the way in which the green and yellow tints 
of their plumage match those of the surrounding 
foliage, their very peculiar notes must be familiar 
to every one who takes any heed of garden sounds. 
They go about in couples, and, when a pair is 
hunting over the leaves of a tree in quest of 
aphides, small grubs, or other insect-food, one 
constantly hears answering calls of " pe e e e, whew." 
In addition to this call they have several other 

1 It is a little smaller than a common robin. 



126 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

notes ; during the breeding season a very distinct 
one may often be heard, consisting of a long 
series of shrill cries, '* whe, whe, whe, whe, whe, 
whe." From the circumstances in which it is 
uttered, this call would seem to be peculiar to the 
male birds, and to form an element in their sexual 
display; for, on careful approach to a site from 
which it is audible a short exercise of quiet 
watching will be rewarded by the sight of an iora 
in brilliant plumage, suddenly emerging to make 
a short upward flight, and then sink vertically for 
some distance through the air with drooping wings 
and elevated tail, calling loudly all the time it 
descends to its mate, who is at no great distance 
off among the boughs. Much of their food seems 
to consist of spiders; and when they are hunting 
for these among the leaves, creeping from one to 
another and often hanging back downwards as they 
go, they have a very tit-like look. The nests of 
many Indian birds are highly attractive objects, 
but very few of them are quite so beautiful as 
those of ioras, moulded closely over the upper 
surface of a horizontal bough in the form of a 
shallow cup, compactly built up of fragments of 
lichen woven together by masses of spiders' web, 
and anchored by strands passing round their founda- 
tion and any neighbouring twigs. The felt of web 
and lichen gives the nests a delicate grey tint that 
renders them very invisible among their surroundings. 



DAYALS, ETC. 127 

Both the scarlet-backed and TickelTs flower- 
peckers, Dicceum cruentatum and D. erythrorhyncus? 
are frequent visitors of the suburban gardens of 
Calcutta. Individuals of the former species can 
hardly fail to attract notice, owing to the wonderfully 
brilliant colouring of their plumage, but their little 
relatives, although fairly abundant throughout the 
whole course of the year, are apt to be overlooked 
in consequence of their extremely small size and 
sober colouring. They are indeed ludicrously small, 
and make even such pigmies as common honey- 
suckers, with whom they are often associated, 
look quite considerable fowls. They come in in 
large numbers during the hot weather in order to 
take advantage of the abundance of flowering shrubs 
and trees that are then in full bloom. The beauti- 
ful vermilion spikes of blossom that cover the trees 
of Sterculia colorata seem to be special favourites 
with them, and the contrast between the tints of the 
little brown and olive birds and the flaming masses 
of bloom is very effective. Whilst travelling about 
among the flowers they keep up a continuous low 
chirping, and every now and then call aloud, 
" Chew hu, chew hu, etc," in quite disproportionately 
vehement notes, that are probably intended to 
announce their presence to their comrades. When 
seen at close quarters their most remarkable features 
are their short, broad bills, which have a beautifully 
rosy tint in young birds. 

1 They are both quite curiously small birds, the second species being 
much smaller than a wren. 



XI 

HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 

" The grey eggs in the golden sun-bird's nest 

Its treasures are." The Light of Asia. 

THE common little yellow honeysuckers, Arach- 
nechthra zeylonica, 1 certainly deserve one of the 
first places in any record of the birds of gardens 
in Calcutta, for there are very few species that are 
so common or so attractive. The flowering shrubs 
are constantly alive with their twinkling wings, 
their cheerfully imperative little calls are to be 
heard from dawn to sunset, and they have such a 
happy audacity in their choice of nesting-places that 
ignorance of their ways can hardly be accounted for 
save by wilful blindness. The male birds (Plate VII.) 
are surprisingly beautiful in gleaming crowns of 
metallic green, violet throats, rich reddish-brown 
wings and backs, and bright canary-yellow under- 
parts ; and the females, although very quietly dressed, 
are so sprightly and so delicately formed as to be 
hardly less attractive. It is indeed a joy to see a 

1 They are a little larger than wrens, but much more slenderly built 
than the latter. 

128 




Black-headed Oriole (p. 185). 




Female Dayal (p. 116). 




Male Honeysucker (p. 128). 



[To face p. 128. 



HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 129 

pair of them courting ; hopping about lightly from 
twig to twig in their sprightly way, calling cheerfully 
to one another, and jerking and flapping their little 
wings about. They are almost the only birds who 
are not, for the time being, subdued by persistently 
heavy rain, and, even throughout a tropical down- 
pour, they go on fussing and twittering around in 
perfect unconcern. Their food consists mainly of 
small insects and of the nectar of many different 
kinds of flowers, and whilst securing it they often 
hang hovering for a time on rapidly quivering wings. 
When hunting for insects among pensile leaves, 
such as these of Cassia sumatrana, they grasp 
them with their strong feet, and hang suspended 
and swinging, very often head downwards ; and, when 
dealing with trumpet-shaped or tubular flowers, they 
either alight on neighbouring twigs within reach of 
the mouths of the corollas, or hang hovering in front 
of them prying into and rifling the depths with 
their long, slender, curved beaks. The curious 
narrow tubular flowers of Hamelia patens are 
very special favourites, owing to the large store of 
nectar in their lower ends ; and during the whole 
time that the shrubs are in flower they are sure 
to be alive with honeysuckers every morning. In 
this, and doubtless in many other cases, they seem 
to play a very important part in securing cross- 
fertilisation ; for, by the help of a field-glass, one 
can clearly see that every time their bills are with- 

i 



130 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

drawn from one tube and thrust into another, they 
are thickly smeared with golden pollen ; and when 
flowers from which they have just been feeding are 
examined, the long oval stigmas will be found coated 
with adhering grains. In rifling the flowers, there- 
fore, they confer a benefit on the plant, and do 
not play the part of mere robbers, like the great 
brown hornets, who share their liking for the nectar, 
but who, in order to reach it, drill holes through 
the corollas below the level at which the anthers 
lie. 

Curiously enough, they do not seem to care 
for the fluid in the corollas of the silk-cotton-trees, 
which is so attractive to so many other kinds of 
birds that the trees, when in full bloom, become 
noisy and riotous taverns thronged with excited 
topers. The unopened flowers of Hibiscus rosa- 
sinensis are greatly frequented in the early morning, 
on account of some attractive material to be found 
at the bases of the petals. Erythrinas are also very 
popular ; the clusters of their bright red flowers 
are very often alive with a throng of clinging and 
fluttering little thieves ; and an even more charming 
picture presents itself when the latter are busy among 
the deep green foliage and tufted crimson inflorescence 
of Hcematocephala Hodgsoni. 

Their nervous energy is astonishing, and in- 
cessantly overflows in active movement. They 
seem to be quite unable to rest while awake, and 



HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 131 

when they have nothing else to do they constantly 
turn their heads about from side to side and twitch 
and flutter their little wings in aimless activity. 
Their perpetual nervous excitement makes them 
very pugnacious, and fierce encounters are sure to 
take place wherever many of them happen to be 
congregated. They are also very ready to assert 
themselves in attacks on other kinds of birds, even 
when prudence would seem to counsel forbearance. 
One that for a long time inhabited an aviary 
containing a very miscellaneous collection of birds 
was a regular pocket-tyrant, and was never tired 
of bullying any of his fellow-prisoners to whom 
he had taken objection. One of the objects of his 
special dislike was a purple honeysucker, who was 
not at all averse to a fray, but who generally came 
off second best. Quarrels w r ere generally begun 
by the yellow bird approaching his purple enemy, 
singing at him insultingly, and performing a series 
of offensive gestures, nodding, bowing, and jerking 
his head from side to side, whilst his foe only scolded 
feebly and raised and fluttered his wings so as to 
show the splendid orange and scarlet of the axillary 
tufts (Plate VIII.). Both birds having done their best 
to display their ornaments to the utmost advantage, 
a brief tussle would take place, and end in their both 
falling to the ground, the yellow warrior generally 
being uppermost and ready to fly off and chant 
a song of triumph from one of the neighbouring 



132 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

perches. The most amusing of his quarrels was, how- 
ever, with a lorikeet, Loriculus vernalis. Lorikeets 
are usually ill-tempered little beings, and this one, 
when put into the aviary, began at once to bully 
his neighbours. During the first day of his residence 
he carried everything before him. He would hardly 
let the honeysucker approach the flowers that were 
put in specially for his benefit, running backwards 
and forwards along the perch at the ends of which 
they were hung up, and driving him off whenever 
he tried to come near them. On the following 
day, however, the honeysucker had become more 
used to the presence of his enemy; the surprise 
attending the sudden introduction of a new neighbour 
had worn off, and he spent much time in serious 
study of the subject ; and by the next morning, 
and for some time thereafter, the lorikeet's life must 
have been a burthen to him. He was subject to 
incessant assaults, in the course of which the point 
of a long sharp beak was suddenly thrust into 
tender places, and so quickly withdrawn that, by 
the time he had turned round in wrath, his enemy 
was already at a safe distance and meditating a 
fresh attack. This went on for some days until 
the honeysucker had established a most whole- 
some funk, and, having tired of the excitement 
of constant warfare, had subsided into contemptuous 
indifference. 

There is no month throughout the whole year 



HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 133 

in which one may not have the pleasure of watch- 
ing their nesting habits, and, owing to their wonder- 
ful confidence, the nests are often placed so as to 
give great facilities for their close observation. Birds 
in India are so little liable to human interference 
that, in cases in which they construct their nests 
so as to provide special security from the attacks 
of the lower animals, they are often very reckless 
in their choice of sites. Since the nests of honey- 
suckers are suspended from the ends of pliant leaves 
or very slender and flexible twigs, there is little 
chance of their being successfully invaded by any 
intruders except insects, and hence, so long as the 
birds can find a convenient place, they do not seem 
to care how public it may be. In the last winter 
I was in Calcutta, a pair built in a clump of Areca 
lutescens at the side of a short flight of steps leading 
from the verandah on the south side of my house 
into the garden below. The nest was attached to 
the pinnae of a leaf arching over the steps, so as 
to be quite visible to any one seated at the table 
of the dining-room, and so low down that, in going 
to and from the garden, it was necessary to stoop 
in order to avoid knocking up against it. As a 
rule, the nests hang freely, suspended by a sort of 
cord, often consisting in greater part of spiders' 
web. The cord ends below in a fibrous bag with 
an opening, situated towards the upper part of 
one side, and surmounted by a projecting cornice. 



134 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

In exceptional cases nests may be found fixed 
between a pair of large, drooping leaves, the 
surfaces of which form parts of the walls or roof of 
the bag, and in such circumstances the suspensory 
cord and the portico over the entrance are omitted, 
and the structure presents a superficial likeness to 
a tailor-bird's nest. The omission of the penthouse 
over the opening, in circumstances in which pro- 
tection from rain is otherwise secured by the over- 
arching leaves, affords evidence of a purposive 
adaptation to environment that seems to imply the 
exercise of something more than reflex action or 
hereditary habit. The fabric of the nest consists 
of a web of fibres of coarse grass with interwoven 
fragments of dead leaves, and the cavity is lined 
with a layer of softer materials, such as the pappus 
of various kinds of grass and the fine cotton of the 
seeds of the silk-cotton-trees. A nest, whilst incuba- 
tion is going on, is a pretty sight, for the opening 
into the cavity is occupied by the head of the 
sitting bird with its long slender beak projecting 
and its bright little eyes glancing heedfully around. 
It is delightful, too, to see how, when one of the 
birds comes in, it causes the whole fabric to sink 
and swing as it alights to vanish into the interior, 
and then immediately turning round, thrusts out 
its head. Perhaps the prettiest picture of all, how- 
ever, is to be seen after the young birds have hatched 
out and the little parents are hanging on to the 



HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 135 

outside of the nest and thrusting their long- curved 
bills into the cavity with stores of food. 

When several male birds are contending for the 
approval of one female, and therefore displaying all 
their charms to the fullest advantage, the show of 
twinkling wings and brilliant colours is quite exhila- 
rating ; while the lady, in place of sitting in chilly 
criticism, as so many hen-birds do in like circum- 
stances, responds gaily, and, as it seems, impartially, 
to all her admirers ; dancing on the twigs, turning 
from one to another of her followers, flirting her 
little wings and tail about, and chirping aloud all 
the while. Their bathing is carried on among wet 
foliage ; and it is quite refreshing to see a number 
of them splashing about energetically on the top 
of a shrub among masses of leaves that hang heavy 
and twinkle with a load of adherent dew. Owing 
to their small size and bright colouring, and their 
habit of constantly jerking their wings about, they 
often present a ludicrous likeness to the mechanical 
birds that are sometimes attached as additional 
attractions to musical boxes. As caged birds they 
are very charming, but unfortunately seldom survive 
captivity for more than a few days. Out of a very 
large number of apparently sound birds that I tried 
to keep, only one survived for any length of time. 
He, however, was an ample reward for many failures, 
and was a constant joy for several years, during which 
he remained in beautiful plumage and the highest 



136 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

spirits. At first he fed almost entirely on the nectar 
and small insects obtained from the flowers with 
which he was regularly supplied ; but latterly he 
developed a strong taste for the sattu, or gram- 
paste, provided for the benefit of various of his 
soft-billed fellow- prisoners, and usually insisted on 
having the first turn at any fresh supply of it. 
He was quite delightful from his sprightly, confident 
ways and cheery little songs, and, whenever a fresh 
supply of his favourite flowers was given to him, 
hastened to greet the donor and feed from his hands. 

There is not much opportunity of becoming 
familiar with the ways of the purple honey suckers, 
Arachnechthra asiatica, in Calcutta, because, although 
so common in many other parts of India, they are 
there almost entirely replaced by the species just 
described. From the limited experience that I have 
had of them, however, I am not inclined to think 
that the exchange is a bad one, as they do not seem 
to be nearly so lively and attractive as their smaller 
relatives. 

Whenever memory reverts to the experiences 
of summer in the plains of India, it can hardly 
fail to recall the loud shouts of the tailor-birds, 
Orthotomus sutorius, 1 as they travel about ceaselessly 
among the shrubs. Even at those times of day 
when the breathless heat and cruel glare have 
reduced almost all other birds to relative silence; 
when even the crows sit about in pairs in the shade, 

1 They also are very small birds, but are somewhat larger than the 
common honeysuckers. 



HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 137 

gasping with widely gaping bills and incapable of 
anything beyond whispered conversation ; and when 
the still and fiery air is only rarely disturbed by 
the querulous whistle of a kite, even then the tailor- 
birds are all alive with noisy excitement. Whilst 
listening to them, or to the cries of other loud-voiced 
small birds, one realises the beauty of the dispensa- 
tion that has decreed that in the animal kingdom 
there should be no necessarily direct ratio between 
size and vocal power ; an elephant with a voice on 
the scale of that of a tailor-bird would have been 
a nuisance to a whole district ! Even the longest 
use and wont leave it a ceaseless marvel how such 
pigmies can manage to make such a hubbub, whilst 
they run and creep about among the bushes, more 
like little brown mice than any feathered creatures. 
They have two common calls, the first consisting 
of an urgent repetition of the syllable "peet," and 
the second, even more insistent and sounding, "pe 
peep, pe peep, pe peep, pe peep." Long after most 
other birds are silent ; after even the crows and 
mynas have finally settled down for the night, and 
only an occasional belated kite is audible, their call 
may still be heard issuing from the flower-beds and 
shrubberies, where the birds continue to run mouse- 
like about in the gathering gloom, jumping after 
the insects lurking among the leaves. When highly 
excited over anything they shout their loudest, and, 
with their tails so excessively elevated that they 



138 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

come to point obliquely forwards over their backs, 
look more like demented wrens than anything else. 

They are very familiar and confident, and during 
their hunts after insects have no hesitation in 
coming into verandahs in order to work systematic- 
ally over any pot-plants that may be situated 
there. It is amusing to note the energy with 
which they will scold at dogs who may intrude 
upon their hunting-grounds or approach their nests, 
and who seem hardly to know what to make of 
such audacious and noisy little antagonists. Whilst 
engaged in hunting over a shrub they run quickly 
along the twigs, shouting noisily all the while, and 
every now and then snatching at insects ; and, even 
when flying, they continue to call aloud with a 
reckless expenditure of breath. Like the honey- 
suckers, they bathe among wet foliage, and seem 
to find the broad palmate leaves of Livistonias and 
other fan-palms particularly convenient bath-rooms, 
owing to their rigid surfaces and to the accumula- 
tions of water that gather in their furrows and around 
the projecting ends of the petioles. 

Tailor-birds' nests are to be found in almost 
every garden during the latter part of the hot 
weather and the beginning of the rainy season. 
They are usually set quite low down among the 
leaves of shrubs, and, where the latter are of small 
size, sometimes within a foot or eighteen inches 
from the ground. In most cases the leaves used 



HONEYSUCKERS AND TAILOR-BIRDS 139 

in the construction of the nest are of strong, rough 
texture, such as those of the common blue Petrcea 
or of Ficus hispida ; but now and then a foolish 
pair of birds will attempt to make use of other kinds 
of leaves in which the texture is not capable of 
resisting the strain of the stitches, so that the thread 
gradually cuts its way through and leaves the blades 
gaping. Disasters of this kind often take place 
where the leaves of the common white Ixora have 
been used, and half-finished and deserted nests are 
therefore often to be met with in the shrubs. 
During the earlier part of the nesting season, the 
threads for the stitches and lining of the cavity of 
the nest are usually formed of the down obtained 
from the pods of silk-cotton-trees, and when this 
is no longer to be obtained various other fine 
fibrous materials take its place. Both threads and 
lining are often derived from the fibrous webbing 
at the bases of the petioles of the common tadi- 
palm, Borassus flabelliformis, and this is often 
gathered in such relatively large bundles as to be 
very conspicuous in the beaks of the. birds as they 
fly to their nests from the trees in which they have 
been collecting. In most cases the nests hang 
more or less vertically, but now and then they lie 
almost horizontally with the opening between the 
lower edges of the leaves, an arrangement that 
presents obvious advantages in exposed situations as 
affording maximal protection from violent driving 



140 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

showers. Where a nest is set very low down in a 
shrub, the owners in approaching it usually descend 
to the grass or weeds below and creep up thence 
to the entrance. When sitting they lie very close, 
and, when any one approaches the nest, are usually 
content to thrust out their long slender beaks and 
little brown heads in anxious enquiry without flying 
off until their house is actually touched or shaken. 

The leaves used in the construction of the nests 
generally wilt and die very rapidly although they 
do not seem to have been injured in any way save 
by the minute perforations through which the 
stitches are passed. It must have been owing to 
some imperfect account of this fact that Pennant 
was led to affirm that "the bird picks up a dead 
leaf, and, surprising to relate, sews it to the side 
of a living one." A like result takes place in the 
case of the leafy structures of some social spiders 
and arboreal ants. It is probably due to an inter- 
ference with the free access of air to the tissues, 
owing to the orifices of the stomata being choked 
up by the lining of the nests of the birds and the 
fine layers of web spread over the surface of the 
inferior epidermis by the ants and spiders. 

After the young birds have left the nest, they 
are for some time sedulously attended by their 
parents, and the parties of little brown creatures 
are very attractive as they travel around among the 
shrubs and weeds. 



CHAPTER XII 

BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 

"Nor hawked the merops, though the butterflies, 
Crimson and blue and amber, flitted thick 
Around his perch." Ihe Light of Asia. 

" Decked with diverse plumes, like painted jayes." 

The Faerie Queene. 

THE common Indian bee-eaters, Merops vimdis, 1 are, 
as a rule, only temporary residents of the neighbour- 
hood of Calcutta. Their autumnal return, from the 
wonderful regularity with which it occurs, forms an 
emphatic reminder of the flight of time a reminder, 
however, that has no unpleasant flavour about it, 
seeing that it is an announcement that winter is 
about to arrive, and bring with it nimble air and 
relative coolness in exchange for the stagnant heat 
of the latter part of the rainy season. From a 
record of the dates of its occurrence during a period 
of eight years, it appears that it took place five 
times in the second week, once on the fourth day, 
once on the seventh day, and once in the third 
week of October ; and from a much more extended 

1 They are of nearly the same length as a song-thrush, but are slenderly 

built. 

141 



142 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

series of observations the thirteenth of the month 
comes out as the normal date. These dates are to be 
taken as referring to the arrival of birds who propose 
to spend the winter in the place ; for in almost any 
year small parties may be seen and heard, passing 
high overhead for some days before any come to 
settle down. The arrival of the local residents can 
hardly fail to be at once noticed by any one who 
takes heed of such events ; for their notes, although 
by no means so loud and insistent as those of the 
brown shrike, who makes his appearance a few weeks 
sooner, are of a very specific nature, quite unlike 
those of any permanent residents, and are, moreover, 
mentally associated with the approach of the 
pleasantest time of the year. 

Common bee-eaters are singularly alluring both 
in appearance and in the character of their notes. 
When seen from behind they look brilliantly green 
with golden gleams about their heads ; their wings 
have a ruddy bronze tint, and there is a beautiful 
patch of blue on the throat a scheme of colour 
which, along with their brilliantly sparkling eyes, 
cheerful cries, and confiding familiarity, is well 
adapted to command general admiration. Their 
ceaseless vigilance is very striking ; they seem hardly 
ever to be entirely at rest; their tails are kept in 
constant movement, and their heads are ceaselessly 
jerked about in the outlook for passing insects. It 
is a joy to watch them as they sit on the ends of 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 143 

boughs, on the top of railings, or in similar sites 
affording a good view, every now and then launch- 
ing out into the air in a set of rapid strokes, 
sailing onwards on widely-spread wings and tail 
to secure an insect, and then wheeling suddenly 
round to return to their perches, showing a series of 
lovely and contrasting hues of bright green, golden 
yellow, and warm brown as they alternately present 
their upper and under feathering to view. When 
they lay hold of an insect the mandibles are brought 
together with a resounding snap that may be 
heard at a considerable distance. The keenness of 
their sight is astonishing, and one of them may 
often be seen to sail suddenly out from his perch 
on the top of a tall tree, and cross a wide open space 
in order to secure a minute insect that has lighted 
on the grass at the further side. They sometimes 
make mistakes in their captures ; and one may 
occasionally be seen to secure a passing butterfly 
and almost at once let it go in disgust, so little 
injured as to be able to continue its flight with 
undiminished vigour. When an appetising insect 
of any considerable size has been secured, it is at 
once conveyed to a convenient place, and there 
mashed up between the mandibles and against 
the perch of its captor. 

Very few common gar den -birds are tamer than 
bee-eaters: they will often alight so close to one 
that the glinting of their bright eyes and all their 



144 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

little, restless movements can be clearly noted. 
Like king-crows, they often swoop down suddenly 
over ponds in order to pick up insects from the 
surface of the water. At their times of greatest 
activity, in mornings and evenings, they have casual 
affrays with king-crows over the possession of 
specially alluring insects. They do not so often 
light on the ground as king-crows do ; but they may 
sometimes be seen in large numbers on the surfaces 
of freshly ploughed fields, either in quest of suitable 
nesting-places, or attracted by the abundance of 
exhumed insects, or, in spring and autumn, in 
assembly preparatory to migration. Towards the 
end of winter those who have spent the season near 
Calcutta become much more vividly coloured than 
they were on arrival, and by the time that the hot 
weather has fairly set in they have disappeared, 
save in those exceptional cases in which a pair have 
elected to nest in the locality. Their departure 
can hardly be determined by dietetic causes, as 
other kinds of insectivorous birds continue to find 
an abundance of insect-food all through the summer. 
It is apparently due to their nesting habits, for, 
nesting as they do in burrows in the soil of fields 
and banks, in a region like the lower Gangetic 
delta, they must naturally meet with great 
difficulties in finding sites secure from repeated 
inundation during the torrential falls of rain that 
frequently take place during the summer months. 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 145 

Hence they move off to somewhat higher and dryer 
regions, and remain there until, with the colder 
and dryer days of autumn, insect-food becomes 
inconveniently scarce, and they are once again 
driven back to milder and damper places. In the 
rare cases in which they remain throughout the whole 
year in their usual winter quarters, as a few pairs 
sometimes do in the Botanic Garden at Shibpur, 
the fact is connected with the protection from in- 
undation afforded by the presence of pieces of ground 
which have been artificially raised above the general 
level of the country. 

During the rainy season the common bee-eaters 
are replaced by their larger relatives, Merops 
philippinus. 1 They make their appearance in great 
flocks, and, along those parts of the railway-tracks 
that are flanked by numerous water-holes, are 
constantly to be seen in large numbers, seated in 
rows along the telegraph-wires and making bold, 
sweeping flights in pursuit of insects. As a rule, 
they frequent places abounding in reaches of water, 
but may sometimes be met with in gardens, where 
they are very ornamental, owing to the beauty of 
their flight. This is of the same character as that 
of the green bee-eaters, but is on a much bolder 
scale, and oftener varied by sudden towering ascents. 
They are rather shy birds, and their bluish colouring, 
although very fine, is hardly so attractive as the 
green, gold, and bronze of the common species. 

1 They are about one-third larger than M. viridis. 
K 



146 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

The Indian roller, Coracias indica, now and 
then makes its appearance in a garden or among 
the trees on the roadsides, but is not at all common 
in the immediate neighbourhood of Calcutta. Its 
comparative rarity within the area is clearly pointed 
out by the way in which any who do venture into it 
are treated by the local crows as intrusive aliens, and 
hence as fit subjects for bullying and annoyance, whilst 
in parts of the country in which these birds abound 
they are practically exempt from such persecution. 
Any stray specimen that may chance to visit a 
garden in Calcutta can hardly fail to attract the 
attention of the crows, for as though the brilliancy 
of its plumage were not in itself enough to render 
it conspicuous, it cannot refrain from advertising 
its presence by ceaseless croaking notes, quite 
unlike those of any of the normal residents. They 
are strange birds, almost as stupid as trogons, and 
very nearly as beautiful when they flap heavily from 
tree to tree, showing all the wonderful cobalt and 
ultramarine tints with which their wings are painted. 
Owing to the vinous purple hue of their throats, 
they are sacred birds emblems of Shiv, whose throat 
became blue in consequence of his magnanimity in 
swallowing the deadly poison which was one of the 
earlier results of the churning of the ocean when 
the gods were in quest of amrit. 

Hoopoes occasionally make their appearance in 
the neighbourhood of Calcutta, and now and then a 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 147 

pair of them will remain for some months in a garden. 
They do not, however, remain to nest, but take their 
departure on the onset of the hot weather. In those 
parts of the country in which they abound, the 
common Indian hoopoes, Upupa indica, are among 
the most attractive features in a garden, as they pace 
lightly about over the ground, probing the surface 
carefully as they go, and every now and then pausing 
to dig vigorously with the tips of their long slender 
beaks. They have a peculiarly light, slow, undulating 
flight, and look more like great butterflies than birds 
as they flap their way along close to the surface, and 
rising and falling over the tops of the low trees and 
shrubs that lie in their course. They are ordinarily 
rather shy birds, and show signs of anxiety and 
restlessness whenever aware of notice. Whilst en- 
gaged in digging, however, they become so fully 
absorbed in their task, that it is easy to approach 
them closely. Whilst walking about or digging, they 
keep their crests fully depressed, but on the faintest 
alarm, and also on first alighting, they elevate them 
to the utmost, at the same time nodding their heads 
up and down energetically, and taking a careful look 
around. They look so daintily beautiful at a little 
distance, that it is always a disappointment to find 
how coarse and dry the feathering of a dead bird is on 
close inspection. Their gentle little cry, " uk uk, uk, 
iik, uk," is one of the most familiar garden-sounds of 
the hot weather in Upper India, and in addition to 



148 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

this, they have another call, " churr, e, e," indicative 
of anger or alarm, which may often be heard when 
crows or other suspicious visitors invade the neighbour- 
hood of their nests. In uttering it they raise their 
crests to the utmost, elevate their heads, and nod 
violently with every symptom of extreme indignation. 
When about to call in the common way, they usually 
take up a position on an exposed branch, and then 
depress their heads until the tip of the beak almost 
touches the breast, the crest at the same time being 
laid flat down. When the young birds first leave the 
nest, it is pretty to see them trotting about after 
their anxious parents, making inefficient attempts at 
digging on their own account, but always ready to 
run up and have supplies thrust far down their throats 
by the long, curved beaks of their guardians. 

Fellow-feeling for their animosity to crows is 
enough to inspire friendship to drongos ! The notes 
of the common king- crows, Dicrurus ater (Plate IX.), 1 
as they sit dressing their plumage, and filling all the 
air in the intervals left between the multitudinous 
notes of other birds with ceaseless cries of " cheyk, 
chechi cheyk, cheyk chechi chey cheyk," are among 
the most familiar sounds that greet the ear of any 
one who goes out soon after dawn ; and until far on 
into the dusk of evening they may be seen pursuing 
their wonderful aerial evolutions after flying insects. 

1 They are somewhat larger than a missel-thrush, but the tail contributes 
greatly to their length. 




Common Kingcrows (p. 148). [To face p. 148, 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 149 

Their style of flight varies greatly in different circum- 
stances. When merely travelling from place to place 
they follow an undulating and flapping course, and do 
not advance very rapidly, but when in pursuit of 
other birds their flight takes on an entirely different 
character, and they swoop and dash about with 
marvellous speed. When hawking for insects they 
take up a position on some prominent site command- 
ing a wide outlook. Here they sit alert and vigilant, 
and, as passing insects come within convenient dis- 
tance, launch out into the air in pursuit. When 
their quarry is above the level of their perch, they 
either ascend by means of a series of rapid, flapping 
strokes, or suddenly vault aloft as if discharged from 
a spring, strike at their prey, turn abruptly round, 
often performing a complete somersault in doing so, 
and sweep back to their places ; when it is beneath 
the level of their watch-towers they descend obliquely 
to it, and then sweep round in a bold curve on 
widely extended wings. There is something very 
attractive in the sight of a party of them perched on 
the tips of a group of slender bamboos in the late 
evening; the long thin shoots, silhouetted against 
the brilliant tints of a sky flaming in after-glow, 
bend gracefully over under the weight of the 
beautifully-shaped birds, who every now and then 
leap aloft into the clear air and sail round in long 
curving lines. Their flapping flights are very noisy, 
and strangely unlike those in which they display 



150 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

their speed and capacity for sudden change of 
direction. 

During the greater part of the year king- crows 
are very aggressive, and whilst nesting they are almost 
ceaselessly on the war-path. For a short time, 
however, in the earlier part of the cold weather, and 
probably because they are then moulting, they often 
become curiously mild a fact of which the crows 
seem to be fully aware, as they may then be often 
seen venturing on liberties which they certainly 
would not attempt at other times, and which some- 
times verge on positive bullying. Although they 
seem to have a very special and well-founded dislike 
to crows, they by no means confine their attacks 
to them, and during the nesting season there is 
hardly any kind of bird, no matter how inoffensive 
or how formidable it may be, that is exempt from 
assault and battery. Kites and hawks are fallen 
upon, ignominiously routed and driven off in dis- 
orderly flight, staggering under the influence of 
violent blows on the back ; the spotted owlets 
are apt to have their evening gossip rudely inter- 
rupted ; every passing crow is insulted, and any 
stray barn owl, who may have ventured out early in 
the evening, or have been delayed in returning 
home in the morning, is sure to be detected and 
hustled ; and even birds that might have been 
deemed quite harmless, such as mynas and king- 
fishers, are furiously attacked. The spotted owlets 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 151 

sometimes take their revenge, for, although meekly 
submissive so long as the light is strong, they now 
and then turn the tables and play the part of 
aggressors when any king-crows have been tempted to 
remain abroad unusually late by a supply of specially 
attractive food. Even when a king-crow is sitting 
on its nest and ought to be wholly absorbed in 
incubatory care, it can rarely refrain from rushing 
out to buffet any bird who may pass within easy 
distance. At any time they are apt to assault and 
persecute bee-eaters, but in this case their aggressive- 
ness is excusable on the ground that similarity in 
diet must almost inevitably lead to acute competi- 
tion. They do not, as a rule, seem to be inclined 
to quarrel with one another, but now and then 
squabbles do arise over some particularly toothsome 
butterfly or other large insect. 

Like the white egret and mynas, they are con- 
stantly to be met with in attendance on grazing cattle 
and buffaloes, making use of them as handy perches 
from which to sally forth in pursuit of the clouds of 
insects that arise from the grass, disturbed by the pro- 
gress of their steeds. The amount of insect mortality 
to be credited to their account is very great, for all 
day long they are ceaselessly on the outlook for prey, 
and, far on into the dusk of evening and long after 
the bats have joined in the sport, they remain eagerly 
hawking around. Even whilst travelling from one 
favourite perch to another, they can seldom resist 



152 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

the impulse to snatch at passing insects, not with 
any serious intent at capture, but merely as the 
outcome of reflex, or " to keep their hands in " ; and 
many of the mutilated butterflies that are to be seen 
staggering about on imperfect wings owe their 
crippled condition to such passing encounters. 
They seldom come to the ground in pursuit of 
insects, and when they do so, sit about in curiously 
flattened attitudes, like those of goat-suckers in like 
circumstances. Now and then a pair will remain 
for a long time, sitting on the ground face to face, 
with upraised beaks and occasionally, either alternately 
or in concert, uttering their harshly grating cries. 
Much oftener they make sudden descents on the 
surfaces of ponds either to take a skimming drink 
or to pick up insects floating or swimming on the 
water. They take their baths in like fashion, only 
in this case they skim along over the surface, 
dashing and dumping their breasts into the water as 
they go, and returning again and again to repeat the 
process until their plumage is well wetted and they 
betake themselves to a neighbouring tree in order 
to complete their toilette. Like most other purely 
insectivorous birds, they keep their heads in almost 
ceaseless motion, turning them from side to side and 
glancing needfully around even when they seem to 
be resting. 

In the neighbourhood of Calcutta the common 
king- crows build at any time from the beginning of 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 153 

April to July. The nests are shallow saucers of 
dried grass, casuarina-needles, or other fibrous 
materials, bound together by strands of spiders' 
web, and of such loose texture that in many cases 
the sky and the eggs can be distinctly seen through 
the floor from beneath. They are generally placed 
high above the ground at a point where a horizontal 
bough forks so as to afford a conveniently broad 
foundation, and are often anchored by strands of 
spiders' web, passed round the smaller branches. 
Owing to their small size and flattened outline they 
are very inconspicuous objects, even when in trees, 
like the teak, that are leafless during the greater part 
of the time during which they are occupied ; in fact, 
at a little distance they so closely resemble knots or 
irregularities of the bark that their true nature is 
often first detected by the peculiar appearance 
presented by the long, forked tail of the sitting bird 
projecting over the edge. When the tree contains 
nests belonging to other kinds of birds, their owners 
are usually tolerated and allowed to come and go in 
peace, except when the king-crows happen to be 
overflowing with nervous excitement evoked by the 
stimulus of passing strangers, and only imperfectly 
expanded in assaults upon them. In this case the 
surplus may have to be worked off at the expense 
of their neighbours. Should a pair of specially 
offensive birds, however, set up house-keeping in a 
tree close by, they have a very poor time of it, and 



154 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

are constantly liable to be attacked as they come 
and go. Many entertaining incidents happen under 
such circumstances ; and it is curious how in some 
cases even the constitutional dislike to crows may 
for the time being be forgotten in a common enmity 
to kites. Now and then a kite will be attacked 
simultaneously by nesting crows and king-crows, and 
driven to take refuge with its back to the wall on the 
cornice of a house ; a crow sitting close to it and 
insulting it with shrill cawings, while a king-crow 
swoops and dashes at it from above, filling the air 
with angry outcries. Owing to the small size and 
peculiar shape of the nests, the heads and the long 
tails of the sitting birds project quaintly on either 
side, and show very conspicuously from beneath. 
After the young ones are hatched their heads may be 
seen reaching out in eager expectation of the insects 
that are brought in in ceaseless succession from 
dawn to dusk by the devoted parents. It is pleasant 
to note the intense satisfaction with which a king-crow 
regards its nest. When a sitting bird comes in from 
one of its frequent raids upon passers-by, it does not 
at once resume its place, but sits down beside the 
nest and bends over it, thrilling with an admiration 
that keeps the long forked tail in vigorous sidelong 
motion. Both parent birds share in the task of 
incubation, and relieve one another at short and 
regular intervals. 

During the course of winter stray specimens of 



BEE-EATERS, ROLLERS, AND DRONGOS 155 

the white-bellied drongo, Dicrurus ccerulesceus, may 
often be seen about Calcutta. They often establish 
themselves for a long time in particular gardens, but 
seem never to nest in the neighbourhood. In 
addition to a harshly chattering cry, like that of the 
common king-crow, they have another note of a 
melodious, plover-like nature. 



XIII 

KINGFISHERS 

" And scarce it pushes 
Its gentle way through strangling rushes 
Where the glossy kingfisher 
Flutters when noon-heats are near." 

Paracelsus. 

11 The pied fish-tiger hung above the pool." 

The Light of Asia. 

KINGFISHERS are nowadays so sadly rare within the 
British islands that it comes as a surprise to any new 
arriver in a tropical country to find how common 
they can be the^re. Common they certainly are, but 
at the same time they can never cease to be objects 
of admiration from the quaintness of their habits 
and the wonderful splendour of the plumage in most 
species ! Two species, Alcedo ispida and Halcyon 
smyrnensis, are constant residents in the suburban 
gardens of Calcutta, and frequent visitors of the 
numerous ponds that lie scattered here and there 
even in the most densely populated parts of the town. 
So long as it abounds in fish and Crustacea, they do 
not seem to be at all fastidious in regard to the 
quality of the water that they frequent ; and may 



156 



KINGFISHERS 157 

often be seen sitting in profound scrutiny of pools 
of the foulest and most repulsive appearance, where 
the brown fluid " creams and mantles " with clouds of 
tawny and cupreous-green algal growths and gives 
off an overpoweringly offensive odour. 

The common small Indian kingfisher, Alcedo 
ispida, is now usually regarded by experts as a 
miniature variety of the European species, from 
which it differs only in size and the habit of fre- 
quenting urban areas. Unlike Halcyon sinyrnensis, 
it thoroughly merits its name, as its diet consists 
exclusively of fish and other aquatic products. 
Specimens are therefore rarely to be met with save 
in the immediate neighbourhood of bodies of water, 
but they are so abundant there that almost every 
pond of any size is usually tenanted by one or more 
birds, who return to particular watch-towers at 
special times of day. Any site affording a free out- 
look over the surface of the water seems to satisfy 
them ; where there are trees on the bank this is 
supplied by overhanging boughs ; and, where there 
are none, prominent points on the masonry of walls 
and ghats, posts, or fishing platforms, or even the 
ripening heads of Nelumbium-inflorescence project- 
ing from the surface of the water will serve the 
purpose. Here they will sit by the hour, " still as a 
stone," save for their nodding heads, and intently 
on the watch until a favourable opportunity arises 
for a sudden plunge after a small fish that has un- 



158 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

warily approached the surface of the water. Often 
enough the prey escapes, and then it is pretty to 
see the bird return to its perch, shake off a shower 
of glittering drops, preen its feathers, and then settle 
down once more to its vigil. When disturbed whilst 
fishing, they dart suddenly off, uttering keen little 
cries of alarm and flying round and round for some 
time over the water before returning to their perch 
or taking up a new one elsewhere. Most of their 
fishing is carried on in the way just described ; but 
now and then one will remain for some time on 
the wing, darting about hither and thither over 
the water, occasionally hanging and hovering on 
trembling wings, and then descending with a sound- 
ing splash, until, having secured a fish, it makes off 
with it to a convenient dining-room. When fishing 
in this way, their presence is often first revealed by 
the water, as their small quivering bodies are almost 
invisible to lateral vision against a shaded back- 
ground of foliage, while their reflected images stand 
out in sharp relief against the mimic sky of the glassy 
surface of the pond. 

They fly at a great pace, looking like living 
streaks of blue or brown as their upper or under 
surfaces present themselves to view ; but, when 
sitting quietly and projected upon a background 
of dull green foliage, they might readily escape 
notice were it not for the brilliantly metallic streak 
of light blue on the back, and the vividly white 



KINGFISHERS 159 

point of the nape as it is forced up between the 
shoulders by the abrupt flexure of the neck over 
the erect little body. When they have secured a 
small fish, it is at once conveyed to a convenient 
site in which it may be mashed and hammered into 
a state fit to be swallowed ; not uncommonly the 
place first chosen is found to be unsuitable, and is 
abandoned for a better one. They are by no means 
shy birds, and when they have found a good fishing- 
station, will often continue to occupy it in complete 
disregard of the close presence of people who may 
be passing to and fro carrying water, or otherwise 
occupied on the bank beneath ; but, at the same 
time, they are careful to choose secluded places for 
their nests, and never excavate their burrows in 
such exposed banks as the common Halcyons often 
select. 

Halcyon smyrnensis is even more of a garden- 
bird than the little kingfisher is, as it is by no 
means dependent on the presence of water for a 
supply of food. 1 They do, indeed, often fish, but 
the staple of their diet consists of insects of many 
different kinds, shrews, mice, and small reptiles and 
batrachians. These, whilst often specially abundant 
on the banks of ponds, are yet readily attainable in 
many other places in sufficient quantity to allow 
the birds to spend much of their time in fields, 

1 This is a much larger bird than Akedo ispida, and is specially dis- 
tinguished by its brilliant red bill. 



160 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

gardens, the outskirts of woods, and other waterless 
places, so long as they provide trees or other con- 
venient perches and commanding outlooks. They 
are very noisy birds ; every now and then, whilst 
resting, they open their great red beaks and cry 
aloud, "Whee, hee, hee, hee, ee," and, on taking 
flight on any sudden alarm, they utter a torrent 
of rattling shrieks, much like those of the common 
gold-backed woodpecker. Even whilst on the wing 
they are not silent, but continue to repeat a high- 
pitched note at brief intervals. On the onset of 
the breeding season in the beginning of summer, 
they become still more vociferous, and are constantly 
to be heard crying aloud from the tops of lofty 
trees. The sexual displays of the male birds at 
this time, more especially when several of them 
happen to be courting the same female, are really 
splendid, while they turn their backs to her, crouch 
down, nod their heads, and spread and flutter their 
magnificent blue and black wings in eager competi- 
tion. As a rule, the ladies seem to take all this 
show very calmly, only occasionally flirting a little 
with one or other of their admirers ; never dreaming 
of interrupting any meal that may be in progress 
when the entertainment comes off, and, even in 
the very midst of it, always keeping an eye open 
to the approach of any succulent insect. Their nest- 
ing burrows are usually excavated in the steep banks 
of ponds, and especially at points where the exposed 



KINGFISHERS 161 

roots of trees descend over the surface and provide 
convenient perches. During the breeding season 
they are very ill-tempered, and make furious and 
unprovoked assaults on passing crows and kites, 
and, indeed, on any birds, however inoffensive, 
who may happen to approach their domain more 
closely than they like. 

Much of their time is taken up with the pursuit 
of insects quite away from any ponds or other bodies 
of water. While so occupied they usually take up 
a position on a low bough overlooking an open 
grassy space, and at intervals make sudden descents 
to secure their prey ; but occasionally they will hawk 
around for a time on the wing, and sometimes, 
though rarely, really hover. They treat their 
victims just as the little kingfishers do, taking them 
to places where they can be readily hammered about 
and softened before being swallowed. When their 
booty is a fish, it seems usually to be more or less 
disabled in the process of capture, the dorsal muscles 
being often ruptured right down to the spinal column, 
and, in any case, so much injured as to interfere with 
efficient co-ordinate action (Plate X.). 

As cage-birds, these two common kingfishers 
differ from one another very much as the two 
common barbets do. The little Alcedo rarely 
accommodates itself to captivity, but the Halcyon 
does so readily ; and, although never becoming really 
tame, will continue in full health for a long time, 

L 



162 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

very soon learning to help itself to live fish in any 
water that the aviary may contain. 

Whilst neither so abundant nor so generally 
distributed in gardens as the species which have 
just been described, and hardly ever venturing into 
the town proper, the magnificent blue and buff 
garial, Pelargopsis gurial, 1 are by no means rare 
visitors of well-wooded suburban enclosures, and 
may almost always be met with in considerable 
numbers in the Botanic Garden at Shibpur. 
There, at certain times of year, their character- 
istic and ringing cries of " peer, peer, purr ; peer, 
peer, peer, purr " are to be heard resounding through 
the air all day long, and particularly during the early 
morning. When about to call in this way, they 
take up a conspicuous position on the top of a 
tall tree, and remain there for some time, crying 
aloud at brief intervals, but now and then they 
utter the same notes feebly and imperfectly whilst 
flying from one tree to another. Occasionally whilst 
at rest, and much oftener when on the wing, they 
utter another call sounding "kuk, kuh, kuh, ktih, 
kuh, kuh, kuh," but they do not seem to have 
any note exactly corresponding with the loudly 
cackling alarm-cry of Halcyon smyrnensis. Their 
flight is laboured, heavy, and ungainly, the body 
and head being extended in a straight line, and 
the wings in constant flapping movement as though 

1 It is a grand bird, about fifteen inches in length. 




Fish dropped by a Kingfisher (p. 161). 




Pied Kingfishers (p. 163). 



[To face p. 162. 



KINGFISHERS 163 

finding it a hard task to sustain the weight of the 
great head and monstrous dull-red beak. Only 
just before it ceases, on approaching a perch, does it 
assume a more seemly character as the bird sweeps 
round on widely spread and apparently motionless 
wings. When about to call they sit up very erect, 
and spread their great wings so as to show all the 
shining azure of the back and the greenish-blue 
quills to the fullest advantage ; exhibiting as they 
do so a strange association of splendid colouring 
with heavy, ungainly form. 

In the thickly-wooded country of the suburbs 
of Calcutta, where ponds and swampy hollows 
everywhere abound, and devious lanes are tunnelled 
through heavy masses of foliage, garials are con- 
stantly to be met with, and often nest in 
burrows excavated in the mouldering walls of 
the mud-huts that lie buried in the jungle. They 
are the easiest of all the common kingfishers to keep 
in good condition in captivity ; a fact that there were 
frequent opportunities of ascertaining in the Zoo- 
logical Garden in Alipur, as families of nestlings 
were often brought in for sale by the natives of 
the outlying villages. Unfortunately, they are not 
at all attractive pets, as they are very dull and 
sluggish, and seem never to utter their peculiar call 
when in captivity. 

Another kingfisher that sometimes makes brief 
visits to gardens is the black and white Ceryle 



164 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

varia 1 (Plate X.). Now and then a pair will come 
in to hawk and hover over the ponds and fill the 
air with their strange, piercing cries; but they are 
essentially birds of the open country, and only 
occasionally stray in from the broad reaches of 
rice-fields in which they abound. They form a very 
conspicuous feature in the ornithology of a railway- 
journey through well-watered parts of the plains of 
India, as they find attractive fishing-grounds in the 
numerous water-holes at the sides of the embank- 
ments, and convenient resting-places on the telegraph 
wires and posts. 

Although so common in the channels of the 
Sundarbans, the great brown-winged kingfisher, 
Pelargopsis amauropterus, seems never to wander 
into the immediate neighbourhood of Calcutta, 
but another characteristically Sundarban species, 
Sauropatis Moris, may sometimes be seen about 
the ponds in the Botanic Garden. 

1 It is somewhat larger than a blaebird. 



XIV 

EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 

"An herneshawe, that lies aloft on wing." 

The Faerie Queene. 

11 For as a bittur in the eagles clawe, 
That may not hope by flight to scape alive, 
Still waytes for death with dread and trembling awe." 

The Faerie Queene. 

"The hoars night-raven, trump of dolefull drere." 

The Faerie Queene. 

THE ponds in the open spaces and gardens of 
Calcutta, and the innumerable weed-grown swamps 
and hollows of the suburbs are frequented by 
many other water-loving birds besides kingfishers ; 
common " paddy -birds," and sometimes cattle-egrets, 
venture far into the thickest parts of the town, 
and in the outskirts, other herons, coots, jacanas, 
and white-breasted water-hens are associated with 
them. 

Paddy-birds, Ardeola grayi? are at all times 
to be met with in abundance, hardly ever being 
absent from any pond of considerable size, and 
often being stationed all round the margins of the 

1 They are about the size of whimbrels. 

1C5 



166 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

water, like rows of miniature sentinels. They are 
comparatively large birds, but, in spite of this, they 
often become strangely invisible when they draw 
in their long necks, and crouch down among the 
reeds and dried grass, whose colours match so 
closely with the buff and brown tints of their 
feathering. During the breeding season it is true 
that the plumage of the male birds loses its fully 
protective colouring, and presents rich maroon and 
snowy white hues that are very conspicuous during 
flight, but even then, it is curious to note how 
one of them seems to vanish as it alights, closes 
its broad white wings, and assumes the wonderful 
statuesque immobility so characteristic of herons. 
There are few more beautiful objects than a male 
paddy-bird in full breeding plumage flying low 
across a background of deep indigo storm-cloud, 
and the disappearance of all the brilliant tints as 
the bird alights in one of his accustomed haunts, 
is a never failing subject for surprise. Whilst 
lurking in these "at times when the nuptial 
plumage is absent they are so invisible that one 
is often startled by their sudden flight almost 
underfoot; and, even when carefully marked down 
as they light, it is curiously hard to distinguish 
them, as they crouch in wary immobility among 
the reeds in well-founded confidence in their 
protective colouring. 

As is the case with the crows, many more 



EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 167 

paddy-birds are present within urban limits at 
night than during the day, owing to the fact that 
large numbers who spend the day in fishing in 
the ponds of the surrounding country return to 
roost every night in certain favourite trees in the 
gardens in the town. They are like the crows, 
too, in usually preferring to roost in the immediate 
neighbourhood of the places in which they have 
been hatched, although sometimes a tree in which 
no nests are ever built will be nightly occupied 
by a large colony of lodgers. Evening after evening 
numbers of them may be seen, returning in pairs 
or small parties from the outlying country in 
company with the homing mynas and crows; but, 
unlike them, often interrupting their onward course 
to hawk after passing insects. On approaching 
their night-quarters they drop down to them in 
wide curves from the upper sky, and, once arrived, 
they settle quietly down without any preliminary 
ceremonies or talk, like crows and mynas, merely 
scuffling a little over the possession of specially 
convenient places. As a rule, they are late in 
rousing themselves up in the morning, and do not 
set out towards their fishing-grounds until the sun 
is already well up. Tamarind-trees seem to be 
specially attractive roosts, and may constantly be 
seen bristling all over with lazy tenants, sleepily per- 
forming their toilette in the strong light of the sun, 
long after it has risen high enough to render them 



168 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

very conspicuous objects among the softly feathery 
deep green masses of the surrounding foliage. 
Their breeding places in the gardens of the town 
are usually located in mango -trees, whose stout, 
.stiff ramifications are well fitted to support the 
huge masses of rubbish which they are pleased to 
regard as nests ; but it is not easy to know 
what it is that determines the selection of particular 
trees or groups of trees. If the first nest or nests 
established in a tree be left undisturbed, they are 
very apt to form the nucleus of large colonies which 
within a short time become very offensive from 
their strong smell and from the unsightly accumula- 
tions of guano, debris of fish and molluscs, and cast 
feathers that disfigure the leaves of the trees and 
litter the ground beneath. 

During the nesting season the birds waste much 
time over awkward and laborious attempts to 
detach dead twigs and small branches from neigh- 
bouring trees, swaying about on their long, slender 
legs and twisting their necks and beaks in a 
pathetically patient way in struggles with coveted 
fragments that refuse to be torn off. As they 
find such difficulty in detaching dead twigs they 
never think of attacking living ones, and so do not 
do the damage to a garden that crows do when 
building. The greater part of their time is passed 
in the immediate neighbourhood of water, where 
they wade in the weedy shallows fringing ponds 



EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 169 

and swamps, or float on rafts of matted vegetation 
that often sink so far beneath them as to give them 
the appearance of swimming. Sometimes, however, 
they venture quite far out over the surface of lawns 
or other open grassy spaces abounding in large 
insects. In such cases they step about firmly and 
comparatively quickly, so long as they are not 
stalking any particular victim, but whenever they 
sight a desirable insect their gait at once changes, 
each leg is alternately and cautiously thrust out 
to its full extent and planted gingerly and quietly, 
whilst the beak serves as a pointer, extended in 
the line of the neck, which is fully retracted until 
within striking distance, when it darts out like a 
liberated spring. 

Cattle-egrets, Bubulcus coromandus, 1 are so essen- 
tially birds of the open country, where they can escort 
the browsing cattle and buffaloes as they brush 
through the grass and dislodge the lurking insects, 
that it is curious that they should ever be found 
in small gardens ; but every now and then a few 
of them will take a fancy to come in regularly 
day after day for some time to inspect the banks 
of ponds in enclosures even in the middle of the 
town and surrounded by bustling traffic. Although 
seldom seen on the ground there, parties of them 
may often be observed from the most crowded 
streets, flapping slowly across the upper sky with 

1 This bird is somewhat larger than the common paddy-bird, and is 
distinguished by its pure white colouring. 



170 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

their shining white plumage gleaming out against 
its pale blue background as they travel from one to 
another of the multitudinous swamps surrounding 
the town. The attitudes which they assume when 
at rest are often strangely grotesque (Plate XI.). 

Various other sorts of herons visit and some- 
times permanently settle in the large and quiet 
gardens of the suburbs. The commonest of these is 
the chestnut bittern, Ardetta cinnamomea, pairs of 
which often appear for a few days, flying about 
among the trees around ponds and crying aloud to 
one another. In large enclosures, such as the 
Zoological Garden in Alipur, they sometimes stay 
to nest, usually choosing a dense clump of screw- 
pines for the site of their building operations. The 
Indian reef-heron, Leptorodius asha, that is so 
common in the tidal channels of the Sundarbans; 
and the little green heron, Butorides javanica, do 
not venture close to town nearly so often, but now 
and then may be seen in the dusk of evening, fly- 
ing about over open grassy spaces. Night-herons, 
Nycticorax griseus, 1 are to be heard almost every 
evening as they pass high overhead in the late 
dusk, calling loudly to one another at brief intervals 
as they go. They rarely establish a permanent 
settlement within the limits of a garden, but when 
they do meet with one that suits their fancy they 
congregate within it in such numbers as to become 
a great nuisance unless there be a very large amount 

1 They are larger than cattle-egrets, and much more stoutly built. 



Colony of Night-herons at Sunset (p. 171). 




Cattle-egrets resting (p. 170). 



[To face p. 170, 



EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 171 

of space to spare for their accommodation. Not 
many years before I left India, a wooded islet in 
the Zoological Garden at Alipur was invaded by a 
colony as a roosting and nesting site, and, although 
the event was at first welcomed as adding a new 
and attractive feature to the place, there can be no 
question that it was in the end most destructive 
to the beauty and amenity of its immediate sur- 
roundings. During the first season only a limited 
number of birds established themselves, but year 
by year more and more made their appearance, 
and within a short time all the trees were thickly 
tenanted. The aspect presented by the island 
towards the end of each breeding season, with all 
the trees bending beneath the weight of the nests 
and thronged with birds drowsing away the sunlit 
hours, was most remarkable. Even more curious was 
the sight that presented itself in the evening as the 
colony gradually roused up for the night (Plate XI.). 
As the sun went down drowsy voices began to be 
heard, at first at wide intervals, and then more and 
more frequently, until the air was full of the sound. 
At the same time signs of unrest began to appear; 
birds began to shift about from place to place or 
make short flights out over the water ; and as the 
dusk deepened they set out, at first in pairs and 
small companies and then in a ceaseless stream that 
lasted until it was hardly distinguishable in the 
growing gloom save by the multitudinous cries of 



172 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

"wak, wak," that issued from it. Every now and 
then a bird would set out without its mate, and on 
finding that it had done so, would return and wheel 
round and round over the island, crying aloud 
until it was joined, and affording a practical 
demonstration of the utility of their habit of con- 
stantly calling to and answering one another during 
the course of their nocturnal journeys. I do not 
know what the history of this colony has been since 
the spring of 1897, but even then it had increased 
to such an extent as to overflow from its original 
place on the island, and invade trees on the banks 
of the pond so much as to call for repressive 
measures. 

In addition to all these residents and casual 
visitors of gardens, specimens of the great white 
egret, Herodias alba, and occasionally of other large 
herons, may now and then be seen " trailing it with 
legs and wings " athwart the sky far above the 
noisome streets of the town and the densely- wooded 
suburbs, as they travel to and fro between their 
feeding r grounds in the endless morasses of the open 
country around. All herons are apt to be uncanny 
inmates of a mixed aviary, but I have never known 
any of them quite so bad as an old male Herodias 
alba, who for many years inhabited the Zoological 
Garden in Alipur, and who, when in full breeding 
plumage and all the glory of snowy plumes and 
vividly green cere, was one of the greatest ornaments 



EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 173 

of the collection. He was a most inveterate mur- 
derer; now and then he would seem to repent of 
his misdeeds, but the reformation was temporary, 
and presently a new victim would fall before the 
attacks of his fatal dagger of a beak. His reputa- 
tion at length became so bad that he was kept 
either in solitary confinement or only in the com- 
pany of other birds, such as cormorants, snake-birds, 
or purple-coots, who were quite as ill-conditioned 
and almost as formidable as himself. 

Wherever there is a quiet pool with reedy 
margins and patches of dense cover on the banks, 
white-breasted water-hens, Amaurornis phoenicurus, 1 
are almost always to be found, calling loudly to 
one another as they wade in the shallows or pace 
over the lawns, jerking their short erected tails 
as they go, and in summer and autumn often 
followed by their small, black, downy chicks. They 
do not limit their walks to the immediate neigh- 
bourhood of water, and are often to be seen 
stepping about over wide spaces of grass, searching 
for insects, and ready on the slightest alarm to 
race off to the nearest cover. They look very 
smart and alert when seen from a little distance, 
stepping lightly about in their shining greenish - 
black coats and white waistcoats, but on closer 
inspection have a strangely imbecile expression, 
owing to the shape and colouring of their heads. 
Their nests are placed either in dense masses of 

1 They are of very much the same size as common moor-hens. 



174 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

vegetation, such as clumps of screw-pines, on the 
banks of ponds, or out among the tangled jungle 
of reeds, Nymphasas, Nelumbiums, and other aquatic 
plants that usually covers so much of the surface 
of the water. They are by no means shy birds, 
and may often be seen wandering tranquilly around 
quite close to groups of native huts, or wading and 
swimming among the weeds in a pond populous 
with bathers and water-carriers. Captivity appears 
to be a very light trial to them, and they seem 
to be quite contented in very small enclosures 
entirely devoid of any tangled undergrowths like 
those which they naturally haunt. Coots, Fulica 
atra, are by no means so abundant near Calcutta 
as water-hens, usually preferring the conditions 
provided by the rice-fields and wide areas of marsh 
of the open country ; but they may sometimes be 
seen swimming about in the weedy pools of water 
that in so many places flank the lines of railway 
as they emerge from the town. 

Common jacanaV, Metopodius indicus? are rarely 
to be met with in gardens ; they are so purely 
aquatic in habit as to demand wider spaces of 
swamp and weedy water than are ordinarily found 
in small enclosures. They may, however, often 
be seen in the Botanic Garden at Shibpur, and 
used to build regularly every year among the 
thick growth of weeds covering the surface of a 
large pond close to the superintendent's house. 

1 They are nearly of the same size as a common redshank. 



EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 175 

It is always a treat to see them, stepping lightly 
over the yielding surface of the rafts of floating 
weeds, lifting their huge feet, with drooping toes 
that look like bundles of twigs, high out of the 
water at every step ; and when they are followed 
by a troop of sooty, downy fledglings, the picture 
becomes even more alluring. They rarely come 
to shore, and when crossing from one pond to 
another, in place of running over the intervening 
space like water-hens, they prefer to fly. They 
present an odd appearance on the wing, owing 
to the disproportionate size of their feet, which 
becomes particularly conspicuous when the legs are 
dropped just before the bird pitches on the surface 
of the weeds and expands its toes which have 
been gathered up into a bundle during flight. A 
very rare visitor to the ponds in Calcutta is the 
water-pheasant, Hydropliasianus chirurgus, a bird 
equally astonishing in appearance and voice, looking 
like a demented silver-pheasant as it floats among 
the submerged weeds, and makes the air resound 
with loud mewing cries. 

Every now and then stray specimens of the 
little cormorant, Phalacrocorax javanicus, take a 
passing fancy for a garden-pond, and haunt the 
water and the surrounding trees for a time ; and 
more rarely a snake-bird, Plotus melanogaster, makes 
its much more interesting appearance. Both birds 
sometimes find a pond sufficiently attractive to 



176 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDFA 1 

lead them to make use of it as a permanent place 
for roosting and breeding. This, however, is hardly 
an event to be desired, even by those who are most 
interested in the study of their habits ; for they 
are as gregarious as night-herons, and the establish- 
ment of one nest is sure to be followed by that 
of others in steadily increasing numbers, until the 
place is disfigured and rendered intolerable by 
accumulations of rubbish and an overpowering 
stench of guano and decomposing fish. It is not 
easy to make out what particular features in a 
place serve to render it attractive as the site of 
such a colony. The presence of well- wooded islets 
is, doubtless, influential in determining the choice, 
but it alone will not suffice. The great system of 
ponds in the Botanic Garden contains many wooded 
islets, but yet neither night-herons, cormorants, or 
snake-birds ever showed any inclination to settle 
there during all the years that I was in Calcutta ; 
while an island in the Zoological Garden in 
Alipur, which is 'much nearer to the town and 
far more frequented by visitors, was some years 
ago occupied by immense colonies of all three 
birds. In this case the place was not invaded for 
many years after it had been thickly wooded ; and 
when the invasion began, it was not occupied by 
all the three kinds of birds at once. For many 
years the only species who nested in the island 
were a certain number of paddy-birds, common 



EGRETS, HERONS, ETC. 177 

mynas and sturnopastors ; but in the spring of 
1894 it was suddenly invaded by a troop of night- 
herons, who adopted it as a roost, and a little 
later in the season nested in it. During the 
following year they did so in greatly increased 
numbers, and remained in undisputed possession; and 
it was not until the next season that cormorants 
began to appear, at first in small numbers, but 
afterwards in such constantly increasing multitudes, 
that every available nesting-place seemed to be 
fully occupied before any snake-birds came forward 
as claimants for accommodation. Such a colony is 
a truly remarkable sight during the breeding season, 
when all the trees and shrubs are fully tenanted by 
birds and bowed down under the weight of the 
crowded nests. A continuous performance of " Box 
and Cox" goes on for many weeks, as the herons 
go out at dusk and return at dawn to drowse out 
the daylight hours, during which the other members 
of the community are busily fishing. 

Various kinds of wild ducks occasionally make 
brief halts in garden-ponds during the course of 
their autumnal and spring migrations. They seldom 
stay for more than a day or two, but, where they 
light upon a pond to their liking, they will occa- 
sionally make it their head- quarters for a season, and 
even return to it year after year. An instance of 
such an event occurred in the Zoological Garden 
at Alipur, where one of the ponds was, for six or 

M 



178 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

seven years, regularly tenanted by a widgeon during 
the cold-weather months. The bird spent its first 
winter as a captive with clipped wings in a tiny 
and very dirty pool in the enclosure belonging to 
a rhinoceros, but appreciated the security and 
abundance of food so highly, that it returned year 
after year with such regularity that its appearance 
in its winter quarters used to be annually recorded 
in the local newspapers along with that of dis- 
tinguished cold-weather visitors to Calcutta from 
Europe and the various hill stations. 



XV 

WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. 

"For here there is a Bird (having its Name from the Tree it 
chuses for its Sanctuary, the Toddy Tree) that is not only 
exquisitely curious in the artificial Composure of its nest 
with Hay, but furnished with Devices and Stratagems to 
secure itself and young ones from its deadly Enemy the 
Squirrel ; as likewise from the Injury of the Weather." 
Dr JOHN FRYER'S Account of India. 

WEAVER-BIRDS, Ploceus baya, 1 are not uncommon 
around Calcutta, but rarely reside in gardens, 
because the tadi-trees that they contain are usually 
crowded in among others in a way that prevents 
the tips of their great fans from hanging free, and 
so renders them less protective sites for the attach- 
ment of pensile nests than they are in the case of 
isolated trees. The three kinds of trees in which 
the nests are most commonly to be found are 
tadi-palms, Borassus flabelliformis ; dates, Phoenix 
sylvestris ; and babuls, Acacia indica. Of these 
the first seems to be the greatest favourite, as, 
whilst in parts of the country in which they do 
not occur, the other two trees are made use of; in 

1 This bird is of the size of a chaffinch. 

179 



180 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

Calcutta, where all three abound, it is the tadi-trees 
that are almost invariably chosen. In them the 
nests are hung from the radiant fringes of points 
that border the leaves crowning the long, slender 
shafts of tall trees; and, owing to their pensile 
nature and elevated situation, they must be ex- 
ceptionally secure from the attacks of predatory 
animals. Towards the beginning of the rainy season 
the birds acquire their full breeding plumage, in 
which bright yellow tints abound, and a little later 
the nests are fully occupied. In the early part in 
August, young birds, almost ready to fly, are often 
exposed for sale in the bazaars, but, although readily 
tamed, they are very undesirable additions to an 
aviary containing other kinds of small birds, as 
they are very aggressive, and are possessed by a 
deeply-rooted desire to hammer in the skulls of 
their neighbours, which, as Abdur Rahman in his 
autobiography remarks of a Baluchi tribe of similar 
disposition, " naturally causes disputes." 

Brown shrikes, Lanius cristatus, 1 are extremely 
common around Calcutta throughout the greater 
part of the year, and are conspicuous objects in 
the gardens of the suburbs and outskirts of the 
town. They come in suddenly and in great numbers 
in September, usually during the ten days ranging 
from the 12th to the 21st, but occasionally not 
until some time in the fourth week. A record of 

1 In size they resemble common red-backed shrikes. 



WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. 181 

the dates on which they appeared in twelve separate 
years shows that in nine of them they arrived during 
the earlier and in three only in the later period. 
Their departure seems to take place more gradually. 
During the latter half of April their numbers 
steadily diminish ; a few linger on into May, but by 
the middle of the month all have gone. It is much 
easier to ascertain the precise dates of their arrival 
and departure than it is in the case of most other 
migrants, owing to the noisy way in which they 
advertise their presence all the time that they 
are resident. On some still muggy morning or 
evening in mid- September, when the heat and damp 
are enough to make mere existence seem a burthen, 
and when it is hard to imagine how any living thing 
can hanker after unnecessary exertion, a loud, 
imperative chattering suddenly strikes the ear, and 
one gladly wakens up to the fact that the brown 
shrikes have really arrived, and that the year is 
wearing on towards the happy time when stagnant 
heat will be replaced by the dry and cool breath 
of northerly breezes. Blyth is not strictly correct 
in saying that " its harsh chattering affords the 
earliest intimation of the advent of the cold weather 
in Calcutta," as his audible intimations are preceded 
by those of the great autumnal crickets, and its 
arrival by that of snipe, and usually of both the 
white-faced and the grey wagtail. It is not very 
easy to account for the origin of their habit of 



182 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

persistently chattering every morning and evening. 
Nowadays, at all events, it is clearly not a sexual 
call, as it is in full force when the birds arrive in 
autumn, many months before the approach of the 
breeding season, and continues almost unabated until 
they leave for their nesting grounds in the following 
summer. It does not seem to be a lure- call. Indeed, 
whilst a bird is chattering, he seems to be too much 
absorbed in the performance to have any attention 
to spare, and, during the course of his busiest 
hawking throughout the day, he is usually quite 
silent. From the fact that the chattering is par- 
ticularly emphatic and frequent both when the bird 
first arrives and again towards the time of their 
departure, it is possible that the habit may be of 
some use in assembling and keeping flocks of them 
together before and during migration. However, 
the habit may have originated, it is now so deeply 
ingrained in their nature that it seems to be im- 
possible for the birds to begin or end the day without 
indulging in it. When about to do so, they take up 
a position on some projecting twig or prominent 
point on the top of a shrub or low tree, and there 
pour forth a torrent of rasping notes, while all the 
time their tails are elevated and in constant motion, 
waving about from side to side in a series of sweep- 
ing curves, so that they seem to be actually rotated. 

Besides this chattering call they sometimes utter 
another and very distinct one. This is of a loudly 



WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. 183 

screaming nature, and is very like that of a common 
bulbul when in great terror and distress. From its 
character it may well be a lure- call adapted to 
attract small birds into convenient striking-distance ; 
for, although their usual prey consists of insects and 
small reptiles or batrachians, they sometimes do hawk 
at birds. I have seen one that was seated on a rail 
overlooking an open space of grass make a fierce 
dash at a wagtail, Motacilla borealis, that rose from 
the ground as I approached, and, though he failed 
to secure his prey, the vicious and audible snap 
of his bill seemed to indicate clearly that he meant 
business. They do not seem very often to impale 
their victims, probably because these are usually easily 
broken up ; but when they have secured a lizard 
they sometimes fix it down on a stout thorn so as 
to have a point of resistance whilst working at the 
hard, tough skin. The times of their arrival in 
early autumn, and departure in late spring, seem 
to indicate that their nesting takes place either at 
no great distance, or else in some highly elevated 
or far northern land. Their plumage is very quietly 
coloured as compared with that of many of their 
relatives, but its subdued brown tints come out 
very effectively amongst masses of deep green foliage, 
and, like all true shrikes, they have a very alert, 
intelligent look. They begin to call with the earliest 
dawn, and continue to do so in the evening far on 
into the deepest dusk, and long after the bats are 



184 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

whirling and sweeping around in myriads. They 
are the only true shrikes that are habitual residents 
of Calcutta, but Lanius nigriceps occurs so abun- 
dantly in winter in the Sundarbans that stray 
specimens must almost certainly now and then 
visit the gardens of the suburbs. 

The large cuckoo-shrike, Graucalus macii, 1 is not 
uncommon, especially during the latter part of 
winter, generally making its appearance in pairs 
that work their way methodically about over trees, 
prying carefully under the leaves, and passing from 
one hunting-ground to another with leaping flight 
and shrill cries. Now and then, too, a garden will 
be temporarily adorned by specimens of the large 
scarlet minivet, Pericrocotus speciosus, 2 but these are 
not at all common, and when they do occur it is 
almost always in the form of solitary males or 
females, and never in the large parties that are so 
often to be met with in other parts of India. The 
males especially are truly splendid objects ; and the 
picture presented by one of them in the hills, seated 
on the top of a tree on a steep slope, with all the 
glowing scarlet of his plumage projected against 
wreaths of snowy white mist steaming up from 
the depths of the gorge below, is one that cannot 
easily be forgotten. 

It is grievous to think that in England any rare 

1 It is rather larger than the great grey shrike of Europe. 

2 This hird is nearly of the same size as a song-thrush. 



WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. 185 

or beautiful bird that may chance to visit the country 
is sure to be almost immediately slaughtered by some 
ruffian with a gun; and that English gardens are 
thus deprived of the amenity that they might other- 
wise gain from the occasional presence of orioles. 
The mere remembrance of the grace of their leaping 
flight as they pass in and out among the trees, 
gleaming in golden plumage and calling to one 
another "in full-throated ease," is enough to make 
the returned Anglo-Indian rejoice that his life was, 
at one time, passed in a land where it was possible 
to meet with such beauty, and to make him feel 
that some climatic evils are far more than made 
good by their attendant blessings. 

All gardens in and around Calcutta, so long as 
they contain a few well-grown trees, are sure to be 
frequently visited by black-headed orioles, Oriolus 
melanocephalus (Plate VII.), who, although rarely 
nesting within urban or suburban limits, show that 
they are natives of the immediate neighbourhood by 
appearing at every time of year and in all stages of 
feathering. It would be hard to imagine any plumage 
more beautiful than that of the mature male birds 
with its brilliant contrasts of vivid yellow and shining 
black ; and though that of the females and young 
birds is not so striking, owing to the greenish tone 
and streakiness of the yellow parts, it has very 
decided beauties of its own in its delicate gradations 
and pencillings of colour. They have a truly 



186 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

astonishing variety of notes, almost all of them 
charmingly melodious in character. As a rule, 
they go about in pairs, who pass from tree to 
tree " crying and calling " to one another at brief 
intervals. When they are in their very fullest voice 
the one bird cries, " Yu, hu a yu," and the other 
almost immediately replies, " Tu hu ee " ; when very 
much out of voice they often can do no more than 
cry "Te hee," like Alisoun in the Millers Tale; 
and between these extremes there is a whole range 
of very distinct calls that only agree in conveying 
a sense of joy and fulness of life and melodious 
contentment with it. All of these are highly 
characteristic and distinct from the notes of any 
other kinds of birds, save one or two of the most 
fluty cries of the common tree-pies. It is delightful 
to see any living things so full of the pure joy of 
existence as a pair of orioles always seem to be 
when they come leaping through the air into a 
garden, calling as they go ; or, after they have 
alighted in a tree, chasing one another about from 
bough to bough with their golden plumage shining 
out among the surrounding green. Now and then 
a solitary bird will take to haunting a garden for 
a time, making its appearance regularly day after 
day at a particular time, in order to visit certain 
trees and talk softly to itself as it goes on its 
way ; but it is only when in pairs, or in a small 
family party of three or four birds, such as may 



WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. 187 

sometimes be seen soon after the nesting season, 
that they fill the air " with their sweet jargoning." 
The solitary birds occasionally seem to be soured 
by the want of companionship, and travel round 
hustling other birds and knocking them off their 
perches out of gratuitous ill-temper conduct of 
which paired birds are never guilty. In addition 
to the manifold modifications of their regular 
melodious calls, they sometimes utter harshly caw- 
ing notes, and the young birds for a time indulge 
in churring cries somewhat like those of starlings. 
Orioles, as a rule, do not stand captivity well, for, 
though strangely tame when first taken, and usually 
ready to feed from the hand, they seldom survive 
for any length of time after being caged, probably 
owing to want of sufficient variety in their food, 
which, under natural conditions, is of a very varied 
character. The maroon oriole, Oriolus traillii, seems 
to be an exception to this rule, as on several 
occasions specimens of it have remained in excellent 
health for a long time in the aviaries of the Zoo- 
logical Garden at Alipur. 

In all well-wooded gardens those Ishmaelites, 
the common tree-pies, Dendrocitta rufa, 1 are for 
ever wandering around in search of what they can 
devour, and calling to one another in a wonderful 
variety of notes. The commonest and most 
melodious of these consists of the three syllables 

1 They are nearly of the same size as a common English magpie. 



188 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

" ku ku kee," repeated at intervals of about half a 
minute's duration, but often it is somewhat modified, 
and then they will cry, " Kee ku kuku," or " Kuku 
kee," with great emphasis on the final syllable, or 
" Kuku kee ku," or one of a pair will go on saying, 
" Kee ku," while the other replies, " Kya kya kyuk." 
The last of these calls has not the fluty character 
of the previous ones, and forms a sort of transition 
towards the hoarsely chattering volleys of sound in 
which they often indulge, more especially when 
startled or fleeing before the attacks of other birds. 
Besides all these calls they have a whole range of 
low-toned notes that fill all the intervals between 
the fits of loud chattering with which a family party 
enlivens its prying progress from tree to tree. One 
of the commonest of these conversational notes 
consists of the syllables " chaek chaek," repeated in 
subdued tones and varied intonation. 

The number of them to be met with in a garden 
varies greatly at different times of year, and even 
from day to day. Sometimes for several days a 
garden will seem to be full of them, so constantly do 
their various calls resound ; and other periods occur 
during which they are only seen and heard at wide 
intervals. The time of year in which they usually 
appear in largest number is the rainy season, when 
they are going about in little family parties, con- 
sisting of a pair of old birds and two or three young 
ones, who are readily distinguished from their parents 



WEAVER-BIRDS, SHRIKES, ETC. 189 

by the relative shortness of their tail-feathers. They 
are often curiously methodical as to the time of their 
visits and the order in which they inspect the 
different parts of the garden. During one spring 
a solitary bird used to make a tour every morning 
shortly after dawn along the upper verandah of 
the superintendent's house at the Botanic Garden. 
He always came in at the eastern end of the 
verandah, and lighted sideways on an iron-rod that 
supported the cage of a piping-crow. Thence he 
flew up to the cornice beneath the beams of the 
roofs, and worked his way along it, searching care- 
fully for spiders in all the crevices as he went, until 
he arrived at the western end, from which he flew 
out with a loud call into a great casuarina on the 
river-band. They are usually very abundant in the 
Botanic Garden, and this may be one reason why so 
few small birds nest there in spite of the abundant 
cover and the quietness of the locality. 

Tree-pies are always on the outlook for plunder, 
and may often be seen flying about with stolen eggs 
in their bills. It is small wonder, therefore, that 
most of their neighbours regard them with extreme 
disfavour. Almost all the common birds of gardens 
are ready to attack them, but perhaps their most 
inveterate enemies are the spotted doves, who are 
at once on the war-path whenever a tree-pie makes 
his appearance, and pursue him about relentlessly, 
pecking and buffeting until they have driven him 



190 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

out of their domain. The exceptionally conspicuous 
and defenceless nature of their nests, and the fact that 
eggs and young birds are to be found in them at all 
times of year are very sufficient reasons why doves 
should show a special animosity to such marauders. 

Tree-pies have a somewhat laboured and strangely 
noisy flight, but when once fairly on the wing pre- 
sent a quaint and attractive likeness to the pheasants 
that so often enliven the backgrounds in Pintur- 
icchio's frescoes. Owing to the distribution of the 
colouring, and the relative sparseness of the webbing 
of the basal part of the feathers, the tail of a bird 
seen on the wing at a little distance often looks as 
though it were racketed. As might be expected 
of birds of such generally depraved habits, they 
are constant and riotous participants in the drinking 
bouts attending the flowering of the silk-cotton- 
trees. They are not nearly so easily tamed as the 
common European magpie, even in cases where 
they have been taken quite young. An old bird, 
that was for long one of the inmates of an aviary, 
never showed any signs of becoming at all familiar, 
and to the end of his captivity always got into a 
great fluster and dashed wildly about whenever 
any one approached his prison. In this persistent 
wildness they are very unlike the common blue 
Himalayan magpies, who are very readily tamed, and 
then show all the charmingly eldritch tricks of 
European magpies in captivity. 



XVI 

SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS 

"As faint as feeble twitters 
Of sparrows, heard in dreams." 

ANDREW LANG. 

IF we live in a large town either in Europe or in 
India, sparrows, like the poor, are always with us. 
There are, however, certain characters in tropical 
sparrows that are correlated with their environment, 
and are unfamiliar to any one whose experience has 
been confined to temperate regions. The Indian 
house-sparrow has now been degraded from 
independent specific rank, and is regarded as a 
mere race of the common Passer domesticus ; but 
there can be no question that, to the superficial 
observer, the bird shows some very distinctive 
features, especially in its colouring. This is much 
richer and less dingy than in the European bird, 
whose feathering has none of the slatey and almost 
blue tints that ornament that of male Indian 
sparrows. European sparrows are audacious and 
impertinent enough, as every one knows ; but houses 



192 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

in India are so constructed as to allow of birds of an 
intrusive disposition asserting themselves in a way 
that is unknown in European and specially in 
Northern European regions. In the British Islands, 
sparrows, however much they may abound and 
appropriate outbuildings, very rarely venture to 
invade the interior of inhabited houses, and, 
when they do so, are usually a source of annoyance 
rather on account of their terror and insensate 
attempts at escape, than from any disposition to 
maintain their ground. In India matters are very 
different. The numerous doors and windows almost 
always standing widely open afford easy ingress 
and egress; and the large and lofty rooms, 
with their heavy projecting cornices and open 
roofs traversed by cross beams, at the ends of which 
chinks and cavities abound, provide such store of 
convenient hiding- and nesting-places that it would 
be strange indeed were birds like sparrows not to avail 
themselves of them. Take full advantage of them 
they certainly do ; and on entering a house in which 
they have been allowed to establish themselves, it 
is only to find oneself regarded as a troublesome 
intruder whose impertinence merits the noisiest 
expression of resentment. In such cases it often 
takes months of patient struggle to abate the 
nuisance. The contention reaches its height when 
the right of the lodgers to nest and rear young 
families on the premises comes into question. 



SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS 193 

Nothing short of personal experience can enable 
any one to realise the difficulty there is in convincing 
a pair of sparrows that they are not to be allowed 
to do so. Again and again one may spend a weary 
half-hour chasing a scolding, chattering bird round 
and round the room, driving it from the cornice to 
the punkha-frame and back, until at last it is driven 
to take refuge in some almost inaccessible fast- 
ness in the former. Nothing short of a flaming 
torch of paper attached to the end of a long billiard- 
cue or a fishing-rod will then suffice to expel it, 
and, if at length success crown your efforts and the 
bird flies cursing from the room, the respite is but 
brief, as either it or its mate is sure to be back again 
almost at once, scolding away as madly as ever. 
Should the birds be allowed to gain the day, a 
period of relative peace ensues while building, 
hatching, and rearing are going on, so that it would 
almost seem to be a waste of eflbrt to interfere with 
the establishment of a nest. Any such dream is, 
however, rudely dissipated when the young birds are 
ready to leave their nursery, and the old ones, in a 
frenzy of parental anxiety, furiously resent the pre- 
sence of any one in the room, and fill the air with an 
insistent and ear-splitting torrent of bad language. 
In these circumstances hatred to sparrows rises to 
a pitch that almost equals that of one's wonted 
animosity to crows, and even a tender-hearted man 
is driven to murderous measures. A long driving- 

N 



194 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

whip forms a most efficient weapon, especially when 
aided by a sporting terrier, ready to pounce on any 
bird who falls to the ground, and whose joy in doing 
so tempers one's regret at being so merciless. Violent 
measures of this kind abate the nuisance for a time, 
but the only efficient remedy lies in closing all the 
windows and the openings of verandahs with wire- 
netting of a mesh fine enough to offer an obstacle to 
free passage in full flight, since the mere fact of the 
network being present is quite enough to render 
most birds, unless endowed, like mynas, with a 
fearlessness based on conscious merit, very cautious 
of venturing within any space bounded by it. 

In their other habits Indian sparrows are just 
as irritating as their European relatives. Like 
them they persist in keeping up an intolerable 
chattering conversation long after they have retired 
to roost, and like them they are exasperatingly un- 
grateful and quite unable to appreciate any kind- 
ness that may be wasted on them. Any one who 
has been in the habit of continuously feeding wild 
birds must be well' aware of the way in which the 
ungracious habits of sparrows come to get upon 
the nerves, and become a very leaven of animosity. 
All other birds, even crows, understand kindness. 
When a regular store of food is offered to them 
they may come to consider that a right has been 
established, and may even imperatively demand 
their dole at the wonted hour, but they quite 



SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS 195 

recognise the friendly nature of the transaction. 
But to feed sparrows is to "throw pearls before 
swine," for, no matter how long and regularly 
they may have been cared for, they never cease 
to regard the acquisition of a meal as a theft 
successfully carried out by their own slimness and 
at the expense of the donor's imbecility. 

Like so many other gregarious animals in India, 
sparrows seem to be occasionally subject to destruc- 
tive epidemics, causing a large, though temporary 
reduction in their numbers. The town and suburbs 
of Calcutta are usually peopled by throngs of 
sparrows ; but in the years 1895-6 they fell away 
greatly in numbers, and were, for a time, so rare 
that, even when carefully looked for, it was only 
at wide intervals that one or two were to be met 
with during the course of long walks and drives 
through their favourite haunts. Before I left the 
locality in the spring of 1897, a perceptible increase 
had taken place in their numbers, and at the 
present time they are probably as abundant and 
annoying as in earlier years. 

On some morning in the early half of September 
the ear will be greeted by certain small keen notes 
that have not been heard for many months, and 
you will know that the common wagtails have 
returned for the season. Two species, the white- 
faced, Motacilla leucopsis, and the grey, M. melanope, 
are for many months constantly to be met with 



196 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

on the walks and lawns of suburban gardens, and 
may even now and then be seen in crowded 
thoroughfares within the town. They arrive almost 
simultaneously, sometimes one, sometimes the other 
making its appearance first, but the grey bird on 
an average a little the earlier. There are few 
birds of more refined elegance than specimens of 
Motacilla melanope in good plumage. They are 
not, indeed, so surprisingly lovely as the Enicuri 
that are to be seen on the mossy paths and the 
beds of streams in the outer Himalaya, looking 
as though they were always freshly dressed in 
new suits of black and white velvet; but their 
form is wonderful in its delicate slimness, the tints 
of grey, white, and yellow in their feathering 
harmonise in special and quiet beauty, and the 
easy lightness of their gait, as they step and run 
along the ground or suddenly dart forwards in 
pursuit of insects, is a perfect lesson in deport- 
ment. Then they are so alluringly tame, merely 
running on in front of one and expostulating at 
being disturbed ; and, if persistently followed along 
a narrow path, making off on a brief, undulating- 
flight to pitch anew a little way ahead in a way 
that gives one the fullest opportunity of becoming 
familiar with them. They seem to be very faith- 
ful in their matrimonial arrangements, as, during 
the whole time of their stay, they are almost 
invariably to be found going about in pairs. 



SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS 197 

The white-faced wagtails are hardly so attractive, 
being commoner and coarser in appearance, and not 
nearly so daintily refined in their ways. Although 
they are much oftener to be met with close to 
houses, they are not by any means so tame as 
the grey birds, and when disturbed fly off at 
once, uttering loud, shrill notes of alarm. 

Until comparatively recent years, Motacilla 
borealis used to be a winter resident of Calcutta 
in much larger numbers than either of the wagtails 
just named. Up to the year 1881, immense flocks 
of them were always to be found on the open plain 
surrounding Fort William ; but after that time 
they began to become less and less abundant every 
successive season, and during the earlier part of the 
following decade, only a few stray birds were to 
be seen. These great assemblies took place in 
autumn and spring immediately after the southern 
and before the northern migration, but during the 
whole course of winter considerable numbers of 
birds were always to be met with. At first sight 
it seems somewhat hard to account for the almost 
complete desertion of the locality during recent 
years, seeing that no buildings have been allowed 
to encroach upon it, and that it retains most of its 
principal characteristics. The fact is probably to 
be ascribed to the diminished supply of insect-food 
resulting from modern improvements in surface 
drainage, and to the great increase of traffic brought 



198 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

about by the excessive popularity of golf among 
the European residents of Calcutta, and the general 
adoption of cricket and football by the native 
population. That the latter factor has really had 
some influence is rendered probable by the fact 
that, during the same period in which the birds 
deserted the locality, foxes and otters, both of 
which were regular residents there, almost entirely 
disappeared. Be that as it may, the absence of 
the birds is a matter for regret, as they are very 
ornamental objects, especially when in full breeding 
plumage, which many of them assume before taking 
flight in April. Brilliantly coloured as they then 
are, they are quite surpassed in splendour by the 
two yellow wagtails, Motacilla citreola and M. 
citreoloides, stray specimens of which used often to 
be found associated with them, especially just before 
the spring migration and after the assumption of 
nuptial plumage. 

The only other members of this family that 
occur abundantly jn the gardens of Calcutta are 
the Indian tree-pipit, Anthus maculatus, and the 
Indian tit-lark, A. rufulus. The tree-pipit is only 
a passing visitor, making its appearance usually in 
small flocks, among the very earliest of autumnal 
immigrants and remaining in considerable numbers 
until the succeeding hot weather has fairly set in ; 
but the tit-lark is a permanent resident. When 
the tree-pipits first arrive they are usually in fine 




Iii an Indian Garden. 



[To face p. 198. 



SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS 199 

plumage and brightly marked, but they gradually 
become much less ornamental during their stay. 
They frequent garden walks, stepping about over 
them very much as wagtails do, but on the 
slightest alarm take flight to the nearest trees, and 
there walk about along the branches in a way that 
wagtails seldom or never do. All the time that 
they are on the ground and whilst pacing on the 
branches they keep their tails in constant rocking 
motion, and on preparing to take flight they have 
a strange habit of swaying themselves about for 
a time. When alarmed or anxious they go on 
repeating a peculiar highly-pitched note at brief 
intervals. 

Anthus rufulus thoroughly merits the name 
Jerdon gives to it of "the Indian tit-lark," for it 
is singularly lark-like both in appearance and ways. 
It is sure to be found in almost every garden 
containing open spaces in which the grass is kept 
down by grazing, or is only mown at comparatively 
wide intervals. In the old days, when the grass 
in the Botanic Garden at Shibpur was allowed to 
run wild, tit-larks, together with small button-quails, 
Turnix dussumieri, used to haunt the place in great 
numbers; but with the increased regard for horti- 
cultural amenity that marked the management of 
the late superintendent, Sir George King, both 
birds gradually appeared in diminishing numbers, 
and are now rarely to be seen within the limits of 



200 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

the garden. Where suitable grass-land is present 
tit-larks begin to frequent it in large numbers at 
the onset of the hot weather in spring, and are 
very soon busily engaged in building their nests 
under strong tufts of grass, or beneath projecting 
clods or other objects affording special shelter. 
Though one may feel quite sure that a nest is 
being built, it is by no means an easy matter to 
find it, owing to the extreme precautions that the 
owners take in nearing it. By the help of a field 
glass it is easy enough to mark down the places 
at which the birds alight in coming in, but this 
by no means determines the exact site of the 
nest, as they never go directly to it, but always 
pitch at some distance, and then creep quietly 
onwards through the long grass. The best plan is 
to watch the birds carefully as they alight, and, if 
possible, note the direction in which they move 
on ; then to walk rapidly up to the point, keeping 
the eyes fixed upon it while doing so in order to 
avoid the confusion arising from the uniformity of 
the grassy surface ; and finally to examine carefully 
and methodically all the strongest tufts of grass 
or other likely objects within a certain radius. 
By following this procedure the nest may some- 
times be found almost at once, but the discovery 
is oftener a work of much time and patient search. 
The nests are deeply cup-shaped hollows set in 
beneath overarching blades of grass or other pro- 



SPARROWS, WAGTAILS, AND PIPITS 201 

tective objects, and seem, so far as their foundation 
goes, to be either natural hollows or depressions 
in the soil that have been somewhat deepened 
by the birds. The only structural elements in 
them are a thin lining of dried grass, and some- 
times a certain number of blades loosely inter- 
woven over the entrance so as to render it even 
less conspicuous than it otherwise would be. After 
the first brood has been sent out into the world, 
the old birds begin pairing afresh, and during the 
latter half of May are constantly to be seen flirting 
and chasing one another about from place to place, 
showing the white colour of their lateral tail-feathers 
very conspicuously as they do so. 

One of the most curious points about their 
nesting operations is that so large a number of 
young birds should survive. In all the lower part 
of the Gangetic delta, sudden and furious storms of 
thunder, wind, and rain are of frequent occurrence 
during the whole period in which the first set of 
nests are occupied; and the rainfall, although 
usually of brief duration, is often violent enough 
to cause temporary flooding of the low-lying tracts 
of land in which the nests are ordinarily placed. 
In spite of this the young birds seem usually to 
come off scatheless, and on going to examine a nest 
that by all apparent right should have been flooded 
only a short time before, one generally finds all 
its little mouse-coloured, downy inmates safe and 



202 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

dry. It would seem either that the sites of the 
nests are craftily selected in local elevations, or that 
the parent birds sit with extreme devotion whilst a 
deluge lasts ; but, be the cause what it may, there 
can be no doubt that disaster rarely overtakes the 
young birds. Accidents must, however, sometimes 
take place, and it is perhaps in connection with 
the liability to this that the habit of rearing a second 
brood has been so highly developed in the species. 
After the young birds are hatched out it becomes 
much easier to find the nests, as, in spite of the 
rapid increase in the growth of the grass resulting 
from frequent showers, the visits of the owners in 
coming and going for supplies of food more than 
make up for the greater density of the cover. 



XVII 

OWLS 

" Then nightly sings the staring-owl, 

Tu-whit ; 
Tu-who, a merry note." 

Love's Labour Lost. 

" Disquiet yourself not ; 
'Tis nothing but a little downy owl." 

SHELLEY. 

"The cue-owls speak the name we call them by." 

BROWNING. 

OWLS are constantly in evidence in an Indian garden. 
Each dawn and dusk is heralded by the noisy chat- 
tering of the little spotted owlets, Athene brama; 
during a great part of the year the mild note of the 
scops-owl sounds out of the darkness of every quiet 
night wherever trees abound ; and at intervals one is 
startled by the sudden shrieking outcry of barn-owls 
as they hawk about over the lawns and other open 
spaces. With an experience limited to the British 
Islands, where at best owls of any kind are relatively 
rare, it would be hard to imagine that any of them 



203 



204 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

can abound to the degree that Athene brama does 
in Indian gardens. Almost every tree, such as an 
old mango, banyan, or Poinciana regia, containing 
convenient caverns passing inwards from points 
where branches have fallen and fungi have softened 
and excavated the tissues, is inhabited by them and 
is often the site of a regular colony. It is in retreats 
of this kind that they usually prefer to spend the 
daylit hours, but they may sometimes be found 
established among the beams of an open-roofed 
verandah, though they certainly are not so fond 
of such a site as barn-owls are. As a rule, they 
spend the whole day in their fastnesses ; but they 
are by no means so purely nocturnal in activity as 
most other owls are, and may often be seen flying 
about in the full blaze of tropical sunshine, apparently 
quite at their ease and undazzled by the glare. 
One bird for a time chose to spend his days in the 
crown of a common date-palm at the side of my 
garden ; and I have seen a pair of them flying about 
and quarrelling fiergely over a glaring highroad near 
Delhi, in the full blaze of the early afternoon of an 
April day, and when the hot wind was raging like 
the blast from an oven. When they do venture out 
in full daylight they are, like other owls, very liable 
to the attack of miscellaneous mobs of small birds ; 
but, owing to the relative strength of their diurnal 
vision, they are not nearly such helpless victims 
as most of their relatives are in like circumstances. 



OWLS 205 

A pair of them, who had taken up their quarters 
in the roof of a thatched bungalow in Ambala, used 
always to fly out during the day if any one lingered 
about in the immediate neighbourhood of their 
roost, and were forthwith pursued by a crowd of 
shrikes, brown-backed robins, king-crows, sparrows, 
and hoopoes ; but they seemed to deal with the 
occurrence in a very composed fashion, and to 
regard it quite as a matter of course. Just at sun- 
down they come out of their lurking-places, and 
take up a position on some dead branch or other 
exposed point near their caves and overlooking an 
open space. It is most diverting to watch them 
emerging; one after another, before fairly coming 
out, putting forth its queer little round head and 
staring eyes through the opening of the cavern. 
After they have emerged they usually sit very 
quietly for a time as though only half awake, and 
are either perfectly silent or occasionally utter a low- 
toned " chirrk." Then, all of a sudden, they begin 
to chuckle and finally break out into a perfect torrent 
of hoarse chattering ; and finally, after having in- 
dulged in such exercises for some minutes, they 
spread their short, rounded wings and sail off to 
their night's hunting. During the course of the 
night they are usually very silent, only now and 
then one of them will be moved to chatter loudly ; 
but at dawn, and just before retiring for the day, 
they once again chatter noisily. All through the 



206 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

afternoon, and long before it is time for them to 
come out, low chuckling notes may often be heard 
issuing from trees in which a colony is concealed, 
but it is rarely that any of their louder outcries 
are to be heard until evening. When, however, a 
storm comes up during the afternoon, bringing with 
it an accumulation of cloud dense enough to cause 
considerable gloom, they are often deluded into 
the belief that it is time for them to be stirring 
and begin to come out and even to chatter 
long before their regular hour. During periods of 
excessive and continuous rain their evening concerts 
entirely cease, either because they do not venture to 
come out at all in such circumstances, or because 
they are too much depressed by them to have the 
heart to talk. During the time, too, when they 
are most fully occupied in attending to the wants 
of their young ones they are comparatively silent, 
either on purpose to avoid attracting attention to 
their nesting-places, or because they have no time 
to waste on idle gossip. 

They are apt to resent the presence of any 
diurnal birds who may have been tempted to linger 
abroad after dusk has set in, and may often be 
seen making violent assaults on king- crows, who 
are specially apt to keep late hours on occasions 
when attractive insect-food abounds, and who, 
judging by the tame way in which they submit 
to be hustled, are quite aware that they have no 



OWLS 207 

business to be there, "to come and spoil the fun." 
Like most other owls they show their displeasure 
at having their privacy invaded by a series of 
grotesque gestures and genuflections, apparently 
with a view to terrifying the intruder ; and there is 
something wonderfully comic in such a performance 
carried out by such pigmies as they are. Should 
you suddenly come across one that has elected to 
remain abroad during the day, or that has just come 
out for the night, and venture to stop to watch 
him, he will first sit up very erect and then suddenly 
crouch down, frowning and glaring in a terrible 
way, and, should this hint be disregarded, follow it 
up by a series of little dashes forward and querulous 
cries of " tchu hee ugh." When they spend the 
day in the open you may hear them croaking away 
softly to one another all through the afternoon, 
until the time comes for breaking out into noisy 
conversation. Now and then one of them will 
venture into a lighted room, attracted by the insects 
that throng round the lamps, and sometimes on 
awaking in the darkness you may become aware 
of the hushed sound of one flying round your bed 
in pursuit of moths ; or in the morning may find 
evidence of their nocturnal visits in the form of 
scattered wings and other insect debris strewn 
about over the floor. When they do enter a room 
they show no sense of wrong-doing, and are in no 
hurry to take their departure. Once on going up 



208 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

to my bedroom late at night 1 found it already 
tenanted by an owlet who could by no means be 
induced to take himself off, although all the doors 
and windows were widely open, and he received very 
distinct indications that his absence was desired. 
He was not in the least flurried, and indeed made 
it very plain that he regarded me as the real intruder, 
only responding to my attempts to drive him out by 
flying from one perch to another on the tops of the 
doors, window-sashes, and frame of the mosquito- 
net, and thence making insulting and terrifying 
gestures at me. So fully determined was he to 
remain, that at length I was fain to go to bed, 
leaving him in peaceable possession to stay as long 
as he liked. Whilst hawking after moths they 
sometimes hover in a curious way, and they will 
often come to the ground and hunt about over the 
grass, squabbling and chattering in competition over 
specially desirable articles of food. Their flight in 
passing from one hunting-ground to another is of 
a very distinctive and curiously undulating character, 
in which flapping strokes in quick succession alternate 
with leaping swoops on widely spread, rounded 
wings. They are very awkward in their attempts 
at alighting on slender branches ; clutching at them, 
fluttering their wings, and often falling back to hang 
struggling for some time before they can regain the 
erect position. 

Both the common European scops-owl, Scops gin. 



OWLS 209 

and the collared species, S. bakkamana, doubtless 
occur in the neighbourhood of Calcutta ; but, judging 
from the character of the call that is usually heard, 
and from the size of the birds that are occasionally 
seen, it is the former species that is by far the 
commoner one in the densely-wooded enclosures 
of the suburbs and outskirts of the town. Its 
peculiar, short, sudden, mild monosyllabic cry, 
a rapidly uttered "thu," sounding out at regular 
intervals of about ten seconds from the midst of 
dense masses of foliage, may be heard almost every 
quiet night during the greater part of the year. 
During the hot-weather months, or, in other words, 
from the beginning of March to the middle of June, 
it is rarely heard; but with the onset of the rainy 
season it becomes audible in steadily increasing 
frequency, and continues to form one of the most 
characteristic night-sounds until the arrival of the 
following spring. They are wonderfully beautiful 
little birds, looking as though they were made out 
of the softest grey and brown plush ; and are 
strangely unlike the spotted owlets in their habits, 
never venturing abroad in daylight or indulging in 
noisy conversation, and being so shy, that it is 
only by some happy chance that even a passing 
glimpse of them is caught as they fly from one 
dense covert to another. Only once, during the 
course of nearly thirty years' observation, did I 
really have a good view of one in the open. It 

o 



210 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

was on one of those still nights in autumn, when 
swarms of minute, green, homopterous insects- 
the so-called " green bugs " of Anglo-Indians issue 
forth in their thousands to throng around all the 
wayside lamps. I was passing along one of the 
suburban roads at a late hour, and just as I came 
to a point at which there was a lamp overhung 
by heavy masses of boughs, a scops suddenly 
emerged from the latter and flew down to the 
cross-bar beneath the lantern, in order to partake 
of the feast provided by the insects crowding 
round the glass. Once again I succeeded in 
coming to close quarters with one in my garden ; 
but, although I could see it once or twice as it 
crossed from one tree to another, the gloom was 
too great to allow of any distinct view of the 
details of its plumage. When my attention was 
first attracted to its presence, it was calling in a 
shrub of Diospyros, and when this was approached 
it flew over into a neighbouring tree of Lager- 
strcemia, looking as it went like a small Athene 
brama. When followed to its second perch, it 
could be dimly seen amid the somewhat sparse 
foliage of the tree, and, on being closely approached, 
it ceased to call in the wonted fashion, and began 
to cry aloud so like a young kitten that the terrier 
who was with me was completely taken in by the 
sound, and began an excited investigation of the 
ground beneath the tree. 



OWLS 211 

Every one who has been in the way of sleeping 
in a verandah during the greater part of the year, 
and of taking the chances of the nocturnal tempera- 
ture there rather than trusting to the capricious and 
fitful attentions of a pankhawala, must know the 
sensation of being suddenly aroused by a loud and 
doleful shriek, that leaves one for a time uncertain 
whether it be part of a dream or of objective 
origin. If, however, one be used to the sounds 
of an Indian night it does not take long to realise 
that it was the cry of a common screech- or 
barn-owl, Strix flammea, as he passed by in the 
course of his nightly wanderings. They are very 
abundant in the town and suburbs of Calcutta, 
those of them who spend the day within urban 
limits usually taking up their quarters in buildings, 
in the broad cornices in the interior of verandahs, 
in quiet nooks under the wooden sun-shades over- 
hanging windows, in church-towers, and in ruinous 
or deserted houses. Those that inhabit the suburbs 
sometimes act alike, but generally prefer the shelter 
afforded by dense masses of vegetation, such as 
those provided by thick clumps of canes or 
rampant growths of creepers. Quite a large colony 
of them used to occupy the great tufts of Nipa 
that fringed the island in the large pond close to 
the superintendent's house in the Botanic Garden ; 
and it was always interesting to watch them coming 
out in the evening; one great bird after another 



COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

emerging gravely from beneath the overarching 
fronds and then sailing off through the dusk on 
its nightly rounds. 

Indian barn-owls, like their European relatives, 
are very intolerant of light, and therefore are 
later in coming out for the night than the spotted 
owlets ; for the same reason, when disturbed during 
daylight from their lurking-places, they are help- 
less and bewildered victims of the mobs of small 
birds who at once set upon them. When they 
have once made up their minds that a shady 
verandah or other quiet nook about a house affords 
desirable quarters for the day, they become very 
familiar, and it is often no easy matter to 
dislodge them, though this sometimes has to be 
done in order to pacify the minds of the native 
servants, who have as great an objection to the 
presence of an owl about a house as their English 
compeers have to that of a robin, on the theory 
that it is of evil omen. This prejudice is so deeply 
rooted that it is hard to protect any stray owl, 
who may have lingered abroad too long in the 
morning, and been driven to take refuge in a 
verandah, from being at once turned out instead 
of being left in peace until the succeeding evening. 
Many years ago, when some of us started a 
chummery in a house in the suburbs that had 
stood empty for some time, we found a barn-owl 
already in possession. He had established his 



OWLS 

head-quarters over a retreating angle of the cornice 
of the upper verandah, and there he sat all day 
long, snoring and solemnly blinking, except when 
he roused himself up to make terrifying gestures 
at any one who paused to look at him in passing. 
The servants, of course, clamoured for his immediate 
eviction; but this I at first would not hear of, as 
he was a most amusing member of the establish- 
ment, and beyond creating a certain amount of 
mess in the verandah immediately beneath his 
residence, did not seem likely to cause any real 
annoyance to anybody. Their wishes, however, 
were soon gratified. We had hardly been well 
settled in the house before one of our chums, 
whose bedroom-doors opened on the verandah 
immediately opposite the owl's residence, came 
down to breakfast one morning declaring that 
either he or the bird must leave the house. The 
reason for this startling resolution was that, during 
the previous night, the owl had not only disturbed 
his slumbers by a persistent pursuit of moths 
within his room, but, as though to add insult to 
injury, had also alighted on the frame of his 
mosquito-net and screamed at him as he lay in 
bed. 

Barn-owls have no regular times for calling like 
the spotted owlets, though they often shriek just 
after coming out for the night. It is not easy to 
see what purpose can be served by their habit of 



COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

occasionally screaming at irregular intervals all 
through the night, when their time ought to be 
fully taken up in hunting for prey. 

The brown fish-owl, Ketupa zeylonensis, may now 
and then be seen or heard in suburban gardens con- 
taining large ponds, but, unlike the barn-owl, the 
spotted owlet and the scops, it is not usually 
a regular resident in them. None of the Indian 
owls that I have been acquainted with are 
nearly so attractive in captivity as the European 
tawny owl often is ; or, as a truly lovable rock- 
owl, hailing, as far as memory serves me, from 
Africa, and who was for a time an inmate of the 
Zoological Garden at Alipur. He was a delightful 
bird, and used to come squeezing close up to the 
bars of his cage in order to have his head stroked, 
and to confide many things to one in a low-toned, 
gentle flow of conversation. Fish-owls and spotted 
owlets are usually very savage when first captured, 
and sulky and uninteresting afterwards; the barn- 
owls do nothing but drowse solemnly all day long, 
or hiss and grimace viciously when disturbed ; and 
scops-owls, although most attractive and decorative 
in the soft beauty of their plumage, seldom survive 
captivity long enough to give one a fair chance of 
becoming really intimate with them. 



XVIII 

PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS 

" He's green, with an enchanting tuft ; 

He melts me with his small black eye : 
He'd look inimitable stuffed, 
And knows it but he will not die." 

Fly Leaves. 

" Straightway he knew the voice of all fowls and heard withal how 
the woodpeckers chattered in the brake beside him." 

The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs. 

PARROTS " common green parrots " Palceornis 
torquatus, the rose-ringed paroquet of ornithologists, 
are, in many parts of India, as well and justifiably 
detested as crows and sparrows are everywhere by 
all right-thinking persons; but in the immediate 
neighbourhood of Calcutta they are comparatively 
rare, and are consequently rather admired for their 
good-looks than hated for their noisy and mischievous 
habits. In places where they devastate gardens and 
fields, ruin the thatch of roofs by burrowing in its 
thickness, and are for ever storming about in shrieking 
multitudes, it is hardly to be wondered at that their 

315 



216 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

beauty of form and plumage and the quaint attrac- 
tiveness of many of their ways points which strike 
one forcibly when they are met with only as casual 
visitors and in relatively small numbers are for- 
gotten. It is, indeed, wonderful how soon a hatred 
for them may arise in places in which they abound. 
A striking and unforgotten instance of this occurred 
more than twenty years ago in Delhi. A lady, who 
had just come up from Calcutta, took me severely 
to task for objecting to the flocks of parrots which 
swarm everywhere in and around the town, and 
with which I was only too familiar, owing to former 
prolonged residence in the place. She pointed out 
so forcibly that they really were a most attrac- 
tive feature in the landscape that I took the 
rebuke meekly, and even began to feel somewhat 
ashamed of my prejudice against them. Only a 
morning or two later, however, we went into the 
enclosure of Saftar Jhang's tomb, near the Kutb. 
The slanting sunshine was striking in athwart the 
light foliage of the trees, and gilding the grey 
walls of the cloisters, whilst clouds of green 
parrots swept shrieking in and out in endless 
succession ; and it came upon me quite as a shock 
to hear her suddenly remark, " How delightful this 
would be were it not for those abominable birds." 
They certainly are capable of being quite uniquely 
abominable in certain circumstances. A vision 
haunts me of a long forenoon spent in the dak- 



PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS 217 

bungalow at Amritsar, in an attempt to recover 
from the effects of a night of travel and fever that 
was rendered futile by a parrot. For some reason 
only known to itself, the bird had fallen in love 
with a perch on the upper surface of one of the 
beams supporting the roof of the verandah, and 
there he squatted and carried on a ceaseless flow 
of chuckling talk. Again and again I struggled 
out of bed and expelled him by means of boots 
and other handy missiles ; but all to no purpose ; 
for, hardly had I lain down again and begun to 
imagine that drowsiness was coming on at last, 
when there he was once more in his place, and 
" chuckle, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle," began 
again in maddening iteration. That bungalow was, 
in those days, no place for an invalid, as, even in 
the absence of parrots, it was haunted by a demoniac 
cock with the most heart-rending voice, which he 
was never tired of exercising for the benefit of 
the public at all hours of day and night. 

Even apart from the annoyance that they cause 
by their noisy shrieks, parrots are so destructive 
and wantonly mischievous as to give good ground 
for the dislike with which they are regarded in 
their favourite haunts. It is quite maddening to 
see the havoc that they play in fields and gardens. 
When a large horde of them descend upon a field 
of ripening jodr, the common large-headed millet, 
the ravages that they commit by devouring the 



218 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

grain might be forgiven, but it is purely enraging 
to watch the way in which they cut off head 
after head only to throw them contemptuously 
aside, or, at the utmost, to do so after having 
daintily picked out one or two grains from the 
mass. In their malignant love of destruction and 
mischief they run crows very hard, and seem only 
to fall short of that standard through the happy 
ordinance that their mental development has halted 
a good way behind that of their rivals. They are, 
therefore, incapable of devising such manifold and 
elaborate schemes of mischief as the crows work 
out, but in so far as intent and disinterested love 
of evil goes, there is not a pin to choose between 
them. They take the same heart-whole delight in 
destruction for destruction's sake, and find the 
same bliss in tormenting and annoying other living 
things. 

Even with the most substantial ground for hating 
them, it is almost impossible to withhold admiration 
for the brilliant flocks that " cling and flutter " among 
the trees, or flash hither and thither, in company 
with drifting clouds of whistling swifts, around the 
grey and red minars and cloistered courts of tombs, 
mosques, and temples ; and, where they are not 
inconveniently abundant, one can hardly tire of 
watching their brilliant colouring, delicate outlines, 
and dainty ways. In any garden in Calcutta in 
which sunflowers, especially the large old-fashioned 



PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS 219 

kind with discs that, as the seeds ripen, attain the 
size of cheese-plates, squirrels and parrots are sure to 
make their appearance as the heads mature. There 
are few more fascinating sights than that of a group 
of the beautiful slender birds, with vivid green 
plumage and coral-red beaks and claws, hanging 
about among the grey-green foliage, or flying from 
one place to another and pausing on fluttering wings 
before taking up a new position within easy reach of 
one of the heavy flower-heads. Nor is it less 
delightful to see them feeding on the fruit of a sisu- 
tree, Dalbergia sissu. They are very fond of the 
seeds, and come in on noisily whirring wings to settle 
in small parties among the small, tremulous, greyish 
leaves to pluck off the winged fruits and hold them 
in one rosy foot whilst their contents are daintily 
nibbled out. However "abominable" they may be 
they are quite lovely among the pallid green foliage 
and warm brown bunches of fruit, more especially 
when lighted up by golden afternoon sunshine that 
glorifies their emerald plumage and glowing bills and 
feet, and brings out in strong relief the orange ring 
around their waiy dark eyes. Very beautiful, too, 
a parrot looks when seated on the slender bending 
branch of a casuarina, with the reddish bark and 
feathery green foliage glistening with adherent dew- 
drops and projected against a background of palest 
blue sky, that melts off towards the horizon into a 
soft pinkish haze (Plate XII.). Very admirable also 



220 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

are the amazing energy and speed of their whirring 
flight; and their attitudes, when just about to alight, 
as they hang hovering with extended wings and 
widespread tails, are singularly attractive. 

Parrots, like crows, are very ready to mob and 
annoy any strange bird, especially any large raptorial 
one; and a wholly inoffensive eagle may often be 
seen a victim to their noisy attentions. At the same 
time they usually show a wholesome respect for 
common kites, and when a troop of them is busily 
engaged in excavating and prying about a tree 
in which a kite's nest happens to be, the arrival of 
either of the owners of it, sailing in during the course 
of the visit, is generally enough to secure an im- 
mediate dispersion of the company amid a torrent of 
execrations. 

The only other parrot that is ordinarily met with 
in the neighbourhood of Calcutta is the beautiful 
blossom-headed Palceornis rasa. Sometimes in small 
flocks, but oftener as solitary visitors, birds of 
this species will now and then haunt a garden for 
a few days at a time. Even the most inveterate 
enemies of the common parrots can hardly refuse to 
welcome them, and in Calcutta the matter of regret 
is that they should be so rare. Whenever one of 
them does enter a garden, the event is at once 
made known by a sound of sweet notes, suggestive 
of forests along the edges and lower slopes of the 
hills, and quite unlike those of any other garden-bird. 




Young Parrots for Sale (p. 221). 




Rose-ringed Paroquet (p. 219). 



[To face p. 220. 



PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS 

They are almost always talking gently and cheerfully 
even when quite solitary, so that a little careful 
search is all that is necessary to discover them even 
when among heavy masses of foliage. Shortly after 
the breeding season great numbers of fledglings of 
this species, of P. cyanoceplialus, P. torquatus and 
P. nepalensis, are brought into Calcutta for sale, and 
you may constantly meet men carrying large wicker 
cages, slung over their shoulders, and containing 
little mobs of plaintive prisoners, who sit huddled 
together in sad small heaps, with all their quaintly- 
rounded heads convergent and their budding tails 
forming a radiant fringe (Plate XII.). The two 
first species are very ornamental and attractive pets, 
but it is not so easy to understand why there 
should be any great demand for the other two, 
and especially for birds like the common parrots, 
who, in captivity, are mainly characterised by an 
outrageously discordant voice and an excessively bad 
temper. 

Another Indian parrot that is almost always to 
be found in the bazaars of Calcutta is the little green 
loriquet, Loriculus vernalis. These birds are certainly 
very decorative in an aviary, and, to a certain extent, 
are amusing, owing to their odd habit of roosting 
upside down and hanging by their claws, but they 
are both stupid and ill-tempered, always ready 
to bully their weaker neighbours and destroy their 
nests and eggs. They are very fond of flowers, not 



222 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

like the common green parrots, from a joy in tearing 
them to pieces in wanton mischief, but as sources of 
food from which they assiduously suck nectar without 
doing any injury to the corollas. Like honey- 
suckers, they have an especial love for the great 
globular flower-heads of the kadam, Nauclea 
kadumba. Their dependence on the juices of 
flowers may be one reason why it is so often 
difficult to keep them in good condition for any 
length of time. Those who have had no experience 
of the management of any save commonly caged 
birds can have little idea of the difficulties and the 
mortality that beset the upkeep of an aviary of 
miscellaneous birds just removed from their natural 
surroundings. It is quite clear that confinement 
itself must be more trying to birds that have been 
just caught than to those that have been born 
and reared in captivity, and who, as that in itself 
shows, either belong to species that are specially 
adapted to cage-life, or are the progeny of individual 
birds of such nature. But this is only one of the 
difficulties met with. Many birds, such as the black- 
headed oriole and the coppersmith barbet, seem to 
take at once to life in a cage, and to be quite 
contented with it from the moment that they are 
imprisoned, but, in spite of this, it is very hard to 
keep them in good condition for any length of 
time. In the case of the coppersmiths, this, as 
has already been pointed out, may be effected by 



PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS 223 

keeping them either alone or only along with birds 
whose ordinary cage-dietary does not include sattu ; 
but no remedial measure has yet, in so far as I know, 
been found in that of the orioles. The difficulty in 
dealing with the latter bird is, however, probably 
also a dietetic one, as it seems to be easy to keep 
the maroon species, whose general habits are very 
like those of the commoner kinds, in perfect health 
under the very conditions that rapidly prove fatal 
to its relatives. It is easy to provide carnivorous 
and graminivorous birds, with suitable food, and 
hence we find them generally standing captivity 
very well. Even with them, however, mischief 
occasionally arises from the ease with which an 
unfailing supply of food can be obtained an 
abnormal condition which sometimes occasions the 
development of malformations, such as the over- 
growth of the upper mandible that is often to be 
seen in pheasants and parrots in confinement. 

The sound of the loud, wild, chattering scream 
of the golden-backed woodpecker, Brachypternus 
aurantius, 1 is never long absent from any well- 
wooded garden near Calcutta, and every now and 
then one of the birds may be seen whilst it crosses 
over from tree to tree. When seen in certain 
directions and under suitable light they look like 
actual streaks of gold, as they leap along through 
the air with noisily whirring wings; and, as they 
almost always scream aloud on taking wing, there 

1 It is a little smaller than the common English green woodpecker. 



COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

is little chance of their failing to attract notice. 
Now and then one of them may omit to call on 
setting out, but, should it do so, it almost always 
makes good the temporary self-restraint by a noisy 
advertisement of arrival at the next halting-place. 
It is always a sight well worth seeing when a wood- 
pecker dashes up against a vertical stem and remains 
adherent and flattened against the bark in a way 
that reminds one of the result that follows when 
a " chunam-frog " is chased along the floor until 
he suddenly takes refuge on the wall of a room. 
Once alit, they go upwards in a series of short 
darts over the surface, forming patches of warm 
colour against the grey or brownish tints of the 
background, and every now and then halting to 
peck insects out of a crevice, or to set about a 
vigorous hammering in quest of those lurking 
beneath the surface. They show up to special 
advantage whilst working their way along the 
under surface of a bough, with the vivid crimson 
of their crests and the golden yellow of their backs 
obliquely lighted up by slanting sunshine, and they 
are also very attractive when sitting up like little 
cormorants dressed in bright red caps, white check- 
stripes, and speckled grey breasts. The sound that 
they make when hammering consists of a rapid roll 
of sharp taps alternating with a few more isolated 
and forcible ones, and during the hush of a still, 
hot day, there is something very soothing in the 



PARROTS AND WOODPECKERS 225 

iteration of the little noises. They usually go about 
in pairs, and, whilst busily working over neighbour- 
ing trees, frequently chatter aloud, as though each 
bird were anxious to be assured of its mate's vicinity. 
When the silk-cotton-trees are in full bloom, wood- 
peckers sometimes join the throng of revellers that 
visit the flowers, but it is uncertain whether this 
desertion of their ordinary habits arises from a love 
of alcoholic stimulants, or is owing to the fact that 
the fluid that fills the bases of the great stiff corollas 
acts as a trap in which numbers of insects lie 
drowned. 

The only other woodpecker that is common in 
gardens about Calcutta is the fulvous-breasted pied 
species, Dendrocopus macii, specimens of which are 
often to be seen in the Botanic Garden at Shibpur. 
Though both this and the preceding bird are so 
common, I never happened to meet with their 
nests in any garden. This, however, is no evidence 
that they do not frequently nest in the locality. 
The discovery of a woodpecker's nest is usually 
more or less a matter of accident owing to the fact 
that the orifice of the cavern is very small, and is 
generally situated at a considerable height, so that, 
unless one happens to be close at hand at a time 
when one of the owners goes in or out, its presence 
may very readily escape notice. One of the very 
few occasions on which I actually marked down a 
nest was during an afternoon's walk through the 



226 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

forest above Pangi in the upper Satlej Valley. As 
I was following the narrow track, a specimen of 
the Himalayan pied woodpecker, Dendrocopus 
himalayensis, suddenly flew into a tree overhanging 
it, and disappeared into a hole in the stem, greeted 
by a noisy chorus of welcome from the young birds 
within. 



XIX 

STORKS 

"Save some lazy stork that springs, 
Trailing it with legs and wings." 

BROWNING. 

THE gigantic storks, commonly known under the 
name of "adjutants," used formerly to be so abun- 
dant in Calcutta at certain times of year, and formed 
such a striking and characteristic feature in the town, 
that one can hardly turn up any description or notice 
of the locality without coming across some mention 
of their manners and customs. This is, however, 
no longer the case. Great numbers of them may, 
doubtless, be found congregated in certain favoured 
areas in the neighbourhood, but the progress of 
sanitary improvement, limited though it may have 
been, has greatly diminished the supplies of succulent 
offal, which used formerly to bestrew the streets in 
quantity equal to the demands of their truly magni- 
ficent appetites. Hence they have almost entirely 
deserted the interior of the town, and have betaken 
themselves to places in the suburbs where stores 

227 



228 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of desirable food may yet be met with. When 
returning from their nesting haunts for the season 
many of them may even yet be seen passing high 
aloft over the streets, arid a few stray individuals 
may even make a brief halt in one or other of the 
places in the town in which they used most to 
congregate; but it has become quite a rare thing 
to see one perched on the roof of a house in gloomy 
meditation, or stalking about one of the open spaces 
of the town. Their absence may be matter of 
gratulation as indicating that some improvement 
has taken place in the conditions of human exist- 
ence; but it can only be deplored as involving the 
loss of a picturesque element that the town could 
ill afford. 

It is hard to realise what an endless source of 
amusement and admiration these birds formerly 
were. Their yearly return towards the close of 
the hot weather was joyfully hailed as the herald 
of the approach of the monsoon-rains with their 
welcome fall in temperature; they formed decora- 
tive features in the landscape as they stood in files 
along the cornices and roofs of conspicuous build- 
ings, or gathered in groups on the open plain of 
the maidan; their flight as they sailed and soared 
about high overhead was, if possible, even more 
magnificent than that of vultures ; and their endless 
eccentricities of attitude and movement when in 
quest of food provided ceaseless entertainment, 



STORKS 229 

An adjutant attempting to rise from the ground, 
or merely flapping heavily between two neighbour- 
ing perches, would hardly suggest the possibility 
of its being of the same race as the birds that 
sweep about in the upper sky on widely spread 
and seemingly motionless wings, looking more like 
mediaeval dragons or the inhabitants of a fairy tale 
than creatures of this workaday world. It is quite 
piteous to see one of them attempting to rise from 
the ground, more especially if he has recently 
partaken of a full meal. If suddenly disturbed 
during the course of meditative digestion, he will 
at first stalk off with a curiously mingled air of 
dignity, meanness, apprehension, and malevolence ; 
and then, if followed up, will hasten his retreat, until 
his stately pacing degenerates into an ignominious 
run attended by laboured movements of his huge, 
flapping wings, and he has acquired enough 
momentum to venture on leaping from the ground. 
Even then false starts are apt to take place, and 
it is often only after several disgraceful and abortive 
attempts that he gets fairly off and can cease 
winnowing the air with his great sails. These 
struggling flights are often very noisy, as is not 
surprising from the great size of the wings, and the 
rigidly resistant texture of the larger feathers, but 
it is curious what differences there are in the flight 
of individual birds, even when exposed to seemingly 
like external conditions. In bygone years a large 



230 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

arid ill-ordered slaughter-house lay at a short distance 
from the Zoological Garden at Alipur ; and, in 
consequence of its allurements, a large number of 
adjutants spent the day in its neighbourhood, and 
came in at night to roost on some of the trees 
in the garden (Plate XIII.). In the evening they 
usually assembled in considerable number on the 
banks of the tidal water- course running along its 
northern boundary, and in order to reach their roosts 
had to surmount the lofty hedge of the garden and 
then fly over a large pond between it and their 
favourite trees. The distance to be traversed was 
so short that their flight was heavy and laboured 
throughout, and, therefore, likely to be noisy. So 
indeed it commonly was, but in very varying degree, 
from loud to barely audible, although there were no 
other apparent differences in the character of flight. 
Some birds may have gorged themselves more than 
others, or have been on the wing for somewhat 
shorter distances than their neighbours ; but there 
was nothing to show that this was the case. 

Their troubles are by no means safely over even 
when they have laboriously reached their roosting 
places, for there is almost always much acrid com- 
petition for specially favourite perches. About a 
dozen of them used to roost on the top of a pipal- 
tree quite close to a house in the southern part of 
the town in which I once spent a few days; and 
their homing in the evening was always the occasion 



STORKS 

of amusing scenes. When they came in they did 
not make direct for the tree, but always pitched 
first on a flat roof a few yards from, and almost 
on a level with its topmost boughs ; and it was 
with great difficulty that they were able to summon 
up courage to cross the gulf. Much dubious stalk- 
ing to and fro, many careful visual estimates of 
distance, and many piteous and futile attempts at 
a start occurred before they ventured fairly forth. 
So long as more than one bird was on the roof 
matters went on fairly quickly, as they were 
constantly sparring at one another, making offensive 
gestures, and striking savagely out with widely 
gaping beaks and flapping wings, so that every 
now and then one of them would over-balance 
himself or would be violently thrust over the edge, 
and, making a virtue of necessity, would struggle 
over to the tree. It was in the case of the last 
bird of the party that the sufferings incident on in- 
decision of character were most painfully illustrated. 
He stalked to and fro, casting envious glances at 
eligible perches ; every now and then he halted 
to rise on his toes, hump up his back, bow his 
head, and even begin to flap his wings, but only 
to lose courage at the last moment and resume 
his weary march. At last, in a sudden access of 
desperate courage, he would launch out and flap 
his way across, happy if he had selected a landing- 
place so situated as to allow of his reaching it 



232 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

without sustaining vicious digs and knocks from 
the beaks and wings of his predecessors. 

They are singularly ill-tempered birds, constantly 
squabbling with one another even in the absence 
of any cause of competition such as favourite roosts 
or specially savoury stores of offal. Even whilst 
several of them are standing quietly about, sunning 
themselves and apparently buried in deep thought, 
a quarrel will suddenly arise for no apparent reason ; 
and then you may see two monstrous fowls begin 
to pace around, cautiously stalking one another, 
and watching for a favourable opportunity of striking 
and buffeting with beak and wings. The expres- 
sion of slow malignity with which such duellists 
regard one another is gruesome, and the injuries 
resulting from the fray are often ghastly, blinded 
eyes and bloody cockscombs being matters of 
everyday occurrence. 

Many of their attitudes are wonderfully grotesque, 
and the appearance of a large party of them taking 
their ease in the blazing sunshine of an open space 
is often quaint beyond description (Plate XIII.). 
Whilst resting they sometimes remain standing 
rigidly erect on one leg, but very often they prefer 
to sit down, stretching their long tarsi out in front, 
and looking as though they were kneeling wrong 
side foremost. They love to expose their great 
wings as fully as possible to the rays of the sun, 
and, especially during the intervals between heavy, 




Adjutants by Day. P. 232. 




Ad jut-ants at Roost, p. 230. 



To face p. 232. 



STORKS 233 

drenching showers, they may often be seen stand- 
ing about with their wings fully expanded, their 
necks retracted, and their obscene heads drooping 
so that the point of the beak almost touches the 
ground. Like other storks, they frequently clatter 
their mandibles together, producing a loudly rattling 
sound that is often to be heard in the stillness of 
a windless night in the neighbourhood of any of 
their roosting places. Their appearance is a strange 
medley - - a bizarre combination of the greatest 
splendour with the basest squalor. Were one to 
see only their wings with their magnificent pro- 
portions and their lovely tints of grey and lavender, 
one would regard them with unmixed admiration ; 
but the base bald head clothed in disgustingly 
scurfy skin and straggling hairs, the malignantly 
sneaking expression of the pallid eyes, and the 
ponderousness of the huge beak have an almost 
mesmeric effect in distracting attention from any 
redeeming features in the picture. Even the 
splendid gamboge, orange, and vermilion hues that 
paint the distended pouch as it hangs down in 
front of the chest, in place of redeeming the 
hideous and almost indecent character of the 
appendage, only serve to accentuate the horror 
by attracting attention to its presence. The only 
times when a resting adjutant is to be seen really 
to advantage are either when he is viewed from 
behind whilst sunning his extended wings with 



234 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

sunken head, or when settled down for the night 
and standing in statuesque attitude on the top of 
some lofty tree or building, projected against the 
glowing background of a sunset sky. 

The extent and range of their appetites are 
truly amazing, and their feats in disposing of bulky 
masses of offal are almost beyond belief. I have 
seen one of them gulp down the entire abdominal 
and thoracic viscera of a large dog en masse and 
without any difficulty ; indeed, he would not have 
turned a hair over the performance had it not 
been that by some mishap a loop of gut caught 
over his upper mandible so as to anchor his 
mouthful, or rather cropful, in a distressing fashion. 
This irked him greatly, and the attempts that he 
made to set things straight were extremely ludicrous. 
Again and again he loosened the tension of the 
cord passing down into his stomach by depressing 
and violently shaking his head so that the loop 
over his bill slackened off and slipped downwards 
towards the tip. But time after time he relaxed 
his efforts too soon, and made things as bad as 
ever by premature attempts to swallow, and it 
was only after the expenditure of much time and 
toil that he was able to finish his meal. Feeding 
the adjutants used to be a favourite after-dinner 
amusement with the European soldiers in Fort 
William and the military hospital, and many were 
the ingenious devices and tricks to which the poor 



STORKS 235 

birds were exposed. A favourite and most effective 
one was to take a long piece of stout string and, 
after having fastened a tempting gobbet to either 
end of it, throw it out into a group of expectant 
adjutants. Two of the birds were almost sure 
to secure the double bait, and thereafter spend 
much time in attempts to dissolve the resultant 
partnership, flying round and round and tugging 
at the string in a way that must have been 
somewhat disturbing even to their case-hardened 
stomachs, and which gave their flight a strangely 
disorderly and tumultuous character. More lasting 
amusement was provided when one of the baits 
was replaced by a small paper kite, so that when 
the bird who had swallowed the lure took wing, 
he was sorely puzzled by the way in which his 
progress was disturbed by the dragging of his 
novel appendage. 

At the hour at which the daily dole of food 
was due, large numbers of adjutants would assemble 
and loaf around in expectation of it. They were 
naturally attended by a throng of crows, who, while 
exercising a judicious caution in their advances, 
often managed to secure a fair share of the feast, 
for, owing to their numbers and to the craftiness 
with which they seized any favourable chance of 
snatching a morsel, their efforts were usually 
scatheless and crowned with encouraging success. 
Only once did I see a crow come to serious grief 



236 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

in these circumstances, and then the catastrophe 
was not the result of any direct struggle for the 
possession of a particular treasure. It arose from 
the heedlessness of the victim, who was one of 
a party of crows flying hither and thither in quest 
of plunder, and who in his eagerness came so close 
to an adjutant as to be within reach of its great 
beak, which was suddenly thrust out to engulf 
him in full flight. 

Two distinct species of adjutants, Leptoptilus 
dubius and L. javanicus, occur in the neighbour- 
hood of Calcutta, but the second and smaller one 
seldom ventured within urban limits even in the 
days when its larger relative was most abundant 
there. During the latter years of my residence 
in Calcutta, it was necessary, in order to be sure 
of seeing either species, to visit certain places in 
the suburbs where there were slaughter-houses or 
deposits of street-sweepings and offal. There, in the 
company of hosts of vultures and crows, they con- 
tinued to congregate in such numbers that all the 
larger trees in the neighbourhood were permanently 
disfigured and bowed down by the throng of lodgers 
who nightly loaded the branches. 



XX 

VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 

" Never stoops the soaring vulture 
On his quarry in the desert, 
But another vulture watching, 
Sees the downward plunge and follows." 

Hiawatha. 

11 As an eagle pursuing 
A dove to its ruin 
Down the streams of the cloudy wind." 

SHELLEY. 

IN Calcutta, gardens are often visited by vultures, 
eagles and hawks of several kinds. Until I made the 
acquaintance of a pair of most lovable condors, I 
certainly never felt inclined to make pets of birds 
like vultures, and very few people are likely to 
welcome such visitors, but any annoyance arising 
from their occasional presence in a garden is more 
than made good by the magnificent spectacle of 
their flight. Whilst sailing and soaring far aloft in 
the upper sky they are truly splendid objects, as they 
hang about, to all appearance motionless, or sweep 
round in magnificent curves that look as though they 



237 



238 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

were the outcome of mere volition apart from any 
muscular effort. Eagles, too, are admirable on the 
wing, but, though Byron declares that a flock of 
twelve of them appeared in honour of his visit to 
Parnassus, they do not usually occur in flights, and 
their wings have hardly the perfection of outline of 
those of vultures in which the upward curvature of 
the outer ends is so strongly marked. Almost every 
day, especially during winter, numbers of the white- 
backed vulture, Pseudogyps bengalensis, are to be 
seen hanging aloft against the pale blue of the sky ; 
some of them at heights at which the fingered 
extremities of their great wings, and even the white 
bands of their downy ruffs, are distinctly visible, and 
above these a series of others at higher and higher 
levels, until at the very visual limit they show as 
mere specks, appearing and disappearing as they 
sink or rise in the upper air. The sight is one that 
can hardly fail to be attractive however familiar it 
may be, but is hardly so impressive as that of a troop 
of vultures seen from above, and while the great birds 
sweep and sail over the depths of a great Himalayan 
valley, now skirting low along the surfaces of the 
bounding slopes, and anon soaring outwards over 
thousands of feet of sheer air in a way that rouses 
wonder how it is that the sudden transition does not 
inevitably cause overpowering dizziness. 

Even at close quarters white-backed vultures are 
not wholly wanting in good points ; their attitudes 



VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 239 

when at rest are certainly ungainly, but, at the 
same time, are sometimes highly picturesque ; and, 
although the bare skin of the head and neck may 
be repulsive to casual observation, it is, when clean, 
and especially during the breeding season, possessed 
of a beauty of its own that could hardly be imagined 
from its aspect when faded and dried in museum- 
specimens. In the fresh state it is a mass of subdued 
but splendid colour. The crop-patch is beautiful 
purplish black, and has a satiny sheen from the 
presence of a thin layer of long black hairs that 
clothe the surface and veil the pinkish-brown skin 
beneath; the middle third of the neck is pale 
madder-brown, and the upper third slaty grey tinged 
with purple; the upper eyelids are bluish pink, the 
blue tint predominating along the margins, which are 
fringed by long black lashes ; and the upper mandible 
is of a beautiful pale sea-green, shading off into 
purplish black at the base and edges. It is hardly 
possible to look at a freshly killed specimen in all this 
splendour of rich colouring without thinking of the 
dragon in George Macdonald's " Phantastes," and, 
like the hero of the tale, wondering " how so many 
gorgeous colours, so many curving lines, and such 
beautiful things as wings and hair and scales com- 
bine to form the horrible creature," for, to a certain 
degree, a vulture is almost always more or less 
horrible at close quarters. Horrible beyond measure 
they certainly are whilst gorging over the corpse of 



240 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

some large animal, struggling with one another for 
favourable places, buffeting with their huge wings, 
and foully besmeared with blood and grease. When 
so occupied they become quite reckless in their de- 
vouring greed, and it is often no easy task to drive 
them away from their feast. In connection with 
laboratory-work it is sometimes necessary to get rid 
of large quantities of offal of various kinds, and, in 
the days when they abounded in Calcutta, adjutants 
were very useful aids in doing so. The fact that by 
employing them in this way one was likely to attract 
them to congregate in the immediate neighbourhood 
was at that time no objection, as every one was too 
well used to their presence in the streets to think evil 
of it. This tolerance, however, was not extended to 
vultures, and it was sometimes necessary to take 
violent measures to disperse a throng of them, who 
had made a sudden descent on a dole intended for 
the adjutants, and were scuffling over the feast in 
obscene multitudes, wholly regardless of the showers 
of brickbats and f other missiles with which their 
advent was greeted. When hit full in the back by 
a large brick they might lose their hold and stagger 
forwards with fluttering wings, but it was only to 
return at once and resume their places in the con- 
tending multitude, and it was usually only when the 
last vestige of the booty had been disposed of that 
the mob could be prevailed on to disperse. 

They sometimes find it a matter of some difficulty 



VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 241 

to rise from the ground after a heavy gorge, but as 
a rule they manage to make a better start than 
adjutants do under like circumstances, in spite of the 
seeming advantage which the latter birds have in the 
length of their legs. As they leave the ground they 
gather up their feet and legs under them at once, but 
in preparing to alight they drop them vertically for 
some time before reaching their halting-place, and 
sweep along close to the surface as though they were 
feeling for it. On reaching the ground they trot 
about over it with an awkward, waddling gait, and 
often with their wings slightly raised and somewhat 
expanded. They are very fond of basking in strong 
sunshine, and are often to be seen lying flattened out 
on the sloping banks of ponds with their great wings 
extended in a way that readily explains why a 
vulture in such an attitude should have come to be 
a common solar emblem with the old Egyptians. 
In spite of the numbers of vultures that haunt the 
neighbourhood of Calcutta, very few seem to nest 
there. This cannot be ascribed to any dislike to the 
vicinity of a large town as a nesting-place, for there 
used to be a large colony of nests in the Roshinara 
Garden at Delhi. The trees in which the nests were 
placed in this case were of no great height, but, in 
spite of this, the birds seemed to be rather offended 
than alarmed when any one halted to take a look at 
them. They are ordinarily very silent birds, but 
whilst carrying out their matrimonial duties they 

Q 



242 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

make an astonishingly loud braying noise that is 
quite startling until its source is ascertained. 

The only other kind of vulture common about 
Calcutta is the great Pondicherry vulture, Otogyps 
calvus. Except when on the wing and at some 
distance it is a revolting fowl. Its plumage is of a 
dingy blackish brown, and the naked skin of the 
neck and the hideous and debased head is of an un- 
pleasing yellowish-red tint. All vultures are apt to 
have an evil odour, owing to the nature of their diet, 
but Pondicherry vultures are especially distinguished 
in this respect, and their presence is usually revealed 
at a great distance by the overpowering stench of 
putrid carrion that radiates from them and poisons 
the surrounding air. They do not occur in flocks, 
like the white-backed vultures, and are to be met 
with either in pairs or as solitary birds, who domineer 
over their smaller associates in the competition for 
carrion, and look at a little distance more like 
obscene turkeys than raptorial birds. 

Neophrons, although so common in other parts 
of India, are very rarely to be seen within the limits 
of the lower Gangetic delta. It is strange that 
stray specimens do not oftener occur, for one can 
hardly pass the line between the alluvial area and 
the red-soil country to the west without presently 
meeting with Neophron ginginianus. On awaking 
after a night's journey from Calcutta by the Chord 
line of the East Indian Railway, the change of 



VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 243 

environment is at once advertised by the sight of low 
hill ranges and numerous neophrons. The absence of 
the latter from a locality can hardly be a matter 
of regret to any one, for they are truly " base and 
degrading" objects. They may sometimes, when 
at a distance, and flying aloft in brilliant sunshine, 
present a certain resemblance to Brahmini kites, but 
any close acquaintance with them, and specially 
a near view of them as they wander about over 
heaps of rubbish in quest of their loathsome food, 
can only tend to arouse a sense of wonder that 
any birds should have succeeded in becoming so re- 
pulsive. St Beuve, in writing of Talleyrand, affirms 
that it takes a great deal of trouble to become 
wholly depraved, but neophrons have certainly 
spared no effort to attain that end. There are, of 
course, tales of men new to the country mistaking 
them for some strange sort of pigeons, but such an 
error would imply a lack of observation far exceeding 
that leading to the confusion of crow-pheasants with 
game-birds, or of " brain- fever-birds " with hawks. 

Visits from eagles are always welcome events, 
but are, unfortunately, not very common, and are 
apt to be very brief, owing to the way in which the 
crows resent them. Often enough a pair of eagles 
may be seen spiring about high overhead, but only 
now and then do any condescend to alight within a 
garden. At intervals a specimen of Pallas' fishing- 
eagle, Haliaetus leucoryphus, or of the white-bellied 



244 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

sea-eagle, H. leucogaster, will descend to meditate 
among the trees overhanging a pond. In large 
gardens which, like the Botanic Garden at Shibpur, 
enjoy an exceptional immunity from crows, they 
will often remain for some time, and may even 
occasionally nest, but in other cases they are not 
allowed a chance of doing so, for hardly have they 
settled themselves down to gaze into the water, ere 
some officious crow discovers their presence, and 
vociferously summons its fellows to the spot. The 
unwelcome visitor is presently surrounded by a 
clamorous mob, that steadily grows, and gradually 
presses in around him so long as he remains motion- 
less, but disperses at once with shouts of execra- 
tion on his slightest movement, only, however, to 
gather anew and resume the congenial task of 
annoyance. For a time the eagle may maintain 
his position in dignified endurance, but sooner or 
later his patience wears out, and he sails off to seek 
a quieter resting-place. Both of these eagles are 
magnificent birds, H. leucogaster, indeed, being one 
of the most splendid of large raptorial birds, owing 
to the brilliant contrast of the snowy whiteness of 
the head and under-surface, with the deep ashy 
tints of the wings and back. There are few more 
striking objects than one of them as he sits on a 
bare branch overhanging a tidal channel, glancing 
around with his bold black eyes, and with all his 
beautiful plumage gleaming in the bright sunlight. 



VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 245 

Both species are common throughout the Sundarbans, 
and astonishingly abundant in the endless swamps 
on the lower part of the Surma River. In that 
region, Pallas' fishing-eagles are present in well-nigh 
incredible numbers at the time when the floods of 
the rainy season are subsiding, and the marshes are 
becoming a very paradise of migrant ducks and 
waders. They may then be seen sitting in rows 
along the muddy banks, and flying low overhead 
in twos and threes ; the air resounds with their 
strange, barking cries ; and almost all the great trees 
that begin to fringe the stream where the land 
becomes a little higher, are loaded with the huge 
stacks of dead wood forming their nests, in which 
they sit and scold at every passing boat. 

Another eagle that sometimes makes its appear- 
ance among the trees of large gardens is the crested 
serpent-eagle, Spilornis cheela. When in good 
plumage they are very handsome birds, owing to 
the beautiful way in which their lower plumage is 
variegated with white ocelli bordered by dark brown 
rings. 

Peregrine falcons regularly visit many towns in 
Upper India during the winter months, but only 
occasionally appear in Calcutta, and, when they do 
so, seldom make any prolonged stay within urban 
limits. They are not, however, very uncommon, 
and are wonderfully bold and familiar. During the 
course of my last winter's residence in India, a very 



246 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

fine specimen visited the small garden at the south 
side of my house, and decorated an iron railing 
only a few yards from the verandah by spending 
the afternoon upon it. In and around the large 
towns of Upper India, there are usually particular 
places where one may count upon finding a pair of 
peregrines established for the winter. One of these 
favoured spots is the Taj Garden at Agra, and 
another is the long range of municipal buildings 
facing the enclosure of the railway terminus in 
Delhi. In both places a small expenditure of 
patience will almost certainly be rewarded by the 
sight of the birds wheeling around aloft with shrill 
cries, or coming down to take up picturesque 
attitudes on the minars or cornices of the build- 
ings. Like Pallas' sea-eagle, they occur in surpris- 
ing numbers in the swamps of the lower Surma, 
at the time when the arrival of other autumnal 
immigrants furnishes them with an abundant supply 
of prey. They form one of the characteristic 
features in the endless levels of the marsh, as almost 
every one of the long bamboo poles, that are set up 
to mark the course of the stream when the whole 
area is completely submerged, is tenanted by one 
of them, who uses it as a watch-tower from which 
to survey the surrounding morass, and its throng- 
ing multitudes of ducks and waders. 

Shikras, Astur badius, are, of course, to be 
found in the gardens of Calcutta at any time of 



VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 247 

year, but they rarely remain for any length of time, 
owing to the persecution to which they are exposed 
by the resident birds. Crows, king-crows, mynas, 
and doves for the occasion make common cause, 
and mob and worry the intruder until he is driven 
off Kestrels rarely leave the open country for the 
thickly-wooded region immediately surrounding the 
town, but now and then one of them strays inwards 
from the rice-fields beyond the suburbs. The only 
locality in which I have often seen them within the 
limits of the town, is the plain or maidan around 
Fort William. Here they used to be met with 
every winter, but of late years, like the grey-headed 
wagtails, they have almost completely deserted the 
place, which is now so much more frequented than 
it formerly was. 

There are very few raptorial birds more splendidly 
coloured than a mature Brahmini kite, Haliastur 
indus. Shelley, oddly enough, speaks of an eagle 
sitting " in the light of its golden wings," but the 
statement might often be fairly enough made of 
a Brahmini kite, when all the brilliant tints of his 
upper plumage are fully illuminated by brilliant sun- 
shine. They are at any time highly decorative 
objects, owing to the effective contrast of bright 
chestnut and pure white in their feathering, and 
appear to special advantage, when, as they very 
often do, they take up a position in the crown 
of a coco-nut palm, and settle on the convex 



248 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

surface of one of its great, curving fronds. In 
Madras they seem to be almost as abundant as 
common kites, but, as a rule, few of them are to 
be seen in and around Calcutta. One or two may 
often be seen flying about over the river, or perched 
in the rigging of vessels at anchor in the stream, 
and now and then one of them will come into a 
garden for a time, in order to have a look at a pond. 
At certain times of year, however, large numbers 
of them are induced to visit the town and suburbs 
by the abundance of young fish in the ponds. 
Numerous specimens, many of which are in very 
immature plumage, usually make their appearance 
at the close of the rainy season, but the largest 
immigration takes place towards the end of winter, 
and when many ponds have become so much dried 
up as to render fishing in them particularly easy. 
The largest assembly of Brahmini kites that I ever 
saw was in the month of February, and took place 
in connection with the fact that the water in a 
village pond in Alipur had sunk to a very low ebb, 
and was swarming with small fish. The crows were 
disposed to persecute those that came in first, but, 
as the immigration advanced, gave up in despair, 
and left their unwelcome visitors unmolested. For 
several days the numbers of arrivals steadily in- 
creased, so that for a time the neighbourhood of 
the pond was thronged by hundreds of birds in 
various stages of plumage, and filling the air with 



VULTURES, EAGLES, ETC. 249 

clamorous cries as they flew in bewildering mazes 
over the water, or sat about among the branches 
of all the surrounding trees. Every now and then 
one of the moving crowd would suddenly stoop to 
sweep along over the surface of the pond, and rise 
again grasping a little, glittering fish, which he 
either carried off to be devoured at leisure on a 
tree, or disposed of while on the wing just as 
common kites do when hawking in a swarm of 
white ants. 

The presence of Brahmini kites is at once revealed 
by their peculiar cries. These are very distinct from 
those of the common kite, and have a peculiarly 
querulous quality, causing them to sound like a 
combination of the mewing of a cat with the squall 
of an ill-tempered child. They are very plucky 
birds, and I have seen one of them fiercely attack- 
ing a sea-eagle. In Calcutta the common kites 
evidently regard them as intruders, and frequent 
battles occur in which the combatants strike viciously 
at one another, amid a tempest of whistling and 
mewing. The Brahminis, in spite of their smaller 
size, are sometimes the aggressors in these feuds, 
and often come out of them victorious. The local 
crows also regard them as intruders, and are inclined 
to mob them as they do eagles, and in a way that they 
never dream of doing in the case of common kites. 
Brahmini kites never build within the limits of 
Calcutta, and I have never seen any of their nests 



250 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

in the immediately surrounding country, although 
the frequency with which birds in very immature 
plumage make their appearance seems to show 
that nesting must take place at no great distance. 

Owing to the constant opportunities that it 
affords for obtaining specimens of many different 
species, India is a very paradise for lovers of 
raptorial birds. One of the most lovable of all 
the birds that I kept whilst in Calcutta was a 
beautiful female peregrine, who almost at once 
became most alluringly tame, and whose gentle 
loving ways made one readily forgive the agony 
that attended the reflex grip of her talons on one's 
wrist when she was suddenly excited or alarmed. 
Shikras are rather uninteresting in captivity, and 
have an unpleasantly remorseless, cruel expression, 
owing to the light colour of their eyes. The taramti, 
^salon chicquera, is a charming little falcon. The 
bright chestnut of the head is very decorative in 
its contrast with the soft grey, black, and brown of 
the rest of the plumage, and its daintily small 
size and gentleness would render it a most satis- 
factory pet were it not that it does not seem to 
stand captivity as well as most other hawks. 



XXI 

SWIFTS, GOAT-SUCKERS, MUNIAS, ETC. 

" Will a swallow or a swift, or some bird 
Fly to her and say, I love her still ? " 

Fly Leaves. 

Two birds are always to be met with in gardens 
and about houses in Calcutta. These are the 
common Indian swift, Cypselus affinis, and the 
curious palm-swift, Tachornis batassiensis. Almost 
every resident of the town must be well aware of 
the great abundance in which the former species 
occurs, owing to the habit that it has of establishing 
itself in great colonies in verandahs, where there 
are numerous convenient nesting-places above the 
beams in which masses of feathers and rubbish may 
be stowed away, and from which they are constantly 
showering down to litter the floor below. Almost 
every one, too, must have observed the great flocks 
of swifts that go drifting about towards sundown in 
autumn, wheeling and hurrying to and fro and filling 
the air with piercingly shrill cries (Plate XIV.). The 
palm-swifts, although much more interesting birds, 

551 



252 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

are less likely to attract casual notice, owing to their 
small size and dull brown colouring, and because they 
avoid the immediate neighbourhood of houses; but 
almost every garden containing a few common tadi- 
palms, Borassus flabelliformis, is pretty sure to be 
tenanted by a colony of them. Their nests are 
curious little cups, neatly glued into the grooved 
surfaces of the lower sides of the great fan-shaped 
leaves of the palms. In the neighbourhood of 
Calcutta they seem to be fully tenanted in the 
beginning of the hot season, and for a second time 
shortly after the onset of the rains. After the eggs 
have been hatched the sites of such colonies become 
very lively, owing to the frequent visits of the parent 
birds, who are constantly darting in and out among 
the leaves busy in providing food for the nestlings, 
who greet their parents with shrill cries, and seem 
never to be satisfied in spite of the rapidity with 
which successive supplies of food are brought in. 
At other times of year the old birds are especially 
active in the evening, and rush about in great 
numbers uttering small, shrill, bee-eater-like cries, 
that become very audible as the dusk deepens and 
the notes of other birds gradually die away. 

The common Indian goat-sucker, Caprimulgus 
asiaticus the "ice-bird" of Anglo-Indians is a 
constant and familiar object in suburban gardens, 
where every evening they come out, like gigantic 
grey and white moths, to flutter and whirl about 



SWIFTS, GOAT-SUCKERS, MUNI AS, ETC. 253 

over the lawns, every now and then uttering the 
peculiar call from which their common name is 
derived because of its likeness to the sound made 
by any small hard object skimming over the sur- 
face of a frozen pond. Their flight is admirable 
in the ease and grace of its sudden evolutions, 
especially when the birds were projected against 
a silvery grey evening sky, or wheel and flutter on 
a background glorified by the flaming tints of a 
tropical after-glow. They often interrupt their 
aerial excursions in order to descend to the ground, 
especially where the surface is traversed by a dry 
and dusty highroad abounding in the droppings of 
horses and cattle that harbour stores of insect-food. 
They will often remain sitting in such places for 
some time, resting quietly and presenting a very 
strange appearance, owing to the way in which they 
squat closely flattened down on the surface. Their 
flight as " they float and run " through the 
air is more butterfly-like than that of almost any 
other bird. It consists of an alternation of short 
quick flappings, two or three in succession, with 
periods during which they sweep onwards on widely 
extended wings that show conspicuous patches of 
brilliant whiteness on their under surfaces. All 
through the cold weather their characteristic cries 
are to be heard sounding out into the night, but 
they are rarely audible in summer or autumn. 
Besides their ordinary subdued call they can utter 



254 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

a whole series of extraordinary sounds, something 
like those occasionally emitted by " crow-pheasants." 
These are apt to be evoked when the birds are 
suddenly disturbed in their diurnal lurking-places, 
and are apparently protective in function, as they 
certainly give rise to astonishment and alarm in 
dogs, and may well serve to scare away predaceous 
animals from the neighbourhood of their eggs or 
young ones. The common call has a pleasantly 
soothing character, and one greets the sound of 
it, as it breaks in upon the darkness of a wakeful 
night with feelings very different from those excited 
by the din with which the great Caprimulgus 
macrurus often renders the nocturnal hours hideous 
in places in the hills. 

At any time in winter specimens of the orange- 
headed ground-thrush, Geocichla citrina, may 
occasionally be met with, busily hunting for snails 
and insects among the dead leaves beneath groups 
of trees and thick shrubberies. The contrasting tints 
of orange and soft slate-colour in their plumage are 
very decorative, and would in themselves suffice to 
attract attention. They are, however, rendered addi- 
tionally alluring when occurring on birds who are so 
vividly reminiscent of the familiar song-thrush in the 
energy with which they extract worms from the 
soil and hammer snails on stones in order to break 
their shells. A Geocichla is a charming addition 
to an aviary, being very easy to keep in good 



SWIFTS, GOAT-SUCKERS, MUNIAS, ETC, 255 

condition, and so gentle that there is no risk of 
his molesting other birds. 

The only other thrush that I have seen in gardens 
about Calcutta is the small-billed mountain-thrush, 
Oreocincla dauma, specimens of which now and 
then appear during the cold weather in enclosures 
providing conditions suiting them. They seem, as 
a rule, to keep to the deep shade of dense groves 
of trees, spending their time in the investigation 
of fallen leaves, and only taking to the branches 
as a temporary place of refuge in case of alarm. 
The rich brown and yellow colouring of the upper 
plumage and the white of the under surfaces are 
very ornamental, and are so disposed as to be very 
protective on a surface that is deeply overshadowed 
and covered with dead leaves. In both these 
thrushes protective colouring has been highly evolved 
in relation to the nature of the environments which 
they usually haunt. Both birds are habitual 
residents of shaded coverts, but Geocichla citrina 
prefers opener and drier places than those in which 
the Oreocincla is usually found. The plumage of 
the latter bird harmonises closely with the tints of 
damp, dead leaves, and that of the former one is 
very inconspicuous where the direct sunlight is not 
wholly excluded and where the dead leaves abound 
in tawny and yellow hues. 

The Indian pitta, Pitta brachyura (Plate XV.) 
occurs in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, but certainly 



256 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

does not often visit gardens close to the town; for, 
during the course of thirty years' observation in 
many of them, I never met with a single specimen. 
They are, however, often brought into the bazaars 
for sale, and make most charming pets. One of 
the most amusing birds that I ever came across was 
a pitta, who for some time inhabited one of my 
aviaries. He made himself quite at home at once, 
and almost immediately began to bully an inoffensive 
Geocichla, who inhabited the same enclosure. He 
was a very lively bird, constantly racing about from 
one place to another in a series of high leaps, and 
then pausing for a minute or two, very erect on 
his long legs, to take a keenly considerative look 
around. He was very silent, and never left the 
ground except when the keeper entered to clean 
the aviary. His only fault lay in his highly car- 
nivorous tastes which sometimes led him to slay 
and eat some of his smaller fellow-prisoners. His 
pluck was wonderful. When a riding- whip or stick 
was thrust through the wiring towards him, in place 
of showing any signs of alarm, he would at once 
go for it, seizing the end of it with his beak, wrench- 
ing violently at it, and spreading his painted wings 
widely abroad. 

Although none of the other Indian munias are 
so daintily beautiful as the green and the red species 
that are so familiar as cage-birds, they are all most 
attractive little birds, and form welcome features 




Indian Pitta (p. 255). 



[To face p. 256. 



SWIFTS, GOAT-SUCKERS, MUNIAS, ETC. 257 

in the Fauna of a garden. Only one species, 
Uroloncha punctulata, is a common resident of the 
neighbourhood of Calcutta, but every one who has 
paid any attention to the ornithology of the locality 
must be familiar with it and its strangely dis- 
proportionate nest. It is a very pretty little bird 
in its dress of sober brown, yellowish and white, with 
all the under parts variegated with alternate light 
and dark bands. During a great part of the year 
few individuals are about, or, at all events, are 
conspicuous, but, when the nesting season in the 
latter part of the rains arrives, pairs of them make 
their appearance in large numbers, and soon set 
about building vigorously. This is especially the 
case in the Botanic Garden, a locality in which, in 
spite of the great acreage and abundant cover that 
it provides, curiously few other sorts of birds seem 
to care to nest. The nests are very conspicuous 
objects owing to their large size, and within a short 
time large numbers of them may be seen all over 
the garden. They are usually placed at an elevation 
of six to ten feet from the ground among the 
branches of shrubs or small trees growing in exposed 
places. In the Botanic Garden, Araucarias of 
various species seem to be regarded with special 
favour as building sites, probably because of the 
exceptional support afforded by their regularly tiled 
and rigid branches. The nests are untidy and 
somewhat incoherent masses, more or less spherical 

R 



258 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

in outline, and containing a central space that opens 
on the upper third of one of the sides. During the 
earlier part of the building season the walls of the 
cavity are almost wholly built of a layer of dry 
grass faced internally with a coating of pappus of 
grass-seeds, but later, when the great grasses come 
abundantly into flower, the whole structure is often 
almost entirely composed of pappus. At the time 
at which the grass-blades are most in demand there 
are always large numbers of dry ones scattered over 
the ground in the Botanic Garden, left by the 
mowers who are employed in keeping down the 
luxuriant growth attending the rainy season, but 
the birds hardly ever make use of them, and prefer 
laboriously collecting their materials from the 
growing plants, showing a strange failure to adapt 
their actions to the conditions of an artificial 
environment. 

All munias are most alluring pets, and are very 
easy to keep in good health in any tropical region, as, 
so long as they are not exposed to low temperatures, 
they require no special attention. The beautiful 
colouring and miniature size of the green Stictospiza 
formosa, and the red Sporceginthus amandava, render 
them special favourites with bird-fanciers. They 
are so very small that in dealing with them one feels 
as though one had to do with birds out of a Noah's 
Ark. I have not had much experience in keeping 
green munias, but have very often kept large numbers 



SWIFTS, GOAT-SUCKERS, MUNIAS, ETC. 259 

of red ones. One set of them who inhabited a good- 
sized aviary used often to build great, spherical nests 
in the shrubs of Panax growing within the enclosure, 
and would doubtless have successfully hatched out 
young families, had it not been that the eggs 
were no sooner laid than they were devoured by 
some loriquets who were in the same aviary. 
There are few more quaintly diverting exhibitions 
than that afforded by a set of munias whilst settling 
down for the night. The birds all crowd together 
in rows upon the perches for the sake of warmth, 
and as every one of them wishes to have a more or 
less central position, it is long before a final settle- 
ment is arrived at. Those birds that are towards 
the ends of each row go on squeezing and pressing 
inwards until the pressure on the centre becomes 
so great that one or more of those located there 
lose their footing, and are violently ejected upwards. 
The individuals to whom the mishap has occurred 
at once accept the situation, and, making no attempt 
to regain their former places, fly off at once to one 
or other end of the row, and take their turn at 
crowding inwards until they are once more cast 
out. Such processes of alternate squeezing and 
eviction often go on for a long time with clock-work 
regularity before a permanent arrangement has been 
established. 

Among the most striking of the small birds 
that are often to be seen in the gardens of 



260 COMMON BIRDS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

Calcutta during the winter months are the rose- 
finch and the ruby-throat. Specimens of the former 
bird, Carpodacus erythrinus, are not at all un- 
common, and, shortly before the spring migration, 
are often in such brilliant plumage as to tempt one 
to cage them, in spite of their notoriously quarrel- 
some nature. Ruby-throats, Calliope camtschat- 
kensis, are not so abundant, but a few specimens 
are usually to be met with every season in any 
good-sized garden, where they linger on until the 
middle of April, and form most decorative elements 
in the shrubberies which they haunt, questing about 
among the leaves for insects, and showing the 
beautiful scarlet of their throat-patches in startling 
contrast with the sober tints of the rest of the 
plumage. 

Several kinds of warblers, among which 
Phylloscopus affinis is specially abundant, occur in 
most gardens in winter, and then, too, the Indian 
redstart, Ruticilla rufiventris, makes its appearance. 
It has a great liking for bamboos, and almost every 
group of these is tenanted by several birds. They 
are especially active in the mornings and evenings, 
when they are constantly hopping about among 
the densely tangled twigs, uttering a continuous flow 
of harsh, chattering notes, and wriggling their tails 
about in a strangely quivering way. 

In any region, like the lower Gangetic delta, 
where great tidal rivers and endless smaller channels 



SWIFTS, GOAT-SUCKERS, MUNIAS, ETC. 261 

and swamps abound, terns of various kinds are 
constantly present in considerable numbers, and 
may often be seen flying overhead in small parties 
or in flocks of some size. It is, however, seldom 
that any of them condescend to visit gardens, 
unless, like the Brahmini kites, they are lured in 
by an unwonted abundance of small fish in the 
local ponds. Many other water-fowl, such as 
wild geese, cranes of several species, etc., may 
also occasionally be seen traversing the upper sky 
at the times of the great autumnal and vernal 
migrations, but they very rarely come to ground 
in gardens, however extensive and secluded they 
may be. 

All the birds mentioned in the preceding pages 
are so abundant, or so conspicuous in colouring or 
habits, that they can hardly fail to attract the notice 
of every one taking the least interest in natural 
history, but many other species, whose presence is not 
so readily detected, visit the gardens, and especially 
the suburban gardens, of Calcutta, and would neces- 
sarily be included in any attempt at a complete 
record of the Fauna of the locality. Even an in- 
complete list may, however, serve in some degree 
to show what ample sources of interest and occupa- 
tion lie open to every resident of India in the study 
of the birds of his immediate environment, even 
where this is of an urban nature. 



XXII 

MONKEYS 

" There he quaff d the undefiled 

Spring, or hung with apelike glee, 
By his teeth or tail or eyelid, 
To the slippery mango-tree." 

Fly Leaves. 

"A troupe of Fawnes and Satyres far away 
Within the wood were dauncing in a round." 

The Faerie Queene. 

BIRDS form the most conspicuous feature in the 
vertebrate Fauna of Indian gardens, but almost every 
garden of any considerable size is inhabited or visited 
by mammals of various kinds. Monkeys are rare in 
the immediate neighbourhood of Calcutta. Were 
they as abundant as they are in many other parts of 
India, gardening would have been rendered well-nigh 
impossible, for to contend with them as well as with 
the local crows would have been a hopeless task 
indeed. During all my time in Calcutta I never 
saw wild monkeys of any kind on that side of the 
river Hugli on which the town proper is situated, 
but in the suburbs of the farther bank, although the 



262 



MONKEYS 263 

common bandar, Macacus rhesus, does not seem to 
occur, troops of langurs, Semnopithecus entellus, every 
now and then wander in from the neighbouring 
country. They pay regular visits to the Botanic 
Garden at the times at which certain kinds of trees 
mature their fruit, but, owing to their relatively quiet 
habits and the thickly- wooded character of the place, 
their presence often escapes notice. They are 
strangely still as compared with common bandars, 
who go on perpetually yelping and talking to one 
another, and it is quite astonishing to observe the 
quietness with which a troop of such large animals 
can travel about over the tree-tops, so long as they 
are not alarmed, or on a journey from one of their 
haunts to another. A band of langurs was in the 
Botanic Garden when a tiger escaped from the 
menagerie of the late King of Oudh in Garden 
Reach, and swam across the river. Until he invaded 
the garden the monkeys had moved about so quietly 
that no one was aware of their presence, but no 
sooner had he landed than they revealed themselves 
by following him about and scolding loudly from 
the trees overhanging the places at which he halted 
and the tracks that he followed in moving from one 
covert to another. 

Where they occur in small numbers and only 
occasionally make their appearance, any damage that 
langurs may do is made good by the pleasure 
afforded by their exhibitions of agility in climbing 



264 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

and leaping among the branches, and, even where 
they abound, the society of such handsome animals 
is preferable to that of such debasedly hideous ones 
as common bandars. But, in places in which they 
are present in large numbers, the amount of mischief 
that they are guilty of when invading gardens and 
houses becomes very objectionable. In some Indian 
towns they seem almost entirely to replace common 
monkeys. This is very marked in the case of 
Ahmedabad, where they are constantly to be seen 
on the tops of the houses, and where the trees in 
the gardens are full of troops of them, leaping and 
swinging about among the branches. It is almost 
impossible to see a party of them among trees and 
rocks, some sitting in serious meditation, and others 
indulging in the wildest gambols, without remember- 
ing the striking passage in the Bible in which the 
picture of anticipated desolation is accentuated by 
the statement that "satyrs shall dance there." 
Himalayan langurs, S. schistaceus, are very common 
and troublesome in some hill-stations. They abound 
on the Simla Hill, where troops of them are often 
to be seen storming along through the tops of the 
trees overhanging the roads, or precipitating them- 
selves headlong downwards through the forest, 
clothing the precipitous slopes of the great khads. 

It is hard for any one who has had much 
acquaintance with localities infested by common 
Bengal monkeys to find a good word to say of 



MONKEYS 265 

them. Their appearance and habits, and the 
amount of mischief that they do are enough to 
arouse hatred even in the most animal-loving mind. 
They are specially obtrusive in the towns of Banaras 
and Mathura, and in the latter one may always 
derive some amusement from the study of their 
behaviour at the ghat on the Jamna at which the 
sacred river-tortoises are fed with doles of gram 
and other vegetables provided by the piety of 
pilgrims. When a store of food is thrown into the 
water, the tortoises come to the surface in such 
crowds that their backs form a more or less con- 
tinuous raft extending for yards out into the stream 
in front of the steps, and intercepting a good deal 
of the materials intended for them. A tempting 
bait is thus provided for the monkeys, who are 
always swarming on the neighbouring buildings, 
and who troop down to venture boldly out on the 
moving mass, keeping a sharp look-out for the 
vicious snaps of the reptilian beaks, and quite un- 
deterred by the fact that the loss of a limb every 
now and then attends these risky exploits. 

In the suburbs of Calcutta one is occasionally 
favoured by visits from monkeys who are not 
natives of the place, but who have either escaped 
from captivity or are allowed by their owners to 
roam at large. So long as the visitor is a Hoolock, 
Hylobates hoolock, it would take a hard heart not 
to welcome him. Fortunately, they are usually 



266 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

the only monkeys that are allowed to go loose, a 
privilege which they owe to their gentle, inoffensive 
habits, and to the fact that they very seldom remain 
in good condition when closely confined. When at 
liberty they become wonderftilly tame, and often 
make regular rounds of calls on their friends, especi- 
ally at times when desirable articles of food are 
likely to be met with. One that inhabited the 
suburb of Alipur during the time that I lived there 
was very often about in the lanes, and more than 
once, whilst I was riding leisurely along beneath an 
overhanging mass of bamboos or other dense cover, 
I was startled by finding a long slender arm suddenly 
passed round my neck and a little cold hand clasping 
my throat as the animal descended to take his place 
on my shoulder until he reached a point that he 
desired to visit, and departed with as little ceremony 
as he had come. 



XXIII 

JACKALS, ETC. 

" The jackals' troop, in gathered cry, 
Bay'd from afar complainingly, 
With a mix'd and mournful sound, 
Like crying babe, and beaten hound." 

Tfie Siege of Corinth. 

"Also in that country there be beasts taught of men to go into 
waters, into rivers, and into deep stanks for to take fish ; the 
which beast is but little, and men clepe them loirs." 

SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE. 

JACKALS, Canis aureus, are often spoken of as 
though they were unmitigated nuisances, but there 
is much to be said in their favour quite apart from 
the fact of their being most efficient scavengers. 
There may be places in which they abound to 
an extent rendering their nocturnal concerts really 
annoying, but, if there be, I have had no experience 
of them, and must confess to having always regarded 
them as a pleasing variety in the nightly din of 
frogs and insects, and even to a certain regret 
over their absence in the British Islands. The 
intermittent character of their music prevents it 



207 



268 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

from getting on one's nerves in the way that 
the ceaseless baying of pariah dogs so often 
does ; the sounds of its solos and choruses are 
frequently positively melodious when they come 
from a distance, and, although this hardly holds 
good when they are uttered close at hand, the 
blood-curdling and fiendish character that they 
then have is in itself not without a peculiar fascina- 
tion of its own. As one lies wakeful in a steamy, 
hot night, wearied out by the incessant shrilling and 
whirring of insects and the explosively crackling cries 
of the frogs, it is quite refreshing to become suddenly 
aware that a jackal has begun to wail close at hand, 
and to hear him repeat his doleful call until his 
comrades begin to answer him, first in twos and 
threes, and then in full chorus, coming nearer and 
nearer, until at length their arrival is announced by 
the soft tread of many feet and a subdued conversa- 
tion of yapping barks (Plate XVI.). It is pleasant, 
too, to look out on a brilliantly moonlight night 
and see a large japkal bathing in the dewy grass, 
lying about and rolling on the cool, drenched turf 
with such manifest pleasure that one is almost 
tempted to follow his example. 

Thirty years ago the streets of Calcutta were 
nightly haunted by troops of jackals, yelling and 
racing about from place to place in quest of prey, 
but the closure of open drains and improved scav- 
enging have gradually diminished their numbers. So 







A Jackal calling his Friends to a Feast (p. 268). 




Large Civet (p. 274). \_Tofacep. 268. 



JACKALS, ETC. 269 

long as heaps of offal and garbage lay about in all 
the streets, and the cavernous recesses of drainage- 
culverts provided convenient lurking-places, the 
town was a perfect paradise for such animals, and a 
great number of jackals were permanent inhabitants 
of it, but now during a great part of the year few 
are to be seen or heard save in the outskirts of the 
town proper or in the suburbs. Even at present, 
however, when the monsoon-rains have been 
sufficient to flood the surrounding country to any 
considerable extent, troops of them come in during 
the latter part of summer and the beginning of 
autumn. At this time they often take up their 
quarters beneath houses in which all the iron- 
gratings over the openings of the sub -structure of 
the basement are not in good repair. In such cir- 
cumstances their presence can be readily explained, 
and excites no special notice, but at other times of 
year, and particularly when the uninvited guests 
are solitary individuals, this is not the case, as there 
is a widely diffused belief that when a solitary jackal 
becomes unwontedly tame he is usually suffering 
from an attack of rabies. It is by no means easy 
to dislodge them after they have once established 
themselves beneath a house, as it is necessary to 
be quite certain that none of them are in residence 
at the time at which measures are taken to close 
the openings leading to their retreats. It would 
be easy enough to imprison and starve them to 



270 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

death, but no one who has ever experienced the 
horrors attending the death of a rat beneath the 
flooring of a room would dream of running any 
risk of setting up a cemetery of jackals in the 
basement of his house, where the complicated 
system of ventilating channels consists of tunnels 
along which no dogs of any considerable size can 
make their way. If small dogs be allowed to enter, 
as they are only too anxious to do, there is not 
only a risk of their coming to grief in encounters 
with the intruders, but also no small chance of their 
losing their way in the labyrinth. The latter mishap 
once overtook a favourite terrier of mine when she 
pursued a cat who had taken refuge below the 
house, and she was only in the end recovered by 
dint of the destruction of an intact grating that 
closed an opening to which she had made her way 
in the course of her wanderings. 

Where they are allowed to feed unmolested at 
particular places, jackals often become very bold, 
and may be seen at the sides of suburban roads 
feeding, in the company of pariah dogs and cats, on 
the contents of heaps of rubbish that lie awaiting 
the visits of the scavengers' carts. These assemblies 
are usually quite peaceful, but now and then the 
dogs and jackals will wrangle and scuffle over the 
possession of some specially attractive treasure. As 
a rule the jackals take no notice of any one who may 
pass along the road, but, should he halt to watch 



JACKALS, ETC. 271 

them, they slink off to a short distance and await 
his departure in order to resume their meal. They 
vary greatly in appearance at different times of year. 
During winter, when their coats are in best condition, 
they are really handsome animals, and very young 
cubs are always most fascinating in their innocent 
playfulness. During the height of summer they 
feel the heat greatly, and are always ready to avail 
themselves of any opportunities of mitigating it 
that may be provided by their environment. 

As a train rushes at mid-day along parts of 
the line flanked by hollows, that are filled with 
water during the rainy season and in which the 
soil retains a certain amount of moisture and 
coolness even in the hot weather, startled jackals 
may be seen running up the slopes to sit panting 
in the full blaze of the sunshine until it seems 
safe to return to their shaded retreats ; and in 
the evening, as the dusk sets in, whole troops 
come streaming out and loiter on the banks until 
sufficiently revived to set out on their nightly 
rounds. 

A love for jackals may be a matter of idiosyn- 
crasy, but no one can feel any animosity to the 
common Indian foxes, Vulpes bengalensis, whose 
small size and delicate colouring are so attractive, 
and who so seldom give any good ground for 
annoyance, owing to the fact that their ordinary 
diet consists of rats, mice, small reptiles, and insects. 



272 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

They are very common in the open country round 
Calcutta, and formerly frequented the maidan around 
Fort William. Here there were various places in 
which their earths were always to be found, 
one of the most popular sites being on the banks 
of a large pond immediately beneath the outer 
wall of the Fort, and another lying to the north 
of the enclosure of the Presidency Gaol. Such 
constant residents were they, that the peculiar, 
laughing bark that they so frequently utter during 
their breeding season used, as it sounded out of the 
stillness of an autumn night and travelled into the 
streets bordering on the plain, to be one of the 
regular and welcome intimations of the advent of 
the cold weather. Now, however, like other in- 
teresting animals, they have been improved out of 
the locality, and it is only at rare intervals that 
they are to be seen or heard within it. 

Carnivorous animals of other sorts are always 
only too abundant in suburban gardens a fact 
that has been painfully impressed on all those 
who have had anything to do with the management 
of the Zoological Garden in Alipur. At wide 
intervals even a leopard may stray in from the 
outlying country, and haunt enclosures quite close 
to the town, lurking about among the dense 
shrubberies, clumps of bamboos and other thick 
covers during the day, and issuing forth at night 
in search of prey. As they have a very decided 



JACKALS, ETC. 273 

liking for the flesh of dogs, they doubtless think 
that they have lighted on very good quarters, but 
it is very soon demonstrated to them that their 
visits are by no means welcome. Fishing-cats, 
Felis viverrina, are not uncommon in large gardens, 
and may even become permanent residents in them. 
This was the case with a pair who established 
themselves in the Botanic Garden, and brought up 
a litter of cubs in a fastness amid the crowded 
mass of stems and epiphytes in the centre of 
the great banyan-tree. They often are of really 
formidable size, and at any time are uncanny- 
looking creatures, owing to an intense malignity 
of expression that is a true index to the savage 
nature which renders them quite untamable even 
when they have been caged in extreme youth. 
The jungle-cat, F. chaus, is not very often met 
with in the immediate neighbourhood of houses. 
One for a time made its head-quarters beneath my 
house in Alipur, and was a source of much interest 
and excitement to the dogs, who were always on 
the alert to hunt it when it ventured out from its 
retreat. It was a handsome animal, of a pale 
brownish-grey colour, with faintly marked bars 
of deeper tint on the thighs and legs, and was 
mainly distinguishable from a large domestic cat 
by the comparative shortness of its tail. Its cry 
was very like that of a common cat, but was often 
prolonged into a growling note. 



274 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

Both the large and the small civet are to be 
met with in gardens, and the latter species even 
in very small enclosures in thickly peopled parts of 
the town. The large civet, Viverra zibetha, ought 
to be a more attractive animal than it is (Plate 
XVI.). The brilliant contrasts of black, white, and 
grey in its coat, and the singular grace of its form 
and movements are admirable, but the general effect 
of the colouring is harsh and bizarre, and the long, 
low, pointed head has a very mean look. Large 
civets do not, as a rule, frequent the immediate 
neighbourhood of houses, and it is therefore only 
in the great and " careless-order'd " gardens of 
the suburbs that they are likely to be seen. I 
only twice met with them even there. On the 
first occasion I was passing a neglected corner in 
my garden in Alipur, where a mixed growth of 
pine-apples and long grass formed a dense jungle, 
when my terrier suddenly became highly excited 
and plunged into the cover. There she hunted 
about eagerly, and presently, with a great crashing 
sound, a large civet leaped out on the farther side 
of the thicket, and, after pausing for a few seconds 
to look around, went off up the path "at a great 
padding pace," and disappeared into the shrubbery. 
A little later, when we were returning towards 
the house, the dog entered a tangle of Petrsea 
and Cereus near the point at which the civet had 
vanished, and presently began to utter short, sharp 



JACKALS, ETC. 275 

barks indicative of a find. On joining in the 
hunt I discovered that she had managed to climb 
to a considerable height from the ground through 
the network of interlacing branches, and had 
reached a point where, in a state of frantic excite- 
ment and some embarrassment owing to the 
unstable nature of her footing, she was slipping 
about and barking furiously, dangerously near to 
her hissing and growling quarry. A small dog is 
no match for a great civet even on the ground, 
and far less so among the branches, and so I was 
fain to remove her forcibly and leave the enemy 
to make off without further molestation. When 
I next came into close quarters with a civet I 
had no help from a dog, and owed the privilege 
solely to the fact that the animal was too deeply 
absorbed in an attractive occupation to notice my 
approach. It was on one of those breathless 
evenings towards the close of the rainy season, 
when sudden, drenching showers alternate with 
shining intervals, during which swarms of white 
ants emerge to spend their brief winged existence. 
My attention was attracted to the presence of a 
swarm by the sight of multitudes of kites sailing 
to and fro over a particular point in the garden, 
a phenomenon which, at or shortly after sundown, 
can only be interpreted as indicative of an unusual 
abundance of winged prey, more especially when, 
on careful scrutiny, the birds can be seen every 



276 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

now and then moving as though they were grasping 
something in their claws and transferring it to 
their beaks as they wheel and sail about in a 
bewildering entanglement of flight. On nearer 
approach it was possible to see the individual 
insects, in the form of minute, dark points, ascending 
against the background of pale blue sky, and, on 
halting, to hear the rustling and pattering sounds 
that always attend the emergence of so many 
stiffly-winged creatures from the soil. They were 
thronging out of the sloping surface on the bank 
of a pond, swarming over the ground, and striking 
against the leaves of the neighbouring trees and 
shrubs as they streamed up continuously into the 
air in wavering, laborious flight. As usual, they 
were furnishing an attractive feast to animals of 
various sorts ; kites took them on the wing ; an 
enormous black and yellow spider disposed of 
those who became entangled in the meshes of his 
monstrous web extended between the branches 
over the place where they were coming out ; an 
army of great, fat toads hunted them greedily 
over the ground ; and a large civet stepped lightly 
about over the grass at the side of a great clump 
of canes and picked up those who were still 
struggling among the blades. It was fascinating 
to watch the great, lithe creature, so close at hand 
and so wholly unconscious of any human presence, 
its long, softly-banded body and great plumy 



JACKALS, ETC. 277 

tail swaying gently about as it trod lightly from 
place to place entirely absorbed in its occupation. 
Presently, however, the distant sound of a carriage 
startled it, and it went off stealthily into the cane- 
brake. Small civet-cats, Viverricula malaccensis, 
abound everywhere, and are often to be met with 
even in the densest parts of the town. At one 
time they were constant inhabitants of the Presi- 
dency Gaol, and used often to rear young families 
in retreats beneath the basements of some of the 
buildings. 

Palm-civets, Paradoxurus niger, are seldom long 
absent from the suburban gardens of Calcutta, and 
occasionally make their appearance well within the 
limits of the town. They are wonderfully fearless 
animals, and a pair of them once disturbed a seance 
of the Asiatic Society of Bengal by rushing through 
the meeting-room in amatory conflict. Their eyes 
are strangely luminous in dim light, much more 
so than those of almost any other animals save 
death's-head moths. The arrival of a palm-civet in 
a small urban garden is at once advertised by the 
development of a huge hubbub among the resident 
crows, who never fail to mob the visitor, spending 
hours of delightful excitement in alternately crowd- 
ing in around him and then flying suddenly out amid 
torrents of bad language from the place in which 
he may have chosen to spend the day a place which 
is usually situated in the crown of some tall palm. 



278 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

Common mungooses, Herpestes mungo, are sure 
to be often present in any garden containing patches 
of long grass, broken ground, or thickets of shrubs 
affording convenient cover and store of prey in the 
shape of small birds, reptiles, and insects. The 
feelings with which mungooses are regarded are apt 
to be of a somewhat mixed nature ; for, on the one 
hand, they are welcome and respectable on account 
of the havoc that they play among snakes, mice, 
and rats, and, on the other, they are notoriously 
equally ready to make away with birds and eggs, 
so that their presence in a garden is not wholly 
desirable. Were it not on account of the birds, 
it would be a source of unadulterated joy, as, quite 
independent of their utility, the study of their 
habits must be a constant entertainment to any one 
who has not a constitutional aversion to ferret-like 
animals. Their ceaseless activity, their astonishing 
alertness, and their easy, graceful movements are 
most fascinating, and the sight of one of them in 
conflict with a Deadly snake is a most memor- 
able experience in its exhibition of matchless 
pluck and skilful fence. There was formerly 
much debate in regard to the question of their 
apparent immunity from the toxic effects of snake- 
bite, some observers maintaining that it was the 
result of wary avoidance of efficient bites, while 
others regarded it as mainly due to the presence 
of a constitutional insusceptibility. Now we know 



JACKALS, ETC. 279 

that both of these factors come into play to produce 
the result, or, in other words, that in normal circum- 
stances mature mungooses do possess an exceptional 
immunity from the results of encounters with 
venomous colubrine and viperine snakes, partly 
owing to the presence of constitutional peculiarity, 
and partly because they are seldom exposed to the 
action of large doses of venom, due to their wonder- 
ful activity and skill in dealing with the snakes. It 
remains, however, to be determined how far the 
constitutional immunity is of an hereditary or an 
acquired nature. Experimental research has clearly 
proved that a very high degree of immunity is 
evolved in animals who have been treated with 
progressively increased doses of venom, ranging 
upwards from normally sublethal amounts through 
a series of larger and larger ones. But any animals 
like mungooses, who are frequently engaged in 
conflicts with deadly snakes, must almost certainly 
be practically exposed to such treatment, and under 
these circumstances, it is only natural that adult 
mungooses who have grown up at liberty should 
possess a certain degree of immunity. What is 
wanting to complete our information on the subject 
is a series of experiments on animals which have been 
born and reared in captivity under conditions pre- 
cluding the possibility of encounter with venomous 
snakes. Should they show any immunity, the latter 
must be of an hereditary origin, and would apparently 



280 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

furnish an example of hereditary transmission of 
acquired peculiarity. There is nothing to show that 
mungooses were originally endowed with inherent 
immunity from the action of the snake-venom, but 
it is certain that each successive generation of them 
must, under normal conditions, have acquired a 
greater or less degree of exemption, and, therefore, 
if it turn out that nowadays inherent immunity is 
present in any degree, the evidence will favour a 
belief that it has arisen under the influence of the 
exposure of many successive generations to conditions 
leading to acquired peculiarity. 

By a curious coincidence mungooses not only 
are relatively exempt from the toxic action of 
snake-venom, but sometimes are strangely like 
snakes. Whilst walking down my garden one 
morning my attention was suddenly and un- 
pleasantly attracted by what seemed to be the head 
and neck of a large snake projecting over the long 
grass of a dry ditch at a little distance from where 
I was. I watched it carefully, as the attitude and 
brownish-yellow colouring were very suggestive of 
a cobra. The object presently disappeared from 
view, but soon again emerged, and then, by the 
aid of a field-glass, was resolved into the head 
and forequarters of a mungoose, who was sitting 
up on end and searching his environment in quest 
of prey. In the garden where this took place there 
was quite a colony of mungooses inhabiting burrows 



JACKALS, ETC. 281 

in the banks of a deep hollow, which was almost 
dry in summer, but became converted into a small 
pond in the rainy season, and, consequently, oppor- 
tunities for the study of their manners and customs 
abounded. When busy hunting they usually go 
about in pairs, but now and then a party of three 
or four may be met with, working their way 
systematically over the ground in a way that 
excites pity for any other animal inhabitants of the 
place. During the course of their investigations 
they every now and then sit up very erect, and 
have a good look round with their warily glancing 
little eyes, and when several are in company, their 
labours are often varied by playful fights in which 
the combatants wrestle and roll over and over on 
the ground amid clouds of dust. They do not, as 
a rule, come into the interior of Calcutta, but in 
many other towns they are constant residents. In 
Delhi, for example, the Queen's Gardens are almost 
always haunted by numbers of them. Every one 
knows what charming pets they are when there 
is no risk of endangering the life of other captive 
animals, and how useful they are in keeping a house 
clear of snakes, rats, and mice. The exhibitions of 
alertness and activity that they afford must be seen 
to be imagined. A mungoose may be apparently 
quite absorbed in business at one end of a large 
room, but, should a gecko fall from the roof at 
the other end, it is rarely that he escapes being 



282 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

secured before he has had time to pull himself 
together and take refuge on the nearest wall. 

Otters are naturally very common in the lower 
delta of the Ganges, where the land is traversed 
by innumerable water-courses, and interrupted by 
ponds and marshes swarming with fish. They do 
not, however, often make their appearance in 
gardens, and very rarely invade the interior of the 
town of Calcutta. A pair of them many years 
ago had their head-quarters in a small pond, choked 
with a rank growth of Papyrus, in the Botanic 
Garden, and now and then one or two of them 
will, for a time, haunt one or other of the ponds on 
the maidan, but, as a rule, they avoid the immediate 
neighbourhood of the town. Common otters, Lutra 
vulgaris, are not so much used by the fishermen 
of the Hugli as by those who work in the channels 
of the Sundarbans and the large rivers further east 
in the delta. Every now and then, however, the 
presence of a boat provided with a pack of them 
is advertised by the shrill, querulous cries which 
they so frequently utter at any time, and which 
fill the air every time they are sent into the water 
by their owners. Their duties lie, not in directly 
catching fish, but in alarming them and driving 
them about so as to facilitate the netting operations 
of the fishermen. The ease and vigour with which 
they move, alternately swimming at the surface of 
the water, yelping incessantly, and then suddenly 



JACKALS, ETC. 283 

turning over to dive into the depths below, are 
delightful; and the way in which they can make 
head against the violent currents of a flooded stream 
and ebbing tide is quite wonderful. When not at 
work they lie about tethered up in the boats, 
spending most of their time in sleep, but occasionally 
rousing up to wrangle and play with one another 
and wail aloud for food. Otters seem always to 
be in a state of ravenous hunger. Those which 
were kept in the Zoological Garden at Alipur were 
regularly and abundantly supplied with stores of 
fish, but in spite of this, they always seemed to be 
in a perfect frenzy of starvation, and ravenously 
devoured all the very miscellaneous food that was 
offered by compassionate visitors in the vain attempt 
to still their clamour. They are ordinarily reputed 
to make very charming and affectionate pets, but 
one would certainly desire to be very certain of the 
temper of any pets who are in a ceaseless state of 
nervous excitement and are provided with jaws like 
steel traps. 



XXIV 

SHREWS AND BATS 

"The shrew-mouse eyes me slmdderingly, then flees; and, 

worse than that, 

The house-dog he flees after me why was I born a cat ? " 

Fly Leaves. 

"The lether- winged batt, dayes enemy." 

The Fa'e'rie Queene. 

SHREWS, as a rule, are apt to escape notice, owing 
to their nocturnal habits and the small size of 
most of the species, but every one in India is 
familiar with the great musk-shrews, or " musk-rats," 
as they are commonly called, who are constantly in- 
vading houses and leaving unpleasant evidence of 
their visits in an overpowering and all-pervading 
musky odour. They are strange-looking creatures 
at any time, and particularly so whilst running 
about a garden in late dusk, when their pallidly 
bluish-grey coats look as though they had been 
smeared with luminous paint and stand out con- 
spicuous amid the surrounding gloom. Soon after 
sundown they begin to come out and run busily 



2S4 



SHREWS AND BATS 285 

about beneath the shrubs and among the long grass, 
constantly uttering shrill, twittering cries, that sound 
more like those of a bird than a mammal, and 
eagerly hunting for insects and worms. Insects of 
all sorts always abound in Indian houses, and the 
lighting of the lamps at dusk is the signal for a 
general influx of moths, beetles, and other noctur- 
nally active species in such numbers as to convert a 
room into a perfect entomological menagerie. The 
abundance of desirable food that is thus provided 
is very alluring to the shrews, and they fearlessly 
enter rooms in pursuit of it. When they come 
in, they usually skirt along in the angles where 
the walls and floor meet, coursing along, scuffling 
and squeaking as they go, until they have made 
a complete tour round the room or have reached 
an opening into an adjoining one. If they be left 
unmolested, they are quite inoffensive and are very 
useful in clearing off any great cockroaches or 
other objectionable insects that come in their way, 
but, if they be in any way alarmed or disturbed 
during their progress, the air is forthwith filled by 
an intolerable smell of musk that adheres persistently 
to anything that they may come in contact with. 
It seems to be as offensive to most dogs as to 
human beings, and is doubtless a most effectively 
protective agent. Many dogs, although eager to 
pursue musk-shrews, absolutely refuse to touch 
them, and those who cannot resist doing so in the 



286 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

excitement of the chase, show unequivocal signs 
of disgust and shame over the consequences. It 
is almost always safe to predict that a musk- 
shrew is in question whenever dogs, who are questing 
about among long grass, begin to work their way 
along in a series of pouncing leaps that represent 
the resultant of eagerness to reach their prey and 
aversion to the results attending actual contact 
with it. 

The brown musk-shrew, Crocidura murina, is 
said to occur in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, 
but the only other shrew, besides the common 
" musk-rat," that I ever met with in a garden there 
was the pigmy-shrew, Crocidura perrotteti, a speci- 
men of which I once caught in the Botanic Garden. 
It may very possibly be common enough in the 
locality without the fact being generally recognised, 
as it is so wonderfully small and so essentially 
nocturnal in its habits that it is only by chance 
that specimens attract notice. The specimen in 
the Botanic Garden was a belated individual, who 
had been overtaken by dawn whilst at some distance 
from home. When first observed it was making 
its way across a dusty path, and was an object 
of equal curiosity to me and my dogs, looking, 
as it did, more like some strange insect than a 
mammal. 

One of the things that is most striking to any one 
on first arriving in a tropical country, and especially 



SHREWS AN 7 D BATS 287 

in one like lower Bengal, where perennial heat and 
moisture secure the presence of innumerable insects, 
is the extraordinary number and variety of the bats 
who make their appearance every evening at sun- 
down. Just then, and all through the time in 
which the colours of the sunset fade out and 
those of the after-glow burn up to replace them, 
bats are emerging from their diurnal hiding-places 
and hurrying out into the air. On every housetop 
a softly scuffling sound issues from any disused 
chimneys that project from the flat surface of the 
terraced roof, and when one approaches one of 
these and looks into any of the lateral openings, 
bats will be seen coming scuttling backwards up 
the shafts in a continuous stream. Each of them 
as he reaches the top suddenly turns round so as 
to bring his head upmost, has a quick look round, 
scrambles to one of the openings, and then launches 
forth into the air. Similar processes of emergence 
are occurring simultaneously from innumerable other 
pl aces from empty buildings ; from the crevices 
about the beams in verandahs; from hollows in 
trees, and from any sites presenting shaded and 
obscure lurking-places so that it is little wonder 
that, for a time, the sky seems to be alive with 
myriads of bats, who flicker around in complicated 
and changeful mazes. The first species to emerge 
are mostly of very small size, many of them hardly 
larger than big moths. These come out while the 



288 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

light is so strong that king- crows are still hawking, 
and parties of swifts screaming and circling around, 
but, as the dusk deepens, larger and stronger-flying 
ones make their appearance, and presently huge 
flying-foxes begin to flap their way laboriously 
high overhead. The smallest bats have a very 
wavering, moth-like flight, but some of the larger 
ones dash and wheel around almost like snipe. 
One species of considerable size usually makes a 
continuously creaking sound while flying, as though 
all its joints wanted oiling, but whether this be 
due to some peculiarity of flight or to the repeti- 
tion of a cry I never could determine. Bats are 
sometimes described as swooping, but, if the term 
be applicable to the flight of any species, it is 
only to that of the great fruit-bats, who, on 
nearing a tree in which they purpose to feed, 
exchange the laboured flapping of their common 
flight for a series of plunging and sweeping 
descents. 

Every one who has visited the great and often 
partly ruined mosques and tombs of Upper India 
must be only too familiar with the villainous odour 
that pervades many parts of them, owing to the 
extent to which they are peopled by bats. The 
spaces between the inner and outer vaultings of 
the great domes of the Taj and Humayun's tomb 
are almost always haunted by multitudes of them ; 
and it is a memorable experience to look upwards 



SHREWS AND BATS 289 

through the shaft that pierces the depth of the 
great tope at Sarnath and see the sunlight sifting 
down through the gauzy wings of a throng of 
startled bats, fluttering in alarm over the invasion 
of their fastness. 

Shortly after they have come out for the night, 
bats often for a time flutter about over ponds, 
and at intervals dip down to take something from 
the surface, and as the habit is not peculiar to the 
small insectivorous species, but is shared by the 
great fruit-bats, it must in some cases be connected 
with drinking, and not the outcome of attempts 
to secure floating or swimming prey. I only once 
saw a bat swim, and then the performance was 
in no way connected with the above-mentioned 
habit, but was the result of the fact that the 
swimmer had come out whilst the light was still 
so strong as to bewilder him. Whilst I was on 
the bank of the pond where he came to grief, 
my attention was attracted by a strange object 
far out over the surface of the water, and steadily 
advancing towards me at considerable speed and 
with a strangely jerking motion. As it neared the 
bank it resolved itself into the head and fore- 
quarters of a small bat, who was oaring his way 
along by vigorous strokes of his half expanded 
wings. As he neared the shore, a crow, who had 
also been watching his progress with much interest, 
made an attempt to secure him, so that I had to 

T 



290 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

go to the rescue and transfer the poor little tired 
mariner to the safe shelter of a thick shrub. 

To the ordinary observer the great fruit-bats 
are the most interesting members of the family 
that are to be met with in India. Two species, 
Pteropus medius and Cynopterus marginatus, are 
very common in the neighbourhood of Calcutta. 
The first of them, the common large fly ing- fox, 
is a familiar object throughout the greater part of 
India. In "The Fauna of British India" the 
species is said to be unknown in the Punjab, but 
in the year 1880, the trees in the enclosure of the 
Baba Tal, in the town of Amritsar, were certainly 
tenanted by a large colony of them, and, as the 
Queen's Gardens in Delhi always contain large 
numbers, it is hardly likely that they are entirely 
absent from the country lying between the two 
cities. A colony of flying-foxes is always a note- 
worthy sight, and occasions ceaseless wonder that 
such singularly ill-tempered animals should ever 
have come to adopt a social mode of life. Should 
a colony be visited at an hour early enough to 
allow of the study of the behaviour of the animals 
as they come in from their nocturnal wanderings, 
it will be found that each successive arrival is 
greeted by a chorus of viciously ill-natured cries, 
and that the task of effecting a landing among 
the boughs is one of considerable peril, owing to 
the malignant attacks that the animals, who have 



SHREWS AND BATS 291 

already established themselves, are always on the 
outlook to make on the newcomers. All through 
the course of the day, too, and when it might 
have been supposed that sleep would have led to a 
cessation of hostilities, sounds of wrangling go on 
ceaselessly, owing to the restlessness which leads 
them to be constantly changing their positions and 
disturbing and irritating their neighbours. When 
in captivity they are just as prone to quarrel as 
they are whilst at large. The injuries that they 
inflict on one another in these scuffles are often 
very formidable, as the great, soft, leathery surfaces 
of the wings afford a fine field for the play of their 
great hooked claws. It is consequently a difficult 
matter to keep more than one or two of them 
in the same enclosure in good condition for any 
length of time, as, even when their encounters do 
not terminate fatally, their wings are almost sure 
speedily to present a sadly tattered and unsightly 
aspect. 

Flying -foxes take to various kinds of trees 
as the sites for their rookeries, but those that 
seem to be especial favourites in Upper India are 
pipals, Ficus religiosa, tamarinds, and high-growing 
bamboos. The fact that tamarinds are often chosen 
is probably one reason why they should be regarded 
as special haunts of bhuts, and why the demon in 
the Baital Pachisi is described as always hanging 
itself up in one at the end of each of its conver- 



292 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

sations with Vikram. Although large casuarinas 
abound in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, they 
seem never to be chosen as sites for colonies, 
whereas in Southern India, and especially about 
the town of Madras, they are very frequently 
occupied; and certainly nowhere do the clustering 
bats present a more curious and striking appearance 
than when hanging among the long slender branches 
of these trees, swaying about on the feathery shoots 
that bend under their loads and are stirred by 
every passing breeze. Two very large colonies 
inhabit the neighbourhood of Calcutta, one lying 
to the west of the town on the farther bank of 
the Hugli, and the other to the south-west in the 
tract of country between the Diamond Harbour 
and Budge-Budge roads. At certain times of year 
it is curious to observe how these two communities 
have perfectly distinct feeding - grounds, and how 
completely apart they keep from one another on 
the way to them. Evening after evening at sun- 
down two distinct streams of bats may be seen 
crossing the sky above the town, one travelling 
almost due eastwards from a point across the 
river, and the other north-eastwards ; intersecting 
one another at a certain point in their course, but 
never showing any tendency to intermingle. The 
degree to which flying - foxes are conspicuous in 
particular parts of the town and suburbs at different 
times of year is determined by the local distribution 



SHREWS AND BATS 293 

and seasons of flowering and fruiting of certain kinds 
of trees. They have a special liking for the fruits 
of devdars, Polyaltliia ; country-almonds, Terminalia 
catappa; and kadams, Nauclea Kadumba ; and where- 
ever such trees abound they form centres of attrac- 
tion at the times at which their fruits have reached 
a certain stage of development. Devdars and 
kadams normally produce only one crop of fruit 
annually. This is developed from flowers that in 
the case of the devdar are produced in spring, 
and in that of the kadam on the first onset of 
the monsoon rains, but in both alike it becomes 
alluring to the bats in July and August. The 
country-almonds, on the other hand, have no less 
than three successive crops corresponding with 
inflorescences that appear coincidently with the 
onset of the hot weather and the beginning and 
end of the rainy reason. Hence, whilst the 
devdars and kadams are only visited once a year, 
country-almonds remain attractive during a great 
part of each annual period, although they are 
specially so at the same time as the other trees 
are, because the spring inflorescence and the crop 
of fruit connected with it are much more abundant 
than those developed later. 

During the hot-weather months flying-foxes 
almost entirely desert the immediate neighbour- 
hood of Calcutta, and their reappearance in the 
town in the end of June or the beginning of July 



294 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

is one of the signals announcing the fact that the 
rainy season has really set in. When they first 
appear they do so in relatively small numbers, but, 
as their favourite fruits mature, larger and larger 
flocks assemble, and for a time all the trees are 
nightly thronged from shortly after sundown until 
the approach of dawn. After the fruit on the 
devdars has been cleared off their numbers per- 
ceptibly decrease, but the successive crops of plums 
on the country-almonds, and the maturing in- 
florescence of various other trees, such as Parkia 
biglobosa, serve to attract a certain number of 
visitors all through the autumn and the greater 
part of winter. On approaching trees at which 
they intend to feed, flying-foxes exchange their 
usually slowly flapping, laborious progress for a 
boldly sweeping flight in which they wheel around 
in gradual descent, and finally plunge with a great 
scuffling dash into the foliage. Their caution in 
committing themselves to the branches is well 
founded, for each .new arrival is greeted by torrents 
of jealous chattering and resentful attacks from 
those who are already at work and are disturbed 
by the agitation of their locations. Owing to the 
fact that whilst feeding they generally hang head 
downward and suspended by the great hooked claws 
on their hinder limbs, they are constantly dropping 
half-devoured fruits, and bestrewing the ground 
beneath with gnawed plums and berries. The 



SHREWS AND BATS 295 

regularity with which they come in night after 
night to feed at particular trees enables those 
natives who regard them as desirable articles of 
diet to reap a rich harvest during their seasonal 
visits. Two methods of capturing them are in 
common use in the neighbourhood of Calcutta. 
The first is carried out by means of very tenacious 
and widely - meshed nets, which are suspended 
vertically between two fruiting trees, over an 
open space or roadway through which the bats 
are likely to sweep in descending to land among 
the branches. The nets are so slight in texture, 
and are often hung so far aloft, as to present a 
certain likeness to the monstrous spiders' webs 
which often occupy similar positions. A very 
distinguished botanist once took me out to see 
one as a very remarkable specimen of a web, and 
was deeply grieved at my jeers over his discovery. 
The second method of trapping is of a more com- 
plicated character, and can only be conducted by 
the co-operation of two men. One of them is 
provided with a call and a dark-lantern, and the 
other with a so-called Mnta, an apparatus con- 
sisting of a bundle of twigs fastened to the end of 
a pole, and somewhat resembling a long-handled 
birch-broom. When they have arrived at a place 
where the bats are feeding, the man with the call 
puts it into his mouth and shows the light of his 
lantern. The light attracts the attention of the 



296 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

bats, and, as the notes of the call are very like 
their wrangling cries, the quarrelsome creatures are 
very apt to approach it and to afford the man 
with the Mnta a chance of beating them down. 
There can be little question that it is only prejudice, 
arising from the unpleasing way in which their coats 
swarm with vermin, that prevents flying-foxes from 
coming into the European market, for their flesh 
ought to be particularly delicate, owing to the diet 
of fresh fruits and buds on which it is nourished, 
and their fur is extremely beautiful in colour, and 
wonderfully fine and soft in texture. As it is, 
no Anglo- Indian has the courage to try them, 
although many are constantly slaughtered by idle 
sportsmen, who find them tempting targets as 
they flap slowly across the dusk of the evening 
sky, or in the brilliant moonlight of the later hours 
of the night. They are brought down by very 
slight injuries, the passage of a single pellet through 
the membrane of one wing being often enough to 
cause their fall. 

Short-nosed fruit-bats, Cynopterus marginatus, 
are very abundant around Calcutta, but do not 
attract so much notice as the large flying-foxes 
do, both on account of their smaller size, and 
because they never occur in colonies, but spend 
the hours of daylight either alone or at utmost in 
pairs. Moreover, when resting they always lie con- 
cealed, never taking up conspicuous places among 



XVII. 




Small Flying-Foxes on a Plantain Leaf. p. 297. 



SHREWS AND BATS 297 

branches, but almost invariably hanging themselves 
up on the under surfaces of large leaves, such as 
those of plantains and aroids, so that it is only acci- 
dentally that their presence is discovered (Plate 
XVII.). Whilst passing through a group of plantains 
one's attention may be arrested by dark objects 
adhering to the lower surfaces of the great over- 
arching leaves, but their form and colouring is so 
like that of one of the detached spathes or torn and 
brown strips of leaf-tissue that are so often to be seen 
in like positions, that there is a great chance that 
their true nature may be mistaken. This re- 
semblance is, doubtless, highly protective, and has 
been beautifully elaborated in relation to the nature 
of the environments in which the animals ordinarily 
spend their times of rest. Owing to their larger 
size and social habits, the common fly-foxes have 
less need of protection of this nature, but, in spite 
of this, they do show distinct traces of resemblance 
to certain features often met with in their immediate 
surroundings ; for, when hanging from the branches, 
they do present a curious likeness to the bunches 
of drying pods that abound on some of the trees 
in which colonies are to be found. Where such 
colonies are established in pipals or bamboos they 
certainly show no evidence of this, but when they are 
located in tamarinds, and very specially when in trees 
of Parkia biglobosa, the resemblance between the 
hanging bats and the pendent clusters of brown pods 



298 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

is very evident (Plate XVIII.). It may be that 
the social habit has arisen comparatively recently, and 
that the resemblance dates from an earlier period, at 
which special protection was advantageous to solitary 
or merely paired animals. The evolution of the 
social habit may well have done away with the need 
of protective resemblance, and have allowed of the 
tenancy of trees in which the elements making 
for it are absent, but there can be no question 
that the resemblance does exist in those instances 
in which certain trees are made use of. 

The fruits of various kinds of figs are very great 
favourites with these bats, and, when crops of 
receptacles are maturing, the trees are constantly 
haunted by swarms of them. They do not, how- 
ever, seem to be nearly so quarrelsome as the great 
flying-foxes, or, at all events, they carry on their 
competition over the fruit so quietly that no sounds 
of wrangling ever attend it. Their flight is much 
stronger and more rapid than that of the flying- 
foxes, and in going in and out of trees they never 
cause the disturbance that the latter do. They are 
curiously methodical in regard to the times at which 
they come out in the evening; their exits always 
take place at a particular period after sundown, and 
thus, although their exact hour varies with the time 
of year, they are as good as clocks at any given 
time. It is very pretty to see a pair of them 
hanging beneath the broad curving blade of a 



SHREWS AND BATS 299 

great plantain-leaf, and, with their wings folded 
around them, looking like little bundles of soft 
brown fur, picked out by paler lines, and ending 
beneath in small, sharply-pointed heads with bright 
greyish-brown eyes that are constantly glancing 
round in wary observation. 



XXV 

SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 

"....; the striped palm-squirrel raced 
From stem to stem to see ; " 

Hie Light of Asia. 

" Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats, 
Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats." 

The Pied Piper of Hamelin. 

" And bristling with intolerable hair." 

Atalanta in Calydon. 

PALM-SQUIRRELS, Sciurus palmarum (Plate XIX.), 
are to be found in every suburban garden, and are 
occasionally met with well within the limits of the 
town of Calcutta. They are so pretty and attractive 
that one is usually disposed to pardon any mischief 
that they may do, so long, at any rate, as they do not 
insist on invading the interior of houses. In Calcutta 
they seldom do this, but in Madras they are often 
very troublesome, constantly making excursions into 
rooms, gnawing up curtains and other fabrics in 
quest of materials for their nests, and being the 
indirect cause of the ruin of small ornaments which 

300 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 301 

are very apt to come to grief in the excitement that 
arises among the resident dogs and cats on the occasion 
of their visits. Any material of a soft, fibrous texture, 
or capable of being reduced to fibres, is an irresistible 
attraction, and they were consequently a constant 
source of trouble and cost in the Zoological Garden 
at Alipur, owing to their persistent attacks on the 
curtains of coarse jute-fabric affixed to the front of 
many cages to protect their inmates from blazing 
sunshine, furiously driving rain, and the cold of 
winter nights. In addition to such evidently 
purposive mischief, they are often guilty of seem- 
ingly wanton injury by gnawing through the 
branches of shrubs and creepers so as to cause 
unsightly blanks in the foliage. As the tissues in 
such cases are usually quite cleanly divided, the 
injury cannot be excused as occasioned by any 
dietetic need, and, if the habit be of any practical 
use at all, it can only be so as a means of cleaning 
the teeth of the culprits and preventing overgrowth 
by the friction that it provides. 

The number of palm-squirrels inhabiting any 
given locality undergoes striking fluctuations during 
the course of years. In 1880-81, they were mis- 
chievously abundant in the Botanic Garden at 
Shibpur; in 1886-87, hardly any were to be met 
with ; but from that time onwards they went on 
steadily multiplying, until in 1896 they had become 
as common as they ever had been. As has already 



302 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

been pointed out, fluctuations of like nature occur in 
the numbers of other mammals and of some birds 
in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, and may fairly 
be accounted for as the results of periodically re- 
curring destructive epidemics. 

The movements of palm-squirrels in trees are 
exquisitely accurate and rapidly executed. In 
travelling up vertical surfaces they advance in a 
succession of rapid darting rushes, alternating with 
pauses, during which they lie flattened out on the 
bark and almost invisible among the grey and black 
lichens coating it, and closely matching the colours 
of their fur. When traversing horizontal or sloping 
boughs they run and leap lightly about, constantly 
flirting their feathery tails as they go. When the 
stem on which a squirrel is, is approached, the animal 
immediately dodges round to the far side of it, and 
there is no use of attempting to get a sight of him 
by following him round, as this only leads him to 
repeat the process. Under such circumstances the 
only chance of getting a good view is to remain 
quite still until curiosity has done its work, and 
then a small head will be seen peeping round one 
side of the stem to scrutinise the intruder with a 
pair of brightly glancing eyes. All the time they 
are travelling they constantly chatter and scold, 
and every pause in their progress is attended by 
a volley of sharply twittering notes, and such 
violent elevation of their tails that the tips are 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 303 

jerked against the shoulders. In order to see them 
in a state of the highest excitement it is only 
necessary to set a dog at them whilst on the ground. 
Immediate flight to the nearest tree is the primary 
result, but after they have reached a safe height 
and have pulled themselves together from the 
nervous shock caused by the assault, they usually 
become aggressive, descending as far as prudence 
allows, and scolding at their enemy with torrents 
of querulous abuse. Dogs are always ready for a 
squirrel-hunt, but very seldom gain anything from 
it save excitement, as their quarry is usually much 
too sharp for them, and rarely ventures far enough 
from trees to give them a fair chance. Now and 
then, however, dogs are to be met with who have 
an exceptional talent for stalking them craftily until 
they are within reach of a sudden rush. As a rule, 
squirrels are very cautious about leaving the im- 
mediate neighbourhood of trees, but now and then 
they are tempted by alluring food to wander far 
out into the open and run the risk of persecution 
by crows, who, whilst very careful to avoid being 
bitten, worry them greatly by hopping about close 
behind them during their rushing advances from one 
place to another. Where the ground is bare, or 
only covered by short turf, they can get along very 
quickly, but, owing to the shortness of their legs, 
they are greatly hampered by grass of any consider- 
able length. The fallen fruits and flowers of many 



304 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

kinds of trees lure them down to squabble with the 
mynas and other birds who find the feast equally 
attractive. 

Palm-squirrels are very easily tamed, especially 
when taken young, and are very attractive pets in 
spite of the mischief that they are apt to do owing 
to their ungovernable desire to be constantly gnaw- 
ing at something. Their habits in captivity clearly 
show that much of their nest-building is pure house- 
building, quite independent of any prospective 
family end. One, that for a long time inhabited 
an aviary in my verandah, built a most elaborate 
sleeping-room in a wooden box, and, as one side 
of the latter in contact with the wiring had been 
previously completely gnawed away, it was easy 
to study all the steps in the progress of the work. 
The nest was entirely built up of coarse cotton 
threads taken from a cover that was thrown over 
the wiring at night. The threads were made up 
into clues and flocks, and the latter were then piled 
together in the form of a hollow ball, with a small 
round opening at 'one side leading into a central 
cavity, in which the architect spent his nights and 
many hours of the day. 

The only squirrels that are uninteresting in 
captivity are the flying species, whose nocturnal 
activity renders them so dull and drowsy during the 
day, that, to any one who had only seen them in 
confinement, it would be hard to imagine them 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 305 

equal to the wonderful feats of agility that they 
habitually practise whilst at large. Two species, 
Pteromys inornatus, and Sciuropterus jimbriatus, are 
very common on the Simla Hill, often spending their 
days in the roofs of houses ; and there are few 
more attractive entertainments than that of watch- 
ing them when setting out on their nightly ex- 
cursions. There are excellent points for observing 
them on many roads, and especially at certain 
points on the long, winding one that leads from 
the Mall down to Annandale. In order to see 
them it is only necessary to take up a position 
at dusk at one of the points at which they have 
to cross the road in descending the hill, and to 
keep quite still. Very soon scuffling sounds will 
be heard in one of the overhanging trees, and then 
a dark object crosses overhead to one that leans 
out over the depths of the khad. Once it has 
reached such a point, the squirrel ascends until it 
has nearly reached the top of the tree, and then runs 
outward to the end of a branch, where it again 
comes into view as a dark mass among the foliage. 
Suddenly the mass seems to enlarge and unfold, 
and in a moment shoots out into the air, and sails 
downwards through clear space to land on the 
lower part of a tree far below, and there begin to 
ascend anew in preparation for another flight. The 
journey down the hill looks enviably easy, but the 
toil of the return must be very great, as in it no 

u 



306 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

great spaces can be covered, and the ascent must 
either be made on the ground, or by means of a 
great number of very short flights from the top of 
one tree to the base of another only a very little 
farther up the slope. 

The large red Indian squirrel, Sciurus indicus, is 
often on sale in the bazaars of Calcutta, but does 
not make a very interesting pet. It is not nearly 
so lively in captivity as many other squirrels are, 
and is much disfigured by the blunt roundness of 
its muzzle, and the repulsive orange tint of its 
teeth. 

Rats and mice are only too abundant in most 
houses and gardens in India. The sound of their 
riotous nocturnal excursions over the canvas ceilings 
so common in houses in Upper India, is familiar to 
every one as one of the trials of restless nights in 
the hot weather ; and very few residents of Calcutta 
can have failed to suffer from the effects of their 
annual invasion of houses when the onset of the 
monsoon rains drives them in in throngs from their 
out-of-door haunts. In Calcutta, brown rats, Mus 
decumanus, are permanent inhabitants of houses, 
stables, and other buildings, but the so-called black 
rats, M. rattus, usually have their head-quarters 
in gardens, and only come indoors in considerable 
numbers when they are drowned out by excessive 
rainfall. They are not so unpleasing to look at 
as brown rats are, and, indeed, are rather pretty 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 307 

animals, but they generally are much more mis- 
chievous as inmates of houses. During the time 
of their annual invasions it is hard to say what may 
not suffer from their attacks, as, unlike the brown 
rats, who generally direct their attention to articles 
of food, they seem to be possessed of a devil of 
gnawing that drives them to exercise their teeth 
impartially on anything they come across, and to 
play havoc among books, boots, bedding, and furni- 
ture generally. They are strangely, and, in a sense, 
attractively familiar in their ways, and seem to take 
it quite as a matter of course that they must be 
welcome guests. They show none of the furtive 
habits that ordinarily characterise brown rats, and 
will often come out and play about in rooms 
in full daylight quite regardless of the presence of 
human beings. One afternoon, whilst I was sitting 
idly watching one frisking about the room, it 
gradually came nearer and nearer, and eventually 
mounted on one of my feet to sit up there and 
have a good look around, whilst it leisurely scratched 
its head, and combed out its whiskers. This was 
all very well, but it is not so pleasant to awake 
morning after morning to find a large hole in the 
mosquito- curtains and much of the stuffing of the 
bed-pillows pulled out and strewn around as evi- 
dence of the fact that a rat has been paying a visit 
during the night. Whilst residing out of doors 
they spend much of their time among the boughs 



308 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of trees and shrubs, where they build great nests 
of dead leaves and dry grass. One of them once 
took up its quarters in the crown of a young tadi- 
palm in the Botanic Garden, and built a nest 
between two leaves just at shoulder-height from the 
ground over the side of a path, so that one could 
exchange greetings with it in passing as it lay in 
its bed (Plate XIX.). It belonged to the variety 
named Mus rufescens, which is distinguished by the 
length of the tail and the beautiful yellowish tint of 
the fur over the sides, back, and head, and which 
seems to be the commonest, and certainly is the 
prettiest form occurring in the gardens of Calcutta. 
The extreme prejudice ordinarily entertained 
against brown-rats is, in so far as my personal 
experience goes, rather unfair. They doubtless have 
a very debased look, they are not at all nice in 
their choice of food, and latterly they have acquired 
ill-repute as possible importers of plague, but, in 
ordinary circumstances, and when not present in 
great number, they really are very inoffensive neigh- 
bours, so long at least as they do not use one's house 
as a cemetery, and they certainly are most efficient 
scavengers. During a long term of years I lived in a 
house in Calcutta where the stables were close to 
the main-door and greatly infested by rats, but, 
although the latter were in the habit of visiting 
me frequently, they never did any serious mischief 
or attempted to establish themselves permanently in 




Rat in its Nest (p. 308). 




Palm-squirrels (p. 300). 



[To face p. 308. 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 309 

any of the rooms. Their incursions usually took 
place immediately after meals, and when there was 
a likelihood of finding fragments of food scattered 
about. During the last year of my stay in Calcutta 
there were no dogs in the house, and the visits of 
the rats became more frequent and methodical than 
before, but, even then, they were mere passing events 
unattended by any damage. Night after night, 
whilst I sat reading at the side of the dinner-table 
after the servants had gone, there would be a sudden 
sound of hurrying feet, and two great rats would 
come racing into the room from the hall, to hunt 
about carefully over the floor, climb up and quarter 
about over the table, and, after having cleared off 
everything that they could find to eat, take their 
departure as noisily and unceremoniously as they had 
arrived. As they never did any harm and always 
left the house at once on finishing their meal, I 
came quite to tolerate their visits, and even to miss 
them when anything prevented their occurrence. 
This being the case, it was not unnatural that the 
rats came to regard themselves in the light of family 
friends, and were at last so confident that they had 
occasionally to be forcibly repressed when their 
familiarity led them to extend their journeys over the 
table by excursions on to my head and shoulders. 
However far a tolerance of rats may go, it can hardly 
be expected to lead to any desire for immediate 
contact with them, or pleasure in the sense of being 



310 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

shut up in confined quarters in their company. It 
is not easy to forget the feeling of disgust attending 
the sudden fall of a rat from the ceiling into one's 
face as one lies in bed, or the horror of realising that 
one or more rats are in one's berth in a small cabin. 

Both of the common rats, but especially the 
brown ones, are a constant source of trouble and loss 
in the Zoological Garden at Alipur. They seem to 
find it a perfect paradise, and are for ever undermining 
the basements of the buildings, purloining grain and 
other articles of food, not to speak of occasionally 
playing havoc among eggs, and young or even 
mature birds. 

Common house-mice, Mm musculus, abound in 
Bengal, and it is only necessary to set up an aviary 
in a verandah, or to keep a few caged birds in the 
rooms of a house, in order to be aware of the fact. 
They really are much more troublesome than rats 
from their great desire to live indoors and from the 
ravages that they commit among books and papers 
whilst engaged in building their nests. It is quite a 
common experience, on opening a drawer in a writing- 
table, to find that bundles of valuable papers have 
been torn up into strips and then woven into hollow 
rounded masses containing litters of unpleasant, pink, 
gelatinous young mice, or to discover that some 
treasured volume has been ruthlessly disfigured by 
having its edges and corners mangled. For some 
years I kept large numbers of birds in my house, and 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 311 

the mice became so extremely numerous, and were 
so constantly running about in my study, that 1 
became quite an adept in killing them. After trying 
many different methods for doing so I eventually hit 
upon two very efficient ones. The first of these was 
carried out by the aid of a Cachari blow-tube, which 
lay handy on the writing-table, and discharged its 
sharp, metal-tipped darts so accurately as to allow 
of making very good practice. The other I can 
specially recommend for its extreme simplicity and 
great efficiency in rooms where there are not many 
heavy pieces of furniture against the walls. All 
the apparatus called for in it is a strong box set at a 
very acute angle with the foot of a wall, so as to 
leave a narrow, tapering chink, between the surfaces 
of the wood and the plaster; or, even better, two 
boxes set end to end against the wall and diverging 
from it in opposite directions, so as to leave two 
chinks opening respectively right and left. When 
mice in a room are alarmed, they usually at once 
make for the sides of it and run along in the angle 
where these meet the floor. Any mouse running 
round the edges of the floor is almost sure to meet 
with one of the tapering cul de sacs provided by the 
boxes, and naturally taking refuge there, may be at 
once disposed of by kicking the box violently against 
the wall. 

The Indian field-mouse, Mus buduga, doubtless 
occurs in the gardens of Calcutta, but it is so small 



312 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

and does so very little harm as readily to escape 
notice. Very different is it in the case of the 
common mole-rats, Nesocia bengalensis, who render 
their presence only too apparent by the unsightly 
heaps of loose earth, like mole-hills, that they are 
constantly casting up on the surfaces of lawns, or on 
sloping banks of ponds where they are particularly 
noxious, from their love of these sites for their 
tunnels. In the case of excavated ponds these do 
comparatively little harm beyond disfiguring the 
surface of the slopes, but in that of embanked ones 
they are a source of serious danger by weakening the 
stability of the banks and facilitating the occurrence 
of percolation through them. Fortunately, mole-rats 
are very easily captured, as they can be readily dug 
out of their burrows, which follow a very superficial 
course ; and their numbers are also frequently very 
greatly reduced, probably by the intervention of 
epidemic disease. During periods in which they 
abound stringently repressive measures are often 
called for in order to abate their mischief. About 
the year 1880 they were so numerous in the Botanic 
Garden at Shibpur that it was necessary to keep two 
coolies told off to dig them out of their caves in the 
slopes of the ponds. This was a most congenial task 
to the diggers, as they belonged to a class of natives 
who regard rats as desirable food. Their labours 
were rendered additionally pleasant by the sense that 
they were not only a means of procuring stores of 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 313 

food, but led to the acquisition of much bakshish; 
for, at the close of each day's work, its product, in 
the form of earthen pots full of rats, was regularly 
brought to me in order to let my dogs have the 
pleasing excitement of a hunt on the flat terraced 
roof of the superintendent's house, or in a bath-room 
in event of excessive rain. The men certainly had a 
very good time of it ; they earned regular pay for 
light labour that provided them with desirable food, 
frequent bakshish, and all the entertainment of wit- 
nessing a rat hunt every evening. 

Bengal porcupines, Hystrix bengalensis, certainly 
occur in the immediate neighbourhood of Calcutta, 
as they are occasionally brought into the town for 
sale by the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. 
I have, however, neither seen them in any of 
the suburban gardens, nor heard any complaints of 
their doing any serious damage there, like that 
which is so often caused by the great porcupine, 
H. leucura, in the gardens of other parts of India. 
I once tried one as a pet, but found it a hopelessly 
stupid and unfriendly animal, although, owing to 
voracious greed, it very soon became quite tame. 
In dealing with it, it was always necessary to be 
prepared for the chance of its making one of those 
precipitate and blindfold assaults that porcupines are 
apt to commit when suddenly startled, in the course 
of which they abruptly erect their spines, make a 
noise like that of an engine blowing off steam, and 



314 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

rush backward in the direction of the supposed 
enemy. 

Common Indian hares, Lepus rujicaudatus, are 
often very troublesome in suburban gardens. They 
abound in the Botanic Garden to an extent that 
renders it necessary that the beds in the flower- 
garden should be carefully protected by surround- 
ing fences of wire-netting. One morning whilst the 
superintendent of the Garden was overhauling the 
nursery, and enforcing the need of a general 
clearance of the miscellaneous stores of rubbish that 
are so sure to accumulate in native hands, he came 
across a heap of dilapidated wire-netting. " Have 
this thrown away at once, babu," said he to the 
official in charge. " But, sir, it is to protect the 
plants in the flower-garden from the insects," was 
the immediate reply. This statement was at first 
sight somewhat startling, but was accounted for 
by the fact that the man, like Punch's railway- 
porter, used the word "insect" as a generic term 
applicable to any animal of unknown name and 
nature. 

There are now, alas! very few gardens in 
Calcutta, abutting on the river, like those of Garden 
Reach in the days of its glory, before mills and 
shipping -yards had devastated the grounds of the 
great old houses that used to fringe the bank ; but 
so long as the Botanic Garden remains where it is, 
one may continue to regard the Gangetic dolphin, 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 315 

Platanista gangetica, as a member of the garden 
Fauna of the locality. One can hardly think of even- 
ings during the cold weather, spent on the river- 
face of the garden with the stream slipping by in 
oily sheets all glorious in reflections of the crimson, 
ruddy brown, and gold of the after-glow, and painted 
with blue and silver from the upper and eastern 
sky ; or covered by the images of innumerable rosy 
cloudlets, amid which a silver moon was slowly 
rising without mental vision of the smooth, grey 
heads and shining backs of dolphins, appearing and 
disappearing in the tide, as the animals wandered 
hither and thither, sighing aloud each time they 
came to the surface. When one of them rises fully 
in still water, the glassy surface of the latter is 
suddenly pierced by a long, slender snout, followed 
by a pale, shining head, that at first rises almost 
vertically into the air, and then curves over and sinks, 
whilst a great, polished, grey back heaves moment- 
arily up into view. Often, however, they roll at a 
somewhat greater depth, and then only a transitory 
glimpse of a grey islet, or a mere passing heave and 
swirl in the water, is all the evidence there is of 
the event. 

The sound that they make in blowing is of a 
gently sighing nature, much softer than that emitted 
by the common porpoises of the British coasts 
puffies, as the fishermen of the east coast of Scot- 
land call them and is of a character that readily 



316 COMMON BEASTS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

explains the origin of their common Hindi name, 
susu. They do not usually appear in herds, as so 
many of their relatives do, but sometimes the river 
seems full of individual specimens, all following 
independent tracks. Now and then, however, and 
particularly in parts of the stream where the con- 
fluence of several currents has led to the formation 
of deep, eddying pools, a troop will gradually con- 
gregate and remain diving and circling around for a 
considerable time. The re-appearance of the dolphins 
in the river about Calcutta is one of the regular 
harbingers of the end of the rainy season and the 
approach of winter ; for, so long as the stream 
is in full flood from the melting of Himalayan snow 
and the monsoon drainage, they are never to be 
seen in the Hugli. This is probably in great part 
owing to the fact that during the time of their 
absence the water-way at their disposal farther inland 
is, for the time being, very greatly increased. Some 
local factor, however, would also seem to come 
into play, as they certainly sometimes abound in 
the main stream of the Ganges between Damukdia 
and Sara-ghat in the middle of August, at times 
when the river is in full flood, and at a part of its 
course comparatively very low down and near the 
sea. They give the fishermen in the Hugli a good 
deal of trouble by following fish into their nets, and 
becoming entangled in them, where they are soon 
drowned, but, in their dying struggles, manage to 



SQUIRRELS, RATS, PORCUPINES, ETC. 317 

do much mischief. Owing to this, specimens may 
generally be readily obtained on the offer of a reward, 
but it is almost impossible to acquire them alive, as 
they are almost always drowned before they can be 
secured. 



XXVI 

LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES. 

" Alone by one old populous green wall 
Tenanted by the ever-busy flies, 
Grey crickets and shy lizards and quick spiders." 

Paracelsus. 

" How cheerfully he seems to grin, 
How neatly spreads his claws, 
And welcomes little fishes in 
With gently smiling jaws." 

Alice in Wonderland. 

"In that land is full much waste, for it is full of serpents, of 
dragons and of cocodrills that no man dare dwell there." 

SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE. 

ANY account of the ordinary inhabitants of the 
gardens of Calcutta would be very incomplete 
without some notice of the commoner reptiles, 
batrachians, and fishes to be met with in them ; for 
small lizards and snakes are present in all of 
them, and in the larger, and particularly in the 
larger suburban enclosures, containing abundant 
cover and numerous ponds, great Varani and even 
crocodiles, tortoises, innumerable frogs and toads, 



318 



LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES 319 

and fish of many distinct kinds, are often very con- 
spicuous. 

The two commonest lizards are the little wall- 
geckos, or, as the natives call them, tik-tiks, 
Hemidactylus gleadovii, and the so-called blood- 
suckers, Calotes versicolor. Every one is familiar 
with the former, as so many of them are constant 
inmates of houses, where they run around over the 
walls and roofs of the rooms, lurking by day behind 
picture-frames or other hanging ornaments, and issu- 
ing forth in the evening to feast upon the insects that 
swarm in, allured by the light of the lamps. When 
they adhere motionless to the walls on the outlook 
for their prey, they look so much as though they 
were gummed to the surfaces on which they rest, 
that it is sometimes hard to persuade people who 
are new to the country that they are actually living 
creatures and not Japanese curios. All through the 
still heat of a summer's day the silence of the care- 
fully shaded rooms is occasionally broken by the 
queer little cries of " tik, tik, tik tik tik," to which 
they owe their native name, and which are all the 
more remarkable then because the animals are 
usually hidden away in their diurnal residences. 
When they are visible, they are queer little objects 
with blunt muzzles, pot-bellies, and tails, that at best 
are stumpy, and often are either wholly absent or in 
various stages of eccentric repair in consequence of 
accidents. When they lie at rest against a wall, the 



320 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

rounded discs on their toes that enable them to 
adhere to vertical surfaces, or even to the under 
sides of horizontal ones, stand out very conspicuously 
and give the feet a quaint resemblance to the 
analogous structures by which certain climbing 
plants, such as Ampelopsis Veitchii, support them- 
selves in like situations. They have considerable 
chameleonic power of adapting their colouring to 
that of surrounding surfaces. This comes out very 
clearly whenever one of them leaves a shadowy nook 
behind a picture-frame for a place on a brilliantly 
lighted white wall. On emergence he stands out in 
high relief as a dark object, but presently begins to 
fade, and in a short time acquires such a pallid 
yellowish tint as to be hardly noticeable. During 
my last year in Calcutta I was on very intimate 
terms with a gecko, who constantly lived on the top 
of my writing-table, and who, owing to the dark 
colouring of his surroundings was of a deep brown 
hue, even after he had emerged into the lamp-light. 
There is endless amusement to be derived from 
watching them whilst stalking and securing insects. 
They usually approach their prey in a series of short, 
breathless rushes, alternating with pauses of careful 
watchfulness, until they are so close to it that special 
caution is called for, and then they crawl slowly and 
stealthily onwards to safe-striking distance. Small 
insects generally give them no farther trouble after 
having been seized, and are at once gulped down. 



LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES 

When the prey is of larger size, however, and 
especially when it consists of a thickly-plumed moth, 
it is violently shaken, as a rat is by a terrier, and the 
wings and loose down are plucked off and rejected 
with seeming disgust. They certainly merit much 
gratitude for the havoc that they play among in- 
sects, and at no time more so than when a house is 
suddenly invaded by a swarm of flying white ants, 
who throng around the lamps and go struggling 
about over the tables in their frantic efforts to get rid 
of their unwieldy wings. Then indeed it is a joy to 
see the geckos come hurrying out of their fastnesses 
to gorge over their loathsomely greasy prey until 
they begin to swell visibly. 

At first sight wall-geckos are not so attractive as 
many other lizards, but there are none of the latter 
who respond so readily to attempts to tame them. 
In a house where I lived for many years the 
verandah was used as a dining-room, and the dinner- 
table was, consequently, every evening even more 
beset by insects than it would have been within a 
room. The presence of such an attractive hunting- 
ground led two geckos to make their head-quarters 
in it. During the day they remained hidden on the 
under surface of the board, but whenever it was 
spread and the lamps lit they came out to hunt. As 
they were never in any way molested, they soon 
became quite ludicrously tame, and developed a 
depraved taste for cake, leaving their proper food in 

x 



COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

contempt when it was to be had, and running eagerly 
to take it out of one's fingers. When pictures, 
which have hung on the wall for some time, are 
displaced, it is not at all uncommon to find that a 
gecko has selected some nook about a frame as the 
site in which to lay its little delicate oval eggs, which 
look as though they ought to have been in the nest 
of a humming-bird. 

" Blood-suckers" are very unlike wall-geckos both 
in appearance and habits. They are long slender 
creatures, are very timid, and hardly ever stray into 
houses, where indeed they must find themselves very 
ill at ease, owing to the structure of their feet. Their 
long, slender toes and clasping claws are adapted to 
a purely arboreal existence, and it is among boughs 
and twigs and on the rough surfaces of the bark of 
stems that they find a congenial home. When one 
of them screws up courage to come to the ground in 
order to reach a new perch lying at too great a 
distance to be got at by leaping, it is always with 
evident trepidation, and the journey along the level 
is invariably performed in a headlong rush. When 
at their ease among the branches they move about 
quietly and lightly from place to place, or rest 
motionless on exposed twigs, basking and drowsy in 
the blaze of the sunshine ; but, on the faintest alarm, 
they are ofF at once, running and leaping from point 
to point with wonderful speed and agility. As a rule, 
they are very vigilant and hard to take unaware, unless 



LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES 323 

when one of them happens to fall very sound asleep 
during the course of a sun-bath, and then it is 
advisable to exercise some caution in laying hold of 
them as they can give very unpleasant bites with 
their sharply pointed teeth. Their expression has 
none of the imbecile mildness of that of the wall- 
geckos, and an old male in full war-paint presents 
a very forbidding aspect as he stands proudly on the 
top of a shrub, displaying his spikey back and ruddy 
head, and gazing round with malevolently sparkling 
eyes (Plate XX.). Their armoured coats, protec- 
tive tints, extreme activity, and really formidable 
jaws are sufficient to deter most of their enemies, 
save snakes, so long as they remain in their wonted 
surroundings, but when on the ground they are often 
attacked by crows and other carnivorous birds. Even 
when secured under such conditions the great tough- 
ness of their hides renders them inconvenient to their 
captors, and brown shrikes, in dealing with them, 
are accordingly obliged to depart from their ordinary 
habits, and to fix their prey on stout thorns before 
breaking it up. 

Another small lizard that is common in gardens 
in Calcutta is Mabuia carinata, but owing to the 
fact that it almost always lies hidden under heaps 
of dead leaves, it is much less likely to attract 
casual notice than the two species just described. 
They are beautiful creatures, clad in shining 
armour of bronze and green above, and with under 



324 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

surfaces of brilliant white. It is very easy to 
capture specimens of them, but not at all so to 
secure one in perfect condition, as they almost 
always jerk off their tails in their efforts to escape. 
Geckos are certainly brittle enough, judging from 
the large numbers of them who are constantly to be 
seen in various stages of repair, but they are tough 
as compared to Mabuias, who seem to break up as 
readily as sticks of sealing-wax do in cold weather. 
Every large suburban garden containing a pond 
and dense masses of shrubbery is almost sure to 
be occasionally visited by specimens of the great 
water-lizard, Varanus salvator. Owing to their 
large size and aquatic habits, they are often 
mistaken for young crocodiles, and, as they have 
most voracious appetites and jaws to match them, 
they are by no means welcome guests where fowls 
are kept, or fish are preserved in ponds. Their 
normal diet consists of frogs, toads, and fish, but 
they are always ready to avail themselves of any 
opportunity of varying it with birds, and have an 
evil repute for a liking for young chickens. Whilst 
on land they are repulsive and debased-looking 
creatures, with dirt-coloured coats, and an awkwardly 
waddling gait, which can, however, in emergencies 
carry them over the ground with astonishing 
rapidity. To appear to advantage they must be in 
the water where they are quite at ease, swimming 
at a great pace with their heads held well out of 




Blood-sucker and Water-tortoise (p. 323). 



[To face p. 324. 



LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES 325 

the water and their great tails lashing from side 
to side, or diving and remaining below the surface 
to come up at a great distance from the points 
at which they disappeared. In ordinary circum- 
stances they come to the surface of the water 
after brief intervals, but when alarmed they can 
remain submerged for a long time with complete 
impunity. Their power in this respect is not, 
however, equal to that of crocodiles, and continuous 
submersion during periods of from three to four 
hours' duration is enough to drown them. As a 
rule, they do not venture very far from water, 
and, on any alarm they always make for it as 
quickly as possible. Their tails not only serve 
as very efficient propellers and steering-gear, but are 
also formidable weapons, owing to their great reach 
and the violence with which they can be lashed 
about. At one time, and much against the wishes 
of my servants, I kept a very large Varanus in a 
cage in the verandah of the first floor of my 
house. He was the object of much horror to the 
household, as the uneducated natives firmly believe 
that the long, forked, flickering black tongue, that 
so often comes out from between the formidable 
jaws, is endowed with such potently venomous 
properties, that its slightest touch is fatal. The 
cage was a very strong one, and was large enough 
to contain an earthenware bath, in which the 
prisoner spent most of his time. Every now and 



326 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

then, however, he managed to break loose and 
escape over the top of a long terrace-roof that 
was reached by a short flight of steps descending 
from the verandah. The process of recapture was 
attended by the wildest excitement and appre- 
hension. The fugitive was pursued by a mob of 
men, armed with thick sticks and horse-blankets 
from the stables, and all in a state of the greatest 
dread of the deadly tongue and formidable tail. 
Matters reached a climax when he was cornered 
and eventually secured under the blankets, hissing 
aloud, snapping his jaws, and " swindging the scaly 
Horrour of his folded tail." His appetite was truly 
astonishing, and he seemed to be always ready to 
do away with fifteen large toads at a single meal. 
Dogs are usually eager to hunt them, but exercise a 
wise caution in coming to close quarters with them. 
They usually keep to the ground, but, when in 
quest of eggs or birds, they sometimes climb to a 
considerable height among tangled masses of shrubs 
and creepers. 

Crocodiles now and then make their appearance 
in gardens lying near the river or other permanent 
water-courses and swamps. The species usually met 
with about Calcutta is Crocodilus porosus, which 
is so common in the tidal channels of the Sun- 
darbans, and of which it may certainly be said that 
it is not quite so repulsively hideous as C. palustris. 
When crocodiles have once taken possession of a 



LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES 327 

pond it is often no easy matter to dislodge them 
from it. For many years after the formation of the 
Zoological Garden in Alipur it was useless to try 
to stock the ponds with water-fowl, as the only 
result of doing so was to provide a feast for a 
horde of crocodiles who inhabited them. At that 
time, too, the enclosure was liable to be flooded 
every autumn by the high tides that came up a 
neighbouring water- course and left a deposit of river- 
tortoises and young crocodiles, so that there appeared 
to be little use in trying to get rid of those pre- 
viously present in the locality until the possibility 
of recurrent importation had been done away with 
by special drainage and embankments. But even 
then, it was only after many attempts that a 
thorough clearance was effected. A certain number 
of the resident reptiles were gradually shot down, 
and then heroic measures were undertaken to pump 
out the entire system of ponds so as to allow of 
careful search for those that survived. This resulted 
in the capture of a few crocodiles, who were found 
buried in the mud and in holes in the banks, and 
it was fondly hoped that any others that were 
originally present when the process of pumping 
began had migrated when they found the water 
becoming inconveniently low. It did not take 
long to discover how futile this hope was ; for 
hardly had the ponds been refilled and experi- 
mentally stocked with a few pelicans, before the fate 



328 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of the latter afforded decisive evidence that the 
clearance had not been complete. 

Crocodiles are more intelligent than would be 
supposed by those whose acquaintance with them 
has been limited to the sight of specimens as they 
lie about on a sand-bank with their eyes glaring in 
a fixed, stony stare, or float about like logs on the 
surface of the water. Those who were kept in the 
reptile-house at Alipur showed that they fully 
realised when they ought to be fed, and recognised 
the keeper who was about to supply the food. At 
all other times they were passively sluggish, but on 
feeding-nights they greeted the arrival of the 
keeper by scrambling out of their ponds and 
roaring loudly until they were attended to. I once 
tried one as a pet, but soon tired of its hopeless 
untamableness and savage temper, and when, some 
years later, some fishermen presented me with a 
specimen about five feet in length, I took it at once 
to the Zoological Garden. Whilst living with the 
superintendent of the Botanic Garden, I had to 
cross the river by boat in going to and returning from 
work in Calcutta, and in doing so naturally became 
very friendly with many of the boatmen who fre- 
quented the landing-ghdt on the far side of the 
stream. Knowing that I had a liking for miscellane- 
ous curios, they usually reserved any strange animal 
that they got hold of until I had had the offer of 
it. One morning I found that a set of them had 



LIZARDS, CROCODILES, AND TORTOISES 329 

managed to secure a young crocodile, which they 
had tethered up by a stout rope round its armpits, 
and which they now presented to me with great 
triumph. Acting on the good working theory that 
it is unwise to refuse even undesirable offerings lest 
the zeal for collecting should be checked, I accepted 
the struggling, snapping captive with seeming rapture, 
although neither wanting nor knowing well what to 
do with him. The only resource seemed to be to 
have him as soon as possible conveyed to the 
Zoological Garden, but it did not appear very clear 
how this was to be done. The men proposed to 
fasten him down on the top of my brougham, but 
as it was a blazing day in May, this would have 
been cruel, if not actually murderous, and so, 
although with some apprehension, I took him as a 
fellow-passenger in the inside of it. However, by 
dint of sitting with my feet up on the front seat, 
and hitting him on the head with a stout stick 
whenever he showed symptons of becoming lively, 
I managed to make out the journey scatheless. 

Water- tortoises, Triongx, abound in the Hugli 
and the countless channels and swamps communi- 
cating with it, and specimens are also to be found 
in many seemingly isolated garden-ponds. Their 
appearance is far from inviting, owing to their dingy 
colouring, extremely flattened form, and to the 
presence of a layer of slime that usually coats their 
surfaces, and which is often rendered additionally 



330 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

repulsive by being thickly beset with hosts of flukes, 
that form flickering fringes projecting from it and 
waving to and fro in the surrounding water. Quite 
irrespective of their ugliness, they are very uncanny 
inmates of bathing-ponds, as they are highly car- 
nivorous, and can give very unpleasant bites with 
their strong, chisel-edged mandibles. It is a curious 
sight when the still surface of a pond is gently 
parted as a tortoise rises to protrude his grey snake- 
like head and neck, and gaze around with dull 
little eyes, ready on the slightest alarm to slip 
down again into the depths, oaring his way by 
vigorous strokes of his stout short legs. Their 
curious rounded eggs are often to be found lying in 
heaps among the grass at the edge of the water. 
Their shells are so thick and hard that it seems 
strange that the young ones should ever manage to 
force their way out, but they can do so with great 
rapidity under the influence of a sufficient stimulus. 
I once put a clutch of eggs into a bottle of strong 
spirit, and within the course of a few minutes, all 
the shells had been broken by the struggles of the 
young animals within them. 



XXVII 

SNAKES 

" .... to watch some chattering snake-tamer 
Wind round his wrist the living jewellery 
Of asp and na"g, or charm the hooded death 
To angry dance with drone of beaded gourd." 

The Light of Asia. 

"The slumbering venom of the folded snake." 

The Corsair. 

EVERY garden worthy the name is sure to contain a 
resident population of snakes, but it is only in sub- 
urban gardens that venomous ones are common. On 
going out into a garden early in the morning during 
the hot weather, and while the dusty walks have not 
yet been disturbed by the day's traffic, curious 
sinuous trails are often to be seen marking the lines 
followed by snakes during their nocturnal travels. 
Each track consists of an aggregate of rounded or 
oval, somewhat depressed patches. These are some- 
times quite discrete and separated from one another 
by little ridges, but in other cases they are more or 
less indistinct and fused with one another, differ- 



332 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

ences that seem to depend partly on the nature of 
the soil, and partly on the rate at which the reptile 
was moving over it. Towards the end of the cold 
weather the presence of snakes is further advertised 
by the appearance of pallid fluttering streamers, 
projecting from amid heaps of stones on the surfaces 
of mouldering walls, and marking the sites where 
their former owners have made their annual change 
of skin on awakening to renewed activity with the 
rising temperature. These casts are sometimes mere 
tattered fragments, but often are beautifully perfect, 
showing the impression of every scale, and even the 
delicate transparent membranes corresponding with 
the surfaces of the eyes. As has been pointed out 
already, such casts seem to appeal very strongly 
to the aesthetic sense of the common mynas, who 
greedily appropriate them as constituents for their 
nests. Later in the year collections of snakes' 
eggs are often to be found, stowed away in the 
recesses of old walls or among heaps of rubbish, and 
containing young reptiles in various stages of de- 
velopment. On opening the eggs it is curious to 
note how early the young animals begin to show the 
distinctive actions of the species to which they belong. 
This is particularly striking in the case of young 
cobras, who begin to try to sit up and to expand 
their imperfectly developed hoods long before the 
time for their natural emergence has come. 

Lycodon aulicus and Tropidonotus stolatus are 



SNAKES 333 

the two commonest snakes in the town of Calcutta, 
and are to be met with wherever there is a little 
open space among houses, but Zamenis mucosus 
occurs in almost every garden, and Tropidonotus 
piscator in most enclosures containing or abutting 
upon a pond. In the suburbs all these species 
occur in greater numbers and are accompanied by 
other harmless snakes and by varying numbers 
of venomous ones. Specimens of blind-snakes, 
Typhlops, really abound everywhere, but attract 
but little notice owing to their small size, worm- 
like look, and subterranean habits. Great con- 
sternation was once, however, occasioned in Calcutta 
by their appearance in large numbers in the water 
supply of the town. For some weeks it was quite 
a common experience to draw a specimen off in 
the drinking - water supplied by the street- and 
house - taps. This took place during a period of 
unusually prolonged dry weather, and could be 
readily explained. The unwonted dryness of the 
soil had led the snakes to congregate in any moist 
areas such as those surrounding points of leakage 
from the mains, and, as the water-supply is an 
intermittent one, these must almost inevitably have 
sometimes been sites of indraught favouring the 
entrance of the reptiles to the interior of the 
pipes. 

Lycodon aulicus is nearly certain to be one 
of the first snakes whose acquaintance is made 



334 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

by any one who has newly arrived in Calcutta from 
Europe, both on account of its habit of often 
entering houses, and because the servants almost 
invariably vociferously herald the appearance of 
one that does come in, under the idea that it is 
a krait, Bungarus cceruleus. The mistake is not 
at all surprising, for not only is there a very 
considerable superficial likeness between the two 
species in regard to size and colouring, but there 
is a curious similarity in their habits, both being 
specially fond of invading houses, and of establish- 
ing themselves on the tops of pieces of furniture 
or on the laths of Venetian shutters, even in rooms 
that they can only reach by dint of ascending 
staircases. They seem to have quite exceptional 
powers of climbing, as it is not at all uncommon 
to find a specimen on the top of a lofty bookcase 
or wardrobe. 

Tropidonotus stolatus is a very graceful and 
most innocent little serpent. It abounds in open 
grassy spaces where its favourite diet of toads, 
Bufo melanostictus, is to be met with readily. 
Almost all snakes are apt to look somewhat un- 
comfortable whilst gulping down a relatively large 
mouthful, but I have never seen any of them look 
more incommoded than specimens of this species 
do whilst swallowing frogs or toads. They seem to 
have no sense for relative dimensions, and will gaily 
seize upon victims whom it seems hardly possible 



SNAKES 335 

that they should ever manage to get down. The 
spectacle that presents itself in such cases is a very 
curious one (Plate XXI.). Of the two animals 
the snake would certainly seem to be the object 
for greatest pity. His victim, after the momentary 
struggle and outcry attending seizure, seems to be 
quite resigned to fate, and sits quietly down, to gaze 
passively around whilst his hind-quarters are engulfed 
in the jaws and throat of his captor. Meanwhile the 
latter is suffering astonishing deformation. The jaws 
are forced widely apart, and the distension of the 
neighbouring soft parts is so excessive that the 
individual scales clothing them are separated by 
bands of skin and other tissues spread out into 
bluish, translucent membranes. The general effect 
presented by the two animals is that of some 
strange monster with a long slender tail, and a 
huge head with staring eyes supported on a pair 
of short, crooked legs. Should the victim be 
forcibly extracted even at a very early period, it 
will be found that the compressed portion of the 
body and the hind limbs is completely paralysed. 
It might seem as though the pressure to which 
they had been exposed ought not to have given 
rise to more injury than the corresponding distension 
which must have occurred in the tissues of the 
snake, but, whilst the latter causes mere temporary 
inconvenience, the former serves, as a rule, to induce 
death, even when it has not been of long duration. 



336 COMMON REFTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

It is of considerable importance to the snake to 
secure his prey in a place affording ready shelter, 
for when the capture has been effected in an 
exposed site, the ensuing meal is apt to be un- 
pleasantly interrupted by the attentions of crows 
and other birds, who gladly avail themselves of 
the opportunity for persecution afforded by the 
helplessness attending its progress. 

Tropidonotus piscator is the common pond- 
snake, and is readily recognised by the beautifully 
tessellated pattern formed by its deep brown and 
tawny yellow scales. They are very bold and 
aggressive creatures, and are usually as ready to 
resent and punish any molestation as a bad-tempered 
dog is. Their wonderful powers of swimming and 
diving render them very expert fishers, and the 
havoc that they play in a pond is often very great. 
When they have secured a fish of any considerable 
size, they usually make straight for the bank in 
order to obtain sufficient support during the toils 
of swallowing. I once found them of great use 
when I was teaching a friend to swim. The lessons 
were conducted in a pond abounding in Tropidonoti, 
and, when driven into close quarters with my 
pupil, they acted as a most efficient stimulus to 
energetic attempts at progress through the water. 

Dhamins, or rat- snakes, as they are ordinarily 
termed by Anglo -Indians, Zamenis mucosus, may 
often be found in ponds, but are by no means 



SNAKES 337 

so essentially aquatic as the snakes that have 
just been noticed, and are drowned on exposure 
to half-an-hour's continuous submersion. They are 
very common, and are of much use in doing 
away with large numbers of rats and mice, which, 
along with frogs and toads, form the normal staple 
of their diet. Many specimens attain a length of 
over six feet, and are formidable to handle, owing 
to their great strength and activity. They certainly 
are very bold creatures, but, although I have had 
a very large experience of them in captivity, I 
never met with any specimens showing signs of 
the ferocity with which they have been credited 
by some observers. At one time a large number 
of dhamins were kept in a pit in the Zoological 
Garden at Alipur. They were periodically supplied 
with stores of large toads, and ample opportunities 
were thus afforded for the study of the processes 
of capture and deglutition. In those cases in 
which the prey was dexterously seized from behind, 
swallowing went on rapidly and smoothly, as, no 
matter how rapidly and excessively the toad blew 
itself up, its gaseous contents were gradually but 
surely forced out. This, however, was by no 
means so in instances in which the head had been 
seized, for in such circumstances, the distension, in 
place of being reduced by the pressure to which 
the body was exposed, was maintained more and 
more securely as deglutition advanced, and the 



338 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

mouth of the victim became more and more firmly 
closed. 

The beautiful tree-snake, Dryophis mycterizans, 
is doubtless relatively common in well-wooded 
gardens, but specimens of it are rarely noticed, owing 
to their arboreal habits and beautifully protective 
colouring. Two very distinct varieties occur; one, 
in which a vivid green colour has been worked out 
so as to harmonise with the tints of foliage and 
green shoots; and another, where the body is pale 
brown, and in form and hue closely matches small 
branches and twigs covered by brownish bark. 
Owing to these peculiarities in colouring, to their 
wonderfully slender form, and to an amazing capacity 
for remaining absolutely still, they may well escape 
notice whilst among their normal surroundings. 
When they do happen to attract attention it is 
usually by the disturbance that they cause among 
neighbouring leaves and twigs in moving from one 
place to another. The green specimens are often 
quite wonderfully beautiful in the vivid colours of 
their emerald and yellow coats, and both varieties 
are very alluring from their slender form, their 
refinedly gliding movements, and the extreme 
elegance of many of the positions which they take 
up whilst at rest. They are decidedly ill-tempered 
animals, and are very ready to bite, but, in spite 
of their somewhat suspicious teeth and the rooted 
belief that the natives of India have in their 



SNAKES 339 

venomous nature, I have never known any instance 
in which mischief attended injuries from them. 

Common cobras, Naia tripudians, are by far 
the commonest of the venomous snakes occurring 
in the neighbourhood of Calcutta. They rarely 
venture within the limits of the town, but they 
abound in the suburbs which provide them with 
innumerable congenial lurking-places, in the moulder- 
ing brick-work, heaps of rubbish, and tangled masses 
of jungle that always surround any group of native 
huts. For many years after the Zoological Garden 
had replaced a great village in Alipur, cobras gave 
much trouble, and were the cause of the loss of 
many valuable animals. The greatest and most 
lasting mortality took place in the paddocks at one 
end of the garden where the enclosure abutted on 
a piece of waste ground abounding in convenient 
cover for snakes. The presence of this jungle, with 
numerous drain-pipes supplying paths from it to 
the paddocks, was in itself a special risk, and the 
danger was reinforced by the fact that that end of 
the garden was tenanted by ruminants, who in so 
many cases have a great animosity to snakes, and 
are prone to attack any that they may come 
across. The only serious case of a bite from an 
unequivocally venomous snake that I ever met 
with, occurred in the person of one of the best 
keepers in the garden whilst he was attempting to 
prevent a cobra from entering one of these paddocks. 



340 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

One forenoon, when I was in the garden trying to 
secure a good photograph of an infant rhinoceros 
that had been born a day or two earlier, this keeper 
came to the place where the superintendent and 
I were at work, carrying a large dead cobra in one 
hand, and displaying a most efficiently bitten fore- 
finger on the other. He was not at all alarmed, 
and assured us that he had at once applied a ligature 
above the point of the injury, and, farther, that he 
did not believe that any venom had got into the 
wound, as it appeared to him that it had all run 
down over the surface of the skin. He accounted 
for his accident by saying that, having just finished 
his morning's work, he had set out on his way home 
for his mid-day meal, when, as he was passing along 
the southern boundary of the garden, he saw a 
cobra disappearing into one of the drain-pipes 
leading through the wall. In order to prevent its 
carrying out its purpose, he seized the snake by the 
tail with one hand and proceeded to draw it out, 
at the same time slipping the other hand upwards 
along its body under the idea that it would resist 
extraction until he was able to grasp it so near the 
head as to render it impossible for it to strike. 
Unfortunately, however, his calculation was upset 
by its giving way before he expected it to do so, 
and whilst it was still able to reach him. The 
accident took place some time before any supplies 
of antivenene had reached India, and when there 



SNAKES 341 

was little reason to believe in the efficacy of any 
method of treatment in cases of snake-bite in which 
a lethal amount of venom had entered the system, 
but we felt that we ought at least to seem to do 
something, and the patient was accordingly hurried 
to the entrance-lodge of the garden by the super- 
intendent, whilst I packed up the photographic kit 
and hastened after them. The choice of remedial 
measures was very limited, and so, after the 
punctures had been freely enlarged by the aid of an 
old knife, an energetic coolie was set to suck the 
wounds, an operation which he carried out with 
such vigour as to extract not only much blood, but 
also fragments of the subcutaneous tissues. The 
patient was then dosed with half a tumbler of coarse 
brandy, and directed to keep the injured finger 
immersed in crude brown carbolic acid, and I then 
left him to pursue my photography, saying that I 
should come back in half an hour and see whether 
he were likely to die. I returned in due course 
and found him not dead, but dead-drunk, and com- 
plaining bitterly of pain in his finger. He never 
showed a trace of any symptom of cobrine intoxica- 
tion, and, though he was laid up for some days by 
a severe attack of fever, we had an uneasy sense that 
he was quite right in ascribing his illness rather to 
our treatment than to the original injury. This 
case affords an excellent illustration of the manifold 
sources of fallacy that must be discounted in 



342 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

estimating the real value of the evidence adduced 
in favour of the efficacy of reputed remedies for 
the effects following snake-bite. In it there was no 
question in regard to the snake, none in regard to 
the presence of punctures inflicted by its poison 
fangs, and no reason to doubt the patient's statement 
that a large quantity of venom was ejected ; but 
yet no symptoms of cobrine intoxication followed. 
It can hardly be imagined that the treatment which 
was adopted accounts for their absence, and there 
can be little doubt that the patient's explanation 
of his escape was the true one, and that little or 
no venom entered the wounds. He affirmed that 
the venom all ran down over the surface of his hand, 
and it is easy to believe that this may really have 
occurred. When the site of the bite and the 
structural peculiarities of a cobras fangs are taken 
into account it is difficult to imagine how any 
appreciable quantity of venom could have been 
injected into the tissues. The punctures inflicted 
by the poison-fangs were on the back of the second 
joint of the forefinger, and, consequently, in a site 
where the thickness of soft and penetrable tissues is 
very small. Only the tips of the fangs could, there- 
fore, have penetrated, and consequently the channel 
for the conveyance of the venom must have remained 
so imperfectly closed as to favour superficial escape 
rather than effective injection of the poison. The 
poison-channels in the fangs of colubrine venomous 



SNAKES 348 

snakes are mere open grooves, until they are converted 
into tubes by the tissues of the reptile's gums and 
those of the soft parts of the victims of effectively 
deep bites, and, in a case like the present one, any 
such conversion must have been only very partially 
carried out ; there must have been an area in its 
course in which the channel remained open and 
readily allowed its contents to escape. In the case of 
viperine fangs very slight penetration may suffice to 
insure efficient injection, because the poison-channels 
are permanently tubular, but where the latter are 
intrinsically mere grooves, they must be liable to 
allow of leakage unless fully completed by the 
neighbouring tissues of the snake and its victim. 1 
My only other essay at curing snake-bite in the 
human subject was hardly more encouraging. The 
old man in charge of the snakes in the garden 
whilst he was holding a banded krait for me in the 
laboratory, managed to let it bite one of his thumbs. 
He made light of the accident, but, although quite 
aware that the venom of this species is both small 
in quantity and poor in quality, I officiously insisted 
on injecting a strong solution of chloride of gold 
into the injured part, with the result that the 
patient had a very bad hand for many days, and 
constantly greeted me with reproachful looks as the 
cause of his discomfort. 

Under most conditions cobras are really com- 

1 Vide Appendix. 



344 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

paratively innocuous creatures, because they are so 
lively and vigilant, very ready to try to get out of the 
way on any alarm, and also because before striking they 
normally sit up, spread their hoods, and gesticulate 
in a threatening fashion. There is, therefore, little 
cause to fear them whilst one is walking along 
narrow paths, even after dark, so long, at least, as 
one gives them warning of approach by tapping 
on the ground with a stick. The greater number 
of cases of bites by cobras seems to take place at 
night, and in confined spaces, such as the interior of 
huts, in which the snakes have not complete freedom 
for movement, and where human beings are apt to 
come into sudden and direct contact with them. 
At the same time, however, there is much variation 
in the temper of different varieties of cobras, and, 
as is so often noticeable among other sorts of 
animals, there would seem to be a distinct correlation 
between darkness of colour and badness of temper. 
It is probably in part owing to a recognition of this 
that the cobras ordinarily seen in the hands of the 
so-called snake-charmers are of a very light colour, 
although the choice may also be to some extent of 
aesthetic origin, seeing that the paler varieties are 
specially ornamental, due to the brilliancy of their 
markings and the great development of their hoods. 

No native of India, who is at all used to deal 
with snakes, ever shows the least hesitation in hand- 
ling cobras. He will fearlessly enter small enclosed 



SNAKES 345 

spaces in which several cobras are confined, tranquilly 
neglecting the fact that he is surrounded by the 
swaying and nodding heads of the startled reptiles, 
and merely pushing them aside when they come too 
close or get into his way. In Lower Bengal the 
great time for acquiring a stock of cobras is towards 
the end of the rainy season, when the general in- 
undation of the low country has driven them to 
congregate in all the patches of higher and dryer 
ground; and, when there was much demand for 
stores of dried venom for European laboratories, 
the old snake-man in the Zoological Garden at 
Alipur was sent out every autumn to collect as 
many snakes as possible for use during the ensuing 
winter. His excursions generally lasted for a week 
or two, and then he would return laden with sacks 
full of snakes. Once he came back in great triumph 
bringing a hundred and fifty cobras, and it was a 
gruesome sight to watch him loose the mouth of 
one of his sacks and plunge his arm down into it in 
order to haul out one after another of his prisoners. 
The operation looked much more risky than it 
really was to any one thoroughly used to the 
feel of snakes, and so able to realise exactly where 
to lay hold of them. The cobras were so crowded 
and hampered in their confined quarters as to be 
quite unable to raise their heads and necks for the 
downward stroke with which they normally lay hold, 
and the man knew so well where and how to seize 



346 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

them, that the chance of his being bitten was really 
very small. 

Poor old snake-wala ! he has been dead for some 
years now, but as long as he survived he was an 
invaluable servant in the garden. He was a great 
character, and had for many years superintended the 
collection of snakes in the menagerie of the last 
King of Oudh, at Garden Reach. He was full of 
varied snake-lore, and very free in communicating 
items of it to a select circle of friends, in which, I 
am proud to say, I was included. He was great on 
the subject of the numbers of natives who die from 
pure nervous depression after bites from harmless 
snakes, or even from purely imaginary bites. Accord- 
ing to him, the proper treatment in such cases is 
to put a drop of croton oil into the patient's eye ; 
a heroic measure certainly, but one well adapted to 
divert attention from an imaginary to a real evil. 
In evidence of the efficacy of this cure, he used to 
cite a case in which a coolie, whilst walking across 
a courtyard at the ^small-arms factory at Dum Dum 
after dark, trod on one end of a piece of an iron- 
hoop, with the result of bringing the other and 
jagged extremity sharply up and into contact with 
the back of his leg. Not unnaturally, the man took 
for granted that he had been bitten by a snake, and 
probably by a venomous one. He accordingly made 
up his mind to die, and, according to the tale, would 
rapidly have succeeded in doing so, had not our old 



SNAKES 347 

friend been handy with his croton oil. It is certainly 
astonishing how easily natives of India can manage 
to die if they make up their minds to do so, and 
how rapidly physical depression from purely psychical 
causes may affect them. Many years ago, and 
whilst living in a snake-haunted garden in Alipur, 
I was suddenly interrupted in the midst of micro- 
scopic work by a troop of servants who invaded the 
laboratory in order to bring in one of the saises who 
had been bitten by a snake whilst he was at work 
in the stables. The reptile had escaped, but, from 
the nature of the injury, there could be little doubt 
that the case was really one of snake-bite. At any 
rate, the patient certainly believed so, and was in 
an alarming state of depression. I had not then 
heard of the virtues of croton oil, and, moreover, 
there was none of it at hand. In the circumstances 
it seemed necessary to do something, and, as I had 
a bottle of absolute ether on the table, I tried what 
a dose of it would do. A teaspoonful was accord- 
ingly administered, and the temporarily intoxicant 
and permanently curative results which followed 
were equally striking and satisfactory. 

Sporting dogs are apt to come to grief where 
cobras abound, as there is something very alluring 
to them in the sight of a large snake when it sits 
up nodding and snarling ; and it is often difficult to 
come up in time to prevent the occurrence of 
irreparable mischief. My garden in Alipur con- 



348 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

tained a large colony of mungooses, who were 
constantly prowling around in search of prey. They 
certainly destroyed many birds and eggs, but their 
presence had the good effect of keeping the place 
very free of snakes in spite of the thickets and over- 
grown shrubberies in which it abounded, and, 
although it was only separated from a large and 
neglected village by a hedge and dry ditch. So 
much so was this the case that none of the four 
or five dogs, who were constantly running loose and 
hunting in the coverts, ever met with an accident. 
Indeed, only once did they encounter a cobra, and 
then they drove it into the midst of a lawn-tennis 
party, so that they were prevented from coming into 
close quarters with it before any mishap had taken 
place. 

There are many very distinct varieties of cobras, 
most of them provided with different vernacular 
names. The commonest features distinguishing 
them are merely differences in colouring, but in 
some cases these ,are accompanied by characteristic 
variations in the form and size of the hood. The 
marking in the latter often departs very greatly from 
that ordinarily represented in pictures, which seem 
almost invariably to represent the characteristics of 
the pale- coloured snakes usually met with in the 
hands of the professional charmers. A large ochre- 
ous or cream-coloured cobra is a most beautiful 
creature when sitting up with its spectacled hood 



SNAKES 349 

fully expanded and swaying to and fro in graceful 
curves. The only unsightly feature that is apt to 
disfigure the picture is owing to the fact that cobras 
often are greatly infested by ticks, who fasten on the 
skin between the scales, and, when fully distended, 
give the surface an unpleasantly tuberculate look. 
The gradations of colour on the individual scales 
are often very beautiful, and resemble those in the 
petals of some flowers in which a paler margin 
surrounds a more deeply coloured central area. 
The assumption of the erect position normally 
precedes striking, but it may occur merely from 
attention, and without any immediate malevolence. 
The process of striking is usually preceded by a 
series of short, rapid, jerking movements in which 
the head sways backward and forward to the 
accompaniment of loud hissing of a malignantly 
snarling character. 

The habit that cobras have of sitting up when 
excited is of great use to the snake-charmers, as it 
affords great facilities for securing them with safety. 
It is quite astonishing to see how easily they can 
be dealt with by an expert. When venom was 
being collected in the Zoological Garden at Alipur, 
there were often three or four cobras loose on the 
floor of the laboratory waiting their turn for treat- 
ment. The common old Indian method of 
collecting was always used. All the apparatus 
necessary in it is a mussel-shell, and a strip of the 



350 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

blade of a plantain leaf. The latter is tightly 
stretched over the concavity of the shell, and the 
snake, whilst securely held by the neck, is irritated 
and encouraged to strike it. The result is that the 
ends of the fangs penetrate the leaf and project 
freely into the cavity beneath, so as to allow the 
venom to drip into it. The quantity of venom that 
a snake yields under such treatment varies greatly 
in individual cases, according to the size and vigour 
of the animal and the length of time that has 
elapsed since a previous discharge took place. The 
average weight of dry material yielded by a single 
discharge of venom by cobras at Alipur was 0*254 
gramme, and its average lethal value was on the 
scale of 0*75 of a milligramme per 1 kilogramme of 
body-weight in warm-blooded animals. In many 
cases the amount was, however, much in excess of 
the average, so that it is clear that a single efficient 
bite may readily suffice to cause death even in the 
case of very large animals, especially where the 
lethal power of the venom is exceptionally high. 

The hamadryad, Naia bungarus, is practically 
unknown as an inhabitant of the immediate neigh- 
bourhood of Calcutta. The only well authenticated 
instance of its occurrence within the area took place 
many years ago in the Botanic Garden, and the 
snake in this case may very probably have been 
an imported one, conveyed by one of the native 
boats that are constantly coming up the river from 



SNAKES 351 

the Sundarbans and lying to at many points of 
the banks during the course of their voyages. 
Numerous splendid specimens, usually obtained 
from Assam, used to be constantly exhibited in 
the Zoological Garden at Alipur. They are truly 
magnificent creatures in their wonderful and 
sinister beauty and grace of form and movement. 
They have a repute for great savageness and a 
tendency to be actively aggressive, but this has 
probably arisen rather as the result of the alarm 
attending the sight of such colossal cobras than of 
their endowment with special ferocity. None of 
those at Alipur ever showed any signs of ex- 
ceptionally bad temper, and one very fine specimen 
was certainly the tamest and most intelligent snake 
that I ever met with. It is, of course, well known 
that they normally feed on other kinds of snakes, 
but it was only as the result of experience that we 
found out that they are cannibals. The specimens 
at Alipur were usually kept in solitary confinement, 
but once, in default of full accommodation for a 
freshly acquired stock, two of them were placed in 
the same enclosure. When I first saw that this 
had been done it did seem to me that they must 
be exposed to some temptation, but the superin- 
tendent of the garden scouted the idea of there 
being any risk of a catastrophe ; and quite apart from 
their specific identity, the two animals seemed to be 
so much alike in size that there appeared to be 



352 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

little cause for apprehension in allowing them to 
remain in company. For a time all went well, 
and we had quite ceased to regard the experiment 
as a hazardous one, when one morning the keeper, 
on going to clean the cage, found it tenanted by 
only one snake in a very crowded and torpid 
condition. The most remarkable point in this 
case was not the approximately like bulk of the 
two snakes, but the fact that they were both 
venomous ones of the same species. Even when 
the victim is a harmless snake, and therefore sus- 
ceptible to the toxic action of venom, a hamadryad 
often has much difficulty in getting it down in 
spite of the considerable reduction in muscular 
resistance that must attend the repeated and ener- 
getic injections of poison that follow capture. But 
venomous snakes are practically exempt from the 
action of the venom of their own species, so that 
the struggle in this case must have been carried 
on by unaided muscular effort, and must therefore 
have been correspondingly severe and prolonged. 
Even where the victim is a harmless snake weakened 
by intoxication, a long time often elapses ere the 
process of swallowing is fully carried out, and to the 
very last, the protruding end of the prey continues 
to writhe energetically as it is slowly and surely 
drawn further and further inwards. 

The common krait, Bungarus cceruleus, is not 
at all likely to be met with in gardens in Calcutta, 



SNAKES 353 

or, in so far as my own experience goes, in any part 
of the recent Gangetic delta. It is unequivocally 
a very rare snake there. Whilst there was never 
any difficulty in obtaining local specimens of cobras, 
banded kraits, and Russell's vipers for exhibition at 
Alipur, specimens of the common krait were very 
rarely acquired, and then invariably as importations 
from places at some distance, and either outside 
or on the very confines of the newest alluvium. 
They seem to belong to that group of animals that 
finds the conditions present in the great swamp 
uncongenial, and which cannot be fairly regarded as 
indigenous merely because stray immigrants from 
it may occasionally wander in from neighbouring 
but higher and dryer regions. My friend, Mr 
Daley, Assistant Civil Surgeon of the twenty-four 
Parganas, has recently recorded the occurrence of 
two kraits from Budge-Budge, but their occurrence 
so far out into the recent alluvium may very likely 
have been due to accidental importation by boats. 
It has been already noted that such importation 
may account for the occasional appearance of hama- 
dryads near Calcutta and there can be no question 
that it must have come into play in the case of a 
specimen of Python reticulatus which once reached 
the Zoological Garden at Alipur from Midnapur. 

In so far as their venomous properties are con- 
cerned, kraits may be regarded as feeble cobras, as 
they are usually of comparatively small size, and 



354 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

the intoxication following their bites is essentially 
of the same nature as that induced by cobra- venom. 
What serves to render them especially formidable 
in regions in which they abound is the fact that 
they are so ready to enter houses and lie about on 
pieces of furniture in a way that greatly increases 
the chance of their coming into immediate contact 
with human beings. 

The banded krait, Bungarus fasciatus, is common 
enough anywhere in the lower Gangetic delta, and 
is often to be met with in gardens containing ponds, 
It is a very striking snake, owing to the brilliancy 
of its bold black and yellow colouring, and also to 
the extremely acute angle in which the sides of 
the body meet over the dorsal surface. Specimens 
of it were always easily procured for exhibition in 
the Zoological Garden, but it was only after it had 
been discovered that they are as essentially ophio- 
phagous as hamadryads, that it was possible to 
keep them permanently in good condition. They 
are very sluggish creatures when in captivity, and 
spend much of their time in water. In spite of the 
dread with which they are ordinarily regarded by 
the native population, they are really among the 
least formidable of Indian venomous snakes, as 
their venom is secreted in small quantity, and is 
of very inferior quality, and because it is injected 
by means of poorly-developed jaws and fangs. 

The snakes that are most worthy of dread as 



SNAKES 355 

inmates of Indian gardens are the terrible daboias, 
Vipera russellii. They are truly superb reptiles, 
for, while the colouring of their armour is relatively 
quiet, it would be hard to find any finer harmony 
than that presented by its tints of ochreous-brown 
on which a series of shining black rings with lighter 
margins are disposed in triple rows from the neck 
to within a short distance from the end of the tail. 
There is something strangely fascinating in the 
association of such wonderful beauty with deadly 
malignity. The terrible and complex potency of 
their venom, the appalling strength of the huge, 
perforated, sickle-shaped fangs that serve to inject 
it, and the way in which the tinting of their coats 
harmonise with that of the dead leaves and dry 
earth of their usual surroundings, render them 
almost matchless examples of accurate evolution 
to a special end. It is not merely the abundance 
and potency of their venom and the great develop- 
ment of their jaws and fangs that render them 
specially formidable, for these are reinforced by 
certain peculiarities of habit and in the mode of 
striking. Daboias are sluggish and inert, and often 
lie coiled up and motionless on footpaths, until they 
are actually touched or trodden on by passers-by, 
when they suddenly unfold like a released spring 
armed with terrible teeth. There is none of the 
warning and preparation here that there is where 
a cobra is about to strike ; no sitting up and threat- 



356 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

ening, but an instantaneous and deadly assault. 
When they have laid hold, too, they hang on and 
worry in a sickening fashion whilst they strive to 
inject as much as possible of their tenacious yellow 
venom. The exhibition of such a concentration 
of deadly ferocity is quite terrifying. 

The venom acts in an entirely different fashion 
from that of cobras, and seems to produce two 
distinct toxic effects. When introduced in more 
or less concentrated form it gives rise to symptoms 
of nervous irritation, ranging in accordance with 
the strength of the dose, from local muscular 
twitchings to a condition of general excitation that 
culminates in violent general convulsions, followed 
by death ; or, where the dose has not been so 
great, by general exhaustive paralysis. Where large 
doses are introduced in a dilute form, or when a 
number of very minute doses of comparatively 
concentrated venom enter the system in rapid 
succession, the indications of nervous irritation 
are purely local, no general convulsions or paralysis 
occur, but a condition of blood-poisoning is estab- 
lished, which either runs on to a fatal termination, 
or is slowly recovered from, according to the strength 
of the patient, and the quantity of the poison that 
has entered the system. 

Daboias, except for their beauty, are rather 
uninteresting animals in captivity. They spend 
almost the whole of their time lying coiled up and 



SNAKES 357 

motionless on the floor of their enclosures. When 
disturbed, they utter a loud, red-hot, hissing remon- 
strance, with a peculiar, slow vicious intensity ; and 
when the annoyance continues, suddenly straighten 
themselves out to dart in the direction from 'which 
it proceeds. One very fine specimen in the collec- 
tion at Alipur suddenly increased the population by 
contributing a brood of about forty young vipers 
to it. They were quite surprisingly beautiful in 
the lustrous brilliancy and vivid colouring of their 
iridescent coats, but all died off within a very short 
time after their birth. It is curious to note the 
caution and respect with which even the most 
expert snake-charmers treat daboias. Here there is 
none of the reckless thrusting of hands into bags, 
or careless liberation of several prisoners at one 
time that take place where cobras are in question. 
Even when a bag contains only a single snake 
the captive is carefully shaken out, and securely 
pinned down by means of a crutched stick ere any 
attempt is made to lay hold of him. The venom 
is usually collected in the same way as that of 
cobras is, but the process is far more interesting to 
witness, owing to the ferocity with which the 
apparatus is seized and worried whilst the glutinous, 
golden-yellow venom drips from the extremities of 
the great, curved fangs. 

Special precautions are called for in any attempts 
at establishing artificial immunity against the venom 



358 COMMON REPTILES OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of viperine snakes, because the suddenly explosive 
action of the nervously irritant element in the poison 
affords no time for the application of any remedial 
measures in cases in which any slight excess of it 
has been administered. The local muscular action 
attending the introduction of the venom continues 
to show itself in any uninured site long after a very 
considerable degree of exemption from dangerous 
centric irritation has been established. It does not, 
however, seem to be accompanied by pain, as a very 
intelligent fowl, who was for some time artificially 
immunised by frequent injections of venom, soon 
became quite eager for its daily dose, because this 
was regularly followed by a plentiful dole of grain. 
The essential differences between the natures of 
colubrine and viperine venoms can be unequivocally 
demonstrated by artificially immunising two animals 
of like nature, one to the action of the one, and the 
other to that of the other poison, and then treating 
them with minimal lethal doses of the materials 
to which they have not been inured. In such cases 
it will be found that the immunity that has been 
established is of a purely specific nature, so that 
protection against the action of viperine venom 
has provided none against colubrine venom, and 
immunity from the latter no power of resisting 
intoxication from the former poison. 



xxviii 

COMMON FROGS AND TOADS OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

" Ne let the unpleasant queyre of frogs still croking, 
Make us to wish theyr choking." 

SPENSER. 

COMMON bull-frogs, Rana tigrina, are imposing 
creatures, both in respect to size and colour. 
Large specimens are often more than half a foot 
in length, and, in many cases, are very brilliantly 
coloured, more especially when they have just been 
summoned out from their subterranean haunts by 
the onset of the first heavy showers of the rainy 
season. At this time, and seemingly as the result 
of etiolation, they often show no dark markings, 
but are uniformly painted in a bright canary 
yellow that makes them stand out very con- 
spicuously among the green tints of the surround- 
ing grass and weeds. Very soon, however, they 
begin to darken, and presently their coats acquire 
a greenish-yellow or bright olive ground, thickly 
variegated with bold dark blotches, the general 
effect being such as to render them very likely 



859 



360 COMMON FROGS AND TOADS 

to escape notice whilst in their wonted environ- 
ments. In many cases, indeed, the harmony is 
so great, that the only thing about them that 
may lead to detection is the persistently brilliant 
yellow of their great, shining, goggle eyes. Even 
as it is, their marvellous capacity for absolute 
immobility often serves so effectually to conceal 
them that their presence is only revealed when 
they are almost underfoot, and go off with sudden 
and huge leaps that are very startling to the nerves 
of both men and dogs. The capacity for protective 
change in colour in this instance, although not 
acting so rapidly as it does in the case of wall- 
geckos and many kinds of fish, is yet very 
striking. 

Bull-frogs are excessively voracious, and many 
well-authenticated instances are on record of their 
successful capture of small birds, and even of palm- 
squirrels, who have had the mishap to fall into 
ponds haunted by them. Their fiercely carnivorous 
tendencies manifest themselves very early. This 
may be readily ascertained by putting some of 
the small black tadpoles of the common toad, 
Bufo melanostictus, into an aquarium containing 
a few of their colossal grey relatives. At a time 
when I was not fully informed in regard to their 
habits, I tried keeping a mixed collection of both 
kinds of tadpoles in a jar of distilled water, and 
was astonished to find that the small ones rapidly 



BULL-FROGS 361 

disappeared. The process went on until it became 
necessary to introduce a fresh stock, and then the 
problem was solved ; for the frog-tadpoles were so 
ravenous, owing to prolonged fasting, that they fell 
upon the new arrivals at once, seizing, shaking, and 
worrying at them as soon as they entered the 
water. Their carnivorous habits render bull-frogs 
very unwelcome neighbours where it is desired to 
stock a small body of water with fish, as the havoc 
that they play among small and even half-grown 
fry is very great. They are quite omnivorous in 
their appetite for animal food, and sometimes come 
to grief in their greedy attempts to secure it. I 
once found a curiously illustrative specimen of the 
risks to which they are exposed by their voracity. 
It consisted of a dead bull-frog with the hind legs 
of a toad projecting from its mouth and firmly 
hooked down over the angles of the jaws. The 
frog had evidently seized its prey by the muzzle, 
but in the effort to gulp it down, had only succeeded 
in wedging it into its gullet, where it remained 
anchored. 

During their periods of activity they are seldom 
to be found at any considerable distance from water, 
and even at times when the greater number of them 
are lying dormant, solitary specimens are sometimes 
to be met with, sitting silent and motionless on the 
bank of a pond, but ready on the least alarm to go 
off in a gigantic leap that lands them souse into 



362 COMMON FROGS AND TOADS 

the water with a resounding splash. It is quite 
astonishing to see how quickly they will people 
pieces of open ground that are converted into 
swamps by the onset of the monsoon. For weeks 
and months before, the ground may have remained 
seemingly quite dry, with all its grass and weeds 
baked by the continuous blaze of sunshine, and giving 
no hint of the presence of any frogs ; but, after a 
few hours of drenching rain, it will be dotted all 
over by huge yellow monsters filling the air with 
a deafening uproar. In some years many heavy 
thunderstorms take place long before the regular 
onset of the monsoon, and lure out a certain number 
of frogs to a premature emergence from which they 
are fain to retire on the recurrence of continuous 
dry weather. Almost every year, too, after one 
of the brief deluges attending a "nor'-wester," the 
gruntings of a few particularly anticipative in- 
dividuals are temporarily audible. Like many other 
animals in tropical regions, they seem often to suffer 
from epidemic disease, for now and then they will 
be very scarce for several successive years in which 
the climatic conditions are highly favourable to their 
activity, whilst in other seasons, in which defective 
rainfall must have greatly narrowed the areas con- 
genial to them, the sounds of their concerts are 
everywhere audible. 

When it is possible to watch the performers 
closely it will be found that the concerts are built 



BULL-FROGS 363 

up of numerous dialogues, in which one of each 
pair says "ough," and the other forthwith replies 
"ver, rugh." Such utterances recur several times 
in succession; a short pause follows, and then the 
conversation begins again. The curious thing is 
that all the performers seated in one patch of 
swamp should have such a tendency to synchronous 
action that periods of total silence alternate with 
those of general uproar. The phenomenon is parallel 
to that of the synchronous luminosity that sometimes 
occurs so markedly in groups of fireflies. When 
bull-frogs first come out for the season, the din that 
they can make is often enough to be very annoying 
to light sleepers. A friend of mine, whilst living 
in a house close to which were two small frog- 
haunted ponds, used to go to bed every night with a 
hog-spear lying handy for use when the nocturnal 
uproar became more than usually offensive, and 
another inmate of the same place was often driven 
to make excursions with a saloon pistol in the vain 
hope of being able to kill his tormentors. In addi- 
tion to their sexual grunting cries, bull-frogs have 
another and very distinct call which sounds exactly 
like a number of small bladders bursting in rapid 
succession. 

Considering how essentially aquatic they are, 
it is somewhat surprising to find them depositing 
their ova in the sites which they generally choose 
for that purpose. The common toads, who are by 



364 COMMON FROGS AND TOADS 

no means inclined in their adult state to confine 
themselves to the immediate neighbourhood of water, 
and who are often to be met with in hosts in places 
in which the soil is very dry for many weeks at a 
time, always lay their eggs in water ; but bull-frogs 
certainly do not usually do so. On the contrary, 
they choose places which, although near and often 
overhanging bodies of water, are above, and often 
considerably above them. In the rainy season, 
large masses of white, frothy matter, looking like 
colossal " cuckoo spits," are often to be seen placed 
among the twigs of shrubs growing on the banks 
of ponds, or on any islet in the water. Their 
appearance is so peculiar and so little suggestive 
of their true nature that a very distinguished 
zoologist, on observing them in the Garden at Alipur, 
had some specimens collected and sent to me as 
fungal growths. A very casual inspection of their 
contents was enough to show that he was mistaken. 
They are composed of a frothy matrix, soft and 
semi-fluid in the ^interior of the mass, but setting 
into a membranous layer on the surface, and in- 
cluding innumerable ova. The latter hatch out into 
their soft bed, and the young tadpoles continue to 
inhabit it for a considerable time, passing through 
the earlier stages of evolution in it, and, only after 
having become considerably developed, working their 
way out to fall into or struggle down to the water. 
The spectacle that appears when one of the masses 



THE COMMON INDIAN TOAD 365 

is laid open and discloses its frothy contents, alive 
with pallid, wriggling creatures, is truly gruesome. 
Every evening during the rainy season all the 
lawns are thickly dotted over by multitudes of 
common toads, Bufo melanostictus, with brightly 
lustrous eyes and curiously mottled and tuberculate 
skins (Plate XXI.). When the weather becomes 
drier they cease to come out in such numbers, and, 
during the prolonged drought of winter and spring, 
very few venture to leave their retreats among the 
dead leaves in shaded coverts, or in the cavernous 
recesses beneath culverts and the basements of 
buildings. Individual specimens vary in colour very 
greatly, and both temporarily and permanently. At 
the time of their greatest activity some of them 
are deeply coloured with velvety black tubercles 
standing out on a background of rich brown, 
whilst a whole series of lighter varieties range 
through different shades of brown and ochre to 
culminate in specimens of such pale cream-colour 
as to seem almost white in the dusk. When they 
come out suddenly from their shaded diurnal 
retreats into strong light they show changes in 
tint parallel to those taking place in wall-geckos in 
like circumstances; and, when they have remained 
for a long time hidden away during continuous 
periods of dry weather, they acquire a specially 
dingy, dusky hue of a more persistent character, 
which is accompanied by a shrivelled and dusty 



366 COMMON FROGS AND TOADS 

condition of skin that makes them look very unlike 
what they are when humidity and food abound. 

When in full activity, and especially during 
the breeding season, the tubercles on their skins 
are full of a thick whitish secretion, which exudes 
on any external pressure or when the animal is 
excited or alarmed. It possesses highly acrid and 
irritant properties, as is very evident from the effect 
that it produces on dogs. Sporting terriers, in 
default of any nobler game, are very ready to put 
up with a toad-hunt, and when new to the country, 
will often lay hold on their quarry. A single 
experience of the results of doing so is, however, 
usually enough to teach them an effectual lesson 
of avoidance. Even very slight contact causes 
them to foam at the mouth and to go about 
shaking their heads from side to side with signs of 
extreme disgust, and a good grip is usually followed 
by such symptoms, together with violent sickness 
and evidences of great general depression. Most 
dogs, therefore, ^soon become very cautious of 
touching toads, and it is often very diverting to 
observe the conflict between desire to seize the 
game and dread of coming into contact with it. 
In some cases, however, no experience is effectual, 
and, in the excitement of the chase, prudence goes 
to the wall, with disastrous results. The toads seem 
to be quite aware of the protective nature of their 
venom, and in many cases obstinately refuse to stir 



^ 
EH 

Hf 
I 



O 





THE COMMON INDIAN TOAD 367 

even when patted by the paws of the dog, preferring 
to remain fixed on the spots at which they have 
been surprised, and to exude the poison while they 
blow themselves out until it appears as though 
they must inevitably burst. 

Their call is a relatively feeble one, but, owing to 
the enormous numbers in which they occur, they are 
most important performers in the nocturnal concerts 
that fill the air in the neighbourhood of ponds, and 
are often so powerful as almost to drown those 
of the crickets and cicadas in the surrounding trees. 
Their eggs, unlike those of the bull-frogs, are always 
laid in water, and, during the earlier half of the 
rainy season, almost every pond is full of swarms 
of their small, black tadpoles. A little later the 
young toads begin to come ashore, and then it 
is often very difficult to avoid treading on the hosts 
of little black creatures, who hop about over the 
roads and grass in such numbers that one might 
well imagine that " the land has brought forth 
frogs." The emergence of a flight of white ants is 
always an occasion of joyful excitement among the 
toads of the neighbourhood. They come hurrying 
in from every quarter to congregate around the 
place where the awkwardly struggling insects are 
crowding and rustling up from the soil, and settle 
themselves down to a prolonged and copious feast. 

Several other kinds of frogs and toads are con- 
stantly to be found in gardens in numbers that 



368 COMMON FROGS AND TOADS 

vary according to the climatic conditions prevail- 
ing at different times of year. The most beautiful 
of all the frogs occurring about Calcutta is one 
in which the upper surface is painted in the most 
vivid emerald green, contrasting wonderfully with 
the snowy white of the under parts and with two 
patches of bright rose-colour near the angles of the 
mouth. Specimens of it are rarely noticed, but this 
may in great part be due to their essentially aquatic 
habits, and also to the wonderful way in which 
their colouring harmonises with that of the floating 
leaves on which they sit when they do emerge from 
the water. They very seldom venture to land upon 
the banks of a pond, and are usually to be seen 
sitting motionless on the leaves of Nymphaeas or 
Nelumbiums, and ready on the least alarm to slip 
off into the surrounding water. 

Towards the end of the rainy season, when 
everything is at its wettest, and specially in years 
when the rainfall has been so abundant as to 
cause the formation of numerous temporary pools 
in the hollows of grass-land, a curious little song 
may often be heard issuing from garden lawns. 
So sweet and clear is it, that, unless the nature 
of the songster is already known, it may readily be 
mistaken for that of a bird. If, however, the places 
from which it proceeds be stealthily approached and 
absolute immobility be maintained, it will be found 
that the songsters really are very small and wonder- 



TREE-FROGS 369 

fully agile frogs, who every now and then lift up 
their heads and pour forth a torrent of small, sweet 
notes. The process of discovery is by no means 
an easy one, as the animals are very small, and 
provided with highly protective colouring, and also 
because their notes seem to alter in direction at 
frequent intervals in a curiously ventriloquial way. 
The little tree-frogs, Rhacophorus maculatus 
(Plate XXI.), are not very common in Calcutta, 
but occasionally a garden will be found in which 
the local conditions are so much to their taste as to 
lead to the presence of a large colony within its 
limits. Now and then, too, a frog will come explor- 
ing into a house and go hopping around over the 
floors and furniture ; but such an event is rare, and 
they never show any inclination to establish them- 
selves as permanent inmates. In many parts of 
Southern India, however, they are almost as common 
in houses as the wall-geckos, and indeed, owe their 
common Anglo-Indian name of " Chunam-frogs " to 
the way in which, on any alarm, they make off in 
a series of rapid leaps across the floor to spring up 
and remain adherent to the whitewash of the walls 
at a considerable height above the ground. 



2 A 



XXIX 

COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

" Slow efts about the edges sleep ; 

Swift darting water-flies 
Shoot on the surface ; down the deep 
Fast following bubbles rise. 

Look down. What groves that scarcely sway ! 

What 'wood obscure/ profound ! 
What jungle ! where some beast of prey 

Might choose his vantage ground." 

AUSTIN DOBSON. 

" The pleasant' st angling is to see the fish 
Cut with her golden oars the silver stream." 

Much Ado about Nothing. 

IN such a swamp as that of the greater part of 
Lower Bengal, very few enclosures of any consider- 
able size are devoid of ponds, or at least of water- 
holes of a more or less permanent nature, and hence 
fish of various kinds form a conspicuous feature in 
the garden Fauna of the region. A very attractive 
feature they are, as any one will allow who has 
ever watched the shoals of little fish that are always 

gliding about in the weedy shallows. Among the 

370 



RAINBOW-FISH 371 

most alluring of them are the so-called "rainbow 
fish." They abound in the submerged forests of 
grass that fringe the water after heavy falls of 
rain. There they hang, hovering about, curiously 
investigating all the recesses of the jungle, and every 
now and then charging at one another in furiously 
hostile encounters. They are so exceedingly thin 
as to be almost invisible when looked at from 
above, but they shine out conspicuously wherever 
the sun's rays strike in obliquely and light up the 
brilliant tints of their side scales and the lateral 
surfaces of their fins. Then they show up, painted 
in a ground colour of soft greyish yellow, adorned 
with brown bands, and contrasting with the ruddy 
hue of the fins, the dorsal and ventral ones bordered 
behind by a line of shining blue, and the former 
shaded above, and capped by a sharp black spine, 
which is at once erected on any excitement or 
alarm. Swarms of other little fish accompany them, 
some spotted and barred with brown and red, and 
others shining so brightly that they look like little 
sudden flashes of light as they dart hither and 
thither through the sunlit water. Curious little 
creatures, too, go gliding about in troops close to 
the surface, so translucent and quietly coloured 
that they would readily escape notice were it not 
for the presence of a luminously white speck on 
the back of their heads. 

Fish seem to have very little sense of propor- 



372 COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

tion, as quite ludicrously little ones, hardly as 
large, and certainly not nearly as strong as their 
intended prey, may often be seen leaping out of 
the water and trying to lay hold of the great 
brown hornets, who are for ever quartering about 
over the surface and gleaning dragon-flies' eggs and 
other adherent dainties from the projecting blades 
of grass or leaves of floating weeds. Farther out 
from the banks larger fish swim slowly about, and 
now and then a great splash and swirl announces 
that a monster has come up from the depths to 
roll about at the surface. 

As the monsoon continues many ponds are 
temporarily connected with the river by devious 
water-ways that form roads by means of which 
grey mullets, Mugil corsula, travel up in pairs and 
little troops to visit even very small pieces of 
water. Their presence in a pond is always wel- 
come, for not only are they very good to eat, but 
they are very lively and amusing creatures. Whilst 
travelling, they swim so close to the surface that 
their great, goggle eyes stand out prominently above 
the water, and present a very curious appearance 
from a little distance, looking like animated bubbles 
coursing about in pairs or groups. Where their 
progress is opposed by a strong current they often 
prefer to travel in a series of jumps along the 
surface of the water, seeming to find it easier to 
make way in this fashion than by diving below the 



MULLETS 373 

upper layers of the stream. It is very interesting 
to watch a troop of them struggling up the river 
at a point where a landing-stage or flight of steps 
projects into the stream so as to deflect the course 
of the current and give rise to the formation of 
back-waters. Their perseverance in contending with 
the difficulty is very striking. Everything, of course, 
favours their advance in the back-water beneath 
the projecting point, but when the latter is reached 
their trials set in in full force and without warning. 
Some fortunate individuals, and especially some of 
those who elect to force the passage by jumping 
along the surface, get through at once, but others 
only succeed after they have again and again been 
overpowered in the swirl and swept outwards to 
be carried down by the stream for some distance 
ere they manage to fight their way into the back- 
water and begin a fresh attempt. Their experiences 
are curiously reminiscent of those of country boats 
under like conditions. Their habit of swimming 
so close to the surface is a source of danger to 
them. They are taken in casting nets, and a fisher- 
man may often be seen following a troop of them 
along the edge of the stream, guided by their 
projecting eyes in his endeavours to drive them 
into a convenient place by throwing stones into 
the water around them. 

A particularly interesting and pretty spectacle 
may often be seen in clear ponds towards the end 



374 COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of the rainy season. On looking down through 
the limpid water one sees a great shoal of very 
small fish, each of them about an inch or some- 
what less in length, of a semi-transparent brown, 
and decorated with three longitudinal bands of vivid 
yellow on the back and sides. They glide gently 
about close to the bank, busily feeding on invisible 
objects adhering to the aquatic grasses and pond- 
weeds. The sight of such a multitude of lovely 
little creatures oaring themselves about in the clear 
water would in itself be very attractive, but what 
renders it specially fascinating is that the moving 
shoal is persistently attended by a pair, or more 
rarely by a single specimen, of much larger, mottled 
grey fish who follow it anxiously about from place 
to place. At first sight they might be suspected 
of evil intent, but a little study of their habits is 
enough to show that they are innocent of any 
desire to prey upon their little companions. The 
latter do not seem to be in the least alarmed by 
their presence, and often seem quite ready to be 
herded by them' in their travels. Owing to their 
relatively large size, the chaperones are often unable 
to follow their charges into the recesses of the 
marginal fringe of weeds, and are forced to remain 
hovering anxiously about outside it in the open 
water opposite the point at which the shoal is 
feeding. When the fry keep together all goes 
well, but, if they break up into several parties, 



XXII. 



i- 





Mud-skippers, p. 375. 



MUD-SKIPPERS 375 

their guardians become very uneasy. So long as 
there are a pair of them there is not so much 
trouble, but, when one only is in charge, it often 
has very hard work before it can get its flock 
gathered together again. The little fish, owing to 
their small size, can turn round much more quickly 
and in much smaller spaces than their agitated 
attendant, whose anxiety becomes so evident as to 
be quite touching. The ungainly haste with which 
it hurries from place to place, here trying to check 
the progress of one part of the shoal, and there 
endeavouring to hurry up the loiterers, makes one 
quite unhappy until it has safely attained its end. 
The behaviour of the large fish is certainly very 
suggestive of parental anxiety and supervision, but 
it may be that its motive is of a purely selfish and 
commensal origin, and that the apparent affection 
is merely owing to a desire to keep the fry together 
because they are useful in disturbing and driving 
out prey from inconvenient shallows and tangled 
growths of weeds. 

In gardens actually abutting on the river, the 
banks and ghats of the latter, and the margins 
of closely adjoining* ponds are often haunted by 
throngs of common mud-skippers, Periopthalmi (Plate 
XXII. ). They are most entertaining creatures, and 
much time may be happily spent in the study of their 
quaint ways. Their re-appearance on the banks of the 
river in autumn is one of the regular signs that the 



376 COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

floods are abating and that cooler weather is approach- 
ing ; for, during the height of the monsoon, they seem 
to abandon the larger streams, probably on account 
of the violence of the currents then prevailing in 
them. When they are present, the best time for 
studying their manners and customs is whilst the 
tide is ebbing. As the level of the water falls 
and leaves fringes of damp muddy surfaces along 
its margins, small grey objects may be seen coming 
up out of the stream to hop about over the ground 
or sit in strangely wide-awake fashion on any brick- 
bats, stumps of wood, edges of steps, or other 
points of vantage projecting from the mud. No 
one would at first sight dream of regarding them 
as fish, for, even when closely examined, they look 
much more like small, slimy lizards, or gigantic 
tadpoles in an advanced stage of evolution. What 
makes them particularly unfishlike is the way in 
which they use their pectoral fins ; for, whilst sitting 
still, they bring them well forward and curve the 
dilated ends down like little webbed feet, on which 
they rest with their heads and shoulders well raised, 
and from which they are ready to take off in a 
great leap on the slightest alarm. As the tide goes 
on falling, more and more of them emerge, until 
all the banks are dotted over with quaint little 
monsters, holding up their bull-dog muzzles and 
great goggle eyes with an air of grotesque defiance, 
while every now and then one of them will suddenly 



MUD-SKIPPERS 377 

go off in a great leap in the hope of capturing an 
insect, or in order to assault and dislodge one of 
its neighbours who has secured a desirable watch- 
tower. 

The multitudes of them, who swarm over the 
muddy slopes of the larger tidal channels and 
devious water-lanes of the outer Sundarbans, must 
be seen to be imagined. Their habits differ 
markedly in different areas within the Sundarbans. 
A steamer in passing along a narrow channel 
causes a very considerable displacement of the 
surface of the water ; an initial depression and 
indraught exposes great surfaces of the rnuddy 
banks, and is followed by a series of huge rushing 
waves that follow the vessel and wash up over 
the slopes with enough force to knock all the 
mud-skippers, who are taking an airing on them, 
head over heels. The fish do not at all enjoy 
such forced exercise, but in their endeavour to 
avoid it, do not act alike everywhere. In completely 
unreclaimed and uninhabited parts of the Sundar- 
bans the approach of the waves is preceded by a 
general and precipitate flight of mud-skippers, 
hurrying up the slopes in order to get beyond the 
reach of the threatening inundation ; but in channels 
traversing cleared and partially cultivated areas, 
the line of flight follows an opposite direction, and 
the fish hasten down in order to reach the water 
before it is disturbed. These differences of habit 



378 COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

are certainly correlated with the absence or presence 
of a special danger. In all the inhabited parts of 
the Sundarbans the people live to a great extent 
on fish, and are consequently always on the out- 
look for chances of catching them. The varieties 
of ways of fishing that may be seen during the 
course of a single day's voyage are quite wonderful. 
One of the commonest is carried out by means of 
an apparatus consisting of a truncated cone of 
wicker-work open at either end and looking like 
a deep, tapering basket without a bottom. When 
in use, the fisherman carries it about as he wades 
along the muddy slopes or shallows, and, when 
he comes to a point at which he thinks that fish 
are lying, he suddenly plants the broad end of the 
cone down into the mud, and then passes his hand 
through the narrow end and gropes about for 
anything that may have been imprisoned within 
the wicker enclosure. Fishing of this kind is, of 
course, rendered easier by anything increasing the 
area of shallow water or leaving fish exposed in 
the mud of the banks. The passage of a steamer 
tends to act in this way, both by the initial 
indraught and by the subsequent violent inundation 
that it gives rise to. The fishermen fully realise 
this, and eagerly avail themselves of the opportunity 
thus afforded. This implies that, in channels where 
fishing is habitually carried on, the passage of a 
steamer exposes the mud-skippers to a twofold 



MUD-SKIPPERS 379 

danger, and that they clearly adopt the best course 
for escaping it by immediate flight to the deeper 
parts of the stream. But, in places where no 
fishermen are present, no special danger attends 
farther progress up the sloping banks of mud, a 
course which must be most effectual as a means 
of avoiding all inconvenience from the temporary 
disturbance of the water, and here we find the 
fish almost all running upwards. The differences 
in the behaviour of the fish in connection with the 
differences of environment are very striking, and 
at first sight might be taken to imply the exercise 
of highly evolved intelligence. They are, however, 
probably merely the outcome of processes of natural 
selection. 

It is probable that, from the outset, there was 
a dislike to the disturbance attending any con- 
siderable agitation of the surface of the water, and 
a corresponding tendency to try to avoid it, but 
that originally the line of flight was unspecialised 
and directed indifferently either upwards or down- 
wards over the surface of the banks. But, in places 
where no special danger attends an upward course, 
those fish who naturally tended to follow it 
would certainly be more likely to escape injury 
than those who descended and thus ran a risk of 
being knocked about by the waves. In consequence 
of this, the former class of fish would almost 
inevitably come to predominate, and in course 



380 COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of time would almost entirely replace that which 
persistently descended. In places where fishing is 
habitually carried on, however, the habit of descent, 
although not free from certain risks, must neces- 
sarily be more protective than that of ascent, and, 
consequently, those fish who are endowed with it 
must be placed at an advantage over those who 
are not, and will ultimately come to be the 
predominant local variety. 

Almost every pond of any considerable size 
contains specimens of Catla, Catla buchanani and 
Rohu, Labeo rohita, as they are in such high repute 
among the native population as articles of food as 
to ensure their introduction into any bodies of water 
providing conditions suitable to them. It was quite 
surprising to find what a great size individual speci- 
mens of both species may attain even in very small 
ponds. When one such pond, in a garden in 
Alipur, was dragged the number of fish that were 
secured was very small, but it included a fine large 
rohu, and a catla weighing more than 30 Ibs. Catla 
are coarse, heavy-looking creatures, and their aspect 
would certainly not lead one to credit them with a 
capacity for anything but stolid resistance to capture. 
In reality, however, they often show wonderful agility 
in their efforts to escape from a net. The finest 
display of this that I ever saw took place on the 
occasion, already alluded to (p. 327), in which the 
system of ponds in the Zoological Garden at Alipur 



CATLA AND ROHU 381 

was drained in order to dislodge the crocodiles who 
inhabited it. At this time the water was known to 
abound in large fish, a fact that had been satis- 
factorily demonstrated by the income that the 
garden had for some years derived from the sale of 
tickets for rod-fishing. Accordingly, when the level 
had been so far reduced as to bring the remaining 
portion within manageable limits, a set of fishermen 
were called in to net it. This they did on several 
successive mornings with results which were so satis- 
factory financially that the sale of the fish supplied 
more than enough money to pay the fishermen and 
also the hire of the steam-pump and its attendants. 
But in addition to this pecuniary benefit, the under- 
taking also provided a magnificent display of activity. 
After the nets had been sunk nothing noteworthy 
took place until they had been gradually drawn 
onwards to a line within such a short distance from 
the bank of one end of the water that it seemed 
hardly likely that many fish had been enclosed. But 
then the scene suddenly changed ; the surface became 
violently agitated, and was ruffled and broken by the 
protruding backs of great fish, who rushed hither and 
thither in quest of a point of escape. Next, as they 
realised more and more clearly that they were really 
shut in, they began to muster courage for a supreme 
effort, and at first in twos and threes, and then in 
ever growing numbers, they charged directly back- 
wards and threw themselves high into the air in hope 



382 COMMON FISH OF AN INDIAN GARDEN 

of clearing the net and gaining the open water 
beyond it ; so that, for a time, crowds of great silvery 
bodies were flashing in the sunshine and falling into 
the pond with resounding splashes. Many fell short 
and were safely landed, but so many escaped that it 
was necessary to repeat the netting three or four 
times ere it could be regarded as having been at all 
effectual. In this case by far the greater number of 
the fish were catla, but here and there among their 
awkward, heavy companions fine rohu could be seen 
looking strangely refined and graceful in comparison 
with them. 

Rod-fishing for catla can hardly be supposed to 
be a very fascinating sport, as, when hooked, they 
seem to do little save sulk and drag. The natives of 
India are, however, very fond of it, and there is at 
least this to be said in its favour, that, although the 
interest that it provides is a diluted one, it is often 
very prolonged. I have seen a fisherman struggling 
with a large catla when I went out for a walk at sun- 
rise ; he was still hard at it as I passed the pond on 
my return homewards ; he persevered throughout the 
whole course of the day, and at sundown was still 
wading and swimming about in hopes of ultimate 
success. Rohu are far more lively fish, and when 
hooked often contribute their share towards really 
exciting exhibitions of competitive activity and skill. 

Indian gardens possess so many fascinations that 
any attempt to describe them must almost inevitably 



CONCLUSION 

be wholly inadequate. The vertebrate life present in 
them is so multiform that, even were the information 
regarding it much fuller than that in the preceding 
pages, and recorded by really skilful hands, it would 
surely fail to give any just conception of the wealth 
of beauty and interest that attends the wonderful 
panorama that is ceaselessly unrolling itself before 
careless eyes. Rough notes may serve to stir up 
vivid memories of the charm and colour of golden 
hours of quiet observation, but the bloom of these is 
sadly rubbed off in the course of any attempts to 
transfer the impression to the minds of others ; " il 
ne faut pas toucher aux idoles : la dorure en reste aux 
mains," and it is with acute consciousness of this that 
I offer the present pages to the indulgence of the 
public. 



APPENDIX 



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APPENDIX 



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our, deep metallic black ; 
somewhat larger than a Missel- 
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*ood deal smaller than D. ater 
and white below. 


ther smaller than a Great Tit. 
General colouring. dull 
greenish brown. 


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arly of the same size as a 
Song-thrush. Males black 
and scarlet, females black and 
yellow. Often go about in 


sexual parties, 
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grey. 




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tie common 
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^ -g 

^5 g 

S^|| 
I 3 2! 


s 

+3 

9 

% 
s 

03 


!| 




H 


H 


H 


H H H 


H 


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| 


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4 1 


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a 




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co 


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rH r- 1 rH 


rH 


?O 
rH 



APPENDIX 



391 



i 

* * 

6 



s no 
han 



bird 
sma 



,21311 



s 









85 



111 



- 






y in 

fore- 
dark- 
y the 
Myna, 
called 



a 
e 



a 
rl 



n 
" 



"r^ "n r% m *^> *^ 



hed by the w 
the feathers of th 
stand up. It is 
red bird of nea 
size as a common 
Calcutta is ofte 
Monghyr Myna. 



h 
r 



n 



fi ^ O TS ^ ^ 

*: feliJa's 

^5 ifJllgg 




5 

ii 



II 

s'S 



it 



a 






3 1 



S 

O Q> ! 

HH 



I 



1 




392 



APPENDIX 





d "8 ? ,d 


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si rf * 


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(g ^ rt 


H E 




a? 5 *^ o 


^1^ 'i 




-g o.* 




-^ $ S M 




03 fl . ^ 


^5 m 




e females and imma 
are about the sam 
Song-thrush, but t 
the male birds n 
much as 16*5 inche 


"^ ^Sle . 

1li ; ! i! 

?irj *l 

C ^ ^ c 

^"fel' 3 1| 

l-slis sl 

* still s 


almost the same siz< 
finch. When se 
neighbourhood of 
the prevailing tin 
upper plumage an 
brown. 


;e as in the previous 
brilliant scarlet of 
at once distinguish* 




e 


S fi 


O 


(JD 


I 


1 


rtl rH 
CN (N 

t-H 71 


o 


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<N (N 







APPENDIX 



bca) 



same size 
The comm 
eighbourly 
easily i 
range and 



ne 
nd 
or 
ma 



tf OB 



the 
sh. 
the 
a 
its 
plu 



ng-th 
rush in 
lcutta, 
sed by 
loured 



ll 

l 

c3 (H 

rd 08 

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c3 S 



IIH1 




g ,.. 

sS 

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Ci'43 fl s 



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CO CO 



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t^ OO 



111 



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brown - b 
ndian Robin. 



Sol 

"1 



a 

1.1 

i| I 









comm 
finch. 



House-sparr 
white-faced 

tan. 




CO CO 



394 



APPENDIX 





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APPENDIX 



395 



I-2S- 



y smaller 
g species. 



73 .3 

!* i 

o 5 



the common green Wood 
pecker of England. The com 
mon Woodpecker of Calcutta. 



3d 



e same size as a Wheat- 
Very stoutly-built. 



r-H P -P 



of Anglo-I 
, and of a 



The "Jay 
the Pla 





3 & 

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2 * 

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den - 
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ll 



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crimso 
rbet. 



Ro 







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396 



APPENDIX 



' 


e Indian birds are generally 
somewhat smaller than Euro- 


pean specimens, 
is a large bird, being more 
than a foot in length, and has 
a loud, harsh cry. It is con- 
stantly to be seen on the 
banks of the tidal channels 
in the outer Sundarbans. 
sn larger than the preceding 
species, and conspicuous in 
bright blue and buff colouring. 


the size of a Missel-thrush. 
The commonest species of 
Kingfisher in the gardens of 
Calcutta. Distinguished by 
its chestnut head, white throat 
and chest, and brilliantly blue 


feljlij 

P"bcbcccc3oa 







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APPENDIX 



397 




;^ 
1:3.3 



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SO-f-B 



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IO 



i 



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1 -^'"1 

1 sill . 

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III 



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o -c 
W H 



398 



APPENDIX 





ily a little smaller than the 
preceding bird, but the size 
of the males in some degree 
obscured, owing to their uni- 
formly deep black plumage. 

x>ut 6 inches larger than a 
British Cuckoo. 


is about 21 inches in length. 


jout 5 inches smaller than the 
preceding species. 


laller than the previous bird, 
and distinguished by the blue 
and red colouring of the head. 


ny like the previous species, 
but a little smaller. 


little bird about the size of a 
Robin, with a very short tail, 
and distinguished by its habit 
of sleeping head-downwards, 
and hanging by its feet. 




<3 


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APPENDIX 



399 



ing a 
n the 



the 
the 



Ill 

Jl til 

*fr15 J * 

&* Ill's 

cS w H ro g O 

~.3_,85re 
pl I" 

flj <j 6 



sid 
pre 



respect 
ls, and 



m- 
sh- 
of 



in 

-ow 



by th 
e plum 
llowish 
skin o 

an the 
not so 



t 
y 



ze 
ps 



I *' 



ediate as 
the two 



ii^i^sr, 
Hililffiij 

pi'5S r g'O ci'" 

O d^ eS *- 



con 
dil 
glo 
age 
red 
the 
s i 
pre 
stoly 
ewhat 
Egyptia 



an 
col 



h 
is a 

ed 



is 




Ttl OO 

55 



CO <N 

55 






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r^ 

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ill 



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er 



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re. 



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IMl I 

I $ & 

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TS'tf g -g 

H"H ^ CO * 






1 

1 






f, 
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t 






400 



APPENDIX 












ewhat s 
pean, al 
now say 



|>3 8 o 

Is~fl 

anf-sul 

till' 

slg"* 



3:- 

llsl 



if^ 

si^ 
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r^M P^- 

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1 1 



APPENDIX 



401 



nches smaller than 
ng species, and is 
tinguished by the 
trast of the orange 
lilac collar 



2 i 
cedi 
dis 



s nearly 
the pre 
farther 
brillian 
breast 




shorter a 
-dove, y 
unmistakable 
onderful rich- 
n, bronze, and 
tints in its 
ell as to its 
toned notes. 



is about 1 inch 
common Turtle- 
built, and quite 
owing to the w 
ness of the gre 
brown-madder 
plumage, as 
strangely deep- 




CO 




S! 

!' 



r 




I -i 




s ** 
I I 



2 C 



402 



APPENDIX 



red 
ut. 



utifully 
n and c 



han the com 
the " Water 



bea 



ng bird 
n bronzy-gre 












s smaller 
bird. It 
l channels 
bans. 



the p 
ds in 
oute 









iiifir&iS 

j -4J C o> ,-S rt Oi C ** -k-> ci 






'etpuj qst^ug; jo spaig 



g 










} 

1 






O 



II 



s 




APPENDIX 



403 



b 
y 



n 
mo 



S'S-S rf 

r3 O g hDhf 

firths 

e*l > a s 

S <D bo3 2 ^J fl 

1 *fi5 '" 



er tha 
uch 
t H 



.aS 






S O 



<D -U _H 

I 






-2 



h 

n-J-? 



nq 



OO OJ 



404 



APPENDIX 



l -sill 



SI: 00 

s 



irfltti! 






5 2 
|ll 

ill 

.sin 



CO ' CO 



TJH 
<M 



CO CO tO ^< O OO 
(N CO CO CO CO CO 
CO CO CO CO CO CO CO 



jo 



'Bipuj 



FW 

ui < 



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tt 

H 

m 

Q 

tn 

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> I 

s 

K 



4 







o^-5 

. SlJ 
^ s 

^3 O ^ 







00 Oi O i-H 



APPENDIX 



405 



81 3,3,3 

jjj +3+3 

Mil 

5-3 *!? 
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8fj*S 
2 b ^g-g 

IjpH 

^^8 -a'5) 

ss&igg 

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S x! fc<^: o 
J3 ^3 c3 o t> &i 



r/ r <u w < *> aJ 03 

^aPIIJ 

fflilriflll^S^ 

ill 

<=! S 



%S~ 




(N Oi O ^C 
CO CO CO CO 






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5-1 o ,~ ^ 

O O> 03 <D 




406 



APPENDIX 



B . , 8 "'SJia S 
'|^l^ g* 8 J^l 5^1 g 5 

^ifiioi:iiiii i 












5 be 

II 

i 



q s w j a 

jo rnqoui^g; pue Blip 
ui ' 







APPENDIX 



407 



O O JO <N 
CO CO i> t^ 

CO CO CO CO 



(( - o^a 'mpuj 
jo seqsij;,, s ( e(j u 



t^ <M ' ^ (N 

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'E 



i 




INDEX 



ACRIDOTHERES FUSCUS, or 

fuscus, the Jungle-Myna, 34 
Acridotheres ginginianus, the Bank- 

Myna, 35 
, , tristis, the common Myu a. 

23 

Adjutants the, Leptoptilusdubius, 227 ; 
formerly very abundant 
in Calcutta, 227 ; now 
very rare within the 
town proper, 228 ; return 
of, an intimation of the 
approach of the rainy 
season, 228 ; magnificent 
flight of, 228 ; difficulty 
experienced by, in rising 
from the ground, 229 ; 
flight of, often strangely 
noisy, 229 ; often find 
difficulty in settling 
down to roost, 230 ; very 
ill- tempered, 232; atti- 
tudes of, often very 
grotesque, 232 ; attitudes 
when drying their plum- 
age, 233 ; splendid 
colouring of the plumage 
of, 233 ; astonishing ap- 
petite of, 234 

,, the smaller, Leptoptilus 
javanicus, 236 ; never 
enters towns, 236 

j&githina tiphia, the common lora, 125 
^Esalon chicquera, the red - headed 

Merlin or Taramti, 250 
^Ethiopsar fuscus, or Acridotheres fuscus, 

the Jungle-Myna, 34 
Alcedo ispida, the common Kingfisher, 
157 



Alsocomus puniceus, the purple Wood- 
pigeon, 103 

Amaurornis phcenicurus, the white- 
breasted Water-hen, 173 
Anthus maculatus, the Indian Tree- 
pipit, 198 
,, rufulus, the Indian Tit-lark, 

199 

Arachnechthra asiatica, the purple 
Honeysucker or 
Sun-bird, 136 

,, zeylonica, the purple- 

rumped Honey - 

sucker or Sun-bird, 

128 

Ardeola grayi, the Pond -heron or 

Paddy-bird, 165 
Ardetta cinnamomea, the chestnut 

Bittern, 170 

Astur badius, the Shikra, 246 
Athene brama, the spotted Owlet, 203 

BABBLERS the Jungle, Crateropus 
canorus, 82 ; debased appearance of, 
83 ; Hindi name for, derived from 
their habit of going about in family 
parties, 83 ; ways of, 84 ; flight of, 
85 ; curiosity of, 86 ; nesting habits 
of, 87 

Bandar the, Macacus rhesus, 264 
Barbets the blue-throated, Cyanops 
asiatica, 109 ; cry of, 110 ; 
behaviour whilst calling, 
110; partially silent during 
the nesting season, 110 ; 
shyer birds than Copper- 
smiths, 111 ; nests usually 
well concealed, 111 ; vigour 
of, when excavating their 

409 



410 



INDEX 



Barbets (continued) 

nests, 112 ; work in regular 
shifts in digging their 
burrows, 113 ; measure- 
ments of a nest, 113 ; one 
caught in a spider's web, 
115 ; easily kept in cap- 
tivity, 115 

,, the Coppersmith, Xantho- 
Icema hcematocephala, 105 ; 
calling of, determined by 
atmospheric temperature, 
105 ; behaviour whilst 
calling gives rise to ventri- 
loquial effects, 106 ; re- 
latively silent during the 
nesting season, 106 ; nest- 
ing of, 106 ; bad temper 
of, 109 ; not easy to keep 
in a mixed aviary, 109 ; 
specially fond of the fruits 
of certain kinds of figs, 
109 

Bats, very abundant in damp, tropical 
regions, 287 ; emergence of, 
at sunset, 287 ; degree to 
which they abound in large 
buildings in Upper India, 
288 ; swimming, 289 
,, the Flying - foxes, Pteropus 
medius, 290 ; abound in 
Calcutta, 290 ; large colonies 
of, in Amritsar and Delhi, 290 ; 
quarrelsome disposition of, 

290 ; trees favoured as roosts, 

291 ; principal colonies of, 
near Calcutta, 292 ; native 
methods of taking, 295 

,, the short-nosed Fruit-bats, or 
small Flying- foxes, Cynopterus 
margincttus, 296 ; do not live 
in colonies, 296 ; protective 
colouring of, 297 

Bee-eaters the common Indian, Merops 
viridis, 141 ; winter 
residents of Calcutta, 
141 ; regularity of their 
arrival in autumn, 141 ; 
beauty of their appear- 
ance and notes, 142 ; 
ways of, 142 ; extremely 
keen vision of, 143 ; 



method of disposing of 
their prey, 143 ; take 
insects from the surface 
of water, 144 ; rarely 
alight on the ground, 
144 ; very rarely nest 
near Calcutta, 144 

Bee-eaters the blue - tailed, Merops 
philippinus, 145 ; larger 
than M. viridis, 145 ; 
abundant during the 
rainy season, 145 ; not 
so brightly coloured as 
M. viridis, 145 
Blood-sucker the, Oalotes vcrsicolor, 

322 
Brachypternus aurantius, the golden - 

backed Woodpecker, 223 
Brain-fever-bird, Hierococcyx varius, 

or common Hawk-cuckoo, 71 
Bubulcus coromandus, the Cattle-egret, 

169 
Bv/o melanostictus, the common Indian 

Toad, 365 

Bulbuls the Bengal red - vented , 
Molpastes bengalensis, 91 ; 
often kept in captivity by 
natives of India, 91 ; call 
of, 92 ; nesting of, 92 ; 
exuberant vitality of, 93 ; 
often venture far into 
towns, 87 

,, the Bengal red-whiskered, 
Otocompsa emeria, 87 ; 
very abundant in suburban 
gardens, 88 ; hardly ever 
enters the town, 88 ; rare 
attractiveness of their 
appearance and ways, 88 ; 
exceptional tameness of, 
88 ; very rare in the 
Botanic Garden at Shibpur, 
89 ; almost always in 
pairs, 89 ; faithful and 
loving habits of the mates, 
89 ; nesting of, 89 
Bungarus cceruleiis, the Krait, 352 
,, fasciatus, the banded Krait, 

354 

Butorides javanica, the little green 
Heron, 170 



INDEX 



411 



CACOMANTIS PASSERINUS, the Indian 

plaintive Cuckoo, 81 
Calliope camtschatkensis, the common 

Ruby-throat, 260 
Calotes versicolor, the Blood-sucker, 

322 

Canis aureus, the Jackal, 267 
Caprimidgus asiaticus, the common 
Indian Goatsucker, 
252 
, , macrurus, Horsfield's 

Goatsucker, 254 

Carnivorous animals, trouble given by 
wild ones in tropical Zoological 
Gardens, 272 

Catla buchanani, the Catla, 380 
Cats the Jungle, Felis chaus, 273 ; 
seldom approaches nouses, 
273 

, , the Fishing, Felis viverrina, not 
uncommon in gardens, 273 ; 
extremely savage and untam- 
able, 273; sometimes rear their 
young in gardens, 273 
Centropus sinensis, the Crow-pheasant 

or common Coucal, 74 
Ceryle varia, the Indian pied King- 
fisher, 163 
Chalcophaps indica, the bronze-winged 

Dove, 102 

Chloropsis aurifrons, or Phyllornis 
aurifrons, the gold-fronted Chloropsis 
or green Bulbul, 93 

Civets the large Indian, Viverra, 
zibetha, 274 ; rare in 
gardens, 274 ; curious 
colouring of, 274 ; instances 
of occurrence in gardens in 
Calcutta, 274 

,, the small Indian, Viverricula 
malaccensis, 277 ; abound 
in Calcutta, 277 

,, the Indian Palm, Para- 
doxurus niger, 277 ; often 
visit gardens and mobbed 
by crows there, 277 
Cobras, Naia tripudians, 339 
Coccystes coromandus, the red- winged 

crested Cuckoo, 80 
,, jacobinus, the pied crested 

Cuckoo, 78 
Colouring, protective adaptation of, 



in Bull-frogs, 359 ; in Chloropsis, 93 ; 
in Geckos, 320; in green Pigeons, 
101 ; in Thrushes, 255 ; in Herons, 
166 
Copsychus saularis, the Magpie-robin, 

116 

Coracias indica, the Indian Roller, 146 
Cormorant the little, Phalacrocorax 
javanicus, 175 ; sometimes appears 
in gardens, 175 ; occasionally per- 
manent colonies may be established, 
176 ; such settlements undesirable 
features in small gardens, 176 ; great 
colony of, on an island in the Zoo- 
logical Garden at Alipur, 176 
Corvusmacrorhynchus, the Jungle-crow, 
Gorvus culminatus of Jerdon, 
60 

,, splendens, the Indian House- 
crow, 36 
Crateropus canorus, the Jungle-babbler, 

82 

Crocidura ccerulescens, the grey Musk- 
shrew, 284 

,, murina, the brown Musk- 
shrew, 286 

,, perrotteti, the Indian Pigmy- 
shrew, 286 

Crocodilus palustris, the Swamp-croco- 
dile, 326 
, , porosus, the Coast-crocodile, 

326 ; common in the tidal 
channels of the Sun- 
darbans, 326 ; difficulties 
of clearing them out of 
gardens containing ponds, 

327 ; intelligence of, 328 ; 
a crocodile in a brougham, 
329 

Crocopus phcenicopterus, the Bengal 
green Pigeon, or Hariyal, 100 

Crows the Indian Corbie, or Jungle- 
crow, Corvus macrorhynchus, 
60 ; habits of, 60 ; call of, 
61 ; greeting the sunrise in 
winter, 61 

,, the Indian House- crow, Cormis 
splendens, 36 ; energy and 
mischief of, 37 ; habit of 
gossiping at sundown, 38 ; 
bathing at sundown, 39 ; 
clamour of, at dawn, 40 ; 



412 



INDEX 



Crows (continiied) 

best means of reducing the 
number of crows living in a 
garden, 43 ; crow-catching 
with bird-lime, 44 ; torment- 
ing habits of, 45; teasing 
King-crows, 47 ; mobbing 
formidable birds or mam- 
mals, 47 ; trouble caused by, 
in the Zoological Garden at 
Alipur, 48 ; tormenting 
River- tortoises, 49 ; respect 
of, for Corvusmacrorhynchus, 
51 ; nesting of, 51 ; intelli- 
gence showed by, in cases of 
accidents to nests, 52 ; 
cuckolded by the Koil, 53 ; 
do not persecute young Koils 
after they have left the nest, 
54 ; faithful and affectionate 
mates and parents, 54 ; 
moral code of, 55 ; assemble 
in crowds on any alarm, etc. , 
55 ; quarrels of, 56 ; sus- 
picious nature of, 56 ; diffi- 
culty of taming, 57 ; variety 
of notes of, 58 ; discomfort 
^ and depression of, during 

wet weather, 59 

Cuckoos the Brain - fever - bird, or 
common Hawk - cuckoo, 
Hierococcyx varius, 71 ; 
oftenest heard in Calcutta 
during the rainy season, 
71 ; calls of, 71 ; one of 
the calls a harbinger of 
rain, 72 ; beautyand hawk- 
like aspect pf, 72; often 
mistaken for" hawks by 
other birds, 73; attitude 
and movements of, whilst 
perching, 73 ; wakefulness 
of, 73 ; lay in the nests of 
Babblers, 74 

,, the Crow-pheasant or com- 
mon Coucal, Centropus 
sinensis, 74 ; abound in 
gardens, 74 ; appearance 
of, 74 ; instance of one 
being eaten as a pheasant, 
75 ; nesting of, 75 ; flight 
of, 76 ; extreme agility of, 



in climbing, 75 ; calls of, 
76 ; other notes of, 77 ; 
courting of, 78 

Cuckoos the Indian, Cuculus mi- 
cropterus, 80 ; abundant 
in the Botanic Garden at 
Shibpur during the hot 
weather, 80 

,, the Indian plaintive, Coco- 
mantis passer inus, 81 ; 
occasionally ventures into 
streets, 81 

,, the Koil, Eudynamis hono- 
rata, 63 ; behaviour of the 
sexes in securing the de- 
position of eggs in crows' 
nests, 64; utility of the 
great differences in plum age 
of the sexes, 65 ; cries of 
the male, 66 ; cry of the 
female, 68 ; attracted by 
particular kinds of fruit, 
68 ; habits in captivity, 
69 ; often call during the 
night, 70 ; curious attitude 
of, whilst basking, 70 ; 
flight of, 70 

,, the pied-crested, Coccystes 
jacobinus, 78 ; likeness of 
to large Bulbuls, 78 ; call 
of, 79 ; often mobbed by 
Babblers, etc., 79 
,, the red - winged crested, 
Coccystes coromandus, 80 ; 
great beauty of, 80 ; must 
sometimes lay in Calcutta, 
80 

Cuckoo-shrike the large, Graucalus 
macii, 184 ; often present in gardens, 
184 ; habits of, 184 

Cuculus micropterus, the Indian 
Cuckoo, Boukotako, or Kaephal- 
pakka, 80 
Cyanops asiatica, the blue-throated 

Barbet, 109 

Cynopterus marginatus, the short-nosed 
Fruit - bat, or small Flying - fox, 
296 

Cypselus affinis, the common Indian 
Swift, 251 

DABOIA the, Vipera russellii, 355 



INDEX 



413 



Dayal the, Copsychus saularis, the 

Magpie-robin, 116 
Dendrocitta rufa, the Indian Tree- 

pie, 187 

Dendrocopus himalayensis, the western 
Himalayan pied Wood- 
pecker, 226 
, , macii, the fulvous-breasted 

pied Woodpecker, 225 
Dhamin, or Rat - snake, Zamenis 

mucosus, 336 
Dicceum crue?itatum, the scarlet-backed 

Flower-pecker, 127 
,, erythrorhynchus, Tickell's 

Flower-pecker, 127 

Dicrurus ater, black Drongo, or King- 
crow, 148 

,, ccerulescens, the white- bellied 
Drongo, or King - crow, 
154 

Dolphins, the Gangetic, Platanista 
gangetica, 314 ; behaviour of, in 
rising, 315 ; sounds made by, 315 ; 
do not usually occur in herds, 316 ; 
apparent absence of, from the Hugli 
when in full flood, 316 ; troublesome 
to fishermen, 316 ; easily drowned, 
317 

Drongos the black or common King- 
crow, Dicrurus ater, 148 
,, the white-bellied, Dicrurus 

ccerulescens, 154 

Dryophis mycterizans, the Tree-snake, 
338 

EAGLES the white-bellied Sea-, Hali- 
aetus leucogaster, 244 ; 
splendid colouring of, 244 
,, Pallas' Fishing, Haliaetus 
leucoryphus, 243 ; occasion- 
ally visits gardens, 243 ; 
usually driven off by crows, 
244 ; great abundance of, 
in the Sundarbans and the 
lower part of the river 
Surma, 245 

,, the crested Serpent- Spilornis 
cheela, 245 ; sometimes seen 
in gardens, 245 ; its spotted 
plumage, 245 

Egrets the large, Herodias alba, oc- 
casionally to be seen flying 



aloft over the town of Cal- 
cutta, 172 

Egrets the Cattle-, Bubulcus coro- 
mandus, 169 ; occasionally 
visits ponds within Calcutta, 
169 

Epidemics occurrence of, as a cause of 
periodic variations in the numbers 
of Sparrows, 195 ; of Squirrels, 301 ; 
of Mole-rats, 312 
Eudynamis honor ata, the Koil, 63 

FALCON the Peregrine, Falco pere- 
grinus, 245 ; relatively rare in Cal- 
cutta, 245 ; constant visitors to towns 
in Upper India in winter, 246 ; ex- 
cessive numbers of, in the swamps 
of the lower Surma, 246 
Fan tail the white-throated, Ehipidura 
albicollis, 121 ; extremely attractive 
ways of, 121 ; ludicrous size of their 
tails, 122 ; boldness of, 122 
Felis chaus, the Jungle-cat, 273 
,, pardus, the Leopard, 272 
,, viverrina, the Fishing-cat, 273 
Finch the common Rose-, Carpodacus 
erythrinus, 260 ; not uncommon in 
gardens in Calcutta in winter, 260 
Fish the Catla, Catla buchanani, 380 ; 
in high repute as food, 380 ; 
attaining to a great size even 
in small ponds, 380 ; wonder- 
ful activity of, 380; rod- 
fishing for, 382 

,, Mud-skippers, Periophthalmi, 
375 ; found in gardens 
abutting on the Hugli, 375 ; 
appear in autumn and dis- 
appear whilst the river is in 
full flood, 376 ; when on land 
look like small lizards or great 
tadpoles, 376 ; great numbers 
of, in the channels of the 
Sundarbans, 377 ; probable 
origin of the different be- 
haviour that they show in 
different areas there, 378 
,, Mullet, Mugil corsula, 372; 
swim with their eyes project- 
ing from the surface of the 
water, 372 ; ways of travelling 
against strong currents, 373 



414 



INDEX 



Fish (continued) 
,, the Kohu, Ldbeo rohita, 380 ; 

rod-fishing for, 382 
Fishing-cat, Felis viverrina, 273 
Flower-peckers the scarlet-backed, 
Dicceum cruen- 
tatum, 127 

,, Tickell's, Dicceum 

erythrorhynchus, 
127 

Fly-catchers the common black - 
naped blue, Hypo- 
thymis azurea, 124 ; 
beauty of, 124 ; 
common in gardens 
during winter, 124 ; 
shy birds, 125 ; me- 
thodical in habits, 
125 

, the Indian Paradise, 

Terpsiphone para- 
disi, 122; beautiful 
flight of, 122; not 
very common in 
Calcutta, 123; fully 
plumaged males usu- 
ally only seen there 
in spring, 123 ; 
astonishing changes 
occurring in the 
plumage of the 
males, 123 
Flying-foxes the common, Pteropus 

medius, 290 

,, the smaller or short- 

nosed Fruit - bat, 
Cynopterus margin- 
atus, 29,6 

Flying-squirrels the "large, red, 
Pteromys inor- 
natus, 305 

,, the smaller Kash- 

mir, Sciuropterus 
fimbriatus, 305 ; 
habits of, 305 

Fox the Indian, Vulpes bengalensis, 
271; formerly abundant in 
Calcutta, 272 ; breeding call 
of, 272 

Frogs, the common Indian Bull-frog, 
Rana tigrina, 359 ; great size 
and striking colouring of, 



359 ; changes in colour of, 

359 ; power of immobility, 
360 ; extreme voracity of, 

360 ; tadpoles of, 360 ; rapid 
emergence of, after heavy 
falls of rain, 362 ; concerts 
of, 363 ; cries of, 363 ; sites 
in which the ova are 
deposited, 364 

Frogs the Chunam-frog, Rhacoplwrus 
maculatus, 369 ; not common 
in Calcutta, 369 

GECKO the common House, ffemi- 

dactylus gleadovii, 319 
Geocichla citrina, the orange-headed 

Ground- thrush, 254 
Goatsuckers llorsfield's, Capri - 
tnulgus macrurus, 
254 ; nocturnal din, 
like hammering on 
planks, caused by, 
254 

,, the common Indian, 

or Ice-bird, Capri- 
mulgus asiaticus, 
252 ; call of, 253 ; 
flight of, 253 ; 
alarm - notes of, 
254 

Graucalus macii, the large Cuckoo- 
shrike, 184 

HALCYON SMYRNENSIS, the white- 
breasted Kingfisher, 159 

Haliaetus leucogaster, the white-bellied 
Sea-eagle, 244 

Haliaetus leucoryphus, Pallas' Fishing- 
eagle, 243 

Haliastur indus, the Brahmini Kite, 
247 

Hamadryad the, Naia bungarus, 350. 

Hanuman the, Semnopithecus entellus, 
or Langur, 263 

Hare the common Indian, Lepus 
ruficaudatus, 314 ; troublesome in 
suburban gardens, 314 ; classed as 
an "insect," 314 

Hariyals Crocopus phmnicopterus and 
Osmotreron bicincta, 100 

Hawk-cuckoo the common, Hiero- 
coccyx varius, or Brain-fever-bird, 71 



INDEX 



415 



Hemidactylus gleadovii, the common 

House-gecko, 319 

Herodias alba, the large Egret, 172 
Herons the Pond, or Paddy-bird, 
Ardeola grayi, 165; pro- 
tective colouring and tame- 
ness of, 166 ; roosting- 
habits of, 167 ; movements 
of, on land, 169 
,, the little green, Butorides 

javanica, 170 
,, the Indian Reef, Lepterodius 

asha, 170 
, , the night, Nycticorax griseus, 

170 ; colony of, in the Zoo- 
logical Garden at Alipnr, 

171 ; use of the cry of, 
172 

Herpestes mungo the common Indian 

Mungoose, 278 

Hierococcyx varius, the common Hawk- 
cuckoo or Brain-fever-bird, 71 
Honeysuckers the purple, Arach- 
nechthra asiatiea, 
136 

,, the purple -rumped, 

A rachnechthra 
zeylonica, 128 ; as 
cross -fertilisers of 
flowers, 129 ; pug- 
nacity of, 131 ; 
nests of, 133 
Hoolock the white-browed Gibbon. 

Hylobates hoolock, 265 
Hoopoe the Indian, Upupa indica, 
146 ; neither abundant nor a per- 
manent resident in Calcutta, 147 ; 
call of, and behaviour whilst calling, 
147 

Hydrophasianus chirurgus, the Water- 
pheasant, or Pheasant- tailed Jacana, 
175 
Hylobates hoolock, the Hoolock, or 

white-browed Gibbon, 265 
Hypothymis azurea, the black -naped 

blue Flycatcher, 124 
Hystrix bengalensis, the Bengal Porcu- 
pine, 313 

,, leucura, the Indian Porcupine, 
313 

IORA the common, sEgithina tiphia, 



125 ; nest of, 126 ; sexual calls and 
displays of the male, 126 

JACANAS the bronze- winged, Meto- 
pidius indicus, 174 ; rare 
in gardens, 174 ; nest in 
ponds in the Botanic 
Garden at Shibpur, 174; 
rarely come to land, 175 ; 
enormous feet of, 175 
,, the Pheasant - tailed, or 
Water-pheasant, Hydro- 
phasianus chirurgus, 175; 
very rare in Calcutta, 
175 ; extraordinary ap- 
pearance and cries of, 
175 

Jackals the common, Canis aureus, 
267 ; concerts of, 267 ; formerly 
very abundant in Calcutta, 268 ; 
objection to solitary ones frequenting 
houses, 269 ; boldness of, when un- 
molested, 270 ; seeking out cool 
places during hot weather, 271 

KESTREL, the, Tinnunculus alaudarius, 
247 

Ketupa zeylonensis, the Fishing-owl 
214 

King-crows the black Drongo, Dicru- 
rus ater, 148 ; notes of, 
148 ; way of flying of, 
149; slow flight of, 
very noisy, 149 ; very 
aggressive save for a 
time in autumn, 150 ; 
animosity of, to Bee- 
eaters, 151 ; attend 
grazing cattle, 151 ; 
cause great mortality 
in insects, 151 ; way of 
bathing, 152 ; nesting- 
season of, in Calcutta, 
152 ; structure of nests 
of, 153 ; great admira- 
tion of, for their nests, 
154 

,, the white-bellied, Dicru- 

rus ccerulescens, 154 ; 
peculiar plover-like cry 
of, 155 

King- fishers the brown-headed Stork- 



416 



INDEX 



King-fishers (continued) 

billed, Pelargopsis 
gurialy 162 ; rare in 
gardens in the town 
of Calcutta, 162; very 
common in the Botanic- 
Garden, 162 ; cry of, 
162; flight of, 162; 
nesting of, 163 ; easy 
to keep in captivity, 
163 

,, the brown -winged, Pelar- 

gopsis amauroptera, 
164 ; very common in 
the Sundarbans, 164 
,, the common, Alcedo 

ispida, 157; Indian 
specimens said to be 
smaller than European 
ones, 157 ; constantly 
present in the town of 
Calcutta, 157; often 
hovers, 158 ; habits 
of, 158 

,, the Indian pied, Ceryle 

varia, 163 ; rarely 
visits gardens, 163 ; 
a conspicuous feature 
in the ornithology of 
railway journeys, 164 
,, the white-breasted Hal- 

cyon smyrnensis, 159 ; 
very common in 
gardens, 159 ; call of, 
160 ; sexual displays 
of, 160 ; nesting of, 
160 ; diet of, 161 
,, the white-collared Sauro- 

pcutis chforis, 164 ; 
occasionally appears 
in the Botanic Garden 
at Shibpur, 164 

Kites the common Pariah, Milvus 
govinda, 11 ; extreme abun- 
dance of, 11 ; beauty of, 11 ; 
flight of, 11 ; scratches from 
the claws of, dangerous, 11 ; 
stupidity of, 13 ; often robbed 
by crows, 14 ; quarrels with 
dogs for refuse, 15; good 
tempered as a rule, 16 ; one 
enraged by parrots, 16 ; 



irritable whilst nesting, 16 ; 
very methodical, 17 ; be- 
haviour of, in dealing with 
swarms of white-ants, 18 ; 
nesting season of, 18 ; ac- 
cidents to nests from storms 
prolongs nesting, 18 ; decora- 
tive feathering of the young 
birds, 19 ; seldom take living 
birds, 20 ; behaviour in bath- 
ing and drying their plumage, 
20 ; temporary absence of, 
from Calcutta on the onset 
of the rainy season, 21; enjoy 
the cool air attending sudden 
storms, 22 

Kites the Brahmini, Haliastur indus, 
247 ; splendid colouring of, 

247 ; great numbers of, in 
Madras, 248 ; occasionally 
come into Calcutta in flocks, 

248 ; peculiar calls of, 249 ; 
animosity of, to common 
kites, 249 ; often mobbed 
by crows in Calcutta, 249 ; 
never build in Calcutta, 250 ; 

Kokila, green Pigeon the, Sphenocercus 

sphenurus, 101, 104 
Kraits the common, Bungarus cceru- 

leus, 352 

,, the banded, Bungarus fasci- 
atus, 354 

LABEO ROHITA, the Rohu, 380 
Langur the, Semnopithecus entellus, 

263 
Lanius cristatus, the brown Shrike, 

180 
,, nigriceps, the black - headed 

Shrike, 184 

Leopard the, Felispardus, 272 ; stray 
specimens sometimes wander into 
gardens in Calcutta, 272 
Leptoptilus dubius, the Adjutant, 227 
, , j a v a n i c ti s, the smaller 

Adjutant, 236 

Lepterodius asha, the Indian Reef- 
heron, 170 
Lepus ruficaudahis, the common Indian 

Hare, 314 

Lizards the Blood-sucker, Calotes 
versicolor, 322 ; adaptation 



INDEX 



417 



Lizards (continued) 

of, to arboreal life, 322; 
habits of, 322 ; occasionally 
attacked by crows, etc. , 323 
,, Mabuia carinata, 323; ex- 
cessive brittleness of, 324 
,, the Wall -gecko, or House- 
gecko, Hemidactylus 
gleadovii, 319 ; feet of, 
320 ; chamseleonic changes 
of colour in, 320 ; its mode 
of stalking insects, 320; 
readily tamed, 321 ; eggs 
of, 322 

,, the "Water, or Goh, Varanus 
salvator, 32-4; visits gardens 
containing ponds, 324 ; 
diet of, 324 ; swimming 
powers of, 324 ; habits in 
captivity, 325 ; native 
belief in the poisonous 
properties of the tongue 
of, 325 

Loriculus vernalis, the Indian Loriquet, 
221 

Lutra vulgaris, the common Otter, 282 

Lycodon aulicus, 333 

MABUIA CARINATA, 323 

Macacus rhesus, the Bengal Monkey, or 

Bandar, 263 

Magpies the Indian Tree-pie, Dendro- 
citta rufa, 187 ; notes of, 

187 ; family parties of, 

188 ; methodical habits of, 
188 ; objects of suspicion 
to other birds, 189; attend 
drinking - bouts in silk- 
cotton trees, 190 ; very 
untamable, 190 

,, Himalayan blue Urocissa 
flamrostris and U. oc- 
cipitalis, 190 ; very readily 
tamed, 190 

Merlin the red-headed, or Taramti, 

dSsalon chicquera, 250 ; a charming 

pet but difficult to keep in captivity, 

250 

Merops philippinus, the blue -tailed 

Bee-eater, 145 

,, viridis, the common Indian 
Bee-eater, 141 



Metopidius indicus, the bronze-winged 

Jacana, 174 

Mice the common House-, Mus mus- 
culus, 310 ; abundance of, in 
Calcutta, 310 ; more mis- 
chievous in houses than rats, 
310 ; best methods of killing, 
311 
,, the common Indian Field-, Mus 

buduga, 311 
Milvus govinda, the common or Pariah 

Kite, 11 
Minivet the scarlet, Pericrocotus 

speciosus, 184 

Molpastes bengalensis, the Bengal red- 
vented Bulbul, 91 

Monkeys the Bengal, or common 
Bandar, Macacus rhesus, 
264; repulsive appearance 
and habits of, 265 ; 
abundance of, in Banaras 
and Mathura, 265 
f i the Hoolock, or white- 
browed Gibbon, Hylobates 
hoolock, 265; common in 
captivity in Calcutta, 265 
,, the Langur or Haniiman, 
Semnopithecus entellus, 
263 ; the only monkeys 
occurring in the country 
around Calcutta, 263 ; 
troops of, occasionally visit 
the Botanic Garden at 
Shibpur, 263 ; warning 
given by, of the presence 
of a tiger in the garden, 
263 ; wonderful agility 
of, 263 ; excessive abund- 
ance of, in the town of 
Ahmedabad, 264 

,, the Himalayan Langur, 
Semnopithecus schistaceus^ 
264; abundance of, in 
Simla and other hill- 
stations, 264 
Motacilla borealis, the grey-headed 

Wagtail, 197 
,, citreola, the yellow -faced 

Wagtail, 198 

,, citreoloides, Hodgson's 
yellow-headed Wagtail, 
198 



2 D 



418 



INDEX 



Motacilla leucopsis, the white- faced 
Wagtail, or Dhobin, 195 
,, melanope, the grey Wagtail, 

195 

Mud-skippers, Periophthalmi, 375 
Mugil corsula, the Mullet, 372 
Mungoose the common Indian, Her- 
pestes mungo, 278 ; very common in 
gardens, 278 ; very destructive of 
birds, 278 ; astonishing alertness and 
activity of, 278 ; have a relative im- 
munity from the toxic action of snake 
venoms, 279 ; questions regarding 
the nature and origin of this im- 
munity, 279 ; curiously snake-like 
look of, 280 ; behaviour whilst hunt- 
ing, 281 
Munias the green, Stictospizaformosa, 

258 

,, the Indian red, Sporceginthus 
amandava 258 ; habits of, 
in captivity, 259 

,, the spotted, Urolonchapunctu- 
lata, 257 ; common in 
gardens, 257 ; plumage and 
nesting of, 257 

Mus buduga, the common Indian Field- 
mouse, 311 

,, decumanus, the brown Rat, 308 
,, musculuSy the common House- 
mouse, 310 

,, rattus, the common Indian Rat or 
black Rat, 306 

NAIA BUNGARUS, the Hamadryad, 350 
tripudians, the Cobra, 339 

Neophron ginginianus, the smaller 
white Scavenger- vulture, 242 

Nesocia bengalensis, the Indian Mole- 
rat, 312 

Nycticorax griseus, the Night-heron, 
170 

OREOCINCLA DAUMA, the small-billed 
Mountain-thrush, 255 

Orioles the black-headed, Oriolus 
melanocephalus, 185; beauty 
of the plumage of, 185 ; 
astonishing variety in their 
notes, 185 ; flight of, 186 ; 
solitary birds often ill- 
tempered, 187 ; very easily 



tamed, but do not usually 

survive captivity long, 187 

Oriole the maroon, Oriolus traillii, 

187 ; does well as a cage- 

bird, 187 

Orthotomus sutorius, the Tailor-bird, 

136 

Osmotreron bicincta, the orange -breasted 
green Pigeon, or small Hariyal, 100 
Otocompsa emeria, the Bengal red- 
whiskered Bulbul, 87 
Otogypscalvus, the Pondicherry vulture, 

242 

Otters the common, Lutra vulgaris, 

282 ; abundance of, in the lower Gan- 

getic delta, 282 ; occasionally occur 

within the limits of Calcutta, 282 ; 

used by fishermen in the rivers of the 

delta, 282 ; inordinate appetite of, 283 

Owls the Barn-owl, Strix Jtammea, 

211 ; prejudice of the natives 

against, 212 

,, the Fishing-owl, Ketupa zeylon- 
cnsis, 214 ; occasionally occurs 
in gardens, 214 

,, the Scops, Scops giu, 208 ; 
apparently commoner in 
gardens in Calcutta than S. 
bakkamoena, the collared 
Scops, 209 

,, the spotted owlet, Athene 
brama, 203 ; not purely noc- 
turnal, 205 ; habits in calling, 
205 ; enters houses, 207 

PAL&ORNIS CYANOCEPHALUS, the 
western blossom-headed 
Paroquet, 221 
,, nepalensis, the large Indian 

Paroquet, 221 

rosa, the eastern blossom- 
headed Paroquet, 220 
,, torquatus, the rose-ringed 

Paroquet, 215 

Paradoxurus niger, the Indian Palm- 
civet, 277 

Parrots the Indian Loriquet, Lori- 
culus vernalis, 221 ; con- 
stantly for sale in the 
bazaars of Calcutta, 221; 
stupid and ill-tempered as 
cage-birds, 221 ; one sub- 



INDEX 



419 



Parrots (continued) 

dued by a Honeysucker, 
132 ; eat the eggs of other 
birds, 259 ; natural food of, 
the juices of flowers and 
fruits, 222 

,, the eastern blossom-headed 
Paroquet, Palceornis rosa, 
220 ; occasionally visits 
gardens in Calcutta, 220 
,, the large Indian Paroquet, 
Palceornis nepalensis, and 
the western blossom -headed 
Paroquet, Palceornis cyano- 
cephalus, 221 ; constantly 
for sale in Calcutta, 221 
,, the rose-ringed Paroquet, or 
common green Parrot, 
Palceornis torquatus, 215 ; 
noisy and mischievous habits 
of, 215 ; hatred of, very 
soon acquired, 216 ; very 
destructive in fields and' 
gardens, 217 ; great beauty 
of, 218 ; ready to mob 
strange birds, 220 
Passer do?nesticus, the House-sparrow, 

191 

Pelargopsis amauroptera, the brown- 
winged Kingfisher, 164 
,, gurial, the brown-headed 
stork-billed Kingfisher, 
162 
Pericrocotus speciosus, the scarlet 

Mini vet, 184 

Periophtfialmi, Mudskippers, 375 
Phalacrocorax javanicus, the little 

Cormorant, 175 

Phyllornis cuurifr&ns, the gold-fronted, 
Chloropsis, or CJiloropsis aurifrons, 
93 

Phylloscopus affinis, TickelPs Willow- 
warbler, 260 

Pigeons the snow, Columba leuconota, 
103 ; power of adaptation 
to life at low levels, 103 
,, the bronze - winged Dove, 
Chalcophaps indica, 102 ; 
common in well -wooded 
gardens, 102 ; wonderful 
beauty of, 102 ; extreme 
pugnacity of, 103 



Pigeons the Bengal green, or Hariyal, 
Crocopus phcenicopterus, 
100 ; invisibility of, in 
leafy trees, 101 

,, the orange-breasted green, 

or small Hariyal, Osmo- 

treron bicincta, 101 

,, the Kokila green, Spheno- 

cercus sphenurus, 101 ; 

beauty of the notes of, 1 04 

,, the purple Wood-, AUocomus 

puniceus, 103 

,, the spotted Dove, Turtur 
suratensis, 95 ; distri- 
bution of it and the little 
brown Dove in Upper 
India, 96 ; pugnacity of 
this species and of pigeons 
generally, 97 ; ferocity of, 
whilst nesting, 98 ; habits 
of, in fighting, 98 ; nests 
of, 98 ; towering of, 99 ; 
suspiciousness of, 100 
,, the little brown Dove, Turtur 
cambayensis, 96 ; cry of, 
compared with that of the 
spotted Dove, 96 
,, the Indian Ring-dove, Turtur 

risorius, 96 

Pipits the Indian Tree-pipit, Anthus 
maculatus, 198 ; peculiar 
habit of swaying from side 
to side before taking flight, 
199 

,, the Indian Tit-lark, Anthus 

rufulus, 199 ; nesting of, 200 

Pitta brachyura, the Indian Pitta, 255; 

ways of a caged one, 256 ; rare in 

gardens in Calcutta, 255 

Platanista gangetica, the Gangetic 

Dolphin, 314 
Ploceus baya, the Baya or Weaver-bird, 

179 
Plotus melanogaster, the Indian Darter 

or Snake-bird, 175 

Porcupines the Bengal, Hystrix ben- 
galensis, 313; rare in 
gardens about Calcutta, 
313 ; behaviour of one 
in captivity, 318 
,, the Indian, Hystrix leu- 
cura, 313 ; very de- 



4,20 



INDEX 



Porcupines (continued] 

structive in gardens in 
many parts of India, 
313 
Pseudogyps bengalensis, the Indian 

white-backed Vulture, 238 
Pteromys inomatus, the large red 

Flying-squirrel, 305 
Pteropus medius, the common Flying- 
fox, 290 

RAN A TIGRINA, the Indian Bull-frog, 
359 

Rats the common Indian, the Black- 
rat of Europe, Mus rattus, 
306 ; ordinarily inhabit 
gardens, 306 ; invade houses 
during the rainy season, 
306 ; more mischievous in 
houses than Brown-rats are, 

307 ; boldness of, 307 

,, the Brown-, Mus decumanus, 

308 ; regarded with un- 
foundedly excessive prejudice, 
308 ; habits of some Indian 
ones, 309 

the Indian Mole-, Nesocia ben- 
galensis t 312 ; very trouble- 
some in gardens, 312 ; 
periodical fluctuations in the 
numbers of, 312 

Redstart the Indian, Ruticilla rufi- 
ventris, 260 ; appears in Calcutta 
during winter, 260 ; haunts clumps 
of bamboos, 260 ; notes of, 260 ; 
strange habit of vibrating the tail, 
260 
Rhacophorus tnaculatus, the Chunam 

Tree-frog, 369 
Rhipidura albicollis, the white-throated 

Fantail, 121 

Robins the Magpie, Copsychussaularis, 
116 ; likeness in ways to 
the common British Robin, 
116 ; autumnal songs of, 
harbingers of the onset of 
cool weather, 117 ; do not 
enter houses, 117 ; pugna- 
city of, 118; nesting of, 
118 ; distinct areas in 
gardens claimed by different 
pairs of, 118 ; alarm notes 



of, and behaviour coincident 
with them, 119 ; family 
parties of, 120 

Robins the brown - backed Indian, 
Thamnobia cambaiensis, 
117 ; boldness in entering 
houses, 117 

Roller the Indian, Coracias indica, 
146 ; rare in Calcutta, 146 ; treated 
as intruders by the crows there, 146 ; 
are emblems of Shiv on account of 
the colour of their throats, 146 
Ruby-throat the common, Calliope 
camtschatkensis, 260 ; occasionally 
visits gardens in Calcutta during 
winter, 260 

Ruticilla rufiventris, the Indian Red- 
start, 260 

SAUROPATIS CHLORIS, the white- 
collared Kingfisher, 164 
Sciuropterus fimbriatus, the smaller 

Kashmir Flying- squirrel, 305 
Sciurus indicus, the large Indian 

Squirrel, 306 

,, palmarum, the Palm, 300 
Scops bakkamwna, the collared Scops- 
owl, 209 

,, giu, the Scops-owl, 208 
Semnopithecus entellus, the Langiir, or 
Hanuman - monkey, 
263 

,, schistaceus, the Hima- 

layan Langiir, 264 

Shikra Astur badius, 246 ; an un- 
interesting hawk in captivity, 250 
Shrews the brown Musk, Crocidura 

murina, 286 

,, the grey Musk, Crocidura 
ccerulescens, 284 ; luminous 
aspect of, in the dusk, 284 ; 
behaviour of, in rooms, 285 ; 
offensive odour of, 285 ; 
behaviour of dogs when 
hunting them, 286 
,, the Indian pigmy, Crocidura 
perrotteti, 286 ; inhabits 
gardens in Calcutta, 286 
Shrikes the black - headed, Lanius 
nigriceps, 184 ; abundant 
in the Sundarbans during 
winter, 184 



INDEX 



Shrikes (continued] 

,, the brown, Lanius cristatus, 
180 ; abounds in Calcutta 
except in summer, 180; 
times of arrival and de- 
parture of, 180; presence 
of, advertised by calls, 181 ; 
calls of, one of the earliest 
harbingers of the approach 
of winter, 181 ; possible 
function of their calls, 182 ; 
occasionally attack small 
birds, 183 ; sometimes im- 
pale their prey, 183 ; 
plumage of, 183 

,, the large Cuckoo, Graucalus 
maciiy 184 ; often seen in 
gardens, 184 ; habits of, 184 

,, the scarlet Mini vet, Pericro- 
cotus speciosuSy rare in 
Calcutta, 184 ; splendid 
colouring of, 184 

Snakes the Dhamin, or Rat-snake, 
Zamenis mucoms, 336 ; 
reputed ferocity of, 337 ; 
behaviour when swallowing 
toads, 337 

,, Lycodon aulicus, 333 ; often 
enters houses, 334 ; re- 
semblance to the Krait, 334 

,, the Grass, Tropidonotus sto- 
latus, 334 ; abundant in 
gardens, 334; often swallows 
relatively large victims, 334 

,, the Pond, Tropidonotus pis- 
cator, 336; colouring of, 336; 
boldness of, 336 ; behaviour 
of, after securing fish, 336 

, , the Tree, Dryophis mycterizans, 

338 ; suspicious character 
of the teeth of, 338 

,, the Cobra, Naia tripudians, 

339 ; rare within the town 
proper of Calcutta, 339 ; 
very common in the suburbs, 
339 ; trouble caused by, in 
the Zoological Garden at 
Alipur, 339 ; case in which 
a keeper there was bitten 
by one, 339; not aggressive, 
343 ; vigilance and activity 
of, 344 ; differences in dis- 



position of distinct varieties 
of, 344 ; easily handled, 

344 ; sacks full of Cobras, 

345 ; danger of, to sporting 
dogs, 347 ; much infested 
by ticks, 349 ; behaviour of, 
in striking, 349 ; Indian 
mode of taking the venom 
of, 349 ; average discharge 
and lethal value of the 
venom of, 350 

Snakes the Hamadryad, Naia bun- 
garuSy 350 ; extremely rare 
in the neighbourhood of 
Calcutta, 350; not specially 
fierce or aggressive in cap- 
tivity, 351 ; cannibal be- 
haviour of, 351 

,, the Krait, Bungarus cceruleus, 
352 ; very rare in the lower 
Gangetic delta, 353 ; possi- 
bility of the occurrence of 
imported specimens, 353 ; 
Lycodon aulicus often mis- 
taken for it, 334 

,, the banded Krait, Bungarus 
fasciatus, 354 ; common in 
the lower Gangetic delta, 
354 ; as essentially ophio- 
phagous as the Hamadryad, 
354 ; venom of, poor in 
quantity and quality, 354 
,, the Daboia, Vipera russellii, 
355 ; habits of, 355 ; 
symptoms following the 
bites of, 356 ; caution with 
which they are treated by 
snake-charmers, 357 ; ready 
method of showing the 
essential differences between 
the toxic principles of colu- 
brine and viperine venoms, 
358 

Snake-bird the Indian, or Darter, 
Plotus melanogaster, 175 ; rarely 
visits ponds in Calcutta, 175 ; colony 
of in the Zoological Garden at Alipur, 
176 

Snake-bite fallacies to be guarded 
against in estimating the value of 
evidence in cases of reputed cures of, 
342 ; possibility of the superficial 



422 



INDEX 



Snake-bite (continued ) 

escape of venom in certain cases of 

colubrine bites, 343 
Sparrows the House, Passer domesticus, 

191 ; Indian Sparrows more richly 
coloured than British ones, 191 ; 
extreme audacity of, 192; pertinacity 
of, in insisting on nesting in rooms, 

192 ; exasperating ingratitude of, 
194 ; appear to suffer from destruc- 
tive epidemics, 195 

Sphenocercus sphenurus, the Kokila green 

Pigeon, 104 

Spilornis cheela, the crested Serpent- 
eagle, 245 
Sporceginthus amandava, the Indian 

red Munia, 258 

Squirrels the Palm, Sciurus pal- 
marum, 300 ; abound in 
gardens, 300 ; trouble- 
some when they enter 
houses, 301 ; mischief 
done by, in gardens, 301 ; 
periodic fluctuations in 
the numbers of, 301 ; 
movements of, 302 ; rarely 
taken by dogs, 303 ; 
seldom venture far from 
trees, 303 ; very readily 
tamed, 304 

,, Flying, Sciuropterus fimbri- 

atus and Pteromys in- 
ornatus, 305 ; common 
on the Simla hill, 305 ; 
behaviour of, 305 

,, the large Indian, Sciurus 

indicus, 306 ; often for 

sale in the bazaars of 

Calcutta, 306 ' 

Stictospiza formosa, the green Munia, 

258 
Storks Adjutants, Leptoptilus dubius, 

and L. javanicus, 227 and 236 
Strix flammed, the Barn-owl, 211 
Sturnia malabarita, the grey-headed 
Myna, Temenuchus malabaricus of 
Jerdon, 34 
Stumopastor contra, the pied Myna, or 

mud Myna, 32 

Sunbirds, or Honeysuckers, Arach- 
nechthra asiatica and A. zeylonica, 
136 and 128 



Swifts the common Indian, Cypselm 
affinis, 251 ; nesting in 
colonies in verandahs, 251 
,, the Palm, Tachornis batas- 
siensis, 251 ; habits of, 252 

TACHORNIS BATASSIENSIS, the Palm- 
swift, 251 

Tailor- bird, Orthotomus sutorius, 136 ; 
notes of, 136 ; boldness of, 138 ; way 
of bathing of, 138; nest of, 139; 
death of leaves employed in the 
nests of, 140 
Temenuchus pagodarum, the black - 

headed Myna, 34 
Terpsiphone parodist, the Indian 

Paradise-Flycatcher, 122 
Thamnobia cambaiensis, the brown - 

backed Indian Robin, 117 
Thrushes the orange-headed Ground-, 
Geocichla citrina, 254 ; 
occasional visitor of 
gardens in Calcutta dur- 
ing winter, 254 ; decora- 
tive colouring of, 254 ; 
breaks the shells of snails 
as Song-thrushes do, 254 
,, the small-billed Mountain, 
Oreocincla dauma, 255 ; 
rare in Calcutta, 255 ; 
adaptation in colouring 
of it and of Geocichla 
citrina to their normal 
environments, 255 
Tinnunculus alaudarius, the Kestrel, 

247 

Toad the common Indian, Bufo 
mclanostictus, 365 ; chamseleonic 
changes in colour of, 365 ; acrid 
secretion of cutaneous tubercles of, 
366 ; effects of this on dogs, 366 ; 
call of, 367 ; attracted by the emer- 
gence of white-ants, 367 
Tortoises Water, Trionyx, 329; in- 
fested by flukes, 330 ; hardness of 
the shells of eggs of, 330 ; tormented 
by crows, 49 ; sacred ones in the 
Jamna, 265 
Tropidonotus piscator the Pond-snake, 

336 

,, stolatus, the Grass-snake, 
334 



INDEX 



Turtur cambay ens-is, the little brown 
Dove, 96 

,, risorius, the Indian Ring- 
dove, 96 

, , mratensis, the spotted Dove, 95 

UPUPA INDICA, the Indian Hoopoe, 

147 
Uroloncha punctulata, the spotted 

Munia, 257 

VARANUS SALVATOR, the Water- 
lizard, 324 

Venom Indian mode of collecting 
that of snakes, 349 ; average dis- 
charge and lethal power of that of 
Cobras, 350 ; ready method of 
demonstrating essential differences 
between colubrine and viperine 
toxins, 358 

Viper a russellii, the Daboia, 355 
Viverra zibetha, the large Indian Civet, 

274 
Viverricula malaccensis, the small 

Indian Civet, 277 

Vulpes bengalensis, the Indian Fox, 271 
Vultures the Indian white-backed, 
Pseudogyps bengalensis, 
238; superb flight of, 
238 ; other good features 
of, 239; excessive bold- 
ness whilst feeding, 240 ; 
often have difficulty in 
rising from the ground, 

241 ; fondness for basking 
in the sunshine, 241 ; 
nesting habits of, 241 ; 

,, the Pondicherry, Otogyps 
calvus, 242 ; disgusting 
aspect and foul odour of, 
242 

, , the smaller white Scavenger, 
Neophron ginginianus, 

242 ; absent from the 
lower Gangetic delta, 242 

WAGTAILS the white - faced, or 
Dhobin, Motadlla leu- 
copsis, 195 ; along with 
M. melanope, one of 
the earliest harbingers 
of winter, 195 



Wagtails the grey Motadlla 
melanope, 195 ; ex- 
ceeding elegance of 
form and movements 
of, 196 ; tameness of, 
196 ; almost always 
go in pairs, 196 

,, the grey-headed Mota- 
dlla borealis, 197 ; 
extreme abundance of, 
in Calcutta formerly, 
197 ; reasons for their 
desertion of the place, 
197 

,, the yellow-faced, Mota- 

dlla dtreola, 198 
,, Hodgson's yellow- 

headed, Motadlla 
dtreoloides, 198 

Water - hen the white - breasted, 
Amaurornis phcenicurus, 173; nest- 
ing of, 173 

Weaver-bird Ploceus bay a, 179 
Wigeon Mareca penelope, one spend- 
ing many successive winters in the 
Zoological Garden at Alipur, 178 
Wild-ducks occasional appearance of 
in ponds in gardens in Calcutta, 177 
Willow-warbler Tickell's, Phyllos- 

copus affinis, 260 

Wood-peckers the golden - backed 
Brachypternus aur- 
antius, 223; call 
of, 223 ; visiting 
flowers of silk- 
cotton trees, 225 
,, the fulvous-breasted 

pied, Dendrocopus 
macii, 225 ; 
common in the 
Botanic Garden at 
Shibpur, 225 

,, the western Hima- 

layan v'ied,Dendro- 
copus himalayensis, 
226 ; nest of, 226 

XANTHOL&MA H^MATOCEPHALA, the 
Coppersmith Barbet, 105 

ZAMENIS MUCOSUS, the Dhamin, or 
Rat-snake, 336 



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