Page:The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma (Birds Vol 1).djvu/241

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ACANTHOPTILA. 203

which differentiates it from candata; hut their differences are bridged over by the Large Rufous Babbler, which has an intermediate shaped bill which is partly black and has the feathers of the forehead with the shafts distinctly stiff and bare at the tips. Blyth placed both subrufa and longirostris in a separate genus, Layardia, but in view of the gradation in degree in the characteristics defining them, I keep them altogether under Argya.

Distribution. The Nepal Terai, Bhutan and Buxa Duars, the Terai at the foot of the Himalayas, North of the Brahmaputra to Sadiya and the grass plateaus of the hills South of that river to Manipur and Chittagong.

Nidification. This Babbler breeds not uncommonly on the grass plateaus in the Khasia Hills during May and June, making a cup-shaped nest of grass, lined with grass stems and placed in amongst grass or reeds, a bush or tangle of brambles, or even on an old stump or a broken-down wall or bank. The eggs number three or four, but are a rather paler blue than are the eggs of most of those of the genera Argya or Turdoides though quite similar in shape and texture. Twenty-one eggs average about 21•5 x 16•7 mm.

Habits. These are of the gregarious, noisy and restless nature of the rest of the group. Hume, in Manipur, and myself, in the Khasia Hills, found them nearly always in the long grass covering wide extents of hill and valley, where they fed both on the ground and on the grass and reeds. (Several of their notes were quite pleasant, but the majority were of the discordant character co,mon to all these Babblers.

Genus ACANTHOPTILA Blyth, 1855.

The genus Acanthoptila was instituted by Blyth for a remarkable bird discovered many years preiously, characterized by its spinous plumage and long, graduated tail. Sharpe originally placed this genus in his Crateropodinæ but Oates, in the Avifauna, removed it to the Sylviidæ. It has two phases of coloration, in one of which the lower part of the head becomes partially white. Oates considered the change to be a seasonal one, but there is nothing in the British Museum series to show this and I consider it is the plumage of the older bird. This acquisition of white is found in other Timaliine birds such as Gampsorhynchus and Gypsophila. In its general appearance it is very close to Bahax and Argya. The feathers of the upper plumage and breast have stiff shafts which become very spinous when worn; the bill is nearly as long as the head and gently curved; the nostrils are long, lunar-shaped slits; the rictal bristles short and weak; the wing rounded and 4th primary longest; tail graduated and much longer than wing, and the tarsus very strong and about one-third the length of wing.