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The Phasianidæ or Family of Game Birds

The Himalayas are the home of many species of gallinaceous birds. In the highest ranges the snow-cocks, the tragopans, the blood-pheasant, and the glorious monaul or Impeyan pheasant abound. The foothills are the happy hunting-grounds of the ancestral cock-a-doodle-doo.

As this book is written with the object of enabling persons staying at the various hill-stations to identify the commoner birds, I do not propose to describe the gallinaceous denizens of the higher ranges or the foothills. In the ranges of moderate elevation, on which all the hill-stations are situated, the kalij, the cheer, and the koklas pheasants are common. Of these three the kalij is the only one likely to be seen in the ordinary course of a walk. The others are not likely to show themselves unless flushed by a dog.

The white-crested kalij-pheasant (Gennæus albicristatus) may occasionally be seen in the vicinity of a village.

The bird does not come up to the Englishman's ideal of a pheasant. The bushy tail causes it to look rather like a product of the farmyard. The cock is over two feet in length, the hen is five inches shorter. The plumage of the former is dark brown, tinged with blue, each feather having a pale margin. The rump is white with broad black bars. The hen is uniformly brown, each feather having a narrow buff margin. Both sexes rejoice in a long backwardly-directed crest and a patch of bare crimson skin round each eye. The tail is much shorter and more bushy than that of the English pheasant. The crest is white in the cock and reddish yellow in the hen. Baldwin describes the call of this pheasant as "a sharp twut, twut, twut. Sometimes very low, with a pause between each note, then suddenly increasing loudly and excitedly."

The kalij usually affords rather poor sport.

The koklas pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha) is another short-tailed species; but it is more game-like in appearance than the kalij and provides better sport.

It may be distinguished from the kalij by its not having the red patch of skin round the eye. The cock of this species has a curious crest, the middle portion of which is short and of a fawn colour; on each side of this is a long lateral tuft coloured black with a green gloss. The cry of this bird has been syllabised as kok-kok-pokrass.

In the cheer-pheasant (Catreus wellichi) both sexes have a long crest, like that of the kalij, and a red patch of skin round the eye. The tail of this species, however, is long and attenuated like that of the English pheasant, measuring nearly two feet. Wilson says, of the call of this bird: "Both males and females often crow at daybreak and dusk and, in cloudy weather, sometimes during the day. The crow is loud and singular, and, when there is nothing to interrupt, the sound may be heard for at least a mile. It is something like the words chir-a-pir, chir-a-pir, chir-a-pir, chirwa, chirwa, but a good deal varied."

The grey quail (Coturnix communis) is a common bird of the Himalayas during a few days only in the year. Large numbers of these birds rest in the fields of ripening grain in the course of their long migratory flight. Almost as regularly as clockwork do they appear in the Western Himalayas early in October on their way south, and again in April on their northward journey. By walking through the terraced fields at those times with a gun, considerable bags of quail can be secured. These birds migrate at night. Writing of them, Hume said: "One moonlight night about the third week in April, standing at the top of Benog, a few miles from Mussoorie, a dense cloud many hundred yards in length and fifty yards, I suppose, in breadth of small birds swept over me with the sound of a rushing wind. They were not, I believe, twenty yards above the level of my head, and their quite unmistakable call was uttered by several of those nearest me as they passed."

We must now consider the partridges that patronise the hills. The species most commonly met with in the Himalayas is the chakor (Caccabis chucar). In appearance this is very like the French or red-legged partridge, to which it is related. Its prevailing hue is pale reddish brown, the particular shade varying greatly with the individual. The most striking features of this partridge are a black band that runs across the forehead to the eyes and then down the sides of the head round the throat, forming a gorget, and a number of black bars on each flank. The favourite haunts of the chakor are bare grassy hillsides on which a few terraced fields exist. Chakor are noisy birds. The note most commonly heard is the double call from which their name is taken.

The black partridge or common francolin (Francolinus vulgaris) is abundant on the lower ranges of the Himalayas. At Mussoorie its curious call is often heard. This is so high-pitched as to be inaudible to some people. To those who can hear it, the call sounds like juk-juk-tee-tee-tur. This species has the habit of feigning a broken wing when an enemy approaches its young ones. The cock is a very handsome bird. The prevailing hue of his plumage is black with white spots on the flanks and narrow white bars on the back. The feathers of the crown and wings are buff and dark brown. A chestnut collar runs round the neck, while each side of the head is adorned by a white patch. The whole plumage of the hen is coloured like the wings of the cock.

The common hill-partridge (Arboricola torqueola) is a great skulker. He haunts dark densely jungled water-courses and ravines, and so is not likely to be seen about a hill-station; we will therefore pass him over without description.