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The Phasianidæ or Pheasant Family

This important family includes the pea- and the jungle-fowl and the various pheasants.

The peacock is not found at altitudes above 4000 feet.

Jungle-fowl are abundant on the Nilgiris. He who keeps his eyes open may occasionally see one of these birds running across a road in the hills. This must not lead the observer to think that jungle-fowl spend most of their time in sprinting across roads. The fact of the matter is that the fowl tribe do not appreciate their food unless they have to scratch for it. Paths and roads are highly scratchable objects, hence they are largely resorted to for food; further, they are used for the purpose of the daily dust-bath in which every self-respecting fowl indulges. If these birds are disturbed when feeding or bathing, they do not make for the nearest cover as most other birds do: they insist on running across the road, thereby giving the grateful sportsman a clear shot. The domestic rooster has the same habit. So has the Indian child. To test the truth of these assertions, it is only necessary to drive briskly along a street at the side of which children or fowls are playing in perfect safety. At the sight of the horse, the child or hen, as the case may be, makes a dash for the far side of the road, and passes almost under the horse's nose. The fowl always gets across safely. The child is not so fortunate.

Two species of jungle-fowl have partitioned the Indian peninsula between them. The red species (Gallus ferrugineus) has appropriated the part of India which lies between Kashmir and the Godavery; while the grey jungle-fowl (G. sonnerati) has possessed itself of the territory south of the Godavery. The third jungle-fowl (G. lafayetti) has to be content with Ceylon, but the size of its name very nearly makes up for its deficiency in acres!

Davison is my authority for stating that the Strobilanthes whitiani, which constitutes the main undergrowth of many of the forests of the Nilgiris, seeds only once in about seven years, and that when this plant is seeding the grey jungle-fowl assemble in vast numbers to feed on the seed. They collect in the same way for the sake of bamboo seeds. The crow of the cock, which is heard chiefly in the morning and the evening, is not like that of the red jungle-fowl. It has been syllabised kuk-kah-kah-kaha-kuk. The call of the hen may be expressed by the syllables kukkun-kukkun.

The red spur-fowl (Galloperdix spadicea) is perhaps the most abundant game bird of the Nilgiris. It is quite partridge-like in shape. Both sexes have red legs and a patch of red skin round the eye. The feathers of the cock are dull red with blue edges, while those of the hen are black with broad buff margins. The cock may be described as a dull red bird with a grey head and some buff scale-like markings, and the hen as a grey bird, heavily barred with black.

The only quail commonly seen on the Nilgiris is the painted bush-quail (Microperdix erythrorhynchus). A bird in shape like a partridge, but not much larger than a sparrow, is probably this species. The prevailing hue is umber brown with coarse black blotches. The cock has the breast white and the head black with a white eyebrow. The head of the hen is dull red. The bill, legs, and feet of both sexes are red.