THE Vertebrate animals of British India have now been described for the first time in a single uniform series, consisting of eight volumes, of which this is the last to appear. The work comprises two volumes on Fishes by the late Dr. F. Day, one on Reptiles and Batrachians by Mr. G. Boulenger, and two on Birds by Mr. E. W. Oates; the remaining two volumes of Birds and one on Mammals, together with the editing of the whole, having been my own contribution to the undertaking. Five volumes on Invertebrata—four on the Moths of British India by Sir G. F. Hampson, and one on the Hymenoptera by Colonel C. T. Bingham—have also been published on the same plan. The work has fully occupied me during the fifteen years that have now elapsed since my retirement from Indian service; but the completion of the Vertebrate series "would not have been practicable without the valuable cooperation of the able naturalists already mentioned.
This volume contains the Pigeons, the Gallinaceous birds, and the numerous tribes commonly classed together as Waders and Swimming birds. It thus includes all the Game Birds, both of land and water—an arrangement which may be found convenient, although good separate works on the subject exist, containing fuller details than are consistent with the limits of the present publication. One part of a work on the Game Birds of India by Mr. Oates, the author of the first two volumes of Birds in the present series, has just appeared, too late for references to it to be inserted in the appendix to this volume.
The classification adopted for the Birds was explained in the Preface to the third volume. The sequence of the Orders is to some extent a matter of convenience,—it would have been equally correct to have commenced this volume with the Steganopodes and Herodiones, as the nearest allies of the Accipitrine birds described at the end of the last. At the same time, it is natural to place the Pigeons as near to the Cuckoos and Owls as possible. The arrangement here employed has been preferred chiefly because it more nearly resembles Jerdon's, with whose work Indian naturalists have now been familiar for more than thirty years, and is therefore likely to be found more convenient.
The keys to genera and species in this and other volumes are intended solely to assist in the determination of specimens, and do not necessarily depend on the characters of the greatest importance, nor do the generic keys always serve for species not found in India.
The English names used by Jerdon have been retained, except when they differ from those commonly used in England, or when they have been found to be no longer appropriate, owing either to improved knowledge of the bird's affinities or to the discovery of additional species. Thus such names as Shell Ibis and Pelican Ibis cannot be retained now that we find that the birds to which they are applied are not Ibises but Storks; and it is a mistake to employ any longer the term of "The Golden Plover " for Charadrius fulvus, when we know that the true Golden Plover of Europe, C. pluvialis, is sometimes a visitor to India.
The number of Indian birds regarded as distinct species in the present work, including the nine added in the Appendix, amounts to 1626. Jerdon, from a much smaller area, described 1016. Hume's Catalogue of 1879 contained 1788 entries, of which he rejected 106 and regarded 74 as doubtful, leaving 1608, or nearly the same as the present enumeration. The precise number of species is naturally dependent on a personal factor, some writers being more liberal than others in admitting the claims to specific rank of races which are distinguished by small differences of plumage or measurement, or which are connected by intervening links with the typical form. Such races or subspecies, as they are called, have not, as a rule, been separately numbered and described in the present work, but they have received due notice and their characters have been explained.
A very considerable part of the present work is founded on the Catalogue of Birds in the British Museum, and on the specimens preserved in the Museum Collections. It is difficult to exaggerate the obligations of both Mr. Oates and myself to Dr. R. Bowdler Sharpe and Mr. W. Ogilvie Grant, the officers in charge of the Bird Department. In several cases the labour of compiling this and other volumes has been lightened by access to unpublished parts of the Museum Catalogue.
Prof. Newton's most useful 'Dictionary of Birds' has often furnished valuable information, and has occasionally prevented mistakes from being made; whilst for anatomical information I am greatly indebted to Dr. H. Gadow's contributions to the Dictionary and to his share of Bronn's great work. Some important details have also been personally communicated by Dr. Gadow and Mr. Beddard.
In addition to the many friends in India who have contributed to the previous volumes, thanks are due to Mr. F. Finn and Mr. A. L. Butler, both of whom have sent valuable notes. In this volume, as in the last, Mr. Oates's notes have been of great service, and he has added important information on some of the Birds of Upper Burma.
The woodcuts illustrating all four volumes are the work of Mr. P. J. Smit, except in a very few cases, when the origin of the cuts is acknowledged.
Lastly, I would express a hope that the series of volumes on Indian Vertebrata now concluded may contribute to a fuller knowledge of the animals inhabiting the country and may facilitate the study of them, and by so doing fulfil the design with which this work was undertaken.
W. T. BLANFORD.
March 1st, 1898.