In the present small volume, I have attempted to give a brief but, I hope, sufficient account of some of the Indian Game Birds, and I propose to complete the account of the remaining Birds without undue delay.
Of the books which have been written on the subject of the Game Birds of India, the large illustrated work of Messrs. Hume and Marshall is at once the most comprehensive and the most important. It is, however, nearly twenty years since this work was published, and in the interval many species of Game Birds have been added to the Indian list.
The Catalogue of the Game Birds in the British Museum (vol. xxii.), written 451113 by Mr. Ogilvie Grant, and published by order of the Trustees, is a valuable work, and contains an account of all the Land Game Birds of the world, but it is of too technical a character to be of use to the mere sportsman.
A work of the same scope by the same author, but in a somewhat popular form, (a Handbook to the Game -Birds,) forming one of the series of "Allen's Naturalist's Library," has quite recently been published. This work is, however, too comprehensive for the requirements of the resident in India.
The forthcoming final volume of the Birds, in the " Fauna of British India," by Dr. W. T. Blanford, will include the Game Birds. This work is far too technical, however, for the ordinary sportsman, and moreover embraces other groups of birds with which the latter has no concern.
Altogether it seems to me that a small, handy manual, such as I have written, is required to bring our knowledge of the Indian Game Birds up to date and to suit the requirements of men who are more sportsmen than they are naturalists; and I have accordingly, since my return to England, devoted my leisure time to its preparation.
My object has been to make this volume as concise as possible, and to assign such characters to the various groups and to the individual species as can be easily understood. It has been my aim throughout to select characters which apply to both sexes without exception. This is, I believe, the first attempt yet made to render the identification of the female game birds easy. It is too much the practice to pass the females of this group over with a brief and insufficient description, or, when figuring them, to place them as small, and frequently unrecognizable, objects in the background.
Although a considerable time has passed since the large work of Messrs. Hume and Marshall was published, I regret to say that very little additional information regarding the habits of the Game Birds has been published in the interval, and therefore, in my account of habits, my readers will recognize many familiar quotations from the above work, and from Dr. Jerdon's ever fresh and interesting articles. In writing of any large group of birds, no author can be expected to have a personal acquaintance with more than a mere fraction of the members composing it, and all he can do is to quote the best available notes regarding them.
I have derived so much information from the works of the above-mentioned authors, and from Mr. Ogilvie Grant's Catalogue, that it has been impossible for me to acknowledge such information separately in each particular instance. I can only express my great obligations now in a general way.
I have again had the privilege of carrying on my studies in the bird-rooms of the British Museum. The national collection of birds now contains nearly four hundred thousand specimens, of which about eight thousand illustrate the groups included in this volume. One cannot but admire the skill with which this stupendous collection is arranged and made available for reference and study. It ought to be the aim of every Englishman abroad, who devotes his attention to birds, to render this collection still more complete by presenting to it specimens of rare and little-known species.
My thanks are due to Sir W. H. Flower, the Director of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, for allowing me free access to the bird collection; also to Dr. R. Bowdler Sharpe, the Assistant Keeper of the Vertebrate Section, and to Mr. W. R. Ogilvie Grant, his colleague in the Bird Department, for the assistance they have constantly and ungrudgingly given me.
Eugene W. Oates.