The three species of Moonals which are found within our limits are the most gorgeous of the game birds, the males being clothed in rich metallic plumage which vies in brilliancy with that of the Peacocks.
The Moonals may be divided into two sections. In the first (Lophophorus) the males have a crest composed of about a dozen very peculiar feathers three inches in length. These feathers have a bare shaft and an oval enlargement at the tip. A small space round the eye is naked.
In the second section (Chalcophasis) the male has a very short bushy crest of curly feathers covering the whole crown, and the front portion of the head is naked, with the exception of a small tuft of feathers below each nostril.
In both sections the females have only a small space behind the eye naked.
The tail of all these birds is rounded and composed of eighteen or twenty feathers. The outermost feathers reach far beyond the middle of the central pair of feathers. The first quill of the wing falls short of the tip of the wing by about two inches. The males have one spur on each leg.
The female Moonals do not differ structurally from the female Horned Pheasants except in regard to the bill, which is much larger in the former group.
Regarding the nomenclature of the Moonal-Pheasants (Lophophorus), I am unable to follow the author of the Catalogue of the Game Birds (Cat. B. M. xxii., p. 278) in assigning Latham's name, P. impeyanus (Ind. Orn. ii., p. 632), to the Bronze-backed Moonal.
It is true that Latham had previously described P. impeyanus under the name of " Impeyan Pheasant" (Gen. Syn. Suppl i., p. 208, pl. 114, 1787), and that he described, and also figured, the bird with a black back, but this was due, in my opinion, to a very pardonable oversight. Anyone who examines the series of skins of the males of the Common Moonal in the British Museum will see at once that, in the great majority of specimens, the white back of this species is completely hidden from sight by the closed wings and the scapular feathers, and that it is a matter of some difficulty to catch a glimpse of any portion of the white on the back, even though the wings be pulled apart. I think it therefore highly probable that both Latham and his artist failed to see any trace of white on the back of the bird, and they concluded that the back was black, like the rump.
There is, however, positive evidence that Latham's bird was the Common, and not the Bronze-backed, Moonal. Referring to a part of the plumage about which there could be no possibility of concealment nor any ground for error, Latham distinctly says, " the under parts of the body, from chin to vent, are dull black, with here and there a greenish gloss." This description applies exactly to the lower plumage of the Common, and not to that of the Bronze-backed, Moonal, in which the whole lower plumage, so far from being a dull black, is resplendent with blue, purple and green reflexions.
Then we have Latham stating that he has seen other male specimens of the same species in the Leverian museum, and he also describes the female. It is quite incredible, therefore, that he could have been describing the Bronze-backed Moonal, a species so rare, even at the present day, that we only know it from the skins of two males sent by Colonel C. H. T. Marshall from a remote part of the Himalayas, within the last twenty years. No skin of the female of this species is known to be in any European Museum, so far as I am aware.
Under these circumstances I am of opinion that Latham's name should continue to be applied to the Common Moonal-Pheasant, and that the rarer species, the Bronze-backed Moonal-Pheasant, should be designated by Colonel Marshall's name, L. chambanus.