INDIA is a remarkable country in many ways, and not the least so in that, in spite of a civilization of immemorial antiquity, there remains in our Eastern dominions such a rich profusion and variety of wild life, even the large quadrupeds, so soon exterminated by civilized man, persisting in considerable numbers. This wealth of mammalian life naturally attracts the attention of sportsmen, to the exclusion, to some extent, of bird-shooting ; yet the opportunities for the latter sport are just as excellent, and no country can show such an immense variety of sporting birds as India and our other Eastern provinces, while the individual abundance of the species is remarkable, when we consider that there is no such systematic war made upon their natural enemies as is the case in Europe; in fact, the "vermin," furred and feathered, work their will practically unchecked, and to them we must add a horde of reptilian villains, snakes, crocodiles, and carnivorous water-tortoises and lizards. The native also poaches light-heartedly everywhere, though it must be admitted that here he is only " getting his own back," as the feathered game is so numerous, and so little indented upon by a population largely vegetarian, that the comparative harmlessness of humanity to the feathered world is ungratefully repaid by considerable devastation of the crops in many districts.
The worst offenders in this way are geese and cranes, but ducks do a good deal of harm to the paddy, so that in shooting wild-fowl one is often doing actual good to the cultivator, as well as getting amusement and food; moreover, the majority of our wild-fowl being migrants from the northern regions where they breed, the stock is capable of being drawn on to a very large extent. The same remarks apply to the harmless and indeed beneficial snipe and golden plover, which, the former at any rate, form so great a stand-by of the sportsman everywhere, and to most of the sand-grouse, and some bustards; but care should be exercised in attacking the resident species of these groups, which need consideration as much as the typical game-birds of the pheasant family, under which also come the peafowl, jungle-fowl, tragopans, monauls, partridges, and quails. Of these the common or grey quail is our only migratory visitor, and being excessively abundant and widespread is the only bird of the family which is a real stand-by for shooting in the way that the various wild-fowl and snipes are. Bails are not usually shot, but, as they are regarded as game on the continent of Europe and in the United States, and as Hume thought them worth figuring, they are dealt with here along with their kin, the moorhens and coot. Many of these are also winter visitors.
But it is of course the pheasants and their allies that are the peculiar glory of Indian sporting birds, and though at present they play a very insignificant part in sport compared to their importance in Europe, systematic protection in the future ought ultimately to render them at least the equals of the water and marsh birds in this connection. Our Indian Empire is beyond comparison the richest of regions in these birds, and is indeed the metropolis of the family, including all the finest groups, except the turkeys, true grouse, and guinea-fowls.
Sporting birds are not only of interest to sportsmen, but to naturalists they are not surpassed in interest by any other groups on account of the frequent points of interest in their habits, and the unrivalled beauty of plumage which many of them display. The visitations of the migratory species — fluctuations of the commoner kinds and occurrences of the rarer ones—are also well worthy of scientific study, and much has been learnt in these particulars since the publication of Hume and Marshall's valuable work, which has of course been largely indented on in the present one, as have also the valuable publications of Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker and other contributors to the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.
In recording the occurrence of rare birds, it is not necessary that the sportsman should be able to prepare skins of his specimens, or that he should forgo eating them if rations are short; it is sufficient for purposes of identification if the head and a
wing and foot be dried and if possible treated with some skin-preservative— in fact, for very big birds the head alone will be enough, and in the case of snipe the tail affords the best character for discrimination.
The scientific names used are those of the " Fauna of British India " bird, volumes, now the standard work on general Indian ornithology, and where a species does not occur in these the naming of the " British Museum Catalogue of Birds " has been followed. Where the scientific name on the plate differs from these the fact has been indicated.
ERRATA—This has been overlooked in the case of the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa, rufa on the plate) ; and the plate of the White-crested Kalij, referred to^'in the foot-note on p. 183, is not one of those in this book. On p. 205, also,'Ceriornis should road Tragopan.