(1972) Alectoris graeca chukar (Gray).
THE INDIAN CHUKAR.
Alectoris graeca chukar. Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v.p. 402.
Throughout the Himalayas as far East as Nepal this race is to be found, hut not in Sind, Baluchistan, Northern Kashmir or Ladak. It also occurs in the hilly tracts of the Punjab.
It is found at all heights from the foot-hills up to 14,000 feet, mounting higher as the snows recede up to 16,000 feet, and breeding wherever found.
Great heat and intense cold seem to affect it in no way, hut comparative dryness seems to be essential.
According to Hume, Wilson and others their favourite breeding grounds seem to be grassy hillsides, with or without a certain amount of cultivation and, indifferently, whether covered with a mere scanty growth of coarse grass or fairly well covered with bushes etc. in addition to the grass itself.
It is, however, found in almost any kind of country other than actual forest, hut where there are grass uplands they are to be found in these also though they are surrounded by forests. Typically they are birds of the desert, rocky bare hills or the more moderately dry hills of the outer ranges of the Himalayas, which, though well watered and wooded, have wide areas of grass-land and stretches of cultivation.
In the extreme North-West of its habitat it is often to be seen in the most barren and rocky of countries, great hillsides strewn with rocks and boulders, for the most part devoid of all vegetation beyond scattered tufts of withered grass, a few windbeaten and distorted bushes and, possibly, here and there in the hollows a wheat-field or some other attempt at cultivation.
The nest is, as a rule, merely a shallow saucer scratched in the ground and lined with a little grass or a few leaves ; sometimes, however, it makes quite a good pad of grass, compacted with leaves and rubbish, in the middle of which it makes a depression for the eggs. Frequently the nest may be found in an open nullah or on a rocky hillside, merely protected from sun and rain by a rock or stone ; more often a site is selected amid bushes, scrub, willow-bushes or bracken, which give it some shade as well as screens it from the sight of enemies. It is never found in forest, but occasionally in long grass, especially if this is broken up by bare patches of rock and stones.
Whistler, in a letter to me, gives aninteresting account of a curious site selected by a pair of these birds “Two nights ago, 11th June, I was going along the Hindustan Tibet Road close to Gondla, 10,000 feet, in fact only some 200 yds. from the Best-house at the entrance to the village, when my eye suddenly caught a Chukar sitting on the head of one of the pollard willows beside the road. Investigation showed that she was sitting on a well-made nest of leaves, which contained 12 eggs. These were rather stained, and there were a good many of the bird’s own feathers in the nest, signs which are quoted locally as proof that the eggs are incubated. I accordingly took only two eggs in order to examine them. They proved, however, to be quite unincubated.
“The other nests I have seen were deep hollows in the ground well lined with bents etc and all were well hidden by being placed either under a stone with herbage growing in front of it, or under a briar-bush or small green plant which is very common.”
The breeding season extends from early April to June at the lower elevation, while even at Naini Tal Whymper took a clutch of sis at 6,000 feet on the 10th of April. In the higher hills they do not breed until well into May, and eggs may be found up to the middle of July. In the Salt Range Theobald found it breeding in April and May.
The full clutch is anything from eight to twelve, hut many birds lay more. Bates and Livesey found a nest near the Woolar Lake with twenty-two eggs, and Osmaston took one with twenty eggs near Srinagar and another with thirteen. Wilson also says they lay as many as fourteen, bus Hume never found more than twelve.
In shape the eggs are rather long ovals, very much pointed at the smaller end. The texture is close and rather fine with the surface smooth and generally slightly glossy. In colour the ground ranges from very pale greyish or yellowish stone-colour to a pale creamy or buff, never bright or rich in tint. In nearly every case the whole surface is lightly freckled over with pale reddish-brown or pinkish-purple, a few eggs having, in addition, some larger freckles or small blotches of the same colour.
A curious clutch of six eggs taken by Whymper near Naini Tai has a creamy-buff ground blotched and smeared with brick-red- brown, in one egg the marking becoming clouds rather than smears.
Two hundred and fifty eggs average 43.0 x 31.4 mm. : maxima 48.2 x 32.1 and 46.1 x 33.1 mm. ; minima 37.0 x 30.4 and 39.0 x 29.0 mm.
All birds of this genus are monogamous and in most cases the female alone incubates, but the male has been shot off the nest, so it is quite possible he sometimes shares regularly in this work.
In England the imported "Frenchman” (Alectoris rufa) is said often to have two clutches of eggs ; the first is laid and then incu¬bated by the cock, while the hen goes off and lays another clutch. Many keepers firmly believe this, and point to the fact that, though they never find bigger clutches than a dozen or so, they often find coveys of a great many more. On the other hand, the young in these coveys are all of the same age, whereas there would be ten to twenty days difference between the two broods if the idea was correct. I was told by a keeper in Norfolk that he had twice found the cock and hen thus sitting on two clutches, yet the young he supposed to have belonged to them must all have been hatched within forty-eight hours of one another.
1972. Alectoris grseea chukar
(1972) Alectoris graeca chukar (Gray).