38. THE CHUKOR-PARTRIDGE
Caccabis chukar, (Gray.)
First ten quills of the wing unbarred, but with a portion of the outer web of each, near the tip, buff.
Upper plumage without a trace of bars.
All but the middle tail-feathers chestnut.
Vernacular Names :—Chukor, Hind.; Kau-Kau, Kashmir ; Chukru, Chamba.
This fine Partridge is found throughout the Himalayas from Sikhim to Kashmir and Hazara, and throughout the ranges of hills which divide India from Afghanistan and Baluchistan. It is also found in the Salt Range in the Punjab. Throughout its range this Partridge occurs at all altitudes from the sea-level up to about 16,000 feet.
The Chukor-Partridge has a very extensive range outside of India, being found in South-eastern Europe on the one hand, and in China on the other.
The Chukor is very abundant in the Himalayas, and its habits may be gathered from the following brief accounts, taken from various sources.
" Mountaineer" as quoted by Dr. Jerdon says :—" In autumn and winter they keep in loose scattered flocks, very numerous, sometimes to the number of forty or fifty or even a hundred. In summer, though not entirely separated, they are seldom in large flocks, and a single pair is often met with. They are partial to dry stony spots, never go into forest, and in the lower hills seem to prefer the grassy hillsides to the cultivated fields."
Dr. Scully observes :—" The Chukor is common on certain parts of the hills round the valley of Nepal, at elevations of from five to six thousand feet from March to October. It frequents rounded grassy hills, where the small nullahs are fringed with bushes, and where there is no forest; in such localities, especially near patches of cultivation and on bits of stony ground, flocks of Chukor are sure to be found. About the end of October the birds descend the hills and assemble on the confines of the warmer valleys for the winter, where they can feed in the rice fields which have been reaped, in fields of growing corn, etc."
Although Dr. Scully does not seem to have observed this bird in Nepal at a higher elevation than 6000 feet, it is commonly found in other parts of the Himalayas at much greater altitudes. Thus the late Dr. Stoliczka tells us that the Chukor is common all over the North-west Himalayas and West Tibet, where it ascends to 14,000 feet. Above this altitude it is probably rare.
Mr. Hume thus describes the cry of this Partridge :—" The Chukor is a very noisy bird, repeating constantly, in a sharp, clear tone, that may be heard for a mile or more through the pure mountain air, his own well-applied trivial name. Like other game birds, they call most in the mornings and evenings; but even when undisturbed, they may be heard calling to each other at all hours of the day; and very soon after a covey has been dispersed, each individual member may be heard proclaiming his own, and anxiously inquiring after all his fellows', whereabouts. The tone varies. First he says, ' I'm here, I'm here;' then he asks 'Who's dead? who's dead?' and when he is informed of the untimely decease of his pet brother and favourite sister, or perhaps his eldest son and heir, he responds, ' Oh lor ! Oh lor!' in quite a mournful tone."
The Chukor breeds in April, May and June, according to elevation, and its nest has been found in July as high up as 16,000 feet. The eggs, which vary in number from eight to twelve, are deposited on the ground, generally in a slight hollow which is lined with a little grass or a few leaves. The eggs are oval, pointed a good deal towards the small end, and they are moderately glossy. The ground-colour varies from creamy-white to pale buff. Some eggs are thickly spotted and speckled with purplish, reddish and yellowish brown, whilst others are often blotched with purplish pink. They vary in length from 1.55 to 1.9, and in breadth from 1.15 to 1.3.
The upper plumage is bluish ashy with a decided rufous tinge on the mantle and crown of the head. The first ten quills of the wing are dark brown, each with a conspicuous buff patch on the outer web near the tip. The middle tail-feathers are bluish ashy, the others chestnut. A whitish streak runs over the eye. The point of the chin and a small patch at the angle of the mouth are black. The remainder of the chin, the cheeks and the throat are pale buff. The forehead and a broad band through the eyes, running down the neck and encircling the throat, are black. The ear-coverts are chestnut. The breast is grey tinged with rufous at the sides, and the remainder of - the lower plumage is bright buff, the sides of the body being beautifully banded with grey, black and buff, and each feather tipped with chestnut.
Length about 14 1/2 ; wing about 6 1/2; tail nearly 4; legs red; irides brown or orange ; bill deep red. Weight up to 27 oz.