(2043) Choriotis nigriceps.
THE GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD.
Otis nigriceps Vigors, P. Z. S. (1830-31), p. 25 (2nd March, 1831) (Himalayas). Eupodites edwardsi*. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 195.
Vernacular names. Ghorar (Khatiawar); Tugdar (Punjab); Gurayin (Hariana); Sohun, Gughunbher, Hukna (Hin.) ; Serailu (Hin., Nerbudda) ; Bherar (Saugur) ; Hum (Mahr.); Mardonk, Maldhonk, Karadhonk, Karlunk (Deccan); Tokdar of Mahomedan Falconers; Gurahna (Sind); Bat-meka, Bat-myaka (Tel.); Batta-mekha (Yanadi) ; Gunad (Pardi) ; Kanal-myle (Tarn.); Heri-hukki Arl-kujina-hukki, Yereladdu (Can.); Dhorm chiriya (Mizapur).
Description. - Male. Crown from bill to nape black, some white stippling on the forehead and the nape mixed black and white; remainder of head and neck white, pure in old birds, faintly barred with brown or brownish-black in younger individuals; back, scapulars, inner secondaries, lesser wing-coverts, rump and upper tail-coverts deep buff, finely vermiculated with black; median wing-coverts dark greyish or brownish-black, tipped with white; greater coverts deep grey, edged black and tipped with white; primaries dark brown, becoming more grey on the innermost ; outer secondaries dark grey, these and the primaries tipped with white and the inner ones marked with white on the inner web; tail like the back but more grey, with a broad terminal band of blackish-brown and the outermost one or two pairs of feathers tipped white; a broad black band across the breast, sometimes continuing round to the hind-neck; flanks dark grey; under tail-coverts, vent and thigh-coverts mixed black and white; thigh black and white or all black, rest of under plumage white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris pale to bright yellow; bill greyish-white to greyish-brown, dusky at tip and base and yellowish on lower mandible; legs yellowish-creamy, sometimes tinged fleshy, grey or plumbeous.
Measurements. Total length about 1300 to 1500 mm.; wing 614 to 762 mm.; tarsus about 190 to 208 mm.; culmen about 85 to 95 mm.
Weight. Burton shot a cock of 261 lbs., Fenton gives the average weight as 21 lbs. and Blanford mentions 40 lbs. as the heaviest recorded.
Female. Differs from the male in having the white of the bead and neck less pure, more vermiculated with black, whilst the pectoral band is absent or merely indicated on the sides.
Measurements. Wing 460 to 540 mm. Weight 8 to 11 lbs., rarely 14 to 15 lbs. (Tyrell) or even 18 lbs. (Burton).
Young males differ from the females only in having buff spots on the crown, hind-neck and upper back.
Nestling covered with buff down above, white or whity-buff below ; black marks on both the head and back.
Distribution. Punjab, Sind, East to the Jamna and South to Rajputana, Guzerat and the Bombay Deccan. Stragglers have been shot in the United Provinces, Behar, Bengal and Orissa in the East, on the Malabar coast in the South and even in Ceylon, whilst recently a specimen was killed 10 miles North of Trichinopoli (Leigh).
Nidification. This fine Bustard seems to be rather erratic in its breeding-haunts, sometimes deserting them for a year for no visible reasons and in other years visiting the same area in exceptional numbers. They breed in the cold season in Southern India but over most of their haunts, after the Rains break, from June to September. Odd eggs may be found in almost any month of the year and the actual breeding-season is a very prolonged one. Little or no nest is made; the single egg is laid on the ground, sometimes in a slight depression lined with fallen debris, sometimes on the level ground with no nest at all. The favourite site is a grass waste in rather thin straggly grass three or four feet high. At other times it may be laid in a field of 'millet or other high crop or, again, in some stony stretch or desert with only scanty bushes and stunted grass. The eggs vary greatly in colour but typically they are brown, a rather light reddy-brown, but they may be almost any shade of brown, olive-brown, yellowish-brown, greyish or even olive-green. The markings are sparse and faint, consisting of rather large, ill-defined blotches of reddish-brown, with others underlying of dull lavender. Eighty-eight eggs average 79.4 x 57.6 mm.: maxima 88.7 X 61.0 and 80.5 x 61.3 mm.; minima 68.0 X 55.5 and 82.5 x 53.5 mm.
Habits. In the Winter this Bustard associates in flocks, generally two or three cocks, or two or three hens, consorting together but flocks of 25 and 30 have been recorded, whilst Doig once counted 34 birds in one Jamba field. In the Summer the flocks break up and each cock is then seen alone with his own harem, which may number two to six hens. They prefer undulating, or broken, country of waste land, grass or wide open cultivation mixed with, or bordered by, stony arid soil. Their favourite food seems to be either locusts or grasshoppers or the Blister Beetle (Mylabris) but they will eat any living thing small enough and also many kinds of crops, grain and shoots of plants etc.; they are also in the habit of constantly swallowing small pebbles and small bright objects of any sort. During the breeding-season they have a " low, deep moaning call" as well as an alarm-note which the natives round Gwalior syllabify as " hookna."