84. THE GREAT INDIAN BUS¬TARD.
Eupodotis edwardsi, (Gray).
Length of the tarsus less than one-third the length of the wing . Exposed part of the first ten quills wholly blackish. Outer tail-feathers fulvous freckled with black. Crown of head black.
MALE :—Larger; wing about 27.
FEMALE :—Smaller; wing about 21.
Vernacular Names :—Toogdar, Gurayin, Punjab; Sohun Chirya, Gugumbher, Hookna, Gwalior, Jhansi, etc. ; Hoom, Marathi; Kara-dhouk, Maldhouk, Deccan ; Gurahna, Sind ; Butt meka, Bat-myaka, Telugu; Heri-hukki, Arl-koojina-hukki, Canarese; Kanalmyle, Tamil.
The Great Indian Bustard is peculiar to India and inhabits a considerable portion of the peninsula. It is found in the Punjab and less commonly in Sind. To the east it ranges as far as the Jumna, and approximately up to a line, roughly speaking, connecting Delhi and Sambalpur in the Central Provinces. Southwards it is met with down to about the nth degree of north latitude, being universally distributed over the whole country except the western coast.
Dr. Jerdon here refers to a writer in the Sporting Review.
Dr. Jerdon says:—"The Bustard frequents bare open plains, grassy plains interspersed with low bushes, and occasionally high grass rumnahs. . . . Towards the close of the rains and in the cold weather before the long grass is cut down, the Bustard will often be found, at all events in the heat of the day, concealed in the grass, but not for the purpose of eating the seeds of the Roussa grass, as the writer above alluded to imagines, rather for the large grasshoppers which abound so there and which fly against you at every few steps you take. During the cold weather the Bustard frequently feeds, and rests during the day likewise, in wheat fields. When the grass and corn are all cut and the bare plains no longer afford food to the Bustard, it will be found along the banks of rivers where there is long grass mixed with bushes, or the edges of large tanks, or low jungle where there is moderately high grass, or it wanders to some district where there is more grass; for though they do not migrate, yet Bustards change their ground much according to the season, and the supply of grasshoppers and other insects. The hen birds, remarks the writer quoted above, generally congregate together during the rains, are very timid, and frequently when a sportsman is pursuing a single one, she will attempt to seek safety, fatally for herself, in some large bush, particularly if the gunner turn aside his head and affect not to see her at the moment of hiding. The cock birds at this season feed a mile or so apart from the hens, and stretching their magnificent white necks, stride along most pompously. . . . The Bustard is polygamous, and at the breeding season, which varies very greatly according to the district, from October to March, the male struts about on some eminence, puffing out the feathers of his neck and throat, expanding his tail and ruffling his wings, uttering now and then a low deep moaning call heard a great way off. . . . The Bustard has another call heard not unfrequently, compared by some to a bark or a bellow; chiefly heard however when the bird is alarmed. . . . When raised it generally takes a long flight, sometimes three or four miles, with a steady continued flapping of its wings, at no great height above the ground, and I never found that it had any difficulty in rising, not even requiring to run one step."
Dr. Jerdon, in giving the breeding season above as from October to March, must, I think, have meant to say March to October, for it is during this period only that nests and eggs of this bird have been found by Mr. Hume's numerous correspondents. The nest is a depression in the ground in open wastes or in fields of stubble of the larger millets or in clumps and patches of high grass. Only one egg is laid. The variation in the colour of the eggs of this Bustard is very remarkable. The ground-colour is usually green combined with brown in varying proportions, sometimes a yellowish stone-colour. Some eggs are dull, others highly glossy. The markings on the eggs vary very much in extent and intensity, but they are usually some shade of reddish brown disposed in blotches and streaks, In shape they are ovals, and they measure from 275 to 3.42 in length and from 2.05 to 2.45 in breadth.
The male has the crown and the feathers of the crest black. The sides of the head, the throat and the whole neck are white in old birds, mottled with brown in younger ones. The feathers at the base of the neck are long, soft, and very ample. The whole upper plumage, the tail, and a great part of the visible portions of the closed wings are fulvous or sandy buff very finely and closely vermiculated with black; the larger wing-coverts black tipped with white. The first ten quills of the wing are blackish, the others are tipped with white. The tail is tipped with dark brown and terminally with white." A broad blackish band extends across the breast, somewhat interrupted in the middle. The lower plumage is white with the flanks dark brown.
The female is much smaller than the male, but closely similar in plumage. The mottlings on the neck are coarser, and there is a white band over the eye. The feathers at the base of the neck and the crest are rather shorter.
Male : length up to 50; wing about 27, tail about 13. Female : length up to 38 ; wing about 21 1/2 . Legs dull yellow; irides yellow ; bill greyish brown. A fine male is said to weigh as much as 28 lb., a female about 10 lb.