Eupodotis edwardsi

THE GREAT INDIAN. BUSTARD.

Eupodotis edwardsi.

Hukna, Hindustani.

The largest and most esteemed of Indian game-birds, this fine bustard is easily recognizable; in size it exceeds the ordinary domestic turkey of India, and its long neck and legs make it conspicuous. Its colour is dull brown above, white below; in the old male the neck is also white, but in hens and young cocks this part appears grey, owing to being pencilled over with black. In any case the crown of the head is black, contrasting strongly with the light cheeks.

On the wing this bustard looks not unlike a vulture, moving with slow heavy sweeps of the wings, but it flies low and never sails.

Old cocks—and these alone ought to be shot—are distinguishable not only by their white necks, but by their much greater size, as they are twice as big as hens, often weighing twenty pounds, and it has been said sometimes even twice as much. In length the cock is four feet, the hen about a foot less, while the wing expanse is about double the length. The great Indian bustard is a purely Indian bird, and is still found in the same districts as it frequented in the days of the pioneers of Indian ornithology.

In Ceylon and the extreme south of India it is not found, nor in the eastern portions, Bengal, Behar, Chota Nagpore, or Orissa. Needless to say, it does not extend into Burma or the Malay countries; but, curiously enough, the Australian bustard (Eupodotis australis), commonly known in the Commonwealth as " plains turkey," or simply as " wild turkey," is so very similar to the Indian bird that it can hardly be regarded as anything but a local race of the same species, although one would have expected to find a bustard of any sort in Australia about as much as a cockatoo in India.

Presumably the bird once ranged throughout the intervening countries, but these became unsuitable for it owing to a change in conditions; probably the growth of forest, for even in its chosen haunts in the plains of the Peninsula of India this bustard, like most of its family, is essentially a bird of the open, and avoids heavy cover.

Dry undulating land, bare or grassy, is the bustard's favourite country, but when the grass in its haunts is cleared off it will resort to the waterside, or depart altogether to a locality where there is more grass. It also frequents wheatfields, and will eat grain as well as other seeds, shoots and berries, especially those of the ber and caronda, though it is by nature rather an animal than a vegetable feeder, especially relishing grasshoppers. Beetles—including blister-beetles—caterpillars, and even lizards and -snakes, form part of its food; no doubt it will in practice eat any small living creature it conies across, as the great bustard of Europe does.

Although this bustard does not fly high, it rises easily and is willing to travel several miles at a time, and it must traverse considerable distances at times in changing its quarters in search of suitable feeding-grounds. No one in modern times has ridden it down, as a writer in the old Bengal Sporting Magazine said he had known done; perhaps a bird in heavy moult might succumb to persistent hunting, but the pace of this large species on the wing is much greater than it appears, and would not give a horseman much chance to. come up with it and tire it out.

Generally speaking, it is considered a most difficult bird to bring to bag, requiring very careful stalking, though now and then birds surprised in cover taller than themselves may fall easy victims. Now and then a few old cocks will associate with blackbuck, no doubt for the sake of mutual protection by watchfulness, just as the true ostrich in Africa associates with the zebra and gnu, and the rhea, the so-called " ostrich " of southern South America, with the guanaco or wild llama. At all times this bustard is commonly in some sort of company of its own kind. A few old cocks or hens may chum together apart from the other sex when not breeding, while in the breeding season a strong cock collects about him as many as half a dozen wives.

Nowadays, however, flocks of as many as two dozen birds, such as Jerdon records, are hardly ever to be seen, the largest parties generally numbering under a dozen.

In courting, the male of the Indian great bustard goes through an extraordinary display. Strutting about with head lifted as high as possible, he cocks his tail, inhales air in repeated puffs, expanding and contracting his throat, and at last blows the neck out into a huge bag till it nearly reaches the ground, when he struts about displaying this goitre, and with his tail turned over his back, at the same time snapping his bill and uttering a peculiar deep moan, no doubt the origin of his Mahratta name of Hum. His ordinary alarm call is a most unbird-like noise which strikes some people as like barking, while others compare it to a bellow or the distant shout of a man. Hence is derived the Hindustani name Hookna, while the Canarese Ari-kujina-hukki means " the bird that calls like a man." Captain C. Brownlow also records {vide Mr. Baker) " a sort of cackle " uttered by an undisturbed flock.

The breeding season of this bird is extended over more than half the year, Mr. Baker recording eggs taken in every month except December, February, and March, but the main breeding months appear to be from August to November, while the time is locally variable. Only one egg is laid—at any rate as a rule— and this in a slight hollow in the ground, with no attempt at a nest except sometimes a few bits of grass. It may be in the open or in high grass, preferably the latter.

The egg is thick-shelled, and, though variable, tends to a long shape, often over three inches long. It is spotted, more or less distinctly, with brown on a ground of pale brown, dull olive green, or even grey. The down of the chick is buff above and white below, variegated with black on the buff portions.

As this bird increases so slowly, it certainly needs watchful protection, but it seems not to have been seriously reduced in numbers during the last half-century. Although Sterndale records a tame specimen as killed by his pet mongoose, the size of the bird must protect it against small vermin as a rule, while it is on occasion a plucky bird, a correspondent of Mr. Baker's having been actually charged by a winged cock, and obliged to give it another shot. Moreover, the extreme wariness above alluded to is a great safeguard. Some credit the bustard with a keen sense of smell, which may partly account for the difficulty.

The flesh of the great Indian bustard is coarse in the case of old cocks, though young birds and hens are better. Such a striking bird has naturally many names. In addition to those given in the text, may be noted those of Tokdar, the usual title given by Mohammedan falconers, which is a variant of the Tugdar of the Punjabis; in the Deccan we come across the names Mardhonk, Karadhonk and Karbink, while Sohun and Gughun-bher in Hindustani are used as well as Hukna and Yere-laddu in Canarese; the Bat-meka of Telugu and Batta mekha of the Yanadi are evidently allied titles, while a quite different one is the Kanai-myle of Tamil.

BookTitle: 
Indian Sporting Birds
Reference: 
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Eupodotis edwardsi
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Year: 
1915
Page No: 
131
Common name: 
Indian Bustard
M_ID: 
3258
M_CN: 
Great Indian Bustard
M_SN: 
Ardeotis nigriceps
Term name: 
id: 
12341

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