59. THE ARGUS-PHEASANT.
Argusianus argus, (Linnaeus).
Tail of twelve feathers; the inner quills of the wing much longer than the first ten quills.
MALE :—With large ocelli on wings; tail about four feet in length.
FEMALE :—No ocelli on wings ; tail rather more than one foot in length.
Vernacular Name :—Kyet-wah, Siamese in Bankasoon.
This magnificent Pheasant is found within our limits only at the extreme south of Tenasserim, about Maliwun and Bankasoon. It extends down the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra, and is also found in Siam..
The habits of this bird were exhaustively observed by the late Mr. W. Davison, when he was collecting birds for Mr. Hume in Tenasserim, and I shall quote portions of Mr. Davison's very interesting account. He wrote:—" They live quite solitarily, both males and females; every male has his own drawing-room, of which he is excessively proud and which he keeps scrupulously clean. They haunt exclusively the depths of the evergreen forests, and each male chooses some open level spot sometimes down in a dark gloomy ravine, entirely surrounded and shut in by dense cane brakes and rank vegetation sometimes on the top of a hill, where the jungle is comparatively open from which he clears all the dead leaves and weeds for a space of six or eight yards square, until nothing but the bare clean earth remains, and thereafter he keeps this place scrupulously clean, removing carefully every dead leaf or twig that may happen to fall on it from the trees above.
" These cleared spaces are undoubtedly used as dancing grounds, but personally I have never seen a bird dancing in them, but have always found the proprietor either seated quietly in, or moving backward and forwards slowly about, them, calling at short intervals. Except in the morning and evening, when they roam about to feed and drink, the males are always to be found at home, and they roost at night on some tree quite close by. "They are the most difficult birds I know of to approach; a male is heard calling, and you gradually follow up the sound, taking care not to make the slightest noise, till at last the bird calls within a few yards of you and is only hidden by the denseness of the intervening foliage ; you creep forward, hardly daring to breathe, and suddenly emerge on the open space, but the space is empty; the bird has either caught sight of or heard or smelt you, and has run off quietly. They will never rise even when pursued by a dog if they can possibly avoid it, but run very swiftly away, always choosing the densest and most impenetrable part of the forest to retreat through
The males are not at all quarrelsome, and apparently never interfere with each other, though they will answer each other's calls. The call of the male sounds like 'how-how' repeated ten or a dozen times, and is uttered at short intervals when the bird is in its clearing, one commencing and others in the neighbourhood answer¬ing. The report of a gun will set every male within hearing calling, and on the least alarm or excitement, such as a troop of monkeys passing overhead, they call. The call of the female is quite distinct, sounding like ' how-owoo, how-owoo,' the last syllable much prolonged, repeated ten or a dozen times, but getting more and more rapid until it ends in a series of owoo's run together. Both the call of the male and female can be heard to an immense distance, that of the former especially, which can be heard at the distance of a mile or more. Both sexes have also a note of alarm, a short sharp hoarse bark.
" The female, like the male, lives quite solitarily, but she has no cleared space, and wanders about the forest apparently without any fixed residence. The birds never live in pairs, the female only visiting the male in his parlour for a short time.
"I was unable to find the nest, but from what I could learn, the female builds a rude nest on the ground in some dense cane brake, laying seven or eight eggs, white or creamy, minutely speckled with brown like a turkey's, and hatching and rearing her brood without any assistance from the male. They are said to have no regular breeding season, the females laying at all times except during the depths of the rains."
It is impossible to describe the plumage of these birds at all minutely, and I shall therefore content myself with merely pointing out the chief features of the plumage of the two sexes in a brief manner.
In the male the crest and crown are black and the back of the neck barred with brown and grey. The mantle and almost the whole of the visible parts of the closed wing are black barred and spotted with buff. The back and rump are chestnut spotted with black. The lower plumage is beautifully marked with undulating bars of black, rufous and buff. The first ten quills are of normal length, and variegated with spots of different shapes and colours. The other quills are of extraordinary length, black, barred with buff on their outer edge and with a series of large ocelli on the outer web next the shaft. The middle two tail-feathers are chiefly rufous on the outer, grey on the inner, web, and spotted with black and white; the others are chiefly rufous, spotted in a similar manner with black and white.
In the female the crown and crest are blackish marked with buff. The upper part of the mantle is chestnut slightly marked with black. The lower part of the mantle, the back and the rump are deep chestnut barred with black and buff. Almost all the visible parts of the closed wing are black, coarsely ver¬miculated with buff. There are ho ocelli on the quills. The whole lower plumage is chestnut vermiculated with black. The tail-feathers are variegated with black and chestnut.
Length of male about 70; greatest length of wing about 34; tail about 50. Length of female about 30 inches; greatest length of wing about 17 ; tail up to 16. Legs red; irides brown ; bill pale bluish white; bare skin of head blue. Weight up to 5 1/2 lb.