The Cheer Pheasant, although his colours have none of that brilliancy which one associates with pheasants, especially those with the typical long pointed tail which he exhibits in perfection, having this appendage sometimes two feet long, is nevertheless a very recognizable bird, not only among our Indian game-birds, but anywhere, for he is the only pheasant known which combines a long pointed tail with a crest also long and pointed; and the female, though shorter in both tail and crest, yet has them enough developed to be recognizable.
Although there is plenty of difference in detail between the cock and hen Cheer Pheasants, their general appearance is far more alike than that of the two sexes of pheasants in general, both showing black, grey, white, buff, and brown in their plumage ; the most noticeable differences are at the two ends, the cock having a plain dirty-white neck below his drab cap, while the hen, with the same head colouring, has the neck below the throat more black than white, though the colours are mixed; her tail, also, though exhibiting the same colours as the male's, is not so distinctly marked, the cock's tail being boldly banded with black-and-tan on a bright buff ground, and forming a very noticeable feature in his appearance. Cock Cheer are much larger than hens, weighing about three pounds and often more, while the hens weigh two to two and a half; they look about as big as our cock pheasants at home, and this is the only one of our common hill pheasants, rightly so-called or not, which will strike anyone as closely like the home bird, in spite of its dull colour.
Its note, however, is, like its plumage, very unlike the common pheasant's, being a sort of song, rendered by Wilson as "chir-a-pir, chir-a-pir, chir chir, chirwa, chirwa" ; but the tune varies, and there is a good deal of it to be heard, for hens crow as well as cocks, and in dull weather at any time in the day, though the usual calling-time is daybreak and dusk.
The cocks have spurs, and presumably they fight, for they are excessively spiteful in their demeanour to people when in captivity—more so, I think, than any other species; and they have considerable power in their strong bills, which they use for grubbing up roots, which are their favourite food, though they also partake of the other usual articles of pheasant diet, with the exception of herbage, for which they do not care.
Although distributed all along the Himalayas—to which range it is confined—and a common bird, the cheer is not to be found everywhere, its requirements being somewhat special. Although, like our pheasants generally, it ascends the hills in hot weather and descends in winter, it does not go above 10,000 feet or come down below 4,000, nor go outside the wooded regions. Even here Cheer are local, and the special grounds for them are, according to Hume, " the Dangs or precipitous places, so common in many parts of the interior; not vast bare cliffs, but a whole congeries of little cliffs one above the other, each perhaps from fifteen to thirty feet high, broken up by ledges, on which a man could barely walk, but thickly set with grass and bushes, and out of which grow up stunted trees, and from which hang down curious skeins of grey roots and mighty garlands of creepers." By waiting at the foot of such a place good shots may be got as the birds are driven down from above, but they come down extremely fast, apparently closing their wings and steering by their tails; while if hit and not killed they will run for miles at times. In thin tree-growth on the hillside they are hard to get unless bayed by dogs, at which, in out-of-the-way places, says Hume, they will chuckle or crow, with erected feathers, from the bough they have taken to, till they can be potted. Possibly this antipathy to dogs, like their fearless spitefulness to man when con¬ fined, indicates that they assist each other against vermin, for they are most companionable birds, except in the breeding-season, associating in coveys of up to fifteen in number, and these lots remaining about the same favourite place from one year's end to another, even if some are shot. They are great runners and skulkers when the grass is long and gives them a chance, and do not fly far at a time. In fact, they are essentially ground-birds, and seldom even roost on trees, but " jug " like partridges on the ground.
Cheer generally breed between 4,000 and 8,000 feet, preferably in May and at the foot of one of their favourite "Dangs" scratching a slight hole and laying small eggs for their size, not larger than a common fowl's, and dirty-white or pale-greyish, with a few rusty spots in most cases. The cock as well as the hen looks after the brood. The native name expressing the characteristic note is the most widely used, but in the hills north of Mussoorie is replaced by Bunchil or Herril, while in Chamba and Kullu Chaman is this bird's title.