85. THE INDIAN HOUBARA-BUSTARD.
Houbara macqueeni, (Gray).
Length of the tarsus less than one-third the length of the wing. Exposed part of the first ten quills- of the wing largely white. A ruff down the sides of the neck.
MALE :—Larger; wing about 16.
FEMALE :—Smaller ; wing about 15.
Vernacular Names : — Tiloor, Boom-bara, Punjab ; Taloor, Sind.
The Indian Houbara-Bustard is apparently only a winter visitor to India, arriving at the end of August or the beginning of September, and leaving again in March or April.
This Bustard is found in the plains of the Punjab, Sind, Rajputana, Northern Guzerat, and Cutch, and its limits to the east appear to be the Jumna River as far as Delhi, and thence a line drawn to Baroda. In summer this bird is found as far west as Mesopotamia, and it has an apparently wide range in Central Asia. It is occasionally met with in Europe.
The India Houbara frequents the level or Undulating semi-desert plains which abound in the west of India. " Here," writes Mr. Hume, " the Houbara trots about early and late, squatting under the shade of some bush during the sunniest hours of the day, feeding very largely on the small fruit of the Ber, or the berries of the Grewia, or the young shoots of the lemen grass and other herbs; now picking up an ant or two, now a grasshopper or beetle, and now a tiny land-shell or stone, but living chiefly as a vegetarian and never with us, to judge from the hundreds I have examined, feeding on lizards, snakes, and the like, as the Great Bustard certainly does, and the African Houbara is said to do."
Although this Bustard has not yet been known to breed in India, there is good reason to believe that the nest may yet be found in Sind. The late Lieut. H. E. Barnes, a very shrewd observer, wrote :—" I feel sure that a few at least remain to breed, both in Sind and Cutch ; a friend of mine avers that he has seen eggs in the latter place, but as he did not preserve them, he may have made a mistake, but he is too good a sportsman not to know a Houbara when he sees one. Mr. Doig had excellent reasons for believing that the Houbara bred in the desert between Godra and Renahoe. Colonel Butler long ago placed on record the remark that a perfect egg had been extracted from the oviduct of a female at the island of Hanjam, off the Mekran coast, in the month of April, and that one or two pairs were breeding there."
In the British Museum there are eggs of this Bustard from the Persian Gulf, Mesopotamia and the Altai mountains in Central Asia. They are oval in shape, with little or no gloss. The ground-colour is generally speaking olive-brown and the shell is covered with blotches and clouds of dark brown, reddish brown and grey. Seven eggs measure from to 2.30 to 2.58 in length and from 1.62 to 1.82 in breadth.
In this species the two sexes are quitealike in coloration, but the female is smaller than the male and has the crest, neck-ruff and pectoral ruff rather less developed.
The crest of this Bustard springs from the middle of the crown, the front feathers being white with black tips and the hinder ones entirely white. A ruff commences at the ears, passes down the sides of the neck to the shoulders, and is continued across the breast. The feathers of this ruff are entirely black on the upper portion of the neck; lower down they are longer and are white tipped with black; and at the base of the neck they are entirely white and fully six inches in length. The ruff across the breast consists of soft broad feathers of a bluish grey colour. The whole upper plumage, the middle pair of tail-feathers and the greater part of the visible portions of the closed wings are fulvous, barred and vermiculated with black; the other tail-feathers are rufous, dotted with black, crossed by two bluish bars, and tipped white. The first five quills of the wing are white with black tips, the others progressively with more black and with less white. The throat is white; the fore neck speckled with fulvous; and the lower plumage white.
Male : length up to 30; wing about 16; tail about 10. Female : length up to 27 ; wing about 15 ; tail about 9. Legs dull yellow ; irides yellow ; bill dusky, tinged with green below, A fine male weighs 5 1/4 lb., and a fine female 3 3/4 lb.