14. THE GREY QUAIL.
Coturnix coturnix, (Linnaeus).
Sides of the body streaked. Outer web of the quills of the wing marked with rufous.
MALE :—Throat dark brown or blackish.
FEMALE:—Throat pale buff and without any lengthened and pointed feathers on the sides of the chin and upper throat.
Vernacular Names:—Bhater, Burra Bhater, Gagus Bhater, Upper India; Buttairo, Butteyra, Sind; Buttree, Lower Bengal; Soipol, Manipur; Botah Surrai, Assam ; Lowa, Ratnagiri ; Bur-ganja, Bur-ganji, Gur-ganj, Poona, Satara, etc. ; Burli, Belgaum ; Gogari-yellichi, Telugu ; Peria-ka-deh, Tamil; Sipale haki, Canarese.
The Common or Grey Quail is chiefly a winter visitor to India, being extremely common at that season in the northern half of the peninsula and becoming rarer towards the south. Hitherto it has not been found in Ceylon. This Quail arrives in large numbers from the north and east in September, and leaves again according to locality in March, April or even May. Some few Quails remain and have been found nesting in various parts of India. The most eastern locality from which I have seen a Quail of this species is Cachar, and I now very much doubt if it occurs in Burma, and especially Lower Burma, as was believed to be the case when I wrote the " Birds of British Burmah." Major Wardlaw Ramsay's specimen from Karennee turns out to be the Japanese Quail, and mistakes may have occurred with regard to the other instances of its occurrence in Burma. There are very many sportsmen in Burma now, but I have not heard of any one meeting with the Grey Quail in recent years, even in the northernmost parts of Upper Burma.
This Quail has a very extensive range in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
I am not well acquainted with the habits of the Grey Quail, and I shall quote two notes which give us a good general account of the bird. Regarding its call the late Mr. Seebohm wrote :—" The familiar call of the Quail, which is said to be confined to the male only, is a clear flute-like note, or succession of three notes, which, though not very loud, can nevertheless be heard at a considerable distance. This note may be best represented by the syllables clik-lik-lik, the accent being sometimes on the first and sometimes on the second syllable. The female replies by a double note, low and unmusical, which appears to be common to both sexes."
Mr. Hume says :—" Although Quails move in flocks, they never, except immediately after the breeding season, keep in coveys, as do the Bush-Quail. There may be thousands in a single field, but each rises, flies, and drops on his own account; and when Quail are scarce, at any time from November to the end of February, you will as often find a single bird as two, three or more in one place. In March J think they begin pairing, for in that month and April, if birds are scarce, you generally find two, four or six in any patch, not one or three or five.
" They feed chiefly morning and evening, and may, if closely looked for, be at times caught sight of for a few moments bustling about, feeding in short stubbles, or thin low grass, or in amongst clumps of the dwarf jujube bushes. They run about stooping, picking here and there, now r stopping to scratch, now, as some sound reaches them, standing straight up with upstretched necks, and again, alarmed, gliding out of sight almost like rats.
" When they are in season, the millets are, I think, their chief food; but they eat all kinds of grain, grass-seeds, small fruits, like those of the Jharberi, and all kinds of small insects, especially beetles, bugs, and ants.
" During the middle of the day, particularly if the sun be hot, they rest somewhere in the shade, and are then so unwilling to rise that you may almost catch them by the hand, while dogs at times actually do pounce on them. But except during the heat of the day, although they are tame birds, and allow a near approach, and although they will, where the ground permits it, run a good deal, they are not usually difficult to flush the first or second time, but after having been twice raised they are very unwilling to fly a third time."
The Grey Quail seems to breed in India during March and April, and the few eggs of this species in the Hume Collection were taken in those months in the Punjab and the North- West Provinces. This Quail is at times monogamous, at others polygamous. The nest is a small hollow in the ground, lined with grass, usually in places where grass and bushes grow together. The female lays from six to fourteen eggs.
The eggs are generally broad ovals, but sometimes pyriform, much pointed, and with little gloss. The ground-colour is yellowish buff, and the whole egg is thickly covered with marks, which on some eggs are dots and specks, and on others blotches of various sizes. These marks are reddish brown in most cases, but occasionally brown or olive-brown. The eggs measure from 1.1 to 1.26 in length, and from 82 to 95 in breadth.
In the male bird the upper plumage is a mixture of black, grey and rufous, with long conspicuous yellowish streaks. The first ten quills of the wing are brown, the first margined with rufous, the others notched with rufous on the outer web. The chin and throat are dark brown or blackish, succeeded by a crescentic white band reaching from one side of the head to the other. This white band is bordered below by a chain of dark brown spots reaching from ear to ear; and above on each side by a dark band connected with the throat-patch. The sides of the throat are pure white. The breast is buff, with narrow white streaks. The sides of the body are rich buff with black marks and conspicuous long whitish streaks. The plumage of this widely distributed quail varies a good deal, but the above description represents a fairly average Indian bird.
The female has the upper plumage and the wings similar to the same parts in the male, but she entirely wants the beautiful black and white colouring on the throat and sides of the head so conspicuous in the male. The entire lower plumage is pale buff, the upper breast being thickly spotted with black and narrowly streaked with white. The sides of the body resemble the same parts in the male, and retain in an equal degree the streaked appearance.
Length up to 8 1/2 ; wing about 4 1/4; tail about 2 ; legs flesh-colour; irides brown; bill horn-colour or brown, varying in shade. Weight up to 4 1/2 oz.
In the British Museum there are five specimens of a Quail from India, which resemble the male Grey Quail, but while retaining the black band on the throat have the surrounding parts rufous in a more or less marked degree, thus approximating to the colour of the Cape Quail (C. capensis). Similar birds are not uncommon in Europe, and they seem to be the result of the interbreeding of the Grey with the Cape Quail. Some of these birds, on the spring migration from Africa to Europe, no doubt get driven to India.