(1978) Franoolinus francolinus melanonotus Hume.
THE ASSAM BLACK PARTRIDGE.
Francolinus francolinus melanonotus, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 411.
This fine Black Partridge extends from Sikkim to the whole of Assam, Eastern Bengal, Manipur, Lushai and Chittagong Hill Tracts. Birds from Nepal, though somewhat intermediate between asix and this race, are nearest to the latter, while the same may be said of those from Central Bengal and Orissa.
They breed from the plains up to 6,000 feet, though seldom over 4,000, while their favourite elevation is between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.
Their habitat par excellence is in the immense stretches of sun-grass land which are found in Assam, the Duars, the alluvial banks of the great rivers and in the lower hills of the outer Himalayas and hills of the Surrma Valley. They do not mind much what height the grass is, though they prefer such as is between 2 and 4 feet high. I have found them in the buffalo haunts of the Brahmapootra Valley where the great ekra-stems meet over your elephants’ heads when out shooting. Again I have seen them in numbers in the half¬eaten, much-trodden-down grass on the outskirts of isolated villages where the whole stretch is cut up with cattle-tracks and with patches from which the grass has been cut for thatch.
Unlike the other races, these birds are very seldom found in scrub and bush-jungle and never in real forest. In the North Cachar Hills the Black Partridge was comparatively common in the vast rolling downs at about 1,500-2,500 feet. All this area was covered with sun-grass which was burnt off every year by the hill-tribes in February and March and immediately the young grass shot up, so that by April and May it was about 18 inches to 2 feet high in the upper parts of the hills and still longer on the sides. In the wet pockets and hollows between the hills much of the reeds and ekra growth was never quite burnt out, leaving a tall tangle of growth, sometimes as much as 8 or 10 feet high, beloved by buffalo, who there found wallows and cool cover in the middle of the day. The Partridge generally bred in the shorter grass but I have also found nests in the long stuff and once stalked and killed a fine bull buffalo with a shot which, disturbed a Partridge off her nest almost at my feet.
The nest varies considerably. As a rule it is a alight, ill-formed pad of grass and dead leaves, collected in some small hollow, natural or otherwise, scraped in the ground but, now and then, one finds quite a well-made nest. One such I came across near Shillong placed between grass-roots on the side of a grass-covered hill close to the station. Cattle had been feeding in this grass, making deep little tracks among the roots, the nest being wedged into one of these paths. The base was a compact mass of dead leaves, grass and bracken-fronds, over which was laid a thick lining of grass worked up on either side, so that the nest was almost semi¬domed. The nearest bracken grew at least 100 yards from the nest, so that in this instance the birds must have taken much time and trouble to make it so comfortable.
The nest is easy to find, for the cock calls his cheery challenge, morning and evening, near the nest and a search round where he calls will soon reveal the female on it. Often, also, the nest is built dose to some land-mark such as an ant-hill or a high bush, around which one should hunt first before looking further afield.
The breeding season varies locally and according to the break of the rains or the firing of the grass. Thus in North Cachar practically every hen laid in April immediately after the first light, rains had brought on the grass ; in the plains of Assam many birds laid in March but others continued to lay until June, though in lessening numbers, but in July and August there is a fresh rush of eggs, when the earliest birds have their second broods.
The clutches are not big, four to six being the normal comple¬ment. I have once seen eight, a few times seven and I have also seen three eggs incubated.
In colour the eggs are quite normal. A certain number have the curious little white flecks referred to under henrici but these are neither so large nor so numerous.
One hundred and fifty eggs average 37.0 x 31.5 mm. : maxima 40.3 x 32.3 and 37.6 x 38.3 mm. ; minima 34.0 x 28.3 and 34.3 x 27.7 mm.
The cock bird is monogamous and not pugnacious.
In North Cachar I could often watch the birds afar off from the crest of a hill and listen to their ringing challenges in every direction. Often I have seen a bird mount some termite hill or fallen stump, flutter his wings and utter the “che-cberree, chick-cherree" challeuge time after time, yet never have I known anything beyond a vocal reply to it.
The hen does all the work of incubation and probably all the work—such as it is—of preparing the nest but I have seen a cock bird running about with a piece of grass in his bill, probably only as an encouragement to the hen to get to work. Intubation takes about sixteen days, certainly not less and possibly a day or two more.
1978. Franeolinus francolinus melanonotus
(1978) Franoolinus francolinus melanonotus Hume.