Kala titar, Hindustani.
The black partridge, which is the original and typical francolin, is at once distinguished from all other Indian partridges by the prevalence of black in his colour; his white cheeks and chestnut collar, and the beautiful variegation of white in pencilling on the tail and rump and spotting on the ides, make him one of the most beautiful partridges known, and, unlike the generality of our partridges, very distinguishable even from his own hen. In her, the markings are in the less contrasting tones of brown and buff, and differ somewhat in detail, the under-parts in old hens, at any rate, being pencilled, not spotted, while the collar is reduced to a patch of chestnut at the nape; but this is quite enough to distinguish her from our other brown partridges, none of which have this chestnut nape-patch. The legs are orange, spurred in the cock. The weight of a cock black partridge is up to twenty ounces, though some are only half that weight, as the birds vary greatly in size; hens run two or three ounces less than cocks.
The marked distinction between the sexes is indicated by the Hindustani name Kais-titur for the female, Kala, of course, especially indicating the male ; the Garhwal name Tetra rather recalls the Greek tetrax for some game-bird, but is more probably related to the Hindustani Titur ; in Manipur, the farthest point east at which the bird is found, it is called Vrembi. It is one of the few Indian birds of non-migratory habit which extend to Europe; at any rate, it is still found in Cyprus as well as throughout Asia Minor, but is now extinct in the countries bordering the Mediterranean on the north, though formerly found even as far as Spain. As the classical ancients were as much given to introducing game as we are, it seems possible that the bird was in Greece, Spain and Italy, and the islands only an exotic after all, so that it is less surprising that it has failed to maintain itself. Even in India, though such a well-known bird, it has its definite limits; it is only found in the northern provinces, and does not descend into Kattywar or below Orissa. Nor does it inhabit the hills above 7,000 feet, and to this elevation it only attains via the river valleys. It is also a bird of cover and cultivation, eschewing desert tracts, and affecting especially the sides of rivers where there is a thick growth of grass and tamarisk, as well as thin jungle, even scrub on very dry ground; away from some sort of sheltering wild vegetation it is not to be found except as a straggler in most cases, though it is willing to haunt sugar-cane fields.
In spite of its preference for cover, it is essentially a ground-bird, and, though in some localities it may take to a tree to call, it generally, even under the circumstances of delivering its morning message to the world, uses an ant-hill, fence, or rock as a pulpit. The call is harsh and metallic, of about half a dozen syllables, of which various renderings exist both in English and Hindustani, for there is something about the note which impels many people to try and put it into words. Hume says " Be quick, pay your debts " is about the best English version. The call is most heard in breeding-time and winter.
The black partridge—although it is almost always in pairs, the family coveys only keeping together for a very short time—is very common in some localities, though, alas ! all too readily shot out. It is the best of Indian partridges as a game bird, and with the next species enjoys a somewhat similar status to the grey partridge at home, while if not quite so good as that bird on the table, it is nothing to grumble at as a game course. It feeds, like the grey partridge, on insects, shoots, and seeds and grain, and is not always to be depended on for scrupulousness in diet when near villages, though not in this or in any way so low-caste a bird as the grey partridge. Blacks are not nearly so quarrelsome, and far less addicted to running, so that they afford really satisfactory sport; they can be shot, according to the height of the cover, either on foot or from an elephant, and, in Hum s time, at the beginning of the eighties, fifty brace a day might be bagged by one gun, while far higher numbers are on record.
This valuable bird, however, can be and has been worked for more than it is worth ; although it lays as many as a dozen eggs, it generally fails to raise more than a quarter of such a brood till they are even three parts grown, and this is put down to persecution by vermin, which are allowed to work their will unchecked in India. Proper game preservation and due consideration in shooting—it might be as well to limit the bag to the easily distinguishable cocks—ought to make this bird as abundant as our home partridge in all suitable localities.
The nest is very well hidden in crops or tamarisk or grass jungle, and is of the usual partridge type—a scrape and a wisp ; the eggs, most often laid towards the end of June, are glossy and spotless, and are of a stone or fawn tint tinged with green or brown. It would very likely be a good plan to put some of these eggs in the nests of the grey partridge, removing the original ones, and see if this hardy but less valuable bird would rear the young of its betters, as this plan has often succeeded with game and other birds; but to find nests of the black partridge the aid of a good dog is very often requisite.