(2027) Gallicrex cinerea (Gmelin).
The Kora or Water-Cock.
Gallicrex cinerea, Fauna B. I. Birds, 2nd ed. vol. vi, p. 29.
This very interesting bird has an enormous range. Wherever there are extensive areas of water and a heavy rainfall it will be found all over India and Burma, being most common in Bengal, Assam and the districts on the South-West coast of India, Outside our limits it extends through the Indo-Chinese countries to China and Japan and South to the Malay States and many of the islands.
The favourite breeding haunts of this Water-bird are in the biggest and most tangled reed-beds in the largest of the swamps and lakes. Nor do they nest near the outskirts, as many other birds do, but work right into the interior of the beds, where they place their nest in the deepest of the tangle. Sometimes, of course, the nest may be found in comparatively small and thin patches and I have even seen nests built in the rice-fields, not on the boundary banks where one sometimes finds the Purple Coot breeding, but in among the growing rice in the water.
Whistler found a nest at Ludhiana in the Punjab, where it is rare, in a reed-bed in a borrow-pit beside the Grand Trunk Road.
So far as I remember I have seen only one nest in the position described by Hume, who writes :—“In Lower Bengal I have seen the nests in swamps and rice-fields, making sometimes a large Coot¬like nest of flags and rice-straw in the midst of a dense, tangled mass of reeds, rush and water-weeds, and sometimes a comparatively slight one of fine rush and grass on the floating leaves of lotus and singhara (Trapa bispinosa).” (The italics are mine.)
The nest varies greatly, as Hume suggests, I have seen nests twice the size of that of any Coot, but of the same character, made of sedges, rush-leaves, grass etc., about 18 inches across and fully a foot deep, though most are under 15 inches in diameter and 6 in depth. The internal cup is generally well marked, the cups having the sides raised against the surrounding reeds. The very deep nests often have the lower few inches in the water, due probably to the water having risen after they had been begun, in which case the birds seem to add to their homes rather than desert them. In great contrast to these big nests is the thin, flimsy nest, about 8 inches across and only 2 or 3 deep, built in places where the water is well away from the nest and the site dry. In rice-fields the nests are made nearly entirely of the previous season’s rice-straw and are usually intermediate in size.
The breeding season everywhere, except in Ceylon, is after the rains break in June and continues up to the end of September. In Ceylon I received eggs from Jenkins in January and February and again in July and August, when nests have also been taken by Wait, Phillips and others.
NEST AND EGGS OF THE KORA OR WATER-COCK. (Inle Lake, Toungdo. Burma, 3. 7.33)
NEST AND EGGS OF THE BRONZE-WINGED JACANA. (Inle Lake, July 1933.)
Large clutches of eggs are rare. Hume never took more than, five, though the boatman told him they laid as many as ten. In Assam three to six were normal but I have seen eight and heard of nine, though all the Sylhetees consider five a full clutch. In Burma Oates, Mackenzie, Livesey and others have found three to six, while in Ceylon six is the largest clutch found and, more often, three to five.
In appearance the eggs are rather like well-coloured Coots’ eggs hut the variation is much greater. The ground varies from almost pure white, which is rare, through pale pink, yellow or stone-colour to deep brick-pink. The markings consist of reddish-brown blotches and spots rather longitudinal in character, with secondary ones of neutral tint and purplish-grey, rather less numerous than the darker markings. In the great majority of eggs the markings are fairly profuse over the whole surface but slightly more so at the larger end. In a few instances the markings are so numerous as to almost cover the ground-colour, while in a few others they are dense at the larger end and sparser elsewhere. In depth of colour also the blotches vary a good deal and the contrast between the darkest and lightest eggs is very strong.
The shell is stout and the texture rather coarse but close, while the surface is fairly smooth and sometimes, especially in freshly taken eggs, with a slight gloss. In shape they are rather long ovals, the smaller end distinctly compressed.
One hundred eggs average 42.2 x 31.0 mm. : maxima 46.6 x 33.0 and 43.2 x 33.1 mm. ; minima 38.9 x 31.3 and 39.5 x 28.1 mm.
According to the Sylhetees incubation takes twenty-four days and they are probably correct in their estimate as, when they take the eggs to hatch, so that the young can be trained for fighting purposes, they hatch them themselves by tying them up in a cloth which they wear next their stomachs. A very keen observer among these. Water-Cock fighters told me that he thought the males were poly¬gamous, but I rather doubt if this is the case. He does, I believe, no nest-building and no incubation, but spends much of his time in trying to get up scraps with his male neighbours,
I have never seen a courtship display, but it is probably the same as that adopted in the challenge to fight which I have been fortunate enough to witness. In this instance from a dugout we saw a cock with his back to us commence booming. When we caught sight of him he was about three-quarters hack on, his head held low down close to the water, his head-, throat- and breast-feathers ruffled. He emitted a low boom and then paused for a few seconds, after which boom succeeded boom in rapid succession and in increasing volume, his neck and breast apparently swelling until the feathers appeared to stand out straight. A second male then began to boom close by and, after a minute or so there was a rush and the first bird was knocked head over heels into the water. In a second he was up and the two started tooth and nail at one another when, unfortunately, my boatman dropped his paddle and scared them both away.
The female sits very close and I have seen her, when she thought she had not been noticed, flatten herself on the nest, close her eyes and refuse to move until we almost touched her.