White or Snow-wreath Crane.
In height and length being only by a few inches less than the sarus, this splendid snow-white bird can easily be distinguished from anything else in India if seen where the size can be appreciated, and if this is not the case, still its pinky-red face and legs will distinguish it from a large egret or a spoonbill. From the white stork (Ciconia alba), also red-legged, the apparent absence of black in the plumage will distinguish it, while though when on the wing the black pinion-quills are conspicuous, they should not lead to confusion with the stork, which has nearly all the wing as well as the tail black.
Young birds of the year are still more unmistakeable, being buff in colour, at any rate when they first arrive. Such birds are generally found along with the two parents, for the white crane, like the sarus, is essentially a lover of family life ; the flocks of half a dozen or so sometimes seen appear to be young two-year-old bachelors and spinsters, and no doubt such, with a sprinkling of bereaved old birds, make up the larger flocks which now and then occur.
This crane is purely a winter visitor, and a rather local and scarce one at that; though, judging from the numbers the dealers used to get hold of when I was in India, at any rate for several years following 1S94, it is liable to come in some years in considerable numbers. The districts affected by it during its stay, which is between October and March, are all in the North-west, from Sind to Oudh, in which latter province it is called Tunhi. It is very local and very aquatic, being almost always seen in the shallow water of jheels and marshes, where Hume found it fed exclusively on vegetable food, the bulbs, seeds and leaves of various water-plants, especially rushes. The parents displayed the greatest affection for their young, pluming its feathers, and calling it to eat whenever they found a promising rush-tuft, while if it were shot they would circle round in the air for hours, calling disconsolately, and would return to the spot for days afterwards.
The call of this crane is much weaker than that of our other species, " what," says Hume, " for so large a bird, may be called a mere chirrup." But, like the sarus, it has a sort of set song, to which the term chirruping can hardly be fairly applied ; the attitude in which this note, which is like a more refined and musical edition of that of the sarus, is given forth is peculiar. At first the bird begins to call with the bill bent in towards the breast; with each note the bill is jerked further forward, while the wings are lifted and the pinion-quills drooped exposing their blackness, till, by the end of the song, the bird is calling with bill and neck erect, in the typical sarus position.
This is a very wary bird, and when obtained is not good eating, while it is not a devourer of crops, so that there is no particular reason to trouble about shooting it. Its breeding-home is in Central Asia, Siberia, and Mongolia, and there its feeding habits are probably different from its vegetarian practices in India, for in captivity in England it readily eats fish, and will wait to catch them like a heron, and devour young ducks ; it also digs for earth-worms.
Eggs taken in the wild state are still a desideratum, but several pairs have laid and sat in captivity, though up to date no young have ever been hatched. One pair in the London Zoo nests in this futile way year after year; the eggs are two in number, and olive-brown in colour with dark brown blotches.
Mr. R. Cosgrave, in some interesting notes on the cranes at Lilford Hall in the Avicultural Magazine, says that the white cranes kept there are miserable in heat and rejoice in cold; and, though this is not the case with the Zoo birds, which always behave and look much the same, it is quite possible that, as he suggests, the climate accounts for the infertility of the eggs so far produced in England.