This very rare visitant is distinguished from all our other cranes by the complete and conspicuous whiteness of its head and neck, contrasting strikingly with the body, this being of a darker grey than that seen in any of our other cranes. In form and in having a bald red patch on the head, it resembles the common crane or coolung, but is a little smaller in size, not exceeding a yard in length. Young birds have the grey of a brownish cast, owing to the feathers being edged with brown.
The only record of the occurrence of this bird, which ranges, according" to season, from eastern Mongolia and Siberia to Corea and China— sometimes also to Japan— is one by Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker, in one of his articles on the " Birds of North Cachar," published in volume xii of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, under the name of " King " crane (Grus monarchus). No such species exists, but he evidently meant the present bird. He says : "In December of 1889, whilst fishing in the Mahar River, seven huge cranes flapped overhead down the stream and settled in a shallow pool some four hundred yards away. They at once struck me as being something I had not seen before, and I followed them up, and though I failed to bring my bird down with the first barrel I knocked one over as they rose with the second. He half fluttered and half ran down the stream, and it took a third barrel to bring him to bag ; but when it was at last brought to hand, I found myself in possession of an undoubted Grus monarchus. The anterior crown was black, otherwise the whole head and neck were white. The. brown margins to the feathers of the upper-part made the plumage appear to be a brown-grey. The wing measured full twenty inches."
This measurement would be taken from the pinion-joint to the tip, and does not indicate a " huge " bird, but is correct for this species. Cranes are rare in Cachar, and of other species Mr. Baker only records the sarus, and that only as a pair of casual visitants, so no doubt any crane would reasonably have appealed to him as a huge bird. These details are worth giving, because the specimen was unfortunately not kept. "I was three days from headquarters," says Mr. Baker, but I thought special messengers would get it in in time to skin, but alas ! when I arrived three days later I found it had not been brought in, and the messenger, when questioned, said, ' Oh, it began to smell, so I threw it away.' " It is a pity the attempt to send it on was made, as the head and neck, however roughly preserved, would have been sufficient for identification.
Hume also mentions, in volume xi of " Stray Feathers," what was probably an occurrence of this species in Manipur. " On March 13, when between Booree Bazaar and Bishnoopoor, a small flock of cranes passed me at a distance of about two hundred and fifty yards, flying low and due north. I got on to a small mound and watched them for probably more than a mile with my glasses, but when I lost sight of them they were still flying steadily away northwards. Now, whatever they were, they were certainly none of our Indian species. . . . They were of a uniform dark hue, much darker than communis, and had the whole head and upper-parts of the neck pure white. Of course, one says at once ' Grus monachus no doubt.' But so far as I have been able to study the distribution of this group it is simply impossible for monachus to be in Manipur in March. I never saw the birds on any other occasion, and I do not pretend to know what they were, beyond this, that they were cranes of .the monachus type and probably some undescribed species." No such species has ever turned up, and of course the argument as to date and locality has no value in the case of strong-winged migrants ; there can be practically no doubt that Hume's birds were simply hooded cranes. Not much is known about the bird anywhere ; its eggs have not been taken yet. It travels in small flocks, and arrives at its breeding-grounds in the north in April as a rule, and leaves for the south in August. Although it is rare in captivity, the London Zoo has a fine pair at the time of writing. I can see no brown on their plumage, and I notice that they wade a great deal.