(2046) Houbaropsis bengalensis.
THE BENGAL FLORICAN.
Otis bengalensis Gmelin, Syst. Nat., i, (2) p. 724 (1789) (Bengal). Sypheotis lengalensis. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 200.
Vernacular names. Charas, Charg, Charat (Hind.); Dahar, Ablak , Bor (Terai) ; Ulu-mora (Assam).
Description. - Male. Whole head, neck and underparts glossy velvet-black; back black, each feather with two broad bars of buff mottled with black; in quite freshly-moulted birds the feathers have narrow edges of buff, which soon become abraded ; inner scapulars like the back but the mottlings more irregular, the centres of the feathers mostly black and the surrounding parts vermiculated buff and black; outer scapulars black, slightly mottled with bun: on the inner webs; inner secondaries like the back but with numerous bars of black; outer webs and part of the inner webs of the first and second primaries black the black decreasing in extent until the innermost primary is all white ; remaining quills and wing-coverts white; four central tail-feathers like the back, the outermost entirely black with white tips, the intermediate feathers grading from these to the median.
Colours of soft parts. Iris yellow or brown; bill dark horny or plumbeous-brown, the lower mandible, gape and upper mandible yellowish; legs and feet straw-yellow, sometimes tinged with green or plumbeous.
Measurements. Wing 338 to 347 mm.; tail 165 to 184 mm.; tarsus 126 to 131 mm.; culmen 30.5 to 32.0 mm.
The feathers of the crest measure three to four inches (100 mm.) or more, whilst the longest feathers of the fore-neck and upper breast run up to six inches, or 160 mm.
Female and male in first plumage. Crown blackish-brown, the feathers speckled and edged with buff on the hinder crown ; a broad coronal streak of mottled buff and brown ; supercilia and lores buff; crest-feathers buff speckled and centred blackish-buff ; back, scapulars and inner secondaries black, the edges mottled and freckled with buff ; outer secondaries and scapulars more boldly marked with black; wing-coverts pale buff, tinted rufous and sparsely marked with broken bars of blackish-brown ; outer primaries black with faint mottlings of buff on the base of the inner web; this mottling increasing in extent until the whole of the inner secondaries are mottled brown and buff; rump like the back but less broken with buff; tail mottled buff and blackish, the markings bolder and more like bars on the outer tail-feathers ; chin and throat buff; remainder of neck sandy-buff, narrowly barred black and brown: down each side of the neck a fairly definite streak of blackish-brown ; upper breast and flanks buff, speckled with brownish-black; remainder of lower parts sandy-buff, darker on the under tail-coverts, which are sometimes speckled with dark brown.
Colours of soft parts. Iris yellow; bill and legs are like those of the male but dingier and paler.
Measurements. Wing 338 to 368 mm.; culmen 38 to 39 mm. Although the female is hut little larger than the male in wing-measurements etc., she is a much heavier bird, running up to 5 lbs., whilst males are never as much as 4 lbs.
Young males assume the adult, or a semi-adult, plumage at the first Spring moult, but often revert to the juvenile plumage the following Autumn. Once fully acquired this plumage is permanent and not a breeding-plumage only.
Distribution. Assam, Eastern Bengal, Behar and Oude, extending as far West as the Kuman Terai, where it is not rare in suitable country. It is rare in Cachar and Sylhet, though I have shot it in both these districts, whilst it extends to Comilla and Chittagong. Recently Delacour and Jabouille have ascertained that a Florican, either this or a closely-allied form, occurs in some numbers in parts of Indo-China but a series of skins is awaited before deciding what it actually is.
Nidification. The Bengal Florican breeds almost entirely in March and April, though an occasional egg may be laid in February and other, probably second broods, in June or even July. No nest is made, the eggs being laid on the bare ground in the immense grass-lands along the foot of the Himalayas, which extend for hundreds of miles. The female is very shy and leaves her eggs long before danger approaches, so that they are extremely hard to find. She prefers rather thin to very thick patches but I have seen eggs in the densest elephant-grass, over ten feet nigh. The ground-colour of the eggs is olive-green; in some brighter, in some more brown but fading considerably with time. The markings consist of small and large blotches of purple and purple-brown, never numerous and seldom very conspicuous; in a few eggs there are also secondary blotches of pale purple-grey. The surface is smooth and glossy and the shape a very regular oval. One hundred eggs average 64.3 x 45.8 mm.: maxima 70.6 X 46.1 and 67.0 x 48.0 mm.; minima 57.9 x 42.5 mm.
Habits. The Florican keeps almost entirely to the vast areas of grass-lands found along the Himalayan Terai and the banks and sand-banks of the great rivers, the Brahmapootra and others. Occasionally they enter cultivation and I have shot them more than once out of rice-fields but they are seldom found in wet land. During the season they display by leaping in the air above the grass just as the Likh does. The birds do not pair and apparently are quite promiscuous in the attentions they pay and receive. They utter a curious drumming sound in the breeding-season as well as a little chirrup or croak when leaping, whilst the alarm-note is a metallic " chik-chik." They are good sporting birds; fly well and much quicker than the slow beats of their wings lead one to suspect, whilst they are not difficult to flush. They run well and walk erect and gracefully but, when startled, seek safety on wings rather than on foot. Their soft plumage offers little resistance to shot and No. 7 or 8 shot brings them down at considerable distances. They are among the best of table-birds on the Indian list and are themselves omnivorous, eating grain, seeds, shoots and all kinds of insects, frogs, worms etc