87. THE BENGAL FLORICAN.
Houbaropsis bengalensis, (Gmelin).
Length of the tarsus nearly half the length of the wing. First ten quills of the wing of ordinary shape, presenting no peculiarities of structure. Of large size ; wing 13 and upwards in length.
MALE :—Smaller; wing about 13.
FEMALE :—Larger; wing about 14.
Vernacular Names -.—Charas, Charat, Charj, Hind.; Dabar, Nepal Terai; also Ablac, male, and Bor, female; Ooloo Moora, Assamese.
According to Mr. Hume, the Bengal Florican is found in Eastern Bengal, the valley of Assam, the Bhutan Duars, and those portions of Bengal, Oudh and the North-western Provinces lying north of the Ganges River. It is probable that Dr. Jerdon's statement that this bird spreads through the valley of the Jumna into Rajputana, the Cis-Sutlej States, and parts of the Punjab, is erroneous. At the same time it must be remembered that this bird is apparently rare, for in the Hume Collection there are only four skins of this species, and that it is therefore somewhat premature to attempt to define the limits within which this Florican is found.
With regard to Assam, this bird appears to be found up to its extreme eastern limits. Colonel Graham, as quoted by Messrs. Hume and Marshall, writes:— " The Bengal Florican may be said to extend throughout the Assam Valley, from the Manas River on the west to the Mishmi Hills, east of Sadiya, on the east "; and again Captain C. R. Macgregor remarks : " I have shot Florican beyond Sadiya under the Abar Hills, on the chars of the Brahmaputra between Sadiya and Pulia, notably on the " Lalli Chapori," under the Naga Hills in the vicinity of Jaipur, near Dibrugarh, on the Bisnath Plain, and along the whole country extending from Tezpur in the Darrang district up to North Lakhimpur." Mr. Damant also remarks that he has seen this Florican in the low ground and chars which lie along the foot of the Garo Hills. This species occurs in Tipperah and Sylhet, but it has not yet been procured in Manipur.
Readers of Messrs. Hume and Marshall's work are familiar with Mr. Hodgson's charming account of this Florican. It is too lengthy to be reproduced here, and I must be content to quote Dr. Jerdon's briefer note. He says :—" It frequents large tracts of moderately high grass, whether interspersed with bushes or otherwise, grass chars on rivers, and occasionally cultivation, but it appears to be very capricious in its choice of ground, several often congregating in some spots
to the exclusion of others that seemed equally favourable for it. From February to April it may be seen stalking about the thin grass early in the morning, and it is noticed to be often found about newly- burnt patches Birds at this time, as well as during the earlier part of the year, are usually found singly, sometimes in pairs, male and female not far distant from each other."
The nesting season lasts from May to July or August. At this period the male bird is in the habit of rising into the air some ten or twenty feet with a quick motion of his wings, raising his crest and puffing out his neck and breast, and afterwards dropping down to the ground, humming the while in a peculiar tone. The females then approach him. It is probable that this Florican pairs with a single female, and is not polygamous.
The nest appears to be a mere hollow in the ground, with or without a few blades of grass as a lining. The eggs are probably two in number. There is but a single egg in the Hume Collection, and it was found by Mr. Shillingford in Purneah in June. It is oval in shape with very little gloss. The ground-colour is pale olive-green and the shell is smeared and somewhat longitudinally streaked all over with pale reddish brown. It measures 2.6 in length by 1.76 in breadth.
The flesh of this Florican is considered very delicious, and Mr. Hume states that it is amongst the best birds for the table with which India furnishes us.
The male bird in summer plumage has the whole head, neck and lower plumage deep black, the head being fully crested, and the feathers on the throat, foreneck and breast very long and ample; those on the breast forming a large tuft. The upper plumage and the inner quills of the wing are black mottled with buff. The wing-coverts and all the quills except the innermost are white, with the exception of the first three, which have their outer portions black. The middle tail-feathers are black mottled with fulvous, the other with less fulvous, the outer feathers being entirely black with white tips.
The male in winter plumage and the female at all seasons have the whole upper plumage, wings and tail pale fulvous much marked in various ways with black, the tail in addition being barred with black. The quills of the wing are black mottled with fulvous. The lower plumage is pale fulvous, the foreneck and breast being mottled with black.
Male : length up to 25 ; wing about 13 ; tail about 7. Female : length up to 28 ; wing about 14; tail rather more than 7. Legs dull yellow; irides brown (Jerdon), yellow (Hume); bill brown above, yellowish below. The weight of a fine bird is said to be as much as 5 lb.