The florican, so celebrated for the delicacy of its flesh, is about the size of a peahen, but longer and leggier in build and shorter in the tail. The hen is buff mottled with black, producing a general brown effect; but the cock is very conspicuously coloured, mostly glossy black, but with the wings white, making a most conspicuous contrast in flight, and noticeable even in repose.
The back shows the partridge brown of the hen, and young cocks have hen plumage in their first year, but after the second year are fully coloured ; in the intermediate plumage the white on the wing is present, so that a brown bird, if with white wings, may be safely shot as a cock; hens should always be " let off."
Hens are bigger than cocks in this species, though the difference is more in weight than in measurements, a hen weighing four or even five pounds, while a cock will be a pound less as a rule.
This florican is a characteristic bird of eastern Bengal, whence the name "Bengal Florican " often given to it; but in addition to those parts of Bengal which lie north of the Ganges, it is found in the adjoining parts of Oudh and the North-west Provinces : it is well known in the Assam Valley, but not found in southern or western India, or in any country outside India proper.
It is a bird of the open grass country, where it lives solitary, preferring thin grass, though it will take to high thick growth if there is no other cover available ; in thick cover it lies close, but in thin short grass it is hard to get near and runs fast and far.
When flushed it flies slowly, but with frequent wing-beats, and generally for only a mile or less, and succumbs to a com¬paratively slight blow. Like so many other solitary birds, it is noticed to affect particular spots, these being soon after reoccupied when the specimen found haunting them has been killed.
The greater part of the florican's food is vegetable, including sprouts, seeds, and runners of grasses, berries, mustard-tops, milky-juiced leaves, &c, but it takes a great deal of animal food also, feeding particularly on locusts when these can be had, besides grasshoppers and beetles. Corn it does not seem to care for. In the season when blister-beetles abound it feeds freely on them, and is then a very undesirable article of food, as these insects have the properties of cantharides, and a corresponding effect on those who partake of the bird which has eaten them. In the ordinary way, however, the florican is prized as the finest of Indian game birds for the table ; its flesh is of high flavour, with a layer of brown without and white within.
The breeding customs of this bird are peculiar ; the sexes do not live together, but in the time of courtship, that is to say from March to June, the cock makes himself conspicuous by rising perpendicularly into the air some ten or fifteen yards, with flapping wings and a peculiar humming note; sinking down, he rises again, and so for five or six times, until a female approaches him, for at this time the sexes, though not actually associating, tend to draw near together. He then displays on the ground, with erected and expanded tail, still repeating the humming sound. His affections are very transient, for he takes no more notice of his temporary mate.
For her part, she seeks thick grass cover, and lays two eggs at the root of a grass clump, with no nest. The eggs are about the size of small hen's eggs, of a more or less bright olive-green spotted with brown; one is generally larger and richer coloured than the other. The hen sits for a month, if she is not disturbed, for, according to Hodgson, she is so suspicious that if the eggs are found and handled she is sure to discover it, and then herself to destroy them.
The young are runners, like those of other bustards, and can fly in a month; they stay near the mother, however, till, when they are nearly a year old, she drives them off. As two hens often breed together, and apparently pool their broods for mutual protection, just as eider-ducks do, coveys, so to speak, of half a dozen birds may be found, in contra-distinction to the usual unsociable habits of this species.
With the exception of the humming courting-song of the florican, its only other note is the alarm call of "chik-chik," shrill and metallic, but also uttered in a softer form when the bird is at ease.
The bird is often called "houbara" by sportsmen—quite mistakenly of course—for the houbara, though also a bustard, is quite a different bird, haunting the desert tracts just where the florican is not found. Variants of the Hindustani name are Charat and Charj, and in many parts of the Terai the sexes are distinguished by name, the male being Ablak (pied), and the hen Bor. In Assam the bird is the "grass peafowl," Ulu Mor of the natives.