COMMON, OR WHITE-CRESTED KALIJ.
Of the narrow-crested, fowl-tailed, red-faced, black and white hill pheasants known as kalijes, the present is the best known, occupying as it does, a great range from the borders of Afghanistan to those of Nepal, and being seen near the ways and works of men more than any other pheasant. From all his relatives and from all other Indian game birds, the cock's long but skimpy white crest will distinguish him; the blue-black of his upper parts gets very rusty about the shoulders, and is diversified by white bars lower down the back; underneath he is of a very soiled white and whity-brown, the feathers here being long and pointed, as in all these white-breasted kalijes. His whitish legs are spurred.
The hen is of a type very distinctive of this group. She is crested and red-faced like the cock, and has the tail but little shorter. Her brown plumage, though with pale edges, is only really diversified by the black outer tail feathers.
In its Himalayan home this kalij chiefly frequents the middle and outer ranges, and is also found in the Siwaliks, alone of all the Himalayan pheasants. In winter time it comes down near the roads and cultivation, ranging in summer up to the haunts of the moonal and tragopan, even as high as 10,000 feet; but, generally speaking, it may be said to inhabit an intermediate zone between these and the jungle-fowl and peafowl of the foot-hills.
It always keeps near or in cover of some sort, but prefers low to high jungle, and especially haunts wooded hollows and ravines, even in the interior, where it may be found in any sort of forest; it does not as a rule go into woods far from human habitations, even the former traces of man's occupation being an attraction to it. Yet, like that most domesticated of birds, the house sparrow, it does not bear confinement at all well; such birds probably know or suspect man too much to be happy when in his power.
Its desire for grain, which it can generally procure in human neighbourhood, especially from the droppings of domestic animals, is no doubt the great reason for this approach to the enemy of its kind, but it also, of course, feeds largely on the shoots, berries and insects that form, as it were, the standard natural food of pheasants.
Although three, four, or a dozen may be found near each other, the birds are not really gregarious, and when breeding go in pairs; moreover, the cocks are exceedingly pugnacious to each other. Their challenge, common to all the group, is a peculiar drumming made by rapidly whirring the wings. The call is a sharp tweet-tweet or whistling chuckle, given out on rising, and continued excitedly when the bird is treed by some terrestrial foe. When thus treed the kalij is far from being brought to book, for it often keeps a wary eye open, and when discovered will drop down on the wrong side of the tree for the gunner and make off. Its flight is exceedingly fast, but it travels fast on foot also, and unless it has not been worried by man, and so is fairly steady when treed, is not easy to get in any number, and so falls under the head of casual game rather than a regular sporting bird. I can find no note on its edible qualities, but the group generally are not better eating than ordinary tame fowls.
These birds breed from the Tarai to an elevation of 8,000 feet, so that it is not surprising that the eggs may be found, according to elevation, from early in April to late in June. The nest is well hidden in low cover, such as grass or fern, but is very slight as a rale. The sitting is usually nine, and the colour is some shade of buff. They are about the size of small hen's eggs. The hen sits, says Hume, for rather over three weeks, and the cock keeps with her and the brood till they are nearly full grown. The mature weight of this bird, by the way, is rather over two pounds in the cock and about half a pound less in the hen. In the North-west Himalayas the sexes are discriminated by name— Kalesur, applying to the cock, and Kalesi to the hen, while Kolsa is the Punjabi and Chamba name for the species. As wild hybrids are very rare in India, it is worth mentioning that Hume once shot a male bird which he thought must have been a cross between this and a koklass, and Captain Fisher got one which had the head, neck, and crest of the kalij, while the back and alternate feathers of the tail were like a monal's.