83. THE GREAT BUSTARD.
Otis tarda, Linnaeus.
Length of the tarsus less than one-third the length of the wing. Exposed part of the first ten quills of the wing wholly blackish. Outer tail-feathers white with a dark bar. Crown of head grey.
MALE :—With whiskers.
FEMALE :—Without whiskers.
Vernacular Names :—None known.
The Great Bustard has only once been observed in India. It was in December 1870 that one of Mr. Hume's collectors shot a female bird out of a flock that was seen near Mardan, not far north of Peshawur. This specimen is now in the British Museum.
This fine bird occurs throughout Central and South-western Asia, and a great portion of Europe and North Africa. I quote the following remarks of Mr. Dresser :—" The Great Bustard frequents open, flat ground, preferring grassy plains or cultivated land, but avoiding localities near human habitations, and places where there are trees and bushes and where it cannot command an uninterrupted view over a large tract of country. It is peculiarly wary and shy ; and it is almost impossible to approach it within gun-shot range. Hilly country, and especially mountains, it avoids altogether, and is never met with in the woodlands or forests. It especially frequents cultivated fields, and is often found in those where rape-seed, wheat, and rye have been sown. It passes the night in the open fields, choosing places where it cannot be approached without taking alarm, and is so watchful that it is impossible to surprise it when asleep. It leaves its night-quarters at the first break of dawn, and during the hot summer days will often take a siesta during the hottest part of the day, but is then equally wary and difficult of approach. It flies with more ease than one would imagine, considering the size and weight of the bird, and has no difficulty in taking wing, at once springing up into the air without first taking a step or two, and appears to prefer taking safety in flight rather than by making use of its legs. When it flies it stretches out its neck and legs and is thus easily distinguishable. . . . Early in spring, according to the mildness of the season, they commence to prepare for the cares of nidification; and the flocks then by degrees break up. The males fight desperately for the possession of the females, and may at that season of the year be seen strutting about, acting not unlike a Turkeycock."
The Great Bustard has a peculiar and very disagreeable smell when alive, and its flesh is not now held in much esteem. Dr. J. E. T. Aitchison informs us that when he was on the Afghan Delimitation Commission, a flock of these Bustards was met with, and " Lieut. Rawlins succeeded in shooting one, but the stench of the bird was so great that he almost thought of leaving it; it was so dark that he scarcely knew what it was that he had got, and the scent was almost enough to put off any one from even a new acquisition." , Notwithstanding this, however, we are told that the flesh was eaten next day and found excellent.
The nest of the Great Bustard is a mere depression in the soil in a corn-field where the female can lie well concealed. She usually lays two eggs. The eggs very much in shape, but the majority are regular ovals. The ground-colour is deep olive-brown, olive-green or buff, and the egg is covered with spots and blotches of brown and numerous underlying markings of grey or pale purple. In length the eggs vary from 27 to 3.2 and in breadth from 2.2 to 2.4. They have very little gloss.
The male Bustard has the head and the greater part of the neck grey. The lower part of the hindneck, the whole upper plumage, the middle tail-feathers, and a great part of the wing-coverts, are cross-barred with black and chestnut, the remaining coverts being greyish white. The first ten quills of the wing are blackish ; the next partly or wholly white. The lateral tail-feathers are white with a dark bar near the tip and with some rufous in front of the bar, the amount of rufous increasing as the feathers approach the middle of the tail. The throat, the whis¬kers and the foreneck are pale grey. Across the breast there is a band of chestnut marked with black. The lower plumage is white.
The female resembles the male, but is much smaller and without whiskers. The throat is white, and with this exception the whole head, neck, and upper breast are grey. The chestnut pectoral band of the male is in some degree indicated at the sides of the breast.
Male: length about 45; wing about 25; tail about 11. Female : length about 33 ; wing about 19; tail about 8. Legs grey; irides brown; bill lead-grey. A fine male occasionally weighs 30 lb., but 20 lb. is a more usual weight. The female shot in India, as above noticed, weighed 8 1/2 lb.