Otis tarda

European. Great Bustard.

Otis tarda.

Deo-dagh, Chitral.

Up to date, only four specimens of this great bird have been obtained in Indian limits, all of them hens, and the first as long ago as 1870; in size it about equals the great Indian bustard, sex for sex, but will be easily distinguishable, if met with, on the ground by the absence of the dark cap, head and neck being uniform light grey, and in flight by the white wings, which have only the quills black; the birds keep more together than the large Indian species. Close at hand the coarse barring of black on buff of the upper parts is very different from the finely pencilled dull brown of the great Indian bustard, and the big male, as large as a swan, has in the breeding season long bristly moustaches, but these disappear for the winter, at which season or in spring all Indian specimens have been taken. The bill of this species, like that of the little bustard, being much shorter and more fowl-like than the pigeon-like bill of our Indian well-known kinds, the skull alone would be sufficient evidence of the capture of one.

The first Indian specimen, one of a flock, was got at Mardan, and forty years later two more were killed in the same locality, the weather being very cold. In 1911 two birds occurred, one at Jacobabad in January and one at Chitral in March; all these unfortunate stragglers were young birds and, as above remarked, hens. Birds of this sex are about as big as a grey goose, and indeed there is something goose-like about this species, in its sturdy build, social habits, and fondness for vegetable food; it devours the leaves, ears and seed of a great variety of plants, and, though a great eater, is somewhat of an epicure. Rape is a favourite plant with it, and in some parts of the continent it is classed as a destructive bird. However, it does partake also of insects, worms, and other small animals, and the young are quite insectivorous.

The display of this magnificent game bird is a wonderful drinking place. Owing to their speed they afford good sport, but, as Hume says, it is cruel to wait for them at both drinking times where water is scarce. They cannot apparently go very long without a drink, if they miss one in the morning; but when brutally scared off again they will leave the neighbourhood, even if they have eggs close by.

This may be the case in suitable localities at almost any time of year, for this species is a resident and has a very extended breeding season, though in the North-west April to June are the usual months. Both sexes care for the eggs and young, the cocks sitting by night and the hens by day, and although the chicks pick for themselves, water is brought for them by the male parent, who soaks his breast feathers in it and lets the chicks suck it off. This no doubt accounts for Hume seeing the birds washing, as he thought, at their drinking places ; the habit of thus watering the young, which has been discovered in recent years by people who have bred sand-grouse in aviaries, was not then known. In the ordinary way, dusting rather than washing is the sand-grouse custom, so when birds are seen wetting their plumage at the drinking places it may be suspected that they have young somewhere near, and no shooting should be done.

The eggs are laid in a scrape on the ground, occasionally with a scanty lining, and are usually two, rarely more or fewer. They are of long shape and blunt at both ends—this peculiar form of egg being characteristic of the eggs of the sand-grouse family —and the ground-colour varies, being greyish - white, pinkish stone-colour, cream, or olive-brown. The spots are dark brown and dull mauve, their intensity .and amount varying very much.

These sand-grouse sleep at night on the ground, like all the group, selecting some open place, and Hume remarks on their extreme watchfulness. They pack closely at such times, not scattering as they do during the noonday siesta, and no doubt find that "many heads are better than one" in the matter of keeping a look-out; at any rate, they seem never to fall into the clutches of the ordinary four-footed vermin, though native fowlers catch them sometimes.

These birds weigh about eight ounces, the cocks running heavier; they also have the long feathers in the tail about an inch longer than the hens.

Although a resident with us, this sand-grouse is not confined to India, inhabiting also central and south-west Asia and a large part of Africa ; it is, in fact, truly the common sand-grouse, having the widest range in the family. Being so noticeable and well known a bird in India, it has many names Bukht-titar, Kumar-tit and Kuhar— as well as the one above given in Hindustani, Pakorade or Pokundi in Marathi, Jam polanka in Telugu, Kal-kondari in Tamil, and Kal-gowjal haki in Canarese, while in Sind the names are Butabur and Batobun, and among the Bheels Popandi is used.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Otis tarda
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
European Great Bustard
Great Bustard
Otis tarda
Term name: 

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