The painted bush-quail is distinguished from all our other quail-like birds, except the next, which is merely a local race of it, by its red bill and legs and the large black spots on its brown plumage; the cock is distinguished from the hen by having a white throat and eyebrows, and black face, chin and cap, the head in the hen being, like the belly in both sexes, of a chestnut colour.
In young cocks the black cap is the first sex-mark to appear. Although approaching the thick-billed bush-quails rather than the typical quails, this bird has a smaller beak, no indications of spurs, and rises with less of a whirr.
It is found on the hills of Southern India, the Nilgiris, Pulneys, and Shevaroys, and ranges up the Western Ghauts as far as Bombay. It is also to be found in hilly tracts east of these Ghauts, and has strayed even to Poona. In habits it is a bush-quail, not a typical quail; it frequents the outskirts of jungle and rocky ground interspersed with low cover, and associates in coveys, the members of which generally all go off together, but in different directions, when flushed. Sometimes, however, they rise independently and at intervals of several minutes; unless hunted out by a dog, however, they very strongly object to rising twice.
Their call, according to Davison, is " a series of whistling " notes, commencing very soft and low, and ending high and rather shrill, the first part of the call being composed of single and the latter of double notes, sounding sometimes like tu-tu-tu-tu-tutu-tutu-tutu, &c." By the use of: this call, given low and cautiously at first, the scattered covey is reunited again; the call seems to have something of the ventriloquial character.
They resemble the thick-billed bush-quails in being very quarrelsome in spite of their sociability, so that they are readily captured in a trap-cage with a call-bird in the inner compartment. The ferocity of some of these harmless-looking little game-birds, and their powers of hurting each other, are indeed remarkable. I remember once seeing one of this species put into a cage where there were others, and after being left unwatched for only a few minutes, it had to be taken out and killed owing to the cruel mangling its head had undergone at the beaks of its new associates—this again exemplifies what I suggested in the case of the jungle bush-quail, that charity begins (and ends) at home with these birds.
The painted bush-quail is of a tame nature, and likes to live near cultivation and roads, where grain can be obtained; it especially likes millet, but also, of course, feeds on wild small seeds, which, with insects, form its main diet. It runs so swiftly, says Miss Cockburn, as to look like a little brown ball rolled along the ground. No one seems to have made any special notes about the table qualities of this bush-quail; its weight is from about two and a half ounces. It is resident in its chosen haunts, and, except perhaps in May, June and July, eggs may be found in any month of the year in one place or another; on the Nilgiris Miss Cockburn. found that the birds bred twice yearly; in the first quarter of the year and again in autumn. As is so usual with this group of birds, the nest may be a mere scrape in the soil or have a lining of grass ; the cream-coloured eggs, which are ten or even more in number, are described by Hume as intermediate in size and colour between those of the grey partridge and the rock bush-quail. The young are exceedingly active, and start on the move a few minutes after being hatched. Their down is dark with three longitudinal cream-coloured stripes, and both parents accompany them—indeed, one very unsportsmanlike way of capturing old birds is to dig a hole, catch some of the little innocents, and put them in, when the parents soon jump down to them, and a cloth is thrown over the lot.