(1901) Polyplectron bicalcaratum bakeri Lowe.
THE BHOTAN PEACOCK-PHEASANT.
Polyplectron bicalcaratum bakeri, bakeri, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. v, p. 291.
This race was named by Lowe from Bhutan, and it extends West into Sikkim and East into Assam, Cachar, Sylhet and Manipur.
All the birds of this genus are skulkers in forest of some kind, both in the plains and in the foot-hiils up to some 2,000 feet and, as stragglers only, up to 6,000. They are most common in thick cover along the banks of streams and are equally partial to dense evergreen forest, tangled scrub and secondary growth in deserted, cultivation or thick scrub and bamboo mixed. Perhaps their favourite haunt is the matted undergrowth and thin small-tree forest found in the third and fourth year after a hill rice-field has been left uncultivated. The mixed grass, weed and bush in these places often grow so close together that it is difficult to force a way through and quite impossible to do so quietly. They are also fond of ravines in very broken country in which outcrops of rock and a thick growth of low bushes are found between the great trees of virgin forest. Wherever they may breed water will not be far off ; this may be a wide stream, a trickling brooklet down the hillside or a pool of water but, if the latter, this will be pure and clean and not dirty stagnant water.
The nest is almost invariably exceptionally well hidden, and one generally finds it by noticing the bird sneaking away and then hunting round a few yards back from where first spotted, Coltart’s and my experience of the nests, and we have both seen dozens, is that they are very primitive. Often there is no scratching or natural hollow, the eggs being dumped on a few dead leaves collected together or even laid on the debris as it has fallch. Sometimes, the birds scratch out hollows and fill them in with leaves and debris, but this is the best we have seen. Hume, however, in ‘Game-Birds,’ quotes Clarke as describing a nest of this Pheasant which was “made of twigs and leaves roughly put together, with an apology of a lining of the bird’s own feathers, and possessed sufficient cohesion to permit of its removal, eggs and all, to my bungalow.”
The breeding season is quite well defined. Most birds lay in April and May, though I have taken a good many eggs in the latter half of March and in June.
The normal full clutch of eggs is two, and an examination of the ovaries of many breeding birds show two to be the number generally laid. At the same time I have taken several threes and fours and one or two fives, while Coltart found a clutch of six. This latter, like several of the higger clutches taken by myself, was obtained in circumstances which would seem to prove that they were laid by one and the same bird. On one occasion when camping in somerice-clearings on a hillside we were examining a patch of ground, too broken to allow of being cultivated, in which we had heard the chuckling of this bird and hoped to find the nest. After half an hour’s search one of the Nagas, who was helping me, found the nest in a bed of weeds and nettles, containing five eggs. Leading to the neat was a tunnel well worn by the birds’ frequent entrance and exit. In this we set some nooses and then retired and, within half an hour, the Pheasant returned to her nest and was caught. The patch of jungle was not big and was surrounded by open rice-fields so, when we beat the ravines, nothing could escape unseen, yet we could put up nothing more than a couple of Bustard-Quail. It would appear most unlikely that three hens could have found this isolated nest and all have laid in it. Coltart also was fully convinced that his six eggs were all laid by one and the same bird.
The eggs are just like the eggs of any one of the Kalij Pheasants —that is to say, they range from a pale cream to a rich chocolate buff, being most often a warm cream-buff. Unlike the Kalij eggs, however, they are nearly always more or less stippled all over with specks, small blotches and spots of white in some cases of a chalky white, but often looking merely as if wanting the pigment laid on elsewhere.
The texture is very hard and fine and the surface glossy, while in shape the eggs are broad ovals, very little pointed at the smaller end and rather broader in proportion than Kalij eggs.
Forty eggs average 46.5 x 35.9 mm. : maxima 50.8 x 37.0 and 48.2 x 38.1 mm. ; minima 43.2 x 35.0 and 44.0 x 34.0 mm.
The male is monogamous and keeps close to the hen when sitting, but I do not think he assists in incubation.
When the chicks are hatched and begin to run about they generally keep close behind and under the tail of the female, who spreads it like a fan and holds it over them.
Pecock (Avicultural Mag. vol. ii, pp. 229-237, 1911) has given a good account of the display of this beautiful bird in captivity which agrees well with what I have seen performed by wild birds. On one occasion I was lying on the ground by a tiny forest-stream, which rippled and fell in pigmy cascades over boulders and mossy tanks in deep forest, when a pair of these Pheasants came out of the dense undergrowth into a small open space in front of me. For a few minutes both just scratched round for grubs and insects, and then suddenly the cock began to display. At first he merely ran round the female with tail raised and partly extended and both wings drooping and spread out ; in a few minutes he stopped and sank slowly to the ground until his breast rested on it. His tail and wings were then raised until the three formed a widespread upright fan, the tips of the secondaries meeting over and in front of the tail whilst the head was buried in the soft breast-feathers. As soon as the hen moved the head was partly thrust out. For some time the female paid no attention and continual to feed, but shortly she too became excited and did a little posturing and wing spreading on her own account, but never gave ft full display like that of the cock bird, and almost immediately copulation took place.
1901. Polypleetron bicalcaratum bakeri
(1901) Polyplectron bicalcaratum bakeri Lowe.