Grey Peacock Pheasant.
This beautiful bird's grey plumage, spangled with metallic spots of purple-green, is quite sufficient distinction from any other bird met with in his haunts, which are the lower elevations of the hills, or localities thereto adjacent, from Sikkim to Burma. The hen bird is sufficiently like him in general appearance to be recognizable at once, but she is not only much less in size, weighing only a pound at most, while he may reach one and three-quarters, but also, as might be expected, duller in plumage, especially in having the glittering spangles replaced by sombre black, except at the tip of the tail. Young birds have the tail transversely barred with a light colour at first.
These pea-pheasants, as Jerdon well calls them, are in some ways very like pigmy peafowl; they have the same level-backed carriage, light build, and dainty gliding gait, and the cock in full display, when he stoops and spreads his bejewelled, tail before the hen, is very peacock-like; but his display differs in detail in the fact that the wings, being also ornamented, are set out on each side of the tail and enhance the effect, and are only half opened, while the peacock keeps his wings behind his train and even the true tail at the back, and shuffles them with the chestnut flight feathers showing. At the London Zoo it has been observed that the male peacock-pheasant, when about to display, allures the hen by offering her a bit of food and then takes advantage of her proximity to show off, a very intelligent-looking action. Like the tragopan, he has a sideway as well as a frontal show, slanting himself, as it were, so as to show all his spots on one side, and this was for long thought to be his only pose.
In time of courtship his hairy-looking crest, which is always longer than the hen's and is chronically on end, turns right -forward over his beak, even when he is not otherwise displaying. No doubt he fights with his rivals, and his legs are often armed with several spurs apiece, but the number is very variable, and some time ago I noted in three males at the Zoo, ail imported birds and several years old, that all differed in this point, one indeed having no spurs at all and another only one.
It looks, therefore, as if the idea current among the Kookies, that a new spur grows every year, is incorrect, and that the number of spurs is purely an individual point. The morning and evening call of the cock, which begins with the year, and is uttered at half-minute intervals, often for an hour or more at a time, from a perch on a tree or stump, is described as " something like a laugh " ; it certainly is in several syllables, but the laugh is a very harsh one, and I have noted it as a barking cackle. It is deceptive as to distance, and yet furnishes the best means of stalking the bird, which, is not at all easy to get at by any sportsmanlike means. It keeps closely to cover, especially bamboos and low trees; only if it can be forced to " tree" by hunting it with noisy curs, it may provide a pot shot. Natives often snare it, and Davison once had a very curious experience in getting specimens in this way in Tenasserim, where he found the bird very common. "I found," he says, as quoted by Hume, " three holes of the porcupine rat (of which I got two specimens) communicating with one another ; the entrance to one of these holes was nearly three feet in diameter and some four feet in depth, decreasing, as the hole deepened horizontally into the hill side, to about eight inches. I set a slip noose with a springer in the small part of the holes. On looking next morning, instead of, as I expected, finding the rat, there were only a number of feathers of the male of this species. I set the trap again, and that evening got nothing; next morning I found a hen hanging by her legs in the trap." Here were evidently a pair in the habit of going to ground, a custom which needs investigation. The birds, by the way, generally do pair, and seldom more than four are seen together, such parties being probably families, since in captivity only two eggs are laid at a time. The birds begin breeding about May, retreating to the densest jungles at this time, and ceasing to call till the autumn ; the cream-coloured eggs, about two inches long, are laid on the ground under a bush, and the young when hatched run close behind their mother, completely hidden from view by her long broad tail, which she expands to cover them. They are dark chocolate in colour, without stripes, and their slim black legs are noticeable and characteristic, the old birds being particularly fine-limbed, and slaty-black in the colour of these parts.
This peacock-pheasant is excellent eating; it feeds on insects, snails, seeds, and especially on certain red berries which are used by the Kookies as bait for their springes. Fortunately, these catch more cocks than hens, but poaching tricks of this sort ought to be made illegal everywhere; there are plenty of vermin that want killing down everywhere in India, and the destructive energies of natives should be directed on these rather than game-birds. The beautiful plumage of this bird is very suitable for decoration, and if protected during the breed¬ing season it might well be made to supply this.
The tea-garden coolies recognize the affinity of this bird to the peacock by calling it one— Paisa-walla Majur. In Northeastern Cachar they are called Mohr. Munnowar is an Assamese name as well as that given above, of which the Garo Deo-dirrik is obviously a variant; while in Tenasserim the name is Shway dong and in Arrakan and Pegu Doung-kulla. Outside our limits this bird is found in Siam.