Burra bhatta, Hindustani.
The black belly which gives this fine sand-grouse its name will also distinguish it from all our other species ; it is one of our three large kinds, being as big as any ordinary pigeon. The hen has the usual buff black-speckled plumage above, though black below like her mate ; the cock has the head and breast grey, the throat chestnut, and the upper parts elsewhere variegated with grey and buffy-yellow. There are no long points to the centre tail feathers as in our other large species.
Although only a winter visitant to India, this sand-grouse is probably the most numerous after the common kind, since it arrives in enormous numbers. Hume, for instance, says " Driving in November, 1867, the last stage into Fazilka from Ferozepore, parallel to and on the average about two miles distant from the Sutlej, over a hundred flocks, or parties of from four or five to close upon one hundred each, flew over us during our fifteen miles drive; they were all going to the river to drink or returning thence. Necessarily we can only have seen an exceedingly small fraction of the total number that that morning crossed that little stretch of road."
But, although thus abundant locally, the black-bellied sand grouse is not widely distributed in India during its stay there, but is confined to the North-west Provinces, and in most years only really abundant, says Hume, in northern and western Rajputana and the Punjab west of Umballa; also, being averse to heat, it comes rather late, about the middle of October and leaves as a rule at the end of February. It has a wide range out side India, throughout South-west Asia and Northern Africa and to Spain and even to the Canary Islands ; in these parts of its range it breeds and has been found doing so even in Afghanistan, the time of year being May. It is also found in Turkestan.
This species especially affects wide plains in sandy country, and if water is reasonably near, such localities in the North-west are a pretty safe find for them during the cold months they stay with us. Large numbers are bagged at their drinking places, three guns at three different tanks having once bagged fifty-four brace in three hours in a morning, as reported to Hume by his native friend Khan Nizam-ud-din, who was one of the guns in question.
They generally prefer ploughed land to stubble, and when washing in the early morning pack very closely, though they scatter more during the mid-day siesta, and then lie on either side alternately to enjoy the heat, with one wing slightly extended. They are inclined to be wary, especially when they have been much shot at. The note is very much like that of the common sand-grouse and the native names are generally the same, though Banchur is used at Peshawar for the big bird.
Like the common sand-grouse also, most of their food is seeds with the addition of bits of herbage ; insects are also eaten occasionally, though hardly ever in Hume's experience. They straggle a good deal when feeding, and towards the time of their departure the males skirmish a good deal without actual stand-up .fighting. The weight is about a pound, the cocks being inclined to run over this weight and the hens to be lighter.
Sand-grouse of all kinds strike one at once as being especially suited to the table on account of the huge breast muscles which move their long wings in their swift, powerful flight and make up the greater part of the body ; but in practice they are rather apt to be dry when brought to table, though very freely used where, they can be got.