(1888) Pterocles orientalis.
THE LARGE, IMPERIAL, OR BLACK-BELLIED SAND-GROUSE.
Tetrao orientalis Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed., i, p. 161 (1758) (in Oriente) (Anatolia, apud Pall.). Pterocles arenarius. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 54.
Vernacular names. Bhat-titur, Bakht, Bakhy-titur (Hind.); Banchur, Kurmor (Peshawar); Burra Bhatta (Hariana); Siya-sinah (Persian); Katinga (Sind); Katarr (Arabic) ; Chur (Sind).
Description.— Adult male. Head above, neck and upper back grey tinged with russet, purer grey round the eye; back, rump and upper tail-coverts grey, the latter blackish, each feather pale buff at the base and with a large drop of deeper buff at the end; tail-coverts edged with yellow; inner wing-coverts and scapulars like the back but with the spots larger and yellow-ochre in colour; secondary and median coverts yellow-ochre; bastard-wing grey ; outer web of first primary brownish-black ; remaining primaries and secondaries white on the basal half and greyish-brown on the terminal, with a few curious streaks of brown on either web; central tail-feathers barred grey and buff, tipped with grey-green edged with a narrow line of buff; remaining tail-feathers the same but with a broad terminal line of white and each feather deepening in colour until the outermost are dark grey, merely stippled with rufous at the base; chin, upper throat, sides of head and neck chestnut, extending as a collar round the neck, except in the centre, where it pales first into orange and then into the grey of the neck ; a triangular patch of black on the lower throat, sometimes extending up the sides of the neck; breast grey, followed by a black band extending up the sides of the shoulders; a broad belt of vinous or pinkish-grey follows the black; abdomen, flanks, upper thighs and vent chocolate-brown or blackish, the rusty bases to the feathers sometimes showing through; lower tail-coverts, lower thighs and feathering of tarsus white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown, edge of eyelids lemon-colour ; bill pale to darkish plumbeous, tip blacker; legs and feet grey, tinged brown, earthy, or plumbeous, claws darker. * Measurements. Total length about 350 to 400 mm.: wing 226 to 248 mm.; tail 101 to 128 mm.; tarsus about 24 to 28 mm.; culmen 10 to 13-5 mm. " Weight 1 lb. to 1 lb 4 oz,''(Hume) " 1 lb. 7 oz., very fat male" (Ellerby).
Female. Whole upper plumage pinkish-grey, the head, nape and upper back with black streaks, the remainder more rufous and barred; central tail-feathers like the back, each succeeding pair darker and with broad terminal bars of white; scapulars and inner wing-coverts like the back; quills like those of the male but browner and with the tips and edges of inner webs of the primaries white; primary coverts grey; secondary coverts dark grey, median coverts yellow-ochre on the visible portions; chin, throat and sides of head yellowish-grey, the sides of the head, lores and ear-coverts finely streaked with black; lower throat with reversed, half-moon-shaped band of black, followed by a pearl-grey band fading into pinkish-grey on the breast; remainder of lower parts as in the male.
Measurements. Wing 203 to 234 mm.
Young male shot in October has the whole upper plumage, chin, throat, breast and upper abdomen a pale isabelline, barred and vermiculated with blackish-brown; abdomen black and under tail-coverts white with black bases; tail-feathers barred black and rufous-buff, black and white on the outermost; wing-quills and primary coverts grey, tipped with rufous.
Distribution. From the Canaries in the West through Northern Africa and the countries of Europe bordering on the Mediterranean ; through Asia Minor and Palestine to Persia, Baluchistan, Afghanistan and North-West India. In India it is very common in the Punjab, Bikanir, North-West Rajputana and the Rann of Cutch. It is also rarely to be found as far South as Khatiawar (Fenton) and Bhopal, whilst "Big Bore" records the shooting of three specimens in Mysore. In the East it has occurred in Nepal, Lucknow and Allahabad. In Sind it is not so common as I stated in my * Game-birds,' though it occurs in most parts of that Province.
Nidification. Outside our limits the Large Sand-Grouse breeds wherever found. Whitaker gives the breeding-months as April to June, Barnes found it breeding in Afghanistan in May and, in the East generally, May and the end of April seem to be the months in which most eggs are laid. The eggs, three or rarely two only, are laid on the hare ground in a scrape made by the birds themselves, often quite unprotected, sometimes semi-shaded by a stone, clump of withered grass or other shelter. The ground-colour of the eggs varies from greyish stone-colour to a warm buff or greenish stone-colour; the superior or primary markings consist of indefinite smudges, blotches and spots of red-brown, grey-brown or rufous-brown with secondary markings of lavender-grey or neutral tint. As a rule, the eggs are dull and lifeless compared with those of some of the Sand-Grouse. Seventy-eight eggs average 47.5 x 32.3 mm. : maxima 53.2 X 31.2 and 50.0 x 36.6 mm.; minima 43.5 x 30.8 and 47.6 x 30.2 mm.
Habits. The Black-bellied Sand-Grouse are Winter visitors to India, where they are to be found frequenting wide, open, sandy plains or taking their mid-day rest in ploughed lauds and, though they drink with the greatest regularity every morning and evening, they are often found at great distances from water. They collect in enormous numbers, often in hundreds and sometimes in thousands, these nocks consisting all of one sex on their first arrival in India but mixing up very shortly after. Their night is extremely swift and as they fly they constantly utter their call, " Katarr, Katarr." They feed principally on grass and vetch-seeds but will eat berries, grain and the shoots and buds of various plants as well as most kinds of small insects. They are wild, shy birds and almost impossible to approach on foot but provide excellent sport as they flight to and from their drinking-places.