Sometimes called the Pukras, from another native name Pokras, this pheasant is very distinct in type from all our other species ; the tail, though short for a pheasant, is pointed, and the head provided with a long crest, in three portions, for only the central part grows from the crown, two longer tufts proceeding from the sides of the head, which is deep green in colour except for the central crest, which is pale brown. Just where the head joins the neck there is a long oblique white spot on each side.
The colour of the body-plumage, which is long and pointed, and longitudinally streaked for the most part, varies much according to locality, and several species used to be distinguished on this account, though so much variability occurs that they are not very tenable. Speaking generally, the koklass is a grey-bodied bird, with the centre of the under-parts chestnut, reaching right up to the neck in front, and sometimes extending backwards on it. The grey feathers are streaked with black, and either of these colours may predominate at the expense of the others, while the characters may be combined in different ways. The birds range nearly all along the Himalayas, and the local variations may be thus summed up.
In the North-west, where the typical macrolopha is the form found, there is as much grey as black on the body-feathers. In Nepalese birds, the so-called P. nepalensis, which is figured separately by Hume, though he himself was inclined to treat them all as one species, the body-feathers have more black than grey, so that the bird looks much darker. In Kashmir birds, which have been distinguished as P. biddulphi, the peculiarity consists in an extension of the chestnut colour on the sides of the neck. Even in the " Fauna of British India " the P. castanea of Kafiristan, Yassin, Chitral, and Swat, which is very little known, is kept distinct, and I followed this in my own book on Indian game-birds; but it really seems rather absurd to keep it separate, its only distinction being the great exaggeration of the chestnut round the neck and along the flanks.
The hens show very much less difference, though the Nepalese specimens run to a good deal of chestnut in the tail; there is nothing about their brown variegated plumage to attract attention, except the very pointed shape of the feathers all over, which is common to both sexes of the koklass, as well as the pointed tail. The hens have a very short blunt crest, and are not spurred like the cocks, which also have longer legs.
Another noticeable and characteristic point about koklass is that they have no bare skin about the face like most pheasants, and that their wings are unusually long and pointed for pheasants, more like a dove's, in fact. Connected with this is the great speed in flight, which exceeds that of any of our other pheasants. The cocks weigh from about two to nearly three pounds, the hens up to two, the Nepal race being smaller than the typical one. The propensity of naturalists for species-niggling forces one to waste a good deal of space in describing variations ; coming to more practical points, the koklass is generally reckoned the best bird both for shooting and for eating of all its tribe in India; indeed, Hume says that he " would rather have a good day after koklass in the middle of November, in some little wooded saucer-like valley or depression at 7,000 or 8,000 feet in the Himalayas, where two or three coveys have been marked by one's shikaris, than after any other bird in any other place." Besides such places as are here indicated, koklass, he says, also especially affect " some place in a gorge where a horizontal plateau is thrown out inside the gorge." The birds keep much to the same place, though moving up and down during the day, and should be worked with well-trained dogs and several beaters.
The birds keep to the wooded parts of the hills, and range up as far as these extend, but do not go lower than about 3,000 feet, preferring the lower to the higher elevations, and liking sloping ground and ravines, especially when the trees are oaks. They are found singly and in pairs as well as in coveys, the last being family parties; the pairs are generally to be found near each other.
In places where there is little underbrush, they will run before rising, but otherwise get on the wing, though not till closely approached and forced to rise. Their very rapid flight down hill calls for good shooting; dogs will often put them up into trees, but when disturbed by man they will fly far and pitch on the ground, where they sometimes roost, though their general habit is to roost in trees.
They sometimes croak or chuckle when rising, whence no doubt the name of Koak in Kulu; in Kashmir they are called Plas. The Koklass or Pokras note, preceded by a kok kok, is the crow, and in dark shady woods in the interior they will answer any loud noise with it, though it is usually a morning and evening call.
They may be found scratching for insects in rhododendron covert, and also eat moss, seeds, and flowers, and especially buds and leaves, but not grain; they are not easy subjects for captivity, and are seldom kept, whence no doubt it comes that there is, apparently, no description of the cock's display extant, They do not breed lower than 5,000 feet, but may do so at twice that elevation, laying, with practically no preparation, on the ground under a rock or root, or in cover, buff eggs which fall into two types, the finely and uniformly speckled or the boldly blotched, the markings in both cases being reddish-brown ; the eggs also vary much in size, but average about two inches long. Some are much like those of our British black-game. Nine is the usual number, and May the usual laying month. Both cock and hen keep with the brood, and the young cocks get their colour in the first season, the young being well grown by September.