(2033) Rostratula benghalensis benghalensis.
THE PAINTED SNIPE.
Rallus benghalensis Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed.,i, p. 153 (Jan. 1758) (Asia, Bengal). Rostratula capensis. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 293.
Vernacular names. Chari (Nepal); Kone, Konebatta (Sing-bhoom); Tibad, Pan-lawa (Mahr., Ratnagiri); Mail-ulan (Tam., Madras); Baggarjee (L. Beng.); Rajachaha (Saugur); Raja Kaeswatuwa (Cing.); Daodidap-gajao (Cachari).
Description. - Male. Crown olive-black, with very fine bars of white and a broad median band bun2; feathers round the eye and a short broad streak behind it over the ear-coverts buff, the feathers next the buff darker than elsewhere on the head; lores grey-brown, lined, barred and speckled with black and white; "upper back and scapulars olive-brown with patches of dark metallic olive-green; outer webs of scapulars buff, forming two lines down the sides of the back; lower back, rump and upper tail-coverts vinous-grey, narrowly barred with black and with white spots, the tail-coverts with buff spots as well; tail the same, edged with buff at the tip; wing-coverts and inner secondaries metallic olive-brown, finely barred with black and buff and with broad buff bars and spots on the outer part of the wing; quills blue- or vinous-grey, finely barred with black, the outer primaries with broad alternate bars of black and buff: on the outer webs, the inner primaries and secondaries with buff only, the bars becoming spots only on the innermost; chin and neck mottled brown and white; breast and flanks brown, the latter mottled with white and the breast edged with dark brown next the abdomen, which with the under tail-coverts is white; a buff or white band, bordered with blackish, from the breast to the scapulars; under wing-coverts vermiculated grey, black and white; axillaries pure white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris bright to dark brown; bill pale to darkish fleshy-brown, greenish at the base; legs and feet yellowish to olive-green, sometimes tinged brown or plumbeous.
Measurements. Wing 115 to 136 mm. (nearly always over 124 mm.); tail 36 to 45 mm.: tarsus 40 to 45 mm.; culmen 41 to 47 mm.
Female. The circle round and band behind the eye are pure white; chin, throat and upper breast rich chestnut; a broad pectoral band of blackish-brown followed by a pure white band and this again by a broken band of brown; scapulars and back with no buff markings but the underlying scapulars pure white showing through the others ; wing-coverts and inner secondaries rather bright olive-green, closely barred with black and more or less tinged with reddish; remainder of plumage as in the male.
Colours of soft parts. In the breeding-season the bill is more fleshy-pink.
Measurements. Wing 130 to 146 mm.; culmen 45 to 50 mm. Young male has the throat entirely white, the lower throat and fore-neck washed and streaked with brown.
Young female has the chestnut of the head and neck very dull and the feathers margined with dusky brown.
Nestling dull grey or buff-grey, with broad coronal and eye-streaks oil rich brown; centre of back rich rufous with broad bands of black on either side and lateral bands of purplish-brown from the wings to the thighs.
Distribution. Africa, South of the Sahara to Egypt; Madagascar; Southern Asia to Southern and Central China and Japan; Malay Peninsula to Sumatra, Java, Borneo, the Philippines and Formosa. In India, Ceylon and Burma it is found, wherever the country is suitable, throughout the plains and also in the swamps and lakes of the Himalayas up to some 5,000 ft.
Nidification. The Painted Snipe breeds throughout the year but most eggs are laid during the Rains, June to September, when food is most plentiful and cover and water abundant. The female is polyandrous and probably only limits her husbands to the number of clutches of eggs she can produce for them to hatch, for, the eggs once laid, she takes no more interest in them but seeks another husband, who prepares another nest for her and then brings up her second family. The nest is a pad of grass, soft rush-blades, weeds etc. and may be placed almost anywhere within reach of water. Generally it is built on little islands in swamps or on the edges of swamps, wet ditches and ponds, whilst at other times it may be found in crops, fallow-fields or even dry grassland. The normal clutch of eggs is four but five and six are not infrequently laid. They are very beautiful; the ground varies from a yellow-stone to a bright yellow cafe-au-lait and they are richly marked with fine bold blotches of vandyke-brown, sometimes mixed with spots and lines of the same. One hundred eggs average 35.9 x 25.5 mm.; maxima 40.1 x 26.2 mm.; minima 32.0 x 22.3 mm.
The females fight for the males and challenge one another with a loud note, sounding as if someone was blowing into a bottle. Their display is a fan-like spread of the wings and tail over the head whilst the bird crouches on its breast. The display seems to be both a warning to other females or enemies and an invitation to the male, being always accompanied by a loud hissing.
Habits. This handsome little bird is resident wherever it occurs, though it has local movements due to drought, whilst it visits some of the drier areas only during the Rains. It is much more of a skulker than the Snipe but less so than many of the Rails, though it runs, swims and dives much as the latter do. It flies well but rises with hanging legs like the Rails and is weak on the wing compared with any Snipe. In suitable places it is very common and, when not breeding, sometimes collects in small flocks. In parts of Assam and Eastern Bengal a dozen to even thirty or forty birds may be met with in a day's shoot, when the males will be found to greatly outnumber the females. They feed both on leaves, shoots, grain and also on insects, worms, etc Small crickets and grasshoppers of any size are very favourite morsels. In addition to the calls already mentioned, both sexes have a soft purring note, whilst the female, possibly the male also, has a pleasant whistling note.