Kone, Kols of Singbhoom.
When out snipe-shooting, if a big specimen gets up and flies straight off with an indolent fluttering flight and legs dangling at first—moorhen-fashion, in fact—it may be known at once as a painted snipe! Or if hit without the flight being noticed, and not killed, the swearing hiss when approached, and pitiful attempts at menace by the spreading of its spotted wings, again give away the painted fraud; for this bird, the most beautiful of all its tribe, although belonging to the same family as the true snipe, cannot rightly be referred to the same section, but if it must be given a place, has to take one among the humble sandpipers, though among these it stands quite alone.
Its bill, curved downwards slightly towards, the end, is as distinctive as its fine plumage, of which the most striking points are the blue-grey quills and tail, spotted boldly with buff, a coloration unique in the bird world.
The sexes differ much, though both have, in addition to the same peculiar coloration of the quills, the snow-white abdomen ; the hen, which is larger, is also much the handsomer, her back being dark glossy green, with a streak of white on each shoulder, and her neck dark chestnut.
The cock's back is mottled with buff on a much duller green, and he has a buff ring round the eye where the hen has a pure white one; and, most noticeable of all, his neck is only drab, not chestnut. His daughters, as is usually the case where the hen bird wears, if not the breeches, at any rate the fine feathers, have the masculine plumage as their first dress. Young chicks differ noticeably from those of the true snipe, being buff with a few distinct longitudinal markings of black, a style of coloration more reminiscent of sandpipers. Although the " painter "—to use a slangy name, but appropriate as being non-committal with regard to the owner's relationships—is only about as long as ordinary snipe, it stands higher on the legs and is much more strongly built. It is, in fact, a broad-shouldered, full-chested bird, and in this respect differs much from the slab-sided rails, which it otherwise much resembles in some points, notably its slovenly flight and habit of slinking along head down when alarmed into cover, and running along therein in preference to rising and showing sport. It will also swim voluntarily, as rails so usually do.
It is not, indeed, generally regarded as a sporting bird, at any rate when genuine snipe are about to shoot at ; for in addition to being a skulker and a slack flier, it is no particular delicacy, though not unpalatable in default of more savoury game ; I should call it about as good as an ordinary pigeon.
It is a resident, or at least does not migrate more than is necessary for any marsh-bird when its haunts are dried up, and it is found practically everywhere in our limits except in the hills, so long as cover and water are available. Muddy ground with plenty oil shelter suits it especially, but it does not frequent paddy-fields much. In some places it appears decidedly sociable, and flocks of up to twenty birds may be met with.
In the breeding-season it would appear, from information given to Mr. Stuart Baker by Cachari shikaries, that the hens (which they mistake for cocks) fight vigorously for their mates, just as hen hemipodes do; and there seems to be now no doubt that the cock painter does the sitting and rearing. Several of this sex have been caught on the nests, but never their ladies, who, gay in more senses than one, are suspected of roving off in search of a fresh liaison when they have got one husband comfortably settled on a quadruplet of eggs. The eggs are not generally so peg-top-shaped as true snipe's eggs, and are often of the usual oval, while they usually vary between the two types, with an inclination to the former. They are very handsomely coloured, the ground being of a buffy yellow, shaded with green or grey or some other tint, and the spots are large and nearly black, with a few markings of pale brown as well.
The nest is better constructed than that of the true snipes, at any rate in many cases; it is made of grass, weeds, &c, and is sometimes quite hollowed out if in a natural hollow. It is; occasionally placed, not on the actual ground, but on thick grass or other marsh vegetation a little above it, and though generally well concealed, is by no means always so. This is one of the birds whose breeding arrangements evidently depend entirely on the food-supply ; it may be found nesting all the year round in some part of its range, and is even suspected of breeding twice a year when its lines are cast in particularly pleasant places. This is not surprising, when we consider its free-and-easy matrimonial ideas, which relieve the female of all work in rearing, and its omnivorous nature, which admits of its feeding freely on paddy and other seeds, and paddy leaves, as well as on insects, snails, and worms; for which, by the way, it does not bore, at any rate in captivity.
It seems to be a nocturnal bird, but Mr. Stuart Baker has found it feeding in open ploughed fields by day except during the hot hours ; but this was at a time when tiny crickets were abundant, and I rather think that, as the gentleman alluded to suggests, the birds which were feeding freely on them were acting abnormally in consequence of this abundance, as birds often will, and this may have caused them to become diurnal as well as indifferent to cover.
The note of this bird is said to be like the noise produced by blowing into a phial, expressed by the native name hone. Wood Mason says the male squeaks in answer to the " low, regular, hoarse, but rich purr" of the hen ; but Hume, who considers the note to be the breeding call, heard no other, and personally I have only heard what I call " swearing " from captive birds, and noticed no difference. Yet there ought to be some, as the female, according to Wood Mason, has a longer looped windpipe, a peculiarity which is exaggerated in the Australian painted snipe, which otherwise differs little from ours. Our bird has an enormous range, being found nearly all over Africa and southern and eastern Asia; in fact, it is One of the most widely distributed of the usually non-migratory birds.
It is curious that so remarkable and easily recognized a "bird should be so little distinguished by native names ; but it is called Ohari in Nepal, and Mailulan by Tamils, while in Ceylon the Cingalese distinguish it appropriately as Raja Kaeswatuwa, the king snipe.
Next to the snipes the godwits may be considered.