Better known perhaps by its Hindustani name, this beautiful little bustard is very distinct from all other birds. So long in neck and leg is it that it looks like a miniature ostrich when on foot; its size is only a little larger than that of the common partridge. On the wing it resembles a duck somewhat, having a rapid flight and similar-sized wings to a duck's.
The hen is of the same partridge-colour, a buff mottled with brown, as the hen large florican; and the cock is, like that of the large species, a black-and-white bird, with a partridge-brown back, but his head and neck are closely feathered like the hen's, whereas the feathering on this part in the big florican is full and bushy. But the likh has his own decoration in the shape of three long and very narrow feathers, mere shafts, with a tassel of webbing at the tip, on each side of the head. Nothing like this is found in any other bird except some of the black birds of paradise of the genus Parotia from New Guinea.
The likh male has not so much white on the wing as the large florican, and he goes into hen plumage for the winter, still, however, retaining a white wing patch. In this species also the cocks are smaller than the hens, and to a greater extent; the cocks weigh about a pound, the hens half as much again.
This interesting bird is one of the many fascinating species which are purely Indian; it is not even found in Ceylon, and though its range in India is wider than that of the large florican, it does not cover the whole country, its real home, according to Hume, being the drier portions of the Peninsula. As, however, it is irregularly migratory, and, like migratory birds generally, turns up individually as a straggler, it may be found almost anywhere, at times in open plain country. There is, however, a general movement north and west during the rains, when the birds breed, and after this they drop back southwards; but the passage is so irregular and dependent on climatic conditions, that the birds cannot be looked for with certainty year after year in the same localities.
This has rather encouraged the iniquitous practice of shooting them during the breeding season, a poaching trick rendered unfortunately easy by the peculiar display of the cock, which at this time springs about a couple of yards from the grass with a frog-like croak, sinking again parachute-fashion with outspread wings. This is repeated about every quarter of an hour, and no doubt attracts the hens, to say nothing of rivals, for cocks have been seen fighting desperately. The hen also springs at times, and the cock may do so without calling. The likh affects cover more than any other of the Indian bustards, chiefly grass and crops, through which it runs with great speed, holding up its tail in a folded shape like a common hen's. Other bustards change the shape of their tails in this way too, but not so much as the likh. The fowl-like tail carriage and partiality for the warragoo crops account for the Tamil name Warragoo kolee (Warragoo fowl), while it is also called Khar-titar (grass-partridge), by the Bheels near Mhow.
The food of this bustard is chiefly grasshoppers, but also centipedes, small lizards, and beetles, including blister-beetles; when these are being consumed its flesh is a viand to be avoided; as mentioned under the heading of the large florican. Ordinarily it is not considered equal to that bird, though, nevertheless, generally in high estimation; but of course with all mixed-feeding birds, the previous diet of the game itself has a good deal to do with the judgment passed on it.
Owing to the wide range of the bird and its nomadic habits, the time of the breeding season varies a good deal, from July to October, according to locality, the northern-breeding birds being later in the year than the southern members of their species. It is a bird which, on account of its unique character no less than its sporting value, deserves careful protection to encourage its increase, and no doubt this could be done better by prohibiting the shooting of hens at any time than by trying to fix close seasons.
The eggs are laid—for no nest but a "scrape" is made—on some little bare patch or among low grass, not over two feet high, no doubt so that the chicks can get about more easily than would be possible in the usual higher cover the old ones frequent. The eggs are broadly oval, rather under two inches long, and speckled with cloudy markings of some shade of brown on a ground of more or less bright greeny drab or brown.
Besides the names above alluded to, this small florican is dignified by some natives with the title of ground peafowl, like its big relative, Tan-mor in Mahratta, Kan-noul in Canarese, and Nialanimili, having this significance. It is also called Chota charat or small florican.