Mrs. Hume's Pheasant.
Anyone coming across this pheasant is likely at once to notice its resemblance to our familiar species at home, to which, indeed, it is nearly allied, though not nearly so closely as is Stone's pheasant. It may be distinguished from that bird by the two white bars on the wings and by the white edgings to the feathers of the lower back, which in some specimens conceal the dark bases, so that these would show a conspicuous white patch in that region which would be very noticeable when the bird was on the wing.
Such white-backed specimens are to be found in the Ruby Mines district in Burma, and some writers consider them as a distinguishable species, named Galophasis burmanicus. The typical form with the lower back having a variegated colouring of steel-blue with white feather-borders is the Manipur bird, and it is this that Hume discovered and named after his wife— a way of commemorating oneself (by giving the lady's married surname instead of her Christian name), which is, unfortunately, not unique in the annals of descriptive ornithology. This was in 1881, and Hume could only get two specimens, both of them males ; but though few have since come to hand, the female is now known, and the Shan States, as well as Burma, have been added to the range of the species.
The hen, in her brown mottled plumage, has nothing distinctive about her appearance but the chestnut white-tipped outer tail-feathers, and fortunately these are just what would be conspicuous in flight; her tail is shorter than that of an English hen pheasant, though the cock's is quite up to the usual cock-pheasant's standard of length, but grey in ground colour instead of the olive-brown seen in the home cock-pheasant's tail.
In Manipur these birds are found inhabiting hill-forests, and range from 2,500 to 8,000 feet; they extend, according to Hume, "right through the Kamhow territory into Eastern Looshai, and North-west Independent Burma."
The Burmese and Shan States race, which was described by Oates as distinct in 1898, seems to be similar in habits, also frequenting wooded hills. Although I was the first to draw attention to the distinction between the two races, I did not, and do not now, consider them as distinct species, the characters being liable to variation; and I have always thought that the describing of a new species is an act requiring justification, not one to be proud of.
"As an example of the futility of species-splitting, I may men¬tion that two male specimens of this pheasant in the Indian Museum, obtained respectively by Lieutenant H. H. Turner in the Chin Hills, and by Lieutenant H. Wood in Upper Burma, agreed with the Manipur form in having the rump blue with narrow white edgings. As Hume's birds were trapped, and few have seen the species wild, Lieutenant Turner's notes are worth quoting ; they appeared in the Journal of the Asiatic Society for 1900. He says : "I had left my camp, which was pitched about six miles from Fort White, on the evening of March 6 . . . and was returning along the road (the Fort White— Kalemyo road), when glancing down the khud I saw something grey disappearing in the long grass just below me. I immediately started to go after it, when I saw what appeared to me a light blue streak just disappearing. I immediately fired, but it was with faint hopes that I walked up to the spot, as not only did I think the bird had disappeared before I shot, but I had just at the moment of shooting slipped. I was, therefore, very much delighted when I saw the blue streak tumbling down the khud below me. I immediately went after him and secured him ; as I was descending the original grey bird, which was evidently the female, got up and flew a short distance. I walked her up, and my dog again put her up ; unfortunately, owing to the thick jungle, I was unable to get a shot. Walking on, however, I put up another, whether a cock or hen I could not say, as it was already dusk. I fired, but the bird flew away, and although I believe it dropped, I could not find it. These birds, when I saw them, were feeding among the dry leaves which littered the ground.
"The next evening I tried the upper side of the road and put up several (four at least) of these same birds out of some long grass on a steep hillside. I only managed to get one long shot, which was not successful. I again tried the next morning, and was successful in bagging another ; my dog put it up on our right, and flying very low through the bushes it crossed just in front of me. . . . The hill on which I obtained these specimens was between 4,000 and 5,000 feet high."