(1896) Syrrhaptes tibetanus.
THE TIBETAN SAND-GROUSE.
Syrrhaptes tibetanus Gould, P. Z. S., p. 92 (1850) (Ladakh in Tibet); Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 63.
Vernacular names. Kuk, Kaling (Ladak); Kaka Lingma, Kakali (Tibet),
Description.— Adult male. Head from forehead to nape and hind-neck white, finely barred with black, the forehead more streaked; lores white or obsoletely streaked; upper back vinaceous-buff, the barring of the neck changing to fine vermiculations; lower back, rump and upper tail-coverts greyish-white vermiculated with narrow black bands, broadest on the rump, which, with the coverts, is often tinged with yellow ; scapulars, wing-coverts and innermost secondaries buff, tinged with rufescent except on the lower and median coverts, the whole finely vermiculated with brown and the scapulars also marked with large patches of black on the inner webs, forming a narrow triangular patch on the back; primary coverts and primaries black, the latter greyish towards their ends and with large greyish-buff marks on the inner webs of all but the first four, though fainter on the fifth and sometimes on the sixth; outer secondaries grade from the inner to the colour of the primaries; fore-neck and breast vinous-grey or vinous-white, barred with dark brown or blackish, the bars very narrow towards the lower breast, where they disappear; abdomen, flanks and shorter under tail-coverts white; longer tail-coverts barred chestnut and black and tipped white; thigh-feathers white with tiny brown vermiculations; central tail-feathers like the rump, the narrow parts dark grey; remaining tail-feathers barred chestnut and black and tipped white; axillaries black.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown; bill and nails bluish-horny; sides whitish.
Measurements. Total length about 490 to 510 mm.; wing, 254 to 270 mm., 248 to 266 mm.; tail, 203 to 263 mm., 203 to 216 mm.; tarsus about 27 to 30 mm.; culmen 16 to 20 mm.
Female. Differs from the male in having the chin and throat albescent and more or less barred ; the breast is barred throughout and there is no immaculate band of grey between the barring and the white abdomen; the upper parts and wing-coverts are regularly barred rather than vermiculated.
In both sexes the prevailing tint varies greatly, some males having a beautiful pink tinge, others more ochraceous, others more grey.
Young birds are barred as in the female and the yellow on the breast is wanting.
Distribution. Ladak, Lahul, Tibet and Sikkim ; North to the Pamirs and Koko Nor.
Nidification. The Tibetan Sand-Grouse breeds between 12,000 and 16,000 feet in Ladak and Tibet on stony plateaus and ridges, laying three eggs in a hollow scratched in the soil. Occasionally a stone or tuft of withered grass may serve as a wind-break but generally the nest and eggs are quite exposed, though their close resemblance to the surrounding stones makes concealment unnecessary. The site selected is always one on leeward side of a ridge and is said to be nearly always near the top. The breeding-season is from the middle of May to the end of June, most eggs being laid in the latter month. In colour the eggs are pale stone-colour, tinted with brown, yellow or, rarely, pinkish, sparsely covered with small blotches of light or dark reddish-brown with others underlying them of pale neutral tint. In shape they are ellipses or long narrow eggs equally pointed at either end. Thirty eggs average 49.2 x 31.9 mm.: maxima 54.0 x 31.2 and 48.5 x 34.6 mm.; minima 44.0 x 29.0 mm.
Habits. These Sand-Grouse are found between 12,000 and 17,000 feet during Summer, descending 2,000 feet lower in Winter. They inhabit the most inhospitable stony wastes and hill-sides but are not shy birds and, when shot at during the heat of the day, fly but a short distance and are easy again to approach. They consort in small flocks of three or four to twenty, these sometimes joining in still bigger flocks. Their call-notes have been syllabified as " yak-yak caga-caga," uttered most frequently on the wing. Their flight is very rapid and their thick plumage is very shot-resisting but when shot they are excellent to eat. Their own diet consists of grass, seeds and shoots.