1. THE TIBETAN PIN-TAILED SAND-GROUSE.
Syrrhaptes tibetanus, Gould.
Both tarsus and toes feathered.
MALE :—Visible portion of the closed wing very minutely and almost imperceptibly vermiculated with black.
FEMALE :—Visible portion of the closed wing boldly barred with black, like the upper plumage.
Vernacular Name :—Kuk, Ladak.
The Tibetan Pin-tailed Sand-Grouse occurs in Ladak and the upper portions of the Sutlej valley. It is a bird of high elevations, and Colonel Biddulph informs us that he found it in June at fully 18,000 feet, and in September at about 15,000 feet. Mr. Hume states that he never met with this species in summer below 12,000 feet.
Out of India this bird extends throughout Tibet to the borders of China on the east; its limit to the west is not known.
This fine Sand-Grouse frequents barren and desolate steppes and undulating semi-desert plains. Mr. Hume, writing of his own personal experiences of this bird, says :—" Both when feeding and taking its siesta, it is not uncommonly in considerable flocks (I have seen several hundreds to¬gether) ; but in summer, at any rate, it is perhaps more common to meet with it in little parties of from three to twenty. Whilst feeding, it trots about more rapidly and easily than its short feather-encased legs and feet would lead one to suppose ; individuals continually flying up and alighting a few yards further on, and now and again the whole flock rising and flying round, apparently without reason or aim. Sometimes it is very shy, especially in the early mornings and evenings; and though it will not, unless repeatedly fired at, fly far, it will yet not let you approach within 100 yards ; but, as a rule, during the heat of the day, you may walk right in amongst them. . . . Early in the morning, and quite at dusk, they come down to the water to drink; by preference to fresh water, but, as at the Tso-Khar, at times to quite brackish water. They are always noisy birds when moving about, uttering a call something like ' guk, guk,' to my ear, or again, as some people syllable it, ' yak-yak,' 'caga-caga,' etc., etc., but they are specially noisy in the evenings when they come down to drink."
Nothing is known about the breeding of this bird within Indian limits. In the British Museum, however, there are two eggs which were found on the Pamir by Mr. St. George Little dale, and which, although they have no further history, doubtless belong to this species. These eggs are perfectly elliptical, rather glossy, and measure, the one 1.9 by 1.37 and the other 2 by 1.33. They are of a light stone-colour with a number of pale purple shell-marks and numerous surface-dots and marks of reddish brown, evenly distributed over the egg.
The male bird has the front part of the head whitish, the sides of the head, throat and a collar yellow, the crown, neck, mantle and chest whitish barred with black. The back, rump and the tail coverts are pale vinaceous buff vermiculated with black. The general aspect of the closed wing is vinaceous buff with very minute and almost imperceptible black vermiculations, and there are a few black marks on the feathers springing from the shoulders. The first ten quills of thewing are black. The middle tail-feathers are pale vinaceous, becoming black on the prolonged narrow portions; the others are chestnut barred with black and tipped with white. A broad band of pale grey extends across the breast; the belly and the sides of the body are white; the feathers under the tail chestnut, barred with black, and tipped with white.
The female has the upper plumage more coarsely barred with black than is the case in the male, and the whole of the visible portions of the closed wing and the feathers springing from the shoulders are closely barred with black. The breast as well as the chest are barred with black, and the grey breast-band of the male is absent. In other respects the female resembles the male.
Length nearly 16; wing nearly 10; tail about 8.