The Tibetan sand-grouse is at once distinguishable from all other Indian game-birds by having the legs and toes—which by the way are excessively short—completely feathered to the claws; there is no hind-toe at all. It is larger than any of the other sand-grouse, and duller in colour, its sandy hue being only relieved by dull-orange neck and cheeks, a white belly, and black pinion quills; the tail has long "pin feathers" in the middle. The hen's black pencilling on breast and back will easily distinguish her, for though the cock is also pencilled above, the markings are very fine and not conspicuous.
The Ladakhi name of this bird is evidently derived from its characteristic cry, which, however, is in two syllables: another local name is Kaling. The only other place, besides Ladakh, in which this species occurs in our Empire is the valley of the upper Sutlej; its real home is the "Roof of the World," the high steppes of Tibet and the Pamir Plateau, extending to Koko-Nor ; but it may of course be expected frequently to stray over our frontier at high levels. Its haunts are barren and desolate places, but it manages to find sufficient food to exist upon in the shape of grass-seeds, shoots and berries, in search of which it shows more activity in getting about than one would expect in such a very short-legged bird—it is quite the squattiest in the game-list. Flocks of hundreds often occur, but in summer these break up into little groups. They are very hard to see when basking in the sun at midday, owing to their plumage being so like the sand, and make a prodigious noise as they get up suddenly, and rather surprisingly; for at such times they lie very close, and in spite of their fast and powerful flight, do not go far, and may be marked down and flushed again and again.
In the mornings and evenings they are apt to be much more shy, and to take alarm at a hundred yards' distance. The drinking-times— two in the twenty-four hours, as usual with sand-grouse—are in the very early morning and quite at dusk. The birds are generally near water, and will drink brackish if they cannot get fresh. They are noisy birds when on the move, and their characteristic double cluck can be heard at night as well as by day.
The eggs have never been taken within British limits, and in fact till within quite recent years were not known at all. However, there are in the British Museum collection a couple taken on the Pamir, and presented by Mr. St. George Littledale, which are described in the Museum Catalogue of Birds' Eggs as follows :—
"The eggs of the Tibetan three-toed sand-grouse in the collection are of a pale creamy-buff colour. Both the shell-markings and the surface-markings are small, and the latter consist entirely of spots of dull reddish-brown evenly distributed over the whole shell. Two examples measure respectively 1.9 x 1.37 : 2 x 1.33."