(1989) Tetraogallus himalayensis himalayensis.
THE HIMALAYAN SNOW-COCK.
Tetraogallus himalayensis Gray, P. Z. S., 1842, p. 105 (Himalaya) ; Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 143.
Vernacular names, Kulla, Lupu, Baera (W. Nepal) ; Huinwai (Kuman); Jer-Monal (Hills N. of Mussoorie); Leep (Kulu); Galaond (Chamba); Kabuk Gourkagu (Kashmir); Kabk-i-dara (Persian, Afghanistan); Utar, Ular (Turkestan).
Description. Forehead and short supercilia buffy-white; ill-defined and merging into the grey of the head and nape; a line from behind the eye deep chestnut expanding into a broad patch on the sides of the neck, forming a complete collar below the fore-neck and a broken collar on the hind-neck; a second line of deep chestnut runs from the angle of the bill or rather further back from below the cheek, meeting the chestnut collar on the neck; upper hack buffy-grey vermiculated with darker grey and with dark shafts : back and interscapulars vermiculated with blackish-grey and buffy-white; remainder of upper plumage and wing-coverts the same, with bold streaks of buffi on both webs of each feather, becoming more rufous on the scapulars and wing-coverts ; longest tail-coverts unmarked with buff; central tail-feathers like the coverts, outer tail-feathers more chestnut and with broad black subterminal patches on the inner webs ; primaries ashy-brown, dark-tipped and with the bases largely white on both webs ; outer secondaries with but little white at the base and the grey vermiculated with buff, this colour increasing in depth and extent until the innermost secondaries have broad pale chestnut edges and the rich chestnut-buff vermiculations as extensive as those of blackish-grey ; sides of head and neck, chin, throat, fore-neck and breast white, the head more or less suffused with grey and the breast next the chestnut necklace blotched with black; lower breast and upper abdomen vermiculated dark grey and buffy-white; flanks and lower abdomen grey, with obsolete vermiculations and broad marginal streaks of blackish replaced by chestnut on the posterior flanks; vent and thigh-coverts dark grey and buff; under tail-coverts white ; lesser and median under wing-coverts dark grey ; greater coverts pale grey; axillaries vermiculated grey-buff with black and rufous margins.
The plumage varies considerably in tone, some birds being more buff and less grey above and much more buff below with the marginal streaks more chestnut and less black; the amount of black spotting below seems to decrease with age and many birds retain the grey on the sides of the head, chin, throat etc. for some years, possibly always.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dark hazel-brown; edges of the eyelids slaty-blue; orbital skin pale yellow; bill pale horny-brown or horny-slate, the membrane over the nostril and the cere bright yellow-orange; legs and feet orange to bright red ; claws black.
Measurements. Wing 280 to 312 mm.; tail 173 to 198 mm ; tarsus 62 to 64 mm.; culmen 28 to 33 mm. Weight, 4 lb. to 6 1/2 lb., 3 lb. to a little over 4 lb.
Young birds are like the adult but paler and duller, the white is everywhere replaced by dull grey; the feathers of the crown are mottled grey with dark margins ; the lower back is more definitely barred with blackish and buff ; the lower plumage is duller and many of the feathers are margined with buff at the tips ; the chestnut collar and bauds are wanting in very young birds and but ill-defined in half-grown birds.
Chick in down. Mottled above with brownish-black and fulvous, the crown darker with the black more defined down the centre a well-defined blackish-brown eye-streak ; a second dark line from the base of the bill dividing into two below the ear-coverts; below dull greyish-white.
Distribution. Western Himalayas from Tianschan, the Pamirs, Eastern Afghanistan to Kashmir, Ladak and Garhwal.
Nidification. The Himalayan Snow-Cock breeds throughout its range between 12,000 and 15,000 feet; occasionally it is said as high as 17,000 feet during the months of July and August.
No nest is made, the birds merely scratching a hollow in the ground under shelter of a rock, boulder or tuft of scrubby grass, the favourite site being close to the crest of a ridge on the leeward side. Generally bare stony hill-sides are selected with little or no vegetation beyond withered tufts of grass or sparse stunted bushes of thorns. The hen sits very close and the cock-bird keeps constantly on the watch close to her, warning her of the approach of danger with a loud whistle. The eggs seem usually to number four to six, occasionally seven but the hill-men assert that they sometimes lay as many as a dozen. The ground-colour varies from a very pale yellowish stone-colour to a rather rich reddish-huff and in a few eggs there is a faint tinge of grey or green. The markings, scattered fairly profusely over the whole surface of the egg, consist of freckles and small blotches of reddish-brown ; in some eggs the freckles are absent and the blotches rather more numerous. The shape is a long oval, the texture coarse-grained and strong but the surface fairly glossy. Sixty-eight eggs average 65.4 x 45.4 mm.: maxima 72.8 x 47.0 and 68.0 x 48.2 mm.; minima 62.0 x 43.1 mm.
Habits. This fine Game-bird is found in Summer beyond the limits of tree-forest up to about 16,000 feet and less often up to 18,000 feet, whilst in the Winter it ascends to 10,000 feet, Osmaston recording it as low as 8,000 feet, where, however, it never enters forest. It keeps entirely to open country and seems to prefer hill-sides where even the vegetation which forms its main food-supply is but scanty. Osmaston found that it fed to a great extent on a small grass-like herb (Gager lutea) growing about deserted habitations and old camping-grounds ; they also eat all kinds of berries, seeds and a great quantity of insects, small grasshoppers etc. They are very wary birds in places when they have been at all disturbed, a sentry always being on duty when they feed ; in places, however, where they are strange to men they are very tame. When disturbed they run uphill and then launch themselves from the crests in flight, getting up considerable speed and affording good sporting shots. They are very gregarious and soon after the chicks have hatched, collect in flocks, sometimes very large. Their call-note is said by Wilson to be "a low, soft whistle, the first note considerably prolonged and followed by a succession of low rapid whistles, the most agreeable song of all our Game-birds." Their flesh is excellent for the table.