86. THE LITTLE BUSTARD.
Tetrax tetrax, (Linnaeus).
Length of the tarsus less than one-third the length of the wing. Exposed part of the first ten quills of the wing largely white. No ruff down the sides of the neck.
MALE:—The fourth quill of the wing abruptly shortened.
FEMALE :—The fourth quill of the wing graduated between the third and fifth.
Vernacular Name :—Chota titur, Hind.
The Little Bustard is found in Southern Europe, North Africa and Central and South- Western Asia. It appears to be everywhere more or less migratory, and its movements are difficult to follow and to understand. This Bustard visits India in the winter, and is at that time fairly common in the Punjab, west of the Indus river, occasionally straggling into portions of the North- Western Provinces. Colonel Biddulph observed it at Gilgit at the end of March, and conjectures that it may breed there, but Dr. Scully is of a different opinion.
There is very little to be gathered re¬garding the habits of this Bustard from Indian writers, and I shall therefore quote some remarks of the late Mr. Seebohm concerning it. Speaking of the bird as he found it on the Danubian steppes, he says:—" It is a partial migrant, arriving at its breeding grounds in flocks early in April, which are dispersed in May. It is so much less than the Great Bustard, that by the middle of May the grass and the flowers hide it completely from view. The females sit very close and are difficult to find, but the males betray themselves by their curious note. As you drive slowly across the steppes, your attention is arrested by a distant cry, resembling the sound of the syllable spurrtz. By following with the waggon in the direction whence it proceeds for a hundred yards or more, you may generally put up the bird, frequently within shot, but if followed on foot there is little or no chance of securing it. The flight is quite different to that of the Great Bustard, more resembling that of the Partridge than that of a Heron. The wings are moved with great rapidity and the flight is very straight, though not very slow. The beats of the wing are so rapid that they make quite a loud whirring sound, and they show more white when flying than the Great Bustard does. In many respects their flight resembles that of a butterfly or of a Snow-Bunting. We never saw two males together during the breeding season. The nest can only be found by accident. We were driving rather quickly across the steppe, anxious to reach Kalarath before dark, when suddenly a female Little Bustard rose within ten feet of the waggon and was speedily dropped by our Jager, who was sitting gun in hand by the driver. We jumped out of the carriage, and in a quarter of a minute found the nest, containing four eggs. The hollow was deeper than that of the nest of the Great Bustard, and there was a distinct nest of dry grass and weeds, though very slight; it was about seven inches across and well concealed by tufts of a kind of lucerne."
In the British Museum there is a fine series of the eggs of this Bustard from Algeria, Tangiers, France, the Danube steppes, Turkey and South Russia, including the four eggs found by Mr. Seebohm as above narrated. They are all highly glossy, and in shape they are oval, elliptical or pyriform ; hardly two eggs being of the same shape. The ground-colour varies from pale green to dark olive-green, and a few are buff or stone-colour. They are all blotched and streaked with pale reddish brown or brown, but in such a pale manner that at a short distance many of the eggs appear unmarked. In length they vary from 1.92 to 2.23, and in breadth from 1.43 to 1.6.
The male in summer plumage has the forehead and crown fulvous much marked with black; the throat, the sides of the head, and a band round the back of the head bluish grey. The whole neck is black with a band of white round the back of the head immediately next to the bluish grey band; and another white band runs diagonally down each side of the neck, the two meeting in front. Below the black of the neck there is a broad white band succeeded by a narrower black band. The feathers of the hindneck are much lengthened. The lower plumage is white. The upper plumage and much of the visible portions of the closed wings are fulvous banded with black; the remaining portions of the closed wings are white. The first ten quills of the wing are white at the base and at the tip, the intermediate portion being black, the amount of white increasing and the black diminishing regularly from the first quill to the tenth. The other quills are all white. The tail is white banded with black, and the feathers covering the tail above are chiefly white.
The male in winter plumage has no lengthened feathers on the hindneck. The black, white and bluish-grey of the head and neck are lost, and are replaced by fulvous marked with black, the throat only being white. The whole body, wings and tail are the same as in summer.
The female bird at all seasons resembles the male in winter plumage in general coloration, but the breast and the sides of the body are barred and spotted with black. The upper plumage and wings are coarsely marked with black, and the fulvous colour predominates over the black.
Male: length about 18; wing about 9 1/2; tail nearly 4. Female : length about 19; wing 10; tail quite 4. Legs dull yellow; irides reddish brown; bill blackish with some green or yellow at the base. Weight about 2 lb.