Otis tetrax

Little Bustard.

Otis tetrax.

Chota tilur, Hindustani.

" Butterfly houbara " is a common sportsman's name for this smart little bustard, the smallest kind known except the lesser florican ; it is given from the bird's peculiar free-and-easy, go-as-you-please style of flight, often high in the air, and altogether different from that of other bustards. The bird, however, has two distinct styles of flight, for it can get away steadily and swiftly like a partridge. In any case, it's white wings make it conspicuous in flight; on the ground it looks like a bob-tailed hen pheasant, being of about that size and with light brown plumage coarsely mottled with black.

It is only a winter visitor here—and only to the North-west Punjab at that, though stragglers may cross the Indus, and three have been got in Kashmir; and so we do not see the males in their courting bravery of grey face, white necklaces, and black breast; in their winter dress they are indistinguishable from hens except in the hand, being merely less coarsely pencilled on the back and less regularly on the breast. There is no constant difference in size, some cocks being smaller than hens, others larger.

October is the month in which the little bustard may be expected to arrive, and most have left India by the end of March ; but it is not much observed or written about, though many are shot or killed with hawks; what is most noticed seems to be the eccentric flight, which renders it impossible to drive the birds. In Europe they have been found to "ring up" and put in about half-an-hour at aerial gymnastics till beaters had gone on, when they resumed their ground and everyday life.

It may be mentioned that the peculiarity of two distinct styles of flight is observable in a very different bird, the beautiful rosy cockatoo or " galah " of Australia (Cacatua roseicapilla) ; this bird, as I was able to observe in specimens they have had loose at the London Zoo on two occasions during the past two years (1912-1913), goes off as heavily as a duck, but when well in the air swings along with the slow, rocking, happy-go-lucky flight of a gull, the very antipodes of the swift flight of the familiar Indian parrakeets.

To return to the butterfly houbara, it frequents low grass and oil-seed crops, and feeds largely on the leaves of the sarson mustard, also eating insects and snails ; in mustard fields it often lies very close, and is easily walked up and killed. In rising it makes a sharp "pat-pat" with the wings. Its call, " a loud guttural rattling cry," is frequently uttered on the wing ; during the breeding season the male calls tree tree, and shows off with head drawn back, tail expanded, and half-opened wings ; but he is monogamous, and does not yearn after a harem like so many bustards.

The breeding range of the species covers the countries of the Mediterranean basin, and extends eastwards to Central Asia ; northwards it ranges to East Prussia and South Russia, where it is one of the characteristic steppe birds, living concealed in the rank vegetation of the region during the summer. In the lush herbage the birds frequent the eggs are very hard to find; the clutch, often in a fairly well-made nest, is large for a bustard, four being laid, which no doubt partly accounts for this species being so common in many localities ; but there may be five, three, or two. The eggs are short pointed ovals, olive in ground with a brown or green tinge, and markings of light brown which are often so faint as to be with difficulty distinguishable.

Hume did not think well of the flesh of this bird, which he describes as dark and hard, and rather unpleasantly flavoured; but it is generally spoken well of by European ornithologists. In Baluchistan, where these birds are locally very common, the native name is Charaz.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Otis tetrax
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Little Bustard
Little Bustard
Tetrax tetrax
Term name: 

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