Ceriornis satyra

Indian Crimson Tragopan.

Ceriornis satyra.

Munal, Hindustani.

The wonderfully rich plumage of the cock crimson tragopan, whose red under-parts spotted with white, and the similar speckling on his marbled brown back, make him look like a glorified guinea-fowl, is a certain and striking distinction of his species ; the hen is a brown bird, the plumage on close inspection being seen to be a grizzly pepper and ginger mixture, with more of the dark colour above and more of the buff below, but without definite markings of any size ; she is quite easy to recognize, in spite of her sombre colour and absence of any crest or bare skin round the eye. Young cocks show some red on the neck in their first year, but do not come into colour till the next. The cock is horned, crested, and dewlapped, as is always the case with tragopans ; but the crest lies flat and the light blue fleshy horns are generally concealed in it, while the dewlap is hardly visible as a rule, just showing a fold of the richest blue skin on the bare throat. The blue skin of the face is concealed by scanty black feathering; and in having the face thus feathered this species is unique among tragopans. Although, like our other well-known tragopan, this species is often called argus, it is no more an argus pheasant than it is a peacock; indeed, it can hardly be called a pheasant at all, being, like the monal, a member of a separate group in the family, and quite as near the partridges as the pheasants proper. The tail is somewhat hen-like, not long, and slightly folded, and the general appearance is bulky and fowl¬like, though the legs and toes are rather long and slender, and the bill particularly small. The bird is a large one, weighing about four pounds in the case of cocks; the hens are noticeably smaller and do not weigh nearly three pounds.

The crimson tragopan is confined to the Eastern Himalayas, seldom straying west of the Alaknanda Valley in Garhwal, in which state and in Kumaun it is known as Lungi; it is well known as far east as Bhutan, where its names are Omo and Bap, the Lepcha name in Sikkim being Tarr hyak. It used to be common near Darjeeling.

Like tragopans generally, it is a true forest bird and seldom seen, for it does not come out on to the grass slopes above the forest as the monal so frequently does ; though, like that species, it shifts its ground according to season, keeping near the limits of woodland in summer, and descending in winter as low as 6,000 feet. It likes thick cover, and is especially fond of that afforded by ringal, especially where water is at hand. It is more of a tree-bird than pheasants generally, not only taking refuge in trees from enemies and roosting on them at night, but judging from the habits of captured specimens, keeping a good deal in them at all times, and no doubt feeding on the buds, berries, and leaves, since leaves, especially of aromatic kinds, and wild fruit, form a portion of the food, as well as bamboo-shoots, insects, and bulbs; though in confinement it will eat grain, it does not seem to seek it in a wild state.

Although eggs have been taken in Kumaun in May, not much is on record about the breeding of this bird in the wild state, no doubt because people naturally expect such birds to nest on the ground, whereas evidence obtained from birds kept in captivity shows that they are really tree-breeders. Mr. St. Quintin, who has paid particular attention to tragopans and kept three out of the five known species, finds they require elevated nesting-sites, such as old wood pigeons' nests and platforms put up in trees, which they line with a few twigs. A hen of this very species even made a scanty nest of her own with spruce twigs and branches, so that in looking for tragopans' nests one's motto evidently ought to be " Excelsior." The eggs are larger than ordinary Indian fowls' eggs, and not unlike them except for a few pale dull markings of a lilac tint. They take twenty-nine days to hatch.

The chicks are uniform reddish-brown above, not striped, and have the wing-feathers showing when hatched; they perch at once, and can fly in a few days. This looks as if they might spend some of their early life aloft; perhaps the hen feeds them, as the cock does her when courting. This same courtship of the cock is very curious ;he has two quite distinct displays, an unusual trait in any bird. The most commonly seen is a sideway one, the bird flattening himself out sideways, as it were, by expanding the feathers of one side of the body above and below, much as the common pheasant does. In this way the white spots become as conspicuous as possible, but there is no change in the face. In the full display, which is very rarely seen, the bird squats down on his heels with head erect and plumage puffed out, flaps his wings with a convulsive movement, showing off the intense red on the pinion-joints, and makes a noise like a motor-car starting. At the same time, with jerks of the head, the dewlap is let down and expands, not vertically like a turkey's,. but horizontally, forming a bib as large as a lady's palm, of the most intense blue in the middle, and pure azure at the sides, which are marked with large oval scarlet spots. The horns should be also displayed at this time, but I hardly saw them when I witnessed the display myself. This is a frontal display, but the hen never seems to be anywhere where she is wanted at the time. There appears to be usually but one hen with a cock, and he seems more gentle with her than typical pheasants. Her alarm note is much like the quack of a duck; the cock is usually silent, but in the pairing season calls with a bleat like a young lamb, and also, but for only two or three days in each season, according to Mr. Barnby Smith, who has carefully studied this species in confinement, gives out a weird, far-reaching, moaning call like oo-ah, oo-ah, apparently as a challenge. Cocks can be called up by imitating them, but are even then very wary and hard to shoot; in fact, it is very difficult to get a sight of tragopans at any time, and the peculiarities of their display have been made out from captive birds. As a general rule, unless they can be hustled out of the ringal cover by dogs and made to rise, they afford very little sport, for when seen in the open, as they rarely are, they break away on foot if possible and give only a snap-shot. They are often not better eating than ordinary fowls, so that on the whole, though most fascinating to the naturalist, they do not figure prominently on the game list.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Ceriornis satyra
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Indian Crimson Tragopan
Satyr Tragopan
Tragopan satyra
Term name: 

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