Otis tetrax, Linne
Vernacular Names.—[Chota tilur.]
The Butterfly Houbara, as Indian sportsmen in the North-West have not inappropriately designated the Little Bustard of Europe, is a regular and tolerably abundant winter visitant to the northern portions of the Trans-Indus Punjab.Cis-Indus, they can only be considered rare and _ occasional stragglers. In December 1878, Colonel Macleod, R.A., shot a fine male of this species, near Gurdaspur, and about the same time Mr. O. Greig shot a female at Balawala on the bank above the Ganges Kadar in the Saharanpur District; and, though others must doubtless have occurred in the submontane tracts of the Punjab and North-Western Provinces, these are, I believe, the only instances on record of their being brought to bag.
Out of India, the Little Bustard is common in suitable localities in Southern Europe and Northern Africa, adjoining the basin of the Mediterranean. It straggles to Northern Europe, even to the British Islands and Sweden. It occurs, and very numerously, in some places, in Syria, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Northern Persia, Kabul and Northern Beluchistan, and throughout the tract of country lying between the Caspian and Western Yarkand, whence we have specimens from Yangihissar, Kashgar and other places in the plains between these and Sanju.
It does not appear to go north across the Tian Shan, or eastwards into Mongolia or China; neither Radde, Prjevalski, nor David include it in their lists.
The birds seen on one of the Islands of the Persian Gulf by Blanford (Zool. Pers. 287) were probably Houbara, which I have ascertained breed on some of these.
THE FLIGHT of this species is very different to that of, our other Bustards; they often rise to a great height, and will flutter and twist about in the air (though they can fly with considerable rapidity and straight enough) in a way that has earned for them the local trivial name above alluded to. Whilst on the wing, they call continuously.
Some people consider this bird a delicacy. For my part, I have found the flesh dark and hard, and with a rather unpleasant flavour. With us, they feed chiefly on the leaves of the Sarson, a kind of mustard, but I have also found remains of insects and land shells in their stomachs; and in Europe, they are said to eat slugs, snails and small reptiles, which, looking to the omnivorous tastes of our Great Indian Bustard, seems probable enough.
The colours of the soft parts vary a good deal; the less and feet are yellow, dusky yellow, greenish yellow, the feet often browner or dingier; the bill is blackish, greenish black dusky horny or brown, generally paler on culmen, and bluish grey, greenish or yellowish at the base, and the irides vary from light yellow to orange.
The plate is an excellent one of the bird in winter plumage, in which, so far as I know, we alone obtain it; but I ought to mention that the male in summer assumes a very different appearance, having then the sides of the head and the throat to the length of two inches greyish blue, with an inferior black margin, succeeded by a narrow ring of white, that colour extending more than an inch downwards in front in a pointed form. The middle of the neck, all round, for the length of two inches and a half is deep black, that colour being succeeded below by a half collar of white and another of black.
I must add, that in many of my specimens the black markings on the upper surface are more predominant than is depicted in the plate, giving the bird altogether a darker appearance ; as also that occasionally the whole lower surface has a more or less buffy tinge.