Galloperdix lunulatus, Valenciennes.
Vernacular Names.— [Askol, Orissa and Singhbhoom; Hootkah, (Gondhi) Chanda District.; Cull-koli, (Tamil) ; Jitta kadi (Telugu.)]
Mr. R. Thompson says :—
" lam not certain that I did not meet with this on the Kymore range. I more than once saw a small Spur-Fowl, frequenting the bamboo jungles, very shy, that I could never either shoot or get a good look at, which I am pretty sure must have been this species. "I did not see this species anywhere in the Maikal or Satpura Ranges. "It is, however, the common Spur-Fowl of the Chanda district alike below the Ghats and in the Eastern Zemindaries of Panabaras, Kotgal, Koracha, in fact everywhere on the high tableland east of the Wainganga. Found wherever there is thick bamboo cover on the hills or fringing the streams and nalas descending from them.
" It is an extremely shy bird, becoming, however, bold and familiar on being domesticated.
" It is very abundant in the jungles near my house in Chanda, where I have often seen it feeding in company with the Grey Jungle-Fowl.
" From Chanda it ranges south-east to Bastar and Sironcha. I saw it frequently in the Godavari Valley as low down as the hills north of Rajmandhry in the Madras Presidency. In these hills I found it in company with the Red Jungle-Fowl. In Central Bastar between 18° and 190 North Latitude, it was very abundant in deep bamboo jungles, where also occasionally I have heard the Red Jungle-Cock crowing
On the Indravati river, 50 miles up from its junction with the Godavari river, I have seen and shot the Painted Spur-Fowl and the Grey Jungle-Fowl, without, however, having seen or heard of a trace of the Red Jungle-Fowl."
ALTHOUGH the two species cover so much of the same ground that this may not appear quite clearly from an enumeration of the localities where they have each been observed, yet, on the whole, the Red Spur-Fowl is the more Western, the Painted Spur-Fowl the more Eastern, form. The Painted Spur-Fowl has no outlying colony that I know of, and its northern boundary is indicated by the Ganges, Jumna and Sindh rivers respectively. South of these, we have it recorded from Jhansi, Lalitpur, various localities between the Sindh and Betwa in Southern Duttiah and Eastern Gwalior, from Gyah, the Rajmehal hills, from Rajmehal, Monghyr and Beerbhoom, from Singbhoom, Manbhoom, Lohardugga, Sirgooja, Jodhpore, Oodeypore, and many places in Chota Nagpore, from Seoni, Raipur, Sambalpur, north of the Mahanadi, Bhandara, the Ahiri forests, various places in the Tributary Mahals, from Nowagarh, Kurial and other of these Bastar Feudatory States to the Godavari Valley These localities seem to indicate head quarters of the species ; in many of them the Red Spur-Fowl does not occur at all, and in most of the others in which it does occur, it is only sparsely or as a straggler, while the present species is there in force, and as it were at home.
But though these seem to be the districts where it is most numerous, like the Red Spur-Fowl it spreads far wide of these its presumed normal limits.
It has occurred west of Nagpur near Elichpur, and then in numerous places in the Peninsula, in the Nulla-mullay range, in Kurnool, in Bellary, Cuddapah, the Eastern Ghats inland from Nellore, about Tupapore and southwards to near Pondicherry ; and again nearly all round the Nilgiris, viz., between Metapolliem and Barliar, between the latter and Coonoor, near Kullar, in the Orange Valley below Kotagiri, and on the Segore Ghat, and also in the Walliar jungles in the Palghat district. Altogether, as I said when speaking of the Red Spur-Fowl, the areas of distribution of these two species are so marvellously interlaced that I cannot at present pretend to disentangle them.
NEITHER SPECIES are birds of the alluvial plains, and though a few may stray into these, their natural homes are jungle-clad hills and, in the case of the present species, especially rocky hills and their immediate neighbourhoods.
Like the last species, this Spur-Fowl also is purely Indian.
As I have only once myself shot or seen this species alive, I must content myself with reproducing what others have recorded about it.
Dr. Jerdon, our great stand-by in all such cases, says :—
" This handsome Spur-Fowl is especially partial to rocky jungles and tangled coverts, and is a very difficult bird to flush, taking short and rapid flights, and diving down into some impenetrable thicket. I have often seen it running rapidly across rocks when the jungles were being beaten for large game.
" From the difficulty of procuring this bird, it is not well known to sportsmen in general, even in districts where it is not rare, and its qualities for the table are inferior to those of the last species, having less flayour and being more dry. Numbers are snared in the hills not far from Madras, and they are generally procurable in the Madras market, I have kept them in confinement for long. They thrive pretty well, but the males are very pugnacious. The males have a fine cackling sort of call, very fowl-like."
From Raipur, Mr. F. R. Blewitt writes : " The Painted Spur-Fowl is to be met with in numbers in certain localities in the hill ranges in the Bhandara and Raipur Districts. Eastward it has been found in the low hills dividing the Pithora Native State from the Sambalpur District. .
" It is especially partial to low rocky hills covered with impenetrable thicket; it also affects, though more rarely, bamboo jungle. The bird is either met with singly or in pairs ; occasionally three or four congregate together. In the early morning and evening the birds descend to the more open spaces at the base of the hills to feed, and from an elevated position may be seen very busy running here and there feeding. During the day they retire to the inaccessible thickets above. Very wary is the Painted Spur-Fowl. On the slightest alarm It will run quickly up-hill to reach the shelter of its favourite haunts ; once there it is impossible to flush it again. In the more open jungle they are easily flushed, and, though the flight is swift, offer an easy shot. The call is a peculiar loud chur, chur, chur, rapidly repeated, anything but fowl-like."
Colonel Tickell remarks :—
" In all places, however, its skulking habits cause it to be very seldom seen. It haunts rocky places buried in thorny thickets, sometimes the stony jungly beds of nalas or small rivers, but more generally the isolated granite hills covered with dense brushwood, which are so common a feature in Chota Nagpore. It is generally in beating those huge rocks with large bodies of men, when bear shooting, that the c Askal' is seen, and I have sometimes observed two or three in the air at a time, flying straight, with rapid action of the wings, much like Jungle-Fowl. They are flushed but once ; and after alighting, run into fissures and holes amongst the rocks, whence there is no dislodging them. At Palgunjo, near the Porahaut Hill, which looks in solitary grandeur over the now-deserted 'Trunk Road,' formerly the great artery of traffic throughout Bengal, I have seen one or two flushed in more open ground, where the scrub was scattered and thin—rocks at some distance, and the chief cover a few shallow ravines."
Captain Baldwin again says :—
" The male does not crow like the Jungle-Cock, though both sexes make a kind of clucking noise like a true fowl. When running these birds carry the tail up, not like a Partridge. I have often watched them when hidden behind a bush or rock, waiting for the beat to approach; sometimes over a dozen have run past me. They move very fast, and seldom take wing till hard-pressed. The flight is swift and rarely at any great height from the ground. The birds take a good hard blow to bring them down."
As regards their nidification, I have never myself seen a nest, but Mr. Blewitt, writing from Raipur, says :—
" It breeds certainly from March to May, making simply a slight excavation in the ground for the eggs under the shelter of a boulder or rock in a thicket. Some time in April from such a nest, made at the base of a large boulder in dense jungle, the egg-shells were taken from which the chicks had just escaped ; again, in the same month, under the ledge of a rock in thick underwood in a slight hollow in the earth, two fresh eggs were found.
" Apparently five is the maximum number of the eggs: at least, during two seasons, of the many broods met with, no single brood of chicks exceeded this number.
" The parent birds assiduously care for their young, and when disturbed exhibit great anxiety for their safety. When closely pursued, the old birds endeavour by many artifices to draw the attention of the intruders from the spot where the chicks lie concealed, and invariably on the cry of a chick wounded or captured, the parent birds daringly return to the rescue, often to within a dozen yards or so of the sportsman."
Mr. R. Thompson also sent me eggs of this species taken in the Ahiri forests, south-east of Chanda, and remarked :—
"The nest of the Spur-Fowl was found on 5th April, when there were only two eggs in it. The eggs were placed' on the bare ground, in a depression overhung by the trunk of a fallen tree, and well concealed by tufts of grass and fallen leaves. On the 9th April, when again visited, another egg was found added, and as I had to leave that part of the Ahiri forests on the following day, I had the eggs brought away." Again Colonel Tickell says :—
" In June 1850, there was brought to me by a bird-catcher a hen with four eggs, sitting on which she had been limed. They were laid on the bare ground in a crevice, partly concealed and sheltered by a bank and the roots of an overhanging bush. There was bush jungle about the place, and it was at a considerable distance from any rock or hill. The eggs were of a whitish buff colour, in shape rather rounded, and in size 1.5 by 1.12 in."
All the eggs that I have as yet seen have been rather regular ovals, somewhat more elongated than the typical fowl's egg, and rather more compressed towards the small end.
The shell strong, but with a soft satiny feel, and a more or less decided gloss. They are an uniform delicate cafe au lait, and though taken from three different nests in widely distant parts of the country, exhibit wonderfully little variation in either size, colour or shape. They vary from 1.55 to 1.65 in length, and from 1.07 to 1.15 in breadth, but the average of seven eggs is 1.62 by 1.11.
The following are a few dimensions that I have recorded of this species:—
Males.— Length, 12.5 to 13.6; expanse, 17.5 to 18.5 ; wing, 5.85 to 6.2 ; tail from vent, 4.3 to 5.0; tarsus,1.5 to 1.65 ; bill from gape, 0.8 to 0.9. Weight, 9 to 10 ozs.
Females.— Length, 12.0 to 12.6 ; expanse, 17.5 to 18.o; wing, 5.75 to 5.9 ; tail from vent, 4.3 to 4.8 ; tarsus, 1.5 to 1.55 ; bill from gape, 0.85 to 0.9. Weight, 8 to 9 ozs. The legs and feet plumbeous ; the irides dark brown ; the upper mandible blackish horny, the lower pale. The male, in this species also, has from one to three spurs on each leg, generally two on each, often two on one and three on the other. The females also generally have at least one spur on each leg, sometimes two, rarely none at all.
The Plate is good, but the upper mandible and the legs and feet of the male should all be much darker, and the majority of females are rather darker and more olivaceous than the particular specimen figured.