In spite of his striking plumage of slate-grey, pale-green, and carmine, the cock of our Alpine blood pheasant looks, on the whole, more like a partridge, having a short tail and only weighing a little over the pound; while the hen, being brown all over, would certainly be called a partridge by anyone who did not know her mate. Her bright red legs and red eye-patch, which she has in common with the cock, are distinctive points, as also is the fine pencilling of black over the brown plumage, which has no striking markings.
Young cocks are said to assume a duller edition of the masculine plumage when half-grown ; they have no spurs, but their elders are most plentifully provided in that respect, and may have up to nine spurs on the two legs.
The Bhutias, who call the bird Some or Semo, credit it with growing a new spur every year, but this is at least doubtful, and the bird is so rarely kept in captivity that opportunities for observation have been wanting. One pair reached the London Zoo a few years back, and I was struck with their essentially partridge-like appearance. Their importer, Mr. W. Frost, told me that they were spiteful with other birds, and backed each other up, the hen waiting on an elevated spot till the cock ran a bird under her, when she would spring on it and do her share of the mauling.
That the bird should be seldom kept alive is not remarkable, for it is not often even shot; it is purely Himalayan—though very similar species occur outside our limits—and always keeps high up near the snows, but affects cover, not open rocky spots like the snow-partridge. Pine forests and mountain bamboo clumps are favourite haunts, and here the birds scratch for food like fowls, and are nearly equally omnivorous in their tastes. But, like most of our game-birds, they specialize somewhat in food; they do not eat bulbs, and do eat pine tops and juniper berries, especially in winter and spring, for they remain all the year at high elevations. As they do not range lower than 10,000 feet, their haunts are liable to be snowed up, but in addition to the food they get from the conifers, they seem to burrow in the snow for either subsistence or shelter; for they have been taken at 12,000 feet in January.
They perch freely at all times when alarmed, but fly little and generally run to cover when startled; the alarm-note is " ship, ship," and a scattered covey is piped together by a long squealing call. The covey varies in number from ten to twenty birds, and in winter packs of up to a hundred may be found. Not much is really known about these birds, which seem to have their haunts very much to themselves. Even the eggs have not been taken, but these must be laid pretty early, for young ones are about in May; and Jerdon got the half-grown birds on the Singhallala spur west of Darjeeling in September, a locality unusually near the plains for this species.
It may be gathered from what has been said about its running habits that this bird is not of the sport-showing description; but, occurring as it does where other game is scarce, it is useful for food if one is hard up for meat. But it is an uncertain article of diet, for though it has been found excellent eating in September, after feeding on berries, leaves, and seeds, a diet of coniferous vegetables reduces it to a condition of rankness and toughness that requires a really keen appetite to overcome ; so that it is a bird to be left alone as long as even village fowls can be procured.