Rostratula capensis (Linnaeus).
Bill curved downwards towards the tip. Bill, tarsus and middle toe about equal in length.
Primaries variegated with bluish grey, black and buff.
MALE:—With no white scapular feathers.
FEMALE:—At all ages with some narrow, pointed, white scapular feathers, partially concealed.
VERNACULAR NAMES —Ohari, Nepal; Kone, Konchatta, Kol. (Singhbhoom), Baggarji, Bengal; Tibud, Pan-lawa, Mahr. (Ratnagiri); Mail-ulan, Tamil; Rajakaeswatuwa, Ceylon.
The Painted Snipe occurs in every portion of the Indian Empire, except perhaps in some parts of the Himalayas. It extends, however, to Kashmir. This species is also found in Ceylon, but it has not yet been recorded from the Andamans or Nicobars.
This Snipe appears to be only a rainy-season visitor to the drier parts of Central, North-western and Northern India, but elsewhere it seems to be a permanent resident, moving about a good deal, of course, in search of suitable feeding-grounds.
In the eastern part of the Empire the Painted Snipe is very unequally distributed. Major G. Rippon, referring to Upper Burma, informs me that he considers it more abundant there than in India, but in Lower Burma it is far from common, and south of Moulmein it appears to be extremely rare. It ranges far away to the east, however, for Lieut. J. H. Whitehead informs me that he has obtained this bird at Kengtung.
The present species is found over a large portion of Africa and in Madagascar. It has been observed in Asia Minor and Afghanistan. Thence it extends, through India and Burma, to China and Japan, the Malay peninsula and the Malayan islands, as far as the Philippine group.
The Painted Snipe is generally found on marshy ground, which is covered with abundance of grass or other low cover, and it will seldom be seen on bare land. The bill of this Snipe is not sensitive, and is moreover curved, so that it is not able to probe the soil for worms as ordinary Snipes do. Its food, therefore, consists chiefly of insects, and perhaps vegetable matter, and its flesh is very inferior for the table.
Painted Snipes are usually found in couples or small groups. They are tame and confiding, and allow a near approach before rising on the wing. The flight is slow and heavy. This Snipe, as a rule, flies but a short distance and settles quickly. It is not easy to flush it a second time.
A curious habit of this Snipe, common perhaps both to the male and female, may be often observed at the breeding season and also, according to Blyth, when the bird is surprised. It consists in the display of its beautiful plumage, the wings and tail being spread out to their full extent, the breast pressed to the ground and the bill raised.
The late Mr. J. Wood-Mason has pointed out that the windpipe of the male of this species is formed differently to that of the female, the consequence being that the two sexes utter very different notes. The note of the female has been described as a "low, regular, hoarse, but rich, purring call," and again as a " low, mellow, single soft note," frequently repeated. The male utters a sharp squeak at irregular intervals.
The Painted Snipe breeds at various periods of the year, according to climate and locality. I cannot do better than quote what Mr. Hume has written on this subject. He says : " Reviewing the evidence now available, I should say broadly that the majority bred once during the height of the rains and once during the middle of the cold season; but practically in one place or another this species has been found breeding in almost every month in the year; and while I have no doubt that they have two broods a year, I think it possible that, under favourable conditions, they may have more."
The nest is a pad of grass or rushes, some six inches in diameter, placed on the ground. The eggs are four in number. They are generally oval in shape, sometimes rather pointed at one end or pyriform. They have comparatively little gloss. In colour they are buff, thickly blotched, spotted and streaked with deep black. These marks are frequently confluent, and cover about half the surface of the egg. The shell-marks, which are faint and indistinct, are purplish grey. The eggs are comparatively small for the size of the bird and measure from 1.29 to 1.5 in length, and from .89 to 1.05 in breadth.
The male has a broad buff band extending from the forehead over the middle of the crown to the back of the head. On either side of this band there is another, black mottled with white; and another band again, dark brown. The eye is surrounded by a buff ring, which is continued back as a band over the ear-coverts. The whole hindneck is ashy brown, barred with black, the feathers very narrowly tipped with white. The mantle and back are similar, but with the black bars fewer in number and much broader, and the pale tips more conspicuous; the outer feathers of the back broadly margined with buff on the outer web. The scapulars are ashy brown, blotched with black and narrowly tipped with white. The rump is bluish grey, barred with narrow black lines and slightly mottled with white. The upper tail-coverts are bluish grey, barred with black, and some of the feathers with large, double spots of buff. The tail-feathers are bluish grey with narrow wavy black bars, and broad buff bands. The upper wing-coverts are bluish grey, but this colour is in many places almost obliterated by large buff spots and patches, which are bordered above by a black bar. The primaries are bluish grey, marbled with black and white on the inner web, and marked with black blotches and round buff spots on the outer web. The outer secondaries are similar, but the black on the outer webs is confined to the base of the quills. The inner secondaries are olive-brown, much marked with black. The sides of the head and the throat are white streaked with brown; the chin nearly entirely white. The foreneck is brown, mottled with white and bounded below by a black gorget. The lower surface, from the gorget to the tail, is pure white. The sides of the breast are olive-brown, marked with black and white, and separated from the black gorget by a white band. The axillaries are white, the tips of the longer ones barred with ashy. The under wing-coverts are bluish grey, barred with black; the central feathers plain white.
The adult female differs from the male in the following respects:—The circle round the eye and the band over the ear-coverts are white. The upper wing-coverts and the long inner secondaries, in fact the whole aspect of the closed wing, is olive-green, with a russet tinge, closely barred across with black. A band under the eye is black. The sides of the face, the throat, the upper part of the foreneck and a broad collar round the neck are pale chestnut. The lower fore-neck and the upper part of the mantle are plain black, and the patch on the sides of the breast are nearly uniform black. The chief difference, however, lies in the female having the outermost scapular feathers very narrow, pointed, and pure white.
The young birds of both sexes resemble the male in plumage, but the females may be known at all ages by the presence of some white scapular feathers. Females in every phase of plumage between that of the male and that of the adult female are very common in collections. The plumage of the male hardly varies at all from youth to old age.
Length. In this species the female is rather larger than the male. The length of the male is about 10; wing about 5 ; tail about 1 1/2; bill about 1 3/4. The bill and legs are olive-brown ; the irides are brown. The bill is subject to considerable variation in colour. Weight up to about 6 1/2 oz. The tail is composed of fourteen ordinary feathers.