Fam. TETRAONIDAE- Grouse and Partridges.
Syn. Cohort Perdices, Bonap.
Bill generally short, stout, and thick; nostrils, in many, plumed at the base; wings rounded in most, pointed in a few, longer than in the Phasianidae ; tail short or moderate, even or very slightly rounded, forked and lengthened in a few; tarsus rather short and stout; face feathered entirely, or with a small patch of nude skin over or round the eye. Plumage of the sexes in general differing but very slightly, sometimes not at all.
The Grouse, Partridges, and Quails, which compose this family, differ markedly in several points from the Pheasants and Jungle-fowls, albeit some of them have more or less resemblance to the birds of that group. The Black-cock with his forked tail and black plumage recalls the coloring of Gallophasis and Acomus; and the Capercailzie has the perching habits of the Pheasants. But there Is something in the physiognomy of most of this family which points them out, even to the common observer, as a distinct . group. Their form is heavy, stout, and massive; the neck shorter; the bill Stout and short; the tail is shorter, and seldom raised; there is very slight, often no difference between the sexes ; and the plumage of most has that peculiar character distinguished as game plumage, rather a vague term certainly, and more evident to the eye than describable in words.
They have, moreover, a totally different geographical distribution, being found over all the world, whilst the Phasianidae are confined nearly to the South-east of Asia. Bonaparte places them as his Cohort Perdices; but in relation with the Pteroclidae and Tinamidae, to neither of which they are very closely affined. They, as a general rule, affect open grass lands, moors, fields, and low scattered jungle, in contradistinction to the Pheasant tribe which almost always prefer forests or thick coverts; and several associate in parties called coveys, or levies, and in still larger bodies or flocks in winter. The flesh of all is good and high flavored, more so perhaps than that of the Pheasants, but varying of course according to the group, or even the species.
The Tetraonidae may be divided into Grouse, Partridges, American Partridges, Quails and Guinea-fowl, and, as in the last family, I shall consider these as sub-families. Of these, the Grouse are peculiar to the Northern portions of both Continents. Partridges are found in Europe, Asia and Africa, disappearing in the Malayan Archipelago, except to its extreme west; the American Partridges are confined to the New World; and Quails have the same distribution as the true Partridges, but, conversely to that group, have a tendency to accumulate in the South-eastern portion of the Malayan Archipelago and Australia, where, with Turnix of the Tinamidae, they are the only typical Gallinaceous birds. The Guinea-fowl of course are confined to Africa.
The sub-fam. TETRAONINAE, or true Grouse, are not represented in India, being peculiar to the Northern portion of both Continents. They are mostly birds of large or moderate size, and of strong flight, with the tarsus and toes more or less feathered; they frequent heathery moors, or upland and hilly pastures. Some, the Grouse, are polygamous; others, as the Ptarmigan, so similar Otherwise to Grouse, are monogamous. The plumage is in general dark, and of very game character, and the flesh is the most highly flavoured of any of the Gallinaceae. The best known are the Scottish Grouse, Tetrao scoticus; the Black-cock, Lyrurus tetrix; the noble Capercailzie, Urogullus vulgaris; and the mountain- loving Ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus. Several other species of Grouse occur on the Continent of Europe and Northern Asia, and one species of Ptarmigan occurs in the Caucasus, but as yet no species of Grouse or Ptarmigan has been observed on the Himalayas or adjacent territories. The Ruffed Grouse of Europe, Bonasa betalina, Scopoli, descends to a lower latitude than any of the true Grouse; and Mr. Blyth states that he has recognised a new species of this group among some Chinese drawings. Many Grouse are found in North America, one group, the Centrocercus or Pin-tailed Pheasants, as they are there called, being peculiar to that region.
Tarsus not feathered; orbits generally plumed, or wanting the nude eyebrow of the Grouse; tarsus often spurred.
This sub-family comprises an extensive group of birds of moderate or small size, found over the greater part of the Old Continent, frequenting fields, pastures, reeds, moors, and rocky hill sides, very rarely preferring forests or jungles. They are distinguished from Grouse by having the tarsus nude and generally scutate. The beak is generally short and tolerably compressed, the margin entire, and the nostrils protected by a hard scale. They lay numerous eggs, and feed on grain, berries, insects, and small molluscs.
There are several distinct types of form among them, differing in the spurring of the tarsus, longer or shorter bill, coloration, and habits ; and they are found throughout the Old World, not extending to the eastern portion of Malayana, nor to Australia.
The Partridges occurring in India may be divided into Snow- cocks and Snow-partridges, peculiar to the highlands of Central Asia and the Himalayas ; Partridges, (in ordinary parlance) comprising the Francolins, Chukors, Grey-partridges, Wood-partridges and Bush-quails. Besides, there are the true Partridges, represented by the common Grey-partridge of Europe, with one species from Thibet; and the great group of African Partridges.
1st.-SNOW-COCKS AND SNOW-PARTRIDGES.
These comprise two genera of mountain Partridges peculiar to the higher regions of Central Asia, which combine the naked tarsi of Partridges with the habits and aspect of Grouse and Ptarmigan, and may thus be said to form a link, both structurally and geographically between the two groups. Both occur within our limits. Bonaparte places them in his section Tetrao-galleae of his Perdicinae, but badly associates with them Galloperdix, Francolinus, and the Grey-partridges of India, and also most of the African Partridges, some of which, from their size, may perhaps enter this group. Gray associates them with the Rock and Sand-partridges (Chukors) to form his sub-fam. Caccabinae.