« السابقةمتابعة »
pursue with an energy proportionate to the value of a prize not to be exceeded for the table, especially in March, when it is in highest condition.
Habitat and Range.—The Charj appears to be confined to the Bengal Presidency, and to a part only of it, for I find no notice of this species in the Catalogues of Jerdon, of Sykes, or of Franklin, and in fact even in the Gangetic provinces the Charj is nearly limited to the left bank of the Ganges, and there to the districts adjacent to the sub-Himálayas, though I believe it is also found in the somewhat similar districts intervening between south Behar and Nagpur and Midnapur. “Tarai” is an Indian term equivalent to Pays Bas, Landes, Marches, and Marshes, of European tongues; and the Tarai par excellence is applied to a low lying, moist and rarely redeemed tract of level waste extending, outside the Saul forest, along the base of the sub-Himalayas from the debouche of the Ganges to the Brahmaputra. This tract, of great extent and peculiar features, is the favourite and almost exclusive habitat of the Charj, which avoids the mountains entirely, and almost, if not quite, as entirely, the arid and cultivated plains of the Doab, and of the provinces west of the Jumna, the latter of which are still less suited than the Doab to the Charj's habits, which prompt it to dwell upon plains indeed and exclusively, but never upon nude or cultivated plains. Shelter of nature's furnishing is indispensable to it, and it solely inhabits wide spreading plains sufficiently elevated to be free from inundation and sufficiently moist to yield a pretty copious crop of grasses, but grasses not so thick nor so high as to impede the movements or vision of a well-sized bird that is ever afoot and always sharply on the look out. Such extensive, well-clad, yet uncultivated plains are however to be found only on the left bank of the Ganges, and accordingly I believe that to that bank the Charj is nearly confin. ed, and to the Tarai portion thereof.
Manners.--The Charj is neither polygamous nor monogamous, nor migratory nor solitary. These birds dwell permanently and always breed in the districts they frequent, and they dwell also socially, but with a rigorous separation of the sexes, such as I fancy no other species could furnish a parallel to. Four to eight are always found in the same vicinity though seldom very close together, and the males are invariably and entirely apart from the females, after they have grown up. Even in the season of love the intercourse of the sexes among adults is quite transitory, and is conducted without any of that jealousy and pugnacity which so eminently distinguish most birds at that period. In the season of love the troops of males and females come into the same neighbourhood, but without mixing. A male that is amorously disposed steps forth and by a variety of very singular proceedings, quite analogous to human singing and dancing, he recommends himself to the neighbouring bevy of females. He rises perpendicularly in the air, humming in a deep peculiar tone, and flapping his wings. He lets himself sink after he has risen some 15 or 20 yards; and again he rises and again falls in the same manner, and with the same strange utterance, and thus perhaps 5 or 6 times, when one of the fernales steps forward, and with her he commences a courtship in the manner of a Turkey-cock, by trailing his wings and raising and spreading his tail, humming all the time as before. When thus, with what I must call song and dance, the rites of Hymen have been duly performed, the male retires to his company, and the female to her’s ; nor is there any appearance (I have, at some cost,* had the birds watched most closely) of further or more enduring intimacy between the sexes than that just recorded, nor any evidence that the male ever lends his aid to the female in the tasks of incubation and of rearing the young. The procreative instinct having been satisfied, the female retires into deep grass cover and there, at the root of a thick tuft of grass, with very little semblance of a nest, she deposits two eggs, never more nor less, unless the first be destroyed. If the eggs be handled in her absence, she is sure to discover it and to destroy them herself. The eggs are of the size and shape of an ordinary domestic fowl's, but one sensibly larger and more richly coloured than the other. This larger and more highly tinted egg is that of the male young, the smaller and less richly hued egg, that of the female progeny. The female sits on her eggs about a month, and the young can follow her very soon after they chip the egg. In a month they are able to fly; and they remain with the mother for nearly a year, or till the procreative impulse again is felt by her, when she drives off the long since fully grown young. Two females commonly breed near each other, whether for company or mutual aid and help; and thus the coveys, so to speak, though they are not literally * Unhappily I lost a valuable man by malaria.
such, are usually found to consist of 4 to 6 birds. The Charj breeds but once a year in June, July. That is, the eggs are then laid, and the young hatched in July, August. The moults are two annually, one vernal from March till May, and the other autumnal, which is less complete and more speedily got over between August and October. The young males up to the beginning of March entirely resemble the females; but the moult then commencing gradually assimilates them to the adults, which never lose, as the lesser species or Likh* is alleged to do after the courting season, the striking black and white garb that in both species is proper to the male sex, and permanently so to the larger species from and after its 1st year of age. The young males of a year have the hackles and crest less developed than those graceful ornaments afterwards become, though otherwise after their moult there is little difference to be seen in them from the aspect of maturity. There is therefore properly speaking no nuptial dress in this species, though the hackles and crest in their most entire fulness of dimensions may be in part regarded as such. The Charj is a shy and wary bird, entirely avoiding fully peopled and fully cultivated districts, but not averse from the neighbourhood of a few scattered squatters whose patches of cultivation, particularly of the mustard plants (Rai, Tori, and Sarsún) are acceptable to the Charj as multiplying his chances of appropriate food. This exquisitely flavoured bird is a rather promiscuous feeder, small lizards, young snakes, insects of most sorts, but above all, locusts, and after them, grasshoppers and beetles, the sprouts and seeds and succulent runners of various grasses, berries, stony fruits, aromatic lactiferous leaves, and stems of various small plants, with mustard tops and other dainties, all contributing to its nourishment. The largest portion of its usual food is vegetals: but, when insects abound and especially locusts, they are almost exclusively eaten. Cerealia are eschewed : but plenty of hard seeded grasses and such like are taken, and a goodly portion of gravel to digest them. The Charj is seldom found in thick cover. When he is, he lies close, so that you may flush him at your foot; but in his ordinary haunts amid the scattered tufts of more open grassplats he can be neared with difficulty only, and No. 5 and a good heavy gun are required to bring him down at 40 to 60 yards' distance. IIis flight is strong, with a frequent, rapid, even, motion of the wings, and, if he be at all alarmed, it is seldom suspended under 2 to 300 yards, whilst not unfrequently it is continued so as to carry the bird wholly out of sight and pursuit. When flying the neck is extended before the body and the legs tucked up under it, whereas the whole family of the Herons fly with neck retracted over the back, and legs stretched out behind ; differences the rationale of which can as little be conjectured as the gyrations of the Dog ere he lays himself down to repose. The walk of the Charj, like that of the Heron, is firm and stately, easy and graceful: he can move a foot with much speed, and is habitually a great pedestrian, seldom using his powerful wings except to escape from danger, or to go to and from his feeding ground, at morn and eve, or to change it when he has exhausted a beat. This species is silent and tranquil, and seldom utters a sound, but if startled, its note is a shrill metallic clink, chik-chik, and the more ordinary note is the same but softer and somewhat plaintive. The amorous ditty of the male has already been mentioned. The female is silent on those occasions.
* Otis Auritus : fæm. fulvus : long confounded with the Charj and cited erroneously by that name even by Mr. Jerdon. Not half the size of the Charj, common in the western, rare in the eastern, Tarai, and visits the valley of Nepal in May, June, when the moult is just on.
Aspect, form, and size.-- The Charj or Dábar is a largish and very graceful bird, measuring 2 to 24 feet from tip of bill to tip of tail, and 31 to 4 feet in expanse of wings, and weighing 3 to 4 tbs. Bill to gape 21 inch, to brow 1}. Wing 14 inches. Tail 7. Tarse 6 to 6]. Central toe and nail 2. The bill is short and rasorial, or rather crane-like, (Anthopoides.) The eye, large and soft. The head depressed, and adorned, in the males, with a full pendant crest. The neck, long and thin, but in the males set off with a beautiful series of hackles or slender composed plumes depending from the whole front of the neck. The body is plump. The wings ample and firm. The tail, short, broad and rounded ; and the legs, long and suited to much walking. I will now give some more minute details which the incurious can pass over.
Bill to gape, equal to head, considerably depressed towards the base, and at the base twice as broad as high. Maxilla more than half excided by a large membranous and plumed fosse in which the elliptic nares are situated. Towards the tip the maxilla is rounded, full and hard, with its tip inclined and notched. Mandibula straight and entire. Gape ample, soft, smooth. Frontal plumes produced far over the bill. Crest full, dishevelled, pendant, 4 inches long. Hackles narrow, composed, 3 inches long, extending from the gullet to the breast. Wings ample, nearly equal to the tail, about one inch less; its end, firm, not bowed, 3rd or 4th quill longest; 1st and 2nd but slightly gradated. Primes somewhat acuminated in the males, but less so than in the Likh, and emarginated sharply high up on both webs. Tertials broad, soft, not discomposed, but exceeding the primes in length. Tail 16 plumes, moderately and evenly rounded, with upper coverts nearly equalling the plumes. Legs elevate, strong, reticulate throughout. Tibia half nude and about equal to the tarse. Toes short, stout, scutellate, full soled, united by a small basal membrane. Central toe much the largest. Laterals slightly unequal. Nails obtuse, strong, solid, pent or convex above, flat below.
Colours.--Male. Head, neck, and body below, glossy black. Back, scapulars, tertials next them, and tail-coverts richly marbled, cuneated and zigzaged with jet black upon a rich buff ground. Alars white. Their tips, shafts and external margins (in 3 quills) black; caudals black with white tips and more or less of buff mottling Legs sordid stramineous with a bluish tinge. Bill dusky plumbeous above. Blue grey below. Carneous towards the gape. Eye pale hazel.
Female. Of a rich buff or pale pure fulvous where the male is black. Her alars black, vermiculated more or less with buff. Her neck yet more minutely zigzaged crosswise with brown and her entire upper vest and tail, superbly cuneated, barred and zigzaged with a glorious game mixture of black and fulvous. On the cap the same hues, disposed lengthwise. Sexes of equal size.
Eggs.—The eggs, about the size of those of a bantam, two inches long by li broad, are of a sordid stramineous hue, very minutely dotted and more largely blotched and clouded with black, somewhat as in Lobivanellus goensis, or the Indian Lapwing.
Osteology-Sternum.--The entire form and substance of the breast bones indicate great powers of flight. The sternum is 4 inches long, 21 high and l} wide. Culmenally it describes a high convex curve with the edge of its keel, which is itself (the keel) no less than 1į inch deep. Posteally the sternum terminates gradually and has its walls or