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Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) - Wiki
Subject: Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) - Wiki
Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) hm.jpg
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Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) - Wiki

Himalayan Quail
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[Photo] Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa). A pair of Himalayan Quails. While the general depiction of the birds is correct, the body plumage of the male (left) was darker, an almost black slate grey. Painting of Mountain Quail Ophrysia superciliosa Hume and Marshall, Game birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon. 1880

The Himalayan Quail, Ophrysia superciliosa is a medium-sized quail belonging to the pheasant family. It was extremely rare and is feared extinct.

This species is known with certainty only from 2 locations in the western Himalayas in Uttarakhand, north-west India. The last verifiable record was in 1876, despite a number of searches, but its continued survival cannot be ruled out as it may be difficult to detect. The most recent unconfirmed reports are of a number of possible sightings around Nainital in 2003.

From Frank Finn's The Game Birds of India & Asia (1911):
    The Mountain quail???so called, for it is the least quail-like of all these little birds???is rather larger than the common grey quail, with a decidedly long tail for a bird of the kind, this appendage being fully as long as or longer than any ordinary partridge's, although all but covered above and below by thelong tail-coverts. The general feathering is also of a long type, but the wings are decidedly short, and the colouring will at once distinguish the bird from any other of the family. The cock and hen, though neither is brilliantly coloured, are absolutely unlike each other, the former being slate-grey, tinged with olive above, and with black edgings to the sides of the feathers, a black, head streaked with white, and black under-tail-coverts spotted with white; while the latter is brown, spotted with black centres to the feathers and the face a sort of pinkish grey.

    Remnants of the young plumage on some specimens in the British Museum seem to show that both sexes when young have a garb of closely mottled black, brown and buff, so that they might easily be passed over as of no particular account if the comparatively large tail were not noticed.

    The bill is red, bright coral in the male and dusky in the female, and the legs are dull red. In a pair kept in England the bill and legs were yellow. The length is about ten inches, with the tail three, the wing being only three and-a-half, and the shank one.

    The mountain quail was described in 1846 by J. E. Gray from living specimens in the fine collection of the Earl of Derby at Knowsley Hall, and he gave the locality as " India" with a query. Nothing more was heard of it till 1865, when Kenneth Mackinnon shot a pair in November, in a hollow between Budraj and Benog, behind Mussoorie, at about 6,000 feet elevation. Again, in November, but two years later, at least one party established themselves at Jerepani, and remained till the summer of 1868; and five specimens were procured. Then, in December 1876, Major G. Carwithen got one bird on the eastern slopes of Sher-ka-danda, close to Naini Tal, at an elevation of 7,000 feet. No specimens have turned up since. It seems to be a migratory bird, arriving in winter, although its small wings look ill-adapted for a journey of any length. It goes in single pairs or coveys, and keeps close to cover in grass jungle or brushwood, being almost impossible to flush without a dog. Its flight is heavy, slow, and short; its food, grass seeds. The call is a shrill whistle. Anyone coming across these birds again should do his best to secure a living pair or two, and either breed from them himself??? which could probably be done in the hills in a well-grassed run???or send them Home to the London Zoological Gardens or down to the Calcutta Gardens. In this way eggs might be obtained, whereas we are likely to wait a long time for them if we look to the discovery of a nest in the wild state in the case of such a rare and erratic bird as this one appears to be.
W. T. Blanford in the Fauna of British India, Birds (volume 4) writes:
    Male: Forehead and broad superciliary stripe white; sides of head, chin and throat, and a band above each white supercilium black, with a silky-white spot in front of the eye and another behind it, and a whitish band, more or less broken and sometimes indistinct, running back from beneath the eye ; crown pale brownish grey with black shaft-stripes ; nearly the whole upper and lower plumage dark brownish grey with black lateral margins to the feathers ; lower tail-coverts black, tipped and spotted on both webs with white ; quills and tail-feathers uniform, brown.

    Younger males have buff mottling on the wings.

    Females are cinnamon-brown throughout, the sides of the head with a greyish tinge, a small white speck before and a larger one behind the eye ; chin and throat whitish ; some of the crown and all the nape-feathers with black shaft-stripes that pass into triangular black spots bordered with buff on the back, scapulars, rump, and upper tail-coverts : wing-coverts, lower back, rump, and upper tail-coverts much mottled with buff ; quills brown mottled with buff, especially on the outer webs ; tail-feathers black, mottled with buff towards the edges, and with buff cross-bars near the shafts : breast, abdomen, and lower tail-coverts paler than the upper parts, with lanceolate black spots.

    Bill coral-red in the male, dusky red in the female : legs dull red (Hutton).

    Length about 10 ; tail 3 ; wing 3.5 ; tarsus 1 ; bill from gape .6 inches.

    The birds near Mussoorie as observed by Hut ton and others occurred in small coveys of six to ten, that kept to high grass and scrub, fed on seeds of grass, were difficult to flush, and had a shrill whistling note when flushed. They appeared to arrive about November, but in one case stayed as late as June, after which they disappeared.

Specimens and records
Specimens are known from

Uttar Pradesh Mussoorie (1936, 2 specimens, type locality)
5 km to the north-west of Mussorie, between Badraj and Benog, 1,850 m. (November 1865, 1 specimen, 1 lost)
Jhuripani, 5 km to the south of Mussorie, c.1,650 m (November - June 1867/68 or 1896/70, 4 specimens total)
Eastern slopes of Sherkadanda near Nainital, 2,100 m (December 1876, 1 specimen)

One extant pre-1950 specimen and several lost ones of an unknown date are from undetermined locations.

Unconfirmed records are from

Dailekh district of Nepal (circumstantial, 1952, see below)
East Kumaon near Lohagat village (circumstantial, 1952)
Jhuripani (seen, 1970)
Near Suwakholi in the Mussoorie hills (seen, late 1970s, 1984)
Northeastern India? (seen, 1993)
Nainital, Kumaon Hills (seen, 2003)

Sidney Dillon Ripley (1952) records a local bird name sano kalo titra ("small black/dusky partridge") from in the Dailekh district of Nepal. The only bird from the general area that seems to fit such a description would be a male Himalayan Quail.

All records of the Himalayan Quail are in the altitude range of 1,650 to 2,400 m. They were seen in patches of tall grass ("high jungle grass", "tall seed-grass", see terai) and brushwood on steep hillsides, particularly on the crests of south- or east-facing slopes. Probably bred around September. The June specimen is a yearling male in moult.

A. O. Hume (Stray Feathers 9 [1880 or 1881]: 467-471) suggested that it was similar in habit to the Manipur Bush-quails Perdicula manipurensis in that they were seen very rarely, except at dawn or dusk, keeping to tall grassland, relying on legs rather than wings for escape and never flying except when very closely approached. The fluffy, soft plumage suggests adaptation to cold temperatures; it has been suggested that the birds migrated north and uphill in the summer months at the higher mountains, but shape and size of wings do not suggest a bird flying long distances.

Recent Indian records seem unlikely given that the area is well populated, the habitat extensively altered by human activity, and recent surveys have not located birds. Tourism is a key economic factor of the region, so it seems unlikely that these birds could escape the eyes of observers. However there is no evidence and the habitat available here is no longer suitable due to the population pressure. The early 1990s "sightings" seem to have been based on a misidentification; the habitat type in the area in question is different (conifer forest) anyway.

Judging from the species' known distribution and habitat requirements, it is entirely possible that it was present in Nepal too or even still is. As most of the local population is vegetarian for religious reasons and habitat destruction has not been as pronounced as in neighboring India, Western Nepal is the most likely place for a remnant population of the Himalayan Quail to exist today. However, due to Ripley's reference only coming to attention a few years ago and the district being a common scene of clashes between the CPN(M) - which has a long-standing presence in the area - and government forces (see Nepal Civil War) and thus not safe for foreigners, there has been no attempt to follow up on this record. With the CPN(M), despite its Maoist ideology, being rather tolerant of local beliefs and customs and habitat destruction being comparatively slight (the only threat would be unsustainable collecting of firewood and some hunting activity by guerilla and Army forces), a remaining population of this species - if it indeed still exists there - is probably not under immediate threat of extinction.
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