|Searching for Mountain Quails, Ophrysia superciliosa|
Ingo Rieger & Doris Walzthöny
(1993; loaded on the internet:
1 Introduction and important questions
2 Shortage of information on Mountain Quails
3 Taxonomy, evolutionary relationships
4 Geographical names and synonyms
5 Specimens at scientific collections
5.1 Known specimens
5.2 Missing and unknown specimens
5.3 The last living Mountain Quail
6 Morphology and colouration
6.1 The Mountain Quail Picture
6.6 Body Posture
6.9 Bill and leg colouration
6.10 The tail underside signal
7 Geographical and altitudinal range
7.1 Why two separated ranges?
7.2 Vertical distribution
8.1 Security Behaviour
8.2 Technophoby - retreat from human neighbourhood
Thermoregulation - protection from unfavourable temperature
8.4 Social Organization
8.6 Seasonal migration - Yes or No?
9.3 Conclusions concerning Mountain Quail habitats
10 A threatened Mountain Quail population - Why is it rare or extinct?
11 Searching for living Mountain Quails
11.1 Unconfirmed Mountain Quail sightings
11.2 Previous searching expeditions
11.3 Our expedition in 1989
12 How to continue?
12.1 Searching for Mountain Quail specimens in private collections
12.2 Searching for Mountain Quails in the Himalayas
12.3 Proposals for searching in the field
12.4 Identification of specimens
12.5 First steps after 1989
Key words: Mountain
Quail, Himalayas, extinct species, threatened species, re-discovery
In 1988, Mr Hari Dang invited us to come to India and to help him searching for Mountain Quails that were last seen 1876 near Nainital. We decided to spend some three months in India on this project. We tried to prepare ourself in the best possible way. The following were the main step in our preparation:
(1) We studied all Mountain Quail references we could find.
(2) One of us visited the British Museum (Natural History) and studied its five Mountain Quail specimens.
We stayed from 4th till 14th of November 1989 near Mussoorie (i.e. one of the two areas where Mountain Quails were shot in the last century) and from 2nd till 7th of December 1989 near Nainital (i.e. the second area where Mountain Quails were shot in the last century). We also visited Bombay and talked with scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and exchanged information on Mountain Quails (Rieger & Walzthöny 1989).
Science lacks any indication that Mountain Quails lived after 1876, when the last was shot above Nainital on the slopes of Sherkadanda. But so-called "unconfirmed sightings" kept the desire to re-discover this species burning. To the best of our knowledge, none of these "unconfirmed sightings" was ever confirmed. We have the strong feeling that the results of the various Mountain Quail expeditions were rarely filed in a paper or manuscript and made available to others who have an interest in the subject. Thus, it is easily possible that during our visit, we climbed the same steep slopes of Sherkadanda, Banog, Badraj and other, maybe nameless hills as other Mountain Quail searchers did months or years ago. Only in 1993, Talwar kindly sent us copies to two reports of Mountain Quail surveys (Sankaran 1990, Negi 1992).
The main goals of the present paper are
to review all biological data of the species and to make our findings,
observations, assumptions, hypothesises and questions on Mountain Quails
available to those colleagues that already have spent time, money and energy
in a Mountain Quail re-discovery project or will do this in some future
Perhaps there is one major difference in our attitudes as compared to that of colleagues who were searching for Mountain Quails for years and decades: We think that our colleagues looked for the birds or traces of them. We did this also at the very beginning of our task. But soon, we changed our mind and started to look for clues that could answer the important question "Why were Mountain Quails no longer seen since 1876?". By collecting answers to this question, we came to postulate a hypothesis concerning areas where the species might have survived.
The natural history of Mountain Quails is a history of insufficient knowledge and more than enough assumptions. It starts with the species's name (table 1), the number of specimens in scientific collections and the date, when the last animal was seen alive (table 2). It continues with its description and meager reports on the behaviour of the species. It culminates in so-called un-confirmed sightings. Of course, only (until now) nine available specimens collected more than one hundred years ago do not provide books full of species specific data. But, as we show here, the available data helps to qualify some of the most unprobably assumptions and might help to channel future re-discovering activities into more hopeful directions.
Gray (1846) described the species first under the English name "Eyebrowed Rollulus", which is the English translation of the scientific name Rollulus superciliosus. Gray did not present his reasons why he put this new species into the genus Rollulus. Maybe some small crown feathers on the head of the male helped establishing a relationship to the Crested Wood Partridges, Rollulus roulroul. But at closer look, these so called crown feathers are feathers from the base of the bill. Ali (1977) describes them as bristle-like feathers. The species name superciliosus refers to the typical superciliary markings in both male and female Mountain Quails.
According to G. F. Mees from
RVNH at Leiden (pers. comm. 6th february 1990), the Leiden specimen (fig.
1) carries two labels, one of them with the scientific name Ortiga
superciliosa, the second and newer label gives the scientific name
Ophrysia superciliosa, together with the information in French on
the date: "avant 1850". The term Ophrysia superciliosa appears in
a publication by the French scientist Bonaparte (1856), where he reports
from a tour through several Natural History Museums of central Europe.
During this tour, he stayed for nine months at the RVNH. He was the first
to use the term Ophrysia superciliosa. Again, we found no clues
telling us why Bonaparte introduced a new genus for the Mountain Quails.
The English zoologist Edward Blyth (1867a, b) probably did not know the paper by Bonaparte (1856). But when examining Mountain Quails at the Hume collection, he seemingly felt the same as Bonaparte, took the Mountain Quails out of the genus Rollulus and gave them the new generic names Malacoturnix (1867a) and later Malacortyx (1867b). Mala is greek and means cheek. Maybe Blyth wanted to stress that Mountain Quails have a set of facial markings: beside the eyebrow marking ("superciliaris"), they also have markings on their cheeks.
The German terms "Hangwachtel" (= slope quail) and "Bergwachtel" (= mountain quail) are probably older than 1970. We believe that these terms were already used in earlier editions of Raethel (1988).
We feel that the French term "ophrysia de l'Himalaya" was never used by the public but was translated by a scientist.
Ripley (1952) mentions a local name from the Dailekh District in Nepal: sano kalo titra. T. K. Shrestha (pers. comm. 1991) translated it into "small black partridge".
Gray (1846), describing Mountain Quails for the first time scientifically, places them together with the Crested Wood Partridges into the genus Rollulus. Gould (1883) believes in a close alliance to the See-See-Partridges, Ammoperdix. Ogilvie-Grant (1896) calls the Mountain Quail a pygmy pheasant and assumes a close relationship to the Blood Pheasants, Ithaginis. Ripley (1952) puts the Mountain Quails close to the Blood-Pheasants Ithaginis and Spurfowl, Galloperdix. Boetticher (1958) believes Mountain Quails to be related to the spurfowl, Galloperdix. Johnsgard (1988) thinks that Mountain Quails are closely related to Bush Quails, Perdicula (Johnsgard includes the genus Cryptoplectron into Perdicula). Ali (1977) also believes that Mountain Quails are closely related to Bush Quails, Perdicula, and Blood Pheasants, Ithaginis, due to a short stout bill and stiff bristle-like feathers on the forehead, features common in all three genera Ithaginis, Perdicula and Ophrysia.
Mussoorie area: Badraj (west of A3), Budraj, Banog (north west of A3), Benug, Benong, Jharipani (EF7), Jerepani, Jarriepanee, Mussoorie, Mussooree, Mussouree, Masuri, Missouree
Nainital area: Naini Tal, Nainital, Sherkadanda (GH6), Sher-ka-Danda, Sher ka Danda
We know of the following Mountain Quail specimens shot and presented to scientific collections all over the world (table 2).
Hume & Marshall (1879-1881)
mention a total of ten Mountain Quail specimens. We found a certain discrepancy
in their information: they say that five out of the total of ten specimens
are in their collection. Another discrepancy concerns the collection date
of the Mountain Quails shot around Jharipani. Hume & Marshall (1879-1881:106f)
once refer to shooting dates in 1869 and 1870. Later, when citing Captain
Hutton, they write of the years 1867 and 1868. We do not assume that there
were two sets of Mountain Quails, one set shot in the years 1867-1868,
the other shot in 1869-1870. Instead, we think that there was only one
set shot: the specimens that we numbered #1869 to #1870.
5.2 Missing and unknown specimens
Where is the missing specimen #1865b from
Hume's collection? Where is Colonel Tytler's collection (Hume & Marshall
1879-1881) now? What is the origin of the Tytler specimen?
Ogilvie-Grant (1896) mentions "less than a dozen" as the total number of Mountain Quail specimens collected in scientific museums. Ali & Ripley (1968-1974) repeat this statement and in the same sentence clarify their information and speak of ten specimens. Unfortunately, they give no details to the whereabouts of these specimens. Greenway (1958) knows of specimens at Liverpool, London and New York. During our investigation, we were able to increase the number of widely known Mountain Quail specimens: we came across the Leiden specimen (#1850, table 2, fig. 1).
5.3 The last living Mountain Quail
According to our information, the last Mountain Quail was shot at Nainital in 1876 (Carwithen). But references of the last living Mountain Quail in the wild is irritating:
- Greenway (1958:201) says that "this species has not been found since June 1868".
- Johnsgard (1988:214) follows Greenway and states the "last reliably reported about 1868". But later, he mentions the 1876 specimen from Nainital!
- On a label of a size of several square metres at the rickshaw stand at Nainital, we found another wrong information concerning the last Mountain Quail. On this label, the Nainital Mountaineering Club informs the reader that the last Mountain Quail was shot on Sherkadanda in 1882 (fig. 2).
Mountain Quails are in size intermediate to Grey Partridges or Grey Francolins, Francolinus pondicerianus, and Common Quails, Coturnix coturnix (table 3).
Mountain Quails have comparatively small wings (fig. 12). The wing length is about 35 percent of the total body-tail-length. On the other hand, the Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix, has wings with a length between 60 and 65 percent of the total body-tail-length. Even the Grey Partridge or Grey Francolin, Francolinus pondicerianus, has wings ranging in length between 43 and 49 percent of the total body-tail-length.
As we cannot study Mountain Quails in the wild, we cannot directly answer questions about their flying ability. We rely on indirect methods. One is to compare relative wing size of Mountain Quails with relative species of which we know more about their flying ability.
The Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix,
is the only migratory quail species. It thus is a good flyer. Its relative
wing size is twice as long (60 to 65 percent) as that of Mountain Quails
(35 percent). We thus assume that Mountain Quails are bad flyers. This
assumption corresponds with observations of Mackinnon, Hutton and Carwithen.
Mountain Quail leg length is about 10 percent of the body-tail-length. According to Blanford (1898), the tarsus is shorter than the middle toe (table 4).
The toe pads are flat. In some specimens, the dorsal scales of the tarsus have black rims. The legs have a brown-red colouration, in some specimens we found small yellow spots on the toe scales.
The foot of Mountain Quail is anisodactyl. The examined specimens exhibit thin and long toes with long and thin but not much curved and not too flat claws. Since the first toe and the claws are comparatively long, the foot of Mountain Quails corresponds to the typical walker-runner-foot as found in domestic chickens, Gallus domesticus, and jungle fowl, Gallus bankiva.
A typical walker-runner-foot has short distal phalangi, whereas a typical walker-strider-foot, the distal phalangi are hardly shortened. For further knowledge on the type and precise function the Mountain Quail foot, we need exact measurements of the proximal and distal phalangi of all toes to be able to estimate the ratio between them. According to Blechschmidt (1929), this ratio points either to a walker-runner-foot (proximal to distal ~ 4) or to a walker-strider-foot (proximal to distal ~ 2).
The Mountain Quail tail consists of 10 rectrices (Blanford 1898, Johnsgard 1988) 80 to 82 mm long (Baker 1928). Ali (1977) states that the Mountain Quail tail is long. The Mountain Quail tail length is between 25 and 33 percent of the body-tail-length. In Common Quails, Coturnix coturnix, relative tail length is about 15 to 23 percent, and in Grey Partridges or Grey Francolins, Francolinus pondicerianus, the same value ranges from 23 to 28 percent (fig. 12).
We know of two major functions of long tails. A long tail
- allows a bird precise flight navigation,
- can be used in display behaviours.
Only further investigations on the behaviour of Mountain Quails can help answering questions on the function of the long tail of this species.
6.6 Body Posture
We are aware of the fact that all artists drawing Mountain Quails had to rely on museum specimens and on meager descriptions on wild ones. It does not astonish when the birds are drawn in different body postures (figures 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
We assume that Mountain Quails - like other terrestrial animals - adopt a posture where their centre of gravity is most stable. In their typical habitat, the steep slopes of the Himalayas, Mountain Quails must take care not to lose their equilibrium. Under these circumstances, an animal reaches greatest standing stability when
- its centre of gravity is close to the ground, and
- all parts of the body are close to the vertical line passing through the centre of gravity.
This leads to a body posture that can best
be described as "ball on short legs". Among Mountain Quail relatives, we
know the Rock Partridge, Alectoris graeca, to adopt exactly this
6.7.1 Shape and Colouration
Blanford (1898) describes the plumage over the whole Mountain Quail body as long and soft and interprets this as an adaptation to a cold climate. Greenway (1958) too speaks of long feathers. In addition, he uses the adjectives "lanceolate" and "decomposed" to describe the shape of Mountain Quail feathers. Johnsgard (1988) repeats the description of the lanceolate body feather and adds that they are soft and lax.
Until now, we do not have any quantitative
details on feather length. When we studied the specimens
at the BM(NH), we did not measure the feathers. In order to support
or reject Blanford's idea, we should know more about feather characteristics.
6.7.2 "Decomposed" feathers
Greenway (1958) used the adjective "decomposed"
when describing Mountain Quails feathers. The only "decomposed" feathers
that we saw personally in the various specimens of Mountain Quails, or
on slides of others, are a few remarkable feathers on the ventral surface.
These feathers have at first sight a down like structure and seem to be
longer than the surrounding contour feathers. Only further investigations
can answer the questions whether these feathers are really down feathers
or contour feathers with a specific morphology. We believe that these feathers
have something to do with the Mountain Quail's thermoregulation.
The sub-adult male shot in June 1870 (table
2) was in molt. This is the only information we have on the Mountain Quail
molt. But searching for Mountain Quails during and immediately after the
molt could be a good solution, as molted feathers could be found. We mentioned
above that Mountain Quail contour and wing feathers have a species specific
shape and colouration.
6.9 Bill and leg colouration
In the Mountain Quail literature, there is an interesting, but also irritating discussion on the bill and leg colouration. We found three different bill and leg colours:
- In the description of the type specimens, Gray (1846) writes of yellow legs. The coloured drawings added to his description also shows them with yellow bills and legs.
- Hutton describes the male's bill as "corral red" and the legs and feet as "dull red or dusky red", the female's bill as "dusky red" and the legs as "dull red".
- Hume, while looking at the specimens in his private collection, did probably not fully agree with this description for he added the information he received from Major Carwithen. The latter described the bill and legs of a freshly shot female as "bright pink".
With one exception (Robbins 1981), all authors writing of Mountain Quail bill colours copied Hutton's statement (Ogilvie-Grant 1896, Blanford 1898, Baker 1928, Ali 1941/1964, Greenway 1958, Ali & Ripley 1968-1974, Fuller 1987, Johnsgard 1988, Raethel 1988).
The five specimens at the BM(NH) that we saw in August 1989 all had yellow bills and red legs. Why did until now no author discuss this peculiar discrepancy of the bill colouration? The discussion of the Mountain Quail bill colouration has several aspects which need verification. Several more or less close relatives to Mountain Quails have red bills and legs: Chukar Partridge, Alectoris chukar, Arabian Red-legged Partridge, A. melanoleuca, Red-legged Partridge, A. rufa, Barbary Partridge, A. barbara, Red-billed Francolin, Francolinus adspersus, Scaly Francolin, F. squamatus, Cape Francolin, F. capensis, Jackson's Francolin, F. jacksoni, Crested Wood Partridge, Rollulus roulroul, Painted Bush Quail, Cryptoplectron erythrorhynchum, Common Helmeted Guineafowl, Numida meleagris galeata.
Professor S. Peters (pers. comm. 20. July 1990) kindly informed us of colour changes in some of the above mentioned specimens:
- In nearly all museum specimens, the upper bill remains darker than the lower bill.
- Legs are usually brownish.
- There is no obvious correlation between the age of the museum specimen and the colouration.
- Peters believes that the preparation techniques has a greater influence on the later bill and leg colour than has the time.
Assuming that living Mountain Quails have a red coloured bill, what was the red like? In the literature, we find two colour shades: "coral red" (Hutton) and "bright pink" (Carwithen). We believe that Carwithen's "pink" is not similar to the pink of the Pink Panther animated motion picture figure. The latter's kind of pink is a red shade with practically no yellow traces in it. Such a colour shade cannot exist in a bird's bill that has a yellow or horny brown ground colour. Thus we think that Carwithen used the term "pink" in the same way as it is used with the Rajastan capital Jaipur, also called "the pink city" (Crowther et al. 1987). The pink coloured sandstone used for constructing buildings in Jaipur has a yellow component.
No doubt, if there are traces
of red in the bills of Mountain Quails, the colour is due to the red haemoglobin
molecule. If the assumed red colouration of the bills is due to blood circulating
in cavities on the surface of the horny bill, then one can imagine the
colouration of the bill can change according to momentary or seasonally
changes. This could account for differences in the bill colouration not
only between the sexes, but also between individuals observed at different
times of the year and between individuals of different health condition.
6.10 The tail underside signal
Male Mountain Quails have a very typical and unique colouration on the ventral part of their tails: a very prominent spot in black and white. During most of the time, this spot cannot be seen by conspecifics or other animals of the same or greater size. We can think of two possible circumstances where this spot with a very high optical contrast is displayed:
- Mountain Quail males used it during some social interactions like courtship
- this spot is a "follow-me" signal that comes into function when the Mountain Quails flush. When a male Mountain Quail flushes, other individuals below can see this spot with a high contrast. It works in the same way as similar displays in deer and antelopes (white disk or "Spiegel" around tail base).
Nothing supports the idea
that a security signal is only present in half of an animal population
as the signal in question in male Mountain Quails. We thus assume that
this prominent colouration is a social signal probably used in the male
Mountain Quail specimens originate from
two places in the "Lesser Himalayas": Mussoorie and Nainital. Both places
are in the "Lesser Himalayas", i.e. in a geographical area with altitudes
from 1000 to 3500 metres (Anonymus 1989a). Mussoorie and Nainital are separated
by a distance of some 180 kilometres.
7.1 Why two separated ranges?
Why were Mountain Quails shot on two places that are separated by a distance of 180 kilometres? We did not find the slightest evidence in the Mountain Quail literature that gave an answer to this question. But we are of the opinion that this is the most important questions in the whole Mountain Quail re-discovery project. Convincing explanations of the development of these two separated geographical ranges might help in planning future re-discovery activities.
We present two different models that can explain how Mountain Quails came to this splitted geographical range. For model 1, we focus the attention to a geographical fact, a fact concerning the development of the human population in the Lesser Himalayas and assume a Mountain Quail behaviour pattern (Rieger & Walzthöny 1992). For model 2, we assume ecological changes.
Our models take the following facts into consideration:
- Within the small spectrum of Mountain Quail specimens at scientific collections, there are no morphological tendencies of a splitting into two or more isolated populations. Instead, the specimens all look alike. This supports the assumption that the Mountain Quail individuals in the two ranges are not genetically isolated, but had until recently (or still have) genetical contacts that prevents formation of subspecies.
- While visiting Mussoorie and Nainital and the neighbourhood of these two places, we got the impression that the peaks and hills close to these two hill stations are higher than the peaks and hills farther away.
- Mussoorie was founded by Captain Young in 1827. In this year, he built a military camp in Landour (275 metres above Mussoorie) and a building, nowadays the premises of Mulligar Hotel. Before, the Mussoorie area was inhabited by very few farmers (Anonymus 1989b). Nainital experienced a similar development as Mussoorie: an English businessman, Mr P. Barron, during a hunting journey in 1839 came to Nainital. Three years later, the first bungalows were constructed (Anonymus 1989a).
- Mussoorie and Nainital both are on top of the "first 2000 metres ridge of the Lesser Himalayas". The Ganges river crosses this ridge in a deep gorge-like valley near Rishikesh, at an altitude around 400 metres above sea level (Crowther et al. 1987).
We assume that a few Mountain Quail generations ago, there was one great Mountain Quail population covering most of the Lesser Himalayas, from west of Mussoorie to east of Nainital, not only on the top altitudes around 2000 metres but also on lower altitudes (maybe as low as the Ganges gorge at an altitude of 400 metres). In recent times, some changes in the environment of Mountain Quails forced the animals to retreat into higher altitudes (fig. 13).
Model 1 - retreat from humans: Model 1 is based on two assumptions: (1) Mountain Quails are technophobic. (2) Mountain Quails cannot fly long distances. We present our reasons for these assumption in the chapter on Behaviour.
From the eight century onward, the human population in the Lesser Himalayas increased rapidly due to invasions from the plains. Plain inhabitants retreated from muslim invaders into the mountains (Pathak 1988). The technophobic and badly flying Mountain Quails, on their turn, retreated from humans into areas where disturbance by humans and livestock was rare: as human pressure came from lower altitudes, they could only retreat to higher altitudes. Hills and peaks in the Lesser Himalayas are rarely higher than 2400 metres. Like water in a lake, the surface of the "sea of human influence" climbed up. Mountain Quails unable to "dive into the sea of human influence" saved themselves on the few peaks towering like islands above the "sea of human influence". But as the centuries passed by, the surface raised and the islands became smaller and smaller. Consequently, Mountain Quails had less and less living space and finally disappeared when humans constructed terrace fields up to the top of the peaks.
Model 2 - following vegetation belts: During pleistocene, vast parts of earth surface were covered by ice. The Lesser Himalayas are no exception to this rule (Kuhle 1986, 1988). High altitudes were still under an ice mantle when low altitudes already saw flourishing vegetation. Thus parallel to the growth or retreat of the glaciers, during pleistocene, vast parts of earth surface were covered by ice. High altitudes were still under an ice mantle when low altitudes already saw flourishing vegetation. Thus parallel to the growth or retreat of the glaciers, vegetation belts moved over different altitudes.
Within this model, we assume that Mountain Quails, being adapted to a certain vegetation belt, changed their area during pleistocene. During heavy glaciation, Mountain Quails lived in their appropriate vegetation belt which was at comparatively low altitudes. At that time, the Mountain Quail area was practically not interrupted by rivers, gorges or other form of barriers. During warmer periods as well as at the end of pleistocene, the glaciers retreated to higher altitudes. Parallel to the increasing mean temperature, the vegetation belt used by Mountain Quails moved to higher altitudes and the before big, uninterrupted area splitted into several smaller parts, each one on the slope of Himalayan peak. The lower altitude changed to a vegetation unfavourable to Mountain Quails. Thus, the lower altitudes were no longer used by Mountain Quails and the before uninterrupted area splitted into different sub-areas.
The Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus, at least follows the above described model. Its area is splitted into several sub-areas, due to changes of vegetation during glaciation.
Both these models have in common a force that pressed Mountain Quails from lower altitude upwards. These two forces
- density of human population
- vegetation belt
are not in contradiction,
but easily can sum up their effects.
7.2 Vertical distribution
Of most Mountain Quail specimens, we do not know the exact altitudes where they were shot. Additionally, it is unfortunate that the maps of Mussoorie, Nainital and Uttar Pradesh (Survey of India 1968, 1973, 1975) do not give altitude information. We thus rely on other sources in our overview of the Mountain Quail altitude range (table 5)
We have not visited Jharipani. But we photographed this peak while staying at Mussoorie. On examining the slides, we believe that Jharipani peak is higher than 1675 metres. Thus the altitude mentioned on the label of the museum specimens most probably refers to the altitude where the Mountain Quails were actually shot.
During our visit to the areas where Mountain Quails were shot in the last century, we noticed that the typical vegetation in the immediate shooting vicinities is also found in other areas at lower altitudes. Only seen from the point of view of vegetation, we are convinced that Mountain Quails find habitats to live in also at altitudes as low as 1000 metres. But this assumption needs support: more data on the actual vertical distribution of vegetation belts as well as on the belt movements caused by climatic changes e.g. during pleistocene is of greatest importance.
Two more aspects concerning vertical distribution needs mentioning:
- The two areas where Mountain Quails were shot in the last century are "altitudinal islands": the hills around Mussoorie as well as those around Nainital are higher as the hills in the neighbourhood.
- None of the Mountain Quails were shot in a valley. Instead, all shooting places are located on slopes or tops of hills or ridges.
The next Mountain Quail re-discovery expeditions
should take these findings into account.
All descriptions of Mountain Quail behaviour
are based on observations by the three people (Carwithen, Hutton, Mackinnon)
who shot hunted these birds and provided some information on the species'
behaviour. It is the merit of Hume that some hints of Mountain Quail behaviour
is recorded. These behaviour descriptions were copied by later authors.
And sometimes, the copying was not very exact. We thus rely only on the
8.1 Security Behaviour
The colouration of Mountain Quails is a
typical camouflage colouration. Females with their brownish main colour
are best covered in a habitat with dry grass. Males with their grayish
colour (Gould 1883) described them as "slate coloured") are best covered
in a habitat with interspersed stones.
8.1.2 Crouching behaviour
The typical Mountain Quail colouration
has camouflage quality only when the animals keep themselves motionless
in case of danger. Only then, females optically disappear in dry grass
and males are mistaken for stones. In fact, all Mountain Quail observations
agree that these animals practically do not flush but instead remain motionless
in cases of danger. They crouch until nearly trodden upon.
8.1.3 Flushing - Flying Behaviour - Protection from predators
Mackinnon describes the flight of Mountain Quails as "slow and heavy". Hutton reports an escape behaviour of a group of apparently young Mountain Quails "refusing to take wing, and only running among the long high grass when pressed, and allowing themselves to be nearly trodden upon before they will move".
Based on the original behaviour descriptions, Ripley (1952:905) characterized the Mountain Quail as "primarily a runner, not a flyer". We agree with Ripley concerning the flying ability of Mountain Quails. But describing them as "runners" is, to our opinion, a bit far fetched. A good runner has usually comparatively long legs and feet. But this is not the case with Mountain Quails. They explicitly have short legs. We assume that Mountain Quails have a limited mobility. They are neither skilled flyers nor skilled runners but good walkers.
There are several reasons why a small, badly flying bird should prefer steep slopes as habitat (fig. 14):
- In cases of emergencies caused by terrestrial predators, this bird needs only a few wing strokes to get out of reach of these predators.
- On steep slopes, Mountain Quails are practically save from attacks from long legged predators like wolves or jackals. These animals have their centre of gravity comparatively high above ground which causes balance difficulties on uneven grounds. Thus they do not like to move on steep slopes.
- For a badly flying bird, living on slopes
without high growing vegetation provides another advantage: Slopes with
big trees ask for some navigation abilities whereas slopes with only small
vegetation allows a flushing bird to escape ground vicinity without great
8.2 Technophoby - retreat from human neighbourhood
Hediger (1961:42) referred with the term "Technophoby" -"Kulturflüchter" in German - to animal species with negative attitudes towards technical objects. The opposite "technophily" - in German "Kulturfolger" - is translated to English as "commensals of civilization" and refers to animals species which have extended their habitat in the presence of man (Heymer 1977).
In the Mountain Quail area, we have two parallel developments of technical influences:
Mussoorie: The first Mountain Quail was shot around Mussoorie in 1865, the last one five years later, in 1870. In 1827, Captain Young founded Mussoorie. Before, the hill-folk lived in the area of Mussoorie in small villages scattered over the hills (Anonymus 1989b). Today, Mussoorie has some 20'000 inhabitants (Crowther et al. 1987).
Nainital: Near Nainital, the only specimen was shoot in 1876. In 1839, the English businessman Mr P. Barron came to Nainital while hunting. In 1842, Mr Barron built the first dozen bungalows which became the nucleus of the future summer capital and residence of the Governor of the United Provinces, the name for Uttar Pradesh during British rule (Anonymus 1989a). Today, Nainital has some 28'000 inhabitants (Crowther et al. 1987).
The last Mountain Quail was seen around 35 years after foundation of either places.
Hume & Marshall (1879-1881) were the first who drew attention to a possible technophobic behaviour of Mountain Quails. They stressed the observation that Mountain Quails stay around Mussoorie and Nainital only at the season when these hill stations were nearly deserted.
In the literature, we found only one single item which could create some doubts concerning our "technophoby theory": Captain Hutton reported that from November 1867 till June 1868, a covey of Mountain Quails lived close to his house on Jharipani (Hume & Marshall 1879-1881).
We do not believe that Mountain Quails still live around Mussoorie and Nainital and have never been seen for more that one hundred years, although
- several searching activities have taken place in the mean time (see below),
- a big advertisement sign at Nainital informs the local people of the searching intentions (fig. 2), and
- local people inhabit and move practically daily on every ridge, hill and mountain in the (former) Mountain Quail area.
If the species has survived, someone would
have seen it and made a report of his observation.
8.3 Thermoregulation - protection from unfavourable temperature
Mountain Quails are comparatively small
animals. Thus they suffer from a comparatively great loss of body temperature
because of the unfavourable ratio of body volume to body surface: the Mountain
Quail body volume is small as compared to the body surface over which the
animal looses energy to its environment. Furthermore, Mountain Quails live
at high altitudes where especially night temperatures fall low. Then they
suffer from additional temperature losses.
8.3.1 Morphological adaptations to cold habitat
Studying slides from the specimens of the BM(NH) in order to do scientific drawings, Miss Jeanne Peter pointed out that in all specimens, comparatively long, down-like feathers are visible on the ventral surface, proximal to the legs. Jeanne Peter first of all wanted to know whether we expect these feathers to be visible in standing bird being looked at from the side.
Taking the size of these feathers into account, we are convinced that these remarkable feathers must be clearly visible in a lateral view of a standing Mountain Quail. This is actually true in the only stuffed specimen, today at Leiden (table 2, fig. 1). We believe that these feathers have a thermoregulatory function by covering the proximal parts of the legs. Additionally, these down-like feathers increase thermic isolation of the legs in sitting and lying Mountain Quails.
We cannot definitely say whether these feather are remarkably long down feathers or contour feathers with a special shape. Further investigations on these feathers might clear this point. Maybe that Greenway (1958) talking of "decomposed" feathers was thinking of these feathers.
Beside these specific isolating feathers
on the ventral surface, the contour feathers of Mountain Quails are said
to be relatively long and thus are an adaptation to a cold climate (Blanford
8.3.2 Thermoregulatory behaviour
Beside anatomical and morphological thermoregulatory means, we are convinced that the birds have an effective thermoregulatory behaviour. One point of their thermoregulatory strategy is to live in habitats with a high diversity of microclimates so that they can seek new climatic conditions by moving over short distances. Then, like other animals seen in the area, Mountain Quails warm themselves up while sun bathing whenever they have the opportunity to do it.
We assume that Mountain Quails prefer southward
slopes as these slopes are sun-exposed and thus have, at least during sun
shine, a comparatively high temperature.
8.4 Social Organization
Practically nothing is known on the Social Organization of Mountain Quails. We rely on the few observations from Mackinnon, Hutton and Carwithen who hunted these animals in the Himalayas:
- Mackinnon shot two specimens (specimen #1865a and #1865b) out of a covey of eight to ten.
- The two specimens #1869a and #1869b were part of a group of "about a dozen".
- The specimen #1869c was shot in December out of a group of five to six apparently young birds.
- The female specimen #1876 was seen together with another individual, most probably a male.
Based on the fact that Mountain Quails
have a sexually dimorph colouration and taking models connecting colouration
and social organization into account (e.g. Kleiman 1977, Halliday 1980),
we assume that Mountain Quails live probably in polygyny, most probably
In the literature, three Mountain Quail vocalizations are mentioned:
- Short range contact call: The short range contact call is usually heard when members of a covey feed: Hutton uses the term "a low chirping and pleasant cry" to describe this type of vocalization. Other authors use the wording "low, short, quail-like" (Ogilvie-Grant 1896, Ali 1977).
- Display call: The "normal call" (terminology by Ali), probably the display call of the territorial male(s) exists, as sportsmen use it when looking for Mountain Quails (Ali 1977). We miss a detailed description of this call.
- "Shrill whistle": With "alarm call" we refer to a vocalization heard in case of an alarm situation. This usually induces some behaviours that help to minimize the dangers causing the alarm. In quails, the most appropriate behaviours to an alarm are any forms of an escape like running away or flushing. On the other hand, the long range contact call is a means to bring the members of a social unit together after being separated by any reason, e.g. an escape behaviour pattern.
The reason for this lengthy explanation is that authors describing vocalization behaviours of Mountain Quails obviously mix up these two completely different behavioural situations when talking of the third Mountain Quail vocalization, the "shrill whistle". Mackinnon only mentions having heard the typical Mountain Quail whistle, without giving details to the behavioural situation when it was uttered. From the frequency with which he heard this call, it could be easily compared to the alarm whistle of marmots, Marmota marmota. On the other hand, reading Hutton's message, we get the impression that the whistle vocalization is uttered after flushing, thus being a long range contact call. Ogilvie-Grant (1896) interpreted Hutton's information in this way. Most other authors writing about Mountain Quails describe the "shrill whistle" as an alarm call.
We are convinced that the "shrill whistle"
vocalization is a long distance contact call. We come to this conclusion
mainly because of some reflections concerning the alarm call scenario.
If it were an alarm call, it would be heard in alarming situations like
moments when Mountain Quails crouching motionless on the ground are nearly
trodden upon by an enemy. But observers report that in these situations,
Mountain Quails flush. No observer connected flushing behaviour with the
"shrill whistle" vocalization. But flushing and shrill whistling would
with greatest probability shock or at least impress any Mountain Quail
enemy. We cannot think that such a behaviour pattern would not have been
mentioned by any observer. We thus do not see any reason to correlate the
"shrill whistle" vocalization with alarm situations.
8.6 Seasonal migration - Yes or No?
Hume & Marshall (1879-1881) were the first authors proposing that Mountain Quails are migratory, possibly only in very cold winters. According to these authors, the Mountain Quail winter range would be "the lower and outer ranges of the Himalayas". The authors place the summer range to south-eastern Chinese Tibet. But they also cite Kenneth Mackinnon, who had Mountain Quail shooting experiences and would not think them "capable of migrating far" (p 106).
For Ogilvie-Grant (1896), there is little doubt that Mountain Quails are winter migrants from Tibet, with some individuals remaining in the Lesser Himalayas till the beginning of summer. Blanford (1898) is a little bit more careful. He formulates that the Mountain Quail "appears to be an occasional visitor to the North-west Himalayas" (p 105).
The subject of migratory behaviour occurred in the Mountain Quail literature only in papers published around the turn of the century. Ali (1977) also doubts that Mountain Quails are migrants.
In order to discuss this point properly, we should know more about the ecological conditions in the Mountain Quail habitat as we postulate it in the course of a year. It is especially interesting to learn more about snow cover during winter in the Mountain Quail habitat as this would influence for example food availability and exposure to predators. We also need answers for the same kind of questions referring to the proposed summer range: Tibet.
In order to support or reject this idea of seasonal migration, it would be interesting to know more about the weather in the winters, when Mountain Quails were shot and compare it to the winter weather where no Mountain Quails were shot around Mussoorie and Nainital.
As long as further data is lacking, we assume that Mountain Quails do not migrate seasonally. The following points support this assumption:
- Mountain Quails are said to be bad flyers, thus we cannot imagine that they move dozens or hundreds of kilometres to escape the severe conditions in winter.
- Mountain Quails have small wings. The
are much smaller than the wings of the only migratory Quail species, the
Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix.
Mountain Quails shot in the last century were found on the slopes of hills around Mussoorie and Nainital, in the Lesser Himalayas, between 1650 and 2400 metres above sea level. The reports of the three Mountain Quail hunters describe the habitat and vegetation as follows:
- Mackinnon: "a grass jungle"; southern slope
- Hutton: "high jungle grass ... long high grass ... they will not come out into the open ground .. they frequented tall seed-grass"
- Carwithen: "very steep, with patches of brush-wood here and there ... eastern slopes"
From our expedition into Mountain Quail habitat, we want to stress the following habitat specifications:
- The mountains in the area are extremely slopy. Only exceptionally, you find wide and more or less horizontal plateaus. The slope inclination is in the range of 45 degrees.
- Most slopes in the altitudinal range
between 1500 and 2500 metres above sea level are covered with grass, bushes
and some trees, mainly oak. Northward slopes are usually heavier forested
than slopes exposed to the south.
Hutton saw Mountain Quails feeding on grass seeds. Feeding behaviour among quails is uniform. It thus allows to predict the typical Mountain Quail food. We believe that Mountain Quails feed normally on seeds and the like. In their first weeks of live, young Mountain Quails might feed mainly on insects, like other young quails and partridges (Behnke 1985).
In winter, when snow lies on the mountains, Mountain Quails probably look for food in areas where snow vanishes quickly. Such areas are e.g.
- steep slopes (where snow glides downwards),
- spots exposed to the sun, i.e. slopes with southward exposition, and
- spots where winds increase melting speed
of the snow cover.
9.3 Conclusions concerning Mountain Quail habitats
Based on the available information in the literature and on our experiences from our expedition to the Mountain Quail range, we believe that Mountain Quails prefer the following type of habitats:
- slopes to flat areas (see flushing behaviour, protected from terrestrial predators, availability of food)
- dry grass land to bush or forest land (see camouflage, flushing behaviour)
- areas exposed southward (from south-east to south west) to areas exposed northwards (see thermoregulation, nutrition)
- areas with a great topographical diversity to areas with topographical constancy (see limited mobility)
- areas with no or very few human influences
The status of Mountain Quails being extinct or closely extinct has been recognized by various authors in the past. Some of these authors discussed also the reasons that brought the Mountain Quail population so close to the end. Ripley (1952) mentions that Mountain Quails have game-bird status and thus are brought close to extinction by sportsmen. Nevertheless Mackinnon says that Mountain Quail shooting "involved an immense deal of bother in shooting (and proved, I may add, poor eating)". Negi (1992) believes that environmental changes brought this species to extinction.
If Mountain Quails have somewhere survived, their population is highly threatened because of the following facts:
- The areas around Mussoorie and Nainital have a high and increasing human population density (Khanka 1988). Jalal (1988) gives a figure of 225 to 300 persons per square kilometre for the area of Nainital for the year 1981. Beside the assumed effects of technophoby, the consequences of this high human population density are
- fast decline and degeneration of the forests (Chaturvedi 1988, Melkania et al. 1988),
- a dramatic increase of pollution (our personal observations)
- changes of natural landscapes through agriculture: During our visit to the area, we found terraced fields up to the peaks of hills and top of ridges with elevations around 2000 metres and more (see also Shah 1988). Raethel (1988:485) is completely wrong when he assumes that the Mountain Quail area cannot be used for agriculture.
- According to D. P. Joshi (1988:235), the local human population not only destroys the habitat of the wild fauna, but also hunts the birds. Raethel (1988:485) is wrong in his assumption when he says that Mountain Quails are probably not or seldom hunted.
We wonder whether or not there is a direct
pressure from the human population on the Mountain Quail population and
other game birds via any forms of hunting? Traditional Mountain Quail shooting
was difficult according to some authors writing in the last century (Hume
& Marshall 1879-1881). On the other hand, the Mountain Quail specimen
#1869c was shot with a pistol and specimen #1869a was knocked over. Do
Mountain Quails really taste as bad as Mackinnon implies so that the local
human population does not hunt them?
A lot of people seek the honours to be called re-discoverer of an extinct animal species. Such people become very active when an animal species vanished only recently (fig. 15, 16, 17). These re-discoverers more or less regularly report sightings. But the sightings usually lack the quality of a scientific proof (no clear photograph or film, no freshly killed specimen, etc.). Probably the best example to illustrate this is the Tasmanian Tylacinus. Mountain Quails compete with Tylacinus successfully in this context. During our Mountain Quail investigation, we heard of the following unconfirmed sightings:
<= 1952: Ripley (1952:905) "was told that the species was known from" the Dailekh District.
<= 1952: According to Ripley (1952:905), a Mountain Quail was apparently shot at Lohaghat in East Kumaon, but he had no success in corroborating this.
around 1955: Dang (pers. comm.) shot a Mountain Quail near Nali forest east of Mussoorie. On November 13th, 1989, we interviewed Dang concerning this "observation".
We doubt that this incident refers to a Mountain Quail, because of the following points:
- Dang pretended having himself shot a Mountain Quail. Later, after several questions on the shooting details (How many Mountain Quails flushed? How did they fly away? What did the habitat look like?), Dang said that a friend of his shot the Mountain Quail and he - Dang - had not seen it, but his friend said that the shot bird had a red bill and red legs.
- Dang thus was convinced that the prey was a Mountain Quail, because of its red bill and red legs. But he did not a single second consider that the shot bird could have been some other phasianid bird, e.g. a red spurfowl, Galloperdix spadicea.
- In our interview, we also checked whether Dang knew colouration details typical for Mountain Quails. He did know nothing of the typical feather markings nor of the exclusive tail-underside signal.
- Nothing, neither photographs nor drawings nor skin nor feathers, is available of this "remarkable" hunting success.
In short, we doubt that Dang's
friend shot a Mountain Quail some thirty years ago near Nali forest.
August / September 1970: The wife of Mr Brijendra Singh, New Delhi, "possibly saw it in a hospital yard at Landour (Jharipani)" (Sankaran 1990)
<= 1981: Robbins (1981:81) refers to a personal communication by Salim Ali to C. Savage.
1980's: On November 5th, 1989, Dang (pers. comm.) pointed to the hill south of Dhobi Ghat, Mussoorie (Map G4) and said that "at least two pairs of Mountain Quails are living there".
During our expedition in 1989, we climbed on top of this hill (in fact two hills separated by a small valley) and looked for Mountain Quail traces. We found many traces of human activities:
- On top of the northern hill is a small shrine.
- Droppings of dogs, goats, horses and cattle are frequent.
- Several human families including their livestock inhabit the southern slope of the double hill.
- Some parts of the hills, mainly the not forested areas, are fenced with barbed wire.
1980's: Kapadia told Negi (1992:17) "that he saw Mountain Quail near Suwakholi a few years back".
September 1984: Negi (1992), on his way from Mussoorie to Nali forest, saw "half a dozen Mountain Quail like birds crossing the motor road near Suwakholi". On the same afternoon and at the same place "a still bigger flock of same bird flew over our jeep across the road and perched on the grassy slope below the motor road". Unfortunately, neither camera nor gun were available.
And it continues, see "Times
of India" 12. April 1999.
11.2 Previous searching expeditions
Ali (1977) confirms that he tried several times to find Mountain Quails. Futehally (1988) mentions an expedition to find the Mountain Quail which was planned by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Our investigations at the BNHS in November 1989 (Dr. R. Grubh) revealed that because of new priorities, this expedition was not sent out. From Hari Dang we learned that WWF India did expeditions with the goal to find Mountain Quails. Later, Sharad Gaur of WWFI informed us "To the best of our information at the WWF-INDIA National Headquarters here, we never undertook, or sponsored, any studies for re-discovering the mountain quail" (pers. comm. Aug. 17th, 1990).
Hari Dang is looking for Mountain Quails
for some three decades. But he did not show us reports of his Mountain
Quail re-discovery expeditions (containing details like area searched,
season and weather conditions during search, searching methods, etc.).
11.3 Our expedition in 1989
11.3.1 Methods and Materials
We walked into prospective areas, waited
motionless and noiseless, looked for traces like feathers, droppings, feeding
traces, etc., listened for noises and animal vocalizations, photographed
these areas, the vegetation, traces of wild animals, etc., made sketches
of the topography. Areas to far away for us to reach were studied intensively
through binoculars. We used notebook, maps, compass, still camera.
Early in November 1989, Hari Dang drove us through the Garhwal-Himalaya, on the road from Kotdwara - Dugadda (about in the middle between Mussoorie and Nainital) - Rishikesh (see Uttar Pradesh map, field C3). The road led along the top of the mountain ridge, some 1500 to 2000 metres above sea level. In this area, we found man made terrace fields up to the top of practically every mountain (fig. 18).
Around Mussoorie, we visited the following places (name and description / field in Mussoorie Guide Map by Survey of India 1968):
- hill south of Dhobi Ghat / G4
- Park Toll (1950 m) / west of A3
- area between Snowdon - Sianti Tibba / A4
- Camel's Back / D3
- Kempty Falls / north of A1
- Cloud End (close to Badraj) & Banog / northwest of A3 (fig. 19)
- grass plateau below Bata Ghat / west of H3
- hill north of Oakville Cottage / H3
- Nali Forest / some 1 hour car drive east
of Mussoorie, south to the road Mussoorie - Tehri
Around Nainital, we visited the following places (name and description / field in the Nainital Guide Map Survey of India 1973):
- Sherkadanda / GH6 (fig. 20)
- Bhimtal / east of R10 (see inset-map)
- Sattal / close to R10 (see inset-map)
- Naina Peak, Indicator Tourist Lodge /
During our visits to the areas, we found that the topography of these hills is highly diverse: ridges and valleys, bright (and warm) sunshine and dark (and chilly) shade are found close together. We did not find any trace indicating the presence of Mountain Quails. Instead, we came across direct and indirect trace of human activities: we found droppings of livestock (cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, dogs, etc.), human litter (droppings, cigarette boxes, etc.) and we came across human beings and livestock.
Based on our experiences, we suggest that future searching expeditions use
- better maps, i.e. detailed maps with altitude information
- altitude metres (in areas for which details maps are not available)
- well trained dogs (see also Ali, in Negi
1992:16; Sankaran 1990)
The type specimens appeared in the private collection of the Earl of Derby. Three out of five specimens now at the British Museum (Natural History) were collected by A. O. Hume and only later donated to the BM(NH). We assume that not only the Earl of Derby and A. O. Hume collected skins, but other British and Indian aristocrats did so as well. By studying the literature in detail, we crossed a Mountain Quail trace: we are the first who mention the Leiden specimen #1850. We think that a certain chance exists, that among other private collections (in Great Britain, Nederlands, India, etc.)
- skins or feathers of Mountain Quails
- hunting diaries
- drawings with references to Mountain Quails
We wonder whether anybody ever tried to do a survey on private collections. Has anybody ever studied British and Indian wildlife collections with the purpose in mind to find data concerning an animal species? If yes, what was the success of this search? We suggest that through an article and advertisement in one or several wide spread daily journals or in a periodical for wildlifers and hunters, the urgent need for Mountain Quail data in private collections should be published. Maybe, a reward increases the chances of feed backs.
Not only the specimens themselves are of
interest, but also their individual history. We imagine that in some archives
of aristocrat families (in Britain, Netherlands, India, etc.), diaries
with hunting descriptions might mention direct or indirect observations
of Mountain Quails. Again we like to know whether anybody ever tried to
do a survey of data stored in sportsmen diaries or alike.
12.2 Searching for Mountain Quails in the Himalayas
12.2.1 Where to search?
Our investigations in India and our analysis
of the actual knowledge on Mountain Quails indicate that the chances to
re-discover a populations of this species around Mussoorie and Nainital
is poor. This fits with the findings of Sankaran (1990), who visited the
Mussoorie area in 1987. But our interpretation of the development of the
two separated areas suggests that other areas can be used by Mountain Quails
searchers. It is worth while to check areas of the Lesser Himalayas on
the ridges north to the ridges of Mussoorie and Nainital. This means that
an area of some two hundred kilometres length should scanned in order to
discover a some twenty centimetres small bird.
12.2.2 First hints
To get the first hints, we suggest to cooperate with the local people. During our staying in the Lesser Himalayas, we saw that the local people live in small villages and often in places where two to five families stay closely together in several huts, usually kilometres away from the next family groups. Commerce between people leads to daily movements between the areas of production and the areas of consumption. These movements scan most of the area. We think that local people could collect Mountain Quail data during these scanning movements provided they are properly informed and motivated.
A cooperation as we see it consists of two major steps: Information and Motivation:
Informing local people: Shahid Ali informed us (pers. comm. 1989) that BNHS already used pamphlets years ago during their Mountain Quail re-discovery activities. We never saw any of these pamphlets. It is worth while studying the methods and successes of these previous activities before planning in detail further actions.
From our point of view, we think that the information for the local people itself contains the following points:
- Short history of Mountain Quail knowledge.
- We learned that Indians are proud of their wildlife. Thus we suggest to stress the fact that Mountain Quails are an endemic species to the Indian Lesser Himalayas. Through this information step, Mountain Quails get a status of high importance and we thus - probably - draw more attention to this species.
- It is most important to inform the addressees of real and exclusive Mountain Quail facts. We thus do not suggest to repeat again the story of the red bill and legs as long as this question is not answered properly. Instead we propose to inform about feather colouration and markings, which are typical and species specific. Thus, any information campaign initiating another step in the Mountain Quail re-discovery process asks the addressees to look for feather that are shown in the information unit.
It is very important to select suitable information carriers. From our observations in India, we think that the following information carriers are suitable:
- Newspapers: We got the impression that Indians living in the Lesser Himalayas take their time to read newspapers. You can see them sitting in the early morning November sun and reading the daily news. We thus believe that advertisements, text and figures in the news section would be studied by the local population.
- TV-Cassettes: In Mussoorie, we came across several TV-shops. In these shops, the people rent or buy VHS-cassettes which they obviously look at with the aid of a privately owned VHS-cassette-player /-recorder. In Nainital, the density of such TV-shops was somewhat lower. We think that a professionally done TV-Film on the Mountain Quail re-discovery project could help spread out the idea how to look for Mountain Quail traces and where to send Mountain Quail-relevant information. Taking into account that the production of such a film is expensive, we suggest that such a film should not be done exclusively on Mountain Quails, but on Indian wildlife problems, with Mountain Quails and similar subjects as illustrating examples.
- Indian TV: Another means to inform Indians about their wildlife is the national TV broadcasting system.
Motivation of the local people: a reward. We think that a reward could increase the motivation of local people to look for Mountain Quail traces. But we want to stress the fact that a reward proposition must be formulated in a way that any Mountain Quail population that survived until now is not endangered. Thus a reward would only be paid for an information referring to living Mountain Quails. Actually, Mr Brijendra Singh already offered a reward of 5000 Rupies for help in finding this bird, but until now without any results (Sankaran 1990).
Adopting Indian communication patterns:
The acceptance of any project as proposed above (i.e. newspaper advertisement,
TV-Film, etc.) in the Indian populations should be taken seriously. A cooperation
with Indian PR professionals guarantees that Indian behaviour patterns
and communications methods accepted in India are used. These are absolutely
necessary side conditions that must be fulfilled in order to increases
12.3 Proposals for searching in the field
We thinks that after having received first hints on possible Mountain Quail populations, zoologists should go into these areas and confirm these sightings. From our personal experiences and from the literature, we consider the following suggestions:
Well trained dogs: After visiting the areas around Mussoorie and Nainital, where Mountain Quails were shot in the last century, we agree with several authors (Ogilvie-Grant 1896, Ripley 1952, Ali 1977) that using well trained dogs during direct searching expeditions would be a good solution. Taking into account that Mountain Quails live on very steep slopes - most probably also to avoid attacks from dog-like carnivores [long-legged predators do not like to move on steep slopes], we propose to work with short legged dogs of medium size. Such dogs have less difficulties in moving up and down steep slopes and are thus not that easily de-motivated.
Listening for Mountain Quail vocalizations: Mountain Quails are most probably as noisy as other quails and relative species. Thus listening for species specific noises could lead to first hints. Ali (1977) is convinced that listening for the normal call would be of great help. Other vocalizations, like the "shrill whistle" and the contact call must be considered. We suggest that people preparing for a Mountain Quail re-discovery expedition get themselves familiar with vocalizations from birds in the Lesser Himalayas. Thus, any unfamiliar call could indicate the presence of Mountain Quails. We also suggest to study closely related species and find out when their vocalization activity is highest (within 24 hours of a day, and within a whole year) in order to optimize searching activities.
Working in a small searching party: Ali (1977:5) suggests that "a team of at least 3 or 4 persons" screens a likely area. From our expedition into the former Mountain Quail habitats, we are convinced that Ali's plan would not lead to any success. The areas are too steep to be screened properly by human beings. People walking on these steep slopes first of all have to look out where to put their feet in order not to fall and roll downhill. Thus, your helpers' attentiveness is absorbed by their personal security demands and any slight indication of a Mountain Quail presence is overlooked under these circumstances. Within a big searching party, your helpers tend to think that the colleagues to the left and the right have already checked a certain area, especially when an area in question is difficult to check. We do not think that the chances to find Mountain Quails increases proportionally with the size of the searching party. Instead, we suggest to work in parties of two very well cooperating searchers, together with as many well trained and well cooperating dogs as possible.
Grass burning: During our visit in India in 1989, we talked with an English resident who mentioned the grass burning technique. He told us that this technique is used by the local people to stimulate growing of fresh grass. During our expeditions around Mussoorie and Nainital, we did not find indications telling that this technique is used. As long as this method is not common practice, we do not suggest to use it as we expect the damage caused to the flora and fauna would be much greater than the possible result. If, on the other hand, grass burning is a common practice in the presumed Mountain Quail area somewhere, then searching parties should contact the local people and coordinate grass burning and searching activities. Any grass burning with the only purpose to flush Mountain Quails is in our opinion not justified.
Baiting: We believe that food is
a limiting factor for practically all animal species in the Mountain Quail
area. Thus, supplying a surplus of nutrition could attract Mountain Quails
(as well as other animals) to a spot selected by searchers. On such a spot,
the animals can be studied using various traditional and modern methods
(observing through binoculars, automatic registration with infrared light
barrier and motor camera, etc.) and eventually caught.
12.4 Identification of specimens
Johnsgard (1988) suggests to identify Mountain Quail specimens by
- the rectrices: Mountain Quails have 10 long (over 60 mm) tail feathers,
- the bristle-shafted and stiffened forehead feathers (only in males),
- the long and lanceolate body feathers.
Local people cannot use these identification means:
- they are not absolute, but relative: How long are "long feathers" in the tail and on the body?
- Bristle-shafted and stiffened forehead feathers are found not only in Mountain Quails, but also in related species.
We suggest to look for absolute (in the
sense of "species specific") markers. In Mountain Quails, feather colouration
and markings are species specific: male body feathers are grey and have
black edges, female body feathers are brownish and have typical black markings
along the shaft. These markings are often in triangular shape.
12.5 First steps after 1989
Mr Sharad Gaur of WWFI asked us to write a short article on our Mountain Quail investigations to be published in the Quarterly Journal (Rieger & Walzthöny 1991, fig. 21). Two readers of this article answered, pretending having seen Mountain Quails. The one referring to observations in the Western Ghats in Kerala and Tamil Nadu seems rather unprobaly (April 1992). The second reference comes from V. P. Nair, a government employee (June 1992). He mentions having seen birds looking like Mountain Quails in the North Eastern parts of the Himalayas, close to the Bhutan border. Mr Ranjit Talwar, a retired army officier, works together with WWFI. He managed that Nair could stay again in the area where he had seen birds that he believed to be Mountain Quails (Oct 1993). In March 1994, Nair sent the skin of a freshly kill "Mountain Quail" to Talwar. It was not the skin of a Mountain Quail, but that of a Common or Necklaced hill-partridge, Arborophila torqueola. According to the slides we have seen, it seems to belong to the genus Arborophila, but it might as well be the Rufus-thorated hill-partridge A. rufogularis.
Talwar (pers. comm. June 1994) requested the Commandants of Training Centres of the Indian Army to cooperate. He gave them a colored drawing of Mountain Quails together with a few information and asked them to give it as wide a piblicity amonst their soldiers as possible. These soldiers are recruited form the areas of Kumaon and Garhwal, e.g. areas where Mountain Quails were shot in the last century.
Keith Howman, of World Pheasant Association, planned a Mountain Quail expedition. We talked together on this subject during the Perdix VI conference at Fordingbridge, UK, in September 1991. Howman sent us a copy of a press release on the subject. In the mean time, we did not receive further information on this project.
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We got encouragement, help
and sponsorships for our Mountain Quail project by a lot of people. We
express our deepest thanks to (in alphabetical order): Shahid Ali, Bombay,
Urs Bopp , Zug, Switzerland, Dr Dolf Burki , Schaffhausen, Switzerland,
Hari Dang, New Delhi, India, S. Eck , Staatliches Museum für Tierkunde,
Dresden, Germany, Graham C. Cowles, BM(NH) London-Tring, UK, Sharad Gaur,
World Wide Fund for Nature, India, Delhi, India, Dr R. Grubh , BNHS, Bombay,
India, C. Fisher, National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool,
UK, Dr Marcel Huber , Basel, Switzerland, Thomas Lendenmann, NVD, Naturschutzverein
Dachsen, Switzerland, Dr G. Mauersberger, Museum für Naturkunde der
Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, Germany, G. F. Mees, Rijksmuseum van
Natuurlijke Historie, Leiden, Nederlands, Dr Walter Meier, Zollikon, Switzerland,
Bruno Peter, Zurich, Switzerland, Fritz Peter, Zurich, Switzerland, Jeanne
Peter, Zurich, Switzerland, Prof. Dr S. Peters, Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg
Museum, Frankfurt, Germany, Ruedi Schneider, Naturschutzverein Dachsen,
Switzerland, Ranjit Talwar, WWFI, Delhi, Prof. Dr Peter Vogel, Lausanne,