|At the salt pan of Tal Chappar, Rajasthan, India|
The grey francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus) is a species of francolin found in the plains and drier parts of the Indian subcontinent. This species was formerly also called the grey partridge, not to be confused with the European grey partridge. They are found in open cultivated lands as well as scrub forest and their local name of teetar is based on their calls, a loud and repeated Ka-tee-tar...tee-tar which is produced by one or more birds. The term teetar can also refer to other partridges and quails. During the breeding season calling males attract challengers, and decoys were used to trap these birds especially for fighting.
This bird is a medium-sized francolin, with males averaging 11.6–13.4 in (29–34 cm) and females averaging 10.2–11.9 in (26–30 cm). The males weigh 9–12 oz (260–340 g) whereas the weight of the females is 7–11 oz (200–310 g). The francolin is barred throughout and the face is pale with a thin black border to the pale throat. The only similar species is the painted francolin, which has a rufous vent. The male can have up to two spurs on the legs while females usually lack them. Subspecies mecranensis is palest and found in arid North-Western India, Eastern Pakistan and Southern Iran. Subspecies interpositus is darker and intermediate found in northern India. The nominate race in the southern peninsula of India has populations with a darker rufous throat, supercilium and is richer brown. They are weak fliers and fly short distances, escaping into undergrowth after a few spurts of flight. In flight it shows a chestnut tail and dark primaries. The race in Sri Lanka is sometimes given the name ceylonensis or considered as belonging to the nominate.
There are three recognized subspecies:
- F. p. interpositus (Hartert, 1917) - north Indian grey francolin - northwest Indian subcontinent
- F. p. mecranensis (Zarudny and Harms, 1913) - Baluchistan grey francolin - arid southeastern Iran and southern Pakistan
- F. p. pondicerianus (Gmelin, 1789) - nominate - southern India and Sri Lanka
Habitat and distribution
The grey francolin is normally found foraging on bare or low grass covered ground in scrub and open country, and is rarely found above an altitude of 500 m above sea level in India, and 1200 m in Pakistan. The distribution is south of the foothills of the Himalayas westwards to the Indus Valley and eastwards to Bengal. It is also found in north-western Sri Lanka. Introduced populations are found in the Andaman and Chagos Islands. They have been introduced to Nevada in the United States of America and Hawaii, along with several other species of francolin.
Behaviour and ecology
The loud calls of the birds are commonly heard early in the mornings. Pairs of birds will sometimes engage in a duet. The female call is a tee...tee...tee repeated and sometimes a kila..kila..kila and the challenge call kateela..kateela..kateela is a duet. They are usually seen in small groups.
The main breeding season is April to September and the nest is a hidden scrape on the ground. The nest may sometimes be made above ground level in a niche in a wall or rock. The clutch is six to eight eggs, but larger clutches, potentially reflecting intraspecific brood parasitism, have been noted.
They roost in groups in low thorny trees.
They are hunted in much of their range using low nets and easily caught using calling decoy birds.
The species has long been domesticated in areas of northern Indian subcontinent where it is used for fighting. The domesticated birds can be large at around 500-600g, compared to 250g for wild birds. They are usually carefully reared by hand and become as tame and confiding as a pet dog.
Several authors have described the running of the birds as being particularly graceful:
They run very swiftly and gracefully; they seem to glide rather than run, and the native lover can pay no higher compliment to his mistress than to liken her gait to that of the Partridge.
The creature follows its master with a rapid and pretty gait that suggests a graceful girl tripping along with a full skirt well held up. The Indian lover can pay his sweetheart no higher compliment than to say she runs like a partridge. In poetry the semblance is one of best hackneyed of Indian metaphors. In poetry, too, the partridge is associated with the moon, and, like the lotus, is supposed to be perpetually longing for it, while the chikore is said to eat fire.— Kipling, 1904
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