PHEASANTS OF PAKISTAN

 

 

Koklass 

 ( Pucrasia macrolopha )  

 

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Local Name: Koklass

 

The koklass is a medium-sized montane pheasant in which the sexes are moderately dimorphic; males have a well-developed occipital crest and lateral erectile feather tufts, but females have a shorter crest and lack the tufts. In both sexes the head is entirely feathered and many of the body feathers are lanceolate. The wing is somewhat rounded, with the tenth primary considerably shorter than the ninth, and the seventh primary slightly the longest. The tail is highly graduated, and of 16 feathers, the middle pair of rectrices are about twice as long as the outermost pair. The upper tail-coverts are greatly elongated and almost as long as the tail. The tarsus is longer than the middle toe and claw, and is spurred in males. A single species is recognized.

 

Two subspecies are found in Pakistan:

  • Western Koklass ( Pucrasia macrolopha castanea

  • Kashmir Koklass ( Pucrasia macrolopha biddulphi )

Measurements:

Delacour (1977) reported that macrolopha males have wing lengths of 580-640 mm, while females have wing lengths of 180-218 mm and tail lengths of 172-195 mm. Ali and Ripley (1978) report castanea male wing lengths of 240-252 mm, and tail lengths of 178-252 mm. A female had a wing of 228 mm. Males of biddulphi had reported wing lengths of 233-249 mm. Males of macrolopha were reported to weight from 2i Ib to 3 Ib 2 oz (c. 1135-1415 g), and females from 1\ to 2i Ib (c. 1025-1135 g). Cheng et al. (1978) reported an average weight for 10 males of 1184 g, and for 10 females of 932 g. They also reported average male wing and tail lengths (all subspecies) of 212.4 mm. and 206.8 mm respectively, and average female wing and tail lengths of 196.7 and 148.8 mm respectively (10 specimens of each sex). The eggs average 51 x 37.5 mm, and estimated fresh weight 40 g.

 

Description: 

Adult male
Crown chestnut-fawn; lateral tufts and whole head black glossed with green; a large patch of white on the sides of the neck; whole upper plumage silver-grey, a lanceolate streak down the centre of each feather velvety-black, the shafts on the lower back and rump paler; upper tail-coverts more chestnut, the longest almost entirely chestnut with grey tips and with longitudinal broken lines of black; central tail feathers rufous, tipped grey, black-shafted, a well-defined black line and a second, less well-defined line running parallel with the shaft; wing-coverts like the back; the grey edges replaced by rufous-brown, shading into grey; flight feathers brown with broad edges of buff, the innermost secondaries mottled and blotched with velvety-black; foreneck to vent deep bright chestnut, varying considerably in depth and extent but generally covering the greater part of the chest and abdomen; sides of the neck, breast and lower flanks grey, each feather with a central streak of black and those next the breast with the outer web chestnut; under tail-coverts tipped with white spots; vent pale chestnut, the feathers with black bases; thighs dull buff mottled with chestnut. Iris dark brown; bill horny-brown to black, less often plumbeous-horny or brown, tinged with greenish or purplish to fleshy or livid brown.

Female
Crown chestnut or buff with broad black crescentic bars, decreasing on the short paler crest; buff or creamy supercilia, broad and ill-defined; upperparts pale brown with numerous fine broken bars of blackish, pale buff stripes and centres; the upper back and shorter tail-coverts richer in colour and more boldly marked than the rest; longest tail-coverts not blotched, but with pale edges and fine vermiculations of dark brown; central tail feathers rufous buff, pale tipped with irregular bars of black centred with chestnut; outermost feathers chestnut with white tips, black subterminal bands, and black mottling on either web, intermediate feathers the same but with less black on each succeeding pair; chin and throat creamy-buff, with a line of black spots from the gonys; foreneck and hindneck buff with broad black or brown edges to each feather; remainder of lower plumage pale buff to creamy-rufous, with dark brown streaks, narrowest on the breast, broadest on the posterior flanks; vent and centre of abdomen whitish with brown spots; under tail-coverts chestnut with white spots. Iris brown, legs grey, bill horny brown (Delacour 1977).

 

Identification

In the field (11-14 in.)
This is a medium-sized pheasant associated with montane woodlands, including both hardwood and coniferous forests. The chestnut breast, black head, and white patches on the sides of the neck are unique, and the female also has a distinctive whitish patch along the side of the neck. Both sexes have somewhat elongated blackish to brownish tails, with paler tips, and tapering occipital crests that in the male are sometimes raised into ear-like display structures. The male's call in spring and summer is a loud pok-pok-pok . . . pokias, uttered mainly during morning and evening hours.

In the hand
In both sexes the white to creamy white neck markings, and a somewhat elongated tail (170-300 mm) with a paler tip, are distinctive. In both sexes the flank feathers are rather lanceolate, with dark brown centres and buffy edges, and iridescence is limited to the dark greenish black head of the male.

 

General biology
Food and foraging behaviour
Baker (1930) stated that this species feeds on all kinds of grain, grass seeds, acorns, berries and buds, and also upon insects and worms, although he believed it is probably much more vegetarian than insectivorous. He mentioned that one bird that had been examined had been eating almost nothing but coarse grass, with a little maidenhair fern and moss. Cheng (1963) reported that two birds collected in China had eaten ferns (Selaginella], maize, the seeds and fruits of solaneceous plants, and the seeds and tender needles of pines, spruce, and other plants.

Observations in captivity confirm the fact that this is a highly, herbivorous species, eating large amounts of green food, particularly grass and lucerne (Howman 1979)..
Movements or migrations
At least in Himachal Pradesh there is a seasonal movement downward of approximately 1000 m, so that by February the birds are concentrated at about 2200-2500 m. In most locations where koklass were observed by Gaston et al. (1981) there were some areas of suitable habitat extending below 2500 m, suggesting the importance of snow-free winter habitat. In Nepal, the amount of snowfall is much less in the east than in the western Himalayas, and so the birds may not have to descend so low in winter (Roberts 1981)..
Daily activities and sociality
This species apparently keeps very close to the same quarters, and may be found morning after morning and evening after evening in the same open glades searching for food. The birds are monogamous, and apparently remain in pairs throughout much of the year. Gaston (193la) says that the birds are usually solitary or at most in pairs.
Roosting is done in trees, and Severinghaus (1979) reported that one such roost that he observed consisted of pines, with the roost sites 6-9 m high. These pines were on a south-facing slope, and were about 30-35 years old, with few shrubs or herbs directly below them. The Chinese name for this species, 'Sung chi', meaning pine chicken, apparently refers to the tendency of the koklass to roost in pines and to consume its needles (Cheng 1963).

 

Social behaviour
Mating system and territoriality
Baker (1930) stated that it is 'almost certain' that these birds are monogamous, and that the male may be found in the close vicinity when the female is incubating. Further, once the chicks have hatched the male participates in brood-rearing and brood protection. Later writers have generally confirmed the view that an extended monogamous mating system prevails in this species.
Territoriality is well developed in the koklass, judging from the high level of male calling typical of the species. Gaston 198la] indicated that the calling season lasts from at least November through to May, or longer than any other Himalayan pheasant species he listed except for the cheer. In January, the peak of male calling lasts about 15 min each morning, with a maximum of calling at intervals of about two calls per minute, gradually tapering off to about one call per minute. Severinghaus (1979) found that calling begins about 30-45 min before sunrise, and is greatest during the first 20-30 min, declining thereafter. Calling in the late afternoon is less frequent than during early morning.

Territorial sizes have not been directly estimated, but Lelliott and Yonzon (1981) noted that 11 male koklass were heard calling in a 1.2 km2 study area in May, suggesting a maximum territorial size of about 10 ha, or some 25 acres. As noted earlier, in some areas the density may even reach more than 20 pairs per km2, requiring territories of about half this size.

Voice and display
The male's territorial call is a distinctive kok-kok-kok- . . . kokras, or sometimes given as khwa-ka-kak. Severinghaus (1979) has listed some 14 phonetic renderings of this call, and concluded that there may be major geographic variations in its sound, at least in different subspecies. The call is uttered mainly during morning and evening hours, but also throughout the day in cloudy weather. Frequently several males will respond simultaneously to the sound of a gun or thunder (Ali and Ripley 1978).
Besides this call, Severinghaus (1979) has described several additional call types, all of which seem to be variants of the usual crowing call. However, they differ in numbers of syllables, relative emphasis of the individual syllables, timing of the syllables, total call duration, and the duration of individual syllables.

More recently, Lelliott (1981b) has studied the vocalizations of the koklass, and described a total of five different calls. The first is a harsh, rapid and staccato kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk . . , uttered during flushing in alarm. A second call is a repeated aw-cuk note, which is produced by both sexes and may be uttered for as long as 15 min, often when the bird is confronted by an unfamiliar object. A third note, not heard by Lelliott, is a rather melodious clucking and six-syllable call chuk-cher-ra-ka-pa-tcha, associated with frontal threat display by males.

The fourth call noted by Lelliott is the familiar crowing call of males, which occurs in many variant forms, as Severinghaus has previously noted. However, Lelliott noted that in spite of all these variations individual birds cannot be recognized on the basis of general call type, as males often shift their call types in the course of a morning's calling activity. Lelliott noted that the call-type used in his area of study (nipalensis) differed from that reported as most common by Severinghaus for castanea. However, certain individuals could be recognized by their distinctive calling patterns by Lelliott. He judged that the function of the crowing call is uncertain but probably territorial, inasmuch as tape-recordings tended to cause males to approach the tape recorder or at least to answer the crow with calling of their own.

The last call-type noted by Lelliott consisted of a soft female call uttered in response to male crowing, which he described as a soft oowow or kerwakow. He judged that it might serve as a contact note, informing the male that she was close by. Lelliott did not observe any courtship display in his study, and believed that the general assumption that the 
species is monogamous is probably correct. He noted that the birds are highly solitary, even after the breeding season, and also found them to be extremely shy and difficult to observe.

Displays of the koklass has been described by Wayre (1964) and by Harrison and Wayre (1969). This display is performed relatively quietly. In situations of threat the male typically faces the threatening individual, with the ear-tufts held flat, and plumage sleek, the neck and head extended forward to the level of the body, and the tail slightly cocked. This posture is accompanied by threatening lunges and a continually repeated, subdued, and somewhat melodious chuckling call, chu-cher-ra-ka-pat-tcha.

A second posture, oriented laterally, is in some ways the antithesis to the forward threat. The stance is relatively erect, with the bird at right angles to and sometimes leaning away slightly from the focus of its attention. The ear-tufts are erected vertically like rabbit-ears, and the white cheek patches are fluffed up, especially toward their lower edges (Fig. 16). The neck feathers are also fluffed, making the neck appear short and thick, and the body is held in a slanting manner so as to expose the maximum of plumage toward the other individual. The plumage, including the upper tail-coverts, is ruffled, as are the flank and belly feathers, while the wing on the displayed side is drooped slightly. The tail is spread fan-like, and is twisted sufficiently strongly toward the target of the display that it follows the same plane of the body-slant. In this posture the male circles around its partner, sometimes making a sudden run of a few yards in intense lateral display, with the farther wing strongly drooped and the primaries scraping along the ground, producing a rustling sound. This display is otherwise relatively silent, although the male may also assume an upright posture and utter the typical loud crowing call. When the female is the object of this attention she may remain indifferent, or stand still, with her neck stretched parallel to the ground and with her cheek feathers and short ear-tufts erected. Or, she may suddenly crouch, and the male will then immediately mount her.

 

Reproductive biology 
Breeding season and nesting
In various parts of India the koklass breeds from April to June (Ali and Ripley 1978). In Kashmir, nests with eggs have been found as late as 15 July (Bates and Lowther 1952), but probably over most of the country earlier nesting is typical. Baker (1930) says that the nominate race begins laying about the end of April, and continues on well into June. Evidently most birds lay from the middle of May about the end of June in this race. Most nests placed under thick bushes, usually of evergreens, on the sides of hills in coniferous forests. The nest is sometimes hidden among bracken, but may also 1 placed in tangles of briars, raspberries, or othe canes, and is invariably well hidden from view| Sometimes the nest is wedged amongst the roots of t tree, and in such cases may be in a hole or holloy virtually out of sight. The presence of thick und growth and perhaps a proximity to water appear to be the major requisites for nesting in this species according to Baker.

 

The normal clutch is probably five to seven, with Baker recording one clutch of nine. Clutches of eight have also been recorded. Yet these large clutch sizes are unusual, and sometimes full clutches of only four eggs have also been found. Most probably six is the commonest clutch size, judging from records in the wild, although Howman (1979) suggests that nine to twelve are typical in captivity. 

 

The normal clutch is probably five to seven, with Baker recording one clutch of nine. Clutches of eight have also been recorded. Yet these large clutch sizes are unusual, and sometimes full clutches of only four eggs have also been found. Most probably six is the commonest clutch size, judging from records in the wild, although Howman (1979) suggests that nine to twelve are typical in captivity.
Incubation and brooding
Incubation is performed by the female, with the male apparently remaining close at hand, and takes 26-27 days. The young are highly precocial, and are able to fly well within only a very few days (Baker 1930).
Growth and development of the young
There is no specific information on growth rates and periods of dependency of the young. Maturity occurs during the first year, and probably young males become territorial the spring following hatching. Young birds raised in captivity may be fed the usual pheasant diet, but probably should be shifted to a diet of greens as early as possible. They are also highly sensitive to infections, and thus sometimes are best kept on wire netting frames off the ground, provided that access to green foods can be maintained (Delacour 1977).

 

Evolutionary history and relationships

The genus Puciasia is apparently relatively isolated, and has no close relatives. Delacour placed it between Tragopan and Lophophorus, mainly because of known hybrids with these two genera as well as with Catreus. However, he noted that the lanceolate plumage of the males is similar to that of Ithaginis, and similarities in social displays and mating systems between these two genera have previously been noted. The downy young are distinctively ruffed in the occipital region, but Delacour (1977) states that they resemble those of tragopans in shape and behaviour. I believe that the genus is fairly close to the partridge group, and thus probably should for the present be maintained in the relative linear position accorded it by Delacour, namely close to Ithaginis and the tragopans..

 

Habitats, Population densities and Conservation Status
Koklas has ten subspecies, two of which occur in Pakistan. Western Koklas (P. macrolopha castea) has a distribution ranging from Afghanistan in the west to districts Swat and Kohistan in NWFP. Kashmir Koklas (P.macrolopha biddulphi) has a distribution that slightly overlaps with the western subspecies in districts Swat and Kohistan, but extends eastward across Siran and Kaghan Valleys into Kashmir.

Both subspecies demonstrate the greatest altitude range of the Pakistan Phasidae. They are found as low as 6,000 ft and as high as 11,000 ft. Obviously, a diverse range of habitats are encompassed within such a large altitude distribution. Chir pine (Pinus roxenburgii) dominates the lower altitude forests with a transition into blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), white oak (Quercus leucotrichophera) and rhododendron (Rhododendron arboreum) at elevations of 7,000 to 9,000 ft. The blue pine zone subsequently changes to paper birch (Betula utilis), silver fir (Abes pindrow) and Himalayan spruce (Picea smithiana) in the upper range of the altitude distribution. Therefore Koklas may be considered as the species with the least specific requirements. For this reason the two subspecies together comprise the greatest proportion of the Pakistan Phasidae and are both relatively common. Ayubia National Park was established in the late 1990's with this objective in mind. Within the National Park, Koklas, together with a diverse wildlife community, have been protected from hunting and their habitat protected from degradation. 

 

Because of its regular morning calling behaviour, censusing of the koklass can be done fairly easily. In Pakistan, for example, the density in favourable habitats such as the Murree Hills is more than five pairs per square mile (1.9 km2; Mirza l9Sla}. Sever-inghaus (1979) estimated that in one study area of Pakistan there were 11 males in an area of 120 acres, resulting in an estimated density of 9.2 males (or pairs) per 100 acres (40 ha), or about 59 pairs per square mile (23 per km2). He cited a variety of earlier studies suggesting densities ranging from four to 26.9 pairs per square mile.

 

Over most of its Himalayan range at least this species seems to be fairly secure, although it is vulnerable to destruction of mature middle-altitude forests with thick undergrowth, its prime habitat (Gaston 1981a). In Pakistan its population is still quite favourable, but overgrazing and agricultural encroaching do pose some threats (Mirza 198la). The species is not highly prized for its plumage, and it is apparently less prone to being trapped than are some of the other pheasants of the area. It is considered as very secretive and ultra-wary by Yonzon and Lelliott (1981), and thus its mortality rate as a direct result of human activities is still fairly low.

 

Credits:

 

  • Text: The Pheasants of the World : Biology and Natural History
    by Paul A. Johnsgard, Joseph Wolf (Illustrator)

  • Pheasants of Pakistan, by Owen Joiner (WWF-Pakistan)

  • Tragopan, Newsletter of World Pheasant Association/BirdLife International/Species Survival Commission and Pheasant Specialist Group, July 1996 No5

  • Photo: The Pheasants of the World : Biology and Natural History,  Joseph Wolf (Illustrator) 

 

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