PHEASANTS OF PAKISTAN

 

 

White Crested Khalij 

 ( Lophura leucomelana hamiltoni )  

 

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Local Name: Khalij

 

Measurements:

Ali and Ripley (1978) reported that males of leucomelana weigh from 11 Ib  to 21 Ib. (c. 795-1140 g), and that males of melanota weigh from 2 Ib 6 oz to 2| Ib (c. 1080-1150 g), while females weigh from 1 Ib 14 oz to 2i Ib (c. 848-925 g). Baker (1928) gave the weights of hamiltoni as 2 Ib 6 oz in males and li-2i  Ib in females, those of leucomelana as lf-2tz Ib in males, and those of melanota as 2 Ib 6 oz-2f Ib in Adult malemales and 1 Ib 14 oz-2^ Ib in females.  The eggs of melanota average 48.7 X 37.3 mm and have an estimated fresh weight of 37.4 g. 

 

Description: 

Adult male
Top of the head and elongate crest black, glossed with purplish blue; back and sides of the neck, back, rump, upper tail-coverts, lesser and median wing-coverts, and scapulars finely vermiculated with alternate black and white lines running chiefly across the feathers; primaries and their coverts blackish brown; secondaries and secondary coverts black, all with obliquely-irregular white lines; chin, throat, forepart of neck, and rest of underparts black with a slight blue gloss; the feathers on the sides of the breast always have white shaft-stripes. Middle pair of tail feathers dirty white, more or less vermiculated with black on the outer web except at the extremity; rest of the feathers obliquely vermiculated with black and white, the black gradually increasing and the white diminishing on each successive feather, so that the outer pair are black, obliquely vermiculated with white. Bill bluish or brownish horny; facial skin blood-red; legs and feet fleshy brown; iris brownish yellow.

Female
Top of the head and crest tinged with rufous, rest of the upperparts olive-brown,- most of the feathers of the mantle with V-shaped white marks narrowly edged with black; inner webs of the primaries and secondaries brown; the outer webs of the latter slightly mottled with whitish buff along the margin; sides of the neck with triangular white spots; chin, throat, and forepart of neck whitish; rest of the underparts brownish chestnut, each feather with a pointed white shaft-stripe margined with black. Middle pair of tail feathers buff, mottled on the outer web and also slightly on the inner with black; the six outer pairs are reddish brown, with wide irregular white bars mottled and widely margined with black; the second pair have the basal two-thirds like the outer pairs, and the terminal third buff mottled with black like the middle pair. Soft parts as in male but duller.

 

Identification

In the field (20-29 in.)
Males of the many races of this species are extremely variable in appearance, but in areas where possible confusion with the silver pheasant exists they can usually be distinguished safely by their shorter tails, which are often largely or entirely black, their greyish rather than reddish legs, and a thinner occipital crest. Females cannot be safely distinguished from silver pheasants in the field. The males have harsh crowing calls that are uttered during the breeding season, a drumming sound that is produced by wing-whirring, and the species' alarm call is a repeated whoop-keet-keet. The birds are generally associated with tropical to temperate forests under 6000 ft, but sometimes occur up to 10 000 ft in the Himalayas.

In the hand
Males are likely to be confused only with male silver pheasants, but have shorter (under 300 mm) central tail feathers that only rarely are entirely white, and often are entirely glossy black. The darkest races (e.g. moffitti] approach the Edwards' pheasant in appearance, but lack white crests and usually have longer (often over 260 mm) and more pointed tails, as well as less greenish fringes on the upper wing-coverts. Females are similar to those of several other Lophura species, but their more greyish legs separate them from female silver pheasants, while their crested condition separates them from most other Lophura species.

 

General biology
Food and foraging behaviour
Kalij pheasants are surprisingly omnivorous, eating almost anything from bamboo seeds to small snakes and lizards, but have a special fondness for termites, figs, bamboo seeds, forest yams, and the roots of a ginger-like plant (Baker 1930). Bump and Bohl (1961) also report a wide variety of foods taken, including seeds, berries, grass, herbs, shrubs, roots, and a diversity of insects, worms, and larvae. Ali and Ripley (1978) mention such specific items as acorns, the ripe fruits of Pyrus and Rosa, green stems of Viscum, pods of Desmodium, bulbils of Dioscorea, and ripe seeds of Nyctantb.es, as well as the tops of nettles and ferns, and the fruits of Polygonum and Rubus.

Foraging is apparently done in rather small groups, perhaps pairs and family units, in the usual scratching and pecking manner of most pheasants. Like junglefowl they are well adapted for scratching, but they can also dig with their bills for subsurface materials such as roots and tubers.

Gaston (1981i>) stated that during the post-breeding period groups of four to six birds are the typical social unit, probably consisting of a pair and their offspring. From October to December larger units of 10-12 individuals are the rule, but from January onward pairs, or males with two or three females, are the most common social groupings.

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
These birds appear to be quite sedentary, although the more northerly forms do undertake some seasonal movements associated with cold weather. They may also make movements of several miles to sources of water during late afternoon hours (Bump and Bohl 1961).
Daily activities and sociality
Shortly after dawn, and again at times after 4 p.m., these birds forage in overgrown fields, or in the vicinity of roads or trails. They are often found in loose groups of from two to as many as ten, generally in the vicinity of water, which they also visit regularly. They rest through the heat of the day, normally on the ground. Night-time roosting is done in fair-sized trees, usually at heights of 20 to 40 ft above ground. Typically the same tree is used night after night, unless the birds are disturbed (Bump and Bohll961)..

 

Social behaviour
Mating system and territoriality
There is considerable disagreement over the mating system of this species (Ali and Ripley, 1978; Baker 1930). Some observers have seen males in company with two or even three females during the breeding season, while others have been equally firm in asserting that the birds are monogamous, with the males regularly seen in company with females and their broods. It seems most likely that the male kali) is facultatively polygynous, leaving his first mate when she begins incubation, but remaining with his latest female to assist in rearing the young or returning to his sole mate when she hatches her brood should he be unsuccessful in fathering additional broods.

Sizes of territories are unknown, but there seems to be little doubt that territorial advertisement is well developed in males. Males have a loud crowing call, which has been described as a loud whistling chuckle or chirrup, but perhaps the drumming sound made during the wing-whirring display is equally important. Baker (1930) believed that the sound is made by beating the wings against the sides of the body, and quotes an earlier observation that it can be readily imitated by holding a pocket handkerchief by opposite corners and then jerking one's arms apart. Such an imitation will often bring other males on the run, suggesting that the territories may be fairly closely spaced in some habitats. It has also been compared to the noise made by shaking or flapping a piece of cloth in the wind.

Voice and display
In northern India, calling of territorial males occurs from March through May (Gaston 1981), probably corresponding to the peak of the laying period. Besides the territorial crowing mentioned above, males and females also have a variety of other vocalizations. When alarmed, both sexes utter a long, squealing whistle, which is often followed by loud and deep clucking notes. Conversational notes among undisturbed birds are also common, including low kurr-kurr-kurrchi-kurr sounds that seem to serve as contact signals (Baker 1930). Besides the wing-whirring display, kalij pheasants perform a fairly simple lateral courtship, spreading the tail, expanding the facial wattles, waltzing around the female, shaking the tail, and making clucking or booming noises (Delacour 1977). Tidbit-ting behaviour certainly also is present in the kalij pheasants, but does not seem to have been described in any detail. In the closely related silver pheasant the associated calls are a series of rather rapidly repeated (about five per second), low-frequency notes (Stokes and Williams 1972).

 

Reproductive biology 
Breeding season and nesting
The breeding seasons of the many subspecies of the kalij are almost as diverse as their habitats, but invariably include the period April and May. The white-crested kalij is said to breed from March to June, the Nepal kalij from April to June, the black-backed kalij from March to May, and the black-breasted from February to October, but mostly in April-May and in July-August (Baker 1930; Ali and Ripley 1978).

The more tropical forms of south-east Asia have similar breeding periods. The Williams' kalij evidently breed at least in April and May, and perhaps from March to June, the Gates' kalij breeds from March to May, and the lineated kalij from February to July (Baker 1930).

The nest itself is a slight hollow, usually in an area of abundant undergrowth, and sometimes under an overhanging rock, under a bush, or in a clump of grass. Ample cover and a reasonable proximity to water seem to be the major requirements, and the overhead canopy may vary from dense evergreen forest or bamboo jungle to fairly thin wooded cover. In nearly all races the usual number of eggs seems to be six to nine, with some clutches having as few as five and rarely more than ten (Baker 1930; Ali and Ripley 1978). Extremely large clutches of up to 14 or 15 eggs as have been reported would seem to be the result of two females' efforts or other modifications of the normal situation.
Incubation and brooding
The incubation period may vary somewhat with climate, perhaps taking an average of 20 days in the warmer portions of the range and up to 22 days in the higher and cooler elevations (Baker 1930). This is performed by the female, with the male apparently taking no role in protecting the nest. However, males have been seen in company with hens leading very tiny chicks, suggesting that as soon as hatching has occurred the male rejoins the family group. A male has even been observed tending a group of small chicks that seemingly lacked a female parent (Baker 1935).
Growth and development of the young
The chicks' flight feathers grow very rapidly; and within a few days they are able to fly almost as well as their parents (Baker 1930). Renesting is probably rare, but females are known to renest if their first clutch is destroyed prior to hatching (Bump and Bohl 1961). In captivity, females often lay as many as 25 to 30 eggs in a season. The birds assume their adult plumage and are able to breed the year following hatch.

 

Evolutionary history and relationships

The speciation pattern in all the kalij and silver pheasants is certainly the most complex of any in all the pheasant group, and has been the cause of a vast number of species and subspecies being described, many of which have been based on single specimens. Delacour (1949) was the first person to put these problems into a modern context of subspecies and to try to understand the evolution of the group. Yet, even today there are areas of taxonomic and geographic uncertainties, such as the enigmatic black kalij, and the complex diversity of male plumage variations to be seen through the ranges of the kalij and silver pheasants.

 

Habitats, Population densities and Conservation Status
The nine subspecies of kalij pheasants recognized by Delacour occur over an extremely wide range of habitats and elevations, from nearly sea level to at least 11 000 ft, and in a variety of tropical to montane forest habitats. Beginning in the western edge of the species' range, the white-crested kalij occurs from 1200 to 11 000 ft, but is most common between 3000 and 7000 ft, and may be found lower in winter and higher in summer. In these medium elevations the dominant trees are pines (mainly Pinus longifolia), especially below 6000 ft, while from about 5000 to 9000 ft oak forests (especially Queicus incana] predominate
. Of the two low altitude species found in the NWFP, the White Crested Kalij (L.leucomela hamiltoni) has the most southerly distribution. It extends from the Siran and Kaghan Valleys in Hazara district into the Margalla Hills just north of the capital Islamabad, where it is relatively common. It extends into Azad Kashmir, with good population in AYubia National Park, where atleast 30 breeding pairs are present. 

 

Although it is possible that some races of this species may be rather rare, the total overall distribution is great, and the birds seem to do well in a variety of both original and disturbed habitat types. The birds seem to withstand hunting fairly well (Bump and Bohl 1961), and also are highly adaptable and resistant to habitat changes (Yonzon and Lelliott 1981). But, this information is not true for Pakistan, where the Khalij pheasant has a very limited habitat and is only locally common. 

 

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)

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

 

copyright 2001-wildlife of Pakistan-all rights reserved