Birds – The Hemipodes, Or Bustard—quails

Although not of great importance, it is necessary to mention briefly the curious little Bustard-Quails, or Hemipodes, as they are called from the fact that the first toe is absent, except in one species. They are small terrestrial birds, none of them exceeding seven and one half inches in length and most of them being between five and six inches long, that in outward appearance are strongly suggestive of miniature Quails and Partridges. They are, however, really very different from them, and recent investigation has seemed to indicate that their nearest relatives are among the Rails, but in absence of detailed studies of all the forms, they may conveniently remain in the present position. The females are uniformly larger than the males, and more brightly colored, and as another interesting feature it may be mentioned that the males perform the duties of incubation and caring for the young. The nests are described as very simple affairs, being merely grass-lined depressions in the ground, and the number of eggs is said to be always four. The eggs are double-spotted as are the eggs of the Sand Grouse and Rails, thus indicating another possible point of relationship between them. The young are covered with down and are able to run about very soon after they are hatched, and they frequent much the same places as the smaller Partridges and Quails, feeding upon seeds, berries, and fruits, and although small they are quite highly prized as “game birds.” They run with swiftness and fly rapidly for short distances when flushed. The Hemipodes are all natives of the Old World, being widely spread over Africa, southeastern Asia and adjacent islands, and Australia. Two genera and about thirty species are known,all but one belonging to the genus Turnix, which is sometimes separated as a family (Turnicidce), while the remaining form is made the type of another family ( Pedionomide).

The subject of our illustration is the typical and perhaps best-known species (T. Pugnax), which ranges widely over the Indian peninsula, Ceylon, Indo-China, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and Java. It belongs to the group in which the entire breast is barred transversely with black, the lower parts immaculate, and the sexes different in plumage; the male is five and six tenths inches in length and the female six and seven tenths inches. The curious little Collared Hemipode (Pedionomus torquatus) of Australia may be briefly described. The male, which is only four and one half inches long, has the top of the head, back, and upper surface mottled with black, brown, and fawn-color, the throat, neck, chest, and flanks dull fawn-color, and the center of the abdomen and the under tail-coverts buffy white. The irides are straw-yellow and the feet greenish yellow. In the female, which has a total length of seven inches, the upper surface is reddish brown, each feather with several transverse crescent-shaped marks in the center, and margined with buff; the crown of the head is reddish brown, speckled with black, while the neck is surrounded by a broad band of white, which is thickly spotted with black. The under surface is buff, the feathers being marked as are those on the upper surface. It inhabits the extensive arid plains of central Australia.