Birds – The Horned Pheasants, Or Tragopans

Often misnamed Argus Pheasants, are large and magnificent birds, perhaps unsurpassed by any other members of the group in the beauty and perfect harmony of coloration. With the sides of the head nearly or quite naked, the males are provided with a short crest, an erectile, fleshy horn inserted just above each eye, and a large, brightly colored, apron-like wattle on the throat, which, during the breeding season hangs down for several inches, but becomes scarcely visible in winter. The five known species occur in the higher wooded mountains of northern India and China, the handsomest and best-known being the Crimson Tragopan (T. satyra). Attaining a length of twenty-six inches, of which the tail makes up nearly ten inches, the male, to quote from Mr. Ogilvie-Grant, has the crown and sides of the head black; the sides of the crown and longer crest-feathers, mantle and under parts orange-carmine, and the remainder of the upper parts olive-brown, each feather near the tip with a rounded spot of white, edged with black, while the wing-coverts are edged with orange-carmine, the tail black, barred with buff, the horns greenish blue, and the throat wattle orange or salmon-color, with blue cross-bars. The female, which is only about twenty inches long, is black above, mottled and spotted with buff, the chin and throat whitish and sandy buff beneath, finely mottled with black and whitish shaft-spots. The Crimson Tragopan is essentially a forest bird, frequenting the densely wooded ranges of the Himalayas up to 12,000 feet in summer, and even in winter rarely coming below 7000 feet. Although liking a situation near the snow, it never comes out upon it, but con-fines itself to the dense jungle, which it hardly ever voluntarily quits. “Except by chance,” says Hume, “when you may come upon a male sunning himself or preening his feathers on some projecting rock or bare trunk of a fallen tree, these birds are never seen, unless by aid of three or four good dogs, who will speedily rouse them up, or of a trained shikari, who will call them out by closely imitating their loud bleating cry. If you ever catch a passing glimpse of them, it is but for a second, as they drop like stones from their perch and dart away with incredible swiftness, always running, never, so far as I have seen, rising unless you accidentally almost walk on them.” They appear to feed upon insects, leaves, shoots of the bamboo, wild fruits, and seeds, and to make their nests in dense patches of hill bamboo; the eggs are as large as large fowls’ eggs, white, slightly speckled with dull lilac. These birds are usually taken by snaring, the natives building two long, converging lines of hedge, and in openings near the point nooses are placed, the birds being slowly driven within the lines.