Birds Of The World:
The Pheasants, Fowls, And Peacocks
The Blood Pheasants
The Horned Pheasants, Or Tragopans
Read More Articles About: Birds Of The World
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Of about the same size but even more gorgeous in plumage are the splendid Moonals (Lophophorus), the males of which have much of the upper surface resplendent with glittering metallic green, blue, purple, and orange-crimson, in addition to which the head is adorned with a peculiar crest of about a dozen feathers some three inches in length, each with a bare shaft and a spade-shaped enlargement at the tip; the females are much plainer, being blackish
with buff centers to the feathers and irregular bars and mottlings. The five species are found in the elevated forest regions of the vast Himalayas, occupying much the same situations as the Tragopans, though in addition to the forests it is essential that there be plenty of succulent under vegetation, which serves the double purpose of supplying food and the necessary concealment. The Common Moonal (L. impeyanus) ranges from eastern Afghanistan to western Bhutan, and in suitable situations is an abundant species, frequenting especially the great ridges jutting from the snow, and where in morning and evening, when they come out to feed, they may be seen in the open glades of the forest and on the green slopes above. In autumn, after the rank vegetation has been killed by the frost, they begin to collect together, and it is —or once was not uncommon to find hundreds in a day's walk. They then resort to those parts of the forest where the ground is thickly covered with fallen and decaying leaves, under which they search for grubs and other insects, descending lower and lower as winter sets in, and the surface becomes frozen or covered with snow. It seems doubtful if they pair at all, or if they do, the union is soon dissolved, for after the hen begins to sit the male pays no further attention to her, nor does he assist in the care of the young, and during the remainder of the year flocks are often found that are made up of birds of one sex only. Ordinarily the Moonal roosts in the high forests trees or in summer occasionally on the ground, and, says Hume : " There are few sights more striking, where birds are concerned, than that of a grand old cock shooting out horizontally from the hillside just below one, glittering and flashing in the golden sunlight, a gigantic rainbow-tinted gem, and then dropping stone-like, with closed wings, into the abyss below." Their call is a loud, plaintive whistle, which is often heard in the forest at daybreak or toward evening, occasionally at all hours of the day; and when it is startled into flight it utters a succession of shrill, screeching whistles which serve to alarm all within hearing. The eggs, usually four to six in number, are deposited in a slight hollow in the ground sheltered by some rock, bush, or tree-root. Attaining a length of twenty-six inches, the male Moonal has the mantle shining golden green, the outer coverts metallic bluish green, and the inner coverts, scapulars, rump, and upper tail-coverts bronze-crimson in some lights and purple edged with metallic bluish green in others, while the lower back is snow-white, the head and sides of the breast metallic green shot with blue and purple; the lower parts are black and the tail pale rufous. In the northwest Himalayas this species is replaced by the Chamba Moonal (L. chambanus), which differs chiefly in having the lower back golden green instead of white, and the lower parts entirely glossed with metallic golden green; while in northeastern Tibet and western China occurs the largest species of this genus, L'Huy's Moonal (L. l'huysii), which is similar to the common species except that the feathers of the rump are metallic golden green, margined with white, and the tail-feathers more or less spotted with white. The latter species occurs at higher altitudes than any of the others, being found on the rocky plateaus near the limit of perpetual snow, about 16,000 feet above the sea. The equally splendid Sclater's Moonal (Chalcophasis sclateri), which has been separated generically on the ground of having the top of the head covered with beautiful curly feathers instead of the racket-shaped ones of the others, is distinguished principally by having the upper tail-coverts white and the chestnut tail with a wide terminal band of white. It is an extremely rare species, found only in the Mishmi Hills in northeastern Assam.