Bush-quail makes unexpected reappearance

Manipur Bush-quail (illustration: Threatened Birds of the World, Lynx Edicions).

The poorly known Manipur Bush-quail Perdicula manipurensis has been seen in India, the first confirmed sighting of this small gamebird for over 70 years.

On 6 June 2006, the Embankment and Drainage Department had to undertake some engineering works in and around Manas National Park, a world heritage site in Assam. The team was accompanied by the region's Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate, Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, a noted ornithologist, who was present to inspect the works. As access to the park during the monsoon season is notoriously difficult, this was a rare opportunity to enter the area at this time of year.

"Driving was very slow as in places the road was invisible, being entirely overgrown with tall grass. At 2.30 pm, a quail was flushed which flew in front of our vehicle for about 15 metres and dropped into the grass in the middle of the road. I was familiar with flushing quails, buttonquails and rails in the grassland sanctuaries of Assam but the larger size of this bird and its rather slaty-grey colour surprised me," described Dr Choudhury.

"The bird took off again and flew for another 15 metres confirming that it could be only one species — the Manipur Bush-quail. This time it landed in a small clearing made by the wheels of the vehicles where it paused for about three to four seconds, giving me enough time to see its side view with contrasting grey and buff colour. I did not get a chance to study the head pattern to determine its sex," he added.

"I was very excited but slightly disappointed as I could have taken video shots when it stood still. Unfortunately however it quickly vanished into the three metre-high grass." said Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury.

Content continues after advertisements

Despite searching further along the track later that day, no more quails were seen and further visits to the site will not be possible for the next four months due to the monsoon conditions.

The last authentic records of Manipur Bush-quail from Assam were from Mornoi, Goalpara, where birds were obtained for various collections in 1905–07. The last confirmed record of the species in its entire range was mentioned as 'pre–1932' in Manipur Valley by J C Higgins, civil servant and ornithologist, although unconfirmed sightings were reported in 1998 and 2004.

A probable resident, the Manipur Bush-quail inhabits damp grassland, particularly stands of tall grass, and sometimes bogs and swamps, from the foothills up to c.1,000 m. Historical records indicate that it was generally encountered in small groups of 4–12, and was shy, reluctant to fly and extremely difficult to observe, although coveys were occasionally seen feeding in the open on recently burnt ground. The little available data indicate that it breeds between January and May.

"This sighting of Manipur Bush-quail is excellent news. Hopefully it bodes well for other 'vanished' Indian species such as the Himalayan Quail — which has not been recorded since 1876." says Ed Parnell, BirdLife International.

Classified on the IUCN Red List by BirdLife as Vulnerable, the major threat facing the bush-quail is thought to be the drainage and destruction of its tall grassland habitat. Many suitable areas have been greatly reduced or fragmented to accommodate the area's rapidly expanding human population. Manas National Park and adjacent areas of Manas Reserved Forest hold the best remaining areas of suitable habitat in Assam.

Find out more about the work of BirdLife International.
Written by: BirdLife International