But why the sudden interest in the bird? "The first week of October is usually celebrated in India as Wild Week. We thought the time was ripe to try and rediscover the bird," says Paramjit Singh, chief conservator of forests, Kumaon Division.
The Himalayan Quail, also called the Mountain Quail, was a medium-sized species from the pheasant family. The male of the species was dark grey with black speckles and white forehead. The female was brownish, with dark streaks and greyish brow. The red-coloured
bill and legs distinguished it from other quail species. Its 10-feathered tail was longer, nearly as long as the wing, than in most quails. It lived in coveys of five or six and favoured steep hillsides covered by long grass. Ornithologists have recorded that
the Himalayan Quail was very rarely seen in the open, except at dawn or dust. It would rather run than fly when escaping danger, and its wings did not seem designed for flying long distances.
The quail was seen in the mid-19th century, primarily in the vicinity of Nainital, Mussourie and Jharipani. It is not known to have inhabited other forests of the country.
It was a popular game bird. It was sought out by British officers for their leisure hunting. Mass killing of the bird probably led to its extinction around the 1870s. Around five preserved specimens of the bird can be seen in London's Natural History Museum.
There are 11 preserved bodies of the bird in India.
The forest department's hopes of rediscovering the quail rest on the numerous unconfirmed sightings over the years. Fuelling the Uttarakhand foresters' hopes is also the fact that the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, has not formally
declared the Himalayan Quail extinct.
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