This most striking bird for its plumage which has become extinct in all European countries, is a resident bird of Cyprus. Like the Chukar it belongs to the Phasianidae family but the sexes are different in appearance. The male is predominantly black with white on the cheek, a bright chestnut collar and white spots on the flanks. The back and wings are mottled shades of golden brown with subterminal tawny-buff bands and pale edges. The tail is black with narrow white bars. The female has the upper plumage, wings and tail as in the male but the black is replaced by mottled brown and the brown bars on the lower back and tail are wider.
Its habitat is confined in the SW and on the Karpas peninsula. Recently it has been expanding its range. It is usually found in the coastal lowlands but also up to 20 Km. inland in valleys of the South West.
Black francolins appear to be well adapted to cultivated crops, tall enough to offer shelter and open beneath to provide escape routes and easy travel. Their southwestern habitat includes cereals, vegetables, vineyards. They are not forest birds but will frequent brush land and wood edges associated with grass land. They appear to be more closely associated to water than chukars are, and in drier areas they frequent stream banks and adjacent tall grasses and weeds. Francolins normally nest from late March to May and Clutches are normally between 10 to 14 eggs. Young appear in April through June.
A plump, fast running bird which keeps to the undergrowth, the black francolin only flies when disturbed. Then, "exploding" from cover, it flies fast whirring low. The male may be seen standing on a rock or low tree attracting attention with its extraordinary creaking call. It may be heard all day long in April, during nesting, and less persistently in March and May as well as the summer months.
This monotonous call has sparked off popular imagination and associated it with the tragic story of the daughter-in-law whose life had been made hell by her wicked mother-in-law. She was forced to work from dawn to dusk, did all the house chores and never heard a word of praise. Once, having baked some bread they started arguing about the number of loaves. The young woman said there were twenty-four while her mother-in-law insisted there were fewer (twenty-three). Unable to accept the fact that her daughter-in-law was right, the old woman flew into a rage, grabbed her and pushed her into the oven. Then, God took mercy upon the young woman and turned her into a francolin. Ever since, the wailing call of the francolin can be heard repeating over and over again:
"kostessera, kostessera pethera" !
(twenty four, twenty four mother-in-law).
The black francolin must have been a resident bird of Cyprus for a great many years for it has figured in the early literature of travellers to the island. One of the earliest was Dr. Pococke, F.R.S. who wrote in 1738: "and among their birds, the chief are a very beautiful partridge. which I believe is the same as the red partridge in France, and a beautiful bird called in Italian Francolino, and in Greek Aftokinara." (Excerpta Cypria, page 267, Publications "The Library", Nicosia 1969).
Abbe Mariti who resided on the island between 1760 and 1767 and has left one account of Cyprus under Turkish rule, mentions the francolin among the commonest birds of Cyprus.
When Lord Lilford visited the island in 1875 he found a considerable number of black francolins and heard many more along the coast north of Salamis, nearly to the extremity of Cape Andreas and in the hills to the west of Trikomo (David A. Bannerman, Birds of Cyprus, page 368, Oliver and Boyd).
It is only natural that the beauty and the lithe gait of this bird has inspired the Cypriot folk poet who has likened it to his beloved one:
"Avtotzivara ploumistn xarw tnv omorkiav sou,
xarw tzai to tsialimiv sou tzai tnv parpatnsiav sou"
(Oh adorned francolin, I enjoy your beauty, I also rejoice at your simpering manner and you gait)
"Tessereis Trikwmitisses pasiv eis tes tzivares,
souzouvtai tzai lyizovtai sav tis avtotzivares"
(Four girls from Tricomo go to pick artichokes, hip-swaying and mincing just as the francolins)
In the past the francolin had been protected by law for a period of years, but today there is no law protecting it and moreover it is a favorite game bird.
Nevertheless there are Game Reserves, some permanent but most of them temporary, where game can find protection. and all the areas along the coat. where francolins live, bare been declared Game Reserves.
Furthermore there is a state-owned game farm which operates a small scale captive propagation of the black francolin. Attempts to breed this bird in captivity had some success. Usually eggs are collected from permanent Game reserve areas where there is a high density of Black francolins and from agricultural areas where nests would have been otherwise destroyed during the harvesting of the crops. The eggs are incubated in the game farm. Small scale releases have been done recently in game reserves along the coast in suitable habitats without francolins. It is too soon to evaluate the results of this effort, but the perspectives are very encouraging.