1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guan

GUAN, a word apparently first introduced into the ornithologist’s vocabulary about 1743 by Edwards,[1] who said that a bird he figured (Nat. Hist. Uncommon Birds, pl. xiii.) was “so called in the West Indies,” and the name has hence been generally applied to all the members of the subfamily Penelopinae, which are distinguished from the kindred subfamily Cracinae or curassows by the broad postacetabular area of the pelvis as pointed out by Huxley (Proc. Zool. Society, 1868, p. 297) as well as by their maxilla being wider than it is high, with its culmen depressed, the crown feathered, and the nostrils bare—the last two characters separating the Penelopinae from the Oreophasinae, which form the third subfamily of the Cracidae,[2] a family belonging to that taxonomer’s division Peristeropodes of the order Gallinae.

The Penelopinae have been separated into seven genera, of which Penelope and Ortalis, containing respectively about sixteen and nineteen species, are the largest, the others numbering from one to three only. Into their minute differences it would be useless to enter: nearly all have the throat bare of feathers, and from that of many of them hangs a wattle; but one form, Chamaepetes, has neither of these features, and Stegnolaema, though wattled, has the throat clothed. With few exceptions the guans are confined to the South-American continent; one species of Penelope is however found in Mexico (e.g. at Mazatlan), Pipile cumanensis inhabits Trinidad as well as the mainland, while three species of Ortalis occur in Mexico or Texas, and one, which is also common to Venezuela, in Tobago. Like curassows, guans are in great measure of arboreal habit. They also readily become tame, but all attempts to domesticate them in the full sense of the word have wholly failed, and the cases in which they have even been induced to breed and the young have been reared in confinement are very few. Yet it would seem that guans and curassows will interbreed with poultry (Ibis, 1866, p. 24; Bull. Soc. Imp. d’Acclimatation, 1868, p. 559; 1869, p. 357), and what is more extraordinary is that in Texas the hybrids between the chiacalacca (Ortalis vetula) and the domestic fowl are asserted to be far superior to ordinary game-cocks for fighting purposes.  (A. N.) 

  1. Edwards also gives “quan” as an alternative spelling, and this may be nearer the original form, since we find Dampier in 1676 writing (Voy. ii. pt. 2, p. 66) of what was doubtless an allied if not the same bird as the “quam.” The species represented by Edwards does not seem to have been identified.
  2. See the excellent Synopsis by Sclater and Salvin in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society for 1870 (pp. 504-544), while further information on the Cracinae was given by Sclater in the Transactions of the same society (ix. pp. 273-288, pls. xl.-liii.). Some additions have since been made to the knowledge of the family, but none of very great importance.