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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/270

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Together with the Apteryx, there lived in New Zealand a bird that reached the height of nearly twelve feet—the Dinornis. It and the Phororhaces and the Brontornis, which have been recently exhumed in Patagonia, might be regarded as the giants of birds. This bird was known to the natives as the Moa, and lived in troops like the ostriches. Its organization was very much like that of the Apteryx, from which it was, however, distinguished by its great size, long neck, and short beak. It seems to have had the aspect of an ostrich, with a feathered neck and no wings or tail. The feet of the Dinornis, with their three large toes, were really enormous. Isolated fragments of its bones suggest very large mammals, rather than birds. The femur and tibia are larger than those of a bear, the tibia alone being about four feet long, and the thickness, in the narrowest part, of the width of a man's hand, while it was more than seven inches in the thickest part. The sternum, on the other hand, was small, convex, and longer than broad. The wing could not have been visible on the outside of the body, for the bones that constitute them are proportionally smaller than those of the Apteryx. There was, therefore, a maximum reduction of the wing in this bird.

The Dinornis was covered with a rich plumage, and this was doubtless what led to its destruction, women preferring its plumes to all other ornaments. The large number of bones which have been discovered in the alluviums, the caves, and the peat bogs of New Zealand authorize the thought that the island was once inhabited by a considerable number of these birds, which were able easily to repel the attacks of other animals by means of their big feet. But they could stand no chance against Nature's more terrible destroyer—man—who, when seeking the gratification of his taste and fancy, does not hesitate to exterminate whole species. The natives of New Zealand still recall the history of these singular birds; their extermination seems to have occurred about the time the island was visited by Captain Cook (1767-1778). Moreover, some of the bones collected in later years still had animal matter upon them. Even parts of the windpipe have been discovered, mixed with charcoal, and evidences of cooking have been found.

A near relative of the Dinornis, which the Maoris regard as extinct, is the Notornis, of which only four living specimens have been found since 1842, the last one having been captured in the latter part of 1898.

The eggs of the Dinornis were very large, having a capacity of about a gallon and being equivalent to eighty hen's eggs. Still larger eggs than these, however, are known. In 1851 Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire exhibited, in the French Academy of Sci-