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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/271

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257
WINGLESS BIRDS.

ences, eggs of a bird coming from Madagascar that had a capacity of two gallons. Some specimens of these eggs may be seen in the galleries of the Paris Museum, and still larger eggs have been found. The museum in London has one with a capacity exceeding eleven quarts, or equivalent to two hundred and twenty hen's eggs, or more than seventy thousand humming birds' eggs. It was thought at first that the bird which laid these gigantic eggs was still living, for natives of Madagascar spoke of having seen a bird of colossal size that could throw down an ox and make a meal of it. Such, however, were not the ways of the bird called the Epiornis, which had no talons or wings, and fed on vegetable substances. The description by the celebrated traveler Marco Polo of a great flying bird of prey, called a roc, has no reference to the Epiornis. M. Grandidier has demonstrated that this bird no longer exists in Madagascar, and that if man ever knew it the stories with marvelous details which the savages hand down from generation to generation make no mention of it. "We owe to M. Grandidier, M. Milne-Edwards, and Major Forsyth what is known of the history of this large wingless bird, which resembles the Dinornis in several points. If its size was proportioned to that of its eggs it should have been twice as large as the Dinornis. It was not, however, but constituted a family represented by very diverse forms and of variable size, though never much exceeding eleven feet. The head was similar in appearance to that of the Dinornis, but the surface of the forehead was furrowed with wrinkles and cavities, indicating the presence of a crest of large feathers. A curious peculiarity was the opening of the Eustachian tube directly on the exterior. The cervical vertebrae are very numerous, while the sternum is much reduced. It is a flat bone, broad but very short, especially in the median part. The wing also has suffered a great regression, for it comprises only a thin, short rod, the humerus, and a small osseous mass representing all the other bones of the wing stuck together. The Epiornis had no wings externally visible. The bones of the feet were, on the other hand, of considerable size, and indicate that the bird that possessed them was larger than the Dinornis.

The Epiornis, according to M. Milne-Edwards, frequented the borders of waters, keeping among the reeds along lakes and rivers, for its bones are found associated with those of turtles, crocodiles, and a small hippopotamus. It most probably nested in the low plains around lakes.

Just as the Apteryx among birds, and the bison and the beaver among mammals, so the Dinornis and the Epiornis have been destroyed as man has extended his abode and his domination.VOL, LVI.—21