Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/April 1895/Some of the Outliers Among Birds


AS in all other departments of biology, the classification of birds was not placed upon a rational basis until midsummer of the year 1858. It was at that time that Darwin and Wallace demonstrated the principles of the law of organic evolution, and gave to the world of science their views upon it and the results of their labors. Prior to their day, when a new form of bird came to the hands of the ornithologist, he considered his duty done, in so far as classification was concerned, after he had generically and specifically christened it, placed it in the family and order where it apparently belonged, and, finally, published its description. Species were thought to be immutable, and consequently the questions of morphology, affinity, and geographical distribution meant little or nothing. If the bird was a duck, with the ducks it went; if a sparrow, then with the sparrows, and so on. Ever and anon, however, a bird form would come to hand that could not be fit with exactness into any of the set and prescribed groups. When this was the case, one author would, for given reasons of his own, place it in this genus, family, and order; while another, for reasons apparently quite as good, would array it elsewhere. Thus these perplexing species were, by one ornithologist or another, tossed about from group to group, and ,there was no unanimity of opinion as to where they really did belong. This is not at all surprising when we come to consider the views of creation and of Nature that prevailed in the early part of the present century. It was thought by many that birds were created for the admiration of man, and when they sang they sang for man's amusement, and in glorification of their creator. Some very curious notions were entertained in regard to the meager examples of fossil birds known in those days, and the causes for the extinction of existing species were often considered to be "beyond the scope of human reason."

All this and many other crude ideas upon the subject were completely revolutionized when the laws of evolution came to be known. With it came the most remarkable revelation, and the entire science of ornithology passed, as it were, through a transformation scene, and came at once to be regarded from an entirely different point of view. "Classification," as Newton has said, "assumed a wholly different aspect. It had up to that time been little more than a shuffling of cards, the ingenious arrangement of counters in a pretty pattern. Henceforward it was to be the serious study of the workings of Nature in producing the beings we see around us from beings more or less unlike them, that had existed in bygone ages, and had been the parents of a varied and varying offspring—our fellow-creatures of to-day."

"Classification for the first time was something more than the expression of a fancy. Not that it had not also its imaginative side. Men's minds began to figure to themselves the original type of some well-marked genus or family of birds. They could even discern dimly some generalized stock whence had descended whole groups that now differed strangely in habits and appearance—their discernment aided, may be, by some isolated form which yet retained undeniable traces of a primitive structure. More dimly still, visions of what the first bird may have been like could be reasonably entertained; and passing even to a higher antiquity, the reptilian parent, whence all birds have sprung, was brought within reach of man's consciousness."

When all this came to pass it was those very isolated forms—the so-called "outliers" among birds—to which Prof. Newton alludes in the last paragraph, that then came to be regarded with a peculiar interest by the scientific ornithologist; and, although at the present writing there is by no means a unanimity of opinion as to the position many of them occupy in the system, they nevertheless at once threw a powerful light upon the whole field of ornithology. Ornithotomists everywhere, the world over, carefully investigated their anatomical structure, and groups of birds long thought to be widely separated were seen to be, through these forms, more or less nearly related to each other, and the fact as a whole was demonstrated beyond all cavil that the class Aves had arisen from primitive reptilian stock.

Without further dwelling upon this phase of the subject, we will say here that it is the object of the present article to call attention to some of the more prominent species of birds that, to a greater or less extent, are considered to represent these "outliers" of the class. Although hardly to be regarded as belonging among them, the very interesting group of forms that we commonly designate among them as the "ostrich group" are important, inasmuch as through them we are enabled, by the aid of many fossil and subfossil types, to trace birds directly back to some of their reptilian stock. Among the existing ostrichlike types we have the Apteryx or kiwi, of New Zealand, a bird now supposed by some of our best authorities to have kinship with the rails. Then there are the emeus and cassowaries, rhea, or the South American representative of the ostriches, and, lastly, the true ostriches themselves.[1]

Technically, the common African ostrich is known as Struthio camelus, and so the ostrichlike birds, as a group, have come to be spoken of as the "struthious types," or those with "struthious characters." Again, the group as a whole has been designated as the Ratitæ, which primarily has reference to the fact that the breastbone or sternum in any one of them lacks a keel, and so is "raftlike" as compared with a sternum possessing the character.[2]

With but one or two exceptions, all the rest of existing birds have a more or less well-developed median keel on their sterna, and as the Carinatæ they form the second great division of the class Aves. Carina is the Latin word meaning "a keel," hence the name for the group. To this keel are attached the pectoral muscles, which are so essential to the power of flight.

Linking together the ratite and carinate avian groups, we have an interesting subgroup of birds known as the tinamous.[3] In 1827 L'Herminier thought that the nearest kin of the tinamous among the carinate birds were the rails (Rallidæ). They are South American and Mexican types, and about fifty species of them are known, and systematists have consigned these to some nine or ten genera. All these forms have a general external resemblance to each other, and, as many observers have noted, to those birds we call "partridges." The largest tinamous are about the size of our "prairie chickens," and the smallest about the size of the least of our "quails." They are fine eating; fly pretty well, but are foolish and easily captured. Some of them have but three toes on either foot, others four, and all lay wonderfully handsome eggs. These latter may be of various shades of green, blue, pink, or orange, varying with the species, but in all they have highly burnished shells resembling porcelain or brilliantly polished metal. Little is as yet known of their habits.

Sharpe speaks of the tinamous as "struthious partridges," and Hudson claims that some of their "habits are thoroughly partridgelike,"[4] and if they lead in the direction of the gallinaceous

types, the student will there be confronted with at least two families, the exact position of either of which has more or less puzzled the ornithologist—I refer to the megapodes[5] and those curious little quail-like birds the hemipodes or "button quails." The former leave their eggs to be hatched without incubation, simplyburying them in the ground as many reptiles do, or heaping over them a mound composed of leaves, earth, and other materials. There are several species and genera, and the chicks of all are highly developed at birth[6] Again, these gallinaceous types, or the "fowls" or "chicken types,"[7] including as they do everything after the fowl order, as turkeys, pheasants, quails, peacocks, and a perfect host of related kin, are beautifully linked with the pigeons[8] through the true intermediate forms—the sand grouse.[9]

The sand grouse are small, columbo-partridge forms given to remarkable erratic migrations over certain parts of Europe and Asia. Related to the pigeons we have the extinct dodo, and the nearly extinct "tooth-billed pigeon" of the Samoan Islands (Didunculus strigirostris). Other birds possessing galline affinities are the well-known curassows,[10] and they in their general appearance somewhat remind us of the curious "hoactzin,"![11] one of the veriest "outliers" among birds in existence.

Even at the present writing, avian taxonomers are by no means agreed upon the question of the exact relationships of this bird. Buffon placed it among the curassows, while Gmelin and others arrayed it with the pheasants.[12] Early in this century Illiger created for it the genus it now occupies, since which time it has received the closest possible attention from ornithotomists in various parts of the world.[13]

Opisthocomus has a size about equal to the chachalaca of our Texan border, and is extremely remarkable in its anatomy, its appearance, its nesting, and its habits. It is found in tropical South America, and but the one species of it is at present known. The head of the hoactzin is ornamented with a semipendent crest composed of rather long, loose, yellowish feathers, as shown in the figure below. Below, the body is of a dull chestnut, while above it is olive splashed with white. Its large tail is conspicuously tipped with yellow, while its wings are short and rounded.

These birds congregate in loose companies in the undergrowth found upon the banks of streams and sloughs. Here they are

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Fig. 1.—The Hoactzin (O. cristatus).

easily approached, inasmuch as they are weak fliers and seldom take to wing. They are believed to be polygamous, and it is known that in the manner of their nesting and the appearance of their eggs they strongly remind us of the gallinules and rails. This is a curious circumstance, for it falls into line with another gallinuline character. The claws on the indicial digits of young gallinules are pretty well developed—so much so that they can use them to help crawl out of their nests with, by catching on to twigs, and so forth, in their way and neighborhood. These claw joints are even better developed in the hoactzin, where in the young they are more or less functional. Opisthocomus lives upon fruits, leaves, etc. "Its voice is a harsh, grating hiss, and it makes the noise when alarmed, all the individuals sibilating as they fly heavily away from tree to tree when disturbed by passing canoes" (Bates), In British Guiana it is called the "stink bird," from the disagreeable odor it has, and which, according to Newton, Deville likens to that of a cow house. No fossil forms of opisthocoraine birds are known.

In studying the group of rail-forms and their kin we meet with many interesting types.[14] This great rail group appears to be connected with or linked to the pygopodous birds or divers[15] by two genera of very interesting and as yet little known birds. These are Heliornis and Podica of the family Heliornithidæ, and commonly known as "finfeet." Very little is known of their anatomy, and absolutely nothing of their eggs and nidification.[16]

New Zealand, which furnishes us with so many remarkable types, has another genus leading off from the rails. These are the "ocydromes,"[17] curious birds with perfect wings yet incapable

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Fig. 2.—The Trumpeter {Psophia leucoptera). By the author, after Mitchell.

of flight. They are doomed to speedy extinction, and their anatomy and life history stand sadly in need of careful working up.

Another great center of bird life is seen in the plover-snipe group, and some important types link it as "outliers" with various other groups. For instance, in the first place, we have that curious, generalized type, the Dromas ardeola, that web-footed, long-legged, black and white bird found on the shores and some of the islands of the Indian Ocean. At different times ornithologists have placed this form not only in various families, but in various orders. It has even been associated with the terns, and Sharpe has said it "is in habits a plover, in many points of structure larine [gull], but it burrows in the sand and lays a white egg, like that of a petrel—surely a combination of characters which demand that it shall have a separate rank as the representative of a definite suborder." British ornithologists call it the "cavalier," and place it near the stilts.

Again, we have the "pratincoles," all of the single genus Glareola, which are curious little ploverlike birds which have a flight resembling that of the swallows, and, like them, they feed upon the wing. There are nine or ten species of these, being found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even Australia. They are distinguished for their trim build and marked delicacy in the coloration of their plumage. They nest upon the ground.[18] With the gull group, the plovers are beautifully linked by those very types of outliers, the sheathbills of the genus Chionis. Among the limicoline birds their nearest allies are seen to be the oyster catchers,[19] while their structure goes to show that, besides the gulls, they have affinities with a number of other groups. Sheathbills are of great interest to the ornithologist, as they are undoubtedly the descendants of very ancient and generalized types. There are at present only two species of them known—the one, C. minor, from the Kerguelen Islands, and the other, C. alba, from some of the islands of the antarctic seas. In life they somewhat resemble pigeons, and both species are pure white in plumage, while they receive their English name from the little saddle of horn ensheathing the base of the upper part of the bill. Numbers of their eggs have been taken, and they are said to resemble those of a plover. Chionis lives upon shellfish and certain sea weeds, and some authorities aver that they have been known to eat the eggs of other birds. Unanimity of opinion among naturalists as to their systematic position as yet by no means exists, and a thorough examination of their anatomy is still a thing much to be desired.[20]

Returning once more to the neighborhood of the rails and cranes, we meet with some very remarkable birds—forms that attract the attention of anatomists and ornithologists all over the world. Some of these birds are as yet but very imperfectly known either in the matter of their habits or their morphology. Conspicuous among these stand the trumpeters (Psophia) of South America, of which some seven species have been described (see Fig. 2), and all referred to the family Psophiidæ. They get their name from the loud and peculiar note they utter—a power associated with the singular structure of the windpipe in the male. Psophia appears to be related to the fowls, the rails, and the

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Fig. 3.—The Sun Bittern (Euriypyga helius). By the author, after Newton.

cranes, and may be a subspecialized descendant of an ancient generalized group, to which the last two may also be traced back. The species vary in size and color, the best-known form being P. crepitans of Guiana, which is the "oiseau trompette" of the French and the "trompetero" of the Spaniards. Big as a small turkey in body, it has longer legs and neck and a beautiful plumage, and even its legs are said to be of a "bright pea green."

These birds are noted for forming in captivity the strongest attachment to man as well as to the domesticated fowls and animals of the barnyard. Some remarkable stories are told by travelers and others in this connection. Although these birds have been known since the middle of the last century we are still quite ignorant of their habits in Nature, and their nidification and a great deal of their anatomy.

Right here I would invite attention to another peculiar bird, one which we have in the United States, it being confined to the peninsula of Florida, This is the "limpkin" (Aramus), a most perfect "go-between," connecting the rails and the cranes. To American ornithologists and others the bird is well known, and it no doubt is indirectly related to Psophia. The limpkin has also been found in the West Indies, the Atlantic coast of Central America, and elsewhere.[21]

We have next to touch upon two genera of birds that are generally recognized to stand among the most conspicuous outliers to be found in the entire range of the science of ornithology. These are the sun bitterns of South America and the kagu of New Caledonia (see Figs. 3 and 4).[22] If we take as example the better known of the two species of sun bitterns—E. helias, the one shown in our figure—it is seen to be a bird about the size of a willet, with a wonderfully variegated plumage, composed of different shades of brown, black, gray, and white, the whole being arranged and distributed so as to form a pattern quite as bizarre as that of a whip-poor-will. Very little has been recorded of the habits of the sun bittern, it merely having been stated that it resorts to the undergrowth found along the muddy banks of sluggish streams, where it feeds upon insects and small fishes.

Newton, who has observed it in captivity, at the gardens of the Zoölogical Society of London, says: "It soon becomes tame, and has several times made its nest and reared its young." It has a plaintive, piping note, and "it ordinarily walks with slow and precise steps, keeping its body in a horizontal position, but at times, when excited, it will go through a series of fantastic performances, spreading its broad wings and tail so as to display their beautiful markings." These sun bitterns were known fully three quarters of a century or more to science before anything at all akin to them was found; but when the island of New Caledonia became colonized, a bird there discovered, and nowhere else, at last furnished an ally. This was the kagu, mentioned above, now described by ornithologists as Rhinochetus jubatus. Externally the kagu bears but little resemblance to a sun bittern, though its internal structure, which has been carefully examined, proves the relationship (see Fig. 4). Considerably larger than Eurypyga, it has its head ornamented by a hanging crest of long and soft feathers. Both its legs, which are rather long, and its beak are of a livid red color. Its ample wings are marked

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Fig. 4.—The Kagu {Rhinochetus jubatus). Drawn by the author after Newton's figure.

something after the pattern seen in the sun bittern, while its chief body color is a pale slate, shading lighter below. Numerous transverse bars embellish the tail, and these markings, though far less distinct, are seen on the wing coverts also. Ordinarily it is a very passive bird, standing motionless for several minutes at a time, when it will step off briskly for a short distance, only to again assume its attitude of rest. This is by no means, however, the invariable behavior of this extraordinary bird, for when aroused by excitement it will even quite outdo a sun bittern in its extravagant and fantastic "show-off." Holding one of its wings or the extremity of its tail in the most remarkable manner, it will violently spin about in giddy dance, the like of which is never performed by any other known member of the class Aves. Unfortunately, this extremely interesting type, it is now said, is becoming rapidly exterminated.[23]

Once more in South America we meet with still another oddity among birds—the very prince of outliers—I refer to the far-famed seriema (Dicholophus cristatus) (see Fig. 5), a form that has puzzled the best of taxonomers since the middle of the seventeenth century, and even we moderns are as yet by no means agreed upon its exact affinities. With the digestive apparatus of a heron, with an external resemblance to the secretary bird (Fig. 6), with other points in its structure hinting at an alliance with the bustards (Otis), or peradventure with some of the plovers, and with habits distinctly its own, it is a fact hardly to be wondered at that the classifiers of birds have at various times placed it with

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Fig. 5.—The Seriema (Dicholophus cristatus). Copied by the author from Newton's figure.

great certainty in divers orders, families, or of other sections of the class Aves. It is, however, safe to say that the seriema has descended with but little modification from some very ancient type, and one that thrived, perhaps, even before a number of our present groups of birds came to be differentiated.

There is a fine living specimen of this bird in the National Zoölogical Gardens of Washington, where the writer has frequently studied it. In body it is about the size of a small turkey, but owing to its long legs and neck it has a height, when

standing, of over two feet. We are at first struck with the peculiar crest of vertical feathers at the base of the upper bill, and this latter being a bright red, and its large and handsome eyes of a clear yellow, the bird has a very animated mien, which is in no way lessened by its stately carriage. The eyes are surrounded by a pale green or bluish skin, while in its general plumage the seriema is a slaty gray, shading off beneath to a soiled white. On the throat, neck, and sides the feathers are loose and long, and are variegated by fine, irregularly transverse lines. The wings and tail are darker and mottled, while the legs are of a pinkish red. The home of this bird are the elevated plains of Brazil, where, in the high grass of those regions, the traveler not infrequently meets with it. Upon being approached it lowers its body and rapidly skulks away, and, unless the observer be mounted and take after it, it rarely can be induced to take to wing. It lives upon a variety of small animals, as snakes, lizards, and the like, and also eats certain insects, berries, and land snails. Instead of building its nest upon the ground, as one would naturally be led to suppose, it constructs it in the dense undergrowth of bushes, or even some six or seven feet above the ground in a tree. Its two eggs are said to resemble those of some of the crakes or land rails, and the down-covered young long remain in the nest after being hatched.[24]

We have said above that the seriema bore a general resemblance to the secretary bird. Now this latter is a well-known type, and is itself a true "outlier" of the class which inhabits certain parts of Africa (see Fig. G). It derives its vernacular name from the fact that it possesses pairs of long, black feathers, which hang loosely from the back of the head and the neck, resembling, in the eyes of some of its describers, the quill stuck above the ear of a clerk. These feathers, when the bird is excited, are capable of erection and dilatation, giving their possessor at such times, an aspect of great fierceness. Standing some four feet in height, and with its raptorial-appearing head, the secretary bird, for all the world, looks like some kind of a falcon on stilts. Its general plumage is a slate blue with black wings. The tail is tipped with white, but what is more peculiar about it is that the middle pairs of feathers are greatly elongated, and give to the bird a very singular appearance.

Living chiefly upon the ground, over which they can run with considerable speed, they nevertheless build their great massive nests in bushes or trees, and deposit therein their two spotted eggs; and, as in the case of the seriema, the young remain in the nest for a great length of time, being quite helpless at three or four months of age. Many of them have been reared as pets, and in some localities are useful in destroying vermin about the premises.

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Fig. 6.—The Secretary Bird (Gypogeranus serpentarius).

Gypogeranus lives chiefly upon reptiles and insects, and in nature will kill and devour the most venomous species of snakes. A great deal has been written about this last-named habit, and it is the one which has given the bird its popular notoriety. When it meets a big snake of the most venomous variety it will at once advance upon it with stately strides and commence the attack. It will strike the reptile with its knobbed wings and kick forward at it with its feet, until its victim is completely worn out by its fruitless attempts to withstand such an onset, whereupon the merciless victor pounces upon it, crushes its head with a blow from its powerful beak, and at once proceeds to devour its prey. These heron-like falcons are distributed over the greater part of Africa,[25]

Speaking of the herons, and while we are still in Africa, I desire to call attention to two other strange outliers, both of which are found in that country.

The first to be noticed is that singular bird known as the hammerhead, a heron-like form about as big as an average-sized bittern, which derives its name from the fancied resemblance of its head to a hammer. This only holds true, however, when its otherwise erectile crest is lowered so as to be in a line with its beak (see Fig. 7). It has been known to science since 1760, when Brisson described it, it being the Scopus umbretta of ornithology, and ranges over the greater part of the African continent. In plumage it is of a dingy brown with purplish reflections, while a series of blackish bars mark its tail across. Inactive by day, it is lively enough as night approaches, at which latter time, it is said, it gives itself up to a behavior of a very remarkable order. According to Sharpe, its nest is "a structure of great bulk, with chambers inside, built of branches and twigs and five or six feet in diameter, capable of bearing the weight of a man." This nest has a roof to it and is carefully lined with clay, the entrance being

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Fig. 7.—The Hammerhead (Scopus umbretta), with a Pair of Shoebills in the Distance {B. rex).

at the side. Scopus is known to lay white eggs, but up to the present writing the nestling has not been described. Recently the bird has been found in the island of Madagascar.

One other remarkable African outlier is the famous Balæniceps rex, known to English travelers as the "shoebill," a stork-like heron, A pair of these birds is shown in the distance in Fig. 7 of the present article, and the whole of this figure, executed by the writer, is adapted from two drawings given us by Newton; and this distinguished authority has said that "in singularity of aspect few birds surpass Balæniceps, with its gaunt gray figure, some five feet in height, its large head surmounted by a little curled tuft, the scowling expression of its eyes, and its huge bill in form not unlike a whale's head—this last suggesting its generic name—but tipped with a formidable hook." These birds lay white eggs with faint markings upon them in an ordinary nest built in the high sedge in the near vicinity of the water. Before leaving this the young are fed by the parents for some time, as in the case of other heronlike types.

Flamingoes (Phœnicopterus) are other birds that formerly much exercised the avian taxonomer, and they were variously classified until Huxley and other anatomists clearly demonstrated that they should be awarded a group to themselves, and that they connected the ibises on the one hand with the anserine fowls (ducks, swans, geese, etc.) on the other, standing immediately between these two groups. Not so easy, however, has it been to decide upon the relationships of another most singular bird—that is, the screamer (Palamedea cornuta, Fig. 8) of Guiana and the valley of the Amazon—and it may with truth be said that its position in the system is as yet by no means fully understood. That in some strange way it is related to the duck group (Anseres) there seems now to be no question, but with what other main assemblages of birds there is a very considerable degree of doubt entertained. This form is as big as a small brant goose, and is noted for its very noisy screams, which make the very air resound when uttered. Either of its wings are armed with two sharp spurs, and on the crown of its head is reared a slender "horn," some three inches in length. Below it is white, while the rest of its general plumage is of a blackish gray, and its toes are very long for the size of the bird. Another strange thing about it is that its skin is separated from the muscles by an air filled cellular tissue, which gives rise to a crackling sound when the bird is handled, as in the case of certain gannets and cormorants. Screamers are abundant in some localities, where they live in pairs, especially in the marshy districts. They feed upon grain and aquatic herbs. A closely related genus is represented by the "crested screamer" (Chauna cliavaria) of the swamps and sloughs of the lower Brazils and Paraguay, where it is known to the inhabitants as the "chaka." Not so large as its near ally and lacking its "horn," which latter is replaced by a hanging tuft of feathers, this species is as fully interesting to the ornithologist. It has considerable more white in its plumage, the face and throat being entirely so, while below it is more or less shaded with dusky. A black ring encircles the neck. Linnæus thought this bird to be a jacana (Fig. 8), in which he was entirely wrong, as the jacanas are now known to stand as a family—the Jacanidæ—connecting the rails with the snipe-plover group (Limicolæ), with the closer affinity with the latter. Young chakas are frequently reared by the natives from the nest and employed as guards in the poultry yards, a task performed by them with marked success, armed as they are with the spurs upon their wings. They in Nature build a light nest of rushes, often in the water in the shallowest parts of the lagoons where they resort, and in this they lay some half a dozen buffy-white eggs. Nestling chakas are

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Fig. 8.—The Screamer (Palamedea cornuta) with a Jacana in the near Background. Drawn by the author.

covered with a clay-colored down, which is probably also true of the young of P. cornuta. These birds—that is, the crested screamers—are given at times to rising to great heights in the air, where they soar in circles, ever and anon uttering their piercing cries of "chaka!" "chaka!" "chaka!" and when a number of them are thus engaged it offers a sight not likely to be forgotten by the observer.[26]

Passing on next to the parrots,[27] we find them to be a wonderfully compact group with apparently no very close allies, unless it be the raptores,[28] as has been suggested by some of their describers. They furnish us, however, with at least one very curious bird, and that is the kakapo of New Zealand (Stringops habroptilus), also known as the "owl parrot" or "ground parrot." This survivor of the primitive parrot stock is but another important type that appears to be doomed to early extermination, and that, too, unfortunately, before a thorough monograph upon its morphology and life history have been furnished by science. Most large museums are amply supplied with skins of the kakapo, and a dozen or more specimens have been transported to England alive and studied. But all this is but a very small part of what yet remains to be known of the species. Stringops is nocturnal in habits, almost entirely so, and feeds only toward dark, when it will issue forth from its hiding place under rock or root of tree to seek for the seeds and fruits upon which it lives. It also eats leaves, twigs, bits of roots, and even grass, moss, or other plants. Some of the flight' muscles and the keel of the sternum are aborted in this parrot, so its powers of flight about amount to nil. It spends most of its time upon the ground, and goes up into trees only by climbing. Many of the introduced predaceous animals of the country are its enemies, and to them must be added the greatest destroyer of animal life of them all—man. This is one of the largest of the parrots, and it derives some protection from its plumage, which is of an earthy green, freckled and finely zigzagged over with snuff brown, with longitudinal dashes here and there of straw yellow. It has a powerful beak like a macaw, which it most efficiently uses. About the face the feathers are long and stringy, and so arranged as to remind one at once of a strigine physiognomy. It is an intelligent as well as an affectionate bird in captivity, but lacks the characteristic longevity of the group to which it belongs.[29] The owls,[30] which are more or less remotely allied to the goatsuckers[31] rather than to the true raptorial birds,[32] are in some strange way connected through that peculiar strigine nightjar—the guacharo or oilbird of northern South America and the island of Trinidad.[33] This great goatsucker is a little larger than our barn owl, with a mottled plumage after the order of the whip-poor-will, only with more brown in it, and is in habit quite as nocturnal as either one of them. In immense numbers it resorts to caverns, coming out in noisy array only at dark to seek the nuts and fruits which constitute its food. Steatornis breeds by the hundreds in the vast gloomy caves to which it resorts, laying three or four white eggs in a shallow clay nest. The young are overlaid with quantities of fat, and are collected by the natives for the oil they afford therefrom. This is an extensive and interesting industry, upon which much has been written.[34]

We have now passed into an extensive group of birds generally alluded to by ornithologists as the "picarian assemblage," that not only includes the goatsuckers, of which we have just been speaking, but also many other families.[35] Some of the relationships of the representatives of these groups are by no means as yet understood fully; many of them are interrelated; others exhibit characters which link them with another great assemblage of birds that is, the passerine group, or the Passeres. This is the case with the woodpeckers, for example, and also with the swifts, which latter are related to the swallows (Hirundinidæ). PSM V46 D797 The huia heteralocha female and male on bottom.jpgFig. 9.—The Huia (Heteralocha). Upper figure, female; lower, male. Shufeldt, after Newton. All this with equal truth applies to the Passeres, of which we have just spoken, and to which the swallows belong. Quite a number of the families among the passerine birds, however, have been very carefully examined, and ornithologists the world over are agreed as to their affinities, while on the other hand we are at our wits' end in regard to the determination of the allies of some of the passerine outliers. A few of the more puzzling forms of these can now be briefly introduced. The little "American dipper" (Cinclus) of the Rocky Mountain region is one of these, a bird not much larger than a bluebird, which is completely aquatic, even to the extent of hunting for its food under water.[36]

New Zealand, that land of oddities in Nature, adds another to our list in this place. I refer to the species called the huia by the native Maoris, Owing to the fact that the bill is entirely different in the two sexes, the male and female have been referred to two distinct species (Fig, 9). Newton says: "According to the personal observation of Sir W. Buller, who enters at length on the natural history of the huia (Birds of New Zealand, second edition, vol, i, 23p, 7-17), its favorite food is the grub of a timberboring beetle, and the male bird with his short, stout bill attacks the more decayed portions of the wood and chisels out his prey, while the female with her long, slender bill probes the holes in the sounder part, the hardness of which resists his weapon; or when he, having removed the decayed portion, is unable to reach the grub, the female comes to his aid and accomplishes what he has failed to do. The huia is entirely a forest bird, and is doubtless one of those doomed to extinction, though at present it seems to maintain its existence. Except a white terminal band on the tail, the whole plumage in both sexes is black, with green metallic gloss; the bill is ivory white, and the large rounded wattles at the gape are of a rich orange" (Dictionary of Birds, part ii, p. 438).

Before concluding I will refer to one or two more of the puzzling outliers to be found among the passerine birds, and none of them have exercised the ornithologist more than the curious little "scrub birds" of Australia. Shortly after these were first made known to science they were simply regarded as belonging to the Australian warblers,[37] but after their internal structure was examined it was found that they constituted quite a distinct family, to which now the two species known have been relegated,[38] So far as I am at present aware, neither the nest nor the eggs nor even the female of either of the species of this family are known, and the only birds supposed to be allied to them are the famous "lyre birds" (see Fig. 10), also of Australia. These last are so curious, both in their external appearance and in their internal structure, that they have by various systematists and describers been assigned to all sorts of positions and considered to have been allied to widely separated groups. Originally thought to be a "pheasant," and subsequently a "bird of paradise," and by Huxley placed in a group by itself, the relationships of the Menura were by no means unraveled until Newton took it in hand in 1875, more than three quarters of a century after its discovery, and placed it in a distinct family—the Menuridæ of the great passerine group. He also declared its alliance with the "scrub birds," for which he created another family, the Atrichiidæ, as above pointed out. The present writer shares this opinion with him.

The appearance of the Superb lyre bird is well shown in Fig. 10, and the adults attain a size about equal to that of our ruffed grouse (Bonasa), or rather less. It is only the adult male that possesses the extraordinarily developed tail shown in the drawing, although that appendage is quite lengthy in the female, and contains sixteen feathers. These birds have a smoky-brown plumage, loose in texture, which inclines to chestnut on the throat and tail

PSM V46 D799 The lyre bird menura superba.jpg
Fig. 10.—The Lyre Bird {Menura superba). Drawn by the author.

coverts. Their wings are rounded and short, while their legs and feet are strongly developed. They spend most of their time on the ground, have a loud call note, but, owing to their great shyness and the rocky, broken country they inhabit, are only taken with difficulty. They go in pairs, and Gould says they are most successfully hunted by treeing them with dogs. The bird is four years old before its gorgeous tail is fully matured, but after that it is molted and renewed every season. Its food consists of land snails and various kinds of insects, and its nest is a massive structure usually built on the ground, and has an entrance at the side. Menura lays but one egg, that is large for the size of the bird. It is blotched with purplish brown on a ground color of a purplish gray. Some of its habits are very extraordinary, while no doubt it has many others as yet unknown. Captivity is but illy borne by it, and it soon perishes in that state, and indeed it is said the species is on the highroad to extinction in its native land. No doubt this will be effected even before we are fully acquainted with all its habits and ways, and man will be responsible for sweeping off the face of the earth forever one of the loveliest forms that has ever graced it or ever will. Dismal indeed will be the forests and Nature's wilds when each and all such graceful creatures, such forms of life and beauty, are completely exterminated. Such work is going on in every quarter of the globe as I pen these lines, and with very marked rapidity. Still, this is but fate and the natural order of things; and we must believe that in the centuries to come the Earth will see the day when man's descendants will be her only inhabitants, with perhaps the merest remnant of any other forms of vertebrate life, and these completely subjected to his will and sway. How much the more,then, does it devolve upon us to fully record in all particulars the biology of those forms now in existence in our midst, and especially those types, the outliers—the connecting links—in all departments of Nature so essential to its understanding, and in order that our heirs and descendants may the more completely comprehend the history of the origin of organic life upon the face of the globe and the manifold mysteries of its evolution.


Regarding the manlike apes as our nearest relatives in the animal world, Dr. R. Lydekker observes, in Knowledge, that the relationship is to be spoken of as one of cousins and not of ancestry; and that we should at once free ourselves from any idea that there is a vestige of direct ancestral kinship between these creatures and ourselves. Such relation as does exist is of a comparatively distant kind; and the common ancestor must have lived ages before the mammoth roamed over the plains and valleys of England, since at that time man was as distinctly differentiated from the apes as he is in the present century. Whether this "missing link" win ever turn up, or in what country it is most likely to have lived, are questions impossible to answer; but from the extreme rarity with which fossil remains of manlike apes are found in countries where they are known to have existed for long ages, and from the probability that the distributional area of the aforesaid "link" was extremely limited, not much hope can be given that the researches of paleontologists will ever be rewarded by such a find.

M. Moissan has found, in his electrical furnace, that quite as distinct chemical actions go on in molten cast iron as those with which the chemist has long been familiar in aqueous solutions at ordinary temperatures. The actions are often very complex, because of the faculty which iron has of retaining many compounds as impurities. The author has precipitated carbon and carbide of iron in fusions by means of boron and silicon; all these substances behaving in the liquid iron precisely as the substances with which we deal in a similar manner behave in water.

  1. The great moas (Dinornis) of New Zealand are now extinct, though we have their remains in plenty. This is the case also with the huge Æpyornis of Madagascar, the Gasiornis, the Struthiolithus of lower Russia, and the curious fossils found in the Siwalik rocks of India, which are also of birds which were of this group. All of these, both existing and fossil, arc or were flightless birds, and the African ostrich, no doubt, the most specialized of any of them. According to Cope, there was a gigantic ostrichlike bird that lived in Texas and New Mexico during the Eocene time (Diatryma). It was double the size of an ordinary ostrich. The largest moa, Dinornis giganteus, was nearly ten feet high.
  2. It is probable that all the early ancestors of birds were flightless, and consequently all had keelless sterna, except such forms as Ichthyornis, and, no doubt, its predecessors were ratite birds, in the sense that they had non-carinate breastbones.
  3. These birds have deep keels to their sterna, but at the same time possess so many struthious characters in their organizations that they have been designated by Huxley as the Dromæognnthæ—the genus Dromæus containing the emeu—and emeus and tinamous have the structure of the palate much the same.
  4. Nowadays most scientists refer to the tinamous as the Crypturi, from the fact that their tails are concealed by the coverts (Gr. krupto, I conceal, and oura, the tail).
  5. Megapodiidæ.
  6. Huxley made an independent group for the hemipodes (Turnicomorphæ), but other authors still retain them with the galline birds as the Turnicidæ. The first-named great authority is probably correct in his position in this matter, or, if retained among the gallinaceous types, they are at least entitled to superfamily rank.
  7. Gallinæ.
  8. Columbæ.
  9. Pterocles, Syrrhaptes, to Geophapes.
  10. Craces.
  11. Opisthocomus cristatus.
  12. Phasianus.
  13. According to Newton, who, referring to Huxley's and Ganod's opinion, "Opisthocomus must have left the parent stem very shortly before the true Gallinæ first appeared, and at about the same time as the independent pedigree of the Cuculidæ and Musophagidæ commenced, these two groups being, he believed [Garrod], very closely related, and Opisthocomus serving to fill the gap between them." This quotation is from Newton's A Dictionary of Birds, a work now passing through the press. The figure of the hoactzin herewith presented, and drawn by the present writer, is also from the same excellent work.
  14. Our room here will not permit of more than to name some of these, and the student will do well to look into the history of that peculiar genus of exaggerated gallinules known as Notornis, as N. mantelli, and its fossil relative Aptornis, described by Owen, and both from New Zealand. Porphyrio and the remarkable genus Tribonyx of Australia are still others to be especially noted. They all belong to the gallinuline series of subpartial rail outliers.
  15. Pygopodes.
  16. Prince Maximilian of Wied claims to have shot a male H. fulica that had under its wings two new-hatched, naked young. This species occurs from Guatemala to Paraguay, while Podica is an African genus.
  17. Ocydromus.
  18. Some of our best systematists believe they connect the plovers (Limcolæ) with the cranes—that is, the true Charadrii through the coursers, the thickknees (Œdicnemi), and the bustards (Otis).
  19. Hæmatopus.
  20. As other avian outliers, and in some ways related to the sheathbills, we have those curious South American forms belonging to the genera Thinocoris and Attagis of the family Thinociridæ Our space will only permit of our mentioning their names here.
  21. Madagascar, from her avifaunæ, also gives us a fine example of an outlier, a bird known to science as Mesites variegatus—a most peculiar type, to winch, further on, I shall briefly refer again.
  22. Of the sun bitterns there are two species (Eurypyga lielias and E. major), and probably of all existing birds none have so puzzled the systemist with respect to their position in the class. They have in early times been referred to the herons, to the rails, and even to the snipes!
  23. It is not at all unlikely but that Mesites, the sun bitterns, and the kagu all sprang from some common, generalized, ancestral type long ages extinct, and that all the other host of allies, save the three just mentioned, coming from the same common stock, have also long since died out. Forbes seems to think that "the Malagash Mesites is perhaps more nearly related to the New Caledonian Rhinochetus than to the neotropical Eurypyga." Remarkable indeed are some of the interrelationships of birds.
  24. Farther south, or in the Argentine Republic, we meet with another bird—the Chunga burmeisteri which is undoubtedly a near ally of the seriema, and has l)een, by anatomists, but generically separated from it.
  25. They doubtless represent a type which, little modified in time, has descended from some generalized ancestor, long since extinct, and from which not only the Accipitres (falcons and their kin), the storks, and herons have been derived, but also the seriema. Gypogeranus should be retained in the suborder Accipitres as a superfamily—Gypogeranoidea.
  26. A darker-plumaged bird of this genus is also found in Central America (C. derbiana), which, in common with the others, has the same peculiar emphysematous condition of the skin. Grouped as a family, they are known as the Palamedcidæ of some and the Anhimidæ of others (Sharpe), and this family should be still further distinguished from other groups of birds by placing it apart in another of its own with at least subordinal rank.
  27. Psittaci.
  28. Accipitres.
  29. No doubt it should occupy a family by itself, as the Stringopsidæ.
  30. Striges.
  31. Caprimulgi.
  32. Accipitres.
  33. Steatornis caripensis.
  34. As a type this form is the sole representative of a distinct family—the Steatornithidæ.
  35. As, for example, the cuckoos (Coccyges), the rollers (Coraciæ), the kingfishers (Alcedines), the hornbills [Bucerotes), the todies (Todi), the trogons (Trogones), the swifts (Cypseli), the woodpeckers (Pici), the bee-eaters (Meropes), the hummingbirds (Trochili), the raotmots (Momoti), and hosts of others and all their various allies.
  36. Cinclus has by some been placed with the thrushes [Turdidæ), by others with the wrens (Troglodytidæ), while the present writer, after examining it osteologically, believes it to be related to the genus Siurus. Several of this last-named genus are "water thrushes," and the ovenbird (S. aurocapillus) at least builds a covered nest with a side entrance, as does the dipper (Cinclus).
  37. Maluridæ.
  38. Atrichia clamosa, A. rufescens, family Atrichiidæ.