« AnteriorContinua »
The genus Columba is widely diffused over both the temperate and tropical regions of the earth. Its species abound in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America; and, even in the forests of the far-distant islands of the Southern Ocean, their radiant plumage
"Fills many a damp obscure recess
One of the most magnificent of the tribe is the hackled pigeon (C. Francia). It is distinguished from all others by the irregular form of the feathers on the head, neck, and breast, which are long and narrow, and terminate in a shining appendage resembling in consistence, though not in colour, that with which the wing-feathers of the Bohemian chatterer are furnished. The species inhabits Southern Africa and the island of Madagascar. A still more singular bird is the parabolic pigeon (C. arquatrix). It was discovered by Le Vaillant, and is figured in his splendid work on the birds of Africa. The flight of this species is very remarkable. It never proceeds in a straight line, but on commencing its route it describes a parabola, and continues forming a series of arcs during the whole time, frequently uttering a peculiar cry. It inhabits the forests of Anteniquois, and is a great enemy to the white eagle.
The Guinea fowls, or pintados, are entirely peculiar to Africa as native species, though they now breed freely as domestic birds both in Europe and America. There are three kinds of this bird known to naturalists, viz. the Guinea pintado (Numida meleagris) common in our poultry-yards; the mitred pintado (N. mitrata); and the crested pintado (N. cristata).
Quails are remarkable for a certain compactness
of form and neatness of plumage, which, in the absence of brilliant colouring, produces a highly pleasing effect. In regard to the African species, we shall content ourselves with naming the Madagascar quail (Coturnix perlata), which is about twice the size of our British visitant. It is also distinguished from the others by the strength of its beak.
Very few partridges, properly so called, occur in this sandy continent. The Barbary partridge (Perdrix petrosa) is abundant along the African shores of the Mediterranean. It also occurs in Teneriffe, and along the western coast as far as Senegal. Of the genera Pterocles, Francolinus, and Turnix, there are likewise representatives in this country. Cranch's Francolin (F. Cranchii) was discovered by the indefatigable and unfortunate collector whose name it bears, during the ill-fated expedition to explore the source of the Congo under Captain Tuckey. It is described by Dr Leach in the appendix to the published narrative of that disastrous .voyage.
Of the African grouse, we may say, as Horrebow says in his brief chapter "On the Rats of Iceland,"
"There are no rats in Iceland;" so neither are there any grouse in Africa.
A few lines may now be devoted to a species which not only forms the most remarkable character in the ornithology of Africa, to which country it is now believed to be entirely peculiar, but presents in itself the most singular example of the feathered race. This extraordinary bird is the ostrich, the tallest of its class, and probably the swiftest of all running creatures. It is distinguished from every other bird by having only two toes on each foot. It
inhabits the open and sandy plains of a great extent of Africa, from Barbary to the Cape of Good Hope; and being consequently native to one of the most anciently-peopled countries of the earth, it has excited the attention of mankind from the remotest periods of antiquity. It is frequently mentioned in the Book of Job, and in other portions of the Old Testament. Herodotus, among the early Greek writers, was acquainted with its history and appearance; and in after times it was not only frequently exhibited by the Romans in their games, but the brains of hundreds at a time were scooped out, and served up as a choice delicacy on the luxurious table of Heliogabalus.
To exemplify the great strength and swiftness of this gigantic biped, we shall transcribe the following circumstance, narrated by Adanson, as having taken place at Podor, a French factory on the southern bank of the river Niger:-" Two ostriches which had been about two years in the factory, and, although young, were nearly of their full size, were so tame that two little blacks mounted both together on the back of the largest: no sooner did he feel their weight, than he began to run as fast as possible, and carried them several times round the village, as it was impossible to stop him otherwise than by obstructing the passage. This sight pleased me so much that I ordered it to be repeated; and, to try their strength, directed a full-grown negro to mount the smallest, and two others the largest. This burden did not seem at all disproportioned to their strength. At first they went at a tolerably sharp trot, but when they became heated a little, they expanded their wings as though to catch the wind, and moved
with such fleetness that they scarcely seemed to touch the ground. Most people have, one time or other, seen a partridge run, and consequently must know that there is no man whatever able to keep up with it; and it is easy to imagine that if this bird had a longer step, its speed would be considerably augmented. The ostrich moves like the partridge, with this advantage; and I am satisfied that those I am speaking of would have distanced the fleetest racehorses that were ever bred in England: it is true they would not hold out so long as a horse, but they would undoubtedly be able to go over the space in less time. I have frequently beheld this sight, which is capable of giving one an idea of the prodigious strength of an ostrich, and of showing what use it might be of, had we but the method of breaking and managing it as we do a horse."
Greatly inferior in size, but not very dissimilar in form, are the bustard tribe, of which the most recently-discovered African species is designated Otis Denhami by Mr Vigors, in honour of the late intrepid and accomplished traveller of that name.
We now arrive at the Grallatores, or long-legged birds, commonly called waders, on account of the semi-aquatic propensities by which so many of them are distinguished. Of these the most gracefully formed are the demoiselles, or lady-birds (Ardea pavonia and Ardea virgo, Linn.), both of African origin. They are not unfrequently exhibited in menageries under the name of crown-birds, or Balearic cranes.
The flamingo tribe are remarkable for the length of their legs. The species occasionally found in Europe (Phoenicopterus ruber) is native to the
warmer regions of Asia and Africa. The bird described under that name by Alexander Wilson, in his American Ornithology, is a distinct species, mentioned as such long ago by Molina, in his Natural History of Chili. It is alluded to by Thomas Campbell in his Gertrude of Wyoming :
"Then, where of Indian hills the daylight takes
The lesser flamingo (P. minor of Vieillot and Temminck) is a species discovered of late years as an inhabitant of various parts of Africa, from Senegal to the Cape of Good Hope.
The gigantic stork (Ciconia argala) though well known in Bengal, is likewise an African species. This bird is sometimes upwards of six feet in height. It is very common in many of the interior parts of Africa, and is called marabou in Senegal. According to Major Denham, it is protected by the inhabitants on account of its services as a scavenger. Its appetite is most voracious, and nothing comes amiss to its omnivorous propensities. Smeathman has given a long account of a tame bird of this species. It regularly attended the hall at dinner-time, and placed itself behind its master's chair. It frequently helped itself to what it liked best; and one day darted its enormous bill into a boiled fowl, which it swallowed in an instant. It used to fly about the whole country, and generally roosted high among some silk-cotton trees. From this station, at the distance of two or three miles, it could see when the dinner was carried across the court, when it immediately took wing, and flying with great swiftness, arrived in time to enter the house with some of those who carried the dishes.
It sometimes re