Imatges de pàgina

origin, and may be said to form the most signal and admired feature in the ornithology of that country.

The superb creeper is an elegant bird, described and figured in the magnificent work of M. Vieillot. Its length is six inches: the crown of the head, upper part of the neck, smaller wing-coverts, back, and rump, are bright greenish-gold; the throat is violet-blue, glossed with gold; across the upper part of the breast runs a bar of bright gilded-yellow, beneath which the whole upper parts are deep-brownish crimson; the wings and tail are blackishbrown; the legs are also brown, and the bill is black. This species was discovered in Malimba, by M. Perrien, and is one of the rarest as well as most beautiful of the genus.

Another highly-adorned species, such as

"Limners love to paint, and ladies to look upon,"

is called, par excellence, the African creeper. It is a native of the Cape of Good Hope, and is found in woody situa tions. In addition to a splendid plumage, it is highly admired for its musical powers, and its song is by some esteemed equal to that of the nightingale.

The spotted-breasted creeper (C. maculata) dwells in the forests of Malimba, and frequently approaches the habitations of the natives, allured by the flowers of the cytisus cajan, commonly called the Congo pea, which, according to Dr. Shaw is much cultivated by the negroes. The violetheaded creeper (C. violacea) is a native of the Cape of Good Hope. It likewise dwells in woods, and is said to build a nest of singularly elegant and ingenious structure. Our restricted limits will not admit of our expatiating on this delightful tribe.

The next African genus which claims our attention is Merops, which includes the bee-eaters, a group not more remarkable for beauty of colour than gracefulness of form. These birds feed on insects, and build their nests in the holes of banks. The common bee-eater (Merops apiaster), notwithstanding its designation, is one of the rarest of European birds, and is certainly one of the most beautiful. It occurs in Africa, and spreads from thence into Greece and the Mediterranean Archipelago. Many other species of

bee-eater inhabit this continent; but for these we must refer the reader to Le Vaillant and other writers.

Amid the infinitely varied forms and colours which characterize and adorn the feathered race, we know of none more worthy of admiration than those exhibited by the great family of the kingfishers. The size and length of the bill are indeed somewhat disproportioned to the dimensions of the body; but the shining silky lustre of the plumage, and the finely varied hues of the most brilliant green and blue, contrasted with different shades of orange, black, and brown, render this genus one of the most showy and attractive within the range of the ornithological system. The continent which forms the subject of our present disquisition is rich in the genus. We shall at present, however, mention only the Smyrna kingfisher (A. Smyr nensis), which, when in perfect plumage, is one of the most brilliant of the feathered race." The lucid blue of the wings," says Dr. Shaw, "scarcely yielding in lustre to those of the splendid butterfly called Papilio Menelaus." Its colours seem to vary in different individuals. Several fine species of this extensive genus occur in the island of Madagascar.

Among the more remarkable of the African birds we must not omit to mention the species of the genus Buceros, commonly called hornbills. These occur also in Celebes and the Philippine Islands, but many species are peculiar to Africa. The hornbills may be said to occupy the same station in the old world as the toucans do in the new. Both are alike distinguished by the enormous size of their bills, and by a mixture in their dispositions of the carnivorous with the frugivorous propensities. The African hornbill (B. Africanus) is entirely black, and nearly as large as a turkey. The only other species of this singular genus which we shall mention, is the crowned hornbill (B. coronatus). Compared with the preceding it is a very small bird, scarcely equalling the dimensions of a magpie. Le Vaillant saw a flock of more than five hundred of these birds assembled in company with crows and vultures, and preying on the remains of slaughtered elephants. The crowned hornbill is figured by Mr. Swainson in the third volume of his beautiful illustrations.

We shall now take a brief view of the scansorial or

climbing birds of Africa. Several woodpeckers inhabit this continent. The double-bearded woodpecker (Picus duophrys) inhabits Southern Africa; and the crested woodpecker (P. minutus, Temm.) is found in Senegal. gold-shafted woodpecker (now placed in the genus Colaptes) is likewise an African species.


Many kinds of cuckoo occur in Africa. The old Linnæan genus Cuculus has been greatly subdivided by modern writers. The group included under the genus Centropus are remarkable for the long claw with which the inner hind toe is furnished. They are found in India, Africa, and the island of Java. The didric or shining cuckoo (Cuculus auratus) is probably the most beautiful of the tribe. The upper parts of the plumage are of a rich golden-green; on the head are five stripes of white, two above the eyes, like eyebrows, passing behind; two more, shorter and narrower, beneath the eyes; and one on the middle of the forehead. The wing and tail coverts, and the secondary quills are tipped with white. Most of the under-parts are likewise white. This bird was found by Le Vaillant, inwards from the Cape, near Kok's Kraal. He named it didric, from its continually uttering these syllables in various modulations, when perched on the extremities of large trees.

While recording the names of so many species remarkable for their lustrous plumage, we must not here omit to mention others not less notable for their singular instincts and modes of life. Among these the indicators or honeyguides, by some authors classed with the cuckoos, are deserving of special notice. One species described by Dr. Sparrman is said to attract the notice of the Dutch and Hottentots by a shrill cry of cher, cher; and when it perceives itself observed, it flutters onwards to the hive of a wild bee, in hopes of partaking of the plundered honey. "I have had frequent opportunities of seeing this bird, and have been witness to the destruction of several republics of bees, by means of its treachery. I had, however, but two opportunities of shooting it, which I did to the great indignation of my Hottentots."

We may here observe, that naturalists themselves seem occasionally to belong to that irritabile genus, of which poets are said to form the principal component parts. Though Sparrman asserts that he was a frequent eyewit

ness of the curious instinctive habits of the honey-guide, yet Le Vaillant doubts if that traveller ever saw the bird at all. He says that the account is merely a repetition of a fable that is known and believed by credulous people at the Cape, and that it is false to suppose that the bird seeks to draw man after it for the purpose of sharing the plundered sweets; the fact being that the bird calls not the man, but that the man knows by attending to the natural cry of the bird in search of food, that he will be sure ere long to find the stores of the bee. According to Bruce, the moroc, for so this singular species is sometimes named, occurs in Abyssinia; but he also throws discredit on Sparrman's relation. We have seen, in the preceding chapter, that Lichtenstein doubted the truth of Le Vaillant's account of the camelopard; we now find Le Vaillant himself equally skeptical of the accuracy of the Swedish traveller, and joined therein by Bruce, whose own statements were at one period scarcely credited at all. However, to conclude a subject which has already too long detained us, we shall observe that Mr. Barrow, a most careful and accurate inquirer, though not a professed zoologist, confirms Dr. Sparrman's account, as follows:-"Every one in that country (the interior of the southern extremity of Africa) is too well acquainted with the moroc to have any doubts as to the certainty either respecting the bird or its information of the repositories of the bees."

The sagacious and imitative family of the parrots (Psittacide) is the next to demand a brief record. Though one of the most numerous groups of the feathered creation, it is by no means abundant in species, when considered merely in reference to its African relations. The gorgeous maccaws are peculiar to South America, the cockatoos to New-Holland and the Eastern Islands, the lories to the East Indies and the Moluccas; and the greater proportion of parrots and parakeets, commonly so called, are more truly characteristic of the tropical regions of other countries than of Africa. Yet here also this noisy and loquacious race are not unknown, although the far-spread forests are its chosen dwelling-places rather than the barren sands. Africa, however, has also her shady bowers as well as thirsty Saharas;

"For He, at whose command the parched rock
Was smitten, and poured forth a quenching stream,

Hath softened that obduracy, and made
Unlooked-for gladness in the desert place
To save the perishing."

The Greeks and Romans became acquainted with the parrot kind, in consequence of certain species of these birds having been imported from the East soon after Alexander' Indian expedition. The Alexandrian parrot, especially, so remarkable for its elegant form and docile disposition, is generally supposed to have been brought to Europe about that time from the island of Ceylon, the ancient Tabrobane. In the reign of Nero, the Romans introduced other species from different quarters of Africa. They were highly prized by that luxurious people, who lodged them in superb cages of silver, ivory, and tortoise-shell; and the price of a parrot in those days frequently exceeded that of a slave. Nor did Ovid think it beneath him to write a lengthened elegy on the death of Corinna's parrot,—a bird, which, in the love it bore its mistress, seems to have emulated that of the dying Greek for his country :

"Clamavit moriens lingua, Corinna, vale!

It is only in these degenerate days that the keeping of a cockatoo is brought forward in a court of justice in proof of an alienated or imbecile mind.* We trust, that in some instances, at least, such inference may be fairly classed as a "non sequitur."

One of the earliest imported of the African species appears to have been the gray or ash-coloured parrot (Psittacus erithacus), still remarkable for its easy loquacity and general imitative powers. To this species probably belonged the individual mentioned by Cælius Rhodoginus, and which belonged to Cardinal Ascanius. "I cannot," says that author, "omit an extraordinary wonder seen in our times. This was a parrot at Rome, belonging to Cardinal Ascanius, who purchased it for a hundred gold pieces, and which, in the most articulate and uninterrupted manner, recited the Apostles' Creed as well as the best reader could have done, and which, as a most extraordinary and wonderful thing, I could not pass unnoticed."

* See the case of Dundonald versus Roy, as lately reported at length in the Scotch newspapers.

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