« PreviousContinue »
The Condor of the Cordilleras.
off young persons of ten or twelve years of age may be regarded as fabulous by any one who has examined their feet and talons, which, though long, and in some respects powerful, are but slightly curved. There is scarcely an authenticated instance of their assaulting even a child.*
Some curious information regarding Condors is given by Sir Francis Head. One of his companions seeing an enormous bird upon a dead horse, rode up to it, and finding the creature so gorged that it could scarcely fly, he suddenly seized it by the neck:
"No two animals can well be imagined less likely to meet than a Cornish miner and a Condor, and few would have calculated, a year ago, when the one was hovering high above the snowy pinnacles of the Cordilleras, and the other many fathoms beneath the surface of the ground in Cornwall, that they would ever meet to wrestle and 'hug' upon the wide desert plain of Villa Vicencia."†
After a hard struggle, and some dubiety as to the result, the Cornish man prevailed, and slew the Condor.
The latitudinal distribution of this noted bird, though widely spread, is yet confined within certain limits, and seems to be regulated by the existence of mountain crests of great elevation. It extends southwards from the Equator to the Straits of Magellan, a range of more than fifty degrees; but it does not appear to spread northwards from the Equator into New Grenada, beyond the province of Antioquia, in the seventh degree. One of its last great resting places is, probably, the Peak of Tolima, which, nearly five degrees north of the Line, rises to an elevation of more than 18,000 feet-sufficient to satisfy the ambition of the most aspiring Condor.
Humboldt is of opinion that next to the Condor, the largest of flying birds is the Lammergeyer of the European Álps (Gypaëtos barbatus). We doubt not that it is one of the most expanded, in regard to stretch of wing, from tip to tip, but it is by no means a ponderous species, being short-legged and somewhat slender-bodied, with a kite-like aspect, and certainly less bulky than the great Harpy Eagle of South America, (Falco destructor.) We incline to think that a full-sized female Sea Eagle of our own shores would outweigh it. The great marine species of Eastern Asia (Haliatus pelagicus) assuredly does so. We are also of opinion that the illustrious Prussian naturalist has entirely overlooked the Pulmipedes, or swimming birds, which possibly present us with the largest of all the winged species. A well-fed Cygnet will weigh nearly thirty pounds, and so it may be doubted
* Nuttall's Manual of Ornithology, vol. i. p. 36.
VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIV.
if any accipitrine bird, except the Condor, would not kick the beam, when placed in the balance with a Swan of the largest size. Even as regards expanse from tip to tip of wing, few species of either land or sea exceed, or even equal, the Albatross.
In regard to the geographical distribution of birds, the most remarkable example of a widely extended, we may say of an almost unlimited range, with which we are acquainted, is that of a small shore-bird, called the Turnstone, Tringa (or Strepsilas) interpres. It is a well-known winter visitant of Britain, is supposed to breed in Shetland, and is known to do so along the shores of the Arctic Circle. Its nest was found by Mr. Hewitson on rocky islets off the coast of Norway, placed against a ledge, and consisting of nothing more than the shed leaves of the juniper, under a creeping branch of which, the eggs, four in number, were "snugly concealed, and admirably sheltered from the many storms by which those bleak and exposed rocks are visited, allowing just sufficient room for the bird to cover them." Although widely spread, as a migratory species, along the shores of the nearer continent, its extra-European range is quite extraordinary. In the New World it was found by Sir John Richardson in Hudson's Bay, and is known to extend northwards along the icy shores of the Arctic Circle as far as the seventyfifth parallel, while Mr. Darwin (we pass over many intermediate stations) obtained specimens from the Straits of Magellan. Sir William Jardine has received it from Tobago. It has been seen in Madeira, and is spread along the northern and western coasts of Africa, and onwards to the Cape of Good Hope. It is a well-known Indian species,† occurs also in China and Japan, and is distributed among the great Asiatic islands, such as Java, Sumatra, the Moluccas, and New Guinea. Lastly, it was found in New Holland by Mr. Gould. Now there is nothing in the structure of this species to explain, or in any way account for, its apparently universal distribution over all the four quarters of the globe, and the distant islands of the sea. It possesses no powers of flight which are not equally shared by several thousands of its fellow-creatures; and there are no peculiar attributes of its nature, from which we could at all infer, à priori, its occurrence under such an extraordinary diversity of clime and
*This choice of a rocky foundation on which to place its nest, may, of course, be modified by circumstances, but it is well to know the fact from actual observation. In most of our ordinary compiled works it is otherwise stated. Professor Savi, for example, makes the Turnstone hollow out for itself a little excavation in the sand:-"Scava una piccola buca nell' arena" (Ornitologia Toscana, ii. 261); and a like process is referred to by Schinz in his Hist. Nat. des Nids., p. 4.
+It was found by Mr. Jerdan at a singular distance from the sea-" At the Tank of Jaulnah, two hundred miles inland, and as far southward as Madras." -Madras Journal of Science, July 1840, p. 211.
country. Whatever the cause, it may assuredly be regarded as the most truly cosmopolite of the feathered race. It is the only species, so far as we know, which occurs in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Australia.* It is the only New Holland bird that is found also in Great Britain, and we know of but two others in Europe, both shore-birds,— Terekia cinerea, (a kind of Godwit,) and Totanus stagnatilis, (allied to the Redshanks,) which are likewise native to New Holland. We may mention that our common Dunlin, or sand-piper, (Tringa cinclus,) occurs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, the West Indies, and the great islands of the Indian Ocean, but not in Australia. It was found by our Arctic voyagers in Melville Peninsula, and has been received by M. Temminck from the island of Timor. It would thus appear, in respect to the dispersion of birds, that species of the Grallatorial order have the greatest range.
There are, however, many other instances of a wide, though not equally extended distribution. It is long since the Prince of Canino made us acquainted with the ornithological relationship of Europe and North America. He shewed that of the 503 species which were then (1838) supposed to constitute the ornithology of Europe, 100 species occurred also in America; while the American species consisted of 471, including the 100 species which it had in common with Europe.†
One of the most singular features, in a view of foreign ornithology, is what may be called the representative system, that is, the occurrence of species closely resembling, though not identical with, our more familiar forms. Thus, when the birds of New Holland began to attract attention, the British or European Osprey (Pandion haliatus) was supposed to occur among them. A more minute and accurate examination shewed it to be distinct, but so nearly allied both in structure and habits, as to be representative of our own species. So likewise with our Icelandic and Peregrine Falcons. Neither of them exists in New Holland, but the former is represented there by Falco hypoleucos, the latter by Falco melanogenys. Even the North American Peregrine, which might more naturally be thought identical with that of Europe, from so many other points of ornithological agreement between the two countries, has now been set apart as a distinct though representative species, under the name of Duck-hawk
* An Irish ornithologist is said to have remarked on the discovery of the Turnstone in New Holland, that it was now known in the fifth quarter of the globe.
+ See the following works by Charles Lucien Bonaparte, (then) Prince of Musignano:-Specchio comparativo delle Ornitologie di Roma e di Filadelphia, in the 33d No. of the Nuoro Giornale de' Letterati, reprinted apart at Pisa, 1827; Supplemento alla specchio comparativo, &c., ibid. 1832; A Geographical and Comparatice List of the Birds of Europe and North America, London, 1838; Catalogo metodico degli uccelli Europei, Bologna, 1842.
Falco anatum. It is a notable fact in regard to this last mentioned bird, (the Peregrine,) that it occurs either actually or by representation, in almost all countries, that is, over a great extent of Europe, Asia, North America, Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope and New Holland. We agree, however, with the Prince of Canino and Professor Kaup, that these so called local varieties are not identical. The Curlew and its cousin-german the Whimbrel, are curiously and closely represented in New Holland by Numenius Australis and Num. uropygialis. The same may be said of several other species. Europe and Australia have each a stilted Plover, a Dotterel, and an Avocet, but the species are not identical in the two countries.†
Although so many marked examples of this representative system occur in the far Southern Continent, (as we may call New Holland,) probably no country possesses so many generic groups peculiar to itself. It is also wonderfully rich in species of the most charmingly diversified form and plumage, and remarkable, many of them, for their curious and uncommon instincts. As the result of Mr. Gould's most laborious and equally successful investigations, we have been for some time acquainted with 636 species of birds from New Holland, including VanDieman's Land. This is more than twice the number known not many years ago, when that intelligent and enterprising naturalist commenced his labours.
"Upon taking a general view of the Australian Ornithology," Mr. Gould remarks, "we find no species of vulture, only one typical eagle, and indeed a remarkable deficiency in the number of the species of its birds of prey, with the exception of the nocturnal owls, among which the species belonging to the restricted genus Strix, are more numerous than in any other part of the world; a circumstance which is probably attributable to the great abundance of small quadrupeds, most of which are nocturnal in their habits.
"Among the perching birds there is a great excess of the Insectivoræ, Podargi, Meliphagidæ, Maluridæ, Gymnorhinæ, &c., of the Granivoræ, such as various species of the Fringillida, and of the Psittacidæ (or parrots). The latter tribe of birds is more numerous in Australia than in any other part of the world, and forms four great groups, viz., the Calyptorhynchi, which mainly procure their food from the Banksia, Casuarina, and Eucalypti,-the Cacatua, which feed upon the terrestrial Orchidæ, &c.—the Trichoglossi, which subsist upon the nectar they extract from the flower-cups and blossoms of the Eucalypti,—
*See Kaup, in Isis, (for 1847,) p. 75.
+ See Gould's Introduction to the Birds of Australia, p. 11.
We agree in this opinion with Mr. Gould. The so called New Holland vulture of Latham, is a rasorial or gallinaceous bird of a very anomalous kind, but in no way allied to the Vulturida, although Mr. Swainson considers it as the rasorial type of that flesh-eating family. We shall afterwards notice it under the name of Wattled Tallegalla.
Birds of Australia.
and the ground and grass Parrakeets, which feed almost exclusively on the seeds of the various grasses that abound on the plains; the united groups amounting to nearly sixty species.
"Of the rasorial forms, while the pigeons and hemipods are numerous, the larger and typical Gallinaceae are entirely wanting; their only representative being a few species of Coturnix and Synoicus. The Grallatorial birds are about equal in number to those of other countries; and among the water birds the true ducks are but few, while the Procellarida which visit the coast are in much greater abundance than in any other part of the world. On a retrospect of the whole we find a greater number of nocturnal birds than is comprised in the Ornithology of any other section of the globe. I must not omit to mention too the extraordinary fecundity which prevails in Australia, many of its smaller birds breeding three or four times in a season; but laying fewer eggs in the early spring when insect life is less developed, and a greater number later in the season, when the supply of insect food has become more abundant. I have also some reason to believe that the young of many species breed during the first season, for, among others, I frequently found one section of the honeyeaters (the Melithrepti) sitting upon eggs while still clothed in the brown dress of immaturity; and we know that such is the case with the introduced Gallinacea (or poultry), three or four generations of which have been often produced in the course of a year.
"Another peculiar feature connected with the Australian Ornithology is that of its comprising several forms endowed with the power of sustaining and enjoying life without a supply of water, that element without which most others languish and die; for instance, the haleyons, which I found sustaining life and breeding on the parched plains of the interior during the severe droughts of 1838-9, far removed from any water. The food of these birds is insects and lizards."*
When we bear in mind that Australia measures, in round numbers, about 3000 miles in length, that is, from east to west, and that, taking in Van-Dieman's Land, its breadth from north to south is nearly of the same extent, it may easily be supposed, in spite of vast tracts of uniform country, to present a considerable variety of physical structure and of climate, and a corresponding variety in the natural products of its different and distant parts. Van-Dieman's Land, from its smaller size and more southern position, is cooler and more humid than its mightier neighbour. The vegetation is abundant, the forests dense and difficult of access. New Holland, from its 25th to its 35th parallel, is much drier, and has a temperature which Mr. Gould supposes to be higher than that of any other portion of the world -the thermometer not unfrequently rising to 110°, 120°, and even 130° in the shade. Hot winds sweep over the country from the northward, indicating the dry and parched character of the
* Introduction, p. 15.