Page images
PDF
EPUB

break or

sea upon stones alternately covered by the tide, or those gelatinous animal substances found floating on every coast. The nests adhere to each other, and to the sides of the cavern, mostly in horizontal rows, without

any interruption, and at different depths, from fifty to five hundred feet. The birds that build these nests are small gray swallows with bellies of a dirty white; they were flying about in considerable numbers, but were so small, and their flight was so quick, that they escaped the shot fired at them. The same sort of nests are said to be also found in the deep caverns at the foot of the highest mountains in the middle of Java, at a distance from the sea.” The value of their nests" is chiefly ascertained by the uniform fineness and delicacy of their texture, those that are white and transparent being most esteemed, and fetching often in China their weight in silver.”

We may give our readers a good idea of the nest by comparing it to that of the Martin, (H. urbica,) having its crust or shell composed of a substance that looks very like the best manna sold at the druggists' shops, but of a texture resembling isinglass ; it is shallow, and lined with soft feathers. It this crust which is so much prized, and of which the composition is not yet ascertained. Some consider it formed of the gum of a kind of plant, some of a sort of fish-spawn, some of sea-foam, others of marine plants or of moluscous animals, and others of a peculiar salivary secretion of its own.

M. Lamouroux observes that there are three species, of which the smallest makes the most valuable nest; and he further states that it is distinguished by the feet not being covered with down; and that it is never found inland, like the other two, but always on the sea-coast; and that its nest is clear and white, and composed of sea-plants of an order termed by him Gelidia, which, by boiling or steeping in water, may be almost wholly reduced to a gelatinous substance. The inland species make use of opaque materials, and never of marine plants.

The most probable theory is, that, whatever else may be used, the bird, as is the case with our own swallow, employs a viscid saliva as a cementing medium. According to the chemical experiments of Dobreiner and Brande, the white nests consist of a substance neither decidedly gelatine nor albumen : it is with difficulty reducible to ashes by the action of fire, and contains only a small por: tion of ammonia (volatile alkali.)

As a sketch of the commercial history of these nests, a few passages from the account by Mr. Crawford, late British resident at the court of the sultan of Java, who superintended the collecting of them at Karang-Bolang for several years, may be extracted.

“ The best nests are those obtained in deep damp caves, and such as are taken before the birds have laid their eggs.

The coarsest are those obtained after the young have been fledged. .... The best are white, and the inferior dark coloured streaked with blood, or intermixed with feathers..... Birds' nests are collected twice a year; and if regularly collected, and no unusual injury be offered to the caverns, will produce very equally, the quantity being little if at all improved by the caves being left unmolested for a year or two. Some of the caverns are very difficult of access, and the nests can only be collected by persons accustomed from their youth to the office. The most remarkable and productive caves in Java, of which I superintended a moiety of the collection for several years, are those of Karang-Bolang, in the province of Baglen, on the south coast of the island. There the caves are only to be approached by a perpendicular descent of many hundred feet, by ladders of bamboo and rattan, over a sea rolling violently against the rocks. When the mouth of the cavern is attained, the perilous office of taking the nests must be often performed with torch-light, by penetrating into the recesses of the rock, when the slightest trip would be instantly fatal to the adventurers, who see nothing below them but the turbulent surf making its way into the chasms of the rock. The only preparation which the birds' nests undergo is that of simple drying, without direct exposure to the sun; after which they are packed in small boxes, usually of a picul, (about 130 pounds.) They are assorted for the Chinese market into three kinds, according to the qualities, distinguished into first, or best, second, and third qualities. Caverns that are regularly managed will afford in 100 parts, 537 parts of those of the first quality, 35 parts of those of the second, and 11 to parts of those of the third. The common prices for birds' nests at Canton are, for the first sort, 3500 Spanish dollars the picul, or 51. 188. 1 d. per pound; for the second, 2800 Spanish dollars per picul ; and for the third, no more than 1600 Spanish dollars. In the Chinese markets a still nicer classification of the edible nests is often made than on the island. The whole are frequently divided into three great classes, under the commercial appellation of paskat, chi-kat, and tungtung, each of which, according to quality, is subdivided into three inferior orders; and we have cor

consequently prices varying from 1200 Spanish dollars per picul, to 4200. These last, therefore, are more valuable than their weight in silver. Of the quantity of birds' nests exported from the Indian islands, although we cannot state the exact amount, we have data for hazarding some probable conjectures respecting it. From Java there are exported about 200 piculs, or 27,000 lbs., the greater part of which is of the first quality. The greatest quantity is from the Suluk archipelagos, and consists of 530 piculs. From Macassar there are sent about 30 piculs of the fine kind. These data will enable us to offer some conjectures respecting the whole quantity; for the edible swallows' nests being universally and almost equally diffused from Junk, Ceylon, to New Guinea, and the whole produce going to one market, and only by one conveyance, the junks, it is probable that the average quantity taken by each vessel is not less than the sum taken from the ports just mentioned. Taking the quantity sent from Batavia as the estimate, we know that this is conveyed by 5300 tons of shipping; and therefore the whole quantity will be 1818 piculs, or 242,400 lbs., as the whole quantity of Chinese shipping is 30,000 tons. In the archipelago, at the prices already quoted, this property is worth 1,263,519 Spanish dollars, or 284,290 l. The value of this immense property to the country which produces it rests upon the capricious wants of a single people. From its nature it necessarily follows that it is claimed as the exclusive property of the sovereign, and every where forms a valuable branch of his income or of the revenue of the state.”

Here we take leave of the family of Swallows, and proceed to our next.

FAMILY THE THIRD.—The TODIES, ( Todidæ, VIG.)

[merged small][graphic][ocr errors][graphic][subsumed][merged small]

As the present family possess no European representatives, the heads of two specimens, each of a different

K

genus, have been selected, in order to convey to the reader a clear idea of the remarkable structure of the bill.

1. The head of the Green Tody, the representative of a genus ( Todus) confined almost exclusively to intertropical America.

2. The head of a species of the genus Eurylaimus, (Horsf.) confined to India and the Indian Archipelago.

The Todies are characterized by a peculiar flatness or depression of the bill, which is more or less garnished with a row of hairs at its base. It varies however, as the sketch testifies, very considerably in its breadth: in some being narrow, long, and rounded at the tip; in others, broad at its base, and proceeding with a bend, like the prow of a boat, to the point. The wings are rounded, the tarsi are of moderate length ; and the two outer toes are united together as far as the first joint. The habits of these birds have been little studied : we learn however that they frequent the borders of marshes and rivers, and feed on the softer kinds of insects which they take on the wing. Their flight, however, cannot be very rapid nor capable of long continuance.

The GREEN TODY ( Todus viridis) is a most elegant little bird, scarcely exceeding in size the English wren; the bill, which is nearly three quarters of an inch in length, is very flat, but has a slightly raised ridge running down its whole length. The upper surface of the body is of a beautiful green, of the lower yellowish white, with the sides over the thighs rose-colour, and on the throat a spot of fine red. This species inhabits the warmer portions of America, and also Jamaica, Hayti, and other West India islands. It is said to be a bird of solitary habits, frequenting the borders of secluded marshy places, sitting with its head crouched between its shoulders, and suffering itself to be approached without rousing from its lethargy. It builds a nest on the ground, of cotton, feathers, moss, and other soft materials; the eggs are blue, and five in number.

Our fourth family now presents itself.

« PreviousContinue »