« PreviousContinue »
bill itself. These excrescences, or projections, increase with age; in very young birds they are small, and the figure undefined, and they gradually acquire their enormous dimensions. The immense beak, thus furnished, seems to be heavier than it really is, (though it is by no means light,) the additional part being internally cellular; its use is as yet far from being satisfactorily ascertained, nor are we aware of the reason of the notches which are always observable along the edges of both mandibles. The following sketch will give our readers some idea of the shape of the beak and its relative size to the head. It is the beak of the Concave Hornbill (Buceros cavatus.)
The structure of the feet of the Hornbills, and the shortness of the tarsi, indicate the arboreal habits of this singular group. The outer and middle toes are united as far as the third joint, and the under surface of the whole is flat and palm-like, in order to allow a firm hold upon the branch, thereby contributing to the facility of passing with ease from bough to bough. In their food the Hornbills appear to be omnivorous, fruits, eggs, young birds, reptiles, insects, and even carrion, forming their diet. Of the fruit of the ficus Indica, and of the banyan, they are said to be extremely fond. Their manners are as singular as their appearance. Flying into a tree, or from one tree to another, (for they seldom visit the ground,) they traverse its branches, beginning with the lowest, by springing or leaping from branch to branch, with wonderfül alertness; an individual thus engaged will suddenly stop, when he has reached the highest part of the tree, and utter a loud roaring sound, which may be heard at the distance of at least half a mile. I'his sound is described as resembling that of some ferocious beast, and is very alarming to those who do not know whence it proceeds. The noise thus uttered, which is most probably the call of the bird to its mate, throws a light upon the nature of the hollow protuberance which surmounts the upper mandible, and covers the top of the head ; it acts as a sounding-board, increasing the reverberation of the air. Independent of its hollow protuberance, the enormous heavy beak itself has been the ground of many conjectures respecting its peculiar uses ; it has been suggested, as a reason for its development, that it perhaps constitutes a necessary weapon of defence against monkeys and other animals which may seek to assail the nest; while some have supposed that it might be employed as an instrument in dragging snakes or lizards from their lurking places, or young birds and eggs from the recesses in the trunks of trees; probably it has a relation to the size and nature of the large fruits which form its main subsistence. The tongue is small. It is remarkable that we meet with this strange developement of the beak again, though not to so disproportionate a degree, nor accompanied by such density of structure, in the toucans, a splendid
of zygodactylous birds peculiar to South America, which we shall notice in their proper place.
Of the Hornbills we have selected as examples the RhinocEROS HORNBILL (Buceros rhinoceros) and the Concave HORNBILL (Buceros cavatus) are certainly the most remarkable. In their manners these two birds are said to agree pretty closely. Active and alert, notwithstanding the magnitude of their beaks, they lightly traverse the trees of the forest, which resounds with their roar; the body is muscular and vigorous; the tail large ; the wings rounded. The colour is black and white. The feathers about the cheeks and back of the neck are loose and hair-like. The bill is yellowish, with a tinge of scarlet.
Of the two species before us, the Buceros cavatus is the largest. The beak, from the eye to the tip, measures
one foot; the distance from the eye to the end of the tail is three feet four inches.
The Buceros rhinoceros, from the tip of the beak to the eye, measures about ten inches; from the eye to the end of the tail, two feet six inches.
claim a brief attention before we pass to the third order of our system; it is the
TRIBE IV. TENUIROSTRES.
The tribe Tenuirostres embraces several groups of beautiful and interesting birds, the greatest part of which are peculiar to the warmer regions of the globe, where flowers in perpetual succession afford them nectar and a never failing supply of the smaller insects, upon which they live. They are all distinguished by long slender bills, (whence the name of the tribe,) but vary considerably in other respects, according to the nature of their food and their
We shall sketch an outline of the principal families into which the tenuirostral birds are divided, and endeavour to illustrate it by the most prominent and interesting examples; we notice first, the family of Certhiada, or Creepers.
The Creepers are all insect eaters, and their beak is long, slender, and arched; they do not flit from flower to flower in search of the insects that hide
the petals, like the sun-birds ; nor chase their prey, like the flycatchers; nor keep up an untired pursuit, like the swallow; but they creep around the trunks of trees and pry into every crevice, or they pass up the surfaces of rocks or walls, or crumbling ruins, with singular address. Their feet are strong; the toes, especially the hind toe, being furnished with large powerful claws, for the purpose of grasping every little projection, and that with firmness sufficient to bear the weight of the body. To aid in this, the tail in several genera consists of feathers having stiff springy shafts, which project beyond the lateral webs, and serve, by being pressed against any object, as a sort of prop. The British example of this group is that little bird, well known to most of our readers, which is common in gardens and orchards, where it may be observed spirally running up the stems of the trees, like a mouse, stopping every now and then to probe some slit in the bark, or some small crevice, and again proceeding in its course; when, having finished one tree, it flits to the next, and begins its ascent as before. The bird we allude to is the Common CREEPER, ( Certhia familiaris,) a little sober-coloured bird, so fearless and unsuspicious as to allow itself to be approached very closely, and all its actions scrutinized, without flitting away. It is one of the most useful of the feathered race which haunt our gardens, insects and their eggs and larvæ constituting its sole food; and it is in quest of these that it so assiduously traverses every tree. No one thinks of injuring so inoffensive a little creature, whose labours minister to the advantage of man, as well as of itself and its brood. The Creeper breeds early in the spring, the nest being made in the hole of a tree; the eggs are ash-coloured, with dusky spots. The Creeper has the shafts of the tailfeathers prolonged and stiff, and this character is still more developed in the genus Dendrocolaptes, an American group; it is, however, lost in the genus Tichodroma, which includes that elegant bird the Wall-CREEPER, ( Tichodroma phenicoptera,) a native of the mountain districts of middle and southern Europe. The WallCreeper frequents the bold precipitous rocks of the Alps, Apennines, and Pyrenees, and the ruins of castles and other buildings, which grace with hoary majesty the frowning heights of mountain scenery. There, flitting from one projection or crevice to another, but with an action very different to the mouse-like creeping of our little certhia, may this elegant bird be seen busy in quest of its insect food; spiders and their eggs are its greatest favourites. The difference in the actions of this and our British Creeper, at once accounts for the absence of springy shafts in the tail of the southern species. It flits, not creeps, from point to point, securing itself by its claws, which are remarkably large and powerful. The general colour of the Wall-Creeper is a delicate gray, the shoulders and larger coverts being lively crimson, as are also the inner edges of the secondary quill-feathers; the rest of the quill-feathers are black, as is the tail, with a tip of white; the throat of the male is black. The beak is long, arched, and pointed; the wings are rounded.