« PreviousContinue »
occiput folds into irregular wrinkles, converging into a sort of loose wattle beneath the bill, which, as in the turkey, is capable of being dilated at pleasure. The tail is short, broad, and somewhat wedgeshaped.
We leave the Condor, in order to examine another celebrated bird of the same genus, namely, the KING OF THE VULTURES. (Sarcoramphus papa. Dum.) This beautiful species is a native of South America, like the condor, but is not a mountain bird ; its habitat, in the intertropical regions of America and the adjacent islands, is
among the most luxuriant scenery of nature, forests and low savannahs, where animal life abounds, and death is soon succeeded by putrefaction. The King of the Vultures is by no means so large as many, but exceeds all in the richness and elegance of its colouring. The naked skin of the head and neck is deeply tinged with mingled orange and violet; over its beak there hangs a loose comb of bright orange; the iris is pearly white. The general plumage is of a delicate fawn colour, the quill and tail feathers being black. Waterton informs us that, while sailing up the Essequibo, he observed a pair of these birds sitting on the naked branch of a tree, with about a dozen of the common species, waiting to begin the feast upon a goat, which a jaguar had killed the day before and been obliged to abandon; still, though tolerating the company of its inferiors, it appeared to guard its royal privileges with jealous care. The same gentleman relates, that he caused the body of a large serpent he had killed to be carried into the forest, in order to tempt this aristocratic Vulture to its fate, and there watched the result. “ The foliage of the trees where we laid it was impervious to the sun's rays; and had any Vultures passed over that part of the forest, I think I may say with safety, that they could not have seen the remains of the serpent through the shade. For the first two days not a Vulture made its appearance at the spot, though I could see here and there, as usual, a Vultur aura gliding on apparently immovable pinions at a moderate height over the tops of the forest trees. But during the afternoon of the third day, when the carcass of the serpent had got into a state of putrefaction, more than twenty of the common Vultures came and perched upon the neighbouring trees, and the next morning, a little after six o'clock, I saw a magnificent King of the Vultures. There was a stupendous mora tree close by, whose topmost branch had either been dried by time or blasted by the thunder storm. Upon this branch I killed the King of the Vultures, before it had descended to partake of the savoury food which had attracted it to the place. Soon after this, another King of the Vultures came, and after he had stuffed himself almost to suffocation, the rest pounced down upon the remains of the serpent, and stayed there till they had devoured the last morsel.” The King of the Vultures is rarely observed in company with more than one of its own species ; but, as we have said, is often seen surrounded by troops of common Vultures, whence its appellation.
Our next example we shall take from the restricted genus Vultur, the characters of which consist in the absence of fleshy caruncles on the head; in the oblique (instead of longitudinal) position of the nostrils, in the tongue being fringed with sharp points, and several other minutiæ ; it is confined to the Old World.
The Griffon VULTURE. (Vultur fulvus. Briss.) This magnificent species is spread from the south of Europe throughout Greece, Turkey, Persia, and Africa, everywhere taking up its abode among lofty mountain scenery. In Europe, however, it appears to be merely a summer visitant, passing over into Africa as the colder season advances ; hence at certain periods flocks of forty or fifty are seen to cross the straits of Gibraltar, many having made the rock itself their temporary residence. It is, however, most abundant in the Pyrenees, and the mountain districts of Spain, especially Granada ; it is also found in the Alps and the Tyrol. In habits and disposition the Griffon is a true Vulture; its food is putrid flesh, and wherever the carcass is, there may these birds be seen assembled. “ When once it has made a lodgment on its prey," says a celebrated naturalist, “it rarely quits the banquet while a morsel of flesh remains, so that it is not uncommon to see it perched upon a putrefying corpse for several successive days. It never attempts to carry off a portion, even to satisfy its young, but feeds them by disgorging the half digested morsel from its maw."
“ After feeding it is seen fixed for hours in one unvaried posture, patiently waiting until the work of digestion is completed, and the stimulus of hunger is renewed, to enable and to urge it to mount again into the upper regions of the air, and fly abroad in quest of its necessary food. If violently disturbed after a full meal, it is incapable of flight until it has disgorged the contents of its stomach, lightened of which, and freed from the debilitating effects, it is immediately in a condition to soar to such a pitch, as, in spite of its magnitude, to become invisible to human sight.”
Its nest is made in the clefts of the rock, whence it can survey the circumjacent country, and mark its mate gorging on the carcass in the distant plain.
In length the Griffon Vulture is about three feet six inches, and eight or nine feet in the stretch of its wings. The general colour of the adult is a deep rufous gray, becoming black on the quillfeathers and tail. The head and neck are not entirely bare, but are covered with short close down, which, as well as the beautiful ruff encircling the lower part of the latter, are pure white. The young birds are of a bright fawn colour, and do not acquire their mature livery until the close of the third
year. It is not by any means improbable that this species is the Vulture so often alluded to in the scriptures. At all events it is common in Judea, and agrees with the descriptions to be met with in the holy volume.
Though, as stated, the head and neck of this tribe is destitute of feathers, still there are exceptions to this rule ; the following are two examples belonging to genera, one confined to the Old the other to the New World.
The PERCNOPTERUS, or Pharaoh's Chicken. The
genus Neophron, Sav. is distinguished by a feeble, slender, elongated bill, the anterior part of the head and the throat only being denuded of feathers. The nostrils are oval and longitudinal; the tail wedgeshaped. It is to this genus that Pharaoh's Chicken (Neophron Percnopterus, Sav.) belongs. This bird is one of the smallest of the Vultures, being little more than of the size of a raven ; it is spread over the whole of the hotter portions of the Old World, from Spain to the east, throughout Greece, the Islands of the Levant, Turkey, and throughout the greater part of Africa, abounding in immense flocks, and performing no inconsiderable part in purifying the surface of the earth. Two birds of this species were seen in England in 1825, near Kilne, Somersetshire, one of which was shot. Capt. S. E. Cook, R. N. states that it is
abundant near Seville, following the plough like the rook, for the sake of the grubs which are turned up. In Egypt, and the adjacent countries, flocks attend the caravans on their march, for the purpose of devouring offal of every description. It appears to have been honoured as a sort of deity by the ancient Egyptians, on account of its valuable services, and is often represented on their monuments, and there still exists a feeling of respect towards it, doubtless from the same cause, for it is not only tolerated but encouraged, and moslem devotees have left bequests for the maintenance of a certain number. The plumage of the adult bird is white, with the exception of the quill feathers, which are black; the naked skin of the face and throat livid yellow. The young are of a dull rufous brown, and gradually assume the white, which indicates maturity, a period not attained until the third year.
genus Cathartes, ILL. is peculiar to America, and is thus characterized; beak feeble, elongated, and curved only at the top; head and part of the neck bare of feathers, and the skin loose and carunculated. There is a tendency to a ruff round the bare space below the neck. Nostrils narrow, longitudinal apertures. Wings extend beyond the tail. To this genus belongs the TURKEY-BUZZARD, or Turkey-vulture, of America ( Cathartes aura, Ill.) The Turkey-vulture is very extensively spread on the continent of America, being met with in high northern latitudes, and that not as a rare occurrence ; in fact, it breeds in the northern forests of Canada, but appears to be, in a certain sense, migratory, passing to the intertropical regions of that vast continent with the approach of winter, where it especially abounds, and where myriads remain stationary. Mr. Waterton observes, that though flocks collect as to a common feast around the carcass, still he does not consider the Turkey-vulture to be “gregarious, properly so speaking;" that is, they do not form a colony like rooks, building in concert, and acting together, but each pair pursues its separate interests; and we suspect