Page images
PDF
EPUB

nectar of flowers, into which they thrust their long and ciliated (brush-tipped) tongue, whereby, in the manner of the humming-bird, they are able to extract the honey readily. The general name, Eee-we; but they are called at Atooi by that of Heoro-taire.

Length, six inches ; bill, long and hooked, and of a pale yellow, as are the tarsi also. The wings and tail are black, a few of the wing-coverts next the body being tipped with white; the whole of the body, rich scarlet.

The last group or family of the tenuirostral birds is that of the Promeropida, containing the Hoopoe and the Promerops, and several species forming the genus Epimachus, which have by the early writers been placed with the birds of paradise, and are inhabitants of the same country; but of whose manners we know nothing.

The various species of Promerops are said to live on nectar and insects; their bill is slender, long, and arched ; the tail is large and long; the tongue is bifid and capable of being extended, so as to penetrate the nectary. They are natives of Africa, and have been observed to fly in flocks, making, when disturbed, a loud chattering. The red-billed Promerops is one of the best known examples.

The Hoopoes (Upupa) are distinguished by a double range of long feathers on the crown of the head, forming a beautiful fan-like crest, capable of being either depressed or elevated. The beak is long and arched ; the tail square.

Of this genus, three species are all that are as yet recognised, and of these one is a British bird, though not a resident during the whole of the year, nor yet very regular in its periodical visits.

The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) is widely distributed ; it is found over the whole of Africa, India, and China, and visits the south of Europe annually in considerable abundance, spreading also, though more sparingly, far to the north, and with less regularity. Instances of its having bred in England are not unfrequent, and doubtless

more would occur, did not its

appearance call

up incessant attempts at its destruction ; few, indeed, escape the fatal shot. Its actions are graceful and animated, and it is incessantly lowering and expanding its crest. White

[graphic][merged small]

says, in his Natural History of Selborne, letter xi. “ The

nost unusual birds I ever observed in these parts were a pair of Hoopoes, which came several years ago in the summer, and frequented an ornamented piece of ground which joins to my garden for some weeks. They used to march about in a stately manner, feeding in the walks many times in the day, and seemed disposed to breed in my outlet, but were frightened and persecuted by idle boys, who would never let them be at rest.”

Their food consists of beetles and their larvæ, worms, snails, &c.; the neighbourhood of moist meadows or marshy places, where such abound, being their favourite

resort. They build in hollow trees, among old ruins, or in the fissures of rocks; in short, they are not solicitous about the locality. The eggs are gray, clouded with dusky, and five in number.

The general colour of the plumage is beautiful fawn; the wings and lower part of the back are broadly barred with black and white. The tail consists of ten feathers, and is black, crossed at the base with a crescent of white. The feathers of the crest are tipped with black. Beak and legs black. Length twelve inches.

Here may

be closed the tribe Tenuirostres, and with it the order Insessores.

T

274

ORDER III.

ZYGODACTYLI, OR SCANSORES.

THE YOKE-FOOTED ORDER.

It has already been observed that the present order forms a tribe of the Insessores, according to the system of several eminent ornithologists; and also the reasons which induce us to consider it, with Cuvier, as having claims to the rank of a separate class, equal to those of the Raptores, have been noticed. Though the groups composing the Zygodactylous order differ considerably among each other in food and habits, still they agree in having a certain character of foot, which fits them for the trees, among which they pass their existence, grasping and clinging to the branches upon which they do not merely perch, but which they fairly grasp; and that too with an equal pressure either way, in consequence of the toes being equally divided, there being two before and two behind. The power of grasping and holding, thus accruing, is in many groups, the parrots for example, very great, and is moreover connected with habits of climbing from one bough to another, the mode in which they traverse the trees in search of food. Nay, the parrots even hold their food with one pot, in order to feed

upon, while they cling to the branch with the other. In consequence of this remarkable faculty, the whole order has been termed Scansores, or climbers; a name however by no means applicable to every group, but to two or three alone, and which therefore, as not universally applicable, can scarcely be retained. As it regards food, the birds of this order

vary

considerably, some living entirely on insects, others on fruits, and many on both united.

The first group, or family to be noticed, is that of the

Cuckoos, (Cuculidæ,) a family widely distributed through every quarter of the globe, and divided into several genera, each distinguished by certain well defined characters. The True Cuckoos, (Cuculus,) which are to be taken as types, or exemplifications of the group, have the beak of moderate strength, compressed, and slightly arched, the

gape wide; the tarsi are short, the toes small, the wings long, and the tail more or less wedge-shaped ; they are all migratory. Of these, one is a British visitant, and the welcome herald of spring, whose voice we all hear with pleasure in our opening groves and woodlands.

O blithe new-comer! I have heard,

I hear thee, and rejoice ;
0, Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird,

Or but a wandering voice?
While I am lying on the grass,

Thy two-fold shout I hear,
That seems to fill the whole air's space,

As loud far off as near.
Though babbling only to the vale

Of sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale

Of visionary hours.
Thrice welcome, darling of the spring !

E’en yet thou art to me
No bird :--but an invisible thing,

A voice-a mystery.
The same whom in my schoolboy days

I listened to:--that cry
Which made me look a thousand ways,

In bush, and tree, and sky.
To seek thee, often did I rove

Through woods and on the green,
And thou wert still a hope, a love,

Still long'd for, never seen.
And I can listen to thee yet,

Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.

WORDSWORTH.

« PreviousContinue »