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Scansores, with which they are probably connected by the intervention of the Hornbills, the Family which will next come under our notice. Mr. Swainson places them here, immediately before the Scansores, intermediate between the Finches and the Hornbills. He remarks that those which shew an affinity to the Bullfinches are small (referring here, we presume, to the Chilian Plant-cutter, Phytotoma); while others, whose size and peculiar structure assimilate them more to the Hornbills, are of a size proportionate to those birds; observing that they possess a short, but very strong and thick bill, more or less curved on the top, the cutting margins being minutely serrated like the teeth of a saw. Their food is stated to be entirely vegetable, and that of the most tender and delicate description; and Mr. Swainson remarks that it is singular to observe that the beak in this Family (in outward appearance much stronger than that of the Finches) should yet be employed in procuring the softest vegetable food; while the short beak, posterior nostrils, hopping gait, and purely vegetable food, are all exemplified in such birds as Buceros galeatus, and proclaim the affinity of the Plantain-eaters to the Hornbills.
These birds are confined to Africa, where they subsist almost exclusively on fruits : their movements are light and elegant in the extreme, in this respect, differing greatly from the Colies ; they pass with an easy gliding flight from tree to tree. The first and fourth toes being directed laterally, they are said to perch, for the most part, lengthwise on the horizontal branches, along which they walk, clasping the bough with their two laterally disposed toes, while the other two are pointing forwards. They live either in pairs, or in families, according to the season ; nest, like the Parrots, in the hollows of decayed trees, where they lay four eggs of a delicate whiteness.
GENUS CORYTHAIX. (ILLIG.) The generic characters of the Touracos are the following :- The beak short, rather small, high, and greatly compressed; the frontal feathers reposing over, and concealing the nostrils: the ridge (culmen) high, and curving downwards to the tip: the lower mandible narrow: both mandibles distinctly notched at the tip, and finely serrated. The wings short, rounded; the first three quills graduated. The tail long, broad, and rounded at the extremity. The feet short, and strong; the middle toe longer than the tarsus; the lateral toes equal; the hind toe shortest; the external toe capable of being turned one fourth of the way backward. The claws short, thick, and much compressed.
The Touracos are among the most charming of birds, having not only brilliance of colour to recommend them, but great elegance of form, and grace of motion. Their long and broad tail, and their high pointed crest, add much to their beauty. Their colour is almost always rich green, set off with gorgeous crimson or purple on the expanded wing. One of the most lovely of the known species, which now amount to seven in all, is the Fire-crested Touraco (Corythaix erythrolophus, VIEILL.) of Western Africa, an individual of which species lived for some time in the gardens of the
Zoological Society in the Regent's Park.* The crest, which is copious, is of a red hue; the sides of the head, the ears, and the chin, as well as a
patch around the eye, are white; the eye itself is large, red, and brilliant; the general plumage is
* Our engraving is copied from a figure in the “ Penny Cyclopædia,” xvi. 30, which was taken from this specimen during life.
green, inclining to bluish on the under parts; the quill-feathers are rich purple or violet; the beak is yellow; the feet greyish-black. The long silky crest of this beautiful bird, when under any excitement, is elevated into a somewhat conical form, compressed at the sides; and, when erected, imparts to the head an appearance as if covered with a helmet. The generic name applied to the bird alludes to this fancied resemblance, the word Corythaix (kopudaïk), signifying one that moves the helmet. In a state of repose the crest-feathers fall down upon the head, and project behind.
We know but little of the manners of the Touracos in their native forests. Le Vaillant informs us that they usually keep on the highest branches of lofty trees, where, to the no small irritation of the eager naturalist, they were beyond the reach of his fowling-piece. An accident, in connexion with one of these birds, occurred to that enterprising traveller, which might have proved as tragical to him, as a similar misfortune did to the unhappy Drummond in the Sandwich Islands. Having succeeded, after many efforts, in bringing a Touraco to the ground, Le Vaillant searched for it in vain, and stamping with rage at his disappointment, he broke through into one of the covered pits which the Hottentots constructed for the entrapping of the large and ferocious animals, particularly elephants. “ As soon," observes the naturalist, “as I began to recover from my surprise, I looked round to see how I might extricate myself from my embarrassing position, extremely happy that I had not been impaled on the sharp-pointed stake, placed upright in the bottom of the pit, and no Iess rejoiced that I found in it no company. I was, however, apprehensive that some might arrive every moment, especially if I should be compelled to remain there all night. To obviate such a necessity, he fired his fowling-piece at intervals ; and at length heard shots in reply, which proved to be those of his faithful Hottentot attendants, by whom he was quickly delivered from his perilous situation.
He did not, however, forget his Touraco, the innocent occasion of his misfortune; and now, by the aid of the dogs, which had accompanied the Hottentots, it was at length found, squatting under a thick bush. He afterwards set snares for them upon the trees to which they resorted to feed, and by these means captured them alive.
FAMILY VII. BUCEROTIDÆ.
The enormous development, and singular protuberances of the beak in this Family, at once arrest the attention of the observer. In many of the species this organ is not only considerably larger than the head, but has an immense projection on its summit of various uncouth form, sometimes resembling a horn, sometimes the crest of a helmet, &c., which not unfrequently encroaches upon the skull far up towards, or even beyond, the crown of the head. The edges of both mandibles are more or less notched or jagged very irregularly, as if chopped with a blunt knife, but this is observed only in adult birds, and may perhaps be the result of the hardness of some description of their food.