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parts of vegetables, bulbous roots, and unripe grain, when in a soft and milky condition. The grasping power of the foot is commonly used for the carrying of food to the beak, as if it were a hand; and the great mobility of the mandibles, aided by the fleshy tongue, enables the bird to discuss its food with much skill and discrimination, even to the performance of such a feat as Mr. Martin mentions as having often seen: “ the clearing of the inside of a fresh pea from the outer skin, rejecting the latter; the whole process performed not only with facility, but with the greatest delicacy of manipulation, if this term be allowable.” *
Parrots are monogamous; that is, a single male attaches himself to a single female ; the eggs are deposited in the holes of decayed trees, or in the centre of the monstrous nests, so common in the tropics, formed by Termites, the crisp, earthy walls of which are easily chiselled away by the strong beaks of these birds. They associate in numerous flocks, whose flights from tree to tree present the most brilliant appearance, as the rays of a tropical sun glance from their gorgeous backs and wings. Their voices are loud and harsh; and of most of the species the screams have a piercing and grating character almost intolerable. Yet these are capable of wonderful modulation; the power which is possessed by many species of imitating the words of human language, the notes of vocal music, the calls of animals, and almost any sounds articulate or inarticulate, is well known; especially as developed by their extreme docility and memory, in the education of a state of cap
* Pict. Mus. i. 362.
tivity. This faculty is possessed by the various genera, however, in very different degrees.
Extraordinary examples of the imitative talent in these birds are on record, combined in some instances, at least, with what looks so like intelligence as to cause surprise and admiration. We quote the following interesting account from the "Gleanings” of Mr. Jesse, the more readily as that accurate observer seems, from his introductory remark, in some degree to authenticate the marvellous statement.
After speaking of the renowned Parrot belonging to Colonel O'Kelly, Mr. Jesse proceeds thus:
“ There is another Parrot, which is occasionally brought from Brighton to Hampton Court, that appears to equal it in intelligence and power of imitation. I had seen and heard so much of this bird, that I requested the sister of its owner to furnish me with some particulars respecting it. The following is her lively and brilliant account of it: • As you
wished me to write down whatever I could collect about my sister's wonderful Parrot, I proceed to do so, only premising that I will tell you nothing but what I can vouch for having myself heard. Her laugh is quite extraordinary, and it is impossible to help joining in it oneself, more especially when in the midst of it she cries out, “Don't make me laugh so. I shall die, I shall die;" and then continues laughing more violently than before. Her crying and sobbing are curious; and if you say, “Poor Poll! what is the matter?" she says, “So bad! so bad! got such à cold!' and after crying for some time will gradually cease, and making a noise like drawing
a long breath, say, “Better now!” and begin to laugh.
The first time I ever heard her speak, was one day when I was talking to the maid at the bottom of the stairs, and heard what I then considered to be a child call out “ Payne! (the maid's name) I am not well, I'm not well!" and on my saying, “ What is the matter with that child ?” she replied, “It 's only the Parrot ; she always does so when I leave her alone, to make me come back;” and so it proved ; for on her going into the room the Parrot stopped, and then began laughing, quite in a jeering way. * It is singular enough, that whenever she is affronted in any way, she begins to cry, and when pleased, to laugh. If any one happens to cough or sneeze, she says, “What a bad cold!” One day, when the children were playing with her, the maid came into the room, and on their repeating to her several things which the Parrot had said, Poll looked up, and said, quite plainly, “No, I didn't.” Sometimes, when she is inclined to be mischievous, the maid threatens to beat her, and she says, “No, you won't.” She calls the cat very plainly, saying, “ Puss! puss !” and then answers, mew : but the most amusing part is, that whenever I want to make her call it, and to that purpose say, “ Puss! puss !” myself, she always answers mew, till I begin mewing, and then she begins calling puss as quick as possible. She imitates every kind of noise, and barks so naturally, that I have known her to set all the dogs on the parade at Hampton Court barking; and the consternation I have seen her cause in a party of cocks and hens, by her crowing and clucking, has been the most ludicrous thing possible. She sings just like a child, and I have more than once thought it was a human being; and it was ridiculous to hear her make what one should call a false note, and then say, "Oh, la!” and burst out laughing at herself, beginning again quite in another key. She is very fond of singing Buy a Broom,” which she says quite plainly ; but in the same spirit as in calling the cat, if we say, with a view to make her repeat it, “Buy a broom," she always says, “Buy a brush,” and then laughs, as a child might do when mischievous. She often performs a kind of exercise, which I do not know how to describe, except by saying that it is like the lance exercise. She puts her claw behind her, first on one side and then on the other, then in front, and round over her head, and whilst doing so, keeps saying, “Come on! come on!” and, when finished, says, “ Bravo! beautiful !” and draws herself
up: Before I was as well acquainted with her as I am now, she would stare in my face for some time, and then say, “How d'ye do, ma'am ?” this she invariably does to strangers. One day I went into the room where she was, and said, to try her, “ Poll, where is Payne gone ?” and, to my astonishment, and almost dismay, she said, “ Down stairs.” I cannot, at this moment, recollect anything more that I can vouch for myself, and I do not choose to trust to what I am told; but from what I have myself seen and heard, she has almost made me a believer in transmigration.""*
The species alluded to in this sprightly note, Mr. Jesse has not named; we may conjecture it to have been the Grey African Parrot (Psittacus erythacus, Linn.), as that species is the most renowned for its powers of imitative speech, and is the most commonly kept in captivity. We shall illustrate the Family, however, by a genus of ancient renown.
* Gleanings, p. 218.
GENUS PALÆORNIS. (Vig.) The Ring Parroquets, as the birds of this genus are termed, are distinguished by having the beak rather thick; the upper mandible dilated, the upper part (culmen) round; the lower mandible broad, short, and notched on the margin. The wings are moderate; the first three quills nearly equal, and longest; the outer webs of the second, third, and fourth, gradually broader in the middle. The tail is graduated; that is, the feathers diminish in length from the centre outward ; the middle pair much exceed the rest in length, and are very slender. The feet are short and weak, the claws rather slender, and hooked. The general form is taper and elegant, the plumage smooth and silky: the ground-colour is usually green, sometimes merging into yellow; the neck is marked with a narrow line running round it like a collar.
The accounts we find in the ancient Greek authors, of Parrots known to them, refer to some species of this beautiful genus, as we gather from their descriptions. Some three or four kinds they appear to have been familiar with, which were first introduced into Europe at the time of the conquest of India by Alexander the Great, and one of which has been named in commemoration of him, Palæornis Alexandri. In their native