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ORDER V. GALLINÆ.
(Poultry.) Of all the Orders of birds there is none which is so valuable to man as this; their flesh is tender, sapid, and digestible, and their eggs are in high esteem as human aliment, while from their generally large size, the number of the eggs which they lay, and consequently their rapid increase, the power which they exhibit of accommodating themselves to the vicissitudes of climate, and the facility with which they are domesticated, they may be considered as supplying the place of the Ruminants among Mammalia.
The characters by which they are distinguished are strong and well-defined. They are all granivorous, feeding on the farinaceous grains, pulse, and seeds, which are cultivated by man for his own sustenance, or upon their wild representatives; though insects are often added to this diet. Their heavy carriage, stout form, small head, and short, rounded, and hollow wings, at once distinguish them from other birds, while their soft and slight breast-bone (sternum), so cut away that the horizontal portion is reduced to two narrow strips on each side, its keel obliquely hollowed away in front, and the merrythought-bone (furcula) attached to it only by a ligament, are equally distinctive peculiarities in their internal anatomy. And these peculiarities exercise an important in
fluence on the habits and economy of these birds; for the bones thus diminished are those to which are attached the muscles which agitate the wings, which being necessarily small and weak, flight is feeble and laborious. Hence the Poultry reside chiefly on the ground, or on the low branches of trees; rarely mounting on the wing except to carry themselves beyond the reach of sudden danger, or to elevate themselves to their nocturnal roosting-perch. With the exception of a few species, they perform the business of incubation on the ground, laying their numerous eggs in a hollow slightly scratched in the earth, or at most on a few carelessly accumulated sticks, or straws.
Very many of the species are richly coloured; and some are adorned with metallic reflections of the most refulgent splendour. In general, the male is larger and more gaily coloured than the female; and he is frequently distinguished by some peculiar development of the tail or its coverts. The tail in this Order has more than the ordinary number of feathers, having from fourteen to eighteen. The species, though inoffensive towards other animals, are irritable and pugnacious between themselves; the males of several species fighting with a determined pertinacity that frequently yields only to death.
The Poultry are chiefly found in the continents; the islands, unless very large, or in the vicinity of a continent, being comparatively destitute of them. The south and east of Asia, and the deep forests and glades of America, produce the greatest number of species, as well as the most
remarkable for size and beauty.
Six Families are included in this Order, viz., Cracidæ, Megapodida, Phasianidæ, Tetraonida, Chionididæ, and Tinamida.
Family I. CRACIDÆ.
(Curassows.) In these large fowls of South America, which somewhat resemble the Turkeys, we find an exception to one important character of the Gallinaceous Order, which indicates a connexion with the Passerine birds. The hind toe is articulated on the same plane as the others, touching the ground in its whole length when walking, and thus the foot is constructed on the type of that of the Perchers. In conformity with such a structure, these birds possess habits much more arboreal than the other Poultry-birds, spending a great deal of their time on the trees of the dense forests in which they reside, forming their nests among their branches, and feeding on their buds and fruit. The curved form of the claws, their compressed sides, and their acute points, afford additional indications that these birds are not habitually employed in walking and scratching the ground. The tarsi, too, are destitute of spurs. In other particulars, however, these birds adhere to the distinctive characters of the Order.
The Curassows are some of the most valuable additions that America has made to our domestic Poultry, though they are as yet but partially introduced into England. One of the objects of the formation of the Zoological Society of London, was the introduction and domestication of useful foreign animals, and among these it has devoted especial attention to the Cracida. Soon after the formation of its menagerie, its late esteemed Secretary, Mr. Bennett, thus wrote: “Of all the Gallinaceous birds in the collection, the most interesting are those which hold out to us a prospect of supplying our farm-yards with new breeds of Poultry of a superior kind. Such are especially the Curassows. In many parts of South America these birds have long been reclaimed; and it is really surprising, considering the extreme familiarity of their manners, and the facility with which they appear to pass from a state of nature to the tameness of domestic fowls, that they have not yet been introduced into the poultry-yards of Europe. That with proper treatment they would speedily become habituated to the climate, we have no reason to doubt; on the contrary, numerous examples have shewn that they thrive well even in its northern parts; and M. Temminck informs us, that they have once at least been thoroughly acclimated in Holland, where they were as prolific in their domesticated state as any of our common poultry. The establishment, however, in which this had been effected, was broken up by the civil commotions which followed in the train of the French Revolution, and all the pains which had been bestowed upon
the education of these birds, were lost to the world by their sudden and complete dispersion. The task which had at that time been in some measure accomplished still remains to be performed; and it may not be too much to expect that the Zoological Society may be successful in perfecting what was then so well begun, and in naturalizing the Curassow as completely as our ancestors have done the equally exotic, and, in their wild state, much less familiar, breeds of the Turkey, the Guinea-fowl, and the Peacock. Their introduction would certainly be most desirable, not merely on account of their size and beauty, but also for the whiteness and excellence of their flesh, which is said by those who have eaten of it to surpass that of the Guinea-fowl or of the Pheasant in the delicacy of its flavour.”*
Genus Crax. (Linn.) The beak in the genus before us, is of moderate length, very high at the base, thick, keeled above, curving downward to the point; the base surrounded by a membrane, sometimes brightly coloured, in which the nostrils are pierced. The space between the beak and the eyes is naked; the head is covered with a crest of long erected feathers, which are singularly curled over at their tips. The tail, which consists of fourteen feathers, is broad, spread out, and inclined downwards. The wings are short, the sixth quill the longest.
The common Crested Curassow (Crax alector, Linn.) is a native of Mexico, Guiana, and Brazil. In the forests of Guiana, M. Sonnini speaks of it as so abundant as to form an unfailing resource of the traveller who has to trust to his gun for a supply of food. They are described as congregating in numerous flocks, allowing the intrusion of man without much alarm. In the neighbourhood of cultivated districts they have learned distrust by experience. It is proper to observe, however,
* Gardens and Menag. ii.