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“ On hearing the call of the cock, the hens, whose cry in some degree resembles the croak of the Raven, or rather, perhaps, the sound gock, gock, gock, assemble from all parts of the surrounding forest. The male bird now descends, from the eminence on which he was perched, to the ground, where he and his female friends join company."
FAMILY V. CHIONIDIDÆ.
(Sheath-bills.) Of this Family we possess but little information. It is extremely limited in extent, consisting of a few species inhabiting the high mountains or dry plains of South America, or the remotest parts of the Southern Ocean. They resemble the Grouse, but have the nostrils surrounded by a sort of sheath. The typical genus Chionis is often found far out at sea, but chiefly inhabits the rocks washed by the tide, feeding on sea-weeds and shells; hence they have been placed by some naturalists with the wading-birds.
GENUS Chionis. (Forst.) The beak, in the two species which constitute this genus, is strong, broad at the base, but compressed near the tip, with the culmen curving downward; the base is encased in a horny substance, furrowed and notched, which conceals the nostrils. The cheeks are covered with a naked skin. The wings are moderate, the second quill longest, the shoulder armed with a tubercle. The tail is moderate and even. The tarsi and toes are short and strong, the outer toe united at the base to its fellow by a membrane; the hind toe small, elevated, and placed on one side; the claws are short and blunt.
These singular birds of snow-white plumage are found on the dreary and iron-bound shores around Cape Horn, or on the solitary islands and rocks of the Antarctic Ocean. They have been met with by southern voyagers at a great distance from any land, and are supposed to rest and feed on sea-weeds and other refuse matter cast up on the icebergs of those remote seas. They frequent the shores for the same purposes, searching the beaches and rocks for shelled mollusca, chiefly the limpets (Patella), on which they principally subsist; they do not reject, however, other animal matters thrown up by the action of the waves, as well as sea-weeds, and these are found in their stomachs, usually mingled with small stones. Their flight is rapid, and resembles that of a Pigeon.
We illustrate the genus by the Small Sheathbill (Chionis minor), which is about as large as a Lapwing, of a pure white hue, with red beak and feet.
FAMILY VI. TINAMIDÆ.
(Tinamous.) The Family of the Tinamous is peculiar to the warmer parts of the world. They are intermediate in form between the Partridges and the Bustards, having the long neck and legs and small feet of the latter, and the nostrils covered with a naked scale, like the Pheasants. The beak varies in length; the wings are short, and the tail and the hind toe rudimentary.* In some the joint of this toe with its claw is just perceptible as a little tubercle; but in others it is altogether lost.
Most of the species, which are indeed extremely few in number, inhabit the immense grassy plains of South America, where they seem to represent the Partridges and Quails of the Old World. With scarcely any tail, and with very thick bodies,
Synopsis of the Brit. Mus. (1842) p. 37.
their whole appearance reminds the observer of a Bustard in miniature. They are easily caught by a man on horseback, as they exhibit little sagacity in avoiding danger. “As for their flesh," says Mr. Swainson, “ we have often tasted it, and consider it both in whiteness and flavour, infinitely above that of the Partridge or Pheasant. We believe these birds never perch, as some suppose, but that they live entirely among herbage, principally in the more open tracts of the interior.”
There is, however, one genus found in the sandy regions of the Old World, and which has, at least on one occasion, visited this country. We select this as an illustration of the Family.
GENUS TURNIX. (Bonn.) The characters of this genus, as given by Mr. Gould in his magnificent work, “ The Birds of Europe,” are these: The beak moderate, slender, very compressed; the culmen elevated, and curved towards the point. Nostrils lateral, linear, longitudinally cleft, partly closed by a membrane. Tarsus rather long. Toes three before, entirely divided; no posterior toe. Tail composed of weak yielding feathers clustered together, and concealed by the feathers of the back. Wings moderate, the first quill-feather the longest.
The species composing this genus principally inhabit the countries which surround the Indian Ocean, from the Cape of Good Hope to Australia : they run among grass, where also they make their nests ; but they fly with ease and rapidity. The males are considerably smaller than the females.
The Andalusian Hemipode (Turnix tachydromus, Gould) is found in Spain, and the northern parts of Africa. It is scarcely larger than a lark; of a yellowish brown hue, variously spotted and barred with chestnut, black, and white; the under parts yellowish white.