Imágenes de páginas

of the whitish band on the tail-coverts, and the band at the top of the tail is neither so wide nor so purely white.

The female wild turkey is far inferior in size to the male; she is adult and in full colouring at four years old, and then possesses the pectoral tuft of hair, of about four inches in length. Her weight is from nine to ten pounds, but the male varies from fifteen to twenty pounds in weight. Birds of thirty pounds are not rare ; and instances have occurred, of their weight being thirty-six, and even forty pounds. In April and May, the males are thin, and out of condition; yet C. L. Bonaparte notices a specimen killed on the Missouri in April, which weighed twenty-two pounds, but which, when in good condition, must have exceeded thirty. The male wild turkey may be regarded as mature at the age of between three and four years, but, for several years afterwards, increases in weight and the metallic lustre of the plumage.

It is much to be regretted that the wholesale destruction to which this noble bird is subjected throughout the whole extent of its range, tends every year to diminish its numbers, insomuch that in a comparatively short

period of time, the wild turkey will rank in the list of animals which man has utterly extirpated.

Besides the wild turkey of North America, a distinct species, the Honduras turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is found in certain parts of central America, adjacent to Mexico. The first specie men, known formerly in Bullock's collection, now in the museum of Paris, was brought from the Bay of Honduras. A fine specimen is in the British Museum. This bird is considerably smaller than the common wild turkey, but is far more beautiful, the metallic hues and irridescence of its plumage equalling those of some of the humming birds,-black, golden, bronze, blue, emerald green, and rufous, are intermingled in exquisite contrast ; and on the tail-feathers and upper tail-coverts, there are beautiful ocellated markings. The legs are lake-red.

Of the habits of this refulgent species, nothing is distinctly known. It appears to be very rare, unless, perhaps, in some localities, which are as yet unexplored.



The guinea-fowl, or pintado, (Numida meleagris,) is the true meleagris of the ancients,* a term generically applied by Belon, Aldrovandus, and Gesner, to the turkey, and now retained, although the error is acknowledged, in order to prevent confusion.

The common guinea-fowl is a native of Africa, where it appears to be extensively spread, frequenting the banks of rivers, and marshes, and open-humed localities, where various berries, seeds, insects, and slugs are in abundance. In its habits it is decidedly gregarious, and associates in large flocks, which wander abroad during the day in search of food, and collect together on the approach of evening, in order to roost upon some tall tree, or clump of trees, where they crowd in close array on the branches. It is not without difficulty that these birds can be forced to take to flight, and then it is only for a short distance. They trust principally to their rapid mode of running, and to their dexterity in threading the mazes of brushwood and dense herbage, for security. They scour the woodland glades

* See Ovid Metam. lib. viii, fab. 4,

and the open lands, bordering forests, or wild thickets, with great celerity, and quickly escape pursuit. In disposition they are shy, wary, and alert.

The guinea-fowl has been alluded to by various travellers in Africa, as Adamson, Dampier, Le Vaillant, and others; but as upwards of six distinct species are now known, (some of very great beauty,) and as they give no specific indications, we cannot positively say to which species they allude. However, it cannot be doubted that, in general manners and disposition, they all closely agree.

We have incontestable proof that the ancient Greeks and Romans were well acquainted with the guinea-fowl (or meleagris). It is noticed by Aristotle, among the former, and by Pliny, Varro, and Columella, among the latter. The wonder is that Belon, a scholar, should ever have considered the turkey as the bird in question.

But though, as we have said, this bird was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, it does not appear to have spread rapidly, or been thoroughly naturalized, otherwise Belon's mistake would be unpardonable. In fact, we lose all trace of it in the middle ages, and strange to say, it appears to have come to us, not from

[ocr errors]

Africa, and here we suspect the confusion arises,) but from the western world, where it had been introduced with human bondsmen torn from their native soil to supply the place of the miserably slaughtered population of the western world, and condemned to labour for the conquering white man, for him whose only passion, under the veil of popish religion, was "the accursed thirst for gold,” auri sacra fames."

We learn that about the year 1508, numbers of these birds were brought into America with the cargoes of negro slaves :-"The Spaniards neither at that time nor ever since, have attempted to tame them, or render them domestic, useful birds, but let them go loose and wild in the savannahs, where they have increased in such prodigious numbers, that they may well appear native; and are seen in vast flocks together. They are called Maroon Pentates by the Spaniards and French,” (Observ. sur les Cout. de l'Asie, p. 190.) At the present day, in Jamaica, but more especially Hayti, and other islands adjacent, the guinea-fowl, or pintado, is regarded as a wild bird and shot like other game. With respect to the British islands we are unable to say at what period it was introduced. We do not

« AnteriorContinuar »