Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/30

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22
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE STORY OF THE CAHOW.
THE MYSTERIOUS EXTINCT BIRD OF THE BERMUDAS.
By PROFESSOR A. E. VERRILL,
YALE UNIVERSITY.

WHEN the Bermudas were first visited by Europeans, about three hundred years ago, they had never been occupied by man. In this respect they differed from most islands of a similar size and blessed with a genial climate.

The study of the character of their original fauna and flora and of the changes subsequently wrought by man is, therefore, of peculiar interest. Fortunately there were several educated and intelligent men in the two parties who were wrecked upon the islands (1593 and 1609) to whom we owe the first intelligent descriptions of the islands and their products. These writers and others who settled there in 1612 to 1616, all agree in respect to the wonderful abundance of certain seabirds, whose eggs and flesh contributed very largely to their food supply. Indeed, it is probable that without this source of food those shipwrecked parties would have died of starvation. Even later, in 1615, during a famine that occurred among the settlers, the birds furnished for a time a large part of their food. One of these abundant and useful birds they called the 'egg-bird,' because its spotted eggs were laid in vast numbers, openly, in May, on some of the smaller sandy islands 'reserved for their use.' This was undoubtedly a tern, probably the common tern, or the roseate tern, both of which were still breeding in small numbers on Gurnet Rock in 1850.

Perhaps both these species of terns were included under the general name of 'egg-birds,' for two or more species often breed together and have similar eggs. The noddy tern may also have been one of them, for it is mentioned under this name by one of the early writers.

But the terns were so continually and persistently robbed and killed that they were soon driven from their breeding grounds or exterminated. They are now known only as migrants. As breeding birds they have long been extinct at the Bermudas, the last records of their breeding being about fifty years ago. Among the formerly abundant birds there is one, however, of far greater interest; originally called the 'cahow' or 'cohowe,' with various other spellings, from its singular note. This bird is unknown to science and is, so far as known, totally extinct.