Zoological Illustrations/VolI-Pl26

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Zoological Illustrations
by William Swainson
Vol I. Pl. 26. Alcedo azurea. Azure Kingsfisher.
Zoological Illustrations Volume I Plate 26.jpg

ALCEDO azurea.

Azure Kingsfisher.

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Generic Character.

Rostrum longissimum, rectum, attenuatum, altius quam latius, in totum compressum, mandibulis carinatis; marginibus lateralibus leviter inflexis. Nares basales, membrana tectæ, apertura nuda, lineari, obliqua; cauda plerumque brevissima. Pedes gressorii, digito antico interiore minimo aut nullo.

Typus Genericus Alcedo ispida. Linn.

Bill very long, straight and attenuated, higher than broad, compressed the whole length, both mandibles carinated, the margins slightly bent inwards. Nostrils basal, covered by a membrane; the aperture linear, oblique, and naked. Tail mostly very short. Feet gressorial, inner fore-toe small or wanting.

Generic Type Common Kingsfisher. Lath. Bewick, &c.


Specific Character.

A. Corpore suprà, capitis lateribus colloque nitido cyaneis; subtus rufis; mento gulaque albescentibus, alis nigricantibus; digito antico interiore nullo.
Body above, sides of the head and neck shining mazarine blue; beneath rufous; chin and throat whitish; wings blackish; inner fore-toe wanting.
Alcedo azurea. Azure Kingsfisher. Lath. Synop. Suppl. ii. p. 372.

Lewin's Birds of New Holland, fasc. i. pl. 1.

Alcedo Tribrachys. Tridigitated Kingsfisher. Shaw in Gen. Zool. viii. 1. 105.
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The Kingsfishers have such a general similarity of form, that the most casual observer is able to distinguish them: a very long straight bill, short wings, and (in general) a shorter tail with very small legs, are the prominent distinctions of such as are usually seen; and the richness of plumage that generally pervades them cannot be better exemplified than in our own beautiful species, the common Kingsfisher, not unfrequent in many parts of England.

These birds, hitherto placed in systems under one genus, nevertheless contain two distinct groups differing materially in the construction of that primary organ of supporting life, the bill; and in their physical distribution, or the countries they respectively inhabit, two most important considerations in the natural arrangement of animals under the present elevated views of the philosophic zoologist, with whom the study of Nature consists no longer in the study of words, the retention of names, or even the accurate description of species.

These considerations have induced me to form these birds into two genera, the definitions of which are now given: those retained under the old genus of Alcedo appear to be scattered (though sparingly) in every part of the old and the new world. Their bills seem formed for swallowing their food more in an entire state, similar to the Herons. In each of these genera one species exists with only three toes, a remarkable circumstance, which in an artificial system would endanger their being united in a separate genus; but which, from the remarkable smallness of the inner toe in all the other species, cannot I apprehend point out any peculiarity either in their habit or economy: and this opinion I find is likewise entertained by Professor Temminck.

Total length seven inches and a quarter. Bill from the gape two inches one line, the upper mandible rather longest, and both with a slight appearance of a notch; the colour black. All the upper plumage, as well as the sides of the head, ears, and stripe beyond, fine ultramarine blue, more vivid on the rump and tail-covers, and duller on the tail, wing-covers, and lesser quill-margins; front blackish; from the nostrils to the eye a whitish line, and from the ears on each side the neck a whitish stripe, which almost forms a collar round the nape. Quill-feathers sooty black. All the under parts orange ferrugineous; throat and belly nearly white. Tail very short, nearly hid by the upper covers. Feet red, claws black. The inner fore-toe wanting, but a slight rudiment of it exists in my specimen.

Since writing the above, I find this bird is figured and described in a beautiful work commenced by Lewin on the birds of New Holland, which Mr. Brown, the learned possessor of the Banksian library, pointed out to me. I believe but a few copies are known. Lewin observes, "it inhabits heads of rivers, visiting dead trees, from the branches of which it darts on its prey in the water beneath, and is sometimes completely immersed by the velocity of its descent."

Dr. Latham has very well described it, but quite overlooked the construction of the feet.