Zoological Illustrations/VolI-Pl31

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Zoological Illustrations
by William Swainson
Vol I. Pl. 31. Phibalura cristata. Crested Shortbill.
Zoological Illustrations Volume I Plate 31.jpg

PHIBALURA cristata.

Crested Shortbill.

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Generic Character.

(Phibalura Vieillot.)
Rostrum brevissimum, trigonum, latius quam altum; mandibula superiore culmine subcurvata carinata; inferiore recta; utrisque marginatis. Nares basales, simplices, subrotundæ, plumulis densis incumbentibus in totum obtectæ. Rictus ampli, infra oculos aperientes. Alæ attenuatæ, remigibus spuriis nullis. Cauda elongata, furcata, rectricibus duodecim. Pedes insidentes, digitis anticis æqualiter fissis, ad basin subconnexis.
Bill very short, triangular, broader than high; upper mandible above slightly curved and carinated; lower mandible straight, both notched. Nostrils simple, basal, roundish, entirely concealed by thick-set incumbent feathers. Mouth large, opening beneath the eye. Wings pointed; spurious quills none. Tail elongated, forked, of twelve feathers. Feet formed for sitting; the fore-toes equally cleft and slightly connected at their base.

Specific Character.

P. corpore supra nigro flavo variegato; subtus albo, fasciis nigris transversis; mento flavo, capitis crista rufa nigro variegatâ, alis caudaque elongata furcata chalybeis, immaculatis.
Above black varied with yellow; beneath white, with transverse black bands; chin yellow. Head crested, the feathers rufous, varied with black. Wings, and elongated forked tail raven-black, immaculate.
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For this beautiful and extraordinary bird I am indebted to Miss E. Yeates, of the Dingle near Liverpool, who received it from South America. Its general habit clearly points it out as belonging to the Baccavoræ or Berryeaters, apparently connecting the genera Procnias and Pipra, where Temminck with much judgement has also placed it, in the new edition of his Manuel d'Ornithologie just received, and before reading which I had considered the genus as unpublished.

The total length is nine inches, of which the tail occupies four and a half. The bill is whitish, and is remarkably short, measuring only three lines from the nostrils to the tip, but three quarters of an inch from the angle of the mouth, which opens just under the eye: the plumage is singularly variegated: the crown of the head is furnished with a crest, which, when not elevated, is scarcely seen, and appears a deep glossy black mixed with grey and rufous; but when erected it is very conspicuous, and all the feathers are bright rufous tipt more or less with black; the upper sides of the head grey, the lower part and ears deep-black; the neck above is greyish-white, with blackish transverse lines: the back, scapulars, rump and tail-covers are varied transversely with olive, shining black, and bright yellow, each feather being olive at the base, black in the middle, and yellow at the tip. Beneath the feathers of the chin and part of the throat are somewhat lengthened, semi-setaceous, and of a bright yellow; the neck and breast are white, with two transverse lines of deep black on each feather; these lines diminish, and are broken into spots on the body, and nearly disappear on the vent: the edges of the breast-feathers are tipt with yellow, which colour increases downwards on the vent and tail-covers, which latter are entirely yellow. The wings are four inches long, uniform deep black with a blue gloss, much pointed, and calculated for rapid flight. Tail the same colour, the exterior basal margins olive: all the feathers are narrow, pointed, and gradually lengthening, the middle pair being two inches three quarters longer than the outer pair, which exceed those next them by an inch. The feet are very pale yellow, and three-quarters of an inch from the knee to the claws, the three foremost of which are equally connected together (though slightly) nearly as far as the first joint; the outer and inner toes equal, and rather shorter than the hind-toe: claws slender and much compressed.

Whether this species is the same as the one mentioned by Temminck as existing in the French Museum under the name of P. flavirostris, it is quite impossible to say, as the description of that bird has never been published. This leads me to notice a custom several naturalists of the present day have lately adopted, of publishing names, and names only, of new or undescribed animals, which they then wish to be considered as permanently fixed, and as having thus secured to themselves all the merit of first describing. Now this at best is but a surreptitious path to fame, and in many instances bears the appearance of originating in a petty vanity, quite beneath the dignity of true science: it is easily fixing a name to an object which we have not before seen, or suspect may be new, without the trouble of investigating authors and comparing synonyms: the name may remain, but if it should afterwards be discovered as hasty and erroneous, its author is in no way amenable to the opinions and criticisms of others, for they cannot discover such mistakes when no clue is given them beyond a name, which may frequently be applicable to half a dozen species. If, on the other hand, the object is really new, the scientific world is still in the dark, for without a description the name conveys nothing. Besides this, it has a tendency to deprive those writers of their well-earned merit, who undergo the laborious but necessary investigation of books, the examining and comparing of specimens, and the construction of sound characters previous to their publishing a new addition to the great volume of Nature. Against this scientific monopoly a stand should be made, and all names either of families, genera, or species should be totally rejected, unless their meaning is clearly defined. Let those who run the race, receive the wreath; and not let it be snatched from the winning-post by another, who jumps from behind and claims it as his own.

On a careful examination of my specimen, I find the nostrils are not covered by a membrane, as observed by Temminck, but are open, obliquely and ovately round, and a narrow rim round the margin. That excellent ornithologist likewise remarks that the first and second quill-feathers are the longest; but my bird (which, however, is in full plumage) has the first and third of equal length and shorter than the second, which is longest. These nice distinctions lead me to suppose the species from which his generic character was taken, is distinct from this.