Zoological Illustrations/VolI-Pl43

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Zoological Illustrations
by William Swainson
Vol I. Pl. 43. Melliphaga auricomis. Yellow-tufted Honeysucker.
Zoological Illustrations Volume I Plate 43.jpg

MELLIPHAGA auricomis.

Yellow-tufted Honeysucker.

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Generic Character.

(Melliphaga, Lewin.)
Rostrum mediocre, capite plerumque longius, gracile, curvatum, acuminatum, attenuatum, ad basin altius quam latius, lateribus compressis; culmine carinato. Mandibula superior ad apicem emarginata; inferior lateribus compressis. Nares concavæ ad medium rostri porrectæ, membranâ tectæ, inter rictum et apicem longo fissu aperientes. Lingua longa, extensibilis, fibris cartilaginosis terminata. Pedes simplices, digito exteriore connexo, halluce pervalido.
Obs. Cauda rectricibus 12, remigibus 1 et 2 spuriis; rostri margine aliquando subtilissime dentato.

Typus Genericus Certhia Novæ Hollandiæ Lath.

Bill moderate, generally somewhat longer than the head, slender, curved, pointed and acuminated, the base higher than broad, the sides compressed, the top carinated; upper mandible notched at the tip, the under mandible laterally compressed. Nostrils concave, near half the length of the bill, covered by a membrane, opening by a long slit midway between the gape and tip. Tongue long, extensible, terminated by cartilaginous fibres. Feet simple; outer fore-toe connected; hind-toe very strong.
Obs. Tail-feathers twelve, first and second quills spurious; margin of the bill sometimes minutely toothed.

Generic Type New Holland Creeper Lath., &c.


Specific Character.

M. olivaceo fusca; vertice corporeque subtus flavescentibus; temporibus auribusque nigris; gulâ et pennis elongatis pone aures flavis.
Olive-brown: crown of the head and body beneath yellowish; temples and ear-feathers black; throat and lengthened feathers behind the ears yellow.
Muscicapa auricomis. M. olivacea, vertice corpore subtus maculaque aurium flavis, per oculos striga alba. Lath. Ind. Orn. vol. 2. Suppl. xlix. 1. Gen. Zool. 10. 2. p. 354.
Yellow-tufted Flycatcher. Lath. Suppl. 2. 215. no. 4. Gen. Zool. 10. 2. 354.
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The Yellow-tufted Honeysucker, although described by Latham, has hitherto remained unfigured; and I therefore select it as an excellent example of a tribe of birds which I think are peculiar to Australasia, and which seem to hold the same situation among the birds of that vast country as the Humming-birds occupy in South America, and the Sun-birds (Cinnyris, Cuvier) in Africa and India; all of which more or less derive their sustenance from the nectar of flowers, and which they extract on the wing by means of their long tubular tongues.

It is singular, that while our first ornithological writers were distributing the numerous species of these birds in their systems, under such of the Linnæan genera as they thought most adapted for their reception, a naturalist of a remote colony should be the first who, by creating a new genus, brought them all into their proper situation in systematic arrangement; one of the many proofs that Nature, and Nature only, is to be studied; and that no system, however ingenious or however applauded, can be considered as infallible.

By an error (no doubt of the press) in the specific character of this bird in Latham's Index, the eye stripe is called white, though in the description it is termed black. Mr. Stephens has copied this error into "General Zoology;" and his description of this bird, as well as numberless others, seems merely an abridgement or alteration of Latham's; a practice highly detrimental to science; for, when an original description cannot be obtained, it is much better, and safer, to copy without disguise that of another.

How far all the birds included by Temminck in this genus really belong to it, admits of very great doubt; I have therefore constructed the generic character from those birds of New Holland only which Lewin, who founded the genus, must have had before him.

Total length seven inches and a half; bill seven-tenths, the frontal feathers advancing half its length to the nostrils; those of the ears are lengthened, but the yellow tuft behind them is much more so; the feathers of the chin are small, thick-set, and ending in fine setaceous hairs curved outwards; the breast and body pale brownish-yellow. Quills and tail dark-brown, margined with deep-yellowish; the two lateral tail-feathers tipt with dirty white; plumage above olive-brown; front and crown of the head dark brownish-yellow; bill black; legs brownish, inner-toe very deeply cleft. Tail, from the rump, three inches and a half long, and slightly rounded.

Latham, who first described this bird, says, "it makes its nest on the extreme pendent branches of low trees or shrubs, and by this means escapes the plunder of smaller quadrupeds." It appears not uncommon in New South Wales.