Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Tinamou

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TINAMOU, the name given in Guiana to a certain bird as stated in 1741 by Barrere (France JSquinoxiale, p. 1 38), from whom it was taken and used in a more general sense by Buffon (Hist. Nat. Oiseaux, iv. p. 502). In 1783 Latham (Synopsis, ii. p. 724) adopted it as English, and in 1790 (Index, ii. p. 633) Latinized it Tinamus, as the name of a new and distinct genus. The " Tinamou " of Barrere has been identified with the "Macucagua" described and figured by Marcgrave in 1648, and is the Tinamus major of modern authors.[1]

Buffon and his successors saw that the Tinamous, though passing among the European colonists of South America as " Partridges," could not be associated with those birds, and Latham's step, above mentioned, was generally ap proved. The genus he had founded was usually placed among the Gallinse, and by many writers was held to be allied to the Bustards, which, it must be remembered, were then thought to be " Struthious." Indeed the likeness of the Tinamou's bill to that of the EHEA (vol. xx. p. 506) was remarked in 1811 by Illiger. On the other hand L Herminier in 1827 saw features in the Tinamou's sternum that in his judgment linked the bird to the Hallidse. In 1830 Wagler (Nat. Syst. Amphibien, <fcc., p. 127) placed the Tinamous in the same Order as the Ostrich and its allies; and, though he did this on very insufficient grounds, his assignment has turned out to be not far from the mark, as in 1862 the great affinity of these groups was shown by Prof. Parker's researches, which were afterwards printed in the Zoological Transactions (v. pp. 205-232, 236-238, pis. xxxix.-xli.), and was further substantiated by him in the Philosophical Transactions (1866, pp. 174-178, pi. xv.). Shortly after this Prof. Huxley in his of ten -quoted paper in the Zoological Proceedings (1867, pp. 425, 426) was enabled to place the whole matter in a clear light, urging that the Tinamous formed a very distinct group of birds which, though not to be removed from the Carinatæ, presented so much resemblance to the Ratitæ, as to indicate them to be the bond of union between those two great divisions.[2] The group from the resemblance of its palatal characters to those of the EMEU (vol. viii. p. 171), Dromæus, he called Dromæognathæ, and his decision, if not his name, has since been widely accepted.

The Tinamous thus by whatever name we call them, Dromseognathas, Tinami, or Crypturi will be seen to be of great importance from a taxonomer's point of view, though in regard to numbers they are comparatively insignificant. In 1873 Messrs. Sclater and Salvin in their Nomendator (pp. 152, 153) recognized nine genera and thirty -nine species, since which time about half a dozen other species may have been described; but in 1880 Schlegel (Mus. PaysBos, viii., Monogr. 41, pp. 1-51) would only admit five genera and thirty-one species the latter because it was the number possessed by the Leyden museum. They are peculiar to the Neotropical Region four species only finding their way into southern Mexico and none beyond. Some of them inhabit forests and others the more open country; but setting aside size (which in this group varies from that of a Quail to that of a large common Fowl) there is an unmis takable uniformity of appearance among them as a whole, so that almost anybody having seen one species of the group would always recognize another. Yet in minor characters there is considerable difference among them; and first of all the group may be divided into two sub-families, the first, Tinaminas, having four toes, and the second, Tinamotidinse, having but three the latter containing, so far as is known, but two genera, Calopezus and Tinamotis, each consisting of a single species, while the former, according to Messrs. Sclater and Salvin (ut supra), may be separated into seven genera, two being Tinamus and Nothocercus, characterized by the roughness of their posterior tarsal scales, the others, Crypturus, Rkynchotus, Nothoprocta, Nothura, and Taoniscus, having smooth legs.

To the ordinary spectator Tinamous have much the look of Partridges, but the more attentive observer will Rufous tinamou (Rhynchotus rufescens). notice that their elongated bill, their small head and slender neck, clothed with very short feathers, give them a different air.

The plumage is generally inconspicuous: some tint of brown, ranging from rufous to slaty, and often more or less closely barred with a darker shade or black, is the usual style of coloration; but some species are characterized by a white throat or a bay breast. The wings are short and rounded, and in some forms the feathers of the tail, which in all are hidden by their coverts, are soft. In bearing and gait the birds show some resem blance to their distant relatives the Ratitse, and Mr Bartlett shows (Proc. Zool. Society, 1868, p. 115, pi. xii.) that this is especially seen in the newly-hatched young. He also notices the still stronger Eatite character, that the male takes on himself the duty of incubation. The eggs are very remarkable objects, curiously unlike those of other birds; and, as before stated (BiEDS, vol. iii. p. 775), their shell[3] looks as if it were of highly-burnished metal or glazed porcelain, presenting also various colours, which seem to be constant in the particular species, from pale primrose to sage-green or light indigo, or from chocolatebrown to" pinkish orange. All who have eaten it declare the flesh of the Tinamou to have a most delicate taste, as it has a most inviting appearance, the pectoral muscles being semi-opaque. Of their habits not much has been told. Darwin (Journal, chap, iii.) has remarked upon the silliness they show in allowing themselves to be taken, and this is wholly in accordance with what Prof. Parker ob serves of their brain capacity, and is an additional testi mony to their low morphological rank. At least one species of Tinamou has bred not unfrequently in confine ment, and an interesting account of what would have been a successful attempt by Mr John Bateman to naturalize this species, Rhynchotus rufescens, in England, at Brightlingsea in Essex, appeared in The Field (23d Feb. 1884 and 12th Sept. 1885). The experiment unfortunately failed owing to the destruction of the birds by foxes.(a. n.)


  1. Brisson and after him Linnaeus confounded this bird, which they had never seen, with the Trumpeter (q.v.).
  2. M. Alix also has from an independent investigation of the osteology and myology of Nothura major come to virtually the same conclusion (Journ. de Zoologie, iii. pp. 169 and 252, pls. viii.-xi.).
  3. Herr von Nathusius has described its microscopic structure (Journ. für wissensch. Zoologie, 1871, pp. 330–355).