Page:EB1911 - Volume 03.djvu/994

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FOSSIL]
971
BIRD

of a heron-like bird, Proherodius, of a gull-like creature, Halcyornis, a raptorial Lithornis; and a supposed Passerine from Glarus in Switzerland, called Protornis = Osteornis, complete the list.

The upper Eocene has yielded many birds, most of which are at least close forerunners of recent genera, the differentiation into the leading orders and families being already well marked, e.g. Gallinaceous birds, stork- and crane-like waders, rails, birds of prey, cormorants, &c. Especially numerous bones have been found in the Paris basin, chiefly described by G. Cuvier, F. L. P. Gervais, E. Blanchard, and above all by A. Milne-Edwards, and in the equivalent beds of Hampshire. Others have been discovered in Wyoming; a giant penguin, Palaeeudyptes, is known from New Zealand, and Palaeospheniscus from Patagonia. The Miocene has yielded by far the greatest number of bird-bones, including even eggs and imprints of feathers. For instance, from the lower Miocene beds of Allier and Puy-de-Dôme Milne-Edwards has described about 50 species. Of these Palaelodus was an ancestral flamingo, but with shorter legs; Limnatornis is referred to the hoopoes. The existing genera include Anas, Aquila, Bubo, Columba, Cypselus, Lanius, Picus, Phalacrocorax, Sula, &c. Very interesting is the fact that Serpentarius, Psittacus and Trogon are amongst this list of birds, which are now restricted to the tropics. A similarly mixed avifauna has been found in the mid-Miocene beds of various other parts of France, Germany and Italy. In Colorado and New Mexico Marsh has detected bones of Meleagris, Puffinus, Sula and Uria, all existing genera; but the first is especially suggestive, since it is one of the most characteristic forms of the New World.

Here may be interpolated a short account of the very peculiar avifauna found in the Tertiary strata of Santa Cruz in Patagonia. Instead of the age of lower Eocene, as had been stated originally, these beds are not older than mid-Miocene, and not a few of the bones are of a much younger, even latest Tertiary date. Discovered, and partly described, by F. Ameghino, the bones have been sumptuously monographed by F. P. Moreno and A. Mercerat, who proposed for them the name of Stereornithes, a new order of birds, mostly gigantic in size, and said to combine the characters of Anseres, Herodiones and Accipitres. But the whole mass of bones is in hopeless disorder, apparently without any record of association. At any rate, the “Stereornithes,” accepted as such in Bronn’s Thierreich, and in Newton’s Dictionary of Birds, had to be dissolved as an unnatural, haphazard assembly. Many of these birds, to judge from the enormous size of their hind-limbs, were undoubtedly flightless, e.g. Brontornis, and remind us of the Eocene Gastornis of Europe. Phororhacos, the most extraordinary of all, belongs to the Gruiformes, perhaps also Pelecyornis and Liornis. On the other hand, the late Tertiary Dryornis is a member of the Cathartae or American vultures, and Mesembriornis, likewise of late Tertiary date, is a close forerunner of the recent genus Rhea.

Pliocene remains are less numerous than those of the Miocene. From Pikermi in Greece is known a Gallus, a Phasianus and a large Grus. From Samos a large stork, Amphipelargus, and a typical Struthio; from the Sivalik Hills on the southern flanks of the Himalayas also an ostrich, and another Ratite with three toes, Hypselornis, as well as Leptoptilus, Pelecanus and Phalacrocorax. The fossil egg of a struthious bird, Struthiolithus, has been found near Cherson, south Russia, and in north China. The Suffolk Crag has yielded the unmistakable bones of an albatross, Diomedea.

Most Pleistocene birds are generically, even specifically, identical with recent forms; some, however, have become extinct, or they have become exterminated by man. A great number of birds’ bones have been found in caves, and among them some bearing marks of human workmanship. In France we have a large and extinct crane, Grus primigenia, but more interesting are the numerous relics of two species, the concomitants even now of the reindeer, which were abundant in that country at the period when this beast flourished there, and have followed it in its northward retreat. These are the snowy owl, Nyctea scandiaca, and the willow-grouse, Lagopus albus. A gigantic swan, Cygnus falconeri, is known from the Zebug cavern in Malta. From caves of Minas Geraes in Brazil, O. Winge has determined at least 126 species, of which nearly all still survive in the country. Kitchen-middens of England, Ireland and Denmark reveal the existence of the capercally, Tetrao urogallus, and of the great auk or gare-fowl, Alca impennis; both species long since vanished from those countries. In the fens of East Anglia have been found two humeri, one of them immature, of a true Pelecanus, a bird now no longer inhabiting middle Europe.

Until a very recent epoch there flourished in Madagascar huge birds referable to the Ratitae, e.g. Aepyornis maximus, which laid enormous eggs, and not unnaturally recalls the mythical “roc” that figures so largely in Arabian tales. New Zealand has also yielded many flightless birds, notably the numerous species and genera of Dinornithidae, some of which survived into the 19th century (see Moa); Pseudapteryx allied to the Kiwi; Cnemiornis, a big, flightless goose; Aptornis and Notornis, flightless rails; and Harpagornis, a truly gigantic bird of prey with tremendous wings and talons.


Broad-billed Parrot.jpg
From a tracing by M. A. Milne-Edwards of the original drawing in a MS. Journal kept during Wolphart Harmanszoon’s voyage to Mauritius (A.D. 1601-1602), penes H. Schlegel (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1875, p.
350). Reduced.
Fig. 19.—Extinct Crested Parrot of Mauritius (Lophopsittacus mauritianus).


It is, of course, quite impossible, in a survey of extinct birds, to divide them into those which are bona fide fossil, sub-fossil, recently extirpated and partially exterminated. Nor is it possible, except in a few cases, to decide whether they have come to an end through the agency of man or through so-called natural causes. Like other creatures birds have come, some to flourish and stay, others to die out.


1911 Britannica-Bird- Mandible of Aphanapteryx.png
Fig. 20.—Mandible of Aphanapteryx, side view. (From the original in the Museum of Zoology of the University of Cambridge.)


Mauritius is famous for the dodo, killed off by man; there was also a curiously crested parrot, Lophopsittacus (fig. 19). In the Mare aux Songes have been found the bones of another parrot, of ducks, pigeons, rails, herons, geese and of a dwarf darter, Plotus nanus, all sub-fossil, now extinct. Very interesting is Aphanapteryx (fig. 20), a long-billed, flightless rail, practically the same as Erythromachus of Rodriguez and Diaphorapteryx of Chatham Island. Réunion possessed the peculiar starling, Fregilupus. Rodriguez was inhabited by Pezophaps, the solitaire, Necropsittacus and Palaeornis exsul, which is now