Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/788

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been known since the middle of the last century we are still quite ignorant of their habits in Nature, and their nidification and a great deal of their anatomy.

Right here I would invite attention to another peculiar bird, one which we have in the United States, it being confined to the peninsula of Florida, This is the "limpkin" (Aramus), a most perfect "go-between," connecting the rails and the cranes. To American ornithologists and others the bird is well known, and it no doubt is indirectly related to Psophia. The limpkin has also been found in the West Indies, the Atlantic coast of Central America, and elsewhere.[1]

We have next to touch upon two genera of birds that are generally recognized to stand among the most conspicuous outliers to be found in the entire range of the science of ornithology. These are the sun bitterns of South America and the kagu of New Caledonia (see Figs. 3 and 4).[2] If we take as example the better known of the two species of sun bitterns—E. helias, the one shown in our figure—it is seen to be a bird about the size of a willet, with a wonderfully variegated plumage, composed of different shades of brown, black, gray, and white, the whole being arranged and distributed so as to form a pattern quite as bizarre as that of a whip-poor-will. Very little has been recorded of the habits of the sun bittern, it merely having been stated that it resorts to the undergrowth found along the muddy banks of sluggish streams, where it feeds upon insects and small fishes.

Newton, who has observed it in captivity, at the gardens of the Zoölogical Society of London, says: "It soon becomes tame, and has several times made its nest and reared its young." It has a plaintive, piping note, and "it ordinarily walks with slow and precise steps, keeping its body in a horizontal position, but at times, when excited, it will go through a series of fantastic performances, spreading its broad wings and tail so as to display their beautiful markings." These sun bitterns were known fully three quarters of a century or more to science before anything at all akin to them was found; but when the island of New Caledonia became colonized, a bird there discovered, and nowhere else, at last furnished an ally. This was the kagu, mentioned above, now described by ornithologists as Rhinochetus jubatus. Externally the kagu bears but little resemblance to a sun bittern,

  1. Madagascar, from her avifaunæ, also gives us a fine example of an outlier, a bird known to science as Mesites variegatus—a most peculiar type, to winch, further on, I shall briefly refer again.
  2. Of the sun bitterns there are two species (Eurypyga lielias and E. major), and probably of all existing birds none have so puzzled the systemist with respect to their position in the class. They have in early times been referred to the herons, to the rails, and even to the snipes!