1902 Encyclopedia > Tinamou


TINAMOU, the name given in Guiana to a certain bird as stated in 1741 by Barrere (France Equinoxiale, p. 138), 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 "Mfcucagua" described and figured by Marcgrave in 1648, and is the Tinamus major of modern authors.
Buffon and his successors saw that the Tinamous, though passing among the European colonists of South America as " Bartridges," 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 Gallinx, 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 BHEA (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 Rallidse. In 1830 Wagler (Nat. Syst. Amphibien, &c, 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 Brof. Barker'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 often-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 Carinatx, presented so much resemblance to the Ratitse as to indicate them to be the bond of union between those two great divisions. The group from the resemblance of its palatal characters to those of the EMEU (vol. viii. p. 171), Dromxus, he called Dromxognath», and his decision, if not his name, has since been widely accepted.
The Tinamous thus—by whatever name we call them, Dromaeo-gnathaí, 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 Nomenclátor (pp. 152, 153) recognized nine genera and thirty-nine species, since which time about half a dozen other species may have been described ; hut in 1880 Schlegel (Mus. Pays-Bos, 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, Tinaminse, having four toes, and the second, Tinamotidinae, 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 (tit supra), may be separated into seven genera, two being Tinamus and Nothocercus, characterized by the roughness of their posterior tarsal scales, the others, Orypturus, Rhynchotus, Nothoprocta, Nothura, and Taoniscus, having smooth legs.
To the ordinary spectator Tinamous have much the look of Partridges, but the more attentive observer will 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 Ratitm, 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 Ratite 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 (BIRDS, vol. iii. p. 775), their
shell 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 chocolate-
brown 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. Barker 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 Brightling-
sea 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.)


M. Alix also has from an independent investigation of the osteo-logy and myology of Nothura major come to virtually the same con-
Herr von Nathusius has described its microscopic structure (Jeurn. fur wissensch. Zoologie, 1871, pp. 330-355),

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries