1902 Encyclopedia > Africa > African Birds

(Part 11)


The ornithology of Africa presents a close analogy in many of its species to those of Europe and South Asia. Thus, on its northern coasts, there is scarcely a single species to be found which does not also occur in the other countries bordering on the Mediterranean. The ornithology of the region of the Nile and the northern coasts is identified with that of Arabia, Persia, and Spain. The deserts are inhabited by species adapted to its solitudes; while Southern Africa presents different species.

The ostrich, the hugest of birds, which has been described as the feathered camel, or the giraffe among birds, is found in almost every part of Africa. But its chief home is the desert and the open plains; mountainous districts it avoids, unless pressed by hunger. The beautiful white feathers, so highly prized by the ladies of Europe, are found in the wings of the male bird. The chase is not without its difficulties, and it requires the greatest care to get within musket-shot of the bird, owing to its constant vigilance and the great distance to which it can see. The fleetest horse, too, will not overtake it unless stratagem be adopted to tire it out. If followed up too eagerly, the chase of the ostrich is not destitute of danger; for the huntsman has sometimes had his thigh-bone broken by a single stroke from the leg of a wounded bird.

The large messenger or secretary-bird, which preys upon serpents and other reptiles, is one of the most remarkable African birds. It is common near the Cape, and is not seldom domesticated. Of gallinaceous fowls, adapted to the poultry-yard, Africa possesses but a single genus, the guinea hens, which, however, are found in no other part of the world. These birds, of which there are three or four distinct species, go in large flocks of 400 to 500, and are most frequently found among underwood in the vicinity of ponds and rivers. There are, besides, many species of partridges and quails in different parts of Africa. Water fowl of various species are also abundant on the lakes and rivers, as are likewise various species of owls, falcons, and vultures, the later of which are highly useful in consuming the offal and carrion, which might otherwise taint the air and produce disease.

Among the smaller birds of Africa are many species remarkable for the gaudiness and brilliancy of their plumage, or the singularity of their manners and economy. Of the former kind may be mentioned the sunbirds, the lamprotornis, the bee-eaters, the rollers, the plantain-eaters, the parrots, the halcyons, and numerous smaller birds that swarm in the forests. Of the latter kind it will be sufficient to mention the honey-cuckoo (Cuculus indicator).

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