1902 Encyclopedia > Scrub-Bird


SCRUB-BIRD, the name (for want of a better, since it is not very distinctive) conferred upon the members of an Australian genus, one of the most curious ornithological types of the many furnished by that country. The first examples were procured by the late Mr Gilbert between Perth and Augusta in West Australia, and were described by Gould in the Zoological Society's Proceedings for 1844 (pp. 1, 2) as forming a, new genus and species under the name of Atrichia damosa, the great peculiarity observed by that naturalist being the absence of any bristles around the gape, in which respect alone it seemed to differ from the already known genus Sphenura. In March 1866 Mr Wilcox obtained on the banks of the Richmond river on the eastern side of Australia some other examples, which proved the existence of a second species, described by Mr Ramsay in the Proceedings for that year (pp. 438-440) as A. rufescens ; but still no suspicion of the great divergence of the genus from the ordinary Passerine type was raised, and it was generally regarded as belonging to the Maluridm or Australian Warblers. However, the peculiar formation of the sternum in Atrichia attracted the present \\Titer's attention almost as soon as that of damosa was exhibited in the museum of the College of Surgeons, and at his re-quest 3Ir Ramsay a little later sent to the museum of the university of Cambridge examples in spirit of A. rufesrens, which shewed a common structure. One of the sternal peculiarities was noticed by Mr Sclater (Ibis, 1874, p. 191, note) ; and in the present work (BnIns, p. 741) the Scrub-birds were declared to form a distinct Family, Atrichiidlc, standing, so far as was known, alone with the Lyre-birds (see vol. xv. p. 115) as "abnormal Passeres." Much the same view was also taken the next year by Garrod, who, in the Proceedings for 1876 (pp. 516, 518, pl. lii. figs. 4-7), further dwelt on the taxonomic importance of the equally remarkable characters of the syringeal muscles exhibited alike by ifenura and Atrichia, which he accordingly placed together in a division of the Acromyodian Passeres, differing from all the rest and since recognized, as has been said (ORNITHOLOGY, Vol. xviii. pp. 40, 41), by lir Sclater as a Sub-order Pseudoseines. A detailed anatomical description of Atrichia has, however, yet to be given, and a comparison of many other Australian types is needed before it can be certainly said to have no nearer ally than afenura. Both the known species of Scrub-bird are about the size of a small Thrush - A. elamosa being the larger of the two. This species is brown above, each feather barred with a darker shade ; the throat and belly are reddish white, and there is a large black patch on the breast ; while the flanks are brown and the lower tail-coverts rufous. A. rufeseens has the white and black of the fore-parts replaced by brown, barred much as is the upper plumage. Both species are said to inhabit the thickest "scrub " or brushwood forest ; but little has been ascertained as to their mode of life except that the males are noisy, imitative of the notes of other birds, and given to violent gesticulations. The nest and eggs seem never to have been found, and indeed no example of the female of either species is known to have been procured, whence that sex may be inferred to escape observation by its in-conspicuous appearance and retiring habits. (A. N.)

The above article was written by: Alfred Newton.

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