1902 Encyclopedia > Seriema


SERIEMA, or CARIAMA, a South-American bird, sufficiently well described and figured in Marcgrave's work (Hist. Her. Nat. Brasiliae, p. 203), posthumously published by De Laet in 1648, to be recognized by succeeding ornithologists, among whom Brisson in 1760 acknowledged it as forming a distinct genus Cariama, while Linnaeus regarded it as a second species of Palamedea (see SCREAMER, vol. xxi. p. 552), under the name of P. cristata, Englished by Latham in 1785 (Synopsis, v. p. 20) the "Crested Screamer,"—an appellation, as already observed, since transferred to a wholly different bird. Nothing more seems to have been known of it in Europe till 1803, when Azara published at Madrid his observations on the birds of Paraguay (Apuntamientos, No. 340), wherein he gave an account of it under the name of "Saria," which it bore among the Guaranis,—that of "Cariama" being applied to it by the Portuguese settlers, and both expressive of its ordinary cry. It was not, however, until 1809 that this very remarkable form came to be autoptically described scientifically. This was clone by the elder Geoffroy St-Hilaire (Ann. du Muséum, xiii. pp. 362-370, pl. 26), who had seen a specimen in the Lisbon museum ; and, though knowing it had already been received into scientific nomen-clature, he called it anew Microdactylus marcgravii. In 1811 Illiger, without having seen an example, renamed the genus Dicholophus—a term which, as before stated (ORNITHOLOGY, vol. xviii. p. 46, note 1), has since been frequently applied to it—placing it in the curious con-geries of forms having little affinity which he called Alectorides. In the course of his travels in Brazil (1815-17), Prince Max of Wied met with this bird, and in 1823 there appeared from his pen (N. Act. Acad. L.-C. Nat. Curiosorum, xi. pt. 2, pp. 341-350, tab. xlv.) a very good contribution to its history, embellished by a faithful life-sized figure of its head. The same year Temminck figured it in the Planches Coloriées (No. 237). It is not easy to say when any example of the bird first came under the eyes of British ornithologists ; but in the Zoological Proceedings for 1836 (pp. 29-32) Martin described the visceral and osteological anatomy of one which had been received alive the preceding year.

The Seriema, owing to its long legs and neck, stands some two feet or more in height, and in menageries bears itself with a stately deportment. Its bright red beak, the bare greenish blue skin surrounding its large yellow eyes, and the tufts of elongated feathers springing vertically from its lores, give it a pleasing and animated expression ; but its plumage generally is of an inconspicuous ochreous grey above and dull white beneath,—the feathers of the upper parts, which on the neck and throat are long and loose, being barred by fine zigzag njarkings of dark brown, while those of the lower parts are more or less striped. The wing-quills are brownish black, banded with mottled white, and those of the tail, except the middle pair, which are wholly greyish brown, are banded with mottled white at the base and the tip, but dark brown for the rest of their length. The legs are red. The Seriema inhabits the campos or elevated open parts of Brazil, from the neighbourhood of Pernambuco to the Rio de la Plata, extending inland as far as Matto Grosso (long. 60°), and occurring also, though sparsely, in Paraguay. It lives in the high grass, running away in a stooping posture to avoid discovery on being approached, and taking flight only at the utmost need. Yet it builds its nest in thick bushes or trees at about a man's height from the ground, therein laying two eggs, which Prof. Burmeister likens to those of the Land-Rail in colour. The young are hatched fully covered with grey down, relieved by brown, and remain for some time in the nest. The food of the adult is almost exclusively animal, —insects, especially large ants, snails, lizards, and snakes ; but it also eats certain large red berries.

Until 1860 the Seriema was believed to be without any near relative in the living world of birds ; but in the Zoological Proceedings for that year (pp. 334-336) Dr Hartlaub described an allied species discovered by Prof. Burmeister in the territory of the Argentine Republic. This bird, which has since been regarded as entitled to generic division under the name of Chunga burmeisteri (P.Z.S., 1870, p. 466, pi. xxxvi.), and seems to be known in its native country as the "Chunnia," differs from the Seriema by frequenting forest or at least bushy districts. It is also darker in colour, has less of the frontal crest, shorter legs, a longer tail, and the markings beneath take the form of bars rather than stripes. In other respects the difference between the two birds seems to be immaterial.
Plata Staaten, ii. p. 508).

There are few birds which have more exercised the tax-onomer than this, and the reason seems to be plain. The Seriema must be regarded as the not greatly modified heir of some very old type, such as one may fairly imagine to have lived before many of the existing groups of birds had become differentiated. Looking at it in this light, we may be prepared to deal gently with the systematists who, having only the present before their eyes, have relegated it positively to this, that, or the other Order, Family, or other group of birds. There can be no doubt that some of its habits point to an alliance with the BUSTARD (vol. iv. p. 578) or perhaps certain Plovers (see PLOVER, vol. xix. p. 227), while its digestive organs are essentially, if not absolutely, those of the HERON (vol. xi. p. 760). Its general appearance recalls that of the SECRETARY-BIRD (supra, p. 617); but this, it must be admitted, may be merely an analogy and may indicate no affinity whatever. On the one hand we have authorities, starting from bases so opposed as Prof. Parker (P.Z.S., 1863, p. 516) and Sundevall, placing it among the Accipitres while on the other we have Nitzsch, Prof. Burmeister, Martin (ut supra), and Dr Gadow (Journ. f. Ornithologie, 1876, pp. 445, 446) declaring in effect that this view of its affinities cannot be taken. Prof. Huxley has expressed himself more cautiously, and, while remarking (P.Z.S., 1867, p. 455) that in its skull "the internasal septum is ossified to a very slight extent, and the maxillo-palatine processes may meet in the middle lino, in both of which respects it approaches the birds of prey," adds that "the ossified part of the nasal septum does not unite below with the maxillo-palatines," and that in this respect it is unlike the Accipitres; finally he declares (p. 457) that, as Otis connects the Geranomorphae with the Charadriomorphse, so Cariama connects the former with the Aetomorplix, " but it is a question whether these two genera may be better included in "the Geranomorphae,"or made types of separate groups." (A. N.)

The above article was written by: Prof. Alfred Newton.

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