1902 Encyclopedia > Tapaculo


TAPACULO, the name given in Chili to a bird of singular appearance,—the Pteroptochus albicollis of ornithology,—and, throughout this series of articles (BIRDS, vol. iii. p. 743 ; ORNITHOLOGY, vol. xviii. p. 40, et alibi), applied in an extended sense to its allied forms, which are now found to constitute a small Family, Pteroptochidee, belonging to the Tracheophonous division of Passeres, and therefore peculiar to South America. About 20 species, which are disposed by Mr Sclater (Ibis, 1874, pp. 189— 206) in 8 genera, are believed to belong to this group.
The species of the Family first made known is Scytalopus magellankus, originally described in 1783 by Latham (Synojjsis, iv. p. 464) as a Warbler. Even in 1836 Gould not unnaturally took it for a Wren, when establishing the genus to which it is now referred ; but some ten years after Johannes Miiller found that Scytalopus, together with the true Tapaculo, which was first described by Kittlitz in 1830, possessed anatomical characters that removed them far from any position previously assigned to them, and determined their true place as above given. In the meanwhile a kindred form, Hylactes, also first described in 1830, had been shewn by Eyton to have some very exceptional osteological features, and these were found to be also common to Pteroptochus and Scytalopus. In 1860 Prof. Cabanis recognized the Pteroptochidee as a distinct Family, but made it also include Menura (cf. LYRE-BIRD, vol. xv. p. 115), and in 1874 Mr Sclater (ut supra) thought that Atrichia (cf. SCRUB-BIRD, vol. xxi. p. 554) might belong here. It was Gavrod in 1876 and 1877 who finally divested the Family of these aliens, but, until examples of some of the other genera have been anatomically examined, it may not be safe to say that they all belong to the Pteroptochidee.
The true Tapaculo (P. albicollis) has a general resemblance in plumage to the females of some of the smaller Shrikes (Lanius), and to a cursory observer its skin might pass for that of one ; but its shortened wings and powerful feet would on closer inspection at once reveal the difference. In life, however, its appearance must be wholly unlike, for it rarely flies, hops actively on the ground or among bushes, with its tail erect or turned towards its head, and continually utters various and strange notes,—some, says Mr Darwin, are "like the cooing of doves, others like the bubbling of water,and manydefy all similes." The "Turco," Hylactes megapodius, is larger, with greatly developed feet and claws, but is very similar in colour and habits. Two more species of Hylactes are known, and one other of Pteroptochus, all of which are peculiar to Chili or Patagonia. The species of Scytalopus are as small as Wrens, mostly of a dark colour, and inhabit parts of Brazil and Colombia, one of them occurring so far northward as Bogota.

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