bird secretary described genus
SECRETARY-BIRD, a very singular African animal first accurately made known, from an example living in the menagerie of the prince of Orange, in 1769 by Vosmaer,4 in a treatise published simultaneously in Dutch and French; and afterwards included in his collected works issued, under the title of Regnum Animale, in 1804. He was
told that at the Cape of Good Hope this bird was known as the "Sagittarius" or Archer, from its striding gait being thought to resemble that of a bowman advancing to shoot, but that this name had been corrupted into that of " Secretarius." In August 1770 Edwards saw an example (apparently alive, and the survivor of a pair which had been brought to England) in the possession of Mr Raymond near
Ilford in Essex ; and, being unacquainted with Vosmaer's work, he figured and described it as "of a new genus" in the Philosophical Transactions for the following year (lxi. pp. 55, 56, pl. ii.). In 1776 Sonnerat (Voy. Now. Guinee, p. 87, pl. 50) again described and figured, but not at all correctly, the species, saying (but
no doubt wrongly) that he found it in 1771 in the Philippine Islands. A better representation was given by D'Aubenton in the Planches Enluminees (721) ; in 1780 Buffon (Oiseaux, vii. p. 330) published some additional information derived from Querhoent, saying also that it was to be seen in some English menageries ; and the following year Latham (Synopsis, i. p. 20, pl. 2) described and figured it
from three examples which he had seen alive in England. None of these authors, however, gave the bird a scientific name, and the first conferred upon it seems to have been that of Falco serpentarius, inscribed on a plate bearing date 1779, by John Frederick Miller (Ill. Nat. History, xxviii.), which plate appears also in Shaw's Cimelia Pleysica (No. 28) and is a misleading caricature. In 1786
Scopoli called it Otis secretariusthus referring it to the Bustards,2 and Cnvier in 1798 designated the genus to which it belonged, and of which it still remains the sole representative,3 Serpentarius. Succeeding systematists have, however, encumbered it with many other names, among which the generic terms Gypogeranus and Ophiotleeres, and the specific epithets reptilivorus and cristatus, require
mention here.4 The Secretary-bird is of remarkable appearance, standing nearly 4 feet in height, the great length of its legs giving it a resemblance to a Crane or a Heron ; but the expert will at once notice that, unlike those birds, its tibia are feathered all the way down. From the back of the head and the nape hangs, loosely and in pairs, a series of black elongated feathers, capable of
erection and dilation in periods of excitement.5 The skin round the eyes is bare and of an orange colour. The head, neck, and upper parts of the body and wing-coverts are bluish-grey; but the carpal fe,athers, including the primaries, are black, as also are the feathers of the vent and tibize, - the last being in some examples tipped with white. The tail-quills are grey for the greater part of
their length, then barred with black and tipped with white ; but the two middle feathers are more than twice as long as those next to them, and drooping downwards present a very unique appearance.
The habits of the Secretary- bird have been very frequently described, one of the best accounts of them being by Verreaux iu the Zoological Society's Proceedings for 1856 (pp. 348-352). Its chief prey consists of insects and reptiles, and as a foe to snakes it is held in high esteem. Making every allowance for exaggeration, it
seems to possess a strange partiality for the destruction of the latter, and successfully attacks the most venomous species, striking them with its knobbed wings and kicking forwards at them with its feet, until they are rendered. incapable of offence, when it swallows them. The nest is a huge structure, placed in a bush or tree, and in it two white eg,„ms, spotted with rust-colour, are laid. The
young remain in the nest for a long while, and even when four months old are unable to stand upright. They are very frequently brought up tame, and become agyeeable not to say useful pets about a house, the chief drawbacks to them being that when hungr, y they will help themselves to the small poultry, and the fragility of their leg-s, which follows on any sudden alarm, and ends in their death.
The Secretary-bird is found, but not very abundantly and only in some localities, over the greater part of Africa, especially in the south, extending northwards on the west to the Gambia and in the interior to Khartum, where Von Heuglin observed it breeding.
The systematic position of the genus Scrpentarius has long been a matter of discussion, and is still one of much interest, though of late classifiers have been pretty well agreed in placing it in the Order ifecipitres. Most of them, however, have shown great want of perception by putting it in the Family Falconidee. No
anatomist can doubt its forming a peculiar Family, Serpentariate, differing more from the Falcentidie than do the Vulturidm ; and the fact of Prof. A. Milne-Edwards having recognized in the Miocene of the Allier the fossil bone of a species of this genus, S. robustus (Ois. foss. France, ii. pp. 465-468, pl. 186, figs. 1-6), proves that it is an ancient form, one possibly carrying on a direct and
not much modified descent from a generalized form, whence may have sprung not only the Falconidm but perhaps the progenitors of the Ardeidie and Ciconiidx, as well as the puzzling Cariarnithe (SEntEma, g.v.). (A. N.)
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