IN the case of birds which do not fly, the breast-bone is flat and the feet and legs have been greatly developed. The African Ostrich is the largest of living birds, the males being six to seven feet high, with extremely strong legs and two-toed feet. The cock-birds are darker than the hens and are kept in semi-domestication for their well-known white tail feathers. In a wild state each male has several wives, and they all lay their eggs in the same nest, which is merely a hole scraped in the ground. In this the huge eggs, each weighing about three pounds, are placed and hatched mostly by the heat of the sun, though both parents watch over the nest and sit on the eggs during the night.
Rheas are natives of South America and are especially plentiful along the river Plata. They are three-toed and not so big as the true ostriches. Like all members of this group they are very swift and wary, but the natives catch them by
hurling the ‘bolas,’ a cord with heavy balls at each end, which winds round the neck and legs of the bird and brings it to the ground.
The cassowaries of New Guinea and Northern Australia are distinguished by a casque of light bone on the head. Some species have exceedingly brilliantly coloured wattles, the rest of their plumage being dark and hair-like. These birds are often very fierce in temperament and a kick from their horn-covered feet is something to be avoided.
The apteryx or kiwi, of New Zealand, is one of the strangest of living birds. It is about two feet in height, has hardly a trace of wings, is nocturnal in habits, and has a long curved beak with the nostrils at the end. It was preceded by similar extinct forms of a much larger size. Mention may also be made here of the extinct moas of New Zealand, which were enormous wingless birds, at least ten feet in height, with tremendously strong feet and legs. They are believed to have become extinct in recent times.
Penguins are a distinct family. They have webbed feet and scale-like feathers, whilst the somewhat elementary wings are used like fins for swimming under water. They have an upright walk and carry their eggs between their legs, in some cases even hatching them in this position. They are all inhabitants of the Southern Seas and the Emperor Penguin is the largest species, being about three feet high. The King Penguin, with his handsome yellow markings on head and chest, is probably the finest in appearance.
A species which has become extinct within living memory —and that chiefly by man’s agency—is the Great Auk, a bird rather like a penguin, once found in millions.
Terns, petrels and gulls are all related. Their general colouring tends to silvery grey with large portions of black and white. They are well known for their voracious appetites and for their keen sight for anything eatable in the water. It is a commonplace sight to see them following a steamer for the sake of any scraps that may be thrown overboard. In winter, when driven by exceptionally cold weather, they often come inland, and in spring also they may be seen along with rooks and jackdaws, following the plough for insects.
Though outwardly resembling a gull the albatross is really not related. The Wandering Albatross, though only sixteen pounds in weight, has a wing spread of twelve feet or more. It rarely comes to land except at the breeding season and then
chooses the most remote islands, such as Tristan da Cunha. It is a splendid flyer, almost constantly on the wing, often swooping down just clear of the water, and in the most furious tempests careless alike of wind and wave.