It runs (in contradistinction to hopping), but not quite so quickly as some of its congeners. At times the Carrancha is noisy, but is not generally so: its cry is loud, very harsh and peculiar, and may be likened to the sound of the Spanish guttural g, followed by a rough double r r; when uttering this cry it elevates its head higher and higher, till at last, with its beak wide open, the crown almost touches the lower part of the back. This fact, which has been doubted, is quite true; I have seen them several times with their heads backwards in a completely inverted position. To these observations I may add, on the high authority of Azara, that the Carrancha feeds on worms, shells, slugs, grasshoppers, and frogs; that it destroys young lambs by tearing the umbilical cord; and that it pursues the Gallinazo, till that bird is compelled to vomit up the carrion it may have recently gorged. Lastly, Azara states that several Carranchas, five or six together, will unite in chase of large birds, even such as herons. All these facts show that it is a bird of very versatile habits and considerable ingenuity.

The Polyborus Chimango is considerably smaller than the last species. It is truly omnivorous, and will eat even bread; and I was assured that it materially injures the potato crops in Chiloe, by stocking up the roots when first planted. Of all the carrion-feeders it is generally the last which leaves the skeleton of a dead animal, and may often be seen within the ribs of a cow or horse, like a bird in a cage. Another species is the Polyborus Novae Zelandiae, which is exceedingly common in the Falkland Islands. These birds in many respects resemble in their habits the Carranchas. They live on the flesh of dead animals and on marine productions; and on the Ramirez rocks their whole sustenance must depend on the sea. They are extraordinarily tame and fearless, and haunt the neighborhood of houses for offal. If a hunting party kills an animal, a number soon collect and patiently await, standing on the ground on all sides. After eating, their uncovered craws are largely protruded, giving them a disgusting appearance. They readily attack wounded birds: a cormorant in this state having taken to the shore, was immediately seized on by several, and its death hastened by their blows. The Beagle was at the Falklands only during the summer, but the officers of the Adventure, who were there in the winter, mention many extraordinary instances of the boldness and rapacity of these birds. They actually pounced on a dog that was lying fast asleep close by one of the party; and the sportsmen had difficulty in preventing the wounded geese from being seized before their eyes. It is said that several together (in this respect resembling the Carranchas) wait at the mouth of a rabbit-hole, and together seize on the animal when it comes out. They were constantly flying on board the vessel when in the harbour; and it was necessary to keep a good look out to prevent the leather being torn from the rigging, and the meat or game from the stern. These birds are very mischievous and inquisitive; they will pick up almost anything from the ground; a large black glazed hat was carried nearly a mile, as was a pair of the heavy balls used in catching cattle. Mr. Usborne experienced during the survey a more severe loss, in their stealing a small Kater's compass in a red morocco leather case, which was never recovered. These birds are, moreover, quarrelsome and very passionate; tearing up the grass with their bills from rage. They are not truly gregarious; they do not soar, and their flight is heavy and clumsy; on the ground they run extremely fast, very much like pheasants. They are noisy, uttering several harsh cries, one of which is like that of the English rook, hence the sealers always call them rooks. It is a curious circumstance that, when crying out, they throw their heads upwards and backwards, after the same manner as the Carrancha. They build in the rocky cliffs of the sea-coast, but only on the small adjoining islets, and not on the two main islands: this is a singular precaution in so tame and fearless a bird. The sealers say that the flesh of these birds, when cooked, is quite white, and very good eating; but bold must the man be who attempts such a meal.

The Voyage of the Beagle Page 29

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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