Nature

INTRODUCING THE FIRST – AND LAST – BRITISH TINAMOUS


 

An grownup rufous tinamou, depicted in a ravishing illustration
from 1838 (public area)

On the flip of
the [19th] century, many tinamous, primarily Pampas hens, have been
launched and raised as sport birds in France, England, Germany, and Hungary.
After this preliminary success, nevertheless, all makes an attempt to settle tinamous in Europe
within the wild have failed.

Alexander F.
Skutch – ‘Tinamous’, in
Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, Quantity 7, Birds I

To aviculturalists, tinamous are well-known
for being these nondescript, deceptively gallinaceous birds of the Neotropical
Area which can be in actuality most carefully associated to sure of the large,
flightless ratites. Reasonably much less well-known, conversely, is that at one time
they appeared destined to change into unique new members of the English avifauna, as
revealed right here.

Tinamous are among the many most perplexing and
paradoxical of birds. Comprising some 40-odd species in complete, and ranging in
dimension from 8 in to 21 in, they carefully parallel the galliform gamebirds in
outward morphology, with small head and considerably lengthy, slender neck, plump physique
and brief tail, sturdy legs, and rounded wings. Admittedly, their beak is
usually relatively extra slender, elongate, and curved at its tip, and the tail is
usually hidden by an uncommonly pronounced growth of the rump feathers, however
in general look they might simply be mistaken for a mottle-plumaged
guineafowl, grouse, or quail (relying upon the tinamou species in query).

Even so, it could appear that their
misleadingly gallinaceous morphology is a consequence of convergent evolution
(i.e. tinamous filling the ecological niches in South and Central America
occupied elsewhere by real galliform species, however having arisen from a
wholly separate ancestral avian inventory). For detailed analyses not solely of their
skeletal construction but in addition of their egg-white proteins and (particularly) their
DNA have all indicated that their nearest relations are literally the
ostrich-like rheas!

 

Rheas (public area)

Nonetheless, the tinamous are these days
classed inside a complete taxonomic order of their very own, Tinamiformes, as a result of in
spite of their ratite affinities they’ve a well-developed keel on their breast-bone
for the attachment of flight muscle groups, and are certainly in a position to fly – though
they aren’t notably adept aerially. That is most likely attributable to their notably
small coronary heart and lungs, which might appear to be insufficiently sturdy to energy as
energy-expensive an exercise as flight. Equally paradoxical is the truth that
though their legs are well-constructed for operating, tinamous usually are not
noticeably profitable at this mode of locomotion both, preferring to keep away from
hazard by freezing immobile with head prolonged, their cryptic colouration
affording good camouflage amidst their grassland and forest environment.

Their outward look just isn’t the one
parallel between tinamous and galliform species. On account of the relative
ease with which these intriguing birds will be bagged, of their native
Neotropical homelands tinamous have all the time been highly regarded as gamebirds – a
reputation enhanced by the tender and really tasty (if visually odd) nature of
their nearly clear flesh. Accordingly, it might solely be a matter of time
earlier than somebody contemplated the thought of introducing a number of species of
tinamou into Nice Britain as novel additions to its checklist of gamebirds – an inventory
already containing the names of a number of notable outsiders, together with the red-legged
partridge Alectoris rufa and the widespread ring-necked pheasant Phasianus
colchicus
.

The idea of building naturalised
populations of tinamou in Nice Britain was additional favoured by the good ease
with which these birds will be raised in captivity, enabling shares for launch
into the wild to be constructed up very quickly. So in 1884 the scene was set for the
graduation of this intriguing experiment in avian introduction – the
brainchild of John Bateman, from Brightlingsea, Essex.

 

The species that Bateman had chosen for
this goal was Rhynchotus rufescens, the rufous tinamou or Pampas hen –
a 16-in-long, grassland-inhabiting kind extensively distributed in South America,
with a variety extending from Brazil and Bolivia to Paraguay, Uruguay, and
Argentina. In April 1883, he had obtained six specimens from a good friend, D.
Shennan, of Negrete, Brazil, who had introduced them to England from the River
Plate three months earlier. Bateman maintained them in a low, wire-covered
aviary with hay strewn over its ground, sited on certainly one of his homesteads; and by
June, they’d laid 30 eggs, most of which efficiently hatched – and half of those
survived to maturity.

In January 1884, naturalist W.B. Tegetmeier
paid Bateman a go to, and have become very all for his plans to launch
tinamous in England; on 23 February 1884, The Area revealed a report
by Tegetmeier concerning this. Nevertheless, the primary launch had already occurred
(albeit accidentally), as a result of through the summer season of 1883 a retriever canine had
damaged by way of the wire-roof of Bateman’s tinamou aviary, ensuing within the
demise of 4 tinamous, and the escape of seven or eight others onto Bateman’s
property and thence to the Brightlingsea marshes. Solely a small variety of tinamous
had remained in captivity however these had elevated to 13 by the point of Tegetmeier’s
go to. As for the escapees, Bateman recognised that they have been in grave hazard
of being bagged by individuals capturing within the space (thereby ending any probability that
they’d reach establishing a viable inhabitants). So in a bid to thwart
this, he issued a handbill, drawing to the eye of native folks the essential
look and habits of tinamous, and his plans for his or her naturalisation in
England. The handbill learn:

The tinamou,
or, as it’s known as by the English settlers on the River Plate, “Huge
Partridge,” is a sport chook, sticking nearly totally to the grass land;
dimension, about that of a hen pheasant; color when roasted, snowy white
all through. When flushed, he rises straight into the air with a soar…after which
flies off steadily for about half a mile; he is not going to rise greater than twice. Mr
Bateman proposes, after crossing his inventory with the tinamous within the Zoological
Gardens, to show them out on the Brightlingsea marshes, that are strikingly like
the district whence they got here, and he hopes that the gents and sportsmen of
Essex will give the experiment an opportunity of succeeding, by sparing this chook for
the following few seasons, in the event that they stray, as they’re positive to do, into the
neighbouring parishes, as they’d provide an excellent sporting need within the
marshland districts.

To complement his captive inventory, following
Tegetmeier’s go to Bateman obtained three extra specimens of rufous tinamou from
his good friend Shennan, and in addition bought three from London Zoo. In April 1885, he
launched 11 people onto the Brightlingsea marshes; these, along with l4
hatched from eggs, had elevated to roughly 50 or 60 birds by September,
in keeping with a second, extra in depth report by Tegetmeier (The Area,
l2 September 1885).

 

A portrait of
English naturalist W.B. Tegetmeier by Ernest Gustave Girardot (public area)

Tegetmeier famous that all through spring and
early summer season in Brightlingsea and elements of Thorington, the rufous tinamou’s presence
there may very well be readily confirmed by its very distinctive name, described as a
musical ‘ti-a-ú-ú-ú’ within the case of the cock chook, and sounding unexpectedly
just like that of the blackbird Turdus merula. Illustrating this similarity
is an entertaining anecdote contained in a letter to Tegetmeier from Bateman:

Mr Bateman, in
his letter to me, states: “A passing gipsy bird-fancier hailed my keeper’s
spouse, after listening attentively awhile, with ‘That is an unusual high-quality
blackbird you’ve got obtained there, missus,’ alluding to the notice.

  ‘Sure,’ she replied.

  ‘Will you’re taking 5 bob for him, missus?’

  ‘No; I will not.’

  ‘Might I take a look?’

  ‘Sure; ye might.’

  ‘Effectively I am blowed!’”

  As he effectively is likely to be, seeing what he considered
the notice of a blackbird continuing from a chook as giant as a hen pheasant.

Summing up his report of 12 September 1885,
Tegetmeier provided the next phrases of optimism:

I can’t conclude
with out congratulating Mr Bateman on the success of the experiment so far as it
has but proceeded. A lot hurt has been carried out by indiscriminate and inconsiderate
acclimatisation, that it’s passable to listen to that one helpful chook has a
probability of being launched beneath circumstances by which different sport birds usually are not
more likely to do effectively.

After all, even when the menace to the
tinamous’ institution from shooters may very well be prevented, there remained the
downside of persecution from four-legged predators – most particularly the fox, a
main hunter of tinamous of their native New World homelands. But in his second
report, Tegetmeier had dismissed the likelihood that foxes can be a hazard
to them in England:

. . . there’s
little doubt that an English fox wouldn’t object to a chook that’s as delicate
consuming as a landrail [corncrake Crex crex]. The younger brood in
Brightlingsea are, nevertheless, spared that hazard, because the M.F.H. of the Essex and
Suffolk hounds has, with that courtesy which all the time distinguishes the true
sportsman, granted a dispensation for the season from litters of cubs within the
parish.

 

However Tegetmeier’s optimism, Brightlingsea’s Neotropical
newcomers proved to be no match for its indigenous vulpine vanquishers (© Dr
Karl Shuker)

Tragically, nevertheless, Tegetmeier’s
expectation was not fulfilled; regardless of all precautions, the foxes triumphed
very shortly afterwards, and the tinamous have been exterminated. In lower than a
decade, Bateman’s hopes for a resident species of tinamou in Britain had been
promisingly born, had briefly flourished, and had been completely destroyed. (Furthermore,
as famous on this chapter’s opening quote, comparable makes an attempt at across the similar
time to introduce tinamous elsewhere in Europe additionally finally led to failure,
little doubt assembly a lot the identical vulpine-vanquishing destiny.) By 1896, all the
episode had been relegated to not more than the briefest of mentions within the
main ornithological work of that point. Quoting from A Dictionary of Birds
(1894-6) by Prof. Alfred Newton and Hans Gadow:

What would
have been a profitable try by Mr. John Bateman to naturalise this species, Rhynchotus
rufescens
, in England, at Brightlingsea in Essex . . . sadly failed
owing to the destruction of the birds by foxes.

A novel chapter in British aviculture was
closed – or was it? In his Launched Birds of the World (1981), John L.
Lengthy states:

It appears
possible that quite a lot of tinamous, aside from the Rufous Tinamou, might have been
launched into Nice Britain, however these makes an attempt look like poorly
documented.

 

The good tinamou Tinamus
main
, painted by Joseph Smit in 1895 (public area)

An occasion that will have ensued from one such
try featured a tinamou removed from the Brightlingsea space, however sadly the
exact id of that chook may be very a lot a matter for conjecture. On 20
January 1900, The Area revealed the next letter from J.C.
Hawkshaw of Hollycombe, Liphook, Hants:

On Dec. 23
final, whereas capturing a covert on this property, an odd chook obtained up amongst the
pheasants and was shot. On examination it proved to be an excellent tinamu [sic],
or, as it’s typically known as, martineta. As Christmas was close to, I skinned it
myself, with a view of preserving it till I might ship it to be arrange, and
discovered it to be in wonderful situation, with its crop stuffed with Indian corn, which
it had evidently picked up within the covert, the place the pheasants have been repeatedly
fed. The keeper on whose beat it was killed mentioned that he had continually seen it
feeding with the pheasants. Should you can be form sufficient to insert the above in
your columns I hope that I could possibly uncover whence this stranger had
strayed.

As a footnote to that letter, the editors
of The Area briefly referred to Bateman’s experiment at Brightlingsea,
however confessed that they have been unaware of any comparable trials in Surrey, Sussex,
or Hants (Liphook was sited on the border of these three counties) that may
clarify the origin of the specimen reported by Hawkshaw.

Not solely was this tinamou’s origin a
thriller, so too was its id. No description of its look was given;
the one clues to its species are the 2 widespread names, ‘nice tinamu’ and
‘martineta’, utilized to it by Hawkshaw. Mockingly, nevertheless, these truly
serve solely to confuse the matter additional, relatively than to make clear it. The
downside is that they’ve been variously utilized to no less than three utterly
totally different species. Each names have been utilized to the rufous tinamou (as in Richard
Lydekker’s The Royal Pure Historical past, 1894-96); however ‘nice tinamou’ is
additionally generally utilized in relation to a barely bigger species, Tinamus main
(native to northwestern and central South America, in addition to Central America);
and ‘martineta’ doubles as a substitute identify for the elegant tinamou Eudromia
elegans
(inhabiting Chile and southern Argentina).

 

Was Hawkshaw’s chook proof, due to this fact, of
one other try to introduce the rufous tinamou into Britain; or was it
proof of a comparable experiment with a distinct species? Maybe its
existence within the wild was wholly unintentional, completely unplanned – merely a lone
escapee from similar aviary. Definitely, tinamous had been maintained in captivity
in Britain, with no try made to launch them for naturalisation functions,
by quite a lot of totally different aviculturalists for a few years earlier than this occasion.

Right now, even with such established exotica
as flocks of ring-necked parakeets Psittacula krameri and golden
pheasants Chrysolophus pictus surviving in extensively dispersed areas of the
U.Okay., it nonetheless appears unusual to contemplate that had it not been for an
all-too-formidable onslaught by the foxes of Brightlingsea simply over a century in the past,
Nice Britain might effectively have change into dwelling to a complete additional taxonomic order of
birds – that short-legged relations of rheas and ostriches would have change into a
widespread sight by now within the fields and marshlands of England, far eliminated certainly
from their authentic Neotropical world.

This weblog publish was excerpted completely
for ShukerNature from my e book Extraordinary Animals Revisited.


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