Two male individuals of this breed are now exhibiting at the Tower: the one whose portrait illustrates the present article, and who, although scarcely more than two years and a half old, already rivals his adult Asiatic neighbour in size and majesty, while he exceeds him in grace and agility; and a second, of about ten months old, apparently belonging to the pale variety, and who is just beginning to exhibit the first faint outline of the mane. The former of these is remarkably beautiful and docile: he became an inmate of the Tower in May, 1827; and was, during his voyage from the Cape, being then very young, so tame and domesticated as to be allowed to run about the deck like a dog.
All the preceding birds belong to that division of the Rapacious Order which pursue their prey in the open face of day, and are consequently termed Diurnal; but those which we have now to notice are on the contrary Nocturnal in their habits, and only venture abroad in the shades of the evening, or under cover of the darkness of the night. They are readily distinguished from the former by their short and compressed bill, curved from its very base; by the anterior position of their eyes, which are of great size and surrounded by a circular disc of stiff hairs and feathers, covering the base of the bill anteriorly and extending posteriorly over the ears, which, as well as the disc, vary considerably in size in the different races; by the great extent of dilatation of which their pupils are capable, a provision admirably calculated for enabling them to see by night; by the breadth and apparent bulk of their heads and bodies, both of which are thickly clothed with long and soft feathers; by the plumage of their legs, which in all the European species is continued down to the very toes, and sometimes even along them; by the direction of their toes, which are all naturally turned forwards, the external one being, however, capable of taking an opposite direction; and by the high degree of retractility and sharpness of their claws.
The second Order of Birds, which comprehends both the Pic? and Passeres of Linn?us, is essentially distinguished from the rest of the class by the structure of the feet, which are formed for perching. Those of the Scansorial tribe in particular, to which all the species to be here noticed belong, have two of the toes directed forwards, and the remaining two directed backwards, in such a manner as to enable them to grasp the branch of a tree or other similar objects with peculiar firmness, and consequently to climb with more than usual agility. This section comprehends some of the most gorgeously coloured and splendid among birds, as well as those which evince the highest degree of intelligence, in the imitation especially of the human voice, for which they have been celebrated from the earliest times.
Very different were the feelings by which the Roman generals and people were swayed even in their most civilized times and at the height of their unequalled power. Through all the gloss which history has thrown over the character of these masters of the universe there appears a spirit of unreclaimed barbarity which was never entirely shaken off. From the scenes of their distant conquests their pr?tors sent to the metropolis[xii] of the world bears and lions and leopards and tigers; but a love of science had no share in the motives for the gratification of which they were transmitted, and the chief curiosity manifested on such occasions by the people of Rome was to ascertain how speedily hundreds or thousands, as the case might happen, of these ferocious beasts would destroy each other when turned out half-famished into the public amphitheatre, or how long a band of African slaves, of condemned criminals, or of hired gladiators, would be able to maintain the unequal contest against them. The consul or emperor who exhibited at one time the greatest number of animals to be thus tortured before the eyes of equally brutal spectators was held in the highest esteem among a people who regarded themselves as civilized, and whose chief delight was in witnessing these wanton effusions of blood. It was only under the later C?sars that a few private individuals brought together in their vivaria a considerable number of rare and curious animals; and the Natural History of Pliny derives most of its zoological value from the opportunities which he had of consulting these collections. But the monstrous fables and the innumerable errors, which the most superficial examination would have taught him to correct, with which every page of this vast compilation absolutely teems, speak volumes with regard to the wretched state of natural science in the most splendid days of Roman greatness.
The beautiful bird, the portrait of which is prefixed to the present article, is one of the rarest of its tribe, and has until very lately been confounded by ornithologists with the Hyacinthine Macaw, a fine but much less splendid species. It is figured by M. Spix in his Brazilian Birds under the name which we have adopted; but is there given without either characters or description. Its claim to generic distinction would seem to depend on the excessive length and powerful curvature of its claws and upper mandible, and on the slight developement of the toothlike process of the latter. Its colour is throughout of a deep and brilliant blue; the beak, legs, and claws, are black; and the cere and a naked circle round each of the eyes are of a bright yellow. Our specimen measures two feet four inches from the top of the head to the extremity of the tail, and the expansion of his wings is four feet. The length of the upper mandible is five inches, and that of the lower, two.