THE SECRETARY BIRD.
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.
In captivity the Puma readily becomes tame, and may even be rendered docile and obedient. His manners closely resemble those of the domestic cat; like it he is extremely fond of being noticed, raises his back and stretches his limbs beneath the hand that caresses him, and expresses his pleasure by the same quiet and complacent purring. They soon become attached to those with whom they are familiar; and numerous instances might be mentioned in which they have been suffered to roam almost at large about the house without any injurious results. One of these is no doubt familiar to many of our readers, occurring as it did under the roof of Mr. Kean, the tragedian, who possessed an animal of this species so tame as to follow him about almost like a dog, and to be frequently introduced into his drawing-room, when filled with company, at perfect liberty.
Their food consists of about five pounds of beef per day for each: this the keeper generally tosses up in front of their den, at the distance of nearly two feet from the bars, and to the height of six or eight feet from the floor. The animals, who are on the alert for their dinner, immediately leap towards the bars, and, darting out their paws with incredible swiftness, almost uniformly succeed in seizing it before it falls to the ground. If, as it sometimes happens, the meat is thrown up at too great a distance, so as not to be fairly within reach, they remain perfectly stationary and make no attempt to spring upon it, but watch it with anxious avidity, apparently calculating and comparing the distance of the object and the extent of their own grasp. When they have, in this way, secured their meal, instead of ravenously falling to, like the other carnivorous animals in the collection, they stand growling over it for some minutes, leering upon each other with the most frightful contortions. This growling attitude of mistrust in feeding was constantly maintained by the female, even before she had a companion in her captivity, and when consequently there existed no immediate object for the excitement of her selfish or envious feelings.
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.