Posted by: Rob Viens | May 30, 2013

Colorful Birds of a Feather

On May 12th Darwin continued his journey through the countryside around Minas:

“We crossed the Rio Marmaraga & proceeded to the Tapes; where a widow woman, a friend of Gonzales gave us a most hospitable reception. — The above rivers, ultimately flow into the R. Grande & thus belong to a different system from the others which we crossed.” (May 12)

It was during this period of time that he seems to have began to become more interested in ornithology – yup, Darwin became a bird watcher.  I suppose it is not at all surprising.  As a collector of bugs and a cataloger of the natural world, it is only natural that the large variety of birds in the new world would draw his attention.

Today’s birding was rather simple – be was observing the locals caught partridges (recall that Darwin never had a problem eating his findings):

“On the road Morante practised with success a method of catching partridges which I had often heard of but never seen. — it requires a long stick, at the end of which there is a running noose, made of the stem of an Ostriches feather. — as soon as a partridge is seen, & they are wonderfully numerous, the man with the stick rides in a circle or spire round & round the bird, gradually coming nearer & nearer; the partridge not knowing which way to run at last squats to conceal itself; the noose is then quietly put over its head & the bird secured by a jerk. — in this manner a boy sometimes catches 30 or 40 in one day.” (May 12)

Interestingly the partridge is an Old World bird.  It was not uncommon for Darwin to name plants and animals after similar European species he was already familiar with.  So it is not clear here if Darwin is talking about a partridge-like bird in Uruguay, or if by the 1830’s the European partridge had been introduced to South America.  It is possible to hunt “perdiz” (partridge) in Uruguay today, but from what I can tell, they are all introduced species. Partridges, by the way, come from the pheasant family (Phasianidae), which in turn belong to the same order as chickens and turkeys (Order Galliformes)

Perdiz pardilla – the grey partridge/English partridge – one of the species commonly introduced around the world by hunters (from Wikipedia Commons):

grey partridge

A couple of other birds Darwin mentions around this period of time in his Zoological Notebook include:

Furnarius rufus – Red Oven bird

“Commonly called the oven bird, from the form of its nest.— this is composed of mud & bits of straw, & in shape about 2/3 of a sphere: with a large semicircular opening; within & fronting this there is a sort of partition which reaches nearly up to the roof, so as to form a sort of passage to within the nest.— The bird is very common, often near houses & amongst bushes, is active in its habits, & utters loud reiterated peculiar & shrill notes.— The nest is placed in the most exposed situation on the top of a post, stem of cactus or bare rock.” (Zoological Notebook)

Rufous Hornero (Furnarius rufus) – an oven bird from Uruguay (from Wikipedia Commons). This species is also the national bird of Argentina.

red ovenbird

Leistes sp. – Blackbird sp.

“Exceedingly abundant, in large flocks, generally making much noise, in habits resembling our starlings” (Zoological Notebook)

Leistes superciliaris – White-browed Blackbird from Brazil and Uruguay. Looks like they form flocks no matter where in the world they live. (from

White-browed Blackbird

Anthus furcatus – Short-billed Pipit

“resembling in most of its habits a lark, very common; not in flocks; alights on twigs:— Eggs, spotted & clouded with red. nest on ground, simple.” (Zoological Notebook)

Anthus furcatus – also found in Uruguay (from Wikipedia Commons):

short billed pipit

More bird watching with Darwin in the coming days… (RJV)


  1. […] between 50 and 100 different birds in this Zoological Notebook. I shared a few earlier (see Colorful Birds of a Feather), and thought I’d add to that list today. All three of the birds below are “perching […]

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