Friday, 9 March 2012

The Bird That Shaves

This article represent the first appearance of the column, The Nature Club, in Everyland magazine.
The Bird That Shaves
Everyland's Nature Club (Column)
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine Dec 1915. Digitized by Doug Frizzle March 2012.
Everyland has regular subscribers in more than thirty different countries, including every continent and many islands of the sea. Boys and girls of every land will be at home in Everyland's Nature Club. We hope our readers will write of the interesting things they see,—The Editor

Dear Readers of Everyland:
Each month I am going to tell you about some of the odd beasts, birds, insects, or plants of every land, and I want every girl and boy who reads EVERYLAND to join this new Nature Club. To become a member all you have to do is to send me a picture—either a photograph or a drawing— or a story or a letter about some plant, tree, bird, or other creature which is found in the country where you live. In every land there are live things and plants which have strange ways, interesting lives, or curious habits, and which are not found in other parts of the world. Such things may be so common and such every-day matters to you that you don't think they arc odd or interesting at all, and yet some reader of the magazine in another land may never have seen or heard of them. But the stories must be real or true stories and not fairy tales or legends, for the object of the Nature Club is to teach the readers of Everyland the truth about the many wonderful plants and animals of the world.
Then there will be puzzles to solve. Each month I will print two pictures, one of a bird and one of an insect, fish, reptile, plant, or four-footed creature, and the readers of Everyland must find out their names, where they live and something of their uses or habits. Send the answers to the address at the head of this department and the names of the children who give correct answers will be printed, as well as the best letter about the puzzle pictures. As the pictures will represent plants or creatures from every land where readers of the magazine live, every one will have an equal chance and sooner or later you will find a picture of something from your own home and which you know about. And now for the first story:

THIS queer bird lives in South and Central America, the home of some of the strangest birds, beasts, insects, and plants in all the world. But of them all few have funnier habits or more curious ways than this pretty fellow whose name is motmot. If you should walk along the banks of some brook or stream in the motmot's home and should peer sharply among the low branches you might spy a motmot perched quietly amid the leaves and the bright-flowered orchids. At a little distance he would seem quite plain and dull-colored, but if you had him in your hand or could sec him close to you, you would find that he was very pretty, with his bright-green feathers on his back and rusty-green feathers on his breast, and with bright blue and green wings and tail. The top of his head and his cheeks are shiny black, with stripes of peacock-blue and violet and in the center of his breast are a few black feathers with blue or purple edges. His bill is very strong and sharp and instead of being smooth, like that of most birds, the edges of the motmot's bill are notched like a saw. But the most peculiar thing about the motmot is his tail, which is very different from the tail of ordinary birds. In the motmot's tail the two middle feathers are very long and look like slender wires with tufts of feathers at their ends. When these feathers first grow out they are just like the other feathers in the bird's tail but the funny motmot isn't satisfied with these and thinks he can add to his appearance by shaving. Of course he doesn't use a razor, but his strong notched bill serves just as well for his purpose and by bending his head down and his tail forward he reaches the long feathers and shaves off the plumes, leaving the little tufts at the tips, which you see in the picture, just as some men shave the beards off their faces and leave their mustaches.
But shaving isn't the only queer habit of the motmots. Their ways of keeping house are very strange. Motmots never build nests, but dig long tunnels in the banks of rivers and streams and in these they lay their eggs. The baby motmots are very hungry little chaps and it would keep their parents busy all day long to hunt enough food to satisfy their youngsters' appetites. To save this trouble the lazy motmots pile their homes full of dead fish and small animals, such as frogs, mice, and lizards, and this mass of decaying meat soon becomes filled with maggots upon which the young motmots feed until able to look after themselves.
The birds are very useful, as they kill and devour great numbers of mice, snakes, insects, and vermin and so the people don't hunt or kill them as they do other birds. The motmots are so little afraid of human beings that the natives call them bobos, which means fools. But perhaps the bobos are not so silly as the people imagine; maybe they are wise enough to realize that they are safe from harm because they are useful and their homes are filthy. What do you think?

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.