An grownup rufous tinamou, depicted in an exquisite illustration
from 1838 (public area)

On the flip of
the [19th] century, many tinamous, primarily Pampas hens, have been
launched and raised as recreation birds in France, England, Germany, and Hungary.
After this preliminary success, nonetheless, 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 intently associated to sure of the enormous,
flightless ratites. Quite much less well-known, conversely, is that at one time
they appeared destined to turn 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
measurement from 8 in to 21 in, they intently parallel the galliform gamebirds in
outward morphology, with small head and considerably lengthy, slender neck, plump physique
and quick tail, sturdy legs, and rounded wings. Admittedly, their beak is
typically slightly extra slender, elongate, and curved at its tip, and the tail is
typically hidden by an uncommonly pronounced improvement of the rump feathers, however
in general look they may simply be mistaken for a mottle-plumaged
guineafowl, grouse, or quail (relying upon the tinamou species in query).

Even so, it will 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 additionally of their egg-white proteins and (particularly) their
DNA have all indicated that their nearest kinfolk 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 mass, and are certainly in a position to fly – though
they aren’t notably adept aerially. That is most likely because of their notably
small coronary heart and lungs, which might appear to be insufficiently strong 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 will not be the one
parallel between tinamous and galliform species. On account of the relative
ease with which these intriguing birds may be bagged, of their native
Neotropical homelands tinamous have all the time been very talked-about as gamebirds – a
reputation enhanced by the tender and really tasty (if visually odd) nature of
their virtually clear flesh. Accordingly, it may solely be a matter of time
earlier than somebody contemplated the concept of introducing a number of species of
tinamou into Nice Britain as novel additions to its record of gamebirds – a listing
already containing the names of a number of notable outsiders, together with the red-legged
partridge Alectoris rufa and the frequent ring-necked pheasant Phasianus

The idea of building naturalised
populations of tinamou in Nice Britain was additional favoured by the good ease
with which these birds may 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 spread extending from Brazil and Bolivia to Paraguay, Uruguay, and
Argentina. In April 1883, he had obtained six specimens from a pal, 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 flooring, sited on one in every 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 taken with his plans to launch
tinamous in England; on 23 February 1884, The Area revealed a report
by Tegetmeier relating to this. Nonetheless, the primary launch had already occurred
(albeit by chance), as a result of through the summer time of 1883 a retriever canine had
damaged by means of the wire-roof of Bateman’s tinamou aviary, ensuing within the
dying 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 might achieve establishing a viable inhabitants). So in a bid to thwart
this, he issued a handbill, drawing to the eye of native individuals the fundamental
look and habits of tinamous, and his plans for his or her naturalisation in
England. The handbill learn:

The tinamou,
or, as it’s referred to as by the English settlers on the River Plate, “Huge
Partridge,” is a recreation chook, sticking virtually solely to the grass land;
measurement, 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 won’t 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 certain to do, into the
neighbouring parishes, as they might provide an awesome 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 pal Shennan, and likewise 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 response to a second, extra intensive 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 time in Brightlingsea and elements of Thorington, the rufous tinamou’s presence
there might 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 have acquired there, missus,’ alluding to the be aware.

  ‘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 properly is likely to be, seeing what he considered
the be aware of a blackbird continuing from a chook as massive as a hen pheasant.

Summing up his report of 12 September 1885,
Tegetmeier supplied 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 finished by indiscriminate and inconsiderate
acclimatisation, that it’s passable to listen to that one helpful chook has a
probability of being launched underneath circumstances wherein different recreation birds usually are not
prone to do properly.

In fact, even when the risk to the
tinamous’ institution from shooters might be prevented, there remained the
drawback 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 may be
little question 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, nonetheless, 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


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

Tragically, nonetheless, 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 totally destroyed. (Furthermore,
as famous on this chapter’s opening quote, related makes an attempt at across the similar
time to introduce tinamous elsewhere in Europe additionally in the end resulted in failure,
little question assembly a lot the identical vulpine-vanquishing destiny.) By 1896, the whole
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
, 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
seemingly that numerous tinamous, apart from the Rufous Tinamou, might have been
launched into Nice Britain, however these makes an attempt seem like poorly


The nice tinamou Tinamus
, 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 acquired up amongst the
pheasants and was shot. On examination it proved to be an awesome tinamu [sic],
or, as it’s generally referred to as, martineta. As Christmas was close to, I skinned it
myself, with a view of preserving it till I may ship it to be arrange, and
discovered it to be in glorious situation, with its crop filled with Indian corn, which
it had evidently picked up within the covert, the place the pheasants have been often
fed. The keeper on whose beat it was killed stated that he had consistently seen it
feeding with the pheasants. In case you can be sort sufficient to insert the above in
your columns I hope that I might be able to uncover whence this stranger had

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 related trials in Surrey, Sussex,
or Hants (Liphook was sited on the border of these three counties) which 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 frequent names, ‘nice tinamu’ and
‘martineta’, utilized to it by Hawkshaw. Paradoxically, nonetheless, these truly
serve solely to confuse the matter additional, slightly than to make clear it. The
drawback is that they’ve been variously utilized to a minimum of 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 title for the elegant tinamou Eudromia
(inhabiting Chile and southern Argentina).


Was Hawkshaw’s chook proof, subsequently, of
one other try to introduce the rufous tinamou into Britain; or was it
proof of a comparable experiment with a unique species? Maybe its
existence within the wild was wholly unintended, 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 numerous totally different aviculturalists for a few years earlier than this occasion.

As we speak, 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 think about 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 properly have turn into residence to a complete further taxonomic order of
birds – that short-legged kinfolk of rheas and ostriches would have turn into a
frequent sight by now within the fields and marshlands of England, far eliminated certainly
from their unique Neotropical world.

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

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