Birds – The Stork-like Birds

THE general appropriateness of associating most of the birds of this order under the name of Stork-like birds will be appreciated at a glance, for the majority of them have the long legs, long, slender neck, and elongated bills broadly characteristic of the Storks; but, as will be shown later, these characters are on the whole rather superficial, for birds that are really not very closely related to them, such as Cranes and Rails, possess many of the same features, while others are so very unlike the typical Stork-like form that the casual observer would never think of placing them together. And in this connection it may be confessed that ornithologists them-selves are by no means agreed as to the closeness of relationship implied by placing them in the same order. Some students would separate quite widely the groups here brought together, but as the state of our knowledge is not such as to afford a final word on the subject, it may be accepted as perhaps the best expression of the facts now obtainable.

The characters relied upon for defining this order are necessarily of a some-what technical nature, but there seems no way of avoiding their use. Therefore the Ciconiiformes may be described as birds in which the feet are not raptorial, but are fitted for wading or swimming. They are either wading birds with very long legs and toes not fully webbed, or if the toes are fully webbed the bill is bent abruptly downward from the middle, or they are swimming birds with the hallux connected with the inner toe by a full web. The palate is of the so-called “band form” (desmognathous) ; the basipterygoid processes at the base of the skull are absent, as is the spina interna; the coracohumeral groove is deep and distinct; there is but a single pair of tracheosternal muscles, and the blind intestines (caeca) are rudimentary and not functional.

The order Ciconiiformes may be divided into four well-marked suborders: the Steganopodes or Totipalmate Swimmers (Tropic-birds, Cormorants, Anhingas, Pelicans, Gannets, and Man-o’-war Birds), the Ardeae or Herons and their allies, the Ciconiae or Storks and Ibises, and the Phaenicopteri or Flamingos. As will be later set forth more at length, there are differences of opinion as to the placing of the Flamingos in the Ciconiiformes, some, indeed, giving them independent ordinal rank between the present and the following order (Anseriformes). This would rather accord with the views of Huxley, but later studies would seem to range them more nearly with the Stork-like birds. The super-families and families into which they are variously divided are more fully described under their respective headings.

This is a small suborder or order, as it is often denominated, of rather large aquatic, often oceanic, birds, that may be known at once by having all four toes connected by webs. There are, of course, a number of other mainly technical characters, but this “one feature is sufficient to define the group.” They are disposed in six families, seven genera, and about seventy-five living species, with some thirty-five more or less satisfactory fossil, species.

According to the ancient Greek mythology, Phaëthon, son of Helios, one day attempted to drive the celestial chariot in its course across the sky, but the fiery steeds recognized the unaccustomed hand, and swerved from the usual path, causing dire disaster. In fanciful mood Linnaeus gave the name of Phaëthon to the Tropic-birds, inasmuch as they, in their wanderings, follow mainly the path of the sun, though occasionally the power of the gale may, as did the untamed steeds of Phaëthon, force them far from their usual course. ” The Tropic-bird,” says Nuttall, “soaring perpetually over the tepid seas, where it dwells without materially straying beyond the verge of the ecliptic, seems to attend the car of the sun under the mild zone of the tropics, and advises the mariner with unerring certainty of his entrance within the torrid climes.”