Birds – The Trumpeters (subfamily Psophiince)

In some respects affording a connecting link between the Cranes and certain other Crane-like birds are the peculiar South American birds known as Trumpeters. They are small birds about the size of a large fowl, although they have of course much longer legs and neck, their total length being from seventeen to twenty-one inches. The head is of moderate size and the bill short and sometimes swollen, suggesting, as long ago pointed out, the “expression of face” of the Pheasants, or as another writer has put it, ” large, long-legged, blackish Guinea-fowls.” The wings are short and rounded, — the fourth quill longest, — with the inner secondaries as long as the primaries. The wings are not much used for flight, as the birds depend largely upon their running powers for escaping danger. The plumage is soft, the head and neck especially being covered with soft, velvet-like feathers, a condition produced by the upward curvation of the central shafts, combined with the soft, downy structure of the finer divisions. The under tail-coverts particularly are long and lax.

These birds take their name of Trumpeter from the loud, prolonged, and far-reaching trumpet-like cry which they utter, it is said, with the bill widely opened. It appears that the males only possess this voice, and it has been very generally supposed that it was made possible by a great elongation and convolution of the windpipe, but, according to Beddard, the latter statement requires confirmation. It has also been stated that the windpipe communicates with an air space, apparently after the fashion of the Emeu, but this is also questioned by Mr. Beddard, who states as his opinion that the specimen on which this statement was based must have been imperfect or malformed, since he does not find it in any of those he has examined. They are included in a single genus (Psophia) and seven rather closely related species, and are most numerous in Amazonia and near-by countries. The best-known appears to be the Common Trumpeter (P. crepitans), or Agami, as it is called by the residents of its native country. It is the largest species, being about twenty-one inches long, and is black throughout, except that on the lower throat the feathers are purple, tipped with shining purple, and a patch of deep rusty brown extends across the middle back and wing-coverts. These birds frequent the forests, going about in flocks often of several hundred, and feeding on fruits of various kinds as well as insects. The nest is placed on the ground, and the eggs, to the number of ten or more, are said to be bright green. The Agami is often tamed and domesticated by the natives of Brazil, and becomes very affectionate and much attached to its owner. It is often employed in protecting poultry, sheep, etc., its loud cry giving warning of the approach of danger. It apparently does not breed in domestication.

The remaining species differ slightly in size and coloration, and the interesting fact has been established that their ranges are often separated by moderately wide rivers, which seems to prove that they enjoy only limited powers of flight. Our illustration is that of the Common Trumpeter (P. crepitans) of British Guiana and the Rio Negro.