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Rifleman-Bird

RIFLEMAN-BIRD, or RIFLE-BIRD, names given by the English in Australia to a very beautiful inhabitant of that country, 2 probably because in coloration it resembled the wellknown uniform of the rifle-regiments of the British army, while in its long and projecting hypochondriac plumes and short tail a further likeness might be traced to the hanging pelisse and the jacket formerly worn by the members of those corps. The cock bird is clothed in velvety-black generally glossed with rich purple, but having each feather of the abdomen broadly tipped with a chevron of green bronze, while the crown of the head is covered with scale-like feathers of glittering green, and on the throat gleams a triangular patch of brilliant bluish emerald, a colour that reappears on the whole upper surface of the middle pair of tail-quills. The hen is greyish-brown above, the crown striated with dull white; the chin, throat and a streak behind the eye are pale ochreous, and the lower parts deep buff, each feather bearing a black chevron. According to James Wilson (///. Zoology, pi. xi.), specimens of both sexes were obtained by Sir T. Brisbane at Port Macquarie, whence, in August 1823, they were sent to the Edinburgh Museum, where they arrived the following year; but the species was first described by W. Swainson in January 1825 (Zool. Journal, i. 481) as the type of a new genus Ptiloris, more properly written Ptilorrhis, 3 and it is generally known in ornithology as P. paradisea. It inhabits the northern part of New South Wales and southern part of Queensland as far as Wide Bay, beyond which its place is taken by a kindred species, the P. victoriae of J. Gould, which was found by John Macgillivray on the shores and islets of Rockingham Bay. Farther to the north, in York Peninsula, occurs what is considered a third species, P. alberti, 1 In the military forces short-range practice now takes two forms practice with Morris tube or miniature rifle, and practice with the full-sized rifle and ammunition on specially protected 3O-yd. ranges.

2 Curiously enough, its English name seems to be first mentioned in ornithological literature by Frenchmen R. P. Lesson and Garnot in 1828, who say (Voy. " Coquille," Zoologie, p. 669) that it was applied "pour rappeler que ce fut un soldat de la garnison [of New South Wales] qui le tua le premier " which seems to be an insufficient reason, though the statement as to how the first specimen was obtained may be true.

3 Some writers have amended Swainson's faulty name in the form Ptilornis, but that is a mistake.

very closely allied to and by some authorities thought to be identical with the P. magnified (Vieillot) of New Guinea the "Promerops" of many writers. From that country a fifth species, P. wilsoni, has also been described by Mr Ogden (Proc. Acad. Philadelphia, 1875, P- 45*, pi- 25). Little is known of the habits of any of them, but the rifleman-bird proper is said to get its food by thrusting its somewhat long bill under the loose bark on the boles or boughs of trees, along the latter of which it runs swiftly, or by searching for it on the ground beneath. During the pairing-season the males mount to the higher branches and there display and trim their brilliant plumage in the morning Sun, or fly from tree to tree uttering a note which is syllabled " yass " greatly prolonged, but at the same time making, apparently with their wings, an extraordinary noise like that caused by the shaking of a piece of stiff silk stuff. Verreaux informed D. G. Elliot that he believed they breed in the holes of trees and lay white eggs; but on that score nothing is really known. The genus Ptilorrhis, thought by Gould to be allied to Climacteris, has been generally placed near Epimachus, which is now considered, with Drepanornis and Seleucides, to belong to the Passerine Paradiseidae, or birdsof-paradise, and in his Monograph of that family all the species then known are beautifully figured by D. G. Elliot. (A. N.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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