This volume is the third of the series belonging to the ' Fauna of British India1 that has been published in the course of the present year. Of the two preceding volumes, containing the ' Fishes,' the first appeared in July and the second in September.

Birds, which form the subject of the present volume, and which it is proposed to complete in two more, are not only the most familiar and, in many respects, the most interesting class of the Vertebrata, but they are in India represented by the largest number of known species.

The hope expressed, in the Introduction to the ' Mammalia ' of the present series, that Mr. Oates would undertake the ' Birds.' has been fulfilled, and I think that Indian ornithologists are to be congratulated on the fact. Had not Mr. Oates come from India and devoted his furlough to the task, much delay would have been caused and the work, in all likelihood, much less completely executed, as I should probably have been compelled to write the greater part, if not the whole, myself.

The number of species of birds to be described in the three volumes, of which this is the first, exceeds those enumerated in Jerdon's ' Birds of India' by more than one-half, chiefly because Jerdon omitted the species inhabiting Ceylon, Sind west of the Indus, the Western Punjab, Hazara, the Upper Indus valley north and north-west of Kashmir, Assam, Burma and the intermediate countries (such as the Garo, Khasi, and Naga hills, Chittagong, Sylhet, Cachar, and Manipur), together with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, all of which are comprised within the limits of British India as accepted in the present publication. A large number of additional species have also been recorded, since Jerdon's work was published, from Sind, the Punjab, the North-western Provinces, Rajputana, and the Western Himalayas, the fauna of all of which has become better known within the last 25 years. The additional species from the Peninsula are far less numerous.

No branch of Zoology has, in India, attracted so much attention or enlisted the services of so many observers as Ornithology; and there is probably no division of Indian biological science, not even Botany, on which so much has been written and of. which our present knowledge is so far advanced. Far more is known about the nomenclature, distribution, and Habits of birds than about those of mammals, reptiles, or fishes. Within the last ten years some good local faunas have been written, foremost amongst these being Legge's ' Birds of Ceylon' and Oates's ' Birds of Burmah.' A periodical work with the somewhat eccentric title of ' Stray Feathers.' devoted entirely to Ornithology, flourished for several years under the energetic guidance of Mr. Allan Hume, and within the last 18 months a valuable addition has been made to the volumes already published. But, above all, Mr. Hume brought together, chiefly in about ten years (from 1872 to 1882), a collection of Indian birds from all parts of the country far superior to any ever before accumulated; indeed it is doubtful whether an equally complete collection has ever before been made, from a similar area, in any branch of Zoology or Botany. The whole of this collection, amounting to 60,000 skins, besides a very large number of nests and eggs, has now been presented by Mr. Hume to the British Museum; and as the same building contains the collections of Colonel Sykes, the Marquis of Tweeddale (Viscount Walden), Mr. Gould, and, above all, of Mr. Hodgson, the opportunities now offered for the study of Indian birds in London are far superior to those that have ever been presented to students in India. Every facility has been afforded to Mr. Oates by the officers of the British Museum for studying the superb series of Indian birds now in the National Collection.

It must be left to naturalists in India to judge how far Mr. Oates has succeeded in accomplishing the task that he has undertaken. This task, though greatly facilitated by the collected specimens and information, is still far from easy; for, in works like the present, it is not sufficient to have access to the necessary data, the facts known require to be so arranged as to be easily understood and available for ready reference. If the present work complies with these conditions, it is to be hoped that the study of Ornithology not only in India, but throughout the Oriental Region, may benefit as much as it unquestionably did by the appearance of Jerdon's ' Birds of India.'

In one respect the volume now published falls short of the work just named. The limits assigned to the number and size of the volumes in the ' Fauna of British India.' - limits in the necessity for which, much as I regret their existence, I am obliged to concur - have precluded the addition of any save the very briefest notes on Habits, migration, folk-lore, and other interesting points, the inclusion of which in Jerdon's work added so greatly to its attraction.

On the other hand, the classification adopted by Jerdon was obsolete even when he wrote, and was in many respects inferior to that employed by Blyth, thirteen years previously, in his ' Catalogue of the Birds in the Museum of the Asiatic Society' (Calcutta). Unfortunately this faulty classification of Jerdon's has become so closely associated with the Indian Ornithology of the last quarter of a century, partly from the general use of Jerdon's work as a text-book, partly from the employment of his serial numbers, with interpolated additions, in all Mr. Hume's writings, that many Indian ornithologists are probably unacquainted with the important additions to our knowledge of bird-classification made by Huxley, Garrod, Forbes, and other writers, and, it may be feared, will not welcome the changes that have become necessary. It may be hoped that the facilities for the determination of specimens afforded in the present work by the generic and specific keys and by the woodcuts will serve to mitigate the regrets of those who are attached to the old system of classification.

The arrangement of the families of Acromyodian Passeres proposed in this volume is new, and partly based on a character of unquestionable value as evidence of relationship - the plumage of the young birds. The subdivision of the Passeres has long been one of the great difficulties of ornithologists, and one who had devoted much time and thought to the subject, the late W. A. Forbes, was accustomed to say that the whole order consisted of a single family. In all proba¬bility the difficulty of subdividing the order will never be completely solved, the fact being that the Passeres are a group of animals of comparatively recent geological origin, still in course of development, and that in the Passerine series no breaks have yet been established by the dying out of intermediate forms, as has taken place in orders that have survived greater geological changes.

In one respect a difference may perhaps be traced between the classification employed in this volume for birds and that applied in the ' Fauna of British India' to other classes of Vertebrata. The number of genera accepted or proposed by Mr. Oates is larger in proportion than that adopted in the Mammals, Reptiles, and Fishes. Personally I should have preferred a reduction in the generic divisions of birds; but, at the same time, I regard the question as one of convenience, there being, so far as I can see, no essential distinction between generic and specific characters. Many of the so-called " structural distinctions " in birds, such as the arrangement of the feathers at the base of the bill and the development of a crest, are probably purely ornamental, and, like the colours of the plumage, connected with sexual selection; and I cannot see why the differences mentioned are of higher importance than colour. It is, however, only fair to say that many of the best ornithologists hold the same views as Mr. Oates. It is also only just to add that I believe this is the only detail of classification in which I see any reason for differing with him.

An account of the chief writers on Indian birds up to 1862 was given by Dr. Jerdon in the Introduction to the first volume of the 'Birds of India the principal authors enumerated, besides Jerdon himself, were Franklin, Tickell, Sykes, M'Clelland, Burgess, Adams, Tytler, Kelaart, Layard, Hutton, Theobald, and, above all, Hodgson and Blyth, to whom, with Jerdon, may fairly be attributed the foundation of Indian ornithology. A general notice of those who had principally been engaged in working out the birds of the Asiatic continent and islands was included by Mr. R. B. Sharpe in his Introduction to Gould's ' Birds of Asia.' This " Introduction " was reprinted in ' The Ibis' for 1884, p. 49. Amongst the contributions to the ornithology of India since the appearance of Jerdon's ' Birds of India' some of the principal are: - (1) Blyth's commentary on Jerdon in 'The Ibis' for 1866 and 1867, his ornithology of Ceylon (Ibis, 1867), and his posthumous list of the Birds of Burma, published, with additions by Viscount Walden, as an extra number to the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1875; (2) Jerdon's supplementary notes (Ibis, 1871 and 1872); (3) papers by the Marquis of Tweeddale (Viscount Walden), Major Wardlaw Ramsay, Colonel J. Biddulph, and Messrs. A. Anderson, H. J. Elwes, R. C. Beavan, J. Scully, and R. B. Sharpe in ' The Ibis' and the 'Proceedings' of the Zoological Society; (4) contributions by F. Stoliczka, H. H. Godwin-Austen, W. E. Brooks, V. Ball, G. King, "A. C. McMaster, and the present writer to the Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal; (5) Hume's ' Scrap Book,' 'Nests and Eggs,' ' Lahore to Yarkand' (in part by Dr. Henderson),-and 'Game Birds' (written in conjunction with Colonels C. H. T. and G. F. L. Marshall); (6) Legge's 'Birds of Ceylon,' Oates's ' Birds of Burmah,' J. Anderson's ' Zoological Results of the Yunnan Expeditions,' Barnes's' Birds of Bombay,' Murray's 'Vertebrate Zoology of Sind' and 'Avifauna of British India;' and above all (7) the eleven volumes of 'Stray Feathers.' Of all the pages in the latter the larger number are by Mr. Hume himself, the other more important Indian contributors being Messrs. R. M. Adam, J. Aitken, A. Anderson, J. Armstrong, V. Ball, H. E. Barnes, C. T. Bingham, W. E. Brooks, E. A. Butler, Cock, J. R. Cripps, J. Davidson and Wenden, W. Davison, S. B. Doig, S. B. Fairbank, J. A. Gammie, J. Inglis, W. V. Legge, C. H. T. and G. F. L. Marshall, E. W. Oates, G. Reid, J. Scully, and G. W. Vidal; there are also some papers from European ornithologists, especially Messrs. R. B. Sharpe and J. H. Gurney. An important. aid to ornithology in general has been furnished by the British Museum Catalogue of Birds, written by Messrs. R. B. Sharpe, by whom the greater part has been contributed, H. Seebohm, H. Gadow, and P. L. Sclater. Some valuable contributions to the ornithology of Burma, founded on the collections made by Mr. Fea, have lately been published by Count T. Salvadori in the ' Annali del Museo Civico, Genoa.'

Hitherto the progress of Indian ornithology may be divided into two periods; the first of which, ending with the publi¬cation of Jerdon's work, was especially signalized by the labours of Hodgson, Jerdon, and Blyth, whilst in the more recent period the dominant figure has been Mr. Hume.

The addition to the present work of any anatomical details beyond those that are essential for classification would involve too great a demand upon the limited space available. An excellent sketch by Prof. W. K. Parker will be found in the last (ninth) edition of the ' Encyclopaedia Britannica,' under the article "Birds" (vol. iii, p. 699). A general account of the osteology by Mr. R. Lydekker was published at the beginning of the eighth volume of ' Stray Feathers,' For more complete descriptions the student may turn to Bronn's ' Klassen und Ordnungen des Thier-reichs ; Aves,' by Selenka and Gadow. Numerous details will also be found in papers by Garrod and Forbes in the ' Proceedings' of the Zoological Society; and a work in two large quarto volumes, by M. Furbringer, has recently been published in Amsterdam. A diagram showing the terms applied to parts of the plumage will be found on page xi.

The division of the class Aves into orders will be discussed by Mr. Oates in the third volume, and a list of the works referred to in the synonymy will be added at the same time. The author will defer to the same opportunity any general remarks which he may find necessary.

With the present volume half of the proposed work on the Vertebrate Fauna of British India is completed, three and a half volumes having now appeared out of seven. Of the remaining volumes, one on Reptilia and Batrachia, by Mr. G. A. Boulenger, is ready for the press, and will be the next for publication, and it is hoped that a second volume of Birds and perhaps the remaining half-volume of Mammals will also be published in the course of 1890.

December, 1889.

The Fauna Of British India including Ceylon and Burma
OATES EW. The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Vol.1 1889.
Title in Book: 
Book Author: 
Eugene William Oates, Edited by William Thomas Blanford
Page No: 
Vol. 1

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