Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anodorhynchus maximus

Moments after we let loose the bloodhounds into the woods, one of them yelped and dove beneath a dense thicket, then emerged with the very fresh carcass of a half-eaten wild cat. As the predator was likely nearby, we heeded the old huntsman when he distinguished the carnage as the work not of paws and fangs, but of talons and a very sharp beak. We wondered aloud to each other what sort of bird had done this. As it happened, we were not puzzled long.

A sharp and unfamiliar cry of “Over here! Over here!” sounded from a place not far ahead. The repeated phrase was not in English, but Tlajamut, the local Indian tongue — an interesting fact, as our Redskin companions (the reader will recall) were both Cherokee.

At the ensuing sound of dead branches snapping and what might have been very heavy footfalls, the old man blanched. “’Tis a death-dealin’ parrot! Ready yer arms!” he croaked, fumbling with his rifle’s breech.

We had little time to prepare. A clump of foliage rustled vigorously, then flew apart, rent by a violent force that scattered leaves and green twigs like buckshot. Then out it pounced: a Davenedict’s apex macaw, announcing its rage with a piercing squawk — which resembled a scream, and removed any doubt as to the source of the previous cries. The bird seized one of the dogs, crushing its midsection. Harper fired and claimed later to have nicked the brute, but to no end. Clutching the dying hound, it bounded into an impenetrable mess of bush and was gone.

Our failure that day was typical among encounters with this most ferocious of macaws. A forest-dwelling raptor, taller than most men and wholly incapable of flight, the Davenedict’s apex macaw is equipped with the most powerful legs and claws of any known bird. It uses them not to sprint (like the equally huge ostrich of Africa), but to tear apart any manner of creature that opposes it. The bird’s talent for mimicking the voice and words of men makes it an insidious threat, and explains why Redskins who frequent these forests are loathe to separate when hunting in groups.

My later success in capturing one of these feathered monsters alive is the subject of the next chapter.

From: Peter-Klaus Swannet, Dangerous Game-Trackers of North America. Edinburgh: Gluorputtney Ltd., 1875: p. 153.