National Geographic : 1953 Jan
Exotic Birds in Manhattan's Bowery Rare Specimens from Remote Places, Destined for Zoos and Aviaries, Flash Their Colors in a New York Distribution Center BY PAUL A. ZAHL With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author DEEP in the Guiana jungles of northern South America a loincloth-clad Ara wak Indian makes his way up a rocky gorge toward a misting, roaring waterfall. Holding a bow and a curiously blunted arrow, he bends intent upon something hidden in the shadows of an overhanging crag. Suddenly his body freezes. With slothlike deliberation and singleness of purpose, he draws a bead. The arrow leaps forward. An instant later the huntsman is clambering up the rocky incline. Soon he descends with a flame-crested bird about the size of a small pigeon, stunned but unhurt. By nightfall the fabulous cock-of-the-rock, in a crude raffia cage, sits secure in the bird catcher's dwelling, awaiting the monthly launch from far downriver. On its arrival a few yards of calico change hands, and the gorgeous bird joins bizarre species already col lected from other Indian settlements. Then follows a long journey to coastal Georgetown, British Guiana, where the rare shipment is placed aboard a Pan American plane. Within 18 hours the cock-of-the-rock is a resident of Manhattan, a pampered guest in a hostelry for exotic birds. Fellow guests include others of his kind, captured in baited nets in Colombia (pages 79, 81, 83, 97). Appetite Betrays Java "Ricebirds" In another corner of the world, near the edge of a ripening rice field in Java, a honey skinned native sprinkles seeds before the crudely camouflaged opening of a twig-woven trap. A moment later he unrolls a ball of twine, fastens one end to a trapdoor arrange ment, leads the other to a thicket perhaps 50 feet away, and there stealthily crouches. Presently a few of the red-beaked, sparrow sized birds flickering about the rice field National Geographic Photographers Robert F. Sisson and Donald McBain + Paradise Whydah from Africa Dons Elegant Mating Garb Broad black tail plumes up to a foot long adorn the male in the breeding season, turning him into a show-off for several weeks. Head, throat, back, and wings are black, collar is chestnut, under parts buff. Molting, sobering his behavior, returns him to prosy dress resembling that of his sparrowlike female. A species of weaver finch, the canary-size paradise whydah adjusts well to aviary life. This one thrives at the National Zoological Park, Washington, D. C. discover the seed. Excitedly, others join them. A hundred or so are now pecking away at the bait, and soon, following a trail of seeds, some enter the trap's opening. Suddenly the twine leaps taut, the pin is jerked away, the trapdoor drops. Within, those betrayed flutter uneasily, though oblivi ous of the sharp turn their destinies have taken. By nightfall the native has reached his vil lage hut, where he transfers the booty to a large cage containing the catches of previous days. Two weeks later the collection of hand some Java sparrows, or ricebirds, is in the hands of a dealer in Djakarta (Batavia), then aboard an Amsterdam-bound plane, to be transshipped across the Atlantic to a New York distributor of exotic birds (page 95). Hotel for Fantastic Foreigners Captured in a hundred different ways, rare and fantastic species from remote parts of the world thus find their way to the little 5-story building of Louis Ruhe, Inc., hidden in the gloom of the Third Avenue elevated, deep in the wilds of Manhattan's Bowery. The street floor of this establishment hardly distinguishes it from the conventional pet store. There are the usual canaries singing joyfully and flitting about their cages, the clerk behind the counter, the brown sacks of bird seed, the empty cages for sale. To see how unusual the place is, one must ascend to the floor above. There Howard La Vine, Ruhe's bird and animal man extraor dinary, may be uncrating a new shipment of barbets from Colombia or a consignment of finches from Australia. Under his supervision, the birds are nurtured and carefully readied for transshipment throughout the Nation. In the cages lining the softly lit room the visitor sees flicks of green, red, orange, yellow, and blue. A myna bird from India screeches out partly recognizable words; a bellbird from the mountains of Venezuela sounds its chime; small South American toucans cock their huge beaked heads in curiosity at the visitor. Attendants are cleaning cages, preparing an enormous pile of peeled banana and halved apple fodder, or refilling feed trays with seed. Amid the chirping and screeching of a thou sand birds, one hears, smells, and feels the essence of strange lands.