National Geographic : 1953 Jan
A Second Later the Male Cock-of-the-Rock (Left) Tried to Kill the Female A Manhattan firm dealing in exotic birds almost had a tragedy on its hands when these South American guests were uncrated and posed. As quick as a cobra, the resplendent male fastened his beak in the female's head, narrowly missing an eye. Howard La Vine (shown) separated the two (page 97). Sometimes a chauffeured limousine drives up to the shop, its wealthy occupant having come to select newly arrived specimens for the embellishment of a private aviary. By far most of the bird importations are shipped off to adorn the great zoos of the land. There the public will view these creatures from far-off places, quite unaware of the variegated history of capture, barter, travel, and nurture that lies behind each handsome specimen. "Bowery Safari" Has Its Hazards It was here in the Bowery that I recently assigned myself the task of obtaining portrait and flight color shots of foreign birds. Ap proaching this task, I recalled the inclemen cies of many a tropical jaunt in pursuit of birds in the natural state.* This urban proj ect held promise of a change to relative ease and convenience. The mountain had come to Mahomet. This would be like shooting fish in a barrel, friends suggested. As it turned out, the job of "shooting" un tamed, albeit caged, birds was as arduous and patience-taxing as any binocular-and-blind safari and posed a basketful of problems never encountered in the field. Take the toco toucan of South American jungles, a nervous bird whose yellow and red beak is nearly as long and massive as its body, with edges sharp and raspy enough to inflict a serious wound on any human finger it might engage (page 85). Clearly, in working with this species, special techniques are necessary to prevent injury to bird or handler. Fortunately, such techniques were well un derstood by Howard La Vine. When we needed a toco he would enter the room-size cage where such birds were allowed to fly free. Reject ing a net as possibly injurious to so jittery a creature, he watched as the dozen or so excited toucans flew overhead. Then sud denly he made a perfectly timed leap, catch ing the desired bird from the rear with one hand and with the other quickly restraining its threatening beak-and all this without the bird's losing a feather. For a few minutes Howard made cooing bird-language noises close to the captive's head. The uneasy creature slowly quieted down and thereafter, if handled gently, was amenable to the flashes and other vicissitudes of being photographed. For smaller birds my friend used an ordi nary butterfly net. Tiny finches, for example, * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Flamingos' Last Stand on Andros Island," May, 1951; "Search for the Scarlet Ibis in Venezuela," May, 1950; and "The Pink Birds of Texas," November, 1949, all by Paul A. Zahl.