History of the Birds of the Cape Verde Islands
Hummingbirds and Their Flowers
Birds of the Eastern Forest1
To the west of Africa, far distant in the vast reaches of the ocean, lie scattered bits of land, the Atlantic Islands, that in the years since their discovery have attracted visitors with many and diverse interests. Among these, David Bannerman, ornithologist and traveler, in three previous volumes in turn has written of the birdlife of the Canary Islands and the Selvagens, of Madeira and its minor satellites, and of the Azores. Now with the assistance of Mary Bannerman, his wife, also a serious student of birds, he presents an account of the birdlife of the Cape Verdes, equal in attraction to its predecessors.
Far out at sea, off the most western point of the African continent, the ten main islands and five rocky islets of the Cape Verdes comprise only 1,557 square miles of land. When first reported, during the voyages of the mid-fifteenth century, man in his spread over the earth had not reached them, as their only major inhabitants were birds.
The voyager Cadamosto in his travels reported that he had seen the Cape Verdes in 1456, but this has been disputed. It seems more certain that they were sighted first by Antonio da Noli, perhaps in company with Diogo Gomes, about 1459. Portuguese authorities, who now control these islands, assign the discovery to these two, but list the date as May 1, 1460. It is definite that Portuguese settlers came to the island of São Tiago in 1462, and there established the settlement of Ribeira Grande. Ruins of their ancient buildings, now called Cidade Velha, still remain near the present capital city of Praia. Two centuries later, in 1683, the traveler Dampier described the larger islands of the group as well inhabited, with extensive plantations, and many cattle. By that time the Cape Verdes had become a regular port of call for vessels on long voyages from Europe to the East Indies or South America, that stopped there briefly to replenish water and other supplies.
Aside from mention of “doves,” which early voyagers described as abundant, and so tame that large numbers of them were killed with sticks, there was little noted of the wildlife of the Cape Verdes until a Minister of Marine sent a naturalist, João da Silva, to the islands. From 1784 to 1789 he made collections that were sent to the Ajuda Institute in Portugal. So far as the history of the birds is concerned, those included in these early collections have disappeared. The first scientific record of a bird was reported by Charles Darwin, who on the voyage of the Beagle visited São Tiago in January 1832. From Darwin’s collection, sent to England, John Gould in 1838 named the small native rufous-backed sparrow as a distinct species. This is allied to our familiar house sparrow, now abundant throughout America as an introduction from Europe.
Following several rather casual references over the following years, an English ornithologist, Captain Boyd Alexander, in 1898 published a detailed list of the birds that …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.