I. THE START
In the excellent zoological gardens at Buenos Aires the curator, Doctor Onelli, a naturalist of note, showed us a big male jaguar which had been trapped in the Chaco, where it had already begun a career as a man-eater, having killed three persons. They were killed, and two of them were eaten; the animal was trapped, in consequence of the alarm excited by the death of his third victim. This jaguar was very savage; whereas a young jaguar, which was in a cage with a young tiger, was playful and friendly, as was also the case with the young tiger. On my trip to visit La Plata Museum I was accompanied by Captain Vicente Montes, of the Argentine Navy, an accomplished officer of scientific attainments. He had at one time been engaged on a survey of the boundary between the Argentine and Parana and Brazil. They had a quantity of dried beef in camp. On several occasions a jaguar came into camp after this dried beef. Finally they succeeded in protecting it so that he could not reach it. The result, however, was disastrous. On the next occasion that he visited camp, at midnight, he seized a man. Everybody was asleep at the time, and the jaguar came in so noiselessly as to elude the vigilance of the dogs. As he seized the man, the latter gave one yell, but the next moment was killed, the jaguar driving his fangs through the man's skull into the brain. There was a scene of uproar and confusion, and the jaguar was forced to drop his prey and flee into the woods. Next morning they followed him with the dogs, and finally killed him. He was a large male, in first-class condition. The only features of note about these two incidents was that in each case the man-eater was a powerful animal in the prime of life; whereas it frequently happens that the jaguars that turn man- eaters are old animals, and have become too inactive or too feeble to catch their ordinary prey.
During the two months before starting from Asuncion, in Paraguay, for our journey into the interior, I was kept so busy that I had scant time to think of natural history. But in a strange land a man who cares for wild birds and wild beasts always sees and hears something that is new to him and interests him. In the dense tropical woods near Rio Janeiro I heard in late October - springtime, near the southern tropic - the songs of many birds that I could not identify. But the most beautiful music was from a shy woodland thrush, sombre-colored, which lived near the ground in the thick timber, but sang high among the branches. At a great distance we could hear the ringing, musical, bell-like note, long-drawn and of piercing sweetness, which occurs at intervals in the song; at first I thought this was the song, but when it was possible to approach the singer I found that these far-sounding notes were scattered through a continuous song of great melody. I never listened to one that impressed me more. In different places in Argentina I heard and saw the Argentine mocking-bird, which is not very unlike our own, and is also a delightful and remarkable singer. But I never heard the wonderful white-banded mocking-bird, which is said by Hudson, who knew well the birds of both South America and Europe, to be the song-king of them all.
Most of the birds I thus noticed while hurriedly passing through the country were, of course, the conspicuous ones. The spurred lapwings, big, tame, boldly marked plover, were everywhere; they were very noisy and active and both inquisitive and daring, and they have a very curious dance custom. No man need look for them. They will look for him, and when they find him they will fairly yell the discovery to the universe. In the marshes of the lower Parana I saw flocks of scarlet-headed blackbirds on the tops of the reeds; the females are as strikingly colored as the males, and their jet-black bodies and brilliant red heads make it impossible for them to escape observation among their natural surroundings. On the plains to the west I saw flocks of the beautiful rose-breasted starlings; unlike the red-headed blackbirds, which seemed fairly to court attention, these starlings sought to escape observation by crouching on the ground so that their red breasts were hidden. There were yellow-shouldered blackbirds in wet places, and cow-buntings abounded.
But the most conspicuous birds I saw were members of the family of tyrant flycatchers, of which our own king-bird is the most familiar example. This family is very numerously represented in Argentina, both in species and individuals. Some of the species are so striking, both in color and habits, and in one case also in shape, as to attract the attention of even the unobservant. The least conspicuous, and nevertheless very conspicuous, among those that I saw was the bientevido, which is brown above, yellow beneath, with a boldly marked black and white head, and a yellow crest. It is very noisy, is common in the neighborhood of houses, and builds a big domed nest. It is really a big, heavy kingbird, fiercer and more powerful than any northern kingbird. I saw them assail not only the big but the small hawks with fearlessness, driving them in headlong flight. They not only capture insects, but pounce on mice, small frogs, lizards, and little snakes, rob birds' nests of the fledgling young, and catch tadpoles and even small fish.