I recently picked up my copy of A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade by Christopher Benfey after having abandoned it in in the midst of Mark Twain's visit to Chillon. Bored with Byron I guess. Anyway, this time I skipped to the next chapter "Birds of Passage". It's got lots of quotes from Twain's account of Nicaragua, including this wonderful bird description: "a prodigiously tall bird that had a long beak like a powder horn, and curved its neck into an S, and stuck its long legs straight out behind like a steering oar when it flew." What could that be?
I flipped to the footnote, which only gave the source of the quote, not the identity of the bird. The wheels of my mind began to turn. OK, sounds kinda like a stork of some sort with the long legs but wood storks fly with the neck extended, not curved. What other stork-like bird would be found in Nicaragua? I looked up a list of birds of Nicaragua. Bingo. Gotta be a jabiru. That's a stork with a curved neck and very long legs.
Next step: Google images. Yup. First hit on jabiru shows it in flight. Twain's description is spot on! Five feet is indeed "prodigiously tall" for a bird. Not so much for a human. I'm only 3/4 of an inch taller than the "prodigiously tall" jabiru.
Gotta get me to Nicaragua or Belize or someplace down there to see a jabiru in the flesh.