Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

These birds, now so common in Europe, are of Eastern origin. They are found wild in the islands of Ceylon and Java, in the East Indies; and at St. Helena, Barbuda, and other West India islands. They are not natural to China; but they are found in many places in Asia and Africa. They are, however, no where so large or so fine as in India, in the neighbourhood of the Ganges, whence they have spread into all parts, increasing in a wild state in the warmer climates, but requiring care in the colder regions. In ours, this species does not come to its full plumage till the third year. The female lays five or six grayish white eggs; in hot climates twenty, the size of those of a turkey. These, if let alone, she lays in some secret place, at distance from the usual resort, to prevent their being broken by the male, which he is apt to do if he find them. The time of sitting is from twenty-seven to thirty days. The young may be fed with curds, chopped leeks, barley-meal, &c. moistened; and they are fond of grasshoppers, and some other insects. In five or six months they will feed as the old ones, on wheat and barley, with what else they can pick up in the circuit of their confinement. They seem to prefer the most elevated places to roost on during the night, such as high trees, tops of houses, and the like. Their cry is loud and inharmonious,-a perfect contrast to their external beauty. They are caught in India, by carrying lights to the trees where they roost, and having painted representations of the bird presented to them at the same time; when they put out the neck to look at the figure, the sportsman slips a noose over the head, and secures his game. In most ages they have been esteemed a salutary food. Hortensius gave the example at Rome, where it was counted the highest luxury, and sold dear, and a young peacock is thought a dainty, even in the present times. The life of these birds is reckoned by some at about twenty-five years; by others a hundred.

So beautiful a species of birds as the peacock could not long remain unknown: so early as the days of Solomon, we find, among the articles imported in his Tarshish navies, apes and peacocks. Ælian relates, that they were brought into Greece from some barbarous country; and that they were held in such high esteem, that a male and female were valued at Athens at 1000 drachmæ, or £32. 5s 10d. At Samos they were preserved about the temple of Juno, being sacred to that goddess; and Gellius, in his Noctes Attica, c. xvi. commends the excellency of the Samian peacocks. When Alexander was in India, he found vast numbers of wild ones on the banks of the Hyarotis; and was so struck with their beauty, as to appoint a severe punishment on any person that killed them. Peacocks' crests, in ancient times, were among the ornaments of the kings of England. Ernald de Aclent was fined to king Joha in one

hundred and forty palfreys, with sackbuts, lorams, gilt spurs and peacocks' crests, such as would be for his credit.

We shall now introduce THE EGYPTIAN VULTURE.-The appearance of this bird is as horrid as can well be imagined. The face is naked and wrinkled; the eyes are large and black the beak black and hooked; the talons large, and extended, ready for prey; and the whole body polluted with filth: these are qualities enough to make the beholder shudder with horror. Notwithstanding this, the inhabitants of Egypt cannot be thankful enough to Providence for this bird. All the places round Cairo are filled with the dead bodies of asses and camels, and thousands of these birds fly about and devour the carcases before they putrefy, and fill the air with noxious exhalations. The inhabitants of Egypt say, (and after them Maillet, in his description of Egypt,) that they yearly follow the caravan to Mecca, and devour the filth of the slaughtered beasts, and the carcases of the camels which die on the journey. They do not fly high, nor are they afraid of men. If one of them is killed, all the rest surround it in the same manner as do the Royston crows; they do not quit the places they frequent, though frightened by the explosion of a gun, but immediately return.

THE SECRETARY VULTURE.-This is a most singular species, being particularly remarkable from the great length of its legs, which at first sight would induce us to think it belonged to waders: but the characters of the vulture are so strongly marked throughout, as to leave no doubt to which class it belongs. This bird, when standing erect, is full three feet from the top of the head to the ground. The bill is black, sharp, and crooked, like that of an eagle; the head, neck, breast, and upper parts of the body, are of a bluish ash-colour; the legs are very long, stouter than those of a heron, and of a brown colour; claws shortish, but crooked, not very sharp, and of a black colour. From behind the head spring a number of long feathers, which hang loose behind, like a pendent crest; these feathers rise by pairs, and are longer as they are lower down on the neck; this crest, the bird can erect or depress at pleasure; it is of a dark colour, almost black; the webs are equal on both sides, and rather curled, and the feathers, when erected, somewhat incline towards the neck; the two middle feathers of the tail are twice as long as any of the rest. This singular species inhabits the internal parts of Africa, and is frequently seen at the Cape of Good Hope. It is also met with in the Philippine islands. As to the manners of this bird, it is on all hands allowed that it principally feeda on rats, lizards, snakes, and the like; and that it will become

[ocr errors]

familiar; whence Sonnerat is of opinion, that it might be made useful in some of our colonies, if encouraged, towards the destruction of those pests. They call it at the Cape of Good Hope, flang-eater, i. e. snake-eater. A great peculiarity belongs to it, perhaps observed in no other, which is, the faculty of striking forwards with its legs, never backwards. Dr. Solander saw one of these birds take up a snake, small tortoise, or such like, in its claws; when, dashing it against the ground with great violence, if the victim were not killed at first, it repeated the operation till that end was answered; after which it ate it up quietly. Dr. J. R. Forster mentioned a further circumstance, which he says was supposed to be peculiar to this bird,—that should it by any accident break the leg, the bone would never unite again.

The curious reader will be interested by the following singular particulars respecting THE STORK.-The veneration shewn by the Germans for storks, is a very remarkable superstition. The houses which these birds light upon, are considered as under the special favour of Heaven. It is usual to contrive a small flat square spot on the top of the roof, for them to rest upon, and build their nests. Catholic curates, as well as Protestant ministers, endeavour to allure them, to their churches. "I observed (says a French traveller) four or five steeples dignified by such visitors. There are people so lucky as to attract some of them into their poultry-yard, where they stalk about with the hens, but without yielding up any particle of their freedom. Were any one to kill a stork, he would be pursued like an Egyptian of old for killing an ibis, or for fricaseeing a cat."

In a fire, by which the town of Delft in Holland was burnt to ashes, a stork, which had built her nest upon a chimney, strove all she could to save her little ones: she was seen spreading her wings around them, to keep off the sparks and burning embers. Already the flame began to seize upon her, but, unmindful of herself, she cared only for her offspring, bemoaning their loss, and at length fell a prey to the fire, under the eyes of a sympathizing crowd; prefering death with the pledges of her love, to life without them. This interesting anecdote was celebrated by a Flemish poet, who lived in 1503, in an effusion bearing the title of the "Stork of Delft; or, the Model of Maternal Love."

THE GREAT PELICAN.-This bird is sometimes of the weight of twenty-five pounds, and of the width, between the extreme points of the wings, of fifteen feet; the skin, between the sides of the upper mandible, is extremely dilatable, reaching more than half a foot down the neck, and capable of con

taining many quarts of water. The skin is often used by sailors for tobacco-pouches, and has been occasionally converted into ladies' elegant work bags. About the Caspian and Black seas, these birds are very numerous; and they are chiefly to be found in the warmer regions, inhabiting almost every country of Africa. They build in the small isles of lakes, fai from the habitations of man. The nest is a foot and a half in diameter; and the female, if molested, will remove her eggs into the water till the cause of annoyance is removed, and then return them to her nest of reeds and grass. These birds, though living principally upon fish, often build in the midst of deserts, where that element is rarely to be found. They are extremely dexterous in diving for their prey, and, after having filled their pouch, will retire to some rock, and swallow what they have taken at their leisure. They are said to unite with other birds in the pursuit of fish. The pelicans dive, and drive the fish into the shallows; the cormorants assist by flapping their wings on the surface, and, forming a crescent, perpetually contracting, they at length accomplish their object, and compel vast numbers into creeks and shallows, where they gratify their voracity with perfect ease, and to the most astonishing excess.

Another curiosity is, THE BIRD OF PARADISE.-In natural history, a genus of birds of the order Picæ. Generic character: bill covered at the base with downy feathers; nostrils covered by the feathers; tail of ten feathers, two of them, in some species, very long; legs and feet very large and strong. These birds chiefly inhabit North Guinea, whence they emigrate in the dry season to the neighbouring islands. Their feathers are used in these countries as ornaments for the head-dress; and the Japanese, Chinese, and Persians, import them for the same purpose. The rich and great among the latter attach these brilliant collections of plumage, not only to their own turbans, but to the housings and harnesses of their horses. They are found only within a few degrees of the equator. Gmelin enumerates twelve species, and Latham eight. P. .apoda, or the greater Paradise bird, is about as large as a thrush. They pass in companies of thirty or forty together, headed by one whose flight is higher than that of the rest. They are often distressed by means of their long feathers, in sudden shiftings of the wind, and unable to proceed in their flight; are easily taken by the natives, who catch them with birdlime, and shoot them with blunted arrows. They are sold at Aroo for an iron nail each, and at Banda for half a rix-dollar. Their food is not ascertained, and they cannot be kept alive in confinement. The smaller bird of Paradise is supposed, by Latham, to be a mere variety of the above. It is found only

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »