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Title: Mamma's Stories about Birds
Author: Leathley, Mary Elizabeth Southwell Dudley, 1818-1899
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mamma's Stories about Birds" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

by The University of Florida, The Internet
Archive/Children's Library)

[Illustration: THE EAGLE.]

              STORIES ABOUT BIRDS.






 THE EAGLE                 7
 THE DUCK                 17
 THE QUAIL                27
 THE BULLFINCH            43
 THE ALBATROSS            48
 THE OWL                  56
 THE GOOSE                64
 THE MAGPIE               75
 THE PHEASANT             81
 THE FLAMINGO             87
 THE SWAN                 92
 THE KESTREL             100
 THE VULTURE             109
 THE PARROT              117
 THE LAPWING             122



The Eagle is often called the King of Birds, and therefore it is of him
that we ought to speak first. Very likely you have often seen eagles in
the Zoological Gardens, and, if so, you know what noble looking birds
they are. But they seem very sad in their prison-houses, to which no
kindness can ever attach them. They are formed to soar boldly to the top
of some lonely mountain height, and there dwell far from the abode of
men. And to chain them down upon a stunted branch, within reach of all
who like to go and gaze upon them, seems treating them unworthily. One
can almost fancy that they show by their sullen, brooding attitude, and
sparkling eyes, how much they feel themselves degraded and out of place.
I cannot tell you that the Eagle is of any real service to man, but
every one who has been out amongst the mountains, reckons it a fine
sight if he can catch a glimpse of one or more of these noble birds
soaring in the air. Eagles are found in every country where there are
mountains. In Ireland, and sometimes in England and Scotland, the large
golden eagle is found, and is a very fine bird. In America there is an
eagle called the Bird of Washington, which is so large that its wings
spread out from seven to ten feet. The body of the bird is not so very
much larger than a goose; but, as this eagle can fly as many as 140
miles in an hour, it wants very large strong wings to bear it onwards.
The North American Indians--you have heard of them, have you not?--fine
handsome looking men they are, though copper-coloured; and in former
times before Columbus first found out America, the whole of that vast
continent belonged to the Indians and had no other inhabitants;--well,
these men have a great feeling of reverence for the eagle. They admire
him very much, because he is bold, active, watchful, and patient in
bearing with want. All these qualities the Indians value in men, and
they say the eagle is noble above all birds because he possesses them.
But for all that they kill him, and will watch for days to get a chance
of shooting their prize. And they think his feathers the very finest
ornament they can wear, and on grand occasions the chiefs deck
themselves with eagles' plumes as a sign of their rank. These feathers
are also used by them in making arrows. For the feathers of the eagle do
not get spoiled by wet or pressure, as those of other birds would do,
but always remain firm and strong.

Another eagle is called the Erne, White-tailed, or Sea Eagle. These
birds live near the sea-shore, and feed upon fish. Their sight is so
piercing that they can mark a fish swimming far below them as they hover
over the water, and, pouncing down, will strike their strong talons into
it, and steer themselves and their prey ashore by their great outspread
wings. The African Eagle is said to be very generous in his disposition,
and certainly deserves to be called kingly. Although he will not allow
any large bird to dwell in peace too near him, yet he never harms the
little warblers who flutter round his nest. He will let them perch in
safety upon it, and if they are attacked by any bird of prey, he is said
even to fly to their protection.

The eagle is, however, himself a bird of prey, and is often found a very
troublesome neighbour. Hares, rabbits, poultry, nay, even lambs have
been carried off by these powerful birds, for when excited by hunger
they will attack even those creatures which are larger than themselves.
Deer and even oxen have been pounced upon by eagles and buffeted about
the head until they fell down quite helpless, but there are not many
instances of this kind. We are also told of little children who have
been carried up into their nests by the old birds as food for their
young; and one very old story of the kind, taken from an old book in
English history, I must tell you. "Alfred, king of the West Saxons, went
out one day a hunting, and, passing by a certain wood, heard as he
supposed the cry of an infant, from the top of a tree, and forthwith
diligently inquiring of the huntsmen what that doleful sound could be,
commanded one of them to climb the tree, when in the top of it was found
an eagle's nest, and lo! therein a pretty sweet-faced infant, wrapped up
in a purple mantle, and upon each arm a bracelet of gold, a clear sign
that he was born of noble parents. Whereupon the king took charge of
him, and caused him to be baptized, and because he was found in a nest,
he gave him the name of Nestringam, and in after time, having nobly
educated him, he advanced him to the dignity of an earl."

Eagles are said to be very long lived; one died at Vienna that had lived
in confinement more than one hundred years. Their cry consists of two
notes, uttered in a loud sharp key. They make a flat nest, formed of
loose sticks, on the top of some solitary rock where they are not likely
to be disturbed, and lay two eggs. Whilst the young are not able to fly,
they are carefully fed by the parent birds, who are then more fierce
than usual, and forage everywhere for food, carrying off fawns, lambs,
hares, &c., never, if possible, touching any animal already dead. Smith,
in his history of Kerry, a county in Ireland, tells us of a poor man
then living there, who got "a comfortable subsistence for his family
during a summer of famine, out of an eagle's nest, by robbing the
eaglets of the food the old ones brought." And lest he should lose this
supply too soon, he was clever enough to cut the wings of the young
birds when they were old enough to fly, so that the unsuspecting parents
went on feeding them much longer than usual. Mr. Dunn says he once saw,
while shooting on Rona's Hill, a pair of skua gulls chase and completely
beat off a large sea eagle. The gulls struck at him several times, and
at each stroke he screamed loudly, but never offered to return the

[Illustration: THE DUCK.]


There is so much that is interesting to tell you about the duck, that I
scarcely know where to begin. Most of you know something of the habits
of the tame or domestic duck. But perhaps you have never noticed its
curious bill, which is constructed so as to filter, through its toothed
edges, the soft mud in which these birds love to dabble. The tongue of
the duck is full of nerves, so that its sense of taste is very keen, and
thus provided the bird can find out all that is savoury to its palate in
puddles, ponds, etc., and throwing away all that is tasteless, swallow
only what it likes. Try and examine the bill of the next duck that you
see, and you will discover this wonderful apparatus which I have
described as acting like a filter. The duck is very capable of
affection for its owners, as the following fact will show. A farmer's
wife had a young duck, which by some accident was deprived of its
companions. From that moment all its love seemed to centre upon its
mistress. Wherever she went the duck followed, and that so closely, that
she was in constant fear of crushing it to death. With its age its
affections seemed to strengthen, and it took up its abode in-doors,
basking on the hearth, and delighting in notice. After some time other
ducks were procured, and, to induce it to mix with its natural
companions, the pet duck was driven out day by day; but there was great
difficulty in weaning it from the kind friend to whom it had attached
itself. We are told also of some ducklings who grew so fond of a great,
savage house-dog, that though every one else was afraid of him, they
showed no fear of his terrible bark; but, on the first approach of
danger, would rush in a body to his side, and take shelter in his
kennel. Wild ducks, or mallards, are very abundant in marshy places, and
are a source of great profit. They are in some parts shot by means of a
long gun which will kill at a greater distance than usual, because the
duck, besides being very watchful and timid, has a keen sense of smell
and hearing. In other places they are caught by decoys. These are thus
contrived. A number of ducks, trained for the purpose, are employed to
lead the wild fowl on and on through narrow wicker channels up to a
funnel net. Hemp-seed is thrown in their way, as they advance, by the
decoy-man, whose whistle is obeyed by the decoy-ducks, until the poor
strangers are quite entrapped.

China is said to be a wonderful place for rearing ducks, and, indeed,
all poultry, but in Canton many people gain a good livelihood by
bringing up ducks in particular. The eggs are hatched in ovens, and then
the young ones are brought up by people who buy them from the hatchers.
Sometimes the heat has been too great, and then the little ducks, even
if hatched at all, soon die. The way by which those who buy them find
out whether they are likely to live, is by holding them up by their
beaks. If the heat has not been too great, they will sprawl out their
little wings and feet, but if hatched too soon they hang motionless.
They are fed on boiled rice, herbs, and little fish, chopped small. When
old enough to learn to swim, they are put under the care of a clever old
duck, trained to the business. A number of these ducks with their
broods are sent down to the river in a sort of floating pen. In the
evening a whistle, which the ducks well know, recalls them to the boat
in which they were sent out. The instant this is heard the ducks come
trooping in as fast as possible, followed by their pupils. In order to
encourage them to be punctual, the first duck is rewarded with something
nice, but the last one is whipped for its laziness. And it is said to be
very funny to see how the ducks will waddle, and run, and fly over each
other's backs, that they may escape the punishment which they know
awaits the last straggler.

As to the _use_ we make of ducks, it is chiefly as an article of food
the English duck is prized. But in the Northern regions, particularly in
Iceland, there is a bird called the eider duck, which is much valued on
account of the soft and beautiful down which grows upon its breast, and
is used for pillows and counterpanes, being wonderfully light, warm and
elastic. These birds, though naturally solitary creatures, assemble in
crowds at the breeding season, and build their nests in the roofs of the
houses. They tear away this soft down as a cradle for their young. But
the people rob the nests when they are finished, not only once, but
sometimes, cruelly enough, a second time. For the poor birds, finding
the down gone, tear a second supply from their loving bosoms. If the
plunder be attempted more than twice, the birds are said to forsake the
spot entirely. The eider duck has a curious method of teaching her young
ones to swim. A few days after they are hatched she carries them some
distance from shore on her back. Then, making a sudden dive, she leaves
the little ones afloat and obliged to exert their own powers.
Re-appearing at a little distance, she entices them towards her, and
thus they at once become good swimmers.

Before concluding, I will relate an instance of the sagacity often
displayed by the tame or domestic duck. It is told by a gentleman named
Mr. Saul:--

"I have now a fine duck which was hatched under a hen, there being seven
young ones produced at the time. When these ducks were about ten days
old, five of them were taken away from beneath the hen by the rats,
during the nighttime, the rats sucking them to death and leaving the
body perfect. My duck, which escaped this danger, now alarms all the
other ducks and the fowls in the most extraordinary manner, as soon as
rats appear in the building in which they are confined, whether it be
in the night or the morning. I was awakened by this duck about midnight,
and as I feared the rats were making an attack, I got up immediately,
went to the building, and found the ducks uninjured. I then returned to
bed, supposing the rats had retreated. To my surprise, next morning, I
found that two young ducks had been taken from beneath a hen and sucked
to death, at a very short distance from where the older duck was
sitting. On this account, I got a young rat dog, and kept it in the
building, and when the rats approach, the duck will rouse the dog from
sleep, and as soon as the dog starts up, the duck resettles herself."

[Illustration: THE QUAIL.]


The quail is the smallest of the poultry tribe, and is a pretty little
bird, something like a partridge, but not so large. I dare say you have
sometimes seen quails alive in a poulterer's shop, where they are often
displayed in long narrow cages, and are sadly crowded together. The
quail is a migratory bird, except in those countries blessed with an
equable temperature, such as Italy, Portugal, etc., where it is to be
found in all seasons. In warm weather the quail visits our island, but
nearly all those sold in London are brought from France, where they are
caught in hundreds by means of a quail-pipe as it is called. This is a
little instrument which imitates the cry or call of the quail so
successfully that the bird is deceived, and, following the note, is
easily ensnared. Africa is the head-quarters of quails in the winter,
but in the summer they come in vast flocks and take up their abode in
Europe and Asia. In the Crimea and Egypt they are caught in immense
numbers whilst exhausted by their long flight. We are told in Stade's
Travels in Turkey, that, "near Constantinople in the migrating season,
the sun is often nearly obscured by the prodigious flights of quails,
which alight on the coasts of the Black Sea, near the Bosphorus, and are
caught by means of nets spread on high poles, planted along the cliff,
some yards from its edge, against which the birds, exhausted by their
passage over the sea, strike themselves and fall." The Arabs also catch
quails by thousands in nets, when they visit Egypt, about harvest time.
The observations of modern travellers have confirmed in a very
interesting manner the account given us of quails in the Bible. Do not
you remember reading of the multitude of quails that were sent by God as
food for the children of Israel whilst wandering in the desert, when
they grew tired of the sweet manna God had rained upon them from heaven,
and desired flesh? "They gathered the quails," we are told, in great
quantities, "and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about
the camp."--Numbers xi. 32. This was done in order to dry them, and this
method of preserving not only quails, but other flesh and fish, is still
followed by the Arabs. There is one particular island off the coast of
Egypt where myriads of quails are caught, and, being stripped of their
feathers, are dried in the burning sand for about a quarter of an hour,
after which they are sold for as little as a penny a pound. The crews
of those vessels which in that season lie in the adjacent harbour, have
no other food allowed them. The quails, when migrating, fly so near the
ground that they are very easily knocked down and secured. The nest of
the quail is very simple. It consists merely of a few dried sticks in a
wheat-field, and contains from twelve to eighteen pretty little green
and brown eggs. The quail itself is very prettily coloured with black,
chestnut, yellow, and white, and the males have a black collar round
their throats. The old Romans would not eat the flesh of the quail,
because it feeds on the grains of a poisonous plant. But we moderns are
not so scrupulous, and find it very delicious food. I am sorry to tell
you this little bird is so fond of fighting that there was an old
proverb, "as quarrelsome as quails in a cage." And the Greeks and
Romans kept quails on purpose to see them fight, as some people did
formerly (I hope not now), game-cocks. Even to this day this is the
custom in India and China.

I always like to conclude with a pretty story for you if I can, but I
can find nothing likely to amuse you about the quail, except the
following account of the Virginian quail, related by a gentleman
residing in Canada. He "happened to have above a hundred at one period
alive, and took much pleasure in the evening, watching their motions
where they were confined. As it grew dusk, the birds formed themselves
into coveys or parties of twelve or fifteen in a circle, the heads out
and tails clustered in the centre. One bird always stood guard to each
party, and remained perfectly stationary for half an hour, when, a
particular _cluck_ being given, another sentinel immediately took his
place, and relieved him with as much regularity as any garrison could
boast. It became a matter of further curiosity to observe how they would
meet the extra duty occasioned by the havoc of the _cook_. For this also
a remedy was found, and the gentleman remarked with admiration that, as
their number decreased, the period of watch was extended from a half to
a whole hour, in the same form, and with unfailing regularity."

[Illustration: THE ROBIN REDBREAST.]


Every little boy and girl well knows this pretty little bird. His bright
eyes and rosy breast delight us even before we hear his lovely song. And
do you not remember that when the babes in the wood were left alone, to
die, by that cruel robber, after wandering about till they were so weary
that they lay down and slept the sleep of death, it was the Robin
Redbreast who "painfully did cover them with leaves." One would think
the robin must be very fond of little boys and girls. One thing I am
sure of, and that is that they love him very dearly, that they delight
in the very sound of his name, that they scatter crumbs upon the window
sill for him in winter, and that they would not disturb his nest for
all the world.

Robins are not very often to be seen in the summer, for they fly far
into the depths of woods and lonely places to rear their young. So
amongst the chorus of sweet singers who make melody when leaves are
green it is not very common to hear the voice of the robin, though he is
said to sing very constantly by the side of his mate, whilst she sits
upon her eggs or broods over her young ones. But in autumn, Robin comes
nearer the abode of man, and it is difficult then in country places to
skirt a field or wander in a lane, without seeing a brisk little bird
with ruby breast perched upon the hedgerow, pouring forth a sweet and
gentle song. This is the robin, and we love his notes all the more at a
time when few other birds still sing. Nay, even in the winter when, the
Nightingale and many other warblers have left our shores to spend the
chilly months in some warmer climate, the robin only draws nearer to our
homes, makes his abode in our gardens, pecks up the crumbs at our very
doors, nay, often finds his way into our houses, and rewards every
kindness shewn to him with the same sweet flood of song that he poured
forth amidst the woods in the days of summer. Many very pretty stories
are told of different robins who have been tamed by kindness until they
seemed to lose almost all that fear of man which is generally so
striking in birds.

    "The birds of heaven before us fleet."

I have heard of one who came to live almost entirely in the chamber of a
sick gentleman, and grew very fond of ground rice pudding, which was a
favourite invalid dish. But the out-door feeding of robins is not so
dainty in general, and I am sorry to tell you that, by those who have
taken pains to watch robins, and study their wild habits, these birds
are found not only to prey on live worms, which is natural enough, but
also to spend much time and trouble to prepare the poor things for food,
in a way that must be any thing but agreeable to the victims. For the
robin does not eat the whole worm, only the outer skin, and, to get rid
of the inner part, Mr. Robin takes the worm in his bill and dashes it
about on a stone with great skill until he has effected his purpose. He
is also a very pugnacious bird; that is he is very fond of fighting, I
am sorry to tell you, but such is really the case. He will not allow
other robins to build in the same bush with him. He never joins himself
in friendly company with his fellows, and on occasion he can fight very
heartily: so heartily that a lady who writes much that is delightful, of
birds, and amongst them of robins, tells the following story. She was
once sitting with a family party, when a cat rushed in with two robins
in her mouth, which she had pounced upon in the garden whilst they were
engaged in such a desperate battle that they did not see their enemy at
hand. One head stuck out at each side of puss's mouth, but of course she
was instantly seized and forced to let go her prey, when both robins
flew away as if not much hurt. But for all this Robin Redbreast is a
very charming little fellow, and well deserves a warm place in your

Some years ago a pair of robins took up their abode in the parish church
of Hampton, in Warwickshire, and affixed their nest to the church Bible
as it lay on the reading desk. The vicar would not allow the birds to be
disturbed, and, therefore, provided another Bible. Another instance is
related where a clerk, in Wiltshire, found a robin's nest, containing
two eggs, under the Bible on the reading desk. The bird was not
disturbed, and laid four more, which were hatched in due season. The
cock-bird actually brought food in its bill and fed the young brood
during Divine service.

[Illustration: THE BULLFINCH.]


Look at the bright colours of this beautiful little bird: you can
scarcely find one with prettier plumage or a sweeter note. His native
song is not very remarkable, but he is so docile, and so readily taught
to whistle different airs, that he is highly valued. Bullfinches are
common enough in our woods and gardens, but gardeners are sad enemies to
these little birds, declaring that they spoil trees by picking off their
buds. It is, however, now thought by intelligent persons that the only
buds destroyed by the bullfinch are those infested with insects, so that
he really confers a benefit on us instead of doing mischief. Almost all
the piping bullfinches as they are called, kept in cages in this
country, are brought from Germany, where much care is devoted to their
instruction in the art of music. In their education the following method
is pursued. "The birds are taken from the nests of wild ones when about
ten days old, and are brought up by a person who is very kind and
attentive to them, so that they very soon grow gentle and tame. As soon
as they begin to whistle their studies commence, they being then about
two months' old. Formed into classes of six or so, they are kept a
little while hungry and in the dark, whilst the tune they are to learn
is played over to them on a bird-organ, which has a sort of bird-like
note. Over and over again the same air is repeated, until, one by one,
the birds begin to imitate what they hear. Directly they do this, light
is admitted, and they have a little food given to them. By this means
the birds learn to think of the tune and their dinners at the same
time, and directly they hear the organ will begin to whistle. They are
then turned over to the care of boys, whose sole business it is to go on
with their education, each boy having a separate bird placed under his
charge, and he plays away from morning to night, or as long as the birds
can pay attention, during which time their first teacher, or feeder,
goes his rounds, scolding or rewarding his feathered scholars by signs
and modes which he has taught them to understand, until they become so
perfect, and the tune, whatever it may be, so imprinted on their memory,
that they will pipe it for the remainder of their lives."

Bullfinches that are perfect in their song, are worth a great deal of
money. Both the male and female sing, but the colours of the male are
the brightest. These birds, however, in confinement, lose their
brilliancy of hue, and, from growing duskier and duskier, sometimes
become entirely black, as if putting on mourning for their lost liberty.
The same change has been observed in a bird which lost its mate to whom
it had been tenderly attached. It is principally for its power of
imitation and memory that this bird is prized. His wild notes, when
loud, are not particularly sweet, but at times are very soft and

I will conclude with a pretty and affecting little story of a piping
bullfinch that once belonged to Sir William Parsons. When young he was a
great musician, and had taught his bullfinch to sing "God Save the
King." On going abroad, he committed his feathered friend to the care of
his sister, with many injunctions to be watchful of its health and

On his return she told him the little bird had seemed pining away, and
was then very ill. Grieved to hear this news, Sir William went at once
to the room where it was kept, and, putting his hand into the cage,
called the little creature. It knew the voice of the dear master for
whom it had so pined and, opening its eyes and shaking its disordered
feathers, as if to do him honour, staggered on to his finger, piped "God
Save the King," and then fell dead.


This is the largest of all sea-birds, and you are not very likely to
make acquaintance with him except in a picture. For though the albatross
has been seen in our latitudes, yet the southern seas are his native
home. There he spreads his long wings and floats over the ocean like a
white sea-king. The greater part of his feathers are white, but the head
and back are shaded with grey. There are many kinds of albatross, but
the great Wandering Albatross, as it is called, is the largest, and
though the body is not much bigger than that of a pelican, the wings,
which are long and narrow, have been known to measure as much as
fourteen feet across when fully expanded, or spread out. Must he not
look a noble bird, sailing as he does calmly round and round, far up in
the air, over those southern seas? From the length of his wings, the
albatross has some little trouble in raising himself from the surface of
the water, where he often floats at rest. He has to skim along half
flying and half running for some distance, until his wings are clear of
the water; then he soars away, seldom flapping his wings, but rising,
sinking, and floating through the air, as if kept up by some internal
power. As he seldom is obliged to flap his wings he does not get tired
of flying, and can remain on the wing for a very, very long time,
pursuing his prey, or enjoying the sailing motion through the air.

[Illustration: THE ALBATROSS.]

The albatross feeds on fish or on smaller sea-fowl, and is a very
voracious bird; that is, he will eat a great quantity, and devours in a
greedy way. His chief food consists of flying-fish, as they are called.
The flying-fish is a little like the common herring, but much prettier,
for it is covered with bright blue and silver scales, and its fins are
also a brilliant azure. It does not really fly. That is, it has no
wings, but it has very large strong fins attached near its gills, by
means of which it can spring out of the water and dart some distance
through the air. This fish is very nice eating, _particularly_ good, and
it is sought after very eagerly by larger fish. And not only by fish;
the water-fowl who are large enough to eat it, are always on the watch
for the flying-fish, and as the poor thing springs from the water to
enjoy the bright sunshine and fresh air, or perhaps to escape some of
its under-water foes, especially the dolphin who is one of its deadliest
enemies, it frequently finds itself snapped up by the albatross before
it can return to its native element. The albatross loves also to follow
in the wake of ships. For any offal or garbage thrown overboard is
welcome to its hungry maw, and sailors do not often destroy this bird.
When one is taken, however, they hesitate not to make such use of it as
they can; and the large web feet, when cleaned and opened, are favourite
tobacco pouches. I have one by me that was taken from a large albatross
caught on the voyage from Australia. In Kamtschatka the albatross is
caught by the natives and made useful. For in the summer, flocks of
these birds make their way up into the northern latitudes, as is
supposed in order to prey on the shoals of fish which migrate thither.

The albatross is caught by means of a hook baited with a fish. The
"intestines are blown and used as buoys for nets, and the long hollow
wing bones as tobacco pipes," but the flesh is not good to eat. The
albatross has been seen fully 1000 miles from any shore. Its power of
wing must therefore be very great, but when tired it can walk on the
water with its strong webbed feet, and the sound of its tread is said to
be heard at a great distance. In the breeding season the albatross
retires in company with other sea-birds, particularly the penguin, to
some rocky shore to build its nest. The penguins' and albatrosses' nests
are always found in company, but the penguin robs his neighbour in order
to get the scanty materials which are necessary for his own nest. The
male albatross takes turns with his mate in hatching the young.

A poor sailor once fell over board from a man-of-war in the Southern
Indian Ocean. In an instant he was attacked by two or three
albatrosses, and though the ship's boat was immediately lowered to his
assistance, nothing of him could be found but his hat, which was pierced
through and through by the strong beak of the albatross, the first blow
having no doubt penetrated to his brain and killed him.


This solemn looking bird is seldom to be seen by day. It is strictly a
night bird. Its eyes are unable to endure the glare of sunshine, but are
formed for seeing in the dim twilight, or in the soft radiance of the
moon. There are at least eighty different species of owls. This picture
resembles most nearly the Virginian Eagle Owl, an American bird. Our
common barn-door owl has no tufts on its head. Some people are foolish
and cruel enough to persecute owls, under the plea that they do
mischief, destroy pigeon's eggs, etc. But this is a false charge. On the
contrary they are very actively useful creatures, and the humane
naturalist, Mr. Waterton, says that "if this useful bird caught his
food by day instead of hunting it by night, mankind would have ocular
demonstration of its utility in thinning the country of mice, and it
would be protected and encouraged everywhere. It would be with us what
the ibis was with the Egyptians." The ibis is a bird that was found so
useful in destroying locusts and serpents in Egypt, that in olden times
it was made a capital crime for any one to destroy it. Nay, the
idolatrous Egyptians went further, and not only paid divine honours to
this bird, worshipping it as a deity whilst alive, but embalmed its body
after death, and preserved it in the form of a mummy. You may see many
ibis mummies in the Egyptian rooms of the British Museum. Through God's
goodness there is no danger of our going quite so far as the Egyptians
even if we did do justice to the poor abused owl, and it is very much
to be wished that people would learn to see its valuable qualities.
There is no doubt owls are amongst the creatures given to us by God to
do us real service in keeping down the increase of smaller animals, that
would otherwise soon over-run and destroy our food. But as Mr. Waterton
elsewhere says, prejudices are hard to overcome, and I suppose the poor
owl will be hunted and killed, whenever he is to be found by the
ignorant, to the end of the chapter. Some idea may be formed of the
rapid clearance an owl would make of vermin from a barn, from the fact
that, when he has young, he will bring a mouse to the nest every twelve
or fifteen minutes. Mr. Waterton saw his barn owl fly off with a rat he
had just shot. And at another time she plunged into the water and
brought up in her claws a fish, which she carried away to her nest. The
Barn Owl is white, and does not hoot, at least by many this is thought
to be the case. The Brown Owl is the hooting or screech owl, and makes a
very dismal noise.

[Illustration: THE OWL.]

The owl can do without drinking for a very long time. Mr. White, of
Selborne, says he knew a Brown Owl to live a whole year without water.
The owl swallows its prey whole when small, and afterwards brings up
from its crop the fur, bones, and other parts that cannot easily be
digested, in the form of a round cake. Hawks are said to do the same

The great Virginian Owl is of an immense size, and its cry is said to be
very terrible when heard in the lonely American forests, resembling at
times the last struggling scream of a person being throttled. Owls will
eat raw meat, but their favourite food consists in young mice, and they
may often be seen at twilight, hunting like sporting dogs round the
meadow paths for field-mice which come out at that hour, and going back
every five minutes or so to their nests, to see that all is well at

If by chance an owl appears in daylight, he is immediately attacked by
all the smaller birds, who know their enemy, and feel pleasure in
insulting him when he cannot revenge himself. For the owl grows so
confused if he lingers abroad till the sun has risen, that he cannot
find his way back to his nest, nor make head against his pursuers, as he
would soon do in the dim twilight. Bird fanciers have been known to take
advantage of this circumstance in Italy, and tying an owl to a tree in
daylight, they lime all the surrounding branches. Troops of little birds
soon find out their helpless foe, and hurrying to attack him with their
little beaks and claws, they perch on the limed twigs, and are taken by

The Snowy Owl inhabits the north of Europe, but is sometimes seen in
more southern regions. It pursues hares, of which it is particularly
fond, and often snatches fish from the water, over which it slowly
sails, with a sudden grasp of its foot. It often also accompanies
sportsmen, that it may share in the sport. In winter, when this owl is
fat, the Indians esteem the Snowy owl to be good eating. Its flesh is
delicately white.


Have you not often heard people say "as silly as a goose"? Now I am
going to tell you that the goose is one of the most sensible birds we
know, and not only sensible, but very affectionate, and exceedingly
useful to man. I will tell you some stories of Mrs. Goose presently,
which will show you her real character. But I must begin with her uses.
The goose is to be found in almost every country, and its flesh is very
good eating; but it is principally for its feathers and quills that it
is valued here. The quills, from which our pens, and in part our paint
brushes, are made, are plucked from the pinions of the goose, and the
best featherbeds and pillows are stuffed with her feathers. Geese
love water and marshy places, and Lincolnshire, which is a fenny place,
is famous for breeding them. People there make it their business to keep
perhaps as many as a thousand geese, which, in the course of a year,
will increase seven-fold, the geese being kept in the houses, and even
bedrooms, of their owners whilst hatching, and a person called a gozzard
having the charge of them. They are plucked, poor things, for their
feathers as often as five times a year, and for their quills once. Even
the young goslings of six weeks' old are deprived of their tail
feathers, in order, as it is said, to accustom them to this cruel
operation. When ready for the London market, the geese are marched
slowly up from Lincolnshire to London, in flocks of from two to nine
thousand. Being slow travellers, they are on foot from three in the
morning to nine in the evening, and during that time get through about
nine miles.

[Illustration: THE GOOSE.]

Amongst the Romans this bird was held sacred to Juno, their supreme
heathen goddess; indeed, it appears to have been looked upon with
reverence by all ancient nations, and not longer ago than the time of
the Crusades, a goose was carried as a standard from our own country by
an irregular band of crusaders. Possibly in former times the good
qualities of the goose were better known than now; for the sagacity and
affection of this bird have been proved by so many well authenticated
instances, that I am at a loss which to select for your entertainment,
and must try to choose those you are least likely to have met with
already. As a proof of the goose's sagacity, is the following. A goose
begun to sit on six or eight eggs, when the dairy maid, thinking she
could hatch a larger number, put in as many duck eggs, which could
scarcely be distinguished from the others. On visiting the nest next
morning, all the duck eggs were found put out of the nest on the ground.
They were replaced, but the next morning were again found picked out and
laid outside, whilst the goose remained sitting on the whole of her own
eggs. Lest she should abandon the nest altogether, she was not troubled
with the strange eggs again, but allowed to rear her own children in
peace. There are a vast number of stories told of singular and strong
attachments formed by geese to people. We hear of one old gander who
used to lead his old blind mistress to church, graze in the churchyard
during the service (for I ought to have told you that geese eat grass
like oxen), and then lead her home again. A goose attached itself so
strongly to its master that it forsook for him the society of its
fellows, followed him wherever he went, even through the crowded
streets, sat, if allowed, upon his lap, and responded with a cry of
delight to every sound of his voice. Even to other animals the goose has
been known to show strong affection. There was once a goose who had been
saved by a dog from the ravenous jaws of a fox. She seemed from that
time to centre all her affection on her preserver, left the poultry yard
for his side, tried to bite any one at whom she heard him bark, and, if
driven away into the field, would sit all day at the gate from which she
could gaze on her friend. The dog at last fell ill, but the faithful
goose would not leave him, and would have died, for want of food, at his
side had not corn been put near the kennel. The dog died, but she would
not leave the kennel, and I am sorry to tell you that when a new dog
was brought, very much like the old one, as she ran to greet him,
hoping it was her old friend restored, he seized her by the neck and put
an end to her faithful life. One more story I must tell you, though I
have already said so much. A game cock had cruelly attacked a goose on
her nest, and even pecked out one of her eyes. The gander took his
mate's part, and fought over and over again with the enemy. One day,
during his absence, the game cock attacked the goose again, when the
gander, hearing a noise, ran up, and, seizing the cock, dragged him into
the pond where he ducked him repeatedly until he had made an end of him.
In Russia, ganders are taught to fight each other, and a trained gander
has been known to sell for twenty pounds.

There is a very beautiful goose called the Egyptian Goose, or goose of
the Nile. Its feathers are very handsomely marked with black, brown,
green, and white. It is the goose so often represented, in old fresco
paintings of heathen temples, by the ancients. This goose is famous for
its devotion to its young. The old birds will remain with their
offspring during times of most imminent danger, refusing to save
themselves and leave their young in peril.

The Canada Goose is also another prettily-marked variety of goose. And
although not a native of this country, its migratory habits often bring
it to this shore.

[Illustration: THE MAGPIE.]


The Magpie is a very pretty and cunning bird. It is easy to teach it to
speak, and it may be rendered very tame. Where high trees abound, the
magpie chooses the very highest and most difficult to climb for its
nest. But otherwise, when secure of not being injured, it will often
build in low bushes round about houses. This is particularly the case in
Norway and Sweden, where an idea prevails that it is unlucky to kill

An interesting account is given by a gentleman of a pair of magpies that
built for several successive years in a gooseberry bush near a house in
Scotland, where there were no trees for a considerable distance. In
order to secure themselves from cats, &c., they brought briars and
thorns in quantities all round the bush, and pulled rough prickly sticks
so closely and in such numbers in amongst the branches, that even a man
would have found the greatest difficulty in getting at their soft warm
little abode within. The barrier all round was more than a foot thick.
They were kindly protected by the family to whom the garden belonged,
but one day the hen magpie was ungrateful enough to seize a little
chicken, which she carried up to the top of the house to eat; the poor
little thing screamed loudly. But the hen, who can be brave enough when
her young are in danger, hearing the cry, flew to the rescue, and soon
obtained possession of her chick, which she brought safely down in her
beak; nor did it utter one cry then, though I daresay mamma pinched it
sadly. I think I can find you one more pleasing story of the magpie.
Some boys once took a raven's nest and put it in a waggon in a
cart-shed. A magpie, whose nest they had also plundered, hearing the
young birds cry, came to them with food, and continued to supply the
little ravens until they were given away by the boys.

In Sweden, as I said before, neither the magpie nor its eggs are ever
touched, whilst Mr. Hewitson, writing of Norway, says: "The magpie is
one of the most abundant, as well as the most interesting of the
Norwegian birds; noted for its sly, cunning habits here, its altered
demeanour there is the more remarkable. It is upon the most familiar
terms with the inhabitants, picking close about their doors, and
sometimes walking inside their houses. It abounds in the town of
Drontheim, making its nest upon the churches and warehouses. We saw as
many as a dozen of them at one time seated upon the gravestones in the
churchyard. Few farm-houses are without several of them breeding under
the eaves, their nest supported by the spout. In some trees close to
houses their nests were several feet in depth, the accumulation of years
of undisturbed and quiet possession."

[Illustration: THE PHEASANT.]


This beautiful bird comes originally from the East, and takes its name
from the river Phasis, in Colchis, Asia Minor, whence it was first
brought to Europe by the Argonauts. The pheasant is one of the most
beautiful of all fowls, and can only be rivalled by the peacock. The
shifting hues upon his neck, and the brilliant scarlet and black around
his head, strike every beholder with admiration. Pheasants are very good
to eat, but sportsmen are not allowed to shoot them until the 1st of
October, in order that they may have time to rear their young. In
ancient times the pheasant was held in reverence by the heathen, and it
was only on the most solemn occasions that they were used as food, and
then only by the emperors of Rome. There are no pheasants in America,
and, on account of their short wings and heavy bodies, they never fly
from one country to another. But they increase very rapidly in number, a
single pair having been known to produce as many as 183 eggs in a
season. The sportsman, however, takes care to keep their numbers within
due limits. Their habit of squatting or sitting so close to the earth,
has been supposed to be an instinctive act to save themselves from the
attacks of the hawk, who is unable to master his prey, if large and
strong, near the ground, where it could offer resistance. I have met
with a story of a pheasant which proves that this bird is very bold and
courageous. "A young lady walking alone a few miles from Stirling (in
Scotland), observed a beautiful cock pheasant perched on a stone by the
road side. Instead of showing timidity at her approach, he flew down
upon her, and, with spurs and beak, began a furious assault. Being
closely pursued, and seeing no way of escape from the enraged bird, she
adopted the only alternative that was left, namely, of seizing her
adversary, whom she carried home, but soon afterwards released; on the
door being opened, however, he went out without any sign of fear, and,
with a deliberate step, paced backwards and forwards in front of the
house, and manifested an inclination to join the fowls in the poultry
yard. It should be remarked that the young lady, when attacked, wore a
scarlet mantle, which probably excited the irritability of the pheasant,
as it is well known to do that of the turkey-cock, and some other

Wild pheasants feed on grain, seed, green leaves, and insects. They have
been seen as eager as country children after the ripe blackberries in
the hedges, or, later in the year, after sloes and haws. The root of the
buttercup is also a very favourite food of the pheasant, and they will
eat greedily of acorns. When kept in confinement, the young birds
require very careful feeding with ants' eggs, and many other kinds of
soft provision.

[Illustration: THE FLAMINGO.]


Is not this a beautiful bird, though rather singular in its appearance?
To see it in perfection we should have to travel at least as far as
Sardinia, and possibly to Africa, its native country. Observe its
wonderfully long and slender legs. They are so formed as to enable it to
wade into morasses, or even rivers, in quest of food, but it can also
swim, when so disposed, being perfectly web-footed. The beak of the
flamingo is not less remarkable than its legs, and it seems puzzling,
until we know the truth, how the bird can gather up its food from mud
and water, with that awkward turned-in bill. But the fact is, that the
flamingo feeds very differently to other birds, turning the back of its
head to the ground, and spooning up the mud or water in which it finds
its sustenance with the upper mandible. It is able to do this very
easily from the unusual length of its neck, and the beak is provided
with the means of filtering the mud, as I told you that of the duck is
also. But in this instance the apparatus provided is said to act more
like the whalebone sieve possessed by the whale. The brilliant plumage
of the flamingo is very beautiful. M. de la Marmora, in his "Voyage to
Sardinia," speaks in great admiration of the effect produced by a flock
of flamingoes in the air. These birds are gregarious--that is, they live
in large companies, and when returning from Africa to the borders of a
lake, which is one of their favourite haunts, near Cagliari, all the
inhabitants are attracted by the splendour of their appearance. Like a
triangular band of fire in the air, they gradually come onwards, until
within sight of the lake. Poised on the wing for an instant, they hang
motionless over the end of their weary flight; then, by a slow circular
movement, they trace a spiral descent and range themselves like a line
of soldiers in battle array upon the borders of the lake. But no one
dares approach them more nearly, for the air from the lake is at this
season, though perfectly harmless to the flamingo, deadly poison to a
human creature.

Taught by God, the flamingo has, however, another means of security than
the malaria from the intrusion which its brilliant colouring would be
sure to draw upon it. In other respects, besides its red coat, it has
been compared to the soldier. When feeding or resting (which they do on
one leg, the other drawn up close to the body, and the head under the
wing), the flamingoes are drawn up in lines, and sentinels, very
watchful ones too, are placed to guard these shy and cautious birds. At
the first appearance of danger, the sentinel flamingo utters a loud cry,
much resembling the sound of a trumpet, upon which the whole flock
instantly takes flight, and always in the form of a triangle.

Do not you think sitting on her eggs must be rather cramping work for
the flamingo with those long legs? But I will tell you how cleverly she
contrives. Instead of building a nest on the ground, where she would
find it impossible to cower closely enough over her eggs to keep them
warm, the flamingo heaps up a hill of earth so high, that she can sit
comfortably upon it with her long legs dangling, one on each side. At
the top is a hollow just large enough to hold her two or three white
eggs. A full-grown flamingo stands between five and six feet high. There
is another species of this bird much smaller, called the little
flamingo. The Romans ate these birds, and Heliogabalus, the profane
Emperor, delighted in a dish of their tongues, which are large,
considering the size of the bird. In modern times, however, the flesh is
rejected as fishy, but the feathers are highly valued.


You are no doubt well acquainted with this beautiful bird, and have
perhaps fed some of its species, by the ornamental waters of the parks.
Or perhaps, and that is far better, you have seen it sailing
majestically down the river Thames, free and unconfined, enjoying its
perfect liberty. The swan has been called a royal bird, being formerly
regarded as the exclusive property of the crown, and even now there are
but few exceptions to the rule. The royal swans, that is those belonging
to the Crown, are marked in a particular manner on the bill, and every
year, on the first Monday in August, men, now called swan-hoppers (a
corruption of the old term swan-uppers, because they went up the
river after the swans), proceed up the Thames to mark the young swans
hatched during the year. The Dyers' Company and the Vintners' Company
also own swans in the Thames, which were granted to them in olden times.
The Vintners' mark for their swans is a nick or notch on each side of
the beak, from which their swans have been called, merrily, "swans with
two necks" (nicks). Perhaps you have heard of an inn, which has a swan
with two necks as a sign; now you will understand how it came by so
strange a name.

[Illustration: THE SWAN.]

The swan builds his nest of sticks near the river side, generally
amongst the reeds. If disturbed, the male bird assumes a very warlike
attitude, and will attack the intruder with great violence. The swan is
a strong, powerful bird, and I have heard of a boy whose arm was broken
by a blow from a swan's wing, because he ventured too near the nest. But
when not sitting, swans are harmless, gentle birds. They live to a great
age, feeding on coarse grass and water-weeds. Young swans are called
cygnets, and are at first quite grey or light brown; they do not become
perfectly white until the beginning of the third year. The swan is not a
native of our island, but comes originally from the East, and is, when
in a state of nature, migratory in its habits. One species of wild swan,
called the Hooper, or Whistling Swan, spends the winter in warm
climates, sometimes flying as far south as Africa, and returns in spring
to Iceland, Norway, Lapland, and Siberia. This bird is hunted eagerly by
the Icelanders for its soft white down. The season chosen is the
moulting time, when the poor birds, having lost their quill feathers,
are unable to fly away; and with trained dogs which catch them by the
neck, and little ponies which ride them down, the swans are taken in
great numbers.

The Black Swan is another variety, found in Australia. Formerly this
bird was considered very rare, but now it may be seen any day in one or
other of the parks. Swans are very particular in not allowing their
neighbours to intrude on their domains. If a strange swan comes to that
part of the river which has been already appropriated, he is instantly
pursued and compelled to return to his own family. Once two White Swans
attacked a poor Black Swan on the lake in the Regent's Park, and at last
drove him ashore so exhausted that he fell dead. The White Swans kept
sailing up and down to the spot where he fell, with every feather on
end, and apparently proud of their conquest. Swans are fond of their
young, and the mother will often carry her young ones to another part of
the river on her back. Cygnets are good to eat, and the corporation of
Norwich, who boast this treat at their public dinners, are bound, by
some old regulation, to present the Duke of Norfolk every year with an
immense cygnet pie.

The Wild Swan has a very loud call, and utters a melancholy cry when one
of the flock is killed. The Wild Swans of Hudson's Bay furnish the
finest quills used for writing. Swans and their eggs are still protected
by several statutes, and to steal the latter is felony.

I will copy for you an instance in which a swan once showed that
wonderful instinct with which all animals are gifted by God. "Whilst
sitting on her eggs, she was one day seen to be very busy, collecting
weeds, grasses, and other materials to raise her nest. A farming man was
ordered to take down half a load of haulm, with which she most
industriously elevated her nest and eggs two feet and a half. That very
night there came down a tremendous fall of rain, which flooded all the
malt-kilns, and did great damage. _Man_ made no preparation, the _bird_
did. Her eggs were above, and only just above, the water."


This picture represents the kestrel, one of the smallest and most
beautiful of hawks. The hawk is a bird of prey, feeding on small birds,
chickens and mice. In order to secure his prey the hawk holds himself
suspended, as it were, in the air on his wide spread wings, until he
sees a favourable opportunity, and then suddenly pounces down upon his
victim. Other birds well know the predatory habits of the hawk, and when
one appears in sight they fly with loud screams of fear. Little chickens
throw themselves upon their backs, if one hovers over the poultry yard,
from some instinctive notion of defending themselves with their feet,
whilst all the hens shriek in concert, and prepare for a desperate
defence. But though so great an enemy of young poultry, a singular
instance is recorded of a hawk, which not only sat upon the eggs of a
common fowl, but even attended with great care to the little ones when
they were hatched.

[Illustration: THE KESTREL.]

Many of the different kinds of hawk were used in olden times for a sport
called hawking. That is, they were trained to fly at game and return
with it to their masters. Large gay parties of ladies and gentlemen used
then to go out on horseback with their hawks for a day's sport, just as
now they go for a pic-nic, or a day in the woods. This was before guns
were used. But to this day hawking is practised in China, where the
emperor goes on "sporting excursions with his grand falconer and a
thousand of inferior rank; every bird having a silver plate fastened to
its foot, with the name of the falconer who has the charge of it." The
bird used on these occasions is the species known as the Gos-hawk, which
was always with us most highly esteemed in falconry. These birds were
carried on the wrist, bells were hung to their legs, and their heads
were hooded or covered until the moment came for letting them fly at the
game. Whilst under training a string was fastened to them that they
might be "reclaimed," as it was called, at the pleasure of their owners.
The person, who carried the hawk, wore gloves to protect his hand from
the sharp talons of the bird. The kestrel migrates in autumn, going away
at the same time with the larks, which are its favourite food.

The Sparrow-hawk is a larger and fiercer bird, and the one that preys
most frequently on chickens. A gentleman once missed a great many
chickens from his poultry yard, and, after a little careful watching,
he found the plunderer was none other than a large, hungry Sparrow-hawk.
To catch the thief, he ordered a net to be hung up in such a way that
the hawk in his next visit could not fail to be entangled. The net was
hung, the thief was caught, and, in order to punish the murderer as he
deserved, the gentleman gave him over to the tender mercies of the brood
hens whose families he had desolated. That he might be helpless in their
hands, his wings and talons were cut, and a cork was put on his beak.
The cries and screams of the bereaved mothers were said, by Mr. White,
the charming naturalist of Selborne, to be wonderfully expressive of
rage, fear, and revenge; they flew upon him in a body, they
"upbraided--they execrated--they insulted--they triumphed--in a word
they never desisted from buffeting their adversary until they had torn
him in a hundred pieces."

The Hawk is very bold. Mr. P. John tells of one that he found calmly
plucking the feathers of a large pigeon on the drawing-room floor,
having followed the poor bird through the open window into the room and
there killed it. And another actually chased a pigeon through the glass
of his "drawing-room window, out at the other end of the house through
another window, not at all scared by the clattering of the broken

[Illustration: THE VULTURE.]


This strange looking bird is also a bird of prey; but it feeds generally
on dead carcases or offal. There are several kinds of vulture. The
largest of all birds of prey is the Condor, a South American species.
There is also the King Vulture, a native of the same country, called so
not from its size, for it is the smallest of the race, but from its
elegant plumage. Mr. Waterton, the naturalist, relates a little story of
a King Vulture, which seems to show that, though so much smaller, this
bird is regarded with some degree of reverence by the common vultures.
He says that "the carcase of a large snake, which he had killed in the
forest, becoming putrid, about twenty of the common vultures came and
perched in the neighbouring trees; amongst them came also the King of
the Vultures; and he observed that none of the common ones seemed
inclined to begin breakfast till his majesty had finished. When he had
consumed as much snake as nature informed him would do him good, he
retired to the top of a high mora-tree, and then all the common vultures
fell to, and made a hearty meal." Mr. Waterton also observed that the
day after the planter had burnt the trash in a cane-field, the King
Vulture might be seen feeding on the snakes, lizards, and frogs, which
had suffered in the conflagration. Indeed the vulture is of real service
in this respect, for he clears the carrion away from the hot countries
he inhabits, which would otherwise putrify and infect the air. In some
places, as at Paramaribo, the value of these birds, on this account, is
so fully recognized, that they are protected by law, a fine being
imposed on him who kills one.

The vulture is to be found in almost all hot countries. A traveller in
Abyssinia speaks of having seen them hovering, as a black cloud, over an
army of soldiers, in numbers like the sands of the sea. After a battle
they come sweeping down to feed upon the slain. Indeed they prefer dead
to living food, and must be endowed with a wonderfully keen sense of
sight or smell, the former is thought most likely, as no sooner does a
beast of burden drop in the deserts exhausted on the sands, than
vultures begin to make their way towards the carcase. Whence they come
none can tell, and the only probable suggestion is that they hover at a
height beyond the ken of human eye over a passing caravan, for they are
first noticed as specks in the air above, moving slowly round in
circles as they descend spirally upon their prey.

These birds are most voracious, gorging themselves with as much as they
can possibly contrive to swallow. They are also very strong and
difficult to kill, one of the condors having been known to walk about
after it had been strangled and hung on a tree with a lasso for several
minutes, and to keep on its legs after receiving three balls from a

The vulture is wonderfully fitted by nature for the part it has to fill
as "scavenger" abroad, this being the name they often go by. It is large
and strong, so that the carcase of a horse or a buffalo is not too much
for it to attack. Its legs are strong, but not armed with sharp claws
like those of birds that feed on living prey. Its wings are long and
wide, and its bones, though thick, unusually light, so that the bird
can remain an immense time poised in the highest regions of the
atmosphere. Its beak is strong and hooked, and remarkably well formed
for tearing or dividing, and what is still more noticeable, the head and
neck which, from the disgusting nature of its food, must often be buried
in unclean carcases, are quite, or very nearly, destitute of feathers,
which, in such a situation, would be soon covered with dirt or blood,
and could not be kept clean by the bird's own bill. The smell of
vultures is, as may be supposed, very offensive, and they are altogether
very disagreeable birds to have anything to do with; but they are
appointed to fill a particular office in the world, and are found
invaluable in performing it.

The largest vultures are fifteen or sixteen feet from the tip of one
wing to the tip of the other, even when not stretched to the utmost,
and four feet from beak to tail. Its legs are as thick as a man's wrist,
and its middle claw seven inches long. They bring forth their young on
the tops of inaccessible rocks, in sunny regions, more than twelve
thousand feet above the level of the sea.

The European Vulture dwells amongst the Alps, but flies as far as the
mountains of Africa and Asia. It is not so large as the condor, seldom
exceeding the size of an eagle.

[Illustration: THE COCKATOO (OR PARROT).]


Now I have to talk to you of much prettier birds, though, alas! to tell
the truth, not half so useful as the disgusting vulture of whom we have
been speaking. This picture represents a cockatoo, one of the parrot
tribe, of which there are at least 250 species, including, besides this,
the parrot, macaw, lory, parrakeet, etc., etc.

Parrots are all, for the most part, tropical birds, and in their native
climates the most numerous of the feathered tribes. There, amongst
brilliant creepers and dazzling sunshine, the "parrots swing like
blossoms on the trees."

The foot of the parrot is formed for climbing, being, as Linnæus would
say, _scansorial_, that is, with two toes forwards and two backwards.
The strong hooked beak is also used as a third foot in climbing, very
much as the long tail of a monkey helps him in flinging himself from one
branch to another.

They fly often in large flocks, and are killed and eaten as food. Indeed
they are so destructive to the farmer's crops, that he kills them in
self-defence. Do you know the pretty little Australian singing parrot,
about as large as a yellow hammer, green and gold coloured? Well, I was
told by a gentleman that he once ate part of a pudding which contained
at least thirty of these little creatures, for each of which here one
would have to pay heavily enough, and be only too anxious to take every
care of afterwards to preserve it alive.

The cockatoo is also found in New Holland, and is chiefly remarkable for
its beautiful sulphur coloured crest. The finest macaws come from South
America; they are larger than parrots, and have magnificent plumage of
blue, crimson, green and yellow. Seen in their native land in large
flocks they are said to resemble a flying rainbow. Lories are so called
from their frequently repeating the word lory. The grey African Parrot
is the best speaker, for I need not tell you how closely almost all
kinds of parrot can imitate the human voice. None imitate so closely as
this, the plainest in its personal appearance. It seems to take pains to
learn, but prefers being taught by children. Very many amusing stories
are told of its docility and sagacity. A very clever man tells of one
that was introduced to Prince Maurice in a room in Brazil, where he was
in company with several Dutchmen. The bird immediately exclaimed in the
Brazilian language, "What a company of white men is here." Being asked,
"Who is that man?" (pointing to the Prince) it answered, "Some general
or other." When asked, "Where do you come from?" it replied, "From
Marignan." "To whom do you belong?" "To a Portuguese." The Prince then
asked, "What do you do there?" it answered, "I look after the chickens."
The Prince, laughing, exclaimed, "You look after the chickens!" "Yes,"
says Poll, "I can, I know very well how to do it," clucking at the same
time like a hen calling her brood. We are told also of a parrot that
learned to repeat the Apostles' Creed quite perfectly, and on that
account was bought by a cardinal for 100 crowns.

The bite of a parrot is very violent, so that unless assured they are
good tempered you will do well not to approach a strange bird too
closely. The cause of this power in the beak is that, in order to
enable it to climb about more easily, the upper mandible, or bone,
instead of forming a continuation as it were of the skull bone, as in
other birds, is united by a membrane which enables it to raise or
depress the beak at its pleasure. This gives much greater force to its
power of grasping. Parrots do not build nests nor hatch young in this
country, but they thrive abundantly, and, when well treated, show no
symptoms of pining.

There are some very pretty little birds of the parrot tribe called
love-birds, from their affectionate nature. They are quite worthy of the
name, as they show the utmost tenderness for each other, both in health
and sickness.


This little bird which is often called the Pewit, from its uttering
frequently a cry resembling the sound of this word, builds its nest or
rather lays its eggs, for it builds no regular nest, amongst long grass
or heather on open downs. If any one goes near the nest, the watchful
mother, who knows herself too weak to defend her young, tries by all
manner of artful contrivances to draw away the stranger's attention. She
will hover close to his ear screaming, or else flutter along the ground
as if wounded and unable to fly. And when by this means she has drawn
aside the feet of the passer-by to some distance, she will suddenly rise
in the air and return to her nest. The eggs of this bird are eagerly
sought after as an article of food, so she is naturally driven to try
her utmost to secure her nest from intruders. In Scotland formerly the
Lapwing was very abundant, and there exists a curious old act of the
Scotch parliament passed before England and Scotland were as friendly as
they are now, encouraging the destruction of the Lapwing "as an
ungrateful bird, which came to Scotland to breed, and then returned to
England to feed the enemy." Worms are their favourite food, but being
unable to pierce the ground with their weak, short beaks they are
ingenious enough to have recourse to the expedient of tapping on the
earth with their bills. The earth-worm, who is very sensitive of danger,
comes up in alarm from his quaking habitation, and is instantly pounced
upon by the attentive lapwing.

[Illustration: THE LAPWING.]

This bird is easily tamed, and I will conclude with an account of one
kept by a clergyman, that is related by Professor Rennie. "It lived
chiefly on insects, but, as the winter drew on these failed, and
necessity compelled the poor bird to approach the house, from which it
had previously remained at a distance, and a servant, hearing its feeble
cry, as if it were asking charity, opened for it the door of the back
kitchen. It did not venture far at first, but it became daily more
familiar and emboldened as the cold increased, till at length it
actually entered the kitchen, though already occupied by a dog and a
cat. By degrees it at length came to so good an understanding with these
animals, that it entered regularly at nightfall, and established itself
at the chimney corner, where it remained snugly beside them for the
night; but as soon as the warmth of spring returned, it preferred
roosting in the garden, though it resumed its place at the chimney
corner the ensuing winter. Instead of being afraid of its two old
acquaintances, the dog and cat, it now treated them as inferiors, and
arrogated to itself the place which it had previously obtained by
solicitation. This interesting pet was at last choked by a bone which it
had swallowed."

When its eggs are laid, the pewit will fight fiercely with any other of
its species which comes too near it. Mr. P. John saw one attack a
wounded bird which came near his nest. "The pugnacious little fellow ran
up to the intruder, and, taking advantage of his weakness, jumped on
him, trampling upon him, and pecking at his head, and then dragging him
along the ground as fiercely as a game-cock."

Transcriber's Note:

    Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.

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