Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ See from the brake the whirring pheasant springs,

And mounts triumphant on exulting wings.”—POPE.

molest them on the ground during the hours of darkness. Hence poultry, if left to themselves and not housed, will perch the winter through on yew trees and fir trees; and turkeys and guinea fowls, heavy as they are, get up into apple trees around their owner's house for security, let the weather be ever so boisterous.

867. Partridges roost on the ground, not having the faculty of perching; but the same fear prevails with them; for, through apprehension of polecats and stoats, they never trust themselves to coverts, but nestle together in the midst of large fields, far removed from hedges and coppices. As to ducks and gcese, their awkward web-feet preclude them from settling on trees; they, therefore, in the hours of darkness and danger, betake themselves to their own element, the water, where, amidst large lakes and pools, like ships riding at anchor, they float the whole night long in peace and security.

868. Why does the plumage of the pheasant taper off to a point ?

The haunts of these birds are among shrubs, bushes, and tall herbage, through which they have to make their way with as little rustling as possible : this their pointed tails enable them to do most perfectly

869. Why do pheasants prefer larch trees to perch upon ?

Because the branches of this tree grow at nearly right angles from the stem ; which renders the sitting position of the birds peculiarly easy.

870. Why have the eggs of guinea fowls so hard a shell ?

[graphic]

Because these birds deposit their eggs on the ground, and were the shells not harder than those of ordinary eggs, they would be broken by many accidental

The eggs, though laid on the ground, are usually concealed.

causes.

“ O'er the wild waste the stupid ostrich strays

In devious search to pick her scanty meal,
Whose fierce digestion gnaws the temper'd steel."-MICKLE.

871. Why do fowls and other birds hustle themselves in the dust?

Because by this action they rid themselves of the vermin with which they are liable to be troubled.

872. On the same principle, swine wallow in the mire, and the rhinoceros and the elephant roll their bodies in the mud to defend them from the breeze-fly.

ORDER VI.-CURSORES.

873. Why is the order cursores so termed ?

Because the birds comprehended therein are distinguished by possessing great powers of locomotion a-foot.

[graphic][merged small][ocr errors]

875. Why is the ostrich the swiftest of animals ?

Because of the very wide and scanty distribution of its food, and the consequent large area over which it must travel in order to obtain it.

876. Why does the ostrich possess digestive organs of extraordinary power ?

Because the scanty supply of food which the deserts afford, renders it necessary that the bird should be able to

At both these times they were motherless and helplesse, concernynge theyre owne strengthes; but were yet cared for of God."-BIBLE Notes, 1551.

extract the whole nourishment which that supply is capable of rendering

877. Why does the hen ostrich continue to lay eggs, while engaged in incubation ?

Because she thus provides for her young brood a means of subsistence which they would otherwise need. The eggs laid during incubation are destined to nourish the brood ?

878. Although as large as pullets when first hatched, the young ostriches are then unable to digest the hard and acrid food on which the old ones subsist. The eggs laid for this purpose are not deposited in the nest, but placed outside it, which alone would be a proof of the use they are intended to serve.

879. Why does the hen ostrich sometimes abandon her nest for a long period ?

Because the absence of moisture in the desert diminishes the quantity of food which the bird can meet with : and this compels her to take long journeys in order to preserve her life.

880. Under such circumstances, she also actually requires more food; for the amount necessary to the healthy state of an animal increases with the increase of its labour. That this is the only reason why the ostrich should for a while abandon her eggs, is made clear by the fact that where food is more plentiful-i.e., in districts better watered-she takes a narrower range, and is less frequently absent from the nest. Under the tropics, where vegetation abounds, she seldom, if ever, quits it till the eggs are hatched.

881. Why has the hen ostrich been cited as a type of the neglectful mother?

Because of an apparent inclination to abandon her eggs to chance, by leaving them uncovered during some hours of the day.

882. This carelessness is, however, only apparent. During the heat of the African day the vertical rays of the sun are sufficient to keep the eggs at a proper temperature, and the mother takes that opportunity to procure food for herself.

During such an excursion she still hovers about her nest, and, if surprised, makes a short circuit, and returns to the object of her care.

I'll make thee eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my sword like a great pin, ere thou and I part."--SHAKSPERE.

The expressions in the Pook of Job, derogatory to the character of the ostrich, are to be understood as spoken by an individual, not as coming from the lips of inspired wisdom. God has looked upon the creation of his hands and pronounced it “very good.” Job (in chap. xxxix.) spoke according to his limited knowledge of the habits of birds, and might pardonably err. *

In the dry desert, where the hen ostrich deposits her eggs, scarcely any dew is formed during the night; and she can without injury to them afford to be absent from the nest during the whole twenty-four hours, if such an absence should be necessary. For the radiation of heat from the sand during the night would be quite sufficient to keep up a stimulus to vitality in the eggs until the direct sun of another day came upom them.

883. Why does the foot of the ostrich resemble that of a camel?

Because it inhabits the same regions, and is subject to the same set of circumstances ; with this difference,

that as its pace

is more swift, the foot of the ostrich is therefore proportionally hard and callous.

881. The resemblance between the ostrich and camel has always been a subject of remark. By the ancient authors it was called the camel-bird. Aristotle asserts it to be partly bird and partly quadruped; and Pliny does the same. Its powers of digestion assimilate it to the ruminating, animals; it does, in fact, occupy the place among birds which the camel, “the ship of the desert,” does among mammalia.

885. Why has the ostrich small and light wings ?

It is a rule in nature that whenever one species of action is required in a very high degree the organization of an animal is concentrated upon that. Flight would have been of comparatively little use to a vegetable feeding bird, where its height, standing on foot, is quite sufficient to reach the top of the tallest shrub an its pastures.

886. Wings sufficient to bear up so weighty a bird as the ostrich in swift motion through the air would have demanded a waste of muscular exertion, for the supply of which sufficient food could not have been found in the region inhabited by it.

* See “The Biblical Reason Why" for many interesting explanations of Scripture texts.

“A giantess she seems; but, look behind,

And then she dwindles to the pigmy kind,
Duck-limy'd, short waisted.”-DRYDEN.

ORDER VII.-GRALLATORES.

887. Why is the order grallatores so termed ?

From the circumstance that the birds comprehended in it are waders, distinguished by the length of their legs, and generally of their bills. The word is formed from grallo, “stilts;" grallatores, therefore, means literally “stilt walkers.

[graphic][merged small][ocr errors]

889. Why have long-legged wading birds generally short tails?

Because tails of any considerable length would be inconvenien to such birds : coming in contact with water, they would be liable to become wet, heavy, and cumbersome. For, although the plumage of water-birds is provided with an oil which repels water, it operates chiefly upon the closer plumage, to prevent the water from penetrating to the flesh of the body.

89 Another reason why wading birds have short tails is to found in the fact that many of them are of hiding habits, and fond of concealing themselves in tall vegetation. Birds which have these habits are always small-tailed, or that member is so disposed, as in the pheasant, that it trails the earth, and in no way interferes with their concealment.

891. Why have wading birds wide-spreading feet ? Because, in searching after their food, they have frequently to

« PreviousContinue »