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“ Who bade the stork, Columbus-like, explore
Heavens not his own, and worlds unknown before ?
times rejoicing in plenty--at others suffering from scarcity. Their hearty feeding during favourable seasons enables them to bear a period of abstinence without material injury.
909. Why has the stork been from the most ancient periods an object of favour and veneration ?
Because its usefulness is great ; especially in hot countries, where it acts as a vigilant scavenger, removing the causes of disease and death, and eating the most annoying species of reptiles.
910. Its beneficial labours in Egypt doubtless led to the deification of the ibis, a bird of similar character and form. In Holland, and the northern parts of Germany, the stork is still protected as a precursor of “good luck.”
911. Why has the jacana toes of extraordinary length ?
Because it inhabits the borders of waters which are frequently over-grown with the broad leaves of aquatic plants. Its spreading toes, coupledi with the lightness of its body, enable the bird to walk upon
leaves, whilst it gathers the insects, worms, and small fishes that surround them.
912. Why has the jacana sharp hard spurs on the corner of each wing ?
Because snakes of various sizes, all rapacious, and to be dreaded,
“ The sitting bird looks up with jetty eye,
And waves her head in terror to and fro,
abound in the haunts of the bird. The spurs on the wings are effective weapons against these reptiles, the horny appendages of the beak assisting also in their destruction.
913. Why are herons furnished with wings which appear to be too cumbersome for their slight bodies?
Because those vast hollow wings are necessary in carrying burdens, such as large fishes and the like, with which they would be dragged to the earth were it not for the resisting force thus provided.
914. Why is so little known of the habits of the bittern?
Because it is a bird that loves seclusion, and fixes its haunts in wild and desolate places. No temptation will bring it upon cultivated or improved lands as a permanent resident ; and when the scarcity of winter forces it from the upland, it comes down reluctantly and stealthily, and seeks those streams and banks which are the rudest and least frequented.
915. Even when not upon the nest, the bittern squats among the rushes, or other
tall stems, during the greater part of the day. The mode of squatting is rather peculiar, and may be understood from the accompanying figure. The neck, when the head is in this posture, is raised, and the point of the bill directed upwards, the body and legs being at the same time in such a position that a violent thrust may be given by the bill, if necessary; and, as the neck is powerful, and, at the same time, readily moveable in such a manner as to secure the whole body from attack, there are few birds of prey that would venture to descend upon the bittern in this position, even of they should
“ Shall I, like Curtius, desperate in my zeal,
O'er head and ears plunge for the common weal
916. Why is the eighth order of birds called natatores ?
From nato, to swim, this being an equivalent term for swimmers, or water-fowl.
917. The head of this order is the goose, and by Linneus it was termed arseres, or the goose family. These birds display decidedly aquatic habits, swim with facility, and are able to pass the greater part of their lives upon the water.
918. Why are the natatores sometimes called by the name of "palmipedes."?
From palma, the flat front of the hand, and pes, a foot—implying that the birds are palm, or web-footed, the toes of the feet being connected by a web or membrane.
919. Why has the goose been considered a stupid bird?
“ So have I seen, within a pen,
920. The number of geese sent from the northern and eastern counties to London for sale annually is immense. They are now conveyed by rail, but formerly used to be driven by gooseherds (gozzards). These were furnished with long sticks, having a piece of red rag fastened at one end as a lash, and a hook at the other. Of this red rag the geese always had an unaccountable dread. The goose grazes, and, like the ox, is alarmed at a red colour, probably from the same cause, (see 540).
object of respect to the ancient Roman people ?
On account of a circumstance by which a flock of geese saved the capitol of Rome from surprise and capture.
The goose, although regarded as an emblem of stupidity, is a very watchful bird, and when anything strange appears, sets. up a loud and unmistakeable gabbling.
922. The Gauls, under Brennus (year of Rome, 364), were in possession of the greater part of the city. The garrison, however, still held the capitol, and that with such obstinacy that the Gaulish general had no hope but to starve it out. One day, Brennus was informed of a secret path by means of which he would be able to enter, and surprise the capitol. Accordingly, a chosen body of his men were ordered by night upon this dangerous service, which they, with great labour and difficulty, almost effected; when suddenly the garrison was awakened to vigilance by the voices of some sacred geese kept in the Temple of Juno. They instantly flew to arms, and the capitol was saved.
923. Why are aquatic birds enabled to plunge into water and to emerge from it perfectly dry ?
Because their feathers are coated with an oily matter, which renders them not only impermeable to water, but repellant of it ;. so that no perceptible effect is produced by that element.
924. Why are ducks and other water-birds more assiduous in trimming their feathers than land-birds ?
Because their plumelets being of very close texture, any slight derangement in them is readily felt from the air getting access to the skin through the breach thence occasioned.
Because their legs are placed wide arart, so that they may act
“The swan with arched neck Between her white wings mantling proudly, rowes Her state with oarie feet.” -Miltox.
free of the sides in swimming; and the weight of the body in consequence swings from side to side as the bird walks, producing a zigzag motion.
926. Why do ducks and geese make a gleeful noise upon the approach of rain ?
Because the bills of these birds are very sensitive ; when immersed in water, or in mud rendered soft by the admixture of water, the functions of the bill are favoured ; but when the atmosphere is dry, the sensitive membrane stiffens, and becomes hard ; and thus renders the circulation on the delicate tissues interrupted : and laborious.
927. Why is the bill of the duck more sensitive than the same organ usually in other birds ?
Because the whole of the duck tribe find their food more by the sense of touch than by that of sight, and the bill is favourably organized accordingly. It is covered by a sentient membrane, and the edges which come in contact are covered with papillæ, and abundantly furnished with nerves, so that, when a duck dabbles in the water, the feeling of the bill enables it to distinguish eatable substances from the sludge and pebbles with which they are mixed.
928. Why do swans frequent shallow waters and the sides only of deep lakes?
The chief reason of this is, that they are vegetable feeders ; and although their long necks enable them to reach the bottom at considerable depths, they never dive, and rarely feed upon the land, or in any other mode than by floating upon the water.
929. Why is a blow from the swan's wing powerfully effective ?
The angle or elbow of the wing is the part with which it strikes ;