Page images

distance, and, rapid as an arrow, launch upon the fated quarry; some skim over fields and woods, and pounce suddenly and silently upon the unsuspecting victim; they soar aloft and sweep down like a thunderbolt upon their prey while in the air, glide upon it obliquely, and thus skim it from the surface of the earth. All, however, are not equal in courage; some attack birds and quadrupeds larger than themselves, and capable of making resistance; others content themselves with feeble animals, lizards, snakes, frogs, mice, and the like. The females exceed the males in size and powers.

Many are the allusions in the Scriptures to the eagle and the hawk, having an express reference to their ferocity, power, and rapidity of flight; one of the most beautiful is in Job xxxix. 26, “ Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south Ďoth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high ? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the

crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her


behold afar off. Her young ones also suck up blood : and where the slain are, there is she.”

The subordinate groups into which we may divide the present family are, Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Kites, Buzzards, and Harriers.

The Eagles are the largest, the most powerful, and the most destructive of the raptorial order; and their whole air and appearance are in conformity with their character. The eye is large and fiery, and meets with unquenched lustre, undimmed gaze, the blaze of the meridian sun; the sight is piercing and clear. The flight is soaring and majestic, the fatal swoop impetuous and irresistible, and the beak and talons are efficient weapons for the work of carnage. Every attitude indicates power and resolution ; from the calm, statue-like posture of


alone betraying the fire within, to the gladiator-like exhibition, when, sternly grasping the prostrate victim, the bloody feast commences. The Eagles are subdivided into various



repose, the

agree in the possession of the following characters. The beak is broad, straight at the base, and gradually terminating in a powerful hook. The cere is well defined, and perforated by the nostrils. The talons are strong and curved. The wings are large, spreading, and somewhat rounded; the fourth quillfeather being the longest.

The GOLDEN Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos. Cuv.) This noble bird was once common in many of the hilly

[graphic][merged small]

districts of England, and even till lately bred annually in Westmoreland, Cumberland, and the Peak of Derbyshire. In Scotland and Ireland it still frequents the mountains ; and is occasionally seen in Wales. "On the continent it is extensively spread, and we have specimens from India. Wooded mountain scenery, with bold abrupt rocks, and steep craggy precipices, are its favourite abode, but it also takes up its residence in depths of extensive forests. The Golden Eagle, like the rest, is solitary in its habits, and ferocious and daring in its disposition ; disdaining the loathsome repast, upon which the vulture luxuriates, it lives, like the fierce hunter of the wilds, on the produce of the chase, which, if not too large, it invariably carries to its lonely eyry, there to feast in undisturbed solitude. The larger birds, together with hares, fawns, sheep, goats, &c. constitute its prey. Its nest, composed of a bed of sticks, is placed upon the jutting ledge of some inaccessible precipice; and here it rears its young, which are usually two in number; feeding them with bleeding morsels of the yet warm victim. The destruction which a pair of Eagles occasion



game of the surrounding district for many a league, is almost incredible. Bechstein says, that in one eyry, in Germany, were found “ the skeletons of three hundred ducks, and forty hares ;” and in all probability these were only the remains of such as it could take to its nest; the relics of the larger game being left after the feast, on the spot where the animals were slaughtered. There are instances, it is said, on record of children having fallen victims to its ferocity. The Golden Eagle does not appear to be confined exclusively to the older continents, as it is noticed in the Fauna Boreali-Americana, by Dr. Richardson, as a native of the northern portions of the transatlantic continent, where he states it to be held by the aborigines as an emblem of might and courage, the young Indian glorying in the Eagle plume as his proudest ornament. In its immature stage of plumage, which continues till the end of the third

year, the basal portion of the tail, for more than half its length, is of a pure white, whence the older writers on ornithology supposed it to be a distinct species, and described it as such under the name of the Ringtail Eagle, a mistake which accurate observations have now corrected. The Golden Eagle is feathered to the toes, a circumstance characteristic of the genus Aquila, to which it belongs; the general colour of a rich blackish brown; the feathers of the top of the head and back of the neck are slender and pointed, and of a golden rufous; the tail (except in immature state, as noticed above) is of a deep gray, barred and tipped with broad bands of blackish brown. Cere and feet yellow. Length, three feet, or three feet six inches ; expanse of wings, eight to nine feet.

After the true or typical Eagles of the genus Aquila, we may notice a group allied to them in


and daring, but differing from them in certain habits and characters, which justify a separation. The group is that of the Sea EAGLES (Haliaëtus), distinguished by the tarsi being destitute of feathers, and by the outer toe being capable of taking a lateral direction, or, indeed, of being almost completely retroverted; the talons are of enormous size, strongly hooked, and grooved along their under surface. “ In their choice of food,” also, as the talented author of the Gardens, &c. Delineated, observes, “ the Sea Eagles are far less scrupulous than their brethren of the land. Inhabiting most commonly the seacoasts on the banks of the larger rivers and inlets, they make their prey chiefly of fishes and aquatic birds. These they usually carry off to devour at their leisure, either on the rocks or in their nests. But occasionally, when all other resources fail, they fix themselves upon the dead carcases of animals which are thrown upon the shore, and their manner of feeding under such circumstances closely resembles the disgusting voracity of the vultures. For hours, and sometimes for days together, they remain stationary upon the putrid carrion, and quit it only when it no longer affords the means of satiating the cravings of their appetite."

Our first example is the GREAT SEA EAGLE (Haliaētus albicilla. Sav.) Of all the Eagles this bird, from the changes it undergoes in its plumage from youth to age, has been productive of the greatest confusion ; so that this bird has been described under the names of the Falco ossifragus, albicandus, and albicilla, as three distinct birds in Gmelin ; as the “petit pygargue," and again



in another stage as the “ grand pygargue,” by Buffon ; as

sea eagle,” the “cinereous eagle,” and the “ lesser white-tailed eagle,” by Latham, and all distinct.

“ In its earlier stages its beak is of a bluish horn colour ; its head and neck deep brown; the plumage of its upper surface brownish black, with a mixture of whitish or ash coloured spots on the back and tail. In this state it is the Falco ossifragus of systematic writers. As it advances in age, about the third or fourth year, the head and neck become of an ashy brown, the beak gradually loses its bluish tinge, and changes to a pale yellow; the white spots on the back disappear, and the tail is of a uniform grayish

this is the Falco albicandus of Gmelin, the Petit Pygargue of Buffon, and the Lesser White-tailed Eagle of Latham. When it has attained its fifth


the change may be regarded as complete : the head and neck have little of the brown tinge remaining; the back is throughout of a dusky brown, intermixed with ashy gray, and the tail is perfectly white. It has now arrived at its mature state, in which it has been described and figured as the Falco albicilla, the Grand Pygargue, and the White-tailed or Cinereous Eagle. In all its stages the cere and under parts of its legs are yellow; the under part of the body is of a lighter hue than the upper, and more thickly interspersed with pale cinereous spots; and the claws are completely black.” Gardens, &c. Delineated, vol. ii.


35. The Great Sea Eagle is equal in size to the Golden Eagle, but not in courage and energy; it is, however, fierce and strong ; inhabiting the rocks and mountains along the shores of the sea, whence it derives its chief subsistence. The nest is built either on the summit of some lofty tree, or, for want of this, on the ledge of a precipitous rock, the young being two in number. The species is spread throughout the whole of the northern parts of Europe and Asia, and is by no means uncommon on our wilder coasts. It is not a native of the American continent, its place being supplied by the

WHITE-HEADED EAGLE, (Haliaëtus leucocephalus,) a bird which, in its youthful plumage, closely resembles

« PreviousContinue »