Capital Punishment Among Birds
( Originally Published 1902 )
A GENTLEMAN friend, who is very fond of nature, told me the following singular story of a hanging amongst the birds :
" Amid the locust boughs one day, I heard much chirping and whistling; on a near approach I discovered that a score of feathered songsters, seemed making much ado about nothing.
More close scrutiny showed one of the tribe perched in the midst of his fellows, with downcast head and dejected spirits.
What the birds were saying I could not divine, but the pantomime was very real. After a little the magpie chatter was at an end, and the central object seemed more and more broken down and to deserve one's pity.
Two simple winged messengers of the air flew over toward the 'stables, and soon came back again, bearing with them a long horse-hair of raven hue.
The doomed bird shuddered, but never made any outcry or opposition to the singular proceedings. A strange scene in bird-life followed. The horse-hair was tightly wound around the neck of the quiet fellow and fastened to a twig on the tree, in which the Court had convened, then the bird was launched into the air, every effort to secure a foothold was baffled by a watchful sentinel, and in a little while the wings ceased to flutter, the limbs hung down stiff. The bird was dead, and its executioners flew out into the sunlight.
Next morning the bird still hung there ; after that I did not see him. Why he had won title to a public execution I have never learned ; we may all conjure up different causes, but only the birds who do such things can tell."
It may be that in this incident we have the hint of the great fact of account-ability which runs through all human endeavor, which Carlyle calls the shadow of the Judgment Day, and of the penalties of vice which threaten this life and the one which is to come.