Amazing articles on just about every subject...




The Story Of Wild Animals:
 Story Of The Birds - Part 1

 Story Of The Birds - Part 2

 Read More Articles About: The Story Of Wild Animals

Story Of The Birds - Part 1

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Hairy Pelican—Pelicans are easily recognized by their enormous beaks, on the lower part of which is a hugh pouch which may be compared to a bag-net, to which the upper part of the beak acts as a lid. The body is large, the neck long and slender, the head small, the legs short, the webbed feet having very long toes. The plumage of the crested pelican is white, tinged with gray, black wings, and the feathers of the crown crinkled and lengthened into a large crest. The eye is silver white, the upper part of the beak grayish-yellow, the pouch blood red, shaded with blue, and the feet black. The range of the crested pelican is in Europe. Pelicans go in enormous flocks in the neighborhood of swamps and rivers. They live on fish. The eggs, two to three in number, have thick, bluish-white shells incrusted with chalky matter.

Sooty-Tern—This is the best-known member of the family, sometimes known as the black-tern. The under-parts of the plumage are dark red and gray, as are also the upper tail coverts and the tail; the beak, the chin; the sides of the face, and the crown are nearly black. Like other members of the family, its beak is straight and rather slender. The black tern breeds in colonies, the nest being situated in marshes, and formed of decayed pieces of plants or heaps of wreck, which rise and fall with the tide; sometimes they are placed on the firmer hummocks of bog in the middle of shallow parts. The eggs are three in number, of various shades of ochreous clay, olive-brown, or olive-green, blotched with dark brown, especially at the larger end. The food of this tern consists chiefly of beetles and dragon-flies, with some small fish; it is also very partial to leeches.

White Albatross—As its name indicates, the prevailing color of the plumage is white but with a yellowish cast. Even the beak and feet are whitish. The span of the wing is from ten to twelve feet, although this bird only weighs seventeen pounds. Its home is in the south seas, but it occasionally gets north of the equator, where it is sometimes known as the wandering albatross. The name albatross is a corruption of the Spanish word Albatraz meaning a gannet. It was given to them by the old-time voyagers. All the albatrosses are ocean birds and rarely visit the land except in the breeding season. They are almost constantly on the wing, and are equally at ease in the stillest calm and the most furious gale. The manner in which it just tops the raging billows and sweeps between the gulfy waves calls forth wonder and admiration. Although a vessel running before the wind frequently sails more than two hundred miles in the twenty-four hours, and that for days together, still the albatross has not the slightest difficulty in keeping up with the ship, but also performs circles of many miles in extent, returning again to hunt up the wake of the vessel for any substances thrown overboard. They make a round nest of tufts of grass, clay and sedge which stands up from the ground, and at the proper season contains a single white egg about the size of that of the swan. The egg is held in a kind of pouch, so that the bird has to be driven from the nest before one can see whether the egg is there.

Cape Pigeon—From its slight resemblance to a dark-colored pigeon, the bird properly known as the Cape petrel is commonly called the Cape pigeon. It is a bird of medium size and is easily recognized by the sooty head and neck, the dusky and white plumage of the upper parts and spotless white underparts. It is an inhabitant of the South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans. They follow vessels in great numbers, are so eager for scraps thrown over the ship's side, that any number of them have been caught with small hand-nets. In stormy weather they frequently come close into land. When gracefully hovering in the air, the bird may be seen to make a sudden dart downward to the water, in order to secure some floating morsel of food it has espied, and on such occasions will dive readily. It also throws up its tail after the manner of a duck, and thus fishes up bits of food from slight depths. When caught and placed on deck, it has to run some distance with outstretched wings before being able to rise; and when first hauled in or handled, invariably ejects from its mouth or nostrils a reddish oily fluid. These petrels breed on Tristan da Cunha and Heard Island, and also on some of the Antarctic Islands; on Heard Island their nests are made in holes in low cliffs.

Scoter Duck—The marine duck known as scoter is found in the northern part of each hemisphere. Its general color is black, with or without white on the wing. The American scoter, which is found both in North America and Japan, is distinguished by orange yellow at the base of the beak instead of blackish-blue. They arrive from their summer quarters in September and October and return in the following April and May. Islands in the rivers and lakes of the Arctic regions, where the ground is covered with dwarf birch and willow, form the favorite breeding-grounds of the scoters; and the eggs, which are usually from five to nine in number, are deposited in a mere hole in the ground; those of the common species being grayish-buff in color. Although rather awkward walkers, all the scoters fly with rapidity, and are fully equal to their allies in swimming and diving. Their food in winter consists of various small species of water life, and in summer of water-plants; their flesh being almost uneatable.

Teal Duck—The beautiful little duck known as teal measures only about fourteen inches in length. The male is beautifully colored, having bright green bands bordered with buff on the side of the head, with black, green, purple and white showing in the wings, and the white breast spotted with black. The upper plumage of the female is two shades of brown. The teal is found all over Europe and Asia and eastern North America. The teal of Europe and Asia winter in India and North Africa. The American blue-winged teal is easily distinguished by its blue wing-coverts and a white crescent between the beak and eye. In western America is found a cinnamon-teal with a chestnut-colored head. The common teal breeds either among reeds and sedge on the margin of lakes and swamps, or on boggy moors; the nest being a large structure composed of water-plants, lined with feathers or down, and the number of eggs in a clutch varying from eight to ten in Britain, and from ten to fifteen in Lapland. When unmolested, teal feed both by night and day, but when much shot at they become mainly nightly feeders. In India, where they arrive by thousands in the cold season, teal frequent large sheets of water in the daytime, and resort to rice-fields and shallow marshes in the evening. Nearly as swift on the wing as pintail, teal turn and twist in the air with a rapidity second only to the cotton-teal, and they have a habit after being flushed of dropping suddenly again. They swim easily, but not very rapidly, and they cannot dive to much purpose, So that a wounded bird, unless there are weeds near, under which it can lie with only the bill above water, has, as a rule, but a poor chance of escape. On the land, if the ground be fairly smooth, they walk with tolerable ease; but it is rare to see them, as one often sees the wigeon, well out on the dry sward, walking for pleasure. Their chief food is of a vegetable nature, but they also consume water-insects and molluscs. The common teal is usually seen in India in moderate-sized parties, but occasionally in large flocks. In March they associate in pairs, and then afford very pretty shooting when lying on the water beneath the steep hanks of the larger rivers, The teal is the easiest of all clucks to net and snare; immense numbers being captured during the cold weather in India, and kept alive through the summer in specially constructed "tealeries."

Mute Swan—It is best known in the British Islands as a domesticated bird, but there is little doubt that there are some wild specimens. The mute swan may be easily recognized by the color of its beak, in which the base is black and the point orange-red. It is found all over Europe and in some parts of Asia, and during the winter enters Northern Africa, Egypt and Northwestern India. While swimming, the mute swan is the most graceful of all its kin, being the one in which alone the neck is bent in true "swanlike" form. Deriving its name from the absence of any cry in the domestic race, it appears that wild birds trumpet like the whooper. The nesting-time during which the male bird displays extreme pugnacity takes place in May; the nests being generally built in association, and the number of eggs in each varying from five to eight.

Little Grebe—This bird is distinguished from the other grebes by its smaller size, measuring only sixteen inches in length, and by the chestnut hue of its lower neck. It is found in northern Europe and Asia. The eggs of the grebe differ from those of the divers in the creamy white color of their shells and their green tinge. The usual number is three or four. When pursued these birds seldom take to the wing, but nearly always try to escape by diving.

Crested Grebe—The largest member of the grebe family is the crested grebe, which measures from twenty-one to twenty-two inches in length. The grebe is a water bird, preferring fresh water to salt. The crested grebe is found in almost every part of the eastern hemisphere. In its summer plum-age it may be recognized by its chestnut-colored ear-coverts and white breast, while in winter it has a white stripe over the eye. The head is ornamented with colored-ruffs, tufts or patches.

Ivory Gull—Conspicuous on account of its uniform delicate white plumage, faintly suffused with a rosy tint, in marked contrast to which stand out the jet black legs and greenish yellow beak, the lovely ivory-gull alone represents a distinct member of the gull family. An inhabitant of the Arctic seas, this gull wanders into temperate regions during the winter; its breeding-places being in Spitzbergen and other regions in the far north. In contrast to the snowy white of the full-grown, the young of the ivory-gull are spotted with black.

Mallard Duck—This is the ancestor of the domestic duck. The mallard is characterized by the male being more brightly colored than the female, except during the breeding-season; and by the brilliancy of the wings in both sexes at all times. In winter the male has the four middle tail-feathers curled upwards; the head and neck are brilliant velvety green, and separated Hooded Merganser—The mergansers are better known by their common name goosander. Very different from any of the family is the hooded merganser, distinguished by the black beak being shorter than the head, and more especially by the full semicircular, erect and compressed crest of hair-like feathers. In the male the head and upper neck are black, with the exception of the hinder part of the crest, which is white edged with black; and the white breast is marked on each side by two black bands. Mainly North American, where it ranges from Alaska to Mexico, this merganser is a casual visitor to Europe. Although in Europe the mergansers generally frequent the coast, those which visit India are more commonly observed on inland waters. All are strong, heavy fliers, and most expert swimmers and divers; but on the land their movements are awkward and ungainly. Their food consists entirely of fish, molluscs, and shell fish, most of which are procured by diving; and in consequence of this diet their flesh is unpalatable in the extreme. When fishing in flocks, as is often the habit of the goosander, the whole party may frequently be seen to dive at the same time; although not uncommonly a few remain above water as if to act as sentinels. While the red-breasted merganser nests on the ground among bushes, heather, or long grass, the goosander nearly always, if not invariably, selects a hollow tree, or, failing that, a cleft in a rock, as a breeding-place, sometimes taking advantage of the nest of a crow or other bird. The creamy-white eggs are from eight to twelve in number; and the young, as soon as hatched, are carried down one by one from the nest to the water in the beak of their parent. When floating at ease the goosander sits as high in the water as a duck but when swimming settles down as deep as a cormorant.

The Bean Goose—Well known in Great Britain, the bean goose may be readily distinguished from the gray-leg goose by the black nail of the beak; the middle portion of the beak being orange-yellow, and its base black; while the legs and feet are also orange-yellow or orange. This goose ranges Over the greater part of the northern half of the Old World, occurring during the winter in Britain, the shores of the Mediterranean, India, and rapan. It is, however, strictly a northern bird only breeding in Scandinavia to the north of latitude 64°, and in Siberia on the tundras near lakes and pools beyond or near the limits of forest.

Scarlet Flamingo—The Persians gave this bird the name of "red goose," although it bears a more striking resemblance to the stork.. The legs are of great length; the neck also is extremely long and slender. The whole of the plumage is rosy white, with the exception of the quills of the wings, which are black, and the wing-coverts, which are a light scarlet. The naked skin around the eyes is yellow; the beak is rosy red at the base and black at the tip, and the legs and feet are pinkish-red. The true scarlet flamingo is an American species, with the general color of the plumage a full vermillion scarlet. Flocks of flamingoes, as they may be seen by the lakes, form one of the most wonderful sights in the world. They number tens of thousands, and massed upon the water look like huge rosy islands. When in the air they may be compared to a big cloud at sunset.

Although a wader, the flamingo can swim well in deep water. Their chief food consists of various water-plants, which are pulled up from beneath the surface. When feeding, the flamingo turns its head the wrong way up, in which position its bent beak forms a most efficient spoon-like instrument. The nests are in the form of round basin-shaped elevations of mud placed in close continuity on the mud-flats. They may vary from two to six inches in height, but the majority are very shallow, and present somewhat the appearance of a number of plates spread over the plain. Other single nests are situated in the water, and are in consequence much taller. The eggs, two in number, have a chalky external coating, beneath which is a greenish blue shell. During incubation the birds have their long red legs doubled under their bodies, the knees projecting as far as beyond the tail, and their graceful necks neatly coiled away among their back feathers, like a sitting swan, with their heads resting on their breasts.

Crane—Cranes are birds of large size, with plumage either gray or white. They are found on extensive plains and swamps and are capable of long and powerful flight. In length, the common crane measures from 43 to 48 inches and is found in Europe and Central and Northern Asia, visiting India, Persia, South China, and Northern Africa in winter, and passing through Japan on its migrations. Its plumage is gray; the naked part of the crown reddish, the sides of the face and neck white. The windpipe is lengthened and arranged in coils which enables them to utter, when alarmed or on the wing, a loud trumpet-like call, which can be heard at a distance of a couple of miles. They never perch on trees, all the cranes build on the ground; their huge nests being placed in swamps, and the two or three eggs having a greenish color, more or less spotted with reddish.

White Stork—In this long-legged, long-billed bird the plumage is a pure white, with the exception of the greater wing-coverts, which are black. The beak and legs are red and the bare space around the eye is black. The length varies from forty-two to forty-four inches. With the exception of the extreme north, the stork ranges over the whole of Europe, although not breeding everywhere, and being merely an irregular visitor to the British Islands.

Eastward its range extends through Turkey and Persia to central Asia and a great part of India, while in winter the bird visits northern Africa in large numbers. In France, where it is much persecuted, it is now only a passing visitor; but it breeds in large numbers in Holland, Germany, and indeed over the greater part of central and eastern Europe, where it enjoys protection on the part of the inhabitants. The stork has become thoroughly habituated to human habitations and the presence of man, by whom it is esteemed, not only on account of its value as a scavenger, but likewise from its well-known fidelity to its young, which has become proverbial. In Palestine, where they only exceptionally breed, storks make their appearance at the latter part of March on their northern journey, while in Holland and Denmark they generally arrive about the middle of April. They arrive and depart in immense flocks; and on their arrival spread themselves over the country in search of food, which comprises small mammals and birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, etc. In most parts of Europe the stork generally builds on chimneys, where boxes or other receptacles for the nest are frequently placed for its accommodation; and as it returns year after year to the same spot, the nest, which is originally a shallow structure of sticks, gradually attains a height of several feet. In the absence of buildings, trees or rocks are, however, adopted for nesting. The eggs, usually from three to five in number, are pure white. During the breeding-season the birds keep up a constant clapping noise with their beaks, and this noise not unfrequently betrays their whereabouts when soaring at such a height as to be quite invisible to the naked eye. As an instance of the constancy displayed by storks, it is stated that for three years a female, which remained during the winter in Europe, was visited annually by her mate, when both nested as usual. In the fourth year, however, the male bird also remained with his partner during the winter, and this continued for three years. Eventually both birds were shot, when it was discovered that the female had been prevented from migrating by an old wound.

The Purple Heron—A straggler to Britain, the purple heron is common in Holland and Spain, and ranges over the greater part of Europe to the southward of Central Germany. To the eastward it ranges from the Mediterranean to the Indian region, the north of China, and the Philippines, in such districts as are suitable to its habits, but only breeds in the warmer regions. Common and resident in Egypt, it appears to be mainly a winter visitor to most other parts of Africa, although it is a permanent inhabitant of certain marshy districts. The purple heron has a slender neck, and the crown and back of the head, together with the plumes, are purplish black; the cheeks and sides of the neck are fawn-color with streaks of bluish black; the back and wing-coverts are slaty gray; the long feathers on the back chestnut, the chin pale, and the neck reddish buff.

Snowy Heron—Together with the smaller herons, this bird is also known as the egret. The male bird, which measures about twenty-five inches in length, during spring and summer has the whole plumage pure white, with a crest of two long, narrow feathers, some long plumes on the lower part of the front of the neck, and the filament-like feathers of the back greatly developed. The winter dress lacks the crest and the plumes on the back. In Southern and Southeastern Europe the snowy heron is common, and it ranges through Asia Minor and Persia to India, China and Japan; while it occurs throughout Africa, and has been obtained from Northern Australia. The snowy heron nests in bushes and trees in the neighborhood of swamps, in company with the other waders; the nest being a platform-like structure of sticks intermingled with a few reeds, upon which are laid from three to six bluish green eggs. The bird differs from the white heron in being generally very noisy.

Avocet—This bird is closely related to the stilt. Its extremely long bill is curved upward at the end. The avocets are found in the same localities as the stilts, with the exception that none breed in India or the adjacent countries. The male of the common avocet is characterized by the black upper surface of the head and hinder part of the neck, and the white innermost secondaries; the young birds in their first plumage have the dark parts of the plumage brown, and the secondaries barred with white. The total length of the bird is eighteen inches. Owing to drainage, the European breeding-places of the avocet are now restricted to certain islands off Denmark and Holland, the marshes of Southern Spain, the delta of the Rhone, and the lagoons of the Black Sea; but to the eastwards it nests in Palestine, Persia, Turkestan, the southwest of Siberia, and also in Africa. In winter these birds resort to India, China, and, more rarely, Japan; and they reach their European breeding-places in April and May, and depart in September. The North American avocet, ranging from the Great Slave Lake to Texas, differs at all seasons by its white secondaries, and in the breeding-plumage by the pale chestnut hue of the head and neck. The habits of the avocets are similar to those of stilts.

Plover—The plover is a bird of powerful and sustained flight, flying when in flocks in a more or less wedge-shaped formation, and wheeling in the air, especially before pitching on the ground, in a peculiarly graceful manner. On the ground it is also equally active, running and walking with speed, and frequently wading breast-deep in the shallows. Breeding locally in Britain and some other districts of Northwestern Europe, this species has its chief nesting-haunts on the fjelds of Norway and the Russian and Siberian tundras; while in winter it frequents the shores of the Mediterranean, whence it wanders as far south as the Cape. It feeds largely by night. The nest is formed of dry herbage, with scraps of heath and moss, and situated either in a hole in the ground, on a tuft of herbage, under the shelter of a bunch of cotton-grass, or, more rarely, among short grass or heath. The eggs are very like those of the lapwing, from which they may be distinguished by their superior size, the absence of olive in their markings, and their brighter color. The parent birds are adepts in the art of inveigling away the intruder from the neighborhood of their eggs or young, the latter scattering themselves in all directions at the first alarm, to seek protection by skulking among the surrounding herbage.

Crested Penguin—The common name for this bird is rock-hopper. It measures twenty-seven inches and is distinguished from the other members of the family by a yellow crest of from three to five inches. It is found in the greatest numbers on the Falkland Islands.

Sea Swallow—Properly speaking the sea swallow is a true tern, with the crown of the head black and the under parts white or gray.

Black Cormorant—There are thirty varieties of this family, all having long, powerful bodies, long necks and long beaks. The face and throat are naked, the legs short and stout and the feet webbed. The best-known member of the family is the black cormorant, which ranges over all of Europe, part of eastern North America, northern Africa and Egypt and a portion of Asia. The plumage of the head and part of the neck is black, in which are inter-mingled a number of hair-like white feathers. The under-parts, except the white patch on the thigh, are bluish-black. In China and Japan cormorants have been trained to fish for their masters. When fishing, cormorants often swim with their heads below the water. They feed almost exclusively on fish. The nests are large platforms of sticks, and the eggs, never more than seven, have a pale blue shell, incrusted with chalky matter.

Frigate Pelican—The frigate bird differs from the other pelicans in its powerful hook-beak, slender body and absence of pouch. It lives entirely in the water, spending much of its time on the wing far away from land. It obtains a great deal of its food by taking it away from other sea birds. The plumage of the male is brownish black, shot with metallic green and purple on the head, neck, back, breasts and sides, shaded with gray on the wings. The beak is light blue at the base, white in the middle, and dark corn color at the tip. An air sack on the throat is orange red. The feet are carmine

red above and orange beneath. The frigate bird inhabits the warm regions of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is sometimes known by the title of Son-of-the-sun. The female lays but a single egg.

Tropic Bird—Sailors generally refer to this bird as the "boatswain." In appearance it is not unlike the tern and is somewhat smaller than the common gull. The best known member of the family is the red beak tropic bird which ranges over the tropical regions of the three great oceans. The plumage is white, with a reddish tinge, and black, and the two long tail-feathers white. The beak is coral-red, the eye brown, the leg yellow, and the web and toes black. In younger birds the feathers of the back have black bands at the tips.

Mandarin Duck—This bird of brilliant color and long, silky crest is a native of China. Its plumage contains nearly all the colors of the rainbow and could only be described accurately at great length. The beak is shorter than the head, with its base turned upward and backward in an angle nearly to each eye.

Herring Gull—This is a British species, measuring upwards of twenty-three inches in length. In its summer plumage the head is white; the mantle pale pearl-gray, and the beak yellow; there is a yellow ring around the eyes, and the legs are flesh-colored. Herring gulls are found in northern Europe, North America, and the islands of the Atlantic. These gulls are in the habit of following the shoals of the fish from which they take their name, and may often he seen hovering above the fry, preparatory to taking a plunge among them in the water. Their chief food consists, however, of various marine animals thrown up by the tide; although during the spring and after rough weather they frequently wander far inland.

Common Gannet—The common name of this goose-like bird is booby. It differs from the darter in its shorter body, shorter and thicker neck and beak. The common or white gannet measures about thirty-four inches in length, and is entirely white, with the exception of black wing primaries and buff head and neck. The front of the leg and foot is green, the remainder nearly black. It is found in great swarms in the northern part of both hemispheres. It feeds exclusively on fish, upon which it darts from a great height. The cliffs and rocks where it nests frequently contain thousands of these birds.

Snake Bird—The name of darter is often applied to this bird. It differs from the cormorant in its much longer body, extremely long and thick neck, small, flat, narrow head, straight beak, with a point as sharp as a dagger, and its legs placed far back on the body. Its plumage is black, with a metallic green luster, with white streaks on the wing coverts. It frequents the banks of rivers, lakes and swamps in immense flocks. It feeds exclusively on fish, which it catches at night, spearing them with its pointed beak. When swimming only its head and neck are exposed, when it is easily mistaken for a snake, hence its name. Unlike many water birds, it builds in trees. The eggs, three or four in number, have light green shells with a chalky coating. There are four varieties of snake birds, one in Africa, one in India, one in South America, and the fourth in Australia.

Patagonian Penguin—A peculiarity of the penguin is the upright position in which it walks on land. It is one of the web-footed birds and in some respects is the strangest of all the feathered tribes. One of the peculiar habits of the penguins is to range themselves in long lines on the ledges of rocks or ice, simulating the appearance of soldiers when seen from a distance. They are found in the Antarctic Circle, South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The color of the head, neck and throat is brownish-black, the upper parts are iron gray, and the under surface glistening white, faintly tinged with yellow.

Puffin—The most grotesque of all birds are the puffins, or sea-parrots, as they are sometimes called. Their great orange-red beaks, with bands of slaty-gray and yellow, seem out of all proportion to their heads. The Arctic puffin is the best-known member of the family. It is about the size of a teal. In plumage it resembles the guilemot, with the sides of the head white and the throat encircled by dark red. The puffin is a deep-sea bird and is both an expert swimmer and diver. Its single egg is laid either in a burrow in the ground or among the deep clefts of rocks. The egg is dull white, faintly spotted with gray and brown.

Razor-Billed Auk-This bird differs from the other members of its family by its smaller size, well-developed wings and shorter beak. Its length is about seventeen inches. It has no large white spot in front of the eye like the great auk, but in summer it has a narrow white line extending from the beak to the eye. In its summer dress, the chin and throat are brown, the head, high neck and upper parts black, with the under parts white; in its winter dress, the white extends upward to the throat, chin and sides of the head and the plumage of the upper parts is browner. The razor-bill is found on the coast and islands of both sides of the North Atlantic. It deposits its eggs on high ledges of rocks, preferring to deposit them in a crevice.

Little Bustard-This bird is much smaller in size than the great bustard and the male lacks the mustache found in the other species. In length it measures only seventeen inches. In summer the upper plumage is buffishbrown mixed with black, and two black and two white gorgets on the lower neck and breast. It is found in some localities in Europe and Central Asia, ranging into India and Northern Africa. It migrates in flocks of millions to and from its winter and summer homes.

In many of their habits they resemble the great bustards. Their flight is very different, and they often rise to a great height, and will flutter and twist about in the air. At other times, however, they fly rapidly and straight; and when on the wing always call continually. Wary in the cool of the morning and evening, during the 'heat of the day they lie close in the mustard-fields, which are their favorite haunts in the Punjab. They rise suddenly with a great pat-pat of the wings; and, though quite invisible till they rise, startle one with the great breadth of pure white they suddenly reveal, the whole of the secondaries and much of the primaries being white.

Common Bittern—The "boom" of the bittern is a familiar sound in the vicinity of swamps and marshes. Where these have been drained the bird has almost disappeared. The male bittern is from twenty-eight to thirty inches in length. The plumage of the body is a buffish yellow, marked with reddish-brown; the head is brown, with a tinge of bronze-green; the beak is greenish-yellow; the legs and feet green. The common bittern is found all over Europe, in Asia, and ranging eastwards through Central Asia to China and Japan. It also occurs in Persia and northern and central India, as well as in Burma; and likewise ranges over the whole of Africa and the greater part of North America. The bittern is essentially a bird of the swamps, among the reeds and bulrushes of which it either skulks in a rail-like manner or stands erect, when it presents a strange resemblance to a pointed stump. When disturbed in the day among a bed of reeds it generally rises within easy shot, and after flapping lazily along for a short distance once more takes to covert. While on the wing it utters a resounding cry, replaced during the breeding-season by the hollow boom, from which the bird derives its name; and in its evening flights the bittern is said to soar in circles to vast heights. The nest, which is formed of a mass of reeds and flags, is placed either in thick covert, or on the marge of a swamp. The four eggs are olive-brown in color, but may be tinged with green when fresh laid. Among our ancestors the bittern was regarded as a favorite dish. Instead of booming, the American species during the breeding-season utters a cry which has been compared to the sound produced by hitting a stake with a mallet. Dr. Coues observes that "when the bittern is disturbed at his meditation he gives a vigorous spring, croaks at the moment in a manner highly suggestive of his displeasure, and flies off as fast as he can, though in rather a loose, lumbering way. For some distance he flaps heavily with dangling legs and outstretched neck; but when settled on his course he proceeds more smoothly, with regular, measured wing-beats, the head drawn in closely and the legs stretched out behind together like a rudder. He is very easily shot-on the wing, dropping at a touch of even fine shot. When winged, he croaks painfully as he drops, and no sooner does he touch the ground than he gathers himself in defensive attitude to resent aggression as best he can. He fights well and with more spirit and determination than he might he expected to show. He has a very ugly way of pointing his resistance with quick thrusts of his spear-like bill, capable of inflicting no slight wound on an incautious hand. The food of this bird consists of various kinds of small aquatic animals. In its stomach may be found molluscs, crayfish, frogs, lizards, small snakes and fishes, as well as insects. Stich prey is captured by spearing as the bird walks or wades stealthily along."

Great Bustard—This bird bears a slight resemblance to the wild turkey. It is now found in Central and Southern Europe, Palestine, Turkestan, South-ern Siberia and Manchuria. It is rare in Northwestern Africa.

The male of the great bustard stands between three and four feet in height, and has a total length of forty-five inches, whereas the female measures about nine inches less. The male has a tuft of white bristle-like hairs, passing backwards and downwards from each side of the chin, and partially covering a narrow patch of bare skin. In the same sex the color of the head is gray; the upper-parts are chestnut-buff, with black barrings; the primary quills blackish brown, but the rest of the wings white; the breast is marked with bands of chestnut and gray; the abdomen is white; and the tail-feathers are reddish, barred with black, and tipped with white. The female, as a rule, lacks the mustache, and the bands on the breast. Like many other members of the family, the male has an air-pouch opening beneath the tongue, and running some distance down the front of the neck, which is most developed during the breeding-season, but at other times probably becomes so contracted as to become almost unnoticeable. Always unknown in Ireland, and having disappeared at an earlier epoch from Scotland, the bustard was probably exterminated as a resident English species in or about the year 1838; and it is now known only as a rare and casual visitor to. the southern counties. Haunting the great steppes and plains whether barren or under corn cultivation of Europe and Asia, the bustard is a shy and wary bird, associating during the winter in large flocks, but breaking up into pairs in the breeding-season, although even then several such pairs may frequent the same neighborhood, and the immature individuals still remain in companies. Its food consists mainly of grain and the young shoots of cereals and other plants, but it will also consume insects, as well as small reptiles and mammals. Drinking appears to be quite unnecessary to these birds and their kin.

Generally silent, the female when alarmed gives vent to a kind of hiss, as does her partner; but the male has also a call-note which has been compared to the syllable "prunt." The breeding-season commences in May, towards the latter part of which the two, or occasionally three eggs are laid in a hollow in the ground, which may be situated in the open plain, or in a cornfield, and may or may not have a scanty lining of dry grass. In color, the eggs vary from pale buff to some shade of greenish or brownish olive, speckled with reddish brown or gray. During the breeding season the males, which sometimes desert their consorts, are apt to be very pugnacious, in-stances having been known where they 'have actually attacked human beings. Bustards when flushed generally fly two miles or more, sometimes at least a hundred yards high. They never try to run.

Horned Screamer—Screamers are birds of the size of a swan, but of totally different appearance, having a hen-like beak, a waxy growth at the base of the neck, large crop and a pair of powerful spurs on the front of each wing. The horned screamer of Guiana and Amazonia is easily recognized by the presence of a slender horn-like growth 5 or 6 inches in length, rising from the middle of the head, and curving upwards and forwards. Of the two spurs on the wing, the foremost is by far the longer and more powerful. In color, the. soft feathers on the top of the head are whitish gray, with blackish tips; those of the cheeks, throat, upper neck, wings, and tail are dark brown; the wing-coverts having a greenish metallic sheen, while the feathers of the lower neck and upper breast are silver-gray, broadly banded with black, and those of the abdomen pure white. Screamers are found only in and around lagoons.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com