Page images
[graphic][ocr errors]


Is a large fowl; the colour of the whole body is white, and the resemblance of the bill to a spoon has caused the denomination of the bird. In some species the plumage inclines from white to pink colour. On the hind part of the head is a beautiful white crest, reclining backward. The legs and thighs are black. The wisdom of Providence is also most conspicuous in the conformation of the bill, which seems entirely adapted to the habits and manner of feeding of these birds; the frog and the lizard, which constitute the principal food of the Spoonbill, often escape the thin and narrow beak of the heron and others, but here the mandibles are so large at the end, that the prey cannot slip aside. Like the rooks and the herons, they build their nests on the top of high trees, lay three or four eggs, the size of those of a hen, of a white colour, sprinkled with

[ocr errors]

pale red, and are very noisy during the breeding season. The Spoonbill migrates northward in the summer, and returns to southern climes on the approach of winter; and is met with in all the intermediate low countries, between the Ferro Isles and the Cape of Good Hope.



DOES not seem, at first view, to have received from Providence that share of happiness which, with impartial hands, he has divided among the individuals that constitute the whole creation. His habits are peculiar to himself, and not to be envied by any other of the animals. Perched on a stone, or the stump of a tree, by the solitary current of a brook, his neck and long beak half buried between his shoulders, he will wait the whole day long, patiently and unmoved, for the passing of a small fish, or the hopping of a frog; but his appetite is insatiable. Willoughby says he has seen a Heron that had in his stomach no fewer than

seventeen carp. Some gentlemen who kept tame

Herons, were desirous of ascertaining what average quantity one of these birds would devour. They consequently put several small roach and dace into a tub; and the Heron, one day with another, eat fifty in a day. Thus a single Heron is able to destroy nine thousand score carp in half a year.

This bird is about four feet long from the tip of the bill to the end of the claws; to the end of the tail about thirty-eight inches; the breadth, when the wings are extended, is about five feet. The male is particularly distinguished by a crest or tuft of black feathers hanging from the hinder part of his head. This tuft or crest, in chivalrous times, was of great value, and held as a peculiar mark of distinction when worn above the plume of ostrich feathers. The back is clothed with down instead of feathers. The fore part of the neck is white, marked with a double row of black spots, the plumage being long, slender, and falling loosely over the breast; the breast, belly, and thighs are all white.

Virgil reckons the Heron among the birds that are affected by and foretell the approaching storm:

When watchful Herons leave their watery stand,
And mounting upwards with erected flight,
Gain on the skies, and soar above the sight.


The Heron, though living chiefly in the vicinity of marshes and lakes, forms its nest on the tops of the loftiest trees, or on the pointed cliffs of the sea-shore ; it sometimes takes possession of the abode of the crow or owl in their absence, and assumes courage enough to repel the original tenant. The female lays four large eggs, of a pale green colour; and the natural length of this bird's life is said to exceed sixty years.

In England, Herons were formerly ranked among the royal game, and protected as such by the laws;

and when falconry was in fashion, the pursuit of the Heron was a favourite amusement.

-Now like a wearied stag,
That stands at bay, the Hern provokes their rage;
Close by his languid wing, in downy plumes
Covers his fatal beak, and cautious hides
The well dissembled fraud. The falcon darts
Like lightning from above, and in her breast
Receives the latent death; down plumb she falls,
Bounding from earth, and with her trickling gore
Defiles her gaudy plumage. See, alas!
The falconer in despair, his favourite bird
Dead at his feet; as of his dearest friend,
He weeps her fate; he meditates revenge,
He storms, he foams, he gives a loose to rage:
Nor wants he long the means; the Hern fatigued,
Borne down by numbers, yields, and prone on earth
He drops: his cruel foes wheeling around
Insult at will.




Is not quite so large as the common Heron; his head is small, narrow, and compressed at the sides. The crown is black, the throat and sides of the neck are red with narrow black lines, the back of a pale red,

mixed with yellow. The claws are long and slender, and the inside of the middle claw is serrated, for the better holding of its prey. The most remarkable character in this bird is the hollow and yet loud rumbling of his voice; his bellowing is heard at the distance of a mile, at the time of sunset, and it is hardly possible to conceive at first how such a body of sound, resembling the lowing of an ox, can be produced by a bird comparatively so small. The booming noise was formerly believed to be made while the bird plunged its bill into the mud; hence Thomson,

-So that scarce
The Bittern knows his time, with bill ingulf'd
To shake the sounding marsh.

And Southey also describes the peculiar noise of this bird in his poem of Thalaba:

[blocks in formation]

Sometimes in the evening he soars on a sudden in a straight, or, at other times, in a spiral line, so high in the air, that he ceases to be perceptible to the eye. The Bittern, when attacked by the buzzard, or other birds of prey, defends itself with great courage, and generally beats off such assailants; neither does it betray any symptoms of fear when wounded by the sportsman, but eyes him with a keen undaunted look; and when driven to extremity, will attack him with the utmost vigour, wounding his legs, or aiming at his eyes with its sharp and piercing bill. It was formerly held in much estimation at the tables of the great, and is again recovering its credit as a fashionable dish. The flesh is considered delicious. The bill is four inches long, to enable him to seize upon his prey. In

« PreviousContinue »