Edward Stanley.

A familiar history of birds (fourth edition, with additions) online

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A familiar history of birds

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Sea-Fowl Catching.




















THIS work is intended for a class of readers to whom
mere scientific details would be unacceptable, if not
unintelligible. Such, therefore, have been, as much as
possible, avoided, and only alluded to as inducements
to those who are interested in the subject, to make
further progress in so attractive a department of Natu-
ral History.

There are few individuals who have it not in their
power, occasionally, to remark the instincts and habits
of Birds ; and the many anecdotes collected from the
Author's own observation, the information of friends,
or various respectable sources, will, it is hoped, excite
others to register any facts within their reach, which
may illustrate the mysterious economy whereby this
beautiful portion of God's creation is enabled, in so
many instances, to surpass the highest efforts of man's
ingenuity, foresight, or philosophy.




CHAPTER I. Rank of Birds in the Animal Kingdom.
Tables of Classification. Directions for their appli-
cation 5

CHAPTER II. Structure of Birds. External Structure.
Skeleton. Character of Beak. Bones, their lightness.
Solidity of Back-bone. Breast-bone, use of. Wing-
bones. Legs, peculiarities of. When resting on one
leg, why Birds do not fall 26

CHAPTER III. Internal Structure. Digestive Organs.
Gullet, Crop, Stomach Adaptation of, to different habits
of Birds. Gastric Juice Its use and properties. Giz-
zard, its grinding powers. Respiration of Birds 44

CHAPTER IV. Organs of Sound. Ducks, Crane, Goat-
Sucker, Bell-Bird, &c. Distance at which Sounds may
be heard. Plumage. Structure of Feathers. Goose-
Plucking. Summer and Winter Plumage 58

CHAPTER V. Flight. Muscular power of Wings. Pecu-
liarity of, in different Birds Adapted to various habits.
Rapidity of motion, and rate of How calculated. Long
continuance of Flight accounted for. Migration, Causes
of Tendency of most Birds to wander at particular times
Why seldom seen in the act of Migrating Instinctive
power of finding their way 73



CHAPTER VI. Eagle and Hawk Tribe. Wild Eagle-
Tamed Muscular powers of Carry off Children,
Lambs, &c. Sometimes killed on the wing by Weasels.
Battle between Cat and Eagle. How caught when
fishing Voracity of Nests Singular mode of captur-
ing their prey. Bird of Washington. Eagle Traps.
Feathers prized 98

CHAPTER VII. Vultures Loathsome feeders Strength of.
Snake-Eater. Mode of killing Serpents. Hawks
Character of. Hawking for Bustards Value of.
Iceland Falcons much prized. Falconry in former days.
Contest with Herons. Modes of Catching. The
Sparrow- Hawk. Anecdotes. The Glead, or Kite.
Herons. Food of the Hawk Tribe Their disposition.
The Hawk sacred to the Egyptians and Turks 124

CHAPTER VIII. Owls Superstitions respecting Short-
eared. The Great Snowy Owl White Owl Mode of
feeding Attachment to young Used in Bird- catching.
Burrowing Owl. Dentirostral ; Notch-billed Birds.
Shrikes Mode of feeding Nests of Used in taking
Falcons. Puff-backed Shrike. Thrush genus Instinc-
tive habits of feeding. Anecdote. Thrush and young
Cuckoo. Fly-Catchers. Cotinga. Tanagers Beauty
of. Serratirostral, or Serrated Beaks. Hornbills.
Plenirostral ; Strong-billed. Crackles. Paradise Birds 157

CHAPTER IX. Ravens Occasionally desert their young
Predacious Habits Sagacity. Various Anecdotes.
Crows and Rooks Characters of each. Tame Crow.
Meetings or Councils of Crows, Herons, Magpies,
&c. Whether Rooks are beneficial or injurious to the
Farmer. Hard Winters favourable to Insects. Rook-
eries. Red-legged Crow. Jackdaws. Jays and Mag-
pies 195

CHAPTER X. Passerine Order, continued. Conirostras ;
Conical Beaks. Orioles. Starlings. Habits of.
Finch Tribe. Goldfinch. Anecdotes of. Nests rapidly



completed. Curious Nests in Africa. Age of small
Birds. Canary Birds. Trade in. Bullfinches, Piping.
How trained. Boldness of. Affectionate and social
Habits of. Also of Linnets. Use of small Birds in
destroying Insects 229

CHAPTER XI. Subulirostres ; Awl-shaped Bills. Mana-
kins : curious Nests of. Tomtits. Wagtails. Red-
starts. Robins, &c. Migration of this Tribe. Night-
ingales. Whether they return to same Nests. Ear for
Music. Night-Singing-Birds. Planirostres ; Flat-
billed. Swallow Tribe. Whether occasionally Dor-
mant; instances of. Migration of. Insects, number
devoured by Swallows. Spiders, high Flights of. Curi-
ous Nests of Swallows. Courage of. 251

CHAPTER XII. Swallows' Nests, continued. Edible Nests,
East Indies. Goat-suckers. Mode of seizing Moths.
Cavern with their Nests, described. Tenuirostres ;
Narrow-billed. Nuthatch. Tree-Creeper. Bee-Eater.
Hoopoe. Kingfisher. Humming Birds. Climbing
Birds. Cuneirostres ; Wedge-billed. Jacamar. Anis.
Cuckoo. Anecdotes and Habits of 272

CHAPTER XIII. Cuneirostral, continued. Woodpecker
Tame one. Wryneck Tongue of. Levirostral ; Light-
billed. Parrots. Toucan. Gallinaceous ; Poultry
Tribe. Pigeons, American Prodigious numbers of
Rapid flight Employed as Messengers Mode of catch-
ing Attachments of. Cocks. Pheasants - Courage of.
On breeding Pheasants Box for Feeding. Prized by
Ancients. Turkeys, Wild Social Habits of. Part-
ridges, tamed Nests of Various sorts of. Quails
Immense Flights of. Bustards. Ostrich Nests of-
Affection Hunting Strength of. Cassowary and Emu 293

CHAPTER XIV. Water Birds. Waders. Pressirostral ;
Narrow-beaked. Water-Hens. Anecdotes of Nests
of. Coots Nests of. Jacanas Singular Foot of:
Horned Screamers. Rails. Oyster- Catchers Tamed.



Cultrirostra ; Cutting-billed. Herons Toothed-claw of
Voracity of. Storks and Cranes Migrations of
Respect paid to. Gigantic Crane Particulars respect-
ing. Jabiru. Anastomus; Open-beaked. Tantalus . 321

CHAPTER XV. Latirostral Flat-beaked. Boat-bill.
Spoon-bill. Flamingo Mode of Feeding Nests of
Watchful Habits. Tenuirostral, or Longirostral ;
Long, Slender-billed Birds. Avoset. Sand-Pipers.
Dotterel Preservation of its Young. Dunlin's Nest
and Eggs. Plover Mode of Catching. Ibis Mum-
mies of Why held Sacred 354

CHAPTER XVI. Palmipedes; Web -footed Serrated or
Tooth-billed. Geese Flocks of How managed
Plucking. Singular attachment Sagacity Courage of.
Tree Geese. Swans Muscular Strength Courage.
Black Swans. Trade in Swan-quills 376

CHAPTER XVII. Duck Tribe Management of Chinese
mode. Wild Ducks building in trees Affection of.
Eider Ducks. How caught. Duck-shooters, Danger
attending. Decoys 395

CHAPTER XVIII. Pinnipedes ; Swimming feet. Pelican
Fable of drawing its blood explained Mode of fishing.
Sea-birds feeding on fish thrown up by Whales. Cor-
morants Voracity of May be tamed Fierceness of.
Frigate-bird. Solan Goose Lightness and buoyancy of
Nests. Anhingas, or Darters 411

CHAPTER XIX. Longipennes; Long-winged Skimmers
Singular bill. Terns, or Sea- Swallows Anecdote of.
Gulls Capacity for enduring cold Voracious feeders
Breeding-places. South Stack described. Albatross
Roaming habits. Tristan d'Acunha, Resort for breeding
Voracity. Petrels Nests Feed at night Supersti-
tion of sailors respecting. Brevipennes ; Short-winged.
Divers. Crested Grebe Great destroyers of fish.
Guillemots. Razor-Bills. Pufiins and Auks ... ... 426


CHAPTER XX. Penguins; Fin-winged. King Penguin of
the southern regions described Breeding-places Valu-
able for oil. Sea-fowler's perilous occupation Descrip-
tion of, in Shetland, St. Kilda, &c. Singular escapes
Fatal accidents 460


OUR object being rather to furnish the reader with
rational and interesting facts, than systematic arrange-
ments, it is not intended to treat the subject of Ornitho-
logy* scientifically. But, at a period when the education
of every class of the community is rapidly improving,
and when the minds of the rising generation are in a
state of advancement, fitting them for that more perfect
knowledge, which, in the preparation of elementary
books, ought always to be kept in view, it is of import-
ance, that even the simplest work should be arranged
and founded, in some degree, on scientific principles.
We shall, therefore^ commence with a few introductory
remarks on those peculiar features in the formation and
habits of Birds, by which they are distinguished from
other branches of the animal creation ; evincing as they
do, that uniform and beautiful adaptation of means to
the accomplishment of certain ends, which characterize
every branch of the creation; each in its respective per-
fection, proving beyond contradiction, that as "the works
of the Lord are manifold, so in wisdom hath He made
them all."

The visible creation, it has been well said, was Adam's
library. There may be times, places, and occasions, in
which a page out of a book in that library may impart
riot only instruction to the head, but consolation to the
heart. When that persevering traveller, Mungo Park,
was at one period of his perilous course fainting in the
vast wilderness of an African desert, naked and alone,
considering his days as numbered, and nothing appearing
to remain for him but to lie down and die, a small moss
flower of extraordinary beauty caught his eye. " Though
the whole plant," says he, "was not larger than one of

* From ornis and logos, two Greek words signifying the knowledge of



my fingers, I could not contemplate the delicate confor-
mation of its roots, leaves, and capsules, without admi-
ration! Can that Being who planted, watered, and
brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world,
a thing which appears of so small importance, look with
unconcern upon the situation and sufferings of creatures
formed after his own image ? Surely not. Reflections
like these would not allow me to despair ; I started up,
and disregarding both hunger and fatigue, travelled for-
wards, assured that relief was at hand ; and I was not
disappointed*." And with the disposition to wonder
and adore, in like manner, can no branch of Natural
History be studied, without increasing that faith, love,
and hope, which we also, every one of us, need in our
own journey through the wilderness of life.

There are some points in which the structure and
powers of the winged tribe demand more attention and
admiration than those of any other class, inasmuch as
the object to be obtained is a more extraordinary one,
and the difficulties to be overcome, such as the utmost
ingenuity of man has been found utterly unable to meet.
Let us suppose a person to have grown from infancy to
manhood without ever having heard of a bird. He sees
that the light snow-flake is unable to remain suspended
in the air; that the still lighter thistle-down, when no
longer supported by the breeze, has a tendency to fall
to the ground ; and yet he is told, that there are tenants
of the air, countless as those of earth and water ; that
some of considerable size and weight can journey on their
way above the clouds, with a facility and speed far exceed-
ing that of the swiftest footed animal. He may, indeed,
from observing that cork and light bodies, when plunged
in water, rise to the surface, conceive the possible exist-
ence of a lighter substance than air, capable, by the
same laws of nature, of rising above the earth. If a
philosopher, he may even discover the inflammable and
lighter gas by which a balloon ascends, with the weight

* PARK'S Travels in Africa.


of a man attached ; but how shall he lift a substance
heavier than the air? And how guide its progress through
the air? Show him the weighty body of an Eagle or a
Swan*, tell him their living history, and he may reason-
ably doubt your fact, and deny that these things could be.

There is one difficulty in the use of wings that any
one may ascertain for himself. Let him take the smallest
sized boy's kite by the narrow end, and wave it up and
down at arm's length; he will instantly perceive how
great is the resistance of the air, and how obvious the
inability of his muscular strength to produce anything
like the rapid motion of a wing. And yet, in order to
possess the powers of a bird, he must be able to con-
struct and move artificial wings, in superficial extent, in
some cases measuring several of such kites; with the
additional difficulties, which mathematical knowledge
would prove to be proportionally increased at every
step in his progress. How all these seeming impossi-
bilities are accomplished is perhaps the most interesting
part of the following pages.

But the study of Ornithology has other charms, in a
great measure confined to itself, and recommending it
to the attention of a large class of readers ; namely,
that of its being within the reach of all who take an
interest in the proceedings of the natural world. Quad-
rupeds, generally speaking, are few in number, and so
difficult of access, that in fact, beyond the limited fami-
lies of our domestic menageries, few can have an oppor-
tunity of investigating their habits. Out of eighty
genera of four-footed animals, about fifteen only are to
be met with in the British islands ; of these, many live
so remote from man that accident alone can gratify his
curiosity, and of that greater portion scattered over the
earth few, comparatively speaking, ever fall under the
observation of the most inquiring traveller. One-half
of the characteristic features of the lion and tiger tribe
we collect from the analogous habits of one of a similar

* The Wild Swan weighs 25 Ib.



genus, namely, the cat, which harmlessly purrs by our
fire-side: while the sheep and goat afford information
respecting the numerous class of ruminating animals,
which inhabit parched deserts, or the precipitous re-
gions of rocks and mountains. But in the class of
Birds the case is different : many, it is true, and perhaps
some of the most singular as well as most beautiful, are
seldom accessible ; but of those which meet us at every
turn, which cheer our solitary walk with their song, or
display before us their various instincts and prominent
occupations, the number is immense. Of about one
hundred and twenty genera, above half are to be met
with in this country, and frequently under circumstances
favourable for ascertaining their habits and modes of
life. Every field and garden, every tree and hedge-row,
may prove the prolific source of delightful interest and
information ; for a trifling attention will enable an ob-
server to distinguish, when on the wing, high in mid-air,
or flitting from spray to spray, the genus to which every
species belongs. In short, not a day passes but a lover
of nature may record in his journal, anecdotes and hints
from whence a store of practical knowledge may be
derived. In the country, an acquaintance with the
feathered creation is like the acquisition of another
sense, limited by neither season nor situation; their
periodical journeys to and from regions far remote,
their mysterious and wonderful instincts, adapted to
their respective situations, are all sources of inexhaus-
tible interest. The spring, the summer, the autumn,
and the winter, have each their corresponding interests.
There is, moreover, a remarkable uniformity amongst
Birds, which does not exist in Quadrupeds; for instance,
a lion and an armadillo, a giraffe or a mole, are as dif-
ferent as living creatures can be conceived to be; but in
Birds, excepting in size, and the natural division between
the land and water families, a greater similarity is dis-
coverable ; a circumstance which enables us to treat
more briefly the particular history of their several sub-



Rank of Birds in the Animal Kingdom. Tables of Classification.
Directions for their Application.

BIRDS form the second class in the great natural divi-
sion of the Animal Kingdom. They resemble the first
class, Mammalia (those that suckle their young), in some
respects ; such as the general form of the skeleton, the
mode of breathing through lungs, &c. They differ from
them by being what is termed Oviparous, or producing
their young enclosed in eggs, in their outward form, in
their feathery covering, and in the structure of their
mouths, which are furnished with a horny bill, instead
of lips and teeth ; but most particularly are they dis-
tinguished from other animals, by being provided with

It is not our intention, as we have said, to treat the
subject in what is called a scientific manner, by entering
into details and particulars, more calculated for those
who have made it a matter of long study, than for the
greater number, probably, of our readers, who may have
paid little attention to it ; but as it is our wish to be as
extensively useful as possible, we have drawn up the
following Tables, giving at a glance, not only a general
outline of the rules by which Birds are classed, but at
the same time enabling an inexperienced person, with
very little trouble, in most cases, to make out for him-
self the genus, or family, of any specimen which may be
placed before him, and which he may wish to describe.

We are far from recommending these Tables as per-
fect, or even the best that could be drawn up, and an
experienced student will, no doubt, find some of the
subdivisions to be defective ; but, when the difficulty of
any mode of classification, so accurate and unexception-
able in all its details as to meet every case, is considered,
an approximation to the truth is all that can be hoped


for ; and we trust that, for practical purposes and gene-
ral use, the annexed will be found, on the whole, simple
and satisfactory. Whatever may be their imperfections,
we can at least vouch, from experience, for their tending
very materially to facilitate a learner's progress ; and as
they are founded on the authority of some of our most
esteemed naturalists*, even the more advanced may, it is
to be hoped, refer to them with advantaget.

* Chiefly from Curler and Dumeril.

t The hest tables of classification and reference we have seen are those
now publishing in large sheets with figures, at a very moderate price, by
M. Achille Comte, illustrating CDVIER'S Regne Animal.


1. Ear-coverts. 6. Upper Tail-coverts. 11. Scapulars, feathers rising

2. Bastard-wing. 7. Primary Quills. near the junction of the

3. Tarsus. 8. Secondary Quills. wing with the body, and

4. Vent feathers. 9. Greater Coverts. lying along the sides of

5. Rectrices. 10. Lesser Wing-coverts. the hack.


1. Rapacious.

2. Passerine.

3. Scansores.

4. Gallinaceous. 5. Waders*. 6. Wet-footed.

* Waders are readily distinguished by their length of leg.








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BY way of showing the utility of the preceding Tables,
a few instances, explaining the manner of applying them,
may be acceptable.

Suppose, then, that a person entirely ignorant of Or-
nithology, finds a bird, and wishes to know its name or
character. He will first turn to Table I., where the
number of hind-toes appear as the distinguishing guide
for further observation. His specimen, for instance, has
only one hind-toe ; he is then directed to the character
of the anterior, or fore-toes, the two exterior or outer of
which, in this case, he finds to be very slightly connected,
and for a moment, without further rules to guide him,
he might be at a loss whether to consider his specimen
as belonging to the orders Rapaces, Grallse, or Passeres :
the character, however, of the claws and beak will at
once point out the propriety of considering it as of the
Rapacious Order, marked as No. 1. For further infor-
mation, he is then referred to Table II., where the eyes
are to be his guide. He finds them on the side of the
head, and pursuing his line of direction, sees that it is
feathered about the neck, and he accordingly turns to
Table IV., where the lower jaw, or mandible, as it is
called, of the beak, is the distinguishing feature. This
lower mandible, in his bird, is not furnished with either
bristles or tufts like a beard, neither is the tail consider-
ably lengthened out by feathers projecting one beyond
the other, like the Snake-eaters, or Magpies, for example.

Having proceeded thus far, his attention is turned to
the first feather of the wing, which he finds to be shorter
than the second. He next looks to the beak, which is
not lengthened, and straight from its base, but is bent
throughout, and hooked at the point. His bird must,
therefore, be of the Buteo or Astur genus. But the
wings do not extend beyond two-thirds of the tail; it
therefore belongs to the Astur genus ; and he has then
only to ascertain the species, which he will easily do by
consulting museums, or books with minute descriptions
and plates.


Again : a bird is brought to him, which, on comparing
with the characters given in the first Table, he finds to
have no back-toe, and that the fore-toes are united by
a membrane; he rightly, therefore, concludes, that it
belongs to the order Palmipedes, or Web-footed; and
he is directed for further particulars to Table XXVI.
Thus he perceives, that as his specimen has only three
front-toes, that its beak is not toothed, or serrated like
a file or saw, and that its wings are very short, it must be
of the tribe Brevipennes, arid he is referred to Table
XXX. Then, as the wings are feathered, and it has no
back-toe, it must be of the genus Alca ; and he will have
little difficulty, on referring to its colours, size, and a few
other particulars, to ascertain its species.

In the above references, the birds for consideration
were a Sparrow-hawk and Puffiji, species more or less
known to most of our readers. One more, however,
shall be added, entirely foreign. Its colour a brilliant
green, beautifully mottled and variegated on the upper
part, the lower part of the breast and leg-feathers being
of a delicate lemon-colour ; the size, rather smaller than
a Thrush. On looking to Table I., the hind-toes are
found to be two, and two before ; it is therefore of the
order Scansores, or Climbers, and reference is made to
Table XIV., when, as its beak is not very large at the
base, and not toothed, it must be of the Cuneirostral
tribe, Table XV. On examining its beak, and finding it
rather curved, with mandible rounded, and nostrils pro-
jecting, there can be no hesitation in pronouncing it to be
a Cuculus, or Cuckoo. And so it is: the Golden Cuckoo,
one of the most splendid ornaments of the South African
forests, and not uncommon at the Cape of Good Hope ;
and in such a gorgeous garb, little likely to be taken by
an ignorant observer, for a bird belonging to the family

Online LibraryEdward StanleyA familiar history of birds (fourth edition, with additions) → online text (page 1 of 35)