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rushing, that they may steal through the air unheard upon a nimble and watchful quarry.— G. White.
Why do owls, in flying, stretch out their legs behind them?
Because they may balance their large heavy heads; for, as most nocturnal birds have large eyes and ears, they must have large heads to contain them. G. White.
Major Head thus describes the biscacho, or coquimbo, a curious species of owl, found all over the Pampas of South America.
'Like rabbits,they live in holes, which are in groups in every direction, and which makes galloping over these plains very dangerous. These animals are never seen in the day; but, as soon as the lower limb of the sun reaches the horizon, they are seen issuing from their holes in all directions, which are scattered in groups, like little villages, all over the Pampas. The biscachos, when full grown, are nearly as big as badgers, but their head resembles a rabbit's, except that they have large bushy whiskers. In the evening they sit outside their holes, and they all appear to be moralising. They are the most serious locking animals I ever saw; and even the young ones are gray-headed, wear mustachios, and look thoughtful and grave. In the day-time, their holes are guarded by two little owls which are never an instant away from their posts. As one gallops by these owls, they always stand looking at the stranger, and then at each other, moving their oldfashioned heads in a manner which is quite ridiculous, until one rushes by them, when fear gets the better of their dignified looks, and they both run into the biscacho's hole.'
Why has the night-jar the middle claw cut into serratures, like a saw or a short-toothed comb?
Because it may rid its plumage of vermin or dirt, by combing.
Wilson, the distinguished American ornithologist,
also tells us that the inner edge of the middle claw of the whip-poor-will* is pectinated, and from the circumstance of its being found with small portions of down adhering to the teeth, is probably employed as a comb, to rid the plumage of its head of vermin, this being the principal and almost the only part so infested in all birds. Of another species, called chuckwill's widow, he says, 'their mouths are capable of prodigious expansion, to seize with more certainty, and furnished with long hairs or bristles, serving as palisades to secure what comes between them. Reposing much during the heats of the day, they are much infested with vermin, particularly about the head, and are provided with a comb on the inner edge of the middle claw, with which they are often employed in ridding themselves of these pests, at least when in a state of captivity.'
Why is the fern owl, or night-jar, popularly called the goatsucker?
Because of an erroneous notion that it sucks goats; a thing, which the structure of its bill renders impossible.
Why is the shrike or butcher-bird, also called by Linnæus, a sentinel ?
Because it seldom conceals itself in a bush, but sits perched on some upper spray, or in an open situation, heedful of danger, or watching for its prey.
Why do woodpeckers tap with their bill the trees on which they sit?
Because they may disturb the insects concealed within, so as to seize them when they appear,
Why is the white-billed woodpecker called the carpenter's bird?
*See Foreign Birds.
Because of the great quantity of chips which it
This bird, and the order to which it belongs, are termed peckers, and have a very remarkable structure of the tongue, consisting of two long cartilages, which are placed immediately under the skin, running from behind forwards over the skull, and terminating at the forehead near the root of the bill. These cartilages, are like springs, by means of which the bird can more readily protrude its worm-shaped tongue, and transfix insects with its horny point. Blumenbach.
Why is the term halcyon used figuratively for quiet? Because the halcyon or kingfisher was feigned by the poets to breed in the sea, and that there was always a calm during her incubation.
As firm as the rock, and as calm as the flood,
Why is the dottrel every year becoming more and more scarce in the vicinity of Keswick?
Because some parts of its plumage are in very great request by the manufacturers of artificial flies for fishing, which accounts for their being pursued and killed in such numbers.
Why is the rook one of the earliest birds?
Because its principal food is worms, which feed and crawl upon the humid surface of the ground in the dusk, and retire before the light of day; and, roosting higher than other birds, the first rays of the sun, as they peep from the horizon, become visible to it. Knapp.
Why do rooks sometimes appear to be falling to the ground?
Because they are scratching themselves with one foot, and thus lose their centre of gravity. G. White.
Why is a flock of rooks so frequently attended by a train of starlings?
Because rooks have a more discerning scent than starlings, and can lead them to spots more productive of food. Anatomists say that rooks, by reason of two large nerves which run down between the eyes into the upper mandible, have a more delicate feeling than other round-billed birds, and can grope for their meat when out of sight. Perhaps, then, their associates attend them from interest, as greyhounds wait on the motions of their finders, and as lions are said to do on the yelpings of jackals. G. White.
Why are rooks' eggs prized?
Because,though bearing little resemblance to those of the plover, they are, in some places, not uncommonly taken, and sold as plover's eggs in the London market; and, probably, the habitual eater of them can alone distinguish a sensible difference.
Why are rooks less abundant than formerly?
Because their haunts have been disturbed by the felling of trees, in consequence of the increased value of timber, and the changes in our manners and ideas. Rooks love to build near the habitation of man; but their delight, the long avenue, is no longer the fashion; and the poor birds have been dispersed to settle on single distant trees, or in the copse, and are captured and persecuted. In many counties, very few rookeries remain, where once they were considered as a necessary appendage, and regularly pointed out the abbey, the hall, the court-house, and the grange. Knapp.
The following anecdote of the rook is related in the Zoological Journal, and merits introduction here, for the excellent lesson it affords to man. A gentleman occupied a farm in Essex, where he had not
long resided, before numerous rooks built their nests on the trees surrounding his premises; the rookery was much prized; the farmer, however, being induced to hire a larger farm about three quarters of a mile distant, he left the farm and the rookery; but, to his great surprise and pleasure, the whole rookery deserted their former habitation, and came to the new one of their old master. It ought to be added, that this gentleman was strongly attached to all animals whatsoever, and, of course, used them kindly.'
Why is a hot summer fatal to rooks?
Because their food, grubs, insects, and worms, is then mostly hidden in the earth beyond their reach. At this time, were it not for its breakfast of dewworms, which it catches in the gray of the morning, as it is appointed the earliest of risers, it would commonly be famished. In the hot summer of 1825, many of the young brood of the season perished from want; the mornings were without dew, and consequently few or no worms were to be obtained. - Knapp.
Why is the raven most common on the shores of harbours, or near great rivers?
Because aniinal substances, its food, are more frequently to be met with there, than in inland places. In Greenland and Iceland, where putrescent fishy substances abound, they appear to be almost domesticated.
Why is the raven one of the chosen birds of superstition?
Because of its supposed longevity, its frequent mention and agency in holy writ; the obscure knowledge we possess of its powers and motives; and the gravity of its deportment, like an 'all-knowing bird,' which has acquired for it, from very_remote periods, the veneration of mankind. The changes in our manners and ideas, in respect to