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many things, have certainly deprived them of much of this reverence; yet the almost supernatural information which they obtain of the decease, or approaching dissolution, of an animal, claims still some admiration for them. This supposed faculty of 'smelling death' formerly rendered their presence, or even their voice, ominous to all, as
The hateful messenger of heavy things,
and their unusual harsh croak, still, when illness is in the house, with some timid and affectionate persons, brings old fancies to remembrance, savouring of terror and alarm. - Knapp.
The poets have highly embellished this superstition: : Drayton says:
The greedy raven, that doth call for death.
and quotes Pliny for his authority. Shakspeare
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
All nations have their omens drear,
And shun the Spirit's Blasted Tree.'- Marmion
in the notes to the sixth canto of which are the following lines in a poem by the Rev. George Warrington, entitled 'the Spirit's Blasted Tree."
Three ravens gave the note of death
As through mid air they wing'd their way;
They croak they scent their destined prey.
Ill omen'd bird! as legends say,
Who hast the wondrous power to know,
Again, Sir Walter Scott: —
Seems he not Malice, like a ghost
Lady of the Lake.
Why does the magpie cover its nest with thorns? Because its eggs may thus be protected from birds; a danger which it seems to understand, by its feeding on the eggs of others.
Why was the jay formerly persecuted through all its retreats?
Because the beautiful blue-barred feathers, that form the greater coverts of the wings, distinguish it from every other bird; wherefore they were much in request in the days when feather-work was in fashion with our fair country-women.
Why has the cuckoo a broad, hollow back?
Because, soon after the young cuckoo is hatched by the hedge-sparrow, the eggs, or the young ones, whichever should happen to be in the nest, are turned out of it by the cuckoo, and by it alone; to effect which, the cuckoo is conjectured to have this peculiar conformation of the back.
[We quote this observation from a paper by Dr Jenner, in the Philosophical Transactions for 1788; premising the anomaly of the cuckoo laying its eggs in other birds' nests, to be familiar to the reader. We have not space to pursue the subject further, neither will the details of a controversy be looked for in the present work. Mr Jennings has sensibly observed 'The truth seems to be, notwithstanding all that has been observed and published concerning the cuckoo, that its natural history is still involved in considerable obscurity.']
Till lately, it was not known that any bird laid its eggs in the nests of other birds, besides the cuckoo; it is now, however, well ascertained, that the American cowpen, or cow-bunting, lays its eggs in other birds' nests, and takes no care whatever of its offspring. Jennings.
Why are cuckoos supposed to migrate in succession? Because the cuckoo, seldom seen in company with his mate, even during the breeding season, is, to all appearance, equally solitary at the period of migration.
Why may the cuckoo be said to have done much for
Because from that bird has been derived the minor scale, whose origin has puzzled so many; the cuckoo's couplet being the minor third sung downwards. Mag. Nat. Hist.
Why is the missel-bird, in Hampshire and Sussex,
called the storm-cock.
Because it sings early in the spring, in blowing, showery weather. G. White.
Why do the songs of the sky-lark and wood-lark differ? Becaus song of the sky-lark is very sweet, full of harmony, extremely cheerful, and known and admired by all; but the voice of the woodlark is local, not so generally heard, from its softness must almost be listened for to be distinguished, and has not any pretensions to the hilarity of the former. The ill-fated Shelley has some exquisite lines to a sky-lark: :
Hail to thee, blithe spirit;
That from heaven or near it,
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the cloud thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The deep blue thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest.
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.❤
* See the 'Beauties of Shelley,' 18mo, 1890.