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Why were seven of the migratory birds formerly called the Seven Sleepers?
Because it was then supposed that many birds, which, it is now known, unquestionably migrate, retired to some secure retreat, and there remained dormant during the winter. Jennings.
Why does the early arrival of wild geese and ducks, and other migrating birds from the north, in the winter, portend that a severe season is approaching?
Because the early appearance of these birds is most likely caused by severe frost having already set in, at their usual summer residence. — Jennings. Why do the bird-catchers in the neighbourhood of London, procure males only on the first arrival of this bird?
Because the males of many species of migrating birds appear to perform their migrations a few days before the females; and this is remarkably the case with the nightingale. The females do not make their appearance for a week or ten days after the males. Fleming.
BRITISH AND EUROPEAN BIRDS.
Why has so much confusion arisen in the names of several of the eagle species?
Because of the great changes in the colour of the feathers of several of the genus, during their process to maturity.
Why was the practice of hawking discontinued? Because of the introduction of the use of gunpowder.
Aristotle, Pliny, and many other ancient writers, speak of the method of catching birds by means of
hawking; but it is said, that falconry was practised with far more spirit and universality among the uncient Britons, than in any other nation.
Why is the falcon so honourable an emblem of heraldry? Because, in former times, and in many countries, the custom of carrying a falcon about was esteemed a mark of a man of rank: many persons of distinction were painted with a hawk on the hand.
Why is the village of Falconsward, in Holland, so called?
Because a race of falconers was there born and bred, whence supplies have been drawn for the service of all Europe; but as there has been no sufficient inducement for the young men to follow the employment of their forefathers, numbers are dead, or worn out; and there only remains John Pells, now in the service of John Dawson Downes, Esq. of Qld Ginton Hill, Suffolk. Sir John Sebright,
Why is the Icelander highly esteemed by falconers? Because it is the largest hawk that is known, and is of great power and the most tractable disposition. The gyr-falcon is less than the Icelander, but much larger than the slight falcon. These powerful birds are flown at herons and hares, and are the only hawks that are fully a match for the fork-tailed kite. The merlin and hobby are both small hawks, and fit only for small birds, as the blackbird, &c. The sparrow-hawk may be also trained to hunt; his flight is rapid for a short distance, he kills partridges well in the early season, and is the best of all for land-rails. Sir John Sebright.
Why was the owl the emblem of wisdom among the
Because its skull is elevated: it is, however, without a proportionate volume of brain.
Linnæus, with many other naturalists and antiquaries, have supposed that the horned owl was the bird of Minerva. Blumenbach has, however, shown, from the ancient works of Grecian art, that it was not this, but rather some smooth-headed species, probably, the passerina, or little owl.
Why are barn-owls more numerous than brown-owls? Because the young of the brown-owl are not so easily raised, as they want a constant supply of fresh mice; whereas, the young of the barn-owl will eat indiscriminately all that is brought: snails, rats, kittens, puppies, and any kind of carrion or offal. G. White.
Why is the owl thought to be of the same sympathy or kindred likings as those of the cat?
Because a young owl has been found to feed well and thrive upon fish. Cats too, it is well known, like fish, and Dr Darwin relates an anecdote of a cat taking fish in a mill-pool. Both the cat and the owl too feed upon mice. The sight of owls also, similar to that of cats, appears to serve them best in the dark. (See page 29.)
Why are white owls vulgarly called screech-owls?
Because of their horrible screaming as they fly along. This species of owl, some people superstitiously believe, attends the windows of dying persons.
Mr White, in one of his delightful Letters to Mr Pennant, says, 'My musical friend, at whose house, (Fyfeld, near Andover) I am now visiting, has tried all the owls that are his near neighbours,with a pitchpipe set at concert pitch, and finds they all hoot in B flat. He will examine the nightingales next spring.' From what follows this note, it, however, appears, that neither owls nor cuckoos keep to one note
Why is the plumage of the wings of owls remarkably soft and pliant?
Because they should not make much resistance or
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 looking 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.