Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

the females they seldom exceed four inches. When looking at one of these elegant creatures, we do not regard them as peculiarly fitted for combat, their security seeming to be more in fight than battle; but when driven into a position of danger, the herd forms into a circle around the females and the young, and presenting their horns to the foe, prepare to receive the charge. Pity that these beautiful animals should be destroyed by the fierce lion and panther; but the laws of nature expose alike the gazelle and the sloth to their carnivorous pursuers, and thus the undue increase of the antelope dorcas is checked by the wild beasts of the desert.

Why, some reader may ask, is the epithet dorcas affixed to the name of this animal? This term was applied by the Greeks to this antelope, and by thein transmitted to the Romans; and there is every reason to suppose that the name is derived from a Greek word signifying to see or to glance. The word dorcas therefore denotes strong powers of sight, and has been appropriated to the gazelle on account of the beauty and brilliancy of its eye.

THE NYLGHAU (Antelope picta). This is one of the largest antelopes, and a native of India, where it loves to frequent the dense forests which cover a large part of that tropical land. The horns are, however, small, not more than seven inches long, and are without the spirals and rings which distinguish so many of the antelope tribes. This species has been called the painted antelope (Antelope picta), from the variety of colours seen on different parts of the body. The upper parts of the male are a dark blue, the under parts white, the legs brown, whilst the cheeks and throat have a white spot, and the pastern joints white bands to diversify their appearance. Unlike most of the antelopes, this is a fierce and untameable creature, resisting all the efforts of its keepers to render it affectionate. Even if a young one be procured as soon as produced, and trained with every care, the temper remains uncertain and liable to outbursts of irritation. One peculiarity of this animal is the tuft of hair which grows from the middle of the throat, and hangs towards the ground, resembling a species of beard.

THE GNU (Antelope Gnu). This is the most singular in appearance of all the antelopes, to which it has so little external resemblance, that few persons would t first believe it could be placed in such a genus. Its appearance would rather lead us to place it amongst the horses, until we observe its head furnished with two large and singularly-curved horns, wbich, after bending downwards over the face, suddenly turn upwards, forming a huge hook. Some writers have regarded the gnu as comprehending in itself the properties of three animals : the head resembles that of the ox, the body and legs those of the deer, whilst the flowing tail and mane suggest a comparison with the horse. When a long file is seen galloping across a plain in Caffraria, the traveller might easily mistake them for a troop of zebras, till a nearer approach enabled him to perceive their singular horns.

THE CHAMOIS (Antelope rupicapra).

This animal is properly placed between the antelopes and the goats, which it may be considered as linking together. It may be called the mountain goat, or mountain antelope, according to which of these genera we assign it. The horns are not spiral or ringed, but rise perpendicularly from the head for about four inches, when they curve backwards, forming a hook. The body is covered with long hair, which changes its colour with the season, being a dark brown in winter, and a light in summer. Sometimes the face and throat become white in the winter; but this does not happen frequently,

This animal is evidently fitted to live in a mountain home, rejoicing to climb the high peaks of the Alps, and sport along the precipices of the Pyrenees or the Carpathians. How often does the traveller whilst ascending the steep path along a mountain side in the Swiss Alps, pause to gaze upon the bounding chamois, which he sees springing from crag to crag far above his head ! The perils and excitements of chamois hunting

have made the name of this antelope familiar to Europeans. For the animal being endowed with a power of balancing itself on the narrowest ledges of rocks, and of measuring most accurately the spot on which it wishes to leap, it is evident that the hunter must often encounter the extremest perils in such a chase. Sometimes the animal is surprised whilst feeding, when the rifle of the hunter quickly secures the prey. But it is probable that the ever-watchful herd may perceive the approach of their foe long before he can get within rifle distance, when away the whole troop bounds over icy pinnacles and across fathomless ravines, where nature seems to have interdicted the passage of human footsteps. Yet the hunter must cross these chasms and scale such heights, and press on in exciting pursuit, till the setting sun gilds with a marvellous beauty the glittering summits of the ice-mountains. Then he must sleep in some crevice of the Alpine deserts, and at sun-rise renew his perilous hunting. The obstinate perseverance of man usually proves victorious even over the watchfi

ess and powers of the chamois. But sometimes the daring hunter perishes where no human eye can observe his fall from the frozen edge of the beetling cliff, and there, in some snow-covered chasm, his bones may remain for years, till some other hunter is stayed in his eager pursuit by the sight of the white bones resting in a wild hollow, unnoticed even by the Alpine eagle. Such are the tales which throw around the chamois-hunt a kind of supernatural romance, stimulating rather than repressing the ardour of the mountaineers. The passion for this chase often abides in a family for two or three generations; and an instance of this is mentioned, in which a son, father, and grandfather successively perished amid the mountains in pursuit of the chamois.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small]

We commence our bird history with some account of those fierce birds which are found in every region of the earth, whether sweeping over the vast savannas of America, haunting the deserts of Africa, or keeping watch over the woods and fields of England. The birds of prey form a most important section of the ornithological kingdom, and with these we will therefore begin this portion of our volume.

Linnæus distinguishes all such birds by the term accipitres, the plural of the Latin accipiter, a word signifying a hawk. Some, however, apply the word rapaces, others raptores, to the order; and as each epithet denotes a bird of prey, the use of either is admissible.

The characteristics of this order are striking. Dwelling, for the most part, remote from human habitations, haunting seabeaten rocks, frequenting wild mountain summits, or dwelling in lonely forests, their singular habits excite the curiosity of man. The love of solitude is a characteristic of all true birds of prey. Where the avalanche thunders, as it crashes through the mountain forest, you may find them; in the silence of the Apennines or the Andes they hold their homes; but retire before the sound of the woodman's axe, and love not the peopled village or smiling fields.

This tendency distinguishes them from other families of the fe red kingdom ; for many of its tribes delight to form their homes near human dwellings, perching on the trees which surround our farmhouses, and pecking their food from the newlysown furrows. What a contrast between the sparrow or the robin, which almost enters into our dwellings, and the sullen owl, inhabiting the time-worn hollow on some ruined castlewall! All the birds of prey may not exhibit this love of solitude; but the greater portion of this extensive family dwell in the silence of the ruin and the waste. Man does not feel much sympathy with animals which thus avoid his society, as if scorning all communion with him, and hence the birds of prey are regarded rather as enemies to be hunted, than as creatures to be studied. They have, nevertheless, an important office assigned to them; for which they are admirably fitted.

This order is divided into four families :

The VULTURIDÆ, or VULTURES;
The FALCONIDÆ, or Eagles and Hawks;
The STRIGIDÆ, or Owls;
The LANIDÆ, or BUTCHER BIRDS.

As each of these divisions has its own peculiarities, and is fitted to discharge distinct kinds of services, it is advisable to consider them separately, that we may thus obtain a more perfect view of the whole order.

« НазадПродовжити »