Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub
[merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small]

This division includes the eagles and hawks, and as the beaks and claws are remarkable for their hook-like forms, the term falco has been applied to the whole genus ; and from that word the epithet Falconidæ has been partly formed. Perhaps few readers require to be told that the former name is derived from falx, which signifies a hook or scythe. The eagles being the most powerful and magnificent of all the Falconida, must of course take precedence of their more diminutive though equally fierce relatives the hawks. To those creatures of powerful wing we must therefore first direct our attention.

The eagles first claim our attention. Many persons talk of birds of prey as if their existence were a defect, a cause of confusion and strife in creation. They admire the dove, listen with interest to the history of the swallow, and rejoice in the rich melody of singing-birds; but, say they, how different from these innocent, peaceful, and beautiful creatures, is the fierce eagle or marauding hawk! We do not wish to present any portion of the living universe in an unlovely aspect; every part has its allotted object and a beauty of its own; and it should be our aim to discern this truth in every link of the great chain of being. Disparage not the bird of prey, he has received his instincts from the Infinite Intelligence; these instincts form his commission to keep within certain limits the inhabitants of the air. Is he more fierce than the pet swallow or the pretty goldfinch? How does this said swallow live? By destroying some hundreds of beautifully formed insects every day, each of which may as justly claim our pity as the sparrow which affords a meal to the hawk. All birds are, in one sense, birds of prey ; they all destroy life, and the Falconidæ are, therefore, only in the same general predicament with the whole feathered creationeven with man himself, whose daily food attests his destruction of life. Away, then, with false sentiment! it is the great law that all mundane things must end; birds too must die; and sudden death by the stroke of an eagle's talon is mercy compared with dying daily, inch by inch, from slow decay; there is decidedly less of pain in the former case.

This order of birds existed in those remote geological eras, the wonderful histories of which have astounded our age. Thus, through all ages of life, the living world has been so constructed, that the death of one animal by another should form an essential part of the system. These considerations should lead us to regard with closer attention the habits of this family. The proud motions and commanding airs of the eagle induced various nations to adopt its figure on their banners, as the symbol of power and dominion. It was borne as a standard by the Assyrians, Persians, and Romans, in ancient times, and several modern empires retain it in their insignia.

The food of the eagle is the very opposite to that chosen by the vulture. The former, unless pressed by hunger, will not eat carrion, preferring to kill its own prey. Eagles, therefore, do not flock round the dead bodies of animals; hence the text in St. Matthew, “Wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together," is supposed to refer to an eastern species of vulture, which is similar in appearance to the eagle. Eagles appear to kill their prey with the talons rather than the beak; for when a dog was thrown into a cage where one was kept, the bird sprang on the dog's back, and, griping the neck with one foot, prevented the prey from turning to bite ; it then began to tear and pierce the dog with the talons of the other foot till it died. The beak was then brought into use for devouring the body.

Some eagles feed upon fish, which they snatch with daring address from the surface of the sea.

is often seen hovering high above the waves; all at once we see him sweep down with an arrow's velocity, and plunge into the waves, whence he rises, bearing in his talons a large fish, with which he swoops

The osprey

away to some distant rock. The ospreys are often met with on the southern coast of England, and the antiquary sometimes lights upon a nest in some ruin of other days.

[graphic][ocr errors]

Some which feed upon fish are not fitted for plunging into the water ; these are constantly on the look-out to rob the osprey of its prey as it rises from the sea. The white-headed eagle will șit for hours watching the osprey fishing; the moment the latter has seized a fish, off darts the former in pursuit. The chase is often desperate, for the osprey does not readily abandon its booty; but, sweeping in large circles, endeavours to keep above the eagle, which, being unencumbered, soon gets the advantage, upon which the osprey drops the fish. Then comes the feat of the white-headed eagle; descending with lightning speed, he grasps the fish before it can reach the water, and bears off the spoil with a scream of triumph. The following description of these attacks, from the pen

of the eloquent and enthusiastic Wilson, will place before the imagination of the reader one of those spectacles which are often witnessed on the solitary coasts frequented by the white-headed eagle, a bird which may well be called the pirate of the air. Wilson thus paints an attack made by this thievish eagle on the osprey or bald buzzard:

“ Mounted on the high dead limb of some gigantic tree that commands a wide view of the ocean, he seems calmly to contem

plate the motions of the various feathered tribes that pursue their busy avocations below. The snow-white gulls slowly winnowing the air ; the busy tringæ coursing along the sands ; trains of ducks streaming over the surface ; silent and watchful cranes, intent and wading; clamorous crows, and all the winged multitudes that subsist by the bounty of this vast liquid magazine of nature. High over all these hovers one whose action instantly arrests his attention. By his wide curvature of wing and sudden suspension in the air, he knows him to be fish-hawk, settling over some devoted victim of the deep. His eye kindles at the sight, and balancing himself with half-opened wings on the branch, he watches the result. Down, rapid as an arrow from heaven, descends the distant object of his attention, the roar of its wings reaching the ear as it disappears in the deep, making the surges foam around. At this moment the eager looks of the eagle are all ardour; and levelling his neck for flight, he sees the fish-hawk once more emerge struggling with his prey, and mounting in the air with screams of exultation. These are the signals for our hero, who, launching into the air, instantly gives chase, and soon gains on the fish-hawk. Each exerts his utmost to mount above the other, displaying in those rencontres the most elegant and sublime aerial evolutions. The unencumbered eagle rapidly advances, and is just on the point of reaching his opponent, when, with a sudden scream, probably of despair and honest execration, the latter drops his fish; the eagle, poising himself for a moment, as if to take a more certain aim, descends like a whirlwind, snatches it in his grasp ere it reaches the water, and bears his ill-gotten booty silently away to the woods."

The poor buzzard is much to be pitied, for his life, it must be confessed, is rather one of hardship, having to procure his food by plunging into the sea, and then being exposed to the attack of the unprincipled white-headed eagle. Indeed, this said eagle does not reflect much honour on “his order,” being in some respects more like a coarse fellow of a vulture than a high-spirited falcon. Thus it will readily prey on carrion, and frequents the places where the dead bodies of animals are found, and contends with the vultures themselves for their disgusting prey. The reader has of course often read some accounts of Niagara, and has perhaps regretted his inability to visit that famous fall. What does be suppose the tourist often sees by the side of the troubled waters? There the white-headed eagles and the vultures flock to prey on the bodies of the animals brought down by the torrents, and the last-mentioned birds are frequently disturbed whilst dining upon a dead sheep or horse, by the assaults of the eagle.

It is rather a singular fact that 'the United States should have chosen this very bird for their national symbol, as its well-known qualities are at variance with all the principles on which a government ought to be founded, and some of the foes of the Republic

have not failed to take advantage of this circumstance to insinuate a strong parallel between the bird and the principles advocated at Washington. This is doubtless a word of scandal uttered by jealous foreigners, though it must not be forgotten that Benjamin Franklin himself saw something unfortunate in the selection of this eagle as the symbol of the United States. The philosopher thus speaks, in his own forcible and plain style: “For my part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labours of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him. With all this injustice, he is never in good case, but, like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor. Besides, he is a rank coward, the little king bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly, and drives him out of the district. He is, therefore, by no means a proper emblem of the brave and generous Cincinnati of America.”

Of the various species of Falconide, the golden eagle is the most noted and powerful, and is named from the coppery yellow colour of the plumage, which is mingled with tints of brown. The appearance of this noble bird when flying is majestic; the hunter watches it soaring above the Alpine forest with a feeling approaching to awe, as he thinks of the wild tales which represent the mighty bird as the body of a fallen angel, which still seeks, in that winged shape, the regions of its former home. Solemn is the spectacle, when the setting sun flings its ruddy gleam on the gray walls of some ancient mountain tower, which stands as the solitary representative of a thousand departed ages; but how is the solemnity deepened, when, on the highest turret, we mark the golden eagle calmly gazing with eyes of fiery splendour on the departing sun. The golden eagles are sometimes met with in England, but more frequently in Scotland, where they build a platform-nest in the sheltering recesses of the rocks. The length of the bird from tail to beak is about three feet and a half, and the breadth across the outspread wings eight feet. Its eggs are three inches and a half in length, and two and a half wide, of a dirty white colour, and speckled with reddish brown spots. The golden eagle is noted for its great longevity, some having been known to exist for more than one hundred years; indeed every kind of eagle possesses great length of life. When they reach a great age in a state of captivity, few of their natural characteristics remain; instead of the bold and daring creature which claimed the sovereignty of many a league of air, we see a feeble and discrowned bird, bearing the faded symbols of former kingly state.

« НазадПродовжити »