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ing propensities; to neither of which is the kingfisher addicted. It is placed in the family of the Fissirostres, and in the order Insessores, and is thus ranked in a large department of the bird kingdom. The halcyon does not, however, avail itself of its position to extend its acquaintance with the feathered world, being a bird disposed to solitude, and inclined to no little moroseness of temper.
The spirit of the kingfishers is, indeed, so ferocious, that naturalists cannot keep several in the same cage throughout the year, as they will attack and kill each other. This fierceness of disposition is most strong in autumn, when it is impossible to keep many of these birds in aviaries, destruction being then the order of the day. It might be expected by some that so beautiful a bird would exhibit rather the gentleness of the dove than the ferocity of the hawk, were there not abundant facts to prove that elegance of appearance is often combined with the spirit of war. Those who attempt to rear the kingfisher must therefore adapt their plans so as to provide against the destruction of their aviaries from the pugnacity of the tenants. During the summer the birds may be left to enjoy the society of each other without much apprehension, provided their cage is supplied with suitable food; but on the approach of autumn, each desperate little warrior must be enclosed in a separate house, and left to solitary meditation. Some persons experience much difficulty in rearing these beautiful birds, whilst others effect the object with little trouble. The great point is to render the bird's artificial state in the cage as much like its natural condition on the banks of the stream as possible. Attention to the kind of food selected for the young is essential, and in this matter observation and common sense are sufficient guides. For as the natural food of the halcyon is fish, the
young birds must be supplied with this for some time; afterwards pieces of chopped beef may be substituted in part, but the fish diet must never be quite removed. The best plan is to put some live minnows into a trough in the aviary when the birds are able to feed themselves, which will be bringing the caged kingfishers very near to their natural state. If, however, the birds are very young when taken, it may be impossible to rear them, for the food cannot be prepared to imitate the nourishment supplied by the parent, which subjects the raw fish to a partial digestion in the crop before giving it to the brood. In such circumstances the lover of halcyons must do his best; that is the whole amount of our counsel, which, though not worth much, is really all we can give. The reader must therefore regard it as the widow's miie-our all.
The Linnæan name for the common kingfisher is alcedo ispida; but there are many species, each distinguished by characteristic or peculiar names; but being inhabitants of other regions, and resembling the European halcyon in their habits, we need not describe them in this place.
All who have observed the wings and feet of the kingfishers will admit that long-sustained powers of flight, and the capacity of grasping a struggling victim with powerful claws, have not been bestowed upon the
genus. In strict harmony with this structure of the body are the habits of the birds, which are never seen long upon the wing, but are often observed perched for hours upon a branch, from which at times they dart to capture a passing fish or insect, and then immediately return to the station. Thus neither feet nor wings are called upon to accomplish any task requiring strength; but the bill is furnished with powerful muscles, enabling the bird to seize with a sure aim its prey, and to retain a firm hold of a struggling fish. The body of the halcyon is therefore as completely fitted to its mode of life as that of the swift, which can remain for twelve hours on the wing. The naturalist is, of course, not surprised at this instance of adaptation of means to ends, for he well knows that every feather of every bird has some fact connected with it which illustrates and declares the wisdom of the Godhead.
Here we must conclude our history of the kingfisher, without further notice of other varieties of the family, which are found scattered over the new and the old worlds.
The figure prefixed to this chapter represents the bird in the act of watching from a branch for the approach of a fish or insect, and may give the reader some idea of the silent perseverance with which the halcyon waits for the appearance of a victim. This engraving indicates the general form of the European kingfisher, but some of the foreign varieties differ in their appearance from this species ; one having a crest on the head, and another a long tail formed of two drooping feathers. These diversities do not, however, affect the habits of the birds, which remain the same in all regions. Such a uniformity will therefore justify us in passing over without further notice all the foreign varieties, and in leaving the reader to speculate on the life and habits of this beautiful British bird.
This is a family of birds requiring little description ; not from deficiency of interest, but from that familiarity which has made great numbers tenants in our streets and fields. In fact, the pigeon is now as domesticated amongst us as the farmyard poul. try. Our object is not, therefore, to expatiate upon those divisions of this extensive family which are familiar to our eyes, preferring rather to direct the reader's attention to the species which are strangers to our climate. A few remarks may nevertheless be made upon the English varieties, before proceeding to notice the rarer and more singular species.
However various the domesticated pigeons appear, all spring from the rock-pigeon, which is spread over the Scottish isles, and is found on the lonely rocks which gird the eastern boundaries of Scotland. If we turn from these northern regions to the sunny isles of the south, we shall there also meet with the rock-pigeon, disporting itself amid the African and Asiatic islets, round which the mariner sees their circling swarms sailing in the bright air.
Most readers may be surprised to find all our domesticated varieties traced to the blue rock-pigeon, instead of the wild species which frequents our woods. It is, however, admitted by ornithologists, that the domesticated pigeons are not related to the wood-pigeons, neither to the ring-doves, nor to the stock-doves, from both of which our tame varieties differ in many particulars.
The reader must here be informed that the rock-pigeon is always called, by ornithologists, Columba livia ; the stock-dove, Columba anas; and the ring-dove, Columba torquatus.
The most casual observer cannot fail to remark a difference between our common wild pigeons and the domesticated varieties; for whilst the latter are seen perching on the tops of houses, or pacing to and fro in the streets of our market-towns, rarely betaking themselves to the trees, the wild species delight in woods, where the thick branches of the old trees afford them restingplaces.
Gilbert White thus speaks of the diversities in the habits of these varieties. 66 Unless the stock-dove in the winter varies greatly in manners from itself in summer, no species seems more unlikely to be domesticated, and to make a house-dove. We very rarely see the latter settle on trees at all, nor does it ever haunt the woods ; but the former, as long as it stays with us, from November perhaps to February, lives the same wild life with the ring-dove; frequents coppices and groves, supports itself chiefly by mast, and delights to roost in the beeches.
“For my own part, I readily concur in supposing that housedoves are derived from the small blue rock-pigeon for many
In the first place, the wild stock-dove is manifestly larger than the common house-dove, against the usual rule of domestication, which generally enlarges the breed. Again, those two remarkable black spots on the remiges of each wing of the stock-dove, which are so characteristic of the species, would not, one should think, be totally lost by its being reclaimed, but would often break out among its descendants. But what is worth a hundred arguments is the instance of Sir Roger Mostyn's housedoves in Carnarvonshire, which, though tempted by plenty of food and gentle treatment, can never be prevailed on to inhabit their cote for any time ; but, as soon as they begin to breed, betake themselves to the fastnesses of Ormshead, and deposit their young in safety amidst the inaccessible caverns and precipices of that stupendous promontory.”
The term stock-dove has, as Mr. Bennet suggests, led some to
suppose that it is the origin or stock of our numerous house varieties. But the name stock-dove designates the places in which these birds love to build, such as the stocks or trunks of old trees.
We must therefore not forget, when witnessing the aerial evolutions of our trained“ tumblers,” “ Turks,” “runts,” and other fancy birds, that to the small rock-pigeon must be traced the myriads of those Columbide which man has admitted into the circle of domestic animals.
We need not, however, let such a fact cause us to undervalue the wood-pigeons which enliven the solitudes of our woods by their wild notes. Often have we listened, as the last rays of the setting sun cast a rich light on the rugged and moss-covered trunks of the aged trees, to the musical echoes of these birds. Thousands who have trod the sylvan solitudes yet left in old Eng. land must have heard the same soft sounds, and such persons will not despise the wild pigeons where they still abound.
Of the domesticated varieties, the most remarkable are the carrier-pigeons, celebrated alike for their services in peace and war, and as highly extolled by the ancient naturalist as by the modern ornithologist. Even Anacreon, the poet of soft pleasures, who chiefly sang of festal luxury and Asiatic voluptuousness, saw something to attract his muse in the attachment to home shewn by this bird, which the ancient heroes employed to carry the news of triumphs won at the Grecian games to distant and expecting kinsmen. Before the plaudits of the spectators bad ceased to echo through the groves of Olympia, the trained pigeon had borne the thrilling news to the family and countrymen of the conqueror. The day might be far spent before the bird was loosed in the sight of the immense throng of Greeks, but before the sun set the report reached the isles of the Ægean, and roused into raptures the cities of the Cyclades.
Was an Italian town besieged by Antony, and so begirt by trenches and barricades that not a man could convey intelligence of the danger, either across the land or down the river's channel; what then? the air is open, and the beleaguered garrison communicates easily with friends by means of the carrier-pigeon. In vain Antony sought to keep the defenders of Modena in ignorance of the important fact that the consuls were advancing with their legions to the relief of the place; the swift birds carried the news over the besieging host, and inspired the garrison with the determination to hold out till the approach of aid. Perbaps Antony afterwards reflected, when about to stab himself as the only escape from his foes, that the beginning of his troubles rose from the intelligence carried to the enemy by the swift-winged pigeons. The crusaders also taught these birds to bear their messages from cities beleaguered by the ferocious Mahominedans;