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venge until the young ones, full grown and fat, are peeping over the brink of the nest, and almost ready to abandon it altogether. He would always delay his attack till this period, but as the young advance in age and size, the more extensively and recklessly do their parents cater for their support.

" When Ravens set out on a long journey they always travel in pairs, and so high in the air, that were it not for their frequent crying, they would escape notice altogether. So great is the height at which they fly, that no cliff or peak, however lofty, can cause them to swerve from the direct course on which they are bent."*

In the southern parts of Britain, where precipitous rocks are uncommon, the Raven usually selects as its breeding-place some lofty tree, using the same for successive years. White, in his charming “ Natural History of Selborne,” has mentioned such an one, and recorded the tragical fate of its possessor. “ In the centre of this grove,” says he, “ there stood an oak, which, though shapely and tall on the whole, bulged out into a large excrescence about the middle of the stem.. On this a pair of Ravens had fixed their residence for such a series of years, that the oak was distinguished by the title of the Raventree. Many were the attempts of the neighbouring youths to get at this eyry; the difficulty whetted their inclinations, and each was ambitious of surmounting the arduous task. But when they arrived at the swelling, it jutted out so in their way, and was so far beyond their grasp, that the most daring lads were awed, and acknowledged the undertaking to be too hazard

* Zoologist, i. 215.

ous.

So the Ravens built on, nest upon nest, in perfect security, till the fatal day arrived in which the wood was to be levelled. It was in the month of February, when those birds usually sit. The saw was applied to the butt, the wedges were inserted in the opening, the wood echoed to the heavy blows of the beetle or mallet, the tree nodded to its fall; but still the dam sat on. At last, when it gave way, the bird was Aung from her nest; and though parental affection deserved a better fate, was whipped down by the twigs, which brought her dead to the ground.”*

FAMILY II. PARADISEADA.

(Birds of Paradise.) The Family which we come now to describe, though very limited in extent, contains the most singular and the most magnificent of the feathered tribes. Natives of the remote island of New Guinea, to which they are almost confined, for a long time they were known to Europe only by the mutilated skins which from time to time found their way hither, among the rarities of Indian commerce, and by the strange and extravagant fables with which tradition had embellished their history. Natural history with our forefathers was very largely fabulous, but with no animals had fiction been more busy than with these Birds of Paradise. 6 From one fabulist to another came the tradition (losing nothing, as is usual with traditions, in its descent), that these 'gay creatures of the element' passed their whole existence in sailing in the air, where all the functions of life were carried on, even to the production of their eggs and young. The dew and the vapours were said to be their only food, nor were they ever supposed to touch the earth till the moment of their death, never taking rest except by suspending themselves from the branches of trees by the shafts of the two elongated feathers which form a characteristic of this beautiful race. The various names applied to them kept up the delusion that originated in the craft of the inhabitants of the eastern countries where they are found; for the natives scarcely ever produced a skin in former times from which they had not carefully extirpated the feet. Nor was it only the extreme elegance and richness of their feathers that caused these birds to be sought as the plume for the turbans of oriental chiefs; for he who wore that plume, relying implicitly on the romantic accounts of the life and habits of the bird, and impressed with its sacred names, believed that he bore a charmed life, and that he should be invulnerable even where the fight raged most furiously." *

* White's Selborne, Letter I. First series.

The sober accounts of honest travellers, as Pigafetta, Bontius, and others, who described the birds from their own observation as having feet, and as feeding on small birds and large insects,were rejected with contempt by closet naturalists, and they themselves were accused, in no measured terms, of falsehood. Even after specimens had been brought to Holland, with their feet attached, and after the enumeration in the published Catalogue of Tradescant's Museum in England, of “ Birds of Paradise, or Manucodiata, whereof divers sorts, some with, some without legs,” Jonston, in Holland, could still write oracularly. “ It is peculiar to them all to be without feet; although Aristotle asserts that no bird is without feet, and Pigafetta assigns to them feet a bandbreadth in length." So difficult is the eradication of a favourite fable !

* Penny Cyclop. iv. 419.

In their general structure, the Birds of Paradise have a considerable resemblance to the Crows, which they approach also in size; the skins which are brought to Europe being evidently much contracted by the great heat employed in drying them. They have the beak long, strong, with the upper outline curved, and the sides compressed to the tip, which is notched; the base of the upper mandible is concealed by short feathers, which also cover the nostrils. The wings are long and rounded; the tail varying in length, even at the extremity, or else rounded. The feet (tarsi) are robust, long, and covered by a single lengthened scale; the toes long and strong, especially the hind-toe; the claws long, strong, and curved. The sides of the body, the neck, the breast, the tail, and sometimes the head are ornamented with lengthened and peculiarly developed showy feathers; the plumage of the face and throat is commonly of a scaly or velvety texture, and most richly glossed with metallic reflections, and other parts of the body are frequently arrayed in rich and brilliant hues.

GENUS SAMALIA. (VIEILL.) The species of the Birds of Paradise, though not exceeding seven in number, yet present so

much diversity as to be divided into several genera. Of these the genus Samalia, which contains the species best known, is thus characterized.

[graphic][merged small]

The beak is robust, convex above, furnished at the base with velvet feathers, straight, compressed at the sides, and jagged towards the tip. The sides of the belly and the flanks are adorned with

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