Изображения страниц

lous Roc, of the Arabian nights, “who, as authors report, is able to trusse an elephant.” It is not surprising that this bird, seen in the wildest and most magnificent scenes, far above ordinary objects of comparison, should have drawn upon the imaginations of those who observed it. Nestling in the most solitary places, often upon the ridges

[graphic][merged small]

of rocks which border the lower limits of perpetual snow, and crowned with its extraordinary comb, the Condor, for a long time, appeared to the eyes of the scientific Humboldt, as a winged giant, and he declares that it was not until he had actually measured a dead specimen, that the optical illusion was corrected. Still it is an immense bird: there seems no doubt that individuals have actually been measured, the expanse of whose wings reached to eleven feet, and whose length from beak to tail was between three and four feet. The general colour of the Condor is a glossy black, but the greater part of the wing in the male is white, as is a ruff of soft loose feathers that encircles the base of the neck. The naked skin of the head and neck is of a purplish-red hue; and the greater portion of the beak is white.

In that lofty mountain range which runs through the whole length of South America, whose inaccessible summits are covered with perpetual snow, even beneath a vertical sun, the Condor delights to dwell, fixing his habitation in solitary grandeur at the height of 10,000 or 15,000 feet above the level of the sea. Here they are to be seen in pairs, or groups of three or four, but never associate in large numbers, like the other Vultures. It does not confine itself to dead animals to satisfy its appetite. Mr. Darwin observes, that it will frequently attack living goats and lambs; and two of them are said to unite their efforts even upon creatures so powerful as the llama, or even the puma, which they succeed in destroying. Its strength is very great, as is also its tenacity of life.

The graceful motions of these Vultures in the air, are thus graphically described by Mr. Darwin: -“When the Condors in a flock are wheeling round and round any spot, their flight is beautiful. Except when rising from the ground, I do not recollect ever having seen one of these birds flap its wings. Near Lima, I watched several for nearly half an hour, without once taking off my eyes. They moved in large curves, sweeping in circles, descending and ascending without once flapping. As they glided close over my head, I intently watched from an oblique position the outlines of the separate and terminal feathers of the wing; if there had been the least vibratory movement, these would have blended together, but they were seen distinct against the blue sky. The head and neck were moved frequently, and apparently with force; and it appeared as if the extended wings formed the fulcrum on which the movements of the neck, body, and tail acted. If the bird wished to descend, the wings were for a moment collapsed; and then when again expanded with an altered inclination, the momentum gained by the rapid descent seemed to urge the bird upwards, with the even and steady movement of a paper kite. In the case of any bird soaring, its motion must be sufficiently rapid, so that the action of the inclined surface of its body on the atmosphere may counterbalance its gravity. The force to keep up the momentum of a body moving in a horizontal plane in that fluid (in which there is so little friction) cannot be great; and this force is all that is wanted. The movement of the neck and body of the Condor, we must suppose, is sufficient for this. However this may be, it is truly wonderful and beautiful to see so great a bird, hour after hour, without any apparent exertion, wheeling and gliding over mountain and river."

Mr. Darwin supposes that the Condor breeds only once in two years, that it lays two large white eggs on the bare rock, and that the young are very long in coming to maturity.


(Falcons.) The structure and habits of the Falcons display the highest development of the destructive faculty. The feet are eminently formed for striking and trussing, and the beak for dissecting their prey, which, with scarcely an exception, consists of living animals; and for the pursuit and conquest of these, the birds before us are endowed with vigorous limbs; the wings being for the most part long, dense, and capable of powerful flight, and the feet strong and muscular, and armed with formidable talons. In almost all cases they obtain their prey by the exercise of their own energies, either striking it down upon the wing, or pouncing upon it on the ground: all the vertebrated animals that they can overcome and kill are their victims, though some species are more restricted in their choice than others, and a few even feed upon large insects. In a state of freedom no rapacious bird would eat any other than animal food, and if it were placed in circumstances where this could not be obtained, it would probably die of hunger, rather than voluntarily have recourse to any other diet. Yet the experiments of John Hunter prove that there is no physical impossibility in the case. “That the Hawk-tribe can be made to feed upon bread, I have known," says that distinguished anatomist, " these thirty years; for to a tame Kite I first gave fat, which it ate readily; then tallow and butter; and afterwards small balls of bread rolled in fat or butter; and by decreasing the fat gradually, it at last ate bread alone, and seemed to thrive as well as when fed with meat. Spallanzani attempted in vain to make an Eagle eat bread by itself; but by enclosing the bread in meat, so as to deceive the Eagle, the bread was swallowed and digested in the stomach.”*

The characters of this Family may be thus expressed :—The head is wholly clothed with feathers, except the cere at the base of the beak. The beak is strong, hooked, and, in the more typical genera, furnished with a sharp projection or tooth on each side. The nostrils are more or less rounded, and pierced in the sides of the cere. The eyebrow, in most instances, projects and overhangs the eye; imparting an expression of sternness to the countenance. The outer toe is to some extent connected with the middle toe, and all are armed with strong, very sharp, and much curved talons, the points of which are preserved from injury by a mechanism for elevating them from the surface on which the bird rests; a process analogous to the sheathing of the claws in the Felida. In general the female is much larger than the


* Animal Economy.


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »