Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

male adult; and the plumage of the young bird often differs greatly from that of mature age; both of which circumstances have tended not a little to introduce confusion into the natural history of this Family. The members composing it are widely scattered over the globe; and several species have been reclaimed, and trained to pursue their game at the command of man. The amusement of falconry occupied a very large share of the attention of Europe during the middle ages.

GENUS AQUILA. (Briss.) We select the Eagles as the representatives of the Falconidæ, not because they possess the family characters in the highest degree of development, a distinction which belongs to the genus Falco, but because their great size and strength, combined with somewhat of grandeur and dignity in their aspect, movements, and habits, have, in all ages and countries, given them a place of high consideration among birds.

This genus is characterized by having the beak somewhat lengthened, somewhat angular above, straight at the base, but much curved towards the tip: the notch or tooth of the upper mandible is almost obliterated; the nostrils are oval, and placed transversely; the cere is somewhat rough; the wings have the fourth and fifth quills the longest; the feet are stout and powerful, the tarsi feathered to the toes; the claws are remarkably strong and curved, the under surface grooved; the hind and outer claws longest.

The Eagles are widely scattered. They are birds of lofty and powerful, but not rapid flight.

From the latter circumstance, they usually prefer to strike their prey on the ground, the weight of their bodies rendering them unfitted for pursuing a flying prey through its quick and tortuous evolutions. They breed in solitude, on the inaccessible crags of precipitous mountains.

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos, Linn.) is the noblest species of the whole Family, for size, strength, and courage. It has been esteemed

[graphic][merged small]

by nations widely separated as the emblem of majesty and power: the might of the Babylonian empire was described under this image in Sacred Prophecy ; * the iron legions of Rome in ancient,

* See Jer. xlviii. 40, xlix. 16 ; Ezek. xvii. 3, &c.

and the veterans of Napoleon in modern times, have fought and conquered beneath their eaglestandards; while at this day the Highland chieftain and the Indian Sagamore alike glory in the eagle's plume as the most honourable ornament with which they can be adorned.

This magnificent bird is about three feet in length; its plumage is of a deep and rich umberbrown, glossed on the back and wings with purple reflections; the feathers of the head and neck are narrow and pointed, of an orange-brown hue, and when shone upon by the sun, have a brilliant, almost golden appearance.

The tail is barred with grey and obscure brown; but, in youth, the basal portion of the tail is white, with the tip dark brown; and in this plumage it has been often described as a distinct species, by the name of the Ring-tailed Eagle.

The Golden Eagle is found throughout the middle and north of Europe, and also in North America : in the highest mountain ranges of our own country it was formerly much more common than it is now; but in the wildest parts of the Scottish Highlands it is still a frequent ornament of their sublime

scenery.

The
ravages

committed among the flocks at lambing time, when the Eagles have young to feed, have, however, made the destruction of these noble birds an object of constant effort. In the three years ending March, 1834, one hundred and seventy one old Eagles, besides fifty-three young and eggs, were destroyed in the county of Sutherland alone, so that their numbers must be rapidly diminishing. In Ireland it appears to be still numerous; and Mr. Thompson enumerates several situations

known as the eyries or breeding-places of this species.

“The eyry,” observes Sir William Jardine, "is placed on the face of some stupendous cliff situated inland; the nest is built on a projecting shelve, or on some stumped tree that grows from the rock, generally in a situation perfectly inaccessible without some artificial means, and often out of the reach of shot either from below or from the top of the precipice. It is composed of dead branches, roots of heather, &c., entangled strongly together, and in considerable quantity, but without any lining in the inside; the eggs are two in number, white, with pale brown or purplish blotches. During the season of incubation, the quantity of food that is procured and brought hither is almost incredible; it is composed of nearly all the inhabitants, or their young, of those wild districts called forests, which, though indicating a wooded region, are often tracts where, for miles around, a tree is not seen. Hares, lambs, and the young of deer and roebuck, grouse, black-game, ptarmigan, curlews, and plovers, all contribute to the feast.”

In the technical language of falconry, the Eagle was considered “ignoble," as not being capable of training for service in that sport. But the following interesting note, by Mr. Thompson, proves that however savage and indocile it may be when caught in adult age, the Eagle is not difficult to be reclaimed, if trained from the nest :-"My friend Richard Langtry, Esq., of Fortwilliam, near Belfast, has at present a Golden Eagle, which is extremely docile and tractable. It was taken last summer from a nest in Invernesshire, and came into his possession about the end of September. This bird at once became attached to its owner, who, after having it about a month, ventured to give it its liberty, a privilege which was not on the Eagle's part abused, as it came to the lure whenever called. It not only permits itself to be handled in any way, but seems to derive pleasure from the application of the hand to its legs and plumage. The Eagle was hooded after the manner of the hunting-hawks for some time, but the practice was abandoned ; and although it may be requisite, if the bird be trained for the chase, hooding is otherwise unnecessary, as it remains quiet and contented for any length of time, and no matter how far carried on its master's arm. It is quite indifferent to the presence of any persons who may be in his company, and is unwilling to leave him even to take a flight, having to be thrown into the air whenever he wishes it to do so. When this Eagle is at large he has only to hold out his arm towards it, which, as soon as perceived, even at a distance, it flies to and perches on. I have seen it thus come to him not less than a dozen times within half an hour, without any food being offered.”*

FAMILY III. STRIGIDÆ.

(Owls.)

With the general structure and anatomy resembling those of the Falconidæ, we find in the birds about to be considered, striking modifications in external characters, fitting them for ac

* Mag. Zool. and Bot, ii. 46.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »