Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the brush is about the size of a sheep; and the wallabi is rather larger than a cat. Those curious little animals, the kangaroo rat, and the kangaroo mouse, are diminutive kangaroos of nocturnal habits. The latter is but a trifle larger than the common English mouse, whence its name. There is another kind of kangaroo, resembling the brush in size, but with the singular appendage of a nail like that on the finger of a man attached to its tail. The skins of the kangaroos are tanned for leather, and used with the hair on for making rugs and other articles.

The wombat, an awkward, hobbling, shortlegged animal, burrows in the ground, lives principally on grass and leaves, and is nocturnal in its habits, sleeping by day and feeding at night. The bandicoot, or pouched badger, is also a burrowing, nocturnal marsupial, with a rat-like body, and a swinish face.

Of opossums there are two varieties, the bush-tail and the ring-tail. They are

noc

turnal in their habits, feed principally on the leaves of gum-trees and grass, live in the hollows of gum-trees, and are remarkable for possessing a flexile toe on each of their feet, which, as regards motion, is almost a perfect thumb. The average size of their bodies is that of a small rabbit; their skins are clothed in soft grey hairs, and their heads in conformation resemble those of the rat. The tail of the ring-tail variety is long and pointed, and used by the animal as a kind of fifth foot or hand. After hanging by this from the bough of a tree, and, for a time, oscillating like a pendulum, the opossum will quit its hold, and swing over a distance of several yards to another bough. The animal will also pick up food with its tail which it then curls under its belly, and presents to its mouth in a most curious manner.

Besides the foregoing, all of which are marsupial animals, there are several varieties of squirrels, and also native cats, spotted like a leopard, some with white, and some with yellow spots. The dingo, or native dog, although Australian, is supposed to be originally an intruder. Perhaps the most singular Australian animal is the duck-billed platypus (ornithorhyncus paradoxus) which combines in its nature beast, bird, and fish. This curious creature has a body but a trifle larger than a guinea-pig, thickly coated with dirty-brown hair. It has the head of a mole, the bill of a duck, and webbed feet; the fore-feet being armed with spurs which are said to be poisonous. It lays eggs like the duck, hatches them in the same manner, and then suckles the young like the mole. It is very shy, and leads a burrowing life in the mud of rivers and swamps.

Birds are numerous, the plumage of many is very beautiful, but few have melodious notes.

The emu, in size, form and habits, is closely allied to the ostrich; its covering, however, is more wiry or hair like, and its wings and tail are shorter, and destitute of those valuable feathers with which the ostrich is adorned. It is swift in flight, and very wild. The flesh is coarse, but eatable ; the eggs are of a deep green colour, and rather larger than those of the swan. The black swan is a noble bird, producing the most beautiful white swans down. The whole of its plumage is of a rich silky black except the breast and partly under the wings, which are of a snowy white colour.

Some of the feathered tribe are remarkable for the singularity of their notes. The jay, or laughing jackass, startles the traveller with its wild ha---ha; the coachman, or whip-bird, has a note resembling the crack of a whip; the bell-birds, little creatures about the size of sparrows, with green bodies, and yellow bills and legs, ring out a peel as lively as the village chimes; the razor-grinder, poised a few feet in the air, produces a whizzing sound, that might be taken for a cutler grinding up his wares; and the wild silvery tones of the æolian harp are brought to mind by the notes of the magpies, which in the hills are very numerous.

I have a pet magpie that I brought to England with me; it is as tame as a cat, and mischievous as a monkey, destroying or hiding anything it can ; it whistles several tunes, sings beautifully, and talks like a parrot. Of the commoner native birds may be mentioned, guse ; several varieties of ducks, some very beautiful; pelicans; cormorants; herons; nankeen birds ; storks; large white spoon-bills; teal; gorgeous coots, with bright blue and vermilion coloured plumage ; pigeons, the handsome bronze-winged, and other varieties; wild turkeys or bustards, fine birds, weighing 16lbs. or 18lbs each ; native partridges or quails; native pheasants ; snipes, as large as woodcocks; water hens, as small as black-birds ; crows, like those of England, but with a note more mournful ; white pail-cranes, that chatter like monkeys, and build curious acorn-shaped nests; curlews, speckled black, white, and brown; plovers, two varieties ; larks, that neither sing, nor

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »