« PreviousContinue »
so gorge themselves as, notwithstanding their otherwise extraordinary powers of flight, to be prevented by their weight and consequent stupidity even from rising.
In the West Indies the appearance of these birds is said to foretell the arrival of ships; this indeed is sometimes true, and arises from a very natural cause. They always fish in fine weather; so that when the wind is boisterous out at sea, they retire into the harbors, where they are protected by the land ; and the same wind that blows them in, oftentirnes brings also vessels to seek a retreat from the storm.
Their voice very much resembles the braying of an Ass. In South America they build their nests about the end of Septernber; these are formed of earth, on the ground, and are from one to three feet high. The eggs are as large as those of a goose, and have the singular property of their white not becoming hard by boiling. When attempted to be seized, these birds make a vigorous defence with their bills.
Many of the Indians set a high value on the feathers of these birds; which they use for arrows, as they last much longer than those of any other birds. The natives of the South Sea Islands watch the arrival of the Man-of-war Birds at the rainy season ; and, when they observe them, they launch from their canoes into the water a light float of wood, baited with a sinall fish. When one of the birds approaches it, a man stands l'eady with a pole, about eighteen feet in length; and on its pouncing, he strikes at the bird, and seldom fails of bringing it down. If, however, he miss his aim, he must wait for some other bird, for that will no more be tempted to approach. The cock birls are reckoned the most valuable; and sometimes even a large bog is given in exchange for one of these.
The inhabitants of Kamtschatka make buoys to their nets, of the intestines of the Man-of-war Birds, which they blow up like bladders. They also make tobacco-pipes and needle-cases of the bones of the wings; and use them likewise for heckling the grass, which serves them instead of flax. The flesh is very hard and dry.
THE PELICAN TRIBE IN GENERAL.
In this tribe the bill is long and straight; and the end either hooked, or sloping. The nostrils are placed in a furrow that runs along the sides of the bill, and, in most of the species, they are scarcely perceptible. The face, except in two species, is destitute of feathers The gullet is naked, and capable of great extension. The number of toes is four, and these are all webbed together.
The Pelicans are gregarious; and, in general remarkable for their extremne voracity. They are very expert in seizing fish with their long and apparently unwieldy bills; and many of the species are rendered of use to mankind, by being trained to fishing. In general, they keep out for at sea; but some of them are found occasionally in the interior parts of continents.
THE WHITE, OR GREAT PELICAN.
THE WIIITE, OR GREAT PELICAN.
This Pelican, when full grown, is larger than a Swan. The bill is about sixtee! inches long; and the skin between the sides of the lower mandi. ble is very flaccid and dilatable, extending eight or nine inches down the neck. This skin is bare of feathers, and is capable of containing many quarts of water. The tongue is so small as scarcely to be distinguishable. The sides of the head are naked; and on the back of the head there is a kind of crest. The whole plumage is whitish, suffused with a pale blush color; except some parts of the wings, wbich are black. The legs are lead-colored, and the
WHITE PELICAN. The bag in the lower mandible of the bill of this bird, is one of the most remarkable members that is found in the structure of any ani. mal. Though it wrinkles up nearly into the hollow of the chap, and the sides to which it is attached, are not (in a quiescent state) above an inch asunder, it may be extended to an amazing capacity; and when the bird has tished with success, its size is almost incredible. It will contain a man's head with the greatest ease; and, it has been said, that even a man's leg, with a boot on, has been hidden in one of these pouches. In fishing, the Pelican fills this bag, and does not immediately swallow his prey; but when the bag is full, he returns to the shore to devour at leisure the fruits of his industry. He is not long in digesting his food; for he has generally to fish more than once in the course of a day.
At night, when the toils of the day are over, these birds, which are lazy and indolent when they have glutted themselves with fish, retire a little way on the shore to take their rest for the night. Their attitude in that state is with their head resting against the breast. They remain almost motionless till hunger calls them to break off their repose: thus they pass nearly the whole of their life in eating and sleeping. When thus incited to exertion, they fly from the spot, and, raising themselves thirty or forty feet above the surface of the sea, turn their head with one eye downward, and continue to fy in that position till they see a fish sufficiently near the surface. They then dart down with astonishing swiftness, seize it with unerring certainty, and store it in their pouch. Having done this, they rise again, and continue the same actions till they have procured a competent stock.
Whence it was that the ancients attributed to this stupid bird the admirable qualities and parental affections for which it was celebrated amongst them, I am unable to imagine; unless, struck with its extra. ordinary figure, they were desirous of supplying it with propensities equally extraordinary. For, in truth, the Pelican is one of ihe most heavy, sluggish, and voracious, of all the feathered tribes; and is but ill-fitted to take those vast fights, or to make those cautious provisions, which have been mentioned. It is, however, by no means destitute of natural affection, either
towards its young-ones, or towards others of its own species. Clavigero, in his History of Mexico, says, that sometimes the Americans, in order to procure, without trouble, a supply of fish, cruelly break the wing of a live Pelican, and, after tying the bird to a tree, conceal themselves near the place. The screams of the miserable bird attract other Pelicans to the place, which, he assures us, eject a portion of the provisions from their pouches, for their imprisoned companion. As soon as the men observe this, they rush to the spot, and, after leaving a small quantity for the bird, carry off the remainder.
The female feeds her young. ones with fish macerated for some time in her bag. Labat
informs us, that he caught cwo Pelicans, when very young, and tied them by the leg to a post stuck into the ground, and he had the pleasure of seeing one of the old ones come for several days to feed them, remaining with them the greatest part of the day, and passing the night on the branch of a tree that hung over them. By this means they all three became so familiar as to suffer themselves to be handled; and the young ones always took the fish that he offered to them, storing it first in their bag, and then swallowing it at leisure.
The Pelican has often been rendered domestic; and this writer assures us, that he saw one among the Americans so well trained, that it would, at command, go off in the morning, and return before
THE FRIGATE PELICAN.
night, having its pouch distended with prey; part of which it was made to disgorge, and the rest it was permitted to retain for its trouble.
According to the account of Faber, a Pelican was kept in the court of the Duke of Bavaria above forty years. He says that it seemed fond of being in the company of mankind; and that when any one sang or played on an instrument, it would stand perfectly still, turn its ear to the place, and, with its head stretched out, would seem to pay the utmost attention. We are told that the Emperor Maximilian had a tame Pelican that lived more than eighty years, and always attended his soldiers when on their marches. M. de Saint Pierre mentions his having seen, at Cape Town, a large Pelican playing with a great dog, whose head she often, in her frolic, took into her enormous beak.
When a number of Pelicans and Corvurants are together, they are said to have a very singular method of taking fish. They arrange themselves in a large circle, at soine distance from land; and the Pelicans flap with their extensive wings above, on the surface, while the Corvorants dive beneath : hence the fish contained within the circle are driven before them toward the land ; and as the circle lessens by the birds coming close together, the fish at last are brought into a small compass, when their pursuers find no difficulty in filling their bellies. In this exercise they are often attended by various species of gulls, which likewise obtain a share of the spoil.
THE FRIGATE PELICAN.
The Frigate Pelican, or Man-of-war Bird is chiefly seen on the tropical seas, and generally on the wing. They are abundant in the Island of Ascension, India, Ceylon and China. In the South Sea they are seen about the Marquesas, Easter Isles and New Caledonia, also at Otaheite. Dampier saw them in great plenty in the island of Aves in the West Indies, and they are common off the coast of East Florida, particularly around the reefs or keys, often assembled in flocks of from fifty to a thousand. They are also not uncommon, during summer, along the coasts of the Union as far as South Carolina, and breed in various places, retiring to warmer latitudes on the approach of cool weather.
The Frigate Bird is often seen smoothly gliding through the air, with the motions of a Kite, from one to two hundred leagues from the land, sustaining these vast flights with the greatest apparent ease, sometimes soaring so high as to be scarcely visible, at others approaching the surface of the sea, where, hovering at some distance, it at length espies a fish, and darts upon it with the utmost rapidity, and generally with success, flying upwards again, as quick as it descended. In the same manner it also attacks the Boobies and other marine birds which it obliges to relinquish their prey.
They breed abundantly in the Bahamas, and are said to make their nests on trees, if near: at other times they lay on the rocks; the
eggs one or two, are of a flesh color, marked with crimson spots.
The young birds covered with a greyish-white down, are assid. uously attended by the parents who
are then tame, and easily approached. When alarmed, like Gulls, they as . readily cast up the contents of their pouch, as those birds do of the stom. ach. The gene. ral plumage is brownish - black, with violet re flections, except the wing coverts which have a
rufous tinge. THE CORVORANT. These birds are common on many of our sea-coasts.
They build their nests on the highest parts of the cliffs, that bang over the sea; and lay three or more pale green eggs, about the size of those of a Goose. In winter they disperse along the shores, and visit the fresh waters, where they commit great depredations among the fish. They are remarkably voracious; having a most rapid digestion, promoted perhaps, by an infinite number of small worms which fill their intes. tines. They are very wary, except when they have filled their stomach; but in this case they sometimes become so stupid, that it is easy to take them in a net, or even by ineans of a noose thrown over their heads.
Their smell when alive, is excessively rank and disagreeable; and their flesh is so disgusting, that even the Greenlanders, among whom they are very common, will scarcely eat them.
It is no uncommon 'thing to see, on the rocks of the sea.coast, twenty of these birds together, with extended wings, drying theinselves in the wind; in this position they remain sometimes nearly an hour, without once closing their wings, and, as soon as these are suf