The Eagle





The Eagle is often called the King of Birds, and therefore it is of him

that we ought to speak first. Very likely you have often seen eagles in

the Zoological Gardens, and, if so, you know what noble looking birds

they are. But they seem very sad in their prison-houses, to which no

kindness can ever attach them. They are formed to soar boldly to the top

of some lonely mountain height, and there dwell far from the abode of

men. And to chain them down upon a stunted branch, within reach of all

who like to go and gaze upon them, seems treating them unworthily. One

can almost fancy that they show by their sullen, brooding attitude, and

sparkling eyes, how much they feel themselves degraded and out of place.

I cannot tell you that the Eagle is of any real service to man, but

every one who has been out amongst the mountains, reckons it a fine

sight if he can catch a glimpse of one or more of these noble birds

soaring in the air. Eagles are found in every country where there are

mountains. In Ireland, and sometimes in England and Scotland, the large

golden eagle is found, and is a very fine bird. In America there is an

eagle called the Bird of Washington, which is so large that its wings

spread out from seven to ten feet. The body of the bird is not so very

much larger than a goose; but, as this eagle can fly as many as 140

miles in an hour, it wants very large strong wings to bear it onwards.

The North American Indians--you have heard of them, have you not?--fine

handsome looking men they are, though copper-coloured; and in former

times before Columbus first found out America, the whole of that vast

continent belonged to the Indians and had no other inhabitants;--well,

these men have a great feeling of reverence for the eagle. They admire

him very much, because he is bold, active, watchful, and patient in

bearing with want. All these qualities the Indians value in men, and

they say the eagle is noble above all birds because he possesses them.

But for all that they kill him, and will watch for days to get a chance

of shooting their prize. And they think his feathers the very finest

ornament they can wear, and on grand occasions the chiefs deck

themselves with eagles' plumes as a sign of their rank. These feathers

are also used by them in making arrows. For the feathers of the eagle do

not get spoiled by wet or pressure, as those of other birds would do,

but always remain firm and strong.



Another eagle is called the Erne, White-tailed, or Sea Eagle. These

birds live near the sea-shore, and feed upon fish. Their sight is so

piercing that they can mark a fish swimming far below them as they hover

over the water, and, pouncing down, will strike their strong talons into

it, and steer themselves and their prey ashore by their great outspread

wings. The African Eagle is said to be very generous in his disposition,

and certainly deserves to be called kingly. Although he will not allow

any large bird to dwell in peace too near him, yet he never harms the

little warblers who flutter round his nest. He will let them perch in

safety upon it, and if they are attacked by any bird of prey, he is said

even to fly to their protection.



The eagle is, however, himself a bird of prey, and is often found a very

troublesome neighbour. Hares, rabbits, poultry, nay, even lambs have

been carried off by these powerful birds, for when excited by hunger

they will attack even those creatures which are larger than themselves.

Deer and even oxen have been pounced upon by eagles and buffeted about

the head until they fell down quite helpless, but there are not many

instances of this kind. We are also told of little children who have

been carried up into their nests by the old birds as food for their

young; and one very old story of the kind, taken from an old book in

English history, I must tell you. "Alfred, king of the West Saxons, went

out one day a hunting, and, passing by a certain wood, heard as he

supposed the cry of an infant, from the top of a tree, and forthwith

diligently inquiring of the huntsmen what that doleful sound could be,

commanded one of them to climb the tree, when in the top of it was found

an eagle's nest, and lo! therein a pretty sweet-faced infant, wrapped up

in a purple mantle, and upon each arm a bracelet of gold, a clear sign

that he was born of noble parents. Whereupon the king took charge of

him, and caused him to be baptized, and because he was found in a nest,

he gave him the name of Nestringam, and in after time, having nobly

educated him, he advanced him to the dignity of an earl."



Eagles are said to be very long lived; one died at Vienna that had lived

in confinement more than one hundred years. Their cry consists of two

notes, uttered in a loud sharp key. They make a flat nest, formed of

loose sticks, on the top of some solitary rock where they are not likely

to be disturbed, and lay two eggs. Whilst the young are not able to fly,

they are carefully fed by the parent birds, who are then more fierce

than usual, and forage everywhere for food, carrying off fawns, lambs,

hares, &c., never, if possible, touching any animal already dead. Smith,

in his history of Kerry, a county in Ireland, tells us of a poor man

then living there, who got "a comfortable subsistence for his family

during a summer of famine, out of an eagle's nest, by robbing the

eaglets of the food the old ones brought." And lest he should lose this

supply too soon, he was clever enough to cut the wings of the young

birds when they were old enough to fly, so that the unsuspecting parents

went on feeding them much longer than usual. Mr. Dunn says he once saw,

while shooting on Rona's Hill, a pair of skua gulls chase and completely

beat off a large sea eagle. The gulls struck at him several times, and

at each stroke he screamed loudly, but never offered to return the

assault.





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