The Flamingo

Is not this a beautiful bird, though rather singular in its appearance?

To see it in perfection we should have to travel at least as far as

Sardinia, and possibly to Africa, its native country. Observe its

wonderfully long and slender legs. They are so formed as to enable it to

wade into morasses, or even rivers, in quest of food, but it can also

swim, when so disposed, being perfectly web-footed. The beak of the

flamingo is not less remarkable than its legs, and it seems puzzling,

until we know the truth, how the bird can gather up its food from mud

and water, with that awkward turned-in bill. But the fact is, that the

flamingo feeds very differently to other birds, turning the back of its

head to the ground, and spooning up the mud or water in which it finds

its sustenance with the upper mandible. It is able to do this very

easily from the unusual length of its neck, and the beak is provided

with the means of filtering the mud, as I told you that of the duck is

also. But in this instance the apparatus provided is said to act more

like the whalebone sieve possessed by the whale. The brilliant plumage

of the flamingo is very beautiful. M. de la Marmora, in his "Voyage to

Sardinia," speaks in great admiration of the effect produced by a flock

of flamingoes in the air. These birds are gregarious--that is, they live

in large companies, and when returning from Africa to the borders of a

lake, which is one of their favourite haunts, near Cagliari, all the

inhabitants are attracted by the splendour of their appearance. Like a

triangular band of fire in the air, they gradually come onwards, until

within sight of the lake. Poised on the wing for an instant, they hang

motionless over the end of their weary flight; then, by a slow circular

movement, they trace a spiral descent and range themselves like a line

of soldiers in battle array upon the borders of the lake. But no one

dares approach them more nearly, for the air from the lake is at this

season, though perfectly harmless to the flamingo, deadly poison to a

human creature.

Taught by God, the flamingo has, however, another means of security than

the malaria from the intrusion which its brilliant colouring would be

sure to draw upon it. In other respects, besides its red coat, it has

been compared to the soldier. When feeding or resting (which they do on

one leg, the other drawn up close to the body, and the head under the

wing), the flamingoes are drawn up in lines, and sentinels, very

watchful ones too, are placed to guard these shy and cautious birds. At

the first appearance of danger, the sentinel flamingo utters a loud cry,

much resembling the sound of a trumpet, upon which the whole flock

instantly takes flight, and always in the form of a triangle.

Do not you think sitting on her eggs must be rather cramping work for

the flamingo with those long legs? But I will tell you how cleverly she

contrives. Instead of building a nest on the ground, where she would

find it impossible to cower closely enough over her eggs to keep them

warm, the flamingo heaps up a hill of earth so high, that she can sit

comfortably upon it with her long legs dangling, one on each side. At

the top is a hollow just large enough to hold her two or three white

eggs. A full-grown flamingo stands between five and six feet high. There

is another species of this bird much smaller, called the little

flamingo. The Romans ate these birds, and Heliogabalus, the profane

Emperor, delighted in a dish of their tongues, which are large,

considering the size of the bird. In modern times, however, the flesh is

rejected as fishy, but the feathers are highly valued.

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