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The Kestrel

This picture represents the kestrel, one of the smallest and most

beautiful of hawks. The hawk is a bird of prey, feeding on small birds,

chickens and mice. In order to secure his prey the hawk holds himself

suspended, as it were, in the air on his wide spread wings, until he

sees a favourable opportunity, and then suddenly pounces down upon his

victim. Other birds well know the predatory habits of the hawk, and when

e appears in sight they fly with loud screams of fear. Little chickens

throw themselves upon their backs, if one hovers over the poultry yard,

from some instinctive notion of defending themselves with their feet,

whilst all the hens shriek in concert, and prepare for a desperate

defence. But though so great an enemy of young poultry, a singular

instance is recorded of a hawk, which not only sat upon the eggs of a

common fowl, but even attended with great care to the little ones when

they were hatched.

Many of the different kinds of hawk were used in olden times for a sport

called hawking. That is, they were trained to fly at game and return

with it to their masters. Large gay parties of ladies and gentlemen used

then to go out on horseback with their hawks for a day's sport, just as

now they go for a pic-nic, or a day in the woods. This was before guns

were used. But to this day hawking is practised in China, where the

emperor goes on "sporting excursions with his grand falconer and a

thousand of inferior rank; every bird having a silver plate fastened to

its foot, with the name of the falconer who has the charge of it." The

bird used on these occasions is the species known as the Gos-hawk, which

was always with us most highly esteemed in falconry. These birds were

carried on the wrist, bells were hung to their legs, and their heads

were hooded or covered until the moment came for letting them fly at the

game. Whilst under training a string was fastened to them that they

might be "reclaimed," as it was called, at the pleasure of their owners.

The person, who carried the hawk, wore gloves to protect his hand from

the sharp talons of the bird. The kestrel migrates in autumn, going away

at the same time with the larks, which are its favourite food.

The Sparrow-hawk is a larger and fiercer bird, and the one that preys

most frequently on chickens. A gentleman once missed a great many

chickens from his poultry yard, and, after a little careful watching,

he found the plunderer was none other than a large, hungry Sparrow-hawk.

To catch the thief, he ordered a net to be hung up in such a way that

the hawk in his next visit could not fail to be entangled. The net was

hung, the thief was caught, and, in order to punish the murderer as he

deserved, the gentleman gave him over to the tender mercies of the brood

hens whose families he had desolated. That he might be helpless in their

hands, his wings and talons were cut, and a cork was put on his beak.

The cries and screams of the bereaved mothers were said, by Mr. White,

the charming naturalist of Selborne, to be wonderfully expressive of

rage, fear, and revenge; they flew upon him in a body, they

"upbraided--they execrated--they insulted--they triumphed--in a word

they never desisted from buffeting their adversary until they had torn

him in a hundred pieces."

The Hawk is very bold. Mr. P. John tells of one that he found calmly

plucking the feathers of a large pigeon on the drawing-room floor,

having followed the poor bird through the open window into the room and

there killed it. And another actually chased a pigeon through the glass

of his "drawing-room window, out at the other end of the house through

another window, not at all scared by the clattering of the broken