Animal Biography

Animal Biography:
Water Birds














English Index

Systematic Index




The general conformation of the Aquatic Birds, exhibits fully the fitness of their destination to that element in or near which their lives are entirely spent. The body of the Swimmers is arched beneath, and bulged like the hulk of a ship; and this figure was perhaps copied in the first construction of vessels: their neck, which rises on a projecting breast, represents the prow; their short tail, collected into a single bunch, serves as a rudder; their broad and palmated feet perform the office of oars; and their thick down glistening with oil (which entirely invests them) is impenetrable by humidity, and at the same time enables them to float more lightly on the surface of the water. The habits and economy of these birds correspond also with their organization: they never seem happy but in their appropriate element; they are averse to alight on the land; and the least roughness of the ground hurts their soles, which are softened by the perpetual bathing. The water is to them the scene of pleasure and repose; where all their motions are performed with facility, and where their various evolutions are traced with elegance and grace. View the Swans moving sweetly along, or sailing majestically with expanded plumage upon the wave! they gaily sport: they dive and again emerge with gentle undulations, and soft energy; II.444 expressive of those sentiments which are the foundation of love.

The life of Aquatic Birds is, therefore, more peaceful and less laborious than that of most other tribes. Smaller force is required in swimming than in flying; and the element which they inhabit perpe­tually yields them subsistence: they rather meet with their prey than search for it; and often a friendly wave conveys it within their reach, and they seize it without trouble or fatigue. Their dispositions also are more harmless, and their habits more pacific. Each species congregates, through mutual attachment. They never attack their companions, nor destroy other birds; and, in this great and amicable nation, the strong seldom oppress the weak.

Most of these birds have a keen appetite, and are furnished with corresponding weapons. Many species have the inner edges of their bill serrated with sharp indentings, the better to secure their prey; almost all of them are more voracious than the Land Birds; and there are some, as the Ducks and Gulls, which devour indiscriminately carrion and entrails.

This numerous class may be divided into two great families: such as swim, and have palmated and webbed feet; and such as haunt the shores, and have divided feet. The latter are differently shaped, their body being slender and tall: and as their feet are not webbed, they cannot dive nor rest on the water; they therefore keep near the brink, and, wading with their tall legs among the shallows, they search, by means of their long neck and bill, for their subsistence among the smaller fish, or in the mud. II.445 They are a sort of amphibious animals; that occupy the limits between the land and the water, and connect the gradations in the scale of existence.

Thus the aërial inhabitants consist of three divisions, which have each their separate abode. Some are appointed by nature to reside on the land; others are destined to sail on the water; and to an intermediate tribe, the confines of these two elements have been allotted.⁕1

⁕1 Buffon.

Notes and Corrections: Water Birds

The term “water birds” conflates at least four different, unrelated groups. On one side are ducks and geese: infraclass Galloanserae, which gave us chickens and quails, has a second order, Anseri­formes (“goose-type things”), whose main family is Anatidae (“duck-type things”). On the other side are gulls, cranes and herons, each in a different order on the Neoaves (“modern birds”) side.

Their dispositions also are more harmless, and their habits more pacific.
[Inquiring minds want to know: Has the Rev. Mr. Bingley ever met an irate swan?]

engraving of Crane, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Appendix plate 6:


The different species of Heron are very numerous, amounting in the whole to nearly a hundred. They are found in various parts of the world, but chiefly in the temperate and hot climates. Several of them are migratory. They have long feet and necks, and live almost wholly on amphibious animals and fishes.

The characters of the tribe are: a long, strong and sharp-pointed bill; linear nostrils, and pointed tongue: toes connected by a membrane as far as II.446 the first joint; and the middle claw, in some of the Species, pectinated.

⁕1 The Order Waders commences with this tribe.—In these the bill is somewhat cylindrical. The thighs are feathered only half-way to the knees; and the legs are longish, and formed for walking. The chief genera are the Herons, Plovers, Snipes, and Sandpipers.—They live for the most part among marshes and fens; feeding on worms, and other animal productions that they meet with there; they form their nests on the ground; and live, some in pairs, and others promiscuously. Their flesh is generally reckoned delicate eating.

Notes and Corrections: The Heron Tribe

Herons and egrets are family Ardeidae within order Ciconiiformes (“stork-type things”); storks are predictably family Ciconiidae in the same order. Cranes, on the other hand, are family Gruidae in order Gruiformes, the same order as the bustards and trumpeters we met earlier. Everything else listed in the footnote—gulls, plovers, sand­pipers and so on—is yet a third order, shorebirds or Charadrii­formes (“curlew-type things”).

engraving of Common Crane, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 40:
Common Crane


This is a large bird, measuring upwards of five feet in length. The bill is above four inches long. The plumage is, in general, ash-coloured: but the forehead is black; and the sides of the head, behind the eyes, and the hind part of the neck, are white; on the upper part of the neck there is a bare ash-coloured space of two inches; and above this the skin is bare and red, with a few scattered hairs. Some parts about the wings are blackish: from the pinion of each wing springs an elegant tuft of loose feathers, curled at the ends; which may be erected at will, but which in a quiescent state hangs over and covers the tail. The legs are black.

This species is met with in numerous flocks in all the northern parts of Europe. We are told that they make their nests in marshes, and lay two blueish eggs. They feed on reptiles of all kinds, and on some kinds of vegetables: while the corn is green, they are said to make such havock as to ruin the farmers, wherever the flocks alight.

They are migratory; returning northward to breed in the spring, (where they generally make choice of the places which they occupied the preceding season,) and in the winter inhabiting the warmer regions of Egypt and India.⁕1

engraving of Crane, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 29:


The Cranes fly very high; and arrange themselves in the form of a triangle, the better to cleave the air. When the wind freshens, and threatens to break their ranks, they collect their force into a circle; and they adopt the same disposition when the Eagle attacks them. Their migratory voyages are chiefly performed in the night; but their loud screams betray their course. During these nocturnal expeditions the leader frequently calls to rally his forces, and point out the track; and the cry is repeated by the flock, each answering, to give notice that it follows and keeps its rank.

Part loosely wing the region: part more wise,

In common, rang’d in figure, wedge their way,

Intelligent of seasons; and set forth

Their airy caravan, high over seas

Flying, and over lands with mutual wing

Easing their flight——So steers the prudent Crane

Her annual voyage, borne on winds; the air

Floats as they pass, fann’d with unnumber’d plumes.

The flight of the Crane is always supported uniformly, though it is marked by different inflections: and these variations have even been observed to indicate the change of weather; a sagacity that may well be allowed to a bird, which, by the vast height to which it soars, is enabled to perceive the distant alterations and motions in the atmosphere. The cries of the Cranes, during the day, forebode rain; and their noisy tumultuous screams announce a storm. If, in a morning or evening, they rise upwards, and fly peacefully in a body, it is a sign of fine weather; II.448 but if they keep low, or alight on the ground, this menaces a tempest.

Like all other large birds (except the rapacious tribe), the Crane has much difficulty in commencing its flight. It runs a few steps; opens its wings; mounts a little way; and then, having a clear space, it displays its vigorous and rapid pinions.

When the Cranes are assembled on the ground, they are said to set guards during the night; and the circumspection of these birds has been consecrated in the ancient hieroglyphics, as the symbol of vigilance.

According to Kolben, they are often observed in large flocks on the marshes about the Cape of Good Hope. He says, he never saw a flock of them on the ground that had not some placed,—apparently as sentinels, to keep a look out, while the others were feeding; and these, on the approach of danger, immediately gave notice to the rest. These sentinels stand on one leg; and, at intervals, stretch out their necks, as if to observe that all is safe. On notice being given of danger, the whole flock are in an instant on the wing. Kolben even tells us, that in the night-time each of the watching Cranes, which rest on their left legs, “hold in the right claw a stone of considerable weight; in order that, if overcome by sleep, the falling of the stone may awake them!”⁕2

Cranes are seen in France in the spring and autumn; but are, for the most part, merely passengers. We are told that they formerly visited the marshes II.449 of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire in vast flocks: but none have of late been met with.—The flesh is black, tough, and bad.

Synonyms.—Ardea Grus. Linn.—Grue. Buff.——Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. ii. App. tab. 6.

⁕1 Latham.

⁕2 Kolben, ii. 141.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Crane

Ardea grus has been promoted to its own genus and is now Grus grus, the flagship of family Gruidae and order Gruiformes.

Part loosely wing the region
[Bingley may have forgotten that he quoted this same passage—Paradise Lost, VII.425-32—earlier, in his preliminary discussion of Birds. This time he goes on a little longer.]

Kolben even tells us
[Kolben’s two-volume Account of the Cape of Good Hope doesn’t seem to exist online. But I would not be surprised to learn that the final exclamation point is Bingley’s editorial addition, indicating that he is not absolutely certain he believes his source.]

engraving of Stork, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 32:


The length of the White Stork is about three feet. The bill is nearly eight inches long, and of a fine red colour. The plumage is wholly white; except the orbits of the eyes, which are bare and blackish: some of the feathers on the side of the back and on the wings are black. The skin, the legs, and the bare part of the thighs, are red.

This species is semi-domestic: haunting towns and cities; and in many places stalking unconcernedly about the streets, in search of offal and other food. They remove the noxious filth, and clear the fields of Serpents and Reptiles. On this account they are protected in Holland, and held in high veneration by the Mahomedans: and so greatly respected were they in times of old by the Thessalians, that to kill one of these birds was a crime expiable only by death.

Bellonius tells us that “the Storks visit Egypt in such abundance, that the fields and meadows are white with them. Yet the Egyptians are not displeased with this sight; as Frogs are generated in such numbers there, that, did not the Storks devour them, they would over-run every thing. Besides, they also catch and eat Serpents. Between Belba and Gaza, the fields or Palestine are often desert on account of the abundance of Mice and Rats; and, II.450 were they not destroyed, the inhabitants could have no harvest.”

The disposition of the Stork is mild, neither shy nor savage: it is an animal easily tamed; and may be trained to reside in gardens, which it will clear of insects and reptiles. It has a grave air, and a mournful visage: yet, when roused by example, it shews a certain degree of gaiety; for it joins the frolics of children, hopping and playing with them: “I saw in a garden (says Dr. Hermann) where the children were playing at hide-and-seek, a tame Stork join the party; run its turn when touched; and distinguish the child whose turn it was to pursue the rest, so well, as, along with the others, to be on its guard.”

To this bird the ancients ascribed many of the moral virtues; as temperance, conjugal fidelity, and filial and paternal piety. The manners of the Stork are such as were likely to attract peculiar attention from them. It bestows much time and care on the education of its young, and does not leave them till they have strength sufficient for defence and support. When they begin to flutter out of the nest, the mother bears them on her wings; she protects them from danger, and will sometimes perish rather than forsake them. A celebrated story is current in Holland: that when the city of Delft was on fire, a female Stork in vain attempted several times to carry off her young ones; and finding that she was unable to effect their escape, suffered herself to be burned with them.

The following anecdote affords a singular instance of sagacity in this bird:—A wild Stork was brought II.451 by a farmer, in the neighbourhood of Hamburgh, into his poultry-yard, to be the companion of a tame one he had long kept there; but the tame Stork disliking a rival, fell upon the poor stranger, and beat him so unmercifully, that he was compelled to take wing, and with some difficulty escaped. About four months afterwards, however, he returned to the poultry-yard, recovered of his wounds; and attended by three other Storks, who no sooner alighted than they all together fell upon the tame Stork and killed him.⁕1

Storks are birds of passage, and observe great exactness in the time of their autumnal departure from Europe to more favourite climates. They pass a second summer in Egypt and the marshes of Barbary: in the former country they pair; and lay again, and educate a second brood. Before each of their migrations, they rendezvous in amazing numbers. They are for a while much in motion among themselves; and after making several short excursions, as if to try their wings, all on a sudden take flight with great silence, and with such speed, as in a moment to be out of sight.

Where the Rhine loses its majestic force

In Belgian plains,—won from the raging deep

By diligence amazing, and the strong

Unconquerable hand of Liberty,—

The Stork-assembly meets; for many a day

Consulting deep and various, ere they take

Their arduous voyage thro’ the liquid sky.

And now, their route design’d, their leaders chose,


Their tribes adjusted, clean’d their vigorous wings;

And many a circle, many a short essay,

Wheel’d round and round; in congregation full

The figured flight ascends, and riding high

Th’ aërial billows, mixes with the clouds.

These birds are seldom seen farther north than Sweden: and though they have scarcely ever been met with in England, they are so common in Holland as to build every where on the tops of the houses, where the good-natured inhabitants provide boxes for them to make their nests in; and are careful that the birds suffer no injury, always resenting this as an offence committed against themselves. Storks are also common at Aleppo; and in plenty at Seville, in Spain. At Bagdad, hundreds of their nests are said to be seen about the houses, walls, and trees; and at Persepolis, or Chilmanar, in Persia, the remains of the pillars serve them to build on, “every pillar having a nest on it.”⁕2

During their migrations, they are seen in vast flocks. Shaw saw three flights of them leaving Egypt, and passing over Mount Carmel, each half a mile in breadth; and he says they were three hours in passing over.

Synonyms.—Ardea Ciconia. Linn.—Cigogne Blanche. Buff.

⁕1 Letters on Italy, by Mariana Starke, ii. 153.

⁕2 Fryer’s Travels.

Notes and Corrections: The White Stork

Ardea ciconia, the European white stork, has been promoted to its own genus and is now Ciconia ciconia, flagship of family Ciconiidae and order Ciconiiformes.

I saw in a garden (says Dr. Hermann) where the children were playing at hide-and-seek
[Dr. Hermann, are you sure the children weren’t in fact playing tag?]

Where the Rhine loses its majestic force
[Thomson’s Seasons: Autumn 849-61.]

engraving of Common Heron, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 61:


This species, which is very frequent in these kingdoms, is about three feet three inches in length. The II.453 bill is six inches long, and of a dusky colour. The feathers of the head are long, and form an elegant crest. The neck is white; the fore part marked with a double row of black spots. The general colour of the plumage is a blue grey; with the bastard wing, and greater quills, black. The middle of the back is almost bare, and covered by the loose feathers of the scapulars; the feathers of the neck also hang loose over the breast. On each side, under the wing they are black. The legs are of a dirty green, and the inner edge of the middle claw is serrated.

The female has no crest, and the feathers on the breast are short.

engraving of Heron, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 37:

Of all the birds that are known, this is one of the most formidable enemies to the scaly tribe. There is, in fresh waters, scarcely a fish, however large, that the Heron will not strike at and wound, though unable to carry it off: but the smaller fry are his chief subsistence; these, pursued by their larger fellows of the deep, are obliged to take refuge in shallow waters, where they find the Heron a still more formidable enemy. His method is to wade as far as he can go into the water, and there patiently wait the approach of his prey; into which, when it comes within his sight, he darts his bill with inevitable aim. Willughby says he has seen a Heron that had no fewer than seventeen Carp in his belly at once; these he would digest in six or seven hours, and then go to fishing again. “I have seen a Carp (he continues) taken out of a Heron’s belly, nine inches and a half long. Some gentlemen who kept tame Herons, to try what quantity one of them would eat in a day, II.454 have put several smaller Roach and Dace in a tub; and they have found him eat fifty in a day, one day with another. In this manner a single Heron will destroy fifteen hundred Store Carp in a single half year.⁕1

The Heron, though he usually takes his prey by wading into the water, frequently also catches it while on wing: but this is only in shallow waters, where he is able to dart with more certainty than in the deeps; for in this case, though the fish does, at the first sight of its enemy, descend, yet the Heron, with his long bill and legs, instantly pins it to the bottom, and thus seizes it securely. In this manner, after having been seen with its long neck for above a minute under water, he will rise upon the wing with a Trout or an Eel struggling in his bill. The greedy bird, however, flies to the shore, scarcely gives it time to expire, but swallows it whole, and then returns again to his fishing.

Heron-hawking was formerly a favourite diversion in this kingdom; and a penalty of twenty shillings was incurred by any person taking the eggs of this bird. Its flesh was also in former times much esteemed, being valued at an equal rate with that of the Peacock.

In breeding-time the Herons unite together in large societies, and build in the highest trees. Sometimes as many as eighty have been seen in one tree. The nest is made of sticks, and lined with a few rushes and wool, or feathers. The eggs are four or five in number, and of a pale-green colour.


If taken young, these birds may be tamed; but when the old birds are captured, they soon pine away, refusing every kind of nourishment.

The different parts in the structure of the Heron, are admirably adapted to its mode of life. It has long legs for the purpose of wading: a long neck, answerable to these, to reach its prey in the water; and a wide throat to swallow it. Its toes are long, and armed with strong hooked talons; one of which is serrated on the edge, the better to retain the fish. The bill is long and sharp: having serratures towards the point, which stand backwards; these, after the prey is struck, act like the barbs of a fish-hook, in detaining it till the bird has time to seize it with the claws. Its broad, large, concave, and apparently heavy wings for so small a body, are of great use in enabling it to carry its load to the nest, which is sometimes at a great distance. Dr. Derham tells us, that he has seen lying scattered under the trees of a large heronry, fishes several inches in length, which must have been conveyed by the birds from the distance of several miles: and D’Acre Barret, Esq. the owner of this heronry, saw a large Eel that had been conveyed thither by one of them, notwithstanding the inconvenience that it must have experienced from the fish writhing and twisting about.

The body of the Heron is very small, and always lean; and the skin is said to be scarcely thicker than what is called goldbeater’s-skin. It is very probable that this bird is capable of long abstinence; as its usual food, which is fish and reptiles, cannot be had at all times.⁕2

Synonyms.—Ardea Cinerea. Linn.—Heron. Buff.—Heron-shaw. Montagu.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 61.

⁕1 Willughby, p. 23.

⁕2 Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. 422.

Notes and Corrections: The Common Heron

Ardea cinerea, the grey heron, still has that binomial. As such, it is the flagship of subfamily Ardeinae and family Ardeidae in order Ciconiiformes.


engraving of Gigantic Crane, no later than 1827

Latham Supplement plate 115:
Gigantic Crane


This is a large species; measuring, from tip to tip of the wings, nearly fifteen feet. The bill is of a vast size, nearly triangular, and sixteen inches round at the base. The head and neck are naked, except a few straggling curled hairs. The feathers of the back and wings are of a bluish ash-colour, and very stout: those of the breast are long. The craw hangs down the fore-part of the neck like a pouch. The belly is covered with a dirty-white down; and the upper part of the back and shoulders are surrounded with the same. The legs and half the thighs are naked; and the naked parts are full three feet in length.

The Gigantic Crane is an inhabitant of Bengal and Calcutta, and is sometimes found on the coast of Guinea. It arrives in the internal parts of Bengal before the period of the rains, and retires as soon as the dry season commences. Its aspect is filthy and disgusting, yet it is one of the most useful birds of these countries, in clearing them of Snakes and noxious reptiles and insects. It seems to finish the work begun by the Jackal and Vulture: they clearing away the flesh of animals, and these birds removing the bones by swallowing them entire.—They sometimes feed on fish: and one of them will generally devour as much as would serve four men. On II.457 opening the body of a Gigantic Crane, a Land Tortoise ten inches long, and a large black male Cat, were found entire within it; the former in the craw, and the latter in its stomach.—Being altogether undaunted at the sight of mankind, they are soon rendered familiar; and when fish or other food are thrown to them, they catch them very nimbly, and immediately swallow them whole.⁕1

The Indians believe these Cranes invulnerable, and that they are animated by the souls of the Brahmins. They are held in the highest veneration both by the Indians and Africans. Mr. Ives, in attempting to kill some of them with his gun, missed his shot several times; which the by-standers observed with the greatest satisfaction, telling him triumphantly, that he might shoot at them as long as he pleased, but he would never be able to kill them.

There seems no doubt that this is the species mentioned by Mr. Smeathman, as being seen by him in Africa. He describes it as full seven feet high, and appearing at a distance not unlike a grey-headed man: on the middle of the neck before was a long conic membrane, like a bladder, covered very sparingly with short down, and rising or falling as the animal moved its beak, but always appearing inflated.

These birds are found in companies; and when seen at a distance, near the mouths of rivers, coming towards an observer (which they do with their wings extended), it is said that they may easily be mistaken for canoes on the surface of a smooth sea: II.458 and when on the sand-banks, for men and women picking up shell-fish on the beach.

A young bird of this kind, about five feet in height, was brought up tame, and presented to the Chief of the Bananas, where Mr. Smeathman lived; and soon became perfectly familiar. It regularly attended the hall at dinner-time; placing itself behind its master’s chair, frequently before any of the guests entered. The servants were obliged to watch it carefully, and to defend the provisions by beating it off with sticks; yet, notwithstanding every precaution, it would frequently snatch off something from the table. It one day purloined a whole boiled fowl, which it swallowed in an instant.

It used to fly about the island, and roost very high among the silk-cotton trees: from this station, at the distance of two or three miles, it could see when the dinner was carried across the court; when, darting down, it would arrive early enough to enter with some of those who carried in the dishes.

When sitting, it was observed always to rest itself on the whole length of the hind-part of the leg. It sometimes stood in the room for half an hour after dinner; turning its head alternately, as if listening to the conversation.

Its courage was not equal to its voracity: for a child of eight or ten years old was able to put it to flight; though it would seem at first to stand on the defensive, by threatening with its enormous bill widely extended, and crying out with a loud hoarse voice.

It preyed on small quadrupeds, birds, and reptiles; II.459 and though it would destroy poultry, it never dared openly to attack a Hen with her young. It was known to swallow a Cat whole; and a bone or a shin-of-beef being broken, served it but for two morsels.

Synonyms.—Ardea Dubia. Linn.—Argil, or Hargal. Ives.—Boorong, Cambing, Booring-volar. Marsden.—Argali, Pokkee. Bosman.—Gigantic Crane. Latham.——Latham’s Synopsis, vol. iii.

⁕1 Bosman, 233.—Penn. Outlines, ii. 156.

Notes and Corrections: The Gigantic Crane

skip to next section

If Ardea dubia was intended to mean “I’m not really sure this is a crane at all”, you can see Linnaeus’s point. It is now Leptoptilos dubius, not a crane or heron but a stork, family Ciconiidae. Its everyday name is “greater adjutant”.

There seems no doubt that this is the species mentioned by Mr. Smeathman, as being seen by him in Africa
[In fact there is considerable doubt, since neither adjutant species—“greater” or “lesser”—is found in Africa. On the other hand, there is its close relative, Leptoptilos crumeniferus, the marabou.]

[Synonyms] Latham’s Synopsis, vol. iii.
[Bingley may have been working from a different edition of Latham that the one I had access to. I found “Gigantic Crane” in the first volume of the Supplement.]

engraving of Common Bittern, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 45:
Common Bittern


The Bittern is not so large as the Common Heron. Its bill is also weaker, and not more than four inches long. The rictus or gape is so wide, that the eyes seem placed in the bill. The crown of the head is black; the feathers on the hind-part forming a sort of pendent crest. The plumage is of a pale dull yellow, variously marked with black. Some parts about the wings are of a bright rust-colour, barred with black. The tail is very short; and the feathers on the breast very long and loose. The legs are of a pale green: the claws long and slender; and the inside of the middle one serrated; for the better holding of the prey.

This is a very retired bird; dwelling among the reeds and rushes of extensive marshes, where it leads a solitary life, hid equally from the hunter whom it dreads, and the prey that it watches.—It continues for whole days about the same spot, and seems to look for safety only in privacy and inaction.

In the autumn it changes its abode; always commencing its journey or change of place at sunset. Its precautions for concealment and security seem indeed II.460 altogether directed by care and circumspection. It usually sits in the reeds with its head erect; by which means, from the great length of the neck, it sees over their tops, without being itself perceived by the sportsman.

Its principal food during summer consists of Fish and Frogs; but in the autumn it resorts to the woods in pursuit of Mice, which it seizes with great dexterity, and always swallows whole. About this season it usually becomes very fat.

engraving of Bittern, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 47:

In its general disposition it is not so stupid as the Heron, but it is much more ferocious. When caught, it exhibits much rancour, and strikes chiefly at the eyes of its antagonist. Few birds make so cool a defence: it is never itself the aggressor; but, if once attacked, it fights with the greatest intrepidity. If darted on by a bird of prey, it does not attempt to escape; but, with its sharp beak erected, receives the shock on the point, and thus compels its enemy to retreat, sometimes with a fatal wound. Old Buzzards never attempt to attack the Bittern; and the common Falcons always endeavour to rush upon it behind, while it is on the wing.

When wounded by the sportsman, it often makes a severe resistance. It does not retire; but waits his onset, and gives such vigorous pushes with his bill, as to wound the leg even through the boot. Sometimes it turns on its back, like the rapacious birds, and fights with both its bill and claws. When surprised by a Dog, it is said always to throw itself into this posture. Mr. Markwick once shot a Bittern in frosty weather: it fell on the ice, which was just II.461 strong enough to support the Dogs, and they immediately rushed forward to attack it; but being only wounded, it defended itself so vigorously that the Dogs were compelled to leave it, till it was fired-at a second time and killed.⁕1

During the months of February and March, the males make a kind of deep lowing noise in the mornings and evenings. This is supposed to be the call to the females; and to be produced by a loose membrane, situated at the divarication of the trachæa, capable of great extension, which can be filled with air and exploded at pleasure. The noise was formerly believed to be made while the bird plunged its bill into the mud; hence Thomson:

—— so that scarce

The Bittern knows his time, with bill ingulph’d

To shake the sounding marsh.

The nests are formed in April, among rushes; and almost close to the water, though out of its reach. The female lays four or five greenish-brown eggs, and sits on them for about twenty-five days. The young, when hatched, are naked and ugly, appearing almost all legs and neck: they do not venture abroad till about twenty days after extrusion. During this time, the parents feed them with Snails, small Fish or Frogs. It is said that the Hawks, which plunder the nests of most of the marsh-birds, seldom dare to attack those of the Bittern, on account of the old ones being always on their guard to defend their offspring.


A female Bittern, that was killed during the frost in winter, was found to have in her stomach several Warty Lizards, quite perfect, and the remains of some Toads and Frogs. These were supposed to have been taken out of the mud, under shallow water, in the swamp where the bird was shot.⁕2

In the reign of Henry the Eighth, the Bittern was held in great esteem at the tables of the great. Its flesh has much the flavour of Hare, and is far from being unpleasant: even now the poulterers value this bird at about half-a-guinea. The hind-claw, which is remarkably long, was once supposed a grand preservative for the teeth; and was often set in silver, and used as a tooth-pick.⁕3

Synonyms.—Ardea Stellaris. Linn.—Butor. Buff.—Bittour, Bittern, Miredrum. Willughby.—Bumpy-coss, Butler-bump. Montagu. Myredromble. Turner.

⁕1 Linn. Tran. iv. 20.

⁕2 Latham’s Second Supplement, p. 300.

⁕3 Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. 426, 427.

Notes and Corrections: The Bittern

Ardea stellaris is now Botaurus stellaris, the Eurasian bittern. (There are also American and Australasian species.) Bitterns-in-general are subfamily Botaurinae in Ardeidae, the heron family.

hence Thomson
[Seasons: Spring 21-23.]

engraving of Snipe, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 68 (partial):


In this tribe the bill is long, slender, weak, and straight. The nostrils are linear, and lodged in a furrow. The head is entirely covered with feathers. The feet have four toes; the hind one of which is very short, and consists of several joints.

Notes and Corrections: The Snipe Tribe

Snipes and assorted other shore birds make up order Charadrii­formes (“plover-type things”). Snipes and woodcocks—and sand­pipers, which Bingley presents as a separate “tribe”—are family Scolopacidae.

engraving of Woodcock, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 65 (partial):


The Woodcock, during summer, is an Inhabitant of Norway, Sweden, Lapland, and other northern II.463 countries, where it breeds. As soon, however, as the frosts commence, it retires southward to milder climates. These birds arrive in Great Britain in flocks; some of them in October, but not in great numbers till November and December. They generally take advantage of the night, being seldom seen to come before sun-set. The time of their arrival depends considerably on the prevailing winds; for adverse gales always detain them, they not being able to struggle with the boisterous squalls of the Northern Ocean. After their arrival in bad weather, they have often been seen so much exhausted as to allow themselves to be seized by the hand when they alighted near the coast.

They live on Worms and Insects; which they search for with their long bills in soft ground and moist woods, feeding and flying principally in the night. They go out in the evening; and generally return in the same direction, or through the same glades, to their day retreat.

engraving of Woodcock, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 60:

The greater part of them leave this country about the latter end of February or the beginning of March, always pairing before they set out. They retire to the coast, and, if the wind be fair, set out immediately; but if contrary, they are often detained in the neighbouring woods and thickets for some time. In this crisis the sportsmen are alert, and the whole surrounding country echoes the discharge of guns: seventeen brace have been killed by one person in a day. But if they are detained long on the dry heaths, they become so lean as to be scarcely eatable. The instant a fair wind springs up, they seize II.464 the opportunity; and where the sportsman has seen hundreds in one day, he will even not find a single bird the next.⁕1

Very few of them breed in England; and perhaps in those that do, it may be owing to their having been so wounded by the sportsmen in the winter, as to be disabled from taking their long journey in spring. They build their nests on the ground, generally at the root of some tree; and lay four or five eggs, about the size of those of a Pigeon, of a rusty colour, and marked with brown spots. They are remarkably tame during incubation: a person who discovered a Woodcock on its nest, often stood over, and even stroked it; notwithstanding which, it hatched the young, and in due time disappeared with them.

A single bird was observed to remain in a coppice belonging to a gentleman in Dorsetshire through the summer. The place, from its shady and moist situation, was well calculated to maintain it; yet by degrees it lost almost all its feathers, so that for some time it was not able to fly, and was often caught; but in the autumn it recovered its feathers and strength, and flew away.⁕2

engraving of Common Woodcock, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 7:
Common Woodcock

It has been remarked in England, that for several years past, Woodcocks have become very scarce. This seems to be easily accounted for. Sweden, like other countries, is making a gradual progress in the arts of luxury; among which the indulgence of the palate fills no undistinguished place. The eggs of II.465 Wild-fowl have of late become a great delicacy among the inhabitants of that country, who encourage the boors to find out their nests. The eggs of the Woodcock they are particularly fond of; and the boors offer them in large quantities for sale, in the market of Stockholm. From this practice it is not improbable that the breed, not only of this bird, but of several of the species of Grous, will be greatly diminished, if not at last totally extirpated.

The inhabitants of the North of Europe, to whose forests the Woodcocks retire in the summer, never eat them; esteeming their flesh unwholesome, from the circumstance of their having no crops.⁕3

In Lancashire, great numbers of Woodcocks are taken in traps in moonlight nights. Long parallel rows of stones or sticks, about four or five inches high, are made on the commons which they frequent. In these rows several intervals or gateways are left, in which the traps are placed. When the bird, running about in search of food, comes to one of these rows, he will not cross it, but runs along the side till he comes to a gateway; which he enters, and is then taken.⁕4

Synonyms.—Scolopax Rusticola. Linn.—Becasse. Buff.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 65.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. 433.

⁕2 Linn. Tran. iii. 13.

⁕3 Consett, 73.

⁕4 Heysham, in Hutchinson’s Cumberland, i. 18.

Notes and Corrections: The Woodcock

Scolopax rusticola still has that binomial.


engraving of Ruff, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 95:


The Sandpipers have a straight and slender bill, about an inch and a half long; small nostrils; and a slender tongue. The toes are divided; or are very slightly connected, at the base, by a membrane; the hinder toe is short and weak.

Notes and Corrections: The Sandpiper Tribe

Sandpipers are in the same family, Scolopacidae, as snipes and woodcocks. Tringa is a large genus in this family, although it no longer includes the Ruff or the Lapwing—or, for that matter, the sandpiper itself.

engraving of Ruff, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 69 (partial):


The Ruff is about a foot in length, with a bill of about an inch. The face is covered with yellow pimples; and the back part of the head and neck are furnished with long feathers, standing out somewhat like the ruff worn by our ancestors; a few of these feathers stand up over each eye, and appear not unlike ears. The colours of the Ruffs are in no two birds alike; in general they are brownish, and barred with black; though some have been seen that were altogether white. The lower parts of the belly and the tail coverts are white. The tail is tolerably long, having the four middle feathers barred with black; the others are pale brown. The legs are of a dull yellow, and the claws black.—The female, which is called the Reeve, is smaller than the male, of a brown colour, and destitute of the ruff on the neck.

engraving of Reeve, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 69 (partial):

The male bird does not acquire his ruff till the second season, being till that time in this respect like II.467 the female: as he is also from the end of June till the pairing season, when nature clothes him with the ruff, and the red pimples break out on his face; but after the time of incubation the long feathers fall off, and the caruncles shrink in under the skin so as not to be discerned.

These are birds of passage; and arrive in the fens of Lincolnshire, the Isle of Ely, and the East Riding of Yorkshire, in the spring, in great numbers. Mr. Pennant tells us, that in the course of a single morning there have been above six dozen caught in one net: and that a fowler has been known to catch between forty and fifty dozen in a season.

engraving of Fighting Ruff (Female), no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 16:
Fighting Ruff. Female

The males are much more numerous than the females, and they have many severe contentions for their mates. The male chuses a stand on some dry bank, near a splash of water, round which he runs so often as to make a bare circular path: the moment a female comes in sight, all the males within a certain distance commence a general battle; placing their bills to the ground, spreading their ruff, and using the same action as a Cock: and this opportunity is seized by the fowlers, who, in the confusion, catch them, by means of nets, in great numbers.

An erroneous opinion prevails very generally, that Ruffs when in confinement must be fed in the dark, lest the admission of light should set them to fighting. The fact is, that every bird, even when kept in a room, takes its stand, as it would in the open air; and if another invades its circle, a battle ensues. A whole roomful of them may be set into fierce contest by compelling them to shift their stations; but II.468 after the disturber has quitted the place, they have been observed to resume their circles, and become again pacific. In confinement their quarrels originate in the circumstance of the pan containing their food not being sufficiently large to admit the whole party to feed without touching each other. When the food has been divided into several pans, the birds have continued perfectly quiet.

The Reeves lay four eggs, in a tuft of grass, about the beginning of May; and the young are hatched in about a month.

It is not known with certainty in what countries these birds pass the winter.⁕1

Synonyms.—Tringa Pugnax. Linn.—Combatant, ou Paon de Mer. Buff.——Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. ii. tab. 69.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. 457.—Daniel, ii. 460.

Notes and Corrections: The Ruff and Reeve

Depending on whom you ask, Tringa pugnax is either Philomachus pugnax (“combative quarrelsome”) or Calidris pugnax. If it’s Philo­machus, it is the only species in its genus; if it’s Calidris it is one of many stints.

The males are much more numerous than the females
[Maybe, maybe not. But it is true that most polyandrous birds—there aren’t many—are shorebirds.]

engraving of Common Lapwing, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XI plate 38:
Common Lapwing


This bird is too well known to need any description here. It is found in most parts of Europe, as far northward as Iceland. In the winter it is met with in Persia and Egypt.

The chief food of the Lapwings is Worms; and sometimes they may be seen in flocks nearly covering the low marshy grounds in search of these, which they draw with great dexterity from their holes. When the bird meets with one of those little clusters of pellets, or rolls of earth, that are thrown out by the Worm’s perforations, it first gently removes the mould from the mouth of the hole, then strikes the ground at the side with its foot, and II.469 steadily and attentively waits the issue: the reptile, alarmed by the shock, emerges from its retreat, and is instantly seized.⁕1 In the evening the Lapwings pursue a different plan: they run along the grass, and feel under their feet the Worms, which now come forth invited by the coolness of the air. Thus they obtain a plentiful meal; and afterwards wash their bill and feet in the small pools or rivulets.

engraving of Pee-Wit, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 324:

“I have seen this bird (says Dr. Latham) approach a Worm-cast, turn it aside, and, after making two or three turns about, by way of giving motion to the ground, the Worm came out, and the watchful bird, seizing hold of it, drew it forth.”⁕2

They remain in England the whole year. The female lays two eggs on the dry ground, near some marsh; upon a little bed which she prepares of dry grass. These are olive-coloured, and spotted with black. She sits about three weeks; and the young are able to run within two or three days after they are hatched.

The parent exhibits the greatest attachment to them; and the arts used by this bird to allure Boys and Dogs from the place where they are running, are extremely amusing. She does not wait the arrival of her enemies at the nest, but boldly pushes II.470 out to meet them. When as near as she dare venture, she rises from the ground with a loud screaming voice, as if just flushed from hatching, though probably at the same time not within a hundred yards of her nest. She now flies with great clamour and apparent anxiety; whining and screaming round the invaders, striking at them with her wings, and sometimes fluttering as if she was wounded. To complete the deception, she becomes still more clamorous as she retires from the nest. If very near, she appears altogether unconcerned; and her cries cease in proportion as her fears are augmented. When approached by Dogs, she flies heavily, at a little distance before them, as if maimed; still vociferous, and still bold, but never offering to move towards the quarter where her young are stationed. The Dogs pursue in expectation every moment of seizing the parent, and by this means actually lose the young; for the cunning bird, having thus drawn them off to a proper distance, exerts her powers, and leaves her astonished pursuers to gaze at the rapidity of her flight.

There are few readers acquainted in any degree with the country, who will not recollect how justly the following lines describe the manners of this bird:

——Hence, around the head

Of wand’ring swains, the white-wing’d Plover wheels

Her sounding flight; and then directly on,

In long excursion, skims the level lawn,

To tempt him from her nest.

The following anecdote exhibits the domestic nature of the Lapwing; as well as the art with which it II.471 conciliates the regard of animals materially differing from itself, and generally considered as hostile to every species of the feathered tribe. Two Lapwings were given to a clergyman, who put them into his garden; one soon died, but the other continued to pick up such food as the place afforded, till winter deprived it of its usual supply. Necessity soon compelled it to draw nearer the house; by which it gradually became familiarized to occasional interruptions from the family. At length one of the servants, when she had occasion to go into the back-kitchen with a light, observed that the Lapwing always uttered his cry of “Pee-wit” to obtain admittance. He soon grew more familiar: as the winter advanced, he approached as far as the kitchen; but with much caution, as that part of the house was generally occupied by a Dog and a Cat, whose friendship, however, the Lapwing at length conciliated so entirely, that it was his regular custom to resort to the fireside as soon as it grew dark, and spend the evening and night with his two associates, sitting close by them, and partaking of the comforts of the warmth. As soon as spring appeared, he discontinued his visits to the house, and betook himself to the garden; but on the approach of winter he had recourse to his old shelter and friends, who received him very cordially. Security was productive of insolence; what was at first obtained with caution, was afterwards taken without reserve: he frequently amused himself with washing in the bowl which was set for the Dog to drink out of; and while he was thus employed, he shewed marks of the greatest indignation if either of his II.472 companions presumed to interrupt him. He died in the asylum he had thus chosen, being choaked with something that he picked up from the floor.⁕3

Synonyms.—Tringa Vanellus. Linn.—Vanneau. Buff.—Lapwing, or Bastard Plover. Willughby.——Bew. Birds p. 324.

⁕1 “To ascertain this circumstance (says M. Baillon), I employed the same stratagem: in a field of green corn, and in the garden, I beat the earth for a short time, and I saw the Worms coming out. I pressed down a stake, which I then turned in all directions to shake the soil: this method succeeded still quicker; the Worms crawled out in crowds, even at the distance of a fathom from the stake.”

⁕2 Synopsis.

⁕3 Bewick’s Birds, p. 326.

Notes and Corrections: The Lapwing

skip to next section

Tringa vanellus is now the head of its own genus as Vanellus vanellus. It isn’t quite a sandpiper; instead it is in the adjoining family, Charadriidae, putting it in the Plover Tribe. Vanellus is a fairly large genus, so the description probably conflates several species; V. vanellus as such is the northern lapwing.

the reptile, alarmed by the shock
[This is 1802, when the word “reptile” meant, generically, any creepy-crawly. Reptiles would not become a class of their own, distinct from amphibians, until a few decades down the line.]

Hence, around the head
[Thomson’s Seasons: Spring 694-98.]

engraving of Dotterel, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 73 (partial):


Most of these birds are found about the mouths of great rivers, and in the neighbourhood of torrents; but two of the English species, the Norfolk, and the Golden Plover, frequent heaths and moors.—They have a straight, somewhat cylindrical and obtuse bill, seldom longer than the head. The feet are formed for running; with three toes, all placed forwards.

Notes and Corrections: The Plover Tribe

Plovers, genus Charadrius, are the flagship of their family, Charadriidae, and order, Charadriiformes.

engraving of Ring Dotterel, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. I page 334:


The length of the Dotterel is about ten inches. The bill is not quite an inch long, and is black. The forehead is mottled with brown and grey: the top of the head is black; and over each eye there is an arched line of white, which passes to the hind part of the neck. The cheeks and throat are white; the back and wings are of a light brown inclining to olive, each feather margined with pale rust colour. The fore part of the neck is surrounded by a broad band of a light olive colour, bordered below with white. The breast is of a pale dull orange; the middle II.473 of the belly black; and the rest of the belly and the thighs are of a reddish white. The tail is olive brown, black near the end, and tipped with white; and the outer feathers are margined with white. The legs are of a dark olive.

These birds are migratory: appearing in flocks of eight or ten, about the end of April; and staying all May and June, when they become very fat, and are much esteemed for the table. They are found in tolerable plenty in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, and Derbyshire; but in other parts of the kingdom they are scarcely known. They are supposed to breed among the mountains of Westmoreland and Cumberland.

The Dotterel is in its manners a very singular bird, and may be taken by the most simple artifice. The country people are said sometimes to go in quest of it, in the night, with a lighted torch or candle: and the bird on these occasions will mimic the actions of the fowler with great archness. When he stretches out an arm, it stretches out its wing; if he moves a foot, it moves one also; and every other motion it endeavours to imitate. This is the opportunity that the fowler takes of entangling it in his net. Willughby however cites the following case:—Six or seven persons usually went in company to catch Dotterels. When they found the bird, they set their net in an advantageous place; and each of them holding a stone in either hand, they got behind it, and striking the stones often one against the other, roused it from its natural sluggishness, and by degrees II.474 drove it into the net. The more certain method of the gun has of late nearly superseded both these artifices.

Synonyms.—Charadrius Morinellus. Linn.—Petit Pluvier ou Guignard. Buff.——Bew. Birds, 334.—Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 73.

Notes and Corrections: The Dotterel

Charadrius morinellus, the Eurasian dotterel, still has that binomial.

engraving of “Black-winged Longshanks”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 23:
Black-winged Longshanks


Of the Stilt Plover Mr. White has given us a very pleasing description: “In the last week of April 1779, five of these most rare birds (which are too uncommon to have obtained an English name, but are known to naturalists by the terms himantopus, or loripes, or Charadrius himantopus) were shot upon the verge of Frensham-pond; a large lake belonging to the bishop of Winchester, and lying between Woolmer-forest and the town of Farnham, in the county of Surrey. The pond-keeper says there were three brace in the flock; but that after he had satisfied his curiosity, he suffered the sixth bird to remain unmolested.

“One of these specimens I procured; and found the length of the legs to be so extraordinary, that at first sight one might have supposed the shanks had been fastened on, to impose on the credulity of the beholder: they were legs in caricatura; and had we seen such proportions on a Chinese or Japan screen, we should have made large allowance for the fancy of the draughtsman.

engraving of Long-Legged Plover, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 4:

“These birds are of the Plover family, and might with propriety be called the Stilt Plovers. My specimen, when drawn and stuffed with pepper, weighed II.475 only four ounces and a quarter, though the naked part of the thigh measured three inches and a half. Hence we may safely assert that these birds exhibit weight for inches, and have incomparably the greatest length of legs of any known bird. The Flamingo, for instance, is one of the most long-legged birds, and yet it bears no manner of proportion to the Himantopus: for a cock Flamingo weighs, at an average, about four pounds avoirdupois; and his legs and thighs measure usually about twenty inches. But four pounds are fifteen times and a fraction more than four ounces and a quarter; and if four ounces and a quarter have eight inches of legs, four pounds must have one hundred and twenty inches and a fraction of legs, or somewhat more than ten feet; such a monstrous proportion as the world never saw!⁕1 If we try the experiment in still larger birds, the disparity would increase. It must be matter of great curiosity to see the Stilt Plover move; to observe how it can wield such a length of lever with such feeble muscles as the thighs seem to be furnished with. At best, one should expect it to be but a bad walker: but what adds to the wonder is, that it has no back toe. Now, without that steady prop to support its steps, it must, theoretically, be liable to perpetual vacillations, and seldom able to preserve the true centre of gravity.


“These long-legged Plovers are birds of South Europe, and rarely visit our island: and when they do, are wanderers and stragglers, and impelled to make so distant and northern an excursion from motives or accidents for which we are not able to account.”

This bird is common in Egypt and the warmer parts of America, where it feeds on flies and other insects.

Synonyms.—Charadrius himantopus. Linn.—Echasse. Buff.—Long-legs. Ray.—Long-legged Plover. Penn.—Stilt Plover. White.

⁕1 It ought here to be remarked, that Mr. White appears to have calculated the weights of these birds unfairly; the Plover after it was stuffed, and the Flamingo from a perfect bird; which, in the comparison of weights, will make a difference extremely material.

Notes and Corrections: The Long-Legged or Stilt Plover

skip to next section

Charadrius himantopus is now a genus to itself, Himantopus himantopus, the black-winged stilt. Although it is still in the shore-birds order, it is in a family we have not previously met, Recurvi­rostridae, making it not really a plover at all.

if four ounces and a quarter have eight inches of legs, four pounds must have one hundred and twenty inches and a fraction of legs
[Er, no, they mustn’t. They must have 8 × ∛15 (the cube root of fifteen) or just under 20 inches of leg, which is pretty exactly what the flamingo does have. And that’s not even getting into the further disparities pointed out in the footnote. (The faulty arithmetic is not Bingley’s own; he is quoting from White’s Selborne.)]

engraving of Flamingo, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 24:


The Flamingoes combine the characters of the two Linnæan orders the Waders and the Swimmers.⁕1 They have long neck and legs. Their bill is thick, large, and bending in the middle. The higher part of the upper mandible is keel-shaped; the lower compressed. The edges of the upper mandible are sharply indented; those of the lower transversely furrowed. The nostrils are covered above with a thin plate, and are pervious. The tongue is cartilaginous, and pointed at the end; the middle part is muscular; and the upper part aculeated. The neck is long. The legs and thighs are of great length: the feet are webbed; and the back toes very small.

⁕1 Grallæ, and Anseres.

Notes and Corrections: The Flamingo Tribe

Flamingos are an order all to themselves, Phoenicopteriformes, consisting of the single family Phoenicopteridae, containing three genera with at least half a dozen species.


engraving of Red Flamingo, no later than 1827

Latham Synopsis Vol. III plate 93:
Red Flamingo


The body of the Red Flamingo is about the size of that of a Goose; but its legs and neck are of such an extraordinary length, that when it stands erect it is upwards of six feet in height. The body is of a beautiful scarlet. It is an inhabitant of those parts of America that are as yet but thinly peopled. Here it is said to live in a state of society, and under better polity than most others of the feathered tribes.

When the Europeans first visited America, they found the Flamingoes on the shores tame and gentle, and no way distrustful of mankind. When the fowler had killed one, the rest of the flock, instead of attempting to fly, only regarded the fall of their companion in a kind of fixed astonishment: another and another shot was discharged, and thus the fowler often levelled the whole flock, without one of them attempting to escape.⁕1 Now, however, they regard us with aversion: wherever they haunt, one of the number, it is said, is always appointed to watch while the rest are employed in feeding; and the moment he perceives the least danger, he gives a loud scream, in sound not much unlike a trumpet, and instantly the whole flock is on wing. They feed in silence; but when thus roused, they all join in the noise, and fill the air with their screams.

Their nest is of a singular construction: it is II.478 formed of mud, in the shape of a hillock, with a cavity at the top: in this the female generally lays two white eggs, of the size of those of a Goose, but longer. The hillock is of such a height as to admit of the bird’s sitting on it, or rather standing, as her legs are placed one on each side at full length. Linnæus tells us that she will sometimes lay her eggs on a projecting part of a low rock, if it happens to be sufficiently convenient to admit of the legs being placed in this manner on each side.

It is not till a long time after they are hatched, that the young are able to fly; but they can previously run with amazing swiftness. They are sometimes caught at this age; and, very different from the old ones, they suffer themselves to be carried away, and are easily tamed. In five or six days they become familiar, and even eat out of the hand; and they drink a surprising quantity of sea-water. But though easily rendered domestic, it is difficult to rear them; as they are apt to decline, from the want of their natural subsistence.

Flamingoes are often met with in the warmer parts of the Old Continent; and, except in the breeding time, are generally found in great flocks. When seen at a distance, they appear like a regiment of soldiers; being often ranged alongside of one another on the borders of rivers, searching for food, which consists principally of small fish and water insects—these they take by plunging the bill and part of the head into the water; and from time to time trampling the bottom with their feet, to disturb the mud in order to raise up their prey. In feeding, they are II.479 said to twist their neck in such a manner, that the upper part of their bill is applied to the ground.

These beautiful birds were much esteemed by the Romans, who often used them in their grand sacrifices and sumptuous entertainments. Their flesh is thought tolerably good food: and the tongue was looked upon by the ancients as among the most delicate of all eatables: Pliny, Martial, and many other writers, speak of it in the highest terms of commendation.

Synonyms.—Phœnicopterus ruber. Linn.—Flamant. Buff.——Latham’s Synopsis, iii. tab. 93.

⁕1 Catesby, i. 73.

Notes and Corrections: The Red Flamingo

skip to next section

Phoenicopterus ruber still has that binomial, though sources disagree on whether this is the “American flamingo” or “greater flamingo”. As usual, the description probably includes other Phoenicopterus species.

Now, however, they regard us with aversion
[Funny how that works.]

Flamingoes are often met with in the warmer parts of the Old Continent
[But possibly not Phoenicopterus ruber, or why would it be called “American flamingo”? It may be Phoenicopterus roseus, which is definitely found in southwest Asia.]


engraving of Mute Swan, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 277:


The bill in this tribe (which comprehends Swans and Geese, as well as Ducks) is strong, broad, flat, and generally furnished at the end with a kind of nail: the edges of the mandibles are marked with sharp serratures. The nostrils are small and oval. The tongue is broad, having the edges fringed near the base. The toes are four in number, three before and one behind; the middle one is the longest.

⁕1 The order of Swimmers commences here.—In the birds of this order, the bill is smooth, obtuse at the point, and covered with a membranaceous skin. The legs are short and compressed; and the feet formed for swimming, the toes being connected by a membrane.—The most familiar tribes are the Ducks, Auks, Penguins, Petrels, Pelicans, Guillemots, Gulls, and Terns.—These live chiefly in the water, feeding on fish, worms, and aquatic plants. They are for the most part polygamous; and make their nests among reeds or in moist places. The young, though soon able to seek their own food, are for some time led about and protected by the mother. The females lay many eggs; and while sitting, are fed by the males. The flesh of many of the species is eatable, but that of some of them is rank and oily.

Notes and Corrections: The Duck Tribe

Ducks take us back to infraclass Galloanserae. The name doesn’t mean “all the tastiest birds”—but it could. Turkeys and pheasants were order Galliformes (“chicken-type things”); the other order is Anseriformes (“goose-type things”), whose main family is Anatidae (Ducks).

[Footnote] The order of Swimmers
[Linnaeus really seems to have had trouble with swimming birds. Auks and Guillemots are family Alcidae in Charadriiformes, shore birds, which we have already met; gulls and terns are family Laridae in the same order. Penguins are an order of their own. Petrels and albatrosses are another order. Pelicans and cormo­rants are yet another order. The underlying problem, of course, is that there simply isn’t a Great Divide between land birds and water birds.]

engraving of Whistling Swan, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 37:
Whistling Swan


The Whistling or Wild Swan is somewhat smaller than the tame species. The bill is three inches long; yellowish white to the middle, but black at the end. The whole plumage is white; and the legs are black.


This species is an inhabitant of the northern regions; never appearing in England except in hard winters, when flocks of five or six are now and then seen. Martin says, that in the month of October, Swans come in great numbers to Lingey, one of the Western Isles, and continue there till March, when they return northward to breed. A few continue in Mainland, one of the Orkneys, and breed in the little islands of the fresh-water lochs; but the principal part of them retire at the approach of spring. They are called the Countryman’s Almanack; for their quitting the isle is said to presage good weather, and their arrival the reverse.⁕1

In Iceland, these birds are an object of chace. In the month of August they lose their feathers to such a degree as not to be able to fly. The natives, at that season, resort in great numbers to the places where they most abound; and are accompanied with Dogs, and active and strong Horses, trained to the sport, and capable of passing nimbly over the boggy soil and marshes. The Swans will run as fast as a tolerably fleet Horse. The greater number are taken by the Dogs; which are taught to seize them by the neck—a mode of attack that causes them to lose their balance, and become an easy prey.

Notwithstanding their size, these birds are so extremely swift on the wing, when in full feather, as to make them more difficult to shoot than almost any other; it being frequently necessary to aim ten or twelve feet before their bills. This, however, is II.482 only when they are flying before the wind in a brisk gale; at which time they seldom proceed at the rate of less than a hundred miles an hour: but when flying across the wind or against it, they are not able to make any great progress.⁕2

This species has several distinctions from that called by us the Tame Swan: but the most remarkable one is, the strange form of the windpipe; which falls into the chest, then turns back like a trumpet, and afterwards makes a second bend to join the lungs. By this curious construction, the bird is enabled to utter a loud and shrill note. The other Swan, on the contrary, is the most silent of all the feathered tribes; it can do nothing more than hiss, which it does on receiving any provocation.—The vocal Swan emits its loud notes only when flying, or calling: its sound is, whoogh, whoogh, very loud and shrill, but not disagreeable when heard high in the air and modulated by the winds. The Icelanders compare it to the notes of the violin: they hear it at the end of their long and gloomy winter, when the return of the Swans announces also the return of summer; every note therefore must be melodious which presages a speedy thaw, and a release from their tedious confinement.

It was from this species alone that the ancients derived their fable of the Swanks being endowed with the powers of melody. Embracing the Pythagorean doctrine, they made the body of this bird the mansion of the souls of departed poets; and then II.483 attributed to the birds the same faculty of harmony which they had thus possessed in a pre-existent state. And the vulgar, not distinguishing between sweetness of numbers and melody of voice, thought that real which was only intended figuratively.—The Mute or Tame Swan never frequents the Padus; “and I am almost equally certain, (says Mr. Pennant,) that it never was seen on the Cayster, in Lydia; each of them, streams celebrated by the poets for the great resort of Swans. The Padus was styled Oloriferus from the numbers of these birds which frequent its waters; and there are few of the poets, either Greek or Latin, who do not make them its inhabitants.”⁕3

Synonyms.—Anas Cygnus. Linn.—Cygne sauvage. Buff.—Wild Swan, Elk, Hooper. Willughby.—Whistling Swan. Latham.

⁕1 Martin’s Voyage to the Western Isles, 71.

⁕2 Hearne, 436.

⁕3 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 262.

Notes and Corrections: The Whistling Swan

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Swans are in the same family, Anatidae, as ducks and geese; swans and geese make up the subfamily Anserinae. Anas cygnus, the whooper swan, is now the head of its own genus, Cygnus cygnus. (Another noisemaker, the trumpeter swan, is C. buccinator.)

Bewick’s illustrator must have had a bad experience with a wild swan; it is just about the only bird in Bewick’s two volumes that has a full description but no illustration.

Lingey, one of the Western Isles
[Which Western Isles? The only Lingey I can find is a tiny dot in the Shetland Isles, which agrees with the following sentence’s refer­ence to the Orkneys. The Western Isles are better known as the outer Hebrides, way on the other side of Scotland.]

engraving of Mute Swan, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 38:
Mute Swan


The Mute Swans are found wild in Russia and Siberia: in England they are very common in a domestic state. They are seen in great plenty on the Thames; where they are esteemed royal property, and it is accounted felony to steal their eggs. In the reign of Edward the Fourth, Swans were held in such estimation, that “no person who did not possess a freehold of the clear yearly value of five marks” was permitted to keep any.

Nothing can exceed the beauty and elegance with which the Swan rows itself along in the water, throwing itself into the proudest attitudes imaginable before II.484 the spectators; and there is not perhaps in all nature a more lively or striking image of dignity and grace. In the exhibition of its form, we see no broken or harsh lines, no constrained or abrupt motions, but the roundest contour and the easiest transitions imaginable: the eye wanders over every part with pleasure, and every part takes new grace with new postures.

The Swan, with arched neck

Between her white wings mantling, proudly rows

Her state with oary feet.

It exhibits, however, but an inelegant appearance on land.

The Swan will swim faster than a man can walk. It is very strong, and at times extremely fierce: it has not unfrequently been known to throw down and trample upon youths of fifteen or sixteen years of age; and an old Swan, we are told, is able to break the leg of a man with a single stroke of its wing.—A female, while in the act of sitting, observed a Fox swimming towards her from the opposite shore: she instantly darted into the water, and, having kept him at bay for a considerable time with her wings, at last succeeded in drowning him; after which, in the sight of several persons, she returned in triumph. This circumstance took place at Pensy, in Buckinghamshire.⁕1

Swans are very long-lived, sometimes arriving at the great age of a hundred years. The flesh of the II.485 old birds is hard and ill-tasted; but that of the young, or Cygnets, was formerly much esteemed: at present, Cygnets are fattened near Norwich, but chiefly for the tables of the corporation of that place. Persons who have property on the river there, take the young birds and send them to some one who is employed by the corporation, to be fed; and for his trouble he is paid about half-a-guinea per bird. They were a few years ago valued at a guinea a-piece; but when sold, they now bring much more.

At Abbotsbury in Dorsetshire, there was formerly a noble swannery, the property of the Earl of Ilchester, where six or seven hundred birds were kept; but from the mansion being almost deserted by the family, this collection has of late years been much diminished. The royalty belonged anciently to the abbot, and previously to the dissolution of the monasteries they were frequently above double this number.

The Swan makes its nest of grass, among reeds; and in February begins to lay, depositing an egg every other day till there are six or eight. These occupy six weeks in hatching. Dr. Latham says, he knows two females that for three or four years past have agreed to associate; and have had each a brood yearly, bringing up together about eleven young: they sit by turns, and never quarrel.⁕2—When in danger, the old birds carry off the young ones on their backs.

Synonyms.—Anas Olor. Linn.—Cygne. Buff.—Tame Swan, Mute Swan. Penn.

⁕1 Latham’s Second Supplement, 342.

⁕2 Second Supplement, 342.

Notes and Corrections: The Tame or Mute Swan

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Anas olor, the mute swan, is now Cygnus olor (“swan swan” in the usual two languages).

and it is accounted felony to steal their eggs
[This being 1804, I suppose that means it was a capital crime.]

The Swan, with arched neck
[Paradise Lost, VII.438-40. Thomson loved the “oary feet” phrase, and cribbed it for his Seasons.]

two females that for three or four years past have agreed to associate
[Fun fact: Unlike most birds, including other swans, mute swans do not typically mate for life. Each season brings a new partner.]



Is about the size of the Common Goose. The upper mandible of the bill is scarlet, and the lower one whitish. The general colour of the plumage is white; except the first ten quills of the wings, which are black with white shafts. The young are of a blue colour, till they are a year old. The legs are red.

These birds are very numerous about Hudson’s Bay; where they are migratory, going farther northward to breed. They are also found in the northern parts of the Old Continent.

The Snow Geese have so little of the shyness of the other species, that they are taken in the most ridiculous manner imaginable, about Jakut, and the other parts of Siberia which they frequent. The inhabitants place near the banks of the rivers a great net, in a straight line; or else form a hovel of skins sewed together. This done, one of the company dresses himself in the skin of a white rein-deer, advances towards the flock of Geese, and then turns back towards the net or hovel; and his companions go behind the flock, and by making a noise, drive them forward. The simple birds mistake the man in white for their leader, and follow him within reach of the net; which is suddenly pulled down, and captivates the whole. When he chuses to conduct them even into the hovel, they follow in the same manner; II.487 he creeps in at a hole left for that purpose, and out at another on the opposite side which he closes up. The Geese follow him through the first; and as soon as they are in, he passes round and secures every one of them.⁕1—In that frozen climate they afford great subsistence to the natives; and the feathers are an article of commerce. Each family will kill thousands in a season; which, after being plucked and gutted, are flung in heaps into holes dug for that purpose, and are covered only with earth. The mould freezes, and forms over them an arch; and whenever the family have occasion to open one of these magazines, they find their provisions perfectly sweet and good.⁕2

Synonyms.—Anas Hyperborea. Linn.—White Brant. Lawson.—Snow Goose. Penn.

⁕1 Mr. Hearne, in his Journey to the Northern Ocean, p. 440, says, that if these be the same birds as the Snow Goose of Hudson’s Bay, they must vary much in their manners; for there they are the shyest and most watchful of all the species of Geese, never suffering a person to approach them within two or three gun-shots.

⁕2 Penn. Arct. Zool. II. 272.

Notes and Corrections: The Snow Goose

Anas hyperborea, the snow goose, is now Anser caerulescens. Some taxonomists want it to be separate genus, Chen, but this is not a battle that especially interests me.

engraving of Wild Goose, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 41:
Wild Goose


These Geese inhabit the fens of England; and are supposed not to migrate, as they do in many countries on the continent. They breed in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire: they have seven or eight young; which are sometimes taken, and are easily rendered tame.

They are often seen in flocks of from fifty to a hundred, flying at very great heights, and seldom II.488 resting by day. Their cry is frequently heard while they are imperceptible from their distance above. Whether this be their note of mutual encouragement, or only the necessary consequence of respiration, seems somewhat doubtful; but they seldom exert it when they alight in their journeys. On the ground they always arrange themselves in a line, and seem to descend rather for rest than refreshment; for, having continued in this manner for an hour or two, one of them with a long loud note sounds a kind of signal to which the rest always punctually attend, and rising in a group they pursue their journey with alacrity. Their flight is conducted with vast regularity: they always proceed either in a line a-breast, or in two lines joining in an angle at the middle. In this order they generally take the lead by turns; the foremost falling back in the rear when tired, and the next in station succeeding to his duty.⁕1—Their track is generally so high, that it is almost impossible to reach them from a fowling-piece; and even when this can be done, they file so equally that one discharge very seldom kills more than a single bird.

engraving of Grey Lag Goose, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 292:

They breed in the plains and marshes about Hudson’s Bay in North America: in some years the young ones are taken in considerable numbers; and at this age they are easily tamed. It is, however, extremely singular, that they will never learn to eat corn, unless some of the old ones are taken along with them; which may be done when these are in a moulting state.


Our common Tame Goose is nothing more than this species in a state of domestication.

These birds are no where kept in such vast quantities as in the fens of Lincolnshire; several persons there having as many as a thousand breeders. They are bred for the sake of their quills and feathers; for which they are stripped while alive, once in the year for their quills, and no less than five times for the feathers: the first plucking commences about Lady-day, for both; and the other four are between Lady-day and Michaelmas. It is said that in general the birds do not suffer very much from this operation; except cold weather sets in, which then kills great numbers of them. The old Geese submit quietly to be plucked, but the young ones are very noisy and unruly. Mr. Pennant says he once saw this business performed, and observed, that even Goslins of only six weeks old were not spared—for their tails were plucked, as he was told, to inure them early to the custom. The possessors, except in this cruel practice, treat their birds with great kindness: lodging them very often even in the same room with themselves.

These Geese breed in general only once a-year, but if well kept they sometimes hatch twice in a season. During their sitting each bird has a space allotted to it, in rows of wicker pens placed one above another; and it is said that the gozzard, or goose-herd, who has the care of them, drives the whole flock to water twice a-day, and, bringing them back to their habitations, places every bird (without missing one) in its own nest.

engraving of Tame Goose, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 297:


It is scarcely credible what numbers of Geese are driven from the distant counties to London for sale: frequently two or three thousand in a drove; and in the year 1783 one drove passed through Chelmsford, in their way from Suffolk to London, that contained above nine thousand.

However simple in appearance, or awkward in gesture, the Goose may be, it is not without many marks both of sentiment and understanding. The courage with which it protects its young and defends itself against the ravenous birds, and certain instances of attachment and even of gratitude which have been observed in it, render our general contempt of the Goose ill-founded. This I shall confirm by relating an instance of warm affection, which was communicated to the Comte de Buffon by a man of veracity and information. The following are nearly his own words:—“There were two Ganders, a grey and a white one (the latter named Jacquot), with three females. The males were perpetually contending for the company of these dames. When one or the other prevailed, it assumed the direction of them, and hindered its rival from approaching. He who was the master during the night, would not yield the next morning; and the two galants fought so furiously, that it was necessary to be speedy in parting them. It happened one day, that being drawn to the bottom of the garden by their cries, I found them with their necks entwined, striking their wings with rapidity and astonishing force; the three females turned round, as wishing to separate them, but without effect; at last the II.491 white Gander was worsted, overthrown, and maltreated, by the other. I parted them; happily for the white one, as he would otherwise have lost his life. Then the conqueror began screaming and gabbling, and clapping his wings; and ran to join his mistresses, giving each a noisy salute, to which the three dames replied, ranging themselves at the same time round him. Meanwhile poor Jacquot was in a pitiable condition; and, retiring, sadly vented at a distance his doleful cries. It was several days before he recovered from his dejection; during which time I had sometimes occasion to pass through the court where he strayed. I saw him always thrust out from society; and whenever I passed, he came gabbling to me. One day he approached so near, and shewed so much friendship, that I could not help caressing him, by stroking with my hand his back and neck; to which he seemed so sensible, as to follow me into the entrance of the court. Next day, as I again passed, he ran to me, and I gave him the same caresses; with which alone he was not satisfied, but seemed, by his gestures, to desire that I should introduce him to his mates. I accordingly led him to their quarter; and, upon his arrival, he began his vociferations, and directly addressed the three dames, who failed not to answer him. Immediately his late victor sprung upon Jacquot. I left them for a moment; the grey one was always the stronger: I took part with my Jacquot, who was under; I set him over his rival; he was thrown; I set him up again. In this way they fought eleven minutes; and, by the assistance which I gave him, he at last obtained II.492 the advantage, and got possession of the three dames. When my friend Jacquot saw himself master, he would not venture to leave his females, and therefore no longer came to me when I passed: he only gave me at a distance many tokens of friendship, shouting and clapping his wings; but would not quit his companions, lest, perhaps, his rival should take possession. Things went on in this way till the breeding season, and he never gabbled to me but at a distance. When his females, however, began to sit, he left them, and redoubled his friendship to me. One day, having followed me as far as the ice-house at the top of the park, the spot where I must necessarily part with him in pursuing my way to a wood at half a league distance, I shut him in the park. He no sooner saw himself separated from me, than he vented strange cries. However, I went on my road; and had advanced about a-third of the distance, when the noise of a heavy flight made me turn my head: I saw my Jacquot, only four paces from me. He followed me all the way, partly on foot, partly on wing; getting before me and stopping at the cross-paths to see which way I should take. Our journey lasted from ten o’clock in the morning till eight in the evening; and my companion followed me through all the windings of the wood, without seeming to be tired. After this, he attended me every where, so as to become troublesome; for I was not able to go to any place without his tracing my steps, so that one day he even came to find me in the church. Another time, as he was passing by the rector’s window, he heard me talking in the II.493 room; and, as he found the door open, he entered, climbed up stairs, and marching in, gave a loud exclamation of joy, to the no small affright of the family.

“I am sorry, in relating such interesting traits of my good and faithful friend Jacquot, when I reflect that it was myself that first dissolved the pleasing connection; but it was necessary for me to separate him from me by force. Poor Jacquot fancied himself as free in the best apartments as in his own; and after several accidents of this kind, he was shut up, and I saw him no more. His inquietude lasted above a year, and he died from vexation. He was become as dry as a bit of wood, as I am told; for I would not see him: and his death was concealed from me for more than two months after the event. Were I to recount all the friendly incidents between me and poor Jacquot, I should not for several days have done writing. He died in the third year of our friendship, aged seven years and two months.”⁕2

Synonyms.—Anas Anser. Linn.—Oye sauvage. Buff.—Grey Lag Goose. Penn.—Fen Goose. Lister.—Wild Goose, Tame Goose, var.

⁕1 Pontoppidan, ii. 74.

⁕2 Buffon’s Birds, vol. 6, p. 38. note.

Notes and Corrections: The Wild Goose

Anas anser (“duck goose”) is now the head of its own genus as Anser anser, the greylag goose.

They breed in the plains and marshes about Hudson’s Bay in North America
[Not if they’re Anser anser they don’t, since this is strictly an Old World bird. The Canada Goose is a few entries further along.]

engraving of “Bernacle” (Goose), no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 307:


The bill of this bird is very short and black, crossed with a flesh-coloured mark on each side. Part of the head, the chin, throat, under-parts, and upper tail-coverts, are white; and the rest of the head and neck, and the beginning of the back, are II.494 black. The thighs are mottled. Round the knee, the feathers are black; and the lower feathers of the back are the same, edged with white. The wing-coverts and scapulars are blue-grey; the ends black, fringed with white at the tip. The rump, tail, and legs, are black.

The Bernacle Geese are not uncommon on many of the northern and western coasts of this kingdom, in winter; but they are scarce in the south, and only seen in inclement seasons. They leave our island in February, and retire northward to breed.

Of all the marvellous productions which ignorance, ever credulous, has so long substituted for the simple and truly wonderful operations of nature, the most absurd, and yet not the least celebrated, is the assertion of the growth of these birds, in a kind of shell, called Lepas anatifera (Goose-bearing shell), on certain trees on the coasts of Scotland and the Orkneys, or on the rotten timbers of old ships.

Of the numerous writers who have mentioned and credited these circumstances, I shall extract only the accounts of three, who all speak positively upon the subject. One of these, Maier, who has written a treatise expressly on this bird, says, that it certainly originates from shells: and, what is still more wonderful, that he himself opened a hundred of the Goose-bearing shells in the Orkneys, and found in all of them the rudiments of the bird completely formed.

Our countryman, Gerard, is another writer on this point; his account of the wonderful transformation I shall insert in his own words, although they have already been often quoted:—“What our II.495 eyes have seen, and our hands have touched, we shall declare. There is a small island in Lancashire, called the Pile of Foulders, wherein are found broken pieces of old and bruised ships, some whereof have been cast thither by shipwrecks; also the trunks and bodies, with the branches, of old and rotten trees, cast up there likewise; whereon is found a certain spume or froth, that in time breedeth into certain shells, in shape like those of the Muscle, but sharper pointed, and of a whitish colour, one end whereof is fastened unto the inside of the shell, even as the fish of Oysters and Muscles are; the other end is made fast unto the belly of a rude mass or lump, which in time cometh into the shape and form of a bird. When it is perfectly formed, the shell gapeth open, and the first thing that appeareth is the aforesaid lace or string; next cometh the legs of the bird hanging out; and, as it groweth greater, it openeth the shell by degrees, till at length it has all come forth, and hangeth only by the bill. In a short space after, it cometh to full maturity, and falleth into the sea; where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a fowle, bigger than a Mallard and lesser than a Goose, having black legs, and bill or beake, and feathers black and white, spotted in such manner as our Mag-pie, called in some places Pie-annet, which the people of Lancashire call by no other name than Tree-goose; which place aforesaid, and all those places adjoyning, do so much abound therewith, that one of the best is bought for three-pence. For the truth hereof, if any doubt, may it please them to II.496 repair to me, and I shall satisfy them by the testimonies of good witnesses.”

The following is Sir Robert Murray’s account of the Bernacle, inserted in the Philosophical Transactions:—“In the Western Islands of Scotland, the West Ocean throws upon their shores great quantities of very large weather-beaten timber; the most ordinary trees are fir and ash. Being in the island of East, I saw lying upon the shore a cut of a large fir-tree, of about two feet and a half in diameter, and nine or ten feet long, which had lain so long out of the water, that it was very dry; and most of the shells that had formerly covered it were worn or rubbed off. Only on the parts that lay next the ground, there still hung multitudes of little shells: they were of the colour and consistence of Muscle-shells. This Barnacle-shell is thin about the edges, and about half as thick as broad. Every one of the shells hath some cross seams or sutures, which, as I remember, divide it into five parts.—These parts are fastened one to another, with such a film as Muscle-shells are.

“These shells are hung at the tree by a neck, longer than the shell; of a kind of filmy substance, round and hollow, and creased not unlike the windpipe of a Chicken: spreading out broadest where it is fastened to the tree, from which it seems to draw and convey the matter which serves for the growth and vegetation of the shell and little bird within it.

“In every shell that I opened, I found a perfect II.497 Sea-fowl: the little bill, like that of a Goose; the eyes marked; the head, neck, breast, wing, tail, and feet, formed; the feathers, every where perfectly shaped and blackish-coloured; and the feet, like those of other water-fowl, to the best of my remembrance.”

Few subjects seem to have been more circumstantially related, or to rest on better evidence, than the above: so natural to man is credulity, which passes all bounds where the prodigy of an event takes firm hold of the imagination and lays the understanding asleep. Such are part of the wild chimeras that have been detailed concerning the origin of the Bernacles; and as these fables once enjoyed great celebrity, and were admitted by very many authors, I have been induced to relate them here, only to shew how contagious are the errors of science, and how prone are men to the fascinations of the marvellous.

Synonyms.—Anas Erythropus. Linn.—Bernacle. Buff.—Bernacle, or Clakis. Willughby.

Notes and Corrections: The Bernacle Goose

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Anas erythropus is now Anser erythropus, the lesser white-fronted goose. (The greater white-fronted goose snagged the species name A. albifrons, which means “white-fronted”; the lesser was left with a name meaning “red-footed”. There’s no particular difference in foot color between the two.)

The same spelling, “Bernacle”, will be used consistently in Volume III when we come to marine invertebrates.

Lepas anatifera (Goose-bearing shell)
[As described in the Worms section of Volume III. Robert Mudie’s 1834 The Feathered Tribes of the British Islands (pg. 286-87) is a little more compassionate about the story:

This same bernacle goose was represented as growing out of the transformed acorn shell, which has thence, as if to perpe­tuate the fable, been called anatifera, or “goose-bearing.” We are sometimes in the habit of giving ourselves airs, of more vanity than discretion, in turning the guesses and conjectures of the men of former times, upon points which they did not understand, into ridicule: but these triumphs over the dead are as ill judged as they are unmanly. According to Lord Bacon, we are the ancients of the world, and the men of former times were children in experience as compared with us. Be it so. But the sages among us do not mock at the ignorance of children—they teach them to know better; and as we cannot school our forefathers in that way, the wisest plan that we can follow, is to take heed lest some of our own theories be not as wide of the truth as those which we are so prone to censure, and that we do not doubly merit the ridicule of those who come after,—first, on account of the absurdity of our opinions, and secondly, and retributively, because we have ridiculed those who are equally beyond our instruction and our reproof. If half the time which has been spent in exposing this absurdity, which, in the nature of things, really stood in need of no exposure, had been bestowed upon investigating the habits, and inquiring into the breeding haunts of the bird, its history might, by this time, have been rendered as perfect as it is still obscure. ]

even as the fish of Oysters and Muscles are
[It seems as if it ought to be “flesh”, but the quoted source (Gerard, pg. 1391) really does say “fish”.]

[Synonyms] Anas Erythropus.
text has Erythopus


Is a bird somewhat bigger than the tame Goose. The bill, the head, and the neck, are black; and under the throat there is a broad white band, like a crescent. The breast, the upper part of the belly, the back, and wing-coverts, are dusky brown; the lower parts of the neck and belly, and upper tail-coverts, white. The quills and tail are black, and the legs dark lead-colour.

The Canada Geese inhabit the further parts of II.498 North America. Immense flocks appear annually in the spring in Hudson’s-bay, and pass more to the north to breed; and return southward in the autumn. The English at Hudson’s-bay depend greatly on Geese, of this and other kinds, for their support; and in favourable years they often kill three or four thousand, which they salt and barrel. Their arrival is impatiently waited—it is the harbinger of the spring, and that month is named by the Indians the Goose Moon.

The English settlers send out their servants, as well as the Indians, to shoot these birds on their passage. It is in vain to pursue them; the men therefore form a row of huts made of boughs, at musquet-shot distance from each other, and placed in a line across the vast marshes of the country. Each hovel, or, as it is called, stand, is occupied by only a single person. These attend the flight of the birds; on the approach of which they mimic their cackle so well, that the Geese will answer, wheel, and come nearer the stand. The sportsman remains motionless, and on his knees, with his gun cocked the whole time; and never fires till he can perceive the eyes of the Goose. He fires as they are going from him; then picks up another gun that lies by him, and discharges that also. The Geese that he has killed, he sets up on sticks, as if alive, to decoy others; he also makes artificial birds for the same purpose. In a good day (for they fly in very uncertain and unequal numbers) a single Indian will kill two hundred.—Notwithstanding each species of Goose has a different call, yet the Indians are admirable in their imitation of every one.⁕1

Synonyms.—Anas Canadensis. Linn.—Oye à Cravate. Buff.—Canada Goose. Latham.

⁕1 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 166.

Notes and Corrections: The Canada Goose

Anas canadensis is now Branta canadensis, representing the other main goose genus.


engraving of Eider Drake and Duck, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 95:
Eider Drake & Duck


This species is about twice the size of the Common Duck. Its bill is black, and the feathers of the forehead and cheeks advance far into the base. In the male, the feathers of part of the head, of the lower part of the breast, the belly, and the tail, are black, as are also the quill-feathers of the wings; and nearly all the rest of the body is white. The legs are green. The female is of a reddish brown, variously marked with black and dusky streaks. It is principally found in the western isles of Scotland, and on the coasts of Norway, Iceland, and Greenland.

In Iceland, the Eider Ducks generally build their nests on small islands not far from the shore; and sometimes even near the dwellings of the natives, who treat them with so much attention and kindness, as to render them nearly tame.—Sometimes two females will lay their eggs in the same nest, in which case they always agree remarkably well.

As long as the female is sitting, the male continues on watch near the shore; but as soon as the young are hatched, he leaves them. The mother, however, remains with them a considerable time afterwards. It is curious to observe her manner of leading them out of the nest, almost as soon as they creep from II.500 the eggs. Going before them to the shore, they trip after her: and, when she comes to the water-side, she takes them on her back, and swims a few yards with them; when she dives, and the young ones are left floating on the surface, and are obliged to take care of themselves. They are seldom seen afterwards on land.

engraving of “Cuthbert Eider”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 60:
Cuthbert Eider

From these birds is produced the soft down so well known by the name of eider, or edder down. This they pluck from their breasts in the breeding season, to line their nests; making with it a soft bed for their young. When the natives come to the nest, they carefully remove the female, and take away the superfluous down and eggs; after this they replace the female: she then begins to lay afresh, and covers her eggs with new down, which she plucks from her body; when this is scarce, or she has no more left, the male comes to her assistance, and covers the eggs with his down, which is white and easily distinguished from that of the female. When the young ones leave the nest, which is about an hour after they are hatched, it is once more plundered.

The best down, and the most eggs, are got during the first three weeks of their laying; and it has generally been observed, that they lay the greatest number of eggs in rainy weather.—One female, during the time of laying, generally gives half a pound of down; which, however, is reduced one-half after it is cleansed.⁕1


The eider-down is of such value, when in its purity, that it is sold in Lapland for two rix-dollars a pound. It is extremely soft and warm; and so light and expansive, that a couple of handfuls squeezed together are sufficient to fill a down quilt,—a covering like a feather-bed, used in those cold countries instead of a common quilt or blanket.⁕2

There are generally exported from Iceland, every year, by the Iceland Company at Copenhagen, 1500 or 2000 pounds weight of down, cleansed and uncleansed, exclusive of what is privately exported by foreigners. In the year 1750, this company sold so much in quantity of this article, as produced 3747 rix-dollars, besides what was sent directly to Gluckstadt.⁕3

The Greenlanders kill these birds with darts; pursuing them in their little boats, watching their course by the air bubbles when they dive, and always striking at them when they rise to the surface wearied. The flesh is valued as food, and their skins are made into warm and comfortable under-garments.⁕4

Synonyms.—Anas Mollissima. Linn.—Oye à Duvet, ou Eider. Buff.—Eider, or Cuthbert Duck. Willughby.—Great Black and White Duck. Edwards.—Colk. Martin.—Duntur Goose. Sibbald.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 95.

⁕1 Von Troil, 143.

⁕2 Conset, 77.

⁕3 Von Troil.

⁕4 Penn. Arct. Zool. ii. 177.

Notes and Corrections: The Eider Duck

Just when you thought we would never get to a bona fide duck, here is Anas mollissima (“very soft duck”), now known as Somateria mollissima. Although it isn’t Anas, it is securely in the Anatinae (ducks) subfamily.

engraving of Wild Ducks, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 97:
Wild Ducks


Wild Ducks frequent the marshy places in many parts of this kingdom; but no where in greater plenty than in Lincolnshire, where prodigious numbers II.502 are annually taken in the decoys. In only ten decoys in the neighbourhood of Wainfleet, as many as thirty-one thousand two hundred have been caught in one season.

A decoy is a pond generally situated in a marsh, so as to be surrounded with wood or reeds, and if possible with both, to prevent the birds which frequent it from being disturbed. In this pond the birds sleep during the day; and as soon as the evening sets in, the decoy rises (as it is termed), and the wild fowl feed during the night. If the evening is still, the noise of their wings during flight is heard at a great distance, and is a pleasing though somewhat melancholy sound. The decoy-ducks (which are either bred in the pond-yard, or in the marshes adjacent; and which, although they fly abroad, regularly return for food to the pond, and mix with the tame ones that never quit the pond) are fed with hemp-seed, oats, and buck-wheat.—In catching the wild birds, hemp-seed is thrown over the skreens to allure them forward into the pipes; of which there are several, leading up a narrow ditch, that closes at last with a funnel-net. Over these pipes, which grow narrower from the first entrance, there is a continued arch of netting, suspended on hoops. It is necessary, to have a pipe for almost every wind that can blow, as on that circumstance it depends which pipe the fowl will take to. The decoy-man likewise always keeps to the leeward of the wild fowl: and burns in his mouth or hand a piece of Dutch turf, that his effluvia may not reach them; for if they once discover by the smell that a Man is near, they II.503 all instantly take flight. Along each pipe are placed reed skreens, at certain intervals, to prevent him from being seen till he thinks proper to shew himself, or the birds are passed up the pipe, to which they are led by the trained Ducks (who know the decoy-man’s whistle), or are enticed by the hemp-seed. A Dog is sometimes used; who is taught to play backwards and forwards between the skreens, at the direction of his master. The fowl, roused by this new object, advance towards it, while the Dog is playing still nearer to the entrance of the pipes; till at last the decoy-man appears from behind the skreens, and the wild-fowl, not daring to pass by him, and unable to fly off on account of the net covering the hoops, press forward to the end of the funnel-net which terminates upon the land, where a person is stationed ready to take them. The trained birds return back past the decoy-man, into the pond again, till a repetition of their services is required. The general season for catching, is from the latter end of October till February. There is a prohibition, by act of parliament, against taking them between the first of June and the first of October.

engraving of Mallard, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 327:

It was formerly customary to have, in the fens, an annual driving of the young Ducks, before they took wing. Numbers of people assembled, who beat a vast tract, and forced the birds into a net, placed at the spot where the sport was to terminate. By this practice (which however has been abolished by parliament,) as many as a hundred and seventy-four dozen have been known to be taken in one day.⁕1


Wild Ducks are very artful birds. They do not always build their nest close to the water; but often at a good distance from it; in which case the female will take the young in her beak, or between the legs, to the water. They have been known sometimes to lay their eggs in a high tree, in a deserted Magpie or Crow’s nest; and an instance has likewise been recorded of one being found at Etchingham, in Sussex, sitting upon nine eggs, in an oak, at the height of twenty-five feet from the ground: the eggs were supported by some small twigs, laid crossways.

We are informed, that at Bold, in Lancashire, there were formerly great quantities of Wild Ducks, during the summer-time, in the ponds and moat near the Hall. These, it is said, used regularly to be fed. A man beat with a stone on a hollow wooden vessel, and immediately the Ducks would come round him. He scattered corn among them, which they gathered with as much quietness and familiarity as might be expected from tame Ducks. As soon as they had finished their repast, they returned to their accustomed haunts.⁕2

engraving of Tame Duck, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 333:

Prodigious numbers of these birds are taken by decoys, in Picardy in France, particularly on the river Somme. It is customary there, to wait for the flock’s passing over certain known places; when the sportsman, having a wicker cage containing a quantity of tame birds, lets out one at time, which enticing the passengers within gun-shot, five or six are often killed at once, by an expert marksman. They II.505 are now and then also taken by hooks, baited with raw meat, which the birds swallow while swimming on the water.

Other methods of catching Ducks and Geese are peculiar to certain nations: one of these, from its singularity, seems worth mentioning. A person wades into the water up to the chin; and having his head covered with an empty calabash, approaches the place where the Ducks are: which, not regarding an object of this kind, suffer the man freely to mix with the flock; when he has only to pull them by the legs under the water, one after another, and fix them to his belt, till he is satisfied; returning as unsuspected by the remainder as when he first came among them.⁕3—This curious method is frequently practised on the river Ganges, the earthen vessels of the Gentoos being used instead of calabashes. These vessels are what the Gentoos boil their rice in: after having been once used, they are looked upon as defiled, and are thrown into the river as useless: the Duck-takers find them convenient for their purpose; as the Ducks, from seeing them constantly float down the stream, look upon them as objects not to be regarded.

The Chinese make great use of Ducks, but prefer the tame to the wild ones. It is said that the major part of the Ducks in China are hatched by artificial heat. The eggs, being laid in boxes of sand, are placed on a brick hearth, to which is given a proper heat during the time required for hatching. The II.506 Ducklings are fed with Craw-fish and Crabs, boiled and cut small, and afterwards mixed with boiled rice; and in about a fortnight they are able to shift for themselves. The Chinese then provide them an old step-mother, who leads them where they are to find provender; being first put on board a sampane, or boat, which is destined for their habitation; and from which the whole flock, often to the amount of three or four hundred, go out to feed, and return at command. This method is used nine months out of the twelve, (for in the colder months it does not succeed;) and is so far from a novelty, that it may be every where seen: but more especially about the time of cutting the rice, and gleaning the crop; when the masters of the Duck-sampanes row up and down the river, according to the opportunity of procuring food, which is found in plenty, at the tide of ebb, on the rice plantations, as they are overflowed at high water. It is curious to observe how the Ducks obey their masters; for some thousands, belonging to different boats, will feed at large on the same spot, and on a signal given will follow their leader to their respective sampanes, without a single stranger being found among them. This is still more extraordinary, if we consider the number of inhabited sampanes⁕4 on the Tigris; supposed to be no less than forty thousand, which are moored in rows close to each other, with here and there a narrow passage for boats to sail up and down the river. The Tigris at Canton II.507 is somewhat wider than the Thames at London; and the whole river is there covered in this manner for the extent of at least a mile.

Synonyms.—Anas Boschas. Linn.—Canard Sauvage. Buff.—Common Wild Duck and Mallard, Common Tame Duck. Willughby.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 97.

⁕1 Daniel, ii. 469.—Latham.

⁕2 Leigh’s Natural History of Cheshire, &c. 163.

⁕3 Navarette’s Account of China, in Churchill’s Voyages, i. 45.

⁕4 Sampane is a common name for a boat: the inhabited ones contain each a separate family, of which they are the only dwelling; and many of the Chinese pass almost their whole lives in this manner on the water.

Notes and Corrections: The Wild Duck

The mallard is no longer Anas boschas but—unexpectedly—Anas platyrhynchos (“flat-beaked duck”, presumably to distinguish it from all the non-flat-beaked ducks).

if they once discover by the smell that a Man is near
[All birds have a sense of smell. It’s just not as strong in ducks as in, for example, vultures.]

the number of inhabited sampanes on the Tigris
[Zero, one would think, unless you stipulate that he means the Pearl River delta (Bocca Tigris).]

engraving of four heads of “Awks”, no later than 1827

Latham Synopsis Vol. III plate 95:
Awks. 1. Tufted 2. Perroquet 3. Dusky 4. Crested


The Auks are for the most part inhabitants of the Northern Ocean. They breed in holes which they sometimes dig in the earth, or in the fissures of rocks; and lay but one egg. They generally rest in these holes during the night. Their feet are placed behind the centre of gravity, which makes some of the species stand with their heads almost upright. In their manners they generally appear very stupid.

The bill is strong, thick, convex, and, except in a very few species, compressed on the sides, and crossed with transverse furrows. The nostrils are linear, and situated parallel to the edge of the bill. They have three toes, all placed forward.

engraving of Great Auk, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 6:
Great Auk

Notes and Corrections: The Auk Tribe

Auks, along with puffins and guillemots, are family Alcidae in order Charadriiformes (shore birds), the same order that gave us wood­cocks, sandpipers, plovers and so on. You can forgive Linnaeus for not realizing that puffins and sandpipers are closely related.

Bingley does not discuss Pinguinus impennis (Linnaeus’s Alca impennis), the great auk, which was last seen in 1852. But Shaw does—complete with picture.

engraving of Arctic Puffin and Northern Puffin, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 4:
1. Arctic Puffin 2. Northern Puffin


This bird is about twelve inches in length. The bill is an inch and a quarter long, much compressed on the sides; and nearly an inch and a half deep at the base, from whence both mandibles tend to a point, II.508 which is a little curved: across these are oblique furrows: the half of the bill next the point is red; and that next the base blue-grey. The top of the head, the hind part of the neck, and all the upper parts of the plumage, are black; which colour passes also round the throat like a collar. The sides of the head, the chin, and all the under parts, are white. The legs are orange.

The Puffin Auks appear in some parts of our coast in the beginning of April. Their first employment is the forming of burrows in the earth or sand, for their young; which is the task of the males, who are so intent on the business, as to suffer themselves at that time to be taken with the hand. Some, where there is opportunity, save themselves the trouble of forming holes, by dispossessing the Rabbets of theirs.

engraving of Puffin, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 168:

They lay one white egg; and the males as well as females perform the office of sitting, relieving each other when they go to feed. The young are hatched in the beginning of July. Mr. Pennant has asserted that their affection for their young is so great, that when “laid hold of by the wings, they will give themselves the most cruel bites on any part of their body that they can reach, as if actuated by despair; and when released, instead of flying away, they will often hurry again into their burrows.” When I was in Wales, in the summer of 1801, I took several of them out of the holes that had young ones in them, for the purpose of ascertaining this fact. They bit me with great violence, but none of them seized on any parts of their own body: a few on being released ran into the burrows; but not always into II.509 those from whence I had taken them: if it was more easy for them to escape into a hole than raise themselves into the air, they did so; but if not, they ran down the slope of the hill in which their burrows were formed, and flew away.—The noise they make when with their young, is a singular kind of humming, much resembling that produced by the large wheels used for spinning worsted. On being seized, they emitted this noise with greater violence; and from its being interrupted by their struggling to escape, it sounded not much unlike the efforts of a dumb man to speak.

The young ones are entirely covered with a long blackish down; and in shape are altogether so different from the parent birds, that no one could at first sight suppose them of the same species. Their bill also is long, pointed and black, with scarcely any marks of furrows.⁕1

The re-migration of the Puffins takes place about the middle of August; when not a single one remains behind, except the unfledged young of the latter hatches: these are left a prey to the Peregrine Falcon; which watches the mouth of the holes for their appearance, compelled, as they must soon be, by hunger, to come out.

The food of these birds is Sprats or sea-weeds, which makes them excessively rank; yet the young are pickled and preserved with spices, and by some people are much admired.

The Kamtschadales and Kuriles wear the bills of II.510 the Puffins fastened about their necks with straps. The priests put them on with a proper ceremony, and the persons are supposed to be always attended by good-fortune so long as they retain them there.⁕2

It appears certain that the Puffins do not breed till their third year. The proof of this arises from the observations made by the Rev. Hugh Davies, of Aber, in Caernarvonshire, on the different forms of the bills, among the thousands of this species which, in the year 1776, were wrecked on the Welsh coast near Criccieth. He saw the beach, for miles, covered with dead birds; among which were Puffins, Razor-bills, Guillemots, and Kittiwakes; as well as Tarrocks, Gannets, Wild Geese, Bernacles, Brent Geese, Scoters, and Tufted Ducks. This unusual accident he conjectured to be owing to a severe storm of frost that had overtaken both the migrants and re-migrants. From the Puffins he here found, he remarked the different forms of their bills in their several periods of life. Those that he supposes to have been of the first year, were small, weak, destitute of any furrow, and of a dusky colour; those of the second year were considerably stronger and larger, lighter coloured, and with a faint rudiment of a furrow at the base; those of the more advanced years had vivid colours, and were of great strength.⁕3

Synonyms.—Alca Arctica. Linn.—Macareux. Buff.—Puffin. Penn.—Coulterneb. Willughby.—Bowger. Martin.

⁕1 Scenery of North Wales, vol. i. 352.

⁕2 Grieve’s Kamtschatka, 153.

⁕3 Pennant’s Tour in North Wales, ii. 251.

Notes and Corrections: The Puffin Auk

Genus Alca is reserved for razorbills, so Linnaeus’s Alca arctica, the puffin, is now Fratercula arctica (“arctic little brother”). Why the genus is Fratercula rather than the expected Fraterculus is anyone’s guess. Maybe the namer wanted to keep it feminine, to agree with Alca, but hadn’t the nerve to go with Sororcula instead.


engraving of Little Penguin, no later than 1827

Latham Synopsis Vol. III plate 103:
Little Penguin


The Penguins seem to hold the same place in the southern parts of the world, that the Auks do in the northern; being only found in the temperate and frigid zones of the southern hemisphere. They resemble them in almost all their habits; walking erect, and being very stupid: they also resemble them in their colour, and their mode of feeding, and of making their nests. From the extreme shortness of their wings, they are altogether incapable of flying. They swim with great swiftness; and are fortified against the effects of a long continuance in the cold water, by an abundance of fat. They hatch their young in an erect position; and cackle like Geese, but in a hoarser tone.

Their bill is strong, straight, furrowed on the sides, and bent towards the point. The nostrils are linear, and placed in the furrows. The tongue is covered with strong spines, pointing backwards. The wings are small, not unlike fins, covered with no longer feathers than the rest of the body. The body is clothed with thick short feathers; which have broad shafts, and are placed as compactly as scales. The legs are short and thick, placed backwards, near the tail. The toes are four, all placed forwards; the interior ones are loose, and the rest webbed.—The tail is very stiff, consisting of broad shafts scarcely webbed.

Notes and Corrections: The Penguin Tribe

Penguins are not related to any other water birds, no matter how badly Linnaeus wanted to lump them all together. They are an order all to themselves, Sphenisciformes (“shaped like little wedges”, if I can trust Messrs. Liddell & Scott), consisting of the single family Spheniscidae.


engraving of Crested Penguin, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 437:
The Crested Penguin


This beautiful bird is nearly two feet in length.—The bill is red, and three inches long; the upper mandible curved at the end, and the lower obtuse. The head, neck, back, and sides, are black. Over each eye there is a stripe of pale yellow feathers, which lengthens behind into a crest about four inches long; this is decumbent, but can be erected at pleasure: the feathers of the head above this are longer than the rest, and stand upward. The wings are black on the outside; but the edges and the inside are white. The legs are orange-coloured, and the claws dusky. The female is destitute of the crest.

The Crested Penguins are inhabitants of several of the South Sea islands. They have the names of Hopping Penguins, and Jumping Jacks, from their action of leaping quite out of the water, sometimes three or four feet, on meeting with any obstacle in their course; and, indeed, they frequently do this without any other apparent cause than the desire of advancing by that means. All the Penguins, while swimming, sink above the breast, the head and neck only appearing out of the water; and they row themselves along with their finny wings as with oars.

engraving of “Hopping Gorfou”, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 8:
Hopping Gorfou

This species seems to have a greater air of liveliness in its countenance than almost any of the others: yet it is still a very stupid bird; and so regardless II.513 of its own safety, as even to suffer any person to lay hold of it. When provoked, it erects its crest in a very beautiful manner; and we are told, that when attacked by our voyagers, it ran at them in flocks, pecked their legs, and spoiled their clothes. “When the whole herd was beset (says Mr. Forster, in his account of one of the South Sea islands), they all became very bold at once; and ran violently at us, biting our legs, or any part of our clothes.”

Their sleep is extremely sound: for Dr. Sparrmann, accidentally stumbling over one of them, kicked it several yards without disturbing its rest; nor was it till after being repeatedly shaken that the bird awoke.

They are very tenacious of life. Mr. Forster left a great number of them apparently lifeless from the blows they had received, while he went in pursuit of others; but they all afterwards got up and marched off with the utmost gravity.⁕1

They form their nests among those of the birds of the Pelican tribe, and live in tolerable harmony with them. The female generally lays only a single egg. Their nests are holes in the earth; which they easily form with their bills, throwing back the dirt with their feet.—They are often found in great numbers on the shores where they have been bred.


Penrose mentions a species of Penguin that resorts to certain places of the Falkland Islands in incredible numbers, and lays its eggs.—These places, he tells us, had become by its long residence entirely freed from grass; and he has given to them the name of towns. The nests were composed of mud; raised into hillocks, about a foot high, and placed close to each other. “Here (he says), during the breeding season, we were presented with a sight that conveyed a most dreary, and, I may say, awful idea of the desertion of the islands by the human species:—a general stillness prevailed in these towns; and whenever we took our walks among them, in order to provide ourselves with eggs, we were regarded, indeed, with side-long glances, but we carried no terror with us.

“The eggs are rather larger than those of a Goose, and are laid in pairs. When we took them once, and sometimes twice in a season, they were as often replaced by the birds; but prudence would not permit us to plunder too far, lest a future supply in the next year’s brood might be prevented.”⁕2

Synonyms.—Aptenodytes Chrysocome. Linn.—Manchot Sauteur. Buff.—Crested Penguin. Latham.

⁕1 Forster’s Voyage, ii. 519.

⁕2 Penrose’s Account of an Expedition to the Falkland Islands in the year 1772.

Notes and Corrections: The Crested Penguin

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Aptenodytes chrysocome is now Eudyptes chrysocome, the rockhopper penguin. Clearly Bingley’s sources were not the only ones impressed by its hippity-hopping.

a species of Penguin that resorts to certain places of the Falkland Islands
[The Falklands (Malvinas) are home to five species of penguin, representing four of the six penguin genera. In addition to the rockhopper and its close relative the Macaroni Penguin (E. chryso­lophus), you’ll find the Gentoo (Pygoscelis papua), Magellanic (Spheniscus magellanicus), and King (Aptenodytes patagonicus) Penguins.]

prudence would not permit us to plunder too far, lest a future supply in the next year’s brood might be prevented
[A remarkable degree of foresight, coming from an 19th-century explorer.]


engraving of Stormy Petrel, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 91 (partial):
Stormy Petrel


These birds all frequent the ocean, and are seldom to be seen on shore except during the breeding season. Their legs are bare of feathers a little above the knee. They have a singular faculty of spouting from their bills, to a considerable distance, a large quantity of pure oil; which they do, by way of defence, into the face of any one that attempts to annoy them. This oil has been frequently used in medicine; and some writers say, with success.

The bill is somewhat compressed; the mandibles are equal, and the upper one is hooked at the point. The nostrils form a truncated cylinder, lying over the base of the bill. The feet are webbed; and, in the place of a hind toe, have a spur pointing downwards.

Notes and Corrections: The Petrel Tribe

Petrels and albatrosses make up the order Procellariiformes, “tube-nosed seabirds”.

engraving of Stormy Petrel, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 249:


This Petrel is not larger than a Swallow: and its colour is entirely black; except the coverts of the tail, the tail itself, and the vent feathers, which are white. Its legs are long and slender.


It is found in most seas, and frequently at a vast distance from the land, where it braves the utmost fury of the storms, sometimes skimming with incredible velocity along the hollows of the waves, and sometimes over their summits. It often follows vessels in great flocks, to pick up any thing that is thrown overboard; but its appearance is always looked upon by the sailors as the sure presage of stormy weather in the course of a few hours. It seems to seek for protection from the fury of the wind, in the wake of the vessels; and for the same reason it very probably is, that it often flies along between two surges.

The nests of these birds are found in the Orkney Islands, under loose stones, in the months of June and July.—They live chiefly on small fish; and although mute by day, are very clamorous during the night.

The inhabitants of the Feroe islands are said to draw a wick through the bird, which, being lighted at one end, serves for a candle, the flame being fed by the fat and oil of the body.

Synonyms.—Procellaria Pelagica. Linn.—Oiseau de Tempête. Buff.—Petrel. Dampier.—Storm Finch, or Little Petrel. Small Petrel. Edwards.—Stormy Petrel. Penn.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 91.

Notes and Corrections: The Stormy Petrel

Procellaria pelagica, the European storm petrel, is now Hydrobates pelagica. It is not just a different genus from “true” petrels but a different family, Hydrobatidae, further divided into subfamilies for the northern and southern hemisphere.



There are but four species of Albatross; of which three are found principally in the seas of the hot climates, and the fourth is confined to those within the Antarctic Circle. Their bill is straight: the upper mandible hooked at the point; and the lower truncated, or appearing as if cut off. The nostrils are oval, wide, prominent, and lateral; the tongue is very small; and the feet have three toes, all placed forward.

Notes and Corrections: The Albatross Tribe

Albatrosses are in the same order as petrels, but make up a family of their own, Diomedeidae. There are four genera, with anywhere from two to five species each.

engraving of Wandering Albatross, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 30:
Wandering Albatross


These birds are found in most seas, but chiefly in those within the tropics: they are, however, often seen about the Cape of Good Hope; and towards the end of July collect in great numbers in Kamtschatka, and the seas which separate that part of Asia from America. In size they are sometimes as large as a Swan. Their general colour is white, the upper parts marked with black lines. The quill-feathers are black; and the tail is rounded, and of a lead colour. The bill is of a pale yellow, and the legs are flesh-coloured.


They are exceedingly voracious, and feed on various species of fish and molluscæ. The shoals of Flying-fish, when persecuted by their enemies of the deep, make their appearance for a short flight in the air, and suffer greatly from the voracity of these birds. They also often pursue the shoals of Salmon into the mouths of the large rivers; and so gorge themselves as, notwithstanding their otherwise extraordinary powers of flight, to be prevented by their weight and consequent stupidity from even rising.

In the West Indies the appearance of these birds is said to foretel the arrival of ships; which 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 harbours, where they are protected by the land; and the same wind that blows them in, brings also very often vessels to seek a retreat from the storm.⁕1

Their voice resembles very much the braying of an Ass. In South America they build their nests about the end of September: these are formed of earth, on the ground, and are from one to three feet high. The eggs are as large as those of the 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 their feathers; which they use for arrows, as they last much longer than those of any other birds.⁕2 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 a light float of wood into the water, baited with a small fish. When one of the birds approaches it, a man stands ready with a pole, of about eighteen feet long; and on its pouncing, he strikes at it, and seldom fails of bringing it down. If, however, he misses his aim, he must wait for some other bird; for that will no more be tempted to approach. The cock birds are reckoned the most valuable; and sometimes even a large Hog is given in exchange for one of these.⁕3

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 too for heckling the glass, which serves them instead of flax. The flesh is very hard and dry.

Synonyms.Diomedea Exulans. Linn.—Albatross. Buff. Wandering Albatross. Latham.—Man-of-war Bird. Albin.

⁕1 Sloane, i. 30.

⁕2 Sloane, i. 30.

⁕3 Wilson, 382.

Notes and Corrections: The Man-of-War Bird

Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, still has that binomial.

In size they are sometimes as large as a Swan.
[Possibly even larger; its typical wingspan is a staggering 3m (10 ft).]

[Synonyms] Diomedea Exulans. Linn.
text has Diomedia


engraving of Pelican, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 14:


In this tribe the bill is long and straight; and the end either hooked, or sloping. The nostrils are placed in the furrow that runs along the sides of the bill, and in most of the species are not distinguishable. 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 Pelecans are gregarious; and, in general, remarkable for their extreme 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 far at sea; but some of them are found occasionally in the interior parts of continents.

Notes and Corrections: The Pelecan Tribe

Pelicans are their own family, Pelecanidae, and order, Pelecaniformes. Until recently the order included cormorants, gannets, boobies and assorted other seafaring birds. These have now been spun-off to their own order, Suliformes, named for family Sulidae, boobies and gannets; other relocated families include cormorants, family Phalacrocoracidae (“bald crows”), and frigate birds, Fregatidae.

engraving of Common Pelican, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 13:
Common Pelican


This Pelecan, when full grown, is much larger than a Swan. The bill is about sixteen inches long, and the skin between the sides of the lower mandible is very flaccid and dilatable, extending to eight or nine inches down the neck; this is bare of feathers, II.521 and is capable of containing many quarts of water. The tongue is so small as to be scarcely distin­guishable. The sides of the head are naked; and on the back of the head is a kind of crest. The whole plumage is whitish, suffused with a pale blush-colour; except some parts of the wings, which are black. The legs are lead coloured, and the claws grey.

The bag in the lower mandible of the bill is one of the most remarkable members that is found in the structure of any animal. 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 distended amazingly; and when the bird has fished with success, its size is almost incredible. It would contain a man’s head with the greatest ease; and, it has even been said that a man’s leg, with a boot on, has been hidden in one of these pouches. In fishing, the Pelecan fills this bag: and does not immediately swallow his prey; but when this 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, who are very 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 the head resting against the breast. They remain almost motionless till hunger calls them to break off their repose; thus spending 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 downwards, and continue to fly in that posture till they see a fish sufficiently near the surface: they then dart down with astonishing swiftness, seize it with unerring certainty, and store it up 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 can scarcely guess; unless, struck with its extraordinary figure, they were desirous of supplying it with propensities equally extraordinary. For it is, in truth, one of the most heavy, sluggish, and voracious, of all the feathered tribes; and but ill fitted to take those flights, or to make those cautious provisions, which have been related of it.

It is, however, by no means destitute of natural affection, either towards its young, or towards others of its own species. Clavigero, in his History of Mexico, says that some of the Americans, in order to procure a supply of fish without any trouble, cruelly break the wing of a live Pelecan, and after tying the bird to a tree, conceal themselves near the place. The screams of the miserable bird attract other Pelecans 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 II.523 a small quantity for the bird, carry off the remainder.

The female feeds her young with fish macerated for some time in her bag. Labat informs us, that he took two Pelecans when very young, and tied them by the leg to a post stuck into the ground; and he had the pleasure of seeing the old one come for several days to feed them, remaining with them the greatest part of the day, and spending 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 Pelecan has often been rendered entirely domestic; and a writer assures us, that he saw one among the Americans so well trained that it would, on command, go off in the morning, and return before night with 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 Pelecan was kept in the court of the Duke of Bavaria above forty years. He says that it seemed very fond of being in the company of mankind; and 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, seem to pay the utmost attention. We are told that the emperor Maximilian had a tame Pelecan that lived above eighty years, II.524 and always attended his soldiers when on their marches. M. de Saint Pierre mentions his having seen at the Cape Town a large Pelecan, playing close to the custom-house with a great Dog; whose head she often took, in her frolic, into her enormous beak.

When a number of Pelecans and Corvorants are together, they are said to have a very singular method of taking fish. They spread into a large circle, at some distance from land; and the Pelecans 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 towards the land; and, as the circle lessens by the birds coming closer 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, who likewise obtain a share of the spoil.

Synonyms.—Pelecanus Onocrotalus. Linn.—Pelican. Buff.—Great White Pelecan. Latham.—Great Pelecan. Penn.

Notes and Corrections: The White Pelecan

skip to next section

Pelecanus onocrotalus still has that binomial.

thus spending nearly the whole of their life in eating and sleeping
[“And your point is . . .?” —My Cat.]

this stupid bird
[In the present volume, the adjective “stupid”, applied to birds, appears fourteen times—with a further five times for the assorted hoofed mammals that began the volume.]

a Pelecan was kept in the court of the Duke of Bavaria above forty years . . . . the emperor Maximilian had a tame Pelecan that lived above eighty years
[Forty years, maybe. Eighty years, not so much. The pelican’s record lifespan in captivity is 51 years.]

engraving of Common Cormorant, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 10:
Common Cormorant


The weight of the Corvorant is about seven pounds; and its size (though it is much more slender) about that of a Goose. The general colour of the body is black: but the male has the feathers under the chin white, and likewise a short, loose, pendant crest; and part of the wings is sometimes of a deep and glossy blue green. The bill is dusky; and in the II.525 lower mandible there is a naked yellowish pouch. The legs are short, strong, and black.⁕1

These birds are common on many of our sea coasts: building their nests on the highest parts of the cliffs, that hang over the sea; and laying 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 sudden digestion, promoted, perhaps, by the infinite quantity of small worms that fill their intestines. They are very wary: except when they have filled their stomach; when they become so stupid, that it is frequently an easy thing to take them in a net, or even by means of a noose thrown over their heads. In the year 1798, I saw one that had been seized by the hand, when perched on the top of a rock just behind the town of Caernarvon; and in the year 1793 one of them was observed sitting on the vane of St. Martin’s steeple, Ludgate Hill, London, and was shot from thence in the presence of a great number of people.⁕2

engraving of Corvorant, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 381:

Their smell, when alive, is the most rank and disagreeable of any bird’s; 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 twenty of these II.526 birds together on the rocks of the sea coast, with extended wings, drying themselves in the wind:—in this position they remain sometimes nearly an hour, without once closing the wings; and as soon as these are sufficiently dry to enable the feathers to imbibe the oil, they press this substance from the receptacle on their rumps, and dress the feathers with it. It is only in one particular state that the oily matter can be spread on them; when they are somewhat damp: and the instinct of the birds teaches them the proper moment.⁕3

The skins of the Corvorants are very tough; and are used by the Greenlanders, when sewed together and put into proper form, for garments. And the skin of the jaws, like that of others of this tribe, serves that people for bladders to buoy up their smaller kinds of fishing darts.

Corvorants were, formerly, sometimes trained in this country, for the purpose of catching fish. They were kept with great care in the house: and when taken out for fishing, they had round their neck a leather thong, to prevent them from swallowing their prey: they were also hooded till brought to the water’s edge. It appears that King Charles the First had an officer in his household entitled Master of the Corvorants.

Synonyms.—Pelecanus Carbo. Linn.—Le Cormoran. Buff.—Sea Crow. Montagu.

⁕1 Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. 609.

⁕2 Latham’s Second Supplement, 363.

⁕3 Latham’s Second Supplement, 363.

Notes and Corrections: The Corvorant

Pelecanus carbo is now Phalacrocorax carbo, the great cormorant. The variant form “corvorant” was never as common as “cormorant”, but it didn’t fully disappear until mid-century.


engraving of Soland Gannet, no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XIII plate 11:
Soland Gannet


The Gannet is somewhat more than three feet in length, and weighs about seven pounds. The bill is six inches long: straight almost to the point, where it is a little bent; its edges are irregularly jagged, for the better securing of its prey; and about an inch from the base of the upper mandible, is a sharp process, pointing forward. The general colour of the plumage is dirty white, with a cinereous tinge. Surrounding each eye there is a naked skin of fine blue; from the corner of the mouth a narrow slip of naked black skin extends to the hind part of the head; and beneath the chin is a pouch, capable of containing five or six Herrings. The neck is long; the body flat, and very full of feathers. On the crown of the head, and the back part of the neck, is a small buff-coloured space. The quill feathers, and some other parts of the wings, are black; as are also the legs, except a fine pea-green stripe in their front. The tail is wedge-shaped, and consists of twelve sharp-pointed feathers.

These birds frequent several of the Hebrides, and are sometimes seen on the Cornish coast; but seldom occur in any other parts of Europe. They are migratory; and first appear in the above islands about the month of March: they remain till August, or September.

engraving of Gannet, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 103:


They are insatiably voracious, yet somewhat dainty in their choice of prey; disdaining to eat any thing worse than Herrings or Mackrel, unless in great want. No fewer than one hundred thousand of them are supposed to frequent the rocks of Saint Kilda; of which, including the young, at least twenty thousand are annually killed by the inhabitants for food. Allowing that these birds remain in this part about six months in the year, and that each bird destroys five Herrings in a day, which is considerably less than the average, we have at least ninety millions of these, the finest fishes in the world, devoured annually by a single species of Saint Kilda Birds.

They build their nests on the highest and steepest rocks they can find near the sea: laying, if undisturbed, only one egg in the year; but if that be taken away, they will lay another, and if that is also taken, a third, but never more in the same season. The egg is white, and is rather smaller than that of the Goose. The nests are composed of grass, sea plants, or any refuse fitted for the purpose, that they find floating on the water. The young, during the first year, differ greatly from the old ones; being of a dusky hue, and speckled with numerous triangular white spots. While the female is employed in incubation, the male supplies her with food; and the young itself extracts its food from the pouch of the parent, with its bill as with a pincer.

engraving of Gannet, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 393:

These birds, when they pass from place to place, unite in small flocks of from five to fifteen: and II.529 except in very fine weather, fly low, near the shore, but never pass over it; doubling the capes and projecting parts, and keeping nearly at an equal distance from the land. During their fishing they rise high into the air, and sail aloft over the shoals of Herrings or Pilchards, much in the manner of Kites. When they observe the shoal crowded thick together, they close their wings to their sides and precipitate themselves, head-foremost, into the water, dropping almost like a stone. Their eye in this act is so correct, that they never fail to rise with a fish in their mouth.

Mr. Pennant says, that the natives of Saint Kilda hold this bird in much estimation, and often undergo the greatest risks to obtain it. Where this is possible, they climb up the rocks which it frequents; and in doing this they pass along paths so narrow and difficult, as, in appearance, to allow them barely room to cling, and that too at an amazing height over a raging sea. Where this cannot be done, the fowler is lowered by a rope from the top; and to take the young, often stations himself on the most dangerous ledges: unterrified, however, he ransacks all the nests within his reach; and then, by means of a pole and his rope, moves off to other places to do the same. We are told also, that to take the old birds, the inhabitants tie a Herring to a board, and set it afloat; so that by falling furiously upon it, the bird may break its neck in the attempt. This, however, is unlawful; for the fastening of Herrings thus to planks at sea, to catch the Soland Goose, II.530 which is the same bird as the Gannet, is forbidden under a severe penalty.⁕1

Some years ago one of these birds was flying over Penzance, in Cornwall; when seeing some Pilchards lying on a fir plank, in a place for curing those fish, it darted itself down with so much violence, as to strike its bill quite through an inch-and-a-quarter plank, and kill itself on the spot.⁕2

The Gannet seems to attend the Herrings and Pilchards during their whole progress round the British Islands; and sometimes migrates in quest of food as far southward as the mouth of the Tagus, being frequently seen off Lisbon during the month of September. From this time till March it is not well known what becomes of these birds.

The young birds, and the eggs, alone are eatable; the old ones being tough and rancid.

Synonyms.—Pelecanus Bassanus. Linn.—Fou de Bassan. Buff.—Soland Goose. Willughby.—Solan Goose. Martin.—Gannet. Penn.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 103.

⁕1 Penn. Tour in Scotland, 1769, p. 199

⁕2 Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. 619.

Notes and Corrections: The Gannet

Pelecanus bassanus is now Morus bassanus, the northern gannet. Gannets and boobies are family Sulidae in the Pelecaniformes order; genus Morus is gannets.

the fastening of Herrings thus to planks at sea . . . is forbidden under a severe penalty
[Hanging, I suppose.]


The Booby is about two feet six inches in length. Its bill is nearly four inches and a half long; toothed on the edges, and of a grey colour. A space round the eyes, and on the chin, is naked. The head, neck, upper parts of the body, wings, and tail, are ash-coloured brown; and the breast, under parts, and thighs, white. The legs are pale yellow, and the claws grey.


This and some other species have been denominated Boobies from their excessive stupidity; their silly aspect; and their habit of continually shaking their head and shivering when they alight on the ship’s yards, or other parts, where they often suffer themselves to be taken by the hand. In their shape and organization they greatly resemble the Corvorants.

The Boobies have an enemy of their own tribe, that perpetually harasses them. This is the Frigate Pelecan⁕1: which rushes upon them, pursues them without intermission, and obliges them, by blows with its wings and bill, to surrender the prey that they have taken, which it instantly seizes and swallows. Catesby thus describes the skirmishes of the Booby and its enemy, which he calls the Pirate. “The latter (he says) subsists entirely on the spoils of others, and particularly of the Booby. as soon as the Pirate perceives that it has caught a fish, he flies furiously against it, and obliges it to dive under water for safety; the Pirate not being able to follow it, hovers above the water till the Booby is obliged to emerge for respiration, and then attacks it again while spent and breathless, and compels it to surrender its fish: it now returns to its labours, and has to suffer fresh attacks from its enemy.”⁕2 Leguat says the Boobies repair at night to repose on the Island of Rodrigue; and the Frigate, which is a large bird and is so called from the rapidity of II.532 its flight, waits for them on the tops of the trees: it rises very high, and darts down upon them like a Hawk upon his prey, not to kill them, but to make them disgorge. The Booby, struck in this way by the Frigate, throws up a fish, which the latter snatches in the air: often the Booby screams, and discovers a reluctance to part with its booty; but the Frigate scorns its cries, and rising again, descends with such a blow as to stun the poor bird, and compel an immediate surrender.

Dampier gives us a curious account of the hostilities between what he calls Man-of-war birds,⁕3 and the Boobies, in the Alcrane Islands, on the coast of Yucatan. “These birds were crowded so thick, that I could not (he says) pass their haunt without being incommoded by their pecking.—I observed that they were ranged in pairs, which made me presume that they were male and female. When I struck them, some flew away; but the greater number remained, and would not stir, notwithstanding all I could do to rouse them. I remarked also, that the Man-of-war birds and the Boobies always placed sentinels over their young, especially when they went to sea for provisions. Of the Man-of-war birds, many were sick or maimed, and seemed unfit to procure their subsistence. They lived not with the rest of their kind; either expelled from society, or separated by choice: but were dispersed in different places, probably that they II.533 might have a better opportunity of pillaging. I once saw more than twenty on one of the islands, sally out from time to time into the open country to carry off booty, and return again almost immediately. When one surprised a young Booby that had no guard, he gave it a violent peck on the back to make it disgorge, which it did instantly: it cast up one or two fish about the bulk of one’s hand, which the old Man-of-war bird swallowed still more hastily. The vigorous ones play the same game with the old Boobies which they find at sea. I saw one myself which flew right against a Booby; and with one stroke of its bill, made him deliver up a fish that he had just swallowed. The Man-of-war bird darted so rapidly, as to catch this fish in the air before it could fall into the water.”

Synonyms.—Pelecanus Sula. Linn.—Fou. Buff.—Booby. Catesby.

⁕1 Pelecanus Aquilus of Linnæus.

⁕2 Catesby, i. 87.

⁕3 These are, most probably, the Frigate Pelecans just mentioned.

Notes and Corrections: The Booby

skip to next section

Pelecanus sula, the red-footed booby, is now Sula sula, flagship of the Sulidae family. The frigate bird, footnoted as Pelecanus aquilus, is now Fregata aquila in the adjoining Fregatidae family.

as soon as the Pirate perceives that it has caught a fish
[Text has . . . Well, see for yourself:]

page image

the Alcrane Islands, on the coast of Yucatan
[Arrecife Alacranes, also known as Scorpion Reef, is now a national park.]


The following account of this Chinese bird, by Sir George Staunton, is the most authentic of any that has yet been given to us.

“The embassy (he says) had not proceeded far on the southern branch of the Imperial Canal, when they arrived in the vicinity of a place where the Leu-tze, or famed fishing bird of China, is bred and instructed in the art and practice of supplying his owner with fish in great abundance. It is II.534 a species of the Pelican, resembling the Common Corvorant; but, on a specimen being submitted to Dr. Shaw, he has distinguished it in the following terms—‘Brown Pelecan or Corvorant with white throat, the body whitish beneath and spotted with brown; the tail rounded; the irides blue; the bill yellow.’

“On a large lake close to this part of the canal, and to the eastward of it, are thousands of small boats and rafts built entirely for this species of fishing. On each boat or raft are ten or a dozen birds, which, at a signal from the owner, plunge into the water; and it is astonishing to see the enormous size of the fish with which they return, grasped within their bills. They appear to be so well trained, that it did not require either ring or cord about their throats to prevent them from swallowing any portion of their prey, except what the master was pleased to return to them for encouragement and food. The boat used by these fishermen is of a remarkably light make; and is often carried to the lake, together with the fishing birds, by the men who are there to be supported by it.”

The Comte de Buffon says, that they are regularly educated to fishing, as men rear up Spaniels or Hawks; and one man can easily manage a hundred. The fisherman carries them out into a lake, perched on the gunnel of his boat; where they continue tranquil, and wait his orders with patience. When arrived at the proper place, at the first signal each flies a different way, to fulfil the task assigned to it. II.535 It is very pleasant on this occasion to behold with what sagacity they portion out the lake or canal where they are upon duty. They hunt about, they plunge, they rise a hundred times to the surface, until they have at last found their prey. They then seize it with their beak by the middle, and carry it to their master. When the fish is too large, they give each other mutual assistance; one seizes it by the head, the other by the tail, and in this manner they carry it to the boat together. There the boatman stretches out one of his long oars; on which they perch, and being delivered of their burthen, again fly off to pursue their sport. When they are wearied, he lets them rest awhile; but they are never fed till their work is over. In this manner they supply a very plentiful table; but still their natural gluttony cannot be reclaimed even by education. They have always a string fastened round their throats while they fish, to prevent them from swallowing their prey; as they would otherwise at once satiate themselves, and discontinue their pursuit the moment they had filled their bellies.⁕1

Pelecanus Sinensis. Turton’s Linn.

⁕1 Buff. Birds.

Notes and Corrections: The Fishing Corvorant

Pelecanus sinensis, the fishing corvorant, is also recorded as Phalacrocorax sinensis, the Chinese cormorant. Most likely, it is simply the Great Cormorant subspecies Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis.



Mr. Lewis a Navy Surgeon, described to Dr. Latham the mode in which a Red-backed Pelecan, that had been brought up tame, stowed its food into its pouch. Like others of its race, it was very voracious. A number of different-sized fishes were laid before it on the ground; it first attempted to take up one that weighed ten pounds, but the bill was much too weak for this exertion; it however picked up as many as ten others, each of which weighed about a pound, and arranged them in rows with their heads towards the throat:—and after this, it walked off in a very stately manner, with the bag hanging down to its feet. The pouch held about two gallons of water.⁕1

Pelecanus Rufescens. Linn.

⁕1 Latham’s Synopsis.

Notes and Corrections: The Red-Backed Pelecan

Pelecanus rufescens, the pink-backed pelican, still has that binomial.

color picture of Northern Diver, no later than 1827

Shaw Miscellany plate 1049:
Northern Diver


These birds walk very awkwardly, and with great difficulty; but they fly swiftly along the surface of the water, and swim and dive with remark­able dexterity. One division of them, the Guillemots, chiefly inhabit the sea; but the rest seldom frequent any but rivers and fresh-water lakes. They all live on fish.

Their bill is slender, pointed, and nearly straight; the nostrils are linear, and situated at the base. The II.537 tongue is long and slender; and the legs are placed backwards near the tail.

Notes and Corrections: The Diver Tribe

Divers, otherwise known as loons, are genus Gavia in the single-genus family Gaviidae, which in turn makes up the single-family order Gaviiformes. Guillemots, on the other hand, are shore birds, family Alcidae of order Charadriiformes, like the auks and puffins we met earlier.

engraving of Northern Diver, no later than 1827

Pennant British Zoology Vol. II plate 84 (partial):
Northern Diver


The Northern Diver is nearly three feet and a half in length. The bill is black; and is four inches and a half long. The head and neck are of a deep velvet black. Under the chin is a patch of white, marked with several parallel lines of black; and on each side of the neck, and on the breast, is also a large portion of white marked in a similar manner. The upper parts are black, marked with white spots; and the under parts are white. The wings are short; and the quills, tail, and legs, are black. The female is less than the male.—It inhabits chiefly the northern seas, and is common on some of the coasts of Scotland.

Every part and proportion of this bird is so incomparably adapted to its mode of life, that in no instance do we see the wisdom of God in the creation to more advantage. The head is sharp; and smaller than the part of the neck adjoining, in order, that it may pierce the water: the wings are placed forward, and out of the centre of gravity, for a purpose which will be noticed hereafter: the thighs quite at the podex, in order to facilitate diving: and the legs are flat, and as sharp backwards almost as the edge of a knife, that, in striking, they may easily II.538 cut the water: while the feet are broad for swimming; yet so folded up, when advanced forward to take a fresh stroke, as to be full as narrow as the shank. The two exterior toes of the feet are longest: and the nails are flat and broad, resembling the human; which give strength, and increase the power of swimming. The foot, when expanded, is not at right angles with the leg; but the exterior part, inclining towards the head, forms an acute angle with the body: the intention being, not to give motion in the line of the legs themselves, but, by the combined impulse of both, in an intermediate line, the line of the body.

engraving of Northern Diver (young), no later than 1827

Shaw Zoology Vol. XII plate 61:
Northern Diver—young

Most people who have exercised any degree of observation, know that the swimming of birds is nothing more than a walking in the water, where one foot succeeds the other as on the land; but no one, as far as I am aware, (says the Rev. Mr. White,) has remarked that diving-fowls, while under water, impel and row themselves forward by a motion of their wings, as well as by the impulse of their feet: yet such is really the case, as any one may easily be convinced who will observe Ducks when hunted by Dogs in a clear pond.—Nor do I know that any one has given a reason why the wings of diving-fowls are placed so forward: doubtless, not for the purpose of promoting their speed in flying, since that position certainly impedes it; but probably for the increase of their motion under water, by the use of four oars instead of two; and were the wings and feet nearer together, as in land-birds, they II.539 would, when in action, rather hinder than assist one another.⁕1

Synonyms.—Colymbus Glacialis. Linn.—Imbrim. Buff.—Greatest Speckled Diver, or Loon. Willughby.—Northern Diver. Penn.——Penn. Brit. Zool. ii. tab. 84.

⁕1 White’s Naturalist’s Calendar.

Notes and Corrections: The Northern Diver

Colymbus glacialis is most likely Gavia immer, the loon, also known as the great northern diver. (The picture in Shaw’s Zoology does not look anything like a loon, even allowing for juvenile plumage, but the one in the Miscellany does, at least as far as the coloration goes.)

Fun fact: The loon was the top vote-getter for title of Canada’s National Bird, but lost out to the Gray Canada Jay due to last-minute electoral shenanigans.

engraving of Chinese Diver, no later than 1827

Latham Synopsis Vol. III plate 97:
Chinese Diver


The accounts that have been given of this bird are very imperfect. Its size is not known. Its bill is dusky. The upper parts of the plumage are greenish brown; and the fore-part of the neck the same, but paler. The chin, and under parts, are yellowish white, marked with dusky spots. The legs are ash-coloured.

This is supposed to be one of the birds used by the Chinese for catching fish. In that employment it has a ring fastened round the middle of the neck, to prevent its swallowing; it has also a long slender string fastened to it: thus accoutred, it is taken by its master into the fishing-boat, from the edge of which it is taught to plunge after the fish as they pass by; and as the ring prevents these from passing down into the throat, they are taken from the mouth of the bird as fast as it catches them. In this manner it frequently happens that a great many are procured in the course of a few hours. When the keeper has taken a sufficient quantity of fish for himself, the ring is taken off, and the poor labourer is suffered to satisfy its own hunger.⁕1

Synonym.—Colymbus Sinensis. Linn.

⁕1 The bird most commonly used for this purpose by the Chinese fishermen is a species of Pelecan, the Fishing Corvorant (Pelecanus Sinensis); to which article (page 533) the reader is referred for a further account of this singular mode of fishing.

Notes and Corrections: The Chinese Diver

Colymbus sinensis is anyone’s guess. There don’t seem to be any loons in China.

[Footnote] a species of Pelecan, the Fishing Corvorant
[See above.]



The Gulls frequent chiefly the northern countries, and their habits differ from those of most other water-fowl. They do not dive so much as others; but usually feed on the gregarious fish and their fry, which they catch near the surface of the water. When the sea is rough they come into the harbours, where they feed on Worms. Some of them occasionally devour carrion; and Mr. Stackhouse, of Pendarvis, in Cornwall, took from the craw of one of the common species nearly a pint of the small Fern Chafer, scarabæus horticola. They are exceedingly voracious; and, when terrified, throw up their undigested food. By the lightness of their body and the length of their wings, they are enabled to fly with considerable rapidity. The young do not become of the same colour with the old birds till their third year. The eggs are eatable, but their flesh is generally tough and unpleasant.

Their bill is strong, straight, and slightly hooked at the point: on the under part of the lower mandible there is an angular prominence. The nostrils are oblong and narrow, placed in the middle of the bill; and the tongue is somewhat cloven. The legs are short, and naked above the knees; and the back toe is small.

Notes and Corrections: The Gull Tribe

Gulls are subfamily Larinae, family Laridae, in order Charadrii­formes, shore birds, which we have met several times already. Most are in genus Larus.


engraving of Skua Gull, no later than 1804

Bewick Birds Vol. II page 233:


This bird is nearly two feet in length, and weighs about three pounds. Its bill is two inches and a quarter long, hooked at the end, and very sharp; and the upper mandible is covered more than half-way down, with a black cere or skin, as in the Hawk kind. The feathers of the upper parts are of a deep brown, but below they are somewhat of a rust colour. The talons are black, strong, and crooked.

The Skua Gull inhabits Norway, the Fero Islands, Shetland, and the noted rock Foula, a little west of these last. It is the most formidable of the tribe; its prey being not only fish, but (what is wonderful, in a web-footed bird) all the lesser sorts of Water-fowl, and (according to the account of Mr. Schroter, a surgeon of the Fero Isles) Ducks, Poultry, and even young Lambs.

It has the fierceness of the Eagle in defending its young. When the inhabitants of those Islands visit the nest, it attacks them with such force, that, if they hold a knife perpendicularly over their heads, the Gull will sometimes transfix itself in its fall on the plunderers. The Rev. Mr. Low, minister of Birfa, in Orkney, informs us that on his approaching II.542 the habitations of these birds, they assailed him, and the company along with him, in the most violent manner; and intimidated a bold Dog in such a manner as to drive him for protection to his master. The natives are often very rudely treated by them while they are attending their cattle on the hills; and are frequently obliged to guard their heads by holding up their sticks, on which (in the manner mentioned above) the birds often kill themselves.

In Foula the Skua Gulls are privileged: being said to defend the flocks from the attacks of the Eagle, which they beat off and pursue with great fury; so that even that rapacious bird seldom ventures to approach the places where they inhabit. The natives of Foula on this account impose a fine upon any person who destroys one of these useful defenders: and deny that they ever injure their flocks or poultry; but imagine them to live only on the dung of the Arctic Gull and other larger birds.

Synonyms.—Larus Cataractes. Linn.—Goeland Brun. Buff.—Sea Eagle. Sibbald.—Cataractes, or Cornish Gannet. Ray. Will.—Brown Gull. Albin.—Skua Gull. Penn.


Review these numerous scenes; at once survey

Nature’s extended face; then, Sceptics, say,

In this wide field of wonders can you find

No art discover’d, and no end design’d?

Notes and Corrections: The Skua Gull

Skuas or jaegers are not gulls but another Charadriiformes family, Stercorariidae, consisting of the single genus Stercorarius. Which exact skua species is intended by Larus cataractes—or catarractes, or catarhactes, because Linnaeus’s Greek wasn’t all it could have been—is anyone’s guess. For a while, before Stercorarius gained ascendancy, there was even a Cataractes genus, again with a variety of spellings.

Review these numerous scenes
[“Wisdom of God in the Vegetable Creation”, Richard Blackmore, 1712. Yes, our author chose to wrap up his Birds section with some lines from a poem about plants.]

to the

Those marked with an * are varieties of some other species; and those printed in Italics are Synonyms.

Albatross Tribe 517
—— Man-of-war-bird 517
—— wandering 517
Argil 456
Auk Tribe 507
—— Puffin 507
—— Bowger 507
—— Coulterneb 507
—— Macareux 507
Bécasse 462
Bittern 459
Bittour 459
Booby 530
Boorong 456
Bowger 507
Butor 459
Butter-bump 459
Cambing 456
Canard sauvage 501
Cataractes 541
544 Cigogne, blanche 449
Clakis 493
Colk 499
Combatant, ou Paon de Mer 466
Le Cormoran 524
Corvorant 524
—— fishing 533
Coulterneb 507
Crane, common 446
—— gigantic 456
—— sea 524
Cygne 483
—— sauvage 480
Diver Tribe 537
—— northern 537
—— Chinese 539
—— great-speckled 537
—— Imbrim 537
Dotterel 472
Duck Tribe 480
—— whistling Swan 480
—— Tame, or Mute Swan 483
—— Snow Goose 486
—— Wild Goose 487
—— Bernacle 493
—— Canada Goose 497
—— eider 499
545 —— wild 501
—— Canard, sauvage 501
—— Clakis 493
—— Colk 499
—— Cuthbert 499
—— Cygne 483
—— —— sauvage 480
—— Dunter Goose 499
—— Elk 480
—— Fen Goose 487
—— Grey-lag Goose 487
—— Hooper 480
—— Oye à Cravate 497
—— —— duvet, ou Eider 499
—— —— sauvage 487
—— tame 501
—— Tame Goose 487
—— White Brant 486
—— Wild Swan 480
Eagle, sea 542
Echasse 474
Eider Duck 499
Flamant 476
Flamingo Tribe 476
—— red 476
—— Flamant 476
Fou 530
—— de Bassan 527
Gannet 527
—— Cornish 541
Goeland brun 541
Goose, dunter 499
—— fen 487
—— grey lag 487
—— snow 486
—— soland 527
546 —— tame 487
—— wild 487
Grue 446
Gull Tribe 540
—— skua 541
—— brown 541
—— Cataractes 541
—— Cornish Gannet 541
—— Goeland brun 541
—— Sea Eagle 541
Guignard 472
Hargal 456
Heron shaw 452
Heron Tribe 445
—— Common Crane 446
—— White Stork 449
—— common 452
—— Gigantic Crane 456
—— Bittern 459
—— Argil 456
—— Bittour 459
—— Boorong 456
—— Bumpy-coss 459
—— Butor 459
—— Butter-bump 459
—— Cambing 456
—— Gigogne blanche 449
—— Grue 446
—— Hargal 456
—— Heronshaw 452
—— Miredrum 459
—— Myre dromble 459
—— Pokhoe 456
Hooper 480
Imbrim 537
Lapwing 468
Long legs 474
Macareux 507
Manchot sauteur 511
Man-of-war bird 517
Miredrum 459
Myre dromble 459
—— tempete 515
548 Oye a cravate 497
—— duvet, ou Eider 499
Pelecan Tribe 520
—— white 520
—— Corvorant 524
—— Gannet 527
—— Booby 530
—— Fishing Corvorant 533
—— red-backed 535
—— Cormoran 524
—— Fou 530
—— —— de Bassan 527
—— great 520
—— Sea crow 524
—— Soland goose 527
Penguin Tribe 511
—— crested 512
—— Manchot sauteur 512
—— pluvier, ou guignard 472
Petrel Tribe 511
—— stormy 511
—— little 511
—— Oiseau de tempete 511
—— Stormfinch 511
549 Plover Tribe 472
—— Dotterel 472
—— Long-legged or stilt 474
—— bastard 468
—— Echasse 468
—— Longlegs 468
—— Petit Pluvier ou Guignard 472
Pokkoe 456
Puffin Auk 507
Ruff and Reeve 466
Sand-piper Tribe 466
—— Ruff and Reeve 466
—— Lapwing 468
—— Bastard Plover 468
—— Combatant, ou Paon de Mer 466
—— Vanneau 468
Sea Eagle 541
Snipe Tribe 462
—— Woodcock 462
—— Bécasse 462
Soland Goose 527
550 Stork, white 449
Stormfinch 515
Swan, whistling 480
—— tame, or mute 483
—— wild 480
Tourne pierre
Vanneau 468
Water Birds 443
551 White Brant 486
Woodcock 462
Notes and Corrections: English Index

text has Dottrel

Sea Eagle   541
[In its previous index listing, under Eagle, this secondary page reference was given as 542.]


Ardea Genus 445
—— grus 446
—— ciconia 449
—— cinerea 452
—— dubia 456
—— stellaris 459
Scolopax Genus 462
—— rusticola 462
Tringa Genus 466
—— pugnax 466
—— vanellus 468
Charadrius Genus 472
—— morinellus 472
—— himantopus 474
Phœnicopterus Genus 476
—— ruber 479
Anas Genus 480
—— cygnus 480
—— olor 483
—— hyperborea 486
554 —— anser 487
—— erythropus 493
—— Canadensis 497
—— mollissima 499
—— boschas 501
Alca Genus 507
—— arctica 507
Aptenodytes Genus 511
—— chrysocome 512
Procellaria Genus 515
—— pelagica 515
Diomedia Genus 517
—— exulans 517
Pelecanus Genus 520
—— onocrotalus 520
—— carbo 524
—— bassanus 527
—— sula 530
—— Sinensis 533
—— rufescens 536
Colymbus Genus 537
—— glacialis 537
—— sinensis 539
Larus Genus 541
—— cataractes 542
Notes and Corrections: Linnean Index

[Ardea] cinerea   452
text has 552

[Anas] erythropus
text has erythopus
[The species name is also misspelled in the main text.]


As promised, here are a few birds from this and the previous section, with emphasis on the ones that are good to eat:

Struthio: S. camelus (ostrich)
Rhea: R. americana (“American ostrich”)
Anas: A. platyrhynchus (wild duck)
Somateria: S. mollissima (eider duck)
Anser: A. anser (grey lag goose)
A. caerulescens (snow goose)
A. erythropus (lesser white-fronted goose, “bernacle goose”)
Branta: B. canadensis (Canada goose)
Cygnus: C. cygnus (whooper swan)
C. olor (mute swan)
Meleagris: M. gallopavo (turkey)
Coturnix: X. coturnix (quail)
Perdix: P. perdix (partridge)
Gallus: G. gallus (chicken)
Pavo (peafowl, not in this book)
Phasianus: P. colchicus (pheasant)
Bonasa: B. umbellus (ruffed grouse)
Lagopus: L. lagopus (willow ptarmigan, “red grouse”)
L. muta (rock ptarmigan)
Lyrurus: L. tetrix (black grouse)
Neoaves (everything else in the book)

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.