Page images
PDF
EPUB

Archbishopric of York, during the reign of Edward IV., there were “400 heronshaus and 200 feasaunts.”

We have ample evidence of its being as highly prized in the olden time as the pheasant, and of its being sold at the same price. But the flesh has now fallen into great disrepute, for what reason we know not, unless it be that we are better acquainted with the food of the bird than our fathers were.

If, however, we were to take this as the test of worth as an article of diet, the “faire feasaunt" itself would not be relished, for he stuffs his crop with great black-headed larvæ and spiders, and beetles innumerable.

Looking phrenologically at the beautiful bird which our gun has brought down, we would not form a very high idea of its knowing faculties. Yet it is not without certain instincts of a very high order, notwithstanding its moderate supply of brain and great deficiency of causality! The male bird, which worthy Patrick Neill made a pet of in his garden at Canonmills, Edinburgh, shewed, as the word is, that he knew what he was about. When his kind master entered the garden with a piece of cheese concealed in his hand, the heron would follow him until his attendance was rewarded with a bit. Then how bold he was in defending his young mate! Besides, he could swim on occasions, or, with one blow of his bill, strike dead some unfortunate rat which rashly ventured too near his dish at feeding-time.

If we are to believe all that naturalists tell us of the heron (and why should we not ?), it has a higher faculty than any we have referred to—a judicial turn and forensic gift. The late Dr Stanley, Bishop of Norwich, tells us, in his “Familiar History of Birds," that “at Durham, near Altrincham, in Cheshire, the seat of the Earl of Stamford, there is a heronry which has existed for many years. It happened about the latter end of March, or the beginning of April, a few years ago, that a gentleman, riding along the turnpike-road, saw in a field, about a mile from the trees where the birds breed, about thirty-five or forty standing on the ground, and occasionally moving slowly in various directions. At first he was uncertain what birds they were, as their heads were thrown back, and they appeared little raised from the ground; but on approaching the spot, he was soon satisfied that they were herons. His presence, however, had no other effect (though in general they are remarkably shy and cautious) than inducing those nearest the hedge, where he had stationed himself to watch their motions, to walk leisurely to a more distant part of the field. He remained for some time a spectator of their singular assemblage, which impressed him with the opinion that it was a deliberative council; and we agree with him that their object was connected with the usual pairing, which takes place about that time.” When a bishop certifies the fact, we must receive it. Had there been any difference of opinion as to the mates? Had two MM. le Héron Huppé fallen in love with the same Mdlle? and, that the good estate of the heronry should be kept up, had the “heronsewys" met, as in peace congress, to deliberate in order to a good understanding! No doubt of it. Mormonism might learn wisdom from the heron.

This deliberative habit, when in council assembled, seems to belong to birds of this class. The stork is known to hold meetings of this kind, and facts, well authenticated, leave us without doubt on the subject. In their case, the index of opinion is the clapping of their wings, much in the same way as the special pleader shakes his long robe. “On one of these occasions,” we again quote from the Bishop of Norwich, “about fifty were observed, formed in a ring round one individual, whose appearance bespoke great alarm. One of the party seemed to address the conclave, by clapping its wings for about five minutes. It was followed by a second, a third, and a fourth, in regular succession, each, like the first, clapping its wings in the same odd and significant manner. At last they all joined in chorus, and then, with one accord, fell upon the poor culprit in the middle, and despatched him in a few seconds. After which they rose up in a body, and one, according to their custom, taking the lead, flew off southward." The wise reader must have observed here that the judge's summing up occupied only five minutes, and the jurymen gave severally their opinion in open court. But what gives the most violent shock to our prejudice is, that judge and jury both became executioners !

The heron generally builds in trees, and chooses the tallest in the wood to which it resorts as its haunt. The nest is not constructed with much regard to appearances. monly a mass of sticks, slightly hollowed in the centre, in which

grass and sometimes wool is laid. In this, most frequently, only four greenish-looking eggs are dropped. These are watched over with great care; and when the female leaves them for a short time, the male takes her place. The young seldom quit the nest for six weeks. When they leave the egg, they are the most ungainly of young birds.

It is com

They are covered with a thin coat of dirty gray down, and seem to have great difficulty in knowing what to do with their long necks. When, however, they are a few weeks old, their bills are hard and powerful. We had testimony borne to this, on an occasion which gave rise to much merriment to those who were not immediately interested. Some masons were working at a house near which there was a heronry. The nests were well furnished with young, and it was thought by one of the masons a good opportunity to secure one as a pet. In high spirits he ascended a great oak, on which there were four nests, while several of his comrades, and others, stood below watching his progress. A frightened nestling having ventured to try its wings, the eyes of the onlookers were turned from the man to the bird. They were, however, suddenly recalled to him by a loud, painful exclamation of “Oh! oh! oh!" “ What's the matter ?”

cry from below, as they saw the mason's head on the edge of a great nest. Another

cry

of only response. It turned out that, as the mason raised his head above the level of the nest, a young heron, mistaking no doubt his nose for a fish, suddenly seized it and held it fast for a minute. Those below discovered the cause of the painful cries, and their comrade's suffering must have been greatly increased by the merry peal of laughter which quickly greeted him. He had got a fright, for, without securing the nestling, he hurried down the tree with the marks of its sharp bill on his nosemarks which he bore about with him for several days, as much to his annoyance as to the amusement of his fellowworkmen.

was the

agony was the

Though the habits of this bird differ entirely from those of the rook, they seem to dwell peaceably together in the same colony, and it is no uncommon thing to find them building their nests on the same tree, or even on different members of the same branch. In early spring there is sometimes a few sharp skirmishes for the old sticks of the nests of the previous year, but these contests seem to be soon settled to the satisfaction of both parties, and they dwell together in unity-giving thereby a word of counsel to us all, and an exhortation to seek the things which

make for peace.

DURABLE RICHES.

“ RICHES and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness"-are the words of Jesus, speaking as the Wisdom of God, in the eighth chapter of Proverbs. They are spoken by him in a character of intense interest. The words suggest to every reader a mother's tenderness and a mother's voice : “Wisdom putteth forth her voice ;” “ She standeth at the top of the high places ;” She sitteth at the gates.” Thus our Saviour, as made of God unto us wisdom," assumes the character of a mother, and stands out before the early Church as crying to, pleading with, and yearning over, wayward, wandering, wilful children, entreating them, with deepest affection and tender solicitude, to come to God and find a refuge and blessed resting-place in His love. Then he unfolds

« PreviousContinue »