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XXIII.—THE STRUCTURE OF BIRDS.
1. The structure of birds affords a striking instance of the care of Providence, in fitting animals for the kind of life to which they are appointed. Their bodies are so light as easily to float in the air. Their largest bones are hollow, so as to have sufficient strength without much weight.
2. A certain degree of thickness is necessary to give strength to the bone, according to the size of the bird ; but it is found that a hollow bone is as little liable to break as a solid one of the same thickness. The hollowness, therefore, of the bones does not make them weaker, while at the same time it makes them lighter than if they were solid.
3. Besides this, their bodies are constructed with internal cavities, which may be blown up like bladders, and which are supposed to be useful both in making the bird more buoyant and in enabling it to keep its breath during the swiftness of its flight.
4. The shape of birds is no less beautifully adapted to their situation. The small round head terminating in a
. sharp beak; the neck growing gradually thicker towards the shoulders, the gentle swell of the breast, the body lengthened out, and narrowing behind; all are admirably fitted for enabling them to cleave their way through the yielding air.
5. Nothing, indeed, can be more finely adapted for swiftness of motion than the whole frame of the bird in its flight: the forepart piercing the atmosphere by its sharpness, the feet drawn up or stretched out behind, the wings and tail spread out so as to float on the air, and the body all light and buoyant.
6. The wings of birds are so constructed as to combine lightness with strength. The feathers of which they consist are thickest at the roots, where most strength is required, but formed into a quill, hollow, and of a tough, light consistency. They gradually grow thinner, and taper towards a point at the other extremity, where they do not need to be so strong; and thus every thing superfluous is avoided that would in the least add to the weight of the body.
7. To enable the bird to move its wings quickly and with force, it is provided with very strong muscles lying along each side of the breast,— so strong in proportion to its size, that a swan has been known to break a man's leg with a flap of its wing. Thus it is enabled to pursue its way for a long time through the air without weariness, though its wings be in constant motion.
8. The feathers of birds would be apt to be ruffled and put out of order by rain, were there not a curious contrivance to prevent it. Most birds have a gland or bag of oil situated under a tuft of feathers near the tail. The bird, by pressing this bag with its beak, extracts the oil from it, and with this oil it trims and dresses its feathers.
9. This keeps them always in good order, and fits them for throwing off any wetness that may fall upon them. You often see birds working with their beak among their feathers: at these times they are pluming and dressing themselves with the oil which nature has provided for that purpose.
10. Hens, and other birds which have better opportunities of shelter and fewer occasions for flight, have little or none of this oil; and, accordingly, when they are caught in a shower, they have a very drenched and moping appearance.
11. Besides these advantages in their structure, which are common to the generality of birds, each kind has some peculiarity fitted for its own situation. Ducks, for example, and other water-fowl, have their breasts thickly covered with down, so that they may receive no injury from being much in the water. They are also webfooted, for the purpose of swimming.
12. Some, such as the heron, have long legs for wading in marshes and pools, and necks proportionably long for picking up their food. Others, again, such as swans, have short legs, with webbed feet, for swimming easily, but still have long necks to gather up their food from below the water.
13. Woodpeckers, which feed on insects in the rotten parts of trees, have short, strong legs, with four claws, two standing out forwards and two backwards, that they may climb and take fast hold of the trunks of the trees. They have a sharp beak, by which they pierce the wood, and are provided with a tongue which they can shoot out to a great length, and which ends in a sharp bony point, barbed somewhat like a fish-hook, so as to pierce and keep fast the insects on which the bird feeds.
14. Swallows are so formed as not only to fly with great swiftness, but to wind and shift about quickly in the air; by which means, together with the wideness of their mouths, they are enabled to catch the insects flying about, which are their principal food. The pelican, which feeds on fish, has a large bag or net at the lower part of its beak, by which it catches the fish in sufficient abundance for the supply of its wants.
15. These are some instances of the care which Provi. dence employs in furnishing those animals with the means of safety and subsistence. How pleasant is the thought that we are under the protection of the same great Being, whose care is so bountifully extended to the fowls of heaven, and without whose permission not even a sparrow falls to the ground.
XXIV.-A TOUCHING PLEA FOR BIRDS.
Extract from a letter to a noted "sportsman.” 1. I assume that you will not deny the postulate that all living creatures are endowed with the right to live so long as they do not, by reason of their acts or hurtful presence, forfeit that right — unless necessary to the preservation of other life. To do otherwise would be to question divine wisdom and authority.
2. Now let us suppose a case. It is that of a bird, which has already been captured by your artifice or skill. It is not only harmless, but by reason of its beauty, innocence and helplessness, appeals most touchingly to your pity, justice and humanity.
3. You are a practical marksman, and you require, perhaps, recreation, or demand relief from wasting ennui. The day is fine; the fields and groves are melodious with the songs of happy feathered creatures.
4. Suddenly you are possessed of a strange desire to disfigure the scene which lies like a dream of paradise before you; you feel a strange necessity to kill something, and you fix upon the hapless little bird within your power to gratify that desire, and to meet the demands of that necessity.
5. You are not alone. Friends, and admirers of your accuracy of aim, are with you among them fair women are seen! Your unresisting captured bird is placed in a trap, and the life which God gave to make us better and happier, for our profit and support, awaits its unrequired sacrifice to gratify your passion.
6. Now let us imagine that this bird is suddenly endowed with articulate speech : “I am wholly in your power," it says, “ but you will not pretend that I ever harmed you, or that there exists any natural or legitimate reason for
7. “The sphere in which I move was assigned me by the same All-wise Being who made you, and who so bountifully endowed you with reason and wealth to enable you to fill the sphere He assigned to you.
8. “I was betrayed into captivity while seeking food for my little helpless family, who, on account of my captivity, have died of starvation; you now seek to immolate me upon the blood-stained altar of inglorious rivalry. By crushing my delicate form, and tearing away my limbs, what will you gain that a senseless target would not give ?
9. “If, however, my little body, so cunningly and so mysteriously contrived by our common Creator, be necessary to your reasonable benefit --- if the brief existence which it inherits be required for any purpose which an enlightened humanity will not condemn,- take it, it is yours;
but offend not its Author, nor offend the cultivated spirit of your race by a deed which your own conscience, on reflection, will characterize, but which I, in pity for you, refrain from doing." ,
” 10. Thus, I say, might the unoffending little creatures address you; and what answer could you make ? None, absolutely none; nor could the combined intellect and learning of the world controvert the argument of the tiny pleader awaiting your irresistible fiat. That the taking of life is a required necessity of our civilization, I regretfully admit; all I urge is, that it be rendered as just and merciful as it is necessary.
HENRY BERGH. (Adapted.)
1. Are we sowing seeds of kindness?
They shall blossom bright ere long;
They shall ripen into wrong.