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Popular Natural History

    Naturevolume 81pages99101 (1909) | Download Citation



    MR. LEA'S “Romance of Bird-life,”1 a handy and fully illustrated volume published at a marvellously low price, covers the whole life-history of the bird, from the egg upwards, the twenty-one chapters containing a summary of the observations of a great many writers on ornithology arranged in a masterly and most attractive form. One of the concluding chapters deals with the birds of the past and vanishing species, and is illustrated with a reproduction of a curious old wood-cut published in 1601, representing early voyagers knocking down dodos and other birds with sticks on the island of Mauritius. In that upon “Wisdom and Folly” we have anecdotes bearing on the intellectual capacity of birds. There are many instructive passages in the book, which is quite a mine of information. It is stated that in more than one instance, if when a chick was cheeping while still in the shell the mother uttered a note of warning, the cheeping stopped instantly; and it is pointed out that this teaches us that the simple language of call-notes is instinctive, for the chick cannot possibly have learnt their meaning by experience. Nestlings the food of which is placed in their mouths by their parents cannot be taught to pick it up from the ground like chicks until they are much older. Young moorhens, however, which are fed from their mother's beak at first, will peck upwards at anything that is offered to them, but not downwards. So far as the author is aware the frigate bird is the only species which ever carries on fishing in mid-air, waiting until the flying-fish are startled from the sea by some large fish which preys on them below the surface; other fishing birds follow them into the water. The romantic story of the ospreys at loch-en-eilein (which should be written eilean) is told and illustrated.

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