[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
IS the Alcyon of the ancients, and his name recalls to our mind the most lively ideas; it was believed that as long as the female sat upon her eggs, the god of storms and tempests refrained from disturbing the calmness of the waves, and Alcyon days were for navigators of old times a most secure moment to perform their voyages. But although this bears analogy to a natural coincidence between the time of brooding assigned to the King Fishers, and a part of the year when the ocean is less tempestuous, yet Mythology would exercise her fancy, and turn into wonders that which was nothing else than the common course of nature. She invented the interesting fable of Ceyx and Halcyone. See Ovid. et. xi. 10. to which the following lines allude.
“Relent, ye tyrants of the troubled seas,
Suspend your boistrous fury – let the surge
Roll smoothly o’er fair Thetys’ silver zone,
Eolus’ daughter rides the azure main.”
Thus sung the nymphs, whilst in her floating bow’r,
With woven reeds and rushes made secure,
Halcyone sits mindful of her hopes,
The future brood; what time her em’rald neck
With changing hues, reflects the setting rays,
Which, levell’d to the watry plain, gild o’er
The gently rising bosoms of the waves.
This bird is nearly as small as a common sparrow, but the head and beak appear proportionally too big for the body. The bright blue of his back and wings claims our admiration as it changes into deep purple or lively green, according to the angles of light under which the bird presents himself to the eye. He is generally seen on the banks of rivers, for the purpose of seizing small fish, on which he subsists, and which he takes in amazing quantities, by balancing himself at a distance above the water for a certain time, and then darting on the fish with unerring aim. The French by calling this bird Martin-pecheur, seem to have attached him to the swallow kind, but they are much mistaken, as the colour, the habits, and shape of the King Fisher are entirely different from those of the swallow. The King Fisher naturally belongs to the tribe of water birds, as he lives on fish; and it is therefore by mistake that he has been generally classed with the land birds.
It is reported, that the dead body of this bird placed in drawers and presses keeps away moths and other insects from committing depredations upon the clothes kept in them. We shall leave this for experiment to decide whether it is true or not. Some people have an opinion, that these birds make no nest, but generally seize upon the hole of a water rat on the banks of rivers and ponds, and that the female deposits her eggs there, without any other thing to receive them than the naked mould. That may be accidentally the case, but only when the nest having been destroyed, the hen has not time sufficient to build another.