[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
IS a large bird, sometimes weighing ten pounds, which frequents marshy places and lives upon small fish and water-insects. Their long beaks enable them to search the water and mud for their prey, and their long necks prevent the necessity of stooping to pick up from between their feet the smallest objects of their search. The top of the head is black, destitute of feathers, and covered with a kind of hairs or bristles; the throat and sides of the neck are of a black hue; the back and coverings of the feathers and the belly are ash-coloured. They are common in the fen-countries, in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire; but it is not yet ascertained whether they breed here or not. These birds, however, in their flights, mount high in the air, and although the bird ceases to be perceptible to the eye, yet his voice can be heard; and it is said that their sight is so keen, that they discover at aa great distance any corn-field or other food which they are fond of, and presently alight and enjoy it. These depredations they generally commit during the night, and they trample down the ground as if it had been marched over by an army. It has been observed that they place centinels to give the alarm at the least appearance of danger. They generally form themselves in the air, into the shape of a wedge, in order to cut the adverse winds with greater facility. Milton expresses this circumstance with his usual superiority.
“- 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 the winds. The air
Flotes, as they pass, fann’d by unnumber’d wings.
—————————————————-PARAD. LOST, VII. 425.
This bird lives to a great age, and as he is easily tamed, it has been ascertained that the Crane often reaches his fortieth year.
The ancient fable of the battles between the Cranes and the Pigmies, a supposed nation of dwarfs, inhabiting India, Thracia, and Æthiopia, though consecrated by the lore of the best poets, has long been exploded. Homer, Ovid, and several others mention these ridiculous fights with more elegance than truth; and Juvenal derides them with his usual sarcastic sneer. See Sat. XIII. 270.