[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
DOES not seem, at first view, to have received from Providence that share of happiness which, with impartial hands, she has divided among the individuals that constitute the whole creation. His habits are peculiar to himself, and not to be envied by any other of the animals. No cheerfulness seems to gladden, no strong passion to agitate, his heart; his appetite is temporary and easily satisfied; his love is of short duration and far from being impassionate. He feels both as if merely for the prolongation of his wretched life, and the production of offspring doomed to be as miserable as himself. Perched on a stone or the stump of a tree, by the solitary current of a brook, his neck and long beak half buried between his shoulders, he will wait the whole day long, patiently and unmoved, for the passing of a small fish, or the hopping of a frog.
But yet in this situation who can guess what kind of passive happiness he may not enjoy – the rapacity of the eagle, the cravings of the raven, do not torment his stomach; his small heart is not distracted by the fears of the dove, in the absence of her mate, or the anger of the revengeful hawk who his prey in the very bosom of the clouds.
This bird is about four feet long from the tip of the bill to the end of the claws; to the end of the tail about thirty eight inches; the breadth, when the wings are extended is about five feet. The male is particularly distinguished by a crest or tuft of black feathers hanging from the hinder part of his head. This tuft or crest, in chivalrous times was of great value, and held as a great mark of distinction when worn above the plume of ostrich feathers. The back is clothed with down instead of feathers. The fore part of the neck is white, marked with a double row of black spots, the plumage being long, narrow and falling loosely over the breast; the breast, belly, and thighs are all white. This bird is accused of cowardise, and indeed smaller birds than himself seem to impress terror upon him: but may not this be owing to the consciousness of his inferior strength? It is certain that when the marshes and rivers are fettered in ice, and the Heron cannot get at his usual food, he is obliged to live upon grass, plants, and roots, which disagree so much with his stomach that they bring him soon to a consumption. Virgil in his Georgics, B. I. reckons the Heron among the birds that are affected by, and foretell, the approaching storm:
“When watchful Herons leave their wat’ry stand,
And mounting upwards with erected flight,
Gain on the skies, and soar above the sight.”
The Heron, though living chiefly in the vicinity of marshes and lakes, often forms a nest on the tops of the loftiest trees, or on the pointed cliffs of the sea shore, but oftener takes possession of the abode of the crow or owl in their absence, and assumes courage enough to repel the original tenant. The female lays four large eggs, of a pale green colour; and the natural length of this bird’s life is said to exceed sixty years. There are several species of the Heron, but as they differ but little in the colour of the plumage and in size it is useless to expatiate any longer upon the subject.