[Three Hundred Animals Contents]
IS in bigness nearly equal to a swan; the colour of the body is white, inclining to a pink hue; the beak is straight and long, with a sharp hook at the end; the gullet or skin of the lower mandible is so capable of distension that it may be dilated as to contain fish to a great weight, and, some say, fifteen quarts of water. This pouch Providence has allowed to the bird that he may bring to his airy sufficient food for several days, and save himself the trouble of travelling through the air and watching and diving so often for his food. The legs are black and the four toes palmated. It is a very indolent, inactive, and inelegant bird, who often sits whole days and nights on rocks or branches of trees, motionless and in a melancholy posture, till the resistless stimulus of hunger spurs him away, and forces him to distant seas in search of his nourishment.
We have long indulged the idea that the Pelican was a fit emblem for maternal kindness and affection towards the young, but it happens that we are positively mistaken; for very few birds, if we except the ostrich, show less affection for their helpless offspring. It is with great reluctance that we deprive the bird of the honourable office of being a true symbol of charity, but as we intend to let no idea, ever so pleasing, intrude itself in the mind of our young readers, at the expense of truth, we must undeceive them, whenever we find an opportunity. This bird is often represented scratching her breast and feeding her young with the blood that gushes out of the wounds; and is used as a representation of the unspeakable goodness of him who shed his blood to redeem mankind. But all this has no other ground than the bird having been sometimes, though seldom, seen picking off the down of her breast to soften the nest of her young. However as this pious Pelican is generally painted or drawn more like an eagle than the bird of that name, we should not be surprised if the quality of the one had been transferred to the other, by some ancient and accidental mistake.
This bird is a native of Africa, and his flesh is coarse and ill-tasted; he is easily tamed and is often seen among other birds in travelling menageries at country-fairs; and does not seem to suffer much from the difference between his native climate and ours. He seems of gentle and docile habits when forced to comply with the unavoidable state of domesticity.