THE storks are large birds, common in Europe, Africa and India. They assemble at times in great numbers, flying extremely high, but except for the sound of their wings, they make no noise. The stork has no voice, and is limited in expression to clapping together the mandibles of the beak. On the Continent the Common Stork is a welcome summer visitor, and in several countries it is protected by law on account of the useful work it performs as a scavenger, whilst it is thought lucky to have one nesting on a house.
The Whale-headed Stork, or Shoebill, with his enormous bill shaped like a wooden shoe, is also one of this family, and in Africa and India the Marabou is commonly met with. This bird also acts as a remover of offal.
Typical of Wading Birds are the Coots and the familiar Water Hen. Being aquatic in their habits all wading birds have long legs to enable them to walk in shallow waters. Some of the Rails are also aquatic, with long, slender claws so that they can walk about on the leaves of water plants. The corncrake is an example of a landrail. It is well known in this country from its harsh, monotonous call among the meadow grass.
Snipe are also waders, with long, slender bills, the nostrils being placed at the end. They are usually found near moist and marshy places where they probe in the mud for worms and insects. The flight of the snipe has often saved him from death at the hands of sportsmen. When first flushed, he shoots off in a straight line, and then begins to twist and turn in a bewildering fashion, making it very difficult to aim. In the breeding season the male bird makes a distinctive sound, called ‘drumming,’ rather like the bleating of a goat. This is produced by some action of the wings and of the tail feathers.
The lapwing, or green plover, is well known for its constant cry from which it takes its common name of peewit. Like all the plovers, the female, if disturbed on the nest, will try and lure the intruder away by pretending to have broken her wing.
All the cranes are great migrants, changing their abode to find fresh food and climate. They have a loud, trumpet-like note, due to their windpipe which increases the resonance of the voice. Many are very graceful, as for example the Demoiselle Crane, with its delicate mincing walk. The Crowned Cranes of Africa have a beautiful head decoration of twisted, golden filaments of feathers, which appear to shine.
The game birds are mostly grain feeders with large crops and strong gizzards. In many species the males are conspicuous for their brilliant plumage as contrasted with the sober feathers of the hens. This is probably to make the latter less visible to the eye when sitting, as they usually nest on the ground. The young are born fully fledged and able to run about at birth.
The ancestors of most of the breeds of domestic poultry seem to be the Jungle Fowl of Asia, while turkeys are descended from a similar wild species of the New World. The pheasants are a very large family, noted for the magnificence of colouring displayed by many of its members. Of these may be mentioned the Argus Pheasant, which has the tail feathers greatly lengthened and marked with ‘eyes ‘like those of a peacock. The Golden Pheasant, gorgeous in crimson and gold, is also among the most beautiful of birds.
Most glorious of all, however, is the peacock, famous for nis wonderful display which is caused by his having the tail covert feathers very much elongated. These are erected in the form of a fan, with ‘eyes ‘at the end of each feather, whilst the bird’s body is a blaze of metallic blues and greens, changing colour according to the angle from which they are viewed.
Pigeons and doves are nearly allied to the preceding group, but the young are born in a helpless state and they take some time before they are able to leave the nest. The males only have one wife, and neither sex possesses any weapons in the shape of spurs or beak. All domestic pigeons are derived from the Rock Pigeon to which many of them still show great resemblance. Some pigeons are ground birds like the Crowned Pigeon of New Guinea, the largest of the group. The Dodo was a still larger non-flying pigeon found in Mauritius. It was stupid and good to eat, reasons which helped considerably towards its extinction.