Birds by F. F. E.

THE wisdom of God is seen in every part of creation, and especially in the different kinds of birds. The beauty displayed in their graceful forms and varied colors strikes every beholder, while the adaptation of their organs for the purposes of flight, their peculiar habits and modes of living, are a constant source of admiration to the student of nature.

Almost everything about the shape of a bird fits it for moving rapidly in the air, and all parts of its body are arranged so as to give it lightness along with strength. The soft and delicate plumage of birds protects them from cold or moisture; their wings, though so delicate, are furnished with muscles of such power as to strike the air with great force, whilst their tails act like the rudder of a ship, so that they can direct their course at pleasure with the utmost ease.

The internal structure of a bird also is such as to help it to sustain itself in, and to fly quickly through, the air. Its lungs are pierced with large holes, which allow air to pass into cavities in the breast, and even into the interior of the bones. It is thus not only rendered buoyant, but is enabled to breathe even while in rapid motion. Two sparrows, it is said, require as much air to maintain their breathing properly as a guinea pig.

In many other ways the skill and goodness of God are seen in the “fowl of the air.” Their necks and beaks are long, and very movable, so that they may readily pick up food and other objects from the ground. The muscles of their toes are so arranged that the simple weight of the body closes them, and they are able, in consequence, to sit on a perch a long time without fatigue. Even in a violent wind a bird easily retains its hold of the branch or twig on which it is sitting. Their bills are of almost all forms: in some kinds they are straight; in others curved, sometimes upwards and sometimes downwards; in others they are flat; in some they are in the form of a cone, wedge-shaped, or hooked. The bill enables a bird to take hold of its food, to strip or divide it. It is useful also in carrying materials for its nest, or food to its young; and in the birds of prey, such as the owl, the hawk, the falcon, eagle, etc., the beak is a formidable weapon of attack.

The nostrils of birds are usually of an oval form, and are placed near the base of the beak. Their eyes are so constructed that they can see near and distant objects equally well, and their sight is very acute. The sparrow-hawk discerns the small birds which are its prey at an incredible distance. No tribe of birds possesses an outward ear, except those which seek their food by night; these have one in the form of a thin, leathery piece of flesh. The inside ear, however, is very large, and their hearing is very quick.

A white-crowned sparrow next to a nest containing two eggs


Another admirable feature in the structure of birds consists in their feathers. These are well adapted for security, warmth, and freedom of motion. The larger feathers of the body are placed over each other like the slates on the roof of a house, so that water is permitted to run off, and cold is kept out. The down, which is placed under the feathers, is a further protection against the cold; and hence it is most abundant in those species that are found in northern climates. The feathery covering of birds forms their peculiar beauty: on this, in  the warm climates, Nature bestows her most delicate and brightest colors.

An apteryx, or kiwi

Another point which sets forth the resources of Infinite Wisdom is the structure and uses of the wings of birds. The size of the wings is not always in proportion to the bulk of their bodies, but is accommodated to their habits of living. Accordingly, birds of prey, swallows, and such birds as are intended to hover long in the air, have much longer wings, in proportion to their size, than hens, ducks, quails, etc. In some, such as the ostrich, the cassiowary, and the penguin, the largest quill-feathers of the wing are entirely wanting.

Then, again, how varied is the flight of birds! The falcon soars above the clouds, and remains in the air for many hours without any sign of exertion. The swallow, the lark, and other species, sail long distances with little effort. Others, like the sparrow and the humming-bird, have a fluttering flight. Some, as the owl, fly without any noise; and some, like the partridge, with a loud whir.

“Around the head
Of wandering swain the white-winged plover wheels
Her sounding flight, and then directly on
In long excursion skims the level lawn,
To tempt him from her nest.”

How graceful are the motions of the hawk, sweeping higher and higher in circles, as he surveys far and wide the expanse of fields and meadows below, in which he hopes to espy his prey. Our  paper would be too long were we to say even a little about the roosting, the swimming, or running, the migration, the habits and instincts, the varied notes and pleasant songs, of the endless species of birds.

All these subjects are well worthy of being carefully studied; for they all show the design of their Creator. The extraordinary creature represented in the engraving is the “Apteryx,” or “wingless bird” of New Zealand. It was not known to European naturalists till of late years, and for a long time the accounts which the natives of New Zealand gave of it were discredited. A specimen of it, preserved in brine, was, however, brought to this country, and a full description of the bird given.

The kirvi-kirvi, as the New Zealanders call it, stands about two feet high. Its wings are so small that they can scarcely be called wings, and are not easy to find under the general plumage of the body. Its nostrils, strange to say, are at the tip of the beak. The toes are strong, and well adapted for digging, the hind one being a thick, horny spur. To add to the singularity of this creature, it has no tail whatever. The kirvi-kirvi conceals itself among the extensive beds of fern which abound in the middle island of New Zealand, and it makes a nest of fern for its eggs in deep holes, which it hollows out of the ground. It feeds on insects, and particularly worms, which it disturbs by stamping on the ground, and seizes the instant they make their appearance. Night is the season when it is most active; and the natives hunt it by torchlight. When pursued, it elevates its head, like an ostrich, and runs with great swiftness. It defends itself, when overtaken, with much spirit, inflicting dangerous blows with its strong spur-armed feet.

In this instance, as in all others, God has wisely adapted the very shape and limbs of the creature to the habits by which it was intended to be distinguished.