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seem to be aware of his approach from a long distance, and are much disturbed by it. His speed is incredible, his strength surprising, his jumps when pursued quite wonderful, and his skin of little worth when taken; so that he has all the conditions necessary for a successful defensive warfare.
From “ All the Year Round."
[Pigwiggen, a fairy knight, has defied Oberon, the king of the
fairies, and challenged him to combat.]
Yet could it not be pierced :
Whose sharpness nought reversed
No point should be prevailing.
It would be long in healing.
His helmet was a beetle's head,
Yet it did well become him :
And turn his weapon from him.
Himself, he on an earwig set,
Ere he himself could settle;
Michael Drayton's "Nymphidia.”
There is but one species of the ostrich ; it is sparsely diffused over the interior of Africa, and is rarely found in Asia, except perhaps in Arabia. It generally measures six feet in height, and occasionally attains nine feet; its weight varies from twenty to a hundred pounds.
The ostrich has been known from the most remote antiquity. It is spoken of in the sacred writings, for Moses forbade the Hebrews to eat of its flesh, as being “unclean food.” The Romans, however, far from sharing the views of the Jewish legislator, considered it a great culinary luxury. In the days of the Emperors they were consumed in considerable numbers, and we read that one of the most luxurious of them carried his magnificence so far, as to cause a dish composed of the brains of six hundred ostriches to be served at a feast. In former days it was a favourite dish with the tribes of Northern Africa. At the present date the Arabs content themselves with using its fat as an outward application in certain diseases, especially rheumatic affections.
The natives of Africa call the ostrich the camel of the desert.” There is, in fact, some likeness between them. This resemblance consists in the length of the neck and legs, in the form of the toes, &c. In some of their habits they also resemble each other: the ostrich lies down in the same way as the camel, by first bending the knee, then leaning forward, and letting its hinder-quarters slide down last of all.
The ostrich is very voracious, but its senses of taste and smell are very imperfect. This is the explanation given for its readiness to swallow inedible substances. In its wild state it takes into its stomach large pebbles, to increase its digestive powers; in captivity it gorges bits of wood and metal, pieces of glass, plaster, and chalk, probably with the same object. Herbage, insects, small reptiles, and even small animals, are the principal food of the wild ostrich ; when it is in a state of domesticity, even young chickens are frequently devoured by it. It endures hunger, and especially thirst, for many days— about the most useful faculty it could possess in the arid and burning deserts which it inhabits ; but it is quite a mistake to suppose it never drinks, for it will travel immense distances in search of water when it has suffered a long deprivation, and will then drink it with evident pleasure.
The muscular power of the ostrich is truly surprising. If matured, it can carry a man on its back, and is readily trained to be mounted like a horse, and to bear a burden. When it first feels the weight of its rider, the ostrich starts at a slow trot; it, however, soon gets more animated, and stretching out its wings, takes to running with such rapidity, that it seems scarcely to touch the ground. To the wild animals which range the desert it offers a successful resistance by kicking, the force of which is so great, that a blow in the chest is sufficient to cause death.
Man succeeds in capturing the ostrich only by a stratagem. The Arab, on his swiftest courser, would fail to get near it if he did not by his intelligence supply the deficiency in his physical powers. “ The legs of an ostrich running at full speed,” says Livingstone, the traveller, “can no more be seen than the spokes in the wheel of a vehicle drawn at a gallop.” According to the same author, the ostrich can run about thirty miles in an hour, a speed and endurance much surpassing those of the swiftest horse. The Arabs, well acquainted with these facts, follow them for a day or two at a distance, without pressing too closely, yet sufficiently near to prevent them taking food during the time. When they have thus starved and wearied the birds, they pursue them at full speed, taking advantage of the fact which observation has taught them, that the ostrich never runs in a straight line, but describes a curve of greater or less extent. Availing themselves of this habit, the horsemen gradually get within reach, when, making a final dash, they rush impetuously on the harassed birds, and beat them down with their clubs, avoiding, as much as possible, injuring their feathers, the value of which is the chief inducement for their chase.
The ostrich is a very sociable bird, and may sometimes be seen in the desert in flocks of two or three hundred.
The nest of the ostrich is more than three feet in diameter; it is only a hole dug in the sand, and surrounded by a kind of rampart of the sand which is dug out ; a trench is scratched round it outside, to drain off the water. Each hen-bird lays from fifteen to twenty eggs. The eggs weigh from two to three pounds, and are each of them equal in contents to about twenty-five hen's eggs. They are of a tolerable flavour, and often a very seasonable help to travellers, one of them being more