previous next


No less, too, is the shrewdness displayed by those birds which make their nests upon the ground, because, from the extreme weight of their body, they are unable to fly aloft. There is a bird, known as the "merops,"1 which feeds its parents in their retreat: the colour of the plumage on the inside is pale, and azure without, while it is of a somewhat reddish hue at the extremity of the wings: this bird builds its nest in a hole which it digs to the depth of six feet.

Partridges2 fortify their retreat so well with thorns and shrubs, that it is effectually protected against beasts of prey. They make a soft bed for their eggs by burying them in the dust, but do not hatch them where they are laid: that no suspicion may arise from the fact of their being seen repeatedly about the same spot, they carry them away to some other place. The females also conceal themselves from their mates, in order that they may not be delayed in the process of incubation, as the males, in consequence of the warmth of their passions, are apt to break the eggs. The males, thus deprived of the females, fall to fighting among themselves; and it is said that the one that is conquered, is treated as a female by the other. Trogus Pompeius tells us that quails and dunghill cocks sometimes do the same; and adds, that wild partridges, when newly caught, or when beaten by the others, are trodden promiscuously by the tame ones. Through the very pugnacity thus inspired by the strength of their passions, these birds are often taken, as the leader of the whole covey frequently advances to fight with the decoy-Bird of the fowler; as soon as he is taken, another and then another will advance, all of which are caught in their turn. The females, again, are caught about the pairing season; for then they will come forward to quarrel with the female decoy-Bird of the fowler, and so drive her away. Indeed, in no other animal is there any such susceptibility in the sexual feelings; if the female only stands opposite to the male, while the wind is blowing from that direction, she3 will become impregnated; and during this time she is in a state of the greatest excitement, the beak being wide open and the tongue thrust out. The female will conceive also from the action of the air, as the male flies above her, and very often from only hearing his voice: indeed, to such a degree does passion get the better of her affection for her offspring, that although at the moment she is sitting furtively and in concealment, she will, if she perceives the female decoy-Bird of the fowler approaching her mate, call him back, and summon him away from the other, and voluntarily submit to his advances.

Indeed, these birds are often carried away by such frantic madness, that they will settle, being quite blinded by fear,4 upon the very head of the fowler. If he happens to move in the direction of the nest, the female bird that is sitting will run and throw herself before his feet, pretending to be over-heavy, or else weak in the loins, and then, suddenly running or flying for a short distance before him, will fall down as though she had a wing broken, or else her feet; just as he is about to catch her, she will then take another fly, and so keep baffling him in his hopes, until she has led him to a considerable distance from her nest. As soon as she is rid of her fears, and free from all maternal disquietude, she will throw herself on her back in some furrow, and seizing a clod of earth with her claws, cover herself all over. It is supposed that the life of the partridge extends to sixteen years.

1 The Merops apiaster of Linnæus, or bee-eater.

2 Cuvier says that the red partridge, the Tetrao rufus of Linnæus, is meant.

3 The same wonderful story is told by Aristotle, Hist. Anim. B. v. c. 5, and by Ælian, Hist. Anim. B. xvii. c. 15.

4 "Metu." Aristotle says, by sexual passion. The reading is probably corrupt here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), AGRICULTU´RA
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CENSOR
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: