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The form of the nest built by the halcyon reminds me also of the instinctive cleverness displayed by other birds; and, indeed, in no respect is the ingenuity of birds more deserving of our admiration. The swallow builds its nest of mud, and strengthens it with straws. If mud happens to fail, it soaks itself with a quantity of water, which it then shakes from off its feathers into the dust. It lines the inside of the nest with soft feathers and wool, to keep the eggs warm, and in order that the nest may not be hard and rough to its young when hatched. It divides the food among its offspring with the most rigid justice, giving it first to one and then to another. With a remarkable notion of cleanliness, it throws out of the nest the ordure of the young ones, and when they have grown a little older, teaches them how to turn round, and let it fall outside of the nest.

There is another1 kind of swallow, also, that frequents the fields and the country; its nest is of a different shape, though of the same materials, but it rarely builds it against houses. The nest has its mouth turned straight upwards, and the entrance to it is long and narrow, while the body is very capacious. It is quite wonderful what skill is displayed in the formation of it, for the purpose of concealing the young ones, and of presenting a soft surface for them to lie upon. At the Heracleotic Mouth of the Nile in Egypt, the swallows present an insuperable obstacle to the inroads of that river, in the embankment which is formed by their nests in one continuous line, nearly a stadium in length; a thing that could not possibly have been effected by the agency of man. In Egypt, too, near the city of Coptos, there is an island sacred to Isis. In the early days of spring, the swallows strengthen the angular corner of this island with chaff and straw, thus fortifying it in order that the river may not sweep it away. This work they persevere in for three days and nights together, with such unremitting labour, that it is a well-known fact that many of them die with their exertions. This, too, is a toil which recurs regularly for them every year.

There is, again, a third kind2 of swallow, which makes holes in the banks of rivers, to serve for its nest. The young of these birds, reduced to ashes, are a good specific against mortal maladies of the throat, and tend to cure many other diseases of the human body. These birds do not build nests, and they take care to migrate a good many days before, if it so happens that the rise of the river is about to reach their holes.

1 The first is the common chimney swallow. This latter one, Cuvier says, is either the window swallow, the Hirundo urbica of Linnæus, or else the martinet, the Hirundo apus of Linnæus.

2 The bank swallow, or Hirundo riparia of Linnæus.

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    • W. Walter Merry, James Riddell, D. B. Monro, Commentary on the Odyssey (1886), 5.66
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