CHAP. 30. (23.)—CRANES.
By the departure of the cranes, which, as we have already
were in the habit of waging war with them, the nation
of the Pygmies now enjoys a respite. The tracts over which
they travel must be immense, if we only consider that they
come all the way from the Eastern Sea.2
These birds agree by
common consent at what moment they shall set out, fly aloft
to look out afar, select a leader for them to follow, and have
sentinels duly posted in the rear, which relieve each other by
turns, utter loud cries, and with their voice keep the whole
flight in proper array. During the night, also, they place sentinels on guard, each of which holds a little stone in its claw: if
the bird should happen to fall asleep, the claw becomes relaxed,
and the stone falls to the ground, and so convicts it of neglect.
The rest sleep in the meanwhile, with the head beneath the
wing, standing first on one leg and then on the other: the
leader looks out, with neck erect, and gives warning when
required. These birds, when tamed, are very frolicsome, and
even when alone will describe a sort of circle, as they move
along, with their clumsy gait.
It is a well-known fact, that these birds, when about to fly
over the Euxine, first of all repair to the narrowest part of it,
that lies between the two3
Promontories of Criumetopon and
Carambis, and then ballast themselves with coarse sand. When
they have arrived midway in the passage, they throw away the
stones from out of their claws, and, as soon as they reach the
mainland, discharge the sand by the throat.
Cornelius Nepos, who died in the reign of the late Emperor
Augustus, after stating that thrushes had been fattened for the
first time shortly before that period, has added that storks were
more esteemed as food than cranes: whereas at the present
day, this last bird is one of those that are held in the very
highest esteem, while no one will so much as touch the other.