KINGFISHER

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KINGFISHER (alcedo, Lin.). Thie genus of birds is distinguished by having an elongated, robust, straight, tetragonal, acute bill, with its margins finely crenatefimbriate ; feet robust; wings rather short; body thick and compact ; head large and elongated ; plumage thick and glossy. They occur in all ^arts of the world, especially in warm climatess there being but one species in Europe and one in the U. States. The kingfisher frequents the banks of rivers, and is almost always found alone, perched on a branch of a tree projecting over the water, where it remains motionless for hours, watching till some fish comes under its station, when it dives perpendicularly downwards into the water, and brings up its prey with its feet, carries it to land, where it beats it to death, and swallows it entire, afterwards casting up the scales, and other indigestible parts, in the form of balls. There is, perhaps, no animal respecting which the imagination of mankind has invented more fables than respecting this bird. The ancients supposed that it built its nest upon the ocean Incubat halcyone pendentibus ccquore nidis. Ovid. But, as this floating cradle would be likely to be destroyed by storms, they endowed the bird with powers to lull the raging of the waves during the period of incubation: hence those tranquil days near the solstice were termed halcyon days; and, that the voyager might want no accomplishment, they attributed it to the charm of song.* But these were not all the wonderful attributes of the kingfisher. Whatever branch it perched on became withered; the body, when dried, preserved clothes from the moth; and, still moi e extraordinary, it preserved, where it was kept, the peace of families, and was not only a safeguard against thunder, but also augmented hidden treasures. But it is not to the fanciful genius of the ancients alone, that this bird is indebted for wonderful attributes. According to Gmelin, the feathers of the kingfisher are employed by the Tartars and Ostiaks for many superstitious practices. The former pluck them, cast them into the water, and carefully preserve such as float, pretending that if with one of these feathers they* Cum sonat halcyones cantu, nidosque natantes Imraotagestaty sopiti&Jiuctibus, tcrula. touch a woman, or even her clothes, she must fall in love with them. The Ostiaks preserve the skin about their persons as an amulet against every ill. But it is not these barbarous nations only that entertain extravagant notions in regard to this bird. It is believed by some persons, that if the body of a kingfisher be suspended by a thread, by some magnetic influence, its breast always turns to the north. The species inhabiting the U. States (A. alcyon) is distinguished by being of a bluish slate color, with a ferruginous band on the breast, and a spot before and behind the eyes, a large collar round the neck, and the vent white: the head has an elevated crest. It inhabits the whole continent, from Hudson's bay on the north to the equator, and perhaps even still farther south, migrating in cold and temperate regions. (See Wils. Am. Orn., vol. hi, p. 59.)