History of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


Birds also in some parts resemble the above-mentioned animals; that is to say, they have in all cases a head, a neck, a back, a belly, and what is analogous to the chest. The bird is remarkable among animals as having two feet, like man; only, by the way, it bends them backwards as quadrupeds bend their hind legs, as was noticed previously. It has neither hands nor front feet, but wings- an exceptional structure as compared with other animals. Its haunch-bone is long, like a thigh, and is attached to the body as far as the middle of the belly; so like to a thigh is it that when viewed separately it looks like a real one, while the real thigh is a separate structure betwixt it and the shin. Of all birds those that have crooked talons have the biggest thighs and the strongest breasts. All birds are furnished with many claws, and all have the toes separated more or less asunder; that is to say, in the greater part the toes are clearly distinct from one another, for even the swimming birds, although they are web-footed, have still their claws fully articulated and distinctly differentiated from one another. Birds that fly high in air are in all cases four-toed: that is, the greater part have three toes in front and one behind in place of a heel; some few have two in front and two behind, as the wryneck.

This latter bird is somewhat bigger than the chaffinch, and is mottled in appearance. It is peculiar in the arrangement of its toes, and resembles the snake in the structure of its tongue; for the creature can protrude its tongue to the extent of four finger-breadths, and then draw it back again. Moreover, it can twist its head backwards while keeping all the rest of its body still, like the serpent. It has big claws, somewhat resembling those of the woodpecker. Its note is a shrill chirp.

Birds are furnished with a mouth, but with an exceptional one, for they have neither lips nor teeth, but a beak. Neither have they ears nor a nose, but only passages for the sensations connected with these organs: that for the nostrils in the beak, and that for hearing in the head. Like all other animals they all have two eyes, and these are devoid of lashes. The heavy-bodied (or gallinaceous) birds close the eye by means of the lower lid, and all birds blink by means of a skin extending over the eye from the inner corner; the owl and its congeners also close the eye by means of the upper lid. The same phenomenon is observable in the animals that are protected by horny scutes, as in the lizard and its congeners; for they all without exception close the eye with the lower lid, but they do not blink like birds.

Further, birds have neither scutes nor hair, but feathers; and the feathers are invariably furnished with quills. They have no tail, but a rump with tail-feathers, short in such as are long-legged and web-footed, large in others. These latter kinds of birds fly with their feet tucked up close to the belly; but the small-rumped or short-tailed birds fly with their legs stretched out at full length. All are furnished with a tongue, but the organ is variable, being long in some birds and broad in others. Certain species of birds above all other animals, and next after man, possess the faculty of uttering articulate sounds; and this faculty is chiefly developed in broad-tongued birds. No oviparous creature has an epiglottis over the windpipe, but these animals so manage the opening and shutting of the windpipe as not to allow any solid substance to get down into the lung.

Some species of birds are furnished additionally with spurs, but no bird with crooked talons is found so provided. The birds with talons are among those that fly well, but those that have spurs are among the heavy-bodied.

Again, some birds have a crest. As a general rule the crest sticks up, and is composed of feathers only; but the crest of the barn-door cock is exceptional in kind, for, whereas it is not just exactly flesh, at the same time it is not easy to say what else it is.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "12," History of Animals, trans. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson Original Sources, accessed December 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TM9IGIVHH81MBD.

MLA: Aristotle. "12." History of Animals, translted by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Original Sources. 4 Dec. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TM9IGIVHH81MBD.

Harvard: Aristotle, '12' in History of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 4 December 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3TM9IGIVHH81MBD.