History of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


Of birds, such as have crooked talons are carnivorous without exception, and cannot swallow corn or bread-food even if it be put into their bills in tit-bits; as for instance, the eagle of every variety, the kite, the two species of hawks, to wit, the dove-hawk and the sparrow-hawk- and, by the way, these two hawks differ greatly in size from one another- and the buzzard. The buzzard is of the same size as the kite, and is visible at all seasons of the year.

There is also the phene (or lammergeier) and the vulture. The phene is larger than the common eagle and is ashen in colour. Of the vulture there are two varieties: one small and whitish, the other comparatively large and rather more ashen-coloured than white. Further, of birds that fly by night, some have crooked talons, such as the night-raven, the owl, and the eagle-owl. The eagle-owl resembles the common owl in shape, but it is quite as large as the eagle. Again, there is the eleus, the Aegolian owl, and the little horned owl. Of these birds, the eleus is somewhat larger than the barn-door cock, and the Aegolian owl is of about the same size as the eleus, and both these birds hunt the jay; the little horned owl is smaller than the common owl. All these three birds are alike in appearance, and all three are carnivorous.

Again, of birds that have not crooked talons some are carnivorous, such as the swallow. Others feed on grubs, such as the chaffinch, the sparrow, the ’batis’, the green linnet, and the titmouse. Of the titmouse there are three varieties. The largest is the finch-titmouse- for it is about the size of a finch; the second has a long tail, and from its habitat is called the hill-titmouse; the third resembles the other two in appearance, but is less in size than either of them. Then come the becca-fico, the black-cap, the bull-finch, the robin, the epilais, the midget-bird, and the golden-crested wren. This wren is little larger than a locust, has a crest of bright red gold, and is in every way a beautiful and graceful little bird. Then the anthus, a bird about the size of a finch; and the mountain-finch, which resembles a finch and is of much the same size, but its neck is blue, and it is named from its habitat; and lastly the wren and the rook. The above-enumerated birds and the like of them feed either wholly or for the most part on grubs, but the following and the like feed on thistles; to wit, the linnet, the thraupis, and the goldfinch. All these birds feed on thistles, but never on grubs or any living thing whatever; they live and roost also on the plants from which they derive their food.

There are other birds whose favourite food consists of insects found beneath the bark of trees; as for instance, the great and the small pie, which are nicknamed the woodpeckers. These two birds resemble one another in plumage and in note, only that the note of the larger bird is the louder of the two; they both frequent the trunks of trees in quest of food. There is also the greenpie, a bird about the size of a turtle-dove, green-coloured all over, that pecks at the bark of trees with extraordinary vigour, lives generally on the branch of a tree, has a loud note, and is mostly found in the Peloponnese. There is another bird called the ’grub-picker’ (or tree-creeper), about as small as the penduline titmouse, with speckled plumage of an ashen colour, and with a poor note; it is a variety of the woodpecker.

There are other birds that live on fruit and herbage, such as the wild pigeon or ring-dove, the common pigeon, the rock-dove, and the turtle-dove. The ring-dove and the common pigeon are visible at all seasons; the turtle-dove only in the summer, for in winter it lurks in some hole or other and is never seen. The rock-dove is chiefly visible in the autumn, and is caught at that season; it is larger than the common pigeon but smaller than the wild one; it is generally caught while drinking. These pigeons bring their young ones with them when they visit this country. All our other birds come to us in the early summer and build their nests here, and the greater part of them rear their young on animal food, with the sole exception of the pigeon and its varieties.

The whole genus of birds may be pretty well divided into such as procure their food on dry land, such as frequent rivers and lakes, and such as live on or by the sea.

Of water-birds such as are web-footed live actually on the water, while such as are split-footed live by the edge of it- and, by the way, water-birds that are not carnivorous live on water-plants, (but most of them live on fish), like the heron and the spoonbill that frequent the banks of lakes and rivers; and the spoonbill, by the way, is less than the common heron, and has a long flat bill. There are furthermore the stork and the seamew; and the seamew, by the way, is ashen-coloured. There is also the schoenilus, the cinclus, and the white-rump. Of these smaller birds the last mentioned is the largest, being about the size of the common thrush; all three may be described as ’wag-tails’. Then there is the scalidris, with plumage ashen-grey, but speckled. Moreover, the family of the halcyons or kingfishers live by the waterside. Of kingfishers there are two varieties; one that sits on reeds and sings; the other, the larger of the two, is without a note. Both these varieties are blue on the back. There is also the trochilus (or sandpiper). The halcyon also, including a variety termed the cerylus, is found near the seaside. The crow also feeds on such animal life as is cast up on the beach, for the bird is omnivorous. There are also the white gull, the cepphus, the aethyia, and the charadrius.

Of web-footed birds, the larger species live on the banks of rivers and lakes; as the swan, the duck, the coot, the grebe, and the teal- a bird resembling the duck but less in size- and the water-raven or cormorant. This bird is the size of a stork, only that its legs are shorter; it is web-footed and is a good swimmer; its plumage is black. It roosts on trees, and is the only one of all such birds as these that is found to build its nest in a tree. Further there is the large goose, the little gregarious goose, the vulpanser, the horned grebe, and the penelops. The sea-eagle lives in the neighbourhood of the sea and seeks its quarry in lagoons.

A great number of birds are omnivorous. Birds of prey feed on any animal or bird, other than a bird of prey, that they may catch. These birds never touch one of their own genus, whereas fishes often devour members actually of their own species.

Birds, as a rule, are very spare drinkers. In fact birds of prey never drink at all, excepting a very few, and these drink very rarely; and this last observation is peculiarly applicable to the kestrel. The kite has been seen to drink, but he certainly drinks very seldom.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "3," History of Animals, trans. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQSBV3JTT9R59VR.

MLA: Aristotle. "3." History of Animals, translted by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQSBV3JTT9R59VR.

Harvard: Aristotle, '3' in History of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQSBV3JTT9R59VR.