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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/322

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

goats among their hilly pastures, and associating this fact with the known gaping mouth of a Caprimulgus, soon put the scandal on foot that they suck the teats of the animals, and thus rob them of the milk. That ancient philosopher Aristotle also believed the story, and enlarged upon the legend when he wrote that the "bird called ægothelas is a mountain bird, a little smaller than the cuckoo. It lays two or three eggs, and is of a slothful nature; flying upon the goats, it sucks them; they say when it has sucked the teat it becomes dry, and the goat becomes blind."

That charming naturalist White, of Selborne, did much toward breaking down this kind of rank superstition, informing us, as he has, that "the country people have a notion that the fern owl, or churn owl, or eve jay, which they also call a puckeridge, is very injurious to weanling calves, by inflicting, as it strikes at them, the fatal distemper known to cow-leeches by the name of pucker idge. Thus does this harmless, ill-fated bird fall under a double imputation which it by no means deserves: in Italy, of sucking the teats of goats, whence it is called the Caprimulgus, and with us, of communicating a deadly disorder to the cattle. But the truth of the matter is, the malady is occasioned by a dipterous insect, which lays its eggs along the chines of kine, where the maggots, when hatched, eat their way through the hide of the beast into the flesh, and grow to a very large size." Another name for this European goatsucker (C. europæus) is the "nightjar," and a popular writer on the natural history of the class thus accounts for its origin: "The jarring sound, which gives name to the bird, is uttered sometimes while flying, but usually when it is at rest; it seems to be produced in the same manner as the purring of a cat, and resembles it, though much louder. One of them, emitting this sound while sitting on the cross of a small church, communicated a sensible vibration to the whole building." (I doubt that that story will find many believers among us at the present day!)

If the accounts of the habits of such gentle creatures, as recorded by men, have passed, in time, through the various stages of traditional superstition, myth, and inaccuracy, to one of enlightenment, fact, and exactness, it has been none the less so with the various ideas of natural historians in the matter of their opinions as to the place occupied in the system by the Caprimulgi. One chapter is quite as full of interest as the other. More intelligent observation has cleared and is clearing away the mist that enshrouded the first, while this, combined with modern methods of scientific research, is rapidly rectifying the latter. Erroneous classification, in other words, is being corrected through the steady progress of our knowledge of the morphology or structure of the class Aves. From an evolutionary point of view such changing