Use our images
Download images for
personal or educational
use for £2.99/US$5 each
All of these articles and images are available for licensing: click on an image to see further details and licensing options; contact us about licensing textual content.
Posted in Birds, Communications, Historical articles, History, News, Technology on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about Paul Reuter originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 267 published on 25 February 1967.
A Pigeon fluttered down from the sky and a young man gave a cry of joy. With trembling fingers he removed the message which was attached to the bird’s leg, then raced with it to the new telegraph office at Aachen. Paul Reuter was in business.
The pigeon had begun its flight at Brussels where Paul Reuter’s young wife sent it off with the message. As yet the telegraph lines on the Continent had not been joined up and the Reuters introduced a pigeon post between the telegraph offices of Brussels and Aachen. It was the first step to founding the world’s most famous news agency.
Paul Julius De Reuter (later to become a Baron) was born at Kassel in Germany on July 21, 1816. As he grew up he became interested in the newly developed technique of sending messages along wires, and in 1849 he founded his pigeon post service.
In 1851 he set up an office in London following the laying of a cable between Dover and Calais. When he registered his company, its objective was the “transmission of intelligence” between England and the Continent.
Unfortunately for Reuter, no one else seemed interested in the “transmission of intelligence.” In vain the German explained to English newspaper editors the advantages of his system, how he planned to have agents in every centre, sending off news so that papers everywhere knew what was going on almost within minutes of it happening.
It was not until 1858 – seven years after the Channel cable had been laid – that Reuter suddenly had his breakthrough. A Paris Reuter agent forwarded the text of an important speech by Napoleon III. The Times published this and overnight, Reuters News Agency was accepted. From then on, its network of agents spread throughout the world to the huge organisation it is today. Paul Reuter died at Nice in the South of France on February 25, 1899.
Posted in Architecture, Birds, Historical articles, Interesting Words, Language on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about interesting words originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Weathervane or weathercock,
The fine church at Etchingham in Sussex, was built by Sir William Echyngham in the 14th century. Much of it has survived unchanged. The wooden canopied seats, known as sedilia seats, in which the clergy conducting the service would sit, still remain, strong and solid. There are beautifully carved misericords, too. These were seats put in out of sympathy for older clergy, who might find it impossible to stand throughout long services.
Misericords have seats that lift up – a bit like cinema seats – and on the underside, they are carved with fishes and keys, birds and knightly heads.
There are some excellent brasses in the church. The one of Sir William, who died in 1388, which has unfortunately lost its head, is the earliest brass in this county inscribed with a date. Stained glass used to fill every window at Etchingham, casting a glorious, mellow haze over the interior. Many of the surviving windows display heraldic shields in a striking range of colours. In fact, medieval craftsmen have never been surpassed in the production of stained glass.
Sitting proudly on the top of Etchingham’s tower is the most famous feature of this church: its ancient weathervane, some say the oldest in England. The vane is our oldest meteorological instrument, and this one was erected in 1387.
An earlier vane was recorded in the 11th century Bayeux tapestry. A scene from the tapestry shows a man climbing up to attach a vane to the roof of the newly finished Westminster Abbey, but that one disappeared long ago.
Vanes come in all shapes and sizes. The Tower of London specialises in vanes topped by the monarch’s crown.
Some vanes are made in the shape of ships. There is a magnificent 19th century model of a single deck warship on the Guildhall at Rochester. It weighs nearly 200 pounds. The ship is 4 feet 6 inches long with a beam of one foot, and has 26 guns mounted on deck. Churchill’s country home, Chartwell, flies a ship – a particularly beautiful one that looks as though it would not be out of place in the fleet of Christopher Columbus.
Most church vanes are shaped like cocks. In the past they sometimes got peppered with gunshot by the country youngsters. The cock was most commonly used as a vane because of his attribute of watchfulness. The cock was the early riser in the farmyard – herald of the dawn – seeming to burst his lungs with early morning vigour. Chaucer wrote of a cock called Chaunticleer in his Nun’s Priest’s tale – one of the Canterbury Tales:
“His voice was jollier than the organ blowing,
“In church on Sundays, he was great at crowing,
“Far more regular than any clock,
“Or abbey bell, the crowing of this cock.”
(From Neville Coghill’s translation)
Chaunticleer knew intuitively of the changing seasons, and he was typical of all cocks. So, the weathervane that blows in the wind is normally called a weathercock even when the device is not a cock.
Posted in Animals, Australia, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about bower birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 259 published on 31 December 1966.
The Regent bower bird of East Australia with the flotsam and jetsam it has assembled for the bower
We are often told that the bower bird of Australia builds a remarkable bower and decorates it with coloured odds and ends, such as feathers, shells and small bones. This story is often told as if there were only one bower bird and only one way of building the bower. In fact, there are many different kinds of bower birds not only in Australia but also in New Guinea, and those in New Guinea build even more elaborate bowers.
The ordinary bower that we read about is built by the cock bower bird in the following manner. He collects together a large number of twigs and arranges them in a platform on the ground several feet long by about two feet wide. He then collects other twigs and the end of each of these is pushed into the platform so that there is finally a double row of vertical sticks with an avenue in between.
The bower birds that build in this way have been called avenue-builders. When the bower has been completed, the bird then collects all kinds of odds and ends and lays them around the bower especially at the entrance to the avenue. After this he leads the hen over to his bower and, while she stands outside, he runs up and down the avenue displaying his beautiful feathers to her. The bower is in no sense a nest. The female, who is much more sombrely coloured than the male, builds her nest in a tree away from the bower.
The bower birds that build a more elaborate bower are known as maypole-builders. In this case, the male selects a small sapling in a clearing in a forest and collects a few twigs and lays them around the base of the sapling. He collects more twigs and lays these on top of the first twigs, until the sapling is clothed in a criss-cross of twigs to a height of two feet or more. At this stage the sapling now looks something like a maypole when the ribbons are criss-crossed round it. This, however, is only the start. More twigs are collected and these are now added in such a way that they form a kind of sloping roof coming down from the twigs around the sapling, and when this part is finished it looks like a tent composed of twigs. Perhaps it would be more correct to say it looks like half a tent with the tent-pole decorated with twigs.
We could even say that it looks like a kind of rough summer-house, and this resemblance is heightened by the further work carried out by the bower bird on each side of the half-tent, where the twigs rest on the ground. Here the bird builds a wall of twigs forming a half-circle in front of the tent. By this time the bower begins to look like a house made of twigs with a lawn in front of it surrounded by a hedge of twigs.
Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
The bittern among reeds as the moon rises
‘Attack is the best form of defence’. If animals knew this, it would make a lot of difference. Small birds often fare badly at the paws of a cat, but sometimes a courageous bird, because it has eggs or young, will fly at a cat, calling vigorously, and may end by causing the cat to beat a hasty retreat.
The American mockingbird, a member of the thrush family, has been known to attack crows, hawks, snakes and cats which have ventured too close to its nest. An American woman reported seeing a cat approach close to a tree in which mockingbirds were nesting. Suddenly a bird plunged from its perch and dived at the cat, striking it behind the ears. It did this again and again, returning to a different perch each time and thus carrying on its dive-bombing tactics from various angles. The cat fled in terror. The bird returned triumphantly to its nest.
Many birds depend upon flying to get away from their enemies. However, there are some birds that do not fly, notably the ostrich which has only small wings, incapable of lifting its huge body. When an ostrich fears attack it will lower its head and push its tail up, remaining absolutely motionless so as to merge with the surrounding bushes and trees. If the attacker advances the ostrich relies on its powerful legs to carry it at great speed over the ground. Each leg has two toes, one bigger that the other and bearing a large claw. This is a formidable weapon when an ostrich lashes out at an enemy with its strong legs.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in America, Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about humming birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 246 published on 1 October 1966.
Ruby-throated humming birds
Like an iridescent ‘will-o’-the-wisp’, the tiniest of the humming bird family, comparable in size to a bumble bee, hovers on wings beating so rapidly that the human eye sees only a coloured blur. It is the high frequency wingbeats that cause the humming sound to which they owe their name.
The Bee humming bird is only two inches long, half of which is bill and tail, and yet its wings beat 50 times per second as it pauses before a flower. Its slender beak is inserted into the corolla of the flower, and the long, very flexible tongue, shaped rather like a double tube, is extended to reach the nectar at the bottom.
Humming birds eat fruit juices, and any insects or spiders they find on the flowers, as well as nectar.
Their flying habits are really extraordinary, consisting of a series of rapid darts, varied by hovering and curious tumbling evolutions. They fly faster than any other birds and they can even fly backwards at speed. Their swift, darting flight enables them to catch insects on the wing, like their ancestral relations, the swifts.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
Many animals make nests, either for resting or to lay eggs or give birth to young. Birds build nests only for laying their eggs. They sleep elsewhere, either perched in trees or on buildings, or squatting on the ground.
We do not usually associate the furred animals, or mammals, with making nests, yet most of them do, usually as sleeping quarters. Gorillas, for example, select a place in a tree and bend the smaller leafy branches in towards it to make a sleeping platform. They make a fresh nest each night.
Rodents, such as rats and mice, as well as squirrels, are particularly given to making nests. Squirrels make elaborate nests of twigs, known as dreys. These they line, usually with leaves. The pack rat of North America makes a house of twigs with four compartments and connecting passages.
It is interesting how the mammals transport their nesting material. A badger gathers bracken or grass and drags it over the ground, moving backwards. It is a laborious task, and the noise made as the bracken is dragged along can be plainly heard. Usually quite a lot is spilt along the way, especially when grasses are used. What with the track a badger wears in the ground as it walks to and fro, and the pieces of grass littering the track, it is easy to follow this nest-builder.
A grey squirrel is more skilful. You can sometimes watch it collecting dead leaves. It will pick up a leaf in its mouth, run over to another, lay the first leaf neatly on the second, then pick up both. By repeating this, it will finally have a bunch of half a dozen leaves in its mouth. Then it will run to a tree, climb rapidly up the trunk, disappear inside its drey and, a few seconds later, reappear empty-mouthed.
Apart from apes and monkeys, which use their hands, and badgers, which use their paws, there are remarkably few mammals that employ anything but their mouths for nest-building. Even small rodents, like the harvest mouse, which build woven nests of grass, do not use their paws as ‘hands’. To weave the walls of their nests, they thread the grass by pushing it through with the snout and pulling out the other side with their teeth.
The outstanding exception is found in some of the Australian animals. These, as everybody knows, are unlike the furred animals in other parts of the world. They are mainly pouched animals (marsupials), in which the females have a pouch on the abdomen for carrying their babies. The marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies and opossums. Because they have this pouch, they do not need a nest for their young, but many of the smaller marsupials make a nest for sleeping in, and they transport the materials needed to build it by wrapping the tail round a bundle of grass or leaves.
One opossum, known as the lesser-flying phalanger, which is two feet long, including its foot-long tail, spends its days sleeping in a hollow in a tree. At night it comes out to feed on blossoms. To reach these it launches itself into the air and glides from tree to tree, using a fold of skin on each flank as a parachute, and the tail as a balancer.
When building its nest, however, it climbs along a branch, hanging by its feet like a sloth. It picks off leaves for its nest with its teeth while hanging by its hind feet. It passes these with its front paws to its tail, which it wraps round them. Eventually the phalanger climbs back into its nest in the hollow tree, holding a bundle of leaves with its tail.
Posted in Animals, Australia, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about parrots originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.
From as far back in history as we can go, primitive tribes have kept parrots as pets. The Ancient Greeks and Romans kept parrots, and when English seamen went out to the Spanish Main to harass ships from West Africa to the West Indies, a parrot became almost as great a prize to bring back as a pocketful of doubloons.
Parrots are related to pigeons on the one hand, and to cuckoos on the other. Yet they are unlike both of these in appearance. And they are so unlike all other birds that nobody has any difficulty in telling a parrot when he sees one. All have large heads, short necks, two toes in front and two behind, and they all have strong, hooked beaks.
As might be expected, because they are scattered all round the globe, the members of this family are known by many different names, such as parrots, cockatoos, parakeets, macaws, lovebirds, parrotlets and budgerigars, as well as many others. It would take too long to tell how one kind differs from another, there are more than 300 species, but in general, all parrots are brightly coloured, easily tamed, and can learn to talk. The range of sizes is large. Some, like the pygmy parrots of Papua, are no bigger than a sparrow, while the gaudy macaws of South America may be over three feet long. A good way to identify two of the more usual kinds is that cockatoos have erectile crests and parakeets usually have long, pointed tails.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Superstition, Wildlife on Thursday, 25 April 2013
This edited article about the owl originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.
Barn owl in flight
The Ancient Greeks revered the owl. They made it the companion of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The modern city of Athens has an owl as its symbol.
But owls have not always been given so high a place. In this country, in the Middle Ages, they were birds of ill-omen, whose hooting foretold death.
Now that we know owls better, we can see why there are these contrasting points of view.
Owls hunt mainly at night, for small animals such as mice, for birds and insects, and even, at times, for fish. By night they are eerie, mysterious birds. Their flight is silent, due to the thread-like filaments edging their flight feathers. They seem to come from nowhere and disappear to nowhere yet, in the spring, the still night air resounds to their weird calls.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Animals, Birds, Fish, Wildlife on Monday, 22 April 2013
This edited article about sea-birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 229 published on 4 June 1966.
A skua intimidates two puffins by G W Backhouse
In the year 1492, as Christopher Columbus drew close to the New World on his first voyage of discovery, he described in the ship’s log the great numbers of sea-birds the expedition encountered and the feeding habit of one of these, which did not fish for itself but robbed other birds of their prey.
Piracy has since been observed in many kinds of birds. Often it happens only occasionally, the bird usually getting its food entirely by its own efforts, but some species have specialized in the technique of making other birds give up their catches.
One such notorious pirate is the pomarine skua (Stercorarius pomarinus).
All of the four species of skuas, which are close relatives of the gulls, have taken up piracy on the high seas. Like other bird pirates, skuas will collect a certain proportion of their food themselves, but at times over three-quarters of it is obtained by robbery. Their victims are other sea-birds such as terns, kittiwakes, puffins and guillemots, and they will frequently tackle birds larger than themselves, preying on large gulls, cormorants, gannets and even albatrosses.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Animals, Birds, Historical articles, History, Nature, Wildlife on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
This edited article about the Dodo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 227 published on 21 May 1966.
There is a phrase “as dead as the dodo,” which means that something is very dead indeed – completely extinct. But what was the dodo?
The dodo was a bird, a strange one, and its story is very curious too, to say the least of it.
In the Indian Ocean there is a tiny island, called Mauritius, which is famous for a variety of reasons. For instance, it is the place of origin of an extremely valuable postage-stamp: quite recently one of these stamps came up for auction and fetched many thousands of pounds. It was just a stamp that had been run off locally to celebrate a dance organized by one of the island’s officials, and the postmaster of Mauritius would no doubt have been as surprised as anyone had he known how famous it was to become. He lived, however, a long time ago, though even in his time the dodo had not been seen for hundreds of years.
The dodo was first described by a Dutchman named Van Neck. This was in 1598, though Mauritius had been known at least since 1502, when it was marked on a Portuguese map, though even that was probably taken from Arab charts.
Van Neck’s ship put into Mauritius for fresh water, and because sickness had struck the crew. They found, to their delight, that Mauritius was full of delicious things to eat and drink. Their favourite food was the turtle dove which, never having been in contact with man, was easily caught.
The Dutchmen also came across the dodo, which they also decided might be good to eat, but they were disappointed, and called it the “nauseous bird.” However, the dodo was decidedly a curiosity, and a specimen was taken back to Holland. It died on the way, but it nevertheless found its way to Leyden, and in a most mysterious way one of its feet got into the British Museum, where it intrigued the experts, who could not make up their minds whether it belonged to the ostrich, vulture or pigeon family. When another dodo was eventually acquired and dissected, it was found to be a kind of big pigeon.
Many voyagers of the time commented upon this weird bird, which was fat, indolent, and could eat anything. It had a terrifically strong hooked beak, and its digestion was helped by two large stones in the stomach, each as big as a man’s fist.
It was, indeed, a strange creature, and it was small wonder that when one was brought to London, alive (quite a feat in the seventeenth century), it was a source of great amazement.
This dodo was exhibited to the public for money, but when it died, interest evaporated and it ended up in an obscure museum. There it might have remained to this day, but for the fact that an energetic antiquarian and scholar, Elias Ashmole, the founder of the world-famous Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, came across it and decided that it would be an adornment to his old university.
So the dodo found its way to Oxford, but apparently no one bothered to take care of it, for at some unknown date mice (or rats) nibbled the body and the leg!
No one can say that the dodo was a pretty bird. There remain several paintings of it done at the time, but they differ so much that we must conclude that the artists’ imagination ran away with them a little bit.
The written descriptions are probably more accurate. Dodos were the size of large swans “and have a funny sort of skull-cap on their strange bald heads. Instead of wings they have three or four black feathers and, instead of tails, four or five curly little feathers, greyish in colour.”
Surprisingly enough, Mauritius accommodated not only one rare bird but two. The other, which was like a kiwi, was covered with red hair-like feathers. It was called the aphanapteryx.
With a name like that, no wonder it is not better known!