BESIDES the birds which live and feed on the land there are a
great many which live mostly on the water. Some of
these are called "waders," and some are "swimmers" and
have webbed feet. We read about two waders, the coot
and the moorhen, in Book II. To-day we will talk about
the swimming birds.
If you live by the seaside, you will know the gulls
which float on the sea, and often fly a long way up the
rivers. Gulls come up the river Thames as far as
London, and feed in the ponds of the parks. In the
winter it is a pretty sight to watch them circling
round and round, and catching the food which people
throw to them.
You may have seen Cormorants (see p.
38), big black birds which fly heavily over the
sea, with their long necks stretched out and their
narrow wings beating the air. Then they settle on the
water, and suddenly jump up and dive down head
foremost, presently coming up with a fish, which it
takes them often some time to swallow.
But if you live in the country near a large lake or a
river, you are more likely to see a curious little
swimming bird called the little Grebe or dabchick.
This is a brown bird with a thin neck and head, which
paddles about among the reeds on the bank of a river,
or swims along quietly, diving down every now and then
to catch water-snails, fish, or
 weeds. You will have to move very quietly if you want
to get near the dabchick, for it dives down at the
least alarm and comes up a long way off, out of sight.
If you have not seen any of these web-footed birds, nor
even a wild duck yet every child knows the tame Duck
which lives in our farmyards. Our ducks and drakes
were tamed long, long ago from wild ducks, and are
still very like them. Let us see what we can learn
about a duck.
First I want you to look at her as she waddles across
the yard. Her feet have a skin between the three front
toes which joins them together. That is
 to say she is "web-footed." Now notice that, as she
lifts her foot, the skin folds up like a fan, and when
she puts her foot down, it spreads out again. When she
reaches the pond, she glides into the water and begins
to paddle, using one foot after the other, just as you
do when you walk. In clear water you can see that as
she puts her foot forward the skin shuts up, as it did
when she walked, but when she puts it back and strikes
the water, it opens and makes a paddle, and so she rows
FEET OF BIRDS. 1.BIRD OF PREY—EAGLE. 2.WEB-FOOTED—GOOSE. 3.SCRATCHING—PHEASANT. 4.CLIMBING—WOODPECKER. 5&6.PERCHING—MISSEL-THRUSH AND LARK.
Her legs grow far back on her body, so that she can use
them to twist and turn herself about, and she can tip
her head and body down into the water to look for
water-snails and tadpoles, while she paddles along with
her tail up in the air.
Next notice how light her body is. It floats quite on
the top of the water. This is partly because she has a
layer of light fat under her skin, and partly because
she has a thick covering of down under her feathers.
There is a great deal of air caught in this down, and
this makes her light.
Do you know why her feathers do not get wet and
draggled in the water? The reason is very curious.
Her outer feathers are all smeared with oil which she
gets from a little pocket near her tail. Look at her
when she comes out of the water. She presses her beak
against her tail and then draws the feathers through
the beak. When she has oiled them in this way, they
are water-proof and keep the wet off her body.
Next watch her as she feeds. She goes gobble, gobble
through the mud, and often throws her
 head up to swallow something she has found. Her beak
is bread and flat. It is hooked at the tip, but higher
up it is covered with a soft skin full of nerves. With
this skin the duck feels what is in the med as well as
if she saw it. The tip and edges of the beak are very
horny and sharp, and, both above and below, it is lined
with thin strips of horn. When she closes her beak
these strips fit into teach other and make a strainer.
With her sharp beak she cuts the weeks or kills the
snails. With the strainer she sifts the med and keeps
the food in her mouth, forcing out the water with her
thick tongue. Geese, swans, and all wild ducks have
feet and beaks much like our farmyard duck.
A. DUCK'S HEAD. B. BILL SHOWING THE EDGES OF THE STRAINER
You may have seen wild-ducks in the lakes or rivers.
The drake is a very handsome bird. His head and neck
are a dark shiny green. He has a white collar, and his
breast is the colour of a chestnut. His wings and back
are partly brown and partly green. The four middle
feathers of his tail are a glossy black and curl up.
The others are grey, edged with white. When the wild
drake changes his coat in June he puts off this
beautiful plumage, and puts on a plain brown and grey
suit, like the mother duck, till August. Then he
begins to moult again, and in October is as gay as
 The cormorants and gulls have not beaks like the duck,
for they do not grope in the mud. Their bills are
sharp and strong for fishing, and their wings long for
flying. The little dabchick, on the contrary, has
short wings, as he chiefly floats on the water. His
beak is not very long, and it has no hook at the end.
His feet are rather large, but the web is not wide as
There are a great many other web-footed birds. Try if
you can find some.
Examine a dead duck. Notice the webbed foot, the
parts of the beak, the thick down, and the glossy oiled
feathers not wetted in water. Draw the foot of any
dead bird you can find.