The Irish Eagle

[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 19, November 3, 1832]

The eagle, says the eloquent Buffon, has many points of resemblance, both physical and moral, to the lion. He possesses amazing strength, and consequently that dominion over the other inhabitants of the air, that the lion has over quadrupeds. The magnanimity of each is equally conspicuous; both despising smaller animals, and disregarding their insults. Like the lion, the eagle also is the solitary inhabitant of a desert, from which he excludes all the rest of his species. The eyes of the eagle have the same glare, and nearly the same colour as those of the lion: the eyebrow of each projects considerably, evidently intended by Providence as a protection for the eye in an animal prone to attack with its head. Destined, both of them, for war and plunder, they are equally averse to all society, equally ferocious, high-spirited, and untractable; they cannot be tamed, except they are taken when quite young.

The bill and claws of the eagle are crooked and formidable; his figure corresponds with his disposition; his body is robust and compact; his legs and wings are very strong; his bones firm; and his flesh hard; his feathers are rough; his attitude is bold and erect, his movements quick; and his flight rapid. He rises far above the rest of the winged tribes, and on this account he was denominated by the ancients, 'the bird of heaven,' and considered in their auguries as the messenger of Jove. His sight is excellent; but his smell is far inferior to that of the vulture: in fact he can only chase the prey that is in sight.

The golden eagle (Falco chrysaetos) is a native of most of the countries of Europe, but is chiefly found in the mountainous districts of Ireland, where it breeds in the loftiest cliffs. It is remarkable for its longevity. We have the authority of a German naturalist for stating that one of them died at Vienna, after a confinement of one hundred years.

An eagle of this species was some years ago in the possession of Mr. Hawkes of Briarfield, in the County of Roscommon. A gentleman, who has frequently seen it there, describes it as more than four feet tall, when it had drawn itself up to its full height, as these birds are used to do, and the stretch of its wings when expanded was astonishing, being of corresponding extent. This majestic bird, which was taken in the neighbourhood of Boyle, and had probably been an inhabitant of the Curlieu Mountains or Keis-corrain, in which eagles abound, was given by Mr. Fry, of Frybrook, to Mr. Hawkes; it was then full-grown, and its age could not, therefore, be ascertained with precision; it would seem, however, to have been rather young. It soon became domesticated and firmly attached to the place, where it ever afterwards continued till its death; though perfectly at liberty, it never having been chained or put under any restraint whatever. Its wings had possibly been cut on its first arrival at Briarfield, but they soon grew again, and the bird repeatedly soared away, and absented itself for a fortnight or three weeks. It was given the name of Dudley, and was extremely familiar with persons in the habit of feeding or caressing it. From the first it was placed in the garden, a very large one, finely situated on a slope, overhanging a lake of considerable extent, A house or shed had been built for it, but it generally preferred a more convenient perch it discovered for itself in the branch of a large apple tree, which grew in a nearly horizontal position from the stem. Its food was chiefly crows, which were shot for it; sometimes, however, it attempted to procure them for itself, but not successfully, as their agility in turning short and rapidly, enabled them to elude its superior strength of wing; of late it contented itself with eyeing them wistfully as they flew or perched securely over its head. It does not appear to have ever committed any havoc among the sheep or lambs in the adjoining fields, but occasionally, when from some casualty it was not regularly supplied with its accustomed food, it has been known to seize on, and kill young pigs. Children, who constantly met it as it perambulated the garden, were never molested by it; yet, on one occasion, it attacked its master with some violence, in consequence, apparently, of his having neglected to bring it some bread or other food it was used to receive from his hand. At length, after having lived for about ten or twelve years in this way, it was killed by a powerful and ferocious mastiff bitch, Mopsy. No one appears to have been present at the contest, but it may be conjectured that the struggle was neither slight nor unprotected, for the mastiff, though victorious, died almost immediately in consequence of the severe wounds she had received in the conflict.