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The Buzzard and the Priest, edited by Andrew Lang

Bingley’s Animal Biography.

About one hundred and forty years ago a French priest received a present of a large brown and grey bird, which had been taken in a snare intended for some other creature, and was very wild and savage. The man who brought it was quite ignorant what kind of bird it was, but the priest knew it to be the common buzzard, and made up his mind to try to tame it. He began by keeping it shut up, and allowing it to take no food except out of his hand, and after about six weeks of this treatment it grew much quieter, and had learnt to know its master. The priest then thought it would be safe to give the buzzard a little more freedom, and after carefully tying its wings, so that it could not fly away, he turned it out into the garden. Of course it was highly delighted to find itself in the sun once more, and hopped about with joy, and the time passed quickly till it began to get hungry, when it was glad to hear its master calling it to come in to dinner. Indeed, the bird always seemed so fond of the priest, that in a few days he thought he might leave it quite free, so he unfastened its wings and left them loose, merely hanging a label with his own name round its neck, and putting a little bell round its leg. But what was the poor man’s disgust, to see the buzzard instantly spread out its great wings and make for the neighbouring forest, deaf to all his calls! He naturally expected that, in spite of his trouble and precautions, the bird had flown away for ever, and sat sadly down to prepare his  next day’s sermon. Now sermons are things that take up a great deal of attention, and he had almost forgotten his lost favourite when he was startled by a tremendous noise in the hall outside his study, and on opening the door to see what was the matter, he saw his buzzard rushing about, followed by five others, who were so jealous of its copper plate and bell, that they had tried to peck them off, and the poor thing had flown as fast as it could to its master’s house, where it knew it was safe.

After this it took care not to wander too far from home, and came back every night to sleep on the priest’s window sill. Soon it grew bolder still, and would sit on the corner of the table when he was at dinner, and now and then would rub his head against his shoulder, uttering a low cry of affection and pleasure. Sometimes it would even do more, and follow him for several miles when he happened to be riding.

But the buzzard was not the only pet the priest had to look after. There were ducks, and chickens, and dogs, and four large cats. The ducks and chickens it did not mind, at least those that belonged to the house, and it would even take its bath at the same time with the ducklings, and never trod upon them when they got in its way, or got cross and pecked them. And if hawks or any such birds tried to snap up the little ones who had left their mother’s wing to take a peep at the world, the buzzard would instantly fly to their help, and never once was beaten in the battle. Curiously enough, however, it seemed to think it might do as it liked with the fowls and ducks that belonged to other people, and so many were the complaints of cocks and hens lamed and killed, that the priest was obliged to let it be known that he would pay for all such damage, in order to save his favourite’s life. As to dogs and cats, it always got the better of them; in any experiment which it amused the priest to make. One day he threw a piece of raw meat into the garden where the cats were collected, to be  scrambled for. A young and active puss instantly seized it and ran away with her prize, with all the other cats after her. But quick as she was, the buzzard, who had been watching her movements from the bough of a tree, was quicker still. Down it pounced on her back, squeezed her sides with its claws, and bit her ears so sharply, that she was forced to let go. In one moment another cat had picked the morsel up in its teeth, but it did not hold it long. The process that had answered for one cat would answer for a second, as the buzzard very well knew. Down he swooped again, and even when the whole four cats, who saw in him a common enemy, attacked the bird at once, they proved no match for him, and in the end they were clever enough to find that out.

The buzzard pecks at one of the cats


It is not easy to know what buzzards in general think about things, but this one hated scarlet as much as any bull. Whenever he saw a red cap on any of the peasants’  heads, he would hide himself among the thick boughs overhanging the road where the man had to pass, and would nip it off so softly that the peasant never felt his loss. He would even manage to take off the wigs which every one wore then, and that was cleverer still, and off he would carry both wigs and caps to a tall tree in a park near by, and hang them all over it, like a new kind of fruit.

A man reacts with shock as his wig and hat are stolen


As may be imagined, a bird so bold made many enemies, and was often shot at by the keepers, but for a long time it appeared to bear a charmed life, and nothing did it any harm. However, one unlucky day a keeper who was going his rounds in the forest, and who did not know what a strange and clever bird this buzzard was, saw him on the back of a fox which he had attacked for want of something better to do, and fired two shots at them. One shot killed the fox; the other broke the wing of the buzzard, but he managed to  fly out of reach of the keeper, and hid himself. Meanwhile the tinkling of the bell made the keeper guess that this must be the priest’s pet, of which he had so often heard; and being anxious to do what he could to repair the damage he had done, he at once told the priest what had happened. The priest went out directly to the forest, and gave his usual whistle, but neither on that evening nor on several others was there any reply. At last on the seventh night he heard a low answer, and on searching narrowly all through the wood, the priest found the poor buzzard, which had hopped nearly two miles towards its old home, dragging its broken wing after it. The bird was very thin, but was enchanted to see his old master, who carried him home and nursed him for six weeks, when he got quite well, and was able to fly about as boldly as ever.