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Title: Birds in London
Author: Hudson, W. H. (William Henry), 1841-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Illustrated by Bryan Hook, A. D. Mccormick
and from Photographs from Nature by R. B. Lodge

Longmans, Green, and Co.
39 Paternoster Row, London
New York and Bombay

All rights reserved


The opening chapter contains, by way of introduction, all that need be
said concerning the object and scope of this work; it remains to say
here that, as my aim has been to furnish an account of the London wild
bird life of to-day, there was little help to be had from the writings
of previous observers. These mostly deal with the central parks, and are
interesting now, mainly, as showing the changes that have taken place.
At the end of the volume a list will be found of the papers and books on
the subject which are known to me. This list will strike many readers as
an exceedingly meagre one, when it is remembered that London has always
been a home of ornithologists--that from the days of Oliver Goldsmith,
who wrote pleasantly of the Temple Gardens rookery, and of Thomas
Pennant and his friend Daines Barrington, there have never been wanting
observers of the wild bird life within our gates: The fact remains that,
with the exception of a few incidental passages to be found in various
ornithological works, nothing was expressly written about the birds of
London until James Jennings's 'Ornithologia' saw the light a little over
seventy years ago. Jennings's work was a poem, probably the worst ever
written in the English language; but as he inserted copious notes,
fortunately in prose, embodying his own observations on the bird life of
east and south-east London, the book has a very considerable interest
for us to-day. Nothing more of importance appeared until the late
Shirley Hibberd's lively paper on 'London Birds' in 1865. From that date
onward the subject has attracted an increased attention, and at present
we have a number of London or park naturalists, as they might be called,
who view the resident London species as adapted to an urban life, and
who chronicle their observations in the 'Field,' 'Nature,' 'Zoologist,'
'Nature Notes,' and other natural history journals, and in the
newspapers and magazines.

To return to the present work. Treating of actualities I have been
obliged for the most part to gather my own materials, relying perhaps
too much on my own observation; since London is now too vast a field for
any person, however diligent, to know it intimately in all its extent.

Probably any reader who is an observer of birds on his own account, and
has resided for some years near a park or other open space in London,
will be able to say, by way of criticism, that I have omitted some
important or interesting fact known to him--something that ought to have
had a place in a work of this kind. In such a case I can only plead
either that the fact was not known to me, or that I had some good reason
for not using it. Moreover, there is a limit to the amount of matter
which can be included in a book of this kind, and a selection had to be
made from a large number of facts and anecdotes I had got together.

All the matter contained in this book, with the exception of one
article, or part of an article, on London birds, in the 'Saturday
Review,' now appears for the first time.

In conclusion, I have to express my warm thanks to those who have helped
me in my task, by supplying me with fresh information, and in other

                                                            W. H. H.

LONDON: _April_, 1898.



  A handbook of London birds considered--Reasons for not writing
    it--Changes in the character of the wild bird population, and
    supposed cause--The London sparrow--Its abundance--Bread-begging
    habits--Monotony--Its best appearance--Beautiful finches--Value
    of open spaces--The sparrows' afternoon tea in Hyde Park--Purpose
    of this book                                                        1



  A short general account of the London crows--The magpie--The
    jay--London ravens--The Enfield ravens--The Hyde Park ravens--The
    Tower ravens--The carrion crow, rook, and jackdaw                  20



  The crow in London--Persecuted in the royal parks--Degradation
    of Hyde Park--Ducks in the Serpentine: how they are
    thinned--Shooting a chicken with a revolver--Habits of the Hyde
    Park mallard--Anecdotes--Number of London crows--The crow a
    long-lived bird: a bread-eater--Anecdote--Seeks its food on the
    river--The crow as a pet--Anecdotes                                32



  Rarity of the daw in London--Pigeons and daws compared--Æsthetic
    value of the daw as a cathedral bird--Kensington Palace daws;
    their disposition and habits--Friendship with rooks--Wandering
    daws at Clissold Park--Solitary daws--Mr. Mark Melford's
    birds--Rescue of a hundred daws--The strange history of an
    egg-stealing daw--White daws--White ravens--Willughby's
    speculations--A suggestion                                         52



  Positions of the rook and crow compared--Gray's Inn Gardens
    rookery--Break-up of the old, and futile attempt of the
    birds to establish new rookeries--The rooks a great loss to
    London--Why the rook is esteemed--Incidents in the life of a
    tame rook--A first sight of the Kensington Gardens rookery--The
    true history of the expulsion of the rooks--A desolate scene,
    and a vision of London beautified                                  68



  The wood-pigeon in Kensington Gardens--Its increase--Its beauty
    and charm--Perching on Shakespeare's statue in Leicester
    Square--Change of habits--The moorhen--Its appearance and
    habits--An æsthetic bird--Its increase--The dabchick in
    London--Its increase--Appearance and habits--At Clissold
    Park--The stock-dove in London                                     89



  Number of species, common and uncommon--The London sparrow--His
    predominance, hardiness, and intelligence--A pet
    sparrow--Breeding irregularities--A love-sick bird--Sparrow
    shindies: their probable cause--'Sparrow chapels'--Evening in the
    parks--The starling--His independence--Characteristics--Blackbird,
    thrush, and robin--White blackbirds--The robin--Decrease in
    London--Habits and disposition                                    104



  Migration as seen in London--Swallows in the parks--Fieldfares--A
    flock of wild geese--Autumn movements of resident
    species--Wood-pigeons--A curious habit--Dabchicks and
    moorhens--Crows and rooks--The Palace daws--Starlings--Robins--A
    Tower robin and the Tower sparrows--Passage birds in the
    parks--Small birds wintering in London--Influx of birds during
    severe frosts--Occasional visitors--The black-headed gull--A
    winter scene in St. James's Park                                  129



  A general survey of the metropolitan parks--West London--Central
    parks, with Holland Park--A bird's highway--Decrease of
    songsters--The thrush in Kensington Gardens--Suggestions--Owls
    in Kensington Gardens--Other West London open spaces--Ravenscourt
    Park as it was and as it is                                       151



  Open spaces on the borders of West London--The Scrubs, Old Oak
    Common, and Kensal Green Cemetery--North-west district--Paddington
    Recreation Ground, Kilburn Park, and adjoining open
    spaces--Regent's Park described--Attractive to birds, but not
    safe--Hampstead Heath: its character and bird life--The ponds--A
    pair of moorhens--An improvement suggested--North London
    districts--Highgate Woods, Churchyard Bottom Wood, Waterlow Park,
    and Highgate Cemetery--Finsbury Park--A paradise of
    thrushes--Clissold Park and Abney Park Cemetery                   171



  Condition of the East district--Large circular group of open
    spaces--Hackney Downs and London Fields--Victoria Park with Hackney
    Common--Smoky atmosphere--Bird life--Lakes--An improvement
    suggested--Chaffinch fanciers--Hackney Marsh with North and
    South Mill Fields--Unique character of the Marsh--White House
    Fishery--The vanished sporting times--Anecdotes--Collection of
    rare birds--A region of marshes--Wanstead Old Park--Woodland
    character--Bird life--Heronry and rookery--A suggestion           192



  General survey of South London--South-east London: its most populous
    portion--Three small open spaces--Camberwell New Park--Southwark
    Park--Kennington Park--Fine shrubberies--Greenwich Park and
    Blackheath--A stately and depressing park--Mutilated trees--The
    extreme East--Bostell Woods and Heath--Their peculiar
    charm--Woolwich and Plumstead Commons--Hilly Fields--Peckham
    Rye and Park--A remonstrance--Nunhead and Camberwell
    Cemeteries--Dulwich Park--Brockwell Park--The rookery             216



  Introductory remarks--Comparative large extent of public
    ground in South-west London--Battersea Park--Character and
    popularity--Bird life--Clapham Common: its present and past
    character--Wandsworth Common--The yellowhammer--Tooting
    Common--Tooting Bec--Questionable improvements--A passion
    for swans--Tooting Graveney--Streatham Common--Bird
    life--Magpies--Rookery--Bishop's Park, Fulham--A suggestion--Barn
    Elms Park--Barnes Common--A burial-ground--Birds--Putney Heath,
    Lower Putney Common, and Wimbledon Common--Description--Bird
    life--Rookeries--The badger--Richmond Park--Its vast extent and
    character--Bird life--Daws--Herons--The charm of large soaring
    birds--Kew Gardens--List of birds--Unfavourable changes--The
    Queen's private grounds                                           237



  Object of this book--Summary of facts contained in previous
    chapters--An incidental result of changes in progress--Some degree
    of protection in all the open spaces, efficient protection in
    none--Mischievous visitors to the parks--Bird fanciers and
    stealers--The destructive rough--The barbarians are few--Two
    incidents at Clissold Park--Love of birds a common feeling of
    the people                                                        270



  The cat's unchangeable character--A check on the sparrows--Number
    of sparrows in London--What becomes of the annual increase--No
    natural check on the park sparrows--Cats in the parks--Story of
    a cat at Battersea Park--Rabbits destroyed by cats in Hyde
    Park--Number of cats in London--Ownerless cats--Their miserable
    condition--How cats are made ownerless--How this evil may be
    remedied--How to keep cats out of the parks                       284



  Restoration of the rook--The Gray's Inn rookery--Suggestions--On
    attracting rooks--Temple Gardens rookery--Attempt to
    establish a rookery at Clissold Park--A new colony of
    daws--Hawks--Domestic pigeons--An abuse--Stock-dove
    and turtle-dove--Ornamental water-fowl, pinioned and
    unpinioned--Suggestions--Wild water-fowl in the parks--Small
    birds for London--Missel-thrush--Nuthatch--Wren--Loudness a
    merit--Summer visitants to London--Kingfisher--Hard-billed
    birds--A use for the park sparrows--Natural checks--A sanctuary
    described                                                         304

BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                          330

INDEX                                                                 331



  'THE CROW WITH HIS VOICE OF CARE'           _Frontispiece_

  'THE SEVEN SISTERS'                       _to face p._  24

  CARRION CROW'S NEST                             "       34

  PIGEONS AT THE LAW COURTS                       "       52

  WOOD-PIGEON ON SHAKESPEARE'S STATUE             "       92

  LOVE-SICK COCK SPARROW                          "      112

  FEEDING THE GULLS AT ST. JAMES'S PARK           "      148

  MAP OF LONDON                                   "      156

  VIEW ON HAMPSTEAD HEATH                         "      176

  WHITE HOUSE FISHERY, HACKNEY MARSH              "      206

  WANSTEAD OLD PARK: EARLY SPRING                 "      214

  BOSTELL HEATH AND WOODS                         "      226

  THE ROOKERY, BROCKWELL PARK                     "      234

  WIMBLEDON COMMON                                "      256

  NEST OF CHAFFINCH                               "      280

  PARK SPARROWS                                   "      290

  MOORHEN AND CHICKS                              "      316


  PARK SPARROW BEGGING                                    11

  THE LAST RAVEN                                          21

  THE LADY AND THE DAW                                    60

  LONDON CROWS                                            69

  DABCHICK ON NEST                                        99

  LONDON STARLINGS                                       119

  FIELDFARES AT THE TOWER                                131

  WOOD-PIGEON FEEDING ON HAWS                            136

  RAVENSCOURT PARK                                       153

  CORMORANTS AT ST. JAMES'S PARK                         170

  DABCHICK FEEDING ITS YOUNG                             189

  NIGHTINGALE ON ITS NEST                                249

  CHAFFINCH                                              271

  STARLING AT HOME                                       303





  A handbook of London birds considered--Reasons for not writing
    it--Changes in the character of the wild bird population, and
    supposed cause--The London sparrow--Its abundance--Bread-begging
    habits--Monotony--Its best appearance--Beautiful finches--Value of
    open spaces--The sparrows' afternoon tea in Hyde Park--Purpose of
    this book.

Among the many little schemes and more or less good intentions which
have flitted about my brain like summer flies in a room, there was one
for a small volume on London birds; to contain, for principal matter,
lists of the species resident throughout the year, of the visitants,
regular and occasional, and of the vanished species which have inhabited
the metropolis in recent, former, or historical times. For everyone,
even the veriest Dryasdust among us, has some glow of poetic feeling
in him, some lingering regret for the beautiful that has vanished and
returneth not; consequently, it would be hard in treating of London bird
life not to go back to times which now seem very ancient, when the kite
was common--the city's soaring scavenger, protected by law, just as the
infinitely less attractive turkey-buzzard is now protected in some towns
of the western world. Again, thanks to Mr. Harting's researches into old
records, we have the account of beautiful white spoonbills, associated
with herons, building their nests on the tree-tops in the Bishop of
London's grounds at Fulham.

To leave this fascinating theme. It struck me at first that the book
vaguely contemplated might be made useful to lovers and students of
bird life in London; and I was also encouraged by the thought that the
considerable amount of printed material which exists relating to the
subject would make the task of writing it comparatively easy.

But I no sooner looked attentively into the subject than I saw how
difficult it really was, and how unsatisfactory, and I might almost add
useless, the work would prove.

To begin with, what is London? It is a very big town, a 'province
covered with houses'; but for the ornithologist where, on any side, does
the province end? Does it end five miles south of Charing Cross, at
Sydenham, or ten miles further afield, at Downe? Or, looking north, do
we draw the line at Hampstead, or Aldenham? The whole metropolitan area
has, let us say, a circumference of about ninety miles, and within its
outermost irregular boundary there is room for half a dozen concentric
lines, each of which will contain a London, differing greatly in size
and, in a much less degree, in character. If the list be made to include
all the birds found in such rural and even wild places--woods, thickets,
heaths, and marshes--as exist within a sixteen-mile radius, it is clear
that most of the inland species found in the counties of Kent, Surrey,
Middlesex, Hertfordshire, and Essex would be in it.

The fact is, in drawing up a list of London birds, the writer can,
within limits, make it as long or short as he thinks proper. Thus, if he
wishes to have a long list, and is partial to round numbers, he will be
able to get a century of species by making his own twelve or thirteen
mile radius. Should he then alter his mind, and think that a modest
fifty would content him, all he would have to do to get that number
would be to contract his line, bringing it somewhere near the
indeterminate borders of inner London, where town and country mix or
pass into each other. Now a handbook written on this plan would be
useful only if a very exact boundary were drawn, and the precise
locality given in which each resident or breeding species had its
haunts, where the student or lover of birds could watch or listen for it
with some chance of being rewarded. Even so, the book would not serve
its purpose for a longer period than two or three years; after three
years it would most certainly be out of date, so great and continuous
is the growth of London on all sides. Thus, going round London, keeping
to that partly green indeterminate borderland already mentioned, there
are many little hidden rustic spots where in the summer of 1897 the
woodpecker, green and spotted, and the nuthatch and tree-creeper bred;
also the nightingale, bottle-tit, and wryneck, and jay and crow, and
kestrel and white and brown owl; but who can say that they will breed in
the same places in 1899, or even in 1898? For these little green rustic
refuges are situated on the lower slopes of a volcano, which is always
in a state of eruption, and year by year they are being burnt up and
obliterated by ashes and lava.

       *     *     *     *     *

After I had at once and for ever dropped, for the reasons stated, all
idea of a handbook, the thought remained that there was still much to be
said about London bird life which might be useful, although in another
way. The subject was often in my mind during the summer months of 1896
and 1897, which, for my sins, I was compelled to spend in town. During
this wasted and dreary period, when I was often in the parks and open
spaces in all parts of London, I was impressed more than I had been
before with the changes constantly going on in the character of the bird
population of the metropolis. These changes are not rapid enough to show
a marked difference in a space of two or three years; but when we take a
period of fifteen or twenty years, they strike us as really very great.
They are the result of the gradual decrease in numbers and final dying
out of many of the old-established species, chiefly singing birds, and,
at the same time, the appearance of other species previously unknown in
London, and their increase and diffusion. Considering these two facts,
one is inclined to say off-hand that the diminution or dying out of one
set of species is simply due to the fact that they are incapable of
thriving in the conditions in which they are placed; that the London
smoke is fatal in the long run to some of the more delicate birds, as it
undoubtedly is to the rose and other plants that require pure air and
plenty of sunshine; and that, on the other hand, the new colonists
that are increasing are species of a coarser fibre, greater vitality,
and able, like the plane-tree in the plant world, to thrive in such
conditions. It is really not so: the tits and finches, the robin,
wren, hedge-sparrow, pied wagtail, some of the warblers, and the
missel-thrush, are as vigorous and well able to live in London as
the wood-pigeon. They are, moreover, very much more prolific than the
pigeon, and find their food with greater ease. Yet we see that these
lively, active species are dying out, while the slow, heavy dove, which
must eat largely to live, and lays but two eggs on a frail platform of
sticks for nest, is rapidly increasing.

Here then, it seemed, was a subject which it might be for the advantage
of the bird-lovers in London to consider; and I write in the conviction
that there are as many Londoners who love the sight and sound of wild
bird life as there are who find refreshment in trees and grass and
flowers, who are made glad by the sight of a blue sky, to whom the
sunshine is sweet and pleasant to behold.

       *     *     *     *     *

In going about London, after my mind had begun to dwell on this subject,
I was frequently amused, and sometimes teased, by the sight and sound
of the everywhere-present multitudinous sparrow. In London there are no
grain-growers and market-gardeners, consequently there is no tiresome
sparrow question, and no sparrow-clubs to vex the tender-hearted. These
sparrows were not to be thought about in their relation to agriculture,
but were simply little birds, too often, in many a weary mile, in many
an unlovely district, the only representatives of the avian class,
flying to and fro, chirping and chirruping from dawn to dark; nor birds
only: I had them also for butterflies, seen sometimes in crowds and
clouds, as in the tropics, with no rich nor splendid colouring on their
wings; and I had them for cicadas, and noisy locusts of arboreal habits,
hundreds and thousands of them, whirring in a subdued way in the park
trees during the sultry hours. They were all these things and scavengers
as well, ever busy at their scavengering in the dusty and noisy ways;
everywhere finding some organic matter to comfort their little stomachs,
or to carry to their nestlings.

At times the fanciful idea would occur to me that I was on a commission
appointed to inquire into the state of the wild bird life of London, or
some such subject, and that my fellow commissioners were sparrows, so
incessantly were they with me, though in greatly varying numbers, during
my perambulations.

After all, the notion that they attended or accompanied me in my walks
was not wholly fanciful. For no sooner does any person enter any public
garden or park, or other open space where there are trees, than, if
he be not too absorbed in his own thoughts, he will see that several
sparrows are keeping him company, flying from tree to tree, or bush to
bush, alighting occasionally on the ground near him, watching his every
movement; and if he sit down on a chair or bench several of them will
come close to him, and hop this way and that before him, uttering a
little plaintive note of interrogation--_Have you got nothing for us?_
They have come to look on every human being who walks among the park
trees and round the garden-beds as a mere perambulating machine for the
distribution of fragments of bread. The sparrow's theory or philosophy
of life, from our point of view, is very ridiculous, but he finds it
profitable, and wants no better.

I remember that during those days, when the little creatures were so
much with me, whether I wanted them or no, some person wrote to one of
the newspapers to say that he had just made the acquaintance of the
common sparrow in a new character. The sparrow was and always had been
a familiar bird to him, but he had never previously seen it gathered in
crowds at its 'afternoon tea' in Hyde Park, a spectacle which he had now
witnessed with surprise and pleasure.

If (I thought) this innumerous feathered company could only be varied
somewhat, the modest plumage retouched, by Nature, with harmonious
olive green and yellow tints, pure greys and pure browns, with rose,
carmine, tile and chestnut reds; and if the monotonous little burly
forms could be reshaped, and made in some cases larger, in others
smaller, some burlier still and others slimmer, more delicate and aërial
in appearance, the spectacle of their afternoon tea would be infinitely
more attractive and refreshing than it now is to many a Londoner's tired

Their voices, too--for the refashioned mixed crowd would have a various
language, like the species that warble and twitter and call musically to
one another in orchard and copse--would give a new and strange delight
to the listener.

No doubt the sparrow is, to quote the letter-writer's expression, 'a
jolly little fellow,' quite friendly with his supposed enemy man,
amusing in his tea-table manners, and deserving of all the praise and
crumbs we give him. He is even more. To those who have watched him
begging for and deftly catching small scraps of bread, suspended like a
hawk-moth in the air before the giving hand, displaying his conspicuous
black gorget and the pale ash colour of his under surface, while his
rapidly vibrating wings are made silky and translucent by the sunlight
passing through them, he appears, indeed, a pretty and even graceful


But he is, after all, only a common sparrow, a mean representative of
bird life in our midst; in all the æsthetic qualities which make birds
charming--beauty of form and colour, grace of motion, and melody--less
than the least of the others. Therefore to greatly praise him is to
publish our ignorance, or, at all events, to make it appear that he
is admired because, being numerous and familiar with man, he has been
closely and well looked at, while the wilder and less common species
have only been seen at a distance, and therefore indistinctly.

A distinguished American writer on birds once visited England in order
to make the acquaintance of our most noted feathered people, and in
his haste pronounced the chaffinch the 'prettiest British songster.'
Doubtless he had seen it oftenest, and closely, and at its best; but he
would never have expressed such an opinion if he had properly seen many
other British singing birds; if, for instance (confining ourselves to
the fringilline family), he had seen his 'shilfa's' nearest relation,
the brambling, in his black dress beautifully variegated with buff
and brown; or the many-coloured cirl-bunting; or that golden image of
a bird, the yellowhammer; or the green siskin, 'that lovely little
oddity,' seeking his food, tit-like, among the pine needles, or clinging
to pendulous twigs; or the linnet in his spring plumage--pale grey and
richest brown and carmine--singing among the flowery gorse; or the
goldfinch, flitting amidst the apple-bloom in May, or feeding on the
thistle in July and August, clinging to the downy heads, twittering as
he passes from plant to plant, showing his gay livery of crimson, black,
and gold; or the sedentary bullfinch, a miniature hawk in appearance,
with a wonderful rose-coloured breast, sitting among the clustering
leaves of a dark evergreen--yew or holly.

Beautiful birds are all these, and there are others just as beautiful in
other passerine families, but alas! they are at a distance from us; they
live in the country, and it is only that small 'whiff of the country'
to be enjoyed in a public park which fate allows to the majority of
Londoners, the many thousands of toilers from year's end to year's end,
and their wives and children.

To those of us who take an annual holiday, and, in addition, an
occasional run in the country, or who are not bound to town, it is
hardly possible to imagine how much is meant by that little daily
or weekly visit to a park. Its value to the confined millions has
accordingly never been, and probably cannot be, rightly estimated.
For the poor who have not those periods of refreshment which others
consider so necessary to their health and contentment, the change from
the close, adulterated atmosphere of the workshop and the living-room,
and stone-paved noisy street, to the open, green, comparatively quiet
park, is indeed great, and its benefit to body and mind incalculable.
The sight of the sun; of the sky, no longer a narrow strip, but wide,
infinite over all; the freshness of the unconfined air which the lungs
drink in; the green expanse of earth, and large trees standing apart,
away from houses--all this produces a shock of strange pleasure and
quickens the tired pulse with sudden access of life. In a small way--sad
it is to think in how small a way!--it is a return to nature, an escape
for the moment from the prison and sick-room of unnatural conditions;
and the larger and less artificial the park or open space, and the more
abounding in wild, especially bird, life, the more restorative is the

It is indeed invariably the animal life which exercises the greatest
attraction and is most exhilarating. It is really pathetic to see how
many persons of the working class come every day, all the year round,
but especially in the summer months, to that minute transcript of wild
nature in Hyde Park at the spot called the Dell, where the Serpentine
ends. They are drawn thither by the birds--the multitude of sparrows
that gather to be fed, and the wood-pigeons, and a few moorhens that
live in the rushes.

'I call these my chickens, and I'm obliged to come every day to feed
them,' said a paralytic-looking white-haired old man in the shabbiest
clothes, one evening as I stood there; then, taking some fragments of
stale bread from his pockets, he began feeding the sparrows, and while
doing so he chuckled with delight, and looked round from time to time
to see if the others were enjoying the spectacle.

To him succeeded two sedate-looking labourers, big, strong men, with
tired, dusty faces, on their way home from work. Each produced from his
coat-pocket a little store of fragments of bread and meat, saved from
the midday meal, carefully wrapped up in a piece of newspaper. After
bestowing their scraps on the little brown-coated crowd, one spoke:
'Come on, mate, they've had it all, and now let's go home and see what
the missus has got for _our_ tea'; and home they trudged across the
park, with hearts refreshed and lightened, no doubt, to be succeeded by
others and still others, London workmen and their wives and children,
until the sun had set and the birds were all gone.

Here then is an object lesson which no person who is capable of
reading the emotions in the countenance, who has any sympathy with his
fellow-creatures, can fail to be impressed by. Not only at that spot
in Hyde Park may it be seen, but at all the parks and open spaces in
London; in some more than others, as at St. James's Park, where the
gulls are fed during the winter months, and at Battersea and Regent's
Parks, where the starlings congregate every evening in July and August.
What we see is the perpetual hunger of the heart and craving of those
who are compelled to live apart from Nature, who have only these
momentary glimpses of her face, and of the refreshment they experience
at sight of trees and grass and water, and, above everything, of wild
and glad animal life. How important, then, that the most should be
made of our few suitable open spaces; that everything possible should
be done to maintain in them an abundant and varied wild bird life!
Unfortunately, this has not been seen, else we should not have lost so
much, especially in the royal parks. In some of the parks under the
County Council there are great signs of improvement, an evident anxiety
to protect and increase the stock of wild birds; but even here the most
zealous of the superintendents are not fully conscious of the value of
what they are themselves doing. They are encouraging the wild birds
because they are considered 'ornaments' to the park, just as they plant
rhododendrons and other exotic shrubs that have big gaily-coloured
flowers in their season, and as they exhibit some foreign bird of
gorgeous plumage in the park aviary. They have not yet grasped the
fact--I hope Mr. Sexby, the excellent head of the parks department, will
pardon my saying it--that the feathered inhabitants of our open spaces
are something more than 'ornaments'; that the sight and sound of any
wild bird, from the croaking carrion crow to the small lyrical kitty
wren or tinkling tomtit, will afford more pleasure to the Londoner--in
other words, conduce more to his health and happiness--than all the
gold pheasants and other brightly-apparelled prisoners, native and
foreign, to be seen in the park cages.

       *     *     *     *     *

From the foregoing it will be seen that this little book, which comes
in place of the one I had, in a vague way, once thought of writing,
is in some degree a book with a purpose. Birds are not considered
merely as objects of interest to the ornithologist and to a few other
persons--objects or creatures which the great mass of the people of
the metropolis have really nothing to do with, and vaguely regard as
something at a distance, of no practical import, or as wholly unrelated
to their urban life. Rather they are considered as a necessary part of
those pleasure- and health-giving transcripts of nature which we retain
and cherish as our best possessions--the open sun-lit and tree-shaded
spaces, green with grass and bright with water; so important a part
indeed, as bringing home to us that glad freedom and wildness which is
our best medicine, that without it all the rest would lose much of its

But on this point--the extreme pleasure which the confined Londoner
experiences in seeing and hearing wild birds, and the consequent value
of our wild bird life--enough has been said in this place, as it will be
necessary to return to the subject in one of the concluding chapters.



  A short general account of the London crows--The magpie--The
    jay--London ravens--The Enfield ravens--The Hyde Park ravens--The
    Tower ravens--The carrion crow, rook, and jackdaw.

There are not many crows in London; the number of the birds that are
left are indeed few, and, if we exclude the magpie and jay, there
are only three species. But the magpie and jay cannot be left out
altogether, when we find both species still existing at a distance of
six and a half to seven miles from Charing Cross. The magpie is all but
lost; at the present time there are no more than four birds inhabiting
inner London, doubtless escaped from captivity, and afraid to leave the
parks in which they found refuge--those islands of verdure in the midst
of a sea, or desert, of houses. One bird, the survivor of a pair, has
his home in St. James's Park, and is the most interesting figure in that
haunt of birds; a spirited creature, a great hater and persecutor of
the carrion crows when they come. The other three consort together in
Regent's Park; once or twice they have built a nest, but failed to hatch
their eggs. Probably all three are females. When, some time ago, the
'Son of the Marshes' wrote that the magpie had been extirpated in his
own county of Surrey, and that to see it he should have to visit the
London parks, he made too much of these escaped birds, which may be
numbered on the fingers of one hand. Yet we know that the pie was
formerly--even in this century--quite common in London. Yarrell, in
his 'British Birds,' relates that he once saw twenty-three together in
Kensington Gardens. In these gardens they bred, probably for the last
time, in 1856. Nor, so far as I know, do any magpies survive in the
woods and thickets on the outskirts of the metropolis, except at two
spots in the south-west district. The fate of the last pair at Hampstead
has been related by Harting, in Lobley's 'Hampstead Hill' (London,
1889). For several years this pair had their nest in an unclimbable
tree at the Grove; at length, one of the pair was shot by a local
bird-stuffer, after which the surviving bird twice found and returned
with a new mate; but one by one all were killed by the same miscreant.

[Illustration: THE LAST RAVEN]

It would be easy enough for any person to purchase a few magpies in the
market and liberate them in St. James's and Regent's Parks, and other
suitable places, where, if undisturbed, they would certainly breed; but
I fear that it would not be an advisable thing to do at present, on
account of the very strong prejudice which exists against this handsome
bird. Thus, at St. James's Park the one surviving bird is 'one too
many,' according to the keepers. 'One for sorrow' is an old saying.
He is, they say, a robber and a teaser, dangerous to the ornamental
water-fowl in the breeding season, a great persecutor of the
wood-pigeons, and in summer never happy unless he has a pigeon's egg
in his beak. It strikes one forcibly that this is not a faithful
portrait--that the magpie has been painted all black, instead of black
and white as nature made him. At all events, we know that during the
first two or three decades of the present century there was an abundant
and varied wild bird life in the royal parks, and that at the same time
the magpies were more numerous there than they are now known to be in
any forest or wild place in England.

The jay does not inhabit any of the inner parks and open spaces; nor
is there any evidence of its having been a resident London species at
any time. But it is found in the most rural parts and in the wooded
outskirts of the metropolis. Its haunts will be mentioned in the
chapters descriptive of the parks and open spaces.

There is no strong prejudice against the jay among the park keepers, and
I am glad to know that, in two or three parks, attempts will be made
shortly to introduce this most beautiful of British birds. It is to be
hoped that when we have got him his occasional small peccadilloes will
not be made too much of.

       *     *     *     *     *

The raven has long been lost to London, but not so long as might be
imagined when we consider how nearly extinct this noble species, as an
inland breeder, now is in all the southern half, and very nearly all
the northern half, of England. It is not my intention in this book
to go much into the past history of London bird life, but I make an
exception of the raven on account of an extreme partiality for that most
human-like of feathered creatures. Down to about the middle of last
century, perhaps later, the raven was a common London bird. He was,
after the kite had vanished, the principal feathered scavenger, and
it was said that a London raven could easily be distinguished from a
country bird by his dulled or dusty-looking plumage, the result of his
food-seeking operations in dust and ash heaps. A little way out of the
metropolis he lingered on, as a breeding species, down to within a
little more than half a century ago; the last pair, so far as I can
discover, bred at Enfield down to about 1845. The original 'raven
tree' on which this pair had nested for many years was cut down, after
which the birds built a nest in a clump of seven elm-trees, known
locally as the 'seven sisters,' five of which are still standing.

[Illustration: 'THE SEVEN SISTERS']

In London the last pair had ceased to breed about twenty years earlier;
and of a hundred histories of 'last ravens' to be met with in all parts
of the country, that of these London birds is by no means the least
interesting, and is worth relating again.

Down to about 1826 this pair bred annually on one of the large elms in
Hyde Park, until it entered into the head of one of the park keepers
to pull down the nest containing young birds. The name and subsequent
history of this injurious wretch have not been handed down. Doubtless he
has long gone to his account; and let us add the pious wish that his
soul, along with the souls of all those who were wanton destroyers
of man's feathered fellow-creatures, is now being driven, like a
snow-flake, round and round the icy pole in that everlasting whirlwind
described by Courthope in his 'Paradise of Birds.'

The old ravens, deprived of their young, forsook the park. One of the
young birds was successfully reared by the keeper; and the story of
this raven was long afterwards related by Jesse. He was allowed the
fullest liberty, and as he passed a good deal of his time in the
vicinity of the Row, he came to be very well known to all those who were
accustomed to walk in Hyde Park at that time. He was fond of the society
of the men then engaged in the construction of Rennie's bridge over the
Serpentine, and the workmen made a pet of him. His favourite amusement
was to sidle cunningly up to some passer-by or idler, and, watching his
chance, give him or her a sharp dig on the ankle with his beak. One day
a fashionably dressed lady was walking near the bridge, when all at
once catching sight of the bird at her feet, on feeling its sharp beak
prodding her heel, she screamed and gave a great start, and in starting
dropped a valuable gold bracelet from her wrist. No sooner did the jewel
touch the ground than the raven snatched it up in his beak and flew away
with it into Kensington Gardens, where it was searched for, but never
found. It was believed that he made use of one of the hollow trees in
the gardens as a hiding place for plunder of this kind. At length the
raven disappeared--some one had stolen him; but after an absence
of several weeks he reappeared in the park with clipped wings. His
disposition, too, had suffered a change: he moped a good deal, and
finally one morning was found dead in the Serpentine. It was surmised
that he had drowned himself from grief at having been deprived of the
power of flight.

A few ravens have since visited London. In 1850 a keeper in Regent's
Park observed two of these birds engaged in a savage fight, which ended
in the death of one of the combatants.

In March 1890 a solitary raven appeared in Kensington Gardens, and
remained there for several weeks. A keeper informed me that it was
captured and taken away. If this unfortunate raven had known his London
better, he would not have chosen a royal park for a residence.

Was this Kensington raven, it has been asked, a wild bird, or a strayed
pet, or an escaped captive? I believe the following incident will throw
some light on the question.

For many years past two or three ravens have usually been kept at the
Tower of London. About seven years ago, as near as I can make out,
there were two birds, male and female, and they paired and set to work
building a nest on a tree. By and by, for some unknown reason, they
demolished the nest they had made and started building a new one in
another place. This nest also failed to satisfy them and was pulled to
pieces like the first, and another begun; and finally, after half a
dozen such attempts, the cock bird, who was a strong flyer, abandoned
the task altogether and took to roaming about London, possibly in search
of a new mate with a better knowledge of nest-building. It was his habit
to mount up to a considerable height in the air, and soar about above
the Tower, then to fly away to St. Paul's Cathedral, where he would
perch on the cross above the dome and survey the raree-show beneath.
Then he would wing his way to the docks, or in some other direction; and
day by day his wanderings over London were extended, until the owner or
owners of the bird were warned that if his wings were not clipped he
would, soon or late, be lost.

But when it was at last resolved to cut his wings he refused to be
caught. He had grown shy and suspicious, and although he came for food
and to roost on one of the turrets every evening, he would not allow any
person to come too near him. After some weeks of this semi-independent
life he finally disappeared, having, as I believe, met his end in
Kensington Gardens.

His old mate 'Jenny,' as she is named, still lives at the Tower. I hear
she has just been provided with a new mate.

       *     *     *     *     *

Three other crows remain--the carrion crow, rook, and jackdaw, all
black but comely, although not beautiful nor elegant, like the bright
vari-coloured jay and the black and white pie. Unfortunately they are a
small remnant, and we are threatened with the near loss of one, if not
of all. The first-named of this corvine trio is now the largest and most
important wild bird that has been left to us; if any as big or bigger
appear, they are but casual visitors--a chance cormorant in severe
weather, and the heron, that sometimes comes by night to the ornamental
waters in the parks in search of fish, to vanish again, grey and
ghostlike in the grey dawn.

It is curious to find that the big, loud-voiced, hated carrion crow--so
conspicuous and aggressive a bird--has a firmer hold on life in the
metropolis than his two relations, the rook and daw; for these two are
sociable in habits and inclined to be domestic, and are everywhere
inhabitants of towns. Or, rather, it would be strange but for the fact
that the crow is less generally disliked in London than out of it.

Now, although these our three surviving crows are being left far
behind in actual numbers by some other species that have only recently
established themselves among us, and are moreover decreasing, and may be
wholly lost at no distant date, they have been so long connected
with London, and historically, as well as on account of their high
intelligence and interesting habits, are so much more to us than the
birds of other families, that I am tempted to write at considerable
length about them, devoting a separate chapter to each species. I also
cherish the hope that their threatened loss may yet be prevented;
doubtless every Londoner will agree that it would be indeed a pity to
lose these old residents.

It is a fact, although perhaps not a quite familiar one, that those who
reside in the metropolis are more interested in and have a kindlier
feeling for their wild birds than is the case in the rural districts.
The reason is not far to seek: the poorer we are the more do we prize
our small belongings. A wind-fluttered green leaf, a sweet-smelling red
rose, a thrush in song, is naturally more to a Londoner than to the
dweller in mid-Surrey, or Kent, or Devon.



  The crow in London--Persecuted in the royal parks--Degradation
    of Hyde Park--Ducks in the Serpentine: how they are
    thinned--Shooting a chicken with a revolver--Habits of the Hyde
    Park mallard--Anecdotes--Number of London crows--The crow a
    long-lived bird; a bread-eater--Anecdote--Seeks its food on the
    river--The crow as a pet--Anecdotes.

The carrion crow has probably always been an inhabitant of the central
parks; at all events it is well known that for a long time past a pair
bred annually in the trees on the north side of the Serpentine, down to
within the last three years. As these birds took toll of the ducks' eggs
and ducklings when they had a nest full of ravenous young to feed, it
was resolved that they should no longer be tolerated; their nests were
ordered to be pulled down and the old birds shot whenever an opportunity
offered. Now it is not the Hyde Park crows alone that will suffer if
this policy be adhered to, but the London crows generally will be in
danger of extermination, for the birds are constantly passing and
repassing across London, visiting all the parks where there are large
trees, on their way to and from their various feeding-grounds. Hyde Park
with Kensington Gardens is one of their favourite stopping places; one
or more pairs may be seen there on most mornings, frequently at noon
again on their return to Richmond, Kew, and Syon Park, and to the
northern heights of London. On the morning of October 10, 1896, I saw
eight carrion crows, in pairs, perched at a considerable distance apart
on the elm-tops near the palace in Kensington Gardens. After calling for
some time on the trees, they began to pursue and buffet one another with
violence, making the whole place in the meantime resound with their
powerful, harsh, grating cries. Their mock battle over, they rose to a
considerable height in the air and went away towards Hammersmith. It
seemed to me a marvellous thing that I had witnessed such a scene in
such a place. But it is not necessary to see a number of carrion crows
together to feel impressed with the appearance of the bird. There are
few finer sights in the wild bird life of London than one of these
visitors to the park on any autumn or winter morning, when he will allow
you to come quite near to the leafless tree on which he is perched, to
stand still and admire his massive raven-like beak and intense black
plumage glossed with metallic green, as he sits flirting his wings and
tail, swelling his throat to the size of a duck's egg, as, at intervals,
he pours out a succession of raucous caws--the cry of a true savage, and
the crow's 'voice of care,' as Chaucer called it.

[Illustration: CARRION CROW'S NEST]

The crow is, in fact, the grandest wild bird left to us in the
metropolis; and after corresponding and conversing with a large number
of persons on the subject, I find that in London others--most persons,
I believe--admire him as much as I do, and are just as anxious that he
should be preserved. It may be mentioned here that in two or three of
the County Council's parks the superintendents protect and take pride in
their crows. Why, then, should these few birds, which Londoners value,
be destroyed in the royal parks for fear of the loss of a few ducklings
out of the hundreds that are annually hatched and reared?

The ducks in the Serpentine are very numerous; many bucketfuls of
food--meal and grain--are given to them every day when they congregate
at the boat-house, and they get besides large quantities of broken bread
cast to them by the public; all day long, and every day when it is not
raining, there is a continual procession of men, women, and children
bringing food for the birds. Is it permissible to ask for whose
advantage this large number of ducks is reared and fattened for the
table at so small a cost? Hyde Park is maintained by the nation, and
presumably for the nation; it is a national as well as a royal park; is
it not extraordinary that so noble a possession, the largest and most
beautiful open space in the capital of the British empire, the chief
city of the world, should be degraded to something like a poultry farm,
or at all events a duck-breeding establishment, and that in order to get
as much profit as possible out of the ducks, one of the chief ornaments
of the park, the one representative of noble wild bird life that has
survived until now in London, should be sacrificed?

Let us by all means have ducks, and many of them; they are gregarious by
nature and look well in flocks, and are a source of innocent pleasure
to numberless visitors to the parks, especially to children and
nursemaids; but let us not have ducks only--a great multitude of ducks,
to the exclusion of other wilder and nobler birds.

Personally, I am very fond of these ducks, although I have never had
one on my table, and believe that I am as well able to appreciate their
beauty and feel an interest in their habits as any of the gentlemen in
authority who have decreed that the carrion crow shall go the way of the
raven in Hyde Park. I love them because they are not the ducks that have
been made lazy and fat, with all their fine faculties dulled, by long
domestication. They are the wild duck, or mallard, introduced many
years ago into the Serpentine. Doubtless they have some domestic taint
in them, since the young birds reared each season exhibit a very
considerable variation in colour and markings. Those that vary in
colour are weeded out each winter, and the original type is in this way
preserved; but not strictly preserved, as the weeding-out process is
carelessly--I had almost said stupidly--performed.

The thinning takes place in December, and at that season people who
live in the vicinity of the park are startled each morning by the sound
of firing, as at the covert side. The sub-ranger and his friends and
underlings are enjoying their big annual shoot. And there is no reason
why they should not have this sport, if it pleases them, and if by this
means the object sought could be obtained. But it is not obtained, as
anyone may see for himself; and it also seems a trifle ridiculous that
any man can find sport in shooting birds accustomed to walk about among
people's legs and feed out of little children's hands.

Once upon a time, in a distant country, I came with a companion to a
small farmhouse. We were very much in want of a meal, but no person was
about, and the larder was empty, and so we determined to kill and broil
a chicken for ourselves. On our making certain chuckling noises, which
domestic birds understand, a number of fowls scattered about near the
place rushed up to us, expecting to be fed. We made choice of a very
tall cockerel for our breakfast; so tall was this young bird on his
long, bright yellow stilt-like shanks that he towered head and neck
above his fellows. My companion, who was an American, had a revolver
in his pocket, and pulling it out he fired five shots at the bird at a
distance of about six yards, but failed to hit it. He was preparing to
reload his weapon, when, to expedite matters, I picked up a stick and
knocked the chicken over, and in less than fifty minutes' time we were
picking his bones.

I doubt if the Hyde Park sportsmen will see anything very amusing in
this story.

The mallard is an extremely handsome fowl, and it is pleasant to see
such a bird in flocks, at home on the ornamental waters, and at the same
time to learn that it is, in a sense, a wild bird, that in the keenness
of its faculties, its power of flight, and nesting habits it differs
greatly from its degenerate domestic relation. By day he will feed from
any person's hand; in the evening he returns to his ancient wary habit,
and will not suffer a person to approach him. He is active by night,
particularly in the autumn, flying about the park and gardens in
small flocks and feeding on the grass. It is a curious and delightful
experience to be alone on a damp autumn night in Kensington Gardens. One
is surrounded by London; its dull continuous murmur may be heard, and
the glinting of distant lamps catches the eye through the trees; these
fitful gleams and distant sounds but make the silence and darkness all
the more deep and impressive. Suddenly the whistling of wings is heard,
and the loud startled cry of a mallard, as the birds, vaguely seen,
rush by overhead; the effect on the mind is wonderful--one has been
transported as by a miracle into the midst of a wild and solitary

Both by day and night there is much going to and fro between the
Serpentine and the Round Pond, but each bird appears to be faithful to
its _home_, and those that have been reared on the Round Pond breed
in its vicinity on the west side of the gardens. Where their eggs are
deposited is known to few. Strange as it may seem, they nest in the
trees, in holes in the trunks of the large elms, in many cases
at a height of thirty feet or more from the ground. Some of the
breeding-trees are known, of others the secret has been well kept by the
birds. Not a few ducks breed in Holland Park, and find it an exceedingly
difficult matter to get their broods into the gardens. More than once
the strange spectacle of a duck leading its newly-hatched young along
the thronged pavements of Kensington High Street has been witnessed.

When the young have been hatched in a tree the parent bird takes them up
in her beak and drops them one by one to the ground, and the fall does
not appear to hurt them. Last year a duck bred in a tree broken off at
the top near St. Gover's Well, in the gardens. One morning she appeared
with four ducklings, and leaving them near the pond went back to the
tree and in time returned with a second lot of four. Still she was not
satisfied, but continued to go back to the tree and to fly round and
round it with a great clamour. A keeper who had been watching her
movements sent for a man with a ladder to have the tree-top examined.
The man found the broken stem hollow at the top, and by thrusting his
arm down shoulder-deep was able to reach the bottom of the cavity with
his hand. One duckling was found in it and rescued, and its mother made
happy. That she had succeeded in getting all the others out of so deep
and narrow a shaft seemed very astonishing.

An extraordinary incident relating to these Kensington ducks was told
to me by one of the keepers, who himself heard it by a very curious
chance. One dark evening, after leaving the gardens, he got on to an
omnibus near the Albert Hall to go to his home at Hammersmith. Two men
who occupied the seat in front of him were talking about the gardens
and the birds, and he listened. One of the men related that he once
succeeded in taking a clutch of ducks' eggs from the gardens. He put
them under a hen at his home in Hammersmith, and nine ducklings were
hatched. They were healthy and strong and grew up into nine as fine
ducks as he had ever seen. Such fine birds were they that he was loth
to kill or part with them, and before he had made up his mind what to
do he lost them in a very strange way. One morning he was in his back
yard, where his birds were kept, when a crow appeared flying by at a
considerable height in the air; instantly the ducks, with raised heads,
ran together, then with a scream of terror sprang into the air and flew
away, to be seen no more. Up till that moment they had never seen beyond
the small back yard where they lived--it was their world--nor had any
one of them ever attempted to use his wings.

Let us now return to the nobler bird, the subject of this chapter.

It would not, I imagine, be difficult for one who had the time to count
the London crows; those I am accustomed to see number about twenty, and
I should not be surprised to learn that as many as forty crows frequent
inner London. But with the exception of two, or perhaps three pairs,
they do not now breed in London, but have their nesting-haunts in woods
west, north, and east of the metropolis. These breeders on the outskirts
bring the young they succeed in rearing to the parks, from which they
have themselves in some cases been expelled, and the tradition is thus
kept up. Most of the birds appear to fly over London every day, paying
long visits on their way to Regent's Park, Holland Park, the central
parks, and Battersea Park. As their movements are very regular it would
be possible to mark their various routes on a map of the metropolis.

Mr. W. H. Tuck, writing to me about the carrion crow, says: 'For many
years, when living in Kensington, several pairs of crows going from N.E.
to S.W. passed at daybreak over my house on their way to the Thames
banks at Chelsea, and I could always time them within a minute or two.'
These birds come on their way from the northern heights to the river
at Chelsea; the crows that breed in the neighbourhood of Syon Park and
Richmond fly over the central parks to Westminster, and then follow the
river down to its mouth.

The persistency with which the carrion crow keeps to his nesting-place
may be seen in the case of a pair that have bred in private grounds at
Hillfield, Hampstead, for at least sixty years. Nor is it impossible to
believe that the same birds have occupied the site for this long period,
the crow being a long-lived creature. The venerable author of 'Festus,'
who also has the secret of long life, might have been thinking of this
very pair when, more than half a century ago, he wrote his spirited

    The crow! the crow! the great black crow!
    He lives for a hundred years and mo';
    He lives till he dies, and he dies as slow
    As the morning mists down the hill that go.
    Go--go! you great black crow!
    But it's fine to live and die like a great black crow.

Many persons might be inclined to think that it must be better for the
crow to have his nest a little way out of the hurly-burly, or at all
events within easy reach of the country; for how, they might ask, can
this large flesh-eating, voracious creature feed himself and rear a nest
full of young with cormorant appetites in London?

Eliza Cook, whose now universally neglected works I admired as a boy,
makes the bird say, in her 'Song of the Crow':--

    I plunged my beak in the marbling cheek,
    I perched on the clammy brow;
    And a dainty treat was that fresh meat
    To the greedy carrion crow.

The unknown author of 'The Twa Corbies' was a better naturalist as well
as a better poet when he wrote--

    I'll pick out his bonny blue een.

But this relates to a time when the bodies of dead men, as well as of
other large animals, were left lying promiscuously about; in these
ultra-civilised days, when all dead things are quickly and decently
interred, the greedy carrion crow has greatly modified his feeding
habits. In London, as in most places, he takes whatever he finds on the
table, and though not in principle a vegetarian, there is no doubt that
he feeds largely on vegetable substances. Like the sparrow and other
London birds, he has become with us a great bread-eater.

Mr. Kempshall, the superintendent at Clissold Park, relates a curious
story of this civilised taste in the crow. The park for very many years
was the home of a pair of these birds. Unfortunately, when this space
was opened to the public, in 1889, the birds forsook it, and settled in
some large trees on private grounds in the neighbourhood. These trees
were cut down about three years ago, whereupon the birds returned to
Clissold Park; but they have now again left it. One summer morning
before the park was opened, when there were young crows in the nest,
Mr. Kempshall observed one of the old birds laboriously making his
way across the open ground towards the nesting-tree, laden with a
strange-looking object. This was white and round and three times as big
as an orange, and the crow, flying close to the ground, was obliged to
alight at short intervals, whereupon he would drop his pack and take a
rest. Curious to know what he was carrying, the superintendent made a
sudden rush at the bird, at a moment when he had set his burden down,
and succeeded in getting near enough to see that the white object was
the round top part of a cottage loaf. But though the rush had been
sudden and unexpected, and accompanied with a startling shout, the crow
did not lose his head; striking his powerful beak, or _plunging_ it, as
Eliza Cook would have said, into the mass, he flopped up and struggled
resolutely on until he reached the nest, to be boisterously welcomed by
his hungry family. They had a big meal, but perhaps grumbled a little at
so much bread without any ghee.

Probably the London crows get most of their food from the river. Very
early every morning, as we have seen, they wing their way to the Thames,
and at all hours of the day, when not engaged in breeding, crows may be
seen travelling up and down the river, usually in couples, from Barnes
and Mortlake and higher up, down to the sea. They search the mud at low
tide for dead fishes, garbage, bread, and vegetable matter left by the
water. Even when the tide is at its full the birds are still able to
pick up something to eat, as they have borrowed the gull's habit of
dropping upon the water to pick up any floating object which may form
part of their exceedingly varied dietary. It is amusing to see the
carrion crow fishing up his dinner in this way, for he does not venture
to fold his wings like the gull and examine and take up the morsel at
leisure; he drops upon the water rather awkwardly, wetting his legs and
belly, but keeps working his wings until he has secured the floating
object, then rises heavily with it in his beak. Another curious habit of
some London crows in the south-west district, is to alight, dove-like,
on the roofs and chimney-stacks of tall houses.

In an article on this bird which appeared in the 'Fortnightly Review'
for May 1895, I wrote: 'It sometimes greatly adds to our knowledge of
any wild creature to see it tamed--not confined in any way, nor with its
wings clipped, but free to exercise all its faculties and to come and go
at will. Some species in this condition are very much more companionable
than others, and probably none so readily fall into the domestic life as
the various members of the crow family; for they are more intelligent
and adaptive, and nearer to the mammalians in their mental character
than most birds. It is therefore curious to find that the subject of
this paper appears to be little known as a domestic bird, or pet. A
caged crow, being next door, so to speak, to a dead and stuffed crow,
does not interest me. Yet the crow strikes one as a bird with great
possibilities as a pet: one would like to observe him freely associating
with the larger unfeathered crows that have a different language, to
learn by what means he communicates with them, to sound his depths of
amusing devilry, and note the modulations of his voice; for he, too,
like other corvines, is loquacious on occasions, and much given to
soliloquy. He is also a musician, a fact which is referred to by Æsop,
Yarrell, and other authorities, but they have given us no proper
description of his song. A friend tells me that he once kept a crow
which did not prove a very interesting pet. This was not strange in the
circumstances. The bird was an old one, just knocked down with a charge
of shot, when he was handed over in a dazed condition to my informant.
He recovered from his wounds, but was always a very sedate bird. He
had the run of a big old country house, and was one day observed in a
crouching attitude pressed tightly into the angle formed by the wall
and floor. He had discovered that the place was infested by mice, and
was watching a crevice. The instant that a mouse put out a head the crow
had him in his beak, and would kill him by striking him with lightning
rapidity two or three times on the floor, then swallow him. From that
time mouse-catching was this bird's sole occupation and amusement, and
he went about the house in the silent and stealthy manner of a cat.

'I am anxious to get the history of a tame crow that never had his
wing-feathers clipped, and did not begin the domestic life as an old
bird with several pellets of lead in his body.'

Curiously enough, not long after this article appeared another
bird-lover in London was asking the same question in another journal.
This was Mr. Mandeville B. Phillips, of South Norwood, then private
secretary to the late Archbishop of Canterbury. By accident he had
become possessed of a carrion crow, sold to him as a young raven taken
from a nest at Ely. This bird made so interesting a pet that its owner
became desirous of hearing the experiences of others who had kept
carrion crows. Mr. Phillips, in kindly giving me the history of his
bird, says that at different times he has kept ravens, daws, jays, and
magpies, but has never had so delightful a bird friend as the crow. It
was a revelation to him to find what an interesting pet this species
made. No other bird he had owned approached him in cleverness and in
multiplicity of tricks and devices: he could give the cleverest jackdaw
points and win easily. If his bird was an average specimen of the race,
he wondered that the crow is not more popular as a pet. This bird was
fond of his liberty, but would always come to his master when called,
and roosted every night in an outhouse. Like the tame raven, and also
like human beings of a primitive order of mind, he was excessively fond
of practical jokes, and whenever he found the dog or cat asleep he would
steal quietly up and administer a severe prod on the tail with his
powerful beak. He would also fly into the kitchen when he saw the
window open, to steal the spoons; but his chief delight was in a box
of matches, which he would carry off to pick to pieces and scatter the
matches all over the place. He was extremely jealous of a tame raven and
a jackdaw that shared the house and garden with him, and which he chose
to regard as rivals; but this was his only unhappiness. The appearance
of his master dressed in 'blazers' always greatly affected him. It
would, indeed, throw him into such a frenzy of terror that Mr. Phillips
became careful not to exhibit himself in such bizarre raiment in the
garden. My informant concludes, that he is not ashamed to say that he
shed a few tears at the loss of this bird.

I may add that I received a large number of letters in answer to my
article on the carrion crow, but none of my correspondents in this
country had any knowledge of the bird as a pet. In several letters
received from America--the States and Canada--long histories of the
common crow of that region as a pet bird were sent to me.



  Rarity of the daw in London--Pigeons and daws compared--Æsthetic
    value of the daw as a cathedral bird--Kensington Palace daws;
    their disposition and habits--Friendship with rooks--Wandering
    daws at Clissold Park--Solitary daws--Mr. Mark Melford's
    birds--Rescue of a hundred daws--The strange history of an
    egg-stealing daw--White daws--White ravens--Willughby's
    speculations--A suggestion.

It is somewhat curious to find that the jackdaw is an extremely rare
bird in London--that, in fact, with the exception of a small colony at
one spot, he is almost non-existent. At Richmond Park, where pheasants
(and the gamekeeper's traditions) are preserved, he was sometimes shot
in the breeding season; but in the metropolis, so far as I know, he has
never been persecuted. Yet there are few birds, certainly no member of
the crow family, seemingly so well adapted to a London life as this
species. Throughout the kingdom he is a familiar town bird; in one
English cathedral over a hundred pairs have their nests; and in that
city and in many other towns the birds are accustomed to come to the
gardens and window-sills, to be fed on scraps by their human neighbours
and friends.


While the daw has diminished with us, and is near to vanishing, the
common pigeon--the domestic variety of the blue rock--has increased
excessively in recent years. Large colonies of these birds inhabit the
Temple Gardens, the Law Courts, St. Paul's, the Museum, and Westminster
Palace, and many smaller settlements exist all over the metropolis. Now,
a flock or cloud of parti-coloured pigeons rushing up and wheeling about
the roofs or fronts of these imposing structures forms a very pretty
sight; but the daw toying with the wind, that lifts and blows him hither
and thither, is a much more engaging spectacle, and in London we miss
him greatly.

I have often thought that it was due to the presence of the daw that I
was ever able to get an adequate or satisfactory idea of the beauty
and grandeur of some of our finest buildings. Watching the bird in his
aërial evolutions, now suspended motionless, or rising and falling, then
with half-closed wings precipitating himself downwards, as if demented,
through vast distances, only to mount again with an exulting cry, to
soar beyond the highest tower or pinnacle, and seem at that vast height
no bigger than a swift in size--watching him thus, an image of the
structure over and around which he disported himself so gloriously has
been formed--its vastness, stability, and perfect proportions--and has
remained thereafter a vivid picture in my mind. How much would be lost
to the sculptured west front of Wells Cathedral, the soaring spire of
Salisbury, the noble roof and towers of York Minster and of Canterbury,
if the jackdaws were not there! I know that, compared with the images
I retain of many daw-haunted cathedrals and castles in the provinces,
those of the cathedrals and other great buildings in London have in my
mind a somewhat dim and blurred appearance. It is a pity that, before
consenting to rebuild St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren did not
make the perpetual maintenance of a colony of jackdaws a condition.
And if he had bargained with posterity for a pair or two of peregrine
falcons and kestrels, his glory at the present time would have been

There are, I believe, about sixteen hundred churches in London; probably
not more than three are now tenanted by the 'ecclesiastical daw.'

On the borders of London--at Hampstead, Greenwich, Dulwich, Richmond,
and other points--daws in limited numbers are to be met with; in London
proper, or inner London, there are no resident or breeding daws except
the small colony of about twenty-four birds at Kensington Palace. Most
of these breed in the hollow elms in Kensington Gardens; others in trees
in Holland Park. There is something curious about this small isolated
colony: the birds are far less loquacious and more sedate in manner than
daws are wont to be. At almost any hour of the day they may be seen
sitting quietly on the higher branches of the tall trees, silent and
spiritless. The wind blows, and they rise not to play with it; the
graceful spire of St. Mary Abbott's springs high above the garden trees
and palace and neighbouring buildings, but it does not attract them.
Occasionally, in winter, when the morning sun shines bright and melts
the mist, they experience a sudden return of the old frolicsome mood,
and at such moments are capable of a very fine display, rushing over
and among the tall elms in a black train, yelping like a pack of aërial
hounds in hot pursuit of some invisible quarry.

A still greater excitement is exhibited by these somewhat depressed and
sedentary Kensington birds on the appearance of a flight of rooks; for
rooks, sometimes in considerable numbers, do occasionally visit or pass
over London, and keep, when travelling east or west, to the wide green
way of the central parks. Now there are few more impressive spectacles
in bird life in this country than the approach of a large company of
rooks; their black forms, that loom so large as they successively
appear, follow each other with slow deliberate motion at long intervals,
moving as in a funeral procession, with appropriate solemn noises, which
may be heard when they are still at a great distance. They are chanting
something that corresponds in the corvine world to our Dead March
in 'Saul.' The coming sound has a magical effect on the daws; their
answering cries ring out loud and sharp, and hurriedly mounting to a
considerable height in the air, they go out to meet the processionists,
to mix with and accompany them a distance on the journey. It is to me a
wonderful sight--more wonderful here in Kensington Gardens, which have
long been rookless, than in any country place, and has reminded me of
the meeting of two savage tribes or families, living far apart but
cherishing an ancient tradition of kinship and amity, who, after a long
interval, perhaps of years, when at last they come in sight of each
other's faces rush together, bursting into loud shouts of greeting and
welcome. And one is really inclined to believe at times that some such
traditional alliance and feeling of friendship exists between these two
most social and human-like of the crow family.

Besides this small remnant of birds native to London, flocks of jackdaws
from outside occasionally appear when migrating or in search of new
quarters. One morning, not long ago, a flock of fifteen came down at
Clissold Park. They settled on the dovecote, and amused themselves in
a characteristic way by hunting the pigeons out of their boxes; then,
having cleared the place, they remained contentedly for an hour or
two, dozing, preening their feathers, and conversing together in low
tones. The bird-loving superintendent's heart was filled with joy
at the acquisition of so interesting a colony; but his rejoicing
was premature, the loud call and invitation to fly was at last
sounded, and hastily responded to--_We have not come to stay--we
are off--good-bye--so-long--farewell_--and forthwith they rose up and
flew away, probably in search of fresher woods and less trodden
pastures than those of Clissold Park.

There are also to be met with in London a few solitary vagrant daws
which in most cases are probably birds escaped from captivity. Close to
my home a daw of this description appears every morning at the house of
a friend and demands his breakfast with loud taps on the window-pane.
The generous treatment he has received has caused him to abandon his
first suspicious attitude; he now flies boldly into the house and
explores the rooms, and is specially interested in the objects on the
dressing-table. Articles of jewellery are carefully put out of sight
when he makes a call.

My friends, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Melford, of Fulham, are probably
responsible for the existence in London of a good number of wandering
solitary jackdaws. They cherish a wonderful admiration and affection
towards all the members of the crow family, and have had numberless
daws, jays, and pies as pets, or rather as guests, since their birds
are always free to fly about the house and go and come at pleasure.
But their special favourite is the daw, which they regard as far more
intelligent, interesting, and companionable than any other animal, not
excepting the dog. On one occasion Mr. Melford saw an advertisement of
a hundred daws to be sold for trap-shooting, and to save them from so
miserable a fate he at once purchased the lot and took them home. They
were in a miserable half-starved condition, and to give them a better
chance of survival, before freeing them he placed them in an outhouse in
his garden with a wire-netting across the doorway, and there he fed and
tended them until they were well and strong, and then gave them their
liberty. But they did not at once take advantage of it; grown used to
the place and the kindly faces of their protectors, they remained and
were like tame birds about the house; but later, a few at a time, at
long intervals, they went away and back to their wild independent life.

Of the many stories of their pet daws which they have told me, I will
give one of a bird which was a particular favourite of Mrs. Melford's.
His invariable habit was, on returning from an expedition abroad, to fly
straight into the house in search of her, and, sitting on her head, to
express his affection and delight at rejoining her by passing his beak
through her hair.

[Illustration: THE LADY AND THE DAW]

Unfortunately, this bird had a weakness for eggs, which led him into
many scrapes, and in the end very nearly proved his undoing. He was
constantly hanging about and prying into the fowl-house, and whenever
he felt sure that he was not observed he would slip in to purloin an
egg. His cunning reacted on the fowls and made them cunning too. When he
appeared they looked the other way, or walked off pretending not to see
him; but no sooner would he be inside exploring the obscure corners for
an egg than the battle-cry would sound, and then poor Jackie would find
it hard indeed to escape from their fury with nothing worse than a sound
drubbing. In a day or two, before his many sores and bruises had had
time to heal, the cackling of a hen and the thought of a new-laid egg
would tempt him again, and at length one day he could not escape; the
loud cries of rage and of vengeance gratified attracted some person
to the fowl-house, where Jackie was found lying on the ground in the
midst of a crowd of fowls engaged in pounding and pecking his life out,
scattering his hated black feathers in all directions. He was rescued
more dead than alive, and subsequently tended by his mistress with
loving care. He lived, but failed to recover his old gay spirits; day
after day he moped in silence, a picture of abject misery, recalling in
his half-naked, bruised, and bedraggled appearance the famous bird of
Rheims, the stealer of the turquoise ring, after the awful malediction
of the Lord Cardinal Archbishop had taken effect:

                  On crumpled claw,
    Came limping a poor little lame jackdaw,
                  No longer gay
                  As on yesterday;
    His feathers all seemed to be turned the wrong way;
    His pinions drooped, he could hardly stand,
    His head was as bald as the palm of your hand;
                  His eye so dim,
                  So wasted each limb,
    That, heedless of grammar, they all cried 'That's him!'

By-and-by, when still in this broken-hearted and broken-feathered state,
a sight to make his mistress weep, he disappeared; it was conjectured
that some compassionate-minded neighbour, finding him in his garden
or grounds, and seeing his pitiable condition, had put an end to his

One day, a year later, Mrs. Melford, who was just recovering from an
illness, was lying on a sofa in a room on the ground floor, when her
husband, who was in the garden at the back, excitedly cried out that
a wild jackdaw had just flown down and alighted near him. 'A perfect
beauty!' he exclaimed; never had he seen a jackdaw in finer plumage!
The lady, equally excited, called back, begging him to use every device
to get the bird to stay. No sooner was her voice heard than the jackdaw
rose up and dashed into the house, and flying the length of three rooms
came to where she was lying, and at once alighted on her head and began
passing his beak through her hair in the old manner. In no other way
could this wild-looking and beautified bird have established his
identity. His return was a great joy; they caressed and feasted him,
and for several hours, during which he showed no desire to renew his
intercourse with the fowls, he was as lively and amusing as he had ever
been in the old days before he had got into trouble. But before night he
left them, and has never returned since; doubtless he had established
relations with some of the wild daws on the outskirts of London.

Before ending this chapter I should like to say a word about white
jackdaws. It is a mystery to me where all the albinos occasionally to
be seen in the London bird markets come from. I have seen half a dozen
in the hands of one large dealer, two at another dealer's, and several
single birds at other shops; altogether about sixteen or eighteen white
daws on sale at one time.

One often hears of and occasionally sees a white blackbird or other
species in a wild state, but these uncoloured specimens are rare; they
are also dear to the collector (nobody knows why), and as a rule are not
long permitted to enjoy existence. Besides, in nine cases out of ten the
abnormally white birds are not albinos. They are probably mere 'sports,'
like our domestic white pigeons, fowls, and ducks, and would doubtless
be more common but for the fact that their whiteness is a disadvantage
to them in their struggle for life. It is rather curious to find that
among wild birds those that have a black plumage appear more subject
to loss of colour than others. Thus we find that, of our small birds,
whiteness is more common in the blackbird than in any other species.
Within the last twelve to eighteen months I have known of the existence
of seven or eight white or partly white blackbirds in London; but during
the same period I have not seen nor heard of a white thrush, and have
only seen one white sparrow. My belief is that the species most commonly
found with white or partly white plumage are the blackbird, rook, and
daw. When carrion crows and ravens were abundant in this country it was
probably no very unusual thing to meet with white specimens. The old
ornithologist, Willughby, writing over two centuries ago, mentions two
milk-white ravens which he saw; but the fact of their whiteness is
less interesting to read at this distant date than the old author's
delightful speculations as to the cause of the phenomenon. He doubts
that white ravens were as common in this country as Aldrovandus had
affirmed that they were, and then adds: 'I rather think that they
are found in those mountainous Northern Countries, which are for the
greatest part of the year covered with snow: Where also many other
Animals change their native colours, and become white, as _Bears_,
_Foxes_, _Blackbirds_, &c., whether it proceeds from the force of
imagination, heightened by the constant intuition of Snow, or from
the cold of the Climate, occasioning such a languishing of colour; as
we see in old Age, when the natural heat decays, the hair grows grey,
and at last white.'

To return to the subject of the beautiful albino daws, and the numbers
sometimes seen in our bird markets. One can only say that the monster
London throws its nets over an exceedingly wide area, capturing all rare
and quaint and beautiful things for its own delight. Thinking of these
wonderful white daws, when I have cast up my eyes to the birdless towers
and domes of our great London buildings, it has occurred to me to ask
the following question: Is there not one among the many very wealthy men
in London, who annually throw away hundreds of thousands of pounds on
their several crazes--is there not one to give, say, fifty or sixty
pounds per annum to buy up all these beautiful albinos, at the usual
price of one or two guineas per bird, for three or four years, and
establish a colony at Westminster, or other suitable place, where
thousands of people would have great delight in looking at them every
day? For it would indeed be a strange and beautiful sight, and many
persons would come from a distance solely to see the milk-white daws
soaring in the wind, as their custom is, above the roofs and towers;
and he who made such a gift to London would be long and very pleasantly



  Positions of the rook and crow compared--Gray's Inn Gardens
    rookery--Break-up of the old, and futile attempt of the birds to
    establish new rookeries--The rooks a great loss to London--Why the
    rook is esteemed--Incidents in the life of a tame rook--A first
    sight of the Kensington Gardens rookery--The true history of the
    expulsion of the rooks--A desolate scene, and a vision of London

We have seen how it is with the carrion crow--that he is in the balance,
and that if the park authorities will but refrain from persecuting him
he will probably be able to keep his ancient place among the wild birds
of London. To what has already been said on the subject of this bird I
will only add here that there is, just now, an unfortunate inclination
in some of the County Council's parks to adopt the policy of the royal
parks--to set too high a value on domestic and ornamental water-fowl,
which, however beautiful and costly they may be, can never give as much
pleasure or produce the same effect on the mind as the wild bird. The
old London crow is worth more to London than many exotic swans and ducks
and geese.

[Illustration: LONDON CROWS]

We have also seen that the case of the jackdaw is not quite hopeless;
for although the birds are now reduced to an insignificant remnant, the
habits and disposition of this species make it reasonable to hope that
they will thrive and increase, and, in any case, that if we want the
daw we can have him. But the case of the rook appears to me well nigh
hopeless, and on this account, in this list of the corvines, he is put
last that should have been first. There are nevertheless two reasons why
a considerable space--a whole chapter--should be given to this species:
one is, that down to within a few years ago the rook attracted the
largest share of attention, and was the most important species in the
wild bird life of the metropolis; the other, that it would be well that
the cause of its departure should not be forgotten. It is true that
in the very heart of the metropolis a rookery still exists in Gray's
Inn Gardens, and that although it does not increase neither does it
diminish. Thus, during the last twenty years there have never been
fewer than seventeen or eighteen, and never more than thirty nests
in a season; and for the last three seasons the numbers have been
twenty-five, twenty-three, and twenty-four nests. Going a little farther
back in the history of this ancient famous colony, it is well to relate
that, twenty-three years ago, it was well-nigh lost for ever through
an unconsidered act of the Benchers, or of some ignorant person in
authority among them. It was thought that the trees would have a better
appearance if a number of their large horizontal branches were lopped
off, and the work was carried out in the month of March, just when the
rooks were busy repairing their old and building new nests. The birds
were seized with panic, and went away in a body to be seen no more for
the space of three years; then they returned to settle once more, and
at present they are regarded with so much pride and affection by the
Benchers, and have so much food cast to them out of scores of windows,
that they have grown to be the most domestic and stay-at-home rooks to
be found anywhere in England.

With the exception of this one small colony, it is sad to have to say
that utter, irretrievable disaster has fallen on the inner London
rookeries--those that still exist in the suburbs will be mentioned in
subsequent chapters--and although rooks may still be found within our
gates, go they will and go they must, never to return. The few birds
that continue in constantly diminishing numbers to breed here and there
in the metropolis, in spite of its gloomy atmosphere and the long
distances they are obliged to travel in quest of grubs and worms
for their young, are London rooks, themselves hatched in parks and
squares--the town has always been their home and breeding place; and
although it is more than probable that some of these town birds are from
time to time enticed away to the country, it is indeed hard to believe
that rooks hatched in the rural districts are ever tempted to come to
us. During the last dozen years many attempts at founding new colonies
have been made by small bands of rooks. These birds were and are
survivors of the old broken-up communities. All these incipient
rookeries, containing from two or three to a dozen nests (as at
Connaught Square), have failed; but the birds, or some of them, still
wander about in an aimless way in small companies, from park to park,
and there is no doubt that year by year these homeless rooks will
continue to decrease in number, until the ancient tradition is lost,
and they will be seen no more.

It is no slight loss which we have to lament; it is the loss to the
millions inhabiting this city, or congeries of cities and towns, of a
bird which is more to us than any other wild bird, on account of its
large size and interesting social habits, its high intelligence, and
the confidence it reposes in man; and, finally, of that ancient kindly
regard and pride in it which, in some degree, is felt by all persons
throughout the kingdom. The rook has other claims to our esteem and
affection which are not so generally known: in a domestic state it is
no whit behind other species in the capacity for strong attachments, in
versatility and playfulness, and that tricksy spirit found in most of
the corvines, which so curiously resembles, or simulates, the sense of
humour in ourselves.

I recall here an incident in the life of a tame rook, and by way of
apology for introducing it I may mention that this bird, although
country bred, was of London too, when his mistress came to town for
the season accompanied by her glossy black pet. I will first relate
something of his country life, and feel confident that this digression
will be pardoned by those of my readers who are admirers of the rook, a
bird which we are accustomed to regard as of a more sedate disposition
than the jackdaw.

He was picked up injured in a park in Oxfordshire, taken in and nursed
by the lady of the house until he was well and able to fly about once
more; but he elected to stay with his benefactress, although he always
spent a portion of each day in flying about the country in company with
his fellows. He had various ways of showing his partiality for his
mistress, one of which was very curious. Early every morning he flew
into her bedroom by the open window, and alighting on her bed would
deposit a small offering on the pillow--a horse-chestnut bur, a little
crooked stick, a bleached rabbit bone, a pebble, a bit of rusty iron,
which he had picked up and regarded as a suitable present. Whatever
it was, it had to be accepted with demonstrations of gratitude and
affection. If she took no notice he would lift it up and replace it
again, calling attention to it with little subdued exclamations which
sounded like words, and if she feigned sleep he would gently pull her
hair or tap her cheek with his bill to awake her. Once the present
was accepted he would nestle in under her arm and remain so, very
contentedly, until she got up.

Here we get a delightful little peep into the workings of the rook's
mind. We ourselves, our great philosopher tells us, are 'hopelessly'
anthropomorphic. The rook appears to be in as bad a case; to his
mind we are nothing but bigger rooks, somewhat misshapen, perhaps,
featherless, deprived by some accident of the faculty of flight, and
not very well able to take care of ourselves.

One summer day the rook came into the daughter's bedroom, where she was
washing her hands, and had just taken off a valuable diamond ring from
her finger and placed it on the marble top of the washing-stand. The
rook came to the stand and very suddenly picked up the ring and flew
out at the open window. The young lady ran down stairs and on to the
terrace, calling out that the bird had flown away with her ring. Her
mother quickly came out with a field glass in her hand, and together
they watched the bird fly straight away across the park to a distance
of about a third of a mile, where he disappeared from sight among the
trees. The ring was gone! Two hours later the robber returned and flew
into the dining-room, where his mistress happened to be; alighting on
the table, he dropped the ring from his beak and began walking round
it, viewing it first with one, then the other eye, uttering the while a
variety of little complacent notes, in which he seemed to be saying: 'I
have often admired this beautiful ring, but never had an opportunity of
examining it properly before; now, after having had it for some time in
my possession and shown it to several wild rooks of my acquaintance, I
have much satisfaction in restoring it to its owner, who is my very good

During his summer visits to London this rook met with many curious and
amusing adventures, as he had the habit of flying in at the open windows
of houses in the neighbourhood of Park Lane, and making himself very
much at home. He also flew about Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens every
day to visit his fellow-rooks. One day his mistress was walking in the
Row, at an hour when it was full of fashionable people, and the rook,
winging his way homewards from the gardens, spied her, and circling down
alighted on her shoulders, to the amazement of all who witnessed the
incident. 'What an astonishing thing!' exclaimed some person in the
crowd that gathered round her. 'Oh, not at all,' answered the lady,
caressing the bird with her hand, while he rubbed his beak against her
cheek; 'if you were as fond of the birds as I am, and treated them as
well, they would be glad to come down on to your shoulders, too.'

This happened when the now vanished rooks had their populous rookery in
Kensington Gardens, where they were to be seen all day flying to and
from the old nesting-trees, and stalking over the green turf in search
of grubs on the open portions of Hyde Park. And we should have had them
there now if they had not been driven out.

       *     *     *     *     *

The two largest London rookeries were those at Greenwich Park and
Kensington Gardens. In the first-named the trees were all topped over
twenty years ago, with the result that the birds left; and although the
locality has much to attract them, and numbers of rooks constantly visit
the park, they have never attempted to build nests since the trees were
mutilated. This rookery I never saw; that of Kensington Gardens I knew
very well.

Over twenty years ago, on arriving in London, I put up at a City hotel,
and on the following day went out to explore, and walked at random,
never inquiring my way of any person, and not knowing whether I was
going east or west. After rambling about for some three or four hours,
I came to a vast wooded place where few persons were about. It was a
wet, cold morning in early May, after a night of incessant rain; but
when I reached this unknown place the sun shone out and made the air
warm and fragrant and the grass and trees sparkle with innumerable
raindrops. Never grass and trees in their early spring foliage looked
so vividly green, while above the sky was clear and blue as if I had
left London leagues behind. As I advanced farther into this wooded space
the dull sounds of traffic became fainter, while ahead the continuous
noise of many cawing rooks grew louder and louder. I was soon under the
rookery listening to and watching the birds as they wrangled with one
another, and passed in and out among the trees or soared above their
tops. How intensely black they looked amidst the fresh brilliant green
of the sunlit foliage! What wonderfully tall trees were these where
the rookery was placed! It was like a wood where the trees were
self-planted, and grew close together in charming disorder, reaching a
height of about one hundred feet or more. Of the fine sights of London
so far known to me, including the turbid, rushing Thames, spanned by
its vast stone bridges, the cathedral with its sombre cloud-like dome,
and the endless hurrying procession of Cheapside, this impressed me the
most. The existence of so noble a transcript of wild nature as this tall
wood with its noisy black people, so near the heart of the metropolis,
surrounded on all sides by miles of brick and mortar and innumerable
smoking chimneys, filled me with astonishment; and I may say that I
have seldom looked on a scene that stamped itself on my memory in
more vivid and lasting colours. Recalling the sensations of delight
I experienced then, I can now feel nothing but horror at the thought
of the unspeakable barbarity the park authorities were guilty of in
destroying this noble grove. _Why_ was it destroyed? It was surely worth
more to us than many of our possessions--many painted canvases, statues,
and monuments, which have cost millions of the public money! Of brick
and stone buildings, plain and ornamental, we have enough to afford
shelter to our bodies, and for all other purposes, but trees of one or
two centuries' growth, the great trees that give shelter and refreshment
to the soul, are not many in London. There must, then, have been some
urgent reason and necessity for the removal of this temple not builded
by man. It could not surely have been for the sake of the paltry sum
which the wood was worth--paltry, that is to say, if we compare the
amount the timber-merchant would pay for seven hundred elm-trees with
the sum of seventy-five thousand pounds the Government gave, a little
later, for half a dozen dreary canvases from Blenheim--dust and ashes
for the hungry and thirsty! Those who witnessed the felling of these
seven hundred trees, the tallest in London, could but believe that the
authorities had good cause for what they did, that they had been advised
by experts in forestry; and it was vaguely thought that the trees, which
looked outwardly in so flourishing a condition, were inwardly eaten up
with canker, and would eventually (and very soon perhaps) have to come
down. If the trees had in very truth been dying, the authorities would
not have been justified in their action. In the condition in which trees
are placed in London it is well nigh impossible that they should have
perfect health; but trees take long to die, and during decay are still
beautiful. Not far from London is a tree which Aubrey described as very
old in his day, and which has been dying since the early years of this
century, but it is not dead yet, and it may live to be admired by
thousands of pilgrims down to the end of the twentieth century. In any
case, trees are too precious in London to be removed because they are
unsound. But the truth was, those in Kensington Gardens were not dying
and not decayed. The very fact that they were chosen year after year by
the rooks to build upon afforded the strongest evidence that they were
the healthiest trees in the gardens. When they were felled a majority
of them were found to be perfectly sound. I examined many of the finest
boles, seventy and eighty feet long, and could detect no rotten spot in
them, nor at the roots.

The only reasons I have been able to discover as having been given for
the destruction were that grass could not be made to grow so as to form
a turf in the deep shade of the grove; that in wet weather, particularly
during the fall of the leaf, the ground was always sloppy and dirty
under the trees, so that no person could walk in that part of the
grounds without soiling his boots.

It will hardly be credited that the very men who did the work, before
setting about it, respectfully informed the park authorities that they
considered it would be a great mistake to cut the trees down, not only
because they were sound and beautiful to the eye, but for other reasons.
One was that the rooks would be driven away; another that this tall
thick grove was a protection to the gardens, and secured the trees
scattered over its northern side from the violence of the winds from the
west. They were laughed at for their pains, and told that the 'screen'
was not wanted, as every tree was made safe by its own roots; and as to
the rooks, they would not abandon the gardens where they had bred for
generations, but would build new nests on other trees. Finally, when it
came to the cutting down, the men begged to be allowed to spare a few of
the finest trees in the grove; and at last one tree, with no fewer than
fourteen nests on it: they were sharply ordered to cut down the lot. And
cut down they were, with disastrous consequences, as we know, as during
the next few years many scores of the finest trees on the north side of
the gardens were blown down by the winds, among them the noblest tree in
London--the great beech on the east side of the wide vacant space where
the grove had stood. The rooks, too, went away, as they had gone before
from Greenwich Park, and as in a period of seventeen years they have not
succeeded in establishing a new rookery, we may now regard them as lost
for ever.

Seventeen years! Some may say that this is going too far back; that in
these fast-moving times, crowded with historically important events, it
is hardly worth while in 1898 to recall the fact that in 1880 a grove
of seven hundred trees was cut down in Kensington Gardens for no reason
whatever, or for a reason which would not be taken seriously by any
person in any degree removed from the condition of imbecility!

To the nation at large the destruction of this grove may not have been
an important event, but to the millions inhabiting the metropolis, who
in a sense form a nation in themselves, it was exceedingly important,
immeasurably more so than most of the events recorded each year in the
'Annual Register.'

It must be borne in mind that to a vast majority of this population of
five millions London is a permanent home, their 'province covered with
houses' where they spend their toiling lives far from the sights and
sounds of nature; that the conditions being what they are, an open
space is a possession of incalculable value, to be prized above all
others, like an amulet or a thrice-precious gem containing mysterious
health-giving properties. He, then, who takes from London one of these
sacred possessions, or who deprives it of its value by destroying its
rural character, by cutting down its old trees and driving out its bird
life, inflicts the greatest conceivable injury on the community, and is
really a worse enemy than the criminal who singles out an individual
here and there for attack, and who for his misdeeds is sent to Dartmoor
or to the gallows.

We give praise and glory to those who confer lasting benefits on the
community; we love their memories when they are no more, and cherish
their fame, and hand it on from generation to generation. In honouring
them we honour ourselves. But praise and glory would be without
significance, and love of our benefactors would lose its best virtue,
its peculiar sweetness, if such a feeling did not have its bitter
opposite and correlative.

       *     *     *     *     *

In conclusion of this in part mournful chapter I will relate a little
experience met with in Kensington Gardens, seventeen years ago. I was
in bad health at the time, with no prospect of recovery, and had been
absent from London. It was a bright and beautiful morning in October,
the air summer-like in its warmth, and, thinking how pleasant my
favourite green and wooded haunt would look in the sunshine, I paid a
visit to Kensington Gardens. Then I first saw the great destruction that
had been wrought; where the grove had stood there was now a vast vacant
space, many scores of felled trees lying about, and all the ground
trodden and black, and variegated with innumerable yellow chips, which
formed in appearance an irregular inlaid pattern.

As I stood there idly contemplating the sawn-off half of a prostrate
trunk, my attention was attracted to a couple of small, ragged,
shrill-voiced urchins, dancing round the wood and trying to get bits
of bark and splinters off, one with a broken chopper for an implement,
the other with a small hand-hatchet, which flew off the handle at every
stroke. Seeing that I was observing their antics, one shouted to the
other, 'Say, Bill, got a penny?' 'No, don't I wish I had!' shouted the

'Little beggars,' thought I, 'do you really imagine you are going to get
a penny out of me?' So much amused was I at their transparent device
that I deliberately winked an eye--not at the urchins, but for the
benefit of a carelessly dressed, idle-looking young woman who happened
to be standing near just then, regarding us with an expression of slight
interest, a slight smile on her rosy lips, the sunshine resting on her
beautiful sun-browned face, and tawny bronzed hair. I must explain
that I had met her before, often and often, in London and other towns,
and in the country, and by the sea, and on distant seas, and in many
uninhabited places, so that we were old friends and quite familiar.

Presently an exceedingly wasted, miserable-looking, decrepid old woman
came by, bent almost double under a ragged shawl full of sticks and
brushwood which she had gathered where the men were now engaged in
lopping off the branches of a tree they had just felled. 'My! she's got
a load, ain't she, Bill?' cried the first urchin again. 'Oh, if we had
a penny, now!'

I asked him what he meant, and very readily and volubly he explained
that on payment of a penny the workmen would allow any person to take
away as much of the waste wood as he could carry, but without the penny
not a chip. I relented at that and gave them a penny, and with a whoop
of joy at their success they ran off to where the men were working.

Then I turned to leave the gardens, nodding a good-bye to the young
woman, who was still standing there. The slight smile and expression of
slight interest, that curious baffling expression with which she regards
all our actions, from the smallest to the greatest, came back to her
lips and face. But as she returned my glance with her sunny eyes, behind
the sunniness on the surface there was a look of deep meaning, such as I
have occasionally seen in them before. It seemed to be saying sorrowful
and yet comforting things to me, telling me not to grieve overmuch at
these hackings and mutilations of the sweet places of the earth--at
these losses to be made good. It was as if she had shown me a vision
of some far time, after this London, after the dust of all her people,
from park ranger to bowed-down withered old woman gathering rotten
rain-sodden sticks for fuel, had been blown about by the winds of many
centuries--a vision of old trees growing again on this desecrated spot
as in past ages, oak and elm, and beech and chestnut, the happy, green
homes of squirrel and bird and bee. It was very sweet to see London
beautified and made healthy at last! And I thought, quoting Hafiz, that
after a thousand years my bones would be filled with gladness, and,
uprising, dance in the sepulchre.



  The wood-pigeon in Kensington Gardens--Its increase--Its beauty and
    charm--Perching on Shakespeare's statue in Leicester Square--Change
    of habits--The moorhen--Its appearance and habits--An æsthetic
    bird--Its increase--The dabchick in London--Its increase--Appearance
    and habits--At Clissold Park--The stock-dove in London.

Of the species which have established colonies in London during recent
years, the wood-pigeon, or ringdove, is the most important, being the
largest in size and the most numerous; and it is also remarkable on
account of its beauty, melody, and tameness. Indeed, the presence of
this bird and its abundance is a compensation for some of our losses
suffered in recent years. It has for many of us, albeit in a less degree
than the carrion crow, somewhat of glamour, producing in such a place as
Kensington Gardens an illusion of wild nature; and watching it suddenly
spring aloft, with loud flap of wings, to soar circling on high and
descend in a graceful curve to its tree again, and listening to the
beautiful sound of its human-like plaint, which may be heard not only in
summer but on any mild day in winter, one is apt to lose sight of the
increasingly artificial aspect of things; to forget the havoc that has
been wrought, until the surviving trees--the decayed giants about whose
roots the cruel, hungry, glittering axe ever flits and plays like a
hawk-moth in the summer twilight--no longer seem conscious of their

Twenty years ago the wood-pigeon was almost unknown in London, the very
few birds that existed being confined to woods on the borders of
the metropolis and to some of the old private parks--Ravenscourt,
Brondesbury, Clissold and Brockwell Parks; except two or three pairs
that bred in the group of fir trees on the north side of Kensington
Gardens, and one pair in St. James's Park. Tree-felling caused these
birds to abandon the parks sometime during the seventies. But from 1883,
when a single pair nested in Buckingham Palace Gardens, wood-pigeons
have increased and spread from year to year until the present time, when
there is not any park with large old trees, or with trees of a moderate
size, where these birds are not annual breeders. As the park trees no
longer afford them sufficient accommodation they have gone to other
smaller areas, and to many squares and gardens, private and public.
Thus, in Soho Square no fewer than six pairs had nests last summer.
It was very pleasant, a friend told me, to look out of his window on
an April morning and see two milk-white eggs, bright as gems in the
sunlight, lying in the frail nest in a plane tree not many yards away.
In North London these birds have increased greatly during the last three
years. Sixteen pairs bred successfully in 1897 in Clissold Park, which
is small, and there were scores of nests in the neighbourhood, on trees
growing in private grounds.

Even in the heart of the smoky, roaring City they build their nests and
rear their young on any large tree. To other spaces, where there are
no suitable trees, they are daily visitors; and lately I have been
amused to see them come in small flocks to the coal deposits of the
Great Western Railway at Westbourne Park. What attraction this busy
black place, vexed with rumbling, puffing, and shrieking noises, can
have for them I cannot guess. These doves, when disturbed, invariably
fly to a terrace of houses close by and perch on the chimney-pots, a
newly acquired habit. In Leicester Square I have seen as many as a dozen
to twenty birds at a time, leisurely moving about on the asphalted walks
in search of crumbs of bread. It is not unusual to see one bird perched
in a pretty attitude on the head of Shakespeare's statue in the middle
of the square, the most commanding position. I never admired that marble
until I saw it thus occupied by the pretty dove-coloured guest, with
white collar, iridescent neck, and orange bill; since then I have
thought highly of it, and am grateful to Baron Albert Grant for his
gift to London, and recall with pleasure that on the occasion of its
unveiling I heard its praise, as a work of art, recited in rhyme by

    Hop-o-my-thumb, there,
    Banjo-Byron on his strum-strum, there.

I heartily wish that the birds would make use in the same way of many
other statues with which our public places are furnished, if not


So numerous are the wood-pigeons at the end of summer in their favourite
parks that it is easy for any person, by throwing a few handfuls of
grain, to attract as many as twenty or thirty of them to his feet. Their
tameness is wonderful, and they are delightful to look at, although so
stout of figure. Considering their enormous appetites, their portliness
seems only natural. But a full habit does not detract from their beauty;
they remind us of some of our dearest lady friends, who in spite of
their two score or more summers, and largeness where the maiden is slim,
have somehow retained loveliness and grace. We have seen that the London
wood-pigeon, like the London crow, occasionally alights on buildings.
One bird comes to a ledge of a house-front opposite my window, and
walks up and down there. We may expect that other changes in the birds'
habits will come about in time, if the present rate of increase should
continue. Thus, last summer, one pair built a nest on St. Martin's
Church, Trafalgar Square; another pair on a mansion in Victoria Street,

Something further will be said of this species in a chapter on the
movements of birds in London.

Next to the ringdove in importance--and a bird of a more fascinating
personality, if such a word be admissible--is the moorhen, pretty and
quaint in its silky olive-brown and slaty-grey dress, with oblique
white bar on its side, and white undertail, yellow and scarlet beak and
frontal shield, and large green legs. _Green-legged little hen_ is its
scientific name. Its motions, too, are pretty and quaint. Not without
a smile can we see it going about on the smooth turf with an air of
dignity incongruous in so small a bird, lifting up and setting down its
feet with all the deliberation of a crane or bustard. A hundred curious
facts have been recorded of this familiar species--the 'moat-hen' of old
troubled days when the fighting man, instead of the schoolmaster as now,
was abroad in England, and manor-houses were surrounded by moats, in
which the moorhen lived, close to human beings, in a semi-domestic
state. But after all that has been written, we no sooner have him near
us, under our eyes, as in London to-day, than we note some new trait or
pretty trick. Thus, in a pond in West London I saw a moorhen act in a
manner which, so far as I know, had never been described; and I must
confess that if some friend had related such a thing to me I should
have been disposed to think that his sight had deceived him. This
moorhen was quietly feeding on the margin, but became greatly excited
on the appearance, a little distance away, of a second bird. Lowering
its head, it made a little rush at, or towards, the new-comer, then
stopped and went quietly back; then made a second little charge, and
again walked back. Finally it began to walk _backwards_, with slow,
measured steps, towards the other bird, displaying, as it advanced, or
retrograded, its open white tail, at the same time glancing over its
shoulder as if to observe the effect on its neighbour of this new mode
of motion. Whether this demonstration meant anger, or love, or mere fun,
I cannot say.

Instances of what Ruskin has called the moorhen's 'human domesticity of
temper, with curious fineness of sagacity and sympathies in taste,' have
been given by Bishop Stanley in his book on birds. He relates that the
young, when able to fly, sometimes assist in rearing the later broods,
and even help the old birds to make new nests. Of the bird's æsthetic
taste he has the following anecdote. A pair of very tame moorhens that
lived in the grounds of a clergyman, in Cheadle, Staffordshire, in
constantly adding to the materials of their nest and decorating it, made
real havoc in the garden; the hen was once seen sitting on her eggs
'surrounded with a brilliant wreath of scarlet anemones.' An instance
equally remarkable occurred in 1896 in Battersea Park. A pair of
moorhens took it into their fantastic little heads to build their nest
against a piece of wire-netting stretched across the lake at one point.
It was an enormous structure, built up from the water to the top of the
netting, nearly three feet high, and presented a strange appearance
from the shore. On a close view the superintendent found that four
tail-feathers of the peacock had been woven into its fabric, and so
arranged that the four broad tips stood free above the nest, shading the
cavity and sitting bird, like four great gorgeously coloured leaves.

The moorhen, like the ringdove, was almost unknown in London twenty
years ago, and is now as widely diffused, but owing to its structure and
habits it cannot keep pace with the other bird's increase. It must have
water, and some rushes, or weeds, or bushes to make its nest in; and
wherever these are found, however small the pond may be, there the
moorhen will live very contentedly.

       *     *     *     *     *

A very few years ago it would have been a wild thing to say that
the little grebe was a suitable bird for London, and if some wise
ornithologist had prophesied its advent how we should all have laughed
at him! For how should this timid feeble-winged wanderer be able to
come and go, finding its way to and from its chosen park, in this
large province covered with houses, by night, through the network of
treacherous telegraph wires, in a lurid atmosphere, frightened by
strange noises and confused by the glare of innumerable lamps? Of birds
that get their living from the water, it would have seemed safer to look
for the coming (as colonists) of the common sandpiper, kingfisher, coot,
widgeon, teal: all these, also the heron and cormorant, are occasional
visitors to inner London, and it is to be hoped that some of them
will in time become permanent additions to the wild bird life of the

The little grebe, before it formed a settlement, was also an occasional
visitor during its spring and autumn travels; and in 1870, when there
was a visitation on a large scale, as many as one hundred little grebes
were seen at one time on the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. But it
was not until long afterwards, about fifteen years ago, that the first
pair had the boldness to stay and breed in one of the park lakes, in
sight of many people coming and going every day and all day long. This
was at St. James's Park, and from this centre the bird has extended his
range from year to year to other parks and spaces, and is now as well
established as the ringdove and moorhen. But, unlike the others, he is
a summer visitor, coming in March and April, and going, no man knows
whither, in October and November. If he were to remain, a long severe
frost might prove fatal to the whole colony. He lives on little fishes
and water insects, and must have open water to fish in.

He is not a showy bird, nor large, being less than the teal in size,
and indeed is known to comparatively few persons. Nevertheless he is a
welcome addition to our wild bird life, and is, to those who know him, a
wonderfully interesting little creature, clothed in a dense unwettable
plumage, olive, black, and chestnut in colour, his legs set far
back--'becoming almost a fish's tail indeed, rather than a bird's legs,'
the lobed feet in shape like a horse-chestnut leaf. His habits are
as curious as his structure. His nest is a raft made of a mass of
water-weeds, moored to the rushes or to a drooping branch, and sometimes
it breaks from its moorings and floats away, carrying eggs and sitting
bird on it. On quitting the nest the bird invariably draws a coverlet of
wet weeds over the eggs; the nest in appearance is then nothing but a
bunch of dead vegetable rubbish floating in the water. When the young
are out of the eggs, the parent birds are accustomed to take them under
their wings, just as a man might take a parcel under his arm, and dive
into the water.

[Illustration: DABCHICK ON NEST]

Another curious habit of the dabchick was discovered during the
summer of 1896 in Clissold Park, when, for the second time, a pair of
these birds settled in the too small piece of water at that place.
Unfortunately, their nest was attacked and repeatedly destroyed by the
moorhens, who took a dislike to these 'new chums,' and by the swans,
who probably found that the wet materials used by the little grebe in
building its nest were good to eat. Now, it was observed that when the
nest was made on deep water, where the swans could swim up to it, the
dabchicks defended it by diving and pecking at, or biting, the webbed
feet of the assailants under water. It was a curious duel between a
pigmy and a giant--one a stately man-of-war floating on the water, the
other a small submerged torpedo, very active and intelligent. The swans
were greatly disconcerted and repeatedly driven off by means of this
strategy, but in the end the brave little divers were beaten, and reared
no young.

The moral of this incident, which applies not only to Clissold but to
Brockwell, Dulwich, and to a dozen other parks, is that you cannot have
a big aquatic happy family in a very small pond.

But it is extremely encouraging to all those who wish for a 'better
friendship' with the fowls of the air to find that this contest was
watched with keen interest and sympathy with the defenders by the
superintendent of a London park and the park constables.

It is curious to note that the three species we have been considering,
differing so widely in their structures and habits, should be so closely
associated in the history of London wild bird life. That they should
have established colonies at very nearly about the same time, and very
nearly at the same centre, from which they have subsequently spread over
the metropolis; and that this centre, the cradle of the London races of
these birds, should continue to be their most favoured resort. Seeing
the numbers of wood-pigeons to-day, and their tameness everywhere, the
statement will seem almost incredible to many readers that only fifteen
years ago, one spring morning, the head gardener at Buckingham Palace,
full of excitement, made a hurried visit to a friend to tell him that a
pair of these birds had actually built a nest on a tree in the Palace
grounds. Up till now the birds are most numerous in this part of London.
The moorhen, I believe, bred first at St. James's Park about seventeen
years ago; a few days ago--January 1898--I saw twelve of these birds in
a little scattered flock feeding in the grass in this park. In no other
public park in London can so many be seen together. The dabchick first
bred in St. James's Park about fifteen years ago, and last summer, 1897,
as many as seven broods were brought out. In no other London park were
there more than two broods.

       *     *     *     *     *

The three species described are the only permanent additions in recent
years to the wild bird life of the metropolis. But when it is considered
that their colonies were self-planted, and have shown a continuous
growth, while great changes of decrease and increase have meanwhile been
going on in the old-established colonies, we find good reason for the
hope that other species, previously unknown to the metropolis, will be
added from time to time. We know that birds attract birds, both their
own and other kinds. Even now there may be some new-comers--pioneers and
founders of fresh colonies--whose presence is unsuspected, or known only
to a very few observers. I have been informed by Mr. Howard Saunders
that he has seen the stock-dove in one of the West-end parks, and that a
friend of his had independently made the discovery that this species is
now a visitor to, and possibly a resident in, London. One would imagine
the stock-dove to be a species well suited to thrive with us, as it
would find numberless breeding-holes both in the decayed trees in the
parks and in big buildings, in which to rear its young in safety. I
should prefer to see the turtle-dove, a much prettier and more graceful
bird, with a better voice, but beggars must not be choosers; with the
stock-dove established, London will possess three of the four doves
indigenous in these islands, and the turtle-dove--at present an annual
breeder in woods quite near to London--may follow by-and-by to complete
the quartette.



  Number of species, common and uncommon--The London sparrow--His
    predominance, hardiness, and intelligence--A pet sparrow--Breeding
    irregularities--A love-sick bird--Sparrow shindies: their probable
    cause--'Sparrow chapels'--Evening in the parks--The starling--His
    independence--Characteristics--Blackbird, thrush, and robin--White
    blackbirds--The robin--Decrease in London--Habits and disposition.

There are not more than about twenty species of small passerine birds
that live all the year in London proper. The larger wild birds that
breed in London within the five-mile radius are eight species, or if we
add the semi-domestic pigeon or rock-dove, there are nine. Of the twenty
small birds, it is surprising to find that only five can be described as
really common, including the robin, which in recent years has ceased to
be abundant in the interior parks, and has quite disappeared from the
squares, burial grounds, and other small open spaces. The five familiar
species are the sparrow, starling, blackbird, song-thrush or throstle,
and robin, and in the present chapter these only will be dealt with.
All the other resident species found in London proper, or inner
London--missel-thrush, wren, hedge-sparrow, nuthatch, tree-creeper, tits
of five species, chaffinch, bullfinch, greenfinch, and yellowhammer,
also the summer visitants, and some rare residents occasionally to be
found breeding on the outskirts of the metropolis--will be spoken of in
subsequent chapters descriptive of the parks and open spaces.

Here once more the sparrow takes precedence. 'What! the sparrow again!'
the reader may exclaim; 'I thought we had quite finished with that
little bird, and were now going on to something else.' Unfortunately,
as we have seen, there is little else to go on to until we get to the
suburbs, and that little bird the sparrow is not easily finished with.
Besides, common as he is, intimately known to every man, woman, and
child in the metropolis, even to the meanest gutter child in the poorest
districts, it is always possible to find something fresh to say of a
bird of so versatile a mind, so highly developed, so predominant. He
must indeed be gifted with remarkable qualities to have risen to such a
position, to have occupied, nay conquered, London, and made its human
inhabitants food-providers to his nation; and, finally, to have kept his
possession so long without any decay of his pristine vigour, despite the
unhealthy conditions. He does not receive, nor does he need, that fresh
blood from the country which we poor human creatures must have, or else
perish in the course of a very few generations. Nor does he require
change of air. It is commonly said that 'town sparrows' migrate to the
fields in summer, to feast on corn 'in the milk,' and this is true of
our birds in the outlying suburbs, who live in sight of the fields;
farther in, the sparrow never leaves his London home. I know that _my_
sparrows--a few dozen that breed and live under my eyes--never see the
country, nor any park, square, or other open space.

The hardiness and adaptiveness of the bird must both be great to enable
it to keep its health and strength through the gloom and darkness of
London winters. There is no doubt that many of our caged birds would
perish at this season if they did not feed by gas or candle light. When
they do not so feed it is found that the mortality, presumably from
starvation, is very considerable. During December and January the London
night is nearly seventeen hours in length, as it is sooner dark and
later light than in the country; while in cold and foggy weather the
birds feed little or not at all. They keep in their roosting-holes, and
yet they do not appear to suffer. After a spell of frosty and very dark
weather I have counted the sparrows I am accustomed to observe, and
found none missing.

But the sparrow's chief advantage over other species doubtless lies in
his greater intelligence. That ineradicable suspicion with which he
regards the entire human race, and which one is sometimes inclined to
set down to sheer stupidity, is, in the circumstances he exists in, his
best policy. He has good cause to doubt the friendliness of his human
neighbours, and his principle is, not to run risks; when in doubt, keep
away. Thus, when the roads are swept the sparrows will go to the dirt
and rubbish heaps, and search in them for food; then they will fly up to
any window-sill and eat the bread they find put there for them. But let
them see any rubbish of any description there, anything but bread--a
bit of string, a chip of wood, a scrap of paper, white or blue or
yellow, or a rag, or even a penny piece, and at the first sight of it
away they will dart, and not return until the dangerous object has been
removed. A pigeon or starling would come and take the food without
paying any attention to the strange object which so startled the
sparrow. They are less cunning. Without doubt there are many boys and
men in all parts of London who amuse themselves by trying to take
sparrows, and the result of their attempts is that the birds decline to
trust anyone.

In this extreme suspiciousness, and in their habits generally, all
sparrows appear pretty much alike to us. When we come to know them
intimately, in the domestic state, we find that there is as much
individual character in sparrows as in other highly intelligent
creatures. The most interesting tame sparrow I have known in London was
the pet of a lady of my acquaintance. This bird, however, was not a
cockney sparrow from the nest: he was hatched on the other side of the
Channel, and his owner rescued him, when young and scarce able to fly,
from some street urchins in a suburb of Paris, who were playing with
and tormenting him. In his London home he grew up to be a handsome bird,
brighter in plumage than our cock sparrows usually seem, even in the
West-end parks. He was strongly attached to his mistress, and liked
to play with and to be caressed by her; when she sat at work he
would perch contentedly by her side by the half-hour chirruping his
sparrow-music, interspersed with a few notes borrowed from caged
songsters. He displayed a marked interest in her dress and ornaments,
and appeared to take pleasure in richly coloured silks and satins, and
in gold and precious stones. But all these things did not please him in
the same degree, and the sight of some ornaments actually angered him:
he would scold and peck at the brooch or necklace, or whatever it was,
which he did not like, and if no notice was taken at first, he would
work himself into a violent rage, and the offensive jewel would have to
be taken off and put out of sight. He also had his likes and dislikes
among the inmates and guests in the house. He would allow me to sit by
him for an hour, taking no notice, but if I made any advance he would
ruffle up his plumage, and tell me in his unmistakable sparrow-language
to keep my distance. Once he took a sudden violent hatred to his
owner's maid; no sooner would she enter the room where the sparrow
happened to be than he would dart at her face and peck and beat her with
his wings; and as he could not be made to like, nor even to tolerate
her, she had to be discharged. It was, however, rare for him to abuse
his position of first favourite so grossly as on this occasion. He was
on the whole a good-tempered bird, and had a happy life, spending the
winter months each year in Italy, where his mistress had a country
house, and returning in the spring to London. Then, very unexpectedly,
his long life of eighteen years came to an end; for up to the time
of dying he showed no sign of decadence. To the last his plumage and
disposition were bright, and his affection for his mistress and love for
his own music unabated.

After all, it must be said that the sparrow, as a pet, has his
limitations; he is not, mentally, as high as the crow, aptly described
by Macgillivray as the 'great sub-rational chief of the kingdom
of birds.' And however luxurious the home we may give him, he is
undoubtedly happier living his own independent life, a married bird,
making slovenly straw nests under the tiles, and seeking his food in
the gutter.

Many years ago Dr. Gordon Stables said, in an article on the sparrow,
that he felt convinced from his own observation of these birds that
curious irregularities in their domestic or matrimonial relations
were of very frequent occurrence, a fact which the ornithologists had
overlooked. Last summer I had proof that such irregularities do occur,
but I very much doubt that they are so common as he appears to believe.

I had one pair of sparrows breeding in a hole under the eaves at the top
of the house, quite close to a turret window, from which I look down
upon and observe the birds, and on the sill of which I place bread for
them. This pair reared brood after brood, from April to November, and so
long as they found bread on the window-sill they appeared to feed their
young almost exclusively on it, although it is not their natural food;
but there was no green place near where caterpillars might be found,
and I dare say the young sparrow has an adaptive stomach. At all events
broods of four and five were successively brought out and taught to feed
on the window-sill. After a few days' holiday the old birds would begin
to tidy up the nest to receive a fresh clutch of eggs. In July I noticed
that a second female, the wife, as it appeared, of a neighbouring bird,
had joined the first pair, and shared in the tasks of incubation and of
feeding the young. The cast-off cock-sparrow had followed her to her new
home, and was constantly hanging about the nest trying to coax his wife
to go back to him. Day after day, and all day long, he would be there,
and sitting on the slates quite close to the nest he would begin his
chirrup--chirrup--chirrup; and gradually as time went on, and there was
no response, he would grow more and more excited, and throw his head
from side to side, and rock his body until he would be lying first on
one side, then the other, and after a while he would make a few little
hops forward, trailing his wings and tail on the slates, then cast
himself down once more. Something in his monotonous song with its not
unmusical rhythm, and his extravagant love-sick imploring gestures and
movements, reminded me irresistibly of Chevalier in the character of Mr.
'Enry 'Awkins--his whole action on the stage, the thin piping cockney
voice, the trivial catching melody, and, I had almost added, the very

    So 'elp me bob, I'm crazy!
    Lizer, you're a daisy!
    Won't yer share my 'umble 'ome?
    Oh, Lizer! sweet Lizer!

And so on, and on, until one of the birds in the nest would come out and
furiously chase him away. Then he would sit on some chimney-pipe twenty
or thirty yards off, silent and solitary; but by-and-by, seeing the
coast clear, he would return and begin his passionate pleading once


This went on until the young birds were brought out, after which they
all went away for a few days, and then the original pair returned. No
doubt 'Enry 'Awkins had got his undutiful doner back.

The individual sparrow is, however, little known to us: we regard him
rather as a species, or race, and he interests the mass of people
chiefly in his social character when he is seen in companies, and
crowds, and multitudes. He is noisiest and attracts most attention
when there is what may be called a 'shindy' in the sparrow community.
Shindies are of frequent occurrence all the year round, and may arise
from a variety of causes; my belief is that, as they commonly take place
at or near some favourite nesting or roosting site, they result from the
sparrow's sense of proprietorship and his too rough resentment of any
intrusion into his own domain. Sparrows in London mostly remain paired
all the year, and during the winter months roost in the breeding-hole,
often in company with the young of the last-raised brood. Why all the
neighbours rush in to take part in the fight is not so easy to guess:
possibly they come in as would-be peace-makers, or policemen, but are
themselves so wildly excited that they do nothing except to get into
each other's way and increase the confusion.

Of more interest are those daily gatherings of a pacific nature at some
favourite meeting-place, known to Londoners as a 'sparrows' chapel.' A
large tree, or group of trees, in some garden, square, or other space,
is used by the birds, and here they are accustomed to congregate at
various times, when the rain is over, or when a burst of sunshine after
gloomy weather makes them glad, and at sunset. Their chorus of ringing
chirruping sounds has an exceedingly pleasant effect; for although
compared with the warblers' singing it may be a somewhat rude music, by
contrast with the noise of traffic and raucous cries from human throats
it is very bright and glad and even beautiful, voicing a wild, happy

It is interesting and curious to find that this habit of concert-singing
at sunset, although not universal, is common among passerine birds in
all regions of the globe. And when a bird has this habit he will not
omit his vesper song, even when the sun is not visible and when rain is
falling. In some mysterious way he knows that the great globe is sinking
beneath the horizon. Day is over, he can feed no more until to-morrow,
in a few minutes he will be sleeping among the clustering leaves, but he
must sing his last song, must join in that last outburst of melody to
express his overflowing joy in life.

This is a habit of our sparrow, and even on the darkest days, when days
are shortest, any person desirous of hearing the birds need only consult
the almanac to find out the exact time of sunset, then repair to a
'chapel,' and he will not be disappointed.

In some of the parks, notably at Battersea, where the birds are in
thousands, the effect of so many voices all chirruping together is quite
wonderful, and very delightful.

The time will come, let us hope, when for half a dozen species of small
birds in London we shall have two dozen, or even fifty; until then the
sparrow, even the common gutter-sparrow, is a bird to be thankful for.

       *     *     *     *     *

The starling ranks second to the sparrow in numbers; but albeit second,
the interval is very great: the starlings' thousands are but a small
tribe compared to the sparrows' numerous nation.

It has been said that the starling is almost as closely associated with
man as the sparrow. That is hardly the case; in big towns the sparrow,
like the rat and black beetle, although not in so unpleasant a way, is
parasitical on man, whereas the starling is perfectly independent. He
frequents human habitations because they provide him with suitable
breeding-holes; he builds in a house, or barn, or church tower, just as
he does in a hole in a tree in a wild forest, or a hole in the rock
on some sea-cliff, where instead of men and women he has puffins,
guillemots, and gannets for neighbours. The roar of the sea or the
jarring noises of human traffic and industry--it is all one to the
starling. That is why he is a London bird. In the breeding season he is
to be found diffused over the entire metropolis, an astonishing fact
when we consider that he does not, like the sparrow, find his food in
the roads, back gardens, and small spaces near his nest, but, like the
rook, must go a considerable distance for it.

Two seasons ago (1896) one pair of starlings had their nest close to my
house--a treeless district, most desolate. When the young were hatched
I watched the old birds going and coming, and on leaving the nest they
invariably flew at a good height above the chimney-pots and telegraph
wires, in the direction of the Victoria Gate of Hyde Park. They returned
the same way. It is fully two miles to the park in that direction. The
average number of eggs in a starling's nest is six; and assuming that
these birds had four or five young, we can imagine what an enormous
labour it must have been to supply them with suitable insect food, each
little beakful of grubs involving a return journey of at least four
miles; and the grubs would certainly be very much more difficult to find
on the trodden sward of Hyde Park than in a country meadow. I pitied
these brave birds every day, when I watched them from my turret window,
going and coming, and at the same time I rejoiced to think that this
pair, and hundreds of other pairs with nests just as far from their
scanty feeding-grounds, were yet able to rear their young each season
in London.

[Illustration: LONDON STARLINGS]

For the starling is really a splendid bird as birds are with us in this
distant northern land--splendid in his spangled glossy dress of metallic
purple, green, and bronze, a singer it is always pleasant to listen
to, a flyer in armies and crowds whose aërial evolutions in autumn and
winter, before settling to roost each evening, have long been the wonder
and admiration of mankind. He inhabits London all the year round, but
not in the same numbers: in the next chapter more will be said on this
point. He also sings throughout the year; on any autumn or winter day a
small company or flock of a dozen or two of birds may be found in any
park containing large trees, and it is a delight that never grows
stale to listen to the musical conversation, or concert of curiously
contrasted sounds, perpetually going on among them. The airy whistle,
the various chirp, the clink-clink as of a cracked bell, the low chatter
of mixed harsh and musical sounds, the kissing and finger-cracking, and
those long metallic notes, as of a saw being filed not unmusically,
or (as a friend suggests) as of milking a cow in a tin pail;--however
familiar you may be with the starling, you cannot listen to one of
their choirs without hearing some new sound. There is more variety in
the starling than in any other species, and not only in his language;
if you observe him closely for a short time, he will treat you to
a sudden and surprising transformation. Watch him when absorbed in
his own music, especially when emitting his favourite saw-filing or
milking-a-cow-in-a-tin-pail sounds: he trembles on his perch--shivers as
with cold--his feathers puffed out, his wings hanging as if broken, his
beak wide open, and the long pointed feathers of his swollen throat
projected like a ragged beard. He is then a most forlorn-looking object,
apparently broken up and falling to pieces; suddenly the sounds cease,
and in the twinkling of an eye he is once more transformed into the
neat, compact, glossy, alert starling!

Something further may be said about the pair of starlings that elected
to breed the summer before last in sight of my top windows, in that
brick desert where my home is. When they brought out and led their young
away, I wondered if they would ever return to such a spot. Surely,
thought I, they will have some recollection of the vast labour of
rearing a nestful of young at such a distance from their feeding-ground,
and when summer comes once more will be tempted to settle somewhere
nearer to the park. The Albert Memorial, for instance, gorgeous with
gold and bright colour, might attract them; certainly there was room for
them, since it had in the summer of 1896 but one pair of starlings for
tenants. It was consequently something of a surprise when, on March 23
last spring, early in the morning, the birds reappeared at the same
place, and spent over an hour in fluttering about and exploring the old
breeding-hole, perching on the slates and chimney-pots, and clinging to
the brick wall, fluttering their wings, screaming and whistling as if
almost beside themselves with joy to be at home once more.

Brave and faithful starlings! we hardly deserve to have you back, since
London has not been too kind to her feathered children. Quite lately she
has driven out her rooks, who were faithful too; and long ago she got
rid of her ravens; and to her soaring kites she meted out still worse
treatment, pulling down their last nest in 1777 from the trees in Gray's
Inn Gardens, and cutting open the young birds to find out, in the
interests of ornithological science, what they had eaten!

       *     *     *     *     *

Between the starling and the next in order, the blackbird, there is
again a very great difference with regard to numbers. The former counts
thousands, the latter hundreds. Between blackbird and song-thrush, or
throstle, there is not a wide difference, but if we take the whole of
London, the blackbird is much more numerous. After these two, at a
considerable distance, comes the robin. In suburban grounds and gardens
these three common species are equally abundant. But in these same
private places, which ring the metropolis round with innumerable small
green refuges, or sanctuaries, several other species which are dying
out in the parks and open spaces of inner London are also common--wren,
hedge-sparrow, blue, cole, and great tits, chaffinch, and greenfinch--and
of these no more need be said in this chapter.

As we have seen, there is always a great interest shown (by the collector
especially) in that not very rare phenomenon, an abnormally white bird.
But in London the bird-killers are restrained, and the white specimen
is sometimes able to keep his life for a few or even for several months.
Recently (1897) a very beautiful white blackbird was to be seen in
Kensington Gardens, in the Flower Walk, east of the Albert Memorial. He
was the successor to a wholly milk-white blackbird that lived during the
summer of 1895 in the shrubberies of Kensington Palace, and was killed
by some scoundrel, who no doubt hoped to sell its carcass to some
bird-stuffer. Its crushed body was found by one of the keepers in a
thick holly-bush close to the public path; the slayer had not had time
to get into the enclosure to secure his prize.

The other bird had some black and deep brown spots on his mantle, and a
few inky black tail and wing feathers--a beautiful Dominican dress. But
when I first saw him, rushing out of a black holly-bush, one grey misty
morning in October, his exceeding whiteness startled me, and I was
ready to believe that I had beheld a blackbird's ghost, when the bird,
startled too, emitted his prolonged chuckle, proving him to be no
supernatural thing, but only a fascinating freak of nature. He lived
on, very much admired, until the end of March last year (1897), having
meanwhile found a mate, and was then killed by a cat.

       *     *     *     *     *

The robin, although common as ever in all the more rural parts of
London--the suburban districts where there are gardens with shrubs and
trees--is now growing sadly scarce everywhere in the interior of the
metropolis. In 1865 the late Shirley Hibberd wrote that this bird
was very common in London: 'Robins are seen among the hay-carts at
Whitechapel, Smithfield, and Cumberland Markets, in all the squares, in
Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn, and other gardens, in the open roadway of
Farringdon Street, Ludgate Hill, the Strand, and Blackfriars Road; nay,
I once saw a robin on a lovely autumn afternoon perch upon the edge of a
gravestone in St. Paul's Churchyard and trill out a carol as sweetly as
in any rural nook at home.'

Now the robin has long vanished from all these public places, even from
the squares that are green, and that he is becoming very scarce in all
the interior parks I shall have occasion to show in later chapters. It
is a great pity that this should be so, as this bright little bird is
a universal favourite on account of his confidence in and familiarity
with man, and his rare beauty, and because, as becomes a cousin of the
nightingale, he is a very sweet singer. Moreover, just as his red breast
shines brightest in autumn and winter, when all things look grey and
desolate, or white with the snow's universal whiteness, so does his
song have a peculiar charm and almost unearthly sweetness in the silent
songless season. It is not strange that in credulous times man's
imagination should have endowed so loved a bird with impossible virtues,
that it should have been believed that he alone--heaven's little
feathered darling--cared for 'the friendless bodies of unburied men'
and covered them with leaves, and was not without some supernatural
faculties. Nor can it be said that all these pretty fables have quite
faded out of the rustic mind. But, superstition apart, the robin
is still a first favourite and dear to everyone, and some would
gladly think he is a _better_ bird, in the sense of being gentler,
sweeter-tempered, more affectionate and _human_, than other feathered
creatures. But it is not so, the tender expression of his large dark eye
is deceptive. The late Mr. Tristram-Valentine, writing of the starling
in London, its neat, bright, glossy appearance, compared with that of
the soot-blackened disreputable-looking sparrow, says 'the starling
always looks like a gentleman.' In like manner the robin will always be
a robin, and act like one, in London or out of it--the most unsocial,
fierce-tempered little duellist in the feathered world. Now I wish to
point out that this fierce intolerant spirit of our bird is an advantage
in London, if we love robins and are anxious to have plenty of them.

It is a familiar fact that at the end of summer the adult robins
disappear; that they remain in hiding in the shade of the evergreens
and thick bushes until they have got a new dress, and have recovered
their old vigour; that when they return to the world, so to speak, and
find their young in possession of their home and territory, they set
themselves to reconquer it. For the robin will not tolerate another
robin in that portion of a garden, shrubbery, orchard, or plantation
which he regards as his very own. A great deal of fighting then takes
place between old and young birds, and these fights in many instances
end fatally to one of the combatants. The raven has the same savage
disposition and habit with regard to its young; and when a young raven,
in disposition a 'chip of the old block,' refuses to go when ordered,
and fights to stay, it occasionally happens that one of the birds gets
killed. But the raven has a tremendous weapon, a stone axe, in his
massive beak; how much greater the fury and bulldog tenacity of the
robin must be to kill one of his own kind with so feeble a weapon as
his small soft bill! At the end of the summer of 1896 two robins were
observed fighting all day long in the private gardens of Kensington
Palace, the fight ending in the death of one of the birds.

Finally, as a result of all the chasing and fighting that goes on, the
young birds are driven out to find homes for themselves. In London, in
the interior parks, not many young robins are reared, but many of those
that have been reared in the suburban districts drift into London, and
altogether a considerable number of birds roam about the metropolis in
search of some suitable green spot to settle in; and I will only add
here, in anticipation of what will be said in a later chapter, that if
suitable places were provided for them, the robins would increase year
by year from this natural cause.

There are other movements of robins in London which it will be more in
order to notice in the next chapter.



  Migration as seen in London--Swallows in the parks--Fieldfares--A flock
    of wild geese--Autumn movements of resident species--Wood-pigeons--A
    curious habit--Dabchicks and moorhens--Crows and rooks--The Palace
    daws--Starlings--Robins--A Tower robin and the Tower sparrows--Passage
    birds in the parks--Small birds wintering in London--Influx of birds
    during severe frosts--Occasional visitors--The black-headed gull--A
    winter scene in St. James's Park.

The seasonal movements of the strict migrants are little noticed in
London; there are few such species that visit, fewer still that remain
any time with us. And when they come we scarcely see them: they are not
like the residents, reacted on and modified by their surroundings, made
tame, ready to feed from our hands, to thrust themselves at all times
upon our attention. Nevertheless we do occasionally see something of
these shyer wilder ones, the strangers and passengers; and in London,
as in the rural districts, it is the autumnal not the vernal migration
which impresses the mind. Birds are seldom seen arriving in spring.
Walking to-day in some park or garden, we hear the first willow-wren's
delicate tender warble among the fresh April foliage. It was not heard
yesterday, but the small modest-coloured singer may have been there
nevertheless, hidden and silent among the evergreens. The birds that
appear in the autumn are plainly travellers that have come from some
distant place, and have yet far to go. Wheatears may be seen if looked
for in August on Hampstead Heath, and occasionally a few other large
open spaces in or near London. In September and October swallows and
martins put in an appearance, and although they refuse to make their
summer home in inner London, they often come in considerable numbers
and remain for many days, even for weeks, in the parks in autumn.

It has been conjectured that the paucity of winged insect life in London
is the cause of the departure of swallows and house-martins as breeding
species. Yet in the autumn of 1896, from September to the middle of
October, hundreds of these birds lived in the central and many other
parks in London, and doubtless they found a sufficiency of food in
spite of the cold east winds which prevailed at that time.

Among the winter visitors to the outskirts of the metropolis, the
fieldfare is the most abundant as well as the most attractive. During
the winters of 1895-6 and 1896-7 I saw them on numberless occasions
at Wimbledon, Richmond, Hampstead Heath, Bostell Woods, Hackney Marsh,
Wanstead, Dulwich, Brockwell Park, Streatham, and other open spaces and
woods round London. In the gardens of the outer suburbs there is always
a great profusion of winter berries, and the felts seen in these places
are probably regular visitors. Certainly they are tamer than fieldfares
are apt to be in the country, but they seldom penetrate far into the
brick-and-mortar wilderness. I have seen a few in Kensington Gardens,
and in November, 1896, a few fieldfares alighted on a tree at the Tower
of London. Stranger still, in February 1897 a flock of wild geese was
observed flying over the Tower: the birds went down the river flying
low, as it was noticed that when they passed over the Tower Bridge they
were not higher than the pinnacles of the two big towers.


The birds that are strange to London eyes are very nearly all seen in
the autumn, from September to November. At this mutable season a person
who elects to spend his nights on the roof, with rugs and an umbrella
to keep out cold and wet, may be rewarded by hearing far-off shrill
delicate noises of straggling sandpipers or other shore birds on
passage, or the mysterious cry of the lapwing, 'wailing his way from
cloud to cloud.'

All these rare sights and sounds are for the very patient watchers
and listeners; nevertheless they are the only 'authentic tidings' the
Londoner receives of that great and wonderful wave of life which travels
southward over half the globe in advance of winter. This annual exodus
and sublime flight to distant delectable regions beyond the sea is,
however, only taken part in by some of the feathered people; meanwhile
the others that remain to brave the cold and scarcity are also seen to
be infected with a restless spirit and desire of change. The starling,
missel-thrush, larks and pipits, and other kinds, alter their way of
life, uniting in flocks and becoming wanderers over the face of the
country. Finches, too, go a-gypsying: the more sedentary species leave
their breeding-haunts for suitable winter quarters; and everywhere there
is a great movement, a changing of places, packing and scattering, a
hurrying to and fro all over the land.

The London birds are no exception, although their autumnal movements
have hitherto attracted little attention. These movements are becoming
more noticeable, owing to changes going on in the character of the
metropolitan bird population. The sparrow, as we have seen, does not
leave home, but recently there has been a great increase in the more
vagrant species, the starling and wood-pigeon especially. During the
last few years the wood-pigeon has been growing somewhat more domestic,
and less inclined to leave town than formerly, but from time to time the
old wandering instinct reasserts itself, and it was observed that during
the autumn of 1896 a majority of the birds left London. At Lincoln's Inn
Fields there were thirteen birds down to the end of September, then all
but one disappeared. This solitary stayer-at-home had been sprung upon
and injured by a cat some time before the day of departure.

Last year, 1897, the autumnal exodus was even greater. Thus, on October
25 I walked the whole length of the three central parks, and saw no
pigeons except one pair of young birds not long out of the nest, in Hyde
Park, and one parent bird feeding them. The other parent had probably
gone away to the country, leaving his mate to rear this very late brood
as best she could. Doubtless many of these wanderers from the metropolis
get killed in the country, but in December and January the survivors
return to the safety of the parks, and to a monotonous diet of stale

It is probable that with the change of temperature in September and
October the London wood-pigeons, like so many birds, are seized by a
restless and roving spirit; but I am inclined to believe that the taste
of wild nuts and fruits, which they get in the parks at that season,
is one cause of their going away. They do not get much of this natural
food; they first strip the oaks of their acorns almost before they are
quite ripe, depriving the London urchins of their little harvest, and
then attack the haws and holly-berries; and when this small supply has
been exhausted the birds go further afield in search of more.


On the evening of August 26, 1897, I saw a number of wood-pigeons
feeding on the haws in a manner quite new in my experience. There
were twelve or fourteen birds on a good-sized thorn-tree growing in
Buckingham Palace grounds; but the berries on this tree grew at the
tips of long slender branches and could not have been reached by the
birds in the ordinary way. The pigeons would settle on a branch and
then begin moving cautiously towards the points, the branch bending
beneath the weight more and more until the bird, unable to keep any
longer _on_ the branch, would suddenly turn over and remain hanging head
down, suspended by its clinging feet. In this position, by stretching
its neck it would be able to reach the berries, which it would then
leisurely devour. As many as four or five birds were seen at one time
hanging in this way, appearing with wings half-open like dead or wounded
birds tied by their feet to the branchlets, from which they were
suspended. Since witnessing this curious scene I have been told by Mr.
Coppin, the superintendent at Battersea Park, that he has seen the
wood-pigeons at that place acting in the same way. It is probably a
habit of the birds which has hitherto escaped notice.

       *     *     *     *     *

The dabchicks leave London in the autumn and return in spring: they may
be looked for in the ornamental waters as early as the third week in
March. The moorhens formerly disappeared from London in winter; they
are now residents throughout the year in a few of the parks where there
is shelter, and during severe frosts they feed at the same table with
the ornamental water-fowl. From all the smaller lakes which they have
recently colonised they vanish in cold weather. In autumn they wander
about a good deal by night; any small piece of water will attract them,
and their cries will be heard during the dark hours; before it is light
they will be gone.

Crows and rooks are most often seen in London during the winter months.
Many rooks have their winter roosting-place in Richmond Park, and small
bands of these birds visit the central parks and other open spaces. On
the morning of February 3, 1897, about fifty rooks visited Kensington
Gardens and fed for some hours on the strip of grassed land adjoining
the palace. The whole jackdaw colony, numbering twenty-four birds, fed
with them, and when, about twelve o'clock, the visitors rose up and
flew away, the daws, after seeing them off, returned in a body to the
tree-tops near the palace, and for the rest of the day continued in an
excited state. From time to time they would rush up with a loud clamour,
then return to the tree-tops, where they would sit close together and
silent as if expecting something, and at intervals of a minute or two a
simultaneous cry would burst from them.

I have observed that on winter evenings these daws fly away from the
gardens in a north-westerly direction: where their winter roosting-place
is I have not discovered.

The starling is the most interesting London bird in his autumn movements.
It is only at the end of July, when they are gathered in large bodies,
that some idea can be formed of their numbers. Flocks of a dozen to
forty or fifty birds may be seen in any park and green space any day
throughout the winter; these are the birds that winter with us, and are
but a small remnant of the entire number that breed in London. At the
end of June the starlings begin to congregate every evening at their
favourite roosting-places. Of these there are several, the most favoured
being the islands in the ornamental water at Regent's Park, the island
in the Serpentine, and at Buckingham Palace grounds and Battersea Park.
The last is the most important. Before sunset the birds are seen pouring
in, flock after flock, from all quarters, until the trees on the island
are black with their thousands, and the noise of their singing and
chattering is so great that a person standing on the edge of the lake
can hardly hear himself speak. These meeting places are evidently
growing in favour, and if the autumn of 1898 shows as great an increase
as those of 1896 and 1897 over previous years, London will have as
compensation for its lost rookeries some very fine clouds of starlings.
At the beginning of October most of the birds go away to spend the
winter in the country, or possibly abroad. In February and March they
begin to reappear in small flocks, and gradually scatter over the whole
area of the metropolis, each pair going back to its old nesting-hole.

The annual scattering of robins at the end of summer, when, after the
moult, the old birds attack and drive away the young, has been described
in the last chapter. This habit of the bird alone would cause a good
deal of moving about of the London robins each year, but it is also a
very general belief of ornithologists that at this season there is a
large migratory movement of young robins throughout the country. At all
events, it is a fact that in August and September robins go about in
London a good deal, and frequently appear in the most unlikely places.
Some of these are no doubt birds of the year hatched in London or the
suburbs, and others may be migrating robins passing through.

At the Tower of London robins occasionally appear in autumn, but soon go
away. The last one that came settled down and was a great favourite with
the people there for about two months, being very friendly, coming to
window-sills for crumbs, and singing every day very beautifully. Then
one day he was seen in the General's garden wildly dashing about, hotly
pursued by seven or eight sparrows, and as he was never seen again it
was conjectured that the sparrows had succeeded in killing him. The
robin is a high-spirited creature, braver than most birds, and a fair
fighter, but against such a gang of feathered murderous ruffians, bent
on his destruction, he would stand no chance.

The Tower sparrows, it may be added, appear to be about the worst
specimens of their class in London. They are always at war with the
pigeons and starlings, and would gladly drive them out if they could.
It is a common thing for some foreign bird to escape from its cage on
board ship and to take refuge in the trees and gardens of the Tower,
but woe to the escaped captive and stranger in a strange land who seeks
safety in such a place! Immediately on his arrival the sparrows are all
up against him, not to 'heave half a brick at him,' since they are not
made that way, but to hunt him from place to place until they have
driven him, weak with fatigue and terror, into a corner where they can
finish him with their bludgeon beaks.

This violence towards strangers of the Tower sparrow is not to be
wondered at, since this unpleasant disposition or habit is common to
many species. The prophet Jeremiah had observed it when he said, 'Mine
heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are
against her.' To the Tower sparrows every feathered stranger is
conspicuously speckled, and they are against her. The wonder is that
they should keep up their perpetual little teasing warfare against the
pigeons and starlings, their neighbours from time immemorial. One would
have imagined that so intelligent and practical a bird as the sparrow,
after vainly trying for several centuries to drive out his fellow
tenants, would have made peace with them and found some more profitable
outlet for his superabundant energies. Possibly the introduction of a
few feathered policemen--owls, or magpies, or sparrow hawks--would have
the effect of making him a less quarrelsome neighbour.

       *     *     *     *     *

In autumn and in spring a variety of summer visitants, mostly warblers,
pass through London, delaying a little in its green spaces. In September
we are hardly cognisant of these small strangers within our gates, all
but one or two being silent at that season. In April and May, in
many of the parks, we may hear the chiffchaff, willow-wren, blackcap,
sedge-warbler, the whitethroat, occasionally the cuckoo, and a few other
rarer species, but they sing little, and soon leave us to seek better
breeding-sites than the inner parks offer.

While some of our birds, as we have seen, forsake us at the approach of
cold weather, some for a short period, others to remain away until the
following spring, a small contrary movement of birds into London is
going on. These winterers with us come not in battalions and are little
remarked. They are to be found, a few here and a few there, all over
London, wherever there are trees and bushes, but less in the public
parks than in private grounds, cemeteries, and other quiet spots. Thus,
during the last two exceptionally mild winters a few skylarks have lived
contentedly in the comparatively small green area at Lambeth Palace.
Nunhead Cemetery is a favourite winter resort of a number of small
birds--starlings, chaffinches, and greenfinches, and a few of other
species. Chaffinches are found in winter in several of the open spaces
where they do not breed, and among other species to be found wintering
in the quiet green spots in small numbers are linnets, goldfinches,
pipits, and the pied wagtail.

In exceptionally severe winters birds come into London in considerable
numbers--rooks, starlings, larks, blackbirds and thrushes, finches, and
other small species--and they then visit not only the parks but all the
squares and private gardens. During the big frost of 1890-1 skylarks
were seen every day searching for food on the Thames Embankment. These
strangers all vanish from London on the break-up of the frost.

During the late autumn and winter months a few large birds occasionally
appear--heron, mallard, widgeon, teal, &c. As a rule they come and
go during the dark hours. The sight of water and the cries of the
ornamental water-fowl attract them. They are mostly irregular visitors,
and cannot very well be included in the list of London birds.

The case of the black-headed gull is different, as this species may now
be classed with the regular visitors, and not merely to the outlying
spaces, like the fieldfare, but to the central parks of the metropolis,
where, like the wood-pigeon, he looks to man for food.

The black-headed gull has always been a winter visitor in small numbers
to the lower reaches of the Thames, coming up the river as far as London
Bridge. In severe winters more birds come; thus, in the winter of 1887-8
they appeared in great numbers, and ranged as high up as Putney. The
late Mr. Tristram-Valentine, in describing this visitation, wrote:
'It is seldom, indeed, that these birds appeared in such numbers in
the Thames above London Bridge as they have done lately, and their
appearance has, from its rarity, caused a corresponding excitement
among Londoners, as is proved by the numbers of people that have crowded
the bridges and embankments to watch their movements. To a considerable
portion of these, no doubt, the marvellous flight and power of wing of
the gull came as an absolute revelation.'

Gulls came up the river in still greater force during the exceptionally
long and severe frost of 1892-3. That was a memorable season in the
history of the London gulls. Then, for the last time, gulls were shot
on the river between the bridges, and this pastime put a stop to by
the police magistrates, who fined the sportsmen for the offence of
discharging firearms to the public danger. And then for the first time,
so far as I know, the custom of regularly feeding the gulls in London
had its beginning. Every day for a period of three to four weeks
hundreds of working men and boys would take advantage of the free hour
at dinner time to visit the bridges and embankments, and give the scraps
left from their meal to the birds. The sight of this midday crowd
hurrying down to the waterside with welcome in their faces and food in
their hands must have come 'as an absolute revelation' to the gulls.

During the memorable frost of 1894-5 the birds again appeared in immense
numbers, and would doubtless have soon left us, or else perished of cold
and hunger on the snow-covered hummocks of ice which filled the Thames
and gave it so arctic an aspect, but for the quantities of food cast to
them every day. As in previous years when gulls have visited the Thames
in considerable numbers, many of the birds found their way into the
parks, and were especially numerous in St. James's Park, where they
formed the habit of feeding with the ornamental water-fowl.

We have since experienced three exceptionally mild winters, so that the
gulls were not driven by want to invade us; but they have come to us
nevertheless, not having forgotten the generous hospitality London
extended to them in the frost. St. James's Park has now become the
favourite wintering place of a considerable number of birds, and their
habit is to spend the day on the lake, feeding on the broken bread and
scraps of meat thrown to them from the bridge, and leaving about sunset
to spend the night on the river. In the autumn of 1896, three or four
days after the gulls began to appear on the Thames, a body of two or
three hundred of these birds settled down in the park water, and fed
there every day and all day long until the following spring--March 1897.

A favourite pastime of mine during the winter months was to feed these
park gulls with sprats, which were plentiful and could be bought
anywhere for one penny a pound, or in quantities for about a farthing
the pound. Gulls cannot live by bread alone; it is true that even in
London they do not, like the blubber-eating Greenlander, spew it out of
their mouths, for they will eat almost anything, but it is not partaken
of with zest, and even with a crop-full they do not feel that they
have dined. However much bread they had had, no sooner would they see
the silvery gleam of a little tossed-up sprat than there would be a
universal scream of excitement, a rush from all sides, and the whole
white vociferous crowd would be gathered before me, almost brushing my
face with their wings, sweeping round and round, joyfully feasting on
the little fishes, cast to them in showers, to be deftly caught before
they touched the water.


Some of the birds, bolder or more intelligent than their fellows,
would actually take the sprats from the hand.

A very few days before writing this chapter end, on January 30, 1898,
I passed by the water and saw the gulls there, where indeed they have
spent most of the daylight hours since the first week in October. It was
a rough wild morning; the hurrying masses of dark cloud cast a gloom
below that was like twilight; and though there was no mist the trees and
buildings surrounding the park appeared vague and distant. The water,
too, looked strange in its intense blackness, which was not hidden by
the silver-grey light on the surface, for the surface was everywhere
rent and broken by the wind, showing the blackness beneath. Some of the
gulls--about 150 I thought--were on the water together in a close flock,
tailing off to a point, all with their red beaks pointing one way to the
gale. Seeing them thus, sitting high as their manner is, tossed up and
down with the tumbling water, yet every bird keeping his place in the
company, their whiteness and buoyancy in that dark setting was quite
wonderful. It was a picture of black winter and beautiful wild bird life
which would have had a rare attraction even in the desert places of the
earth; in London it could not be witnessed without feelings of surprise
and gratitude.

We see in this punctual return of the gulls, bringing their young with
them, that a new habit has been acquired, a tradition formed, which has
given to London a new and exceedingly beautiful ornament, of more value
than many works of art.



  A general survey of the metropolitan parks--West London--Central parks,
    with Holland Park--A bird's highway--Decrease of songsters--The
    thrush in Kensington Gardens--Suggestions--Owls in Kensington
    Gardens--Other West London open spaces--Ravenscourt Park as it was
    and as it is.

Our 'province' of London is happily not entirely 'covered with houses,'
and in each of its six large districts--West, North-west, North, East,
South-east, and South-west--there are many hundreds of acres of green
and tree-shaded spaces where the Londoner may find a moderate degree of
refreshment. Unfortunately for large masses of the population, these
spaces are very unequally distributed, being mostly situated on or close
to the borderland, where town and country meet; consequently they are of
less value to the dwellers in the central and densely peopled districts
than to the inhabitants of the suburbs, who have pure air and ample
healthy room without these public grounds.

Before going the round of the parks, to note in detail their present
condition and possibilities, chiefly with reference to their wild bird
life, it would be well to take a rapid survey of the metropolitan open
spaces generally. To enable the reader the more closely to follow me in
the survey, I have introduced a map of the County of London on a small
scale, in which the whole of the thickly built-over portion appears
uncoloured; the surrounding country coloured green; the open spaces,
including cemeteries, deep green; the small spaces--squares, graves,
churchyards, gardens, recreation grounds, &c., as dark dots; the
suburban districts, not densely populated, where houses have gardens
and grounds, pale green.

[Illustration: RAVENSCOURT PARK]

Now the white space is not really birdless, being everywhere inhabited
by sparrows, and in parts by numerous and populous colonies of semi-wild
pigeons, while a few birds of other species make their homes in London
gardens. Shirley Hibbert, writing of London birds in 1865, says: 'London
is, indeed, far richer in birds than it deserves to be.' He also says:
'A few birds, however, appear to be specially adapted not merely for
London as viewed from without, but for London _par excellence_, that
is to say for the noisy, almost treeless City; with these for pioneers,
nature invades the Stock Exchange, the Court of Aldermen, the Bank, and
all the railway termini, as if to say, '_Shut us out if you can_.' But
with the exception of these few peculiarly urban species we may take it
that the London birds get their food, breed, and live most of the time
in the open spaces where there are trees and bushes. Even the starling,
which breeds in buildings, must go to the parks to feed.

It must also be borne in mind that birds that penetrate into London from
the surrounding country--those that, like the carrion crow, live on the
borders and fly into or across London every day, migrants in spring and
autumn, young birds reared outside of London going about in search of a
place to settle in, and wanderers generally--all fly to and alight on
the green spaces only. These spaces form their camping grounds. As there
is annually a very considerable influx of feathered strangers, we
can see by a study of the map how much easier to penetrate and more
attractive some portions of the metropolis are than others. It would
simplify the matter still further if we were to look upon London as
an inland sea, an archipelago, about fifty miles in circumference,
containing a few very large islands, several of a smaller size, and
numerous very small ones--a sea or lake with no well-defined shore-line,
but mostly with wide borders which might be described as mixed land and
water, with promontories or tongues of land here and there running into
it. These promontories, also the chains of islands, form, in some cases,
broad green thoroughfares along which the birds come; the sinuous band
of the Thames also forms to some extent a thoroughfare.

I believe it is a fact that in those parts of the suburbs that are
well timbered, and where the houses have gardens and grounds, the bird
population is actually greater (with fewer species) than in the country
proper, even in places where birds are very abundant. In parts of
Norwood, Sydenham, and Streatham, and the neighbourhoods of Dulwich,
Greenwich, Lee, Highgate, and Hampstead, birds are extremely abundant.
Going a little further afield, on one side of the metropolis we have
Epping Forest, and on the opposite side of the metropolis several vast
and well-wooded spaces abounding in bird life--Kew Gardens, the Queen's
private grounds, Old Deer Park, Syon and Richmond parks, Wimbledon, &c.
From all these districts there is doubtless a considerable overflow of
birds each season on to the adjacent country, and into London, and some
of the large parks are well placed to attract these wanderers.

In going into a more detailed account of the parks, it is not my
intention to furnish anything like a formal or guide-book description,
assigning a space to each, but, taking them as they come, singly, in
groups and chains, to touch or dwell only on those points that chiefly
concern us--their characters, comparative advantages, and their needs,
with regard to bird life. Beginning with the central parks and other
parks situated in the West district, we will then pass to the North-west
and North districts, and so on until the circle of the metropolis has
been completed.

       *     *     *     *     *

The central parks, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, Green Park, and St.
James's Park, contain respectively 274, 360, 55, and 60 acres--in round
numbers 750 acres. Add to this Holland Park, the enclosed meadow-like
grounds adjoining Kensington Palace, Hyde Park Gardens, St. George's
burial-ground, and Buckingham Palace Gardens, and we get altogether a
total of about nine hundred to one thousand acres of almost continuous
green country, extending from High Street, Kensington, to Westminster.
This very large area (for to the eyes of the flying bird it must
appear as one) is favourably situated to attract and support a very
considerable amount of bird life. At its eastern extremity we see that
it is close to the river, along which birds are apt to travel; while
three miles and a half away, at its other end, it is again near the
Thames, where the river makes a great bend near Hammersmith, and not
very distant from the more or less green country about Acton.

[Illustration: (Map of London)]

There is no doubt that a majority of the summer visitants and wanderers
generally that appear in the central parks come through Holland Park,
as they are usually first observed in the shrubberies and trees at
Kensington Palace. Holland Park, owing to its privacy and fine old
trees, is a favourite resort of wild birds, and is indeed a better
sanctuary than any public park in London. From the palace shrubberies
the new-comers creep in along the Flower Walk, the Serpentine, and
finally by way of the Green Park to St. James's Park. But they do not
stay to breed, the place not being suitable for such a purpose. It is
possible that a few find nesting-places in Buckingham Palace Gardens,
and that others drift into Battersea Park.

Another proof that these parks--so sadly mismanaged from the bird-lover's
point of view--are situated advantageously may be found in the fact
that three of the species which have established colonies in London
within the last few years (wood-pigeon, moorhen, and dabchick) first
formed settlements here, and from this centre have spread over the
entire metropolis, and now inhabit every park and open space where the
conditions are suited to their requirements. These three needed no
encouragement: the summer visitors do certainly need it, and at
Battersea, and in some other parks less than one fourth the size of
Hyde Park, they find it, and are occasionally able to rear their young.
Even the old residents, the sedentary species once common in the central
parks, find it hard to maintain their existence; they have died or are
dying out. The missel-thrush, nuthatch, tree-creeper, oxeye, spotted
woodpecker, and others vanished several years ago. The chaffinch was
reduced to a single pair within the last few years; this pair lingered
on for a year or a little over, then vanished. Last spring, 1897, a few
chaffinches returned, and their welcome song was heard in Kensington
Gardens until June. Not a greenfinch is to be seen, the commonest and
most prolific garden bird in England, so abundant that scores, nay
hundreds, may be bought any Sunday morning in the autumn at the
bird-dealers' shops in the slums of London, at about two pence per
bird, or even less. The wrens a few years ago were reduced to a single
pair, and had their nesting-place near the Albert Memorial; of the
pair I believe one bird now remains. Two, perhaps three, pairs of
hedge-sparrows inhabited Kensington Gardens during the summers of 1896
and 1897, but I do not think they succeeded in rearing any young. Nor
did the one pair in St. James's Park hatch any eggs. In 1897 a pair
of spotted flycatchers bred in Kensington Gardens, and were the only
representatives of the summer visitors of the passerine order in all the
central parks.

The robin has been declining for several years; a decade ago its sudden
little outburst of bright melody was a common autumn and winter sound in
some parts of the park, and in nearly all parts of Kensington Gardens.
This delightful sound became less and less each season, and unless
something is done will before many years cease altogether. The blue and
cole tits are also now a miserable remnant, and are restricted to the
gardens, where they may be seen, four or five together, on the high
elms or clinging to the pendent twigs of the birches. The blackbird and
song-thrush have also fallen very low; I do not believe that there are
more than two dozen of these common birds in all this area of seven
hundred and fifty acres. A larger number could be found in one corner of
Finsbury Park. Finsbury and Battersea could each send a dozen or two of
songsters as a gift to the royal West-end parks, and not miss their

Of all these vanishing species the thrush is most to be regretted, on
account of its beautiful, varied, and powerful voice, for in so noisy
an atmosphere as that of London loudness is a very great merit; also
because (in London) this bird sings very nearly all the year round. Even
at the present time how much these few remaining birds are to us! From
one to two decades ago it was possible on any calm mild day in winter
to listen to half a dozen thrushes singing at various points in the
gardens; now it is very rare to hear more than one, and during the
exceedingly mild winter of 1896-7 I never heard more than two. Even
these few birds make a wonderful difference. There is a miraculous
quality in their voice. In the best of many poems which the Poet
Laureate has addressed to this, his favourite bird, he sings:

    Hearing thee first, who pines or grieves
      For vernal smiles and showers!
    Thy voice is greener than the leaves,
      And fresher than the flowers.

Even here in mid-London the effect is the same, and a strange glory
fills the old ruined and deserted place. But, alas! 'tis but an
illusion, and is quickly gone. The tendency for many years past has
been towards a greater artificiality. It saves trouble and makes for
prettiness to cut down decaying trees. To take measures to prevent their
fall, to drape them with ivy and make them beautiful in decay, would
require some thought and care. It is not so long ago that Matthew Arnold
composed his 'Lines written in Kensington Gardens.' It seems but the
other day that he died; but how impossible it would be for anyone
to-day, at this spot, to experience the feeling which inspired those
matchless verses!

    In this lone, open glade I lie,
      Screened by deep boughs on either hand;
    And at its end, to stay the eye,
      Those black-crown'd, red-boled pine-trees stand!

    Birds here make song, each bird has his,
      Across the girdling city's hum.
    How green under the boughs it is!
      How thick the tremulous sheep-cries come!

    Sometimes a child will cross the glade
      To take his nurse his broken toy;
    Sometimes a thrush flit overhead
      Deep in her unknown day's employ.

    Here at my feet what wonders pass,
      What endless, active life is here!
    What blowing daisies, fragrant grass!
      An air-stirr'd forest, fresh and clear.

           ·     ·     ·     ·     ·

    In the huge world, which roars hard by,
      Be others happy if they can!
    But in my helpless cradle I
      Was breathed on by the rural Pan.

           ·     ·     ·     ·     ·

    Calm soul of all things! Make it mine
      To feel amid the city's jar,
    That there abides a peace of thine,
      Man did not make, and cannot mar.

    The will to neither strive nor cry,
      The power to feel with others give!
    Calm, calm me more! nor let me die
      Before I have begun to live.

In these vast gardens and parks, with large trees, shrubberies, wide
green spaces, and lakes, there should be ample room for many scores
of the delightful songsters that are now vanishing or have already
vanished. And much might be done, at a very small cost, to restore these
species, and to add others.

One of the first and most important steps to be taken in order to make
the central parks a suitable home for wild birds, especially of the
songsters, both resident and migratory, that nest on or near the ground,
is the exclusion of the army of cats that hunt every night and all night
long in them. This subject will be discussed more fully in another

Proper breeding-places are also greatly wanted--close shrubberies and
rockeries such as we find at Battersea and Finsbury Parks. The existing
shrubberies give no proper shelter. In planting them the bird's need of
privacy was not considered; the space allowed to them is too small, the
species of plants that birds prefer to roost and nest in are too few.
It would make a wonderful difference if in place of so many unsuitable
exotic shrubs (especially of the ugly, dreary-looking rhododendron) we
had more of the always pleasing yew and holly; also furze and bramble;
with other native plants to be found in any country hedge, massed
together in that charming disorder which men as well as birds prefer,
although the gardeners do not know it. There are several spots in
Kensington Gardens where masses of evergreens would look well and would
form welcome refuges to scores of shy songsters.

The more or less open ground north of the Flower Walk forms a deep
well-sheltered hollow, where it would be easy to create a small pond
with rushes and osiers growing in it, which would be very attractive to
the birds. It would be easy to make a spot in every park in London where
the sedge-warbler could breed.

Another very much needed improvement is an island in the Serpentine,
which would serve to attract wild birds. The Serpentine is by a good
deal the largest of the artificial lakes of inner London, yet with the
exception of a couple of moorhens, and in winter a stray gull or two
seen flying over the water, it has no wild bird life, simply because
there is no spot where a wild bird can breed. The existing small island,
close to the north bank and the sub-rangers' village, is used by some of
the ducks to breed in. Something might be done to make this island more
attractive to birds.

With one, perhaps two, exceptions, the comparatively large birds in the
central parks have been so fully written about in former chapters that
nothing more need be said of them in this place. It remains only to
speak of the owls in Kensington Gardens.

It is certainly curious to find that in these gardens, where, as we have
seen, birds are not encouraged, two such species as the jackdaw and owl
are still resident, although long vanished from all their other old
haunts in London. Of so important a bird as the owl I should have
preferred to write at some length in one of the earlier chapters, but
there was very little to say, owing to its rarity and secrecy. Nor could
it be included in the chapters on recent colonists, since it is probable
that it has always been an inhabitant of Kensington Gardens, although
its existence there has not been noticed by those who have written
on the wild bird life of London. It is unfortunate that we have no
enjoyment of our owls: they hide from sight in the old hollow trees,
and when they occasionally exercise their voices at night we are not
there to hear them. Still, it is a pleasure to know that they are there,
and probably always have been there. It is certain that during the past
year both the brown and white owl have been living in the gardens, as
the night-watchers hear the widely different vocal performances of both
birds, and have also seen both species. Probably there are not more than
two birds of each kind. Owls have the habit of driving away their young,
and the stray white owls occasionally seen or heard in various parts of
London may be young birds driven from the gardens. Some time ago the
cries of a white owl were heard on several nights at Lambeth Palace, and
it was thought that the bird had made its home in the tower of Lambeth
Church, close by. In the autumn of 1896 a solitary white owl frequented
the trees at Buckhurst Hill. An ornithological friend told me that
he had seen an owl, probably the same bird, one evening flying over
the Serpentine; and on inquiring of some of the park people, I was
told that they knew nothing about an owl, but that a cockatoo had
mysteriously appeared every evening at dusk on one of the trees near
the under-ranger's lodge! After a few weeks it was seen no more. I fancy
that this owl had been expelled from the gardens by its parents.

       *     *     *     *     *

Directly in line with the central and Holland parks, about a mile and a
quarter west of Holland Park, we have Ravenscourt Park--the last link of
a broken chain. To the birds that come and go it occupies the position
of a half-way house between the central parks and the country proper.
Unhappily West Kensington, which lies between Holland and Ravenscourt
Parks, is now quite covered with houses--a brand-new yet depressing
wilderness of red brick, without squares, gardens, boulevards, or
breathing spaces of any description whatsoever. Away on the right
hand and on the left a few small green spaces are found--on one hand
Shepherd's Bush Green, and on the other Brook Green, St. Paul's Schools
ornamental grounds, and Hammersmith Cemetery and Cricket Ground. But
from West Kensington it is far for children's feet to a spot of green

Ravenscourt, though not large (32 acres), is very beautiful. With
Waterlow, Clissold, and Brockwell Parks it shares the distinction of
being a real park, centuries old; and despite the new features, the
gravelled paths, garden-beds, iron railings, &c., which had to be
introduced when it was opened to the public, it retains much of its
original park-like character. Its venerable elms, hornbeams, beeches,
cedars, and hawthorns are a very noble possession. To my mind this
indeed is the most beautiful park in London, or perhaps I should say
that it _would_ be the most beautiful if the buildings round it were not
so near and conspicuous. It may be that I am somewhat prejudiced in its
favour. I knew it when it was private, and the old image is very vivid
to memory; I lived for a long time beside it in sad days, when the
constant sight of such a green and shady wilderness from my window was a
great consolation. It was beautiful even in the cold, dark winter months
when it was a waste of snow, and when, despite the bitter weather, the
missel-thrush poured out its loud triumphant notes from the top of
a tall elm. In its spring and summer aspect it had a wild grace and
freshness, which made it unlike any other spot known to me in or near
London. The old manor house inside the park was seldom occupied; no
human figure was visible in the grounds; there were no paths, and all
things grew untended. The grass was everywhere long, and in spring lit
with colour of myriads of wild flowers; from dawn to dusk its shady
places were full of the melody of birds; exquisitely beautiful in its
dewy and flowery desolation, it was like a home of immemorial peace, the
one remnant of unadulterated nature in the metropolis.

The alterations that had to be made in this park when the County Council
took it over produced in me an unpleasant shock; and the birds were also
seriously affected by the change. When the gates were thrown open, in
1888, and a noisy torrent of humanity poured in and spread itself over
their sweet sanctuary, they fled in alarm, and for a time the park was
almost birdless. The carrion crows, strange to say, stuck to their
nesting-tree, and by-and-by some of the deserters began to return, to
be followed by others, and now there is as much bird life as in the old
days. It is probable, however, that some of the summer visitors
have ceased to breed. At present we have the crow, wood-pigeon,
missel-thrush, chaffinch, wren, hedge-sparrow, and in the summer the
pied wagtail and spotted flycatcher and willow-wren.




  Open spaces on the border of West London--The Scrubs, Old Oak Common,
    and Kensal Green Cemetery--North-west district--Paddington
    Recreation Ground, Kilburn Park, and adjoining open spaces--Regent's
    Park described--Attractive to birds, but not safe--Hampstead Heath:
    its character and bird life--The ponds--A pair of moorhens--An
    improvement suggested--North London districts--Highgate Woods,
    Churchyard Bottom Wood, Waterlow Park, and Highgate Cemetery--Finsbury
    Park--A paradise of thrushes--Clissold Park and Abney Park Cemetery.

Before proceeding to give a brief account of the parks and open spaces
of North-west and North London it is necessary to mention here a group
of open spaces just within the West district, on its northern border,
a mile and a half to two miles north of Ravenscourt Park. These are
Wormwood Scrubs, Little Wormwood Scrubs, Old Oak Common, and Kensal
Green Cemetery. As they contain altogether not far short of three
hundred acres, and are in close proximity, they might in time have been
thrown into one park. A large open space will be sadly needed in that
part of London before many years are passed, and it is certain that West
London cannot go on burying its dead much longer at Kensal Green. But it
is to be feared that the usual short-sighted policy will prevail with
regard to these spaces, and a good deal of the space known as Old Oak
Common has already been enclosed with barbed-wire fences, and it is now
said that the commoners' rights in this space have been extinguished.

Beyond these spaces are Acton and Harlesden--a district where town and
country mix.

From Wormwood Scrubs to Regent's Park it is three miles as the crow
flies--three miles of houses inhabited by a working-class population,
with no green spot except the Paddington Recreation Ground, which is
small (25 acres), and of little or no use to the thousands of poor
children in this vast parish, being too far from their homes.

Crossing the line dividing the West from the North-west district near
Kensal Green, we find the following four not large open spaces in
Kilburn--Kensal Rise, Brondesbury Park (private), Paddington Cemetery,
and Kilburn or Queen's Park (30 acres).

All this part of London is now being rapidly covered with houses, and
the one beautiful open space, with large old trees in it, is Brondesbury
Park. How sad to think that this fine park will probably be built over
within the next few years, and that the only public open space left
will be the Queen's Park--a dreary patch of stiff clay, where the
vegetation is stunted and looks tired of life. Even a few exceptionally
dirty-looking sparrows that inhabit it appear to find it a depressing

Two miles east of this melancholy spot is Regent's Park, which now forms
one continuous open space, under one direction, with Primrose Hill, and
contains altogether 473 acres. It is far and away the largest of the
inner London parks, its area exceeding that of Hyde Park by 112 acres.
Its large extent is but one of its advantages. Although not all free to
the public, it is all open to the birds, and the existence of several
more or less private enclosed areas is all in their favour. On its
south, east, and west sides this space has the brick wilderness of
London, an endless forest of chimneys defiling the air with their smoke;
but on the north side it touches a district where gardens abound, and
trees, shrubs, and luxuriant ivy and creepers give it a country-like
aspect. This pleasant green character is maintained until Hampstead
Heath and the country proper is reached, and over this rural stretch of
North-west London the birds come and go freely between the country and
Regent's Park. This large space should be exceedingly attractive to all
such birds as are not intolerant of a clay soil. There are extensive
green spaces, a good deal of wood, and numerous large shrubberies,
which are more suitable for birds to find shelter and breed in than
the shrubberies in the central parks. There is also a large piece of
ornamental water, with islands, and, better still, the Regent's Canal
running for a distance of nearly one mile through the park. The steeply
sloping banks on one side, clothed with rank grass and shrubs and
crowned with large unmutilated trees, give this water the appearance of
a river in the country, and it is, indeed, along the canal where birds
are always most abundant, and where the finest melody may be heard. All
these advantages should make Regent's Park as rich in varied bird life
as any open space in the metropolis. Unfortunately the birds are not
encouraged, and if this park was not so large, and so placed as to
be in some degree in touch with the country, it would be in the same
melancholy condition as Hyde Park. The species now found are the
blackbird and thrush, greenfinch (rare) and chaffinch, robin, dunnock,
and wren (the last very rare), and in summer two or three migrants are
added. But most of the birds find it hard to rear any young owing to the
birds'-nesting boys and loafers, who are not properly watched, and to
the cats that infest the shrubberies. Even by day cats have the liberty
of this park. Wood-pigeons come in numbers to feed in the early morning,
and a few pairs build nests, but as a rule their eggs are taken. Carrion
crows from North London visit the park on most days, and make occasional
incursions into the Zoological Gardens, where they are regarded with
very unfriendly feelings. They go there on the chance of picking up
a crumb or two dropped from the tables of the pampered captives; and
perhaps for a peep at the crow-house, where many corvines from many
lands may be seen turning their eyes skyward, uttering at the same time
a cry of recognition, to watch the sweeping flight of their passing
relatives, who 'mock them with their loss of liberty.'

The water-birds (wild) are no better off in this park than the songsters
in the shrubberies, yet it could easily be made more attractive and safe
as a breeding-place. As it is, the dabchick seldom succeeds in hatching
eggs, and even the semi-domestic and easily satisfied moorhen finds it
hard to rear any young.

       *     *     *     *     *

The other great green space in the North-west district is Hampstead
Heath, which contains, including Parliament Hill and other portions
acquired in recent years, 507 acres. On its outer border it touches the
country, in parts a very beautiful country; while on its opposite side
it abuts on London proper, forming on the south and south-east the
boundary of an unutterably dreary portion of the metropolis, a congeries
of large and densely-populated parishes--Kentish and Camden Towns,
Holloway, Highbury, Canonbury, Islington, Hoxton: thousands of acres of
houses, thousands of miles of streets, vast thoroughfares full of trams
and traffic and thunderous noises, interminable roads, respectable and
monotonous, and mean streets and squalid streets innumerable. Here,
then, we have a vast part of London, which is like the West-central and
East-central districts in that it is without any open space, except the
comparatively insignificant one of Highbury Fields. It is to the Heath
that the inhabitants of all this portion of London must go for fresh
air and verdure; but the distance is too great for most people, and the
visits are consequently made on Sundays and holidays in summer. Even
this restricted use they are able to make of 'London's playing ground,'
or 'Happy Hampstead,' as it is lovingly called, must have a highly
beneficial effect on the health, physical and moral, of the people.


To come to the bird life of this largest of London's open spaces. Owing
to its very openness and large extent, which makes it impossible for the
constables to keep a watch on the visitors, especially on the gangs of
birds'-nesting boys and young men who make it a happy hunting-ground
during the spring and summer months, the Heath is in reality a
very unfavourable breeding-place for birds. Linnets, yellowhammers,
chaffinches, robins, several warblers, and other species nest every
year, but probably very rarely succeed in bringing up their young.
Birds are nevertheless numerous and in great variety: the large space
and its openness attract them, while all about the Heath large private
gardens, woods, and preserves exist, which are perfect sanctuaries for
most small birds and some large species. There is a small rookery on
some elm-trees at the side of the High Street; and another close to the
Heath, near Golder's Hill, on the late Sir Spencer Wells's property. And
in other private grounds the carrion crow, daw, wood-pigeon, stock-dove,
turtle-dove, white owl, and wood owl, green and lesser spotted
woodpecker still breed. The corncrake is occasionally heard. The
following small birds, summer visitors, breed on the Heath or in the
adjacent private grounds, especially in Lord Mansfield's beautiful
woods: wryneck and cuckoo, grasshopper-, sedge- and reed-warblers,
blackcap and garden warbler, both whitethroats, wood and willow wrens,
chiffchaff, redstart, stonechat, pied wagtail, tree-pipit, red-backed
shrike, spotted flycatcher, swallow, house martin, swift, and goldfinch.
Wheatears visit the Heath on passage; fieldfares may be seen on most
days throughout the winter, and occasionally red-wings; also the
redpole, siskin, and the grey wagtail. The resident small birds include
most of the species to be found in the county of Middlesex. The
bullfinch and the hawfinch are rare.

My young friend, Mr. E. C. H. Moule, who is a keen observer, has very
kindly sent me his notes on the birds of Hampstead, made during a year's
residence on the edge of the Heath, and taking his list with my own, and
comparing them with the list made by Mr. Harting, published in Lobley's
'Hampstead Hill' in 1885, it appears that there have been very few
changes in the bird population of this district during the last decade.

It would be difficult to make the Heath itself a safer breeding-place
for the birds, resident and migratory, that inhabit it. The only plan
would be to establish small sanctuaries at suitable spots. Unfortunately
these would have to be protected from the nest-robbers by spiked iron
railings, and that open wild appearance of the Heath, which is its
principal charm, would be spoiled.

With the ponds something can be done. There are a good number of them,
large and small, some used for bathing in summer, and all for skating
in winter, but so far nothing has been done to make them attractive
to the birds; and it may be added that a few beds of rushes and other
aquatic plants for cover, which would make them suitable habitations for
several species of birds, would also greatly add to their beauty. How
little would have to be done to give life and variety to these somewhat
desolate-looking pieces of water, may be seen on the Heath itself. One
of the smallest is the Leg of Mutton Pond, on the West Heath, a rather
muddy pool where dogs are accustomed to bathe. At its narrow end it has
a small bed of bulrushes, which has been inhabited by a pair of moorhens
for several years past. They are very tame, and appear quite unconcerned
in the presence of people standing on the margin to gaze at and admire
them, and of the dogs barking and splashing about in the water a few
yards away. There is no wire netting to divide their own little domain
from the dogs' bathing place, and no railing on the bank. Yet here they
live all the year round very contentedly, and rear brood after brood of
young every summer. Here, as in other places, it has been observed that
the half-grown young birds assist their parents in building a second
nest and in rearing the new brood, and it has also been remarked that
when the young are fully grown the old birds drive them from the pond.
There is room for only one pair in that small patch of rushes, and they
know it. The driven-out young wander about in search of a suitable spot
to settle in, but find no place on the Heath. Probably some of them
spend the winter in Lord Mansfield's woods. A gentleman residing in the
neighbourhood told me that at the end of the short frost in January
1897, when the ice was melted, he saw one morning a large number of
moorhens, between thirty and forty, feeding in the meadow near the ponds
in Lord Mansfield's grounds.

I have been told that no rushes have been planted on the Heath, and
nothing done to encourage wild birds to settle at the ponds, simply
because it has never occurred to anyone in authority, and no person
has ever suggested that it would be a good thing to do. Now that the
suggestion is made, let us hope that it will receive consideration.
I fancy that every lover of nature would agree that a pair or two of
quaint pretty moorhens; a pair of lively dabchicks, diving, uttering
that long, wild, bubbling cry that is so pleasant to hear, and building
their floating nest; and perhaps a sedge-warbler for ever playing on
that delightful little barrel-organ of his, would give more pleasure
than the pair of monotonous mute swans to be seen on some of the ponds,
looking very uncomfortable, much too big for such small sheets of water,
and altogether out of harmony with their surroundings.

With the exception of this omission, the management of the Heath by the
County Council has so far been worthy of all praise. The trees recently
planted will add greatly to the beauty and value of this space, which
contains open ground enough for all the thousands that visit it in
summer to roam about and take their sun-bath.

       *     *     *     *     *

Near the Heath, on its east side, in the North London district, we
have a group of four highly attractive open spaces. They are ranged in
pairs at some distance apart. One pair is Highgate Woods (70 acres)
and Churchyard Bottom Wood (52 acres), not yet open to the public;
the second pair is Waterlow Park (26 acres) and Highgate Cemetery
(40 acres). The two first have a special value in their rough, wild,
woodland character, wherein they differ from all other open spaces in
or near London. But although these spaces are both wildernesses, and so
close together as to be almost touching, they each have an individual
character. A very large portion of the space called Highgate Woods is
veritably a wood, very thick and copse-like, so that to turn aside from
the path is to plunge into a dense thicket of trees and saplings, where
a lover of solitude might spend a long summer's day without seeing a
human face. Owing to this thick growth it is impossible for the few
guardians of this space to keep a watch on the mischievous visitors,
with the result that in summer birds'-nesting goes on with impunity; the
evil, however, cannot well be remedied if the woods are to be left in
their present state. It would certainly greatly add to their charm if
such species as inhabit woods of this character were to be met with
here--the woodpeckers, the kestrel and sparrow-hawk and the owls, that
have not yet forsaken this part of London; and the vociferous jay,
shrieking with anger at being disturbed; and the hawfinch, with his
metallic clicking note; and the minute, arrow-shaped, long-tailed tits
that stream through the upper branches in a pretty procession. But
even the warmest friend to the birds would not like to see these woods
thinned and cut through with innumerable roads, and the place changed
from a wilderness to an artificial garden or show park.

The adjoining Churchyard Bottom Wood is the wildest and most picturesque
spot in North London, with an uneven surface, hill and valley, a small
stream running through it, old unmutilated trees of many kinds scattered
about in groups and groves, and everywhere masses of bramble and furze.
It is quite unspoiled, in character a mixture of park and wild, rough
common, and wholly delightful. Indeed, it is believed to be a veritable
fragment--the only one left--of the primæval forest of Middlesex.

It is earnestly to be hoped that the landscape gardener will not be
called in to prepare this place for the reception of the public--the
improver on nature, whose conventional mind is only concerned with a
fine show of fashionable blooms, whose highest standard is the pretty,
cloying artificiality of Kew Gardens. Let him loose here, and his first
efforts will be directed to the rooting up of the glorious old gorse
and bramble bushes, and the planting of exotic bushes in their place,
especially the monotonous rhododendron, that dreary plant the sight of
which oppresses us like a nightmare in almost every public park and
garden and open space in the metropolis.

Waterlow Park, although small, is extremely interesting, and contains
a good amount of large well-grown timber; it is, in fact, one of the
real old parks which have been spared to us in London. It is indeed
a beautiful and refreshing spot, and being so small and so highly
popular, attracting crowds of people every day throughout the summer
months, it does not afford a very favourable breeding-place for birds.
Nevertheless, the number of songsters of various species is not small,
for it is not as if these had no place but the park to breed in; the
town in this district preserves something of its rural character, and
the bird population of the northern portion of Highgate is, like that of
Hampstead, abundant and varied. There is also the fact to be borne in
mind that Waterlow Park is one of two spaces that join, the park being
divided from the cemetery by a narrow lane or footpath. To the birds
these two spaces form one area.

Of Highgate Cemetery it is only necessary to say, in passing, that its
'manifest destiny' is to be made one open space for the public with its
close neighbour; that from this spot you have the finest view of the
metropolis to be had from the northern heights; and when there are green
leaves in place of a forest of headstones, and a few large trees where
monstrous mausoleums and monuments of stone now oppress the earth, the
ground will form one of the most beautiful open spaces in London.

There are two little lakes in Waterlow Park where some ornamental fowls
are kept, and of these lakes, or ponds, it may be said, as of the
Hampstead ponds, that they are too small for such a giant as the mute
swan. On the Thames and on large sheets of water the swan is a great
ornament, his stately form and whiteness being very attractive to the
eye. On the small ponds he is apt to get his plumage very dirty and to
be a mischievous bird. He requires space to move about and look well in,
and water-weeds to feed on. It is not strange to find that our small,
interesting, wild aquatic birds have not succeeded in colonising in this

       *     *     *     *     *

A mile and a half east of Waterlow Park there is the comparatively large
park, containing an area of 115 acres, which was foolishly misnamed
Finsbury Park by the Metropolitan Board of Works. It is the largest
and most important open space in North London, and with the exception
of that of Battersea is the best of all the newly-made parks of the
metropolis. It promises, indeed, to be a very fine place, but its
oldest trees have only been planted twenty-eight years, and have not yet
attained to a majestic size. There is one feature which will always to
some extent spoil the beauty of this spot--namely, the exceedingly long,
straight, monotonous Broad Walk, planted with black poplars, where the
trees are all uniform in size and trimmed to the same height from the
ground. Should it ever become necessary to cut down a large number of
trees in London for fuel, or for the construction of street defences,
or some other purpose, it is to be hoped that the opportunity will be
seized to get rid of this unsightly avenue.

The best feature in this park is the very large extent of well-planted
shrubberies, and it is due to the shelter they afford that blackbirds
and thrushes are more abundant here than in any other open space in the
metropolis, not even excepting that paradise of birds, Battersea Park.
It is delightful to listen to such a volume of bird music as there is
here morning and evening in spring and summer. Even in December and
January, on a dull cold afternoon with a grey smoky mist obscuring
everything, a concert of thrushes may be heard in this park with more
voices in it than would be heard anywhere in the country. The birds are
fed and sheltered and protected when breeding, and they are consequently
abundant and happy. What makes all this music the more remarkable is the
noisiness of the neighbourhood. The park is surrounded by railway lines;
trains rush by with shrieks and earth-shaking thunder every few moments,
and the adjoining thoroughfare of Seven Sisters Road is full of the loud
noises of traffic. Here, more than anywhere in London, you are reminded
of Milton's description of the jarring and discordant grating sounds
at the opening of hell's gates; and one would imagine that in such an
atmosphere the birds would become crazed, and sing, if they sang at all,
'like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh.' But all this noise
troubles them not at all; they sing as sweetly here, with voices just as
pure and rapturous, as in any quiet country lane or wood.


The other most common wild birds are the robin, tits, starling,
dabchick, and moorhen. The chaffinch, greenfinch, hedge-sparrow, and
wren are less common.

       *     *     *     *     *

Half a mile to the east of Finsbury Park we have Clissold Park (53
acres), comparatively small but singularly attractive. This is one
of the old and true parks that have remained to London, and, like
Ravenscourt and Brockwell, it has an old manor house standing in it;
and this building, looking upon water and avenues of noble elms and
wide green spaces, gives it the appearance of a private domain rather
than a public place. Close by is Abney Park Cemetery, which is now so
crammed with corpses as to make it reasonable to indulge the hope that
before long it will be closed as a burial place, only to be re-opened as
a breathing space for the living. And as the distance which separates
these two spaces is not great, let us indulge the further hope that it
may be found possible to open a way between them to make them one park
of not less than about a hundred acres.

Clissold Park is specially interesting to bird lovers in London on
account of the efforts of the superintendent and the park constables in
encouraging and protecting the bird life of the place. In writing of the
carrion crow, the jackdaw, and the little grebe, I have spoken of this
park, and shall have occasion to speak of it again in a future chapter.

South of Clissold, with the exception of the strip of green called
Highbury Fields, there is no open space nearer than St. James's Park,
four miles distant. Highbury Fields (27 acres) was opened to the public
about twelve years ago, and although small and badly shaped, it is by
no means an unimportant 'lung' of North London. To the inhabitants of
Highbury, Canonbury, and Islington it is the nearest open space, and
though in so vast and populous an area, is a refreshing and pretty spot,
with good shrubberies and healthy well-grown young trees. A few years
ago a small rookery existed at the northern extremity of the ground,
where some old trees are still standing, but the birds have left, it is
said on account of the decay of their favourite tree. Skylarks also bred
here up to the time of the opening of the ground to the public. The only
wild birds at present, after the sparrows, are the starlings that come
in small flocks, and a few occasional visitors. A few years ago it was
proposed to make a pond: I fear that the matter has been forgotten, or
that all the good things there were to give have been bestowed on the
show parks, leaving nothing for poor Highbury and Islington.



  Condition of the East district--Large circular group of open
    spaces--Hackney Downs and London Fields--Victoria Park with
    Hackney Common--Smoky atmosphere--Bird life--Lakes--An improvement
    suggested--Chaffinch fanciers--Hackney Marsh with North and
    South Mill Fields--Unique character of the Marsh--White House
    Fishery--The vanished sporting times--Anecdotes--Collection of
    rare birds--A region of marshes--Wanstead Old Park--Woodland
    character--Bird life--Heronry and rookery--A suggestion.

Judging solely from the map, with its sprinkling of green patches, one
might be led to suppose that East London is not worse off than other
metropolitan districts in the matter of open spaces. The truth is that
it is very much worse off; and it might almost be said that for the
mass of East-enders there are practically no breathing spaces in that
district. The population is about a million, the greatest portion of it
packed into the parishes which border on the river and the East Central
district; that is to say, on all that part of London which is most
destitute of open spaces. In all this poor and overcrowded part of the
East the tendency has been to get more and more housing-room out of the
ground, with the result that not only have the old gardens vanished but
even the mean back-yards have been built over, and houses densely packed
with inmates stand back to back, or with little workshops between. One
can but wonder that this deadly filling-up process has been permitted
to go on by the authorities. It is plain that the people who live in
such conditions, whose lives are passed in small stuffy rooms, with no
outside space but the foul-smelling narrow dusty streets, are more in
need of open spaces than the dwellers in other districts; yet to most of
them even Victoria Park is practically as distant, as inaccessible, as
Hyde Park, or Hampstead Heath, or the country proper. If once in many
days a man is able to get away for needed change and refreshment, he
finds it as easy to go to Epping Forest as to Victoria Park and Hackney
Marsh; but it is not on many days in the year, in some cases not on any
day, that he can take his wife and children.

       *     *     *     *     *

The open spaces of the East district, which (excepting those distant
spaces situated on the borders of Epping Forest) are all near together
and form a large circular group, are Hackney Downs, London Fields,
Victoria Park with Hackney Common, and Hackney Marsh with South and
North Mill Fields--about 730 acres in all. These grounds, as we have
seen, are too distant to be of much benefit to the larger part of the
population, and, it may be added, they have not the same value as
breathing spaces as the parks and commons in other London districts.
Victoria Park does not refresh a man like Hampstead Heath, nor even like
Hyde Park. The atmosphere is not the same. You are not there out of the
smoke and smells and gloom of East London. The atmosphere of Hackney
Marsh is better, but the distance is greater, and the Marsh is not a
place where women and children can rest in the shade, since shade there
is none.

To begin with the spaces nearest to the boundary line of North London:
we have the two isolated not large spaces of Hackney Downs (41 acres)
and London Fields (26 acres). These are green recreation grounds with
few trees or shrubs, where birds cannot breed and do not live. Hackney
Downs is, however, used as a feeding ground by a few thrushes and other
birds that inhabit some of the adjacent private gardens where there are
trees and shrubs.

Victoria Park contains 244 acres, to which may be added the 20 acres
of Hackney Common, and is rather more than two-thirds as large as Hyde
Park. Having been in existence for upwards of twenty years, it is one of
the oldest of our new parks, and is important on account of its large
size, also because it is the only park in the most populous metropolitan

If it were possible to view it with the East-enders' eyes--eyes
accustomed to prospects so circumscribed and to so unlovely an aspect
of things--it might seem like a paradise, with its wide green spaces,
its groves and shrubberies, and lakes and wooded islands. To the
dwellers in West and South-west London it has a somewhat depressing
appearance, a something almost of gloom, as if Nature herself in
straying into such a region had put off her brilliance and freshness
to be more in tune with her human children. The air is always more or
less smoke-laden in that part. That forest of innumerable chimneys,
stretching away miles and miles over all that desolate overcrowded
district to the river, and the vast parishes of Rotherhithe, Bermondsey,
and Deptford beyond it, to the City and Islington and Kingsland on the
north side, dims the atmosphere with an everlasting cloud of smoke; and
Victoria Park is on most days under it. On account of this smokiness
of the air the trees, although of over twenty years' growth, are not
large--not nearly so large as the much younger trees in Battersea Park.
Trees and shrubs have a somewhat grimy appearance, and even the grass
is not so green as in other places.

Among the recent bird-colonists of London, we find that the moorhen and
ringdove have established themselves here, but in very small numbers.
There are two good-sized lakes (besides a bathing-pond), and the islands
might be made very attractive to birds, both land and water. They are
planted with trees, the best grown in the park, but have no proper cover
for species that nest on the ground and in low bushes, and no rushes
or other aquatic plants on their edges. It is a wonder that even the
moorhens are able to rear any young. The lakes are much used for
boating, and this is said to be in the way of providing the birds with
proper refuges in and round the islands; but there is no lake in London
more used for boating exercise than that of Battersea, yet it has there
been found possible to give proper accommodation and protection to the
water-birds in the breeding season.

It is melancholy to find that the songsters have been decreasing in this
park for some years past. Birds are perhaps of more value here than in
any other metropolitan open space. Thrushes, blackbirds, and chaffinches
are still not uncommon. The robin, titmouse, and dunnock are becoming
rare. The greenfinch and (I believe) the wren have vanished. The
decrease of the chaffinch is most regretted by the East-enders, who
have an extraordinary admiration for that bird. Bird fanciers are very
numerous in the East, and the gay chaffinch is to them the first of the
feathered race; in fact, it may be said that he is first and the others
nowhere. Now the value of the chaffinch to the bird fancier depends on
his song--on the bird's readiness to sing when his music is wanted, and
the qualities of his notes, their strength, spirit, and wildness. In
the captive state the song deteriorates unless the captive is frequently
made to hear and sing against a wild bird. At these musical contests
the caged bird catches and retains something of the fine passion and
brilliancy of his wild antagonist, and the more often he is given such a
lesson the better will it be for its owner, who may get twenty to fifty
shillings, and sometimes much more, for a good singer. Victoria Park
was the only accessible place to most of the East-enders who keep
chaffinches for singing-matches and for profit, to which their birds
could be taken to get the necessary practice. To this park they were
accustomed to come in considerable numbers, especially on Sunday
mornings in spring and summer. Even now, when the wild birds are so
greatly reduced in numbers, many chaffinch fanciers may be met with;
even on working days I have met as many as a dozen men slouching about
among the shrubberies, each with a small cage covered with a cotton
handkerchief or rag, in quest of a wild bird for his favourite to
challenge and sing against. They do not always succeed in finding their
wild bird, and when found he may not be a first-rate singer, or may
become alarmed and fly away; and as it is a far cry to Epping Forest
and the country, most of the men being very poor and having some
occupation which takes up most of their time, the decline of Victoria
Park as a training ground for their birds is a great loss to them.

I have tried, but without success, to believe that there was something
more than the sporting or gambling spirit in the East-ender's passion
for the chaffinch. Is it not probable, I have asked myself, that this
short swift lyric, the musical cry of a heart overflowing with gladness,
yet with a ring of defiance in it, a challenge to every other chaffinch
within hearing, has some quality in it which stirs a human hearer too,
even an East-ender, more than any other bird sound, and suddenly wakes
that ancient wild nature that sleeps in us, the vanished sensations of
gladness and liberty? I am reluctantly compelled to answer that I think
not. The East-ender admires the chaffinch because he is a sporting
bird--a bird that affords good sport; just as the man who has been
accustomed to shoot starlings from traps has a peculiar fondness for
that species, and as the cock-fighter admires the gamecock above all
feathered creatures. Deprive the cock-fighter of his sport--the law
has not quite succeeded in taking it away yet--and the bird ceases to
attract him; its brilliant courage, the beauty of its shape, its scarlet
comb, shining red hackles and green sickle plumes, and its clarion voice
that proclaims in the dark silent hours that another day has dawned, all
go for nothing.

It is unhappily necessary to say even more in derogation of the East-end
chaffinch fancier, who strikes one as nothing worse than a very quiet
inoffensive person, down on his luck, as he goes softly about among the
shrubberies with the little tied-up cage under his arm. He is not always
looking out for a wild chaffinch solely for the purpose of affording his
pet a little practice in the art of singing; he not unfrequently carries
a dummy chaffinch and a little bird-lime concealed about his person, and
is quick and cunning at setting up his wooden bird and limed twigs when
a wild bird appears and the park constable is out of sight.

In some of the parks, where the wild birds are cared for, the men who
are found skulking about the shrubberies with cages in their hands are
very sharply ordered out. It is not so in Victoria Park, and this may
be the reason of the decrease in its wild bird life.

In Victoria Park I have met with some amusing instances of the entire
absorption of the chaffinch votaries in their favourite bird, their
knowledge of and quickness in hearing and seeing him, and inability to
see and hear any other species. Thus, one man assured me that he had
never seen a robin in the park, that there were no robins there. Another
related as a very curious thing that he had seen a robin, red breast and
all, and had heard it sing! Yet you can see and hear a robin in Victoria
Park any day.

       *     *     *     *     *

We now come to the famous Marsh. Victoria Park is in shape like a
somewhat gouty or swollen leg and foot, the leg cut off below the knee;
the broad toes of the foot point towards London Fields and the north,
the flat sole towards Bishopsgate Street, distant two miles; the upper
part of the severed leg almost touches the large space of Hackney Marsh.
The Marsh contains 337 acres; the adjoining North and South Mill Fields
23 and 34 acres respectively--the whole thus comprising an area of
nearly 400 acres. It was acquired by the London County Council for the
public in 1894, but before its acquisition the East-end public had the
use of it, and, no doubt, some right in it, as the owners of ponies and
donkeys were accustomed to keep their animals there. It was a kind of
no-man's-land in London, and it is indeed with the greatest bitterness
that the old frequenters of the Marsh of (to them) pleasant memories
recall the liberty they formerly enjoyed in following their own devices,
and compare it with the restrictions of the present time. There is no
liberty now, they complain. If a man sits down on the grass a policeman
will come and look at him to see if he is doing any damage. The County
Council have deprived the public of its ancient sacred rights. It must
be borne in mind that the 'public' spoken of by the discontented ones
means only a small section, and not the most reputable section, of the
very large population of East London.

To those who know Hackney Marsh from having looked upon it from a
railway carriage window (and most of the dwellers in other districts
know it only in that way) it is but a green, flat, low piece of land,
bounded by buildings of some kind in the distance, a featureless space
over which the vision roams in vain in search of something to rest upon,
utterly devoid of interest, to be seen and straightway forgotten. Yet
I have experienced a pleasing sense of exhilaration here, a feeling
somewhat differing in character from that produced in me by any other
metropolitan open space. And this was not strange, for there is really
nothing like Hackney Marsh in London. Commons, indeed, of various
aspects we have in plenty, parks, too, natural, artificial, dreary,
pretty; and heaths, downs, woods, and wildernesses; but the Marsh alone
presents to the eyes a large expanse of absolutely flat grassy land,
without a bush, stick, or molehill to break its smooth surface. A mile
or a mile and a quarter away, according to the direction, you see an
irregular line of buildings forming the horizon, with perhaps a tapering
church spire and a tall factory chimney or two; and if this extent of
green waste seems not great, it should be borne in mind that a man
standing on a flat surface has naturally a very limited horizon, and
that a mile in this district of London is equal to two miles or more in
the country, owing to the blue haze which produces an illusive effect
of distance. Walking about this green level land in pleasant weather, I
have experienced in some degree the delightful sensation which is always
produced in us by a perfectly flat extensive surface, such as we find
in some parts of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, and Norfolk. This is the
individual character and peculiar fascination of Hackney Marsh. And it
is possible that this feeling of liberty and ease, which mere flatness
and spaciousness give, was an element in the attraction which the Marsh
has always had for the East Londoner.

Here on a windy day at the end of February I have been tempted to exclaim
(like a woman), 'What a picture I could make--if I only knew how to
paint!' The rains and floods and spring-like warmth of the winter of
1896-7 had made the grass look preternaturally green; the distant
buildings, ugly perhaps when viewed closely, at the distance of a mile,
or even half a mile, were looking strangely picturesque in the pale
smoky haze, changing, when the sun was obscured by a flying cloud and
again burst forth, from deep blue to bright pearly grey; and the tall
chimneys changed, too, from a darkness that was almost black to glowing
brick-red. The wind was so strong that it was a labour to walk against
it; but as I walked along the river I came on a solitary swan, and as
though alarmed he rose up and flew away before me with a very free
powerful flight in the face of the wind; but he flew low, and for a
distance of a quarter of a mile his white wings shining in the sun
looked wonderfully bright and beautiful against the vivid green expanse.
The swans in this part of the River Lea are the property of the Water
Company, but they fly about very freely, and are like wild birds. Larks,
too, were soaring to sing on that day in spite of the wind's violence;
first one fluttered up before me, then a second, then a third, and
by-and-by I had four high overhead within hearing at the same time.
It struck me as a great thing to hear four larks at one time in
a metropolitan open space, for the lark is fast dying out in the
neighbourhood of London. I greatly doubt if these birds on the Marsh
ever succeed in bringing off any young; but the large green space is
a great attraction, and it is probable that a few stragglers from the
country settle down every spring, and that the numbers are thus kept up.

The skylark, starling, and sparrow are the only common resident species.
A kestrel hovering above the Marsh is a common sight, and lapwings at
certain times of the year are frequent visitors. The resident species
are indeed few, but there is no spot near London where anything like so
great a variety of waders and water-fowl appear during the autumn and
spring migrations, and in severe weather in winter.

There is a great deal of running water in Hackney Marsh, and most of the
ground lies between two large currents--the East London Waterworks canal
on the west side and the sinuous River Lea on the other side. Midway in
its course over the Marsh the river divides, the lesser stream being
called Lead Mill Stream; lower down the currents reunite: thus the land
between forms a long, green, flat island. On this island stands the
White House, or White House Fishery, close to the bridge over the Lea, a
favourite house for anglers in the vanished days when the Lea was a good
river to fish in. The anglers have long forsaken it; but it is a pretty
place, standing alone and white on the green level land, surrounded
by its few scattered trees, with something of the air about it of a
remote country inn, very restful to London eyes. It is also a place of
memories, but these are not all of sweet or pleasant things. The White
House was the centre and headquarters of the Hackney Marsh sportsmen,
and the sports they followed were mostly of that description which,
albeit still permissible, are now generally regarded as somewhat brutal
and blackguardly in character.


Rabbit coursing, or rabbit worrying, with terriers; and pigeon,
starling, and sparrow shooting from traps, were the favourite pastimes.
The crowds which gathered to witness these matches were not nice to
see and hear, nor were they representative of the people of any London
district; they were, in fact, largely composed of the lowest roughs
drawn from a population of a million souls--raucous-voiced, lawless,
obscene in their language, filthy in their persons, and vicious in their
habits. Yet you will find many persons, not of this evil description,
who lament that these doings on the Marsh have been abolished, so dear
is sport of some kind, involving the killing of animals, to the natural
man! Others rejoice at the change. One oldish man, who said that he had
known and loved the Marsh from boyhood, and had witnessed the sports
for very many years, assured me that only since the County Council had
taken this open space in hand was it possible for quiet and decent folks
to enjoy it. As to the wild bird shooting, he was glad that that too had
been done away with; men who spent their Sundays shooting at starlings,
larks, and passing pigeons were, he said, a rough lot of blackguards.
Two of his anecdotes are worth repeating. One Sunday morning when he was
on the Marsh a young sportsman succeeded in bringing down a pigeon which
was flying towards London. The bird when picked up was found to have a
card attached to its wing--not an unusual occurrence as homing birds
were often shot. On the card in this case was written the brief message,
'Mother is dead.' My informant said that it made him sick, but the young
sportsman was proud of his achievement.

The other story was of a skylark that made its appearance three summers
ago in a vacant piece of ground adjoining Victoria Park. The bird had
perhaps escaped from a cage, and was a fine singer, and all day long it
could be heard as it flew high above the houses and the park pouring
out a continuous torrent of song. It attracted a good deal of attention,
and all the Hackney Marsh sportsmen who possessed guns were fired with
the desire to shoot it. Every Sunday morning some of them would get
into the field to watch their chance to fire at the bird as it rose or
returned to the ground; and this shooting went on, and the 'feathered
frenzy,' still untouched by a pellet, soared and sung, until cold
weather came, when it disappeared.

To return to the White House. This has for the last ninety years been
in the possession of a family named Beresford, who have all had a taste
for collecting rare birds, and their collection, now split up and
distributed among the members of the family, shows that during the last
four or five decades Hackney Marsh has been visited by an astonishing
variety of wild birds. The chief prize is a cream-coloured courser, the
only specimen of this rare straggler from Asia ever obtained in the
neighbourhood of London. It was shot on the morning of October 19, 1858,
and the story is that a working man came full of excitement to the White
House to say that he had just seen a strange bird, looking like a piece
of whity-brown paper blowing about on the Marsh; whereupon the late Mr.
George Beresford took down his gun, went out, and secured the wanderer.

       *     *     *     *     *

It may be seen on the map of London that Hackney Marsh lies in that
broad belt of low wet ground which forms the valley of the Lea, and cuts
obliquely through North-east and East London to the Thames at Bugsby's
Reach, as that part of the river between Woolwich and the Isle of Dogs
is beautifully named. Leyton Marsh, Hackney Marsh, Stratford Marsh, West
Ham Abbey Marsh, and Bromley Marsh are all portions of this low strip,
over and beyond which London has spread. This marshy valley is not
wholly built over; it contains a great deal of mud and water, and open
spaces more or less green; but on account of the number of factories,
gasworks, and noisy industries of various kinds, and of its foul and
smoky condition, it is not a home for wild bird life.

Some distance beyond or east of this marshy belt--seven miles east of
St. Paul's in the City--there is Wanstead Park, or Wanstead Old Park,
and this is the last and outermost public open space and habitation of
wild birds belonging to East London to be described here. Epping Forest
(with Wanstead Flats), although quite close to Wanstead Park at its
nearest end, runs far into Essex, and lies in a perfectly rural district.
Wanstead Park itself may seem almost too distant from London to be
included here; but Wanstead village and Snaresbrook are all one, and
Snaresbrook and Leytonstone extend loving tentacles and clasp each other,
and Leytonstone clasps Leyton, and there is no break in spite of the mud
and water; and the only thing to be said is that east of the Lea it is
Bethnal Green mitigated or ruralised.

'I was in despair for many days,' some old traveller has said, relating
his adventures in uninhabited and savage places, 'but at length, to my
great joy, I spied a gibbet, for I then knew that I was coming to a
civilised country.' In like manner, at Snaresbrook and Leytonstone many
things tell us that we are coming to, and are practically in, London.
But Wanstead Park itself, and the open country adjoining it, with its
fine old trees, and the River Roding, when the rains have filled it,
winding like a silver serpent across the green earth, is very rural and
beautiful and refreshing to the sight.

The park (182 acres) is mostly a wood, unlike Highgate, Churchyard
Bottom, Wimbledon, or any other wood open to the public near London. It
has green spaces and a great deal of water (the lakes and the Roding,
which runs through it), and is very charming in its openness, its
perfect wildness, and the variety of sylvan scenery contained in it. As
might be supposed, this park is peculiarly rich in wild bird life, and
among the breeding species may be mentioned mallard and teal, ringdove
and turtle-dove, woodpecker, jay, hawfinch, and nightingale. But the
chief attraction is the very large rookery and heronry contained on one
of the two large wooded islands. It has sometimes happened when rooks
and herons have built on the same trees, or in the same wood, that they
have fallen out, and the herons have gone away in disgust to settle
elsewhere. At Wanstead no disastrous war has yet taken place, although
much quarrelling goes on. The heronry is probably very old, as in
1834 it was described as 'long established and very populous.' The
birds subsequently abandoned their old quarters on Heron Island and
established their heronry on Lincoln Island, and in recent years
they appear to have increased, the nests in 1896 numbering fifty or
fifty-one, and in 1897 forty-nine.

In conclusion, I wish to suggest that it would be well to make Wanstead
Park as far as possible a sanctuary for all wild creatures. A perfect
sanctuary it could not very well be made--there are certain creatures
which must be kept down by killing. The lake, for instance, is infested
by pike--our crocodile, and Nature's chief executioner in these realms.
I doubt if the wild duck, teal, little grebe, and moorhen succeed in
rearing many young in this most dangerous water. Again, too many jays in
this limited space would probably make it very uncomfortable for the
other birds. Finally, the place swarms with rats, and as there are no
owls, stoats, and weasels to keep them down, man must kill or try to
kill them, badly helped by that most miserable of all his servants, the

But allowing that a perfect sanctuary is not possible, it would be better
to do away with the autumn and winter shooting. It is as great a delight
to see wild duck, snipe, ringdoves in numbers, and stray waders and
water-fowl as any other feathered creatures; and it is probable that if
guns were not fired here, or not fired too often, this well-sheltered
piece of wood and water would become the resort in winter of many
persecuted wild birds, and that they would here lose the excessive
wariness which makes it in most cases so difficult to observe them.

A word must be added concerning the rook-shooting, which takes place
in May, when there are still a good many young herons in the nests. At
Wanstead I have been seriously told that the herons are mightily pleased
to witness the annual massacre of their unneighbourly black neighbours,
or their young. My own belief, after seeing the process, is that the
panic of terror into which the old herons are thrown may result some day
in the entire colony shifting its quarters into some quieter wood in
Essex; and that it would be well to adopt some other less dangerous
method of thinning the rooks, if they are too numerous, which is


For the rest, the Corporation are deserving of nothing but praise for
their management of this invaluable ground. Here is a bit of wild
woodland nature unspoiled by the improving spirit which makes for
prettiness in the Royal Parks and Kew Gardens and in too many of the
County Council's open spaces. The trees are not deprived of their lower
branches, nor otherwise mutilated, or cut down because they are aged
or decaying or draped in ivy; nor are the wind-chased yellow and russet
leaves that give a characteristic beauty and charm to the winter woodland
here swept up and removed like offensive objects; nor are the native
shrubs and evergreens rooted up to be replaced by that always ugly
inharmonious exotic, the rhododendron.



  General survey of South London--South-east London: its most populous
    portion--Three small open spaces--Camberwell New Park--Southwark
    Park--Kennington Park--Fine shrubberies--Greenwich Park and
    Blackheath--A stately and depressing park--Mutilated trees--The
    extreme East--Bostell Woods and Heath--Their peculiar charm--Woolwich
    and Plumstead Commons--Hilly Fields--Peckham Rye and Park--A
    remonstrance--Nunhead and Camberwell Cemeteries--Dulwich
    Park--Brockwell Park--The rookery.

South London, comprising the whole of the metropolis on the
Surrey and Kent side of the Thames, is not here divided into two
districts--South-east and South-west--merely for convenience sake,
because it is too large to be dealt with in one chapter. Considered with
reference to its open spaces and to the physical geography of this part
of the metropolitan area, South London really comprises two districts
differing somewhat in character.

Taking London to mean the whole of the area built upon and the outer
public open spaces that touch or abut on streets, or rows of houses,
we find that South London, from east to west, exceeds North London in
length, the distance from Plumstead and Bostell to Kew and Old Deer
Park being about nineteen miles as the crow flies. Not, however, as the
London crow flies when travelling up and down river between these two
points, as his custom is: following the Thames in its windings, his
journey each way would not be a less distance than twenty-seven to
twenty-eight miles. At the eastern end of South London we find that the
open spaces, from Bostell to Greenwich, lie near the river; that from
Greenwich the line of open spaces diverges wide from the river, and,
skirting the densely populated districts, extends southwards through a
hilly country to Brockwell and Sydenham. On the west side, or the other
half of South London (the South-west district), the open spaces are,
roughly speaking, ranged in a similar way; but they are more numerous,
larger, and extend for a much greater distance along the river--in fact,
from Richmond and Kew to Battersea Park. There the line ends, the other
open spaces being scattered about at a considerable distance from the
river. Thus we have, between the river on one side and the retreating
frontier line of open spaces on the other, a large densely-populated
district, containing few and small breathing-spaces, but not quite so
badly off in this respect as the most crowded portion of East London.

The Post-Office line dividing the Southern districts cuts through this
populous part of South London, and has a hilly country on the left side
of the line and a comparatively flat country on the right or west side.
The west side is the district of large commons; on the east side the
open spaces are not so many nor, as a rule, so large, but in many ways
they are more interesting.

All that follows in this chapter will relate to the open spaces on the
east side of the line.

       *     *     *     *     *

The most densely populated portion of South-east London lies between
Greenwich and Kennington Oval, a distance of about four miles and a
half. This crowded part contains about twelve square miles of streets
and houses, and there are in it three open spaces called 'parks,'
but quite insignificant in size considering the needs of so vast a
population. These three spaces are Deptford Park, a small space of 17
acres opened in 1897, Southwark Park, Kennington Park, and Myatt's
Fields; the last a small open space of fourteen acres, a gift of Mr.
William Minet to the public; formerly the property of one Myatt, a
fruit-grower, and the first to introduce and cultivate the now familiar
rhubarb in this country.

Southwark Park (63 acres) is the only comparatively large breathing-place
easily accessible to the working-class population inhabiting Deptford,
Rotherhithe, and Bermondsey.

How great the craving for a breath of fresh air and the sight of green
grass must be in such a district, when we find that this comparatively
small space has been visited on one day by upwards of 100,000 persons!
An almost incredible number when we consider that less than half the
space contained in the park is available for the people to walk on,
the rest being taken up by ornamental water, gardens, shrubberies,
enclosures for cricket, &c. The ground itself is badly shaped, being a
long narrow strip, with conspicuous houses on either hand, which wall
and shut you in and make the refreshing illusions of openness and
distance impossible. Even with a space of fifty or sixty acres, if it be
of a proper shape, and the surrounding houses not too high to be hidden
by trees, this effect of country-like openness and distance, which gives
to a London park its greatest charm and value, can be secured. Again,
this being a crowded industrial district full of 'works,' the atmosphere
is laden with smoke, and everything that meets the eye, even the leaves
and grass, is begrimed with soot. Yet in spite of all these drawbacks
Southwark Park is attractive; you admire it as you would a very dirty
child with a pretty face. The trees and shrubs have grown well, and
there is a lake and island, and ornamental water-fowl. The wild bird
life is composed of a multitude of sparrows and a very few blackbirds
and thrushes. It is interesting and useful to know that these two
species did not settle here themselves, but were introduced by a former
superintendent, and have continued to breed for some years.

Kennington Park (19 acres) is less than a third the size of Southwark
Park; but though so small and far from other breathing-spaces, in the
midst of a populous district, it has a far fresher and prettier aspect
than the other. It resembles Highbury Fields more than any other open
space, but is better laid out and planted than the miniature North
London park. Indeed, Kennington Park is a surprise when first seen, as
it actually has larger and better-grown shrubberies than several of the
big parks. The shrubberies extend well all around the grounds, and have
an exceptionally fine appearance on account of the abundance of holly,
the most beautiful of our evergreens. With such a vegetation it is not
surprising to find that this small green spot can show a goodly number
of songsters. The blackbird, thrush, hedge-sparrow, and robin are here;
but it is hard for these birds to rear their broods, in the case of the
robin impossible I should say, on account of the Kennington cats. Here,
as in the neighbourhood of the other open spaces in London, the evening
cry of 'All out!' is to them an invitation to come in.

Two things are needed to make Kennington Park everything that so small a
space might and should be: one is the effectual exclusion of the cats,
which at present keep down the best songsters; the other, a small pond
or two planted with rushes to attract the moorhens, and perhaps other
species. It may be added that the cost of making and maintaining a
small pond is less than that of the gardens that are now being made at
Kennington Park, and that the spectacle of a couple of moorhens occupied
with their domestic affairs in their little rushy house is infinitely
more interesting than a bed of flowers to those who seek refreshment in
our open spaces.

       *     *     *     *     *

From these small spots of verdure in the densely-populated portion of
South-east London we must now pass to the larger open spaces in the
outer more rural parts of that extensive district. The more convenient
plan will be to describe those in the east part first--Greenwich,
Blackheath, and eastwards to Bostell Woods and Heath; then, leaving
the river, to go the round of the outer open spaces that lie west of

Greenwich Park and Blackheath together contain 452 acres; but although
side by side, with only a wall and gate to divide them, they are utterly
unlike in character, the so-called heath being nothing but a large green
space used as a recreation ground, where birds settle to feed but do
not live. Greenwich Park contains 185 acres, inclusive of the enclosed
grounds attached to the ranger's lodge, which are now open to the
public. But though not more than half the area of Hyde Park, it really
strikes one as being very large on account of the hilly broken surface
in parts and the large amount of old timber. This park has a curiously
aged and somewhat stately appearance, and so long as the back is kept
turned on the exceedingly dirty and ugly-looking refreshment building
which disgraces it, one cannot fail to be impressed. At the same time
I find that this really fine park, which I have known for many years,
invariably has a somewhat depressing effect on me. It may be that the
historical associations of Greenwich, from the effects of which even
those who concern themselves little with the past cannot wholly escape,
are partly the cause of the feeling. Its memories are of things
dreadful, and magnificent, and some almost ludicrous, but they are all
in some degree hateful. After all, perhaps the thoughts of a royal
wife-killing ruffian and tyrant, a dying boy king, and a fantastic
virgin queen, affect me less than the sight of the old lopped trees.
For there are not in all England such melancholy-looking trees as those
of Greenwich. You cannot get away from the sight of their sad mutilated
condition; and when you walk on and on, this way and that, looking from
tree to tree, to find them all lopped off at the same height from the
ground, you cannot help being depressed. You are told that they were
thus mutilated some twenty to twenty-five years ago to save them from
further decay! What should we say of the head physician of some big
hospital who should one day issue an order that all patients, indoor and
outdoor, should be subjected to the same treatment--that they should be
bled and salivated with mercury in the good old way, men, women, and
children, whatever their ailments might be? His science would be about
on a par with that of the authors of this hideous disfigurement of all
the trees in a large park--old and young, decayed and sound, Spanish
chestnut, oak, elm, beech, horse-chestnut, every one lopped at the same
height from the ground! We have seen in a former chapter what the effect
of this measure was on the nobler bird life of the park.

Of all the crows that formerly inhabited Greenwich, a solitary pair of
jackdaws bred until recently in a hollow tree in the 'Wilderness,' but
have lately disappeared. The owls, too, which were seen from time to
time down to within about two years ago, appear to have left. The lesser
spotted woodpecker and tree-creeper are sometimes seen; nuthatches
are not uncommon; starlings are very numerous; robins, hedge-sparrows,
greenfinches, chaffinches, thrushes, and blackbirds are common. In
summer several migrants add variety to the bird life, and fieldfares may
always be seen in winter. In the gardens and private grounds of Lee,
Lewisham, and other neighbouring parishes small birds are more numerous
than in the park.

       *     *     *     *     *

London (streets and houses) extends along or near the river about
five miles beyond Greenwich Park. Woolwich and Plumstead now form one
continuous populous district, still extending rows of new houses in all
available directions, and promising in time to become a new and not
very much better Deptford. Plumstead, being mostly new, reminds one
of a meaner West Kensington, with its rows on rows of small houses,
gardenless, all exactly alike, as if made in one mould, and coloured red
and yellow to suit the tenants' fancy. But at Plumstead, unlovely and
ignoble as it is in appearance, one has the pleasant thought that at
last here, on this side, one is at the very end of London, that the
country beyond and on either side is, albeit populous, purely rural. On
the left hand is the river; on the right of Plumstead is Shooter's Hill,
with green fields, hedges, woods, and preserves, and here some fine
views of the surrounding country may be obtained. Better still, just
beyond Plumstead is the hill which the builder can never spoil, for here
are Bostell Woods and Heath, the last of London's open spaces in this

The hill is cut through by a deep road; on one side are the woods,
composed of tall fir-trees on the broad level top of the hill, and oak,
mixed in places with birch and holly, on the slopes; on the other side
of the road is the Heath, rough with gorse, bramble, ling, and bracken,
and some pretty patches of birch wood. From this open part there are
noble views of the Kent and Essex marshes, the river with its steely
bright sinuous band dividing the counties.


Woods and heath together have an area of 132 acres; but owing to the
large horizon, the broken surface, and the wild and varied character of
the woodland scenery, the space seems practically unlimited: the sense
of freedom, which gives Hampstead Heath its principal charm and tonic
value, may be here experienced in even a greater degree than at that
favourite resort. To the dwellers in the north, west, and south-west of
London this wild spot is little known. From Paddington or Victoria you
can journey to the end of Surrey and to Hampshire more quickly and
with greater comfort than to Bostell Woods. To the very large and
increasing working population of Woolwich and Plumstead this space
is of incalculable value, and they delight in it. But this is a busy
people, and on most working days, especially in the late autumn, winter,
and early spring months, the visitor will often find himself out of
sight and sound of human beings; nor could the lover of nature and of
contemplation wish for a better place in which to roam about. Small
woodland birds are in great variety. Quietly moving about or seated
under the trees, you hear the delicate songs and various airy lisping
and tinkling sounds of tits of several species, of wren, tree-creeper,
goldcrest, nuthatch, lesser spotted woodpecker, robin, greenfinch and
chaffinch, and in winter the siskin and redpole. Listening to this
fairy-like musical prattle, or attending to your own thoughts, there is
but one thing, one sound, to break the illusion of remoteness from the
toiling crowded world of London--the report at intervals of a big
gun from the Arsenal, three miles away. Too far for the jarring and
shrieking sounds of machinery and the noisy toil of some sixteen to
eighteen thousand men perpetually engaged in the manufacture of arms to
reach the woods; but the dull, thunderous roar of the big gun travels
over wide leagues of country; and the hermit, startled out of his
meditations, is apt to wish with the poet that the old god of war
himself was dead, and rotting on his iron hills; or else that he would
make his hostile preparations with less noise.

At the end of day, windless after wind, or with a clear sky after rain,
when the guns have ceased to boom, the woods are at their best. Then the
birds are most vocal, their voices purer, more spiritual, than at other
times. Then the level sun, that flatters all things, fills the dim
interior with a mystic light, a strange glory; and the oaks, green with
moss, are pillars of emerald, and the tall red-barked fir-trees are
pillars of fire.

Some reader, remembering the exceeding foulness of London itself, and
the polluting cloud which it casts wide over the country, to this side
or that according as the wind blows, may imagine that no place in touch
with the East-end of the metropolis can be quite so fresh as I have
painted Bostell. But Nature's self-purifying power is very great. Those
who are well acquainted with outer London, within a radius of, say, ten
miles of Charing Cross, must know spots as fresh and unsullied as you
would find in the remote Quantocks; secluded bits of woodland where you
can spend hours out of sight and sound of human life, forgetting London
and the things that concern London, or by means of the mind's magic
changing them into something in harmony with your own mood and wholly
your own:

    Annihilating all that's made
    To a green thought in a green shade.

Bostell Woods is a favourite haunt of birds'-nesting boys and youths in
summer, and as it is quite impossible to keep an eye on their doings,
very few of the larger and rarer species are able to breed there; but in
the adjoining wooded grounds, belonging to Christ's Hospital, the jay,
magpie, white owl and brown owl still breed, and the nightingale is
common in summer.

       *     *     *     *     *

Not far from Bostell we have the Plumstead and Woolwich Commons, together
an area of about 450 acres; but as these spaces are used solely as
recreation grounds, and are not attractive to birds, it is not necessary
to describe them. West and south-west of Greenwich, in that rural
portion of the South-east district through which our way now lies, the
first open space we come to is the Hilly Fields (45 acres) at Brockley;
a green hill with fine views from the summit, but not a habitation
of birds. A little farther on, with Nunhead Cemetery between, lies
Peckham Rye and Peckham Rye Park (113 acres). The Rye, or common, is a
wedge-shaped piece of ground used for recreation, and consequently not a
place where birds are found. From the narrow end of the ground a very
attractive prospect lies before the sight: the green wide space of the
Rye is seen to be bounded by a wood (the park), and beyond the wood are
green hills--Furze Hill, and One Tree, or Oak of Honor, Hill. The effect
of distance is produced by the trees and hills, and the scene is, for
this part of London, strikingly rural. The park at the broad extremity
of the Rye, I have said, has the appearance of a wood; and it is or was
a wood, or the well-preserved fragment of one, as perfect a transcript
of wild nature as could be found within four miles of Charing Cross.
This park was acquired for the public in 1891, and as the wildest
and best portion was enclosed with an iron fence to keep the public
out, some of us cherished the hope that the County Council meant to
preserve it in the exact condition in which they received it. There the
self-planted and never mutilated trees flourished in beautiful disorder,
their lower boughs mingling with the spreading luxuriant brambles; and
tree, bramble, and ivy were one with the wild grasses and woodland
blossoms among them. If, as tradition tells, King John hunted the wild
stag at Peckham, he could not have seen a fresher, lovelier bit of
nature than this. But, alas! the gardeners, who had all the rest of the
grounds to prettify and vulgarise and work their will on, could not keep
their hands off this precious spot; for some time past they have been
cutting away the wild growths, and digging and planting, until they have
well nigh spoiled it.

There is no doubt that a vast majority of the inhabitants of London,
whose only glimpses of nature can be had in the public parks, prefer
that that nature should be as little spoiled as possible; that there
should be something of wildness in it, of Nature's own negligence. It is
infinitely more to them than that excessive smoothness and artificiality
of which we see so much. To exhibit flower-beds to those who crave for
nature is like placing a dish of Turkish Delight before a hungry man:
a bramble-bush, a bunch of nettles, would suit him better. And this
universal feeling and perpetual want of the Londoner should be more
considered by those who have charge of our open spaces.

Small birds are abundant in Peckham Park, but there is no large species
except the now almost universal wood-pigeon. A few rooks, in 1895, and
again in 1896, tried to establish a rookery here, but have now gone
away. The resident songsters are the thrush, blackbird, robin, dunnock,
wren, tits, chaffinch, greenfinch, and starling. Among the blackbirds
there are, at the time of writing this chapter, two white individuals.

Close to Peckham Rye and Park there are two large cemeteries--Nunhead on
one side and Camberwell Cemetery on the other. Both are on high ground;
the first (40 acres) is an extremely pretty spot, and has the finest
trees to be seen in any metropolitan burying-ground. From the highest
part of the ground an extensive and charming view may be had of the
comparatively rural district on the south side. Small birds, especially
in the winter months, are numerous in this cemetery, and it is pretty to
see the starlings in flocks, chaffinches, robins, and other small birds
sitting on the gravestones.

Camberwell Cemetery is smaller and newer, and has but few trees, but
is on even higher ground, as it occupies a slope of the hill above the
park. If there is any metropolitan burying-ground where dead Londoners
find a post-mortem existence tolerable, it must, I imagine, be on this
spot; since by perching or sitting on their own tombstones they may
enjoy a wide view of South-east London--a pleasant prospect of mixed
town and country, of houses and trees, and tall church spires, and green
slopes of distant hills.

It is to be hoped that when this horrible business of burying our dead
in London is brought to an end, Nunhead and Camberwell Cemeteries will
be made one large open space with Peckham Rye and Park.

A mile from the Rye is Dulwich Park (72 acres); it is laid out more as a
garden than a park, and may be said to be one of the prettiest and least
interesting of the metropolitan open spaces. I mean 'prettiest' in the
sense in which gardeners and women use the word. It lies in the midst of
one of the most rural portions of South-east London, having on all sides
large private gardens, park-like grounds, and woods. The bird life in
this part is abundant, including in summer the blackcap, garden-warbler,
willow-wren, wood-wren, redstart, pied wagtail, tree pipit, and cuckoo.
The large birds commonly seen are the rook, carrion crow, daw, and
wood-pigeon. The park itself, being so much more artificial than the
adjacent grounds, has comparatively few birds.

       *     *     *     *     *

A mile west of Dulwich Park, touching the line dividing the South-east
and South-west districts, is Brockwell Park (78 acres). Like Clissold
and Ravenscourt, this is one of the old private parks of London, with a
manor house in it, now used as a refreshment house. It is very open,
a beautiful green hill, from which there are extensive and some very
charming views. Knight's Hill, not yet built upon, is close by. The
elm-trees scattered all about the park are large and well grown, and
have a healthy look. On one part of the ground is a walled-round
delightful old garden--half orchard--the only garden containing
fruit-trees, roses, and old-fashioned herbs and flowers in any open
space in London. Another great attraction is--I fear we shall before
long have to say _was_--the rookery. Six years ago it was the most
populous rookery in or near London, and extended over the entire park,
there being few or no large trees without nests; but when the park was
opened to the public, in 1891, the birds went away, all excepting those
that occupied nests on the large trees at the main gate, which is within
a few yards of Herne Hill station. They were evidently so used to the
noise of the trains and traffic, and to the sight of people in the
thoroughfare on which they looked down, that the opening of the park
did not disturb them. Nevertheless this remnant of the old rookery
is becoming less populous each year. In the summer of 1896 I counted
thirty-five occupied nests; in 1897 there were only twenty nests. Just
now--February 1898--eight or ten pairs of birds are engaged in repairing
the old nests.


It is very pleasant to find that here, at all events, very little (I
cannot say nothing) has so far been done to spoil the natural character
and charm of this park--one of the finest of London's open spaces.



  Introductory remarks--Comparative large extent of public ground in
    South-west London--Battersea Park--Character and popularity--Bird
    life--Clapham Common: its present and past character--Wandsworth
    Common--The yellowhammer--Tooting Common--Tooting Bec--Questionable
    improvements--A passion for swans--Tooting Graveney--Streatham
    Common--Bird life--Magpies--Rookery--Bishop's Park,
    Fulham--A suggestion--Barn Elms Park--Barnes Common--A
    burial-ground--Birds--Putney Heath, Lower Putney Common, and
    Wimbledon Common--Description--Bird life--Rookeries--The
    badger--Richmond Park--Its vast extent and character--Bird
    life--Daws--Herons--The charm of large soaring birds--Kew
    Gardens--List of birds--Unfavourable changes--The Queen's private

In the foregoing chapters the arbitrary lines dividing the London postal
districts have not been always strictly kept to. Thus, the Green Park
and St. James's Park, which are in the South-west, were included in the
West district, simply because the central parks, with Holland Park,
form one group, or rather one chain of open spaces. In treating of the
South-west district it will again be found convenient to disregard the
line at some points, since, besides excluding the two parks just
named, I propose to include Kew Gardens, Richmond Park, and Wimbledon
Common--large spaces which lie for the most part outside of the
Post-Office boundary. These spaces do nevertheless form an integral part
of London as it has been defined for the purposes of this book: they
belong to the South-west district in the same way that Hampstead Heath
does to the North-west, Hackney Marsh and Wanstead Old Park to the East,
Plumstead and Bostell to the South-east. All these open spaces _touch_
London, although they are not entirely cut off from the country. Again,
for the same reason which made me exclude Epping Forest, Ham Common,
&c., from the East district, I now exclude Hampton Court Park and Bushey
Park from the South-west. It might be said that Richmond Park is not
less rural than Bushey Park, or even than Epping Forest; that with
regard to their wild bird life all these big open spaces on the
borders of London are in the same category; but the line must be drawn
somewhere, and having made my rule I must keep to it. Doubtless before
many years the tide of buildings will have completely encircled and
flowed beyond the outermost open spaces described in this and the
preceding chapters.

Within these limits we find that the South-west district, besides being
the least densely populated portion of London, is immeasurably better
off in open spaces than any other. There is, in fact, no comparison. The
following is a very rough statement of the amount of space open to the
public in each of the big districts, omitting the cemeteries, and all
gardens, squares, greens, recreation grounds, and all other open spaces
of less than ten acres in size. West London, _including_ Green Park and
St. James's Park, has about 1,500 acres. North London (North-west and
North districts), which has two very large spaces in Regent's Park and
Hampstead Heath, has about 1,300 acres. East London, excluding Epping
Forest, Wanstead Flats, and Ham Common, has less than 1,000 acres.
South-east London, 1,500 to 1,600 acres. South-west London has about
7,500 acres, or 2,200 acres more than all the other districts together.
This does not include Old Deer Park, which is not open to the public.
If we include Green, St. James's, Bushey, and Hampton Court Parks, the
South-west district would then have about 8,650 acres in large open
spaces. All the rest of London, with the whole vast space of Epping
Forest thrown in, would have 7,500, or 1,150 acres less than the
South-west district.

       *     *     *     *     *

The large open spaces of South-west London, although more scattered
about than is the case in other metropolitan districts, do nevertheless
form more or less well-defined groups. Battersea Park is an exception:
it is the only open space in this district which has, so to speak, been
entirely remade, the digging and planting, which have been so vigorously
going on for several years past, having quite obliterated its original
character. Coming to speak of the open spaces in detail, I propose first
to describe this made park; to go next to the large commons south of
Battersea--Clapham, Wandsworth, Tooting, and Streatham; then, returning
to the river-side, to describe Bishop's Park, Fulham, and its near
neighbour, Barnes Common; and, finally, to go on to the large spaces at
Kew, Putney, Wimbledon, and Richmond.

       *     *     *     *     *

Battersea Park (198 acres), formerly a marsh, has within the last few
years been transformed into the most popular open-air resort in the
metropolis. The attempt to please everybody usually ends in pleasing
nobody; at Battersea the dangerous experiment has been tried with
success; for no person would be so unreasonable as to look for that
peculiar charm of wildness, which still lingers in Bostell Heath and
Wimbledon Common, in a garden planted in a marsh close to the heart of
London. The ground has certainly been made the most of: the flat surface
has been thrown into mounds, dells, and other inequalities; there are
gardens and rockeries, large well-grown trees of many kinds, magnificent
shrubberies, and, best of all, a pretty winding lake, with an area
of about 16 acres, and large well-wooded islands on it. Besides the
attraction which the beautiful grounds, the variety of plants and of
ornamental water-fowl and other animals have for people generally,
crowds are drawn to this spot by the facilities afforded for recreations
of various kinds--boating, cycling, cricket, tennis, &c. This popularity
of Battersea is interesting to us incidentally when considering its wild
bird life, for it might be supposed that the number of people and the
incessant noise would drive away the shyer species, and that the birds
would be few. This is not the case: the wild bird life is actually far
more abundant and varied than in any other inner London park. Mere
numbers and noise of people appear to have little effect on birds so
long as they are protected.

Battersea Park has a good position to attract birds passing through or
wandering about London, as these are apt to follow the river; and it
also has the advantage of being near the central parks, which, as we
have seen, serve as a kind of highway by which birds come into London
from the west side. In the park itself the lake and wooded islands, and
extensive shrubberies with dense masses of evergreen, tempt them to
build. But it must also be said, in justice, that the superintendent
of this park fully appreciates the value of the birds, and takes every
pains to encourage and protect them. A few years ago, when he came to
Battersea, there were about a dozen blackbirds; now as many as forty
have been counted feeding in the early morning on one lawn; and in
spring and summer, at about four o'clock every morning, there is such a
concert of thrushes and blackbirds, with many other bright voices, as
would be hard to match in any purely rural district. It is interesting
to know that the wren, which is dying out in other London parks, has
steadily increased at Battersea, and is now quite common. Robins and
hedge-sparrows are also more numerous than in our other open spaces. A
number of migrants are attracted to this spot every summer; of these the
pied wagtail, lesser whitethroat, reed-warbler, and cuckoo bred last
season. The larger birds are the wood-pigeon, moorhen, dabchick, and to
these the carrion crow may now be added as a breeding species.

       *     *     *     *     *

Clapham Common (220 acres) is the nearest to central London of that
large, loose group of commons distinctive of the South-west district,
its distance from Battersea being a little over a mile, and from Charing
Cross about three miles and a half. Like Hackney Downs, it is a grassy
space, but flatter, and having the appearance of a piece of ground not
yet built upon it may be described as the least interesting open space
in the metropolis. To the smoke and dust breathing, close-crowded
inhabitants of Bethnal Green, which is not green nor of any other
colour found in nature, this expanse of grass, if they had it within
reach, would be an unspeakable boon, and seem to their weary eyes like
a field in paradise. But Clapham is not over-crowded; it is a place of
gardens full of fluttering leaves, and the exceeding monotony of its
open space, set round with conspicuous houses, must cause those who live
near it to sigh at the thought of its old vanished aspect when the small
boy Thomas Babington Macaulay roamed over its broken surface, among its
delightful poplar groves and furze and bramble bushes, or hid himself in
its grass-grown gravel-pits, the world forgetting, by his nurse forgot.
These grateful inequalities and roughnesses have been smoothed over,
and the ancient vegetation swept away like dead autumn leaves from
the velvet lawns and gravel walks of a trim suburban villa. When this
change was effected I do not know: probably a good while back. To the
Claphamites of the past the furze must have seemed an unregenerate bush,
and the bramble something worse, since its recurved thorns would remind
them of an exceedingly objectionable person's finger-nails. As for the
yellowhammer, that too gaily apparelled idle singer, who painted his
eggs with so strange a paint, it must indeed have been a relief to get
rid of him.

At present Clapham Common is no place for birds.

       *     *     *     *     *

Wandsworth Common (183 acres) is a very long strip of ground,
unfortunately very narrow, with long monotonous rows of red brick
houses, hideous in their uniformity, at its sides. Here there is no
attempt at disguise, no illusion of distance, no effect of openness
left: the cheap speculative builder has been permitted to spoil it all.
A railway line which cuts very nearly through the whole length of the
common still further detracts from its value as a breathing-space. The
broadest part of the ground at its western extremity has a good deal of
furze growing on it, and here the common joins an extensive piece of
ground, park-like in character, on which stands an extremely picturesque
old red brick house. When this green space is built upon Wandsworth will
lose the little that remains of its ancient beauty and freshness.

Among the small birds still to be found here is the yellowhammer, and
it strikes one as very curious to hear his song in such a place. Why
does he stay? Is he tempted by the little bit of bread and no cheese
which satisfies his modest wants--the small fragments dropped by the
numberless children that play among the bushes after school hours? The
yellowhammer does not colonise with us; he goes and returns not, and
this is now the last spot in the metropolis within four miles and a half
of Charing Cross where he may still be found. He was cradled on the
common, and does not know that there are places on the earth where the
furze-bushes are unblackened by smoke, where at intervals of a few
minutes the earth is not shaken by trains that rush thundering and
shrieking, as if demented, into or out of Clapham Junction.

I fear the yellowhammer will not long remain in such a pandemonium. The
people of Wandsworth are hardly deserving of such a bird.

       *     *     *     *     *

Tooting Common is the general name for two commons--Tooting Bec and
Tooting Graveney, 144 and 66 acres respectively. A public road divides
them, but they form really one area. Tooting Bec has a fair amount of
gorse and bramble bushes scattered about, and a good many old trees,
mostly oak. The number of old trees gives this space something of a
park-like appearance, but it is not exhilarating; on the contrary,
its effect on the mind is rather depressing, on account of the perfect
flatness of the ground and the sadly decayed and smoke-blackened
condition of the trees. An 'improvement' of the late Metropolitan Board
of Works was the planting of a very long and very straight avenue of
fast-growing black poplars, and this belt of weed-like ungraceful trees,
out of keeping with everything, has made Tooting Bec positively ugly.

Another improvement has been introduced by the County Council; this is
the usual small pond and the usual couple of big swans. The rage for
putting these huge birds in numberless small ponds and miniature lakes
can only proceed from a singular want of imagination on the part of the
park gardeners and park decorators employed by the Council; or we might
suppose that the Council have purchased a big job lot of swans, which
they are anxious to distribute about London. These dreary little ponds
might easily be made exceedingly interesting, if planted round with
willows and rushes and stocked with a few of the smaller pretty
ornamental water-fowl in place of their present big unsuitable

Tooting Graveney has a fresher, wilder aspect, and is a pleasanter place
than its sister common. Its surroundings, too, are far more rural, as
it has for neighbours Streatham Park and the wide green spaces of Furze
Down and Totterdown Fields. Tooting Graveney itself is in the condition
of the old Clapham Common as Macaulay knew it in his boyhood. Its surface
is rough with grass-grown mounds, old gravel-pits, and excavations, and
it is grown over with bushes of furze, bramble, and brier, and with
scattered birch-trees and old dwarf hawthorns, looking very pretty. Wild
birds are numerous, although probably few are able to rear any young
on the common. The missel-thrush, now very rare in London, breeds in
private grounds close by.

       *     *     *     *     *

Streatham Common (66 acres) is the least as well as the outermost of the
group of large commons; it is but half the size of Clapham Common. But
though so much smaller than the others, it is the most interesting,
owing to the hilly nature of the ground and to the fine prospect to be
had of the country beyond. It forms a rather long strip, and from the
highest part at the upper end the vision ranges over the beautifully
wooded and hilly Surrey country to and beyond Epsom. This upper end of
the common is extremely pretty, overgrown with furze and bramble bushes,
and pleasantly shaded with trees at one side. Birds when breeding
cannot be protected on the common; the wild bird life is nevertheless
abundant and varied, on account of the large private grounds adjoining.
It is pleasant to sit here on a spring or summer day and watch the jays
that come to the trees overhead; like other London jays and the London
fieldfares, they are strangely tame compared with these birds in the
country. Out in the sunshine the skylark mounts up singing; and here,
too, may be heard the nightingale. He does not merely make a short stay
on his arrival in spring, as at some other spots in the suburbs, but
remains to breed. Yet here we are only six and a half miles from Charing
Cross. It is still more surprising to find the magpie at Streatham,
in the wooded grounds which join the common. Rooks are numerous at
Streatham, and their rookery close to Streatham Common station is a
singularly interesting one. It is on an avenue of tall elms which
formerly stood on open grass-land. A few years ago this land was built
over, rows of houses being erected on each side of and parallel with the
avenue, which now stands in the back gardens or yards, with the back
windows of the houses looking on it. But in spite of all these changes,
and the large human population gathered round them, the birds have
stuck to their rookery; and last summer (1897) there were about thirty
inhabited nests.


       *     *     *     *     *

From Streatham we go back to the river, to a point about a mile and
a half west of Wandsworth Common, to Fulham Palace grounds on the
Middlesex side, and the open spaces at Barnes on the Surrey side.

Bishop's Park, Fulham, of which about 12 acres are free to the public,
is one of London's rare beauty-spots. A considerable portion of the
palace grounds is within the moat, and the moat, the noble old trees,
and wide green spaces, form an appropriate setting to the ancient
stately Bishop's Palace. The lamentable mistake has been made of placing
this open space in the control of the Fulham Vestry; and, as might
have been expected, they have been improving it in accordance with the
æsthetic ideas of the ordinary suburban tradesman, by cutting down the
old trees, planting rows of evergreens to hide the beautiful inner
grounds from view, and by erecting cast-iron painted fountains, shelters,
and other architectural freaks of a similar character. That the
inhabitants of Fulham can see unmoved this vulgarisation of so noble
and beautiful a remnant of the past--the spot in London which recalls
the moated Bishop's Palace at Wells--is really astonishing.

To the bird-lover as well as to the student of history this is a place
of memories, for here in the time of Henry VIII. spoonbills and herons
built their nests on the old trees in the bishop's grounds. At the
present time there are some sweet songsters--thrush, blackbird, robin,
dunnock, wren, chaffinch, and a few summer visitants. Here, too, we find
the wood-pigeon, but not the 'ecclesiastical daw' or other distinguished
species, and, strange to say, no moat-hen in the large old moat. How
much more interesting this water would be, with its grass-grown banks
and ancient shade-giving trees, if it had a few feathered inhabitants!
Simply by lowering the banks at a few points and planting some reeds
and rushes, it would quickly attract those two very common and always
interesting London species, the moorhen and the little grebe. The
sedge-warbler, too, would perhaps come in time.

I have been informed that London Bishops care for none of these things.

Looking across the river from Fulham Palace grounds, an extensive
well-wooded space is seen on the south bank; this is Barn Elms Park, now
occupied by the Ranelagh Sporting Club. It is one of the best private
parks in London, with fine old elm-trees and a lake, and would be a
paradise of wild birds but for the shooting which goes on there and
scares them away.

Close to Barn Elms is Barnes Common (100 acres), a pleasant open heath,
not all flat, grown with heather, and dotted with furze and bramble
bushes and a few trees. One of its attractions is Beverley Brook, which
rises near Malden, about eight miles away, and flows by Coombe Woods,
Wimbledon, through Richmond Park, and, finally, by Barnes Common to the
Thames: the brook and a very pretty green meadow separate the common
from Barn Elms Park.

The London and South-Western Railway Company have been allowed to
appropriate a portion of this open space; but that indeed seems a very
small matter when we find that the parishes of Barnes and Putney have
established two cemeteries on the common, using a good many of its
scanty 100 acres for the purpose. What would be said if the Government
were to allow two cemeteries for the accommodation of the parishes
of Kensington and Paddington to be made in the middle of Kensington
Gardens? I fail to see that it is less an outrage to have turned a
portion of Barnes Common into hideous walled round Golgothas, with
mortuary chapels, the ground studded with grave-stones and filled with
putrefying corpses. It is devoutly to be hoped that before very long the
people of London will make the discovery that it rests with themselves
whether their house shall be put in order or not; and when that time
comes that these horrible forests of grave-stones and monuments to
the dead will be brushed away, and that such bodies as the Barnes
Conservators and the Fulham Vestry will for ever be deprived of the
powers they so lamentably misuse.

It would be difficult for any bird, big or little, to rear its young on
a space so unprotected as this common; many birds, however, come to
it, attracted by its open heath-like character. Here the skylark and
yellowhammer may be heard, as well as the common resident songsters
found in other open spaces. The carrion crow is a constant visitor, and
very tame, knowing that he is safe. Beverley Brook has no aquatic birds
in it, but it would be easy to make a small rushy sanctuary in the
marshy borders, protected from mischievous persons, for the moorhen,
sedge-warbler, and other species. I have seen a small boy with an
earthworm at the end of a piece of thread pull out thirty to forty
minnows in as many minutes. Little grebes and kingfishers would not
want for food in such a place.

       *     *     *     *     *

South and west of Barnes Common, London, as we progress, becomes
increasingly rural, with large private park-like grounds, until we
arrive at the open spaces of Putney Heath, Lower Putney Common, and
Wimbledon Common, which together form an area of 1,412 acres, or nearly
three times as large as Hampstead Heath. It seems only appropriate that
the most rural portion of the most rural district in London should
have so large an open space, and that in character this space should
be wilder and more refreshing to the spirit than any other in the
metropolis. It has the further advantage (from the point of view of the
residents) of not being too easy of access to the mass of the people.
This makes it 'select,' a semi-private recreation ground for the
residents, and a 'Happy Hampstead' to a limited number of cockneys of a
superior kind. Here the fascinating game of golf, excluded from other
public spaces, may be practised; and the golfer, arrayed like the poppies
of the cornfield and visible at a vast distance, strolls leisurely about
as his manner is, or stands motionless to watch the far flight of his
small ball, which will kill no one and hit no one, since strangers
moving about on the grounds are actually fewer than would be seen on
the links at Hayling, or even Minehead.

It is a solitary place, and its solitariness is its principal charm. A
wide open heath, with some pretty patches of birch wood, stretches of
brown heather, dotted in places with furze-bushes like little black
islands; but on that part which is called Putney Heath furze and bramble
and brier grow thick and luxuriant. One may look far in some directions
and see no houses nor other sign of human occupancy to spoil the effect
of seclusion and wildness. Over all is the vast void sky and the
rapturous music of the skylark.

At Wimbledon one has the idea of being at a considerable elevation; the
highest point is really only 300 feet above the sea level, but it is set
in a deep depression, and from some points the sight may range as far as
the hills about Guildford and Godalming. There are persons of sensitive
olfactories who affirm that when the wind blows from the south coast
they can smell the sea-salt in it.

[Illustration: WIMBLEDON COMMON]

But Wimbledon is not all open heath and common; it has also an extensive
wood, delightfully wild, the only large birch wood near the metropolis.
The missel-thrush, nuthatch, and tree-creeper breed here, and the jay
is common and tame; I have seen as many as six together. In this wood a
finer concert of nightingales may be heard in summer than at any other
place near London. In winter fieldfares and pewits are often seen.
Carrion crows from Coombe Woods and other breeding-places in the
neighbourhood are constantly seen on the common in pairs and small
parties, and are strangely familiar. Rooks, too, are extremely abundant.
Richmond Park is their roosting-place in winter, and there are numerous
rookeries, large and small, in the neighbourhood--at Sheen Gate, at
various points along the Kingston road, at Norbiton and Kingston, on
the estate of the late Madame Lyne Stevens, at Coombe Woods, and at
Wimbledon itself, in some large elms growing at the side of the High
Street on Sir Henry Peek's property. Concerning this rookery there is
an interesting fact to relate. About six years ago the experiment of
shooting the young rooks was tried, with the very best intentions, the
rookery being greatly prized. But these rooks were not accustomed to be
thinned down (for their own good) every summer, and they forsook the
trees. Everything was then done to entice them back; artificial nests
were constantly kept on the tree-tops, and in winter food in abundance
was placed for the birds; but though they came readily enough to regale
on bread and scraps they refused to settle until last spring (1897),
when they returned in a body and rebuilt the rookery.

This book is mainly about birds, but I cannot help mentioning the fact
that in the wood at Wimbledon that rare and interesting mammal, the
badger, found at only one other spot on the borders of London, is
permitted to spend his hermit life in peace.

    Here, in solitude and shade,
    Shambling, shuffling plantigrade,
    Be thy courses undismayed.

It may seem almost absurd in writing of a London wild animal to quote
from Bret Harte's ode to the great grizzly in the Western wilderness!
Nevertheless Wimbledon may be proud to possess even the poor little
quaint timid badger--cousin, a million times removed, to the mighty
bear, the truculent coward, as the poet says, with tiger claws on baby
feet, who has a giant's strength and is satisfied to prey on wasps'

Recently, on one of the largest estates in England, in a part of the
country where the badger is now all but extinct, it was reported at the
big house that a pair of these animals had established themselves in the
forest, which, it may be mentioned, is very large--about eighteen miles
round. A grand campaign was at once organised, and a large number of men
and boys, armed with guns, spades, hatchets, pitchforks, and bludgeons,
and followed by many dogs, went out to the attack. Arrived at the den,
at the roots of a giant beech-tree, they set to work to dig the animals
out. It was a huge task, but there were many to help, and in the end the
badgers were found, old and young together, and killed.

Let us imagine that when this business was proceeding with tremendous
excitement and noise of shouting men and barking dogs, some person
buried at that spot in old Palæolithic times had been raised up to view
the spectacle; that it had been explained to him that these hunters were
his own remote descendants; that one of them was a mighty nobleman, a
kind of chief or king, whose possessions extended on every side as far
as the eye could see; that the others were his followers who served and
obeyed him; and that they were all engaged in hunting and killing the
last badger, the most terrible wild beast left in the land! I think that
the old hunter, who, with his rude stone-headed spear had fought with
and overcome even mightier beasts than the grizzly bear, would have
emitted a strange and perhaps terrifying sound, a burst of primitive
laughter very shrill and prolonged, resembling the neigh of a wild
horse, or perhaps deep, from a deep chest, like the baying of a

       *     *     *     *     *

Richmond Park (2,470 acres) both in its vast extent and character
is unlike any other metropolitan open space. The noblest of the
breathing-spaces on our borders, it is also the most accessible, and
more or less well known to tens of thousands of persons; but it is
probably intimately known only to a few. Speaking for myself, I can say
that after having visited it occasionally for years, sometimes to spend
a whole day in it, sometimes to get lost in it, both in fine and foggy
weather, I do not know it so well as other large open spaces which have
not been visited more often. Any person well acquainted with the country
would probably find it easy at a moment's notice to name half a dozen
parks which have pleased him better than this one, on account of a
certain monotony in the scenery of Richmond, but in size it would
surpass most or all of them. So large is it that half a dozen such
London parks as Clissold, Waterlow, and Ravenscourt might easily be
hidden in one corner of it, where it would not be easy to find them.
There are roads running in various directions, and on most days many
persons may be seen on them, driving, riding, cycling, and walking; yet
they all may be got away from, and long hours spent out of sight and
hearing of human beings, in the most perfect solitude. This is the
greatest attraction of Richmond Park, and its best virtue. Strange to
say, this very quietude and solitariness produce a disturbing effect
on many Londoners. Alas for those who have so long existed apart from
Nature as to have become wholly estranged, who are troubled in mind at
her silence and austerity! To others this green desert is London's best
possession, a sacred place where those who have lost their strength may
find it again, and those who are distempered may recover their health.

The largeness and quietness of Richmond, its old oak woods, water, and
wide open spaces, and its proximity to the river, have given it not only
an abundant but a nobler wild bird life than is found at any other point
so near to the centre of the metropolis. Here all the best songsters,
including the nightingale, may be heard. Wild duck and teal and a
few other water birds, rear their young in the ponds. Our two most
beautiful woodland birds, the green woodpecker and the jay, are common.
Rooks are numerous, especially in winter, when they congregate to roost.
Here, too, you may hear the carrion crow's 'voice of care.' Jackdaws
are certainly more plentiful than anywhere within one hundred miles of
London. One day I counted fifty in a flock, and saw them settle on the
trees; then going a little distance on I saw another flock numbering
about forty, and beyond this lot from another wood sounded the clamour
of a third flock. Even then I had probably not seen _all_ the Richmond
daws; perhaps not more than half the entire number, for I was assured by
a keeper that there were 'millions.' He was a very tall white-haired old
man with aquiline features and dark fierce eyes, and therefore must have
known what he was talking about.

Best of all are the herons that breed in the park, and appear to be
increasing. One fine evening in February last I counted twenty together
at Sidmouth Wood. A multitude of rooks and daws had settled on the
tree-tops where the herons were; but after a few minutes they rose up
with a great noise, and were followed by the herons, who mounted high
above the black cawing crowd, looking very large and majestic against
the pale clear sky. It was the finest spectacle in wild bird life I had
ever seen so close to London.

It is a great thing for Richmond to have the heron, which is no longer
common; and now that the kite, buzzard, and raven have been lost, it is
the only large soaring inland species which, once seen, appears as
an indispensable part of the landscape. Take it away, and the large
comparatively wild nature loses half its charm.

In a former chapter I have endeavoured to show how great the æsthetic
value of the daw is to our cathedrals. The old dead builders of these
great temples owe perhaps as much to this bird as to the softening and
harmonising effects of time and weather. Again, every one must feel that
the effect of sublimity produced on us by our boldest cliffs is greatly
enhanced by the sea-fowl, soaring along the precipitous face of the
rocks, and peopling their ledges, tier above tier of birds, the highest,
seen from below, appearing as mere white specks. A similar effect is
produced by large soaring birds on any inland landscape; the horizon is
widened and the sky lifted to an immeasurable height. Some such idea as
this, of the indescribable charm of the large soaring bird, of its value
to the artistic eye in producing the effect of distance and vastness in
nature, was probably in our late lost artist-poet's mind when he painted
the following exquisite word-picture:--

    High up and light are the clouds; and though the swallows flit
    So high above the sunlit earth, they are well a part of it;
    And so though high over them are the wings of the wandering hern,
    In measureless depths above him doth the fair sky quiver and burn.

Speaking for myself, without the 'wandering hern,' or buzzard, or other
large soaring species, the sky does not impress me with its height and
vastness; and without the sea-fowl the most tremendous sea-fronting
cliff is a wall which may be any height; and the noblest cathedral
without any jackdaws soaring and gamboling about its towers is apt to
seem little more than a great barn, or a Dissenting chapel on a gigantic

       *     *     *     *     *

Kew Gardens, with the adjoining spaces of Old Deer Park and the Queen's
Private Grounds, comprising an area of about 600 acres, with a river
frontage of over two miles, is in even closer touch with London than its
near neighbour, Richmond Park. From the heart of the city two principal
thoroughfares run west, and, uniting on the farther side of Hammersmith,
extend with few breaks in the walls of brick and glass on either side to
Kew Bridge. The distance from the Mansion House to the bridge is about
ten miles, and the few remaining gaps in the westernmost portion of this
long busy way are now rapidly being filled up. What was formerly the
village of Kew is now an integral part of London the Monotonous, in
appearance just like other suburbs--Wormwood Scrubs, Kilburn, Muswell
Hill, Green Lanes, Dulwich, and Norwood.

Kew Gardens (251 acres) is, or until very recently was, one of the three
or four spots on the borders of the metropolis most favoured by the
birds. They were attracted to it by its large size, the woodland
character of most of the ground, and its unrivalled position on the
river in the immediate vicinity of several other extensive open spaces.
The breeding place of most of the birds was in the Queen's Private
Grounds, a wedge of land between the Gardens and Old Deer Park, a
wilderness and perfect sanctuary for all wild creatures. In this green
wooded spot and the adjoining gardens the following species have
bred annually: missel-thrush, throstle, blackbird, redstart, robin,
nightingale, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, blackcap, garden-warbler,
chiffchaff, willow-wren, wood-wren, sedge-warbler, dunnock, wren, great,
coal, blue, and long-tailed tits, nuthatch, tree-creeper, pied wagtail,
tree-pipit, spotted flycatcher, swallow, house-martin, greenfinch,
common sparrow, chaffinch, starling, jay, crow, swift, green and lesser
woodpecker, wryneck, cuckoo, pheasant, partridge, wood-pigeon, moorhen,
dabchick--in all forty-three species. Besides these there is good reason
to believe that the following six species have been breeders in the
Queen's grounds during recent years: goldcrest, marsh tit, goldfinch,
hawfinch, bullfinch, and magpie.

This list will prove useful to London naturalists in the near future, as
many changes in the bird life of Kew may shortly be looked for. With the
opening of the Queen's grounds the partridge and pheasant will cease to
breed there; the crow is not now allowed to build in the gardens; the
nightingales have decreased to a very few birds during the last three or
four seasons; and last summer (1897) the wood-wren failed to put in
an appearance. To say that there will be other and greater changes is
unhappily only too safe a prophecy to make. For several years past
tree-felling has been vigorously prosecuted in the gardens to give them
a more open park-like appearance; new gravelled roads have been laid
down in all directions, and the policy generally has been that of the
landscape-gardener which makes for prettiness, with the result that the
aspect and character of this spot have been quite altered, and it is
fast becoming as unsuitable a breeding place for the summer warblers and
other shy woodland species as any royal west-end park.

Up till two months ago, it was some consolation to those who grieved at
the changes in progress in Kew Gardens to think that the Queen's private
grounds adjoining were safe from the despoiler. This area is separated
from the gardens by nothing but a wire fence; one could walk the entire
breadth of the grounds with that untrimmed, exquisitely beautiful
wooded wilderness always in sight; many acres of noble trees--oak, ash,
elm, beech, hornbeam, and Spanish chestnut; a shady paradise, the old
trunks draped with ivy, or grey and emerald green with moss; masses of
bramble and brier, furze and holly, growing untouched beneath; the open
green spaces a sea of blue in spring with the enchanting blue of the
wild hyacinth. There was not anywhere on the borders of London--that
weary circuit of fifty miles--so fresh and perfect a transcript of wild
woodland nature as this, with the sole exception of Lord Mansfield's
private grounds at Hampstead.

Unhappily just before the announcement was made early in 1898 that the
Queen had graciously decided to admit the public to this lovely ground,
a gang of labourers was sent in to grub up the undergrowth, to lop off
lower branches, and cut down many scores of the noblest old trees, with
the object apparently of bringing the place more into harmony with the
adjoining trim gardens. It is earnestly to be hoped that nothing further
will be done to ruin the most perfect beauty-spot that remains to

Here our survey ends.



  Object of this book--Summary of facts contained in previous
    chapters--An incidental result of changes in progress--Some degree
    of protection in all the open spaces, efficient protection in
    none--Mischievous visitors to the parks--Bird fanciers and
    stealers--The destructive rough--The barbarians are few--Two
    incidents at Clissold Park--Love of birds a common feeling of the

The most serious portion of my work still remains to do. In the
introductory chapter I said that this was a book with a purpose, and,
as the reader knows from much that has gone before, the purpose is to
point out how the wild bird life we possess may be preserved, and how
it may be improved by the addition of other suitable species which would
greatly increase the attractiveness of the parks.

Before going into this part of my subject it would be useful to briefly
summarise the main facts disclosed in the foregoing chapters.

1. Many species formerly resident throughout the year in London have
quite died out; thus, in the present century the following large species
have been lost: raven, magpie, peregrine falcon, and kestrel. In very
recent years the following small resident species have disappeared from
inner London, but are still found in a few localities on the outskirts:
missel-thrush, nuthatch, tree-creeper, oxeye, and lesser spotted

2. Some resident species are reduced to small remnants and are confined
to one or to a very few spots; in this category we must place the rook,
the jackdaw, and the owl.

3. Several other resident species, formerly common, have greatly
decreased in numbers, and in some of the open spaces appear to be dying
out. Among these are the thrush, blackbird, robin, wren, hedge-sparrow,
greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch, bullfinch, linnet, and lark. Two of
these species, thrush and blackbird, are now increasing in several of
the open spaces under the County Council, and here and there two or
three of the other species named are also increasing.

[Illustration: CHAFFINCH]

4. The decrease has been in most, but not all, of the old residents. So
far the carrion crow does not appear to have suffered. Two small birds,
sparrow and starling, have undoubtedly greatly increased.

5. At the same time that some of the old residents have been decreasing
or dying out, a few other species have come in from the outside, and
have greatly increased--namely, the ringdove, moorhen, and dabchick.

6. During the season when birds migrate, or shift their quarters, many
birds of various species drift into or pass through London: of these
some that are summer visitors bred regularly in London up to within a
few years ago. Of all these visitors it may be said that they have been
decreasing for several years past, and some of them no longer attempt
to breed in the inner London parks. At the same time, in a few favoured
localities these visitors do not show any falling off, and in one or two
of the open spaces they may be actually increasing.

To sum up. For many years there have been constant changes going on
in the bird population, many species decreasing, a very few remaining
stationary, and a few new colonists appearing; but, generally speaking,
the losses greatly exceed the gains.

One incidental result of all these changes, and of the variety of
conditions existing and the different degrees of protection given, is
that some of the open spaces are now distinguished by the possession of
species which are found in no other spot in the metropolis, or which
have elsewhere become exceedingly rare. Thus, Kensington Gardens alone,
of all the interior parks, possesses the owl and the jackdaw; St.
James's Park is distinguished by its large number of wood-pigeons and
its winter colonies of black-headed gulls; Battersea Park by its wrens
and variety of small delicate songsters, both resident and migratory,
and its vast congregation of starlings in late summer and early autumn;
Wandsworth Common by its yellowhammers; Gray's Inn Gardens and Brockwell
Park by their rookeries; Streatham by its nightingales, magpies, and
jays; Ravenscourt Park by its missel-thrushes; Finsbury Park by its
large numbers of thrushes and blackbirds. In Kew Gardens the tree-pipit,
pied wagtail, and wryneck are more common than elsewhere; Richmond
Park has its heronry and a vast multitude of daws; Wanstead has the
turtle-dove and hawfinch, and with its land and water birds of all
sizes, from the goldcrest to the heron, mallard, and rook, may claim to
possess in its narrow limits a more abundant and varied wild bird life
than any other metropolitan open space.

The conclusion I have come to, after a careful study of the subject, is
that wild birds of all the species remaining to us, and many besides,
are very well able to thrive in London; that many species have been
and are being lost solely on account of the indifference of the park
authorities in the matter; that the comparative abundance and variety
of wild bird life in the different open spaces depends on the degree of
protection and encouragement the birds receive. And by encouragement I
mean the providing them with islands, shrubberies, and such cover as
they require when breeding. Thus, we see that in so vast a space as Hyde
Park, where there is practically no protection given and nothing done to
encourage wild birds, the songsters are few and are decreasing; while in
some comparatively small open spaces constantly thronged with visitors
the bird life is abundant and varied, and increasing. It should not
be, but certainly is, the case that it depends on the person who is in
charge of the open space whether anything shall be done to encourage the
birds; if he takes no interest in the matter those who are under him
will not concern themselves to save the birds. We have seen that veiled
bird-catching is permitted in some of the parks; park constables and
park labourers have also been allowed to take nests of thrushes and
other songsters containing young birds, for their own pleasure or to
dispose of to others.

We have seen that the differences between park and park, with regard
to the abundance of bird life, are very great; but despite these
differences, which depend on the amount of encouragement and protection
given, consequently to a great extent on the personal feeling in the
matter of the superintendent, it must be said that sufficient protection
has not yet been given in any public space in London. All the open
spaces are alike infested by cats, the deadliest enemy of the birds
which are of most value--the resident species that sing most of the
year, and that nest in low bushes or close to the ground. And so long as
cats are allowed to range about the parks these species cannot be said
to be properly protected. This last point being of great importance will
be treated separately and fully in the next chapter; the rest of this
chapter will be occupied in discussing an enemy to the birds less
difficult to deal with--the mischievous individuals of our own species
who kill and capture birds and take their eggs and young.

The damage done by the ordinary boy, who throws stones and cannot
resist the temptation to take a nest when he has the chance, is hardly
appreciable in the parks where there is any real desire on the part of
the superintendents and keepers to protect the birds. On some of the
large open spaces on the outskirts of London, such as Hampstead Heath
and the commons in the South-west district, the keepers are too few to
protect the nesting birds, and the eggs are very nearly all taken. A
much more serious injury is inflicted by the bird fancier from the
slums, who visits the parks with the object of stealing the birds,
adults and young, and by the worst kind of blackguard or rough, who
kills and smashes when he gets the chance solely for the pleasure of
destroying something which others value, or, to quote Bacon's phrase,
'because he can do no other.'

As to the bird fancier who is a bird stealer, I have said enough in a
former chapter to show that he can very easily be got rid of where there
is any real desire to protect the birds.

It remains to say something concerning the rough who delights in
destruction. That a man should find pleasure in stoning a valuable park
bird to death or in trampling down a flower-bed may seem an astonishing
thing, when we see that the objects destroyed are solely intended for
the people's pleasure, that they are paid for by the people, and are, in
a sense, the people's property. It may even seem inexplicable, since the
rough is a human being and must therefore have the social instinct. But
there is really no mystery in it; by inflicting injury on the community
he is after all only following other instincts common to man, which are
quite as strong and sometimes stronger than the social. He is prompted
by the hunting instinct, which is universal and doubtless in him is to
some extent perverted; also the love of adventure, since by doing wrong
he runs a certain risk, and wins a little glory of a low kind from his
associates and others who are of like mind with him; and finally, he
is actuated by the love of power, which in its degraded form finds a
measure of gratification in hurting others, or in depriving them of a

But after all said, these injurious persons are in an exceedingly small,
an almost infinitesimal, minority, and the damage they do is little and
annually becomes less; so little is it where any vigilance is exercised,
that it would not have been worth while to write even these few
paragraphs but for the opportunity it gives me of returning to a subject
dwelt upon in the opening chapter; for this destructiveness on the
part of a few but serves the more fully to illustrate the contrary
spirit--the keen and kindly interest in the wild bird life of our open
spaces which is almost universal among the people. In the volume dealing
with East London, in his enormous work on the 'Life and Labour of the
People,' Mr. Charles Booth has the following significant passage: 'The
hordes of barbarians of whom we have heard, who, issuing from their
slums, will one day overwhelm modern civilisation, do not exist.
There are barbarians, but they are a handful, a small and decreasing
percentage, a disgrace but not a danger.' A more absolute confirmation
of the truth of these words than the general behaviour of the people who
visit the parks, even in the poorest and most congested districts, could
not be found. As a rule, when a small park is first opened in some
densely populated district, where no public open space previously
existed, the people rush in and act as if demented; they are like
children released from long confinement who go wild with the first
taste of liberty: they shout, climb trees, break off branches, pluck
the flowers; but all this is purely the result of a kind of mental
intoxication. They are not 'barbarians' or 'yahoos,' as they are
sometimes described by onlookers at the first opening of a new park;
they are nothing more than excited young people; the excitement passes,
and after a short time the damage ceases, and the place becomes so
orderly, and so seldom is any damage done, that the park could almost
be left to take care of itself.

I am here tempted to relate two incidents which have occurred at
different times in one small open space--Clissold Park. Some tame rooks
were kept with the object of establishing a rookery (of which more in
a later chapter), and one day last year some young miscreants, who
subsequently made their escape, stoned three of the birds to death. The
second incident relates to a chaffinch and its nest. The nest was built
on a stunted half-dead thorn-bush, very low down and much exposed to
sight. Just at the time when the nest was being built some forty or
fifty labourers were called in and set to work to form a pond at this
very spot, and it was determined to leave a few yards of ground with the
thorn-bush standing on it as an island in the middle of the excavation.
When the digging began the first eggs had been laid in the nest, but in
spite of the crowd of men at work every day and all day long round the
bush, and the incessant noises of loud talking and of shovelling clay
into carts and shouting of carters to their horses, the birds did not
forsake their task; the eggs were all laid, sat on, the young duly
hatched and successfully reared amidst the tumult; and during all this
time the men engaged on the work were so jealous of the birds' safety
that they would not allow any of the numberless visitors to the park to
come near the bush to look closely at the nest. So long as the young
were in the nest the workmen were the chaffinch's bodyguard.

[Illustration: NEST OF CHAFFINCH]

Judging from personal knowledge of the people of London, I should
say that these workmen showed in their action the feeling which the
people have generally about the wild birds in the parks, and that the
rook-slayers mentioned above were rare exceptions, the small percentage
of ruffians which we always have to count with, just as we have to
count with lunatics and criminals. Doubtless some readers will disagree
with this conclusion. I know it is a common idea--one hears it often
enough--that love of birds is by no means a general feeling; that it
is, on the contrary, somewhat rare, and consequently that those who
experience it have some reason to be proud of their superiority. To my
mind all this is a pretty delusion; no one flatters himself that he is
in any special way a lover of sunshine and green flowery meadows and
running waters and shady trees; and I can only repeat here what I have
said before, that the delight in a wild bird is as common to all men as
the feeling that the sunshine is sweet and pleasant to behold.

One word more may be added here. We--that is to say, our representatives
on the County Council--annually spend some thousands of pounds on
gardening, in laying out beds of brilliant tulips, geraniums, and other
gay flowers, but, with the exception of the cost of the little food
given to the birds in frosty weather in some of the parks, not one
pound, not one penny, has been spent directly on the birds; and yet
there is no doubt that the birds are more to most people than the
flowers; that a gorgeous bed of tulips that has cost a lot of money
is regarded by a majority of visitors with a very tepid feeling of
admiration compared with that which they experience at the sight or
sound, whether musical or not, of any wild bird.



  The cat's unchangeable character--A check on the sparrows--Number
    of sparrows in London--What becomes of the annual increase--No
    natural check on the park sparrows--Cats in the parks--Story
    of a cat at Battersea Park--Rabbits destroyed by cats in Hyde
    Park--Number of cats in London--Ownerless cats--Their miserable
    condition--How cats are made ownerless--How this evil may be
    remedied--How to keep cats out of the parks.

As it will be necessary to show that, sooner or later, the cat question
will have to be dealt with in a manner not pleasant for the cats, it may
be well to say at once that I have no prejudice against this creature;
on the contrary, of all the lower animals that live with or near us
I admire him the most, because of his incorruptibility, his strict
adherence to the principle 'to thine own self be true.' He lives with
but not exactly in subjection to us. The coarser but more plastic dog we
can and we do in a sense unmake and remake. Not so with the cat, who
keeps to the terms of his ancient charter, in spite of all temptations
to allow of a few of the original lines being rubbed out and some new
ones written in their place. Old Æsop's celebrated apologue is as true
of to-day as of his own distant time; and thousands of years ago the
worshippers of Pasht who had tender hearts must have been scandalised at
their deity's way with a mouse. It would not, perhaps, be quite in order
to conclude this exordium without a reference to the poet's familiar
description of the cat as a 'harmless necessary' animal. The Elizabethan
was doubtless only thinking of rats and mice; in the London of to-day
the cat has another important use in keeping down the sparrows. But
for this check sparrows would quickly become an intolerable nuisance,
fluttering in crowds against our window-panes, crying incessantly for
crumbs, and distressing us with the spectacle of their semi-starved

Much has already been said of the sparrow in this work, but the lives of
cat and sparrow are so interlaced in London that in speaking of one it
becomes necessary to say something of the other. Let us try to get
a little nearer to the subject of the connection between these two
creatures. When we consider the extreme abundance of the sparrow in
all favourable situations and his general diffusion over the entire
metropolis; that he inhabits thousands of miles of streets, often many
scores of birds to the mile; and that besides all the birds that breed
in houses others nest in trees and bushes in every garden, square, park,
and other open space, we cannot suppose that there are less than a
million of these birds. One day in April, while walking rapidly the
length of one walk in a London park I counted 118 nests. There could not
have been fewer than 1,000 nests in the whole park. The entire sparrow
population of London may be as much as two or three millions, or even
more. Putting it as low as one million, the increase of half a million
pairs, breeding say four times a year, and rearing at least twelve young
(they often rear double that number), we have an annual increase of six
millions. Most of this increase goes to the cats; for the cat is the
sparrow's sole enemy, but a really dangerous one only when the bird is
just out of the nest; for the young bird very soon becomes strong of
wing and alert in mind, and is thereafter comparatively safe from the
slayer of his kind. The first instinct of the young urban sparrow, once
he has been coaxed by his parents or impelled by something in him to
use his wings, is to fly feebly, or rather to flutter downwards to the
earth; and there, under a bush in a back garden, or behind a pillar,
or in an angle of the wall, or in the area, the cat is waiting. The
inexperienced birdling, surprised and probably frightened at a new and
strange sensation, trying to balance himself and to come down softly,
touches the ground and is struck by sudden death. I have seen successive
broods from one nest come forth, and bird by bird at odd times flutter
down in this way, seeking a safer spot to rest upon than the sloping
roof and narrow ledges and cornices on the walls, and finally touch the
earth only to be instantly destroyed. But here one interesting question
arises. How, if the facts are as stated, it may be asked, does it happen
that the young sparrow so frequently makes this fatal mistake, in spite
of his inherited knowledge? I believe the explanation is that the
sparrow is essentially a tree bird, notwithstanding his acquired habit
of sitting contentedly on buildings in towns. A percher by nature, he is
yet able to rub along for most of the time without a perch; but we see
that even in districts where trees are few and far between the sparrows'
meeting-place or 'chapel' is invariably a tree. The young sparrow has
not yet acquired this convenient habit of the adults; he is a tree
sparrow, incapable of sitting quietly, like the young swallow or martin,
on a roof or ledge to be fed there by the parent birds. His perching
feet must lay hold of something; and when he cannot, so to speak, anchor
himself he is ill at ease, even on the wide surface of a flat roof, and
fidgets and hops this way and that, possibly experiencing a sensation as
of falling or of being thrown off his stand. It is to escape from this
unsuitable flat surface that he flutters or flies off and comes down.
This happens when no tree stands conveniently near; when there is a tree
beneath or close by the young sparrow makes for it instinctively, as a
duckling to water; and if he succeeds in reaching it he shows at once
that he has found relief, and is content to remain where he is. It is
most interesting to watch a brood of young sparrows just out of the
nest settling down on the topmost twigs of a tree, which they have been
lucky enough to reach, and remaining there for hours at a stretch,
dozing secure in the sun and wind, even when the wind is strong enough
to rock the tree, and only opening their eyes and rousing themselves at
intervals on the appearance of one of the parent birds with food in its

[Illustration: PARK SPARROWS]

In a large majority of cases the London sparrow has no tree growing
conveniently near to the breeding hole, and the consequence is that an
incredible number of broods are lost. The parent birds, when a whole
brood has thus been snapped up, after a day or two of excitement
cheerfully set to work relining the old nest with a few straws,
feathers, and hairs. From March to August, some to October, they are
occupied with this business, and I do not think that more than two
young birds survive out of every dozen of all the sparrows that breed
in houses; for with the park birds the case is different. As it is, the
birds that escape their subtle enemy are more than enough to make good
the annual losses from all other causes. In the streets, back-yards, and
gardens an ailing sparrow is, like the inexperienced young bird, quickly
snapped up. In the parks at all seasons, but particularly in winter,
ailing sparrows are not very rare; occasionally a dead one is seen.

    The duck and the drake
    Are there at his wake,

but the cat comes not in the daylight hours to bury him. When the young
park sparrows flutter down from their high nests there is no enemy lying
in wait: they get their proper exercise, and in short flights over the
turf learn the use of their wings; in the evening they go back to their
hollow tree or inaccessible nest. When they are asleep in their safe
cradles the cats come on the scene to hunt in the shrubberies, to
capture the thrush, blackbird, robin, dunnock, and wren, and in fact
any bird that nests in low bushes or on the ground. The noisy clang
of the closing park gates is a sound well known to the cats in the
neighbourhood; no sooner is it heard than they begin to issue from areas
and other places where they have been waiting, and in some spots as many
as half a dozen to a dozen may be counted in as many minutes crossing
the road and entering the park at one spot. They can go in anywhere,
but cats that are neighbours and personally known to one another often
have the habit of going in at one place. All night long they are at
their merry games; you may sometimes see them scampering over the turf
playing with one another like wild rabbits, and in the breeding season
they sup on many an incubating bird caught on its eggs, and on many a
nest full of fledglings. In the early morning they are back at their
houses, if they are not of the homeless ones, innocently washing their
faces in the breakfast room, waiting for the customary caress and saucer
of cream. But these luxuries do not alter the animal's nature: his
'fearful symmetry' was for all time, the sinews of his heart cannot be
twisted in any other way, and his brain is as it came from the furnace.

The following incident will serve to show the spirit that is in a London
cat. Some time ago it was discovered that a very big and a very black
one had established himself on an island in the lake at Battersea Park.
'Then he must have crossed over in a boat, as cats don't swim,' cried
the superintendent. On going to the place it was found that the cat
had killed and partly devoured one tufted duck and two sheldrakes. To
dispose of him a company of eighteen workmen and a good hunting dog were
sent over to the island. The cat, driven from his hiding-place in the
bushes, quickly ascended the tallest tree in his territory. A youth who
was a good climber went up after him, and the other men, armed with
stout sticks, gathered round the tree to receive the animal on his
coming down. The cat quickly made up his mind how to act: down he
swiftly came from branch to branch, and in less than two seconds was
frantically tearing about among the legs of his adversaries, and
bursting through the cordon was quickly in the water swimming for life.
Immediately there was a rush for the boats, but before the men could get
on to the water the cat had reached the shore and vanished in the thick
shrubbery. The men were then disposed in line like beaters and advanced,
but in the end the creature escaped from the park and was lost. This
animal deserves honourable mention on account of the splendid courage
and resource he displayed; but the injury he had caused and the
desperate and successful fight for life he made against such tremendous
odds show that cats ought not to be allowed in the parks. The loss of
the pair of sheldrakes is felt to be a serious one, and I agree that
when unpinioned the bird is very beautiful, and when it shows itself
flying over the ornamental waters of a park, I can admire it almost as
much as when seeing it on the coasts of Somerset or Northumberland. But
a blackcap, a nightingale, a kingfisher destroyed by cats in any park
would be as great or even a greater loss to London; and I may add that a
few days before writing this chapter, in the summer of 1897, the three
wild birds I have just named were to be seen at the very spot where the
sheldrakes were killed.

So far as I know, the park cats can only be credited with one good deed.
Two or three years ago a number of rabbits were introduced into Hyde
Park, and quickly began to increase and multiply, as rabbits will. For
a time the cats respected them, being unaccustomed to see such animals,
and possibly thinking that they would be dangerous to tackle. But
they soon found out that these strangers were the natural prey of a
carnivore, and, beginning with the little ones, then going on to those
that were grown up, eventually devoured them all. Two big old buck
rabbits survived the others for a couple of months, but even these were
finally conquered and eaten. I for one am very glad at the result, for
it really seemed too ridiculous that our great national park should be
turned into a rabbit warren as well as a duck-breeding establishment.

The extraordinary rapidity with which the rabbits were destroyed will
serve to give some idea of the numbers and destructiveness of the cats
that nightly make the open spaces of London their hunting grounds. How
many cats are there in London? Not a word that I am aware of has been
written on the subject, and as there is no tax on them there is no
possibility of finding out the exact truth. Nevertheless, in an indirect
way we may be able to get a proximate idea of their numbers.

The number of dogs in London is supposed to be about two hundred
thousand; no doubt it is really greater, since many dogs escape the
tax. Cats in London are very much more numerous than dogs. Thus, in
the streets I know best, in the part of London where I live, there are
about eight cats to every dog; in some streets there are ten or twelve,
in others not more than six. If a census could be taken it would
probably show that the entire cat population does not fall short of
three-quarters of a million; but I may be wide of the mark in this
estimate, and should prefer at present to say that there are certainly
not less than half a million cats in London. Even this may seem an
astonishing number, since it is not usual for any house to have more
than one, and in a good many houses not one is kept. On the other hand
there is a vast population of ownerless cats. These cannot well be
called homeless since they all attach themselves to some house, which
they make their home, and to which they return as regularly as any wild
beast to its den or lair. Judging solely from my own observation, I
do not think that there can be less than from eighty thousand to one
hundred thousand of these ownerless cats in the metropolis. Let me take
the case of the house I live in. No cat is kept, yet from year's end to
year's end there are seldom less than three cats to make use of it, or
to make it their home. At all hours of the day they are to be seen in
the area, or on the doorsteps, or somewhere near; and at odd times they
go into the basement rooms--they get in at the windows, or at any door
that happens to be left open, and if not discovered spend the night in
the house. There are scores of houses in my immediate neighbourhood
which have no smell of valerian about them and are favoured in the same

It is not possible at all times of the year to distinguish these
ownerless or stray cats from those that have owners; but there are
seasons of scarcity for the outdoor animals during which they differ in
appearance from the others; and at such times, with some practice, one
may get an idea of the number of strays in his own neighbourhood. It is
in the winter, during long and severe frosts, that the ownerless ones
suffer most, and on a bright day in a walk of a quarter of a mile you
will sometimes see as many as a dozen of these poor wretches sunning
themselves on one side of the street. On coming close to one of these
cats he invariably looks at you with wide-open startled eyes, and so
long as you stand quietly regarding him he will keep this look. The
moment you speak kindly to him the alarm vanishes from his eyes, he
knows you for a friend, and is as ready as any starving human beggar
to tell you his miserable story. He mews piteously; but sometimes when
his mouth opens no sound issues from it--he is too feeble even to mew.
His fur has a harsher appearance than in other cats, the hairs stand
up like the puffed-out feathers of an owl, and hide his body's
excessive leanness; but when you lift him up you are astonished at his
lightness--he is like a wisp of straw in your hand. The marvel is that
when he has got to this pass he can still keep alive from day to day;
for in the bleak streets there is no food for him, and the people of the
houses he hangs about have hardened their hearts against him on account
of his thieving, or because if they give him an occasional scrap of food
he will never go away, and their only wish is to see the last of him.
Many of these stray cats get most of their food in dust-bins, into which
they slink whenever the door is left open for a few minutes. They find a
few scraps to keep them alive, and at rare intervals capture a mouse.
Sometimes they jump out when ashes are shot into their hiding-place; but
the cat who has got hardened merely shuts his eyes against the stinging
cloud, crouching in his corner, and is satisfied to remain for days
shut up in his dreary cell, finding it more tolerable than the wintry
streets and inhospitable areas. It is related of La Fontaine, the
fabulist, that he was passionately fond of strawberries, on account of
the effect which this fruit had in annually restoring him to comparative
health and some pleasure in life; and that during the winter and spring
his only wish was that the strawberry season when it came round again
would find him still living, since if it delayed its coming he would
lose all hope. In like manner these ownerless cats, if they have any
thought about their condition, must long for the change in the year that
will once more call forth the black-beetles in areas and basements, and
bring the young sparrows fluttering down from their inaccessible nests.

How does it happen that there are so many of these strays in London?
For cats do not leave their homes of their own accord, except in rare
instances when they have been enticed or encouraged to take up their
quarters in some other neighbourhood. As a rule the animal prefers its
own home with poverty to abundance in a strange place. I believe that a
vast majority of these poor ones come from the houses or rooms inhabited
by the poor. Most persons are extremely reluctant to put kittens that
are not wanted to death. In the houses of the well-to-do the servants
are ordered to kill them; but the poor have no person to delegate the
dirty work to; and they have, moreover, a kindlier feeling for their
pet animals, owing to the fact that they live more with them in their
confined homes than is the case with the prosperous. The consequence is
that in very many cases not one of a litter is killed; they are mostly
given away to friends, and their friends' children are delighted to have
them as pets. The kitten amuses a child immensely with its playful ways,
and is loved for its pretty blue eyes full of fun and mischief and
wonder at everything. But when it grows up the charm vanishes, and it is
found that the cat is in the way; he is often on the common staircase
where there are perhaps other cats, and eventually he becomes a
nuisance. The poor are also often moving, and are not well able to take
their pet from place to place. It is decided to get rid of the cat, but
they do not kill it, nor would they like to see it killed by another;
it must be 'strayed'--that is to say, placed in a sack, taken for some
miles away from home at night and released in a strange place.

Now this very painful condition of things ought not to continue, and my
only reason for going into the subject is to suggest a remedy. This is
that the metropolitan police be instructed to remove all stray cats and
send them to a lethal chamber provided for the purpose. The ownerless
cats, we have seen, do not roam about the town, but have a home, or at
all events a house, to which they attach themselves, and which they
refuse to leave, however inhospitably or even cruelly they may be
treated. On making some inquiries at houses in my own neighbourhood on
the subject, I find that most people are anxious to get rid of the stray
cats they may happen to have about the place, but are at a loss to know
how to do it. In some instances they succeed in straying them again, but
the cats are no better off than before, and the starving population is
not diminished. But it would be a simple way out of the difficulty if
they could have them removed by reporting them to the nearest policeman.
We have seen, as a result of the muzzling order imposed by the County
Council, that upwards of forty thousand unclaimed dogs have been
destroyed in the course of a year (1896), and the presumption is that
these dogs were little valued and not properly cared for by their
owners. The harvest of stray cats would probably not be less than sixty
or seventy thousand for the first year.

To return to the parks. The question is how to exclude the hunting cats
that frequent them at night. I have conversed with perhaps a hundred
superintendents, inspectors, and keepers on the subject, and invariably
they say that it is impossible to exclude the cats, or that they do not
see how it is to be done. And yet in many parks they are always trying
to do it; they hunt them at night with dogs, they shoot them with rook
rifles, and they poison them: but all these measures produce no effect,
and are, moreover, employed with secrecy and with fear lest the
paragraph writer and public should find out, and an outcry be made.
It is plain that the cats can only be kept out by means of a suitable
fence, or net, or screen of wire. Rabbit wire netting is hardly
suitable, as it is unsightly and is not an efficient protection. The
most effectual form would be a plain wire fence in squares, the cross
wires tied to the uprights with wire thread, the top of the fence made
to curve outwards to prevent the animals from climbing over it. This
screen could be placed inside of the park railings at a distance of
about three or four feet from them. A fence or screen of this pattern
has a handsome appearance, but it is expensive, the cost being about
fourpence to fivepence the square foot. Probably some other cheaper and
equally effective wire protection could be designed. I have consulted
some of the large dealers in wire netting and fencing of all kinds, and
they tell me that a fence to keep out cats from parks has yet to be
invented. Very likely; at the same time there are probably very many
ingenious persons in England who would quickly invent what is wanted
if it was made worth their while. It simply comes to this: if the
park authorities really wish to keep out the cats they can do so at a
moderate cost, and it is not likely that even their worst critics would
venture to blame them for spending a few hundreds for such an object.

We must look to the County Council to take the lead in this matter. It
is my conviction--there is much even now going on in some of the parks
to show how well founded it is--that once the chief destroyer of our
valuable birds is excluded, a great and rapid improvement in the
character of our bird population will ensue. The number of the species
we value most would be relatively larger. The change for the better
would come about without any direct encouragement and protection being
given; at the same time it would be an immense help if those who are in
charge of open spaces could be brought to see that wild bird life is
very much more to the people of London than all the pleasant and pretty
things in the way of bands of music, exotic flowers, and brick and stone
and metal ornaments, which they are providing at a very considerable

[Illustration: STARLING AT HOME]



  Restoration of the rook--The Gray's Inn rookery--Suggestions--On
    attracting rooks--Temple Gardens rookery--Attempt to establish a
    rookery at Clissold Park--A new colony of daws--Hawks--Domestic
    pigeons--An abuse--Stock-dove and turtle-dove--Ornamental water-fowl,
    pinioned and unpinioned--Suggestions--Wild water-fowl in the
    parks--Small birds for London--Missel-thrush--Nuthatch--Wren--Loudness
    a merit--Summer visitants to London--Kingfisher--Hard-billed
    birds--A use for the park sparrows--Natural checks--A sanctuary

My purpose in this chapter is to make a few suggestions as to the
species which may be introduced or restored with a fair prospect of
success, and which would form a valuable addition to the metropolitan
wild bird life. The species to be mentioned here have very nearly all
been resident, some of them very common, in former years; most of them
survive on the borders of London, and some still linger in diminished
numbers in a few of the interior open spaces.

Most persons would probably agree that of all the large birds that were
once common in London, the rook would be most welcome. In the chapter on
this bird I said that irretrievable disaster had overtaken the London
rookeries, that the birds had gone, or were going, never to return;
nevertheless, I believe that it would be possible, although certainly
not easy, to reintroduce them. We have not wholly lost the rook yet;
he is to be found in many places on our borders; and the continued
existence of the ancient colony at Gray's Inn is a proof that rooks can
live in London, and would doubtless be able to thrive in some of the
parks where there are large trees, and from which the birds would not
have to travel so far in search of food for their young. With regard to
the Gray's Inn rooks, which are greatly valued by the Benchers and by
very many others, I will venture to make a suggestion or two, which, if
acted on, may produce good results. Probably no bird from outside is
ever attracted to this colony, confined to so small an open space in the
very heart of London, and it is possible that through too much in-and-in
breeding for many generations, the birds have suffered a considerable
loss of vigour. It would be a very easy matter to infuse fresh blood
into it by substituting eggs from some country rookery for those in the
nests. This experiment would cost nothing; and it would also be worth
while to provide the birds with suitable provender, such as meal-worms,
at the season when the young are growing and require more food than the
parents are probably able to give them.

No doubt some readers of this book will say at once that the
reintroduction of the rook into London is impossible, since even in the
rural districts, where all the conditions are favourable, it is found
extremely difficult to induce the birds to settle where they are wanted.
A year or two ago my friend Mr. Cunninghame Graham, writing from his
place in the north, told me that he had long desired to have rooks in
his trees, and that he had written to an eminent ornithologist, with
whom he was not personally acquainted, asking for advice in the matter.
The naturalist replied at some length, pointing out the fallacies of
Socialism as a political creed, but saying nothing about the rooks.
Probably he had nothing practical to write on the subject, but he might
at least have informed his correspondent that Mr. Hawker, the famous
parson of Morwenstow, had got his rooks by praying for them. He prayed
every day for three years, and his importunity was then rewarded by the
birds coming and settling on the very trees where they were wanted.

We have an account of the curious origin of the Temple Gardens rookery,
one of the best known and most populous of the old London rookeries. In
the 'Zoologist,' vol. xxxvi. p. 196, Mr. Harting relates that it was
founded in Queen Anne's time by Sir Richard Northey, a famous lawyer at
that period, who brought the first birds from his estate at Epsom. A
bough was cut from a tree with a nest containing two young birds, and
conveyed in an open waggon to the Temple, and fixed in a tree in the
gardens. The old birds followed their young and fed them, and old
and young remained and bred in the same place. The following year a
magpie built in the gardens; her eggs were taken, and those of a rook
substituted; these in due course were hatched and the young when reared
became an addition to the colony.

Professor Newton has said of this pleasant story that he would gladly
believe it if he could, and it has been discredited by the discovery
that a rookery existed at the Temple prior to Queen Anne's time.
Aubrey's statement, which has been quoted in disproof of the Northey
legend, is that the rooks built their nests there in the spring after
the plague, 1665. My inference is that the rookery was an old one, which
the birds abandoned during the plague, and afterwards reoccupied. We may
then suppose that later on the birds went away again for good; and that
Northey, knowing that a rookery had formerly existed at the Temple,
and inspired by a lawyer's very natural admiration for the grave,
black-coated, contentious bird, succeeded in restoring it in the manner
described. In any case, it is not probable that such a story would have
been told of the Temple rookery if the plan attributed to Northey had
not been successfully employed somewhere and somewhen. It is well worth
trying again. I should like very much to see the experiment made by Lord
Ilchester, who has long desired to see the rooks back in Holland Park;
he would not have to bring the young birds in their nests in open
waggons all the way from Melbury or Abbotsbury, as there are several
rookeries where young birds in the nests could be had within five or
six miles of Holland House.

Another more promising plan is to get the young birds and rear them in
the park where they are wanted. This plan has already been recently
tried, not by any person of means, but by a humble park sergeant at
Clissold Park. Sergeant Kimber is an interesting man, and deserves to be
highly thought of by all bird-lovers in London; he has during most of
his life been a gamekeeper, but knows a great deal more about birds
and loves them better than most men who have that vocation. With the
permission of the County Council, he obtained about a dozen young rooks
from the country, some from Yorkshire and others from Wales; the birds
were placed in an enclosure with a good-sized tree growing in it with
branches drooping to the ground, so that they were able to ascend and
descend at pleasure. Unfortunately their wing feathers were cut, which
prevented them from learning to fly for about a year; even after two
years the survivors are still unable to fly as well as wild birds. Six
birds remained up to the spring of 1897; one only of these appeared
to be a male. This bird paired and a nest was built, but after its
completion the pair flew away together one morning to some open ground
on the outskirts of North London where they were accustomed to feed, and
never returned. Doubtless they had been shot by the sportsmen who still
infest the waste lands and marshes on that side of the metropolis.
Sergeant Kimber now thinks that it was a mistake to clip his rooks'
wings, and hopes to succeed better next time.

This experiment with tame rooks has incidentally resulted in a gain to
the bird life of North London. In the aviary at Clissold Park a tame
female daw was kept; there she formed a very close friendship with a
parrot, who had the original way of manifesting, or perhaps I should say
dissembling, his love by pulling out her feathers. No doubt she was very
much enamoured of the green bird with his foreign ways and commanding
voice, as she was always at his side and never in the least resented his
ungentle treatment. The poor bird's breast was at last quite denuded
of its covering, and the whole plumage was in such a thin and ragged
condition that it was thought best to separate the friends, even at the
risk of breaking their hearts; accordingly the daw was taken away and
placed with the tame rooks. The rooks treated her very well, and in
their society she probably soon forgot her foreigner. And by-and-by a
wild daw was attracted to the tree and joined the company: this was a
male bird in fine plumage, and Sergeant Kimber conceived the idea that
it would be a good stroke to catch it and clip its wing-tips to prevent
it from going away. The wild daw was very cunning; by day he would
remain most of the time with the rooks and his ragged friend, but at
night he invariably retired to roost in some tall trees in another part
of the park. In spite of his cunning he was eventually caught and placed
on the rooks' tree with just the tips of his wings clipped. From that
time the two daws were inseparable, and their romantic attachment
promised to end in a lasting and happy union; but after a few weeks
a second wild daw, this time a female, was attracted to the tree and
joined the little community. This was a fine glossy bird, and no sooner
had she come than the male daw began to make up to her, coolly throwing
over his first love. By this time he had recovered his power of flight,
and after pairing with the new-comer the two went away to spend the
honeymoon and look for a suitable residence in the country. The ragged
daw lived on with the rooks for a few weeks longer, then she too
disappeared, being now able to fly. Three or four weeks later, to
everybody's astonishment, they all came back together accompanied by a
fourth bird, a male, with which the ragged one had paired. Somewhere
roaming about outside of London they had all met, and the ragged female
had probably persuaded them to forget past unpleasantnesses and return
to the park; at all events they all seemed very friendly and happy.
During the summer of 1897 both pairs bred, one in the upper part of the
tall spire of St. Mary's Church, Stoke Newington, which stands close to
the main entrance to the park; the other in a building close by.

We see from this that wandering and apparently homeless daws often visit
London, and are quickly attracted by any tame unconfined bird of their
own species; and that where daws are wanted, an excellent plan is to use
a tame bird as a decoy.

It is exceedingly improbable that any of the raptorial species which
formerly inhabited London--peregrine falcon, kestrel, and kite--will
ever return, but we could have these birds by rearing them by hand from
the nest, and allowing them to be unconfined. If well and regularly fed
they would remain where they were reared, or if they went away for a
season they would most probably return. It would be a great pleasure to
see them soaring above or about our buildings, and they would also be
useful in keeping down the domestic pigeons, which are now much too
numerous and are fast becoming a nuisance in some of the parks, where
they devour the food originally intended for the wood-pigeons. The
domestic pigeons have a pretty appearance at St. Paul's Cathedral,
Westminster Palace, and other large public buildings; in the grassy
parks they are out of place and do not look well; furthermore, when
we find most, if not all, of these park-haunting birds come from big
private houses in the neighbourhood, where they are bred for the table,
it is surprising that the park authorities should continue to feed them
at the public expense. Let us hope that this abuse will soon be put an
end to; also that it will be recognised by the authorities that it is a
mistake to keep dovecots in the public parks.

The stock-dove could easily be introduced into London by placing its
eggs, which can be obtained at a trifling cost, under both the domestic
pigeon and wood-pigeon. It may be that the wood-pigeon would also prove
a suitable foster-parent to the turtle-dove. This species is a strict
migrant, but if bred in the parks it would no doubt come back annually
from its journeys abroad. In any case the experiment is well worth

       *     *     *     *     *

Before going on to the small birds which may be introduced or encouraged
to settle, something need be said about the ornamental water-fowl of the
parks, which might be made more than they are to us, and put to a new
use. There is no doubt that just as one daw attracts other daws so do
these water-birds attract any of their wild relations which may be
passing at night. Mallards, widgeon, and teal, supposed to be wild
birds, have been known to appear in some of the parks to pair with
the park birds and remain to breed; in a few instances some of these
strangers have actually been captured by the keepers and pinioned to
prevent them from leaving. This was a great mistake; for assuming that
the birds really were wild, it is probable that after going away for the
winter they would have returned, and might even have brought some of
their wild fellows. I believe that our ornamental water-fowl ought never
to be pinioned except in the cases of a few rare exotic species. When
a bird is pinioned its chief beauty and greatest charm are lost; it is
then little more than a domestic bird, or a bird in a cage. Sheldrakes,
both common and ruddy, are infinitely more beautiful when flying than
when resting on the water; and all wild ducks are seen at their best
when, before alighting, they sweep along close to the surface, with
wings motionless and depressed, showing the bright beauty-spot. There
are, in fact, many unpinioned fowls on the park waters, and some of
these birds not only fly about their own ponds, but they occasionally
visit the waters of other parks, especially by night, and are well able
to find their way back to their own ponds. In some cases they make
prolonged visits to other parks. In one London park for the last three
years a number of tufted ducks (from eight to a dozen) have made their
appearance on the ornamental water each spring, and have remained until
the autumn, then disappeared; it is not known where they spend the
winter. In the same park a pair of pinioned ruddy sheldrakes were
kept. In April 1897 they were joined by a third bird, a drake, in very
beautiful plumage. After being two or three days in their company, he
attacked the pinioned drake with great fury and drove him off, and took
possession of the duck. The ornamental water of another park has been
visited at odd times by several Egyptian geese, sometimes appearing
regularly every morning and departing in the evening, at other times
making long stays; and I have heard of many other instances of the kind.

[Illustration: MOORHEN AND CHICKS]

There are many and good reasons for believing that water-fowl hatched
and reared in the parks would, if they went away for a period in autumn
and winter, return in spring to breed. A fair trial might be made by
giving the eggs of wild birds--widgeon, teal, gadwell, shoveller, and
other suitable British species, to the park ducks when breeding. In
this way a London race of each or of a few of these species might be
established; like our black-headed gulls, moorhens, and dabchicks, they
would be wild birds, although not shy, and they would certainly be
more beautiful and vigorous and give us more pleasure than their
pinioned relations. Coots hatched and reared by the moorhens would give
us another wild bird well suited to thrive in the park lakes; and I
will venture to add that we might even get the great crested grebe, by
placing its eggs in the dabchicks' nests. The breeding habits of these
two species are identical; they differ very considerably in size, but
there is not so great a disparity between little grebe and great grebe
as there is between the cuckoo and its foster-parent.

       *     *     *     *     *

Of small birds, or songsters, it will not be necessary to mention more
than a few of the species which might be introduced with advantage,
since little can be done so long as the bird-killing cats are free of
the parks, and little will need to be done once the cats are excluded.
Such species as the robin and hedge-sparrow require protection when
breeding; they are now dying out for want of it, and will undoubtedly
increase again whenever the park authorities think proper to give it.

The quickest and most effective plan to add to the number of our species
is to procure the eggs of suitable wild birds, to be hatched in the
nests of the park birds. Thus, the missel-thrush might easily be got
back by placing its eggs in the nests of blackbirds and thrushes. The
large size and handsome plumage of the missel-thrush, or storm-cock, his
dashing motions and loud winter song, would make him one of our most
attractive birds; and that he is well able to thrive in London we have
already seen.

Another bird which no one is ever tired of seeing and hearing, and would
be a great acquisition, is the nuthatch; this species, although not
uncommon on the wooded borders of London and in some of the outlying
parks, would no doubt have to be introduced by man. The nuthatch is
a difficult bird to manage, on account of its violent temper and
impatience of confinement; but it is possible that the starling, which,
like the nuthatch, breeds in hollow trees, and feeds its young on much
the same kind of food, might make a suitable foster-parent. At all
events, the experiment is worth trying. It should be easy to procure its
eggs, as the bird is very common in many well-timbered parks and open
oak woods within a short distance of London. There are, I imagine, few
small birds more fitted to give pleasure to Londoners than the nuthatch,
on account of his quaint figure and pretty plumage, his sprightliness
and amusing squirrel-like movements on a trunk or branch of a tree.
Though not strictly a songster, his various clear penetrative call-notes
are very delightful to hear; and he is most loquacious in late winter
and early spring, when bird-voices are few. Furthermore, of wild birds
that may be taught to come to us for food he is one of the quickest to
learn, and will follow his feeder, or come at call, and deftly catch the
nuts and crusts and fragments of any kind that are thrown to him.

Two other small birds with loud bright voices--both London species, but
now very nearly vanished, as we have seen--are the oxeye and wren. I
think the best plan with regard to these two--and the same plan might
be tried with the nuthatch in the event of the starling's failure as a
foster-parent--would be to catch the young birds shortly after leaving
the nest, and release them as soon as possible in the parks. All these
three have the habit of roosting in families, old and young together, in
a hole or other sheltered place; and if taken at night and released the
following day where they were wanted, they would probably soon adapt
themselves to their new surroundings.

The wren, indeed, appears to have more adaptiveness than most birds,
being universal in the British Islands, and able to survive the cold and
scarcity of the long northern winters, even in the most bleak and barren
situations. That he is well able to thrive in London we know, in spite
of the fact that he has now all but vanished from most of our open
spaces; for we have seen that in one park, within two miles of Charing
Cross, where he is more encouraged and better protected than elsewhere,
he is actually increasing in number. He is a delightful little bird, a
very general favourite, and is a winter singer with a bright, beautiful,
lyrical song, wonderfully loud for so tiny a creature. I was never more
impressed with the loudness of its song than on one Sunday afternoon
in the spring of 1897 in Battersea Park. I was walking with the park
superintendent round the lake, listening for some new summer voice, but
for some time no bird sound reached us. Fifty or sixty boats full of
noisy rowers were on the water, and the walks were thronged with loudly
talking and laughing people, their numberless feet tramping on the
gravel paths producing a sound like that of a steam roller. My companion
exclaimed impatiently that it was impossible to hear a bird-note in so
much noise. He had scarcely spoken before a wren, quite fifty yards
away, somewhere on the island opposite to us, burst out singing, and his
bright lyric rang forth loud and clear and perfect above all that noise
of the holiday crowd.

It would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to introduce
by artificial means any of the summer visitants in the absence of
soft-billed birds to play the part of foster-parents. The hedge-sparrow,
the best bird for such a task, is too rare; should he increase again,
the case will be different. At the same time it may be said that the
better protection which alone would cause the hedge-sparrow and robin
to increase would also attract the migrants to breed in the parks. At
present, the summer songsters that come regularly to breed in various
spots on the borders of London are the following: whinchat, stonechat,
redstart, nightingale, whitethroat, lesser-whitethroat, blackcap,
garden warbler, chiffchaff, willow-wren, wood-wren, sedge-warbler,
reed-warbler, pied wagtail, and tree-pipit. All these species, excepting
the wood-wren, visit the open spaces of inner London on migration in
spring. The chats, redstart, and tree-pipit are much rarer than the
others; but of the fourteen species named, at least eight can be seen or
heard by any person who cares to spend two or three days in the parks,
to watch and listen to the birds, after the middle of April. This list
is limited to the species which I have no doubt would breed in the parks
if encouraged; the three species of swallows, the wheatear, yellow
wagtail, and other summer visitants are also seen in April in London,
but these are simply passing through.

The kingfisher, singly and in pairs, has been a rather frequent visitor
to the parks during the last two years, and in some instances has made
a long stay: there is no doubt that the abundance of minnows in the
ornamental waters and the shelter of the wooded islands are a great
attraction. No instance of its attempting to breed has yet occurred,
but this may be due to the want of a suitable place to nest in. It is
possible that the noise of the Saturday and Sunday boating people in the
larger lakes, and the persecution of the sparrows, who hate him for his
brilliant dress, may drive him away; still, it would be a good plan to
construct an artificial bank or rockery, with breeding holes, on one of
the islands at a suitable place like Battersea.

The hard-billed birds would no doubt be the easiest to introduce, owing
to the large number of sparrows that nest in the park trees, from which
the eggs could be taken and those of other species substituted; and if
by acting as foster-parents to other finches the sparrows would only be
breeding crows to pick their own eyes out, as the proverb says, so much
the better. Chaffinches and greenfinches have been successfully reared
by sparrows; and to these two other equally desirable species might be
added: yellowhammer, corn-bunting, reed-bunting, bullfinch, goldfinch,
and linnet. These are charming birds and good songsters; even the
corn-bunting, although generally belittled by its biographers, is,
compared with the sparrow, an accomplished musician. They are furthermore
all exceedingly hardy, and probably as well able to thrive in London
as the sparrow itself, although not so prolific and pushing as that
sometimes troublesome bird. It is, indeed, on account of their
hardiness that they, or those of them that have the best voices, are so
much sought after; for they will live and be lively, and sing, for a
period of ten or a dozen years, even in the miserable prison of a little
cage in which they are kept by those who love them.

The excessive numbers of sparrows in the parks, where, as we have seen,
there is no natural check on their increase, is a question difficult to
deal with, and no remedy that is not somewhat unpleasant to think of has
yet been tried or suggested. In some of the parks the nests are pulled
down by the hundred; but where this plan is followed it is said to be of
little avail, owing to the energy and persistence of the birds in making
fresh nests. In other parks the birds are, or have been, netted at night
in the bushes, where they roost in crowds. Poisoning the sparrows has
also probably been tried; at all events, in one park I have found the
sparrows looking sick and languishing, and many dead birds lying about,
as if an epidemic had broken out among them; but as no signs of disease
could be detected in the birds outside the park, it could not very well
have been an epidemic.

Now since all these methods, which, like the little spasmodic attempts
to kill the cats in some of the parks, are practised in secrecy and fear
lest the public should hear of them, have so far proved ineffectual,
would it not be best to take a lesson from Nature, and restore some of
the natural checks which we have taken away? Let us in the first place
make use of the park sparrows in establishing colonies of as many new or
greatly diminished species as possible; and when we have done this, let
us further introduce, in moderate numbers, such species as prey on small
birds and their eggs and young--peregrine falcon, kestrel, sparrow-hawk,
owl, crow, daw, magpie, and jay.

However successful we may be in adding to the number of our songsters,
the sparrow will always be more numerous than all the other species
together, and on account of his abundance he will be more preyed upon;
furthermore, his big, conspicuous, slovenly nests will be more subject
to attack than the nests of other species. It has been shown that
millions of sparrows are yearly destroyed by cats in London; yet so
quickly are they snapped up by their subtle enemy that we really see
nothing or very little indeed of the process. The young birds flutter
out of their nests and drop lightly down, only to vanish like snowflakes
that fall on the water. Here we see that even in London, with but two
species to act upon, Nature, left a little to herself, has succeeded in
establishing something like that balance of forces and harmony which
exists everywhere in her own dominion. Would it not be better to leave
it to Nature in the parks, too, to do her own killing in her own swift
and secret manner? In streets and houses cats are of the greatest
service, doing for us, and unseen by us, that which we could not
effectually do for ourselves: in the parks their presence is injurious;
there we rather want Nature's feathered executioners, who are among her
most beautiful and interesting creatures.

How effective and salutary her methods are, how beautiful in their
results, may be seen in such places as have been made sanctuaries for
all wild animals, innocent and rapacious. Even on the borders of London
we have such places, and perhaps it would be hard anywhere in the rural
districts to find a more perfect sanctuary in a small space than that of
Caen Wood, at Hampstead. Although at the side of the swarming Heath, it
is really wild, since for long years it has been free from the landscape
gardener with his pretty little conventions, and the gamekeeper and
henwife with their persecutions and playing at Providence among the
creatures. If it were possible for a man to climb to the top of one
of its noble old trees--a tall cedar, beech, or elm, with a girth
of sixteen to eighteen feet--he would look down and out upon London:
leagues upon leagues of houses, stretching away to the southern horizon,
with tall chimneys, towers, and spires innumerable appearing above the
brooding cloud of smoke. But the wood itself seems not to have been
touched by its sulphurous breath; within its green shade all is fresh
as in any leafy retreat a hundred miles from town. And here the wild
creatures find a refuge. Badgers--not one pair nor two, but a big
colony--have their huge subterraneous peaceful village in the centre of
the wood. The lodge-keeper's wife told me that one evening, seeing her
dog, as she imagined, trotting from her across the lawn, she called to
him and, angered at his disregard of her voice, ran after him for some
distance among the trees, and only when she was about to lay her hands
on him discovered that she was chasing a big badger. The badgers have
for neighbours stoats and weasels, carrion crows, jays, and owls. Even
in the daytime you will find the wood-owl dozing in the deep twilight of
a holly-bush growing in the shade of a huge oak or elm. High up on the
trees at least half a dozen pairs of carrion crows have their nests; and
occasionally all the birds gather at one spot and fill the entire wood
with their tremendous excited cries. A dozen of these birds, when they
let themselves go, will create a greater uproar than a hundred cawing

Here, too, the rabbit keeps his place in spite of so many enemies; and
to those named must be added the domestic cat. I myself have seen puss
returning to the house carrying a half-grown young rabbit to her kittens.

The moorhen and wood-pigeon also flourish, and in a still greater degree
the missel-thrush, throstle, and blackbird. In this wood I have counted
forty-three breeding species; and not only is the variety great, but
many of our best songsters, residents and migrants, are so numerous that
at certain times in spring, when birds are most vocal, you may hear at
this spot as fine a concert of sweet voices as in any wood in England.

Sanctuaries like that of Caen Wood the Metropolitan parks can never be.
Only in a few of the most favourably situated open spaces on the borders
of London could we have anything approaching to the richness and harmony
seen in this perfect transcript of wild nature. But it should be our
aim to have all the parks, even to the most central, as nearly like
sanctuaries as such small isolated urban spaces, inhabited by so limited
a number of species, may be made.



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  HAMILTON (EDWARD): 'The Wild Birds of London.' _Murray's Magazine._
    London, May 1889.

  MILLER (CHRISTY): _Birds of Essex._ 8vo. London, 1890.

  TRISTRAM-VALENTINE (J. T.): _London Birds and Beasts._ With a Preface
    by F. E. Beddard. 8vo. London, 1895.

  'The Birds of London.' _Edinburgh Review._ London, January 1898.


  Abney Park Cemetery, 190

  'Afternoon tea,' sparrows at, 9

  Albino daws, 64, 66

  Anemones, decorative use of, by moorhens, 96

  Arnold, Matthew, 'Lines written in Kensington Gardens,' 161

  Badger-hunt, a modern, 259

  Badgers at Wimbledon, 258

  -- a colony of, in Caen Wood, 327

  Barn Elms Park, 253

  Barnes Common, 253, 254

  Battersea Park, moorhen's æsthetic nest in, 96

  -- -- starlings congregating in, 139

  -- -- making of, 240

  -- -- bird life assisted in, 242

  -- -- a spirited cat in, 291

  Beverley Brook, 253, 255

  Birds'-nesting, 175, 183, 230

  Birds of London, changes among the, 5

  -- -- -- recent additions to, 89, 94

  -- -- -- passerine, 104

  -- -- -- their disregard of noise, 188

  -- -- -- encouragement of, 242, 275

  Bishop's Park, Fulham, 251

  -- -- bird life in, past and present, 252

  Blackbirds in London, white, 64, 123

  -- proportional numbers of, 122

  Booth, Mr. Charles, as to 'roughs,' 279

  Bostell Woods and Heath, 226

  -- -- bird life in, 227, 230

  Bread-eating by the crow, 45

  -- by the gull, 148

  Breeding places, need of, in central parks, 163, 179

  Brockwell Park, 235

  Buckhurst Hill, white owl at, 166

  Caen Wood, Nature's balance in, 326

  Camberwell Cemetery, 233

  Carrion crow, as domestic pet, 48

  -- -- as mouser, 49

  -- -- as practical joker, 50

  Carrion crows in London, 32

  -- -- mock battle of, 33

  -- -- daily flight of, 42

  -- -- modification of feeding habits, 44

  -- -- picking food from the river, 46

  -- -- visits of, to the Zoological Gardens, 175

  Cat, a, on a Battersea island, 291

  Cathedrals, æsthetic value of daws to, 53, 264

  Cats, need of their exclusion from bird preserves, 163, 221, 276, 284

  -- connection between sparrows and, 285

  -- deliberate 'straying' of, 299

  -- suggestion as to disposal of, 300

  -- present attempts at exclusion of, from parks, 301

  -- destruction of low-nesting birds by, 290

  -- their numbers in London, 294

  -- ownerless, 295

    Kensal Green, 172
    Abney Park, 190
    established on Barnes Common, 254
    their future use, 171, 186, 234

  Chaffinch, the, as songster, 12

  -- its winter resorts, 144

  -- its return to London, 158

  -- from the bird-fancier's point of view, 197-200

  -- care of nest of, at Clissold Park, 280

  Changes in bird population, 5, 267, 273

  Changes in habits of birds, 93

  'Chapel,' a sparrows', 114, 288

  Checks, natural, to sparrow increase, 325

  -- needed, on pigeon increase, 313

  Churchyard Bottom Wood, 184

  City, wood-pigeons nesting in the, 91

  Clapham Common, 243

  Clissold Park, crows formerly in, 45

  -- -- hasty visit of daws to, 57

  -- -- wood-pigeons in, 91

  -- -- description of, 189

  -- -- regard for bird life in, 190, 280

  -- -- bird experiments in, 309

  Corncrake, its occasional presence at Hampstead, 178

  County Council, their aim in bird protection, 17

  -- -- their management of Hampstead Heath, 182

  -- -- their improvements in Hackney Marsh, 202-208

  -- -- at Peckham Rye Park, 231

  -- -- their swans, 247

  -- -- suggested care of birds by, 282

  -- -- suggested action of, as to stray cats, 302

  Courser, cream-coloured, shot at Hackney, 209

  Crows, species of, in London, 20, 29

  Dabchick, _see_ Grebe

  Darkness of London winter, birds affected by, 106

  Decoys, action of tame birds as, 312, 314

  Dogs, number of, as compared to cats, 294

  -- number destroyed under the muzzling order, 300

  Ducks of the Serpentine, 34

  -- annual shooting of, 36

  -- in Holland Park, domestic difficulties of, 40

  -- terror of, on sight of crow, 41

  Dulwich Park, bird life in, 234

  East-enders, their regard for the chaffinch, 197

  East London, paucity of breathing spaces in, 192

  Eggs, ducks', stolen from Kensington Gardens, 40

  -- proposed substitution of, 306, 317, 318, 323

  Egg-stealing by jackdaw, 61

  Enfield, the 'Raven Tree' at, 25

  Exotic shrubs, 17, 164, 185, 215

  Fence against cats, need of, 301

  Fieldfares in London, 131, 178

  Finsbury Park, 187

  Flycatcher, spotted, at Ravenscourt Park, 170

  -- -- in Kew Gardens, 267

  Fowls, attack of, on marauding jackdaw, 61

  Fuel-gatherers, 86

  Fulham, former presence of spoonbills and herons at, 2, 252

  -- Bishop's Park at, 251

  Geese, wild, flying over London, 132

  Gray's Inn Gardens, rookery in, 70

  -- -- -- destruction of kite's nest in, 121

  -- -- -- suggestion as to rooks in, 305

  Grebe, the little, as a London bird, 97

  -- -- -- his nest, 99

  -- -- -- defends his nest against swans, 100

  -- -- -- in St. James's Park, 102

  -- -- -- seasonal movements of, 137

  -- -- -- at Kew, 267

  -- -- -- as possible foster parents to crested grebe, 317

  Greenwich Park, former rookery in, 77

  -- -- indiscriminate tree-lopping in, 224

  -- -- bird life in, 225

  Gulls, black-headed, in London, 145

  -- -- feeding on sprats, 148

  Hackney Downs, 194

  -- Marsh, 201

  -- -- cream-coloured courser shot at, 209

  Hampstead, last of the magpies at, 22

  -- nesting place of crow at, 43

  -- Heath, 176

  -- -- birds of, 178

  Haws, wood-pigeons feeding on, 135

  Hedge-sparrows, rarity of, in Kensington Gardens, 159

  Herons, former nesting of, at Fulham, 2, 252

  -- increase of, at Richmond, 263

  Heronry at Wanstead, 212

  Hibbert, the late Mr. Shirley, on robins in London, 124

  -- -- -- -- -- on London birds, 152

  Highbury Fields, 191

  Highgate Cemetery, manifest destiny of, 186

  -- Woods, characteristics of, 183

  Holland Park, difficulties of ducks in, 39

  -- -- as bird sanctuary, 157

  Hyde Park, bird-feeders in, 15

  -- -- destruction of ravens in, 25

  -- -- decrease of birds in, 275

  Island refuges, need of, as sanctuaries, 164, 275

  -- -- in Battersea Park, 242

  Jackdaw, a tame, 58

  -- his egg-stealing avenged, 61

  -- his parting visit, 63

  -- at Clissold Park, 310

  -- wild daws attracted by, 311

  Jackdaws, their rarity in London, 52

  -- as cathedral birds, 53, 264

  -- colony of, at Kensington, 55

  -- their relations with rooks, 56, 138

  -- short visit of, to Clissold Park, 57

  -- white, 63

  -- abundance of, at Richmond, 262

  Jay, its absence from the inner parks, 23

  -- at Streatham, 250

  -- at Wimbledon, 257

  -- at Richmond, 263

  -- at Kew, 267

  'Jenny,' the Tower raven, 29

  Kempshall, Mr., loaf-stealing crow observed by, 45

  Kennington Park, 219

  -- -- bird life in, 221

  Kensington Gardens, raven in, 27

  -- -- daws in, 55, 274

  -- -- former rookery in, 77-82

  -- -- a stranger's first view of, 78

  -- -- destruction of trees in, 79-85

  -- -- Matthew Arnold on, 161

  -- -- owls in, 165, 274

  Kestrels at Hackney Marsh, 206

  Kew Gardens, 265

  -- -- bird life in, 267

  Kilburn, open spaces in, 172

  Kimber, Sergeant, his experiments in Clissold Park, 309

  Kingfisher in Battersea Park, 293

  -- suggestion for encouragement of, 322

  Kite, its former office as scavenger, 2

  -- destruction of last nest of, 121

  Lambeth Palace, skylarks in grounds of, 144

  -- -- white owl at, 166

  Lea River, swans on the, 205

  -- -- former fishing in the, 206

  Leg of Mutton Pond, moorhens on the, 180

  Lethal chamber suggested for cats, 300

  'London,' ambiguity of the term, 2

  London, toleration of, by birds, 275

  -- absorption of country by, 286

  London districts:
    East, 192
    North and North-west, 172
    South, 216
    South-east, 218
    South-west, 237
    West, 156

  London fields, 194

  Longevity of birds, 110, 324

  Macaulay, T. B., recollections of Clapham Common, 244

  Magpie, rarity of, in London, 20

  -- fate of last pair at Hampstead, 22

  Mallard, imperfect domestication of, 38

  -- nesting in trees, 39

  Mansfield, Lord, birds in his grounds, 178, 181

  Marsh lands by the Thames, 210

  Melford, Mr. Mark, daws rescued by, 59

  -- Mrs., her tame jackdaw, 59-63

  Middlesex, remains of primæval forest of, 184

  Migration, as seen in London, 129-133

  Minet, Mr. William, Myatt's Fields given by, 219

  Missel-thrush at Kew, 267

  -- possible reintroduction of, 318

  Moat, the, at Bishop's Park, Fulham, 251

  Moat-hen, early name for moorhen, 94

  Moorhens, the, in London, 94

  -- decorative tastes of, 96

  -- their dislike of dabchicks, 100

  -- their autumnal movements, 138

  -- on Hampstead Heath, 180

  -- half-grown, as parent's assistants, 181

  Moule, Mr. E. C. H., on the birds of Hampstead, 179

  Mouser, the crow as, 49

  Movements of London birds, diurnal, 38, 42, 145

  -- -- -- -- seasonal, 129 _et supra_

  Myatt's Fields, 219

  Nests in parks, &c., taking of, 276

  Newton, Professor, as to the Temple Gardens rookery, 307

  Night in Kensington Gardens, 38

  Nightingale in Bostell Woods, 230

  -- at Streatham, 250

  -- increasing rarity of, 268

  Northey, Sir R., rooks brought to Temple Gardens by, 307

  Nunhead Cemetery, 233

  Nuthatch, possible introduction of the, 318

  Offerings to mistress by tame rook, 74

  Open spaces of London, 151, 171, 192, &c.

  -- -- comparative area of, in the several districts, 239

  Owl, white, at Lambeth, 166

  Owls, brown and white, in London, 4

  -- -- -- -- in Kensington Gardens, 165, 274

  -- -- -- -- at Hampstead, 178

  -- -- -- -- at Bostell Woods, 230

  Oxeye, disappearance of, from London, 158

  -- possible reintroduction of, 319

  Parks, central, of London, 156

  Partridge, the, at Kew, 267

  Peacock feathers, use of, by moorhens, 96

  Peckham Rye and Park, 230

  -- -- bird life in, 232, 233

  Pewit, the, at Wimbledon, 257

  Pheasant, the, at Kew, 267

  Phillips, Mr. M. B., his tame crow, 49

  Pigeon, domestic, increase of, in London, 53

  -- -- need of check on, 313

  -- homing, shot on Hampstead Marsh, 208

  Pike, destruction of water-fowl by, 213

  Pinioning, 315

  Plumstead, 225

  Ponds, provision for bird life on, 180, 196

  -- small, swans on, 247

  Putney Heath, 255

  Queen's Park, Kilburn, 172

  -- private grounds at Kew, 267

  -- -- -- -- -- proposed opening of, 269

  Rabbits in Hyde Park, destruction of, by cats, 293

  Ranelagh Sporting Club, 252

  Raptorial birds, their possible reintroduction, 312, 325

  Raven, bracelet stolen by, 26

  Ravens, their former presence in London, 25

  -- fate of the last pair, 25

  -- duel in Regent's Park, 27

  -- savagery towards their young, 127

  Ravenscourt Park, 168

  Regent's Park, 173

  Richmond Park, 261

  Ring, theft and restoration of, by rook, 75

  Ringdove, _see_ Wood-pigeon

  Robins, growing scarceness of, 124, 159

  -- their intolerant spirit, 126, 127

  -- annual scattering of, 140

  Roding, the river, 211

  Rook, tame, curious customs of, 73-77

  Rookery in Gray's Inn Gardens, 70

  -- in Kensington Gardens, fate of, 77-84

  Rookeries, 178, 212, 235, 250, 258

  Rooks, daws joining a company of, 56, 138

  -- approaching disappearance of, 70

  -- their characteristics, 72

  -- their winter roosting places, 138

  -- at Richmond, 257

  -- proposed reintroduction of, to London, 305, 309

  Rook shooting, herons scared by, 214

  -- -- not approved of by rooks, 258

  'Rough,' the, his hunting instincts, 278

  St. James's Park, little grebes nesting at, 98

  -- -- -- as a winter bird resort, 147

  Sanctuary for birds at Caen Wood, 326

  Sanctuaries for birds, need of, 163, 179, 213

  Scavengers, birds as, 2, 8, 24, 44, 46

  Serpentine, suicide of raven in, 27

  -- need of an island refuge in, 164

  'Shindies,' sparrows', 113

  Shooting of ducks in Hyde Park, 37

  Shrubs for parks, native preferable to exotic, 17, 164, 185, 215

  Singing matches of chaffinches, 198

  Skylark, 144, 205, 209, 257

  Soaring birds, appreciation of height helped by, 53, 264

  Soho Square, wood-pigeons nesting in, 91

  Southwark Park, 219

  -- -- bird life in, 220

  Sparrow, a tame, 108

  -- a love-sick, 112

  Sparrows, companionship of, 7

  -- their predominance, 105

  -- intelligence, 107

  -- domestic irregularities, 111

  -- 'shindies,' 113

  -- vesper song, 115

  -- pugnacity of those at the Tower, 141

  -- cats as check on increase of, 285, 325

  -- naturally tree birds, 287

  -- utilisation of, as foster-parents, 323

  -- present attempts to check their number, 324

  Species of birds lost to London, 197, 271

  -- -- -- decrease of, 272

  -- -- -- proposed restoration of, 304

  Spoonbills, their former presence at Fulham, 2, 252

  'Sport,' fascination of, 199

  Stables, Dr. Gordon, on domestic relations of sparrows, 111

  Stanley, Bishop, on moorhens, 95

  Starlings as London birds, 116

  -- labour of, in feeding their young, 117, 120

  -- variety of their notes, 119

  -- autumnal gatherings of, 139

  Stock-dove in London, 103

  -- possibility of its reintroduction, 31

  'Straying' of cats, 299

  Streatham Common, 248

  -- -- bird life on, 250

  Suburbs, abundance of birds in the, 155

  Suggestion as to white daws, 66

  -- as to water-fowl at Hampstead, 181

  -- -- -- -- at Victoria Park, 196

  -- as to pond at Kennington, 221

  -- as to moat at Fulham, 252

  -- as to care of bird life by County Council, 282

  -- as to Gray's Inn rooks, 305

  -- as to disposal of stray cats, 300

  -- as to reintroduction of birds to London, 304

  -- as to encouragement of kingfishers, 322

  Summer visitants, their usual route, 157

  -- -- at Hampstead, 178

  -- -- at Battersea Park, 243

  -- songsters in the suburbs, 321

  Suspiciousness of sparrows, 107

  Swallows as London visitors, 130

  Swans and dabchicks, battle between, 100

  -- their unsuitableness on small ponds, 186, 247

  -- of the river Lea, 205

  Tame birds as decoys, 312, 314

  Temple Gardens, origin of rookery in, 307

  Thames, the, as hunting ground for crows, 46

  Thrushes, growing scarceness of, 160

  Tits, growing rarity of, 159

  Tooting Bec, 246

  -- Graveney, 248

  Tower of London, ravens at the, 27

  -- -- -- fieldfares on tree at, 132

  -- -- -- fate of robin at, 141

  Trap-shooting, sale of jackdaws for, 59

  Trees, ducks nesting in, 39

  -- destruction of, in Kensington Gardens, 79-84

  -- old, due care of, 161

  -- their growth stunted by smoke, 196

  -- lopping of, at Greenwich, 224

  -- rooks driven away by mutilation of, 71, 77, 81

  Tristram-Valentine, the late Mr., on the starling in London, 126

  -- on gulls in London, 145

  Tuck, Mr. W. H., on the Kensington crows, 42

  Turtle-dove, possible introduction of, 314

  Vesper songs of birds, 115

  Victoria Park, 194, 195

  -- -- singing lessons to chaffinches in, 198

  Visitants, occasional, 29, 97, 138, 143-145

  Wandsworth Common, 245, 246

  Wanstead Park, 210

  -- -- bird life in, 212

  Warblers in London, 143

  -- at Hampstead, 178

  -- in Bostell Woods, 228

  Waterfowl, ornamental, relative value of, 34, 68

  -- rare, visits of, to the parks, 97, 145, 314, 316

  Waterlow Park, bird population of, 185

  -- -- swans at, 186

  Westbourne Park, wood-pigeons at coal deposit at, 91

  West London, open spaces on borders of, 171

  Wheatears on Hampstead Heath, 130, 178

  White jackdaws, 64

  -- ravens, 65

  -- blackbirds, 123

  White House Fishery, 206, 209

  -- -- resort of Hackney 'sportsmen,' 207

  Whiteness, black species most subject to vary into, 64

  Willughby on white ravens, 65

  Wimbledon Common, bird life on, 257

  -- -- badgers at, 258

  Woodpecker, green, at Hampstead, 263

  -- -- at Kew, 267

  -- lesser spotted, 178, 225, 267

  -- spotted, disappearance of, 178

  Wood-pigeons, their increase in London, 6, 89

  -- recent arrival of, 90, 101

  -- changes in their habits, 93

  -- their autumnal exodus, 134

  -- a singular habit of, 135

  Wren, gradual disappearance of, 159

  -- increase of, in Battersea Park, 243

  -- strength of vocal powers, 320

  -- goldcrest, at Kew, 267

  Wryneck at Kew, 267, 274

  Yarrell on magpies in Kensington Gardens, 22

  Yellowhammer at Hampstead Heath, 177

  -- at Wandsworth Common, 246

  -- at Barnes Common, 254

  Zoological Gardens, visits from crows to the, 176


       *     *     *     *     *

Transcriber's note:

Some illustrations have been relocated to fall between paragraphs
rather than within and to match the text better.

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