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Title: Birds of the Plains
Author: Dewar, Douglas
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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[Illustration: THE GREY PELICAN. (PELECANUS PHILIPPENSIS)]



                                BIRDS OF
                               THE PLAINS


                    BY DOUGLAS DEWAR, F.Z.S., I.C.S.
                       WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS
                    FROM PHOTOGRAPHS OF LIVING BIRDS
                   BY CAPTAIN F. D. S. FAYRER, I.M.S.


                   LONDON: JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD
                   NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY MCMIX

           WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD., PRINTERS, PLYMOUTH



                                PREFACE


It is easy enough to write a book. The difficulty is to sell the
production when it is finished. That, however, is not the author’s
business. Nevertheless, the labours of the writer are not over when he
has completed the last paragraph of his book. He has, then, in most
cases, to find a title for it.

This, I maintain, should be a matter of little difficulty. I regard a
title as a mere distinguishing mark, a brand, a label, a something by
which the book may be called when spoken of—nothing more.

According to this view, the value of a title lies, not in its
appropriateness to the subject-matter, but in its distinctiveness.

To illustrate: some years ago a lady entered a bookseller’s shop and
asked for “Drummond’s latest book—_Nux Vomica_.” The bookseller without a
word handed her _Lux Mundi_.

To my way of thinking _Lux Mundi_ is a good title inasmuch as no other
popular book has one like it. So distinctive is it that even when
different words were substituted the bookseller at once knew what was
intended. That the view here put forward does not find favour with the
critics may perhaps be inferred by the exception many of them took to the
title of my last book—_Bombay Ducks_.

While commending my view to their consideration, I have on this occasion
endeavoured to meet them by resorting to a more orthodox designation. I
am, doubtless, pursuing a risky policy. Most of the reviewers were kind
enough to say that _Bombay Ducks_ was a good book with a bad title. When
criticising the present work they may reverse the adjectives. Who knows?

                                                                   D. D.



                                CONTENTS


                                                                     PAGE
  I. British Birds in the Plains of India                               1
  II. The Bird in Blue                                                 10
  III. Sparrows in the Nursery                                         16
  IV. The Care of Young Birds after they leave the Nest                23
  V. The Adjutant Bird                                                 29
  VI. The Sarus                                                        35
  VII. The Stability of Species                                        40
  VIII. The Amadavat                                                   46
  IX. The Nutmeg Bird                                                  52
  X. The Did-he-do-it                                                  56
  XI. Cobbler or Tailor?                                               62
  XII. A Crow in Colours                                               68
  XIII. Up-to-date Species Making                                      73
  XIV. Honeysuckers                                                    78
  XV. A Hewer of Wood                                                  84
  XVI. A Feathered Sprinter                                            89
  XVII. A Bird of Character                                            94
  XVIII. Swifts                                                        99
  XIX. Birds as Automata                                              104
  XX. Playing Cuckoo                                                  111
  XXI. The Koel                                                       117
  XXII. The Common Doves of India                                     124
  XXIII. Doves in a Verandah                                          130
  XXIV. The Golden Oriole                                             135
  XXV. The Barn Owl                                                   140
  XXVI. A Tree-top Tragedy                                            145
  XXVII. Two Little Birds                                             150
  XXVIII. The Paradise Flycatcher                                     156
  XXIX. Butcher Birds                                                 163
  XXX. Ducks                                                          168
  XXXI. A Dethroned Monarch                                           173
  XXXII. Birds in the Rain                                            178
  XXXIII. The Weaver Bird                                             183
  XXXIV. Green Parrots                                                190
  XXXV. The Roosting of the Sparrows                                  197
  XXXVI. A Gay Deceiver                                               202
  XXXVII. The Emerald Merops                                          208
  XXXVIII. Do Animals Think?                                          213
  XXXIX. A Couple of Neglected Craftsmen                              219
  XL. Birds in their Nests                                            224
  XLI. Bulbuls                                                        229
  XLII. The Indian Corby                                              235



                              ILLUSTRATIONS


  The Grey Pelican (_Pelecanus philippensis_), a Bird
          of the Plains                                    _Frontispiece_
  The White-breasted Kingfisher (_Halcyon smyrnensis_)                  4
  The Redshank (_Totanus calidris_), one of the British Birds found
          in India                                                      8
  The Indian Roller, or “Blue Jay” (_Coracias indica_)                 12
  The Indian Adjutant (_Leptoptilus dubius_)                           28
  The Indian Adjutant (_Leptoptilus dubius_)                           34
  Loten’s Sunbird (_Arachnechthra lotenia_)                            78
      (Note the long curved bill, adapted to insertion in flowers.)
  The Yellow Sunbird (_Arachnechthra zeylonica_)                       80
  Nest of Loten’s Sunbird                                              82
      (Notice that it is built in a spider’s web.)
  Loten’s Sunbird (Hen) about to enter nest                            90
  The Indian Spotted Owlet (_Athene brama_)                            94
  The Indian Paddy Bird (_Ardeola grayii_)                            114
  The Common Kingfisher (_Alcedo ispida_), one of the British Birds
          found in India                                              144
  The Indian Kite (_Milvus govinda_)                                  148
  The Grey-necked Crow (_Corvus splendens_)                           190
  The Bengal Red-whiskered Bulbul (_Otocompsa emeria_)                230



                           BIRDS OF THE PLAINS



                  BRITISH BIRDS IN THE PLAINS OF INDIA


Most birds are cosmopolitans and belong to no nationality. Strictly
speaking, there is only one British bird, only one bird found in the
British Isles and nowhere else, and that is the red grouse (_Tetrao
scoticus_).

For this reason some apology seems necessary for the heading of this
article. “Birds common to the Plains of India and the British Isles”
would doubtless be a more correct title. However, I write as an
Englishman. When I meet in a foreign land a bird I knew in England I like
to set that bird down as a fellow-countryman.

In India most of the familiar birds: the thrush, the blackbird, the robin
redbreast, the wren, the chaffinch, and the blue tit are conspicuous by
their absence; their places being taken by such strange forms as _mynas_,
_bulbuls_, seven sisters, parakeets, etc. The Englishman is therefore
prone to exaggerate the differences between the avifauna of his own
country and that of India. The dissimilarity is indeed great, but not so
great as is generally supposed.

A complete list of British birds comprises some four hundred species; of
these nearly one-half occur in India. But a list of British species is
apt to be a misleading document. You may keep a sharp look-out in England
for a lifetime without ever setting eyes on many of the so-called British
birds. Every feathered thing that has been blown by contrary winds, or
whose dead body has been washed by the waves, on to the shores of Albion
has been appropriated as a British species. This sounds very hospitable.
Unfortunately the hospitality is of a dubious nature, seeing that every
casual bird visitor promptly falls a victim to the gun of some
self-styled naturalist. Having slaughtered his “feathered friend” the
aforesaid naturalist proceeds to boast in the press of his exploit.

I do not deem it correct to speak of these occasional visitors as British
birds. On the other hand, I think we may legitimately call the birds we
see constantly in England, at certain or all seasons of the year, English
birds. Of these many are also found in India. More of them occur in the
Punjab than in any other part of the country because of our long cold
weather, and because, as the crow flies, if not as the _sahib_ travels,
the Punjab is nearer England than is any other province.

The ubiquitous sparrow first demands our attention. This much-abused
little bird is, thanks to his “push,” quite as much at home in the
“Gorgeous East” as he is in England. He is certainly not quite so
abundant out here; the crows and spotted owlets take care of that. They
are very fond of sparrow for breakfast. Nevertheless, _Passer domesticus_
is quite plentiful enough and is ever ready to nest inside one’s
bungalow.

The Indian cock sparrow differs slightly in appearance from the English
bird, having more white on the sides of his neck. This is not, as might
be supposed, due to the fact that he is not coated with soot to such an
extent as the cockney bird. Every widely distributed species, including
man, has its local peculiarities, due to climatic influences, isolation,
and other causes. If the isolation be maintained long enough the process
of divergence continues until the various races differ from one another
to such an extent as to be called species. Local races are incipient
species, species in the making. The barn owl (_Strix flammea_) is another
case in point. This is a familiar owl in England, and is common out here,
but not nearly so abundant as the little spotted owlet that makes night
hideous by its caterwaulings. The Indian barn owl, which, in default of
barns, haunts mosques, temples, deserted buildings, and even secluded
verandahs, differs from our English friend in having stronger claws and
feet, and the breast spotted instead of plain white. These trivial
differences are not usually considered sufficient to justify the division
of the barn owl into two species.

Some of our English birds assume diminutive proportions in India, as, for
example, the kingfisher and the raven. This may perhaps be attributed to
the enervating Indian climate. The common kingfisher (_Alcedo ispida_) is
exceedingly common in all parts of India except the Punjab. It does,
indeed, occur in that province, but not abundantly. The commonest
kingfisher in the Land of the Five Rivers is the much more splendid
white-breasted species (_Halcyon smyrnensis_), which may be recognised by
its beautiful blue wings with a white bar, and by its anything but
melodious “rattling scream.”

This winter the ravens are invading Lahore in very large numbers. It is
impossible not to notice the great black creatures as they fly overhead
in couples or in companies of six or eight, uttering solemn croaks.

But the Indian raven, large as it is, is a diminutive form; its length is
but twenty-four inches as compared with the twenty-eight of its English
cousin. Moreover, there are slight anatomical differences between the two
races; hence the Indian bird was at one time considered to be a separate
species and was called _Corvus lawrencii_. There certainly does seem to
be some justification for this procedure, since the Indian raven has not
the solitary, shy, and retiring disposition of the bird at Home. It
consorts with those feathered villains the Indian crows, and, like them,
thieves from man and delights to tease and annoy birds bigger than itself
by pulling their tail! But there exist ravens of all sizes intermediate
between the large European form and the small Indian one, so that it is
not possible to find a point at which a line may be drawn between them.
For this reason the Indian raven is now held to be one and the same
species as the English bird—_Corvus corax_.

[Illustration: THE WHITE-BREASTED KINGFISHER. (HALCYON SMYRNENSIS)]

Two cousins of the raven, namely, the rook and the jackdaw, also occur in
the Punjab. They both visit us in the cold weather and fraternise with
the common crows. The rook may be readily distinguished from these by the
bare whitish patch of skin in front of its face. Last year hundreds of
rooks were to be seen in the fields between the big and the little Ravi.
They are not so abundant this winter owing to the comparative mildness of
the weather.

The jackdaw is very like _Corvus splendens_ in appearance. It may,
however, be easily distinguished by its white eye. There is at present a
jackdaw in confinement in the Lahore “Zoo.”

The coot (_Fulica atra_) is another bird common at Home which is also
abundant in India. He needs no description, being familiar—too
familiar—to every sportsman in India. He is the “black duck” of Thomas
Atkins that remains on the _jhil_ after all the duck have disappeared. It
is unnecessary to say that the bird is not a duck, but a water-hen that
apes the manners of one. His black plumage, white face, and the
difficulty he experiences in rising from the water prevent him being
confounded with a duck.

Ornithological text-books tell us that the skylark (_Alauda arvensis_)
visits India during the winter. This may be so, but I do not think I have
ever seen one in the Punjab. I have seen thousands of the Indian skylark
(_Alauda gulgula_)—a very similar bird, which is said to soar and sing
“just as the lark in England does.”

As a rule it soars only at daybreak. There are in India so many birds of
prey, ever on the look out for quarry, that our larks are not able to
sing with impunity at heaven’s gate. They usually put forth their vocal
efforts from a less exalted platform.

“The eel’s foe, the heron” (_Ardea cinerea_), need not detain us long,
although he is a common bird in both England and India, for the Punjab is
too dry to be a favourite resort of waders. There is, however, a heron in
the “Zoo” at Lahore who lives happily enough among the ducks and storks
in spite of the way in which the kites worry him when he is at supper.

The blue-rock pigeon (_Columba livia_) is another English bird found in
the Punjab. This must not be confounded with its cousin (_Columba
intermedia_) the very common Indian blue pigeon, of which so many have
taken up their quarters in the Montgomery Hall. The European form is not
nearly so abundant, and is distinguished by its paler colour and by the
fact that its lower back is white instead of bluish grey.

The family of birds of prey affords us a large number of species common
to England and India. Almost all the well-known English raptores are
found in India—the peregrine falcon, the marsh harrier, the hen-harrier,
the merlin, the kestrel, the sparrow-hawk, and the buzzard. All these are
considerably more abundant in India than in the British Isles.

Thus far we have spoken chiefly of birds that are found in the plains of
India all the year round. We have now to deal with migrants. As was to be
expected, many of these are common to Hindustan and to England.

Surprising as it may seem, stationary birds are the exception rather than
the rule. The majority of species, like viceroys and
lieutenant-governors, divide their time more or less equally between two
different places. It is by no means always easy to determine whether any
particular species is a migrant one or not. The mere fact that specimens
of it are seen in any given place at all seasons of the year is not
sufficient to prove that it is non-migratory. For the birds of a species
we saw six months ago are not necessarily the same ones that we have with
us to-day. To take a concrete example, the crested lark (_Galerita
cristata_) is found in Lahore all the year round, but is far more
plentiful in summer than in winter, which is the only time when it is
seen in England. The species is therefore a migratory one.

The general rule as regards migratory birds is that they breed in the
north and then go south for a season to enjoy themselves. Great Britain
is further north than India and has a much colder climate, hence we
should expect birds to crowd to India for the pleasant cold weather and
go to England for the genial summer. This does happen to a large extent.
Yet there are surprisingly few birds which winter in India and summer in
England. The only common ones that I can call to mind are the wagtails,
the pipits, and the quail (_Coturnix communis_). There are two reasons
for this. The first is that migration takes place in a more or less
northerly and southerly direction, and the British Isles are not due
north of India. The second reason is that England is a long way south of
the Arctic Circle. Its winter is therefore not cold enough for the taste
of many birds. Geese, ducks, and snipe are cold-loving creatures. Their
idea of nice mild weather is the English winter! In order to avoid
anything in the shape of heat they migrate very far north in summer, and
in winter, being driven southwards by the intense Arctic cold, spread
themselves all over the temperate zone. Thus it comes to pass that the
full and the jack snipe, the grey lag-goose, the mallard, the gadwall,
the pintail and the shoveller ducks, the widgeon and the teal, are winter
visitors both to India and the British Isles. But whereas snipe, geese,
and most ducks leave India for the hot weather, many of them remain in
Great Britain for the summer and nest there. It is probable that the
birds which spend the winter in Great Britain go further north to breed,
their place in the British Isles being taken by species that have
wintered in Africa. The north of Scotland, even, is too far south to
serve as a breeding place for some species. The little jack snipe
(_Gallinago gallinula_) is one of these; he never breeds in England,
whereas the common or full snipe (_Gallinago cœlestis_) does. Hence the
former is set down as a migrant in England, while the latter is thought
to be a permanent resident. In point of fact both are migrants, as we see
in India, but while some full snipe find a Scotch summer cool enough for
them to breed in, all jack snipe find it insufferably hot.

[Illustration: THE REDSHANK. (TOTANUS CALIDRIS)]

A curious fact regarding snipe in India is that these birds appear in the
south earlier than they do in the north. I do not know the earliest date
after the end of the hot weather on which a snipe has been shot in the
Punjab, but believe it to be considerably later than the last week in
August, at which time snipe are regularly shot in the Madras Presidency.
This is not what we should have expected. It is but reasonable to suppose
that the earliest birds to arrive in India would take up their winter
quarters in the north, and that the later arrivals, finding all eligible
residences in the north already occupied, would go farther afield. The
only explanation of the phenomenon which occurs to me is that the most
northerly birds are the first to feel the approaching Arctic winter and
so are the first to migrate. These, when they arrive in India, find the
northern portion of the peninsula too hot for them, so pass on southwards
until they come to the places where the temperature is at that season
lower.

This article has already reached an undue length, yet quite a number of
birds, more or less common in England and in India, have not been
mentioned. On this account I owe apologies to the cuckoo, the stint, the
sandpiper, the redshank, the ringed and the Kentish plovers. But the
names of these and of eight score others, are they not written in the
appendix?



                            THE BIRD IN BLUE


As I write my tympanic membranes are being somewhat rudely shaken by the
clamorous voices of a brood of young blue jays, which are in a nest
somewhere in one of the chimneys of my bungalow.

From the point of view of the blue jays the site they have chosen for
their nursery is an admirable one; indeed, had the architect of the
bungalow received a handsome “tip” he could not have provided the birds
with more comfortable accommodation.

The shaft of the chimney is not straight, as, in my humble opinion, it
should be. At a few feet from the top it is bent at a right angle, and
runs horizontally for a short distance before it again assumes what I
consider to be its normal course.

The architect was, however, not such a fool as he may appear, for it is
quite impossible to clean properly the chimney of his design; it must
therefore take fire sooner or later, and the fire may spread and result
in the destruction of the house. The re-erection thereof would of course
mean more work for the said architect.

The blue jays are as satisfied as the designer with the chimney, because
the horizontal portion forms a shelf upon which they can lay their eggs.
These are visible neither from above nor from below, and they are as
inaccessible as invisible, for the chimney is so narrow as to baffle all
attempts at ascent or descent on the part of human beings.

The blue jays make good to my ear what they deny my eye. The young
hopefuls utter unceasingly a loud cry resembling that of some creature in
distress. This is what I have to listen to all the time I am in the
bungalow. Outside, the parent birds make the welkin ring with their
raucous voices. Never were father and mother prouder of their offspring
or fonder of proclaiming the fact. When not cumbered about much serving
they squat either on the roof or on a blue gum tree hard by, and, at
regular intervals, utter a short, sharp, harsh “Tshow.” This is
emphasised by a jerk of the tail; the blue jay does nothing without first
consulting its caudal appendage.

On the occasions when I made vain attempts to obtain a look at the young
birds the parents took to their wings, and, as they sped through the air,
uttered cries so harsh and dry-sounding as to make me feel quite thirsty!

The blue jay is so familiar to us Anglo-Indians as to need no
description. We have all admired the bird as it lazily sailed through the
air on outstretched pinions of pale blue and rich ultramarine. We have,
each of us, watched it perched on a railing looking out for its insect
quarry. It is then comparatively inconspicuous, its neck and wing coverts
being the hue of a faded port-wine stain. We have seen it pounce upon
some object too small for us to distinguish, and either devour it then
and there or bear it off in triumph.

We all know that the bird is not a jay at all, that its proper name is
the Indian roller (_Coracias indica_), that it is related to the
kingfisher family, and that it is called a jay merely on account of its
gaudy plumage.

Next to its colour the most striking thing about the blue jay is its
wonderful power of flight. Ordinarily the bird is content to flap along
at an easy pace, but, when it likes, it can move for a little as though
it were shot out of a catapult; moreover, it is able to completely change
its course with startling rapidity; hence even the swiftest birds of prey
find it no child’s play to catch a roller bird. A good idea of its aerial
performances may be obtained by watching it attack a kite that persists
in hovering about in the neighbourhood of the nest. Blue jays, like
king-crows and doves, are exceedingly short-tempered when they have
young.

This species seems to indulge in very little sleep; it is up betimes, and
may be seen about long after every other day bird, with the possible
exception of the king-crow, is fast asleep.

The blue jay is a good friend to the gardener, since it feeds exclusively
on insects and small animals. Jerdon cites as the chief articles of its
diet, large insects, grasshoppers, crickets, mantidæ, and beetles, with
an occasional field-mouse or shrew. To this list he might have added
frogs and small snakes.

[Illustration: THE INDIAN ROLLER, OR “BLUE JAY.” (CORACIAS INDICA)]

At most seasons of the year the blue jay strikes one as a rather sluggish
bird, being content to squat on a perch for a great part of the day and
wait patiently for quarry to come its way. At the breeding season,
however, it becomes very sprightly. It is then more than usually
vociferous and indulges in a course of aerial gymnastics. It may be seen
at these throughout the month of March, now towering high above the
earth, then dropping headlong down, to suddenly check itself and sail
away, emitting the while the hoarsest and wheeziest notes imaginable, and
behaving generally like the proverbial March hare. These performances are
either actual love-making or a prelude to it. By the end of March the
various birds have sorted themselves out, and then the billing and cooing
stage begins.

At this season the birds are invariably found in pairs; the cock and hen
delight to sit side by side on some exposed branch. Like the young
couples that moon about Hyde Park on Sundays, blue jays do not mind
spooning in public. As the sexes dress alike it is not possible to say
which of a couple is the cock and which is the hen. Under such
circumstances naturalists always assume that the bird which makes the
advances is the cock. I am not at all sure that this assumption is
justified. Among human beings the ladies very frequently set their caps
at the men. Why should not the fair sex among birds do likewise?

In many species the sexes dress differently, and it is then easy to
discover which sex “makes the running,” and in such cases this is by no
means always the cock. I have seen one hen paradise flycatcher drive away
another and then go and make up to a cock bird. Similarly I have seen two
hen orioles behave in a very unladylike manner to one another, all
because they both had designs on the same cock. He sat and looked on from
a distance at the contest, and would assuredly have purred with delight
had he known how to do so! But of this more anon. The blue-jay lovers sit
on a branch, side by side, and gaze upon one another with enraptured
eyes. Suddenly one of them betakes itself to some other tree, uttering
its hoarse screeches as it flies. Its companion follows almost
immediately and then begins to bow and scrape, puff out its neck, slowly
wave its tail, and utter unmusical cries. The bird which is being thus
courted adds its voice to that of its companion. The raucous duet over,
silence reigns for a little. Then one of the birds moves on, to be
followed by its companion, and the above performance is repeated, and
will continue to be repeated dozens of times before the birds give
themselves over to family cares.

The greatest admirer of the blue jay could not call its nest a work of
art. The eggs are laid in a hole in a tree or building. Usually the hole
is more or less lined by a promiscuous collection of grass, tow,
feathers, and the like, but sometimes the birds are content to lay their
eggs in the bare cavity.

The blue jay, although so brazen over its courtship, strongly objects to
having its family affairs pried into, so if you would find its nursery
you must, unless you are lucky, exercise some patience. The birds
steadfastly refuse to visit the nest when they know they are being
watched. If patience be a virtue great, the blue jay is a most virtuous
bird, for, if it is aware that it is being observed, it will take up a
perch and sit there for hours, mournfully croaking, rather than betray
the whereabouts of its eggs or young. Most of the nests I have seen have
been discovered by accident. For example, when going along a road I have
had occasion to look round suddenly at some bird flying overhead and
caught sight of a roller entering a hole in a tree.

Some days ago I was out with a friend, when we saw a hoopoe, with food in
its mouth, disappear into a hole in the wall of a Hindu temple. The
aperture was about seven feet from the ground, so, in order to look into
it, I mounted my friend’s back. While I was investigating the hoopoe’s
hole, a blue jay flew out of another hole in the wall within a yard of my
face!

Like Moses of old, I turned aside to investigate this new wonder, and
found that the hole went two and a half feet into the wall, and that its
aperture was a square six inches in both length and breadth. The floor of
this little alcove was covered with earth and tiny bits of dirty straw,
which may or may not have been put there by the blue jay. On this lay a
clutch of four glossy white eggs, nearly as large as those laid by the
degenerate Indian _murghi_. Fortunately for those blue jays I am not an
egg collector. As it was, I did remove one of them for a lady who was
anxious to have it, but this was not missed. Birds cannot count.



                        SPARROWS IN THE NURSERY


The sparrow, as every Anglo-Indian knows, is a bird that goes about
dumping down nests in _sahibs’_ bungalows. It is greatly assisted in this
noble work by the native of India, who has brought to the acme of
perfection the art of jerry-building. In the ramshackle, half-finished
modern bungalow the rafters that support the ceiling never, by any
chance, fit properly into the walls. There are thus in every room a
number of cracks, holes, and crevices in which the sparrows love to nest.
As a matter of fact, these are not at all safe nesting places. Apart from
the fact that the nest is liable to be pulled down at any moment by an
angry human being, the situation is dangerous, because there is nothing
to prevent a restless young bird from falling out of the nest and thus
terminating a promising career. A few days ago a servant brought me a
baby sparrow that had fallen out of a nest in the pantry. I always feel
inclined to wring the neck of any sparrow that fate has put within my
grasp, for I have many a score to pay off against the species. Upon this
occasion, however, I felt mercifully inclined, so took the young bird,
which was nearly covered with feathers, and offered it bread soaked in
milk. This it swallowed greedily. When the youngster was as full up
inside as the Hammersmith ’bus on a wet day, I told the bearer to put it
in the cage in which my amadavats dwell. When I left for office I
directed the man to feed the new arrival. On my return in the evening the
bearer informed me that the young hopeful had declined its food. Now, a
young sparrow refuses to eat only when it is stuffed to the brim. It was
thus evident that its parents had found it out and were feeding it, in
spite of the fact that the nest from which it came was in the pantry on
the east side of the house, while its new quarters were in the west
verandah.

The next day a second sparrow fell out of the nest in the pantry and was
also consigned to the amadavats’ cage. At bed-time that night I took a
look at the birds, and found that the two young sparrows had tucked
themselves snugly in the seed tin! The next morning a third sparrow from
the same nest was brought to me; it was put in the cage along with its
brethren. As my office was closed on the day in question, I had the cage
placed in front of my study window. I could thus watch the doings of the
latest additions to my aviary. The hen sparrow does the lion’s share of
the feeding; she works like a slave from morning to night. At intervals,
varying from one to ten minutes, throughout the day she appears with a
beakful of food, which consists chiefly of green caterpillars.

It is the custom to speak of the sparrow as a curse to the husbandman.
The bird is popularly supposed to live on grain, fruit, seedlings, and
buds—those of valuable plants by preference. There is no denying the fact
that the sparrow does devour a certain amount of fruit and grain, but, so
far from being a pest, I believe that the good it does by destroying
noxious insects far outweighs the harm. Adult sparrows frequently feed on
insects. I have watched them hawking flies in company with the swifts,
and the skill displayed by the “spadger” showed that his was no ’prentice
hand at the game.

Sparrow nestlings in the early stages are fed almost exclusively on
caterpillars, grubs, and insects. As there are usually five or six baby
sparrows in a brood, and as these have appalling appetites, they must
consume an enormous number of insects. Let us work out a little sum. We
may assume that the sparrow brings at least three caterpillars in each
beakful of food she carries to her brood. She feeds them at least fifteen
times in the hour, and works for not less than twelve hours in the day. I
timed the sparrows in question to commence feeding operations at 5.30
a.m., and when I left the bungalow at 6 p.m. the birds were still at it.
Thus the hen sparrow brings in something like 540 insects _per diem_ to
her brood. She feeds them on this diet for at least twenty days, so that
the brood is responsible for no less than 10,000 insects, mostly
caterpillars, before its units are ready to fend for themselves.
According to Hume, the sparrow in India brings up two broods in the year.
I should have doubled this figure, since the species appears to be always
breeding. But it is better to understate than exaggerate. We thus arrive
at the conclusion that the hen sparrow destroys each year over 20,000
insects, mostly injurious, in the feeding of her young. Add to this
number those she herself consumes, those the cock eats, and those he
brings to the nest, and you have a fine insect mortality bill.

The movements of the mother bird when feeding her young are so rapid that
it is not easy to determine what it is she brings to the nest, even
though the objects hang down from her beak; the same applies to the cock.
In order to make quite certain of the nature of the food she was
bringing, I sought, by frightening her, to make her drop a beakful;
accordingly, at one of her visits I tapped the window-pane smartly just
as she was about to ram the food down the gaping mouth of a young bird.
She flew off chirruping with anger and alarm, but kept her bill tightly
closed on the food she was carrying. As the parents had to feed the young
ones through the bars of a cage the process required some manipulation,
and, in spite of its care, the bird sometimes dropped part of its burden;
but, almost before I had time to move, it had dashed down to the ground
and retrieved it. However, by dint of careful watching I managed to bang
the window immediately after the hen had dropped something of a dark
colour. Having frightened her away I rushed outside and found that the
object in question was part of a sausage-shaped sac containing a number
of tiny green grubs. After a few minutes the hen returned with her beak
full. Her fright had made her suspicious, so she perched on the verandah
trellis-work and looked around for a little. Nine times she flew towards
the cage, but on each occasion her courage failed her, to the intense
disgust of her clamouring brood. At the tenth attempt she plucked up
sufficient courage to feed the young birds.

At a subsequent visit she dropped a caterpillar, and I frightened her
away before she could retrieve it. I found it to be alive and about an
inch in length.

On another occasion I saw her ramming something black down the throat of
a young hopeful. Frightening her away, I went outside and found the
youthful bird making valiant attempts to swallow a whole mulberry. But it
was not often that she gave them fruit; green caterpillars formed quite
nine-tenths of what she brought in; the remainder was composed chiefly of
grubs, with an occasional grasshopper or moth. As the young grew older
the proportion of insect food given to them diminished until, when they
were about twenty-two days old, their diet was made up principally of
grain.

The day on which the third young sparrow was put into the cage was a warm
one, so at 2 p.m., when the shade temperature was about 115°, I brought
the cage into the comparatively cool bungalow, for the sake of the
amadavats. The cock sparrow witnessed the removal of the cage and did not
hesitate to give me a bit of his mind. In a minute or so the hen returned
with her beak full of green caterpillars. When she found the cage gone,
she, too, expressed her opinion of me and of mankind in general in no
uncertain terms. It was the last straw. Earlier in the day I had removed
one of the baby sparrows from the cage and placed it in a cigar-ash tray
outside the cage. The hen had affected not to notice that anything had
happened, and fed it in the ash-tray as though she were unconscious of
the removal. When, however, the whole cage and its contents disappeared
it was quite useless for her to pretend that nothing was wrong, so she
treated me to her best “Billingsgate.”

After the cage had been inside for about three-quarters of an hour the
young “spadgers” began to feel the pangs of hunger, and made this known
by giving vent to a torrent of chirrups which differed in no way from
those that make the adult so offensive. All that the poor mother could do
was to answer from the outside. I felt, that afternoon, that I was paying
off with interest some of my score against the sparrow.

The next day I did not take the cage into the bungalow, because I wanted
to ascertain whether sparrows feed their young throughout the day, or
whether they indulge in a noonday siesta. They kept it up, at their
respective rates, throughout the day, although the thermometer in the
shade must have risen to 115°. After the hen had disburdened herself of
the food she brought, she would perch for a moment on the trellis, and
pant with open beak as though she were thoroughly exhausted.

I have long been trying to ascertain how birds in the nest obtain the
liquid they require. Do the succulent caterpillars, on which young
sparrows are fed, provide them with sufficient moisture, or do the
parents water them? Although I spent several hours in watching those
sparrows, I am not able to answer the question satisfactorily. I placed a
bowl of water on the ground near the cage, hoping that this would tempt
the hen bird to drink, and that I should see her carry some of the liquid
to her offspring. But she took no notice of the water. She certainly used
to come to the cage sometimes with her beak apparently empty, and yet
insert it into the open mouth of a young one. Was she then watering the
nestling, or did her beak hold some small seeds that did not protrude? It
seems incredible that unfledged birds exposed to the temperature of an
Indian summer require no water; nevertheless, I never actually saw any
pass from the crop of the parents to those of the youngsters.



                        THE CARE OF YOUNG BIRDS
                       AFTER THEY LEAVE THE NEST


It has been urged as an objection to the Darwinian theory that Natural
Selection, if that force exists, must tend to destroy species rather than
cause new ones to come into being. Nearly all birds leave the nest before
they are fully developed. When they first come out of the nursery they
have attained neither their full powers of flight nor complete skill in
obtaining food. Every young bird, no matter how fine a specimen it be,
leaves the nest an inexperienced weakling, and can therefore stand no
chance in competition with the fully grown and experienced members of the
species. Natural Selection takes an individual as it finds it and pays no
attention to potentialities.

That such an objection should have been urged against the theory of
Natural Selection is proof of the fact that naturalists are inclined to
forget that, with many, if not all, species of birds, the duties of the
parents towards their offspring by no means cease when the young birds
leave the nest.

The parent birds, in many cases, continue to feed their young long after
these are apparently well able to fend for themselves. This fact is not
sufficiently emphasised in books on natural history. On the other hand,
such works lay stress upon the fact that in many species of birds the
parents drive their offspring away from the place of their birth in order
that the numbers of the species in the locality shall not outgrow the
food supply. How far this is a general characteristic of birds I do not
know. What I desire to emphasise is that the driving-away process, when
it occurs, does not take place until some time after the young have left
the nest. The fact that the parent birds tend the young long after they
have left the nest, and even after they are fully capable of holding
their own in the struggle for existence, disposes of the above-cited
objection to the theory of Natural Selection. Nature is so careful of the
young warriors that she prolongs the instinct of parental affection
longer than is absolutely necessary. So important is it that the young
should have a fair start in life that she errs on the safe side.

It is common knowledge that foster-parents feed cuckoos when these have
grown so large that, in order to reach the mouth of their spurious babes,
the little foster-mothers have to perch on their shoulders.

The sight of a tiny bird feeding the great parasite is laughable, but it
is also most instructive. It demonstrates how thoroughly bird mothers
perform their duties.

Crows tend their young ones for weeks after they have left the nest. I
have had ample opportunity of satisfying myself as to this.

It was my custom in Madras to breakfast on the verandah. A number of
crows used to assemble daily to watch operations and to pick up the
pieces of food thrown to them. They would go farther when the opportunity
occurred, and commit petty larceny.

The crows were all grey-necked ones, with the exception of two belonging
to the larger black species. But these latter are comparatively shy
birds, and consequently used to hang about on the outskirts of the crowd.

Among the grey-necked crows was a family of four—the parents and two
young birds. Every day, without fail, they used to visit the verandah;
the two young birds made more noise than all the rest of the crows put
together. They were easily recognisable, firstly, by their more raucous
voices, and, secondly, by the pink inside of the mouth. When I first
noticed them they were so old that, in size, they were very nearly equal
to the mother. Further, the grey of the neck was sharply differentiated
from the black portions of the plumage, showing that they had left the
nest some time ago.

Unfortunately I did not make a note of the day on which they first put in
an appearance. I can, however, safely say that they visited my verandah
regularly for some weeks, during the whole of which time the mother bird
fed them most assiduously. It was ludicrous to see the great creatures
sidle up to mamma when she had seized a piece of toast, and open their
red mouths, often pecking at one another out of jealousy.

They were obviously well able to look after themselves; their flight was
as powerful as that of the mother bird, yet she treated them as though
they were infants, incapable of doing anything for themselves.

At the beginning of the cold weather I changed my quarters, so was not
able to witness the break-up of the crow family. Probably this did not
occur until the following spring, when nesting operations commenced.

The feeding of the young after they have left the nest and are full-grown
is not confined to crows.

I was walking one morning along a shady lane when I noticed on the grass
by the roadside a bird which I did not recognise. It was a small
creature, clothed in black and white, which tripped along like a wagtail.
It had no tail, but it wagged the hind end of its body just as a
sandpiper does. While I was trying to identify this strange creature, a
young pied wagtail came running up to it with open mouth, into which the
first bird popped something. I then saw that the unknown bird was simply
a pied wagtail (_Motacilla maderaspatensis_) which had lost her tail! The
young bird was fully as large as the mother, and having a respectable
tail, which it wagged in a very sedate manner, looked far more imposing.
The parts of the plumage which were black in the mother were brownish
grey in the young bird. The white eyebrow was not so well defined in the
youngster as in the adult, while the former had rather more white in the
wing, but as regards size there was nothing to choose between the two.
The young bird remained in close attendance on the mother. It was able to
keep pace with her as she dashed after a flying insect. It ran after her
begging continually for food. The mother swallowed most of the flies she
caught, but now and again put one into the mouth of the young bird, but
she did so very severely, as if she were saying, “You are far too old to
be fed; it is no use to pretend you cannot catch insects, you are a
naughty, lazy, little bird!” But the lackadaisical air of the young one
expressed more plainly than words: “Oh, mother, it tires me to chase
insects. They move so fast. I have tried, but have caught so few, and am
very hungry.”

For several minutes the young wagtail followed the mother; then something
arrested its attention, so that it tarried behind its parent. The mother
moved away, apparently glad to be rid of the troublesome child for a
little. Then she suddenly flew off. Presently the young wagtail looked
round for its mother, and I was interested to see what would happen when
it noticed that she had flown away. My curiosity was soon satisfied.
Directly the young bird perceived that the mother had gone, it set itself
most philosophically to catch insects, which it did with all the skill of
an old bird, turning, twisting, doubling, with the elegance of an
experienced wagtail.

I describe these two little incidents, not as anything wonderful, but as
examples of what is continually going on in the world around us.

The parental instinct is probably developed in some birds more than in
others, but I believe that in all cases the affection of a bird mother
for her young persists long after they have left the nest, and for some
time after they are fully capable of looking after themselves.

Birds are born with many instincts, but they have much to learn both
before and after they leave the nest. It is not until their education is
complete, until the mother bird has taught them all she herself knows,
until they are as strong or stronger than she, that the young birds are
driven away and made to look after themselves.

[Illustration: THE INDIAN ADJUTANT. (LEPTOPTILUS DUBIUS)]



                           THE ADJUTANT BIRD


The adjutant bird (_Leptoptilus dubius_) is one of Nature’s little jokes.
It is a caricature of a bird, a mixture of gravity and clownishness.
Everything about it is calculated to excite mirth—its weird figure, its
great beak, its long, thin legs, its conspicuous pouch, its bald head,
and every attitude it strikes. The adjutant bird is a stork which has
acquired the habits of the vulture. Forsaking to a large extent frogs and
such-like delicacies, which constitute the normal diet of its kind, it
lives chiefly upon offal. Now, most, if not all, birds which feed on
carrion have the head and neck devoid of feathers. This arrangement, if
not ornamental, is very useful. The bare head and neck are, as “Eha”
remarks, “the sleeves tucked up for earnest work.” The adjutant forms no
exception to the rule, it wears the badge of its profession. But let me
here give a full description of this truly comic bird. It stands five
feet in its stockings. Its bill is over a foot in length and
correspondingly massive. As we have seen, the whole head and neck are
bare, except for a few feathers scattered over it like the hairs on an
elephant’s head. The bare skin is not lacking in colour. On the forehead
it is blackish; it becomes saffron-yellow on the upper neck, while lower
down it turns to brick-red. There is a ruff of white feathers round the
base of the neck. This ruff, of course, appears entirely out of place and
adds to the general grotesqueness of the bird. The back and wings are
ashy black, becoming slaty grey at the breeding season. The lower parts
are white.

As if the creature, thus arrayed, were not sufficiently comic, Nature has
given it a great pouch which dangles from the neck. This is over a foot
in length and hangs down like a bag when inflated. It is red in colour,
spotted with black. Its situation naturally leads one to believe that it
is connected with the gullet, that it is a receptacle into which the bird
can hastily pass the garbage it swallows pending more complete disposal.
But it is nothing of the sort. It does not communicate directly with the
œsophagus. Knowing this, one is able to appreciate to the full the
splendid mendacity of the writer to _Chambers’s Journal_ in 1861, who
declares that he witnessed an adjutant swallow a crow which he watched
“pass into the sienna-toned pouch of the gaunt avenger. He who writes saw
it done.”

Note the last sentence. The scribe was evidently of opinion that people
would not believe him, so thought to clinch matters by bluffing! But, to
do him justice, it is quite possible that he did see an adjutant swallow
a crow, for other observers have witnessed this, but the remainder of the
story rests upon the sandy foundation of the imagination. If the truth
must be told, we do not know for certain what the use of this pouch is.
Blyth suggested that it is analogous to the air cell attached to one lung
only of the python or the boa-constrictor, and, as in that case, no doubt
supplies oxygen to the lungs during protracted meals. The bird can thus
“guzzle” to its heart’s content without having to stop every now and then
to take a “breather.”

But we must return to the appearance of the bird, for the account of this
is not yet complete, since no mention has been made of the eye. This is
white and very small, and so gives the bird a wicked, knowing expression,
like that of an elephant. Colonel Cunningham speaks of “the malignantly
sneaking expression of the pallid eyes.” This is perhaps a little severe
on the adjutant, but it is, I fear, quite useless to deny the fact that
he has “a canister look in his heye.”

A mere description of the shape and colouring of the adjutant does not
give any idea of his comicality. It is his acts rather than his
appearance that make him so ludicrous. Except when floating high above
the earth on his great pinions the bird always looks grotesque. To say
that he, as he walks along, recalls a hunchbacked old man who is
deliberately “clowning” is to give a hopelessly inadequate idea of the
absurdity of his movements. Lockwood Kipling is nearer the mark when he
says: “For grotesque devilry of dancing the Indian adjutant beats
creation. Don Quixote or Malvolio were not half so solemn or mincing, and
yet there is an abandonment and lightness of step, a wild lift in each
solemn prance, which are almost demoniacal. If it were possible for the
most angular, tall, and demure of elderly maiden ladies to take a great
deal too much champagne and then to give a lesson in ballet dancing, with
occasional pauses of acute sobriety, perhaps some faint idea might be
conveyed of the peculiar quality of the adjutant’s movements.”

Sometimes the bird struts along solemnly with bent back and forwardly
pointed bill, at others it will jump or skip along with outstretched
wings and clap its beak. It cannot even stand still without striking
ludicrous attitudes. Seen from behind, it looks like a little
hunch-backed old man with very thin legs, dressed in a grey swallow-tail
coat. Adjutants sometimes vary the monotony of existence by standing on
one leg; occasionally they sit down, stretching their long legs out in
front, and looking “as though they were kneeling wrong side foremost.”

Colonel Cunningham gives a most entertaining account of the habits of
these birds, many of which used, until quite recently, to be seen about
Calcutta. My observations are chiefly confined to birds in captivity;
this perhaps accounts for the fact that they do not agree in all respects
with those of the Colonel. According to him, adjutants “are singularly
ill-tempered birds, constantly squabbling with one another, even in the
absence of any cause of competition, such as favourite roosts or
specially savoury stores of offal. Even whilst several of them are
standing quietly about, sunning themselves and apparently buried in deep
thought, a quarrel will suddenly arise for no apparent reason; and then
you may see two monstrous fowls begin to pace around, cautiously stalking
one another, and watching for a favourable opportunity of striking and
buffeting with beak and wings. The expression of slow malignity with
which such duellists regard one another is gruesome, and the injuries
resulting from the fray are often ghastly; blinded eyes and bloody
cockscombs being matters of everyday occurrence.”

Captive adjutants seem to be most placid birds. There are three of them
in the “Zoo” at Lahore, kept in a large park-like enclosure, and I have
never seen these fighting. They appear to be always, if not on the best
of terms, at any rate, indifferent to one another. The three will stand
for many minutes at a time in a row, motionless as statues. Sometimes a
male and a female will huddle up to one another and remain thus, with
their heads almost touching, looking like caricatures of Darby and Joan.

The table manners of adjutants, like those of most other carrion feeders,
are not polite. I will therefore not attempt to describe them. In the
good old days, feeding adjutants used to be a favourite pastime of Mr.
Thomas Atkins at Calcutta. I regret to have to say that his motives were
not always purely philanthropic. To connect two pieces of meat by a long
string and then throw them among a crowd of adjutants savours of
practical joking. One bird, of course, swallows one piece of meat, while
a second adjutant secures the other morsel. All goes well until each of
the birds tries to go its own way—then a tug-of-war results, fraught with
gastronomical disturbance to the combatants.

Adjutants are nowhere very abundant; they are nevertheless spread over
the whole of Northern India, but do not appear to be found so far south
as Madras. Another species, however—the smaller adjutant (_L.
javanicus_)—has been observed on the Malabar coast.

Some natives make adjutant-catching their profession. The birds are
captured on account of their down-like feathers, which are of
considerable commercial value.

The catcher fits the skin of an adjutant over his head and shoulders, and
in this attire creeps up to a company of the birds as they stand
half-asleep, knee-deep in water. Great is the surprise of the
unsuspecting birds when one of them is unceremoniously seized by the wolf
in the adjutant’s skin.

[Illustration: THE INDIAN ADJUTANT. (LEPTOPTILUS DUBIUS)]



                               THE SARUS


Having discoursed upon the adjutant, it seems but fitting that we should
turn our attention to another long-shanked gentleman—the sarus. The
adjutant is, as we have seen, a stork, while the sarus is a crane. I do
not know whether this conveys very much information to the average mind.
Most people will, I imagine, “give it up” if asked, “What is the
difference between a stork and a crane?” Yet there are considerable
differences between the two; they belong to different families, and, like
rival tradesmen of the same name, “have no connection with one another.”
I do not propose to detail the anatomical differences between storks and
cranes, for the excellent reason that I myself do not know them all, nor
have I the least intention of acquiring such knowledge. It forms part of
the dry bones of science, and these are best left to museum
ornithologists to squabble over. There are, however, one or two simple
points which suffice to enable us to distinguish at a glance a crane from
a stork. The hind toe of the stork is well developed, while that of the
crane is small and does not touch the ground; the consequence is that the
stork likes to rest on trees, while the crane prefers to stand on _terra
firma_ on its flat feet. The nostrils of the crane are half-way down the
beak, while they are at the base in the bill of the stork. The crane
nests on the ground; the stork builds in a tree. Young storks are
helpless creatures, while little cranes hop and run about from the moment
they leave the egg. Lastly, the crane has a voice, a fine loud voice, a
voice that can be heard a mile away, a voice like a trumpet, for its
windpipe is coiled. King stork, on the other hand, has no voice; when he
wants to make a joyful noise he is obliged to clap together his great
mandibles.

Cranes have been favourites with man from time immemorial. The result is
that ancient and mediæval writers have plenty to say about them. Now the
naturalist of old considered himself in honour bound to attribute some
wonderful characteristic to every beast of which he wrote. If he did not
know of any clever thing done by any creature, he invented something for
it to do. This method had the advantage of making natural history a very
exciting and interesting study. Cranes were supposed to perform all
manner of tricks with stones. As we have seen, they are blessed with
powerful voices, and, like other loud-voiced people, find it difficult to
keep silent. They are fully persuaded that silence is golden; but, when
it comes to acting up to this belief, the flesh proves itself very frail.
Thus it came to pass that the sagacious birds, when migrating, used to
stop up their mouths with stones. As they are far too well-bred to speak
with the mouth full, they were able to maintain a decorous silence when
travelling.

I can cite plenty of authority for this statement. There is, in
particular, no less a personage than “Robert Tanner, Gent. Practitioner
in Astrologie and Physic.” “The cranes,” he writes, “when they fly out of
Cilicia, over the mountain Taurus, carried in their mouths a pebble
stone, lest by their chattering they should be seized upon by eagles.”

The cranes had yet another use for their stones. When the main body were
resting at night, sentinels were posted to guard against surprise, so
that the company could go to sleep in security. To ensure necessary
vigilance, the sentinels stood on one foot and held in the other a large
stone. If they inadvertently nodded, their muscles relaxed and the stone
dropped. This, of course, used to wake them up. Even Alexander the Great
was glad to learn a lesson from the cranes. He used to go to roost with,
not a stone in his hands, but a silver ball, as more befitting his royal
dignity. On the slightest movement the ball would fall and he wake up.
Thus it was that he never overslept himself. We do not do such heroic
things nowadays; nor do cranes.

Cranes are birds which will not stand nonsense. The pigmies used to go
egg-collecting among them; the result of this was, to translate Homer:—

  When inclement winters vex the plain,
  With piercing frosts, or thick descending rain,
  To warmer seas the cranes embodied fly,
  With noise and order, through the midway sky:
  To pigmy nations wound and death they bring.

Notice that as the cranes were on the war-path there was no necessity for
them to fill their mouths with stones; they wanted all their lung power
to bark at their pigmy foes.

Having considered cranes as they are not, it behoves us to glance at them
as they are. The sarus is a handsome creature. It stands over five feet
high. The general colour of the plumage is a beautiful French grey. The
head and long neck are devoid of feathers, but are covered with numerous
tiny crimson warts or papillæ. These assume a deeper hue at the breeding
season, which occurs from July to September. There is a patch of grey on
the sides of the head. The throat and a ring round the nape are covered
with black hairs.

Saruses feed upon vegetable substances, insects, earthworms, frogs,
lizards, and other small reptiles, with an occasional snake thrown in by
way of condiment. “This,” remarks Babu Ram Brama Sanyal, “shows the kind
of accommodation they must have.”

Saruses are not gregarious birds, but hunt in couples and are said to
mate for life. It is further asserted that when one of a pair is killed
the other pines away and dies. I believe this to be true, although I
cannot vouch for it, and am certainly not going to put the statement to
the test by shooting one of a pair: for these cranes are such tame,
confiding birds that to shoot them savours strongly of murder.

According to Jerdon, a young sarus is not bad eating, but old birds are
worthless for the table. Lucky old birds! Saruses thrive very well in
captivity. As they habitually indulge in all manner of eccentric dances
they make most amusing pets. They are usually gentle and let strangers
caress them and tickle their heads. But I always let others try this on
for the first time with a strange crane, because some birds resent this
head-tickling and, to again quote from the worthy Babu above mentioned,
“appear to exist only as it were for pecking at everything, bird, beast,
and man: children being the special object of their wrath.”

There are two cranes in the “Zoo” at Lahore; they are a most mischievous
couple. They used to be kept with the ducks and geese, and amused
themselves by rooting up all freshly planted rushes. At feeding time it
was their habit to hop from one dish of food to another with outstretched
wings and thus frighten off the ducks and secure the lion’s share for
themselves. They were then removed to the enclosure where the adjutants
are. They started playing tricks on these, but the adjutant has a
powerful beak which he is quite ready to use when necessity arises. The
result is that the saruses are not on speaking terms with the adjutants.

Unlike the adjutant, whose nest is a huge platform of sticks placed on
the top of a very lofty tree, the sarus builds its nursery on the ground.
This takes the form of a large cone, several feet in diameter at the base
and two or three feet high. It is composed of reeds, rushes, and straw,
and placed by preference in shallow water. Great care is taken to keep
the eggs above water level. If, as is apt to happen in India, heavy rain
comes on after the completion of the nest, the parents speedily set to
work to raise the eggs by adding more material to that upon which they
rest.



                        THE STABILITY OF SPECIES


If two crows be taken to an ornithologist and he be told that one of them
was caught in the Himalayas while the other was captured in Madras, he
will not be able to tell which individual came from which area: in other
words, the crows of Madras resemble those of the Himalayas. This, of
course, is no unusual phenomenon. The same may be said of the myna, the
king-crow, and a great many other birds and beasts. Yet the phenomenon is
a remarkable one if we take into account the facts of variation.

If several hundred thousand crows be collected and carefully examined, it
will be found that no two of them resemble one another in all respects.
This being so, we should expect the crows of Madras to differ from those
of the Himalayas, since the two environments are so dissimilar. We may
say with tolerable certainty that no intercrossing takes place between
the crows of the two localities: for these birds are stay-at-home
creatures, and do not wander far afield. In this case, therefore, it is
not intercrossing that has prevented the origin of local races.

A consideration of the main causes which conduce to the stability of
species may not be devoid of interest; for the subject is one which has
hitherto attracted but little attention. Since the Darwinian hypothesis
was given to the world we have heard so much of variation and the origin
of new species that the other phenomenon—that of the fixity of species—in
spite of varying environments has been almost entirely overlooked. Yet it
was just this feature of animal life that attracted the attention of the
older zoologists and led them to believe that species had been created
once and for all, and that, when created, they were immutably fixed.

Most biologists, if asked to explain the comparative fixity of species,
the slowness of evolution, would, I think, refer to the fact that
variations appear to take place indiscriminately in all directions. Take,
for example, a large number of birds of any species and measure any one
organ, let us say the first primary wing feather. Suppose the average
length be six inches. We shall find that in a considerable percentage of
the individuals measured the wing is exactly six inches in length: that
six inches is what we may call the favourite or fashionable length of the
wing. The next commonest lengths will be 5.99 and 6.01 inches, and so on.
We shall find that only a very small percentage of the individuals have
wings shorter than 5½ inches or longer than 6½ inches; and if we measured
a thousand individuals we probably should not find any in which the wing
was shorter than five inches or longer than seven.

Now, the commonly accepted theory is that in those cases where there is
free interbreeding the long-winged varieties and the short-winged
varieties tend to neutralise one another, hence no change in character
takes place. The effects of variation are swamped by intercrossing. It is
only when intercrossing is checked, as when natural selection weeds out
certain varieties, that evolution occurs.

This theory, of course, explains, or helps to explain, why species are so
stable; but it involves the assumption that there is no such thing as
sexual selection among animals in a state of nature. The theory assumes
that individuals mate in a haphazard manner, that a long-winged hen is as
likely to select a short-winged husband as a long-winged one. Are we
justified in assuming this? At present there is little evidence on the
subject. Evidence can only be procured by measuring a number of pairs of
birds that have mated, and seeing whether large hens mate chiefly with
large cocks or with small cocks, or indifferently with large or small
cock-birds.

That sexual selection is a reality and not a mere hypothesis there can, I
think, be but little doubt. It is with the theory that supposes that the
females alone exercise selection that I feel compelled to quarrel. The
male selects his partner just as much as the female selects hers. The
choice is mutual.

In the Zoological Gardens at Lahore there are a number of ordinary
coloured peacocks and a number of albinos. No coloured hen will mate with
a coloured cock if she is allowed to exercise a choice between him and an
albino. Here, then, is a clear example of sexual selection.

Professor Karl Pearson has spent much time in trying to discover whether
there is such a thing as sexual selection—what we may call unconscious
selection—among human beings. His experiments tend to show that there is.

If we take a thousand married men whose stature is not less than six
feet, and a thousand also who are none of them taller than 5 ft. 8 in.,
we shall find that the average height of the wives of the former is
greater than that of the wives of the shorter men.

If wild animals display a similar characteristic, it is evident that to
say that intercrossing swamps variation and causes species to remain
stable is not altogether accurate; for, if like select like as partners,
we should expect a number of races to rapidly arise, or, at any rate,
three races—a large, medium, and small one. So far, however, as we can
see, species display no such tendency. We are therefore driven to the
conclusion either that there is among species in a state of nature no
tendency for like individuals to select like as their partners, or, if
there be such a tendency, there is some force at work which counteracts
it.

It may be thought that the case of the peafowl in the Lahore “Zoo” tends
to show that among animals it is dissimilarity, not similarity, that
attracts, for the coloured hens mate with white cocks in preference to
those like themselves.

As a matter of fact the hens select the white cocks, not because they are
white, but because of the strength of the sexual instincts of these
latter. The white cocks continually show off before the hens; the sexual
desire is developed more highly in them than in the ordinary cocks, and
it is this that attracts the hens.

We must also bear in mind that abnormal variations have a strong tendency
to perpetuate themselves. If a white cock mates with an ordinary peahen,
the majority of the offspring are pure white.

If there be such a thing as sexual selection, and if it be, as I believe,
the strongest, the most mettlesome individuals, those in which the sexual
instincts reach the highest development, that attract the opposite sex,
then the question arises: is there any connection between these
characteristics and the size and colour of their possessor? We are not in
possession of sufficient data to answer this question in the affirmative.
Nevertheless I believe that such a relation does exist.

The researches of Professor Pearson seem to point to the fact that there
exists a definite relation between variation and fertility. For every
species there is a mode or typical size and form, and from this there are
deviations in all directions, and, speaking generally, the greater the
deviation from the mode the less the fertility of the individual.

If this be a general law we have here a very potent factor tending to
make species stable. Those individuals which deviate least from the
common type are the most fertile; they produce the most offspring;
moreover, they are the most numerous, hence they, by sheer force of
numbers, keep a species stable. The abnormal individuals are
comparatively few in number, and they beget comparatively few of their
kind, so have no chance of establishing themselves and crushing out the
normal type, unless natural selection steps in to their aid.

Is comparative infertility the result of feebleness of the sexual
instinct? If so, sexual selection must be conducive to the stability of
species.

For if the rule be the greater the deviation of an individual from the
normal the less the development in it of the sexual instinct and the less
its fertility, it follows that an abnormal organism is less likely to
find a mate than a normal individual is; and if it do succeed in forming
a union, that union will probably produce less than the average number of
offspring.



                              THE AMADAVAT


“Gentlemen,” said a Cambridge professor to his class, “I regret that
owing to the forgetfulness of my assistant, I am unable to show you a
specimen of the shell of the mollusc of which we are speaking. You have,
however, but to step into the parlour of any seaside lodging-house and on
the mantelpiece you will see two of the shells in question.” Every
undergraduate immediately knew what the shell was like; so will my
readers at once recognise the bird of which I write when I inform them
that the amadavat is the little red bird with white spots that occurs in
every aviary in India. The bird is, indeed, not all red, but the bill is
bright red and there are patches of this colour all over the plumage—more
in the cock than in the hen, and more in the former in the breeding
season than at other times. Thus the general effect is that of a red
bird; hence the native name _Lal munia_, which, being interpreted, is the
red munia. This is the proper English name of the bird, although fanciers
frequently call it the red waxbill. Men of science know it as
_Sporæginthus amandava_. I may say here that the name avadavat or
amadavat is derived from Ahmedabad, whence great numbers used to be
exported, for the bird is a great favourite in England.

It is the cage bird of India _par excellence_. Hundreds of thousands of
amadavats must at this moment be living in captivity. The bird takes to
cage life as a Scotsman to whisky. Within five minutes of capture the
little creature is contentedly eating its seed and singing quite gaily.
This is no exaggeration. I was recently out with a friend when we came
upon a small boy catching munias. We saw captured a fine cock which my
friend purchased for two annas. Not happening to have a cage in his
pocket, he put the tiny creature into a fold of his handkerchief and
placed the remainder of the handkerchief in his pocket. While we were
walking home our captive began twittering in answer to his companions who
were still free. If this be not philosophical behaviour, I do not know
what is.

Nothing is easier than to catch munias. All that is required is the
common, pyramidal-shaped, four-anna wicker cage in which birds are
usually carried about in India. To the base of one of the walls of this a
flap is attached by a hinge. The flap is the same size and shape as the
wall of the cage, and composed of a frame over which a narrow-meshed
string net is stretched. A string is fastened to the apex of the flap.
The cage, with a captive bird inside, is placed in the open so that the
flap rests on the ground. On this some groundsel is thrown. In a few
minutes a passing amadavat is attracted to the cage by the song of the
bird inside. The new-comer at once begins to feed on the groundsel. Then
the bird-catcher, who is seated a few yards away, pulls the string
sharply, so that the flap closes over the side of the cage and thus the
bird is secured. It is then placed inside the cage and the flap again
set. In this manner a dozen or more amadavats can be captured in an hour.
As nine red munias are sold for a rupee, and as they will live for years
in captivity and cost next to nothing to keep, it is not surprising that
they are popular pets.

Moreover, the amadavat is no mean songster. “Eha” is, I think, a little
severe on the bird when he states that “fifty in a cage make an admirable
chorus.” The bird is small, so is its voice, but what there is of the
latter is exceedingly sweet. Were its notes only louder the bird would be
in the first rank as a songster. A rippling stream of cheery twitters
emanates unceasingly from a cage of munias. The birds seem never to tire.
The cock frequently utters, in addition to this perpetual twitter, a
warble of five or six notes. The birds love to huddle together in a row
on a perch and twitter in chorus. Suddenly the chorus ceases; one of the
birds raises his head above the level of the others and sings a solo,
while the rest listen in silence with the air of connoisseurs. When he
has finished, another bird has a “turn,” then another. The whole
performance always puts me in mind of one of those impromptu concerts
which soldiers are so fond of getting up.

Quite apart from their song, munias afford him who keeps them much
pleasure, because they are most amusing birds to watch. They are very
fond of heat. They are happiest when the thermometer stands at about a
hundred. When they huddle together for the sake of warmth, all are
content except the two end birds, who are kept warm only on one side. No
bird, therefore, likes to be an outside one of a row. If two or three,
sitting close together, are joined by another, this last does not take up
a position at the end of the line. He knows a trick worth two of that. He
perches on the backs of two in the middle and tries to wedge himself in
between them. Sometimes he succeeds. Sometimes he does not. When he does
succeed he frequently upsets the equilibrium of the whole row.

Needless to say, the birds roost huddled together, and at bed-time there
is great manœuvring to avoid an outside position. Each tries to get
somewhere in the middle, and, in order to do so, adopts one of two
methods. He either flops on top of birds already in position, and, if he
cannot wedge himself in, sleeps with one foot on the back of one bird and
the other on its neighbour’s back. The birds do not seem to mind being
sat upon in this way. The other method is for the two outer birds to
press inwards until one of those in the middle of the row is squeezed so
hard as to lose its foothold and be violently ejected upwards. The bird
thus jockeyed out of its position then hops to one end and in its turn
begins to push inwards, and so the process continues until the birds grow
too sleepy to struggle any more. All this contest is conducted without a
sound. There is no bickering or squabbling. The only thing I know like it
is the contest in the dining-room of an Indian hotel, when two “boys,”
each belonging to a different master, seize a dish simultaneously. Each
is determined to secure that dish, and neither dares utter a sound for
fear of angering his _Sahib_. Thus they struggle in grim silence.
Eventually one is victorious and walks off in triumph with the dish. The
defeated servant at once accepts the situation; so is it with a munia
ejected from a central position.

Although amadavats are widely distributed in India and fairly common in
most parts of the country, they usually escape notice on account of their
small size. When flying overhead they are probably mistaken for sparrows.
Moreover, they do not often visit gardens; they prefer open country.

Amadavats belong to the finch family, to the great tribe which includes
the sparrow, the canary, and the weaver-bird. By their coarse, stout
beak, tapering to a point, you may know them. The use of this big beak is
to husk grain. Finches do not gobble up their seed whole as pigeons or
fowls do; they carefully husk each grain before swallowing it. Hence the
meal of a bird of this family is a somewhat protracted affair. He who
keeps an aviary should remember this and provide his birds with several
seed-boxes, otherwise one or two bullies (for there are bullies even
among tiny birds) are apt to monopolise the food.

He should also bear in mind that Nature does not provide her feathered
children with teeth. Seed-eating birds, therefore, habitually swallow
small stones and pieces of grit. These perform the function of millstones
inside the bird. From this it follows that it is cruel to keep
seed-eating birds without supplying them with sand and grit.

The bone of a cuttle-fish, tied to the wall of the cage, is much
appreciated by all the finch tribe and helps to keep them in condition.

The nest of the amadavat is a large ball of fibrous material, somewhat
carelessly put together, with a hole at one side by way of entrance.
Winter is the season in which to look for the nests, but they are not
easy to find, being well concealed in low bushes. Six pure white
glossless eggs are usually laid.



                            THE NUTMEG BIRD


The nutmeg bird or spotted munia (_Uroloncha punctulata_) is second only
to the amadavat as an aviary favourite. The two species are almost
invariably caged. This is, perhaps, the reason why I was once gravely
assured by a lady that the spotted munia is the hen; and the amadavat the
cock of one and the same species! Needless to say, the birds, although
relatives, belong to different genera. The stouter bill of the spotted
munia proclaims this. In colour the beak is bluish black or dark slate
colour, and contrasts strongly with the chocolate-brown of the head,
neck, back, wings, and tail. The breast is white with a number of black
rings, which give it the appearance of a nutmeg-grater, hence the popular
name of the bird. Fanciers go one better and call it the spice bird. If
in years to come the former name be forgotten, etymologists will put
their wise heads together and puzzle and wrangle over the derivation of
the name “spice bird”!

The habits of the spotted munia are those of the amadavat. Like the
latter, it seems to thrive in captivity; it also loves warmth, and likes
to go to roost with a warm companion on each side of it. Red and spotted
munias live together very amicably in a cage; but as the latter, owing to
their less showy plumage, are usually in a minority, they have to be
content with outside positions at roosting-time. Sometimes my munias take
it into their tiny heads to sleep on a perch which runs across a corner
of the cage, and is barely long enough to accommodate them all. There are
several other finer and longer perches, but, for some reason or other,
they seem to prefer this one. Possibly its breadth is better adapted to
the grip of their feet than that of any of the others. I may here say, in
parenthesis, for the benefit of those who keep cage birds, that every
cage should contain several perches of varying diameter, so as to permit
the inmates of the cage the luxury of a change of grip.

Well, when a dozen birds persist in roosting on a perch intended only to
seat ten, at least one of them is unable to find room on the perch, and
is obliged either to sleep on the backs of some of his companions or
make-believe that he is roosting on the perch. This latter feat is
accomplished by the bird clutching hold of the two wires between which
the perch passes and maintaining himself at an angle of 45° with the
vertical. In this attitude a bird will sometimes sleep! Of course, its
body is in part resting on that of its neighbour, but, allowing for this,
a more uncomfortable position is inconceivable to a human being. The
spotted munia, however, seems to find it tolerably comfortable.

Birds sleep standing, often on one leg. Did this require any appreciable
muscular effort on the part of the bird there could be no rest in such an
attitude, and the bird would fall off its perch as soon as it went to
sleep. As a matter of fact, the muscles and tendons of a bird’s hind-limb
are so arranged that, to use the words of Mr. F. W. Headley, “when the
leg bends at the ankle, there is a pull upon the tendons, the muscles are
stretched, the toes are bent and grasp the perch on which the bird sits.
Thus he is maintained by his own weight, which bends the leg and so
causes the toes to grip.” Thanks to this feature of their anatomy,
passerine birds are able to sleep on branches of trees out of reach of
prowling beasts of prey.

The great force with which a bird grasps its perch is worthy of note. As
every hawker is aware, a falcon, when carried on the wrist, grips the
leather gauntlet so tightly as to almost stop the circulation of the
blood in the hand of the carrier. A fox cannot open its mouth when once
its snout is in the iron grip of an eagle. Examples of the power of the
grip of the foot of a passerine bird will occur to every one who has had
much to do with our feathered friends. Crows habitually roost in the
topmost branches of trees, which must be very violently shaken in a gale
of wind; yet the birds never seem to lose their hold.

I have said that the habits of the spotted munia are those of the
amadavat; what was said of the latter applies to the former, with one
exception. The spotted munia is no songster. Those who keep the bird must
have seen him go through all the motions of singing, with a considerable
display of energy, but scarcely a sound seems to issue. You may perhaps
hear the feeblest noise, like that made by a wheezy and decrepit
mosquito. When you see the bird’s mandibles moving nineteen to the dozen
with scarcely a sound issuing, you are inclined to think that he is
either playing dumb crambo or that he has taken leave of his senses.
Nothing of the kind. The bird is singing his top notes, which are
doubtless greatly appreciated by his mate. Sound is, as we all know in
this scientific age, vibration appreciable to the ear. Air is the usual
vibrating medium. Only certain vibrations are perceptible to the human
auditory organ. Those having a recurrence of below thirty or above
sixteen thousand per second do not produce the sensation of sound to the
average human ear. There are thus numbers of vibrations continually going
on which are lost to us; to this category belong the vibrations in the
air produced by the vocal cords of the spotted munia. The ear of a bird
is constituted very differently from that of man, so that it is not
surprising if birds can hear certain sounds imperceptible to us human
beings. I may here say that the range of the human ear varies greatly in
different individuals. Some men can hear vibrations of which the
recurrence is but fifteen in the second, while others are said to
appreciate notes caused by forty thousand vibrations per second. I have a
friend who cannot hear a black partridge when it is calling; its notes
are too high for the unusually limited range of his ear. I do not know if
there are any people to whom the note of the nutmeg bird sounds quite
loud; if there be, and these lines meet their eye, I hope they will give
their brethren of more limited capacity the benefit of their experience.



                            THE DID-HE-DO-IT


Mr. “did-he-do-it” is a dandy of the first water. I should like to add
“and so is his wife,” for she dresses exactly as he does, and is every
bit as particular regarding her personal appearance, but owing to the
peculiarity of our Anglo-Saxon tongue, it is incorrect to apply the term
“dandy” to a lady, and there appears to be no feminine equivalent of it.
I must therefore be content to say that Mrs. Did-he-do-it is a dressy
little person. Before describing the attire of the Did-he-do-it let me
say that the bird is correctly styled the red-wattled lapwing.
Ornithologists used to call it _Lobivanellus goensis_, but this was found
to be a bit of a mouthful for even an ornithologist; accordingly the bird
is now named _Sarcogrammus indicus_ for short.

The Did-he-do-it belongs to the noble family of plovers. Its head, neck,
and upper back are black, and the under parts are white. A broad white
band runs down each side of the neck from the eye to join the white of
the under parts. The wings are of a beautiful greenish-bronze hue; the
legs are bright yellow. The beak is crimson-red, as is the forwardly
pointing wattle which forms so conspicuous a feature of the bird’s
physiognomy. The lapwing is thus an easy bird to identify. Even if you
cannot see him, you know he is there the moment you hear his loud, shrill
“Did he do it, pity to do it.” The only bird with which he can possibly
be confounded is his cousin, the yellow-wattled lapwing (_Sarciophorus
malabaricus_). This latter, however, has a yellow wattle and one syllable
less in its cry.

The Did-he-do-it is a bird which frequents open plains in the
neighbourhood of water. I have never seen it perched on a tree, and as it
does not possess the luxury of a hind toe, I imagine that, like the old
lady after a rough Channel crossing, it likes to feel itself on “_terra
cotta._”

This bird is not likely to be seen within municipal limits, but it is
fairly abundant outside Madras. It feeds chiefly upon insects and small
crustacea. It is not a gluttonous fowl. “Eha” declares that you never
find it where there is food and that it does without sleep, since you
never catch it napping. Jerdon, however, informs us that in the South of
India it is said to sleep on its back with its legs in the air—a
distinctly undignified position for a dandy. It sleeps thus so as to be
able to catch on its toes the sky in case this should happen to fall
down. As “Eha” says, the chief point about this truly native yarn is that
it is impossible to contradict it, for who has seen a lapwing asleep?

The nesting habits of the Did-he-do-it are most interesting. Strictly
speaking, it does not build a nest. It scrapes a cavity, about a quarter
of an inch deep, in some stony place. This is the nest. Round it there
are a few pieces of _kankar_ or some twigs; whether these are brought
thither by the bird, or have merely been brushed there in the making of
the cavity, I know not. Very frequently the nest is situated in the
ballast of the railway line. Sometimes it is so placed that the footboard
of every carriage passes over the head of the sitting bird. There is no
accounting for tastes! Four eggs are usually laid; they are much more
pointed at one end than at the other, and are invariably placed in the
nest so as to form a star, the blunt ends projecting outwards and the
thin ends nearly meeting at the centre.

Lapwings’ eggs are protectively coloured. Being laid in the open and not
hidden away in a nest, it is important that they should not be
conspicuous, otherwise they would soon be espied and devoured by some
egg-eating creature. Thus they are coloured so as to assimilate with
their surroundings. The ground colour is greenish and is boldly splotched
with sepia, some of the splotches being darker than others. The eggs are
dull and not glossy, hence are very difficult to distinguish from the
stones which lie round about them. From the above description it will be
seen that the Did-he-do-it’s egg is very like that of his cousin the
English plover, whose eggs are held to be so great a delicacy. Why these
eggs are so much esteemed I do not know. I suspect that it is because
they are difficult to find, and so costly. If tripe and onions cost fifty
shillings a pound, this dish would probably form the _pièce de
résistance_ of every millionaire’s banquet.

The eggs of the Did-he-do-it, then, are interesting as forming perfect
examples of protectively coloured objects. As I have previously remarked,
the theory of protective colouration has my deepest sympathy. It is an
unfortunate jade upon which every biologist seems to think that he is
entitled to take free rides; the result is that the poor beast’s ribs are
cutting through its skin! For example, every bird’s egg is supposed to be
protectively coloured—even the gorgeous shining blue egg laid by the
seven sisters, which is, in truth, about as much protectively coloured as
the I Zingari Cricket Club blazer is. The majority of eggs are laid in
nests which are either covered in or more or less well concealed among
foliage, hence there is no necessity for them to be protectively
coloured. Dame Nature is free to exercise on them to the uttermost her
artistic temperament, with the result that there are few things more
beautiful than a collection of birds’ eggs.

So well do the eggs of the lapwing assimilate with their surroundings,
that, if you would discover a clutch of them, your only chance is to
watch the actions of the possessors of the nest. But the Did-he-do-it is
a wily bird, and if you are not very cute he will live up to his name by
“doing you in the eye.” He does not, like babblers and bulbuls, make a
tremendous noise as you approach the nest. He assumes a nonchalant, I
might say jaunty, air, hoping thereby to put the intruder off the scent.
The other day I had the pleasure of circumventing a couple of lapwings.
Feeling tolerably certain that a pair had a nest on a flat piece of
ground near a canal bank, I determined to find that nest. My wife
accompanied me. On arriving at the spot we took cover under some trees
and scanned the horizon with field-glasses, but saw no trace of a
lapwing. I began to think I had made a mistake. After a time we walked on
towards the canal; when we had gone some three hundred yards my wife
noticed a bird on a ridge by the canal. By the aid of glasses I saw it
was a Did-he-do-it. We both dropped down and watched. The bird had
“spotted” us, for he had assumed the air of an old sailor who is smoking
a pipe over a mug of beer, the air of a man without a care in the world.
Presently he quietly disappeared behind the little ridge. We then made a
big detour so as to reach the other side of this. Having arrived there we
sat behind a tree. The lapwing was now eyeing us suspiciously. We
affected to take no notice of him. Presently a second Did-he-do-it came
out from behind a clump of low plants only to disappear into it almost
immediately, and then ostentatiously reappear after a few seconds. Had we
not known the wiles of the lapwing we should have located the nest behind
that clump. But we knew better and waited. One of the birds again
disappeared behind the clump, but emerged at the other side and strolled
along very slowly; presently it came to some stones, where it stood
motionless for a few seconds. It then sat down, or rather slowly sank
into a sitting position. There was no doubt that the bird was now on the
nest. We made for it. As we approached, the bird that was not on the nest
flew off, making a noise with the object of putting us off the scent. The
lapwing on the nest quietly got up and strolled off without a sound. On
arriving at the place where she had been sitting we found three eggs. I
took one of them for a lady who was anxious to have one. Meanwhile both
birds had flown away without making any noise. Having examined the nest,
we returned to our watching place. In about ten minutes the bird was
again sitting quite happily. She had not missed the egg.



                           COBBLER OR TAILOR?


The disagreement between the popular and the scientific name of the
tailor-bird (_Orthotomus sutorius_) must, I suppose, be attributed to the
fact that the average ornithologist is not learned in the Classics. I
freely admit that I did not notice the discrepancy until it was pointed
out to me. _Orthotomus sutorius_ means, not the tailoring, but the
cobbling _Orthotomus_. It was, I believe, Forester who, considerably over
a century ago, gave the bird the specific name which it now possesses, or
rather the allied name, _sutoria_. If he wrote this in mistake for
_sartoria_, the error was a stroke of genius, since the bird should
certainly be called the cobbler rather than the tailor. The so-called
sewing of the nest is undoubtedly a great performance for a little bird
that does not possess a workbox. Nevertheless, if the _dirzie_ who squats
in the verandah did not work more neatly than the tailor-bird he would
soon lose his place. _Orthotomus sutorius_ does not sew leaves one to
another, it merely cobbles them together, much as the “boy” cobbles
together the holes in his master’s socks.

When last I wrote about the tailor-bird, I had honestly to admit that I
did not know how the bird did its work. My attitude towards its sewing
was then that of the child who sings—

  Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
  How I wonder what you are!

To-day I can boast with the learned astronomer—

  Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
  Now we all know what you are!

for I have found out how the bird does its sewing.

Some months ago Mr. G. A. Pinto, a very keen ornithologist, informed me
that a tailor-bird built regularly every year in the verandah in front of
his drawing-room window. He told me that he had never thought of watching
the stitching operation, and was much surprised when I informed him that,
so far as I knew, no one had ever observed the complete process. He said
that as the bird would undoubtedly begin building shortly, he would
follow the whole process from the other side of the window. He was as
good as his word. It is thanks to his patient watching that I am in a
position to pen this article. Towards the end of May the hen tailor-bird
began “prospecting” for a likely site, for the hen alone works at the
nest, and selected a _Dracæna_ plant on the left-hand side of the
entrance to the verandah. One of the leaves of the plant was so curved
that its terminal half was parallel with the ground. Upon this she
commenced operations. The first thing she did was to make with her sharp
little beak a number of punctures along each edge of the leaf. In this
particular case the punctures took the form of longitudinal slits, owing
to the fact that the veins of the _Dracæna_ leaf run longitudinally. In
leaves of different texture the punctures take other shapes. Having thus
prepared the leaf, she disappeared for a little and returned with a
strand of cobweb. One end of this she wound round the narrow part of the
leaf that separated one of the punctures from the edge; having done this,
she carried the loose end of the strand across the under surface of the
leaf to a puncture on the opposite side, where she attached it to the
leaf and thus drew the edges a little way together. She then proceeded to
connect most of the other punctures with those opposite to them, so that
the leaf took the form of a tunnel converging to a point. The under
surface of the leaf formed the roof and sides of the tunnel or arch.
There was no floor to this, since the edges of the leaf did not meet
below, the gap between them being bridged by strands of cobweb. This was
a full day’s work for the little bird, and more than sufficient to
disqualify her for membership in any trade union.

She next went on to line with cotton this _cul-de-sac_ which she had made
in the leaf. She, of course, commenced by filling the tip, and the weight
of the lining soon caused the hitherto horizontal leaf to hang downwards,
so that it eventually became almost vertical, with the tip pointing
towards the ground. When lining the nest the bird made a number of
punctures in the leaf, through which she poked the lining with her beak,
the object of this being to keep the lining _in situ._ It was Mr. Pinto
who first called my attention to these punctures in the body of the leaf.
He informed me that he had never seen a tailor-bird’s nest in which the
lining did not thus project through holes in the leaf, and that when
searching for such nests he always looked out for this. My subsequent
observations have tended to confirm his statement.

All this time the edges of the leaf that formed the nest had been held
together by the thinnest strands of cobweb, and it is a mystery how these
can have stood the strain. However, before the lining was completed, the
bird proceeded to strengthen them by connecting the punctures on opposite
edges of the leaf with threads of cotton. Her _modus operandi_ was to
push one end of a thread through a puncture on one edge and the other end
through a puncture on the opposite edge of the leaf. The cotton used is
soft and frays easily, so that that part of it which is forced through a
tiny aperture issues as a fluffy knob, which looks like a knot and is
usually taken for such. As a matter of fact, the bird makes no knots; she
merely forces a portion of the cotton strand through a puncture, and the
silicon which enters into the composition of the leaf catches the soft,
minute strands of the cotton and prevents them from slipping.

Every one must have noticed how brittle a dead leaf is. This brittleness
is due to the silicon which is deposited in the epidermis of the leaf.
When the leaf is green the silicon is not so obvious; it is nevertheless
there. Some leaves take up more silicon than others; grasses, for
example, contain so much that many will cut one’s hand if roughly
plucked. I imagine that the tailor-bird usually selects for her nest a
leaf or leaves in which there is plenty of silicon. Thus the bird does
not make a knot as is popularly supposed, nor is there any necessity for
her to do so. Sometimes the connecting threads of cotton are sufficiently
long to admit of their being passed to and fro, in which case the bird
utilises the full length.

I may mention that when the nest, the building of which I have attempted
to describe, was about three parts finished, Mr. Pinto noticed that the
bird had ceased to work at it. He was surprised and disappointed. He then
discovered that the little builder was at work on a _Dracæna_ plant on
the right-hand side of the entrance to the verandah, not two yards
distant from the first nest. He was much astonished at the strange
behaviour of the bird, and still more so when, the next day, she had
resumed work at her first nest, which she completed, leaving the second
unfinished at the stage when the punctures had been made and the edges of
the leaf drawn together by strands of cobweb. Presently an explanation of
the bird’s unusual behaviour occurred to him. His dog which, ordinarily,
is chained up at one end of the verandah, was, on the day the tailor-bird
left her first nest, fastened up in the middle of the verandah, so that
the bird while working at her nest would be within its reach. She
evidently objected to this, so began a new nest; but next day, when the
dog had been removed, she returned to her more advanced nursery. This
accident of chaining up the dog for one day in the middle of the verandah
was particularly fortunate, for it enabled me to examine carefully a nest
in an early state of construction.

This account must, I fear, close with a tragedy. When the little cobbler
had been sitting on her eggs for about ten days one of the garden coolies
broke them, out of mischief, and thought he had done a clever thing. He
is now a sadder if not a wiser rascal!



                           A CROW IN COLOURS


  From bough to bough the restless magpie roves,
    And chatters as she flies.

The magpie has been well called a crow in gay attire. The two species are
related, and, as regards character, they are “birds of a feather.” Both
are bold, bad creatures, both rogues, thieves, and villains, and, as
such, both appeal to me. The magpie with which we are familiar in England
can scarcely be called an Indian bird. It does disport itself in happy
Kashmir, and has been seen in the uninviting tract of land over which the
Khan of Khelat presides. But India, as defined in the Income Tax Act,
extends neither to Kashmir nor to Baluchistan, hence _Pica rustica_ may
decline to be considered an Indian subject. In this land of many trials
his place is taken by his cousins the tree-pies. One of these—the Indian
tree-pie (_Dendrocita rufa_)—is distributed throughout the plains of
India, at least, so the books tell us. As a matter of fact, I have never
seen the bird in or about Madras. This is curious, for Madras is a garden
city (I speak not of Georgetown), and the bird ought to revel in the
well-wooded compounds which beautify the capital of the Southern
Presidency. Lest its absence from Madras be attributed to the profession
tax, let me say that the best legal authorities are of opinion that the
bird would not be liable to pay the tax. Not that it would make any
difference if the bird were liable. If I know him aright, he would say to
the importunate tax collector, “Go and get your hair cut,” or words to
that effect. Nor is there, so far as I can see, anything in the
much-abused climate of Madras to frighten away the bird. Perhaps the
doves are too much for him. If there be one thing more than another
calculated to disturb the easily upset equilibrium of the gentle dove it
is the sight of a tree-pie. In those places where it occurs you may, any
day of the week, see one of these long-tailed rascals being pursued and
buffeted by a pair of irate and hysterically screaming doves. In this
particular case the doves have some excuse for their anger. The tree-pie,
or the Indian magpie as Jerdon calls him, is, to use a colloquialism,
dead-nuts on a new-laid egg for his breakfast, and, as doves always
display their oological productions on a shakedown in a tree, and as I
defy even a museum ornithologist to discover any trace of protective
colouration about the aforesaid oological treasures, we cannot be
surprised if the tree-pie thinks that doves lay eggs for his especial
benefit. Even if the tree-pie does not happen to have been breakfasting
off their eggs the doves have ample excuse for chastising him, for does
not tradition tell us that Noah’s curse is upon the bird? The rascal
flatly refused to enter the Ark with the other birds, so that the
Patriarch had actually to send Japhet to catch it!

Unfortunately, the tree-pie does not draw the line at eggs. It is said
that it makes no bones about devouring a young bird. I have never seen
the creature commit this enormity, but Jerdon is my authority for the
fact that “Mr. Smith” has known a bird to enter a covered verandah of a
house and nip off half a dozen young geraniums, visit a cage of small
birds, begin by stealing the grain, and end by killing and eating the
birds, and repeating these visits daily until destroyed. _Facilis est
descensus Averni._

This is only one side of the bird’s character. I have seen a tree-pie
literally obey the Biblical doctrine of turning the smitten cheek to the
smiter; nor, so far as I know, did it, like the well-brought-up boy,
after having allowed its second cheek to be smitten, take off its coat
and thrash the smiter. The bird in question sat motionless on a branch
with a seraphic smile on its face, and appeared to be ignorant of the
fact that two little furies, in the shape of fantailed flycatchers, were
making puny pecks at its plumage.

But before discoursing further upon the merits and demerits of our crow
in colours, let me describe him. What applies to him applies to her. To
the human eye there is no external difference between the two sexes. This
by way of introduction. The tree-pie is a foot and a half long, one foot
being tail and the remaining inches body. The head, neck, and breast are
sooty brown, and the greater part of the remaining plumage is reddish
fawn. The wings are brown and silver-grey. The tail is ashy grey broadly
tipped with black. It is impossible to mistake a tree-pie; there is no
other bird like it. Its flight is very characteristic, consisting of half
a dozen rapid flaps of the wing followed by a little sail. The two middle
tail feathers are much longer than the others, the pair next to the
middle ones are the second longest, and the outer ones shortest of all.
The bird, like all others, spreads out its tail during flight, and the
expanded tail gives it a curious appearance.

The Indian tree-pie, as its name implies, dwells principally in trees,
and spends most of its time in picking insects off the leaves and
branches. When fruit is in season, it feeds largely on that. It moves
with great agility from branch to branch, but it frequently descends to
the ground to feed and drink. It does not, I think, ever accompany
cattle, as does our poor, persecuted magpie at home. It is a sociable
bird and is frequently seen in little companies of six or seven.

Like all socially inclined birds, it is very conversational. It has a
great variety of notes, many of which are harsh and angry-sounding,
others are whistling, metallic calls, acceptable to the human ear. The
commonest of these sounds something like _coch-lee, coch-lee_. If, in a
place where magpies abound, you hear any new and strange cry, you are
tolerably safe in attributing it to one of those birds.

The Indian pie is not so expert a nest-builder as its European cousin.
This latter, it will be remembered, builds a large domed structure of
prickly twigs with an entrance at one side, well protected by thorns. I
have not been able to discover why this bird is at such pains to protect
the entrance to its nursery. It is so aggressive and pugnacious that no
sane thing in feathers would dream of attempting to rob its nest. One
ornithologist has put forth the brilliant suggestion that the protection
is against its brother magpies. I cannot accept this, for I take it as an
axiom that where one magpie can enter, there can another. We must also
bear in mind that the Indian species manage to thrive very well in spite
of their roofless nests.



                       UP-TO-DATE SPECIES MAKING


The ornithological world is peopled by two classes of human beings. There
are those who study nature inside the museum with the microscope and the
scalpel; and there are those who love to observe birds in the open and
study their habits. The former, if kept in their place, perform a very
useful function, for they co-ordinate and elaborate the observations of
the field naturalist. They should be most useful servants to him.
Unfortunately these museum men are growing very powerful, and, like trade
unions, are beginning to dictate to their masters. Indeed, they bid fair
to become the masters and turn the field naturalists into their slaves.
The chief aim of the arm-chair or museum ornithologist appears to be the
multiplication of new species. Nowadays more species seem to be brought
into being by these men than by natural selection. When they are not
manufacturing new species, they are tampering with those that already
exist.

I have repeatedly had occasion to speak of the marvellous, kaleidoscopic
changes undergone by ornithological terminology—changes which are the
despair of the field naturalist. I am not a statistician, but at a rough
guess I should say that every species of bird has its name changed about
once in each decade. The object of having a classical terminology is that
naturalists of all countries shall have a common name for every bird and
beast, and thus not be at cross-purposes when conversing or
corresponding. But this object is most successfully defeated when the
classical name is continually undergoing alteration. It is practically
impossible for any one but the professional ornithologist to keep pace
with these changes. A poor dilettante like myself has not a look in. For
example, I received by the last mail[1] the latest issue of the
Avicultural Society’s Magazine and noticed in it an article on the
collared turtle-dove of Burma. Wondering what this bird might be, I
looked at its scientific name and found it to be _Turtur decaocta_. I
looked this up in both Jerdon and the _Fauna of British India_, but could
not find it; nor could I see any mention of the collared turtle-dove. On
reading through the paper I found, to my astonishment, that the bird
referred to was our familiar friend the common or garden Indian
ring-dove, which for years has been called _Turtur risorius_. _Risorius_
was a name good enough for Jerdon, Hume, Vidal, Legge, Barnes, Reid,
Davison, and a hundred other good ornithologists; but because, forsooth,
one Salvadori would like a change, we shall, I suppose, be obliged to
adopt the latest new-fangled appellation.

The museum ornithologist has yet another craze. He sees that there must
be some limit to the present multiplication of species, so he has hit
upon the brilliant idea of making sub-species. Just as the inhabitants of
every town and village have little local peculiarities, so have birds of
the same species which live in different provinces. The latest idea is to
make each of these a different sub-species with a special name of its
own. In the near future the scientific name of every bird will be
composed of three parts, the generic, the specific, and the sub-specific.
Thus Mr. T. H. Newman has discovered that the skin round the eye of the
ring-dove of Burma is not whitish, as it is in India, but yellow; Mr.
Newman therefore manufactures a new sub-species, which he calls _Turtur
decaocta xanthocyclus_ as opposed to the Indian bird which he calls
_Turtur decaocta douraca_. We may consider ourselves lucky that he has
not made a new species of the Burmese bird!

This is not an isolated case. Almost every unfortunate species in the
universe is being split up into a dozen or more sub-species. Any local
variation in the colour of the plumage is considered sufficient
justification for the formation of a sub-species, and we shall
undoubtedly, ere long, hear of sub-sub-species!!

The hopeless thing is that any Juggins can make new sub-species. It is as
easy as falling out of a tree. Let me show how it is done. Take the
common sparrow. This pushing little bird, this “feathered Hooligan,” as
Mr. Finn calls him, is found all over the world, and every one is able to
recognise the sparrow wherever he meets him as the same bird that insults
people in London. But the sparrows of each country have their little
peculiarities. For example, the cock sparrow in India has more white on
his neck than his brother in England. Hence we may make a sub-species of
the Indian bird and call him _Passer domesticus indicus_.

Now, close and patient observation during a prolonged sojourn in Madras
has convinced me that the sparrow in the Southern Presidency (I will no
longer call it the Benighted Presidency, for experience has shown me that
there are other parts of India far more benighted) is quite twenty per
cent. more impudent than the sparrows in Northern India. Hence we have no
option but to make a sub-sub-species of him. Let us call him _Passer
domesticus indicus maderaspatensis_. We may go even a step further. The
sparrows that hold chorus along the ledges of the iron rafters of the
Connemara Hotel are far more insulting and exasperating than any other
sparrows I have set eyes upon. This surely is quite sufficient
provocation for making a sub-sub-sub-species of those birds. I propose to
call them _Passer domesticus indicus maderaspatensis connemara
hotelwalla_—a name which I am sure will be received with acclamation both
by sparrows and human beings.

But enough of this foolery. The multiplication of species is really a
very serious matter, for it is likely to deter sane persons from taking
up the most delightful of studies. If the ornithological societies of
every country in the world would combine to suppress the evil, it could
easily be put down. But there is, I fear, no likelihood of such
combination, because these societies are composed mostly of museum
ornithologists, and it is too much to expect of these men that they will
voluntarily suppress their chief enjoyment in life. To persuade them to
act in this altruistic manner it will be necessary to offer them a _quid
pro quo_. The only _quid_ that suggests itself to me is to invite each of
them to name a bird after himself. Let the name of every known species (I
mean proper and indisputable species) be put in a hat and let each member
draw one out. The bird he draws will henceforth be called after him. If
any birds are left undrawn after every man has shed his name on one
species, the remainder could be balloted for, and thus some lucky dogs
would be able to give their name to two birds. When this is once done, it
should be made an offence punishable with death to change the specific
name of any feathered thing. Newly discovered birds and beasts could, as
heretofore, be named after the happy discoverer. This proposal will, if
adopted, cure the evil. My point is that it does not matter a jot what a
bird be called; the important thing is to give it a fixed and immutable
name, so that we poor field naturalists shall know where we are.


[1]Written towards the end of 1906.



                              HONEYSUCKERS


Honeysuckers are birds that have adopted the manner of living of the
butterfly, and a charming mode of life it is. To flit about in the
sunshine and drink sweet draughts of the nectar that lies hidden away at
the base of the petals of flowers is indeed an idyllic existence.

The sunbird, as the honeysucker is frequently called, is provided with a
curved beak and a long tubular tongue to enable it the better to rob
cup-like blossoms of their honey. The bird must perforce be very small
and light, or it would find it impossible to reach the nectar of many
flowers. As a matter of fact, it is almost as light as air, so is able to
support itself on one flower when drinking honey from another. Sometimes,
if no perch be available, the little honeysucker will hover in the air on
rapidly vibrating wings and thus extract the sweets from a flower. In
this attitude it looks very like a butterfly. I may here mention that
sunbirds do not live exclusively upon honey: they vary this diet with
minute insects which they pick off flowers and leaves.

[Illustration: LOTEN’S SUNBIRD. (ARACHNECHTHRA LOTENIA)]

Honeysuckers are frequently called humming-birds by Anglo-Indians. This
is not correct. Humming-birds are confined to the New World, and are
smaller and more ethereal than our little honeysuckers, but their methods
of feeding are so similar that the mistake is a pardonable one.

As every one knows, butterflies and bees, in return for the honey they
receive, render service to the flowers by carrying the pollen from the
stamen of one to the stigma of the other and thus bring about
cross-fertilisation, which most botanists believe to be essential to the
well-being of a species. Honeysuckers probably perform a similar service,
for, as they flit from flower to flower, their little heads may be seen
to be well dusted with yellow pollen.

Sunbirds are found all over India, but they are most plentiful in the
South, being essentially tropical birds; they are merely summer visitors
to the Punjab; when the short, cold winter days come, they leave that
province and betake themselves to some milder clime.

Three species may be seen in our Madras gardens—Loten’s, the purple, and
the yellow honeysucker.

Of the cocks of the first and second species (_Arachnechthra lotenia_ and
_A. asiatica_) it may perhaps be said that they are clothed in purple and
fine linen, for their plumage is a deep, rich purple with a sheen and a
gloss like that on a brand-new silk hat. Sometimes the bird looks black,
at others green, and more frequently mauve, according to the intensity of
the light and the angle at which the sun’s rays fall upon it. It is not
very easy to distinguish between these two sunbirds unless specimens are
held in the hand, when the violet-black abdomen of the purple species can
be easily distinguished from the snuff-brown lower parts of Loten’s.
However, the latter has a much longer and stouter beak, and is very
abundant in Madras, while the purple bird is comparatively rare, so that
the Madrassi is fairly safe in setting down all the purple birds he sees
as Loten’s honeysuckers. If, however, he espies a purple sunbird, with an
unusually short bill, a bird that sings like a canary, he may be certain
that that particular one is _A. asiatica_. If the cock Loten’s sunbird is
clothed in purple and fine linen, that of the yellow species (_A.
zeylonica_) may be said to be arrayed in a coat of many colours, each of
which is so beautiful as to defy imitation by the painter. There is a
patch on the crown which appears metallic lilac in some lights and
emerald-green in others. His neck and upper back are dull crimson, the
lower back, chin, and throat are brilliant metallic purple. The tail and
wing feathers are dark brown. There is a maroon collar below the throat,
and the plumage from this collar downwards is bright yellow. Verily,
Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

[Illustration: THE YELLOW SUNBIRD. (ARACHNECHTHRA ZEYLONICA)]

The hens of all three species are homely-looking birds, difficult to
distinguish one from the other. The upper plumage of each is dingy brown
and the lower parts dull yellow. Many ornithologists declare that sexual
dimorphism, such as is here displayed, is due to the greater need of the
hen for protection when sitting on the eggs. These people allege that if
the hens of brightly plumaged species were as showy as the cocks, they
would be conspicuous objects when brooding, and so fall easy victims to
birds of prey. This is a theory typical of the arm-chair naturalist, or
of him who studies nature through the grimy panes of a museum window.
Like all such theories, it is tempting at first sight, but is untenable
because it fails to take cognisance of facts with which every
field-naturalist should be acquainted. In the first place, birds of prey
rarely attack stationary objects: they look out for moving quarry.
Secondly, the cock of many species, such as the paradise flycatcher
(_Terpsiphone paradisi_), although he is far more showy than the hen,
sits on the eggs in the open nest quite as much as she does. In this case
what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; if she needs
protective colouring, so does he. It is true that the cock sunbird never
takes a turn on the nest; he is not a family man, but a gay young spark,
who goes about bravely attired, with his hand upon the handle of his
sword, ready to draw it upon the least provocation. A more pugnacious
little bird does not exist. While the hen is laboriously building the
wonderful little nest, he spends his time in drinking and revelry, with
an occasional visit to the growing nursery to criticise its construction.
Hence it might seem that, in the case of the sunbird, the above-mentioned
explanation of the sexual dimorphism is the true one. Unfortunately, the
nest is not an open one, but a little mango-shaped structure with an
entrance at the side, so that the hen when sitting in it is not visible
from above. In this case, therefore, as in so many others, we must seek a
new explanation of this difference in the appearance of the cocks and
hens.

The nest is in shape and size like a mango. It hangs down from the end of
a branch, or any other convenient object. It is composed of dried grass,
leaves, cocoons, bits of paper, and any kind of rubbish, held together by
means of cobweb and some glutinous substance. There is an entrance at the
side, over which is a little porch that serves to keep out rain and sun,
but this porch is seen in every nest, even when the bird builds, as it
very frequently does, in a verandah. A sunbird recently made its nest in
the verandah of a friend of mine; the latter came to me and expressed his
contempt for the intellect of the little architect, since she had been
fool enough to construct a porch, although the nest was built under
cover. He forgot that the building of nests is largely an instinctive
act, that each bird builds on a fixed plan, learned by it in “the school
of the woods.”

The nest is cosily lined with cotton down. No attempt is made to conceal
it; nevertheless it frequently escapes the notice of human beings,
because it does not look like a nest; one is apt to mistake it for a mass
of dried grass and rubbish that has become caught in a branch. A sunbird
in my compound completely covered her nest with the paper shavings that
had once formed the packing for a tin of biscuits. The _khansamah_, when
opening the tin, had, after the manner of his kind, pitched the shavings
out of the window of the cook-house.

[Illustration: NEST OF LOTEN’S SUNBIRD]

It is doubtful whether predacious creatures mistake the sunbird’s nest
for a mass of rubbish; but it is so well placed that they cannot get at
it. It is invariably situated sufficiently far above the ground to be out
of reach of a four-legged animal; it hangs from an outstanding branch so
that no crow or kite can get a foothold anywhere near it, and the
squirrel who ventured to trust himself on to the nest would, I believe,
look very foolish when attacked by the owners.

As is usually the case with birds that build covered nests, the hen is
not at all shy. If her nursery happens to be in a verandah, she will sit
in it with her head out of the window, and watch with interest the owners
of the bungalow taking afternoon tea three feet below her.



                            A HEWER OF WOOD


Not the least of the many benefits which birds confer upon man is the
unceasing warfare which the majority of them wage upon insects. Insects
may be said to dominate the earth; they fill every nook and cranny of it,
preying upon all other living things which they outnumber. If this is the
state of affairs when hundreds of millions of insects are devoured daily
by their arch-foes, the fowls of the air, what would it be were there no
birds? The earth would certainly not be inhabited by men.

Most insectivorous birds specialise, that is to say, lay themselves out
to catch a particular class of insect. Swifts, swallows, and flycatchers
have developed phenomenal mastery over the air, so prey upon flying
insects. Mynas, hoopoes, “blue jays,” magpie-robins, and others feed upon
the hexapod hosts that crawl on the ground. Not a few birds confine their
attention to the creeping things that inhabit the bark of trees. Such are
the wryneck, the tree-creeper, and the woodpecker. Of these the
woodpecker is chief. A mighty insect hunter is he, one who tracks down
his quarry and drags him out of his lair. How must the insects which lie
hidden away in the crevices of the bark tremble as they hear this
feathered Nimrod battering at the walls of their citadel!

No bird is better adapted than the woodpecker to the work which nature
has given him. He is a perfect hunting machine, constructed for work in
trees. Note the ease with which he moves over the upright trunk. His
sharp claws can obtain a foothold on almost any surface. I have seen a
golden-backed woodpecker hunting insects on a smooth well-wheel!

His tail, which is short and composed of very stiff feathers, acts almost
like a third leg. The bristle-like feathers stick in the crevices of the
bark and enable the bird to maintain his position while he hammers away
with might and main. His head is his hammer and his beak his chisel. The
chisel is fixed rigidly in the hammer so that none of the force of the
blow is lost. It is exhilarating to watch a woodpecker at work. He stands
with his legs wide apart, the tip of his tail pressed firmly against the
bark, and puts all he knows into each stroke, drawing his head back as
far as it will go and then letting drive. The manner in which his strokes
follow one another puts me in mind of the clever way in which workmen
drive an iron bar into a macadamised road by raining upon it blows with
sledge-hammers. Almost before the hammer of the first striker is off the
head of the bar the second has struck it, this is immediately followed by
the hammer of the third, then, without a pause, the first hammerer gets
his second blow home, and so they continue until a halt is called. As a
small boy I would stand for hours watching the operation. I am ashamed to
do so now, so have to content myself with observing woodpeckers at work!
There are few things more fascinating to watch than an operation in which
skill and brute force are deftly combined.

Even more useful than the beak as a weapon is the woodpecker’s tongue.
This is such an important organ that its owner is known in some parts of
England as the tongue bird. It is so long that there is a special
apparatus at the back of the bird’s head for stowing it away. Its surface
is studded with backwardly pointing bristles and the whole covered with
sticky saliva. When the woodpecker espies a crack in the bark it inserts
into it the long ribbon-like tongue. To this the luckless insects stick
and are ruthlessly dragged out to their doom.

The commonest woodpecker in India is the beautiful golden-backed species
(_Brachypternus aurantius_). The head and crest of the cock are bright
crimson, the upper back is a beautiful golden yellow, hence the popular
name of the bird. The lower back and tail are black; the wing feathers
are black and golden yellow, spotted with white, and the sides of the
head show a white background on which there is a network of black lines
and streaks.

The hen differs from the cock in having the top of the head black with
small white triangular spots.

The golden-backed woodpecker is one of our noisiest birds. It constantly
utters its loud screaming call, which is similar to that of the
white-breasted kingfisher. Its flight, like that of most, if not all
woodpeckers, is laborious and noisy, the whir of its wings being audible
at a considerable distance. The bird gives one or two vigorous flaps of
its wings and thus moves in an upward direction, then it sails and sinks;
a few more flaps again send it upwards, and so it continues until it
reaches the tree trunk for which it is bound.

I do not think that the woodpecker ever takes a sustained flight. It is
seen at its best when on the stem of a tree, over which it moves with
wonderful ease in a series of silent jerks, like a mechanical toy. It
always keeps its head pointing heavenwards and hops or jerks itself
upwards, downwards, or sideways, with equal ease, just as though it went
by clockwork. It sometimes ventures on the ground, from which it digs out
insects. On the earth it progresses in the same jerky manner.

I have never seen a woodpecker sitting like an ordinary bird on a perch.
It is often seen on branches, but always lengthwise, never sitting across
the branch. It can move along the under surface of a horizontal bough as
easily as a fly walks on the ceiling.

I sometimes wonder how woodpeckers roost. Do they sleep hanging on to the
trunk of some tree, do they sit lengthwise on a branch as a nightjar
does, or do they repair to some hole? I should be inclined to favour the
last of these alternatives but for the fact that woodpeckers seem to
excavate a new nest every year. This would not be necessary if each bird
had a hole in which it slept at night.

Sometimes the bird digs out the whole of its nest, but this is not usual.
The woodpecker belongs to the “labouring classes,” and, true to the
traditions of its caste, it is averse to work, so generally utilises a
ready-made cavity. It taps away at tree after tree until it comes upon a
place in a trunk that sounds hollow; it then proceeds to excavate a neat,
round passage leading to this hollow. In this ready-made cavity it
deposits its white eggs, not troubling to add any lining to the nesting
chamber.

Woodpeckers in England suffer much at the hands of rascally starlings.
These latter nest in holes, but not of their own making. If they cannot
find any ready-made hollow they listen for the hammering of a woodpecker.
They wait until he has completed the nest, and then take possession while
his back is turned. When the rightful owner returns the starling looks
out of the entrance with finely simulated indignation and asks the
woodpecker what he means by intruding. In vain does the latter
expostulate. _J’y suis, j’y reste_ is the attitude of the starling. The
result is that our feathered carpenter, not being over-valorous, retires
and proceeds to hew out another nest. Woodpeckers in India do not suffer
such treatment, for starlings do not breed in this country. Their
cousins, the mynas, are not so impudent. The only Indian birds which nest
in holes, and have sufficient impudence to eject a woodpecker, are the
green parrots; but these breed in January, so that their family cares for
the year are over long before the woodpecker begins nest building.



                          A FEATHERED SPRINTER


Which is the most difficult bird to shoot? You may put this question to a
dozen sportsmen; probably no two will name the same bird, and each will
be able to give excellent reasons why the particular fowl he mentions is
the hardest to hit. The reason for this diversity of opinion is simply
that there exists no bird more difficult to shoot than all others. Even
as beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, so does the
difficulty, or otherwise, of shooting any particular species depend upon
the idiosyncrasies of the would-be slayer. To some shooters all birds,
with the possible exception of the coot, are difficult to bring down,
while others are able to make every flying thing appear an easy mark.

To my way of thinking the chukor (_Caccabis chucar_) takes a lot of
hitting, but this species receives much help on account of its
mountainous habitat. It is difficult to hit even a hoary old peacock if
the bird gets up when you, already pumped to exhaustion by a stiff climb,
are engaged in scrambling from one terraced field to another with your
gun at “safe.” The chukor, thanks to the fact, conclusively proved by our
friend Euclid, that any two sides of a triangle are greater than the
third, enjoys so great an advantage over the wingless _shikari_ that it
would be a contemptible creature were it not difficult to shoot. Were I
the leader of a covey of chukor, I should thoroughly enjoy an attempt to
shoot me. Having taken up a strategic position near the summit of a steep
hill, I should squat there in full view until the sportsman had by
laborious effort climbed to a spot some hundred and twenty yards from
where I was sitting; I should then gracefully retire with my retinue
across the _khud_ to the opposite hill, and watch with interest the
shooter clamber down one limb of an isosceles triangle and swarm up the
other. Some time before he had completed the operation I should again
proceed to give him a practical demonstration of the fact that the base
of certain triangles is considerably shorter than the sum of the other
two sides.

[Illustration: LOTEN’S SUNBIRD (HEN) ABOUT TO ENTER NEST]

If you take away from the chukor his natural advantages I am inclined to
think that the grey partridge (_Francolinus pondicerianus_) is the more
difficult bird to shoot. This species is common in most parts of India,
yet I do not remember ever having heard of any one making a big bag of
grey partridge. Some there are who say that the bird is not worth
shooting. If these good folk mean that the shooting of the partridge
involves so large an expenditure of ammunition as to deter them from the
undertaking I am inclined to agree with them. Given a fair field in the
shape of a plain well studded with prickly pear, there is, in my opinion,
no bird more difficult to hit than the grey partridge. It is, like all
game birds proper, a very rapid flier for a short distance. But it is not
so much this which makes it hard to shoot as the rapidity with which it
can run along the ground and the close manner in which it lies up.
According to Mr. Lockwood Kipling, the grey partridge, as it runs,
“suggests a graceful girl tripping along with a full skirt well held up.”
In a sense the simile is a good one, for the lower plumage of the
partridge is curiously “full,” and so does make the bird look as though
it were holding up its skirts. But until graceful young ladies are able
to gather up their ample skirts and sprint the “hundred” two or three
yards inside “level time,” it will be inaccurate to compare the tripping
gait of the one to the speedy motion of the other. The grey partridge is
a winged sprinter, a feathered Camilla. It can for a short distance hold
its own comfortably against a galloping horse. Frequently have I come
upon a covey, feeding in the open and giving vent to the familiar call,
and have immediately proceeded to stalk it in the hopes of obtaining a
couple of good shots. Before getting within range, one of the birds
invariably “spots” me and gives the alarm. The calling immediately ceases
and the partridges walk briskly to cover. The instant they disappear I
dash towards the cover, hoping to surprise and flush them, but they run
three yards to my two, and by the time I reach the bushes into which they
betook themselves they are laughing at me from afar.

Then the way in which a partridge will sometimes lie up in comparatively
thin cover is remarkable. One day, when shooting snipe at sunrise, I
surprised a partridge feeding in a field. I fired, but apparently did not
hit the bird, for it disappeared into a clump of palm trees and prickly
pear. Taking up a position close to this clump, I instructed my beaters
to throw stones into it. This they did, but half a dozen stones, to say
nothing of as many chunks of clay and the most frantic yells and shouts,
elicited no response from the partridge. I therefore moved on, and the
moment I had turned my back on the clump the bird flew out! This is
typical of my experience as a partridge shooter; the birds almost
invariably get up from cover at a moment when I cannot possibly take a
shot at them. Well might I sing with Cowper—

  I stride o’er the stubble each day with my gun
  Never ready to shoot till the covey is flown.

For these reasons partridge shooting is to me a particularly exasperating
form of sport. There are few things more annoying than to hear—“the
partridge burst away on whirring wings,” from a bush on which you have
just turned your back after having thrown into it half the contents of a
ploughed field!

I am not a bloodthirsty individual, and enjoy watching birds through a
field-glass quite as much as, if not more than, shooting them with a gun,
but there is something in the call of the grey partridge which makes me
want to shoot him. His shrill “pateela, pateela, pateela,” seems to be a
challenge. Grahame sings—

                        Cheerily
  The partridge now her tuneless call repeats.

For “cheerily” write “cheekily” and you have a good description of the
call of our Indian grey partridge, which may be heard in Madras every
morning during the winter months.

This bird does not build an elaborate nest. There is no necessity for it
to do so. A nest is a nursery in which young birds are for a time
sheltered from the dangers that beset them in the world. When they have
developed sufficiently to be able to look after themselves they leave the
nest.

It is one of the characteristics of the gallinaceous family of birds,
which includes grouse, poultry, pea- and guinea-fowl, pheasants, turkeys,
and quail, that their young are able to run about almost immediately
after issuing from the egg. They are born covered with down, and are thus
at first very unlike their parents. They are in reality larvæ, that is to
say, embryonic forms which are able to fend for themselves with little or
no assistance from their parents. They change into the adult form, not
hidden away in a nursery, but in the open world.

The nest, then, of the partridge is a very insignificant affair. It is
usually a depression in the ground, so shallow as to be barely
perceptible, and always well concealed in a bush or tuft of grass.
Sometimes the eggs are laid on the bare soil, but more usually the
depression is lined with grass or leaves. Occasionally the lining is so
thick as to form a regular pad. From six to nine whitish eggs are laid.
These do not match the ground or material on which they lie, hence cannot
be considered as examples of protective colouring. Their safety depends
on the fact that they are hidden away under a bush or tuft of grass. The
hen, too, is a very close sitter, and her plumage assimilates well with
the surroundings of the nest.



                          A BIRD OF CHARACTER


I have hinted more than once at the possibility of there being some
understanding between the architect of my bungalow and the feathered
folk. On this hypothesis alone am I able to account for the presence of a
rectangular hole in the porch, about eight feet above the level of the
ground, a hole caused by the deliberate omission of one or two bricks.
The scramble for this cavity by those species of birds which build in
holes is as great as that of Europeans to secure bungalows in a
Presidency town. Last year a pair of spotted owlets (_Athene brama_)
secured the prize and reared up a noisy brood of four. These were
regarded with mingled feelings by the human inhabitants of the bungalow.
On the one hand, a bird more amusing than the clownish little owlet does
not exist; on the other, it is excessively noisy. Each member of the
family talks gibberish at the top of its voice, sixteen to the dozen, and
as all will persist in speaking at once, the result is a nocturnal chorus
that will bear comparison with the efforts of the cats which enliven the
Londoner’s back yard.

[Illustration: THE INDIAN SPOTTED OWLET. (ATHENE BRAMA)]

This year a couple of mynas (_Acridotheres tristis_) secured the highly
desirable nesting site. Immediately on entering into possession they
proceeded to cover the floor of the cavity with a collection of rubbish,
composed chiefly of rags, grass, twigs, and bits of paper. There was no
attempt at arranging this rubbish, it was bundled pell-mell into the hole
and four pretty blue eggs were laid on top of it.

One might suppose that the more intelligent the bird the greater the
degree of architectural skill it would display. This, however, is not the
case. Were it so, crows, mynas, and parrots would build palatial nests.

Mynas do not always nestle in holes in buildings; they are content with
any kind of a cavity, whether it be in a building, a tree, or a sandbank.
In default of a hole they are content with a ledge, provided it be
covered with a roof. A few years ago a pair of mynas reared up a brood on
a ledge in the much-frequented verandah of the Deputy Commissioner’s
Court at Fyzabad.

To return to the nest in my porch. The eggs in due course gave rise to
four nestlings of the ordinary ugly, triangular-mouthed,
alderman-stomached variety. When they were nearly ready to leave the nest
I took away two of them by way of rent for the use of my bungalow. This
action was in complete accord with oriental custom. In India the landlord
has, from time immemorial, taken from his tenants a portion of their
produce as rent or land revenue. The Congress will doubtless declare that
in levying 50 per cent. of the family brood I assessed the family too
highly; but I defy even a Bengali orator to take 33 per cent. of four
young mynas. I might, it is true, have assessed the rent at 25 per cent.,
but the life of a solitary myna cannot be a very happy one, so I took
two, a cock and a hen.

To the ordinary observer the cock myna is as like the hen as one pea is
like any other pea. To one, however, who has an eye for such things, the
bigger head and more massive body of the cock render him easily
recognisable when in company with his sisters. The brood consisted of two
cocks and two hens, so that I made a fair division. Some there are who
may question the ethics of my action. I would remind such that,
incredible as it may seem, the parent birds, in all probability, did not
miss the two young ones. Birds cannot count. Even the wily crow is unable
to “spot” the extra egg which the koel has surreptitiously introduced
into the nest. It is, of course, possible that although those mynas could
not count, they missed the two young birds to the extent of noticing that
something was wrong with their brood. If they did all I can say is that
they concealed their feelings in an admirable manner, for they continued
to feed the remaining young as though nothing had happened. If it be
thought incredible that the young birds were not missed, is it not
equally hard to believe that not one of the lower animals can tell the
difference between two and three? If a dog has three bones before him and
you remove one of them, he will not miss it unless he sees you remove it!

A _chaprassi_ was appointed to nurse my two young mynas, with
instructions to keep them until they should become somewhat more
presentable. At the end of three weeks they were adjudged fit to appear
in public, being somewhat smaller and rather lanky editions of their
parents, with the patch behind the eye white instead of yellow. Having
been taken from the nest they were perfectly tame, showing no fear of
man, and readily accepting food from the hand.

Young nestlings display no fear of man, and do not appear to mind being
handled by a human being; but as they grow older they learn to fear all
strange creatures, hence it is that captive birds taken from the nest are
always tamer than those which are caught after they are fledged. It was
amusing to see the way in which my young mynas ran towards the
_chaprassi_ when he called “Puppy, puppy.” “Puppy” is apparently a term
applied by native servants indiscriminately to any kind of pet kept by a
_sahib_.

Mynas make excellent pets because they are so alert and vivacious, and,
above all, because they have so much character.

A myna is a self-assertive bird, a bird that will stand no nonsense.

I know of few things more amusing than to witness a pair of mynas give a
snake a bit of their minds as they waltz along beside it in a most daring
manner.

Owing to the self-assertion of the myna he is apt to be quarrelsome.

Street brawls are, I regret to say, by no means uncommon. In these two or
three mynas attack one another so fiercely that they get locked together
and roll over and over—a swearing, struggling ball of brown, yellow, and
white.

The myna, although by no means a songster, is able to emit a great
variety of notes, all of which must be familiar to every Anglo-Indian.

A bird which can produce a large number of sounds is almost invariably a
good mimic, and the common myna is no exception to this rule. In this
respect, however, he does not compare favourably with the grackles or
hill-mynas, as they are commonly called. These can imitate any sound,
from the crack of a whip and the exhortations of a bullock-cart driver to
the throat-clearing operation in which our Indian brethren so frequently
indulge.



                                 SWIFTS


Swifts are extraordinary birds; there are no others like unto them; they
are the most mysterious of the many mysterious products of natural
selection; their athletic feats transcend the descriptive powers of the
English language. What adjective is there of suitable application to a
bird that speeds through the air without an appreciable effort at the
rate of a hundred miles an hour, that traverses a thousand miles every
day of its existence?

These wonderful birds are everywhere common, yet much of their life
history requires elucidation.

Probably not one man in fifty is able to distinguish between a swallow
and a swift. Some think that “swift” and “swallow” are synonymous terms,
while others believe that a swift is a kind of black swallow. As a matter
of fact, the swift differs more widely from the swallow than the crow
does from the canary. There is, it is true, a very strong professional
likeness between the swift and the swallow, but this likeness is purely
superficial; it is merely the resemblance engendered by similar modes of
obtaining a livelihood. Both swallows and swifts feed exclusively on
minute insects which they catch upon the wing, hence both have a large
gape, light, slender bodies, and long, powerful wings. But speedy though
it be, the swallow is not in the same class with the swift as a flyer.
When both birds are in the hand nothing is easier than to tell a swift
from a swallow or a martin. The latter have the ordinary passerine foot,
which consists of three forwardly directed toes and a backwardly directed
one. This foot enables a bird to perch, so that one frequently sees
swallows seated on telegraph wires. But one never sees a swift on a
perch, because all its four toes point forward. It cannot even walk. It
spends its life in the air. It eats and drinks on the wing, it does
everything, except sleeping and incubating, in the air.

But it is not often that one has a swallow or swift in the hand; it is
difficult to get near enough to them to put salt on the tail, so that it
is necessary to have some means of distinguishing them when sailing
through the air. There is a very marked difference in the manner in which
these birds use their wings. This is inimitably described by Mr. E. H.
Aitken: “As a swallow darts along, its wings almost close against its
sides at every stroke, and it looks like a pair of scissors opening and
shutting. Now a swift never closes its wings in this way. It whips the
air rapidly with the points of them, but they are always extended and
evenly curved from tip to tip like a bow, the slim body of the bird being
the arrow.” As a swift speeds through the air it looks something like an
anchor, with a short shaft and enormous flukes. If this be borne in mind,
it is scarcely possible to mistake a swift for a swallow. Swifts are
abundant in Calcutta, but one is not likely to come across a swallow
there except when the moon happens to be blue.

The two swifts commonly seen in Calcutta are the Indian swift (_Cypselus
affinis_) and the palm swift (_C. batassiensis_).

The latter need not detain us long. It is a small and weak edition of the
former. It builds a cup-shaped nest on the under side of the great
fan-like leaves of the toddy palm.

The Indian swift is, in size and appearance, much like the swift which
visits England every summer, except for the fact that it has a white
patch on the lower part of the back. The chin is white, but all the rest
of the plumage, with the exception of the above-mentioned patch, is black
or smoky brown.

This bird nests in colonies in the verandahs of houses and inside
deserted buildings. The nest is a cup-shaped structure, usually built
under an eave in the angle which a roof-beam makes with the wall. Thus
the swift finds, ready-made, a roof and a couple of walls, and has merely
to add the floor and remaining walls, in one of which it leaves a hole by
way of entrance to the nursery. Thus the swift reverses the usual order
of things, which is to erect a nest on some foundation such as a branch
or ledge.

As we have seen, all four toes of the swift are forwardly directed and
each is terminated by a sharp hook-like claw. Thus the swift is able to
cling with ease to such a vertical surface as that of a wall, and is
therefore quite independent of any ledge or perch. The nest is a
conglomeration of grass, straw, and feathers, which are made to adhere to
one another, and to the building to which the nest is attached, by the
cement-like saliva of the bird.

Some species of swift build their homes entirely of their glutinous
saliva, and so manufacture “edible birds’ nests.” The Indian swift,
however, utilises all manner of material by way of economising its
saliva.

Nest building is a slow process. Each tiny piece of material has to be
separately stuck on to the structure, and the saliva, which is, of
course, liquid when first secreted, takes about five minutes to dry.
During the whole of this time the bird remains motionless, holding _in
situ_ whatever it is adding to the structure.

I once timed a pair of swifts at work, and found that on an average they
took forty-five minutes in bringing each new piece of material. Much of
this time was undoubtedly spent in seeking for food, for so active a bird
as the swift must have an enormous appetite, and, as it feeds on the
minutest of insects, must consume thousands of them in the course of the
day, each of which has to be caught separately. But, even allowing for
this, the rate at which the material is added is very slow. Some
naturalists declare that the swift is unable to pick anything off the
ground. If this be so, the labour of obtaining material must be great,
for the creature must fly about until it espies a feather or piece of
straw floating in the air.

I am not yet in a position to say whether it is really impossible for the
bird to pick anything from off the ground. I have never seen it do so,
and it is a fact that the birds will, when building, eagerly seize
anything floating in the air. On the other hand, the helplessness of the
swift when placed upon the ground has been much exaggerated. It is said
that the bird, if put upon a flat surface, is unable to rise and will
remain there until it dies. Quite recently some Indian swifts were
brought to me and I placed one of them on my desk. In less than twenty
seconds the bird was flying about in the room. Then, again, the grasping
powers of its hook-like claws have been somewhat magnified. The bird in
question made several unsuccessful attempts to cling on to the
whitewashed wall, and eventually fell to the floor, where it was seized
and then liberated in the open. It flew off none the worse for its
adventure. Nevertheless, its claws are very sharp; the bird in question
stuck them quite unpleasantly into me when I held it. A swift can
certainly cling to any vertical surface that is the least rough.

Unlike most birds, swifts use their nests as houses and sleep in them at
night. One frequently hears issuing from the rafters in the dead of night
the piercing scream so characteristic of swifts. This disposes of the
silly story, so prevalent, that at evening time the swifts mount into the
higher layers of the atmosphere and there sleep on the wing.

In conclusion, I must mention the characteristic flight of swifts just
before sundown. The birds close the day in what has been called “a
jubilant rout”; as if they had not already taken sufficient exercise,
they fly at a breakneck pace round about the building in which their
nests are placed, dodging in and out of the pillars of the verandah, and
fill the air with their shivering screams. This seems to be a
characteristic of swifts wherever they are found.



                           BIRDS AS AUTOMATA


The sudden change that comes over the nature of most birds at the nesting
season is, perhaps, the most wonderful phenomenon in nature. Active,
restless birds, which normally spend the whole day on the wing, are
content to sit motionless in a cramped position upon the nest for hours
together. Birds of prey, whose nature it is to devour every helpless
creature that comes within their grasp, behave most tenderly towards
their young, actually disgorging swallowed food in order to provide them
with a meal. Timid birds become bold. Those which under ordinary
circumstances will not permit a human being to approach near them, will
sometimes, while brooding, actually allow themselves to be lifted off the
nest.

At the breeding season intelligence, which counsels self-preservation,
gives way before the parental instinct, which causes birds to expose
themselves to danger, and, in some cases, even to sacrifice their lives
for the sake of their offspring.

From the construction of the nest until the time when the young ones are
fledged the actions of the parent birds are, at any rate in the
neighbourhood of the nest, those of automata, rather than of creatures
endowed with intelligence.

On this hypothesis alone are many of the actions of nesting birds
comprehensible.

That the construction of the nest is in the main an instinctive habit and
not the result of intelligence is proved by the fact that a bird which
has been hatched out in an incubator will, at the appointed season, build
a nest. If birds were not guided by instinct they would never take the
trouble to do such a quixotic thing. What benefit can they derive from
laboriously collecting a number of twigs and weaving them into a nest?

It is, of course, natural selection that has originated this instinct;
for those species in which the parental instinct is not developed, or in
which there is not some substitute for it, must inevitably perish. When
once this instinct has taken root natural selection will tend to
perpetuate it, since those species which take the best care of their
young are those which are likely to survive in the struggle for
existence.

Many instances can be adduced to show how automatic are the actions of
birds at the nesting season.

It sometimes happens that a bird lays an egg and then proceeds to build a
nest on top of it.

Again, some birds do not know their own eggs. A whole clutch of different
ones may be substituted for those upon which the bird is sitting and the
bird will not discover the change.

The well-known bird-photographer, Mr. R. Kearton, was desirous of
obtaining a good photograph of a sitting thrush, and as he was afraid
that her eggs would be hatched before a fine, sunny day presented itself,
had some wooden dummies made. These he painted and varnished to look like
those of the thrush, and put them in the nest, wondering whether the bird
would be deceived. He need not have wondered; she would probably have sat
upon the shams even had they not been coloured.

Upon another occasion Mr. Kearton replaced some starling nestlings by his
wooden eggs, and waited to see what would happen. “In a few minutes,” he
writes, “back came the starling with a rush. She gazed in wonder at the
contents of the nest for a few seconds, but, quickly making up her mind
to accept the strangely altered condition of things, she sat down on the
bits of painted wood without a trace of discontent in either look or
action. Putting her off again, I reversed the order of things and waited.
Upon returning, the starling stared in amazement at the change that had
come over the scene during her absence; but her curiosity soon vanished,
and she commenced to brood her chicks in the most matter-of-fact way.”
Then Mr. Kearton took out the chicks and put his fist into the nest, so
that the back of his hand was uppermost. The starling actually brooded
his knuckles. We must, of course, remember that a starling’s nest is in a
hole, where there is but little light. But, provided the starling could
not see him, I believe that she would have brooded his knuckles in broad
daylight.

Crows, the most intelligent of birds, will sit upon and try to hatch golf
balls and ping-pong balls. One famous kite in Calcutta sat long and
patiently in a vain attempt to make a pill-box yield a chick, while
another member of this species subjected a hare’s skull to similar
treatment. Upon one occasion I took a robin’s egg that was quite cold and
placed it among the warm ones in a blackbird’s nest. The hen came and
brooded the egg along with her own without appearing to notice the
addition, although it was much smaller than her eggs and of a totally
different colour.

In the same way, if a set of nestlings of another species be substituted
for those already in the nest, the parent birds will usually feed the new
family without noticing the change. Instinct teaches a bird to brood all
inanimate objects it sees in the nest and to feed all living things,
whether they be its own offspring or not, and many birds blindly obey
this instinct. It is, of course, to the advantage of the species that
this should be so. For it is only on very rare occasions that foreign
objects get into a nest, and nature cannot provide for such remote
contingencies.

Similarly, instinct will not allow a bird to pay any attention to objects
outside the nest, even though these objects be the bird’s own offspring.

As everybody knows, the common cuckoo nestling ejects its foster-brethren
from the nest, and if the true parents were able to appreciate what had
happened, how much sorrow among its victims would the cuckoo cause! As a
matter of fact, no sorrow at all is caused. Incredible as it may seem,
the parent birds do not miss the young ones, nor do they appear to see
them as they lie outside the nest. In this connection I cannot do better
than quote Mr. W. H. Hudson, who was able to closely observe what
happened when a young cuckoo had turned a baby robin out of the nest.
“Here,” writes Hudson, “the young robin when ejected fell a distance of
but five or six inches, and rested on a broad, light green leaf, where it
was an exceedingly conspicuous object; and when the mother robin was on
the nest—and at that stage she was on it the greater part of the
time—warming that black-skinned, toad-like, spurious babe of hers, her
bright, intelligent eyes were looking full at the other one, just beneath
her, which she had grown in her body and had hatched with her warmth, and
was her very own. I watched her for hours; watched her when warming the
cuckoo, when she left the nest, and when she returned with food and
warmed it again, and never once did she pay the least attention to the
outcast lying there close to her. There on its green leaf it remained,
growing colder by degrees, hour by hour, motionless, except when it
lifted its head as if to receive food, then dropped it again, and when at
intervals it twitched its body as if trying to move. During the evening
even these slight motions ceased, though the feeblest flame of life was
not yet extinct; but in the morning it was dead and cold and stiff; and
just above it, her bright eyes upon it, the mother robin sat on the nest
as before warming the cuckoo.”

Even those actions of nesting birds which appear to be most intelligent
can be shown to be merely automatic. Take, for example, the curious habit
of feigning injury, which some birds have, when an enemy approaches the
young, in order to distract attention from them to itself and thus enable
them to seek cover unobserved. This surely seems a highly intelligent
act. But birds sometimes act thus before the eggs are hatched, and by so
doing actually attract attention to the eggs. This action is purely
instinctive, and is perpetuated and strengthened by natural selection
because it is beneficial to the race.

We have seen how at the nesting season all a bird’s normal actions and
instincts are subordinated to those of incubation. It is therefore but
reasonable to suppose the incubating bird to be in a very peculiar and
excitable state, a state bordering on insanity.

A bird in this condition might be expected to go into something
resembling convulsions on the approach of an enemy, and, provided its
acts under such circumstances tended to help the offspring to escape, and
were at the same time not sufficiently acute to cause the mother bird to
fall a victim to the enemy, natural selection would tend to perpetuate
and fix such actions.

Want of space prevents further dilation upon this fascinating subject.

To sum up the conclusions I desire to emphasise. A bird has during the
greater part of its life only to look after itself, and the more
intelligent it be the better will it do this, hence natural selection
tends to increase the intelligence of birds. But, at certain seasons, it
becomes all-important to the species that the adults should attend to
their young, even at risk to themselves. To secure this Nature has placed
inside birds a force, dormant at most times, which at periodic intervals
completely overrides all normal instincts, a force which compels parent
birds to rivet their attention on the nest and its contents. Thus the
sudden conversion of birds into automata is a necessity, not a mere whim
of Dame Nature. The instinct is not of very long duration; for as soon as
the young are able to fend for themselves, the parents sometimes behave
in what seems to human beings a most unnatural way: they drive off their
offspring by force. As a matter of fact, this behaviour is quite natural;
it is dictated by Nature for the benefit of the species. Strong as the
maternal instinct is, it is liable to be overridden by stronger
instincts, such as that of migration. When the time for the migratory
journey comes round, the parent birds will desert, without apparently a
pang of remorse, or even a thought, the broods for whose welfare they
have been slaving day and night. This desertion of later broods by
migratory birds is far commoner than is generally supposed. In 1826 Mr.
Blackwell inspected the house-martins’ nests under the eaves of a barn at
Blakely after the autumnal migration of these birds. Of the twenty-two
nests under the eaves inspected on 11th November, no fewer than thirteen
were found to contain eggs and dead nestlings.



                             PLAYING CUCKOO


Ornithological experience led me some time back to the belief that at the
nesting season a bird becomes a creature of instinct, an organism whose
actions are, for the time being, those of a machine, a mere automaton.
This view, which has been set forth in the preceding article, is not held
by all naturalists. I therefore determined to undertake a systematic
series of experiments with a view to putting it to the test. In other
words, I decided to play cuckoo. I selected the Indian crow (_Corvus
splendens_) as the subject of my experiments, because it is the most
intelligent of the feathered folk. If it can be proved that when on the
nest the actions of this bird are mechanical, it will follow that the
less intelligent birds are likewise mere automata when incubating.
Another reason for selecting the crow as my victim is that I have been
investigating the habits of the koel (_Eudynamis honorata_), which is
parasitic on the crow, and in so doing have had to visit a large number
of crows’ nests.

The crow lays a pale blue egg blotched with brown, while the egg of the
koel is a dull olive-green also blotched with brown. It is considerably
smaller than the crow’s egg. I have seen dozens of koel’s eggs, but never
one that a human being could possibly mistake for that of a crow, yet our
friend _Corvus_ is unable to detect the strange egg when deposited in the
nest and sits upon it. It is not that birds are colour-blind. The koel is
able to distinguish its own egg from that of the crow, for, after it has
deposited its egg, it frequently returns to the nest and removes one or
more of the crow’s eggs! I am convinced that ordinarily a crow would have
no difficulty in distinguishing between the two kinds of egg; but at the
nesting time it throws most of its intelligence to the winds and becomes
a puppet in the hands of its instincts, which are to sit upon everything
in the nest.

I have myself placed koel’s eggs in crows’ nests, and in every case the
crow has incubated the eggs. On one occasion I came upon a crow’s nest
containing only two koel’s eggs. As the nest was some way from my
bungalow and in an exposed situation, I knew that, the moment I left, it
would be robbed by some mischievous native boy, so I took the eggs and
placed them in a crow’s nest in my compound. This already contained three
crow’s eggs, two of which I moved, substituting the koel’s eggs for them.
The crow’s eggs had only been laid three or four days, but the koel’s
eggs were nearly incubated, since both yielded chicks on the third day
after I placed them in the nest. If nesting crows think, that pair must
have been somewhat surprised at the speedy appearance of the chicks!

In all, I have placed six koel’s eggs in four different crow’s nests, and
as I have already said, in no single instance did the trick appear to be
detected. In the majority of cases, I did not trouble to keep the number
of eggs in the nest constant. I merely added the koel’s egg to those
already in the nest.

But I have put my theory to a much more severe test. In a certain crow’s
nest containing two eggs I put a large fowl’s egg. This was
cream-coloured and fully three times the size of the crow’s egg, yet
within ten minutes the crow was sitting comfortably on the strange egg.
She did not appear to notice the considerable addition to her clutch. She
subsequently laid three more eggs, so that she had six eggs to sit upon,
five of her own and the large fowl’s egg! Day after day I visited the
nest and watched the progress of the strange egg. On the twentieth day
the chick inside was moving, but when I went to the nest on the
twenty-first day I discovered that some one had climbed the tree, for
several branches were broken. Two young crows had been taken away and the
fowl’s egg thrown upon the ground. There it lay with a fully formed black
chicken inside! I have that chicken in a bottle of spirit. Subsequent
inquiry showed that the _dhobi’s_ son had taken it upon himself to spoil
my experiment. However, it went sufficiently far to prove that crows may
one day become birds of economic value; why not employ them as
incubators? Had the crow come across that chick’s egg anywhere but in its
nest, it would undoubtedly have made its breakfast off it.

I repeated the experiment in another nest. This time the chick hatched
out. When it appeared the rage of the crows knew no bounds. With angry
squawks the scandalised birds attacked the unfortunate chick, and so
viciously did they peck at it that it was in a dying state by the time my
climber reached the nest.

With a view to determining at what stage the incubating instinct secures
its dominance, I placed another fowl’s egg in a crow’s nest that was
almost ready to receive eggs, wondering whether the presence of this egg
would stimulate the crow to lay, without troubling to give the final
touches to the nest. The bird devoured the egg. It is my belief that the
acts of a nesting bird do not become completely automatic until it has
laid an egg in the nest. If one visits a crow’s nest which is in course
of construction, the owners will as likely as not desert it; but I have
never known a crow desert its nest when once it has laid an egg—provided,
of course, he who visits the nest leaves any eggs in it.

In another nest containing two crow’s eggs I placed a golf ball; on
returning next day I found the crow sitting tight upon her own two eggs
and the golf ball!

But in another case, where I had found two eggs and substituted for them
a couple of golf balls, the crow refused to sit. I suppose the idea was,
“I may be a bit of a fool when I am nesting, but I am not such a fool as
all that!” I once came across a young koel and a crow’s egg in a nest. I
removed the former and placed it in a crow’s nest containing four crow’s
eggs. The owner of the nest showed no surprise at the sudden appearance
of the koel, but set about feeding it in the most matter-of-fact way. The
young koel was successfully reared; it is now at large and will next year
victimise some crow. I may say that no human being could possibly fail to
distinguish between a young koel and a young crow. When first hatched the
koel has a black skin, the crow a pink one. The mouth of the crow
nestling is an enormous triangle with great fleshy flaps at the side; the
mouth of the koel is much smaller and lacks the flaps. The feathers arise
very differently in each species, and whereas those of the crow are
black, those of the koel are tipped with russet in the cock and white in
the hen.

[Illustration: THE INDIAN PADDY BIRD. (ARDEOLA GRAYII)]

In another nest containing a young koel (put there by me) and two crow’s
eggs, I placed a paddy bird’s (_Ardeola grayii_) egg, hoping that the
gallant crow would hatch it out and appreciate the many-sidedness of her
family. She hatched out the egg all right, at least I believe she did. I
saw it in the nest the day before the young paddy bird was due; but when
I visited the nest the following morning neither egg nor young bird was
there. It would seem that the crow did not appreciate the appearance of
the latest addition to the family and destroyed it. It is, of course,
possible that the young koel declined to associate with such a neighbour
and killed it; but I think that the crow was the culprit, for I had
previously placed a paddy bird nestling, four days old, in a crow’s nest
containing only young crows, and the paddy bird had similarly
disappeared.

These, then, are the main facts which my game of cuckoo has brought to
light. They are not so decisive as I had expected. They seem to indicate
that the actions of birds with eggs or young are not quite so mechanical
as I had supposed. Were they not largely mechanical a crow would never
hatch out a koel’s egg, nor would it feed the young koel when hatched
out; it would not incubate a fowl’s or a paddy bird’s egg, and it would
assuredly decline to sit upon a golf ball. On the other hand, were the
acts of nesting birds altogether mechanical, the young paddy birds would
have been reared up, and the substitution of two golf balls for two eggs
would not have been detected. There is apparently a limit to the extent
to which intelligence is subservient to blind instinct.



                                THE KOEL


Anglo-Indians frequently confound the koel with the brain-fever bird.
There is certainly some excuse for the mistake, for both are cuckoos and
both exceedingly noisy creatures; but the cry of the koel (_Eudynamis
honorata_) bears to that of the brain-fever bird or hawk-cuckoo
(_Hierococcyx varius_) much the same relation as the melody of the
organ-grinder does to that of a full German band. Most men are willing to
offer either the solitary Italian or the Teutonic gang a penny to go into
the next street, but, if forced to choose between them, select the
organ-grinder as the lesser of the two evils. In the same way, most
people find the fluty note of the koel less obnoxious than the shriek of
the hawk-cuckoo.

The latter utters a treble note, which sounds like “Brain fever.” This it
is never tired of repeating. It commences low down the musical scale and
then ascends higher and higher until you think the bird must burst. But
it never does burst. When the top note is reached the exercise is
repeated.

The koel is a bird of many cries. As it does not, like the brain-fever
bird, talk English, its notes are not easy to reproduce on paper. Its
commonest call is a crescendo _kuil, kuil, kuil_, from which the bird
derives its popular name. This cry is peculiar to the cock. The second
note is, to use the words of Colonel Cunningham, “an outrageous torrent
of shouts, sounding like _kūk, kŭū, kŭū, kŭū, kŭū, kŭū_, repeated at
brief intervals in tones loud enough to rouse the ‘Seven Sleepers.’” The
koel is nothing if not impressive. He likes to utter this note just
before dawn, when all the world is still. As the bird calls chiefly in
the hot weather, when it frequently happens that the hour before sunrise
is almost the only one in the twenty-four in which the jaded European can
sleep, this note is productive of much evil language on the part of the
aforesaid European.

The koel’s third cry is well described by Cunningham as a mere cataract
of shrill shrieks—_heekaree, karees_. This is heard mostly when the hen
is fleeing for dear life before a pair of outraged crows. So much for the
voice of the koel, now for a description of the singer. The cock is a
jet-black bird with a green bill and a red eye. The hen is speckled black
and white, with the eye and beak as in the cock. Add to this the fact
that the koel is a little larger than the “merry cuckoo, messenger of
spring” which visits England, and it is impossible not to recognise the
bird.

This cuckoo, like many of its relatives, does not hatch its own eggs. It
cuckolds crows. This is no mean performance, for the crow is a suspicious
creature. It knoweth full well the evil which is in its own heart, and
so, judging others by itself, watches unceasingly over its nest from the
time the first egg is deposited therein until the hour when the most
backward young one is able to fly. Now, a koel is no match for a crow in
open fight, hence it is quite useless for the former to attempt by means
of force to introduce its egg into the crow’s nest. It is obliged to
resort to guile. The cock entices away the crows, and while they are
absent the hen deposits her egg.

Crows appear to dislike the cry of the koel quite as much as men do. But
whereas man is usually content with swearing at the noisy cuckoo, crows
attack it with beak and claw whenever an opportunity offers. This fact is
turned to account by the koel. The cock alights in a tree near a crow’s
nest and begins to call. The owners of the nest, sooner or later, “go
for” him. He then takes to his wings, continuing to call, so as to induce
the crows to prolong the chase. As he is a more rapid flier than they, he
does not run much risk. While the irate corvi are in pursuit, the hen
koel, who has been lurking around, slips into the nest and there lays her
egg. If she is given time she destroys one or more of those already in
the nest. She does this, not because the crows would detect the presence
of an additional egg, but in order that her young, when hatched, will not
be starved owing to the large number of mouths to feed.

Crows, although such clever birds, are, as we have seen, remarkably
stupid at the nesting season. They are unable to distinguish the koel’s
egg from their own, although the former is considerably smaller, with an
olive-green background instead of a bluish one; and when the young koel
emerges from the egg, they are unable to differentiate between it and
their own offspring, although baby koels are black and baby crows pink,
when first hatched out. The koel nestling has one point in common with
young crows, and that is a large mouth of which the inside is red. This
is opened wide whenever a parent approaches, so that the latter sees
nothing but a number of yawning caverns; thus there is some excuse for
its failure to distinguish between the true and the spurious nestlings.

To return to the koel who is laying her egg in the momentarily deserted
nest. She does not carry her egg thither in her beak as the common cuckoo
is said to do, but sits in the nest and lays it there. Sometimes the
crows return before she is ready and, of course, attack her, but as she
can fly faster than they, they do not often succeed in harming her,
although there are instances on record of crows mobbing female koels to
death. It will thus be seen that cuckolding crows is dangerous work. The
life of the cuckoo is not all beer and skittles, and the birds seem to
feel the danger of their existence, for at the breeding season they
appear to be in a most excited state, and are manifestly afraid of the
crows. This being so, I am inclined to think that the latter are
responsible for the parasitic habit of the koel. It is not improbably a
case of the biter bit. Crows are such aggressive birds that they are
quite capable of evicting any other bird from its nest if this be large
enough to suit their purpose. Now suppose a koel to be thus evicted by
force when ready to lay; it is quite conceivable that she might make
frantic efforts to lay in her rightful nest, and if she succeeded, and
the crows failed to detect her egg, they would hatch out her offspring.
If the koels which acted thus managed to have their offspring reared for
them, while those that attempted to build fresh nests dropped their eggs
before the new nurseries were ready, natural selection would tend to weed
out the latter and thus the parasitic habit might arise, until eventually
the koel came to forget how to build a nest.

In this connection it is important to bear in mind that the nearest
relatives of the koel are non-parasitic. It is therefore not improbable
that in the koel the parasitic habit has an independent origin.

This instinct has undoubtedly been evolved more than once. It does not
necessarily follow that similar causes have led to its origin in each
case.

The suggestion I have made is made only with reference to the koel, which
differs from other cuckoos in that it dupes a bird stronger and bigger
than itself. But this is a digression.

If the koel have time, she destroys one or more of the existing eggs, and
will sometimes return later and destroy others. Although the crow cannot
distinguish between her own and koel’s eggs, the koel can. I have come
across several crows’ nests which each contained only two koel’s eggs.

The young koel is a better-behaved bird than some of its relations, for
it ejects neither the eggs still in the nest when it is hatched nor its
foster-brethren. But the incubating period of the koel is shorter than
that of the crow, so that the koel’s egg is always the first to hatch
out. The koel seems never to make the mistake of depositing its egg among
nearly incubated ones. Thus the young koel commences life with a useful
start on its foster-brethren. It soon increases this start, as it grows
very fast, and is ready to fly before the earliest feathers of its
foster-brothers are out of their sheaths.

It does not, however, leave its foster-parents when able to fly. It sits
on the edge of the nest and makes laudable, if ludicrous, efforts at
cawing. The crows continue feeding it long after it has left the nest,
looking after it with the utmost solicitude. A young koel is somewhat
lacking in intelligence; it seems unable to distinguish its
foster-parents from any other crow, for it opens its mouth at the
approach of every crow, evidently expecting to be fed.

The natives of the Punjab assert that the hen koel keeps her eye on the
crow’s nest in which she has laid her egg or eggs during the whole of the
time that the young cuckoo is in it, and takes charge of her babe after
it leaves the nest. This assertion appears to be incorrect. I have never
seen a koel feeding anything but itself. Moreover, the koel lays four or
five eggs, and these are not usually all deposited in one nest. It would
therefore be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for the hen to
keep an eye on each of her eggs.

In view of the hatred which crows display towards koels in general,
naturalists have expressed surprise that the young koels are not mobbed
directly they leave the nest. Their plumage differs in no way from that
of the adult. It has been suggested that young koels retain the crow
smell for a considerable time after they are fledged. This I cannot
accept. The olfactory organ of birds is but slightly developed. Indeed, I
am inclined to wonder whether birds have any sense of smell. The truth of
the matter is that crows look after their foster-children most carefully
for several weeks after they have left the nest, and see that no strange
crow harms them.



                        THE COMMON DOVE OF INDIA


The dove family ought to have become extinct ages ago, if all that
orthodox zoologists tell us about the fierce struggle for existence be
true. They form a regular “Thirteen Society.” They do everything they
should not do, they disobey every rule of animal warfare, they fall
asleep when sitting exposed on a telegraph wire, they build nests in all
manner of foolish places, their nests are about as unsafe as a nursery
can possibly be, and they flatly decline to lay protectively coloured
eggs—their white eggs are a standing invitation to bird robbers to
indulge, like the Cambridge crew of 1906, in an egg diet; yet, in spite
all of these foolhardy acts, doves flourish like the green bay tree. This
is a fact of which I require an explanation before I can accept all the
doctrines of the Neo-Darwinian school.

There are so many species of dove in India that when speaking of them one
must perforce, unless one be writing a great monograph, confine oneself
to two or three of the common species. I propose to-day to talk about our
three commonest Indian doves, that is to say, the spotted dove (_Turtur
suratensis_), the Indian ring-dove (_Turtur risorius_), and the little
brown dove (_Turtur cambayensis_). I make no apology for discoursing upon
these common species. I contend that we in India know so very little
about even our everyday birds that it is a needless expenditure of energy
to seek out the rarer species and study their habits; we have plenty to
learn about those that come into our verandahs and coo to us.

The curious distribution of our common Indian doves has not, so far as I
know, been explained. In very few places are all three common. One or
other of them is usually far more abundant than the others, and this one
is usually the spotted dove. It is the commonest dove of Calcutta, of
Madras, of Travancore, of Tirhoot, of Lucknow, but not of Lahore or
Bombay or the Deccan. Why is this? Why is it that, whereas the Deccan is
literally overrun by the ring- and the little brown dove, one can go from
Bombay to Malabar without meeting one of these species, but seeing
thousands of the spotted dove?

The only explanation that I can offer of this phenomenon is that the
spotted dove is the most pugnacious and the most pushing; that where he
chooses to settle down he ousts the other species of dove more or less
completely; but he, fortunately for the other species, does not choose to
settle down in all parts of India. He objects to dry places. Hence he is
not seen at Lahore or in the Deccan, or in the drier parts of the United
Provinces, such as Agra, Muttra, Etawah, and Cawnpore.

This is only a theory of mine, and a theory in favour of which I am not
able to adduce very much evidence, since my personal knowledge of India
is confined to some half-a-dozen widely separated places. Moreover, this
theory does not explain the absence of the spotted dove from Bombay. I
should be very glad to know if there are any other moist parts of India
where the spotted dove is not the most abundant of the cooing family.

The nest of the dove is a subject over which most ornithologists have
waxed sarcastic. A more ramshackle structure does not exist; yet the
absurd thing is that doves are most particular about the materials they
use.

The other day I watched, with much amusement, a little brown dove at work
nest building. It was constructing a shake-down in a small Lonicera bush.
Now, obviously, since the nest is just a few twigs and stalks thrown
together, any kind of short twig or stem will serve for building
material. This, however, was not the view of the dove. If that creature
had been constructing the Forth Bridge it could not have been more
particular as regards the materials it picked up. It strutted about the
ground, taking into its bill all manner of material only to reject it,
until at last it picked up a dead grass stalk and flew off with it in
triumph!

Presumably doves take the same trouble in selecting a site for their
nest, nevertheless they sometimes eventually choose the most impossible
spot. Thus Mr. A. Anderson has recorded the existence of a nest of a pair
of little brown doves that “was placed close to the fringe of the
_kunnaut_ of his tent on one of the corner ropes, where it is double for
some six inches and there knotted. The double portion was just broad
enough, being three inches apart, to support the nest with careful
balancing; the _knot_ acted as a sort of _buffer_ and prevented the twigs
from sliding off, which most assuredly would otherwise have been the
case, for the rope just there was at an angle of 45°.”

Those foolish birds were not permitted to bring up their young, because
the tent had to be struck before the eggs were laid.

In Lahore a favourite nesting site for the little brown dove is on the
top of the rolled-up portion of the verandah _chik_. As the _chik_ is
composed of stout material, the rolled-up portion forms an excellent
platform some four inches broad. But as the doves nest just as the
weather is beginning to grow warm, the little home is apt to be somewhat
rudely broken up. One pair, however, has this year successfully reared up
two young hopefuls in a nest on this somewhat precarious site. The doings
of these form the subject of the next article.

I once came across a nest of this little dove in a low, prickly bush
beside a small canal distributory, three miles outside Lahore. The dove
appeared to have used as the foundation for its nest an old one of the
striated bush babbler (_Argya caudata_). (I object to calling this bird
the common babbler, since, like common sense, it is not very common.) In
the same bush, at the same level, that is to say, about a yard from the
ground and only a couple of feet from the dove’s nest, was that of a
striated bush babbler containing three dark blue eggs. This is a case
upon which those who believe that eggs laid in open nests are
protectively coloured would do well to ponder.

There, side by side, in precisely the same environment, were two
nests—one containing white and the other dark blue eggs. Obviously both
sets of eggs could not be protectively coloured; as a matter of fact,
both clutches of eggs were conspicuous objects. It not infrequently
happens that the Indian robin (_Thamnobia cambayensis_), which lays white
eggs thickly spotted with reddish brown, brings up a family in a disused
nest of a striated bush babbler’s. The eggs of this latter are dark blue.
It is surely time that zoologists gave up throwing at us their
everlasting theory of protective colouring. If this were a _sine qua non_
of the safety of birds’ eggs, then the whole dove tribe would, long ago,
have ceased to exist.

This family presents the ornithologist with yet another problem in
colouration. In every species, except the red turtle-dove (_Oenopopelia
tranquebarica_), both sexes are coloured alike. In this latter, however,
there is very pronounced sexual dimorphism. The ruddy wing feathers of
the cock enable one to distinguish him at once from his mate and from
every other dove. Now the habits of this dove appear to be exactly like
those of all other species. It constructs the same kind of nest and in
similar situations; why then the sexual dimorphism in this species and in
no other species? If the lady rufous turtle-dove likes nice ruddy wings,
and thus the red wing has been evolved in the cock bird, why has she too
not inherited it? I presume that even the most audacious Neo-Darwinian
will not talk about her greater need of protection when sitting on the
nest, for if she needs protection, how much more so do her white eggs?
Further, it is my belief that the cock bird takes his turn in the
incubation.

It must not be thought that I am needlessly poking fun at modern
biologists. I merely desire to call attention to the unsolved problems
that confront us on all sides, and to protest against the dogmatism of
biology which declares that the Darwinian theory explains the whole of
organic nature. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that the field
naturalist cannot but feel that natural selection is turning out rather a
failure.

In conclusion, one more word regarding the red turtle-dove. Its
distribution has not been carefully worked out, and what we do know of it
is not easy to explain. Hume says that it breeds in all parts of India,
but is very capriciously distributed, and he is unable to say what kind
of country it prefers, and why it is common in one district and rare in a
neighbouring one in which all physical conditions appear identical.

It is very common in the bare, arid, treeless region that surrounds the
Sambhur Lake. It is common in some dry, well-cultivated districts, like
Etawah, where there are plenty of old mango groves. It is very common in
some of the comparatively humid tracts, like Bareilly, and again in the
_sal_ jungles of the Kumaun _Bhabar_ and the Nepal _Terai_. On the other
hand, over wide extents of similar country it is scarcely to be seen.
Doubtless there is something in its food or manner of life that limits
its distribution, but no one has yet been able to make out what this
something is.



                          DOVES IN A VERANDAH


The office building in which for some time past I have rendered service
to a paternal government was once a tomb. That it is now an office is
evidence of the strict economy practised by the Indian Administration.
Since the living require more light than the dead, skylights have been
let into the domed roof. In these the brown rock-chat (_Cercomela fusca_)
loves to sit and pour forth his exceedingly sweet little lay, while his
spouse sits on four pale blue eggs in a nest on a ledge in a neighbouring
sepulchre. But it is not of this bird that I write to-day; I hope to give
him an innings at some future date.

Two little brown doves (_Turtur cambaiensis_) first demand our attention,
since these for a time appropriated my skylights. This species is smaller
than the spotted dove so common in Madras, and, to my way of thinking, is
a much more beautiful bird. Its head, neck, and breast are pale lilac
washed with red. On each side of the neck the bird carries a miniature
chessboard. The remainder of its plumage is brown, passing into grey and
white. The legs are lake-red.

It has a very distinctive note—a soft, subdued musical
_cuk-cuk-coo-coo-coo_. There is no bird better pleased with itself than
the little brown dove. In the month of March the two doves in question
were “carrying on” in my office skylight to such an extent as to leave no
doubt that they had a nest somewhere. I discovered it on the rolled-up
end of one of the bamboo verandah _chiks_. These are not let down in the
cold weather, so that the doves had been permitted to build undisturbed.

“Eha” has humorously described a dove’s nest as composed of two short
sticks and a long one; that of the little brown dove is a little more
compact than the typical nest, a little less sketchy, and composed of
grass and fine twigs. There was plenty of room for it on the top of the
rolled-up portion of the _chik_.

When I found the nest there were two white eggs in it. Every species of
dove lays but two eggs. I do not know whether the smallness of the clutch
has anything to do with the helplessness of the young birds when first
hatched. Young doves and pigeons have not, like other baby birds, great
mouths which open to an alarming extent. They feed by putting their beaks
in the mouth of the parent and there they obtain “pigeon’s milk,” which
is a secretion from the crop of the old birds.

Being at that time less versed in the ways of the little brown dove than
I now am, I was under the impression that this nest was in rather a
curious situation, so I determined to obtain a photograph of it with the
young birds. I may here say that I dislike photography, and not without
cause. Some years ago I visited the Himalayan snows, and dragged up a
great camera and a number of plates to an altitude of 12,000 feet. Having
no portable dark room, I endured untold agonies while changing the plates
under the bedclothes. Being anxious lest the light should reach the
exposed negatives, I wrapped them up very carefully, using newspaper,
which was the only wrapping available. When I returned from the
expedition I developed the plates, but lo and behold! instead of snowy
peaks and sunny valleys, advertisements of soaps and pills appeared on
the plates. Why do not books on the camera tell one not to wrap up plates
in newspaper? I made a vow to leave photography to others, and I kept the
vow until I saw those young doves perched so temptingly on the _chik_.

Having risked both life and limb in mounting a chair placed upon a table,
I obtained a “snap” at the nest. On developing the plate everything
appeared with admirable clearness except the nest. There was nothing but
a blur where this should have been; the rest of the _chik_ came out
splendidly. The only explanation of this phenomenon that I can offer is
the natural “cussedness” of the camera. I have now renewed my vow to
eschew photography.

The first young doves were successfully reared. No sooner had they been
driven forth into the world than the parents set about repairing the
nest, for doves are not content with one brood; when once a pair commence
nesting there is no knowing when they will stop. As it was then April and
the sun was growing uncomfortably hot, the letting down of the _chik_
became a matter of necessity, and this, of course, wrecked the nest. I
expected to see no more of the doves. In this I was mistaken. Before long
they were billing and cooing as merrily as before. A little search showed
that this time they had built a nest on the top of the same _chik_—a feat
which I should have thought impossible had I not seen the nest with my
own eyes. Some sacking was attached to the _chik_, and this, together
with the bamboo, presented a surface of about half an inch. On this
precarious foundation the nest rested; the twigs, of course, reached over
to the wall from which the _chik_ was hung. Thus the nest received some
additional support. Needless to say, the young birds had to remain very
still or they would have fallen out of the nest.

The second and the third broods were raised without mishap. One of the
birds of the fourth family was more restless than his brethren had been;
consequently he fell off the nest on to the floor of the verandah. He was
picked up and brought to me. Although not strong enough to walk, or even
stand, he showed unmistakable signs of that evil temper which
characterises all doves, by opening his wings and pecking savagely at my
hand. In spite of this behaviour I set natural selection at naught by
putting him back into the nest. He fell out again next day and was again
replaced. This time he stayed there, and is now probably at large.

When the fifth clutch of eggs was in the nest my _chaprassi_, who, since
I have shown him how to play cuckoo, has been upsetting the domestic
affairs of any number of birds, asked whether he might substitute two
pigeon’s eggs for those laid by the dove. The substitution was duly
effected without rousing any suspicions on the part of the doves. The
young pigeons soon hatched out and were industriously fed by their
foster-parents, nor did these latter appear to notice anything unusual
when the white plumage of the pigeons appeared. Two days before the
changelings were ready to fly a terrific storm arose and so shook the
_chiks_ that the poor pigeons were thrown off and killed. Nothing
daunted, the doves have since successfully reared a sixth family! Can we
wonder that doves are numerous in India?



                           THE GOLDEN ORIOLE


Dame Nature must have been in a very generous mood when she manufactured
golden orioles, or she would never have expended so much of her
colour-box upon them. Orioles are birds which compel our attention, so
brilliant are they; yet the poets who profess to be the high-priests of
Nature give us no songs about these beautiful creatures; at least I know
of no maker of verse, with the exception of Sir Edwin Arnold, who does
more than mention the oriole. Here then is a fine opening for some
twentieth-century bard!

Two orioles, or mango birds as they are sometimes called, are common in
India. They are the Indian oriole (_Oriolus kundoo_) and the black-headed
oriole (_O. melanocephalus_). The Indian oriole is a bird about the size
of a starling. The plumage of the cock is a splendid rich yellow. There
is a black patch over and behind the eye. There is some black on the
tail, and the large wing feathers are also of this colour. The bill is
pink and the eyes red. In the hen the yellow of the back is deeply tinged
with green.

The black-headed oriole may be distinguished by his black head, throat,
and upper breast. The habits of both species are similar in every
respect. The Indian oriole seems to be merely a winter visitor to Madras,
and it is seen in the Punjab only during the hot weather. In the
intervening parts it may be observed all the year round; hence the
species would appear to perform a small annual migration, leaving the
South in the hot weather. In those parts where orioles are found all the
year round it is not improbable that the birds one sees in the winter are
not those that are observed during the summer.

The oriole is essentially a bird of the greenwood tree; if you would see
him you should betake yourself to some well-irrigated orchard. I have
never seen an oriole on the ground; its habits are strictly arboreal, but
it does not seem to be at all particular about taking cover. It perches
by preference on the topmost bough of a tree, and if this bough be devoid
of leaves, so much the better, for the bird enjoys a more extensive view
of the surrounding country. Very beautiful does such a bird look, sitting
outlined against the sky, as the first rays of the morning sun fall upon
and add fresh lustre to its golden plumage. Orioles feed upon both fruit
and insects, and so cannot be regarded as unmixed blessings to the
agriculturalist.

As I have already said, Dame Nature has been exceedingly kind to this
bird; not content with decking him out in brilliantly coloured raiment,
she has endowed him with a voice of which any bird might well be proud.
It is a clear, mellow whistle, which is usually syllabised as _peeho,
peeho_, or _lorio, lorio_; indeed, the name oriole is probably
onomatopoetic. In addition to this the bird has several other notes.
These are not pleasant to the ear and may be described as blends, in
varying proportions, of the harsh call of the king-crow and the _miau_ of
a cat. The hen almost invariably utters such a note when a human being
approaches the nest; but the cry apparently does not always denote alarm,
for I have heard an oriole uttering it when sitting placidly in a tree,
seemingly at peace with all the world; but perhaps that particular bird
may have been indulging in unpleasant day dreams; who knows?

We hear much of the marvellous nests of tailor- and weaver-birds, but
never of that of the oriole. Naturalists, equally with poets, have
neglected this beautiful species. An oriole’s nest is in its way quite as
wonderful as that of the tailor-bird. If a man were ordered to erect a
cradle up in a tree, he would, I imagine, construct it precisely as the
oriole does its nest. This last is a cup-shaped structure slung on to two
or three branches of a tree by means of fibres which are wound first
round one branch, then passed under the nest, and finally wound round
another bough. The nest is therefore, as Hume pointed out, secured to its
supporting branches in much the same way as a prawn net is to its wooden
framework.

In places where there are mulberry trees the oriole shaves off narrow
strips of the thin, pliable bark and uses these to support the nest.
Jerdon describes one wonderful nest, taken by him at Saugor, that was
suspended by a long roll of cloth about three-quarters of an inch wide,
which the bird must have pilfered from some neighbouring verandah. “This
strip,” he states, “was wound round each limb of the fork, then passed
round the nest beneath, fixed to the other limb, and again brought round
the nest to the opposite side; there were four or five of these supports
on either side.” The nest was so securely fixed that it could not have
been removed till the supporting bands had been cut or had rotted away.
Here then is an example of workmanship which the modern jerry-builder
might well emulate.

I have made repeated attempts to see orioles at work on the supports of
the nest, but so far have only managed to observe them lining it. Upon
one occasion I came upon a nest some fifteen feet from the ground from
which hung two strips of fibre about sixteen inches long that had been
wound round one branch. I waited for some time, hoping the birds would
return and allow me to see them finish the adjustment of these fibres;
but unfortunately there was no cover available, and the oriole is an
exceedingly shy bird; it will not do anything to the nest if it knows it
is being watched.

The completed nursery, viewed from below, looks like a ball of dried
grass wedged into the fork of a branch, and may easily be mistaken for
that of a king-crow, but this last is, of course, not bound to the
branches like that of the oriole.

A very curious thing that I have noticed about the Indian oriole’s nest
is that it is always situated either in the same tree as a king-crow’s
nest or in an adjacent tree. I have seen some thirteen or fourteen
orioles’ nests since I first noticed this phenomenon, and have, in every
case, found a king-crow’s nest within ten yards. The drongo builds
earlier, for it is usually feeding its young while the oriole is
incubating. It would therefore appear that it is the oriole which elects
to build near the king-crow. I imagine that it does so for the sake of
protection; it must be a great thing for a timid bird to have a vigorous
policeman all to itself, a policeman who will not allow a big creature to
approach under any pretext whatever.

The oriole lays from two to four white eggs spotted with reddish brown.
These spots readily wash off, and sometimes the colour “runs” and gives
the whole egg a pink hue. Although both sexes take part in the
construction of the nursery, the work of incubation appears to fall
entirely upon the hen. I have never seen a cock oriole sitting on the
nest.



                              THE BARN OWL


The barn owl is a cosmopolitan bird. It is an adaptive species, and so
has been able to make itself at home all the world over. Like every
widely distributed species, including man, it has its local
peculiarities. The barn owls of India are somewhat different from those
of Africa, and these latter, again, may be readily distinguished from
those that dwell in Europe. This any one may see for himself by paying a
visit to the Zoological Gardens at Regent’s Park, where barn owls from
all parts of the world blink out their lives in neighbouring cages.
Needless to say, species-mongers have tried to magnify these local
peculiarities into specific differences. The European bird is known as
_Strix flammea_. An attempt was made to differentiate the Indian barn
owl. If you look up the bird in Jerdon’s classical work you will see that
it is called _Strix javanica_. Jerdon’s justification for making a new
species of it was its larger size, more robust feet and toes, and the
presence of spots on the lower plumage. If such were specific differences
we ought to divide up man, _Homo sapiens_, into quite a large number of
species: _Homo major_, _H. minor_, _H. longirostris_, _H. brevirostris,_
etc.

However, neither with the barn owl nor with man has the species-maker had
his own way. Ornithologists recognise but one barn owl. This bird, which
is frequently called the screech owl, is delightfully easy to describe.
Everybody knows an owl when he sees one; but stay, I forgot the German
Professor, mentioned by Mr. Bosworth Smith, who held up in triumph the
owl which he had shot, saying: “Zee, I have shot von schnipe mit einem
face Push cat.” Let me therefore say it is easy enough for the average
man to recognise an owl, but it is quite another matter when it comes to
“spotting” the species to which an individual happens to belong. As a
rule the family likeness is so strong as to overshadow specific
differences. The barn owl, however, differs from all others in that it
has a long, thin face. Take any common or garden owl, and you will
observe that it has a round, plum-pudding-like head. Place that owl
before one of those mirrors which make everything look long and thin, and
you will see in the glass a very fair representation of the barn owl. The
face of this owl, when it is awake, is heart-shaped; when the bird is
asleep it is as long as that of a junior Madras Civil Servant as he looks
over the Civil List. Whether awake or asleep, the bird has an uncanny,
half-human look. It is innocent of the “ears” or “horns” which form so
conspicuous a feature of some owls. In passing, I may say that those
horn-like tufts of feathers have no connection with the well-developed
auditory organ of the owl.

The barn owl’s face is white, as is its lower plumage, hence it is
popularly known in England as the white owl. The back and upper plumage
are pale grey. The tail is buff, and there is a good deal of buff
scattered about the rest of the plumage; it is on this account that the
bird is called _flammea_.

The barn owl is, I believe, common in all parts of India, but it is not
often seen owing to its strictly nocturnal habits. It ventures not forth
into the dazzling light of day as does that noisy little clown, the
spotted owlet (_Athene brama_). Should it happen to be abroad in daylight
the crows make its life a burden. Friend Corvus is a very conservative
individual. He sets his face steadfastly against any addition to the
local fauna. As he seldom or never sees the barn owl, he does not include
it among the birds of his locality; so that when one does show its face,
the crows proceed to mob it. Their efforts are well seconded by the small
fry among birds, who seem instinctively to dislike the whole owl tribe.

During the day the barn owl sleeps placidly in the interior of a decayed
tree, or in a tomb, mosque, temple, or ruin, or even in the secluded
verandah of a bungalow. The last place of abode is unsatisfactory from
the point of view of the owl, for Indian servants display an antipathy
towards it quite as great as that shown by the crows. They believe that
the owls bring bad luck, and are in this respect not one whit more
foolish than ignorant folk in other parts of the world. This useful and
amusing bird is everywhere regarded with superstitious dread by the
uneducated.

It lives almost exclusively on rats, mice, shrews, and other enemies of
the farmer. And as an exceptional case it will take a young bird, which
is usually a sparrow. Most people will agree that we can spare a few
sparrows; nevertheless, that cruel idiot, the gamekeeper, classes the
barn owl as vermin and shoots it whenever he has the chance. This is
fairly often, owing to the confiding habits of the creature. It will
enter a bungalow after rats or moths, and will sometimes terrify the
timid sleeper by sitting on the end of his bed and screaming at him!

The owl is blessed with an appetite that would do credit to an alderman.
Lord Lilford states that he saw “a young half-grown barn owl take down
nine full-grown mice, one after another, until the tail of the ninth
stuck out of his mouth, and in three hours’ time was crying for more.”
Let me anticipate the captious critic by saying that it was the owl and
not the tail of the ninth mouse that, like Oliver Twist, called for more.
Moreover, the tail did not, as might be supposed, stick out because the
bird was “full up inside.” The barn owl invariably swallows a mouse head
first; it makes a mighty gulp, with the result that the whole of the
mouse, except the tail, disappears. Thus the victim remains for a short
time in order that the owl may enjoy the _bonne bouche_. Then the tail
disappears suddenly, and the curtain is rung down on the first act of the
tragedy. The second and third acts are like unto the first. The last act
is not very polite, but it must be described in the interests of science.
After an interval of a few hours the owl throws up, in the form of a
pellet, the bones, fur, and other undigestible portions of his victims.
This is, of course, very bad manners, but it is the inevitable result of
bolting a victim whole. One vice, alas! leads to another.

Kingfishers, which swallow whole fish, likewise eject the bones. This
habit of the owl has enabled zoologists to disprove the contention of the
gamekeeper that the barn owl lives chiefly upon young pheasants. The
bones found in these pellets are nearly all those of small rodents.

The screech owl, as its name implies, is not a great songster. It hisses,
snores, and utters, during flight, blood-curdling screams, which
doubtless account for its evil reputation. It lays roundish white eggs in
a hole in a tree or other convenient cavity. Three, four, or six are
laid, according to taste. I have never found the eggs in India, but they
are, in England at any rate, laid, not in rapid succession, but at
considerable intervals, so that one may find, side by side in a nest,
eggs and young birds of various ages. I do not know whether the owl
derives any benefit from this curious habit. It has been suggested that
the wily creature makes the first nestling which hatches out do some of
the incubating. Pranks of this kind are all very well when the nest is
hidden away in a hole; they would not do in an open nest to which crows
and other birds of that feather have access.

[Illustration: THE COMMON KINGFISHER. (ALCEDO ISPIDA)]



                           A TREE-TOP TRAGEDY


If I were a bird I would give the Indian crow a very wide berth, and,
whenever I did come into unavoidable contact with him, I should behave
towards him with the most marked civility. A clannishness prevails among
crows which makes them nasty enemies to tackle. If you insult one of the
“treble-dated” birds you find that the whole of the _corvi_ of the
neighbourhood resent that insult as if it had been addressed to each and
every one individually, and if you get back nothing more than your insult
_plus_ very liberal interest, you are indeed lucky. In the same way,
crows will revenge an injury tenfold. The eye-for-an-eye doctrine does
not satisfy them; for an eye they want at least a pair of eyes, to say
nothing of a complete set of teeth. I recently witnessed an example of
what crows are capable of doing by way of revenge.

A couple of kites built high up in a lofty tree the clumsy platform of
sticks which we dignify by the name “nest.” This was furnished, soon
after its completion, by a clutch of three straw-coloured eggs,
handsomely blotched with red.

The ugliest birds seem to lay the most beautiful eggs; this is perhaps
the compensation which Dame Nature gives them for their own lack of
comeliness.

The kite is a very close sitter. Like the crow, she knoweth the
wickedness of her own heart, and as she judges others by herself, deems
it necessary to continually mount guard over her eggs. Patience
eventually meets with its reward. Three weeks of steady sitting result in
the appearance of the young kites.

This long and patient sitting on the part of parent birds is, when one
comes to think of it, a most remarkable phenomenon. No sooner do the eggs
appear in the nest than the most active little bird seems to lose all its
activity and become quite sedentary in its habits. Take, for example, the
sprightly white-browed fantail flycatcher (_Rhipidura albifrontata_), a
bird which ordinarily seems to have St. Vitus’s dance in every organ and
appendage. This species will, when it has eggs, sit as closely or more
closely than a barndoor hen, and will sometimes allow you to stroke it. I
often wonder what are the feelings of such a bird when incubating. One is
tempted to think that it must find the process intensely boring. But this
cannot be so, or it would refuse to sit. The fowls of the air are not
hampered by the Ten Commandments; they are free to do that to which the
spirit moveth them, without let or hindrance, without fear of arrest or
prosecution for breach of the law. Hence birds must positively enjoy
sitting on their eggs. At the brooding season avine nature undergoes a
complete change. Ordinarily a bird delights to expend its ebullient
energy in vigorous motion, just as a strong man delights to run a race;
but at the nesting season its inclinations change; then its greatest joy
is to sit upon its nest. Even as human beings are suddenly seized with
the Bridge craze and are then perfectly content to sit for hours at the
card table, so at certain seasons are birds overcome by the incubating
mania. If my view of the matter be correct, and I think it must be, a
sitting bird is no more an object for our pity than is a Bridge maniac.
But this is a digression.

Let us hie back to our kite and her family of young ones in their lofty
nursery. For a time all went well with them. But one day the sun of
prosperity which had hitherto shone upon them became darkened by great
black clouds of adversity. I happened to pass the nest at this time and
saw about twenty excited crows squatting on branches near the nest and
cawing angrily. The mother kite was flying round and round in circles,
and was evidently sorely troubled in spirit. She had done something to
offend the crows. Ere long she returned to her nest, whereupon the crows
took to their wings, cawing more vociferously than ever. As soon as the
kite had settled on the nest they again alighted on branches of the tree,
and, each from a respectful distance, gave what the natives of Upper
India call _gali galoj_. She tolerated for a time their vulgar abuse,
then left the nest. This was the signal for all the crows to take to
their wings. Some of them tried to attack her in the air. For a few
minutes I watched them chasing her. After a little the attack began to
flag, I, therefore, came to the conclusion that the _corvi_ were
recovering their mental equilibrium, and that the whole affair would
quickly fizzle out, as such incidents usually do. Accordingly, I went on
my way. Returning an hour later, I was surprised to find the crows still
engaged in the attack. Moreover, the kite was not visible and the crows
had grown bolder, for whereas previously they had abused the kite from a
safe distance, some of them were now quite close to the nest. Being
pressed for time, I was not able to stay and await developments. In the
afternoon when I again passed the nest I saw no kite, but the tree was
alive with crows, and part of the nest appeared to have been pulled down.
The nestlings had probably been destroyed. Of this I was not able to make
certain, for I was on my way to fulfil a social engagement. I was, I
admit, sorely tempted to “cut” this, and nothing but the want of a good
excuse prevented my doing so. “Dear Mrs. Burra Mem, I much regret that I
was prevented from coming to your tennis party this afternoon by a
domestic bereavement—of a kite,” seemed rather unconvincing, so I went to
the lawn-tennis party.

[Illustration: THE INDIAN KITE. (MILVUS GOVINDA)]

When I saw the nest the following morning it was a total wreck. There
were still one or two crows hanging around, and while I was inspecting
the ground beneath the scene of the tragedy they amused themselves by
dropping sticks on my head. The crow is an ill-conditioned bird. I found,
lying about on the ground, the _débris_ of the nest, a number of kite’s
feathers, including six or seven of the large tail ones, and two crow’s
wings. These last furnished the clue to the behaviour of the crows. The
kite must have attacked and killed a sickly crow, in order to provide
breakfast for her young. This was, of course, an outrage on corvine
society—an outrage which demanded speedy vengeance. Hence the gathering
of the clans which I had witnessed the previous day. At first the crows
were half afraid of the kite, and were content to call her names; but as
they warmed up to their work they gained courage, and so eventually
killed the kite, destroyed her nest, and devoured her young. Thus did
they avenge the murder.



                            TWO LITTLE BIRDS


There is, hidden away in a corner of Northern India, a tiny orchard which
may be likened to an oasis in the desert, because the trees which compose
it are always fresh and green, even when the surrounding country is dry
and parched. Last April two or three of the paradise flycatchers who were
on their annual journey northward were tempted to tarry awhile in this
orchard to enjoy the cool shade afforded by the trees. They found the
place very pleasant, and insect life was so abundant that they determined
to remain there during the summer. Thus it chanced that one morning,
early in May, a cock flycatcher was perched on one of the trees, preening
his feathers. A magnificent object was he amid the green foliage. The
glossy black of his crested head formed a striking contrast to the
whiteness of the remainder of his plumage. His two long median tail
feathers, that hung down like satin streamers, formed an ornament more
beautiful than the train of a peacock. He was so handsome that a hen
flycatcher, who was sitting in a tree near by, resolved to make him wed
her; but there was another hen living in the same orchard who was equally
determined to secure the handsome cock as her mate. Even while the first
hen was admiring him, her rival came up and made as if to show off her
dainty chestnut plumage. This so angered the first hen that she attacked
her rival. A duel then took place between the two little birds. It was
not of long duration, for the second hen soon discovered that she was no
match for the first, and deeming discretion to be the better part of
valour, she flew away and left the orchard before she sustained any
injury. Then the triumphant hen, flushed with victory, went up to the
cock and said, “See what I have done for love of thee. I have driven away
my rival. Wed me, I pray, for I am worthy of thee. Behold how beautiful I
am.” The cock looked at her as she stood there spreading her chestnut
wings and saw that she was fair to gaze upon. He then fluttered his snowy
pinions and sang a sweet little warble, which is the way a cock bird
tells the lady of his choice that he loves her.

For the next few days these little birds led an idyllic existence. Free
from care and anxiety, they disported themselves in that shady grove, now
playing hide-and-seek among the foliage, now making graceful sweeps after
their insect quarry, now pouring out the fulness of their love—the cock
in sweet song and mellow warble, the hen in her peculiar twittering note.
Their happiness was complete; never did the shadow of a cloud mar the
sunshine of their springtime.

One day they were simultaneously seized by the impulse to build a nest.
First a suitable site had to be chosen. After much searching and anxious
consultation, mingled with love-making, they agreed upon the branch of a
pear tree, some eight feet above the ground. During the whole of the
following week they were busy seeking for grass stems, which they
fastened to the branch of the tree by means of strands of cobweb. They
did not hunt for material in company, as some birds do. The cock would go
in one direction and the hen in another. Each, as it found a suitable
piece of dried grass, or moss, or cobweb, or whatever it happened to be
seeking, would dash back joyfully to the nest with it and weave it into
the structure. Sometimes one bird would return while the other was at
work on the nursery; the former would then sit near by and wait until the
latter had finished.

At the end of the first day the nest appeared to the uninitiated eye
merely a tangle of grass stems stuck on to the tree, but owing to the
united efforts of the energetic little builders, it soon took definite
shape. By the third day it was obvious that the nest was to have the form
of an inverted cone firmly bound to the branch of the tree. The birds
took the utmost care to make the nest circular. In order to ensure a
smooth, round cavity they would sit in it and, with wings spread over the
edge, turn their bodies round and round. At the end of about five days’
steady work the nursery had assumed its final shape. But even then much
remained to be done. The whole of the exterior had to be thickly covered
with cobweb and little silky cocoons. This was two full days’ work.

Great was the delight of the little birds when the last delicate filament
had been added. Their joy knew no bounds. They would sit in the nest and
cry out in pure delight. The whole orchard rang with their notes of
jubilation. Then a little pinkish egg, spotted with red, appeared in the
nest. This was followed, next day, by another. On the fifth day after its
completion the nursery contained the full clutch of four eggs.

Most carefully did the birds watch over their priceless treasures. Never
for a moment did they leave them unguarded; one of the pair invariably
remained sitting on the nest, while the other went to look for food and
dissipate its exuberant energy in song or motion. During the day the cock
and hen shared equally the duties of incubation, but the hen sat
throughout the night while the cock roosted in a tree hard by. So healthy
were the little birds and so comfortably weary with the labours of the
day that they slept uninterruptedly all the night through; nor did they
wake up when a human being came with a lantern and inspected the nest.
Thus some ten days passed. But these were not days of weariness, because
the hearts of the little flycatchers were full of joy.

Then a young bird emerged from one of the eggs. It was an unlovely, naked
creature—all mouth and stomach. But its parents did not think it ugly.
Its advent only served to increase their happiness. They were now able to
spend their large surplus of energy in seeking food for it.

Ere long its brethren came out of their shells, and there were then four
mouths to feed; so that the father and mother had plenty to do, but they
still found time in which to sing.

Thus far everything had gone as merrily as a marriage bell. The happiness
of those lovely little airy fairy creatures was without alloy. It is true
that they sometimes had their worries and anxieties, as when a human
being chanced to approach the nest; but these were as fleeting as the
tints in a sunset sky, and were half forgotten ere they had passed away.
This idyllic existence was, alas, not destined to endure.

One day, when the man who kept guard over the orchard slumbered, a native
boy entered it with the intention of stealing fruit. But the pears were
yet green, and this angered the urchin. As he was about to leave the
grove he espied the beautiful cock flycatcher sitting on the nest. The
boy had no soul for beauty; he was not spell-bound by the beautiful sight
that met his eyes. He went to the tree, drove away the sitting bird, tore
down the branch on which the nest was placed and bore it off with its
occupants in triumph, amid the distressed cries of the cock bird. These
soon brought back the hen, and great was her lamentation when she found
that that which she valued most in the world had gone. Her sorrow and
rage knew no bounds. Poignant, too, was the grief of the cock bird, for
he had been an eye-witness of the dastardly act. For a few hours all the
joy seemed to have left the lives of those little birds. But they were
too active, too healthy, too full of life to be miserable long. Soon the
pleasantness of their surroundings began to manifest itself to them and
soothe their sorrow, for the sun was still shining, the air was sweet and
cool, the insects hummed their soft chorus, and their fellow-birds poured
forth their joy. So the cock began to sing and said to his mate, “Be not
cast down, the year is yet young, many suns shall come and go before the
cold will drive us from this northern clime; there is time for us to
build another nest. Let us leave this treacherous grove and seek some
other place.” The hen found that these words were good. Thus did these
little birds forget their sorrow and grow as blithe and gay as they had
been before. But that orchard knew them no more.



                        THE PARADISE FLYCATCHER


The cock paradise flycatcher (_Terpsiphone paradisi_), when in full adult
plumage, is a bird of startling beauty. I shall never forget the first
occasion upon which I saw him. It was in the Himalayas when night was
falling that I caught sight of some white, diaphanous-looking creature
flitting about among the trees. In the dim twilight it looked ghostly in
its beauty.

It is the two elongated, middle tail feathers which render the bird so
striking. They look like white satin streamers and are responsible for
the bird’s many popular names, such as cotton-thief, ribbon-bird,
rocket-bird. But this flycatcher has more than striking beauty to commend
it to the naturalist; it is of surpassing interest from the point of view
of biological theory. The cock is one of the few birds that undergo
metamorphosis during adult life, and the species furnishes an excellent
example of sexual dimorphism.

Since the day, some years back, when I first set eyes upon the bird, I
determined to learn something of its habits; but I had to wait long
before I was able to carry out my determination. It was not until I came
to Lahore that I saw much of the species. Here let me say that the
capital of the Punjab, unpromising as it looks at first sight, is, when
one gets to know it, a veritable gold mine for the ornithologist.

Paradise flycatchers migrate there in great numbers in order to breed.
They arrive at the end of April and at once commence nesting operations.
Before describing these, let me, in order to enable non-ornithological
readers to appreciate what follows, say a few words regarding the plumage
of the bird. The young of both sexes are chestnut in colour, with the
exception of a black head and crest and whitish under parts. This plumage
is retained by the hen throughout life. After the autumn moult of the
second year the two median tail feathers of the cock grow to a length of
sixteen inches, that is to say, four times the length of the other tail
feathers, and are retained till the following May or June, when they are
cast. After the third autumn moult they again grow, and the plumage now
begins to become gradually white, the wings and tail being the first
portions to be affected by the change; thus the cock is for a time partly
chestnut and partly white, and it is not until he emerges from the moult
of his fourth autumn that all his feathers are white, with, of course,
the exception of those of his head and crest. The bird retains this
plumage until death. Cock birds breed in either chestnut or white
plumage; this proves that the metamorphosis from chestnut to white takes
place after the bird has attained maturity.

In Lahore this species nests in considerable numbers along the
well-wooded banks of the Ravi. Since the birds keep to forest country it
is not easy to follow their courting operations for any length of time;
the birds engaged in courtship appear for a moment and then are lost to
view among the foliage, but the species is certainly monogamous, and I
think there can be but little doubt that the hen courts the cock quite as
much as he courts her. On 28th April I was out with Mr. G. A. Pinto, and
he saw a couple of hens chasing a cock in white plumage. Presently one of
the hens drove away the other, then the cock showed off to the triumphant
hen, expanding his wings and uttering a sweet little song, like the
opening bars of that of the white-browed fantail flycatcher (_Rhipidura
albifrontata_). I myself was not a witness of that incident, the birds
not being visible from where I was standing at the time; but on 3rd June
I saw a cock bird in chestnut plumage and a hen fighting; before long the
birds disengaged themselves and the male flew off; then a cock in white
plumage came up to the hen and gave her a bit of his mind. After this
they both disappeared among the foliage. Presently I saw two hens chasing
a chestnut-coloured cock. I do not understand the full significance of
these incidents, but they tend to refute Charles Darwin’s contention that
there is competition among cocks for hens but none among hens for cocks,
and to show that the hen takes an active part in courtship. To this I
shall return.

It does not seem to be generally known that the cock paradise flycatcher
is capable of emitting anything approaching a song. Thus Oates writes in
_The Fauna of British India_ of these flycatchers, “their notes are very
harsh.” This is true of the usual call, which is short, sharp, and harsh,
something like the twitter of an angry sparrow. But in addition to this
the cock has two tuneful calls. One resembles the commencement of the
song of the white-browed fantail flycatcher, and the other is a sweet
little warble of about four notes. I have repeatedly been quite close to
the cock when thus singing and have seen his throat swell when he sang,
so there can be no question as to the notes being his. He thus furnishes
one of the many exceptions to the rule that brilliantly plumaged birds
have no song.

The nest is a deepish cup, firmly attached to two or more slender
branches; it is in shape like an inverted cone with the point prolonged
as a stalk. It is composed chiefly of vegetable fibres and fine grass;
these being coated outwardly by a thick layer of cobweb and small white
cocoons. Let me take this opportunity of remarking that cobweb affords a
most important building material to bird masons; it is their cement, and
many species, such as sunbirds and flycatchers, use it most unsparingly.

The paradise flycatcher seems to delight to build in exposed situations,
hence a great many of their nests come to grief, especially in the
Punjab, where, if there be anything in phrenology, the bumps of
destructiveness and cruelty must be enormously developed in every small
boy.

The nesting habits of the paradise flycatcher have been described in
detail in the preceding article. They are of considerable biological
importance. I would lay especial stress on the active part in courtship
played by the hen, the large share in incubation taken by the cock, and
the change in the plumage of the cock bird from chestnut to white in the
third year of his existence.

Darwin, as I have already pointed out, devoted much time and energy in
trying to prove that there is in most species competition among males for
females, and that these latter are in consequence able to exercise a
selection. They choose the most brilliant and beautiful of their numerous
suitors. Thus we have what he calls sexual selection, or, as I should
prefer to call it, feminine selection. On this theory the poor cock
exercises no selection; any decrepit old hen is good enough for him! He
is all eagerness, while the hen is _blasé_ and indifferent. This theory
is, I submit, improbable on _a priori_ grounds. It is certainly opposed
to human experience, and is, I believe, not borne out by animal
behaviour.

I have paid some attention to the subject lately, and am convinced that
in most cases the desire of the hen for the cock is as great as the
desire of the latter for the hen. It was only this morning that I watched
two hen orioles trying to drive each other away, while the cock was in a
tree near by.

To repeat what I have already said, the hen courts the cock quite as much
as he courts her. When a pair of birds mate they are mutually attracted
to one another. That there is such a thing as sexual selection I am
convinced, but I do not believe that this selection is confined to the
hens. The hen selects the best cock she can get to pair with her, while
the cock selects the best hen available.

I speak here of monogamous species; among polygamous ones there must of
necessity be considerable competition for hens.

The second point upon which I desire to lay stress is the active part
taken by the cock paradise flycatcher in incubation. This, again, is, I
believe, nothing very uncommon, even in sexually dimorphic species, for I
have myself put a cock minivet (_Pericrocotus peregrinus_) off the nest.
Yet this fact seems to dispose of Wallace’s theory that the more sombre
hues of the hen are due to her greater need of protection, since she
alone is supposed to incubate.

As a matter of fact, a bird sitting on a nest is not, in my opinion,
exposed to any special danger, for it seems that birds of prey as a rule
only attack flying objects.

Finally, there is the extraordinary metamorphosis undergone by the cock
in his fourth year. It is difficult to see how this can have been caused
by the preference of the hen for white cock birds, since a great many
chestnut ones are observed to breed; the dimorphism must, therefore, have
originated late in the life history of the species, and although a hen
bird might prefer a white to a chestnut husband, it is difficult to
believe that she would prefer a skewbald one, and this skewbald state
must have been an ancestral stage if we believe that the transition is
due to feminine selection of white birds. I may be asked, “If you decline
to believe that the hen has greater need of protection than the cock, how
do you account for the phenomena of sexual dimorphism, and if it is not
sexual selection which has caused the white plumage of the cock paradise
flycatcher to arise, what is it?”

This article has already attained such a length that even had I complete
explanations to offer I could not set them forth in this place. I must
content myself with giving what I believe to be the key to the solution
of the problem. I think that there is little doubt that what a bird looks
for in its mate is, _not beauty or brilliance of plumage, but vigour and
strength_. If beauty is a correlative character to strength, then the hen
selects the most beautiful of the cocks willing to mate with her, not
because of his beauty, but on account of his strength; likewise the cock.
Now there is a very intimate connection between the generative cells and
the body cells, and the male element tends to dissipate energy and the
female element to conserve it. Thus it is that the general tendency of
the cock is to become gaily coloured and to grow plumes and other
ornaments, while the tendency of the hen is to remain of comparatively
sombre hue.



                             BUTCHER BIRDS


Butcher birds are so called because they are reputed to have a habit of
impaling on thorns their larger victims, or as much of them as they,
owing to want of accommodation, are incapable of eating at the time of
the murder. A bush which displays a number of impaled victims—young
birds, lizards, locusts, and the like—is supposed, by a stretch of the
ornithological imagination, to look like a butcher’s shop. All that is
wanted to perfect the illusion is a sign-board, bearing the legend
“Lanius vittatus, Purveyor of Meat.” I must here admit, with
characteristic honesty, that I have never set eyes upon such a butcher’s
shop, or larder, as it should be called, for the shrike does not sell his
wares—he merely stores them for personal consumption. Nor have I even
seen a shrike impale a victim. My failure cannot, I think, be attributed
to lack of observation; for I never espy one of these miniature birds of
prey without watching it attentively, in the hope that it will oblige me
by acting as all books on ornithology tell me shrikes do. Every butcher
bird I have witnessed engaged in _shikar_ has pounced down upon its
insect quarry from a suitable perch, seized the luckless victim upon the
ground, immediately carried it back to its perch and devoured it then and
there. I have seen this operation repeated scores of times. I, therefore,
think I am justified in suggesting that the habit of keeping a larder is
probably restricted to the larger species of shrike, and that these only
impale their victim when there is still something of it left over, after
they have eaten so much that for the time being they cannot possibly stow
away any more. Jerdon, I notice, makes no mention of ever having seen a
butcher bird behave in the orthodox manner. Colonel Cunningham, who is a
very close observer of bird life, says, as the result of a long sojourn
in India, that shrikes “do not seem very often to impale their victims,
probably because these are usually easily broken up; but when they have
secured a lizard they sometimes fix it down upon a stout thorn so as to
have a point of resistance whilst working at the hard, tough skin.” If
any who read these lines have seen a shrike’s larder, either in India or
in England, I should esteem it a great favour if they would furnish me
with some account of it.

Let me not be mistaken. I do not say that butcher birds never keep
larders, for they undoubtedly do; of this I am satisfied. Thus Mr. E. H.
Aitken says of the shrike: “It sits upright on the top of a bush or low
tree, commanding a good expanse of open, grassy land, and watches for
anything which it may be able to surprise and murder—a large grasshopper,
a small lizard, or a creeping field mouse. Sometimes it sees a possible
chance in a flock of small birds absorbed in searching for grass seeds.
Then it slips from its watch-tower and, gliding softly down, pops into
the midst of them without warning, and forgetting all about the true
nature of its deep plantar tendons, strikes its talons into the nearest.
No other bird I know of makes its attack in this way except the birds of
prey. The little bird shrieks and struggles, but the cruel shrike holds
fast and hammers at the victim’s head with its strong beak until it is
dead, then flies away with it to some thorn bush which is its larder.
There it hangs it up on a thorn and leaves it to get tender. . . . This
is no fable, I have seen the bird do it.” Again, the Rev. C. D. Cullen,
with whom I have enjoyed many an ornithological ramble in England and on
the continent of Europe, informs me that once in Surrey he came upon a
shrike’s larder, and on that occasion the “shop” consisted of the legs of
a young green finch.

The usual food, then, of the butcher bird appears to be small insects.
When a suitable opportunity offers, the larger species will attack a
lizard or a young or sickly bird, especially a bird in a cage. Of the
rufous-backed shrike Mr. Benjamin Aitken writes: “It will come down at
once to a cage of small birds exposed at a window, and I once had an
amadavat killed and partly eaten through the wires by one of these
shrikes, which I saw in the act with my own eyes. The next day I caught
the shrike in a large basket which I set over the cage of amadavats.”
But, of course, it is one thing to catch a bird in a cage and another to
capture it in the open. Shrikes are savage enough for any murder, but
most little birds are too sharp for them.

Fifteen species of shrike occur in India. The commonest are, perhaps, the
Indian grey shrike (_Lanius lahtora_) and the bay-backed shrike (_Lanius
vittatus_). The latter is the one that frequents our gardens. He is not a
large bird, being about the size of a bulbul. The head and back of the
neck are a pretty grey. The back is chestnut-maroon, shading off to
whitish near the tail. There is a broad black streak running across the
forehead and through the eye, giving the bird a grim, sinister aspect.
The breast and lower parts are white; the wings and tail black, or rather
appear black when the bird is at rest. During flight the pinions display
a conspicuous white bar, and the white outer tail feathers also come into
view. The stout beak is black, and the upper mandible projects downwards
over the lower one. This further adds to the ferocity of the bird’s mien.
It is impossible to mistake a butcher bird; look out for its grey head,
broad, black eyebrow, and white breast.

The usual note of the shrike is a harsh cry, but during the breeding
season, that is to say, from March to July, the cock is able to produce
quite a musical song.

At all times the butcher bird is a great mimic. I am indebted to a
correspondent for the following graphic account of his histrionic
performances: “Of late one of these birds has daily perched himself on a
_neem_ tree in my compound and treated me to much music. His hours of
practice are early in the morning and at sunset. He begins with his
natural harsh notes, and then launches out into mimicry. I gave him a
patient hearing this morning, and he treated me to the following: the
lap-wing, the sparrow-hawk, the partridge, the Brahminy minah, the kite,
the honeysucker, the hornbill (of these parts), the scream of the green
parrot, and the cry of a chicken when being carried off by a kite.”

The nests of the various species of shrike resemble one another very
closely. Speaking generally, the nest is a neatly made, thick-walled,
somewhat deep cup. All manner of material is pressed into service—grass,
roots, wool, hair, leaves, feathers, pieces of rag, paper, fine twigs,
and straw. The whole forms a compact structure firmly held together by
cobweb, which is the cement ordinarily utilised by bird masons.

The nursery is usually situated in a small tree, a thorny one for
preference, in the fork of a branch, or the angle that a branch makes
with the main stem. Seen from below it looks likes a little mass of
rubbish. As a rule one or two pieces of rag hang down from it and betray
its presence to the egg-collector.

The normal clutch of eggs is four. The ground colour of these is cream,
pale greenish, or grey, and there is towards the large end a zone of
brown or purplish blotches.

The shrike is not a shy bird. I have sat within eight feet of a nest and
watched the parents feeding their young. No notice was taken of me, but a
large lizard that appeared on the branch on which the nest was placed was
savagely attacked. The young seem to be fed chiefly on large green
caterpillars.

Newly fledged butcher birds differ considerably from the adults, and
while in the transition stage are sometimes rather puzzling to the
ornithologist.



                                 DUCKS


“The duck,” says a writer in the _Spectator_, “is a person who seldom
gets his deserts.” As regards myself I cannot but admit the truth of this
assertion. I mean, not that I am a duck, but that I have returned that
bird evil for good. He has given me much pleasure, and I have either
eaten or shot him as a _quid pro quo_.

One of the greatest delights of my early youth was to feed the ducks that
lived on the Serpentine. How vividly do I remember the joy that the
operation gave me! In the first place, I was allowed to enter the
kitchen—that Forbidden Land of childhood’s days, presided over by a
fearsome tyrant, yclept the cook—and witness dry bread being cut up into
pieces of a size supposed to be suited to the mastication of ducks. The
bread thus cut up would be placed in a paper bag and borne off by me in
triumph to the upper regions. Then my sister and I, accompanied by the
governess, would toddle up Sloane Street, through Lowndes Square, past
the great French Embassy, into Hyde Park, along Rotten Row, and thus up
to that corner of the Serpentine where the ducks were wont to congregate.
There, amid a chorus of quacks, the bread would be thrown, piece by
piece, to the ever-hungry ducks. The writer in the _Spectator_ states
that “the domestic duck, unlike his wild brother, is a materialist, and
where dinner is concerned is decidedly greedy.” The avidity with which
the ducks used to make for those pieces of dry bread certainly bears out
this statement. Every time a crust was thrown on to the water there would
be a wild scramble for it. One individual, more fortunate than the
others, would secure it, and, sprinting away from his comrades, would
endeavour to swallow it whole. I have said that the pieces of bread were
cut up into portions of a size supposed to be convenient for the
mastication of a duck; but, if the truth must be told, the cook
invariably overestimated the size of the bird’s gullet; hence the frantic
muscular efforts to induce them to descend “red lane.” It is a miracle
that not one of those ducks shared the sad fate of Earl Godwin.

Some of them must certainly have lost the epithelial lining of the
œsophagus in their desperate efforts to dispose of those pieces of dry
bread. An exceptionally unmanageable morsel would be dropped again into
the water, and there would be a second scramble for it. By this time,
however, it would have become so much softened as to be comparatively
easy to swallow. How we used to enjoy watching the efforts of those ducks
to negotiate the pieces of bread! We were, of course, blissfully ignorant
of the unnaturalness of the process. Our governess used to read, in
preference to natural history, fiction of the class in which the
fortunate scullery-maid always marries a Duke. Thus it was that my sister
and I knew nothing of the wonderful structure of the duck’s beak. We were
not aware that the mandibles were lamellated or toothed to form a most
efficient sieve. We were not acquainted with the fact that the natural
food of the duck is composed of small, soft substances, that as the bird
puts its head under water it catches up its breath to suck in the soft
substances that may be floating by, that these become broken up as they
pass through the duck’s patent filter, only those that are approved being
retained and swallowed. But the want of this knowledge did not diminish
by one jot or tittle our enjoyment. When all the bread was disposed of,
we would inflate and “pop” the paper bag—a performance which gave us
nearly as much pleasure as feeding the ducks.

As I grew older I came to regard the feeding of ducks as a childish
amusement, and in no way suited to one who had attained the dignity of
stand-up collars. So, for some years, I took but little interest in the
birds, except on the occasions when one confronted me at table.

It has again become a pleasure to feed ducks, but I fear that, in spite
of this, I shoot them more often than I feed them. I must confess that,
when I see a great company of the quacking community, the sportsman in me
gets the upper hand of the naturalist, the lust of killing prevails over
the love of observation. I know of few greater pleasures than to spend a
morning at a well-stocked _jhil_ on a superb winter’s day in Northern
India, accompanied, of course, by a number of fellow-sportsmen; for duck
shooting is poor sport for a single gun. With but one man after them it
is the ducks rather than the human being who enjoy the sport. But, given
three or four companions, what better sport is there than that afforded
by a day on a well-stocked _jhil_? At a preconcerted signal the various
shooters, each in his boat, put off from different parts of the bank of
the lake and make for the middle, which is black with a great company of
quack-quacks, composed chiefly of white-eyed pochards, gadwalls, and
spotted-bills. Suddenly a number of duck take alarm and get up; then the
fun begins. For half an hour or more one enjoys a succession of good
sporting shots; the firing is so constant that one’s gun grows almost too
hot to hold. Soon, however, all the duck that are not shot down betake
themselves to some other _jhil_, and only the coots remain.

Excellent sport though duck shooting be, I am thankful to say that in
these latter days my acquaintance with the duck tribe is not confined to
shooting and eating members of it. I occasionally have the opportunity of
coming into more friendly relations with it.

The duck is a bird worth knowing. He is a fowl of character, a creature
that commands not only our respect, but our affection. He makes an
excellent pet, as any one may find out by purchasing some bazaar ducks.

Some years ago the cook of the Superintendent of Police of a certain
district in the United Provinces purchased a couple of these birds. When
bought they were in an emaciated condition, and it was the intention of
the cook to fatten them up and then set them before his master. But
before the fattening process was completed the small sons of the
policeman took a great fancy to the birds, and the birds reciprocated the
fancy. The result was that their lives were spared, and they became
friends of the family. They went everywhere with the children, and used
even to accompany them when on tour with their father. They were allowed
to enter the tents as though they were dogs, and in return used to permit
the children to do anything they pleased with them. They even submitted
to being carried about like dolls. Most amusing was it to see the
good-natured boredom on a duck’s face as a small boy staggered along with
it tightly clasped in his arms. Its expression would say more plainly
than words, “I don’t altogether relish this, but I know the child means
well.”

Nor was this behaviour in any way exceptional. A better-disposed creature
than the duck does not exist. “I have kept and closely watched hundreds
of ducks,” writes Mr. S. M. Hawkes, “but I never saw them fight with each
other, nor ever knew a duck the aggressor in a dispute with some other
kind of fowl.” Yet the duck is no coward. The drake is a warrior every
inch of him, constant in affection, and violent in love and wrath. If the
adult duck is so lovable, how much more so is the duckling! What a source
of delight are those golden fluff balls to a child. On seeing them for
the first time nine out of ten children will cry—

  But I want one to play with—Oh I want
  A little yellow duck to take to bed with me!



                          A DETHRONED MONARCH


The eagle is a bird that deserves much sympathy, for he has seen better
times. Until a few years ago the pride of place among the fowls of the
air was always given to the eagle. “Which eagle?” you ask. I reply,
“_The_ eagle.” The poets, who have ever been the bird’s trumpeters, know
but one eagle upon which they lavish such epithets as “the imperial
bird,” “the royal eagle,” “the monarch bird,” “lord of land and sea,”
“the wide-ruling eagle,” “the prince of all the feathered kind,” “the
king of birds,” “the bird of heaven,” “the Olympic eagle,” “the bold
imperial bird of Jove,” and so on, _ad nauseam_.

The eagle of the poets was truly regal. But somebody discovered, one day,
that this bird is, like the phœnix, a mythical creature. Eagles do
exist—many species of them—but they are very ordinary creatures, in no
way answering to the description of the poet’s pet fowl. This, of course,
is not the fault of the eagles. They are not to blame because the bards
have, with one accord, combined to idealise them. Nevertheless, men, now
that they have found out the truth, seem to bear a grudge against the
eagle. They are not content with dethroning him, they must needs throw
mud at him. It is the present custom to vilify the eagle, to speak of him
as though he were an opponent at an election, to dub him a cowardly
carrion feeder, little if anything better than a common vulture. Let us,
therefore, give the poor out-at-elbows bird an innings to-day and see
what we can do for him.

But how are we to recognise him when we see him? This is indeed a
problem. There is a feature by which the true eagles may be distinguished
from all other birds of prey, namely, the feathered tarsus. The true
eagles alone among the _raptores_ decline to go about with bare legs;
their “understandings” are feathered right down to the toe. Thus may they
be recognised.

This method of identification is on a par with that of catching a bird by
placing a small quantity of salt upon its tail. Eagles show no readiness
to come and have their legs inspected. There is, I fear, no feature
whereby the tyro can distinguish an eagle as it soars overhead high in
the heavens. Nothing save years of patient observation can enable the
naturalist to identify any particular bird of prey at sight. Colour is,
alas! no guide. The _raptores_ are continually changing their plumage. It
were as easy to identify a woman by the colour of her frock as a bird of
prey by the hues of its plumage. We read of one eagle that it is tawny
rufous, of another that it is rufous tawny, of a third that it is tawny
buff. The surest method of distinguishing the various birds of prey is by
their flight; but is it possible to describe the peculiar flap of the
wings of one eagle, and the particular angle at which another carries its
pinions as it sails along? The length of the tail is a guide, but by no
means an infallible one. The shikra, the sparrow-hawk, the kestrel, and
the kite are long-tailed birds, the caudal appendage accounting for half
their total length. In the eagles the tail is considerably shorter in
proportion to the size of the bird. Thus the female of the golden eagle
(_Aquila chrysætus_)—which, _en passant_, is not gold in colour, but
dirty whitish brown—is 40 inches long, while the tail is but 14 inches.
The vultures have yet shorter tails in proportion to their size. If,
therefore, you see soaring overhead a big bird of prey, looking like a
large kite, with a moderate tail and curved rather than straight wings,
that bird is probably an eagle. So much, then, for the appearance of our
dethroned monarch; it now behoves us to consider his character and
habits. There are many species of eagle, each of which has its own
peculiar ways, hence it is impossible for the naturalist to generalise
concerning them. In this respect he is not so fortunate as the poet. Let
us briefly consider two species, one belonging to the finer type of eagle
and the other to the baser sort.

Bonelli’s eagle (_Hieraëtus fasciatus_), or the crestless hawk eagle as
Jerdon calls him, is perhaps the nearest approach of any to the poet’s
eagle. This fine bird is common on the Nilgiris, but rare in Madras. It
is said to disdain carrion; it preys on small mammals and birds of all
sizes. It takes game birds by preference, but when hungry does not draw
the line at the crow. If it has hunted all day without obtaining the
wherewithal to fill its belly, it repairs to the grove of trees in which
all the crows of the neighbourhood roost. As the sun sinks in the heavens
the crows arrive in straggling flocks. Suddenly the eagle dashes into the
midst of them and, before the crows have realised what has happened, one
of them is being carried away in the eagle’s talons. Then the _corvi_
fill the welkin with their cries of distress. It is very naughty of the
eagle to prey upon crows in this way, because by so doing it mocks the
theory of protective colouration. No one can maintain that our friend
_Corvus splendens_ is protectively coloured, that is to say, so coloured
as to be inconspicuous. No one but a blind man can fail to see a crow as
he steadily flaps his way through the air. No one can deny that the bird
flourishes, in spite of the fact that eagles eat him, and that his
plumage is as conspicuous as the blazer of the Lady Margaret Boat Club at
Cambridge. If, as the theory teaches, it is of paramount importance to a
bird to be inconspicuous, why was not the whole clan of _corvi_ swept off
the face of the earth long ago?

We have, in conclusion, to consider an eagle of the baser sort. The
Indian tawny eagle (_Aquila vindhiana_), which is the commonest eagle in
India, will serve as an example. This bird eats anything in the way of
flesh that it can obtain. If the opportunity offers, it will pounce upon
a squirrel, a small bird, a lizard, or a frog; but it is a comparatively
sluggish creature, and so robs other _raptores_ in preference to catching
its own quarry. Most birds of prey are robbers. This the falconer knows,
and profits by his knowledge. He first captures some small bird of prey,
such as a white-eyed buzzard. Having tied up two or three of its wing
feathers so that it cannot fly far, he attaches to its feet a bundle of
feathers, from which hang a number of fine hair nooses. He then flies
this lure bird. Every bird of prey in the neighbourhood espies it and,
seeing the bundle of feathers and remarking the laboured flight, jumps to
the conclusion that it is carrying booty, and promptly gives chase with
the object of relieving it of its burden. The first robber to arrive is
caught in one of the nooses.

The tawny eagle is not above feeding upon carrion. It has not the pluck
of Bonelli’s eagle, but is apparently not the contemptible coward it is
made out to be by some writers. A few weeks ago I noticed, high up in a
_farash_ tree, the platform of sticks and branches that does duty for the
nest of this species. I sent my climber to find out what was in the nest.
While he was handling the two eggs it contained, the mother eagle swooped
down upon him, scratched his head severely, and flew off with his turban.
As she sped away, her prize attracted the notice of some kites, who at
once attacked her. In the _mêlée_ which ensued, the _puggaree_ dropped to
the ground, to the joy of its lawful owner and the disgust of the
combatants. I must add that I was not an eye-witness of the encounter; I
however saw the marks of the bird’s claws on my climber’s scalp.



                           BIRDS IN THE RAIN


There are occasions when one is tempted to wish that one were a bird, for
the fowls of the air are spared many of the troubles which we poor
terrestrial creatures have to endure.

Most of us in India have received a telegram ordering us off to some
far-away station; then, when distracted by the worry and bustle of
packing; when the hideous noises of the Indian railway station “get on
the nerves”; as we sit in the dusty, jolting train, we begin to envy the
birds who are able to annihilate distance, who have no boxes to pack up,
no baggage to go astray, no bills to pay, no _chits_ to write, no cards
to leave, no time-table to worry through, no trains to lose, no
connections to miss, but have simply to take to their wings and away.

Most of us, again, have been caught in the rain. As the watery contents
of the clouds slowly but surely percolated through our clothes, as our
boots grew heavier and heavier until the water oozed out at every step,
we must have envied the birds. They know naught of rheumatism or ague.
Their clothes do not spoil in the rain. They wear no boots to become
waterlogged. Their wings rarely become heavy or sodden. For them the rain
is a huge joke. They enjoy the falling rain-drops as keenly as a man
enjoys his morning shower-bath. There is no bath like the rain bath, and
if the drops do fall very heavily there is always shelter to be taken.

It is of course possible for birds to have too much rain; but this does
not often happen in India, except occasionally in the monsoon.

As I write this it is pouring “cats and dogs,” and sitting in a tree not
five yards away from the window are a couple of crows thoroughly enjoying
the blessings which Jupiter Pluvius is showering down upon them. I am
high up, seventy or eighty feet above the level of the ground, and can
therefore look down upon the crows. They are perched on the ends of the
highest branches, determined not to miss a drop of the rain. One of them
is not quite satisfied with his position; he espies another bough which
seems more exposed, so to this branch he flies, although it is so slender
that it can scarce support him. Nevertheless he hangs on to his swaying
perch and opens out his wings and flaps his tail—does, in fact,
everything in his power to make the most of the passing tropical shower.
The other crow has caught sight of me, and thinks he will stare me out,
so sits motionless with his eye fixed on mine, while the rain pours upon
him and falls off his tail in a little waterfall. Occasionally he gives
his friend an answering “squawk,” and then shakes his feathers, and is
altogether enjoying himself; he is as jolly as the proverbial sandboy. In
other trees near by sit more crows, and, so far as one can judge, each
seems to have taken up a position in which he is likely to secure the
maximum of rain. All round there is ample shelter; there are numerous
ledges, outhouses, and verandahs, in any of which the crows could obtain
shelter if they desired it. Shelter? Not a bit of it, they revel in the
rain.

Two pied wagtails fly by, chasing one another gleefully in the pouring
rain; they too are regular “wet bobs.”

On the telegraph wires hard by the king-crows sit with their tails
projecting horizontally so as to catch as much of the downpour as
possible. The dragon-flies are seeking their prey regardless of the rain;
this is somewhat surprising, when we consider that to them a drop of rain
must bear about the same relation as a glass of water does to a human
being. As they are hunting, it is obvious that the minute creatures on
which they feed must also be out in the rain, although every drop
contains quite sufficient water in which to drown them.

The mortality of small insects in a heavy fall of rain must be enormous.
What a strange sight a shower must look to an insect! Each drop must seem
like a waterspout.

Are tiny insects aware that the falling drops are fraught with danger to
them? Do they attempt to dodge them? I think not. They can know nothing
of death or of the danger of drowning. They probably fly about as usual
in the rain in blissful ignorance of the harm that threatens them. Some
escape unscathed, but others less fortunate are overwhelmed as in a
flood, and in a few minutes their little spark of life is extinguished.

But to return to the birds. They are all making the most of the downpour,
ruffling their feathers so that the water shall penetrate to the skin.

But the rain is more to the birds than a very pleasant form of bath. It
is for them a _mi-carême_, a water carnival, an hour of licence when
every bird—even the oldest and most staid—may throw appearances to the
wind, when it is “quite the thing” to look dishevelled.

What a transformation does a shower of rain effect in the myna. As a rule
the bird looks as smart as a lifeguardsman; its uniform is so spick and
span that the veriest martinet could find no fault with it. But after the
rain has been falling for ten minutes the myna looks as disreputable as a
babbler. A shower is the signal for all the birds to let themselves go
and have a spree. No bird then minds how untidy it is, for it knows that
there is none to point the finger of scorn at it; all are in the same
boat, or, at any rate, in the same shower of rain. So each one makes the
most of the period of licence. The most staid birds splash about in
puddles and revel in the experience in much the same way as a child
enjoys paddling on the seashore.

And when the rain is over, what a shaking and preening of feathers there
is! What a general brushing up! The bird world seems for a time to have
turned itself into a toilet club. Presently, the last arcana of the
toilet being completed, the birds come forth looking as fresh and sweet
as an English meadow when the sun shines upon it after a summer shower.

Then there are all the good things which the rain brings with it. How
luscious and sweet the fruit must taste when the raindrops have washed
away all the dust and other impurities with defile it. What a multitude
of edible creeping things does a shower bring forth. In England it causes
to emerge all manner of grubs and worms which before had been lurking in
their burrows. In India is it not the rain that ushers in the red-letter
day for insectivorous birds—the day that witnesses the swarming of the
“white ants”? What a feast do these myriads of termites provide for the
feathered things. In addition to these there is all the multitude of
winged and crawling insects which the rain brings to life as if by magic.
How badly would the birds fare but for the _barsath_ which brings forth
these insects, upon which they are able to feed their young.

Perhaps the hoopoes most of all appreciate the rain, for it makes the
ground so delightfully soft; they are then able with such ease to plunge
their long beaks into the earth and extract all manner of hidden
treasures which are usually most difficult of access.

Is there anything in the world more complete than the happiness of birds
in a shower of rain?



                            THE WEAVER BIRD


The weaver bird has, thanks to its marvellous nest, a world-wide
reputation. It is related to our ubiquitous friend the house sparrow, and
is known to men of science as _Ploceus baya_.

Except at the breeding season, the weaver bird looks rather like an
overgrown sparrow, and frequently passes as such. But the cock decks
himself out in gay attire when he goes a-courting. The feathers of his
head become golden, while his breast turns bright yellow if he be an
elderly gentleman, or rusty red if he still possess the fire of youth.

Weaver birds are found all over India. In most parts they seem to shun
the haunts of man, but in Burma they frequent gardens. Jerdon mentions a
house in Rangoon which had at one time over one hundred weaver birds’
nests suspended from the thatch of the roof! In India proper the
favourite site for a nest is a tree that overhangs water. Toddy palms are
most commonly chosen, but in Northern India, where palms are but rarely
seen, a _babul_ tree is usually utilised.

Weaver birds or bayas, as they are invariably called by
Hindustani-speaking people, live almost exclusively on grain, hence they
are easy birds to keep in captivity. Given a commodious aviary and plenty
of grass, captive bayas amuse themselves by weaving their wonderful
nests. They are, however, not very desirable as pets if they have to
share a cage with other birds, for, as Colonel Cunningham remarks, “every
weaver bird appears to be possessed by an innate desire to hammer in the
head of his neighbour.” To this the neighbour is apt to take exception,
so that unpleasantness ensues.

Natives frequently train bayas to do all manner of tricks.

The man with performing birds is quite an institution in India. Parrots,
bayas, and pigeons are most frequently trained.

A very effective trick, which is performed alike by parrots and weaver
birds, is the loading and firing of a miniature cannon. First the bird
places some grains of powder in the muzzle of the cannon, then it rams
these home with a ramrod. It next takes a lighted match from its master,
which it applies to the touch-hole. The result is a report loud enough to
scare every crow in the neighbourhood, but the little baya will remain
perched on the gun, having apparently thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

The nest of the baya is one of the most wonderful things in nature.
Description is unnecessary. Every one who has been in India has seen
dozens of the hanging flask-shaped structures, while those who know not
the Gorgeous East must be acquainted with the nest from pictures.

On account of its champagne-bottle shaped nest, the weaver is sometimes
known as the bottle bird; I have also heard it called the hedge sparrow.

It makes no attempt to conceal its exquisitely woven nest. It relies for
protection on inaccessibility, not concealment. Every animal _badmash_
can see the nest, but cannot get at it. It hangs sufficiently high to be
out of reach of all four-footed creatures. The ends of the entrance
passage are frayed out so as to baffle all attempts on the part of
squirrels and lizards to reach the treasures hidden away in it.

Both cock and hen work at the nest, the cock being the more industrious.
The fibres of which it is composed are not found ready-made. The birds
manufacture them out of the tall elephant grass which is so common in
India. The weaver alights on one of the nearly upright blades and seizes
with its beak a neighbouring blade near the base and makes a notch in it;
it next seizes the edge of the blade above the notch and jerks its head
away. By this means it strips off a thin strand of the leaf; it then
proceeds to tear off in a similar manner a second strand, retaining the
first one in its beak; in precisely the same way a third and perhaps a
fourth strand are stripped off. The tearing process is not always
continued to the extreme end of the blade; the various strands sometimes
remain attached to the tip of the blade. The force with which the bird
flies away usually suffices to complete the severance; sometimes,
however, it is not effected so easily, and the bird is pulled back and
swings in the air suspended by the strands it holds in its bill. Nothing
daunted, the weaver makes a second attempt to fly away, and if this is
not successful, continues until its efforts are crowned with success.

The grass which is used in nest construction is impregnated with silicon
to such an extent that I experienced considerable difficulty in
extricating from my pocket some of the fibres which, on one occasion, I
took home with me. The material is thus eminently suitable for weaving
purposes.

The fibres first collected are securely wound round the branch or leaf
from which the nest will hang. The fibres added subsequently are plaited
together until a stalk four or five inches long is formed; this is then
expanded into a bell-shaped structure. The bell constitutes the roof of
the nursery. When the roof is completed a loop is constructed across its
base, so that the nest at this stage may be likened to an inverted basket
with a handle.

Up to this point the cock and hen do the same kind of work, both fetch
strips of grass or of palm leaves and weave these into the structure of
the nest. But when once the loop or cross-bar is completed the hen takes
up a position on it and makes the cock do all the bringing of material.
She henceforth works from the interior of the nest and he from the
exterior.

They push the fibres through the walls to one another. Thus the work
progresses very rapidly. On one side of the loop the bell is closed up so
as to form a chamber in which the eggs are laid, and the other half is
prolonged into a neck, which becomes the entrance to the nest. This may
be nearly a foot long; six inches is, however, a more usual length.

The entrance to the nursery is thus from below. The way the owners shoot
vertically upwards into it, with closed wings, without perceptibly
shaking it is really marvellous.

Nest construction obviously gives the little builders great pleasure.
They frequently build supernumerary nests, purely from the joy of
building. Each time the cock bird approaches the nest with a beakful of
material he cries out with delight. Every now and again in the midst of
weaving material into the structure of the nest he bursts into song.

Weaver birds usually build in company; ten or a dozen different nests
being found in the same tree. As each little craftsman is in a very
excited state, fights between neighbouring cocks frequently ensue, but
these are never of a serious nature. I was once the witness of an amusing
piece of wickedness on the part of a cock baya. The bird in question flew
to a branch near the nest belonging to another pair of weaver birds who
were absent. After contemplating it for a little he flew to the nest, and
having deliberately wrenched away a piece of it with his beak, made off
with the stolen property and worked it into his own nest! Four times did
he visit his neighbour’s nest and commit larceny; two of the stolen
strands he utilised and the remaining ones fell to the ground. I am
inclined to think that the thief was actuated by motives of jealousy; for
he deliberately dropped some of the stolen material on to the ground and
extracted it from the place at which the nest was attached to its branch,
thus weakening its attachment. The victim of the outrage on his return
did not appear to notice that anything was amiss.

Not the least interesting feature of the nest is the clay which is
studded about it in lumps. In one nest Jerdon found no fewer than six of
these lumps, weighing in all three ounces. The clay has, I think, three
uses: it helps to balance the nest, it prevents it being blown about by
every gust of wind, and keeps it steady while the bird is entering it.

A story is abroad, and is repeated in nearly every popular book on
ornithology, to the effect that the weaver bird sticks fireflies on these
lumps of clay, and thus illuminates the nursery, or renders it terrifying
to predacious creatures. Jerdon scoffs at this firefly story, and I, too,
am unable to accept it. Nevertheless it is so universally believed by the
natives of India that there must be some foundation for it.

Some time ago a correspondent living on the West Coast of India informed
me that weaver birds are very abundant in that part of the country, that
their nests are everywhere to be seen, and that he had noticed fireflies
stuck into many of them. He asked if I could explain their presence. I
suggested in reply that he had made a mistake and requested him to look
carefully next nesting season, that is to say in August, and, if he came
upon a single nest on to which a firefly was stuck, to take it down,
fireflies and all, and send it to me at my expense. Since then August has
come and gone thrice, and I have heard nothing from my correspondent!
Thus it is that I am still among those that disbelieve the firefly story.

My theory is that the bird brings the clay to the nest in its bill in a
moist condition. Now wet clay retains moisture for some time and would
shine quite brightly in the moonlight, so might easily be mistaken for a
firefly. Unfortunately the weaver bird is not common where I am now
stationed, so that I have not had an opportunity of putting this theory
to the test. I have, however, noticed how the nests built by solitary
wasps shine when the clay that composes them is wet.

The natives of Northern India attribute great medicinal value to the nest
of the weaver bird. They assert that a baby will never suffer from boils
if it be once washed in water in which a weaver bird’s nest has been
boiled!

A great many half-finished weaver birds’ nests are seen in India. Most of
these are the work of the cock, who thus amuses himself while his wife is
incubating. A few are nests which have gone wrong, nests which do not
balance nicely and so have not been completed.

Two eggs are usually laid; they are pure white and without any gloss. On
these the hen sits very closely. On one occasion Hume took home a very
fine specimen of the nest and hung it from one of a pair of antlers on
his dining-room wall. Three days later the inmates of the bungalow became
aware of a very unpleasant odour, which was traced to the nest. On taking
it down it was found to contain a female baya dead upon two dead
half-hatched chicks.



                             GREEN PARROTS


Green parrots, as the long-tailed paroquets of India are popularly
called, although fairly abundant during the cold weather, cannot be said
to be common birds in Madras. This is a small mercy, for which all
Madrassis should be duly thankful. The green parrot is one of those good
things of which it is possible to have too much. Where the beautiful
birds are not too plentiful they are always greatly admired and
considered most pleasing additions to the landscape; where they abound
most people find it difficult to speak of them in parliamentary language.

The Punjab is the happy hunting-ground of green parrots. I am now in a
station where these birds probably outnumber the crows, where we are
literally steeped in green parrots, where we hear nothing else all day
long save their screeches and chuckles.

[Illustration: THE GREY-NECKED CROW. (CORVUS SPLENDENS)]

Green parrots owe their unpopularity to their mischievousness and their
noisiness. “In their malignant love of destruction and mischief,” writes
Colonel Cunningham, “they run crows very hard, and seem only to fall
short of that standard through the happy ordinance that their mental
development has halted a good way behind that of their rivals. They are,
therefore, incapable of devising such manifold and elaborate schemes of
mischief as the crows work out, but in so far as intent and disinterested
love of evil goes, there is not a pin to choose between them. They take
the same heart-whole delight in destruction for destruction’s sake, and
find the same bliss in tormenting and annoying other living things.”
While fully endorsing the above, I feel constrained to remark that the
parrot is no fool; he may not be quite as ’cute as an Indian crow, but he
is gifted with sufficient brain-power for all practical purposes. If the
green parrot is less harmfully mischievous than the crow he is far more
offensively noisy. He is able to produce an almost endless variety of
sounds, but unfortunately there is not a single one among them all which
by any stretch of the imagination can be called musical.

All species of green parrots have similar habits. All are gregarious and
feed almost exclusively on fruit and seeds. They do much damage to the
crops, destroying more than they eat, since they have a way of breaking
off a head of corn, eating a few grains, and then attacking another head.
Where green parrots are plentiful the long-suffering _ryot_ sets them
down among the ills to which the flesh is heir. When the crops are cut
the parrots feed among the stubble, picking up the fallen grain.

The exceedingly swift, arrow-like flight of the green parrot is too
familiar to need description. The flocks usually fly high up, screaming
loudly; at times, however, they skim along the ground; occasionally they
thread their way among trees, avoiding the branches in the most wonderful
manner, considering the pace at which they move.

Very amusing it is to watch a little company of parrots in a tree.
Sometimes the birds perch on the topmost branches and there chuckle to
one another; at others they cling to the trunk, looking very comic,
pressed up against the bark with tails outspread. Not infrequently one
sees two of them sitting together in a tree indulging in a little mild
flirtation, which, in green parrot communities, takes the form of head
tickling. These birds are very skilled climbers; they move along the
branches foot over foot, using the beak when they have to negotiate a
difficult pass. Thus they clamber about, robbing the tree of its fruit
and keeping up a running conversation. Suddenly the flock will take to
its wings and fly off, screeching boisterously. The members of each
little community seem to live in a state of rowdy good-fellowship. No one
who watches parrots in a state of nature can doubt that existence affords
them plenty of pleasure.

Green parrots nest in January or February in Southern India, and somewhat
later in the North. The courtship of the rose-ringed species is thus
described by Captain Hutton: “At the pairing season the female becomes
the most affected creature possible, twisting herself into all sorts of
ridiculous postures, apparently to attract the notice of her sweetheart,
and uttering a low twittering note the while, in the most approved style
of flirtation, while her wings are half spread and her head kept rolling
from side to side in demi-gyrations; the male sitting quietly by her
side, looking on with wonder as if fairly taken aback—and wondering to
see her make such a guy of herself. I have watched them during these
courtships until I have felt humiliated at seeing how closely the follies
of mankind resembled those of the brute creation. The only return the
male made to these antics was scratching the top of her head with the
point of his beak, and joining his bill to hers in a loving kiss.”

Note that it is the hen that makes the advances. There can be no mistake
about this, for the presence of the rose-coloured ring round the neck
enables us to distinguish at a glance the cock from the hen.

The more I see of birds the more convinced do I become that, in the
matter of selecting mates, the hens do not have things all their own way.
In monogamous species the cock frequently chooses his spouse; selection
is mutual.

The nest is a cavity in a tree, and is thus described by Hume: “The mouth
of the hole, which is circular and very neatly cut and, say, two inches
on the average in diameter, is sometimes in the trunk, sometimes in some
large bough, and not unfrequently in the lower surface of the latter. It
generally goes straight in for two to four inches, and then turns
downwards for from six inches to three feet. The lower or chamber portion
of the hole is never less than four or five inches in diameter, and is
often a large natural hollow, three or four times these dimensions, into
which the bird has cut its usual neat passage.”

My experience differs from that of Hume, inasmuch as it tends to show
that green parrots do not excavate their own holes, or even the entrances
to them. I suppose I have seen over a hundred green parrots’ nests, and
all have been in existing hollows. Green parrots frequently evict the
squirrels which tenant a cavity in a tree and use it for nesting
purposes.

They sometimes nest in holes in buildings. There is in Lahore an old
half-ruined gateway, known as the _Chauburgi_. In this dozens of green
parrots nest simultaneously.

The rose-ringed paroquet (_Palæornis torquatus_) seems usually to nest in
trees, while the larger Alexandrine paroquet (_Palæornis nepalensis_)
nests by preference in holes in buildings.

The nest hole is not lined.

Four white eggs are usually laid. Both parents take turns at incubation.

Parrots are birds which thrive remarkably well in captivity. This, I
fear, is a doubtful blessing, for it leads to a vast number of the birds
being taken prisoner. Many of those which are kept by natives, and even
some kept by Europeans, are, I am afraid, cruelly treated. It is true
that the cruelty is in many cases unintentional, but this does not afford
the poor captive much consolation.

Parrot-catching is a profitable occupation in India; since nestlings
fetch from four to eight annas each. Thousands of young birds are dragged
out of their nurseries every year and sold in the bazaars.

Nor are the young birds immune from capture after they have left the
nest. They roost for a few nights in company before dispersing themselves
over the face of the country. The wily bird-catcher marks down one of
these nesting spots—he has possibly had to pay rent for it, for
parrot-catching is quite a profession, so large is the demand for captive
birds—and then sets in likely places split pieces of bamboo smeared over
with bird-lime. When daybreak comes the unlucky birds that have chanced
to roost on the limed bamboos find that they cannot get away, that they
are stuck to their perches!

Natives of India are very fond of taming parrots. They capture the birds
at an age when they are unable to feed themselves. These young parrots
are considered as members of the family, and are allowed to roam about at
large in the room in which their master lives. They make a great noise
and so are not very desirable pets.

I am sometimes asked by those who keep parrots how to make them talk.
This is not an easy question to answer. Some birds are much more ready to
learn than others. I do not consider that the various Indian species make
such good talkers as some other kinds, as, for example, the West African
parrot—the grey one with the red tail. Nevertheless, what follows applies
indiscriminately to all species of parrot. If you want to make a bird
learn quickly to talk, use plenty of bad language before it. It is really
wonderful how rapidly a parrot will pick up swear words. There appears to
be an incisiveness about them which appeals to parrot nature. As a rule
it requires much patience to teach a parrot anything except profanity.
Constant repetition of the same sound before the bird is necessary. The
gramophone is said to make the best teacher. The instrument should be
made to repeat slowly and steadily the phrase it is desired to teach the
bird, and placed quite close to the parrot’s cage, which should be
covered up. A word of warning to those who try this up-to-date method of
instruction. Polly’s lesson should not last much longer than ten minutes,
and only one a day be given; otherwise the poor bird may get brain fever.



                      THE ROOSTING OF THE SPARROWS


Most species of birds like to roost in companies, partly because it is
safer to do so, partly for the sake of companionship, and sometimes, in
England at any rate, because by crowding together they keep each other
warm. Birds have their favourite roosting places. Certain trees are
patronised while others are not. Perhaps one clump will be utilised every
night for a month or longer, then a move will be made to another clump.
Later on a return may be made to the original site. I do not know what
determines these changes of locality.

The sunset hour is, I think, the most interesting at which to watch
birds. They seem to be livelier then than at any other time of the day;
they are certainly more loquacious. The dormitory of the crows, the
mynas, or the green parrots is a perfect pandemonium. Whilst listening to
the uproar one can only suppose each member of the colony to be bubbling
over with animal spirits and intent on recounting to his fellows all the
doings of the day.

Most people may be inclined to think that it is impossible to derive much
pleasure from observing so common a bird as the sparrow. This is a
mistake. Often and often have I watched with the greatest pleasure the
roosting operations of this despised bird. I know of a row of bushes that
forms the dormitory of hundreds of sparrows. To enable the reader to
appreciate what follows, let me say that the hedge in question is only
some twenty yards long, its height is not much greater than that of a
man, it is nowhere more than eight feet in breadth, and is within a
hundred yards of an inhabited bungalow. Less than six yards away from it
is a well, fitted with a creaking Persian wheel, at which coolies are
continually working.

If you happen to pass this hedge within an hour of sunset, you will hear
issuing from it the dissonance of many sparrows’ voices. You stop to
listen, and, as you wait, a flock of sparrows dives into the thicket. You
look about to see whether any more are coming and observe nothing.
Suddenly some specks appear in the air, as if spontaneously generated. In
two seconds these are seen to be sparrows. Within half a minute of the
time you first set eyes upon them they are already in the bushes. They
are followed by another little flock of six or seven, and another and
another. Flight after flight arrives in quick succession, each of which
shoots into the roosting hedge. I use the word “shoot” advisedly, for no
other term describes the speed at which they enter the bushes. Their
flight, although so rapid, is not direct; it takes the form of a
quavering zigzag. Some of the flocks do not immediately plunge into the
bushes. They circle once, twice, thrice, or even oftener, before they
betake themselves to their leafy dormitory. Sometimes part of a flight
dive into the hedge immediately upon arrival, while the remainder circle
round and then fling themselves into the bushes as though they were
soldiers performing a well-practised manœuvre; the first bird to reach
the bush entering at the nearest end, the next a little farther on, the
third still farther, and so on, so that the last sparrow to arrive enters
the hedge at the far end. Sometimes a flock perches for a time on a tree
near by before entering the hedge. Those who have only noticed sparrows
pottering about will scarcely be able to believe their eyes when they see
the speed at which they approach the roosting place. For the moment they
are transformed into dignified birds.

All this time those individuals already in the hedge are making a great
noise. Their chitter, chitter, chitter never for a moment ceases or even
diminishes in intensity. Once in the hedge, the sparrows do not readily
leave it. There is much motion of the leaves and branches, and birds are
continually popping out of one part of the bushes into another. It is
thus evident that there is considerable fighting for places. If, while
all this is going on, you walk up to part of the hedge and shake it, the
birds disturbed will only fly a yard or two and at once settle elsewhere
in the thicket.

Meanwhile the sun has nearly set; the coolies near by have ceased working
and are kindling a fire within a couple of yards of the bushes. But the
sparrows appear to ignore both them and their fire. Settling down for the
night engrosses their whole attention.

As the sun touches the horizon the incoming flights of sparrows become
fewer and fewer; and after the golden orb has disappeared only one or two
belated stragglers arrive. Sparrows are early roosters. Something
approaching three thousand of them are now perched in that small hedge,
yet none are visible except those that pop in and out, when jockeyed out
of positions they have taken up. But although only a few sparrows come in
after the sun has set, it is not until fully fifteen minutes later that
there is any appreciable abatement of the din. It then becomes more
spasmodic; it ceases for half a second, to burst forth again with
undiminished intensity.

Twenty minutes or so after sunset the clamour becomes suddenly less. It
is now possible to discern individual voices. The noise grows rapidly
feebler. It almost ceases, but again becomes louder. It then nearly stops
a second time. Perhaps not more than twenty voices are heard. There is
yet another outburst, but the twitterers are by now very sleepy. Suddenly
there is perfect silence for a few seconds, then more feeble twittering,
then another silence longer than the last.

It is not yet dark, there is still a bright glow in the western sky. The
periods of silence grow more prolonged and the outbursts of twittering
become more faint and of shorter duration.

It is now thirty-nine minutes after the sun has set and perfect stillness
reigns. The birds must have all fallen asleep. But no! one wakeful fellow
commences again. He soon subsides. It has grown so dark that you can no
longer see the sparrow-hawk perched on a tree hard by. He took up his
position there early in the evening, and will probably breakfast first
thing to-morrow morning off sparrow!

You now softly approach the bushes until your face touches the branches.
There are twenty or thirty sparrows roosting within fifteen inches of
you. You cannot see any of them, but if you were to stretch forth your
hand you could as likely as not catch hold of one. You disturb a branch
and there is a rustling of a dozen pairs of wings, so close to you that
your face is fanned by the wind they cause. You have disturbed some
birds, but they are so sleepy that they move without uttering a twitter.
You leave the bush and return an hour later. Perfect silence reigns. You
may now go right up to the roosting hedge and talk without disturbing any
of the three thousand birds. You may even strike a match without arousing
one, so soundly do they sleep.

Those who wish to rid a locality of a superabundance of sparrows might
well profit by the fact that the birds sleep so soundly in companies.
Could anything be easier than to throw a large net over such a hedge and
thus secure, at one fell blow, the whole colony?



                            THE GAY DECEIVER


The drongo cuckoo (_Surniculus lugubris_) is a bird of which I know
practically nothing. I doubt whether I have ever seen it in the flesh. It
is, of course, quite unnecessary to apologise for discoursing upon a
subject of which one’s knowledge is admittedly _nil_. In this superficial
age the most successful writers are those most ignorant of their subject.
When you know only one or two facts it is quite easy to parade them
properly, to set them forth to best advantage. They are so few and far
between that there is no danger of their jostling one another or
bewildering the reader. Then, if you are conversant only with one side of
a question, you are able to lay down the law so forcibly, and the public
likes having the law laid down for it, it does not mind how crude, how
absurd, how impossible one’s sentiments are so long as one is cocksure of
them and is not afraid to say so.

My lack of knowledge of the habits of the drongo cuckoo is, however, not
my chief reason for desiring to write about it. I wish to discuss the
bird because natural selectionists frequently cite it as bearing striking
testimony to the truth of their theory, whereas it seems to me that it
does just the opposite. _Surniculus lugubris_ is, so far as I am able to
judge, an uncompromising opponent of those zoologists who pin their faith
to the all-sufficiency of natural selection to account for evolution in
the organic world.

The drongo cuckoo is as like the king-crow as one pea is to another. This
bird, says Blanford, “is remarkable for its extraordinary resemblance in
structure and colourisation to a drongo or king-crow (_Dicrurus_). The
plumage is almost entirely black, and the tail forked owing to the
lateral rectrices being turned outwards.” Blanford further declares that
the bird, owing to its remarkable likeness to the king-crow, is apt to be
overlooked.

This being so, it is quite unnecessary for me to describe the drongo
cuckoo; it is the image of a king-crow. But stay, perhaps there are some
who do not know this last bird by sight. Such should make its
acquaintance. They will find it sitting on the next telegraph wire they
pass—a sprightly black bird, much smaller than the crow (with which it
has no connection), possessing a long, forked tail. Every now and again
it makes little sallies into the air after the “circling gnat,” or
anything else insectivorous that presents itself. When you see such a
bird you may safely bet on its being a king-crow; the off-chance of its
proving a drongo cuckoo may be neglected by all but the ultra-cautious.

Not much is known of the habits of this cuckoo; but what we do know shows
that, sometimes, at any rate, it makes the king-crow act as its
nursemaid. Mr. Davison saw two king-crows feeding a young _Surniculus_.
The consequence is that every book on natural history trots out our
friend the drongo cuckoo as an example of mimicry. The mimicry is, of
course, unconscious: it is said to be the result of the action of natural
selection.

King-crows are, as every one knows, exceedingly pugnacious birds; at the
nesting season both cock and hen are little furies, who guard the nursery
most carefully and will not allow a strange species to so much as perch
in the tree in which it is placed.

It is thus obvious that the cuckoo who elects to victimise a king-crow is
undertaking a “big thing,” yet this is what _Surniculus_ does. It
accomplishes its aim by trickery; it becomes a gay deceiver, disguising
itself like its dupe. Now I readily admit that the disguise may be of the
utmost use to the _Surniculus_; I can well understand that natural
selection will seize hold of the disguise when once it has been donned
and possibly perfect it; but I cannot see how natural selection can have
originated the disguise _as such_.

The drongo cuckoo may be called an ass in a lion’s skin, or a lion in an
ass’s skin, whichever way one looks at things. When once the skin has
been assumed natural selection may modify it so as better to fit the
wearer; but more than this it cannot do.

I do not pretend to know the colour of the last common ancestor of all
the cuckoos, but I do not believe that the colour was black. What, then,
caused _Surniculus lugubris_ to become black and assume a king-crow-like
tail?

A black feather or two, even if coupled with some lengthening of the
tail, would in no way assist the cuckoo in placing its egg in the
drongo’s nest. Suppose an ass were to borrow the caudal appendage of the
king of the forest, pin it on behind him, and then advance among his
fellows with loud brays, would any donkey of average intelligence be
misled by the feeble attempt at disguise? I think not. Much less would a
king-crow be deceived by a few black feathers in the plumage of a cuckoo.

I do not believe that natural selection has any direct connection with
the nigritude of the drongo cuckoo. It is my opinion that, so far as the
struggle for existence is concerned, it matters little to an animal what
its colour be. Every creature has to be some colour: what that actual
colour is must depend upon a great many factors; among these we may name
the metabolic changes that go on inside the animal, its hereditary
tendencies, sexual selection, and natural selection. Is it natural
selection that has caused the king-crow to be black? I trow not.

The drongo is black because it is built that way; its tendency is to
produce black feathers. Just as some men tend to put on flesh, so also
some species of birds tend to grow black plumage. In the case of the
king-crow sexual selection has possibly contributed to the bird’s
nigritude. It is possible that black is a colour that appeals to
king-crow ladies. “So neat, you know; a bird always looks well in black,
and a forked tail gives him such an air of distinction.”

As the hen drongo is a bird capable of looking after herself, even when
incubating, there is no necessity for her to be protectively coloured. As
I have repeatedly declared, one ounce of good solid pugnacity is a better
weapon in the struggle for existence than many pounds of protective
colouration.

Again, in the case of king-crows nigritude may be an expression of
vigour, the outward and visible sign of strength.

Let me make myself clear. Suppose that in a race of savages those that
had fair hair were stronger, bolder, more prolific, and more pushing than
the dark-haired men. Fair hair, in some inexplicable way, always
accompanied strength and the like. It is obvious that, under these
conditions, the race would in time become fair-haired: the milder dark
men would eventually be hustled out of existence. Fair hair would then be
the outward expression of vigour: it would not be the cause of vigour,
merely the accompaniment of it; nor would it be a direct product of
natural selection. In the same way it is possible that among drongos
nigritude is in some manner correlated with vigour. This idea is not
altogether fanciful. Are there not horses of “bad colour”? Are not white
“socks” a sign of weakness? Is not roan a colour indicative of strength
and endurance in a horse?

May not the blackness and the forked tail of the drongo cuckoo have
arisen in the same way as they arose in the king-crow? In each case it
may be an accompaniment of vigour, or it may be the result of sexual
selection. Mrs. Surniculus may have had similar tastes to Mrs. Dicrurus,
and, since cuckoos seem to be very plastic birds, her tastes have been
gratified. As another example of this plasticity I may cite _Centropus
phasianus_—a cuckoo which is a very fair imitation of a pheasant.

On this view the resemblance is a mere chance one. The cuckoo is not an
ass in a lion’s skin, but an ass that looks very like a lion. His
lion-like shape was not forced upon him by natural selection. A variety
of causes probably contributed to it. It was not until the resemblance
had arisen and become very striking that it was directly affected by
natural selection.

I am far from saying that the above is a correct explanation of the
nigritude: it is all pure hypothesis. Even if it be correct, we are
really very little further than we were before towards an explanation of
the colours and shape of either the king-crow or the drongo cuckoo.

Why did these birds tend to grow black feathers rather than red, green,
or blue ones?

This is a question which “stumps” us all.



                           THE EMERALD MEROPS


If I have a favourite bird it is the little green bee-eater (_Merops
viridis_). There is no winged thing more beautiful or more alluring. More
showy birds exist, more striking, more gorgeous, more magnificent
creatures. With such the bee-eater does not compete. Its beauty is of
another order. It is that of the moon rather than of the sun, of the
violet rather than of the rose. The exquisite shades of its plumage
cannot be fully appreciated unless minutely inspected. Every feather is a
triumph of colouring. No description can do the bird justice. To say that
its general hue is the fresh, soft green of grass in England after an
April shower, that the head is covered with burnished gold, that the tail
is tinted with olive, that a black collarette adorns the breast, that the
bill is black, that a streak of that colour runs from the base of the
beak, backwards, through the eye, which is fiery red, that the feathers
below this streak are of the purest turquoise-blue, as are the feathers
of the throat—to say all this is to convey no idea of the hundred shades
of these colours, or the manner in which they harmonise and pass one into
another. Nor is it easy for words to do justice to the shape of the bird;
even a photograph fails to express the elegance of its carriage and the
perfection of its proportions. Were I to string together all the
superlatives that I know, I should scarcely convey an adequate impression
of the grace of its movements. I can but try to make the bird
recognisable, so that the reader may see its beauties for himself.

He should look out for a little green bird with a black beak, slender and
curved, and a tail of which the two middle feathers are very attenuated
and project a couple of inches as two black bristles beyond the other
caudal feathers. The bird should be looked for on a telegraph wire or the
bare branch of a tree, for the habits of bee-eaters are those of
fly-catchers. The larger species prey upon bees, hence the popular name,
but I doubt whether the little _Merops viridis_ tackles an insect so
large as a bee. It feeds upon smaller flying things, which it captures on
the wing. As it rests on its perch its bright eyes are always on the look
out for passing insects. When one comes into view, the bird sallies
forth. Very beautiful is it as it sails on outstretched wings. The under
surface of these is reddish bronze, so that their possessor seems to
become alternately green and gold as the sun’s rays fall on the upper or
lower surface of its pinions. Its long mandibles close upon its prey with
a snap sufficiently loud to be audible from a distance of five or six
yards. This one may frequently hear, for bee-eaters are not shy birds.
They will permit a human being to approach quite near to them, as though
they knew that the fulness of their beauty was apparent only on close
inspection.

The little green bee-eater utters what Jerdon calls “a rather pleasant
rolling whistling note,” which, if it cannot be dignified by the name of
song, adds considerably to the general attractiveness of the bird.
Bee-eaters are, alas! not very abundant in Madras, but, if looked for,
may be seen on most days in winter. The Adyar Club grounds seem to be
their favourite resort. When driving into the club at sunset I have often
surprised a little company of them taking a dust bath in the middle of
the road. The bath over, the little creatures take to their wings and
enjoy a final flight before retiring for the night.

Bee-eaters are, I think, migratory birds. It is true that they are found
all the year round in many parts of India, but such places appear to be
the winter quarters of some individuals and the summer residences of
others. There is an exodus of bee-eaters from Calcutta about March. A
similar event occurs in Madras, although in the latter place the birds
are seen all the year round, a few remaining to breed. In Lahore, on the
other hand, the birds arrive in March, and, having reared their young,
leave in September.

The nest is a circular hole excavated by the bird, usually in a sandbank,
sometimes in a mud partition between two fields. I saw a nest in Lahore
in one of the artificial bunkers on the golf links. Major C. T. Bingham
states that in 1873, when the musketry instruction of his regiment was
being carried on at Allahabad, he observed several nest holes of this
species in the face of the butts. The birds seemed utterly regardless of
the bullets that every now and then buried themselves with a loud thud in
the earth close beside them. Colonel Butler gives an account of a
bee-eater nesting in an artificial mudbank, about a foot high, that
marked the limits of the badminton court in the Artillery Mess compound
at Deesa. One of the birds invariably sat upon the badminton net when
people were not playing, and at other times on a tree close by, while its
mate was sitting on the eggs. As I have already said, bee-eaters are not
afflicted with shyness.

Very soon after their arrival at Lahore the birds begin their courtship.
At this period they seem to spend the major portion of the day in
executing circular flights in the air. They shoot forth from their perch
and rapidly ascend by flapping their wings, then they sail for a little
on outstretched pinions and thus return to the perch.

Courtship soon gives place to the more serious business of nest
construction. When a suitable spot has been found, the birds at once
begin excavating, digging away at the earth with pick-like bill and
holding on to the wall of the bank by their sharp claws until the hole
they are making becomes sufficiently deep to afford a foothold. As the
excavation grows deeper the bird throws backwards with its feet the sand
it has loosened with its beak, sending it in little clouds out of the
mouth of the hole. While one bird is at work its mate perches close by
and gives vent to its twittering note. After working for about two
minutes the bird has a rest and its partner takes a turn at excavation.
Thus the work proceeds apace. Bee-eaters look spick and span, even when
in the midst of this hard labour. The dry sand that envelops them, far
from soiling their plumage, acts as a dust bath. When the hole, which is
about two inches in diameter, has reached a length of some four feet, it
is widened out into a circular chamber about twice the size of a cricket
ball. In this three or four white eggs are laid. These have been well
described as “little polished alabaster balls.” They are placed on the
bare ground. Young bee-eaters lack the elongated bristle-like tail
feathers of the adult birds. A very pleasing sight is that of a number of
the youngsters sitting in a row on a telegraph wire receiving instruction
in flying.

In conclusion, mention must be made of a near relative of the little
bee-eater. I allude to the blue-tailed species (_Merops philippinus_),
which also occurs in Madras. This is a larger and less beautiful edition
of the green bee-eater. It is distinguishable by its size, the rusty
colour of its throat, and its blue tail. It is usually found near water.
He who shoots snipe in the paddy near Madras comes across numbers of
these birds sitting on the low walls that divide up the fields. The
habits of the blue-tailed bee-eater are those of its smaller cousin.
Although its song is more powerful, it is a less attractive bird.



                           DO ANIMALS THINK?


Mr. John Burroughs contributed some time ago to _Harper’s Magazine_ an
article bearing the above title. The leading American naturalist is so
weighty an authority that I feel chary about controverting any statement
made by him; but I cannot believe that he is right when he boldly asserts
that animals never think at all. I agree with Mr. Burroughs when he says
“we are apt to speak of the lower animals in terms that we apply to our
own kind.” There is undoubtedly a general tendency to give animals credit
for much greater intelligence, far more considerable powers of reasoning,
than they actually possess; in short, to put an anthropomorphic
interpretation on their actions.

But it seems to me that Mr. Burroughs rushes to the other extreme. To
deny to animals the power of thought is surely as opposed to facts as to
credit them with almost human powers of reasoning. Says Mr. Burroughs:
“Animals act with a certain grade of intelligence in the presence of
things, but they carry away no concepts of those things as a man does,
because they have no language. How could a crow tell his fellows of some
future event or of some experience of the day? How could he tell them
this thing is dangerous save by his actions in the presence of those
things? Or how tell of a newly found food supply save by flying eagerly
to it?”

Even if we admit that a crow is not able to recount the experiences of
the day to his companion, it does not follow that the crow does not
remember them, or cannot picture them in his mind. With regard to the
last question, I have frequently seen a crow, at the sight of some food
thrown out to him, caw loudly, and his friends, on hearing his cry, at
once fly to the food.

Of course it is open to any one to assert that, in this case, the crow
that discovers the food does not consciously call its companions; at the
sight of its food it instinctively caws, and its companions obey the caw
instinctively, without knowing why they do so. No one, however, who
watches crows for long can help believing that they think. The fact that
they hang about the kitchen every day at the time the cook pitches out
the leavings seems inconsistent with the theory that birds cannot think.
The crows obtained food at this place yesterday and the day before at a
certain hour, and the fact that they are all on the look out for food
to-day shows, not only that they possess a good memory, but that they are
endowed with a certain amount of reasoning power.

Many animals have very good memories. Now, in order that an animal may
remember a thing it must think. Its thoughts are of course not clothed in
language as human thoughts are, but they nevertheless exist as mental
pictures.

According to Professor Thorndike, the psychic life of an animal is “most
like what we feel when our consciousness contains little thought about
anything, when we feel the sense impressions in their first intention, so
to speak, when we feel our own body and the impulses we give to it (or
that outward objects give to it). Sometimes one gets this animal
consciousness; while in swimming, for example. One feels the water, the
sky, the birds above, but with no thoughts about them, or memories of how
they looked at other times, or æsthetic judgments about their beauty. One
feels no ‘ideas’ about what movements he will make, but feels himself
make them, feels his body throughout. Self-consciousness dies away. The
meanings and values and connections of things die away. One feels
sense-impressions, has impulses, feels the movements he makes; that is
all.”

This is probably a good description of the state of mind of a dog when he
is basking in the sunlight; he is thinking of nothing. But he hears the
shrill cry of a squirrel—this at once recalls to him the image of the
little rodent and past _shikar_. In a moment the dog is on the alert; he
is now thinking of the squirrel, and his instinct and inclinations teach
him to give chase to it. Or he hears a footstep; he recognises it as that
of his master, sees that the latter is wearing a _topi_, and at once
pictures up a run in the compound with his master. But his owner chains
him up. The dog looks wistfully at his master’s retreating figure and
pulls at his chain; it is surely absurd to say that the dog is not
thinking. The picture of a scamper beside his master rises up before him,
and he feels sad because he knows that the scamper is not likely to
become a _fait accompli_.

Again, you have been accustomed to throw a stick for your dog to run
after and carry back to you. You are out walking accompanied by your dog;
he espies a stick lying on the ground; at once images of previous
enjoyable runs after the stick rise up in his mind; he picks up the stick
and brings it to you, drops it at your feet and looks up at you. You
pretend to take no notice. The dog then picks up the stick and rubs it
against your legs. To believe that the dog while acting thus does not
think, that he is merely obeying an inborn instinct, is surely a
misinterpretation of facts. Animals have but limited reasoning powers,
and their thoughts are not our thoughts, they are not clothed in
language, they are merely mental pictures, called up either subjectively,
as when a dog barks while dreaming, or objectively by some sight or
scent, but nevertheless such sensations are thoughts.

While maintaining that the higher animals can and do think, I am ready to
admit that a great many of their actions which are apparently guided by
reason are in reality purely instinctive. Thus the building of a nest by
a bird must, at any rate on the first occasion, be a purely instinctive
action. The creature cannot know what it is doing. Nor can it have any
thoughts on the matter; it suddenly becomes an automaton, a machine,
acting thoughtlessly and instinctively.

Some internal force which is irresistible compels it to seek twigs and
weave them into a nest. The bird has no time to stop and think what it is
doing, nor does it wish to, for it enjoys nest building. It is, of
course, impossible for a human being to understand the frame of mind of a
bird when building its first nest. The only approach to it that we ever
experience is when we are suddenly seized with an impulse to do something
unusual, and we obey the impulse and are afterwards surprised at
ourselves.

There is a story told of a wealthy man who had been out hunting and was
returning home tired and thirsty. He dismounted at a farm-house, went
inside and asked for a drink. While this was being obtained he noticed a
lot of valuable old china on the dresser: seized by a sudden impulse, he
knocked it all down, piece by piece, with his riding whip. His hostess on
her return with the drink looked surprised. The hunting man smiled, asked
her to name the value she set on the china, sat down and, there and then,
wrote out a cheque for the amount.

It always seems to me that when a bird begins for the first time to
collect materials for a nest she must act impulsively, without thinking
what she is doing. Just as the hunting man was seized with a sudden
desire to smash the crockery with his whip, so is she suddenly impelled
to collect twigs and build a nest.

Another instinctive act which is apparently purposeful is the feigning of
injury by a parent bird when an enemy approaches its young. Superficial
observation of this action leads the observer to imagine that the mother
bird behaves thus with deliberate intent to deceive, that in so doing she
consciously endeavours to distract attention while her young ones are
betaking themselves to cover. As a matter of fact, the bird will behave
in precisely the same way if she have eggs instead of young ones. This
has, of course, the effect of drawing attention to the eggs, and proves
that the action is instinctive and not the result of reasoning.

Most people have remarked the cautious manner in which many birds
approach the nest when they are aware that they are being watched. This
has the appearance of a highly intelligent act. It is, however, nothing
of the kind.

I have taken young birds from a nest, handled them and replaced them in
full view of their frantic parents. Then I have retired a short distance
and watched the parents. These invariably display the same caution in
approaching the nest as they did before I had discovered its whereabouts.

Birds and beasts think much less than they are popularly supposed to do.
It is absurd to attribute to them reasoning powers similar to those
enjoyed by man; it is equally absurd to assert that they do not think at
all.



                         A COUPLE OF NEGLECTED
                               CRAFTSMEN


Two Indian birds have a world-wide reputation. Every one has heard of the
weaver bird (_Ploceus baya_) and the tailor-bird (_Orthotomus sutorius_).
Their wonderful nests are depicted in every popular treatise on
ornithology. They are both master-craftsmen and deserve their reputation.
But there are in India birds who build similar nests whose very names are
unknown to the great majority of Anglo-Indians. The Indian wren-warbler
(_Prinia inornata_) weaves a nest quite as skilfully as the famous weaver
bird. This neglected craftsman is common in nearly all parts of India,
and, if you speak of the weaver bird to domiciled Europeans, they will
think you mean this wren-warbler, for among such he is universally called
the weaver bird; the famous weaver, whose portrait appears in every
popular bird book, is known to them as the baya.

As its name implies, _Prinia inornata_ is a plainly attired little bird.
Its upper parts are earthy brown. It has the faintest suspicion of a
white eyebrow, and its under plumage is yellowish white, the thighs being
darker than the abdomen. Picture a slenderly built wren with a tail three
inches in length, which looks as though it were about to fall out and
which is constantly being waggled, and you have a fair idea of the
appearance of this little weaver. But this description applies to dozens
of other birds found in India. The various warblers are so similar to one
another in appearance as to drive ornithologists to despair. The
inimitable “Eha” admits that they baffle him. “There is nothing about
them,” he writes, “to catch the imagination of the historian, and they
will never be famous. I have been perplexed as to how to deal with them.
. . . To attempt to describe each species is out of the question, for
there are many, and they are mostly so like each other that even the
title ornithologist does not qualify one to distinguish them with
certainty at a distance. If you can distinguish them with certainty when
you have them in your hand you will fully deserve the title.”

It is, however, possible to recognise the Indian wren-warbler by its
note. When once you have learned this you are able to identify the bird
directly it opens its mouth. But how shall I describe it? It is a
peculiar, harsh but plaintive, _twee, twee, twee_; each _twee_ follows
close upon the preceding one, and gives you the idea that the bird is
both excited and worried. If you see a fussy little bird constantly
flitting about in a cornfield and uttering this note, you may be
tolerably certain that the bird is the Indian wren-warbler. It never
rises high in the air; it is but an indifferent exponent of the art of
flying. It moves by means of laborious jerks of its wings. It is a true
friend to the husbandman, since it feeds exclusively on insects. The most
remarkable thing about it is its nest. This is a beautifully woven
structure, composed exclusively of grass or strips of leaves of
monocotyledonous plants which the bird tears off with its bill. These
strands are invariably very narrow, and are sometimes less than
one-twentieth of an inch in breadth. The nest may be described as an
egg-shaped purse, some five or six inches in depth and three in width,
with an entrance at one side, near the top. It is devoid of any lining,
and its texture puts one in mind of a loosely made loofah. The nest is
sometimes attached to two or more stalks of corn, or more commonly it is
found among the long grasses which are so abundant in India. When the
nest is built in a cornfield the birds have to bring up their family
against time. They are unable to begin nest-building until the corn is
fairly high, and must, if the young are to be safely started in life,
have brought them to the stage when they are able to leave the nest by
the time the crop is cut.

In India nearly every field of ripe corn has its family of wren-warblers;
the two parents flit about, followed by a struggling family of four.
These little birds do not by any means always defeat time. Numbers of
their nests containing half-fledged young are mown down at every harvest
by the reaper’s sickle. The nest is woven in a manner similar to that
adopted by the baya; the cock and hen in each case work in combination.
Its texture is looser than that of the more famous weaver, but it is not
less neatly put together. In it are deposited four or five pretty little
green eggs, marked with brown blotches and wavy lines.

Our second neglected craftsman is a tailor. It sews a nest so like that
of the world-famous tailor as to be almost indistinguishable from it.
Some authorities declare that the two nests are distinguishable. They
assert that the nest of _Orthotomus_ is invariably lined with some soft
substance, such as cotton-wool, the silky down of the cotton tree, soft
horse-hair, or even human hair, while that of the species of which we are
speaking is lined with grass or roots. This distinction does not,
however, invariably hold. I have seen nests of this species which have
been lined with cotton-wool.

This bird is known to ornithologists as the ashy wren-warbler (_Prinia
socialis_). Anglo-Indian boys call it the tom-tit. It is a dark ashy-grey
bird, with the sides of the head and neck and the whole of the lower
plumage buff. There is a tinge of rufous in the wings and tail. It is
most easily distinguished by the loud snapping noise it makes during
flight. How this noise is produced we do not know for certain. Reid was
of opinion that the bird snapped its long tail. What exactly this means I
do not know. Jesse believes that the sound is produced by the bird’s
mandibles. I have spent much time in watching the bird, and am inclined
to think that the noise is caused by the beating of the wings against the
tail. This last is constantly being wagged and jerked, and it seems to me
that the wings beat against it as the bird flits about. When doves and
pigeons fly, their wings frequently meet, causing a flapping sound. I am
of opinion that something similar occurs when the ashy wren-warbler takes
to its wings.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this bird is the
well-authenticated fact that it builds two types of nest. Besides this
tailor-made nest, the species makes one of grass, beautifully and closely
woven, domed, and with the entrance near the top. I have never seen this
latter type of nest, but so many ornithologists have that there can be no
doubt of its existence.

The strange thing is that both types of nest have been found in the same
neighbourhood, so that the difference in the form of nursery is not a
local peculiarity.

I am at a loss to account for the existence of these two types of nest. I
have no idea how the habit can have arisen, nor do I know what, if any,
benefit the species derives from this peculiarity. So far as I am aware,
no one can say what it is that leads to the construction of one type of
nest in preference to the other. The nests of this species present a most
interesting ornithological problem. I hope one day to be in a position to
throw some light on it; meanwhile I shall welcome the news that some one
has forestalled me. The ashy wren-warbler is a common bird, so that most
Anglo-Indians have a chance of investigating the mystery. The same kind
of eggs are found in each type of nest. They are of exceptional beauty,
being a deep mahogany or brick-red, so highly polished as to look as
though they have been varnished.



                          BIRDS IN THEIR NESTS


Just as every Englishman is of opinion that his house is his castle, so
does every little bird resent all attempts at prying into its private
affairs in the nest. For this reason we really know very little of the
home-life of birds. It is not that there are no seekers after such
knowledge. Practical ornithology is a science that can boast of a very
large number of devotees.

Many men spend the greater part of their life in endeavouring to wrest
from birds some of their secrets, and such must admit that the results
they obtain are as a rule totally disproportionate to the magnitude of
the efforts. At present we know only the vague generalities of bird life.

We know that the hen lays eggs; that she, with or without the help of the
cock, as the case may be, incubates these eggs; that the young, which are
at first naked, are fed and brooded until they are ready to leave the
nest, when they are coaxed forth by the parents, who hold out tempting
morsels of food to them. But these are mere generalities. Our ignorance
of details is very great.

The nests of most passerine birds are scrupulously clean. Young birds
have enormous appetites, and much of the food which they eat is
indigestible and must pass out as droppings, yet in the case of many
species no sign of these droppings is visible, either in the nest, or on
the leaves, branches, or the ground near the nest. What becomes of these
droppings? Ornithological treatises are silent upon this subject.

Again, young birds are born naked, and in India are frequently exposed to
very high temperatures, so that much liquid must pass from their bodies
by evaporation. How is this liquid made good? Do the parents water the
birds, if so, how? I have never seen any mention of this in an
ornithological treatise.

Let us to-day consider these two subjects: the sanitation of the nest and
the method of assuaging the thirst of young nestlings.

As regards the first we have some knowledge, thanks to the patient
labours of Mr. F. H. Herrick, an American naturalist, whose book, _The
Home Life of Birds_, I commend to every lover of the feathered folk.
Unfortunately, Mr. Herrick’s book is to some extent spoiled for
Englishmen, because it deals with birds with which they are unfamiliar;
nevertheless, its general results apply to all passerine birds.

Mr. Herrick is a very keen bird photographer. As every one knows, he who
wishes to obtain good photographs of birds has two great difficulties to
overcome. The first is to get near to his subjects, and the second is to
find them and their nests in situations suitable for photography.

The former is usually overcome by the photographer concealing himself and
his camera in a tent or other structure. At first the birds are afraid of
the concealing object, but soon maternal affection overcomes their fear.

Mr. Herrick’s method of overcoming the second of these two difficulties
is to remove the nest to be photographed from the concealed situation in
which it is usually built, and place it in a more open place. If the nest
be thus moved when the young are some seven or eight days old, the
parents will almost invariably continue to feed their young in the new
situation, for at that particular period the parental instinct is at its
zenith. In addition to obtaining a splendid series of photographs, Mr.
Herrick has observed, from a distance of a few inches, the nesting habits
of several American birds. As the result of these observations he is able
to declare that nest-cleaning follows each feeding with clock-like
regularity. “The excreta of the young,” he writes, “leave the cloaca in
the form of white opaque or transparent mucous sacs. The sac is probably
secreted at the lower end of the alimentary canal, and is sufficiently
consistent to admit of being picked up without soiling bill or fingers.
The parent birds often leave the nest hurriedly bearing one of these
small white packages in bill, an action full of significance to every
member of the family. . . . Removing the excreta piecemeal and dropping
it at a safe distance is the common instinctive method, not only of
insuring the sanitary condition of the nest itself, but, what is even
more important, of keeping the grass and leaves below free from any sign
which might betray them to an enemy.” These packets of excrement are
quite odourless, and they are often devoured by the parent bird instead
of being carried away. The digestion of very young birds must be feeble,
and doubtless much of the food given them passes undigested through the
alimentary canal, so that it is capable of affording nourishment to the
parents. Birds are nothing if not economical.

Of course, all birds are not so careful of the sanitation of the nest.
Every one knows what a filthy spectacle a heronry is. According to Mr.
Herrick, the instinct of inspecting and cleaning the nest is mainly
confined to the great passerine and picarian orders. It is obviously not
necessary in the case of those birds, such as fowls, of which the young
are able to run about when born; nor is it needful in the case of birds
of prey, who take no pains to conceal the whereabouts of the nest. Young
raptores eject their semi-fluid excreta over the edge of the nursery;
thus the nest is kept clean, but the droppings on the ground betray its
presence to all the world.

Coming now to our other question: How do young birds obtain the water
which they require? we have no help from Mr. Herrick. He makes no mention
of this in his most interesting book. It is possible that nestlings are
not given anything to drink, that the juicy, succulent insects or fruits
with which they are supplied contain sufficient moisture for their
requirements. We must remember that the skin of birds is very different
from that of man. It contains no sweat glands, so that a bird, like a
dog, can only perspire through its mouth.

The breath of mammals is so surcharged with moisture that when it is
suddenly cooled the water vapour in it condenses; the result is we can
“see the breath” of a mammal on a cold day. I have never succeeded in
seeing a bird’s breath, so am of opinion that the fowls of the air do not
exhale so much moisture as mammals do. But even allowing for this, a
considerable amount of moisture must be given out in expiration, so that
it seems probable that young birds require more moisture than they obtain
in their food. Drops of water have to be administered to hand-reared
birds. Many birds fill up the crop with food and then discharge the
contents into the gaping mouths of their young. In this condition the
food must be mixed with a considerable quantity of saliva and possibly
with water. The crop of a bird is a receptacle into which the food passes
and remains until actually utilised. There seems no reason why water
should not be stored for a short time in this receptacle just as food is.
Perhaps birds “bring up” water as they do solid food, and thus assuage
the thirst of their young. Such a process would be very difficult to
detect; it would be indistinguishable from ordinary feeding to the casual
observer. I hope that some physiologist will take up the matter. A
quantitative analysis of the air exhaled by a bird should not be very
difficult to make.



                                BULBULS


More than fifty species of bulbul are found in India—bulbuls of all sorts
and conditions, of all shapes and sizes, from the brilliant green bulbuls
(which, by the way, strictly speaking, are not bulbuls at all) to the
dull-plumaged but blithe white-browed member of the community, so common
in Madras; from the rowdy black bulbuls of the Himalayas to the highly
respectable and well-behaved red-vented bulbuls. He who would write of
them is thus confronted with an _embarras de richesses_. The problem that
he has to solve is, which of the many species to take as his theme.

The polity of birds is said to be a republic. The problem may, therefore,
well be elucidated on democratic principles. The first and foremost of
these—the main plank of every demagogue’s platform—is, of course, “one
bulbul, one vote.” The second is like unto the first, “every bulbul for
itself.” Therefore, on being asked to elect a representative to be the
subject-matter of this paper, each will vote for his own species, and the
result of the poll will be: Bulbuls of the genus _Molpastes_ first, those
of the genus _Otocompsa_ a good second, and the rest a long way behind.
Let us then conform to the will of the majority and consider for a little
these two species of bulbul, which resemble one another very closely in
their habits.

_Molpastes_ is a bird about half as big again as the sparrow, but with a
longer tail. The whole head is black and marked by a short crest. There
is a conspicuous crimson patch of feathers under the tail. The remainder
of the plumage is brown, but each feather on the body is margined with
creamy white, so that the bird is marked by a pattern that is, as “Eha”
points out, not unlike the scales on a fish. Both ends of the tail
feathers are whitish.

_Otocompsa_ is a more showy bird. The crest is long and projects forward
over the forehead. The crimson patch, so characteristic of bulbuls, also
exists in this species. There is a similar patch on each side of the
head—whence the bird’s name, the red-whiskered bulbul. There is also a
white patch on each cheek. The white throat is separated from the whitish
abdomen by a conspicuous dark brown necklace. This bird must be familiar
to every one who has visited Coonoor or any other southern hill station.
The less showy variety—the red-vented bulbul, as it is called—is common
in and about Madras.

It will be noticed that I have refrained from giving any specific name to
either of these two genera. This is due to the fact that these bulbuls
are widely distributed and fall into a number of local races, each of
which has some little peculiarity in colouring. For this reason, bulbuls
are birds after the heart of the museum ornithologist. They afford him
ample scope for species-making.

[Illustration: THE BENGAL RED-WHISKERED BULBUL. (OTOCOMPSA EMERIA)]

If you go from Madras to the Punjab you will there meet with a bulbul
which you will take for the same species as the bulbul you left behind in
Madras. But if you look up the birds in an ornithological text-book you
will find that they belong to different species. The Punjab bulbul is
known as _Molpastes intermedius_, while the Madras bird is called _M.
hæmorrhous_. The only difference in appearance between the two species is
that in the Madras bird the black of the head does not extend to the
neck, whereas in the Punjab bird it does. Similarly, there is a Burmese,
a Tenasserim, a Chinese, and a Bengal red-vented bulbul.

Now, I regard all these different bulbuls as local races of one species,
which might perhaps be called _Molpastes indicus_; and I think that I am
justified in holding this view by the fact that the bulbuls you come
across at Lucknow do not fit in with the description of any of these
so-called species. The reason is that the Bengal and the Madras races
meet at Lucknow, and of course interbreed. The result is a cross between
the two races.

In addition to the above there are some _Molpastes_ which have white
cheeks and a yellow patch under the tail. In all, nine or ten Indian
“species” of _Molpastes_ have been described.

The same applies in a lesser degree to _Otocompsa_. This is a widely
distributed species, but is not so plastic as _Molpastes_. There is the
Bengal red-whiskered bulbul (_Otocompsa emeria_), which is
distinguishable from the southern variety (_O. fuscicaudata_) by having
white tips to the tail feathers, and the dark necklace interrupted in the
middle. There is also an _Otocompsa_ with a yellow patch under the tail.

This division of a species or genus into a number of races or nearly
allied species is interesting as showing one of the ways in which new
species arise in Nature quite independently of natural selection. It is
unreasonable to suppose that the extension into the neck of the black of
the head in the Punjab bulbul and its non-extension in the Madras bulbul
are due to the action of natural selection in each locality, that a
bulbul with black in its neck is unfitted for existence in Madras.

Whenever a group of animals becomes isolated from its fellows, it almost
invariably develops peculiarities which are of no help to it in the
struggle for existence. Thus isolation is the cause of the origin of
dialects and languages. A dialect is an incipient language, even as a
race is a potential species.

But let us return to our bulbuls. The habits of both _Otocompsa_ and
_Molpastes_ are so similar that we can speak of them together. They are
what Mr. Finn calls thoroughly nice birds. They are, none of them, great
songsters, but all continually give forth exceedingly cheery notes. The
twittering of the red-whiskered bulbuls is not the least of the charms of
our southern hill stations.

Bulbuls feed on insects and berries, so are apt to be destructive in
gardens. They built nests of the orthodox type—cups of the description
always depicted on Christmas cards. These are built anywhere, without
much attempt at concealment. Rose bushes are a favourite site, so are
crotons, especially if they be in a verandah. A pair of bulbuls once
built a nest in my greenhouse at Gonda. Among the fronds of a fern
growing in a hanging basket did those unsophisticated birds construct
that nest. Every time the fern was watered the sitting bird, nest, and
eggs received a shower-bath!

Sometimes bulbuls do by chance construct their nest in a well-concealed
spot, but then they invariably “give the show away” by setting up a
tremendous cackling whenever a human being happens to pass by.

I have had the opportunity of watching closely the nesting operations of
seven pairs of bulbuls; of these only one couple succeeded in raising
their brood. The first of these nests was built in a croton plant in a
verandah at Fyzabad. One day a lizard passed by and sucked the eggs. The
next was the nest at Gonda already mentioned. In spite of the numerous
waterings they received, the eggs actually yielded young bulbuls; but
these disappeared when about four days old. The _mali_ probably caused
them to be gathered unto their fathers. The third nest was situated in a
bush outside the drawing-room window of the house in which I spent a
month’s leave at Coonoor. This little nursery was so well concealed that
I expected the parents would succeed in rearing their young. But one
morning I saw on the gravel path near the nest a number of tell-tale
feathers. Puss had eaten mamma bulbul for breakfast! The fourth nest—but
why should I detail these tragedies? Notwithstanding all their nesting
disasters, bulbuls flourish so greatly as to severely shake one’s faith
in the doctrine of natural selection.

In conclusion, a word or two must be said concerning bulbuls in
captivity. These birds make charming pets, but as their diet is largely
insectivorous, they cannot be fed on seed. They become delightfully tame.
One I kept used to fly on to my shoulder whenever it saw me, and open its
mouth, flutter its wings, and twitter, which was its way of asking to be
fed. It _would_ insist on using my pen as a perch, and as one’s
handwriting is not improved by an excitable bulbul hopping up and down
the penholder, I was obliged to shut the bird up in a cage when I wanted
to write. The bulbul used to resent this, and did not hesitate to tell me
so. In young birds the tail is very short, and the patch of feathers
under it is pale red instead of being bright crimson.

Natives of India keep bulbuls for fighting purposes. These birds are not
caged, but are tied to a cloth-covered perch by a long piece of fine
twine attached to the leg. Bulbuls, although full of pluck, are not by
nature quarrelsome. In order to make them fight they are kept without
food for some time. Then two ravenous birds are shown the same piece of
food. This, of course, leads to a fight, for a hungry bulbul is an angry
bulbul.



                            THE INDIAN CORBY


I have never been able to discover why the great black crow (_Corvus
macrorhynchus_), so common in India, is called the jungle-crow. It is,
indeed, true that the corby is found in the jungle, but it is found
everywhere else in most parts of India, and is certainly abundant in
villages and towns, being in some places quite as much a house bird as
its smaller cousin, the grey-necked crow.

Considering the character of the larger species and its extensive
distribution, one hears remarkably little about it. The explanation is,
of course, that the house-crow absorbs all the attention that man has to
bestow upon the sable-plumaged tribe. The prevailing opinion seems to be
that the black crow is merely a mild edition, a feeble imitation of, a
scoundrel of lesser calibre than, its smaller cousin, _Corvus splendens_,
and, therefore, everything that applies to the house-crow applies in a
lesser degree to the big-billed bird. This is, I submit, a mistaken view,
the result of imperfect observation. _Corvus macrorhynchus_ has an
individuality of his own, and we do him scant justice in dismissing him
with a short paragraph at the foot of a lengthy description of _Corvus
splendens_.

In saying this, I feel that I am speaking as one having authority, and
not as the Scribes and Pharisees, whose zoological horizon coincides with
the limits of the museum. For a period of eighteen months I lived in a
station which should be renamed and called Crowborough. To assert that
the place in question swarms with crows is, of course, to assert nothing,
for it shares this feature with every other place in India. The point I
desire to bring out clearly is that in this particular place the black
crows are nearly as numerous as the grey-necked birds. The former are
certainly in a minority, but their minority is, like Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman’s in the previous House of Commons, a large one, and
what they lack in numbers they make up in weight and beak-force. It was
truly delightful to watch them lord it over the grey-necked birds.
Grammarians will observe that I here use the past tense. This is a point
of some importance. Just as it is impossible to properly estimate the
character of an eminent man during his lifetime, so is it to form a
proper opinion of the personality and behaviour of a species of crow
while one is in the midst of that species, while one is subjected to the
persecutions, the annoyances, and the insults to which it thinks fit to
treat one.

But I am now far away from Crowborough, and I may never again return
thither. As I sit upon the Irish shore and see the blue waters of the
North Atlantic roll softly up against the black rocks of Antrim, I feel
that I am in a position to form a true estimate of the character of
_Corvus macrorhynchus_.

Until I went to Crowborough I laboured under the delusion that the
grey-necked crow knew not the meaning of the word “respect.” The
deference with which the big-beaked species is treated by his smaller
cousin came as a complete surprise to me.

Most Anglo-Indians are so embittered against the whole tribe of the
_corvi_ that they will on no account feed them. I do not share this
prejudice. I am able to see things from the corvine point of view. Were I
a crow I should most certainly consider man fair game.

While in Crowborough I invariably gave the surplus of my _tiffin_ to the
crows. Those in the locality of my office window did not take long to
find this out. The grey-necked crows were the first to make the
discovery. It takes these less time to put two and two together than it
does the more sluggish-brained black crows. At the end of a few days
quite half-a-dozen grey-necked fellows had learned to hang about my
windows at the luncheon hour. They used to sit in a row along each
window-ledge. One day a corby appeared upon the scene. His arrival was
the signal for the departure of his grey-necked brethren. From that day
onwards he regarded that ledge as his special preserve, and whenever a
house-crow ventured on to the ledge he “went for” it savagely with his
great beak. The intruder never waited long enough to enable him to get a
blow home. Thus the hunting-ground of the grey-necked crows became
restricted to one of the window-ledges.

In order to tease the black fellow I used sometimes to throw all the food
to the window in which the grey crows were perched. He would fly round
and drive them off that ledge and then give me a bit of his mind! Later
on he introduced his wife. She took possession of one window and he of
the other; so that the poor house-crows no longer had “a look in.” Some
of the bolder spirits among them used certainly to settle on the shutters
in hopes of catching a stray crumb, but none durst venture on to the
ledge while a black crow was there.

Upon one occasion I put a whole milk pudding upon the ledge; the corbies
would not allow the house-crows so much as a peck at the dainty dish
until they themselves had had their fill.

Every one knows that the grey-necked crows, when harassing a creature
more powerful than themselves, work in concert. It is my belief that two
of these birds acting together are more than a match for any other
creature. The way in which a pair of them will, by alternate feint and
attack, take food away from a great kite or a dog is truly admirable. But
so great is the respect of the grey-necked crows for the corby that I
have never seen them attack him in this way. This says volumes for the
force of character of _Corvus macrorhynchus_. He is quite an Oliver
Cromwell among birds. He is a dour, austere, masterful, selfish bird—a
bird which it is impossible to like or to despise.

When he has once made up his mind to do anything there is no deterring
him from the accomplishment thereof. Early in the year one of these birds
spent at least the greater part of a day in trying to secure for its nest
one of the twigs in a little circular fence erected for the protection of
a young tree. The fence in question was composed of leafless branches,
interlaced and tied together. One of these twigs, being loose at one end,
was pounced upon by a black crow who intended to carry it to his or her
nest. But the other end was securely fastened. I watched that crow at
intervals for several hours. Whenever I looked it was grappling in vain
with the refractory twig. The work was, it is true, frequently
interrupted, for natives kept passing by. But immediately the human being
had gone, the crow resumed the attack. Every now and again it would fly
to a dust-bin hard by and alight on the rim in order to take a breather.
Occasionally it would dive into that bin in order to secure the
wherewithal to feed the inner crow. It would then return to work like a
giant refreshed.

I am of opinion that that dust-bin was to the crow what the public-house
is to the British working man.



                                APPENDIX


              A LIST OF THE BIRDS WHICH HAVE BEEN RECORDED
                 BOTH IN THE BRITISH ISLES AND IN INDIA


  1. _Corvus corax._ The Raven.
  2. _Corvus corone._ The Carrion Crow.
  3. _Corvus frugilegus._ The Rook.
  4. _Corvus comix._ The Hooded Crow.
  5. _Corvus monedula._ The Jackdaw.
  6. _Graculus eremita._ The Red-billed Chough.
  7. _Pyrrhocorax alpinus._ The Yellow-billed Chough.
  8. _Pica rustica._ The Magpie.
  9. _Regulus cristatus._ The Goldcrest.
  10. _Lanius collurio._ The Red-backed Shrike.
  11. _Ampelis garrulus._ The Waxwing.
  12. _Oriolus galbula._ The Golden Oriole.
  13. _Pastor roseus._ The Rose-coloured Starling.
  14. _Siphia parva._ The European Red-breasted Flycatcher.
  15. _Muscicapa grisola._ The Spotted Flycatcher.
  16. _Geocichla sibirica._ The Siberian Ground Thrush.
  17. _Monticola saxatilis._ The Rock Thrush.
  18. _Saxicola aenanthe._ The Wheatear.
  19. _Cyanecula wolfi._ The White spotted Bluethroat.
  20. _Turdus viscivorus._ The Missel Thrush.
  21. _Turdus pilaris._ The Fieldfare.
  22. _Turdus iliacus._ The Redwing.
  23. _Linota cannabina._ The Linnet.
  24. _Passer montanus._ The Tree Sparrow.
  25. _Passer domesticus._ The House Sparrow.
  26. _Emberiza schoeniclus._ The Reed Bunting.
  27. _Emberiza pusilla._ The Dwarf Bunting.
  28. _Emberiza hortulana._ The Ortolan Bunting.
  29. _Emberiza melanocephala._ The Black-headed Bunting
  30. _Fringilla montifringilla._ The Brambling.
  31. _Alauda arvensis._ The Skylark.
  32. _Calandrella brachydactyla._ The Short-toed Lark.
  33. _Galerita cristata._ The Crested Lark.
  34. _Anthus trivialis._ The Tree Pipit.
  35. _Anthus richardi._ Richard’s Pipit.
  36. _Anthus campestris._ The Tawny Pipit.
  37. _Anthus spinoletta._ The Water Pipit.
  38. _Anthus pratensis._ The Meadow Pipit.
  39. _Hirundo rustica._ The Swallow.
  40. _Cotile riparia._ The Sand Martin.
  41. _Chelidon urbica._ The Martin.
  42. _Motacilla alba._ The White Wagtail.
  43. _Motacilla melanope._ The Grey Wagtail.
  44. _Motacilla borealis._ The Grey-headed Wagtail.
  45. _Motacilla flava._ The Blue-headed Wagtail.
  46. _Iynx torquilla._ The Wryneck.
  47. _Merops phillippinus._ The Blue-tailed Bee-eater.
  48. _Merops apiaster._ The European Bee-eater.
  49. _Upupa epops._ The Hoopoe.
  50. _Coracias garrula._ The European Roller.
  51. _Cypselus alpinus._ The Alpine Swift.
  52. _Cypselus apus._ The European Swift.
  53. _Caprimulgus europaeus._ The European Nightjar.
  54. _Strix flammea._ The Barn Owl.
  55. _Scops giu._ The Scops Owl.
  56. _Asio otus._ The Long-eared Owl.
  57. _Asio accipitrinus._ The Short-eared Owl.
  58. _Bubo ignavus._ The Eagle Owl.
  59. _Nyctea scandiaca._ The Snowy Owl.
  60. _Alcedo ispida._ The Common Kingfisher.
  61. _Cuculus canorus._ The Cuckoo.
  62. _Gyps fulvus._ The Griffon Vulture.
  63. _Neophron percnopterus._ The Egyptian Vulture.
  64. _Milvus migrans._ The Black Kite.
  65. _Haliaetus albicilla._ The White-tailed Sea Eagle.
  66. _Pandion haliaetus._ The Osprey.
  67. _Accipiter nisus._ The Sparrow Hawk.
  68. _Astur palumbarius._ The Goshawk.
  69. _Aquila chrysætus._ The Golden Eagle.
  70. _Aquila maculata._ The Large Spotted Eagle.
  71. _Buteo desertorum._ The Common Buzzard.
  72. _Circus cineraceus._ Montagu’s Harrier.
  73. _Circus cyaneus._ The Hen Harrier.
  74. _Circus aeruginosus._ The Marsh Harrier.
  75. _Elanus caeruleus._ The Black-winged Kite.
  76. _Falco peregrinus._ The Peregrine Falcon.
  77. _Falco subbuteo._ The Hobby.
  78. _Aesalon regulus._ The Merlin.
  79. _Tinnunculus alaudaris._ The Kestrel.
  80. _Tinnunculus cenchris._ The Lesser Kestrel.
  81. _Columbia livia._ The Blue Rock Pigeon.
  82. _Turtur communis._ The Turtle Dove.
  83. _Coturnix communis._ The Quail.
  84. _Rallus aquaticus._ The Water-Rail.
  85. _Crex pratensis._ The Corn Crake.
  86. _Porzana parva._ The Little Crake.
  87. _Porzana maruetta._ The Spotted Crake.
  88. _Fulica atra._ The Coot.
  89. _Gallinula chloropus._ The Moorhen.
  90. _Grus communis._ The Crane.
  91. _Anthropoides virgo._ The Demoiselle Crane.
  92. _Otis tarda._ The Great Bustard.
  93. _Otis tetrax._ The Little Bustard.
  94. _Oedicnemus scolopa._ The Stone Curlew.
  95. _Glareola pratincola._ The Pratincole.
  96. _Cursorius gallicus._ The Cream-coloured Courser.
  97. _Strepsilas interpres._ The Turnstone.
  98. _Charadrius fulvus._ The Eastern Golden Plover.
  99. _Charadrius pluvialis._ The Golden Plover.
  100. _Vanellus vulgaris._ The Lapwing.
  101. _Squatarola helvitica._ The Grey Plover.
  102. _Aegialitis alexandrina._ The Kentish Plover.
  103. _Aegialitis dubia._ The Little Ringed Plover.
  104. _Aegialitis hiaticula._ The Ringed Plover.
  105. _Haematopus ostralegus._ The Oystercatcher.
  106. _Himantopus candidus._ The Black-winged Stilt.
  107. _Limosa belgica._ The Black-tailed Godwit.
  108. _Limosa lapponica._ The Bar-tailed Godwit.
  109. _Numenius arquata._ The Curlew,
  110. _Numenius phaeopus._ The Whimbrel.
  111. _Recurvirostra avocetta._ The Avocet.
  112. _Totanus hypoleucus._ The Common Sandpiper.
  113. _Totanus glareola._ The Wood Sandpiper.
  114. _Totanus ochropus._ The Green Sandpiper.
  115. _Totanus calidris._ The Redshank.
  116. _Totanus fuscus._ The Spotted Redshank.
  117. _Totanus glottis._ The Greenshank.
  118. _Tringa minuta._ The Little Stint.
  119. _Tringa temmincki._ Temminck’s Stint.
  120. _Tringa subarquata._ The Curlew Stint.
  121. _Tringa alpina._ The Dunlin.
  122. _Tringa platyrhyncha._ The Broad-billed Stint.
  123. _Calidris arenaria._ The Sanderling.
  124. _Pavoncella pugnax._ The Ruff.
  125. _Phalaropus hyperboreus._ The Red-necked Phalarope.
  126. _Phalaropus fulicarius._ The Grey Phalarope.
  127. _Scolopax rusticula._ The Woodcock.
  128. _Gallinago coelestis._ The Common Snipe.
  129. _Gallinago gallinula._ The Jack Snipe.
  130. _Larus ichthyaetus._ The Great Black-billed Gull.
  131. _Larus ridibundus._ The Laughing Gull.
  132. _Larus affinis._ The Dark-backed Herring Gull.
  133. _Hydrochelidon hybrida._ The Whiskered Tern.
  134. _Hydrochelidon leucoptera._ The White-winged Black Tern.
  135. _Sterna angelica._ The Gull-billed Tern.
  136. _Sterna cantiaca._ The Sandwich Tern.
  137. _Sterna fluviatilis._ The Common Tern.
  138. _Sterna dougalli._ The Roseate Tern.
  139. _Sterna minuta._ The Little Tern.
  140. _Sterna fuliginosa._ The Sooty Tern.
  141. _Hydroprogne caspia._ The Caspian Tern.
  142. _Stercorarius crepidatus._ Richardson’s Skua.
  143. _Stercorarius pomatorhinus._ The Pomatorhine Skua.
  144. _Oceanites oceanicus._ Wilson’s Petrel.
  145. _Anous stolidus._ The Noddy.
  146. _Phalacrocorax carbo._ The Cormorant.
  147. _Platalea leucorodia._ The Spoonbill.
  148. _Nycticorax griseus._ The Night Heron.
  149. _Ardea manillensis._ The Purple Heron.
  150. _Ardea cinerea._ The Common Heron.
  151. _Herodias alba._ The Large Egret.
  152. _Herodias garzetta._ The Little Egret.
  153. _Bulbulcus coromnandus._ The Cattle Egret.
  154. _Ardetta minuta._ The Little Bittern.
  155. _Ciconia alba._ The White Stork.
  156. _Ciconia nigra._ The Black Stork.
  157. _Plegadis falcinellus._ The Glossy Ibis.
  158. _Phoenicopterus roseus._ The Flamingo.
  159. _Cygnus olor._ The Mute Swan.
  160. _Cygnus musicus._ The Whooper.
  161. _Anser ferus._ The Grey-lag Goose.
  162. _Anser albifrons._ The White-fronted Goose.
  163. _Anser erythropus._ The Lesser White-fronted Goose.
  164. _Anser brachyrhynchus._ The Pink-footed Goose.
  165. _Tadorna cornuta._ The Sheld-Duck.
  166. _Casarca rutila._ The Brahminy Duck.
  167. _Mareca penelope._ The Widgeon.
  168. _Anas boscas._ The Mallard.
  169. _Chaulelasmus streperus._ The Gadwall.
  170. _Nyroca ferruginea._ The White-eyed Duck.
  171. _Nyroca ferina._ The Pochard.
  172. _Nyroca marila._ The Scaup.
  173. _Nyroca fuligula._ The Tufted Duck.
  174. _Netta rufina._ The Red-crested Pochard.
  175. _Dafila acuta._ The Pintail.
  176. _Clangula glaucion._ The Golden-Eye.
  177. _Spatula clypeata._ The Shoveller.
  178. _Querquedula urcia._ The Garganey Teal.
  179. _Nettium crecca._ The Common Teal.
  180. _Podiceps cristatus._ The Great Crested Grebe.
  181. _Podiceps nigricollis._ The Eared Grebe.
  182. _Mergus albellus._ The Smew.
  183. _Merganser castor._ The Goosander.
  184. _Merganser serrator._ The Red-breasted Merganser.



                                GLOSSARY


_Babul._ _Acacia arabica._ A thorny tree.

_Badmash._ A bad character, a ruffian.

_Barsath._ Rain.

_Bhabar._ The waterless tract of forest-clad land between the Himalayas
and the _Terai_. It is from ten to fifteen miles in breadth and higher
than the general level of the plains.

_Chaprassi._ Lit. a badgeman. A servant who runs messages, an orderly.

_Chik._ A number of thin pieces of bamboo strung together to form a
curtain. Thin chiks are usually hung in front of doors in India with the
object of keeping out flies but not air. Chiks of stouter make are hung
from the verandah in order to keep out the sun.

_Chit._ Short for _Chitti_, a letter or testimonial.

_Coolie._ An unskilled labourer.

_Dhak._ _Butea frondosa._ A common tree in low jungle.

_Dhobi._ Washerman.

_Dirzie._ Tailor.

_Farash._ _Tamarix indica._

_Gali galoj._ Abuse.

_Jhil._ A lake, broad tank, or any natural depression which is filled
with rain water at certain seasons or permanently.

_Kankar, or Kunkar._ Lumps of limestone with which roads are metalled in
Northern India.

_Kannaut._ The sides of a tent.

_Khansamah._ Cook.

_Khud._ A deep valley.

_Mali._ Gardener.

_Murghi._ Barndoor Fowl.

_Neem._ _Azadirachta melia_, a common tree in India.

_Paddy._ Growing rice.

_Puggarree._ A turban.

_Ryot._ A cultivator, small farmer.

_Sal._ The iron-wood tree (_Shorea robusta_).

_Sahib._ Master, sir, gentleman; a term used to denote a European.

_Shikar._ Hunting or shooting.

_Shikari._ (1) The man who goes hunting or shooting. (2) The native who
accompanies him and directs the beat.

_Terai._ Lit. “Moist land.” A marshy tract of land about twelve miles
broad, between the _Bhabar_ and the plains proper. It is low-lying.

_Tiffin._ Lunch.

_Topi._ A sun-helmet.


With the exception of _British Birds in the Plains of India_, which
appeared in _The Civil and Military Gazette_, and _The Indian Corby,
Birds in the Rain_, and _Do Animals Think?_ which came out in _The Times
of India_, the articles which compose this book made their _debût_ in one
or other of the following papers: _The Madras Mail_, _The Indian Field_,
_The Englishman_.

The author takes this opportunity of thanking the editors of the
above-named newspapers for permission to reproduce these essays.



                                 INDEX


                                   A
  _Acridotheres tristis_, 94
  Adjutant, 29-35
  Aitken, Mr. Benjamin, 165
  Aitken, Mr. E. H., 100, 164
  _Alauda arvensis_, 5
  _Alauda gulgula_, 5
  _Alcedo ispida_, 5
  Amadavat, 17, 20, 46-51, 52, 165
  Anderson, Mr. A., 126
  _Aquila chrysætus_, 175
  _Aquila vindhiana_, 175
  _Arachnechthra asiatica_, 79, 80
  _Arachnechthra lotenia_, 79
  _Arachnechthra zeylonica_, 80
  _Ardea cinerea_, 6
  _Ardeola grayii_, 115
  _Argya caudata_, 127
  _Athene brama_, 24, 142
  Automata, birds as, 104-110
  Avicultural Society’s Magazine, 74


                                    B
  Babbler, 181
  Babbler, common, 127
  Babbler, striated bush-, 127
  Barnes, 74
  Baya, 183-189, 219, 221
  Bee-eater, blue-tailed, 212
  Bee-eater, little green, 208-212
  Bingham, Major C.T., 210
  Biology, dogmatism of, 129
  Blackbird, 1, 107
  Blackwell, Mr., 110
  Blanford, 203
  “Blue Jay,” 10-15, 84
  Blyth, 30
  Bonelli’s eagle, 175
  Bottle bird, 185
  _Brachypternus aurantius_, 86
  Brain-fever bird, 117
  Bulbul, 1, 166, 229-234
  Bulbul, black, 229
  Bulbul, green, 229
  Bulbul, red-vented, 229-234
  Bulbul, red-whiskered, 228-234
  Bulbul, white-browed, 229
  Burroughs, Mr. John, 213
  Butcher bird, 163-167
  Butler, Colonel, 211
  Buzzard, 6
  Buzzard, white-eyed, 176


                                    C
  _Caccabis chucar_, 89
  _Centropus phasianus_, 207
  _Cercomela fusca_, 130
  Chaffinch, 1
  _Chambers’s Journal_, 30
  Character, bird of, 94-98
  Chick, 113
  Chicken, 113, 116
  Chukor, 89, 90
  Cobbler, 62
  Colouration, protective, 59, 128
  _Columba intermedia_, 6
  _Columba livia_, 6
  Coot, 14
  _Coracias indica_, 12, 54
  Corby, Indian, 235-239
  _Corvus_, 112, 142, 145, 147, 176, 237
  _Corvus corax_, 4
  _Corvus lawrencii_, 4
  _Corvus macrorhynchus_, 235, 236, 238
  _Corvus splendens_, 5, 111, 176, 235
  _Coturnix communis_, 7
  Cowper, 92
  Craftsmen, a couple of neglected, 219-223
  Cranes, 35-37
  Crow, 5, 24-26, 30, 40, 68, 95, 106, 111-115, 118-123, 142, 144,
          145-149, 175, 176, 179, 180, 184, 190, 191, 197, 213, 214,
          235-239
  Cuckoo, 9, 24, 107, 108, 117, 118, 120
  Cuckoo, drongo-, 202-207
  Cuckoo, playing, 111-116, 133
  Cullen, Rev. C. D., 165
  Cunningham, Colonel, 31, 32, 118, 164, 184, 190
  _Cypselus affinis_, 101
  _Cypselus batassiensis_, 101


                                    D
  Darwin, Charles, 158, 160
  Darwinian theory, 23, 129
  Davison, 74, 203
  Deceiver, gay, 202-207
  _Dendrocita rufa_, 68
  _Dicrurus_, 203
  Did-he-do-it, 56-61
  Difficulties of bird photography, 225
  Dimorphism, sexual, 80, 81, 128, 156
  Dog, 215, 216
  Dogmatism of biology, 129
  Don Quixote, 31
  Dove, 12, 124-129
  Dove, little brown, 124-134
  Dove, red turtle, 128, 129
  Dove, ring-, 124-129
  Dove, spotted, 124-129
  Dragon-fly, 181
  Drongo,139
  Drongo-cuckoo, 202-207
  Duck, 8, 168, 169


                                    E
  Eagle, 54, 173-177
  Eagle, Bonelli’s, 175, 177
  Eagle, golden, 175
  Eagle, tawny, 176, 177
  Edible birds’ nests, 102
  “Eha,” 29, 48, 57, 131, 220, 230
  _Endynamis honorata_, 111, 117


                                    F
  Falcon, 6, 54
  Fauna of British India, 158
  Feminine selection, 160
  Finn, Mr. Frank, 75, 232
  Firefly, 188, 189
  Flycatcher, paradise, 13, 81, 150-162
  Flycatcher, white-browed fantailed, 146, 158
  Fowl’s egg, 113, 114
  Fox, 54
  _Francolinus pondicerianus_, 90
  _Fulica atra_, 5


                                    G
  Gadwall, 8, 171
  _Galerita cristata_, 7
  _Gallinago coelestis_, 8
  _Gallinago gallinula_, 8
  Godwin, Earl, 169
  Goose, grey-lag, 8
  Grackle, 98
  Grahame, 92
  Green parrot, 88, 190-196, 197
  Grey partridge, 90-93
  Grouse, 93
  Grouse, red, 1
  Guinea-fowl, 93


                                    H
  _Halcyon smyrnensis_, 4
  _Harper’s Magazine_, 213
  Harrier, hen, 6
  Harrier, marsh, 6
  Hawk-cuckoo, 117
  Hawkes, Mr. S. M., 172
  Hawk, sparrow-, 6
  Headley, Mr. F. W., 54
  Heron, 6
  Herrick, Mr. F. H., 225, 226, 227
  Hewer of wood, 84
  _Hieraëtus fasciatus_, 175
  _Hierococcyx varius_, 117
  Hill-myna, 98
  Home Life of Birds, 225
  Homer, 57
  _Homo sapiens_, 140
  Honeysucker, 78-83, 166
  Hoopoe, 14, 84, 182
  Hornbill, 166
  House martin, 110
  Hudson, Mr. W. H., 107, 108
  Hume, 18, 74, 129, 137, 189, 193
  Humming-bird, 78
  Hutton, Captain, 192


                                    I
  Instinct, 27, 107, 109, 121
      — maternal, 110
      — parasitic, 120, 121
      — parental, 27, 104
  Isolation, 232


                                    J
  Jackdaw, 4, 5
  Jay, blue, 10-15, 84
  Jerdon, 38, 69, 70, 74, 137, 140, 164, 175, 183, 188, 210
  Jesse, 222
  Jungle crow, 235-239


                                    K
  Kearton, Mr. R., 105, 106
  Kestrel, 6, 175
  King-crow, 12, 40, 138, 139, 203-207
  Kingfisher, 3, 144
  Kingfisher, white-breasted, 4, 86
  Kipling, Lockwood, 31, 91
  Kite, 12, 106, 144-149, 166, 175, 177
  Koel, 111-115


                                    L
  Lal munia, 46
  _Lanius lahtora_, 165
  _Lanius vittatus_, 163, 165
  Lapwing, 166
  Lapwing, red-wattled, 56-61
  Lapwing, yellow-wattled, 57
  Larder, shrike’s, 163-165
  Lark, crested, 7
  Legge, 74
  _Leptoptilus dubius_, 29
  _Leptoptilus javanicus_, 34
  Lilford, Lord, 143
  _Lobivanellus goensis_, 56
  Lockwood Kipling, 31, 91


                                    M
  Magpie, 68-72
  Magpie-robin, 84
  Mallard, 8
  Malvolio, 31
  Martin, 100, 110
  Merlin, 6
  Merops, emerald, 208-212
  _Merops philippinus_, 212
  _Merops viridis_, 208-212
  Milk, pigeon’s, 131
  Minah, brahminy, 166
  Minivet, 161
  _Molpastes_, 229-234
  _Molpastes hæmorrhous_, 231
  _Molpastes indicus_, 231
  _Molpastes intermedius_, 231
  Monarch, dethroned, 173-177
  _Motacilla maderaspatensis_, 26
  Munia, red, 45-51
  Munia, spotted, 52-55
  Myna, 1, 40, 84, 86, 94-98, 181, 197


                                    N
  Natural Selection, 23, 24, 42, 105, 109, 129, 202-207, 232, 234
  Neo-Darwinian School, 124, 128
  Nest, sanitation of, 224
  Nests, birds in their, 224-228
  Nests, edible birds’, 102
  Newman, Mr. T. H., 75
  Nutmeg bird, 52-55


                                    O
  Oates, 158
  _Œnopopelia tranquebarica_, 128
  Oriole, black-headed, 135
  Oriole, Indian, 13, 134-139
  _Oriolus kundoo_, 135
  _Oriolus melanocephalus_, 135
  _Orthotomus_, 222
  _Orthotomus sutorius_, 62-67, 219
  _Otocompsa_, 229-34
  _Otocompsa emeria_, 231
  _Otocompsa fuscicaudata_, 231
  Owl, barn, 3, 140-144
  Owl, screech, 144
  Owl, white, 141, 142
  Owlet, spotted, 94, 142


                                    P
  Paddy bird, 115, 116
  _Palæornis nepalensis_, 194
  _Palæornis torquatus_, 194
  Palm swift, 101
  Paradise flycatcher, 13, 81, 150-162
  Parakeet, 1
  Parental instinct, 27, 104
  Paroquet, Alexandrine, 194
  Paroquet, rose-ringed, 194
  Parrot, 95, 184
  Parrot catching, 194
  Parrot, green, 88, 166, 190-196, 197
  Parrot, West African, 195
  Partridge, grey, 90-93, 166
  _Passer domesticus_, 2, 75, 76
  Peacock, 42-44
  Peafowl, 93
  Pearson, Professor, 42, 44
  Peregrine falcon, 6
  _Pericrocotus peregrinus_, 161
  Pheasant, 92, 144
  Photography, difficulties of bird, 225
  _Pica rustica_, 68
  Pie, tree, 68-72
  Pigeon, 6, 133, 134, 184
  Pintail, 8
  Pinto, Mr. G. A., 63, 64, 66, 158
  Pipit, 7
  Playing cuckoo, 111-116
  _Ploceus baya_, 183, 219
  Plover, Kentish, 9
  Plover, ringed, 9
  Pochard, white-eyed, 171
  _Prinia inornata_, 219
  _Prinia socialis_, 222
  Protective colouration, 59, 93, 128


                                    Q
  Quail, 7, 93


                                    R
  Rain, birds in the, 178-182
  Raven, 3, 4
  Red munia, 46-51, 52-54
  Redshank, 9
  Reid, 74, 222
  _Rhipidura albifrontata_, 146, 158
  Robin, Indian, 128
  Robin redbreast, 1, 107
  Rock chat, brown, 130
  Roller, 12
  Rook, 4, 5


                                    S
  Salvadori, 74
  Sandpiper, 9
  Sanyal, Babu, 38, 39
  _Sarciophorus malabaricus_, 57
  _Sarcogrammus indicus_, 56
  Sarus, 35-39
  Selection, feminine, 160, 161
  Selection, natural, 23, 24, 42, 105, 109, 129, 202-207, 232, 234
  Selection, sexual, 42, 160, 161, 205-207
  “Seven sisters,” 1
  Sexual dimorphism, 80, 81, 128, 156
  Sexual selection, 42, 160, 161, 205-207
  Shikra, 175
  Shrike, 164-167
  Shrike, bay-backed, 165
  Shrike, Indian grey-backed, 165
  Shrike, rufous-backed, 165
  Shoveller, 8
  Sisters, seven, 1
  Skylark, 5
  Skylark, Indian, 5
  Smell, sense of, in birds, 123
  Smith, Mr. Bosworth, 141
  Snipe, full, 8
  Snipe, Jack, 8
  Sparrow, 2, 3, 16-22, 75, 76, 143, 197-201
  Sparrow, hedge, 185
  Sparrow-hawk, 6, 166, 175, 200
  _Spectator_, 168, 169
  Spice bird, 52-55
  _Sporæginthus amandava_, 46
  Spotted-bill duck, 171
  Spotted owlet, 94
  Sprinter, feathered, 89-94
  Stability of species, 40-45
  Starling, 88, 106
  Stint, 9
  Stork, 35, 36
  _Strix flammea_, 3, 141
  _Strix javanica_, 141
  Sunbird, 78-83
  _Surniculus lugubris_, 202-207
  Swallow, 84, 99, 100
  Swift, 84, 99-103


                                    T
  Tailor-bird, 62-67, 137, 219
  Teal, 8
  Terminology, ornithological, 73
  _Terpsiphone paradisi_, 81, 156
  _Tetrao scoticus_, 1
  _Thamnobia cambayensis_, 128, 130
  Think, Do animals? 213-218
  Thirst of young birds, assuaging of, 225-228
  Thorndike, Professor, 214
  Thrush, 1, 105, 106
  Tit, blue, 1
  Tragedy, tree-top, 145-149
  Tree creeper, 84
  Turkey, 93
  Turtle dove, red, 128
  _Turtur cambayensis_, 125
  _Turtur decaocta_, 74, 75
  _Turtur risorius_, 74, 75, 124
  _Turtur suratensis_, 124


                                    U
  _Uroloncha pundulata_, 52


                                    V
  Vidal, 74
  Vulture, 175


                                    W
  Wagtail, 7
  Wagtail, pied, 26, 27, 180
  Wallace, 161
  Warbler, 219, 220
  Weaver-bird, 137, 183-189, 219
  “White ant,” 182
  White-breasted kingfisher, 4, 86
  Widgeon, 8
  Woodpecker, golden-backed, 84-88
  Wren, 1, 219
  Wren-warbler, ashy, 222, 223
  Wren-warbler, Indian, 219-222
  Wryneck, 84


                           _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

  BOMBAY DUCKS: An account of some of the Every-day Birds and Beasts
  found in a Naturalist’s El Dorado · With Numerous Illustrations from
  Photographs of Living Birds by Captain F. D. S. Fayrer, I.M.S.

  ANIMALS OF NO IMPORTANCE

  THE INDIAN CROW: HIS BOOK


                      THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE

It has long been a reproach to England that only one volume by ANATOLE
FRANCE has been adequately rendered into English; yet outside this
country he shares with TOLSTOI the distinction of being the greatest and
most daring student of humanity now living.

¶ There have been many difficulties to encounter in completing
arrangements for a uniform edition, though perhaps the chief barrier to
publication here has been the fact that his writings are not for
babes—but for men and the mothers of men. Indeed, some of his Eastern
romances are written with biblical candour. “I have sought truth
strenuously,” he tells us, “I have met her boldly. I have never turned
from her even when she wore an unexpected aspect.” Still, it is believed
that the day has come for giving English versions of all his imaginative
works, and of his monumental study JOAN OF ARC, which is undoubtedly the
most discussed book in the world of letters to-day.

¶ MR. JOHN LANE has pleasure in announcing that he will commence
publication of the works of M. ANATOLE FRANCE in English, under the
general editorship of MR. FREDERIC CHAPMAN, with the following volumes:


  THE RED LILY
  MOTHER OF PEARL
  THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS
  THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD
  THE WELL OF ST. CLARE
  THE OPINIONS OF JEROME COIGNARD
  JOCASTA AND THE FAMISHED CAT
  BALTHASAR
  THE ASPIRATIONS OF JEAN SERVIEN
  THE ELM TREE ON THE MALL
  MY FRIEND’S BOOK
  THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN
  THAÏS
  AT THE SIGN OF THE QUEEN PÉDAUQUE
  JOAN OF ARC (2 vols.)


¶ All the books will be published at 6/- each with the exception of JOAN
OF ARC, which will be 25/- net the two volumes, with eight Illustrations.

¶ The format of the volumes leaves little to be desired. The size is Demy
8vo (9 × 5¾ in.), that of this Prospectus, and they will be printed from
Caslon type upon a paper light in weight and strong in texture, with a
cover design in crimson and gold, a gilt top, end-papers from designs by
Aubrey Beardsley and initials by Henry Ospovat. In short, these are
volumes for the bibliophile as well as the lover of fiction, and form
perhaps the cheapest library edition of copyright novels ever published,
for the price is only that of an ordinary novel.

¶ The translation of these books has been entrusted to such competent
French scholars as MR. ALFRED ALLINSON, HON. MAURICE BARING, MR. FREDERIC
CHAPMAN, MR. ROBERT B. DOUGLAS, MR. A. W. EVANS, MRS. FARLEY, MRS. JOHN
LANE, MRS. NEWMARCH, MR. C. E. ROCHE, MISS WINIFRED STEPHENS, and MISS M.
P. WILLCOCKS.

¶ As Anatole Thibault, _dit_ Anatole France, is to most English readers
merely a name, it will be well to state that he was born in 1844 in the
picturesque and inspiring surroundings of an old bookshop on the Quai
Voltaire, Paris, kept by his father, Monsieur Thibault, an authority on
eighteenth-century history, from whom the boy caught the passion for the
principles of the Revolution, while from his mother he was learning to
love the ascetic ideals chronicled in the Lives of the Saints. He was
schooled with the lovers of old books, missals and manuscripts; he
matriculated on the Quais with the old Jewish dealers of curios and
_objets d’art_; he graduated in the great university of life and
experience. It will be recognised that all his work is permeated by his
youthful impressions; he is, in fact, a virtuoso at large.

¶ He has written about thirty volumes of fiction. His first novel was
JOCASTA & THE FAMISHED CAT (1879). THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD
appeared in 1881, and had the distinction of being crowned by the French
Academy, into which he was received in 1896.

¶ His work is illuminated with style, scholarship, and psychology; but
its outstanding features are the lambent wit, the gay mockery, the genial
irony with which he touches every subject he treats. But the wit is never
malicious, the mockery never derisive, the irony never barbed. To quote
from his own GARDEN OF EPICURUS: “Irony and Pity are both of good
counsel; the first with her smiles makes life agreeable, the other
sanctifies it to us with her tears. The Irony I invoke is no cruel deity.
She mocks neither love nor beauty. She is gentle and kindly disposed. Her
mirth disarms anger and it is she teaches us to laugh at rogues and fools
whom but for her we might be so weak as to hate.”

¶ Often he shows how divine humanity triumphs over mere ascetism, and
with entire reverence; indeed, he might be described as an ascetic
overflowing with humanity, just as he has been termed a “pagan, but a
pagan constantly haunted by the pre-occupation of Christ.” He is in
turn—like his own Choulette in THE RED LILY—saintly and Rabelaisian, yet
without incongruity. At all times he is the unrelenting foe of
superstition and hypocrisy. Of himself he once modestly said: “You will
find in my writings perfect sincerity (lying demands a talent I do not
possess), much indulgence, and some natural affection for the beautiful
and good.”

¶ The mere extent of an author’s popularity is perhaps a poor argument,
yet it is significant that two books by this author are in their HUNDRED
AND TENTH THOUSAND, and numbers of them well into their SEVENTIETH
THOUSAND, whilst the one which a Frenchman recently described as
“Monsieur France’s most arid book” is in its FIFTY-EIGHTH THOUSAND.

¶ Inasmuch as M. FRANCE’S ONLY contribution to an English periodical
appeared in THE YELLOW BOOK, vol. v., April 1895, together with the first
important English appreciation of his work from the pen of the Hon.
Maurice Baring, it is peculiarly appropriate that the English edition of
his works should be issued from the Bodley Head.


                               ORDER FORM

                          _________________190

  _To Mr.________________________
            _Bookseller_

_Please send me the following works of Anatole France to be issued in
June and July_:


  THE RED LILY
  MOTHER OF PEARL
  THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS
  THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD


_for which I enclose________

      _Name_______________________

      _Address____________________

       JOHN LANE, Publisher, The Bodley Head, Vigo St. London, W.


                              BOMBAY DUCKS

      AN ACCOUNT OF SOME OF THE EVERYDAY BIRDS & BEASTS FOUND IN A
                         NATURALIST’S EL DORADO

                    BY DOUGLAS DEWAR, F.Z.S., I.C.S.

            With Numerous Illustrations from Photographs of
            Living Birds by Captain F. D. S. Fayrer, I.M.S.


                            PRESS OPINIONS.

_Spectator._—“Mr. Douglas Dewar’s book is excellent. . . . A feature of
the book is the photographs of birds by Captain Fayrer. They are most
remarkable, and quite unlike the usual wretched snapshot and blurred
reproductions with which too many naturalists’ books are nowadays
illustrated.”

_Standard._—“The East has ever been a place of wonderment, but the writer
of ‘Bombay Ducks’ brings before Western eyes a new set of pictures. . . .
The book is entertaining, even to the reader who is not a naturalist
first and a reader afterwards. . . . The illustrations cannot be too
highly praised.”

_Daily News._—“This new and sumptuous book. . . . Mr. Dewar gives us a
charming introduction to a great many interesting birds.”

_Pall Mall Gazette._—“Most entertaining dissertations on the tricks and
manners of many birds and beasts in India.”

_Graphic._—“The book is written in a most readable style, light and easy,
yet full of information, and not overburdened with scientific words and
phrases. . . . The habits of the different birds are fully described,
often in a very amusing and interesting manner.”

_Outlook._—“Pleasant reading, with pretty touches of the author’s own
fancy; a good deal of information agreeably conveyed. . . . The
illustrations are of an extremely high order, constituting not only a
beautiful, but a really valuable series of portraits.”

_County Gentleman._—“Thoroughly entertaining to all who can appreciate
either animal life as seen through practised eyes, or witty and humorous
writing in any form. . . . The book is handsomely produced, and is
altogether an attractive acquisition.”

_Illustrated London News._—“Mr. Dewar . . . has collected a series of
essays on bird life which for sprightliness and charm are equal to
anything written since that classic, ‘The Tribes on my Frontier,’ was
published.”

_Indian Daily News._—“Mr. Dewar’s excellent book. . . . We sincerely hope
that our readers will derive the same lively pleasure from the reading of
this book as we have done.”

_Yorkshire Daily Observer._—“This handsome and charming book . . . the
author has many interesting observations to record, and he does so in a
very racy manner.”

_Dublin Express._—“Mr. Dewar’s account of the ‘Naturalist’s El Dorado’ is
particularly captivating, and is rendered not the less so by the
splendidly produced photographs of living birds.”

_Manchester Guardian._—“. . . A series of clever and accurate essays on
Indian natural history written by a man who really knows the birds and
beasts. . . .”

_Shooting Times._—“. . . a more delightful work than ‘Bombay Ducks’ has
not passed through our hands for many a long day, and the way the themes
are written are so much to the point. There is not a dull line in the
book, which is beautifully illustrated. . . .”

_Truth._—“. . . A naturalist with a happy gift for writing in a bright
and entertaining way, yet without any sacrifice of scientific accuracy. .
. .”

_Western Daily Press._—“. . . The descriptions of the habits and
characteristics of these ‘Bombay Ducks’ is a solid and welcome
contribution to science, quite as valuable as the dry-as-dust
descriptions of new species. . . .”


                              INDIAN BOOKS

  KASHMIR: The Land of Streams and Solitudes. By P. Pirie. With
  Twenty-five Full-page Plates in Colour, and upwards of 100 other
  Illustrations by H. R. Pirie. Crown 4to (10 x 6½ in.). 21s. net.

  _This book is the result of three years’ wandering on the outposts of
  civilization, where author and artist proceeded by special permission
  of the Governor of India, thus being enabled to penetrate far into the
  wilds, especially along the Gilgit road, where, as a rule, none but a
  sportsman or an officer on duty penetrates. The volume has numerous
  illustrations reproduced in colour, line, and half-tone, and forms a
  work in which Kashmir is described by pen, pencil, and brush. In the
  colour illustrations the artist has caught the atmosphere as well as
  the natural features of the country she so ably portrays._

  RIFLE & ROMANCE IN THE INDIAN JUNGLE: Being the Record of Thirteen
  Years of Indian Jungle Life. By Captain A. I. R. Glasfurd (Indian
  Army). With numerous Illustrations by the Author and Reproductions from
  Photographs. New and Cheaper Edition. Crown 8vo. 7s. 6d. net.

  ORNITHOLOGICAL AND OTHER ODDITIES. By Frank Finn, B.A. (Oxon.), F.Z.S.,
  late Deputy-Superintendent of the Indian Museum, Calcutta. With
  numerous Illustrations from Photographs. Demy 8vo. 10s. 6d. net.

  CEYLON: The Paradise of Adam. The Record of Seven Years’ Residence in
  the Island. By Caroline Corner. With Sixteen Full-page Illustrations.
  Reproduced from Photographs. Demy 8vo (9 x 5¾ in.). 10s. 6d. net.

  _A comprehensive account of Life in Ceylon, written in a breezy and
  bracing style. Almost every variety of subject interesting to human
  nature one finds within its pages. The domestic life of the
  Anglo-Cingalese, with its attendant worries in connection with the
  native servants, is graphically and humorously portrayed. Many a hint
  from this alone may be taken by the unsophisticated European
  contemplating residence or even a visit to the Paradise of Adam, a hint
  that might be of value in the expenditure of both time and rupees. The
  narrative of the authoress’s gipsying in the jungle is intensely
  interesting, instructive, and funny. In the many adventures narrated
  one gets a keen insight into the lives and characteristics of peoples
  beyond the pale and ken of the ordinary European in Ceylon. The
  authoress makes it her business to see and become intimate with all:
  hence this original and unique volume. With the hand of a born artist
  she depicts scenes never yet brought before the notice, much less the
  actual vision, of Europeans, for in this lovely Island there are wheels
  within wheels, forming a complexity which, though a crazy patchwork, is
  fascinating as it is picturesque. Caroline Corner secured the golden
  key to this unexplored labyrinth, and by its magic turn opened for
  others the portals of this wonderful Paradise of Adam._


                     JOHN LANE: LONDON AND NEW YORK



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Retained publisher information from the printed copy (the electronic
  edition is in the public domain in the country of publication).

--Corrected some palpable typos, including several botanical names.

--Moved all promotional material to the end of the book.

--In the text versions only, represented text font and size variations
  (the HTML version preserves the presentation of the original):

--Text in italics is delimited by _underscores_.

--Subscripted numbers are preceded by an underscore, as in the formula
  for water “H_2O”.

--Superscripted numbers are preceded by a caret, as in “45^o”.





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