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Title: A Year with the Birds - Third Edition, Enlarged
Author: Fowler, W. Warde (William Warde)
Language: English
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             [Illustration: Fox and Snow-finches.—p. 100.]

                                 A YEAR
                             WITH THE BIRDS

                            W. WARDE FOWLER
                  AUTHOR OF “TALES OF THE BIRDS,” ETC.

“L’uccello ha maggior copia di vita esteriore e interiore, che non hanno
gli altri animali. Ora, se la vita è cosa più perfetta che il suo
contrario, almeno nelle creature viventi: e se perciò la maggior copia
di vita è maggiore perfezione; anche per questo modo séguita che la
natura degli uccelli sia più perfetta.”—Leopardi: _Elogio degli


                        _THIRD EDITION ENLARGED_

                           MACMILLAN AND CO.
                              AND NEW YORK

                    Richard Clay and Sons, Limited,
                           LONDON AND BUNGAY.

_First two editions published elsewhere. Third edition, 1889; Reprinted,

                               PATRI MEO
                         QVI CVM AVCVPIS NOMINE
                              AVIVM AMOREM


This little book is nothing more than an attempt to help those who love
birds, but know little about them, to realize something of the enjoyment
which I have gained, in work-time as well as in holiday, for many years
past, from the habit of watching and listening for my favourites.

What I have to tell, such as it is, is told in close relation to two or
three localities: an English city, an English village, and a well-known
district of the Alps. This novelty (if it be one) is not likely, I
think, to cause the ordinary reader any difficulty. Oxford is so
familiar to numbers of English people apart from its permanent
residents, that I have ventured to write of it without stopping to
describe its geography; and I have purposely confined myself to the city
and its precincts, in order to show how rich in bird-life an English
town may be. The Alps, too, are known to thousands, and the walk I have
described in Chapter III., if the reader should be unacquainted with it,
may easily be followed by reference to the excellent maps of the
Oberland in the guide-books of Ball or Baedeker. The chapters about the
midland village, which lies in ordinary English country, will explain
their own geography.

One word about the title and the arrangement of the chapters. We Oxford
tutors always reckon our year as beginning with the October term, and
ending with the close of the Long Vacation. My chapters are arranged on
this reckoning; to an Oxford residence from October to June, broken only
by short vacations, succeeds a brief holiday in the Alps; then comes a
sojourn in the midlands; and of the leisurely studies which the latter
part of the Long Vacation allows, I have given an ornithological
specimen in the last chapter.

Some parts of the first, second, and fifth chapters have appeared in the
_Oxford Magazine_, and I have to thank the Editors for leave to reprint
them. The third chapter, or rather the substance of it, was given as a
lecture to the energetic Natural History Society of Marlborough College,
and has already been printed in their reports; the sixth chapter has
been developed out of a paper lately read before the Oxford Philological

The reader will notice that I have said very little about uncommon
birds, and have tried to keep to the habits, songs, and haunts of the
commoner kinds, which their very abundance endears to their human
friends. I have made no collection, and it will therefore be obvious to
ornithologists that I have no scientific knowledge of structure and
classification beyond that which I have obtained at second-hand. And,
indeed, if I thought I were obtruding myself on the attention of
ornithologists, I should feel as audacious as the Robin which is at this
moment, in my neighbour’s outhouse, sitting on eggs for which, with
characteristic self-confidence, she has chosen a singular resting-place
in an old cage, once the prison-house of an ill-starred Goldfinch.

There are few days, from March to July, when even the shortest stroll
may not reveal something of interest to the careful watcher. It was
pleasant, this brilliant spring morning, to find that a Redstart,
perhaps the same individual noticed on page 120, had not forgotten my
garden during his winter sojourn in the south; and that a pair of Pied
Flycatchers, the first of their species which I have known to visit us
here, were trying to make up their minds to build their nest in an old
gray wall, almost within a stone’s throw of our village church.

  Kingham, Oxon.
      _April 24, 1886._

                        NOTE TO SECOND EDITION.

My little book, which never expected to spread the circle of its
acquaintance much beyond its Oxford friends, has been introduced by the
goodwill of reviewers to a wider society, and has been apparently
welcomed there. To enable it to present itself in the world to better
advantage, I have added to it a new chapter on the Alpine birds, and
have made a considerable number of additions and corrections in the
original chapters; but I hope I have left it as modest and unpretending
as I originally meant it to be.

During the process of revision, I have been aided by valuable criticisms
and suggestions from several ornithological and bird-loving friends, and
particularly from Rev. H. A. Macpherson, A. H. Macpherson, Esq., O. V.
Aplin, Esq., and W. T. Arnold, Esq., whose initials will be found here
and there in notes and appendices. I have also to thank Archdeacon
Palmer for most kindly pointing out some blemishes in the chapter on the
Birds of Virgil.

                                                        W. WARDE FOWLER.

  Lincoln College, Oxford.
        _Nov. 19, 1886._

                         NOTE TO THIRD EDITION.

Though my knowledge of birds has naturally grown fast since I wrote
these chapters, I have thought it better, except in one instance, to
resist the temptation of re-writing or interpolating for this edition.
The book stands almost exactly as it was when the second edition was
issued; but the list of Oxford birds is omitted, as Mr. Aplin’s work on
the Birds of Oxfordshire, shortly to be published by the Clarendon
Press, will embody all the information there given. I regret that the
frontispiece, drawn for the original edition by my friend Professor W.
Baldwin Spencer, can no longer be reproduced.

I wish to express my thanks to Mr. B. H. Blackwell, of Oxford, not only
for the care and pains he bestowed upon the issue of the former
editions, but for the ready courtesy with which he fell in with my wish
to transfer the book to the hands of Messrs. Macmillan.

                                                                W. W. F.

  _June 4, 1889._



                               CHAPTER I.
                       Oxford: Autumn and Winter.

      How I came to notice birds—Oxford favourable to bird-life—Late
      lingerers in October—Migration and pugnacity of Robins—The
      Bullfinch and the buds—Parsons’ Pleasure and the
      Cherwell—Kingfishers rare in the summer term—Colouring of the
      Kingfisher—The Gray Wagtail at the weir; its beauty—The Lesser
      Redpoll—An eccentric Jack-snipe—Birds of the Park and Magdalen
      Walk—Lesser Spotted Woodpecker—Christchurch meadow and the Botanic
      Garden; Titmice, Blackbirds, Redwings—Sea-birds in Port Meadow   1

                               CHAPTER II.
                       Oxford: Spring and Summer.

      Departure of winter birds—Warblers; explanation of the
      term—Different kinds of warblers—Tree-warblers—Chiff-chaff’s
      arrival—Willow-warbler’s song and nest—Blackcap and
      Garden-warbler; their songs compared—The two Whitethroats at
      Parsons’ Pleasure; how to distinguish them—River-warblers;
      comparative rarity of Reed-warbler; his song compared with
      Sedge-warbler’s—The Redstart and pollard willows—Summer habits of
      Oxford Sparrows—Flycatcher and other birds in the Parks         35

                               CHAPTER III.
                           The Alps in June.

      The Alpine pastures in June—Ornithologists and the Alps—Johann
      Anderegg, a peasant naturalist—Number of species in Switzerland;
      abundance of food—Migration, complete and partial—The Alps how far
      a barrier to migrating birds—The three ornithological regions of
      Switzerland; migrations within them—Stanz-stadt and its
      reed-bed—Valley of the Aa—White Wagtail and Black Redstart—The
      Swallow family—The Alps proper and their birds; Water-pipit,
      etc.—Citril Finch at the Engstlen Alp—Snow-finches—Rock-creeper;
      its habits—Birds of the pine-forests; Woodpeckers,
      Tit-mice—Crested Tit in the Gentelthal—Bonelli’s Warbler at
      Meiringen                                                       68

                               CHAPTER IV.
                 A Midland Village. Garden and Meadow.

      Description of the vale of the Evenlode—Situation of the village;
      variety of scenery—Movements of the birds in the district—A
      bird-haunted garden—Redstart; its increase of late years—A Black
      Redstart on an ugly wall—Cuckoo and Robin’s nest—Ingenious
      Nuthatches—Spotted Flycatcher; his peculiarities—Allotments and
      Rooks—Green Sandpiper in the brook; occurrence in midwinter—Habits
      of young birds—Rooks hostile to intruders—Long-tailed Tits on the
      ice                                                            111

                                CHAPTER V.
                A Midland Village: Railway and Woodland.

      Railways favourable to birds—Whinchat and Stonechat—Peculiarities
      of the Buntings—Nests by the railway—Ring-ousel—Song of the
      Tree-pipit—Pipits, Larks, Wagtails—Predatory birds of the
      woods—Interview with a Grasshopper Warbler; its “reel”—Beauty of
      the Nightingale; its habits and song—Song-birds of the
      woods—Woodpeckers—Birds of the hills—Local migrations during the
      year                                                           144

                               CHAPTER VI.
                         The Alps in September.

      Geography of Switzerland—Bird-catching on the passes—Birds on the
      Brünig Pass—The Hasli-Thal—Crossbills—The Gadmen-Thal and
      Stein-alp—Migration on the Susten-pass—Hospenthal—Departure of
      Swallows—Migration of insects—Return to Meiringen—The Swiss
      peasant                                                        177

                               CHAPTER VII.
                          The Birds of Virgil.

      Virgil’s haunts in Italy, in boyhood and manhood—Virgil true to
      nature—Pigeons in his poems—Crane and Stork; their
      migrations—Corvus and cornix—Swans—The ‘alcyon,’ in Latin and
      Greek ornithology—Voice of the Kingfisher—The ‘acalanthis’;
      warblers in Italy and Greece—Virgil’s sea-birds and
      swallows—Nightingale in Homer and Virgil—Simile of ghosts and
      birds in _Sixth Aeneid_—Autumn migrations from the north       210

      NOTES                                                          255

      INDEX                                                          263

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

  Fox and Snow Finches _Frontispiece_
  First Lesson in Flying 20
  Redpoles 22
  Early Ablutions 28
  The Tern, or Sea Swallow 34
  Fieldfares 35
  Reed Warbler _to face_ 42
  Nest on College Bell 67
  The Alps in June _Headpiece_ 68
  Bonelli’s Warbler 110
  Kingham Rectory 111
  Feat of a Nuthatch 129
  Nest of Spotted Flycatcher 131
  Rooks worrying Gulls 142
  Whinchat on Telegraph Wires 144
  Grasshopper Warbler 155
  Out-door Relief 175
  The Alps in September _Headpiece_ 177
  Crossbills _to face_ 189
  Johann Anderegg 209
  Willow Warbler’s Nest 254

                         A YEAR WITH THE BIRDS.

                               CHAPTER I.
                       OXFORD: AUTUMN AND WINTER.

For several years past I have contrived, even on the busiest or the
rainiest Oxford mornings, to steal out for twenty minutes or half an
hour soon after breakfast, and in the Broad Walk, the Botanic Garden, or
the Parks, to let my senses exercise themselves on things outside me.
This habit dates from the time when I was an ardent fisherman, and daily
within reach of trout; a long spell of work in the early morning used to
be effectually counteracted by an endeavour to beguile a trout after

By degrees, and owing to altered circumstances, the rod has given way to
a field-glass, and the passion for killing has been displaced by a
desire to see and know; a revolution which I consider has been
beneficial, not only to the trout, but to myself. In the peaceful study
of birds I have found an occupation which exactly falls in with the
habit I had formed—for it is in the early morning that birds are most
active and least disturbed by human beings; an occupation too which can
be carried on at all times of the day in Oxford with much greater
success than I could possibly have imagined when I began it. Even for
one who has not often time or strength to take long rambles in the
country round us, it is astonishing how much of the beauty, the habits,
and the songs of birds may be learnt within the city itself, or in its
immediate precincts.

The fact is, that for several obvious reasons, Oxford is almost a
Paradise of birds. All the conditions of the neighbourhood, as it is
now, are favourable to them. The three chief requisites of the life of
most birds are food, water, and some kind of cover. For food, be they
insect-eaters, or grub-eaters, they need never lack near Oxford. Our
vast expanse of moist alluvial meadow—unequalled at any other point in
the Thames valley—is extraordinarily productive of grubs and flies, as
it is of other things unpleasant to man. Any one can verify this for
himself who will walk along the Isis on a warm summer evening, or watch
the Sand-martins as he crosses the meadows to Hincksey. Snails too
abound; no less than ninety-three species have been collected and
recorded by a late pupil of mine. The ditches in all the water-meadows
are teeming with fresh-water mollusks, and I have seen them dying by
hundreds when left high and dry in a sultry season. Water of course is
everywhere; the fact that our city was built at the confluence of Isis
and Cherwell has had a good deal of influence on its bird-life. But
after all, as far as the city itself is concerned, it is probably the
conservative tranquillity and the comfortable cover of the gardens and
parks that has chiefly attracted the birds. I fancy there is hardly a
town in Europe of equal size where such favourable conditions are
offered them, unless it be one of the old-fashioned well-timbered kind,
such as Wiesbaden, Bath, or Dresden. The college system, which has had
so much influence on Oxford in other ways, and the control exercised by
the University over the government of the town, have had much to do with
this, and the only adverse element even at the present day is the
gradual but steady extension of building to the north, south, and west.
A glance at a map of Oxford will show how large a space in the centre of
the town is occupied by college gardens, all well-timbered and planted,
and if to these are added Christchurch Meadow, Magdalen Park, the
Botanic Garden, and the Parks, together with the adjoining fields, it
will be seen that there must be abundant opportunity for observations,
and some real reason for an attempt to record them.

Since the appearance in the _Oxford Magazine_, in May, 1884, of a list
of “The Birds of Oxford City,” I have been so repeatedly questioned
about birds that have been seen or heard, that it is evident there are
plenty of possessors of eyes and ears, ready and able to make use of
them. There are many families of children growing up in “the Parks” who
may be glad to learn that life in a town such as Oxford is, does not
exclude them from some of the pleasures of the country. And I hold it to
be an unquestioned fact, that the direction of children’s attention to
natural objects is one of the most valuable processes in education. When
these children, or at least the boys among them, go away to their
respective public schools, they will find themselves in the grip of a
system of compulsory game-playing which will effectually prevent any
attempt at patient observation. There is doubtless very much to be said
for this system, if it be applied, like a strong remedy, with real
discriminating care; but the fact is beyond question, that it is doing a
great deal to undermine and destroy some of the Englishman’s most
valuable habits and characteristics, and among others, his acuteness of
observation, in which, in his natural state, he excels all other
nationalities. It is all the more necessary that we should teach our
children, _before_ they leave home, some of the simplest and most
obvious lessons of natural history.

So in the following pages it will be partly my object to write of the
Oxford birds in such a way that any one of any age may be able to
recognize some of the most interesting species that meet the eye or ear
of a stroller within the precincts of the city. And with this object
before me, it will be convenient, I think, to separate winter and
summer, counting as winter the whole period from October to March, and
as summer the warm season from our return to Oxford in April up to the
heart of the Long Vacation; and we will begin with the beginning of the
University year, by which plan we shall gain the advantage of having to
deal with a few birds only to start with, and those obvious to the eye
among leafless branches, thus clearing the way for more difficult
observation of the summer migrants, which have to be detected among all
the luxuriousness of our Oxford foliage.

I shall call the birds by their familiar English names, wherever it is
possible to do so without danger of confounding species; but for
accuracy’s sake, a list of all birds noticed in these pages, with their
scientific names according to the best, or at any rate the latest,
terminology, will be given in an appendix.

When we return to Oxford after our Long Vacation, the only summer
migrants that have not departed southwards are a few Swallows, to be
seen along the banks of the river, and half-a-dozen lazy Martins that
may cling for two or three weeks longer to their favourite nooks about
the buildings of Merton and Magdalen. Last year (1884) none of these
stayed to see November, so far as I could ascertain; but they were
arrested on the south coast by a spell of real warm weather, where the
genial sun was deluding the Robins and Sparrows into fancying the winter
already past. In some years they may be seen on sunny days, even up to
the end of the first week of November, hawking for flies about the
meadow-front of Merton, probably the warmest spot in Oxford. White of
Selborne saw one as late as the 20th of November, on a very sunny warm
morning, in one of the quadrangles of Christchurch; it belonged, no
doubt, to a late September brood, and had been unable to fly when the
rest departed.

It is at first rather sad to find silence reigning in the thickets and
reed-beds that were alive with songsters during the summer term. The
familiar pollards and thorn-bushes, where the Willow-warblers and
Whitethroats were every morning to be seen or heard, are like so many
desolate College rooms in the heart of the Long Vacation. Deserted
nests, black and mouldy, come to light as the leaves drop from the
trees—nurseries whose children have gone forth to try their fortune in
distant countries. But we soon discover that things are not so bad as
they seem. The silence is not quite unbroken: winter visitors arrive,
and the novelty of their voices is cheering, even if they do not break
into song; some kinds are here in greater numbers than in the hot
weather, and others show themselves more boldly, emerging from leafy
recesses in search of food and sunshine.

Every autumn brings us a considerable immigration of birds that have
been absent during the summer, and increases the number of some species
who reside with us in greater or less abundance all the year. Among
these is the familiar Robin. My friend the Rev. H. A. Macpherson, in his
recently published _Birds of Cumberland_, tells us that in that northern
county the Robins slip quietly away southward in autumn. And it is in
September and October that every town and village in the south of
England is enlivened by their numbers and the pathetic beauty of their
song; a song which I have observed as being of finer quality in England
than on the continent, very possibly owing to a greater abundance of
rich food. I have been even tempted to fancy that our English Robin is a
finer and stouter bird than his continental relations. Certainly he is
more numerous here at all times of the year, and he may travel where he
pleases without fear of persecution; while the French and German Robins,
who for the most part make for Italy in the autumn, return in spring in
greatly diminished numbers, owing to the incurable passion of the
Italians for “robins on toast.”

It does not seem that they come to us in great numbers from foreign
shores, as do many others of our common birds at this time of the year;
but they move northwards and southwards within our island, presumably
seeking always a moderately warm climate. At Parsons’ Pleasure I have
seen the bushes literally alive with them in October and November, in a
state of extreme liveliness and pugnacity. This is the great season of
their battles. Most country-people know of the warfare between the old
and young Robins, and will generally tell you that the young ones kill
their parents. The truth seems to be that after their autumnal moult, in
the confidence of renewed strength, the old ones attack their offspring,
and succeed in forcing them to seek new homes. This combativeness is of
course accompanied by fresh vigour of song. Birds will sing, as I am
pretty well convinced, under _any_ kind of pleasant or exciting
emotion—such as love, abundance of food, warmth, or anger; and the
outbreak of the Robin’s song in autumn is to be ascribed, in part at
least, to the last of these. Other reasons may be found, such as
restored health after the moult, or the arrival in a warmer climate
after immigration, or possibly even the delusion, already noticed, which
not uncommonly possesses them in a warm autumn, that it is their duty to
set about pairing and nest-building already. But all these would affect
other species also, and the only reason which seems to suit the
idiosyncrasies of the Robin is this curious rivalry between young and

The Robins, I need not say, are everywhere; but there are certain kinds
of birds for which we must look out in particular places. I mentioned
Parsons’ Pleasure just now; and we may take it very well as a
starting-point, offering as it does, in a space of less than a hundred
yards square, every kind of supply that a bird can possibly want; water,
sedge, reeds, meadows, gravel, railings, hedges, and trees and bushes of
many kinds forming abundant cover. In this cover, as you walk along the
footpath towards the weir, you will very likely see a pair of
Bullfinches. They were here the greater part of last winter, and are
occasionally seen even in college and private gardens; but very rarely
in the breeding-season or the summer, when they are away in the densest
woods, where their beautiful nest and eggs are not too often found.
Should they be at their usual work of devouring buds, it is well worth
while to stop and watch the process; at Parsons’ Pleasure they can do no
serious harm, and the Bullfinch’s bill is not an instrument to be
lightly passed over. It places him apart from all other common English
birds, and brings him into the same sub-family as the Crossbill and the
Pine-Grosbeak. It is short, wide, round, and parrot-like in having the
upper mandible curved downwards over the lower one, and altogether
admirably suited for snipping off and retaining those fat young juicy
buds, from which, as some believe, the Bullfinch has come by his

Parsons’ Pleasure, _i. e._ the well-concealed bathing-place which goes
by this name, stands at the narrow apex of a large island which is
formed by the river Cherwell,—itself here running in two channels which
enclose the walk known as Mesopotamia,—and the slow and often shallow
stream by which Holywell mill is worked. The bird-lover will never cross
the rustic bridge which brings him into the island over this latter
stream, without casting a rapid glance to right and left. Here in the
summer we used to listen to the Nightingale, or watch the Redstarts and
Flycatchers in the willows, or feast our eyes with the splendid deep and
glossy black-blue of the Swallow’s back, as he darted up and down
beneath the bridge in doubtful weather. And here of a winter morning you
may see a pair of Moorfowl paddling out of the large patch of rushes
that lies opposite the bathing-place on the side of the Parks; here they
breed in the summer, with only the little Reed-warblers as companions.
And here there is always in winter at least a chance of seeing a
Kingfisher. Why these beautiful birds are comparatively seldom to be
seen in or about Oxford from March to July is a question not very easy
to answer. The keeper of the bathing-place tells me that they go up to
breed in ditches which run down to the Cherwell from the direction of
Marston and Elsfield; and this is perhaps borne out by the discovery of
a nest by a friend of mine, then incumbent of Woodeaton, in a deserted
quarry between that village and Elsfield, fully a mile from the river.
One would suppose, however, that the birds would be about the river, if
only to supply their voracious young with food, unless we are to
conclude that they feed them principally with slugs and such small-fry.
Here is a point which needs investigation. The movements of the
Kingfisher seem to be only partly understood, but that they do migrate,
whether for short or long distances, I have no doubt whatever.[2] On the
Evenlode, another Oxfordshire river, which runs from
Moreton-in-the-Marsh to join the Isis at Eynsham, they are rarely to be
seen between March and September, or August at the earliest, while I
seldom take a walk along the stream in the winter months without seeing
one or more of them.

This bird is one of those which owe much to the Wild Birds Act, of which
a short account will be found in Note A, at the end of this volume. It
may not be shot between March and August, and though it may be
slaughtered in the winter with impunity, the gun-licence and its own
rapid flight give it a fair chance of escape. Formerly it was a frequent

  By green Rother’s reedy side
  The blue Kingfisher flashed and died.

Blue is the prevailing tint of the bird as he flies from you: it is
seldom that you see him coming towards you; but should that happen, the
tint that you chiefly notice is the rich chestnut of the throat and
breast. One Sunday morning, as I was standing on the Cherwell bank just
below the Botanic Garden, a Kingfisher, failing to see me, flew almost
into my arms, shewing this chestnut hue; then suddenly wheeled, and
flashed away all blue and green, towards Magdalen Bridge. I have seen a
Kingfisher hovering like a dragon-fly or humming-bird over a little
sapling almost underneath the bridge by which you enter Addison’s Walk.
Possibly it was about to strike a fish, but unluckily it saw me and
vanished, piping shrilly. The sight was one of marvellous beauty, though
it lasted but a few seconds.

One story is told about the Kingfisher, which I commend to those who
study the varying effects of colours on the eye. Thompson, the famous
Irish naturalist, was out shooting when snow was lying on the ground,
and repeatedly saw a small brown bird in flight, which entirely puzzled
him; at last he shot it, and found it to be a Kingfisher in its full
natural plumage.[3] Can it be that the swift flash of varying liquid
colour, as the bird darts from its perch into the water, is specially
calculated to escape the eye of the unsuspecting minnow? It nearly
always frequents streams of clear water and rather gentle flow, where
its intense brightness would surely discover it, even as it sits upon a
stone or bough, if its hues as seen through a liquid medium did not lose
their sheen. But I must leave these questions to the philosophers, and
return to Parsons’ Pleasure.

The island which I have mentioned is joined to Mesopotamia by another
bridge just below the weir; and here is a second post of observation,
with one feature that is absent at the upper bridge. There all is
silent, unless a breeze is stirring the trees; here the water prattles
gently as it slides down the green slope of the weir into the deep pool
below. This motion of the water makes the weir and this part of the
Cherwell a favourite spot of a very beautiful little bird, which haunts
it throughout the October term.[4] All the spring and early summer the
Gray Wagtail was among the noisy becks and burns of the north, bringing
up his young under some spray-splashed stone, or the moist arch of a
bridge; in July he comes southwards, and from that time till December or
January is constantly to be seen along Cherwell and Isis. He is content
with sluggish water if he can find none that is rapid; but the sound of
the falling water is as surely grateful to his ear as the tiny
crustaceans he finds in it are to his palate. For some time last autumn
(1884) I saw him nearly every day, either on the stonework of the weir,
or walking into its gentle water-slope, or running lightly over the
islands of dead leaves in other parts of the Cherwell; sometimes one
pair would be playing among the barges on the Isis, and another at
Clasper’s boat-house seemed quite unconcerned at the crowd of men and
boats. It is always a pleasure to watch them; and though all Wagtails
have their charm for me, I give this one the first place, for its
matchless delicacy of form, and the gentle grace of all its actions.

The Gray Wagtail is misnamed, both in English and Latin; as we might
infer from the fact that in the one case it is named from the colour of
its back, and in the other from that of its belly.[5] It should be
surely called the Long-tailed Wagtail, for its tail is nearly an inch
longer than that of any other species; or the Brook-Wagtail, because it
so rarely leaves the bed of the stream it haunts. All other Wagtails may
be seen in meadows, ploughed fields, and uplands; but though I have
repeatedly seen this one within the last year in England, Wales,
Ireland, and Switzerland, I never but once saw it away from the water,
and then it was for the moment upon a high road in Dorsetshire, and
within a few yards of a brook and pool. Those who wish to identify it
must remember its long tail and its love of water, and must also look
out for the beautiful sulphur yellow of its under parts; in the spring
both male and female have a black chin and throat, like our common Pied
Wagtail. No picture, and no stuffed specimen, can give the least idea of
what the bird is like: the specimens in our Oxford Museum look “very
sadly,” as the villagers say; you must see the living bird in perpetual
motion, the little feet running swiftly, the long tail ever gently
flickering up and down. How can you successfully draw or stuff a bird
whose most remarkable feature is never for a moment still?

While I am upon Wagtails, let me say a word for our old friend the
common Pied Wagtail, who is with us in varying numbers all the year
round. It is for several reasons a most interesting bird. We have known
it from our childhood; but foreign bird-lovers coming to England would
find it new to them, unless they chanced to come from Western France or
Spain. Like one or two other species of which our island is the
favourite home, it is much darker than its continental cousin the White
Wagtail, when in full adult plumage. Young birds are indeed often quite
a light gray, and in Magdalen cloisters and garden, where the young
broods love to run and seek food on the beautifully-kept turf, almost
every variety of youthful plumage may be seen in June or July, from the
sombrest black to the brightest pearl-gray. Last summer, I one day spent
a long time here watching the efforts of a parent to induce a young bird
to leave its perch and join the others on the turf: the nest must have
been placed somewhat high up among the creepers, and the young bird, on
leaving it, had ventured no further than a little stone statue above my
head. The mother flew repeatedly to the young one, hovered before it,
chattered and encouraged it in every possible way; but it was a long
time before she prevailed.

  [Illustration: The mother flew repeatedly to the young one, hovered
 before it, chattered and encouraged it in every possible way.—p. 21.]

Let us now return towards the city, looking into the Parks on our way.
The Curators of the Parks, not less generous to the birds than to
mankind, have provided vast stores of food for the former, in the
numbers of birches and conifers which flourish under their care. They,
or their predecessors who stocked the plantations, seem to have had the
particular object of attracting those delightful little north-country
birds the Lesser Redpolls, for they have planted every kind of tree in
whose seeds they find a winter subsistence. Whether they come every
winter I am unable to say, and am inclined to doubt it; but in 1884, any
one who went the round of the Parks, keeping an eye on the birches,
could hardly fail to see them, and they have been reported not only as
taking refuge here in the winter, but even as nesting in the summer. A
nest was taken from the branch of a fir-tree here in 1883, and in this
present year, if I am not mistaken, another nest was built. I failed to
find it, but I several times saw a pair of sportive Redpolls at the
south-east corner of the Parks.[6]

       [Illustration: These tiny linnets at work in the delicate
                         birch-boughs.—p. 23.]

It is one of the prettiest sights that our whole calendar of bird-life
affords, to watch these tiny linnets at work in the delicate
birch-boughs. They fear no human being, and can be approached within a
very few yards. They almost outdo the Titmice in the amazing variety of
their postures. They prefer in a general way to be upside down, and
decidedly object to the common-place attitudes of more solidly built
birds. Otherwise they are not remarkable for beauty at this time of
year; their splendid crimson crest—the “Bluttropf,” as the Germans aptly
call it—is hardly discernible, and the warm pink of their breasts has
altogether vanished.

Before we leave the Parks I must record the fact that an eccentric
Jack-snipe, who ought to have considered that he is properly a winter
bird in these parts, was several times flushed here by the Cherwell in
the _summer_ of 1884, and the natural inference would be that a pair had
bred somewhere near. Col. Montagu, the most accurate of naturalists,
asserted that it has never been known to remain and breed in England;
yet the observer in this case, a well-known college tutor who knows a
Jack-snipe when he sees it, has assured me positively that there was no
mistake; and some well-authenticated cases seem to have occurred since
Montagu wrote.[7]

There are plenty of common birds to be seen even in winter on most days
in the Parks, such as the Skylark, the Yellow-hammer and its relative
the Black-headed Bunting, the Pied Wagtail, the Hedge-sparrow, and
others; though lawn-tennis, and cricket, and new houses and brick walls,
are slowly and surely driving them beyond the Cherwell for food and
shelter. But there are some birds which may be seen to greater advantage
in another part of Oxford, and we will take the short line to
Christchurch Meadow, past Holywell Church, doubtless the abode of Owls,
and the fine elms of Magdalen Park, beloved by the Woodpigeons.

All this lower part of the Cherwell, from Holywell mill to its mouth at
the barges, abounds in snug and secure retreats for the birds. In
Addison’s Walk, as well as in the trees in Christchurch Meadow, dwell
the Nuthatch and the Tree-creeper, both remarkable birds in all their
ways, and each representative of a family of which no other member has
ever been found in these islands. They are tree-climbing birds, but they
climb in very different ways: the Creeper helping himself, like the
Woodpeckers, with the downward-bent feathers of his strong tail; while
the Nuthatch, having no tail to speak of, relies chiefly on his hind
claw. These birds are now placed, on account of the structure of their
feet, in a totally different order to that of the Woodpeckers, who rank
with the Swifts and the Nightjars.

One is apt to think of the Creeper as a silent and very busy bird, who
never finds leisure to rest and preen his feathers, or to relieve his
mind with song. When he does sing he takes us a little aback. One spring
morning, as I was strolling in the Broad Walk, a Creeper flew past me
and fixed himself on the thick branch of an elm—not on a trunk, as
usual—and uttered a loud and vigorous song, something after the manner
of the Wren’s. I had to turn the glass upon him to make sure that there
was no mistake. This is the only occasion on which I have ever heard the
Creeper sing, and it seems strange that a bird with so strong a voice
should use it so seldom.

I have never but once seen the Green Woodpecker in Oxford, and that was
as he flew rapidly over the Parks in the direction of the Magdalen elms.
If he lives there, he must be known to the Magdalen men, but I have not
had intelligence of him. The fact is that he is a much wilder bird than
his near relation, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, who is, or was, beyond
doubt an Oxford resident. A correspondent of the _Oxford Magazine_, “R.
W. R.,” states that this bird bred outside his window at Trinity a few
years ago, “but has not done so lately for reasons of his own, of which
I approve.” Another correspondent, however, reports him from Addison’s
Walk; and Mr. Macpherson of Oriel, whose eye is not likely to have
erred, believed that he saw one in the Broad Walk a few years ago. I
myself have not seen the bird nearer Oxford than Kennington; but I am
pretty sure that it is commoner and also less shy than is generally
imagined, and also that the ornithologist who sees it is not likely to
mistake it for another bird: its very small size—it is not so large as a
sparrow—its crimson head, and its wings, with their black and white
bars, making it a conspicuous object to a practised eye.[8]

  [Illustration: A blackbird proceeded calmly to take his bath in the
                           fountain.—p. 30.]

Christchurch Meadow is a favourite home of the Titmice. I believe that I
have seen all the five English species here within a space of a very few
days: English, not British, for there is one other, the Crested Tit, of
which I shall have more to say in another chapter. A family of
Longtails, or Bottle-tits, flits from bush to bush, never associating
with the others, and so justifying its scientific separation from them.
Another family is to be seen in the Parks, where they build a nest every
year. These delightful little birds are however quite willing to live in
the very centre of a town, indifferent to noise and dust. A Marsh-tit
was once seen performing its antics on a lamp-post in St. Giles. A
Great-tit built its nest in the stump of an old laburnum, in the little
garden of Lincoln College, within a few yards of the Turl and High
Street; the nest was discovered by my dog, who was prowling about the
garden with a view to cats. I took great interest in this brood, which
was successfully reared, and on one occasion I watched the parents
bringing food to their young for twenty minutes, during which time they
were fed fourteen times. The ringing note of this Great-tit or his
relations is the first to be heard in that garden in winter-time, and is
always welcome. The little Blue-tit is also forthcoming there at times.
One Sunday morning I saw a Blue-tit climbing the walls of my College
quadrangle, almost after the manner of a Creeper, searching the crannies
for insects, and even breaking down the crust of weathered stone. Among
memories of the rain, mist, and hard work of many an Oxford winter spent
among these gray walls, “haec olim meminisse juvabit.”

But I have strayed away from Christchurch Meadow and the Botanic Garden.
Here it is more especially that the Thrush tribe makes its presence felt
throughout the autumn. In the Gardens the thrushes and blackbirds have
become so tame from constant quiet and protection, that, like the
donkeys at Athens of which Plato tells us, they will hardly deign to
move out of your way. A blackbird proceeded calmly to take his bath, in
the fountain at the lower end near the meadow, one morning when I was
looking on, and seemed to be fully aware of the fact that there was a
locked gate between us. Missel-thrushes are also to be seen here; and
all these birds go out of a morning to breakfast on a thickly-berried
thorn-bush at the Cherwell end of the Broad Walk, where they meet with
their relations the Redwings, and now and then with a Fieldfare. The
walker round the meadow in winter will seldom fail to hear the harsh
call of the redwing, as, together with starlings innumerable, and
abundance of blackbirds, they utter loud sounds of disapproval. There is
one bush here whose berries must have some strange ambrosial flavour
that blackbirds dearly love. All the blackbirds in Oxford seem to have
their free breakfast-table here, and they have grown so bold that they
will return to it again and again as I teasingly walk up and down in
front of it, merely flying to a neighbouring tree when I scrutinize them
too closely in search of a lingering Ring-ousel. Who ever heard of a
_flock_ of blackbirds? Here, however, in November, 1884, was a sight to
be seen, which might possibly throw some light on the process of
developing gregarious habits.[9]

Rooks, Starlings, Jackdaws, and Sparrows, which abound here and
everywhere else in Oxford, every one can observe for themselves, and of
Sparrows I shall have something to say in the next chapter; but let me
remind my young readers that _every_ bird is worth noticing, whether it
be the rarest or the commonest. My sister laughs at me, because the
other day she found an old copy of White’s _Selborne_ belonging to me,
wherein was inscribed on the page devoted to the Rook, in puerile
handwriting, the following annotation: “Common about Bath” (where I was
then at school). But I tell her that it was a strictly accurate
scientific observation; and I only wish that I had followed it up with
others equally unimpeachable.

But more out-of-the-way birds will sometimes come to Oxford, and I have
seen a Kestrel trying to hover in a high wind over Christchurch Meadow,
and a Heron sitting on the old gatepost in the middle of the field.
Herons are often to be seen by the river-bank in Port Meadow; and it was
here, some years ago, that Mr. W. T. Arnold, of University College, was
witness of an extraordinary attack made by a party of three on some
small birds. Port Meadow constantly entices sea-birds when it is under
water, or when the water is receding and leaving that horrible slime
which is so unpleasant to the nose of man; and in fact there is hardly a
wader or a scratcher (to use Mr. Ruskin’s term)[10] that has not at one
time or another been taken near Oxford. Sometimes they come on
migration, sometimes they are driven by stress of weather. Two Stormy
Petrels were caught at Bossom’s barge in the Port Meadow not long ago,
and exhibited in Mr. Darbey the birdstuffer’s window. And a well-known
Oxford physician has kindly given me an interesting account of his
discovery of a Great Northern Diver, swimming disconsolately in a large
hole in the ice near King’s Weir, one day during the famous Crimean
winter of 1854-5; this splendid bird he shot with a gun borrowed from
the inn at Godstow. During the spring and early summer of 1866, our
visitors from the sea-coast were constant and numerous. Even the
beautiful and graceful little Tern (_Sterna Minuta_) more than once
found his way here; and on the second occasion saved his own life by the
confidence which he seemed to repose in man. ‘I intended to shoot it,’
wrote a young friend of mine, ‘but relented when I saw how tame and
trustful it was.’

Specimens of almost all such birds are to be seen in the bird-cases of
the Museum, and occasionally they may be seen in the flesh in the
Market. Both Market and Museum will give plenty to do on a rainy day in

  Ubi jam breviorque dies et mollior aestas
  Quae vigilanda viris!

               [Illustration: The Tern, or Sea Swallow.]

                              CHAPTER II.
                    OXFORD: SPRING AND EARLY SUMMER.

                      [Illustration: Fieldfares.]

All the birds mentioned in the last chapter are residents in Oxford, in
greater or less numbers according to the season, except the Fieldfares
and Redwings, the Grey Wagtail, and the rarer visitors: and of these the
Fieldfares and Redwings are the only true winter birds. They come from
the north and east in September and October, and depart again in March
and April. When we begin our Summer Term not one is to be seen. The
berries in the meadow are all eaten up long before Lent Term is over,
and though these are not entirely or even chiefly the Redwing’s food,
the birds have generally disappeared with them.

They do not however leave the country districts till later. When wild
birds like these come into a town, the cause is almost certain to be
stress of weather; when the winter’s back is broken, they return to the
fields and hedges till the approach of summer calls them northwards.
There they assemble together in immense flocks, showing all the
restlessness and excitement of the smaller birds that leave us in the
autumn; suddenly the whole mass rises and departs like a cloud. Accounts
are always forthcoming of the departure of summer migrants, and
especially of the Swallows and Martins, and there are few who have not
seen these as they collect on the sunny side of the house-roof, or bead
the parapet of the Radcliffe building, before they make up their minds
to the journey. But few have seen the Fieldfares and Redwings under the
same conditions, and I find no account of their migration, or at least
of what actually happens when they go, in any book within my reach as I
write. But on March 19, 1884, I was lucky enough to see something of
their farewell ceremonies. I was walking in some water-meadows adjoining
a wood, on the outskirts of which were a number of tall elms and
poplars, when I heard an extraordinary noise, loud, harsh, and
continuous, and of great volume, proceeding from the direction of these
trees, which were at the time nearly half-a-mile distant. I had been
hearing the noise for a minute or two without attending to it, and was
gradually developing a consciousness that some strange new agricultural
instrument, or several of them, were at work somewhere near, when some
Fieldfares flew past me to alight on the meadow not far off. Then
putting up my glass, I saw that the trees were literally _black_ with
birds; and as long as I stayed, they continued there, only retreating a
little as I approached, and sending foraging detachments into the
meadow, or changing trees in continual fits of restlessness. The noise
they made was like the deep organ-sounds of sea-birds in the
breeding-time, but harsher and less serious. I would willingly have
stayed to see them depart, but not knowing when that might be, I was
obliged to go home: and the next day when I went to look for them, only
a few were left.

These birds do not leave us as a rule before the first summer visitors
have arrived. In the case I have just mentioned, the spring was a warm
one, and the very next day I saw the ever-welcome Chiff-chaff, which is
the earliest to come and the latest to go, of all the delicate warblers
which come to find a summer’s shelter in our abundant trees and herbage.

I use this word ‘warbler’ in a sense which calls for a word of
explanation: for not only are the birds which are called in the natural
history books by this name often very difficult to distinguish, but the
word itself has been constantly used to denote a certain class of birds,
without any precise explanation of the species meant to be included in
it. Nor is it in itself a very exact word; some of the birds which are
habitually called warblers do not warble in the proper sense of the
word,[11] and many others who really warble, such as the common
Hedge-sparrow, have no near relationship to the class I am speaking of.
But as it is a term in use, and a word that pleases, I will retain it in
this chapter, with an explanation which may at the same time help some
beginner in dealing with a difficult group of birds.

If the reader of this book who really cares to understand the
differences of the bird-life which abounds around us, will buy for a
shilling Mr. Dresser’s most useful _List of European Birds_,[12] he will
find, under the great family of the _Turdidae_, three sub-families
following each other on pages 7, 8, and 9, respectively called
_Sylvianae_, or birds of woodland habits, _Phylloscopinae_, or
leaf-searching birds, and _Acrocephalinae_, or birds belonging to a
group many of the members of which have the front of the head narrow and
depressed: and under all these three sub-families he will find several
species bearing in popular English the name of _warbler_. At the same
time he will find other birds in these sub-families, which are quite
familiar to him, but not as ‘warblers’ in any technical sense of the
word; thus the Robin will be found in the first sub-family, and the
Golden-crested Wren in the second. But, leaving out these two species,
and also the Nightingale, which is a bird of somewhat peculiar structure
and habits, he will find four birds in the first sub-family belonging to
the genus _Sylvia_, which are all loosely called warblers, and will be
mentioned in this chapter as summer visitors to Oxford, viz. the
Whitethroat (or Whitethroat-warbler), the Lesser Whitethroat, the
Blackcap, and the Garden-warbler; he will also find two in the second,
belonging to the genus _Phylloscopus_, the Chiff-chaff and the
Willow-wren (or Willow-warbler), and two in the third, belonging to the
genus _Acrocephalus_, the Sedge-warbler and the Reed-warbler. Let it be
observed that each of these three genera, _Sylvia_, _Phylloscopus_, and
_Acrocephalus_, is the representative genus of the sub-family in this
classification, and has given it its name; so that we might expect to
find some decided differences of appearance or habit between the members
of these genera respectively. And this is precisely what is the case, as
any one may prove for himself by a day or two’s careful observation.

The birds I have mentioned as belonging to the first genus, _i. e._
Whitethroat, etc., are all of a fairly substantial build, fond of
perching, singing a varied and warbling song (with the exception of the
Lesser Whitethroat, of whose song I shall speak presently), and all
preferring to build their cup-shaped nest a little way from the ground,
in a thick bush, hedge, or patch of thick-growing plants, such as
nettles. They also have the peculiarity of loving small fruits and
berries as food, and are all apt to come into our gardens in search of
them, where they do quite as much good as harm by a large consumption of
insects and caterpillars.

Secondly, the two kinds of birds belonging to the genus _Phylloscopus_,
Chiff-chaff and Willow-warbler, are alike in having slender, delicate
frames, with a slight bend forward as of creatures given to climbing up
and down, in an almost entire absence of the steady perching habit, in
building nests upon the ground with a hole at the _side_, and partly
arched over by a roof of dried grass, in feeding almost exclusively on
insects, and in singing a song which is always the same, each new effort
being undistinguishable from the last. In fact these two birds are so
much alike in every respect but their voices (which though unvarying are
very different from each other), that it is almost impossible for a
novice to distinguish them unless he hears them.

Thirdly, the two species belonging to the genus _Acrocephalus_, the
Sedge- and Reed-warblers, differ from the other two groups in
frequenting the banks of rivers and streams much more exclusively, where
they climb up and down the water-plants, as their name suggests, and
build a cup-shaped nest; and also in the nervous intensity and
continuity of their song.

                  [Illustration: Reed Warbler.—p. 42.]

These eight species, then, are the ‘warblers,’ of whom I am going to
speak in the first place. They may easily be remembered in these three
groups by any one who will take the trouble to learn their voices, and
to look out for them when they first arrive, before the leaves have come
out and the birds are shy of approach on account of their nests and
young. But without some little pains confusion is sure to arise, as we
may well understand when we consider that a century ago even such a
naturalist as White of Selborne had great difficulty in distinguishing
them; he was in fact the first to discover the Chiff-chaff (one of our
commonest and most obvious summer migrants) as a species separate from
the others of our second group. To give an idea of the progress
Ornithology has made during the last century, I will quote Markwick’s
note on White’s communication:—‘This bird, which Mr. White calls the
smallest Willow-wren, or Chiff-chaff, makes its appearance very early in
the spring, and is very common with us, _but I cannot make out the three
different species of Willow-wrens, which he says he has
discovered_.’[13] Nothing but a personal acquaintance—a friendship, as I
must call it in my own case—with these little birds, as they live their
every-day life among us, will suffice to fix the individuality of each
species in the mind; not even the best plates in a book, or the faded
and lifeless figures in a museum. You may shoot and dissect them, and
study them as you would study and label a set of fossils: but a bird is
a living thing, and you will never really know him till you fully
understand _how_ he lives.

Let us imagine ourselves taking a stroll into the Parks with the object
of seeing these eight birds, not as skeletons, but as living realities.
The first to present themselves to eye and ear will be the two species
of the second group, which may roughly be described (so far at least as
England is concerned) as containing Tree-warblers. From the tall trees
in St. John’s Gardens, before we reach the Museum, we are certain on any
tolerably warm day to hear the Willow-warbler, which has been the last
few years extremely abundant; in Oxford alone there must have been two
or three hundred pairs in the spring of 1885. From the same trees is
also pretty sure to come ringing the two notes of the Chiff-chaff, which
is a less abundant bird, but one that makes its presence more obvious.
Let us pause here a moment to make our ideas clear about these two. We
may justly take them first, as they are the earliest of their group to
arrive in England.

When the first balmy breath of spring brings the celandines into bloom
on the hedge-bank, and when the sweet violets and primroses are
beginning to feel the warmth of the sun, you may always look out for the
Chiff-chaff on the sheltered side of a wood or coppice. As a rule, I see
them before I hear them; if they come with an east wind, they doubtless
feel chilly for a day or two, or miss the plentiful supply of food which
is absolutely necessary to a bird in full song. Thus in 1884, I noted
March 20 as the first day on which I saw the Chiff-chaff, and March 23
as the first on which I heard him. The next year, the month of March
being less genial, I looked and listened in vain till the 31st. On that
day I made a circuit round a wood to its sunny side, sheltered well from
east and north, and entering for a little way one of these grassy
‘rides’ which are the delight of all wood-haunting birds, I stood quite
still and listened. First a Robin, then a Chaffinch broke the silence; a
Wood-pigeon broke away through the boughs; but no Chiff-chaff. After a
while I was just turning away, when a very faint sound caught my ear,
which I knew I had not heard for many months. I listened still more
keenly, and caught it again; it was the prelude, the preliminary
whisper, with which I have noticed that this bird, in common with a few
others, is wont to work up his faculties to the effort of an outburst of
song. In another minute that song was resounding through the wood.

No one who hails the approach of spring as the real beginning of a new
life for men and plants and animals, can fail to be grateful to this
little brown bird for putting on it the stamp and sanction of his clear
resonant voice. We may grow tired of his two notes—he never gets beyond
two—for he sings almost the whole summer through, and was in full voice
on the 25th of September in the same year in which he began on March
23rd; but not even the first twitter of the Swallow, or the earliest
song of the Nightingale, has the same hopeful story to tell me as this
delicate traveller who dares the east wind and the frost. They spend the
greater part of the year with us; I have seen them still lurking in
sheltered corners of the Dorsetshire coast, at the beginning of October,
within sound of the sea-waves in which many of them must doubtless
perish before they reach their journey’s end. And now and then they will
even pass the winter with us: this was the case with one which took up
his sojourn at Bodicote, near Banbury, in a winter of general mildness,
though not unbroken, if I recollect right, by some very sharp frosts.

The Willow-warbler follows his cousin to England in a very few days, and
remains his companion in the trees all through the summer. He has the
same brownish-yellow back and yellowish-white breast, but is a very
little larger, and sings a very different song, which is unique among
all British birds. Beginning with a high and tolerably full note, he
drops it both in force and pitch in a cadence short and sweet, as though
he were getting exhausted with the effort; for that it is a real effort
to him and all his slim and tender relations, no one who watches as well
as listens can have a reasonable doubt. This cadence is often perfect,
by which I mean that it descends gradually, not of course on the notes
of our musical scale, by which no birds in their natural state would
deign to be fettered, but through fractions of one or perhaps two of our
tones, and without returning upwards at the end; but still more often,
and especially, as I fancy, after they have been here a few weeks, they
take to finishing with a note nearly as high in pitch as that with which
they began.[14] This singular song is heard in summer term in every part
of the Parks, and in the grass beneath the trees there must be many
nests; but these we are not likely to find except by accident, so
beautifully are they concealed by their grassy roofs. Through the hole
in the upper part of the side you see tiny eggs, speckled with reddish
brown, lying on a warm bedding of soft feathers; one of these was built
last May in the very middle of the lawn of the Parsonage-house at
Ferry-Hincksey, and two others of exactly the same build, one a
Chiff-chaff’s, were but a little way outside the garden-gate, and had
escaped the sharp eyes of the village boys when I last heard of them.
Though from being on the ground they probably escape the notice of
Magpies and Jackdaws and other egg-devouring birds, these eggs and the
young that follow must often fall a prey to stoats and weasels, rats and
hedgehogs. That such creatures are not entirely absent from the
neighbourhood of the Parks, I can myself bear witness, having seen one
morning two fine stoats in deadly combat for some object of prey which I
could not discern, as I was divided from them by the river. The piping
squeaks they uttered were so vehement and loud, that at the first moment
I mistook them for the alarm-note of some bird that was strange to me.
In July, 1886, I saw a large stoat playing in Addison’s Walk, when few
human beings were about, and the young birds, newly-fledged, were no
doubt an easy prey.

One word more before we leave the Tree-warblers. In front of my
drawing-room window in the country are always two rows of hedges of
sweet peas, and another of edible peas; towards the end of the summer
some little pale _yellow_ birds come frequently and climb up and down
the pea-sticks, apparently in search of insects rather than of the peas.
These are the young Willow-warblers, which after their first moult
assume this gently-toned yellow tint; and very graceful and beautiful
creatures they are. I have sometimes seen them hover, like
humming-birds, over a spray on which they could not get an easy footing,
and give the stem or leaves a series of rapid pecks.

We have to walk but a little further on to hear or see at least two of
our first group, the _Sylviae_, or fruit-eating warblers. As we pass
into the Park by the entrance close to the house of the Keeper of the
Museum, we are almost sure, on any sunny day, to hear both Blackcap and
Garden-warbler, and with a little pains and patience, to see them both.
These two (for a wonder) take their scientific names from the
characteristics by which sensible English folk have thought best to name
them; the Blackcap being _Sylvia atracapilla_, and the Garden-warbler
_Sylvia hortensis_. Mr. Ruskin says, in that delicious fragment of his
about birds, called _Love’s Meinie_, that all birds should be named on
this principle; and indeed if they had only to discharge the duty which
many of our English names perform so well, viz. that of letting English
people know of what bird we are talking, his plan would be an excellent
one. Unluckily, Ornithology is a science, and a science which embraces
all the birds in the world; and we _must_ have some means of knowing for
certain that we shall be understood of all the world when we mention a
bird’s name. This necessity is well illustrated in the case of the
warblers. So many kinds of them are there, belonging to all our three
groups, in Europe alone, not to speak of other parts of the world, that
even a scientific terminology and description upon description have not
been able to save the birds from getting mixed up together, or getting
confounded with their own young, or with the young of other birds.

If the Blackcap were not a Sylvia, he could not well be scientifically
named after his black head, for other birds, such as Titmice, have also
black heads, and I have frequently heard the Cole Tit described as the
Blackcap. In any case he should perhaps have been named after his
wonderful faculty of song, in which he far excels all the other birds of
our three groups. Most people know the Blackcap’s song who have ever
lived in the country, for you can hardly enter a wood in the summer
without being struck by it; and all I need do here is to distinguish it
as well as I can from that of the Garden-warbler, which may easily be
mistaken for it by an unpractised ear, when the birds are keeping out of
sight in the foliage, as they often most provokingly will do. Both are
essentially warblers; that is, they sing a _strain_ of music, continuous
and _legato_, instead of a song that is broken up into separate notes or
short phrases, like that of the Song-thrush, or the Chiff-chaff. But
they differ in two points: the strain of the Blackcap is shorter,
forming in fact one lengthened phrase “in sweetness long drawn out,”
while the Garden-warbler will go on almost continuously for many minutes
together; and secondly, the Blackcap’s music is played upon a mellower
instrument. The most gifted Blackcaps—for birds of the same species
differ considerably in their power of song—excel all other birds in the
soft _quality_ of their tone, just as a really good boy’s voice, though
less brilliant and resonant, excels all women’s voices in softness and
sweetness. So far as I have been able to observe, the Blackcap’s voice
is almost entirely wanting in that power of producing the harmonics of a
note which gives a musical sound its brilliant quality; but this very
want is what produces its unrivalled mellowness.

The other two members of our first group (we are still in genus
_Sylvia_) are the two Whitethroats, greater and lesser, and we have not
far to go to find them. They arrive just at the beginning of our Easter
Term, but never come to Oxford in great numbers, because their proper
homes, the hedge-rows, are naturally not common objects of a town. In
the country the greater Whitethroats are swarming this year (1885), and
in most years they are the most abundant of our eight warblers; and the
smaller bird, less seen and less showy, makes his presence felt in
almost every lane and meadow by the brilliancy of his note.

Where shall we find a hedge near at hand, where we may learn to
distinguish the two birds? We left the Blackcaps and Garden-warblers at
the upper end of the Park; we shall still have a chance of listening to
them if we take the walk towards Parsons’ Pleasure, and here in the
thorn-hedge on the right hand of the path, we shall find both the
Whitethroats.[15] As we walk along, a rough grating sound, something
like the noise of a diminutive corn-crake, is heard on the other side of
the hedge—stopping when we stop, and sounding ahead of us as we walk on.
This is the teasing way of the greater Whitethroat, and it means that he
is either building a nest in the hedge, or thinking of doing so. If you
give him time, however, he will show himself, flirting up to the top of
the hedge, crooning, craking, and popping into it again; then flying out
a little way, cheerily singing a soft and truly warbling song, with
fluttering wings and roughened feathers, and then perhaps perching on a
twig to repeat it. Now you see the white of his throat; it is real
white, and it does not go below the throat. In one book I have seen the
Garden-warbler called a Whitethroat; but in his case the white is not so
pure, and it is continued down the breast. The throat of both
Whitethroats is real white, and they have a pleasant way of puffing it
out, as if to assure one that there is no mistake about it.

But how to distinguish the two? for in size they differ hardly enough to
guide an inexperienced eye. There are three points of marked difference.
The larger bird has a rufous or rusty-coloured back,[16] and his
wing-coverts are of much the same colour; while the back of the lesser
bird is darkish or grayish brown. Secondly, the head of the lesser
Whitethroat is of a much darker bluish-gray tint. But much the best
point of distinction in the breeding season is in the song. As I have
said, the larger bird warbles; but the lesser one, after a little
preliminary soliloquy in an under-tone, bursts out into a succession of
high notes, all of exactly the same pitch. It took me some time to find
out who was the performer of this music which I heard so constantly in
the hedges, for the bird is very restless and very modest. When I caught
sight of him he would not stop to be examined closely. One day however
he was kind enough to alight for a moment in a poplar close by me, and
as I watched him in the loosely-leaved branches, he poured out the song,
and duly got the credit for it.

We are now close to our old winter-station on the bridge over the
mill-stream, and leaning over it once more on the upper side, we shall
hear, if not see, both the remaining species of the warblers that Oxford
has to show us. They are the only species of River-warblers that are
_known_ to visit England regularly every year; these two, the
Sedge-warbler and the Reed-warbler, never fail, and the Sedge-warbler
comes in very large numbers, but only a few specimens of other
River-warblers have been found out in their venturesomeness. Still,
every young bird-hunter should acquaint himself with the characteristics
of the rarer visitors, in order to qualify himself for helping to throw
light on what is still rather a dark corner of English ornithology.
These same species which we so seldom see are swarming in the flat lands
of Holland, close by us, and why should they not come over to the island
which birds seem to love so dearly?

But there is no doubt that birds have ways, and reasons for them, which
man is very unlikely ever to be able to understand. Why, as Mr. Harting
asks,[17] should the Reed-warbler be so much less “generally
distributed” than the Sedge-warbler? That it is so, we can show well
enough even from Oxford alone. You will find Sedge-warblers all along
the Cherwell and the Isis, wherever there is a bit of cover, and very
often they will turn up where least expected; in a corn-field, for
example, where I have seen them running up and down the corn-stalks as
if they were their native reeds. But you must either know where to find
the Reed-warbler, or learn by slow degrees. Parsons’ Pleasure is almost
the only place known to me where

  “The Reed-warbler swung in a nest with her young,
  Deep-sheltered and warm from the wind.”[18]

There is, however, in this case, at least a plausible answer to Mr.
Harting’s question. Owing to the prime necessity of _reeds_ for the
building of this deep-sheltered nest, which is swung between several of
them, kept firm by their centrifugal tendency, yielding lovingly yet
proudly to every blast of wind or current of water—owing to this
necessity, the Reed-Warbler declines to take up his abode in any place
where the reeds are not thick enough and tall enough to give a real
protection to himself and his brood. Now in the whole length of Isis
between Kennington[19] and Godstow, and of Cherwell between its mouth
and Parsons’ Pleasure, there is no reed-bed which answers all the
requirements of this little bird. Now and then, it is true, they will
leave the reeds for some other nesting-place; one of them sang away all
the Summer Term of 1884 in the bushes behind the Museum, nearly half a
mile from the river, and probably built a nest among the lilac-bushes
which there abound. But that year they seemed to be more abundant than
usual; and this, perhaps, was one for whom there was no room in the
limited space of the reeds at Parsons’ Pleasure. Thick bushes, where
many lithe saplings spring from a common root, would suit him better
than a scanty reed-bed.[20]

There is no great difficulty in distinguishing Sedge- and Reed-warblers,
if you have an eye for the _character_ of birds. The two are very
different in temperament, though both are of the same quiet brown, with
whitish breast. The Sedge-bird is a restless, noisy, impudent little
creature, not at all modest or retiring, and much given to mocking the
voices of other birds. This is done as a rule in the middle of one of
his long and continuous outpourings of chatter; but I one day heard a
much more ridiculous display of impertinence. I was standing at the
bottom of the Parks, looking at a pair or two of Sedge-warblers on a
bush, and wondering whether they were going to build a nest there, when
a Blackbird emerged from the thicket behind me, and seeing a human
being, set up that absurd cackle that we all know so well. Instantly,
out of the bush I was looking at, there came an echo of this cackle,
uttered by a small voice in such ludicrous tones of mockery, as fairly
to upset my gravity. It seemed to say, “You awkward idiot of a bird, I
can make that noise as well as you: only listen!”—

The Reed-warbler, on the other hand, is quieter and gentler, and utters,
by way of song, a long crooning soliloquy, in accents not sweet, but
much less harsh and declamatory than those of his cousin. I have
listened to him for half-an-hour together among the bushes that border
the reed-bed, and have fancied that his warble suits well with the
gentle flow of the water, and the low hum of the insects around me. He
will sit for a long time singing on the same twig, while his partner is
on her nest in the reeds below; but the Sedge-warbler, in this and other
respects like a fidgety and ill-trained child, is never in one place, or
in the same vein of song, for more than a minute at a time.

It is amusing to stand and listen to the two voices going on at the same
time; the Sedge-bird rattling along in a state of the intensest
excitement, pitching up his voice into a series of loud squeaks, and
then dropping it into a long-drawn grating noise, like the winding-up of
an old-fashioned watch, while the Reed-warbler, unaffected by all this
volubility, takes his own line in a continued prattle of gentle content
and self-sufficiency.

These eight birds, then, are the _warblers_ which at present visit
Oxford. Longer walks and careful observation may no doubt bring us
across at least two others, the Wood-warbler and the
Grasshopper-warbler: the nest of the Wood-warbler has been found within
three miles. Another bird, too, which is often called a warbler, has of
late become very common both in and about Oxford—the Redstart. Four or
five years ago they were getting quite rare; but this year (1885) the
flicker of the red tail is to be seen all along the Cherwell, in the
Broad Walk, where they build in holes of the elms, in Port Meadow, where
I have heard the gentle warbling song from the telegraph wires, and
doubtless in most gardens. The Redstart is so extremely beautiful in
summer, his song so tender and sweet, and all his ways so gentle and
trustful, that if he were as common, and stayed with us all the year, he
would certainly put our Robin’s popularity to the proof. Nesting in our
garden, or even on the very wall of our house, and making his presence
there obvious by his brilliant colouring and his fearless domesticity,
he might become, like his plainer cousin of the continent, the favourite
of the peasant, who looks to his arrival in spring as the sign of a
better time approaching. “I hardly hoped,” writes my old Oberland guide
to me, after an illness in the winter, “to see the flowers again, or
hear the little Röthel (Black Redstart) under my eaves.”

The Oxford Redstarts find convenient holes for their nests in the
pollard willows which line the banks of the Cherwell and the many arms
of the Isis. The same unvaried and unnatural form of tree, which looks
so dreary and ghastly in the waste of winter flood, is full of comfort
and adaptability for the bird in summer. The works of man, though not
always beautiful, are almost always turned to account by the birds, and
by many kinds preferred to the solitude of wilder haunts. Whether he
builds houses, or constructs railways, or digs ditches, or forces trees
into an unnatural shape, they are ready to take advantage of every
chance he gives them. Only when the air is poisoned by smoke and
drainage, and vegetation retreats before the approach of slums, do they
leave their natural friends to live without the charm of their
voices—all but that strange parasite of mankind, the Sparrow. He,
growing sootier every year, and doing his useful dirty work with
untiring diligence and appetite, lives on his noisy and quarrelsome life
even in the very heart of London.

Whether the surroundings of the Oxford Sparrows have given them a sense
of higher things, I cannot say; but they have ways which have suggested
to me that the Sparrow must at some period of his existence have fallen
from a higher state, of which some individuals have a Platonic ἀνάµνησις
which prompts them to purer walks of life. No sooner does the summer
begin to bring out the flies among our pollard willows, than they become
alive with Sparrows. There you may see them, as you repose on one of the
comfortable seats on the brink of the Cherwell in the Parks, catching
flies in the air with a vigour and address which in the course of a few
hundred years might almost develop into elegance. Again and again I have
had to turn my glass upon a bird to see if it could really be a Sparrow
that was fluttering in the air over the water with an activity
apparently meant to rival that of the little Fly-catcher, who sits on a
bough at hand, and occasionally performs the same feat with native
lightness and deftness. But these are for the most part young Sparrows
of the year, who have been brought here perhaps by their parents to be
out of the way of cats, and for the benefit of country air and an
easily-digested insect diet. How long they stay here I do not know; but
before our Autumn Term begins they must have migrated back to the city,
for I seldom or never see them in the willows except in the Summer Term.

These seats by the Cherwell are excellent stations for observation.
Swallows, Martins, and Sand-martins flit over the water; Swifts scream
overhead towards evening; Greenfinches trill gently in the trees, or
utter that curious lengthened sound which is something between the bleat
of a lamb and the snore of a light sleeper; the Yellow Wagtail, lately
arrived, walks before you on the path, looking for materials for a nest
near the water’s edge; the Fly-catcher, latest arrival of all, is
perched in silence on the railing, darting now and then into the air for
flies; the Corn-crake sounds from his security beyond the Cherwell, and
a solitary Nightingale, soon to be driven away by dogs and boats and
bathers, may startle you with a burst of song from the neighbouring

Of the birds just mentioned, the Swifts, Swallows, and Martins build, I
need hardly say, in human habitations, the Sand-martins in some sand- or
gravel-pit, occasionally far away from the river. The largest colony of
these little brown birds, so characteristic of our Oxford summer, is in
a large sand-pit on Foxcombe Hill: there, last July, I chanced to see
the fledgelings peeping out of their holes into the wide world, like
children gazing from a nursery window. The destruction all these species
cause among the flies which swarm round Oxford must be enormous. One day
a Martin dropped a cargo of flies out of its mouth on to my hat, just as
it was about to be distributed to the nestlings; a magnifying glass
revealed a countless mass of tiny insects, some still alive and
struggling. One little wasp-like creature disengaged himself from the
rest, and crawled down my hand, escaping literally from the very jaws of

Before I leave these birds of summer, let me record the fact that last
June (1886) a pair of swallows built their nest on the circular spring
of a bell just over a doorway behind the University Museum; the bell was
constantly being rung, and the nest was not unfrequently examined, but
they brought up their young successfully. This should be reassuring to
those who believe that the Museum and its authorities are a terror to
living animals.

                 [Illustration: Nest on College Bell.]

                              CHAPTER III.
                           THE ALPS IN JUNE.

                   [Illustration: The Alps in June.]

When the University year is over, usually about mid-June,
responsibilities cease almost entirely for a few weeks; and it is
sometimes possible to leave the lowlands of England and their familiar
birds without delay, and to seek new hunting-grounds on the Continent
before the freshness of early summer has faded, and before the world of
tourists has begun to swarm into every picturesque hole and corner of
Europe. An old-standing love for the Alpine region usually draws me
there, sooner or later, wherever I may chance to turn my steps
immediately after leaving England. He who has once seen the mountain
pastures in June will find their spell too strong to be resisted.

At that early time the herdsmen have not yet reached the higher
pastures, and cows and goats have not cropped away the flowers which
scent the pure cool breeze. The birds are undisturbed and trustful, and
still busy with their young. The excellent mountain-inns are
comparatively empty, the Marmots whistle near at hand, and the snow lies
often so deep upon footpaths where a few weeks later even the feeblest
mountaineer would be at home, that a fox, a badger, or even a little
troop of chamois, may occasionally be seen without much climbing. If bad
weather assails us on the heights, which are liable even in June to
sudden snow-storms and bitter cold, we can descend rapidly into the
valleys, to find warmth and a new stratum of bird-life awaiting us. And
if persistent wet or cold drives us for a day or two to one of the
larger towns, Bern, or Zürich, or Geneva, we can spend many pleasant
hours in the museums with which they are provided, studying specimens at
leisure, and verifying or correcting the notes we have made in the

It is a singular fact that I do not remember to have ever seen an
Englishman in these museums, nor have I met with one in my mountain
walks who had a special interest in the birds of the Alps. Something is
done in the way of butterfly-hunting; botanists, or at least botanical
tins, are not uncommon. The guide-books have something to say of the
geology and the botany of the mountains, but little or nothing of their
_fauna_. I have searched in vain through all the volumes of the
_Jahrbuch_ of the Swiss Alpine Club for a single article or paragraph on
the birds, and the oracles of the English Alpine Club are no less dumb.

Not that ornithologists are entirely wanting for this tempting region;
Switzerland has many, both amateur and scientific. A journal of Swiss
ornithology is published periodically. Professor Fatio, of Geneva, one
of the most distinguished of European naturalists, has given much time
and pains to the birds of the Alpine world, and published many valuable
papers on the subject, the results of which have been embodied in Mr.
Dresser’s _Birds of Europe_. But what with the all-engrossing passion
for climbing, and the natural indisposition of the young Englishman to
_loiter_ in that exhilarating air, it has come to pass that the
Anglo-Saxon race has for long past invaded and occupied these mountains
for three months in each year, without discovering how remarkable the
region is in the movements and characteristics of its animal life.

I myself have been fortunate in having as a companion an old friend, a
native of the Oberland, who has all his life been attentive to the
plants and animals of his beloved mountains. Johann Anderegg will be
frequently mentioned in this chapter, and I will at once explain who he
is. A peasant of the lower Hasli-thal, in the canton of Bern, born
before the present excellent system of education had penetrated into the
mountains, was not likely to have much chance of developing his native
intelligence; but I have never yet found his equal among the younger
generation of guides, either in variety of knowledge, or in brightness
of mental faculty. He taught himself to read and write, and picked up
knowledge wherever he found a chance. When his term of military service
was over, he took to the congenial life of a guide and “jäger,” in close
fellowship with his first cousin and namesake, the famous Melchior, the
prince of guides. But a long illness, which sent him for many months to
the waters of Leukerbad, incapacitated him for severe climbing, and at
the same time gave him leisure for thinking and observing: Melchior
outstripped him as a guide, and their companionship, always congenial to
both as men possessed of lively minds as well as muscular bodies, has
long been limited to an occasional chat over a pipe in winter-time.

But he remained an ardent hunter, and has always been an excellent shot:
and it was in this capacity, I believe, that he first became useful to
the Professor Fatio whom I mentioned just now. He did much collecting
for him, and in the course of their expeditions together, contrived to
learn a great deal about plants, insects, and birds, most of which he
retains in his old age. There is nothing scientific in his knowledge,
unless it be a smattering of Latin names, which he brings out with great
relish if with some inaccuracy; but it is of a very useful kind, and is
aided by a power of eyesight which is even now astonishing in its
keenness. I first made his acquaintance in 1868, and for several years
he accompanied my brother and myself in glacier-expeditions in all parts
of the Alps; but it has been of late years, since we have been less
inclined for strenuous exertion, that I have found his knowledge of
natural history more especially useful to me. He is now between sixty
and seventy, but on a bracing alp, with a gun on his shoulder, his step
is as firm and his enjoyment as intense, as on the day when he took us
for our first walk on a glacier, eighteen years ago.

The mention of his gun reminds me, that though my old friend’s eyes and
my own field-glasses were of the greatest help to me, I could not always
satisfy myself as to the identity of a species; and two years ago I was
forced to sacrifice the lives of some six or seven individuals. This, it
is worth knowing, is illegal in all parts of Switzerland, and illegal at
all times of the year; and I had to obtain a license from the Cantonal
Government at Bern, kindly procured for me by another old acquaintance,
Herr Immer of Meiringen and the Engstlen-alp, to shoot birds ‘in the
cause of science.’ This delighted Anderegg; but at my earnest request he
suppressed his sporting instincts, or only gave them rein in fruitless
scrambles over rock and snow in search of Ptarmigan and Marmots.

I propose to occupy the latter part of this chapter in taking my readers
a short expedition, in company with Anderegg, in search of Alpine birds;
but let me first say something of the general conditions and
characteristics of bird-life in Switzerland.

And first of the number of species, and abundance of individuals. People
sometimes tell me that they never see any birds in the Alps. An elderly
German, whose bodily exertions were limited, and whose faculties seemed
to turn inwards on himself instead of radiating outwards, could not
understand why I should go to Switzerland to study birds—for he could
see none. And it is indeed true that they do not swarm there, as with
us; in this respect Switzerland is like the rest of the Continent. It is
a curious fact, that though we have only lately begun to preserve our
small birds by law in the breeding-season, they are far more abundant
here than they are in any part of the Continent known to me: and this is
the case even with the little delicate migrants, many of which seem to
have a preference for England in spite of the risk of the sea-crossing.
I remember taking up a position one afternoon by the side of a rushing
stream, dividing beautiful hay-meadows, and edged with dwarf willows;
and during the half-hour I sat there, I neither saw nor heard a single
bird. In such a spot in England there would have been plenty. But this
is an exception: the rule is, that you may read wherever you run, if you
will keep your eyes and ears open, and learn by experience where chiefly
to be on the look-out. Variety is more interesting than numbers; the
birds are more obvious from their comparative rarity; and their voices
are not lost, as is sometimes the case with us, in a general and
unceasing chorus. As regards the number of species in the country, I
have never seen an accurate computation of it. But looking over Mr.
Dresser’s very useful catalogue of the Birds of Europe, I calculate
roughly that it would amount to about three hundred in all; _i.e._ less
by some seventy or eighty than the avi-fauna of the British Islands.
This is, however, a remarkably large number for a country that possesses
no sea-board and very few of those sea-birds which form so large a
contingent in our wonderful British list; and it suggests a few remarks
on the causes which bring some birds to the Alps periodically, and have
tempted others to make them their permanent home.

The greatest attractions for birds, and therefore the chief agents—as
far as our present knowledge reaches—in inducing birds to move from
place to place are food and variety of temperature. Now in the Alps we
find these conditions of bird-life everywhere present, except, of
course, in the very highest levels of snow and ice. The seed-eating
birds find sufficient food in the rich hay, thick and sweet with
flowers, which covers the whole of the Alpine pastures from May to July,
and abundance of corn, flax, and fruit in the valleys: in the steep
pine-woods that usually separate these valleys from the pastures, the
larger seed-eaters enjoy an endless supply of fir-cones. The
insect-eating birds are still more fortunate. Nothing is more striking
in the Alps than the extraordinary abundance in the summer of insects of
all kinds, as we know to our cost in the sun-baked valleys; and on the
mountains it is equally wonderful though less annoying. There it is that
the beetles have their paradise. In loose heaps of stone, often
collected to clear a stony pasture; in the wooden palings used to
separate alp from alp; in the decaying lumber of the pine-forests,
beetles both small and great are absolutely swarming. A clergyman,
pastor of a valley near Meiringen, who collected them, found more than
eight hundred different species in his parish alone. All the birds shot
for me at the Engstlen-alp had been living on a diet of minute beetles
as their principal food. It is indeed wonderful to notice the strange
disproportion between the abundance of food provided and the numbers of
the birds who avail themselves of the repast: there is so much more to
eat than can ever possibly be eaten.

But we must remember that this is the case only during the warm months.
During the greater part of the year the snow is on the ground in the
regions of which I am speaking, and hardly any birds are to be found
there. A great and general migration takes place, either to the valleys
below, or out of the mountain region altogether, southward, or in a very
few cases, northward. Switzerland is, in fact, an admirable centre for
the study of migration; migration, that is, on a large scale, where the
birds leave the country entirely, and also on that limited scale which
we call in England ‘partial’ migration. I believe that the Alps will
some day win the attention of the ornithologists as being one of the
best of all positions as a centre of observation. We will pause for a
moment to glance at it in this light.

We need hardly look at the map to see that the huge mass of the Alps
lies directly in the path of the great yearly migration of birds from
south and east to northern Europe. The question arises at once, does
this immense mountain-range, with its icy peaks and wind-swept passes,
act as an obstacle to the travelling birds, or do they rise to it and
cross it, without going round, into the plains of North Switzerland and
Germany? I confess that I should like to be able to answer this question
with greater certainty; but I believe the right answer, in the rough, to
be as follows. In the first place, a large number of species never
attempt to cross the mountains, but remain in the great basin of the Po,
and in southern France, the whole summer, thus making the avi-fauna of
Lombardy distinct in many points from that of Switzerland. If we look
through the works of Dresser, Gould, or Bree, on European birds, with
the object of learning something on this point, we find that bird after
bird, especially among the tenderer kinds of warblers, gets no further
than North Italy and the southern slopes of the Alps, seldom straggling
into Switzerland proper. On the other hand, some migrating birds, such
as the Black Redstart, the Citril Finch, and some of the hardier
warblers, seem to desire a cool climate to breed in, and doubtless come
across the passes to inhabit the Alpine pastures during the whole of the
summer. How far this is also the case with the vast number of more
delicate birds, such as the various Reed- and Willow-warblers, who live
by the rivers and lakes during the summer, I cannot undertake to say;
and it is a mere guess on my part if I hazard an opinion that many of
these must come into Switzerland by way of France and Austria. Anderegg
sent me word last autumn that he had noticed the Swallows leaving
Meiringen, not southwards over the Grimsel pass towards Italy, but
_westwards_, as if they were seeking to turn the vast mountain barrier.
Yet it is a known fact that on some of the passes birds are watched and
killed in their passage.

But I have still to speak of partial or internal migration in
Switzerland; and this is what, if I am not mistaken, will prove a very
fertile source of ornithological knowledge when thoroughly understood.
As I said before, the agents which chiefly cause birds to move from one
place to another (so far as we know), are food-supply and temperature.
Now we have only to look at a raised map of Switzerland to see at once
how subject the birds must be to such incitements towards change of
place. Any one who has been to Switzerland will have noticed that the
scenery falls into three great divisions—that of the lakes and valleys,
that of the Alpine pastures and forests, and lastly, that of the regions
on the border-line of perpetual snow, running upwards to the higher
snow-fields. The professional mountaineer pays little attention to any
but the last of these; the botanist and ornithologist have, fortunately,
much reason to pause and reap a harvest in the lower levels, which are
incomparably more beautiful. For convenience’ sake I will call the
lowest, No. 1; the second—that of the Alpine pastures, No. 2; and the
highest, No. 3. The distribution of birds in these three regions is
continually changing. No. 3, in the winter, is entirely devoid of life
and food. The Eagles and the great bearded Vultures, now very rare, can
find not even a marmot to prey upon, for they are all asleep in their
burrows. The Snow-finches and the Ptarmigan, which in the summer delight
in the cool air of an altitude of 8000 to 10,000 feet, have descended to
No. 2, or even lower, compelled by want of food and water: and so too
the red-winged Rock-creeper, the Alpine-pipit and others, which may be
seen in summer close to the great glaciers. In the same way the birds
which haunt No. 2 in the summer—I am speaking of those which do not
leave the country altogether—descend in the autumn to No. 1, and there
remain till the following spring: among these are the Ring-ousel and
Blackbird, the Nutcrackers, the Titmice, the Alpine Choughs, the Alpine
Accentor, and others. Then in the spring the reverse process takes
place. As the spring advances up the mountain-slopes, which it gains
slowly, not reaching the highest region of vegetation till June or even
July, the birds follow it. Region No. 1, now peopled by the immigrations
from Africa and the Mediterranean, sends on large numbers of its winter
birds to region No. 2, where, like the cows and the herdsmen who ascend
about the same time, they enjoy cool air and abundance of food in the
well-watered pastures. Meanwhile the Snow-finches, the Ptarmigan, and
the birds of prey, who have been living during the winter in the lower
slopes and woods of region No. 2, retire upwards to breed in the rocks
and snowy crevices of No. 3. We can hardly help believing that with all
these wonderful provisions of nature for their change of scene and
temperature, these partial migrants of Switzerland must lead a life
supremely happy. Man himself and his cattle are partial migrants in the
Alps; and no day is so welcome to the herdsman as that on which the
authorities of his commune fix for the first movement of the cows
upwards. Bitter indeed has been the disappointment of my old guide, now
the happy possessor of two cows, when he has not been able to follow
them in their annual migration to the cooler pastures. He could realize
the feelings of a caged bird, unable to follow its fellows in seeking
the southern lands for which its heart yearns.

Before leaving this subject I should, perhaps, note that these three
regions are not divided from each other by any definite line; and in
respect of their bird-life I need hardly say they slide insensibly into
each other. But I think it will be found that the division is a fair one
for our purposes, and is a useful one to bear in mind in all dealings
with the natural history of the country.

I will now ask my readers to follow me mentally in an expedition which
will bring us into actual contact with many of the birds I have noticed
in Switzerland. We will choose a route which from its great beauty,
comparative quiet, and good inns, has always been a favourite of mine,
and will carry us over parts of all the three regions I have just
described, enabling us to compare their avi-fauna with that of our own
country. Starting from the village of Stanz-stadt, famous in Swiss
history, which stands on that arm of the lake of Lucerne which lies
immediately beneath Mount Pilatus, we will pass up the luxuriant valley
of the Aa, in canton Unter-walden, to Engelberg, where most of the land
and forest is owned by the monks of a great monastery, whose care for
their possessions has doubtless helped to make them a pleasant home for
the birds; then we will mount to the pastures of the Gerstni-alp, in
region No. 2, and so upwards to the Joch-pass, which in early summer is
covered with snow, and introduces us to region No. 3. Descending for an
hour to the Engstlen-alp, loveliest of Swiss pastures, we find ourselves
here, at the excellent inn, again in No. 2, but still within very easy
reach of No. 3; and then we can pass downwards through the Gentelthal,
or along the pastures that look down on it from the north—for there are
three different ways, all of them of the rarest beauty—to the deep
valley of the Aar, or Hasli-thal, where we arrive once more in region
No. 1.

On reaching Stanz-stadt, I always take a turn along the road that here
forms a narrow causeway between two divisions of the lake, and is
bordered on one side for some distance by a broad bed of reeds. Any
ornithologist would see at once that something is in store for him here,
and if I had had time or patience to stay here in the heat, I might
probably have seen more than I did see. The Bittern occasionally visits
these reeds, for the landlord of the inn showed me a very fine specimen
which he himself had shot. They are also the summer residence of those
Warblers which love reeds, and which abound much more on the reedier
lakes of Biel and Neuchâtel. On my last visit to Stanz-stadt, my
companion being in a hurry to get into cooler climes, I had only a
quarter of an hour to spend on this bit of road; but my ear instantly
caught the song of our Reed-warbler, to which I had been listening for
many weeks at Oxford, while learning to distinguish it from that of its
near relation the Sedge-warbler. It was pleasant to hear the familiar
strain the very instant my long journey was over. The Marsh-warbler, the
Aquatic-warbler, and others of their kind, are all to be seen by the
rivers and lakes of our lowest region (No. 1), rarely ascending higher;
and he who has the courage to spend a few days in the baking and biting
valley of the Rhone, for example, will find them all among the desolate
reed- and willow-beds of that, to man, most inhospitable river.

Here also, at Stanz-stadt, and all up the valley to Engelberg, and at
Engelberg itself in abundance, may be seen the White Wagtail of the
continent, which is as comparatively rare in England as our common Pied
Wagtail is abroad. The two forms are very closely allied, our Pied
Wagtail in winter very closely resembling the White bird in its summer
dress. The difficulty of distinguishing the two caused me to pay great
attention to these White Wagtails whenever I saw them. If you see a bird
in summer which has a uniform pearl-gray back, set off sharply against a
black head, the black coming no further down than the nape of the neck,
it is the White Wagtail. You must look at his back chiefly; it is far
the most telling character. The male Pied Wagtail has at this season a
black back, and the female has hers darker and less uniform in colour
than the genuine White bird. I shall have something more to say of
Wagtails in the course of our walk; but let me take this opportunity of
asking the special attention of travellers on the continent to these
most beautiful and puzzling birds, whose varieties of plumage at
different seasons of the year seem almost endless, and whose
classification is still by no means finally settled.

As we travel up the valley to Engelberg, and in the higher portion of it
in which Engelberg stands, a considerable variety of birds may be seen
which are familiar to us as British species. The Whin-chat is nestling
in the meadows, and swaying itself on the tops of the long grasses; our
common English Redstart is seen here and there, but not often, on the
walls and palings; the Creeper runs up the stems of the fruit-trees, and
the Nuthatch has its nest in holes in the maple-trees, which in these
valleys are of great size and beauty. In the woods and undergrowth you
may see the Chiff-chaff, and Willow-wren, and Garden-warbler, and here
and there a Buzzard: the Robin and Blackbird are about, but not nearly
so common as with us, and we are at first surprised at the absence of
Song-thrushes,[21] and the comparative rarity of Sparrows, Skylarks, and

The commonest bird of all in the Engelberg valley, is one which we
seldom see in England, and never in the summer. This is the
Black-redstart, a bird which has a wide summer distribution all over
Europe, and is found in Switzerland at all altitudes, suiting itself to
all temperatures. Wherever there is a chalet under the eaves of which it
can build, there it is to be found as soon as spring has begun to
appear, even though the snow is lying all around. I have found it myself
nesting in chalets before the herdsmen and cows had arrived there, and
at a height of 6000 feet or more, it has woke me at dawn with its song:
yet at the same time it is abounding in the plains of France and
Germany, and nowhere have I seen greater numbers than in the park at
Luxembourg. It is one of the puzzles of ornithology, that in spite of
this, the bird _never_ comes to England in the summer; and that the
stragglers that do visit us always appear as winter visitants; straying
to our foggy shores as if by mistake, when they ought to be on their way
to the sunny south.

The little ‘Röthel,’ as they call him, is a great favourite with the
Swiss peasantry; he is trustful and musical, and will sing sometimes
when you are within a few feet of him. They are sorry to part with him
in autumn, and cannot make out what becomes of him. One of them told me
that twenty-two of these birds were once found in the winter fast asleep
in a cluster, like swarming bees, in the hollow-trunk of a cherry-tree;
how far the story was mythical, I will not venture to say.

The Swallow tribe have been with us all the way along the valley, but
they will follow us no further. Even at Engelberg (3500 feet) they seem
to be a little chilly in the early summer. When I first arrived there,
in cold weather, there was not a Swift to be seen; but one morning when
I woke I heard them screaming, and afterwards I always knew a fine
morning by the sound of their voices. Higher up, when we leave the
highest limits of region No. 1, we shall see neither Swift, Martin, nor
Swallow, and nothing is more striking on the ‘Alps,’ than the sense that
you have left these birds of summer behind you. The highest point at
which I saw a swallow last summer was at the glacier of the Rhone, where
Anderegg pointed me out a single straggler as a curiosity: but later in
the year they are probably bolder. Their place is taken in regions Nos.
2 and 3 by two other species, by no means common, and of great
interest—the Alpine Swift and the Crag-martin. I have not found the
latter in the district of which we are speaking, but he is always to be
seen in a place well-known to most travellers in Switzerland—the steep
descent of the Gemmi, to Leukerbad. As you wind down those tremendous
precipices, you will see a little ghostly bird flitting up and down
them, something after the manner of a bat, and reminding you of our
Sand-martin—this is the Crag-martin, which spends the summer here, and
builds in the crevices of the rocks. In the same place and others of the
kind, you may see the Alpine Swift, whose flight is probably faster than
that of any European bird; a splendid sight it is to watch him wheeling
in the sunshine, borne along on wings that expand to a width of nearly
two feet.

I have already strayed away from the valley to speak of these birds, and
it is time that we should ascend to region No. 2, by the well-known path
to the south of Engelberg. Just at the foot of the hill, where the path
begins to mount, you may hear an unfamiliar note; it is that of the Pied
Flycatcher, a bird not unfrequently seen in England, but welcome under
all circumstances. As we go upwards through the wood, we hear very few
birds: but as we suddenly emerge on a grassy slope between the pines, a
large bird comes sailing high over us, with large brown outstretched
wings, which we may believe is a Golden Eagle, so grave and silent its
flight, so huge its outline against the sky. After half-an-hour’s walk
we come out upon the Alps proper, _i. e._ the flowery pastures which
form the bulk of region No. 2. Here the bird-life begins very sensibly
to change. The Swallows, as I have said, do not venture so high: of the
warblers, the only one left is the Chiff-chaff, which sings its familiar
two notes in the underwood far up on the steep slopes above us. We are
now on the ‘Pfaffenwand,’ a very steep and stony ascent separating the
lower from the higher pastures; and here each year this tiny little bird
seems to choose for his haunt, and perhaps for his nesting-place, the
very highest bit of real cover, consisting only of stunted bushes, that
he can find in all this district. Here, too, we are not unlikely to find
a flock of Alpine Choughs; noisy chattering birds, with yellow beaks,
strong and stout and with a downward curve; their legs are bright red
and their plumage a bright and glossy black. The Cornish Chough
(_Pyrrhocorax graculus_, Linn.), is also found in the Alps, but it is
much less common; it is a larger bird, and its bill, which is long and
red, is very different from the shorter and stouter yellow beak of the
smaller species. The Alpine Chough is the characteristic _corvus_ of the
Alps, as it is also of the Apennines, and its lively chatter, breaking
suddenly on vast and silent solitudes, recalls to memory the familiar
jackdaw we left behind us in the Broad Walk at Oxford, or in the tower
of our old village church.

But as I think of those delicious pastures, nestling under the solemn
precipices, and studded in June with gentians, primulas, anemones, where
each breath of crystal air is laden with the aromatic scent of Alpine
herbage, I seem to hear one favourite song resounding far and near—a
song given high in air, and often by an invisible singer; for so huge is
the mass of mountain around us, that he seldom projects himself against
the sky in his flight, and may well escape the quickest eye. But he is
never many minutes together on the wing, and will soon descend to perch
on some prominent object, the very top twig of a pine, or a bit of rock
amid the Alpine roses—

  Those quivering wings composed, that music still.

His nest is not far off, and may sometimes be stumbled on in the grass
and fern. This blithe spirit of the flowery pastures is the Water Pipit
(_Anthus spinoletta_, Linn.), a little gray and brown bird somewhat more
distinctly marked than our English Pipits, having a lightish stripe over
the eye, whitish breast, and black legs; but in other respects much like
his relations, both in habits and in his song, which is a long
succession of clear bell-like notes, slackening somewhat in rapidity and
force as he descends. He has very rarely been found in England, but may
possibly be commoner than we fancy. Should I ever meet with him, he will
surely carry me back in fancy to his true home among the Alps, where in
the common speech of the peasants he is no longer a prosaic Pipit, but
as he may well be called, the Alpine Lark.[22]

Another bird which haunts this region, though not in such numbers, and
whose habits are much like those of the Water Pipit, is the Alpine
Accentor. This belongs to a family (_Accentoridae_) which has only one
other representative in Western Europe—our own familiar little Dunnock
or Hedge-sparrow. In plumage and song the two are not unlike, though the
Alpine bird is rather larger and of a more variegated warm brown
colouring: but I cannot help pausing for one moment to point out the
remarkable instance that we have here of two very closely allied birds
developing habits of life so entirely distinct,—the one being
stationary, the other migratory; the one breeding in the road-side hedge
where it lives all the year, and the other retreating to the highest
limits of the Alpine pastures and making its nest in the holes of the
rocks. In the winter however the Alpine bird descends to the valleys,
and there finds it convenient to associate more closely with man and his
works; in the Hasli-thal it is known as the ‘Bliem-trittel,’ a term
which Anderegg explained to me as meaning that it regales itself on the
seeds of the flowers and grass which escape through the timbers of the
chalet-built hay-barns. Thus it lives on two distinct diets in summer
and winter; for in summer it feeds chiefly on the innumerable small
beetles of the pastures, while in winter it is driven to become a

As our time is running short, we will now cross the snow-covered Joch, a
pass barely high enough to bring us well into region No. 3, and drop
down on the exquisite Engstlen-alp with its comfortable inn (6000 feet),
whence we can climb to the highest region at any time with ease: this
well-watered and well-timbered Alp being so placed that it stands nearly
at the top of region No. 2, with easy access to No. 3, and affords us
another glimpse at the former before we finally leave it.

As we sit at lunch after our walk, there faces us exactly opposite the
window of the salle-à-manger, at a distance of a few yards, a little
dark-brown hay-chalet; always a picturesque object, whether it stands
out on a clear day against the mighty distant mass of the Wetterhörner,
or looms huge and uncertain in the swirls of a mountain mist. This old
friend of fourteen years’ standing gained a new interest for me on my
last visit. Every now and then a pair of little greenish-yellow birds
would come and twitter on its roof, or pick up seeds and insects from
beneath its raised floor. I took these at first for the Serin-finch, the
well-known favourite cage-bird of the continent, and the near relation
of the Canary and of our English Siskin. I had no wish to shoot such
trustful and beautiful creatures, and therefore remained in ignorance of
their true nature till I returned to England, when I found from
Dresser’s work that they must have been not the Serin but the
Citril-finch. The two are closely allied, but the Serin seems to content
itself with the valleys and plains of region No. 1, while its place is
taken in the mountains by its cousin. Mr. Dresser has an interesting
account of a successful search for it on the highest summit of the Black
Forest. It builds its nest in the pine branches, but may always be
looked out for near chalets or palings at a considerable height, which
it ransacks for food; and an elaborate search for its nest which I made
in the chalet was a wild-goose chase into which I find that more
distinguished ornithologists have been misled before me.

If we now stroll out across this beautiful alp to the lake which bounds
and waters it, we shall find it alive with birds. Besides the Pipits and
the Accentors, there are families of young Ring-ousels and
Missel-thrushes, which have evidently been born and brought up near at
hand; Wheatears, of our English species, are perched on the big stones
that lie about, and in the ancient pines above them you may now and then
see a Crossbill or a Redpoll. In the broad stream that issues from the
lake you will always see the Dipper, and associated with it is the Grey
Wagtail, seemingly the only bird of its kind that affects the higher
Alps; for the White Wagtail seems to stay in the valleys even in the
summer, and to love the larger streams and the farmyard pool; and the
other species which I might have expected to meet, the Blue-headed
Wagtail (_Motacilla flava_, Linn.), did not once offer himself to my
field-glass, nor did his near relative, our common Yellow Wagtail of
spring and summer.

But it is time that we should leave the pastures and make an expedition
into the higher region of rock and snow. There is of course but little
bird-life there, but that little is interesting. The best way is to go
straight up the steep grass-slopes to the north-west of the inn, which
are carpeted in June with millions of fragrant pansies and gentians,
until we arrive, after a climb of some 1500 feet, at a little hollow
filled with snow and limestone boulders, and having on one side a
precipitous wall of rock, and on the other a series of upward-sloping
stretches of snow, interspersed with patches of rock and short grass.
Early in the season, when this desolate region is still quite
undisturbed, you may find occupation if you lie in wait awhile. In my
first walk here, no sooner did I reach this hollow, than a badger got up
about ten yards from me and shuffled away behind some boulders; and
while following up his tracks over the snow, I found them crossing and
recrossing the ‘spur’ of chamois. A little further on, I saw the
Ptarmigan creeping about among the rocks, and very soon I heard the call
of the Snow-finches. These birds, who thus live and breed almost within
the limits of perpetual snow, might be supposed, as Gould says of them,
to ‘dwell in unmolested security.’ I was soon able to judge of the
accuracy of his statement, for as soon as I had caught sight of them
with the field-glass, I saw that something was causing anxiety to the
little family. It was their alarm-call that I had heard; and as I was
cautiously watching them fluttering on or close to the ground, I
suddenly saw a small red fox make a hungry dash upon them, startling me
and causing me for the moment unwittingly to move the glass and lose the
whole scene. When I found them again the fox was gone, the finches were
greatly troubled, and I fear there is no doubt that he secured a dinner.

The Snow-finch is a beautiful bird, rather larger than a Green-finch or
Sparrow, with long wings in which the primary quill-feathers are much
longer than the rest, as in some other birds, of airy and graceful
flight. The strong contrast of jet-black and purest white in the
plumage, _e.g._ in the tail, which has two black feathers in the middle
while the rest are as white as snow, makes the bird conspicuous at a
long distance, and a more striking object than the browner Snow-bunting,
which occasionally strays from the north to the Alps. Seldom have I seen
a more beautiful sight, unless it be a flight of Plover on English
water-meadows, than the wavings and whirlings of a flock of
Snow-finches, with their white feathers glistening in the sun one
moment, while the next their black ones will show clear against the

One other bird, which loves these great heights in the summer, may
occasionally be seen within a few minutes’ walk of the place where the
Snow-finch fell a victim. This is the red-winged Rock- or Wall-creeper,
a bird so beautiful and so unique that it demands at least a passing
notice. Wherever there is a steep wall or rock which is in shadow during
part at least of the day, this bird may be looked for and occasionally
seen, even in the midst of a snow-field or a glacier;[23] for when the
rock is exposed to the sun, the heat generated is too great either to
allow the bird to work, or the insects it seeks to remain in the
crevices. To those who have not seen it, it may best be described as in
shape almost exactly like our common little Tree-creeper, the only other
European representative of the family, but larger, and instead of its
cousin’s sober brown plumage, presenting such an exquisite contrast of
colour as is hardly to be found even among the fauna of the tropics. Its
head, neck, and back, are soft ash-gray, and when its wings are closed
you would hardly distinguish it from the gray rock to which it clings;
but in an instant, as it begins half to climb and half to flutter from
crevice to crevice, you will see the brilliant crimson of its lesser
quill-feathers standing out, not unlike the underwings of a well-known
moth, against that delicate gray. Its bill is long and slender, but
strange to say, it is without the long tongue, that wonderful
far-darter, with which the wood-peckers are provided; so the insects
which it seeks in the crevices have to be rummaged for with the bill
itself, and conveyed in some mysterious manner to the tongue, which does
not reach much more than half way down it. Perhaps this may partly
account for a statement made to me by Anderegg, and positively insisted
on by him, that the bird loses the end of its bill every autumn,
regaining it in the course of the winter. I am not in a position either
to accept or refute this story. Anderegg declared that he had sent
Professor Fatio specimens in order to prove it; but the Professor, who
has studied the bird carefully, has not, so far as I know, drawn
attention to any such peculiarity. I am inclined to think the truth may
lie in the liability of the bird to wear away or even break the tip of
its bill in the course of its indefatigable efforts to obtain food, and
I have seen a specimen in the Bern Museum whose broken bill may possibly
be a confirmation of this explanation. The peasant mind is apt enough to
elevate an accidental circumstance into a law of nature.

We must now leave region No. 3 altogether, and descend from the
Engstlen-alp westwards towards the Hasli-thal, passing through long
stretches of the pine-forests which so often separate the upper pastures
from the valleys. There are two families of birds to be met with in
these forests, of which I must say a very few words,—the Woodpeckers and
the Titmice. The former are not abundant, and it needs much patience to
find them. I was to have visited a nesting-place of the Great Black
Woodpecker (that awe-inspiring bird, which has borne its name of _Picus
Martius_ ever since it was the prophetic bird of Mars[24]), but fate
decreed that I should have to go that day in an opposite direction. The
three Spotted Woodpeckers—great, middle, and lesser—all occur, but our
familiar green bird, which does not seem at home among the pines, is
less common. Rarest of all is the Three-toed Woodpecker, with yellow
head, which dwells—so Anderegg told me, and I find from the books that
he was right—only among the highest and most solitary pine-woods.

At intervals, as in an English wood, the trees will be astir with
Titmice. The Cole-tit and the Marsh-tit, the Blue-tit and the Great-tit,
are all to be seen here, the last two undistinguishable from the British
form, while the Cole-tit has a bluer back than ours, and the Marsh-tit
in these higher levels differs, according to Professor Fatio, even from
the same bird when found lower down, and approaches rather to the
Scandinavian form. This single fact is enough to show how interesting
would be a persevering study of this particular family. I will not
venture to say whether these slight differences in plumage are enough to
justify a specific separation of the forms. In the case of the
continental Long-tailed Tit, which is decidedly different in colouring
from ours, even amateurs may perhaps see a sufficient reason; but will
prefer to suspend their judgment as to the other two.

There is yet a Titmouse, nearly always to be heard and seen between the
Engstlen-alp and the Gentelthal, which is even more attractive to the
ornithologist than any of its cousins. This is the Crested-tit
(_Lophophancs cristatus_, Linn.), now so rare even in Scotland, and,
according to Anderegg, not too common even in these pine-forests. It
needs a vigilant eye and ear to detect it, so closely does it resemble
its relatives (and especially the Blue species) both in voice and
appearance, until you catch the well-marked crest on the head, and the
additional shade of melancholy in the note. So close indeed are this
bird and the Blue-tit in form, habits, and note, that I am astonished
that the crest by itself (a few feathers raised on the head) should have
been thought a sufficiently strong character to raise it into a separate
genus—_Lophophanes_. If we notice the Blue-tit carefully, we shall find
that he also often elevates his head-feathers into something like a
crest; imagine this a little larger, and the bright colouring of the
Blue-tit sobered into a soft bluish gray, and you will get a very good
idea of the appearance of the male Crested-tit. His lady is brown rather
than gray, causing Anderegg to make one of those mistakes to which the
peasant-naturalist is liable; he assured me that there were two species,
answering to the two prevailing tints.

I never can forget the spot where my old friend’s sharp ear first caught
for me the quiet note of these little birds. If any bird-lover should
chance to walk from Engstlen down to the Hasli-thal, he should stop near
the foot of the first rapid descent among the pines, where the stream
which he has lately crossed tumbles over a ledge of rock into a deep
dark pool. At the very edge of this pool stand a few black pine-trees,
and among the thick branches of these the Tits were playing. Above us
were vast mountain walls, and at our feet was the mossy grass, damp with
the spray of the fall; among the gray boulders the alpine rhododendron
was coming into bloom. At a little distance a robin was singing its
ever-welcome song, mingling its English music with the sound of alpine
cow-bells from the pasture further down the valley. Such scenes linger
for ever in the memory, and are endeared to us by the thought of the
blithe creatures who live and sport among them during a long golden
summer, long after we have returned to the land of misty meadows and
miry ways.

But we must now leave these woods and pastures, and descend to the deep
valley of the Hasli-thal, where we shall end our journey at Meiringen.
If, instead of following the ordinary path, we skirt along the heights
to the north towards Hasliberg, and so keep in cooler air, enjoying
endless views, we shall finally descend by a very steep winding path,
which is the only means of communication between the population of the
valley and that of the higher slopes. In the willows and hazels among
which this path winds, and also on the opposite side of the valley on
the way to Rosenlaui, I have always heard a little warbler whose voice
was quite strange to me. More than once I have done all I could to
obtain a good sight of it; but the restless caprice of these little
birds, who flit rapidly in and out of the bushes while the ornithologist
waits with his head in a burning sun, only to lose sight of the tiny
creature the moment the glass is upon him, defeated my purpose of
finding out his species beyond the possibility of error; and Anderegg
was as unwilling to use his gun so near the village, as I should have
been to sacrifice a joyous life to the spirit of curiosity. But I have
every reason to believe that my little tormentors belonged to a species
with which I shall hope some day to make a closer acquaintance; it bears
the name of the Italian naturalist Bonelli, and is a very near relation
of our friends the Chiff-chaff and Willow-wren (_Phylloscopus
Bonnellii_, Vieill.).[25]

Our walk is now ended, and this chapter is already quite long enough.
Were we to take another, we might see many other species not less
interesting than those we have met with on the way from Stanz-stadt; we
might find Hawks of several species, Nutcrackers in the pine-woods, the
Golden Oriole, the Hoopoe, or the beautiful Blue-breast. But I have
thought it better to be content, for the most part, with the birds I
have actually met with in the walk we have chosen to take, rather than
to furnish a catalogue of all those we might be lucky enough to meet
with if we stayed some weeks in the country. And thus I hope I may have
given my readers some little idea of the impression left by the birds of
a well-known alpine district on the memory of a rather hurried
traveller, who has not been always able to go or to stay as his own
inclination would prompt him.

                   [Illustration: Bonelli’s Warbler.]

                              CHAPTER IV.

                    [Illustration: Kingham Rectory.]

It is a curious fact that, when I return from Switzerland, that I am at
first unable to discover anything in our English midlands but a dead
level of fertile plain. The eye has accustomed itself in the course of
two or three weeks to expect an overshadowing horizon of rock and snow,
and when that is removed, it fails to perceive the lesser differences of
height. This fact is an excellent illustration of the abnormal condition
of things in the Alps, affecting the life both of the plants and animals
which inhabit them; and it also shows us how very slight are the
differences of elevation in most parts of our own island. In ordinary
weather, the temperature does not greatly differ in an English valley
and on an English ridge of hill, and the question whether their fauna
and flora vary, is one rather of soil than of temperature. Still, there
are manifest differences to be observed as we proceed from river-valleys
to rising wooded ground, and from this again to a bare hill-side; and it
may be interesting, after our walk in the Alps, to note the bird-life of
an English rural district which is provided with all three, recalling
dimly and perhaps fancifully the three regions of the Alpine world.

The traveller by railway from Oxford to Worcester leaves the broad
meadows of the Isis about three miles above Oxford, and after crossing a
spur of higher land, strikes the little river Evenlode at Handborough
Station, not far from its junction with the Isis at Cassington. This
Evenlode is the next considerable stream westward of the Cherwell, and
just as the line of the latter is followed by the Birmingham railway, so
the line to Worcester keeps closely to the Evenlode for nearly twenty
miles, only leaving it at last in its cradle in the uplands of
Worcestershire. Westward again of the Evenlode, the Windrush comes down
from the northern Cotswolds, to join the Isis at Witney, and further
still come Leach, and Coln, and others, bringing the clear cold water in
which trout delight, from the abundant springs at Northleach and
Andoversford. But the Evenlode is not a Cotswold stream, though trout
may still be caught in it where it has not been polluted; it skirts for
many miles the north-eastern slope of the Cotswolds, which may be seen
from the train-windows closing in the horizon all the way from
Shipton-under-Wychwood to Evesham and Worcester, but it has the slow
current and muddy bottom of a lowland stream, and runs throughout its
course among water-meadows liable to flood.

For the first few miles of its course it is little more than a ditch;
but shortly after passing the historic lawns of Daylesford, it is joined
by two other streams, one descending from the slope of the Cotswolds,
and the other from the high ground of Chipping Norton eastwards. These
two join the Evenlode exactly at the point where it enters Oxfordshire,
and the combination produces a little river of some pretension, which
enjoys a somewhat more rapid descent for some miles from this junction,
and almost prattles as it passes the ancient abbey-lands of Bruerne and
the picturesque spire of Shipton church.

Close to the point of junction, on a long tongue of land which is a spur
of Daylesford hill, and forms a kind of promontory bounded by the
meadows of the Evenlode and the easternmost of its two tributaries, lies
the village where much of my time is spent in vacations. It is more than
four hundred feet above the sea, and the hills around it rise to double
that height; but it lies in an open country, abounding in corn, amply
provided with hay-meadows by the alluvial deposit of the streams already
mentioned, and also within easy reach of long stretches of wild
woodland. For all along the valley the observant passenger will have
been struck with the long lines of wood which flank the Evenlode at
intervals throughout its course; he passes beneath what remains of the
ancient forest of Wychwood, and again after a considerable gap he has
the abbey-woods of Bruerne on his left, and once more after an interval
of cultivation his view is shut in by the dense fox-covers of Bledington
and Oddington, the border villages of Gloucestershire. It is just at
this interval between Bruerne and Bledington that the junction of the
two streams with the Evenlode takes place; so that from this point, or
from the village already spoken of, it is but a short distance to an
ample and solitary woodland either up or down the valley. Beyond that
woodland lies a stretch of pasture land which brings you to the foot of
the long ridge of hill forming the north-eastern boundary and bulwark of
the Cotswolds, and hiding from us the little old-world towns of Burford
and Northleach. We have therefore within a radius of five or six miles
almost every kind of country in which birds rejoice to live. We have
water-meadow, corn-land, woods, and hills, and also here and there a few
acres of scrubby heath and gorse; and the only requisite we lack is a
large sheet of water or marshy ground, which might attract the waders
and sea-birds so commonly found near Oxford. We are neither too far
north to miss the southern birds, nor too far south to see the northern
ones occasionally; we might with advantage be a little farther east, but
we are not too far west to miss the Nightingale from our coverts.

Such a position and variety would be sure to produce a long list of
birds, both residents and visitors; not only because there are
localities at hand suited to be their dwelling-places during the whole
or a part of the year, but because they offer the _change of scene and
food_ which is essential to the welfare of many species. An open country
of heath and common will not abound in birds of more than a very few
species, unless it is varied with fertile oases, with garden, orchard,
or meadow; for many of the birds that delight to play about in the open,
and rove from place to place during the first few months of their
existence, will need for their nests and young the shelter of trees and
shrubs. While the young are growing, they require incessant feeding, and
the food must be at hand which they can best assimilate and digest; and
it does not follow that this is the same as that which the parents
habitually eat, or which the young themselves will most profit by when
they are fledged. The relation between the movements of birds and their
food is a problem which has not, so far as I know, been fully
investigated as yet. Other problems of absorbing interest at present
occupy the attention of men of science. The sure foothold which has been
gained by the theory of development has placed the great questions of
classification in a new light, and brought the _structure_ of animals
into the foreground; the microscope each year discovers new wonders in
the development of that structure from the earliest visible germ of
life, and the habits of the living animal,[26] and the relations of
animals to each other, have consequently fallen a little into the
background. No ornithological researches, so far as I am aware, have
been lately published in this country, which can compare with those of
Sir J. Lubbock on the intelligence of insects. Birds are in fact an
extremely difficult subject for minute study; abundant leisure at the
proper season, indefatigable perseverance, and the means and opportunity
of travel, are its necessary conditions, which are denied to most men.
And, it must be added, a considerable sacrifice of the life and
happiness of birds is another _sine qua non_ of investigations of this
kind; and thus the growing sensitiveness of cultivated men is brought
into conflict with the ardour of the enthusiastic _savant_.

But to return to my village; it is astonishing how many birds, in spite
of the presence of their deadliest enemies, boys and cats, will come
into our gardens to build their nests, if only fair opportunities are
offered them. In a garden close to my own, whose owner has used every
means in his power to attract them,[27] there were last May fifty-three
nests, exclusive of those of swallows and martins. The garden is not
more than two or three acres in extent, including the little orchard
which adjoins it; but by planting great numbers of thick bushes and
coniferous trees, and by placing flower-pots, old wooden boxes, and
other such odds and ends, in the forks of the branches at a considerable
height from the ground, he has inspired them with perfect confidence in
his goodwill and ‘philornithic’ intentions. The fact that a pair of
Missel-thrushes reared their young here only a few feet from the ground,
and close to a stable and a much-frequented walk, shows that even birds
of wild habits of life may be brought to repose trust in man by
attention to their wants and wishes. The Blackcap, which almost always
nests in woods, had here found it possible to take up its quarters close
to the fruit it loves; and of all the commoner kinds the nests were
legion. Three Greenfinches built in the same tree one over another, the
nests being little more than a foot apart; a Wren had so closely fitted
a little box with the usual materials of its nest, that the door
corresponded with the only opening in the box; a Robin had found an
ample basis of construction in the deserted nest of a Blackbird. The
only bird that had been forbidden access to this Eden was the Bullfinch;
he duly made his appearance, but was judged to be too dangerous to the
buds of the fruit-trees. Siskins and Hawfinches have occasionally looked
into this garden; but the Hawfinch has never bred here, and for some
unexplained reason the same is the case with the Redstart.

In my own garden, within a few feet of the house, this last-mentioned
friend found a very convenient abode in a hole in my largest apple-tree.
The parents became very tame, and when they knew their young were
discovered, made very little scruple about exposing themselves in going
in and out. The food they brought their young, whenever we happened to
see it, was a small green caterpillar; and I sincerely hope we may have
them again next year, both for the benefit to my garden and for the
pleasure they give me.[28] May the sad loss of one fledgling depart from
their memory before next summer! It was just launched into the world
when it fell a victim to my dog, for I had seen it in the nest only an
hour or two before; I had left strict injunctions for the confinement of
all domestic animals as soon as the young were seen to leave the nest,
but had not expected them to face the world so soon. This was a
beautiful little bird, showing already the rich russet colour in what he
had of tail; his legs and claws were of extreme slightness and delicacy,
and his whole colouring and framework was far more engaging than is the
case with most young birds of his age. He had already picked up, or had
been given by his mother, a pebble or two to assist his digestion.

The Redstart was not a very common bird about us until about three years
ago, but now its gentle song is heard in May in almost every garden and
well-hedged field. In August and September the young birds are
everywhere seen showing their conspicuous fire-tails as they flit in and
out of the already fast-browning hedges; yet three or four years ago my
daily walks did not discover more than a few dozen in a summer. What can
be the cause of this surprising increase of population? If it is
anything that has happened in this country, such as the passing of the
Wild Birds’ Protection Act, we must suppose that the same individuals
which breed and are born here in one spring, return here the next year;
_i. e._ our supply of this summer migrant depends on the treatment it
receives here, and not upon the number of Redstarts available in the
world generally. I am inclined indeed to think, though it is difficult
to prove it, that the wholesale slaughter of young birds in our
neighbourhood is less horrible than it used to be before the passing of
the Act; but when we remember that other creatures, certain butterflies,
for example, whose relations to man never greatly differ from year to
year, are found to be much more abundant in some years than others, the
more rational conclusion seems to be, that an increase or decrease of
numbers depends, in the case of _migrating birds_, on certain causes
which are beyond the reach of mankind to regulate. What these may be it
is possible only to guess. A famine in the winter quarters would rapidly
decimate the numbers of those individuals which were with us last
summer, and we cannot tell whether the deficiency would be supplied from
other sources. Even a severe storm in the spring or autumn journey would
destroy an immense number of birds so tender and fragile; and we must
not forget that these journeys take place at the very seasons when
storms are especially frequent and violent. Any very serious alteration
in the methods of dealing with the land in this country, such as the
substitution of railings or ditches for hedges, or the wholesale felling
of woods and copses, would also most certainly affect the numbers of
this and most other birds; but in the course of the last few years no
such change of any magnitude has taken place, and the increase of the
Redstarts must be put down, I think, to causes taking effect beyond the

The only really annoying destruction of hedges in our immediate
neighbourhood within my recollection is one for which I ought always to
be grateful, for it brought me a sight of the only Black Redstart I have
ever seen in England. I mentioned in the last chapter that this little
bird, which is so abundant on the Continent all through the summer,
never comes to this country except in the autumn, and then only in very
small numbers, chiefly along the south-west coast. It is generally seen
in Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall in November, but never breeds there, and
it is seldom that a straggler finds his way further north. On the 6th of
November, 1884, I was returning from a morning walk, and about a mile
from the village came to a spot which a few years ago was one of the
prettiest in the country-side. Here one road crosses another, and
formerly the crossing was enclosed by high hedges and banks, forming a
comfortable nook where the hounds used to meet, and where the
Sand-martins bored their way into the light and sandy soil. A land-agent
descended here one day, like a bird of ill omen, and swept the hedges
away, filling their place with long lines of bare and ugly wall; the
martins sought a lodging elsewhere, for they could no longer feed their
young with the insect-life of the hedgerows; the hounds followed their
example, and all my associations with the spot were broken. But it was
upon this very wall, new, useful, straight, and intensely human, that
this rare little bird chose to sun himself that bright November morning.
A thousand times have I seen him on the old gray fern-covered walls of
the Alpine passes, but never did I expect to see him on this hideous
‘improvement’ of civilization. Except that he was silent and alone, he
seemed as much at home here as on the flowery slopes of the
Engstlen-alp. There is nothing that man can erect that is too uncomely
for the birds.[29]

I have digressed for a moment to tell this tale of the Black Redstart,
but I have hardly yet done with the village itself. We have of course
plenty of Robins and Hedge-sparrows breeding in our gardens, and in the
nests of these the Cuckoo is fond of depositing its egg. It would not be
always true to say that the Cuckoo _lays_ its egg in its victim’s nest,
for in some instances at least the egg is dropped from the _bill_. A
Robin built its nest in a hole in the wall of my garden, several inches
deep, and with a rather narrow entrance; several eggs were laid and all
was going well. It was three or four days from my first knowledge of the
nest to my second visit, when I was greatly annoyed to find all the eggs
but one on the ground at the foot of the wall, broken to fragments. I
accused the boy who filled the office of boot-cleaner; he was more or
less of a pickle, but he positively denied all complicity. Meanwhile in
my indignation I had forgotten to examine the remaining egg; but the
mystery was soon solved. Noticing that the Robins had not deserted, I
looked again after awhile, and found a young Cuckoo. The ugly wretch
grew rapidly, and soon became too big for the nest, so we hung him up in
a basket on a branch, where the Robins continued to feed him. His aspect
and temper were those of a young fiend. If you looked at him he would
swell with passion, and if you put your finger towards him, he would
rise up in the basket and ‘go for it.’ One fine morning he disappeared,
and was never heard of more.

In this case the egg was unquestionably deposited with the bill, while
the same instrument must have been used to eject the Robin’s eggs, thus
saving the young Cuckoo when hatched the trouble of getting rid of the
young Robins by muscular exertions. Next year a Cuckoo’s egg was laid in
a Hedge-sparrow’s nest in an adjoining garden; but the intended
foster-parents wisely deserted, and I was able to take possession of the
nest and eggs. Every year in June we are sure to notice a persistent
cuckooing close by us, and nearly every year an egg is found in some
nest in the village. Once (I think it was at the time when the Robin was
the victim) boys reported that they saw a cuckoo sitting on a bough hard
by, _with an egg in its bill_. There is no doubt whatever that the bill
can hold the egg, which is hardly as large as a starling’s.[30]

We have another much smaller bird in the village which can hold large
objects between its mandibles—objects almost as large, and sometimes
more bulky, than the egg of the Cuckoo. This is the Nuthatch, which will
carry away from a window any number of hard dessert nuts, and store them
up in all sorts of holes and corners, where they are sometimes found
still unbroken. These plump and neat little birds, whose bills and heads
and necks seem all of a piece, while their bodies and tails are not of
much account, have been for years accustomed to come for their dinners
to my neighbour’s windows.[31] One day while sitting with my friend,
Col. Barrow, F.R.S. (to whom the Oxford Museum is indebted for a most
valuable present of Arctic Birds), we set the Nuthatches a task which at
first puzzled them. After letting them carry off a number of nuts in the
usual way, we put the nuts into a glass tumbler. The birds arrived, they
saw the nuts, and tried to get at them, but in vain. Some invisible
obstacle was in the way; they must have thought it most uncanny. They
poked and prodded, and departed ἀπρακτοὶ. Again they came, and a third
time, with the like result. At last one of them took his station on a
bit of wood erected for perching purposes just over the lintel; he saw
the nuts below him, down he came upon the tumbler’s edge, and in a
moment his long neck was stretched downwards and the prize won. The
muscular power of the bird is as well shown by this feat, as his
perseverance and sagacity by the discovery of the trick; for holding on
by his prehensile claws to the edge of the tumbler, he contrived to
seize with his bill a large nut placed in the bottom of it, without any
assistance from his wings; the length of the tumbler being little less
than that of the bird. But after all, this was no more than a momentary
use of the same posture in which he is often to be seen, as he runs down
the trunks of trees in search of insects.

                  [Illustration: Feat of a Nuthatch.]

The Spotted Flycatcher is another little bird which abounds in our
gardens and orchards; it is always pleasant to watch, and its nest is
easy to find. One pair had the audacity to build on the wall of the
village school: it was much as if a human being should take up his
residence in a tiger’s jungle, but if I recollect right, the eggs and
young escaped harm. Another pair placed their nest on a sun-dial in Col.
Barrow’s garden, as late as mid-July. This Flycatcher is the latest of
all the summer migrants to arrive on our shores;[32] the males and
females seem to come together, and begin the work of nesting at once,
_i.e._ in the middle of May; if the nest is taken, as was probably the
case with this pair, the second brood would not be hatched till July.
The bird is singularly silent, never getting (within my experience)
beyond an oft-repeated and half-whispered phrase, which consists of
three notes, or rather sounds, and no more; the first is higher and
louder than the others, which are to my mind much like that curious
sound of disappointment or anxiety which we produce by applying the
tongue to the roof of the mouth, and then suddenly withdrawing it. But
is the Flycatcher always and everywhere a silent bird?[33] It is most
singular that he should be unattractive in colour also—gray and brown
and insignificant; but perhaps in the eyes of his wife even his quiet
voice and gray figure may have weight.

               [Illustration: Nest on sun-dial.—p. 130.]

This Flycatcher is an excellent study for a young ornithologist. He is
easily seen, perching almost always on a leafless bough or railing,
whence he may have a clear view, and be able to pick and choose his
flies; and he will let you come quite close, without losing his presence
of mind. His attitude is so unique, that I can distinguish his tiny form
at the whole length of the orchard; he sits quietly, silently, with just
a shade of _tristesse_ about him, the tail slightly drooped and still,
the head, with longish narrow bill, bent a little downwards, for his
prey is almost always below him; suddenly this expectant repose is
changed into quick and airy action, the little wings hover here and
there so quickly that you cannot follow them, the fly is caught, and he
returns with it in his bill to his perch, to await a safe moment for
carrying it to its young. All this is done so unobtrusively by a little
grayish-brown bird with grayish-white breast, that hundreds of his human
neighbours never know of his existence in their gardens. He is wholly
unlike his handsomer and livelier namesake, the Pied Flycatcher, in all
those outward characteristics which attract the inexperienced eye; but
the essential features are alike in both, the long wing, the bill flat
at the base, and the gape of the mouth furnished with strong hairs,
which act like the backward-bent teeth of the pike in preventing the
escape of the prey.

Our village is so placed, that all the birds that nest in our gardens
and orchards have easy and immediate access to a variety of
feeding-grounds. From my window, as I write, I look over the village
allotments, where all kinds of birds can be supplied with what they
need, whether they be grain-eating or grub-eating; here come the Rooks,
from the rookery close by, and quite unconscious of my presence behind
the window, and regardless of the carcases of former comrades which
swing on some of the allotments, they turn out the grubs with those
featherless white bills which are still as great a mystery as the
serrated claw of the Nightjar.

Here also come the Wood-pigeons, and in late summer the Turtle-doves—far
worse enemies to the cottager than the rooks; here all the common herd
of Blackbirds, Thrushes, Sparrows, Chaffinches, and Greenfinches, help
to clear the growing vegetables of crawling pests at the rate of
hundreds and thousands a day, yet the owners of the allotments have been
accustomed since their childhood to destroy every winged thing that
comes within their cruel reach. Short-sighted, unobservant as they are,
they decline to be instructed on matters of which they know very little,
but stick to what they know like limpets. For my part, I decline to
protect my gooseberries and currants from the birds; their ravages are
grossly exaggerated, and what they get I do not grudge them, considering
their services during the rest of the year.[34]

Beyond the allotments the ground falls to the brook which I mentioned as
descending from Chipping Norton to join the Evenlode. This brook is
dammed up just below to supply an old flour-mill, and has been so used
for centuries; its bed is therefore well lined with mud, and when the
water is let out, which often happens (for the mill is on its last legs,
and supports itself by aid of a beer-license which is the plague of the
village), this mud appears in little banks under the shelving
rat-riddled lip of the meadow. Here is a chance for some of the more
unusual birds, as every ornithologist would say if he saw the stream;
but both water and mud are often thick with the dye from the Chipping
Norton tweed-mill, and no trout will live below the point at which the
poisoned water comes in. Strange to say, the poisoning does not seem to
affect the birds. Two pairs of Gray Wagtails, which I seldom see in the
Evenlode, passed a happy time here from July to December last year,
preferring some turn of the brook where the water broke over a few
stones or a miniature weir; and through August and September they were
joined by several Green Sandpipers. These beautiful birds, whose
departure I always regret, are on their way from their breeding-places
in the North to some winter residence; they stay only a few weeks in
England, and little is known about them. Many a time have I stalked
them, looking far along the stream with a powerful glass in hopes of
catching them at work with their long bills; each effort comes to the
same provoking conclusion, the bird suddenly shooting up from beneath
your feet, just at a place which you fancied you had most carefully
scanned. When they first arrive they will fly only to a short distance,
and the bright white of their upper tail-feathers enables you to mark
them down easily for a second attempt; but after a few days they will
rise high in the air, like a snipe, when disturbed, and uttering their
shrill pipe, circle round and round, and finally vanish.

It should be noted that this species is called the _Green_ Sandpiper
because its legs are green; such are the wilful ways of English
terminology.[35] It is the only Sandpiper we have, beside the common
species, which invariably prefers the Evenlode, where it may every now
and then be seen working its rapid way along the edge of the water,
quite unconcerned at a spectator, and declining to go off like a
champagne cork. Both kinds come in spring and late summer, but the Green
Sandpiper is much more regular in his visits, and stays with us, in
autumn at least, much longer. A stray pair found their way here last
winter in a hard frost, and rose from beneath my feet as I walked along
the Evenlode on December 24th. This is the only time I have ever seen
them here except in the other brook; and I have very little doubt that
they were total strangers to the locality. Had they ever been here
before, I make bold to say that they would have gone to their old

Beyond the brook lies a magnificent meadow nearly a mile long, called
the Yantle, in which, a century and a half ago, the little Warren
Hastings used to lie and look up with ambitious hopes and fears at the
hills and woods of Daylesford. This meadow was once doubtless the common
pasture ground of the parish: it now serves as _ager publicus_ for great
numbers of winged families bred in our gardens and orchards.
Goldfinches, linnets, starlings, redstarts, pipits, wagtails,
white-throats, and a dozen or two of other kinds, spend their whole day
here when the broods are reared. The Yellow Wagtails are always
conspicuous objects; not that they are brilliantly coloured, for the
young ones are mostly brown on the back, and would hardly catch an
inexperienced eye, but because of the playfulness of their ways and
their graceful, wavy flight. Young birds play just like kittens, or like
the fox-cubs I once caught playing in Daylesford wood at the mouth of
their earth, and watched for a long time as they rolled and tumbled over
each other. Only yesterday (July 15, 1885) I watched a host of young
willow-wrens, whitethroats, titmice, and others, sporting with each
other in a willow-coppice, and mixing together without much reserve.
Once I was taken aback by the sight of two young buntings at play; for a
time they quite deceived me by their agility, fluttering in the air like
linnets, unconscious that a single winter was to turn them into burly
and melancholy buntings. The student of birds who sighs when the
breeding season is over and the familiar voices are mute, is consoled by
the sight of all these bright young families, happy in youth, liberty,
and abundance. His knowledge, too, is immensely increased by the study
of their habits and appearance. His sense of the ludicrous is also
sometimes touched, as mine was yesterday when I went to see how my young
swallows were getting on under the roof of an outhouse, and found them
all sitting in a row on a rafter, like school-children; or when the
young goldfinches in the chestnut tree grew too big for their nest, but
would persist in sitting in it till they sat it all out of shape, and no
one could make out how they contrived to hold on by it any longer. Young
birds too, like young trout, are much less suspicious than old ones, and
will often let you come quite close to them. In Magdalen Walk at Oxford
the young birds delight to hop about on the gravel path, supplying
themselves, I suppose, with the pebbles which they need for digestion;
and here one day in July a young Robin repeatedly let me come within two
yards of him, at which distance from me he picked up a fat green
caterpillar, swallowed it with great gusto, and literally smacked his
bill afterwards. The very close examination thus afforded me of this
living young Robin disclosed a strong rufous tint on the tail-coverts,
of which I can find nothing in descriptions of the bird; if this is
usually the case, it should indicate a close connection with the
Redstarts, the young of which resemble the young Robin also in the
mottled brown of the rest of their plumage.

Our meadows are liable to flood occasionally in the winter, and also in
a summer wetter than usual. One stormy day in July, some years ago, I
espied two common Gulls standing in the water of a slight flood,
apparently quite at home. But our Rooks found them out, and considering
the Yantle sacred to themselves and such small birds as they might be
graciously pleased to allow there, proceeded to worry them by flying
round and round above them incessantly until the poor birds were fain to
depart. Rooks are very hostile to intruders, and quite capable of
continued teasing; I have watched them for a whole morning persecuting a
Kestrel. No sooner did the Kestrel alight on the ground than the Rooks
‘went for it,’ and drove it away; and wherever it went they pursued it,
backwards and forwards, over a space of two or three miles.

[Illustration: But our Rooks found them out, and ... proceeded to worry
                             them.—p. 141.]

In winter the floods will sometimes freeze. One very cold day, as I was
about to cross the ice-bound meadow, I saw some little things in motion
at the further end, like feathers dancing about on the ice, which my
glass discovered to be the tails of a family of Long-tailed Tits. They
were pecking away at the ice, with their tails high in the air. As I
neared them they flew away, and marking the place where they were at
work, I knelt down on the ice and examined it with the greatest care.
Not a trace of anything eatable was to be found. Were they trying to
substitute ice for water? Not a drop of water was to be found anywhere
near. I have seen Fieldfares and Redwings doing the same thing in Christ
Church meadow at Oxford, but the unfrozen Cherwell was within a few
yards of them.[36] Whether or no the Long-tails were trying to appease
their thirst, I may suggest to those who feed the starving birds in
winter, that they should remember that water as well as food is
necessary to support life.

The Yantle is a great favourite with Plovers, Turtle-doves, and
Wood-pigeons, and in the winter it is much patronized by Fieldfares and
Redwings. And a day or two ago I surprised four Curlew here (March 21),
on their way from the sea to their inland breeding-places. But enough of
the village and its gardens and out-lying meadows; in the next chapter
we will stroll further afield.

                               CHAPTER V.

              [Illustration: Whinchat on Telegraph Wires.]

Beyond the Yantle we come upon a line of railway, running down from
Chipping Norton to join the main line to Worcester. Just as the waters
of the Evenlode are reinforced at this point in its course by the two
contingent streams I described in the last chapter, so the main railway
is here joined by two subsidiary lines, the one coming from Chipping
Norton and the other from Cheltenham over the Cotswolds. Paradoxical as
it may seem, I do not hesitate to say that this large mileage of railway
within a small radius acts beneficially upon our bird-life. Let us see
how this is.

In the first place, both cuttings and embankments, as soon as they are
well overgrown with grass, afford secure and sunny nesting-places to a
number of birds which build their nests on the ground. The Whin-chat for
example, an abundant bird here every summer, gives the railway-banks its
especial patronage. The predatory village-boys cannot prowl about these
banks with impunity except on Sundays, and even then are very apt to
miss a Whin-chat’s nest. You may see the cock-bird sitting on the
telegraph wires, singing his peaceful little song, but unless you
disturb his wife from her beautiful blue eggs you are very unlikely to
find them in the thickening grass of May or June. And even if she is on
the nest, she will sit very close; I have seen an express train fly past
without disturbing her, when the nest was but six or eight feet from the
rails. The young, when reared, will often haunt the railway for the rest
of the summer, undismayed by the rattle and vibration which must have
shaken them even when they were still within the egg. Occasionally a
Wheatear will make its appearance about the railway, but I have no
evidence of its breeding there; nor is the Stone-chat often to be seen
here, though it is a summer visitor not far off among the hills.

Let me say incidentally that no one who has either good eyes or a good
glass ought ever to confound the two Chats together. In the breeding
season the fine black head of the cock Stone-chat distinguishes him at
once; but even the female should never be the subject of a blunder, if
the observer has been at all used to attend to the _attitudes_ of birds.
The Stone-chat sits upright and almost defiant, and is a shorter and
stouter bird than the Whin-chat, which perches in an attitude of greater
humility, and always seems to me to deprecate your interference rather
than to defy it. And it is quite in keeping with this that the ‘chat’ of
the latter is not so loud and resonant as that of the former, as I have
satisfied myself after careful observation of both; the Stone-chat
penetrating to my dull ears at a greater distance than his cousin.[37]
This really means that the bill of the one, and in fact his whole
muscular system, is stronger than the same in the other, and the τὸ
θυµοεῖδες of his constitution is more largely developed.

If I walk alongside of the railway, as it passes between the
water-meadows and the corn-fields which lie above them, divided on each
side from these by a low-lying withy-bed, I always keep an eye upon the
telegraph-wires ahead, knowing by long experience that they will tell me
what birds are breeding or have bred about here. As autumn approaches,
great numbers indeed of visitors, Swallows, Martins, Linnets, and
others, will come and sun themselves here, and even tempt a Sparrow-hawk
or Kestrel to beat up and down the line; but in early summer, beside the
Whin-chats, and the Whitethroats nesting in great numbers in the thick
quickset hedges which border the line, it is chiefly the melancholy
tribe of Buntings that will attract my notice.

I trust my friends the Buntings will not take offence at being called
melancholy; I cannot retract the word, except in what is now called “a
parliamentary sense.” I have just been looking through a series of
plates and descriptions of all the Buntings of Europe, and in almost
every one of them I see the same deflected tail and listless
attitude,[38] and read of the same monotonous and continually repeated
note. The Buntings form in fact, though apt to be confused with one
another owing to their very strong family likeness, perhaps the most
clearly-marked and idiosyncratic genus among the whole range of our
smaller birds. This may be very easily illustrated from our three common
English species. Look at the common Corn Bunting, as he sits on the
wires or the hedge-top; he is lumpy, loose-feathered, spiritless, and
flies off with his legs hanging down, and without a trace of agility or
vivacity; he is a dull bird, and seems to know it. Even his voice is
half-hearted; it reminds me often of an old man in our village who used
to tell us that he had “a wheezing in his pipes.” Near him sits a Yellow
Bunting (Yellowhammer), a beautiful bird when in full adult plumage of
yellow head, orange-brown back, white outer tail-feathers, and pink
legs; yet even this valued old friend is apt to be untidy in the sit of
his feathers, to perch in a melancholy brown study with deflected tail,
and to utter the same old song all the spring and summer through. This
song, however (if indeed it can be called one), is a much better one
than that of the Corn Bunting, and is occasionally even a little

Just below, on an alder branch or withy-sapling, sits a fine cock Reed
Bunting, whose jet-black head and white neck make him a conspicuous
object in spite of the sparrow-like brown of his back and wings. Except
in plumage, he is exactly like his relations. He will sit there, as long
as you like to stay, and shuffling his feathers, give out his odd
tentative and half-hearted song. Like the others he builds on or close
to the ground, in this case but a few yards from the rails, and his
wife, like theirs, lays eggs streaked and lined in that curious way that
is peculiar to Buntings alone. I have not had personal experience of our
rarer Buntings, the Ortolan, the Snow Bunting, or even the Cirl Bunting,
as living birds; but all the members of this curious race seem to have
the characteristics mentioned above in a greater or less degree, and
also a certain hard knob in the upper mandible of the bill, which is
said to be used as a grindstone for the grain and seeds which are the
food of them all in the adult state.

Keeping yet awhile to the railway, let us notice that even the station
itself meets with some patronage from the birds. In the stacks of coal
which are built up close to the siding, the Pied Wagtails occasionally
make their nests, fitting them into some hospitable hole or crevice.
These, like all other nests found in or about the station, are carefully
protected by the employés of the company. In a deep hole in the masonry
of the bridge which crosses the line a few yards below the station, a
pair of Great Titmice built their nest two years ago, and successfully
brought up their young, regardless of the puffing and rattling of the
trains, for the hole was in the _inside_ of the bridge, and only some
six feet from the rails of the down line. A little coppice, remnant of a
larger wood cut down to make room for the railway, still harbours
immense numbers of birds; here for example I always hear the ringing
note of the Lesser Whitethroat; and here, until a few years ago, a
Nightingale rejoiced in the density of the overgrown underwood.

A Ring-ousel, the only specimen, alive or dead, which I have seen or
heard of in these parts, was found dead here one morning some years ago,
having come into collision with the telegraph wires in the course of its
nocturnal migration. It was preserved and stuffed by the station-master,
who showed it to me as a _piebald Blackbird_.

A little further down the line is another bridge, in which a Blue-tit
found a hole for its nest last year; this also was in the inside of the
bridge, and close to the up-line. This bridge is a good place from which
to watch the Tree-pipit, and listen to its charming song. All down the
line, wherever it passes a wood or a succession of tall elms and ashes,
these little grayish-brown birds build their nest on or close to the
grassy banks, and take their station on the trees or the telegraph-wires
to watch, to sing, and to enjoy themselves. A favourite plan of theirs
is to utter their bright canary-like song from the very top twig of an
elm, then to rise in the air, higher and higher, keeping up their
energies by a quick succession of sweet shrill notes, till they begin to
descend in a beautiful curve, the legs hanging down, the tail expanded
and inclined upwards, and the notes getting quicker and quicker as they
near the telegraph-wires or the next tree-top. When they reach the
perching-place, it ceases altogether. So far as I have noticed, the one
part of the song is given when the bird is on the tree, the other when
it is on the wing. The perching-song, if I may call it so, is possessed
by no other kind of Pipit; but the notes uttered on the wing are much
the same with all the species.

The young student of birds may do well to concentrate his attention for
awhile on the Pipits, and on their near relations, the Larks and the
Wagtails. These three seemed to form a clearly-defined group; and though
in the latest scientific classification the Larks have been removed to
some distance from the other two (which form a single family of
_Motacillidae_), it must be borne in mind that this is in consequence
only of a single though remarkable point of difference. Apart from
definite structural characters, a very little observation will show that
their habits are in most respects alike. They all place their nests on
the ground; and they all walk, instead of hopping; the Larks and the
Pipits sing in the air, while the Pipits and the Wagtails move their
tails up and down in a peculiar manner. All are earth-loving birds,
except the Tree-pipit and the Wood lark.

We may now leave the railway, and enter the woodland. Most of the birds
that dwell here have been already mentioned; and I shall only mention in
passing the Jays, the Magpies, and the Crows, those mischievous and
predatory birds, which probably do more harm to the game in a single
week of April or May, than the beautiful mice-eating Kestrel does during
the whole year. They all rob the nests of the pheasants and partridges,
both of eggs and young; and when I saw one day in the wood the bodies of
some twenty robbers hung up on a branch, all belonging to these three
species, I could not but feel that justice had been done, for it is not
only game birds who are their victims. A large increase of these three
species would probably have a serious result on the smaller winged
population of a wood.

                  [Illustration: Grasshopper Warbler.]

Among the more interesting inhabitants of the wood, there are two
species which have not as yet been spoken of in these chapters—the
Grasshopper Warbler and the Nightingale. The former has no right to be
called a _warbler_, except in so far as it belongs to one of those three
families mentioned in a former chapter, in which all our British
‘warblers’ are now included. It has no song, properly so called; but no
one who has the luck to watch it alive, even without a detailed
examination of its structure, will doubt its true relationship to the
Sedge-warbler and the Reed-warbler. It is not a water-haunting bird, but
still rather recalls the ways of its relations, by choosing deep ditches
thickly grown with grass and reeds, and sheltered by bramble-bushes; it
seems to need something to climb up and down, and to creep about in;
like the sedge-birds, it seldom flies any distance, and one is tempted
to fancy that all these species would gradually lose the use of their
wings as genuine organs of flight, if it were not for the yearly
necessities of migration.

I once had a remarkable opportunity of watching this very curious bird.
It was about the beginning of May, before the leaves had fully come out;
a time which is very far the best in the year for observing the smaller
and shyer birds. Intent on pairing or nest-building, they have little
fear, if you keep quite quiet, and you can follow their movements with a
glass without danger of losing sight of them in the foliage. I was
returning from a delicious morning ramble through Bruerne wood, and was
just rounding the last corner of it, where a small plantation of baby
saplings was just beginning to put on leaf, when my ear caught the
unmistakable ‘reel’ of this bird. Some other birds of the warbler kind,
Wren, Robin, Sedge-bird, can produce a noise like the winding-up of a
watch, but none of these winds it up with such rapidity, or keeps it
going so long as the Grasshopper Warbler, nor does any cricket or
grasshopper perform the feat in exactly the same way. Our bird’s
noise—we cannot call it a voice—is like that of a very well-oiled
fisherman’s reel,[40] made to run at a very rapid rate, and its local
name of the ‘reel-bird’ is a perfectly just and good one.

I was on the outside of a little hedge, and the noise proceeded from the
saplings on its further side. In order to see the bird I must get over
the hedge, which could not be done without a scrunching and crackling of
branches sufficient to frighten away a much less wary bird than this.
There seemed, however, to be no other chance of getting a sight of the
bird, so through the hedge I went; and tumbled down on the other side
with such a disturbance of the branches that I gave up all hope of
attaining my object.

Great was my astonishment when I saw only a few yards from me a little
olive-brown bird creeping through the saplings, which I knew at once to
be the Grasshopper Warbler. I then took up a fixed position, the little
bird after a minute or two proceeded to do the same, and for some time I
watched it with my glass, as it sat on a twig and continued to utter its
reel. It was only about ten paces from me, and the field-glass which I
carried placed it before me as completely as if it had been in my hands.
What struck me most about it was its long supple olive-green neck, which
was thrust out and again contracted as the reel was being produced; this
being possibly, as I fancy, the cause of the strange ventriloquistic
power which the bird seems to possess; for even while I watched it, as
the neck was turned from side to side, the noise seemed to be projected
first in one direction and then in another.[41] The reel was uttered at
intervals, and as a general rule did not continue for more than a
quarter of a minute, but one spell of it lasted for forty seconds by my
watch. It is said to continue sometimes for as much as twenty minutes,
but I have never been fortunate enough to hear it for anything
approaching to that length of time.

Our interview was not to last very long. It unluckily happened that my
little terrier, who accompanies me in all my walks, and is trained to
come to heel when anything special is to be observed, had been out of
sight when I broke the hedge; and now he must needs come poking and
snuffing through the saplings just as if a Grasshopper Warbler were as
fair game as a mole or a water rat. Nevertheless, so astonishing was the
boldness of this bird that he allowed the dog to hunt about for some
time around him without being in the least disconcerted.[42] When at
last he made off he retreated in excellent order, merely half flying,
half creeping with his fan-like tail distended, until he disappeared in
the thick underwood. I would have taken the dog under my arm and tried
for another interview, which no doubt he would have given me, if I had
not been obliged to depart in order to catch a train to Oxford. This
bird was undoubtedly a male who was awaiting the arrival of the females:
just at this time they not only betray themselves more easily by the
loudness of their reel, but also are well known to be less shy of
showing themselves than at any other period of their stay with us. This
is the case with most of our summer migrants. Only a few minutes before
I found this bird, I had been watching a newly-arrived cock Nightingale,
who had not yet found his mate, and was content to sing to me from the
still leafless bough of an oak-tree, without any of the shyness he would
have shown two or three weeks later.

We have every spring a few pairs of Nightingales in our woods. Except
when a wood has been cleared of its undergrowth, they may always be
found in the same places, and if the accustomed pair is missing in one
it is almost sure to be found in another. The edge of a wood is the
favourite place, because the bird constantly seeks its food in the open;
also perhaps because the best places for the nest are often in the depth
of an overgrown hedge, where the cover is thicker than inside a wood.
Sitting on the sunny side of such a wood, I have often had ample
opportunity of hearing and watching a pair: for though always somewhat
shy, they are not frightened at a motionless figure, and will generally
show themselves if you wait for them, on some prominent bough or bit of
railing, or as they descend on the meadow in quest of food.

I am always surprised that writers on birds have so little to say of the
beauty of the Nightingale’s form and colouring. It is of the ideal size
for a bird, neither too small to be noticed readily, nor so large as the
somewhat awkwardly built Blackbird or Starling. All its parts are in
exquisite proportion; its length of leg gives it a peculiarly sprightly
mien, and tail and neck are formed to a perfect balance. Its plumage, as
seen, not in an ornithologist’s cabinet, but in the living and moving
bird a little distance from you, is of three hues, all sober, but all
possessing that reality of colour which is so satisfying to the eye on a
sunny day. The uniform brown of the head, the wings, and the upper part
of the back, is much like the brown of the Robin, a bird which in some
other respects strangely resembles the Nightingale; but either it is a
little brighter, or the larger surface gives it a richer tone. In both
birds the brown is set off against a beautiful red; but this in the
Nightingale is only distinct when it flies or jerks the tail, the upper
feathers of which, as well as the longer quills, and especially the
innermost ones, are of that deep but bright russet that one associates
with an autumn morning. And throat and breast are white; not pure white,
but of the gentle tone of a cloud where the gray begins to meet the

In habit the Nightingale is peculiarly alert and quick, not restless in
a petty way, like the fidgety Titmice or the lesser warblers, but
putting a certain seriousness and intensity into all it does. Its
activity is neither grotesque nor playful, but seems to arise from a
kind of nervous zeal, which is also characteristic of its song. If it
perches for an instant on the gorse-bush beneath the hedgerow which
borders the wood, it jerks its tail up, expands its wings, and is off in
another moment. If it alights on the ground, it rears up head and neck
like a thrush, hops a few paces, listens, darts upon some morsel of
food, and does not dally with it. As it sings, its whole body vibrates,
and the soft neck feathers ripple to the quivering of the throat.

I need not attempt to describe that wonderful song, if song it is, and
not rather an impassioned recitative. The poets are often sadly to seek
about it; Wordsworth at least seems to have caught its spirit:—

  “O Nightingale, thou surely art
  A creature of a fiery heart.”

And Wordsworth, as he tells us in the next stanza, found the cooing of
the stock-dove more agreeable to his pensive mind. I never yet heard a
Nightingale singing dolefully, as the poets will have it sing;[43] its
varied phrases are all given out _con brio_, and even that marvellous
_crescendo_ on a single note, which no other bird attempts, conveys to
the mind of the listener the fiery intensity of the high-strung singer.
It is a pity to compare the songs of birds; our best singers, Thrush,
Blackbird, Blackcap, Robin, and Garden-warbler, all have a vocal beauty
of their own; but it may safely be said that none approaches the
Nightingale in fire and fervour of song, or in the combination of
extraordinary power with variety of phrase. He seems to do what he
pleases with his voice, yet never to play with it; so earnest is he in
every utterance—and these come at intervals, sometimes even a long
silence making the performance still more mysterious—that if I were
asked how to distinguish his song from the rest, I should be inclined to
tell my questioner to wait by a wood side till he is fairly startled by
a bird that puts his whole ardent soul into his song. But if he will
have a description, let him go to old Pliny’s tenth book, or rather to
Philemon Holland’s translation of it, which is much better reading than
the original; and there he will find the most enthusiastic of the many
futile attempts to describe the indescribable.

The Nightingale’s voice is heard no more after mid-June; and from this
time onwards the woods begin to grow silent, especially after early
morning. For a while the Blackcap breaks the stillness, and his soft
sweet warble is in perfect keeping with the quiet solitude. But as the
heat increases, the birds begin to feel, as man does, that the shade of
a thick wood is more oppressive than the bright sunshine of the meadows;
and on a hot afternoon in July you may walk through the woodland and
hardly catch a single note.

But on the outskirts of a wood, or in a grassy ‘ride,’ you may meet with
life again. The Titmice will come crooning around you, appearing
suddenly, and vanishing you hardly know how or whither; Wood-pigeons
will dash out of the trees with that curious impetuosity of theirs, as
if they were suddenly sent for on most pressing business. A Robin will
perch on a branch hard by, and startle you with that pathetic soliloquy
which calls up instantly to your memory the damp mist and decaying
leaves of last November. The Green Woodpecker may be there, laughing at
you from an elm, or possibly (as I have sometimes seen him) feeding on
the ground, and looking like a gorgeous bird of the tropics.

Other birds of the Woodpecker kind are not common in our woods. The
Greater Spotted Woodpecker has only once fairly shown himself to me; the
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, which I have heard country folk call the
_French Heckle_, seldom catches the eye,[44] though to judge by the
number of stuffed specimens which adorn the parlours of inns and
farm-houses, it can by no means be very rare. For this name ‘heckle,’
and all its curious local variants, I may refer the reader to Professor
Skeat’s most valuable etymological contribution to Newton’s Edition of
_Yarrell’s Birds_;[45] but why, one may ask, should it be called the
_French_ Heckle? A very old game-keeper, who described to me by this
name a bird which was certainly the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, also used
the expression _English_ Heckle for the Wryneck—a bird (he said) much
plainer than the French Heckle, and apt to hiss at you if you try to
take its eggs. I imagine that French is here contrasted with English to
indicate superior brightness and dapperness of plumage.

There is yet one bird of our woods—or rather of one wood, thickly
planted with oaks—of which I have as yet said nothing. I had long
suspected his presence in that wood, but my search for him was always in
vain. One day in May, 1888, I luckily turned down a little by-path which
led me through a forest of young ashes, and brought me out into a wide
clearing carpeted with blue-bells and overshadowed by tall oaks. Here I
heard a sibilant noise, which in the distance I had taken for the
Grasshopper Warbler; though I had had doubts of it, as it was not
prolonged for more than two or three seconds. Now also I heard, from the
thick wood beyond the clearing, a series of plaintive notes, something
like those of the Tree Pipit, and this stopped me again as I was turning
away. I listened, and heard these notes repeated several times, feeling
more and more certain each time that I had heard them before in this
very wood, and suspected them to be the call-notes of the Wood-warbler,
a bird with which, strangely enough, I had never had any personal

The sibilant noise was all this time going on close at hand. The wood
was comparatively silent owing to the east wind, and I could concentrate
my attention on these new voices without distraction. I noticed that the
sibilation was preceded by three or four slightly longer and more
distinct notes, and as this answered to my book-knowledge of the
Wood-warbler, I became more and more anxious to see the bird. But he
would not let me see him. And then came the puzzling plaintive notes
again, as different as possible from the sibilant ones, and it became
absolutely necessary to discover whether they were uttered by the same

At last I thought I had made sure of the bird in one particular little
thicket not more than ten or twelve yards from me, and crept on as
softly as possible out of the clearing into the underwood. Of course the
dead twigs crackled under my feet and the branches had to be put
forcibly aside, and the voice retreated as I neared it. I thought of a
certain morning in the Alps, and of a provoking and futile hunt after
Bonelli’s Warbler; but pushing on a little further into a small open
space, I stopped once more, and then firmly resolved not to move again.

I had a long time to wait. Sometimes the plaintive voice, but oftener
the sibilant notes, would be uttered quite close to me, and the singer
would stay for some time in the same bush, hidden from my sight, but
near at hand. And at last, as a fisherman sees the surface of the smooth
black pool in an instant broken, and then feels his fish, I caught sight
of a momentary motion in the leaves not ten yards away from me. A minute
later I saw the bird, and knew at once that I had the Wood-warbler
before me. There was nothing now to do but to stand motionless and see
more of it.

By degrees it seemed to grow used to my presence, and showed itself to
me without any sign of alarm. What can be more delightful than to watch
in perfect solitude and security the bird you have been looking for so
long? There was the yellow throat, the delicate white breast, the
characteristic streak over the eye—all plainly visible as he sat facing
me; and when he kindly turned his tail to me and preened his feathers, I
could see the greenish-brown back, and note the unusual length of wing.
Several times, when close to me, he gave utterance to that curious
‘shivering’ sibilation (to use Gilbert White’s apt word), his bill
opening wide to give the last shake, his head lifted upwards, the long
wings quivering slightly, and the whole body vibrating under the effort.
One thing more was needed—a visible proof that the long-drawn plaintive
notes were his notes too, and this I had the pleasure of securing by a
little more patience. But when my little warbler uttered these notes,
his bill was not opened wide, nor did his frame vibrate with any
apparent effort; they seemed rather an inward soliloquy or a secret
signal (as indeed they were), and always ended up with a short note and
a sudden closing of the bill, as if to say, “All’s right, that’s well

Then behind me I heard the undoubted double call-note of a warbler,
which probably I myself caused the little bird’s wife to utter,
trespassing as I surely was in the neighbourhood of the nest. It did
just cross my mind that I ought to search for that nest, but I gave up
the idea almost at once, and bade adieu in peace to my new friends. They
had shown themselves to me without fear, and they should have no reason
to dislike me.

Beyond the woods where these birds live, we come out on scrubby fields,
often full of thistles, and spotted with furze-bushes. These fields are
the special favourites of the Linnets and Goldfinches; the Linnets are
in great abundance, the latter, since the Wild Birds’ Act came into
operation, by no means uncommon in autumn.

We cannot but pause again and again as we make our way through the gorse
and brushwood, for the little Linnet in his full summer dress is hardly
less beautiful than the Goldfinch, and all his ways and actions are no
less cheering and attractive. The male birds differ much, perhaps
according to age, in brilliancy of plumage; but a fine cock Linnet in
full dress of crimson breast and crown, white wing-bars and
tail-feathers, and chestnut back, is to my thinking as splendid a little
bird as these islands can show. I can never forget the astonishment of a
companion who hardly knew the bird, when I pointed him out a Linnet in
this splendid costume one July day on a Radnorshire hill.

The ground now rises towards the hills which form the limit of our
western horizon. On these hills may now and then be seen a few birds
which we seldom meet with in the lower grounds, such as the Stone-chat,
the Brambling, the Wheatear; but as the hills are for the most part
cultivated, and abound in woods and brooks, the difference between the
bird life of the uplands and the lowlands is not remarkable at any time
of the year.

It may be worth while, however, to note down in outline the chief
movements of the birds in our district in the course of a single year.
In January, which is usually the coldest month in the year, the greater
number of our birds are collected in flocks in the open country, the
villages only retaining the ordinary Blackbirds, Thrushes, Robins, &c.
The winter migrants are in great numbers in the fields, but they and
almost all other birds will come into villages and even into towns in
very severe weather. In February, villages, orchards, and gardens are
beginning to receive more of the bird population, while the great flocks
are beginning to break up under the influence of the approach of spring.
In March the same process goes on more rapidly; the fields are becoming
deserted and the gardens fuller. But meanwhile hedges, woods, thickets
and streams are filling with a population from beyond the seas, some
part of which penetrates even into the gardens, sharing the fruit-trees
with the residents, or modestly building their nests on the ground. As a
rule, though one of a very general kind, it may be laid down that our
resident birds prefer the neighbourhood of mankind for nesting purposes,
while the summer migrants build chiefly in the thickets and hedges of
the open country; so that just at the time when Chaffinches,
Greenfinches, Goldfinches, and a host of other birds are leaving the
open country for the precincts of the village, their places are being
taken by the new arrivals of the spring. Or if this rule be too
imperfect to be worth calling a rule at all (for all the Swallow kind
but one British species build in human habitations), it is at least true
that if a garden offers ample security for nesting, the proportion of
residents to migrants taking advantage of it will be much greater than
in a wood or on a heath.

Just as the population of the open country begins to decrease in numbers
in early spring, so it increases rapidly in the first weeks of summer.
The young broods that have spent their infancy in or near the village
now seek more extended space and richer supplies of food, and when the
hay is cut, they may be found swarming in all adjacent hedges and on the
prostrate swathes, while the gardens are comparatively empty. But before
July is over an attentive watcher will find that his garden is visited
by birds which were not born and bred there; while the residents are
away in the fields, the migrants begin to be attracted to the gardens by
the ripening fruits of all kinds. White-throats, Willow-warblers,
Chiff-chaffs, haunt the kitchen-garden for a while, then leave it on
their departure for the coast and their journey southwards. After this
last little migration, the villages and gardens remain almost deserted
except by the Blackbirds and Thrushes, the Robins and the Wrens, until
the winter drives the wilder birds to seek the neighbourhood of man once
more. Even then, unless the garden be well timbered, they will be
limited to a very few species, except in the hardest weather; and it is
remarkable how little variety will be found among our winter
pensioners—those recipients of out-door relief, who spoil their
digestions by becoming greedy over a food which is not natural to them.

                    [Illustration: Out-door relief.]

This rough attempt to sketch the local migrations of birds must be
understood as applying to my own village only, and to gardens which are
not surrounded with extensive parks.

                              CHAPTER VI.
                         THE ALPS IN SEPTEMBER.

                 [Illustration: The Alps in September.]

As I observed in a former chapter, the movements of the birds of the
Alps are, or ought to be, of very great interest to the ornithologist,
owing partly to the wonderful variety of food and climate afforded by
the gigantic structure of this mountain district, and partly to its
geographical position, lying as it does in the very centre of the
various routes of migration in spring and autumn.

I had long been anxious to obtain some more reliable information about
these movements than I had acquired when my third chapter was written,
and to obtain it as far as possible at first hand; and I eagerly seized
the opportunity, in September of the present year (1886), of a visit to
relations in Germany, to make a rapid _détour_ to the Alps, about the
time when the more delicate birds would be beginning to leave the higher
valleys and pastures, now fast becoming too cold at night to suit their
tender frames. I was able to remain only a very few days, but I saw and
heard enough to occupy my attention fully during that short time, and am
disposed to hope that by setting down my experiences I may attract the
attention of autumn travellers to a matter which lends new interest to a
hackneyed region, after the flowers have disappeared, and when the days
are getting too short for ambitious mountain-climbing.

I arrived at Lucerne on the morning of September 16, and went on at once
to Alpnacht, at the extreme end of the south-western arm of the lake,
having on my left the starting-point of our former walk. I did not
expect to see anything of autumn migration quite so early as this, or I
should have taken the St. Gotthard line direct to the great tunnel, and
then have established myself at once at or near the head of the Reuss
valley which the railway follows; but I wished to see what birds were
still to be found in the lower levels, and determined to spend a day or
two in the great valley of Hasli, where I left my reader at the end of
my third chapter. Before I take him further on this second round of
exploration, I must ask him to look with me at a map of Switzerland, in
order that we may understand the geographical conditions of the problem
about which I was now going to try and learn a little.

A little study of a good map will show that the true alpine region of
Switzerland proper consists of two enormous mountain barriers, fencing
in, to north and south, a deep trench, nearly a hundred miles in length.
This trench represents the valleys of the Rhine and Rhone, which start
within a short distance of each other, and are only interrupted for a
few miles, in the very centre of the region, by the upper part of the
valley of the river Reuss, which here forms a kind of elevated plain,
enclosed, like the trench itself, between vast mountains; this plain is
the bed of an ancient lake, which once escaped from its prison through a
narrow opening at the eastern end, where the Devils’ Bridge now stands.
On the northern side of the trench, throughout its whole length, the
mountain barrier is pierced by ordinary summer routes at three points
only: beginning from the west, at the Gemmi Pass, north of the Rhone,
where the opening is artificial rather than natural; at the Grimsel
Pass, which debouches upon the source of the Rhone in its Glacier; and
at the point mentioned just now, where the lake made its escape, and
where a tunnel driven through the rock has taken the place of an ancient
hanging bridge. Nothing can be more striking to a geographical eye than
the fact that from the point where it abuts upon the lake of Geneva
(where communication is of course easier) to the point where the Rhine
curves round to the north at Chur, the northern barrier of the trench
offers only these three passages to the ordinary human traveller. The
southern rampart, though for the most part broader, and including the
highest European peaks, admits the traveller southward at several
points, and is pierced by two excellent carriage roads, those of the
Simplon and the St. Gotthard.

During the summer, the parts of Switzerland north of the trench and its
two barriers, are occupied by countless fragile birds, which have come
from Africa over Italy, and must return there in the autumn. How do they
come, and how do they return? Of their arrival I have had no personal
experience, and shall therefore say nothing; for it does not follow that
birds always come and go in exactly the same manner and by exactly the
same route. But of the departure of some of them I can now tell
something, having had the evidence of my own eyes that a double barrier
such as I have described is not a fatal obstacle to their progress. The
main facts of the migration have indeed been long known, and only too
well known, to the inhabitants of the district; for the people of Canton
Tessin, which consists of the valleys to the south of the central part
of the Alps, sharing the tastes of their neighbours the Italians, were
until a few years ago in the habit of lying in wait for the birds, and
snaring them in vast numbers. When the hold of the Central Federal
Government over the individual Cantons was made stronger a few years
ago, the same absolute prohibition of wanton slaughter was extended to
this canton, which had long been respected in the others; and in spite
of a cantonal appeal to be allowed to revert to the old licence, the
“Bund” held its own, and succeeded in protecting the migrants. No bird
may now be killed at any time of the year in any part of Switzerland,
without either a game licence, of which the cost is considerable, or a
permission to procure specimens for a scientific object.

We took no gun with us on this occasion, being more anxious to observe
movements than to identify species. My plan was, after noting the
bird-population of the lower levels, which we called Region No. 1, to
pass through the northern barrier by the Grimsel or the St. Gotthard,
and take my station at the head of one of these passes, in the highest
ground of the great trench, and there to look about me, and also to make
inquiries about the ‘Vögelzug.’ Accordingly, after leaving the lake of
Lucerne, I turned in the direction of the great valley of the Aar, or
Haslithal, which leads up to the Grimsel Pass, knowing that at
Meiringen, which lies in the flat of it, not far from its issue into the
lake of Brienz, I should be able to see almost in a single walk what
summer migrants were still to be found in it. But I halted for the night
at the beautiful village of Lungern, in order to enjoy the walk over to
the Haslithal in the early morning of the next day; and here I was met
by my old friend Anderegg, who was as eager as myself for a week of
diligent observation.

The next morning was one of those which seem to stir the hearts of all
living creatures, urging them to the enjoyment of autumn warmth while it
lasts, and to the pursuit of food while it is still abundant. We had
hardly entered the first pine-wood when Anderegg detected the querulous
sibilation of the Crested Tit, and two minutes later we had a little
family around us, searching the fir-branches without showing any anxiety
at our presence. Shortly afterwards a pair of Ravens passed over us,
twisting themselves round as they flew through the morning mist, in a
peculiar way, and without any object as far as I could see; and at the
same moment a small party of Crossbills on the very top of a pine began
to chatter with indignation at the appearance of a possible enemy. A few
minutes later my sharp-eared companion heard the voices of the Great
Black Woodpecker and of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Schild-specht);
but the forest was here so large and dense that we were obliged to move
on without seeing either. Passing slowly upwards, and enlivened by the
close neighbourhood of Jays, Nutcrackers, Missel-thrushes, and by the
occasional song of both Robin and Wren, we arrived near the highest
point of the Brünig carriage-road, where it runs for some distance
almost at a level, and is carried along the side of a steep ascent, the
hollow below it being covered with undergrowth stretching down to sunny
meadows, while the pine-forest rises above it sharp and dense. A better
position for an ornithologist could hardly be desired; for as he stands
at the edge of the road his eye must catch every movement in the bushes
below him, while his ear commands for a considerable distance the
pine-wood above him. Here I walked up and down for some time, scanning
the multitudinous Cole-tits and Marsh-tits which were playing in the
cover below the road, and mentally comparing their plumage with that of
our British forms of the same species; and while thus occupied, a Great
Black Woodpecker, the first I had ever seen alive, hove in sight and
fixed himself on a pine at no great distance, enabling me to watch him
for some time with my strongest glass, as he went to work on the bark,
now and again twisting his head round watchfully, like a Wryneck, and
giving me an excellent view of his powerful bill. Presently, with rapid
wing-strokes, like those of the Green Woodpecker, he flew over our
heads, and was lost in the forest above us. As he flies, he utters a
series of laughing notes, and often gives out a prolonged call after
settling on a tree. He is a very fine and remarkable bird; as large,
said Anderegg, as a fowl, using precisely the same comparison which
occurred to Aristotle two thousand years ago.

We then descended rapidly into the Haslithal, where I spent one whole
day in noting such of its feathered inhabitants as had not already
deserted it, or were likely to stay in it during the winter. The most
remarkable feature of this broad and flat hollow in the hills, is the
river Aar, which has been artificially confined for several miles within
a strong stone embankment. On this particular day the stonework on each
side was literally alive with Wagtails; the left bank seemed almost
exclusively occupied by the gray species, and the right bank by the
white. All these were continually flying out over the swift glacier
water, hovering for a few moments as they sought for flies, and then
retiring to their station on the bank; and this was going on for the
length of a full mile between the two bridges, so that the whole number
of Wagtails must have been enormous. I could hardly avoid the conclusion
that these birds had collected in view of migration. The Gray Wagtail,
Anderegg tells me, is never to be seen here in the winter, and the white
species seldom; but as to what becomes of them I am unable as yet to be
sure. Perhaps they simply move down the river into the lower and warmer
districts of western and northern Switzerland; just as in England also
there is a general movement of Wagtails in the autumn from the more
mountainous districts into the regions of plain and meadow.

Another unusual sight was the vast assembly of Carrion Crows, which
gathered in the evening, first to drink (not in the rushing Aar, but in
a stream quiet enough to give me a momentary view of a Kingfisher); then
to perch on a number of small fruit-trees, and finally to wheel round
and round among the pines and precipices, until they settled down to
roost for the night. But for their voices and their black bills, it was
hard to believe that they were not rooks; but no rook was visible, and
this bird seems almost unknown in the valley. After seeing this strange
sight, I find it hard to assent to the universally accepted proposition,
that the Crow is never, strictly speaking, a gregarious bird. So
constant is their habit here of roosting together, that Anderegg told me
that he had more than once, when out hunting at night, been almost
deafened with the noise they made when threatened by the gigantic

           [Illustration: Crossbills on top of pine.—p. 189.]

Of the ordinary summer birds there were few to be seen, though the
weather was warm for September. The Chiff-chaff sang now and then from
the hotel garden, and a certain number of Willow-warblers were still
about the beans and flax in the fields; Bonelli’s Warbler (see p. 109) I
was quite unable to detect. There were a few Swallows, House-martins,
and Crag-martins; Goldfinches in fair abundance, very busy with seeds in
the cultivated land; a few Robins, and a solitary Whinchat. I began to
fear that I had come too late to witness any considerable migration; for
even the Black Redstart, the representative bird of these valleys in
summer, was in much smaller numbers than usual. Even the Starlings had
all departed to a bird, not to return till March. On the other hand, the
birds of the higher regions were already showing a disposition to come
down to lower levels; among these the most interesting were the
Nutcrackers (often in company with Jays) and the Crossbills. These
last-mentioned birds, which are so seldom to be seen in England, were
now to be found in the lowest instead of the highest pinewoods, in pairs
or in small companies, giving warning of their presence by a rapidly
repeated alarm-note. Generally they were on the very top twigs of a
pine, where it was difficult to obtain a good sight of them; but one
morning Anderegg’s son, who is beginning to pick up his father’s powers
of observation, detected a pair on a pine _below_ us, which both his
elders had passed by unheeding. They were breakfasting each on the seeds
of a cone, and I was able to observe with the glass how admirably the
crossed mandibles are adapted for cutting into the heart of the fruit.
The plumage of the male was a sober red, less brilliant than it will be
next spring; and the female’s dull greenish colouring was hardly
recognizable against the pines. The presence of these birds close down
to the valleys denoted the rapid approach of a cold season, and it
became plain that if I were to catch the southward migrants I must
hasten upwards towards St. Gotthard. This I determined to do by the
shortest possible route, crossing the Susten Pass eastwards into the
Reuss valley at Wasen, and so getting easily to the highest point of the
great trench.

The Alps have a beauty of their own in September, even when there are
few flowers left, and the snow has long disappeared in all the highest
pastures. This is the time when the second crop of grass is cut; and the
mowing leaves a short and beautiful mossy golden turf, which shines
brightly in the sun, and lies softly and smoothly where a pine or a
boulder casts its shadow on the ground. The walk through the Gadmenthal
up to the Susten Pass was one to be remembered for beauty, though not
ornithologically productive. The only curiosity that I saw was a Creeper
running up a _house_; a very natural proceeding on the part of the bird,
where the houses are of wood, containing abundance of insects in the
crannies.[46] The great curiosity of the valley, the three-toed
Woodpecker, whose ‘fatherland’ (as Anderegg called it) is among the
highest pine-woods at the head of the valley, would not show himself;
though in the village of Gadmen we were told by an inhabitant that he
had lately seen no less than seven of this species—a whole family, I
suppose—on a single tree. Perhaps they too had come downwards in
expectation of the winter. Alpine autumn was indeed around us, and at
Gadmen we saw the first signs of the general migration of man, beast,
and bird, which takes place at this time of year. A flock of sheep,
which had been all the summer on the elevated Wendenalp, had just come
down, and was being penned in front of the inn as we arrived. Great part
of the population of the valley had assembled to claim their own, and
when the penning was done all plunged into the living mass, men, women,
boys, and sheep being mixed up in one confused struggle. Anxiety sat
upon their faces, for no man knows whether he shall find his own sheep;
some wander away and are lost, and some few—a fact of interest to me—are
not too big to be carried off by the Golden Eagles that dwell in the
vast precipices of the Titlis above the valley.

Above Gadmen the valley rapidly narrows, soon becoming little more than
a cleft in the mountains, until it opens out into a pleasant little
basin of uneven rocky pasture, much of which has been eaten away by a
great mass of glacier which has descended into it within the present
century, and is now again rapidly retreating. In this little basin—the
Stein-alp, as it is appropriately called—is an excellent little inn; and
here is the very place to catch the migrants of the Hasli and Gadmen
valleys, if they should be passing this way; for the narrowing of the
glen below must bring them all into this little basin, before they rise
to the final ascent immediately above the inn. On the morning of
September 17, as I was greeting Anderegg, and suggesting to him that we
should make a second attempt to find the rare Woodpecker, he informed me
with animation that he had seen, first a large collection of small
Finches flying overhead, and secondly, a great number of Pipits
assembled on the Alp a few minutes’ walk from the house. We at once went
to look for these, but they had all disappeared; and we continued our
walk downwards in search of the Woodpecker. But we had not gone far when
our attention was attracted by a flock of Redstarts, working slowly
upwards a little above the path; and turning back again, we followed
these for some distance, assuring ourselves that they were no accidental
assembly, but must be on their way to the head of the pass, and so
onwards to the line of St. Gotthard into Italy. As we arrived again at
the inn, we saw the flock of little birds which Anderegg had described
in the morning; they were still about the inn, but so restless and so
playful that even with a strong glass I could not be certain of their
species. My own impression was that they were Redpolls; Anderegg,
however, positively asserted that he had caught the voice of Citril and
Serin Finches.

I now proposed that we should mount to the top of the pass, in order to
observe whether the birds we had noticed in flocks lower down were still
making way upwards. The result of this movement was that we found the
Pipits—all Alpine-pipits (see p. 93), as far as I could ascertain—in a
sunny hollow just above the glacier; they were there in great numbers,
but did not mount further so long as we remained. The Redstarts too we
found still slowly working upwards on the same side of the valley on
which we had seen them in the morning; they were now just opposite to
the glacier. But on the top of the pass, where it was too cold to stay
long, we saw no signs of migrants; it was occupied only by a few Alpine
Accentors, while high above, at a height of full 9000 feet above the
sea, the Alpine Choughs were enjoying the sunshine. As we were
descending, I caught sight of a tiny little tarn on the opposite side of
the glacier, on the rocky alp high up above the inn, which struck me as
a likely place for birds, especially as it was sheltered by a little
crest of stunted trees of some kind. Here, after the mid-day meal, we
made our way, and finding nothing at all, lay down on the grass to enjoy
a splendid view of the craggy defile below us. But we had not been lying
long before a twittering was heard, and the little flock which had
puzzled us in the morning came dancing overhead, and settled so deep in
the stunted pines I had noticed from the top of the pass, that though we
could see the movements of the branches, we could not once get a clear
sight of a single individual. This was too provoking, and I at once
proceeded to crawl slowly towards the bushes, getting round to the flank
of the birds on a rising bit of ground, until I was within a few yards
of them. All that I saw were Redpolls,[47] and all of the ‘Mealy’ form
known to ornithologists; the autumn moult had left them very white on
breast and belly, and very mealy on wings and back. They were, as far as
I could judge, a little larger than our British Lesser Redpoll. Were
they too migrating, or were they going to spend the winter in the
Gadmenthal? I suspect that they stay all their lives in the Alps, and
instead of moving southward to a warmer climate when under stress of
weather, have but to make a short journey to a lower station in the
valley, to find at once a warmer temperature and abundance of the food
they seek.

The next day, September 20, we packed up our baggage, and left this
health-giving spot with its iced air and scented breezes, and again
climbed the pass on our way to Wasen, being anxious to get to the head
of the St. Gotthard before the fine weather should desert us. I was not
unwilling to see my fellow-creatures again, as I had been quite alone on
the Stein-alp, except for a single hour which an Englishman of education
and intelligence had made very enjoyable as he took his ‘Mittagessen’
and smoked his cigarette with me. As it happened, we left just in time
to enable us, as the reader will learn shortly, to see things worth
recording at Hospenthal the following day.

On going up the ascent from the inn, I noticed that the Pipits were now
in great numbers at a _lower level_ than yesterday, and this suggested
the conclusion that a fresh instalment had arrived from below, while
those of yesterday had gone still higher or descended on the other side.
This idea was fully confirmed by what I saw afterwards; for a good many
more were at or about the top, and as we sat there for a few minutes,
one flew right over us and disappeared in the depths of the valley in
the direction of Wasen. All the way down too on the other side little
parties were making their way in the same direction; and thus it became
clear that these birds at least do not take flight all at once, but move
in a continuous stream of parties smaller or greater, much as the late
Mr. A. E. Knox described the migration of the Pied Wagtails from west to
east in the south coast of England, in his admirable _Ornithological
Rambles in Sussex_.[48] But we may well ask the question, Do they arrive
in the same manner? The Susten Pass is 7000 feet above the sea, and is
covered with snow from October to June. I myself once crossed it on June
29, when its deep snow bore no trace of human footsteps, and it was
possible to make glissades over slopes where now not a vestige of snow
was to be seen. Are we to suppose that the Pipits and their friends pass
it in spring in spite of the snow, and travel in the same gradual
manner? I cannot yet answer this question, nor is it likely that I shall
ever be able to witness the arrival of the Susten Pipits as I witnessed
their departure; but I contrived in the course of a week in these
regions to set a few intelligent natives in an inquiring mood with
regard to these matters, and it is possible that next spring may bring
me some scraps of useful information. At present I am content to
remember that Mr. Knox, in the passage just now referred to, was the
first to discover that the arrival and departure of our English species
are not performed in exactly the same manner.

We saw nothing of special ornithological interest in the melancholy
Meienthal, which leads down from the Susten to the St. Gotthard railway
at Wasen; but I was reminded of a passage in my third chapter (p. 83)
when we arrived at the first considerable pasture, and found a whole
community of men, women, children, cows, and goats, on the very point of
migrating from their cool and healthy summer home. The cows were all
gathered in front of the ‘Sennhütten,’ and when doors and windows had
been made fast for the winter, all the human migrants stood for a few
minutes in prayer, doubtless thanking God for the provision He had made
for them and their cattle, and asking for a blessing on the pasture for
the summers yet to come. Then all these Catholics of Uri streamed
downwards with their cows in long procession, the head ‘Senner’ walking
in front followed by one fine animal; and to-day the pasture is as still
and desolate as it will be all the coming winter. Even the very stream
that washes it will be less voiceful, when the first frosts have bound
once more the snow that feeds and fills it through all the warm season.
It was indeed most curious and interesting to find man, beast, and bird
all leaving it on the same day.

On arriving at Wasen, being still alarmed lest I should be too late to
see much on this side of the great double barrier—for it now became
evident that the birds were taking advantage of the last fine weather—I
had half a mind to go through the tunnel to Airolo, and catch them on
the southern side. My second thoughts, however, were in this expedition
unusually lucky, and I fortunately decided to stay for a night or two at
Hospenthal, which lies just at the northern mouth of the St. Gotthard
Pass proper, in that curious elevated valley mentioned at the beginning
of this chapter, which lies just between the two halves of the great
trench formed by the valleys of the Rhine and Rhone. Any birds crossing
the St. Gotthard into Italy must necessarily pass Hospenthal, and I had
heard enough already of migration in this district to make me pretty
confident of getting information here, even if I were not lucky enough
to see anything myself.

When we issued from the ‘Urner-loch’ into this broad and grassy valley,
it was just beginning to grow dark; but we could see great numbers of
swallows and martins on the church steeples both of Andermatt and
Hospenthal, which are about a mile apart. As I came down the next
morning at 7 a.m., I was met by Anderegg, who informed me that the
gathering on the Hospenthal steeple had left their station in a body at
6 a.m., had circled high into the air for a few minutes, and then taken
a directly southward course, not by the St. Gotthard road, but over the
shoulder of the mountain which separates that road from a parallel
valley to the east of it. That this account was true I was able to prove
to my own satisfaction, for on the morning of the next day I was up in
time to see a new party depart in precisely the same manner and the same
direction. Like the Pipits, these Swallows and Martins migrate in
considerable flocks coming one behind the other; and so far as we could
ascertain from walks taken during the day, these flocks occupy
successively the steeples of Andermatt and Hospenthal, coming up from
the lower valley and settling first on the former, then leaving it when
the other is free, and so eventually leaving that also to rise for their
last flight over the great barrier. How long this process goes on I
could not very clearly ascertain. But there were still young martins in
the nests at Hospenthal, which would hardly be ready to fly for some
days, and as we subsequently found a certain number of martins (though
very few swallows) when we returned to the Haslithal, I am inclined to
think that it occupies a considerable time, and differs in length
according to the weather. On the occasion of my visit, though it was
fine and warm, the barometer was falling, and the very next day a
continuous rain and snow-fall set in, lasting nearly three days; so that
it seemed as if the birds were making haste to escape from a climate
which might very well be dangerous to them. In Meiringen I was told that
great numbers of them were caught and killed by severe weather in
September last year. And the waiter in the hotel at Hospenthal, who most
fortunately has some interest in these matters, and keeps his eyes open
in his idle autumn hours, declared that he had seen the martins so eager
to induce their young to leave the nest before it was too late, that at
last they pulled them out by main force and compelled them to join the
general assembly on the steeple.

This same man had also noticed a migration of another kind, which it may
be worth while to record here. Sitting in front of the hotel, with
nothing to do, he had observed a constant stream of _dragon-flies_
making their way up the valley; and during my walks that day I was able
fully to verify his statement. All the way from Hospenthal to Andermatt
these creatures were to be seen coming up _against the wind_, which was
now blowing from the west. Doubtless I should never have noticed them,
if my attention had not been drawn to them by this most fortunately
situated observer. There was no mistake about it; countless numbers were
steadily passing up the valley, but whither they were going it was
hopeless to ascertain; they did not seem to turn up the St. Gotthard
road, for I remarked them the whole way up the valley to the foot of the
Furka Pass westwards. Frau Meyer, landlady of the hotel, told me that
she had once witnessed an extraordinary flight of countless butterflies
at Hospenthal; but could not tell me the species. I had myself
previously noticed the tendency of the Apollo butterfly at the Stein-alp
to fly _up_ the pass—every individual I saw being apparently on his way
upwards. And this was against an east wind, close to a glacier, and on
the 19th of September!

The migrating birds, however, did not seem to get any further up the
valley than Hospenthal; and indeed at no point further up would they
have found a route into Italy so comparatively free from difficulty. We
took a walk in the afternoon in order to ascertain whether this were so,
and the result was interesting. Let it be understood that at Hospenthal
the St. Gotthard road turns sharp to the south up a narrow valley, while
the elevated valley or plain in which Hospenthal lies extends for
several miles further to the foot of the Furka Pass, which leads, not
into Italy, but into the Rhone valley westwards. Exactly as the human
traveller into Italy follows the road up the narrow defile, leaving the
broad plain behind him, so do the birds change their direction at this
point, and prepare to leave food and comfort until they are on the
southern side of the barrier. All day long a little tract of broken
ground lying between the hotel and the river had been alive with Pipits;
but when we walked further up the main valley westwards not a bird was
to be seen, except here and there a lingering Redstart. The desolation
was complete; yet no sooner had we returned to Hospenthal, than we were
greeted again by Pipits, Wagtails, Martins, and even by a solitary
Wheatear, who seemed left behind by his relations. This was the only
bird of its kind which I saw during my stay in the Alps. The Wheatears
are, as in England, the first migrants which arrive in the spring, and
doubtless they are also among the first to depart. The only other bird
which was common here at this time was the Kestrel—the Thurmfalk
(tower-falcon) as he is here called; they nest in the Alps in old towers
or rocks, and several were always to be seen about the old Lombard tower
which overlooks the village, and once overawed its inhabitants.

The next day I resolved to try whether the Grimsel Pass, the second
principal opening from the north through the great barrier, would show
us anything new; but in this project I was disappointed, for rain and
intense cold came on, which drove me down to Meiringen and deprived me
of any opportunity of further observation. And here, as I write, the sun
has once more broken through the clouds, a bracing north wind blows, the
mountains above us are covered with fresh snow, the trees are beginning
to lose their summer green, the cow-bells are ringing in the valley
instead of upon the alps, and alpine autumn is here in all its health
and beauty. The hotel is empty, and my only companions are the faithful
Anderegg and my host, Herr Willi, now Cabinet Minister of his Canton,
who entertains me with discourse of the history of the Haslithal, the
antiquities of which he has been the first to explore. Some summer birds
are still here; the Chiff-chaff for a single moment uttered its voice
outside the window by which I write. The Robins are in fair abundance,
and a few will stay in the valley, where the cold is not greater than in
our own climate, throughout the winter. A walk this morning showed us
the House-martin, the Crag-martin, and a single individual of the
numerous Alpine Swifts, which in the summer haunt the gigantic
precipices that frown upon the valley.

We have seen how the Swallow-tribe departs from the Alps, and have also
learnt something of the movements and migration of other birds; but I
have still to discover in which direction the tenderer birds, the
various members of the tribe of warblers, find a way to their southern
winter home. I can hardly believe that they can traverse the wild and
shelterless mountain passes with their short wings and fragile bodies;
yet in the long sea voyages which they make they are no less at the
mercy of the elements than they would be when in the jaws of the most
savage defile of the St. Gotthard.

While I have been fortunate in seeing so much in the course of a very
few days, it is obvious that much remains to be discovered, and that
future visits to Switzerland, whether in spring or autumn, may not be
without their reward; for I have little doubt that there is no European
region where the peculiar conditions of temperature, and the
extraordinary variety of food, are so likely to produce abnormal effects
on the living population—effects which as yet are perhaps comparatively
little understood. I feel that my hastily collected information is but a
single item in the vast repertory of material which stands ready to the
hand of any one whose fortune may send him here at the right time, and
with the requisite qualifications. Many Englishmen now pass the Alps in
spring by way of the St. Gotthard railway on their return from Italy and
the Riviera; if among these there be any that are curious about birds,
let them halt for a day or two on each side of the pass, and learn what
they can of the arrival of migrants from the south. And let me add, that
any occupation which brings a foreigner into close contact with the more
intelligent Swiss, especially at a time when they are not hard driven by
the touring world of all nations, will give new life and interest to
even the shortest visit to a country whose history and institutions are
as wonderful as its scenery, or as its animal and vegetable life. We are
apt to think of the Swiss as a self-seeking people, whose only object is
to make capital out of the natural beauties of the extraordinary land
they live in. But this is not a happy impeachment in the mouth of
Englishmen, who know so well how to make the best of their own
resources, and who have contributed not a little to stimulate the ardour
of the Swiss for gain and speculation. He who would really know the
peasant of the Alps must see him in his natural state, struggling hard
against adversity, heavily taxed for education and improvements, loving
labour and doing it cheerfully; a human being wrestling hard with
Nature, who yields her wealth for him with a very sparing hand, while
she lavishes upon the birds that live around him untold abundance and
endless resource.

                    [Illustration: JOHANN ANDEREGG.]

                              CHAPTER VII.
                          THE BIRDS OF VIRGIL.

It might naturally be supposed, that an Oxford tutor, who finds his
vocation in the classics and his amusement in the birds, would be in the
way of noticing what ancient authors have to say about their feathered
friends and enemies. One Christmas vacation, when there was
comparatively little to observe out-of-doors, I made a tour through the
poems of Virgil, keeping a sharp look-out for all mention of birds, and
compiled a complete collection of his ornithological passages. I chose a
Latin poet because in Latin it happens to be easier to identify a genus
or species than it is in Greek; and I chose Virgil partly because the
ability to read and understand him is to me one of the things which make
life most worth living, and partly because I know that there is no other
Latin poet who felt in the same degree the beauty and the mystery of

I believe there are still people who think of Virgil as a court-poet,
writing to order, and drawing conventional ideas of nature from Greek
authors of an earlier age. This is, of course, absolutely untrue.
Virgil’s connection with Augustus was accidental, and was probably no
more to the poet’s taste than any other result of an education and an
occasional residence in the huge city of Rome. If we compare what is
known of his life with the general character of his poetry, we get a
very different result.

The first sixteen years of his life were spent in his native country of
Cisalpine Gaul, almost under the shadow of the Alps, three hundred miles
away from Rome. His parents were ‘rustic,’ and he himself was brought up
among the woods and rushy meads of Mantua and Cremona. “Doubtless there
is many a reminiscence of his early years in the _Georgics_, where his
love of the woods, in which he must have wandered as a boy, meets us in
every page.”[49] In that day it is probable enough that the great plain
of the Po was still largely occupied by those dense forests, the
destruction of which is said to be the chief cause of the floods to
which the river is liable. Much land must also have been still undrained
and marshy: and we can still trace in the neighbourhood of Mantua the
remains of those ancient lake-dwellings which an ancient people had
built there long before the Gauls, from whom our poet was perhaps
descended, had taken possession of the plain. These woods and marshes,
as well as the land which Roman settlers had tilled for vine or olive,
must have been alive with birds in Virgil’s day. There would be all the
birds of the woods, the pigeons and their enemies the owls and hawks;
there would be cranes and storks in their yearly migrations, and all
manner of water-fowl from the two rivers Po and Mincio, and from the
Lacus Benacus (Lago di Garda) which is only about twenty miles distant.
It would be strange indeed, if, even when following the tracks of a
Greek poet, Virgil had not in his mind some of the familiar sights on
the banks of Mincius.

But later in life he was at least as much in Southern as in Northern
Italy. That the first three Georgics were written, or at least thought
out, on the lovely bay of Naples, is certain from the lines at the end
of the fourth Georgic:—

  Illo Virgilium me tempore dulcis alebat
  Parthenope, studiis florentem ignobilis oti.[50]

Here were all the sea-birds, and the wild-fowl that haunt the sea; here,
as we shall see, the summer visitors might land on their way from
Africa. Here, from the sea and all its varying life, the poet’s mind
would enrich itself with sights unknown to him in the flat-lands of the
Padus, and grow to understand more fully day by day the
impressions—often dull ones—which Nature had made on the poets who had
sung before him. Rome he never loved, though he had a house there:
perhaps he had seen enough of the huge city during the years given to
the dreary rhetorical education of the day, after first leaving his
home. He loved Campania, and he loved Sicily[51]; at Tarentum also he is
found, probably visiting the friendly and jovial Horace. The
hill-country of the peninsula, and of the island that belongs to it,
became a part of his poetical soul; and as he probably spent much of his
time at his own Cisalpine farm, after he was restored to it by his
patron’s kindly influence, he must have been constantly moving among all
the phases of Italian landscape—in the plain, on the hills, by the sea.

Everything, then, in Virgil’s history, shows him a genuine poet of the
country, and at the same time no one who really knows his poems can deny
that they fully bear out the evidence of his life. It is true that he
drew very largely on other poets, and could not “disengage himself from
the antecedents of his art.” From Homer, Hesiod, Aratus, or Theocritus,
for example, come nearly all the passages in his works in which birds
are mentioned. But though they descend from these poets, and bear the
features of their ancestors, they are yet a new and living generation,
not lifeless copies modelled by a mere imitator; and their beauty and
their truth is not that of Greek, but of Italian poetry. Let any one
compare the translations of Aratus by other Roman hands, by Cicero,
Festus, and Germanicus, with Virgil’s first Georgic, and he will not
fail to mark the difference between the mere translator and the poet who
breathes into the work of his predecessors a new life and an immortal
one. There is hardly to be found, in the whole of Virgil’s poems, a
single allusion to the habits of birds or any other animals which is
untrue to fact as we know it from Italian naturalists. Here and there,
of course, there are delusions which were the common property of the
age. If, for example, he tells us in the fourth Georgic that bees

                  oft weigh up tiny stones
  As light craft ballast in the tossing tide,
  Wherewith they poise them through the cloudy vast:

let us remember that the true history of bees has been matter of quite
recent discovery. And we may note at the same time that Pliny, a
professed naturalist, living at least a generation after Virgil, has
actually asserted that cranes, when flying against the wind, will take
up stones with their feet, and stuff their long throats full of gravel,
which they discharge when they alight safely on the ground![52]

Virgil mentions about twenty kinds of birds, most of them several times.
These twenty kinds do not correspond so much to our species as to our
genera; for the Greeks and Romans, I need hardly say, had only very
rough-and-ready methods of classification, just as is the case with
uneducated people at the present day. When they found birds tolerably
like each other, they readily put them down as of the same _kind_,
rarely marking minor differences. Thus _corvus_ appears to stand for
both crow and rook; _picus_ stands for all the woodpeckers inhabiting
Italy; by _accipiter_ may be understood any kind of hawk. But in spite
of this difficulty, it is sometimes possible to make out the particular
species which is alluded to, partly by getting information as to those
which are found in Italy at the present day, partly by comparing Virgil
with Pliny and other Roman writers, and where Virgil is using a Greek
original, by trying to discover, chiefly through Aristotle’s admirable
book on natural history, what bird is indicated by the Greek word
translated, and whether that bird is an Italian bird as well as Greek,
and therefore likely to be known to Virgil at first hand.

I am not going to trouble my readers with much of the uninteresting
detail of an inquiry like this (in which indeed the game might seem to
be hardly worth the candle), but merely to give them some idea of the
bird-knowledge on which this greatest of Roman poets drew, whether at
first or second-hand, for description or illustration; and in so doing
to make clear to them, so far as I can, the particular kinds of birds
which he had in his mind. I shall quote him in the original, but shall
add translations in footnotes: in the _Georgics_, his poem of husbandry,
I take advantage of a poet’s translation, that of my friend Mr. James
Rhoades, which cannot easily be outdone either in exactness of
scholarship or in beauty of diction; and in the _Aeneid_ I make use of
Mr. Mackail’s prose translation, which I prefer on the whole to any
poetical version I know. One passage from the _Eclogues_ I have
translated myself.

The first birds we find mentioned in the poems are the Pigeons, and we
may as well begin with them as with any other. Meliboeus tells Tityrus
that the farm to which he is returned after a long exile—the same farm
which the poet himself lost and found again—shall yield him much true
comfort and delight, even though he find it overgrown with reeds, and
spoilt with the stones and mud of overflowing Mincius:—

  Nec tamen interea raucae, tua cura, _palumbes_,
  Nec gemere aeria cessabit _turtur_ ab ulmo.[53]

Here two distinct species are clearly meant by the words _palumbes_ and
_turtur_. About the latter of these there is no difficulty; from all
that is told us of it we gather that it is the same bird which the
French still call _tourterelle_ and the Italians _tortorella_, and which
we know as the Turtle-dove; it is still found in small numbers passing
the summer and breeding in Italy, and is most frequent in the sub-alpine
region of which Virgil is here writing. But what bird is here meant by
_palumbes_? Both this word and its near relative _columba_ must be
translated by _pigeon_, but can we distinguish them as different
species? Here the commentaries and dictionaries give us no substantial
help, and I may be pardoned for pausing a moment to consider a question
of some interest to historical ornithologists.

There are at the present day three kinds of pigeons beside the
turtle-dove just mentioned, which are found in Italy; they are the same
three which we know in England as the Wood-pigeon or Ring-dove, the
Stock-dove, and the Rock-dove or Blue-rock. Of these the last, which
with us is the rarest, only found on certain parts of our coast, is by
far the most abundant in Italy, and is the only one which habitually
breeds there. The other two species pass over Italy in spring and autumn
regularly, but seldom or never stay there; they go northwards in the
spring from Africa and the East, and return again in the autumn after
breeding in cooler climes. But it is fairly certain that in ancient
times _two_ species of pigeons bred in Italy: (1) the bird meant by
_palumbes_, of which Virgil makes the shepherd Damoetas say in the third
Eclogue that he has “marked the place where they have gathered materials
for nesting,”[54] and of which Pliny tells his readers that when they
see this bird upon her nest they may know that midsummer is past (Pliny,
_Nat. Hist._ xviii. 267); (2) the bird named _columba_, which word,
though etymologically the same as _palumbes_, is used by Pliny, and also
by the Roman agricultural writers, to represent a bird which is
certainly to be distinguished from _palumbes_.[55] The _columba_ was in
fact the tame pigeon of the Romans: it was also their carrier-pigeon;
for in the siege of Mutina, B.C. 43, the besieged general communicated
with the relieving force by means of _columbae_, to the feet of which
letters were attached (Plin. x. 110). The words may here and there be
used loosely, and it is possible that attempts may have been made to
domesticate the _palumbes_ as well as the _columba_; but in the vast
majority of passages the _columba_ is certainly either the domestic bird
or a wild bird of the same species, while _palumbes_ is some other kind
of pigeon.

Even in Virgil the distinction is maintained; for while _palumbes_
breeds in the elm in the first Eclogue, already quoted (which poem, it
should be noted, is genuinely north-Italian, and independent of a Greek
original), _columba_ on the other hand has her nest in a rock, as the
following well-known and beautiful passage will plainly show—

  Qualis spelunca subito commota columba,
  Cui domus et dulces latebroso in pumice nidi,
  Fertur in arva volans, plausumque exterrita pennis
  Dat tecto ingentem, mox aere lapsa quieto
  Radit iter liquidum, celeres neque commovet alas.

And in the same fifth Aeneid, the bird which served as a target in the
archery contest—a domestic bird, we may suppose—was a _columba_, not a

Now it is a fact almost universally recognized by modern ornithologists
that our domestic pigeon is in all its varieties descended from the wild
Rock-dove; and thus when we find that the Romans used _columba_ to
denote _their_ domestic bird, and also a wild bird which made its nest
in rocks, the conclusion is almost certain that by that word we are to
understand our Blue-rock pigeon (_Columba livia_); and if this is so, by
_palumbes_ must be meant one of the other two Italian pigeons, the
Wood-pigeon (_Columba palumbus_, Linn.) or the Stock-dove (_Columba
aenas_, Linn.). Both species, as I have said, are now birds of passage
in Italy, while the Blue-rock is resident; and Pliny tells us of the
_palumbes_ that it arrived every year in great numbers from the sea—he
does not say at what season. Perhaps the Stock-dove[56] is the more
likely of the two to have been the bird generally meant by _palumbes_;
but it is quite possible that, like the unskilled of the present day,
the Romans confounded the two species, and wrote of them as one.

But there is still a difficulty. The _palumbes_ in the time of Virgil
and Pliny seems to have bred in Italy; Pliny knew all about their
breeding (x. 147 and 153), and Virgil makes Damoetas mark the place
where their nesting is going on. But it is now very rarely, if we may
trust Italian naturalists, that either Ring-dove or Stock-dove passes a
summer in Italy. Birds seek a _cool_ climate for their breeding-places;
probably because in very hot countries the food suitable to their
nestlings will not be found in the breeding-season. Has the climate of
Italy become hotter in the last two thousand years, discouraging these
birds from lingering south of the Alps?

This is an old question which has been well thrashed out by the learned,
and the general conclusion seems to be in the affirmative. The last
eminent writer on the subject takes this view,[57] and his argument
would receive a decided clinch if it could be proved that certain kinds
of birds, which formerly bred in the country, do so no longer, and that
this is not due to other causes, such as the well-known passion of the
Italians for killing and eating all the birds on which they can lay
their hands.

If we now turn to the first Georgic, in which, following the Greek poet
Aratus with freedom and discretion, Virgil has told us more of animal
life than in all the rest of his poems, we find frequent mention of the
long-legged and long-billed birds with which he must have been very
familiar in his boyhood at Mantua. The first of these we meet with is
the Crane (Latin _grus_). About the meaning of the word _grus_ there can
be no doubt; it would seem that the Crane was a bird accurately
distinguished by the forefathers of our modern Aryan peoples even before
they separated from each other. The Greek word γέρανος, the Latin
_grus_, the German _Kranich_, and the Welsh _garan_ are all identical,
and point to a period when the bird was known by the same name to the
whole race. Probably it was much more abundant both in Europe and Asia,
at a time when the face of the country was covered by vast tracts of
swamp and forest. Even now, at the period of migration, they swarm in
the East; “the whooping and trumpeting of the crane,” says a great
authority (Canon Tristram), “rings through the night air in spring, and
the vast flocks we noticed passing north near Beersheba were a wonderful

Virgil mentions the Crane in two passages as doing damage to the crops:
and this is fully borne out by modern accounts from Asia Minor and
Scinde, quoted by Mr. Dresser in his _Birds of Europe_. The poet says of
them (_Georgic_ i. 118)—

  Nec tamen haec cum sint hominumque boumque labores
  Versando terram experti, nihil improbus anser
  Strymoniaeque grues et amaris intuba fibris
  Officiunt aut umbra nocet.[58]

And in line 307 of the same book he tells the husbandman that the winter
is the time to catch them:—

  Tum gruibus pedicas, et retia ponere cervis
  Auritosque sequi lepores;[59]

a passage from which it might appear as if the Crane were snared as an
article of food, not only as an enemy to the agriculturist. And indeed
in Pliny’s time the epicure’s taste was all in favour of cranes against
storks; but when Virgil wrote, the reverse was the case. This little
fact, so characteristic of the sway of fashion over the gourmand of that
luxurious age, was recorded by Cornelius Nepos, and is quoted from him
by Pliny (_Nat. Hist._ x. 60).

The Crane is now a bird of passage in Italy, and the Stork also; they
appear in spring on their way to northern breeding-places, and in autumn
reappear with their numbers reinforced by the young broods of the year.
These habits seem to have been the same in Virgil’s day. In the passage
just quoted (_Georgic_ i. 120) it is evidently in the _spring_ that the
bird was hurtful to the crops, as the seed was to be sown in the spring
(line 43, etc.).

On the other hand, in line 307, the Crane is to be snared in the
_winter_; yet I can hardly believe that any number could have stayed in
Italy during winter, if the climate was then colder than it is now.
Moreover, Pliny speaks of the Crane as ‘aestatis advena,’ that is, a
_summer_ visitor, as opposed to the Stork, who was a winter visitor. But
these Latin words ‘aestas’ and ‘hiems’ are to be understood loosely for
the whole warm season, and the whole cold or stormy season; and if
cranes came on their passage northwards, when warm weather began, they
must also have appeared, on their return journey, when cold weather was
beginning; so that both crane and stork might equally be styled
‘aestatis advena,’ or ‘hiemis advena.’ Pliny was surely making one of
his many blunders when he _distinguished_ the two birds by these two

The migration of such great birds as these, unlike those of our tiny
visitors to England, could hardly escape the notice even of men who knew
nothing of scientific observation. Virgil has given us a momentary
glimpse of the Crane’s migration in spring; he is following in the
tracks of Homer, but as a Mantuan he must have seen the phenomenon
himself also.

                      Clamorem ad sidera tollunt
  Dardanidae e muris; spes addita suscitat iras;
  Tela manu jaciunt; quales sub nubibus atris
  Strymoniae dant signa grues, atque aethera tranant
  Cum sonitu, fugiuntque Notos clamore secundo.[60]

Here, as they fly before a southern wind, they are on their way to the
north in the spring. But in another passage he seems rather to be
thinking of autumn; it is where he is telling the husbandman how to
presage an approaching storm, such a storm as descends in autumn from
the Alps upon the plains of Lombardy:—

                  Nunquam imprudentibus imber
  Obfuit; aut illum surgentem _vallibus imis_
  Aeriae fugere grues, aut bucula coelum
  Suspiciens patulis captavit naribus auras,
  Aut arguta lacus circumvolitavit hirundo.[61]

The general tenor of the whole passage of which these lines are a
fragment, as well as their original in the _Diosemeia_ of Aratus, points
to the approach of ‘hiems,’ the stormy season, as the event indicated;
the falling leaves dance in air, the feathers of the moulting birds
float on the water, but the swallow is not yet gone. The deep Alpine
valleys seethe with swirling mist, which rises into gathering cloud, and
soon becomes stormy rain beating upon the plains, as we may see it in
any ‘Loamshire’ of our own, that lies below the stony hills of a wilder
and wetter country-side. In this striking and truthful passage, Virgil
has not followed his model too closely, but was evidently thinking of
what he must often have witnessed himself.

The Stork is only mentioned by Virgil in a single passage—

                          Cum vere rubenti
  Candida venit avis longis invisa colubris.[62]

Doubtless the bird arrived in great numbers in spring on the Mantuan
marshes, and found abundance of food there in the way of frogs and
snakes. Its snake-eating propensity was considered so valuable in
Thessaly, that the bird was preserved there by law, says Aristotle.[63]
But did it remain to breed in Italy? It is remarkable that both
Aristotle and Pliny have very little to say of its habits, and hardly
anything as to its breeding; and if the Stork had been a bird familiar
to them, they could hardly have failed to give it a prominent place in
their books. At the present time it seems to pass over Italy and Greece
on its passage northwards, never staying to breed in the former country
and rarely in the latter; yet this can hardly be owing to temperature,
as it breeds freely in the parallel latitudes of Spain and Asia Minor.

As regards ancient Italy, however, the question seems to be set at rest
by a very curious passage from the _Satyricon_ of Petronius, which has
been kindly pointed out to me by Mr. Robinson Ellis. It is remarkable
not only for its Latin, but for its concise and admirable description of
the characteristic ways of the Stork:—

  Ciconia etiam grata, peregrina, hospita,
  Pietaticultrix, gracilipes, crotalistria,
  Avis exsul hiemis, titulus tepidi temporis,
  Nequitiae nidum in cacabo fecit meo.[64]

“A Stork too, that welcome guest from foreign lands, that devotee of
filial duty, with its long thin legs and rattling bill, the bird that is
banished by the winter and announces the coming of the warm season, has
made his accursed nest in my boiler.” I am reminded also of a story,
which has the authority both of Jornandes and Procopius, that at the
siege of Aquileia in A.D. 452, Attila was encouraged to persist by the
sight of a Stork and her young leaving the beleaguered city. “Such a
domestic bird would never have abandoned her ancient seats unless those
towers had been devoted to impending ruin and solitude.”[65] Here then
we seem to have another example of a bird abandoning its ancient
practice of breeding, occasionally at least, in Italy. If this is due to
persecution, the persecutors have made a great mistake. The Stork does
no harm to man, but rather rids his fields of vermin; the Crane, which
belongs to a different order of birds, may do serious damage, as we have
seen, to cultivated land, like the ‘improbus anser,’ and other birds
which Virgil in the first Georgic instructs the husbandman to catch with
lime or net, or to frighten away from the fields.[66]

Let us now turn to the big black birds of the race of the Crows, which
are always so difficult to distinguish from one another: for the Roman
savant not less difficult than for our own unlearned. There are to be
found in Italy at the present day the Raven, the Crow, the Rook, the
Jackdaw, the Chough, and the Alpine Chough; all of these seem to be
fairly common and resident in one or other part of the country, except
our familiar friends the Crow and the Rook, the former of which is very
rare, and the latter hardly more than a bird of passage. We cannot of
course expect to find these accurately distinguished by the ancient
Italians; and there is in fact still some uncertainty as to the
identification of certain birds of this kind mentioned by Virgil.

The two commonest of these are the _corvus_ and the _cornix_—words which
undoubtedly represent two different species. The Roman augurs, who were
always busily engaged in observing birds (and it were to be wished that
they had observed them to some better purpose), clearly distinguished
_corvus_ and _cornix_.[67] So also did Pliny,[68] in the following
curious passage: “The _corvus_ lays its eggs before midsummer, and is
then in bad condition for sixty days, up to the ripening of the figs in
autumn: but the _cornix_ begins to be disordered _after_ that time.”
Virgil also uses the words for two distinct species; his _cornix_ is

  Tum cornix plena pluviam vocat improba voce
  Et sola in sicca secum spatiatur arena;[69]

while _corvus_ is gregarious, as is shown in the following memorable
description of Nature and of the birds taking heart after the storm has

  Tum liquidas corvi presso ter gutture voces
  Aut quater ingeminant, et saepe cubilibus altis,
  Nescio qua praeter solitum dulcedine laeti,
  Inter se in foliis strepitant; juvat imbribus actis,
  Progeniem parvam dulcesque revisere natos.[70]

That in these last beautiful lines _corvus_ means a Rook, no Englishman
is likely to deny; yet there are two difficulties to be put aside before
we can make the assertion with entire confidence. The first is, that
Virgil, here following Aratus, translated by _corvus_ the Greek word
κόραξ, which is not generally accepted as meaning a Rook. This is the
word which the Greek historian Polybius uses for those naval machines
invented by the Romans, in the first war with Carthage, for grappling
with a hooked projecting beak the galleys of the enemy; and the rook’s
bill is hardly so well suited to give a name to such an engine as that
of the crow or raven,[71] which has the tip of the upper mandible
sharply bent downwards, like that of most flesh-eating birds. Still I
must hold it probable that Aratus here used the word for the rook, as he
makes it gregarious, and so, I think, did the Alexandrian scholar Theon,
who wrote a commentary on his poem. The only other possibility is that
he was thinking of the Alpine Chough, a bird which he might possibly
have known, and one of thoroughly social habits. But that Virgil, though
he too probably knew this bird, was not thinking of it when he wrote the
lines just quoted, I feel tolerably sure; he would most likely have used
the word _graculus_ rather than _corvus_, which would seem never to have
been applied, like _monedula_ and _graculus_, to the smaller birds of
the group, such as the Alpine Chough and the Jackdaw.

The second difficulty lies in the fact that the Rook is now only a bird
of passage in Italy, never stopping to breed in the southern part of the
peninsula, and very rarely in the northern; while Virgil speaks of the
_corvi_ in the last-quoted passage as _loving to revisit their nests_.
But this difficulty has been overcome by the delightful discovery that
the Rooks still stay and breed in the sub-alpine neighbourhood where
Virgil passed his early life.[72] As I have remarked about the pigeons
and the stork, the climate may have been such as would induce some birds
to stop south of the great Alpine barrier, which now find there no
climate cool enough for breeding; and the Rook was perhaps a more
regular resident and breeder then than he is now.

We may conclude then that Virgil’s _corvus_ is our old friend the Rook,
even if some Latin authors use the word equally for Rook, Crow, and
Raven. Pliny for example tells us (_N. H._ x. 124) that the _corvus_ can
be taught to speak (fancy a bird talking Latin, that stiff and solemn
speech!), that he eats flesh for the most part, and that he sometimes
makes his nest in elevated buildings; feats which we are not used to
associate with Rooks. In fact it is plain that Pliny, who was more of a
learned book-reader than a careful observer of the minutiæ of nature,
was not quite clear in his notions about the big black birds. But if we
can be pretty sure about _corvus_, what is Virgil’s _cornix_, stalking
on the shore in solitary state, and uttering admonitory croaks from the
hollow holm-oak? If we consult dictionaries we shall learn that _cornix_
is the _Crow_ or _Rook_, “a smaller bird than _corvus_.” Where did the
dictionaries get this authority for making confusion worse confounded?
If Virgil distinguished _corvus_ and _cornix_, and if _corvus_ is the
rook, then _cornix_ must be the crow or the raven, and in fact the word
probably stands for both. I should incline on the whole to the raven,
seeing that at the present day it is much the commoner bird of the two
in Italy. Alpine choughs and jackdaws are not wont to stalk about alone;
and though the larger chough (our Cornish chough) might do so, and is to
be found in the mountain districts of Italy, he cannot well be the bird
generally understood by _cornix_. Could a chough learn to talk with his
long thin red bill? But Pliny knew of a talking _cornix_; “while I was
engaged upon this book,” he says, “there was in Rome a _cornix_ from the
south-west of Spain, belonging to a Roman knight, which was of an
amazingly pure black, and could say certain strings of words, to which
it frequently added new ones.”

Swans are frequently mentioned by Virgil, as by other Latin and Greek
poets. This splendid bird must have been much commoner then throughout
Europe than it is now, and accordingly attracted much attention. It
doubtless abounded in the swampy localities of the north of Italy, and
at the mouths of the great rivers of Thrace and Asia Minor, as well as
in the north of Europe, where it came to be woven into many a Teutonic
fable. Homer has frequent and beautiful allusions to it; and the town of
Clazomenae, at the mouth of the river Hermus, has a swan stamped upon
its coins.

This Swan of the old poets is without any doubt the whooper (_Cycnus
musicus_), whose voice and presence are still well known in Italy and
Greece. Virgil had seen it at Mantua, on the watery plain of the

  Pascentem niveos herboso flumine cycnos.[73]

And in an admirable simile in the eleventh book of the _Aeneid_, he
likens the stir and dissension in the camp of Turnus, when the news
suddenly arrives that Aeneas is marching upon them, to the loud calls of
this bird:

                        Hic undique clamor
  Dissensu vario magnus se tollit ad auras:
  Haud secus atque alto in luco cum forte catervae
  Consedere avium, piscosove amne Padusae
  Dant sonitum rauci per stagna loquacia cycni.[74]

We now come to two birds mentioned in the same line of the third
Georgic. The poet is telling the farmer to water his flocks in the cool
evening of a hot day:

                    Cum frigidus aera vesper
  Temperat, et saltus reficit jam roscida luna,
  Litoraque alcyonen resonant, acalanthida dumi.[75]

The first of these birds is also mentioned in a line of the first
Georgic, which is mainly taken from Aratus; but it is significant that
Aratus does not mention the ‘alcyon’ either here or anywhere else.

  Non tepidum ad solem pennas in littore pandunt
  Dilectae Thetidi alcyones.[76]

That the ‘alcyon’ of these two passages is to be identified with our
Kingfisher, which is still an Italian bird, and the only one of its
kind, I can have no reasonable doubt; for Pliny’s description of the
bird is too exact to be mistaken. “It is,” he says, “a little larger
than a sparrow, of a blue-green colour (_colore cyaneo_), red in the
under parts, having some white feathers close to its neck, and a long
thin bill.” This description, it is true, is copied almost word for word
from Aristotle, the only exception being the allusion to the white
feathers on the side of the neck, which are a well-known feature in the
Kingfisher.[77] Whether both were thinking of the same bird it is
impossible to decide; but that Pliny was describing our Kingfisher, and
believed Aristotle to have done so in the passage he copied, it is
almost unreasonable to doubt.

It is, however, an open question whether the bird ordinarily known to
the Greeks as ἀλκυὼν is to be identified with the Kingfisher. The
greatest living authority on the birds of the Levant, Canon Tristram of
Durham, tells me that he has convinced himself that it is not the
Kingfisher, but the Tern or Sea-swallow: a rare coin of Eretria led him
to this conclusion, on which a Tern is figured, sitting on the back of a
cow.[78] And it must be allowed that the Greeks seem to have thought of
their ἀλκυὼν as a sea bird no less than as a river bird. Aristotle
remarks that it goes up rivers, but he seems to have thought of it
mainly as a sea bird, and a well-known passage in the seventh Idyll of
Theocritus appears to bear him out. But I am not here specially
concerned with Greek ornithology, and what Virgil says of the _alcyon_
piping and pluming himself on the shore is perfectly consistent with the
habits of the bird. I have myself seen it on the coast of Dorset,
“pennas in littore pandens,” and taking flight over a bay full half a
mile in width. A greater difficulty lies in the alleged vocal powers of
the bird; they sing, Pliny tells us, in the reeds, and Virgil’s _alcyon_
makes the shore echo with his voice. The Kingfisher, so far as I know,
is a silent bird except when disturbed; he will then utter a shrill pipe
as he flies away. But I am quite at a loss to explain his _singing_,
except by supposing that this was one of several curious delusions that
had gathered round a curious bird.[79]

The other bird mentioned in the lines last quoted is, and perhaps will
remain, a puzzle. Mr. Rhoades makes it the Goldfinch, following the
commentators, who themselves follow an old tradition which will not bear
criticism, and in favour of which I can find nothing more convincing
than the argument that _acantha_[80] means in Greek a thorny or prickly
tree, while the Goldfinch’s favourite food is the seed of the thistle.
Let us notice, however, first, that it is not the way of the Goldfinch
to sit in a thicket and sing, as Virgil describes the _Acalanthis_; it
is a restless, lively, aërial bird, fond of singing on the wing, and by
no means disposed to lurk under cover; and secondly, that the word
ἄκανθα does not necessarily mean a thistle, but is equally applied to
all kinds of thorny trees and shrubs,[81] such as the _dumi_ in which
Virgil makes the voice of the bird resound.

Where did Virgil get this Greek word _acanthis_[82] or _acalanthis_,
which he thus appropriated to express some bird familiar to himself?
Probably from a very beautiful passage in Theocritus’ seventh Idyll,
where, lying on the vine-leaves, Damoetas and Daphnis hear the birds
singing, and the murmur of the bees:—

  Ἄειδον κορυδοὶ καὶ ἀκανθίδες, ἔστενε τρυγών,

“the larks and the _acanthides_ were singing, and the turtle-dove was
moaning.” But what kind of bird was Theocritus himself thinking of? Here
we must have recourse to Aristotle, who in his book on birds describes
the bird known to the Greeks as _acanthis_ as being “of poor colouring
and habits, but having a clear shrill voice.”[83] This cannot possibly
be the Goldfinch, the happiest and most brightly coloured of our smaller
English birds; one too whose song would hardly be picked out to be
described as λιγυρά, which word denotes a sustained high and shrill
sound, and would not well express a twitter or a quiet warble.
Sundevall, the Swedish scholar-naturalist, has pronounced this
_acanthis_ of Aristotle to be the linnet; a conclusion with which no one
would be likely to agree who is fresh from a sight of that lively bird
in its splendid summer plumage, or who knows its gentle _twittering_
song. Let us remember that Aristotle is of all naturalists, down to the
time of Willoughby and Ray, the most exact and trustworthy, and that
when he uses an adjective to describe a bird or its voice, he means
something exact and definite, and is not talking loosely.

Before we try to come to a conclusion about the ἀκανθίς, let us note
that Aristotle mentions another small bird, the ἀκανθυλλίς, which, from
the name, we may guess to have been one of the same kind as the
_acanthis_. This bird builds a nest which is round and made of flax, and
has a small hole by way of entrance. Now let us observe that Italy and
Greece are swarming for the greater part of the year with a variety of
those small brown or dusky-coloured birds which naturalists roughly call
‘warblers’—birds for the most part apt to creep and lurk about in
thickets or small trees, and having voices more or less shrill, which
may very well indeed be called λιγυραί. In England we have some species
of this order which are abundant in the summer; _e.g._ in Oxford, the
chiff-chaff, willow-wren, sedge-warbler, and reed-warbler—the two former
of which build spherical nests on the ground with a small entrance-hole.
These birds correspond with both of Aristotle’s birds in being
κακόβιοι—_i.e._ leading a poor lurking life; κακόχροοι, as being all
very sober-coloured and difficult to distinguish from one another, even
by a modern expert; in having a clear, sustained, or sibilant song,[84]
and lastly in building—some of them, that is—round nests with small
holes for ingress and egress.

Now in Italy and Greece the number of species of these little birds is
much larger than in England, and it is hardly possible that they could
have escaped the notice of either poet or naturalist. It is with these
that I think we are to identify the _acanthis_ and _acanthyllis_ of
Aristotle, the _acanthis_ of Theocritus, and the _acalanthis_ of Virgil,
with which we started this too lengthy discussion. Towards the evening
of a hot summer day, when the flocks have to be watered, as he enjoins
the shepherd, these little warblers would begin their song afresh, and
sing, as does our own Sedge-warbler, far on into the night. Neither
Goldfinch nor Linnet would be likely to sing at that time in a thicket
of thorn-bushes: those fairy creatures would be playing in the cool air,
or seeking the water for a refreshing bath or draught.

There are several other passages in Virgil which invite both translation
and discussion; but I must be content with giving one or two, and must
dispense with lengthy remarks on them. Every Latin scholar knows the
description, in the first Georgic, of the birds flying shorewards before
the storm:—

  Continuo, ventis surgentibus, aut freta ponti
  Incipiunt agitata tumescere et aridus altis
  Montibus audiri fragor, aut resonantia longe
  Litora misceri et nemorum increbrescere murmur.
  Jam sibi tum curvis male temperat unda carinis,
  Cum medio celeres revolant ex aequore mergi
  Clamoremque ferunt ad litora, cumque marinae
  In sicco ludunt fulicae, notasque paludes
  Deserit atque altam supra volat ardea nubem.[85]

The words _mergi_ and _fulicae_ in these lines have been the subject of
much discussion among commentators. That Virgil meant by _mergus_ some
particular bird known to himself, there can be little doubt; for he has
transferred to the _mergus_ what Aratus (here his original) says of the
Heron (ἐρωδιός). And rightly so; for the Heron never goes out to sea to
fish, as it needs standing ground and is no swimmer. This _mergus_
stands probably for the Gull in a generic sense; Virgil had doubtless
seen them flying to the Campanian coast before a coming storm, and
altered Aratus accordingly. The _fulica marina_ is translated by Mr.
Blackmore ‘sea-coot,’ which is correct but meaningless, and by Mr.
Rhoades[86] ‘cormorant’; but in this case we have no means of
determining the species of which the poet was thinking. He used the word
_fulica_, a coot, to help him out in naming a bird which was something
like a coot, but a bird of the sea, and one for which he had no word
ready, or none that would suit his metre.

Another beautiful passage is to be found in the twelfth book of the
_Aeneid_; it is one in which our poet is evidently describing an
everyday sight of an Italian spring and summer, and writing
independently of an original:—

  Nigra velut magnas domini cum divitis aedes
  Pervolat et pennis alta atria lustrat hirundo,
  Pabula parva legens, nidisque loquacibus escas;
  Et nunc porticibus vacuis, nunc humida circum
  Stagna sonat: similis medios Juturna per hostes
  Fertur equis, rapidoque volans obit omnia curru.[87]

Though it seems odd to compare to a swallow the fierce female warrior
careering in her chariot, it should be noted that Juturna’s object is
not to fight, but by constant rapidity of movement to keep Turnus and
Aeneas from meeting each other. This simile is, I think, the most
perfect passage about the Swallow that I have ever met with in poetry.

The _hirundo_ of the Romans had of course a _generic_ sense, and
included all the different species of Martin and Swallow. When Virgil
writes (_Georg._ iv. 107) of the chattering _hirundo_ which hangs its
nest from the beams, he clearly means the House-martin; for the Swallow
places his _upon_ the rafters, while the Martin does exactly what Virgil
describes. Both Aristotle and Pliny distinguish three or more species of
these birds,—the Swallow, Sand-martin, Swift, and possibly the
Crag-martin; and their habits seem to have been the same as at the
present day.

I shall not trouble my readers with any of Virgil’s passages[88] about
the Hawks and Eagles, in all of which he follows Homer more or less
closely. Nor need we pause to dwell on the single passage in which he
has mentioned the Nightingale; for, beautiful as it is, it is not only
based on Homer, but is inferior in truth to Homer’s lines. The older
poet sings truthfully of the Nightingale “sitting in the thick foliage
of the trees,” and “pouring a many-toned music with many a varied turn;”
but Virgil has neither of these touches. Still his lines have a beauty
of their own:—

  Qualis populea moerens philomela sub umbra
  Amissos queritur foetus, quos durus arator
  Observans nido implumes detraxit; at illa
  Flet noctem, ramoque sedens miserabile carmen
  Integrat, et moestis late loca questibus implet.[89]

I will finish this chapter by quoting one more passage; in which I think
we may see Virgil’s own observation of the habits of birds. It is a
famous passage in the sixth Aeneid, where Aeneas has embarked with
Charon to cross the Styx, and the ghosts collect upon the bank to beg
for passage to the other side; they gather in numbers.

  Quam multa in silvis autumni frigore primo
  Lapsa cadunt folia, aut ad terrain gurgite ab alto
  Quam multae glomerantur aves, ubi frigidus annus,
  Trans pontum fugat, et terris immittit apricis.[90]

This passage is a very embarrassing one, and is not sufficiently cleared
up by the commentators. The well-known lines which they quote from Homer
(_Iliad_, iii. 3 foll.), though they may have suggested, are very far
from explaining it. The ghosts are praying piteously for passage, and
hold out their hands in entreaty, “with strong desire for the further
shore:” and they are compared to birds driven on by cold weather, and
seeking entrance to warmer lands. Ghosts and birds are alike uneasy;
they long for relief in a home that is now their natural one. So far so
good. But the birds are arriving from the sea (_gurgite ab alto_) in the
autumn, and this must be a _northern_ sea, and the coast on which they
collect must be the threshold of a more genial climate. Where could
Virgil have seen birds collecting on the shore from the _North_, on
their way to the South?

Either we must have recourse to the impossible hypothesis that the poet
was writing of what he did not understand, or we must recall the fact,
which is told us in his life by Suetonius, that he spent a great part of
his time in Campania and Sicily, where in an autumn walk by the sea he
might have seen what he here refers to. The multitude of migrants from
France, Holland, and England take a south-easterly course in their
autumn migration, and alight on any resting-place they can find,—ships,
islands, or wider sea-coasts like those of South Italy and Sicily. Here
Virgil, we may be fairly sure, had seen them, and the longing of their
hearts had entered into his, and borne fruit in a noble simile that is
his, and not another’s. Their journey, when he saw them, was not ended;
like the pale and longing ghosts, they had yet another sea to cross,
before they could find a winter’s home in the secure sunshine of the

           [Illustration: Willow-Warbler’s nest.—See p. 26.]


                            Note A. (p. 14.)

I originally intended to have added a short chapter to the book upon the
Wild Birds Act and the results obtainable from it; but as other chapters
have grown to greater length than I expected, I confine myself to giving
in this note, for the convenience of those who are kindly disposed
towards the birds, the substance of the Act of 1880, with a few words of
explanation. Those who wish for more complete information should send
for ‘The Wild Birds Protection Acts 1880 and 1881, with Explanatory
Notes’ (published by Horace Cox, _The Field_ Office, 346 Strand, W.C.,
price 1_s._).

The Act in question, which was the result of most careful consideration
by experts outside as well as inside Parliament, and was seen through
the House of Commons by L. L. Dillwyn, Esq., M.P., one of a family of
naturalists, repealed the then existing Acts relating to Wild Birds,
which had been passed in the previous years without sufficient care for
all interests. Its main provisions were as follows—

1. To protect _all wild birds of every description_ from being caught or
killed between the 1st of March and the 1st of August.

2. To except from the above plain rule birds caught or killed by the
owner or occupier of land _on his own land_, or by some person
authorized by him.

3. To affix as penalties for offences against the above, for first
offence, reprimand and discharge on payment of costs; for subsequent
offences, a fine not exceeding five shillings.

4. To schedule a number of birds which may not be caught or killed even
on his own land, by owner or occupier, during the close time, and for
the catching or killing of which the penalty is a sum _not exceeding one
pound_. These are chiefly rare birds, and a certain number of sea-birds;
but among them are Cuckoo, Curlew, Dotterel, Fern-owl or Goat-sucker,
Goldfinch, Kingfisher, Lark, Nightingale, Plover, Sandpiper, and

It will be observed that this Act only protects the living bird of all
ages, but not the eggs: so that bird-nesting may still go on with
impunity. But the framers of the Act had very good reasons for omitting
this, wanton cruelty as it often is; for as the offenders are usually of
tender age, they must be appealed to rather by education and moral
suasion than by the terrors of the law. It lies with the clergyman and
the schoolmaster to see that gross cruelty meets with its proper
punishment—cruelty such as that which once occurred in my village, where
some boys stopped up with clay the hole of a tree in which a Tit had
laid her eggs, because it was too small to allow the entrance of the
thieving hands.

The worst kind of bird-nesting is carried on by boys _after_ they leave
the village school, when they make this the employment of idle Sundays
and holidays. The best remedy for this, and other habits that are worse,
is to find other and rational employment for them. Reading-rooms, games,
music, etc., I may remark, are usually out of their reach on Sundays,
when most of the mischief is done.

            Note B. On the Songs of Birds. (pp. 48 and 149.)

As I have some musical knowledge, and have given some attention to the
music of birds’ songs, it may be worth while to add one or two remarks
on a subject which is as difficult as it is pleasing. I need hardly say
that birds do not sing in our musical scale. Attempts to represent their
song by our notation, as is done, for example, in Mr. Harting’s _Birds
of Middlesex_, are almost always misleading. Birds are guided in their
song by no regular succession of intervals; in other words, they use no
scale at all. Their music is of a totally different kind to ours. Listen
to a Robin in full song; he, like most other birds, hardly ever dwells
for a moment on a single note, but modifies it by slightly raising or
lowering the pitch, and slides insensibly into another note, which is
perhaps instantly forsaken for a subdued chuckle or trill. The same
quality of song may also be well observed in the Black-cap and in the
Willow Warbler: the song of the latter descends in an almost
imperceptible manner through fractions of a tone, as I have already
observed on page 48. Strange as it may seem, the songs of birds may
perhaps be more justly compared with the human voice when _speaking_,
than with a musical instrument, or with the human voice when singing;
and we can no more represent a bird’s song in musical notation, than the
inflections of Mr. Gladstone’s voice when delivering one of his great
speeches. The human voice when speaking is musically much freer than
when singing; it is not tied down to tones and semitones.

If we remember that there are in our scale only twelve notes to the
octave, and that between each of these an infinite number of sounds are
possible, we shall get an idea of the endless variety which is open to
the birds, and also, but in a less degree, to the human speaking voice.

Some birds, however, occasionally touch notes of our scale, and
sometimes, though rarely, two in succession. The Cuckoo, as has often
been noticed, sings a major or a minor third when it first arrives; not
that the interval is always exact. The Thrush may now and then repeat
two or three notes many times over, which almost, if not quite, answer
to notes in our scale, usually from C to F of our treble scale. The
Nightingale’s _crescendo_ is a good instance of a single definite note;
the song of the Chiff-chaff is perfectly plain and unvaried, but its two
notes have never corresponded, when I have tested them, to an interval
of our scale. Mr. A. H. Macpherson writes to me (Aug. 1886) that he has
heard on the Brünig Pass, in Switzerland, three Chiff-chaffs singing at
once, all in a _different_ pitch. No. 1 was about a semitone above No.
2; No. 2 about a quarter of a tone above No. 3: the interval being the
same in all cases. As my correspondent is a violin-player as well as an
ornithologist, his observation may be taken as accurate. The
Yellow-hammer’s curious song, which I examined carefully, may certainly
be given in musical notation as keeping to a single note (often C or C
sharp), but the concluding note of the song it is almost impossible to
represent, for the pitch of the original note is raised or lowered by an
interval varying from a minor third to less than a semitone. It is to be
noted that in this species different individuals (according to my
observation) have different modifications of the song; the
Yellow-hammers in South Dorset (1886) struck me as singing in a
different manner from our Kingham birds, though it would be almost
impossible to describe the difference. I think I have noticed the same
in the case of the Chaffinch. I have a note, made while travelling in
Belgium, to the effect that the Chaffinches there did not seem to sing
precisely the same song as ours in England. On the other hand, some
observations which I made last year on the Chiff-chaff’s two notes in
different localities led me to believe that the various birds were all
singing at about the same pitch and in much the same manner.

There are many other interesting points connected with birds’ songs,
_e.g._ the mechanism of the music; the song as a _language_; the entire
absence of song in many birds, some of which, as the Crow, are among the
most highly developed and intelligent; and the causes which operate in
inducing song. It would be well if some well-qualified naturalist would
investigate some of these points with greater attention than they have
yet received. It would be hardly possible to find a subject of greater
interest to the public, as well as to the _savant_.

              Note C. Fables of the Kingfisher. (p. 242.)

It may be worth while to suggest a possible explanation of the origin of
the two curious and beautiful fables about this bird mentioned by
Aristotle and Pliny, and current in antiquity. The first of these was,
that for seven days before and seven days after the shortest winter day,
the sea remained calm; during the first seven (says Aristotle) the bird
builds her nest, and in the latter seven occupies herself with eggs and
young. The second myth concerned the nest itself: “it is in shape like a
cucumber, and larger than the largest sponge; the mouth is small—so
small that the sea, as it rises, does not get inside it. It has,
however, a great variety of holes, like a sponge, and appears to be made
of the bones of a fish!” This last particular is curious, as we know it
to be true of the Kingfisher’s nest; and it has led Prof. Sundevall to
believe that Aristotle must have received some authentic report of the
real nest, and have mixed it up with the mythical account. But his whole
account shows plainly that he imagined the nest to be built on the rocks
by the seashore, and perhaps even within reach of the waves.

Both these fables may, I think, have been built up on a slender basis of
fact—the only fact which the Greeks seem to have known about the bird.
Aristotle (_Hist. Anim._ v. 8. 4) tells us that the ἀλκύων was very
seldom seen. “It is the rarest of all birds, for it is only seen at the
setting of the Pleiades (about Nov. 9) and at the winter solstice; and
it appears at seaports flying as much as round a ship, and then
vanishing away.” Whether the bird is still seen in Greece only in late
autumn and winter I cannot say; but Mr. Seebohm tells us (_Brit. Birds_,
ii. 345) that in Eastern Europe it is compelled by the cold to migrate,
some finding their way to Egypt, and therefore necessarily crossing the
Ægean, or passing over Greece or the western coast of Asia Minor. I
think it is a fair guess that those known to Aristotle were on their way
from Thrace and Scythia to a warmer climate; and this hypothesis would
explain not only their short stay, but their connection with the sea and
harbours, and their mysterious character. Even supposing that a few
haunted the Greek rivers at other times of the year, they would not be
often seen there by a people not given either to sporting or to
exploring out-of-the-way places; the one fact which would impress itself
on the unscientific mind would be the sudden apparition in winter, and
especially in mid-winter, of this little blue-green spirit about the
harbours, and its as rapid disappearance.

If this be so, I think we have not far to seek for the origin of the two
fables. Nothing being known of its nesting, it was assumed that it
nested at or about the time when it appeared; and the not unfrequent
calm and fine weather of mid-December would confirm the fancy, and give
it a new mythical colouring. (The matter-of-fact philosopher does not of
course allow that these fine days always occurred in his own experience;
they are not always met, he says (v. 8. 3), in this country at the time
of the solstice, “but they always occur in the Sicilian Sea.”) When this
fable of the nesting-time had once established itself, it would be not
very difficult to find a nest among the curiosities of the sea. So the
little blue bird came to suffer “a sea-change, into something rich and
strange,” through the careless fancy of the imaginative Greek.

                Note D. Redpolls in the Alps. (p. 195.)

On page 49 of the first edition of this book there was a paragraph which
described the shooting by Anderegg of a Lesser Redpoll (_Linota
rufescens_) on the Engstlen Alp. The date was June 30 (1884), and I had
little doubt that the bird (which was a female) was one of a pair which
had been breeding there. And this idea was confirmed by the discovery of
a nest in the same place by Anderegg in May of the present year (1886),
which Mr. Scott Wilson, who was with him at the time, considered to
belong to the Lesser Redpoll.

The form, however, of the Redpoll which is usually found in the Alps is
that which is usually called ‘Mealy’ (_Linota linaria_); this has been
reported by Mr. Seebohm as pretty frequent in the Engadine, and by Prof.
Newton, on the authority of Colonel Ward, as having been abundant in
Canton Vaud in the winter of 1874-5. All the Redpolls I saw last
September were, to judge from size and colouring, of this form: so also
were all that I have seen in Swiss museums marked as having been shot in
the Alps. Believing therefore, on these grounds, and in deference to the
arguments of the Rev. H. A. Macpherson, that both Mr. Scott Wilson and
myself had made a mistake, I struck out the paragraph in question from
my second edition.

Since doing so, however, I have paid a visit to Cambridge, where Prof.
Newton pointed out to me a passage in Prof. Giglioli’s recently
published catalogue of Italian birds bearing on the point. He writes
without hesitation of _Linota rufescens_ as occasionally breeding in the
Italian Alps. This induces me to add this note to the present edition;
for if it could be distinctly proved that _L. rufescens_ is found
breeding in the Alpine region, new light would be thrown, not only on
the curious geographical distribution of this form, but on the abnormal
character of the ornithology of the Alps. Prof. Giglioli may be himself
mistaken, and as Anderegg and I failed to skin our bird, we cannot
produce it as evidence; but my notes made while examining it point
decidedly to _L. rufescens_ rather than _L. linaria_, the length, for
example, appearing as only four inches.


[1]The name is sometimes said to be a corruption of _bud-finch_. But
    Prof. Skeat (_Etym. Dict._, s. v. _Bull_) compares it with
    _bull-dog_, the prefix in each case suggesting the stout build of
    the animal.

[2]See Mr. Seebohm’s _British Birds_, vol. ii. p. 345.

[3]Mr. O. V. Aplin, of Banbury, tells me that he has heard it stated
    that if you shoot a Kingfisher, and it falls on the snow, _you
    cannot see it_.

[4]In 1885 Gray Wagtails were much less common in the south than in
    1884; at the present time (Oct. 1886) they are again in their
    favourite places (_see_ Frontispiece).

[5]The scientific name is Motacilla sulphurea (in Dresser’s List, M.

[6]At this same south-east corner, in May 1889, I have several times
    found the trees above me alive with these bold little birds. I have
    also seen an egg taken from a nest in the Botanic Garden. We may
    now, I think, reckon these as residents both in summer and winter.

[7]A Jack-snipe picked up under the telegraph wires at Banbury in July,
    1885, was (Mr. Aplin tells me) in an emaciated condition; possibly
    an injured bird unable to migrate.

[8]In May, 1886, I saw one in a pollard willow at the northern edge of
    the Parks, near the new boathouse.

[9]At Lulworth, in Dorset, when the berry-season begins, I have noticed
    that the blackbirds will congregate on the hedgerows in considerable
    numbers, and abandon for a time their skulking habits. This makes it
    often difficult to distinguish them at a distance from the
    Ring-ousels, which are there about the same time.

[10]_I.e._ for the _Rasores_, in _Love’s Meinie_; where are some of the
    most delightfully wilful thoughts about birds ever yet published.

[11]What this sense is may be guessed from Milton, _Paradise Lost_, Bk.
    v. 195—

    ‘Fountains, and ye that _warble as ye flow_
    Melodious murmurs, warbling tune his praise.’

    The word seems to express a kind of singing which is soft,
    continuous, and ‘legato.’

[12]Published by its author at 6 Tenterden Street, Hanover Square.

[13]The three species were the Wood-warbler, _Phylloscopus sibilatrix_
    (Bechst.), Willow-warbler, _Ph. trochilus_ (Linn.), and Chiff-chaff,
    _Ph. collybita_ (Viell.). Markwick declares that he could not
    distinguish the first of these from the other two.

[14]The song ceases about mid-June, and is not renewed till August: it
    is then usually so wanting in force as to be hardly recognizable.
    See Note B. at end of Volume.

[15]The spring of 1886 saw this hedge deserted by both species; the
    result of an outbreak of lawn-tennis in the adjoining field. They
    were lucky enough to find new quarters not far off.

[16]The scientific name is appropriate, viz. _Sylvia rufa_.

[17]_Our Summer Migrants_, p. 82.

[18]Mr. Courthope’s _Paradise of Birds_. No one who loves birds or
    poetry should fail to read Mr. Ruskin’s commentary on the chorus
    from which these lines are taken, in _Love’s Meinie_, p. 139 and

[19]Unless it be in the westernmost branch, which runs at the foot of
    the Berkshire hills. Near Godstow the nest is to be found, as Mr. W.
    T. Arnold, of University Col., has kindly informed me: for obvious
    reasons I will not describe the spot.

[20]In the summer of 1886 this interesting bird was quite abundant in
    and round Oxford. If I am not mistaken a nest was built in the reeds
    of the fountain at the south end of the Botanic Garden, a perfectly
    secure spot. I heard the song there as late as the end of July.

[21]This bird cannot really be wholly missing in summer, but it is
    strange how seldom I have seen or heard it. It is wanting also from
    a list sent me by Mr. A. H. Macpherson, of birds noticed by him in
    Switzerland last summer (1886). But Anderegg tells me that its song
    is often heard near his house at Meiringen. The Missel-thrush is
    certainly more abundant.

[22]This name (Alpenlerche) seems to be applied by the peasantry both to
    this species and to the Alpine Accentor. Mr. Seebohm, in his
    _British Birds_, calls the former, very appropriately, the Alpine

[23]_E.g._ on the rocks about the Devil’s Bridge near Andermatt, or on
    these of the Gemmi-pass.

[24]In common with other Woodpeckers, as Mr. H. Wharton has reminded me
    in the _Academy_. It is indeed very doubtful whether this striking
    bird was known either to Aristotle or Pliny; it is now an uncommon
    bird in Italy, and is properly an inhabitant of northern Europe. But
    when Italy was covered with forest (cp. Theophrastus, Hist. Plant,
    v. 8. 2) it must have been known to the country people.

[25]The closer acquaintance has been made, and I have learnt the song of
    this bird, which is not unlike that of the Lesser White-throat
    described in Chapter II. Of all the warblers I know, this is the
    most restless and difficult to observe when once the leaves are
    fully out. It is the only bird, I think, which has completely
    baffled me during a whole morning spent in pursuing the song without
    once getting a fair look at the singer. (June, 1889.)

[26]Mr. Seebohm’s _British Birds_ is a remarkable exception to this

[27]This kindly patron of birds is E. D. Lockwood, Esq., late of the
    Bengal Civil Service, and author of _Natural History, Sport, and
    Travel in India_.

[28]They came, but found the hole occupied by the ubiquitous Starling.
    He again gave way to a pair of bold Blue-tits, who brought up their
    young here, flitting about the garden like large blue butterflies.

[29]For exactly four years I saw no other Black Redstart in Oxfordshire.
    But on November 5, 1888, another caught my eye within half a mile of
    the spot described in the text. This time it was another new and
    ugly wall that he patronized, transferring his attention now and
    then to the cabbages in a cottage garden hard by.

[30]The discovery in Germany (see the _Ibis_ for April, 1889) of a
    Cuckoo hatching its own egg should put all English observers on the
    look-out. We have taken it too much for granted that such a thing
    could not happen.

[31]Col. Barrow tells me that now (August, 1886) they have come to
    prefer bread to nuts, and will leave the latter so long as they can
    get the former.

[32]When does he leave us? On Aug. 23, 1886, I saw an astonishing number
    of Flycatchers all on the same side of an orchard, and felt sure,
    from their restlessness, that they had assembled, as swallows do, in
    view of migration. On the 24th I went to S. Wales, where, during a
    whole week, I only saw one, though they were abundant up to that
    time. Letters from ornithological friends led me to believe that the
    birds have almost entirely disappeared from South and East England
    by about Sept. 12; and Mr. Seebohm is probably right in giving the
    first week of September as the usual date of their departure. How
    much less we know of the departure than of the arrival of birds, so
    quietly do they slip away!

[33]Mr. Seebohm (_Brit. Birds_, i. 325) tells us of a quiet little
    warble, so low as to be scarcely heard at a few yards’ distance; but
    this I have never yet succeeded in catching.

[34]This year (1886) I took all the sparrows’ nests on my house, and
    examined the young birds. Only one or two young peas and grains had
    been given them: they had been fed largely on insects.

[35]Mr. Aplin tells me, however, that the upper parts, in summer at
    least, “have a decided wash or gloss of green”: Mr. Seebohm calls it
    “dull olive-brown.”

[36]Stone-chats have been observed busy in this way near Oxford.—A. H.

[37]The chat of the Whin-chat is a dissyllable, ‘u-tic’; that of the
    Stone-chat a monosyllable, ‘chat.’ (O. V. A.)

[38]The Meadow Bunting (_Emberiza cia_) seemed to me, when I met with it
    in Switzerland this summer, to be more lively and restless than
    other Buntings.

[39]See Note B at the end of the volume.

[40]Or like a delicate electric bell, heard at some distance, while the
    door of your room is slowly opened and again closed.

[41]Another cause is doubtless the _crescendo_ and _diminuendo_ which
    the bird uses: see a valuable note in _The Birds of Cumberland_, by
    the Rev. H. A. Macpherson and W. Duckworth.

[42]In May this year (1886) I nearly trod upon a pair of these birds,
    near the same wood: yet they showed no fear, allowed me to approach
    them within six paces, and continued to reel close at hand.

[43]As in Milton’s “most musical, most melancholy.” But as Coleridge
    remarks in a note to his own poem of the Nightingale, in _Sibylline
    Leaves_, these words of Milton are spoken in the character of the
    melancholy man, and have therefore a dramatic rather than a
    descriptive propriety. Coleridge’s own conception of the song is the
    true one and most happily expressed.

[44]A Woodpecker on a railway bridge is a curiosity. But a Lesser
    Spotted bird was once seen on the stonework of the bridge which
    spans the Chipping Norton branch line, by the Rev. S. D. Lockwood,
    Rector of my parish, who knows the bird well.

[45]Vol. ii. pp. 461-463. _Hickwall_ seems to be the recognized
    orthography; but I spell the word as it was pronounced.

[46]They will often build their nests in holes in the timber of the
    houses. Anderegg tells me that this was the case in his own house
    two years ago. Nor is this the only instance of the habits of birds
    being affected by the nature of the house-architecture in these
    parts; for the House-martins, being unable (I suppose) to make their
    nests adhere securely against timber, or disliking the large
    projecting eaves, build in the Haslithal under ledges of rock, and
    are known there as the Rock-martin, as distinct from the
    Rock-swallow (Felsenschwalbe), which is the name there given to the
    Crag-martin. It is well-known that there are places even in England
    where this bird prefers rocks to houses.

[47]I afterwards saw three of the same species about some stunted
    thistles on the Furka-pass, at a height of 8000 feet, and on a
    bitter cold day. See Note D. at end of Volume.

[48]It is worth noting that Knox observed that the progress of the Pied
    Wagtail is chiefly observable between daybreak and 10 a.m. All the
    movements I noticed in the Alps were observed during the earlier
    morning hours.

[49]_Ancient Lives of Virgil_ (Prof. Nettleship), p. 33.

    I Virgil then, of sweet Parthenope
    The nursling, woo’d the flowery walks of peace
    Inglorious, &c.

[51]“Habuit domum Romae Esquiliis juxta hortos Maecenatianos, quamquam
    secessu Campaniae Siciliaeque plurimum uteretur.” (_Life by
    Suetonius_, ch. 13.)

[52]Plin., _N. H._ x. 60. Aristotle refutes the fable, which is alluded
    to by Aristophanes in the _Birds_ (1137). See Arist., _H. N._ viii.
    14. 5.

    And all the while, with hollow voice, thine own
    Loved wood-pigeon shall soothe thee, nor alone,
    For from the lofty elm the dove shall ever moan.

[54]Eclogue iii. 68.

[55]Columella viii. 8. Cato de Re Rustica, 90.

[56]Philemon Holland so translates _palumbes_ in his version of Pliny.

[57]Nissen, _Italische Landeskunde_, p. 374.

    But no whit the more
    For all expedients tried and travail borne
    By man and beast in turning oft the soil,
    Do greedy goose and Strymon-haunting cranes
    And succory’s bitter fibres not molest
    Or shade not injure—

    Time it is to set
    Snares for the crane, and meshes for the stag,
    And hunt the long-eared hares.

    The Dardanians on the walls raise a shout to the sky.
    Hope comes to kindle wrath; they hurl their missiles strongly;
    even as under black clouds cranes from the Strymon utter
    their signal notes and sail clamouring across the sky, and
    noisily stream down the gale.
                                                    —_Aen._ x. 262 foll.

    Never at unawares did showers annoy:
    Or, as it rises, the high-soaring cranes
    Flee to the hills before it, or, with face
    Upturned to heaven, the heifer snuffs the gale
    Through gaping nostrils, or about the meres
    Shrill-twittering flits the swallow.
                                                      —_Georgic_ i. 373.

    In blushing spring
    Comes the white bird long-bodied snakes abhor.
                                                      —_Georg._ ii. 320.

[63]_Mirabilia_ 23.

[64]See Petronius, _Satyr._ 55. Cp. also _Juv. Sat._ 1, line 116, and
    Mayor’s note. In the London Zoological Gardens, in March 1889, a
    pair of Storks were illustrating Petronius’ lines admirably—except
    in that they were captives.

[65]Gibbon, vol. iv. p. 240, ed. Milman.

[66]_Georg._ i. 120, 139, 156, 271.

[67]_Cic. de Div._ i. 29.

[68]_N. II._ x. 32.

    Then the crow
    With full voice, good-for-nought, inviting rain,
    Stalks on the dry sand mateless and alone.
                                                       —_Georg._ i. 388.

    Soft then the voice of rooks from indrawn throat
    Thrice, four times, o’er repeated, and full oft
    On their high cradles, by some hidden joy
    Gladdened beyond their wont, in bustling throngs
    Among the leaves they riot; so sweet it is
    When showers are spent, their own loved nests again
    And tender brood to visit.
                                                       —_Georg._ i. 410.

[71]Sundevall (_Thierarten des Aristoteles_, p. 123) pronounces κόραξ to
    have been our Raven.

[72]See Newton’s _Yarrell_, ii. 290.

    Whose weedy water feeds the snow-white swan.
                                                      —_Georg._ ii. 199.

[74]With that a great noise rises aloft in diverse contention, even as
    when flocks of birds haply settle on a lofty grove, and swans utter
    their hoarse cry among the vocal pools in the fish-filled river of
                                          —_Aen._ xi. 456; cp. vii. 700.

    When cool eve
    Allays the air, and dewy moonbeams slake
    The forest glades, with halcyon’s voice the shore
    And every thicket with the goldfinch rings.
                                                     —_Georg._ iii. 338.

    Not to the Sun’s warmth there upon the shore
    Do halcyons dear to Thetis ope their wings.
                                                       —_Georg._ i. 398.

[77]This exception is singular, as Pliny seems to depend on Aristotle
    for everything else which he tells about the bird. I am inclined to
    think that in this case Pliny must have supplemented his master’s
    account from his own observation. He had a villa on the bay of
    Naples, which bay was probably the ‘littus’ referred to by Virgil;
    and both may here have seen the bird on the shore.

[78]I have seen a photograph of this coin, and satisfied myself that the
    bird was meant for a Tern. But I have so far been unable to discover
    any connection between Eretria and the ἀλκυὼν. Sundevall is
    confident that Aristotle’s bird is the Kingfisher.

[79]_E.g._ Aristotle gives, and Pliny copies from him, an extraordinary
    account of the nest and eggs. _N. H._ ix. 14. See Note C, at end of

[80]For the connection between ἄκανθα and ἀκαλανθίς see Conington’s note
    on _Georg._ iii. 338.

[81]Theophrastus, for example, applies it to the Egyptian mimosa, the
    thorns of which lately proved so damaging to our troops in the
    Soudan. (Lenz, _Botanik der Griechen_, p. 735.)

[82]There is another reading, ‘et acanthida.’

[83]Κακόβιοι καὶ κακόχροοι, φωνὴν µέντοι λιγυρὰν ἔχουσιν.—_Hist. Anim._
    ix. 17.

[84]A sibilant trill is probably what is meant in a passage of the Greek
    Anthology (i. 175), λιγυρὸν βοµβεῦσιν ἀκανθίδες; suggesting the
    Grasshopper Warbler (see p. 154), or the Sedge-warbler.

[85]_Georg._ i. 356 foll. I quote this time Mr. R. D. Blackmore’s
    admirable rhyming version.

    Ere yet the lowering storm breaks o’er the land
    A sullen groundswell heaves along the strand,
    On mountain heights dry snapping sounds are heard,
    The booming shores bedrizzled are and blurred,
    And soughs of wind sigh through the forest stirred.
    The wave already scarce foregoes the hull
    When homeward from the offing flies the gull,
    With screams borne inland by the blast; and when
    Sea-coots play round the margin of the fen;
    The heron quits the marsh where she was bred
    And soars upon a cloud far overhead.

[86]Following Keightley’s Commentary, which is the best we possess on
    _Georg._ i. 351-423.

[87]_Aen._ xii. 473. Mr. Mackail translates: “As when a black swallow
    flits through some rich lord’s spacious house, and circles in flight
    in the lofty halls, gathering her tiny food for sustenance to her
    twittering nestlings, and now swoops down the spacious colonnades,
    now round the wet ponds,” &c.

[88]_Aen._ ix. 564; xi. 721, 751; xii. 247.

    As in the poplar-shade a nightingale
    Mourns her lost young, which some relentless swain,
    Spying, from the nest has torn unfledged, but she
    Wails the long night, and perched upon a spray
    With sad insistence pipes her dolorous strain,
    Till all the region with her wrongs o’erflows.
                                                      —_Georg._ iv. 511.

[90]_Aen._ vi. 309. “Multitudinous as leaves fall dropping in the
    forests at autumn’s earliest frost, or birds swarm landward from the
    deep gulf, when the chill of the year routs them over seas and
    drives them to sunny lands.”


  (_The scientific names are those used in Dresser’s List of European

  Accentor, Alpine. Accentor collaris (_Scop._), 95, 196.
  Accentor, Hedge. Accentor modularis (_Linn._), 95.
  Aquatic Warbler. Acrocephalus aquaticus (_Gmel._), 86.

  Bittern. Botaurus stellaris (_Linn._), 85.
  Blackbird. Turdus merula (_Linn._), 31, 60, 82, 88.
  Blackcap. Sylvia atricapilla (_Linn._), 51 foll., 119, 164.
  Bonelli’s Warbler. Phylloscopus Bonellii (_Vieill._), 109.
  Brambling. Frangilla montifringilla (_Linn._), 172.
  Bullfinch. Pyrrhula europaea (_Vieill._), 12, 120.
  Bunting, Corn. Emberiza miliaria (_Linn._), 139, 149.
  Bunting, Reed. Emberiza schoeniclus (_Linn._), 149.
  Buzzard. Buteo vulgaris (_Leach_), 88.

  Chiff-chaff. Phylloscopus collybita (_Vieill._), 38, 42 foll., 83,
          92. Note B.
  Chough, Alpine. Pyrrhocorax alpinus (_Koch._), 82, 93, 194, 235.
  Chough, Cornish. Pyrrhocorax graculus (_Linn._), 93.
  Citril Finch. Chrysomitris citrinella (_Linn._), 80, 97.
  Corncrake. Crex pratensis (_Bechst._), 65.
  Crane. Grus communis (_Bechst._), 224 foll.
  Creeper. Certhia familiaris (_Linn._), 25, 190.
  Crossbill. Loscia curvirostra (_Linn._), 188.
  Crow. Corvus corone (_Linn._), 153, 187, 236, 237.
  Cuckoo. Cuculus canorus (_Linn._), 125-128.
  Curlew. Numenius arquata (_Linn._), 143.

  Dipper. Cinclus aquaticus (_Bechst._), 98.
  Diver, Great northern. Colymbus glacialis (_Linn._), 33.

  Eagle, Golden. Aquila chrysaetus (_Linn._), 92.

  Fieldfare. Turdus pilaris (_Linn._), 35, 143.
  Flycatcher, Pied. Muscicapa atricapilla (_Linn._), 92, 133.
  Flycatcher, Spotted. Muscicapa grisola (_Linn._), 65, 130-134.

  Garden-warbler. Sylvia salicari (_Linn._), 51 foll., 88.
  Goldfinch. Carduelis elegans (_Steph._), 138, 171, 242.
  Grasshopper-warbler. Locustella naevia (_Bodd._), 154 foll.
  Greenfinch. Ligurinus chloris (_Linn._), 65, 119.
  Gull, Common. Larus canus (_Linn._), 141.

  Hawfinch. Coccothraustes vulgaris (_Pall._), 120.
  Heron. Ardea cinerea (_Linn._), 248.

  Jackdaw. Corvus monedula (_Linn._), 232.
  Jay. Garrulus glandarius (_Linn._), 153.

  Kestrel. Falco tinnunculus (_Linn._), 32, 141, 154.
  Kingfisher. Alcedo ispida (_Linn._), 13, 14, 187, 240, 241, 260.

  Lark, Sky. Alauda arvensis (_Linn._), 88.
  Linnet. Linota cannabina (_Linn._), 171, 172, 244.

  Magpie. Pica rustica (_Scop._), 153.
  Marsh Warbler. Acrocephalus palustris (_Bechst._), 86.
  Martin, Crag. Chelidon rupestris (_Scop._), 91, 190.
  Martin, House. Chelidon urbica (_Linn._), 7, 190, 250.
  Missel-thrush. Turdus viscivorus (_Linn._), 98, 119.
  Moorhen. Gallinula chloropus (_Linn._), 13.

  Nightingale. Daulias luscinia (_Linn._), 66, 161 foll., 250.
  Nightjar. Caprimulgus europaeus (_Linn._), 134.
  Nuthatch. Sitta caesia (_Wolf_), 25, 128.

  Petrel, Stormy. Procellaria pelagica (_Linn._), 33.
  Pipit, Tree. Anthus trivialis (_Linn._), 153.
  Pipit, Water (or Alpine). Anthus spinoletta (_Linn._), 94, 194,
  Plover, Common. Vanellus vulgaris (_Bechst._), 101, 143.
  Ptarmigan. Lagopus mutus (_Leach_), 82, 100.

  Raven. Corvus corax (_Linn._), 232, 234.
  Redpoll, Lesser. Linota rufescens (_Vieill._), 21, 193, 262.
  Redstart. Ruticilla phoenicurus (_Linn._), 62, 63, 88, 121.
  Redstart, Black. Ruticylla tithys (_Scop._), 80, 89, 123 foll.,
  Redwing. Turdus iliacus (_Linn._), 30, 142.
  Reed-warbler. Acrocephalus streperus (_Vieill._), 41, 56, 57, 86.
  Ring-dove. Columba palumbus (_Linn._), 219 foll.
  Ring-Ousel. Turdus torquatus (_Linn._), 82, 98, 151.
  Robin. Erithacus rubecula (_Linn._), 9, 88, 119, 125-127, 140,
  Rock-dove. Columba livia (_Bonnat_), 219, 221.
  Rook. Corvus frugilegus (_Linn._), 134, 141, 142.

  Sandpiper, Common. Totanus hypoleucus (_Linn._), 137.
  Sandpiper, Green. Totanus ochropus (_Linn._), 136, 137.
  Sedge-warbler. Acrocephalus schoenobaenus (_Linn._), 41, 42, 57.
  Serin Finch. Serinus hortulanus (_Koch._), 97.
  Siskin. Chrysomitris spinus (_Linn._), 120.
  Snipe, Jack. Gallinago gallinula (_Linn._), 24.
  Snow-Finch. Montifringilla nivalis (_Linn._), 82, 100, 101.
  Sparrow. Passer domesticus (_Linn._), 64, 88.
  Stonechat. Pratincola rubicola (_Linn._), 147.
  Swallow. Hirundo rustica (_Linn._), 7, 90, 201, 250.
  Swan. Cygnus musicus (_Linn._), 237, 238.
  Swift. Cypselus apus (_Linn._), 65, 90.
  Swift, Alpine. Cypselus melba (_Linn._), 91.

  Teal. Querquedula crecca (_Linn._), 241.
  Tern. Sterna fluviatilis (_Naum._), 33.
  Thrush, Song. Turdus musicus (_Linn._), 30.
  Tit, Blue. Parus caeruleus (_Linn._), 29, 105, 151.
  Tit, Cole. Parus ater (_Linn._), 52, 105.
  Tit, Crested. Lophophanes cristatus (_Linn._), 106, 184.
  Tit, Great. Parus major (_Linn._), 29, 105, 151.
  Tit, Long-tailed. Acredula caudata (_Linn._), 29, 105, 142.
  Tit, Marsh. Parus palustris (_Linn._), 29, 105.
  Turtle-dove. Turtur communis (_Selby_), 133, 143, 219.

  Wagtail, Gray. Motacilla melanope (_Pall._), 17, 98, 186.
  Wagtail, Pied. Motacilla lugubris (_Temm._), 87, 148, 186.
  Wagtail, White. Motacilla alba (_Linn._), 87, 98.
  Wagtail, Yellow. Motacilla raii (_Bp._), 64, 138.
  Wall Creeper. Tichodroma muraria (_Linn._), 82, 101.
  Wheatear. Saxicola oenanthe (_Linn._), 98, 172, 204.
  Whinchat. Pratincola rubetra (_Linn._), 88, 145, 146.
  Whitethroat. Sylvia rufa (_Bodd._), 41, 54 foll.
  Whitethroat, Lesser. Sylvia curruca (_Linn._), 40, 53 foll.
  Willow-warbler. Phylloscopus trochilus (_Linn._), 40-42, 47, 88.
  Wood-pecker, Great Black. Dryocopus martius (_Linn._), 104, 184,
  Wood-pecker, Green. Gecinus Viridis (_Linn._), 26, 165.
  Wood-pecker, Lesser-Spotted. Dendrocopus minor (_Linn._), 26, 166.
  Wood-pecker, Greater-Spotted. Dendrocopus major (_Linn._), 181.
  Wood-pecker, Three-toed. Picoides tridactylus (_Linn._), 104, 191.
  Wryneck. Yunx torquilla (_Linn._), 167.

  Yellow-hammer. Emberiza citrinella (_Linn._), 88.

                                THE END.

                    Richard Clay and Sons, Limited,
                           LONDON AND BUNGAY.


                         _BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

TALES OF THE BIRDS. With Illustrations by BRYAN HOOK. New and Cheaper
Edition, with an Additional Tale. Crown 8vo, 3_s._ 6_d._

Contents:—“A Winter’s Tale”—“Out of Tune”—“A Jubilee Sparrow”—“The
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Question beginning with ‘Why’”—“The Lighthouse”—and “The Owls’ Revenge,”
which was not included in the first edition.

_SATURDAY REVIEW_:—“It is one of the most delightful books about birds
ever written. All the stories are good.... He knows all about their
social habits and their solitary phases of life from close and constant
observation, and makes the most profitable use of his study as
ornithologist by the prettiest alliance of his science with the fancy
and humour of an excellent story teller.... The book finds sympathetic
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_GLOBE_:—“Mr. Fowler’s book will be especially appreciated by young
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_GUARDIAN_:—“Mr. Fowler has produced a charming book, which none are too
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_LITERARY WORLD_:—“Those who want to choose a book for holiday reading
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humour, and ‘Out of Tune’ carries a pathetic yet practical moral of
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_ST. JAMES’S GAZETTE_:—“We scarcely know which we like best of these
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                           _BY DR. ATKINSON._

           Fourth Thousand. Extra Crown 8vo. 8_s._ 6_d._ net.

FORTY YEARS IN A MOORLAND PARISH. Reminiscences and Researches in
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_NATION_:—“Is nothing less than an almost exhaustive monograph upon a
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                       Edited by Rev. J. G. WOOD.

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    OLIVE. With Illustrations by G. Bowers.
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    KING ARTHUR: Not a Love Story.



                      _Crown 8vo, Cloth, 3s. 6d._

                          BY VARIOUS AUTHORS.

  LOUISIANA; and THAT LASS O’LOWRIE’S. By Frances Hodgson Burnett.
  LIVING OR DEAD? By Hugh Conway.
  A FAMILY AFFAIR. By Hugh Conway.
  THE CŒRULEANS. By Sir H. Cunningham.
  THE HERIOTS. By Sir H. Cunningham.
  WHEAT AND TARES. By Sir H. Cunningham.
  THE WOODLANDERS. By Thomas Hardy.
  WESSEX TALES. By Thomas Hardy.
  CRESSY. By Bret Harte.
  A LONDON LIFE. By Henry James.
  THE ASPERN PAPERS. By Henry James.
  THE TRAGIC MUSE. By Henry James.
  CASTLE DALY. By Annie Keary.
  JANET’S HOME. By Annie Keary.
  OLDBURY. By Annie Keary.
  REUBEN SACHS. By Amy Levy.
  THE RING OF AMASIS. By Lord Lytton.
  MRS. LORIMER. By Lucas Malet.
  AUNT RACHEL. By D. Christie Murray.
  JOHN VAEE’S GUARDIAN. By D. Christie Murray.
  SCHWARTZ. By D. Christie Murray.
  THE WEAKER VESSEL. By D. Christie Murray.
  HE FELL AMONG THIEVES. By D. Christie Murray and Henry Herman.
  MAROONED. By W. Clark Russell.
  MISS BRETHERTON. By Mrs. Humphry Ward.

                       _Uniform with the above._

  STORM WARRIORS. By the Rev. _John Gilmore_.
  TALES OF OLD JAPAN. By _A. B. Mitford_.
  A YEAR WITH THE BIRDS. By _W. Warde Fowler_. Illustrated by _Bryan
  TALES OF THE BIRDS. By the Same. Illustrated by _Bryan Hook_.
  LEAVES OF A LIFE. By _Montagu Williams_, Q.C.
  LATER LEAVES. By _Montagu Williams_, Q.C.
  TALES OF OLD TRAVEL. By _Henry Kingsley_.

                        Other Volumes to follow.

                       MACMILLAN AND CO., LONDON.

                          Transcriber’s Notes

--Retained the copyright notice from the printed edition (although this
  book is in the public domain.)

--Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

--In the text versions only, delimited italicized text in _underscores_.

--In the Latin-1 version only, transliterated Greek words, delimited in

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