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Title: Birds useful and birds harmful
Author: Owen, J. A. (Jean Allan), Herman, Ottó
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                        Birds Useful and Birds
                                Harmful


                           SHERRATT & HUGHES
          Publishers to the Victoria University of Manchester
                      Manchester: 34 Cross Street
                      London: 33 Soho Square, W.

                            [Illustration:

                            _See page 203._

                           THE BEARDED TIT.]



                             BIRDS USEFUL

                                  and

                             BIRDS HARMFUL

                                  BY

                              OTTO HERMAN

   _Director of the Royal Hungarian Ornithological Bureau, Budapest_

                                  AND

                              J. A. OWEN

            _Author of the “Country Month by Month,” etc.,
           and Editor of all signed “A Son of the Marshes.”_

                      Illustrated by T. Csörgey.

                              MANCHESTER
                        AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
                                 1909



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

Preface                                                                1

Chapter I. Useful or Harmful                                           7

Chapter II. The Structure of the Bird                                 15

Chapter III. Workers on the Ground                                    25
Barn or White Owl, Tawny or Wood Owl, Long-eared
Owl, Short-eared Owl, Little Owl, the
Rook, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Raven,
Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie, Quail, Black-headed Gull,
Starling, Rose Starling, Waxwing.

Chapter IV. In the Air and on the Trees                              105
Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Swift,
Nightjar or Fern Owl, Green Woodpecker,
Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted
Woodpecker, Tree-Creeper, Nuthatch, Crossbill.

Chapter V. The Farmer’s Summer Friends                               139
Wryneck, Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Great Grey Shrike,
Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Lesser
Whitethroat, Blackcap, Nightingale, Redstart,
Tree-Pipit, Wagtails, Great Reed Warbler,
Willow Wren, Flycatchers, Wheatear, Stonechat,
Bearded Reedling or Titmouse, the Titmouse
Family.

Chapter VI. Workers all the year round                               225
House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Hedge Sparrow,
Skylark, Kingfisher, Dipper, Song Thrush,
Blackbird, Oriole, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch,
Hawfinch, Bullfinch, Yellow Hammer, Turtle
Dove.

Chapter VII. Some Wildfowl                                           283
Lapwing, Common Curlew, Redshank, Green
Sandpipers, Herons, Bitterns, Moorhen, Tern,
Bean Goose, Wild Duck or Mallard, Pintail
Duck, Shoveler, Great Crested Grebe.

Chapter VIII. Some of the Falconidæ                                  333
Golden Eagle, Kite, Red-footed Falcon, Buzzard,
Sparrow Hawk, Goshawk, Hobby, Kestrel, Marsh
Harrier, Hen Harrier.

Chapter IX. The Rational Protection of Birds                         369



Preface.


The systematic study of the economic value of birds in their relation to
agriculture has been carried out in Hungary of late years more
indefatigably than in most other parts of Europe. The natural resources
of the country are indeed so largely dependent on agriculture that this
is only what might have been expected.

The Royal Hungarian Minister, M. Darányi, who has proved himself so
thorough and so capable a Director of his country’s interests in the
direction of Agriculture--amongst other handbooks issued under his
orders for popular use--commissioned the well-known naturalist, M. Otto
Herman, to prepare the present work, which is intended to give to
landowners, farmers, fruit-growers and gardeners such a knowledge of the
action, beneficial and otherwise, of birds as would prevent the mistakes
which have ended in some districts in our own country, in the wholesale
destruction of some very useful species.

The book is enriched by the drawings of a talented artist, M. Titus
Csörgey, who, I need not say, is himself a skilled naturalist. These are
so executed as to render it easy to the most casual observer to identify
the various markings of the plumage as well as the mere form of the
bird.

The work makes no pretence at being scientific in the ordinary sense of
the word. It has been written with the view of providing a ready
handbook for the farmer, the gardener, the student, and bird-lovers
generally; and it embodies the result of exact data kept by
correspondents of M. Herman’s department in all parts of the country; so
that the observations on which its statements are grounded are the
results of personal investigation and dissection.

In our country this study of the food of birds and the part they play in
the economy of nature has not received the attention it demands. Yet it
is one that affects the entire community. It is true that in journals
here and there valuable papers on this subject have appeared, but it is
felt that among the innumerable books on bird life which have been
published of late years there has been a lack which this little volume
may supply.

A few words as to myself and my present association with M. Herman. From
my earliest childhood I have had a passionate love for birds and
flowers. I remember looking with wondering delight on the velvety
upturned faces of the variously tinted pansies that bordered the paths
leading up to the door of a certain farmhouse where we stayed much in
the summer-time, when I was just four years old,--wonder because our
mother told us that God’s finger painted them and I used to think that
He did it whilst we slept. Our father gave us prizes for the one who
could collect the greatest number of wild flowers and knew most about
the trees. In the town I collected bird pictures, nursed an occasional
wounded sparrow, kept my eyes open generally, and read much of William
and Mary Howitt. Then came some years of school life--the last two of
these in Germany, where the study of natural history has always received
more attention than has hitherto been the case with us in England, and
these were followed by a few years at home on the moorlands of
Staffordshire. Later I had thirteen years of wandering in different
parts of the Pacific--New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, California, all of
which strengthened my love of out-door life; and although my scientific
knowledge was small, my acquaintance with nature and my love of nature
have been ever growing.

As years advanced, and I was no longer able to go so far afield, it has
been a great pleasure to me to collaborate with other naturalists--more
than one of these--who, with greater opportunities for the practical
observation of birds have combined scientific research. I have been glad
to act as henchwoman to such--and to be, as it were, the little bird
that in its playful and circling way follows the flight of the greater
bird in the heavens.

And as I edited--with much gain to my own knowledge--the records of
observations of the working naturalist styled “A Son of the Marshes,” so
I am glad also to be able to present to our English readers these
chapters on the Man and the Bird, and their relative significance in the
great field of agriculture.

I visited M. and Madame Herman at their home in the beautiful Hungarian
valley of Lillafüred, where his summers are spent in the very heart of
nature; and I learned and saw much with him there. He had lived as a boy
among these mountains and valleys--his father having been the leading
physician in the district. There, he had scoured the woods over which
the Snake or Short-toed Eagle circled, climbed up to the Peregrine
Falcon’s nest, and boated on the lovely little lake, watching the
movements of the Osprey. But indeed his whole life has been devoted to
the study of nature, and the fauna of his Country, and his many
published writings have had a very large circulation there, as well as
in Germany.

M. Herman laments the constantly decreasing number of birds in his
native valley. In a spot where he once counted many a Flycatcher’s nest,
only two pairs now breed. The Nightingales, formerly plentiful, have
entirely forsaken this valley--the Titmice are lessening in numbers, and
so on. Yet the masses show no inclination to destroy useful,
insect-eating birds--although modern forestry, and gardening, which does
not tolerate old trees, and the absence of sheltering hedges over the
great Hungarian plains, render many birds--especially the migratory
species--homeless.

Numbers of interesting species nest in and visit this valley, however.
In winter that beautifully coloured, long-billed Rock-Creeper
(Tichodroma muraria)--with wings rose-red above, dashed with white
underneath, runs up the rock sides, as does the Tree Creeper on the tree
trunks--a blithe, busy creature. This species is found in the same
latitude, in rocky mountain ranges eastward, as far as Northern China.
The great slanting rocky spurs, that gleam with rosy light, or pale
blue, as the sun runs its daily course, this rock climber delights in.
The Rock Thrush breeds in the same ridges; the Long-tailed Tit has its
nest there; near the ground in the woods, are the breeding-places of the
familiar Coal-Tit; where fir-trees abound it is at home. The less
welcome Red-backed Shrike pursues his cruel little methods here,
lessening the numbers of more useful and more attractive birds.
Waterfalls abound, and among the brooks, from stone to stone, trips the
merry Dipper, showing his pretty breast and red underparts--building his
large house near the running water, in whose pools fine trout are in
plenty.

We have rested together in a little cove on the lake at Hamar, which is
overhung by luxuriant foliage; across the water, over the dense woods,
floats a solitary Eagle--that seeks his quarry in the shades below. Otto
Herman knew his breeding-place as a boy. Tradition says the nest is at
least a hundred years old, yet each year the young are still fed there.

       *       *       *       *       *

That Great Britain has still much to do in the direction of Bird
Protection is definitely shown in a leaflet just issued (December, 1908)
by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of whose Council I
have the honour to be a member. Of the 370 or 380 species placed on the
list of “British birds,” scarcely 200 can now be justly termed British.
I may be allowed to give you here some idea of the principal agents in
this destruction of birds as set forth by our Society:--

“First, there are those who destroy for destruction’s sake; the boy who
ravages the hedgerows in spring and delights in catapults, air-guns, and
stones at all times; the lout with a gun; and the cockney sportsman.
They are responsible for a vast amount of cruelty, especially to
nesting birds and nestlings; for the killing of various home-birds and
migrants, and for the senseless shooting of sea-birds and occasionally
of rare visitants.

“Secondly, the bird-catcher, responsible for the decrease of all those
birds sought for caging, such as Goldfinch, Linnet, Siskin, Lark, etc.
This class, like the first-named, requires dealing with, chiefly because
of the intolerable amount of ill-treatment involved by the methods
employed in the catching, transit, and sale of wild birds. The
destruction of the useful Lapwing, and of the Skylark for the table, is
also a point in need of attention; and in the same category may be
placed the so-called sparrow-clubs, which encourage the indiscriminate
killing of many species of small birds.

“Thirdly, the gamekeeper, responsible for the extinction, or extreme
rarity of most of our large birds, especially predatory species and
uncommon visitors.

“Fourthly, the private collector with a craze for rare British-taken
birds and eggs, or, in the case of the humbler persecutor of beautiful
species, for something to put in a glass case.

“Fifthly, the trader and the feathered woman, jointly responsible for
the devastation wrought among the loveliest birds of all lands.”

We have included a few useful species here, which are only visitants to
our country, but which, with more protection, might remain for part of
the year with us regularly.



CHAPTER I.

USEFUL OR HARMFUL?


The Hungarian Central Office for Ornithology was instituted in 1804, in
accordance with a scheme submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture by Mr.
Otto Herman, then a member of the Hungarian Parliament.

The rapid progress of economical affairs in the nineteenth century,
particularly in its second half, had a perceptible influence upon the
position occupied by the bird and insect fauna, a change which was felt
in agriculture, and led to the formation of a new branch of
science--ornithologia oeconomica.

The Hungarian Central Office for Ornithology took the new branch in
hand, after its transfer from the sphere of the Ministry of Public
Instruction to that of the Ministry of Agriculture, where M. de Darányi
assigned an important place to practical experimental methods as a
complement to strict science.

In the meantime Baron Hans von Berlepsch of Seebach developed his system
for the protection and propagation of the most useful birds, the main
points of which were the feeding and providing with nesting
opportunities of such birds. Thereby bird protection was diverted into a
rational direction, which met with hearty sympathy on the part of M. de
Darányi; consequently the Hungarian Central Office for Ornithology
included this branch of ornithology in the work it set itself to do.

The course followed by rational bird-protection in Hungary is as
follows. It starts with the idea that nature itself knows neither
useful nor noxious birds, but only necessary ones, which have developed
according to the laws of nature, and on the basis of their development
are performing in the world of nature the work which is appropriate to
their organism.

The manifold character of the work performed by birds is in harmony with
the variety of these organisms.

The question of the usefulness and noxiousness of birds during the whole
of the nineteenth century was treated only approximately, upon the
assertions of authorities. When, later on, Congresses began to embrace
the cause of bird-protection, and the question of the usefulness or
noxiousness of each species assumed a rôle of the first importance, it
turned out that there was no firm basis upon which to rely, in passing
judgment. Eminent ornithologists were often at variance with regard to
the usefulness or noxiousness of a particular species.

Where Nature is intact, the number of birds is automatically regulated
in accordance with the natural development of their surroundings.

The conceptions of “useful” and “noxious” are merely human ones; and man
can, by cultivation or the contrary, alter the normal conditions; and
may, consequently, modify the character and habits of birds also.
Agriculture on a large scale, modern forestry, the draining of
territory--all these things alter the fundamental conditions of animal
life, and in consequence of bird-life also; and if these modifications
in respect of birds are injurious to man, it is in the interests of man
to adapt them artificially for the benefit of birds; and if by
cultivation man deprives useful birds of their natural nesting
facilities, he ought to provide them with artificial ones. This is the
principle on which Baron von Berlepsch founded his system, which was
accepted and applied in Hungary, together with the modifications
required by special circumstances, or such as were introduced as the
result of experience.

These principles apply chiefly to those species which remain with us
during summer and winter alike, and which are useful to agriculture. But
the international protection of birds is important as regards those
useful species that are migratory, and, as they migrate, pass through
countries where--as is the case in Italy--the birds are caught _en
masse_, and where bird-catching is carried on as a trade.

The third international Ornithological Congress, held in Paris in 1900,
decided that the Governments of the various European States should be
called upon to have the food of birds made the object of special
investigations, and to report the result, within a space of five years.
When the fourth International Congress met, however, only Hungary and
Belgium were able to report on the subject.

The publications of the Hungarian Ornithological Centre are founded upon
the collection of data, divided into two main groups:--1. The Migration
data, so-called historical, up to 1891, and again from that to the
present day. 2. Foreign data, partly taken from literature, and Special
data relating to one species, from the whole area of its habitation--the
Cuckoo for instance.

The investigation of the economic rôle played by the Rook (Corvus
frugilegus L.), which English landowners and farmers are beginning to
feel is a matter of great importance, was begun by the Central Bureau in
1893; it is still going on. According to the results hitherto attained,
this bird does more good by destroying insects, and in particular the
larvæ of insects living underground, than it does harm to the crops.

It is our endeavour in this little volume which we now offer to English
readers, to give a faithful presentment of the good and the harm that
the birds are known to do, from the agriculturist’s standpoint. But in
this all depends on the attitude which the gardener and the farmer adopt
towards the birds.

By throwing a single stone a lad can scare away a whole flock of rooks;
and when these birds alight on a field where they do harm to grain, a
man must not grudge a little labour in keeping them off; considering
that the same bird that works harm at one season, will be a valuable
ally at another, as well as a source of pleasure and interest.

The rook, the crow, and even the mischievous magpie, follow the plough
as it turns up the brown furrows, with sharp eyes spying worms, larvæ
and cockchafer grubs. Nothing escapes the attention of the bird. He
picks here and there, and fills his crop with the worst enemies of the
tiller of the fields--the various forms of insect life that lie dormant
in the earth until the time arrives for each one to come forth and
fulfil its life’s mission--much of which means injury to the fruit of
man’s labour.

Starlings rise in flocks--a perfect cloud of them--to disperse, and
again to assemble before settling on the pastures, where they will be
busy all the day, for that part of the year when man needs their
services most.

Later, in the cherry trees and among our own vines the starlings would
do mischief enough. The rifled branches and stripped grape stems are a
sorry sight for the owner, who finds it hard to remember that God cares
even for the sparrows. He tries to drive the thieves away, but they care
little for the cries of the lads set to scare them. Little do they heed
the rattles, feathers, rows of sticks with lines of thread--all the
various flimsy inventions are useless; a gun will disperse them for the
moment, but the cloud of pilferers is soon back again, and as busy as
ever. At this juncture severe measures are justified. Even the most
ardent bird-lover will not be foolish enough to protect every bird at
all times and seasons. Yet it is only for a short season of the year
that starlings are harmful, and for the greater part they are useful, in
garden, field and meadow, from early morning until late evening,
protecting growing blades of grass and coming seed and roots for the
farmer, with unceasing labour. This is in the early spring; later they
betake themselves to the pasture lands, where, on bright sunny mornings,
they walk nimbly among the browsing cattle seeking their food in the
form of crane fly and daddy-long-legs, in the shadow of the patient
creatures. The gadflies, too, buzz about the bodies of the beasts, lay
their eggs under the hide, boring into the flesh, tormenting and
maddening the helpless cattle. The Hungarian herdsman is glad when he
sees the starlings settle on his wide pastures.

When the eggs have developed into maggots the birds alight on the backs
of the beasts, to rid them of gadflies and batflies; and the cattle and
sheep suffer their services gladly, knowing well that these good
feathered friends will effectually extract their torturers without
further irritation to the infested parts. A horse has been known to die
from the exhaustion caused by the continuous action of parasitic
creatures.

Then, as regards the owl--that bird of the night, who shuns the light of
the life-giving sun; for which reason man distrusts and persecutes him.
The other birds also regard him with disfavour, and mob him when he
ventures forth from his holes by day, big birds and little ones, in
common dislike of the uncanny creature. They know full well that this is
the nocturnal disturber of woods and fields, and they resent his ways
and his manners.

When the twilight is over all and the birds of day have betaken
themselves to rest, then most of the owls go forth to hunt for quarry.
Noiselessly they flit over the quiet meadows and fields; with those eyes
which shun the light they can detect through the dimness of evening the
nest where small birds are, and this they rifle. And so in that respect
they are harmful. The Short-eared owl will take birds from the size of a
lark to that of a plover.

On the other hand, when mice have got the upper hand in house and barn,
devouring and spoiling man’s provision, then every species of owl is
welcome, even he the superstitious countryman calls the Death-bird. And,
again, when the weather favours that pest the field-mouse, and the
voles, and they swarm in meadows, cornlands and everywhere, so that the
land is full of mouse-runs; from all sides comes that gentle singing
from tiny throats and the farmer is at his wits’ end to know how to be
rid of the plague. Then in Hungary the mouse buzzards circle by day over
the pastures and fields, making war on the gnawing little beasts; and
the whole night long the owls take up the same useful work. They fill
their crops, each of them, with from twenty to thirty mice, fly to their
several trees to digest the meal, and you will find the pellets formed
by the birds of the indigestible portions--bones and fur--in and about
their nesting-holes. Harmful moths and beetles they also kill.

And so the Owls--barn, the tawny or wood-owl, the long and the
short-eared--which in England are the only common species, are
undoubtedly the agriculturalists’ good friends, and indeed friends of
the whole human race; and many landowners now prohibit the use of the
cruel pole-trap in their destruction. Richard Jefferies tells how 200
owls were taken in one pole-trap in a plantation of young fir in his
time. Dr. Altum, a great mover in the cause of bird-protection, examined
210 of the wood-owl’s pellets and found in these the remains of 6 rats,
42 mice, 296 voles, 33 shrews, 48 moles, 18 birds and 48 beetles,
besides a countless number of cockchafers.

And what can you find to say in favour of the Sparrow? I fancy I hear
many a reader ask,--that ubiquitous bird whose impudence is everywhere
proverbial. When sparrows in hosts settle down on the corn waiting to be
harvested, not only filling their crops but uselessly beating the grain
out of the ears, the case is bad, and it is hard then to recall all the
good the same birds had done in devouring the seeds of harmful weeds,
such as wild mustard, etc.--also to think of the cockchafers in the grub
as well as winged--daddy-longlegs, caterpillars, turnip-moth, grubs of
cabbage-moth and butterfly, and the moths of both currant and
gooseberry. In towns, too, the sparrow is invaluable as a street
scavenger. House-flies, those plagues indoors, maggots of fleas, eggs of
cockroaches, spiders, centipedes,--all, and many other “small deer” that
infest stables, poultry-yards and other precincts of our homesteads the
sparrow diligently seeks for.

It is true that the common sparrows multiply too fast and their numbers
must be thinned down. This, many a bird-loving landowner and farmer does
in various ways. The late Lord Lilford declared the most humane way was
to pull down all the nests within man’s reach. There would still be
plenty left, in inaccessible places. A humane farmer, the present writer
knows in Hampshire, a great wheat-grower, gives the lads round
threepence a score for all the sparrows’ eggs they can bring to him.
Sparrow-clubs--save the mark!--are schools for cruelty. In one
Lancashire parish which I know the vicar encourages the Jackdaw,
allowing it to build even in his church steeple, because wherever that
bird is, sparrows become more scarce, their young suiting that bird’s
palate well. Man has foolishly upset the balance of nature by destroying
the natural enemies of the sparrow. Take two neighbouring estates we
know in Yorkshire; on the one sparrows, blackbirds, bullfinches and
other birds are remorselessly shot during the fruit season; on the other
the use of the gun is forbidden. In the garden and orchard of the latter
there is always a far greater allowance of fruit than in those of the
former.

Only where their natural enemies have become scarce ought man to set his
wits to work to compass the destruction of a species.



CHAPTER II.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE BIRD.


Let us now consider the bird’s bodily structure. Every child knows that
the bird’s body is covered with feathers or down, and that what, in the
case of mammals are fore-feet, in birds are wings with which they fly.

There are as many kinds of flight as there are kinds of birds. It
depends for the most part on the nature of the bird, in a smaller degree
on the structure of the wing.

The wing of the Swallow (Plate VIII._a_) is pointed like that of the
Peregrine Falcon, and is adapted for rapid flight. Both these birds
secure their prey on the wing, and could not, therefore, live otherwise.

The wing of the Partridge is, on the contrary, rounded; this bird does
not cut through the air, but can only raise itself in flight with rapid
fluttering of the wings, and with a sudden loud “whirr” which makes
considerable noise if the covey is a large one. The wing of the
Partridge, therefore, is not at all adapted for enabling the bird to
catch its prey flying, but only for moving from place to place, where it
picks up its food walking.

From this we learn that the various kinds of wings correspond to various
ways of flight and that each bird works out its destiny in its own way.
It is suggestive of the organisation of an army, composed of cavalry,
infantry, artillery, and other divisions. These also have different
kinds of functions, which are necessary both

[Illustration: (_a_) SWALLOW’S WING; (_b_) THAT OF THE PARTRIDGE.]

individually and in combination, and the one cannot supply the place of
the other.

So much for the wings. Now we will examine Plate IX., which shows heads
and--what is the most important part of them--bills. We will take the
illustrations in their proper order.

1. The bill of the Woodcock is shaped like a turner’s auger, the end
greatly resembling the tip of a finger. With this the bird gropes for
its food, and draws it out of the loose earth.

2. The bill of the Merganser has a hook at the point; it is toothed at
the side, and is so well adapted to its purpose that no fish, however
slippery, can escape.

3. The bill of the Hawfinch is conical, thick and strong, capable of
cracking the hardest cherry stones.

4. The pretty Water-Wagtail has an awl-shaped bill, formed by Nature for
the catching of gnats and other insects.

5. The Grey Heron has a bill which cuts like a knife. Woe to the most
slippery tench if once caught within it!

6. The Curlew penetrates into the mud with its sickle shaped, slightly
curved bill, and brings out of its depths the worms it feeds on.

7. The bill of the Long-tailed Tit is but a little point compared with
those mentioned above, but all the same it is quite suitable for the
bird, for only with such a tool could it pick the tiny insects out of
the smallest cracks in the boughs.

8. The bill of the Goatsucker or Night-hawk is small, but the opening of
the mouth is comparatively gigantic: it forms a yawning abyss, which, in
the twilight and darkness of night, engulfs unwary insects.

[Illustration]

9. The bill of the Woodpecker may be compared to the adze which the
Carpenter uses for chipping beams of wood. It is only by means of hard
blows that this bird can get at the worms which it finds in decaying
wood.

10. The Duck’s bill, on the other hand, is flat toothed at the side,
exactly formed for straining the food which it gets out of the water.

11. The bill of the Gull is so formed that it can easily take up food
from the surface of the water. Where Gulls arrive in large flocks, they
eagerly follow the plough in the fields, and are then of great benefit.

12. The bill of the Crossbill is a valuable tool, with which he is able
to pick out the seeds from between the scales of the fir cones.

13. The Ortolan splits hard seeds with the arch and the notch in its
beak, as it were with nut-crackers.

14. The bill of the Avocet is in shape the opposite of the Curlew,--that
of the former curving upwards, of the latter downwards.

Thus we see that as with the wing, so with the bill,--each bird is
furnished with the kind that is most suitable to its nature and habits.

The general law of adaptability to its purpose is also strikingly
exemplified in the formation of the foot. Let us look at Plate X.

1. The foot of the Fieldlark has a spur-like nail on the back toe which
is nearly straight, so that the bird can easily rest on the ground.

2. The Pheasant’s foot is just like that of the Hen; which enables it to
walk and run.

3. The powerful, sharp claw of the Eagle strikes deeply into the flesh
of its prey and holds it fast.

[Illustration]

4. The Sparrow Hawk strangles and crushes with its warty toes the birds
on which it preys.

5. The foot of the Owl, as well as its bill, proves that it is a bird of
prey.

6. The foot of the Swift is so constructed that it can cling to walls;
it cannot walk or stand.

7. The toes of the Moor-or Water-hen are provided with skin-flaps, not
altogether perfect for swimming, but excellent for wading and diving.

8. The Crested Grebe excels in diving, pushing sideways with its feet.

9. The foot of the Bustard has three toes, and hard soles, which enable
it to run extremely well.

10. The four toes of the Cormorant are joined together by a web; it is a
good diver, can swim under water, and can also roost on trees.

11. The Wild Duck has only three toes webbed together; its foot is,
therefore, specially suited for propelling the bird on the surface of
the water.

12. The toes of the Avocet are only partially joined together by webs;
its legs are suitable only for wading, but can be used for swimming in
case of need.

The variety and suitability to their purpose of wings, bills, and legs,
show us that the feathered inhabitants of a neighbourhood form a
community. A society of men would not be perfect if there were only men
of one calling. A variety of workers is needed in human society, with a
variety of tools, with which to perform a variety of necessary work,
just as various birds with a varied construction of body perform their
work in the open field of Nature.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few words as to the feathers of the bird. The perfectly developed
feather consists of a quill which grows in the flesh, the stem becoming
gradually thinner towards the top and having lesser feathers on either
side, those on the one side of the

[Illustration]

quill being narrower than those on the other half. The feathers overlap
each other exactly and densely especially those which protect the main
part of the body. At the end of the quill of the top feathers is a down
which takes the place of our under-clothing, and which in the case of
waterfowl prevents the water from penetrating to the body of the bird.
There is also a pure down which is composed of numerous stems; this is
close and thick and protects the binding together of the general
plumage.

[Illustration]

The down has its fine quill and a stem bearing the close down which in
water fowls keeps the warmth of the body at an even temperature whether
in or out of the water. It would be an error to suppose that the
feathers grow in the skin without any order, simply close together. They
are in point of fact divided into areas between which the flesh is
generally covered with down, and all is arranged in a system of
grouping which, the feathers being rightly placed over one and another,
does not in any way interfere with the movements of the body, each
movement being in perfect conformity with this feather covering. The
feathered areas can be moved independently with the aid of the muscles,
and this renders the cleansing of the individual feathers easy and the
removing of the fatty substance, which is a matter of great importance.
If we watch we see that the bird moves the feathers separately in this
cleansing process, drawing them through its beak, and so removing any
bits of fat and oily substances that may have collected about the fat
glands.

[Illustration: View of the back of the bird, showing the feather tracts.

The spaces between the tracts are covered with down.]

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE BARN OWL, CHIEF OF THE MOUSE-HUNTERS.]



CHAPTER III.

WORKERS ON THE GROUND.


THE BARN OWL: WHITE OR CHURCH OWL.

(_Strix Flammea._)

The Barn Owl builds no regular nest, but lays its eggs in the walls of
ruined castles, on the inner sills of towers, or in the dust and
sweepings that collect in the corners of granaries. The clutch consists
of five, occasionally seven, longish white eggs.

This bird likes always to be close to the abode of man; she likes to
make her nest among the rafters of some warm barn and in other farm
buildings, or in church tower or belfry; in hollow trees, a cleft in
wall or cliff; semi-obscure corners, those even in broad daylight. There
she sits, putting herself now and again in grotesque positions, and when
that facial disk is stirred she appears to be, as the children say,
“pulling faces” at you. One of the most industrious of hunters, she
catches far more mice than she can devour. It is true she takes the bat,
who has his own insect-destroying work to do; and when she has the
chance she will cause havoc in the nest of a small bird. But this is
only an occasional outbreak, and it must not weigh against the general
good record of this most useful species. She takes living prey, and will
only touch carrion under extreme stress of hunger.

The Barn or White Owl is generally distributed throughout Great Britain.
It suffered at one time most undeservedly from the ignorant prejudices
of many gamekeepers, and of late years from the senseless fashion of
women wearing the wings and head in their headgear--a crowning folly
only perpetrated through that ignorant vanity which knows neither love
nor pity.

Colonel Irby said that this Owl, which is most useful to man, can be
preserved and increased by fixing an 18-gallon cask in a tree. The
barrel should be placed on its side and have a hole cut in the upper
part of the head for the Owls to enter; care must, however, be taken
that Jackdaws do not take possession of the cask.

Our gamekeepers are beginning now to be convinced of the usefulness of
the Owl, especially in view of the fact that so many young birds are
taken by the Brown Rat, a favourite quarry with the Owl--not to speak of
the Voles and Mice the bird devours. The late Lord Lilford told me that
he had watched a nest of young Owls being fed by their parents in an old
cedar tree in the rectory garden of a relative, and that on one occasion
the old birds came bringing food to these seventeen times in half an
hour by the clock, on that evening. There was a rickyard not far from
the nest which was the Owls’ favourite hunting-ground. Mice were not
plentiful there, but rats swarmed, and the pellets found under the nest
were here composed almost entirely of the remains of the latter. In the
South of France and in Spain this Owl is accused of drinking oil from
lamps in the peasants’ houses and in the churches and chapels. The name
given to it in the former country by the peasant of the _Midi is Béou
l’oli_--bird that drinks oil. Attracted by the light of the lamps, the
poor Owl perhaps has entered, once in a way, and in its fright has
upset a lamp. Superstition grows on very meagre fare. This ally of the
agriculturalist has been ill-repaid for his services.

Butler writes:--

    “An Owl that in a barn
     Sees a mouse creeping in the corn,
     Sits still and shuts his round blue eyes
     As if he slept, until he spies
     The little beast within his reach,
     Then starts, and seizes on the wretch.”

    “Not a bird of the forest e’er mates with him,
       All mock him outright by day,
     But at night, when the woods grow still and dim,
       The boldest will shrink away.”

But why this is so who can tell? If the Barn Owl shows himself by day,
Rooks and Starlings, Blackbirds, both species of Thrush, Chaffinches,
Tits and Wrens will mob him; and he flies awkwardly from tree to tree,
with dazed eyes and apparently “mazed,” as the country folks says,
altogether, till he can find a hole in a tree where he can hide himself.
He may well like hollows in trees--for, as the poet says, “the Owl, with
all his feathers, is a-cold.” This is not hard to understand, for the
breast feathers are so light and fluffy that the wind easily parts them,
laying bare the shivering skin.

His frequent choice of an old dovecote as a home was misunderstood. The
ignorant countryman thought it was in order to prey on the young pigeons
that he selected a corner there, whereas--and Waterton was the first to
record the bird’s reason, after watching the doings of a pair of Barn
Owls in his dovecote--the Owls were there to prey on the pigeons’
enemies, and Owls and Pigeons lived amicably together in the same home.

Lord Cathcart, in a paper contributed to the Royal Agricultural Society,
said: “Our ancestors, wiser than we, always made in their great barns
ingress for Owls--an owl-hole, with often a stone perch.” And the Rev.
F. O. Morris tells of a pair of this species which lived in a barn near
Norwich, and were so fearless that they would stay there whilst the men
were threshing; they waited on the flails as rooks do on the plough, and
if a mouse were dislodged by the removal of a sheaf they would pounce
upon it without minding the men’s presence. They hunt mice amongst the
stacks, too, in the farmyard, staying there all night often, if mice
abound. As E. Newman says, “The farmer pays the price of a sack of grain
for every Owl nailed to his barn door, because that Owl would have
destroyed mice every night, and these mice, being relieved of their
oppressive enemy, would, in a very short time, consume a sack of wheat,
peas, or beans.”

Owing to its very deep plumage, the Barn Owl looks larger than it is.
Its eye is dark-coloured, almost black: its glance is directed forwards.
The facial disk is very prominent; at rest, it is heart-shaped, and it
is edged with white and rust-colour. The bill is yellowish in colour,
and is slightly hooked. The legs are scantily feathered, and the toes
almost bare: the claw of the middle toe is serrated along its inner
edge. The body-plumage is soft as silk, and yielding, and thickly
pearled with white and dark markings on the beautiful ash-grey back. The
flanks are pale with a reddish tinge, in places very bright, and
sprinkled with tiny pearl-like spots of light and dark colour.


THE TAWNY OR WOOD-OWL.

(_Syrnium alúco._)

The Wood Owl, known also as the Brown or Tawny Owl, has the admirable
trait of constancy, for it is said he mates for life and the pair return
year after year to the same tree to nest. In the month of September you
will hear him hooting in the woods more than at any other time of the
year. He is not so constant in his choice of locality, but like many
other birds he and his kind will disappear from a district without any
apparent reason, to return to it again after a time. No doubt they
follow their food supply; the small creatures they feed on--mice, rats,
shrews, and squirrels--all disappear in the same fashion to re-appear
elsewhere; the movements of these being no doubt ruled by the same
conditions of suitable food, its scarcity or its plenty.

       *       *       *       *       *

In spite of persecution the Tawny Owl is still fairly common in our own
country wherever there are woods or crags suitable for its habitat. In
the South of Scotland it is common, as well as in England and Wales. It
is strange that it seems to be absent from Ireland. Here, in Ealing,
where the present writer lives, its whoo-hoo, or, as Shakespeare has it,
_tu-whit_ and _to-who_, are heard regularly in one little spinney at the
south-east corner of our suburb; and last summer--1908--a pair took up
their abode in a garden, right in amongst the shady roads not very far
from the Broadway.

The Tawny Owl breeds early; strong-flying young ones may be seen in
April. A hollow oak tree or an elm is a favorite nesting site with it.
The young are

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WOOD OR TAWNY OWL.]

very easy to rear and to tame. The late Lord Lilford, who was perhaps
our best authority on owls, stated that he had examined many pellets of
the Tawny Owl, and although he more than once found the remains of young
rabbits he could not accuse the bird of any serious poaching.

Living more in the woods the Brown Owl is less often observed than is
the White Owl; also its plumage is darker, and this makes it often less
visible, especially in the shade of the trees. When flying, his legs are
stretched out behind, “as a balance to his heavy head,” White of
Selborne remarked. The young ones, funny little balls of grey down,
resemble, some one has said, “a pair of Shetland worsted stockings
rolled up, such as might have belonged to Tam o’ Shanter.”

And this reminds us of Burns, who, when he bids the birds mourn for him,
“Wha lies in clay, Wham we deplore,” sings:

    “Ye howlets, frae your ivy bow’r,
     In some old tree or eldritch tow’r,
     What time the moon wi silent glow’r,
           Sets up her horn.
     Wail through the dreary midnight hour
           Till waukrife morn.”

But Shakespeare said of the Wood-Owl:

    “Tu-whit! tu-whoo, a merry note
     hile greasy Joan doth keel the pot!”

It was in 210 pellets of this species that Dr. Altum found the remains
of 6 rats, 42 mice, 296 voles, 33 shrews, 48 moles, 18 birds, and 48
beetles, besides countless numbers of cockchafers.

Brown Owls make very amusing pets and they are not hard to tame. They
are less suspicious than other owls and become very companionable. R.
Bosworth Smith, whose recent death was so much lamented by all
bird-lovers, and who said: “Birds have been to me the solace, the
recreation and the passion of a life-time,” told of one young brown owl
which he brought up from the nest, which was very fond of music. It
would make its way, through an open window on the ground floor, into the
room in which a piano was being played and would even press closely
against the case of the instrument. Dr. J. Cooper, Professor of Greek
Language and Literature at Rutger’s College, New Brunswick, also told
the same author that one morning in November of 1899 he found, on going
to his lecture room, that a brown owl had somehow made its way into it,
and had selected as a perch a huge framed photograph of Athens. It was,
he remarks, an unlooked for illustration to both teacher and taught, of
the proverbial expression “Owls to Athens.” And there she was, just over
the Areopagus, the High Court of Athens, and she sat perched there four
whole hours, that “bird of wisdom,” whilst the Professor gave as many
lectures to successive classes of his pupils, quite undisturbed by the
noise they made, coming and going. Before she disappeared, one of the
lecturer’s brother-Professors had time to take a photograph of “the Bird
of Pallas on her chosen throne.”

Description: In the adult male the upper parts are of variable shades of
ash-grey, mottled with brown; there are large white spots on the outer
webs of the wing-coverts; the tail is barred with brown and tipped with
white; the under-parts are a buffish-white, mottled with pale and
streaked with dark brown. The disk about the face is greyish, having a
dark brown border; the legs are feathered to the claws. The length of
the bird is about 16 inches. The female is larger than the male and its
plumage is a more rufous brown; but there are two varieties in this
species, a red and a grey, the colour being independent of sex; the
rufous form is more common in Great Britain. After the first greyish
down of the nestlings they put on a more reddish brown than the adult
birds have.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE LONG-EARED OWL.]


THE LONG-EARED OWL.

(_Asio ótus._)

In the wooded districts of Great Britain this handsome Owl is always to
be found; the numbers bred here are augmented also by a considerable
number which come to us in autumn from the Continent. It is a larger
bird than the Short-eared species and it lives much in the same way as
the Brown Owl. These two are not so fastidious in their way of feeding
as the White Owl. It lives on small birds, rodents, bats, fish, reptiles
and large insects. Some have accused it of taking birds up to the size
of a Plover, but the late Lord Lilford stated that he had never heard
any complaint of its destruction of game in those districts where it was
comparatively common; the castings of this species which he examined
were mainly composed of the remains of greenfinches, sparrows and field
mice. It is often seen flying about by daylight and it _has_ been known
to pick up and carry off wounded birds. It is said to be much disliked
by other birds--possibly the last mentioned habit may be at the bottom
of this strong feeling on their part, also its appropriation of other
birds’ nests. The note of the hungry young birds of this species is a
loud mewing.

The prophet Isaiah had not very pleasant associations with Owls, it
would seem. When speaking of desolated places, he says, “Owls shall
dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there ... the screech owl also shall
rest there ... the great owl make her nest....”

Alluding to the death of Julius Cæsar--or rather to the omens that
preceded it--Shakespeare wrote:

    “And yesterday the bird of night did sit
     Even at noonday, in the market-place,
     Hooting and shrieking.”

Of crook-backed Richard of Gloucester, too, he says:

    “The Owl shrieked at thy birth, an evil sign,
     The night-crow cried.”

Different parts of the White Owl’s body were supposed to possess
different magical powers, and they have been used by many a rural
imposter to breed awe in the credulous.

Happily all this is changed now excepting amongst a small ignorant
minority. Of late years women who affected the fashion of wearing owls
heads and wings on toques seemed likely to become the poor Owls’ worst
enemy. Mr. Ward Fowler saw, not long ago, in a public house, this
advertisement: “Wanted at once by a London firm, 1,000 owls.”

The late R. Bosworth Smith wrote: “The number of owls has been terribly
diminished. Let them be encouraged and protected in every possible way.
Let the gamekeeper be rewarded, as I have rewarded him myself, not for
the owls he destroys, but for the owls he preserves.... Let the owl be
regarded and protected in England as the stork is regarded and protected
in Holland!”

The Long-eared Owl is 15 inches in length. The upper parts are a warm
buff, mottled and pearled with brown and grey and streaked with dark
brown, bill black, dark markings about the eyes, facial disk buff with
greyish black margin and outer rim. The long erectile tufts are streaked
with dark brown. The eyes are a rich yellow. Under parts warm buff and
grey with broad blackish streaks and small transverse bars. Legs covered
to the toes with fawn coloured feathers. The eggs, four to six in
number, are laid with us in an old squirrel’s drey or on the old nest of
a Ringdove, a Magpie, Rook, Crow, or Heron’s nest; in Hungary often in
that of a Buzzard or a Kite, with a few slight sticks and rabbits’ fur
added. They are white, the surface smooth but not glossy. As a rule this
species does not hoot like the Tawny Owl, but is rather silent.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE SHORT-EARED OWL.]


THE SHORT-EARED OWL. (_Asio accipitrinus._)

In Hungary Short-eared Owls appear in numbers with the Buzzards where
field mice get the upper hand, and work with these grander birds. A
peculiarity of the species is to crouch down to the earth like a hen
when in danger. So confiding in nature is it that it falls an easy prey
to the guns of those whom we call the “Sunday sportsmen,” to the great
loss of the agriculturist. Large numbers of the Short-eared Owl arrive
regularly in Great Britain from the Continent, to remain with us during
the winter. This species is often termed the Woodcock Owl here, partly
on account of its twisting flight it is supposed, and also because both
birds make their appearance about the same time--some years in larger,
some years in lesser numbers. A few pairs still breed in the eastern
counties, but it nests more often in the north, in widely scattered
parts of our moorland districts. In Scotland the species is common; but
in Ireland it has not yet been recorded as breeding, although it is very
common there in winter. I remember a relative telling me of a
Short-eared Owl hovering much over a terrier he had out walking with
him, one evening late, on Congleton Edge. Probably the bird had its
young on some tuft of heather near them and was anxious as to the safety
of these, and it would not have hesitated to attack the terrier had it
been alone.

Mr. Ogilvie-Grant, in Lyddeker’s “R. Natural History,” says: “It is a
curious circumstance that, although the number of eggs laid by this
bird (the Short-eared Owl) is generally four, yet, when food is
unusually abundant, as during a lemming-migration, the number in a
clutch will rise to seven or eight, and during the recent vole plague in
Scotland larger numbers were recorded, reaching as many as thirteen.”

As many as ten and twelve eggs were often found on some hill farms where
these Owls remained feeding all the winter and commenced nesting in
March, the birds in many cases nearing a second brood.

Mr. Colles, of Higher Broughton, Manchester, speaking of the Short-eared
Owl, said in a letter to his friend (R. Bosworth Smith): “You will
remember that a few years ago certain parts of the country (Scotland)
were infested with voles to such an extent that the sheep would not eat
grass over thousands of acres of moorland. It was some two years after
they had been at their worst that my son and I were fishing in St.
Mary’s Loch; and one day, about noon, while I was crouching down between
the high banks of the Meggett, to keep out of sight of the fish, a
Short-eared Owl skimmed over the top of the bank directly to the place
where I was; and I can assure you that no exaggerated comic picture of
an Owl I had ever seen affected me as did this one. Its eyes looked to
me as large as saucers, and the bird seemed a perfect ogre. A few days
later we were fishing one of the tributaries of the Tweed near its
source, and had to walk a mile or so, on almost flat moorland, where
there was hardly a bush, much less a tree, to be seen. Wherever there
was rise enough in the ground to form a little bank the soil was
perfectly honeycombed with what appeared miniature colonnades or rather
cloisters, and we caught frequent glimpses of the voles within, as they
flitted along their galleries. When we were well into this dreary place
a couple of Short-eared Owls positively mobbed us, and as we walked
along, with our fishing-rods over our shoulders they followed us till we
reached a dry gully, where they became even more demonstrative, coming
well within point of our rods. On both occasions the hour was between
eleven and twelve o’clock and the sun was shining brilliantly.”

The Short-eared Owl is fierce and bold in defence of her young. She will
attack larger animals than herself. In the Hawaiian Islands she has
always been much admired because of her fine qualities, and was indeed
one of the old tutelary deities of the natives.

This Owl is from 14 to 15 inches in length. The ear-feathers are short,
the irides yellow, bill black, black about the eyes, and the facial disk
is browner than in the last-named species; the plumage of the upper
parts is more blotched than streaked; the buff tint is more decided. The
ear-tufts, though erectile, are short, and not seen except when the bird
is excited. Under-parts streaked lengthwise with blackish-brown, but
have no transverse bars. The young are browner and darker and more
boldly marked, and tawny on the under parts, iris paler than in the
adult.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE LITTLE OWL.]


THE LITTLE OWL.

(_Athéne noctua._)

The Little Owl makes its nest where it has its ordinary dwelling-place;
that is to say, in hollows, behind beams, sometimes even under bridges.
The clutch of eggs is four to five, and they are almost perfectly round.
The young are covered with white down.

This is a friendly little species; it likes to get under the house-roof,
into barns and towers; retires also into the hollow of a tree and clefts
in old masonry. A capital mouse-hunter, it feeds also largely on
insects, and haunts the lawns to get out the earthworms. In winter it
catches birds at roost, getting numbers of Thrushes, also mice and other
small mammals. When the chase is prolonged till daylight the small birds
mob the Little Owl, surrounding him in numbers. They dare not meddle
with him because of his sharp claws, but they scold and chatter at him
as a shameless thief. Bird-catchers profit by this, and they fasten him
to a bough to act as a lure. There is in Hungary a superstition that no
one dies where this Little Owl appears and utters his cry of _Kooweek,
kooweek!_ which comes down from the gables or the attic windows of the
house.

       *       *       *       *       *

The numbers of the Little Owl have been increasing in England of late.
Mr. Meade-Waldo informed me that in the neighbourhood of Penshurst, near
his own home, in Kent, he had seen as many as sixteen Little Owls
perched on the telegraph wires on the line between two stations. This
gentleman has always been known to be a lover and a protector of this
species.

In Leadenhall Market there are often cages full of them which have been
brought over from Holland. They make delightful house pets and good
mousers indoors. “I have one of my own,” says A Son of the Marshes, “and
I set him down as a bird of priceless value, for he has the power to
make me laugh when I should be least in the mood for it.... Jan Steen
and Teniers introduced him into their pictures. In that of ‘The Jealous
Wife,’ for instance, there is the Little Owl perched on the window
shutter contemplating an aged man holding sweet converse with a young
woman, presumably his niece. The old woman, his wife, has also her head
in the opening, taking in the scene wrathfully. My own bird is at
liberty. This he uses to the best of his ability, making the third
member of our small household.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Little Owl is about eight inches long, but seems bigger than it is
because of its large head and soft plumage: its body is compressed in
form. Bill and iris are yellow, legs clad with hair-like feathers, toes
almost bare. The short tail is hardly visible beneath the points of the
wings. The back is greyish-brown, spotted with white; the belly whitish,
with long brown markings.


THE ROOK.

(_Corvus frúgilegus._)

The Rook lives in flocks and breeds in great colonies. Its nest is
smaller and looser than that of the Hooded Crow. Five or six nests one
above another, are often found in one tree--sometimes as many as
eighteen. It pairs somewhat late, in Hungary, but already in April may
be found three to five eggs of a pale green colour spotted with grey and
blue. These are smaller than those of the Hooded Crow.

The Rook spends the greater part of its life in its native home, often
in huge crowds, numbering many thousands, which divide up during the day
to seek food in different parts of the neighbourhood. During the
breeding time they are divided according to the breeding places. This
bird is the most zealous follower of the ploughman, and by its great
number destroys an enormous quantity of noxious creatures--the
cockchafer being its most coveted delicacy. It covers, with its flocks,
the freshly ploughed field, and if they are sown, picks up the grains
that are lying about. It bores into the soft earth of the meadows and
cornfields, for destructive grubs, and pulls up the withered plants in
order to secure the caterpillar or wireworm which has destroyed the
roots. This has caused the Rook to be suspected of plundering the
fields, but the question has not yet been settled, and the general
inclination is in the bird’s favour. The fact is that even in Hungary,
where the Rook exists in millions, the people generally are indifferent
about it. Early sowing, while there is

[Illustration: CHIEFLY USEFUL.

THE ROOK. AN OLD AND A YOUNG BIRD.]

sufficient insect food for the birds, is the best protection from its
mischief, and this is good for the services it performs.

A knowledge of the habits of the Rook is important, because the bird is
closely associated with husbandry, and with its well organised work
deeply affects the interests of the husbandman. While the Hooded Crow
roams about the district with the Jackdaw, thousands of Rooks cover the
corn-fields; they settle also on fallow ground, on the freshly ploughed
field, on the sprouting crops, and on the turnip-field. It is this
appearance in vast numbers which mainly distinguishes the Rook from the
Hooded Crow, which otherwise its habits closely resemble.

In regard to this bird also, different views are held. Whilst the
scientific agriculturist considers it useful, the old-fashioned
husbandman is convinced that it is harmful. Here again, therefore, must
a just verdict be given, between two opposing parties--but this verdict
must be impartial. Various things are said of the Rook--but it is not
true that it picks the seed out of the earth, so that the spoiled seed
has to be ploughed in again. It only takes the seed which has been
imperfectly covered by the harrow,--and the reploughing is only an empty
complaint, for no one ever heard tell of a particular village, or farm,
where reploughing had to be performed on account of the Rooks. The
farmer who keeps his eyes open before he gives an opinion knows that the
Rook digs his beak into the ground because he hopes to find worms there.
Sometimes it is shot, in order to be set up as a scarecrow, but they say
nothing of what may be found in its crop, should it be opened; this,
however, is just what is necessary in order to ascertain the
truth--although the other conditions of its life must also be taken into
account.

It is easy to observe the behaviour of Rooks, because they always move
and act in flocks. These flocks are dissolved only in cold snowy
winters, when the birds, tired of the cold and lack of food, come into
the villages. When the early spring ploughing begins, part of them
follow the plough; the flock spreads itself over the freshly ploughed
land and they snap up the grubs of the destructive insects which escape
from the newly-turned clods. This then is useful work. They also settle
on the sown land and pick up the seeds which the harrow has left on the
surface, but at the same time devour the insects which the harrow has
turned up. There is no harm in this. In a short time the full spring has
come and the immature insects have developed into other forms--then the
Rook begins to think of building its nest. Its young are not fed on
seeds, for at that time there are none to be had, but exclusively on
insects--which again is a great and useful work. Then the flock spreads
over the neighbourhood, leaving their sleeping-place in the morning in a
body, and betaking themselves to different parts of the district; and it
may be remembered that separate flocks repeatedly visit the same spot,
and work there; as, for instance, one point in a great stretch of
cornland, where in the track of the birds lie many uprooted plants,
which the farmer generally looks upon as due to the mischief of the
Rooks. When insect life has become stronger, they settle on the meadows,
where they eagerly hunt for crickets and grasshoppers; then they return
to the ploughed fields and destroy the insects that have been
disturbed--and this is useful work. It is true that later on they visit
any heaps of cut corn that may lie in their way, and in this way do
harm, but the greater number of the flock pick up the fallen grains in
the stubble field, and a few follow the carts which carry the corn, and
pick up any that is dropped. There is no harm in this, as these ears
would in any case be lost to the farmer. At the time of the hay harvest
they settle on the ridges of cut grass and hunt for crickets and
grasshoppers, for these creatures have then no cover, and easily fall a
prey to the birds. The Rook also attacks the young maize and fruit, but
it has not skill in this respect and cannot do much harm. The harm done
is outweighed a thousandfold by the good which it does in the
destruction of insects. The black army of birds lights also upon the
turnip crops just at the time when these valuable plants are covered
with masses of the “turnip caterpillar.” By the destruction of this pest
they do the farmer invaluable service.

This sanitary work continues into the late autumn as long as the
caterpillars, the Rook’s favourite food, remain. The Rook may do serious
damage during the autumn sowing, especially if it is thin, and sown and
harrowed so late that the caterpillars have disappeared, not so much,
however, that the field must be ploughed up; at the worst there would
remain only one or two unproductive spots, and we know that corn grows
in tufts, and if it is not thinned by the Rooks it must be done by the
farmer, so that the corn is not choked by its own abundance.

When the hard part of winter comes, the flocks of Rooks seek towns and
villages, where they spend the nights on the roofs of houses in order to
shelter themselves from the icy wind; during the day they steal from
the barns and granaries, or, if the opportunity offers, they get at the
bundles of straw which they pull about to try and find a stray ear of
corn.

This much is certain that the principal food of the Rook consists of
insects and grubs, which it gets not only from the surface of the earth,
but also from beneath it, when the bird sees from the colour of the
fading plant that a grub is gnawing at its root. This is the meaning of
the uprooted plants; and why one flock after another so often visits the
same cornfields. It is a sure sign that the wireworm or some similar
pest is busy with its depredations. Here again the work of the Rook is a
blessing.

There are neighbourhoods where the farmer makes a great fuss about a
grain or two of wheat or maize, as if he must be ruined by the damage. I
repeat that the bird has earned its few grains by its other work;
indeed, without its useful services these grains would probably never
have grown.

The lesson we learn then is as follows:--The Rook lives principally and
preferably on insects, grubs and worms, and so long as these are
procurable, it does not look for grain--therefore, the spring sowing
should be performed as late as possible, when the insects have
developed, and the Rook can find its natural food; in autumn the sowing
should be done as early as possible while there are still some insects
to be found. The further actions of this bird are protective, for it
attacks the gnawing maggots that live in the ground. These facts can be
verified by dissection of the bird, when the stomach is often found to
be full of wire-worms.

None the less researches into the habits of the rook require to be more
thoroughly worked out, and this must not be lost sight of.

       *       *       *       *       *

I asked a tenant farmer in our own Midlands his views on the subject of
Rooks and the following, with some slight editing of my own, was what he
sent me. I give it in full as although there may be some repetition of
the foregoing statements, it has special interest as coming from one of
our English farmers.

A recent writer from the sportsman’s point of view speaks of the Rook as
“this black robber,” and he says that there is no practical difference
of opinion as to the question whether his benefits outweigh his
depredations. Now, as a farmer, I confidently affirm that he does much
more good than harm. He will sometimes uproot vegetables in getting at
the worms round their roots. It is true also that he often robs the
nests of the pheasant and the partridge; but, as I could easily show, he
does far more good to the general community by furthering the labours of
agriculturists, on whom so much depends, than harm to the sport of our
leisured classes.

A more social bird even than the gregarious starling, he flies in
flocks, feeds in flocks, and builds in flocks. His everyday life may
appear to be an uneventful one to the outside world, and most
commonplace; yet it is full of adventure and of joy tempered with
sorrows. Apparently a grave bird, he is brimful of humour and, at times,
as full of play as a titmouse. Like all other links in the seemingly
endless chain of nature, he is the victim of circumstances: without much
ado he could count up his sincere friends, but his enemies are beyond
his conception of numbers.

From his winter homing quarters he comes with his company during
February to inspect the colony of breeding nests which he regards as his
peculiar domain, going back as night approaches to his sleeping-place
until all is ready for the family life to begin. Rookeries vary, of
course, greatly in size; one may be as a city or large town, again there
will be a village, and here and there a small hamlet. There are in my
own fields one of about a hundred and thirty nests, one of sixty, one of
eight, and another of four nests. Of these latter I have some views of
my own. I believe them to be those of odd and outlawed individuals who
follow the other companies hither, but are socially considered as
pariahs. My nearest neighbours are those of the sixty-two-nest village,
and my last census-taking records about sixty-two married couples and
thirty-six or more odd or unmated birds. These are all, of course, adult
birds, their numbers reckoned before the young were hatched out.

The odd birds may some of them be outlaws, as I said before, but the
majority of them are not vagabonds by any means. They only happen to
belong to that numerous enough class amongst humans--those who have been
forced by some just cause or impediment into a life of celibacy. As the
rook does not mate until it is nearly two years old, a number of the
single birds are, therefore, simply lusty young bachelors. The few
individuals whom I sum up as ne’er-do-weels or unfortunates--I know
personally three of these at the present moment--are to be recognised by
the shabby, neglected, and generally unkempt appearance of their
plumage, and some other of the many outward signs of a past henpecked
existence. I am ignorant of the life history of these; perhaps if we
knew all about them we should look upon them as objects of pity rather
than of reproach. Now and again I notice that a few old birds in our
colony appear to be dissatisfied with everybody and everything; and
imaginary grievances, political and social, often lead to a segregation
scheme. This is how I have accounted for my hamlet of four nests. The
general run of our odd, or celibate, birds is, however, good in
character; they help in the building of the nests and even in feeding
the sitting birds. For the wedded pairs April is a most trying time: if
the season be a dry one, or frost sets in, food is scarce. Insects and
worms are deep in the earth; the farmer is engaged in sowing his spring
corn, oats, and barley. The rooks prefer a diet of insects, worms and
grubs, but these are hard to get at times; the spring beans are just
peeping through, and the sitting hen asks for food. The cock bird
ventures too long in the beanfield, and as he skims over the hedge with
a bean or two in his pouch a shot is heard; the faithful mate of the
sitting bird is brought down to mother earth, and the farmer feels that
he has one enemy the less. Personally I would not shoot a bird if you
gave me a sovereign for it. The old bird may, and does, grieve, but the
news of her loss is soon at the rookery, and her food is brought to her
by a new mate. Thus there is a place taken in the rookery by one of our
odd birds, and there is a bachelor less in the community. I have known
many a bird die about this time through over-zeal--a slave to love and
duty. If April prove seasonable and mild with showers, worms are
plentiful, and the farmer’s gun remains in its place over the kitchen
chimneypiece.

Often during the building season the rookery is disturbed by discordant
notes, accompanied by a great fluttering of wings; there is a big row in
the township; not a duel over a “squaw”: the rook is a philosopher, and
the ritual of love-making and matrimony are of the simplest. The bother
will be over divergent interests or a disputed claim, for there is a
recognised right of property--not ground-rent to pay, but a specified
limit for nest-room has been accorded. The trouble occurs mostly with
young birds wishing to place their nests too near to an old nest. A
parish council is called, with the result that the disputants’ nests are
soon scattered to the winds, and the claimant and the defendant may both
have to begin a new foundation. Sometimes there is a disturbance on a
more limited scale: one between very near neighbours or
blood-relations--a family jar, in fact. One pair of birds do their very
best to pull the sticks from the nest of another pair: each of the
contending parties will do all they can to prevent the other from
building.

As to the nests, we all know how busily the rooks set to work to repair
these after a gale of wind has wrought some havoc in their colonies; but
I do not think it is equally well known that they are curiously
weather-wise, and they scent the coming storm and set to work to repair
and strengthen before the imminent gale has been evident to the farmer.
I have noticed that fact; the Rook’s powers of sight and hearing are
remarkable.

At the end of the breeding-season comes the farmers’ rook-shooting,
which I, for one, never take part in: I have too much regard for the
labours of both the adult and the young birds. About the roots of each
of the turnip-plants there may gather scores of wireworms, which eat the
turnips; in the crops of young birds which have been shot are found
myriads of these wireworms, or it may be that they are filled with grubs
of various sorts, the larvæ of cockchafers, etc. In fact, in my
opinion--that of a tenant farmer who is forced to make things pay--all
the Rook’s acts of depredation ought to be forgotten if we carefully
consider the great services he renders to the agriculturist. Beetles,
tipula (Daddy Longlegs grubs), warble grubs, oak-leaf roller
caterpillars, and the caterpillars of the diamond-backed moth he
devours. The game-preserver may grudge the birds their plundering of his
nests, but the farmer is in gratitude bound to spare them. A lot of
young birds at the rook-shooting time are still unable to take a flight
of any distance, but others are, happily for themselves, able to fly
well. I am persuaded that the old parent birds often--foreseeing a
shooting raid--get these out of the way, and so they secure life for a
number of their young who might have been sacrificed. They betake
themselves in parties to their rootings about the elms upon outlying
pastures. Daily they grow stronger on the wing, and learn the ways and
means of living.

Like all long-lived creatures, the Rook is temperate in eating, and he
is capable of going a long time without food--a faculty which stands him
in good stead during hard winters. In a long frost or a prolonged
drought he is a most determined robber, and when he is on what he knows
to be forbidden ground, he posts a sentinel to give warning of the
approaching farmer or watcher. He is known to take the eggs of such
favourite birds as the thrush and the blackbird, whose nests are open,
and therefore soon discovered and plundered. But this is no doubt where
his proper food is scarce; and if man had not been so eager in the
destruction of some of our birds of prey, who are the natural enemies of
him and his, Rooks would be less plentiful in some districts. Still, I
for one have no desire to see their numbers decrease, so certain am I of
their value; and I believe this bird will become even more valuable as
time goes on.

The Rook is somewhat smaller than the Hooded Crow; the beak more
slender, rather straighter; the base of it in mature age bare, and
covered with a kind of white scurf. The entire bird is black with a
steely-blue and purple gloss. The feet black and thick, the claws
strong, the sole rough; it walks better than the Hooded Crow. The beak
of the young bird is not bare, the nostrils being covered with bristly
feathers. The bareness first appears when the bird begins to dig in the
ground for its food.

[Illustration: The open nest tempts the Rook.]


THE HOODED-CROW.

(_Corvus cornix._)

The Hooded Crow walks well, with head erect, moving its tail right and
left as it goes. Its flight is easy, using comparatively little movement
of the wings. This Crow usually makes its nest in the tops of high
trees, preferably in one standing alone in a field; but sometimes on
rocks. It does not build in colonies but usually settles alone, though
occasionally two or three pairs will build on the edge of a wood or in a
small plantation. The nest consists of twigs, roots, and grass; the
hollow of the nest being safely lined; in the spring it contains four to
six eggs of a light green colour speckled with grey and brown marks.

In mild seasons this bird has been known to pair, as early as the end of
February, but the usual time is March. Then the construction and
arrangements of the nest begins. The female bird, only, sits on the
eggs; the male guards the nest and provides the food. When near the
nest, he is a courageous, even daring bird, able to keep off such
enemies as the Hawk or the Eagle. His cry is “_kár, kár_.”

The Hooded Crow is a clever intelligent bird. It easily adapts itself to
circumstances; the wave-lashed rock, or the icy peak, are as acceptable
to it as green meadows, or the palms and sycamores of Egypt; the woods,
as welcome as the heart of the snug village, as the tiny garden round a
peasant’s hut. It is omnivorous; so long as it can find food in forest
or field, on the sea shore or river bank, it avoids the proximity of
man; but when winter comes, it settles near inhabited districts and

[Illustration: CHIEFLY USEFUL.

THE HOODED OR ROYSTON CROW.]

highroads, in order to seize upon anything eatable, however bad its
condition.

And now let us investigate its actions, which divide men into two camps,
one of which states that the Hooded Crow is harmful, the other that it
is serviceable. First, as to the harm. It is true that this bird
considers a young chicken a great delicacy, and so, takes one when it
has a chance. But this happens very rarely, for the good mother-hen
flies at the marauder, and raises a cry that brings out the people of
the house to see what is the matter, and the Crow has to beat a retreat,
without having secured its prey--or run the risk of having a wing broken
by a stone, a rolling-pin, or other missile. Should it succeed in
securing a chicken, then indeed it has done harm, but this happens so
rarely, that the housekeeper does not make much account of it. It is
also true that it attacks the timid little hares in the fields, and if
the mother is absent, the young ones are quickly destroyed, and torn to
pieces by two or three blows of the strong beak. In this case it is the
sportsman who is most annoyed, for the farmer is no friend of the hare,
which does great harm in the winter by gnawing the fruit trees. It is a
known fact also that the Crow robs the nests of birds which are built on
the ground in the fields, when it finds them. This also is harm, but the
little birds exhibit wonderful instinct in hiding their nests, so that
even the sharp-eyed Crow can rarely find one, especially when we
consider that its attention is constantly being diverted from the search
by a fat cricket or grasshopper, or a mouse slipping hurriedly by.
Neither can it be denied that when the ears of maize are young and soft
the Crows opens the husk with its beak and regales itself with the milky
juice. This is indeed mischievous, but the harm is only local. A few
farmers track it down, others do not, for about this time the bird
begins to mend his ways. It cannot be denied either that it pecks young
fruit of all kinds, and later pulls it off the trees, and if not driven
away, considerable damage is done, especially if the orchard lies within
a district where Crows abound. It is evident then that the gamekeeper
must be allowed a little license, for where game is bred and preserved,
especially in such places as Pheasant runs, the Crow may do much damage
among the young birds; but why is the gamekeeper there, if not to scare
away the feathered thieves with his gun? Once having experienced such a
fright the Crow does not often return to the same place.

And now let us consider the bird’s good deeds.

The ploughman would be indeed unwise were he to scare away the Crow,
that, following in the furrow of the plough, picks out from the freshly
turned clods, the worms, grubs, and maggots, which are the farmer’s
worst enemies; nor do the evicted tenants of overturned mouse-nests
escape the strong beak of the bird;--and how busy it is when a plague of
mice occurs, as it does in some seasons! Then occurs a wholesale
massacre, and if this visitation happens in winter, the snow bears
evident traces of the Crow’s sanguinary work.

It is also useful among the sheep and cattle, settling on their backs,
and destroying the parasites that attack them. The beasts leave it
undisturbed knowing that it is doing them good service. Neither must we
forget that in villages, near human habitations it does excellent
scavengering work. It knows the precise time at which the remnants of
food are usually thrown out from the cottage on the rubbish heap, and
waits on the roof, till the moment arrives when it can pounce on the
promising morsels, which it carries away; thus removing what would
otherwise soon have become putrid. In winter when pigs are killed, the
Crows wait, among the neighbouring trees, for their share.

The only remaining question, then, is, in which part of the year this
bird is harmful, and in which serviceable, and how long does each of
these periods last. The destructive period is really of short duration,
for the chickens soon grow into hens, the leverets become hares, the
young birds leave the nests, the maize hardens, and ripe fruit lasts but
a little while. That is to say, the destructive period lasts but a few
weeks. And what does the Hooded Crow do for the rest of the year? It
destroys insect pests, cleanses and purifies, and by its continuous
activity, does a service to man, which no other creature could do.

Wherever and whenever this bird does harm it must be driven off, but not
destroyed. The hens must be kept from roving, and the orchard must be
watched. If it will not be scared away then it must be shot. But when
busy in the furrow, the field, or the dunghill, let it be left in peace,
for it is doing a beneficent work. Neither nature nor man can do without
the Hooded Crow, and for this reason it must be treated indulgently.

       *       *       *       *       *

The head, wings, tail, feet and throat of this bird are black, but not
glossy; the lower breast, under-parts, and back ashen grey; the grey
colour of the back forms a kind of mantle,--hence the name Mantle--or
Hooded Crow. The strong curved beak is black, the nostrils covered by
bristly feathers; the eyes dark brown; the feet strong and armed with
thick scales, the soles rough.

To England and Wales the Hooded, often called the Grey or Royston Crow,
is a regular and in many districts far too numerous a visitor, from
October on during the winter. A few birds have remained to breed, and
some cases of hybridism with the Carrion Crow occur in the North. In
Ireland it has become a perfect scourge. In the Isle of Man it is said
to nest each year. On the Scottish Mainland again they are far too many
of this species. So greedy is he that Howard Saunders tells of having
seen him eagerly devouring the carcase of a recently shot member of the
same brood as himself. To some extent hybrids with the Carrion Crow are
said to be fertile.

A Son of the Marshes says that the Cob--the Great Black-backed Gull,
which is called the Carrion Gull, is a noble and open minded bird
compared with the Dun Crow--the Hooded Crow of the foreshores. “His
general conduct would lead you to think he was only looking about for
amusement, up and down and over the water, just far enough to see if any
prey, such as a dead fish or fowl, is washing in. He does not mean the
gulls to share the spoil if he can help it. He flaps to the beach and
out again just to make sure that it is coming all right, and gorbles to
himself a little. This wave must beach it, he thinks; but no, with the
receding of the wave the fish--a large dead skate--goes also. The next
long roller may have more force in it, so he hopes, with half open wings
and throat feathers puffed out, down to the very edge of the watery
beach. Perching next on a large stone, with keen eye and outstretched
neck, the bird sees it gather, a mile out. On it comes, gathering in
force as it begins to crest up, until with a crash it breaks, and
Hoody’s dead fish is flung high and dry almost at his feet. Hardly,
however, has he had time to give one or two vicious digs at the now
tender skin in order to get at his highly flavoured meat, when from all
points of the compass other crows come shooting along like so many hawks
to join in the banquet. We could have knocked them over well”, concludes
our Marshman, “but on no account would we have done so for they were
doing their appointed work, that of clearing up the refuse brought in by
the tide, honestly and well. “Hoody” is one of the scavengers of the
foreshores.”

[Illustration: THE CARRION CROW.]


THE CARRION CROW (_Corvus coróne_.)

The principal colour is black, shining, with a steely blue lustre on the
neck and back. The beak strong, distinctly curved, and black, as are
also the feet; the eyes are dark brown. The Carrion Crow makes its nest
in woods and is for the most part solitary; when with others, each one
nests alone on a separate tree. The nest consists of twigs, roots,
leaves, etc. The hollow of the nest is softly lined, and in the spring,
four to six eggs may be found in it, of a pale green colour, speckled
with brown and grey.

The Carrion Crow is sly and cunning; courageous, but at the same time,
cautious, and extraordinarily clever; it discriminates exactly between
the farmer and the hunter, and allows the former to come quite close to
him. Its sense of smell is very delicate; it scents carrion a mile away,
under snow and earth. This bird is to the West what the Hooded Crow is
to the East--from Austria onward through the whole of Germany and in
Great Britain. It croaks hoarsely “_Caw, caw, caw_.”

The Carrion Crow follows the plough, and devours grubs and mice; it eats
the insects in large quantities, and lies in wait for the mice about
their holes. On the sea shore, it will seize a large muscle with its
beak, fly up to a considerable height in the air, then drop the muscle
on to a rock, so that the shell is broken to pieces, and the contents
emptied out. The Carrion Crow steals and plunders the nests of the
useful birds, spoils fruit and crops; but the great naturalist Naumann
advises that these birds should not be too hastily destroyed, for they
do mischief only for a short time, while during the rest of the year
they make war on the numerous pests, and are of great service to the
husbandman.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since so much bird protection has been inculcated, these Crows are
enjoying much more immunity from harm than heretofore. The result is
that in some of our London suburbs the bold but handsome creature comes
to feed with the small birds at our very doors in cold weather. I have
often watched the ungainly yet cautious manœuvres of a Crow which has
frequented my little lawn at Ealing. The letting of his heavy body down
from over the ends of the outstretching bough of a great elm, which has
its trunk on the other side of my fence, so as to quietly drop on to the
grass on the feeding side of the fence--is very comical. He evidently
wishes to do it as slyly and as quietly as possible. Caution and cunning
are inherited traits with the once persecuted crow. I confess to a
liking for him, but then I am not interested in the preservation of
game. He pairs for life too, and is therefore a respectable character so
far. And he too is useful as a scavenger, and takes also plenty of rats
as well as insects and grubs. When the pair are on the hunt together,
one watches whilst the other feeds. He greatly resembles his greater
relative the Raven, in shape and plumage, and gamekeepers hate him even
more than they do the latter bird, which country folks generally regard
as the more ill-omened of the two.

Speaking of my own pet Crow, a new maid I had came to my bedside early
the morning after her arrival, to inform me that she could not possibly
stay in my house as a Crow had croaked about her bedroom window
“something dreadful.”

In Thibet, we read, there is an evil city of Crows, and Hiawatha is said
to have known of a land of dead crowmen. The Crow, according to the old
Vedas, fell from Paradise, and in Norway there is “the Hill of Bad
Spirits,” where the souls of the wicked fly about in the guise of crows.
Happy the present generation who are taught more toleration for “all
things both great and small.”

The Carrion Crow has always done good work as a scavenger, for which he
has had small thanks. The poets have all combined in holding him up to
execration.

    “My roost is the creaking gibbet’s beam
     Where the murderer’s bones swing bleaching;
     Where the clattering chain rings back again
     To the night-wind’s desolate screeching.”

It is good to believe that “sweetness and light” are gradually getting
the upper hand; and the gibbet with its ghastly burden, and most of the
cruel superstitions concerning some of the most useful of God’s
feathered creatures are alike a thing of the past.

[Illustration]

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE RAVEN.]


THE RAVEN.

(_Corvus córax._)

The Raven is fully one third larger than the crow. Its plumage is black,
with a blue or green lustre. Tail wedge-shaped; beak large and slightly
curved; the breast feathers pointed. It builds its nest in woods, on the
tops of high trees; selecting most cunningly such trees as cannot be
climbed. The clutch consists of four to six light green eggs with dark
speckles.

It flies well, and can hover in circles, and is a cunning, shy bird,
always ready for plunder--but a splendid creature. It is really sad that
it should allow itself to be led away to the paths of dishonesty by the
sight of shining objects. It attacks everything from earth-worms to
hares, plunders and steals nests, takes eggs and fledgelings, and also
feeds on carrion. According to popular superstition, it first pecks out
the eyes of its prey. The proverb says:--One crow does not peck out the
eyes of another.

Another proverb allegorically expresses the fact that the young brood
are black:--It may be freely translated as follows:--

    “That ravens bear not doves ’tis known,
     And grapes on thorn-trees ne’er have grown.”

The Raven lives to a great age; it becomes tame in confinement, and can
be easily taught. It even learns to speak, and can pronounce words
clearly. It is the jester among the animals in the farm-yard. It
sometimes happens that the black colouring matter is wanting in the
plumage of the raven, and the bird is then white. This, however, occurs
very rarely--so that when people wish to explain that a certain thing is
quite exceptional, they speak of it as a white raven.

The coat-of-arms of the renowned Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, bears
a raven with a golden ring in its beak. There were more Ravens in those
old troublous days, of long, wild trains of warriors and robbers, when
slaughtered men and fallen cattle remained unburied by the wayside, and
when the gallows stood in the open field, as a sign and a warning to
men,--than there are now, in our days of milder methods.

The Raven is not altogether common with us.

       *       *       *       *       *

Don Quixote says that King Arthur did not die but was changed by
witchcraft into a raven, and that some day he will put on his own shape
again and claim his old rights. And so no Englishman--he says--has ever
been known to kill a raven, for fear he should kill King Arthur. The
Raven, it seems, has continued to build every year since 1856 either at
Badbury Rings--Mount Badon, where King Arthur defeated the West Saxons,
or else, so the late Mr. Bosworth Smith told us, “in the adjoining park
of Kingston Lacy, where they are safe under the protection of Mr. Ralph
Bankes.”

The necromancers of old are said to detect sixty-five intonations of the
Raven’s voice; he certainly croaks and barks and chuckles, but it has
some pleasanter, more musical notes early in the year in the courting
season, and the great solemn looking bird becomes quite playful and even
graceful in his movements when his mate and he are about to make their
nest. He performs evolutions in the air and turns somersaults most
gleefully. The pair play together and tumble down as if shot, and turn
over on their backs. Then whilst his mate is sitting he keeps careful
watch over her and utters savage croaks if any footstep approaches. He
will fight any large bird of prey that dares to approach his nesting
place. A faithful creature, he pairs for life and, says one of his
lovers “you will hear him utter a low gurgling note of conjugal
endearment which will sometimes lure his mate from her charge; and then
after a little coze and talk together, you will see him, unlike many
husbands, relieve her for the time of her responsibilities, and take his
own turn on the nest.”

The Raven is in danger of extinction in our country unless better
protection can be procured for him. Sheep farmers have a special grudge
against him. Its numbers are kept down in the South of England by the
prices paid for the young birds. Still they continue to breed all along
the south coast and from North Devon to Wales, wherever there is a
suitable headland. The so-called Raven-trees are much fewer than they
used to be. The Raven is rare in the eastern counties and in the
Midlands. In Scotland it is not uncommon wherever it finds suitable
cliffs to build in. In Ireland its numbers are fast decreasing. Its
fondness for weakly ewes, lambs and game make him an object of hatred in
many districts.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE JACKDAW.]


THE JACKDAW.

(_Corvus monedula._)

The Jackdaw is considerably smaller than the Crow. The crown of its head
is black, the nape and throat grey at the sides; the back and the tail
also black; the underpart slatey-grey and black. The plumage and eyes of
the Jackdaw become whitish in old age. It builds its nest in hollow
trees, in the clefts of banks and of old masonry, and in towns between
the ornamental parts of buildings. The eggs, which usually are five in
number, are of a light bluish-green speckled with dark grey and olive
brown.

The movements of this bird are quick and active, it is light on the
wing, busy in flight and call. Its cry sounds like “_Cáee, Caee_.” Heard
from a height it attracts attention to the approaching birds. Jackdaws
usually fly in small flocks; they mix with other Crows and roam about
the fields and meadows with them. It is a confiding bird, that not only
visits large towns, but actually dwells in them. It is true that it does
not despise a brood of young birds, if fortunate enough to secure one;
but its principal food consists of the numerous insects, maggots, worms,
caterpillars, and other creatures which the plough discovers with the
upturned clod in field and meadow. It is pleasant to observe the bird
following the ploughman at a distance of five or six paces, watching
with its sharp, bright eyes for what the ploughshare may turn up--and
descrying, instantly, even the very tiniest grub or maggot. The slight
harm which it may do among the young birds or the fruit, or
occasionally in the young maize ears, is outweighed a thousand times by
the services performed for men by this lively, busy bird, as a destroyer
of insect pests.

The Jackdaw becomes very tame if caught young; it accustoms itself to
life indoors, and becomes attached to members of the household--and can
be taught many funny tricks and games. It is a great thief, taking away
and hiding any shiny object it can carry. It loves a bath, and
immediately paddles about in any little piece of water it can find.

The Jackdaw is found throughout the greater part of Europe; South of
Germany it is somewhat rare. Nowhere is it so numerous as in Russia.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Herman’s mention of the Jackdaw’s nesting place being in towns among
the ornamental parts of buildings reminds me of an act of great apparent
cruelty on that bird’s part which a friend witnessed and reported to me.
He was passing by Apsley House at Hyde Park corner one Spring morning
when he noticed a Jackdaw pounce on a Pigeon which was about one of the
ornamental parts of that mansion. The Jackdaw literally tore the poor
bird to pieces. Whether the Pigeon was invading ground the Jackdaw
looked upon as its own domain he could not say; but the sight was cruel
enough. That this species is intolerant in nature is shown by the fact
that he would hardly ever nest in the same neighbourhood as the Chough
when this bird was more plentiful than it is now. The Chough has ousted
it--or at any rate taken its place in Kerry and Donegal, and other wild
parts of the Irish coast, though it is numerous in other districts.
Large numbers of Jackdaws come to our eastern coast in autumn.

I have referred more than once to the late Rev. R. Bosworth Smith, but I
feel that I must give one other fact here which came to me through a
friend of his own who attended his funeral. It has not, I believe, been
recorded before. He had a special affection for the bird now under
notice. After a very serious operation in London this gentleman--and how
truly gentle he was, many a one knows--declared that he wished “to be
back amongst his dear birds again” at Bingham’s Melcombe old Manor
House. In his delightful book “Bird Life and Bird Lore” he has told us
of the falling of the big tree in which eleven pairs of Jackdaws had
their ancestral home. It fell, crushing an unlucky cow that happened to
be taking an afternoon nap beneath it. After its fall, the whole colony
of daws sat on the stump and held a conference. Other Jackdaws who had
lately been shut out by wirework from the Manor House chimneys, and more
whom the churchwardens had banished from the church belfry were also
hard put to, at the same time, to find proper lodgings. Their numbers
did not, however, diminish, in the grounds, and when their friend came
home to die in the midst of his feathered friends, strangely enough a
Jackdaw circled round about the church whilst the last service was held
for him, followed the coffin to the grave, and hovered about this, and
near the friends who were there, until the last sad rites were over. If
space allowed one could tell other stories of the strange sympathy
between birds and their human friends.

Many a sheep farmer can speak to the services Jackey renders to his
sheep in ridding them of their tormentors in the shape of ticks, not to
speak of the friend he is to the grazier in ridding his beasts of the
flies that harass and nearly madden them at times. This goes far beyond
making up for the eggs of small birds, pheasants and partridges. It is
on record that 400 maggots, each an inch in length, have been taken from
one wretched beast, and of the Ox Bot-fly we read that the eggs having
been laid in the hair on the skin of cattle and the maggots being
hatched out, these eat their way through the skin, and, taking a lodging
beneath it, they form large tumours known as warbles. The grub can
enlarge this at will through a breathing hole left in the skin. After
staying in these horrible quarters for ten or eleven months, feeding on
the nastiness there, it creeps out, drops to the ground, and buries
itself to pass through the pupa stage, whence it emerges a winged fly.
Then there is the Sheep Bot-fly which is worse still, laying its eggs in
the nostrils of sheep. The maggots force their way upwards as far as the
bones of the forehead where they abide for about nine months, causing
vertigo and staggers, and sometimes death. Finally they descend by the
nostrils and are got rid of by the poor sheep’s sneezing. They get so to
ground and bury themselves. From the pupa they pass to the winged stage
so as to lay eggs in summer.

Who that has seen our bird on the back of one of these tormented
creatures could ever complain of “that wicked Jackdaw.”

The gardener also may welcome it with justice. Earwigs and spiders, with
their white bags of eggs or young, Jackey makes short work of, also
snails. It is true he takes ripe fruit, peas, etc., but we may not
grudge one of the very best of our bird lovers a tithe of the produce
which his own good services have increased immeasurably to our benefit.
That ancient poet who wrote of the cave where

                              “Birds obscene,
    Of ominous note, resorted, choughs and daws.”

was not so good an agriculturist as one might have expected him to be.

Cowper appreciated the character of the Jackdaw to the full. He says

    “There is a bird who, by his coat
     And by the hoarseness of his note,
     Might be supposed a crow.
     A great frequenter of the church,
     Where, bishop-like, he finds a perch,
     And dormitory too.

           *       *       *       *       *

     Thrice happy bird, I too have seen
     Much of the vanities of men,
     And, sick of having seen ’em,
     Would cheerfully these limbs resign
     For such a pair of wings as thine,
     And such a head between ’em.”

[Illustration: DOUBTFUL.

THE MAGPIE.]


THE MAGPIE.

(_Píca rústica._)

This is an extraordinarily clever, sly, and calculating bird, which,
although living mostly in the neighbourhood of man, never becomes
confiding, though bold enough to steal a young bird off the nest, and
make away with it. When a pig is killed, it lurks around for hours with
other birds of the crow species, near the spot where the pig is singed
and cut open; and at an opportune moment darts down, siezes something,
and is instantly back on the roof or the hay rick.

In a hard winter it will come into the farmyard or the village, and
filch whenever and whatever it can. It builds its nest, preferably, on a
road where rows of acacia trees border the cornfields; a spot which
offers a wide field for its activity: doing mischief by decimating the
young birds; but on the other hand it destroys grubs and beetles, and in
this way is useful. It does, however, considerable harm, and therefore
its numbers should be lessened in my opinion.

It is well known that the Magpie steals any shining object it can find.
Its call sounds like “Shakerack.” There is a saying in Hungary, where it
is very numerous, that when the Magpie cries on the roof there are
visitors coming.

       *       *       *       *       *

Game-preservers have managed to destroy more Magpies than Jays in Great
Britain, but the Magpie is still fairly numerous and the species is
distributed widely throughout our country. In Ireland it is even
increasing in numbers. The Magpie confers immense benefits by devouring
slugs, snails, worms, rats and mice, and these ought surely to weigh
against its depredations in the poultry yard, and where eggs and game
are concerned.

A number of Magpies together have, under stress of hunger, been known to
attack weakly animals, and the late Lord Lilford recorded an instance of
fourteen or fifteen of these birds fastening on to a sore-backed donkey
in very severe snowy weather, and after the death of this animal, from
natural causes, several of the birds were shot as they fed on its body.
But what will starving creatures not do if they can fill their empty
stomachs? Their keen eyes also see when a fox is growing exhausted, and
they will hover and swoop over it in a most suggestive manner.

In point of fact the Magpie robs poultry yards, taking eggs, chicks and
young ducks, during the months of May and June especially; but these
might be protected. Some fruit too he will steal; but let us consider
that all the year round he feeds on the very worst enemies to
agriculture, and that it feeds its young, generally six of these in each
nest, on insects chiefly and later on rats, mice, etc. The short-tailed
Vole or field mouse of which from time to time our country has a perfect
plague “overwhelming the whole earth, in the marshes,” said one old
chronicler, is especially sought for by the Magpie and these Field Voles
have three or four litters in the year, litters of from four to eight
young. One writer states his belief that the destruction of Kestrels and
Magpies is the cause of the increase of Field Voles. The Rev. J. G. Wood
considered that it more than compensated for the harm it did to game and
poultry by its good offices in ridding the gardens and cultivated
grounds of their varied foes, and Macgillivray gave the bird a good
character on the whole. Our cattle are grateful for its services; like
the Jackdaw it frees them often of the vermin which annoy them so
persistently. The large White--or cabbage butterflies, it devours
largely, and these feed on other crops beside cabbage, both the leaves
and seed-pods of turnips for instance, horse-radish too and watercress.
Enormous flights of these insects come to us from abroad from time to
time.

It is of course a noisy chattering creature, and, as a child, I remember
I had a perfect terror of a tame Magpie that ran after me, pecking at my
heels. Its “tricks and manners” leave much to be desired, it must be
owned, yet it is an ornament to the country side, and to meet more than
one Magpie is considered to be a very lucky omen, that is, I believe, up
to six. In Scandinavia it is the bird of good luck, par excellence, and
its presence is much desired about the homestead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Montgomery wrote:

    “Magpie, thou too hast learned by rote to speak
     Words without meaning through thy uncouth beak.”

but the Magpie retorts:

    “Words have I learned, and without meaning too,
     Mark well, my masters taught me all they knew.”

Head, neck, throat, mantle, rump, and thighs black; breast, underparts,
shoulder and the inside of the wing feathers pure white. This gives the
bird a very pied appearance. The tail is long, arrow-shaped, and like
the wings have a beautiful metallic lustre. Its nest, which is a work
of art, is built in trees. Dry twigs and thorns form the foundation, and
on this lies the cup made of earth or clay and lined with fine roots,
leaves and hair. Over this is a domed roof of thorns and twigs: the
opening of the nest is at the side. The clutch consists of four to seven
eggs of greenish grey speckled with brown.

[Illustration: Out in the Cold.]


THE JAY.

(_Gárrulus glandárius._)

Wherever this bird is found woods and gardens ring with the sound of its
voice. Its usual cry sounds like “Matyash” (Hungarian for the name
Matthias) by which name it is consequently often called in that country.
It is an active, restless visitor to the bushes and gardens, when they
are near a wood. It is not dainty and its voracity is great. Nuts,
filberts, acorns, beechnuts, fruits, berries, but also insects from
grubs upwards, grasshoppers, beetles,--everything finds its way into its
crop. Such things as nuts and filberts, which have a hard shell, it
collects in crevices and holes. All this is not so bad, but another of
its habits is evil--it is a nest plunderer. Eggs, naked fledglings,
half-fledged young, sitting on the edge of the nest awaiting the
mother’s return--all become its prey. In order to reach them it squeezes
through the thick growth of the whitethorn. In fact it is a shameful
bird that deserves no consideration.

If caught young and kept in a cage or running about the house, he is
often found to be an amusing fellow, even if not quite tame,--and proves
himself a perfect master in imitating the notes of other birds. In the
first place he learns the noises of the domestic fowls and animals. He
chirps like the little chickens, crows and cackles; then he howls like
the dog, cries like the cat, squeaks like the unoiled hinges of a door,
or a cart-wheel. He answers the Cock, like a cock, the goose, like a
goose. His usual cry is a screeching “Retch” or “Rey”--or when in fear
“Kay” or “Kray.”

[Illustration: DOUBTFUL.

THE JAY.]

It is fairly numerous with us, and is on account of its brilliant
plumage, an ornament of the woods.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Great Britain the Jay finds little consideration, save from the
makers of artificial flies, after he has been shot or trapped. The
lovely blue wing-feathers are used by these men. Gamekeepers also show
him scant mercy. Still he manages to hold his own in the woodlands and
is fairly common in England and Wales. In Ireland its numbers are fast
decreasing. On the east coasts large flocks sometimes arrive from the
Continent to stay for a time; but the Jay is of course resident with us
as a species.

The Jay is perhaps now receiving a little more toleration than formerly.
It devours worms and insects, certainly, and to a considerable extent. A
Son of the Marshes puts it in a light which is worthy of consideration.
To quote from “Nature’s Raiders”--“The Jays have scant mercy shown them
as a rule. On some estates extreme measures are carried out against them
but this is not always the case. Taking their numbers into
consideration, they cannot be half so hurtful as they are represented to
be from the gamekeepers’ point of view, or they would be thinned off
more. Jays are excellent covert guards in the daytime in the same way in
which the peewits, at night, guard the fields which they frequent. Both
birds give tongue as it is termed. To the small allotment holders who
have their cultivated patches in sheltered hollows close to the woods,
this bird must be considered as a feathered benefactor, for he will, if
allowed to do so, keep within due bounds the small raiders that play
havoc with their garden produce. Recently I saw at least a dozen
watching for--and capturing also--some of the wood mice that had
ventured out on the sunny slopes of the allotment grounds. As the crops
were vegetable ones the less attention these have paid to them by the
mice, when in a young state, the better.”

The voice of the Jay is against him, however. It does not evoke
sympathy. Montgomery wrote:

    “Thou hast a crested poll and ’scutcheoned wing
     Fit for the herald of an eagle king,
     But such a voice! I would that thou could’st sing.”

And the Jay retorts:

    “My bill has rougher work, to scream with fright,
     And then, when screaming will not do, to fight.”

The Jay is smaller than the Jackdaw. Its plumage is reddish grey, the
bridle wide and black; crown nearly white with dark longitudinal flecks;
rump and undertail-cover white; on the wings a white spot; tail
black,--with pale blue cross bars. Its great beauty is due to the upper
wing feathers which are striped with white, black and a beautiful blue.
It has bright shining eyes of light blue. The nest is built in trees,
sometimes high, sometimes low, and five to nine eggs are laid, which on
a pale, usually greenish, ground are thickly speckled with dark but
delicate spots.

[Illustration: The Jay as raider.]


THE BLACK-HEADED GULL.

(_Larus ridibundus._)

This Gull is a migrant in Hungary. Many, however, pass the winter with
us, leaving the frozen inland waters for the open streams of the rivers,
where they pass their time until spring returns. It has quite adapted
itself to life on land, and there is no bird which more assiduously
follows the plough in those districts where it has its nesting place on
the inland waters, or more zealously clears the cornfields, meadows, and
rush-beds of all kinds of noxious worms and grubs, than this gull. It
also feeds its young on these insects, and many of the landowners, have
to thank the Blackheaded Gull that they are free from the annoyance of
these pests. It frequents the ponds and lakes, however, in autumn, and
makes havoc among the little fishes. Its screeching call can be heard at
a great distance, “_Kreā, Kreā_,” or “_Krackackark_.”

It is an exceedingly useful bird, and ought to be protected.

       *       *       *       *       *

This species is generally distributed on our shores all through the year
in Great Britain, but in spring it betakes itself to marshy places near
the coast and to inland lakes and meres. Near Poole in Dorset is a
colony of these Gulls, they ought rather to be called Brown than
Black-headed; on the coast of Essex, several in Norfolk, small ones in
Yorkshire--one large one near Brigg in Lincolnshire; and those of
Aqualate Mere in Staffordshire and Norbury have existed for some
centuries. In many other districts to the North they are even

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE BACK-HEADED GULL.]

more plentiful--right up as far as the Shetlands. In Ireland it is the
commonest species of its family.

To the farmer the services of this Gull are invaluable. Like the Rook it
follows the plough, devouring vast quantities of worms and grubs. It can
capture moths and cockchafers on the wing, and will eat indeed almost
anything, acting also like others of its congeners as a scavenger of the
foreshores. Farming in districts near the coast benefits greatly from
the services of these birds. They are partial to snails also, and as no
Gull feeds on plants, seeds or fruits, a Gull in a garden, wing-clipped,
is often kept as a useful pet.

This Gull is sixteen inches in length, that is almost as big as a crow.
The beak is not strong, the point is curved downwards; the head a
beautiful dark-brown. This colour extends to the throat. There is a
white ring round the eyes. Neck and mantle a beautiful ashen-grey,
throat, breast and underparts white, with pinkish tinge; outer primaries
dark with white stripes. The upper parts of the wings are light grey;
beak and legs carmine, also the irides and their borders; the toes are
joined together by a web. The head becomes white in winter, the beak and
feet lose their brilliant red colour and become flesh colour, and then
brownish. It nests with others in settlements consisting sometimes of
3000 to 4000 nests. The nest is placed on broken reeds, turf clods,
tufts of rushes; the bird, without much skill, makes a little heap,
scratches a hollow in it, smoothes the inside, prepares a litter of dry
rush and sedge leaves, and the nest is finished. The nests are placed
close together. The clutch consists of two or three eggs, very rarely
four, usually of a yellowish clay colour, marked, or regularly speckled
with a dark shade.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE QUAIL.]


THE QUAIL.

(_Cotúrnix commúnis._)

The Quail is about the size of a large clenched fist, and is almost as
round as a skittle ball. Its entire plumage is clay-coloured speckled
with a darker shade, and marked with light lines, like the head of oats.
The whole marking of it, especially of its back, is designed to avert
man’s attention from this crouching bird. The throat of the cock is
black, the beak and legs like those of the barn-door fowl. The bright
eye light nut-brown. The nest is placed on the ground, and is simply a
scratched-out hole, which is rather littered than lined with blades of
grass. In this the female bird lays her eggs of olive yellow,
beautifully speckled with brown, sometimes to the number of sixteen, but
usually ten. The chicks run after their mother as soon as they are
hatched and dried--which is a very pretty sight. They can make
themselves invisible by crouching on the ground, so that the colour of
their down assimilates with that of the earth.

The habits of this bird are those of the domestic fowl. From early
morning till evening twilight, the Quail is on its feet, searching the
ground for grains of seed or little beetles. It scratches like a hen,
and when it finds a sunny, dusty or sandy place, it bathes in the sand,
flinging the dust all about. The Quail is a useful bird--for it picks up
only the seed which lies on the ground, and feeds its young with the
same. It therefore deserves shelter and care. Its voice and habits are
pleasant and agreeable to man. Its familiar and homelike cry, sounds
from out of the cornfields, and the little hen answers. The mating call
of both is, “_Bue bee wee_.”

    “Ah! what sweet accents fall softly around,
     Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Fürchte Gott!)
     Murmurs the quaint little quail from the ground.”[1]

The bird’s cry of “_Bit by bit_,” and his mate’s reply, “_Wet my weet,
Wet my weet_,” as we render it, is not often heard now in our own
country. This is attributed by some to the fact that most of the Quail’s
favourite feeding-grounds have been “improved” away. Fine pasture-lands
are now where the ground was once coarse and covered with tussock, bent,
thistles, burdock, hawkweed, and such plants as flourish in uncared-for
lands, and in such surroundings the Quail delighted to remain. Now, only
very few winter with us; the majority leave in October for the South.

The Quail is an accomplished ventriloquist, and the late Lord Lilford,
in his “Notes on the Birds of Northamptonshire,” says that he often
heard a caged Quail calling when within a few feet of him, which yet
gave the impression of being many yards distant. On the western side of
Corfu he found numbers of these birds in the currant-vines on very steep
hill-sides, and vast numbers are bred in the cultivated plains around
and below Seville, where their numbers are thinned in the pairing season
by a clever method of calling the birds into a net by imitating the
call-note of the female. On the island of Capri, in the Bay of Naples,
it is on record that as many as 160,000 have been netted in a single
season.

Many of us have eaten them in the South of France during the grape
season. The birds can be caught by the hand when they have, as the
French say, intoxicated themselves by feeding on the ripe grapes.
During the winter and the early spring they feed on the seeds of the
plantain, dock, vetch, and chickweed. Slugs also and insects help to
form the bird’s diet. The Italian’s notion that it is unwholesome to eat
Quails at a given season arises, no doubt, from the fact that it is
pleasanter eating and the flesh is plumper at certain times of the year
than at others, owing largely to the varying nature of the bird’s food.

The Quail is a favourite pet in Spain; the birds are kept much in cages
there, and are valued because of their song; and that the Quails have
been taken on the Continent in vast numbers when netting them, at the
time of the vernal migration, is not to be denied. “We remember,” says
Lord Lilford, “seeing a steamer at Bressina, in the month of May, 1874,
one of whose officers assured us that he had six thousand pairs of
Quails alive on board, all destined for the London market. The unhappy
birds are carried in low flat cages on boxes, wired only in front, and
it is surprising what a very small percentage of them die on the voyage,
unless “a sea” happens to break over them. They thrive well on millet,
and soon become fat; but, in our opinion, this traffic should be
prohibited, as the unfortunate birds are caught on their way to their
breeding quarters, and some of them at all events would afford sport at
a legitimate season when naturally fit for the table.” “Chaud comme
caille,” says the French proverb, because Quails are exceedingly amorous
and pugnacious at the time of pairing. They thrive well in confinement,
and are easily “fatted up” for the table.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE STARLING.]


THE STARLING.

(_Sturnus vulgaris._)

The Starling is a very lively, jovial bird, very active, hunting about,
and chattering over what it snaps up. It is also very sociable. These
birds often collect in such numbers, in places, where a wood is bounded
by pastures or reed-beds that when the flock rises together, it throws a
shadow like a dark cloud. It specially seeks out flocks--cattle, horses,
sheep or pigs, and stalks about in their shadow, under the very noses of
the wallowing swine, in order to drag out of the earth the desired
worms, in company with the Blue headed Wagtail. It also perches on the
bodies of the beasts, and operates on them where there are maggots or
worms. The animal knows the bird is doing him a good turn, and remains
perfectly still.

It is true that this bird also attacks cherries, blackberries,
raspberries and grapes; and, if present in numbers, it does, indeed,
considerable harm.--Then it must be frightened off with rattles,
blank-shot, and whatever else is of use. Still, the year through, it
does a thousand times more good than harm and therefore deserves to be
protected and cherished.

It becomes very tame and trusting in captivity and can be easily taught.
It can learn to sing tunes and speak words--and becomes attached to its
owner.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Edward Phillips of Croydon rescued forty starlings once from the
pockets of a working man who said he was selling them to serve as
pigeon dummies, in shooting matches amongst his friends. Needless to say
she paid for and set them at liberty. I was struck with the scarcity of
Starlings in the centre of France, and country folks there told me they
were getting scarce. Perhaps they were not much protected, for I saw in
Anjou a family of the young birds in the hands of a boy who told me he
was carrying them home to train for sale as singing and talking pets.
They are not good to eat and yet they will feed on them in that
part--birds these that, if spared, eat up tons of those grubs and larvæ
which ruin the crops in the field. Sometimes even they have been shut up
and fed on vegetable diet to make them taste better. This has only made
the bird thinner, proof positive that the enemies of “green stuff” and
not itself form their natural diet. Feeding as they do at all seasons on
our pasture lands the services they render are incalculable.

In November, or somewhat earlier, they arrive on our east coasts in
great numbers; whilst others migrate westward, deserting some localities
entirely for a time. Great numbers also visit the South of Ireland then.
They settle on the salt marshes for a while sometimes; but often they
pass on further inland in perfect silence, with a swift direct flight,
and a way altogether unlike their usual chattering fussy ways. They
begin to pair in January in some of our districts. Naturalists call them
Ambulatores, or walking birds; they are quaint creatures in all their
ways and habits. Of late years they have been accused of pecking into
apples more than is desirable. As the season advanced, and fruit was not
so varied and plentiful, I used to find that when all the leaves were
off my pear trees--in a former home--they ate the few pears that were
left hanging high up until nothing but stalk was left, but they touched
neither apples nor pears whilst the leaves were on the trees.

The best way of keeping Starlings away from _high_ cherry trees, that I
have seen, is fixing a long narrow flag to a strong top branch. Large
flocks of them resort to cowfolds, where the stock are all night, and
before these are let out the birds are there seeking for larvæ and worms
in the dried dung, perching now and anon on the backs of the cattle,
chattering low all the time. They rid trees of caterpillars, and the
turnip fields, where they have been known to clear these of “fly”; also
to visit field peas that were infected with aphides and do good work
there; and they devour great numbers of Daddy-longlegs. Waterton,--that
past-master in the art of observing and chronicling the doings of birds,
wrote: “There is not a bird in all Great Britain more harmless than the
Starling: still, it has to suffer persecution, and is often doomed to
see its numbers thinned by the hand of wantonness or error. The author
of ‘Journal of a Naturalist’ observed a pair of Starlings having young
ones for several days, and he wrote, ‘It appears probable that this
pair, in conjunction, do not travel less than 50 miles a day, visiting
and feeding their young about 140 times, which, consisting of five in
number, and admitting only one to be fed each time, every bird must
receive in this period twenty portions of food.”

In 1891 twelve farmers, replying to Miss Ormerod’s question as to which
kinds of birds were specially useful in destroying caterpillars, all
replied in favour of the Starling. Now what, after all, matters a little
fruit taken from private gardens in view of all this good work done. And
as to the professional fruit grower, it will pay him to employ a boy or
two during a short season of the year, to keep birds off his trees.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Herbert Maxwell, who writes on the whole in favour of Starlings, and
remarks truly that all naturalists are agreed that the good they do
outweighs the evil, says that “from many a dovecote the legitimate
occupants have been expelled by the intrusion of these irrepressible
creatures.” And Waterton wrote, “The farmer complains that it sucks his
pigeons’ eggs, and when the gunner and his assembly wish, the keeper is
ordered to close the holes of entrance to the dovecot overnight, and the
next morning three or four dozen of Starlings are captured to be
shot.... Alas! these poor Starlings had merely resorted to it for
shelter and protection, and were in no way responsible for the fragments
of egg-shells which were strewed on the floor.... The rat and the weasel
were the real destroyers,” etc.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Starling is as big as a thrush; it has bluish iridescent plumage,
the feathers tipped with white. Beak relatively small, brow flat; eyes
near the base of the beak, which gives it a cunning expression. The
feathers are small and tapering at the point; beak yellowish. The hen is
paler, the young ones still more so. The legs are strong, with sharp
claws. It selects for its nest holes in oak trees in the woods near
which is pasture land or water stocked with reeds and rushes. In warmer
regions it breeds twice in the summer. The first clutch consists of five
to seven eggs, the second of four or five of a pale light blue colour.


THE ROSE STARLING.

(_Pastor roseus._)

In Hungary this bird is only a summer guest, and single pairs may be met
with in various parts of the country. Its appearance in large numbers
always coincides with the time of the grasshopper plague;--a fact which
was first observed in 1814. The distinguished Hungarian ornithologist,
Petényi, described his observations in 1837. He states that, so long as
the grasshoppers are not fully developed, the bird feeds on all sorts of
insects; but as soon as the grasshopper is sufficiently matured, this
insect forms its sole food, and is pursued with great eagerness. Thus,
in the year 1907 great numbers of Rose Starlings appeared on the
well-known Puerta of Hortshágy where just at that time the grasshopper
plague was raging. There we may enjoy the spectacle which Petényi
described as follows: “To the eye of the beholder a flock of these birds
in flight has the appearance of a roseate cloud, always
moving,--backwards, forwards, sideways, in ever changing forms of
beauty--or, alighting, they give an exquisite impression of whole
bunches of wandering roses moving on the green turf.”

Although the Rose Starling also loves fruit-berries and causes such
damage to them by its great numbers, that in some parts it is called the
“devil’s bird”--the fact remains that its chief food is the grasshopper.
In Tartary, its native land, it destroys the locusts which in former
times visited Hungary. A Turkish proverb says that the Rose Starling
kills ninety-nine grasshoppers before it eats one. When a flight of
these birds descends upon a grasshopper infested district, it consumes
an enormous number of these insects, and that, in places where human
defences can do nothing; in this consists the value of its actions.

Among the grasshoppers found in Hungary at the present time are the
_Stauronatus maroccanus_ and in smaller numbers the _Colopterus
italicus_, the latter of which belongs naturally to the Hungarian fauna.

The note of the Rose Starling is a harsh and continuous babble. This
bird is protected in the Caucasus and elsewhere because locusts are the
favourite food of both the old and the young birds. In the East it is
said to be, however, very injurious to grain during the colder season;
also I believe, in Africa. This beautiful bird has occurred of late
years in most parts of Great Britain, but only, alas, to be shot and
“stuffed.” As a rule it visits us in summer and autumn, single birds,
perhaps separated somehow from flocks of their own species. In such a
case they generally join our own Starlings.

This beautiful species is the same size as its congener, the Common
Starling, and it resembles the latter in form although so much smarter
in appearance. Rump, back, shoulders, breast and underparts are a bright
rosy pink, head, neck and throat are a glossy black, wings and tail are
a metallic greenish-black. The bill is a yellowish-pink, black at the
base; legs yellowish-brown. The long crest of the adult male is composed
of fine violet-black feathers. The female is not so brightly tinted and
has a smaller crest. The nest of the Rose Starling is built in its own
native home in south-eastern Europe in some crevice in a ruin in
quarries, cliffs, or among stones in a ravine or a railway cutting. The
clutch consists of five to six eggs of a pale bluish-white colour, or
pale bluish-green.


THE WAXWING.

(_Ampelis garrulus._)

This beautiful little bird has its nesting place in the far north. It
often visits Mid-Europe in winter in great numbers, principally
frequenting juniper plantations, where it is easily snared. Its flesh
being a great delicacy, it is much sought for. Moving along the
headlands it passes also into the valleys, and even visits the gardens
and parks of great towns, especially where mistletoe is found on the old
trees. When in need it eats seeds; it also feeds on the berries of
whitethorn, mountain ash, hawthorn, and other bushes. It has a good
appetite and digests its food very quickly, but is somewhat inactive in
its movements. It lives in colonies sometimes smaller sometimes larger.
Its breeding range extends across Behring Straits to Alaska and the
Rocky Mountains.

The Waxwing visits Great Britain at irregular intervals, often in large
numbers, during the winter. Being an inhabitant of the Arctic regions,
its visits are more frequently paid to the Northern and Eastern sides of
the country, but it has been seen often in the Southern counties. In
Norfolk, on the spring migration, it is sometimes seen up to the first
week in May. It is a silent, gentle-mannered bird and its only note is a
low _cir-ir-ir-ir-re_. It is essentially a wandering species and is very
erratic as to its nesting places, belonging to the class the poet refers
to in those lines

    “The birds of passage transmigrating come,
     Unnumbered colonies of foreign wing,
     At Nature’s summons.”

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WAXWING.

An erratic winter visitant.]

The Waxwing has a very silky plumage. On its head is a crest, inclining
backwards, which can, however, be erected at pleasure. Throat smooth
black; back cinnamon-brown, underparts a lighter shade of the same
colour. Tail black with a golden-yellow border at the end. Wings black
with white bars. The outer half of the secondary wing feathers yellow,
with white border at the end. The shafts of these feathers are tipped
with red horny appendages like sealing-wax, which also appear on the
tail feathers of the adult male.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE SWALLOW.]



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IV.

IN THE AIR AND ON THE TREES.


THE SWALLOW.

(_Hirundo rustica._)

The nest of the Swallow is in the shape of half a saucer, quite open,
and formed of clay, into which straw and grass are cleverly kneaded. It
is built in old huts, in chimneys, also under the eaves of houses, often
so low, that it can easily be reached by an outstretched arm. This bird
is truly a household companion with us in Hungary. The first clutch of
the year consists of five to six eggs, the second which comes at
Midsummer, of three or four; they are white, speckled with reddish-brown
and grey.

It is a pleasure for man, to observe the daily life of the Swallow. In
spring it returns to its old nest, tidies it up, and then its domestic
felicity begins. In the early morning light, it may be seen sitting on
the roof, on the window-sill, or on a post, cleaning and arranging its
plumage; then it wakes the household, with its twittering morning song.
Next husband and wife begin their flight. Swift as an arrow, off they
go, seizing flying insects and caressing each other on the way. The
Chimney Swallow, when on the wing, utters a hasty “_Beeweest,
beeweest_,” especially if it is alarmed. Its cry is a tender “_Weet_” or
“_Weeda weet_.”

Soon comes the brooding time; then, the young ones slip out of the eggs,
and the work of feeding and educating begins. The parents take it in
turns to perform these duties, which they do with the greatest industry,
and even when the young ones are as big as themselves, and fully
fledged, they still place them in a row on some bough, and bring them
food. It is beautiful to see with what fidelity this is done. It is a
sight to move heart and mind with tenderness, and this is the pet bird
of our people, who care for it, and gladly give it shelter and
protection; not however, that of the Southerners, who catch and cook
Swallows by hundreds of thousands.

       *       *       *       *       *

We hear from all parts of the country of the scarcity of Swallows, and
various theories have been offered as to the reason of this. In France
their numbers have been for years systematically reduced by the snaring
and destruction of them, in various ways, for table use. An instance of
this I can personally vouch for. A doctor in Nismes, the brother of a
friend of my own, who is keen on bird protection, being in the market
one day, was pressed by a poulterer to buy Larks. When he refused, the
man, thinking the price was too high for him, took him aside and showed
him two hampers apparently full of these birds, which are allowed to be
sold there, whereas the massacre of Swallows is illegal. On the top was
a layer of Larks, underneath were Swallows only. “These I can do
cheaper,” he said.

The Midland farmer I alluded to before, Mr. E. Hancock, who writes to me
at times, and who has commented on the few Swallows about, sends me a
story of a pair nesting in his bedroom. They built over a picture frame,
brought out their young successfully, and the youngsters having gone out
into the wide world, the two parent birds remained in the home. One
roosted regularly on a clock in the bedroom, the other upon the picture
frame. It is possible that this pair, or one of them, was hatched out on
the picture at Great Bealings House, Suffolk, of which I have written
elsewhere. Who can tell? A few days ago they began cleaning, relining
and repairing the nest, making all ready for the coming of their second
brood.

Lady Farren had little silver rings put on the young of the second brood
hatched over the portrait in the bedroom at Great Bealings. A bird, with
the ring still on came to breed in that same place two years later.

The poor Swallows often suffer terribly from storms and unseasonable
weather coming after they have left their warm winter quarters. Mr.
Poole, of Ealing, told me that being at his angling quarters on the
river Kennet, Ham Bridge, near Newbury, on April 25, 1908, at 8.15 a.m.,
he saw Martins and Swallows hawking flies, most probably the _grannow_,
as there had been some previous hatches of this fly noticed. The season
earlier had been a warm one and these birds had arrived early.

It was snowing hard at the time, and had been doing so for some few
hours, and three or four inches of snow lay on the ground. All that day
it snowed continuously, ceasing only at about 7 p.m., with a fall nearly
two feet deep. The frost was occasionally severe during the day. On the
morrow, April 26, it was intensely bright, and even hot in the sun, the
snow disappearing very quickly; but, said Mr. Poole, “I saw not a sign
of either Swallow or Martin and indeed they were scarce on the Kennet
for the rest of the season. I also noted a great scarcity upon the riven
Itchen, in Hampshire.”

A lady also tells me that near Lynn in Norfolk, during the great cold,
the hungry Swallows came down on her garden lawn and picked up the
scattered crumbs of bread.

Probably numbers perished of cold and hunger. As Swallows live entirely
on insects, the diminution in their numbers is a serious matter.

It is sometimes necessary, in order to preserve the proper order of
things, to describe what every one knows. The most striking
characteristics of the Swallow, which distinguish it from its congeners
are as follows: Brow and throat a beautiful chestnut brown; breast,
back, wings, and tail a fine black with a bluish metallic lustre. With
regard to the tail however, only the two middle feathers are pure black,
on the others small whitish specks are discernible. The outer
tail-feathers form a long pronged fork. The underparts are sometimes
white, sometimes brownish. The beak is very small, the gape wide. The
open jaw forms a kind of little pocket. The legs are small with sharp
claws suitable for grasping.


THE HOUSE MARTIN.

(_Chelidon urbica._)

While the Chimney Swallow builds inside houses, under some circumstances
even in the fire-place--thus becoming a beloved member of the
family,--the House Martin constructs its strong and comparatively large
nest on the outside of the building. In mountainous districts it is
found also in an overhanging position on the steep rocks, where it is
sheltered from the rain. In many villages, where windows and doors of
the upper floor are kept shut, so that the Chimney Swallow cannot come
in, the latter is not found, and the House Martin then takes its place.

This Swallow also lives entirely upon flying insects. It spends most of
its time on the wing otherwise it could not live. It has, consequently,
small, weak legs, which are only useful for clinging. It is as useful as
its relative but has less confidence in man; it is less familiar.
Neither does it please our ears with such a pretty twittering, and its
enclosed, remote nest, affords us no insight to its family life. It
arrives later in the spring than the Swallow, and assembles in the
autumn in flocks, on towers, trees, roofs of houses and churches. One
fine day we find they are all up and away--for the distant South.

This bird deserves every care and protection.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had been watching with interest the building of some nests of the
House Martin one season, and enjoying the sight of the pretty creatures
as they circled about a house I was staying in for a time, and the way
they

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE HOUSE MARTIN.]

dived in under the eaves. But those bold marauders the House Sparrows,
whom over-feeding and indulgence have corrupted and made indolent,
forcibly took possession of these homes which were ready for immediate
habitation. My neighbour literally fought the intruders, brandishing a
clothes-prop from her open bedroom window for several mornings and
evenings. The Martins forsook the nests at last in dudgeon, worn out
with anxiety as to their homes which are now empty, for my friend
declares no Sparrows shall have them. This is one of the worst
indictments against the Sparrow, as we all prefer the graceful and
useful House Martins about our homes; and through this evil habit of the
former their numbers are greatly lessening.

There has been a general complaint of late years that the numbers of the
Swallow family are decreasing. This is an international question. If the
Southern European States net and kill Swallows and other small useful
birds which are passing through on their migratory flight, the more
Northern States naturally suffer loss. That is why many of us regret
greatly that England has not as yet seen her way towards joining that
International convention for the protection of wild birds which had its
first beginning in Germany in a little band of foresters and to which
nearly all the European States excepting England now subscribe.

The whole study of the migration of birds is full of interest and,
indeed, of mystery, much as we have learned of their life history during
the last fifty years. As a humble student of bird-life, glad to learn
all I can from other students, I have found that those who know most
about this wonderful migration are the most modest in making definite
assertions in the matter. So little, they will tell one, is as yet
absolutely established fact, “the way of the bird in the air” is still
shrouded in mystery.

The House Martin is smaller than the Chimney Swallow and is easily
distinguished from it. At the first glance we are struck by the two
colours of its plumage, black and white. Throat, breast, underparts, and
also the rump are white; beak, neck, mantle, wings, and tail, black. The
little legs are covered in front with white down, like little trousers.
The throat is less white than that of the Swallow. Its nest is
half-globular, built of clay, and has only a very narrow opening. It
builds under eaves, or cornices, in sheltered places on houses and
churches, in whole colonies, sometimes in groups, also one over another
like a bunch of grapes. It lays five, sometimes seven white eggs.

[Illustration: The Swallow’s Flight.]


THE SAND MARTIN.

(_Cotile riparia._)

The Sand Martin flies quickly, but not with the arrow-like speed of the
Chimney Swallow. It dwells on the waterside, where it nests in colonies
of hundreds, even thousands. The nest is composed almost exclusively of
earth, and is placed in the steep high bank or in the walls of a
landslip, and it is remarkable as to its architecture. The little bird
excavates a long horizontal tunnel in the side of the bank, at the end
of which is an oven-like cave, in which it builds its nest of vegetable
fibre, roots, feathers and hair. The neighbours build so close together
that the bank in many places appears to be completely honeycombed. These
nests are built at least 12 inches from the surface of the bank. This
bird visits the neighbouring streams and ponds in flocks, circling and
darting here and there as is necessary in the pursuit of the winged
water-insects. On its return in the spring it seeks and enlarges its old
nest hole. It is widely distributed and occurs in great numbers.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Sand Martin arrives in Great Britain often as early as the last week
in March; it is also one of the first species to leave us. The Sparrows
often oust whole little colonies of these birds from their dwellings,
but when the colony is a large one they get the better of the hectoring
intruders. As soon as the young are able to leave the nest they go to
spots where there is water, as they find their food all day long in
localities where there is an abundance of insects--gnats especially.
Most useful they are in marshy localities, where the

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE SAND MARTIN.]

atmosphere would be intolerable for human beings but for the work of
these little creatures. A little dry grass and a quantity of feathers
supplies material for the nest which, being in a little chamber up a
tunnel, out of the disinfecting wind, gets flea-infested and very
unpleasant. Railway cuttings are much frequented both by Martins and
Wagtails because the passing of a train stirs up insect life in it.

The gnat is frightfully prolific; it would soon poison our water as well
as render it hard for men to breathe. A mother gnat is said to lay from
200 to 300 eggs at one time, and in two weeks the young from these are
able to lay eggs themselves. Gnats must themselves be needed in the
economy of nature, but if not kept in check they would render our life
absolutely unbearable; they form the food for fishes, however, as well
as for birds.

A porter at a railway station close to a cutting told Mr. C. Simeon, who
wrote on angling and natural history, that they did not allow boys
about, robbing the eggs in the colonies nesting there. “They”--the
birds--“are such good friends to us that we won’t let anyone meddle with
them.” He explained further that the flies about the station would be
unbearable but for the Martins that were always hawking about it. Before
the Martins arrived a few warm spring days often brought out a
troublesome number of flies. “Now,” he concluded, “we may see a fly now
and then, but that is all.”

The Sand Martin is smaller than the others of the Swallow family and has
dull simple coloured plumage. Back greyish brown, throat and underparts
white, the short forked tail is of a uniform ashen-grey. Feet small but
strong. It lays five small, pure white eggs.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE SWIFT.]


THE SWIFT.

(_Cypselus ápus._)

The Swift comes to Hungary early in May and leaves again the first days
of August. In England it comes and leaves about the end of these months,
that is as soon as the young are ready to fly. The materials for the
nest are obtained on the wing, therefore often with difficulty, as the
wind brings it. These are glued together by the viscous secretions of
the bird. Sometimes, however, it robs Martins, House-Sparrows and
Starlings of their homes. The wild note of _see-see_ has gained for the
Swifts the name of “Screechers,” and “Devilings” in Great Britain. They
always hunt in companies and one might say that they compass the wide
world in their rapid and powerful flight. The feet which are so helpless
on the ground are well adapted to clinging on to the rocks and heights
where they breed. The work Swifts do in clearing the air of insects must
be enormous, these forming all their food.

This is one of the most interesting of our British birds, and one that
is still an unknown quantity, in some respects, to the most learned of
our ornithologists. “It soars on higher wing” even than the Skylark. A
larger bird, it rises until it is lost to the keenest sight, remaining
in the air longer, also, than perhaps any other bird. Whether it is
capable of rising from the ground, when once there, is, curiously
enough, still a matter of dispute among certain naturalists. “Can Swifts
take wing from the ground?” was a question raised not long ago in
“Nature Notes,” the organ of the Selborne Society.

Over two centuries ago Dr. Plot wrote of the Swift, “ ... it having so
very long wings, and so short legs and small feet, that it cannot easily
rise from the ground unless it be very plain and free from grass;
wherefore it either always flies or sits on the tops of churches,
towers, or else hangs on other ancient buildings by its sharp claws,
from which it falls and so takes its flight.” It would appear from old
records to be very much commoner now in our country than it was; and
several recent accounts attest to its trick of exploring the old
nesting-hole of a Starling. Mr. Yates, of Staffordshire, and Mr.
Carr-Ellison, of Alnwick, both give interesting facts in corroboration
of this proclivity. In an Eccleshall street Mr. Yates saw a Swift enter
a hole where it had been in the habit of nesting, but it quickly emerged
with a Starling fast to its tail. So weighted, the unlucky Swift soon
came to the ground and to grief, but it was rescued and was started on
its flight again. The Alnwick naturalist, again, saw a Starling pecking
at a grounded Swift, and drove the former away. The Starling then flew
on to an apple espalier close by, and watched the Swift, which tried to
fly along the slightly sloping walk, but it could not get its wings
clear of the ground. Its friend lifted and threw it up in the air. Three
times this gentleman has witnessed the same scene at long intervals. The
reason of it is that he had had a hole made near his study window for
nesting purposes. Starlings always build in this in April or early in
May, and after they have left Swifts build in the same hole. Sometimes
they attempt this too soon; one comes to explore the hole, and gets
caught by a returning Starling who at once pulls it to the ground below,
where it is pecked whenever it tries to move. The Swift never alights
on the ground of its own free will; about eighty of these birds, which
were picked up dead on a peninsula where I once sojourned, had dropped,
exhausted by violent storms encountered on the migratory flight, and
there for want of food and help they had perished.

It is a delight to watch the evolutions of a Swift on a clear evening;
with a grand, falcon-like stooping, the cock-bird begins to drive its
mate back to her nest; at least, such is supposed to be its intention.
The males first rise high in the air, and then make the swoop, and there
is much evading by the females, and renewed pursuit, after which the
males come back alone to enjoy themselves whilst their mates sit quietly
on their nests.

The Swift, which used to be classed with Swallows, is now placed in the
same order as the Fern Owl or Goatsucker, being, it is decided by
scientific authorities, more allied to the latter in its structural
affinity than to the Swallow. Its general colour is a bronzed
blackish-brown; the throat is a greyish-white; the bill, claws and toes
are black. The young birds have more white about the throat than the
adults. The tail is forked, the wings are long and narrow, formed like a
sickle. The eggs are generally only two in number, oval in shape and
dead white, whereas the Swallows and the Martins lay four to six eggs
each. Also the Swift has only one brood in the season, instead of two.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE FERN OWL, NIGHT SWALLOW, OR NIGHTJAR.]


THE NIGHTJAR.

(_Caprimulgus Europæus._)

The Nightjar is the bird of twilight and late evening. When the sun has
set and twilight is spreading over the land the bird leaves its day
hiding place, on the bough of an old tree, where it has clung the whole
time, undistinguishable from the bough on account of the colour of its
plumage. It rises on the wing, and with its peculiar, irresolute flight,
makes for the plain, or the bare places, and clearings in the woods.

Like the Swallow it catches its prey on the wing--the flying insects of
the dusk, among them the largest night moths. Its cry is a pleasant
faint “_Häit, häit_.”

There is a wide-spread, foolish superstition that the Nightjar sucks the
milk of cows and goats; it is, indeed, known to many people under the
name of “Goat Sucker.” This has arisen from the fact that it is often
seen flying about, here and there, in the pasture fields. It darts down,
then flies up again and seems to glance stealthily around. This
behaviour, and its great mouth, have given it a bad name. Every
herdsman, and indeed every one else who uses his eyes, knows that the
droppings of cows simply swarm with insects towards evening. The
Nightjar knows this also, and it is for that reason that the innocent
bird frequents such places.

It is very useful and deserves help and protection, and the more so
because it is somewhat rare in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the middle of May the Fern Owl or Nightjar arrives in Great Britain,
and utters his jarring or churring spinning-wheel song over the sloping
ground of many a common, where the golden gorse blossoms give out their
delicious, apricot-like scent, hanging over rifts in the sandstone; and
the ground below is studded with patches of ling, below which again
luxuriant green ferns, having their roots in the cool moist bottoms,
raise their tall fronds. It is warm on the bare patches of stony, sandy
soil, on which the sun has been shining all the afternoon, and moths
with other winged insects are here in numbers. The Fern Owls know that,
and they are churring and squeaking over the slopes and tumbling and
darting about after their winged prey, flying quite near to you as you
rest on a bit of their hunting ground.

On a bare spot on the sunny slope, where a few gorse needles and bits of
dead bracken lie, two oblong creamy white eggs will be laid later,
marbled and veined in such tones as match their surroundings of stones,
dead leaves and bits of brown fern-stalk, so closely that it is by a
rare chance that the eye distinguishes them. And when the little
creatures are hatched out, they will look, at first, just like a bit of
lichen covered stone and a dead leaf. The mother will, it is said, pick
her eggs up and place them elsewhere if an intruder has approached them
too closely. When the young birds begin to flutter with their wings, the
parent bird shifts them up by easy stages, through the low growth of
heather and ferns, hustling them on, and bearing them up, until they
reach the lowest branches of some dipping oak bough, where they sit in a
line with the branch they rest on, invisible to the ordinary observer;
and there they are fed with scarcely a pause in the flight of the
industrious parent. In Devonshire they feed much on “fern-web”--namely,
small chafers.

It is a curious thing that the unjust appellation of “goat sucker,”
given from time immemorial to this bird, has its equivalent in almost
every country of Europe. It is like the case of the barn-owl, which is
called “oil drinker” in the south of France. Night-feeding birds have
always been the objects of ignorant persecution. The Nightjar is called
tette chèvre in France and Geissmelker in Germany. Crapaud-volant is
another of its names, after the toad, which is also said to suck goat’s
milk.

The Nightjar is about 10 inches in length. It is a peculiar bird. The
plumage is fine and soft; in this, as well as in its colour, reminding
us of the Owl, with this difference, that the yellow in the colouring of
the Owl is not so pronounced and the ashen-grey and washed-out looking
brown is therefore more decided. The two middle tail feathers are a
beautiful grey with dark dots and intermittent cross-stripes. The head
is large, the eyes dark-brown and large, and they have power to see
clearly in the twilight. The beak is small, the gape, on the other hand,
relatively enormous, forming a yawning abyss when open; the edge of the
upper mandible beset with moveable bristles. Legs short and weak. It
does not build a nest. It lays two eggs on the bare ground and there
hatches them. The eggs are nearly white with dark marble-like veining.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE GREEN WOODPECKER.]


THE GREEN WOODPECKER.

(_Gecinus viridis._)

This Woodpecker is indefatigible in its work of hacking trees and
dragging out worms; it flies in a curve from tree to tree, always
beginning its climb from the bottom; finds out the weak places in the
tree, in which it pecks holes so that it can reach the insects in them
with its long tongue, and so furnish itself with a meal. It is equally
busy on the ground, with the ant-heaps, which it bores into. Then when
the ants collect together it flings out its long sticky tongue; the ants
are caught on it, as on a lime twig, and so they find their way in to
the stomach of the bird. The Woodpecker carries on this business also in
winter, when he breaks through the hard frozen side of the ant-hill, and
surprises and decimates the inhabitants while in their winter sleep.

It is a noisy bird whose “_klu-klu-klu-klu_” echoes through the wood,
breaking in on many a lonely hour for the woodman; a real blessing in
the orchard, and a skilful surgeon for invalid trees; on that account it
deserves protection and care.

In this country it is fairly common.

       *       *       *       *       *

This is the largest and best known of our English Woodpeckers, and it
occurs in most of our wooded districts south of Derbyshire and
Yorkshire. In the northern counties it only breeds occasionally. In
Scotland it is little known and from Ireland it is also practically
absent. In England, too, it is very local in its occurrences. The song
which roused my imagination most in childhood’s days was that one with
the refrain about “The woodpecker tapping the hollow beech tree.” And
the fact that as I listened to it I could only gaze out of the
old-fashioned bow windows of a town house, which looked out over a
sloping expanse of smoky chimneys, made the idea of the Woodpecker
tapping mysteriously suggestive and attractive. Since then I have heard
it in many a country--the green species and its relatives, and the song
takes me always back to the old home and the mother’s side by the piano.

Windy March found me one morning in a pleasant wooded district in
Suffolk. Above the tossing of the branches of the great elms, as the
gale rushed over, sounded the notes of the Mistle-Thrush, fitly named
the storm-cock, singing out his defiance to the weather, as he swayed on
the topmost bough of an old cedar across the lawn. He is one of the
earliest heralds of spring, and is never daunted by the weather, though
it revert to wintry wildness. On the same lawn, well kept though it be,
if we look out early enough, we may see a pair of Green Woodpeckers.
Last evening, when for a time all was hushed and still, the well-known
yiking laugh of the Yaffil, as Chaucer called him, came over from the
avenue, whence, too, had sounded his busy drumming. Then he and his mate
were busy getting the grubs that had bored deep down in the timber, but
now come up near the bark of the trees in order to get the warmth
necessary for their development. In the early morning hours, when the
watchful gardener has not yet appeared, the pair tear holes in his
well-tended lawns with their feet, and hack at the turf with strong
bills to get at the grubs below. They feed indeed largely on ground
grubs throughout the year, as well as on ants in summer, and
timber-haunting grubs and beetles.

The Lesser Spotted species, although not so widely distributed, is even
more common in the south of England, and near London. One was shot
lately in Scotland, as “a very rare bird.” It is probably chiefly owing
to the cutting down of old forests that they are not found in Scotland.
Now and again they may even be seen in Kensington Gardens.

We have no picture of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (_Dendrocopus
minor_). It is perhaps oftener present with us than is supposed, being
smaller than its relatives. Also it frequents taller trees. I have seen
numbers of these bright busy creatures in Hungary, in the poplars, along
the river Waag, in the foothills of the Carpathians. Its colouring is
much the same as the Greater Spotted species, only the markings are
different and it is only just over five inches in length, whereas its
near congener is just over nine inches. The male bird makes the same
loud vibrating noise in the trees as the latter.

The Green Woodpecker is 12 inches in length. The mantle is bright
olive-green. The crown of the male bird, as far down as the nape, is
fiery red, also the moustaches. The lores and cheeks black, is less
crimson on the head of the female, and the moustaches are black. The
outer feathers of the wing are nearly black with white flecks. It has
two front and two back toes; the claws, strong, curved and adapted for
clinging. The tail feathers strong and suitable for pressing. Beak
leaden-grey, strong, with an edge like an adze; worm shaped tongue which
can be greatly extended. Having selected a suitable tree, it makes its
nest hole at a medium height, with a narrow entrance and lays in it
six--sometimes, but rarely--eight dazzling snow white eggs.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE GREATER SPOTTED WOODPECKER.]


THE GREATER SPOTTED WOODPECKER.

(_Dendrocopus major._)

This also is a busy hammering bird, which flies energetically about the
woods and gardens, climbing up the trees from the bottom, closely
examining the bark and wood for grubs and bark-beetles, and extracting
them with its long pointed tongue. When opportunity offers, it also
attacks oily seeds, such as those of the sunflower and berries; but this
must not be counted as harmful. By its whole nature, and its peculiar
work it belongs decidedly to the most useful of birds. There is a widely
spread belief and suspicion among the country people that this
Woodpecker spoils the healthy trees, but its beak cannot avail beyond a
certain degree of hardness; it can only pierce holes where the wood is
softened by rot, and therefore harbours timber grubs. The fine wood-dust
under the trees where the Woodpecker has been at work calls the
attention of the good gardener to the bad state of the tree, and he can
then take steps to arrest the mischief if not too late. The Spotted
Woodpecker can conceal itself very quickly. When it sees a human being
it clambers up the opposite side of the tree trunk. In autumn it roams
about with swarms of other tree-cleansing birds. In spring it makes a
loud drumming noise among the dry branches.

It is fairly common in Hungary, but is less so in Great Britain,
although pretty well distributed in the wooded portions of England. In
Scotland generally it is rare, but southwards from the Shetlands, down
to the east coast, it occurs at times on migratory flight.

       *       *       *       *       *

THISis a black, white, and fiery-red speckled bird, length over nine
inches. The black lores extend like a bridle to the neck. Back and rump
black. In the male the back part of the head is red, in the female
black; in both the lower part a burning red. The sides of the underparts
dingy white; on the shoulder a white spot; on the flight feathers white,
cross flecks. Tail strong, the middle feathers pointed and stiff,
suitable for climbing. Beak relatively short, but strong at the base,
pointed like a chisel. It bores its nesting hole in trees about half way
up, the entrance being round and only just large enough for the bird to
go in and out. It lays four eggs, occasionally six, of a dazzling snow
white, with delicate shells.


THE TREE CREEPER.

(_Certhia familiaris._)

The winsome little Tree-Creeper is distributed all over Great Britain,
but you need a sharp eye to detect it in its quiet colouring on the
trunk of a tree with which its quiet colours are in perfect harmony.
Within the crevices of the bark it finds its diet of destructive
creatures’ eggs which are glued to the bark and little spiders which
hide there. During the winter it associates with the Titmice and
Fire-crested Wrens. Upwards and downwards and round about the old tree
trunk it moves. It might be taken for a mouse or some such creature; it
moves about so deftly and so close to the hole of its tree, a useful
unobtrusive little bird. In the United States they consider this species
so useful that they fix a box for it, to entice it to nest in gardens.

The Tree-Creeper climbs as nimbly as the best Woodpecker. It cannot
extend its tongue as that bird does, but can use it very cleverly. With
its fine little bill it can pierce into the smallest crevices and
extract from them the tiniest grubs. It is of great use in wood and
garden. Its usual note is a low “_seet_” or “_seet, seet, seet_.” The
simple song of the male bird is recognisable by the syllabes _teet,
teet, teet, titi-woi-teet_.

It is not uncommon in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE Tree Creeper is smaller even than the Wren, but is longer than that
bird; it is a tiny creature with a stiff tail which is very useful in
climbing. There are three front toes and one back toe on the little
legs; the

[Illustration: USEFUL.

TREE CREEPER AND NUTHATCH.]

bill is delicate and slightly curved; the upperside of the body is the
same grey of the tree trunks, spotted with white. It lays
five--sometimes as many as nine--milk-white eggs, delicately speckled
with rust-red and blood-red spots. The nest is made in crevices, small
holes, sometimes between the loosened bark and the tree, and is composed
of fine soft material.


THE NUTHATCH.

(_Sitta cæsia._)

Wherever in wood or garden the Nuthatch dwells its voice is heard. It
calls sometimes a flute-like “_tüüi, tüüi tüüi_”--sometimes a quick
“_kwee, kwee, kwee_”--and it is always very busy. It is the only bird we
have that can climb head downwards and that as quickly as it is safe.
The beak is strong and pointed. It picks out of crevices and from under
the bark of trees everything that is there in the way of grubs and
beetles and insect eggs. In the autumn it gets at oily seeds, conceals
nuts and filberts in suitable crevices and knocks them till they crack.
It does the same with the gall-nuts in order to get at the maggots or
chrysalis of the gall-wasp. It is an absolutely useful bird and one not
uncommon with us in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

This bird is common in most districts in the centre and south-east of
England where there is old timber. In the westward it is less common. In
some old parks in Yorkshire it appears again, but is rare elsewhere in
the northern counties. In Scotland it is not very often seen and in
Ireland it is so far unknown. Beech-mast it is fond of in our own woods,
but it feeds on insects on the ground as well as in the trees. This
species, like the last-mentioned, is very mouse-like in its movements
and many ornithologists assert that it sleeps with the head and back
downwards.

The Nuthatch is as big as a Sparrow, but more solid; above bluish-grey;
underneath white or rust-red; over the eye a black stripe. The tail is
not adapted for climbing. Legs short and strong, claws strong and
sickle-shaped, three toes turn to the front, one to the back. The clutch
consists of six or eight white eggs, speckled with rust-red. The nest is
formed of a wide hole, which so walled in by the bird with earth and
clay that there is only just room for it to go in and out.


THE CROSSBILL.

(_Loxia curvirostra._)

The Crossbill is a stationary bird as to habitat, but it does ramble
about. Staying at home, or wandering, depends upon the supply of sap or
seeds of the fir tree, which forms its sole food; although it visits
also beeches, maples, and alders, sometimes even falls back on
thistle-seeds, and does not even despise caterpillars. Its beak is an
excellent tool for removing husks and crushing seed. It wastes a great
many seeds, for it lets fall all those which it cannot shell with one
bite. It reminds us of the Parrot, not only by the form of its beak, but
also by the clever way in which the beak is used in addition to the legs
in climbing from bough to bough, just as the Parrot does. It is besides
a cheerful, indeed, a restless bird. It sings whole songs, and the old
bird fancier Bechstein has put words to one of these, beginning:--

    Zeri-zeri doeng-doeng-doeng--hist-hist.

Its call is _sok, sok_.

The firwoods of our Hungarian mountains contain plenty of these birds.

       *       *       *       *       *

These interesting birds, the Crossbills, nest in many parts north of the
Solway, and southwards may be seen in September in flocks or parties,
wandering about in suitable districts in search of food. In the young
birds, the bill, or rather the mandibles, are not crossed, and the
beautiful crimson colour in the male is not seen the first year. A
greenish-orange replaces this in the

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE CROSSBILL.]

females. I saw a very fine Crossbill lately that had been obtained in
the valley between Newbury and Theale, where these birds are to be found
most years among the fir-clumps on the higher lying commons. It is said
to breed in many of the Southern Counties, but there is no reliable
evidence of its doing so in the Midlands. In Scotland it nests in
districts where are old pine forests, building a cup-shaped structure of
dry grass, moss, and wool, which is placed on twigs, and these on the
branch of a fir, close to the stem. From fir-cones their food is
extracted, but in the autumn, berries and apple pips are taken, an old
name for the Crossbill being Shell-apple. Many years ago great damage
was done to some apple orchards by the boring of fruit to extract the
pips.

Although usually a winter visitant, the late Lord Lilford reported
having seen large numbers of these birds during the month of June in a
district of North Devon. The forest-folk of Thuringia are fond of them
as caged pets, considering that they bring luck to the house, and also
cure the diseases of the family--if the mandibles cross left to right,
those of the females, if from right to left, those of the males. I would
not now keep any bird in a cage, but I once kept many; and the most
amusing of all these was a Crossbill, who had a large wired-off
compartment to himself, between one containing a number of avadavats,
and another inhabited by Redpoles, Siskins and other birds. He loved to
tear open the shells of almonds to get at the nuts. When the little
avadavats had gone to sleep, nestling together for warmth, the old
Crossbill would sidle up, looking very wicked, and quickly lift the end
of their perch. Down fell the small things, master Crossbill watching
them with unmistakable delight. At last he made so much commotion
amongst the lesser birds that we made a present of him to Mr. Denham
Jordan, who wrote an amusing memoir of him which was headed “Crossbill
Turk.”

The Crossbill is 6·5 inches in length. The back and underparts of the
old male bird are red, the rump fiery red; wings and tail dark
olive-brown; the back of the female is grey, rump greenish-yellow. The
upper beak is curved downwards, the under one upwards, inclined to one
side, with sharp points. The tips of the beaks cross, sometimes to the
right, sometimes to the left. This crossing of the two halves of the
beak is the exclusive characteristic of this bird. It lays three to five
greyish-white eggs spotted with shades of reddish-brown. The nest is
found in fir trees, and sometimes in the birch. It is made of fine
materials, is built very high up, and is well concealed. It nests in
February. The nest therefore is very stout and well-lined, and the
mother-bird sits continuously in order to preserve the warmth.



CHAPTER V.

SUMMER WORKERS.


THE WRYNECK.

(_Iynx torquilla._)

The Wryneck is a migrant, which makes itself heard as soon as it appears
with its _Kyen-kyen-kyen_ or _pay, pay, pay_, which is as peculiar as it
is pleasing. It cannot be denied, that after the long silence of winter
the sound is a very agreeable one. The Wryneck does not tap and climb
like the Woodpecker, but it uses its tongue in the same way. Ants cling
to its sticky tongue. It drags out and destroys the insects from the
crevices in the bark of the trees. On this account it is useful.

It is not shy and can be observed quite close by. it owes its name to
its peculiar position when it stretches out its neck and twists it
round, raising its crest and spreading out its tail. It likes trees with
dense foliage, and orchards.

       *       *       *       *       *

In England we call this bird the Cuckoo’s mate or leader, because it
always precedes the coming of that bird by a few days. This name has its
equivalent in several European languages. It is more common in the
south-east than in the west, and is rare in Wales. Some northern
counties it never visits, yet from time to time it strays up as far as
the Orkneys and the Shetlands. Towards the end of September it leaves us
for the south. In autumn it is said to eat the berries of the elder,
otherwise its food consists entirely of insects, ants and their

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WRYNECK.]

pupæ especially. It is very courageous in defence of its young and will
hiss like a snake if an enemy or intruder approaches its nest.

Country children in our Home Counties listen eagerly for the call of the
Cuckoo’s mate, whom Eliza Cook calls “the merry pee bird.” They know
then that Spring is with us, and out-door pleasures are on the way. It
is only the size of a lark, and it is difficult to observe the bird well
either on its nest or during its short undulating flight.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Wryneck is seven inches in length. It has fine, loose plumage, which
recalls that of the Owl or the Night-jar. The throat is clay-colour with
fine dark wavy cross lines; tail a beautiful grey with delicate black
speckles, and six broad pointed stripes across it; the under side is
covered with brownish-white and black spots, and delicately speckled:
from the nape, down the back, about the shoulders, are large black
spots. The flight-feathers have rust-red cross stripes; it has two toes
towards the front and two towards the back; the legs are short. It makes
its nest in any cavity it can find, and in it lays, on soft chaff, its
seven to twelve white eggs. The Wryneck, like the Woodpecker, has a long
wormlike tongue which can be extended.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE CUCKOO.]


THE CUCKOO.

(_Cuculus canorus._)

The Cuckoo is a most useful bird, as regards his food, which consists
for the most part of very mischievous insects and caterpillars of all
kinds; it is the more so as this bird is insatiable.

An individual Cuckoo probably always lays its eggs in the same
neighbourhood, and always in the nest of the same kind of bird, and
usually the same kind in which it was itself brought up. The young
Cuckoo soon obtains the upper hand in the nest, on account of its rapid
growth, and throws out its weaker foster-brothers and sisters. It always
calls its own name--though it sounds more like “_ha-hu_”; sometimes it
utters sounds which are like laughter. There is a popular superstition
that the Cuckoo foretells to those who ask it, how many years they will
live--and to young maidens, how many years they must wait for a husband.

Like the Swallow it brings the announcement of spring, and our Hungarian
children have a song:--

    “Cuckoo! Cuckoo! sounds from the wood
     Now let us dance and sing;
     For Spring is coming; Spring is here;”

The Cuckoo detracts from its usefulness, however, by its other actions.
It greatly damages the nests of the small useful birds, in which it
places its eggs, and consequently its young ones. The female Cuckoo
selects a district, finds out all the nests of Wren, Robin,
White-throat, Wagtail, or some other, and thereupon begins to place her
egg in this. When she finds that she cannot get into a nest of a bird
which builds in a hole, she lays her egg on the ground, then takes it up
in her bill and drops it into the nest.

       *       *       *       *       *

In spring and summer the Cuckoo’s note sounds all through Great Britain.
Its ways will always have a fascination both for the old and the young.
Many will be surprised to hear that scientists have now verified the
placing of its eggs in the nests of as many as 145 species; in different
countries, that is, including the nests of the Isabelline and other
Chats in Africa and China, and the Red-headed Bunting on the steppes of
Turkestan. In Lapland the Grey-headed Wagtail and the Red-spotted
Bluethroat are the foster-parents; in Andalusia the Great-spotted Cuckoo
lays oftenest in the nest of the Spanish Magpie.[2] The old poet,
Quarles, must have seen the bird with an egg in its beak when he wrote
“The idle Cuckoo having made a feast of Sparrow’s eggs, Lays down her
own i’ the nest.”

A German authority, Dr. Rey, made a collection of over seven hundred
Cuckoo’s eggs; and he states that the proportion of those which resemble
in colouring those of the foster-parents is only about thirty per cent.
Yet out of sixty-seven which he took from a Redstart’s nest fifty-seven
were blue. Another collector again states that only one blue Cuckoo’s
egg had passed through his hands. Lately a man told me of having found
two Cuckoo’s eggs in one small nest, an unusual occurrence.

The Cuckoo is a very slender, long-tailed bird, 12 inches in length. In
the male bird the mantle is ashen-grey, the tail has cross stripes, the
under-parts are whitish with cross-running wavy lines. The female and
young ones, with their reddish-brown dark cross bands, remind us of the
Hawk. From this arises the popular superstition that the Cuckoo changes
into a hawk in late autumn. The legs are yellow; eyes fiery red edged
with yellow, beak dark, reddish at the corners. It never builds a nest.
In its system of transplanting it shows itself an arrant knave, for it
places its eggs in the nests of other birds, whose eggs, as a rule are
totally different in size, colour and form. The eggs of one Cuckoo so
placed may reach the number of 20 to 22, but as a rule are about 11 to
12.

With regard to the Cuckoo’s usual habit of leaving us in the autumn, a
belated young bird may now and again spend the winter here. One
frequented my sister’s tennis ground till the end of November, when the
cat caught and killed it; and a gentleman of my acquaintance, Mr.
Robinson of Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, saw one on his farm early in
February of 1908.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE HOOPOE.]


THE HOOPOE.

(_Upupa epops._)

The Hoopoe is from base of bill 10 inches long. It is a fair bird with
beautiful variegated plumage. Head, upper back, and breast pale
rust-red; mantle, shining black, with white ornamentation; tail also
black, with a crescent-shaped white band curving inwards towards the
rump. The head is adorned with a bunch of feathers which the bird can
erect or depress at pleasure. The feathers of this are light coloured,
with black tips, but the tips of the longest feathers are black and
white. Beak, long and slightly curved, thin, and adapted for picking. It
lays four to seven eggs, greenish olive, or clay colour, but always of
uniform colour, which it places on the mould in the holes of trees. The
Hoopoe is the only bird that fouls its nest, and brings up its young in
dirt and filth. On this account both mother and young have an evil
odour, as some of the bird’s names indicate.

This national Hungarian bird is a migrant, and dwells chiefly on the
borders of woods in the low bushes, and in the neighbourhood of
pastures, where it is never weary of examining the droppings of the
cows, from which it obtains beetles and maggots. It also catches gnats
on the wing, and the leaping grasshoppers. It is a noisy bird, and its
cry “_Hup up_”--from which its name is derived--is heard sounding
vigorously from the branches. It is one of our most useful, and most
brilliantly coloured birds, and should be protected.

       *       *       *       *       *

For over two hundred years the Hoopoe has been recorded as a visitor to
Great Britain, a more or less frequent one. Some years ago the late Mr.
Howard Saunders told us that the head-keeper at Ashburnham Park, in
Sussex, destroyed seven in one week, and that many a one has been slain
in Kent, at the point where they alight after crossing the Channel. A
few have, in spite of persecution contrived to breed in our country--in
southern counties chiefly. Sometimes numbers come to England in the
autumn, and it is generally an annual visitor in small numbers to
Ireland. As it is a useful bird all should try to procure protection for
it.


THE GREAT GREY SHRIKE.

(_Lanius excubitor._)

In spite of its comparatively small size this is a bold bird, and a true
“Watchman”; he keeps a sharp lookout from the top branches of a dead
tree, or a post, and will not suffer any other bird, even if ten times
his size, to perch anywhere in his vicinity. Buzzards, Ravens, Crows,
Magpies, he pounces on, something in the manner of a Falcon, and tries
to push them off. He generally succeeds in routing the intruder, for he
is indefatigable in attack. His food includes any living creature that
he can slaughter.

He picks up a fat grasshopper, hovers over and darts on a mouse, just as
a hawk does. These acts are beneficial; but they are not to be compared
with the amount of harm he does, as a cut-throat and robber among the
useful small birds. He disturbs the nests of the little singing birds
which build on the ground, ransacks bushes and treetops, and slays
mercilessly. His methods are those of the highwayman. He will sit on a
stake on the top of a hayrick and watch, keeping perfectly still, only
his eyes sweeping around. When his victim comes within range of his
vision on earth, or tree, he instantly falls upon it. His close relation
to the birds of prey, is indicated by his cry “_Tett, tett_.” His call
is a strong, rough sound, like, “_Sheck, sheck_,” or a fainter
“_Truii_.” This bird remains in Hungary through the winter, but is not
very common. Where he does take up his abode, he does great harm by
slaughtering the useful birds.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE GREAT GREY SHRIKE.]

This Shrike is one of the regular visitors from the Continent, coming to
Great Britain in autumn and winter. In England it has even been seen
during the summer, but it has not bred with us. Lizards, mice, shrews,
frogs, and insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers, it feeds on, as
well as small birds.

The Great Grey Shrike is 9·5 inches in length. The back is light
ashen-grey; underparts dingey white, brow whitish; from the base of the
bill a broad black band passes over the eye to near the ear. Bill, legs,
wings and tail black: the wings, however, have a white patch, and also
the feathers on both sides of the tail show a white border. On the
underparts of the female bird, faint stripes of a darker shade are
discernible. The bill is indented at the point and has a hook. The bird
builds its nest in trees and lays five or six eggs, occasionally seven,
greenish-white speckled with grey.

[Illustration: A Watchful Mother.]

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE LESSER GREY SHRIKE.]


THE LESSER GREY SHRIKE.

(_Lanius minor._)

The habits of this Shrike are, on the whole, those of the larger
species, with this difference, that the Lesser Shrike, does not rob
nests, but destroys insects, and therefore does good. It also, is a
“Watchman.” It sits on a high point and flings its glances round about.
Suddenly it darts down, looks about, finds its prey, and flies back to
its former perch. When it is keeping watch over a place where the ground
is covered with thick growth, it hovers at about half the height of a
man, sometimes until it can see something that will serve as prey. If it
finds nothing, it will cease to hover, and flies back to its post. Near
the highroad it will flit onward from tree to tree, generally slightly
in advance of a vehicle, till at last, at some point or other, it turns
away over the fields and with a peculiar undulating flight returns to
the spot where it started.

The Lesser Shrike is a migrant, and departs for warmer places at the
beginning of autumn, returning to its nesting place in this country in
the spring. Its cry sounds like “_Keejay_.” It is by nature quarrelsome,
but it embellishes and enlivens the neighbourhood. Inthe warmer parts of
Europe, it is the most common of all the Shrikes.

       *       *       *       *       *

This species only wanders occasionally to England, a mere straggler, on
migratory flight. If it be seen it must be protected, as a useful
species, from “the man the gun” who shoots to sell or to enrich his own
private collection.

The Lesser Shrike is smaller than the Great Shrike, but it is quite as
beautiful and has the same deportment. Besides its smaller size, it is
distinguished from its congener, by its black brow, the colour of which
merges into that of the broad black stripe. The breast is a beautiful
white, flushed with rose-colour. The white patch on the black wings is
quite small. Otherwise the colouring is the same as that of the Great
Shrike. Its nest is built in poplar trees bordering the
highroad--sometimes in other trees. It employs sweet-scented plants in
building the nest. It lays five or six pale green eggs, which have a
speckled ring round the thicker end.


THE RED-BACKED SHRIKE.

(_Lanius collurio._)

This Shrike specially likes bushes at the side of a road, or the edge of
a wood, and more particularly affects the whitethorn, or sloe bushes;
but it sometimes ventures into gardens. It kills more than it can eat,
so it impales the superfluous provender on thorns, so as to be ready
when the bird feels hungry again, or when the weather is not favourable
for hunting. So crickets, grasshoppers, cock-chafers, and, alas! also
young birds, are sometimes found sticking on thorns. As this bird keeps
to its own district, it robs the nests of the small birds in a
scandalous way, including that of the White-throat.

Care, therefore, should be taken to keep this ogre at a respectful
distance from the gardens; he does less harm in the open fields, as he
there employs his energies on the mice.

It is a migrant, and departs at the beginning of autumn, returning not
earlier than near the end of April. Wherever it is, its “_Geck, geck,
geck_,” is frequently heard. Sometimes also “_Treng, treng_,” reminding
us of the Sparrow. It imitates the song of other birds in a remarkable
way, even that of the Nightingale, often in this way misleading both man
and birds.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Red-backed Shrike comes to Great Britain in May. It is the commonest
of our own three species; but is becoming rarer each year in Lancashire
and Yorkshire, being more often met with in the wooded parts of the
Southern counties and in Wales. A handsome fellow, with his grey head,
mantle of

[Illustration: PARTLY USEFUL.

THE RED-BACKED SHRIKE.]

chestnut-brown, and underparts a pale rosy buff colour, he has not the
look of the cruel bird he really is; his song is fairly sweet, and I
have heard of one which was so good a mimic that it could even bark like
a dog. This particular one had been brought up in an aviary, I believe.
All this species are, however, very imitative in their notes. In some
parts of Germany, they are looked on as a great scourge of small birds,
yet one or two of our English naturalists have tried to do justice to
the pretty fellow. _They_ have seen only beetles, wasps and other
not-to-be-regretted small deer impaled on the thorns of his larder. In
point of fact, small birds, especially our pleasant little Tits,
disappear under his notice; White-throats also occasionally, as well as
bigger fledglings.

The German naturalist Lenz writes that he made some experiments in
regard to Shrikes. In one garden he destroyed every Butcher-bird’s nest
that he could find, and shot the birds; and there he had plenty of
fruit, because the small birds stayed and destroyed the grubs and
insects. In another, a larger garden, he allowed just one Shrike to
breed. Wasps and other creatures destroyed all the fruit near the part
where this Shrike’s nest was. In a third garden Lenz allowed Shrikes to
nest freely, with the result that all the insect-eating birds forsook
the place, or else were destroyed by the Butcher-birds, and there was no
fruit. Writing of the Red-backed Shrike, one of our leading authorities
in bird matters notes that in its larder he has seen the bodies of large
moths, dragon-flies, mice, and sometimes a small bird from which the
head has been wrenched, and many a cockchafer; and Canon Tristam
considers that the food of the various species of Shrikes is almost
entirely cockchafers, where they are to be had. The Rev. T. Wood again
ranks them with the Owls for usefulness. A French naturalist also says
they have every right to be placed on the list of useful insectivorous
birds. It would seem to depend much on the nature of the district
whether this bird is to be welcomed or otherwise.

The Red-backed Shrike is 7 inches long. Its whole shape and
colouring--still more its habits--are those of a true Shrike. Crown and
neck a beautiful grey; mantle reddish-brown; the folded wings show no
white patch. Underparts pale rose colour, throat white; across the eyes
and towards the ears, is the broad black band. The middle feathers of
the tail reddish-brown, the outside feathers white near the root. The
breast of the female bird is pale, crossed by brown wavy lines. The
upper mandible is serrated and has a slight hook. The nest is usually
placed in bushes; it contains five to seven eggs nearly white, with a
ring of small darker speckles, sometimes at the larger and sometimes at
the smaller end.


THE LESSER WHITETHROAT.

(_Sylvia curruca._)

This simple, modest, agreeable bird is valued and loved by us, because
it comes in such a friendly way near our houses and ourselves. It nests
in orchards, and more especially in gardens where there are bushes, and
charms us in the early spring with its sweet trilling song,
“_Lee-lee-lee-lee-lee_.” The little song is quite simple, being just the
repetition from six to eight times of the syllable “Leeleelee.” Its
call-note is “_tack-tack-tack_.” It keeps the feathers of its head
erected whilst singing. Its food consists of all kinds of harmful
insects for which it hunts without rest, and is therefore no less useful
than the Titmouse. It feeds also on various berries, but without doing
any harm. The hen shows great self-sacrifice in rearing her brood,
amongst which is often found a stranger--the Cuckoo.

Its nest should be protected from the house Cat. Whoever protects it
secures its services for himself. The Whitethroat is migratory, and so
exposed to many dangers.

[Illustration]

Mr. Herman gives us only the Lesser Whitethroat. With us what we call
the Whitethroat proper is much

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE LESSER WHITETHROAT.]

more common (_Sylvia cinérea_). Both species arrive in Great Britain at
the same time, that is about the second week in April, to stay until the
beginning of September. With us they nest in brambles and low hedgerows,
and because of the fondness of nettle beds, schoolboys know it mostly as
the “Nettle-creeper.” The male is a courageous little bird; he will
often follow one along the side of his favourite hedgerow, flitting from
branch to branch with the feathers on head and throat bluffed out and
agitating his tail. We hear his song by night as well as by day.

The Lesser Whitethroat is 5·25 inches long. The crown is ashen-grey;
cheeks darker, mantle grey-brown; back and breast white, merging into
yellowish-red at the sides. The side feathers of the tail are
wedge-shaped, the feathers near it having small indistinct spots. Beak
small, awl-shaped; legs strong and bluish. The nest is generally found
in whitethorn hedges and sloe-bushes, at about two and a half feet from
the ground; in gardens the nest is placed higher. It is composed of fine
grass and root fibre, interwoven and compacted with spider’s web, and
lined with pig’s bristles and horse-hair. The bird lays five or six
beautifully formed eggs, which are white or bluish with delicate
speckles, which are thicker at the larger end of the egg, round which
they form a ring.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE BLACKCAP.]


THE BLACKCAP.

(_Sylvia atricapilla._)

The Blackcap prefers the underwood, particularly where higher trees
stand solitary; it also nests in gardens, even in the public gardens of
large towns, where it feeds on all kinds of insects, and so it serves
wood and garden equally well. It leads a happy family life, and during
its courting days the little wooer is full of joyous song. The song is
simple, and does not approach that of the Nightingale in our opinion,
although others say it does; it certainly cannot express so many phases
of feeling, but it is as lovely and joyous as that of a merry child. It
is heard first from one side of the bush, and then from the other, and
it carries delight into the heart of the listener. Hoffman represents
the song of the Blackcap by the syllables “_Rutia, ruetidi-rutia,
tuedili, tuedia_.” Its mating call is “_Take, take, take_,” the warning
cry “_Rarr_.” Towards autumn this bird eats all kinds of berries from
the bushes--elderberries, blackberries, and others; in the garden it
picks currants, without, however, doing any serious mischief, or being
able to do so, for its principal food is composed of insects.

The bird-catchers ensnare it on account of its charming song. They cover
its cage with greenery, so that it may imagine itself in the underwood,
and thus the poor thing lives and learns the songs of other captive
birds.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Blackcap loves our old English hedgerows, about which it can find
all its necessary insect food and also good cover. It is not a very
commonly distributed bird with us; like the Nightingale, it is local in
its habitat. The young fuss about after their parents for food supplies,
after they have left the nest, more than most young birds do. Often the
Blackcap builds in a privet hedge, or some bush near to garden or
orchard, for the sake of the fruit of which it certainly avails itself a
little. Do not grudge it, the song will make up for a slight loss of
fruit, which is the more plentiful for the little bird’s making away
with insect pests that infest the same precincts.

The Blackcap’s mantle is olive-grey, underparts nearly white; the
colouring of the head forms a black cap, which extends over the eyes:
hence its distinguished name. The cap is brown on the female bird and
its young. Tail and wings dark-brown; beak thin, awl-shaped; legs
strong; very bright dark-brown eyes. The nest is always found in thick
bushes, near the ground, and it is furnished with grass and rootlets,
and also the webs of insects, sometimes hair, but very little feather.
It contains five or six eggs, which vary in colour, being sometimes
brownish, sometimes nearly white or olive-grey, speckled or otherwise
marked with a reddish tint.


THE NIGHTINGALE.

(_Daulias luscinia._)

The Nightingale leads a quiet domestic life among the thickets. It has
much occupation on the ground, whence it derives its livelihood, its
food consisting entirely of grubs and insects. In the pairing season,
and at the time when the hen is sitting, the male bird perches on a twig
near the nest and sings his song--now mournful, now stirring, now
tender; the finest song produced from any bird’s throat! Enthusiastic
bird-fanciers have put words to the Nightingale’s song and turned it
into verse. It begins thus:--

    _Fid, fid, fid! kr-kr-zi-zi, doredo, reredezit._

We have a native congener, the Meadow Nightingale, which is larger than
the bird described above, and has a darker and fuller breast. The
Hungarian Nightingale of the bird dealers begins its song thus:--

    _Philipp--Philipp--Philipp,_
    _Tarak--Tarak--Tarak,_
    _Diderot--Diderot--Diderot._

Bird-catchers have been very destructive to this noble, useful bird on
the Continent.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Nightingale comes to Great Britain in the middle of April. In August
the young birds take their departure, but the old birds stay until
September in order to finish moulting before taking flight. It has been
supposed that the migration is made singly, not in flocks like that of
other small birds; but a naturalist has recorded having once seen great
numbers of Nightingales resting

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE NIGHTINGALE.]

under the bathing machines along the _whole length_ of the shore at
Brighton.

This fine singer is very local in its appearance. In the West of England
it is rarer than elsewhere, and beyond Devonshire it is said to be quite
unknown. In the Midlands it is scarce, and in the Northern counties it
is entirely absent excepting in Yorkshire, where it is getting more
common. They seem to be capricious in their comings and goings from
given localities; no doubt their presence depends on the season’s
scarcity or abundance of the food they prefer. The nestlings live on
spiders, ants and small green caterpillars in June, and they afterwards
frequent fields planted with peas and beans. The adult birds feed on
worms, insects and wild fruits, especially the berries of the elder.

The Nightingale is as plain in plumage as it is marvellous in song. The
mantle is russet-brown, shading off into reddish-chestnut near the tail,
which is rust-colour, underparts whitish. It is scarcely as large as a
Sparrow, and is much more delicately formed. Beak thin and pointed, legs
slender. The shining, dark-brown eye has a brilliant glow. Its nest is
placed among the bushes of a thicket, always near the ground. The outer
covering is of dry leaves, then come blades of grass and fine rootlets,
sometimes having hair interwoven with them. It does not stand out from
the surrounding objects, and requires a sharp eye to discover it. The
clutch consists of five or six olive-green eggs, with darker
reddish-brown veining and speckles.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE REDSTART.]


THE REDSTART.

(_Ruticilla phoenicúrus._)

This pretty and very useful bird quickly attracts notice in our gardens
by its lively disposition. When it flies the tail spreads out, and then,
when the bird settles again on any post or ledge the tail moves in a
quick, tremulous way that is most amusing.

It usually perceives the creeping and flying beetles on the grass
borders from a higher point above them; the former it picks up, the
latter it swallows on the wing, twisting and turning about as
circumstances require. It lives on all kinds of grubs and insects, and
hence its great use in wood and garden. In autumn it takes the berries
from the bushes, but without doing any mischief. Its mating call sounds
like “_Fid-fid-fid-tik-tik-tik_,” and also “_Weet, weet, tak-tak_,” and
ends with a smacking sound. In some places in Hungary the bee-keepers
are great enemies of this charming little bird, believing that it steals
their honey. This is not true, however, for it only catches the drones,
which have no sting, takes the rejected, spoiled larvæ, and the
destructive wax-mite. From its usefulness it is worthy of all
protection, and it is a joy for heart and mind.

To us also in Great Britain where this species is generally distributed
it is a joy, and in orchards its presence is most welcome. The red about
the tail shows brightly as the bird darts from branch to branch. I have
watched it myself where a nesting box has been put up for its use in an
apple tree, until the little pair became quite used to my presence and
to watch their pretty, affectionate ways was delightful. In speaking of
nesting boxes, one must give a warning in connection with those smaller
birds who like to nest in holes in walls and trees. I have seen them
with lids at the top for the proprietor to open, which, through stress
of weather and weak rusty hinges, soon came to grief. I regret to say
this happened in the case of the pair I knew best. The lid was
defective, and one night or morning early soon after the nestlings were
hatched out, a Shrike or a Crow routed them out, to my great sorrow.

The Redstart is an elegant gay-coloured bird of slender shape, in other
respects like the Robin. Throat, lores, brow and bill-base are a fine
black. The upper part of the brow is pure white, passing into the
bluish-grey of the crown. Back of the head and mantle also of the same
beautiful bluish-grey; breast, rump, and tail a brilliant chestnut-red,
but the middle feathers of the tail grey. Beak and legs delicate, but
strong. The female bird and the young are less brightly coloured. The
nest is found in cracks, holes, convenient corners, such as are under
the roof of summer houses. It is rather carelessly put together, but
well-formed, and is lined with hair and feathers. The bird lays five or
six eggs, of a fine rare blue-green colour.

[Illustration]


THE BLACK REDSTART.

(_Ruticilla titys._)

The Black Redstart which was formerly rare with us, is now a well-known
visitor to many parts of our coasts in the autumn and winter, especially
to Cornwall and Devon. It does not as yet breed with us, however. It
visits Ireland also, particularly on the east and south coasts. It is
called the House Redstart, and its congener the Garden Redstart on the
Continent; the one under notice frequents the roofs of buildings, and it
places its nest in châlets, holes in walls, sheds, etc. It is a useful
little bird.

[Illustration: The pretty Siskin.]

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE BLACK REDSTART.]


THE TREE PIPIT.

(_Anthus triviális._)

Frequenting the woods, the Tree Pipit seeks only the clearings,
especially the wild parts, where these and copsewood alternate, and the
ground is mossy. At the time of migratory flight it likes to rest on
vegetable fields and cornfields. It will rest willingly on trees, but
prefers the ground. Very small seeds it will eat, but all kinds of grubs
and caterpillars and insects it prefers. The Tree Pipit has a pleasant
note, “_Zeä, zeä, zeä_”--the mating call is more like “_Seele, seele,
seele_.” It is absolutely useful in its mode of living.

It nests in Hungary more numerously than any other of the Pipits, for it
has relatives which only visit our neighbourhood. At the time of
migration, they arrive, rest themselves, and go off again.

In addition to the Pipit here described there is the Water Pipit, which
breeds here. It seeks the mountain districts in summer, but takes refuge
in the valley in winter; Richard’s Pipit, rather larger than these
others, and with longer legs and a very long hind claw. The Meadow Pipit
only passes through our land, like the Tawny Pipit; both of the latter
nest in the far North, and they go far South in the winter.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Tree Pipit comes to the South of Great Britain early in April, and
it is spread pretty considerably throughout the country, excepting in
Cornwall and Wales. As yet it is not, I believe, in Ireland. The song of
this bird is rather like that of a Canary. It begins on the highest
branch of a tree generally, after

[Illustration: USEFUL.

TREE PIPIT.]

which the bird hovers a little, then descends, singing still, to the
perch he started from.

The Meadow Pipit is the best known member of his family with us.
Ground-lark, Titlark, Ling-bird, Moss-cheeper are some of its local
names. It seems able to make itself at home anywhere in summer, but in
winter it seeks the fields in sheltered places, near the coast by
preference. Its food consists of insects, worms, molluscs and small
snails, with seeds in winter. The little bird works its creeping way up
the grass or heather, taking now and again quick little runs. The flight
is wavering and jerky. The Titlark has a very strong smell about it,
dogs “point” it frequently.

In size the Tree Pipit most resembles the Wagtail, but it has a shorter
tail. Its general colour is more like the Lark, but it is less speckled.
The mantle is olive-green, the breast yellowish. The points of the
folded tail are formed by the three first flight feathers; the fourth is
much shorter. The nail of the back toe is long like a spur, but not so
long as the toe. The beak is delicate and slightly awl-shaped. It is a
nice modest little bird; its flight dips and rises again continually. It
builds its nest cleverly with soft materials in the shape of a saucer,
and places it on the ground on a clod of earth, under the shelter of a
heap of stones, or on a grass ridge. Five eggs are laid which are very
varied, a dull blue, sometimes brownish, sometimes white, with dark
spots.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

WHITE WAGTAIL.]


THE WHITE WAGTAIL.

(_Motacilla alba._)

Wagtails are all migrants and arrive in Hungary in great numbers.

This is a lively, elegant little bird, that walks and runs well, is very
active, and always wagging its tail as it goes. It hops daintily from
stone to stone in the shallow water, picking up insects busily, and
snapping at the flies and gnats; and over the tall grasses and banks of
the water, it dashes into the air, turning and twisting in the pursuit
of insects. When there is pasture land near the water, it shows itself
to be a good friend to the cattle, by destroying the flies and gnats and
the tiny midges of the dragonfly kind, which would otherwise torment
them. Its congeners in Hungary are the Yellow Wagtail, whose underpart
is bright yellow, and mantle olive-green, which wags its tail less, and
confines itself to cattle pastures; the Mountain Wagtail, the upper part
of which is ashen-grey, and the under side brimstone yellow. Its call is
a clear “_Zeewit-zuyit-beuees_, or _zeueess_,” sometimes it sounds like
“_Kwee-kwee, kweereeree-kweeree_.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Wagtail is 7·5 inches in length, and has a long tail. It is a very
charming bird. Its plumage is of three colours--black, white, and
ashen-grey. Crown, neck, and throat black; brow, cheeks, and underparts
white; mantle grey; tail and wings black, the feathers of the latter
being edged with white; the two outer feathers on both sides of the tail
are mostly white. Rump dark-grey, underneath the tail white; bill
awl-shaped, and black, as are also the slender legs. It builds its nest
on the edge of the water in all sorts of places: in holes, between
stones, in cracks in the earth, among roots or in wood-stacks. It lays
sometimes as many as eight, but usually five white eggs, finely speckled
with dark colour, the speckling thicker at the larger end, in a ring
round the egg.


THE BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL.

(_Motacilla flava._)

This very handsome little bird, which is smaller than the White Wagtail,
and does not wag its tail so much, inhabits the low Hungarian plain, and
the pastureland generally of the open country, especially moist
moorlands, and the banks of marshes, where it keeps close to the grazing
animals, which are mostly swine and buffaloes. When swine trample down
the bank of the ponds the bird approaches, and picks up the water
insects and larvæ which have been exposed in the disturbed ground, or if
the buffaloes trample the earth on the edge of the marsh the Wagtail is
sure to be close on their heels to secure its share of food. It builds
its nest in the grasses of the meadow or at the roots of the bushes in
the hedge. It usually lays five eggs, which have light flecks on a dingy
white ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

A bird I always looked for eagerly in the days of my youth, on our
Staffordshire moorlands was the Yellow Wagtail with its lovely tints.
It would come tripping blithely along a certain road on its way from one
rough fallow field to another, a most dainty, and I fancied then, even
foreign-looking little creature. It has a prettier song than its
relatives, the Grey and the Pied Wagtails, and is altogether a daintier
looking bird. Nor is it so common, being very local in its distribution.
Leaving us in September, little parties of the Yellow Wagtails are
formed then, and some districts only make their acquaintance with these
birds when on their migratory flight. Lately I heard of a company of
about seventy Wagtails resting for the night in Kew Gardens grounds,
where they had not been noted before. They frequent the meadows beside
the Brent by Perivale, Ealing, where small, thin-shelled molluscs by the
stream, and insects stirred into activity by the heavy feet of the
grazing cattle, furnish them with food. I watched one day a pretty
sight,--a nimble Wagtail in close attendance on an old sheep. The way it
darted nimbly about this animal’s face, picking off the tiny flies as
the creature fed was wonderful. Sometimes you may chance to see one
picking the torturing little insects out of an old horse’s ears as it
lies resting on the sward.

The yellow species is called _Motacilla raii_, but the Abbé Vincelot,
who wrote half a century ago, on the birds of Maine-et-Loire, treating
specially of their names as descriptive of their manners, call it
_Motacilla boarula_, and he said he thought the latter designation came
from Boaria, an old name for Bavaria, used after the Boïens, driven by
the Marcomans from Bohemia, settled there. This name Boïens seems to
have been given to the tribes who reared and tended cattle. There were
Boïens of Gaul, of Italy, and of Germany. In Poitou an ox is still
called boe and the grazier boier. By the ancient Romans the beef market
was called the forum boarium. And so the name of boarule given to the
Yellow Wagtail may be supposed to indicate this habit of following up
the cattle in quest of his insect food. Bergeronette, the common French
name of this charming and useful species, is equally descriptive of the
bird as an ally of the shepherd.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Pied Wagtail, _Motacilla lugubris_, is our common and well
distributed species. The Grey Wagtail, _M. Melanópe_, a beautiful bird
with its longer tail and yellow tints, frequents our hilly districts and
mountain streams; but, the Blue-headed species is only an irregular
visitor to our Islands, on migration. The food and habits of this family
are alike, and they are all most useful to the grazier and farmers
generally.

[Illustration: A Morning Bath]


THE GREAT REED WARBLER.

(_Acrocephalus turdoides._)

This Reed Warbler lives exclusively in reed beds, and, as it is fairly
common, inhabits a large number of such places, so that in the pairing
season the whole neighbourhood resounds with its love song, which even
overpowers the croaking of the frogs. There are usually large numbers of
the birds near together, and all join with one voice in the concert. It
goes on from morning till night. Indeed during the most eager time of
its wooing it goes on all night.

The song is sometimes expressed thus:--

    Karrey-karrey-karrey
    Ker-ker-ker
    Hedder-hedder
    Duee-duee-duee, etc.

Where the reeds are thickest it shoots between them, as a weaver’s
shuttle shoots between the threads. What is still more clever is the way
in which it climbs about the straight tall stalks of the reeds. It
clasps the reed with its toes and claws, and immediately it seems to be
up on the top, then in a moment it slides down again and vanishes among
the reeds. And of what use is all this? This bird is of use in its own
way, in places inaccessible to others. It destroys innumerable grubs and
insects, which frequent water and boggy land, and does its best to make
such places habitable. The food of this Reed Warbler consists
principally of insects and their larvæ, although in the autumn, like
most creatures, instinct teaches it to eat some fruit for health’s sake,
in the shape of berries, particularly those of the elder.

The nest of this Reed Warbler is one of the marvels

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE GREAT REED WARBLER.]

of bird architecture. It is a real work of art, because, in its perfect
suitability for its purpose, it shows an amount of calculation that few
men would think a bird capable of.

[Illustration]

Whoever is acquainted with the nature of marshland, and the reed beds
that border it, knows that on the smooth surface of the water, the
breeze, the wind, the storm have free course, and can at times bluster
and rage. Everyone also knows that the lightest breezes moves the
leaves of the reeds, bends their stems and sets the whole wilderness of
them in motion, like the water itself. The wisdom of Nature has placed
this bird of the reed beds here, and so formed it that it could live
nowhere else. Therefore it must build its nest in this unstable-looking
spot and can do so in perfect safety; so that it can lay its eggs, hatch
them, tend the young birds which are at first blind, feed them and bring
them up until they are fledged and like their parents.

It is no small undertaking to build among the bending stems a nest which
will afford security in calm weather and also in storm! If the bird
fastened it to one stem, and the wind were to come, the fastenings would
soon be torn away, and all destroyed.

What then does the bird do? It chooses three or four stems at about
equal distances standing near to each other. On these it darns and knits
its nest in the shape of a high, eastern, fur hat reversed: attaching it
also with tough grass to the reed in such a manner that it can give way
on the stalk when it waves in the wind, so that the stalk cannot tear
the nest. The cup of the nest is deep, narrowing a little at the upper
edge to prevent anything falling out when moved by the wind. In this
nest the Reed Warbler lays five or six eggs of pale green with darker
speckles, which are hatched in fourteen days. It is a perfect work of
art.

The Great Reed Warbler is 8 inches in length, that is, an inch less than
a Thrush; and its form is not unlike that of the Thrush. The upper side
is brown, shading into rust colour; over the eye is a lighter stripe,
and round the ears the plumage is also a lighter colour. The underparts
are whitish, tinged on the sides with yellowish clay colour. Beak like
that of the Thrush, rather strong, slightly curved, pointed. Legs
strong, suited for clinging. The nest is treated of separately.

[Illustration: The Reed Bunting.]

We have a smaller relative of this bird in England, although it is not
known in Scotland, and is only said to have been taken once in Ireland.
Our Reed Warbler (_Acrocephalus streperus_) arrives regularly in the
latter end of April, to stay until September. It is common in those
places that suit its way of living, in the Midlands and the Southern and
Eastern counties. In form it resembles its larger relative. This species
does not confine itself to reeds or to watery quarters; it has even been
known to build in a garden at Hampstead. The slender branches of willows
or alder beside a running stream suit it well. Still it prefers reeds,
and its nest also is supported by being woven about and through three or
four, or even two reeds. The building is begun whilst the reeds are
short, but by the time the young are hatched the nest is three feet
above the water. That wandering creature the Cuckoo will even drop her
egg into this hanging nest; indeed she is fond of it. The song of this
species is at its loudest and pleasant during the long summer twilight.
It is a useful little bird.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WILLOW WREN.]


THE WILLOW WREN.

(_Phylloscopus tróchilus._)

This bird is called the Willow Wren because it loves the willow trees,
the leaves of which, both in form and colour, are adapted to hide and
protect it.

Its nest is well hidden, being often placed near the ground, under
overhanging grasses and bushes, and built of materials found immediately
around the chosen site; it can only be discovered by the eyes of an
experienced bird-nester. It is covered over. The clutch consists of five
or six little white eggs, speckled with reddish-brown.

It is a lively, active bird, that likes to frequent the tops of trees in
thick woods, where it hops briskly from twig to twig, and is never
still. But neither its colour nor its movements betray its presence and
nature as does its voice, which is really extraordinarily strong and
far-reaching, considering how tiny is the singer, and still more tiny
its vocal organ. Its song is heard in spring, and sounds like
_Zilp-Zalp, Zilp-Zalp_, and so on. Its busy call-note is _Whit, whit!_
It feeds on the insects which it finds on the trees. In autumn, when
starving, it eats elder-berries and such things, but does no harm
whatever. As a loud harbinger of spring, and a bringer of glad-tidings
we welcome and protect it.

       *       *       *       *       *

About the first week in April the Willow Wren comes to us in England,
where it is the commonest of the three small greenish-yellow Warblers
that come to us--the Chiff-chaff and the Wood Wren are its congeners.
Owing to the shape of its domed nest it has been given the name of
Oven-bird; indeed all three are known by that name, and the Willow Wren
also by that of Hay-bird, because of the dry materials it uses for its
nest. This species is very useful to the gardener, as its food consists
almost entirely of insects, flies and aphides.

The Willow Wren is a little longer than the Chiff-chaff and an inch
longer than the Wren. The upper parts, except the crown, is
greenish-brown, passing into a yellow tinge; the underparts white,
breast and throat pale yellow; the cheeks golden-brown, the inside of
the wings yellow, legs brownish; the under side of the toes yellow. All
is subdued, nothing glaring on this delicately coloured bird; indeed,
all is delicate, including the bill, which is pointed and adapted for
investigating the tiniest cracks and bud axels.


THE SPOTTED FLYCATCHER.

(_Múscicapa grísola._)

The habits of the Spotted Flycatcher are quite different from those of
its feathered companions in garden and forest, such as the Tits; for
while the latter are always moving, darting here, hunting there, the
Flycatcher sits quietly on the extreme end of a bough, on some point, or
on a post, and watches for flying insects exclusively; flies, beetles;
or near the bee-house it lies in wait for drones, but it never snaps at
a stinging bee or wasp. It is quiet, only occasionally moving first one
wing and then the other, as if to ascertain that they are in working
order; then, as soon as it sees a flying insect, it darts forward, sure
of aim as the Swallow, seizes its prey, and flies back in a fine curve
to its post of observation.

The Flycatcher then, belongs to the useful birds, especially in gardens,
where it destroys the harmful insects which fly among the trees. If it
should happen to make away with the gall-insect, among others in the
woods, that will not outweigh its good deeds. In gardens, at all events,
it ought to be cherished and protected. Place a nest-box, such as it
loves, with a wide opening, and let it nest there. There is not much to
be said for its song; its call note is “_Tschee, tschee_.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Spotted Flycatcher is one of our latest British spring migrants, its
usual time for coming is about the first week in May. Although it feeds
almost exclusively on insects, it has been known to eat the berries of
the mountain ash; I have noticed indeed that these disappear

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE SPOTTED FLYCATCHER.]

before the birds more quickly than other wild berries. It is local with
us in its breeding habits. It is one of the few species which still
breed in some of our London parks and the larger gardens in town. The
nest may be found among old creepers, but in the country it is often
built on the beam of an outbuilding, and so it has been called the
Beam-bird. It is a charming little creature to note as it sweeps round
in quest of insect life. I was once watching a nest in a creeper on the
porch of an old farmhouse. The young birds, tightly packed within,
gasped greedily for the food brought by their parents. One had a fly too
big for its swallow; it was stuck in its throat, and the fledgling
graciously allowed me to push it down with a pin.

It is a charming sight to see the parent bird catch its prey when on the
wing, and carrying it promptly to the nest within the creeper. “Not only
tiny insects and moths go there, but also the bodies, denuded of their
wings, of many a white cabbage butterfly, which would otherwise have
deposited her small white eggs on the leaves of the cauliflowers in the
kitchen garden close at hand. These eggs would become green grubs, which
would injure the plants and make them unfit for food. The quick eyes of
the bird and his clever flight put an end to the mischief so far as many
a cauliflower is concerned. Flies, beetles, and aphides in hosts are
devoured--the last especially during August, when they come in myriads
from hop fields, or fruit trees--damsons; and the Flycatchers will clear
the gooseberry bushes of the hurtful sawfly. Macgillivray has recorded
that he noted a parent bird bring food to the nest five hundred and
thirty-seven times during one day! Flycatchers come back to the same
nesting place year after year. They may take a little fruit from you in
the shape of red currants, but this is open to doubt. Like other
creatures, a change of diet is, perhaps, valuable to them; but their
labours during the early summer surely entitle them to a share of the
fruit.”[3]

       *       *       *       *       *

The Spotted Flycatcher is a little grey bird, smaller than the sparrow.
The upper side of its body is mouse-colour, the underside whitish: on
the breast and about the eyes are dark specks. The beak is black,
flattened out wider at the base; the upper half of it furnished with
stiff bristles on each side of the base to prevent its prey escaping.
Legs black and weak; eyes dark and bright. The nest is usually built in
trees, stumps of boughs, near the trunk, also in holes, but never very
deep ones. It is beautifully woven, of fine moss, lichens, fine rootlets
and grass, and is lined with wool, feathers and horse-hair. It contains
five eggs of light grey-green, with dark marble-like veining and specks
of rust-colour; the speckling is sometimes thicker in a ring round the
larger end.


THE PIED FLYCATCHER.

(_Muscicapa atricapilla._)

The male Pied Flycatcher is so strikingly marked a bird that he is
almost dazzling to the eye. Yet he is only in black and white, but his
markings are very decided. The female is more quietly feathered, the
frontlet, wing-patches and under parts are a buffish-white, whilst her
upper parts are olive-green. The bill is just like that of its congener
already described. The nest is made in a hole in some tree, of dry
grass, moss and rootlets with a lining of hair.

This species prefers warmer districts, where it remains chiefly in leafy
woods. The bird is a charming little object as it disports itself
amongst the young green of oak and beech woods. When on the lookout for
its prey it prefers to perch on some old withered tree branch. And so
gentle and small it looks one would not dream of its injuring a fly.
Yet, for the great benefit of the woods, it is keen in pursuit of flies,
gnats and other “small deer.” It will agitate its little wings in front
of the larger hollows in old trees, so as to create a slight wind which
will rouse and bring out lurking insects to become the prey of this
disturber of their peace. In the high beech woods this Flycatcher
pounces on the little insects that play in the rays of sunlight that
filter through the openings between the branches. A beautiful bird this
and well deserving protection.

In Great Britain this species is far less numerous than its congener. It
is, however, a regular visitor to some of our counties. Its song is like
that of the Redstart.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE PIED FLYCATCHER.]


THE WHEATEAR.

(_Saxicola œnánthé._)

This is a lively and vigilant bird. It selects a district, to which it
afterwards remains faithful. It likes fallow ground, stony hollows,
marsh-land, sandy depressions where there are undulations, also meadows
where there are grass-grown mole-hills or grass plots. From one of these
small eminences it surveys the surrounding land, and on seeing prey
instantly makes for it, and having caught it flies on to another stone
or hillock. It also perches on low posts, but only takes to a tree in
case of need. As it prefers to be in the open, it is often visible, for
when it begins to fly it spreads out its tail and the white feathers at
once attract attention. It is a very useful bird, for it lives entirely
upon grubs and insects. In autumn it destroys the caterpillars of the
white cabbage butterfly. The modest little song is not heard only from
the hillocks and stones on which it perches, but also high up in the air
when wooing his bride with sweet sounds. It is fairly common in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

About the middle of March the Wheatear, with its graceful motions,
begins to arrive in numbers on our own Southern and Eastern coasts. It
flits over downs and fallow lands, some pairs remaining to make nests in
old rabbit holes, and in sandy warrens near the coast, others passing on
after a brief rest, seeking higher latitudes--the rocky moorlands of the
Peak, the fallows of

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WHEATEAR.]

agricultural districts in the Midlands, the mountains of Scotland. The
old hole of a Sand-martin in a railway cutting, a crevice in a stone
wall, the lee side of a boulder stone, or merely the shelter of a clod
of earth in a fallow field serves his purpose. As regards a nesting
site, the Wheatear is exceedingly adaptable, suiting himself to the
locality. And so the popular names given to this bird seem often
misleading to a student of its life-history. In the Southern counties as
the “Fallow Chat” it is best known, in Lancashire and Derbyshire it is
“Walltack,” “Stonecheek,” “Stone-smack,” or “Smutch”: and this in
Staffordshire is “Stone Smasher.” But tack and cheek and smutch all come
from the bird’s sharp note “Chack, chack!” uttered as it flits from
stone to stone on high land or along the wind-swept downs and warrens.

       *       *       *       *       *

Steinschmätzer is the German name for the Wheatear; so the Lancashire
name of Stonesmatch is decidedly Saxon. Schmatzen is to kiss
heartily--to give a good smack in fact. The French name for this bird,
Traquet, was given because of the continual movement of the wings and
tail, which is compared to the traquet, or clapper of mills, which is
kept in motion by the wind or by the water.

       *       *       *       *       *

All works on natural history describe the beautiful Wheatear as always
wary and shy to a degree, and chiefly, as we have already said, to be
found on warrens and poor lands near the coast, but as being especially
plentiful about our South Downs. In other districts, too, it frequents
the open ground and rough hillocky pastures. But who would look for the
Wheatear amongst the old slag-heaps, in the very heart of the North
Staffordshire Potteries? where, too, the bird seems to lay aside its shy
and wary little manœuvres.

Mr. Wells Bladen, the well-known Staffordshire ornithologist, reports on
the Wheatear, which arrived earlier than usual, telling us that he saw
one on a slag-heap at Etruria on March 3rd. In April again he witnessed
the curious sight of five Wheatears, mobbing a Kestrel on their
slag-heap and driving off the intruder quickly. In June there were at
least a dozen of these birds frequenting the heap, and one pair had
nested within twenty feet of a very busy railway siding. The nest, with
its lovely pale blue eggs, was in a hole in a bank of fused clinkers,
two feet from the ground. The eggs were hatched safely, but the young
birds were unfortunately killed by some mischievous person before they
were old enough to leave the nest. It was a pity the bird made its nest
so near the ground, for, as a rule the great heaps which railway
passengers between Stoke and Crewe have seen and wondered at, by night
as well as by day, are little interfered with, or trespassed on. The
dreary slag-heaps in the neighbourhood of blast-furnaces would appear to
be spots equally unattractive to man and beast, and especially so to
that brightly marked migrant the Wheatear, as it is known on the sunny,
wind-swept downs and sandhills near the sea. In August again, one was
seen on a railway waggon.

Wheatears leave us by the beginning of October, but now and again a few
stray birds are said to winter here in mild districts.

The Wheatear has the crown, back of the head and back a beautiful
ashen-grey; throat a faint buffish-white. There is a black stripe from
the bill to the eye, which broadens out towards the ear. Underparts
nearly white, breast yellowish. The side feathers of the wings are
white towards the base--at the end black; the middle feathers entirely
black. Bill awl-shaped, and, like the legs, black. The female bird and
the young are less varied in colour. The Wheatear hides its nest away in
heaps of stones, and crevices of the earth, and is most discreet as a
rule in ensuring its safety. It lays five eggs, occasionally seven,
which are usually of a uniform pale-blue colour, sometimes faintly
dotted.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE STONECHAT.]


THE STONECHAT.

(_Pratíncola rubícola._)

This lively little bird--that is the male bird--has the following
characteristics: head, throat, nape, and back black. A conspicuous white
patch on the wing-coverts. Under wing-coverts and axillaries black and
white. Bill small and awl-shaped, legs and feet black.

       *       *       *       *       *

It hides its nest so well, that it is difficult to find. It is usually
built on the ground in a slight dip, so that the heads of the fledglings
are level with the surface of the ground, and thus it merges into its
surroundings. Five bluish grey eggs, speckled with brown, are usually
found in the nest.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Stonechat is a very pleasant bird, that seems, wherever it may be,
to live by itself. It always sits on the topmost part of a bush, and
thence looks attentively on to the ground, yet is quite conscious of all
the insects and chafers flying about, for it is an alert captor.
Sometimes it looks as if it were turning a summersault in the air, which
is always a sign that it has disturbed a beetle in its flight and
snapped him up.

       *       *       *       *       *

This little Black-throat is more a bird of the foothills, where it loves
the rocky dips where a few bushes render these not quite bare. It will
suddenly appear on the top of a bush, the point of a moth-mullein or a
nettle--always on a high perch--gives one look round, swallows an
insect, and disappears as if by magic. Soon after it will appear in
another spot, and go through the same performance. Meanwhile it wags its
little tail, spreading it out. Late in the autumn, before its
migration, it comes nearer to human dwellings, and carries on its
pursuit of insects, among the hedges. It even ventures into the kitchen
garden, where the cabbage stumps, and vegetable stalks are a favourable
position, from which it can easily secure its prey. Its song is clear,
pleasing, but not loud. Its call is “_Weet, weet, weet--tek, tek, tek_.”

The birds arrive in Hungary singly.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Great Britain the Stonechat is a resident in most parts, although
such as have bred in the colder districts migrate to more sheltered
places in winter. At that season we have a number of arrivals from such
parts of the Continent as are too cold for these birds to remain in.
Grubs, worms, insects, and beetles are its chief diet, to which it adds
a few small seeds. A very destructive insect which they take is known as
the Bean Weevil. It is about a quarter of an inch in length; and it
finds lodging among the whins, which the Chat family frequent. This
beetle also haunts the rhubarb flowers in our gardens and visits the
peas, selecting, it is said, always the finest of these in which to lay
her eggs. Daddy-longlegs, cattle-flies, wire-worms, small snails, and
slugs are also eaten by the Chats--especially the Whinchat, _Pratincola
rubétra_, which comes to the South in middle of April, reaching the
North early in May. It has a long white streak over the eye, which is a
distinguishing feature of this species, also its underparts are buff,
turning to bright fawn colour on the breast and throat. The crown and
upper parts are mottled equally with sandy-buff and dark brown. Its bill
is less delicate than that of the Stonechat.


THE BEARDED TIT OR REEDLING.

(_Panurus biármicus._)

The Bearded Tit is the ornament of the Reed-lands. Its feathers being
unusually fine and light, the brilliant black moustache gives it all the
more charming and attractive an appearance. It usually slips round in
the high reeds about which it clambers very cleverly. The nest is placed
between the stalks of the reeds, and is composed chiefly of their
leaves, the colour of which harmonises with that of the bird’s long
tail, so that the latter, which stands out of the nest, cannot be
distinguished from its surroundings. The clutch consists of five to
seven eggs, which have light brown specks and stripes on a white ground.

With the disappearance of the reeds, the number of the birds diminishes.

That is why we have not in England so many of this lovely species as we
used to have. Our fens and meres in Lincoln, Huntingdon, and Cambridge
Shires, as well as in Kent, Sussex, and Essex, also in Suffolk having
been drained, the birds that lived in these have naturally left them. We
are glad, however, to know that Bearded Tits are increasing again in the
Norfolk Broads, owing to protection from the greed of private
collectors. The great naturalist, Buffon, declared that the male bird
has the charming habit of covering his mate with his wings to protect
her alike from unkind winds and the burning heat of the sun, as she sits
on her nest. _Trinkin_, the peasants of Anjon call it because of the
metallic tone of its cry. In the Norfolk Broads it has been known as the
Reed Pheasant. Scientists have found that this species differs in its
digestive organs and other points from the Titmouse family, and that it
is, as the late Professor Newton remarks, a perfectly distinct form,
representing the family Panuridæ, instead of forming one species of the
Paridæ.

It feeds on the seeds of the reeds in winter and in summer on small
molluscs.

This bird, which is a beautiful and delightful bird in every respect, is
the size of a Yellow-Hammer. Its feathers are of a silky fineness. The
head is bluish-grey; from the corner of the mouth on each side, hangs a
pointed, silky black moustache, which can be raised erect on occasion.
The nape and back are cinnamon brown, which is lighter over the root of
the tail; the tail is deep black underneath, and is wedge-shaped with
feathers of graduated length. The wings are striped with buffish-white,
black and rufous; the quills are brown with white outer borders. The
throat and chest are snow white, the under parts white with a flush of
rose colour at the sides. The pupil of the eye is golden yellow.[4]


THE GREAT TITMOUSE.

(_Parus major._)

In respect to usefulness and activity, this bird takes the foremost
place among the Tits: restless, noisy, and always cheerful from morning
to night. It clings to the end of the twigs, head downwards, to look for
insects underneath the buds; it even climbs up walls if they are rough
and uneven. It slips into holes and crevices which seem impossible of
entry. It pursues insects everywhere, and swallows them wholesale, as
though it could never be satisfied. It has no fear of men, but comes
confidently under the roof and perches on the gate, or looks in at the
window from the window sill. It is courageous, even bold, and
boundlessly inquisitive, a trait which often places its life and liberty
in peril. For the sake of a little fat it will allow itself to be snared
in a gourd or other trap. But it is just these qualities that make it so
popular.

Its voice sounds like “_tzit_” or “_sitzida, sitzida_.” This beautiful,
kindly bird deserves every protection.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our sympathies are quite with this bright active creature, although some
of our English naturalists accuse it of using its strong beak in order
to split the skull of small weakly birds so as to feast on their brains.
It has even been known to treat a Bat in this manner. We recognise it
readily in the early spring by its note which is like the noise caused
by the sharpening of a saw with a file.

Two years ago I saw the largest company of Tits--Great Tits, Blue Tits,
Coal Tits, Marsh Tits and Crested

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE GREAT TITMOUSE.]

Tits--together with a great number of tiny and beautiful gold-crested
Wrens, that I have ever seen, or indeed can ever hope to see again. It
was in a pine forest about twenty miles north of Gotha, the property of
Hans Freiherr von Berlepsch, Germany’s most ardent bird protector. He
was with us at the time and he said even he had never seen the like
before, nor had his chief gamekeeper, who is himself an ornithologist.
It was the more wonderful because we had walked for nearly three hours
through the woods that morning and had seen, with this great exception,
little wild life beyond an occasional black Squirrel and, through an
avenue of pines from afar, a grand Buck feeding in a clearing. It was in
the late autumn.

Nearly three thousand nesting-boxes have been fixed in the trees there,
and it was about one of these, a deep one, that a number of Tits had
appropriated as a warm and secure sleeping place for the autumn and
winter, that the birds--three hundred of them at least the gamekeeper
declared--had gathered; now pouncing down on it, a dozen of them at a
time, now settling in noisy zi-zi-zi-ing parties on the high branches of
pine round this centre. Perhaps, like Rooks that quarrel over a
desirable nesting site, they were all eager to secure specially
desirable sleeping quarters. Tits and Wrens do, of course, always go
about the woods in parties, when family cares are over, but on such a
scale as this rarely; and so many dainty Golden-Crested Wrens together
might not be seen again in a life-time. All the species of the Tit
family, excepting the Bearded and the Long-tailed Tit were there.

The amount of good these birds do among forest trees is incalculable,
not to mention their greatly misunderstood labours in ridding the
blossoms of our fruit trees of their infesting insect pests. Tits are,
in fact, most energetic and active insect destroyers.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Great Tit is a lively bird about the size of a Sparrow. The crown,
neck, and throat black; cheeks white. A black stripe runs from the
throat over the breast and under parts. The mantle is bright green;
rump, tail, and wings plum colour, with oblique whitish stripes on the
wings. The under side of the body is a beautiful bright yellow on either
side of the black stripe. The short, strong beak is shaped like a grain
of wheat and brown in colour; the strong legs are bluish. It builds its
nest delicately, and usually in such hollow places as have a narrow
opening, sometimes even in empty beehives. It lays six to
nine--sometimes, though rarely, as many as fifteen--eggs, which are
finely formed, of a pure white, with speckles of a beautiful rust
colour.

[Illustration: A Tit’s Nestling.]


THE BLUE TITMOUSE.

(_Parus cærúleus._)

Crown bright blue, forehead and cheeks white. A dark stripe is drawn
from above the eyes towards the nape. The white cheeks are edged at the
back and underneath, with black. The under part and rump are
sulphur-yellow, or rather lemon colour. Tail and wings blue, like the
bloom on a ripe plum. There is an oblique white stripe on the wings. The
beak is like a little grain of wheat. Legs bluish. The nest is placed in
holes of trees with small opening and is composed of soft stuff and is
very lightly built. The clutch consists of seven to ten eggs, which are
like those of the Great-tit, only much smaller. As many as eighteen eggs
have been recorded as being found in one nest.

It is one of the prettiest and most useful birds, and in its actions
resembles the other Tits. The number of insects destroyed by these rises
into millions, and it has been observed that one pair, in the course of
seventeen hours brought food to their young 475 times. Its cry is clear
and piercing: “_Tgi, tgi, tgi_”--or “_Ze, ze, zirr_,” or “_Ze, ze,
he-he-he-he-he_.”

It is a real treasure, and not rare in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Blue-tit is one of our best known and best liked British birds. In
the autumn great numbers arrive on our east coasts. The Blue-tit,
especially, devours a powerful tiny beetle with the ominous name of
Scolytus destructor, which works its way from the chrysalis stage at the
end of a tunnel bored by the mother beetle in the tree, until it comes
out, after biting a round hole in the

[Illustration: USEFUL.

BLUE TITMOUSE. GOLD-CRESTED WREN.]

bark, as a perfect beetle. By this small creature’s labours the bark is
separated to such an extent from the tree that it cannot live long. A
plague of other small wood-boring beetles of like habits destroyed
1,500,000 trees in the Harz Forest one season, when the priests even
prayed in their churches for relief from this awful pest. And yet there
are still numbers of country gardeners who look upon the Blue-tit,
especially, as one of their worst enemies.

       *       *       *       *       *

A house with large grounds in our populous London suburb is a large
boys’ school--a private one. One day I saw a pretty sight, one that did
credit to the character of the boys there. Between the playground and
the cricket field is an iron fence, having a wide gate. For some time
this has not been properly closed, and just within the hole in the
tubular iron post, into which the fastening bolt ought to run, a pair of
Blue-Tits have their nest. As I approached it, a number of gaping mouths
were thrust up for food. As the nestlings are fed with aphides and
gooseberry moths and the old birds have a large family to feed, and they
prey also on grubs and maggots, it is well for the vegetable garden
close by.

About sixty boys pass noisily to and fro through this gateway during
play-hours, but the wise parents think they know better than to feed
them in the sight of these. All is done during school time and early in
the morning.

A friend tells me that he knows of a Blue-Tit’s nest in an exactly
similar position. When the bird was sitting he kicked the bottom of the
iron post, and put his finger in the hole. Up flew the bold little
creature, hissing like a snake, and bit vigorously at it, fully
justifying her rural nickname of Billy-biter.

I am glad to think that some of my schoolboy neighbours will read this,
and will know that their forbearance towards these little birds is
appreciated: a forbearance towards the defenceless which is always a
distinguishing characteristic of the true gentleman.

The Blue-Tit is of great service to all flower and fruit growers, and it
comes much to our suburban, and even London gardens. And yet gardeners
at one time persecuted the little labourer, one of the prettiest and
most winsome of our common birds.

Sitting in the garden of a house I formerly lived in, I noted there, in
my apple trees laden with fruit, that the Tits--the Great, the Marsh,
the Coal, and the Blue-Tit--that had not been much in evidence since
April, when they were busy amongst the blossom buds, have come back, and
they were busy now again amid the branches. Having read lately that they
destroy the fruit, notably apples, in the autumn, I have watched them
closely. It is as I expected: a number of the apples have been attacked
by insects, and it is on these that the birds are busy, on fruit which
if they did remain on the trees--they are now falling in numbers--would
be quite worthless. The Tits enlarge the holes so as to get at the true
destroyers, and they are doing more good than harm. As the Rev. F. O.
Morris said, long ago, “the destruction of the Blue-tit by the farmer or
gardener is an act of economical suicide.”

Tits will also sometimes have recourse to the orchard in times of
drought, in order to quench their thirst by bites at the fruit. But we
should be churlish indeed if we grudged our little unpaid labourers a
small tithe of our harvest, which is the larger for their spring
services.


THE GOLDEN-CRESTED WREN.

(_Regulus cristatus._)

This is the very smallest of our British birds, and indeed of all
European species. It is found generally throughout Great Britain, and it
has increased in the north greatly of late years owing to the greater
cultivation of larch and fir-trees. The numbers of these Wrens are
augmented often in autumn by great flocks that come to our eastern coast
from the Continent. A migration wave of this sort, Mr. Howard Saunders
told of, which lasted 92 days, and reached from the Channel to the Faroe
Islands. Another migration in 1883 lasted 82 days, and one, the
following year, 87 days. On such occasions bushes in gardens on the
coast are covered with birds as with a swarm of bees; crowds flutter
round the lighthouse lanterns, and often come to grief there, and weary
little travellers climb about the rigging of fishing-smacks in the North
Sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Golden-Crested Wren is even smaller than the Common Wren, but its
feathers are more flossy. It has on its crown a tongue-shaped patch of
warm saffron yellow edged with black. The whole of the rest of its coat
is of a plain greenish gray, which is lighter on the under parts of his
body. The colour of the wings is also sober, the feathers having a
lighter edge; the little beak is thin and pointed, the legs nearly
black. The cunningly built nest is placed in the fir-trees where it can
with difficulty be discovered. The eggs, which number six, occasionally
eleven--of the size of peas--are reddish speckled with a darker shade
of the same colour. This useful little bird, always active, hopping
unweariedly about seeking food, lives exclusively on insects and grubs.
Its dwelling is among pines and fir-trees; it often associates with the
Tits, its call is “_Sit, sit, sit_.”

It is not rare, and is worth its weight in gold.

[Illustration]


THE CRESTED TITMOUSE.

(_Parus cristátus._)

In order to learn habits of the Crested Tit it is necessary to climb
high into the region of the firwoods. Here the Crested Tit is the good
genius of the neighbourhood, for with untiring zeal it hops about among
the thick branches of the fir labyrinth and destroys the most
mischievous insects. Its call is “_ziárrrr_” or “_zick güirr_.” It is
not rare in the pine forests of Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Crested Tit breeds in a few of the oldest forests in Scotland where
firs and oaks remain. In Perthshire it is seen, but to England it is a
stranger, a few cases only, being on record. In Ireland also it is
practically unknown.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Crested Titmouse is much smaller than the Great Tit or Oxeye. It is
easily recognised by its pointed head, which resembles that of the
Crested Lark. The feathers of this are black, edged with white; the
cheeks white; throat and round the ears black; so that the head has the
appearance of being framed. Wings and tail greyish-brown, the feathers
with whitish edges. Underneath it is a dingy white, rust colour at the
sides. Its nest is carefully built, in holes and in trees. It lays from
five to eight, sometimes ten, white eggs speckled with light rust
colour. Two broods are generally brought out in the season.

These birds are seen in Germany, and elsewhere on the Continent,
frequently in company with Golden-crested Wrens, other Tits and also
Tree-creepers.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

CRESTED TITMOUSE. COAL-TITMOUSE.]


THE COAL-TIT.

(_Parus ater._)

This lively, pretty, amiable bird, also lives in the thickest parts of
the fir woods, where it carries on its work of destroying the injurious
insects, the number of which is enormous. It used to be thought that the
Coal-Tit did harm to the young buds; but this has never been
authenticated, and even if it does break one off here and there, the
mischief is small indeed, in comparison with the service it performs
from one year’s end to the other. Its call is shrill and clear “_ziwih,
ziwih, ziwih,_” or “_sitt, sitt_”--or a long-drawn “_seeb, seeb_.”

This bird occurs in considerable numbers in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Coal-Titmouse is one of our common birds in the United Kingdom and
it is said to increase yearly, although it is not yet so common as the
Great and the Blue Tits. It is a very useful little bird as it feeds its
young largely on green caterpillars; but it eats nuts as well as
seeds--the seeds of the Scotch fir it is specially fond of.

The Marsh-Titmouse--_Parus palústris_--is another resident species in
Great Britain, but it is, with the exception of the Crested Titmouse,
the least common of our Tits. I have seen it much about our Middlesex
gardens, a superficial observer can note the difference between this
bird and the Coal-Tit easily because the Marsh-Tit has not the white
patch on the back of the head which the Coal-Tit has. It is often seen
in orchards where it does good service, but is fond of the
neighbourhood of rivers and delights itself among the alder trees and
pollarded willows of swampy ground.

The Coal Tit is the same size as the Crested Tit. Cheeks white--at the
back of the head a white patch, the rest of the head black, so that this
colour forms a broad bridle, which recalls that of the great tit.
Underneath it is of a dingy white, the mantle a bluish ash-colour with a
tinge of green. Wings and tail dark grey, the former having two oblique
whitish stripes. The nest is built on the ground, in holes in fir trees
under decaying bark, sometimes in holes in the ground--and is formed for
the most part of green moss, the interior being warmly lined with hair.
The clutch consists of six--sometimes even ten--eggs of a brilliant
white finely speckled with rust-colour.


THE LONG-TAILED TIT.

(_Acredula caudáta._)

This is a true Tit, and never rests, but is hunting here and there,
slipping in and out, in constant movement, from morning till night, now
and then indulging in such gymnastic exercises on the frailest twigs, as
would by comparison make the limb-dislocating mountebank look a clumsy
lout. Nothing can be more charming than the society of which the
Long-tailed Tit is the grand master. It comprehends the Great-Tit, the
Blue-Tit, and the Coal-Tit, one or two tree runners, Spotted Woodpeckers
and a Nuthatch. The whole form a brigade of workers, who rove through
the woods and gardens, each one working according to the measure of its
strength. They search a tree, from the bark to the point of the thin
topmost twig, where the Long-Tailed one is quite at home, so light a
featherweight is his body--the twig bends, but does not break, and the
tail acts as its balancing pole. This society gathers at the same hour
at the same place, in the late autumn, in order to seek fresh places.
The note of the Long-Tailed Tit sounds like “_je, je, je,_” and “_gey,
gey, gey, gey_.” It lives on injurious insects, and wherever it builds
its nest in wood or garden it is a priceless treasure.

It is not rare in Hungary, and deserves to be protected.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are various forms of the Long-tailed Titmouse in Europe; our own
form is fairly common in localities which suit its mode of living. It is
resident and common in Ireland, but very local in its occurrence in
Scotland. These Tits often rear two broods in a season, and afterwards
the whole family may be seen flitting about

[Illustration: USEFUL.

LONG-TAILED TIT.]

together, in single file from hedgerow to hedgerow. There is a dipping
motion in their flight which is pretty to watch. All these feed on
insects and their larvæ.

[Illustration: A bright winter friend.]

The Long-tailed Tit is the size of the Wren; a round-headed little bird
with a tiny beak, and a very long tail. The head is white, and suggests
that of a grey-headed old grandfather. The fore-part of the back is
black with white patches on the shoulders, the tail black, the three
outer feathers being for the most part white, and graduated in length,
the two middle feathers being shorter. The under part is rose colour;
the tiny beak black.


THE NEST OF THE LONG-TAILED TIT.

[Illustration: LONG-TAILED TITS AND FAMILY.]

It is not only in our latitudes that the nest of the Long-tailed Tit is
considered a masterpiece, but even far away south where nature works
such marvels, where the little humming birds, scarcely bigger than the
joint of a child’s finger, shine in the sunlight like diamonds and
rubies, and build nests no bigger than half a small hen’s egg,--even
there, this nest is looked upon one of the finest specimens of bird
architecture. It is the most charming, most beautiful, and warmest bird
abode. Most often it is round, the twigs supporting it like the fingers
of the hand, and often it stands free like a little beehive. It is
beautifully roofed in with a domed top, and has at the side an opening
large enough for a big bumble bee. It is constructed of the finest moss,
and the softest fluff from the meadows and poplars; it is soft, and yet
so strongly put together that no human workman can imitate it.

In this soft, warm nest the tiny bird lays its nine, sometimes eleven,
eggs. These are white with rose-coloured spots at the thicker end. The
male and female birds sit alternately on the eggs for fourteen days; and
then the hard work begins--twelve babes to nourish, and with the finest
food!

The industry of the Swallow is truly great, but that of the Long-tailed
Tit is still greater. The Swallow seizes its booty while on the wing,
and has only to open its beak; but the Tit has to go from branch to
branch, working sometimes head downwards, sometimes swinging, in order
to secure the tiny morsels.

Truly he who does not delight in the sight of this tiny family united by
love, who is not moved when the twelve baby birds are seen sitting close
pressed together on a slender bough, and the little parents come and go,
with their continuous cry, bringing food and giving it in turn to the
young ones--he whom such a sight does not fill with pleasure, must have
a stone in his breast instead of a heart.


[Illustration: MUST BE KEPT IN CHECK.

THE TREE SPARROW.

THE HOUSE SPARROW.]



CHAPTER VI.

WORKERS ALL THE YEAR ROUND.


THE HOUSE SPARROW.

(_Passer domesticus._)

This is among birds what the street-boy is in the towns--merry,
audacious, obtrusive and quarrelsome, always moving and picking up what
it can. A human habitation without Sparrows is inconceivable. In the
street it rummages in the tracks of the horses; in the markets, it sees
when the stall-keeper is dozing, and helps itself out of her basket to
anything that takes its fancy.

When the wheat ears are soft it betakes itself to the fields and fills
its stomach and also feeds its young with their milky juice; when the
corn is ripe he attacks it and knocks more grains out of the ears than
it can possibly eat. It does the same with cherries, mulberries, and all
kinds of seeds. It also breaks off young buds and the points of young
shoots.

It drags the Titmice out of their nest-holes and establishes itself
there. It presence is easy to recognise by the straws sticking out of
the hole. The only method of preventing this is to make the
entrance-hole narrower and to hang the nest-hole lower down.

It is true that when there is a great abundance of cockchafers it
consumes a great quantity of these creatures; but as soon as it finds
something it likes better, and is easily obtained, he leaves the
destructive chafers to others. The most useful service it does is in
severe snowy winters, when, in company with a large number of other
Sparrows, it scours the fields and picks up the seeds of noxious weeds;
besides this it feeds its young with insects. It should not be suffered
to increase too much, for it does on the whole considerable mischief.
The humane way of lessening its numbers, as we have before pointed out,
is to pull down the nest wherever we can.

       *       *       *       *       *

A word for our English Sparrows. E. Newman, F.Z.S., says: “A
Sparrow-hawk left to himself, even by scaring the Sparrow from ripe
grain, will save the wages of at least ten boys.” And the head gardener
of a large garden which was protected with a network of black cotton
only, said: “Nobody knows what good a Sparrow does in a garden. In
fields it eats charlock, chickweed, plaintain, buttercup, knot-grass,”
etc. When the hay lies in swathes in the fields it haunts them in quest
of what are called “haychaffers”; craneflies, earwigs, blight, etc., are
part of its prey. “They have been known,” writes Curtis of Sparrows in
“Farm Insects,” “to gorge themselves with the larvæ of the May-bug till
they were unable to fly.” A French writer says: “Under one Sparrow’s
nest the rejected wing-cases of cockchafers were picked up; they
numbered over 1,400. Thus one pair had destroyed more than 700 insects
to feed one brood.” Much of the harm attributed to Sparrows is the work
of a small Weevil, which is very destructive to many kitchen-garden
plants. Mr. Joseph Nunn of Royston, a farmer, writing of the Sparrow
during 1897, says that Sparrows do not eat more corn from the stacks
than other Finches or the Buntings, and that a farmer must learn how to
protect his property the same as any other tradesman.

As to its colour, we may say that its crown is grey with chestnut
stripes, throat black--that is, the male bird. The throat of the female
is whitish, and there are whitish lines on the head and over the eyes.
Beak strong, wedge-shaped, pointed. The whole bird suggests strength. It
lays five or six eggs, which are white, thickly speckled with dark
marks. The nest is composed of straw, wood, tow, hair and feathers
carelessly put together, still it is soft and warm. This bird breeds
twice a year, sometimes three times.


THE TREE SPARROW.

(_Passer Montanus._)

The habits of this Sparrow vary from those of the house species in that
it dwells among fields and foothills where wood and thicket alternate.
It also frequents gardens, and behaves very audaciously. In hollow
places in old trees it is sure to be met with. It is a bold builder, and
will place its nest with us in Hungary under the Eagle’s eyrie, or the
Stork’s nest. It may generally be said to be a hole-nester, and a much
greater insect eater than its congener the House Sparrow.

Its manner of nesting makes it all the more dangerous to the artificial
nest-holes, and we cannot guard them against this species, either by
decreasing the size of the entrance or by placing the nest-holes lower;
it drags the Tits out and takes possession of the hole; the only thing
that can be done is to drive it away with small shot; otherwise we
should harbour Tree Sparrows instead of Tits, and, although they are not
as numerous as the House Sparrow the supply of them is more than enough.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Tree Sparrow is also rarer with us in Great Britain than its
ubiquitous relative. It is quite local as to habitat. Until quite
recently it was unknown in Ireland. Large numbers arrive, however, in
autumn along the east coast, and its settlements in Scotland are chiefly
on the eastern side, up as far as Sutherland. Its nest with us will be
found at times at some distance from human dwellings; in the soft rotten
wood of trees often, but it builds also about farm-buildings, beneath
roof-tilings and in cliffs by the sea. The eggs are more glossy than
the House Sparrow’s; two and even three broods will be reared in a
season. The young are fed on caterpillars and other insects, soft
vegetable matter, etc., but in winter both young and old frequent
farmyards, and visit the ricks; also they seek grain among
horse-droppings in the streets. The illustration shows the difference in
the markings of the two species of Sparrow.

This bird is smaller than the House Sparrow, and more slender. The
colouring is, on the whole, the same in the male and female birds. From
crown to tail it is chestnut brown, passing into ash-grey, with dark
markings round the ears and on the throat. Both in colour and demeanour
it is a true Sparrow. It lays five or six, occasionally seven,
light-coloured speckled eggs.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE HEDGE SPARROW.]


THE HEDGE SPARROW.

(_Accentor modularis._)

This is no vulgar little city arab, picking about in untidy stables, in
the refuse on the streets, and among the droppings of horses. Does not
its Latin name rather proclaim it one of the aristocrats of bird life.
Its dress may be dull-coloured, but its form and its motions are not
inelegant, despite its familiar name of “Shufflewings” and “Smokie,” in
deference to its characteristic motion and its colouring. Head and nape
are a bluish-grey, streaked with brown, back and wings are a
reddish-brown, streaked blackish; the lower wing-coverts are tipped with
clayish colour, in bar-fashion, underparts a dull white; the sides are
marked with dark streaks on a pale reddish-brown ground; the bill brown,
the base being of a lighter shade; the legs and feet are yellow brown.
Length 5.5 inches. The slate-grey on the head and throat is not seen on
the young birds, which are browner and more spotted than the adults.
This is a friendly bird and very easily tamed, so that it will often
bring its mate to the kitchen door for food in winter, and its song is
more melodious than many of our singers. The nest is built of moss, bits
of stick, roots, and dry grass, in all kinds of hedges, or roadside
thickets. The eggs, four to six, greenish-blue without spots and rough
in texture. Many bird-lovers refuse to call this bird by the plebian
name of Sparrow, with them it is always the Hedge Accentor.

The food of this bird mainly consists of caterpillars, eggs of insects,
wood-lice, earwigs, chrysalids, small seeds of weeds, house-refuse,
etc.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE SKYLARK.]


THE SKYLARK.

(_Alauda arvensis._)

It can raise a tuft on its head at will. A long, slightly hooked claw is
on the back toe. The nest is placed on the ground, more rarely among
corn or meadow grass, but rather on fallow ground or clover field, among
low thick growth; it assimilates so closely with its surroundings that
it is difficult to discover. It usually contains five eggs, which, being
of a dingy, grey-green speckled with a darker colour, also somewhat
resemble the colour of the earth.

This Lark occurs most numerously in the northern regions, and as regards
its habits is one of the best known and most popular of birds. It
arrives in Hungary early in the spring, settles down, and does not allow
any other bird to approach it, pecking them away if possible. Its little
territory often occupies only a hundred paces. The different territories
are contiguous, and disputes between the neighbours are perpetually
going on. The combatants may constantly be seen, darting here and there
with lightning speed, flying near the ground, in pursuit of one another.
During the pairing and brooding-time the male bird sings unweariedly,
flinging his song into the air. He rises towards the sky, with vibrating
wings, higher and higher, dropping his ever-changing trilling
notes,--often rising to such a height that he disappears from sight and
the song dies away. Then suddenly he reappears, becomes silent, and
drops like a stone to earth.

In his poem “In Winter,” Johann Arány says of the Lark:--

                “Like the poor poet,
    Who in the sun’s bright rays spreads out his wing
    And bears towards heaven his song: he turns and falls,
    And he is silent.”

The Lark lives partly on seeds, but its chief food is gathered from the
insect world. It is almost universally considered by epicures a great
delicacy, and is snared by thousands. Fortunately it exists in great
numbers, but its snaring is to be deprecated.

       *       *       *       *       *

In England larks have been very largely eaten, but happily the practice
is now most strongly opposed by thoughtful people. If the consumption of
Larks in our country went on as it was doing a few years ago the species
would soon be extinct. Yet this singer--whom poets have delighted to
honour and one--possibly because of its alert ways and its sentinel-like
attitude--which Julius Cæsar chose as an emblem for one of his famous
legions,--devours wireworms, grubs and various larvæ when these lie
hidden in the short winter pastures, and just at the stage when the
latter are most greedy of nourishment, so that the grass would suffer
incredibly but for the bird’s work. A recent authority stated that it
was to be deplored that not a tenth part of the Skylarks that formerly
frequented the Midland pastures were there now. Unfortunately this bird
is a favourite among those who are given to the caging of singing birds.

This bird is bigger and more slender than the Sparrow, and the colouring
generally of the upper parts is a warm yellowish-brown. It is
distinguished from its congener, the Woodlark, by its tail feathers. The
two outermost feathers are white, growing darker only about the shaft.
The outer web of the second feather is white. The tail feathers have
dark-brown centres and tawny edges.


THE KINGFISHER.

(_Alcedo ispida._)

The Kingfisher is the arch-enemy of the fish, and it is hardly credible
that this relatively small bird, should gulp down, as it does, fish as
long as your finger, in order to fill his stomach. It digests very
quickly, and spits out the bones, scales, and fins. It watches, from a
bough, for the little fish. Where a bush bending over the water
undisturbed by the eddy forms a calm mirror,--there does this
resplendent fish-poacher settle itself on an overhanging bough, to
watch--motionless and with incredible tenacity--the water and the living
things beneath it. If a trout or other small fish, feeling quite safe,
comes to the surface, the Kingfisher drops on it like a piece of lead;
it grasps its prey with its sharp beak, and, shaking the water from its
plumage, flies back to its perch, gulps down its delicate morsel, and
sets itself again to watch. Its colour protects the bird when diving.
The underparts are much the same colour as a fallen leaf, and this
arouses no suspicion in the fish--the back, on the other hand, shines
like the blue shimmer of the running stream, and that often protects the
bird from the circling Sparrow-hawk. If it comes to a flat shore on the
side of a small stream, which offers no overhanging perching place, it
settles on a stake or a clod of earth, and now and then hovers over the
water, and flutters like a hawk. It is an inconstant bird. It appears,
and disappears from a district, and then, perhaps after some years,
presents itself again. Its flight is rapid, and it raises its cry, as it
goes, “_teet_.”

It does harm, but is scarce in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE KINGFISHER.]

In Great Britain it was also becoming scarce, but of late years Bird
Protection and the ever increasing number of bird-lovers has been in
favour of this beautiful ornament of streams and meadows. It is,
however, often shot because its feathers are of value for dressing
artificial flies. Personally I could not call a bird hurtful because it
seeks the food which its Creator _intended_ it to eat, which is no more
the property of man when it is taken in its natural conditions than it
is that of the bird, and I confess I would rather see the brilliant blue
of the Kingfisher flash up a meadow stream than the angler’s figure
there with his rod.

The Kingfisher is seven and a half inches long, a short thick set bird,
with short tail and straight pointed beak, which sticks out like a lath
nail. The colouring of its plumage, which, in its flight, sparkles like
precious gems, makes it one of the marvels of nature. Crown, neck,
mantle, and rump are of an exquisite brilliant blue; a cinnamon brown
stripe passes over the eye, growing lighter as it extends over the side
of the neck. Eyes brown, throat white, underparts a brilliant rust-red,
legs red, rather short, the toes slightly joined at the root. It nests
on the banks of rivers and streams, boring in the bank, on a level just
above the surface of the water a tunnel a yard long, which it enlarges
at the end into a cauldron-shaped cavity. It does not build a nest here,
but lays its round white eggs on rejected fish-bones. The eggs number
six or seven.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE DIPPER.]


THE DIPPER.

(_Cinclus aquaticus._)

The Dipper’s habits are most interesting. The bird frequents the most
picturesque streams, perching on the dry boulders, with the water
gurgling and splashing about him. From this he dives and walks under the
water, turns over the small pebbles and returns to his stone. This led
to his being suspected of being an enemy to the fisherman. It has,
however, be proved by the inspection of the contents of the stomachs of
several Dippers that only insect remains and small shell-fish were
eaten. The fact that he will attach himself to brooks which contain no
fish at all, proves that he does not feed on these. The bird’s plumage
is simply watertight, and therefore admirably adapted to a bird which
can swim as well as dive.

The song of the Dipper is strong and cheery; and the lively ways of this
Water-ouzel, as it often called, lend a charm to our mountain streams.
With us in Hungary a thorough investigation of the life-habits of this
bird, which spread over a considerable period, and involved much
correspondence, has resulted in the complete vindication of this bird’s
character.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Herman’s verdict on the Dipper and the Kingfisher, are the more
valuable because he is the great authority, in his own country, in all
that relates to pisciculture. The Dipper remains with us all the year
round, especially in the Peak District in Derbyshire, and the
hill-streams of North Staffordshire. It is, however, found in the
British Islands, wherever there are rapid rivers or stony brooks and
streams. All the Highland burns and rivers have a few pairs. In Ireland,
too, it is resident in the mountainous districts, but it forsakes these
often, at the approach of winter, for the mouths of tidal rivers and the
salt flats of the seashore. In the valley of the Dove it remains about
the stream all through the winter. The birds are clever in contriving to
make so heavy a nest cling to the wall of rock or stone, where it is
placed. It cocks up its short tail very much as a Wren does, and dips
its head in a way, which has gained for it the quaint local name of
“Betty Dowker.” As it feeds much on the larvae of the May-fly and
bank-fly, and others which are destructive to the salmon spawning beds,
it must be of good service to the fisher. The young birds are able to
swim as soon as they leave the nest, and to chase the water insects,
using both legs and wings in pursuit. The wings serve as oars. The song
of the bird is begun in autumn, and it will often be heard all through
the winter, but always in early spring, and fully fledged young have
been found by the twenty-first of March.

This is a thick-set but charming bird a little over six inches in
length. Head and nape are umber-brown, tail and wing-feathers dark
brown; chin, throat, and upper breast white, passing off into
chestnut-brown, dark-grey and black on the belly; bill brownish-black,
legs and feet brown; upper parts mottled with dark grey and brown. The
beak is awl-shaped, and the sharp toes on the strong feet are long and
well divided. The nest is generally placed close to a running stream,
preferably near to, and even behind some little waterfall. It is a large
oval ball of leaves, grass, and moss, lined with dry grass and dead
leaves. The entrance is low down in the side. From four to six eggs are
laid, which are glossy white at first, but become dull as the bird sits.
Two broods are reared in a season.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE THRUSH.]


THE THRUSH.

(_Turdus musicus._)

This bird is the same size as a Blackbird. The upper side is
olive-brown; throat and under parts whitish; breast rusty-yellow with
dark heart-shaped spots and flecks. A light eye-brow stripe runs over
the eye. The under side of the wing is rusty-yellow; beak and legs
brownish-yellow. Its nest is very remarkable. It builds by preference in
trees with dense foliage, at a medium height, and employs stalks, grass,
and small twigs well woven together, the crevices being filled with
moss. There is nothing remarkable in this, for there are many better
woven nests; but the cup of the nest is a work of art. It is wide, and
deep, having inside a strong layer finely cemented and smoothed, about
the thickness of the back of a table knife. This is composed of
pulverised atoms of decayed wood, which the Thrush mixes with its sticky
saliva, and kneads into a paste, with its beak. It lays five or six eggs
of a vitriol-green colour, with very fine spots.

The Thrush is a fine strong bird, and moves firmly and skilfully among
the branches. When on the ground it holds its head and beak well up;
always alert. When it sees its prey it springs on it at once with
lowered head, seizes it and tears it to pieces with its beak. On mossy
grounds it is very skilful in turning over tufts of moss, in order to
reach the insects which crawl about underneath. It also catches
grasshoppers, and in the late summer and autumn attacks the wild
berries.

It has many enemies. The Jay is the worst plunderer of its nest; but it
has recently been ascertained that the Squirrel also sucks the eggs.

Its song is beautiful, flooding the woods far and near, with its rich
fluty tones. It sings from the highest branches of trees, sitting
quietly meanwhile, as if itself steeped in the dreamy rapture of its own
performance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Song Thrush in Scotland is called the Mavis. This is strange as it
is the Redwing which is known in France under the name of _Mauvis_. The
song of the Blackbird is often confused with that of the Thrush; yet
that of the latter is a very distinctive one, because in the middle of a
strain of song there is the repetition of its three chief notes. You
will seem to hear it saying “Pretty dear, pretty dear,” or “Wait a bit,
wait a bit.”

We must own that the Thrush is a very active thief, although it does
feed much on insects, worms, and snails. It is absolutely necessary to
protect one’s fruit against this depredator.

Shakespeare speaks of the “throstle with his note so true,” and Clare
wrote

    “And thrushes too ’gan clear their throats,
     And get by heart some two ’r three notes
     Of their intended summer song.”

But Browning still more finely enters into the spirit of this bird’s
song:--

    “That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
     Lest you should think he never can recapture
     The first, fine, careless rapture!”


THE BLACKBIRD.

(_Turdus merula._)

This is a lively, cheery bird, an ornament to the thickets and clearings
of the woods. Just before the evening twilight, in company with others
of the Thrush family, it seeks the clearings and openings of the woods,
and delights the eye of the beholder, by its hopping here and there, its
darting and hunting--busily dragging worms out of the ground and
attacking all the mischievous Chafer family. Then it flies on to the
summit of a bush or an over-spreading bough, and its powerful, pure
flute-like song resounds through the wood, and makes the listener forget
all else. In autumn it eats the berries, sometimes fruit; but being very
timid it is easily driven off. It is a useful bird and a pleasure to eye
and ear.

This is the bird which is so often taken from the nest and reared. The
male bird fetches a good price in Hungary, for it learns to whistle
tunes--even from street-organs. Because it learns so easily, it
sometimes happens, that in the middle of a beautiful tune which it has
been taught, some most excruciating sound is heard, reminiscent of an
ungreased cart-wheel. In Germany the Blackbird has become a town-bird;
and people spread dried ant-eggs, chopped meat, and maggots, and make a
nest for it near their vine-covered windows. It stays there also during
the winter.

And what about the East? Why are children ever brought up in such a way
that they seize a stone directly they see a Blackbird?

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE BLACKBIRD.]

In February our English Blackbird will be thinking of mating. We are all
familiar with the usual nesting-site which is chosen--evergreen, thick
bushes, and hedgerows--but it has been known to build successfully and
to lay its eggs, in the heart of what is known as the thousand-headed
cabbage. The young of the early broods sometimes help the parents to
feed the young of the second brood of the season.

The Blackbird is commoner in the South than the Thrush, and is as a rule
more popular with the country people than the latter bird. Gardeners
look upon it as a terrible thief, but the good it does in feeding on
moths, beetles, other insects and larvæ, caterpillars, cockchafer grubs,
quite counterbalances the harm it does in taking fruit. A well-known
Zoologist says, “Short-sighted agriculturists kill the Blackbirds that,
at the rate of sixty an hour, destroy their worst foes, or working as
they do from early dawn to dusk six hundred in the course of a single
day, which, given ten Blackbirds, raises the total of vermin put out of
the way to six thousand per diem, against which a few dozens of
strawberries should count as the dust in the balance. But the
horticulturist sees the Blackbirds pick a raspberry now and again, and
he does not see the same bird kill a dozen or two of grubs or snails for
each morsel of fruit he may help himself to.” Another, a Fruit-grower,
says that during one hard winter when some of his fruit trees were
killed, and in some places the Thrush tribe were all but annihilated,
snails were a scourge in the following summer, and gooseberry bushes
were stripped by caterpillars innumerable. This is the testimony of the
late Joseph Witherspoon, a well-known fruit grower. He goes on to say,
“When gardens are surrounded by woods, it is only by a liberal use of
nets that any reasonable portion of fruit can be saved, as swarms of
Blackbirds and Thrushes will eat every fruit as it ripens. I provide
nesting-places, and thus have my birds so near my caterpillars, and so
far from house morsels that they eat the pest greedily; but fruit crops
being thereby secured, we must next draw on our ingenuity to prevent the
birds taking more than their fair tithe.”

In winter Blackbirds feed principally on snails, the shells of which
they break by raising them in the bill and dashing them against a hard
stone, just as Thrushes do. But for these birds, we should be quite
unable to save our gardens from the wholesale ravages of those enemies
to plant life.

The Blackbird, of course, belongs to the Thrush family, and its
relatives the Fieldfare, the Redwing, and the Mistle Thrush all have the
same habits of feeding. They all devour snails, slugs, worms, and
insects, and in the autumn take wild berries. The Fieldfares are only
with us in winter, and they seek their food over the fields and pasture
lands in mild weather, and eat the berries when frost comes, and snow
covers the ground. The Redwing is a delicate bird, and often comes to
grief in our country during a hard winter. The Mistle Thrush is with us
all the year, and its food consists, not of mistletoe as used to be
supposed, but of the berries of the yew, holly, mountain ash, hawthorn,
etc., worms, snails, and insects, and, it must be confessed, of a little
fruit occasionally.

The male bird is pure black, the eyes bordered with a fine golden
yellow. The beak is also of this colour. Legs blackish. The female is
dark-brown, chin whitish, breast a shabby brown with dark spots, beak
and legs brown. The male does not attain his brilliant blackness until
his third year. It builds its nest in bushes and thick foliage, where it
is well hidden. It is composed chiefly of moss, fine twigs, and tufts of
hair; and is strong and durable. The clutch consists of four to six eggs
of pale green, speckled with pale rust-red and violet.

[Illustration: An evening lyric.]

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE GOLDEN ORIOLE.]


THE ORIOLE.

(_Oriolus galbula._)

This bird is noisy in the spring and the early summer, its voice, which
is full and deep like the note of the reed-pipe, fills the edge of the
woods and the great gardens. “Next to the call of the Cuckoo, the
flute-like note of the Oriole most enlivens the early summer woods and
so contributes to the perfect harmony of a sunny spring-tide day;
‘_deelee-adid-leen_,’ or ‘_ditleo, deega, ditleeo_’ it sounds, always
clear and joyous out of the bushy treetops.” In Hungary, it endeavours
to lure away boys from too close proximity to the nest, by the cry,
“_kell-cy dió, fiu?_” which means “Boys do you want some nuts?”

Except at the fruit season, the Oriole is a very useful bird, and there
is no kind of caterpillar that it will not pick up. In seasons when
there are a great many cockchafers, it carries on a perfect war of
extermination on these unhappy creatures. It is unfortunately true,
however, that when the summer fruit is ripe--it departs for warmer
regions before autumn--it troubles itself little about chafers, but
turns its attention to cherries, apricots, morellas, and early pears.
Still the good it does in destroying insects, is much greater than the
harm it does otherwise, and therefore we will be indulgent to it.
Besides, its lovely colour is a delight to the eye.

       *       *       *       *       *

This Oriole comes annually to Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, but can
only be called a visitor to our country, although nests have been found
occasionally in some counties, especially in Kent. It is not
unfrequently noticed in the Southern and Eastern counties of England.

Unfortunately collectors cannot resist adding this beautifully plumaged
bird to their lists. I have watched it myself in Southern Germany and
Hungary. It is not at all shy, and one of the most beautiful things in
bird-life I have ever seen was a number of Orioles flitting from tree to
tree in an orchard situated amongst vineyards on the hilly banks of the
Danube in Baranya. The black on the wing-coverts and tail-feathers is in
striking contrast with the golden-yellow of the greater part of the
plumage. The male has a very flute-like call, hence its French name of
Loriot. The female is a devoted mother. Where these birds have been
protected on private estates in our country they have reared broods
successfully; it would surely add to the beauty of our rural landscapes,
if they were encouraged and protected.

The Oriole is rather larger than the Thrush. The male is a beautiful
golden-yellow; wings and tail black except the end of the tail which is
yellow. A black stripe passes across the eyes from the base of the beak;
the beak is a reddish flesh colour, the eye blood-red. In the female and
the young, all the parts which in the male are golden-yellow are
greenish, the underparts a greyish-white with darker stripes. The nest
is quite a work of art. It is always placed in the base of a fork of a
branch, and is fastened to the bough with fine root fibre and bast; it
is lined with any fine soft material, even cob-webs are sometimes found
in it. The clutch usually consists of five eggs, which are white with a
few very prominent dark specks. It also nests in gardens.


THE ROBIN.

(_Eríthacus rubécula._)

The Robin is one of the cleverest courtiers. It alights on the ground,
alternately appears and vanishes for a few moments, then suddenly stands
still, makes a low bow, droops its wings, raises its tail, then looks up
at one with shining eyes, full of confidence, as if to say: “I trust
you.” It hunts beetles with great energy, and does not even recoil
before the slug, still less before a small earthworm, which the lordly
hedge-sparrow would not touch for all the world.

Sometimes it flies on to a high branch, keeping quite still, except that
now and then it makes a bow and raises its tail; then all at once it
flies to the ground, pounces on the awaited booty, returns to its bough
and devours its prey. Its song is beautiful, exquisite, rivalling, but
not excelling, that of the Lark. The bird sits quietly and sings, and is
in no hurry to cease. Its cry is a light piercing “_see_.”

It is a bird which may be said to become tame almost immediately when
caught. It likes to move at liberty about a room. Poor people with us
like to keep it, for it catches the flies in the room, the spiders in
the corners or even on the bed; or any other moving thing. This bonny
bird deserves every protection.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ways of the “cheery little Ruddock,” as Shakespeare calls him, are
so well known that it is not necessary

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE ROBIN.]

to add much more to Mr. Herman’s graphic description. Perhaps it is not
known to all our readers, however, that a great number of Robins migrate
to our country every autumn from the Continent, whilst some of our
home-bred birds leave our shores. As a rule the red on the breast of the
former is brighter than with those bred here. There are, however, as we
know, individual birds which will attach themselves to a home where they
have been treated kindly, for a number of successive winters, entering
the open window and feeding with the children.

The Robin has three different styles of song, one the gay, joyous
outpouring which delights us on sunny days, then the autumnal dirge,
which proclaims the approach of cold stormy days, and is often uttered
just before it leaves us for warmer quarters; and again, the long
drawn-out cries, notes of distress, when some prowling cat or other
enemy approaches its nest.

Robins, as we all know, devour great quantities of worms and insects. It
is a most valuable species to the gardener and fruit grower, for, except
under the stress of thirst, it lives only on animal food.

The Robin needs little description. The whole of the upper side,
including the back of the head and crown, is olive brown, the
under-parts dingy white; throat, breast, and brow a beautiful rose-red
with us,--in some districts more chestnut-red,--whence the bird is
called the Redbreast. There are plainly discernable oblique stripes of a
lighter shade on the wings. Eyes dark brown and large; legs dark and
strong; beak finely pointed; plumage fine, soft, and loose. The nest is
always placed low down, in the thickest bushes, in hollow trees, holes,
and crevices. It is well and delicately built; the outer covering
consists of dry leaves, the inner of thickly woven moss, rootlets, hair,
and feathers. It is difficult to find. The eggs usually number five,
occasionally seven; they are of a yellowish olive-brown speckled with
rust colour, the speckling being closer in a ring round the thicker end.
Two or even three broods are produced in the year.

    “The Robin and the Wren
     Are God Almighty’s cock and hen.
     Him that harries their nest,
     Never shall his soul have rest.”

Grahame sang--

              “Dearer the redbreast’s note,
    That mourns the fading year in Scotia’s vales,
    Than Philomel’s where spring is ever new;
    More dear the redbreast’s sober suit,
    So like the withered leaflet, than the glare
    Of gaudy wings that make the Iris dim.”


THE WREN.

(_Troglodytes párvulus._)

The Wren is certainly the most lively of little birds. With its
confiding nature, especially in winter, it approaches close to men, and
with lightning speed dashes into the openings and gaps in the wood
stack. It is visible only for a moment at a time, and, with its little
upright tail, its nodding and see-sawing, its appearing and
disappearing, its popping in and out, it disposes even the most morose
persons to cheerfulness. It slips through the prickliest bunch of
blackthorn like the nimblest mouse, and has scarcely vanished on one
side, before it appears on the other, shoots about like an arrow and is
quickly lost in the neighbouring hedge. It does not fly far. If it finds
itself in difficulties in the open, it slips into a mouse-hole. It feeds
on the tiniest, and most hidden insects. It finds the smallest spiders,
caterpillars, chrysalises, and grubs, which it wants, with skill and
inexhaustible energy. It is found both in summer and winter with us.

This little bird has also its song, which is louder than might be
expected, suggesting somewhat that of the Canary. A listener to whom it
is not known, is astonished if he happens to discover the tiny vocalist.
It sings always in an open place. Its cry is “_Zrr’s Zezerr_.”

A Lancashire naturalist writes of “the irrepressible vitality of the
Wrens which prompts them to fling a song in the face of winter whenever
they get a chance.” A chiding, chattering song it is; flung out also in
advance of the intruding footsteps that disturb the

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WREN.]

privacy of the hedge-row at the foot of which the bold, pert little
creatures are seeking their food. In old nests in the thatch and holes
in the walls, they find warmth and shelter during the winter, a little
batch of them together. They are supposed to build special nests,
“cocks’ nests,” they are called. A Staffordshire acquaintance tells how,
being curious as to the number sleeping in one of these which he had
previously noted in a grotto in his grounds, he and gardener surprised
them one night by the light of a lanthorn, and no fewer than six Wrens
fluttered out of the nest.

Another friend who was fishing near Brambridge, in Hampshire, tells me
that he knows one such nest under the thatch of an under-keeper’s
cottage, and he has seen five or six enter this in the early twilight of
a winter evening. On two different occasions, when a dogcart sent to the
keeper’s cottage at which he puts up, was waiting for him to drive to
his day’s fishing, a Wren settled on the back of the standing horse,
near the cottage door, and remained there for a few minutes, as though
enjoying the warmth coming through the creature’s coat.

In Ireland every Wren that can be seen is hunted down and killed on St.
Stephen’s Day; and a Surrey man tells me that up to twenty-five years
ago he has witnessed the same persecution in the home counties.
Tradition says that it is due in Ireland to the fact of a party of Wrens
hopping over a drum’s head, and thereby disturbing a sentinel, when a
party of Irish were on the point of surprising their enemies.

Shakespeare writes of “the Wren with little quill,” in Bottom’s song of
birds; and again, in “Cymbeline,” Imogen says, “if there be yet left in
Heaven as small a drop of pity as a Wren’s eye.” The comparisons drawn
by old-fashioned country folk are often very quaint. I remember an old
lady who, if she were asked to take more of some dish at table, often
said, “Just a bit the size of a bee’s knee,” to the great edification of
us youngsters. The song of the Wren is always the same: a few separate
notes, a trill, a rattle and a trill, while its call-note has been
likened to the clicking of a watch while it is being wound up. There is
no more winsome picture of bird-life than this tiny creature dotting
about, with little tail erect and fan-like, in quest of its insect food
among the dry bramble leaves, so vivacious in its movements that no
camera could ever do it justice.

The Wren is almost the smallest of European birds. There is not much to
be said about the colouring of its feathers, which are the brown of the
tree trunks, with beautiful thick oblique stripes of a darker shade. The
colour is lighter over the eyes, on throat and breast. The tail feathers
are especially fine, and thickly striped. The beak is slightly
depressed, fine and sharp as a needle; the brown legs relatively strong.
The nest is placed under the cover of felled boughs, between roots, in
secluded corners of abandoned huts, which it can slip into. The nest is
comparatively large, with a spacious entrance, and consists of a
foundation of leaves and fine twigs, within which is a layer of moss,
and again within that a mass of smooth, finely broken feathers. The
clutch is six, sometimes, but rarely, eight small white eggs, with fine
blood-red speckles.

[Illustration:

1. Wren’s Egg.      2. Great Bustard’s Egg.

Comparative sizes.]

[Illustration: DOUBTFUL.

THE HAWFINCH.]


THE HAWFINCH.

(_Coccothraustes vulgaris._)

This is not a true migrant, for it is only in severe winters that it
seeks a warmer climate. In autumn it comes from the hills, down into the
plain, to the neighbourhood of human habitations, where it leads a
restless life. It is timid, and easily startled; while flying it utters
its shrill cry “_seu, seu, seu_.” The striking bulk of its beak
indicates the strength it has to use in obtaining its food; and it is
so, for the kernels of the hardest cherry stones are its favourite
dainty.

It flies in small flocks, and when these light on a cherry tree, they
are quite quiet, not a sound is heard, except the cracking of the hard
shells by the strong bills, which are specially formed for the work. The
cherry stone lies in the lower mandible, the upper one being ribbed and
so perfectly adapted for cracking the stone. This bird breaks with ease
a fruit stone, which a full-grown man can only crush with the heavy
pressure of his boot heel. Towards spring, when there are no more fruit
stones to be found, it attacks and destroys the young leaf buds.

This bird is not very commonly found in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

The number of Hawfinches has been steadily increasing in England of late
years. This is probably due to Bird Protection, which is so much more
enforced than it used to be. The young are fed chiefly on caterpillars,
but unfortunately they soon take to eating peas, which brings them into
bad repute with gardeners, and numbers of young birds are shot and
buried in gardens where peas are grown. It is pleasant, on the other
hand, to watch them amongst the wild plums and sloes and crab-trees in
one of our old hedgerows, but is not an easy matter as they are so
suspicious. In districts where many peas are grown for the market, these
birds are a perfect plague. In Germany this bird is called Kernbeisser
(kernel biter) because of the ease with which it cracks cherry stones
with its powerful bill. With us it eats the seeds of the horn-beam and
other trees, beechmast, haws, etc.

Only one brood is raised in a season, but if the first nest is meddled
with, another one is made.

In “Within an Hour of London Town” the writer interviews a gardener on
the subject of Hawfinches. We give it here as it stands.

“What do I want with the gun? Hawfinches; they hawfinches in my peas!”
he grunts.

As he leaves the tool-house I quietly follow, and place myself with him
behind a low faggot-stack which stands in a line with the peas.

“Jest hear ’em! ain’t it cruel!” he whispers. “I hope the whole roost of
’em may git in a lump so that I ken blow ’em to rags an’ tatters. If you
didn’t know what it was you’d think some old cow was grindin’ up them
peas. Ain’t they scrunchin’ of ’em! All right now, I ken see you, you
grindin’ varmints! Now for it!” Bang!

Three birds fall--young ones in their first plumage, which has a strong
likeness to that of a greenfinch.

After picking the birds up, we examine the pea-rows. There is no doubt
as to the mischief the birds have done. The old fellow’s own expression,
“grinding up,” is the best to convey any idea of the destruction that
has taken place. Where the birds have been, nothing remains but the
stringy portion of the pods of his precious “Marrer fats.”

There is enormous power in the bill of the Hawfinch, when the size of
the bird is considered. The pea-pod is simply run through the bill, and
the contents are squeezed out in a state of green pulp and swallowed.

“Varmints I call ’em, an’ nothin’ else,” is the remark my old friend
makes, as he goes towards the tool-house and takes from a shelf a hen
Hawfinch and two young ones, the former probably the mother of some of
the birds that are about, if not, indeed, of the whole brood, her
plumage showing that she has been sitting.

“People wants me to git ’em full-feathered old birds for stuffin’, but
bless ye, ye might as well try to ketch weasels asleep. A cock Hawfinch
is about one o’ the most artful customers as I knows on. The only time
to get a clip at ’em is in winter, under the plum and damson trees. They
gits there after the stones, any amount o’ stones lays jest under the
ground, an’ they picks ’em out an’ cracks them easy. I gits plenty o’
young ones when peas are about--the old ones lets ’em come, but they
take precious good care they don’t come off the tops o’ the trees
themselves afore they knows there ain’t nobody about. Some says they’re
scarce birds. I knows they ain’t--leastways not when my peas are ready
to gather.”

The Hawfinch is seven inches in length and has a thick head, short tail,
and very strong bill. Crown and cheeks cinnamon brown, neck greyish,
mantle chestnut. There is a black patch on the throat, the base of the
bill, and the eye, and a white patch on the wing. The tail is white in
the middle and darker at the sides, the underparts are greyish with a
tinge of violet. The middle wing feathers are serrated in wavy curves,
and look as if clipt with scissors, the bill is exceptionally strong,
very thick at the base, and sharp at the point. It lays four to six eggs
of a pale green colour slightly speckled. The nest is well-built and is
placed in fruit trees, and in open spaces in the woods, at a height of
from six feet upwards.

The moral of the story of the gardener and the Hawfinch is that the
gardener must protect his peas.


THE CHAFFINCH.

(_Fringilla coelebs._)

The Chaffinch is a useful bird, and is also an ornament to the woods and
gardens, not only by its lovely plumage, its friendliness, and its
movements, but especially by its clear voice which rings like a silver
bell. Its call-note is “_fink-fink_,” and it has a short, cheery little
song. Through the whole laying and brooding season it is busy with the
destructive grubs and insects, especially the little caterpillars and
tiny beetles which destroy the buds on the trees. When the seeds are
ripe it lives entirely on them, but almost exclusively on those which it
is able to pick up from the ground. It is true that when a considerable
number of these birds visit a vegetable garden they do a great deal of
harm, but this is outweighed by the good they do.

In very severe winters, it comes either in flocks or small parties with
other starving companions--Yellow-Hammers, Siskins, Crested Larks, and
Sparrows--into the villages, and even towns, and picks over the heaps of
street refuse and gutter sweepings.

It is still common with us in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

This Chaffinch is one of our common British species in winter, although
in some seasons their numbers are unaccountably smaller than in others.
It was called cœlebs, or bachelor, because of a partial separation of
the sexes which takes place during the winter. Large flocks arrive from
the Continent at that season on our East coast, whilst others come from
the North of our islands to spread themselves inland. Unfortunately the

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE CHAFFINCH.]

Chaffinch is the favourite bird in the shops of the Seven Dials in
London, and before the Bird Protection Acts came into force, many a
country lane has been cleared of Chaffinches to the great disgust of
many of the residents in the neighbourhood.

In Germany this is called the Buchfink--Beechfinch--because of its
fondness for beech woods. In the Thurigen Forest they have come to our
table like Sparrows for crumbs. It frequents our suburban gardens.

The Chaffinch is a delightful bird in garden and wood. The full-grown
male has a broad white stripe and a smaller yellow stripe on the wings;
the two outer feathers of the tail are large, with white wedge-shaped
spots, which give the bird in flight a very variegated appearance. Crown
and neck are bluish-grey; brow black; cheeks and under parts
brownish-red; wings and tail black, except the white spots. The female
and young are more plainly coloured; otherwise, like the male. Its nest
is built among the high tree-tops, sometimes quite in the open, and is
made of tufts of hair, moss, root-fibres, wool, and hair, very skilfully
constructed. It lays five or six eggs with dark dots and fine markings,
but occasionally of a uniform colour.

[Illustration: Chaffinches at the stream.]

[Illustration: MAINLY USEFUL.

THE BULLFINCH.]


THE BULLFINCH.

(_Pyrrhula europœa._)

The Bullfinch lives in summer in the mountains, and descends in late
autumn to the plains, where it meets its far bigger relatives who come
to us for the winter from the Far North, and joins company with them in
wood and grove and garden, even in the immediate neighbourhood of
dwellings. When the sunshine glistens on frost and snow, and these
splendidly coloured birds settle on a dry bough, the scene presents a
lovely winter landscape the impression of which is heightened by its
melancholy subdued cry, “_deeu_,” or “_beut, beut_.” In captivity it
learns to sing tunes. It is easily caught, for it is incautious.

In winter it visits plants, choosing the young wild vines, buds, seeds
of all kinds, berries including those of the alder, and the wayfaring
tree; it does not attack weeds. In very severe winters, when starving,
it will also do mischief among the buds of the fruit-trees.

It is frequently seen in winter.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bullfinch has been causing much dissension in and near an East
Anglian district where I have lately been staying. A net had been placed
over the gooseberry bushes to protect the blossom, and much indignation
was caused early one morning by the sight of three lusty Bullfinches
within the meshes, and a quantity of promising blossom on the ground.
“There would be no gooseberries whatever, this season; it was positively
unbearable; sentiment was utterly misplaced.” The three birds were
caught by the hand within the net, two were put in a cage in the
stable, and one was exposed in a small cage on the top of the garden
wall to attract others to the like fate. The gardeners were inexorable.
Madame was irritated by the sight of the rifled twigs. “And all last
Sunday was spent, by the wife and me,” said the gardener, “shying stones
at the rascals among the trees in our own garden.” The next day a
market-gardener shot no less than six Bullfinches on his grounds.

As a rule, my friends on this estate, are extremely good to birds, and
they attract them by placing breeding boxes, and supplying food in
winter; but these sturdy rascals find no quarter. I pleaded hard for
them, but, I fear, without result. The gooseberry blossom was certainly
nearly all destroyed, but it was in a quest for the destructive larvæ of
the winter moths, which make their appearance in the early spring and
eat the not yet expanded buds. A fruit grower has stated that he allowed
the Bullfinches to eat as much as they pleased; the crop of fruit has
usually been as good as if the birds had not done any disbudding, and
when, by a rare chance, the trees had borne no fruit at all, he knew it
was because the trees required clearing, and the next year the crop
would be all the finer. In some cases the tree appears to be entirely
disbudded, and still fruit has appeared.

It is only for a short period that the Bullfinches visit the fruit
trees. During the rest of the year they eat the seeds of harmful
weeds--dock, thistle, groundsel, plantain; and one authority states that
a single Bullfinch has been known to devour 238 seeds of the common
spear-thistle in twenty minutes! A writer in the Journal of the Royal
Agricultural Society say that he has seen “a small party of these birds
eagerly devouring the seeds of the large sow-thistle.” A little fruit
more or less in a season, in one’s own domain, is a small matter in
comparison with the vast amount of noxious weeds destroyed on our
fields.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bullfinch is an ornament in a garden. Crown, wings, and tail are
shining black, and the same colour surrounds the bill; mantle a
beautiful ashen-grey, rump and under tail cover snow white, breast and
under-parts a fine red. In the female the under-part is ashen-grey. Bill
short but very thick, at the end curved and hooked. The clutch is
composed of five green eggs with purple and grey speckles. It nests in
the fir woods of the mountains, at a height of about six yards; the nest
is made of thin twigs and is lined with hair.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Goldfinch (_Carduélis élegans_) is so well known in Great Britain
that it requires little description. Unhappily for the “Proud Tailor,”
as he is called in the Midlands, he has always been a favourite
cage-bird, and on the South Downs Goldfinches have been captured in
thousands at the times of migration, to be miserably caged in dozens for
the bird dealers.

They are birds which found their food on the waste lands where large
thistles used to grow, and with the improvement of these waste lands the
thistles have gone, and the Goldfinches with them. Increased Bird
Protection is, however, causing more Goldfinches to breed amongst us,
which is a good thing for agriculture, this bird’s food consisting, as
it does, of the seeds of the thistle, knap-weed, groundsel, dock, and
other plants. The Goldfinch is considered to be one of the most useful
of all our birds, feeding, as it does, on the seeds of noxious plants of
which there is a succession all the year round. It ought to be
encouraged in orchards, where it feeds its young on small caterpillars,
and destroys great numbers of other insects for them.

Its relative, the Greenfinch (_Ligurinus chlóris_), a common and
well-known species everywhere, is not quite so valuable a bird to the
agriculturist as the above species. It is well known that it steals much
swede and turnip seed, still it devours quantities of the seeds of such
weeds as dandelion, corn marigold, charlock, wild vetch, etc., and the
parents capture immense quantities of moths, flies, caterpillars, and
other pests for their young.

[Illustration: A Feast of Thistle Seed.]


THE YELLOW HAMMER.

(_Emberiza citrinella._)

This is a pretty, cheerful, friendly bird, that lives in gardens,
thickets, or the outer part of the woods. Its chief distinguishing
characteristic is that it loves to associate with other kinds of birds,
especially the Fieldfares, with which it is most intimate. During the
brooding time and before the seeds are ripe it lives chiefly on grubs
and insects, being particularly fond of the smooth caterpillars, which
the other birds do not much relish. It also likes seeds, and rather the
floury than the oily ones. In winter it flies about the fields with
other birds, and destroys the seed of the runners, and the weeds that
shoot up through the snow--and is thus doubly of use to the farmer.

In a severe winter it comes with other feathered visitors into the
inhabited districts. At the weekly market it appears with Finches,
Crested Larks, and Sparrows, and picks up the oats and other grain which
are lying about, showing little timidity in doing so. It has a dipping
flight. It enlivens the country-side in spring and summer with its song.

It is very numerous with us in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

This bird is resident and common in most parts of Great Britain. From
morning till evening it sings the same song all through the spring and
summer; it has been transcribed as “Little bit of bread and no
che-eese.” The form and hardness of its bill, proclaims the bird to be a
grain eater, and of course it will pick up a great deal of corn, where
it is to be found, yet both

[Illustration: USEFUL.

YELLOW HAMMER OR BUNTING.]

old and young birds live upon insects largely, as well as the seeds of
baneful weeds, and it has been estimated with us that the good it does
far outweighs any harm which the farmer suffers through it.

The Yellow Bunting, well known under its universal name of Yellow
Hammer, says “A Son of the Marshes,” “is a very handsome bird and a very
common one. The plumage is splashed with rich yellows, warm red-browns
and darker streaks; this is his nesting suit. In winter the colouring is
not quite so gay. Where farms or farm-buildings show, you will be sure
to find Yellow Hammers round about them. Stand just inside the stable,
after the horses have left it in the morning for their work in the
fields, and look at the birds gathered round the open door, all busily
picking up the grains of oats that have fallen from the nose-bags. A
fine mid-April morning suits the bird to perfection, for he droops his
wings, spreads his tail out, and glides here and there pecking up as he
goes, in the most dainty manner. Then, for a time, he visits the trees.

The lowering of the wings, until they almost touch the ground, and the
spreading out of the tail, is a peculiar trait seen more or less in the
whole of the Bunting family.

Trees and fields are necessary to the well-being of the Yellow-Hammer,
which may be considered one of the farmer’s friends; for at certain
seasons he, as well as others of his family, live in the fields, only
leaving them to rest, or roost in the trees that surround them. Innocent
as the creature is in all its ways and means of living, superstition has
linked its name with evil. I have been assured, in the most solemn
manner, that the badger, the toad, and the Yellow Hammer are all in
league with the Prince of Darkness.”

The Cirl Bunting, often called the French Yellow Hammer, which is
distinguished from the commoner bird by the dark throat gorget, is more
numerous at times than it is supposed to be. In fact it is becoming
fairly common as a resident species.

The Yellow Hammer is the size of a Sparrow but longer and more elegant.
Throat, underparts, and crown of the full-grown male, golden-yellow;
mantle rust-red merging into green. The bill is peculiar, the lower half
is compressed, and the upper half is so formed that it is adapted for
shelling seeds. Its well built nest is placed low down among the bushes.
It lays five eggs which have dark markings on a light ground.

[Illustration]


THE TURTLE DOVE.

(_Turtur communis._)

The Turtle Dove has a pretty, dainty walk, an uncommonly rapid flight,
and is altogether a beautiful pleasant cleanly bird. The pairs are
devoted to each other. Their cooing, “_turr, turr_,” is pleasing,
gentle, and rich. It is a harmonious sound which makes a soothing
impression on the mind. It is no wonder that, from its whole nature, the
Turtle Dove has been chosen as the symbol of faithful love. Popular
sentiment is shown in the widespread belief, that if his mate is taken
from him, the male bird dies of grief--or that in sorrow for his loss he
never again sits on a green bough. The Turtle Dove loves the border of a
wood, or the trees, and rows of poplars that skirt a corn-field. It
likes to be near clear water to which the birds come in flocks to drink.
Its food consists almost entirely of seeds, chiefly those of weeds. That
is why this bird is so useful to the farmer. It does, indeed, sometimes
take toll of the grains, in the corn-field, when they have not been
properly covered by the harrow. Then, indeed, the Doves so fill their
crops, that bare places do not fail to appear on the ground. But this
bad behaviour lasts only for a short time; besides it is not very bad,
for they eat chiefly the superfluous grains. It is quite different with
regard to the seeds of weeds, which they destroy the whole summer
through in great quantities. A student of bird-lore once opened the crop
of a Dove in midsummer, and found in it 1942 seeds, of which all but one
were the seeds of the poisonous willow-leaved wolfs-milk--the one
exception being also the seed of a noxious

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE TURTLE DOVE.]

weed. There can be no doubt that this bird does more good than harm--and
we will, therefore, encourage and protect it.

It is still common in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is common in some parts of England, but is very local in its
visitations and is only a summer visitor. A “Son of the Marshes,” says,
“It is common enough in some parts of Surrey. I have seen from ten to
thirty of them rise from the standing oats, or from the long grass in
the hayfield, at one flight. One of my friends shot a couple as they
were rising from the oats, and opened their crops. Not a single grain of
oat did he find in them. They were full of a little vetch that grew
abundantly at the roots of the oats, or, to express it in true rustic
agricultural phrase, ‘at the stam o’ the whuts.’ I was with the man at
the time; after that examination of the birds’ crops he declared he
would never shoot another pigeon.”

Another member of this family, the beautiful Ring Dove or Wood Pigeon
(_Colúmba palumbus_), called Queest in Ireland, and Cushat in the North,
because of its soft notes, is a bird that we could ill-spare from our
woods and coppices. It is, however, an undeniable fact that the members
of this voracious species have increased of late years in a manner which
is alarming to the hard-working farmer. Many writers have taken up the
cudgels in defence of these birds on account mainly of the amount of
noxious weeds, wild mustard seed, and leaves they devour, but, as that
great naturalist, the late Lord Lilford, wrote, in sending me a little
box of the contents of the crops of three birds extracted by himself:
“In a highly-farmed country these weeds hardly exist; and,” he added,
“in my opinion his good deeds are in no way comparable to the damage
done. I have frequently, when shooting Wood Pigeons in the winter
months, seen their crops burst on coming down dead from a height, from
distension with hearts, acorns, barley, and turnip-tops.” The contents
of the three birds’ crops sent to me were 129 peas, 85 beans, and some
broken vegetable matter.

The amount of good or of harm done by this species varies, as in the
case of other birds, according to the weather and the scarcity or plenty
of their natural food about the woods and the lands skirting these.
Considering the numbers that breed in our midst the farmers might well
thin these, and send a better supply of birds to the market.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Turtle Dove is smaller than the Pigeon, slenderer, and it has a more
stately form. Crown and brow are a beautiful grey, cheeks and ear parts
flushed with rust colour. On each side of the neck it has an ornament of
black and white dots arranged in rows. The mantle is ashen-grey with
dark specks which have a reddish border. The rump is ashen-grey with a
shade of rust colour. Throat and breast reddish, melting into violet;
the under-parts are white. The wings are black, shaded with slate
colour; tail slate colour; four, at least, of the tail feathers have
white tips. Beak black, the irides fiery red; legs blood-red. The young
birds are of soberer colour. The nest is placed in thickets and is well
hidden. It is composed of little branches and twigs, very lightly put
together--indeed so loose and open is it, that the eggs and the sitting
hen can be seen through it. It lays two white eggs.



CHAPTER VII.

SOME WILDFOWL.


THE LAPWING.

(_Vanéllus vulgáris._)

The reedlands and meadow-lands, moist fields, marsh and lake districts,
would be desolate and lifeless without the beautiful Lapwings. They
wheel and flap, and twist, and wheel again, on the large open uplands,
so that their varied plumage almost dazzles the eye, and when several
pairs frequent the same field they embellish air and sky. When the
nesting time arrives the whole neighbourhood resounds with the call
which the bird utters while in flight. The call-note sounds like
“Keevit,” from which, of course, its name is taken. The pairing note
sounds like “Ka kerkhoit, kewit, kewit, kewit, kewit.” It can run well
and quickly on the ground. If a dog or a crow approaches the nest it
flies at it with a loud, despairing cry, “Chrait,” and strikes at the
enemy with its beak; if a man shows himself it practices all kinds of
cunning tricks. It flies along near the ground, repeatedly stopping, and
so lures him away from the nest. The eggs of the Lapwing are much sought
after. Its usual food consists of worms, the various kinds of snails,
chafers, grasshoppers. In autumn it covers the fields and meadows in
great flocks like a cloud, and destroys the pests of agriculture. It
departs in winter. It is recommended for protection both on account of
its beauty and its usefulness.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE LAPWING.]

Sir Herbert Maxwell, writing last autumn, 1908, in the _Pall Mall
Gazette_, after referring to another species, says: “There is another
bird equally industrious in ridding the farm of insect pests and with no
fruit or grain eating propensities whatever, which we allow each year to
be slain in increasing numbers. Already in poulterers’ shops, not of the
first class, may be seen strings of Lapwings exposed for sale, and this
will continue till far on in next spring. May I make my annual protest
against this mischievous traffic? Great Britain has held aloof from the
Convention of Continental States formed for the protection of birds
useful to agriculture. Her Government decided upon this attitude on the
ground that Parliament had already effected by legislation most of the
objects which the Convention has in view. But the continued slaughter of
Lapwings is altogether at variance with--nay, is in direct opposition
to--the main provisions of the Convention. It is true that powers have
been conferred upon County Councils enabling them to prohibit the
killing, capture or exposure for sale, of Lapwings or any other kind of
bird at any or every season; but so long as these powers are not
exercised this senseless slaughter will go on. For, unhappily, there is
a ready market for the carcases of these useful birds. People whose
palates are so gross as to be gratified by the flesh of carnivorous
birds eat Lapwings greedily enough. Why not compel them to be content
with their eggs? seeing that every Lapwing destroyed means the
preservation of hundreds of noxious insects, such as leather grubs,
wireworms, click-beetles, caterpillars, and such like.”

In England drainage and the improvement of waste lands have caused its
numbers to diminish, still it holds its own on most of our high-lying
moorlands. In Scotland it is plentiful, and is even on the increase in
many of the northern districts. Unfortunately, its eggs are in great
demand. In Ireland this is not the case; the eggs are not sought after
as they are in England, but the birds are netted in numbers for eating.

The Lapwing is twelve inches in length. It can be immediately recognised
by the long pointed crest which begins on the crown, extending backwards
and being slightly curved upwards at the end, resembling a good deal a
waxed military moustache. This is black, as are also the brow, throat
and breast; the under parts are quite white, the rump a brilliant
rust-colour; the base of the tail white; the end of the tail is adorned
with a broad black border. Mantle shining, iridescent black. Legs red,
eyes brown and bright; beak shaped like a thick awl. Such is the
appearance of the males; the female bird and its young are much plainer
in colour, and have a smaller crest. The nest is placed in the reed-beds
and in shallow parts of the marshes; it is simply a scratched out hollow
bedded with dry chaff. The clutch usually consists of four pear-shaped
eggs, which have olive-brown spots and flecks on an olive-green ground.
The young leave the nest as soon as they are hatched, sometimes even
carrying part of the shell on their feathers.


THE COMMON CURLEW.

(_Numenius arquata._)

This bird takes up its residence with us in Hungary as a visitor only on
its way during the long migratory journey, which extends from the
northernmost parts of our hemisphere to the Nile.

Its habits are most varied, for it stays sometimes on the flat sea
shore, sometimes on the border of the desert, sometimes on a rocky
river-bank; with us it settles on pasture land, fallow fields, marshy
flats, and lowlands. It destroys everywhere immense numbers of
grasshoppers and beetles. Crickets are the food it likes best, but it
also eats snails, and sometimes even frogs. It is, therefore, of great
service to the farmer, more especially as it frequents and cleanses the
fields in large numbers. It does not require much protection for it is
an extremely shy bird, and he must be a clever marksman who can bring it
down with a shot. But the sportsmen of the lowlands are even more
cunning than the Curlew. At certain places they lure the birds with a
decoy--a bird dried in the oven which is placed on the lake edge--and a
pair of Curlews are almost certain to fall victims to the ruse.

Its call-note is audible at a considerable distance, floating
pleasantly, something like a modulated human whistle: “_Klowit!_” or
“_Taue taue_,” and “_Tlouid tlouid!_” Shepherds believe that when this
cry is heard it foretells wind.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Common Curlew is to be found in Great Britain, wherever there are
sand and mud-flats, and rocks covered

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE COMMON CURLEW.]

with sea-weed left high and dry at ebb-tide. It is with us during the
entire year, for when the old birds go inland in spring, the young birds
take their place and remain for the summer. As long as the young birds
remain on the moors and pastures, their food consists of berries,
insects, spiders, worms, and snails, and they then become excellent for
the table; but after feeding near the sea, they become unpalatable.

Its plumage, mottled, speckled, and cut up with broken tones of brown
grey white and light red, makes it look like a Plover when squatted,
unless its long scythe-shaped bill can be detected,--a most difficult
matter when in that position. It is wary in the extreme; morning, noon,
and night on the alert. That it is brought to bay at times is certainly
no fault of its own, but is mainly due to its surroundings.

The Curlew is a most interesting bird, see it when you may, on some
upland with the sheep, in the grass meadows, or on the shore, when huge
dark storm-clouds roll in from open water, a gale blowing, and the white
parts of its plumage showing like large snowflakes as the bird and its
companions are driven shrieking and wailing in all directions, or in the
calm, still days of early autumn.

“From a fishing smack,” says “A Son of the Marshes,” I have watched it
probing for lug-worms, running nimbly or walking sedately on the mingled
sand and ooze.

Curlews allow themselves to be blown, or drifted only, when waiting over
some favourite feeding-ground, before the tide has sufficiently left for
them to feed. I have repeatedly watched mobs of them, waiting for the
tide, when a heavy gale has been blowing. The birds know that their
food is just below them so they merely flap to and fro and put up with
the inconvenience of being blown about. At any other time they would
shoot clean through in the teeth of the gale. Only those who have seen a
frightened Curlew go up or down a creek lined with shore-shooters,
shrieking as it flies, can form any idea of the bird’s swiftness. I have
known a bird of this kind “fly the gauntlet” for three miles, and there
has been bang! bang! bang! from every shooter that it passed, good shots
too. It escaped the lot without being touched. Swift flyers at all
times, their ordinary speed is as nothing compared with what it is when
they are frightened.”

The Curlew is 24 inches in length. It has a long scythe-shaped bill, a
long neck, and long, waders’ legs. The plumage is marked with hemp-seed
speckling, the specks somewhat elongated, here and there arrow-shaped.
Tail white, slightly tinged with brown; every feather has brown bars.
Eye brown. It does not usually nest with us, but is more a spring and
autumn visitor; yet it sometimes happens that a pair of these birds
build and rear their young. In its northern home it builds on the
ground, on the moorlands. It lays four pear-shaped eggs, as large as
those of the farmyard duck, of an olive green colour, with dark
speckling.


THE COMMON REDSHANK.

(_Totanus cálidris._)

The Redshank enlivens whatever place in the reed-land or marsh it
happens to nest in by its voice and its varied plumage. It is a
beautiful sight when it spreads out its wings, rises into the air and
stretches out its long legs. Its resounding whistle is pleasant to the
ear. It runs well, wades in water, and in case of need can swim. When
the young ones are hatched, anyone approaching the nest should be moved
by the wailing cry which it utters in anxiety for its young, though it
has a thousand ways of luring people away from the nest and of
misleading them, when it takes the trouble to do so. With a plaintive
cry it settles on the ground, makes all kinds of bows and curtseys,
utters its flute-like note, then begins to run, as if to say, “Follow
me, man!” When it has come out of the immediate neighbourhood of the
nest it settles on a branch or a stake, or even attempts to perch on a
telegraph wire. Then its voice becomes more plaintive even than that of
the Lapwing. Even a shot does not scare it away. It moves away,
disappears, but in a very short time it is back in the same place to
continue its bitter lamentations; its note sounds like “_Dlue, dlue,
dlue, dlue-dee-dee-deedle-dee_.”

Like all the waders of the marshlands, the Redshank is very voracious,
and has an excellent stomach. It devours beetles, grasshoppers and
snails with great

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE REDSHANK.]

avidity. All for the good of plants, and of men who derive benefits out
of the sedge and reed beds.

This bird is a migrant.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Redshank is still to be found breeding in most of the marshy
districts in England and here and there in Wales; it appears inland from
the middle of March, and early in autumn it begins to resort to the
coast, being joined there by numbers of migrants from the Continent.
When the winter is mild, birds are to be found throughout the year, more
especially in the south and west. It is abundant as far as the Shetlands
in Scotland; in Ireland it is fairly plentiful during the summer, and on
the bays of the west it is numerous at other times of the year, wherever
there is a sufficient supply of _zostera marina_ left behind by the tide
for it to feed amongst.

“Redshank, pool-snipe, teuke or toak, sandcock, red-leg,
redlegged-horseman,--all these names are given to him, as well as
another, which exactly expresses the main characteristic of the
bird--the yelper; and he certainly does yelp. When the tide is up all is
level on the flats, even the blite is covered until the tide goes down.
To all appearance the blite is left dry; but this is not the case, for
thousands of small pools are left at the roots of the blite shrubs.
These cannot be seen, because the thick grey-green leaves cover them.
Most of the fowl feed in the numerous gullies that run through this salt
vegetation. Some of the smaller kinds feed in the pools under it. If any
web-footed fowl are about they are sure to pitch in one or other of the
gripes and gullies.”

The Common Redshank is eleven inches in length. Its plumage also has
the hemp-seed speckling, but is more thickly speckled and barred. Beak
long; legs long, of a bright orange-red. It is perceptibly webbed
between the toes. Tail white, with dark bars. The dark wings are adorned
with a white patch, the sides with pointed spots like drops. Its nest is
found in wet marsh, or moorland, between the weeds and creeping stems,
in little dips, and consists simply of straw litter. It lays four
pear-shaped eggs, which are arranged in the nest with the points towards
one another. The ground colour is clay-yellow, and they are speckled
with greyish and dark-brown spots and flecks.


THE GREEN SANDPIPER.

(_Totanus óchropùs._)

The flight of the Green Sandpiper is very rapid; the note is a shrill
_tui-tui-tui_. The food of the bird consists of insects chiefly, with
small red worms and fresh water snails. It is not good to eat, having a
disagreeable musty odour.

The Green Sandpiper is not uncommon in many parts of England and Wales,
on the spring as well as on the autumnal migration. On the east side of
Scotland it is fairly frequent, but in the north it is very rare. To
Ireland it pays unfrequent visits, even in autumn. “The Green Sandpiper
is a restless bird, for ever moving on,” says “A Son of the Marshes.”
“Something impels him to constant haste.... The first time I met him,
unexpectedly, was on a breezy upland common, with just enough wind
blowing to carry the white clouds along without blowing them to pieces,
a few sheep were wandering about, their bells tinkling. On one side of
the common are a number of old blackthorns, with wisps of wool sticking
on their rough stems, then comes the long high-road, and close to the
road is a small pond, gravel-edged, where the cattle that graze on the
common come to drink. A shrill whistle, and in front of us is a
beautiful bird. He runs a short distance, his feet just in the water,
picks at something, whistles, and is off, over some old beech-trees. I
have examined him dead, and have seen him and his mate exquisitely set
up by a naturalist and bird-stuffer, but you must see him alive to form
any idea of the dashing vitality of the bird itself.”

[Illustration: USEFUL CHIEFLY.

THE GREEN SANDPIPER.]

The eggs of the Sandpiper are rarely found with us, being laid in
deserted nests of Crows, Woodpigeons, Blackbirds, Jays or Thrushes, or
even old squirrel dreys; although its haunts are about the peaty swamps,
hill streams and ponds. Its nesting habits differ from the others of its
congeners. Its cousin, the Common Sandpiper (_Totanus hypoleucus_), is
also a lively creature, that goes by the name of Fidler Willy-wicket,
Dicky-dy-dee, and Water-junket. Fish is sure to be in the stream about
which trips the Fiddler. Its note on rising to take flight is “_Wheet!
wheet!_” and its alarm cry a shary “_Giff! giff!_” At Madely, in
Staffordshire, a pair of these Sandpipers hatched out their young in a
vicarage garden a few summers ago, the fact being recorded by the vicar,
the Rev. T. W. Daltry.

In June you may come on a hen Sandpiper, with her young, beside some
moorland stream. The little ones are precocious in their ways, and run
about nimbly as soon as hatched out. The young of the Green Sandpiper
are not so easy to observe.

The Green Sandpiper is a little over nine inches in length. Upper parts
olive brown tinged with metallic green, speckled and mottled, the lower
parts white, so that when flying it looks like a black and white bird;
the middle tail feathers having broad black bars, towards the end, the
two outside feathers almost white. Feet greenish. The bird lays its eggs
in old Squirrels’ dreys, or the nests of Mistle-and Song-Thrushes,
Blackbirds, Jays, and Woodpigeons; sometimes even on the ground, or on
mossy stumps, and spines heaped upon fir branches, as high up as
thirty-five feet but always near to pools. The eggs are light
greenish-grey, with small purplish brown spots, generally four in
number.

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE NIGHT HERON.]


THE NIGHT HERON.

(_Nycticorax gríseus._)

The Night Heron nests with large numbers of its congeners in
inaccessible spots in the marshes where marshy tracts and broom bush are
close together. In such places will be found on each tree as many nests
as there is room for. The nest itself is carelessly built of a few
branches laid one on another, with a final layer of dry rush and sedge
leaves. It contains four or five pale green-blue eggs.

It is not so secluded in its habits as the Bittern, and is not so fond
of the broad open ponds and reed beds, but prefers the marshes,
especially where there are slimy puddles, alternating with broken
rushes, bushes, and trees. In such places it breeds, in great colonies,
and watches for its prey, which it obtains from ooze--mud fish and other
small fishes, water-rats, lizards, and all kinds of large insects. When
flying, it draws in its legs and head, and so scarcely looks like a
Heron, but when it settles on a tree, as it often does, draws in its
neck and hunches itself up, it greatly resembles a Raven, whence it is
sometimes called the “Nightraven.” Also from its voice, which is like
the croak of the Raven, and sounds like “_Koā_,” “_Koari_,” or
“_Koay_.” Wherever the Night Heron settles it does much harm among the
fish. It is not numerous in Germany; in Hungary it is still fairly
common, but with the draining of the marshes the number of these birds
is likely to decrease.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Night Heron has been increasing in numbers in the British Islands
during the last hundred years, so that it may now be ranked as an
annual visitor to this country.

It is about 23 inches in length; wing 12 inches. The crown and nape are
black with a green metallic lustre. Brow white, about the base of the
beak. Two or three, occasionally four, snow-white feathers, pointing
backwards, adorn its crown. The eye is large with a carmine-red iris;
the long, pointed beak is black; the back is black with a greenish
lustre; neck, wings and tail are ashen-grey. Underparts white, legs
reddish-yellow. The female bird is more uniform in colour. The young are
speckled, while still in the nest.

The Common Heron (_Ardea cinerea_) is well distributed throughout Great
Britain. There are, as before, when this bird was used in the old
Falconry days, very many colonies, although these are not so crowded
with nests as they used to be. The long-legged grey fisher is one of the
most interesting sights beside our streams and meres. “Judy o’ the Bog”
is the name given to the Heron by the peasants in the south of Ireland.
Young Herons were much in favour as table birds in the olden times. They
are still eaten in some districts, but they are only good at certain
seasons, if then; the flesh has mostly a very oily, fishy taste. The
good this bird does in devouring water-rats, field-mice, worms and
insects is counterbalanced by its depredations amongst the fish where
the latter are a consideration.

Let me give here again a presentment of our Common Heron in the
Marshlands of Kent. “An empty stomach has caused the Heron to leave his
sanctuary in the Scotch firs that close in one end of the now frozen
mere, and to come floating down to the river side. He has left bitter
weather behind him, at any rate, for out in the west it is a cold
steel-grey above, with a glow like that of the northern lights resting
on the crests of the distant hills. For once he places caution on one
side; one ring round directly over our head, and then he drops and folds
his wings by the edge of a bit of water that is not frozen because it
runs sharply over some shallows. The grey and white fisher has come here
for his supper, knowing well that when waters are icebound, the fish
will work up to any open piece of water, or even to a small hole broken
through the ice, for air. They must have air; even eels, which are
supposed to be able to live anyhow or anywhere.

To prevent him rising I take a wide range out in the water meadows,
frozen down nearly two feet in depth; but I might just as well have been
saved the trouble for a lot of rooks that have been trying to stock out
a last scanty meal before roosting, from some manure heaps--that have
been placed there to dress the meadow for the hay crop--come for him as
one bird, and the lonely fisher is up and away again to his sanctuary in
the fir trees.”[5]

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE BITTERN.]


THE BITTERN.

(_Botaurus stellaris._)

The bittern is a strange-looking bird which as it moves stealthily among
the reed-beds, has given rise to many superstitions and weird beliefs.
Yet it is nothing but a greedy, insatiable cousin of the Heron, living
on small fishes, but not despising young birds, water-rats,
water-beetles, frogs, and even horse-leeches as food. Its eyes at once
announce that it is a night bird. On a still night its booming can be
heard more than a mile and a half away; and from this the bird has
received some of its local names, such as “Bumble” and “Mire-drum.”
The sounds which it utters are deep, hollow roars, as though
they came from some large animal; many people will not believe
that these sounds proceed from a slender bird. They sound like
“_Cu-prumb-cu-prumm-cu-um_.” Sometimes, though not often, a “_boo_” is
added to the “_prumb_.” Learned scientific books have been written on
the nature of these sounds. The truth is that they occur when the bird
draws air into its feed-pipe until it is full and then expels it
forcibly. In this way it produces its mating-call, the love-song of the
male bird. It is not given to every bird to sing like the nightingale.

       *       *       *       *       *

This deep-toned cry is rarely heard now in our British marshlands, where
the bird now comes only to be shot and sent to the shop of the bird
preserver. It has, of course, been getting scarcer every year. In
Selby’s time it was very scarce in some seasons, yet he records the
fact that in the winter of 1830 to 1831 ten bitterns were exposed for
sale on one morning in Bath, and sixty were taken the same season in
Yorkshire. “Butter-bumps” was the popular name for the noisy bird,
which, as some said, bellowed like a bull. The late Lord Lilford wrote
that he knew a lady who said that when she was first married, about the
year 1845, and went to live in East Norfolk, she was constantly kept
awake by the Bittern’s booming in the neighbouring marshes. Tennyson’s
farmer called it the bogle.

Some of us were not sorry to hear that one of these rare visitors had
been able to have its revenge on one of its persecutors lately. Being
wounded only, it turned on the dog of “the man with the gun,” who could
not resist shooting a stranger, and used its strong bill and claws to
good purpose. Its haunts are reed-beds, and the nest is composed of
dried flags and reeds. Its flesh is said to taste and look like that of
the leveret, with a slight flavour of wild-fowl, and to be more bitter
eating than that of the young Heron. In the North Kent marshes Bitterns
were called “Yaller French Herns,” and the fen dwellers could get half a
guinea for each bird. In France, of a coarse and stupid man, they often
say, “C’est un vrai butor (Bittern);” Molière says, “Peste soit du gras
butor;” and Georges Sand wrote, “If your provincial bourgeois heard
that, they would take our daughters for ‘des butordes,’[6] such as their
own are.” Voltaire speaks again of “les butorderies de cet univers.” In
Saxony again the peasants say of a noisy brawler, “He booms like a
Bittern.”

That a pair of Bitterns which had been observed for some little time on
an estate near Hertford should have been shot lately, 1908, and that
just before breeding season, is a fact to be deplored. I saw a beautiful
specimen in Berkshire that had also fallen to the gun of a collector.
With the advance of civilisation and the drainage of the fens we cannot,
of course, expect to have Bitterns nesting in our country again; but our
children will we trust, be educated, in these days of Nature-Study, to
welcome rare visitors, whilst respecting their right to live. Molluscs,
frogs, lizards, small snakes and insects form their diet, and these we
can all spare; and we should protect a vanishing species. A nest was
taken in England in 1868, but we have not had a later one recorded. A
friend of the late Lord Lilford, writing to him, said: “My brother and
myself, about the year 1825, shot seven Bitterns in a field.” This was
at Holme Fen, near the New River. “The Son of the Marshes” says: “The
Bittern is the bird of desolation, and it is in desolate places you will
find him if he is about at all. All his habits are secretive ones. As a
rule he comes out with the marsh owls. His plumage mimics the
marsh-tangle perfectly, and the Bittern draws himself up by the side of
that tangle, his dangerous bill pointing upwards in a line with the
great rush stems, so that you might be within a yard of him and yet not
see him. Frequently it has been the case that shooters have had these
birds clutter up close to their feet.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bittern is 28 to 30 inches in length, but its loose feathers, long
neck and thin legs make it look much bigger. The arrangement and
colouring of the plumage are not unlike those of the Owl; it is
yellowish with brown speckles. Bill yellowish-green, but the back of it
brown. The legs are also yellowish-green, and have long toes. Eyes
yellow, as in many owls. The bird can draw in its neck and cover it with
feathers in such a way that only its long legs betray its species as
being that of the Heron. The nest stands always alone in thick reed-beds
near standing water. The eggs are usually three to five in number, and
are pale bluish-green in colour.


THE WATERHEN OR MOORHEN.

(_Gallinula chloropus._)

The Waterhen likes ponds surrounded by thick bushy growth and builds its
nest on the edge. It clambers nimbly about the reeds, and also swims
very well although not web-footed; it dives, and is able to remain some
time under the water. It does this when pursued, only occasionally
sticking its bill out of the water to breathe. It takes long strides
when walking, and can run fast, can stand on the broad round leaves of
water plants, on the water grasses, and floating rubbish, its long toes
preventing it breaking through and sinking in. It is a very pleasant
bird, and if left alone becomes very confident, and it is then an
ornament to its surroundings. Its food consists of insects and
water-wort; it also rips off the points of sprouting rushes, and the
fleshy sedges. In fact it is an innocent and indeed a useful bird.

The little tail is always turned upward, both in running and swimming,
and with each movement it nods its pretty head. It is a truly charming
sight when the Waterhen first takes her eight or ten black, silky,
roguish-eyed nestlings to the water--each one being about the size of a
walnut, they bob about like so many black corks.

This bird is worthy of every protection.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Moor or Waterhen is well distributed throughout the British Islands
and it is, as a rule, settled in its habitat although in severe winters
many migrate from the northern to the southern parts of the country.

When the sooty chicks are out, the Moorhen parents

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE WATERHEN OR MOORHEN.]

have a very anxious time of it, for the Heron is on the look-out for
them, and he does a lot of wading in the reeds and the swamps all the
time the young Moorhens are about. They would be far more numerous were
they not hunted for, so persistently, by furred, finned, and feathered
prowlers.

The Pike is one of their worst enemies, and the youngsters are kept
often in about three inches of water to escape his murderous bite.

“The Moorhen can both swim and dive, and he flies well when fairly on
the wing; but as his real flights take place, as a rule, at night, very
little is known about them. I once saw a flight at daybreak that very
much astonished me. The bird shifts considerably about at night at
times. When alarmed it is occasionally very clever in concealing itself,
and it will sham death to perfection, even when caught alive by a good
dog, without a feather being injured.”

The Waterhen is rather larger than the Partridge; it has longer legs, of
a green colour, and much longer toes. It has a small growth on the wings
like a spur. On the brow is a bare crescent-shaped red patch, the pupil
of the eye is carmine; neck and the whole of the mantle dark,
greenish-olive brown; the other parts of the body slate colour, the
inside of the lower tail-cover being of a darker shade, with a broad
yellowish white border. The feathers on the edge of the wings are tipped
with white, forming a beautiful white line, to the front of the wings.
The bill is green, red at the base. The nest is nearly always placed in
dry sedge-bushes on the edge of the water; the dry grass serves for
litter. The clutch consists of ten eggs, which have a pale yellowish red
ground speckled with violet and reddish-brown.

[Illustration: THE COMMON TERN.]


THE COMMON TERN.

(_Sterna fluviatilis._)

This birds nests in companies, in grassy places near a river bank, where
a nest, without any foundation, is made, being a flat hollow in the
ground. In this it lays two or three eggs of a clay-or brownish-yellow
colour, speckled with violet-grey and brown. The Tern is a real ornament
to our large rivers and lakes, with its guileless nature and its fine
swinging flight. If it were to disappear we should lose one of the joys
and beauties of life. All day long it flies over the water, with only
short intervals of rest which it takes on a gravel heap or a hurdle,
with neck drawn in and pointed upwards, only turning its head now and
then to look at the water. It constantly flies at the same height, and
as soon as its prey comes to the surface of the water it spreads its
tail stiffly downwards, and hovers, beating with its wings, and gazing
fixedly on the spot where the victim showed itself. Then, suddenly, it
drops like a stone, with a loud splash, into the water. It has then
secured its booty, usually a small fish. Its usual voice sounds like
“_Kriey_”; sometimes, when in trouble, it utters a light “_Kek_” or
“_Krek_.” It is not common enough in Hungary to do much mischief.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Great Britain we find the Common Tern along the shores of the Channel
and up the West coast as far as the Isle of Skye, and again from the
Moray Firth down to Kent. In Ireland it is plentiful in the South.
“Three species at least of the beautiful terns, well within my own time,
bred freely in this country; but their colonies on the flats and the
foreshores have been harried for eggs and birds so persistently, season
after season, that they have ceased to exist as breeding places. A few
hatch out in lonely shingle runs here and there on the coast lines;
others have changed their breeding grounds for good. The ring-dotterels
have suffered in the same way, but, from their different nesting habits
nothing like so much as the terns have done. When dogs are trained for
egg hunting, and the capture of young birds alive, without hurting them,
is it to be wondered at if the poor birds shift elsewhere? The size of a
place has nothing to do with its nesting capacities; if the conditions
are favourable, there the birds will come in their seasons to settle
down. If they are not interfered with they will come again, until at
last you may count on their arrival almost to a day. One place I
frequently visit, where the birds, water-fowl and waders have been
protected for forty years, not by keepers or lookers, but by the people
that pass that way, because the owner of a fine sheet of water desired
that they might not be frightened. This is as it should be, yet for all
that they are wild birds pure and simple, free to come and go just as
they please, according as their inclinations move them.”[7]

The Common Tern is 14·25 inches in length but its long wings and tail
make it appear larger. The legs are red, the feet webbed. Beak red with
a sharp point; crown and nape quite black; mantle a fine bluish grey.
Throat and breast beautifully white; wing feathers darkish. Tail forked
like that of the House Swallow. The longest, outer side feathers, which
form the fork, are dark grey, the other tail feathers, and the rump
white. The eye reddish-brown.


THE BEAN GOOSE.

(_Anser ségetum._)

The Bean Goose visits us only in winter, for it breeds in the most
northern portion of our hemisphere, whence it is driven to our milder
regions by the extreme cold of winter. Here it waits for spring, then it
hurries back to its breeding place on the coasts of the Northern Ocean.
It lays seven to ten white eggs in its simply-formed nest in the
inhospitable desolate land of its birth. When obliged to leave the nest
it carefully covers up the eggs in order to preserve their warmth.

These birds move southwards in great flocks towards autumn. Some of them
come to us, and in many places cover the fields in swarms, and in the
case of their settling constantly in the same places, they may do
considerable harm by nibbling, tearing up and trampling over everywhere
generally.

When the winter is very severe here, and the seeds are covered with a
thick layer of snow, Geese go still further south, some of them even
crossing the Mediterranean; but they return directly the weather becomes
milder. From this comes the shepherd’s prophecy: “When the geese go
south we may expect great cold; when they go north warmer weather is
coming.” The birds assemble in great flocks,--usually at the beginning
of March, if wind and weather are favourable--and return to their home,
where, separating into strings, they scatter themselves over the Polar
regions.

       *       *       *       *       *

This is the “Wild-goose” as known to shore shooters. It does not breed
in our islands at all, but comes to us in

[Illustration: THE BEAN GOOSE.]

the autumn, and is to be seen in numbers on some of our coasts all
through the winter. In cold weather it is fairly common on the mainland
of Scotland. From autumn to spring it is found in all parts of Ireland,
and is the commonest of the inland feeding Geese.

“Very awkward mistakes, and sad ones too some of them, have been made
sometimes when these birds have been feeding on the saltings and marshes
close to the tide, for at certain seasons the Geese will feed at night
and then is the time to go after them. On one occasion a fowler shot his
horse by mistake, and at another time a man shot his own son. Such
incidents were once only too common. Fowl, feeding at night, bunch
themselves up, taking strange shapes, and when alarmed they run before
flighting, but they are not very wary, nor have they the keen sight of
other wild fowl.”

“Gabble-retchet” is the term applied to the cry of the Geese on flight.
An old proverb says: “Its aye fine when the Goose honks (or cries)
high.” This in the Eastern States of America has been corrupted into:
“It’s aye fine when the goose _hangs_ high,” and is often taken as
meaning when there’s plenty in the larder.

This Goose is 34 inches in length. The beak is black, the knob of it
being orange-coloured, as is also a broad oblique stripe on the
nostrils. The points of the wings when folded extend over the tail. The
prevailing colour is brownish-grey; the edges of the feathers and the
breast lighter. The flight feathers are dark brown, so are the eyes,
legs reddish-brown.

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE WILD DUCK OR MALLARD.]


THE WILD DUCK OR MALLARD.

(_Anas bóscas._)

The nest of the Mallard is placed in the sedges of the marsh, in
cornfields, and--strangely enough--on willow stumps and in large holes
in trees. It is carelessly put together, but is lined with soft downy
feathers. It lays ten or twelve strong yellowish-white eggs.

The way in which a mother Duck, who has nested in a tree hole rather
high up, brings her young family to the water is remarkable. As soon as
they are dry after hatching, she carries them one by one in her bill
down to the water’s edge. Each duckling as it is set down remains
motionless as a stone on the ground, until the mother has brought the
last baby to join the others, then the whole family begins to cackle and
pipe, the young ones follow their mother into the water, swimming at
once, and their duck life begins its ordinary course.

Their usual diet consists of water plants, duckweed, sundew, the green
parts of the water-nut and the seeds of water grasses. They let the
water flow, filtering through their beaks as beseems a well brought up
duck, and in this way allow many little water creatures, fish spawn and
such like, to enter their crops. But they can also do mischief. At
harvest time the duck visits the cut corn lying on the ground and the
sheaves, picks out the corn and treads down the ears. Therefore--and
also because it is so good for the table--it is worthy of a well-aimed
shot.

It is still very common in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Mallards manifest bird chivalry and courtesy to perfection--the drakes
industriously finding mussels for their sober-coloured mates, not
because these are not able to find for themselves but because the males
consider it their place to do so. Stretching out their necks and
ruffling all their feathers they softly call when they have a lucky
find; up rushes the duck, nips fast hold of the gaper and swings it from
side to side as a terrier shakes a rat: after wrenching it from the
shell she washes it in the water of the runnel and swallows it.

It is a matter of serious regret to many a sportsman and one entailing
loss to the longshore shooter that the numbers of our common Wild Ducks
or Mallards are each year becoming less. But for those bred in the
Arctic regions--those the North Kent marshman calls “foreign flighters,”
we should be in a bad way as to the Wild Duck.

The latter arrive in great numbers from the Continent during the colder
months. Drainage of the fens, and improvements in agriculture have, of
course, lessened the numbers of those that breed with us; but
flapper-shooting on the flats and the want of protection are decimating
them largely on the Essex and North Kent marsh-lands. All good
authorities on the subject agree that there ought to be a close time for
our Wild Duck up to the 1st of September, whereas in Essex protection
extends only to August 16th, and in Kent only till the 13th of that
month. In shooting the Flappers, or young birds, many an old Drake gets
killed; having lost his quills he is incapable of flight. He does not
put on his full new dress until the middle of October. Flappers are
easily killed as they reach full growth before their wings are fledged;
so that it is not really fair sport, which should give a free field. As
old Peter Hawker, the father of Wild Duck Shooting said,
flapper-shooting is often more like hunting water-rats than shooting
birds. They haunt deep and retired parts of a brook, or stream, in
families. Flappers are only called Wild Ducks when they take wing.

In the Fens formerly, until put a stop to by Act of Parliament, not only
were Flappers shot as they are now, but an annual driving of the young
birds before they could fly took place. A vast tract was beaten, and the
birds were forced into a net placed where the sport was to terminate. A
hundred and fifty dozens have been taken at once in this fashion. If our
handsome British Wild Duck is to be preserved to us, further steps must
now be taken to enforce and extend the close time for our home-bred
birds of this species.

Both duck and drake are the size of the domestic duck, which is a near
relation of its wild congener. It is the loudest cackler of the ponds.
The drake has splendid plumage. The whole of the head has a fine green
metallic lustre, this being separated from the rest of the colouring by
a white band round the neck. A small bunch of feathers, curled upwards,
stands on the rump, which is smooth black, as is also the under tail
cover. It has a beautiful, lustrous violet patch bordered on each side
with white, on its wings. Neck and breast are chestnut-brown; the mantle
finely and beautifully spotted. The underparts light grey, each feather
having fine dark stripes. Bill greenish; legs orange. The female bird is
yellowish-brown speckled with dark brown.

[Illustration: CHIEFLY USEFUL.

THE PINTAILED DUCK.]


THE PINTAILED DUCK.

(_Dafila acuta._)

The nest of the Pintail is placed among the sedges, rushes, and reeds of
open ponds. The clutch consists of eight to ten greenish eggs, which are
smaller and somewhat thicker than those of the common Wild Duck. It is a
shy bird, difficult to surprise, which arrives here in large flocks, on
its way elsewhere, only a few settling on large inaccessible ponds, or
on the hidden pools hemmed in by huge reed beds, on the Platten See in
Hungary, especially in shallow places where the white water-lilies and
other water plants almost cover the surface with their leaves. In such
places it pecks about the ground in the same way as the farmyard duck.
Its food is tender duck-weed, and the young juicy shoots and points of
water plants. But its most eager search is for water beetles, and the
larvæ of dragon-flies and other such insects. As the marshes are drained
and brought into cultivation the number of these beautiful birds
decreases. It is still, however, not uncommon in Hungary.

       *       *       *       *       *

This is a slender and finely shaped duck which is locally called the
“Sea Pheasant.” It comes regularly to our British Islands in October,
staying in some districts longer than in others. In the North it seldom
tarries long. Its favourite resorts are about our Southern shores and
estuaries. When it is feeding the tail is raised high above the water,
its head being below the surface. A hybrid between the Mallard and the
Pintail, a half-bred drake, is a very handsome bird. Pintails have also
been known to pair with Wigeons.

The Pintailed Duck is smaller and more slender, but longer than the
Common Wild Duck. The middle tail-feathers are long-shaped like a spit
or awl, and from these the bird derives its name. The neck is long and
thin like that of the Heron. The drake has fine summer plumage. The
wings have a shining metallic green beauty-spot bordered with red in
front and white behind. Head a dusky-brown, cheeks copper colour. Throat
white on either side, and black in the middle from the back of the head
downwards. The whole of the underparts white, also the mantle, which is
adorned with fine, close, dark wavy lines. The long pointed shoulder
feathers are black with a white border. Tail nearly black, the middle
pointed feathers quite black, and also the under tail cover. Legs
bluish-grey; beak bluish, eyes brown. The female bird is like the female
wild duck in colour but has the long tail feathers.


THE SHOVELER.

(_Spatula clypeata._)

The Shoveler has a stately, direct, and rapid flight. It can be
recognised by its great beak even when flying high. It is less timid
than the other ducks, and does not go about in flocks, but if it does
join flocks of other ducks, it flies somewhat apart from them. As its
beak indicates, its food consists less of plants than of small living
creatures of the pond and lake, fish, insects, shell-fish, and other
things which it finds in the water while it paddles around and lets the
water run through the filtering edge of its beak. But the worst of it is
this: The fish spawn in the shallow, tepid water near the bank, and
there the young fishes are hatched. When the Shoveler comes to a
spawning bed, in its voracity it destroys the young fish in thousands,
before they are fully hatched. Thus it is a great pest to fishermen, and
it is therefore fortunate that this bird belongs to the rarer species.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Compared with the size of the Shoveler’s paddles, its webs are small.
Splashes and reed-beds are what it delights in. Many days have I passed
where these birds could be seen. All sorts of flying and creeping things
lived there; in fact the amount of insect life to be found in the haunts
of the Shoveler would have to be seen, nay more than that, it would have
to be felt, before it could be thoroughly believed in. Some sorts of
insects have a very short play-time. Coming forth in clouds as perfect
flying creatures, they fulfil the purpose they were created for, and
then they drop down in the reeds,

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE SHOVELER.]

or in the water either dead or dying. So thickly at times do these
short-lived insects cover the water that, in places, the masses look
like large patches of grey film.

This is the time for the Shoveler. He and his mate, will, so to speak,
lay their heads and necks on the water, the lower mandible being just
under water; and they will paddle along feeding as they go. These
insects are part of their food in the season. Then too, they can probe
and spatter on the edge of the reeds, where they find plenty of food,
for the soft mud at their roots is full of the seeds of water plants
growing below. As to the undeveloped forms of insect life, the light
vegetable mud is full of these. So this handsome bird goes on his way
very happily if not disturbed.”[8]

Shovelers are plump ducks, and when their food is right are excellent
for the table.

The Shoveler visits Great Britain during cold weather, and a fair number
of the birds stay and breed with us.

The Shoveler is smaller than the Wild Duck and is more thick-set in
build. Its chief characteristic is its powerful spoon-shaped, or rather
shovel-shaped bill, which broadens out in front, and is furnished with a
thickly toothed, comb-like arrangement on the inner edge which is
specially adapted for filtering the water. The drake has beautiful
plumage. The beauty spot on the wings is of a lustrous green, and has a
white upper border, the wing itself is light blue. The sides of the head
are bluish-green, with a fine lustre, the crop white. The forepart of
the mantle is greenish-black, each feather having a white border; rump
bluish--black as is also the under tail cover. Shoulder feathers
pointed, black and white, legs orange, bill dark. The female bird
resembles the female wild duck in colour, but the broad shovel-shaped
bill, immediately marks the difference between the two birds. The nest
is placed in the boggy parts of the marshes and is formed simply of
litter. The clutch consists of seven to fourteen rusty yellow eggs.


THE GREAT CRESTED GREBE.

(_Podicipes cristatus._)

The nest of the Great Crested Grebe is built of various decaying plants,
and floats on the water. It is not found in the thick reed-beds; but on
their borders, where the reeds are already beginning to shoot. There it
so fixed to a single stalk that it remains in one place, and cannot be
washed away. It usually contains four longish white eggs, which,
however, become brown and dirty during the long sitting and rotten
surroundings. The young birds are grey with dark stripes. In times of
danger the mother gathers them closely under her wings and then dives
until the peril is past.

This Grebe is a remarkable diver; it dives with such lightning speed,
that a shot aimed at it only strikes the surface of the water. It is a
terror in the fishpond. When the fish feel secure, several of these
birds join together and make a raid on them. They dive, and while under
water drive the fish towards the shallow shore, and having thus placed
them in a difficulty, the birds seize their prey from among the
bewildered victims.

The Grebe endeavours to avoid danger to itself by diving, as long as it
can--and it is able to remain under water for a long time and swim a
considerable distance. If the rushes for which it is making, are still
at some distance, it raises its head out of water for a moment, breathes
once, and dives again. It is only in direst

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE GREAT CRESTED GREBE.]

need that it takes to flight, and beats the water for some time before
it begins to rise. Having once risen it flies rapidly and steadily.

Its powerful, piercing voice has various sounds. The call-note sounds
like “_Kekekeke_”; during the brooding time its cry “_Kroar_” or
“_Kruor_” is heard at a long distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Great Crested Grebe is resident in Great Britain on many sheets of
water where reeds grow in plenty, such as the Broads of Norfolk, the
meres of Cheshire and Lancashire, lakes in Wales, and very occasionally
only in Scotland. In the County of Stafford the Great-crested Grebe and
Little Grebe, or Dabchick, are protected all the year round; and the
meres in the West of Staffordshire, together with those of Shropshire,
form one of the chief breeding areas of the former species of Great
Britain and Ireland. On Trentham Lake, Dr. McAldowie has observed the
Great-crested Grebe in mid-winter. They have also bred there of late
years. On the rivers Dove and Trent, however, it has only been seen
during the periods of migration. That it nests on the Lake Aqualate and
on that in Trentham Park proves what the protection of landowners will
do.

The Great Crested Grebe is the size of a Wild Duck but more slender. The
general appearance of the bird, with its long outstretched thin neck is
that of a long-necked bottle. It has on its black crown a double crest,
forked and inclining backwards something in the manner of ears; on its
neck, beginning at the back of the head and reaching to the throat, it
has a red collar of split feathers with dark borders closely set
together, which surrounds the sides of the head and the throat. The
legs are constructed for propelling by a sideways stroke; instead of a
true web, it has divided, cross-ribbed broad flaps on the toes, the pads
of which are flat and broad. Beak sharp and pointed as a dagger; tail
consists of a few little ragged feathers. The spot on the wings is
white. The female has a smaller collar, and is more uniform in colour.


AN ELEGY.

Our children will perhaps know less than we do of the delightful poems
of Robert Burns, composed as so many of them were whilst he followed the
plough, with ever a keen eye for bird and blossom wherever his work
might lead him. I cannot resist quoting here that wonderful elegy of
his:--

    “Mourn, ye wee songsters of the wood;
     Ye Grouse that crap the heather bud;
     Ye Curlews, calling thro’ a clud;
           Ye whistling Plover,
     And mourn, ye whirring Paitrick broo’,
           He’s gane for ever!

     Mourn, sooty Coots and speckled Teals;
     Ye fisher Herons, watching eels;
     Ye Duck and Drake, wi’ airy wheels,
           Circling the lake.
     Ye Bitterns, till the quagmire reels,
           Rair for his sake!

     Mourn, clam’ring Crakes at close of day
     ’Mang fields o’ flow’ring clover gay,
     And when ye wing your annual way
           Frae our cauld shore,
     Tell the far warlds, wha lies in clay
           Wham we deplore.

     Ye Howlets frae your ivy bow’r
     In some old tree or eldritch tow’r,
     What time the moon wi’ silent glow’r,
           Sets up her horn:
     Wail through the dreary midnight hour
           Till waukrife morn!”

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE GOLDEN EAGLE.]



CHAPTER VIII.

SOME OF THE FALCONIDÆ.


THE GOLDEN EAGLE.

(_Aquila chrysáëtus._)

In Scotland the living prey of the Golden Eagle, called there the Black
Eagle, consists largely of mountain hares, but it takes lambs, grouse
and other birds, sometimes even fawns and the young of the red-deer. In
Hungary he sweeps down towards autumn from the higher regions to the
vast plains, where he works havoc among the smaller wild animals,
especially the hares. Only when driven by extreme hunger will he feed on
carrion. On sunny days he soars circling above, with shrill squeal,
until quite lost to sight, looking as it were into the very face of the
sun.

The breeding places of the Eagle are confined in Great Britain to the
Highlands of Scotland and the islands of the Western side, and they are
now protected by the owners of deer forests from the grouse preservers
and sheep farmers who greatly thinned their numbers in former years. In
Ireland very few pairs now remain; they were nearly all destroyed there
by poison. They rarely visit England. So far from attacking any one who
visits the eyrie or tries to take an egg or young, those who know them
best say that they can be photographed without the least difficulty, in
fact the old birds will soar high above, seemingly ignoring the presence
of the intruders. A visitor to one eyrie, in which was a baby Eaglet,
found there four grouse, part of a hare, and a monk stoat! the latter,
as the gamekeeper said, being an unheard of thing. Sometimes an enraged
Hoodie Crow has been seen in full chase of a Golden Eagle which had been
too near the nest and young of the former.

Mr. Seton Gordon says that when this Eagle is pursued by a small bird,
the Mistle Thrush for instance, it never turns on its pursuer, although
it could kill it with the greatest ease; but as he adds “in nature it
seems to be the invariable rule that the pursued flies from the pursuer
no matter what the relative sizes may be.”

The Golden Eagle is now slightly on the increase in Scotland. It is a
most interesting bird, the type of nobility and of valour. The
naturalist with whom I collaborated over the signature, “A Son of the
Marshes,” has told of two live Golden Eagles which were chained to
stands just inside the courtyard of the old coaching inn at
Sittingbourne, in Kent, when he was a boy, objects of wondering delight
to himself and of much daily curiosity to the passengers on the coaches.
They snatched up more than one cat that came too close to their stands
after the meat that was given to them.

Many poets have sung of the Golden Eagle:

    “On sounding pinion borne, he soars, and shrouds,
     His proud aspiring head among the clouds.”

           *       *       *       *       *

          “Soaring
     With upward pinions through the flood of day,
     And, giving full bosom to the blaze, gain on the sun.”

           *       *       *       *       *

    “Trying his young against its rays,
     To prove if they’re of generous breed, or base.”

           *       *       *       *       *


Somerville, in “Field Sports,” gives some fine lines, descriptive of
this bird, untamed though we call it, as one of sport:

    “In earlier times, monarchs of Eastern race
     In their full blaze of pride--a story tells--
     Trained up th’ imperial eagle, sacred bird.
     Hooded, with jingling bells, she, perched on high,
     Not, as when erst on golden wings she led
     The Roman legions o’er the conquered globe,
     Mankind her quarry, but a docile slave,
     Tamed to the lure and careful to attend
     Her master’s voice.”

This noble bird measures from 32 to 36 inches and the female is larger
than the male. In reality he is about the size of a goose but his mighty
wings and the breadth of tail make him seem far larger. The general
colour is dark brown, tawny about the head and nape, hence his name
golden. The tail has a greyish bar below, is mottled with dark grey in
the adults, but the basal half is white in the young. The legs are
feathered in front to the toes, thighs dark brown, toes yellow, claws
hooked and sharp. The beak is curved from the cere. The brown eye is
keen and strong as befits a bird who sights his quarry from afar. The
nest, or eyrie, which is placed on a crag in a mountainous district, but
often in a tree, is a large platform of sticks lined with softer
materials. The Eagle never uses dead branches but always breaks them
fresh off the tree. There are two and sometimes three dull greyish-white
eggs streaked and blotched with every shade of reddish-brown and lilac.
One of the eggs is generally addled. The young are covered with white
down. During incubation the Eagle keeps near to his eyrie.

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE RED KITE.]


THE RED KITE.

(_Milvus ictínus._)

The flight of this bird is very beautiful; it mounts in circles to a
great height, but swoops down quite near to the ground when pursuing its
prey. Its food consists of mice, lizards, adders, and unfledged birds;
but most of all it likes poultry, hens, ducks, geese. In this way it is
very hurtful. Fortunately, it is a cowardly bird, and a good clucking
hen can soon put it to flight.

In the spring when the flocks of geese with their young ones are grazing
in the tender grass, the Red Kite will suddenly appear and cause great
consternation among young and old. The poor bare-footed guardians of the
geese, strive to drive the intruder away with shouts, or by waving rags,
and throwing stones; and though they generally succeed, the bird
occasionally gains the day. This bird is nowhere very common, and is in
any case only a summer visitor. Its cry is a shrill _whéw, heh-heh-heh_.

       *       *       *       *       *

This Kite was formerly known in Great Britain by its old Anglo-Saxon
name of Gled or Glead, which comes from its gliding flight, and is
styled Red Kite in order to distinguish it from its relatives. That it
was once common enough in the South of England, a proverb, still used in
the New Forest shows, “Yallow as a Kite’s claw” the folk say there in
describing one who has a jaundiced appearance. So common was it in the
streets of London up to 200 years ago, acting the part of a scavenger in
those days, that visitors from the Continent wrote of it. Some are now
living who knew it as fairly common in the wooded parts of Great
Britain--Ireland excepted--but the last nest in Lincolnshire, where it
once was abundant, was known in 1870. In Wales, where a few still breed,
the landowners are trying to protect what they consider an interesting
species. The use of its tail feathers for salmon-flies brings about the
bird’s destruction in Scotland, and the gamekeeper is its pronounced
enemy. In Ireland it has been seldom observed. Considering the adders,
rats, and enormous numbers of mice the Kite devours, the term hurtful,
as applied to it, ought perhaps to be modified.

A naturalist, writing in 1839, tells how he once took away a young Kite
from a nest containing two; it became very tame and would sit on his
hand, never attempting to hurt him with its sharp talons. Sometimes he
let it stray away and it always came home, though it might be out for a
day or two; until it intruded on an old crone in her cottage. She
quickly killed it as an ill-favoured fowl. I have seen a tame Kite swoop
down during a circling flight and take a mouse from the hand of the late
Lord Lilford as he sat, as was his wont, in his wheeled chair among his
favourite birds.

Macaulay, alluding to the Kite’s love for carrion writes:

    “The kites know well the long stern swell
     That bids the Romans close.”

Wordsworth was familiar with it in his walks:

    “Near the midway cliff the silvered kite
     In many a whistling circle wheels her flight.”

Robert Burns was not a friend of the bird, Quarles’ “brood-devouring
kite,” for he likened the “father of all evil” to it:

    “Here is Satan’s picture,
     Pouncing poor Redcastle
       Like a blizzard gled,
       Sprawlin’ like a taed.”

But Hurdis was more kind and just:

    “Mark but the soaring kite and she will read
     Brave rules for diet; teach thee how to feede;
     She flies aloft; she spreads her ayrie plumes
     Above the earth; above the nauseous fumes
     Of dang’rous earth; she makes herself a stranger
     T’ inferior things, and checks at every danger.”

We may perhaps be allowed, by the chariest of agriculturists, to say
that a species may be most undesirable in certain districts, but a
welcome and even useful bird in others; and this is specially true of
birds who devour carrion.

The Kite is about 24 inches in length. The back is rusty-red, the
feathers there having dark shaft lines and edges. The tail is strongly
forked. The female is less brightly coloured than the male and the young
still less so. The thighs are clad with feathers, the legs bare, claws
moderately strong and sharp. The bill is sickle-shaped and has a yellow
cere at its base. The irides are yellowish-white. The Kite is a
keen-sighted bird of prey, and builds its nest for the most part on the
highest trees in the woods. It lays two or three eggs, more rarely four,
with dirty blotches, smears, and spots on a greenish-white ground.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE RED-FOOTED FALCON.

MALE AND FEMALE.]


THE RED-FOOTED FALCON OR ORANGE-LEGGED HOBBY.

(_Falco vespertinus._)

Unlike all the rest of his congeners this beautiful Falcon lives
exclusively on insects. It is considered by the Mohammedan races as a
sacred bird, on account of the way in which it destroys grasshoppers.
Its flight is easy and bold, and the way in which he circles and floats
in the air is beautiful. The young ones are also fed on insects, and as
soon as they are fledged the little flock betake themselves to the
meadows or the seashore and there begin with zeal their work of insect
hunting. They settle on the meadows, on the freshly mown rows, and
destroy the grasshoppers, and when there is a plague of these insects
the Falcons are untiring in their work of extermination. It is one of
the most gentle of birds, and the young ones when caught become tame in
the course of a day. It can easily be seen from the expression of the
eyes that there is no savagery at all in its nature. How different from
the glance of the Sparrow-Hawk! It is a remarkable characteristic of
this bird that not only does it differ from others of its species in its
food, but also in regard to its nest. As a rule, it does not build a
nest, but occupies one, generally at the cost of a battle, belonging to
one of a colony of rooks. The fight for the nest is a fine spectacle,
for in it the bird exhibits to the full its fine art of flight. In
Hungary it is a regular migrant, and arrives in fairly large numbers.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Red-footed Falcon is only a rare wanderer to the British Islands on
its migratory flight, and chiefly to England. One was recorded as shot
in Scotland in 1866--another, which is in the Dublin Museum, was taken
in County Wicklow in 1832. It is a pity that this useful species, living
as it chiefly does on insects and field mice, should only appear in our
country to be shot.

On the steppes of Orenburg in Russia it has decreased during the last
fifty years, owing apparently to the immigration of great numbers of the
Lesser Kestrel, which used to be rare there. The flight of the
Red-footed Falcon is not nearly so dashing as that of the Kestrel; you
can note a difference in the expression of the eye and the shape of
forehead of the two birds.

The clutch of eggs numbers five to six. They are of a yellowish-white
ground-colour, with spots and marblings, some darker, some lighter. The
nest structure is scanty, and is seldom built by the bird itself; it
appropriates the old nest of a Crow, Magpie or Rook. The male of this
species is for the most part slate-grey in colour, the thighs and under
side of the tail are bright chestnut-red. The iris and the feet are red.
The colouring of the female is more diversified. The mantle is
bluish-grey, with blackish stripes, like those on the tail; the sides of
the belly are light rusty-brown, throat and nape white. The forehead is
whitish; top of the head rust-coloured, legs and feet reddish. The claws
are nearly white.


THE COMMON BUZZARD.

(_Búteo vulgáris._)


This bird is equally at home in the plains and in the highlands. It goes
South in the winter, except in mild seasons. Like the Kite it soars to a
great height with a fine sweeping movement, crying “_keo-keo_.” It
descends and with an easy stroke hovers near the ground, from which it
seizes frogs, lizards, and even poisonous snakes; but besides marmots,
moles, rats, and leverets, its chief diet is mice, of which it requires
20 to 30 for one good meal. It usually perches on a hayrick, a post, or
a dry tree to watch for its prey, sitting motionless save for a movement
of its head from side to side, until a mouse emerges from its hole. Then
it raises its wings, darts downwards, and secures the booty. In years
when a superabundance of mice appear, the Buzzards also are numerous,
and fare plenteously. At such times, hundreds of tufts of mouse-hair are
found beneath the trees where the Buzzards spend the night.

It would be a good thing if the farmer were to set up perching posts in
the places which are infested by mice, so that the Buzzards might settle
on them to watch the ground. Posts about the height of a man, and the
thickness of an arm, with a cross piece at the top, would perfectly
serve the purpose.

The Buzzard, then, is useful; but it cannot be denied that it sometimes
does harm when it gets into a pheasant run, or places where partridges
and hares are preserved.

The bird is still common in Hungary.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE COMMON BUZZARD.]

The Buzzard may still be seen circling high in the air in some of our
own wilder wooded districts, uttering its mewing cry, especially in
Wales, but it is fast decreasing. A correspondent from South Devon wrote
me that it was not infrequently shot there. As Mr. Howard Saunders
wrote, “It used to breed in Norfolk and other counties abounding with
Partridges and ground game, without being considered incompatible with
their well-being; but now that Pheasant worship has increased, the doom
of that great devourer of field mice, moles, and other pests of the
farmer which has never been proved to be destructive to Partridges and
Pheasants is sealed. Still it might yet increase if fairly encouraged,
and it is an interesting sight, either soaring over head or resting in
its characteristic sluggish way on the branch of a tree. In the New
Forest this used to be a common enough sight, but the bark strippers
being at work just at the time of incubation, and knowing that they can
easily obtain five shillings for a good well-marked specimen--the
Buzzard has little chance now.

I find in my note book, “My glass shows a great brown and grey bird
resting on a stumpy willow--what they call here a Mouse-Buzzard--that
species so useful to the grazier, which we drive away by persecution.
Presently it rises high to soar in fine circles over its hunting ground.
The farmers encourage it because of its wonderful stowage capacity for
voles, rats, and other small deer,--the game-preservers persecute it,
because when pressed by hunger it takes old hen pheasants and even
larger creatures. On our friend’s estate here it is encouraged; the
stomach of a dead Buzzard has been found to contain thirty mice. Also it
is a deadly foe to the viper, although a bite from the latter has been
death to the Buzzard occasionally. A Buzzard was once found dead on its
nest with a viper lying under his body. The bird had carried it there to
devour. This is a gentle looking creature, yet when hard pressed by
hunger--madly ravenous, it has been known to attack an ox. Humans are
apt to become desperate under similar circumstances.

Said Butler in “Hudibras”:

    “He’d prove a buzzard is no fowl,
     And that a lord may be an owl.”

There is a good deal of variation observable in the colouring of the
Buzzard, inclining sometimes to whitish, sometimes to brown or even to
blackish. With its thick-set body, this bird of prey exceeds the Raven
in size. Its constant distinguishing marks are these: The cere at the
base of the bill, and the legs, which are bare of feathers, are yellow;
the nostrils are oval; the iris grey or brown. The shafts of the
primaries and secondaries are white. The tail is crossed by seventeen
dark bands, and appears fore-shortened. The bill is curved and hooked.
The nest is built in the loftiest beeches and oaks. Three to four eggs
form the clutch. They are rarely white, more often clouded with
dirty-yellow on a lighter ground.


THE SPARROW-HAWK.

(_Accipiter nisus._)

Though the Sparrow-hawk, taken altogether, is a small bird, yet he is a
great thief, as may be gathered from his piercing eye. He is the terror
of all birds of the Starling size, which he seizes while on the wing.
Like a true robber, he watches for his booty in a secret kind of way;
having selected one from among a company of flying birds, he flies
below, among the furrows in the cornfield, along the hedges, and the
border of the woods, and on to a haystack. When he has seen his destined
prey he flutters sideways, rises into the air in circles, and when the
little birds fly up he sinks somewhat lower; when at the proper height
he claps his wings close to his body, and drops like a piece of lead on
to the chosen, fluttering victim, seizes it by the neck in its flight,
and strangles it with his sharp claws. He then flies slowly with it to a
bush or a grassy-mound and devours it.

It winters in Hungary; it is not rare, but at the same time not very
common. Its cry sounds like “_Kirk, kirk, kirk_,” or a rapid “_ki, ki,
ki_,” or a long drawn-out “_kāk, kāk_.”

This bird was the sporting Hawk of our forefathers, and the people of
the interior of Asia, and the Kurds, employ it for hunting at the
present day. Wherever it goes it carries devastation in its train,
especially among the domestic fowls. Its cry is loud and protracted.
“_Iwiā!_” it repeats quickly on seizing its prey. When

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE SPARROW-HAWK.]

pairing the note is _Gāck, gāck, gāck_,” and then more rapidly
“_Giā, giack, giack_.”

The Sparrow-hawk is well known all over Great Britain and also in
Ireland, in all those districts which are well timbered. Its food
consists for the most part of small birds, from the Thrush to the Wren.
These are snapped up as the bird glides stealthily along the hedgerows
or on the outskirts of some wood. In our own country it has been trained
to take Partridges, Quails, etc. In India and Japan also it is used by
the native falconers. It is a bold daring raider of our woods and
fields. This bird has a history which reaches back into the far past. It
received its latin name, _Accipiter nisus_, because of a myth relating
to King Nisus of Megara, who, it is said, had one hair of red-gold
colour, on the preservation of which depended the conservation of his
kingdom. Scylla, the daughter of Nisus, being in love with Minos, King
of Crete, son of Jupiter and Europa, treacherously cut the golden hair
of her father Nisus, and therefore he and his country were easily
vanquished. The gods, angry with the unnatural daughter, changed her
into a Lark, and Nisus into a Sparrow-hawk, under which form the unhappy
father pursues his daughter unceasingly, in order to satisfy a thirst
for vengeance. The ancients had all sorts of mysterious ideas, in
connection with the Sparrow-hawk; they believed, for one thing, that he
was the primogenitor of the Cuckoo. There is always something
interesting in such old myths, in spite of their apparent absurdity.

Somerville, in “Field Sports,” takes only the falconer’s view of the
Sparrow-hawk, when he says:

              “Enough for me
    To boast the gentle spar-hawk on my fist,
    Or fly the partridge o’er the bristly field,
    Retrieve the covey with my busy train,
    Or with my soaring hobby, dare the lark.”

The male Sparrow-hawk is about 12 inches long, the female often 15
inches. It has a long tail; its legs are slender, long and bare of
feathers. The claws are sharp as needles. The toes are strong and the
middle one is very long and slender. The bill is abruptly curved from
the base, with a greenish-yellow cere. The plumage is bluish-grey above;
while beneath, on the belly, it is crossed with wavy lines on a light
ground. The tail has five dark ribbon-like bands across it. The
Sparrow-hawk nests by preference in spruce plantations at a height of
from 12 to 15 feet; it also makes use of deserted crows’ nests. The
clutch consists of four or five, occasionally six, and still more rarely
seven eggs, chalky-white or greenish in colour, with drab-coloured
spots.

[Illustration: Too often a victim.]


THE GOSHAWK.

(_Astur palumbárius._)

The Goshawk is bold in attack, and powerful in thrust. It is
comparatively easy to tame, or at all events shows a certain
tractability. Its aspect is cunning and cruel, and its claws must be
carefully avoided. It is the terror of the poultry-yard and the
dove-cote. When pursuing its prey nothing can divert its attention. It
will even penetrate into the interior of a house. It will steal any
warm-blooded animal that it can overcome, even an old hare. It seizes
little Siskins, Goldfinches, Weasels, squirrels, and even mice. It lives
in a constant state of warfare with the Crows. The latter birds fall
upon it in flocks, pull and touzle it, when they catch it, but the Hawk
usually carries the day. With a mighty thrust he seizes his prey from
among the black mass, and gets away from his pursuers. It likes best
districts where wood and field alternate, but it also settles in the
neighbourhood of villages where it causes great damage among the
poultry.

Next to the Lanner--_falco lanarius_--the Goshawk was the favourite
among sportsmen in the olden days as indeed it still is among the
nomadic tribes of Asia.

The Goshawk--Goosehawk--comes to Great Britain as an occasional visitor
only, in autumn, winter, and now and again in the spring. There used to
be some eyries in old fir-woods in the valley of the Spey a century ago,
but in Scotland the Peregrine Falcon is called the Goshawk. In some old
Scottish works on Falconry it is stated that the best Goshawks came from
Ireland.

[Illustration: CHIEFLY HURTFUL.

THE GOSHAWK.]

I know a place in Southern Germany, a sandy, raised piece of ground, in
the middle of a wood, near the point of a peninsula, where only high
fir-trees are; and there the bold Goshawk has his bulky nest which he
uses year after year. On a clearing close to the Goshawk’s nest there
lie innumerable remains of Starlings and young hares. The Starlings fear
him greatly; when he comes gliding low in pursuit of his quarry over the
marshy ground beyond his wood, they keep close to the Crows, which are
numerous on this peninsula. They feed with these birds whenever the
Goshawk is in their neighbourhood, knowing that the Crows will attack
him sturdily. During the skirmish with the Crows, the knowing Starlings
make away from the scene.

The Goshawk punishes that bad but beautiful bird, the Jay, who does more
harm here than the Sparrow-Hawk and all the three species of
Butcher-birds put together. The Sparrow-Hawk attacks the Jay also; but
he only gets the better of him after a long struggle, whereas the
Goshawk punishes quickly.

As I stood under the high fir-tree from which a pair of Goshawks took
flight on my approach, one of the sudden thunderstorms common to the
neighbourhood at this time of year broke overhead, and I had to shelter
long, so that I had time to marvel at the great quantity of creatures
these birds had taken to their family larder--hares, starlings, pigeons,
ducks, and poultry of all sizes. The farmer here dreads it more than he
does any other bird of prey, and we have no cause to regret its ceasing
to build in our midst. A male and a female bird were caught in a trap in
the forest of Bowland, Lancashire, about the year 1835; now only an
occasional bird is to be seen.

A French writer says that the Goshawk is still used in Persia in hunting
the gazelle, and that it is trained to feed on that creature’s beautiful
eyes by placing its food in the empty eye-sockets of a stuffed gazelle,
so that when used in the hunt the Goshawk stops its victim by attacking
and tearing out its eyes--a horribly cruel form of sport.

Keats writes:

    “O Sorrow! why dost burrow
     The lustrous passion from a falcon-eye?”

and Young:

    “Pride, like hooded hawks in darkness soars
     From blindness bold, and towering to the skies.”

    “Mark the gay squadron through the copse descending
     The greyhound with his silken leash contending
     Wreathed the lithe neck; and on the falconer’s hand
     With restless perch and pinions broad depending,
     Each hooded goshawk kept her eager stand.”

Burns says:

    “Swift as a gos drives on a wheeling hare.”

In the young bird the underpart is clay colour with narrow cross stripes
and large longitudinal flecks. The iris golden-yellow; feet sulphur
yellow. Claws strong and sharp. The adult has a narrow white line about
the ear coverts and the eye; upper parts ash-brown; four broad dark bars
on the tail; underparts white, thickly barred with ash-brown; cere,
iris, and legs yellow. Length of the male 20 inches; of the female 23
inches.

The large nest of the Goshawk is composed of hard twigs. The eggs,
usually four, are pale bluish-grey, but later they become dirty
greenish-yellow, and sometimes have a few rusty or olive markings.


THE HOBBY.

(_Falco subbuteo._)

Called in Germany the Tree Falcon.

Of all the Hungarian falcons the Hobby has the swiftest flight; he even
pursues the Swallow with success. All the small birds scream with terror
when this bird appears. The Swallow dart in an agony of fear under their
eaves; the Larks and other small birds press themselves down on the
earth; the Quails and Partridges do the same. If a little bird happens
to be in flight it tries with all its strength to soar higher and
higher, so that the Falcon may remain beneath it, otherwise it is a lost
bird. If the Falcon gets above, it shoots like an arrow, with closed
wings, down on to the bird. The Hobby does not despise a grasshopper as
food, in the twilight a moth does not come amiss; indeed it has lately
been observed that it sometimes snaps at bees. But it does not eat
carrion.

In the olden days the Hobby has also been used to hunt small birds.

At the present day it is a great friend to the railway, where it circles
about the trains and drives away the small birds. It is by no means rare
in Hungary.

In England the Hobby arrives about the latter part of May, and it may at
intervals be found breeding in most of the Southern counties, notably in
Hampshire. Once it nested in Essex pretty regularly, also to a certain
extent in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk, rarely
in Yorkshire, sometimes in the Midlands, but in the West and in Wales it
is scarce. It has never been known to nest in Scotland, and very few
Hobbies have been seen in Ireland.

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE HOBBY.]

It will follow the sportsman and seize a Quail in front of him,
according to the late Howard Saunders, but Lord Lilford demurred to
this, and said a Hobby will wait on over ranging dogs, on the chance of
a young or moulting Skylark, but never attack game birds, as it could
not hold them. It is a terror to Larks as well as Swallows, but it does
some good in reducing the numbers of cockchafers and dragonflies, which
are favourite articles of its diet, with other small insects.

In our country it never makes a nest for itself, but it takes possession
of one that has been built by a Crow, Magpie or other bird, in a tree.
The female has a curious habit of brooding on an empty nest or upon eggs
of the Kestrel before she lays her own. In autumn it leaves the
woodlands to take to the open country.

Cowley wrote:

    “Like larks when they the tyrant hobby spy,
     Some wonderstrook, stand fix’d, some fly.”

And Dryden:

    “Larks lie dar’d to shun the hobbies’ flight.”

The Hobby is as big as a small pigeon, but has a slenderer body. The tip
of the wing reaches to the end of the tail or even beyond it. Legs and
cere are yellow. The eyes are dark brown, with a keen expression. The
serrated bill is yellowish at its base, but black at the tip, which is
strongly curved. The back is slate-coloured, while breast and belly are
marked with black longitudinal stripes on a light ground. The Hobby
builds its nest in the tops of high trees in small woods. The eggs
number three or four, and are marked with thick rusty-brown spots and
streaks on a ground-colour of pale buff.

[Illustration: USEFUL.

THE KESTREL.]


THE KESTREL.

(_Falco tinnúnculus._)

The Kestrel also has a beautiful flight; but it is not able to catch
small birds when on the wing. It is a master in the art of remaining in
one spot in the air, with a very slight apparent motion of the wings. It
stops suddenly in its flight at about the height of an ordinary church
tower, bends its spread tail stiffly downwards and beats rapidly with
its wings. It often poises itself in this way over meadows, cornfields
and moorlands, and marks with its brown, sharp eyes any mouse or marmot
that slips out of its hole. Sometimes it finds a brood of young birds,
and these it does not spare. Crickets, grasshoppers and lizards also
fall a prey to this hunter, but mice form its chief diet, and for this
reason the bird is useful. When it has caught sight of its prey from a
height in the air it suddenly closes its wings and drops, but when quite
near the ground it spreads them again, and thus picks up its victim. It
eats the smaller insects out of its claws while flying; but larger prey
it carries to a quiet spot. Its twittering cry is often heard; it sounds
like “_Klee, klee, klee_.” It leaves Hungary in severe winters. The
Kestrel is the most numerous of the birds of prey in that country, where
it is quite at home, even in the rush and noise of towns.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kestrel is commonly known as the Wind-hover, on account of its habit
of hanging motionless in the air against the wind. It has a very
graceful flight. This Falcon is quite the commonest of the British birds
of prey, and we should have still more of these useful Falcons in our
country were it not for the prejudice and ignorant ideas of so many of
our gamekeepers and farmers. In Scotland the former are becoming much
more aware of the harmlessness and the usefulness of the Kestrel.
Considering the fact that the creatures forming its principal food are
mice, it is strange that our agriculturalists have not valued its
services sooner. The gracefulness of its flight makes it an interesting
point in a landscape. It is as well known to country children in our
Southern counties as is the Cuckoo. If their nest is robbed before the
full number of eggs is laid the pair will remove such eggs as are left
to the next suitable empty nest they can find and proceed with their
family duties there. The Kestrel is a pleasanter bird to keep as a pet
than others of his family; it is easily tamed, and afterwards can be
kept at liberty, as it will come to call or whistle if it is fed
regularly at the same time and place. The late Lord Lilford, who knew
more practically about Falcons than most ornithologists said: “I cannot
altogether acquit the Kestrel of an occasional bit of poaching; a small
Partridge or Pheasant astray in the grass is no doubt too tempting a
morsel to be resisted, but any petty larceny of this sort may well be
condoned on account of the great number of field-mice and voles
destroyed by these birds.” In Spain its food consists chiefly of
beetles.

A great many of our Kestrels leave us at the approach of winter when the
food they like best is too hard to find.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kestrel is about the same size as the Hobby, but is a slenderer
bird, and its tail is longer. The tail is of a beautiful grey colour and
extends far beyond the tips of the wings. Near its extremity it is
adorned with a broad, dark, transverse bar; the tip itself, however, is
white. The back is reddish with dark, triangular markings; the flanks
light-coloured with black longitudinal marks. The bill is curved from
the base, and is short and strongly hooked. Cere and feet are yellow.
The tail of the female has several narrow transverse bars, with tip as
in the male. For nesting places the Kestrel chooses by preference ruins,
towers, and lofty crags, very seldom selecting a site in a tree. It lays
four or five eggs, rarely more than six. They are thickly spotted and
splashed with brownish-red on a light ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Merlin or Stone-hawk (_Falco æsalon_) is the smallest bird of our
British Falcons. It breeds regularly on our moorlands, not in such
numbers in the South as beyond Derbyshire. In many parts of Wales too it
nests. It is fairly common too in the mountainous parts of Ireland. In
the autumn the dashing little fellow comes down to the coast and bays
where he can prey on Dunlins, Snipe and other waders. He has high
courage and will kill birds you would not think him capable of
mastering. The Merlin will kill the Skylark if pinched by hunger, but
both he and the Hobby prefer birds of the Finch family.

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE MARSH-HARRIER.]


THE MARSH-HARRIER.

(_Circus œruginosus._)

(Formerly known as the Moor-Buzzard.)

The Marsh-Harrier is one of the shyest and most cunning of our birds of
prey. It immediately attracts attention by its size and its constant
activity; but it requires a good sportsman to get a shot at it. It is
most easily got at when feasting among the high grass at the edge of the
reedy marsh; it then forgets to be prudent and sometimes takes flight
only too late. Early and late it hovers over the borders of the marshes
and reed-beds, sweeping, circling without rest, now and then making a
swift descent into the rushes and the sedges and securing its prey.
There is no small creature of the marsh, the bog, the heath, or the moor
that this bird will not take; it works special destruction among the
singing birds which nest among the reeds and sedges. It does not wait
for the young birds to be hatched, but is very clever in breaking open
the eggs and devouring the contents, always bringing them on to dry land
for the purpose.

The birds of the reed-land know this raider well, and as soon as the
first flap of his wing is heard the terrified Lapwings, Gulls, Terns,
and others, arise with loud cries and attack him tooth and nail. When
brooding it lives almost exclusively by egg stealing; later on the moor
hens afford provender for this insatiable thief. It leaves Hungary for
the winter, but returns in early spring. Its cry varies. In spring it is
“_kei, kei_,” in autumn it is like that of the Jay. The female utters a
loud “_pitz! pitz_.”

This bird is common in the Hungarian marshes.

The drainage of our Eastern fens and the reclaiming of marshland in
Yorkshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Dorset, Somerset, and some other
counties once frequented by this bird has caused it to become scarce
where formerly it used to breed freely. Sometimes a pair having wandered
over from Holland will try to rear a brood in our Norfolk Broads
district, but the sportsman--sic--and the collector will not allow them
to succeed. In Ireland the bird was formerly common enough about Lough
Erne, along the Shannon valley, in Co. Cork, and other districts, but
during the last fifty years the gamekeepers have nearly exterminated it
by poison. It is known to be a great destroyer of the eggs and young of
Waterfowl, but during most of the year it feeds on small mammals, frogs,
and reptiles as well as birds.

This is the Duck-Hawk of the marshmen. When the sun is glinting through
the mist he may be seen gliding hither and thither, low down over the
grey-green flats. At noon he is high up in the clear blue sky. The
tender young ducks--called “flappers” are his favourite diet.

Jean Ingelow, in “The Four Bridges,” says:

    “The bold Marsh-Harrier wets her tawny breast--
     We scared her oft in childhood from her prey.”

The Marsh-Harrier is smaller and noticeably slimmer in build than the
Buzzard. The tail is long, the legs are long, thin, and bare of
feathers, and the claws sharp. The Head has something about it that
suggests an Owl, for the facial disk is conspicuous and the eyes glance
forwards as well as to the side. The bird’s plumage is brown, very dark
in places: but the head is light-coloured, being whitish in males and
yellowish in females. Inhabiting reed-beds, the bird builds its nest
among reed-stems or bulrushes. The eggs, five or less frequently six in
number, are greenish-white in colour.


THE HEN-HARRIER.

(_Circus cyaneus._)

The nest of the Hen-Harrier is built of roots and plant stems, is soft
within and is often placed on the ground; if in heather, or dried up
marsh, it is often a foot high. From four to six bluish-white eggs,
sometimes yellowish-brown or rufous markings, are laid.

This bird of prey has a light, sweeping flight. It leaves Hungary in
winter. It hunts alone and takes its food exclusively from the ground.
This consists of small mammals, especially mice, the bird is also
particularly fond of robbing the nests of such birds as build on the
ground; it sucks the eggs and devours the small downy creatures within
them. It also takes the little hares--in short, it is one of the most
destructive birds in the fields which it frequents and hunts over
untiringly. On the other hand, there comes a time when the number of
field mice has increased beyond measure. Then the Hen-Harrier joins the
other birds of prey and destroys enormous numbers of those enemies of
the farmer. For this reason the species should not be altogether
exterminated.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of late years the numbers of the Hen-Harrier have been greatly thinned
by game-preservers, and it only nests now on a few of our largest and
wildest moorlands and wastes. Even in Scotland it is fast decreasing so
far as nesting goes, whereas it was once plentiful there. Still there
are a fairly large number of young birds in the autumn, and then, too,
the adult birds come down from the higher-lying districts to the
lowlands. It used

[Illustration: HARMFUL.

THE HEN-HARRIER.]

to breed in the Fen-lands of East Anglia until the reclaiming of marsh
lands drove it away. As to this I may be allowed to quote again here
from an old ballad written before the fens were drained, it gives the
feeling of the fen-dwellers of that day.

    “Come brethren of the water, and let us all assemble,
     To treat upon this matter which makes us quake and tremble;
     For we shall rue it, if it be true that fens be undertaken,
     And where we feed on fen and reed, they’ll feed both beef and bacon.

           *       *       *       *       *

     The feathered fowl have wings, to fly to other nations,
     But we have no such things to help our transportation;
     We must give place--oh, grievous case--to hornéd beast and cattle,
     Except that we can all agree to drive them out to battle.”

“As a gamekeeper once said to me,” says ‘A Son of the Marshes,’ “The
sooner them big ’uns is gone or done for the better; there’s nothin’ but
a chow-row from morning to night. Our head ’un says they must be knocked
over, and the guv’nor he’s got the same tale. They can’t git at ’em no
more than we. It ain’t so much what they ketches, tho’ they tries hard
at it, as what they frightens off the fields; it spiles the shootin’.
Them ’ere damned great things hovers an’ swishes after the birds till at
last the coveys makes for the hedgerows an’ you has to git ’em out as if
you was beatin’ for cocks. We ain’t had none o’ them ’ere blue an’
ring-tailed hawks--harriers--’bout here lately. They’re reg’lar
wussers; they kills ’em dead at one clip, an’ takes ’em out in the
middle o’ them big fields to eat ’em. They ain’t goin’ to let you get
near ’em, not they, an’ they wun’t fly over a place where you kin hide.
I’ve tried to git at ’em, but it all cum to nothin’. Them ’ere blue
hawks an’ ring-tails would circumvent the devil.”

The adult male has the upper parts a slatey-grey tone of colour, the
rump white, throat and breast bluish-grey--under parts white. The female
is brown above, the neck rufous-brown streaked with white--there is a
distinct facial ruff, giving the head an owl-like appearance, suggesting
that this species might be the link between Owls and Hawks--tail brown,
having five darker bars, hence the old name of Ring-tail given to the
female of this bird; under parts buff-brown with darker stripes. Length
21 inches. The young resemble the female.



CHAPTER IX.

RATIONAL BIRD PROTECTION.


Only a savage, or an ignorant man, can harm or wish to get rid of a bird
before he has convinced himself that it is harmful. I have said already
that in the abstract there are no useful and harmful birds, as such. The
bird exists as a product of Nature, to fulfil, like everything else, the
tasks allotted to it by Nature and in Nature, which no other creature
can perform.

It is man who makes the bird useful or hurtful to himself, when he tears
up the turf, and sows such seed as brings rich crops which serve the
bird for food; or when he plants an orchard or vineyard, where there was
none before. Therefore, for the good of the birds--and also of man--we
must carefully reflect what it is our duty to do and how we can best do
it.

The Tits, Hedge Sparrows, Flycatchers and others whose industry know no
rest, do invaluable service to a sensible man; for while the most
observant and diligent gardener can only destroy those caterpillars’
nests which meet his eye wholesale, these useful birds, hopping about,
darting and leaping, hanging and pecking, devour all the mischievous
pests, even when they are quite out of reach of man, and certainly out
of his sight.

These services can even be estimated to a certain extent.

The tiny Wren consumes in one year more than three million insects in
different forms, either as eggs, chrysalis or perfect insects, which,
if they were allowed to propagate would result in countless numbers.

The Blue Tit, not much larger, destroys six and a half million insects
in one year. If it bring up a family of 12 to 16 young ones, it means
that one family of Tits puts about twenty-four million destructive
insects out of the power of doing harm. Whoever, therefore, either from
cruelty or ignorance, catches or kills these useful little birds does a
great injury to the common weal.

[Illustration: THE RAIDING HAWK.]

The insect world has great power everywhere, and where birds and other
insect-eating creatures are destroyed through ignorance there follows
the destruction resulting from the ascendancy of these pests which
appear, not in tens of thousands, but in millions. Twenty-one years ago
any person who had ventured on such an assertion would have been laughed
at, but it is now a well-known fact that some of the most renowned
vineyards have been entirely ruined by the Phylloxera, an insect which
can scarcely be seen by the naked eye.

In former times, when a great deal of uncultivated land covered the
plain, in its natural state, the air rang with the song of birds. Woods,
meadows, thickets and pools were thronged with the feathered songsters.
In the course of time, however, things have greatly changed; in many
districts the woods are thinned or grubbed up, the plough has torn up
the meadows; every little scrap of thicket has been hewn down; whole
forests are being cut down by degrees to supply the paper mills; and so
the birds are losing their nesting places, and death and destruction
lurk in waiting for them on their migrations. Devastating storms which
overtake the immigrant flocks often destroy the feathered wanderers in
great numbers. This, however, is the course of Nature, against which we
are impotent.

After all the birds’ worst enemy is man, with his ignorance, or, still
worse, his cupidity. He has plundered the nest and destroyed the brood;
he grudges every grain of corn which the bird has richly deserved by its
work throughout the year.

Steamers and railroads make it possible for birds, which are caught by
millions, to be sent alive into the great cities as delicacies of the
table. So, from year to year, they are becoming rarer.

So much the more are we bound,--for the good of heart and soul, as well
as for the blessing of the land and its workers--to protect the useful
birds as much as we conscientiously can so that they may increase in
numbers.

Once, while on a journey to the Northern Ocean, I travelled the whole
length of Denmark. Moor, bog and sandhills cover great stretches of
land. Coarse heath grows over the sandhills. Poverty-stricken huts are
scattered here and there in these districts, the tenants of which live
by turf cutting. There is neither wood nor coal, so that the dried bog
furnishes the sole fuel. A small spotted cow is usually seen tethered
with a long rope near the cottage. This animal provides milk for the
household. In front of the dwelling, at a distance of about fifteen
paces, a pole, from 13 to 20 feet in height, is set up, at the top of
which is fastened a nest-box for birds, and this is usually inhabited by
Starlings.

[Illustration]

It was a pleasant sight, towards evening, that of the weary turf-cutter,
sitting on the little bench before his cottage, smoking his pipe,
bending down to talk to his child, and then, with heartfelt pleasure,
setting himself to watch the pair of Starlings chattering on the
nest-box, and enjoying life generally. In many districts nest-boxes are
fixed on fruit trees in gardens and in every other suitable place, and
in these dwell all the best and most industrious workers--Tits,
Flycatchers, Redstarts and others.

There is a proverb which may be translated as follows: “Take nest and
eggs from brooding bird--no fruit is found, no song is heard.” Also in
the Bible we read: “If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the
way, in any tree or on the ground, whether they be young ones or eggs,
and the dam sitting upon the young or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take
the dam with the young.”

We must guard the nests from evilly disposed men and from roving
predatory animals as much as lies in our power. But the real problem is
this: The landowner uproots bushes, fells old trees, prevents the nest
building of our most useful birds and cannot give back to them what they
have lost. He prevents the possibility of their collecting again and
increasing, and consequently from performing their useful duties, which
are continually increasing. Where, however, bushes and trees have been
rooted up, new ones may be planted, and the birds encouraged to return,
although we cannot replace them at once--for hundreds of years may pass
before the trees grow tall enough, and we cannot wait so long. Then we
try to do by artificial means what we cannot do by nature; and we must
be careful to study nature in our operations or we shall not succeed.

The Woodpecker, which lives in hollow trees, shows us how to build an
artificial nest.

Table V., Fig. 1, gives a section of the nesting-hole of a Woodpecker
built by himself.

Fig. 2 is a perfectly designed nest for Titmice.

Fig. 3 shows the same nesting-box complete, provided with entrance hole
and cover.

Fig. 4 shows an open nest-box for Flycatchers and a black Redstart.

The most important is that shown in 2 and 3 as it is specially arranged
to suit Titmice.

[Illustration]

Nest-boxes, and especially their holes, should, of course, be of
different sizes, according to the birds that are to inhabit them. The
opening is always round, and is of varying size according to the
species. Many directions as to these are given in a paper by Baron von
Berlepsch, “On the Protection of Birds Generally,” published by the
German Association for the Protection of the Bird World, and also by
publications of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Hanover
Square, London.

[Illustration: Nesting Boxes on Poles.]

The following are some approximate measurements for nest-boxes:--

  height, 11½ inches;
  depth from back to front, 4½ inches;
  diameter of round opening, 1¼ inches.

For birds of the size of a Starling:

For Titmice:
  height, 18½ inches;
  depth back to front, 9 inches;
  diameter of opening, 1¾ inches.

For Green Woodpeckers:

  height, 19¾ inches;
  depth back to front, 9 inches;
  diameter of opening, 2⅜ inches.

The measurements for the Wild Pigeon are the same as these last, except
for the opening, which should be about 4½ inches wide.

Flycatchers and Wagtails require a box as shown in Fig. 4. This is 9
inches high, and has an opening about 4 inches square.

The edge of the entrance to a nesting-box should be rounded off, as in
the hole of a tree, to make it more natural to the bird’s feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

The nesting-boxes should be fixed in orchards, gardens, and houses on
the edge of a forest, on the trunks of trees and branches, also on
poles, and fastened by means of strong flexible wire, or, still better,
by screw-nails. They should be placed perpendicularly, slightly inclined
or crooked, but never inclined backwards as the rain gets in and the
Titmouse has sense enough to avoid such a nesting-box. They should be
fixed a little lower than the average height of a man, and so arranged
that the morning sun strikes the entrance hole if possible. The box is
an exact copy of the nest-hole of the small spotted Woodpecker, and
experience teaches us that the unoccupied nest-holes are frequently used
by the Titmouse. In spring the Titmice not only fight among themselves
for the possession of these nest-holes, but also with the hosts of House
Sparrows which strive to rob them of the holes. These Sparrows come in
crowds and make a great noise in the place. Being of a powerful build,
and provided with sharp beaks, the birds finally oust the Titmice. To
contravene the House Sparrow we must hang the nest-box somewhat low,
about one yard from the ground. The careful and suspicious bird dares
not trust himself in it. The Tree Sparrow, which does not come too near
the haunts of man, but hovers on the fringe of the villages or street
gardens, bushes and heaths, is a trusting bird, and not very heavy. It
likes nest-holes immensely, and attacks those which are placed low,
driving the Titmouse out. The Hedge Sparrow, again, lives on insects,
but he is not clean, and is no friend of the garden; therefore, when we
find him fighting with the Titmouse for possession of the nest-holes, we
help to oust the Hedge Sparrow in the interests of the garden and the
wood.

[Illustration: SPARROWS HAVE OUSTED THE TITMOUSE.]

The following birds must be protected at nesting-time: The Great
Titmouse, the Blue Titmouse, the Coal

[Illustration: A PLEASANT MEAL ON THE SEEDS OF THE SUNFLOWER: THORNS
BELOW TO KEEP THE CAT AWAY.]

Titmouse, the Marsh Titmouse, and Crested Titmouse, because all these
birds are likely nesting-box dwellers. The method organised by Baron von
Berlepsch, and used in Hungary by Minister Darányi, with slight
alterations, is intended to bring the vanishing singing birds back
again. By the use of different sized nest-boxes it is possible to
collect different kinds of birds. I know by experience that by arranging
the bushes in close, twisted branches we can get the useful and singing
Whitethroats to build their nests.

       *       *       *       *       *

The importance of a rational study of this question of the protection of
birds, with particular regard to their economic significance in given
districts, has been demonstrated in Southern Victoria in a remarkable
manner, where great mistakes have been made by settlers who seem to have
been desirous of encouraging our own British birds about their
homesteads. To take steps which resulted in the nesting of a colony of
Fieldfares in a district where they had so far been unknown to breed, as
Baron von Berlepsch did, was most advantageous, since the Fieldfares
drove the murderous Shrike from the field. Again, by fixing up
artificial nesting-boxes, made according to this great naturalist’s
pattern--on stakes placed in certain districts of North Germany, ninety
per cent. of these became inhabited by Titmice, until that time
strangers to the region, where, however, their services were most
desirable.

On the other hand, Greenfinches, which were introduced into Southern
Victoria by Australian settlers twenty-five years ago, took possession
of the pine trees, which were the only trees that afforded enough shade
and cover, and were the nearest approach there to their usual

[Illustration: A FEEDING-PLACE FOR WET WEATHER.

As a rule only feed the birds when weather reasons prevent them
procuring their own food.]

nesting-places; and they drove away from the district the useful little
native Tits, which feed among these trees and have their own appointed
work on them. A correspondent of a Geelong paper writes again of the
charming sight of a number of English Blackbirds hopping about on a lawn
beneath the spraying water-hose, and busily feeding on the worms. Yet
this same bird is becoming a great nuisance to the fruit growers there.
This is also the case in New Zealand, where large prices are now being
offered for dead Blackbirds and their eggs. The Starling, again, which
is so useful in our own pasture lands, has been known to clear out a
vineyard in Southern Victoria in a single night. Thrushes are looked
upon there as suspects, but opinions are divided as to this bird.

We have already written about the Quails, imported into the canefields
of Hawaii, to be in their turn exterminated by the mongoose, who had
been brought there to eat up the devastating rats.

To sum up the whole matter, interference with the balance of Nature must
only be undertaken with knowledge and discretion; and those who
undertake it must study, and profit by the recorded experiences of our
accredited guides in this direction.



IN CONCLUSION.


The scope and limits of the present work does not allow of the inclusion
of some of the chapters contained in the latest Hungarian edition, such
as those treating of the skeleton, the viscera, etc., nor can this be
taken as adequately representing the work of the Royal Hungarian Central
Bureau of Ornithology of which Mr. Herman is the Director. That work is
arranged on a regular scientific basis, and it includes that important
investigation with regard to the food of birds, which is carried on by a
fully qualified entomologist. The Bureau has its collection, which
contains dried ingluvies, _i.e._, contents of the stomachs of nearly
9,000 different species of birds; skeletons, skins, eggs, nests and
insects.

The Bureau has its meteorologist, its biologist, 267 corresponding
professional ornithologists, and as many as 326 foresters contributing
the results of their observations and experiences, besides a large
number of foreign correspondents. There is a huge collection of data for
the members of the regular staff to work from. These are written on
separate slips, on each of which is the name of the collector, his point
of observation, the character of the district in which this is carried
on, the scientific name of the species, and the date of observation. The
migration of birds is also made the subject of systematic observation.

An important publication, “Aquila,” serve well in keeping together these
different workers in connection with the Central Bureau, and the whole
expenditure of this office, including the publication of the journal is
now included in the Budget of the State.

       *       *       *       *       *

In order to prevent the abuses which might arise from a general
invitation to send in specimens of the different species of birds for
examination, the Hungarian Minister of Agriculture has issued various
decrees which are enforced by law, the non-observance of which is
punishable by fines. The taking alive or killing of protected species is
allowed only for scientific purposes, and with permission obtained from
the authorities, and any person found employed in this work must be
able, on demand, to produce an order in writing from some Hungarian
scientific institute, some expert, or known person who can prove that he
is engaged in Natural History research. This license is drawn up
according to a form legally provided. Another safeguard, provided by M.
Darányi against the abuse of such permission, is that the authorities
may only allow a license to the same individual for the capture of not
more than 10 animals, or the taking of not more than 10 birds, nests, or
eggs; and this maximum is only to be permitted in cases where there is
no danger of the extinction of the species.

It may be added that, by a decree of the Minister of Agriculture,
protection is afforded to Bats of all kinds, and at all times; to Moles,
except in flower and kitchen gardens and nurseries, where it is
permitted to destroy them; to all kinds of Shrew-mice, except the Water
Shrew, which is injurious to fishing interests; and to Hedgehogs.

Further, in view of the great amount of deforestation which is taking
place in Hungary, as in other countries, and the consequent destruction
of the natural nesting places of birds, the Government provides
artificial nesting-holes, and ensures the clipping of shrubs in a
suitable manner for the encouragement of desirable bird-residents. These
nesting-boxes are placed at a certain distance round the foresters’
houses and become the starting points for further extension. In these
places the birds are regularly fed when the winter is a severe one.

[Illustration: A Winter Food Shelter.]



Index.


Bearded Reedling, 203-204

Bills of Birds, 15-19

Bittern, 302-305

Blackbird, 245-249

Blackcap, 162-164

Blue-Tit, 209

Bullfinch, 270-273

Bunting:
  “ Cirl, 278
  “ Yellow, 277
  “ Reed, 185

Buzzard, Common, 343-346


Chaffinch, 267-269

Coal-Tit, 216

Crossbill, 135-138

Crow, Carrion, 64-67

Crow, Hooded, 17, 57

Cuckoo, 142-145

Curlew, Common, 17, 287-290


Dabchick, 329

Dipper, 238-241

Doves:
  “ Ring, 281-282
  “ Turtle, 279-282

Ducks:
  “ Wild or Mallard, 316-319
  “ Pintailed, 320-322
  “ Shoveler, 323-326

Duck-Hawk. See Harrier, Marsh


Eagle, Golden, 332-335


Falcon, Peregrine, 351

“ Red-footed, 340-342

Feathers, 22-23

Feeding of Birds, 378-380

Feet of Birds, 19

Fieldfares, 248

Flycatcher, Spotted, 189-192

“ Pied, 193-194


Goatsucker. See Nightjar

Goose, Bean, 313-315

Goldfinch, 273, 351

Goshawk, 351, 352

Grebe, Great-crested, 327-330

Greenfinch, 274

Gull, Blackheaded, 87-89


Harriers:
  “ Hen, 365-368
  “ Marsh, 362-364

Hawfinch, 17, 262-266

Herons:
  “ Common, 17, 300-301
  “ Night, 298-301

Hobby, 355, 358

Hoopoe, 146-148


Jackdaw, 72-77

Jay, 83-86


Kestrel, 358-361

Kingfisher, 235-237

Kite, 336-339


Lapwing, 283-286

Lark, 232


Magpie, 78-82

Mallard. See Duck, Wild

Martin:
  “ House, 109-102
  “ Sand, 113-116

Mavis. See Thrush

Mauvis. See Redwing

Merganser, 17

Merlin, 361

Moorhen, 307-309


Nesting-boxes, 373-379

Nettle-creeper. See Whitethroat

Nightingale, 165-167

Nightjar, 120-123

Nuthatch, 133-134


Oriole, 250-252

Owls:
  “ Barn, 24-28
  “ Brown or Tawny, 29-33
  “ Little, 42-44
  “ Long-eared, 34-37
  “ Short-eared, 38-41

Oxeye. See Titmouse, Great


Partridge, 17

Peewit. See Lapwing

Pigeon, Wood, 281-282

Pipit, Tree, 173-175

Plover, Green. See Lapwing

Protection of Birds. 369-379


Quail, 90-93


Raven, 68-71

Redbreast, 253

Redshank, 291-294

Redstarts:
  “ Common, 168-170
  “ Black, 171-172

Redwing, 248

Reed Warbler, Great, 181-185

Ringdove. See Pigeon, Wood

Robin, 253-256

Rook, 45-56


Sandpiper, Green, 295-297

Screecher. See Swift

Shoveler, 323-326

Shrikes:
  “ Great Grey, 149-151
  “ Lesser Grey, 152-154
  “ Red-backed, 155-158

Shuffle-wings. See Sparrow, Hedge

Siskin, 171, 351

Skylark, 232-234

Snake-bird. See Wryneck

Sparrow-Hawk, 347-350

Sparrows:
  “ Hedge, 230-231
  “ House, 224-227
  “ Tree, 228-229

Starling, 94-98

“ Rose, 99-100

Stonechat, 200-202

Stormcock. See Thrush, Mistle

Swallow, 104-108

Swift, 116-119


Tern, 310-312

Thrush, 242-244

“ Mistle, 248

Titmouse:
  “ Bearded, 203-204
  “ Blue, 209-212
  “ Coal, 216-218
  “ Crested, 215-216
  “ Great, 205-208
  “ Long-tailed, 17, 219-223
  “ Marsh, 217

Tree-Creeper, 131-133


Wagtails, 17

“ Blue-headed, 178

“ Pied, 180

“ White, 176-178

“ Yellow, 179

Water-hen, 307-309

Waxwing, 101-103

Wheatear, 194-199

Whitethroat, Lesser, 159-161

Willow Wren, 186-188

Wings of Birds, 19-21

Wind-hover. See Kestrel

Woodcock, 17

Woodpeckers, Green, 124-127

“ Greater Spotted, 128-130

“ Lesser Spotted, 127

Wren, 257-261

“ Gold-crested, 213-214

Writing Lark. See Bunting, Yellow

Wryneck, 139-141


Yaffil. See Woodpecker, Green

Yellow-Hammer, 275-278


Zizi. See Bunting, Cirl

       *       *       *       *       *

                            JUST PUBLISHED.

                 Demy 8vo.      510 pp.      6s. net.


                              The Country
                            Month by Month

                                  BY

                              J. A. OWEN

          (_Collaborator in all the work signed “A Son of the
                            Marshes”_) and

                  PROF. G. S. BOULGER, F.L.S., F.G.S.

              A New Edition. Complete in One Volume. With
                           Notes by the late

                             LORD LILFORD.


                                LONDON

                           DUCKWORTH & CO.,
               3, HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C.

       *       *       *       *       *

                      A FEW NOTICES OF THE BOOK.

“Well adapted to the purpose.”--_Times._

“Interesting and brightly written.”--_Nature._

“These are excellent.”--_Nature’s Notes._

“Never to our knowledge were facts from Natural History and that
terrible subject Modern Botany more skilfully deployed before the
reader’s mind.”--_Daily Chronicle._

“Contains more of the information we are likely to want under such
circumstances than any other periodical or book.”--_Land and Water._

“Full of observant sympathy and special knowledge.”--_Scotsman._

“It is altogether delightful reading.”--_School Board Chronicle._

“Charming gossips--reminding us of Gilbert White and Richard
Jefferies.”--_Christian World._

“Should delight the heart of the naturalist.”--_Glasgow Herald._

“Literary in style, accurate in statement ... we know none which so well
deserves credit for being ‘up-to-date.’”--_Selborne Society’s “Nature
Notes.”_


FOOTNOTES:

 [1] See Beethoven’s song “The Call of the Quail.” One of Antoinette
 Sterling’s favourites.

 [2] Mr. Wells Bladen, of Stone, wrote an interesting brochure on this
 subject.

 [3] “Birds in their Seasons.”

 [4] In “Home-Life of Marsh Birds,” Miss Emma Turner gives a most
 interesting account of these lovely little birds, illustrated from her
 own photographs.

 [5] “A Son of the Marshes.”

 [6] Noisy, coarse creatures.

 [7] “A Son of the Marshes.”

 [8] “A Son of the Marshes.”



Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

particular sepcies=> particular species {pg 8}

their oppresive enemy=> their oppressive enemy {pg 28}

plunders and steal nests=> plunders and steals nests {pg 69}

and feeds its young=> and feeds it young {pg 91}

I was struck wtih=> I was struck with {pg 96}

it finds it diet=> it finds its diet {pg 131}

The clutch consits=> The clutch consists {pg 131}

enlivens the neighbourheed=> enlivens the neighbourhood {pg 153}

The German naturalist Linz=> The German naturalist Lenz {pg 157}

and it a joy=> and it is a joy {pg 169}

as would by comparison made=> as would by comparison make {pg 219}

clear and joyonus=> clear and joyous {pg 251}

in one of of our old hedgerows=> in one of our old hedgerows {pg 264}

The gooseberry blossoms was=> The gooseberry blossom was {pg 272}

superstitition has linked=> superstition has linked {pg 277}

wiremorms, click-beetles=> wireworms, click-beetles {pg 285}

a vistor only on its way=> a visitor only on its way {pg 287}

covers up the eggs is order=> covers up the eggs in order {pg 313}

Its aspect in cunning and cruel=> Its aspect is cunning and cruel {pg
351}





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