Alfred Charles Smith.

The birds of Wiltshire. Comprising all the periodical and occasional visitants, as well as those which are indigenous to the county online

. (page 2 of 53)
Online LibraryAlfred Charles SmithThe birds of Wiltshire. Comprising all the periodical and occasional visitants, as well as those which are indigenous to the county → online text (page 2 of 53)
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95 Corvus corone .... Carrion Crow .... 232

96 Corvus comix .... Hooded Crow .... 234

97 Corvus frugilegus . . . Rook 237

98 Corvus monedula . . . Jackdaw 241

99 Pica caudata .... Magpie 242

100 Garrulus qlandarius . . Jay ... . 245

. 247

101 Picus Martins .... Great Black Woodpecker . . 248

102 Picus viridis .... Green Woodpecker . . . 250

103 Picus major .... Great Spotted Woodpecker . 253

104 Picus minor .... Lesser Spotted Woodpecker . 254

105 Picus auratus .... Gold-winged Woodpecker . . 255

106 Yunx torquilla .... Wryneck 256

. . . 258

107 Certhia familiaris . . . Common Creeper . . . 259

108 Troglodytes vulgaris . . . Wren 260

109 UpupaEpops .... Hoopoe 262

110 SUtaEuropcea . . . . Nuthatch . . . . .268

111 Cuculus canorus Common Cuckoo . . . 270

1 12 Coracias garrula . . . Roller 293

113 Merops apiaster .... Bee-eater . . * . . . 294
. . 295

114 Alcedo ispida . Kingfisher 296


115 Hirundo rustica . . . Swallow 301

116 Hirundo urbica .... Martin 304

117 Hirundo riparia . . . Sand Martin . . . . 306

118 Cypselus apus .... Common Swift .... 307


119 Caprimulgus Europceus . . Nightjar 311

...... ......... (314

120 Columba palumbus . . . Ring Dove 317

121 Columba cenas .... Stock Dove 319

122 Columba lima .... Rock Dove 320

123 Columba turtur . . . Turtle Dove .... 322

124 Phasianus Colchicus . . . Pheasant 323


125 Tetrao urogallus . . . Capercaillie . . . . 325

126 Tetrao tetrix .... Black Grouse .... 32y

127 Lagopus Scoticus . . . Red Grouse .... 32g

128 Syrrhaptes paradoxus . . Pallas' Sand Grouse . . . 33o



(Ground Birds)

Classified List of


26 Tetraonidas. Grouse

27 Struthionidce. Bustards


28 Charadriadce. Plovers

29 Gruidce. Cranes

30 Ardeidce. Herons .

31 Scolopacidce. Snipes

32 Rallidce. Rails

33 Lobipedidce. Lobe-feet


34 Anatidce. Ducks

the Birds of Wiltshire.


129 Perdix cinerea



. 332

130 Perdix rubra .
131 Perdix coturnix .

. Red-legged Partridge .
. Quail

. 334
. 1*35
. 338

132 Otis tarda ....

. Bustard

. 339

133 Otis tetrax.

. Little Bustard . . .

. 364
. 369

134 Glareola torquata
135 Cursorius isabellinus .
136 (Edicnemus crepitans .
137 Charadrius pluvialis .
138 Charadrius morinellus

. Pratincole
Cream-coloured Courser
. Great Plover
. Golden Plover

. 371
. 374
. 377
. 360
. 382

139 Charadrius hiaticula .
140 Vanellus cristatus

. Ringed Plover
. Lapwing ....

. 385
. 386

141 Hcematopus ostralegus

. Oyster-catcher

. 389
. 391

142 6rrus cinerea

. Common Crane .

. 391
. 392

143 Ardea cinerea .
144 Ardea comata .
145 Botaurus minutus
146 Botaurus stellaris
147 Nycticorax griseits
148 Ciconia alba
149 Ibis falcinellus .

. Common Heron .
Squacco Heron .
. Little Bittern
. Bittern ....
. Night Heron
. White Stork

. 394

. 404
. 407
. 410

. 412

150 Numenius arquata


151 Numeniu s phceopus

Whimbrel ....

. 415

152 Tot anus calidris

. 417

153 Totanus ochropus
154 Totanus glareola
155 Totanus nypoleucos
156 Totanus glottis .
157 Limosa rufa
158 Machetes pugnax
159 Scolopax rusticola

. Green Sandpiper.
. Wood Sandpiper.
Common Sandpiper .
. Greenshank
. Bar-tailed Godwit
. Ruff

. 418
. 420
. 421

. 42a

. 425

160 Scolopax major .
161 Scolopax gallinago
1 62 Scolopax gallinula . ,

. Great Snipe
. Common Snipe .

. 428
. 431

163 Tringa subarquata
164 Tringa Canuta .
16o Tringa variabilis

. Curlew Sandpiper
. Knot

. 432
. 433
. 437

1 66 Tringa maritima

. Purple Sandpiper

. 438

167 Crcx pi*atensis

Land Rail

. 440

168 Crex porzana
169 Rallus aquaticus

Spotted Crake
Water Rail

. 442
. 443

1 70 Gallinula chloropus . .

. 444

171 Ar amides Cayannensis

. Cayenne Rail

. 445
. 447

172 Fulica atra
173 Phalaropus lobatus .
174 Phalaropus hyberboreus

. Common Coot .
. Gray Phalarope . . .
. Red-necked Phalarope

. 448
. 449
. 452
. 455

175 Anserferus

. Graylag Goose . . .

. 455




Classified List of

34 Anatidce. Ducks

35 Colymlidce. Divers.

36 Alcadw. Auks

37 Pelicanidce. Pelicans

38 Laridce. Gulls.

the Birds of Wiltshire.





176 Anser segetum .

. Bean Goose

. 457

177 Anser albifrons .

. White-fronted Goose .

. 459

178 Anser torquatus .

. Brent Goose

. 460

179 Anser leucops'is .

. Bernicle Goose .

. 464

180 Anser Egyptiacus

. Egyptian Goose .

. 465

181 Anser gambensis

. Spur-winged Goose .

. 467

182 Anser Canadensis

. Canada Goose .

. 468

183 Cygnus musicus .

. Whooper ....


184 Cygnus olor

. Mute Swan ....

. 471

185 Tadorna vulpanser .

. Common Shelldrake .

. 474

186 Anas clypeata

. Shoveller ....


187 Anas strepera .

. Gadwall ....

. 477

188 Anas acuta

. Pintail Duck

. 478

189 Anas boschas

. Wild Duck.


190 Anas querquedula

. Garganey ....


191 Anas crecca

. Teal

. 481

192 Anas penelope .

. Wigeon .


193 Somateria mollissima .

. Eider Duck.


194 Somateria spectabilis .

. King Duck ....


195 Oidemia nigra .

Common Scoter . .

. 486

196 Fuligula ferina .

. Pochard ....


197 Fuligula nyroca.

. Ferruginous Duck

. 488

198 Fuligula marila

. Scaup Duck

. 489

199 Fuligula cristata

. Tufted Duck

. 490

200 Fuligula glacialis . .

. Long- tailed Duck

. 491

201 Fuligula clangula

. Golden Eye

. 492

202 Mergus albellus .

Smew .....

. 494

203 Mergus serrator .

. Red-breasted Merganser

. 495

204 Mergus merganser

. Goosander ....

. 496


205 Podiceps cristatus

. Great Crested Grebe .

. 500

206 Podiceps rubricollis .

. Red-necked Grebe . *

. 501

207 Podiceps cornutus

. Sclavonian Grebe

. 502

208 Podiceps auritus

. Eared Grebe

. 503

209 Podiceps minor .

. Little Grebe

. 504

210 Columbus glacialis .

. Great Northern Diver

. 505

211 Columbus arcticus

. Black-throated Diver .

. 508

212 Colyjnbus septentrionalis

. Red- throated Diver .

. 509


213 7na rc^7e

. Common Guillemot .

. 511

214 Mergulus alle

. Little Auk ....

. 512

215 Fratercula arctica

. Puffin ......

. 514

216 -4/ca o?'efa

. Razor-bill . . .



217 Phalacrocorax carlo .

Common Cormorant .

. 518

218 Phalacrocorax graculus

. Shag

. 521

219 Sulaalba ....

. Gannet ....

. 522


220 Sterna hirundo .

. Common Tern .

. 525

221 Sterna Arctica .

. Arctic Tern

. 526

222 Sterna fissipes .

. Black Tern ....


223 Larus minutus .

. Little Gull ....


224 Larus ricHbundus

. Black-headed Gull

. 531

225 Larus tridactylus

. Kittiwake ....


226 Larus canus

. Common Gull . . .

. 533

xxiv Classified List of


5NATATORES. . WLurultv. Gulls


the Birds of Wiltshire.



227 Larusfuscns

228 Larus argentatus

229 Larus marinus .

230 Lestris cataractes

231 Lestris crepidatus

232 Puffinus Anglorum .

233 Thalassidroma Oceanica

234 Thalassidroma Leachil

235 Thalassidroma pelagica


Lesser Black -backed Gull . . 534

Herring Gull .... 535

Great Black-backed Gull . . 536

Common Skua .... 537

Richardson's Skua . . . 539

Manx Shearwater . . . 540

Wilson's Petrel .... 542

Forked -tailed Petrel . . . 543

Storm Petrel 544




THE county of Wilts has been sometimes thoughtlessly said to be
poor in Ornithology ; indeed, I have heard it denounced by super-
ficial observers as exceptionally wanting in the various members
of the feathered race ; pre-eminent, doubtless, in the remains of
antiquity so these gentlemen are good enough to allow but in
birds a barren field indeed. Against any such verdict I enter a
decided protest, and I even maintain, on the contrary, that,
taking into consideration that Wiltshire is an inland district, and
therefore cannot be expected to abound in birds whose habitat is
the sea and the seashore, our county will scarcely yield to any
other, similarly situated, in the number and variety of the species
of birds to be found there ; and I now proceed to prove this by

Let us first, however, examine the physical aspect of Wiltshire,
and we shall see that it is not composed of bleak open downs
alone, as its detractors superciliously affirm ; but that it can show
a great diversity of scenery, and much of it of surpassing beauty.
We have, it is true, our broad, open, expanding downs and what
native of Wiltshire does not glory in them and admire them ?
but we have at the same time our richly- timbered vales : if we
have hill, we have also dale ; if we have open plains, we have also
large woods and thick forests. Where shall we find more clear
and limpid streams, where more green and laughing meadows,
than in the valleys of Avon (the northern and the southern


2 Introduction.

Avon), the vale of Kennet. or of Pewsey, or of Wily, or of War-
dour ? Where, again, in all England can we meet with a forest
to compare with that of Savernake ? And in woods and parks
and well- timbered estates, both in the north and south of the
county, we are exceptionally rich.

But it is an undisputed fact in Ornithology indeed, I may say
in Zoology, and even in Natural History generally that those
districts afford the greatest variety of species which comprise the
greatest variety of scenery ; for as some kinds of birds prefer an
open plain, others a sequestered valley ; as some delight in the
recesses of deep woods, others court the margins of streams, and
all these are usually to be found in their own peculiar locality,
the ornithologist in search of particular species will devote his
attention to the country suited to the habits of the bird of which
he is in search. Thus (to take an example which must be familiar
to everybody), who would think of beating a thick wood for
snipe, or of wading through a marsh for partridges ? It is the
same with every species of bird, as well as with all quadrupeds,
reptiles, insects, and other inferior tribes of the animal kingdom.
The Almighty Creator has peopled with the living creatures
which He has made, no less the wild dreary plain than the sunny,
smiling valley ; no less the bleak open down than the sheltered,
sequestered nook. I myself have found specimens of animal life
far above vegetation among the eternal snows of the Swiss Alps,
9,000 feet above the sea, and on the immense deserts of rock and
snow composing the Norwegian ' fjelds.' But far more than this,
that indefatigable naturalist, De Saussure, who first surmounted
the avalanches and glaciers which presented, till then, an impass-
able barrier to the ascent of Mont Blanc, discovered on the very
top of that noble mountain several minute insects, which seemed
to revel in the cold and rarified air of that exalted spot, upwards
of 15,000 feet above the sea ! And again, Lieutenant Greeley, in
the Arctic expedition which reached the highest latitude ever
attained by man, describes the existence in summer of many
butterflies, and quite a ' plague of flies,' amidst the icebergs and
snows of 83 N. lat.

Variety of Scenery in Wiltshire. 3

But if there are living creatures to be found in every kind of
country, in remote, inhospitable, and almost inaccessible rocks
and snows, as well as in more genial and milder regions ; and
if each creature, of whatever class and however minute, is
still most wonderfully formed and fitted for the particular
locality assigned to it, we may assert again, without fear of con-
tradiction, that the district which comprises the greatest variety
of scenery may be expected to produce the greatest variety of

From the great variety, then, of scenery which Wiltshire
possesses, we should expect to find a great variety of species of
birds ; and such, I boldly assert, is the result of our inquiries.

Of the five orders into which birds are commonly divided,
three compose that large class called the ' Land Birds,' and two
the ' Water Birds.' And if we examine the work which at the
present day is generally accepted by the bulk of ornithologists as
their manual and book of reference I mean Yarrell's ' British
Birds ' we shall find that in the last edition, completed in 1885,
of the Land Birds therein enumerated there are just 199 species.
But this list contains the names, not only of every bird which
inhabits this country throughout the year; or which, being
migratory, is a periodical sojourner here during the summer or
winter, or an occasional visitant, passing us on its way to northern
or southern latitudes, but also of every bird which has ever been
seen in this country. If a straggler from Asia or Africa, happen-
ing to fall in with a storm of wind, should be hurried out of its
course and carried to our shores, that one single occurrence
suffices at the present day to place its name on our British list.
I am not now about to enter into the question of the advantage
or disadvantage to science of such a method. I only state that
this is the method adopted by our British ornithologists, and by
this means the addition of some tempest- driven, or lost straggler,
is being continually made to our ever-increasing list. And yet,
notwithstanding this modern method of swelling the list of
British birds, and though with such additions to it from year
to year, the last edition of our standard ornithological work


4 Introduction.

contains but 199 Land Birds, I have been enabled to claim no
less than 133 species of them as belonging to our county.

Of the two other orders comprising the other class, or ' Water
Birds,' it cannot be expected, as I before said, that this, as an
inland county, should possess a very large supply. Still, even of
these there are some families amongst the Waders as the Plovers,
Herons, Snipes, and Rails which affect our open downs or
marshy valleys to a great degree ; and there are others which are
more essentially Sea-Birds as the Ducks, Grebes, Terns, and
Gulls which are very frequent visitors, more especially in the
south of the county, the portion nearest to the sea-coast
Besides this, we have an occasional visit from many other varie-
ties of Water Birds continually occurring. So that of the 176
species of Water Birds enumerated in the new edition of Yarrell,
I may claim 102 for our Wiltshire list ; so that again the diligent
ornithologist, though he confine his observations to his own
county, will not unfrequently meet with specimens of birds
whose more peculiar domain is the sea and the shore. And this
brings up the total list of Wiltshire birds to 235.*

Another and a strong proof of the favourable retreat afforded
by this district of England to certain species of birds, and one
which by no means should be omitted in speaking of its Ornitho-
logy, is that for a great number of years our wide downs, and,
above all, Salisbury Plain, were the resort of that noble bird the
Great Bustard ; and though of late years it has most unhappily
become extinct in Great Britain, in consequence of the draining,
enclosing, and cultivating of our waste lands, yet the downs of
Wilts deserve honourable mention as one of its last strongholds.
With all these facts before us, I repeat that Wiltshire does offer a

* On comparing this with the published catalogues of birds of other
counties, I find that in

Cornwall (with coast on two sides) Mr. Rodd enumerates 290 species.

Number district (with open coast) Mr. Cordeaux 276

Lancashire (with sea-board) Mr. Mitchell ,, 256

Somersetshire (with some coast) Mr. Cecil Smith 216

Middlesex (no coast) Mr. Harting 225

Sussex (with much sea-coast) Mr. Knox 242

Number of Species in Wiltshire. 5

very large field to the inquiring ornithologist. In. great measure,
too, it is an open and an untrodden field, singularly wanting in
writers on this particular branch of Natural History. Good old
Aubrey professed, indeed, to give some account of the Natural
History of Wilts ;* but as regards its Ornithology, and I should
not wrong him if I included all the other branches, he was
ludicrously ill-informed, even for that unscientific age. In
very little more than one page of quarto size he disposes of
the whole of the birds of Wilts, enumerating just fifteen genera,
and in the following unmethodical sequence : ' Larkes, Buntings,
Linnets, Woodpeckers, Wheateares, Bustards, Gray Crowes,
Rookes, Feasants, Bitterns, Herons, Sparrow-hawkes, Hobbies,
Ganders, Sea-mewes ;' and within these narrow limits he con-
trives to embody quite as many errors as facts ; the latter, too,
being of the very tritest and best known. Perhaps that was
excusable in one who wrote on Natural History two hundred
years ago, when ignorance of the very rudiments of that science,
and even of the existence of some of the commonest species all
around, was universal. But the only other writer on the birds of
Wilts has no such excuse ; for Dr. William George Maton, of
Redlynch House, Salisbury, of high repute as an eminent
physician, a Fellow of many learned societies, and undoubtedly
an accomplished botanist, conchologist, geologist, and antiquary,
and who flourished at the beginning of this century, wrote what
he was pleased to call ' The Natural History .of a Part of the
County of Wilts ;'t and certainly, as regards the chapter on
' Aves,' anything more meagre and more absolutely misleading,
on account of its wholesale omissions, than the wretched account
he gives of Wiltshire birds, it is impossible to conceive. The
whole number of species mentioned by him amounts to just
twenty-three ; and these are not selected for their rarity, for the
Heron, the Sand-martin, the Lapwing, the common Water-hen,

The ' Natural History of Wiltshire,' by John Aubrey, F.R.S., A.D. 1685.

t The ' Natural History of a Part of the County of Wilts, comprehended
within the distance of ten miles round the City of Salisbury,' by George
Maton, M.D., F.U.S., Y.P.L.S., F.S.A. Published (after hh death) A.D.

6 Introduction.

the Land-rail, the Barn Owl, the common Gull, and the Black-
bird are among the chosen few. Thus we cannot be said to have
gained any help from the only two writers on British birds who
have preceded us.

One giant, indeed, we have had among us, when the eminent
ornithologist, Colonel Montagu himself a native of Wiltshire
for a time resided at Lackham, in this county ; for he was
one of the most acute observers and one of the most reliable
authors of his day ; but he left behind him no list of Wiltshire
birds ; and those who are familiar with his admirable books are
aware that he alludes comparatively seldom to the species he met
with in this county, and that his references are chiefly confined
to the birds of Devonshire, where he resided on leaving Lackham.*
Neither must I omit the name of Gilbert White, the author of
the charming ' Natural History of Selborne/t still the most
delightful and the most fascinating of all books on that subject ;
but though while living in an adjoining shire, he pushed his
inquiries into Wiltshire, and doubtless gained part of his experi-
ence within the borders of our county, he can scarcely be cited
as a writer on our birds. Indeed, though I have searched in
every direction, I have failed to find any pioneer who should
guide me on my path, and I can refer to no writer who has pre-
viously treated of the birds of Wiltshire, or even bequeathed to
us a bare list of species, of any practical value. I must not
omit to add that since the publication of my papers on the
Ornithology of Wilts, thirty years ago, we have had the Rev. A.
P. Morres' very valuable papers, above mentioned, on the
' Occurrence of some of the Rarer Species of Birds in the Neigh-
bourhood of Salisbury,' printed in the Magazine of the Wiltshire
Archaeological and Natural History Society, 1877-1885. Also
very many useful notices by the Ornithological Section of the
Marlborough College Natural History Society, printed in its

' Ornithological Dictionary; or, Alphabetical Synopsis of British Birds/
by George Montagu, F.L.S., 1802, and Supplement to the ' Ornithological
Dictionary,' by the same author, 1813.

f 'Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne,' by the Rev. Gilbert
White, M.A., 1789.

Classification. 7

annual Reports from the formation of the society, in 1865, to
the present time. Also a handy little volume, in 1870, on the
' Birds of Marlborough,' by E. F. im Thurn, at that time a student


I proceed now to enter into some preliminary details in order to
the better understanding of those who have devoted little atten-
tion to the subject, and also for the assistance of those who are
beginning to investigate it, and would know something more of
the various species of the feathered race around them. And I
propose to begin with the general subject of the classification,
and then go on to glance at the structure and the faculties,
enlarging more particularly on the beaks and feet of birds;
whereby I hope to unfold their several positions in the great
scale of nature ; and without which preliminary observations I
fear I should fail to convey anything more than a confused idea
of the admirable, and indeed perfect, organization of this most
interesting class of creatures. With this view, and to start from
the very beginning, or, as in speaking of birds, I may say a b
ovo, I proceed to the somewhat dry, but important, subject of
classification, giving a general outline of the rules by which birds
have been classed, and the divisions and subdivisions which, for
many long years, have been accepted.

But here I must confess my inability to follow the most
recently accepted classification of British Birds, as put forth by
the learned gentlemen to whom that task was committed by the
British Ornithologists' Union. Far be it from me to say a
single word against that new arrangement, subversive though it
is of all my long- cherished views of correct order. I simply say
that, as I do not understand the reasons which dictated so revo-
lutionary a system, it is impossible for me to follow it. At the
same time, entertaining as I do a most profound respect for
those advanced men of science who have determined the new
arrangement, I feel satisfied that they have ample reason for the
conclusions to which they have come ; and indeed, as a loyal

8 Introduction.

member of the B.O.U., I honestly did try my very best to fall in
with, and adopt, the new scheme ; but I soon found myself so
hampered, so bewildered, so confused, so completely at sea as I
floundered on in this unaccustomed route, that I felt constrained
to get back to the old well-beaten path with which I had for so
many years been familiar ; and I suppose I am too old, or at all
events too old-fashioned, to accommodate myself to what is in
reality an uprooting of the principles which had for half a cen-
tury guided my ornithological studies. So I have returned to
the same classification which I followed in the Ornithology of
Wilts, and which was that pursued by the revered authors with
whom I was most familiar Bewick and Selby, Yarrell, Hewitson
and Gould.

Some system of classification is, at all events, absolutely neces-
sary to him who desires to attain to a comprehensive knowledge
of birds ; and, indeed, he must not expect to gain even a super-
ficial acquaintance with them, or to grasp in his mind any
definite and precise idea of the positions they severally occupy,
without a certain amount of labour. The schoolboy, in his
research after knowledge, must toil through many a weary and
irksome task ; the linguist, in acquiring a new language, must
pause over dry rules of grammar ; the eminent statesman, the
victorious general, the brilliant orator, never gained their proud
positions without industry and diligence ; and so, to compare
smaller things with great, before we proceed to investigate
the several properties, peculiarities, and habits of individual
birds, it will be necessary first to understand thoroughly the

Online LibraryAlfred Charles SmithThe birds of Wiltshire. Comprising all the periodical and occasional visitants, as well as those which are indigenous to the county → online text (page 2 of 53)