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 22 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 22 of 53)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

were young birds in the nest, the other parent bird disappeared
for about three hours, and then returned with another mate,
who helped to bring up the brood. This was told to Mr. Fowle
by a man who had himself witnessed it. The young birds were


226 Corvidce.

frequently taken from this nest at Tangley Clump, but this
spoliation of their young never caused the old birds to forsake
their nesting-place, to which they invariably returned year after

North Tichuorth. The Kev. Canon Hodgson informs me that
there used to be a Havens' nest also in North Tidworth, at ' The
Flemings,' but when this property passed from the Poores to Mr.
Assheton Smith, the Ravens disappeared, in due accordance with
the old popular saying, that ' there are never two Ravens' nests
on one estate '!

Amesbury. The Rev. A. Phelps tells me that he remembers a
pair of Ravens nesting year after year in Porton Firs, two miles
south of Amesbury ; and that he understood they always drove
away their young ones when fully grown ; but he has not seen
them there for some time.

Beacon Hill (Amesbury). Mr. T. Rumming, of Red House,
Amesbury, informs me that Ravens nested near Beacon Hill,
about two miles east of Amesbury, for several consecutive years,
and that he had himself seen them there.

Maddington. The Rev. Canon Bennett writes, that some
years ago Ravens were often seen on the downs near Yarn-
borough Castle, and they used to build in a plantation at
Maddington, called ' The High Trees ;' but they have some time
since deserted it, and those who frequent that neighbourhood
say that they do not see them about the downs now as they did.

Everley Downs. The Hon. Gerald Lascelles, speaking of
these downs, says, ' I have not unfrequently seen Ravens here,
and have known of three nests since 1876. (1) Near the
Bustard ; (2) on the wild downs not far from Silk Hill ; (3) in
Ted worth Park.'

Enforcl I learn from the Rev. C. F. Cooke that though they
have no breeding-place in the parish, Ravens are frequently seen
on the downs above Enford, and in the meadows on the banks
of the river Avon. They may often be observed following in
the wake of a flock of sheep, usually a pair, but sometimes three
together ; and they would seem to be in expectation of a dead

Raven. 227

sheep. Indeed, the country people believe that if a Raven flies
over the fold, a sheep will be sure to die in the course of a short
time ; for the shepherds think they can scent approaching death
in the flock.

Savernake Forest. I have many records of the Ravens which
once dwelt here, but I can hear of no survivors. Mr. George
Butler, of Kennet, recollects a Raven-tree in Marlborough Forest
when he was a schoolboy fifty years ago. Mr. C. E. Ponting, of
Lockeridge, says that when he lived at Lye Hill, on the southern
edge of Savernake Forest, prior to 1870, Ravens built annually
in a clump of tall silver spruce known as Bittam Clump ; this
lies between Lye Hill and the Column Avenue, leading out of
the Salisbury road. Mr. C. Tanner, jun., informs me that the
keepers sometimes now see Ravens crossing the woods very high
up, but they no longer alight on the trees or on the ground at

Ramsbury. There was certainly a Raven's tree here, as indeed
there should be, considering that f Ramsbury ' is but a contracted
form of ' Ravensbury.' Moreover there was a Raven-tree here
within the memory of living man, for my friend, Mr. C. Tanner,
jun., has spoken with a man who had climbed the tree; but I
have failed to find out any particulars about it. Nor does the
squire, Sir F. Burdett, nor the vicar, the Rev. H. Baber, know
anything about it, save that there is a most venerable patriarch
of a tree, an elm of prodigious size, hollow as to its interior,
computed to be six hundred years old, now standing in the
village, in what is proudly called ' the square.' Perchance this
was the Raven-tree of Ramsbury !

Cricklade. My old friend, the Rev. F. Dyson tells me that
though there are no nests or birds there now, there is a Raven-
hurst in Bray don, in his parish of Cricklade, which I make no
doubt was so called from having been, probably for a long period,
the quondam habitation of some Ravens.

Ravenshurst (near Charlton Park). Lord Suffolk informed
me that though he knew nothing of any Ravens at Charlton,
there was a wood about four miles east of that park, the property


228 Corvidce.

of Sir John Neeld, called ' Ravenshurst 'pronounced Ravens-
roost where he had heard that these birds used to breed, and this
was corroborated by Mr. Algernon Neeld, who, however, added
that the Ravens have not existed there for at least thirty years

Draycote Park. That there was a Raven-tree in the park here
I am very certain, because my excellent friend, the Rev. G.
Marsh, often told me that he obtained his celebrated Raven from
here more than forty years ago. It was a large elm tree, and
Canon Goddard tells me he remembers the high trees at the top
of the park where the Ravens used to breed. Now, however,
they are quite gone, and Lord Cowley knows nothing of them
there at the present day.

Charlton Park. I have already said, on the authority of Lord
Suffolk, that no Ravens' nests or even Ravens have been in
residence there in modern times : but hi the olden time, which
I suppose means fifty years ago, Ravens used to breed regularly
in the park here.

Badminton. By the kindness of Mr. Lowndes, of Castle
Combe, I have the following interesting account of the Ravens
at Badminton, from the pen of the Duke of Beaufort, and as his
Grace permits me to make use of his information, I do so with
singular satisfaction. ' Ravens used to breed frequently in the
top of the highest elm of the park, about three furlongs to the
north-east of the house, and one furlong from Allengrove. The
nest was of enormous size, and much used, and about three years
in five, young birds were hatched out there.' Some thirty years
ago a keeper destroyed the pair of old Ravens that had brought
out their brood, and caught the young birds: but the Duke,
indignant at the destruction of the Ravens, ordered the man to
bring up the young birds by hand, and turn them out into the
park : and as his farther employment as keeper depended on his
success, the man contrived to rear the young Ravens, and thus
replace the old birds which he had shot. 'About 1879 or 1880,
on a very still June day the Raven-tree fell without any apparent
cause. Then such a nest was laid open to view as I had never

Raven. 229

seen before : there must have been in it ten or eleven hundred-
weight of wood. I was sadly vexed at the fall of the tree and at
losing the Ravens ; for now they only occasionally show them-
selves in the park, and I have not heard of a nest since the tree
fell. They used to sit on the tops of the high trees in Allengrove
Bottom, and bark like dogs, which caused the park-keepers' dogs
to bark in response.' This Raven -tree of which the Duke
speaks was within, but only just within, the county of
Gloucester; the park fence dividing the park from Allengrove
being the boundary between the two counties. I will only add
that I would that the admirable sentence which the Duke passed
on the ruthless keeper was printed in letters of gold on the
market cross at Devizes, as a hint to other landowners, and a
timely warning to other keepers similarly disposed.

Corslam Court. I learn from Lord Methuen that there are no
Ravens now on his estate here, or in the immediate neighbour-
hood ; but they did build regularly in the north avenue some
twenty years ago, but were destroyed by a keeper during Lord
Methuen's absence from home.

Spye Park. There was a Raven-tree, a Scotch fir, in the fine
old park here, with which in old times I was very familiar, and
which had been tenanted by the sable occupiers time out of
mind, until Mr. Starkey sold the property to Mr. Spicer, and
then, by a strange coincidence, and as if to verify the old super-
stition, the Ravens deserted Spye Park altogether. Still more
remarkable was the coincidence related to me more than once
by Mr. Charles Wyndham, that some years after the sale had
been completed, when the late owner, Mr. Baynton Starkey,
happened to be staying with my informant at Wans House, as
he and his host walked out in the garden after breakfast, a croak
was heard above their heads, and there, sure enough, were the
Ravens, come back as if to greet their old master, and seen then
for the first time since their departure by Mr. C. Wyndham, who
is too keen an observer to have overlooked their presence, if
they had visited him before. This is so pretty a tale, and
so thoroughly in keeping with the romances about birds of the

230 Corvidce.

good old times, that it is almost too bad to affirm that it really
was nothing else but a very strange coincidence.

Roundway Park It is now a long time since the Ravens
used to breed annually in the large trees here, but I well
recollect hearing in my younger days that they had a nest here
every year, and even some time after they had deserted it they
returned, on one occasion at least, to their old haunts, but were
thought to be so destructive to game, that they were scared
away. Now, howeyer, they are never seen there, and I doubt
whether they even visit Roundway Downs and Oliver's Camp,
where they used to be found passing the day in solitary grandeur,
far removed from the hateful presence of man.

I believe I have now exhausted all the particulars with which
I have been furnished about Wiltshire Ravens, past and present,
and, thanks to my numerous obliging correspondents, the picture
is, I think, tolerably complete. There is yet, however, some
negative evidence to add, which will help to fill in the back-
ground or any gaps there may be in our landscape ; viz., the
testimony of those who have never seen or heard of a Raven in
their neighbourhood, and of others who speak of some rare and
exceptional appearance of that bird at long intervals of time.
Thus the Rev. E. Duke has no recollection of any seen or killed
in the neighbourhood of Lake. Mr. W. Wyndham's experience
of them is that they have become extremely scarce near Dinton
since the gipsies harried the nest on Compton Down, and drove
away the old birds some twelve years ago. Lord Heytesbnry
(who most kindly instituted inquiries for my benefit), reports
that none have been seen in the neighbourhood of Heytesbury,
at any rate for many years past. Mr. C. Phipps has never heard
of their appearance at Chalcot. Sir C. Hobhouse has never
seen one at Monkton Farleigh, nor is there any tradition of their
occurrence there. Colonel Wallington knows nothing of them at
Keevil, though he had tidings of a pair seen at Steeple Ashton
some sixteen years since. The Right Hon. E. P. Bouverie has
never seen them at Lavington, nor indeed anywhere in Wiltshire.
The Rev. C. Soames says that, so far as he knows, they have

Raven. 231

quite disappeared from the district round Mildenhall. Major
Heneage has never seen or heard of one at Compton Bassett, nor
any place nearer than Spye Park. Mr. Gladstone has never
known any at Bowden Park. Finally, Sir R. H. Pollen says
there are none in the immediate neighbourhood of Rodbourne,
but adds that a few years back some were seen at Bell Farm,
Stanton Saint Quintin, the property of Lord Radnor, but they
were not known to breed in the place, and were only seen

Before I take leave of the Wiltshire Ravens, I must say a few
words about the tame specimen which, as I have already said,
the Rev. G. Marsh procured from Draycote Park, and which
lived for years at Sutton Benger, and was a source of infinite
amusement to Mr. Marsh and his friends. I could fill several
pages with anecdotes of his quaint manners and clever tricks and
cunning ways, and the distinct sentences which that bird uttered
seemed quite marvellous to those who were not familiar with the
species, but I must content myself with one anecdote. Whenever
his owner put his open hand down towards his back, as if about
to stroke or caress him, the bird would turn his head round, look
up at his master, and say as distinctly as any human being could
speak, ' Good-bye, old fellow, good-bye, old cock 1' and then hop
on a few steps. Now it chanced one day that the bird escaped
from the outhouse in which it was necessary to confine him, on
account of his mischievous tricks and his thievish propensities,
and had wandered off, as he had often done before, across a
meadow outside the village, and not far from the high road.
But a commercial traveller who was driving by, seeing what he
conjectured to be'a wounded rook, descended from his gig and ran
across the grass, thinking to secure the bird ; but his dismay as
well as astonishment may better be conceived than described,
when on putting out his open hand to seize his prize, the Raven,
looking round at him with a knowing leer, exclaimed in most
distinct terms, 'Good-bye, old fellow, good-bye, old cock!' and
then hopped on as was his wont. But the traveller took to his
heels, jumped into his gig as fast as possible, and drove back to

232 Corvidce.

the village, where, frightened almost out of his wits, and trembling
with alarm, he declared to the highly amused villagers, who
knew the bird and his habits well, that he had met with the
arch-fiend in the shape of a big crow, and that he had spoken
to him.

95. CARRION CROW (Coitus Corone).

So much resembling the last described in form and manners,
but of smaller size, that it may well be termed ' the Miniature
Raven.' This species is likewise seldom seen in flocks, pairs for
life, and maybe found in wooded districts throughout the county.
In colour it is jet black, without the metallic lustre so con-
spicuous in the plumage of the Raven : it is very bold and a
great enemy to young game and eggs as well as to the poultry
yard. Its ordinary food, for lack of carrion, which it rarely finds
here, is any animal matter it can pick up, and failing this, it
contents itself with grain and vegetable diet.

In reference to the various kinds of food on which it feasts, it

bears many provincial names, as the ' Carrion Crow,' ' Flesh

Crow,' ' Gor (or Gore) Crow,' ' Mussel Crow,' etc., and certainly it

must be allowed to be a very destructive and mischievous bird.

This was so well-known of old, that an Act was passed in the

reign of Henry VIII. (1532), requiring every parish to provide a

Crow net for the thinning of the numbers of this marauder. But

the desired effect has certainly not yet been produced, for,

persecuted though it is by gamekeepers and others, few of the

larger birds contrive to baffle their enemies more than the Crows,

and I am afraid to say how many nests were found in one season,

three or four years ago, within the limits of my small parish of

Yatesbury. The Rev. W. Butt tells me it abounds in the parish

of Minety, where there are no keepers to molest them, and the

Rev. C. W. Hony that last year the Rooks at Bishop Cannings

were so persecuted by Crows, that he feared the lawful owners

of the rookery would have been driven away. This year (1887),

I am informed that the Crows have attacked the rookery on Mr. R.

Carrion Crow. 233

Coward's premises, in the hamlet of Koundway, near Devizes, so
effectually, that the Rooks have deserted in a body, and betaken
themselves to some large trees at the barracks hard by. Neither
in Norway, or Sweden, or Palestine, or Egypt, did I ever see the
Black Crow, but I found it common enough in Portugal, where,
as with us, it is par excellence ' the Crow,' Corvo. In France it is
Corneille noire ou Corbine ; in Germany, Krahen robe ; in Italy,
corvo maggiore ; and in Spain, Grajillo.

It has the same evil reputation for causing as well as fore-
boding misfortune with its larger relative, but that is no other
than it had in the days of the poet Virgil :

* Saepe sinistra cav prsedixit ab ilice Cornix.'

And now the women of Wiltshire at work in the fields will
remark that the farmer then lying ill will not recover, for a
Crow had been seen to fly overjhis house just above the roof-

In the County of Essex, the peasants repeat a rhyme respecting
the Crow, almost similar to that commonly connected with the
Magpie. For if Crows fly towards you, then

' One's unlucky ;
Two's lucky ;
Three is health ;
Four is wealth ;
Five is sickness,
And six is death ;'f

and Butler in ' Hudibras ' says,

' Is it not om'nous in all countries
When crows and ravens croak upon trees ?'

Though shy and with reason suspicious of too great familiarity
with man, it is one of the most pugnacious of birds and will
attack and drive away all intruders from its nest ; Mr. Waterton,
who has protected it and studied its habits closely at Walton
Hall, says, ' It is a very early riser, and long before the Rook is
on the wing, you hear this bird announcing the approach of
morn with his loud hollow croaking from the oak to which he had

* ' Gamekeeper at Home,' p. 130. f Dyer's < English Folk-Lore,' p. 80.

234 Corvidce.

resorted the night before ; he retires to rest later than the rook
indeed, as far as I have been able to observe his motions, I con-
sider him the first bird on wing in the morning, and the last at
night, of all our non-migrating diurnal British Birds.'

Mr. Waterton also noticed that this bird is at times more
gregarious than is generally supposed. From his drawing-room
window, which was usually open, and from which a powerful
telescope always in position commanded a good view of the park
and lake, he observed this bird minutely, and he records in his
note-book that on January 11, 1830, he counted fifty Crows
going to roost ; on October 16, 1850, he saw fifty-five congregated
in the park ; on March 1, 1851, he observed sixty-four at the
water's edge; on May 11, 1853, seventy or eighty; and on
December 15, 1863, he counted more than a hundred congregated
in the park preparing to roost.

96. HOODED CROW (Corvus comix).

Loyal as I am to the instructions of my ornithological guide,
Professor Newton, I must crave his pardon if in this one instance
I repudiate with all my might the cruel act, whereby he has, by
one single dash of his pen, obliterated this handsome species
from the list of birds, and condemned it to share existence with
the Black Crow, of which he declares it to be but a variety.*
Doubtless he has good reasons for such annihilation of what
would appear to most observers to be a very distinct species
indeed, but yet I cannot honestly say I am convinced. That
they freely breed together is, I own, a very strong point in favour
of their specific identity, and Mr. Seebohm has established that
fact beyond the possibility of doubt ;f but surely the Grey Crow,
if not a larger bird, is of stouter build and of clumsier form than
its black relative. Speaking from my own experience (and
during a whole summer in Norway, and a whole winter in Egypt,
it has been one of the commonest birds around me every day), I

Fourth edition of Yarrell's ' British Birds,' vol. ii., p. 274.
t Seebohm's Siberia in Asia,' pp. 30, 81, 84, etc., also in His, for 1878,
pp. 328-331.

Hooded Crow. 235

have such a partiality for its bold jaunty air, and its independent
impudent habits, that I cannot bear to think of my old friend
being thus suppressed altogether, or at best allowed but a half
existence, to be shared with a brother of sable hue. It reminds
me of the trite assertion that cannot be disputed, that the negro
is a fellow man and a brother with the free born- American or
Britisher ; but that does not prevent the general practice of an
absolute avoidance of the man of colour, and of the provision in
every railway train of a separate car for the negroes. So if the
two species of Crows were once identical, methinks C. comix has
raised himself above his congener, and has a right to the footing
he has so long secured. At all events I must be allowed to
regard it as all our older ornithologists have ever done, and deal
with it as a true species. Apart, however, from the interest in
so handsome a bird, I fear I have but little good to say of it.

With all the bad and none of the good qualities of the preced-
ing, this Crow is no favourite in those parts of England where it
abounds. It is a determined destroyer of the eggs and young
of game birds, more especially of the genus Grouse, and is
cowardly as well as cruel in the execution of its victims. Mr
St. John, in his ' Field Notes and Tour in Sutherland,' speaks of
it in no measured terms, and declares it is the ' only bird against
which he urges constant and unpi tying warfare,' and he excuses
himself for so doing on the plea that he has so often detected it
destroying his most favourite birds and eggs, that he has no pity
on it : and Mr. Knox, the intelligent author of ' Game Birds and
Wild Fowl ' has not a word to say in its favour : not even Mr.
Waterton, the general champion of the oppressed, has a good
word for the Hooded Crow ; so that we may congratulate our-
selves that it only appears in Wiltshire occasionally. Its visits,
however, are frequent enough to render it familiar to most
people. I have myself often seen it on the Marlborough Downs,
and I have many notices of it from various parts of the county,
more especially in the neighbourhood of Salisbury, where it
frequents the water meadows in the winter months, at which
season only it migrates so far south ; but its visits are, I fear,

236 Corvidce.

yearly becoming more and more rare. I have not personally
seen it on our downs for several years past, but one record I had
of its appearance in my own neighbourhood from my lamented
friend, the late Rev. C. Bradford, Vicar of Clyffe Pypard, who
saw one at intervals during a month in January, 1877, in the
pond meadow, near the Manor House in that parish ; and for
the last four years, as I learn from the present vicar, the Rev. E.
Goddard, it has returned to Clyffe regularly every November,
spent the winter there, and departed in March. For the first
three winters it was alone, but last year it brought back three
companions ; this year (1887) it is again alone. It does not
fraternize much with the Carrion Crows, which are very numerous
at Clyffe, but associates rather with the rooks, which, however,
do not seem to desire its company, so that it is somewhat of an
outcast ; but as nobody molests it, and it likes its winter quarters,
it returns every year. Mr. Hussey Freke reports that his keeper
shot one at Crouch Wood, near Hannington Hall, and Mr. W.
Wyndham that his brother killed one at Sutton Mandeville. I
also learn that it is generally to be seen in winter at Everley.
The Rev. J. D. Hodgson tells me it used to frequent the neigh-
bourhood of CoUingbourne, and some are occasionally seen now
on a down near CoUingbourne Wood. The Rev. W. H. Awdry
sometimes sees them at Ludgershall ; and Mr. W. H. Fowle,
about two years ago, almost invariably used to see a small flock
of them at a pond on the Upavon Downs, when riding from
Chute Forest to a farm he had in hand at Charlton. Mr. Grant,
too, at Devizes, has from time to time received a specimen for
preservation. Its true habitat is Northern Europe, where it may
be seen in great abundance, for it is the representative of the
Corvidse there, and very tame and familiar it is there, searching
the newly mown meadows for worms and slugs, and marching
on the roads in front of our horses, just as its congener the rook
does here. In Egypt it may be noticed as bold and self-asserting
as in its northern home, bullying great Kites and Hawks, and
robbing them of their prey, and driving away the huge Griffon
and Cinereous Vulture, from the carrion they had appropriated.

Hooded Grow. 237

On the eastern coast of England I have found it in some
numbers, as it resorts to the sea-shore for the never-failing
supply of food which it finds in shell-fish and other marine
productions thrown up by the tides ; and Bishop Stanley says it
may frequently be seen after vain attempts to break through the
hard shell of a cockle or mussel, to seize it in its bill, mount with
it to a great height, and then let it fall on a hard rock, by which
it is broken, and the bird has nothing more to do than to reap
the fruit of its forethought. In colour the head, throat, wings,
and tail are black, the rest of the plumage smoke gray. It is
called the Hooded Crow from its black head, and the Eoyston
Crow, as it was supposed to be peculiar to that district, where in
truth I have seen it in considerable numbers :

' Like Royston Crows, where (as a man may say)

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 22 of 53)