J. Lewis Bonhote.

Birds of Britain online

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M.A., F.L.S., F.Z.S.


[Illustration: Publisher logo]

_Published November 1907_

[Illustration: MISSEL THRUSH
_Turdus viscivorus_
Adult (right). Young (left)]


The study of Nature has of late years enormously increased, and there is
probably no branch of its varied and inexhaustible interests which
appeals more strongly to young and old than the fascinating study of

Every one feels more or less interested in Birds, whether it be from
pure affection for the Robins and Tits which beg our hospitality during
the winter months, or joy at the coming of the Swallow and Cuckoo as
heralds of spring.

For some the interest is perhaps merely a passing regret at the shooting
of one of our rare and beautiful migrants, while with others the real
love of bird life makes it a moment of intensest pleasure when, for
instance, the melodious note of the Nightingale makes us dimly realise
something of the innate beauty of Nature herself.

In the following pages will be found not only descriptions and plates of
the birds themselves, but, wherever possible, notes on their ways and
habits have also been given. These notes having been taken at first hand
straight from Nature, it is hoped that they may give a small insight
into some of those beautiful mysteries which it is our ambition to
unravel, and that, at the same time, they may awaken and stimulate a
further desire to know still more of the workings of the great laws of
the Universe and the part they play in the lives of even the least of
the feathered creatures.

It has been thought best to include in this book every species which has
been known to occur in Great Britain, with a description of their
leading characteristics and true habitat, so that any bird met with may
be easily identified; and the plates have been carefully selected so as
to give examples of the most typical species.

For facts relative to geographical distribution and other technical
details the author has freely consulted Mr. Howard Saunders’ _Manual of
British Birds_.

In conclusion, the author hopes most sincerely that this book may often
prove to be of help and service to the genuine seeker after reliable
information on British Birds, and also that it may encourage observation
and further research in a branch of Natural History where discovery ever
stimulates to fresh discovery and where interest never fails.

Gade Spring,
Hemel Hempstead, Herts,
_November 1907_.


1. Missel Thrush _Frontispiece_
2. Song Thrush 4
3. Fieldfare 10
4. Blackbird 16
5. Ring Ouzel 20
6. Wheatear 22
7. Stonechat 30
8. Redstart 32
9. Robin 36
10. Nightingale 38
11. Whitethroat 40
12. Lesser Whitethroat 42
13. Blackcap 46
14. Dartford Warbler 48
15. Fire-crested Wren and Golden-crested Wren 50
16. Chiffchaff and Willow Wren 54
17. Reed Warbler and Marsh Warbler 60
18. Grasshopper Warbler 66
19. Hedge Accentor (Hedge Sparrow) 68
20. Bearded Reedling 72
21. Long-tailed Tit 74
22. Great Tit 76
23. Marsh Tit 78
24. Nuthatch 80
25. Common Wren 82
26. Tree-Creeper 84
27. Pied Wagtail 86
28. Grey Wagtail 88
29. Blue-headed Wagtail 90
30. Tree Pipit and Meadow Pipit 92
31. Red-backed Shrike 102
32. Waxwing 104
33. Spotted Flycatcher 106
34. Sand-Martin 112
35. Greenfinch 114
36. Goldfinch 118
37. Tree-Sparrow 124
38. Chaffinch 126
39. Linnet 130
40. Mealy Redpoll 132
41. Bullfinch 136
42. Crossbill 138
43. Yellow Bunting (Yellow Hammer) 142
44. Cirl Bunting 144
45. Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting 150
46. Starling 152
47. Jay 156
48. Magpie 158
49. Jackdaw 160
50. Rook 166
51. Skylark 168
52. Common Swift 174
53. Wryneck 178
54. Greater Spotted Woodpecker 180
55. Kingfisher 182
56. Cuckoo 186
57. Barn Owl 190
58. Long-eared Owl 192
59. Tawny Owl 194
60. Golden Eagle 204
61. Peregrine 212
62. Kestrel 216
63. Shag 220
64. Bittern 228
65. Sheld-Duck 240
66. Mallard or Wild Duck 242
67. Shoveller 246
68. Wigeon 252
69. Tufted Duck 256
70. Common Scoter 262
71. Red-breasted Merganser 266
72. Stock Dove 270
73. Turtle Dove 272
74. Red Grouse 276
75. Partridge 280
76. Land-Rail 284
77. Water-Rail 286
78. Moor-hen 288
79. Stone Curlew 294
80. Ringed Plover 300
81. Golden Plover and Grey Plover 304
82. Lapwing 308
83. Oyster-Catcher 312
84. Grey Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope 314
85. Woodcock 318
86. Dunlin 324
87. Redshank 342
88. Curlew 348
89. Common Tern 354
90. Black-headed Gull 360
91. Herring Gull 364
92. Greater Black-backed Gull 368
93. Kittiwake 370
94. Richardson’s Skua 374
95. Razorbill 376
96. Common Guillemot 378
97. Black Guillemot 380
98. Red-throated Diver 386
99. Great-crested Grebe 388
100. Storm Petrel and Leach’s Petrel 392

[Illustration: Diagram showing the Topography of a

1. Lesser Coverts.
2. Median ”
Greater or Major Coverts.
3. Primary ”
4. Secondary ”
Quills, Remiges, or Flight feathers.
5. Primaries
6. Secondaries
7. Bastard-Primary.
8. ” Wing.
Ist or hind toe.
IInd or inner toe.
IIIrd or middle toe.
IVth or outer toe.
*This joint is the heel proper, but is commonly called the thigh.


Turdus viscivorus, Linnæus

It was by the sea-coast, on a bleak and wind-swept hill covered with
short grass and patches of heather and gorse, that our attention was
first directed to a light-coloured bird of fair size which rose at our
feet from behind a tussock, and uttering a curious wild churring note,
darted away against the strong south-west wind. Well has he earned his
name of “Storm Cock” from his wild note and rapid flight. Watch him now,
sustained by quick, continuous wing-beats, and now as the wind slackens
carried along with a dipping motion and outstretched wings, the whole
bird suggestive of strength and activity, and as fickle and changeable
in his moods as the elements among which he delights to live.

It was in June that I first saw him, when he and others of his kind, who
but a few months before were callow and helpless nestlings, were
learning from the summer gale a taste of what they would have to face
when winter brought its storms and tempests, for the Storm Cock is no
migrant to warmer climes and softer breezes, but leads a regular roving
gipsy’s life over our Islands, wandering from the northernmost corners
of Scotland to the south of England, obeying no will but his own, and
guided by no special impulse beyond that of satisfying his own
appetite,—by no means a difficult task, as little in the way of berries
or insects comes amiss to him. His common name of Missel Thrush
(Mistletoe Thrush) is derived from his supposed fondness for this berry,
but this is a point on which doubt still exists.

On the day when we first saw him, however, he was engaged in picking up
the flies, ants, beetles, and other live prey which the scanty
vegetation on the hill enabled him to see and capture easily. In spots
where the ground was loose he would dig in his bill and turn over a
small bit of earth, then stand with head held expectantly on one side,
literally waiting for something to turn up. Often he would repeat this
several times with little or no result, then all of a sudden down would
go his head and we would make out something between his mandibles, then
would come a quick movement of his head and his beak would be empty

Suddenly one of his brothers near uttered an alarm-note, and in an
instant he was up and across the valley, where for the moment we could
not follow him.

Thus, then, he spends his life from May till January: on cliffs by the
sea, on bare moorlands, in thick woods—where the mountain-ash berries in
their season form a favourite food—over open, cultivated fields where
the freshly-turned furrow has unearthed abundant delicacies—or in the
country hedgerow where hips and haws, elderberries and sloe are not less
appreciated. Here to-day and gone to-morrow, a restless, wandering bird.

As early as January, however, he begins to think of nesting, and having
secured a mate, retires to what is for him a comparatively sheltered
spot, either to a wood, or preferably to a row of trees along a hedge,
and not unfrequently to some fruit-tree in an orchard or garden. Whether
or not the Missel Thrush returns year after year to the same spot to
nest we cannot say, but, as a rule, the same garden or row of trees will
every spring shelter a pair of these birds if once they have nested

Although he may probably build his nest quite close to our house, yet
the Missel Thrush is always wild and shy, and is rarely seen except as
he flies over the garden uttering his unmistakable note, or as he sits
on the topmost branch of some tall tree and sings his love-song to his
mate below. The song is wild, and consists of a somewhat incoherent
medley of notes, which, if not calculated to appeal especially to our
musical ear, strikes at any rate a note of harmony with the winter’s

The nest is placed on a horizontal branch some 10 or 12 feet from the
ground, and often at some distance from the trunk of the tree. The
Missel Thrush is very conservative in its choice of a site, and seldom
if ever chooses any other position. When built the nest is a fairly
conspicuous object, with its foundation of twigs and mud and lined with
grass and hay. Towards the end of February, however, we shall one day be
surprised to see a large nest in some conspicuous position, and on
examination will probably discover the hen, sitting on four to six eggs
of a bluish colour with large reddish spots and blotches fairly evenly
distributed over their surface. But even now, although we know exactly
where the nest of these shy birds is, it will not be easy to see much of

When the young are hatched both parents attend most assiduously to the
wants of the brood, feeding them on earth-worms, the favourite food of
almost all the Thrushes. By the end of March the first brood is on the
wing, and the parents busy themselves with a new nest for the reception
of their second family. These, too, are hatched and on the wing by the
middle of May, and then the whole family, young and old, leave their
home to wander round the country until another January brings them back
again to add their note of harmony to the winter’s wind.

The upper parts are of a uniform ash brown, under parts buffish white
thickly spotted with dark brown. The sexes are alike in plumage. The
young has the upper parts spotted with buff, and the spots below are
much smaller. Length 11 in.; wing 6 in.

Turdus musicus, Linnæus

One of the first signs that winter is thinking of releasing its grasp,
and that spring, if still some way off, is nevertheless on the way, is
the clear melodious song of the Song Thrush. Soon after daybreak (having
breakfasted off the early worm) this bird may be heard in almost every
garden that can boast of a shrub large enough to conceal him and his
nest. Any sort of cultivated country forms his home, either the broad
fields, scanty hedgerows, the carefully-cultivated garden of the
wealthy, or even the small and dusty plot of the town-dweller.

[Illustration: SONG THRUSH
_Turdus musicus_]

His food consists chiefly of insects, though worms form a considerable
part of his diet, and snails are a delicacy of which he is extremely

There must be few people who have not noticed our brown friend hopping
down the garden path with his peculiar sidelong leaps, now and then
varied by two or three quick short steps as he conveys a snail to his
favourite _abattoir_. This usually consists of a moderate-sized smooth
stone, on which the unfortunate snail is beaten till his house falls
from him; when this is accomplished there is a quick gulp, and he is
gone! Thus refreshed, our friend will mount a near-by twig, clean his
bill by rubbing it several times on either side of his perch, preen and
shake out his feathers a bit, and then resting on one leg he will
whistle his song, which has been rendered by some writers in the
following words:—“Deal o’ wet, deal o’ wet, deal o’ wet, I do, I do, I
do. Who’d do it: Pretty Dick, Pretty Dick, Pretty Dick, Who’d do it.”
This will go on for some time until perhaps he happens to glance down at
the lawn which he considers his especial preserve. Here he sees
something which causes his song to cease in an instant. It is his rival
openly flaunting himself before him. There is a swirl of wings as he
rushes to the attack! They meet! Their bills snap violently, and there
is every prospect of a fight. Then suddenly the rival retreats
precipitately into the nearest bush, hotly pursued by our friend, and we
have time to notice the peculiar way in which the tail and wings are
spread as they disappear. Then we see no more.

Such is the life of one of our commonest birds as we may witness it any
day in early spring. By the end of March, or even earlier, its nest may
be found in some sheltered nook. It is not often more than 10 feet from
the ground, and is generally in the fork of some tree or bush, or on the
beam of some old barn or potting shed; perhaps it may be found in the
middle of a hedgerow, or occasionally even on the ground. It is composed
of rough grass and bents, and lined with mud pressed round and smoothed
so as to form a fairly deep cup.

The eggs are five in number, and in colour are a beautiful pale blue,
with a few small black or purplish-mauve spots towards the larger end,
these markings being in some cases entirely lacking. After a fortnight’s
incubation the young are hatched; they are then almost naked and only
slightly covered with down.

Incubation is carried on by the hen alone, but both birds assist in the
feeding, the diet consisting almost entirely of earth-worms. In about a
fortnight to three weeks after the young are hatched they leave the nest
to find and earn their own living, whilst their parents busy themselves
with the cares of another family, for a pair of birds generally rears
three broods in the season. After the rearing of the last brood, which
is over by the end of June or early in July, both old and young begin to
moult. Consequently, at this time of year they are very quiet and
skulking in their habits, but we may sometimes catch sight of them in
the evenings and early mornings when they come out to feed on lawns and
fields where the grass is short and where their favourite earth-worms
abound. About the end of August a close observer will often miss his
little friend for a few days or even weeks. Then one morning he will
again see the familiar figure on the lawn and think that perhaps his
companion has returned. But it is not so. The spring visitor has gone to
another part of the country, probably not very far away, as this species
is only a partial migrant, but nevertheless he has gone, and the bird
which has taken his place has come from some more northerly locality to
spend the winter. Probably we do not notice the change, and put down the
temporary disappearance of our particular Song Thrush to the fact that
we chanced not to see him. It is not so, however, for our friend of
spring and summer has departed.

The general colour above, including mantle and wings, is uniform olive
brown, some of the major and median covers having buffish tips. Breast
yellowish, spotted with triangular olive-brown spots, the flanks
uniformly olive, chin and throat white, margined with a row of dark
streaks. Belly white. Bill brown, base of lower mandible paler. Legs
pale flesh. Iris hazel. Length 9·0 in.; wing 4·6 in.

Young birds are spotted on the upper parts. This species is widely and
generally distributed throughout the British Isles.

Turdus iliacus, Linnæus

From the middle to the end of October, when the leaves are falling
thickly from the trees, and the dull, dark days of winter are beginning
to make themselves felt, we may be aware, while walking along a country
lane or through a park, of a new arrival among our birds. There rises,
probably from the ground, a dark-coloured bird, whose quick movement
will at once catch our eye, and being in company with others similar to
himself, we shall have no difficulty in recognising the Redwing. Tired
possibly by his long journey, he will settle on the hedge a little in
front of us, and begin diligently feeding on any berries he can find, as
but little in that line comes amiss to our friend; and soon he will
again drop to the ground, and we shall get a glimpse of the deep red
feathers under his wings from which he has derived his trivial name. At
this season of the year Redwings are essentially wanderers, moving about
in flocks of from a dozen to thirty or more, stopping here and there
where food is plentiful for a few days or weeks, and then moving on,
always southward, as lack of food or the severity of the weather
dictates. If the winter be mild, they may be found roosting in large
numbers in thick hawthorn hedges or small plantations; for although fond
of cover, and spending most of their time among undergrowth on the
ground, they are not very partial to large woods, preferring thick
hedgerows or small coppices. A cold north wind, accompanied by snow and
frost, drives most of these birds away from our shores to sunnier
climes: their place, however, is soon taken, if the hard weather be
prolonged, by large immigrations of poor storm-driven birds from the
north of the Continent, who reach us with barely sufficient strength to
seek their food, and who receive, too frequently, an inhospitable
reception. Such wanderers become exceedingly tame, and may be found
hopping disconsolately round our gardens within a foot or two of us, and
the mortality in such seasons as these must be very great. Happily this
extreme severity does not often happen, and one is glad to think that as
a rule our visitors, driven to us by hard weather abroad, find
sustenance in our warmer, if still somewhat boisterous, climate.

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