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shelter during the night, until they are sufficiently fledged to
accompany their parents to their ordinary roosting-places in trees.


THE COMMON COOT
FÚLICA ÁTRA

Upper plumage black, tinged on the back with grey; under parts
bluish grey; frontal disk large, pure white; bill white, tinged
with rose-red; irides crimson; feet grey, tinged with green;
part of the tibia orange-yellow. Length sixteen inches. Eggs
brownish, speckled with reddish brown.

The Coot, seen from a distance, either on land or water, might be
mistaken for a Gallinule, flirting up its tail when it swims, jerking
its head to and fro, and when on land strutting about with a precisely
similar movement of all its members. On a nearer examination, it is
clearly distinguished by its larger size and the white bare spot above
the bill, in front, from which it is often called the Bald-headed
Coot. It is only during the summer season that the two birds can be
compared; for while the Gallinule remains in the same waters all the
year round, the Coot visits the Azores, Madeira and the Canaries,
North Africa and Egypt in winter, and gets as far south as the Blue
Nile. Their note, in summer, is a loud harsh cry, represented by the
syllable _krew_, as it would be uttered by a crazy trumpet. In winter
they are nearly mute. During the latter season, Coots are confined to
the southern parts of the island; but in the breeding season they are
more generally diffused.

When seen on the sea-coast, they are readily distinguished from Ducks
by the different position in which they sit on the water, with their
heads low, poking forwards, and their tails sticking high above the
body. When flying in large coveys, they crowd together into a mass,
but when swimming scatter over a wide space.

They have the same power of concealing themselves by diving among
weeds that has been already said to be possessed by the Gallinule. I
have seen a female Coot and her brood, when disturbed by a party of
sportsmen, paddle for a small patch of rushes, and defy a
long-continued and minute search conducted by keepers and clever
water-dogs. The latter appeared to traverse, again and again, every
square foot of the rush bed; but not a single bird was dislodged.

Owing to drainage the Coot is less plentiful than it was, although the
late Lord Lilford said it had increased much on the river Nene of
recent years.


[Illustration:

Stork [M]

Common Crane.

Night Heron.

Heron [F]

[_face p. 234_]]


[Illustration:

Kentish Plover [F] [M]

Grey Plover [M] (Summer and Winter)

Golden Plover [M]

Ringed Plover, young and [F]]




ORDER ALECTORIDES


FAMILY GRUIDÆ

THE CRANE
GRUS COMMÚNIS

General plumage ash-grey; throat, part of the neck, and back of
the head, dark blackish grey; forehead and cere covered with
black bristly hairs; crown naked, orange red; some of the
secondaries elongated, arched, and having the barbs of the
feathers free; bill greenish black, reddish at the base,
horn-coloured at the tip; irides reddish brown; feet black.
_Young birds_ have the crown feathered, and want the dark grey
of the neck and head. Length five feet. Eggs pale greenish ash,
blotched and spotted with brown and dark green.

From the fact of nine Cranes being recorded among the presents
received at the wedding of the daughter of Mr. More, of Loseley, in
1567, it would appear that these birds were tolerably common in
England at that date.

Willughby, whose _Ornithology_ was published about a hundred years
later, says that Cranes were regular visitors in England, and that
large flocks of them were to be found, in summer, in the fens of
Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Whether they bred in England, as
Aldrovandus states, on the authority of an Englishman who had seen
their young, he could not say on his own personal knowledge.

Sir Thomas Browne, a contemporary of Willughby, writes, in his account
of birds found in Norfolk: 'Cranes are often seen here in hard
winters, especially about the champaign and fieldy part. It seems they
have been more plentiful; for, in a bill of fare, when the mayor
entertained the Duke of Norfolk, I met with Cranes in a dish.'

Pennant, writing towards the close of the eighteenth century, says:
'On the strictest inquiry, we learn that, at present, the inhabitants
of those counties are scarcely acquainted with them; we therefore
conclude that these birds have left our land.' Three or four instances
only of the occurrence of the Crane took place within the memory of
Pennant's last editor; and about as many more are recorded by Yarrell
as having come within the notice of his correspondents during the
present century. It would seem, therefore, that the Crane has ceased
to be a regular visitor to Britain. It is, however, still of common
occurrence in many parts of the Eastern Continent, passing its summer
in temperate climates, and retiring southwards at the approach of
winter. Its periodical migrations are remarkable for their
punctuality, it having been observed that, during a long series of
years, it has invariably traversed France southward in the latter half
of the month of October, returning during the latter half of the month
of March. On these occasions, Cranes fly in large flocks, composed of
two lines meeting at an angle, moving with no great rapidity, and
alighting mostly during the day to rest and feed. At other seasons, it
ceases to be gregarious, and repairs to swamps and boggy morasses,
where in spring it builds a rude nest of reeds and rushes on a bank or
stump of a tree, and lays two eggs. As a feeder it may be called
omnivorous, so extensive is its dietary. Its note is loud and
sonorous, but harsh, and is uttered when the birds are performing
their flights as well as at other times.

The Crane of the Holy Scriptures is most probably not this species,
which is rare in Palestine, but another, _Grus Virgo_, the Crane
figured on the Egyptian monuments, which periodically visits the Lake
of Tiberias, and whose note is a chatter, and not the trumpet sound of
the Cinereous Crane. In the north of Ireland, in Wales and perhaps
elsewhere, the Heron is commonly called a Crane.

A certain number of Cranes have been noticed in the Shetland Isles,
and some in the Orkneys. The latest seen in Ireland was in 1884,
County Mayo.


FAMILY OTIDIDÆ

No hind toe.

THE GREAT BUSTARD
OTIS TARDA

Head, neck, breast, and edge of the wing ash grey; on the crown
a longitudinal black streak; bill with a tuft of elongated
loose feathers on each side of the lower mandible; upper
plumage reddish yellow, streaked transversely with black; lower
whitish; tail reddish brown and white, barred with black.
_Female_ - smaller, without a moustache, the streak on the crown
fainter. Length nearly four feet. Eggs olive-brown, irregularly
blotched with dull red and deep brown.

The Great Bustard was formerly not unfrequent in Britain, but of late
years it has become so rare that it is now impossible to describe its
habits on the testimony of a living eye-witness. In several parts of
the Continent it is indeed still to be met with; but I find so many
discrepancies in the various accounts which I have consulted, that it
is hard to believe all the writers who describe it to have had the
same bird in view. Some of these the reader may examine for himself.

The earliest mention of it which I find occurs in the Anabasis of
Xenophon, who describes a plain or steppe near the Euphrates full of
aromatic herbs, and abounding with Wild Asses, Ostriches, and Bustards
(_Otis_). The latter, he says, 'could be caught when any one came on
them suddenly, as they fly to a short distance like Partridges and
soon give in. Their flesh is delicious.' Pliny's description of the
Bustard is very brief. He says it approaches the Ostrich in size; that
it is called _Avis tarda_ in Spain, _Otis_ in Greece; its flesh is
very disagreeable, in consequence of the strong scent of its bones.'
Our countryman Willughby, who wrote in the middle of the seventeenth
century, gives a longer account. 'The Bustard has no hind claw, which
is especially worthy of notice; for by this mark and by its size it is
sufficiently distinguished from all birds of the tribe. It feeds on
corn and the seeds of herbs, wild cabbage, leaves of the dandelion,
etc. I have found in its crop abundance of the seeds of _cicuta_, with
but a few grains of barley even in harvest-time. It is found on the
plains near Newmarket and Royston, and elsewhere on heaths and plains.
Bustards are birds of slow flight, and raise themselves from the
ground with difficulty, on account of their size and weight; hence,
without doubt, the name _tardu_ was given to them by the Latins. By
the Scotch, on the authority of Hector Boethius, they are called
_Gustardæ_.'

M. Perrault, who wrote in 1676, gives an account of a tame Bustard
which was kept for a while in summer in a garden, and died of cold in
the winter. 'He killed mice and sparrows with his bill by pinching
their heads, and then swallowed them whole, even when of considerable
size. It was easy to observe a large mouse going down his throat,
making a moving tumour till it came to the turn of the neck; it then
moved backwards, and although out of sight, yet its progress was
traced by the feathers between the shoulders separating, and closing
again as soon as it passed into the gizzard. He was fond of worms, and
while the gardener was digging, stood by him and looked out for them.
He ate the buds of flowers, and particularly of roses; also the
substance of cucumbers, but not the outside. From these observations
the Bustard is evidently fitted more particularly to live on animal
food.'

The average number of Bustards annually supplied to Chevet, the great
game-dealer of the Palais Royal, Paris, about fifty years ago, was
six. Its principal place of resort in France was the wild country
between Arcis-sur-Aube and Châlons, in most other districts it was as
little known as with us.

Several authors of undoubted veracity state that the adult male
Bustard has a capacious pouch, situated along the fore part of the
neck, the entrance of which is under the tongue, capable of holding
several quarts of water - it is said not less than seven. Montagu, in
his _Ornithological Dictionary_, expresses his doubt whether the bird
could carry as much as seven quarts, or fourteen pounds, while flying;
he admits, however, that 'it is large, as may be seen in the Leverian
Museum'; and he adds, 'that it is only discoverable in adults, as it
is most likely intended for the purpose of furnishing the female and
young in the breeding with water.' Of this pouch a figure is given by
Yarrell, copied from Edwards' _Gleanings of Natural History_, and
there inserted on the authority of Dr. James Douglas, the discoverer.
Some doubts having arisen in Mr. Yarrell's mind as to the accuracy of
the statement, he took much pains to ascertain the truth by dissecting
several adult males, and found no peculiarity of structure - a result
which was also arrived at by Professor Owen, who dissected one with a
view of obtaining a preparation of the supposed pouch for the Museum
of the College of Surgeons. A paper by Mr. Yarrell,[45] read before
the Linnean Society since the publication of his admirable work on
Ornithology, contains many other interesting particulars respecting
this bird, to which the reader is referred.

Bustards have been seen in England at various intervals during the
last eighty or a hundred years, sometimes in small flights and
sometimes as solitary specimens, more frequently in Norfolk than in
any other county, but they have ceased to breed in this country. I
lately met a gentleman in Norfolk who well recollected the time when
Bustards were to be met with in that county. On the lands near
Flamborough Head there used to be droves of them. They were
occasionally seen in the middle of the large uninclosed plains with
which Norfolk formerly abounded, and in such situations he had himself
seen them. When disturbed they move off rapidly, employing both their
feet and wings, rising heavily, but at an angle so acute that they
advanced perhaps a hundred yards before they attained the height of a
man. When once on the wing, they flew swiftly. They formerly bred in
the parish of Deepdale, and he could himself recollect an instance
when an attempt was made to rear some in captivity from the eggs, but
failed. The Bustard is now only a very rare visitor to Great Britain.
Its last fertile eggs were taken in Norfolk and Suffolk about the year
1838.

[45] _Lin. Trans._, vol. xxi. p. 155.




ORDER LIMICOLÆ


FAMILY GLAREOLIDÆ

THE PRATINCOLE
GLARÉOLA PRATÍNCOLA

Crown, nape, back, scapulars, and wing-coverts, greyish brown;
throat and front of the neck white, tinged with red, and
bounded by a narrow black collar, which ascends to the base of
the beak; lore black; breast whitish brown; lower wing-coverts
chestnut; under parts white, tinged with brownish red;
tail-coverts, and base of tail-feathers, white; the rest of the
tail dusky, much forked; beak black, red at the base; irides
reddish brown; orbits naked, bright red; feet reddish ash.
Length nine inches and a half. Eggs pale stone colour, spotted
with grey and dusky.

The Pratincole, called on the Continent, but without good reason,
_Perdrix de mer_, or Sea Partridge, is a rare visitor to Great
Britain, inhabiting for the most part the northern part of Africa, and
the countries in the vicinity of the Don, the Volga, the Caspian, and
the Black Sea. It has been observed also from time to time in several
of the countries of Europe.

In some of its habits it resembles the Plovers, as it frequents open
plains and runs with great rapidity. In nidification, also, and in the
shape, colour, and markings of its eggs it is associated with the same
tribe; while in its mode of flight and habit of catching flies while
on the wing, it approaches the Swallows. Hence it was named by
Linnæus, _Hirundo pratincola_, and under this designation it is
figured in Bewick. Its true place in the system is, however,
undoubtedly, among the waders, several of which not only feed on
insects, but are expert in catching them on the wing.


FAMILY CHARADRIIDÆ

THE THICK-KNEE OR STONE CURLEW
OEDICNÉMUS SCÓLOPAX

Upper parts reddish ash with a white spot in the middle of each
feather; space between the eye and beak, throat, belly, and
thighs, white; neck and breast tinged with red, and marked with
fine longitudinal brown streaks; a white longitudinal bar on
the wing; first primary with a large white spot in the middle;
second, with a small one on the inner web; lower tail-coverts
reddish, the feathers, except those in the middle, tipped with
black; beak black, yellowish at the base; hides, orbits, and
feet, yellow. Length seventeen inches. Eggs yellowish brown
clouded with greenish, blotched and spotted with dusky and
olive.

Though a citizen of the world, or at least of the eastern hemisphere,
this bird is commonly known under the name of Norfolk Plover, from its
being more abundant in that county than in any other. It is also
called Thick-knee, from the robust conformation of this joint; and
Stone Curlew, from its frequenting waste stony places and uttering a
note which has been compared to the sound of the syllables _curlui_ or
_turlui_. Like the Cuckoo, it is more frequently heard than seen, but
that only by night. In some of its habits it resembles the Bustard,
and is said even to associate, in Northern Africa, with the Lesser
Bustard. Its favourite places of resort are extensive plains; it runs
rapidly when disturbed, and when it does take wing, flies for a
considerable distance near the ground before mounting into the air. It
frequents our open heaths and chalk downs and breeds in Romney Marsh
and in the uplands of Kent and Sussex.

By day the Thick-knee confines itself to the ground, either crouching
or hunting for food, which consists of worms, slugs, and beetles,
under stones, which it is taught by its instinct to turn over. After
sunset, it takes flight, and probably rises to a great height, as its
plaintive whistle, which somewhat resembles the wail of a human being,
is often heard overhead when the bird is invisible. It is singularly
shy, and carefully avoids the presence of human beings, whether
sportsmen or labourers. Yet it is not destitute of courage, as it has
been seen to defend its nest with vigour against the approach of sheep
or even of dogs. Nest, properly speaking, it has none, for it contents
itself with scratching a hole in the ground and depositing two eggs.
The males are supposed to assist in the office of incubation. The
young inherit the faculty of running at an early age, being able to
leave their birth-place with facility soon after they are hatched; but
the development of their wings is a work of time, for their body has
attained its full size long before they are able to rise from the
ground. Before taking their departure southwards in autumn, they
assemble in small parties, numbering from four to six or seven, when
they are somewhat more easy of approach than in spring. In the chalky
plains of La Marne in France they are very numerous; and here, by the
aid of a light cart, fowlers in quest of them have little difficulty
in shooting large numbers, the birds being less afraid of the approach
of a horse than of a human being. But when obtained they are of little
value, as their flesh is barely eatable.

The Thick-knee is migratory, visiting us in the beginning of April to
stay till October. His flights are made by night.


THE CREAM-COLOURED COURSER
CURSORIUS GALLICUS

Plumage reddish cream colour; wing-coverts bordered with
ash-grey; throat whitish; behind the eyes a double black bar;
lateral tail-feathers black towards the tip, with a white spot
in the centre of the black; abdomen whitish. Length nine
inches. Eggs unknown.

Though the specific name Europæus would seem to imply that this bird
is of frequent occurrence in Europe, this is not the case. Not more
than three or four have been observed in Great Britain, at various
intervals, from 1785 to 1827; and on the Continent it is an equally
rare visitor to the plains of Provence and Languedoc.

It is a native of Syria, Egypt, and Abyssinia, frequenting pools and
other moist situations. It is singularly fearless of man, and when
disturbed prefers to run, which it does very swiftly, rather than to
take flight. Its winter residence is supposed to be the central lakes
of Africa, from which it returns to the countries named above early in
autumn, and disappears at the approach of winter. Nothing is known of
its nidification. About the autumn of 1868 one was shot in
Lanarkshire.


THE GOLDEN PLOVER
CHARÁDRIUS PLUVIALIS

_Winter_ - upper plumage dusky, spotted with yellow, cheeks,
neck, and breast mottled with ash-brown and buff; throat and
abdomen white; quills dusky, white along the shafts towards the
end; beak dusky, feet deep ash-colour; irides brown.
_Summer_ - upper plumage greyish black, spotted with bright
yellow; forehead and space above the eyes white; sides of the
neck white, mottled with black and yellow; lore, throat, neck,
and lower parts deep black. Length nine inches. Eggs yellowish
green, blotched and spotted with black.

The Golden Plover is a common bird in the south of England during the
winter months, and in the mountainous parts of Scotland and the north
of England during the rest of the year; yet so different are its
habits and plumage at the extremes of these two seasons, that the
young naturalist who has had no opportunities of observing them in
their transition stage, and has had no access to trustworthy books,
might be forgiven for setting down the two forms of the bird as
distinct species.

In the hilly districts of the north of Europe, Golden Plovers are
numerous, sometimes being, with Ptarmigans, the only birds which
relieve the solitude of the desolate wastes. Though numerous in the
same localities, they are not gregarious during spring and summer, and
are remarkable for their fearlessness of man. So tame, indeed, are
they that, in little-frequented places, when disturbed by the
traveller they will run along the stony ground a few yards in front of
him, then fly a few yards, then stand and stare and run along as
before. On such occasions they frequently utter their singular
cry - the note so often referred to in Sir Walter Scott's poems - which,
like the Nightingale's song, is considered simply plaintive or
painfully woe-begone, according to the natural temperament or
occasional mood of the hearer. This bird builds no nest; a natural
depression in the ground, unprotected by bush, heather or rock, serves
its purpose, and here the female lays four eggs, much pointed at one
end, and arranges them in accordance with this.

At the approach of autumn, no matter where their summer may have been
passed, Plovers migrate southwards in large flights, those from
Scotland to the southern counties of England, where they frequent wide
moist pastures, heaths, and reclaimed marshland. From the northern
parts of the continent of Europe they take their departure in October,
either to the European shores of the Mediterranean, or to the plains
of Northern Africa. In these migrations they are not unfrequently
joined by Starlings. They travel in close array, forming large flocks
much wider than deep, moving their sharp wings rapidly, and making a
whizzing sound which may be heard a long way off. Now and then, as if
actuated by a single impulse, they sweep towards the ground, suddenly
alter the direction of their flight, then wheel upwards with the
regularity of a machine, and either alight or pursue their onward
course. This habit of skimming along the ground and announcing their
approach beforehand, is turned to good purpose by the bird-catcher,
who imitates their note, attracts the whole flight to sweep down into
his neighbourhood, and captures them in his net, a hundred at a time,
or, when they are within range, has no difficulty in killing from
twelve to twenty at a shot. Not unfrequently, too, when some members
of a flock have been killed or wounded, the remainder, before they
remove out of danger, wheel round and sweep just over the heads of
their ill-fated companions, as if for the purpose of inquiring the
reason why they have deserted the party, or of alluring them to join
it once more. This habit is not peculiar to Plovers, but may be
noticed in the case of several of the sea-side waders, as Dunlins and
Sanderlings. In severe winter weather they desert the meadows, in
which the worms have descended into the ground beyond the reach of
frost, and so of their bills, and resort to the muddy or sandy
sea-shore. In the Hebrides it is said that they do not migrate at all,
but simply content themselves with shifting from the moors to the
shore and back again, according to the weather. In the northern parts
of France, on the other hand, they are only known as passengers on
their way to the south. From making their appearance in the rainy
season they are there called _pluviers_, whence our name Plover,
which, however, is supposed by some to have been given to them for
their indicating by their movements coming changes in the weather, in
which respect indeed their skill is marvellous.

The Golden Plover, sometimes called also Yellow Plover, and Green
Plover, is found at various seasons In most countries of Europe; but
the Golden Plovers of Asia and America are considered to be different
species.


THE GREY PLOVER
SQUATÁROLA HELVETICA

_Winter_ - forehead, throat, and under plumage, white, spotted
on the neck and flanks with grey and brown; upper plumage dusky
brown, mottled with white and ash colour; long axillary
feathers black or dusky; tail white, barred with brown and
tipped with reddish; bill black; irides dusky; feet blackish
grey. _Summer_ - lore, neck, breast, belly, and flanks, black,
bounded by white; upper plumage and tail black and white.
Length eleven and a half inches. Eggs olive, spotted with
black.

Many of the Waders agree in wearing, during winter, plumage in a great
measure of a different hue from that which characterizes them in
summer; and, as a general rule, the winter tint is lighter than that



Online LibraryC. A. (Charles Alexander) JohnsBritish birds in their haunts → online text (page 30 of 39)