C. A. (Charles Alexander) Johns.

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short time after exclusion from the egg, there being an instance
recorded in the _Zoologist_ of a gentleman having seen some young
birds scramble away from the nest while there yet remained an egg
containing an unhatched chick. Early, too, in their life they are
endowed with the instinct of self-preservation, for Mr. Selby states
that if discovered and pursued before they have acquired the use of
their wings, they boldly take to the water and dive.

The Sandpiper is found in all parts of Europe and Asia, but not in


_Winter_ - upper plumage ash-brown; throat, sides of the head,
streak over the eye, neck, and breast, greyish white; rump,
belly, and abdomen, white; tail marked transversely with black
and white zigzag bars, tipped with white; feet and lower half
of both mandibles red. _Summer_ - upper feathers ash-brown, with
a broad dusky streak in the centre; under parts white, spotted
and streaked with dusky; feet and lower half of both mandibles
vermilion red. Length ten to eleven inches. Eggs greenish
yellow, blotched and spotted with brown.

The Redshank is a bird of frequent occurrence on all such parts of the
coast as are suited to its habits. Nowhere, I suppose, is it more
abundant than on the coast of Norfolk - at least, on those parts of
the coast where it can have access to muddy marshes. It does not,
indeed, confine itself to such places, for it is not unfrequently to
be seen on the sea-shore, feeding in the neighbourhood of Dunlins,
Knots, Grey Plovers, and other Waders; or, when its favourite haunts
are covered by the tide, a solitary bird or a party of three or four
meet or overtake the stroller, by the sea-side, taking care to keep at
a respectful distance from him, either by flying high over his head or
sweeping along, a few feet above the surface of the sea, in the line
of the breakers or in the trough outside them. They may easily be
distinguished from any other common bird of the same tribe by the
predominance of white in their plumage. Other Waders, such as Dunlins
and Sanderlings, present the dark and light sides of their plumage
alternately, but the Redshank shows its dark and white feathers
simultaneously, and if seen only on the wing might be supposed to be
striped with black and white. Keen-sighted observers can also detect
its red legs. Its flight, as accurately described by Macgillivray, 'is
light, rapid, wavering, and as if undecided, and, being performed by
quick jerks of the wings, bears some resemblance to that of a Pigeon'.
During its flight it frequently utters its cry, which is a wild shrill
whistle of two or three notes, approaching that of the Ringed Plover,
but louder and less mellow. At low water, it frequents, in preference
to all other places of resort, flat marshes which are intersected by
muddy creeks, and in these it bores for food. It is very wary, flying
off long before the fowler can come within shot if it happens to be
standing exposed; and even if it be concealed under a high bank, where
it can neither see nor be seen, it detects his approach by some means,
and in most cases is up and away before any but the most expert shot
can stop its flight. On these occasions it invariably utters its alarm
note, which both proclaims its own escape and gives warning to all
other birds feeding in the vicinity. Scattered individuals thus
disturbed sometimes unite into flocks, or fly off, still keeping
separate, to some distant part of the marsh. On one occasion only have
I been enabled to approach near enough to a Redshank to watch its
peculiar movements while feeding, and this observation I was much
pleased in making, as it confirms the account of another observer. A
writer in the _Naturalist_, quoted by Yarrell and Macgillivray, says:
'I was very much struck with the curious manner in which they dart
their bill into the sand nearly its whole length, by jumping up and
thus giving it a sort of impetus, if I may use the word, by the weight
of their bodies pressing it downwards.' This account Macgillivray,
with an unamiable sneer too common in his writings when he refers to
statements made by others of facts which have not fallen within his
own observation, considers to be so inaccurate that he pronounces the
birds to be not Redshanks at all, and calls them 'Irish Redshanks'. On
the occasion to which I have referred, I saw at a distance a largish
bird feeding on a bank of mud close to an embankment. Calculating as
nearly as I could how many paces off it was, I cautiously crept along
the other side of the embankment; and when I had reached what I
supposed was the right spot, took off my hat and peeped over. Within a
few yards of me was an unmistakable Redshank, pegging with his long
beak into the mud, and aiding every blow with an impetus of his whole
body. In my own mind I compared his movements with those of a
Nuthatch, with which I was quite familiar, and, the surface of the mud
being frozen hard, I imagined that the laborious effort on the part of
the bird was necessitated by the hardness of the ground. Perhaps this
may have been the case; but, whether or not, it is clear enough that
the bird does, when occasion requires it, lend the weight of his body
to the effort of his beak in searching for food. I should add that I
did not know, at the time, that any similar occurrence had been

The food of the Redshank consists of worms, marine insects, and any
other animal matter which abounds on the sea-shore. In small
communities it builds its nest of a few blades of grass in the
marshes, in a tuft of rushes or long grass, never among the shingle
where that of the Ringed Plover is placed, but often under a shrub
(popularly known on the coast of Norfolk by the name of 'Rosemary'),
the _Suæda fruticosa_, Shrubby Sea Blite, of botanists. It lays four
eggs, which are considered delicate eating.


Redshank [M]


Black-tailed Godwit [F]

Ruff & Reeve.

[_face p. 270._]]


Sandwich Tern.

Black Tern.

Arctic Tern.

Roseate Tern.]


Bill strong, compressed at the base, slightly curved upwards.
_Winter_ - forehead, all the lower parts, and lower back, white;
head, cheeks, neck and sides of the breast, streaked with
ash-brown and white; rest of the upper feathers mottled with
dusky and yellowish white; tail white, middle feathers barred
with brown, outer white with a narrow dusky streak on the outer
web; bill ash-brown; legs yellowish green, long and slender.
_Summer - _feathers of the back edged with white, breast and
adjacent parts white, with oval black spots; middle
tail-feathers ash, barred with brown. Length fourteen inches.
Eggs olive-brown, spotted all over with dusky.

An unusual colour and disproportionate length of leg are characters
which sufficiently distinguish the Greenshank and account for its
name. It is far less common than the Redshank, but seems to resemble
it in many of its habits. It is sociably disposed towards birds of its
own kind and allied species, but utterly averse to any familiarity
with man, insomuch that fowlers rarely come within shot of it. It
frequents low muddy or sandy shores and brackish pools, the oozy banks
of lakes, ponds, and rivers, preferring such open situations as allow
it a clear view of threatening danger while there is plenty of time to
decamp. In the course of feeding it wades unconcernedly through pools
of shallow water, and, if so minded, hesitates neither to swim nor to

Its visits to England are paid most commonly in spring and autumn,
while it is on its way to and from the northern climates in which it
breeds. 'In Scotland it is seen', says Macgillivray, 'in small flocks
here and there along the sea-shore, by the margins of rivers, and in
marshy places breeding there in the north, but it is nowhere common,
and in most districts of very rare occurrence. By the beginning of
summer it has disappeared from its winter haunts, and advanced
northwards; individuals or pairs remaining here and there in the more
northern parts of Scotland, while the rest extend their migration.'
The same author describes a nest, which he found in the island of
Harris, as very like those of the Golden and Lapwing Plovers, with
four eggs, intermediate in size between the eggs of these two birds.
Another nest was also found by Selby, in Sutherlandshire. There can be
therefore no doubt that the north of Scotland is within the extreme
southern limit of its breeding-ground. During the winter it is to be
seen in the west of Ireland only.


Beak slightly curved upwards; middle claw short, without
serratures. _Winter_-upper plumage variously mottled with grey,
dusky, and reddish ash; lower part of the back white, with
dusky spots; tail barred with reddish white and dusky; lower
parts white. _Summer_ - all the plumage deeply tinged with red.
_Young birds_ have the throat and breast brownish white,
streaked with dusky, and a few dusky lines on the flanks.
Length sixteen inches. Eggs unknown.

On the coast of Norfolk, where I made my first acquaintance with this
bird in the fresh state, it is called a Half-Curlew. In like manner, a
Wigeon is called a Half-Duck. In either case the reason for giving the
name is, that the smaller bird possesses half the market value of the
larger. It resembles the Curlew in its flight and the colour of its
plumage; but differs in having its long beak slightly curved upwards,
while that of the Curlew is strongly arched downwards; and it is far
less wary, allowing itself to be approached so closely that it falls
an easy prey to the fowler. It appears to be most frequently met with
in spring and autumn, when it visits many parts of the coast in small
flocks. In Norfolk it is met with from May, the twelfth of that month
being called 'Godwit day,' by the gunners, although it is almost
unknown up north at that season.

The specimens which were brought to me were shot in the very severe
weather which ushered in the year 1861. These birds have nowhere been
observed in England later than the beginning of summer, from which
fact the inference is fairly drawn that they do not breed in this
country. Their habits differ in no material respects from the other
sea-side Waders, with whom they frequently mingle while feeding, not,
seemingly, for the sake of good fellowship, but attracted by a motive
common to all, that of picking up food wherever an abundance is to be
met with. Their note is a loud, shrill cry, often uttered while on the
wing. The female is much larger than the male.

This bird is sometimes called the Sea Woodcock. Its flesh is good
eating, but is far inferior in flavour to that of the true Woodcock.


Beak nearly straight; middle claw long and serrated; upper
parts ash-brown, the shafts of the feathers somewhat deeper;
breast and adjacent parts greyish white; tail black, the base,
and the tips of the two middle feathers, white; beak orange at
the base, black at the point; feet dusky. _Summer_ - much of the
plumage tinged with red. Length seventeen and a half inches.
Eggs deep olive, spotted with light brown.

This bird is, in outward appearance, mainly distinguished from the
preceding by having two-thirds of the tail black, instead of being
barred throughout with white and black. Like its congener, it is most
frequently seen in autumn and spring, while on the way to and from its
breeding-ground in the north; but it does not stay with us through
winter, though occasionally a few pairs used to remain in the
fen-countries to breed. It is by far the less common of the two, and
seems to be getting annually more and more rare. Its habits, as far as
they have been observed, approach those of the other Scolopacidæ. In
its flight it resembles the Redshank. Its note is a wild screaming
whistle, which it utters while on the wing. It builds its nest in
swamps, among rushes and sedges, simply collecting a few grasses and
roots into any convenient hole, and there it lays four eggs.


General plumage reddish ash, mottled with dusky spots; belly
white, with longitudinal dusky spots; feathers of the back and
scapulars black, bordered with rust-red; tail white, with dark
brown transverse bars; upper mandible dusky; lower,
flesh-colour; irides brown; feet bluish grey. Length varying
from twenty-two to twenty-eight inches. Eggs olive-green,
blotched and spotted with brown and dark green.

Dwellers by the sea-side - especially where the tide retires to a great
distance leaving a wide expanse of muddy sand, or on the banks of a
tidal river where the receding water lays bare extensive banks of soft
ooze - are most probably quite familiar with the note of the Curlew,
however ignorant they may be of the form or name of the bird from
which it proceeds. A loud whistle of two syllables, which may be heard
for more than a mile, bearing a not over-fanciful resemblance to the
name of the bird, answered by a similar cry, mellowed by distance into
a pleasant sound - wild, but in perfect harmony with the character of
the scene - announces the fact that a party of Curlews have discovered
that the ebb-tide is well advanced, and that their feeding-ground is
uncovered. The stroller, if quietly disposed, may chance to get a
sight of the birds themselves as they arrive in small flocks from the
inland meadows; and though they will probably be too cautious to
venture within an unsafe distance, they will most likely come quite
close enough to be discriminated. Not the merest novice could mistake
them for Gulls; for not only is their flight of a different character,
but the bill, which is thick enough to be distinguished at a
considerable distance, is disproportionately long, and is curved to a
remarkable degree. Curlews are in the habit of selecting as their
feeding-ground those portions of the shore which most abound in worms
and small crustaceous animals; these they either pick up and, as it
were, coax from the tip to the base of the beak, or, thrusting their
long bills into the mud, draw out the worms, which they dispose of in
like manner. When the sands or ooze are covered, they withdraw from
the shore, and either retire to the adjoining marshes or pools, or
pace about the meadows, picking up worms, snails, and insects.
Hay-fields, before the grass is cut, are favourite resorts, especially
in the North; and, in districts where there are meadows adjoining an
estuary, they are in the habit of changing the one for the other at
every ebb and flow of the tide. From the middle of autumn till the
early spring Curlews are, for the most part, sea-side birds,
frequenting, more or less, all the coast; but at the approach of the
breeding season they repair inland, and resort to heaths, damp
meadows, and barren hills. Here a shallow nest is made on the ground,
composed of bents, rushes, and twigs of heath, loosely put together.
The eggs, which are very large, are four in number. During the period
of incubation the male keeps about the neighbourhood, but is scarcely
less wary than at other seasons. The female, if disturbed, endeavours
to lure away the intruder from her dwelling by the artifice, common in
the tribe, of pretending to be disabled; and great anxiety is shown by
both male and female if any one approaches the spot where the young
lie concealed. The latter are able to run almost immediately after
they are hatched, but some weeks elapse before they are fledged. It
seems probable that an unusually long time elapses before they attain
their full size, for the dimensions of different individuals vary to a
remarkable degree. Eight or nine specimens were brought to me in
Norfolk in the winter of 1861, and among them about half seemed
full-grown; of the others some were so small that, at the first
glance, I supposed them to be Whimbrels.

The Curlew is found on the sea-coast over the whole of Europe and
Asia, and along the northern coast of Africa.

The flesh of this bird is said by some to be excellent eating. This,
perhaps, may be the case with young birds shot early in autumn before
they have been long subjected to a marine diet. My own experience of
birds shot in winter does not confirm this opinion. I have found them
eatable, but not palatable.


General plumage pale ash-colour, mottled with white and dusky
spots; crown divided by a longitudinal streak of yellowish
white; over each eye a broader brown streak; belly and abdomen
white, with a few dusky spots on the flanks; feathers on the
back, and scapulars deep brown, in the middle bordered by
lighter brown; rump white; tail ash-brown, barred obliquely
with dark brown; bill dusky, reddish at the base; irides brown;
feet lead-colour. Length not exceeding seventeen inches. Eggs
dark olive-brown, blotched with dusky.

Though by no means a rare bird, the Whimbrel is of far less common
occurrence than the Curlew, and is seen only at two periods of the
year, in May and August, when performing its migrations. It resembles
the Curlew both in figure and habits, though much smaller in size; its
note, too, is like the whistle of that bird, but somewhat higher. It
is gregarious, but unsociable with other birds. The extreme southern
limit at which the Whimbrel breeds is considered to be the Orkney and
Shetland Islands. It is known to visit most of the countries of Europe
and Asia in spring and autumn, but is nowhere very abundant.





Bill black; feet purple-brown, the membrane short; head and
neck black; upper parts lead-colour; under parts dark ash-grey;
under tail-coverts white; tail not much forked, shorter than
the wings; irides brown. In _winter_, the lore, throat and
breast are white. Length ten and a quarter inches. Eggs dark
olive-brown, blotched and spotted with black.

The Black Tern is a common bird in most temperate countries which
abound in extensive marshes. In its habits it is scarcely less aquatic
than the preceding species, but differs from them all in preferring
fresh water to salt. It was formerly of frequent occurrence in
England; but draining and reclaiming have, within the last few years,
given over many of its haunts to the Partridge and Wood Pigeon; and it
is now but rarely known to breed in this country.[50] A few, however,
are not unfrequently seen in spring and autumn, when on their way from
and to their winter quarters, which are the warmer regions of the
globe. In Norfolk its name still lingers as the 'Blue Darr', a
corruption, probably, of Dorr-Hawk (another name of the Nightjar), a
bird which it closely resembles in its mode of flight. Like the
Dorr-Hawk, the Black Tern feeds on beetles and other insects, which it
catches on the wing, but adds to its dietary small fresh-water fish,
which it catches by dipping for them. While in pursuit of its winged
prey, it does not confine itself to the water, but skims over the
marsh and adjoining meadows, sometimes even alighting for an instant
to pick up a worm. Black Terns are sociable birds among themselves,
but do not consort with other species. They lay their eggs in the most
inaccessible swamps, on masses of decayed reeds and flags, but little
elevated above the level of the water. The nests are merely
depressions in the lumps of vegetable substance, and usually contain
three or sometimes four eggs. They are placed near enough to each
other to form colonies; and the birds continue to flock together
during their absence in warmer climates. Large flocks have been seen
in the Atlantic, midway between Europe and America. In Holland and
Hungary they are said by Temminck to be numerous. This author states
that the Black Tern commonly lays its eggs on the leaves of the

[50] The Rev. R. Lubbock states in his _Fauna of Norfolk_,
1845, that it has ceased to breed regularly in Norfolk,
but that eggs had been recently obtained at Crowland Wash
in Lincolnshire.


Bill long, black, the tip yellowish; tarsus short (one inch);
tail long; head and crest as in the last; nape, upper part of
the back, and all the lower parts brilliant white, tinged on
the breast with rose; back and wings pale ash-grey; quills
deeper grey; tail white; feet black, yellowish beneath. _Young
birds_ - head mottled with black and white; back, wing-coverts,
and tail-feathers varied with irregular lines of black; bill
and feet dark brown. Length eighteen inches. Eggs greyish
green, blotched with brown and black.

The Sandwich Tern, which takes its name from the place where it was
first seen in England, is not uncommon on many parts of the coast
during the summer months. In some places it seems to be abundant. A
large colony inhabits the Farne Islands. They breed as far north as
the Findhorn. Upon this coast it is called _par excellence_ 'The
Tern', all the other species passing under the general name of 'Sea
Swallows'. Its habits are so like those of the Common Tern, to be
described hereafter, that, to avoid repetition, I purposely omit all
account of its mode of fishing, and content myself with quoting, on
the authority of Audubon and Meyer, incidents in its biography which I
have not noticed in the Common Tern. The former author says: 'Its
cries are sharp, grating, and loud enough to be heard at the distance
of half a mile. They are repeated at intervals while it is travelling,
and kept up incessantly when one intrudes upon it in its
breeding-ground, on which occasion it sails and dashes over your
head, chiding you with angry notes, more disagreeable than pleasant to
your ear.' Meyer, writing of the same bird, says: 'The Sandwich Tern
is observed to be particularly fond of settling on sunken rocks where
the waves run high, and the surf is heavy: this being a peculiar fancy
belonging to this species, it is sometimes called by the name of Surf


Bill black, red at the base; feet orange, claws small, black;
tarsus three-quarters of an inch long; tail much forked, much
longer than the wings; upper part of the head and nape black;
rest of the upper plumage pale ash-grey; tail white, the outer
feathers very long and pointed; cheeks and under plumage white,
tinged on the breast and belly with rose. Length fifteen to
seventeen inches. Eggs yellowish stone-colour, spotted and
speckled with ash-grey and brown.

Of this Tern Dr. M'Dougall, its discoverer, says, 'It is of light and
very elegant figure, differing from the Common Tern in the size,
length, colour, and curvature of the bill; in the comparative
shortness of the wing in proportion to the tail, in the purity of the
whiteness of the tail, and the peculiar conformation and extraordinary
length of the lateral feathers. It also differs from that bird in the
hazel-colour and size of the legs and feet.'

Roseate Terns have been discovered on several parts of the coast,
principally in the north, as in the mouth of the Clyde, Lancashire and
the Farne Islands. They associate with the Common Terns, but are far
less numerous. Selby says, 'the old birds are easily recognized amidst
hundreds of the other species by their peculiar and buoyant flight,
long tail, and note, which may be expressed by the word _crake_,
uttered in a hoarse grating key.' They rarely nest in Great Britain.


Bill slender, red throughout; under plumage ash-grey; tail much
forked, longer than the wings; legs orange-red, in other
respects very like the last. Length fifteen inches. Eggs as in
the last.

This bird, as its name indicates, frequents high northern latitudes,
to which, however, it is not confined; since in the Orkneys and
Hebrides it is the common species. It breeds also on the coast of some
of the northern English counties, but not farther south than the
Humber, though several instances are recorded of large flocks making
their appearance in different places at the season when they were
probably on their way from their winter quarters - far away to the
south - to their breeding-ground. In the rocky islands, which they

Online LibraryC. A. (Charles Alexander) JohnsBritish birds in their haunts → online text (page 34 of 39)