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in woods and hedges, swallowing the smaller ones whole, and extracting
the edible parts of large snails by dashing them with much adroitness
against a stone. When it has once discovered a stone adapted to its
purpose, it returns to it again and again, so that it is not uncommon
in one's winter walks to come upon a place thickly strewn with broken
shells, all, most probably, the 'chips' of one workman. As spring
advances, it adds caterpillars to its bill of fare, and as the summer
fruits ripen, it attacks them all in succession; strawberries,
gooseberries, currants, raspberries, cherries, and, on the Continent,
grapes suit its palate right well; and, when these are gone, pears and
apples, whether attached to the tree or lying on the ground, bear, too
often for the gardener, the marks of its beak on their ripest side.
During all this period it relieves the monotony of its diet by an
occasional repast on animal food; as, indeed, in winter it alternates
its food whenever opportunity occurs, by regaling itself on wild
berries. Yet, despite the mischief which it perpetrates in our gardens
by devouring and spoiling much of the choicest fruit - for your thrush
is an epicure, and tastes none but the ripest and best - the service
which it renders as a devourer of insects more than compensates for
all. So the gardener, if a wise man, will prefer the scare-crow to the
gun, the protecting net to that which captures.

I know two adjoining estates in Yorkshire. On one the gardener shoots
blackbirds and thrushes in fruit time. On the other they are
protected. The latter yields always more fruit than the former.

The Thrush holds a high rank, too, among birds as an architect. Its
nest is usually placed in a thorn-bush, a larch or young fir-tree, a
furze-bush, an apple or pear tree, or an ordinary hedge, at no great
elevation from the ground, and not concealed with much attempt at art.
Indeed, as it begins to build very early, it is only when it selects
an evergreen that it has much chance of effectually hiding its
retreat. The nest externally is composed of feather-moss, intermatted
with bents, twigs, and small roots, and terminates above in a thicker
rim of the same materials. Thus far the bird has displayed her skill
as basket-maker. The outer case is succeeded by a layer of cow-dung,
applied in small pellets, and cemented with saliva. The builder, with
a beak for her only trowel, has now completed the mason's work. But
she has yet to show her skill as a plasterer; this she does by lining
her cup-like chamber with stucco made from decayed wood, pulverized
and reduced to a proper consistence, kneading it with her beak. With
this for her sole instrument, except her round breast, to give to the
whole the requisite form, she has constructed a circular bowl
sufficiently compact to exclude air and water, as true and as finely
finished as if it had been moulded on a potter's wheel, or turned on a
lathe.

The Thrush lays four or five eggs, and rears several broods in the
season, building a new nest for each brood. During incubation the
female is very tame, and will suffer herself to be approached quite
closely without deserting her post. In the vicinity of houses, where
she is familiar with the human form, she will even take worms and
other food from the hand.


THE REDWING
TURDUS ILÍACUS

Upper plumage olive brown; lore black and yellow; a broad
white streak above the eye; lower plumage white, with numerous
oblong dusky spots, middle of the abdomen without spots; under
wing-coverts and flanks bright orange red; bill dusky; feet
grey. Length eight inches, breadth thirteen inches. Eggs
greenish blue mottled with dark brownish red spots.

The Redwing (called in France _Mauvis_, whence an old name for the
Song-thrush, 'Mavis') is the smallest of the Thrushes with which we
are familiar. It is, like the Fieldfare, a bird of passage, reaching
us from the north about the same time with the Woodcock, in October.
It resembles the Song-thrush more than any other bird of the family,
but may readily be distinguished even at some distance by the light
stripe over the eye, and its bright red under wing-coverts. In some
parts of France it is much sought after by the fowler, its flesh
being considered by many superior to that of the Quail and Woodcock.
It owes perhaps some of this unfortunate distinction to the fact of
its arriving in France in time to fatten on grapes, for in this
country it is often too lean to be worth cooking. Being impatient of
cold, it is less abundant in the north of England than the south; but
even in the mild climates of Devon and Cornwall, where it congregates
in large numbers, it is so much enfeebled by unusually severe weather,
as to be liable to be hunted down by boys with sticks, and a Redwing
starved to death used to be no unfrequent sight in the course of a
winter's ramble. As long as the ground remains neither frozen nor
snowed up, the open meadows may be seen everywhere spotted with these
birds, but when the earth becomes so hard as to resist their efforts
in digging up worms and grubs, they repair to the cliffs which border
the sea-coast, where some sunny nook is generally to be found, to
woods in quest of berries, or to the watercourses of sheltered
valleys. At these times they are mostly silent, their only note, when
they utter any, being simple and harsh; but in France they are said to
sing towards the end of February, and even in this country they have
been known to perch on trees in mild weather, and execute a regular
song. Towards the end of April or beginning of May, they take their
departure northwards, where they pass the summer, preferring woods and
thickets in the vicinity of marshes. Mr. Hewitson states that while he
was travelling through Norway 'the Redwing was but seldom seen, and
then perched upon the summit of one of the highest trees, pouring
forth its delightfully wild note. It was always very shy, and upon
seeing our approach would drop suddenly from its height, and disappear
among the underwood. Its nest, which we twice found with young ones
(although our unceasing endeavours to find its eggs were fruitless),
was similar to that of the Fieldfare. The Redwing is called the
Nightingale of Norway, and well it deserves the name', and Turdus
Ilíacus because it frequented in such great numbers the environs of
Ilion-Troy.


THE FIELDFARE
TURDUS PILÁRIS

Head, nape, and lower part of the back dark ash colour; upper
part of the back and wing-coverts chestnut brown; lore black;
a white rim above the eyes; throat and breast yellowish red
with oblong dark spots; feathers on the flanks spotted with
black and edged with white; abdomen pure white without spots;
under wing-coverts white, beak brown, tipped with black.
Length ten inches, breadth seventeen inches. Eggs light blue,
mottled all over with dark red brown spots.

The Fieldfare is little inferior in size to the Missel Thrush, with
which, however, it is not likely to be confounded even at a distance,
owing to the predominant bluish tinge of its upper plumage. In the
west of England, where the Thrush is called the Grey-bird, to
distinguish it from its ally the Blackbird, the Fieldfare is known by
the name of Bluebird, to distinguish it from both. It is a migratory
bird, spending its summer, and breeding, in the north of Europe, and
paying us an annual visit in October or November. But it is impatient
of cold, even with us, for in winters of unusual severity it migrates
yet farther south, and drops in upon our meadows a second time in the
spring, when on its way to its summer quarters. Fieldfares are
eminently gregarious; not only do they arrive at our shores and depart
from them in flocks, but they keep together as long as they remain,
nor do they dissolve their society on their return to the north, but
build their nests many together in the same wood. In this country,
they are wild and cautious birds, resorting during open weather to
watercourses and damp pastures, where they feed on worms and insects,
and when frost sets in betaking themselves to bushes in quest of haws
and other berries; or in very severe weather resorting to the muddy or
sandy sea-shore. They frequent also commons on which the Juniper
abounds, the berries of this shrub affording them an abundant banquet.
Unlike the Blackbird and Thrush, they rarely seek for food under
hedges, but keep near the middle of fields, as if afraid of being
molested by some concealed enemy. When alarmed, they either take
refuge in the branches of a high tree in the neighbourhood, or remove
altogether to a distant field. The song of the Fieldfare I have never
heard: Toussenel doubts whether it has any; Yarrell describes it as
'soft and melodious'; Bechstein as 'a mere harsh disagreeable warble';
while a writer in the _Zoologist_ who heard one sing during the mild
January of 1846, in Devon, describes it as 'combining the melodious
whistle of the Blackbird with the powerful voice of the Mistle
Thrush'. Its call-note is short and harsh, and has in France given it
the provincial names of Tia-tia and Tchatcha. This latter name accords
with Macgillivray's mode of spelling its note, _yack chuck_, harsh
enough, no one will deny. 'Our attention was attracted by the harsh
cries of several birds which we at first supposed must be Shrikes, but
which afterwards proved to be Fieldfares. We were now delighted by the
discovery of several of their nests, and were surprised to find them
(so contrary to the habits of other species of the genus with which we
are acquainted) breeding in society. Their nests were at various
heights from the ground, from four to thirty or forty feet or upwards;
they were, for the most part, placed against the trunk of the Spruce
Fir; some were, however, at a considerable distance from it, upon the
upper surface and towards the smaller end of the thicker branches:
they resembled most nearly those of the Ring Ouzel; the outside is
composed of sticks and coarse grass and weeds gathered wet, matted
with a small quantity of clay, and lined with a thick bed of fine dry
grass: none of them yet contained more than three eggs, although we
afterwards found that five was more commonly the number than four, and
that even six was very frequent; they are very similar to those of the
Blackbird, and even more so to the Ring Ouzel. The Fieldfare is the
most abundant bird in Norway, and is generally diffused over that part
which we visited, building, as already noticed, in society; two
hundred nests or more being frequently seen within a very small
space.' Oddly enough two hundred was just the number of a colony of
nests in Thüringen on the estate of Baron von Berlepsch, which were
those of Fieldfares he had induced to come by trimming the trunks of a
long row of Black Poplar trees so as to afford good sites for the
nests. The present editor visited these in 1906. Some few instances
are on record of the Fieldfare breeding in this country, but these are
exceptional. In general they leave us in April and May, though they
have been observed as late as the beginning of June.


THE BLACKBIRD
TURDUS MERULA

_Male_ - plumage wholly black; bill and orbits of the eyes
orange yellow; feet black. _Female_ - upper plumage sooty
brown; throat pale brown with darker spots; breast reddish
brown passing into dark ash brown; bill and legs dusky. Length
ten inches; breadth sixteen inches. Eggs greenish grey,
spotted and speckled with light red brown.

With his glossy coat and yellow beak the Blackbird is a handsomer bird
than the Thrush; his food is much the same: he builds his nest in
similar places; he is a great glutton when gooseberries are ripe, and
his rich mellow song is highly inspiriting. But he is suspicious and
wary; however hard pressed he may be by hunger, you will rarely see
him hunting for food in the open field. He prefers the solitude and
privacy of 'the bush'. In a furze-brake, a coppice, a wooded
watercourse, or a thick hedgerow, he chooses his feeding ground, and
allows no sort of partnership. Approach his haunt, and if he simply
mistrusts you, he darts out flying close to the ground, pursues his
course some twenty yards and dips again into the thicket, issuing most
probably on the other side, and ceasing not until he has placed what
he considers a safe distance between himself and his enemy. But with
all his cunning he fails in prudence; it is not in his nature to steal
away silently. If he only suspects that all is not right, he utters
repeatedly a low cluck, which seems to say, 'This is no place for me,
I must be off'. But if he is positively alarmed, his loud vociferous
cry rings out like a bell, informing all whom it may concern that
'danger is at hand, and it behoves all who value their safety to fly'.
Most animals understand the cry in this sense, and catch the alarm.
Many a time has the deer-stalker been disappointed of a shot, who,
after traversing half a mile on his hands and knees between rocks and
shrubs, has just before the critical moment of action started some
ill-omened Blackbird. Out bursts the frantic alarum, heard at a great
distance; the intended victim catches the alarm, once snuffs the air
to discover in what direction the foe lies concealed, and bounds to a
place of security. A somewhat similar note, not, however, indicative
of terror, real or imagined, is uttered when the bird is about to
retire for the night, and this at all seasons of the year. He would
merit, therefore, the title of 'Bellman of the woods'. Neither of
these sounds is to be confounded with the true _song_ of the
Blackbird. This is a full, melodious, joyful carol, many of the notes
being remarkable for their flute-like tone - 'the whistling of the
Blackbird' - and varying greatly in their order of repetition; though I
am inclined to believe that most birds of this kind have a favourite
passage, which they repeat at intervals many times during the same
performance.


PLATES TO BLACKBIRD.


1. A nest and eggs.

2. The young just emerged from the egg and an egg (June 1).

3. The day after hatching (June 2).

4. Four days later (June 4).

5. Sixth day out (June 5).

6. Ninth day out.

7. Eleventh day out.

8. Fourteenth day out.

We would draw attention to the extraordinary size of the bird
just out as compared with the egg. On the sixth day the
feather shafts with the tips of the encased feathers sticking
out of them are quite formed, although two days earlier they
were hardly more than indicated. On the ninth day feathers
nearly cover the whole of the skin - on the eleventh day they
do this completely. In No. 8 the bird was drawn after it had
flown from the nest.

[Illustration:

Blackbirds Nest and Eggs Just Hatched.

Day after.

4th Day.

6th Day.

9th Day.

11th Day.

Blackbird, 14th day.

[_face p. 8._]]


[Illustration:

Stonechat [F] [M]

Whinchat Black Redstart [F] [M]

Redstart [M] [F]]


The song of the Blackbird does not meet the approbation of
bird-fanciers: 'It is not destitute of melody,' says Bechstein, 'but
it is broken by noisy tones, and is agreeable only in the open
country'. The art of teaching the Blackbird is of old date, for we
find in Pepys' Diary, May 22, 1663, the following passage: 'Rendall,
the house carpenter at Deptford, hath sent me a fine Blackbird, which
I went to see. He tells me he was offered twenty shillings for him as
he came along, he do so whistle. 23d. Waked this morning between four
and five by my Blackbird, which whistled as well as ever I heard any;
only it is the beginning of many tunes very well, but then leaves them
and goes no further.'

The song of the Blackbird is occasionally heard during the mild days
of winter, but it is not until spring sets in that it can be said to
be in full, uninterrupted song. It then repairs to some thick bush or
hedge, especially at the corner of a pond, and builds its nest, a
bulky structure, the framework of which is composed of twigs and
roots; within is a thin layer of mud lined with small fibrous roots,
bents, and moss. The nest contains four or five eggs, and the young
birds are fed with worms. In the breeding season Blackbirds are far
more venturesome than at any other time, as they frequently select a
garden in which to build their nest, with the double object, perhaps,
of procuring plenty of worms for their nestlings, and of launching
them when fledged where they will have great facilities for regaling
themselves on summer fruits. In such localities the appearance of a
cat near their nest greatly excites their wrath. From being timid they
become very courageous, scolding with all their might, darting down so
near as almost to dash in her face, and generally ending by compelling
her to beat a retreat.

The female Blackbird differs materially from the male, its plumage
being of a dingy brown hue, the breast light and spotted, the beak
dark brown with yellowish edges. White and pied specimens of both
sexes are occasionally met with. In a district of France not far from
Paris they are very numerous, and here the title to a certain estate
used to be kept up by the annual presentation of a white Blackbird to
the lord of the manor. Large flocks from the Continent visit us in the
autumn and winter.


THE RING OUZEL
TURDUS TORQUATUS

Plumage black edged with greyish white; a large
crescent-shaped pure white spot on the throat; bill and legs
dusky. _Female_ with the gorget smaller and tinged with red
and grey, and the rest of the plumage greyer. Length ten
inches. Eggs greenish white, spotted with reddish brown and
grey.

Ring Ouzel is hardly an appropriate name for this bird; for in reality
it does not wear a ring round its neck, but a white gorget on its
breast, the contrast between which and its black plumage is very
striking. It frequents the mountainous parts of Scotland and hilly
parts of Derbyshire, and other wild parts where moors and hills are.
Though never so abundant as the Blackbird and Thrush are in the
plains, it is far from uncommon. It is a migratory bird, arriving in
this country in April, and returning to its southern winter
quarters - Corsica and other islands of the Mediterranean - early in
autumn; not so early, however, as to miss the vintage season of the
south of Europe. In summer it travels as far north as Sweden and
Norway, where, on the authority of Mr. Hewitson, it is often seen
'enlivening the most bleak and desolate islands with its sweet song.
It shares with the Redwing the name of Nightingale, and often
delighted us in our midnight visits amongst the islands.' Its habits
and food while it remains with us are very similar to those of the
Blackbird, and its nest, generally built among stones and bushes, near
the ground, is constructed of the same materials with the nest of that
bird. Towards the end of their sojourn in Britain, Ring Ouzels descend
to the level countries, and are not unfrequently met with in gardens,
whither they repair for the sake of feeding on fruit and berries. In
form and movements the Ring Ouzel is a more elegantly shaped bird than
the Blackbird.


THE WHEATEAR (STONE-SMATCH)[2]
SAXÍCOLA OENANTHÉ

Upper parts, in autumn reddish brown, in spring bluish grey;
wings and wing-coverts, centre and extremity of the tail, legs
and feet, bill and area which comprises the nostrils, eyes and
ears, black; base and lower portion of the side of the tail
pure white; the chin, forehead, stripe over the eyes, and
under parts are also white, and in autumn the tail-feathers
are also tipped with white. _Female_ - upper parts ash-brown,
tinged with yellow; stripe over the eyes dingy; all the
colours less bright. Length six and a half inches; breadth
twelve inches. Eggs pale bluish green.

During a considerable portion of its stay with us, open downs near
the sea are the favourite resort of this lively bird, to which it
repairs from its transmarine winter quarters towards the second week
of March. Here it may be seen for several weeks flitting from rock to
rock, and occasionally soaring to the height of about twenty yards
into the air, warbling from time to time its pleasant song, now aloft,
and now restlessly perched on a rock, or bank, or low stone wall,
calling _chack-chack_ - and making itself all the more welcome that few
others among our summer visitants have as yet recovered their voices.
We need not suppose that Wheatears prolong their stay on the coast in
order to rest after their voyage. More probably they make marine
insects (for these are abundant even in early spring) the principal
portion of their food, and are taught, by the same instinct which
guided them across the sea, to remain where their wants will be fully
supplied until land insects have emerged from their winter quarters.
As the season advances many of them proceed inland, and repair to
barren districts, whether mountainous or lowland, where they may enjoy
a considerable expanse without any great admixture of trees. A wide
common studded with blocks of stone, a rabbit-warren or sloping
upland, is likely to be more or less thickly peopled by these shy
birds. Shy we term them, because, disposed as they are to be social
among themselves (especially in spring and autumn), they are with
respect to other birds most exclusive. Travelling through the waste
lands of England, one may sometimes go on for miles and see no winged
creatures but an occasional Wheatear, which, with dipping flight, made
conspicuous by the snow-white spot at the base of its tail, shoots
ahead of us some thirty or forty yards, alights on a stone, and, after
a few uneasy upward and downward movements of its tail, starts off
again to repeat the same manœuvre, until we begin to wonder what
tempts it to stray away so far from home. It does not ordinarily sing
during these excursions, but utters its occasional note, very
different from its spring song. It builds its nest of grass, moss, and
leaves, and lines it with hair or wool, selecting some very secret
spot on the ground, a deserted rabbit-burrow or cavity under a rock,
where, beyond the reach of any but the most cunning marauder, it lays
five or six eggs. Early in August, when the young are fully fledged,
the scattered colonies of Wheatears assemble for emigration on open
downs near the sea. We have seen a good many of them on the sandy
coast of Norfolk and of North Hales; but it is on the extensive downs
of Sussex that they collect in the largest numbers, not in flocks, but
in parties of six or eight; each party perhaps constituting a family.
They here retain their shy habits of flying off at the approach of a
human being, and are often seen to drop suddenly, where they may
remain concealed from sight behind a stone, furze-bush or bank. The
shepherds and others, whose vocation lies on the downs, used to take
advantage of the habit of these birds to conceal themselves, and
construct a multitude of simple but efficacious traps in which they
capture large numbers. The method which they adopted was to cut out
from the sward an oblong piece of turf about the size of a brick,
which they inverted over the hole from which it was taken so as to
form a cross. Beneath this are placed two running nooses of horsehair,
in which the poor bird, when it takes refuge in one of the open ends
of the hole for concealment, is easily snared. The birds being in fine
condition at this season - having, in fact, fattened themselves
previously to undertaking their long sea voyage - are highly prized as
a dainty article of food. It was formerly the custom for persons who
wanted a dish of Wheatears to supply themselves from the traps,
placing a penny in every hole from which they took a bird; but
afterwards the influx of visitors to the neighbouring watering-places
so much enhanced their value, that the shepherds allowed no such
interference. We once tried the experiment of releasing a bird and
depositing the penny-piece in the trap, when, from a neighbouring
eminence, we were assailed with such a torrent of abuse, that we
declined repeating the experiment. In September, all who have escaped
the sportsman and fowler wing their way to southern lands. It is
thought that the autumnal flocks are partially composed of birds on
their way from high latitudes, which stop to recruit their strength on
the South-downs previous to final emigration.



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