Edward Stanley.

A familiar history of birds (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryEdward StanleyA familiar history of birds (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Sea-Fowl Catching.



FAMILIAR HISTORY

OP

BIRDS;

THEIR NATURE, HABITS,
AND INSTINCTS.



EDWARD STANLEY, D.D., F.R.S.,

LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH ;
PRESIDENT OF THE LINNEAN SOCIETY.

IN TWO VOLUMES.



PUBLISHED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF GENERAL

LITERATURE AND EDUCATION, APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY

FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE.



VOL. II.
THE SECOND EDITION.

LONDON:
JOHN W. PARKER, WEST STRAND.



M.DCCC. XXXVIII.






5 "7
t<?3

CONTENTS.



VOLUME II.

Pa-e
CHAPTER I. Passerine Order continued. Conirostras;

Conical Beaks. Orioles. Starlings. Habits of.

Finch Tribe. Goldfinch. Anecdotes of. Nests
rapidly completed. Curious Nests in Africa. Age
of small Birds. Canary Birds. Trade in. Bull-
finches, Piping. How trained. Boldness of. Af-
fectionate and social Habits of. Also of Linnets.
Use of small Birds in destroying Insects . . 1

CHAPTER II. Subulirostres ; Awl-shaped Bills. Mana-
kins ; curious Nests of. Tomtits. Wagtails
Redstarts. Robins, &c. Migration of this Tribe.

Nightingales. Whether they return to same
Nests. Ear for Music. Night Singing-Birds.
Planirostres; Flat-billed. Swallow Tribe. -Whe-
ther occasionally Dormant ; instances of. Migration
of. Insects, number devoured by Swallows.
Spiders, high Flights of. Curious Nests of Swal-
lows. Courage of ...... 28

CHAPTER III. Swallows' Nests continued. Edible
Nests, East Indies. Goat-suckers. Mode of seiz-
ing Moths. Cavern, with their Nests, described.
Tenuirostres ; Narrow-billed. Nuthatch. Tree-
Creeper. Bee-Eater. Hoopoe. Kingfisher.
Humming Birds. Climbing Birds. Cuneirostres ;
Wedge-billed. Jacamar. Anis. Cuckoo. Anec-
dotes and Habits of ...... 55

A 2



ivi366



IV CONTENTS.

Page

CHAPTER IV. Cuneirostral continued. Woodpecker
Tame one. Wryneck Tongue of. Levirostral;
Light-billed. Parrots. Toucan. Gallinaceous
^Poultry Tribe. Pigeons, American Prodigious
numbers of Rapid flight Employed as messengers
Mode of catching Attachments of. Cocks.
Pheasants Courage of. On breeding Pheasants
Box for feeding Prized by Ancients. Turkeys,
Wild Social habits of. Partridges, tamed Nests
of Various sorts of. Q,uails Immense flights of.
Bustards. Ostrich Nests of Affection Hunt-
ing Strength of. Cassowary and Emu . . 80

CHAPTER V. Water-Birds. Waders. Pressirostral
Narrow-beaked. Water-Hens. Anecdotes of
Nests of. Coots Nests of. Jacanas Singular
foot of. Horned Screamers. Rails. Oyster-
Catchers Tamed. Cultirostra Cutting-billed.
Herons Toothed-claw of Voracity of. Storks
and Cranes Migrations of Respect paid to.
Gigantic Crane Particulars respecting. Jabiru.
Anastomus Open-beaked. Tantalus . . .110

CHAPTER VI. Latirostral Flat-beaked. Boat-bill.
Spoon-Bill. Flamingo Mode of feeding Nest of
Watchful habits. Tenuirostral, or Longirostral
Long, slender-billed Birds. Avoset Sand-Pipers.
Dotterel Preservation of its Young. Dunlin's
Nest and Eggs. Plover Mode of catching. Ibis
Mummies of Why held sacred . . . .145

CHAPTER VII. Palmipedes Web-footed Serrated or
Tooth-billed. Geese Flocks of How managed
Plucking. Singular attachment Sagacity Cou-
rage of. Tree Geese. Swans Muscular strength
Courage. Black Swans. Trade in Swan-quills . 171



CONTENTS. V

Page

CHAPTER VIII. Duck Tribe Management of Chinese
mode. Wild Ducks building in trees Affection of.
Eider Ducks] How caught. Duck-shooters.
Danger attending Decoys . . . . .192

CHAPTER IX. Pinuipedes Swimming feet. Pelican
Fable of drawing its blood explained Mode of fish-
ing. Sea-Birds feeding on fish thrown up by Whales.
Cormorants Voracity of May be tamed
Fiercenessof. Frigate-Bird. Solan Goose Light-
ness and buoyancy of Nests. Anhingas, or Darters 212

CHAPTER IX. Longipennes Long-winged Skimmers
Singular bill. Terns, or Sea-Swallows Anecdote
of. Gulls Capacity for enduring cold Voracious
feeders Breeding-places. South Stack described.
Albatross Roaming habits. Tristan D'Acunha,
Resort for breeding Voracity. Petrels Nests
Feed at night. Superstition of sailors respecting.
Brevipennes Short-winged. Divers. Crested
Grebe Great destroyer of fish. Guillemots.
Razor-Bills. Puffins and Auks . . . .227

CHAPTER XI. Penguins Fin-winged. King Penguin
of the southern regions described Breeding-places
Valuable for oil. Sea-fowler's perilous occupation
Description of, in Shetland, St. Kilda, &c.
Singular escapes Fatal accidents .... 267



DIRECTIONS FOR PLACING THE PLATES
IN VOLUME II.

To face

Sea-Fowl Catching . . . . . Title-page

The Emu, or Cassowary . . . . 116

Jacana walking on Water-Plants . . . 128

Oyster-Catchers . . . . . 130

Gigantic Crane . . . . . . 140

Egyptian Plover and Crocodile . . . J 5G

Cormorants 214

Penguins ....... 2f>7

Perilous Leap of a Bird-Catcher . . . 278



2 STARLINGS.

placed among the crenirostral birds, inasmuch as
the point of its upper mandible is slightly notched;
but we mention the Starling as the best known, the
Oriole, or Golden Thrush, being a bird of great
rarity in this country, though, when once seen, it
cannot fail of being recognised and remembered, the
whole plumage, with the exception of the wings and
tail, being of a bright orange or golden colour.

The Starling, although closely resembling the
Thrush and Blackbird in some respects, differs from
them essentially in others; and as its beak, on ex-
amination, will be found to be without a notch at its
extremity, it may be decidedly placed amongst the
crenirostral tribe.

Of some birds it is difficult, from their retired
habits, to give any clear and accurate account. Not
so of our friend the Starling. When it suits his
purpose, he comes fearlessly under our observation,
and invites us to learn his history. For many and
many a year have w r e watched him from month to
month, with the exception of a certain season, when,
for reasons best known to himself, he altogether dis-
appears, and leaves us to wonder what is become of
him.

Close before the window of our scene of observa-
tion, a W 7 ell-mown short-grassed lawn is spread before
him it is his dining-room; there, in the Spring, he
is allowed to revel, but seldom molested, on the
plentiful supply of worms, which he collects pretty-
much in the same manner as the Thrush, already
described. Close at hand, within half a stone's
throw, stands an ivy-mantled parish church, with its
massy gray tower, from the- turreted pinnacle of



STARLINGS. 3

which, rises a tall flag-staff, crowned by its weather-
cock; under the eaves, and within the hollows and
chinks of the masonry of this tower, are his nursery
establishments. On the battlements, and projecting
grotesque tracery of its Gothic ornaments, he retires
to enjoy himself, looking down on the rural world
below; while, at other times, a still more elevated
party will crowd together on the letters of the wea-
ther-cock, or, accustomed to its motion, sociably
twitter away their chattering song, as the vane creaks
slowly round with every change of wind.

We will give a journal of our Starlings' lives.
At the close of January, one or two unconnected
birds, now and then make their appearance on this
weather-cock; at first but for a few minutes, as if,
without an assignable reason, they had merely
touched upon it as an inviting resting-place, in their
unsettled course. In February, if the weather hap-
pens to be mild, the number of idlers may possibly
now and then increase; but still the visit seems to
be but the mere passing call of a few strangers,
without a leading object. In March, however,
about the first or second week, according to the state
of the weather, things begin to assume a more
bustling and serious appearance. Hitherto but one
or two, or at most three or four, may have dropt in,
as if to say, Here we are, the Winter is past and gone,
a happier season is at hand. But now the flights
increase, the three and the four are multiplied to
fourteen or sixteen, and the song becomes a little
chorus, more loud and more joyous than before; and
occasionally, though at first with some circum-
spection and hesitation, one or two of the boldest

B2



4 STARLINGS.

will let themselves gently fall from their airy height,
and glide down upon the lawn, as if to inquire into
the state of their future larder; for they scarcely
take time to taste the hidden treasures below the sod,
hut looking suspiciously about, are on the wing in a
moment, if an inmate approaches the window, or a
door is heard to shut or open.

About the latter end of the second week, affairs
begin to be placed upon a more regular footing; the
parties on or about the battlements and weather-
cock, seem as if they had determined upon a perma-
nent establishment. From early dawn till about ten,
there they remain carolling away their communica-
tions; at that hour, how r ever, off they go, and till
four or five o'clock, are seen no more, throughout
the greater part of the day; being absent in the fields,
where they may be seen chattering in company with
the inhabitants of a neighbouring rookery, or a noisy
set of Jackdaws, who have, for time out of mind,
been the undisputed tenants of a certain portion of
an ancient beech- wood, at no great distance.

About the third week, the plot begins to thicken
still more. The field, the lawn, and the weather-
cock, are no longer the only objects of interest.
Detachments may be now seen, prowling busily over
the roof, cautiously creeping in and out, from under
the projecting eaves, and by the end of the month,
the regular establishment, amounting to about thirty,
has assembled, and the grand work of the year fairly
commences. From this time, all is bustle; straws,
and nest-furniture, are seen flying through the air in
beaks, contriving, nevertheless, to announce their
comings and goings by particular harsh or low mut-



STARLINGS. O

tering cries, according as they think the}^ are watched
or not. They are cunning birds, and discover in an
instant, whether a passer-by has an eye to their
movements, and perfectly aware whether he is fol-
lowing his own business or theirs. If he steps on-
wards, without troubling himself about them, they
go in and out with perfect unconcern; but if a glance
of curiosity or observation is directed to their mo-
tions, they are all upon the alert; the bearer of a
tuft to the nest, wheels to the right-about, and
perching on the naked upper twig of a small beech-
tree, or the projecting point of a gable-end, sits there,
uttering a particular note, which seems to give, as
well as words could do, intimation to a mate to be
on its guard, as a spy is at hand. If the weather is
tolerably favourable, everything goes on smoothly
and regularly; but, (and we 'have, in the journal of
our Starlings' proceedings, many instances on record,)
should a severe and sudden change occur, a violent
storm of snow, or continuance of chilling winds, all

' O '

operations are suspended; not only the eaves, and
half-built nests, but even the tower itself, battle-
ments, weather-cock, and all, are deserted, till a re-
turn of fine weather, when the Starlings, too, return,
and the work again proceeds. At length, the nests
are built, the eggs laid, and the young ones hatched.
Then a new scene of noise, and activity, and bustle
commences, increasing, of course, as the nestlings
become older, and more voracious. Then it is that
the lawn becomes a favourite resort; hitherto, a few
idlers may have hopped and pecked up a stray worm
or two, but now the search is a matter of serious
occupation.



6 STARLINGS.

Down they come, the sober-coloured hen, and the
cock, with the sun glittering on his spangled fea-
thers, with claws and beaks as busily employed, as
if their very existence depended upon it. All, how-
ever, in good social harmony, never quarrelling with
the shy and less intrusive Thrush or Blackbird; or
with the lively Wagtails, contenting themselves with
the lighter fare of the myriads of minute flies and
beetles, hovering over the fresh-mown turf.

The noise and bustle go on incessantly, till the
young ones are fledged, when for a day or two, they
may be seen fluttering about the building, or taking
short flights. At length, their strength being ma-
tured, old and young collect on the tower, and then
wheel away over the neighbouring fields, as if prac-
tising for future and more important evolutions.
But still the evening finds them roosting near the
place of their birth. At last, however, a day comes
when all is hushed. No hungry guests are feasting
on the lawn, no clamorous throats are calling aloud
for food, no twitterings are heard from bough or bat-
tlement, not even a straggler is to be seen on the
pinnacle of the weather- cock.

The joyous assembly is broken up. The Starlings
are gone'"", and till the Autumn, with scarcely an
exception, we shall see them no more. Then, about
the third week in September, again on their favourite

* The abandonment of their breeding-place depends, of
course, upon the season. In 1833, the month of May having
been remarkably warm, it occurred on the .sixth of June;
but we have known it to be delayed till the second week in
July ; the whole of June having been very unseasonable and
stormy.



STARLINGS. y

perch, the weather-cock, one, or two, or three, may
chance to appear towards evening, not with the
merry note of Spring; but uttering that monotonous,
plaintive, long-drawn, whistling cry, as cheerless as
the cheerless season, for which they seem to bid us
prepare. That these, and the few other stragglers,
occasionally occupying the same post, are our Spring
friends, is most probable; for a lame Starling was
observed, for eight years, to return to the same nest,
and every observation we have made, tends to prove
that this is a general instinctive custom of, we be-
lieve, every bird whatever.

Having thus giving some report of our Starlings,
for the greater part of the year, we will endeavour
to follow the main body for the remaining months
as yet unaccounted for. To do this effectually would
be no easy matter, as we believe, that they are par-
tially migratory, i. e., quitting one part of the king-
dom for another, more fitted for their usual mode of
life; nevertheless, enough remain within the sphere
of our observation, and are to be met with in little
flocks/ during the Summer, in favourite meadows,
where food is plentiful, associating with their old
friends, the Crows, Rooks, and Jackdaws.

As Winter approaches, however, they follow the
example of some other birds, such as Larks, Bun-
tings, &c., and congregate in larger quantities. Not
far from the church we have mentioned, there is a
considerable sheet of water, occupying nearly thirty
acres; flanked and feathered, on the eastern side,
by the old beech-wood, already spoken of, as the
abiding place of the Jackdaws. Its western margin
is bounded by an artificial dam, which, as the water



8 STARLINGS.

is upon a much higher level, commands an extensive
view over a flat rich country, the horizon terminated
by the faint outline of the first range of Welsh moun-
tains. This dam, on the finer evenings of Novem-
ber, was once the favourite resort of many persons,
who found an additional attraction in watching the
gradual assemblage of the Starlings. About an hour
before sun-set, little flocks, by twenties or fifties,
kept gradually dropping in, their numbers increasing
as daylight waned, till one vast flight was formed
amounting to thousands, and at times we might
almost say to millions. Nothing could be more
interesting or beautiful, than to witness their grace-
ful evolutions.

At first they might be seen advancing high in the
air, like a dark cloud, which, in an instant, as if by
magic, became almost invisible, the whole body, by
some mysterious watchword, or signal, changing
their course, and presenting their wings to view
edgeways, instead of exposing, as before, their full
expanded spread. Again, in another moment, the
cloud might be seen descending in a graceful sweep,
so as almost to brush the earth as they glanced along.
Then once more they were seen spiring in wide cir-
cles on high; till at length, with one simultaneous
rush, down they glide, with a roaring noise of wing,
till the vast mass buried itself unseen, but not un-
heard, amidst a bed of reeds, projecting from the
bank adjacent to the wood. For no sooner were they
perched, than every throat seemed to open itself,
forming one incessant confusion of tongues.

If nothing disturbed them, there they would most
likely remain: but if a stone was thrown, a shout



STARLINGS. 9

raised, or more especially, if a gun was fired, up
again would rise the mass, with one unbroken,
rushing sound, as if the whole body were possessed
but of one wing, to bear them in their upward flight.
In the fens of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire,
where reeds are of considerable value for various
purposes, the mischief they occasion is often very
considerable, by bearing down and breaking them,
as many as can find a grasping hold, clinging to the
same slender stem, which, of course, bends, and
plunges them in the water, from whence they rise
to join some other neighbours, whose reed is still
able to bear their weight. This perpetual jostling
and breaking down, is the probable cause of the
incessant clatter, which continues for a considerable
time ; indeed, till all have procured dry beds, and a
firm footing.

It has been remarked that the flights of these
birds have of late years much diminished, a fact to
which we can speak from our own experience, for
the assemblages which we have just described, as
forming so interesting a feature in autumnal evening
walks, have long ago ceased; and it is now a rare
thing to see a passing flock of even fifty, where, in
years gone by, they mustered in myriads.

Their favourite dormitory of reeds, indeed, has
dwindled gradually away, since the dam was raised,
and the depth of water increased, which may partly
account for the diminution; but still reeds are left
in sufficient abundance for the accommodation of
ten times the number that are ever assembled in
the neighbourhood of which we speak.

Under the head of Fringilla, or Finch, (which is



10 THE GOLDFINCH.

our translation of the Latin word,) are included,
amongst Sparrows, Goldfinches, and Canaries, tribes
of small birds, each exhibiting, in its own domestic
habits and arrangements, as much sound philosophy
and wisdom, in the management of their concerns,
as the wisest of human kind.

Some of these little birds, moreover, seem occa-
sionally to have something like a reasoning, as well
as an instinctive faculty. A gentleman had a Gold-
finch, which was chained to a perch, instead of being
kept in a cage. Its food was put into a box, resem-
bling a water-fountain used for cages, and the little
opening at which the bird was fed, had a cover
loaded with lead, to make it fall down. The bird
raised this by pushing down a lever or handle, with
its^bill, which raised the lid of the box, after which,
by putting its foot on the lever, it could feed at
leisure. He had also a Redpole, chained on a
nearly similar perch; this bird fed from an open box,
without the trouble of having recourse to the lifting
power, like his neighbour, the Goldfinch. But though
the Redpole could have known nothing of the use of
the handle, from his own experience, as his food was
to be got at without such trouble, yet it seems he
must have taken notice of it, and seen, that by
touching this handle, he could get at the Goldfinch's
food, were he within reach; and this he kept in mind
for the day of need; for, one morning, when loose,
and his own seed-box empty, he flew at once to the
perch of his friend, raised the lid of the seed-box
with his bill, and then laying hold of it with one
foot, kept it open, till he had made a good breakfast.
This apparently trifling circumstance clearly shows



THE GOLDFINCH. 11

that birds can, and do take notice of some things,
and collect information which may be useful when
needed. In. this case, it required some time and
attention, to teach the Goldfinch the use of the
handle for holding up the lid of the box; but the
Redpole had watched the operation, and learned by
observation how to do it as well as his friend*.

The following is another instance of sagacity in a
pair of Goldfinches. These little birds had built
their nest on a small branch of an olive-tree; after
hatching their brood, the parents perceived that the
weight of the growing family would soon be too
great for the strength of the branch which supported
the nest; in fact, it was beginning to give way.
Something was to be done, or the nest would fall,
this was evident to beholders, and equally so to the
Goldfinches; accordingly, they were observed to
fasten, by a small string they had picked up, the
bending twig, to a stronger and higher branch of the
tree, and thus their nest was saved.

Another pair happened to build in the garden of
a naturalist, who w r as fond of observing the manners
and habits of birds. They had formed the ground-
work with moss and dried grass as usual, but on
his scattering small pieces of wool, they, in a great
measure, left off the use of the first materials, and
employed the wool. He next provided them with
cotton, which they immediately collected; the third
day he supplied them with down, on which they
forsook both the others, and finished their work
with it.

It is surprising, too, with what rapidity, in cases
,* Phrcn. Journal, No. 34, p. 72.



12 CURIOUS NESTS IN AFRICA.

of emergency, these small birds can build a nest.
A Canary was observed to commence her labours
about five o'clock in the morning, from which time,
till near seven, she worked so hard that it was
completely finished; she had been often disturbed
before, in consequence of building in inconvenient
places, which probably induced her to use more than
ordinary despatch in this nest, availing herself of
early hours, before people were likely to see and
interfere.

An African traveller speaks of some singular
nests built by birds, which he describes as resem-
bling our Goldfinch; but he probably mistook them
for a family of birds nearly allied to them, and
known to inhabit the Cape of Good Hope. For,
although Bishop Heber found Goldfinches* at the
foot of the Snowy Mountains, in India, and in
some other parts, where they are caught and sold
for about two shillings each, we are not aware that
they are known in Africa. The account of the nest,
however, is very curious, and at all events, illus-
trates the social manners of a set of little birds, like
" brethren dwelling together in unity." A tree at a
little distance from our wagon, says the traveller who
noticed the factt, had two remarkable nests in it.
The one was about four yards in circumference, and
the other three, and about a yard in depth. They
were built of coarse grass. One of these nests had
seventeen holes in the bottom, by which the birds

* The Goldfinch of the East Indies is the Carduelis carri-
ceps, a bird much resembling, but not exactly the same as our
British species.

-j- Campbell's Travels in Africa.



THE GOLDFINCH. 13

enter; the other had seven. At one time, I saw
about a hundred birds come out of them. Instead
of being the nest of a single pair of birds, they
seemed to be towns of birds, or the property of a
single pair, in which they accommodate all their de-
scendants. A Horned Owl had taken possession of
the outside of the roof of the largest, for a nest. She
was sitting on it, and it appeared from the bones
and hair strewed under, that she lived upon the
field-mouse. The whole was neatly thatched, and
had a hollow in the middle to contain the Owl, but
no passage leading to the inside.

Our Goldfinches partake a good deal of this sociable
character, for they are usually seen in little nights,
calling each other together, and betraying uneasi-
ness if separated from their friends. They are
also docile, easily tamed, and have occasionally been
known to show a certain degree of confidence in
man, when they found no danger to be apprehended,
as the following will prove. In the Spring of 1827,
a Goldfinch had been lost from a cage, which was
left hanging up, and the door open, in the passage-
entrance to a back court of a house in a country
town of the West of England; when a Goldfinch
was one morning found feeding in it, and the door
was closed upon the prisoner; but, as it appeared to
be a female, it was shortly after let out again. In
the course, however, of about two hours, it returned,
and re-entered the cage, when it was again, shut in,


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryEdward StanleyA familiar history of birds (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 19)