Paulist Fathers.

Catholic world online

. (page 10 of 136)
Online LibraryPaulist FathersCatholic world → online text (page 10 of 136)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

no means unexpected ; nor would the
mere land journey of birds create
amagement when we know the real
causes ; but to cross the great inland
sea anywhere, save at its entrance,
must be considered a great feat when
performed by tiny warblers, and birds
not physically adapted for long flights ;
for instance, the willow warbler or the
land-rail, crossing the broadest parts
of the Mediterranean, must traverse
at least six hundred miles. No doubt
the heated winds from the desert ex
ert a great influence in determining
the route to be taken by migratory
birds, especially in the countries that
come directly under their operation;
and at no seasons are their presence
more apparent than during the spring
and autumn ; for not only then do
they blow their greatest violence, but
are also most keenly felt by contrast
with the previous hot or cold months.
Thus the winds that beckon the bird
in autumn to come southward, drive
it back again to Europe in spring.
Much, however, depends on the con-
stitutional powers of the individual
species, which vary greatly in mem-
bers of the same family ; for instance,
the little chiffchaff oflen inakes its ap-
pearance in England as early as the
middle of March, whilst its congener,
the willow warbler, is seldofn seen be-
fore the end of April ; the spotted
fly-catcher and nightjar arrive to-
ward the end of May, and depart

again early in September. Bird mi-
grations may be said to be either com-
plete or partial; some birds totally
abandon Europe during winter, and
take up their residence in north Af-
rica; others repair merely to the more
genial climates of the south of Europe ;
whilst many remain, but in diminished
numbers, throughout the year, the ma-
jority resorting to milder temperatures.
For example, the swallow tribe leave
Europe entirely; the wagtails have
their winter homes among the oases of
the desert and on the banks of the
Nile, whilst a few tarry in southern
Europe, and with ||}eir brethren in
spring push northward. A good
many stone-chats spend the winter
in Britain, whilst the majority move
southward; not so with their close
ally, the whin-chat, which disappears
entirely during the cold season, and,
with the migratory portion of the
last-named species, seeks the more
genial climates of north Africa.
Thus, in all probability, there are in|
dividual stone-chats that have alter-
nately braved the cold of the north
and the more cheerful winter of the
Sahara; for we cannot suppose that
there is a set that invariably stop in
the north, and another that constancy
leave at the approach of winter. At
all events, here is displayed a flexibil-
ity of constitution often considered
cliaracteristic of man alone. Al-
though the regular birds of passage
maintain much exactitude with refer-
ence to their arrivals and departures,
others seem to err greatly when com-
pelled by weather or other causes to
trust to theb own intelligence in
guiding them from place to place;
even many migratory species far ex-
ceed the bounds of their usual re-
sorts, and certain individuals, not
known to be migratory, have found
their way across the whole omtinent
of Europe. A good example of the
latter is seen in the late irruption of
Pallas's sand-grouse from north-west-
em Asia, so well illustrated by
Messrs. Moore and Newton, in the
^ Ibis." The short-toed lark seldom

Digitized by VjOOQIC


MigraJtUnu of Burapmn Birii.

migrates beyond the northern shores
of the Mediterranean, yet finds itself
often in Britain, and caught either
in gales, or wandering unknowingly
nordiward ; occasional individuals of
the Egyptian vulture from Spain, the
Griffon vulture and spotted eagle
from the mountains of central Europe,
and the spotted cuckoo from north
Africa. Moreover, several American
species have been recorded, chiefly
water birds, which, of course, are
better adapted to brave the dangers
of the deep. Certain birds — ^to wit, the
redbreast, song-thrush, and black-
bird—do not Jeave the north of
Europe, whilst many of their brethren
of Italy and the neighboring countries
make r^ular annual migrations to
Africa and the islands. To account
for this remarkable anomaly, it will
be observed that the robin of the
south is far less omnivorous than its
northern compeer, and is not nearly
so familiar in its habits — ^like tlie
^warblers, it depends almost entirely
on insect food; consequently, when
that fails, it has no alternative but to
push southward, and participatmg,
like other spedes, in clunatic effects,
it would doubtless follow a like route ;
and much the same with the thrushes,
as they 4epend in a great measure on
fruits for their winter subsistence.
When the grapes of the south are
gathered, having no holly-berries,
mountain ash, or haws to draw on for
their winter wants, they would natur-
ally disperse ; probably many fly
northwani as well ; for all the
thrushes that cross the Mediterranean
during winter are but an infinitesimal
part of what frequent Italy and the
south of Europe in summer. No
doubt much depends on the nature of
the locality, whether favorable or
otherwise ; and wherever a complete
or only partial fiulure of food has
taken pla<^, so accordingly will the spe-
cies depart or remain. Moreover, what
has just been remarked in connection
with the stone-chat, might be appUed
again to the robins ami thrushes of
southern Europe: supposing one of

either hatched in Italy, and after sev-
eral years' migrations to the oasis of
the desert, should deviate on one oc-
casion from its accustomed course
and fly northward, and spend the win-
ter in northern Europe, — with the ex-
ample of the resident individuals be-
fore it, no doubt the robin would socm
pick up crumbs at the kitchen door,
and the thrushes crowd with their in-
digenous brethren on the hoUy-trees,
and, becoming dimatixed) remain in
their adopted countries ever aHer-
ward. Although we have no direct
proof that such occurrences actually
take place, there is nothing in the
bird's constitution to preclude such a
supposition ; and not only that, but
we know in the case of Fallas's sand-
grouse, and many other accidental
visitors, that they have at once adapted
themselves to the food afforded by the
country, although perfectly new to
them. How far such influences, act-
ing on generations and for long pe-
riods, do effect the external appear-
ances or internal structure of a spe-
cies, are points not yet clearly deter-
mined ; but doubtless, aj9 the geo-
graphical distribution and migrations
of animals become better known, so
will many difficulties of that nature be
cleared up. Of the vast hosts of birds
that cross the Mediterranean annu-
ally not a few perish on their way,
and their bodies are thrown up on the
beach; many arrive only to die, as we
can testify from our own observations
along the shores of Malta, where we
have picked up numerous warblers
that had been either drowned on their
passage or died on the rocks, or had
dashed themselves at night against
the fortifications and light-houses.

" The beacon blaze lllnrefl
The bird of passage, till he madly strikes
Against it, and beats oat his weary life."

The quail on its way to Europe in
spring, or Africa in autumn, is often
borne back by a strong head-wind to
the country it had just left ; and we
have repeatedly noticed that a stnmg
sirocco in September scarcely ever
fails in throwing abundance of quail

Digitized by VjOOQIC

MgrcOiatu of Uitrapean Birdi.


on the gofatheast coast of Malta, in the
aame irej that a poweriiil gregale
hriogs in manj that had been bent on
an opposite direction. We now come
to obsenre that extiaordinarj intelli-
genoe wherebj swallows, for instance,
are enabled year afler year to return to
thesamenest. Taking into consideration
the loQg absence, the dangers and
difficakies incident to the voyage, it
seems incredible that any animal
not hnman can be capable, , af-
ter nearly eight months' sojourn
in central Africa, to return in spring
to a farm-yard in the midland coun-
ties of England; and still more won-
drous, as recorded in ^Yarrell's
British Birds," that several swiflts, un-
deniably mariced, returned not only
for three years in succession, but one
of the number was caught in the same
locality at the expiration of seven
years. Here, then, are displayed ef-
fects of memory aiul perception — ^in
fine, a wondrous manifestation of in-
tellect, which, under the vague name
of insect, has been applied, we think
too indiscriminately, to such-like men-
tal phenomena among the lower ani-

None .of the eagles of Europe seem
to croes the great inland sea, or perform
r^nlar migrations. The osprey and
per^rine £Bdccni wander over the
soQth of Europe and north Africa in
increased numbers during the winter
months. Flocks of honey-buzzards,
orange-legged falcons, and lesser kes-
trek, together with numbers of marsh
harriers, kestrels, sparrow-hawks, and
in a less proportion the hobby, merlin,
and Montagu's and Swainson's har-
riersy follow the migratory birds to
and firom Africa — some in hot pursuit
of the warblers and quail, which they
feed on when they cannot procure
more choice food. Thus flocks of
hawks may be seen hovering over the
fields in spring, and along the southern
shores of the Mediterranean, where
the birds of passage are assembling
before they commence their voyage
northward, — all driven hence by the
haH blasts of the desert, which, un-

der such local names as harmattan,
sirocco, kamsin, simoom, and samiel,
soon wither verdure, and compel birds
of passage to turn their faces north-
ward, and fiy with all speed to more
genial climes. A naval officer inform-
ed ns that one spring evening, when a
hundred miles off the coast ot* Africa,
the rigging of his vessel was covered
by small birds, which were seen arriv-
ing in scattered flocks from the south ;
among them were many hawks and a
few small-sized owls, possibly the
Scop's eared owl, which migrates in
great numbers at that season. No
sooner had the little birds settled down
on the yards than the # hawks com*
menced to prey on them, and were
seen actually devouring their captives
within a few yards of the officers, who
attempted to put a stop to the slaugh-
ter by shooting the depredators, but
in vain ; they continued pursuing the
unfortunate small birds from rope to
yard-arm and around the vessel, until
night put an end to the scene, when
friend and foe went to roost, and at
break of day all sped their way north-
ward. ^

The short-eared and Scop's owls
are migratory species ; both pass and
repass the Mediterranean in great
numbers every spring and autumn,
not in flocks, but singly ; the latter is
much in request as an article of food,
and killed in several of the islands
in large numbers ; during its passage
through Malta dozens of this hand-
some little owl may be seen in the
poultry market. As beetles, moths,
and the larger insects constitute the
fa^rite food of the Scop's owl, and
bats enter largely into the fare of its
short^eared congener, it may be sup-
posed neither can have much induce-
ment to prolong its stay in Europe af-
ter September.

The night-jar, although late in ar-
riving in the north of Europe, crosses
the Mediterranean in March ; the noc-
turnal habits of the bird, by restricting
its movements to night and twilight,
wiU account for its slow progress ; it
is also much esteemed by the natives

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Mtgraiumi of Suropean Birdie

of the south as an article of food.
None of the swallow tribe are more
exact in their times of arrival and
departure than the swifts, which seem
to proceed further southward than any
of the others ; whether from sudden
failure of food or change of climate,
or both, it is seldom the black swift
tarries on its way ; for, not content
with the climate of the southern shores
of the great inland sea, it pushes on
with little delay to Abyssinia, Nubia,
and even Timbuctoo. The Alpine
swift passes to and from Europe in
small numbers ; compared with the
last-named species, this is a hardy
bird ; we have seen it and the house
marten sporting around Alpine gla-
ciers at the latter end of August, when
there was a hoar frost every night,
and occasional heavy falls of snow;
many Alpine swifts spend the entire
year on the Hunalayan ranges. The
chunney, house, and sand swallows
make their first appearance in spring,
and leave £urope in the order here
given ; none seem to pass the winter
in any of the islands, and on their ar-
rival in Africa move steadily south*
ward to more genial regions. The
rock swallow and rufous swallow
make regular migrations from Asia
Minor to south-eastern Europe, i^^
venturing westward of Greece. Ow-
ing to the strong N. E. winds that pre-
vail during the cold months, and
sweep along the Mediterranean basin
with great violence, many birds are
blown from one coast to another, and
turn up in districts in every way
uncongenial to their habits and wants :
thus are recorded by C. A. Wright,
Esq., in his admirable catalogue of
"Birds observed in Malta,** the ap-
pearance of the diminutive golden and
fir&-crested wrens among the woodless
tracts of these bare islands ; supposing
them to have come from the nearest
point of Sicily, they must have flown
at least fifty miles I Along the shores
of the Mediterranean the approach of
spring is heralded by flocks of gaudy
bee-eaters, which may be seen ad-
vandng northward in scattered hosts

emitting their characteristic call-4iote.
We have watched them approach-
ing Malta during the calm and delight-
ful weather at that season, when a
few, attracted by the verdure, would
break off from die rest and descend,
whilst the majority continued steering
their course in a northerly direction.
Luckless is the bird wanderer that
makes a temporary resting-place of
Malta at any time, especially on Sun-
day, for no sooner is an individual re-
cognized than a dozen guns are put in
requisition, and soon the fair forms of
the bee-eater, oriole^ etc, are seen
stretched in rows on the benches of
the poulterer. The weird-like form of
the hoopoe may constantly be seen
drifting before a south wind in spring,
or hastening southward in August,
seldom in flocks, but so numerous that
on one occasion, on a projecting rock
in the island of Gozo, we saw in the
course of half an hour no less than ten
hoopoes arrive, one after another.
None of the woodpeckers, neither the
creeper, nuthatch, nor the wren, seem
to migrate. The warblers no doubt
constitute by far the greatest minority
of the birds of passage, and may be
said to be most punctual in their time
of arrival and departure. As with
other groups, many entirely abandon
their summer or winter residences at
the migratory seasons, whilst others
leave a few stragglers behind. The
sedge, willow, garden, the chiffchaff,
whitethroat, Sardinian, Dartford, sub-
alpine, yieillot*s warblers, and the
blackcap annually cross and recross
the Mediterranean with undeviating
regularity, some in enormous numbers,
especially the garden warbler and
whitethroat, which being then plump
and in good condition are in great re-
quest, and constitute the Italian's much
relished beccafico. The ni^tingale
appears in considerable numbers and
shares the same fate with the last-
named species. The two redstarts,
wheatear, whin, and stone-chats, with
the redbreast, come and go to Africa
regularly, leaving a few stragglers on
the islands during winter, which, how-

Digitized by VjOOQIC

MgraUom of European Birds,


eyer, unite widi their brethren from
north Africa in spring, when aU pro-
ceed to Europe. The blue-throated
warbler repsdrs to Egypt in winter,
from the south-eastern countries of
Europe and western Asia. A small
migration takes place of the russet
and eared wheat-ears annuallj to
southern Europe in summer, and
back again to tiie African deserts in
^^autumn. As the song thrush and
blackbird are plentiAil throughout the
year along the Atlas range, it b prob-
able few of them return in spring,
and whatever do cross in autumn and
winter remain with the residents.
The golden oriole passes through
Malta regularly on its way northward,
and in small flocks returns to Africa
immediately af^er the harvest and
finit are collected in autumn. The
ring ousel is also migratory; and al-
though a few missal thrushes and red-
wings appear on the islands and south-
em shores during the cold season, nei-
ther can strictly speaking be called
birds of passage, as their numbers
seem entirely dependent on the state
of the weather in Europe and local
gales. The tree, meadow, red-throated
and tawny pipits cross and recross
regularly, and often in large flocks.
The mt adow pipit is another illustra-
tion of a bird which remains all the
year in northern Europe, but is mi-
gratory in the southern parts. As
soon as the hot weather has fairly set
in in Africa, flocks of the short-toed
lark proceed to southern Europe and
distribute themselves over wastes;
like other desert-living birds, it is very
sensible of cold, and accordingly quits
Europe before the rogular migratory
season. The sky, crested, and Cal-
andral arks go southward late in Octo-
ber and the following month ; the two
last-named are extremely abundant in
north Airica during winter. The
woodiark repairs to southern Europe
during the winter, but a few also regu-
larly push further southward, and
cross i^ain in spring. The pied wag-
tail and its northern variety, called
after the late Mr. Yarrell, repair to

southern Europe on the approach of
winter, and many also cross the great
inland sea and proceed a long way
into Afirica ; we found the former very
common up the Nile to the second cat-
aract. The grey wagtail, although
nowhere so common, follows the same
course and pushes northward at the
same dme with its congener in spring.
The yellow wagtails of Europe have
been so frequently confounded and
misnamed, that, until the student has
carefully examined specimens of each
he will be almost sure to become con-
fused. There is, first, the yellow
wagtail of the British islands, called
also Ray's wagtail, that migrates to.
the contment in winter, but we opine
not to southern Europe ; this bird has
been mistaken for the yellow wagtail
of the continent, first described by
Linnseus. Enormous flocks of the last-
named bird cross regularly to and from
Africa annually : probably not a strag-
gler remains in either country afler the
migratory seasons are over^' We have
repeatedly noticed varieties of this wag-
tail with grey and black-colored heads,
which many naturalists consider as
specific difierences, whilst others ap-
pear to class them under the head of a
race or variety of the MotaciUa jUwa
of Linnseus. We are enabled so far
to strengthen the latter opinion, by the
fact that in a large series of skins col-
lected from flocks of yellow wagtails
during their migrations across the
Mediterranean, we could make out a
gradual transition from the one state
of plumage to the other, and we fre-
quently found the grey, black, and
olive-headed (or yellow wagtail pro-
per) all in one flock and constantly
associating together, and with the
same call-note; the only difierence
was the call-note in autumn in tome
was noticed to be harsher ; these, how-
ever, we ascertained to be birds of the
year. The rook is migratory in
south-eastern Europe, and repairs to
the delta of the Nile in large flocks ;
sometimes it is driven by stress of
weather to the islands of the mid and
western Mediterranean. The north-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


iR^roHons of Mtrapean Birdi.

em portion of Africa ]& a favorite re-
port for the Btarling in winter, when
flocks maj be constantly seen all over
the south of Europe ; they quit, how-
ever, in spring^ and go northward.
The jay has been recorded as migra^
tory^ and said to frequent north Af-
rica, Malta^ and Egypt. We cannot,
however, find any authentic confinna*
tion of this statement. All the Eu-
ropean flycatchers cross the Mediter-
ranean very punctually. The spotted
bird is By far the most numerous, next
the pied, and in a much less propor-
tion, the white-necked flycatcher. The
first has a very extensive geographical
range, embracing the whole continent
of Africa and Europe, and breeds in
great numbers even in North Britain,
where we have seen large flocks in
autumn pursuing their retrograde
coarse southward* The woodchat
shrike seems to be the only represen-
tative of the family that regularly
leaves Europe in winter; its red-
backed congener has been said to mi-
grate to north Africa. The flnches
are always late in migrating in au-
tumn, and leave north Africa long be-
fore the other birds of passage ; at
all times much depends on the sever-
ity of the weather, their numbers in-
creasing or dimmishing accordingly.
No doubt, like the thrushes and o&er
species indigenous to temperate climes,
many individuals extend their range
during the winter months, not so much
from failure of food, as the cold
weather allows them to wander over
regions inimical to their constitutions
and wants in summer; fr^m this
cause and the state of the climate in
north and mid Europe, together with
the transporting power of gales, may
be attributed the pretty regular ap-
pearance of flocks of the following
finches on the islands and southern
shores of the great inland ocean. The
linnet is plentiful in Egypt and north
Africa in winter ; small flocks of the
chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, com-
mon buntings, suinfinch, grosbeak,
and ortolan may be seen among the
tamarisk and oUve groves of north

Africa at the same season, whilst a
few solitary individuals of the cross-
bill, scarlet grosbeak, reed and mead-
ow buntings, cirl and bramble finchoQ,
tree and rock sparrows, find their way
in winter to the islands and southern
shores of the Mediterranean. The
cuckoo an,d wryneck are among the
foremost birds of passage that cross
to and from Africa, and both seem to
have much the same geographical dis-
tribution. We have heard the cuckoo's
welcome note among the carol trees
of ]^lta in March ; in the north of
Europe in May; among the stunted
birch trees on the confines of perpet-
ual snow on the Himalayan mountains
in July ; and often recognized its
handsome form among the orange
groves on the torrid plains of India a£
late as November.

Many wood and stock pigeons mi-
grate to Africa in winter ; their head-
quarters, however, would seem to be
located in the south of Europe ; not so
with the turtle dove, of which flocks
of thousands may be seen steering
.their course southward in autumn and
vice versa in spring ; very few, if any,
remaining in Europe or in Africa at
the termination of their migrations.
At these seasons they are caught in
great numbers, by means of clapnets
and decoy birds. The quail invaria-
bly flies within a few feet of the sea
when crossing.

As soon as the cold weather has
fairly set in along the shores of the
Mediterranean, a partial migration of
the following plovers takes place. The
Norfolk plover disperses in winter
over the islands, and penetrates far
south to central Africa. During
November flights of golden plovers
arrive on the northern exposures of
the Maltese islands ; also a few of the
grey and a good many of the lapwing
plovers, all of which go to Africa.
The dotterel, with its two-winged al-
lies, and the Kentish plover, pursue
much the same course, perhaps if any-
thing more of all these pass in autunm
than recrosB in spring, for the reason
that several of the species are resident

Digitized by VjOOQIC

The Anglican and Greek Churches.


in Africa, and extenslvelj distributed
over the entire continent. The com-
mon heron and crane repair south-
ward to the African lakes and rivers,
and may be seen during the winter
months flying at great heights ; neither
is attracted bj the mere appearance
of land, whibt the purple heron Egret
squacco, night heron, little bittern,
glossy ibis, whimbrel, common and slen-
der-billed curlews, fly at lower levels,
and tarry on the islands on their

The froets of October and the fol-
lowing months drive across the inland
sea myriads of greenshanks, wood,
the conmion and little sandpipers,
sdlts, water-rails, the common, spotted
Baillons, and little crakes, and the
coot In smaller numbers come black-
tailed godwita, common and jack-
snipes, common and spotted redshanks,

Online LibraryPaulist FathersCatholic world → online text (page 10 of 136)