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ADVENTURES
AMONG BIRDS



the Same Author



THE LAND'S END

AFOOT IN ENGLAND

A SHEPHERD'S LIFE

HAMPSHIRE DAYS

NATURE IN DOWNLAND

THE NATURALIST IN LA PLATA

IDLE DAYS IN PATAGONIA

SOUTH AMERICAN STRETCHES

THE PURPLE LAND

GREEN MANSIONS

A CRYSTAL AGE

BIRDS AND MAN



ADVENTURES
BIRDS



By

W. H. HUDSON



WITH Jl PORTRAIT




NEW YORK

MITCHELL KENNERLEY
1915



Printtd in Great Britain



OBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
SANTA UARHAKA



A CONSIDERABLE portion of the matter contained
herein has appeared in the English Review,
Cornhill Magazine, Saturday Review, Nation,
and a part of one chapter in the Morning Post.
These articles have been altered and extended,
and I am obliged to the Editors and Publishers
for permission to use them in this book.



Once 1 was part of the music I heard

On the boughs or sweet between earth and sky,
For joy ol the beating of wings on high

My heart shot into the breast of a bird.

I hear it now and 1 see it fly,
And a life in wrinkles again is stirred,
My heart shoots into the breast of a bird,

As it will for sheer love till the last long sigh.

MEREDITH.



CONTENTS



PAGE



I. THE BOOK: AN APOLOGY . . . i

II. CARDINAL : THE STORY OF MY FIRST

CAGED BIRD . . . . .12

III. WELLS- NEXT-THE- SEA, WHERE WILD

GEESE CONGREGATE . . - 25

IV. GREAT BIRD GATHERINGS . . -34
V. BIRDS IN AUTHORITY .... 43

VI. A WOOD BY THE SEA .... 56

VII. FRIENDSHIP IN ANIMALS . . .66

VIII. THE SACRED BIRD .... 85

IX. A TIRED TRAVELLER (Turdus iliacus) . 95

X. WHITE DUCK . . . . .104

XI. AN IMPRESSION OF AXE EDGE . .117

XII. BIRDS OF THE PEAK .... 125

XIII. THE RING-OUZEL AS A SONGSTER . .133

XIV. BIRD Music 141

XV. IN A GREEN COUNTRY IN QUEST OF

RARE SONGSTERS . . . .150



viii CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAOK

XVI. IN A HAMPSHIRE VILLAGE . .160

XVII. THE FURZE-WREN OR FURZE- FAIRY . 169

XVIII. BACK TO THE WEST COUNTRY . .178

XIX. AVALON AND A BLACKBIRD . .185

XX. THE LAKE VILLAGE . . .195

XXI. THE MARSH WARBLER'S Music . . 203

XXII. GOLDFINCHES AT RYME INTRINSICA . 215

XXIII. THE IMMORTAL NIGHTINGALE . .231

XXIV. THE CLERK AND THE LAST RAVENS . 251
XXV. THE TEMPLES OF THE HILLS . . 260

XXVI. AUTUMN, 1912 . . . . 280

XXVII. WILD WINGS : A FAREWELL . . 295

INDEX . , . . . 313



ADVENTURES AMONG
BIRDS

CHAPTER I
THE BOOK : AN APOLOGY

THE book-buyer in search of something to read before
making his purchase as a rule opens a book and glances
at a few lines on the first page, just to get the flavour of
it and find out whether or not it suits his palate. The
title, we must presume, has already attracted him as
indicating a subject which interests him. This habit
of his gives me the opportunity of warning him at the
very outset that he will find here no adventures of a
wild-fowler, if that's what he is seeking ; no thrilling
records of long nights passed in a punt, with a north
wind blowing and freezing him to the marrow in spite
of his thick woollen clothing and long boots and oil-
skins, and the glorious conclusion of the adventure
when he happily succeeds in sending a thousand
pellets of burning lead into an innumerable multitude
of mallard, widgeon, teal, pochard, and pintail ; how
for several successive winters he repeated the opera-
tion until the persecuted fowl began to diminish so
I



2 ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

greatly in numbers that he forsook that estuary or
haunt on the coast to follow them elsewhere, or
transferred his attentions to some other far-distant
point, where other wholesale killers had not been
before him. No, this is not a sporting record, despite
the title, and if long titles were the fashion nowadays,
it would have been proper to call the book "The
Adventures of a Soul, sensitive or not, among the
feathered masterpieces of creation." This would at
all events have shown at once whence the title was
derived, and would have better served to indicate the
nature of the contents.

It all comes to this, that we have here another book
about birds, which demands some sort of apology.

In England, a small country, we have not too many
species two or three hundred, let us say, according
to the number of visitants we include or exclude ; all
exceedingly well known. For birds are observed more
than any other class of creatures, and we are not only
an observant but a book-writing people, and books have
been written on this subject since the time of Queen
Elizabeth as a fact the first book (1544) was before
her time and for the last century have been produced
at an ever-increasing rate until now, when we have
them turned out by the dozen every year. All about
the same few well-known birds ! To many among us
it seems that the thing is being over-done. One
friend expostulates thus : " What, another book about
birds ? You have already written several three or
four or five- I can't remember the number. I don't



THE BOOK: AN APOLOGY 3

know much about the subject, but I should have
thought you had already told us all you know about
it. I had hoped you had finished with that subject
now. There are so many others Man, for instance,
who is of more account than many sparrows. Well,
all I can say is, I'm sorry."

If he had known birds, I doubt that he would have
expressed regret at m) choice of a subject ; for
many as are the observers of birds and writers on
them in the land, there are yet a far greater number
who do not properly know them, and the joy they
are or may be to us.

The people who discover birds are now common
with us, and though the story of their discoveries is
somewhat boring, it amuses at the same time. A lady
of your acquaintance tells you the result of putting
some crumbs on a window-sill the sudden appear-
ance to feed on the crumbs of a quaint fairy-like
little bird which was not a sparrow, nor robin, nor any
of those common ones, but a sparkling lively little
creature with a crest, all blue above and yellow be-
neath very beautiful to look at, and fantastic in its
actions. A bird she has never seen before though
all her life has been passed in the country. Was it
some rare visitor from a distant land, where birds
have a brighter plumage and livelier habits than
ours ?

Two or three years ago a literary friend wrote to
me from the north of England, where he had gone
for a holiday and was staying at a farm, to say that



4 ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

he wished me there, if only to see a wonderful bird
that visited the house every day. It was probably
a species, he thought, confined to that part of the
country, and perhaps never seen in the south, and
he wanted very much to know what it was. As I
couldn't go to him he would try to describe it. Every
morning after breakfast, when he and his people fed
the birds on the lawn, this strange species, to the
number of a dozen or more, would appear on the
scene a bird about the size of a thrush with a long
sharp yellow beak, the entire plumage of a very dark
purple and green colour, so glossy that it sparkled
like silver in the sunshine. They were also sprinkled
all over with minute white and cream-coloured spots.
A beautiful bird, and very curious in its behaviour.
They would dart down on the scraps, scattering the
sparrows right and left, quarrelling among them-
selves over the best pieces ; and then, when satisfied,
they would fly up to the roof and climb and flit about
over the tiles and on the chimneys, puffing their
feathers out and making all sorts of odd noises whist-
ling, chattering, tinkling, and so on.

I replied that the birds were starlings, and he was
rather unhappy about it, since he had known the
starling as a common bird all his life, and had imagined
he knew it too well to take it for a strange and rare
species. But then, he confessed, he had never looked
closely at it ; he had seen it in flocks in the pastures,
always at a distance where it looks plain black.

If the lady who discovered the blue-tit, or nun



THE BOOK: AN APOLOGY 5

and my friend who found out the starling, would
extend their researches in the feathered world they
would find a hundred other species as beautiful in
colouring and delightful in their ways as those two,
and some even more so.

Much, too, might be said on the subject of many
books being written about birds. They are not
necessarily repetitions. When a writer of fact or
fiction puts his friends and acquaintances in a book,
as a rule it makes a difference, a decline, in the degree
of cordiality in their relations. That is only, of
course, when the reader recognizes himself in the
portrait. He may not do so, portraits not always
being " pure realism," as Mr. Stanhope Forbes says
they are. But whether the reader recognizes his own
picture or not, the writer himself experiences a change
of feeling towards his subject. It is, to put it brutally,
similar to that of the boy towards the sucked orange.
There is nothing more to be got out of it. It need
not be supposed for a moment that the fictionist is
friendly towards or interested in his fellow-creatures
for the sake of what he can get out of them that,
like the portrait-painter, he is on the look-out for a
subject. He has no such unworthy motive, and the
change in his feeling comes about in another way.
Having built up his picture he looks on it and finds
it an improvement, and infinitely more interesting
than the original, and the old feeling inevitably
changes it is transferred from the man to the picture.
These changes in feeling never occur in the case of



6 ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

the feathered friends we have made, and find pleasure
in portraying. We may put them again and again
in books without experiencing any diminution in
our feelings towards them. On the contrary, after
doing our best we no sooner look again on the originals
than we see how bad the portrait is, and would be
glad to put it out of sight and forget all about it.
This lustre, this peculiar grace, this expression which
I never marked before, is not in the picture I have
made ; come, let me try again, though it be but to
fail again, to produce yet another painting fit only
for the lumber-room.

After all it does not need a naturalist nor an artist
nor a poet to appreciate and be the better for that
best thing in a wild bird, that free, joyous, joy-
giving nature felt by every one of us. The sight of
a wild, free, happy existence, as far as the fairies or
angels from ours, yet linked to us by its warm red
blood, its throbbing human-shaped heart, fine senses,
and intelligent mind, emotions that sway it as ours
sway us. A relative, a "little sister," but clothed
for its glory and joy in feathers that are hard as flint,
light as air and translucent, and wings to lift it above
the earth on which we walk. Is there on earth a
human being who has not felt this ? Not one !

I remember going once to see a member of a county
council to try to enlist his interest in the subject of
bird protection for his county. I was told that he
was the biggest man on the council and had immense
weight with his fellow-members on account of his



THE BOOK: AN APOLOGY 7

wealth and social position, that without getting him
on our side it would be difficult to obtain an order.
He was certainly a big man physically, a very giant
in stature, with a tread like that of an elephant when
he entered the vast dim room into which a servant had
conducted me. So huge a mass, so heavy and stolid,
as he stood there silently staring at me out of his
great expressionless boiled-gooseberry-coloured eyes,
waiting to hear what I had to say to him. I said it,
and handed him some papers, which I wanted him to
look at. But he was not listening, and when I finished
he held out the papers for me to take them back.
" No," he said, " I have too many calls on me I
can't entertain it." " Will you kindly listen," I said,
then repeated it again, and he muttered something and
taking the papers once more inclined his head to indicate
that the interview was over, and, thanking him for his
ready sympathy, I went my way to some one else.

My next visit was to an enthusiastic sportsman.
I told him where I had been, and he exclaimed that
it was a mistake, a waste of time. " That chunk of
a man is no good," he said. " If he sees a roast goose
on the table he knows what it is and he can distinguish
it from a roast turkey, and that's all he knows about
birds." Perhaps it was all he knew, from the natural
history point of view at all events ; yet even this
" chunk of a man " had doubtless felt something of
that common universal joy in a bird, which makes
the bird so much to us, for by-and-by it was with
his help that the order for the county was obtained.



8 ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

Here is a little incident in which we can see just
the feeling a bird is able to inspire in us. A friend
writes to me : "I have just heard from Miss Paget,
who says her most interesting news is the visit of a
gold-crested wren at the Connaught Hospital. It
flew in through one of the open windows and at once
became friendly with the patients, perching on their
fingers and being fed by them to their great delight.
Then, having cheered them for a day and night,
it flew away and has not been seen since. The men
long for its return, for nothing has pleased and re-
freshed and brightened them so much in their weari-
some hours as its companionship."

Miss Rosalind Paget is so well-known for her work
in the military hospitals that I hope she will forgive
me for giving her name without her permission when
relating this incident.

But the effect of the bird is due as much to the
voice as to the dainty winged shape, the harmonious
colouring, and the graceful easy motions in the air.
That peculiar aerial vibrant penetrative character of
bird-notes moves us as other sounds do not, and
there are certain notes in which these qualities are
intensified and sometimes suggest an emotion common
to all mankind, which pierce to the listener's heart,
whatever his race or country may be or his character
or pursuits in life.

I here recall an incident of my young days in a
far land, less civilized than ours. I had a neighbour
in my home for whom I had little love. He was a



THE BOOK: AN APOLOGY 9

greedy rascal, a petty rural magistrate with an itching
palm, and if justice was required at his hands it had
to be bought with money like any other commodity.
One summer afternoon he rode over to my home and
asked me to go for a walk with him by the river.
It was a warm brilliant day in early autumn, and
when we had walked about a couple of miles along
the bank to a spot where the stream was about fifty
yards wide, we sat down on the dry grass under a
large red willow. A flock of birds was in the tree a
species of a most loquacious kind but our approach
had made them silent. Not the faintest chirp fell
from the branches that had been full of their musical
jangle a few minutes before. It was a species of
troupial, a starling-like bird of social habits, only
larger than our starling, with glossy olive-brown
plumage and brilliant yellow breast. Pecho amarillo
(yellow breast) is its vernacular name. Now as soon
as we had settled comfortably on the grass the entire
flock, of thirty or forty birds, sprang up into the air,
going up out of the foliage like a fountain, then
suddenly they all together dropped down, and sweep-
ing by us over the water burst into a storm of loud
ringing jubilant cries and liquid notes. My com-
panion uttered a sudden strange harsh discordant
laugh, and turning away his sharp dry fox-like face,
too late to hide the sudden moisture I had seen in
his eyes, he exclaimed with savage emphasis on the
first word" Curse the little birds how glad they
are ! "



io ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

That was his way of blessing them. He was a
hardened rascal, utterly bad, feared and hated by
the poor, despised by his equals ; yet the sight and
sound of that merry company, its sudden outburst
of glorious joy, had wrought an instantaneous change
in him that was like a miracle, and for a moment he
was no longer himself, but what he had been in the
past, in some unimaginably remote period of his
existence, a pure-hearted child, capable of a glad,
beautiful emotion and of tears.

I will remark in passing that the actual words of
his blessing are hardly translatable ; for he didn't
call them "little birds," but addressed them affec-
tionately as fellow-mortals of diminutive size " little
children of a thousand unvirtuous mothers " was
more nearly his expression.

One is reminded of a famous historical incident
of the exclamation of the dying Garibaldi, when a
small bird of unrecorded species alighted for a moment
on the ledge of his open window, and burst out
into a lively twittering song. " Quanto e allegro 1 "
murmured the old passing fighter. The exclamation
would have seemed quite natural on the lips of a
dying Englishman, but how strange on his ! Does
it find an echo in the heart of the people he liberated,
who appreciate a bird not for its soul-gladdening
voice but for its flavour ? It can only be supposed
that Garibaldi during his furious fighting years in
the Argentine Confederation, in the forties of the
last century, had become in some ways de-Italianized



THE BOOK: AN APOLOGY 11

that he had been infected with the friendly feeling
towards birds of his fellow " pirates and ruffians "
as they were called, and of the people generally, from
his enemy the Dictator Rosas himself, the " Nero
of South America " down to the poorest gaucho in
the land. They, the fighters, were mostly ruffians
in those days in a country where revolution (with
atrocities) was endemic, but they did not kill or
persecute " God's little birds " as they called them.
The foreigners who did such things were regarded
with contempt.

Garibaldi was beaten again and again, and finally
driven from the Plate by a better fighter an English-
man of the name of Brown ; but the beaten " pirate "
lived to liberate his own country and to see his people
going out annually in tens of thousands to settle in the
land where he had fought and lost. How melancholy
to think that from the bird-lover's point of view they
have been a curse to it, that, but for the wealthy
native and English landowners who are able to give
some protection to wild life on their estates, the
detestable swarm of aliens would have made the land
they have populated as birdless as their native Italy.



CHAPTER II
CARDINAL : THE STORY OF MY FIRST CAGED BIRD

A ONCE familiar but long unheard sound coming
unexpectedly to us will sometimes affect the mind
as it is occasionally affected through the sense of
smell, restoring a past scene and state so vividly that
it is less like a memory than a vision. It is indeed
more than a vision, seeing that this is an illusion,
something apparently beheld with the outer or
physical eyes ; the other is a transformation, a return
to that state that forgotten self which was lost
for ever, yet is ours again ; and for a glorious moment
we are what we were in some distant place, some
long-vanished time, in age and freshness of feeling, in
the brilliance of our senses, our wonder and delight
at this visible world.

Recently I had an experience of that kind on hearing
a loud glad bird-note or call from overhead when
walking in a London West-End thoroughfare. It
made me start and stand still ; when, casting up
my eyes, I caught sight of the bird in its cage, hanging
outside a first-floor window. It was the beautiful
cardinal of many memories.

This is a bird of the finch family of southern South
America about the size of a starling, but more

12



CARDINAL 13

gracefully shaped, with a longer tail ; the whole
upper plumage clear blue-grey, the underparts pure
white ; the face, throat, and a high pointed crest
an intense brilliant scarlet.

It had actually seemed to me at the moment of
hearing, then of seeing it, that the bird had recog-
nised me as one from the same distant country that
its loud call was a glad greeting to a fellow-exile seen
by chance in a London thoroughfare. It was even
more than that : this was my own bird, dead so
many, many years, living again, knowing me again
so far from home, in spite of all the changes that
time had wrought in me. And he, my own cardinal,
the first cardinal I ever knew, remembered it all
even as I did all the little incidents of our life
together ; the whole history was in both our minds
at that same moment of recognition.

I was a boy, not yet eight years old, when my mother
took me on one of her yearly visits to Buenos Ayres.
It was a very long day's journey for us in those pre-
railroad times ; for, great and prosperous as that
city and republic now are, it was not so then, when
the people were divided, calling themselves Reds and
Whites (or Blues), and were occupied in cutting one
another's throats.

In Buenos Ayres we stayed at the house of an
English missionary clergyman, in a street near the
waterside. He was a friend of my parents and used
to come out with his family to us in the summer, and
in return my mother made his house her home for a



i 4 ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

month or so in winter. This was my first visit, and
I remember the house was like a luxurious palace to
my simple mind accustomed to rude surroundings.
It had a large paved courtyard, with ornamental
shrubs and orange and lemon trees growing in it,
and many prettily decorated rooms ; also a long passage
or balcony at the back, and, at its far end, facing the
balcony, the door of the study. This balcony at
the back had an irresistible attraction for me, for on
the wall were hung many cages containing beautiful
birds, some unknown to me. There were c^veral
canaries, a European goldfinch, and other kinds ;
but the bird that specially attracted me was a cardinal
in fine plumage, with a loud, glad, musical call-note
just such a note as that with which the bird in a
London thoroughfare had pierced my heart. But it
did not sing, and I was told that it had no song except
that one note, or not more than two or three notes,
and that it was kept solely for its beauty. To me
it was certainly most beautiful.

Every day during our six or seven weeks' visit I
used to steal out to the balcony and stand by the
hour watching the birds, above all the cardinal with
his splendid scarlet crest, thinking of the joy it would
be to possess such a bird. But though I could not
keep away from the spot, I was always ill at ease when
there, always glancing apprehensively at the closed
door at the end for it was a glass door, and in his
study behind it the clergyman, a grave studious man,
was sitting over his books. It made me tremble to



CARDINAL 15

think that, though invisible to me in that dim interior,
he would be able to see me through the glass, and,
worse still, that at any moment he might throw open
the door and come out to catch me gazing at his
birds. Nor was this feeling strange in the circum-
stances, for I was a timid, somewhat sensitive little
boy, and he a very big stern man with a large clean-
shaved colourless face that had no friendliness in it ;
nor could I forget an unhappy incident which oc-
curred during his visit to us in the country more
than half a year before. One day, rushing in, I
stumbled in the verandah and struck my head against
the door-handle, and, falling down, was lying on the
floor crying loudly with the pain, when the big stern
man came on the scene.

" What's the matter with you ? " he demanded.

" Oh, I've hit my head on the door and it hurts
me so ! " I sobbed.

" Does it ? " he said, with a grim smile. " Well,
it doesn't hurt me," and, stepping over me, he went in.

What wonder that I was apprehensive, would
shrink almost in terror, when by chance he came
suddenly out to find me there, and, after staring or
glaring at me through his gold-rimmed glasses for
a few moments, would pass me by without a word or
smile. How strange, how unnatural, it seemed that
this man I feared and hated should be a lover of
birds and the owner of that precious cardinal !

The long visit came to an end at last, and, glad
to return to the birds I had left to the purple



16 ADVENTURES AMONG BIRDS

cow-birds, the yellow-breasted and the crimson-
breasted troupials, the tyrant birds, the innumerable
sweet-voiced little crested song-sparrows, and a
hundred more yet sad to leave the cardinal which
I admired and had grown to love above all birds, I
was taken back to my distant home on the great green
plains. So passed the winter, and the swallow returned
and the peach-trees blossomed once more ; the long,


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