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BIRDS AND THEIR NESTS.
ROBIN AND NEST.
BIRDS AND THEIR NESTS,
With Twenty-three Full-page Illustrations by Harrison Weir.
MESSRS. S. W. PARTRIDGE & CO., 9, PATERNOSTER ROW.
All rights reserved.
WATSON HAZEL. ,
S, ONDIIN ANDI AvIliSlUKY.
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INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER I
CHAPTER I.-THE WREN 8
,, II.-THE GOLDFINCH 15
,, III.-THE SONG THRUSH 20
,, IV.-TIIE LACKBIRD 26
,, V.-THE DIPPER, OR WATER-OUSEL 33
,, VI.-THE NIGHTINGALE 37
,, VII.-THE SKYLARK 42
,, VIII.-THE LINNET 47
CHAPTER IX.-THE PEEWIT 5
X.-THE HOUSE-MARTIN, OR WINDOW-SWALLOW 56
XI.-THE CHIFF-CHAFF, OR OVEN-BUILDER 66
XII.-THE GOLDEN-CRESTED WREN 70
XIII.-THE WAGTAIL 75
XIV.-THE JACKDAW 8
XV.-THE SPOTTED FLY-CATCHER 86
XVI.-THE WOOD-PIGEON 91
XVII.-THE WHITE-THROAT 97
XVIII.-THE BULL-FINCH -
XIX.-THE MISSEL-THRUSH IO6
XX.--THE YELLOW-HAMMER, OR YELLOW-HEAD III
XXI.-THE MAGPIE 115
XXII.-THE NUTHATCH 120
WRENS AND NEST
GOLDFINCHES AND NEST -
SONG THRUSH AND NEST -
BLACKBIRD AND NEST
DIPPERS, OR WATER-OUSELS, AND NEST
NIGHTINGALES AND NEST -
SKYLARKS AND NEST
LINNETS AND NEST
PEEWITS AND NEST
HOUSE-MARTINS, OR WINDOW-SWALLOWS, AND NESTS 56
CHIFF-CHAFFS, OR OVEN-BUILDERS, AND NEST 66
GOLDEN-CRESTED WRENS AND NEST 7
"WAGTAIL AND NEST 76
JACKDAW AND NESTLINGS -82
SPOTTED FLY-CATCHERS AND NEST 86
"WOOD-PIGEONS AND NEST 92
WHITE-THROAT AND NEST 98
BIULTL-INCH AND NESTLINGS 02
MISSEL-TIHRUSHES AND NEST o6
YELLOW-HAMMER, OR YELLOW-HEAD, AND NEST 112
MAGPIE AND NEST 6- -
NUTHATCH AND NEST 20
Birds and their Nests.
TIE birds in these pictures of ours have all nests, which is as
it should be; for how could the bird rear its young without its
little home and soft little bed, any more than children could be
comfortably brought up without either a bed to lie upon, or a
home in which to be happy.
Birds-nests, though you may find them in every bush, are
2 Introductory Chaper.
wonderful things. Let us talk about them. They are all alike
in the purpose for which they are intended, but no two families of
birds build exactly alike; all the wrens, for instance, have their
kind of nest ; the thrushes have theirs ; so has the swallow tribe;
so has the sparrow, or the rook. They do not imitate one
another, but each adheres to its own plan, as God, the great
builder and artist, as well as Creator, taught them from the very
beginning. The first nightingale, that sang its hymn of joyful
thanksgiving in the Garden of Paradise, built its nest just the
same as the bird you listened to last year in the coppice. The
materials were there, and the bird knew how to make use of
them; and'that is perhaps the most wonderful part of it, for she
has no implements to work with : no needle and thread, no
scissors, no hammer and nails; nothing but her own little feet
and bill, and her round little breast, upon which to mould it;
for it is generally the mother-bird which is the chief builder.
No sooner is the nest wanted for the eggs which she is about
to lay, than the hitherto slumbering faculty of constructiveness is
awakened, and she selects the angle of the branch, or the hollow
in the bank or in the wall, or the tangle of reeds, or the plat-
form of twigs on the tree-top, exactly the right place for her,
the selection being always the same according to her tribe, and
true to the instinct which was implanted in her at the first.
So the building begins : dry grass or leaves, little twigs and
root-fibres, hair or down, whether of feather or winged seed,
spangled outside with silvery lichen, or embroidered with green
mosses, less for beauty, perhaps-though it is so beautiful-than
for the birds' safety, because it so exactly imitates the bank or
the tree-trunk in which it is built. Or it may be that her tene-
7iules i,' ..' on B3'i1vs.
ment is clay-built, like that of the swallow; or lath and plaster,
so to speak, like an old country house, as is the fashion of the
magpie; or a platform of rude sticks, like the first rudiment of
a basket up in the tree-branches, as that of the wood-pigeon:
she may be a carpenter like the woodpecker, a tunneller like
the sandmartin; or she may knead and glue together the
materials of her nest, till they resemble thick felt ; but in all this
she is exactly what the great Creator made her at first, equally
perfect in skill, and equally undeviating year after year. This
is very wonderful, so that we may be quite sure that the sparrow's
nest, which David remarked in the house of God, was exactly
the same as the sparrow built in the days of the blessed Saviour,
when He, pointing to that bird, made it a proof to man that
God's Providence ever watches over him.
Nevertheless, with this unaltered and unalterable working
after one pattern, in every species of bird, there is a choice or
an adaptation of material allowed : thus the bi-rd will, within
certain limits, select that which is fittest for its purpose, pro-
ducing, however, in the end, precisely the same effect. I will tell
you what Jules Michelet, a French writer, who loves birds as we
do, writes on this subject:-" The bird in building its nest," he
says, makes it of that beautiful cup-like or cradle form by
pressing it down, kneading it and shaping it upon her own
breast." He says, as I have just told you, that the mother-bird
builds, and that the he-bird is her purveyor. He fetches in the
materials: grasses, mosses, roots, or twigs, singing many a
song between whiles; and she arranges all with loving reference;
first, to the delicate egg which must be bedded in soft material;
then to the little one which, coming from the egg naked, must
not only be cradled in soft comfort, but kept alive by her warmth.
So the he-bird, supposing it to be a linnet, brings her some
horse-hair : it is stiff and hard; nevertheless, it is proper for the
purpose, and serves as a lower stratum of the nest-a sort of
elastic mattress: he brings her hemp; it is cold, but it serves
for the same purpose. Then comes the covering and the lining;
and for this nothing but the soft silky fibre of certain plants,
wool or cotton, or, better still, the down from her own breast,
will satisfy her. It is interesting, he says, to watch the he-bird's
skilful and furtive search for materials ; he is afraid if he s;ee you
watching, that you may discover the track to his nest; and, in
order to mislead you, he takes a different road back to it. You
may see him following the sheep to get a little lock of wool, or
alighting in the poultry yard on the search for dropped feathers.
If the farmer's wife chance to leave her wheel, whilst spinning in
the porch, he steals in for a morsel of flax from the distaff. He
knows what is the right kind of thing; and let him be in whatever
country he may, he selects that which answers the purpose; and
the nest which is built is that of the linnet all the world over.
Again he tells us, that there are other birds which, instead of
building, bring up their young underground, in little earth cradles
which they have prepared for them. Of building-birds, he
thinks the queerest must be the flamingo, which lays her eggs on
a pile of mud which she has raised above the flooded earth, and,
standing erectallthe time, hatches them under her long legs. It
does seem a queer, uncomfortable way; but if it answer its end, we
need not object to it. Of carpenter-birds, he thinks the thrush is
the most remarkable ; other writers say the woodpecker. The
shore-birds plait their nests, not very skilfully it is true, but
HoVw various Bir'ds BLui/d. 5
sufficiently well for their purpose. They are clothed by nature
with such an oily, impermeable coat of plumage, that they have
little need to care about climate; they have enough to do to
look after their fishing, and to feed themselves and their young;
for all these sea-side families have immense appetites.
Herons and storks build in a sort of basket-making fashion;
so do the jays and the mocking birds, only in a much better
way; but as they have all large families they are obliged to do
so. They lay down, in the first place, a sort of rude platform,
upon which they erect a basket-like nest of more or less elegant
design, a web of roots and dry twigs strongly woven together.
The little golden-crested wren hangs her purse-like nest to a
bough, and, as in the nursery song, "When the wind blows the
cradle rocks." An Australian bird, a kind of fly-catcher, called
there the razor-grinder, from its note resembling the sound of a
razor-grinder at work, builds her nest on the slightest twighanging
over the water, in order to protect it from snakes which climb
after them. She chooses for her purpose a twig so slender that
it would not bear the weight of the snake, and thus she is per-
fectly safe from her enemy. The same, probably, is the cause
why in tropical countries, where snakes and monkeys, and such
bird-enemies abound, nests are so frequently suspended by
threads or little cords from slender boughs.
The canary, the goldfinch, and chaffinch, are skilful cloth-
weavers or felt makers; the latter, restless and suspicious,
speckles the outside of her nest with a quantity of white lichen,
so that it exactly imitates the tree branch on which it is placed,
and can hardly be detected by the most accustomed eye. Glue-
ing and felting play an important part in the work of the bird-
weavers. The humming-bird, for instance, consolidates her
little house with the gum of trees. The American starling sews
the leaves together with her bill; other birds use not only their
bills, but their feet. Having woven a cord, they fix it as a web
with their feet, and insert the weft, as the weaver would throw
his shuttle, with their bill. These are genuine weavers. In
fine, their skill never fails them. The truth is, that the great
Creator never gives any creature work to do without giving
him at the same time an inclination to do it-which, in the animal,
is instinct-and tools sufficient for the work, though they may be
only the delicate feet and bill of the bird.
And now, in conclusion, let me describe to you the nest of the
little English long-tailed titmouse as I saw it many years ago,
and which I give from Sketches of Natural History" :
There, where those boughs of blackthorn cross,
Behold that oval ball of moss ;
Observe it near, all knit together,
Moss, willow-down, and many a feather,
And filled within, as you may see,
As full of feathers as can be;
Whence it is called by country folk,
A fitting name, the feather-poke ;
But learned people, I have heard,
Parus caudalus call the bird.
Yes, here's a nest a nest indeed,
That doth all other nests exceed,
Propped with the blackthorn twigs beneath,
And festooned with a woodbine wreath !
Look at it close, all knit together,
Moss, willow-down, and many a feather;
So soft, so light, so wrought with grace,
So suited to this green-wood place,
The Tilmousc's A,'s. 7
And spangled o'er, as with the intent
Of giving fitting ornament,
With silvery flakes of lichen bright,
That shine like opals, dazzling white.
Think only of the creature small,
That wrought this soft and silvery ball,
Without a tool to aid her skill,
Nought but her little feet and bill-
Without a pattern whence to trace
This little roofed-in dwelling place--
And does not in your bosom spring
Love for this skilful little thing ?
See, there's a window in the wall;
Peep in, the house is not so small,
But snug and cosy you shall see
A very numerous family !
Now count them: one, two, three, four, five-
Nay, six/cen merry things alive-
Sixteen young, chirping things all sit,
Where you, your wee hand, could not get !
I'm glad you've seen it, for you never
Saw ought before so soft and clever.
f '-- -,
4._ .s "i-'-
"-. *' .. "... "- ,
TRULY the little Wren, so beautifully depicted by Mr. Har-
rison Weir, with her tiny body, her pretty, lively, and conceited
ways, her short, little turned-up tail, and delicate plumage, is
worthy of our tender regard and love.
The colouring of the wren is soft and subdued-a reddish-
brown colour; the breast of a light greyish-brown; and all the
hinder parts, both above and below, marked with wavy lines of
dusky brown, with two bands of white dots across the wings.
Its habits are remarkably lively and attractive. I know no
pleasanter object," says the agreeable author of "British
Birds," than the wren; it is always so smart and cheerful.
In gloomy weather other birds often seem melancholy, and in
rain the sparrows and finches stand silent on the twigs, with
drooping wings and disarranged plumage; but to the merry
little wren all weathers are alike. The big drops of the thunder-
shower no more wet it than the drizzle of a Scotch mist; and as
it peeps from beneath the bramble, or glances from a hole in
the wall, it seems as snug as a kitten frisking on the parlour
It is amusing," he continues, to watch the motions of a
young family of wrens just come abroad. Walking among
furze, broom, or juniper, you are attracted to some bush by
'I I i
Li j'l, I ,
1 ^r^,'^ ^^^ ^^
WRENS AND NEST.
,. .. B,
A Buzildcr of Many N'sts.
hearing issue from it the frequent repetition of a sound resem-
bling the syllable chit. On going up you perceive an old wren
flitting about the twigs, and presently a young one flies off,
uttering a stifled chirr, to conceal itself among the bushes.
Several follow, whilst the parents continue to flutter about in
great alarm, uttering their chit, chit, with various degrees of
The nest of the wren is a wonderful structure, of which I shall
have a good deal to say. It begins building in April, and is
not by any means particular in situation. Sometimes it builds
in the hole of a wall or tree; sometimes, as in this lovely little
picture of ours, in the mossy hollow of a primrose-covered bank;
and because it was formerly supposed to live only in holes or
little caves, it received the name of Tryogodlytes, or cave-dweller.
But it builds equally willingly in the thatch of outbuildings, in
barn-lofts, or tree-branches, either when growing apart or nailed
against a wall, amongst ivy or other climbing plants; in fact,
it seems to be of such a happy disposition as to adapt itself to
a great variety of situations. It is a singular fact that it will
often build several nests in one season-not that it needs so
many separate dwellings, or that it finishes them when built;
but it builds as if for the very pleasure of the work. Our
naturalist says, speaking of this odd propensity, "that, whilst
the hen is sitting, the he-bird, as if from a desire to be doing
something, will construct as many as half-a-dozen nests near
the first, none of which, however, are lined with feathers; and
that whilst the true nest, on which the mother-bird is sitting,
will be carefully concealed, these sham nests are open to view.
Some say that as the wrens, during the cold weather, sleep in
some snug, warm hole, they frequently occupy these extra nests
as winter-bedchambers, four or five, or even more, huddling
together, to keep one another warm."
Mr. Weir, a friend of the author I have just quoted, says
this was the case in his own garden; and that, during the
winter, when the ground was covered with snow, two of the
extra-nests were occupied at night by a little family of seven,
which had hatched in the garden. He was very observant of
their ways, and says it was amusing to see one of the old wrens,
coming a little before sunset and standing a few inches from
the nest, utter his little cry till the whole number of them had
arrived. Nor were they long about it; they very soon answered
the call, flying from all quarters-the seven young ones and the
other parent-bird-and then at once nestled into their snug
little dormitory. It was also remarkable that when the wind
blew from the east they occupied a nest which had its opening
to the west, and when it blew from the west, then one that
opened to the east, so that it was evident they knew how to
make themselves comfortable.
And now as regards the building of these little homes. I
will, as far as I am able, give you the details of the whole
business from the diary of the same gentleman, which is as
accurate as if the little wren had kept it himself, and which will
just as well refer to the little nest in the primrose bank as to the
nest in the Spanish juniper-tree, where, in fact, it was built.
On the 3oth of May, therefore, you must imagine a little
pair of wrens, having, after a great deal of consultation, made
up their minds to build themselves a home in the branches of a
Spanish juniper. The female, at about seven o'clock in the
How a N2Vst was built. 1
morning, laid the foundation with the decayed leaf of a lime-
tree. Some men were at work cutting a drain not far off, bu't
she took no notice of them, and worked away industriously,
carrying to her work bundles of dead leaves as big as herself,
her mate, seeming the while to be delighted with her industry,
seated not far off in a Portugal laurel, where he watched her,
singing to her, and so doing, making her labour, no doubt,
light and pleasant. From eight o'clock to nine she worked like
a little slave, carrying in leaves, and then selecting from them
such as suited her purpose and putting aside the rest. This
was the foundation of the nest, which she rendered compact by
pressing it down with her breast, and turning herself round in
it: then she began to rear the sides. And now the delicate
and difficult part of the work began, and she was often away
for eight or ten minutes together. From the inside she built
the underpart of the aperture with the stalks of leaves, which
she fitted together very ingeniously with moss. The upper part
of it was constructed solely with the last-mentioned material.
To round it and give it the requisite solidity, she pressed it with
her breast and wings, turning the body round in various
directions. Most wonderful to tell, about'seven o'clock in the
evening the whole outside workmanship of this snug little
erection was almost complete.
Being very anxious to examine the interior of it, I went out
for that purpose at half-past two the next morning. I intro-
duced my finger, the birds not being there, and found its struc-
ture so close, that though it had rained in the night, yet that it
was quite dry. The birds at this early hour were -, I-in g as if
in ecstasy, and at about three o'clock the little he-wren came
12 The Wrcn.
and surveyed his domicile with evident satisfaction; then, flying
to the top of a tree, began singing most merrily. In half-an-
hour's time the hen-bird made her appearance, and, going into
the nest, remained there about five minutes, rounding the en-
trance by pressing it with her breast and the shoulders of her
wings. F or the next hour she went out and came back five
times with fine moss in her bill, with which she adjusted a small
depression in the fore-part of it; then, after twenty minutes'
absence, returned with a bundle of leaves to fill up a vacancy
which she had discovered in the back of the structure. Although
it was a cold morning, with wind and rain, the male bird sang
delightfully; but between seven and eight o'clock, either having
received a reproof from his wife for his indolence, or being
himself seized with an impulse to work, he began to help her,
and for the next ten minutes brought in moss, and worked at
the inside of the nest. At eleven o'clock both of them flew off,
either for a little recreation, or for their dinners, and were away
till a little after one. From this time till four o'clock both
worked industriously, bringing in fine moss; then, during
another hour, the hen-bird brought in a feather three times. So
that day came to an end.
The next morning, June Ist, they did not begin their work
early, as was evident to Mr. Weir, because having placed a
slender leaf-stalk at the entrance, there it remained till half-past
eight o'clock, when the two began to work as the day before
with fine moss, the he-bird leaving off, however, every now and
then to express his satisfaction on a near tree-top. Again, this
day, they went off either for dinner oramusement; then came back
and worked for another hour, bringing in fine moss and feathers.
The Patient Industry of this Bird.
The next morning the little he-wren seemed in a regular
ecstasy, and sang incessantly till half-past nine, when they both
brought in moss and feathers, working on for about two hours,
and again they went off, remaining away an hour later than usual.
Their work was now nearly over, and they seemed to be taking
their leisure, when all at once the hen-bird, who was sitting in
her nest and looking out at her door, espied a man half-hidden
by an arbor vitae. It was no other than her good friend, but
that she did not know; all men were terrible, as enemies to her
race, and at once she set up her cry of alarm. The he-bird, on
hearing this, appeared in a great state of agitation, and though
the frightful monster immediately ran off, the little creatures
pursued him, scolding vehemently.
The next day they worked again with feathers and fine
moss, and again went off after having brought in a few more
feathers. So they did for the next five days; working leisurely,
and latterly only with feathers. On the tenth day the nest was
finished, and the little mother-bird laid her first egg in it."
Where is the boy, let him be as ruthless a bird-nester as he
may, who could have the heart to take a wren's nest, only to
tear it to pieces, after reading the history of this patient labour
of love ?
The wren, like various other small birds, cannot bear that
their nests or eggs should be touched; they are always disturbed
and distressed by it, and sometimes even will desert their nest
and eggs in consequence. On one occasion, therefore, this
good, kind-hearted friend of every bird that builds, carefully
put his finger into a wren's nest, during the mother's absence,
to ascertain whether the young were hatched; on her return,
14 The TWrn.
perceiving that the entrance had been touched, she set up adoleful
lamentation, carefully rounded it again with her breast and
wings, so as to bring everything into proper order, after which
she and her mate attended to their young. These particular
young ones, only six in number, were fed by their parents 278
times in the course of a day. This was a small wren-family;
and if there had been twelve, or even sixteen, as is often the
case, what an amount of labour and care the birds must have
had But they would have been equal to it, and merry all the
For all these little creatures, which so lightly we regard,
They love to do their duty, and they never think it hard.
THE Goldfinch, which is cousin to the Linnet, is wonderfully
clever and docile, as I shall show you presently. In the first
place, however, let me say a word or two about bird cleverness
in general, which I copy from Jules Michelet's interesting work,
"The Bird." Speaking of the great, cruel, and rapacious
family of the Rap/orcs, or Birds of Prey, he expresses satisfac-
tion in the idea that this race of destroyers is decreasing, and
that there may come a time when they no longer exist on the
earth. He has no admiration for them, though they may be
the swiftest of the swift, and the strongest of the strong, be-
cause they put forth none of the higher qualities of courage,
address, or patient endurance in taking their prey, which are
all weak and powerless in comparison with themselves; their
poor unoffending victims. "All these cruel tyrants of the air,"
he says, like the serpents, have flattened skulls, which show
the want of intellect and intelligence. These birds of prey,
with their small brains, offer a striking contrast to the amiable
and intelligent species which we find amongst the smaller birds.
The head of the former is only a beak, that of the latter is a
face." Afterwards, to prove this more strongly, he gives a
table to show the proportion of brain to the size of the body in
these different species of birds. Thus the chaffinch, the spar-
row, and the goldfinch, have more than six times as much brain
as the eagle in proportion to the size of the body. We may
look, therefore, for no less than six times his intelligence and
docile ability. Whilst in the case of the little tomtit it is thir-
teen times as much.
But now for the goldfinch, of which our cut-which is both
faithful and beautiful-shows us a pair, evidently contemplating
with much satisfaction the nest which they have just finished on
one of the topmost boughs of a blossomy apple-tree. This nest
is a wonderful little fabric, built of moss, dry grass, and slender
roots, lined with hair, wool, and thistle-down; but the true
wonder of the nest is the exact manner in which the outside is
made to imitate the bough upon which it is placed. All its
little ruggednesses and lichen growths are represented, whilst
the colouring is so exactly that of the old apple-tree that it is
almost impossible to know it from the branch itself. Wonderful
ingenuity of instinct, which human skill would find it almost
impossible to imitate!
The bird lays mostly five eggs, which are of a bluish-grey,
spotted with greyish-purple or brown, and sometimes with a
dark streak or two.
The goldfinch is one of the most beautiful of our English
birds, with its scarlet forehead, and quaint little black velvet-
like cap brought down over its white cheeks; its back is cin-
namon brown, and its breast white; its wings are beautifully
varied in black and white, as are also its tail feathers. In the
midland counties it is known as "The Proud Tailor," probably
because its attire looks so bright and fresh, and it has a lively
air as if conscious of being well dressed.
*- I- .
iY I\ .. "
GOLDFINCHES AND NEST.
Dal/v Li c (f //his BinJ.
Like its relation, the linnet, it congregates in flocks as soon
as its young can take wing, when they may be seen wheeling round
in the pleasant late summer and autumn fields, full of life, and
in the enjoyment of the plenty that surrounds them, in the
ripened thistle-down, and all such winged seeds as are then
floating in the air.
How often have I said it is worth while to go out into the
woods and fields, and, bringing yourself into a state of quiet-
ness, watch the little birds in their life's employment, building
their nests, feeding their young, or pursuing their innocent
diversions! So now, on this pleasant, still autumn afternoon,
if you will go into the old pasture fields where the thistles have
not been stubbed up for generations, or on the margin of the
old lane where ragwort, and groundsel, and burdock flourish
abundantly, let us," as the author of British Birds says,
"stand still to observe a flock of goldfinches. They flutter
over the plants, cling to the stalks, bend in various attitudes,
disperse the down, already dry and winged, like themselves,
for flight, pick them out one by one and swallow them. Then
comes a stray cow followed by a herd boy. At once the birds
cease their labour, pause for a moment, and fly off in succes-
sion. You observe how lightly and buoyantly they cleave the
air, each fluttering its little wings, descending in a curved line,
mounting again, and speeding along. Anon they alight in a
little thicket of dried weeds, and, in settling, display to the
delighted eye the beautiful tints of their plumage, as with
fluttering wings and expanded tail, they hover for a moment
to select a landing place amid the prickly points of the stout
thistles whose heads are now bursting with downy-wingedseeds."
t_^ J Q
The song of the goldfinch, which begins about the end of
March, is very sweet, unassuming, and low-similar to that of
the linnet, but singularly varied and pleasant.
Now, however, we must give a few instances of this bird's
teachable sagacity, which, indeed, are so numerous that it is
difficult to make a selection.
Mr. Syme, in his British Song Birds," says, The gold-
finch is easily tamed and taught, and its capacity for learning
the notes of other birds is well known. A few years ago the
Sieur Roman exhibited a number of trained birds: they were
goldfinches, linnets, and canaries. One appeared dead, and
was held up by the tail or claw without exhibiting any signs of
life; a second stood on its head with its claws in the air; a third
imitated a Dutch milkmaid going to market with pails on its
shoulders; a fourth mimicked a Venetian girl looking out at a
window; a fifth appeared as a soldier, and mounted guard as a
sentinel; whilst a sixth acted as a cannonier, with a cap on its
head, a firelock on its shoulder, and a match in its claw, and
discharged a small cannon. The same bird also acted as if it
had been wounded. It was wheeled in a barrow as if to con-
vey it to the hospital, after which it flew away before the whole
company. The seventh turned a kind of windmill; and the
last bird stood in the midst of some fireworks which were
discharged all round it, and this without showing the least
sign of fear."
Others, as I have said, may be taught to draw up their food
and water, as from a well, in little buckets. All this is very won-
derful, and shows great docility in the bird; but I cannot
greatly admire it, from the secret fear that cruelty or harshness
Introduced in/o Pictures.
may have been used to teach them these arts so contrary to
their nature. At all events it proves what teachable and clever
little creatures they are, how readily they may be made to
understand the will of their master, and how obediently and
faithfully they act according to it.
Man, however, should always stand as a human Providence
to the animal world. In him the creatures should ever find
their friend and protector; and were it so we should then see
many an astonishing faculty displayed; and birds would then,
instead of being the most timid of animals, gladden and beautify
our daily life by'their sweet songs, their affectionate regard,
and their amusing and imitative little arts.
The early Italian and German painters introduce a gold-
finch into their beautiful sacred pictures-generally on the
ground-hopping at the feet of some martyred saint or love-
commissioned angel, perhaps from an old legend of the bird's
sympathy with the suffering Saviour, or from an intuitive sense
that the divine spirit of Christianity extends to bird and beast
as well as to man.
. . . . . .
THE SONG THRUSH.
WE have here a charming picture of one of the finest and
noblest of our song-birds-the thrush, throstle, or mavis.
The trees are yet leafless, but the bird is in the act of building,
whilst her mate, on the tree-top, pours forth his exquisite
melody. The almost completed nest, like a richly ornamented
bowl, is before us.
This bird belongs to a grandly musical family, being own
cousin to the missel-thrush and the blackbird, each one having a
kindred song, but all, at the same time, distinctly characteristic.
The colouring of the thrush is soft and very pleasing; the
upper parts of a yellowish-brown ; the chin, white; the under
part of the body, grayish white; the throat, breast, and sides
of the neck, yellowish, thickly spotted with dark brown.
The thrush remains with us the whole year, and may occasion-
ally be heard singing even in the winter, though April, May, and
June are the months when he is in fullest song. They pair in
March, and by the end of that month, or early in April, begin
to build. They have several broods in the year. The nest,
which, as we see, is commodious, is placed at no great height
from the ground, in a thick bush or hedge, and sometimes, also,
in a rough bank, amongst bushes and undergrowth. They are
particularly fond of spruce-fir plantations, building on one of
SONG THRUSH AND NEST.
The Son.11 7T/7iiusi.
the low, spreading branches, close to the stem. Though the
structure is so solid and substantial, yet it is built very rapidly;
indeed, the thrush seems to be wide awake in all its movements;
he is no loiterer, and does his work well. As a proof of his
expedition I will mention that a pair of these birds began to
build a second, perhaps, indeed, it might be a third nest, on a
Thursday, June 15 ; on Friday afternoon the nest was finished,
and on Saturday morning the first egg was laid, though the
interior plastering was not then dry. On the 2ist the hen
began to sit, and on the i7th of July the young birds were
The frame-work, so to speak, of the nest is composed of twigs,
roots, grasses, and moss, the two latter being brought to the
outside. Inside it is lined with a thin plastering of mud, cow-
dung, and rotten wood, which is laid on quite smoothly, almost
like the glaze on earthenware ; nor is there an internal covering
between this and the eggs. The circular form of the nest is as
perfect as a bowl shaped upon a lathe, and often contracts in-
wards at the top. The eggs, which are generally five in
number, are of a bright blue-green, spotted over with brownish-
black, these spots being more numerous at the larger end.
The food of the thrush is mostly of an animal character, as
worms, slugs, and snails; and, by seasides, small molluscs, as
whelks and periwinkles. On all such as are enclosed in shells
he exercises his ingenuity in a remarkable way. We ourselves
lived at one time in an old house standing in an old garden
where were many ancient trees and out-buildings, in the old
ivied roots and walls of which congregated great quantities of
shell-snails. One portion of this garden, which enclosed an old,
22 The Soinw 77irusli.
disused dairy, was a great resort of thrushes, where they had,
so to speak, their stones of sacrifice, around which lay heaps of
the broken shells of snails, their victims. I have repeatedly
watched them at work: hither they brought their snails, and,
taking their stand by the stone with the snail in their beak,
struck it repeatedly against the stone, till, the shell being
smashed, they picked it out as easily as the oyster is taken from
its opened shell. This may seem easy work with the slender-
shelled snail, but the labour is considerably greater with hard
shell-fish. On this subject the intelligent author of British
Birds says, that many years ago, when in the Isle of Harris,
he frequently heard a sharp sound as of one small stone being
struck upon another, the cause of which he, for a considerable
time, sought for in vain. At length, one day, being in search
of birds when the tide was out, he heard the well-known click,
and saw a bird standing between two flat stones, moving its
head and body alternately up and down, each downward motion
being accompanied by the sound which had hitherto been so
mysterious. Running up to the spot, he found a thrush, which,
flying off, left a whelk, newly-broken, lying amongst fragments
of shells lying around the stone.
Thrushes are remarkably clean and neat with regard to their
nests, suffering no litter or impurity to lie about, and in this
way are a great example to many untidy people. Their domestic
character, too, is excellent, the he-bird now and then taking the
place of the hen on the eggs, and, when not doing so, feeding
her as she sits. When the young are hatched, the parents may
be seen, by those who will watch them silently and patiently,
frequently stretching out the wings of the young as if to
IHow a Day was sfcn..
exercise them, and pruning and trimming their feathers. To
put their love of cleanliness to the proof, a gentleman, a great
friend of all birds, had some sticky mud rubbed upon the backs
of two of the young ones whilst the parents were absent. On
their return, either by their own keen sense of propriety, or,
perhaps, the complaint of the young ones, they saw what had
happened, and were not only greatly disconcerted, but very
angry, and instantly set to work to clean the little unfortunates,
which, strange to say, they managed to do by making use of
dry earth, which they brought to the nest for that purpose.
Human intellect could not have -ii j -. t .1 a better mode.
This same gentleman determined to spend a whole day in dis-
covering how the thrushes spent it. Hiding himself, therefore,
in a little hut of fir boughs, he began his observations in the
early morning of the 8th of June. At half-past two o'clock, the
birds began to feed their brood, and in two hours had fed them
thirty-six times. It was now half-past five, the little birds were
all wide awake, and one of them, whilst pruning its feathers, lost
its balance and fell out of the nest to the ground. On this the
old ones set up the most doleful lamentations, and the gentleman,
coming out of his retreat, put the little one back into the nest.
This kind action, however, wholly disconcerted the parents, nor
did they again venture to feed their young till an artifice of the
gentleman led them to suppose that he was gone from their
neighbourhood. No other event happened to them through the
day, and by half-past nine o'clock at night, when all went to
rest, the young ones had been fed two hundred and six times.
Thrushes, however, become occasionally so extremely tame
that the female will remain upon her eggs and feed her young,
Thc Song Thrush.
without any symptom of alarm, in the close neighbourhood of
man. Of this I will give an instance from Bishop Stanley's
" History of Birds"--
"A short time ago, in Scotland, some carpenters working in
a shed adjacent to the house observed a thrush flying in and out,
which induced them to direct their attention to the cause, when,
to their surprise, they found a nest commenced amongst the
teeth of a harrow, which, with other farming tools and imple-
ments, was placed upon the joists of the shed, just over their
heads. The carpenters had arrived soon after six o'clock, and
at seven, when they found the nest, it was in a great state of for-
wardness, and had evidently been the morning's work of a pair
of these indefatigable birds. Their activity throughout the day
was incessant; and, when the workmen came the next morning,
they found the female seated in her half-finished mansion, and,
when she flew off for a short time, it was found that she had laid
an egg. When all was finished, the he-bird took his share of
the labour, and, in thirteen days, the young birds were out of
their shells, the refuse of which the old ones carried away from
the spot. All this seems to have been carefully observed by the
workmen; and it is much to their credit that they were so quiet
and friendly as to win the confidence of the birds."
The song of the thrush is remarkable for its rich, mellow in-
tonation, and for the great variety of its notes.
Unfortunately for the thrush, its exquisite power as a songster
makes it by no means an unusual prisoner. You are often
startled by hearing, from the doleful upper window of some
dreary court or alley of London, or some other large town, an
outpouring of joyous, full-souled melody from an imprisoned
S'ordasowor// s crscs on t/he Ti/hws/. 2 5
thrush, which, perfect as it is, saddensyou, as being so wholly out
of place. Yet who can say how the song of that bird may
speak to the soul of many a town-imprisoned passer-by? Words-
worth thus touchingly describes an incident of this kind:-
At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a thrush that sings loud ; it has sung for three years
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard,
In the silence of morning, the song of the bird.
Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail,
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove's,
The one only dwelling on earth which she loves.
'Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her ? she sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.
She looks, and her heart is in heaven : but they fade-
The mist and the river, the hill, sun, and shade :
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes.
i~ __ '-I
; : y -..' '-. . ' r
THE Blackbird is familiar to us all. It is a thoroughly English
bird, and, with its cousin the thrush, is not only one of the
pleasantest features in our English spring and summer land-
scape, but both figure in our old poetry and ballads, as the
merle and the mavis," the blackbird and the throstle-cock ;"
for those old poets loved the country, and could not speak of
the greenwood without the bird.
When shaws are sheen and fields are fair,
And leaves both large and long,
"Tis merry walk ng in the green forest
To hear the wild birds' song ;
TIre wood merle sings, and will not cease,
Sitting upon a spray;
The merle and the mavis shout their fill,
From morn till the set of day.
The blackbird takes its name from a very intelligible cause-
its perfectly black plumage, which, however, is agreeably re-
lieved by the bright orange of its bill, the orange circles round
its eyes, and its yellow feet; though this is peculiar only to
the male, nor does he assume this distinguishing colour till his
second year. The female is of a dusky-brown colour.
Sometimes the singular variety of a whi/e blackbird occurs,
\~-- ~ -
BLACKBIRD AND NEST. [Page 26.
The A'Nocs of the Bllackbi6d.
which seems to astonish even its fellow birds; the same phe-
nomenon also occurs amongst sparrows; a fatal distinction to
the poor birds, who are in consequence very soon shot.
This bird is one of our finest singers. His notes are solemn
and flowing, unlike those of the thrush, which are short, quick,
and extremely varied. The one bird is more lyrical, the other
sings in a grand epic strain. A friend of ours, deeply versed
in bird-lore, maintains that the blackbird is oratorical, and sings
as if delivering an eloquent rhythmical oration.
This bird begins to sing early in the year, and continues his
song during the whole time that the hen is sitting. Like his
relatives, the thrush and the missel thrush, he takes his post on
the highest branch of a tree, near his nest, so that his song is
heard far and wide; and in fact, through the whole pleasant
spring you hear the voices of these three feathered kings of
English song constantly filling the woods and fields with their
melody. The blackbird sings deliciously in rain, even during a
thunderstorm, with the lightning flashing round him. Indeed,
both he and the thrush seem to take great delight in summer
The blackbird has a peculiar call, to give notice to his brood
of the approach of danger; probably, however, it belongs both
to male and female. Again, there is a third note, very peculiar
also, heard only in the dusk of evening, and which seems pleas-
ingly in harmony with the approaching shadows of night. By
this note they call each other to roost, in the same way as par-
tridges call each other to assemble at night, however far they
may be asunder.
The nest of the blackbird is situated variously; most frequently
28 Th/ Bl/ackbird.
in the thicker parts of hedges; sometimes in the hollow of a
stump or amongst the curled and twisted roots of old trees,
which, projecting from the banks of woods or woodland lanes,
wreathed with their trails of ivy, afford the most picturesque
little hollows for the purpose. Again, it may be found under
the roof of out-houses or cart-sheds, laid on the wall-plate; and
very frequently in copses, in the stumps of pollard trees, partly
concealed by their branches ; and is often begun before the leaves
are on the trees. The nest is composed of dry bents, and lined
with fine dry grass. The hen generally lays five eggs, which
are of a dusky bluish-green, thickly covered with black spots;
altogether very much resembling those of crows, rooks, magpies,
and that class of birds.
Universal favourite as the blackbird deservedly is, yet, in
common with the thrush, all gardeners are their enemies from
the great liking they have for his fruit, especially currants,
raspberries, and cherries. There is, however, something very
amusing, though, at the same time, annoying, in the sly way by
which they approach these fruits, quite aware that they are on a
mischievous errand. They steal along, flying low and silently,
and, if observed, will hide themselves in the nearest growth of
garden plants, scarlet runners, or Jerusalem artichokes, where
they remain as still as mice, till they think the human enemy
has moved off. If, however, instead of letting them skulk
quietly in their hiding-place, he drives them away, they fly off
with a curious note, very like a little chuckling laugh of
defiance, as if they would say, Ha ha we shall soon be back
again !" which they very soon are.
But we must not begrudge them their share, though they
* wav's /l(' O11.2
neither have dug the ground nor sowed the seed, for very dull
and joyless indeed would be the garden and the gardener's toil,
and the whole country in short, if there were no birds-no
blackbirds and thrushes-to gladden our hearts, and make the
gardens, as well as the woods and fields, joyous with their
melody. Like all good singers, these birds expect, and deserve,
The blackbird, though naturally unsocial and keeping much
to itself, is very bold in defence of its young, should they be in
danger, or attacked by any of the numerous bird-enemies, which
abound everywhere, especially to those which are in immediate
association with man. The Rev. J. G. Wood tells us, for in-
stance, that on one occasion a prowling cat was forced to make
an ignominious retreat before the united onset of a pair of
blackbirds, on whose young she was about to make an attack.
Let me now, in conclusion, give a day with a family of black-
birds, which I somewhat curtail from Macgillivray.
On Saturday morning, June ioth, I went into a little hut
made of green branches, at half-past two in the morning, to see
how the blackbirds spend the day at home. They lived close
by, in a hole in an old wall, which one or other of them had oc-
cupied for a number of years.
"At a quarter-past three they began to feed their young,
which were four in number. She was the most industrious in
doing so; and when he was not feeding, he was singing most
deliciously. Towards seven o'clock the father-bird induced one
of the young ones to fly out after him. But this was a little
mistake, and, the bird falling, I was obliged to help it into its
nest again, which made a little family commotion. They were
exceedingly tidy about their nest, and when a little rubbish fell
out they instantly carried it away. At ten o'clock the feeding
began again vigorously, and continued till two, both parent-
birds supplying their young almost equally.
"The hut in which I sat was very closely covered; but a
little wren having alighted on the ground in pursuit of a fly, and
seeing one of my legs moving, set up a cry of alarm, on which,
in the course of a few seconds, all the birds in the neighbour-
hood collected to know what was the matter. The blackbird
hopped round the hut again and again, making every effort to
peep in, even alighting on the top within a few inches of my
head, but not being able to make any discovery, the tumult
subsided. It was probably considered a false alarm, and the
blackbirds went on feeding their young till almost four o'clock:
and now came the great event of the day.
At about half-past three the mother brought a large worm,
four inches in length probably, which she gave to one of the
young ones, and flew away. Shortly afterwards returning, she
had the horror of perceiving that the worm, instead of being
swallowed was sticking in its throat; on this she uttered a per-
fect moan of distress, which immediately brought the he-bird,
who also saw at a glance what a terrible catastrophe was to be
feared.- Both parents made several efforts to push the worm
down the throat, but to no purpose, when, strange to say, the
father discovered the cause of the accident. The outer end of
the worm had got entangled in the feathers of the breast, and,
being held fast, could not be swallowed. He carefully dis-
engaged it, and, holding it up with his teak, the poor little
thing, with a great effort, managed to get it down, but was by
.L ,,ilivray's Day wilth this Bird.
this time so exhausted that it lay with its eyes shut and without
moving for the next three hours. The male-bird in the mean-
time took his stand upon a tree, a few yards from the nest, and
poured forth some of his most enchanting notes-a song of re-
joicing no doubt for the narrow escape from death of one of his
From four till seven o'clock both birds again fed their
young, after which the male bird left these family duties to his
mate, and gave himself up to incessant singing. At twenty
minutes to nine their labours ceased, they having then fed their
young one hundred and thirteen times during the day.
"I observed that before feeding their young they always
alighted upon a tree and looked round them for a few seconds.
Sometimes they brought in a quantity of worms and fed their
brood alternately; at other times they brought one which they
gave to only one of them.
The young birds often trimmed their feathers, and stretched
out their wings; they also appeared to sleep now and then.
With the note of alarm which the feathered tribes set up on
the discovery of their enemies all the different species of the
little birds seem to -be intimately acquainted; for no sooner did
a beast or bird of prey make its appearance, than they seemed
to be anxiously concerned about the safety of their families.
They would hop from tree to tree uttering their doleful lamen-
tations. At one time the blackbirds were in an unusual state of
excitement and terror, and were attended by crowds of their
woodland friends. A man and boy, who were working in my
garden, having heard the noise, ran to see what was the cause
of it, and on looking into some branches which were lying on
32 The Blac/,bird.
the ground, observed a large weasel stealing slyly along in pur-
suit of its prey. It was, however, driven effectually from the
place without doing any harm. It is astonishing how soon the
young know this intimation of danger; for I observed that no
sooner did the old ones utter the alarm-cry, than they cowered
in their nest, and appeared to be in a state of great uneasiness."
THE DIPPER, OR WATER-OUSEL.
THE Dipper, or Water-ousel, of which Mr. Weir has given us a
charming and faithful portrait, is very like a wren in form and
action, with its round body and lively little tail. Its mode of
flight, however, so nearly resembles the king-fisher that, in
some places, the country people mistake it for the female of that
bird. But it is neither wren nor kingfisher, nor yet related to
either of them. It is the nice little water-ousel, with ways of
its own, and a cheerful life of its own, and the power of giving
pleasure to all lovers of the free country which is enriched with
an infinite variety of happy, innocent creatures.
The upper part of the head and neck, and the whole back and
'wings of this bird, are of a rusty-brown ; but, as each individual
feather is edged with gray, there is no deadness of colouring.
The throat and breast are snowy white, which, contrasting so
strongly with the rest of the body, makes it seem to flash about
like a point of light through the dark shadows of the scenes it
loves to haunt.
I said above that this bird gave pleasure to all lovers of
nature. So it does, for it is only met with in scenes which are
especially beloved by poets and painters. Like them, it delights
in mountain regions, where rocky streams rush along with an
unceasing murmur, leaping over huge stones, slumbering in
The Dipper, or Water-oused.
deep, shadowy pools, or lying low between rocky walls, in the
moist crevices and on the edges of which the wild rose flings
out its pale green branches, gemmed with flowers, or the hardy
polypody nods, like a feathery plume. On these streams, with-
their foamy waters and graceful vegetation, you may look for
the cheerful little water-ousel. He is perfectly in character
with the scenes.
And now, supposing that you are happily located for a few
weeks in summer, either in Scotland or Wales, let me repeat my
constant advice as regards the study and truest enjoyment of
country life and things. Go out for several hours; do not be
in a hurry; take your book, or your sketching, or whatever your
favourite occupation may be, if it be only a quiet one, and seat
yourself by some rocky stream amongst the mountains; choose
the pleasantest place you know, where the sun can reach you, if
you need his warmth, and if you do not, where you can yet
witness the beautiful effects of light and shade. There seat
yourself quite at your ease, silent and still as though you were a
piece of rock itself, half screened by that lovely wild rose bush,
or tangle of bramble, and before long you will most likely see
this merry, lively little dipper come with his quick, jerking
flight, now alighting on this stone, now on that, peeping here,
and peeping there, as quick as light, and snapping up, now a
water-beetle, now a tiny fish, and now diving down into the
stream for a worm that he espies below, or walking into the
shallows, and there flapping his wings, more for the sheer
delight of doing so than for anything else. Now he is off and
away, and, in a moment or two, he is on yonder gray mass of
stone, which rises up in that dark chasm of waters like a rock in
- -~- _~~--~i
DIPPERS AND NEST
,-, .... "
- ,a 2 -
tl:'7 f I
.:.. ..;,. "-Ig,]
The Home of lhe Dizper. -
a stormy sea, with the rush and roar of the water full above him.
Yet there he is quite at home, flirting his little tail like a jenny
wren, and hopping about on his rocky point, as if he could not
for the life of him be still for a moment. Now listen That is
his song, and a merry little song it is, just such a one as you
would fancy coming out of his jocund little heart; and, see now,
he begins his antics. He must be a queer little soul If we
could be little dippers like him, and understand what his song
and all his grimaces are about, we should not so often find the
time tedious for want of something to do.
We may be. sure he is happy, and that he has, in the round of
his small experience, all that his heart desires. He has this
lonely mountain stream to hunt in, these leaping, chattering,
laughing waters to bear him company, all these fantastically
heaped-up stones, brought hither by furious winter torrents of
long ago-that dashing, ever roaring, ever foaming waterfall,
in the spray of which the summer sunshine weaves rainbows.
All these wild roses and honeysuckles, all this maiden hair, and
this broad polypody, which grows golden in autumn, make up
his little kingdom, in the very heart of which, under a ledge of
rock, and within sound, almost within the spray of the waterfall,
is built the curious little nest, verylike that of a wren, in which sits
the hen-bird, the little wife of the dipper, brooding with most
unwearied love on four or five white eggs, lightly touched with
This nest is extremely soft and elastic, sometimes of large
size, the reason for which one cannot understand. It is generally
near to the water, and, being kept damp by its situation, is
always so fresh, looking so like the mass of its immediate sur-
roundings as scarcely to be discoverable by the quickest eye.
When the young are hatched they soon go abroad with the
parents, and then, instead of the one solitary bird, you may see
them in little parties of from five to seven going on in the same
sort of way, only all the merrier because there are more of
. . .
1_1 ____ __________I_ __
PHILOMELA, or the Nightingale, is the head of the somewhat
large bird-family of Warblers, and is the most renowned of all
feathered sGngsters, though some judges think the garden-
ousel exceeds it in mellowness, and the thrush in compass of
voice, but that, in every other respect, it excels them all. For
my part, however, I think no singing-bird is equal to it; and
listening to it when in full song, in the stillness of a summer's
night, am ready to say with good old Izaak Walton :-
"The nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes
such sweet music out of her little instrumental throat, that it
might make mankind to think that miracles had not ceased.
He that at midnight, when the weary labourer sleeps securely,
should hear, as I have very often heard, the clear airs, the
sweet descants, the natural rising and falling, the doubling and
redoubling of her voice, might well be lifted above earth and
say, 'Lord, what music hast Thou provided for the saints in
heaven, when Thou affordest bad men such music on earth !' "
In colour, the upper parts of the nightingale are of a rich
brown; the tail of a reddish tint; the throat and underparts of
the body, greyish-white; the neck and breast, grey; the bill and
legs, light brown. Its size is about that of the garden warblers,
38 The ,O:'!.gale.
which it resembles in form-being, in fact, one of that family.
Thus, the most admired of all singers-the subject of poets'
songs and eulogies, the bird that people walk far and wide to
listen to, of which they talk for weeks before it comes, noting
down the day of its arrival as if it were the Queen or the Queen's
son-is yet nothing but a little insignificant brown bird, not to
be named with the parrot for plumage, nor with our little gold-
finch, who always looks as if he had his Sunday suit on. But
this is a good lesson for us. The little brown nightingale, with
his little brown wife in the thickety copse, with their simple un-
pretending nest, not built up aloft on the tree branch, but
humbly at the tree's root, or even on the very ground itself,
may teach us that the world's external show or costliness is
not true greatness. The world's best bird-singer might have
been as big as an eagle, attired in colours of blue and scarlet
and orange like the grandest macaw. But the great Creator
willed that it should not be so-his strength, and his furious-
ness, and his cruel capacity were sufficient for the eagle; and his
shining vestments for the macaw; whilst the bird to which was
given the divinest gift of song must be humble and unobtrusive,
small of size, with no surpassing beauty of plumage, and loving
best to hide itself in the thick seclusion of the copse in which
broods the little mother-bird, the very counterpart of himself,
upon her olive-coloured eggs.
Mr. Harrison Weir has given us a sweet little picture of the
nightingale at home. Somewhere, not far off, runs the high-
road, or it may be a. pleasant woodland lane leading from one
village to another, and probably known as Nightingale-lane,"
and traversed night after night by rich and poor, learned and
The Philomela of Surrey.
unlearned, to listen to the bird. In our own neighbourhood we
have a Nightingale-lane," with its thickety copses on either
hand, its young oaks and Spanish chestnuts shooting upwards,
and tangles of wild roses and thick masses of brambles throwing
their long sprays over old, mossy, and ivied stumps of trees, cut
or blown down in the last generation-little pools and water
courses here and there, with their many-coloured mosses and
springing rushes--a very paradise for birds. This is in Surrey,
and Surrey nightingales, it is said, are the finest that sing.
With this comes the saddest part of the story. Bird-catchers
follow the nightingale, and, once in his hands, farewell to the
pleasant cdpse with the young oaks and Spanish chestnuts, the
wild rose tangles, the little bosky hollow at the old tree root, in
one of which the little nest is built and the little wife broods on
Generally, however, the unhappy bird, if he be caught, is
taken soon after his arrival in this country; for nightingales are
migratory, and arrive with us about the middle of April. The
male bird comes about a fortnight before the female, and begins
to sing in his loneliness a song of salutation-a sweet song,
which expresses, with a tender yearning, his desire for her com-
panionship. Birds taken at this time, before the mate has arrived,
and whilst he is only singing to call and welcome her, are said
still to sing on through the summer in the hope, long-deferred,
that she may yet come. He will not give her up though he is
no longer in the freedom of the wood, so he sings and sings,
and if he live over the winter, he will sing the same song the fol-
lowing spring, for the want is again in his heart. He cannot
believe but that she will still come. The cruel bird-catchers,
40 The A'.'//..' ..-.
therefore, try all their arts to take him in this early stage of his
visit to us. Should he be taken later, when he is mated, and, as
we see him in our picture, with all the wealth of his little life
around him, he cannot sing long. How should he-in a narrow
cage and dingy street of London or some other great town-
perhaps with his eyes put out-for his cruel captor fancies he
sings best if blind ? He may sing, perhaps, for a while, think-
ing that he can wake himself out of this dreadful dream of
captivity, darkness, and solitude. But it is no dream; the ter-
rible reality at length comes upon him, and before the summer
is over he dies of a broken heart.
It is a curious fact that the nightingale confines itself, without
apparent reason, to certain countries and to certain parts of
England. For instance, though it visits Sweden, and even the
temperate parts of Russia, it is not met with in Scotland, North
Wales, nor Ireland, neither is it found in any of our northern
counties excepting Yorkshire, and there only in the neighbour-
hood of Doncaster. Neither is it known in the south-western
counties, as Cornwall and Devonshire. It is supposed to mi-
grate during the winter into Egypt and Syria. It has been
seen amongst the willows of Jordan and the olive trees of Judea,
but we have not, to our knowledge, any direct mention of it in
the Scriptures, though Solomon no doubt had it in his thoughts,
in his sweet description of the spring-" Lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the
turtle is heard in our land." A recent traveller in Syria tells
me that she heard nightingales singing at four o'clock one
morning in April of last year in the lofty regions of the Lebanon.
NIGHTINGALES AND NEST.
Sir 7o/hn Sinclair's Attempt.
There have been various attempts to introduce the nightingale
into such parts of this country as it has not yet frequented; for
instance, a gentleman of Gower, a sea-side district of Glamor-
ganshire, the climate of which is remarkably mild, procured a
number of young birds from Norfolk and Surrey, hoping that
they would find themselves so much at home in the beautiful
woods there as to return the following year. But none came.
Again, as regards Scotland, Sir John Sinclair purchased a large
number of nightingales' eggs, at a shilling each, and employed
several men to place them carefully in robins' nests to be
hatched. So far all succeeded well. The foster-mothers reared
the nightingales, which, when full fledged, flew about as if
quite at home. But when September came, the usual month
for the migration of the nightingale, the mysterious impulse
awoke in the hearts of the young strangers, and, obeying it,
they suddenly disappeared and never after returned.
Mr. Harrison Weir has given us a very accurate drawing of
the nightingale's nest, which is slight and somewhat fragile in
construction, made of withered leaves-mostly of oak-and
lined with dry grass. The author of British Birds describes
one in his possession as composed of slips of the inner bark of
willow, mixed with the leaves of the lime and the elm, lined
with fibrous roots, grass, and a few hairs; but whatever the
materials used may be, the effect produced is exactly the same.
In concluding our little chapter on this bird, I would mention
that in the Turkish cemetries, which, from the old custom of
planting a cypress at the head and foot of every grave, have
now become cypress woods, nightingales abound, it having
been also an old custom of love to keep these birds on every grave.
THE Skylark, that beautiful singer, which carries its joy up to
the very gates of heaven, as it were, has inspired more poets to
sing about it than any other bird living.
Wordsworth says, as in an ecstasy of delight:-
Up with me up with me into the clouds !
For thy song, lark, is strong;
Up with me up with me into the clouds !
With clouds and sky about me ringing,
Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot that seems so to my mind.
Shelley, in an ode which expresses the bird's ecstasy of
song, also thus addresses it, in a strain of sadness peculiar to
Hail to thee, blithe spirit !
Bird, thou never wert--
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art !
Higher, still, and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire ;
The deep blue thou wingest,
And singing still doth soar, and soaring ever singest !
Thy skill to po
ies Hogg s Verscs.
,zS S ISS
n all measures
n all treasures
books are found,
et were, thou scorner of the ground.
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips should flow ;
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd, who had listened to the
bird with delight on the Scottish hills, thus sings of it:-
Bird of the wilderness,
Blithesome and cumberless,
Sweet is thy matin o'er moorland and lea !
Emblem of happiness,
Blest is thy dwelling-place-
Oh, to abide in the desert with thee !
Wild is thy lay, and loud;
Far in the downy cloud
Love gives it energy, love gave it birth.
Where on thy dewy wing,
Where art thou journeying ?
Thy lay is in heaven, thy love is on earth.
O'er fell and fountain sheen,
O'er moor and mountain green,
O'er the red streamer that heralds the day ;
Over the cloudlet dim,
Over the rainbow's rim,
Musical cherub, soar, singing away !
Then when the gloaming comes,
Low in the heather blooms,
Sweet will thy welcome and bed of love be !
Emblem of happiness,
Blest is thy dwelling-place-
Oh, to abide in the desert with thee !
But we must not forget the earthly life of the bird in all these
sweet songs about him.
The plumage of the skylark is brown, in various shades; the
fore-part of the neck, reddish-white, spotted with brown; the
breast and under part of the body, yellowish-white. Its feet
are peculiar, being furnished with an extraordinarily long hind
claw, the purpose of which has puzzled many naturalists. But
whatever nature intended it for, the bird has been known to
make use of it for a purpose which cannot fail to interest us
and call forth our admiration. This shall be presently ex-
plained. The nest is built on the ground, either between two
clods of earth, in the deep foot-print of cattle, or some other
small hollow suitable for the purpose, and is composed of dry
grass, hair, and leaves; the hair is mostly used for the lining.
Here the mother-bird lays four or five ;- of pale sepia colour,
with spots and markings of darker hue. She has generally two
broods in the year, and commences sitting in May. The he-
lark begins to sing early in the spring. Bewick says, He
rises from the neighbourhood of the nest almost perpendicu-
larly in the air, by successive springs, and hovers at a vast
height. His descent, on the contrary, is in an oblique direction,
unless he is threatened by birds of prey, or attracted by his
mate, and on these occasions he drops like a stone."
With regard to his ascent, I must, however, add that it is in
a spiral direction, and that what Bewick represents as springs
are his sudden spiral flights after pausing to sing. Another
peculiarity must be mentioned: all his bones are hollow, and
he can inflate them with air from his lungs, so that he becomes,
as it were, a little balloon, which accounts for the buoyancy
yr 4 a
, \ /' I
\ i\. Ii
\ \' \j I,
SKYLARKS AND NEST.
Its Solicitu'lde or ils Young .
with which he ascends, and the length of time he can support
himself in the air: often for an hour at a time. Still more ex-
traordinary is the wonderful power and reach of his voice, for
while, probably, the seven hundred or a thousand voices of the
grand chorus of an oratorio would fail to fill the vast spaces of
the atmosphere, it can be done by this glorious little songster,
which, mounting upwards, makes itself heard, without effort,
when it can be seen no longer.
The attachment of the parents to their young is very great,
and has been seen to exhibit itself in a remarkable manner.
The nest being placed on the open-ground-often pasture,
or in a field of mowing grass-it is very liable to be disturbed;
many, therefore, are the instances of the bird's tender solicitude
either for the young or for its eggs, one of which I will give
from Mr. Jesse. "In case of alarm," he says, either by
cattle grazing near the nest, or by the approach of the mower,
the parent birds remove their eggs, by means of their long
claws, to a place of greater security, and this I have observed
to be affected in a very short space of time." He says that
when one of his mowers first told him of this fact he could
scarcely believe it, but that he afterwards saw it himself, and
that he regarded it only as another proof of the affection which
these birds show their offspring. Instances are also on record
of larks removing their young by carrying them on their backs:
in one case the young were thus removed from a place of
danger into a field of standing corn. But however successful the
poor birds may be in removing their c .- they are not always so
with regard to their young, as Mr. Yarrell relates. An instance
came under his notice, in which the little fledgling proved too
heavy for the parent to carry, and, being dropped from an
height of about thirty feet, was killed in the fall.
Of all captive birds, none grieves me more than the skylark.
Its impulse is to soar, which is impossible in the narrow spaces
of a cage; and in this unhappy condition, when seized by the
impulse of song, he flings himself upwards, and is dashed down
again by its cruel barriers. For this reason the top of the
lark's cage is always bedded with green baize to prevent his
injuring himself. In the freedom of nature he is the joyous
minstrel of liberty and love, carrying upwards, and sending
down from above, his buoyant song, which seems to fall down
through the golden sunshine like a flood of sparkling melody.
I am not aware of the height to which the lark soars, but it
must be very great, as he becomes diminished to a mere speck,
almost invisible in the blaze of light. Yet, high as he may
soar, he never loses the consciousness of the little mate and
the nestlings below: but their first cry of danger or anxiety,
though the cry may be scarce audible to the human ear, thrills
up aloft to the singer, and he comes down with a direct arrow-
like flight, whilst otherwise his descent is more leisurely, and
said by some to be in the direct spiral line of his ascent.
Larks, unfortunately for themselves, are considered very fine
eating. Immense numbers of them are killed for the table, not
only on the continent, but in England. People cry shame on
the Roman epicure, Lucullus, dining on a stew of nightingales'
tongue, nearly two thousand years ago, and no more can I re-
concile to myself the daily feasting on these lovely little
songsters, which may be delicate eating, but are no less God's
gifts to gladden and beautify the earth.
LINNETS are a branch of a larger family of finches, all very
familiar to us. They are cousins, also, to the dear, impudent
sparrows, and the pretty siskin or aberdevines.
The linnets are all compactly and stoutly built, with short
necks and good sized heads, with short, strong, pointed bills,
made for the ready picking up of seed and grain, on which they
live. Most of them have two broods in the season, and they
build a bulky, deep, and compact nest, just in accordance with
their character and figure; but, though all linnet-nests have
a general resemblance of form, they vary more or less in
the material used.
Linnets change their plumage once a year, and have a much
more spruce and brilliant appearance when they have their new
summer suits on. They are numerous in all parts of the
country, and, excepting in the season when they have young,
congregate in flocks, and in winter are attracted to the neigh-
bourhood of man, finding much of their food in farm-yards,
and amongst stacks.
The linnet of our picture is the greater red-pole-one of
four brothers of the linnet family-and is the largest of the
four; the others are the twit or mountain-linnet, the mealy-
linnet, and the lesser red-pole-the smallest of the four-all
48 77Te Linncf.
very much alike, and easily mistaken for each other. The
name red-pole is given from the bright crimson spot on their
heads-- o/c or poll being the old Saxon word for head. The
back of our linnet's head and the sides of his neck are of dingy
ash-colour, his back of a warm brown tint, his wings black, his
throat of a dull white, spotted with brown, his breast a brilliant
red, and the under part of his body a dingy white.
The linnet, amongst singing birds, is what a song writer is
amongst poets. He is not a grand singer, like the blackbird
or the thrush, the missel-thrush or the wood-lark, all of which
seem to have an epic story in their songs, nor, of course, like
the skylark, singing up to the gates of heaven, or the nightin-
gale, that chief psalmist of all bird singers. But, though much
humbler than any of these, he is a sweet and pleasant melodist;
a singer of charming little songs, full of the delight of summer,
the freshness of open heaths, with their fragrant gorse, or of
the Scottish brae, with its bonnie broom," also in golden
blossom. His are unpretending little songs of intense enjoy-
ment, simple thanksgivings for the pleasures of life, for the
little brown hen-bird, who has not a bit of scarlet in her plum-
age, and who sits in her snug nest on her fine little white eggs,
with their circle of freckles and brown spots at the thicker end,
always alike, a sweet, patient mother, waiting for the time when
the young ones will come into life from that delicate shell-
covering, blind at first, though slightly clothed in greyish-
brown-five little linnets gaping for food.
The linnet mostly builds its nest in low bushes, the furze
being its favourite resort; it is constructed outside of dry grass,
roots, and moss, and lined with hair and wool. We have it
LINNETS AND NEST.
Bis/io Htiut/cy's A necdote.
here in our picture ; for our friend, Mr. Harrison Weir, always
faithful in his transcripts of nature, has an eye, also, for beauty.
Round the nest, as you see, blossoms the yellow furze, and
round it too rises a ch/evautx ae f'rise of furze spines, green and
tender to look at, but sharp as needles. Yes, here on this furzy
common, and on hundreds of others all over this happy land,
and on hill sides, with the snowy hawthorn and the pink-blos-
somed crab-tree above them, and, below, the mossy banks
gemmed with pale-yellow primroses, are thousands of linnet
nests and father-linnets, singing for very joy of life and spring,
and for the summer which is before them. And as they sing,
the man ploughing in the fields hard-by, and the little lad lead-
ing the horses, hear the song, and though he may say nothing
about it, the man thinks, and wonders that the birds sing just
as sweetly now as when he was young; and the lad thinks how
pleasant it is, forgetting the while that he is tired, and, whist-
ling something like a linnet-tune, impresses it on his memory,
to be recalled with a tender sentiment years hence when he is a
man, toiling perhaps in Australia or Canada; or, it may be, to
speak to him like a guardian angel in some time of trial or
temptation, and bring him back to the innocence of boyhood
and to his God.
Our picture shows us the fledgeling brood of the linnet, and
the parent-bird feeding them. The attachment of this bird to
its young is very great. Bishop Huntley, in his History of
Birds," gives us the following anecdote in proof of it:-
"A linnet's nest, containing four young ones,' was found by
some children, and carried home with the intention of rearing
and taming them. The old ones, attracted by their chirping,
50 77e Linnet.
fluttered round the children till they reached home, when the
nest was carried up stairs and placed in the nursery-window.
The old birds soon approached the nest and fed the young.
This being observed, the nest was afterwards placed on a table
in the middle of the room, the window being left open, when
the parents came in and fed their young as before. Still farther
to try their attachment, the nest was then placed in a cage, but
still the old birds returned with food, and towards evening
actually perched on the cage, regardless of the noise made by
several children. So it went on for several days, when, unfor-
tunately, the cage, having been set outside the window, was
exposed to a violent shower of rain, and the little brood was
drowned in the nest. The poor parent-birds continued hover-
ing round the house, and looking wistfully in at the window for
several days, and then disappeared altogether."
THE Peewit, lapwing, or plover, belongs to the naturalist
family of Gallatorcs or Waders, all of which are furnished with
strong legs and feet for walking, whilst all which inhabit watery
places, or feed their young amongst the waves, have legs
sufficiently long to enable them to wade; whence comes the
The peewit, or lapwing, is a very interesting bird, from its
peculiar character and habits. Its plumage is handsome; the
upper part of the body of a rich green, with metallic reflections;
the sides of the neck and base of the tail of a pure white; the
tail is black; so is the top of the head, which is furnished with
a long, painted crest, lying backwards, but which can be raised
at pleasure. In length the bird is about a foot.
The peewit lives in all parts of this country, and furnishes
one of the pleasantly peculiar features of open sea-shores and
wide moorland wastes, in the solitudes of which, its incessant,
plaintive cry has an especially befitting sound, like the very
spirit of the scene, moaning in unison with the waves, and
wailing over the wide melancholy of the waste. Nevertheless, the
peewit is not in itself mournful, for it is a particularly lively and
active bird, sporting and frolicking in the air with its fellows,
now whirling round and round, and now ascending to a great
52 The Pewiit.
height on untiring wing; then down again, running along the
ground, and leaping about from spot to spot as if for very
It is, however, with all its agility, a very untidy nest-maker;
in fact it makes no better nest than a few dry bents scraped
together in a shallow hole, like a rude saucer or dish, in which
she can lay her eggs-always four in number. But though
taking so little trouble about her nest, she is always careful to
lay the narrow ends of her eggs in the centre, as is shown in
the picture, though as yet there are but three. A fourth, how-
ever, will soon come to complete the cross-like figure, after
which she will begin to sit.
These -.. under the name of plovers' eggs, are in great
request as luxuries for the breakfast-table, and it may be
thought that laid thus openly on the bare earth they are very
easily found. It is not so, however, for they look so much like
the ground itself, so like little bits of moorland earth or old
sea-side stone, that it is difficult to distinguish them. But in
proportion as the bird makes so insufficient and unguarded a
nest, so all the greater is the anxiety, both of herself and her
mate, about the eggs. Hence, whilst she is sitting, he exer-
cises all kinds of little arts to entice away every intruder from
the nest, wheeling round and round in the air near him, so as
to fix his attention, screaming mournfully his incessant cce-.,it
till he has drawn him ever further and further from the point of
his anxiety and love.
The little quartette brood, which are covered with down
when hatched, begin to run almost as soon as they leave the
shell, and then the poor mother-bird has to exercise all her little
PEEWITS AND NEST
-- ------ iiS
Sfrafag(,cms of le /Bird.
arts also-and indeed the care and solicitude of both parents
is wonderful. Suppose, now, the little helpless group is out
running here and there as merry as life can make them, and a
man, a boy, or a dog, or perhaps all three, are seen approach-
ing. At once the little birds squat close to the earth, so that
they become almost invisible, and the parent-birds are on the
alert, whirling round and round the disturber, angry and
troubled, wailing and crying their doleful pcc-wiit cry, drawing
them ever further and further away from the brood. Should,
however, the artifice not succeed, and the terrible intruder still
obstinately advance in the direction of the young, they try a
new artifice; drop to the ground, and, running along in the
opposite course, pretend lameness, tumbling feebly along in the
most artful manner, thus apparently offering the easiest and
most tempting prey, till, having safely lured away the enemy,
they rise at once into the air, screaming again their pcc-wi!, but
now as if laughing over their accomplished scheme.
The young, which are hatched in April, are in full plumage
by the end of July, when the birds assemble in flocks, and,
leaving the sea-shore, or the marshy moorland, betake them-
selves to downs and sheep-walks, where they soon become fat,
and are said to. be excellent eating. 'Happily, however, for
them, they are not in as much request for the table as they were
in former times. Thus we find in an ancient book of house-
keeping expenses, called The Northumberland Household-
book," that they are entered under the name of 'Wypcs, and
charged one penny each; and that they were then considered a
first-rate dish is proved by their being entered as forming a
part of his lordship's own mess," or portion of food; mess
being so used in those days-about the time, probably, when
the Bible was translated into English. Thus we find in the
beautiful history of Joseph and his brethren, He sent messes
to them, but Benjamin's mess was five times as much as any of
Here I would remark, on the old name of [fifcs for this bird,
that country-people in the midland counties still call them pic-
But now again to our birds. The peewit, like the gull, may
easily be tamed to live in gardens, where it is not only useful
by ridding them of worms, slugs, and other troublesome crea-
tures, but is very amusing, from its quaint, odd ways. Bewick
tells us of one so kept by the Rev. J. Carlisle, Vicar of New-
castle, which I am sure will interest my readers.
He says two of these birds were given to Mr. Carlisle, and
placed in his garden, where one soon died; the other continued
to pick up such food as the place afforded, till winter deprived
it of its usual supply. Necessity then compelled it to come
nearer the house, by which it gradually became accustomed to
what went forward, as well as to the various members of the
family. At length a servant, when she had occasion to go into
the back-kitchen with a light, observed that the lapwing always
uttered his cry of fcc-w i to gain admittance. He soon grew
familiar; as the winter advanced, he approached as far as the
kitchen, but with much caution, as that part of the house was
generally inhabited by a dog and a cat, whose friendship the
lapwing at length gained so entirely, that it was his regular
custom to resort to the fireside as soon as it grew dark, and
spend the evening and night with his two associates, sitting
A TTincr T isilo'. 5
close to them, and partaking of the comforts of a warm fireside.
As soon as spring appeared he betook himself to the garden, but
again, at the approach of winter, had recourse to his old shelter
and his old friends, who received him very cordially. But his
being favoured by them did not prevent his taking great liber-
ties with them ; he would frequently amuse himself with wash-
ing in the bowl which was set for the dog to drink out of, and
whilst he was thus employed he showed marks of the greatest
indignation if either of his companions presumed to interrupt
him. He died, poor fellow, in the asylum he had chosen, by
being choked with something which he had picked up from
the floor. During his confinement he acquired an artificial
taste as regarded his food, and preferred crumbs of bread to
THE IIOUSE-MARTIN, OR VINDOV-SWALLOW.
DURING our winter, swallows inhabit warm tropical countries,
migrating northwards with the first approaches of summer.
They are usually seen with us from the 13th to the 2oth of April,
and are useful from the first day of their arrival, by clearing
the air of insects, which they take on the wing ; indeed, they
may be said to live almost wholly on the wing, and, except when
collecting mud for their nests, are seldom seen to alight, and, in
drinking, dip down to the water as they skim over it on rapid
We have three kinds of swallows in England: the chimney-
swallow, the house-martin, and the sand-martin, of which I
shall have something to say in due course. The chimney swal-
low and house-martin are especially worthy of the affectionate
regard of man; for they love his society, build around his
dwelling, destroy nothing that he values, have no appetite for
his fruits; they live harmoniously amongst themselves, and have
no other disposition than that of cheerfulness, unwearying in-
dustry and perseverance, and the most devoted parental
Mr. Weir has given us a lively picture of swallow-life-four
nests grouped together on a house-side; more there probably
are; but there are as many as we can manage with; indeed we
The Ncsts on Traquaizr House.
will presently confine our attention to one single nest, and, by so
doing, I flatter myself that I shall win your admiration for these
birds, and that you will agree with me in thinking that if we all,
men and women, boys and girls, had only their persevering spirit,
and their courage under adversity, there would not be so much
unsuccess, either at school or in life, as is now, too often, the case.
Some people are very fond of having martins about their
houses, under their eaves, and even in the corners of their
windows. The Earl of Traquair was one of these; he was,
indeed, a great lover of all kinds of birds, and all were pro-
tected on his premises. In the autumn of 1839, there were no
less than one hundred and three martins' nests on Traquair
House-which is a very fine old place-besides several which had
been deserted, injured, or taken possession of by sparrows,
which is a very unwarrantable liberty taken by these birds.
From six to twenty days are required to build a martin's nest.
If all goes on well it may be finished in the shorter time.
Let us now see how the birds set about building. Here are
several nests in our picture; and turning to the pages of Macgil-
livray's "British Birds," I shall find exactly the information
we need. I will, therefore, extract freely from this interesting
writer, that my young readers may be as grateful to him as I
Again turning to our picture, we find four nests. A party of
eight martins arrived here on the Ist of May. As this was
quite a new location, they spent the whole day in examining the
eaves of the house, the corners of the windows, and the out-
buildings. By the following morning the question was settled,
and they had, as you see, fixed upon a high wall with a slate
Shle House-martin, or iWindow-swallow.
coping, and an eastern aspect, and at once commenced making
a general foundation for their nests. Suitable materials are
procured from the banks of an adjoining pond, or a puddle in
the lane. Let us go down and see them. Here they come,
sailing placidly over the tree-tops; now they descend so as
almost to sweep the surface of the pond; some of them alight
at once, others skim round, as if borne away by a brisk wind.
Those that have alighted walk about with short steps, looking
round for materials. Some seem not to find the mud suitable,
but seize on a piece of straw, or grass, which, tempering in the
mud, they then fly off with. Returning now to the building, we
see one using its tail planted against the wall, or against the
nest, if sufficiently advanced, as a support, deposit the material
it has. brought by giving its head a wriggling motion, so that
the mud slides gently into the crevices of yesterday's work; then
he retouches the whole. See, one has now arrived with his
supply before the other has finished: he is impatient to disbur-
den himself, and wants to drive off the worker, who rather
snappishly retorts, and he, poor fellow, goes off for a while with
the mud sticking to his bill. Now she has finished; there is
room for him, and he goes back again and works hard in his
turn. They never alight o the nest without twittering. At
noon, if the weather be hot, they betake themselves to the fields,
or, after a dip in the pond, sun themselves on the house-top for
half an hour or so. Then they will hawk about for food, and
after awhile one of them may, perhaps, return and give another
touch or two to the work, or seat herself in the nest to consoli-
date the materials. But if cold, wet, or windy, they keep away.
What they do with themselves I know not; but as soon as it clears
Thec Domeslic Le of a Pair. 59
up, they are at work again. At the beginning of their building,
they seem to have no objection to leave it for a whole day; but
as it advances, they become more interested or anxious, and one
or both will sit in it all night, even though the weather be bad."
So much for the building of these four nests of our picture;
and now I will bespeak your attention to a little narrative of the
joys and sorrows of the domestic life of a pair of martins, which,
we will suppose, belong also to our group.
The building began on the Ist of May, at daybreak. But
the weather was very much against them, being cold and
stormy, and it was the I8th of the month before it was finished.
"Seeing their labours thus brought to a close, one could not
help wishing, considering how much it had cost, that the nest
might last them for many years. But on the 23rd of June,
during a heavy fall of thunder rain, almost the entire nest was
washed to the ground, together with the young birds which it
contained. A short time before the catastrophe, the old birds
were observed hovering about, and expressing great uneasiness.
Almost immediately after it happened they left the place, but
returned the following day, and spent it in flying about and
examining the angle of the wall.
Next morning they commenced repairing the nest. In three
days they had made great progress; but again rain fell, and
their work was stayed. On the 3oth, they advanced rapidly,
and both remained sitting on the nest all night. The next day
it was finished; and now they began to rejoice: they twittered
all the evening till it was dark, now and then pruning each
other's heads, as, seated side by side, they prepared to spend
the dark hours in the nest. Eggs were soon laid again, but,
Tlhc Housc- martin, or TVindozu-swallozu.
sad to say, on the morning of the i8th of July, again, during a
great storm of wind and rain, the upper wall fell, carrying with
it one of the e s. The old birds again fluttered about,
uttering the most plaintive cries, and early the next morning
began to repair the damage, though it rained heavily all day.
Part of the lining hanging over the side was incorporated with
the new layers of mud. The urgency of the case was such,
that they were obliged to work during the bad weather.
Throughout the day one bird sat on the nest, whilst the other
laboured assiduously. Kindly was he welcomed by his mate,
who sometimes, during his absence, nibbled and retouched the
materials which he had just deposited. In a few days it was
finished, the weather became settled, the young were hatched,
and all went well with them.
Sometimes when the nests are destroyed, the birds, instead
of attempting to repair the damage, forsake the neighbourhood,
as if wholly disheartened. Nothing can be more distressing to
them than to lose their young. In the storm of which I have
just spoken, another martin's nest was washed down with
unfledged young in it. These were placed on some cotton wool
in a basket, covered with a sheet of brown paper, in an open
window, facing the wall. During that day and the following,
the parents took no notice of them, and their kind human
protector fed them with house-flies. That evening he tried an
experiment. He gently placed the young ones in a nest of that
same window, where were other young. It was then about
eight o'clock in the evening; the rain was falling heavily, and no
sound was heard save the c/hca, ch/la of the young birds, and the
dashing of the storm against the window-glass. Aminute elapsed,
The eccding (of tc Young.
when forth rushed the parents shrieking their alarm notes, and,
again and again wheeled up to the nest, until at last they drifted
away in the storm. He watched them till they disappeared about
half-past-nine. During all this time they only twice summoned
courage to look into the nest. Next morning I was rejoiced to
see them attending assiduously to the young ones."
And now, turning again to our group of four nests on the
walls, supposing it be the month of July, every one of them
with its fledgeling brood sitting with gaping mouths, ever ready
for food, you may, perhaps, like to know how many meals are
carried up to them in the course ot the day. If, then, the
parents began to feed them at about five in the morning, and
left a little before eight at night, they would feed them, at the
lowest calculation, about a thousand times.
With all this feeding and care-taking, the young ones, as the
summer goes on, are full-fledged, and have grown so plump
and large that the nest is quite too small for them; therefore,
they must turn out into the world, and begin life for themselves.
It is now a fine, brisk, August morning, and at about eight
o'clock, you can see, if you look up at the nests, how the old
birds come dashing up to them quite in an excited way, making
short curves in the air, and repeating a note which says, as
plain as a bird can speak,
This is the day
You must away !
What are wings made for, if not to fly?
Now for a leap !-
Father and mother and neighbours are by !
The I louse-marI/in, or fi'inl'oz-swallow.
This flying away from the nest is a great event in swallow-
life, as you may well believe. Let us therefore now direct our
attention to one nest in particular, in which are only two young
ones-a very small family; but what happens here is occurring
all round us.
One of these little ones balances itself at the entrance, look-
ing timidly into the void, and, having considered the risk for
awhile, allows its fellow to take its place.
During all this time, the parents keep driving about, within
a few feet of the entrance, and endeavour, by many winning
gestures, to induce their charge to follow them. The second
bird also, after sitting for some time, as if distrustful of its
powers, retires, and the first again appears. Opening and
shutting his wings, and often half inclined again to retire, he, at
length, summons up all his resolution, springs from the nest,
and, with his self-taught pinions, cleaves the air. He and
his parents, who are in ecstasies, return to the nest, and the
second young one presently musters courage and joins them.
And now begins a day of real enjoyment; they sport chiefly
about the tree-tops till seven in the evening, when all re-enter
In several instances I have seen the neighbours add their
inducements to those of the parents, when the young were too
timid to leave their home. If the happy day prove fine, they
seldom return to the nest till sunset; if otherwise, they will come
back two or three times. On one occasion, when the young
were ready to fly, but unwilling to take the first leap, the parents
had recourse to a little stratagem, both ingenious and natural.
The he-bird held out a fly at about four inches from the entrance
The Aiutum itiiL .ralion. 63
to the nest. In attempting to take hold of it, they again and
again nearly lost their balance. On another occasion, the
mother bird, trying this plan to no purpose, seemed to lose
patience, and seizing one of them by the lower mandible, with
the claw of her right foot, whilst it was gaping for food, tried
to pull it out of the nest, to which, however, it clung like a
squirrel. But the young, every one of them, fly in time, and a
right joyous holiday they all have together.
So the summer comes to an end; and towards the middle of
September, the great family cares being over, and the young
having attained to an age capable of-undertaking the fatigues
of migration, that mysterious impulse, strong as life itself, and
probably affecting them like some sickness-the necessity to
exchange one country and climate for another-comes upon
them. Under this influence, they congregate together in
immense numbers, every neighbourhood seeming to have its
place of assembly-the roofs of lofty buildings, or the leafless
boughs of old trees: here they meet, not only to discuss the
great undertaking, but to have a right merry time together-
a time of luxurious idleness, lively chatterings, singing in
chorus their everlasting and musical /ccc, cheep, eating and
drinking, and making ready for the journey before them.
At length the moment of departure is come, and at a given
signal the whole party rises. Twittering and singing, and
bidding a long farewell to the scenes of their summer life, they
fly off in a body, perhaps, if coming from Scotland, or the
north of England, to rest yet a few weeks in the warmer
southern counties; after which, a general departure takes place
to the sunny lands of Africa.
The lHouse-martin, or TWindozw-swallow.
Though gifted with wings wonderfully constructed for pro-
longed flight, and though having passed every day of so many
successive months almost wholly on the wing, the swallow
frequently suffers great fatigue and exhaustion in its long
migration. Sometimes, probably driven out of its course by
adverse winds, it is known to alight by hundreds on the rigging
of vessels, when worn out by hunger and fatigue it is too often
shot or cruelly treated. Nevertheless the swallow, protected
by Him who cares for the sparrow, generally braves the hard-
ships of migration, and the following spring, guided by the
same mysterious instinct, finds his way across continents and
seas to his old home, where, identified by some little mark
which has been put upon him-a silken thread as a garter, or a
light silver ring-he is recognized as the old familiar friend,
and appears to be no less happy to be once more with them
than are they to welcome him. Sometimes swallows coming
back as ordinary strangers, prove their identity, even though
the scene of their last year's home may have been pulled down,
together with the human habitation. In this case, he has been
known to fly about in a distracted way, lamenting the change
that had taken place, and seeming as if nothing would
Though the fact of swallows coming back to their old haunts
does not need proving, yet I will close my chapter with an
incident which occurred in our own family. During a summer
storm, a martin's nest, with young, was washed from the eaves
of my husband's paternal home. His mother, a great friend
to all birds, placed the nest with the young, which happily were
uninjured, in a window, which, being generally open, allowed
A W1elcomcd Rtcurn io Old Ilaunts.
the parent-birds access to their young. They very soon began
to feed them, making no attempt to build any other nest; so
that the young were successfully reared, and took their flight
full-fledged from the window-sill.
The next spring, when the time for the arrival of the swallows
came, great was the surprise and pleasure of their kind hostess,
to see, one day, a number of swallows twittering about the
window, as if impatient for entrance. On its being opened, in
they flew, and, twittering joyfully and circling round the room,
as if recognizing the old hospitable asylum of the former year,
flew out and soon settled themselves under the eaves with the
greatest satisfaction. There could be no doubt but that these
were the birds that had been reared there.
___-i _- v- ._
: _. -'~~~r~ PrsI9;0~ .
THE CHIFF-CIIAFF, OR OVEN-BUILDER.
TIHE Chiff-chaff, chill-chall, lesser pettichaps, or oven-builder, is
one of the great bird family of warblers, and the smallest of
them in size; indeed, it is not much larger than the little willow-
wren. Like all its family it is a bird of passage, and makes its
appearance here, in favourable seasons, as early as the I2th of
March-earlier than the warblers in general--and also remains
later, having been known to remain here to the middle of
It is a remarkably cheerful little bird, and is warmly wel-
comed by all lovers of the country as being one of the first
visitants of spring, sending its pleasant little voice, with an
incessant chiff-chaff," chery-charry," through the yet
Its plumage is dark olive-green; the breast and under part
of the body, white, with a slight tinge of yellow; the tail,
brown, edged with pale green ; legs, yellowish-brown.
The nest is not unlike that of a wren, built in a low bush,
and, sometimes, even on the ground. The one so beautifully
and faithfully depicted by Mr. Harrison Weir, seems to be
amongst the tallest grasses and picturesque growths of some
delicious woodland lane. It is a lovely little structure; a hol-
low ball wonderfully put together, of dry leaves and stems of
1-. I. 'I
~ I -- I II
, .. .1 \V ,..i
CHIFF-CHAFFS AND NEST. [Page 66.
I I I .
AIr. I/;:. ,.'s Account of this Bird.
grass, and a circular hole for entrance at the side; lined with
soft feathers-a little downy bed of comfort. The mother-
bird, as we now see her, sits here in delicious ease on five or
six white eggs, beautifully spotted with rich red-brown.
This dainty little bird, which seems made alone for plea-
sure, is very useful to man, and should be made kindly welcome
everywhere, living entirely on caterpillars and other trouble-
some and destructive creatures. The Rev. J. G. Wood says
that it saves many a good oak from destruction by devouring,
on its first arrival, the caterpillars of the well-known green oak-
moth, which roll up the leaves in so curious a manner, and come
tumbling out of their green houses at the slightest alarm.
He says, also, that a little chiff-chaff, which had been caught
and tamed, was accustomed to dash to the ceiling of the room
in which it was kept, and to snatch thence the flies which
settled on the white surface.
My husband, writing of this bird, says:-
Gilbert White gave, I believe, the name of chiff-chaff to
this little bird from its note. In the midland counties it is
called the chill-chall from the same cause; and, indeed, this
name is, to my ear, more accordant with its continuous ditty.
Its cheery little voice is one of the pleasantest recognition of
returning spring. It is sure to be heard, just as in former
years, in the copse, the dell, the belt of trees bordering a way-
side ; we catch its simple note with pleasure, for it brings with
it many a memory of happy scenes and days gone by. We see
the little creature hopping along the boughs of the yet only
budding oak, and know that it is as usefully employed for man
as agreeably for itself. It tells us, in effect, that sunny days,
68 Thc Chiff-cha/ff, or Ovelln-1ui/cdr.
flowers, and sweet airs, and the music of a thousand other birds,
are coming. We revert to the time when, tracing the wood-side
or the bosky dingle in boyhood, we caught sight of its rounded
nest amongst the screening twigs of the low bush, and the
bleached bents of last year's grapes. We remember the
pleasure with which we examined its little circular entrance, and
discovered, in its downy interior, its store of delicate eggs, or
the living mass of feathery inmates, with their heads ranged
side by side and one behind another, with their twinkling eyes
and yellow-edged mouths. Many a time, as we have heard the
ever blithe note of chill-chall, as it stuck to its unambitious part
of the obscure woodland glade, we have wished that we could
maintain the same buoyant humour, the same thorough accep-
tance of the order of Providence for us. As Luther, in a
moment of despondency, when enemies were rife around him,
and calumny and wrong pursued him, heard the glad song of a
bird that came and sang on a bough before his window, we
have thanked God for the lesson of the never-drooping chill-
chall. The great world around never damps its joy with a
sense of its own insignificance; the active and often showy life
of man, the active and varied existence of even birds, which sweep
through the air in gay companies, never disturb its pleasure in
its little accustomed nook. It seems to express, in its two or
three simple notes, all the sentiment of indestructible content,
like the old woman's bird in the German story by Ludwig Tieck-
Alone in wood so gay,
'Tis good to stay,
Morrow like to-day
For ever and aye;
Oh, I do love to stay
Alone in wood so gay !
The Bird's Dilty. 69
This little bird appears to feel all that strength of heart, and
to put it into its little ditty, which seems to me to say-
Here 1 continue 'cheery cheery, and still shall, and still
THE GOLDEN-CRESTED WREN.
WE have here the Golden-crested Wren-the Rru lus cristatus
of naturalists-the tiniest of our British birds, the pleasing
fairy-bird," as Bewick calls it, one of the large family of war-
blers, and a near relation to Jenny Wren. It is a very charming
little bird, with a sweet melodious song of its own, and so many
curious little ways that it is well worth everybody's notice and
It is very active and lively, always in motion, fluttering from
branch to branch, and running up and down the trunks and
limbs of trees, in search of insects on which it lives. It may as
often be seen on the under as on the upper side of a branch,
with its back downwards, like a fly on a ceiling, and so running
along, all alert, as merry and busy as possible. In size it is
about three inches, that is with all its feathers on, but its little
body alone is not above an inch long; yet in this little body,
and in this little brain, lives an amazing amount of character,
as I shall show you, as well as a great deal of amusing conceit
and pertness which you would hardly believe unless you were
The colour of the bird is a sort of yellowish olive-green, the
under part of pale, reddish white, tinged with green on the
sides; the quill feathers of the wing are dusky, edged with pale
v --x.[ ,. ; -
.~ ~ ~ ~~\? .-: ' .--
"..~~~ -M -..,
GC . ... A N D N ST
-. ._ _, L`. ,
..-.- : .
.i ;, L~
L,'- ; ; _- 4 :
"- t' J',iI,, -
__.~ 2r t ."
GODNCPETDWRN NDNS.[Pg o
7h/e Lively Gamnols of tlis Birld. 71
green, as are also the tail feathers. Thus attired by nature,
that is, by the great Creator who cares for all His creatures,
this little bird, creeping and fluttering about the branches and
bole of the leafy summer tree, can scarcely be distinguished
from the tree itself: hence it is that the bird is so unfamiliar to
most people. The he-bird, however, has a little distinguishing
glory of his own-a crest of golden-coloured feathers, bordered
on each side with black, like a sort of eye-brow to his bright
hazel eyes. This crest," which gives him his distinguished
name, can be erected at pleasure, when he is full of life and
enjoyment, or when he chooses to lord it over birds ten times
as big as himself.
It is worth anybody's while, who has a love for the innocent
denizens of nature, and no desire to do them harm, to go into
a wood on a summer's day on purpose to watch the doings of
this lively little bird amongst the tree branches. Fir-woods
are the best for this purpose, as this bird has an especial liking
for these trees, and ten to one, if you will only be patient and
quite still, you may soon see him at work busily looking after
his dinner, running along the branches, up one and down
another, then like a little arrow off to the next tree, scudding
along its branches, then back again, up and down, round and
round the bole, going like a little fire, so rapid are his move-
ments; now running up aloft, now hanging head downward,
now off again in another direction. What a wonderful activity
there is in that little body! He must devour hundreds of in-
sects, as well as their eggs, which he thus seeks for under the
scaly roughnesses of the bark, and finding, devours.
Pretty as he is, his nest, of which Mr. Harrison Weir has
72 The Goldcn-crcsted ifWrcn.
given a most accurate drawing, is quite worthy of him. It is
always the same, swung like a little hammock from a branch,
and always hidden, it may be by leaves or a bunch of fir-cones.
The cordage by which it is suspended is of his own weaving,
and is made of the same materials as the nest, which are moss
and slender thread-like roots. In form it is oval, as you see,
with a hole for entrance at the side, and is lined with the softest
down and fibrous roots. It is a lovely little structure, like a
soft ball of moss, within which the mother-bird lays from six to
a dozen tiny eggs, scarcely bigger than peas, the delicate shell
of which will hardly bear handling. The colour of the egg is
white, sprinkled over with the smallest of dull-coloured spots.
Mr. Jesse describes one of these lovely nests which was taken
from the slender branches of a fir-tree where it had been sus-
pended, as usual, by means of delicate cordage, secured to the
branch by being twisted round and round, and then fastened
to the edge or rim of the nest, so that one may be sure that the
making and securing of these tiny ropes must be the first work
of the clever little artizan. The nest thus suspended sways
lightly to and fro with the movement of the bird. We cannot
see in our cut the slender ropes that suspend it; they are con-
cealed under the thick foliage; but we can easily see what a
dainty little structure it is.
Delicate and lovely as is this bird, and pleasing and harmless
as is his life, he yet possesses some curious traits of character,
as I said. For instance, though so small, with a body only an
inch long, he has, apparently, a wonderful conceit of himself,
and loves to be lord and master of creatures that will not dispute
with him, as not worth their while, or perhaps because there
The Jack/da and Afischicvous Wrens.
really is some inherent mastership in him by which he contrives,
under certain circumstances, to rule over them. In proof of
this, I will tell. you what the Rev. J. G. Wood relates from the
experience of a lady, a friend of his. One severe winter, when
she had housed and fed a number of birds, amongst which were
"a jackdaw, a magpie, two skylarks, a goldfinch, and a robin, in
"a warm aviary, feeding them regularly and abundantly, other
birds came, of course, to partake of the plentiful feast, and
amongst them two golden-crested wrens. These little things
made themselves not only quite at home, but lorded it over the
other birds in the most extraordinary way possible. For in-
stance, if the jackdaw had possessed himself of a nice morsel
which he was holding down with his foot to eat comfortably,
and the golden-crested wren had also set his mind on it, he
hopped on the jackdaw's head and pecked in his eye, on the
side where his foot held the delicacy. On this the poor jackda v
instantly lifted his foot Lo his head where he thought something
was amiss, and the mischievous little fellow snatched up the
treasure and was off. At first the jackdaw would pursue him
in great wrath, but he soon learned that it was no use, for the
creature would only jump upon his back where he could not
reach him, and so was safe from punishment. Before the
winter was over," continues the lady, the little gold-crests
were masters of all the birds, and even roosted at night on their
backs; finding, no doubt, that in this way they could keep their
little feet much warmer than on a perch."
Conceited and dominant, however, as these little birds may
be, they are yet either extremely timid, or their nervous system
is so delicately constituted, that a sudden fright kills them.
74 T/he Golen-(crested 'rC cn.
Thus if, when they are all alert and busy on the tree-branch,
seeking for insects and fearing no evil, the branch be suddenly
struck with a stick, the poor bird falls dead to the-ground. The
shock has killed it. It has received no apparent injury-not a
feather is ruffled-but its joyous, innocent life is gone for ever.
This fact is asserted by Gilbert White, and was proved by my
husband, who brought me home the bird which had thus died.
; % .mo-, .."
d r --
: ...... ,
`', .. .-V
THIS elegant little bird belongs to the Motacilla, or Wagtail
family. There are three brothers of them in this country-the
pied, the grey, and the yellow. The pied is the most familiar,
and our friend Mr. Harrison Weir has given us a lovely picture
of it at home in a cleft of the rock, with fleshy-leaved lichens
above, and green springing fronds of the great fern, which will
presently overshadow it. Around are the solemn mountains,
and the never silent water is foaming and rushing below.
This bird has many names besides his Latin one of Motacilla.
In Surrey he is called washer, or dish-washer, by the common
people, from his peculiar motions in walking, which are thought
to resemble those of a washer-woman at her tub. The colours
of the pied wagtail are simply black and white, but so boldly
and clearly marked as to produce a very pleasing and elegant
We have, every year, several wagtails in our garden, to which
they add a very cheerful feature, walking about, nodding their
heads and tails as if perfectly at home, afraid neither of dog
nor cat, much less of any human being about the place. A
little running brook as one boundary of the garden is, no doubt,
one of the attractions ; but here they are seen less frequently
than on the smoothly-mown lawn, where they pick up tiny
TIhc fT a/a/.
insects, gliding along with a smooth motion, accompanied by
the quick movement of head and tail.
It is bitterly cold wintry weather as I write this, and they now
visit the kitchen door, where, no doubt, little delicacies of
various kinds attract them. They are more fearless and familiar
than either sparrows, robins, or blackbirds; yet all of these are
our daily pensioners, having their breakfast of crumbs as
regularly before the parlour window as we have our own meal.
Yet they fly away at the slightest. sound, and the appearance of
the cat disperses them altogether. They have, evidently, the
old ancestral fear of man, stamped, as powerfully as life itself.
upon their being. They are suspicious, and always in a flutter:
nothing equals the calm self-possession of the wagtail, excepting
it be the state of mind into which the robin gets when the
gardener is turning up the fresh soil, just on purpose, as he
supposes, to find worms for him.
And now let me give you a wagtail picture, drawn by a
faithful hand.* It is the end of July, the young wagtails are
abroad with their parents, like human families, a month or two
later, gone out or abroad to take their holiday. Often," he
says, one may see them wading in shallow places, in quest of
insects and worms, carefully holding up their tails to prevent
them being draggled. If you watch the motions of an
individual just coming up to join the party, you see it alight
abruptly, twittering its shrill notes, and, perching on a small
stone, incessantly vibrate its body, and jerk out its tail." This
of course is the polite way in which a stranger wagtail introduces
"* British Birds."
WAGTAIL AND NEST. [Page 76.
Its Quest for Food. 77
itself amongst its friends. There they are; now walking out
into the water, and looking round for food. Now they are on
the shore again, running rapidly along, picking up, now and
then, a dainty morsel, and every moment spreading out the
ever-vibrating tail. Now they are in the adjoining meadow,
each one in pursuit of a fly, which it has no sooner caught, than it
spies another. The lazy geese, which have nibbled the
grass bare, allow the wagtail to pass in their midst without
molestation. When the cows are grazing in the midst of a
swarm of gnats and other insects, as Gilbert White says, as
they tread amongst the bush herbage they rouse up multitudes
of insects which settle on their legs, their stomachs, and even
their noses, and the wagtails are welcomed by the co.vs as
benefactors. Watch them, for they are worth the trouble; see,
one comes forward and catches a small fly, bends to one side to
seize another, darts to the right after a third, and springs some
feet in the air before it secures a fourth, and all this time others
are running about after other flies, passing close to the cows'
noses or amongst their feet. With all this running to and fro,
and hither and thither, they every now and then run in each
other's way; but they do not quarrel, aware, no doubt, that
there is room enough for them in the world, nay, even in the
meadow, though it now seems to be full of wagtails, all busily
occupied, some walking, others running, a few flying off and
many arriving. You may walk in amongst them ; they are not
very shy, for they will allow you to come within a few yards of
them. They may always be met with on the shore when the
tide is out, as well as in the meadow; you will meet with them
by the river-side, or by the mill-dam. Occasionally you may see