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9ORIOUSE A.ND 'EST,
FROM "HOMES WITHOUT HANDS,"
REV. J. G. WOOD, M.A., F.L.S., &c.
'Qitb 27 3llustratiolu
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO.
EDINBURGH AND LONDON
The DORMOUSE in confinement, and at liberty-Nest of the Dor-
mouse-Its position, materials, and dimensions-Entrance
to the nest-The winter treasury-The LOIRE and the LEROT
-Man as a Branch-builder-Moselekatze-His conquests-
Effects upon the people-Branch-houses-Their approaches 1
The ROOK and its nesting-place-Materials and structure of the
nest-Some habits of the Rook-The CRow-Difference
between the nest of the Rook and the Crow-The HERON
and its mode of nidification-The Heronry at Walton Hall
-Rustic ideas respecting the Heron's nest-The CHAFFINCH
-Locality and structure of its beautiful nest-Mode of
obtaining materials-The GOLDFINCH and its home-Dis-
tinction between the nests of the Goldfinch and Chaffinch
-The BULLFINCH-Locality and form of its nest-Varia-
bility of structure-The BLUE-EYED YELLOW WARBLER-
Curious materials of its nest-Its remarkable habits-The
BALD-HEADED EAGLE-Why so called-Wilson and Audu-
bon's account of its nest-The GOLDEN ORIOLE and its
beautiful nest-Mode of catching the bird-The RED-
WINGED STARLING, its value and demerits-Its gregarious
habits-Locality and structure of its nest-The YELLOW-
BREASTED CHAT and its odd ways-Its courage and affection
for its nest and young-Structure of its nest-The RING-
DOVE and its curious nest-The WHIITETHROAT-Descrip-
tion of the locality and structure of the nest-Reasons for
its various popular names-The MOCKING BIRD-The
WATER-HEN and its nesting-Its habit of covering the eggs 18
FEATHERED BRANCH-BUILDERS (Concluded).
The SEDGE-WARBLER-Its nest and loquacity-The REED-
WARBLER-Use of its peculiar tail-Localities haunted by
the bird-Song of the Reed-Warbler-Its deep and beauti-
fully balanced nest-Colour of the eggs-The CAPOCIER-
Why so called-Familiarity of the bird-Le Vaillant's
experiments-How the nest is made-Division of labour-
Lovers' quarrels-Structure of the nest-Humming-birds
again-The FIERY TOPAZ-Its nocturnal habits-Appear-
ance of the nest-Its shape and the materials of which it is
made-The HERMIT HUMMING-BIRDS and their nests-The
RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD-Variable dimensions of
the nest-Concealment-Mr. Webber and his discoveries-
Variable form and positions of the nest-Materials of which
it is made-Its deceptive exterior-Feeding of the young-
The VERVAIN HUMMING-BIRD-How the nest assumes its
shape-The RED-BACKED SHRIKE-Use of the Shrike-
Falconry-Their singular mode of feeding-Impaled prey-
Conspicuous character of the nest-Popular ideas concerning
the Red-backed Shrike-Structure of the nest-The HEDGE
SPARROW-Its proper title-Carelessness about its nest-
Foes of the Hedge Sparrow-Its fecundity 54
SPIDERS AND INSECTS.
Remarkable Spider Nest in the British Museum-Seed-nests
and Leaf-nests-Nests of the TUFTED SPIDER-Form and
colouring of the Spider--Its curious limbs-Nests illustrative
of the hexagonal principle-Nest of the ICARIA-The equal
pressure and excavation theories-Nest of MISCHOCYTTARUS
and its remarkable form-Nest of the RAPHIGASTER-
Summary of the Argument-The PROCESSIONARY MOTE
-Reasons for its name-How the larvae march-Damage
done by them to trees-A natural remedy-The CALOSOMA
and its habits-The GIPSY MOTH-Its ravages upon trees
and mode of destroying it-The social principle among
Caterpillars Mr. Rennie's experiments The LACKEY
MOTH-Supposed derivation of its popular name-The
eggs, larve, and perfect insects-Habits of the Moth-The
BROWN-TAILED MOTH-Locality where it is found-Its
ravages abroad-Nests of the ICARIA as they appear in
branches-The APOICA and its remarkable nests-Singular
nests from the British Museum-Nests discovered by Mr.
The POLYZOA and their varied and beautiful forms-The RAFT
SPIDER-Why so called-Mode of obtaining prey-Mice
and their homes-The CAMPAGNOL or Harvest Mouse-Its
general habits-Its winter and summer nest-Its store-
house and provisions-Entrance to the Nest-The WOOD
MOUSE and its nest-Uses of the Field Mice-The DOMESTIC
MousE-Various nests-Rapidity of nest-building-A nest
in a bottle-The cell of the QUEEN TERMITE-Its entrances
and exits-Size of the inmates-The FUNGUS ANT and its
singular home-Material, structure, and size of the nest-
The CLOTHES MOTHS and their various species-Habitations
of the Clothes Moth, and the method of formation and
enlargement-The ELK and its winter home-The snow
fortress and its leaguers-Its use, advantages, and dangers
-The ALBATROSS and its mode of nesting-Strange scenes-
The EDIBLE SWALLOW-Its mode of nesting-Origin of its
name-Description of the nest-Curious legend respecting
the bird-The EAGLE and its mode of nesting-Difficulty
of reaching the eyrie-The NIGHTINGALE and its nest-
Other ground-building birds and their temporary homes-
The NODDY-Perilous position of the eggs, and young-
The COOT, and its semi-aquatic nest 14
The DORMOUSE in confinement, and at liberty-Nest of the Dormouse-
Its position, materials, and dimensions-Entrance to the nest-The
winter treasury-The LOIRE and the LEROT-Man as a Branch-
builder-Moselekatze-His conquests-Effects upon the people-
THERE are many kinds of animal life the homes of which
are placed among the branches of trees. We will first
describe some of the branch-building mammalia.
There are but few mammals which can be reckoned in
this division, but our little island produces two of them,
namely, the squirrel and the DORMOUSE.
The pretty little brown-coated, white-bellied Dormouse
is familiar to all who have been fond of keeping pets.
There is no difficulty in preserving the animal in health,
and, therefore, it is a favourite among those who like to
keep animals and do not like the trouble of looking after
them. It is, however, rather an uninteresting animal
when kept in a cage, as it sleeps during the greater part
of the day, and the sight of a round ball of brown fur is
not particularly amusing.
When kept in confinement, it is obliged to make for
12 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
itself a very inartificial nest, because it is deprived of
proper materials and a suitable locality. It does its best
with the soft hay and cotton wool which are usually pro-
vided for it, but it cannot do much with such materials.
But when in a state of liberty, and able to work in its
own manner, it is an admirable nest-maker. As it passes
the day in sleep, it must needs have some retired domicile
in which it can be hidden from the many enemies which
might attack a sleeping animal.
One of these nests is depicted in the illustration,* and
the specimen from which it is drawn forms a part of my
collection. It was situated in a hedge about four feet
from the ground, and, as may be seen by reference to the
illustration, is placed in the forking of a hazel branch,
the smaller twigs of which form a kind of palisade round
it. The substances of which it is composed are of two
kinds, namely, grass-blades and leaves of trees, the former
being the chief material. It is exactly six inches in
length by three inches in width, and is constructed in a
very ingenious manner, reminding the observer of the
pensile nests made by the weaver birds.
Two or three kinds of grass are used, the greater part
being the well-known sword-grass, whose sharp edges cut
the fingers of a careless handler. The blades are twisted
round the twigs and through the interstices, until they
form a hollow nest, rather oval in shape. Towards the
bottom the finer sorts of grass are used, as well as some
stems of delicate climbing weeds, which are no larger than
ordinary thread, and which serve to bind the mass to-
gether. Interwoven with the grass are several leaves,
none of which belong to the branch, and which are indeed
of two kinds, namely, hazel and maple, and have evidently
THE DORMOUSE. 13
been picked up from the ditch which bounded the hedge.
Their probable use is to shield the inmate from the wind,
which would penetrate through the interstices of the
loosely woven grass-blades.
The entrance to the nest is so ingeniously concealed,
that to find it is not a very easy matter, even when its
precise position is known, and in order to show the manner
in which it is constructed, one of the Dormice is repre-
sented in the act of drawing aside the grass-blades that
conceal it. The pendent pieces of grass that are being
held aside by the little paw are so fixed, that when re-
leased from pressure, they spring back over the aperture
and conceal it in a very effectual manner.
Although the Dormouse uses this aerial house as a
residence, it does not make use of it as a treasury. Like
many other hibernating animals, it collects a store of
winter food, which generally consists of nuts, grain, and
similar substances. These treasures are carefully hidden
away in the vicinity of the nest, and in the illustration
the animal is shown as eating a nut which it has taken
from one of its storehouses beneath the thick branch.
During the winter the animal does not feed much upon
its stores, inasmuch as it is buried in the curious
state of hibernation during the cold months. At the
beginning of spring, however, the hibernation passes
off, and is replaced by ordinary sleep, with intervals of
Now, while the animal hibernates, the tissues of the
body undergo scarcely any change, even though no nutri-
ment be taken. But, as soon as the creature resumes its
ordinary life, waste goes on, and the creature soon feels
the pangs of hunger. As the food of the Dormouse con-
sists chiefly of seeds and fruits, it could not find enough
14 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
nourishment to support the body, and would therefore
perish of hunger but for the stores which instinct had
taught it to gather in the preceding autumn.
In the illustration, the stag-beetle and the golden-crested
wren have been introduced to show the comparative size
of the animals. The old Dormouse does not fear the beetle,
and tranquilly pursues his meal, but the young one is
rather discomposed at the intrusion of the big black insect,
and meditates a retreat into the nest.
There are several species of Dormouse, which have
similar habits, and at least two of them are found in
Europe. These are the LOIRE and the LEROT. The
former of these animals is sometimes called the Fat Dor-
mouse, because it was in ancient days considered as a
great delicacy, and carefully fattened in places called
gliraria. This animal is found in France.
In many parts of the same country the Lerot is a great
pest to the gardens, because it is fond of fruit, and has a
special liking for the ripest peaches, nectarines, and similar
Besides those which have been mentioned, several other
species of mammalia make aerial nests in the branches of
trees, though such nests are only to be considered as
exceptions from the general rule. Perhaps the most
singular of these exceptions is that which have been dis-
covered in Africa, where human beings systematically
build their houses in trees. This curious fact was dis-
covered by Dr. Moffatt, the well-known missionary, in the
course of his travels.
Two traders had been in the country which was ruled
by the ferocious chief, Moselekatze, who has derived an
unenviable name for his relentless cruelty, which will
DR. MOFFATT'S DISCOVERY. 15
always eclipse his well-deserved reputation as a man of
commanding genius and of subtle intellect. He was, in
fact, a savage Napoleon, and, if possible, even a more
wonderful man, inasmuch as he had no education, and
created the terrible power which he so skilfully wielded.
King of the Zulu Kaffirs, he had organised a vast
military establishment, and had invented a system of war-
fare so ingenious, as to entitle him to the name of a born
general. All able-bodied men were forced to serve as
soldiers, drafted into different regiments according to their
capacities of strength, swiftness, or cunning, and when they
went into action had the alternative of victory or death, a
fugitive being invariably killed by the executioner.
When his white visitors were about to return to their
homes, Moselekatze thought that it would be a good
opportunity of extending his knowledge, and consequently
his influence, by learning the manners and customs of
white men, and therefore sent two of his councillors to
accompany the visitors to their homes, to inspect their
proceedings, and then to return and report what they had
seen. The envoys carried out the instructions of their
master, though their brains could scarcely retain the vast
stores of new facts which were continually poured into
them, and in due time they wished to return to their own
Here, however, was a difficulty. In order to reach
Zulu-land, they must pass through tracts inhabited by
other nations, all of which had been invaded and harried
by the conquering troops of Moselekatze, and they knew
full well that if their identity were recognized, they would
be murdered in retaliation by the incensed owners of the
In this strait Dr. Moffatt offered to accompany them
16 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
until they had reached the boundaries of their land, and
set off with them. When he had fulfilled his promise, he
was about to return, but his guests begged so earnestly
that he should go on and visit their king, that he yielded
to their request. Contrary to the usual habits of the
Kaffir, Moselekatze was grateful to Dr. Moffatt, saying
that the kindness which had been done to his servants
had been done to him, Moselekatze the son of Machobane."
On this journey Dr. Moffatt's attention was taken by a
magnificent tree, under whose shadow were a number of
human beings moving about. On approaching nearer, he
found that the tree was close to water, and on looking
upwards he saw that a number of little huts were among
the branches. Seventeen of these huts were completed,
and three more were in course of erection. These were
the dwellings of the natives who had been seen under the
tree, and were constructed in a very ingenious manner.
Where two or three branches spread their forked boughs
horizontally, a number of sticks were laid so as to form a
platform about seven or eight feet in diameter. Upon this
platform was erected the hut, a necessarily small edifice,
consisting of sticks fastened together so as to make a
conical-shaped hut, about six feet in diameter at the bottom,
and barely as much in height, so that a tall man could
hardly lie at full length even when occupying the very
centre of it. The roof of the hut was made of grass, and
the sides were wattled with the same substance. As the
hut was always placed at one edge of the scaffold, the
opposite edge afforded a small landing or platform, about
a foot or eighteen inches in width. The only method of
approaching these curious huts was by means of notches
cut in the trunk of the tree, the owners not daring to
trust to any less difficult means of ascent.
We now ask ourselves why the natives chose to live in
such small and inconvenient dwellings, when there was
ample space on the fertile ground for a village. Mosele-
katze was the cause. His armed hordes, with their
wonderful discipline, had swept over the country, destroyed
all military power, carried off the cattle, in which consists
the wealth of the South African, killed many warriors,
and disarmed the rest. Under these circumstances, the
wild beasts began to increase in number and audacity, and
the enfeebled members of the tribe were, perforce, obliged
to abandon their ordinary mode of life, and to reside
among the branches where the lions could not reach them.
During the day they were tolerably safe, but at night they
retired to the trees.
In one of these aerial huts Dr. Moffatt passed the night,
having previously shot a rhinoceros, and put the hump
into a deserted ant-hill which was used as an oven.
During the night the lions came and did their best to
devour the meat, the savoury smell of which attracted
them on all sides. Fortunately for the travellers, the
oven was too hot for the lions, and although they growled
and snarled over it all night, they dared not attack it,
and retired in the morning. The chief food of the people
who inhabit these huts consisted of locusts and roots, for
their cattle were gone, they could not make fences wherein
to enclose a patch of cultivated ground, the lions had driven
away the smaller game, and the few weapons which had
escaped Moselekatze were insufficient for the slaughter of
the larger and more powerful animals.
( i8 )
The ROOK and its nesting-place-Materials and structure of the nest-
Some habits of the Rook-The CRow-Difference between the nest
of the Rook and the Crow-The HERON and its mode of nidification
-The Heronry at Walton Hall-Rustic ideas respecting the Heron's
nest-The CHAFFINCH-Locality and structure of its beautiful nest-
Mode of obtaining materials-The GOLDFINCH and its home-Dis-
tinction between the nests of the Goldfinch and Chaffinch-The
BULLFINCH-Locality and form of its nest-Variability of structure
-The BLUE-EYED YELLOW WARBLER-Curious materials of its nest
-Its remarkable habits-The BALD-HEADED EAGLE-Why so called
-Wilson and Audubon's account of its nest-The GOLDEN ORIOLE
and its beautiful nest-Mode of catching the bird-The RED-WINGED
STARLING, its value and demerits-Its gregarious habits-Locality
and structure of its neat-The YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT and its odd
ways-Its courage and affection for its nest and young-Structure
of its nest-The RINGDOVE and its curious nest-The WHITETHROAT
-Description of the locality and structure of the nest-Reasons for
its various popular names-The MOCKING BIRD-The WATER-HEN
and its nesting-Its habit of covering the eggs.
WE pass now to the many birds which build their nests
on branches of trees or shrubs, and which may therefrom
be termed AERIAL BUILDERS. A vast proportion of the
feathered tribes select branches as a site for their habita-
tion, so that only the remarkable examples will be men-
tioned or figured.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of all ordinary branch-
nests are those which are made by the Rooks and the Crows.
THE ROOK. 19
Every one has seen the nests of the former of these two
birds. They are large, dark, and are placed upon the top-
most boughs of the tree, so that they can be seen at a con-
siderable distance. Their position is evidently intended
as a safeguard against the attacks of various enemies,
among which the bird-nesting boy is pre-eminently the
most dangerous. Scarcely would the boughs endure the
weight of a cat or monkey, and so slender are they in
many cases, that the spectator wonders how they can
support the nest with its living contents of a parent and
three or four young.
The foundation of the nest is composed of sticks of
various sizes and lengths, all, however, being tolerably
light and dry, the Rook generally carrying up the dead
branches that have been blown down by the winds of the
preceding winter. These are usually interlaced among
the spreading branches of a convenient spray, and thus
form a rude basket-work, in which will lie the softer
materials on which the eggs and young are to repose.
The lining is composed almost entirely of long and
delicate fibrous roots, which are intertwined, so as to
make an interior basket very similar in general con-
struction to the twig basket of the exterior, and being
so independent of it that, with a little care, it can be
lifted out entire.
On this soft bed are laid the eggs, which are four or
five in number, and are rather variable in colour, the
usual tint being greenish grey, largely spotted, mottled,
and splashed with dark brown, in which a shade of green
is visible. They vary in size as well as in hue, and from
the same nest I have taken eggs of so different an aspect
that a casual observer would probably think them to be
the production of distinct birds.
20 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
The principal labours of nest-building fall on the young
birds, inasmuch as the elders mostly return to the same
domicile every successive season, and are seldom obliged
to make an entirely new nest. The young builders are
sometimes aggrieved at this distribution of labour, and try
to equalise it by helping themselves to the sticks belonging
to other proprietors. The general community, however,
never suffer theft to be perpetrated, and are sure in such
a case to scatter the ill-gotten materials, and force the
dishonest birds to begin their labours anew.
When the young are launched upon the world and able
to get their own living, the nest is used no more, but is
abandoned both by parents and young, not to be again
used until repaired in the spring of the following year.
It is a curious point in the economy of the Rook, that,
when it has abandoned its temporary home, it does not
choose to repose among the trees on which the nest was
made. Mr. Waterton, who possesses invaluable oppor-
tunities for studying the habits of this bird, and has
developed them to the utmost, makes the following
remarks upon the roosting of this bird :-
There is no wild bird in England so completely
gregarious as the Rook, or so regular in its daily move-
ments. The ring-doves will assemble in countless multi-
tudes, the finches will unite in vast assemblies, and
waterfowl will flock in thousands to the protected lakes,
during the weary months of winter; but when the
returning sun spreads joy and consolation over the face
of nature, these congregated numbers are dissolved, and
the individuals retire in pairs to propagate their respective
species. The Rook, however, remains in society the year
throughout. In flocks it builds its nest, in flocks it seeks
for food, and in flocks it retires to roost.
THE ROOK. 21
"About two miles to the eastward of this place are the
woods of Nostell Priory, where from time immemorial the
rooks have retired to pass the night. I suspect, by the
observations which I have been able to make on the
morning and evening transit of these birds, that there is
not another roosting-place for at least thirty miles to the
westward of Nostell Priory. Every morning, from within
a few days of the autumnal to about a week before the
vernal equinox, the rooks, in congregated thousands upon
thousands, fly over the valley in a westerly direction, and
return in undiminished numbers to the nest, an hour or
so before the night sets in.
"In their morning passage, some stop here; others in
other favourite places, farther and farther on; some re-
pairing to the trees for pastime, some resorting to the
fields for food, till the declining sun warns those which
have gone farthest that it is time they should return.
They rise in a mass, receiving additions to their numbers
from every intervening place, till they reach this neigh-
bourhood in an amazing flock. Sometimes they pass on
without stopping, and are joined by those which have
spent the day here. At other times they make my park
their place of rendezvous, and cover the ground in vast
profusion, or perch upon the surrounding trees. After
tarrying here for a certain time, every rook takes wing.
They linger in the air for a while, in slow revolving circles,
and then they all proceed to Nostell Priory, which is their
last resting-place for the night.
In their morning and evening passage, the loftiness
or lowliness of their flight seems to be regulated by the
state of the weather. When it blows a hard gale of wind,
they descend the valley with astonishing rapidity, and
just skim over the tops of the intervening hills, a few feet
22 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
above the trees: but when the sky is calm and clear, they
pass through the heavens at a great height, in regular and
This custom of the Rooks is the more curious because
it is hardly possible to conceive any roosting-place which
would be more acceptable to a sensible bird than the
woods within the confines of Walton Hall. As has already
been mentioned, the birds will occasionally rest for a while
in those pleasant woods, though they ultimately take wing
for the accustomed roosting-place. There is plenty of
space for them; they have their choice of trees on which
to settle, and the lofty wall which surrounds them ensures
their freedom from all disturbance.
Very similar in general aspect to the rook, the CROW
builds a nest which resembles that of the rook in outward
form, but is easily distinguished by an experienced eye.
The lining of the nest is made of animal instead of
vegetable substances, hair and wool taking the place of
Viewed from the foot of the tree, the nest of the Crow
is nothing but a large and nearly shapeless bundle of
sticks, but when the enterprising naturalist has climbed
to the summit of the tree in which it is placed, and can
look into the nest, he is always gratified by the peculiarly
neat and smooth workmanship of the aerial home. The
outside of the nest is rough and rugged enough, but the
inner nest, which is made of rabbit's-fur, wool, and hair,
is woven into a basin-like form, beautifully smooth, soft,
and elastic. On this bed repose the eggs, which are
somewhat like those of the rook, but darker and greener,
and more thickly spotted, though they are extremely
variable in size and colour, and sometimes resemble so
THE CROW. 23
closely those of the rook that the distinction can hardly
The Crow always builds at the tops of trees, and has a
wonderful knack of choosing those which are most difficult
of ascent. The nests are plentiful enough, but the pro-
portion of eggs taken is very small in comparison. There
are some nests which baffle almost any one to rob success-
fully. An experienced nest-hunter is always endowed
with a strong head, and ought to be perfectly at his ease
on the summit of the loftiest trees, even though he should
be obliged to crawl in fly-fashion under a branch, to hang
by one hand while he takes the eggs with the other, or to
suspend himself by his legs in order to get at a nest below
him. That a nest should escape a properly qualified
hunter is simply impossible, but to secure the eggs is quite
In many cases the nest of the Crow is placed on
branches so long and so slender that they will not endure
the weight of a small boy, much less of a man, and the
only method of getting at it is by bending down the
branches. But, when the branches are bent, the nest is
tilted over, and out fall the eggs, so that the disappointed
hunter loses all his time and trouble.
Possibly this extreme caution may be the result of sad
experience, for although the generality of crows' nests are
placed in the most inaccessible positions, I have seen and
taken many which were so easy of attainment that in a
very few minutes I had ascended the tree and returned
with the eggs. There are generally four or five eggs,
although in some exceptional cases six eggs are said to be
laid in a single nest. I never saw more than five, though
I have examined very many nests. High as the nest of a
24 THE BRANCLH-BUILDERS.
Crow may be, it is always worthy of an ascent, for, even
should it be an old nest and deserted by the original
inhabitant, there is always a possibility that it may have
stork, the heron after her kind."-Deut. xi. 13, 19.
been usurped by some hawk, whose beautiful eggs are
always considered as prizes.
- ~~~ ~ ~ ; --3 L ....
' These are they which ye shall have ~in bmnto mn h ol ..a
stork theheronafte her ind.--2)eX, i. 3 9
beer nsrpe bysomehaw, wosebeauiN1egg ar
THE HERON. 25
There is a splendid British bird, which is becoming
scarcer almost yearly, which makes a nest something like
that of the crow and rook, but much larger. This is the
HERON, one of the very few large birds which still linger
On account of its own great size, the Heron makes a
very large and very conspicuous nest, built chiefly of sticks
and twigs, and placed on the summit of a tree.
Like the rook, the Heron is gregarious in its nesting,
so that a solitary Heron's nest is very seldom seen, though
now and then an exception to the general rule is discovered.
To watch the manners and customs of this bird is not a
very easy task, because the number of heronries in England
is very small, and the shy nature of the birds renders them
difficult of approach. At Walton Hall, however, the
Herons are so fearless, through long-continued impunity,
that they will allow themselves to be watched closely,
provided that the observer is quiet, and does not make a
noise, or alarm the birds by abrupt movements.
It is a very pretty sight to watch the great birds as they
go to and from their nests, bringing food to their young,
or flying to the lake in search of more fish. Numbers of
the Heron may be seen at the water's edge, sometimes
standing on one foot, with their long necks completely
hidden, and their bayonet-like beaks projecting from their
shoulders. For hours the birds will retain this attitude,
which to a human being would be the essence of discomfort,
and it is really wonderful how they can keep up for so long
a time the muscular energy which is expended in holding
up the spare leg and keeping it tucked under their belly.
Now and then, one of the Herons seems to wake up, and
after a stretch of the neck and a flap of the wings, walks
stately and deliberately into the water, through which it
26 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
stalks, examining every inch of bank and every cluster of
weeds as it passes along. Presently the bird pauses, and
remains quite still for some time, when the long neck is
suddenly darted forwards, the beak disappears for a second
among the reeds, and then emerges, with a fish, frog, or
water-rat in its grip. The real beauty of the Heron can
never be appreciated until it is seen at liberty, and in the
enjoyment of its natural life. It suits the locality so well
that, when it flies away, the spot has lost somewhat of its
charms. As it stands in the water, intent upon catching
prey, the drooping feathers of its breast wave gracefully in
the breeze, and the ripples of the sunlit water are reflected
in mimic waves upon its grey plumed wings.
Generally it cares little for exerting itself until towards
the evening, but then it becomes impatient and restless,
and is not quieted until it has obtained some food.
Some anglers have an idea that the Heron is one of the
birds that ought to be ranked as vermin," thinking that
it destroys so many fish that it ruins an angler's sport.
Consequently, they kill the bird whenever they can
manage to do so, and flatter themselves that they are
doing good service in preserving the breed of fish. Now,
even were the entire diet of the Heron to consist of fish,
the bird would really do but little harm, because it can
only take food in shallow water, and is seldom to be seen
more than a yard or two from the bank. But the diet of
the Heron is by no means exclusively of a fishy nature,
inasmuch as the bird eats plenty of frogs and newts, and
will often secure a water-rat even when fully grown. It
is seldom that fish which are of any value to the angler
come into water in which the Heron could catch them,
and even if they did so, their size would prevent the bird
from taking them.
THE HERON. 27
At Walton Hall, where the Herons breed largely, and
where they procure nearly all the food for themselves and
young out of the lake, there is no lack of fish, as may be
practically proved by any one who is permitted to cast
a line into the water. I am a very poor fisherman, and
yet I never found any difficulty in taking in the course
of the morning quite as many fish as could easily be
So far indeed is the Heron from injuring the interests
of the angler, that it is a positive benefactor. Mr.
Waterton, who was obliged by the continual burrowing
of water-rats to drain and fill up a series of large. ponds,
makes the following remarks on the bird:-" Had I
known then as much as I do now of the valuable services
of the Heron, and had there been a good heronry near the
place, I should not have made the change. The draining
of the ponds did not seem to lessen the number of rats in
the brook: but soon after the Herons had settled here to
breed, the rats became exceedingly scarce, and now I
rarely see one in the place where formerly I could observe
numbers sitting on the stones at the mouth of their holes,
as soon as the sun had gone below the horizon."
When the Heron flies to its nest from any great distance,
it generally ascends to a considerable height, and is in the
habit of uttering a curious and very harsh cry, which at
once tells the naturalist that a Heron is on the wing.
When a Heron passes immediately over the observer, the
effect is very remarkable, the long, stretched-out legs and
neck and slender body looking like a large knitting-needle
supported on enormous wings.
To see the Heron alight on its nest or on a branch is
rather a curious sight. The bird descends, drops its long
legs, places its feet on the branch, and then flaps its huge
28 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
wings as if to get its balance before it settles down. The
rustics have an idea that a Heron is obliged to allow its
legs to dangle on either side of the nest while it sits on
its eggs and some will aver that a hole is made in the
St w t l c b I i
:- -- ,- - -
i, :.- ,"
.MA ,, -
e ce .s. a t t
.est= throu.- which the le..s can be thrust. It is scarcely
THE CHAFFINCH. 29
prevents it from assuming such an attitude, and that the
long Heron can sit as easily upon its pale green eggs as
the short-limbed domestic fowl on her white eggs.
Some of our common British birds build nests that can
vie, in point of beauty and delicacy, with any nest made
by birds of other lands. It is scarcely possible to con-
ceive a nest which is more worthy of admiration than that
of the Long-tailed Titmouse, which has already been
described; and in their own way, the houses erected by
the Chaffinch and Goldfinch are quite as beautiful. As
there are some points of similarity in the two nests, they
will be mentioned in connection with each other.
First, we will take the nest of the CHAFFINCH.
Although the beautifully-spotted eggs are plentiful in
the collection of every nest-hunting schoolboy, they do not
come into his little museum for some time. The eggs of
the blackbird, thrush, and hedge-warbler are generally the
first to be found, because the nests in which they are con-
tained are so conspicuous. But the nest of the Chaffinch
is never easily seen, and its discovery requires a special
training of the eye.
An experienced nest-hunter will always detect it, and it
is amusing to watch the bewildered expression of a novice
to whom a Chaffinch-nest is pointed out, and who cannot
see it in spite of all the indications of his instructor. The
bird likes to find the fork of a tree or bush, where several
branches are thrown out from one spot, and so as to form
a kind of cup in which the nest can lie. Tall hawthorns,
or even sloe or crab-trees, especially if they grow in thick
hedges, are favourite trees with the Chaffinch, and a
luxuriant and untrimmed hedgerow is always prolific
30 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
Within the forked branches, the bird constructs its nest,
and does so in rather a singular manner. The chief material
is wool, which is matted together so as to form a kind of
loose felt, and with this felt are woven delicate mosses,
spider-webs, cottony down, and lichens. The last-men-
tioned materials are stuck most ingeniously upon the
outside of the nest, and have the effect of making it look
exactly like a natural excrescence from the tree in which
it is placed.
This pretty nest is generally deep in proportion to its
width, and is lined with hairs, arranged in a most methodi-
cal manner, so as to form a cup for the eggs. The hair of
the cow is much used by the Chaffinch, which may be seen
collecting its stock of hairs from the fields wherein cows
are pastured, not plucking them directly from the body of
the animal, but searching for them in the crevices of the
trees and posts against which the cattle are accustomed
to rub themselves. Mostly, the bird can only procure
single hairs; but when it is fortunate enough to find a
tuft or bunch of hairs, it pulls them out, and works them
separately into the nest, so as to ensure the needful uni-
formity. The hair of the horse is largely used by the
Chaffinch, as is the fur of several other animals; but in the
generality of nests the hairs of the cow predominate.
The texture of the nest is very strong, and, owing to the
nature of the materials, is very elastic, returning to its
original shape even after severe pressure. Boys seldom
take the eggs of the Chaffinch, because they are so plen-
tiful; but they are too apt to take the nest itself, knowing
that it makes a safe and convenient basket for the eggs of
rarer birds, and forgetting that they cause much sorrow to
the poor birds that have spent so much trouble in preparing
THE GOLDFINCH. 31
As I have already mentioned, there is some resem-
blance between the nest of the chaffinch and that of the
NEST OF GOLDFINCH.
In point of beauty, neither yields to the other, for the
materials are much the same, and the mode of structure is
nearly identical. The nest of the Goldfinch, however, is
32 THE BRANCH-B BUILDERS.
shallower than that of the chaffinch, and the lichens and
moss of which it is partly made are not stuck on the out-
side, but are woven so deeply into the walls that the whole
surface is quite smooth.
The position of the two nests, however, is very different.
Instead of choosing the forks of a bough, the Goldfinch
likes to make its nest near the end of a horizontal branch,
so that it waves about and dances up and down as the
branch is swayed by the wind. It might be thought that
the eggs would be shaken out by a tolerably sharp breeze,
and such would indeed be the case, were they not kept in
their place by the form of the nest. If one of the best
examples be examined, it will be seen to have the edge
thickened and slightly turned inwards, so that, when the
nest is tilted on one side by the swaying of the bough,
the eggs are still retained within. I have seen the branches
of a tree violently agitated by ropes and sticks, and noticed
that the eggs in a Goldfinch's nest retained their position
until the branch was struck upwards close to the spot on
which the nest was made, all the previous agitation having
failed to dislodge them.
The lining of the Goldfinch's nest is unlike that which
is used by the chaffinch. The latter bird mostly employs
hair, while the former makes great use of vegetable-down,
such as can be obtained from the willow, the coltsfoot, and
other plants. Like other birds, the Goldfinch will not
take needless trouble, and if it can find a stray tuft of
cotton-wool, will carry it off, and work it into the nest.
Sheep-wool is also used for the same purpose; but the
bird likes nothing so well as down, and will use it in
preference to any other material. On this soft bed repose
the five pretty eggs, white, tinged with blue, and diver-
THE BULLFINCH. 33
sified with small greyish-purple spots. Now and then a
small streak is seen; but the spots are the rule, and the
streaks the exception.
Altogether, it is hardly possible to find a more beautiful
group than is made by a pair of Goldfinches, their nest,
The nest of the BULLFINCH is unlike that of the gold-
finch, though it is sometimes found in similar localities.
This bird seems to be rather capricious in its ideas of
nest-making, sometimes preferring trees, and sometimes
building in shrubs.
There was a little spinney which I once knew, in which
were any number of Bullfinch-nests, the underwood being
very attractive to the birds. All the nests were built very
low, seldom more than four feet from the ground, and, to
the best of my recollection, were placed among the branches
of hazel and dogwood. The nest of the Bullfinch is by no
means so neat and smooth as that of the goldfinch, but
is made in a much looser manner; the foundation being
formed of slender twigs, usually those of the birch, and
the inner wall of the nest woven of delicate fibrous roots.
This wall is flimsy in structure, rather shallow, and neither
so deep nor so round as that of the goldfinch. The lining
is made of similar materials, but of a finer kind.
The quantity of sticks used as the foundation for this
nest varies according to the kind of branch on which it
is placed; for when the bird selects a forked twig, such
as that of the hazel or dogwood, it uses a considerable
quantity of sticks; but when it places its nest on the
nearly horizontal spray of the fir, it finds a sufficient
foundation ready made, and only just lays a few twigs to
fill up a blank space. The egg of the Bullfinch is some-
34 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
thing like that of the goldfinch, but larger and more
In some works upon the eggs and nests of birds, the
Bullfinch is said to build in bushes of considerable height
and size. Now, this is not necessarily the case, inasmuch
as the spinney which has just been mentioned was composed
entirely of trees and low brushwood, and the Bullfinches
always preferred the latter. I certainly have often found
their nests in tall bushes, and sometimes in trees; but they
were always placed at so low an elevation, that the height
of the tree or bush had no effect on that of the nest.
There is a bird called the Hoop-shaver Bee, which
strips off the down that clothes the stem of the common
bladder-campion, or white-bottle, and uses it for the lining
of her nest.
There is a bird found in North America, which has a
similar habit, peeling off the downy hairs of plants, and
using them in the structure of its nest. This is the pretty
little BLUE-EYED YELLOW WARBLER, remarkable for the
contrast afforded by its blue bill and eyelids with the
golden yellow of its head and breast.
When the bird builds her nest, she places it in the
foot of a shrub, either among briars or under them, and
weaves its outer walls of vegetable fibre, using flax or tow
whenever she can find it. The walls of the nest are
strongly made, and woven firmly into the twigs that
support it. When she has finished the outer nest, the
bird goes to the fields, and carries off the hair of cattle and
other animals, and weaves them into a lining, which is
made softer and warmer by the downy hairs which grow
on the stems of certain ferns, and which the bird plucks
off with great address.
THE BALD-HEADED EAGLE. 35
It is not only a pretty, but an useful and interesting
bird. It is useful, because it is one of the insect-eaters,
and may be constantly seen at work among the leaves,
picking up the little green caterpillars which destroy the
trees, and which form its chief food. Moreover, it brings
up two broods of young during the year, each brood being
four or five in number, so that the havoc which it makes
among the caterpillars may be imagined. It is interesting,
on account of the love which it bears towards its young, and
its undaunted courage in defending them. When it is
free from the cares of a family, it is as timid as any other
bird, and makes the best of its way from the danger. But
if its nest be approached while the eggs or young are still
in it, the little bird seems to lose all fear, and devotes
itself to the task of decoying away the approaching foe.
It pretends to be very ill or lame, stretches out its neck,
trails its wings, drops its tail, and flutters feebly along
the branches, in order to delude the enemy into an idea
that it is so lame that it can easily be caught. The male
is even a greater adept than the female at this practice,
and, if he thinks that he has not decoyed the intruder far
enough, he will slip through the branches, fly round, and
repeat the process.
Another North American bird is a mighty nest-
maker, trusting for safety to the inaccessible nature
of the tree on which its home is placed. This is
the well-known BALD-HEADED EAGLE, sometimes called
the BIRD OF WASHINGTON, which has been accepted
as the emblem of the United States of America. The
nest of this bird has been admirably described by the
two great masters of American ornithology, Audubon
and Wilson; and as it is not easy to improve upon the
36 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
language of those who were at the same time good observers
and practised writers, their accounts will be given in their
own words. The reader will perceive that the two his-
tories are placed side by side, because the points that are
omitted by one are supplied by the other.
I may mention that the term "; bald-headed," as applied
to this splendid bird, is by no means correct, because the
head is feathered as densely as any other part of the body;
but as the head of the adult bird is white, it produces an
effect, when viewed at a distance, as if it were deprived
altogether of feathers, and covered with a white skin. The
following account is by Wilson:-
"The White-headed Eagle is seldom seen alone, the
mutual attachment which two individuals form when they
first pair seeming to continue until one of them dies or is
destroyed. They hunt for the support of each other, and
seldom feed apart, but usually drive off other birds of the
same species. They commence their amatory intercourse
at an earlier period than any other land bird with which
I am acquainted, generally in the month of December.
SAt this time, along the Mississippi, or by the margin
of some lake not far in the interior of the forest, the male
and female birds are observed making a great bustle, flying
about and circling in various ways, uttering a loud cackling
noise, alighting on the dead branches of the tree on which
their nest is already preparing, or in the act of being
repaired, and caressing each other. In the beginning of
January. incubation commences. I shot a female, on the
17th of that month, as she sat on her eggs. on which the
chicks had made considerable progress.
The nest, which in some instances is of great size, is
usually placed on a very tall tree, destitute of branches to
a considerable height. but by no means always a dead one.
THE BALD-HEADED EAGLE. 37
It is never seen on rocks. It is composed of sticks, from
three to five feet in length, large pieces of turf, rank weeds,
and Spanish moss in abundance, whenever that substance
happens to be near. When finished, it measures from five
to six feet in diameter; and so great is the accumulation
of materials, that it sometimes measures the same in depth,
it being occupied for a great number of years in succession,
and receiving some augmentation each season. When
placed in a naked tree, between the forks of the branches,
it is conspicuously seen at a great distance.
"The eggs, which are from two to four, more commonly
two or three, are of a dull white colour, and equally rounded
at both ends, some of them being occasionally granulated.
Incubation lasts for more than three weeks; but I have not
been able to ascertain its precise duration, as I have observed
the female, on different occasions, sit for a few days on the
nest before laying the first egg. Of this I assured myself
by climbing to the nest every day in succession, during her
temporary absence-a rather perilous undertaking when the
bird is sitting.
;' I have seen the young birds not larger than middle-
sized pullets. At this time, they are covered with a soft
cottony kind of down, their bills and legs appearing dis-
proportionately large. Their first plumage is of a greyish
colour, tinted with brown of different depths of tint; and
before the parents drive them off from the nest they are
"I once caught three young eagles of this species,
when fully fledged, by having the tree on which their nest
was cut down. It caused great trouble to secure them, as
they could fly and scramble much faster than any of our
party could run. They, however, gradually became fatigued,
and, at length, were so exhausted, as to offer no resistance
38 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
when we were securing them with cords. This happened
on the border of the Lake Pontchartrain, in the month of
April. The parents did not think fit to come within gun-
shot of the tree while the axe was at work."
We will now turn to the second of these celebrated
ornithologists, and see what he has to say on the nesting
of this splendid bird :-
"The nest of this species is generally fixed on a very
large and lofty tree, often in a swamp or morass, and diffi-
cult to be ascended. On some noted tree of this description,
often a pine or cypress, the Bald Eagle builds, year after
year, for a long series of years. When both male and
female have been shot from the nest, another pair has soon
after taken possession. The nest is large, being added
to and repaired every season, until it becomes a black
prominent mass, observable at a considerable distance.
It is formed of large sticks, sods, earthy rubbish, hay,
"Many have stated to me, that the female lays first a
single egg, and that after having sat on it for some time,
she lays another; when the first is hatched, the warmth
of that, it is pretended, hatched the other. Whether this
be correct or not, I cannot determine; but a very respect-
able gentleman of Virginia assured me that he saw a large
tree cut down, containing the nest of a Bald Eagle, in which
were two young, one of which appeared nearly three times
as large as the other.
As a proof of their attachment to their young, a person
near Norfolk informed me, that in clearing a piece of wood
on his place, they met with a large dead pine-tree, on
which was a Bald Eagle's nest and young. The tree being
on fire more than half-way up, and the flames rapidly
ascending, the parent eagle darted round and among the
THE BALD-HEADED EAGLE. 39
flames, until her plumage was so much injured, that it
was with difficulty she could make her escape; and even
_ __ -
GOLDEN ORIOLES AND NEST.
then she several times attempted to return, to relieve her
40 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
The bird next on our list is rather variable in its
The GOLDEN ORIOLE is seldom seen in England, and its
nest even more seldom. Every year, however, a few stray
nests are built in this country, as there are few years in
which the journals devoted to natural history do not con-
tain a notice of the bird being seen, and occasionally of its
nest being found. In the warmer parts of the Continent
it is plentiful, and in Italy is regularly exposed in the
markets towards the middle of autumn, when it has in-
dulged in fruit for some time and has become very plump
In this condition it is well known to epicures under the
name of Becquafiga, corrupted into Beccafico. It is not
easily procured, as it is a very wary bird, and does not like
to venture far from covert. In the autumn, however, its
love of fruit conquers its fear of man, and it haunts the
orchards in numbers, making no small havoc among the
fruit. Even under such circumstances it is not easy of
approach, and the gunner will seldom manage to secure
his prey except by imitating its peculiar and flute-like
notes. He must, however, be very careful in his mimicry,
for the bird has a critical ear, and if it detects the imi-
tator, is sure to slip through the foliage and fly off to its
The nest of the Golden Oriole is always placed near the
extremity of a branch, and in some cases is so constructed
that it almost deserves to be ranked among the pensiles.
It is always a pretty nest, and the illustration on page 39
conveys a good idea of its general form. It is always more
or less cup-like in shape, but the comparative depth of the
cup is very variable, as in some cases it is scarcely deeper
in proportion than that of the goldfinch, and rather saucer-
THE GOLDEN ORIOLE. 41
shaped, while in others the depth even exceeds the width.
Perhaps the nest may be altered in shape after the female
begins to deposit her eggs, as is known to be the case
with many birds, the additions being always made to the
It is a remarkable fact that this enlargement of the nest
should be common both to birds and insects, for the wasp,
as well as other hymenoptera, lays an egg in the cell
while it is yet shallow, and adds to the cell in pro-
portion to the growth of the grub. The time of year,
therefore, at which the nest of the Golden Oriole is
found will have an influence on its shape, as the nest
which is taken in the early spring, before the eggs are
laid, will probably be shallower than that which is found
in autumn, after the eggs have been hatched and the
The object for deepening the nest may probably be traced
to the weather which happens to prevail. If the winds be
light, the nest may remain in its flat and saucer-like form
without endangering the safety of the eggs, but if the
season should be inclement and tempestuous, a deeper nest
is needed in order to prevent the eggs or young from being
flung out of their home.
The body of the nest is formed chiefly of vegetable
substances, usually the stems of different grasses, which
are interwoven with wool, and thus made into a tolerably
strong fabric. The female bird is said to be very affec-
tionate, and to sit so closely on her nest that she will
almost suffer the hand to be laid upon her before she will
leave her post. In the illustration, the female bird is
standing upright on the branch, and looking upwards,
while the male is bending over the bough, and peering
downwards, as if at some fancied foe, He can always be
42 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
distinguished from his mate by the brighter gold of his
plumage, the black spot between the eye and the beak,
and the deeper black of his wings; whereas in the female,
a tinge of blue invades the yellow, changing it to yellowish
green, the wings are brown, edged with grey, and the
black spot in front of the eye is altogether absent. More-
over, the breast and belly are marked with many longi-
tudinal dashes of greyish brown.
One of the most variable of birds in its nesting is the
well-known RED-WINGED STARLING of Northern America.
This beautiful bird derives its popular name from the
fiery scarlet of the lesser wing-coverts, contrasting so
boldly with the jet-black of the remaining plumage. It
is known by several opprobrious names in its own country,
such as Corn-thief, Maize-thief, &c., because it is popularly
thought to live upon corn, whereas, like our starling, it is
a most insatiable eater of the grubs, caterpillars, and other
creatures which infest the corn-fields, and only eats corn
at a certain time. There is, however, one season in the year
in which the Red-winged Starling becomes an arrant thief.
It is said that every living creature can be bribed, if the
right bribe can only be found, and in the case of this bird,
the newly-developed maize-grains present a temptation
which it cannot resist. It is not alone in this predilection,
for there are many other birds and some quadrupeds, the
bear being the most conspicuous, which revel in the sweet,
pulpy, succulent Indian corn. Even mankind is overcome
with this delicacy. The white man fills his pockets with
the plump ears, and munches them as he goes on with his
business, and the copper-skinned native half-stupefies him-
self by gorging the cream-like grains. Small blame there-
fore to the bird for following an example which is set by
THE RED-WINGED STARLING. 43
its superiors. But before the maize is developed, and after
it is hardened, the Red-winged Starling depends chiefly
on insect-food for its subsistence, and is, therefore, a truly
useful bird, deserving to be protected rather than destroyed,
and only requiring to be driven out of the maize-plantations
for a week or two in the course of the year.
The nest of this bird is almost always built in morasses
where reeds are plentiful, and in such places it almost
invariably roosts, flocking to them towards nightfall in
vast masses that absolutely blacken the air, now appearing
as a vast dull cloud, and now suddenly flecked with blood-
red patches, as the black bodies and scarlet wings are
alternately turned to the spectator.
Somewhere about the end of April, the Red-winged
Starling begins to make its nest. This is sometimes placed
on the ground, sometimes on a grass-tussock, and some-
times in a branch, thus being more variable in position
than is the nest of any other bird. The mode of structure
and materials of the nest differ with the locality.
When the nest is placed on the ground, it is composed
of a few rushes and grass stems, the chief care of the bird
being to secure a soft lining of grass-blades. When it is
built in a grass or rush-tussock, the stems are drawn
together and held in their places by long grasses, so as to
make a hollow wherein the nest may repose.
But when it is placed on a branch it is much more
complicated. The bushes which are found in swampy
places are always so slender and flexible, that much care
is required in order to render them capable of bearing the
nest. The bird, therefore, takes a quantity of wet rushes
and long grasses, and twists them round a number of twigs,
intertwining them so as to bring these twigs into a rudely-
shaped hollow cylinder. From the same materials the
44 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
body of the nest is formed, and the lining is made from
dry grass blades. Little pains are taken to hide the nest,
because the swampy nature of the ground prevents the
intrusion of many foes, and in some cases three or four
nests are seen close to each other on a single bush.
One of the common American birds, the YELLOW-
BREASTED CHAT, is not only remarkable for its really pretty
nest, but for the manner in which it defends its home.
Although so chary of being seen that an experienced
ornithologist may follow it for an hour by its voice, and
never catch a glimpse of the bird, it is full of talk, and
as soon as a human being approaches, it begins to voci-
ferate reproaches in an odd series of syllabic sounds,
which can be easily imitated. Mocking the bird is an
unfailing method of doubling its anger, and will cause
it to follow the imitator for a long distance, although it
will even under these circumstances keep itself hidden
in the foliage. Wilson's account of the curious sounds
which it utters is very graphic and interesting. On
these occasions his responses are constant and rapid,
strongly expressive of anger and anxiety, and while the
bird itself remains unseen, the voice shifts from place to
place among the bushes, as if it proceeded from a spirit.
First is heard a repetition of short notes, resembling the
whistling of the wings of a duck or teal, beginning loud
and rapid, and falling lower and slower, till they end in
detached notes. Then a succession of others, something
like the barking of young puppies, is followed by a variety
of hollow, guttural sounds, each eight or ten times repeated,
more like those proceeding from the throat of a quadruped
than that of a bird; which are succeeded by others not
tanlike the mewing of a cat, but considerably hoarser.
THE YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. 45
"All these are uttered with great vehemence, in such
different keys and with such peculiar modulation of voice
as sometimes to seem at a considerable distance, and in-
stantly as if just beside you; now on this side and now
on that: so that, from these manoeuvres of ventriloquism,
you are utterly at a loss to ascertain from what particular
spot or quarter they proceed. If the weather be mild and
serene, with clear moonlight, he continues gabbling in the
same strange dialect, with very little intermission, during
the whole night, as if disputing with his own echoes.
While the female is sitting, the cries of the male are
still more loud and incessant. When once aware that
you have seen him, he is less solicitous to conceal himself,
and will sometimes mount up into the air, almost per-
pendicularly, with his legs hanging, descending, as he
rose, by repeated jerks, as if highly irritated, or, as is
vulgarly said, 'dancing mad.' All this noise and gesticu-
lation we must attribute to his extreme affection for his
mate and young; and when we consider the great distance
from which in all probability he comes, the few young
produced at a time, and that seldom more than once in
the season, we can see the wisdom of Providence very
manifestly in the ardency of his passions."
The nest which the bird defends with such skill and
courage is very well concealed in a dense thicket, and the
bird is always best pleased if it can find a bramble-bush
thick in foliage and well beset with thorns. Sometimes
it is forced to content itself with a vine or a cedar, and in
any case it is seldom more than four or five feet from the
ground. The outer wall is made of leaves, within which
is a layer formed of the thin bark of the grape-vine, and the
lining is formed of dried grasses and fibrous roots of plants.
An allied bird, the YELLOW-THROATED CHAT, makes a
46 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
nest somewhat similar in materials, though not in locality,
to that of the preceding bird. It is usually fixed in the
horizontal branch of a tree or bush, and is made from the
bark of the grape-vine, moss, and lichens, and is lined
with fine vegetable fibres.
RINGDOVE AND NEST.
Of our four British pigeons, two are branch-builders.
The Stockdove places its nest in holes in trees, in holes
in the ground, or on the tops of pollard oaks, willows,
and similarly crippled trees. The Rockdove makes its
rude nest in the crevices of the rocks which it frequents.
But the Ringdove and the Turtledove are true branch-
builders, and are therefore noticed in this place.
We will first take the RINGDOVE, sometimes called
THE RINGDOVE. 47
the Wood-pigeon, the Woodquest or queest, and the
The nest of the Ringdove is placed in a variety of loca-
lities, for the bird is not in the least particular in this
respect. Sometimes it is situated near the top of a
lofty tree, and sometimes it is found in a hedge only a
few feet from the ground. I have seen nests in both
Mr. Waterton mentions a curious circumstance con-
nected with this bird. In a spruce fir-tree there was the
nest of a magpie, containing seven eggs, which were
removed and those of the jackdaw substituted. Below
this nest a Ringdove had chosen to fix her abode, and so
the curious fact was seen, that on the same tree, in close
proximity to each other, were magpies, jackdaws, and
Ringdoves, and all living in perfect amity. It might
have been supposed that the magpies and jackdaws would
have robbed the nest of the Ringdove, but such was not
the case. Moreover, the bird knew instinctively that she
would not be endangered by her neighbours, for she came
to the tree after the magpie had settled in it.
The nest of the Ringdove is of so simple a character as
scarcely to deserve the name. The bird chooses a suitable
spray, and lays upon it a number of sticks, which cross
each other so as to make a nearly flat platform. Many
birds make a similar platform as the foundation of their
nest, but with the Ringdove it constitutes the entire nest.
So slight is the texture of the platform, that when the two
white eggs are laid upon it they can be discerned from
below by a practised eye, and it really seems wonderful
that they can retain their position on such a structure.
Moreover, the open meshes of the nest allow the wind
to blow freely between the sticks, so that nothing would
48 THE BRA NCH-BUILDERS.
seem to be more uncomfortable for the young. Above,
they can certainly be sheltered by the warm body and
protecting wings, but below they seem to be exposed to
every blast. Yet they find shelter enough, and not only
find it, but make it. With the generality of birds, the
droppings are conveyed away by the parents, but with
the Ringdove they are allowed to remain, when they
rapidly fill up all the open interstices, and form a dry
scentless plaster, which effectually defends the tender
bodies of the young from the wind, and has the further
effect of consolidating and strengthening the nest.
Although the nests are plentiful enough, and the eggs
are common in the cabinet of zoologists, it is not very easy
to find a nest that is furnished with this curious plaster,
probably because some one of the many foes which perse-
cute the Ringdove has discovered the nest, stolen the eggs,
or killed the parent before the young birds were hatched.
It has already been mentioned that, with many branch-
building birds, the thickness of the nest, or of the platform
on which it is placed, is regulated by the exposed or
sheltered position of the branch, and such is the case with
the Ringdove. Although in some instances the platform
is so flimsy that the eggs can be seen through the inter-
stices, in other cases it is from half an inch to an entire
inch in thickness. In all cases, the longest twigs are first
laid, and followed by those of smaller size; and, although
the whole structure is very rude, it is always made with
sufficient care to assume a tolerably circular shape.
The Turtledove builds a nest of a very similar form,.
and, if possible, even slighter in construction.
Every one knows the common catchweed so plentiful in
waste ground. The long trailing stems of this plant are
THE MOCKING-BIRD. 49
used by a pretty little bird in making its nest, and are
most ingeniously twined among the branches into the
needful shape. The bird which uses this plant is the
WHITETHROAT, sometimes called the Haychat and Nettle-
creeper. Its ordinary name is due to the white feathers
of the throat, and it is called Nettle-creeper because it
is so active among the weeds that fringe the hedgerows.
The nest is always placed low, and I have mostly found it
towards the top of some stubby bush or shrub, about three
feet from the ground. Although placed in such localities,
it is not very easy of discovery, as it is well hidden by the
foliage, and in most instances the boughs must be pressed
aside before the nest can be made clearly visible. Although
the catchweed is used by the bird in making the frame-
work of the nest, it does not consider itself bound to
employ no other substance, but uses grass blades and
vegetable fibres. The lining of the nest is simply made
of fine hay, among which are twined a variable number of
horsehairs, sometimes only twenty or thirty, and sometimes
in such a quantity as almost to conceal the hay. It is in
allusion to the lining of the nest that the bird is called
Haychat. The nest varies much in thickness, probably in
proportion to the density of the bush in which it is placed.
The celebrated MOCKING-BIRD of America is also one of
The situation chosen by the bird is always variable,
depending almost entirely on the nature of the district
and the character of the inhabitants. Should the bird be
resident in some wild part of the country, it takes some
pains to conceal its nest, choosing the most impenetrable
thicket that can be found. A thick thorn-bush is a
favourite spot, because the sharp points serve to deter
50 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
intruders from forcing their way to the nest; and the
cedar is sometimes chosen, because its dark masses of
foliage afford such a cover for the nest that it can scarcely
be detected even by one who is looking for it.
But, should the bird build in some inhabited locality,
where it is taught by instinct that it will not be molested,
it makes its nest close to the house, and cares not to hide
it. Six or seven feet from the ground is the usual height
at which the nest is placed, and the bird has so little
anxiety about its nest that it often builds upon the branches
of a pear or apple tree. The nest itself is rather a pleasing
specimen of bird architecture, and is mostly built upon a
slight foundation of delicate twigs, intermixed with dry
weeds of the preceding year. The body of the nest is
formed of straw, grass, wool, and vegetable fibres, and the
lining is almost wholly composed of very fine fibrous roots.
Although the bird is so careless about concealing its
nest, it is jealously anxious about intruders, and attacks
indiscriminately any beast, reptile, or bird that approaches
the favoured spot. Dogs are forced to run away from the
sharp beak and buffeting wings of the angry bird; the cat
finds that the ascent of a tree while a pair of infuriated
birds are pecking her nose and blinding her eyes is an
impracticable task; and even man himself is attacked by
the fearless defenders of the home.
The worst and most treacherous foe, however, is the
black snake, a harmless reptile, but one that is much
dreaded by uninstructed pedestrians, because it imitates
the manners of the rattlesnake with such fidelity that it is
generally reckoned among the poisonous serpents. This
snake lives mostly on rats, mice, young birds, and eggs,
and in pursuit of the last-mentioned dainties will ascend
trees and traverse any branch which holds a nest.
THE MOCKING-BIRD. 51
The very sight of the black snake inflames the Mocking-
Bird with fury, and he instantly darts at it, avoiding its
stroke with admirable quickness, and dealing a rapid
/ >7" '.
-- ~-----2 ----- ...
WATER HEN AND NEST.
succession of blows on the reptile's head. The black
snake is peculiarly vulnerable about the head, and even
tries to retreat, but is prevented from escaping by the
$2 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
Mocking-Bird, which redoubles his efforts and easily beats
the reptile down. As soon as he sees his advantage he
seizes the snake by the neck, lifts it from the ground,
buffets it with his wings, pecks it again as it drops, and
ceases not until the hated enemy is left dead on the ground.
The well-known WATER HEN or MOOR HEN is nearly,
though not quite, as variable in its nesting as the red-
winged starling lately described. The nest is always
placed near the water, but the bird seems to be very
indifferent about the precise locality.
Sometimes it is made on the ground, and in that case
is laid among sedges and rushes where the water cannot
reach it. The Water Hen, however, is not averse to
nesting in a warm and comfortable place, for Mr. Waterton
mentions that on one occasion, when he had built a neat
little brick house for a duck, and furnished it with dry
hay for a nest, a Water Hen took possession of it, and the
duck had to find a home elsewhere.
Sometimes the nest is made on a branch, and in that
case the bird selects a very low bough which overhangs
the water. I have found several nests thus placed, and
in one case the only method of getting at the nest was to
enter the water and swim round to it. It is a large and
rudely-made nest, and from its size appears to be more
conspicuous than is really the case. When it is placed
on a bough, the twigs of the same branch often dip into
the water, and the nest looks like a bunch of weeds and
other debris that have floated down the stream and been
arrested by the branch.
The similitude is increased by a curious habit of the
bird. When she leaves her nest, she pulls over her eggs
a quantity of the same substances as those which form
THE WATER HEN. 53
the materials of the nest, so that they are completely
hidden from sight, and the form of the nest is quite
obscured. It is true that the nest is not unfrequently
found with the eggs exposed, but this apparent negli-
gence is always caused by the frightened bird dashing off
at the approach of the intruder, and having no time to
cover her eggs properly. The object of covering the eggs
was once thought to be the retention of heat, the neigh-
bourhood of water being imagined to be injurious. As,
however, many birds build as close to the water as does
the Water Hen, and do not cover the eggs, it is evident that
concealment and not warmth is the object to be attained.
I may mention that the illustration was sketched from
a nest before it was removed, and that most of the nests
have been drawn in the same manner from actual objects.
The eggs are many in number, seldom less than six,
and often eight, and their united weight is far from incon-
siderable, as they are fully proportioned to the size of the
bird. The young are the oddest little beings imaginable,
looking like spherical puffs of black down, rather than
birds. They take to the water at once, and if the reader
can manage to watch the mother and her little family, he
will see one of the quaintest and prettiest groups that our
country can supply. The little black balls swim about
quite at their ease, keeping within a short distance of
their parent, and traversing the water with a rapidity
that reminds the observer of the gyrini, or whirligig
beetles. In spite of the prolific nature of the bird, it is
not so numerous as it might be, having many enemies in
its youth, the worst of which is the pike; which comes up
silently from below, opens its terrible jaws, and absorbs
the unsuspecting bird.
FEATHERED BRANCH-BUILDERS (Concluded).
The SEDGE-WARBLER-Its nest and loquacity-The REED-WARBLER-Use
of its peculiar tail-Localities haunted by the bird-Song of the Reed-
Warbler-Its deep and beautifully balanced nest-Colour of the eggs
-The INDIGO BIRD-The CAPOCIER-Familiarity of the bird-Le
Vaillant's experiments-How the nest is made-Division of labour-
Lover's quarrels-Structure of the nest-Humming-birds again-The
FIERY TOPAz-Its nocturnal habits-Appearance of the nest-Its
shape, and the materials of which it is made-The HERMIT HUMMING-
BIRDS and their nests-The RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD-Vari-
able dimensions of the nest-Concealment -Mr. Webber and his
discoveries-Variable form and positions of the nest-Materials of
which it is made-Its deceptive exterior-Feeding of the young-The
VERVAIN HUMMING-BIRD-How the nest assumes its shape-The RED-
BACKED SHRIKE-Use of the Shrike in falconry-Their singular mode
of feeding-Impaled prey-Conspicuous character of the nest-Popular
ideas concerning the Red-backed Shrike-Structure of the nest-
The HEDGE SPARROW-Its proper title-Carelessness about its nest-
Foes of the Hedge Sparrow-Its fecundity.
ANOTHER bird that loves to build near water is the pretty
little SEDGE WARBLER.
The nest of this bird is placed at a very low elevation,
usually within a foot or so from the ground, and raised
upon rushes, reeds, or other coarse herbage, which is found
abundantly in such places. There is more material in the
nest than might be supposed from the size of the bird and
the slender stems by which it is supported. Viewed from
the exterior, it seems to have the ordinary cup-shaped
THE SEDGE IWARBLER. 53
form which is so prevalent among small birds, but looked
at from above, the apparent depth is seen to be owing to
the mass of material, the hollow being singularly small
and shallow. It is a well-made nest, the general frame-
work being formed of leaves of grass-blades, while strength,
NEST OF THE REED WARBLER.
warmth, and density are attained by the quantity of wool
and hair which are woven into the fabric.
The Sedge Warbler is well known for its loquacity, and
its ceaseless chatter. Should it be silent, a stone flung
among the reeds and sedges will always induce it to
recommence its little song.
The remarkably beautiful nest which is here shown is
56 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
built by one of the British birds, but is not often found,
on account of the localities where it is placed.
The architect of this nest is the REED WARBLER. It is
a pretty little bird, bright brown above, yellow-brown
below. In some respects it resembles the sedge warbler,
but does not possess the remarkable wedge-shaped tail of
that bird. R. Mudie, in his "History of British Birds,"
offers the following suggestion respecting this difference
of form. When treating of the sedge warbler, he remarks
that the slender head, pointed bill, and wedge-shaped tail
are useful to the bird by enabling it to glide between the
tall aquatic plants among which it resides and finds its
food. Of the Reed Warbler he writes as follows:-
"That the bird is not adapted for so many situations as
the sedge bird, might be inferred from the different form
of the tail, which is more produced and not wedge-shaped,
so that while it answers better as a balance on the bending
reeds or other flexible aquatic plants, it would not be so
convenient among the unyielding sprays of a hedge or brake.
The bird rarely, if ever, perches upon the tops of reeds, even
on its first arrival, and when the song of invitation to a
mate is given, its place is on a leaf or a leaning stem,
though upon an emergency it can cling to an upright one,
the stiff feathers of the tail acting as a sort of prop.
"It is not easily raised, and remains but a very short
time upon the wing, but it is by no means timid on its
perch, upon which, if it be very flexible, it sits with its
wings not quite closed, but recovered, so as to have a little
hold on the air, and thereby either prevents its fall or be
ready when a gust comes to bear it to a more secure
footing. Its food is found wholly over the stagnant
waters. The Reed Warbler does not come until the reeds
are considerably advanced, and it departs before they are
THE REED WARBLER. 57
cut; so that it dwells in peace, and especially in the
mornings about the end of May and the beginning of
June it may be observed with the greatest ease."
Still, although the bird be common, and although it is
bold enough to admit of approach, it is not generally
familiar, simply because none but professed naturalists are
likely to look for it in the spots which it frequents. The
Reed Warbler loves a large patch of marshy land almost
wholly covered with stagnant water, and full of the reeds
among which its home is made. Such a place is not
agreeable to the pedestrian, for although an hour spent in
wading through water knee-deep is no difficult or even
unpleasant task, yet no one likes to meet also with mud of
various and unknown depths, as is the case in the great reed
swamps where the birds most love to build. Even the song
of the Reed Warbler does not attract attention. Though
musical in tone, it is very feeble in power and monotonous
in character, consisting of several hurried notes in a low
warble, which can only be heard at a little distance.
The nest of this bird is supported between three or four
reeds, as is shown in the illustration, and is remarkably
deep in proportion to its width. The object of this depth
is evident. To bend as a reed before the wind is a pro-
verbial saying, and any one who has seen a large mass of
reeds on a stormy day must have been impressed with
their graceful curves. As the blasts of the wind pass
over them, they bend in successive waves like the billows
of the sea, and are sometimes bowed so low that their tips
nearly reach the water.
A nest, therefore, which rests on such pliant supports
must be thrown out of its perpendicular by every breath
of wind, and unless it were very deep the eggs would be
flung out. The great depth, however, of the nest counter-
58 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
acts the deflection of the reeds; and, however fiercely
the storm may rage, the Reed Warbler sits securely in
her nest, even though it be sometimes nearly bowed to
the surface of the water. The materials of the nest
are generally taken from the immediate neighbourhood,
the body of the nest being composed of broken rushes and
moss bound together with reed leaves, and the lining made
almost wholly of cows' hair.
In the illustration the nest is represented as it appears
during a rather smart breeze. The reeds are all bowed
down by the force of the wind, and the nest is leaning so
much to one side, that its contents would be flung into
the water were it of the ordinary cup-shaped form. The
tiny inmates, however, are perfectly secure in their home,
and crouch in the bottom of the nest, so that there is no
fear that they may be thrown out. The parent birds are
busily attending on their little family, one having just
brought an insect which all the gaping mouths are eager to
devour, while the other is setting off in its turn to perform
the like office. The little eggs are rather pleasing in colour,
being very pale green, almost fading to whitish grey in
parts, and being mottled and speckled with brown or green
darker than the ground hue of the shell. As is usually the
case with similar birds, they are four or five in number.
Many foreign birds are excellent Branch-builders.
One of the best known is a lovely little bird, which is
familiar to us through the mediumship of taxidermists.
who are always glad to insert a few specimens in their
glass cases of brightly plumaged birds. This is the
INDIGO BIRD, or BLUE LINNET of America, which derives
its name from the hue of its feathers. Viewed in some
lights, the plumage is a rich deep azure. shining with a
THE CAPOCIER. 59
satiny lustre in the direct light of the sunbeams, and
deepening into indigo in the shadows. But the most
remarkable point in the hue is, that in certain lights it
changes to that peculiar green which is known to artists
as "verditer," so that the bird seems absolutely to change
its colour if its position be shifted for only a few inches.
Consequently a well-arranged group will have two speci-
mens placed in such a manner that one glows in all the
glory of its azure dress, while another is vivid green. The
wings are black, and retain their colour in all lights.
The nest of the Indigo Bird is set in a bush, and,
according to Wilson, is upheld by two twigs, one passing
up each side, so as to preserve the balance. To the twigs
it is firmly bound with the strong flaxen fibres of which the
walls are formed, and its lining is made of fine grasses.
In Southern Africa there is a small, simply coloured,
but interesting bird, called by Le Vaillant the CAPOCIER,
because it builds in a cotton-yielding tree, called by the
Dutch colonist Capoc-bosche.
The attention of that naturalist was directed to the
bird in the following manner.
Being, in common with all true naturalists, a lover of
birds in their living state, and being in no wise disposed
to kill them without necessity, he had contrived to tame
a pair of little brown birds, which at last became so
familiar that they would enter his tent. On these terms
they remained until the beginning of the breeding season,
when they began to come less regularly, and then to
absent themselves for several successive days. About
this time they became thieves. M. le Vaillant was
accustomed to keep on his table a quantity of tow and
cotton-wool, which he used in stuffing and otherwise
60 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
preparing the skins which he had procured for his
collection. The birds seemed suddenly to take a wonder-
ful fancy to the tow and cotton-wool, and were continually
flying off with them, sometimes stealing a piece that was
nearly as large as both the birds together.
Struck with this sudden fancy of the birds, Le Vaillant
determined to watch them, and soon traced them to a
capoc-bosche tree which grew at some distance, and in
a remarkably retired spot. Among the branches of this
tree they had already begun their nest, which consisted
of a quantity of moss pressed tightly into the forks of a
bough, and which was at the time only in a rudimentary
condition. The moss, in fact, was the foundation of the
nest, upon which the beautiful walls were intended to be
built, just as in the habitation of many other birds there
is a foundation of substances more solid than the materials
of which the walls are made.
Into this nest the Capociers were weaving the stolen
stores of cotton-wool, working it in a manner that will
be presently described. Le Vaillant soon discovered that
the legitimate substance of the nest-walls was the soft,
white down produced by certain plants, and that the birds
used an enormous amount of materials in comparison with
their own size. As, however, they found that upon the
naturalist's table was always a plentiful supply of vegetable
down and fibres ready plucked, they ingeniously saved
themselves the trouble of collecting, and simply resorted
to the hospitable tent.
The male was the principal collector of materials, and
the female the chief architect. He used to fly off, and
return with a mass of cotton-wool, moss, or tow, and
deposit it close to the spot where his mate was at work.
Then she would take the materials, arrange them, press
THE CAPOCIER. 61
them into form, and only ask his assistance in carrying
out her plans. He pressed, and pecked and pulled the
cotton-wool so as to reduce it to a kind of felt, but did
not seem to originate any architectural ideas, leaving them
to his more ingenious mate.
Le Vaillant's account of the mode of working is so
interesting and elegant that in justice to himself it must
be given in his own words. After describing the process
of fetching materials and laying them in their places, he
proceeds as follows:-
"This agreeable occupation was often interrupted by
innocent and playful gambols, though the female appeared
to be so actively and anxiously employed about her
building as to have less relish for trifling than the male,
and she even punished him for his frolics by pecking him
well with her beak. He, on the other hand, fought in his
turn, pecked, pulled down the work which they had done,
prevented the female from continuing her labours, and, in
a word, seemed to tell her, 'On account of this work you
refuse to be my playmate, therefore you shall not do it.'
It will scarcely be credited that, entirely from what
I saw and knew respecting these little altercations, I was
both surprised and angry at the female. In order, how-
ever, to save the fabric from spoliation, she left off working,
and fled from bush to bush, for the express purpose of
teasing him. Soon afterwards, having made matters up
again, the female returned to her labour, and the male
sang for several minutes in the most animated strains.
After his song was concluded, he began again to occupy
himself with the work, and with fresh ardour carried such
materials as his companion required, till the spirit of frolic
again became buoyant, and a scene similar to that which I
have described occurred. I have witnessed eight interrup-
62 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
tions of this kind in one morning. How happy birds are!
They are certainly the privileged creatures of nature, thus
to work and sport alternately, as fancy prompts them.
On the third day the birds began to rear the side walls
of the nest, after having rendered the bottom compact by
repeatedly pressing the materials with their breasts, and
turning themselves round upon them in all directions.
They first formed a plain border, which they afterwards
trimmed, and upon this they piled up tufts of cotton,
which was fitted into the structure by beating and pressing
it with their breasts and the shoulders of their wings,
taking care to arrange any projecting corner with their
beaks, so as to interlace it into the tissue, and to render
it more firm. As the work proceeded, the contiguous
branches of the bush were enveloped in the side walls, but
without damaging the circular cavity of the interior. This
part of the nest required many materials, so that I was
quite astonished at the quantity which they used.
"On the seventh day their task was finished, and, being
anxious to examine the interior, I determined to introduce
my finger, when I felt an egg that had been probably laid
that morning, for on the previous evening I could see that
there was no egg in it, as it was not quite covered in.
"This beautiful edifice, which was as white as snow,
was nine inches in height on the outside, whilst in the
inside it was not more than five. Its external form was
very irregular, on account of the branches which it had
been found necessary to enclose; but the inside exactly
resembled a pullet's egg placed with the smaller end up-
wards. Its greatest diameter was five inches, and the
smallest four. The entrance was two-thirds or more of
the whole height as seen on the outside, but within it
almost reached the arch of the ceiling above."
THE FIERY TOPAZ. 63
One of the most remarkable points of this singularly
beautiful nest is the firm texture of the walls. Externally,
the nest looks as if it were a mere large hollow bunch of
cotton-wool with a hole near the top, and seems to be so
fragile that the eggs would fall through the fabric. But
when the inside of the nest is viewed, it is seen to be
composed of a kind of felt, as firm and close as if it had
been formed by human art, so that neither wind nor wet
can penetrate; and it is capable of upholding a much
greater weight than would be introduced into it. To
pull out a tuft of the cotton-wool is impossible without
tearing a hole in the fabric, so closely are the delicate
fibres interwoven with each other.
In the accompanying illustration are shown the nests
of two species of Humming Bird.
The oddly-shaped nest which occupies the upper part of
the drawing is made by the FIERY TOPAZ, one of the most
magnificent of these lovely birds. Indeed, Prince Lucien
Buonaparte calls it the most beautiful of the Trochilide,
and it is hardly possible to imagine a bird that can surpass
it in brilliancy. The body is fiery scarlet, the head velvet-
black, the throat glittering emerald, with a patch of
crimson in the centre; the lower part of the back is also
green, and the long, slender, crossed feathers of the tail
are purple with a green gloss. So magnificent a bird can
have but few rivals, and there is only one species which
even approaches it in beauty. This is the Crimson Topaz,
a bird which is nearly allied to it, and which much
resembles it in general colouring. It may, however, be
distinguished by the colour of the body, which is crimson
instead of scarlet. -
Curiously enough, although it is bedecked with resplen-
64 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
dent hues, which seem to need the presence of daylight,
and to be made expressly for the purpose of reflecting the
brightest beams of the sun, yet the lovely bird is one of
the night wanderers, being seldom seen as long as the
sun is above the horizon, and preferring to seek its food
.while the wld is shrouded in darkness. Perhaps the
reader may remember that the sea-mouse, whose iridescent
darkness lover, and passes its life sunk in the black mud
of the sea-shore.
N M ,- -
,garst of t ., is al. a
reader may remember that the sea-mouse, whose iridescent
garment possesses all the tints of the rainbow, is also a
darkness lover, and passes its life sunk in the black mud
of the sea-shore.
THE FIERY TOPAZ. 65
The nest which is built by the Fiery Topaz is really a
Its shape is remarkable, and is well shown in the
illustration. It is fastened to the branch with extreme
care, as is clearly necessary from its general form. The
most curious point about the nest is, however, the material
of which it is made. When it was first discovered no one
knew how the bird could have built so strange a structure.
It looked as if it were made of very coarse buff leather, and
was so similar in hue to the branches that surrounded it,
that it seemed more like a natural excrescence than a bird's
nest. The reason for this similitude was simple enough.
It was made of a natural excrescence, and therefore re-
When the Fiery Topaz wishes to build a nest, it goes
off to the trees, and searches for a kind of fungus belong-
ing to the genus boletus, and with this singular material
it makes its home. It is tough, leathery, thick, and soft,
and in some curious manner the bird contrives to mould
the apparently intractable substance into the shape which
is represented in the illustration. The non-botanical reader
may form an idea of the appearance of the nest, by sup-
posing it to be made of German tinder, which is, in fact, a
kind of boletus which has been pressed, dried, and steeped
in a weak solution of nitre.
The lower figure in the same illustration represents the
nest of another Humming Bird, belonging to the pretty
little group which are popularly called Hermits, and which
may be recognized by the peculiar shape of the tail, which
is regularly graduated, the two central feathers being, how-
ever, much longer than the others. They are inhabitants
All the Hermits are remarkable for the beauty of their'
66 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
homes, and the present species is mentioned as affording a
good example of nest-making. The nest is always long
and funnel-shaped, and is hung either to a leaf or the
delicate twig of a tree, according to circumstances. The
materials of which the nest is made are rather various,
consisting of vegetable fibres, especially those downy,
cotton-like filaments which are furnished by so many
plants, of small herbs, and spider webs. The last men-
tioned substance is employed for the purpose of binding
the materials together, and is used also in fastening the
nest to the support on which it hangs.
There is another species of this beautiful group, called
the RUBY-THROATED HUMMING BIRD, which is generally
accepted as the typical species. This lovely bird is plenti-
ful in many parts of America, and is sometimes seen as
far north as Canada. It derives its popular name from
the feathers of the throat, which glitter as if made of
burnished metal, and glow with alternate tints of ruby
and orange. The general colour of the body is green, and
the wings are purple-brown. The two sexes are coloured
after the same manner, with the exception of the ruby
gorget, which only belongs to the male, and which is not
attained until the second year. There is no species more
common in museums and ornamental cases than this,
because it is as plentiful as it is lovely. That it should
be plentiful, or indeed that any species of Humming Bird
should be anything but scarce, is matter of wonder, inas-
much as they never lay more than two eggs, and in all
probability do not rear more than three, or perhaps four,
young in the course of a season.
The general habits of this tiny bird are well worthy of
notice, but at present we must content ourselves with it
THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING BIRD. 67
as it appears in its nest-making capacity. Being a very
small bird, only three inches and a half in total length,
and very slenderly made, the nest is necessarily small.
But, although we so often find that little birds build large
nests, we cannot but notice that the nest of this Humming
Bird is even smaller than the size of its occupant seems
to require. It is round, neatly made, and has thick walls
and a small hollow.
The bird has a wonderful power of concealing the nest,
which cannot be discovered except by a practised nest-
hunter, so closely does it resemble a knob upon a branch,
So careful, too, is the female of her home, that she does
not fly straight to it, but rises high in the air, and then
darts down among the branches with such rapidity that
the eye cannot follow her movements, and she is fairly
seated in her nest before the spectator knows exactly in
which direction she has gone.
This curious trait seems to have been discovered by Mr.
C. W. Webber. He had successfully tamed some Ruby-
throats, and determined to find a nest, so that he might
obtain the young. After finding that a pair of Humming
Birds had been seen near a certain spot on a river, he set
himself determinately to discover the nest. By degrees
they were watched to a point of the river, but there they
always disappeared, as they had a habit of shooting per-
pendicularly into the air until their tiny bodies were lost
to sight. At last, however, the patient watchfulness of
the observer was rewarded by catching a glimpse of the
female bird, as she descended perpendicularly from the
height to which she had risen, and in this manner was
the nest discovered.
The same agreeable writer relates an anecdote respecting
the discovery of a nest belonging to the Emerald-throated
68 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
Humming Bird, an edifice which is very similar to that
which is made by the Ruby-throat. He had been in vain
looking for a nest, when chance favoured me somewhat
strangely about this time. I had been out squirrel-
shooting early one sweltering hot morning, and on my
return had thrown myself beneath the shade of a thick
hickory, near the bank of a creek. I lay on my back,
looking listlessly out over the stream, when the chirp of
the Humming Bird and its darting form reached my senses
at the same instant. I was sure I saw it light upon the
limb of a small iron-wood tree, that happened to be exactly
in the line of my vision at that instant.
In about five minutes another chirp and another bird
darted in. I saw this one drop upon what seemed to be
a knob or an angle of the limb. I heard the soft chirping
of greeting and love. I could scarcely contain myself for
joy. I would have given anything in the world to have
dared to scream, 'I've got you, I've got you at last!' By
a great struggle I choked down my ecstasy and kept still.
One of them now flew away, and after waiting fifteen
minutes, that seemed a week, I rose, and with my eyes
steadily fixed on that important limb, I walked slowly down
the bank, without, of course, seeing where I placed my feet.
But the highest hopes are sometimes doomed to a fall,
and a fall mine took with a vengeance! I caught my
foot in a root, and tumbled head foremost down the bank
into the river. I suppose that such a ducking would have
cooled the enthusiasm of most bird-nesters, but it only
exasperated mine. I shook off the water, and vowed that
I would find that nest if it took me a week. But how to
begin was the question, for I had lost the limb, and how
was I to find it among a hundred others just like it?
The knot that I had seen was so exactly like other
THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING BIRD. 69
knots upon other limbs all round it, that the prospect of
finding it seemed a hopeless one; but, 'I'll try, sir,' is my
favourite motto. I laid myself down as nearly as possible
in the position which I had originally occupied, but, after
some twenty minutes' experiment, came to the conclusion
that my head had been too much confused by the shock of
my fall and ducking for me to hope to make much out of
this method. Then I went under the tree, and commencing
at the trunk, with the lowest limb which leaned over the
water, I followed it slowly and carefully with my eye out
to the extremest twig, noting carefully everything that
seemed like a knot. This produced no satisfactory result
after half an hour's trial, and with an aching neck I gave
it up in despair, for I saw half a dozen knots, either one of
which seemed as likely to be the right one as the other.
I now changed my tactics again, and, ascending the
tree, I stopped with my feet upon each one of those limbs
and looked down along it. It was a very tedious pro-
ceeding, but I persevered. Knot after knot deceived me,
but, at last, when just above the middle of the tree, I
caught a sharp gleam of gold and purple among the leaves,
and, looking down upon the last limb to which I had
climbed, almost lost my footing for joy, as I saw, about three
feet out from where I stood, the glistening back and wings
of the little bird just covering the top of one of these mys-
terious knots that was about half the size of a hen's egg.
"The glancing head, long bill, and keen eyes were
turned upwards, and perfectly still, except the latter,
which surveyed me from head to foot with the most
dauntless expression. It seemed not to have the slightest
intention of moving, and I would not have disturbed it
for the world. It was sufficient to me to gaze on my long
lost treasure. Its pure white breast-or throat rather,
70 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
for the breast was sunk in the nest-formed such a sweet
and innocent contrast with the splendour of its back, head,
and wings." The capture of the little birds which were
afterwards hatched in that nest served to set at rest the
question of the Humming Bird's food. They lived mostly
on syrup, but were obliged to fly off and eat the tiny garden
spiders as they lay in the middle of their radiating webs.
The nest of the Ruby-throated Humming Bird seems
to be rather variable in form and material and situation,
but has always a peculiar character which enables the ex-
perienced observer to recognize it. According to Wilson,
it is sometimes fixed on the upper part of a horizontal
branch, as was the case with the nest so graphically
described by Mr. Webber. Sometimes it is seen actually
upon the trunk of a tree, attached to the bark by its side;
and in a few rare instances it has been found in a garden,
attached to some strong-stalked herb. Generally, how-
ever, the bird selects a white oak sapling if it builds in
the woods, and a pear-tree if it prefers the garden.
The tiny nest is scarcely more than one inch in width
and the same in depth, so that its size is very small when
compared with that of its occupants, which, when full
grown, are more than three inches in total length. The
materials of which the nest is made are principally the
delicate cotton-like fibres which form the "wings" of
certain seeds, such as those of the thistle, and which are
so carefully woven together that they form a tolerably
stout wall. Upon this wall are stuck quantities of a light
grey lichen which is found on old fences and trees, so
that the external appearance of the nest is rendered very
similar to that of the branch on which it is placed. The
lining is composed of the fine hairs which clothe the
stalks of mullein and ferns and other pubescent plants,
THE VERVAIN HUMMING BIRD. 71
and forms a thick, soft bed, on which repose the two
minute pearly eggs.
The nest is not merely placed upon the branch, because
in that case it would present a decided outline, and be
comparatively easy of recognition. On the contrary, the
base of the nest is partly continued round the branch, so
that the whole fabric rises gradually from the bough, as if
it were a natural excrescence.
When the young are hatched they are fed by thrusting
their beaks into the opened mouths of their parents, and
extracting the supply of liquid sweets which have been
collected from the flowers.
There is another species of this group that builds a very
pretty branch-nest. This is the VERVAIN HUMMING BIRD,
one of the minutest of the feathered race. From the
point of its beak to the end of its tail it only measures
two inches and three-quarters, so that when stripped of
its feathers it seems more like an insect than a bird.
Its popular name is derived from its fondness for the
West Indian vervain, a very common weed in neglected
pastures, with a slender stem, a blue flower, and averaging
a foot in height. Wherever the vervain is plentiful, the
Humming Bird is sure to be found, darting here and
there, now poising itself before a flower, and probing its
recesses with the long, slender tongue, and now shooting
for hundreds of feet into the air, and then descending
diagonally, as if shot from a gun, towards the flower from
which it started, and balancing itself before its blue petals
as if it had not moved.
The nest of this bird is proportionately small, and is
beautifully made of vegetable fibres, such as the silk-
cotton of the bombax, and, when the eggs are laid, is only
just large enough to contain them and to retain the body
72 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
of the mother bird. When, however, the young are
hatched, the parents add to the walls of the nest, which,
by degrees, alters its shape completely. At first it very
much resembles an immature acorn-cup, but when the
young are ready for flight, it is deep like an ordinary
coffee-cup. This pretty little bird is common in Jamaica.
In the hedgerows of our own country may often be
found a nest which is not only pretty in itself, but re-
markable for its accessories. This is the home of the
The predatory habits of the Shrikes are well known, and
one species, the Great Grey Shrike, was formerly used as
a falcon for the purpose of catching winged game. True,
the bird was not considered as a veritable hawk, and in
the old days of sumptuary laws, when each degree of rank
had its own particular species of hawk, this was a fact of
some significance, showing that those who thus employed
the Shrike were not of gentle blood.
The popular notion of the time supplied another reason
why the Shrike was looked upon with disdain as a bird-
catcher. It was supposed to use guile in securing its
prey, instead of openly conquering in fair chase. Some-
times," writes an old sporting author, "upon certain birds
she doth use to prey, home she doth entrappe and deceive
by flight, for this is her desire. She will stand at pearch
upon some tree or poste, and there make an exceeding
lamentable crye and exclamation, such as birds are wonte
to do, being wronged or in hazard of mischiefe, and all to
make other fowles believe and think that she is very
much distressed and stands in need of ayde; whereupon
the credulous sellie birds do flocke together presently at
her call and voice, at what time if any happen to approach
neare her she out of hand ceazeth on them, and devoureth
THE RED-BACKED SHRIKE. 73
them (ungrateful subtill fowle!) in requital for their
simplicity and pains.
Heere I end of this hawke, because I neither accompte
her worthy the name of a hawke, in whom there resteth
no valour or hardiness, nor yet deserving to have any more
written upon her properties and nature. For truly it is
not the property of any other hawke, by such devise and
cowardly will to come by their prey, but they love to
winne it by main force of wings at random, as the round
winged hawkes doe, or by free stooping, as the hawkes of
the tower doe most commonly use, as the falcon, gerfalcon,
sacre, merlyn, and such like."
The Shrikes have a peculiarity which is not shared by
any other predacious bird. When they have slain their
prey, no matter whether it be bird, beast, reptile, or insect,
they take it to some thorn tree, and there impale it, press-
ing a long and sharp thorn into the body, so as to hold
it firmly. The Great Grey Shrike will thus impale the
smaller birds, frogs, field-mice, and other creatures which
are nearly as large as itself, and in some instances it has
been known to kill and impale the thrush. It does not
always employ thorns for this purpose, but will use sharply-
pointed splinters of wood, or even an iron spike if no better
instrument can be found.
Why it should have recourse to such a singular mode of
holding its prey is quite a mystery. Some have said that
the digestive organs of the Shrike are incapable of dissolv-
ing fresh meat, and that the bird is obliged to render its
prey semi-putrid by exposure before it can venture to make
a meal. But, as the Shrike frequently eats a little bird or
insect as soon as caught, this theory falls to the ground.
Whatever theory may be right or wrong, the fact
remains that the Shrikes impale the creatures which they
have killed, and prefer to hang them near their nests.
74 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
The Red-backed Shrike is not so formidable a foe to birds
as its larger relative, but makes insects its chief prey.
The nest of this Shrike always affords a curious sight, and
as the bird is plentiful it may easily be seen.
There is not the least difficulty in finding a Shrike's
nest, for the owner really seems to use every means which
can attract attention. In the first place, it is a bird of
insatiable curiosity. It will follow, or rather precede, a
human being for half an hour at a time, keeping always
some thirty or forty yards in front, settling near the top
of a hedge, and wagging its long tail up and down as if to
make itself more conspicuous. Last year I amused myself
by making a Shrike move up and down a long hedge for
a very long time, while I was insect-hunting among the
flowers. Whenever the Shrike begins to act in this
manner, it may generally be presumed that a nest is at
no great distance.
Then, if perchance the careful observer should note these
signs and approach the spot where the nest is placed, the
bird sets up a hideous squall, just as if it intended to
inform the searcher that he was right at last. The alarm
cry of the blackbird is quite enough to draw attention as
the bird flies through the underwood; but at all events it
is only a short cry, and the bird is soon out of sight; but
the Shrike remains on or near the nest while it continues
to utter its harsh screams, and flies away noisily when the
intruder is close at hand.
The nest itself is large, and not concealed with any care,
while around it are stuck humble bees, cocktail beetles,
ground beetles, and a variety of other insects, each impaled
upon a thorn, and forming admirable indications to the
nest-hunter. Sometimes, but seldom, young birds are im-
paled instead of insects, and in such cases they are always
callow nestlings, and are fixed by a thorn run between the
THE HEDGE SPARROW. 75
skin and the flesh, instead of being pierced through the
body, as is the method employed with insects.
There is a popular idea that the bird always has nine
impaled creatures at hand, and that when it eats one it
catches another, and with it replaces the one which has
been eaten. In consequence of this notion, which prevails
through several countries, the bird is called Nine-killer.
The generic name, Enneoctonus, is composed of two Greek
words which have a similar signification. So strongly is
this idea held by some persons, that I have seen a treatise
upon instinct, where the Shrike was gravely produced as
an example of arithmetical powers possessed by birds.
These theories generally fail when confronted by facts. I
have seen numberless Shrikes' nests; and, though in some
cases there may have been nine impaled animals, in some
there were more and in others less.
The nest itself is neatly, though loosely, built of roots,
moss, wool, and vegetable fibres, and. is lined with hair. I
have mostly noticed it about five feet from the ground; and,
although it is said to be closely hidden, have always found
it a peculiarly conspicuous nest.
The last branch-building bird which will be mentioned
in these pages is the well-known HEDGE SPARROW, or HEDGE
ACCENTOR, as it ought rightly to be called. The bird
derives its popular name from two peculiarities, one of
person and the other of habits. As its general tints are
brown and black, the name of Sparrow has been given to
it, although it rightly belongs to the warblers. It may
easily be distinguished from the sparrow by its slender
form, its blue-grey colour, and the absence of the black
patches that mark the head and throat of the true sparrow.
It is very plentiful in England, and that it should be so
is rather remarkable on account of the exposed situation
76 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
and conspicuous form of its nest. The red-backed shrike
is remiss enough in placing its nest; but the Hedge
Sparrow seems to be utterly heedless on the subject, and
appears absolutely to invite the attention of its foes, which
First and foremost comes the bird-nesting boy, whose
eyes are generally so sharp that to conceal a nest from him
is no easy matter. Then the Hedge Sparrow is one of the
earliest builders, and so hasty is it in its proceedings that
I have seen the half-finished nest filled with the snows of
early spring. The bird had been in such a hurry to set up
housekeeping that she would not even wait until the leaves
were sufficiently large to shelter the nest; and, as might
be expected, the snow found an easy entrance into the
unprotected edifice. In consequence, moreover, of this
passion for early building, the nest is so conspicuous an
object in the leafless hedge, that the most casual glance
cannot fail to detect it, while the natural foes of the bird,
namely, the boy, the stoat, the cat, cuckoo, and others, find
it the easiest of their prey.
The boy, for example, who might not be able to reach
the nest of the shrike, which is placed some five or six feet
from the ground, has no difficulty whatever in harrying
that of the Hedge Sparrow, which is seldom more than two
feet from the ground. Moreover, although the older nest-
hunters will not trouble themselves about eggs so common
as those of the Hedge Sparrow, the novices, and even
many who ought to know better, can never resist the
round, shining blue shells, as they lie snugly packed away
in their basket-like receptacle.
Then there is the cuckoo, that flies about the hedgerows,
peering into every nest and looking out for a foster home
for her eggs which she cannot hatch, and for the young
which she cannot cherish. There is, perhaps, no nest
THE HEDGE SPARROW. 77
which is easier to be seen or more accessible when dis-
covered than that of the Hedge Sparrow, and the conse-
quence is, that the cuckoo's egg is oftener to be found in
the nest of the Hedge Sparrow than in that of any other
bird. This circumstance is certainly unfortunate to the
Hedge Sparrow, who is obliged to give up the whole of her
nest to a supposititious offspring, and to bestow upon a
single intruder all the care and attention which would other-
wise have been lavished upon the five rightful occupants.
Besides the cats, rats, and weasels, there are direful
feathered foes, such as the shrike, which steals away the
young and carries them to its home, where it hangs them
up in its natural larder, and the magpie, which will some-
times work great havoc among the young or eggs. Now
and then the owl makes a meal of a young bird, as I can
testify from personal experience, and the viper is always
ready to glide up the stems of the shrubs amid which the
bird has built, to insert its baleful head into the nest, and
to swallow the callow young.
Still, as the Hedge Sparrow generally produces two
broods of young in a year, and sometimes three, all her
offspring are not destroyed by these foes, and she may
have the satisfaction of rearing some of her young. The
nest is nicely, substantially, but not elegantly made, as,
indeed, might be inferred from its lowly position. Nests
upon or near the ground are very seldom made with much
attention to elegance of architecture, the greatest trimness
of nest-building skill being displayed in those homes which
are placed upon lofty branches or suspended from slender
twigs. It is a rather large nest, and is made of moss,
wool, hair, and similar materials. As is generally the case
with the group of birds to which the Hedge Sparrow
belongs, the eggs are five in number, and on an average
three young in each brood attain maturity.
SPIDERS AND INSECTS.
Remarkable Spider Nests in the British Museum-Seed-nests and Leaf-nests
-Nests of the TUFTED SPIDER-Form and colouring of the Spider-
Its curious limbs-Nests illustrative of the hexagonal principle-Nest
of the ICARIA-The equal pressure and excavation theories-Nest of
MISOHOCYTTARUS and its remarkable form-Nest of the RAPHIGASTER
-Summary of the argument-The PROCESSIONARY MOTH-Reasons
for its name-How the larvae march-Damage done by them to trees
-A natural remedy-The CALOSOMA and its habits-The GIPSY
MOTH-Its ravages upon trees and mode of destroying it-The social
principle among Caterpillars Mr. Rennie's experiments The
LACKEY MOTH-Supposed derivations of its popular name-The eggs,
larvae, and perfect insects-Habits of the Moth-The BROWN-TAILED
MOTH-Locality where it is found-Its ravages abroad-Nests of the
ICARIA as they appear in branches-The APOICA and its remarkable
nests-Moth Nests from Monte Video.
WE have already seen several nests built by SPIDERS, some
of which are made in the earth, others are strictly pensile, and
others may fairly come into the present group. The speci-
mens from which the drawings were made are in the collec-
tion of the British Museum, some in the upper and others
in the lower rooms. Of the architects, the manner in
which the nests were made, and the reasons why they
were so singularly constructed, I can say nothing, because
no record is attached to the specimens. Still, they are so
curious that they have found a place in this work, and it
is to be hoped that the very fact of their publicity will
induce travellers to search for more specimens and to
describe their history.
Differing as they do in shape, colour, and material, they
have one object in common, namely, the rearing of the
young. They are clearly nests in the true sense of the
word, being devoted not to the parents, but to the offspring.
At the upper part of the illustration may be seen a number
of long, spindle-shaped bodies, suspended from a branch.
These are drawn about half the full size, in order to allow
other specimens to be introduced into the same illustration
for the purpose of comparison. In colour they are nearly
white, with a slight yellowish tinge, and are very soft and
delicate of texture, so that when viewed in a good light
they form a very striking group of objects.
80 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
Immediately below these nests may be seen a singular-
looking object, which few would recognize as the work of
a spider. Such, however, is the case, the creature being
urged by instinct to take several concave seed-pods, and
to fix them together, as seen in the drawing. The seed-
pods are fastened firmly together with the silken thread
of which webs are made, and in the interior the eggs are
placed. The drawing is reduced about one-third in pro-
portion to the actual object. Several of these singular
nests are in the collection at the British Museum.
Occupying the lower part of the illustration is seen a
leaf upon which are piled a number of fragments of leaves,
so as to form a rudely conical heap. This is also the work
of a spider, and is made with even more ingenuity than
the two preceding specimens. In the first instance, the
spider has spun a hollow case of silk, similar in principle
of construction, though not in form, to the spherical egg
cases made by several British spiders. In the second
instance, the creature has chosen a number of concave
seed-pods, and, by adjusting their edges together and
fastening them with silk, made a hollow nest, which only
requires to be lined in order to make it a fit nursery for
the young. But, in the present example, the work of nest-
making has been much more elaborate, for the structure
has been regularly built up of a great number of pieces,
each being arranged methodically upon the other, very
much as children in the streets build their oyster-shell
grottoes. The labour must have been considerable, even
if the spider had nothing to do but to arrange and fasten
together pieces of leaves which had already been selected.
The large, oval, cocoon-like nests which are seen in the
accompanying illustration are made by the TUFTED SPIDER
of the West Indies, a creature which derives its name
from the remarkable tufts of stiff, bristle-like hairs which
decorate the limbs. A very fine specimen of this remark-
TUFTED SPIDER. SPHERICAL SPIDER NESTS.
able Spider is now before me, having been taken out of its
bottle with extreme difficulty, owing to the great length
of the limbs, and the weight of the prolonged abdomen.
TUFTED SPIDER. SPHERICAL SPIDER NESTS.
able Spider is now before me, having been taken out of its
bottle with extreme difficulty, owing to the great length
of the limbs, and the weight of the prolonged abdomen.
82 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
The length of the body is one inch and a half, of which
measurement the abdomen alone occupies two-thirds. The
average circumference of the abdomen is five-sixths of an
inch; and, as it varies very little throughout its entire
length, that portion of the body is very solid and heavy.
The colour is deep chocolate-brown, curiously marked with
circular dots of bright yellow, and further diversified with
stripes of the same colour, especially over the fore-part of
the abdomen. Two bold yellow bars are also drawn trans-
versely across the under surface of the abdomen. The
thorax is deep brown, and clothed with short hairs of
greyish yellow, set so densely that the dark colour of the
thorax cannot be seen without close inspection. There
are, however, three black squared spots on each side, and
a black spot occupies the centre. The animal is armed
with a formidable pair of poison-jaws, of a deep shining
black, at the ends of which the curved fangs are bent
inwards like the venomous teeth of the rattlesnake. On
the front of the thorax, and looking directly forward, are
the eight eyes, the four smallest being arranged closely
together in the centre, in the form of a square, and the
four largest being set on bold prominences so as to form a
large oblong, in the centre of which is the square.
The limbs are of considerable length. The first pair of
legs, which are the longest, measure two inches and a half
in length, and the expanded second pair measure four
inches and a half. The most remarkable point about the
spiders is the peculiarity from which it derives its name.
The first, second, and fourth pairs of legs are adorned with
dense hairy tufts, the first pair having two tufts each, and
the others only one. The third pair of legs are much
shorter and smaller than the others, and are destitute of
tufts. As the legs themselves are bright yellow-brown,
and the tufts are deep black, the contrast of colour is very
bold and agreeable to the eye. The entomological reader
may perhaps remember that several exotic beetles are also
decorated with tufts upon their antennae and limbs. Of the
curious spherical spider nests, with their black cross-bars,
nothing is known except the mere fact of their existence.
They are about as large as full-sized black currants,
84 THE BRANCH-B BUILDERS.
In the accompanying illustration two most remarkable
nests are given, each of them the work of hymenopterous
insects, and both serving in some degree to illustrate the
hexagonal system of cell-building, so common among the
Of these, perhaps, the lower figure is the most interest-
ing, because it entirely sets at rest a question which is
periodically agitated. It is made by an insect belonging
to the genus Icaria. Many theories have been invented
to solve the riddle of how the bee-cells are made. Among
them the two most conspicuous are those which are known
as the equal pressure theory and the excavation theory.
Differing as they do in many respects-one attempting to
prove that each cell is forced into the hexagonal shape by
the pressure of six cells surrounding it, and the other that
the cell is made hexagonal by the cutting away of material
from six surrounding cells-they both agree in one point,
namely, that the normal shape of the cell is cylindrical,
and that it only assumes the hexagonal form by mechanical
These questions were briefly mentioned, because an
entire omission of them would appear negligent, but they
were not followed up because the nests that would set
them at rest belonged to another group. We will first
take the lower nest.
The specimen from which this was drawn was fortu-
nately in an unfinished state, only eight cells being made,
and some of these but partly finished. As the reader may
see by reference to the illustration, all the cells are hexa-
gonal, whether finished or incomplete, and moreover,
that the edges of the hexagon are quite sharp and well
Now, if either of the two theories were true, the cells
THE HEXAGONAL PRINCIPLE. 85
would not have assumed this shape. Where are the six
surrounding cells that are needed to compress the outer-
most cell into an hexagonal? Or where are the six sur-
rounding cells from which the hexagon was excavated?
There are none. The outermost cell, for example, is
perfectly free on five of its sides, being only attached to
the neighboring cell by the sixth side. Compression,
therefore, has not been employed, because there is nothing
that can compress it; neither has excavation been used,
because there is no material to be excavated. No one, on
looking at this group of cells, can deny that the hexagonal
form is produced by the direct labours of the insect, and
not by any secondary mechanical means.
Perhaps some one who has not examined the actual
object might say that the materials of which the cells are
made are sufficiently stiff to need no support of contiguous
cells. Now the substance of this remarkable nest is
singularly slight, the walls being not thicker than the
paper on which this account is printed, and the material
is quite soft, as may be seen by the curvature produced
by the mere weight of the structure. Yet none of the
cells are united by more than three sides, the greater
number by two only, and the external cells merely by
a single side, leaving five sides and four angles perfectly
In this particular specimen the material has evidently
been varied, the insect having been forced to employ
different substances in forming its home, as is seen by the
pale and dark rings alternately surrounding the cells.
The insect which makes this curious home is of moderate
size, and is greyish-black, banded with yellowish-white.
The abdomen is tolerably stout and sharp-pointed, and is
attached to the thorax by a short brownish footstalk. This
86 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
insect is a native of Natal. Other species of the same group
will be mentioned in the course of the following pages.
In the left-hand upper corner may be seen a very re-
markable triple nest depending from a branch. This is
the work of an insect called Mischocyttarus labiatus, which
belongs to the family Polistidae. Like the nest of the
preceding insect, it is attached to the bough by a slender
and tolerably long footstalk, and the mouths of the cells
are downwards, as is always the case with these insects.
Generally, the group of cells is single, but occasionally
a more perfect nest is found, which, like the specimen
figured in the illustration, has three distinct cell groups,
each pendent from the centre of the group above. This
may seem rather a dangerous method of suspending the
nest, but it is not more so than that which is employed
by the common wasp, which builds tier under tier of cells,
hanging each tier from its immediate predecessor by little
pillars of the same paper-like material as that of which
the cells are constructed; or very much, indeed, as the
roadway of a suspension bridge is hung from its arch
instead of being placed upon it. The insect itself is smaller
than the preceding, and is almost uniformly brown.
The nest shown on page 87 is particularly entitled to
notice, on account of its bearing upon the hexagonal
principle, which has been so often mentioned. The name
of the insect is RAPHIGASTER GUINIENSIS, and, as its name
implies, it is a native of Western Africa.
The nest consists of a group of long cells, and suspended
from a footstalk. The material of which the nest is com-
posed is peculiarly soft and flimsy, reminding the observer
of the worst and most porous French paper. The cells are
THE HEXAGONAL PRINCIPLE. 87
so thin that the light shines through their delicate walls,
and they are so soft that they yield to the least pressure.
Each cell is small at the base,
and increases regularly towards
the mouth, like a reversed sugar-
Now, if the real cause of the
hexagonal form were to be found
in the equal pressure of surround-
ing cells, the cells of the lower
nest on page 83 ought to be hexa-
gons, for they are soft, pliable,
and their conical form renders
them peculiarly liable to be
squeezed out of shape. Yet, on
examining the nest, we find that
all the cells retain their conical RAPHIGATER.
form, the central cells being as rounded as those on the
exterior, and their mouths being as circular.
These examples entirely destroy both theories.
In the first instance we have nests of which the cells are
perfectly hexagonal throughout, although some of them
are only attached by one side, and are not pressed upon
at either of the five remaining sides. We find that the
external angles are as sharp, and their internal measure-
ment as true, as those which occupy the very centre of the
bee-comb; so that pressure is clearly not the cause of the
hexagon. That excavation is not the cause is also evident,
from the fact that the external cells cannot have been
excavated, and yet are hexagonal.
These examples, therefore, show that the hexagonal form
can exist without pressure. But, as if to show that pressure
can exist without producing the hexagonal form, we have
88 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
the nest of the Mischocyttarus, whose long, delicate, soft-
walled cells are grouped round each other, and yet retain
their conical form, so that at any part of them a tranverse
section would show a circular edge.
The insect which makes this nest is rather long,
measuring perhaps an inch in length. The colour is pale
PROCESSIONARY MOTH AND CALOSOMA.
yellow, and the abdomen is much elongated, and attached
to a slender footstalk or peduncle nearly as long as itself.
Several of the cells have been occupied by larvm which
have begun to assume the pupal condition, as is shown by
the white covers over their mouths.
THE PROCESSIONARY MOTH. 89
One of the most remarkable of these branch-building
insects is that which has been appropriately named the
PROCESSIONARY MOTH. This curious moth lays a number
of eggs, mostly upon the oak, and as soon as they are
hatched the little creatures begin to form their home.
Externally it is not unlike that of the brown-tailed
moth, but it differs in one respect, namely, that it is not
divided into separate chambers, and has only one aperture.
When the larve sally out for the purpose of procuring
food, they spin guide lines, as is the case with many other
caterpillars. But, instead of going out singly into the
world, each to find its own food in its own way, they
march out in regular order, like a military party on a
A single caterpillar is always the leader, and often is
followed by one or two others in Indian file. Presently,
however, the caterpillars march two deep, and, if a large
number should be on the move, the line is sometimes from
five to six deep. They are all very close to each other, so
that the procession flows on in one unbroken line, and
until the observer is close to it, he cannot see that its
component parts are moving at all.
On referring to the illustration, the reader will see that
the artist has represented a nest of the Processionary Moth,
part of which has been torn open so as to show the absence
of partitions in the interior. A number of the caterpillars
are also shown, but in the middle of the nest is one grub
of very great size, being, in fact, six or seven times as large
as the caterpillars. This creature has been introduced
because it is generally to be found in the nest of the
Processionary Moth, and because it is one of the most
useful insects that a careful agriculturist can protect.
It is the larva of a beautiful beetle, called scientifically
90 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
Calosoma sycophanta, which is represented below in the act
of ascending the tree. The beetle is a lovely blue-green,
but the larva is as unsightly a being as can well be con-
ceived, its body being fat, flattish, and scaly, and its colour
black. This creature feeds entirely upon the various cater-
pillars and other larvae, even eating those of the destructive
sawflies. At the end of the tail are two horny spines, and
the head is furnished with a pair of curved, sharp, and
powerful jaws, by means of which it seizes its prey.
Instinct teaches these grubs to find their prey, and it
may easily be imagined that when they approach a nest of
the Processionary Moth they are not slow to avail them-
selves of the opportunity. Indeed, so sure are they of
discovering their prey, that R4aumur asserts that he never
opened a nest of the Processionary Moth without finding
one or more specimens of their rapacious enemy, as many
as five or six having been seen in a single nest. They are
most voracious creatures, as indeed is evident from their
structure; and, as each grub will eat several large cater-
pillars in a day, the havoc which is made in the nest may
easily be imagined. The caterpillars have no means of
defence or escape. They cannot leave their home, and
they cannot kill or expel the intruder. All that they can
do is to go out and eat, and come back and be eaten, their
numbers ever diminishing, like the companions of Ulysses
in the Cyclops' cave.
But for the exertions of this most useful insect, the
ravages of the Processionary caterpillars would be greatly
increased, for the creature does not only eat them while in
the larval condition, but feeds upon them after they have
become pupse. Sometimes, however, this extreme voracity
defeats its own purpose. It occasionally happens that a
grub of the Calosoma habitually gorges itself to such an
THE GIPSY MOTH. 91
extent with Processionary caterpillars that it becomes fat,
unwieldy, and scarce able to move. If, when it is in this
condition, leaner and hungrier grubs should come across
it, they are too apt to seize upon it and devour it in sheer
wantonness, even though the nest be full of their legitimate
Knowing the habits of this grub, a French entomologist,
M. Boisgerard, managed very ingeniously to avail himself
of its devouring capacities. There is a well-known insect,
popularly called the GIPSY MOTH, which is very common
in France, though scarce in most parts of England. The
larva of this moth is destructive to trees, feeding on their
leaves, and then retreating to a cunning little hiding-place
in some crevice of the bark. Finding that his trees were
infested with these caterpillars, M. Boisgerard procured a
number of female Calosomas, and placed them on the trees.
They laid their eggs, and in due season the larva were
hatched. In process of time the destructive grubs increased
so much that they ate all the noxious caterpillars, and at
the end of the third year the trees were cleared, and the
Calosoma beetles had to go elsewhere for a living.
In England the Calosoma is exceedingly rare, all speci-
mens hitherto captured having been apparently blown over
the sea from the Continent or brought in ships. Towards
the South of France it is plentiful enough, as is needed
from the enormous multitudes of crop-destroying cater-
pillars on which it feeds. There is, however, a closely
allied species, Calosoma inquisitor, which is not so scarce,
and, although comparatively seldom seen, may be captured
by those who know where to look for it. I have taken it
in Bagley Wood, near Oxford.
The reader may remember that two species of wasp,
92 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
namely, Vespa vulgaris and Vespa germanica, will work
harmoniously at the same nest. This curious sociability,
which is contrary to the usual custom of nature, is shared
by moths as well as wasps. When experimenting upon
the nests of this species, M. Reaumur found that several
distinct broods of caterpillars would spin a common web
and live in peace together, just as if they had been the off-
spring of one another. Mr. Rennie, however, carried the
experiments still farther, and found that two different
species would act in the same social manner.
We ourselves ascertained during the present summer
(1829) that this principle of sociality is not confined to the
same species, nor even to the same genus. The experi-
ment which we tried was, to confine two broods of different
species to the same branch, by placing it in a glass of
water to prevent their escape. The caterpillars which we ex-
perimented upon were several broods of the brown-tail moth
and the lackey. These we found to work with as much
industry and harmony in constructing their common tent as
if they had been at liberty in their native trees; and when
the lackeys encountered the brown-tails they manifested
no alarm nor uneasiness, but passed over the backs of one
another as if they had made only a portion of the branch.
In none of their operations did they seem to be subject
to any discipline, each individual appearing to work in
perfecting the structure from individual instinct, in the
same manner as was remarked by M. Huber in the case
of the hive bees. In making such experiments, it is
obvious that the species of caterpillars experimented with
must feed upon the same sort of plant."
One remark ought to be made on this interesting narra-
tive. The author lays some stress on the fact that the
two insects belonged not only to different species, but to
THE LACKEY MOTH. 93
different genera. It must, however, be remembered that
although the distinction of insects into species is easy
enough, their grouping into genera is quite arbitrary,
depending entirely on the classifier. Linnaeus, for example,
divided all the butterflies into two genera, while the
modern classification admits some thirty genera. While,
therefore, we may lay every stress on the species, we need
not trouble ourselves much about the genus.
The two moths mentioned in this history are very
different in appearance, and the larve are still more unlike.
They have, however, this point of similarity, that they
construct large dwellings upon branches, spinning them
of silk, and making them large enough to contain a whole
brood at once. The Lackey moths are so called on account
of the bright colours of the caterpillars, which are striped
and decorated like modern footmen. Some species, how-
ever, derive the name from a different source.
When the mother insect lays her eggs, she deposits them
on a small branch or twig, disposing them in a ring that
completely encircles the twig, as a bracelet surrounds a
lady's wrist. When she has completed the circle, she
covers the eggs with a kind of varnish, which soon hardens,
and forms a perfect defence from the rain. The varnish is
so hard, and binds the eggs so firmly together, that, if the
twig be carefully severed, the whole mass of eggs can be
slipped off entire. As this varnish produces the same
effect on eggs as lacquer does upon polished metal, pre-
serving the surface and defending it from moisture, the
insect is called the Lacquer, a word which has been
corrupted into Lackey.
In wet weather the Lackey caterpillars prefer to remain
in their silken home, leaving it only for the purpose of
feeding. They never lose their way, because, like the
94 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
larve of the little ermine moth, which has been already
described, they continually spin a single silken thread as
they go along, and are, therefore, provided with an infal-
lible guide to the track. Before they change to the pupal
state they leave the nest.
The larva of this species is a very prettily marked
creature, the body being striped with blue and yellow and
white. The moth itself is yellow, with a slight tinge of
orange, and across the upper pair of wings runs a dark
band edged on either side by a paler streak. As there is
another allied species, which lives on various seaside plants,
the present insect ought more properly to be called the Tree
Lackey. The moth seems to be rather periodical and local;
for, although specimens are found annually in most years,
they swarm to such an extent in certain places, that whole
rows of fruit trees are denuded of their leaves, and covered
with the silken websof the prettybut destructive caterpillars.
The BROWN-TAILEDMOTH isanotherof the arboreal insects,
and spins a web very like that of the gold-tailed moth,
which has already been described. In some seasons it is
more numerous than in others, and occasionally seen in vast
multitudes. This phenomenon is often observable among
insects, as is well known to all practical entomologists, and in
more than one instance the caterpillars of the Brown-tailed
Moth have been so plentiful as to become a positive pest.
They are social larve, and, as they are hatched late in the
autumn, they spin a joint web, in which they can be secure
throughout the winter months. As the brood is mostly
numerous, and as two or more broods may unite in forming
a common dwelling, their habitation is extremely large,
often enveloping several branches together with their twigs
and leaves. Like the nest of the gold-tailed moth, it is
divided into chambers, and is externally irregular in form,
depending entirely for its shape upon the locality in which
it is constructed.
Even in this country it is sometimes plentiful enough to
annoy the farmer, who does not like to see his hedgerows dis-
figured by the silken tents spun by these caterpillars; but
in France it has occurred in such hosts as to entail a serious
loss upon the agriculturist, whole rows of trees having been
stripped of their leaves, and the denuded branches covered
with the sheets of web in which lay the destroying armies.
On the accompanying illustration may be seen a number
of curious nests, composed of long hexagonal cells, set side
by side. These are made by several species of a hymenop-
96 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
terous insect belonging to the genus Icaria, and may be
advantageously compared with the lower figure in the
illustration on page 83.
These nests, or rather these series of cells, are made after
a singular fashion. First, the insect attaches to the branch
a footstalk composed of the same material as that with which
the cells are formed. This footstalk, although slender, is
very hard, solid, and tough, and can uphold a considerable
weight, as is necessary from the manner of constructing
the nest. She then makes a cell after the ordinary wasp-
fashion, attaching it to the footstalk with its mouth down-
wards, and at first making it comparatively short. When
the cell has nearly attained its due length, a second is placed
alongside the first, and a third is added in like manner, each
being lengthened as required. As the cells at the base of
the series are finished first, it is evident that they gradu-
ally diminish towards the end, those at the extremity being
often not one quarter so long as those at the base.
The material employed in making these cells is woody
fibre, like that which is used by our common British wasps,
and the colour is rather dark yellowish brown, so that,
in spite of the curious method in which the nest-groups
project from the branches, they are not seen so readily as
might be imagined from their eccentric form.
In these, as in many other forms of cells made by hymen-
opterous insects, is to be found an enigma which as yet is
unsolved, and for the mention of which I am indebted to Mr.
F. Smith, of the British Museum : all the cells are of equal size.
Now this point, which would not particularly strike an
ordinary observer, is of the greatest importance to those who
have studied the economy of insects, and have bestowed
much thought upon them. If we examine the nest of a
hive bee, and take any single comb, we shall find that the
STRUCTURE OF CELLS. 97
cells are extremely variable in size-the largest being
those which are occupied by the future queens, the smallest
those which are the nurseries of the worker bees, and the
intermediate cells those in which the drones or males are
If we examine the nest of the common wasp or hornet,
we still find the cells of various sizes, corresponding with the
sexes and uses of the occupants; and if we look at that of
any species of humble bee, the same fact is clearly percep-
tible. But in the nests of the Icarias and similar insects,
no such variation is discoverable, and no distinction can be
found between the male and female cells. The natural ques-
tion therefore arises, whether all the members of each brood,
or rather each cell-group, are of the same sex; or whether
one nest produces males and another females, just as one
portion of the comb is given to males, another to females,
and another to neuters, in the case of the hive bee. No
matter how large may be the nest of an Icaria, or how full
of cells it may be, the cells are all so alike in shape and
size that they must apparently be the cradles of insects
belonging to the same sex.
This fact is curiously brought out in a remarkable series
of cell-groups which have been placed on a single leaf, some
of which are shown in the lower part of the illustration.
The leaf is rather long, and, being dry, is now curved by its
own force. This leaf seems to have possessed some fascina-
tion for the Icarias, as upon the upper surface no less than
fifteen nests have been established, none of great length,
and all nearly or quite completed. In none are the cells
perfectly straight, all having a slight curve downwards
on account of the delicate material of which they are
The insect which builds these curious cells is a common-
98 THE BRANCH-BUILDERS.
place-looking creature, of a soft, greyish-brown colour, with
a moderately large head and a little rounded abdomen, not
very unlike the Cynips Kollari, which has already been
described. It is a native of India, and the nests which
have been mentioned were sent from Bareilly.
NESTS OF POLISTES.
In connection with this branch of the subject, I must
call the attention of the reader to the curious cell-group of
Polistes aterrima, a figure of which is here given.
At first sight it looks as if the winged architect had
intended to make a cell-group like that of the Icaria, and
had been brought abruptly to a conclusion. A close inspec-
tion, however, shows that the structure is intentional, and
not merely the result of accident. The cells are all placed
with their mouths downwards, and are set in a very