Title: Homes of the birds, or, Nests and their builders
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027043/00001
 Material Information
Title: Homes of the birds, or, Nests and their builders
Alternate Title: Nests and their builders
Physical Description: 64 p. : ill. ; 16 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Thomas Nelson & Sons ( Publisher )
Publisher: T. Nelson and Sons
Place of Publication: London ;
Edinburgh ;
New York
Publication Date: 1874
Subject: Birds -- Juvenile literature   ( lcsh )
Nests -- Juvenile literature   ( lcsh )
Bldn -- 1874
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: England -- London
Scotland -- Edinburgh
United States -- New York -- New York
Statement of Responsibility: by Grandfather Percy.
General Note: Title page, illustrations, and text printed in sepia in a decorative border.
Funding: Preservation and Access for American and British Children's Literature, 1870-1889 (NEH PA-50860-00).
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00027043
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature in the Department of Special Collections and Area Studies, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 002235903
notis - ALH6367
oclc - 07313946

Full Text

The itldR n L bTiar)









JlC a iillln t. ir l U ilbh C.

1, N IP N



WHEN THE BIRDS BUILD, ... ... ... ... ... 11

THE WOOIPECKER, ... ... ..... ... 12

USEFULNESS OF THE BIRDS, ... ..... ... 18

THE LONG-TAILED TITMOUSE, ... ... ... ... 20

THE GOLDFINCH, .... ...... ... ... 2

THE CHAFFINCH, ... ... ... ... ... ... 25

THE SWALLOW, ... ... ... ... ... ... 2S


THE HOUSE SWALLOW, ... ... ..... ... ... 31

THE SAND MARTIN, .. ... ... ... ... ... 36

THE ROOK, ... ... ... ... ... .. ... 39

FIGHTING FOR A HOME, .... .. ....... ... 44

THE LARK, .. .......... ... ... ... 46

THE NIGHTINGALE, ... ... .. ... .. 47

THE CUCKOO, ... ... ........... 4S

AN IMPUDENT INTUDIER, ... ........ ... 50

THE WEEN, ... .... .. ..... 52


THE CfDEN-CRETID WREN, ... ... ... ...

TIE KIN FISHE ... .. .. .. .. ...

THE SON;-T ... ... ... ... ...

CE.NCI. 'SI'I N, ... ... .... fi


'f IHIE birds of the air have
S their nests." Yes, like all
-' other animals, the birds
have places wherein to
shelter themselves and their feathered
fiinilies, and these places they gener-
ally construct with a wonderful
amount of skill and ingenuity. It
would seem, indeed, that one of the
chief objects of their brief existence
is to build a home for their f~.riil_
and for their own comfort; and in
this great work they exhibit such a
variety of accomplishments, and imi-
tate so closely and so cleverly some
of the principal branches of human

industry, that we have come to divide
them into classes according to their
special qualities. Thus, some of our
birds are called Cementers, because they
build up their nests with a kind of ce-
ment or mortar; as does, for instance,
the American chimney-swallow, which
fastens its twigs and bits of wood to-
gether with a strong adhesive glue or
gum, secreted by glands, one on each
side of the back part of its head.
Others we name Felt-making Birds,
such as the chaffinch and goldfinch, of
which we shall shortly speak. Then
we have the Dome-Builders, whose
nests are surmounted by a kind of
canopy, effectually preventing the rain
from making its way into the interior.
Nor must we forget the Tailor-Birds
of the Tropics, which sew large leaves
together until they have fashioned a
most ingenious habitation. Then
there are the lWeavers, which, like


the Baltimore -t ilb_., interweave or
manufacture a stout, firm kind of
cloth, not unlike the substance of a
hat in its raw state. B l,.1'-,.'.,i
Birds display, in their own peculiar
line, quite as signal a dexterity; while
the Mason-Birds, and the Carpenter-
Birds, and the Platform-Builders (like
the ringdove) astonish us by the ease
and accuracy with which they execute
their work.
I have said that the birds imitate
several branches of human industry;"
(426) 2

but I am not sure whether this is the
case, and whether man may not have
imitated them. For, no doubt, the
Mason-Birds were busy with their
mortar and plaster long before any of
our forefathers introduced the practice
of building houses of cement and
stone. However that may be, there
is no doubt that we may learn much
that is useful from a close examination
of the Homes of the Birds. We may
learn a lesson of prudence and indus-
try and perseverance, at all events;
and we may learn, too, to look beyond
the 11.j on-Birds and the Carpenter-
Birds and the Weaver- Birds to Him
who created them, to Him who en-
dowed them with their remarkable
fceulties of instinct and foresi'ght, to
Him who suffers not a sparrow to fall
to the ground without I lis knowledge.
I shall confine myself, in this little
book, to a description of the Homnes

of British Birds and their Builders:
on future occasions, I shall hope to
speak to you respecting' the brilliant
birds of the Tropics, the birds of
Am erica, and the wild, strange birds
that haunt the iron-bound cliffs and
the gray sea-shore.
In Great Britain, the birds begin
to build their homes in the sweet and
merry spring, when the earth is re-
covering from its long winter sleep,
and the flowers and grasses are rapidly
spreading themselves over the active

soil, and the trees are budding into
leaf on every bough and spray. It is
then they mate together, and each
prudent couple hastens to provide a
suitable asylum and shelter for their
coming offspring.

Among British birds, one of the
most interesting builders is the Wood-
pecker, a very fair specimen of the
carpenter tribe, and as diligent and
persevering a worker as you will wish
to meet with. He is worth describ-
ing, and, in truth, if I did not describe
him, you would not understand how
he works. In the first place, let us
look at his implement or tool : it con-
sists of a strong, solid bill, about two
inches in length, shaped something
like a wedge, and of a dark brown
colour. Next, observe that his tongue
is furnished towards the tip with
numerous fibres, of the size of minute

,. .

1 HE WOODP hairs, arranged like the bristles of a
brush; their use you will find out
presently. The outer circle of the
eye is white, surrounding another of
red; the top of the head, a. bright
red, extending down the hinder part.
of the neck, and terminating in a point
behind. A similar streak of crimson
points downward from each corner of
the bill. The back and upper wing-
feathers are of a splendid olive-green;
the under parts of the body, white,
slightly tinged with emerald ; and the


tail, like the wings, is strilpd with
I)ars of colour.
Such is the woodpecker. Now for
the way hie builds :
With shrill and oft-repeateud cry.
His regular course, alternate rise aml fall,
The woodpecker prolongs. Then, to the trunk
('lose clinging, wiitih uiwearied beak e ssaili
'The hollow hark through (very cell lis strokes
Ioll the dire echoes thiat from wintry sleep
Awake his insect prey. The alarimd tries
Start from each chink that 1,ores tlhe moiulderin
stem :
Their scattered tiight, with Icnthened ton/iallu the
lursues : joy glistens on lisl verdant plumes,
And brighter scarlet sparkles on his crest."
In these lines the poet very accu-
rately describes the woodpecker's mode
of working; but, I think, my young
readers will not object to fuller par-
ticulars. Well, then, the bird has
very little power of flight, and his
movement from tree to tree seems a
labour and a difficulty to him. But
from tree to tree he imust go, until he
has found one suitable for his purpose.


lHe then settles down on the bole or
trunk, at a few feet above the ground,
using his claws to keep himself fixed
and steady. Beginning at a point
below the lowest large branch, he
slowly but surely works upwards;
now tapping with his bill, so as to
fi-ighten the insects from their hiding-
places; now pecking holes in a rotten
branch, that he may reach the prey
concealed within it ; and now project-
ing his long, stretchable, hair-tipped
tongue, to sweep the insects off the

surface. For this is the particular
use of the tongue I am describing to
you; and, believe me, no insect once
caught in its small fibres can hope to
make its escape. The tongue, when
loaded, is drawn backward, and its
captures lodged in the woodpecker's
stomach !
But, remember, he is doing some-
thing more than insect catching.
Having discovered a suitable spot for
commencing operations, he cuts out a
hole in the solid wood, which is as
perfectly circular as if it had been
first measured with a pair of compasses.
Then he works downward, in a slant-
ing direction, for some six or eight
inches ; and, afterwards, vertically, for
ten or twelve more. As thus:-
"The opening is just large enough
Sto admit the body of the bird,
but inside, the apartment and its
passage are roomy, spacious, and as

smooth as it' it had been planed by a
clever carpenter. No doubt this is
hard work, and the male is sometimes
relieved at it by his spouse ; the pair
regularly carrying away their chips,
and strewing them at a distance, so as
to prevent suspicion. The interest
shown by the female is very great,
and seems to inspire her mate to re-
doubled exertions: she frequently visits
the nursery," and examines every
part of it with the most careful atten-
tion. She then deposits a couch of saw-

dust at the bottom, takes possession
of it, and, in due time, lays her eggs,
which are generally six in number,
and of a pure white colour.
I daresay the first thought which
will occur to your mind in reading
the above description is, that the
woodpecker must be a very destruc-
tive bird, if lie bores holes in trees in
this easy and independent fashion.
But please to remember that he
never burrows into som.u timber. lie
seeks the decaying bark which swarms
with insects--insects that would soon
eat into the heart of the tree, and
render it worthless-and he carefully
removes every foreign substance grow-
ing upon the trunk, and likely to
injure it. We may, therefore, admire
the ingenious carpentry of the wood-
pecker without any fear that his work
is harmful.
It is well the reader should under-


stand that but for the birds we should
be overrun with insects, which would
destroy our fruit, eat up our crops,
and render even our lives unbearable.
In France, where the massacre of
small birds has been carried to a
shameful extent, the farmer now suffers
from a plague of insects, and is glad
to import the feathered friends he
formerly exterminated. The birds are
the allies of man, and to treat them
cruelly is to do harm to our own
interests. But as man never will-

ingly does this, it is evident that his
persecution of the winged race is due
to his ignorance quite as much as to
any innate love of what is called
To destroy the insect is the peculiar
task of the bird-its great mission;
and hundreds and thousands of finches
and flycatchers, kingfishers and linnets,
wrens and robins, thrushes and tits,
are constantly waging war against our
tiny but formidable foes.

Speaking of tits, I am reminded of
the Long-tailed Titmouse; and as she is
a most dexterous nest-builder, I am
thus brought back to the subject of
the present volume-the Homes of
the Birds.
The long-tailed titmouse is a pretty
little bird, and she and her mate gen-
erally fly about with a little flock of
ten or twelve--the others being their

brood. They prey upon the saw-flies
which are so destructive to our goose-
berries, accomplishing their task at
early dawn, before you and I, my
friends, are out of bed. Their nest is
almost as beautiful in form as they
are: it is a dome-shaped nest, and con-
structed both by male and female, the
one working inside, and the other out.
They employ for materials all kinds
of mosses, wool, hair, and the like-
binding them together with the webs
of spiders, and the silk which they

plunder from the cocoons or cover-
ings of caterpillars. The whole being
woven into a firm and smooth sub-
stance is incrusted with lichens or fir-
apples, and suspended to a strong
branch, or hidden deep within a gorse-
bush, looking as little like a nest as
you can imagine. The opening by
which the birds enter or go out is made
on one side of the oval or purse shaped
structure, and near the top. Inside,
at the bottom, is placed a couch of
soft downy feathers; and in this the
titmouse lays her eggs, which are gen-
erally ten to twelve in number, and
singularly small and delicate.

From the titmouse J turn to the
Goldfinch, a bird better known, I
doubt not, to my readers. 11c is a
handsome, lively fellow, of sportive
and engaging ways, and with a sweet,
melodious song. Th'e Scotch poet,

"L- .

Robert Burns, justly calls him "mu-
sic's gayest child ; and on account of
the excellence of his strain, the beauty
of his plumage, his docility, and his
surprising talents, he is a fivourite
chamber-bird. But, for my own part,
I cannot endure to cage and confine
my feathered friends. I love to see
then enjoying the delights of liberty,
hovering about my windows, or flutter-
ing from tree to tree in my garden.
And I would rather admire the gold-
finch in the elegant home he builds


for himself and his spouse, than in
the most gorgeous cage which ever
glittered in a lady's drawing-room.
Hid among the opening flowers
Of the earliest vernal bowers,
Passing there the anxious hours
In her little mossy dome,
Sits his mate, while he is singing,
Or across the lawn is winging,
Or upon a thistle swinging,
Gleaning for his happy lhome."

The little mossy dome is a per-
fect wonder of lightness and grace.
It is made of wool, hair, mosses, and
vegetable fibres, which are felted to-
gether most ingeniously, so that not
a single projection or rii- in-
pairs the smoothness of the outer sur-
face. The' sides are lined internally
with the down of colt's-foot, or cotton-
wool, or the down of willows and can-
nach; and the bottom is made cosy
and comfortable with tiny tufts of the
finest wool. The exquisitely-wrought
structure, when completed, hangs from

the pliant spray of the plane tree, al-
most hidden by the largeness of its
foliage ; or it is buried in a luxuriant
hedge, or leafy thicket,

Su mounted by the flowers
Of climbing vetch and honeysuckle wild."

The goldfinch is a felt-making bird,
and so is the ChTiffhic. You will
think, perhaps, that felt-making is
not a proper term to employ. The
resemblance of the texture of their
nests to that of a hat or a piece of
(426) 4

" double milled woollen cloth may
not have occurred to you, because the
most compact of these nests seems
loose when compared with the said hat
or cloth. But examine them closely,
and you will find that the materials
are arranged in a very similar manner,
being, as it were, carded into one al-
other, and not iotcwo(eioC tl read by
thread, or hair by hair.
It is easy to describe the aener(ul
construction of the nest of the claf-
finch, but, nevertheless, no two nests
are exactly alike. Some birds make
use of the fine green moss which rows
on trees ; others, of small gray or
yellow lichens; others, of lichens and
spiders' webs; and others, again, of
small tufts of cotton-wool. They take,
in fact, the materials that lie near to
hand; but whatever these may be,
they invariably work them up in the
saine mlannerl. W11ool is always in-

"* I. .

dispensnl)slc; and with this wool they
"c carefully and neatly felt the other
materials into a smooth, even, and ten-
acious texture, extraordinarily smooth
and regular when newly finished.
Sometimes the nest is also bound
round with dry grass stems, as if to
keep it more compact ; and it is al-
ways fixed in its place among the
branches by twining hands of moss.
The inside is lined with hair and
feathers, so arranged as to form a
kind of hollow fr the bird's beau-

tifully-spotted _- The favourite
trees with the chaffinch are tall haw-
thorns, silver firs, elders, crab-trees,
and the like. He has also a partiality
for gardens and apple-trees, and will
build against a wall or a grape-vine-
that is, in some leafy corner, or in
the fork of a tree or bush, where his
home cannot be easily discovered, and
is comparatively safe from the attacks
of enemies.

A nest more readily detected, but
not always very easy to obtain, is
that of the Swallow. Yet she lives
so short a time with us, that we may
well wonder she takes the trouble
to build herself a substantial home.
However, she has a reason for it, as
you will by-and-by understand.
I should like to talk to you a long
time about the swallow, for she is one
of my greatest favourites, as she was

of Sir Humphry Davy, who looked
upon her as a worthy rival of the
nightingale; for if the latter cheered
the sense of hearing, the former de-
lighted the sense of seeing. It is very
beautiful, I think, to see the white-
bosomed bird, with her keen swift
wings, darting through the air like an
arrow, or wheeling round and round
in mazy circles which almost make
you dizzy. How rapidly she flies!
and how incessantly At the rate
of a mile a minute, it. is said, and for


ten hours every day; so that if she
lives ten years, inI that period she
must travel over TWO MIILLION ONE
Can you realize these figures ? They
are equal to a voyage round the world
Then, again, 1 like the swallow be-
cause she is the herald of spring. She
leaves our cold climate when the dark
days come in; but so sure as the trees
begin to put on their leafy dress, and
the flowers to lift their tiny heads,
and the hedgerows to bud and bloom
under the influence of a genial sun, so
surely does she make her reiippear-
ance ; returning on nearly the same
day every successive year, and return-
ing always to her old familiar haunts.
And this is the reason why she builds
a home among us ; for she intends it
to be a permanent one, and year after
year reci'culies it, if not disturbed.

A FL.I HT '-1' S\V'ALL1in%
Now, tlhre arn \ several kinds of
swallows; as, foir instance, tlie coin-
mino house or celinmTiy swallow, the
barn swallow, the cliff swallow, the
window swallow, the sand martin, the
purple inartin, and many others. To
talk about all these and their homes
would occupy too muichl of IImy space. I
shall confine myself, therefore, to the
House Swcllo a ndt tile Siald martin.

The lIois e SeLw(lo' measures about
six inches in length. II is bill is black;

his chin and forehead are of a deep
chestnut red; his black tail is tinged
with green; the top of his head, and
all the upper parts of his body, may
be described as of a purplish-black in
colour, like old port wine; the upper
part of the breast is black, but the
lower part and belly are beautifully
white. The legs are of' a dusky hue,
but in shape are very fine and deli-
cate; the tail is long and much forked,
divided, as it were, into a couple of
You will judge from these particu-
lars, if you have not seen him, that
our swallow is a handsome and ele-
gantly proportioned bird, and that his
shape is well adapted for flying. He
is so made as literally to cut the air.
As I have said, he is almost constantly
on the .. v -., wheeling and skinmning in
every direction; now taking a straight
downward flight, and now sweeping


s, '
.. 011

round in an airy curve; and whenever
in his course meeting with an insect,
also on the wing, opening wide his
bill, snapping up his prey, and making
very short work of it.
His nest is composed of a crust or
shell of clay or mud, mixed with short
bits of straw and hair to render it
tough and permanent. He mixes the
materials, and afterwards flattens and
hardens them, with his bill; and
sometimes half a dozen swallows will
assist in the construction of a single
(42t) 6

nest. It is uple at the to]), rnd inl
shape may be compared( to a deep dish:
inside it is lined with fine grasses and
feathers, which are worked up) t(og-etlher
with much address.
The home of the chimney or house
swallow differs very little, I mav ob-
serve,from that of' the window swallow,
only the shell of the latter is sihallower
and h]mislphric inl slhape- that is, it
ijny he compared to the half of a
hollow globe or ball. 1Ioth varieties
of swallows derive their distinctive or
specific names from the (localities in
which they love to build; the former
selecting a chimney not in use, but
next, if possible, to the kitchen or
some equally warm shaft; the latter
building his nest in the corners of
windows and under eaves. He does
not always find there a very secure
situation ; for the heavy rains of
August will often moisten the earth

of which the nest is built; the mortar
or cement then thils; and away go
the liome and its tenants, dashed upon
tlie ,'round. Yet, year after year, the
bird will luild in the saine spot.
As punctually as the swallow visits
us in the spring" does she leave us ini
the autiun. When the cold winds
of September days, and the bitter
frosts of September nights, kill off
the insects on which she feeds, she
and iher congen:rs congregate in ilm-
mense flocks, an suddenly the nests

are empty, the old roosting-places de-
serted, and you see the dark clouds
hurrying far away, bound for the warm
south or south-east, to the olive-groves
of Italy, or across the sea to the pome-
granates and citrons of Africa. On
the way hundreds fall victims to their
numerous enemies, or are overtaken
by Alpine storms; yet, in many places,
the same pair of swallows contrive to
-accomplish the journey to and firo, and
year after year, with an astonishing

Let me now direct your attention to
the Sand Martin, one of the smallest
of our swallows, which dwells in little
communities along steep and sandy
banks, in quarries, or on the low cliffs
washed by river-waters, mining or ex-
cavating long and deep tunnels in
which to shelter themselves and their
brood. The sand martin is very small,

and from his size you would think him
wholly unfitted for the arduous work
he undertakes : but the claws with
which he clings to the face of the
bank, while making his home, are
sharp and tenacious ; and the bill with
which he bores into the hard sand is
short, solid, amazingly keen, and pro-
vided with a fine tapering point. It
is therefore well fitted to be used as
the sand martin uses it, for a pickaxe.
If he can find a soft, sandy spot, the
wise bird is by no means anxious to

oive Iimn-. u1innecessary trouble, and
willingly works away at the soft
material, which crumbles readily at
his slightest touch. If no such ad-
vantage offers, however, he applies
himself to his more laborious enter-
prise with t]he utmost energy. IHav-
ing tested various ]places with his beak
and fixed upon one, lie fastens his
claws securely in the rock, and by
turning round and round, and peck-
ingL' as li turns, he ,son excavates a
tolerably round tunnel or gallery,
which lie carries inwards for about
two feet and a half in. a slightly slant-
ing direction. Generally the burrow
is worked in a straight line ; but if a
stone or tlie root of a tree colme in
the way, the bird avoids it by making'
a curve or bend.
At the end of the tunnel or gallery,
which is always larger than, the slaft
or passa,'e conductin ito it, is placed

". ,,, " ... ',

the niest; a v:ery sinle l a Itair, .indC ,
ftr it consists of nothing, loUre tlir a n
loose 1ay, wviti a l' ofw f tii' siamller
breast feeathelrs of -cmse, ducks, or
ftwls, ispread out for tlhe ecpltio,
of the ( u..-.

Here I take leave of the s-wallows.
What noise is that I hear above imy
head ? Who can fail to recognize the
hoarse cry of the Rook ? And, look-
ing up, I see the blue sky darkened
by a long flight of birds as black as


jet,-all flying in a kind of military
order, with skirmishers in front and
in rear to give warning of the ap-
proach of any enemy.
They are handsome and sagacious
birds-the rooks; with quick, keen
eyes, that seem always on the watch.
Their habits are singularly interest-
ing; for they are endowed with a
degree of foresight and instinct that
almost approaches to reason. They
are remarkable, also, for their gregari-
ousness; that is, for their love of
society. In flocks they build their
nests, so that every tree in a wood or
plantation will be thick with them;
in flocks they seek for food; and in
flocks, after a day's excursion, they
return to their lofty homes.
It is observable, as Waterton has
pointed out, that in their morning
and evening migrations, the height at
which they fly seems to be regulated

by the condition of the weather. If
the wind is blowing violently, they
swiftly descend into the valley, and
as they sweep al,.-'. do but just skim
the tops of the tallest trees; but on a
calm, clear evening, you may see them
on their homeward way, at such an
elevation in the heavens that they look
like a floating cloud of black specks.
So far as his home is concerned, the
rook belongs to the Basket-making
Birds. He first lays down a founda-
tion of sticks of all kinds and sizes,-
(426) 6

the dead lbraInes .blown firo m tihe
trees by the winds of the preceding"
winter. TI.. lie weaves in and out ot
the sprays and twigs of the a)ugh on
which hle intends to rest, until lie has
fashioned a strong though not very
elegant imitation of basket-work.
Then, for internal lining, he collects a
qluantity of longu aid delicate fibrous
roots, knitting thelci closely together
until they form an inner basket, which
a dexterous hand may even lift out of
the external one. lHere, in security,
lie the _; -. which are four or five in
number, and variable in clour ; the
general tint, however, being a greenish
gray, which is blotted and spotted,
stand splashed and dashed, with a dark
greenish brown.
The rook bestows considerable
thought on the selection of a suitable
.position for his nest. It is not all parts
of a tree that will suit his purpose, as

:-, _r -i I -

some branches may not be sufficiently
forkud, others may be dangerously
weak, and others too much exposed to
the influence of the wind. Before
building, therefore, you will see the
male and female, for some days,
closely examining all the trees of the
grove or rookery ; and when they
have chosen a branch that seems fit
for their purpose, they will sit upon
it, and watcl it very vigilantly, for
another two or three days. And it
nmiv happenn, after all, that they have

fixed upon a place too near the man-
sion of an older pair, and so soon as
they commence operations they find
themselves attacked, and, as a matter
of course, defeated. Or, being lazy
and dishonest, instead of searching for
sticks in a suitable manner, they pilfer
them from any nest they find un-
guarded. At last they are detected.
The plundered birds complain to the
heads of the community, and the
plundeiers are punished. Eight or
ten rooks simultaneously swoop down
on the new nest, so dishonestly built,
and pull it to pieces.
But, at last, the young birds, learn-
ing that honesty is the best policy,
set industriously to work. While
one flies in quest of materials the
other sits upon the tree, and guards
the gradually-accumulating pile ; and
in the space of three or four days,
interrupted by an occasional skirmish,

a commodious nest is constructed.
"The female begins to lay, and thence-
forth peace prevails; not one of the
whole rookery attempting to molest
the couple that have become regular
and respectable members of their
grave co ummnity.

The two great songsters of spring
are the Lark and the Nightingale.
We know their supreme excellence
as musicians. Let us glance for a mo-
ment at their acquirements as build-


ors. It would seem as if among birds
as among men it is not given to any
to shine in more than one capacity.

There is little to interest or astonish
us in the lowly home of the Lark.
I'l11,,gi he flies to "heaven's gate"
to pour out his bursts of melody, he
builds his nest on the ground ; builds
it of the connonest materials, and
contents himself with partially hiding
it in the furrow of a ploughed field, or
in the open meadow, with only a clod
of turf to shelter it. This contrast be-
twoeen the humble character of the
bird's habitation and the aspiring
nature of its flight has necessarily at-
tracted the attention of our poets and
thinkers. Thus, Waller speaks of

The lark that shuns on lifty boughs to build
Ier annual 1:'st....
Sinpiii/ shAe mii ,nit; her airy wing are stretched
Towards heaven, as if frm heaven Iher notes
she fetched.'

"A"nd Iowv th 1 herald lark
I'eft his ground-Hest, h igh-tmvirig t d-escrv
The :m.. on' apra., Ich, and grmet her with hi. s851g.
The nest of the yl1dT'iale. seens.
in like manner, unworthy of so gori-
ous a singer. She imitates the lark
in humility. It is true that she does
not build upon the ground, but she
builds very near it; only a few inches
above its surface; planting her nest
under thick-growing foliage, in the
most remote and secluded corners she
can discover, in places where you

would never expect a bird to build.
It is evident that the nightingale's
whole heart is in her song. She has
no time to devote to the construction
of a splendid mansion. Her only
objects are concealment and safety;
and, therefore, she mixes up the
straw, grass, dried leaves, and twigs
of which she builds her nest in so
careless a fashion that you would
scarcely suppose the thiltn so con-
structed to be a nest.

From a bird that builds a bad or
indifferent nest, we naturally pass to
a bird that builds no nest at all!
This is the case with that well-known
visitor, the Cuckoo; a visitor, I say,
because, like the swallow, she comes
in spring to abandon us in autumn.
In a book devoted to Homes of the
Birds we cannot say much about a
bird that seems happy without a

home !-about a bird that makes use
of other birds' nests; just as if some-
body came from the next street, and
planted himself and family in your
father's house instead of his own !
It must be confessed that natural-
ists differ widely in their statements
about the cuckoos, whose habits are
not very easily observed, on account
of their shy retiring nature. But it
seems agreed that the hen-bird builds
no nest, and does not hatch her own
<-2*,'; but goes prying about in search
(426) 7


of the nest of a titlark, a water-wag-
tail, or a hedge-sparrow ; and while
either of these is laying her eggs,
which occupies front four to six days,
3I1-i. -, Cuckoo pops her _'I_ in
among the rest, and away she goes
with a mind quite free and easy.
But she frequently leaves bad con-
sequences behind her. The hedge-
sparrow, while -i ir, not only throws
out, at times, some of her own ......
to make room, I suppose, for the in-
truder-but injures others in so serious
a degree that they become addled.
The intrusive ._-_, however, she
neither ejects nor injures.
I have something still more dis-
tressing to add. No sooner have the
young cuckoo and the young sparrows
emerged flomn their shells than the
latter are (coily turned out of their
home by the impudent stranger. The
way in which the cuckoo does this

lold stroke of business is very in-
genious. Soon after he is hatched,
and while still blind, he contrives with
his wings and tail, or stump of a tail,
to lift the young hedge-sparrow, or
the half-hatched .-_.u upon his back,
which seems shaped expressly for the
purpose. Then, making a L. ti. --
place for his burden by elevating his
shoulders, he clambers backward with
it up the side of the nest until he
reaches the top, where, resting for a
moment, he jerks away his load ; and

then, after feeling about with the tips
of his wings as if to make sure that
he has quite got rid of his victim, he
contentedly drops back into the nest

The IVren is a small bird, and she
builds a small nest; but this nest is
one of much ingenuity and elegance
in construction. It is usually placed
under the brow of a river's bank,
where the sand has been worn away
by the water, so as to leave the turf
overhanging it. Sometimes it will
be found among the thick ivy which
covers an old tree or mouldering
wall; or you may discover it under
the "protecting side of a haystack,"
or in the snug shelter afforded by a
The material of which the nest is
composed is, generally, green moss.
This the wren collects in large

quantities; and as if to save herself
the trouble of many journeys, she
may be seen loaded with a tuft of
moss as big as herself! When she
proposes to build on the bare clay of
a streamlet's bank, or the moss-grown
trunk of a tree, she first describes,
like a good artist, an oval outline of
the intended structure, by glueing
with saliva little bits of moss all
round, taking care to make her out-
line narrower at the top than at the

An agreeable writer says that in-
stead of fastening the back of her
ncst to the clay, our wren sometimes
fixes only the arched top to that sup-
port, the under part of the nest being
built downwards, and allowed to hlin:t,
like a finch's nest, from the branch of
a tree. This foundation, as we may
call it,-since it is the part of the
nest first built, -is enlarged by the
insertion of fresh pieces, apparently
glued with saliva, until a large dome
or hemisphere is constructed, about
twenty times the dimensions of its
little builder, and with a small oval
hole in the side for an entrance.
Sometimes almost the sole material
employed by the wren is moss, the
lining as well as the outside being
composed of it; but 1 think that,
as a rule, some straws, dead leaves,
and bits of twig are used to bind
the moss externally; while, internally,

it is lined with hair or wool, cotton,
worsted, feathers, down, or iny sniliar
substance which is easily procurable in
the neighbourhood. Altogether, the
domed nest of the wren is a very art-
ful and remarkable structure.

Another dome-builder, let me t ll
you, is that comparatively rare bird,
the (Golden-crested Wren. "A minute
creature," says a quaint writer, and
perfectly untindful of any severity
in our winter, she ]htches her vounll

in June, the warmer portion of our
year, and yet builds her beautiful
nest with the utmost attention to
warmth. Interweaving small branches
of moss with the web of the spider,
she forms a closely compacted texture,
nearly an inch in thickness; lining it
with such a profusion of feathers that,
sinking deep into the downy accumu-
lation, she seems almost lost when
sitting; and her young, when hatched,
appear -trfl.., with the warmth of
their bedding,-and the heat of their

There are many curious particulars
connected with the Kingfisher's home.
Of course, as this beautiful bird
frequents the water-side, and feeds
upon the fish which she dexterously
catches with her long and pointed
bill, you will expect to find her nest
in the bank of some pleasant pool or

9 -

"p" i -4

running bro,1k. W\ieni slh and lcr
mate begin to think of'" Iuilding' a
home, they wvandur about thle water-
side until thley lind the deserted
burrow of a watur-vole, or a water-
shrew, or some other burrowing
animal. Then they enlarge it to suit
themselves, always being careful to
select a burrow that slants upwards,
so that their nest may be kept dry,
however highl the water rises.
To ,obtain a king'fisher's nest at all is
a most difficult task, and to otain it in

a perfect state is still more difficult.
In tcft, so far as I can learn, the only
perfect specimen known in England
was procured by 1Mr. Gould, the
eminent naturalist, and is now pre-
served in the British I,-,.um. It is
composed entirely of --what do you
think '--- lish-bcnes, minnows furnish-
ing the greater portion These bones
are ejected by the bird after she has
digested the flesh. The sides of the
nest measure half an inch to three
quarters of an inch in thickness, and
its form is very flat. "Thel circular
shape, and slight hollow," we are
told, show that the bird reallyi
forms the mass of bones into a nest,
and does not merely lay her __-.- at
random upon the i. .1 matter."

I pass from the kingfisher to a
much commoner bird, the Sog-
"T'l'ushk; which, if he cannot boast of

the splendid plumage of the former,
rivets our admiration by the liquid
melody of his strain. He deserves
our attention, moreover, as an in-
genious architect, his home being
really a very admirable specimen of
good masonry. The situations which
he loves to choose are graphically de-
scribed by a modern poet in a passage
well worth quoting :-
"In the hazel bush or sloe is formed
The habitation of the wedded pair;
Sometimes below the never-fading leaves
Of ivy close, th1it I binds,

And richly crowns, with clustering fruit of spring,
Some river-rock, or nodding castle-wall;
Sometimes beneath the jutting root of lhn,
( r oak, among the sprigs that overhang
A pebble-chiding stream, the loam-lined house :
ls fixed, well hid from ken of hovering hawk,
Or lurking beast, or schoolboy's prowling eye."

Now it is very true that these are
favourite localities with the song-
thrush; but it is equally true that he
frequently builds his nest in far less
romantic and difficult places, and we
are almost inclined to believe that he
is not so fastidious on this point as some
naturalists represent. At all events,
in my own garden, a, pair of song-
thrushes have planted their nest in a
hedge, which is certainly closely-grown
and luxuriant, but which is by no
means concealed from sight, or safe
fiom "school-boy's prowling' eye." Let
me add that the poet above quoted
is decidedly wrong in speaking of
the nest as "loam-lined." I have
examined several, and have never

found loam entering into their com-
To adapt the elaborate description
of Mr. Rennie to the purpose of
this little volume, I may begin by
saying that the interior of these nests
in shape and size resembles a large
breakfast tea-cup, being as uniformly
rounded, and, though not polished,
almost as smooth. In constructing
this cup the parent birds first lay a
solid foundation of moss, chiefly the
more fertile and fern-leaved mosses;

any kind, in fact, which is sufficiently
tufted. .As the work advances, the
tufts of moss are wrought into a
rounded wall by means of grass stems,
wheat, straw, or roots; which are
twisted with it and with one another
up to the very brim of the cup, where
a thicker band of the same materials
is hooped round like the mouth of a
basket. The circular form of this
framework is produced by the bird
measuring it, at every step of the
process, with its body, particularly
the part extending from the thigh to
the chin ; and when any of the straw,
or other materials, will not readily
conform to this standard, they are
carefully glued into their proper
place by means of saliva,-a circum-
stance visible in many parts of the
same nest, if closely examined.
The shell, or framework, being
thus completed, the bird begins

the internal masonry by spreading
pellets of horse or cow dung on the
basket-work of moss and straw, begin-
ning at the bottom, which is intended
to be the thickest, and proceeding
gradually from the central point.
This material, however, from its dry-
ness, would not adhere if the birds
did not employ their saliva; yet the
little architect must possess no ordinary
gift of patience to lay it on so
smoothly with no other implement
than its little narrow-pointed bill.


Our b,'st workImen, I expect, would
shrink from such ; task with such a
tool !

Here I must pause. (Grandftther
Percy has told his tale ; and heartily
does he hiope that his youin r1 '.1. -.
will bear ill milnd the lessons of
patience, industry, and foresight
always to 1e g'aimed hl-(ll ; careful
study of
'THfE hIO ES 1 F THE ililDS.


F Q~vm\

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