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quite set in, and leaves us in September. Mr. Jesse says he has sometimes missed the species within a fortnight from the time at which the brood have quitted the nest, and expresses his
surprise that such young and tender birds should have strength sufficient to perform their migration. During this its brief sojourn, insects, and especially flies, which constitute its sustenance,
are abundant; the manner in which these are taken is well described by White of Selborne, in his tenth Letter to Pennant. There is, he observes, “one circumstance characteristic of this bird, which seems to have escaped observation, and that is, it takes its stand on the top of some stake or post, from whence it springs forth on its prey, catching a fly in the air, and hardly ever touching the ground, but returning still to the same stand for
From this circumstance it is in some of the rural districts of England known as the “ Post-bird.” A dead branch, or the projecting twig of a tree, or the summit of a tall bush, or the angle of the roof of a house, is also not unfrequently chosen as the watch-post, the object being to secure a commanding range of observation on the surrounding air. The captured insect is never swallowed on the wing, but is held for a few seconds in the beak even after the return to the post. Insects have been supposed to be exclusively the food of this species, yet Sir William Jardine, whose accuracy of observation cannot be questioned, expressly asserts that he has occasionally seen it eat ripe cherries.
The Flycatcher is one of the least musical of British birds; its only note is a weak monotonous chirp or click ; and this is uttered only while the season of incubation continues. The utterance, however, such as it is, frequently betrays the presence of the nest, which might else remain undiscovered.
The preparations for the bringing up of their family are commenced by the Flycatchers immediately on their arrival; for they have no time to lose. Various are the situations selected for the domestic economy: Sir W. Jardine mentions as a very common locality, the branches of a fruittree against the garden wall; a niche in the wall; capitals of pillars, or some corner amidst statuary. Mr. Martin also observes, “ We have very frequently seen it between the branch of a trained fruit-tree and the wall, or in holes of the wall hidden by foliage. It will build also in the holes of aged gnarled trees, upon the ends of beams in out-houses, and in other appropriate places of concealment.” From the selection of beams or rafters in tool-houses, &c., it has obtained in some parts the local appellation of “ Beam-bird.” But Mr. Jesse has recorded the most singular choice of a breeding locality by this bird. “I have now in my possession," he observes, "a nest of the Spotted Flycatcher, or Beam-bird, which shews the most singular habits of that bird in selecting peculiar and odd situations for building. The nest in question was found on the top of a lamp near Portland Place, London, and had five eggs in it, which had been sat upon. The top of the lamp was in the shape of a crown, and the nest was built in the hollow part of it, but perfectly concealed. In consequence of the great heat produced by the gas, the four props which supported the ornamental crown became unsoldered, and a complaint having been made to the authorities for lighting the streets, the top of the lamp, with the nest in it, was brought to them. The nest was composed of moss, hair, and fine grass. It is not a little curious that it should have been found in such a situation, and with so great a degree of heat under it. Mr. White says that in outlets about towns, where mosses, lichens, gossamer, &c., cannot be obtained, birds do not make nests so peculiar each to its species, as they do in the country.
Thus the nest of the town Chaffinch has noť that elegant appearance, nor is it so beautifully studded with lichens as those in the rural districts; and the Wren is obliged to construct its nest with straws and dry grasses, which do not give it that roundness and compactness so remarkable in the usual edifices of that little architect. The nest in question was not lined with feathers and spiders' webs, as is generally the case.
"I have myself discovered the Flycatcher's nest in very odd situations ;-one behind a decayed piece of bark attached to an elm tree in Hamptoncourt Park, and another concealed amongst the ornaments of the beautiful iron gates of Hampton-court Gardens. In Mr. White's unpublished notes, he mentions a Flycatcher having built its nest in a very peculiar manner on a shelf fixed to the wall of an out-house, and behind the head of an old rake lying on the shelf. Indeed the bird would appear to have a partiality for the last mentioned implement, for in Loudon's 'Magazine of Natural History, it is stated that a Flycatcher's nest was built upon a wooden rake lying on the ground in a cottage garden at Barnsford, near Worcester. In this nest the female laid eggs, and even sat on them, indifferent to any one passing in the garden.”*
“A curious circumstance," observes Mr. Yarrell, “in reference to this bird, has been noticed by Thomas Andrew Knight, Esq., the President of the Horticultural Society. A Flycatcher built in his stove several successive years. He observed that the bird quitted its eggs whenever the thermometer in the house was above 72', and resumed her place upon the nest again, when the thermometer sunk below." *
* Jesse's “ Gleanings,” p. 247.
The eggs are four or five in number, of a greyish-white hue, marked with pale orangebrown spots.
FAMILY IV. AMPELIDA.
(Chatterers.) The beak in this Family is more stout in proportion to its length than in the preceding, approaching, especially in the form of the lower mandible, to that of the Conirostres; the upper mandible is, however, somewhat broad at the base, flat, with the superior edge more or less angular and ridged, and the tip distinctly notched. The feet are usually stout, with the outer toe united to the middle one, as far as, or beyond the first joint.
The species composing this Family, though not very numerous, are of various forms, and widely scattered over the globe. Many of them are distinguished for the soft and silky character of their plumage, and for the brilliant colours with which it is adorned; and not a few for unusual appendages, either to some of the feathers, or to the skin of the body. They feed principally on berries, and other soft fruits ; occasionally also on insects.
* Brit. Birds, i. 174.