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Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, Devonshire, Worcestershire, and Cheshire; and in one or two instances, in the north of Ireland. North of London it has been killed in Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Cumberland, Northumberland, and Durham. Sir W. Jardine speaks of it as a rare bird in Scotland, a few instances only of its capture in the south of that kingdom having come to his knowledge. It is spread over the continent, however, from Lapland to Spain and Italy. Its appearance with us, as in the south of Europe, is in the winter months; once or twice only it has been observed in England in summer, probably through some accidental circumstance; and there is no reason to believe it ever breeds with
Mr. Rennie, in the “ Architecture of Birds," speaks of its nest as common in Kent, but this is probably a mistake. Its winter residence with us is not so infrequent a thing, but that the bird has obtained a recognition among the common people, and numerous local names attest their familiarity with it. Thus it is known by the
appellations of Butcher-bird, Mattagass, Mountain Magpie, Murdering Pie, Shreek, and Shrike; and by the ancient British it was named Cigydd Mawr.
We have alluded to the interesting analogy between the Shrikes and the Falcons ; nor is this so recondite as to have been remarked only by the observant man of science. In the days of falconry the species before us was actually supposed to be a degenerate sort of hawk, as appears from the curious notices of it in the books of that age. In The Booke of Falconrie or Hawkinge ” (London, 1611), we find “the Sparowhawke,” immediately succeeded by " the Matagesse;" and at the end of “A generall division of Hawkes and Birdes of Prey, after the opinion of one Francesco Sforzino Vycentino, an Italian gentleman-falconer," there is the following account “ Of the Matagasse:"
Though the Matagasse bee a Hawke of none Account or Price, neyther with us in any Use; yet neverthelesse, for that in my Division I made Recitall of her Name, according to the French Author, from whence I collected sundries of these Points and Documents appertaining to Falconrie, I think it not beside my purpose briefly to describe herre unto you, though I must needs confesse, that where the Hawke is of so slender Value, the Definition, or rather Description of her Nature and Name, must be thought of no great Regard."
After the description the author goes on to say,—" Her feeding is upon Rattes, Squirrells, and Lisards, and sometime upon certaine Birdes she doth use to prey, whome she doth intrappe and deceive by flight, for this is her Devise. She will stand at pearch upon some Tree or Poste, and there make an exceedyng lamentable Cry and Exclamation, such as Birdes are wonte to doe being wronged, or in Hazard of Mischiefe, and all to make other Fowles believe and think that she is very much distressed, and standes needefull of Ayde, whereupon the credulous sellie Birdes do flocke together presently at her Call and Voice, at which Time, if any happen to approache near her, she out of Hand ceazeth on them, and devoureth them (ungratefull, subtill Fowle!) in Requitall of their Simplicity and Paines. These Hawkes are in no Accompt with us, but poore simple Fellowes and Peasantes sometimes doe make them to the Fiste, and being reclaymed after their unskillfull Manner, do beare them hooded, as Falconers doe their other Kind of Hawkes whome they make to greater Purposes. Heere I ende of this Hawke, because I neyther accompt her worthe the name of a Hawke, in whom there resteth no Valour or Hardiness, ne yet deserving to have any more written of her Propertie and Nature, more than that she was in mine Author specified as a Member of my Division, and there reputed in the Number of longwinged Hawkes. For truely it is not the Propertie 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 Winges 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, which doe lie upon their wing, roving in the Ayre, and ruffe the Fowle, or kill it at the encounter.
Notwithstanding the slighting tone in which this author treats the attempts of the “ poore fellowes ” to reclaim this bird, Willughby affirms that it received a more refined and scientific consideration. “ Although,” says he, “it doth most commonly feed upon insects, yet doth it often set upon and kill not only small birds, as finches, wrens, &c., but (which Turner affirms himself to have seen) even Thrushes themselves: whence it is wont by our falconers to be reclaimed and made for to fly small birds."
But upon the Continent the Shrike appears to
have rendered a more important service to the falconer, than the capture of small birds, even the capture of the higher kinds of Falcons themselves. Sir John Sebright informs us that the Peregrine Falcon is taken by placing in a favourable situation a small bow-net, so arranged as to be drawn over quickly by a long string that is attached to it. A pigeon of a light colour is tied on the ground as a bait, and the falconer is concealed, at a convenient distance, in a hut made of turf, to which the string reaches. The Lanius excubitor, that is, the Warder Butcher-bird,* from the lookout that he keeps for the Falcon, is tied on the ground near the hut; and two pieces of turf are so set up as to serve him, as well for a place of shelter from the weather, as of retreat from the Falcon. The falconer employs himself in some sedentary occupation, relying upon the vigilance of the Butcher-bird to warn him of the approach of a Hawk. This he never fails to do, by screaming loudly when he perceives his enemy at a distance, and by running under the turf when the Hawk draws near. The falconer is thus prepared to pull the net, the moment that the Falcon has pounced upon the pigeon.t
The Grey Shrike delights more in parks and cultivated fields, where hedge-rows and clumps of trees abound, than in deep forests, or a very open country. The small birds and quadrupeds, or large insects on which it feeds, are taken by open violence, deprived of life, and then impaled upon some thorn or sharp twig, to be more readily devoured. This habit of hanging up his meat, butcher-like, has given him both scientific and vulgar appellations. Mr. Selby says: “I had the gratification of witnessing this operation of the Shrike upon a Hedge-sparrow (Accentor modularis) which it had just killed, and the skin of which, still attached to the thorn, is now in my possession. In this instance, after killing the bird, it hovered with the prey in its bill, a short time, over the hedge, apparently occupied in selecting a thorn fit for its purpose. Upon disturbing it, and advancing to the spot, I found the Accentor firmly fixed by the tendons of the wing to the selected twig.”* We are informed by Le Vaillant that the same habit marks this bird in the wilds of South Africa ; and he observed that the spine or thorn was invariably thrust through the head of the prey, whether insect or bird, which was not devoured at the time of impalement, but allowed to hang until the calls of hunger induced the Shrike to return to its stored provision. And the allied species in North America (L. borealis, VIEILL.) resorts to the very same practice, as recorded by Heckewelder, Wilson, and others.
* Lanius (Lat.), a butcher ; excubitor, a watchman. + Observations upon Hawking.
The same singular habits are retained in captivity. Mr. Yarrell has extracted part of a letter from Mr. Doubleday, of Epping, a well-known naturalist, to the effect that an old Grey Shrike had been in his possession twelve months, having been captured near Norwich, in October, 1835. It had become very tame, and would readily take its food from its master's hands. When a bird was given it, it invariably broke the skull, and generally ate the head first. It sometimes held
* Br. Ornith. i. 149.