Изображения страниц

years ago, but I begged him not to do so, on account of the curiosity of the scene, and he has since been well pleased that he abstained.'

Another instance of a similar character was communicated to me in March last (1845), by Robert Ball, Esq., of Dublin. 'In the mass of thorn-trees at the upper end of the Zoological Garden in the Phoenix Park, sleep every night, from the end of October to about the end of March, from 150,000 to 200,000 Starlings. This enormous number may appear an exaggeration, yet it is the estimate of many observations. When these Starlings were first observed, they were estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000; but during three years they seem to have increased tenfold.'"*

The simple nest of the Starling is composed of twigs, slender roots, dry leaves, grass, straw, and feathers. Like the Swallows, it often returns to the same nest year after year only taking care to clean it out. It lays, twice in the year, from four to seven eggs, of a delicate pale blue or ashy green hue, which are hatched in about sixteen days. In some parts of Germany, the peasants breed Starlings like domestic pigeons; they eat the young, which they take before they are fully fledged; thus they obtain three broods, the last of which, however, they do not molest, both in order not to discourage the parent birds, and also not to diminish this

branch of economy.t A communication to the pages of the “ Zoologist,” from Dr. Morris of York, contains some interesting particulars of these birds' nest-building. “I stood this morning," observes the Doctor, * Brit. Birds, ii. 43.

† Bechstein.

"for nearly an hour, watching a pair of Starlings. They had chosen a hole in a tree close to me for their nest, in the construction of which the female alone was engaged: the male sate near, looking on, but never fetching any materials; he seemed to be a sort of guard or sentinel, as he repeatedly drove off some sparrows that were too inquisitive as to the progress the nest was making. The female, in her arduous task, made on an average, by my watch, three trips per minute, with small twigs and bits of dry grass, which she picked up near the tree. Sometimes she took three or four small ones at one time, so that at this rate, supposing her to work for only six hours, she would have brought together upwards of a thousand sticks, &c., which would be more than sufficient to form her nest.

Mr. Jesse, noticing the difference of character among birds, describes that of the Starling in the following terms :-" There is a great variety of character amongst birds ; some appear moping and melancholy, and others full of joy and hilarity. One variety of bird (the Titmouse) is always restless and on the move, while another, the Heron, for instance, is grave and thoughtful in its habits, and slow and methodical in its movements. The bird, however, which amuses me most, is the Starling. There is an oddity in all he does ; he appears curious and observant ; in short, a sort of Paul Pry amongst his species. He has a great deal of sociability and amusing fun in his disposition, accompanied by great restlessness, and yet apparent good fellowship and good humour. The Jackdaw comes next to him in these respects; but I know of no bird whose character is more strongly marked than that of the Starling. He is easily tamed, and when in a state of confinement his good spirits do not forsake him, and he appears to reconcile himself to his situation with great philosophy.”*



This Family, consisting of birds which may all be considered small, is one of immense extent. They are remarkable for the shortness, thickness, and powerful structure of the beak; the upper and lower mandibles are for the most part equally thick, their height and breadth are nearly alike, so that when the beak is closed, it commonly presents the appearance of a very short cone, divided in the middle by the gape. In some genera, however, the conical form is less obvious, by the bulging or swelling of its outline, both vertically and laterally. In many of the Finches, as the Hawfinch of our own country (Coccothraustes), the Java Sparrow (Amadina) so often seen in cages, and others, the thickness of the beak in proportion to its length, and in comparison with the size of the head, is enormous, but in a rare and extraordinary bird from West Africa (Loxia ostrina, VIEILL.), the beak is but little inferior in size to the whole head.

The great strength thus communicated to the beak, well adapts it for the functions it is ordained to perform, for the food of these birds consists very largely of seeds, often inclosed in

Gleanings, 177.


woody capsules of great hardness, or the kernels of stone-fruits, which must either be opened by a forcible wrench, or crushed by strong pressure. At the season of incubation, many species live extensively on caterpillars, and the larvæ of other insects, with which the young are almost exclusively fed; and there are some numerous genera, in which a fruit or seed diet is at all times largely varied by insects. In such cases, as the Tanagers for example, the upper mandible is more or less obviously notched at the tip, as in the slenderbilled Dentirostres; and, for the same purpose, the more secure holding of a living and active prey:

The Finches are spread over the whole world, as might be supposed of so very extensive a Family; in general, the individuals of each species are abundant, and many associate in flocks. They are considered to possess the peculiarities of the Class in very high development; they are in general much admired for their clean neat appearance, their often brilliant colours, their docility of manners, and their sprightliness; and these qualities, united with their small size, the facility of supplying them with food, and the power of song with which very many species are endowed, render them the most suitable of all birds for the confinement of a cage ;-hence they are general favourites in the houses of the rich and the poor.

Genus CARDUELIS. (Briss.) We have, in the Goldfinches, an example of the Fringilladæ with the beak of only moderate thickness, or which might even be characterized as slender, but of very regularly conic form. It is rather lengthened, compressed, and drawn to a sharp point, the edges slightly curved; the nostrils are placed on each side of the base, covered by small feathers. The wings are long and pointed; the first, second, and third quills nearly equal, and longest. The tail is of moderate length, and forked. The legs and feet are somewhat short; the lateral toes equal; the claws curved, slender, and acute.

With the exception of the Canary, there is no cage-bird which is so universal a favourite as the pretty common Goldfinch (Carduelis elegans, STEPH.), and none more deservedly so. The cleanness and smoothness of its chastely-coloured

bodyplumage, its crimson head, admirably set off with white and velvet-black, its tail and wings of black, tipped with white, and the broad band of rich golden yellow, which crosses the latter, render it one of the most beautiful of British birds. It is characterized, moreover, by an extreme docility. It may be readily taught to draw its own food and water from reservoirs, by means of a little bucket attached to a cord; and actions much more wonderful than this, individuals have been trained to perform. Exhibitions are by no means rare, in the metropolis, of Finches of this and other species, brought to perform many amusing tricks, and to go through complicated and difficult manæuvres with precision at the word of command, and even to stand discharges of gunpowder without manifesting any signs of fear. The Sieur Roman, who some years ago exhibited Goldfinches, Linnets, and Canaries in this country, had brought them to a surprising pitch of obe

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »