Изображения страниц

islands, and others annually perform a periodical migration to the breeding-grounds, arriving there with as much regularity as our summer visitors from a distance."* Large downs, the sheep-walks of an open unenclosed country, wild heaths, and commons, boggy pastures, wet meadow-lands, and marshes near lakes and rivers, are the favourite resorts of these beautiful birds. In such situations immense numbers congregate at the breeding-season, separating into pairs to assume the parental joys and cares. “When incubation has fairly commenced,” observes Sir William Jardine, “ the common or moor often appears alive with their active motions; no stranger or intruder can enter upon their haunts without an examination, and both, or one of the pair, hover and fly around, tumbling and darting at him, and all along uttering their vehement cry of Peeswit. When incubation is completed, the young and old assemble together, and frequent the pastures and fallows; some particular fields being often chosen by them in preference to others, probably on account of the abundance of food ; and here they will assemble daily for some time, feeding chiefly in twilight or clear nights, and resting during the day.

The clouds of birds that rise about sunset, to seek their feeding-grounds, performing many beautiful evolutions ere they go off, is incredible, except to one who has witnessed it. In Holland, where this bird is extremely abundant, and where the view on all sides is bounded equally by a low horizon, thousands may be seen on all sides at once, gleaming in the setting sun, or appearing

* Jardine.

like a dense black moving mass between its light and the spectator." *

The eggs of this bird are nearly two inches long, of an olive hue, spotted all over with blotches of brown. Four are laid, in some slight depression of the ground, on which a few blades of dried grass form the only nest. These eggs are well known as an esteemed luxury for the table, and may be seen in the shops of the London poulterers in great numbers in the months of April and May. The flat and low counties around the metropolis afford the chief supply to this market; and the trade of collecting them affords employment to many individuals during the season.

“ Great expertness in the discovery of the nests is shewn by those accustomed to it, who generally judge of their situation by the conduct of the female birds, which invariably, upon being disturbed, run from the eggs, and then fly near to the ground for a short distance, without uttering any alarm-cry. The males, on the contrary, are very clamorous, and fly round the intruder, endeavouring, by various instinctive arts to divert his attention. So expert have some men become, that they will not only walk straight towards a nest, which may be at a considerable distance, but tell the probable number of eggs it may contain, previous to inspection; generally judging of the situation and number of eggs by the conduct of the female bird. In some counties, however, all the most likely ground is carefully searched for eggs once every day, by women and children, without any reference to the actions of the birds.”+ Dogs are also trained to search for the eggs. * Nat. Lib. ORNITHOLOGY, iii. 282. + Yarrell's Brit. Birds, ii. 482.

The food of the Lapwing consists largely of earth-worms, to which are added slugs, insects and their larvæ, and small crustacea. It is not unfrequently kept in gardens, where it soon becomes an interesting pet, and by its destruction of vermin proves useful. Its mode of obtaining earthworms is thus described by Dr. Latham:

I have seen this bird approach a worm-cast, turn it aside, and after walking two or three times about it, by way of giving motion to the ground, the worm come out, and the watchful bird, seizing hold of it, draw it forth.”



Mr. Swainson considers that the Herons shew the strongest affinity to the Ostriches, but we confess that to us they appear to present more points of dissimilarity than resemblance. They are decidedly carnivorous in their appetite, feeding on fishes, aquatic reptiles, small

mammalia, mollusca, worms, and insects. The Cranes, however, are more terrestrial than the others, and join with an animal diet, grains, seeds, and herbage. The legs and feet in these birds are long and slender, as is also the neck, which is very flexible: the beak is long, straight, sharp-pointed, firm in texture, and very powerful; in some genera it is of great thickness and strength. The Spoon-bills, however, shew an exception to the sharpness of this organ; and the Curlews to its straightness, The wings are, in general, well developed, and some of the genera are birds of soaring and power, ful flight. The hind toe is always present, but its position and development vary in different genera.

The typical Herons have the above characters in greatest perfection: they are the most beautiful of all the Waders, not so much from the colours of their plumage, which however are chaste and agreeable, as from their taper and graceful forms, the curves of their slender necks, and the elegant hanging crests, and long decomposed plumes that adorn various parts of their bodies. Their plumage is copious, but somewhat lax, particularly on the neck. They build in society, but live solitary. Their common habit is to watch patiently, and without motion, on the margin of the water, or within the shallows; on the appearance of prey, it is transfixed by a sudden stroke of the pointed beak with lightning-like rapidity, and swallowed whole.

The Ardeadæ are to be found, in some of their varied forms, in all parts of the globe; the typical genera are numerous in species, and widely distributed. Some of their characters are thus

graphically summed up by Willoughby: “ These have very long necks; their bills also are long, strong, ending in a sharp point, to strike fish, and fetch them from under stones or brinks; long legs, to wade in rivers, and pools of water; very long toes, especially the hind toe, to stand more firmly in rivers ; large crooked talons, and the middle serrate on the inside, to hold eels and other slippery fishes the faster,* or because they sit on trees; lean and carrion bodies, because of their great fear and watchfulness.” * We believe the Herons never take or hold their prey with the foot.

Genus BOTAURUS. (BRISS.) The Bitterns are distinguished by having the beak as long as, or rather longer than, the head, strong, higher than broad, the mandibles of equal length, the upper mandible slightly curved downwards. The nostrils are basal, linear, longitudinal, lodged in a furrow, and partly covered by a naked membrane. The legs are comparatively short and strong, the toes long and slender, all unequal, the middle toe as long as the tarsus; the hind toe on the level of the others; the claw of the middle toe serrated on its inner edge. The wings are long, rather rounded,

the first three quills longest, and nearly equal. The back of the neck is bare of feathers, but the plumage of the sides, which is particularly long and lax, ordinarily meets across the back.

The Bitterns are spread over both hemispheres, but are not found in Australia; they are nocturnal birds, which love to skulk in the cover of reeds, and other aquatic herbage, through which their remarkably thin, compressed bodies enable them to run with great ease and celerity. Their voices are loud and

hollow, sometimes harsh and piercing. The general colours of the plumage are yellow, merging into rufous, and black; the latter frequently taking the form of numerous spots or freckles ; at other times the hues are disposed in broad masses, and the black is replaced by a deep sea-green, with metallic reflections.

The name of the Common Bittern (Botaurus stellaris, Linn.), or, as it was formerly spelled,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »