« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
where, however, they are all more or less migratory in their habits. The majority of them frequent marshes, the banks of lakes and rivers, or the seacoast, on which they run with great swiftness. A few species affect the shade of woods and coppices, but even these select, as favourite resorts, the most humid spots they can find. They lay four eggs, of a somewhat conical form, with but little nest; and the business of incubation is
performed on the ground of inland moors and fens. The young are able to run about as soon as they escape from the shell; when they are clothed with down. With the exception of a very few polygamous species, the females are larger than the males. Many of them feed, and perform their migrations during the night, and these have the eye very large in proportion to the head.
Genus SCOLOPAX. (Linn.) The following are the generic characters of the restricted Snipes, inclusive of the Woodcocks. The beak is lengthened, straight, flattened at the base, slightly curved at the tip, where it is dilated; the tip of the lower mandible fitting into the upper; the legs and feet are slender, moderately long; the wings moderate, the first or second quills the longest. Of the five
species of this genus which are met with in England, either permanently or sionally, we select the Common Snipe (Scolopax gallinago, Linn.) to illustrate the Family. Its ground colour is a rich dark brown, so deep in some parts as to be almost black, variously spotted, striped and banded with white, which, on the
back, is suffused with rufous; the under parts are white, beautifully and regularly banded on the sides with black. The end of the beak, as Mr. Yarrell has observed, “when the bird is alive, or recently killed, is smooth, soft, and pulpy, indicating great sensibility ; but some time afterwards
it becomes dimpled like the end of a thimble. If the upper mandible be macerated in water for a few days, the skin or cuticle may be readily peeled off; and the bones thus laid bare, present à similar appearance. The external surface presents numerous elongated, hexagonal cells, which afford at the same time protection, and space for the expansion of minute portions of nerves supplied to them by two branches of the fifth pair; and the end of the bill becomes, in consequence of this provision, a delicate organ of touch, to assist these birds when boring for their food in soft ground; this enlarged extremity of the beak possessing such a degree of sensibility as to enable these birds to detect their prey the instant it comes in contact with it, although placed beyond the reach of sight." *
The mode of feeding, in which this well-endowed organ comes into requisition, is not a little singular. A writer in the “Magazine of Natural History" thus describes it, as observed by himself with a powerful telescope: “I distinctly saw them pushing their bills into the thin mud, by repeated thrusts, quite up to the base, drawing them back with great quickness, and every now and then shifting their ground a little.” And we have ourselves seen a closely-allied species feeding at less than half a stone's cast distance, wading in water that reached just above the tarsal joint. At this depth the beak could just touch the bottom, and thus it walked deliberately about, momentarily feeling the mud with its sensitive beaktip, striking with short perpendicular strokes, without withdrawing the beak from the water. The action of swallowing, now and then, was distinctly perceived. We observed that when thus occupied, the faculties were so absorbed that the bird appeared unconscious of danger, nor could it be roused, though so near, without repeated shouts.
* Brit. Birds, iii. 29.
The Snipe breeds with us, selecting the edges or drier spots of the wet moors and fens, or the barren heaths of the northern districts. About the beginning of April, the male Snipe begins to utter his calls of invitation to his mate." At this season,” say Sir W. Jardine, " or when the pairing has commenced, the birds may be heard piping among the herbage, or may be both seen and heard in the air, performing their evolutions, and uttering the loud drumming sound, which at one time gave rise to so much discussion in regard to the manner in which it was performed. The sound is never heard, except in the downward flight, and when the wings are in rapid and quivering motion; their resistance to the air, without doubt, causes the noise, which forms one of those agreeable variations in a country walk, so earnestly watched for by the practical ornithologist." * Mr. Selby compares the sound to the bleating of a goat (a resemblance which has been often noticed), and observes that at this season the bird soars to an immense height, remaining long upon the wing; and that its notes may frequently be heard when the bird itself is far beyond the reach of sight. These flights are performed principally towards the close of day, and are continued during the whole season of breeding. The nest is very slight, consisting of nothing more than a few dry blades of grass or decaying herbage, collected beside a tuft of grass, or merely a scraped hollow. Four eggs are deposited, about an inch and a half in length, of a yellowish or a greenish hue, marked with spots of pale and dark brown, running somewhat obliquely.
* Nat. Lib. ORNITHOLOGY, iii. 180.
The young, when hatched, grow very fast, and soon become very large, being often, before they are able to fly, larger than the parents.
Sir Humphrey Davy, who observed many nests of these birds in the month of August, in the Orkneys, remarked that the old birds were much attached to their offspring; and if any one approached they would make a loud and drumming noise above his head, as if to divert his attention from their nest.
Though the Snipe, as we have thus seen, is to a certain extent, a permanent resident in these islands, it is partially migratory also. The numbers of those bred here, are not sufficient to account for the flocks that sometimes
in August, in which month as many Snipes may often be killed as at any time in the year. Mr. Selby states that great flights come every season from Norway and other northern parts of Europe; arriving in Northumberland in the greatest numbers early in November. They seldom remain long in one situation, moving from place to place, under the influence of various causes, so that the sportsman who has enjoyed excellent Snipeshooting one day, may find the same spots entirely deserted on the following:
The food of the Snipe consists of worms, the larvæ of insects, small mollusca and crustacea, with which are often taken into the stomach minute seeds, perhaps adhering to their animal food. One kept by Mr. Blyth in confinement would eat only earth-worms.
* Yarrell's Brit. Birds, üi, 30.