And here will be the properest place to mention, while I think of it, an anecdote which the above-mentioned gentleman told me when I was last at his house; which was that, in a warren joining to his outlet, many daws (corvi moneduloe) build every year in the rabbit-burrows under ground. The way he and his brothers used to take their nests, while they were boys, was by listening at the mouths of the holes, and, if they heard the young ones cry, they twisted the nest out with a forked stick. Some water-fowls (viz., the puffins) breed, I know, in that manner; but I should never have suspected the daws of building in holes on the flat ground.
Another very unlikely spot is made use of by daws as a place to breed in, and that is Stonehenge. These birds deposit their nests in the interstices between the upright and the impost stones of that amazing work of antiquity; which circumstance alone speaks the prodigious height of the upright stones, that they should be tall enough to secure those nests from the annoyance of shepherd-boys, who are always idling round that place.
One of my neighbours last Saturday, November 26th, saw a martin in a sheltered bottom: the sun shone warm, and the bird was hawking briskly after flies. I am now perfectly satisfied that they do not all leave this island in the winter.
You judge very right, I think, in speaking with reserve and caution concerning the cures done by toads; for, let people advance what they will on such subjects, yet there is such a propensity in mankind towards deceiving and being deceived, that one cannot safely relate anything from common report, especially in print, without expressing some degree of doubt and suspicion.
Your approbation with regard to my new discovery of the migration of the ring-ousel gives me satisfaction; and I find you concur with me in suspecting that they are foreign birds which visit us. You will be sure, I hope, not to omit to make inquiry whether your ring-ousels leave your rocks in the autumn. What puzzles me most is the very short stay they make with us, for in about three weeks they are all gone. I shall be very curious to remark whether they will call on us at their return in the spring, as they did last year.
I want to be better informed with regard to ichthyology. If fortune had settled me near the seaside, or near some great river, my natural propensity would soon have urged me to have made myself acquainted with their productions; but as I have lived mostly in inland parts, and in an upland district, my knowledge of fishes extends little farther than to those common sorts which our brooks and lakes produce.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Jan. 2nd, 1769.
Dear Sir,—As to the peculiarity of jackdaws building with us under the ground in rabbit-burrows, you have, in part, hit upon the reason; for, in reality, there are hardly any towers or steeples in all this county. And perhaps, Norfolk excepted, Hampshire and Sussex are as meanly furnished with churches as almost any counties in the kingdom. We have many livings of two or three hundred pounds a year, whose houses of worship make little better appearance than dovecots. When I first saw Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, and the fens of Lincolnshire, I was amazed at the number of spires which presented themselves in every point of view. As an admirer of prospects, I have reason to lament this want in my own county; for such objects are very necessary ingredients in an elegant landscape.
What you mention with respect to reclaimed toads raises my curiosity. An ancient author, though no naturalist, has well remarked that "every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed, of mankind."
It is a satisfaction to me to find that a green lizard has actually been procured for you in Devonshire, because it corroborates my discovery, which I made many years ago, of the same sort, on a sunny sandbank near Farnham, in Surrey. I am well acquainted with the South Hams of Devonshire, and can suppose that district, from its southerly situation, to be a proper habitation for such animals in their best colours.
Since the ring-ousels of your vast mountains do certainly not forsake them against winter, our suspicions that those which visit this neighbourhood about Michaelmas are not English birds, but driven from the more northern parts of Europe by the frosts, are still more reasonable; and it will be worth your pains to endeavour to trace from whence they come, and to inquire why they make so very short a stay.
In your account of your error with regard to the two species of herons, you incidentally gave me great entertainment in your description of the heronry at Cressi Hall, which is a curiosity I never could manage to see. Fourscore nests of such a bird on one tree is a rarity which I would ride half as many miles to have a sight of. Pray be sure to tell me in your next whose seat Cressi Hall is, and near what town it lies. I have often thought that those vast extents of fens have never been sufficiently explored. If half a dozen gentlemen, furnished with a good strength of water-spaniels, were to beat them over for a week, they would certainly find more species.
There is no bird, I believe, whose manners I have studied more than that of the caprimulgus (the goat-sucker), as it is a wonderful and curious creature; but I have always found that though sometimes it may chatter as it flies, as I know it does, yet in general it utters its jarring note sitting on a bough; and I have for many a half hour watched it as it sat with its under mandible quivering, and particularly this summer. It perches usually on a bare twig, with its head lower than its tail, in an attitude well expressed by your draughtsman in the folio "British Zoology." This bird is most punctual in beginning its song exactly at the close of day—so exactly that I have known it strike up more than once or twice just at the report of the Portsmouth evening gun, which we can hear when the weather is still. It appears to me past all doubt that its notes are formed by organic impulse, by the powers of the parts of its windpipe formed for sound, just as cats purr. You will credit me, I hope, when I assure you that, as my neighbours were assembled in an hermitage on the side of a steep hill where we drink tea, one of these churn-owls came and settled on the cross of that little straw edifice and began to chatter, and continued his note for many minutes: and we were all struck with wonder to find that the organs of that little animal, when put in motion, gave a sensible vibration to the whole building! This bird also sometimes makes a small squeak, repeated four or five times; and I have observed that to happen when the cock has been pursuing the hen in a toying way through the boughs of a tree.
It would not be at all strange if your bat, which you have procured, should prove a new one, since five species have been found in a neighbouring kingdom. The great sort that I mentioned is certainly a nondescript; I saw but one this summer, and that I had no opportunity of taking.
Your account of the Indian grass was entertaining. I am no angler myself; but inquiring of those that are, what they supposed that part of their tackle to be made of?—they replied, "Of the intestines of a silkworm."
Though I must not pretend to great skill in entomology, yet I cannot say that I am ignorant of that kind of knowledge; I may now and then perhaps be able to furnish you with a little information.
The vast rains ceased with us much about the same time as with you, and since we have had delicate weather. Mr. Barker, who has measured the rain for more than thirty years, says, in a late letter, that more has fallen this year than in any he ever attended to; though from July, 1763, to January, 1764, more fell than in any seven months of this year.
SELBORNE, Feb. 28th, 1769.
Dear Sir,—It is not improbable that the Guernsey lizard and our green lizards may be specifically the same; all that I know is, that, when some years ago many Guernsey lizards were turned loose in Pembroke College garden, in the University of Oxford, they lived a great while, and seemed to enjoy themselves very well, but never bred. Whether this circumstance will prove anything either way I shall not pretend to say.
I return you thanks for your account of Cressi Hall; but recollect, not without regret, that in June, 1746, I was visiting for a week together at Spalding, without ever being told that such a curiosity was just at hand. Pray send me word in your next what sort of tree it is that contains such a quantity of herons' nests, and whether the heronry consists of a whole grove of wood, or only of a few trees.
It gave me satisfaction to find we accorded so well about the caprimulgus; all I contended for was to prove that it often chatters sitting as well as flying; and therefore the noise was voluntary, and from organic impulse, and not from the resistance of the air against the hollow of its mouth and throat.
If ever I saw anything like actual migration, it was last Michaelmas Day. I was travelling, and out early in the morning; at first there was a vast fog, but, by the time that I was got seven or eight miles from home towards the coast, the sun broke out into a delicate warm day. We were then on a large heath or common, and I could discern, as the mist began to break away, great numbers of swallows (hirundines rusticae) clustering on the stunted shrubs and bushes, as if they had roosted there all night. As soon as the air became clear and pleasant they were all on the wing at once; and, by a placid and easy flight, proceeded on southward towards the sea; after this I did not see any more flocks, only now and then a straggler.
I cannot agree with those persons that assert that the swallow kind disappear some and some gradually, as they come, for the bulk of them seem to withdraw at once; only some stragglers stay behind a long while, and do never, there is the greatest reason to believe, leave this island. Swallows seem to lay themselves up, and to come forth in a warm day, as bats do continually of a warm evening, after they have disappeared for weeks. For a very respectable gentleman assured me that, as he was walking with some friends under Merton Wall on a remarkably hot noon, either in the last week in December or the first week in January, he espied three or four swallows huddled together on the moulding of one of the windows of that college. I have frequently remarked that swallows are seen later at Oxford than elsewhere; is it owing to the vast massy buildings of that place, to the many waters round it, or to what else?
When I used to rise in the morning last autumn, and see the swallows and martins clustering on the chimneys and thatch of the neighbouring cottages, I could not help being touched with a secret delight, mixed with some degree of mortification; with delight, to observe with how much ardour and punctuality those poor little birds obeyed the strong impulse towards migration, or hiding, imprinted on their minds by their great Creator; and with some degree of mortification when I reflected that, after all our pains and inquiries, we are yet not quite certain to what regions they do migrate, and are still farther embarrassed to find that some do not actually migrate at all.
These reflections made so strong an impression on my imagination, that they became productive of a composition that may perhaps amuse you for a quarter of an hour when next I have the honour of writing to you.
SELBORNE, May 29th, 1769.
Dear Sir,—The scaraboeus fullo I know very well, having seen it in collections, but have never been able to discover one wild in its natural state. Mr. Banks told me he thought it might be found on the sea-coast.
On the 13th April I went to the sheep-down, where the ring-ousels have been observed to make their appearance at spring and fall, in their way perhaps to the north or south, and was much pleased to see these birds about the usual spot. We shot a cock and a hen; they were plump and in high condition. The hen had but very small rudiments of eggs within her, which proves they are late breeders; whereas those species of the thrush kind that remain with us the whole year have fledged young before that time. In their crops was nothing very distinguishable, but somewhat that seemed like blades of vegetables nearly digested. In autumn they feed on haws and yew-berries, and in the spring on ivy-berries. I dressed one of these birds, and found it juicy and well-flavoured. It is remarkable that they make but a few days' stay in their spring visit, but rest near a fortnight at Michaelmas. These birds, from the observations of three springs and two autumns, are most punctual in their return, and exhibit a new migration unnoticed by the writers, who supposed they never were to be seen in any southern countries.
One of my neighbours lately brought me a new salicaria, which at first I suspected might have proved your willow-lark, but, on a nicer examination, it answered much better to the description of that species which you shot at Revesby, in Lincolnshire. My bird I describe thus: "It is a size less than the grasshopper-lark; the head, back, and coverts of the wings, of a dusky brown, without those dark spots of the grasshopper-lark; over each eye is a milk-white stroke; the chin and throat are white; and the under parts of a yellowish white; the rump is tawny, and the feathers of the tail sharp-pointed; the bill is dusky and sharp, and the legs are dusky; the hinder claw long and crooked." The person that shot it says that it sung so like a reed sparrow that he took it for one; and that it sings all night: but this account merits farther inquiry. For my part I suspect it is a second sort of locustela, hinted at by Dr. Derham in Ray's Letters: see p. 108. He also procured me a grasshopper-lark.
The question that you put with regard to those genera of animals that are peculiar to America, viz., how they came there, and whence? is too puzzling for me to answer, and yet so obvious as often to have struck me with wonder. If one looks into the writers on that subject, little satisfaction is to be found. Ingenious men will readily advance plausible arguments to support whatever theory they shall choose to maintain; but then the misfortune is, every one's hypothesis is each as good as another's, since they are all founded on conjecture. The late writers of this sort, in whom may be seen all the arguments of those that have gone before, as I remember, stock America from the western coast of Africa and the south of Europe, and then break down the Isthmus that bridged over the Atlantic. But this is making use of a violent piece of machinery; it is a difficulty worthy of the interposition of a god! "Incredulus odi."
TO THOMAS PENNANT, ESQUIRE. THE NATURALIST'S SUMMER-EVENING WALK.
—equidem credo, quia sit divinitus illis Ingenium.
When day declining sheds a milder gleam, What time the may-fly haunts the pool or stream; When the still owl skims round the grassy mead, What time the timorous hare limps forth to feed; Then be the time to steal adown the vale, And listen to the vagrant cuckoo's tale; To hear the clamorous curlew call his mate, Or the soft quail his tender pain relate; To see the swallow sweep the dark'ning plain Belated, to support her infant train; To mark the swift in rapid giddy ring Dash round the steeple, unsubdued of wing: Amusive birds!—say where your hid retreat When the frost rages and the tempests beat; Whence your return, by such nice instinct led, When spring, soft season, lifts her bloomy head: Such baffled searches mock man's prying pride, The GOD of NATURE is your secret guide!
While deep'ning shades obscure the face of day, To yonder bench leaf-shelter'd let us stray, Till blended objects fail the swimming sight, And all the fading landscape sinks in night; To hear the drowsy dor come brushing by With buzzing wing, or the shrill cricket cry; To see the feeding bat glance through the wood; To catch the distant falling of the flood; While o'er the cliff th' awaken'd churn-owl hung Through the still gloom protracts his chattering song; While high in air, and poised upon his wings, Unseen, the soft-enamour'd woodlark sings: These, NATURE'S works, the curious mind employ, Inspire a soothing melancholy joy: As fancy warms, a pleasing kind of pain Steals o'er the cheek, and thrills the creeping vein!
Each rural sight, each sound, each smell, combine; The tinkling sheep-bell or the breath of kine; The new-mown hay that scents the swelling breeze, Or cottage-chimney smoking through the trees.
The chilling night-dews fall—away, retire! For see, the glow-worm lights her amorous fire! Thus, ere night's veil had half obscured the sky, Th' impatient damsel hung her lamp on high: True to the signal, by love's meteor led, Leander hasten'd to his Hero's bed.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Aug. 30th, 1769.
Dear Sir,—It gives me satisfaction to find that my account of the ousel migration pleases you. You put a very shrewd question when you ask me how I know that their autumnal migration is southward? Was not candour and openness the very life of natural history, I should pass over this query just as a sly commentator does over a crabbed passage in a classic; but common ingenuousness obliges me to confess, not without some degree of shame, that I only reasoned in that case from analogy. For as all other autumnal birds migrate from the northward to us, to partake of our milder winters, and return to the northward again when the rigorous cold abates, so I concluded that the ring-ousels did the same, as well as their congeners the fieldfares; and especially as ring-ousels are known to haunt cold mountainous countries: but I have good reason to suspect, since, that they may come to us from the westward, because I hear from very good authority, that they breed on Dartmoor, and that they forsake that wild district about the time that our visitors appear, and do not return till late in the spring.
I have taken a great deal of pains about your salicaria and mine, with a white stroke over its eye and a tawny rump. I have surveyed it alive and dead, and have procured several specimens, and am perfectly persuaded myself (and trust you will soon become convinced of the same) that it is no more nor less than the passer arundinaceus minor of Ray. This bird, by some means or other, seems to be entirely omitted in the British Zoology; and one reason probably was because it is so strangely classed in Ray, who ranges it among his picis affines. It ought, no doubt, to have gone among his aviculae cauda unicolore, and among your slender-billed small birds of the same division. Linnaeus might with great propriety have put it into his genus of motacilla; and motacilla salicaria of his fauna suecica seems to come the nearest to it. It is no uncommon bird, haunting the sides of ponds and rivers where there is covert, and the reeds and sedges of moors. The country people in some places call it the sedge-bird. It sings incessantly night and day during the breeding-time, imitating the note of a sparrow, a swallow, a skylark, and has a strange hurrying manner in its song. My specimens correspond most minutely to the description of your fen salicaria shot near Revesby. Mr. Ray has given an excellent characteristic of it when he says, "Rostrum et pedes in hac avicula multo majores sunt quam pro corporis ratione." See letter, May 29th, 1769. (Preceding letter xxiv.)
I have got you the egg of an oedicnemus, or stone-curlew, which was picked up in a fallow on the naked ground. There were two, but the finder inadvertently crushed one with his foot before he saw them.
When I wrote to you last year on reptiles, I wish I had not forgot to mention the faculty that snakes have of stinking se defendendo. I knew a gentleman who kept a tame snake, which was in its person as sweet as any animal while in good humour and unalarmed, but as soon as a stranger, or a dog or cat, came in, it fell to hissing, and filled the room with such nauseous effluvia as rendered it hardly supportable. Thus the squnck, or stonck, of Ray's "Synop. Quadr." is an innocuous and sweet animal; but, when pressed hard by dogs and men, it can eject such a most pestilent and fetid smell and excrement, that nothing can be more horrible.
A gentleman sent me lately a fine specimen of the lanius minor cinerascens cum macula in scapulis alba, Raii; which is a bird that, at the time of your publishing your two first volumes of "British Zoology," I find you had not seen. You have described it well from Edwards's drawing.
SELBORNE, December 8th, 1769.
Dear Sir,—I was much gratified by your communicative letter on your return from Scotland, where you spent some considerable time, and gave yourself good room to examine the natural curiosities of that extensive kingdom, both those of the islands, as well as those of the highlands. The usual bane of such expeditions is hurry, because men seldom allot themselves half the time they should do, but, fixing on a day for their return, post from place to place, rather as if they were on a journey that required despatch than as philosophers investigating the works of nature. You must have made, no doubt, many discoveries, and laid up a good fund of materials for a future edition of the "British Zoology;" and will have no reason to repent that you have bestowed so much pains on a part of Great Britain that perhaps was never so well examined before.
It has always been matter of wonder to me that fieldfares, which are so congenerous to thrushes and blackbirds, should never choose to breed in England; but that they should not think even the highlands cold and northerly, and sequestered enough, is a circumstance still more strange and wonderful. The ring-ousel, you find, stays in Scotland the whole year round, so that we have reason to conclude that those migrators that visit us for a short space every autumn do not come from thence.
And here, I think, will be the proper place to mention that those birds were most punctual again in their migration this autumn, appearing, as before, about the 30th September; but their flocks were larger than common, and their stay protracted somewhat beyond the usual time. If they came to spend the whole winter with us, as some of their congeners do, and then left us, as they do, in spring, I should not be so much struck with the occurrence, since it would be similar to that of the other winter birds of passage; but when I see them for a fortnight at Michaelmas, and again for about a week in the middle of April, I am seized with wonder, and long to be informed whence these travellers come, and whither they go, since they seem to use our hills merely as an inn or baiting place.
Your account of the greater brambling, or snow-fleck, is very amusing; and strange it is that such a short-winged bird should delight in such perilous voyages over the northern ocean. Some country people in the winter time have, every now and then, told me that they have seen two or three white larks on our downs, but, on considering the matter, I begin to suspect that these are some stragglers of the birds we are talking of, which sometimes perhaps may rove so far to the southward.
It pleases me to find that white hares are so frequent on the Scottish mountains, and especially as you inform me that it is a distinct species, for the quadrupeds of Britain are so few, that every new species is a great acquisition.
The eagle-owl, could it be proved to belong to us, is so majestic a bird, that it would grace our fauna much. I never was informed before where wild geese are known to breed.
You admit, I find, that I have proved your fen salicaria to be the lesser reed-sparrow of Ray; and I think you may be secure that I am right, for I took very particular pains to clear up that matter, and had some fair specimens, but, as they were not well preserved, they are decayed already. You will, no doubt, insert it in its proper place in your next edition. Your additional plates will much improve your work.
De Buffon, I know, has described the water shrew-mouse; but still I am pleased to find you have discovered it in Lincolnshire, for the reason I have given in the article of the white hare.
As a neighbour was lately ploughing a dry, chalky field, far removed from any water, he turned out a water-rat, that was curiously lain up in a hybernaculum artificially formed of grass and leaves. At one end of the burrow lay above a gallon of potatoes regularly stowed, on which it was to have supported itself for the winter. But the difficulty with me is how this amphibius mus came to fix its winter station at such a distance from the water. Was it determined in its choice of that place by the mere accident of finding the potatoes which were planted there, or is it the constant practice of the aquatic rat to forsake the neighbourhood of the water in the colder months?
Though I delight very little in analogous reasoning, knowing how fallacious it is with respect to natural history, yet, in the following instance, I cannot help being inclined to think it may conduce towards the explanation of a difficulty that I have mentioned before, with respect to the invariable early retreat of the hirundo apus, or swift, so many weeks before its congeners; and that not only with us, but also in Andalusia, where they also begin to retire about the beginning of August.
The great large bat (which, by-the-bye, is at present a nondescript in England, and what I have never been able yet to procure) retires or migrates very early in the summer. It also ranges very high for its food, feeding in a different region of the air, and that is the reason I never could procure one. Now this is exactly the case with the swifts; for they take their food in a more exalted region than the other species, and are very seldom seen hawking for flies near the ground, or over the surface of the water. From hence I would conclude that these hirundines and the larger bats are supported by some sorts of high-flying gnats, scarabs, or phaloenae, that are of short continuance, and that the short stay of these strangers is regulated by the defect of their food.
By my journal it appears that curlews clamoured on to October 31st, since which I have not seen nor heard any. Swallows were observed on to November 3rd.
SELBORNE, Feb. 22nd, 1770.
Dear Sir,—Hedgehogs abound in my gardens and fields. The manner in which they eat the roots of the plantain in my grass-walks is very curious; with their upper mandible, which is much longer than their lower, they bore under the plant, and so eat the root off upwards, leaving the tuft of leaves untouched. In this respect they are serviceable, as they destroy a very troublesome weed; but they deface the walks in some measure by digging little round holes. It appears, by the dung that they drop upon the turf, that beetles are no inconsiderable part of their food. In June last I procured a litter of four or five young hedgehogs, which appeared to be about five or six days old: they, I find, like puppies, are born blind, and could not see when they came to my hands. No doubt their spines are soft and flexible at the time of their birth, or else the poor dam would have but a bad time of it in the critical moment of parturition, but it is plain they soon harden; for these little pigs had such stiff prickles on their backs and sides as would easily have fetched blood, had they not been handled with caution. Their spines are quite white at this age; and they have little hanging ears, which I do not remember to be discernible in the old ones. They can, in part, at this age draw their skin down over their faces, but are not able to contract themselves into a ball, as they do, for the sake of defence, when full grown. The reason, I suppose, is, because the curious muscle that enables the creature to roll itself up in a ball was not then arrived at its full tone and firmness. Hedgehogs make a deep and warm hybernaculum with leaves and moss, in which they conceal themselves for the winter: but I never could find that they stored in any winter provision, as some quadrupeds certainly do.
I have discovered an anecdote with respect to the fieldfare (turdus pilaris) which I think is particular enough; this bird, though it sits on trees in the daytime, and procures the greatest part of its food from white-thorn hedges, yea, moreover, builds on very high trees, as may be seen by the fauna suecica; yet always appears with us to roost on the ground. They are seen to come in flocks just before it is dark, and to settle and nestle among the heath on our forest. And besides, the larkers, in dragging their nets by night, frequently catch them in the wheat stubbles; while the bat-fowlers, who take many red-wings in the hedges, never entangle any of this species. Why these birds, in the matter of roosting, should differ from all their congeners, and from themselves also with respect to their proceedings by day, is a fact for which I am by no means able to account.
I have somewhat to inform you of concerning the moose-deer; but in general foreign animals fall seldom in my way; my little intelligence is confined to the narrow sphere of my own observations at home.
SELBORNE, March, 1770.
On Michaelmas Day, 1768, I managed to get a sight of the female moose belonging to the Duke of Richmond, at Goodwood; but was greatly disappointed, when I arrived at the spot, to find that it died, after having appeared in a languishing way for some time, on the morning before. However, understanding that it was not stripped, I proceeded to examine this rare quadruped; I found it in an old greenhouse, slung under the belly and chin by ropes, and in a standing posture; but, though it had been dead for so short a time, it was in so putrid a state that the stench was hardly supportable. The grand distinction between this deer, and any other species that I have ever met with, consisted in the strange length of its legs, on which it was tilted up much in the manner of the birds of the gralloe order. I measured it, as they do a horse, and found that, from the ground to the withers, it was just five feet four inches, which height answers exactly to sixteen hands, a growth that few horses arrive at: but then, with this length of legs, its neck was remarkably short, no more than twelve inches; so that, by straddling with one foot forward and the other backward, it grazed on the plain ground, with the greatest difficulty, between its legs; the ears were vast and lopping, and as long as the neck; the head was about twenty inches long, and ass-like, and had such a redundancy of upper lip as I never saw before, with huge nostrils. This lip, travellers say, is esteemed a dainty dish in North America. It is very reasonable to suppose that this creature supports itself chiefly by browsing of trees, and by wading after water plants; towards which way of livelihood the length of legs and great lip must contribute much. I have read somewhere that it delights in eating the nymphoea, or water-lily. From the fore-feet to the belly behind the shoulder it measured three feet and eight inches: the length of the legs before and behind consisted a great deal in the tibia, which was strangely long; but in my haste to get out of the stench, I forgot to measure that joint exactly. Its scut seemed to be about an inch long; the colour was a grizzly black; the mane about four inches long; the fore-hoofs were upright and shapely, the hind flat and splayed. The spring before it was only two years old, so that most probably it was not then come to its growth. What a vast, tall beast must a full-grown stag be! I have been told some arrive at ten feet and a half! This poor creature had at first a female companion of the same species, which died the spring before. In the same garden was a young stag, or red deer, between whom and this moose it was hoped that there might have been a breed; but their inequality of height must have always been a bar to any commerce of the amorous kind. I should have been glad to have examined the teeth, tongue, lips, hoofs, etc., minutely, but the putrefaction precluded all farther curiosity. This animal, the keeper told me, seemed to enjoy itself best in the extreme frost of the former winter. In the house they showed me the horn of a male moose, which had no front antlers, but only a broad palm with some snags on the edge. The noble owner of the dead moose proposed to make a skeleton of her bones.
Please to let me hear if my female moose corresponds with that you saw, and whether you think still that the American moose and European elk are the same creature.
I am, with the greatest esteem, etc.
SELBORNE, May 12th, 1770.
Dear Sir,—Last month we had such a series of cold, turbulent weather, such a constant succession of frost, and snow, and hail, and tempest, that the regular migration or appearance of the summer birds was much interrupted. Some did not show themselves (at least were not heard) till weeks after their usual time, as the blackcap and whitethroat; and some have not been heard yet, as the grasshopper-lark and largest willow-wren. As to the fly-catcher, I have not seen it; it is indeed one of the latest, but should appear about this time: and yet, amidst all this meteorous strife and war of the elements, two swallows discovered themselves, as long ago as April 11th, in frost and snow; but they withdrew quickly, and were not visible again for many days. House-martins, which are always more backward than swallows, were not observed till May came in.
Among the monogamous birds several are to be found, after pairing-time, single, and of each sex; but whether this state of celibacy is matter of choice or necessity, is not so easy discoverable. When the house-sparrows deprive my martins of their nests, as soon as I cause one to be shot, the other, be it cock or hen, presently procures a mate, and so for several times following.
I have known a dove-house infested by a pair of white owls which made great havoc among the young pigeons: one of the owls was shot as soon as possible, but the survivor readily found a mate, and the mischief went on. After some time the new pair were both destroyed, and the annoyance ceased.
Another instance I remember of a sportsman, whose zeal for the increase of his game being greater than his humanity, after pairing-time he always shot the cock-bird of every couple of partridges upon his grounds; supposing that the rivalry of many males interrupted the breed: he used to say, that, though he had widowed the same hen several times, yet he found she was still provided with a fresh paramour, that did not take her away from her usual haunt.
Again; I knew a lover of setting, an old sportsman, who has often told me that soon after harvest he has frequently taken small coveys of partridges, consisting of cock-birds alone; these he pleasantly used to call old bachelors.
There is a propensity belonging to common house-cats that is very remarkable; I mean their violent fondness for fish, which appears to be their most favourite food: and yet nature in this instance seems to have planted in them an appetite that, unassisted, they know not how to gratify; for of all quadrupeds cats are the least disposed towards water, and will not, when they can avoid it, deign to wet a foot, much less to plunge into that element.
Quadrupeds that prey on fish are amphibious: such is the otter, which by nature is so well formed for diving, that it makes great havoc among the inhabitants of the waters. Not supposing that we had any of those beasts in our shallow brooks, I was much pleased to see a male otter, brought to me, weighing twenty-one pounds, that had been shot on the bank of our stream below the Priory, where the rivulet divides the parish of Selborne from Harteley Wood.
SELBORNE, Aug. 1st, 1770.
Dear Sir,—The French, I think, in general are strangely prolix in their natural history. What Linnaeus says with respect to insects holds good in every other branch: "Verbositas praesentis saeculi, calamitas artis."
Pray how do you approve of Scopoli's new work? As I admire his "Entomologia," I long to see it.
I forgot to mention in my last letter (and had not room to insert in the former) that the male moose, in rutting time, swims from island to island, in the lakes and rivers of North America, in pursuit of the females. My friend, the chaplain, saw one killed in the water as it was on that errand in the river St. Lawrence: it was a monstrous beast, he told me; but he did not take the dimensions.
When I was last in town, our friend Mr. Barrington most obligingly carried me to see many curious sights. As you were then writing to him about horns, he carried me to see many strange and wonderful specimens. There is, I remember, at Lord Pembroke's at Wilton, a horn room furnished with more than thirty different pairs; but I have not seen that house lately.
Mr. Barrington showed me many astonishing collections of stuffed and living birds from all quarters of the world. After I had studied over the latter for a time, I remarked that every species almost that came from distant regions, such as South America, the coast of Guinea, etc., were thick-billed birds of the loxia and fringilla genera; and no motacillae, or muscicapae, were to be met with. When I came to consider, the reason was obvious enough, for the hard-billed birds subsist on seeds which are easily carried on board, while the soft-billed birds, which are supported by worms and insects, or, what is a succedaneum for them, fresh raw meat, can meet with neither in long and tedious voyages. It is from this defect of food that our collections (curious as they are) are defective, and we are deprived of some of the most delicate and lively genera.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Sept. 14th, 1770.
Dear Sir,—You saw, I find, the ring-ousels again among their native crags, and are farther assured that they continue resident in those cold regions the whole year. From whence then do our ring-ousels migrate so regularly every September, and make their appearance again, as if in their return, every April? They are more early this year than common, for some were seen at the usual hill on the fourth of this month.
An observing Devonshire gentleman tells me that they frequent some parts of Dartmoor, and breed there, but leave those haunts about the end of September, or beginning of October, and return again about the end of March.
Another intelligent person assures me that they breed in great abundance all over the peak of Derby, and are called there tor-ousels, withdraw in October and November, and return in spring. This information seems to throw some light on my new migration.
Scopoli's new work (which I have just procured) has its merit in ascertaining many of the birds of the Tirol and Carniola. Monographers, come from whence they may, have, I think, fair pretence to challenge some regard and approbation from the lovers of natural history; for, as no man can alone investigate the works of nature, these partial writers may, each in their department, be more accurate in their discoveries, and freer from errors, than more general writers; and so by degrees may pave the way to an universal correct natural history. Not that Scopoli is so circumstantial and attentive to the life and conversation of his birds as I could wish: he advances some false facts; as when he says of the hirundo urbica that "pullos extra nidum non nutrit." This assertion I know to be wrong from repeated observation this summer; for house-martins do feed their young flying, though it must be acknowledged not so commonly as the house-swallow; and the feat is done in so quick a manner as not to be perceptible to indifferent observers. He also advances some (I was going to say) improbable facts; as when he says of the woodcock that "pullos rostro portat fugiens ab hoste." But candour forbids me to say absolutely that any fact is false, because I have never been witness to such a fact. I have only to remark that the long unwieldy bill of the woodcock is perhaps the worst adapted of any among the winged creation for such a feat of natural affection.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, October 29th, 1770.
Dear Sir,—After an ineffectual search in Linnaeus, Brisson, etc., I begin to suspect that I discern my brother's hirundo hyberna in Scopoli's new discovered hirundo rupestris, p. 167. His description of "Supra murina, subtus albida; rectrices macula ovali alba in latere interno; pedes nudi, nigri; rostrum nigrum; remiges obscuriores quam plumae dorsales; rectrices remigibus concolores; cauda emarginata, nec forcipata," agrees very well with the bird in question: but when he comes to advance that it is "statura hirundinis urbicae," and that "definitio hirundinis ripariae Linnaei huic quoque conveniit," he in some measure invalidates all he has said; at least, he shows at once that he compares them to these species merely from memory: for I have compared the birds themselves, and find they differ widely in every circumstance of shape, size, and colour. However, as you will have a specimen, I shall be glad to hear what your judgment is in the matter.
Whether my brother is forestalled in his nondescript or not, he will have the credit of first discovering that they spend their winters under the warm and sheltry shores of Gibraltar and Barbary.
Scopoli's characters of his ordines and genera are clear, just, and expressive, and much in the spirit of Linnaeus. These few remarks are the result of my first perusal of Scopoli's "Annus Primus."
The bane of our science is the comparing one animal to the other by memory; for want of caution in this particular Scopoli falls into errors; he is not so full with regard to the manners of his indigenous birds as might be wished, as you justly observe; his Latin is easy, elegant, and expressive, and very superior to Kramer's.
I am pleased to see that my description of the moose corresponds so well with yours.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Nov. 26th, 1770.
Dear Sir,—I was much pleased to see, among the collection of birds from Gibraltar, some of those short-winged English summer birds of passage, concerning whose departure we have made so much inquiry. Now if these birds are found in Andalusia to migrate to and from Barbary, it may easily be supposed that those that come to us may migrate back to the continent, and spend their winters in some of the warmer parts of Europe. This is certain, that many soft-billed birds that come to Gibraltar appear there only in spring and autumn, seeming to advance in pairs towards the northward for the sake of breeding during the summer months, and retiring in parties and broods towards the south at the decline of the year; so that the rock of Gibraltar is the great rendezvous and place of observation, from whence they take their departure each way towards Europe or Africa. It is therefore no mean discovery, I think, to find that our small short-winged summer birds of passage are to be seen spring and autumn on the very skirts of Europe; it is presumptive proof of their emigrations.
Scopoli seems to me to have found the hirundo melba, the great Gibraltar swift, in Tirol, without knowing it. For what is his hirundo alpina but the afore-mentioned bird in other words? Says he, "Omnia prioris" (meaning the swift); "sed pectus album; paulo major priore." I do not suppose this to be a new species. It is true also of the melba, that "nidificat in excelsis Alpium rupibus." Vid. Annum Primum.
My Sussex friend, a man of observation and good sense, but no naturalist, to whom I applied on account of the stone-curlew, oedicnemus, sends me the following account: "In looking over my Naturalist's Journal for the month of April, I find the stone-curlews are first mentioned on the seventeenth and eighteenth, which date seems to me rather late. They live with us all the spring and summer, and at the beginning of autumn prepare to take leave by getting together in flocks. They seem to me a bird of passage that may travel into some dry, hilly country south of us, probably Spain, because of the abundance of sheep-walks in that country; for they spend their summers with us in such districts. This conjecture I hazard, as I have never met with any one that has seen them in England in the winter. I believe they are not fond of going near the water, but feed on earth-worms, that are common on sheep-walks and downs. They breed on fallows and lay-fields abounding with grey mossy flints, which much resemble their young in colour, among which they skulk and conceal themselves. They make no nest, but lay their eggs on the bare ground, producing in common but two at a time. There is reason to think their young run soon after they are hatched, and that the old ones do not feed them, but only lead them about at the time of feeding, which, for the most part, is in the night." Thus far, my friend.
In the manners of this bird you see there is something very analogous to the bustard whom it also somewhat resembles in aspect and make, and in the structure of its feet.
For a long time I have desired my relation to look out for these birds in Andalusia, and now he writes me word that, for the first time, he saw one dead in the market on the 3rd September.
When the oedicnemus flies it stretches out its legs straight behind, like a heron.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, March 30th, 1771.
Dear Sir,—There is an insect with us, especially on chalky districts, which is very troublesome and teasing all the latter end of the summer, getting into people's skins, especially those of women and children, and raising tumours which itch intolerably. This animal (which we call a harvest bug) is very minute, scarce discernible to the naked eye, of a bright scarlet colour, and of the genus of Acarus. They are to be met with in gardens on kidney-beans, or any legumens, but prevail only in the hot months of summer. Warreners, as some have assured me, are much infested by them on chalky downs, where these insects swarm sometimes to so infinite a degree as to discolour their nets, and to give them a reddish cast, while the men are so bitten as to be thrown into fevers.
There is a small, long, shining fly in these parts very troublesome to the housewife, by getting into the chimneys, and laying its eggs in the bacon while it is drying; these eggs produce maggots called jumpers, which, harbouring in the gammons and best parts of the hogs, eat down to the bone, and make great waste. This fly I suspect to be a variety of the musca putris of Linnaeus; it is to be seen in the summer in farm-kitchens on the bacon-racks and about the mantel-pieces, and on the ceilings.
The insect that infests turnips and many crops in the garden (destroying often whole fields while in their seedling leaves) is an animal that wants to be better known. The country people here call it the turnip-fly and black-dolphin; but I know it to be one of the coleoptera; the "chrysomela oleracea, saltatoria, femoribus posticis crassissimis." In very hot summers they abound to an amazing degree, and, as you walk in a field or in a garden, make a pattering like rain, by jumping on the leaves of the turnips or cabbages.
There is an oestrus, known in these parts to every ploughboy, which, because it is omitted by Linnaeus, is also passed over by late writers; and that is the curvicauda of old Mouset, mentioned by Derham in his "Physico-Theology," p. 250; an insect worthy of remark for depositing its eggs as it flies in so dextrous manner on the single hairs of the legs and flanks of grass-horses. But then Derham is mistaken when he advances that this oestrus is the parent of that wonderful star-tailed maggot which he mentions afterwards; for more modern entomologists have discovered that singular production to be derived from the egg, or the musca chamaeleon; see Geoffroy, t. xvii. f. 4.
A full history of noxious insects hurtful in the field, garden, and house, suggesting all the known and likely means of destroying them, would be allowed by the public to be a most useful and important work. What knowledge there is of this sort lies scattered, and wants to be collected; great improvements would soon follow, of course. A knowledge of the properties, economy, propagation, and, in short, of the life and conversation of these animals, is a necessary step to lead us to some method of preventing their depredations.
As far as I am a judge, nothing would recommend entomology more than some neat plates that should well express the generic distinctions of insects according to Linnaeus; for I am well assured that many people would study insects, could they set out with a more adequate notion of those distinctions than can be conveyed at first by words alone.
Dear Sir,—Happening to make a visit to my neighbour's peacocks, I could not help observing that the trains of those magnificent birds appear by no means to be their tails, those long feathers growing not from their uropygium, but all up their backs. A range of short brown stiff feathers, about six inches long, fixed in the uropygium, is the real tail, and serves as the fulcrum to prop the train, which is long and top-heavy, when set on end. When the train is up, nothing appears of the bird before but its head and neck; but this would not be the case were those long feathers fixed only in the rump, as may be seen by the turkey cock when in a strutting attitude. By a strong muscular vibration these birds can make the shafts of their long feathers clatter like the swords of a sword-dancer; they then trample very quick with their feet, and run backwards towards the females.
I should tell you that I have got an uncommon calculus aegogropila, taken out of the stomach of a fat ox; it is perfectly round, and about the size of a large Seville orange; such are, I think, usually flat.
Dear Sir,—The summer through I have seen but two of that large species of bat which I call vespertilio altivolans, from its manner of feeding high in the air; I procured one of them, and found it to be a male, and made no doubt, as they accompanied together, that the other was a female; but, happening in an evening or two to procure the other likewise, I was somewhat disappointed, when it appeared to be also of the same sex. This circumstance, and the great scarcity of this sort, at least in these parts, occasions some suspicions in my mind whether it is really a species, or whether it may not be the male part of the more known species, one of which may supply many females, as is known to be the case in sheep and some other quadrupeds. But this doubt can only be cleared by a farther examination, and some attention to the sex, of more specimens: all that I know at present is, that my two were amply furnished with the parts of generation, much resembling those of a boar.
In the extent of their wings they measured fourteen inches and a half, and four inches and a half from the nose to the tip of the tail; their heads were large, their nostrils bilobated, their shoulders broad and muscular, and their whole bodies fleshy and plump. Nothing could be more sleek and soft than their fur, which was of a bright chestnut colour; their maws were full of food, but so macerated that the quality could not be distinguished; their livers, kidneys, and hearts were large, and their bowels covered with fat. They weighed each, when entire, full one ounce and one drachm. Within the ear there was somewhat of a peculiar structure that I did not understand perfectly! but refer it to the observation of the curious anatomist. These creatures sent forth a very rancid and offensive smell.
Dear Sir,—On the 12th July I had a fair opportunity of contemplating the motions of the caprimulgus, or fern-owl, as it was playing round a large oak that swarmed with scarabaei solstitiales, or fern-chafers. The powers of its wing were wonderful, exceeding, if possible, the various evolutions and quick turns of the swallow genus. But the circumstance that pleased me most was, that I saw it distinctly, more than once, put out its short leg while on the wing, and, by a bend of the head, deliver somewhat into its mouth. If it takes any part of its prey with its foot, as I have now the greatest reason to suppose it does these chafers, I no longer wonder at the use of its middle toe, which is curiously furnished with a serrated claw.
Swallows and martins, the bulk of them I mean, have forsaken us sooner this year than usual; for on September 22nd they rendezvoused in a neighbour's walnut-tree, where it seemed probable they had taken up their lodging for the night. At the dawn of the day, which was foggy, they arose all together in infinite numbers, occasioning such a rushing from the strokes of their wings against the hazy air, as might be heard to a considerable distance: since that no flock has appeared, only a few stragglers.
Some swifts stayed late, till the 22nd August—a rare instance! for they usually withdraw within the first week.
On September 24th three or four ring-ousels appeared in my fields for the first time this season; how punctual are these visitors in their autumnal and spring migrations!
SELBORNE, March 15th, 1773.
Dear Sir,—By my journal for last autumn it appears that the house-martins bred very late, and stayed very late in these parts; for, on the 1st October, I saw young martins in their nest nearly fledged; and again, on the 21st October, we had at the next house a nest full of young martins just ready to fly; and the old ones were hawking for insects with great alertness. The next morning the brood forsook their nest, and were flying round the village. From this day I never saw one of the swallow kind till November 3rd, when twenty, or perhaps thirty, house-martins were playing all day long by the side of the hanging wood, and over my field. Did these small weak birds, some of which were nestling twelve days ago, shift their quarters at this late season of the year to the other side of the northern tropic? Or rather, is it not more probable that the next church, ruin, chalk-cliff, steep covert, or perhaps sandbank, lake, or pool (as a more northern naturalist would say), may become their hybernaculum, and afford them a ready and obvious retreat?
We now begin to expect our vernal migration of ring-ousels every week. Persons worthy of credit assure me that ring-ousels were seen at Christmas, 1770, in the forest of Bere, on the southern verge of this county. Hence we may conclude that their migrations are only internal, and not extending to the continent southward, if they do at first come at all from the northern parts of this island only, and not from the north of Europe. Come from whence they will, it is plain, from the fearless disregard that they show for men or guns, that they have been little accustomed to places of much resort. Navigators mention that in the Isle of Ascension, and other such desolate districts, birds are so little acquainted with the human form that they settle on men's shoulders, and have no more dread of a sailor than they would have of a goat that was grazing. A young man at Lewes, in Sussex, assured me that about seven years ago ring-ousels abounded so about that town in the autumn that he killed sixteen himself in one afternoon; he added further, that some had appeared since in every autumn, but he could not find that any had been observed before the season in which he shot so many. I myself have found these birds in little parties in the autumn cantoned all along the Sussex downs, wherever there were shrubs and bushes, from Chichester to Lewes, particularly in the autumn of 1770.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Nov. 9th, 1773.
Dear Sir,—As you desire me to send you such observations as may occur, I take the liberty of making the following remarks, that you may, according as you think me right or wrong, admit or reject what I here advance, in your intended new edition of the "British Zoology."
The osprey was shot about a year ago at Frinsham Pond, a great lake, at about six miles from hence, while it was sitting on the handle of a plough and devouring a fish: it used to precipitate itself into the water, and so take its prey by surprise.
A great ash-coloured butcher-bird was shot last winter in Tisted Park, and a red-backed butcher-bird [shrike] at Selborne: they are rarae aves in this county.
Crows go in pairs all the year round.
Cornish choughs abound, and breed on Beachy Head, and on all the cliffs of the Sussex coast.
The common wild pigeon, or stock-dove, is a bird of passage in the south of England, seldom appearing till towards the end of November; is usually the latest winter-bird of passage. Before our beechen woods were so much destroyed we had myriads of them, reaching in strings for a mile together as they went out in a morning to feed. They leave us early in spring: where do they breed?
The people of Hampshire and Sussex call the missel-bird the storm-cock, because it sings early in the spring in blowing, showery weather; its song often commences with the year: with us it builds much in orchards.
A gentleman assures me he has taken the nests of ring-ousels on Dartmoor: they build in banks on the sides of streams.
Titlarks not only sing sweetly as they sit on trees, but also as they play and toy about on the wing, and particularly while they are descending, and sometimes they stand on the ground.
Adanson's testimony seems to me to be a very poor evidence that European swallows migrate during our winter to Senegal: he does not talk at all like an ornithologist; and probably saw only the swallows of that country, which I know build within Governor O'Hara's hall against the roof. Had he known European swallows, would he not have mentioned the species?
The house-swallow washes by dropping into the water as it flies: this species appears commonly about a week before the house-martin, and about ten or twelve days before the swift.
In 1772 there were young house-martins in their nest till October 23rd.
The swift appears about ten or twelve days later than the house-swallow: viz., about the 24th or 26th April.
Whin-chats and stone-chatters stay with us the whole year.
Some wheat-ears continue with us the winter through.
Wag-tails, all sorts, remain with us all the winter. Bullfinches, when fed on hempseed, often become wholly black.
We have vast flocks of female chaffinches all the winter, with hardly any males among them.
When you say that in breeding-time the cock snipes make a bleating noise, and I a drumming (perhaps I should rather have said a humming), I suspect we mean the same thing. However, while they are playing about on the wing they certainly make a loud piping with their mouths: but whether that bleating or humming is ventriloquous, or proceeds from the motion of their wings, I cannot say; but this I know, that when this noise happens, the bird is always descending, and his wings are violently agitated.
Soon after the lapwings have done breeding they congregate, and, leaving the moors and marshes, betake themselves to downs and sheep-walks.
Two years ago last spring the little auk was found alive and unhurt, but fluttering and unable to rise, in a lane a few miles from Alresford, where there is a great lake: it was kept awhile, but died.
I saw young teals taken alive in the ponds of Wolmer Forest in the beginning of July last, along with flappers, or young wild ducks.
Speaking of the swift, that page says "its drink the dew;" whereas it should be "it drinks on the wing;" for all the swallow kind sip their water as they sweep over the face of pools or rivers: like Virgil's bees, they drink flying; "flumina summa libant." In this method of drinking perhaps this genus may be peculiar.
Of the sedge-bird, be pleased to say it sings most part of the night; its notes are hurrying, but not unpleasing, and imitative of several birds; as the sparrow, swallow, skylark. When it happens to be silent in the night, by throwing a stone or clod into the bushes where it sits you immediately set it a-singing; or, in other words, though it slumbers sometimes, yet as soon as it is awakened it reassumes its song.
SELBORNE, Sept. 2nd, 1774.
Dear Sir,—Before your letter arrived, and of my own accord, I had been remarking and comparing the tails of the male and female swallow, and this ere any young broods appeared; so that there was no danger of confounding the dams with their pulli: and besides, as they were then always in pairs, and busied in the employ of nidification, there could be no room for mistaking the sexes, nor the individuals of different chimneys the one for the other. From all my observations, it constantly appeared that each sex has the long feathers in its tail that give it that forked shape; with this difference, that they are longer in the tail of the male than in that of the female.
Nightingales, when their young first come abroad and are helpless, make a plaintive and a jarring noise, and also a snapping or cracking, pursuing people along the hedges as they walk; these last sounds seem intended for menace and defiance.
The grasshopper-lark chirps all night in the height of summer.
Swans turn white the second year, and breed the third.
Weasels prey on moles, as appears by their being sometimes caught in mole-traps.
Sparrow-hawks sometimes breed in old crows' nests, and the kestril in churches and ruins.
There are supposed to be two sorts of eels in the island of Ely. The threads sometimes discovered in eels are perhaps their young: the generation of eels is very dark and mysterious.
Hen-harriers breed on the ground, and seem never to settle on trees.
When redstarts shake their tails they move them horizontally, as dogs do when they fawn: the tail of a wagtail, when in motion, bobs up and down like that of a jaded horse.
Hedge-sparrows have a remarkable flirt with their wings in breeding-time; as soon as frosty mornings come they make a very piping, plaintive noise.
Many birds, which become silent about Midsummer, reassume their notes again in September, as the thrush, blackbird, woodlark, willow-wren, etc.; hence August is by much the most mute month, the spring, summer, and autumn through. Are birds induced to sing again because the temperament of autumn resembles that of spring?
Linnaeus ranges plants geographically; palms inhabit the tropics, grasses the temperate zones, and mosses and lichens the polar circles; no doubt animals may be classed in the same manner with propriety.
House-sparrows build under eaves in the spring; as the weather becomes hotter, they get out for coolness, and nest in plum-trees and apple-trees. These birds have been known sometimes to build in rooks' nests, and sometimes in the forks of boughs under rooks' nests.
As my neighbour was housing a rick, he observed that his dogs devoured all the little red mice that they could catch, but rejected the common mice; and that his cats ate the common mice, refusing the red.
Redbreasts sing all through the spring, summer, and autumn. The reason that they are called autumn songsters is, because in the two first seasons their voices are drowned and lost in the general chorus; in the latter their song becomes distinguishable. Many songsters of the autumn seem to be the young cock redbreasts of that year: nothwithstanding the prejudices in their favour, they do much mischief in gardens to the summer fruits.
The titmouse, which early in February begins to make two quaint notes, like the whetting of a saw, is the marsh titmouse; the great titmouse sings with three cheerful, joyous notes, and begins about the same time.
Wrens sing all the winter through, frost excepted. House-martins came remarkably late this year both in Hampshire and Devonshire. Is this circumstance for or against either hiding or migration?
Most birds drink sipping at intervals; but pigeons take a long continued draught, like quadrupeds. Notwithstanding what I have said in a former letter, no grey crows were ever known to breed on Dartmoor; it was my mistake.
The appearance and flying of the Scaraboeus solstitialis, or fern-chafer, commence with the month of July, and cease about the end of it. These scarabs are the constant food of Caprimulgi, or fern-owls, through that period. They abound on the chalky downs and in some sandy districts, but not in the clays.
In the garden of the Black Bear inn in the town of Reading, is a stream or canal running under the stables and out into the fields on the other side of the road. In this water are many carps, which lie rolling about in sight, being fed by travellers, who amuse themselves by tossing them bread; but as soon as the weather grows at all severe these fishes are no longer seen, because they retire under the stables, where they remain till the return of spring. Do they lie in a torpid state? If they do not, how are they supported?
The note of the whitethroat, which is continually repeated, and often attended with odd gesticulations on the wing, is harsh and displeasing. These birds seem of a pugnacious disposition, for they sing with an erected crest and attitudes of rivalry and defiance; are shy and wild in breeding-time, avoiding neighbourhoods, and haunting lonely lanes and commons; nay, even the very tops of the Sussex Downs, where there are bushes and covert, but in July and August they bring their broods into gardens and orchards, and make great havoc among the summer fruits.
The blackcap has in common a full, sweet, deep, loud, and wild pipe; yet that strain is of short continuance, and his motions are desultory; but when that bird sits calmly and engages in song in earnest, he pours forth very sweet but inward melody, and expresses great variety of soft and gentle modulations, superior perhaps to those of any of our warblers, the nightingale excepted.
Blackcaps mostly haunt orchards and gardens; while they warble their throats are wonderfully distended.
The song of the redstart is superior, though somewhat like that of the whitethroat; some birds have a few more notes than others. Sitting very placidly on the top of a tall tree in a village, the cock sings from morning to night. He affects neighbourhoods, and avoids solitude, and loves to build in orchards and about houses; with us he perches on the vane of a tall maypole.
The fly-catcher is, of all our summer birds, the most mute and the most familiar; it also appears the last of any. It builds in a vine, or a sweetbriar, against the wall of a house, or in the hole of a wall, or on the end of a beam or plate, and often close to the post of a door where people are going in and out all day long. This bird does not make the least pretension to song, but uses a little inward wailing note when it thinks its young in danger from cats or other annoyances; it breeds but once, and retires early.
Selborne parish alone can and has exhibited at times more than half the birds that are ever seen in all Sweden; the former has produced more than one hundred and twenty species, the latter only two hundred and twenty-one. Let me add, also, that it has shown near half the species that were ever known in Great Britain.
On a retrospect, I observe that my long letter carries with it a quaint and magisterial air, and is very sententious; but when I recollect that you requested stricture and anecdote, I hope you will pardon the didactic manner for the sake of the information it may happen to contain.
It is matter of curious inquiry to trace out how those species of soft-billed birds that continue with us the winter through subsist during the dead months. The imbecility of birds seems not to be the only reason why they shun the rigour of our winters; for the robust wryneck (so much resembling the hardy race of woodpeckers) migrates, while the feeble little golden-crowned wren, that shadow of a bird, braves our severest frosts without availing himself of houses or villages, to which most of our winter birds crowd in distressful seasons, while this keeps aloof in fields and woods; but perhaps this may be the reason why they may often perish, and why they are almost as rare as any bird we know.
I have no reason to doubt but that the soft-billed birds, which winter with us, subsist chiefly on insects in their aurelia state. All the species of wagtails in severe weather haunt shallow streams near their spring-heads, where they never freeze, and, by wading, pick out the aurelias of the genus of Phryganeae, etc.
Hedge-sparrows frequent sinks and gutters in hard weather, where they pick up crumbs and other sweepings, and in mild weather they procure worms, which are stirring every month in the year, as any one may see that will only be at the trouble of taking a candle to a grass-plot on any mild winter's night. Redbreasts and wrens in the winter haunt outhouses, stables, and barns, where they find spiders and flies that have laid themselves up during the cold season. But the grand support of the soft-billed birds in winter is that infinite profusion of aurelia of the Lepidoptera ordo, which is fastened to the twigs of trees and their trunks, to the pales and walls of gardens and buildings, and is found in every cranny and cleft of rock or rubbish, and even in the ground itself.
Every species of titmouse winters with us; they have what I call a kind of intermediate bill between the hard and the soft, between the Linnaean genera of Fringilla and Motacilla. One species alone spends its whole time in the woods and fields, never retreating for succour in the severest seasons to houses and neighbourhoods; and that is the delicate long-tailed titmouse, which is almost as minute as the golden-crowned wren; but the blue titmouse or nun (Parus caeruleus), the cole-mouse (Parus ater), the great black-headed titmouse (Fringillago), and the marsh titmouse (Parus palustris), all resort at times to buildings, and in hard weather particularly. The great titmouse, driven by stress of weather, much frequents houses; and, in deep snows, I have seen this bird, while it hung with its back downwards (to my no small delight and admiration), draw straws lengthwise from out the eaves of thatched houses, in order to pull out the flies that were concealed between them, and that in such numbers that they quite defaced the thatch, and gave it a ragged appearance.
The blue titmouse, or nun, is a great frequenter of houses, and a general devourer. Besides insects, it is very fond of flesh, for it frequently picks bones on dunghills: it is a vast admirer of suet, and haunts butchers' shops. When a boy, I have known twenty in a morning caught with snap mouse-traps, baited with tallow or suet. It will also pick holes in apples left on the ground, and be well entertained with the seeds on the head of a sunflower. The blue, marsh, and great titmice will, in very severe weather, carry away barley and oat-straws from the sides of ricks.
How the wheatear and whinchat support themselves in winter cannot be so easily ascertained, since they spend their time on wild heaths and warrens; the former especially, where there are stone quarries: most probably it is that their maintenance arises from the aureliae of the Lepidoptera ordo, which furnish them with a plentiful table in the wilderness.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, March 9th, 1775.
Dear Sir,—Some future faunist, a man of fortune, will, I hope, extend his visits to the kingdom of Ireland; a new field and a country little known to the naturalist. He will not, it is to be wished, undertake that tour unaccompanied by a botanist, because the mountains have scarcely been sufficiently examined; and the southerly counties of so mild an island may possibly afford some plants little to be expected within the British dominions. A person of a thinking turn of mind will draw many just remarks from the modern improvements of that country, both in arts and agriculture, where premiums obtained long before they were heard of with us. The manners of the wild natives, their superstitions, their prejudices, their sordid way of life, will extort from him many useful reflections. He should also take with him an able draughtsman, for he must by no means pass over the noble castles and seats, the extensive and picturesque lakes and waterfalls, and the lofty stupendous mountains, so little known, and so engaging to the imagination when described and exhibited in a lively manner; such a work would be well received.
As I have seen no modern map of Scotland, I cannot pretend to say how accurate or particular any such may be; but this I know, that the best old maps of that kingdom are very defective.
The great obvious defect that I have remarked in all maps of Scotland that have fallen in my way is a want of a coloured line, or stroke, that shall exactly define the just limits of that district called the Highlands. Moreover, all the great avenues to that mountainous and romantic country want to be well distinguished. The military roads formed by General Wade are so great and Roman-like an undertaking that they well merit attention. My old map, Moll's Map, takes notice of Fort William, but could not mention the other forts that have been erected long since; therefore a good representation of the chain of forts should not be omitted.
The celebrated zigzag up the Coryarich must not be passed over. Moll takes notice of Hamilton and Drumlanrig, and such capital houses; but a new survey, no doubt, should represent every seat and castle remarkable for any great event, or celebrated for its paintings, etc. Lord Breadalbane's seat and beautiful policy are too curious and extraordinary to be omitted.
The seat of the Earl of Eglingtoun, near Glasgow, is worthy of notice. The pine plantations of that nobleman are very grand and extensive indeed.
I am, etc.
A pair of honey-buzzards, Buteo opivorus, sive Vespivorus Raii, built them a large shallow nest, composed of twigs and lined with dead beechen leaves, upon a tall, slender beech near the middle of Selborne Hanger, in the summer of 1780. In the middle of the month of June a bold boy climbed this tree though standing on so steep and dizzy a situation, and brought down an egg, the only one in the nest, which had been sat on for some time, and contained the embryo of a young bird. The egg was smaller, and not so round as those of the common buzzard; was dotted at each end with small red spots, and surrounded in the middle with a broad bloody zone. The hen bird was shot, and answered exactly to Mr. Ray's description of that species; had a black cere, short thick legs, and a long tail. When on the wing this species may be easily distinguished from the common buzzard by its hawk-like appearance, small head, wings not so blunt, and longer tail. This specimen contained in its craw some limbs of frogs and many grey snails without shells. The irides of the eyes of this bird were of a beautiful bright yellow colour.
About the 10th July in the same summer a pair of sparrow-hawks bred in an old crow's nest on a low beech in the same hanger; and as their brood, which was numerous, began to grow up, became so daring and ravenous, that they were a terror to all the dames in the village that had chickens or ducklings under their care. A boy climbed the tree, and found the young so fledged that they all escaped from him, but discovered that a good house had been kept: the larder was well-stored with provisions, for he brought down a young blackbird, jay, and house-martin, all clean picked, and some half devoured. The old birds had been observed to make sad havoc for some days among the new-flown swallows and martins, which, being but lately out of their nests, had not acquired those powers and command of wing that enable them, when more mature, to set such enemies at defiance.
SELBORNE, Nov. 30th, 1780.
Dear Sir,—Every incident that occasions a renewal of our correspondence will ever be pleasing and agreeable to me.
As to the wild wood-pigeon, the OEnas, or Vinago, of Ray, I am much of your mind, and see no reason for making it the origin of the common house-dove: but suppose those that have advanced that opinion may have been misled by another appellation, often given to the OEnas, which is that of stock-dove.
Unless the stock-dove in the winter varies greatly in manners from itself in summer, no species seems more unlikely to be domesticated, and to make a house-dove. We very rarely see the latter settle on trees at all, nor does it ever haunt the woods; but the former, as long as it stays with us, from November perhaps to February, lives the same wild life with the ring-dove, Palumbus torquatus; frequents coppices and groves, supports itself chiefly by mast, and delights to roost in the tallest beeches. Could it be known in what manner stock-doves build, the doubt would be settled with me at once, provided they construct their nests on trees, like the ring-dove, as I much suspect they do.
You received, you say, last spring a stock-dove from Sussex, and are informed that they sometimes breed in that county. But why did not your correspondent determine the place of its nidification, whether on rocks, cliffs, or trees? If he was not an adroit ornithologist I should doubt the fact, because people with us perpetually confound the stock-dove with the ring-dove.
For my own part, I readily concur with you in supposing that house-doves are derived from the small blue rock-pigeon, for many reasons. In the first place the wild stock-dove is manifestly larger than the common house-dove, against the usual rule of domestication, which generally enlarges the breed. Again, those two remarkable black spots on the remiges of each wing of the stock-dove, which are so characteristic of the species, would not, one should think, be totally lost by its being reclaimed, but would often break out among its descendants. But what is worth a hundred arguments is, the instance you give in Sir Roger Mostyn's house-doves in Caernarvonshire; which, though tempted by plenty of food and gentle treatment, can never be prevailed on to inhabit their cote for any time; but as soon as they begin to breed, betake themselves to the fastnesses of Ormshead, and deposit their young in safety amidst the inaccessible caverns and precipices of that stupendous promontory.
"Naturam expellas furca . . . tamen usque recurret."
I have consulted a sportsman, now in his seventy-eighth year, who tells me that fifty or sixty years back, when the beechen woods were much more extensive than at present, the number of wood-pigeons was astonishing; that he has often killed near twenty in a day, and that with a long wild-fowl piece he has shot seven or eight at a time on the wing as they came wheeling over his head: he moreover adds, which I was not aware of, that often there were among them little parties of small blue doves, which he calls rockiers. The food of these numberless emigrants was beech-mast and some acorns, and particularly barley, which they collected in the stubbles. But of late years, since the vast increase of turnips, that vegetable has furnished a great part of their support in hard weather; and the holes they pick in these roots greatly damage the crop. From this food their flesh has contracted a rancidness which occasions them to be rejected by nicer judges of eating, who thought them before a delicate dish. They were shot not only as they were feeding in the fields, and especially in snowy weather, but also at the close of the evening, by men who lay in ambush among the woods and groves to kill them as they came in to roost. These are the principal circumstances relating to this wonderful internal migration, which with us takes place towards the end of November, and ceases early in the spring. Last winter we had in Selborne high wood about a hundred of these doves; but in former times the flocks were so vast, not only with us but all the district round, that on mornings and evenings they traversed the air, like rooks, in strings, reaching for a mile together. When they thus rendezvoused here by thousands, if they happened to be suddenly roused from their roost-trees on an evening,
"Their rising all at once was like the sound Of thunder heard remote."—
It will by no means be foreign to the present purpose to add, that I had a relation in this neighbourhood who made it a practice, for a time, whenever he could procure the eggs of a ring-dove, to place them under a pair of doves that were sitting in his own pigeon-house; hoping thereby, if he could bring about a coalition, to enlarge his breed, and teach his own doves to beat out into the woods, and to support themselves by mast; the plan was plausible, but something always interrupted the success; for though the birds were usually hatched, and sometimes grew to half their size, yet none ever arrived at maturity. I myself have seen these foundlings in their nest displaying a strange ferocity of nature, so as scarcely to bear to be looked at, and snapping with their bills by way of menace. In short, they always died, perhaps for want of proper sustenance: but the owner thought that by their fierce and wild demeanour they frighted their foster mothers, and so were starved.
Virgil, as a familiar occurrence, by way of simile, describes a dove haunting the cavern of a rock in such engaging numbers, that I cannot refrain from quoting the passage: and John Dryden has rendered it so happily in our language, that without further excuse I shall add his translation also.
"Qualis spelunca subito commota Columba, Cui domus, et dulces latebroso in pumice nidi, Fertur in arva volans, plausumque exterrita pennis, Dat tecto ingentem—mox aere lapsa quieto, Radit iter liquidum, celeres neque commovet alas."
"As when a dove her rocky hold forsakes, Rous'd, in a fright her sounding wings she shakes; The cavern rings with clattering:—out she flies, And leaves her callow care, and cleaves the skies: At first she flutters:—but at length she springs To smoother flight, and shoots upon her wings."
I am, etc.
LETTERS TO THE HON. DAINESBARRINGTON.
SELBORNE, June 30th, 1769.
Dear Sir,—When I was in town last month I partly engaged that I would sometimes do myself the honour to write to you on the subject of natural history; and I am the more ready to fulfil my promise, because I see you are a gentleman of great candour, and one that will make allowances, especially where the writer professes to be an out-door naturalist, one that takes his observations from the subject itself, and not from the writings of others.
THE FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF THE SUMMER BIRDS OF PASSAGE WHICH I HAVE DISCOVERED IN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD, RANGED SOMEWHAT IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY APPEAR:—
RAII NOMINA. USUALLY APPEARS ABOUT 1. Wryneck. Jynx, sive The middle of March: Torquilla. harsh note. 2. Smallest Regulus non March 23rd: chirps till willow-wren. cristatus. September. 3. Swallow. Hirundo April 13th. domestica. 4. Martin. Hirundo rustica. Ditto. 5. Sand-martin. Hirundo riparia. Ditto. 6. Blackcap. Atricapilla. Ditto: a sweet, wild note. 7. Nightingale. Luscinia. Beginning of April. 8. Cuckoo. Cuculus. Middle of April. 9. Middle willow-wren. Regulus non Ditto: a sweet, cristatus. plaintive note. 10. Whitethroat. Ficedulae affinis Ditto: mean note; sings on till September. 11. Redstart. Ruticilla. Ditto: more agreeable song. 12. Stone-curlew. OEdicnemus End of March: loud nocturnal whistle. 13. Turtle-dove. Turtur. 14. Grasshopper-lark. Alauda minima Middle April: a small locustae voce sibilous note, till the end of July. 15. Swift. Hirundo apus. About April 27th. 16. Less reed-sparrow. Passer A sweet polyglot, but arundinaceus hurrying; it has the minor. notes of many birds. 17. Land-rail. Ortygometra. A loud, harsh note—crex, crex. 18. Largest willow Regulus non Cantat voce stridula wren. cristatus. locustae; end of April, on the tops of high beeches. 19. Goat-sucker, or Caprimulgus. Beginning of May: fern-owl. chatters by night with a singular noise. 20. Fly-catcher. Stoparola. May 12th: a very mute bird: this is the latest summer bird of passage.
This assemblage of curious and amusing birds belongs to ten several genera of the Linnaean system, and are all of the ordo of passeres save the Jynx and Cuculus, which are picae, and the Charadrius (OEdicnemus) and Rallus (Ortygometra), which are grallae.
These birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the following Linnaean genera:—
1, Jynx. 13. Columba. 2,6,7,9,10,11,16,18, Motacilla. 17. Rallus. 3,4,5,15, Hirundo. 19. Caprimulgus. 8, Cuculus. 14. Alauda. 12, Charadrius. 20. Muscicapa.
Most soft-billed birds live on insects, and not on grain and seeds, and therefore at the end of summer they retire: but the following soft-billed birds, though insect-eaters, stay with us the year round:—
RAII NOMINA. Redbreast, Wren, Rubecula. Passer These frequent houses, troglodytes. and haunt out-buildings in the winter: eat spiders. Hedge-sparrow, Curruca. Haunt sinks for crumbs and other sweepings. White-wagtail, Yellow-wagtail, Grey-wagtail, Motacilla alba. These frequent shallow Motacilla flava. rivulets near the spring Motacilla cinerea. heads, where they never freeze: eat the aureliae of Phryganea. The smallest birds that walk. Wheatear, OEnanthe. Some of these are to be seen with us the winter through. Whinchat, Stone-chatter, OEnanthe secunda. OEnanthe tertia. Golden-crowned wren, Regulus cristatus. This is the smallest British bird: haunts the tops of tall trees; stays the winter through.
A LIST OF THE WINTER BIRDS OF PASSAGE ROUND THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD, RANGED SOMEWHAT IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY APPEAR.
RAII NOMINA. 1. Ring-ousel, Merula torquata. This is a new migration, which I have lately discovered about Michaelmas week, and again about the 14th March. 2. Redwing, Turdus iliacus. About old Michaelmas. 3. Fieldfare, Turdus pilaris. Though a percher by day, roosts on the ground. 4. Royston-crow, Cornix cinerea. Most frequent on downs. 5. Woodcock, Scolopax. Appears about old Michaelmas. 6. Snipe, Gallinago minor. Some snipes constantly breed with us. 7. Jack-snipe, Gallinago minima. 8. Wood-pigeon, OEnas. Seldom appears till late; not in such plenty as formerly. 9. Wild-swan, Cygnus ferus. On some large waters. 10. Wild-goose, Anser ferus. ) 11. Wild-duck, Anas torquata ) minor. 12. Pochard, Anas fera fusca. ) 13. Wigeon, Penelope. ) On our lakes and streams. 14. Teal, breeds with Querquedula. ) us in Wolmer Forest, 15. Gross-beak, Coccothraustes. ) These are only wanderers that 16. Cross-bill, Loxia. ) appear occasionally, and are not 17. Silk-tail, Garrulus ) observant of any bohemicus. regular migration.
The birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the following Linnaean genera:—
1,2,3, Turdus. 9,10,11,12,13,14, Anas. 4, Corvus. 15,16, Loxia. 5,6,7, Scolopax. 17, Ampelis. 8, Columba.
Birds that sing in the night are but few.
Nightingale, Luscinia. "In shadiest covert hid." MILTON. Woodlark, Alauda arborea. Suspended in mid air. Less reed-sparrow, Passer arundinaceus Among reeds and willows. minor.
I should now proceed to such birds as continue to sing after Midsummer, but, as they are rather numerous, they would exceed the bounds of this paper: besides, as this is now the season for remarking on that subject, I am willing to repeat my observations on some birds concerning the continuation of whose song I seem at present to have some doubt.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Nov. 2nd, 1769.
Dear Sir,—When I did myself the honour to write to you about the end of last June on the subject of natural history, I sent you a list of the summer birds of passage which I have observed in this neighbourhood, and also a list of the winter birds of passage: I mentioned besides those soft-billed birds that stay with us the winter through in the south of England, and those that are remarkable for singing in the night.
According to my proposal, I shall now proceed to such birds (singing birds strictly so called) as continue in full song till after Midsummer, and shall range them somewhat in the order in which they first begin to open as the spring advances.
RAII NOMINA. 1. Woodlark, Alauda In January, and arborea. continues to sing through all the summer and autumn. 2. Song thrush, Turdus In February, and on simpliciter to August; dictus. re-assume their song in autumn. 3. Wren, Passer All the year, hard troglodytes. frost excepted. 4. Redbreast, Rubecula. Ditto. 5. Hedge-sparrow. Curruca. Early in February to July 10th. 6. Yellow-hammer, Emberiza Early in February, flava. and on through July to August 21st. 7. Skylark, Alauda In February and on vulgaris. to October. 8. Swallow, Hirundo From April to domestica. September. 9. Blackcap, Atricapilla. Beginning of April to July 13th. 10. Titlark, Alauda From middle of pratorum. April to July 16th. 11. Blackbird, Merula Sometimes in vulgaris. February and March, and so on to July 23rd; re-assumes in autumn. 12. Whitethroat, Ficedulae In April, and on to affinis. July 23rd. 13. Goldfinch, Carduelis. April, and through to September 16th. 14. Greenfinch, Chloris. On to July and August 2nd. 15. Less Passer May, on to reed-sparrow. arundinaceus beginning of July. minor. 16. Common linnet, Linaria Breeds and whistles vulgaris. on till August; re-assumes its note when they begin to congregate in October, and again early before the flocks separate.
Birds that cease to be in full song, and are usually silent at or before Midsummer:—
RAII NOMINA. 17. Middle Regulus non Middle of June; willow-wren, cristatus. begins in April. 18. Redstart, Ruticilla. Ditto; begins in May. 19. Chaffinch, Fringilla. Beginning of June; sings first in April. 20. Nightingale, Luscinia. Middle of June; sings first in April.
Birds that sing for a short time, and very early in the spring:—
RAII NOMINA. 21. Missel-bird, Turdus January 2nd, 1770, viscivorus. in February. Is called Hampshire and Sussex the storm-cock, because its song is supposed to forebode windy wet weather: it is the largest singing bird we have. 22. Great Fringillago. In February, March, tit-mouse, or April; re-assumes ox-eye. for a short time in September.
Birds that have somewhat of a note or song, and yet are hardly to be called singing birds:—
RAII NOMINA. 23. Golden-crowned Regulus Its note as minute as wren, cristatus. its person; frequents the tops of high oaks and firs; the smallest British bird. 24. Marsh tit-mouse, Parus palustris. Haunts great woods; two harsh, sharp notes. 25. Small willow-wren, Regulus non Sings in March, and on cristatus. to September. 26. Largest ditto, Ditto. Cantat voce stridula locustae; from end of April to August. 27. Grasshopper-lark, Alauda minima voce Chirps all night, from locustae. the middle of April to the end of July. 28. Martin, Hirundo agrestis. All the breeding time; from May to September. 29. Bullfinch, Pyrrhula. 30. Bunting, Emberiza alba. From the end of January to July.
All singing birds, and those that have any pretensions to song, not only in Britain, but perhaps the world through, come under the Linnaean ordo of Passeres.
The above-mentioned birds, as they stand numerically, belong to the following Linnaean genera:—
1,7,10,27, Alauda 8,28, Hirundo. 2,11,21, Turdus. 13,16,19, Fringilla. 3,4,5,9,12, ) 22,24, Parus. 15,17,18,20, Motacilla 14,29, Loxia. ) 23,25,26, ) 6,20, Emberiza.
Birds that sing as they fly are but few:—
RAII NOMINA. Skylark, Alauda vulgaris. Rising, suspended, and falling. Titlark, Alauda pratorum. In its descent; also sitting on trees, and walking on the ground. Woodlark, Alauda arborea. Suspended; in hot summer nights all night long. Blackbird, Merula. Sometimes from bush to bush. Whitethroat, Ficedula affinis. Uses when singing on the wing odd jerks and gesticulations. Swallow, Hirundo domestica. In soft sunny weather. Wren, Passer troglodytes. Sometimes from bush to bush.
Birds that breed most early in these parts:—
RAII NOMINA. Raven, Corvus. Hatches in February and March. Song-thrush, Turdus. In March. Blackbird, Merula. In March. Rook, Cornix frugilega. Builds the beginning of March. Woodlark, Alauda arborea. Hatches in April. Ring-dove, Palumbus torquatus. Lays the beginning of April.
All birds that continue in full song till after Midsummer appear to me to breed more than once.
Most kinds of birds seem to me to be wild and shy somewhat in proportion to their bulk: I mean in this island, where they are much pursued and annoyed; but in Ascension Island, and many other desolate places, mariners have found fowls so unacquainted with a human figure, that they would stand still to be taken, as is the case with boobies, etc. As an example of what is advanced, I remark that the golden-crested wren (the smallest British bird) will stand unconcerned till you come within three or four yards of it, while the bustard (Otis), the largest British land fowl, does not care to admit a person within so many furlongs.
I am, etc.
SELBORNE, Jan. 15th, 1770.
Dear Sir,—It was no small matter of satisfaction to me to find that you were not displeased with my little methodus of birds. If there was any merit in the sketch, it must be owing to its punctuality. For many months I carried a list in my pocket of the birds that were to be remarked, and, as I rode or walked about my business, I noted each day the continuance or omission of each bird's song, so that I am as sure of the certainty of my facts as a man can be of any transaction whatsoever.
I shall now proceed to answer the several queries which you put in your two obliging letters, in the best manner that I am able. Perhaps Eastwick and its environs, where you heard so very few birds, is not a woodland country, and therefore not stocked with such songsters. If you will cast your eye on my last letter, you will find that many species continued to warble after the beginning of July.