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Full text of "Birds of the wave and woodland. Illustrated by Charles Whymper and others"




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BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND 
WOODLAND 



LIAM WESLEY ec Jon, 
nksrllrra 5: 99ufalighrr<?. 




THE HERON S NEST 






mfbS OF THE WAVE 



AND WOODLAND 



/ 



BY 

PHI L^ ROBINSON 

AUTHOR OF 
' NOAH'S ARK" " THE POETS' BIRDS" ETC. 



ILLUSTRATED BY CHARLES WHYMPER 
AND OTHERS 




LONDON 



0£C29ig86 



ISBISTER AND COMPANY LIMITED 

15 & 16 TAVISTOCK STREET COVENT GARDEN 
1894 



Printed hy Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. 
London and Edinburgh 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER I 

The Birds of the Seasons— Some Birds of Passage — The Miracle 
OF Migration —The Thrush — The Blackbird — What is the 
Meaning of Singing? — The Swallow . . . Pp. ii — 43 

CHAPTER n 

The Birds of the Months — Some Rare Birds and Some Common — 
January and the Fieldfare — February and the Rook — March, 
April, May, with the Thrush, Swallow and Nightingale —The 
Terrors of Migration — June and the Ringdove — A Wood- 
Pigeon Problem — The Dotterel — Evening Voices : The Night- 
jars — July and the Skylark —August, September, with Grouse 
and Partridge — The Ptarmigan — The Old Cock-Pheasant — 
November and the Woodcock — December with its Robin and 
Wren Pp. 45—89 

CHAPTER III 

The Rook — The Cuckoo — Lark and Woodlark — The Sparrow — 
Plague of Birds . Pp. 91 — no 



8 CONTENTS 

CHAPTER IV 

Bird-Voices — The" Corn-crake — The Black-Cap — The Turtle-Dove 
— Carpexter-Birds — The Nuthatch — The Wryxeck — The Great 
Tit — The Letter-Box Tit of Rowfant . . . Pp. iii — 130 

CHAPTER V 

The Owl — The Magpie —The Kestrel or Windhover — Haunts of the 
Heron — Bird-Destroyers, the Gamekeeper and "Naturalist " 

Pp- 131 — 150 

CHAPTER VI 

The Sea-Eagle — Guillemots — Egg-Gathering — The Paradise of the 
Puffins — The Stormy-Petrel — The Sea-Eagle's Victims — The 
Black-Backed Gull — The Skua — Among the Cormorants and 
Gulls Pp. 151 — 185 

CHAPTER VII 

The Kingfisher— The Mystery and Folk-Lore of the Halcyon — 
The Water-Vole at Home — In the Water-Meadows — The 
Moorhen and its Haunts — The Reed-Warbler — The Sedge- 
Warbler — Music of the Summer Nights — Waking the Sun 

Pp. 187—216 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



" Among tJic lilacs "'..., 

The Wild S-waii 

Mobbing the Great Sea Lantern . 

'■^ In days of pijicliing K'ant^' 

"/Is nian^s familiar guests^' 

" Waiting for the signal to start " 

SK'allotcs and rain .... 

Grouse ....... 

" One of the ploughman''s companions " 

" The plovers scatter o''er the heath " . 

" The delightful dotterel . 

" Seems to act as timekeeper to the ducks 

" In the earldom of the Falcon " 

Where the eagle is at home 

The Peregrine ..... 

The old Cock Pheasant 

" Like SnoK'-birds that are happy without s 

CroK's at sundoK'U .... 

" /« some brake of fern and bramble" 
House Sparroii' ..... 

The Corn-crake and its companions 



15 
17 
23 
28 

36 

41 
43 
47 

51 
62 

65 
68 

73 

77 
81 

85 

87 

94 

100 

107 

115 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



The NutJiatch at home 
Nesting-hole of Wryneck 
The Tit of Rotcfant . 
Long-eared Owl . 
The Magpie's fortress . 
Where the Kestrels build 
" Enhancing every cJiann by its t 
The Eagle of tlie Sea . 
Guillemots .... 
Tlie Sea-Birds' citadel 
The Sea-Parrots at home 
" Where the sea-folk cluster'' 
Petrels resting 

Gulls 

Nest of Lesser Black-backed Gull 

Among the Skuas 

A Colony of Cormorants 

Black-throated Diver . 

The King of the Pool . 

The cave-haunting Martlet . 

'• When the ponds are all ice-lock 

Did I hear some one? . 

The Water Hen . 



nt b 



illian 



Tage 
121 

126 

129 

141 

164 
166 
171 

175 
179 

182 

183 
184 
iqo 
194 
197 
203 
207 



CHAPTER I 

The Birds of the Seasons — Some Birds of Passage — The 
Miracle of Migration— The Thrush — The Blackbird — What 
is the meaning of Singing ? — The Swallow 



CHAPTER I 



" And now the goddess bids the birds appear, 
Raise all their music and salute the year^ 

Wyatt. 
" Tlie birds sing many a lovely lay 
Of God's high praise and of their sweet love-tune'' 

Spenser. 

F we had to distribute the Seasons 
amonor the birds that are called 
" British," selecting a notable fowl 
to represent each, we could hardly 
overlook the claims of the cuckoo, 
the nightingale, and the swallow to 
distinction. But, after all, these are 
not "thorough Britons." They only 
come to us for our summer, and when that goes they 
follow it. Though great numbers of them are British-born, 
they are at best only Anglo-Continental, Anglo-Asiatic, 
Anglo- African, and Inter-Oceanic. But our resourceful 
little islands give us native birds, all our own, that amply 
serve the Seasons, and represent, with sufficing charm, the 




14 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

changing Four, We have the thrush, the blackbird, the 
skylark, and the robin, four of the sweetest birds that the 
round world can show — 



" Tlie Throstle with his note so truer 

Shakespeare. 

" The Mavis mild and mellow.^'' 

Burns. 

" A few stars 
Were lingering in the hcavois, ivhile the Thrush 
Began calm-throated." Keats. 

The thrush is pre-eminently our bird of spring. While 
the snow-drops, the " Fair Maids of February," are still in 
early bloom, and before the crocus has lit its points of flame 
or the primrose its pale fires, and while " the daffodils that 
come before the swallow dares " are scarcely in their bud, 
the thrush has burst forth in full song, its burden the " news 
of buds and blossoming." There is little that is green yet 
in copse and hedge : few tiowers worth a child's picking are 
to be seen. But he is too full of his olad evanoel to be able 
to keep from singing, and from the tufted larch 

" Rarely pipes the mounted thrush." 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



15 



Some naturalists want us to call it a migrant, and in proof 
of their argument, tell us of the multitudes that pass over 
Heligoland at a certain time of the year. But against this. 




let every one who has a gar- 
den where thrushes build, bear 
witness how, in the hardest 
winters, the dead birds are 
picked up among the laurels, 
starved or frozen to death. This 
alone demolishes the miorant 
theory. That numbers do leave 
England in winter may be true enough ; it is the overflow 
of population. 

Indeed, if the superfluous songsters did not go away 
(and the Wild Birds' Protection Act remained in force), we 
should be smothered with thrushes. I know, for instance, 
of a little " place " in the country, some thirty acres all 



1 6 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

told, garden, shrubberies, orchards, spnineys, and meadow, 
where birds are tempted to come by the planting of 
fruit bushes and strawberry-beds in all directions, by the 
numbers of elder trees and mountain ash set out, by the 
encouragement of blackberries and dog-roses wherever they 
can be allowed to grow, and where birds are tempted to stay 
in winter by liberal scatterings of grain-foods and table-scraps. 
Within this little estate there were one year forty nests of 
thrush and blackbird. Now supposing these birds bred only 
once in the year, which is very improbable, and reared only 
three birds apiece, which is equally so, and that half were 
killed or died during the year, there would then be left twice 
as many thrushes as in the year before. Forty pairs would 
become eighty ; eighty, a hundred and sixty ; a hundred and 
sixty, three hundred and twenty, and so on till five years 
later there would be over ten thousand pairs of thrushes 
(allowing all along for the same excessive proportion 
of casualties), breeding on thirty acres, and if each pair 
hatched five birds, there would be fifty thousand thrushes 
all together ! 

So it is well that thoughtful Nature leads off vast colonies 
every year. Those that happen to stop to rest on Heligoland 
stop there for good and all, for the Heligolanders eat them. 
Those that get farther fare no better, for everybody eats 
them, Belgian and Dutchman, Frenchman. Spaniard and 
Portuguese, German, Swiss, Italian. And it is really a 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 19 

mercy that they do. For if all the thrushes that leave us 
were to come back again, the consequences would be simply 
disastrous. Suppose all the human emigrants from Great 
Britain were to come back again ! The population of these 
islands would be sitting three deep on top of one another. 

No, the thrush is not a micrrant in the sense that the 
nightingale is or the turtle-dove. By a wise dispensation 
of Nature the superfluous increment is drafted off annually. 
But the same number that sing in the garden in March 
sing every month in the year till March comes round again. 

There is, I confess it, something very pleasing in the 
thought that a particular turtle-dove, all the time that it was 
enjoying itself in the palm-gardens by Cairo, or among the 
arbutus and olives of Athens, should keep in its memory a 
particular tree in my garden in England, and in spite of all 
temptations should come straight back to it every summer. 
For such fidelity I am cordially grateful, and I appreciate 
the dainty little bird's soft purring in the copse all the better 
for its pretty compliment of remembrance. 

So with the nightingale, that, out of all the whole world, 
prefers an old juniper near my house to nest in, and that 
sits and sings gloriously every night as if in requital of my 
hospitality. I am proud of the small brown bird's preference 
for my garden over others, and proud of my neighbour's 
envy, whose garden the nightingale — " dear angel of the 
Spring," "the dearling of the somer's pryde " — never visits. 



20 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

And I take care that the rites shall not be violated ; that 
my guests shall never have cause to regret their choice. 

But they cannot stay with us. They come when our 
daffodils are all abloom, and go when the roses are fading. 
It is a far cry from London to Magdala, but the nightingale 
goes away even farther than that, and then in the Spring it 
turns northward again, and, by-and-by, with myriads of other 
birds, comes back to us to find the lilacs in flower, and the 
home-staying thrush with young ones already in the nest. 

And they come in strange company. Sometimes the wild 
swan, quite an island for the little birds, flies winnowing 
the air beside them ; sometimes a flight of hawks, but with 
their minds too full of their journey to think of harming their 
small fellow-voyagers ; always with the sound of a multitude 
about them, and the murmuring of innumerable wings. 
Pitch dark the night, but somewhere or another is a leader, 
and they follow, wild duck and swallow, sea-fowl and dove, 
broad-winged geese and tiny gold-crest wrens, an instinct- 
driven mob that, in spite of all perils of storm and of distance, 
keeps its course, with dogged courage, and steers straight for 
the land that is to be its summer home. Lighthouses have 
become our best observatories for these annual transits, and 
the descriptions that are given of the mobbing of the great 
sea-lanterns by the hurrying flights of strangely assorted 
birds, are so curious as to be scarcely credible. What they 
suppose it to be, this bright revolving light in the dark waste. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 21 

we cannot of course tell ; but they have learned by experience 
that It means that land is very near, and so they all swerve 
in their course to pass through its rays. And those who keep 
the lighthouses tell us of the streams of birds that pass, 
flashing white for an instant in the glare of the lamp and 
then disappearing, and of still larger companies that fly 
overhead and out of siofht, fillinof the nieht-air with the sound 

o o o 

of rushing wings and the clamour of different voices, "feeling 
for each other in the dark," as Bunyan says, " with words." 



" From worlds unknown 
The birds of passage transmigrating conic ; 
Unnumbered colonics of foreign wing 
At Nature's summons in bold voyage steer 
O'er the ividc ocean, through the pathless skyJ' 

Mallet. 

I had been tellino- a child about the miracle of miofration, 
and when I had finished, she routed all my science by the 
simplest of questions, and utterly posed me by asking : 
" What do they do it for ?" Yes, indeed, what do they do it 
for? or what do they do \tfor? It does not matter which 
word we put the emphasis on : it is the same conundrum 
always from a slightly different angle ; only another turn in the 
maze. As the child got no reply, she helped herself to one, 



2 2 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

and satisfactorily remarked : ''Perhaps they vc got to.'' She 
had gathered from my description that there could be nothing 
agreeable to the birds in the migration, and, logically enough, 
since one only does that which is disagreeable from necessity, 
she inferred compulsion. But she set me thinking, and since 
science attempts no explanation of this appalling Kismet of 
the birds, I tried to find a reason for it for myself And there 
can only be this, that it is one of Nature's methods for 
reducino- numbers. 

At any rate, wherever we turn our eyes in Nature, we 
find her bringing forth in vast excess of her requirements, 
and then restoring the equilibrium by the institution of active 
scourges, or terrific epidemics of suicide. There is no need 
for the birds to cross seas : to travel twice a year from the 
Hebrides to Abyssinia. Do they want a warmer climate? 
do they want a cooler ? They have only to remain where they 
are and change their altitude. Do they need food ? The 
idea is preposterous. They leave their various countries at 
seasons when their food is most abundant ; they are then 
well fed, and are then strongest for the terrific ordeal before 
them. Besides, imagine a bird in, say Egypt, coming to 
England for food ! No, that is the least reasonable of all 
explanations. And no other is much better. So we have to 
fall back on the child's reason, " Perhaps they do it because 
they've got to." 

Twice in every year do they start off, these little 




.-I._il.N , IIIL ' KEAT SEA LANTERN 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 25 

pilgrims, along the broad highways of massacre, walled in, as 
it were, with disaster on either side, running the gauntlet of 
ambush and open warfare all along the line. The myriads that 
perish before they reach us are beyond computation. But 
the survivors rear new broods, the gaps by death are all 
filled by birth, and off they go again once more, giving 
hostages to pitiless calamity, and strewing afresh in Autumn 
the tracks of Spring with countless corpses. But I did not 
tell the child this. She would have said the birds were 
"stupid," and thought, perhaps, the less of them and the 
worse. 

So before we had got home I told her that "perhaps" the 
reason why the birds all came to England to build their nests 
and lay their eggs here, was because they wanted their young 
ones to learn the best of manners and to go to the best of 
bird-schools. " Some of these birds come from countries where 
the people are called savages, because their behaviour is 
shocking, and they have no schools, and so (perhaps) tlie 
birds come here because they want the little ones to be nicely 
brought up." 

It is not much of a reason, I confess. It will not probably 
satisfy Professor Ptthmllnsprts. But it satisfied my small 
companion, for she approved the conduct of the old birds. 
And when you can satisfy a child on a point that you can not 
satisfy a grown-up person on, you have got some way, depend 
upon it, towards the truth. There must be some advantage 

D 



26 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

in the migration of birds, or it would not happen with such 
pitiless regularity. But it does not look as if the advantage 
were on the side of the birds. 

And now to get back to my thrush. W^hen this bird was 
first identified with both throstle and " mavis " is a pretty 
point that some bird-lover might care to follow out. It 
certainly is quite of modern date, for I find Spenser making 
the mavis as one bird "reply" to the thrush as another; 
in poet-laureate Skelton's poem the " threstill " is contrasted 
with the mavis — "the threstill with her warblynge, the 
mavis with her whistell " — and quite as explicitly in Gas- 
coigne. Harrison, again, clearly distinguishes the two as 
being different birds. So that the thrush-throstle-mavis 
was not a single bird before, at any rate, the middle of 
the seventeenth century. And for myself, I should not be 
surprised if it were found on inquiry that the mavis was 
originally the blackbird, and that it is an old English word, 
and not a Scotch one, any more than " merle." At any rate, 
this much is certain, that Chaucer's English was " a well of 
Enoflish undefiled " ; and he sinos both of mavis and of 
merle as of birds that he knew. And in Chaucer's day, 
Scotland was a fearsome region situated " in foreign parts," 
and inhabited by a race of human beings who only differed 
from Irish in being worse. And Chaucer did not speak Scotch. 
But, as I have said, the origin of our bird-and-beast names is 
a very pretty subject still awaiting the philological naturalist, 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 27 

and when that curious person is forthcoming he ought to 
make his subject one of a very curious and lasting interest. 

Meanwhile the thrush is with us, year in year out, singing 
whenever it can, and persecuting snails in the intervals. 
For though it is fond of worms, and dotes on the berries of 
the mountain-ash, it has a perfect passion for snails. If a 
thrush is in a bush in a garden, and you throw a snail on to 
the garden path close by it, the thrush is promptly out. The 
sound of the shell on the gravel attracts it at once, for it is 
familiar with it. In winter, when the snails have all cuddled 
up together in some corner behind the flower-pots, or between 
the pear-tree stem and the wall, the thrush finds them out, 
and so long as a snail remains the thrush will stop. Nor is 
it a shy bird when thus engaged, for if you come suddenly 
upon it, walking quietly on the snow, it will hop off with its 
victim a little way and begin again tapping the poor snail 
upon a stone, till the litde householder is left without a wall 
to protect it, and is swallowed. And if a thrush finds a 
secluded corner with a convenient stone there, it always takes 
its snails to the same spot, building up in its own way a little 
shell-midden, like those which prehistoric man has left us, of 
oyster-shells and clams, to puzzle over. When driven by 
stress of weather to the seashore, it treats the hard-shelled 
whelks just as it treated the garden-snails, and by persistent 
rapping on the rocks, arrives at its food. 

By nest, and, above all, by song, this bird is probably 



28 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



the best known of all our birds. The blackbird is quite as 
familiar by sight and by song, but many who know what the 
mavis' eggs and nests are like, would perhaps be puzzled to 

describe the merle's. The 
home of the hedge-sparrow, 
again, is well known, and, 
after a fashion, its appear- 
ance ; but how many who 
hear it singing know who 




" /;; days of pinching icant " 



the small musician is ? So, taken all round, the thrush is 
the bird we are most intimate with. And how welcome it 
always is on the lawn, with its charming plumage, and its 
pretty, half-timid way of coming out into public! 'T hope 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 29 

I am not in the way?" it seems to ask, as it hops quickly 
out from under the shrubs, and as suddenly stops. "May I? 
Thanks." And out it hops a little further, and again stops. 
But why describe so well-known a favourite ? Tennyson 
has put words to its song, and the better one knows the 
bird's song, the more admirable the poet's words appear. 

And the thrush sings alike, with constantly changing 
cadences but with always equal melody, when the wind is 
blowing bitterly over the tree-tops, when rain is falling, when 
the night is dark. In winter the poor bird, diffident of its 
welcome, seldom comes to the door for alms when others 
come in crowds. So if you have a wish to be kind to it in 
its days of pinching want, scatter some food farther from the 
house, out of sight of it, and there, if you go cautiously, you 
may always see the starved thrushes gratefully accepting 
their little dues of crumb and meat. 



30 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



" The Blackbird ivhistles down the vale, 

Hoiv blithe the lay." 

Scott. 

" The Merle's note 

Mellifliioiis, rich, deep toned, fills all the vale 

And charms the rai'ish'd ear^ 

Graham E. 

The blackbird is the shadow of the thrush : you seldom see 
or hear one without the other : nor, indeed, is either of them 
often mentioned alone. Yet the blackbird is probably the 
more commonly seen. For one thing, it is a very conspicuous 
bird ; for another, it is not so diffident as the thrush. It is the 
blackbirds that you see flying out of the cherry-trees and 
strawberry-beds, but if you set nets for the marauders, as I 
did one year to stock an aviary, you catch quite as many 
mavises as merles. The former, it is said, are among the 
fruit " looking for worms," but I doubt it. They are not so 
bold in their depredations as their black cousins, but I fancy 
they are more sly. Blackbirds will fly away with a cherry 
in their beaks or a strawberry without any affectation of 
innocence : the thrush, when startled, goes off " empty- 
handed." But throw down a handful of fruit, especially 
raspberries, in an aviary, go aside and watch which bird is 
first at the feast — it is the thrush. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 31 

The blackbird and thrush are really two birds of very 
dissimilar character : the same traps will not succeed as well 
with one as with the other, nor is it so easy to rear the former 
as the latter. Country people declare that the mothers poison 
their young ones when caged, and a poet says : 

" The timid blackbird — she, that seen, 
Will bear black poisonous berries to her nest, 
Lest man should cage her darlings." 

Whatever foundation there may be for the belief, I found 
that if I caged a nest of blackbirds (leaving- the cage in the 
bush and the top open for the parents to go in and out), the 
old birds would visit the nest, presumably with food, with 
the greatest diligence, but the young birds would be dying 
in two days. The thrushes kept their young ones alive. 

Where do our blackbirds go to ? They rear in nearly 
every case two broods a year ; that is to say, there are every 
year five times as many blackbirds as the year before. Ac- 
cording to this, starting with a single pair, a garden ought to 
have at the end of five years fourteen hundred, and at the end 
of ten years, supposing that one half died each year, some- 
thing over hvo luillion blackbirds. Or, supposing they only 
rear one brood, there would be over seven thousand. Sup- 
pose the cats eat six thousand, there would still be the pre- 
posterous number of a thousand left. Where, then, I ask, do 
all the blackbirds go ? It is quite certain that each pair, as a 



32 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

rule, hatches five birds, yet the number of blackbirds does 
not increase. So that if we say there are only ten thousand 
pairs of blackbirds in Great Britain, there are at least fifty 
thousand killed or made away with every year. " Then, what 
are they hatched /or?" my child-friend might ask. *' For 
cats " would be my reply. And yet it seems absurd that a 
hundred thousand blackbirds should be hatched every year 
just for cats to eat. All of which is a mystery to me. 

It is noteworthy of this charming bird that it is an emblem 
of cultivation, as the sparrow is of civilisation. Savages only 
are exempt from the sparrow : only barren land from the 
blackbird. As soon as a garden is laid out, a hedge set, an 
orchard planted, the blackbird comes. Except within easy 
flicrht of land that man has tended, it is i\ot found. Its nest, 
again, has a curious point in its favour, for it is so well built 
— being a cup of mud strongly felted with moss and grass both 
inside and out — and, as a rule, in such a sheltered spot that it 
lasts through the winter, and mice are often glad, when their 
tenements underground become uncomfortable, to occupy 
them. At other times, too, they serve them admirably for 
store-rooms and larders. One blackbird's nest that I knew 
of, built into some very dense ivy in an angle of a wall, was 
a squirrel's garden-house ; not its regular home, for that was 
up in the pine-tree overhead, but a pleasure retreat for empty 
hours. But a vagabond rat turned it out, and made a " doss- 
house " of it, 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 33 

The blackbird's song everybody knows, but I have 
found that only the closer observers of Nature have noticed 
how it differs from that of other birds. Michael Drayton was, 
I think, the first : 

" The woosell that hath a golden bill 
As Nature him had mark't of purpose, t' let us see 
That from all other birds his tune should different be ; 
For with their vocal sounds they sing to pleasant May, 
Upon his dulcet pipe the merle doth only play." 

The old English somewhat obscures the meaning, which is, 
that while all other birds " sing" with their throats, the black- 
bird alone "plays" upon a pipe. This "dulcet pipe" occurs 
in other poets, and two or three, Wordsworth, for instance, 
speak of "blackbird pipers." It is almost the only bird said 
to ''whistle" and to "flute." The distinction is just, for it 
is, I think, the only European songster whose melody so 
curiously suggests artificial assistance. No voice is so com- 
pletely a bird's voice as the nightingale's, but the blackbird, when 
at its best, is the master playing on some exquisite instru- 
ment. So the ear that has once distinguished the difference 
can never mistake the blackbird for the thrush. It is, too, 
perhaps the only bird that sings its best in captivity. 
There used to be one in an inn in Epping Forest that 
outsang all the wild birds within hearing. 

Why do caged birds sing, if singing is the expression of 
happiness and joy ? That human beings should, by the exer- 



34 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

cise of reason, or the growth of new interests, by the lapse of 

time, or the consolations of religion, recover, after a severe 

blow, their original serenity and even light-heartedness, is 

sufficiently intelligible. But what would the world say of 

any bridegroom, torn away from the arms of his bride, and 

shut up in a kennel ; or of a young father kidnapped in the 

bosom of his young family, and ignominiously imprisoned in 

a fowl-run, who should straightway behave himself with the 

utmost gaiety, and exhibit to passers-by every symptom of 

happiness? Yet this is what the blackbird, caught in full 

song during the pairing season, does. He goes on singing just 

as if nothing had happened. It may be, of course, that the 

brief days of moping through which the poor bird passes, 

correspond to long years of human sorrowing, and that then 

hope revives, and the blackbird, remembering how song used 

to be "once upon a time" associated with all the joys of 

home and home-life, thinks that if he only sings long enough 

and well enough, they may all come back again. But surely 

there cannot be any happiness in that happy-sounding song ? 

Love-notes of birds are generally unmusical and often 
grotesque. When they are pretty they are monosyllabic. 
So the emotions that prompt lengthened melody are, as a rule, 
the sterner and unamiable. Anger, defiance, pride and 
possessiveness supply the motives of their songs. 

When a lion is amiable, he is quiet ; his loudest utterance 
is a yawn ; when courting, he grunts and hiccoughs ; when 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 35 

aggressive or inclined to assert himself, "just to let Africa 
know " as it were, he opens upon the world with the artillery 
of his voice. Is that the lion's way of " singing" ? and is the 
blackbird's song its way of " roaring" ? 

To take a more familiar case, it is only when the 
animal is in the presence of his own sex, and his intentions 
are the reverse of friendly, that the human understanding 
arrives at the vocal compass of domestic tom-cats. They 
then sing melancholy part-songs, out of all time and tune : we 
call them " cats' concerts." But if you will listen to them, 
and not disturb them either by laughter or missiles (as your 
humour may take you), you will observe that each cat is 
" singing " its very best. Very often no scrimmage results 
after the music is over, but each cat, satisfied with its exhibi- 
tion of its upper register, goes its way. If, while listening, 
you can also see the cats while they are singing, you can 
have no more doubt as to their own opinion of their perform- 
ances than when watching a blackbird. Female cats cannot 
sing. That fine voice is an ornament of the male sex alone, 
and whenever one male meets another — none of the other sex 
being present — they at once (if sudden conflict, giving no 
time for a "glee," does not supervene) fall to singing, each 
pitting his " g " against the other's. You may any day see 
two such encounterers, having sung their songs, relapse into 
placid indifference to each other's presence, just as blackbirds 
do, and depart harmlessly each about his own duties. 




Lions sing much .is 
blackbirds do. Morn- 
ing and even i no- they 
eet on to an eminence 
and Hft up their voices, 
informing all the othcM' 
lions in their parish, 
and the continents ad- 
joining, that they are 
going to bed or have 
just got up, and that 
thev do not intend to 
stand any nonsense ; 
that that particular 
eminence is their own, and no other lion in Lybia or there- 



" As iiian'i faiiiilnu gitists " 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 37 

abouts will be tolerated in its vicinity. If, while one is 
roaring, there should come rumbling along on the wind the 
voice of another, the vocal duet is prolonged ; but when 
the rites have been duly performed, "matin-song and 
vespers eke," they go about the business of the day or the 
night, as the case may be, without further ado. 

So, again, in the ferocious old European fighting-days, 
warriors were perpetually singing— not love songs, for these 
were delegated to professionals and mercenaries, but war- 
chaunts. Heroes of the Berserker and hardy Norseman type 
got up and sang whenever they were excited, as naturally as 
blackbirds do, but their singing must have been much more 
like the lion's than the bird's. Savage races at the present 
day, whenever they are unamiably inclined, fall to "singing" 
war-songs, which they improvise, music and words alike ; 
and to our ears their compositions are hideous. So, no 
doubt, the blackbird would think the lion's, and the lion 
think the blackbird's. Birds and beasts, no doubt, differ as 
much in ear as they do in voice. But reverse their sizes, 
and see the result. The emu bellows and booms ; there 
are mice that "sing" quite prettily. If the lion were the 
size of a blackbird, he would, perhaps, as Bottom said, "roar 
you as gently as any sucking-dove : roar you as 'twere any 
nio;-htinp"ale." 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



" Sival/ows obeying tJie South Sttmmers caliy 

Keats. 

Voice alone does not make a bird a favourite, or what 
could we say for the swallow, that has so slight a song, 
and yet, excepting the robin. Is 

" privileged above tlie rest 
Of all the birds as man's familiar guest." 

In the old days Rome loved the swallows as the spirits of 
dead children revisiting their homes, and Rhodes welcomed 
the bird's return with public song and canticles of thanks. 
And long before Rome and Rhodes, men said that it was 
the swallow that brought Noah back the leaf ; and the 
swallow, when Adam and Eve were separated after the Flood, 
brought our first parents together again, by telling Adam 
in Serendib that Eve was on the Red Sea coast. In later 
days it Is a sacred bird In all four quarters of Europe : " the 
bird of consolation " In the North ; " bird of the happy 
beak" In the South ; " the bird of the hearth " In the West ; 
and "the bird of God" In the East, Apart from all this, 
"the clime-changing swallow," slipt from the secret hand of 
Providence, that comes all the way from Southern Africa 
to hunt our May-flies, Is one of the oracles of Nature and 
the joyous evangelist of happy Summer. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 39 

We all notice the first swallow almost as soon as the 
first cuckoo ; for though the one bird's note catches the ear, 
the flight of the other arrests the eye as certainly. And 
what a flight it is ! Has it ever been computed how many 
hundred miles it flies every day ? For hours they are on the 
wing, flying at the rate of a mile a minute, and always with 
exquisite grace. Watch a bird crossing a hay-field, winding 
in and out of the hay-cocks, rising just sufficiently to clear the 
hedge at the bottom, wheeling round over the gate, and then 
up the lane, almost, so it seems, skimming the ground as it 
goes, and yet without an effort lifting itself up over the 
spinney, and so dropping back into the hay-field. Their judg- 
ment is so accurate that they never have to turn at an angle, 
but, always allowing for the curve beforehand, make their 
course with a beautifully easy sweep. When there are young 
ones to feed their speed is even swifter, their industry more 
untiring, for instead of breaking off in their insect hunting to 
circle in play with their fellows, or to race the swifts across 
the sky, they have only the one idea, to fill their beaks as full 
as they will hold, and hurry back to the nest. 

The swallow does not go back to its young with a single fly 
at a time, but with a mouth filled as full as possible, so that 
those who try to calculate the usefulness of this bird by 
the number of the journeys that it makes to its nest, under- 
estimate its destruction of insects by probably fifty per 
cent. Although, perhaps, few who watch the birds know it. 



40 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

the swallow's wide-gaping mouth is sticky inside, so that 
everything it catches it holds, and in this way is spared inter- 
minable miles of journeying. To see them at their best is when 
a hawk passes, and, for sheer mischief, the swallows chase it. 

The hawk is flying, as hawks can fly, with great swiftness ; 
but look at the velocity of the swallows, which fly round and 
round the hawk as it goes ! They hover over it, loiter by the 
side of it, make excursions ahead of it, and come back, mock 
it, in fact, as if it were an owl, or as hares might mock and 
mob a tortoise. And the hawk never even pretends to 
chase one of the swallows, but goes doggedly on its way, as 
fast as it can go, to the cover of the wood. To see the 
swallow at its worst is upon the ground : there it is a poor 
thing indeed, and from the shortness of its legs and the 
length of its wings, has to shuffle along, rather than walk. 

But it does not often condescend to walk on the ground. 
When it alights, to knead the plaster for its nest at a puddle's 
edge, or for any other purpose, it springs up into the air 
from the spot on which it settled. And its nest once built, it 
has no reason for coming to the ground at all. It does so 
from choice sometimes, where it suspects insects are con- 
gregated, or sometimes to drink, but, as a rule, it both 
eats and drinks on the wing. When it rests, it is on a 
house-roof, a railing, or dead branch, and often when thus 
seated it sings a very sweet, simple little song, loud enough 
to puzzle the passer-by, who can hear but not see the 




" Waiting foy the signal to start " 



songster, and pretty 
enouofh to astonish 
those who imagine 
that swallows only 
twitter. 

While the hen-bird 
is broodino- she is 
busily fed by her mate, 
and the compliments 
that pass whenever the 
two birds meet are 
very sweet to listen to. 

F 



42 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Every time he comes there is a scrap of conversation, and 
when she has eaten what he has brought, there is a httle 
exchange of twittered love-nothings. There are always two 
broods in the year, the first scattering over the country and 
eventually straggling away in small migratory parties across 
the sea, the second going with their parents in the great 
annual exodus in October. 

It is then that these birds congregate in vast companies, 
lining the telegraph-wires for miles, till they loop with their 
weight, or crowding upon every available foothold of some 
range of buildings. How irresistible the discipline of these 
little creatures is, as you look at them sitting there by the 
thousand, waiting for the signal to start on a journey the 
object and end of which is a mystery to all the young ones. 
You will see how impatient they are, how they keep on trying 
their wings by wheeling round in the air. With what restless- 
ness they take short flights and resettle. And all this time, and 
up to the very last, the old ones keep on busily feeding the 
young, as if they knew what a trial was before them, and how 
urgent their need of all the strength possible. Here and there 
are broods hatched too young to join in the great Hegira, and 
here and there nestlings with some infirmity that unfits them 
for boisterous travel. These are found lingering in our 
islands all through October into November, but the great 
army of the swallows musters at the rendezvous punctually to 
date. And there they sit in their myriads, but the whole 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



43 



obedient as one, and lo ! next morning, before the sun is up, 
they are gone, every one of them — gone towards the sea, 
towards the Nile and the Cape, gone till next Spring. For 

" the year is overgrown, 
Summer like a bird hath flown," 







ft 



CHAPTER II 

The Birds of the Months — Some Rare Birds and some 
Common — January and the Fieldfare — February and the 
Rook — March, April, May, with the Thrush, Swallow and 
Nightingale — The Terrors of Migration — June and the 
Ring-dove — A Wood-pigeon Problem — The Dotterel — 
Evening Voices : The Night-jars — July and the Skylark — 
August, September, with Grouse and Partridge — The 
Ptarmigan — The old Cock-pheasant — November and the 
Woodcock — December with its Robin and Wren 




CHAPTER II 

' Kirchup ! Kirchiip ! among the ivheats 
Partridge distant partridge greets, 
Beckoning hints to those that roam 
That guide the squandered cover honied 

Clare. 



It is easy, taking a score of birds, to construct a bird- 
calendar, a zodiac of birds, that comes very near the actual 
truths, and almost exhausts the list of more notable land- 
fowl. There are some, like the heron or the bittern, the 
curlew, the woodpecker, or the coot, that are not significant 



48 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

of any particular time and season, because they are not suffi- 
ciently familiar. 

It is only by some fortunate accident and in particular places 
that you may hear the lonely cry of 

" the heron as he spreads his wing, 
By twiUght o'er a haunted spring ; " 

or the bittern 

" bellowing harsh, 
To its dark bottom shake the shuddering marsh." 

It is a very quaint and ancient myth that the " mire- 
dromble " or " mere-drum " fixed its beak in a hollow reed or 
in the bog, and by '* snoring," "booming," or "bellowing" 
throuo-h it made, as Burns says, "the quagmire reel." 
Several poets refer to the bittern "shaking the solid ground," 
Thomson among them, in the absurd lines, " The bittern 
knows his time, with bill ingulpht, to shake the surrounding- 
marsh." But they are all to be traced back to Michael Dray- 
ton's description of how 

" The buzzing bitter sits, while through his hollow bill 
A sudden bellowing sounds, which many times doth fill 
The neighbouring marsh with noise, as though a bull did roar." 

It is altogether a delightful bird in poetry and folk-lore, 
this "bog-bumper " or " betowre," or whatever name we choose 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 49 

to know it by. The curlew again, a bird of the coast and the 
northern uplands, is familiar only to those who live near 
marsh and moor, though its weird, wild clamour, as it 
passes overhead in the night, is the source of a superstition, 
which, as "Gabriel's hounds," "The Seven Whistlers," "The 
Wild Huntsman," is common to all Northern Europe, and is 
probably the origin of that fearful wild-fowl that was the 
"trump of doleful drere," "the whistler shrill that whoso 
hears doth die," to which Wordsworth alludes : 

" He the seven birds hath seen that never part, 
Seen the seven whistlers in their nightly rounds, 
And counted them ; " 

and Moore : 

" Oh ! did you hear a voice of death ? 
And did you not mark a paly form, 
Which rode on the silver mist of the heath, 
And sang a ghostly dirge in the storm ? " 

All this, and ever so much more of quaint and interesting 
tradition, has its source in the impressive uncanny cries with 
which the curlews, flying by night, keep their company 
all safely together. The woodpecker again, Tennyson's 
" garnet-headed yaffingale," the bird of Picus the augur, which 
breaks with his crazy ringing laugh so suddenly upon the 
solitude, is familiar only to those who live near woods. 
Marvel has some excellent but little-known lines on the 
" hewel," as he calls this bird of many aliases : 

G 



50 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

'' He walks still upright from the root, 
Measuring the timber with his foot, 
And all the way to keep it clean 
Doth from the bark the wood-moths glean. 
He with his beak examines well 
Which fit to stand and which to fell. 
The good he numbers up and tracks, 
As if he marked them with an axe; 
And when he, tinkling with his beak, 
Doth find the hollow out to speak, 
That for his building he designs, 
And through the tainted hide he mines." 



The coot, too, is a bird only familiar to such as dwell 
near quiet waters — a whimsical and odd-mannered amphibian, 
that gives a very pleasing- animation to the sequestered places 
it frequents, for wdiether diving and ducking in the water, or 
moving with flicking tail about the banks, in that "jerky, 
high-stepping manner " which Dudley Warner disliked so 
delightfully in his neighbours' hens, it is a fowl of pantomimic 
behaviour that is very diverting to watch. 

Other birds, aorain, are too common to be sitrnificant of 
time or of season, though, among them are many of the most 
popular of our feathered folk — the beautiful and merry 
chaffinch, the roadside yellowhammer, the linnets that are 
everywhere, the delightful goldfinch and bullfinch, the sweet- 
song hedge-sparrow, the handsome monotonous greenfinch, 
the ubiquitous sparrow — " meanest of the feathered race," as 
Cowper unkindly calls it — and the dainty water-wagtails that 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 53 

everybody likes. Some of the wagtails stay with us all the year 
round, but most move southward as winter approaches, and 
when the weather becomes severe, cross the Channel to seek 
a warmer climate. In Spring they are one of the plough- 
man's companions, for often it is only in the freshly-turned 
furrows that they can then find the insect food they need, 
but later on they seek the neighbourhood of water where 
winged things assemble, and there love to paddle m the 
shallows. Often, too, they take flights inland, searching the 
meadows and garden-lawns for "such small deer " as they 
live upon, hawking for flies among the haycocks or amongst 
the catde that are standing at ease by the pond, or following 
them in quest of the insects which, as they graze, they disturb 
from the herbage. I know no bird that is more " bird-like " 
than the wagtail ; more dainty, delicate, and elegant : in its 
every movement it is airy, the embodiment of buoyant grace : 
whether on the ground or a-wing it is fairy-like, volatile, and 
wayward : running, fluttering, and flitting impulsively as if it 
were too happy to stop to think, like a child in a meadow 
full of flowers : a sylph among the birds, so slim and so 
sweetly-proportioned as to make its little companions look 
burly and thick-set : so prettily timid in its demeanour that 
the rest seem almost aggressive ; in a word, a bird of birds. 

But between the familiar and unfamiliar there are just 
enough birds, well known to all of us, that fit the seasons 
and the months with a rather special appropriateness. 



54 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

For the months there is the fieldfare for January, the rook 
for February, the thrush for March, the swallow for April, 
the nightingale for May, the clove for June, the king- 
fisher for July, the grouse for August, the partridge for 
September, the pheasant for October, the woodcock for 
November, and " the wren, the wren, the king o' the birds," 
for December. 



" A JJ^/ii/cr such as zvhcii birds die 

In tlic deep forests^ 

Shelley. 

" Now various birds in melting concert sing, 
And hail the beauty of the opening Spring. 

Savage. 

The fieldfares comes to us late in the year, and in January, 
if the weather be very hard, are often the most conspicuous 
wild birds of the month. Most people mistake them for 
missel-thrushes, as they travel about in companies over the 
snow-covered fields, ransacking the hedges in such methodical 
fashion for the hawthorn berries, or scattering over open 
patches of ground in quest of seeds or insects. This mistake, 
doubtless, saves many of their lives, for those who would not 
shoot our native missel-thrushes in the snow, might have no 
compunction in bagging the strangers from abroad, who bring 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 55 

with them such a reputation for the table as the fieldfares, and 
who, it might be urged, are poaching on the scanty winter- 
provisions of thrush and blackbird — " the hawthorn's berries 
red, with which the fieldfare, wintry guest, is fed," and 
which, if it had stayed at home, would help to keep our own 
song-birds alive through the pinch of the year. 

In February the rooks have repossessed themselves of their 
old haunts : 

" His airy nursery in the neighbouring ehn 
Constructs the social rook, and makes the grove 
That girds the crumbUng edifice around, 
And every angle of its ruined pile. 
With the bass note of his harsh love resound. 

HURDIS. 

" Lofty elms and venerable oaks 
Invite the rook, who high amid the boughs 
In early Spring his airy nursery builds, 
And ceaseless caws amusive." 

Thomson 

" Soothed by the genial warmth, the cawing rook 
Anticipates the Spring, selects her mate. 
Haunts her tall nest-trees, and with sedulous care 
Repairs her wicker eyrie tempest-torn." 

Gilbert White. 

And so to March and " the throstle with his note so true " ; 
and April, when " the swallow knows her time, and on the 
vernal breezes wings her way, o'er mountain, plain, and far- 
extending seas, from Afric's torrid sands to Britain's shore, 
before the cuckoo"; and May, "with the darling of the 



56 B[RDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Summer's pride, fair Philomel," " the dear good angel of 
the Spring, the nightingale," and 

" All vital things that wake to bring 
News of buds and blossoming." 

With the swallow and the nightingale, many other birds 
" transmiofratinof come, unnumbered colonies on foreio-n win^ 
at Nature's summons." 

From every quarter the aliens, if birds bred on British soil 
by British-born parents can be called such, converge upon our 
coasts, just as if England were the centre of a circle at which 
all the birds who spend the rest of the year upon its circum- 
ference congregate for the nesting season, reaching the same 
point at the same time, but travelling, each company, on a 
radius of its own. 

I have often wondered that migration is not more 
often looked at through the other end of the telescope, 
and Great Britain called the "home," for instance, of the 
nio-htineale. What makes " home " for a bird ? Is it not the 
place where the nest is built and the young are reared ? For 
the rest of the year the families travel "abroad," returning 
"home" for all that makes life important and domestic. Their 
fixed addresses are in England, their names are in British 
directories as residing there. But their doctors w^ill not let 
them winter "at home," and so they have to go on to the 
Continent, or to even warmer latitudes, for the colder months 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 57 

of the year. I myself entertain, and often express, a grudge 
against the " migrants" for staying only so long as it is fine ; 
but as often as I do so, my conscience reproaches me, for, 
after eill, the nightingale shows its affection for its birthplace 
by coming back to it ; and, " in spite of all temptations to 
belong to other nations," remains a true-born English bird. 
What more could it do? It might certainly stay and freeze 
to death. But why should we expect nightingales to do more 
than we expect men and women to do ? Which of us, if 
warned by doctors against the English winter and possessing 
the means to go abroad, would stop at home to die here, just 
to show that we are lovers of our country ? So it would 
be quite in keeping with the sympathetic and kindly 
tendency of contemporary natural history, if we looked upon 
the birds when they come, as our own birds coming home, and 
when they go, as going abroad under the inexorable compul- 
sion of health ; if we welcomed them in Spring as returning 
fellow-countrymen, and bade them god- speed in Autumn, as 
delicate folk who would, if they could, but dare not, stop in 
Britain all the year round. And who can blame the birds, apart 
from necessities of life and death, for leaving our shores ? 
Think of the climate they can always, by a morning's flight, 
enjoy, year in and year out, ''in foreign countries"; what 
range of space, what perennial abundance of food, and then 
calculate the force of inherited affection for the place of their 
birth that urges them, hosts of little feeble people, to dare the 

H 



58 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

appalling journey " home," to risk the truly awful perils of 
return to their native land. Had they human intelligence, 
and did they live by reason, not one of them would think of 
coming here. 

What human parents would think of wintering in, say, 
Cairo, if they knew that the railway companies meant to 
destroy them wholesale as they travelled down to Dover ; 
that the coast-guard and along-shore rabble were all on the 
look-out for them to take their lives ; that the Channel steamer 
owners were in conspiracy to kill them ; that the quays at 
Calais were swarming with avowed murderers of British 
travellers ; that every Continental line was run by bandits and 
brigands sworn to shed their blood, and every hotel and 
resting-place an ambush of assassins ? What British pater- 
familias would "winter in Cairo" under such conditions of 
travel ? Yet these are the conditions under which the nightin- 
gales come and go. Only they do not know it. If they did, 
" the instinct of self-preservation " would surely triumph over 
" love of country," and we should never see any nightingales 
in England, nor any turtle-doves — one of the most beautiful of 
our birds. But more of turtle-doves by-and-by. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 59 



" The Rilig-dovc in the eiiibowermg ivy yet 

Keeps up her love lament. ^^ 

Shelley. 

" Siiininer hath spoken soothingly to each nested Finch^ 

Keats. 

Their larger and more beautiful relative the ring-dove or 
wood-pigeon we have with us always, and I think it 
is conspicuously the bird of June. The young are then 
on the wing, and it is impossible, passing near their haunts, 
not to be attracted by this ornamental bird, which, whether 
flying or at rest, adds a grace to every scene. Above 
all, it is beautiful when it beats its way up into the air 
to a height, and then, expanding its wings, comes floating 
down again. This exquisite performance may be seen at 
almost any time, for the ring-dove sometimes has three 
broods in the year, and if, as Is supposed, it is a part 
of the bird's courtship, is as appropriate in October as in 
March. Both birds may sometimes be seen executing this 
graceful "manoeuvre" together; and It is, I think, the most 
prettily significant of all bird-gestures. Throughout June 
may be heard "the deep mellow crush of the wood-pigeon's 
note, making music that sweetens the calm " of the summer 
woodlands or the sudden clapping when the startled bird, 



6o BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

"on loud-applauding wing," quits its perch. Hardly a 
country walk can then be taken without seeing, either feeding 
on the ground, at rest, or on watch upon the trees or flying 
overhead, the handsome bird, in its plumage of lavender-blue, 
that seems so wild, and yet can be tamed sooner almost than 
any bird but the robin. 

It is an odd fact that the civilised sparrow, the most 
coolly familiar of birds, is the most difficult to make tame. 
The fact is, it is naturally vulgar, and no gentle influences 
can ameliorate the naturally vulgar. When at liberty, it 
will take all the liberties it can and dares ; when shut up, 
even if from the nest, it develops into a voracious idiot ; 
never amenable to kindness, always ferocious for food. 

Yet the wood-pigeon, one of the wildest and shyest 
of birds, will soon become tame, will feed from the hand, 
and when the miserable, suspicious sparrow rushes into 
hiding, will sit in the aviary unconcerned and confident of 
friendship. 

But note this curious difference. The sparrow in an aviary 
will breed, lay its eggs, and bring up its young ones, without 
any difficulty. The ring-dove may walk about at nesting- 
time with twigs in its mouth, may lay eggs, but let the 
aviary be never so large, it will not hatch its eggs. 

This contradiction in character is very extraordinary, 
and yet, if considered, there is no irregularity in it. The 
sparrow builds simply because it will build anywhere, and is 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 6i 

accustomed to the neiorhbourhood of men. But it never 
becomes in tlie least friendly : never even lays aside a sus- 
picion which would be unbecoming- in a Central African 
finch. The ring-dove, on the other hand, recognises at 
once a benevolent intention, becomes quite tame, and yet, 
during the nesting-season, cannot accommodate itself to con- 
ditions so outrageous to its nature. For it loves to build its 
platform in the most secluded spots, not always far from 
human habitation, but as far as possible out of sight. 

Again, in protecting its young, this timid bird becomes 
very bold. I remember taking a young cushat from a tree 
and trying to rear it by hand, but it was almost full-grown, 
well-feathered, and too old for the purpose. After two days' 
very unsuccessful experiments, I took it out on the lawn in a 
basket, on the chance of its parents being about, and the 
result was certainly as surprising as it was unlooked-for. The 
young bird, when we had all retired, began to show signs of 
excitement, stretching its neck up. and looking all round it 
vaguely; then it perched on the rim of the basket, and 
thoroughly searched the tree-tops, and all of a sudden it 
either saw or heard something that we did not, for it 
brightened up, stretched its neck to the utmost, looking 
excitedly in a particular direction, and then flew its first 
flight, heavily, but straight, to the top of an arbour. 
Scarcely had its feet touched the roof when, as if by magic, 
one of the old birds appeared at its side and began at once 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



to feed it. None 
of us stirred, and, as 
soon as the meal 
was finished, the 
old bird hopped up 
to an overhano-incr 
branch, the young 
one following, and 
so up into the tree, 
and from that one 
to the next, and the 
next, till, in a few 
minutes, it had 
travelled along the 
tree-tops a hundred 
yards away. Now, 
the old birds must 
have been waiting 
about the house all 
the two days, for it 
is hardly likely that 
the taking out of 
the young one on 
to the lawn could 

"The plovers scatter o'er the heath" have accidentally 

coincided with the coming of the old one to the same spot. 




BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 63 

However, it is a curious, and really baffling, commen- 
tary on the whole incident that thereafter two old wood- 
pigeons and a young one, before the household was up in the 
morning, and off and on during the day, used to come down 
upon the lawn and examine the spot where the captive's 
basket had stood, and which, after the young bird's flight, we 
had shaken out on the spot, scattering all the peas and food 
that was in it upon the grass. Every day a handtul of 
crumbs or maize used to be thrown there, and every day the 
family came for it. By what process of "instinct" could wild 
birds be led to behave so unreasonably ? Did they separate 
in their " minds " the incidents of capture and of release, and 
being unable to put one and one together, consider the latter 
as an isolated act of benevolence apart from, and quite uncon- 
nected with, the former, and so behave with gratitude in conse- 
quence ? Did they look on us only as the good Jack Stout 
who pulled Pussy out, forgetting that we were also the naughty 
Tommy Green who put Pussy in ? But the workings of 
"instinct" are not to be followed out by "reason," or what 
shall we say of all the other birds v^'ho, until we find their 
nests, are full of artifice to mislead us, and apparently most 
anxious that their secret should not be known, but who, once 
their nest is found, appear to lose all concern about the 
matter, and move to and fro as if it were the most natural 
thing in the world to treat us with confidence and be 
thoroughly aboveboard with us ? 



64 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Take the delightful dotterel, for instance. It will cro 
through all the deceptive performances of a lapwing, and 
weary out your patience with anxious devices for leading you 
astray ; and yet, when you at last discover its beautiful eggs, 
olive, with rich dark markings, or its downy little ones, 
almost the same colour as the eggs, cuddled together in a 
small hollow, the old birds seem almost to congratulate you 
upon your sagacity, and come close, as much as to say, "Yes, 
these are our eggs ; we were trying to show them to you all 
the time ; and this is the way we sit down on them. Like to 
see us catch a fly ? There ! That's the way we do it. See 
us run." Then they droop one wing and begin to flutter along 
the ground, as if hurt — ^just to show you how it is clone ; and, 
in fact, before you go (and over your going they unreservedly 
and unmistakably rejoice), will sometimes go through such a 
series of performances as justifies their proverbial reputation 
for semi-idiotcy : 

"The dotterell which we think a ver)^ dainty dish, 
Whose taking makes sucli sport as man no more could wish, 
For as you creep or cower, or lie or stoop, or go. 
So marking you with care, the apish bird doth so, 
And acting everything doth never mark the net 
Till he be in the snare which men for him have set." 

This was written three centuries ago ; but foolish or not, the 
dotterel is a very engaging little bird, and to those who live 
near its summer haunts one of the prettiest details of bird-life 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 67 

in June. Long after dusk, its plaintive note can be heard, 
now liere, now there, among- the tussocked grass, as the 
birds reply to one another from their sleeping-places. And 
the mist comes creeping up on to the moorland from the 
reedy mere beyond, and in the distance may be heard the 
voices of the water-birds settlinor down for the nio-ht amono^ 
the plumy sedges, where the grey heron, perched upon the 
skeleton of some water-loaf ored boat, seems to act as time- 
keeper to the ducks and widgeon that live hard by, and 
are under orders to be " within doors " by nightfall. 

Listening to the twilight voices of birds, the most 
notable by far, that which holds the attention longest, though 
it may not be the first to catch the ear, is the fern-owl, 
whirrinpf to his mate as she hawks backwards and forwards 
over the undergrowth, and turning in the air as she flies with 
queer sweep of the wings. Where there is one pair there 
are generally more, and the sound seems continuous, one 
bird taking it up from the other, or more than one 
"churring" at the same time. No bird of its size performs 
more curious antics on the wing than the "nightjar" or 
"goatsucker," and it is almost incredible that the creature, 
flapping and tumbling in such ungainly fashion through the 
air, when startled from its sleeping-place in the day-time, is 
the same that one sees sailing and sliding so gracefully after 
niofhtfall. 

I know a beautiful orchard where these birds haunt. 




" Seems to act as timekeeper to the dueks " 



and have often seen them 
He crouched along the 
bouo-hs, cowerino- so close 
that one day, going to 
sling a hammock, I nearly 
put my hand upon the bird. 



It slipped off the bough and, with a flight like a wood- 
cock's, sawing from right to left, it swooped under some 
gooseberry-bushes and vanished from sight. In the day- 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 69 

time, this power of sudden disappearance is the poor 
fern-owl's chief protection from its persecutors, for, starting 
as if for long flight, it drops upon the ground with a single 
instantaneous movement, and where it drops there it lies 
quite motionless — and everybody overruns the spot. Its 
wonderfully beautiful colouring fortunately assimilates both 
with the bark of trees and the bare ground, and the cleverest 
of dogs will overshoot it without discovery. If flushed a 
second time, it as often as not flies back to the spot, or 
near it, where it was first startled. At night, when it is 
feeding, coursing up and down above the heather and the 
brackens, it has a beautiful flight, and should an owl 
suddenly drop over the birches and begin to beat their 
ground, the evolutions of the nightjars in silent protest are 
as exquisite as any sea-bird's. 

To July belongs the skylark, a bird really of all the year, 
but most intimately somehow the genius of the meadow. 
The hay has been cut, the first brood of young are flown, 
and the larks are again building, renewing the Spring with 
the aftermath of grass. The glorious growth of the meadow, 
spangled with ox-eye daisy and corn-flower, has been laid 
low, and the scented harvest has been carted, and the larks 
are busier than ever in the smooth-shorn field, while the 
sky seems never so full of their song as when the hay- 
makers are afield. The scythe and the terrible machine, 
and the tramp of feet behind them, are fatal to many a brood, 



70 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

but the majority escape, being on the wing, or, at any rate, 
running with their parents safely out of danger, by the time 
that the mowers come. 



And the glossj' finches chatter 
Up and down, np and down. 
And the chaffinch idly sitteth 
With her mate upon the sheaves, 
And tlic wistful robin flitteth 
Over beds of vellow leaves," 



" The Moorcock springs on ivlurring ivings 

Among the blooming heather ^ 

Burns. 

August is, by sad right, the month of the grouse — a month 
of catastrophe, for it is then in the best of its health, enjoying 
the best of the moor and harvest, when the fateful Twelfth 
comes round ; and after the day is over, horrid with perpetual 
guns, 

" at the close of eve 
She gathers in, mournful, her brood dispersed 
By murderous sport, and o'er the remnant spreads 
Fondly her wings." 

It is now, too, that the ptarmigan collect into large parties, 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 71 

and, forsaking the highlands, wander lower in search of 
more varied food : unwise in their generation, for in the higher 
altitudes they were comparatively safe from many of the 
perils that beset the grouse. True, when they were up 
among the clouds they were in the demesnes of the eagle, 
who thinned their company as they fed upon the shoots of 
heather and lino- orrowinof in tufts amonof the rocks or in 
broad patches down some sunny slope — 



Where the grouse lead their coveys 
Thro' the heather to feed." 



How silently and swiftly the birds of prey come wheeling 
round the curve of the cliff, and, skimming the ground, pick up 
and carry off one of a covey before even its companions can 
collect their wits to raise an alarm. So in India I have seen the 
laggar falcon take up a quail and pass on like some shadow, 
without disturbing the rest, as silent, literally, as the wind, 
and with an incredible speed. Yet to watch an eagle beating 
round the base of a hill there seems too much leisureliness for 
speed. But time its flight, and you will find that though the 
beats of its wings seem at long intervals it is really going 
by with great velocity. Its home, and its favourite watch- 
tower, for birds of prey have always some one spot to which, 
when they wish to be idle, they find their way, is some lofty 
crag. There seated aloft, they overlook the lowlands where 



72 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

they find their food, without danger of molestation while in 
repose. For it Is always up on the peaks, sometimes looking 
seaward over the nations of the sea-fowl, but generally inland, 
where, when the clouds leave it an unbroken prospect, it 
can sit, like some fierce old w^arden of the marches, to control 
the tribes of the valley. It feeds by choice upon lambs, on 
fawns and hares ; so that, though the ptarmigan and grouse 
pay tribute, they are not harried by the eagle. 

When they wander lower down the slopes the game- 
birds come within the earldom of the falcon, the pere- 
grine, a terrible bird, as fierce as it is swift, and for ever 
ranging the moors in quest of food. I have known it, in 
India, chase its quarry right among the tents of the camp, 
kill it within a few feet of the tethered horses and their 
attendants, and carry off its prey before there was sense 
enough among the onlookers to snatch up a gun. When 
trained they are still as highly prized as of old in England, 
and at Dholpur I have seen it flown, from the hand, at both 
egret and duck, and marvelled, the last time as much as the 
first, at the terrific velocity of its swoop. It seems, too, as if 
the bird struck its prey with its beak, whereas it always strikes 
with its talons, striking and clutching almost simultaneously. 
The fearful impact breaks the quarry's back, and enables 
the falcon, if it chooses, to continue its flight with the dead 
bird in its grasp, without coming to the ground at all. 

In England, owing to increased cultivation and the en- 




" JN THE EARLDOM OF THE FALCON" 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 75 

closure of land, falconry is virtually an extinct form of sport, 
and the few rich men who still keep the flame alive have 
mitiofated the horrors which aroused the indignation of 
Gifford. "Humanity," says he, "has seldom obtained a 
greater triumph than in the abolition of this execrable 
pursuit." . . . "The blood runs cold while we peruse the 
calm instructions of the brutal falconer, to impale, tie down, 
fasten by the beak, break the legs and wings of living 
pigeons, herns and herons, for the hourly exercise of the 
hawk, who was thus enabled to pull them to pieces without 
resistance." 

At one time, being protected, all " British " hawks were 
common in Enorland, and showed no more fear of man than 
they do at the present day in India. Indeed, they seemed to 
display rather a preference for his neighbourhood, following him 
when in the field, breeding familiarly in buildings, and making 
dove-cots and poultry-yards their feeding-ground. But now, 
having learned by a couple of centuries of persecution that they 
have become unpopular, the hawks avoid humanity and all its 
ways. Even the common species keep out of sight as much 
as possible, and some have left the country altogether, or 
retired to the wildest portions of the islands. The peregrine, 
for instance. Is found at times only here and there in Scotland — 
and occasionally on cliffs on the Cornish, Welsh, or Cumbrian 
coasts — and Its eyrie is there, as a rule, in the midst of the 
most desolate scenery. Like the eagle, it has its favourite 



jS BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

" post of observation," and when full-fed and at Its ease loves 
to bask there, and froni its elevated seat survey the proceed- 
ings of the dwellers at meaner altitudes, upon whom it makes 
regular forays, and who, strange to say, seem to submit to 
this assertion of manorial rights with the minimum of protest 
and disturbance — very much like the unfortunate villeins 
and vassals in "the good old feudal days" of baronial 
England. 



Ah, init-hroivn Partridges ! Ah, brilliant Pheasants ! 

Byron. 

September is, of course, by long prescription, the partridge's 
month, and October the pheasant's, than which there are no 
two birds probably in all England that invest a country scene 
with a more immediate Interest and charm. In a certain 
field through which I used often to pass in the evening, there 
used to be near a gate a large square patch of ground upon 
which the farmer had once stacked manure, and the hay 
never grew on it, only a wonderful crop of chickweed and 
plantain, with fumitory and other weeds. And every 
evening, if I walked carefully, I could surprise the partridges 
with their young brood busy after food on this open plot. 
As the fancy took them, they would be alarmed by my 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 79 

approach, vanishing- through the surrounding wall of tall 
meadow-grass in a twinkling, or they would cluck and crane 
their necks to look at me, and then go on feeding — all 
except the cock-bird, who invariably fled, and from his 
hiding-place would keep on making nervous remarks to his 
wife, who kept as regularly reassuring him with little com- 
fortable clucks that all was risfht. A little scattered chicken- 
food brought them very soon through the gate into the 
garden, and from the garden on to the terrace, where they 
came at last to feed as regularly and happily as ordinary 
pigeons. But when September came, and the guns were 
busy in the farmers' fields that lay outside their garden-asylum, 
the covey gradually dwindled away till, out of the nine, only 
four survived the season. The pheasants, too, were free 
of the grounds, and they were always in evidence. The carna- 
tions had all to be fenced in wherever growing, for the 
pheasants would not leave them alone, and they were very 
fond, too, of parading along the wall, and pecking off all the 
jessamine buds and tips they could reach ; but with jessa- 
mine we could afford to be liberal, and the birds were allowed 
to eat all they could. Not all that they would though. For one 
day, while sitting in a greenhouse, I saw an old cock, the 
most absurdly vain old bird imaginable, fall off the wall. He 
tried to reach a tuft of jessamine that was exactly impos- 
sible, and after many half tumbles and recoveries of balance 
with much wing-flapping, he at last made one more desperate 



8o BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

effort, just a little more desperate than before, and just too 
much for his balance, for clown he came with a kind of 
somersault into the garden. And to see him on the ground, 
how he shook himself and looked round ; how affronted he 
was, and how pompous ! If he walked stiffly before, he was now 
positively on wires. If haughty in demeanour at all times, he 
was now as superciliously superb as Tamburlane. He moved, 
like Shakespeare's peacock, with ''a stride and a stand," the 
very personification of magnificence embarrassed. And in 
obedience to his call the two hens, who had been staring from 
the top of the wall, astonished at the sudden falling-off in 
stateliness of their dandified emperor, flew down, and he led 
them off, loftily explaining as he went his reasons for his new 
method of orettintr down from a wall, and the advantages that 
the intelligent derived from such originalities of procedure. 




'^^' 



" Firm on her perch 
Her ancient and accustom' d seat, she sits 
With wing-couched head." Grahame. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 83 



" When first the vales the Bittern fills 
Or the first Woodcock roams the nioonlit hillsy 

Wordsworth. 

^^ Beside the Redbreast' s note, one other strain, 

One summer strain, in ivintry days is heard — 

Amid the leafless thorns the merry Wren 

Pipes her perennial lay^ 

Bloom FIELD. 

" Of various plume and chirp the shivring birds 
Alight on hedge or bush, where late concealed 
Their nests now hang apparent to the vieiv." 

Grahame. 

To November we ouo-ht to o-ive the woodcock, the aristocrat 

o o 

amoiio- our winter visitors. To see one in a winter's walk 
makes the walk memorable ; we speak for ever so long after- 
wards of " the day we saw that woodcock." An old book says : 
" Of woodcocks especially, it is remarkable that upon a change 
of the wind to the east, about Allhallows-tide, they will seem 
to have come all in a night ; for though the former day none 
are to be found, yet the next morning they will be in every 
bush." This was three hundred years ago, and woodcocks 
are not now to be found "in every bush," even though the 
wind (as it too often is) be east " about Allhallows-tide," 
although that "they seem to have come all in a night" is 



84 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Strictly true, as woodcocks migrate by night, and guns out one 
day in October that have not flushed a single cock, will the 
next day make a bag. At one time the bird was so common 
that weather forecasts were made from its habits, as in 
Grahame's " sure harbinger when they so early come, of early 
winter, tedious and severe," and Phillips' "the woodcocks 
early visit and abode, of long continuance in our temp' rate 
clime, foretell a lib'ral harvest." Earlier still, it was another 
name for a fool, and in Elizabethan authors this synonym 
for a stupid person occurs with other bird-nicknames with 
tedious frequency — gnll, rook, cormorant — and they are to 
be collected by the score without difficulty from, say, Nash 
and Ben Jonson, showing how colloquial in Shakespeare's 
day was the general familiarity with birds and their supposed 
characteristics. When smoking was introduced into England, 
one of the first names for the pipe was " the woodcock's 
head," the stem being the beak. But why the bird should 
have become a synonym for a witless person is nowadays 
difficult to understand, for — except that it comes and goes as a 
rule on the same tracks to and from its feeding-grounds, and 
thus tells the trap-setter where to place his snares with dead- 
liest effect — it is a singularly wary bird, and never taken off 
its guard. 

And so we come to December, " the king of the months," 
and its wren, "the king of the birds." \\1iy king? Because 
it was once decided in a parliament of the birds, that the one 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 85 

that flew highest should be king. The wren hid itself on the 
eagle's back, and when the eagle had flown its highest, the 
wren flew up a litde higher still. And "regulus" it remained, 
even in science, till quite lately, when some ridiculous fusti- 
larian rechristened it "troglodytes." Imagine the wren being 




THE OLD COCK PHEASANT 



" troglodytes," the same, scientifically, as the gorilla ! What 
a poverty it betrays in nomenclature, what a pitiful " superiority 
to imagination" to find that the wren and the gorilla are un- 
distinguishable to the eye of a Professor. " Diabolus " would 
have been even better, for science has got no devil now, so 
the Eno-lish wren could never have been mistaken for the great 



86 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

man-ape, and besides, in our folk-lore the wren is a very 
necromantic and wicked little person. The Evil One, it is 
said, once took possession of its body to serve his evil ends, 
and infamous enchanters have done the same. So it came to 
pass that people said it was a good deed and pious to kill 
wrens, and it is hunted to this day in many places : 

"The wren, the wren, the king of the birds, 
St. Stephen's day was caught i' the furze, 
Sing holly, sing ivy, sing ivy, sing holly. 
Sing heigh ! sing ho ! to scare melancholv." 

This is the wren, troglodytes, in its "demoniacal aspect," to 
use the language of Gubernatis. In its benign aspect, 
"the tiny woodland dwarf" "the wren with little quill," 
is a bird of some sanctity : 

" Malisons, malisons mair than ten 
Wha harries the queen of heaven's hen." 

for, as everybody knows : 

" The robin and the wren 
Are God Almighty's cock and hen." 

And it is in its connection with that other famous bird of 
December, the robin-redbreast, that the wren, " Jenny 
Wren," is, perhaps, most popular. 

Indeed, it is almost impossible to think of one without the 




JT W . \ \in\ I lllllll II iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiai II 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 89 

Other, for they have been sweethearts ever since English was 
spoken : 

'"Ah! Robin, 
Joly Robin ! 

Tell me how thy leman doeth, 
And thou shalt knowe of myn.' 
' My lady is nnkinde, perde.' 
' Alacke why is she so ? ' 
' She loveth another better than me, 
And yet she will say no.' " 

What an enchantino" entano-lement it is, this of the robin 
and the wren, and yet we know that It was approved, for 
when Cock Robin died, all the birds in the air, in sympathy 
for the dead and for Jenny — 

" Fell a sighin' and sobbin'." 



M 



CHAPTER III 

The Rook — The Cuckoo— Lark and Woodlark- 
The Sparrow — Plague of Birds 



CHAPTER III 

" The JJocking Rooks, by instinct's native rule, 
EacJi peaceful scene for their asylitni choose. 

Shenstone. 

Once upon a time rooks were called crows, and as the 
latter had a very evil reputation, the former suffered for it. 
Nor is the confusion still extinct, for unfortunately there 
are obstinate people in the world who will not understand 
that it makes any difference whether they use a right name 
or a wrong one. It will be very long before the water-vole 
ceases to be called a water-rat ; but until that time comes, 
an innocent animal will continue to be persecuted for a guilty 
one. So with the honest rooks. There are plenty of people 
who insist on calling them crows, and having given the bird 
a bad name proceed to hang him up as a "scare-crow" to 
warn his useful relatives off the field which they would 
otherwise rid of wire-worms and grubs. 

That rooks do some mischief is beyond doubt. When the 
ground is frost-bound, and it cannot persecute the farmer's 



9+ 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



enemies that hide in the soil, the rook will feed on turnips. 
When the potatoes are coming on, the rooks go down 
between the hills prodding in the earth for the worms and 
larvai that assemble to eat the young tubers, and, it may be. 




CROWS AT SUNDOWN 



eating many of them themselves. When hens' eggs are 
left undefended the rook will carry them off. But how very 
trifling such damage is as compared with the good that is 
done by this hard-working bird. I have myself allowed 
an acre of potatoes to swarm day after day with rooks, 
and when the crop was gathered it was a first-rate one. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 95 

After that one experience, and the absolute proof of the inno- 
cence of those rooks when in my potato-field, I need hardly 
say that when any farmer complains, or scientist asserts, 
that these birds do injury to potatoes when growing, I know 
he is saying " the thing that is not." 1 have also had eggs 
stolen by rooks from a nest that a vagabond fowl had made 
for herself in the tall meadow-grass. But was the rook to 
blame ? Certainly not. What right has a hen to go and 
lay her eggs in a meadow, carefully hiding them from her 
friends in the tall grass, but leaving them conspicuously 
exposed to every bird that files over them ? As for its 
depredation on turnips, what difference in the amount of 
sheep-food do the rooks' pilferings make in a twenty-acre 
crop? Instead of grumbling, the intelligent farmer should 
scatter a barrow-load or two of mangolds conspicuously over 
the field for the frozen-out birds to eat at their comfort and 
to keep them from pecking the crops. 

Indeed, there is scarcely any other bird that has more 
claims upon the agriculturist's goodwill. From sunrise 
to sunset rooks are always at work, following the farmer's 
men wherever they are disturbing the ground, and exter- 
minating insects that are thus exposed. At other times 
they are patrolling the meadows, going over every foot of 
ground with extraordinary patience, and we may be sure 
that nothing that moves escapes their keen inquisitorial eye. 
When the nests are filled with young ones, the destruction 



96 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

of insect life must be prodigious, for rooks are large birds, 
and the voracity of the nestlings is enormous. But so long as 
people will call them crows, and as the immemorial infamy of 
that name clinofs to it, so lono- will the unfortunate birds be 
persecuted. 

Yet in downright industry the farmer has few such friends, 
or the insect-world such foes. Up in the morning, before 
the dew is off the grass, before the lark is in the sky, the 
rooks are hard at work, disposing of the "first worm " and 
of the winged things of sunshine, which, clogged with 
moisture, are unable to rise from the ground. As soon as the 
men are afield, the rooks go to them, following them up and 
down with unwearying diligence, and tracking the plough, 
the harrow, and the spade, with the fierce unsparing scrutiny 
of inquisitors. There is no appeal from them. They hold 
their court upon the spot, and the summary procedure of 
their penal code is the same for all malefactors alike. 

In another respect, this hard-living bird is deserving of 
regard, for it prefers the vicinity of human dwellings, and 
likes to live as near man as possible. Next to a heronry 
the existence of a rookery is always considered to add a 
charm to an estate, and not without reason, for, besides 
investing the place with a fine air of undisturbed ancestral 
repose, there is something very pleasant and soothing in the 
clamour of rooks in the peopled elms. To those who care 
to watch them, the burghers of these "airy cities" are a very 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 97 

entertaining folk. All through the winter, individuals, or 
small parties visit their nests, just as if they came to inspect 
and report upon the condition of "their wicker eyries," and 
in February these visits become very frequent, the earlier 
birds pilfering from other nests to add to and strengthen 
their own. By-and-by the v/hole community begins to 
assemble, and the rookery is in most amusing uproar all day, 
for, for some extraordinary reason, they will not leave each 
other's nests alone, but for the sake of one paltry twig, 
Will lay themselves open to retaliations, which result in the 
entire wrecking of their nests by outracred neighbours, who 
though they are so noisily indignant at the thefts of others, 
are themselves each in turn soon after caught stealino- and 
punished. 

And yet somehow or another the nests, in spite of 
ruinous altercations, manage to get finished, and as soon 
as eggs are laid, the republic is as orderly as could be 
expected. But even then, no nest is left undefended. In 
due course the young rooks are hatched, and the truly 
terrible task of feeding five mouths is imposed upon the 
parents. But by constant industry they fulfil their duties, 
and by the end of April, or early in May, the nestlings 
scramble off their nests on to the boughs, and by feeble 
flutterings from point to point, keeping close to their nest 
all the time, practise and strengthen their wings. Their 
first fiight to the ground is a sight to watch, for the 

N 



98 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

youngsters are very nervous, and the old bird's patience is 
sometimes so sorely tried that, having coaxed them to fly 
in vain, she pushes them off the branch at last. Once on 
the ground they soon learn what to eat, and how to find it ; 
but the instinct to go to the parents for food is so absurdly 
persistent, that you may often see a rook that looks as big as 
its mother, hurriedly gobbling up its own worm, in order 
to go and ask its mother for hers. And the gravity with 
which the old bird swallows the worm herself, and then turns 
to the overgrown young one, with a " Don't you wish you 
may get it, my dear ? " is delightful. So tenacious are these 
birds of their old haunts that they are still to be found 
building in the central postal district of London, although 
the steady growth of the city makes the distances they have 
to fly for food longer and longer every year, while the perils 
they have to encounter on the way, telegraph and telephone 
wires, are annually accumulating. But there they are, in 
spite of growing London, and are the very first to bring the 
news to the city that spring is coming in the country. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 99 



" From the neighbouring vale 
The Cuckoo, straggling tip the hill-tops 
Shouteth faint tidings of some gladder place!^ 

Wordsworth. 

Lone after the rook, the thrush, and blackbird have 
told us of the change of season, "the vernal cuckoo " comes 
shouting "the same song to sing." There is no parable in 
Nature so hard to interpret as this bird which the ancients, 
themselves puzzled, placed on the sceptre of Juno and the 
shoulder of Venus. The poet who hesitated to call it a 
bird — 

" Shall I call thee bird, 
Or but a wandering voice ? 
No bird, but an invisible thing, 
A voice, a mystery," — 

was not in doubt without reason. For it is, indeed, a mystery. 
Without a sinsfle "domestic" instinct, dividing its affections 
among all the mates it meets, making no nest, caring for no 
young, leaving the country as it came, without kith and kin, 
it is a bird to wonder at and to puzzle over. How comes it 
that it lays so small an ^gg, and so coloured that it can leave 
it in little birds' nests without exciting their suspicion ? and 
what law in Nature makes the small foster-parents so idolise 



lOO 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



the little assassin who murders their young that they abandon 
their own nestlinors to their fate without, apparently, any 



hX 




•' In '^ome lialu of fan and hamUi. " 

compunction, and concentrate 
their affection and their pride 
upon the solitary monster that is 
left, the destroyer of the rest ? 
i\nd even when the thino- has 

o 

grown so big that its open mouth 
is almost larcj'e enouo-h to eno^ulf 

.,, i^:- & & & 

::^^) ' its foster-parents, they go on 

c 

"^ feedinof it and followino^ it about 

as if fascinated by the wretch. Those who wish us to find 
"sermons in stones, and good in everything," must surely 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND loi 

hesitate when they come to look for a moral in the joyous 
life of the "plain-song cuckoo gray." That it eats hairy 
caterpillars which no other bird dares to swallow for fear 
of choking, is certainly a point in its favour, and its ever- 
welcome " spring-delighting " voice is another. But neither 
its song, "its two old notes," nor its consumption of "woolly 
bears," gives human reason a sufficient explanation of its 
unique iniquity, or justifies its gay enjoyment of a life of 
perpetual summer without any responsibilities. The Psalmist, 
seeing " the wicked flourish," broke out into bitter song ; so 
might the poor hedge-sparrow and the pipit. 

With the cuckoo come many birds from abroad, and all 
of them welcome, for they fill our gardens and woodlands 
with varied song, and wage unremitting war upon our insect 
pests. 

There are not. probably, many people who notice either 
their coming or their going, for spring and winter are sup- 
posed to be sufficient explanation in themselves for the 
commencement and cessation of sonQf. Even those who 
have gardens do not always notice the litde singing-birds from 
abroad, for their plumage is very modest in colour, their 
habits are shy and retiring, and their songs always sung from 
the cover of some brake of fern or bramble, some seques- 
tered corner where only the vagabond butterfly catches sight 
of them as it goes flickering to and fro in its quest of flowers. 

Both garden-warbler and blackcap are more often heard 



102 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

than seen, and their song, by those who have never heard 
the nightingale, is regularly mistaken for that bird's. Indeed, 
when two blackcaps are singing against each other, the alter- 
nating songs seem continuous, and the strength of the voice 
and the extreme beauty of their notes arrest the ear at once, 
while, being so unlike the song of either blackbird or thrush, 
which are heard as a rule only from tops of trees, the music 
is at once called the nightingale's. Or how many of us 
notice the woodlark (a bird that stays with us all the winter 
through), even though its song is finer than the skylark's ? 

" A woodlark, o'er the kind contending throng 

Superior heard, ran thro' the sweetest length of song." 

On the wing, no doubt, it is mistaken for " the lark," but when 
singing, especially at night, in the shrubbery or copse, as often 
for the nightingale ; yet it is common enough, and if those 
who care to do so will, when they hear its exquisite song, 
stop and look round for the singer, they will see, sitting on a 
branch, a bird just like the skylark, but will notice, if they 
listen, that its voice is richer and its notes more varied than 
the laverock's, and that the bird shifts from one perch to 
another while it is singing, sometimes even mounting to the 
top of a tree, and thence, still in song, flying up into the air 
to circle. If you startle a skylark it will never, you will 
notice, fly to woodland for shelter, but only to another part of 
the meadow or into the next, and settle there on the ground, 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 103 

SO that whenever a bird that you think is a " lark " flies on 
being startled into a tree, you may be sure it is the "soft 
enamoured woodlark "—next to the nightingale the sweetest 
minstrel of the copse. 

"The woodlark breathes in softer strain the vow, 
And love's sweet burthen floats from bough to bough." 

A skylark, as every one knows, sings, as a rule, when in 
the air, but it, too, will sing upon the ground ; and in its cage, 
forgetful apparently of its captivity, pours out its song with 
the same enchanting gaiety as when it is free of all the sky. 

" What objects are the fountains 
Of thy happy strain ? 
What fields, or waves, or mountains ? 

What shapes of sky or plain ? 
What love of thine own kind ? what ignorance of pain ? " 

As seen in Nature, there can be nothing imagined more 
exultant, more heartily joyous, than the glad, eager way 
in which the skylark seems to spring up from the meadow 
and commence its artless canticles of praise as thanks for its 
happiness and freedom. Yet, perched upon a scrap of turf, 
in a cage so low-roofed that it cannot attempt to rise, it sings 
the same " strains of unpremeditated art " that so charmed the 
great poet, and live for ever in his deathless verse. Even in 
winter, on a sunny day, the lark will soar up into the air 



IO+ BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

"like an embodied joy whose race is just begun," and 
" shower a rain of melody." For some stay with us all the year 
round, though most of their companions go, and in such vast 
flocks that fifteen thousand have been caught in a single 
night out of a flight passing a single spot. And, poor little 
birds, wherever they rest on their journey they find nets 
spread for them, for every nation alike is agreed that larks 
are good to eat ; and so they go, to and fro, literally "larding 
the earth " with their bodies. Yet in spite of these periodical 
massacres, and in spite of perennial persecution for the 
cage and the table, their numbers never seem to lessen, and 
our skies and meadows are as full of them one year as 
another. And it is well that it is so, for wdiat should we 
miss more in a country walk than " the lark's blithe carol 
from the clouds " ? 

" Sound of vernal showers 
On the twinkling grass, 
Rain-awakened flowers. 
All that ever was 
Joyous and clear and fresh, thy music doth surpass." 

Yet, introduced into New Zealand, they have become a pest, 
ravaging the cornfields when the blade first appears above 
ground, and pulling up, grain by grain, every plant in the 
field. The goldfinch, also imported into the colony, now flies 
about in wisps of hundreds, inflicting serious damage on the 
buds of crops and fruit-trees. It is a severe lesson this in 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 105 

natural history that we have learned, trying to exchange the 
wild creatures of different continents. Australia is in despair 
over the rabbit, and the Colonies and America alike hold 
the sparrow in abomination. 



" The Sparrozv, meanest of the feathered race. 
His fit companion finds in every placed 

COWPER. 

When I was travelling in the United States in 1883, 
I drew the sparrow-line from personal observation at Omaha 
on the east and Salt Lake City on the west. From 
the one side it had not then crossed the Mississippi. But it 
was steadily advancing, the aggressive little fowl, from both 
seaboards, and while it had pushed forward from the Atlantic 
into Illinois, so from the Pacific it had then travelled as far as 
Nevada. The tyranny of the sparrow is part of the price men 
pay for civilisation. Only savages are exempt. In America 
it has developed into a multitudinous evil, to which our own 
grievance against the bird is nothing ; has dispossessed the 
children of the soil, and thrust its Saxon assumption of 
superiority upon the feathered natives of the country. 

Sparrows do not respect Congress, and take no notice of 
legislative enactments for their extirpation. Imported as an 
insect-eating treasure, they have turned out grain-devouring 

o 



io6 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

impostors, and presuming upon the affectionate sentiments of 
exiled Englishmen have become a veritable calamity, and 
practically are officially branded as "vermin." In New York 
and other cities, the townsfolk began by putting up nesting- 
boxes for the birds to build in, in the public gardens and on 
corners of buildings. But now, if they could, they would 
introduce a pestilence among them and exterminate the race. 
It is the same in Australia, and the man who "invented" the 
sparrow stands in the monument of public infamy only one 
niche lower than "the man who invented the rabbit." And 
"pity 'tis 'tis so." For the sparrow is not an unamiable fowl. 
The poet who blesses it "twittering forth its morning song, a 
brief but sweet domestic melody," went perhaps too far, for if 
there is one thing for which "the nightingale of our roofs" 
deserves persecution, it is the exasperating monotony of its 
soulless chirp, and thus it is that one feels inclined to echo all 
Prior's abuse of it : 

" Begone ! with flagging wings sit down 
On some old penthouse near the town ; 
In brewers' stables peck thy grain, 
Then wash it down with puddled rain ; 
And hear thy dirty offspring squall 
From bottles on a suburb wall." 

But in spite of its monstrous impudence, or partly, perhaps, 
because of it, the sparrow is really a popular favourite. Of 
course, no one takes it very seriously. When the cat is seen 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 107 

on the lawn with a bird in its mouth, there is at first a thrill 
of indignation and horror, but when some one says, " It's only 
a sparrow," the indignation is greatly modified and the horror 
subsides. For though the cat may not catch a chaffinch with- 
out reprobation, she 



may fatten on spar- 
rows without re- 
proach. 

Trying once to 
breed poultry, I 
found that ten spar- 
rows to every fowl 
meant double ex- 
pense in feeding, 
and as the sparrows 
were not starving, 
but only too lazy to 
ofo and find food in 
the fields, I had no 

compunction in ''harrying" them, though I would not 
allow any one on the place to touch the nest of any other 
bird whatsoever. Not that sparrows care for persecution 
when it takes the form of pulling down their nests, for they 
seem to rejoice at the opportunity of beginning housekeeping 
all over again, and, as I have proved by experiment, will 
have started a new family in a new nest three days after 




HOUSE SPARROW 



io8 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

the old nursery has been destroyed. What they detest is 
wire-netting- of too fine a mesh for them to get through and 
the spectacle of grain scattered inside which they cannot 
reach. It is then that poor feeble man triumphs over the 
obstreperous sparrow and can exult over the birds as they 
hop, chirping round and round the impossible feast. 

In London there is always enough food for the small 
creatures, and even in the hardest winter, wdien blackbirds 
and thrushes and all kinds of other birds, unsuspected resi- 
dents many of them, are picked up dead in the parks and 
gardens, the sparrow is not pinched. So that in the popularity 
of the sparrow there is no tenderness involved. Londoners 
like him because he is one of themselves, because he is plucky 
and self-reliant, taking things much as they come ; because he 
stands upon his rights, or what he has come to call his rights ; 
is robust, and never " down at the mouth." He is a dirty little 
ragamuffin, but not in the least ashamed of himself, for he 
takes his small smoky dusty person into the presence of 
Royalty with as much assurance as into a mews, and chirps 
as complacently all through service in Westminster Abbey as 
in a rain-spout in Shoreditch. The metropolitan cat seldom 
arrives at a sparrow, just as the small gamins of the streets 
never get run over by cabs. Their whole lives are spent in 
evasion, and they develop an extraordinary agility in escaping 
from accidents. I find it very hard to defend the familiar little 
fowl and almost as hard to accuse him, That he behaves with 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 109 

levity in places of public worship, that he is disrespectful to 
bye-laws and perpetually trespassing, is true enough ; but 
how can you bring such misdemeanours home to a bird who 
hops up a water-pipe in reply to your charges? In private 
life, too, he is disreputable. As a frivolous parent given to 
rollino" the eo"2fs out of the nest, and even also his infant 
progeny ; as an unworthy spouse, transferring his affections 
lightly, and often assaulting the partner of his joys and sorrows 
(and in return as often assaulted by her) ; as a bad neighbour, 
scuffling with his kind whenever he meets them — in each of 
these respects he presents himself to the severely moral mind 
as undeserving of respect. Yet with something of the eccen- 
tricity of judgment which commends to public regard the truly 
infamous Punch, who hangs the hangman, kills his wife, and 
throws the baby out of the window, we persist in looking upon 
the sparrow, with all his notorious faults, as a popular favourite 
and resent any serious exposure of his obliquities. 



' Touch not the little sparrow, who doth build 
His home so near us. He doth follow us 
From spot to spot amidst the turbulent town 
And ne'er desert us. To all other birds 
The woods suffice, the rivers, the sweet fields, 
But he doth herd with man.'' 



In one aspect he is altogether admirable — as the comrade 
of Britain's soldiers and sailors in times of war. Wherever 



no BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

our ships go the sparrow goes, and as the troops march he 
accompanies the army as a camp-follower, but finding his own 
rations. He is established in Afghanistan, where he weiit with 
Roberts and Stewart, and in Zululand where Evelyn Wood 
and Duller showed him the way. Like the Roman eagles, he 
is the ensign of victorious advance, and should I ever chance 
to go there, I expect to find him at home, by right of arms 
and the men, at Buluwayo. As they crossed the Cabul river 
and the Buffalo and the Nile with our forces, claiming at once 
from the natives privileges of conquest which our generals 
hesitated to assert, so no doubt they have crossed the Shangani, 
and amonof the rock-kranzes and kraals of the Matabele now 
rear the young which, under other conditions, might have 
lived in Covent Garden and died within sound of Bow-bells. 



CHAPTER IV 

Bird- Voices — The Corn-crake — The Black-Cap — The Turtle- 
dove— Carpenter-Birds — The Nuthatch — The Wryneck — The 
Great Tit — The Letter-Box Tit of Rowfant 



CHAPTER IV 

" Clamoring Craiks at close of day 
^Mang fields d flowering clover gay T 

Burns. 

Which bird-voice in Nature is the most expressive? Is it 
the ringdove's happy crooning in the green depths of the 
woodland ? or the nightingale's solitary lamenting under the 
cold moon ? Some might say the fierce, ringing cry of the 
Highlanders' eagle among the clouds ; others the soothing, 
homely clamour of the social rooks in the old Hampshire 
elms. Or is it some other ? For myself, I think I would pass 
them all by, significant utterances though they are, like the 
cuckoo's tell-tale note, the sparrow's familiar chirp, the glad 
carol of the skylark, the placid vespers of the blackbird, and 
the joyous matins of the thrush ; pass all these by, and many 
others, and choose — the cry of the corn-crake. Have you 
ever noticed that while you listen to the cuckoo calling, other 
birds seem to be silent ? The cuckoo, for the time, is the 
only voice in the sky. So it is with the corn-crake. When 



114 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

you hear it, it is all alone. A short while ago the whitethroat 
was pouring out its little heart in an evening-song, and from 
the copse came the chuckle of the roosting pheasant. A 
night-jar had been purring over the golden furze that grows 
up from among the purple heather, and on the other side of 
the spinney an owl, on soft white lazy wing, had gone by 
crying to its mate. Queer little noises, " flung out of their 
holes " by rabbits, and others just as queer, but more inex- 
plicable, from hedgerow and ditch, had told you that animal- 
life was on foot and a-wing, and as you sate on the stile, in 
the break of the high hedge, and saw the steam rising out of 
the clover, and the white moths, "ermine" and "ghost," flash or 
flutter among the sweet bloom, it seemed as if everything 
was abroad, the day-things not yet asleep, the night-things 
already astir. 

And all of a sudden the solitary corn-crake cries from 
the wheat. At once the whole air seems to hush : the very 
evening to listen. Crakc-crakc comes the cry, and there 
gathers over the scene an indescribable atmosphere of com- 
pletest tranquillity. Crakc-crakc. Far away, somewhere in 
the dip beyond the rise, sounds a sheep-bell, and the chiding 
voice of the shepherd's dog. But there is not a sound 
besides. Crake-crake. And the mist creeps up the corn- 
stalks, and covers the campions, and the air grows damp with 
dew. It is going to be another hot day to-morrow, just as it 
has been to-day. Crake-crake, cries the creeping rail, and 




THE CORN-CRAKE AND ITS COMPANIONS 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 117 

never a voice replies. And so homewards, up through the 
nieadow, hummocked with hay-coclvs, and rough to the feet 
with short grass-stubble, from which the sleepy skylarks 
spring at every step : up to the elms that shade the garden, 
and on to the lawn. The bats wheel overhead, their soft 
wings crumpling as they turn their somersaults, but never a 
voice in the air, save sharp needle-points of sound, as flitter- 
mouse calls to flittermouse. Only from among the wheat, 
now here, now there, comes up the cry of the rail, Crake-crake. 

It is a charming bird, sufficiently rare to make the seeing 
of it an event to remember all the summer ; the finding of 
its nest a triumph. And then to see the young ones ! — little 
black imps that run like spiders. Once only in my life could 
I have shot one. I was out with my gun, " strolling round " 
for the unconsiderins: evenina^ rabbit, when all of a sudden 
from under my feet, in the furrow that separated the turnips 
from a patch of lucerne, up got a bird, and its slow, clumsy 
fiight told me that it was a corn-crake, and for the sake of its 
little black imps I lowered my gun and let the poor mother go. 

But the corn-crake has done crying, or has wandered 
away into another field beyond hearing, and here in the 
garden the voices of Nature soon reassert themselves, and, 
resonant above the rest, the blackcap is singing 



" musical and loud, 
Buried amons; the twinkling leaves," 



1 1 8 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Whence comes this Httle musician ? It may be from 
Persia or Abyssinia, or perhaps it has only stepped across, so 
to speak, from Norway. But here it is with its nest among 
the ivy and periwinkles on the bank, and its beautiful eggs, 
delicious little mottled ovals of jasper, complete in number 
in their cobweb cup. It is odd how few people, even those 
who are " fond of birds," and have large gardens and grounds, 
know this litde visitor by sight, or even by song. And yet it 
needs only a few minutes' patience when once the blackcap is 
seen to watch it to its nest, and that once done it can be 
examined, as I have examined it. with a magnifying-glass at 
the end of a walking-stick, while it sits upon its eggs. Few 
birds are really more trustful in the places they may choose 
for their nests, or more courageous in remaining upon them 
when approached, than this pretty bird with the lovely voice. 



" Deep mounts the Tnytle in sequestered boivcr.'" 

Beattie. 

" The Ringdove in the enibozvering ivy, yet 

Keeps up her love latncnt.'" 

Shelley. 

Another bird seldom seen, or when seen recognised, is 
the turde-dove. Its purring in the thicket is mistaken for 
the wood-pigeon's by ears that are not on their guard for 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 119 

differences of note, and yet, if once recognised apart, the two 
can no more be confused than the rook's and jackdaw's. Of 
all birds I think it one of the stealthiest. Though building its 
nest where discovery seems almost certain for so large a fowl, 
it does its work with such secrecy that I doubt if any one in 
England ever saw a turtle-dove with a twig in its beak, or 
tracked it to its nest by its flight. I have found dozens of 
turtle-doves' nests, but never one betrayed by the old birds. 
Yet the grasshopper warbler, supposed by most people to be 
one of the most subtle of nest-builders, and by its tiny size, 
its mouse-like habits, and its concealing colour, so carefully 
equipped by Nature for security, can be watched home to its 
nest, as I know from my own schoolboy days, with unerring 
certainty. It betrays itself in every action. You have only 
to " locate " the small ventriloquist's cricket- voice and then 
lie down among the herbage and wait. From impatience the 
little birds are sure to show themselves, and if they are build- 
ing they hop up and down, twist in and out of the lowest 
plants, with material for their nest in their beaks, and you 
have only to lie still and watch. 

But "watching" all day long will do no good with 
turtle-doves. Whether building or not, they never tell you, 
and when they catch sight of you they fly off at once, as if 
they did not care where they flew to, or whether they ever 
came back there again. Let them go, but come back yourself 
later on to the same spot, approaching it, however, from the 



120 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Opposite direction. And if you flush them again, you may be 
sure that their nest will be, or is. thereabouts : midway, 
probably, between the two points of your approach. In a 
few days go back to find the nest, and if you walk backwards 
and forwards in the undergrowth, keeping your eyes upwards, 
so as to look through the bushes from underneath, you will 
find it, if it is there. For the hen-bird sits very close, and 
goes off her nest with a flap of the wings that is unmistake- 
able. Apart from this, if the bird is not at home, you may 
often find the nest by seeing the white eggs in it from under- 
neath, the yolks of them showing against the sky a delicious 
pinky yellow. For the nest is a mere ghost of a nest — a 
skeleton — and can easily be imitated by taking a handful of 
thin birch and hazel twigs and sprinkling them at all angles 
in a heap. Such a nest a pair of birds may easily build in 
half an hour, and this, perhaps, is one reason why they are 
never seen at work. Why they should be content with such 
a skeleton of a nest or how so frail a network bears two bulky 
nestlincrs and their mother, is a mysterv. But as Prior sines : 



" Each according to her kind 

Proper material for her nest can find, 

And bnild a frame which deepest thought in man 

Would or amend or imitate in vain." 



When they are on the wing, turtle-doves seem to like to 
keep below the level of the tree tops, and seldom, therefore. 




THE NUTHATCH AT HOME 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 123 

come into sight conspicuously. But I have sate in an orchard 
and watched them, several together, flying about among the 
apple-trees, and feeding on the ground, when they were 
unconscious of my presence. Their flight is singularly 
beautiful and interesting, for the obstructions they meet with 
compel them to make the most graceful and sudden evolutions 
to avoid collision. 

And I remember very well, how, as I sate there, look- 
ing up from my work every now and again at the wing- 
clapping and testily-cooing strangers, sporting and squabbling 
by turns, I heard, what I had never heard in that garden 
before — the tapping of a nuthatch. 



" Nuthatch piercing ivith strong bi/i." 

South EY. 

" Rap-rap, rap-rap^ I hear thy knocking bill." 

Montgomery. 

Tracing up the small smith, I found it busy on the 
trunk of an old Scotch fir, where it found, if not ants, a 
colony of some other small insects, for it was picking them off 
right and left as they fled along the bark. This bird has 
discovered that if it raps upon a bough, the insects in the 
crevices are startled from their hiding-places by the jarring, 



124 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

and rush out, like human beings after an earthquake shock, 
into the open air, where the nuthatch soon disposes of them ; 
and, unless I am mistaken, it is the only British bird that 
arrives at its food by a deliberate guile. All others, I 
think, catch their food by chancing to find it abroad, but 
the nuthatch accomplishes the effect by a reasonable cause, 
and frightens out of their chinks the creatures that it wishes 
to capture. Sometimes the insects only scuttle from one 
refuge into another, but the nuthatch rips the bark off in flakes 
and pursues the poor wretches from covert to covert. 

It takes its name from another peculiarity, its fondness for 
nuts, beech-mast and acorns, which it fixes tight into some 
little crevice in the bark and hammers open. Looking at the 
shells of hazel-nuts that it has cracked, I believe that it first 
pecks a hole, and then getting its beak into it crosswise to 
the natural cleavage of the shell, splits the nut with a sharp 
rap on the bark. Its beak enters like a wedge and, while the 
two half-shells drop to the ground, one on either side, pierces 
and holds the kernel. It must take it out of its vice to 
split it, for while tightly gripped the bird could only pierce a 
hole in the nut and not cleave it, and this is evident if we 
put the two halves together, for we then see that though a 
hole was made, the shell did not split. The bird had to take it 
out of the cleft on its beak and knock it on the tree. 

When nesting, it is not content with a hole that just 
suits it in size, but must needs choose a laro-e hole and then 

o 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 125 

plaster it up with mud till it becomes small enough. With 
the rest of the animal world the rule is to select what fits them 
at first, and failing this to enlarge the house to their needs. 
But the nuthatch has sense on its side, for it is easier to 
reduce than to increase, and which of us, if the sizes of houses 
made no difference in their rents, would not occupy by 
preference tenements with what auctioneers call "commanding 
approaches," and " noble entrance halls," even if we only used 
the back-door to come in and go out at ? So the nuthatch 
picks out a big hole and then reduces it to its own dimensions, 
and the little nuthatches no doubt, when the tree-creepers 
happen to come by, speak boastfully of " the woodpecker's 
house" that they live in, but never say that they keep the 
great front-doors shut and get in and out by the scullery- 
window. 

Another little hole-nesting bird, an alien not often seen, 
is "the cuckoo's mate," the wryneck, a bird of very pretty 
plumage, mottled and barred, and yet curiously inconspicuous 
when clinging to a tree-trunk. Should you chance upon its 
nest it will twist its neck about in an extraordinary snake-like 
way and hiss, a procedure which in other countries may some- 
times, perhaps, protect the small creature from capture, but in 
England, where tree-snakes are not common objects of the 
country, can hardly do the wryneck any good. At other times, 
too, it will pretend to be dead when you take it up, as the 
corn-crake will, but as soon as it sees a chance of escape it is off. 



126 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 




NHST1.\G-}10LE Ot WKiMiLK 



But when a bird 
is heard tapping in 
garden or orchard, 
it must not be 
taken for granted 
that the workman 
is either a nuthatch 
or a wryneck, for 
the "great tit," 
the "oxeye" of 
ni a n y country 
places, has the 
same habit of fixing 
nuts or seeds in 
crevices and ham- 
mering at them 
with its bill till 
they split, and it 
will also search the 
bark of trees with 
its beak in quest 
of insects. But 
above all the birds 



of our English gardens, not excepting the sparrow (which, 
though an insolent is not a fearless bird) and the robin, the 
ofreat tit confides in man and in all his doino's. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 127 

I wrote once in a magazine an account of how I had 
caught the same great tit nine times in one afternoon, had 
nine times put it into an aviary, and nine times had found, on 
going to look for it, that it was gone. And a newspaper 
critic of my article suggested that I had been mistaken or 
something" worse. 

But a year later I found that I had Dr. Giinther with 
me ; for in an article written by him, now before me, he 
says that he has caught the same great tit over and over 
again, and that at last the bird, discovering that nothing 
disagreeable resulted, coolly went on eating while the trap 
snapped over him. My own experience was in the hard 
winter of 1892. I had put out a long row of traps, and 
visitors were very numerous. Among them came a great 
tit which was caught and put into the aviary, and to cut 
the story short, nine times a great tit was caught and nine 
times put into the aviary. But when in the afternoon we 
went to look at the captives, there was not a great tit among 
them all. Then the thought flashed upon me that we had 
been catching the same bird over and over again. Then we 
caught another great tit, and this time, before letting it go, 
we marked its tail, and sure enough the next great tit we 
caught had its tail marked. So instead of putting it into 
the aviary we fixed the trap open to let it eat its fill of 
chopped fat and hemp-seed without molestation. 

How did it manage to get out ? The mesh of the 



128 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

netting- over the avairy was small enough to keep siskins 
inside, but the great tit, as we afterwards found, was not to be 
kept within the wires. It turns its body sideways, puts awing 
through first and then its head and then squeezes the body 
out — exactly the same procedure, that is, reading arm 
instead of wing, as the professional child-burglar's in India. 
If the great tit cannot get out of its prison, it commits suicide. 
For it thrusts itself so far throu^-h the wires or netting;- that it 
cannot move one wav or the other, and is stranoled. 

Dr. Gunther elsewhere gives an instance of fearlessness 
which is no doubt paralleled in animal history, but certainly 
never excelled, and for once I must break my rule and make 
a quotation in honour of the bird of Rowfant. So many 
vaguely authenticated stories are current that one, on such 
authority, is very valuable. " In the year 1888 a pair of great 
tits began to build in a post-box which stood in the road in the 
village of Rowfant, Sussex, and into which letters, etc. were 
posted and taken out of the door daily. One of the birds was 
killed by a boy, and the nest was not finished. However in 
the succeeding year, it appears, the survivor found another 
mate, and the pair completed the nest, filling nearly one half 
the box with moss and other nesting materials. Seven eggs 
were laid and incubated, but one day when an unusual number 
of post-cards were dropped into and nearly filled the box, the 
birds deserted the nest, which was afterwards removed with 
the eggs and preserved. In 1890 the pair built a new nest of 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



129 



about the same size as the previous one, laid again seven eggs, 
and reared a brood of five young, although the letters posted 
were often found lying on the back of the sitting bird, which 
never left the nest when the door was opened to take out the 
letters. The 
birds went in 
and out by the 
slit for the let- 
ters on the side 
of the box." 

Could any- 
thing be more 
charminof, more 
touching, than 
this } and does 
any bird that 
breathes English 
air deserve more 
respect for its 

delightful confidence in man, more assistance in its times 
of stress and want, than the ereat tit ? But it is not a 
bird that many people think of when they try to remember 
the lovable creatures that haunt their garden. For one 
thing, it is so restless that it seldom remains in sight 
more than an instant, and, as often as not, its crisp bright 
call is the only sign that we have of its presence as it 




THE TIT OF ROWFANT 



I30 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

flits to and fro after insects among- the tree-tops, dropping 
suddenly on to the ground after a falling caterpillar, and 
as suddenly skipping up branch by branch to the height it 
had left. Whenever heard, even in the depth of winter, it is 
cheery, crying out with just as brisk and hearty a voice as 
when the summer sun was shining. 



CHAPTER V 

The Owl— The Magpie— The Kestrel or Windhover— Haunts 
OF the Heron — Bird-Destroyers, the Gamekeeper and 
"Naturalist" 



CHAPTER V 

"Sad Aziola ! * many an eventide 
Thy music I had heard 

By wood and stream, meadow and mountain side, 
And fields and marshes zvide, — 
Such as nor voice, nor lute, nor wind, nor bird 
The soul ever stirred : 
Unlike and far sweeter than them all. 
Sad Aziola from that moment I 
Loved thee and thy sad cry. " 

Shelley. 

Another bird that visits country-houses with unbounded 
confidence in man, if man would only recognise it, is the owl. 
How many people know that if they will put little barrels up 
in trees, or among ivy, that the barn-owls will accept the 
invitation and make the barrels their home, brino-ino- to it 
many a hundred mice in the course of the year, and scaring 
away thousands more? Yet such is the case. And those who 
keep pigeons need not be alarmed. The owl will not touch 

* " 'Tis nothing but a little downy owl." — Shelley. 



134 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

them, and the owners, if they will take the trouble to watch, may 
see the owls making the dove-cot their perch and their 
starting-point on their sallies, their tower of observation, and 
the pigeons showing no uneasiness whatever at the coming 
and going of the cat on wings. When will the time come 
that gamekeepers, under pain of immediate dismissal, will 
be forbidden by their masters to shoot owls? As it is, this 
bird, which ought to be as common as the rook, is actually 
rare; and when it goes out to kill the mice and rats, which 
are the farmer's worst enemies, it has to sneak to and fro 
as if it was a criminal, doing something that it should not — 

" a furtive owl on stealthy wing." 

Owls, as a matter of fact, should be tempted in every way 
to live amongst us, and a reward should be given to every 
farm-hand who brought first news of a nest upon the grounds. 
That they do no mischief is absolutely beyond all doubt ; 
that they do an enormous amount of good is as absolutely on 
proof. Yet farmers' gamekeepers, many of whom are smiply 
poachers promoted to private employment, grossly ignorant 
and brutal men, are allowed to shoot these valuable birds 
as if they were a pest. Poor owls ! They had a bad name 
given them in the beginning, and, such is the persistence 
of popular prejudice and superstition, their bad name still 
clingrs to them amonof the class of rustic from which the 
farmers' gamekeepers are too often selected, the men who 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 135 

commit the very offences of egg-and-game stealing, of which 
they falsely accuse the owl. 

The literary history of this admirably useful and beautiful 
bird is a chronicle of calumny and ill-treatment. There 
is no epithet too bad for it in poetry ; it is deadly, dread- 
ful, wicked, hateful, fearful, fatal, dire, accursed, curst, 
unhallowed, obscene, and is called every kind of name, 
"bird of hate," "of the grave," "of death," "of gloom," 
"messenger of death," "herald of disaster," "foul bird of 
omen." " The screech-owle betokeneth always some heavy 
news, and is most execrable and accursed in the presages 
of public affairs. He keepeth ever in the deserts, and 
loveth not only such unpeopled places, but also that are 
horribly hard of access. In short, he is the very monster 
of the night, neither crying nor singing out clear, but uttering 
a certain heavy groan of doleful moaning. And, therefore, 
if he be seen within cities, or otherwise in any place, it is 
not for good, but prognosticates some fearful misfortunes." 
These are Pliny's words, and sum up therefore the collective 
opinion of antiquity. Nor has this opinion ever changed, 
for poets in our own century sing of — 

" Birds of omen, dark and foul, 
Night crow, raven, bat, and owl." 

Little by little, no doubt, the superstition will die out ; but 
they die so hard, these prejudices of the ignorant, that the 



136 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

owl runs a risk of becoming extinct before it is properly 
appreciated. 



"An impudent presuming Pie, 
Malicious, ignorant, and sly." 

Cunningham. 

" So have I seen, in black and ivliitc 
A prating tiling, a Magpie /light 
Majestically stalk; 
A stately, ivorthless animal 
That plies the tongue and ivags the tail, 
All flutter, pride and talk:' 

Pope. 

Another handsome bird on "the tables of proscription," 
is the magpie ; but it deserves all the persecution it receives, 
for though it certainly eats a certain number of snails and 
insects, it is far more partial to eggs and young birds ; and 
its audacity is so extraordinary, that only its death puts an 
end to its marauding, while its cunning is such that shooting 
a magpie is a matter of the greatest difficulty. The 
numbers that are destroyed annually must be very large ; 
but the magpie is a prolific bird, and withal so astute in its 
nest-building that it is still in the greater part of the country 
a common object. Its nest, indeed, is a fortress, proof against 
all natural enemies, and offering even considerable chances of 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



137 



immunity from man, for it barricades it with thorns, domes 
it over, and very skilfully conceals the entrance. Moreover, 
it has the sagacity to build, as a rule, in tall hawthorns, than 
which no tree offers more difficulties to even the hardiest and 




LONG-EARED OWL 



most weasel-bodied bird's-nester. Failing trees, as happened 
in a certain barrens pot in the north of Scotland, magpies will 
build in a gooseberry-bush, but finding this position excep- 
tionally exposed to enemies, they not only built their nest 
of the usual strength, but fortified the bush itself with a 
chevaux-de-frise of dead gooseberry-twigs, a foot in thickness, 
and impenetrable even by a mouse. To this stronghold 



138 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

they returned year after year ; but the cottagers, who gave 
the birds protection for the sake of their society, were 
compelled to confess that the only return the pies made 
for their clemency was to try to rob the hens and kill the 
chickens. 

Jays in many ways resemble magpies, being quite as 
cunning and just as destructive ; and even those who are 
most averse to the persecution of any wild creature are 
compelled to warn the jay off their premises if they wish 
their game to thrive, or the song-birds in their shrubberies 
to live in security. For this beautiful but unprincipled bird 
is a most diligent and successful bird's-nester ; and, in spite 
of its conspicuous plumage, so stealthy in its mischief, that 
a pair will " work" a shrubbery thoroughly without betraying 
themselves even to the Qrardeners. Even if the clamour of 
' the small birds attracts you to the spot, you will see nothing 
to explain their alarm, and the cat that you afterwards come 
upon watching for a mouse under the bushes is saddled 
with the blame which ought really to be fastened upon the 
pretty wretches that are watching you from the foliage over- 
head. The magpie and jay are, I confess, two birds that 
I like to see — on other people's grounds. On my own 
I should prefer them stuffed, and right handsomely do they 
lend themselves to the artistic taxidermist. In combination 
and contrast no two birds are more beautiful, and as an 
ornament for a hall or billiard- room are not to be surpassed. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



139 



For to the maximum of admiration there goes only the 
minimum of compunction. 




THE magpies' fortress 



But this is not the case with another of the brutal 
gamekeeper's victims, that exquisite little falcon, the kestrel. 
All day long it is busy at the good work which the owl 



I40 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

takes up at nightfall, for it lives almost entirely upon 
mice, and, these failing, upon large insects, especially the 
destructive cockchafer. It so very rarely molests a bird that, 
hawk though it is, you never see the smaller feathered-folk 
in alarm at its approach. "He is no enemy of theirs, and 
mingles freely with them, almost unheeded." Observe what 
consternation the sparrow-hawk brings to the little songsters 
when he is abroad ; but how different when the kestrel 
passes overhead ! The chaffinch, instead of uttering cries of 
alarm, continues his merry notes ; and the larks and pipits 
pay no attention to the little bird of prey. When it hovers 
over the farmyard, or hunts round the ricks, no anxious hen 
clucks to her scattered family any note of warning or recall, 
the sparrows continue at their meal, and the swallows, 
unconcerned and trustful, wheel twittering in the air. Its 
nest is sometimes found in holes in buildino-s where doves 
and starlings are its companions. But for mice of all kinds 
the kestrel has only unrelenting and ceaseless hostility ; and 
it has been calculated that a single pair will account in a 
season for the astonishing number of ten thousand. 

Its favourite method of hunting makes the kestrel a familiar 
bird by sight, and gives it its name of " windhover," for, 

" as if let down from the heaven there 
By viewless silken thread," 

it hangs suspended in the air over a given spot, until it either 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 143 

sees a mouse below it, upon which it then drops with 
Hghtning speed, or else decides that there is nothing there, 
when it moves on a little further and hovers aeain, thus 
beating a field or moor thoroughly over before it leaves it. 
And while it is thus engaged the gamekeeper steals upon 
it and shoots it, and, taking it home, the mutton-headed 
ignoramus that he is, nails it up on his " tree," in the 
company of that other good friend of man, the owl. 



" Long-necked Heron, dread of nimble eels" 

Leyden. 

" Unhappy bird ! our fathers' prime delight, 
Who fenced thine eyry round with sacred laws, 
Nor mighty princes now disdain to ivear 
Thy ivaving crest, the mark of high command.^^ 

SOMERVILLE. 

But the gamekeeper's enormities reach their climax when 
he murders that noble bird the heron. His master perhaps has 
a field or two that runs down to a stream, and in the advertise- 
ment, by which the thrifty farmer makes annually a few pounds, 
of "so many acres of shooting to let," there is added, the " rio-ht 
of fishing in the river so-and-so." So if by any chance a poor 
heron, strayed from the upper reaches where some nobleman 
or gentleman preserves this fine bird, comes on the farmer's 



144 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

meadows, the farmer's gamekeeper (it is sport exactly to his 
taste) stalks it from behind the line of willows and kills it as 
it stands there. He will probably get a shilling for it from 
the birdstuffer, and that is quite enough reason to him for 
destroying the heron. It is a great pity these miserable men 
are allowed to fire anything but blank cartridge. On the 
larger estates the head-gamekeeper is often a man of intelli- 
gence and a sound naturalist, and owds and kestrels are not 
murdered, and the heron, of course, goes free. But on either 
side of him may be a farmer who keeps a "gamekeeper" who 
steals eggs and young birds from his aristocratic neighbours, 
so that his master may let his "shooting" to some "city 
gents from London," and who, though there maybe a heronry 
on the adjoining estate, kills the birds when he gets the 
chance, because, as he says, he has to "preserve the 
fishing," but really because he can get a few pence for 
its skin. Sometimes a heron appears in a poulterer's 
shop and finds a purchaser who is curious in matters of 
eating "^ and wishes to taste a fowl that once was so highly 
prized as to be the dish of honour in the game course at 
banquets of State. 

But there are not, I fancy, many men, except farmers' "game- 
keepers " and their confederates the so-called "naturalists," 



* The proper sauce for it, by the way, was samelyn or cameline, which, we are 
told, was " a dainty ItaHan sauce, composed of nuts, bread-crumbs, ginger, 
cinnamon and vinegar." 




' Enhancing every charm by its transient bvilliana 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 147 

who would pull a trigger upon a heron. The admiration 
of Nature is very sincere in the educated Englishmen of 
to-day, and by far the greater number of them would rather 
see the beautiful creature making their estate its home than 
kill it. It is, indeed, the very genius of beautiful solitude, 
and by its mere presence raises the commonplace to the 
picturesque. 

Take a secluded bend of any stream, with its alders and 
willows, its wild flowers stealing down to the water's edge to 
see their faces in the glass, and yellow flags boldly wading 
out by their companies and battalions into mid-stream. 
The dragon-flies poise upon the tips of the reeds, or with 
rusding wings dart and wheel upon the water, puzzling the 
coot's flotilla of puff-balls paddling about among the water- 
daisies. The scene is sweetly pretty, and when on a sudden 
a kingfisher on sapphire wings comes flashing past, enhancing 
every charm by its transient brilliance, the pretty becomes 
lovely, and the little common reach of water catches a olimose 
of fairyland possibilities, and of beauties something rarer than 
of every clay. Then let a heron on its broad slow-movino- 
wings come up the stream, and lo ! the whole scene changes. 
It becomes at once unfamiliar, of another world, exotic. 
The heron's long legs are dropped down, the long neck 
stretched out and, almost as a spectre might appear, there 
stands " the bird so gaunt," its crest-feathers slightly raised, 
its eyes scrutinising the banks. Silent as the great bird is, you 



148 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

must keep more silent still. For it is watching and listening 
as only the bird can do that fishes by sound as well as by 
sight. If it is satisfied, the aigrette, "fit for the turban of a 
king," droops fiat to its head, the neck is retracted, the wings 
comfortably closed, and the heron relapses into that beautiful 
attitude of patient watchfulness that Art delights in. And as 
it stands there, motionless in misty grey, in the utter silence 
of the tranquil corner, it looks like one of the jinns of 
Arabian tales, for its being there seems to bewitch the place 
and the stream becomes haunted. 

So I remember once how when I was in India lying 
down in the jungle waiting for a bear to be driven, a 
sambhur-stag with splendid antlers came spectrally into the 
open space that my rifie covered. An instant before it was 
empty. Not a leaf stirred, and yet there, on the sudden, stood 
the great-horned stag, only a few paces from me, listening to 
the distant voices of the beaters. An instant later, and it 
stepped into the jungle again and vanished as silently, com- 
pletely, as a ghost. And I rubbed my eyes and blinked, but 
I know that it came and that it went. 

And where, to come back to our heron, is the fisher 
now ? A minute ago it seemed as if it would never 
move : a statue in feathers set up there among the forget-me- 
nots for the stream-folk to worship. But while your eye has 
been following that fat perch loitering by the side of its 
shadow, as if they were company for each other, in that little 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 149 

clear patch of water by the bank which a shaft of sunhght 
pierces to the pebbled floor, the heron, with half a dozen 
stately, noiseless steps has changed its ground, and passing 
behind that thick spray of willow that droops "aslant the 
stream," is out of sight. Come away, yourself, as quietly 
as you can : the poor heron is not often left in peace by those 
who see it. Be, then, one of the few who treat the noble 
bird with courtesy. 

It is not given to many to see a large heronry at 
breeding time, but should the opportunity offer, it is well worth 
your while. The size of the birds alone makes them inter- 
esting, and the spectacle of so many flying to and fro at once 
and the grotesque nestlings flopping about on their nests or 
standing grimly but with uncertain foothold at the edges, their 
half-humorous, half-wicked looks and gestures, will keep your 
glasses to your eyes as long as friends will wait for you. The 
noises that proceed from old and young alike are both solemn 
and comical, disconcerted fragments of croaks and squeaks, 
mingled with such discordant scraps of sound as a child trying 
to blow a coach-horn might produce. The young ones too 
keep falling off their perches, probably because the instinct to 
try and stand on one leg is too strong for their prudence and 
their thin knee-joints. They manage, as a rule, to scramble 
and flap themselves on to other standpoints, but very often, 
failing to make good their foothold, they fall to the ground, 
when the parents seem to lose all further interest in them. 



I50 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

To these accidents probably is due the superstition alluded to 
by Marvel : 

" The heron from the ash's top, 
The eldest of its young lets drop, 
As if it, stork-like, did pretend 
That tribute to its lord to send." 

In the old cruel days when falconry was for a time so 
" fashionable," the heron — or rather the heronsewe, hornsea, 
hornsey or hernshaw, for these are the older names of the 
bird we call heron and hern — was the fowl chiefly flown at 
with the largest and fiercest falcons, and the penalties for 
killing the bird, except with hawks or the long-bow, were very 
severe. But modern falconers, whose sport is now as humane as 
sport can ever be, have to be content with water-fowl for their 
prime flights. For the heron is annually becoming rarer as a 
wild bird, and before long will probably only be seen in the 
vicinity of private heronries, where the courtesies of country 
neighbourhood protect it from wilful molestation, and suffice 
to preserve for all lovers of Nature the charmine sieht 
of these birds, by some hill-bound tarn, " sole-sitting on the 
shores of old romance," seated aloft on " the pines, the 
heron's ancient home," or, like the spirit of tranquil solitude, 
beautifying the pleasant reaches of a river. 



CHAPTER VI 

The Sea-Eagle — Guillemots — Egg-Gathering — The Paradise 
OF the Puffins — The Stormy-Petrel — The Sea-Eagle's 
Victims — The Black-Backed Gull — The Skua — Among the 
Cormorants and Gulls 



CHAPTER VI. 

" The Eagle of the sea from Atlas soars 
Or Teneriffe^s hoar peak — 
The watchful helmsman from the stern descries 
And hails her course — 

She mounts Alp-high and with her lower d head 
Suspended eyes the bulging sails, disdains 
Their tardy course, out/lies the hurrying rack, 
And disappearing mingles ivith the clouds ^ 

Grahame, 

The following lines of Spenser's, though multitudes have been 
written upon the eagle, have never been improved upon : 

" An eagle in his kinglj' pride, 
Soaring througli liis wide empire of tlie air 
To weather his broad sails." 

" Sailing with supreme dominion, through the azure deep of 
air" — "Eao-les, Q-olden-feathered, who do tower above us in 
their beauty, and must reign, in right thereof," — but it is no 
use to go on quoting, for the poets' tributes to their flight alone 
would fill many pages. To feel the full force of them, to 
understand how little exaggeration there is in them, one must 

u 



154 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

have seen an eagle, unconscious of observation, at its ease in 
the air, 

I remember how once in India I enjoyed the splendid 
sight of an " ossifrage " launching itself from its seat upon a 
huge dead tree into the valley. Something below had 
attracted its attention, a kite perhaps, or a crow, flying 
towards carrion, and the enormous bird came hurtling down 
with a veritable crash of its wings. And then suddenly it 
checked itself in its fall, and opening its "broad sails" to 
the utmost, till each feather stood apart from the other, it 
silently floated away across the valley. The speed of its 
flight was prodigious, but it was absolutely noiseless, and the 
great thing, once launched, never moved a feather, but sped 
away in a straight level line, as if under the attraction of some 
invisible, irresistible magnet, to a gorge on the other side, and 
so disappeared from view. 

It was a most noble and a memorable performance. 
First the instant of impetuous downward plunge, so headlong 
that the wind fairly rattled through its plumage ; and then, with 
such spectral suddenness, the recovery of position, and the im- 
perial tranquillity of its horizontal flight. When the eagle's 
wings are fully extended, the tips of the long feathers curve 
slightly upwards, giving a singular grace to its flight and a 
very curious impressiveness to the bird's appearance, 

" sailing with supreme dominion 
Thro' the azure deep of air,'' 




THE EAGLE OF THE SEA 



The laro-est eao-le we have in 
Great Britain is the erne or white- 
tailed eagle — the sea-eagle. Not 
that it fishes for its food; indeed, 
it seldom eats fish unless it happens 
to rob another bird. But it levies 
toll upon the sea-birds themselves, 
harrying the guillemot and puffin, 
and making them its prey. By 
preference it builds upon the 
loftiest crags on the stormiest 
shores, but if it can find rocks 
inland that are rugged enough, and that overlook some 




156 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

stretch of water where the wild-fowl come, it will build its 
eyrie there, and scourge the surrounding country (not sparing 
the sheepfolds), to supply its young. 

They are not uncommon in the wildest parts of Scotland 
and Ireland, and though, of course, persecuted everywhere, 
they succeed by their extraordinary wariness and admirable 
judgment as to breeding-places in keeping their ground. 
For the erne has the expert eye of an engineer for an " inac- 
cessible" spot, and having found one that nothing that moves 
on feet can reach, it returns to it year after year, and brings out 
its young in security. All that our poets have written of their 
eagles of fancy may, for majesty in llight, be fairly applied to 
this bird. " When the tempest's at its loudest, on the gale the 
eagle rides," — " playmate of the storm," — " triumphant on the 
bosom of the storm, glances the iire-clad eagle's wheeling 
form,"- — "a swift eagle, in the morning glare, breasting the 
whirlwind with impetuous flight," — all these are quite 
applicable to the sea-eagle, for folk say that no tempest that 
ever blew could keep the erne at home. When the sea-birds 
are driven inland, the ernes remain to wheel about as if 
enraptured in the storm-distracted sky — and "like spirits 
hardened by despair, joy in the savage tempest." 

There is nothino- mean about it. A law to itself, and there- 
fore lawless ; stronger than any other fowl it ever sees, and 
therefore a tyrant ; a bird of prey, and therefore pitiless. Its 
evrie is a citadel that cannot be stormed, and the fierce-eyed 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



157 



z-^^- 




robber, seated on its 
eminence, overlooks 
the townships of the 
gulls, and as it pleases 
takes manorial tithe 
of the fish plunder 
they bring up from 
the sea, and of their 
young, 

" Voracious from the billows' 
breast 
Marked far away, his des- 
tined feast." 

Its cry is a cruel, 
clear-ringing bark, 
very characteristic of 
the fierce baron of 
the cliffs, and when 
circling in company a 
pair can be heard 
yelping to each other 
until eye and ear 
together fail to catch 
sight or sound of 



GUILLEMOTS 



them. When they 
are young the sea eagles, as yet unconscious perhaps of their 



158 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

birthright of supremacy, roam about among the moors and 
valleys, finding their food where they can, killing weakly 
lambs, or joining the raven in an ignoble meal on carrion. 

Sometimes, strange to say, this creature of vast spaces and 
dizzy heights will nest in trees or even among reeds upon the 
ground. But its characteristic haunts are the wildest and 
most rugged sea-cliffs, and its hunting-grounds the rocky islets 
or tall upstanding bluffs and " peopled rocks " upon which the 
sea-folk cluster in their colonies. 



" TJic high and froiviu'jig scaur, the haunt of sca-foivlT 

Mackay, 

" The pregnant cliff's, the sea-birds'* citadels" 

Montgomery. 

" Yonder peopled rocks, 
To luhosc ivild solitude, from ivorlds ttnknoivn, 
The birds of passage transmigrating come — 

^ w ^ ^ ^ 

By Heaven's directive spirit here to raise 

Their temporary realm T 

Mallet. 

No one, however indifferent he may be to the ordinary 
sights and sounds of Nature, can maintain even the affec- 
tation of unconcern when visiting for the first time the 




"THE sea-birds' CITADEL" 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND i6i 

ledged and terraced rocks upon which the brave guillemots 
congregate. As the boat approaches the sea-girt nesting- 
home of these delightful birds, the cliff, looked at through 
glasses, seems garrisoned by a multitude of little soldiers 
in black and white. They are standing to attention, shoulder 
to shoulder, along every ledge, in level lines where continuous 
foothold permits it, in little knots on every broader plateau, 
while the summit is thronwd. As the boat o-ets nearer 
you see that, besides the white-breasted birds standing up- 
right, there are just as many showing their black backs 
sitting on the ground, or rather propped up on their tails. 

The latter are sitting-birds, for the eees are so laree as 
compared with the mothers that they cannot be sate upon 
in the ordinary brooding manner of other fowls. So the 
guillemot, when she wishes to sit, walks up to her egg and 
then with her beak pushes it between her legs, and so 
straddling as it were over it, she remains always at an 
anq-le, her bodv resting;- ao"ainst the eo;cr instead of nestline 
down upon it. 

Long before the invaders' boat comes into the shadow 
of the clift", the birds take alarm at the visitation, and at 
first by dozens, then by hundreds, and finally by their 
thousands, spring upwards or dive downwards from their 
places, and fill the air with an indescribable murmur and 
flurry of wings — 



i62 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

" Far adown, like snow 
Shook from the bosom of a wintry cloud, 
And drifting on the wind in feathery flakes." 



But the brave guillemots do not scream or cry out. Some 
of them grunt their dissatisfaction at disturbance, and but 
for this they betray no symptoms of annoyance or anger. 
Nor do they circle round their threatened home, but rising 
from their places in a fast-thickening cloud, they scatter 
for a minute or two through the air, and then settle upon 
the sea and wait. 

'' There on the waters floating like a fleet 
Of tiny vessels, argosies complete 
Such as brave Gulliver deep-wading, drew 
' Victorious from the ports of Blcfuscu.''' 

Nothing, surely, can be more beautiful than the sudden 
uprising of many birds, whether the scarlet battalions of 
flamingoes leaving in sumptuous tumult the Egyptian marshes ; 
the gay parrot flights when changing feeding-grounds in the 
Australian bush, or this sight of our myriad guillemots 
as with one accord they fill the air with their white wings, 
and, beautifully stooping to the sea, spread themselves in a 
sheet of pied dots upon the green water. And as you land 
you feel that all those thousands of eager eyes are watching 
you, thousands of little hearts thumping with misgiving at 
your intrusion. And here and there one bird is sometimes 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 163 

seen still bravely "holding the fort," not with any defiance, 
but a calni, good-soldierly courage that commands respect. 
And now and again a mother will return, too anxious about 
her egg to remember the risk to herself, or, remembering 
it, too anxious to care about the risk ; she comes with hurrying 
wing, and, before the very eyes of the unmannerly trespasser, 
takes possession of her treasure, and tucking it in between 
her legs turns her back upon the company and trusts to 
Kismet for the result. 

But those gaunt and grim-faced rocks, ribbed and wrinkled 
by the wear-and-tear of sea and weather, are only the 
nurseries of the guillemots, not their homes ; for they live 
for nine months of the year upon the dancing sea, never 
coming back to the solid crags at all. Early in spring the 
first of them, the advanced couriers of the colony, reappear 
from the ocean, reconnoitring their egg-towers, and then they 
disappear again, as if to convey the news to the rest that 
the earth still stands where it did. And then about May 
the guillemots begin to come in earnest, and, astounding as 
the fact is, each bird actually seems to remember the very 
spot upon which it laid its eggs the year before, for we are told 
that the professional egg-hunters, who for a score of years 
or more have regularly rifled the sea-birds' terraces, are 
accustomed to find, year after year, in particular places, eggs 
of a particular shape, or size, or colour. For there are few 
eggs, if any, that differ so boldly both in the ground colour 





XHE .SEA-l'AKKOTS AT HOME 

and the markings as the g-yille- 
mot's. Some have been taken 
spotless and colourless, like a 
heron's ; others altogether sienna, 
as the kestrel's sometimes is ; 
while between these two extremes 
of no-colour and all-colour 
stretches as infinite a variety of 
markings as on the pebbles on 
the shore. Perhaps the most 
beautiful of all are those where 
the oTOund is a clear, bric^ht 
green-blue, and the spots — large 
and irregularly scattered, of a 
rich chocolate shadinof into 
brown-pink — ■ make on it a 
strong, bold, well-defined pattern. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 165 

without any of the intermediate specks and streaks and zig- 
zags that are characteristic of this bird's eggs. They are 
not laid in any nest, but on the bare flat rock, sometimes 
protected from the violence of the wind by lying in an 
indentation or where the rock is rough faced. But as a 
rule the guillemot does not seem to expect her egg to be 
blown off the spot where it is laid, and (though there are 
woful exceptions) she is right, for in due time a dusky 
fuzz-ball, with a noble appetite for little fishes, takes the 
place of each egg. 

Then it is, alas for the poor parent guillemots ! that the 
sea-eagle comes on its broad pinions, yelping, and, swift 
as the wind, swoops down, grazing the surface of the rock, 
and, regardless of the indignant mob that rises in protest, 
flaps off with careless wing back to the eyrie, where its 
eaglets are waiting for food. And every time the sea-eagle 
comes and goes there is one fuzz-ball less than there was. 



" She seeks her aerie hanging 
In the mountain-cedar's hair 

And her brood expect the clanging 
Of her wings through the wild air, 

Sick with famine." 



But if tens are taken, thousands are left, and ere long 
the old birds, finding their young ones restless, and fearing, 



1 66 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

perhaps, as they may well do, that a fierce gust may sweep 
them over the precipice on to ledges below, or that inex- 
perience may tempt them too near the dangerous brink, 
take the little ones on their backs — so the climbers say — and 
fly down with them to the sea. Even if the chicks fall 



^^ 



--*\ i 




" WHERE THE SEA-FOLK CLUSTER " 

off in the course of the descent, it does them no harm to 
plunge into the water. It must astonish the youngsters 
to find themselves sousing into the sea, but the next instant 
they have discovered that all is right, and before their 
screaming mother has recovered from her concern at the 
accident, they are swimming about merrily and enjoying 
their first bath. And once in the ocean they remain there, 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 167 

" In the blue vale of water 'twixt the waves 
Ever the same, yet ever changed ; no mark, 
No spot whereon to fix a local love, 
No home to be remembered for its peace. 
No shapely bough, well known and best beloved 
Within the crowded forest," 



till the following May calls them back to the rocks and the 
cares and pleasures of domestic life. 

Man is, of course, the chief enemy of these sea-bird 
colonies, for in the bleak and barren islands where they 
breed, human life couki be scarcely supported if it were not 
for the annual harvests of eggs and young. The guillemots' 
eggs are collected by tens of thousands. This work com- 
mences at Flamborough, for instance, in the middle of May. 
For the first nine days the climber has a good run of eggs ; 
for the next nine, eggs are scarce. At the end of that time 
all the birds who had been first robbed have laid again, 
and he has a second run of large hauls, averaging from two to 
three hundred a day. Then comes a second " slack " of nine 
days, after which there is, as it were, the aftermath, sometimes 
hardly worth the trouble and danger of gathering, sometimes 
ec|ual in value to the first harvest. The birds themselves, 
too, are eaten, more especially the puffin. 

St. Kilda has been described as " the paradise of puffins : 
every available spot is burrowed and honeycombed with 
their holes, and the sea is often black with birds." Hither 



i68 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

in the nestinyf season come the islanders — men, women, and 
children — and with short rods, at the end of which are nooses 
of horsehair or string, drag the little " bougies," as they call 
them, out of their burrows. The birds are plucked (the 
feathers being carefully put by for sale), cleaned, rubbed over 
with salt, and hung up in strings to the roofs of the cabins, 
where the peat-smoke partially " cures " them, and in this 
state they form one of the chief and choicest items of the St. 
Kildan's austere fare. But altogether apart from its attrac- 
tions at the "hardy Norseman's" winter board, the puffin is 
a very charming little bird. Its very quaintness makes it 
eno-aofine, for, whether you take it in profile, with its 
grotesque beak in completest evidence, or full-face, with its 
queer, owl-like look, its genuine unaffected comicality com- 
mends it to your amused and kindly regard. For it is a 
most amiable fowl. It never seems to quarrel with its kind, 
and even when it does the disagreement is rather the make- 
believe of clowns than in serious earnest. The puffin is 
almost voiceless, its usual sound being a purring noise, which, 
when it is submitted to the extreme indio-nitv of handling;, 
becomes a kind of half-hearted orrumblinir. No birds are 
more sociable than the '' sea-parrots " : they are never seen 
alone, and even in their colonies they are not exclusive, 
admitting any other sea-fowl that likes to join them to equal 
rights of citizenship. But you must not put your fingers into 
its beak. Puffins are not called "parrots" for nothing. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 169 

When breeding commences, the islands or headlands that 
they frequent present scenes of most delightful activity. 

" Above, around, in cloudy circles wheeled, 
Or sailing level on the polar gale 
That cool with evening rose, a thousand wings. 
The summer nations of these pregnant cliffs 
Play'd sportive round.' 

Puffins are busy in all directions, digging out holes to lay 
their eggs in, or putting last year's burrows into thorough 
repair. Both parents join in the work of excavation, taking 
turns, and while the one is employed the other either sits 
with a most absurd expression of pompous self-satisfaction, 
like a fat little owl-faced page, in close attendance, or flits 
about in idle amusement in company with vast numbers of 
the temporarily unemployed. Though so short-winged and 
plump-bodied, they fly with singular speed, and wheel and 
circle with great grace ; but it is when they dive that they 
are at their best. Regardless of height, they plunge head- 
foremost from their cliffs into the sea, and, using their wings 
just as if they were still in the air, literally fly under the 
water. But they never stay away long, for all their thoughts 
are in those little burrows on the cliff, and the constant flying 
to and fro of the anxious pairs, their whirlings in the air 
before settling and after rising, keep the air alive with 
noisy wings, and fill the scene with bustle and happy anima- 
tion. 

Y 



170 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

So close sometimes are their nest-holes crowded that 
it is impossible to walk without putting- the foot in them, 
and it even happens that these accommodating birds, when 
hard pressed for room, inhabit " semi-detached " holes, and 
live two families in one. But here too falls the shadow of 
the sea-eagle, and the poor parrots' nurseries, when the 
young ones sit outside their burrows, innocent of danger, 
pay heavy tribute to the paramount lord of the northern 
sky. No erne's nest is completely furnished unless it be 
strewn with puffins' beaks. 

" The fierce sea-eagle 
In port terrific, from his lonely eyrie 
(Itself a burden for the tallest tree) 
Looks down o'er land and sea as his dominion, 
Or from long chase ascending with his prey 
Feeds his eaglets in the noonday sun." 

Oddly enough, " the fierce sea-eagle " and the poor puffin 
find another connecting link, less strained than that of 
being the eater and the eaten, in the rabbit. The erne 
will often take up its quarters for a time near a warren, 
and the sea-parrots do the same ; but their reasons are very 
different, for while the former goes among the coneys for 
its meals, the latter does so to borrow the use of their 
burrows. And they live together on apparent terms of 
amity, much as the burrowing-owl and the prairie-dog live 
together on the Texan wastes. 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 173 



" Amidst the Jlashtng and feathery foam 
The stormy-petrel finds a home, 
A home if such a place may be 
For her ivho lives on the wide, wide sea, 
On the craggy ice, in the frozen air. 
And only scekcth her rocky lair 
To zuarm her young and teach them spring 
At once oer the wave on their stormy iving." 

Barry Cornwall. 

Nestino- with them, in some of these haunts on the wild 
west coast of Scotland, is found the stormy-petrel, the tiny 
bird which sailors, in the old days of sailing-ships, held in such 
superstitious dread, and which are still called Mother Carey's 
chickens. Who Mother Carey was Jack probably did not 
care, thinking only that she was a personage of very evil 
intentions towards ships and those "who go down to the 
sea" in them, and wishing, when he saw the litde things 
running along the waves that held the ship in chase, that 
she had kept her chickens at home. But wiser bookmen 
tell us that the name comes from Mater Cara, quoting in 
proof of it, that the French call the petrels " les oiseaux 
de Notre Dame," which may or may not be the explanation- 
most probably not. For in the same dull way they tell us 
that Davey Jones' locker means the locker of the ghost of the 



174 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

prophet Jonas, because West Indian negroes happen to call 
a ghost " duffy ! " All of which reads very much like non- 
sense, worse nonsense indeed than Jack's own phrases — 
which, like all good fairy-tales, have most meaning when 
they have none at all. 

However all this may be, the salts of the past thought 
the stormy-petrel a bird of ill-omen, and they were not 
far wrong, for when all the other birds, dreading the 
coming tempest, had left the ship, the chickens remained. 

" Still ran the stormy-petrels on the waves." 

Being alone, they became conspicuous, and though they had 
been there all along, but unobserved when flying with larger 
birds, the sailors, noticing them for the first time, thought 
they had just arrived as heralds of the squall. For no 
weather, however bad, will drive the petrels to shelter, and 
so deft are they with wing and foot, that when the seas are 
driving "mast high" they may be seen paddling and skipping, 
on tip-toe as it were, over the green curves of the breakers, 
or runninof alono" them sheltered from the ""ale under their 
lee. And though it is no larger, this tiny scoffer of the 
hurricane, than a starling, it is curious to think how many 
hundreds of brave men have felt a sinking at the heart 
when they saw the black diminutive bird skimming the 
furious billows that pursued the vessel. Nowadays, going 
under steam instead of canvas, the seaman does not trouble 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 177 

himself much about wind, and still less about the bird that 
our ancient mariners used to think brought it. 

What a shock for the old salts, who dreaded the killing of 
a petrel, to hear that under the name " Blasquet chickens " 
they have been eaten on toast, like snipe, and declared to 
be "delicious eating." Yet such is the fact; and seeing 
that the bird does not feed on fish, there is no reason why 
it should not, unlike most sea-fowl, be palatable. 

For the food of petrels, strange to say, is oil. At any rate, 
nothing else is found in their stomachs, but where the oil 
comes from — whether they collect it from the surface of the 
sea, or whether by some chemical process of their own they 
convert other material into oil— no one can say with 
certainty. 

Oddly enough, too, the little stormy-petrel in its breed- 
ing haunts does not fly by day, but feeds its young at 
night ; and here, again, reason is puzzled for an explanation. 
They lay their eggs in crevices of the rocks, in heaps of 
dibris, or old rabbit-holes ; but these are only to be found 
by searching, as there are no birds on the wing while the 
sun is shining, and they do not, like all others, betray their 
nurseries by going to and fro in the daylight with food. 
What stranore contrasts ! For more than nine months of 
the year the petrel is "the playmate of the storm " — 

" Where the ocean rolls the proudest, 
Through the foam the sea-bird glides " — 



178 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

always in attendance upon the tempest, an omen of ship- 
wreck and sea-terror : 

" The petrel telleth her tale in vain, 
And the mariner curseth the warning bird 
Who bringeth him news of the storm unheard ;" 

and then for the rest of the twelvemonth it lurks in little 
holes in rocks, under heaps of stones, in rabbit-burrows, 
coming" out only when it is dark, a bat-like creature of dusty 
crevices and dusky twilight, mortally afraid apparently of 
everything that moves by day, and shunning on land the 
men whom at sea it seemed to triumph over and to doom. 

And how terrible the declension from being "Mother Carey's 
chickens," mysteriously shaken out of the old dame's lap in 
the sky to bring men to their death by drowning, to 
" Blasquet chickens," picked out by ragged little islanders 
from the chinks in which they are hidden, and then eaten 
by tourists and townsfolk, fried upon toast ! 

Nor are these birds' only enemies human ones, for in the 
predatory black-backed gulls they find untiring and cruel 
persecutors. As persistent and as cunning as crows, they 
loiter about the nesting-places of the smaller birds, searching 
out their eggs and young, and chasing the parents. Even 
large birds, like the cormorant, dare not leave their nests 
unprotected, as the air above is full of keen-eyed, black- 
backed gulls, and every eminence has its patient, sinister 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND i8i 

watchman waiting- for some incautious mother to leave her 
eggs exposed, and in a twinkHng the thief pounces on it. 

Their courage, too, is extraordinary. The nest that is shown 
in the illustration is not in any of the usual sites that this 
o-ull selects, and is chosen for that reason, as showinQ- the 
fearlessness of these birds, for it is built in a sheep-walk 
which the woolly folk had frequently to traverse, and was 
found out by the shepherd seeing all his flock, as they 
passed in single file, jumping at the same spot. On going 
to find the reason for this agility, the hen-bird was discovered 
sitting on her eofo-s. 

Of all the gulls, this is perhaps the least of a sea-bird. 
For it lives almost altogether on land, searching the beach 
and rocks for dead fish and other food cast up by the tide, 
and boldly coming inland to feed in ploughed lands, or follow 
the course of rivers, or pick up a living in harbours and 
docks, going back to the water to rest and sleep. Very 
different is the scene when the visitor, landino- on one of 
their breeding-rocks or islands, disturbs the hosts of the 
lesser black-backed orulls, to that when he landed amono- the 
uncomplaining puffins. For the gulls resent the intrusion 
with wild cries and threats, and, instead of flying away, 
patiently disconsolate, to wait for the intruders' departure, 
wheel and whirl overhead, with angry clamour and noisy 
wings, making believe to swoop down on the trespassers, 
and shouting at them to go away. And they have good 




reason for their indigna- 
tion, for their visitors 
carry off their eggs by the 
boat-load for sale among 
the hard-living islanders. 
But the black-back is 
a mischievous and pn^- 





AMONG THE bKU-^b 



datory bird, doing infinite injury to more valuable species, like 
the eider-duck, whom it harries without remorse ; and so one 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



i«3 



can read of its eggs being cooked by the million without any 
keener feeling of regret than if they were apples. And, after 
all, the wholesale robbery of their nests does not reduce 




A COLONY OF CORMORANTS 



their myriads, for more than enough are hatched every year 
to fill the gaps caused by death. Being, too, so courageous, 
the gull escapes persecution by its larger companions, and 
even the sea-eagle prefers, with so large a choice of more 
timid victims, to leave such obstreperous birds alone. 
When threatened by the great bird of prey they join for 
the common defence, and the eagle is often seen, at long 



184 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

distances from the breed- 
ing-places, pursued by 
shoutino- crulls, and ii^no- 
miniously mobbed out to 






sea. 



With them, on these 
retaliatory sallies, goes 
that most intrepid of 




ULACK-THROATED DIVER 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 185 

sea-fowl, the skua — one of the many birds that the 
sailor calls " molly-hawks," and that the lesser creatures 
dread like a bird of prey. For such it really is, 
living chiefly upon the fish the other birds have 
caught, upon the birds themselves, and during the nesting- 
season upon the eggs and young of all species indis- 
criminately : so reckless in attack that nothing on wings 
dares to oppose it, and so powerful that full-grown gulls, if 
they persist in the fight, succumb to it. He laughs the 
sea-eagle to scorn, challenging it by loud squalls to a duel. 
But the erne knows better than to join in a conflict from which 
neither honour nor profit can come, and spreading his great 
square-cut wings to the breeze, drifts swiftly away from the 
spot over the moorland that the skua calls its own. Where 
the herring-fishers are at work, there the skua is sure to be, 
ofobblinor as much as it can find for itself, and chasing all 
the other birds to make them drop their shares. Nor when 
there are ee^s in its nest does the skua hesitate to threaten 
human beings that approach it, and indeed actually to attack 
them ; while there are few dogs, if any, that have ever 
encountered an angry skua, and had experience of its sharp 
beak and battering wings, that care to face the fierce fowl a 
second time. 



2 A 



CHAPTER VII 

The Kingfisher — The Mystery and Folk-Lore of the Halcyon 
—The Water- Vole at Home— In the Water-Meadows— The 
Moorhen and its Haunts— The Reed-Warbler— The Sedge- 
Warbler— Music OF the Summer Nights— Waking the Sun 



CHAPTER VII 

" The long-leaved willoiv, on whose bending spray, 
The pyd Kingfisher, having got his prey, 
Sate ivith the small breath of the ivater shaken, 
Till he devoured the fish that he had taken.'" 

So writes Michael Drayton in the sixteenth century, and 
how true an observer of Nature the old poet was is proved 
by the words of our latest ornithologist: " It alights on some 
twig bending over the stream, its weight causing it to 
swing gently to and fro, whence it scans the young trout 
sporting in the pool below, and suddenly it will drop into 
the water, and almost before the spectator is aware of the 
fact, is back again on its perch with a struggling fish in its 
beak." Nor must the meaning of Drayton's "py'd" be 
mistaken, for in his day, and indeed much later, anything 
of more than one colour was called pied, so long as gaiety 
of tint was the result of the combination. So Shakespeare 
calls the daisy "pied," and Ben Jonson the rainbow. 

But to come back to our kingfisher, " famoused for 



190 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



colours rare," sitting upon its twig with the tiny fish in its 
beak. Only, however, for half an instant, for the bird 







THE KING OF THE POOL 



raps its little captive sharply upon the twig, perhaps more 
than once, and then it is gone where all little fishes go 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 191 

that kincrfishers chance to catch. Sometimes, indeed, it is 
not content to swallow the wee thing in a commonplace 
way, but, as the toucans often do with their food, must 
needs throw it up into the air, and catch it with open throat 
head first as it falls. And if you listen you will hear the 
kingfisher compliment itself upon its cleverness with a 
congratulatory little chirrup. So, too, when it misses its 
aim at a passing fish — for it does miss it sometimes — it 
comes back to its perch with a cheery little " peep-peep," 
as much as to say " Never mind." And when it tlies off 
down the stream, startled by your sudden coming, you may, 
if you have quick ears, hear it comforting itself in a nervous 
sort of way with a succession of "peeps," but if you go and 
hide behind the hedge or a bush, you will very soon see it 
returning, a swift flash of orange and blue, and lo ! there 
is the kingfisher back again just where you first saw it, on 
its pliant twig, " with the small breath of the water shaken," 
and its clever eye fixed upon the water beneath. 

For, like flycatchers, shrikes and other birds, it returns, 
if it can, always to one " post of observation," and just as 
the dragon-fly at the edge of the stream keeps flying 
back to the same reed after every excursion, so the king- 
fisher, though you have just seen it go darting off like a 
blue gem on wings, in and out of ever so many twists and 
turns of the litde stream, comes back, and in a surprisingly 
short time, to the very spot it started from. 



192 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

This habit brings many of them to their death, for 
there are still, in spite of all the appeals of the humane, 
the protests of lovers of Nature, and the threatenings of 
the law, numbers of men who call themselves fishermen 
who try to do these lovely birds to death. That "halcyons" 
eat fish, and nothing else if they can get enough of them, 
is beyond all doubt, and when there are five young ones in 
the nest in the bank, they must kill a great number. But 
granting all this, the fact remains, that the man who would 
go about to compass the killing of a kingfisher is not an 
angler of the best type. 

However, in spite of them and all other enemies, this 
sweet ornament of our rivers is still abundant, and there is 
no secluded stream where the lover of Nature may not 
enjoy himself with the sight of it at its work, patient and 
clever, or admire its rare beauty as it fiashes up and down. 



" There came 
Swift as a meteor's flashing flame 
A kingfisher from out the brake, 
And ahnost seemed to leave a wake 
Of brilliant hues behind." 



Indeed, it takes a very quick eye, sometimes, to make 
out the form of the bird as it passes : all that is seen is a 
sudden trail of sapphire blue, which, meteor-like, vanishes 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 193 

before you have time to say " There it is." And what is 
its real colour ? Sitting opposite you on its perch, the 
throne from whence this little king surveys its subject fishes, 
the bird is a beautiful chestnut and white, and its legs and 
feet are coral red. Then it dives, and as it goes down its 
plumage Hashes a pure, clear blue, and as it comes up, taking 
the light at another angle, it is a lovely mixture of azure 
that is half emerald-green and of emerald-green that is 
half azure. For all these colours go to the painting of 
a kingfisher ; but, as a rule, when it is flying from you it 
is simply a streak of sapphire. The young birds of the 
first year have their colours fainter, but even then are sweetly 
pretty, and there are not many sights in our wild Nature more 
completely attractive than that of the young brood sitting 
about close together on the roots among which their nest 
has been tunnelled out, while the old ones fly backwards 
and forwards, fishing for them and feeding them. And 
whatever happens, they all keep on saying "Peep-peep" 
to one another, in the happiest, contentedest way conceivable. 
Their nest is a yard back in the bank. It takes the old 
birds two or three weeks to dig it out (though sometimes 
they will begin housekeeping in some convenient hole that 
the water-rat has left or the sand-martin deserted), and at 
the end of the tunnel, on a flooring of fish-bones, are laid the 
exquisite white round eggs, with shells so translucent that 
when they are fresh they look more pink than white. 



2 B 



194 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



Yet poets and others who draw so many morals from the 
pearl being found in what they are pleased to call a " foul " 
oyster, never allude, strangely enough, to Nature's pretty 
lesson of the kingfisher, which comes arrayed in all its 




THE CAVE-HAUNTING MARTLET 



loveliness of plumage from the very dirtiest of holes. For 
it is a sad fact that kingfishers have the most magnificent 
contempt for everything like "sanitary arrangements;" 
yet once they have left their nests they are the chiefest 
jewels of the stream, among the prettiest things to be seen 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 195 

in all a summer's day. Where they built was apparently 
once a mystery, for in the long-ago days of Greece and 
Rome the "halcyon" was supposed to go off somewhere 
near Sicily and other isles, and nest upon the open seas ; 
and so fond were both pagan men and pagan gods of the 
little bird, that — so poets pretended — -the seas were never 
stormy while the halcyons were nesting, and the word has 
passed into our language as the symbol of calm security 
and rest and peace. So in Keats : 

" O magic sleep ! O comfortable bird ! 
That broodest over the troubled sea of mind 
Till it is hushed and smooth." 

And in Shelley : 

" Far, far away, O ye 
Halcyons of memory, 
Seeli some far calmer nest 
Than this abandoned breast." 

And in Milton and Dryden, and Kirke White and Coleridge, 
and ever so many more. Another belief, which, strange to 
say, still holds its own in England, is that a dead halcyon hung 
up will turn its beak always in the direction of the wind. So 
Shakespeare says of courtiers who " turn their halcyon beaks 
with every gale and vary of their masters " ; and Marlowe, 
before him, asks " How now stands the wind ? Into what 
corner peers my halcyon's bill ? " 



196 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

But oddest of all is the following superstition from an 
English book of the twelfth century: — "These little birds, if 
they are preserved in a dry place, when dead never decay ; 
and if they are put among clothes and other articles, they pre- 
serve them from the moth and give them a pleasant odour. 
What is still more wonderful, if when dead they are hung up 
by their beaks in a dry situation, they change their plumage 
every year, as if they were restored to life, as though the 
vital spark still survived and vegetated through some mys- 
terious remains of its energy." 

None of our British birds probably feels a severe winter 
more keenly than the kingfisher, for when the streams are 
frost-bound and icicles hang from the willows where it 
used to perch so blithely in the summer clays, the little 
creature is in a desperate plight. Insect-eating birds have a 
last resource in berries and vegetable food, but the kingfisher, 
when the streams are frozen and the ponds all ice-locked, has 
nothing to fall back upon, and so he wanders off to the sea- 
shore and the mouths of rivers that are still open. " Even 
here," says a writer, " the poor kingfisher often fares badly, 
and after an unusual spell of frost numbers of them are picked 
up starved to death. Sometimes they are found frozen to the 
branch on which they have been sitting." But in open 
weather its life is as joyous as any bird's can be, and is passed 
among the prettiest of scenery. 

You will note, or may fancy that you do, that it is 



" WHEN THE PONDS ARE ALL ICE-LOCKED " 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 199 

always the most delightful bends of the streams, the most 
charming- nooks and corners of the waterways and pools 
that the kingfisher haunts. Where the scenery is open and 
tame, he is only a passer-by. But where his beauty adds 
the one charm of life, and beautiful life, that was needed to 
make some special "bit" of loveliness complete, there the 
kingfisher lives. It is a sweet little poem, this bird. Does it 
see any of the beauty that we do in these archways of willow 
and alder, this exquisite embroidery of forget-me-nots upon 
the brink, this clump of yellow flags and fair tall willow- 
herb .^^ One could almost imagine that it does, so careful 
is it to pitch its camp just where Nature is at its best. 
Here the banks are flowered and prettily uneven with mossy 
stumps and roots "peeping out upon the brook." The moor- 
hen is at home here, and that delightful, harmless little beast 
the water-vole. 

I remember once seeing a water-vole sitting up at its front 
door in the sun, nibbling its crisp salad of young reed-shoot : on 
one side of it grew a tuft of " faint sweet cuckoo-flower," and 
just above it was a great rosette of primroses, and I thought I 
had never seen anything more enchanting than this quiet little 
touch of innocent and pretty spring. 

One of them has his hole yonder where there is a little 
overhanging bulge in the bank, and that little platform which 
seems neatly laid with rushes is his dining-room, and from it, 
running either way, you can easily trace the small animal's 



200 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

regular path to points where he can sHp into the water 
quietly. If he were to jump in off his doorstep he would 
make a splash : a great indiscretion in a water-rat. So he 
toddles off to the right or the left as his fancy takes him, till 
he comes to a conveniently shelving place where he can take 
to water without noise. 

Under that green moss-furred root, over which his path- 
way so clearly goes, is the kingfisher's nest. The hole runs 
in straight for about three feet, and at the end is " the nest," 
and the little birds sitting in it can tell by the stoppage of the 
lioht at the entrance that father or mother has come back with 
a fish, and they hurry forward, crouching low, with out- 
stretched necks (for the tunnel is only three inches high), to 
get the food first. So the strongest or hungriest gets fed 
first, and when it has had enough it stays behind when the 
next race to the opening takes place, and the weaker or lazier 
take their turns till all are satisfied. And this is the simple 
explanation of that which so often puzzles people — '* How do 
the old birds know that all the \T^ung ones have been fed ? 
can they count, or do they know them all one from the 

other ? " 

No, they cannot count, and they do not know one from 

another. If you watch a bird at a nest, it gives the food 

to the nearest mouth : it never picks and chooses. But young 

birds know when they have had enough — for the present. 

If you are feeding a young bird you have taken from the nest, 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 201 

how ferociously it takes the first bit, and the second, and 
perhaps the third ; and then how utterly and suddenly its 
appetite collapses! It refuses, in the most dogged and sulky 
way, to open its beak though you tempt it ever so much. 
It has had enouo-h, and it knows it, and isn't ofoine to burst 
for you or for anybody else. It is just the same in the nest. 
The first two or three pieces of food may all follow one 
another down the same throat, but next time the mother 
comes there is one mouth shut tvAu. And so it oroes on. 
One by one the mouths are shut up, and the mother comes at 
last with a titbit, and finds every one of the little ones asleep, 
on full stomachs, and as haughtily regardless of her and her 
provender as if they would never need feeding any more. 
So the mother eats it herself, and sits down on the top of the 
sleepers. This is the whole secret of the mystery. While 
the little birds are hungry they keep on asking for more : as 
soon as they are stuffed full they convey that information to 
the parents by holding their tongues. So all get fed. 

And a word here as to that odd superstition which is still 
current, that the British Museum will give "a hundred pounds 
for a complete kingfisher's nest." Every year the " authorities " 
are written to by people in the country offering to send them 
one at the price, but of course it was never offered, and indeed 
a kingfisher's nest has not been wanted, since the beautiful 
section of a river-bank, with the nest, and young, and old 
ones all complete, was set up in the Bird Gallery at the British 

2 c 



202 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

Museum in 1883. But the kingfisher's nest is not the only 
article that a deluded public seems to imagine the British 
Museum is still pining for, for as a letter to the Times by 
Sir J. Flower in 1894 tells us, offers are regularly received of 
tortoise-shell tom-cats at the most exorbitant prices, and 
inquiries continue to come in, asking if it is true that the 
Museum has offered a hundred pounds for "an entire cigar- 
ash." 

Nowhere can the lover of Nature find more to spend his 
time over than in the pretty haunts of this pretty bird. As 
a schoolboy I have spent many hours in water-meadows 
watching the bird-life about me, and, sitting on some mossy 
stump in the middle of the marsh-marigolds or on some rail 
that straddled across the water, enjoyed the little spectacles, 
comic and serious, that various companies of amateurs — 
moor-hen and water-rat, bunting and reed-warbler and weasel 
— presented for my entertainment. 

My visits to the kingfisher's osier-beds were often 
really Platonic. There were no eggs to be taken that I had 
not enough of and to spare in my collection. Albeit the 
chance of a cuckoo's egg always made looking into every 
nest I found "a pleasurable expectation," which was just 
often enough fulfilled to make the quest a perpetual hope. 

Not that the keeper — "arbiter of this terraqueous swamp " 
— would have believed me if he had caught me, and 
no monkey in Brazilian forests hated the jaguar more 




than I hated the 
keeper. Some- 
times just as I was 
really happy, and 
doine nothinor more 
criminal than watch- 
inof a water-rat that 
was trying to balance 
itself on an 
arrowhead 
stem while 



DID 1 HEAR SOME ONE 



204- BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

it reached up to the seeds, I would hear his detestable splash- 
ing — stealthy, he thought it, no doubt, the clumsy wretch, but 
noisy enough to warn my Red Indian ears a long way off — 
and I had to go. His own squelching feet and big body 
forcing a way through the osiers, which whipped his face as 
he went, hid the noise of my retreat as I slipped along- 
like some fox, hardly scaring the birds that I passed, and 
cunningly stepping from point to point so as scarcely to 
make a splash. And so out at the other end and up into 
the high road and honie as hard as I could run. 

On one occasion, all but taken by surprise, I suddenly heard 
the keeper's step close by, and had to slip into the water 
and sit there, like a coot, with only my head above the 
surface, and that half-hidden by reeds — and he passed, oh ! 
so close to me, stopped for an instant to wonder to himself, 
perhaps, why the water was rippling so, and then went on, 
so cautiously, so cunningly, knowing that a boy was some- 
where about, and expecting to pounce on him ; while I just 
as cautiously rose from my sloppy, weedy lair, and crept 
off in the other direction, and got into the dusty road, my 
boots squelching dreadfully, and making as I jogged along 
(as Ben Jonson says) "great S's like a watering-pot." 

And what was there in the osiers to amuse a boy ? First 
of all, there were the water-rats, always funny, but 
never so comical as when cutting: reeds. You would 
see one q-q down under the water, and the reed would 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 205 

begin " twiddling " and quivering in response to the sharp 
brown teeth at work below, but instead of falling, the reed 
would lean up against the next one, and when the vole came 
up to look for it, it would not see it, but it used to say 
" Bless me, how odd ! " and go under again, and begin cutting 
another one down, bothering the dragon-fly who was sitting 
on it very much by the vibration. Then it would come 
up again, catch hold of it, and swim away to the stump 
where its hole was, and drag it up and cut it into lengths 
like an imitation beaver making a dam, and stop every 
now and again and look round, though there was only 
myself and the dragon-fly to appeal to, as much as to say, 
" There ! that's the way it's done." And if there were two 
of them, to see the way they stroked each other's cheeks 
with their tiny paws, just as the wallabies do, putting one 
hand on each side of the other's face, was as pretty as could 
be. Then there were the dabchicks, who came swimming 
along under water right over one's feet, looking like bags 
of bubbles, or as if they were all covered with globules of 
quicksilver, and stopping to eat something at the bottom, 
as if they were fish, not birds. Then they would come 
to the top for air, catch sight of me, and with a horrified 
little "Goodness gracious!" bob under water again and go 
off straight down the little canal, a streak of bubbles. 



2o6 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



" Tlic Coot bald, else clean black that whiteness it doth bear 
Upon her forehead starred, the Water-hen doth ivear 
Upon her little tail, in one small feather set^ 

Drayton. 
" There have I -amtchcd the don'iiy Coot 
Pacing with safe and steady foot, 
The surface of the floating field, 
ulnd though the clastic floor niiglit yield 
In chinks, and let the loatcr Jloio 
In beads of crystal from bcloiu, 
Yet ii'as the tremulous region true 
To that rough traveller passing through^ 

Faber. 

Above all, there was the moorhen, a bird that one can 
surely never be tired of watching, it is so full of quips 
and cranks. It has a little red wafer on its nose and 
queer little patches of white under its tail, which it keeps 
on flicking as it goes in a comical automatic sort of way, 
in time with its steps, as if its tail were a kind of pedometer 
measuring off the distances it walks. /\nd when it is in the 
water swimming, it jerks its head backwards and forwards, 
as if doing so helped it along and it could not help jerking 
every time it kicked out its legs. And when it is in the 
water, how it bobs about ! You can never depend upon it 
for an instant, going in the direction it started for ; some- 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 



207 



thing or other is sure to attract 
its attention, especially if it has its 
brood behind it, and its mate is 
on the watch, makinof a oreat show 
of vigilance and unnecessary 
sagacity. The young ones — trying 
to follow the mother's movements 




THE WATER HEN 



as she darts at a fly 
here, pecks at some- 
thing there, suddenly 
stands on her head 



2c8 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

to fetch something up from down below, or makes an unex- 
pected dash at an insect that is skimming across to the reeds — 
twist and wind about and get in each other's way, Hke a 
squad of badly-managed boats, that keep on fouling and 
ramming one another, and all the time keep up a feeble 
little chorus of disconsolate cheep-cheep. But they are 
learninir their lessons all the time, and it is delightful to 
watch their imitations. They gape at the passing tlies, 
make sudden little excursions, three inches at a time, after 
something they think they see, and ridiculously attempt to 
dive, as they notice their mother do. But they are so light 
and so weak that the resistance of the water is too much for 
them, and all they can do is to put their heads under water and 
kick in the air with their legs, exactly like little boys trying 
to turn somersaults on the grass, but only getting half over. 

Indeed, whatever the moorhens are doing, they are 
interesting, and there is an alert sprightliness about them 
when in company that is infinitely amusing. When an old 
bird is alone (it is impossible to tell cock from hen) it is 
very self-respecting and purposeful. As it goes upon the 
grass there is a high-stepping, aristocratic gait about its 
walk that even the affected little flirt of the tail accentuates, 
and when he is in the water, with some object-point in view, 
he swims both fast and straight. And what beautiful homes 
they find, where the yellow iris grows, and the marsh- 
marigold, and tangles of forget-me-not, where the stream 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 209 

filters in the shallows through beds of cress, or deepens 
into pools, so that the water-lily may spread its pads at 
ease. And there are beds of bulrush and feathery-headed 
reeds, into which they paddle ; and if you do not mind wet 
feet, you can go and look right along the little ''pleached" 
alleys they have made for themselves, to the end where the 
nest, a heap of rushes with a comfortable hollow smooth- 
lined with finer material, closes the passage. No bird nests 
more becomingly than the moorhen, or more picturesquely ; 
and if it were not that I remembered the enjoyment I 
used to find in wading after them, and (with some shame 
be it said) the excellence of the eggs when hard-boiled 
cold, I should look back with more repentance than I do 
to the wholesale manner in which I used to fill my hand- 
kerchief full of the large speckled eggs, and triumphantly 
distribute them along the table at tea-time. Alas ! for Clare's 
supposition that 

" At distance from the water's edge 
Or hanging sallow's farthest stretch 
The moorhen builds her nest of sedge 
Safe from destroying schoolboy's reach." 

While I robbed her — a moorhen by judicious robbery can 
be made to go on laying twenty eggs and upwards — the 
mother would get into the water under the shadow of the 
reeds, and with only her head out, watch the spoliation in 

2 D 



2 10 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

progress. And sometimes, coming upon her asleep, perhaps, 
on her nest after her young ones had hatched, it was a 
sight to see how suddenly she vanished, and how the chicks 
scramblinof out after her in a twinklin-j^, stood on their 
heads, thinking they too had dived out of sight. I have 
often taken up the little fluff-balls in my hand, and wished 
to take them home, but kinder thoughts have supervened, 
and I have laid them back on the water and watched them 
paddle off to the shelter where the poor mother, only her 
red-spot beak showing above water, crouched, clucking 
nervously in stage whispers, ''This way, this way." 

Sitting at ease one clay watching a family party, I 
became aware of a rat that was watchino- them as well 
— a comnion brown farmyard rat — that, with so many 
others of his kind, haunt osier-beds and streams, and, by 
their depredations, bring discredit upon the water-vole. The 
miscreant was on the bank ; the " moor-chickens " were 
paddling in a dutiful, unsuspicious fashion behind their 
mother, when one of them, cominof to some weeds, must 
needs scramble on to the top, to show what a clever bird it 
was. Something it found there interested it for an instant, 
and meanwhile all the rest went on. Then I saw the rat 
slip into the water, and swim towards the little platform of 
weeds ; and the chick saw it too, and wondered, no doubt, 
what it was. But it decided that the thing did not look quite 
right somehow, and got into the water to follow its brothers 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 211 

and sisters. If it had known what was behind it, and had 
paddled at its best pace, it would have beaten the rat easily ; 
but it was in no hurry, and went slowly across towards the 
bank. Close behind it swam the rat. The little bird was 
doomed. In my cap I had some dabchick's eggs, and I 
took one out, and trustinor to luck to miss the bird, threw it 
at the beast. There was a smart splash in the water, just 
where I had hoped to see it, close to the rat's nose, and the 
next instant the chick was swimming for dear life after its 
mother and the rat was scrambling up the bank. I wonder 
what each of them thought of that dabchick's egg ? Nothing 
so "wonderful" as that ever happens to us in our lives. 
With birds and beasts it happens every day. But they do 
not go crazy at the constant repetition of miracles, for, 
fortunately, they do not understand them. 

"Fen sparrows chirp and fly to fetch 
The withered reed-down rustUng nigh ; 
And by the sunny side the ditch 
Prepare their dweUing warm and dry.'' 

Next to moorhens, the most constant companion of the 
visitor to the sedgy margins of a pond or osier-bed is the reed- 
warbler. To many eyes the reed- and the sedge-warblers look 
alike, and to most ears their songs sound alike. Nor in their 
cominsfs and croines and general behaviour is there much to 
distinguish them as they creep about in their shady coverts 




, ^,J'y^y='4[:;^ 



or momentarily Hit across 
some narrow space, or with 
a fliirht like a flyino--fish's 
in the water, suddenly 
appear on the surface of 
the reeds, skim their level 
tops, and as suddenly drop 
down out of siofht a<>"ain. 
They come to England 
too-ether, and tOQ-ether seek 
the same haunts. The 
only way to make them 
betray themselves is by 
throwinof somethinij amons' 
the reeds, when each of 
them will at once protest, 
sometimes scoldino- like a 



THE REED MUSICIANS 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 213 

whitethroat, sometimes breaking out into a bold, beautiful 
song. Each bird, too. occasionally forgets its shyness, 
and coming out from its retreat perches well in sight and 
fearlessly sings its loudest. But their nests are unmis- 
takable ; for while the sedge-warbler always builds upon 
some support, the reed-sparrow hangs its nest between sup- 
ports, but never upon them. Yet as you loiter near their 
pretty nesting-places, it does not matter much which of the 
birds you disturb, for either will sing for you as long as 
you remain, and it is a charming sight to see the litde 
olive-o-reen bird clinofine to a reed or a willow-withe, and with 
stretched throat singing with all its might. A very little 
wind makes it sway, and this, with the bird's strange 
ventriloquist powers, makes the song seem to sway, too, 
and as you watch it, the small creature grows quite mystical, 
with its notes, now near now far, and its beautiful little body 
swino-ing to and fro in the chequered shadow of the tall 
plumed reeds. And sometimes, while he is singing, the 
hen-bird, as if excited by his song, begins too, in a harsher 
voice but not unmusical, and once started you will hear the 
duet going on behind you long after you have left. In 
the warm evenings, when out with my net moth-hunting 
along the river side, I have often heard them singing 
amono- the sedo-e and willows, and later, coming home in 
the dark, have found them still in full song. 

As a matter of fact, our short nights in summer have 



2 14 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

often as much melody as the days. Not so much chatter 
and chirruping and twittering, but quite as much song, for 
there are none of our singing-birds that, when the fancy takes 
them, will not add a beauty to a fine night by their music. 
Sleeping out of doors (I do so as often as I can get the 
chance), I have at one time or another heard them all, the 
cuckoo and the owl too-ether, the robin and the ni^htineale. 
There is one exception, the skylark, and inasmuch 
as I have never heard it singing in the dark, I always 
consider it either the sleepiest or the most methodical of 
all birds. To call the lark lazy and a "slug-abed," to use 
Shakespeare's word, sounds, I know, like treason, for has 
not every poet from Chaucer onwards told us that it wakes 
the day; and is not "to rise with the lark" a household 
word for being up very early ? But if we come to 
prosy facts, they are all dead against the skylark, for by the 
time it begins to think of awaking the day, the other birds 
have been already doing it for hours. Of course, it may 
be that the sun does not pay any attention to the other 
birds, regards them as unlicensed watchmen who have no 
business to try and wake him up before his proper time, and 
that he waits for the lark, as the only genuine certificated 
waker-up of the firmament, before he gets out of bed. Robins 
and blackcaps, woodlarks and reed-warblers are perhaps 
mere irresponsible amateurs. The skylark is the one 
properly diploma'd professor. He alone really knows when 



BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 215 

the sun ought to be awakened ; the rest only think they 
know. 

To tell the truth, if Phoebus were to attend to every 
bird that chooses to call him, he might just as well breakfast 
overnight ; lie down on the sofa with his hat and boots on, 
or not go to sleep at all. Moreover, the skylark has the 
merit of punctuality and is regular. He is always up and 
singing by the time there is light enough to see him by. 
The sun can rely upon him, which is more than can be said 
for the robin, who, though I do not wish to say anything 
about him that might injure his character, sings in the 
mornings decidedly tipsily, as if he had been out all night at 
a party and were just coming home '' with the milk." 

But no treason of the robin ! More than any other bird it 
has endeared itself to our race, and our earliest literature 
bears witness to the national affection for " the charitable 
ruddock." Somehow or another, the pretty fancy has 
attached itself to the bird, that it "covers the bodies of 
unburied men," and long before Shakespeare utilised it to 
beautify a passage it had passed into the proverbs of the 
country. But even those who do not remember the charm- 
ing legend with which the story of " The Babes in the 
Wood" familiarises every English nursery, love the robin 
for its beautiful confidence in man and woman, and for its 
brave-hearted song. While the trees are still bare in spring, 
and before the thrushes and blackbirds have begun to try 



2i6 BIRDS OF THE WAVE AND WOODLAND 

their voices, the robin chants his cheery song, so full of bright 
faith and gladsome hope that the hearer cannot but take 
fresh heart on hearing him sing of better times. In summer, 
when " varied music burthens every bough," the voice of the 
little preacher of the wood is lost for a while, but by-and- 
by, when the songsters all have gone southward with the 
sunshine, and the chill rain drips from empty boughs upon 
the russet drifts of autumn leaves, the robin mounts the 
vacant choir, and out of the fulness of his own brave little 
heart utters his sweet brief canticle, "thanking God" so it 
seems " for a life so fair," and bidding all the sad who listen 
to him to renew their hopes and be light-hearted, to continue 
in their joy. And so to December and the end of the year, 
which the robin-redbreast always sings out with a happy 
Christmas carol. 



NDEX 



Among the Osiers, boyish sport, 202-5 
Artifices of birds, 63 

Birds : 

of the seasons. 13, 14 

calendar of, 47 

of the months, 54 

little noticed, loi 

of the sea, 158 

flight of coloured, 162 

in the poets (sec Poets) 
Bird-pests, 104, 105 
Bird-voices, expressiveness of, 113 

song of caged birds, ^;i, 34 
Bittern, its folk-names, 48 
Black-backed gull (see Gull) 
Blackbird, 30 

curious folk-belief about, 31 

what becomes of its surplus numbers, 31 

its nest, 32 

its " piping," i^, 34-37 
Blackcap, loi 

its song mistaken for the nightingale's, 102 

its eggs and nest, 117, 118 
" Blasquet chickens," 177 
Boyish sport among the osiers, 202-205 
British Museum, curious notions as to what it wants, 201, 202 

Caged Birds Singing, 33, 34 
Calendar of birds, 47 
Cat concerts, 35 



2i8 INDEX 

Colour in flights of birds, 162 
Coot, 50 
Corn-crake, 113 

its cry, 114, 117 
Cuckoo, 99 

its foster-parents, 100 

food and song, loi 
Curlew, folk-lore of, 49 
Cushat {sec Wood-pigeon) 

Dabchicks, 205 

" Davy Jones's locker," 173, 174 
Dotterel, 64 
its note, 67 

Eagle, 71, 72 

in poetry, 153 

its flight, 154 

(sec Erne) 
Egg-gathering at Flamborough, 167 
Eider-duck, 182 
Erne, 155 

its haunts, 156 

its young, 157, 158 

its raids on young birds, 165 

raids on puffins and rabbits, 170 

and black-backed gull, 183 

and skua, 184 
Evening sounds, 67, 114, 117 

Falcon, 72, 75, 76 

a falconry, 75 

the Laggar-falcon, 71 
Fern-owl, its song, 67 

its flight, 68, 69 
Fieldfares, 54 
Finches, 50 

the goldfinch a pest in New Zealand, 104 
Flamingoes, 162 
Flitter-mouse, 117 
Flycatchers, igi 



INDEX 219 



Gamekeepers, their stupidity, 144 
Garden-warbler, loi, 103 
Goatsucker {sec Fern-Owl) 
Goldfinch a pest in New Zealand, 104 
Grasshopper warbler, 1 1 9 
Great Tit (sec Tit) 
Grouse, 70 
Guillemots, 161, 162 

their haunts and young, 163 

their eggs, 164 

the raids on their young, 165-167 
Gull, the Black-backed, 178 

its habits and resorts, 181-183 
Giinther, Dr., on the Great Tit of Rowfant, 128, 129 

Halcyon (see Kingfisher) 
Hawks, chased by swallows, 40 

British, 75 
Heron, 48, 143 

its persecution by gamekeepers, 144 

its effect in landscape, 147 

its post of observation, 148 

a heronry at breeding-time, 149 

in hawking days, 150 
" Hewel," the (Woodpecker), 49 

Insects, destruction of, by swallow, 39 

Jay, 138 

Kestrel, 139 

its destruction of mice, 140-143 
Kingfisher, its effect in the landscape, 147 

its haunts and habits, 189-192 

its colouring, nest and eggs, 193, 194 

the mystery of the halcyon, 195 

folk-beliefs, 196 

hardships in winter, 196 

its association with the picturesque, 199, 200 

the method of feeding its young, 200, 201 

;^ioo for its nest, 201, 202 



220 INDEX 

Laggar-Falcon, 71 
Lark : the skylark, 69 

its song, 103, 104 

a pest in New Zealand, 104 

its late rising and regular song, 214, 215 

the woodlark, its song, 102 
Lighthouses and migrants, 20, 21 
Lion's cries, 34-37 

Magpie, 136-138 
Mavis (sec Thrush) 
Merle [see Blackbird) 
Migration and overcrowding, 16 

flights of migrants, 20, 21 

mystery of migration, 21-26 

mortality among migrants, 25 

what makes " home " for a bird, 56-58 
Mice, destruction of, by kestrel. 140 
" Molly-hawks," 184, 185 
Months, birds of the, 54 
Moorhen, igg, 206, 207 

its }"oung, 208 

haunts and nest, 209 

a rat adventure, 210, 211 
" Mother Carey's chickens,"' 173 

Night, bird-music in summer, 213, 214 
Nightingale, migration of, 19, 20 

song of, ii 

in spring, 56 

the blackcap's similarity of song, 102 
Nightjar {see Fern-Owl) 
Nuthatch, 123, 124 

its nest-hole, 125 

Ossifkage, the, in India, 154 
Owl, 133 

its utility, 134 

its ill-names, 135 

the burrowing owl, 170 

{see Fern-Owl) 
Ox-eye {see Tit) 



INDEX 221 



Parrots, 162 

Partridges, 76-79 

Peregrine {sec Falcon) 

Pests, birds which have become, 104, 105 

Petrel, 173 

in folklore, 174 

excellent eating, 177 

mystery of its nesting, 1 77 

its burrows, 178 
Pheasant, 76-80 
Poets, the, and the birds : 

Barry Cornwall, the Petrel, 173, 178 
the Sparrow, 109 

Beattie, the Ringdove, 118 

Bloomfield, the Robin and Wren, 83 

Burns, the Mavis, 14 
the Moorcock, 70 
the Corn-crake, 113 

Byron, the Partridge and Pheasant, 76 

Clare, the Partridge, 47 

the Moorhen, 209 
Cowper, the Sparron', 105 
Cunningham, the Magpie, 136 

Drayton, the Blackbird (" woosell,") t,^^ 
the Bittern, 48 
the Dotterel, 64 
the Kingfisher, 189 
the Coot, 206 

Faber, the Sea-fond, 167 
the Kingfisher, 192 
the Coot, 2o5 

Grahame, the Merle, 30 
the Eagle, 153 
the Grouse, 70 

Hood, the Blackbird, 31 
Hurdis, the Rook, 55 

Ingelow, Jean, the Finch, 70 



222 INDEX 

Keats, the Thrush, 14 
the Sivallotv, 38 
the Finch, 59 

Leyden, the Heron, 143 
the Woodlark, 103 

Mackay, the Gulls, 162 
Mallet, on Migration, 21 
the Sea-foid, 169 

Marvel, the Heivl (woodpecker), 50 

the Heron, 150 
Montgomery, the NnthatcJi, 123 

the Sea-eagle, 170 

Pope, the Magpie, 136 
Prior, the Sparroiv, 106 
the Turtle-dove, 120 

Scott, the Blackbird, 30 
Shakespeare, the Throstle, 14 
Shelley, the Ringdove, 59 

the Skylark, 103-4 

the Ore/ (Aziola), 133 

the Eagle, 190 
Shenstone, the Rook, 93 
Somerville, the Heron, 143 
Southey, the Nitthatclt, 123 
Spenser, the Eagle, 153 

Tennyson, the Thrush, 14 
Thomson, the i^ooA', 55 
the iroofZ/rtrA", 102 

White, Gilbert, the Rook, 55 
Wordsworth, the Bittern and irofufforA-, S3 
the Cuckoo, 99 

Prairie-dog, 170 
Ptarmigan, 71 
Puffin, 167 

haunts and habits, 168, i6g 

its nest-hole, 170 

Rabbit, and its enemy the erne, 170 



INDEX 223 



Rat and blackbird's nest, 32 
Reed-warbler, 21 1-2 13 
Ring-dove {sec Woodpigeon) 
Robin, and wren, 86, 8g 

early song of, 215 
Rook, 55 

and crow, 93 

value to the farmer, 94-96 

its habits, 97 

its young, 98 
Rowfant, the great tit of, 128, 129 

Sambhur-Stag, 148 

St. Kilda and its puffins, 167, 168 

Sea-eagle {sec Erne) 

Seabirds, haunts of, 158 

Seasons, birds of the, 13, 14 

Sedge-warbler, 2 11-21 3 

Shrikes, 191 

Skua, 184-5 

Skylark {sec Lark) 

Snails, 27 

Song of caged birds, 33 

meaning of song, 34, 35 

song of warriors and savages, 37 

expressiveness of bird-voices, 113 

music of summer nights, 213, 214 
Sparrow, its wildness, 60, 61 

a pest in America and Colonies, 105, 106 

the sparrow-line in the U.S., 105 

a popular favourite, 106 

the London sparrow, 108 

the soldier and sailor's comrade, 109, no 
Squirrel and blackbird's nest, 32 
Summer nights, music of, 213, 214 
Swallow, in folklore, 38 

its speed, care of young, destruction of insects, 39 

hawk-chasing, 40 

at brooding-time, 41, 42 

migration of, 43, 55 

Throstle {sec Thrush) 



224 INDEX 

Thrush, 14 

is it a migrant ? 15, ig 

identification with throstle and mavis, 26 

food of, 27 

song of, 2g 

in winter, 29 

companion of blackbird, 30 

appearance in March, 55 
Tit, the great, 126 

a curious experience, 127 

strange nesting-place, 129, 130 
Toucans, igi 
Turtle-dove, migration of, 19 

nest and nest-building, 119, 120 

its flight, 123 

Voices of Birds (see Song) 
Vole (sec Water-Vole) 

Wagtail, 50, 53 
Water-hen {sec Moorhen) 
Water-rat, 93 

and moorhen, 210 211 
Water-vole, 93, 199, 200 

cutting reeds, 205 
Whelks, 27 
Woodcock, 83 

in the poets, 84 
Woodlark {see Lark) 
Woodpecker, 49, 50 
Woodpigeon, 59 

its tameness, 60 

defence of young, 61-63 
Wren, 84, 85 

in folklore, 86, 89 
Wryneck, 125 

Yaffingale {see Woodpecker 



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