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Full text of "A history of British birds"

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ALBERT R. MANN 
LIBRARY 



New York State Colleges 

OF 

Agriculture and Home Economics 




Cornell University 




The original of tiiis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924000056824 



A HISTORY 



OF 



BRITISH BIRDS, 

WITH COLOUEED ILLUSTEATIONS 

OP THEIR 

EGGS. 

BY 

HENEY SEEBOHM. 



VOL. I. 



LONDON: 

PUBLISHED FOR THE AUTHOR BY 
R. H. PORTER, 6 TENTERDEN STREET, W., 

AND 

DULAU & CO., SOHO SQUARE, W. 
1883. 



FLAMMAM. 




PBTNTED BY TAYIOE ANX> PBANCIS, 
BED LIOK COURT, FLEET STREET. 



CONTENTS or VOL. I. 



INTEODUCTION ^^^^^ ^^g 

Family PALCONID^ i 

<Tenus VULTUE 2 

VuJfnr fidvus. Griffon- Vulture 1. 4 

percnopterits. Egyptian Vulture 1. H 



1 3. 16 



Genus EALCO j5 

FaJco rjyrfaJco. Brown ,Ter-Falcon 

candicans. "White Jer-Falcon 

pererjriDAis. Peregrine Falcon 3. 23 

suhJmteo. Hobby 4, 31 

cesahn. Merlin 4. 34 

vesperiinus. Ked-footed Falcon 4. 42 

tinnunctilus. Kestrel 4. 45 

cenchri/?. Lesser Kestrel 4. 51 

Genus PANDION 54 

PandioH haliaetus. Osprey 3. 55 

(JeuusELANOIDES 62 

Elanoides fvrcatus. SwaUow-tailed Kite 6. 63 

Genus MILVUS 73 

Milims regaVis. Common Kite 5. 74 

ater. Black Kite ' 5. 80 

Genus HALIAETUS 86 

Haliaetus idhicilla. White-tailed Eagle 2. 87 

Genus AQUILA 95 

Aquila chrysaetus. Golden Eagle 2. 96 

ncevia. Lesser Spotted Eagle 2. 106 

lagopus. Eough-legged Buzzard Eagle 5. Ill 



iT CONTENTS. 

Genus BTJTEO 

BitUo t'lilifaris. Common BuzMU"d . 



atrkajiilhiit. Amoiioan Oosluwyk 



Family PASSERID-ffil 



lit' 

117 



Genus CIECrS ^""^ 

(■ 124 

Circus anminosus. Mareh-Htirrior " " 

c>/anvs. Hen-Harner _ . .,, 

cii>e)-aeftis. Montagu's Harrier 

Gejius ACCIPITEE ^''^J 

AeciphiT nisus. Spnrrow-Ha'wk 

j)(r7i(m6i(Wiw. Goshawk' *' 



Oeodchla vana. White's Ground-Thrush s. 



142 

145 



146 



Family STEIGID^ 

Genus ALVCO • 1" 

AlucoJI(i»i»ir>is. Barn-Owl "• ^"''^ 

Genus ?TEIX li")2 

Stri.v ah(co. 'Wood-Ovrl ■ H. l-'"'-! 

otits. Long-cared Owl "■ 1 *''^* 

tengmahiii. Tengmalm's Owl 7. U>4 

hraohyotus. Short-eared Owl 7. 107 

Genus NOCTUA 173 

Noctua nodiia. Little Owl 7. 174 

Genus SUEJTIA 1T(! 

Siiniia vjictiv. Snowy Owl 7. 177 

ftiiHiva. Hawk Owl IS;? 

Genus BUBO lS(i 

Bubo mammuit. Eaglo-Owl 7. 187 

Genus SCOPS l!)ii 

Scops scops. Soops Owl 7. 1 >);{ 



UK! 



1!) 



Genus GEOCICHLA ,,,^ 



200 



sibinca, Siberian Ground-Thrush ^o-i 



CONTENTS. 



Genus TURDUS 

Turdus viscivorus. Missel-Thrush 

musicus. Song-Thrush 

ilicKus. Eedwing 

■pilarin. Fieldfare 



Genus MERULA 

Merula merula. Blackbird 

torqunta. Ring-Ouzel 

atriffularis. Black-throated Ouzel 

Genus CIXCLUS 

Ginchis aqimtuas. Common Dipper 11. 

melaiiogaster. Black-beUied Dipper . . 

Genus ERITHACUS 

Erithacus rahecula. Robin 

sifeciai. Arctic Blue-throated Robin .... 

lasi-iiiia. Nightingale 



Genus MONTICOLA 

Moiiticola siixdtilis. Rock-Thrush 

Genus RUTICILLA 

Suticilla iiJii.eaicartts. Redstart . 
tithijs. Black Redstart 



Genus SAXICOLA 

iSa.vicoIa cenanthe. Wheatear 

deserti. Desert-Wheatear .... 

stapitziaa. Black-throated Chat 



Genus PRATINCOLA 

Fi-iiiijicola ruhetrii. Whiuchat 
rubicola. Stonechat .... 



Genus MUSCICAPA 

Masdccqxi rjruola. Spotted Flycatcher 9 

atrkap'dla. Pied Flycatcher 

parva. Red-breasted Flycatcher 9 



Plate 


Page 
206 


8. 


207 


8. 


213 


8. 


220 


8. 


228 




234 


8. 


235 


8. 


243 




249 




252 


11. 


253 




XXIU 




261 


9. 


20-' 


0. 


269 


9. 


276 




280 


8. 


281 




286 


9. 


2y7 


'■). 


293 




297 


9. 


298 


9. 


304 


9. 


307 




311 


9. 


312 


9. 


317 




322 


9. 


323 


9. 


328 


9. 


332 



Subfamily SYLVIINM 

Genus LOCUSTELLA 

Locustella locuslAta. Grasshopper Warbler 
luxcinioides. Savi's Warbler 



337 



338 


340 


346 



vi CONTENTS. 

Genus ACEOCEPHALUS 



Plate Page 

350 



1 352 

AcroeepTialus phragmitis. Sedge- Warbler ■ 

aquaticus. Aquatic Warbler • 

turcloides. Great Keed- Warbler 10- f 

aruncUnaceus. Eeed- Warbler ^- ' 

palustris. Marsh- Warbler 10- ^75 

Genus HYPOLAIS ^^^ 

HypoMs hijpolais. Icterine Warbler 10. 381 

Genus SYLVIA 385 

Sylvia nisoiia. Barred Warbler 10. 38/ 

orplieiis. Orphean Warbler 10. 390 

atricapilla. Blackcap 10. 394 

Tiortensis. Garden- Warbler .. •• 10. 400 

cinerea. WMtefchroat lO. 405 

cui-ruca. Lesser Wbitetbroat 10. 410 

provincialis. Dartford Warbler 10. 414 

galaetocles. Eufous Warbler 10. 418 

Genus PHTLLOSCOPUS 4-^3 

Phylloscopus sibilatrLv. Wood- Wren 10. 426 

troehilus. WiUow-Wron 10. 430 

rafm. Cbiftbhaff 10. 435 

siiperciliostis. YeUow-browed Willow-Wren . . 10. 441 



Subfamily PARINyE 451 



Genus EEGULUS . 

liegalus cristattis. Goldcrest _ w 

igmcapillus. Fireorest XI. 

Genus PAEUS 



Genus ACEEDULA 

Acredula amdcdu. Continental Long-tailed Tit "1 



452 
453 
458 



462 

Parus major. Great Tit cj . „ 

co'rideus. Blue Tit y . 

ater, European Coal Tit .... "1 

britannicus. British Coal Tit J 472 

pcdustiis. Marsh-Tit g 

cristatus. Crested Tit g 



476 
481 



485 



rosea. British Long-tailed Tit J ' ' 486 



CONTENTS. 




vii 


Genus PANURUS 


Plate 


Page 
491 


Panurvs iiarmicus. Bearded Tit 


12. 


492 


Genus ACCENTOR 




496 


Accentor modalaris. JJedge-Sparrow 


12. 


497 


alpinus. Alpine Accentor 


12. 


501 


Genus TEOGLODTTES 




504 


Tfoglodytes parvulus. Wren 


. ... 11. 


505 


Genus CERTHIA . . . 




511 


Oerthia familiaris. Common Creeper 


11. 


512 


Genus TICHODROMA 




517 


TicJiodroma muraria. Wall-Creeper 


. . . 18. 


518 


Genus SITTA 




522 


Sitta ccesia. Nuthatch 


12. 


523 



Subfamily COiiF/iV^ 530 

Genus CORVUS 530 

Gorviis coraca. Raven 16- 532 

corone. Carrion-Crow 16. 540 

comix. Hooded Crow 16- 545 

frugihfjas. Rook 16. 549 

monedidu. Jackdaw 16- 555 



Genus PICA 561 



Pica caudata. Magpie 16. 



Garruhis glandarius. Common Jay 16. 



Nucifraga caryoeatactes. 



Genus 0RI0LU8 

Oriolus galbida. Golden Oriole H- 



562 



Genus GAREULUS 568 



569 



576 



Genus PYRRHOCORAX 575 

Pyrrhocoraco graculus. Chough 16. 

Genus NUCIERAGA 



582 

Nutcracker 16. 583 



588 
589 



viii CONTENTS. 

Plate 
Subfamily LAMINA 

Genus LANIUS 

Lanius major. Pallas's Grey Shrike 

eoocuhitor. Great Grey Shrike 11. 

minor. Lesser Grey Shrike !!• 

collurio. Eed-baoked Shrike 11. 

rufus. Woodchat Shrike 11. 



Page 
593 



594 
595 
598 
603 
606 
610 



INTRODUCTION. 



The number of books which have been published on British birds is so 
great that it might be thought that every thing that could be said on the 
subject had been already well said. But such is the rapid progress 
which ornithology has made during the last few years that even the 
earlier portions of Dresser's ' Birds of Europe ' and Newton's edition of 
Yarrell's ' British Birds ' are quite out of date. Not only have many 
important gaps in the geographical distribution of some of our commoner 
birds been filled up, and a large part o£ the histoiy of some of the rarer 
ones been discovered, but in many respects I have found it necessary to 
look upon the whole subject from a different point of view. The argu- 
ments in favour of the theory that the species of animals now existing in 
the world were evolved by natural laws, some of which we have discovered, 
from species of a more primitive type which lived in remote geological 
ages are so irresistible that it is impossible to ignore them. At the 
first glance it would seem that the developmeut of a species was a subject 
quite apart from its present history ; but it will be found that this 
question of the development of species by evolution is one which lies at 
the foundation of all inquiries into the history of individual species ; and 
when it is answered in the aiErmative, the study of ornithology is found 
to j)ossess a new interest, many obscure points become comparatively 
clear, and the old treatment of the subject requires modifying in various 
ways. It is of the utmost importance to have clear ideas on this subject, 
in order rightly to interpret the facts of Nature ; and consequently a 
few liaes must be devoted to 

The Hypothesis or Evolution. 
There is amongst birds, as there is throughout the animal and vegetable 
world, a more or less keen " struggle for existence." The natural increase 
is so rapid that the surplus population is necessarily killed ofi', partly by 
falling a prey to stronger animals, partly by want of food, partly by disease, 
and partly, especially in the case of migratory birds, by other forms of 
violent death. Consequently we find that a weeding process is constantly 
going on throughout Nature. The weak die; the strong live: the fit 
survive; the unfit perish. This is called the " survival of the fittest." But 



X INTRODUCTION. 

to understand how this process can cause any development or evolution of 
species^ it is necessary to know two facts : — firsts that there is a difference 
between individuals, so that one is more fit than another to conquer in the 
struggle for existence; and, second, that these individual idiosyncrasies 
are for the most part hereditary, and are capable of being transmitted to 
offspring. These two facts are well known to every breeder of cattle, 
horses, dogs, or pigeons, and are the main facts upon which the horti- 
culturist relies for success. The artificial selection of the farm or the 
garden has its counterpart in "natural selection.^' This is the broad 
theory of evolution as propounded by Darwin and Wallace. Respecting 
the details of its application, some difference of opinion still exists. Most 
writers consider that the differences in individuals from which Nature 
selects the fittest to survive by killing off those which are less fit to cope 
with the difficulties of life are accidental differences. Others hold the 
theory that the tendency to vary from the ancestral type is a tendency in 
a certain direction towards a fixed goal ; it may be as mysterious and in- 
explicable as the tendency of a stone to gravitate to the earth, or of a 
needle to fly to a magnet, but not the less a fact, the one tendency being 
as originally inherent in organic matter as the other in inorganic matter. 
All that can be said is that it was originally made so. But, be this true 
or not, the peculiarities of form and colour which we find in birds and 
other animals do not seem to be all accounted for by the theory of the 
survival of the fittest. There seems to be a correlation of the external 
colour of many birds with their internal organization, which is inexplicable 
on the commonly received view. Many internal characters are, as my 
friend Mr. Alfred Tylor expresses it, emphasized on the plumage. It seems 
possible also that in some cases there may be a direct influence of climate 
upon colour, independent of the indirect influence of protective selection. 
The selection of Nature is in different directions. The fitness for the posi- 
tion in which a bird or other animal is placed which ensures its survival 
may be of various kinds ; — muscular strength or other superior organi- 
zation to enable it to conquer its enemies of its own or other species • 
special adaptations to enable it to secure a better supply of food ; special 
coloration to enable it to escape the observation of its enemies or attract 
the attention of the opposite sex ; or it may mimic the colour or shape of 
some other animal known to be dangerous ; or the special fitness may be 
in the habits of the bird, in its choice of a nesting-site, in its migra- 
tions — in fact, in every variation of structure or habits which distino-uisi^gg 
one species from another. 

The acceptation of the hypothesis of evolution implies the recognition 
of species in the process of formation. If this theory be correct there 
must be always some species which are not yet finished. In the slow 
process of evolving two species from one there must be a period when the 



INTRODUCTION. xi 

two species are only half evolved. Do we find these half-formed species ? 
At any period of the world's history^ if the process of evolution is 
always going on^ there ought surely to be some instances of half -evolved 
species. So there are. It is easy to find examples of species in every 
stage of development, from mere local races to well-defined subspecies. 
To enable us to discriminate between these on the one hand and between 
species and subspecies on the other, it is necessary to inquire into 

The Interbreeding op Birds*. 

This is a subject which has been much neglected by ornithologists. 
The existence of intermediate forms so produced has been as much as 
possible ignored. Where the facts were too obvious to admit of doubt, 
the so-called cross was contemptuously dismissed as a hybrid, a mon- 
strosity, and as such possessing no more scientific interest than a white 
Blackbird or a six-legged calf. So long as each species was supposed to 
have had a separate origin, and to be divided by a hard-and-fast line from 
every other species, this attitude of ornithologists toAvards interbreeding 
was excusable ; but now that the theory of evolution has been generally 
accepted, the subject will be found to possess the greatest interest and to 
throw unexpected light upon the development of species. The old defini- 
tion of species having lapsed, in consequence of the rejection of the theory 
of special creation, it is necessary to provide a new one. AVe may define 
a species to be a group of individuals which, however much they may ^ary 
from each other, do not present any hard-and-fast line between their 
extreme variations, and which, however near they may be to their nearest- 
allied species, are nevertheless separated from them by a hard-and-fast 
line. Naturalists may difl^er as to the assignment of the cause why inter- 
mediate forms are absent ; but we may reasonably infer, first, that the 
intermediate forms have become extinct, and, secondly, that they are not 
reproduced by interbreeding. There may be several reasons why they are 
not reproduced by interbreeding. Where Nature has drawn the line very 
broadly, the species may ha^ e been so long separated and may have become 
so differentiated that productive sexual intercourse between them may 
have become structurally impossible. A somewhat narrower line exists 
between species which may be artificially crossed, but produce under those 
circumstances only a barren hybrid. The specific line of demarcation is 

* Interbreeding may or may not mean cross-breeding. Wherever tlie interbreeding 
wbicb habitually talies place between the individuals of a apeoiea has not ceased, any 
dili'erences between them can only be subspecific. Subspecies may be defined as groups 
in which the interbreeding which habitually takes place between individuals in a species 
has not yet ceased, but takes place along the whole line of its geographical distribution, 
though seldom between the two extremes. 



xii INTRODUCTION. 

still narrower where barren hybrids are produced in a state of Nature. 
The line of demarcation is considerably narrowed when more or less fertile 
hybrids can be artificially produced but do not occur in a wild state, either 
because the natural inclination to interbreed is absent or because the 
opportunity of interbreeding is taken away by isolation of area of geogra- 
phical distribution ; and we may consider the narrow Une between such 
species and subspecies to be crossed when fertile hybrids are produced in 
a state of nature— a condition of things Tshich, if the fertility is sufficient 
to continue to many generations, must inevitably produce an unbroken 
series of intermediate forms. " The amount of sterility," says Darwin, 
" between any t^ro forms when first crossed, or in their ofi'spring," which 
shall be " considered as a decisive test of their specific distinctness " is a 
point upon which naturahsts are not agreed. There is no hard-and-fast 
line between a specific difference and adiflerence A\liich is only subspecific. 
The practical result is that slight subspecific variations are constantly being 
produced by various causes, of which natural selection is probably the 
most important, and are as constantly being lost by interbreeding ; so that 
the similarity of individuals iu a species is retained, whilst the sterility 
produced by a specific variation prevents the universal mongrelization of 
species which might otherwise take place. Interbreeding is a check upon 
the indefinite multiplication of species ; whilst the narrow limit in which 
it is possible provides against the extinction of specific differences. 
Amongst British birds there are a , great many instances of subspecies 
of which we know, and no doubt many more of which we do not yet 
know. Most of these are cases where the individuals of each valley 
occasionally interbreed with their immediate neighbours, and where the 
range is great enough to make the sum of a series of small difi'erences 
show a large diiference in the extremes, as the Nuthatch, Marsh-Tit, 
Grey Shrike, &c. Others are cases where the species appear to be per- 
fectly distinct, but nevertheless it is found that, Avhere their respective 
ranges meet, they interbreed and produce ofl^spring which are fertile both 
among themselves and with either parent, as the Dipper, Goldfinch, 
Crow, &c. 

English ornithologists have for the most part ignored these intermediate 
forms, and with characteristic insular arrogance have sneered at their 
American confreres for adopting trinomial names which their recognition 
demands. In this, as iu so many other things, our American cousins are 
far in advance of the Old World. One English ornithologist, however 
deserves to be mentioned as an honourable exception. Mr. Bowdler 
Sharpe has boldly braved the blame of the Drs. Dry-as-dust and the 
Professors Red-tape ; and the volumes of the ' Catalogue of Birds in the 
British Museum' hitherto represent almost the only European publi- 
cations on ornithology which are not behind the age in this respect. 



INTRODUCTION. xiii 

The hinomial name will probably generally be used as a contraction ; but 
it must never be forgotten that it is only a contraction. The difference 
between a species and a subspecies, though in some cases not very clear, 
IS far too important a fact to be sacrificed to a craze for a uniform 
binomial nomenclature. 

The grouping of individuals into subspecies and species is the first 
step in 

The Classification of Birds. 

The second step is to group species into genera and subgenera ; the third 
is to group genera into families and subfamilies, and the fourth to group 
families into orders and suborders. The use of the terms subspecies, 
subgenera, &c. implies that all these divisions and subdivisions are more 
or less artificial, and that our systems of classification attempt to draw a 
hard-and-fast line where Nature has drawn none, or only a few here and 
there. 

Looked at from one point of view. Nature may, however, be said to have 
drawn some very hard-and-fast lines. If it were possible to examine every 
species of bird which exists or has existed, we might find that all birds 
were descended from one commoii ancestral species, and that, consequently, 
every species of bird was connected with its nearest allies by an unbroken 
series of intermediate forms ; in which case we should be obliged to admit 
that there was only one species of bird, divisible into an immense number 
of subspecies. Or we might find that birds are descended from several 
ancestral bird-reptiles (so to speak), and that consequently there were 
several species of birds, each divisible into an immense number of sub- 
species. We have, however, only to deal in our classification with existing 
species; and we at once perceive that by the extinction of species and 
genera, to say nothing of families and orders. Nature has drawn some very 
hard-and-fast lines, sometimes only narrow lines, but in many cases very 
broad ones. 

When we come to deal with genera, the artificial character of our 
classification at once reveals itself. The old-fashioned notion that species 
were separated by differences of colour, and genera by structural differences 
(that is, difference in the shape of the bill, feet, wings, or tail), is a pre- 
Darwinian ornithological superstition, which is pure theory, and is entirely 
unsupported by facts. There is no evidence of any kind that the leopard 
can change his spots in a shorter time than it takes him to change the 
shape of his skull. On the other hand, there is strong evidence to prove 
that in many genera of birds colour or pattern of colour is more constant 
than many of the so-called structural characters. The principal causes of 
the chano-e of colour in birds are supposed to be to ensure protection from 
enemies and to please the taste of the females, whilst the changes in the 



xiv INTRODUCTION. 

structural characters are most affected by the nature of the food and the 
necessity or otherwise to migrate. It will at once be seen that the former 
set of causes are much more constant than the latter in the Palsearctic 
Region. There is no reason to suppose that before the existence of man in 
this region much change took place in the enemies against which birds had 
to contend ; nor has it evev been suggested that the tastes of female birds 
are as fickle as those of the females of some of the more highly developed 
animals of the Palsearctic Region ; whilst^ on the other hand, there can be 
no doubt that both the food and the migrations of birds must have been 
affected to an enormous extent by the changes of climate consequent on 
the coming on or passing away of glacial epochs. 

Our ignorance of the comparative value of generic characters appears to 
me to be absolute ; and^ inasmuch as naturalists have agreed that the name 
of a bird is to be binomial^ a combination of the generic and specific names, 
the wisest course is probably to group species together into convenient 
genera, which may assist the memory, taking care to satisfy ourselves that 
the species in each genus are connected together by closer links than those 
which connect them with species in other genera. The lines which Nature 
has drawn between different genera are caused by the extinction of inter- 
mediate species, or by the wideness of the differentiation which has taken 
place between them, which is generally, though not necessarily, a proof of 
the length of time which has elapsed since their original separation. All 
we have to guard against is that the lines which separate our subgenera 
shall be narrower than those which separate the genus from the nearest 
allied genera. 

Our next business is to group our genera into families, the largest of 
which may be conveniently divided into subfamilies. 

So far we shall find it pretty fair sailing in our attempts to classify 
British birds ; but when we come to group our families into orders, the 
difference of opinion amongst ornithologists is so great as to the value of 
characters (which date back to such remote ages) as a sign of relationship 
or community of origin, that we are entirely at sea, and can only shrink 
from attempting to decide where doctors disagree. To show the o-reat 
divergence of opinion amongst ornithologists, it is only necessary to com- 
pare the various modern attempts at a scientific classification of birds 
which will be found to differ from each other in almost every important 
respect, so that it is obvious that any change in the generally received 
classification would be at least premature. Most of these classifications 
are open to the fatal objection that they are attempts to make a linear 
series, beginning with the most highly specialized birds and ending with 
the least so ; whereas a true classification must be a chart in which tl 
most highly specialized birds are in the centre, and the least so at the cir- 
cumference, where they lead on to the forms most nearly allied to birds 



INTRODUCTION. xv 

Since, then, all attempts at a linear arrangement must be artificial, and 
the classification of families into orders is impossible in the present state 
of our knowledge, I have arranged the families in the old but, to a large 
extent, artificial sequence adopted by Cuvier, which has at least the prac 
tical value that it is well known, and thus obviates to a large extent the 
trouble of reference to an index. I have been careful to point out under 
each family whether, in the opinion of the best informed naturalists, it is 
nearly connected or not with the families near which it is placed. 

There is no department of ornithology which has received more atten- 
tion of late years than that of 

Geographical Distribution ; 

and there is no subject more intimately connected with the discrimination 
of species and with the whole question of classification. The zoological 
divisions into which naturalists divide the world are not the same as those 
in common use among geographers. So far as these boundaries are deep- 
sea, they may be said to be practically the same. Where there are no 
changes of climate to make it imperative upon birds to migrate it is 
remarkable how seldom they use their powers of flight to wander far from 
home. Even the narrow channel of deep sea between Borneo and Celebes 
marks an important boundary in the geographical distribution of birds, 
whilst the shallow Mediterranean is of little significance. 

The land-boundaries of the zoological regions are climatic. The world 
is divided into six or seven zoological regions. 

The Palsearctic Region contains the whole of the Old World north of the 
desert of Sahara in Africa and north of the Himalayas in Asia. 

The Nearctic Region contains the New World north of the tropics, i. e. 
north of Mexico. 

The Ethiopian Region consists of Africa south of the great desert, and 
Southern Arabia. 

The Oriental Region consists of Asia south of the Himalayas, and the 
islands of the Malay archipelago as far east as Borneo. 

Tlie Australian Region consists of the rest of the islands of the Pacific. 

The Circumpolar Region has the north pole for its centre, and extends 
to the Arctic circle in the Old World, and somewhat further south in the 
New ; but many naturalists do not recognize this region as zoologically 
distinct. 

Perhaps the most interesting fact connected witli these divisions is that 
in the tropical regions most birds vary much less than they do in the arctic 
regions. If we eliminate the arctic genera, which are comparatively recent 
emigi'ants, we shall find that the tropical species are generally well defined ; 
they are obviously ancient residents who have well nigh exhausted the 
variations required to adapt them to their surroundings, which must have 



xvi INTRODUCTION. 

been, in comparatively recent times, subject to but little change. On the 
other hand, the genera in the two arctic regions are crowded with imper- 
fectly segregated species, which require for their explanation comparatively 
recent and important changes in the climate. These are to be looked for 
in the gradual approach of another glacial epoch. In the warm period 
which permitted the growth of pines almost at the north pole the whole of 
Europe, North Asia, and North America enjoyed a semitropical climate, 
and the variation of species throughout the arctic regions was probably 
very small. As the climate in Lapland and Siberia gradually changed, the 
birds living there gradually changed also ,• and thus we find now in many 
Palsearctie species a semitropical form in West Europe which is connected 
by a series of intermediate forms with an arctic form in Siberia, which 
again gradually changes in the east until in China the West-European 
form is reproduced. In some cases the series is completed by tropical 
species which have evidently been driven south by the glacial period and 
have never returned. I have endeavoured to interest the reader wherever 
possible in some of these near relations of our British birds, many of them 
so closely allied as to be only subspecifically distinct. 

The number of birds included in the British list is about 380. Of these 
126 are residents, though many of them have only slender claims to be 
considered so. Some of them are principally known as winter visitants, 
a few only remaining to breed, chiefly in the north of Scotland ; others 
really belong to the summer visitants, but a sufficient number remain 
during the winter to entitle the species to be considered a resident one. 
Fifty-five species regularly visit our islands every summer for the purpose 
of breeding ; but many of these are becoming rarer every year, partly in 
consequence of the persecution to which they are subjected on their 
arrival, and partly from the destruction of their breeding-grounds by the 
drainage of marshes and the reclamation of waste land. Forty-one species 
may be regarded as winter visitants; but many of these wander still 
further south during midwinter, being principally seen on our shores in 
spring and autumn. The birds contained in these categories form a total 
of 222 species which are fairly entitled to be considered British birds. 
It has, however, been the practice of ornithologists to consider any bird 
British which has even once been obtained in our islands in a wild state 
Of the accidental visitors which thus reach our shores many have occurred 
only once ; but others have been met with much oftener, though some of 
the recorded occurrences must be accepted with considerable hesitation. 
Birds often escape from confinement ; a mistake is made in the identifica- 
tion of the species ; and in very few cases are we able to trace clearly the 
pedigree of individual examples so as to leave no reasonable doubt of their 
authenticity, for skins are very frequently changed or transposed either by 
accident or design. The number of these accidental visitants to the 



INTRODUCTION. xvii 

British Islands, after the doubtful ones have been rejectedj is still 160, of 
which 97 have probably visited us from Europe, 45 from America, and 18 
from Asia. There is no reliable instance on record of any bird whose 
breeding-range is confined to Africa ever having visited our shores. 

The total number of birds which are either known to breed in Europe 
or are regular winter visitants is probably about 500. Of these, as we have 
stated, 222 are residents in the British Islands, either in winter or summer, 
and 97 are included in the list of accidental visitors, leaving only 180 
European species which have not yet paid us a visit. The number of 
accidental visitors to Europe probably does not exceed 90 ; of these about 
60 have visited our islands, leaving only 30 birds which, so far as is known, 
are accidental visitants to the continent alone. 

Of the resident British birds one species only, the Red Grouse, is 
peculiar to our islands ; and one other, the British Coal Tit, is subspecifi- 
cally distinct from its continental allies. 

It is necessary to say a few words on the vexed question of 

Nomenclature. 

To understand the complications of the case let us take, as an example, 
the synonymy of the ClifEchafiF, from the ' Catalogue of the Birds in the 
British Museum/ In order to give an index to the literature of this bird 
no fewer than seventy-six references to the works of ornithologists are 
given. An analysis of these gives the following result ; — The number of 
specific names applied to the Chiffchaff by the writers quoted is fifteen. 
Of these we may at once dismiss twelve, one of which only occurs four 
times, one only three times, two only twice, and eight only once. We 
have now three names left to choose from, dating as under : — 

1787. hippolais (Linn, apud Lath.) 8 times 

1802. rufus (BecLst. ex Briss.) 41 „ 

1817. coUybita (Vieill.) 8 „ 

It is obvious that the second name in the list is the one which ought, if 
possible, to be used. Let us first examine how many generic names have 
been applied to our bird ; no fewer than nine. To these, however, we 
must add the generic terms which have been applied to other species of 
the genus. After eliminating those names which are obviously blunders, 
we have the following left : — 

1766. Motacilla (Linn.). 

1769. Sylvia (Scop.). 

1802. Asili.is (Bechst. nee Linn.). 

1816. Ficedula (Koch nee Cuvier). 

1817. Trochilus (Forster nee Linn.). 
1826. Phylloscopas (Boie). 

1829. Sibilatrijc (Kaup). 
VOL. I. b 



to 



xviii INTRODUCTION. 

1831. Phyllopnemte (Brehm ex Meyer). 

1836. Sylvicola (Eyton nee Swainson). 

1847. Rec/uloides (Blyth). 

1858. Acanthopneuste (Blasius). 

1875. Phyllojoseuste (Meyer fide Meves). 
How is the unfortunate ornithologist to select his generic name from 
such a series ? To solve this complicated problem Strickland drew up his 
celebrated Rules of Nomenclature, which were afterwards adopted with 
slight modifications by the British Association for the Advancement of 
Science. 

So far as regards specific names, I have throughout this work set the 
Rules of the British Association at defiance, being convinced that^ so far 
as ornithology is concerned, they have done infinitely more harm than 
good. Every day that they are retained increases the confusion which 
they have introduced. No one has had the courage to attempt to carry 
them out on a large scale ; but first one writer and then another intro- 
duces a new name, changes are being constantly made^ and names are 
occasionally being transferred from one species to another, until it abso- 
lutely becomes necessary^ in many cases, to quote the English names of 
birds as well as the Latin ones, the latter having been altered in obedience 
to the Stricklandian code, so that they are sometimes absolutely unknown 
to the general reader, or having been applied to different species, so that it 
is impossible to tell which of them is meant. 

The mischief which these Rules have produced is bad enough ; but the 
mischief which they must continually produce if any ornithologist is 
found bold enough to carry them out is far greater ; and not a moment 
should be lost by every ornithologist jealous of the prosperity and honour 
of his favourite study in boycotting the new names, or exposing them in the 
pillory of synonyms. 

The Stricklandian Code is admirable in theory, but utterly breaks down 
in practice. The Rules of the British Association are most excellent if 
applied in Utopia, but amongst a more or less muddle-headed race as 
ornithologists always have been, and as we still remain, they can only be 
productive of endless dispute and confusion. We cannot be trusted to 
form an opinion as to whether the brief and often blundering diagnoses of 
Linnaeus, Gmelin, or Latham are or are not clear definitions of the names 
to which they are annexed. To expect unanimity on such diflScult ques- 
tions is absurd. I have adopted a scheme which appears to me to be the 
most practical of any which have been suggested. It may not satisfy the 
requirements of poetical justice ; but it is at least consistent with common 
sense. I adopt the specific name which has been most used by previous 
writers. It is not necessary for me to encumber my nomenclature with a 
third name, either to denote the species to which it refers, or to flatter the 
vanity of the author who described it ; all my names are auctonim pluri. 



INTRODUCTION. xix 

morum. Under this system no new names can possibly be raked up and 
applied ; and it is one which reduces the chance of a difference of opinion 
to a minimum. 

In the selection of generic names I have followed the Stricklandian 
Code with the following modifications : — 

1st. I take it for granted that the edition of Brisson's ' Ornithologia/ 
said to have been published in 1788, really did exist, and that it was a 
reprint of the 1760 edition. 

2nd. When the evidence as to the original type of a genus is not clear, 
then I follow the majority of authors in the selection of a type. 

3rd. I accept the designation of a type as a clear definition of a genus 
and as overriding any error in the characters given. 

4th. Wherever the name of a species has been selected for the name of 
a genus, the species whose name has been so adopted becomes of necessity 
the type of such genus. 

5th. I adopt the specific name which has been most used, regardless of 
whether it be or be not the same as that of the genus. 

I hope by these means to have eliminated the weak points of the code, 
and to have made it possible for uniformity to be the result of the honest 
effort to carry it out. 

I have not figured the birds treated of in my book, partly because they 
have been so well portrayed in the magnificent plates of Gould's ' British 
Birds ' and in the less ambitious illustrations of Dresser's ' Birds of 
Europe ' *, and partly because it would have made the work too expensive. 
I might have tried wood-engraving; but I could scarcely have expected to 
find an artist who would equal the exquisite cuts in Yarrell's ' British 
Birds.' 

On the other hand, there has not been a good book on British birds' 
eggs published for more than a quarter of a century, if we except the 
fragment of the catalogue of WoUey's collection which appeared nineteen 
years ago. It is a thousand pities that so many valuable notes which must 
have been made on the breeding-habits of rare birds in Lapland should 
still remain unpublished. In my opinion, John WoUey stands out promi- 
nent amongst all other British field-ornithologists as the one solitary 
example of a man who has shown in the pursuit of oology the pluck 
worthy of an Englishman. Even at the present day too many British 
oologists look upon the subject from the point of view of the mere collector 

* Every omitliologist who can aftbrd it ought to buy this work. It is an encyclopasdia 
of information about European biris compiled from all the best sources. It is unfortu- 
nately disfigured with more than the usual average of blunders, especially in the numerous 
translations from the German, which can seldom be relied on. It is much to be regi-etted 
that such an incompetent translator should have been employed ; but with all its faults it 
is a work which is invaluable to the student. 



XX INTRODUCTION. 

of half a century ago, who, so long as he possessed an egg of each species 
of British bird, did not care whence it came or under what circumstances 
or by whom it was collected ; and where they rise above this level, they 
scarcely get beyond the almost equally melancholy point of view of the 
museum curator, who, when he has labelled his specimen with name, 
locality, date, and collector, thinks that the requirements of science are 
satisfied. Of late years 

Oology 

has been much neglected. Some ornithologists ignore the subject alto- 
gether. It is looked upon by a few clever men as being specially adapted 
to the capacity of the schoolboy, but somewhat beneath the dignity of the 
scientific man ; and it is in consequence too frequently despised. The 
new impetus given to the study of all branches of natural history by 
the discoveries of Darwin and Wallace has at length reached Oology ; and 
an additional interest is given to it from the light which it throws in many 
cases upon the relationships of species and genera. The connexion between 
the colour of the egg and the colour of its surroundings, where it is ex- 
posed to danger, is also an additional question of interest of a strictly 
scientific character. 

It is, however, an immense mistake to suppose that the history of a 
bird is completed by the meagre details given in such ultra-scientific 
works as the British Museum Catalogues. In these high and dry publica- 
tions nothing is given but the synonymy, sufficiently complete to be an 
index to the literature, a minute description of the colours of the plumage 
and the changes produced by age, sex, and season, and the geographical 
distribution. These particulars may be sufficient for the museum curator ; 
but for the field -naturalist they are but the foundation upon which his 
superstructure is to be built. The real history of a bird is its life-historj. 
The deepest interest attaches to every thing that reveals the little mind, 
however feebly it may be developed, which lies behind the feathers. The 
habits of the bird during the breeding-season, at the two periods of migration, 
and in winter ; its mode of flight and of progression on the ground, in the 
trees, or on the water ; its song and its various call- and alarm-notes ; its food 
and its mode of procuring it at different seasons of the year ; its migra- 
tions, the dates of arrival and departure, the routes it chooses, and the 
winter quarters it selects ; and, above all, every particular respeetino- its 
breeding, when it begins to build, how many broods it rears in the reason 
the place it selects in which to build its nest, the materials it uses for the 
purpose, the number of eggs it lays, the variation in their colour size and 
shape, — all these particulars are the real history of a bird ; and in the 
account of each species of British bird I endeavour to give as many of 
them as possible. 

Oology may be described as the poetry of Ornithology ; and to do it 



INTRODUCTION. 



XXI 



justice it demands some of the skill of the poet, as well as the accuracy of 
the man of science. No picture of the life of a bird is complete without 
some particulars of the scenes it frequents, which are in fact the frame in 
which it is set. No one can be more conscious than I am how much I 
have failed to reach the high standard at which I have aimed. I have 
endeavoured as much as possible to write from notes made on the spot, by 
which I have hoped to secure some of the freshness which is frequently 
lost in memoranda written long afterwards ; and I have tried to retain 
something of the charm of local colouring which mere generalizations 
seldom possess. I have tried to make the matter as original as possible, 
and only to resort to paste and scissors when absolutely necessary ; and where 
I have been obliged to fall back upon the observations of others I have 
sought to obtain unpublished accounts wherever possible. 1 have secured 
the services of Mr. Charles Dixon, the author of ' Rural Bird Life,' 
whose intimate knowledge of the everyday life of many of our familiar 
birds has been of great value to me, and whose observations will be found 
to be specially interesting to field-naturalists, for whom this work is 
specially written. My thanks are also due to many correspondents who 
have furnished me with information, which will be found properly acknow- 
ledged in the body of the work from time to time. 

In conclusion, I beg to commend my book to all lovers of birds. If I 
have criticised the work of any of my fellow ornithologists too severely, 
I ask their pardon, and hope that they will pay me back in my own coin, by 
correcting my blunders with an unsparing hand. The object of all true 
scientific work is the elimination of error and the attainment of truth. 







l^tef 




ERRATA ET ADDENDA. 



Page 131, last line, add too late for tlie works of the two last-mentioned writers, but four 

years before tbe publication of that of the former. 
„ 145, line 1, for ASTUR read ACOIPITER. 
„ 251, line 32, for capensis read maculosus. 
„ 254. I have just received from Mr. Eagle Clark an undoubted example of Cinchi^ 

aquaticus, var. ■melanoyaster , shot at Spurn Point in Yorkshire, where it had 

probably arrived on migration from Scandinavia, as it frequently occurs on 

Heligoland. 



A HISTOBT 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



Family FALCONIDtE, or BIRDS OF PREY. 

The Birds of Prey are distinguislied by their powerful hooked bills and 
their strong feet armed with sharp, curved, powerful talons. At the base 
of the bill is a piece of naked skin called the cere. The Owls also possess 
this character, but may be distinguished by their fluffy plumage and facial 
disk. 

The Falconidse are a well-defined family ; but great difference of opinion 
exists as to their relationship to other groups. Sclater (guided by Huxley's 
investigations of the bones of the palate) places them in the same series 
with the Cuckoos, the Parrots, the Owls, the Pelicans, the Herons, and the 
Ducks. Forbes (relying largely upon Garrod's study of the muscular 
and arterial systems) removes from this list the Cuckoos, the Parrots, and 
the Owls, and adds to it the Petrels. Gadow, on the other hand, retains in 
the same great division the Parrots and the Owls, rejecting the Pelicans, 
the Herons, and the Ducks, as well as the Petrels, but adding the Pigeons 
and the Gallinaceous birds. It will thus be seen that there is no 
other family which these three authorities all agree to unite with the Birds 
of Prey. I have placed them first in my arrangement because they were 
so placed by Cuvier in his classification — a system which, although it is 
now universally admitted to be mainly an artificial one, is so well known to 
all ornithologists that it may well serve as an index until the natural order 
of sequence has been discovered. 

Birds of Prey are cosmopolitan, the greatest number of species being 
found in South America, and the fewest in the Pacific islands. Sharpe, in 

/ VOL. I. B 



2 BRITISH BIRDS. 

his ' Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum/ enumerates nearly 
400 species and subspecies, which he subdivides into 80 genera. In the 
British Islands five-and-twenty species or more have occurred, belonging 
to eleven genera, which may be distinguished as follows : — 

a. Front of lower half of tarsus (as well as the sides and back) covered 
with small hexagonal reticulations, not feathered to the toes. 

a}. No true feathers on the crown of the head VuLTUB. 

V. Crown of the head covered with true feathers. 

a'. First primary much longer than the secondaries ; lores not 
feathered, but furnished with bristles, 
a'. Tail even or slightly rounded. 

a*. Outer toe not reversible ; bill deeply notched .... Faico. 

6*. Outer toe reversible ; notch almost obsolete Pandion. 

6'. Tail acutely forked Elanoides. 

V-. First primary about equal to the secondaries ; lores feathered Pebnis. 
h. Front of tarsus feathered, or covered with broad transverse scales. 

c^. Tarsus less than one fourth the length of the tail MiLvl^s. 

rf'. Tarsus more than one fourth the length of the tail. 

c^. Lower half of tarsus scaled in front and reticulated at the 

back Haliaetus. 

d\ Lower half of tarsus either feathered in front or scaled at 
the back. 

c'. Tarsus feathered in front to the toes Aqtjila. 

cP. Lower half of tarsus scaled in front and at the back, 
c". Tarsus less than a fourth the length of the wing, 
and less than half the length of the first primary. 
o°. Tarsus thick ; circumference about one third 

of length BxiTEO. 

b^. Tarsus slender ; circumference less than one 

fifth of length CiBCtrs. 

dK Tarsus one fourth or more the length of the wing, 
and more than half the length of the first 
primary Accipitek. 



Genus VULTUR. 

The genus Vultur was established by Linnfeus in 1766, in his 'Systema 
Naturae,^ i. p. 123. In 1806 Dumeril separated the New-World Vultures 
restricting the genus Vultur to those of the Old World, but not designating 
any type. Linnaeus only knew two species of this genus, V. monachus and 
V percnopterus. As the former bird is undoubtedly the most typical 
Vulture, its claim to be considered the type can scarcely be disputed. 

The species of Vulture which have been found in the British Islands are 
easily separated from the rest of the Falconidae by the absence of true 
feathers on the head, which is more or less naked, or covered with down 
only. The front of the tarsus as well as its sides and back are covered 



VULTUR. 



with small hexagonal reticulations. The wings are long but rounded. The 
tail is rounded. 

In Britain they are only accidental visitors, the true geographical range 
of the genus being confined to the South Palaearcticj Ethiopian, and 
Oriental Regions. It is a remarkable fact that there are no Vultures in 
Australia. 

Their principal food is carrion. 

Some Vultures breed in trees ; but most of the species prefer the clefts 
of rocks. Their eggs vary from white to deep brownish red. 

The two species which have occurred in Britain may easily be distin- 
guished by their size, the Griffon Vulture having a length of wing from 
28 to 30 inches, whilst the wing of the Egyptian Vulture only measures 
from 18 to 20 inches. There are only sixteen species of this genus 
known, which may be arranged in six subgeneric groups. The Vultures 
of the New World belong to a perfectly distinct genus. 




b2 



4 BRITISH BIRDS. 

VULTUR FULYUS. 
GRIFFON VULTURE. 

(Plate 1.) 

Vultur fulvus, Briss. Urn. i. p. 463 (1760); Gerini, Orn. MHh. Dig. i. p. 43, pi. x. 

(1767); et auctorum plurimorum— G»ic7m, Tcmminch, Gould, Nauinanii, 

{Gray), {Newton), {Sharpe), &c. 
Vultur trencalos, BecJisf. Nat. Deutschl ii. p. 491 (1805). 
Vultur castaneus, Steph. Shaws Gen. Zool. vii. pt. i. p. 29, pi. xii. (1809). 
Gyps vulgaris, Sav. Si/st. Ois. de VEgypte, p. 11 (1810). 
Vultur leucocephalus, Wolf, Tasclienh. i. p. 7 (1810). 
Vultur vulgaris (Sav), Bonn, et Vieill. Enc. Metli. iii. p. 1170 (182.3). 
Vultur persious, Pall. Zoogr. JRosso-As. i. p. 377 (]8:?6). 
Vultur albicoUis, Brehm, Vog. Deutschl. p. 1010 (1831). 
Vultur chassefieute, Biqip. Neue Wirhelth. Vog. p. 47 (1835). 
Gyps fulvus (Briss.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 6 (1844). 
Vultur fulvus occidentalis, Schlegel, Rev. Crit. p. xii (1844). 
Gyps occidentalis, Bonap. Consp. i. p. 10 (1850). 
Vultur Kgyptius, Licht. Nontend. Av. p. 1 (1854). 

Vultur fulvus orientalis, Schlegel, Mus. Pa^s-i?as, ii. Vultures, p. 6 (1862). 
Gyps hispaniolensis, Sharpe, Cat. Birds Brit. Mus. i. p. 6 (1874). 

The claim of the Griffon Vulture to rank as a British bird rests on a 
single instance of its capture. This specimen was obtained by a youth 
on the rocks of Cork Harbour^ Ireland; and its occurrence was recorded 
in ' Yarrell's British Birds/ on the authority of Admiral Bowles. In the 
autumn of 1843 he was visiting Lord Shannon, at Castle Martyr, and 
there saw the bird^ which had been purchased from the lad who captured 
it. The example was in fully adult plumage and in good condition, and 
reported as being very wild and savage and in perfect health. The 
bird was preserved after its death, and placed in the Trinity College 
Museum, in Dublin. 

The breeding-range of the Griffon Vulture may be said to be the basin 
of the Mediterranean, Caspian, and Red Seas. Large colonies are 
found in the Pyrenees and in the mountains of Spain, Sardinia, and 
Sicily. In the Alps they are rarer, and in the Carpathians still more so; 
but in the mountains of Bulgaria, Greece, and Asia ]\Iinor they are ex- 
tremely abundant. In the Caucasus and the Southern Urals small colonies 
are found. St. John states that in Persia they breed in great numbers in 
the lofty limestone cliffs north of Shiraz ; and Severtzow records it as a 
resident in Turkestan, where its breeding-range overlaps that of G. hima- 
layensis. Colonies of Griffons are found in all the mountains of Africa 
north of the Sahara, from Morocco to the Red Sea, as far south as Nubia. 
In the northern portion of its range it is a partial migrant, stragglers 
being occasionally found throughout Europe south of the Baltic ; but in 



GRIFFON VULTURE. 5 

its breeding-quarters it may almost be conslclered sedentary. The Griffon 
Vulture has two near allies ; indeed it is doubtful whether these birds are 
deservino- of even sabspecific rank. Gijps fulvescens is the Indian race, 
differing from the Griffon in being of a rich ruddy bay colour, with con- 
spicuous narrow pale median stripes to the feathers of the underparts, 
and in having a short stout bill. In South Africa it is replaced by Gyijs 
koJbi (Daud.), said to be slightly smaller in size, and differing in its light 
and almost uniform coloration, and which inhabits South Africa to the 
Zambesi on the east, and to Damara Land on the west coast, but more 
sparingly in the latter country (c/. Sharpe, Cat. Birds Brit. Mus. i. p. 8). 
TTiis bird is again closely related to the Gyps himalayensis of North India 
and Turkestan, a larger bird and remarkable for its brown- coloured young. 
I first made the acquaintance of the Griffon Vultures in the rock-bound 
valley to the east of Smyrna, and afterwards in the Parnassus, and at 
Missolonghi I saw so much of them that T began to look upon them as very 
common birds ; nevertheless when I renewed my acquaintance with them 
last spring in the Pyrenees they interested me as much as if I had never 
seen them before. In Greece and Asia Minor they are so abundant that 
one naturally wonders where they all find food. Upon the ledges of the 
limestone cliffs which guard the vines and olives below, no doubt the grass 
is rich and tempting, and now and then a sheep or a goat may slip and 
find an untimely end on the broken rocks half concealed l)y the oaks, the 
oleanders, the roses, and the clematis which adorn the borderland be- 
tween the precipices and cultivation. Such an accident is a windfall for 
the Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, one of whom is almost sure to have 
witnessed it, and by his eager flight to have betrayed the prize to an ever- 
increasing circle of hungry birds, always on the qui vive to discover a meal, 
or a fellow Vulture who knows or has a suspicion of one. As the camel 
can drink enough to last him for many days, the Griffon Vultures seem 
able to eat enormously at a meal, and to be able to go for a long time 
without a fresh supply. When they have gorged themselves they will sit 
motionless for hours on some commanding crag ; otherwise they are gene- 
rally on the wing, sailing round and round in majestic curves, seldom 
coming within range of gunshot, unless you suddenly meet them wheeling 
round the corner of a crag, or occupied upon the dead body of a mule or 
a camel. The flight of the Griffon A^ultures is very majestic; they float 
and soar without apparent effort, as if they disdained to flap a wing, 
wheeling round and round in grand sweeps. The wings are very broad; 
and each quill is conspicuously displayed at the extremities, which are 
curved upwards by the resistance of the air. The tail is very short. As the 
bird flies or, rather, floats, the fore half of the upper parts are grey and the 
hind half black. The nature of their food makes them, in a certain sense, 
gregarious ; but even when twenty or thirty can be seen on the wing toge- 



6 BRITISH BIRDS. 

ther, it never occurs to you to think of them as a flock of Vultures, they 
are scattered so wide over the landscape. 

In their breeding-h ahits Griffon Vultures are undoubtedly gregarious, 
though even then it may possibly be the nesting-sites which are gregarious 
rather than their occupants. They choose a perpendicular or overhanging 
limestone cliff in which hollows or caves rather than ledges are found 
at a considerable height from the ground, and generally inaccessible 
without a rope. They are said usually to build a great nest made of 
sticks, very rough on the outside, but more or less carefuUy smoothed 
and hollowed out in the middle, and lined with sheep's wool, goat's hair, 
dry grass, leaves, and any thing they can pick up. My Greek sei'vant, 
however, assured me that he had frequently taken the eggs from a cavern 
where no nest was attempted ; but the Greeks are such inveterate liars 
that I never knew when to believe him. The probable truth is, that 
they are not much of nest-builders, and appropriate the old nest of an 
Eagle or a Raven when they can. Where large nests not thus stolen are 
found they will most likely be the accumulated pile of many years. 
Both in Greece and Asia Minor I was too late for eggs, which can be 
obtained fresh in February and sometimes even in January ; so I did not 
inspect many of the Griffonries very closely, though several were pointed 
out to me. The usual number of eggs is only one, though it is said that 
two are occasionally found. The stench of the Griffonries is almost in- 
supportable. The entrance to the cavern or cleft in the rock looks as if 
pailfuls of whitewash had been emptied upon it; and the effluvia of 
ammonia and putrefaction are overpowering to all but the most enthusiastic 
oologist. One visit to the nest of a Vulture is sufficient to dispose for ever 
of the theory that these birds hunt by scent, and are endowed with highly 
sensitive olfactory nerves. The only condition in which the existence of 
animal life seems possible in a Griffonry is in the case of beings absolutely 
devoid of any sense of smell whatever. It is also said that concealed car- 
casses are rarely if ever discovered by Vultures. Irby found at Gibraltar 
that if the nest was robbed, a second egg was laid about six or seven weeks 
later. They are sedentary birds, but appear less common in winter, as 
they roam further from home when not employed upon the duties of 
incubation. So far as is known, their only food is carrion. 

I am indebted to Captain Verner for the following graphic account of a 
visit to a colony of Griffon Vultures in Southern Spain : — " On March 14, 
1878, I left Gibraltar with a friend, an officer of Artillery, with the 
intention of visiting several nesting- stations of the Griffon Vulture in the 
Sierras towards Cadiz. We reached the Lajadel Sicar about half-past ten. 
This is a favourite nesting-place of Gypsfulvus, and is a triangular-shaped 
cliff rising out of the broken ground east of the Laguna de la Janda. 
Its general surface slopes back, so that the cliff is in most parts at an angle 



GRIFFON VULTURE. 7 

of 70° to 75° ^'ith the horizon. For about two thirds of its height it 
is as smooth as a wall, and ofiPers no facilities for nesting. Above this 
the cliff becomes more broken; numerous long vertical fissures and 
caverns are to be seen extending to within a few yards of the top, which 
is a mass of huge crags and boulders heaped one on the other, with a 
dense jungle of palmetto, aloes, &c. growing out of every cranny and 
making it quite inacessible. We decided that we M'ould commence our 
attack from the left flank of the cliff, which seemed to offer some facilities 
for ascent in the shape of several broken ledges running across the face 
of (he cliff at about an angle of 45°. 

" Having worked our way through a densely wooded ravine, we at length 
found ourselves at the foot of the cliff. After several ineffectual climbs 
through palmettoes and thorns of eveiy description, we had the luck to hit 
upon a narrow ledge leading towards the middle of the cliff. Following 
this for some fifty yards or more, we arrived at a small grassy terrace 
terminating abruptly in a precipice, and situated between the main cliff 
and a huge semidetached crag. From this point we could sec the whole 
face of the cliff, and far away above us several Griffon Vultures basking 
in the sun. 

"As it was impossible to advance further, my friend decided to wait at 
this spot, whilst I retraced my steps and tried to find some means to 
ascend higher. After one or two ineffectual attempts I at length suc- 
ceeded in climbing up almost on a level with the part of the cliff most 
frequented by the Griffons ; and several of them took wing. My friend, 
now far below me, fired his revolver, when a number of splendid old 
birds dashed out of the small caves to my front and above me. I was 
almost in despair, as I was at last nearly within reach of my long-coveted 
prize, and yet apparently it was hopeless to proceed any further ; but 
having escaladed the stratified portion of the cliff I found myself on a ledge 
at the entrance to a chasm. Climbing up this, the strata became more and 
more clearly defined, until the whole surface of the cliff was made up of 
a mass of horizontal ledges from one to three inches in thickness. Owing 
to the general slope of the cliff, I found it was quite practicable to sidle 
along many portions of the actual face of the great precipice. Keeping 
a firm grip with ray fingers on strata above me, my bare feet obtaining 
support from the lower tiers of strata, I soon reached a ledge commanding 
the main nesting-place; and on looking down over a projecting spur I saw 
right into a large nest about ten feet below me ! Between me and it the 
rock became vertical, and I was unable to descend. I think that I had 
now gone beyond the stage of counting the cost; for I scrambled round to 
the opposite side of the nest, and, having reached a spot about six feet over 
it, I somehow slipped down right into it with a foot on each side. I was 
quite exhausted from the climb and the excitement, and sat down by 



8 BRITISH BIRDS. 

my prize to recover myself. I -^vas in a small cave with a sloping floor, 
on wliicli was built the nest. The view, now that I could look without 
fear of falling, was most magnificent. The whole plain of La Janda with 
its lagunas was at my feet ; and I could see the distant Atlantic and the 
sandy cape of Trafalgar over the Retin hills. The most interesting object 
to me was the Griffon's nest and one white egg. The nest was a massive 
affair made of boughs and twigs, very neatly bned with dried grasses and 
dead palmettoes. The bowl was about the size of a small hand-basin, say 
fifteen inches in diameter ; and I was much struck with its finish and 
depth, as I had rather expected to find a mere platform of sticks &c. The 
rock below it was white with the dung of the birds ; and there was an 
indescribable sickly odour about the place. I carefully packed the egg in 
my box ; and, it being out of the question to climb up to where I had 
dropped from, I was most fortunately able to continue my route in a 
downward direction. I soon came upon two more nests with eggs, and 
one empty nest. I now found myself opposite the main fissure of the 
precipice. As I was walking round into it along a most uncomfortable bit 
of strata, a fine old Griffon dashed out close to me. I slipped round the 
corner and swung myself right into the nest. This also contained an egg. 
Again I found myself in a trap ; for I could not proceed, a wall-like cliff 
barring further advance ; and although I had j umped off a ledge of strata 
into a nest, I did not feel inclined to reverse the performance. After a 
mauvais quart d'heure (during which time, as my friend subsequently told 
me, he imagined I must have been killed) I struggled up the fissure, until 
it narrowed itself enough to form good climbing-ground for a chimney- 
sweep. After ascending fifty feet or more I struck a good substantial 
ledge, which led me to a series of chasms, one below the other, where I 
came across five more nests. I soon found that my egg-box was full, and 
that unless I could devise some means I should be obliged to leave some 
of the eggs behind. So on reaching a favourable spot I put the eggs in 
my bag, and whilst doing so dropped the box at my feet. On attempting 
to stoop to pick it up, I found that I must relinquish my handhold with 
no chance of finding more lower down; and as I only had foothold enough 
for one foot, I was obliged to desist and leave the box where it lay. 

" All the nests I visited were much of the type described ; some were 
larger and some rather less carefully built. They all had the appearance 
of having been the collection of many nesting-seasons, the lining and a 
portion of the top sides being the only new additions. 

" Of the eight eggs 1 actually brought away with me on this occasion, 
six were pure white, one very large specimen was faintly speckled Avith 
rufous at the larger end, and a small variety was speckled at the smaller 
end. 

" The whole area of the cliff which the Griffons frequented smelt in the 



GRIFFON VULTURE. 9 

same manner as the first nest. It was not clue to any carrion about the 
place (such as is frequently the case in a Neopliron's nest), but appeared 
to be caused from the dung and the natural odour of the birds. At times 
it was most nauseating. 

" As I was making good my retreat towards the spur of the hill I met 
with a mishap which gave me rather a start. I had grown bold when I 
found the ledges of strata gave such good hand and foothold, and so did 
not take much notice of where I rested. Suddenly a piece under my foot 
gave way, and I swung round on the hand (which luckily had a good 
hold) furthest from the rock, causing my egg-bag to swing round and hit 
the rock. Luckily I somehow got a foothold and was able to reach a 
safer spot. During the time that I was rifling their nests the Griffons 
kept sailing about overhead ; ever and again one bolder than the rest 
would come swooping past me, but never near enough to give me any 
apprehension. Most fortunately they did not realize what a very slight 
touch would have upset my balance when traversing the small ledges. I 
was very glad when I found myself doubling the spur, and could see that 
the ground in rear of the cliff was easy to traverse, though rough and 
broken. I made my way in rear over huge boulders with aloes and every 
sort of obstacle growing between them, the worst being prickly pears, 
which abounded. I passed a huge cave which was evidently much fre- 
quented by the Vultures as a shelter in certain winds, judging from the 
enormous amount of dung which spread like whitewash all down the face 
of the crags. 

" Upon blowing the eggs I found that four were quite fresh, or nearly 
so ; the rest contained young Vultures in various states of development : 
one would have been hatched out within a week." 

The Griffon Vulture seldom lays more than one egg, although occa- 
sionally two have been recorded, and Salvin found one egg and one young 
bird in a nest of this species in Algeria. The eggs are coarse in texture, 
and possess little or no gloss. Most eggs are white, or nearly so ; but some 
show a considerable amount of marking which cannot be explained by 
any supposition of their being stained. One specimen in my collection 
is very faintly but broadly streaked and blotched on the larger end with 
very pale pinkish brown; another, one of the handsomest eggs of this 
species I ever saw, obtained by Colonel Irby at Malaga, has the colouring- 
matter very evenly distributed in spots and blotches and pale streaks 
uniformly over the entire surface ; a third is cashed round its centre with a 
band of reddish brown, and on the larger end is a thick irregular mass 
of rich brown ; a fourth (which is figured) has the deep-brown spots 
confined to the smaller end of the egg, where they form an irregular 
zone ; whilst a fifth, which may be called a typical egg, is milky white, 
spotless or clouded here and there with stains and nest-markings. My 



10 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



friend Mr. Howard Saunders tells me that in Southern Spain there is a 
colony of GriflFon Vultures whose eggs are always more or less spotted 
and streaked. Griffon Vultures" eggs vary from 3-85 to 3'5 inches in length, 
and from 2-9 to ?/7 inches in breadth. Eggs of the Black Vulture {Vul- 
tur cinereus), although, as a rule, richly marked, sometimes very closely 
resemble those of the Griffon Vulture. It is then impossible to separate 
the eggs of the two species with certainty, — although in the field confusion 
can never arise j for the Black Vulture invariably nests in trees, and the 
Griffon just as invariably on rocks. 

The Griffon Vulture is a buffish-brown bird with nearly black wings 
and tail, and with the head and neck covered with white down. The bill 
is pale brown and the legs lead-colour ; not vice versa, as is erroneously 
given in Dresser's ' Birds of Europe.' 

The young birds, when newly hatched, are covered with white down. 




NEST OF GRI1'F0^' VUI/rUUE. 



EGYPTIAN VULTURE. 11 

VULTUR PERCNOPTERUS. 
EGYPTIAN VULTURE. 

(Plate 1.) 

Vnltiir fu'cus, Bi-iss. Orn. i. p. 4-")5 (1700). 

Vultui- seg'yptius, Brhs. Orn. i. p. 4.j7 (1760). 

Vultiir leucocephalos, BrisK. Orn. i. p. 466 (1760) ; Gmel, Syst. Nat. i. p. 248 (178K). 

A'ultur percnopterus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 123 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

(TemmincJc), (Naununin), {Gould), {Oray), (^Newton), (Sharpe), &c. 
Vultur alimoch, La Peyr. M. et Ois. de la H. Garunne, p. 10 (17t»l.)). 
^'ultu^ stercorarius, La Peyr. he. cit. (1700). 
Vultur albua, Baud. Traite d'Orn. ii. p. 21 (1800). 
Neophron percnopterus (Linn.), Sav. Ois. de I'Eyypte, p. 16 (1810). 
Cathartes percnopterus (Linn.), Teimn. Man. d'Orn. i. p. 8 (1820). 
Catbartes meleagrides (Pall), Temm. PL Cd. i. genre Catharte (1824). 
Vultur meleagris, Pall. Zoogr. Posso-Jxinf. i. p. :j77 (1826). 
Percnopterus ifigyptiacus, Ste2>h. Shatu's Gen. Zool. xiii. pt. ii. p. 7 (1826). 
Xeophron fegyptiacus (S/eph.), Smith, S. Afr. Q. Journ. i. p. 16 (]y20). 

At least three specimens of the Egyptian Vulture have been recorded 
from Great Britain ; and two of these examples have been captured. In 
October 1825 two examples of this Vulture were seen near Kilve in 
Somersetshire ; and one of them was eventually shot, and was obtained by 
the Rev. A. Matthew, who is quoted by ^'arrell as follows : — " When first 
discovered it was feeding upon the carcass of a dead sheep, and had so 
gorged itself with carrion as to be unable or unwilling to fly to any great 
distance at a time, and was therefore approached without much difficulty 
and shot. Another bird similar to it in appearance was seen at the same 
time upon wing at no great distance, which remained in the neighbour- 
hood a few days, but could never be approached within range, and which 
was supposed to be the mate of the one killed." The other instance was 
recorded in the 'Zoologist^ for November 1868, p. 1456, by Mr. C. R. 
Bree, as follows : — " On the 28th of September last the labourer who had 
charge of an off-hand farm of Mr. Woollard, of Stanway Hall, situated at 
Peldon, Essex, had been killing his Michaelmas geese. On going some 
time after into the yard where said geese had been slaughtered, he 
saw a strange bird feeding upon the blood. The bird flew away, and the 
man loaded his gun. Presently the bird came and hovered over the spot, 
in hopes of another spell at the blood ; but his fate was sealed, and he fell 
dead to the labourer's shot. I saw the bird next day at the house of Mr. 
Ambrose, of this place, to whom it had been sent for preservation. Mr. 
Woollard has since kindly furnished me with the above information. As 
far as I know, this is only the second instance of the capture of Vultur 
percnopterus in Great Britain, the first having been shot on the shores of 



12 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the Bristol Channel, as recorded by YarrcU &c. in 1825. It is quite 
possible that it has more frequently visited our shores, though not captured. 
Mr. Laver, of this town (Colchester), informs me that many years ago his 
fathei', who lived near Burnham, further up the Essex coast than Peldon, 
had a flock of Vultures for several days among the large trees on his farm. 
They were known by their bare heads, and were most probably the Egyp- 
tian Vulture." Both the birds above mentioned were in the brown or 
immature plumage. Such is all the recorded information respecting the 
occurrence of the Egyptian Vulture in Great Britain. 

Its breeding-range may be said to be the mountainous portions of all 
countries in the basin of the Mediterranean, the Caspian, and the Red 
Seas. It also breeds in the Canaries, Madeira, and the Cape-Verd Islands. 
Although a few birds may remain in certain of their breeding-haunts 
throughout the winter, still the greater number migrate southwards down 
the African coasts, and many probably into the interior of the continent, a 
few straying as far south as the Cape colony. It is found throughout 
Persia and Turkestan; but Severtzow did not meet with it in the Pamir, nor 
is it recorded by Prjevalsky from Tibet or Mongolia. In India it is 
replaced by Vultur gingmianus, said to differ in being slightly smaller in 
size, in having the apical portion of the bill pure yellowish flesh-colour 
instead of blackish, and in having the throat much barer of feathei's. In 
its habits it is not known to difi'er from the western species, except that it 
prefers trees to rocks for its nesting-place. There are only two other 
species in this subgenus, both of which are conflned to Ai'rica and are 
chocolate-brown in colour instead of white. 

The Egyptian Vulture is as common in Greece and Asia Minor as the 
Griff'on Vulture ; but, unlike that bird, it is only a summer visitor to these 
countries, arriving towards the end of March, and leaving about the middle 
of September. It is consequently a much later breeder, the earliest eggs 
being found in April. When I was in the Parnassus I took, or saw taken, 
four nests of this interesting bird. Two of them, one on the 5th and the 
other on the 8 th of May, were near Castri (the ancient Delphi) ; the third 
■was near Drachmana, on the 15th, and the fourth near Arachova, on the 
18th. The Egyptian Vulture does not breed in colonies. It is less d fiB- 
cnlt to please in the choice of a locality ; and the nests are generally acces- 
sible to a good climber without a rope; consequently suitable sites may be 
found in almost every valley of the Parnassus. The scenery of the Par- 
nassus is very similar to the mountain-limestone districts of Matlock and 
Dovedale in Derbyshire, but of course on a much grander scale, rising to 
eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. It may conveniently be 
divided into four regions. The lower two thousand feet is covered with 
rocks, olives, and vines, occasionally varied with fields of Indian corn, 
cotton, and tobacco. Then follow two thousand feet which was once an 



egyptiyvn vulture. 13 

oak region ; but all the trees have long ago been cut down, except an 
isolated grove here and there round a convent or a graveyard. Now it 
may be said to be the scene of a constant struggle between rocks and 
herbage. Sometimes the greatest part of this region is represented by a 
series of nearly perpendicular cliffs dropping down into the lower regions ; 
but it generally consists of ranges of sloping valleys, too rooky to admit of 
cultivation by spade, but having sufficient herbage upon them in summer 
to supply food to flocks of sheep or goats. It is in this region that the 
Egyptian Vulture breeds. Above is two thousand feet of rocks and pines, 
and, finally, two thousand feet of rocks and snow. The Egyptian Vulture 
breeds in the same cliffs year after year ; and Dr. Kriiper was kind enough 
to engage for me a Greek peasant who knew almost all their breeding- 
places in the Parnassus. He was a wonderful climber, having in his youth 
been accustomed constantly to scale the cliffs in quest of wild bees' nests. 
When we reached a cliff in which there usually was a nest, he used to 
scream and yell in order to alarm the bird. Sometimes his clamour was 
successful, and the bird flew off and revealed the fact that the eyrie was 
occupied ; sometimes we had to fire a shot before she would betray her 
treasures; and once or twice our efforts were in vain, and we came to the 
conclusion that the nest was empty. At one nest we found the best way 
was to let a little Greek boy down by a rope to take the eggs. Another 
nest was robbed by my Greek servant with the help of a rope ; but the 
third was taken by sheer climbing. It almost made one's hair stand on 
end to watch the old man in his stocking-feet gradually mounting higher 
and higher up the perpendicular cliff until, when he had reached the nest 
and held out the eggs for me to see, the height was so great that without 
my binocular I could not have recognized them for eggs. A few small 
sticks, with a little dry grass or wool, was all the nest we found. The eggs 
were usually two, one much more richly coloured than the other. It is 
said that three eggs are sometimes found. The fourth nest I took with 
my own hand. The eggs were laid in an old nest of the Lammergeir, in 
one of the mountain-gorges near the Pass of Thermopyla;. It was not 
very difficult of access, several ledges assisting the ascent materially. In 
the cleft behind the nest were piles of the broken shells of the tortoise, 
which the Lammergeir had eaten. 

The eggs of the Egyptian Vulture are huffish or creamy white in ground- 
colour, spotted with brownish red. Sometimes the spots are confluent all 
over the egg, paler in places (where the colouring-matter appears to have 
been rubbed off when it was wet) . Every intermediate type occurs between 
this and e^gs in which the colouring-matter is distributed in blotches and 
small and large spots, which only become confluent at the large end, or, in 
very exceptional cases, at the small end. They vary in length from 2-9 to 
2-3 inches, and in breadth from 2-1 to 1-9 inches. 



14 BRITISH BIRDS. 

The Egyptian Vulture is said to eat snakes and other reptiles ; but car- 
rion is no doubt its main food. Tristram describes very graphically how 
a dead camel is first preyed upon by the wolves and jackals. The Griffon 
Vultures wait until the quadrupeds are satisfied^ and then they take their 
turn ; and not until they have gorged themselves are the Egyptian Vultures 
allowed to begin their meal. In the Golden Horn, in Constantinople, I 
have seen them picking up dead fish and other offal from the surface of 
the water in company with Black Kites and Gulls. 

In Stamboul they breed in the old cypresses, and on the walls and 
mosques; and Col. Irby mentions an instance of one breeding in an old 
nest of a Short-toed Eagle, in a cork-tree, near Gibraltar. Lord Lilford 
describes these birds in Andalusia as following the plough to pick up the 
grubs turned up by the ploughshare. Tristram describes them in Palestine 
as resorting to the dunghills of the villages to feed, eagerly devouring all 
sorts of animal or vegetable filth, and mentions a pair which he surprised 
in the act of gorging at a heap of spoilt figs. He also states that the dung 
of the flocks and herds of the Bedouins is their favourite food. He 
describes their nests as very large ; but these would probably be old Eagles' 
or Ravens' nests which had been appropriated by the Egyptian Vultures. 

The flight of this Vulture is very similar to that of the Griffon. J. H. 
Gurney, jun., describing its habits in Algeria, says that " both in ascending 
and in descending it usually flies in circles. Like most other birds of prey, 
it rarely flaps its wings, but, with pinions motionless, slightly upturned at 
the tips, it scans the surrounding country from an enormous height, 
receding rapidly from the eye, yet appearing to fly but slowly. The 
nearer the ground the smaller are the circles, and the more lowered is the 
inner wing; in fact, when about to settle, the bird is nearly sideways, the 
point of one wing appearing to be directly beneath the point of the other. 
It walks with long strides, but not fast, stooping first on one side and then 
on the other." 

The Egyptian Vulture, when adult, is a nearly white bird, with black 
primaries and brown secondaries. The bill is dark brown, and the cere 
yellow; legs and toes flesh-colour, claws black. In the immature birds 
the feathers are dark brown, tipped with buff. 



#1^^ 




FALCO. 15 



Genus FALCO. 

The genus Falco was established by Linnseus in 1766, in his ''Sy sterna 
Naturae/ i. p. 124. At the present day it is impossible to make even a 
guess at the species which Linnseus considered typical; but as the Acci- 
piter falco of Brisson is the Peregrine Falcon, this species may safely be 
accepted as the type. 

The true Falcons may always be distinguished by their long pointed 
wings, the first primary being nearly equal to the third, and much longer 
than the secondaries. The bill is deeply notched. The lower half of the 
tarsus is entirely covered with small hexagonal reticulations, and is never 
feathered. The tail is somewhat rounded. 

This genus is almost cosmopolitan in its range, being only absent from 
the Pacific islands. Of the British species of this genus, four breed in our 
islands, and four or five more are accidental visitors. 

Most of the Falcons feed on small mammals and birds ; but some occa- 
sionally eat insects. 

Their nests are generally placed in trees or rocks, but sometimes on the 
ground. The eggs vary from white, more or less richly marked with red- 
brown, to an almost uniform red-brown. 

In the genus Falco the female is always larger than the male, and in 
some species differs from her mate in the colour of her plumage ; but even 
in these cases very old females sometimes assume the plumage of the male. 
The young in first plumage always differ from their parents. They retain 
their immature dress through their first winter, and moult into the adult 
plumage during the following summer. 



16 BRITISH BIRDS. 

FALCO GYRFALCO and FALCO CANDICANS. 
BROWN JER-FALCON and WHITE JER-FALCON. 

(Plate 3.) 

There are two species of Jer-FalconSj very distinct from each other, and 
having well-defined geographical ranges, but connected together by a series 
of intermediate forms in the intermediate localities. It is not known that 
these intermediate forms are produced by the interbreeding of the two 
extremes ; but in the case of the form which inhabits Iceland there seems 
to be evidence that some interbreeding does take place (see Ibis, 1862, 
p. 47, footnote). The synonymy of the two species and their most im- 
portant intermediate forms is as follows : — 

FALCO GYRFALCO. 
Beown Jer-Falcon. 

Falco gyifalco, Linn. Syst. Nat. i, p. 130 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Schlegel, Bonaparte, Naumann, Ooitld, (Sharpe), &c. 
Falco sacer, Briss. apud Forst. Phil. Trans. Boy. Soc. Ixii. p. 382 (1772). 
Falco lanarius, Lhm. apud Lath. Gen. Syn. Suppl. i. p. 282 (1787). 
Falco sacer, var. /3, Omel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 273 (1788, ex Forst.). 
Hierofalco gyi'falco (Linn.), Brehm, Joiirn. Orn. 18-53, p. 266. 
Falco norvegicus, Tristr. Ibis, 1859, p. 24 (ex Wolleys Sale Cat. nee Lath.) 
Falco gyi'falco norwegicus, Sehl. Mus. Pays-Bas, ii. Falcones, p. 12 (1862, nee Lath.). 
Falco (Hierofalco) gyrfalco (Linn.), var. gyrfalco (Linn.), Ridgw. N. Amer. Birds, 

iii. p. 108 (1874). 
Falco (Hierofalco) gyrfalco (Linn.), var. sacer (Forst.), Bidyw. N. Amer. Birds, iii. 

p. 115 (1874). 

FALCO GYRFALCO-CANDICANS. 

ICBLAKD JbK-FaICON. 

Accipiter falco islandicus, Briss. Orn. i. p. 336 (1760). 

Accipiter gyrfalco islandicus, Briss. Orn. i. p. 373 (1760). 

Falco islanduf, Omel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 271 (1788, ex Briinn. nee Lath.). 

Hierofalco islandus (Omel), Sharpe, Cat. Birds Brit. Mus. i. p. 414 (1874, nee Lath.). 

FALCO CANDICANS-GYRFALOO. 

SorTH-GnEEXLAXD Jek-Falcon. 

Falco rusticolus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 125 (1766). 

Falco fuscus, Faber, Faun. Oroenl. p. 59 (1780). 

Falco arcticus, Holb. Zeitschr. Oes. Nat. iii. p. 426 (1854). 

Falco gyi'falco grosnlandicus, Sehl. Mus. Pays-Bas, ii. Falcones, p. 13 (1862). 

Falco holbrelli, Sharpe, Proc. Zool. Soe. 1873, p. 415. 

Hierofalco holboslli (Sharjie), Sharpe, Cat. Birds Brit. Mus. i. p. 415, pi. xiii. (1874). 



BROWN AND WHITE JER-FALCONS. 17 

FALCO CANDICiVNS. 

White Jeb-Falcon. 

Aocipiter falco freti hudsonis, B7-iss. Orn. i. p. ;JoO (1760). 

Accipiter gyrfalco, Sriss. Orn. i, pi. xxx. fig. 2 (1700). 

Falco rusticolus, Faber, Faun. Grwnl. p. 55 (1780). 

Falco islandus, Faber, Faun. Oroenl. p. 68 (1780) ; Lath. Gen. Si/n. Supjil. i. p. liSi 

(1787). 
Falco islandus 13. albus, G'mel. ^Si/sf. Xa/. i. p. 271 (1788, c.v Briinn.). 
Falco candicans, Gmel. Si/st. JS'at. i. p. 37") (17S8); et auctorum plurimorum — 

Schleyel, SfricJcland, Reinhurdt, Newtuii, Gray, Sharpe, &c. 
Falco islandicus (Briss.), iipud Lath. Incl. Orn. i. p. 32 (1700). 
Falco groenlandicus, Turton's Gen. Si/xt. Xut. i. p. 147 (180G). 
Hierofalco oandicans (Gmel.), Cue. Biy)ie An. i. p. .312 (1817). 
Falco gyrfalco, Linn, apud Pall. Zooyr. Hos.w-.ls. i. p. ;J24 (182ri). 
Falco islandicus candicans, Ilolb. Zeitsclir. Ges. Nat. iii. p. J20 (1854). 
Falco (Hierofalco) gyrfalco {Linn.), var. candicans ( Gmel.), liichjio. N. ^Liner. Birdx, 

iii. p. Ill (1874). 

An anonymous reviewer, in an able article on tins subject (Ibis, 1862, 
p. 4i) recognizes three species of Jer-Falcon.s, F. gyrfalco, F. candicans, 
and F. islandus. Nine years later Newton (Yarr. Brit. B. i. pp. 3G-52) 
does not suggest any alteration in this conclusion. Sharpe (Cat. Birds 
Brit. Mus. i. p. 410), in 1874, admits the validity of the two first-men- 
tioned species, but splits the last-mentioned into two, F. isluiuhis and F. 
hulbcelli. In the same year Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (Hist. N. Amer. 
Birds, iii. p. 108) only recognize one species, which they subdivide into 
five varieties. F. gyrfalco is split into var. sacer, var. gyrfalco, and var. 
labradora; F. candicans is called var. candicans; and F. islandus aiii F. 
holbcelli are united under the name of var. islandicus. In 1876 Dresser 
{' Birds of Europe,^ vi. pp. 15-30) reunites var. sacer and var. gyrfalco 
under the name of F. gyrfalco, but admits the distinctness of F. labradorus. 
F. candicans is recognized as a good species, but F. holbaelli is reunited 
with F. islandus under the latter name. 

The characters upon which these alleged species are based are very 
variable, and the localities of examples in various museums are very inexact. 
In the literature of the subject still more uncertainty prevails, in conse- 
quence of wrong determination of immature birds; but after making 
allowance for these supposed errors, the following appears to me to be the 
most rational solution of this puzzling problem. 

We may at once dismiss F. labradorus as a perfectly distinct species, of 
a nearly uniform brown colour in the adult, with a few buff streaks on 
the flanks, and a perfectly brown tail. This species breeds in Eastern 
Labrador; and there seems to be no evidence of any kind that any inter- 
mediate forms occur between it and F. gyrfalco. 

F. candicans is the arctic form, breeding only north of the arctic circle, 
in North Greenland, and Eastern America north of Hudson's Bay. No 
Jer- Falcon has ever been found breeding in North Russia or Siberia. The 

VOL. I. c 



18 BRITISH BIRDS. 

thoroughbred bird has a white tail at all ages, and entirely white under- 
parts in the adult ; the upper parts below the head are sparingly marked 
with tear-shaped spots. In the young the feathers of the back are brown, 
with white margins and bases, and a few longitudinal streaks appear on 
the head, breast, and flanks. In birds that are not thoroughbred, the 
spots on the back gradually broaden until they become bars ; and examples 
may be found showing every intermediate form between a few spots on the 
tail and flanks and a perfectly barred tail and flanks in the adult, and in 
the young with the addition of spots on the breast. Where the back is 
barred and the thighs are streaked only or white, it is the so-called dark 
race of the white Jer-Falcon, Sharpe's intermediate stage between young 
in first plumage and adult of that bird. When the thighs are barred and 
the breast white, it is Sharpe's adult F. holbcelli ; and when, in addition to 
the barred thighs, the breast is spotted, it is Sharpe's supposed intermediate 
stage between young in first plumage and adult of that bird. The white 
edges to the feathers of the back in the young o£ these half-bred forms 
have become pale brown, and every feather of the underparts has a con- 
spicuous brown longitudinal streak in the centre. All these intermediate 
forms are found in Greenland, and are connected with another series of 
intermediate forms, also found in Greenland, with the Iceland birds, F. 
islandus, difli'ering but little from the preceding in first plumage, but always 
being streaked on the breast in the adult. The changes I have described 
are also accompanied by a greater development of the dark spots on the 
head, which, in the thoroughbred F. gyrfalco, are almost distributed over 
the entire feather, causing the head to look nearly uniform dark brown. 
In western North America intermediate forms occur between the Iceland 
and Norwegian birds*. The selection of any one of these intermediate 
forms is purely arbitrary ; and between the two extreme forms it is just 
as easy to make ten subspecies as two. Even in such a comparatively small 
series as that in the British i\Iuseum, intermediate forms are found upon 
which ornithologists dififer in opinion as to which race they should be 
referred. 

Three at least of the four principal forms of Jer-Falcon above enu- 
merated have occurred at various times in the British Islands. From the 
manner in which the several forms of this Falcon have been confounded, 
it is extremely diflScult to apportion the " large Falcons " that have so often 
visited our shores to their respective subspecies. It is very evident that 
the white Jer-Falcon was well known as a British bird a century ago ; and 

* Compare P. Z. S. 1870, p. 384, where Newton refers them "without doubt'' to F. 
islandicus, " though belonging to the darker phase of that form," with P. Z. S. 1875, p. 115, 
where Dresser asserts that, if the American specimens had not unfortunately been ssent 
back, every one then present could have convinced himself of their specific identity w ith 
F. yyrfalco. 



BROWN AND WHITE JER-FALCONS, 19 

Latham informs us that it was then an inhabitant of Scotland^ probably a 
winter visitant from its far northern home. 

Some half dozen specimens of the White Jer-Palcon are recorded as 
having been taken in England, eight in Scotland and its islands, whilst in 
Ireland but three specimens are recorded. A young bird, from which 
YarrelPs excellent woodcut was taken, was killed in Pembrokeshire, and is 
now preserved in the British Museum. A specimen was shot in Corn- 
wall, and preserved in the collection of Mr. Rodd. Stevenson records one 
killed in Norfolk, near Cromer; Mr. Hancock one which was caught near 
York in 1837; and Mr. Roberts another specimen, captured in Robin 
Hood's Bay, near Scarborough. Gray, in his 'Birds of the West of Scot- 
land,' instances four examples as having been taken in the Hebrides, 
another in Lanarkshire, in 1835, also an immature male in Perthshire, in 
the spring of 1862. The bird described and figured in Pennant's 'British 
Zoology ' was said to have been obtained near Aberdeen. On the 3rd of 
March 1866, on the authority of Dr. Saxby (Zool. p. 288), a female was 
shot on Balta, one of the Shetland Islands. Thompson records two from 
Ireland, both in co. Donegal ; and Mr. Blake Knox records a third, killed 
in the winter of 1862-63, and now preserved in the Museum at Dublin. 

Although we have no reason to suppose that the Iceland Jer-Falcon has 
appeared less frequently in our islands, still, possibly from its far less con- 
spicuous dress, it has certainly been less noticed and recorded. Mr. 
Hancock has two birds in his collection — one recorded in the ' Zoologist ' 
(1845, p. 935), obtained at Bellingham on the North Tyne, and the other 
at Normanby, in Yorkshire, in March 1837. In Mv. Borrer's collection 
is an adult bird, shot at Mayfield, in Sussex, in January 1845. In Scot- 
land, as may naturally be supposed, the occurrences are far more frequent. 
Gray records numerous examples, from Ross-shire, Sutherlandshire, and 
Inverness-shire, between the years 1835-51 ; and in more recent years he 
is satisfied that several examples have been obtained in the west. Four 
specimens are recorded from the Hebrides ; and Mr. Elwes mentions another 
trapped in 1866 in Argyllshire. In the Shetlands we have Dr. Saxby's 
authority for the bird having been a somewhat regular visitor ; but it is now 
only occasionally seen. 

The only authentic instance of the occurrence of the Norwegian form 
of the Jer-Falcon in this country is an immature example, which was 
obtained at Orford, in Suffolk, on the 14th of October 1867. It was shot by 
Mr. George Hunt, in the act of devouring a hen, and is now in the possession 
of his brother, Mr. Edward J. Hunt, of Pimlico, by whom it was stuffed. It 
is in an excellent state of preservation ; and the plumage is scarcely at all 
abraded. The head is somewhat darker than the back; and the under- 
parts, including the thighs, are longitudinally streaked. It is probably a 
bird of the year which has not yet assumed the yellow legs. 

c2 



20 BRITISH BIRDS. 

The Jer-Falcon is an arctic Peregrine, Avith all the dash and courage of 
that bird. It is the only Hawk resident in the arctic regions. Its keen 
eye, rapid powers of flight, and capability of being tamed make it a 
favourite with the falconer, and the terror of the weaker birds. Its home 
is the tundra, beyond the limits of forest-growth, where it selects the 
rocks and the mountains on which to breed. The arctic form of this bird 
{F. candicans) is clad in a snowy dress, protective to a degree amongst the 
eternal snows of its northern home. This protective dress, however, is not 
to shield the bird from danger ; for a bird of such prowess need fear no foe. 
Its protective colouring serves to conceal it from its prey, and enables it 
to sit watching for it, or steal upon it, unseen. The arctic form of the 
Jer-Falcon used to fetch the highest price for hawking, as it was considered 
the boldest bird, possessing the most rapid powers of flight. Holboll states 
that the food of the Jer-Falcon in Greenland is principally composed of 
Ptarmigan and ^^'ater-fowl, and that on one occasion a bird was once seen 
with a young Kittiwake in each foot, and another was observed with a 
Purple Sandpiper in each foot. Although such instances would seem to 
show how successful this bird is in the chase, still Holboll says that the 
Jer-Falcons were not very expert at catching his pigeons. Richardson, 
who observed the Jer-Falcon in Hudson^s Bay, states that its food is 
Ptarmigan, Plover, Ducks, and Geese, mostly the former. 

The flight of the Jer-Falcon is spoken of by all who have had the oppor- 
tunity of witnessing it as grand and powerful in the extreme. Many of 
its motions resemble those of the Peregrine ; and if an intruder should 
chance to threaten its nest, it will often fly round in circles with such 
velocity as to produce a rushing sound as it darts through the air. Jer- 
Falcons have been seen perched on the high stakes near the shore, in a 
similar position to that which a Tern ^vould choose, to pounce upon the 
PufiBus sitting unconcernedly at the entrance of their burrows close at 
hand. During the summer mouths the Jer-Falcon ofttimes takes up its 
abode near some bird-rock, to prey upon its feathered denizens. 

Holboll states that he found young Jer-Falcons moulting throughout the 
winter j and he has determined by dissection that birds of this species 
breed the following season after their birth. In Greenland the breeding- 
season of the Jer-Falcon is in June. The nests are sometimes placed on 
the loftiest clifl's, either near the sea or further inland, and sometimes on 
the tops of pines and other trees. In Iceland they are always on the 
rocks. Out of eighteen nests taken by MacFarlauc on the Anderson river, 
north of the Great Bear Lake, sixteen were on the tops of pines or other 
trees from ten to twcnty-flve feet high ; one nest was on a ledge of rocks ; 
and the other was built on the rough ground on the side of a steep and 
high hill. The earliest eggs were found on the 27th of May ; but eggs are 
often found as late as the end of June. These early nests are often com- 



BROWN AND WHITE JER-FALCONS. 21 

me need before the rigours of an arctic winter have passed away and while the 
snow still lies deep upon the ground. The nest is composed of twigs 
and small branches, lined with moss, hay, deer's hair, feathers, &c. Ac- 
cording to Audubon, it is built at an altitude of 100 feet, is very flat, 
2 feet in diameter, and made of sticks, seaweeds, and moss. At the nest 
the bird is very noisy and bold ; and Richardson mentions an instance 
where the bird attacked him while he was plundering its home. 

As regards the nesting-economy of the Brown Jer-Falcon, Wolley was 
probably the first to give, from his own personal observations, particulars 
respecting it. In Scandinavia its breeding-season is much earlier than 
that of its American and arctic allies ; and out of upwards of twenty nests 
observed by that enthusiastic naturaUst in West Finmark, the eggs were 
almost all taken towards the end of April. The first nest he obtained was 
in a cliff, veiy flat and large, made out of bleached and barkless twigs, and 
lined with a bundle or two of dry grass. This nest contained four eggs, 
slightly incubated. Another nest was under an overhanging rock, made 
of fresh sticks, very large, and had the inside lined with willow-twigs 
and sedgy grass ; other nests he saw contained feathers. On the 7th of 
June another nest came under his notice, which contained three young 
ones and an egg. The hen bird appeared with food in her talons at this 
nest. It was built in a recess a short distance from the ground, the downy 
young birds inside continually uttering a chirping cry. One egg of the 
Jer-Falcon was brought to Mr. Wolley, and was said to have been taken from 
a nest in a tree standing on the edge of a very large marsh. This nest 
suggests the theory that the Jer-Falcon accommodates itself to certain 
localities which contain its food ; for the large marsh near the nest was 
probably its favourite hunting-ground. Wolley found near some of the 
nests the bones of Whimbrels and Ptarmigans ; and Audubon mentions 
that beneath the nests he found were wings of the Ptarmigan, Puffin, and 
Guillemot. Collet's information, probably relating to East Finmark, differs 
somewhat from that quoted from Wolley ; my Swedish friend says that 
the Brown Jer-Falcons almost invariably nest on the tops of large fir 
trees. 

The note of the bird when an intruder is at the nest is much like that 
of the Peregrine, and very loud, shrill, and piercing. 

The eggs of the Jer-Falcon are usu.ally four in number, sometimes only 
three. The ground-colour is creamy white; but usually the markings 
entirely conceal it from view. They are closely freckled and spotted wdth 
orange-brown, rich reddish brown, and bricky red. Many eggs of this 
bird closely resemble typical Hobby's eggs ; others approximate more nearly 
to certain varieties of the Peregrine. In a large series in my collection, 
however, I do not find that the eggs are ever so dark as those of some 
other British Falcons, and the markings are very evenly dispersed, some- 



23 BRITISH BIRDS. 

times becoming confluent^ at others uniformly distributed over the entire 
surface. Some specimens have the markings smoothly and evenly laid 
over the entire surface, giving them the appearance of ground-colour 
which is marbled and more intensified here and there. Another very 
beautiful variety is mottled all over with pale rosy-pink shell-markings, 
intermixed with pale reddish-brown blotches and spots on a creamy-white 
ground ; whilst others have the spots and blotches mostly confined to the 
larger end of the egg, leaving the white under surface exposed to view. 
Jer- Falcons' eggs are slightly more elongated than Peregrines', have a 
somewhat rougher shell, and possess little gloss. In size they vary from 
2'4 to 2"2 inches in length, and in breadth from 1'9 to 1'8 inch. 

In the autamn many Jer-Falcons wander southwards ; bat these are 
mostly birds of the year which may have lost their way, or been tempted 
to follow in the wake of the retreating hordes of wild fowl that go south 
at the approach of winter. 

The female Jer-Palcon (length of wing 16 to 15 inches) may always be 
distinguished from the Peregrine (length of wing 14^ to 12 inches) by its 
larger size, and the female Peregrine from either sex of the Jer-Palcon by 
the structure of the feet. In the Peregrine the outer toe without the 
claw is longer than the iimer toe without the claw ; whilst in the Jer- 
Palcon the outer and inner toes are about equal in length. The tail of 
the Jer-Falcons is also uniform in ground-colour, whilst in that of the 
Peregrine the bars are obscurer towards the tip, making the general 
colour darker at the tip than at the base. 

Sharpe's very ingenious theory, that the intermediate forms between the 
White Jer-Palcon and the South-Greenland Jer-Falcon are an interme- 
diate stage of plumage between the young in first plumage and the adult, 
is entirely unsupported by evidence; indeed the existence of young in 
first plumage of each form is strong proof to the contrary, to say nothing 
of the fact that his supposed intermediate stage of plumage remains con- 
stant for years in confinement. 

In the 'Zoologist' for 1867 (p. 597) Mr. W. Jeffery records the occur- 
rence of a " Buzzard " which was brought into Chichester Harbour by a 
coal- vessel. It was caught in the rigging of the ship when off Plamborough 
Head. Mr. Gurney, in the 'Zoologist' for 1875 (p. 4721), alludes to this 
capture, and corrects the statement. The bird in question was sent to the 
Zoological Gardens, and was ascertained to be a Jugger Falcon {Falco 
jugger). As this Falcon is very commonly used in India for hawking, 
it was most probably an escaped bird, although the circumstance is 
worth recording. 



PEREGRINE FALCON. 23 

FxVLCO PEREGRINUS. 

PEREGRINE FALCON. 

(Plate 3.) 

Aecipiter falco, Briss. Oni. i. p. .321 (1760). 

Accipiter falco peregrinua, Briss. Orn. i. p. ."541 (1760). 

Falco gentilis, Li'nii. Syst. Nat. i. p. \H\ (1706)*. 

Accipiter peregrinua, Gerini, Orn. Meth. Dig. i. p. o."!, pis. xxiii., xxiv. (1767) ; et 

auctorum plurimorum— (iai/jam), (Temminck), (^Naumann), {Goidd), 

(Gray), (mime), {Nexdon), (Dresser), &c. 
Falco peregrinu.s, Tumt. Orn. Brit. p. 1 (1771). 
Falco orientalis, G?n. Syst. Kat. i. p. 264 (1788, ex Lath.). 
Falco communis, Gm. Syst. Xiit. i. p. 270 (1788, e.r Buff.). 
Falco calidus, Lath. lad. Orn. i. p. 41 ( 1700). 
Falco lunulatus, Daud. Trait e, ii. p. 122 (1800, ex Lath.). 
Falco abietinus, Bechst. Xaturg. Deutschl. ii. p. 7.39 (1805). 
Falco pinetarius, Steph. Shaw's Gen. Zool. vii. pt. i. p. V.)'j (1809). 
Falco anatum, Bp. Comp. List B. Eur. Sf N. Am. p. 4 (1838, ex Audubon). 
Falco micrurus, Hodgs. Gray's Zool. Misc. p. 81 (1844). 
Falco nigriceps, Cass. B. Calif, p. 87 (18-j.j). 
Falco brookii, Sharpe, Ann. Nat. Hist. xi. pp. 21, 222 (1873). 

The Peregrine Falcon is undoubtedly the commonest of the larger birds 
of prey now found in the British Islands — a bird noted for its marvellous 
rapidity of movement and flight, its almost unequalled audacity and bold- 
ness, and for the great reputation it bore in the days when falconry was a 
favourite pursuit. Although slowly but surely becoming extinct in the 
British Islands, the Peregrine still breeds in a few localities in England, 
but is much commoner in Scotland and Ireland, where the wildness and 
seclusion of the scenery afford it a safer and more suitable refuge. At 
the present day the Peregrine breeds sparingly on the sea-girt cliffs of the 
south coast from Cornwall to Kent, the rocky headlands of Wales, and 
inland in several localities of Cumberland and Westmoreland ; but it is 
most probable that the bird has now deserted the cliff's of the Yorkshire 
coast for ever. In Scotland we find it becomes much more numerous, 
most, if not all, the great bird-rocks and precipices being tenanted by a 

* There seems to lie little doubt that the F. gentilis of Linnaeus is an immature Pere- 
grine. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the Falcon Gentle of Albin, to which he 
refers, is a Peregrine. iMany of the Linna;au names (notably those of the Owls) admitted 
by ornithologists are much more doubtful and much less clearly defined. There are only 
three logical ways of treating this question. If jou do not reject the doubtful names 
alluded to, or adopt the name of F. gentilis for the Peregrine, the only alternative is to 
reject the laws of priority of publication and clear definition before they have still further 
complicated and confused the study of ornithology. 



34 BRITISH BIRDS. 

pair 01' so, the birds becoming more numerous in the less frequented 
districts, notably amongst the mountain-scenery of the Highlands and the 
Western Isles, particularly in Skye, the bold rocky coast-line and moun- 
tainous scenery of which is so well adapted to its wants and security, and 
where it is universally known as the " Falcon." In Ireland the Peregrine 
inhabits and breeds in all suitable localities throughout the island, both 
on maritime cliffs and inland mountain districts. 

In the wideness of its distribution the Peregrine is equalled by few other 
raptorial birds. It is a circumpplar bird, and breeds more or less regularly 
in every country in Europe north of the basin of the Mediterranean up to 
lat. 68°, a considerable number migrating into North Africa &c. for the 
winter. It also breeds throughout Asia north of the Himalayas, wintering 
in India and Burma. It nests in North America wherever suitable loca- 
lities are found, and has occurred in winter as far south as the Argentine 
States of South America. 

The Peregrine's haunt is the open country — the moorlands, mountain- 
sides, and commons and waste lands near the sea being its favourite 
places. Although by no means a common bird, still in suitable localities 
it may be justly considered far from rare. Truly indeed the Peregrine is a 
noble bird ; his courage when on the wing and his proud bearing when 
seated on some naked branch or rock-pinnacle stamp him as one of the 
most lordly of his race. A study of the Peregrine's habits leads the 
observer into the wildest and grandest of scenery. His chattering cry 
once heard can never be mistaken, usually uttered as he sails at some consi- 
derable height in ever widening circles. It is wonderful how gracefully 
he glides, not, perhaps, so evenly as the Buzzard, nor so lightly as the Wind- 
hover, but with a peculiar motion strictly his own. Perched, it may be, on 
some rocky bouldei-, he sits quite upright, his broad head ever and anon 
turned anxiously from side to side, and his wings frequently half expanded as 
though he were about to take wing. The Peregrine is indeed a bird of the 
moor, the fjeld, and the tundra. The Grouse, the Ptarmigan, and the blue 
hare supply him with his meal, and the mountain precipices a fitting 
nesting-place. But the Peregrine is also found on the borders of 
the ocean, choosing for his home some rocky islet or inaccessible sea- 
washed cliff. Here the sea-fowl are his sustenance ; and here he remains 
throughout the year, rearing his brood safe from the inroads of man, save, 
indeed, the bold and hardy rock-climber, who, for the sake of gain, not 
unfrequently robs his nest. 

The Peregrines breeding in our islands are non-migratory ; but in the 
spring and autumn numbers of birds pass over, remaining some little 
time to rest, and then proceeding again on their journey. These Falcons 
usually attend the vast flocks of waders and water-birds migrating to or 
from their breeding-grounds in the Arctic regions, and thus secure au 



PEREGRINE FALCON. 25 

abundant supply of food. It is doubtless to this migratory movement 
of the Peregrine from the extreme northern limits of its range that we 
must attribute the appearance of the bird in those localities now so little 
suited to its requirements, as, for instance, the low-lying eastern counties. 
Indeed, in the greater part of England the Peregrine is only known as a 
migrant, most common in the autumn, and in a few cases remaining through 
the winter in some favoured spot. It is also worthy of remark that these 
autumnal wanderers are, for the greater part, young birds ; but in the 
spring movement northwards old birds are more numerous. Even young 
birds bred in our own land quit the place of their birth so soon as they can 
forage for themselves, their parents guarding their own stronghold with 
the greatest jealousy from intruders, and breeding there year after year 
if unmolested. 

Naturally enough, the time for studying the Peregrine Falcon's move- 
ments to best advantage is when it is engaged in obtaining its food. Most 
species of water-fowl are preyed upon, as well as Grouse and Partridges; 
but perhaps his favourite food is the Rock-Doves which nestle on the ocean- 
cliffs around him, and the Stock-Doves in the more inland districts. Few 
birds, indeed, fly more swiftly than these two species of Dove, yet the Pere- 
grine takes them with comparative ease, fairly flying them down, or perhaps 
more frequently darting with great rapidity upon them unawares. Dixon, 
writing of the Peregrine on Skye, says : — " A favourite morsel with the 
Peregrine is the comical little Puffin, or ' Sea-Parrot,' as thefishei'men call 
him ; in fact in some localities this bird almost forms his only food. Here, 
for instance, on this steep ocean-cliff a colony of Puffins have established 
themselves. The time is early morning ; and the Puffins are coming to 
and quitting their holes, from and to the sea below, where quite a large 
company are fishing and disporting themselves. Several of the curious 
little birds leave the cliff together, and with rapid beats of their short 
wings pass to the water below. Suddenly a loud flapping of wings is heard, 
something flits like a meteor from the air above, and follows the Puffins in 
their downward course. Perceiving their danger they scatter; but too 
late ; already one of their number is struck and quivering in the sharp 
talons of their common enemy. All for the moment is commotion : the 
birds on the sea beneath dive out of danger ; and those on the cliffs are 
in uproar at the suddenness of the onslaught. But the alarm soon sub- 
sides, and the birds are pursuing their usual avocations again. Indeed 
it is a noteworthy fact that the birds display very little alarm whilst the 
Falcon sails high in air above them ; and it is no uncommon thing to 
see the bird, evidently when its appetite is satisfied, surrounded by Terns 
and Gulls, and see the Pufi&ns sitting quite unconcerned a stone's throw 
from their enemy." The Peregrine also feeds on young rabbits and 
leverets, especially of the blue hare. 



26 BRITISH BIRDS. 

The Peregrine is of a very wandering disposition, and frequently goes 
miles away from its accustomed haunt, often exploring the coast-line for 
long distances in lazy soaring flight, ever and anon being mobbed by the 
Gulls and Terns, or even the Carrion-Crows and the Hoodies, who seldom 
fail to set up an uproar as soon as it makes its appearance. 

As a rule the Peregrine is a comparatively silent bird, save when 
alarmed — and to some extent a solitary one ; for although these birds live 
in pairs, still they frequently hunt for sustenance alone, and are seldom 
seen together except during the season of reproduction. 

Mr. Cordeaux informs me that " the Peregrine is a resident in North-east 
Lincolnshire in the winter months. A pair invariably frequent the dis- 
trict between Broadley Wood and Croxby Lake. They are mature birds, 
and feed almost exclusively on Wood-Pigeons and the common Pigeons of 
the dove-cotes, frequently showing great boldness in the capture of the 
latter. The female, which I have seen at very close quarters, and in the 
act of devouring a tame Pigeon, is a magnificent bird, the underparts 
almost pure cream-coloured without a spot. On the coast I have seen the 
Peregrine swoop at Curlews, but never successfully and never repeating 
the swoop. The power of the Curlew on the wing is so great that it may 
defy even the attempts of this swift-winged destroyer. Both old and 
young frequently occur in autumn, in September and October, on mi- 
gration." 

The breeding-season of the Peregrine commences early in April, the 
young being often found in down by the beginning of May. Although 
the birds pair for life, the same nesting-ground is not always tenanted — 
other situations being chosen, seemingly at the caprice of the bird. One 
season it will be in one part of the cliff, the next in another, as though 
the birds had several favourite places and used them each in turn. Its 
nesting-sites are various : in some localities the nest is placed in the tallest 
trees, notably so in Pomerania and the wooded districts of North Germany, 
while in others it is amongst the most inaccessible rocks, as in our own 
islands ; and in some countries, such as Finland and Lappland, the 
ground alone is ofttimes chosen as a resting-place for it. The pair 
of Peregrines that frequent the Bass Rock have chosen an admirable 
situation for their nest, which is situated near the summit of the stupen- 
dous cliff on the west side, where they have an almost boundless view 
and are comparatively safe from their only enemy — man. Dixon visited 
this nest on the Bass, and writes as folloAvs : — " So soon as we reached the 
neighbourhood of the nest the female bird dashed rapidly from it, uttering 
her harsh chattering cry as she went, which speedily brought the male 
bird upon the scene. As I was partly lowered and partly climbed down 
the face of the rock, the scene around me was an impressive one, dear to 
the heart of him who delights in nature and her works. Far down below 



PEREGRINE FALCON. 27 

the Guillemots and Puffins were disporting on the sea at the base of 
the cliff, looking for all the world like small animated air-bubbles or specks 
of foam, whilst the air around was full of Gannets sailing dreamily about, 
their snow-white plumage glistening in the noonday sun, and their grating 
cries, harsh though they were, lending a wild charm to the scene around. 
Far up in the air above the two old Peregrines were sailing in ever widening 
circles, the female bird, easily distinguishable by her superiority in size, 
venturing the closest, sometimes coming so near as to enable me to catch 
the sparkle of her bright black eye and hear the rustle of her pinions. The 
male bird was much more wary, and kept at a respectful distance, whilst 
both birds incessantly uttered their sharp chattering cry of alarm at the 
threatened danger to their offspring. The nest was on a narrow ledge of 
the rock, just affording sufficient standing-room, and was a poorly made 
crude structure. It consisted for the greater part of a few bits of vegetation, 
placed there by chance alone, carelessly strewed in a little hollow. Quan- 
tities of feathers, a few pellets, and the bones and feet of various birds 
strewed the vicinity of the nest, amongst them being the legs and feet of a 
Puffin just recently conveyed there. Of course, had the nest only contained 
eggs, the feathers and other refuse would probably have been absent. It 
contained a single young bird in dirty white down, that allowed me to 
examine it minutely without the least show of resistance. Scattered 
round and in the nest were numerous pellets, formed of fur and feathers 
and small bones, the refuse of the bird's food, which is thus ejected." 

Harvie-Brown and I found the Peregrine breeding on the steep clay 
banks of the river Petchora in North-east Rvissia, at Stauavialaehta. On 
the 27th of June, on the grassy top of a mound halfway down the mud-cliffs 
overlooking this great river, and within sight of the Arctic Ocean, we came 
upon the nest. It contained four eggs, one of which was much lighter in 
colour than the others. This mound had probably been used for some 
years as a nesting-place by the Falcons, since the grass was much greener 
upon it than upon the surrounding places. A little way off there rose 
another mound just similar to it : and this was apparently the Falcon's 
dining-table ; for scattered all about it were feathers of Grouse, of Long- 
tailed Duck, and of divers small birds. While we remained near the 
nest the two Falcons hovered round, uttering sharp cries ; when we 
approached nearer still they redoubled their screams, hovered over us, 
closed their wings, and descended perpendicularly till within a few yards 
of our heads. A mile up the river we found a second nest upon an 
exactly similar green-topped mound. This nest contained three eggs ; and 
the behaviour of the birds as we neared it was the same as that of the 
previous pair. I also met with the Peregrine breeding on the tundra on 
the steep mud cliffs on the banks of the Yenesay. In lat. 69^° I spent 
the night of the 13th-14th of July on shore, shooting. I had no sooner 



28 BRITISH BIRDS. 

landed than a couple of Peregrines showed me their nest by their loud 
cries. A glance at the cliffs decided the place where the nest ought to be, 
on the top of a steep mud promontory, which stretched out to a sharp 
ridge beyond and above the surrounding coast, and which was conspicuous 
by its greenness. I climbed up a valley in which the snow was still lying, 
and walked straight along the ridge to the little hollow, where the four red 
eggs were placed upon a dozen small flakes of down. These eggs were 
considerably incubated. 

The eggs of the Peregrine Falcon vary from two to four in number. 
The ground-colour of the egg when exposed is a pale yellowish white, and 
the markings vary from brick-red and orange-brown to rich reddish brown. 
Many of the eggs are often suffused with a beautiful purplish tint, which 
is seen, but more rarely, on the eggs of the Kestrel. Peregrine Falcons^ 
eggs vary considerably in size and form, some being much elongated, others 
almost globular. They vary in length from 2-15 to 1'95 inches, and in 
breadth from 1-75 to 1-52 inch. The specimen figured may be taken as 
a fairly typical egg of this species. 

Time was when the noble Peregrines lived as favoured birds, the company 
and amusement of kings and princes, being trained for the chase. The 
female bird was always known as the Falcon, the male as the Tiercel ; and 
from her marked docility she was not unfrequently called the Gentil or 
Gentle Falcon. Then the Peregrine was under man's protection, and 
penalties were inflicted on him who molested or destroyed it. But the 
days of hawking have long waned ; and the Peregrine, once so favoured, 
is now open to an incessant persecution, which bids fair to exterminate it 
from our land. This persecution, which is continually being waged against 
all our raptorial birds, is slowly but surely doing its work. The Peregrine 
in its sea-girt fortress will be one of the last Falcons to disappear before 
it ; but the time will soon be when each noted eyrie will but exist in an 
empty name. The Heron was the favourite bird of chase for the Falcon, 
the sport usually taking place as the birds went to and from the streams to 
the heronry. Sir John Sebright, in his ' Observations on Hawking," gives 
the following particulars respecting this peculiar sport : — 

" The Herons go out in the morning to rivers and ponds at a very con- 
siderable distance in search of food, and return to the heronry towards the 
evening. It is at this time that the falconers place themselves in the open 
country, down wind of the heronry, so that when the Herons are inter- 
cepted on their return home, they are obliged to fly against the wind to 
gain their place of retreat. When a Heron passes, a cast (a couple) of 
Hawks is let go. The Heron disgorges his food when he finds that he 
is pursued, and endeavours to keep above the Hawks by rising in the air ; 
the Hawks fly in a spiral direction to get above the Heron; and thus the three 
birds frequently appear to be flying in different directions. The first Hawk 



PEREGRINE FALCON. 29 

makes his stoop as soon as he gets above the Heron, who evades it by a shift, 
and thus gives the second Hawk time to get up and to stoop in his turn. 
In what is deemed a good flight this is frequently repeated, and the three 
birds often mount to a great height in the air. When one of the Hawks 
seizes his prey the other soon binds to him, as it is termed, and, buoyant 
from the motion of their wings, the three descend together to the ground 
with but little velocity. The falconer must lose no time iu getting hold 
of the Heron's neck when he is on the ground, to prevent him from injuring 
the Hawks. It is then, and not when he is in the air, that he will use 
his beak in his defence. Hawks have indeed sometimes, but very rarely, 
been hurt by striking against the Heron's beak when stooping ; but this 
has been purely by accident, and not (as has been said) by the Heron 
presenting his beak to his pursuer as a means of defence. When the 
Heron flies down wind he is seldom taken, the Hawks are in great danger 
of being lost, and, as the flight is in a straight line, it aftbrds but little 
sport." 

The Peregrine has the general colour of the upper parts a bluish or slaty 
grey, barred with a darker tint, except the head and a broad moustaehial 
patch descending from the gape, which are black ; the lower plumage is 
white, suHused with buff, spotted on the throat and upper breast and 
transversely barred on the remainder with blackish. Cere and legs bright 
yellow ; iris dark brown ; bill horn-colour, becoming lighter at the base. 
The female resembles the male, but is much larger. Young birds iu first 
plumage have the upper parts ashy brown, darkest on the head, each 
feather edged with rufous ; the underparts whitish, longitudinally streaked 
with brownish; tail irregularly barred and tipped with \yhite. In the 
young birds the cere and eyelids are blue. The Peregrine Falcon presents 
great individual diversity in the colours of its plumage, light and dark 
forms of this bird occurring often in the same nest. 

There are no less than five tropical forms of the Peregrine, all somewhat 
resembling each other, and all probably only subspecifically distinct from 
it. As might be expected, they are all darker on the upper parts and more 
rufous on the underparts. TIic South-African form has been called F. 
minor : it has the underparts below the breast much more regularly barred, 
but is chiefly distinguished by its smaller size, the males varying in length 
of wing from 104 to 11^ inches instead of from 13 to 13 inches, and the 
females from 12^ to 13 inches instead of from 13A to 14| inches. There 
are two Indian forms, which do not differ much in size from the typical 
bird : they are very nearly allied to each other ; and every intermediate 
form is found between them. In North-west India F. atriceps occurs, with 
the underparts below the breast slate-grey and very closely barred ; and 
in East and South India we find F. periyrinator, with the underparts below 
the breast very rufous and with only a few spots. In Australia, Sumatra, 



30 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



and Java F. melanogenys breeds, resembling the South-African and the 
North-west Indian forms in having the underparts below the breast very 
closely barred, and the latter in having those parts greyish. The South- 
American form found in Chili and Patagonia, F. cassini, is scarcely distin- 
guishable from F. melanogenys and F. atriceps. 

Another allied species, the Barbary Falcon {F. barbarus), of which F. 
babyloniciis is probably the female, inhabiting North Africa, Turkestan, 
and North India, belongs to the Lanner group of Falcons, differing from 
the Peregrine group in having more or less chestnut on the nape, and 
would not require notice here were it not for the fact that it apiparently 
interbreeds with the Peregrine, producing intermediate forms known as 
jF". punicus, which are found on the shores of the Mediterranean. The 
variations of plumage in this supposed species are, to quote the words of 
Mr. Gurney Clbis,'' 1882, p. 316), "not a little remarkable, some specimens 
being almost andistinguishable in markings and coloration from F. minor, 
others approaching exceedingly near in these respects to F. barbarus, w\iW&i 
the majority exhibit a plumage more or less intermediate between these 
two extremes." When we consider that F. punicus is a slightly larger 
bird than either F. minor or F. barbarus, and have regard to its geo- 
graphical distribution, to the pale slate-grey of its upper parts, and its 
tendency to be suffused with slate-grey on the underparts below the breast, 
it seems most probable that it is an intermediate form between F. barbarus 
and F. peregrinus . 



I 




SITE OF PEREGRINE S NEST ON THE PETCHORA. 



HOBBY. 31 

FALCO SUBBUTEO. 
HOBBY. 

(Plate 4.) 

Accipiter dendro-falco, Briss. Orn. i. p. 375 (1760). 

Falco subbuteo, i?n«. Syst. Nat. i. p. 127 (1766); et auctorum plurimorum — 

Temminck, Kaumann, Gould, Schlegel, {Jerdon), {Hume), Sharpe, &c. 
Falco barletta, Baud. Truite, ii. p. 1:29 (1800). 
Hypotriorchis siibbuteo {Linn.), Boie, Isis, 1826, p. 976. 
Dendrofalco subbuteo {Linn.), Gray, List Gen. B. p. 3 (1840). 

The Hobby has become a rare and local bird in England. It was 
formerly a regular summer visitor; but the number of occurrences during 
■winter suggests that some of the Scandinavian birds do not migrate further 
south. In the northern and western counties it is much rarer; but in 
Scotland it is a regular though local visitor, and is said occasionally to 
breed in Orkney and to pass the Shetlands on migration. Only two 
instances of its occurrence in Ireland are known. 

Its principal breeding-grounds are the forest districts of the north of 
France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, South Scandinavia, and 
Russia south of lat. 65°. South of the Baltic a few, probably migrants 
from the north, are seen in winter. In Spain, the south of France, Switzer- 
land, Italy, Turkey and Greece, Asia Minor and Palestine it is principally 
known on the spring and autumn migrations ; but in all these countries a 
few remain to breed and a few stop the winter. It passes through North 
Africa and the Canaries on migration, and winters in South Africa as far 
as the Cape ; but Heuglin obtained one example in winter in Egypt. East- 
wards it breeds in Northern Persia, Turkestan, and the whole of Siberia 
south of lat. 64°. It passes through Cashmere, Mongolia, North China, 
and Japan on migration, and winters in Northern India and Southern 
China. There are two tropical forms of the Hobby which appear to have 
become completely differentiated and to be now good species : — F. cuvieri 
from South Africa, which may always be distinguished by its smaller size 
and deep-chestnut breast ; and F. severus from India, the Burma penin- 
sula, and the Malay archipelago, a species very nearly allied to the last, 
with the same chestnut breast, but unspotted. 

The Hobby is a miniature Peregrine, not only in appearance but also 
in his character. Swift as the Merlin is, the Hobby is still swifter; and 
his wonderful power of flight makes him bold and courageous. So eager 
is he in the pursuit of his game, that in the ardour of the chase he has 
been known to dart through an open window of a carriage on the road, 
and to enter a room in the attempt to seize a caged bird. His courage. 



32 BRITISH BIRDS. 

however, is tempered with prudence, not to say cunning. An instance is 
recorded (' Naumannia/ vi. p. 261) of a pair of Hobbies in a forest near 
Munich who fed their young by dropping food from a considerable height 
into the nest on a lofty beech, so as to keep out of gunshot of the 
forester and his overseer, who took it in turns to watch the nest in order 
to shoot them. At this nest another remarkable fact was observed. 
Although both parent birds were shot for six or eight successive years, 
and during that period no young birds were reared from this nest, yet 
each summer found it tenanted by a new pair. I have observed exactly 
the same fact with regard to the Merlin, which is all the more extraordinary 
since the latter bird breeds on the ground. Like the Merlin, and pro- 
bably many other birds of prey, the Hobby soon finds another mate if one 
of the pair are shot. An instance is recorded (Stevenson, ' Birds of 
Norfolk/ i. p. 18) of a female who three times in the same season found 
herself a fresh mate after the gamekeeper had shot the male. We must 
not call him a relentless gamekeeper ; for he allowed her to rear a brood 
with her fourth consort. The Hobby seems to swim or dive through the 
air, occasionally hovering for a moment and then renewing his flight. 
He is essentially a forest bird, but hunts on the plains, devouring his 
prey on the spot like a Peregrine. The nest is always in a tree, and 
generally a lofty one, seldom if ever far in the forest, generally in some 
outlying plantation, but occasionally in an isolated tree by a river-side. 
The Hobby is very bold in attacking intruders on its breeding-grounds, 
both parents being generally seen at the nest until the young are old 
enough to require much food. The vicinity of its treasures is often 
betrayed to the egg-collector by its persistent endeavours to frighten him 
away. It seldom builds a nest of its own, usually appropriating the 
deserted nest of a Crow. It is a late breeder; and although it arrives at 
its breeding-grounds in Pomerania, where it is a common bird, in the 
middle of April, it does not breed until Jame, when the young Crows have 
already flown. Four is the usual number of eggs; but three are not 
uncommon, and five are occasionally found. 

The Hobby still breeds in some parts of England. My friend Mr. 
Frank Norgate found it breeding in Foxley Wood near Norwich last year, 
and saw three nests of this rare Falcon in the same wood one day last 
spring, each containing three eggs. They were all old Carrion-Crows' 
nests in oak trees. Mr. Norgate robbed them earlier in the spring on 
purpose to leave the nests empty for the Hobbies to take possession of. 
Two of them contained Carrion-Crows' eggs, and the other those of the 
Kestrel. When he afterwards visited the nests he found them all tenanted 
by Hobbies. In none of the three cases did they appear to have added 
any fresh lining to the nests. On approaching each of them he found one 
of the parent birds, probably the male, perched in an adjoining tree. He 



HOBBY. 



33 



flew off before the female left the nest ; and whilst Norgate was climbing 
the trees both parents flew round in an excited and alarmed manner, 
sometimes diving amongst the brushwood and occasionally very near him, 
so that he could see their colours very distinctly. Their cries reminded 
him very much of those of the Kestrel. In one of the nests and on the 
ground near another were feathers of the Swallow. 

Mr. John Cordeaux also informs me that the Hobby still nests annually 
in North and Mid Lincolnshire. 

Its food consists of small birds, especially Larks, which it is said always 
to catch on the wing. It must, however, occasionally feed on the ground, 
as Dr. Holland informs me that ants have been found in its crop, and 
Bogdanow says that it eats lizards and mice. It teaches its young to hunt 
by dropping food for them to catch, and gives them further lessons by 
leading them to practise hawking on dragonflies. Dr. Holland informs 
me that the period of incubation lasts three weeks, and that, although it 
annexes an empty Magpie's or Crow's nest, it relines it with hair, wool, 
and feathers. The eggs of the Hobby vary in length from 1-8 to 1'6 inch, 
and in breadth from 1'4 to 1-3 inch. They are scarcely distinguishable 
from those of the Kestrel, but are generally rougher in texture and not so 
brilliant a red or so boldly spotted. 

The general colour of the upper parts is greyish or bluish black ; the 
two middle tail-feathers uniform greyish black, the others barred with a 
lighter colour, the tips also lighter ; moustachial line broad and black. 
Underparts white, slightly suffused with rufous, the breast and flanks 
longitudinally marked with blackish. Thighs, and under tail-coverts deep 
rusty red. Cere, bare space round the eye, and legs yellow ; claws black ; 
bill horn-colour, darkest at the tip ; iris dark brown. The female bird is 
larger than the male ; her colours are duller, and the streaks broader. 




VOL. I. 



34 BRITISH BIRDS. 

FALCO iESALON. 
MERLIN. 

(Plate 4.) 

Accipiler litho-felco, ^r/ss. Orii. i. p. 349 (1760j. 

Ac-cipiter£esalon, Briss. 0;-«. i. p. 882 (1760) ; et auctortunplurimorum— (GmcZm), 

{Teinmiiick), {Kaumunii), (Oould), {Yairell), {SchlegeT), {Newtm), {Heuylin), 

(Dresser'), &c. 
Accipiter merillu,;, Qerini, Oni. Meth. Biy. i. p. 51, pis. xviii., xix. (1767). 
Falco sesalon (Briss.), Tunstdl, Orn. Brit. p. 1 (1771). 
Falco regiiliis*, Pali. Reis. ii. Anhaug, p. 707 (1773). 
Falco lithofaloo (Briss.), Gmel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 278 (17b6j. 
Falco smiriUus, Savign. Ois. de I'EyypIv, p. 40 (1810). 
Falco sibiricus, Shaio, Gen. Zool. vii, pt. 1, p. 207 (1809). 
Falco CEOsius, irolf, Tasckenh. i. p. 60 (1810). 
Hypotriorcliis fesalon (Briss.), Boie, Isis, 1828, p. 314. 
^salon sesalon (Briss.), Kuup, NatiirJ. Si/st, p. 40 (182y). 
.aSsalou lithofalco (Briss.), Bonap. Eev. et May. cle Zool. 1854, p. 536. 
^Esalon reg'ulus (rail.), Blyth, Ibis, 18iJ3, p. 9. 
Lithofalco issalou (Briss.), Hume, liuiiyh Notes,!, p. 80 (1869). 

The Merlin is one of the smallest of our native Falcons^ yet possessed of 
marvellous rapidity of flight and courage. It is a bird^ too^ of no small 
amount of interest to the ornithologist;, partly fi'om the many conflicting 
statements regarding its habits, and partly owing to the wild grand nature 
of its haunts. The Merlin breeds throughout the mountaiuous districts 
of Great Britain, from the moorlands of Derbyshire northwards to the 
Outer Hebrides and the Shetlands, partly retiring to the lowlands and 
southern counties in winter, where a few pairs casually remain to breed. 

The same remarks apply to this species in Ireland. It breeds through- 
out the island in the mountain districts ; and numbers seek the lowlands 
in winter. This species is confined to the northerly portions of the Old 
World. It breeds throughout North Europe, Iceland, and the Faroes ; 
and a specimen was caught at sea by Mr. E. Whymper, on his voyage to 
Greenland, in May 1867, in lat. 57° 41' N. and long. 53° 23' W., the 

* This is another instance of the folly of still adhering to the law of priority, which has 
done so much mischief to the study of hirds. Sharpe, in his ' C'atalogue of the Birds in the 
British Museum,' adopts the name of F. reynlus for the Merlin. Dresser was fortunately 
able to reinstate the name in all but universal use by discovering that Tunstall, in a mere 
catalogue of British birds (which liad the good fortune to be pubhshed two years before 
Pallas wrote), had used Brisson's name. The next ornithological revolutionist wiU 
undoubtedly reject both these names in favour of that of Gerini (which is unquestionably 
the earliest clearly defined name known at present), if in the meantime the law of priority 
docs not meet with the fate it deserves. 



MERLIN. 35 

most westerly recorded limit of this species. It winters in South Evirope 
and North Africa^ where, according to Loche, a few remain through the 
summer, retiring to the highest districts to breed. Eastward it breeds 
throughout Northern Siberia, passing through Mongolia and Turkestan 
on migration, and wintering in South China, North-west India, and Scinde. 
Doubt encircles the movements of this, the prettiest of our British 
Falcons. It was formerly considered to be only a winter visitant to this 
country, which, so far as the southern portions are concerned, is no doubt 
correct. It has also been said to be only a summer visitant, and, like the 
Swallow, to take its departure southwards at the advent of winter. These 
several statements have undoubtedly been made by persons whose expe- 
rience of the bird has cither been exclusively confined to its summer or 
its winter quarters, and, although to a certain degree correct, they are 
misleading. The Merlin, in those districts frequented by it, from 
North Derbyshire to the Shetlaads, is a resident species, living on 
the moorlands and the mountains in summer, and retiring to more 
cultivated districts for the winter, in a similar manner to the IMeadow- 
Pipit. Even in the wild country of the Shetlands, the Western Isles, and 
the Highlands the Merlin is found throughout the year — in summer on 
the mountains, in winter lower down, in more sheltered districts and on 
the sea-shore. The fact that the birds are almost always shot off most of 
their breeding-places has doubtless given rise to the opinion that they 
were migratory, these breeding-places being tenanted the following 
season most probably by young birds or birds passing over Great Britain 
on migration to more northern haunts, or the birds that have spent 
the winter in the southern counties. The birds found wintering in the 
south of England are, probably, migrants from North Europe, and not 
bred in Britain at all. It is quite possible that all the young birds bred 
with us migrate southwards, even though the old birds do not — a fact 
which is common to all, or nearly all, raptorial birds. Hence, if the old 
birds be shot, the breeding-places are not occupied until the return of the 
young birds, who seize upon any locality where the former occupants have 
been destroyed. The latter would, if left unmolested, have remained for 
the winter, or wandered to the lowlands, to return in spring, leaving their 
young only to seek winter- quarters in the south. 

In summer the ^Merlin's haunt is the wild moors and mountain wastes, 
the home of the Red Grouse — the brown breezy hills and valleys where 
grey rocks overgrown with heather and bilberry abound and steep moun- 
tain rifts and gorges occur. In winter it quits the moors, and descends 
to the cultivated districts, even to the sea-coasts. At this season it will also, 
like the Kestrel, frequent towns, and take up its quarters in ehurch-towers, 
cathedrals, and large public buildings, preying upon the Pigeons or the 
Sparrows frequenting those places, or sallying out at intervals to the sur- 

d3 



36 BRITISH BIRDS. 

rounding country in search of more varied fare. The reasons for this 
change of haunt are ohvious. In the spring and summer the moorlands 
and mountain-sides are replete with the food of its choice — the Moor-Pipits, 
Twites, and young Grouse; but in winter these Twites and Pipits are 
compelled to seek fresh quarters. The Grouse are strong on the wing ; and 
the Merlin must follow his quarry to the lowlands, or prey upon the shore- 
birds, or seek the cover of our cities to feed upon the Sparrows and the 
Pigeons. 

"When the first signs of spring are seen on the moorlands, and the Snipes, 
the Titlarks, and the Peewits have retired to them to breed, you may often 
get a sight of this little warrior bird. He prej's upon these birds of the 
moor, which his rapid powers of flight enable him easily to fly down with- 
out resorting to the manoeuvres which the clumsier Sparrow- Hawk is 
compelled to take advantage of. These moors are the constant breeding- 
place of three species of Hawk — the Kestrel, the Sparrow-Hawk, and the 
Merlin. The Kestrel hovers over the ground at a considerable height, and 
pounces down on a mouse and occasionally a lizard or a young Grouse, as 
the pellets it casts up abundantly testify. The Sparrow-Hawk skims over 
hill-tops or hedges, beats the bushes and the shrubberies, or comes round 
rocks on its prey unawares. The Merlin, on the contrary, fairly flies it 
down. A true Falcon, it descends to none of these artifices, but takes its 
prey by the aid of its superior power of wing alone. Nothing seems to 
stop it ; and once the pursuit is commenced, rarely indeed does the quarry 
escape. Dixon once saw this little Falcon " in chase of a common Sandpiper, 
which it had started from a heath-grown bank. Pursuer and pursued 
strove their utmost, the poor Sandpiper doubling, rising, and turning from 
side to side alternately, and its relentless pursuer following closely every 
movement as though guided by a common impulse. Over a mountain- 
lalce the chase was given, offering a fine uninterrupted view of each bird's 
great power of wing, the Sandpiper gaining a brief respite by hiding 
amongst a tuft of herbage on the shore. But the J\Ierlin, nothing daunted, 
waited the rising of its victim, and the pursuit Avas renewed. The poor bird 
wheeled rapidly round, then darted forward, but all in vain ; the Merlin's 
superior power of flight and endurance prevailed, and the poor Sandpiper, 
wearied and exhausted, with a cry of terror, was struck down. No bird 
of prey pursues its quarry -nith more vigour ; and a chase of this descrip- 
tion once seen can never be forgotten." The " Summer Snipe," however, 
is not the Merlin's only prey. The Lapwings and Golden Plovers, although 
almost twice its size and weight, are easily taken ; so are the young Grouse, 
Snipes, and the various smaller birds of the wilds : none can escape him, 
not even the swift-flying Swallow; and he is justly feared as the terror of 
the moors. No wonder the gamekeepers are up in arms against him. Yet 
when we bear in mind the protective tints and the cunning wiles of those 



MERLIN. 37 

creatures that form his sustenance, we know full well that his ravages are 
kept within reasonable limits. In addition to birds of various kinds, from 
a Wren to a Partridge, the Merlin also feeds on the larger insects and 
beetles, like all our small Falcons ; in proof of which witness the remains 
of wing-cases &c. seen in the castings of this species ; but it is not known 
that mammals of any description whatever are included in his fare. 

Like most birds of prey, the Merlin has certain favourite places whither 
it conveys its captures to devour them at leisure. A large boulder of 
rock or heath-grown mound often forms the Merlin's dining-table, to 
which it regularly resorts; and the heaps of feathers, bones, and occasion- 
ally the entrails which strew the j)lace inform the observant naturalist of 
his presence. Merlins are eminently fond of sitting amongst the stones 
and rocks which are so plentifulh' strewed in their favourite haunts, from 
which peculiarity the bird has gained the provincial name of " Stone- 
Falcon." Rarely indeed does it perch on trees, the ground or rocks being 
almost invariably its resting-place. The Merlin's power of flight and 
courageous spirit have very naturally caused it to rank as one of the 
falconer's special favourites. Of all the smaller Hawks he is classed as the 
best ; and even in our own days, when falconry exists almost as a tradi- 
tion alone, the Merlin is trained to take small birds, such as Larks and 
Snipes, the female bird, from her superior size and power, being success- 
fully flown at much larger game, such as Plovers and Partridges. 

The Merlin's haunt in the breeding-season is indeed a wild and lonely 
one, amongst the remotest parts of the moors, where the silence is rarely 
broken, save by the notes of those few birds who share its favourite soli- 
tudes — the Red Grouse, the j\Ioor-Pipit, the Ciirlew, and the Snipe. A 
true bird of the mountain indeed it is ; and the observer must therefore 
be prepared for a long tramp oner the heather, and doubtless a wetting 
from the mists which so frequently enwrap its breeding-grounds, if he 
wishes for a sight of its beautiful eggs and scanty nest. Like most birds 
of prey, the Merlin is a life-paired bird, and shows a strange affection for 
certain haunts, and breeds regularly in one situation for years. Certain 
localities are favoured as Merlins' breeding-places ; and although the birds 
are repeatedly disturbed and shot, still the same grounds are tenanted. I 
have known a patch of heather, some couple of hundred yards square, 
containing a Merlin's nest for many years, whilst no other breeding- 
place could be found nearer than eight or ten miles. There would be 
nothing extraordinary in this if it could be proved that the same pair, or 
their descendants, annually visited and occupied the same breeding-stations ; 
they might easily be supposed to have obtained a vested right in the 
estate, and to have defended it successfully against all comers, which is 
undoubtedly the case when the birds are not molested. But on one of the 
moors near Shefiield the gamekeepers used to shoot or trap one or both of 



38 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the parent birds (generally both), and in no case for more than ten 
years did they ever allow the young birds to get away. They found out 
by experience that it was of no use to shoot one of the birds before they 
had begun to breed, because in such cases the survivor found another 
mate in a few days. They shot or snared the cock bird as soon as they 
could after the hen had begun to sit. In the neighbourhood of the nest were 
little rocky elevations on the ground, which the cock bird used as feeding- 
places, and which were easily found by the feathers of young Grouse and 
other small birds scattered round them. Upon these knolls traps were set ; 
and as soon as the cock bird was caught the hen was easily shot off the 
nest. For several successive years this was done ; but, curiously enough, in 
the summer of 1872 no Merlins appeared in the locality. The only way 
in which to account for the selection every year of the same locality by a 
fresh pair of birds seems to be to suppose that the Merlins migrate en 
masse; and that as they pass each recognized breeding-place, if the former 
occupants are not there to take possession, another pair immediately 
occupy it. The facts of the case seem to warrant the conclusion that the 
selected sites for breeding are well known to a large circle of Merlins ; 
otherwise it is difficult to account for the choice always falling upon the 
same site, out of an indefinite number of others apparently equally 
eligible. 

The following is a history of the fate of each pair of birds for five 
successive seasons in two localities : — 

1869. Nest near Strines. Hen shot as she was bringing food to the 

young. Cock shot with food in his mouth a quarter of an 
hour afterwards. Young all destroyed. 

1870. Nest on the same bank. Cock trapped and killed in the morning. 

Hen trapped in the afternoon. Eggs all taken. 

1871. Nest on the same bank. Two eggs taken. Nest afterwards 

forsaken. Birds very wild and neither shot this season. 

1872. No Merlins appeared this 3'ear. 

1873. Nest on the same bank. Eggs taken and both birds destroyed. 

1869. Nest near Ashopton. Both parents and all the young were 

destroyed by a party of gamekeepers after the young had left 
the nest. 

1870. Hen shot soon after arrival. The cock found another mate, 

which was soon afterwards also shot and again replaced. Both 
these were shot before the nest was discovered. 

1871. Nest on the old bank. Both old birds and the young were 

destroyed. 

1872. No Merlins appeared this year. 

1873. Nest on the old bank; fate of birds unknown. 



MERLIN. 39 

Although the Merlin arrives on the moorlands from its winter haunts 
late in March or early in April, it is a somewhat late breeder. The 
date of nidification is evidently chosen with relation to an abundant 
supply of food for the young. As in the Cyclades Eleonora's Falcon 
{Falco eleonorcB) postpones its operations until August, so that the young 
may be fed upon the flocks of Quails returning southwards on their 
autumn migrations, the Merlin lays its eggs about the middle of May, so 
that the voracious young may be fed upon young Grouse. The site 
selected for the nest varies in different localities ; for in Lapland both 
Wolley and Wheelwright mention instances of nests being found in trees, 
and CoUett says that in South Norway it frequently takes possession of an old 
nest in a tree, like the Kestrel. On the Faroes it is said to breed on the 
cliffs. On our own moorlands a site is chosen on the ground in the tall 
heather, or in some flat spot amongst the rocks on the steep slopes at the foot 
of the precipitous ridges so often met with in these localities. The site 
usually slopes down to a stream and is one that commands a good view of 
the surrounding country. In most cases a small hole is made ; whatever 
roots and dry grass may chance to be upon the spot are scratched into the 
rudiments of a nest ; and the only materials actually selected by the bird 
appear to be a few slender twigs of " ling " to form the outside of the 
structure, and which are generally broken from the heather overhanging 
the nest. When on the rocky slopes, it is usually made under a heather 
tuft, or beneath a mass of coarse herbage, and is then but a mere hollow 
in the scanty soil, as often without a few ling-twigs as with them. The 
eggs of the Merlin are usually five in number, sometimes only four, and 
somewhat rounded in form. In colour they closely resemble those of the 
Kestrel and the Hobby ; but the colovir is a more decided brown, 
without the brick-red tints so commonly seen on newly laid eggs of those 
birds. Like all Falcons^ eggs, they differ considerably in size and intensity 
of colour, varying through all the types of Falcons' eggs figured on 
Plate 4, with the exception of the Sparrow-Hawk's. Some specimens are 
deep reddish brown, so richly coloured as to hide all trace of the ground- 
colour ; others are pale red, with most of the deep brown confined sometimes 
to the large end and sometimes to the small end. Some specimens are pale 
cream in ground-colour, evenly and beautifully marbled with deep purplish 
red, or finely dusted over the entire surface with minute specks of blackish 
brown. The eggs of the Merlin vary from 1-65 to 1-5 inch in length, and 
from 1-3 to 1-15 inch in breadth. Like most birds of prey, the Merlin 
exhibits very little outward anxiety when its nest is approached j but 
sometimes, especially if there be young birds in the nest, it will fly 
round in circles, occasionally uttering a low tremulous scream, a note 
resembling the call of the Kestrel. 

When the young are strong upon the wing and well able to shift for 



40 BRITISH BIRDS. 

themselves^ they undoubtedly migrate southwards, following in the wake 
of the armies of migratory birds seeking their winter-quarters, and 
which furnish them abundant food. But the old birds merely shift their 
quarters from the moorlands at the approach of winter, and seek the lower 
and more cultivated lands or the seashore, places where the smaller birds 
abound, or where the various wading-birds spend the winter months. 
Sometimes a pair of ^Merlins will take up their station for the winter in a 
range of sea-cliffs, where they may from time to time be seen sitting 
patiently on the rocks or amongst the stones of the beach, ready to dash 
out and give chase to the first flock of " Stints " that may skim past. In 
the au.tumn months the IMerlin is one of the worst enemies of the 
myriads of Thrushes and other small birds on their way southwards, taking 
up his abode in the neighbourhood of their line of flight, and committing 
sad havoc in the ranks of the terrified songsters. In fine, the Merlin's 
habits are much those of the Peregrine over again. The same feats of 
daring recorded of the larger Falcon may equally be related of the 
"Falconet.'' He is indeed a bold little fellow, seems afraid of nothing, 
and wins the admiration of all who make his acquaintance in the field. 
It is to be feared, however, that the incessant warfare carried on against 
him by the game-preserver will eventually exterminate him from those 
haunts to which he is so fondly attached, and of which he is one of the 
finest ornaments. 

The general colour of the Merlin's upper plumage is slaty blue, rufous 
on the nape, and with a dark shaft to every feather ; the lower plumage is 
rufous, striped longitudinally with blackish brown ; tail with a broad, 
black, subterminal band, and traces of other bars on the inner webs ; beak 
bluish, darker at the tip ; cere and legs yellow ; claws black ; irides dark 
brown. There is much difference of opinion as to the colour of the 
female's plumage. Such high authorities as Macgillivray, Naumann, and 
Nilsson all agree in stating that the female bird is very differently 
coloured from the male. On the other hand, Sharpe, in his first volume 
of the ' Catalogue of Birds in the British Museum,' maintains that the 
female is similar to the male, but a little larger. There can be no doubt 
that females, probably very old birds, do sometimes assume the male 
plumage ; for an example was obtained by Dr. Scully at Gilgit, in North- 
west India. It was shot in December, carefully sexed by Dr. Scully 
himself, and in colour resembles most closely the male bird. It is the 
opinion of Mr. Gurney, than whom we have no better authority on raptorial 
birds, and who has examined this interesting specimen, that the reason 
why this advanced stage of plumage is not better known in Europe is 
probably due to the fact that the Falcon is so rarely allowed to attain 
the fully adult dress. Young birds are first covered with greyish-white 
down. In first plumage they have the upper parts rufous-brown, spotted 



MERLIN. 



41 



with darker brown; tail-feathers brown^ barred with rufous-brown and 
tipped with creamy white ; the underparts whitish, broadly striped with 
dark brown, becoming almost pure white on the throat. 

The Merlin has several near allies. On the American continent it is 
represented by a species divisible into three races, which Mr. Ridgeway 
treats as only varieties of the European species — F. columbarius, F. richard- 
soni, and F. suckleyi. These races breed in the northern portion of the 
American continent, in the Atlantic region, the region of the plains, and 
the region of the north-west coast respectively. They are all browner and 
darker than our bird, and have the black spots on the tail developed into 
transverse bars, which in F. suckleyi are almost confluent. In the Old 
World there are two tropical forms of the Merlin, which, however, appear 
to have become weU-defined species, F. chicquera inhabiting India, and 
F. ruficollis Africa. They may at once be distinguished from the Merlin 
by having the entire head and neck chestnut. They are, however, so nearly 
allied to each other that by some ornithologists they are considered one 
species ; the African race is said to be paler, and to have the bars on the 
breast closer together. 




42 BRITISH BIRDS. 



FALCO VESPERTINUS. 
RED-FOOTED FALCON. 

(Plate 4.) 

Falco vespertinus, Linn. Si/sf. Nat. i. p. 129 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

Macgilliway, Strichlaml, Schlegel, Blasitis, Ketvton, (Sharpe), (Gould), &c. 
Faloo rufus, Scop. Del. Faun, et Flor. Inmhr. ii. p. 36, pi. xix. (1786). 
Falco rufipes, Beseke, Vog. Kurl. p. 20, t. 3, 4 (1792). 
Falco erythrourus, Rafin. Carratt. Nuovi Oen. jir. p. 5 (1810). 
Cei'clineis vespertinus (Litvii.), Boie, Isis, 1828, p. 314. 
PannychLstes ruflpea (Beseke), Kaup, Nafiirl. Sj/st. p. 87 (1829). 
Erythropus vespertinus (Linn.), Brehm, Isis, 1830, p. 796. 
Faico rubripes, Less. Traite, p. 93 (1831). 

Tinnunculus rufipes (Beseke), Kaup, Classif. Siiug. u. Vog. p. 108 (1844). 
Tinnunculus vespertinus (Linn.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 21 (1844). 

The Red-footed Falcon is an accidental visitor to the British Islands^ 
from twenty to thirty specimens having been recorded at various times^ 
one or more in Scotland, and one in Ireland. On the continent of Europe 
it is also an accidental visitor to Spain, France, and Scandinavia. Its 
breeding-quarters are Hungary, the whole of Russia south of lat. 65°, and 
South-western Siberia as far east as Krasnoyarsk. Lindermeyer's state- 
ment that it breeds in Greece, and Loche's assertion that it breeds in 
Algeria, are neither of them verified by subsequent travellers in those 
countries, and are probably erroneous. It passes through Germany, Italy, 
Turkey and Greece, Asia Minor, Persia and Turkestan on migration, and 
winters in Damara Land, and occasionally in North-east Africa. In 
Siberia from Lake Baikal eastwards this species is represented by F. 
amurensis, the males of which have the under wing-coverts and axillaries 
white instead of slate-grey. This species breeds as far south as Eastern 
Mongolia and North China, and winters in India and South-east Africa. 
This is one of the most curious cases of migration and geographical 
distribution known. That the Red-footed Falcon, ranging during the 
breeding-season from the valley of the Dvina to the valley of the Yenesay, 
should winter in Africa is not an unprecedented fact. The Willow-WaAlers 
and Sedge- Warblers, which breed in the last-mentioned valley east of Cal- 
cutta, apparently do the same. One can easily imagine that two such 
very common birds have been obliged to widen their breeding-range, and 
to extend it eastwards by degrees as they increased in numbers; and one 
can also understand that they would naturally retain their old winter- 
quarters until a " Zugstrasse " or route of migration would gradually be 
formed from Central Siberia to Africa. This line of migration probably 



RED-FOOTED FALCON. 43 

runs from east to west in Siberia^ as the birds would not be likely to 
deviate east of their usual route until they had arrived at their breeding- 
grounds and found them too crowded. The fact that the winter-quarters 
of the eastern representative of the Red-footed Falcon are partly in India 
and partly in the Transvaal is much more diflicult to understand ; and I 
am unable to suggest any explanation of the anomaly. 

The Red-footed Falcon is a bird of easy though not very rapid flight. 
It sails and hovers for a moment like a Hobbyj but lacks the dash 
necessary to catch birds on the wing. Its food is chiefly insects. Some 
of these, such as beetles and ants, it obtains on the ground ; but most of 
its food is captured in the air. It is a very gregarious bird ; and flocks may 
be seen hawking backwards and forwards with great regularity, turning 
sharp round at the end of their beat. This is principally observed towards 
evening, when night-flying moths are on the wing. In the daytime they 
catch grasshoppers and dragonflies. They are rarely if ever found in the 
forest, but are very partial to swampy ground thinly scattered over with 
trees, which afford them convenient perching-places in the midst of their 
insect prey. Nordmann mentions their great abundance in the botanical 
gardens at Odessa ; and they are equally common in the gardens of the 
club at Krasnoyarsk, the limit, so far as is known, of their eastern range. 
At night they roost as close together as they can, choosing, if possible, the 
bare branches of a pine. They also breed in colonies, occasionally five or 
six nests being in one tree. It is said that they rarely if ever build a nest, 
but appropriate old nests of Crows or Magpies, or especially of Rooks. 
Cochrane says that in Hungary they arrive in the middle of April and 
breed early in May. Goebel says that in South Russia their usual breed- 
ing-time is early in June, and that they take possession of the nests of the 
Rooks after they have done with them, but that they frequently breed in 
solitary pairs, especially in gardens, in old Magpies' and Crows' nests. He 
adds that sometimes they breed earlier, for he once took a nest on the 
13th of June with six young, which had been amply provided by their 
parents with field-mice, stagbeetles, and a green lizard. The number of 
eggs varies from four to six. In shape, size, and colour the eggs of the 
Red-footed Falcon approach very near to those of the Kestrel. As the 
result of a careful comparison of 147 eggs of the former with 289 of the 
latter, Goebel arrives at the following conclusions : — The eggs of the Kestrel 
are coarser-grained, have much more lustre, and are, on an average, larger, 
and not only absolutely but proportionally heavier. The colour of the 
Kestrel's eggs is a darker, browner red compared with the yellower red 
of the eggs of the Red-footed Falcon. The eggs of the latter vary in 
length from r6 to 1' 25 inch, and in breadth from 1'2 to 1 inch. 

The adult male Red-footed Falcon has the whole plumage dark slate- 
grey, shading into silvery grey on the wings, and into black on the tail. 



44 BRITISH BIRDS. 

except the thighs^ vent^ and under tail-coverts^ which are chestnut ; cere 
and bare space round the eyes orange-red ; irides hazel ; bill orange at 
base, dark horn-colour at tip ; legs and toes brownish red ; claws yellow, 
darkest at tips. The adult female has the general colour of the upper 
parts below the nape, including the tail, slate-grey, not so dark as in the 
male, each feather broadly barred with darker grey. The wings are not 
so silvery a grey as in the male ; their under coverts are chestnut, and the 
quills are broadly barred with white on the inner web. The head, nape, 
and the whole of the underparts are dull chestnut, paler on the throat ; the 
feathers round the eye dark brown. Soft parts as in the adult male, but 
paler; bill more uniform horn- colour. 

The young male has the general colour of the upper parts except the nape 
slaty brown, each feather broadly margined with pale rufous. The quills 
are dark brown, almost black, narrowly tipped and margined with huffish 
white, and ovally barred with white on the inner webs. The tail is evenly 
barred with rufous, less distinctly so on the two centre feathers. The 
nape and entire underparts are pale buff, the former obscurely and the 
latter broadly streaked with brown, except on the vent, under tail-coverts, 
and thighs, which are uniform buff; the feathers round the eye brownish 
black. Bill and cere horn-colour, paler on the lower mandible. Legs and 
toes paler tha.n in adult birds. Lastly, the young female resembles the 
young male ; but the stripes on the underparts are broader. 

It will thus be seen that the adult male bird may always be recognized by 
its uniform slate-grey plumage, unbarred and unstreaked ; the young of 
both sexes by the pale margins to the feathers of the upper parts, the barred 
tail and broadly streaked pale underparts ; the fully adult female by her 
uniform unspotted chestnut underparts. The young birds in first plumage 
very closely indeed resemble young Hobbies ; but may always be distin- 
guished by the row of conspicuous oblong white spots on the primaries, 
and have the outside web of the outside tail-feather barred as well as the 
inside web. The so-called young male figured in Dresser's ' Birds of 
Europe ' is the not quite adult plumage of the female of the second year, 
which still shows a few streaks on the underparts. Young Red-footed 
Falcons may be distinguished from young Merlins by their thighs, which 
in the latter species are streaked, and by the oblong spots on the pri- 
maries of the former species, which in the latter are represented by pale 
dull chestnut bars. 



^^^^^mmmiP'^^^ 



KESTREL. 45 

FALCO TINNUNCULUS. 

KESTREL. 

(Plate 4.) 

Accipiter alaudarius, Biiss. Orn. i. p. 379 (1760). 

Accipiter tinnunculus, Briss. Orn. i. p. 393 (1760) ; et auctorum plurimorum — ■ 
(Linnceus), {Tcinmlnvli), (Xaumann), (Gould), {Sharpe), {Neivtua), (Dresser), &c. 
Falco tinnunculus, Liiui. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 127 (1766). 
Falco fasciatus, iiV/.-. Faun. Suec. p. 70 (1800). 
Falco brunneua, Bechst. Orn. Tu.^chenh. p. 38 (1802). 
Cercbneis tinnuncula (Linn.), Boie, Isis, lsi'8, p. 314. 
^Egypius tinnunculus (Linn.), Kaup, Natiirl. Syst. p. 20 (1820). 
Tinnunculus alaudarius (Briss.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 21 (1844). 
Tinnunculus tinnunculus (Linn.), Ileugl. Peterm. Mitlh. 1861, p. 20. 

The Kestrel is the commonest bird of prey in the British Islands, and 
breeds almost every\ihere, and is equally abundant in well-wooded districts 
and rocky moors. Amongst the grand scenery of the Highlands it is one 
of the most characteristic bii'ds. It is common in the Hebrides, and 
breeds on most of the rocky islets, even on isolated St. Kilda and the 
Orkneys ; in these northern haunts, however, the bird is merely a summer 
visitor, and retires southwards at the approach of winter. In Ireland the 
Kestrel is also widely distributed in all suitable localities, but does not 
appear to be so common as it is in Scotland and England. 

The Kestrel breeds in almost every part of tlie Palaearctic Region, and 
is common up to lat. 60°. Fui'ther north it rapidly becomes rarer; and 
north of the arctic circle its appearance is only accidental, though there 
seems to be good reason to believe that Wolley once obtained a nest in 
Lapland as far north as 68°. North of the Alps it is principally a summer 
migrant ; but in the countries south of the Baltic a few remain during the 
winter. South of the Alps it appears to be a resident. The Kestrels 
breeding in North Africa receive large accessions to their numbers by 
migrants from Europe during winter ; and at that season of the year it 
almost reaches the equator on the west of Africa, and goes slightly beyond 
it on the east of that continent. In Asia the Kestrel is equally abundant. 
In the valley of the Yenesay I found it very common in lat. 58°; and Mid- 
dendorff obtained five examples from a flock which appear to have wan- 
dered out of their way (they were all five young females) on migration in 
lat. 71°. In Persia it is very common in summer ; but the greater number 
winter in Baluchistan and Arabia. In Turkestan the Kestrel is principally 
known as a spring and autumn migrant, but a few remain both winter and 
summer. It breeds in the Himalayas, but in India is principally known 
as a winter visitor, though there are resident Kestrels on the mountains of 



46 BRITISH BIRDS. 

South India. It breeds in Mongolia, Japan, and China, and probably in 
Formosa and Hainan. It winters in Burma. 

A. species having such a wide range as the Kestrel, breeding in such 
various climates, and consequently subject to the influence of diflferent 
kinds of food and variations in the difficulty of procuring it, in addition 
to the direct influence of variations in the amount of sunshine, ia the 
degree of heat and cold, and in the amount of moisture, must of necessity 
develop subspecific forms or climatic races. In the islands off the coast 
of West Africa (Cape Verd, Canary, and Madeira) the humidity of the 
climate has produced a dark race, which, as is so often the case with insular 
forms, is also a small race. This subspecies has been called F. neglectus, 
and varies in length of wingfi'om 8'4 to 9"4< inch, and has the dark spots on 
the upper parts larger than usual. On the continent size will not help us 
much in distinguishing the diflFerent forms, as they all vary in length of 
wing from 9'3 to 10'4 inch. In birds breeding in Spain, Tangiers, Abyssinia, 
the Himalayas, Mongolia, and China, the slate-grey of the head and tail 
and the chestnut of the back are also dark ; and these differences have been 
considered by some writers to be of sufficient importance to constitute a 
subspecies, to which the name of F. inter stmctus has been given. British 
birds, however, are somewhat intermediate, and are decidedly darker than 
examples from Siberia, which are the palest of all. In Japan the dark 
richly spotted form of the West-African islands reappears ; but as it retains 
the dimensions of its Chinese neighbour, whom it often visits in winter, it 
also has been dignified with a name, that of F.japonicus. In the moun- 
tains of South India, however, a resident Kestrel occurs, which is scarcely 
distinguishable either in size or colour from the West-African island form, 
and, if it be distinguished from F. tinnunculus, must also bear the name of 
F. neglectus. It seems probable that the Hainan birds must also be 
referred to this subspecies. There is nothing extraordinary in the fact of 
the extreme western form reappearing in the extreme east. It is the 
normal state of things with the more northern Palaearctic birds. The 
range of the Kestrel scarcely reaches a latitude high enough for an ex- 
treme arctic form to be produced ; but its range in both the east and west 
is sufficiently south for a tropical form to be developed. 

In newly moulted birds the differences of colour of these local races are 
clearly perceptible in both sexes ; but in abraded plumage they are not 
always easy to determine. Ornithologists are not agreed on the best way 
of cataloguing these climatic races; but no true naturalist can ignore 
them. To give them each a separate binomial name is liable to lead to an 
exaggerated idea of their specific value ; and the American ornithologists 
appear to have acted wisely in following the plan adopted by Linnfeus, of 
calling the local races varieties. The result, if it be scientifically accurate, 
is at the same time somewhat complicated. The British Kestrel being an 



KESTREL. 47 

intermediate form between the central-southern race and the semiarctic 
one^ would have to bear the name of Falco tinnunculus var. tinnunculus- 
interstinctus, always supposing that the type of Linnaeus was a semiarctic 
form. If the facts of nature are complicated, it is perhaps unreasonable 
to expect that their scientific nomenclature should be otherwise. 

From its habit of hovering in the air, the Kestrel is probably the best- 
known and most easily recognized of all British raptorial birds. This 
peculiarity has gained for it the colloquial name of Windhover. It hangs 
in the air, poised over one spot, with outspread wings and tail, as if sus- 
pended by a thread. Seldom, indeed, can one take a walk in the country 
without making a passing acquaintance with this graceful little Falcon. 
A favourite locality for the Windhover is in rocky valleys : the dales of the 
Peak of Derbyshire are one of its favourite haunts, where it nestles in the 
lofty limestone clifl's. Amongst all the dales and moors and rocks of 
Yorkshire its pretty gambols in the air, its wonderful evolutions and 
graceful movements, form one of the most charming accessories of the 
wild impressive scenery of many parts of this county. 

Easily distinguished, indeed, it is from all others of its order ; and its 
presence is readily detected as it hovers in the air 

"As if let down from the lieaveu there 
By a vie-rtless silken thread," 

now advancing towards you, flying up wind, some thirty feet above the 
earth, its wings flapping hurriedly or held perfectly motionless. Now it 
is directly above you ; you see its broad head turning restlessly from side 
to side ; the wings seem in a perpetual quiver, and the broad tail is ex- 
panded to its fullest extent. Now it glides slowly forward for a few yards, 
pauses for a moment intently surveying the ground beneath, then once 
more, with a few vigorous flaps of its wings, darts ofl' in a sidelong direc- 
tion, and poises itself in the air as before. Again it proceeds a little dis- 
tance, hovers, and bounds forward. Then, by describing a broad circle, 
it turns completely round, and flies rapidly down wind, but soon suddenly 
stops and hovers again. Something has arrested its attention; a 
mouse is below it in the meadow-grass ; and, closing its wings, it drops 
like a stone, throwing out its wings again just before it reaches the 
earth, hovers a moment, clutches its prey, and as rapidly mounts the air, 
and bears off in direct and rapid flight to some quiet haunt, where it can 
devour its prey in peace. Sometimes you may see it at a stupendous 
height, wheeling round and round in circles ; and when passing from one 
place to another it usually does so at a considerable height. 

Although in most parts of Great Britain the Kestrel may be observed 
from time to time during the winter months, still it is a regular migratory 
species, and most of our British Kestrels leave us at the approach of 



48 BRITISH BIRDS. 

winter to swell the large flocks of Hawks that annually cross the Mediter- 
ranean on passage. The reason for this migration has not far to be 
sought. Certainly in England the KestreFs food is composed almost 
exclusively of mice and moles and beetles, creatures that are rarely found 
abroad in the depth of winter. The absence of this food renders migra- 
tion imperative, and sends the Kestrel to a southern clime, where its 
winter fare is largely composed of locusts. Birds do not constitute the 
KestreVs regular food. A walk through its haunts will convince the 
observer of this beyond all doubt. You never see the smaller birds in 
terror at his approach ; he is no enemy of theirs, and mingles freely 
with them, almost unheeded. Observe what consternation the Sparrow- 
Hawk brings to these little choristers when he is abroad ; but how dif- 
ferent when the Kestrel passes overhead ! The Chaffinch, instead of utter- 
ing cries of alarm, still continues his merry notes ; and the Larks and 
Pipits stay not in their song. See how difierently the Kestrel's presence 
in the farmyard is regarded. No anxious brooding hen utters her cluck of 
alarm to her scattered family ; and the Sparrows continue their meal on 
the ricks, while in the air the graceful Swallow vies with him in airy flight, 
unconcerned and trustful, for experience tells him there is no danger. 

Mice form the chief part of the Kestrel's food ; but occasionally small 
birds are taken, although, as before stated, only very rarely and when 
its usual fare is wanting. Frogs, moles, caterpillars, lizards, and earth- 
worms, too, are eaten ; but the latter seem rather exceptional food ; for 
the Kestrel is rarely seen on the ground, and there more rarely still in 
motion ; for its sharp claws would inevitably be broken or blunted, and 
thus prevent it from firmly clutching its usual prey. All Falcons walk 
but little on the ground, as an examination of their beautifully sharpened 
claws proves beyond all doubt. A favourite prey of the Kestrel is 
cockchafers ; and it may ofttimes in the evening's dusk be seen hawking 
for them, taking them in its claws just as it would take a mouse or frog. 
Various other insects are taken, such as grasshoppers and locusts. It 
usually eats its insect captures whilst flying through the air. From its 
extreme partiality for mice the Kestrel is one of the best friends of the 
farmer ; and the great value of its services in destroying these pests ought 
to place it in far greater favour than it now enjoys. 

It is not before the early spring (March) that the Kestrel is seen in any 
numbers in this country, when it returns northwards to rear its young. 
Even then, if the weather be at all severe, especially if the ground be 
covered with snow, they retire southwards again, to return as soon as the 
frost disappears. The Kestrel's pairing-season is in April, although the 
eggs are seldom laid before early May. Few things are more interesting 
than to wander through the Kestrel's haunt at this season and obserye its 
graceful motions high in air. Around you in the underwood birds are 



KESTREL. 49 

singing on all sides ; the air^ with the balmy freshness only known in the 
vernal season, is resonant with melody; but high uj) in the air above you 
the Kestrels are sailing and chasing each other. Several are in the air 
together; and their flight is now graceful in the extreme — darting down- 
wards, soaring aloft, and making the woods and rocks resound with their 
peculiar notes. It is their love-season, too; and at this period the Kestrel 
is more noisy than at any other time of the year. Their chorus of cries, 
high up in the blue sky, rendered musical by the distance — Jceelie, keelie, 
kee-kee-kee — is varied by a harsh chattering cry. 

The Kestrel appears to delay its nesting-season until field-mice and insects 
are plentiful. The Kestrel generally breeds in the thickest woods, and rarely 
in nests built in isolated trees. It also rears its young on the cliffs by the 
sea-side ; and some of the best places to seek for its eggs are the rocks on 
the moors and the cliffs of limestone districts. The Kestrel will also not 
unfrequently lay her eggs in holes of buildings, notably amongst ivied ruins 
and the Gothic architecture of cathedrals, in company with Doves and Jack- 
daws. When the eggs are laid in the crevices of rocks, a little cavity is, 
if possible, scratched in the soft earth or vegetable refuse, or, failing 
this, some natural cavity in the rock itself is chosen in which to deposit 
the eggs. I once took five Kestrel's eggs out of an old Raven's nest in 
the cleft of a perpendicular cliff at Howden Chest, in the High Peak of 
Derbyshire. It was an elaborate and highly finished structure, doubtless 
composed of the materials brought by the Ravens twenty years before, but 
evidently rebuilt for the occasion. It was almost fiat; the centre was 
about 7 inches across, a slight hollow in a bed of peat, lined with bits of 
heath. Around this centre was a broad ring, 7 inches wide, very regularly 
and evenly made of the thick charred stalks of Hng which had escaped the 
fire when the heath was burnt, now bleached white with age. It is very 
probable that the Kestrel is a life-paired bird, like other members of its 
order ; and every season it will, if left unmolested, return to the same place 
to rear its young. Even if one of the birds be destroyed, the other will 
quickly find another mate, and return with unerring certainty to the home 
of its choice. In the wooded districts a Crow's or Magpie's nest is the 
usual situation chosen by the Kestrel in which to rear its young, and 
sometimes the nest of a Ring-Dove is used, and, more rarely still, an old 
Sparrow-Hawk's. It is also worthy of remark, that when a Magpie's nest 
is chosen the rooty lining is usually removed, probably from motives of 
cleanliness, and the eggs are laid on the hard lining of mud. As incuba- 
tion advances the pellets containing the refuse of the bird's food accumu- 
late, and serve as a lining, beautifully soft, on which the eggs rest secure. 

Six eggs is the number usually found, although in some cases the number 
has been seven, and in others so few as four or five. They are rich 
reddish brown of various shades upon a dirty or creamy white ground. 

VOL. I. E 



50 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Kestrels' eggs go through all the types of the eggs of the true Falcons 
figured on Plate 4; and, in addition to these, some eggs have the 
colouring-matter all massed on the larger end of the egg, others have 
a ground of dull yellowish chestnut with irregular blotches of intense 
coffee-bi'own, while others are brick-red with a few minute dots of deep 
brown. Most eggs of this bird, when newly laid, possess a purplish bloom, 
which, however, soon fades after exposure to the light. The eggs of the 
Kestrel vary from 1'7 to 1'45 inch in length, and from 1'35 to 1'12 inch 
in breadth. The female Kestrel when laying does not always deposit an 
egg each successive day, and sometimes sits upon the first egg as soon as 
laid. The female bird usually incubates the eggs, although the male is 
sometimes found upon them. When the nest is approached, the sitting 
bird silently quits its charge, but sometimes not until the nest is reached, 
especially if the eggs are coming near to maturity. Throughout the whole 
season of incubation the male bird may often be seen high in air above 
his nest, sailing round in circles ; and sometimes he will be joined by his 
mate. 

Although an easily-tamed bird ^v-hen brought up from the nest, the 
Kestrel wins but little favour from the falconer, wanting, as it does, the 
impetuous dash of other members of this group of birds. Still it has been 
successfully flown at small birds, although the nature of its food in a wild 
state will efFectually prevent it from ever figuring largelj' as a bird of sport. 

The male Kestrel has the head, lower back, and tail slate-grey, the 
latter with a broad black band near the end and a white tip, and the head 
with dusky shaft-streaks ; the rest of the upper parts pale chestnut, 
with small, black, triangular spots ; the wings are blackish brown, with 
lighter- coloured edges ; the breast and belly are pale fawn-colour, with 
dark streaks on the former and dark spots on the latter ; the thighs and 
under tail-coverts are rufous fawn-colour without spots, and the under 
surface of the tail is greyish white. Beak blue ; cere and orbits yellow; 
irides dark brown ; legs and toes yellow; claws black. The female has 
the whole upper surface reddish brown, barred transversely with bluish 
black ; the wings are darker than in the male, and the whole underparts 
are paler. Young males are like the female, but a little paler perhaps, 
until after the first winter, when they begin to assume the adult plumyage, 
the blue head being the last to be obtained. Very old females some- 
times assume the plumage of the male. 



LESSER KESTREL. 51 

FALCO CENCHRIS. 

LESSER KESTREL. 

(Plate 4.) 

Falco turriuni, Genni, Orii. Meth. Uiy. i. p. (j7, pi. Hi. (17G7). 

Falco naumanni, Fleischer, Sylvan, 1817, p. 175. 

Falco xauthonyx, Xatt.fide Fleischer, Sylvan, 1817, p. 17d. 

Falco cenchi-ia*, Kaiim. VUij. Dcntschl. i. p. .318 (1820, a Frisch) ; et auctorum 

pluximoram—Ciiiicr, (Kaiip), Schlegel, {Bonaparte), {Gray), {Keii:tnn), Dresser, 

&c. 
Falco tinnunciiloides, Schinz,Jide Nciudi. Voi/. Deiitschl i. p. 323 (1820). 
Falco tinnimciilai-iiis, Vieill. Faun. FraiK;. p. 36, pi. 16. fig-. 3 (1829). 
Cerchneis cenchris {2'i'ainn.), Brehn, Voy. Bi-utschl. p. 74 (1831). 
Tinnunculus cenchris (Naum.), Bp. Cat. Met. Ucc. Eur. p. 21 (1842). 
Tichomis cenchvis (Naiim.), Kaup, Classif. Sihig. u. Voy. p. 108 (1844). 
Pcecilomis cenchris (Kaum.), Kaup, Contr. Orn. 18jO, p. 53. 
Cerchneis naumanni (Fleischer), Sharpe, Cat. Birds Brit. 3Ius. p. 435 (1874). 

The claim of this species to be considered a British bird rests upon a 
single example which was shot in the neighbourhood of York by Mr. John 
Harrison, of Wilsthorpe Hall. There can be no doubt about the 
authenticity of this specimen, which was identified at the time by my 
friend the late Mr. Thomas AUis, of York, an excellent ornithologist. I 
have seen the specimen, which was stufled by Mr. Graham, and is now in 
the York Museum. Mr. Harrison assures me that he has no doubt 
whatever that the bird in the museum is the one he shot. He is 
himself an ornithologist, and has a fine collection both of birds and eggs. 
His attention was first attracted to the bird by noticing it flying about 
on his farm very late in the autumn of 1869 ; and he shot it under the 
impression that it was a small and curious variety of the Common Kestrel. 
That this bird does occasionally wander north of its usual habitat is proved 
by its having been obtained on Heligoland. 

Its breeding-range may be said to be the basin of the Mediterranean. 
It is very common in Southern Spain, and is said to breed in some parts 
of the Pyrenees. It is not uncommon in Sardinia and Sicily, but is very 
rare in Italy. In Greece it is extremely abundant, breeding as far north 
as South Bulgaria. In Russia it breeds only in the extreme south. It is 
very common in the Caucasus, Western Turkestan, Persia, Asia Minor, 

* F. cenchris ih the name which has heen applied to the Lesser Kestrel by an over- 
whelming majoiity of ornithologists ; and Dresser still retains it in defiance of the law of 
priority, although in his synonymy he shows four older names. Sharpe, led away by the 
Stricldandian code, uses one of these old and deservedly forgotten names ; and if the law 
of priority survives long enough, some ambitious oniithologist will be found rash enough 
to back Gerini's name ag'ainst the field. 



52 BEITISH BIRDS. 

and Palestine. It is occasionally found in North France and North 
Germany ; but these examples are rare stragglers out of the usual line of 
migration. It passes through the whole of North Africa, where a con- 
siderable number remain to breed. It winters in South Africa, having 
been found in Damara Land, the Transvaal, and the Cape. In the east it 
is represented by a very nearly allied species, F. pekinensis, which breeds 
in China and winters ia India, where a few are said to remain m the 
mountains during the breeding-season. 

The Lesser Kestrel is a very gregarious bird, seldom found in isolated 
pairs. It is very partial to rocks and ruins ; and I have seen them m great 
numbers flying in and out of the holes of the ruins of the Acropolis at 
Athens. In the villages of the Parnassus and in Asia Minor, for want of 
more suitable places, it breeds under the eaves of the houses; and I 
particularly remember a colony in a street in Missolonghi. Dr. Kriiper 
says that he has found the nest in hollow trees ; and I have frequently 
seen it perched in a tree. In and around the village of Menemen, not 
far from Smyrna, it was especially abundant, and we generally saw half a 
dozen on the wing together. We shot one out of three perched on the 
branches of an old olive-tree in the middle of the village ; and once in the 
Parnassus we shot several birds which were flying about in the company 
of the Common Kestrel. The Lesser Kestrel is a migratory bird, arriving 
at its breeding- quarters about the middle of March. It breeds towards 
the end of April ; and I found several nests late in June containing young 
birds. Some of these were under the eaves of the houses, and others in 
holes of the walls. The nests were extremely slight; and frequently the 
eggs were laid in a hollow scratched in the rubbish. Five seems to be the 
usual number of eggs; but I have clutches of four, and one of seven. The 
male bird ajjpears to relieve the female in her duties, as on a nest which 
we took, containing five eggs, on the 15th of May in a village in the 
Parnassus, we caught the male and afterwards shot the female. The food 
of this bird during the breeding-season appears to be almost entirely com- 
posed of grasshoppers ; and we often saw flocks or small parties flying up 
and down in the vicinity of their nests not at all disturbed by our watching 
them. We could see them thrust out their feet to catch the flying grass- 
hoppers, and could notice them bring their feet to the bill, after which 
the hard parts of the grasshopper were distinctly seen to fall to the ground. 
They are very noisy on the wing ; and their cry is very j)eeuliar : Dr. 
Kriiper pointed out to me its resemblance to the Greek word /3e;3atw9 
(pronormced vev-ai'-ose), which may be translated into American-English 
as " yes, certainly." Canon Tristram mentions their abundance near 
some of the villages in Palestine, pursuing insects, especially cockchafers, 
towards evening. He also mentions that he never found a colony of these 
birds without finding many of the Common Kestrel breeding in the same 



LESSER KESTREL. 



53 



place. Saunders thinks tliese two species occasionally interbreed (see 
'Ibis/ 1871, p. 59). 

Tlie eggs of the Lesser Kestrel are very round, almost globular, with 
but little difference between the larger and smaller ends. Their general 
ground-colour is pale brick-red, with dark brick-red spots, which are 
very generally diffused evenly over the whole surface, and very small, 
occasionally forming large blotches. Others, again, have an almost white 
ground-colour, with more than usually distinct spots and blotches, re- 
sembling very much a similar type of the Common Kestrel. In fact the 
eggs of the Lesser Kestrel go through the same varieties as the Common 
Kestrel, but are smaller and of a paler and more bricky red instead of 
blood-red. In size they vary from 1'45 to I'Sinch in length, and from 
1'2 to 1-03 inch in breadth. 

The Lesser Kestrel resembles the Common Kestrel in colour very 
closely ; but the males differ from our bird in being slightly smaller, in 
having no black spots on the back, and in having the innermost secondaries 
slate-grey instead of chestnut, and the claws white instead of black. The 
females are more difficult to determine; but the smaller size and pale claws 
of the Lesser Kestrel are the best characters. 

The Chinese Lesser Kestrel is a doubtfully distinct species, and only 
differs from its western ally in having more slate-grey on the wing- 
coverts. 




54 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus PANDION. 

The genus Pandion was established by Savigny (who separated it from 
the geuus Falco of Liuufeiisj in 1810, in his ' Systems des Oiseaux de 
TEgypte et de la Syrie/ p. 9. The only species kno-vm to him was P. 
haliaetus, which must therefore be the type. 

There is only one species of Osprey in the world ; and this may be said 
to be almost cosmopolitan. The characters which distinguish it from all 
other allied birds of prey are the combination of the finely reticulated (not 
broadly scaled) tarsus, and the long first primary (much longer than the 
secondaries), with the absence of a forked tail and a notched bill. Its food 
is almost exclusively fish. 



OSPREY. 55 

PANDION HALIAETUS. 
OSPREY. 

(Plate 3.) 

Accipiter falco piscator caroliuiensis, Bnss. Orn. i. p. :3G2 (1760). 

Aquila haliasetus, Brk<. Orn. i. p. 440 (1760); et auctorum plurimorum— (Zm- 

ncsiiJi), {Gray), (Schleyel), (Gould), (Newton), (Shmye), &c. 
Falco haliastiis, Linn. Stjst. Xat. i. p. 129 (1766). 
Falco anmdinaceus, Gmel. Si/sf. Xirt. i. p. 203 (1788). 
Falco cai'olinensis, Gmel. he. cit. (1788). 
Falco cayennensif?, Gmel. he. cit. (1788). 
Aquila piscatvix, rieill. Ois. Am. Sept. i. p. -20, pL 4 (1807). 
Pandion fluvialis, Saviejn. Sijst. Ois. de TEejypte, p. .36 (1810). 
Aquila haliaetus (Sriss.), IVulf, Ta.ifhenh. i. p. 23;(1810). 

Ti-iorches fluvialis {Sav.), Learh, .Si/sf. Cut. Mamm. S,-c. Brit. Mas. p. 10 (1816). 
Aquila balbusardus, Bumont, Diet. Sci. Xat. i. p. 351 (1816). 
Pandiou americanus, J'ieil/. ^- Autl Gal. Ois. p. -iS, pi. 11 (1825). 
Accipiter haliaetus (Briss.), Pal/. Zonejr. Rosso- As. i. p. 3o-j (1826). 
Balbusardus haliaetus (Briss.), Flem. Brit. An. p. -jI (1828). 
Paudion hahaetus (Briss.), Less. Man. d'Orn. i. p. 86 (1828). 
Pandion carolinensis, Aad. B. X. Ainer. pi. 81 (1831). 
Pandion leucocephalus, GuuUI, P. Z. S. 1837, p. 138. 
Pandion indicus, ILode/s. Gray's Zool. Miseel. p. 81 (1814). 
Pandion ichthyaetu.s, Kaup, Classif. Hiiufjetli. n. Vdr/. p. 122 (1844, nee Harsf.). 
Pandion gouldi, Kuup, Isix, \>A' , p. 270. 

Paudion haliaetus (Briss.), var. carolinensis, Aud. Ridrj. Proe. A. X. Sc. 1870, p. 143. 
Pandion fluviatilis (Sav.), .Seivrtr.. Turk. Jevotnie, p. 03 (1873). 

The Osprey is one of the rarest raptorial birds in the British Islands. 
From the peculiar manner in which it takes its prey^ and its great dexterity 
of movement^ it has long been a favourite bird with the student of nature, 
and is indeed one of the finest, although fast expiring ornaments of the 
wild mountain-lochs, the bleak Imrren moors, and upland forests. The 
remote districts of Scotland, the wild solitudes of Highland loch aud 
mountain, were once the favourite home of the Osprey ; but now its 
numbers have greatly decreased, and only a few pairs resort to the central 
and northern districts of the Highlands for the purpose of rearing their 
young. The Osprey is seldom seen in the wild scenery of the Hebrides, 
but one or two specimens having been recorded from these islands. 
Although the waters there teem with fish, the scarcity of suitable cover 
and nesting-places most j)robably exj)lains its absence. There are still 
one or two eyries iu Inverness-shire and Ross-shire, and also in Galloway — 
a sufficient number of birds, if strictly preserved, to retain the Osprey in 
the rank of a regular migrant to our island. Iu the Orkneys, the Shet- 



56 BEITISH BIRDS. 

lands^ and in Ireland the Osprey is only known as an extremely rare 
straggler^ appearing at long and uncertain intervals. Its occurrence in 
England is usually confined to the period of the spring and autumn 
migrations. It has been obtained more or less frequently in almost every 
maritime county^ and^ more rarely^ as far inland as Oxfordshire and Shrop- 
shire. Mr. Cordeaux informs me that " in the autumn of last year no 
less than nine occurrences of the Osprey were recorded from the east coast 
of England between the Tees and the Thames, from the last week in 
September through October — viz. 1 Durham, 1 Yorkshire, 3 Lincolnshire 
(2 immature, 1 adult female on the 15th of October), 2 Norfolk, and 2 near 
London." 

The Osprey breeds throughout the Palsearctic and Nearctic Regions, 
nearly as far north as the limit of forest-growth. It is a migratory bird, 
leaving at least all the northerly parts of its range in autumn. It winters 
in South Europe and North Africa, where a few remain to breed in very 
favourable localities. It has once been recorded from Natal. In Asia it 
winters south of the Himalayas, occasionally straying as far as New 
Zealand and some of the Pacific islands. On the American continent it 
winters in Central America (where a few remain to breed) and the West 
Indies, occasionally wandering as far south as Brazil. 

Messrs. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgeway attempt to separate the Ospreys 
of America and Australia as local races under the respective names of var. 
carolinensis and var. leucocephalus ; but the characters given are so slight 
and so ill-defined that they are more likely to be individual than 
climatic. 

Years ago, before the railway had joined the Highland solitudes with 
southern industry, before such attention was given to the preservation of 
game and the destruction of " vermin," the Osprey dwelt amongst the 
mountain-lochs, or on the brown heathlands studded thickly with stunted 
fir and birch trees. Now his haunts, which are only few and far between 
appear to be the dense pine-forests that clothe the steep and rocky hill- 
sides, or away lower down the slopes in the broad stretches of bog-land, 
thinly sprinkled with timber, and overgrown with green and treacherous 
moss and rushes, amongst stagnant pools almost concealed by the hixuriance 
of dank and tangled masses of water-plants and coarse grass. Here and 
there in these situations, amongst the huge rocks and steep precipitous 
glens pierced by mountain-torrents and strewn with tempest relics of 
fallen pine and birch trees, the Osprey may sometimes be seen reposing 
or digesting his meal. Here, on these strictly preserved estates, the 
Osprey is a regular visitor in the summer months, and bids fair, with the 
aid of the protection now afforded it, to reinstate itself in the home of its 
ancestors. His haunt, however, by reason of the peculiar nature of his 
sustenance, must always be near the waters — either the large freshwater 



OSPREY. 57 

lakes, the wild mountain-waters teeming with trout, or the lochs and the 
seacoast where an abundant supj)ly of food is ever obtainable. 

Like most raptorial birds, the Osprey, when its meal is finished, takes 
its perch, usually on some post in the water or tree-stump on the bank, 
where it sits, seemingly unconscious of danger, to digest its meal, and 
where it is easily approached, its curious appearance and large size proving 
but allurements to its doom, which is duly recorded in the county pajier. 
These birds, if they have the rare fortune to be left unmolested, will 
sometimes prolong their stay until the summer; but no instance is on 
record where the Osprey has been known to breed in England or 
Wales. 

The habits of the Osprey, in certain respects, much resemble those of 
the Kestrel. Dixon describes a bird of this species which he saw searching 
for prey on the head waters of Loch Carron in Inverness-shire. " It was 
about thirty feet above the surface of the water, hovering with quivering 
wings, and ever and anon giving a few rapid beats, as if to steady itself. 
It slowly searched the shallow waters near the shore, hovering and sailing 
alternately, just like our well-known Windhover in the meadows. Finally 
it poised itself for a moment, and dropped down like a stone into the 
water, the noise of its plunge being distinctly audible more than a quarter 
of a mile away. Rising in a few seconds, it again for a short time 
hovered above the surface, and then finally retired, in slow Buzzard-like 
flight, towards a distant clump of timber, but whether successfal in its 
exertions we are unable to say."'' " I have watched,-"^ says Booth, in his 
interesting ' Rough Notes,'' when speaking on the habits of the Osprey 
on our English waters, " one or two, while searching for flounders in the 
muddy creeks on Breydon Water, following the coiirse of the channels, 
and fishing in exactly the same manner that Gulls may be noticed when 
picking up the floating refuse in a tideway, the only difl^erenee being that 
a Gull seizes the food with his beak, while an Osprey grasps it in his claws. 
The thickness of the water renders it impossible for any fish to be detected 
at a depth below the surface ; flounders, however, may frequently be seen 
working their way close to the edge of the stream ; and from the manner 
in which the birds proceeded, I have not the slightest doubt they were in 
pursuit of this description of fish. After hovering round for a second or 
two, I have noticed one dip down close to the mudbank, and, although 
appearing scarcely to have touched the water, sail off to some quiet spot, 
where it eould leisurely devour its prey, a favourite resting-place in that 
locality being the sweeps of an old mill standing within a short distance 
of the flats, from which a good view of approaching danger might be 
obtained. ]Mullet are very plentiful in the upper parts of Breydon Water ; 
and to these the Osprey is stated to be particularly partial when observed 
in the south of England." 



58 BRITISH BIRDS. 

From the excessive rarity of the Osprey in our islands, British ornitho- 
logists have but little opportunity of adding much original matter to its 
life-history. But in North America the Osprey is one of the commonest 
of raptorial birds, consequently its habits have been studied closely. 
Wilson has thus graphically portrayed the habits of this bird : — " The 
flight of the Fish-Hawk, his manoeuvres while in search of fish, and his 
manner of seizing his prey are deserving of particular notice. In leaving 
the nest he usually flies direct till he comes to the sea, then sails around 
in easy curving lines, turning sometimes in the air as on a pivot, appa- 
rently without the least exertion, rarely moving the wings, his legs ex- 
tended in a straight line behind, and his remarkable length and curvature 
or bend of wing distinguishing him from all other Hawks. The height at 
which he thus elegantly glides is various, from one hundred to one hundred 
and fifty and two hundred feet, sometimes much higher, all the while 
calmly reconnoitring the face of the deep below. Suddenly he is seen to 
check his course, as if struck by a particular object, which he seems to 
survey for a few moments with such steadiness that he appears fixed in 
air, flapping his wings. This object, however, he abandons, or rather the 
fish he had in his eye has disappeared, and he is again seen sailing around 
as before. Now his attention is again arrested, and he descends with 
great rapidity ; but ere he reaches the surface shoots ofi' on another course, 
as if ashamed that a second victim had escaped him. He now sails at a 
short height above the surface, and by a zigzag descent, and without 
seeming to dip his feet in the water, seizes a fish, which, after carrying a 
short distance, he probably drops, or yields up to the Bald Eagle, and 
again ascends by easy spiral circles to higher regions of the air, where he 
glides about in all the ease and majesty of his species." 

Whether the Osprey is a partially nocturnal bird it is difiicult to deter- 
mine ; but Mr. Booth mentions the fact that he has repeatedly heard this 
bird calling in the darkness when in the neighbourhood of its nest. Its 
note is neither loud nor harsh ; nor is the bird by any means a noisy one. 
It resembles the syllables kai, kai, kai ; and its alarm-note consists of a 
harsh but not loud scream. 

An examination of some of the most prominent organs of the Osprey 
shows how fitted it is to its peculiar conditions of life. Fishes form the 
Osprey's only food, which it clutches fi-om their native element when 
swimming on or near the surface. Its long and powerful wrings enable it 
to fly great distances and remain in the air for long periods of time in 
search of its finny prey. Its plumage is unusually dense on the lower 
parts, as a protection against its repeated immersions in the water ; and 
the long feathers adorning the tibicC of the land Raptores are in the Osprey 
replaced by short ones. From the peculiar form of its finny prey, the 
slippery nature of its outer surface, and its great facility of evading the 



OSPREY. 59 

bird's attackj the Osprey's feet exhibit certain well-marked peculiarities. 
The outer toe is reversible^ the claws are remarkably curved and sharp, 
and the soles of the feet are very rough, all assisting the bird to grasp its 
food with great certainty and precision. From their peculiar structure 
the claws of the Osprey do not tear the tender flesh of its prey, nor are 
they easily withdrawn when once they are inserted — a circumstance which 
has not unfrequently been known to cost the bird its life, by fastenrug to 
a fish too large for it to lift from the water. The food of the Osprey is 
composed of various kinds of fish. When its habitation is near the fresh 
waters, trout, salmon, roach, carp, pike, bream, rudd, &c. are eaten, the 
first-named fish (the brown or lake-trout) in Scotland forming its favourite 
food. In maritime districts the Osprey feeds on shad, flounders, &c., and 
has been known to strike at large sturgeon. The fish when seized is 
always carried lengthwise in its talons — a position consequent upon the 
easiest way of approaching and taking it, not, it is probable, because it 
would at all impede the bird's flight if carried crosswise ; for, once the 
claws are inserted in the fish, there they remain until it is eaten or torn 
in pieces. 

Like raptorial birds in general, the Osprey pairs for life and returns 
yearly to its old breeding-grounds. When the Osprey was a common bird 
in Scotland it almost invariably chose some rocky islet in the mountain- 
lochs, or built its bulky citadel on some commanding battlement or 
chimney-stack of an old ruin surrounded by the waters. These nests were 
so regularly tenanted that quite a historical interest attached to them ; 
and even now of late years, when the Osprey is almost only known as a 
tradition, the situations of its former eyries are pointed out as objects of 
no small amount of interest. In many parts of the world, however, the 
Osprey builds in trees ; and in America, where it is such an abundant 
species, it occasionally breeds in colonies. This habit of arboreal nest- 
building appears to be followed by the British birds ; and what few eyries 
do now exist at the present day in Scotland are for the most part in 
pine trees. 

There are few scenes more wildly picturesque than an Osprey's eyrie, 
nor so well worth a visit, a sight of its wild surroundings and grand 
solitude amply recompensing the observer for the usually hard and weari- 
some tramp over hill and bog ere he can reach it. Should it be on some 
old ruinous keep or dungeon, water-surrounded and safe from enemies, 
far among mountain-solitudes, or in the silent deer-forest, on the tree- 
clad slopes sweeping so grandly away into dreamy indistinctness, sur- 
rounded by almost impregnable morasses and rocky glens, in all its 
interest is the same. Wherever the bird builds its castle the locality 
gains an untold interest, receives a sense of life and animation. From 
the great weight and bulkiness of the Osprey's nest, and from the fact 



60 BRITISH BIRDS. 

that the same situation is resorted to for many years in succession^ the 
branches which support it are not unfrequently distorted in growth and 
flattened. In other cases the Osprey has several favourite eyries in one 
chosen locality, and appears to utilize them in turn, like the White-tailed 
Eagle or the Peregrine. As a rule the largest tree in the forest, the 
patriarch of the timber, is selected to hold the nest, which is built at 
varying heights from the ground, sometimes on the topmost branches, 
flattened by its weight, more rarely at a distance of ten or fifteen feet 
from the ground, on one of the broad spreading limbs. But when the 
Osprey's nest is on ruins it is often at a far greater elevation; and when 
built on rocky islets it is not unfrequently bat a few feet from the ground, 
built amongst the grey licliens and tufts of polypody fern. Although the 
Osprey is in most places such a very rare bird, a journey of thirty-six hours 
from London will bring us to a locality where it is found in very great 
numbers. On the southern shores of the Baltic, north of Stettien, suri'ound- 
ing the inland lakes which form the delta of the Oder, are vast forests which 
form a perfect paradise for the Osprey. Lonely forests within easy access 
of freshwater lakes are the favourite breeding-places of this bird. He 
generally selects the loftiest tree in the forest, his main object being ap- 
parently to be able to rise at once from the nest without being incommoded 
by the branches of trees ; thus it often happens that the nest is visible at 
the distance of a mile. The structure is enormously large, from three to 
four feet in diameter, and occasionally as high, and is generally placed 
upon the summit of a pine tree, one having a dead top being preferred. 
At the outside it extends so far over the branches that it is often very 
difiicult to reach. The foundation is made of branches intermixed with 
decaying vegetable matter and sods ; the upper surface is flat, and consists 
of finer twigs covered over with green and dry grass, the eggs being laid 
in a slight hollow in the middle, not more than a foot across, and scarcely 
two inches deep. Three eggs are the usual number, occasionally two, and 
still more rarely four. The most favourite place of all is on an island 
covered over with timber in the middle of a lake on which there are no 
boats. In a locality of this kind in Pomerania a number of Osprcys 
formed a colony, in one case two nests being on the same tree ; and the 
Osprey has been known to build upon the top of a tree in which was 
the nest of a Black Stork. The Osprey is a shy bird at the nest, and 
usually leaves it at once on the approach of a stranger. The birds are in 
the habit of roosting on the nest before any eggs are laid. 

By the latter end of April or the first week in May the Osprey's eggs 
are deposited. They vary considerably in colour. Typical specimens are 
white or yelloflish white in ground-colour, irregularly and very boldly 
blotched and spotted with rich reddish brown, which becomes more dense and 
thickly dispersed over the larger end, sometimes so much as to hide all 



OSPEEV. 61 

the ground-colour. Some examples are quite purple ; others are entirely 
suffused with orange-red ; whilst a very beautiful variety has all the 
vacant spaces between the bold brown markings blurred and dashed 
with violet-grey shell-markings. Other specimens have a large blot of 
colour here and there over the entire surface^ or have the colouring-matter 
in a zone or belt round the middle of the shell. Many examples are 
marked with smaller spots and streaks of colour, and marbled over the 
entire surface with violet-grey and faint orange-red. The eggs of the 
Osprey are rarely faintly or sparingly marked, and justly claim to rank as 
some of the handsomest in all the British series. In form they are not so 
round as the true Falcone's, and are also far more elongated than the typical 
Eaglets, and are somewhat coarse in texture. They vary in length from 
2' 5 to 2' 15 inch, and in breadth from 1'95 to 175 inch. They are usually 
hatched by the end of May or early in June. Like many other birds of prey, 
the female Osprey is not easily scared from the nest. During the period of 
incubation the male bird keeps close to the vicinity of the nest, and 
supplies the female with food ; she has therefore but little cause to leave 
her charge, and only does so for very short intervals. The young are fed 
by both parents until they are fully able to provide for themselves ; and 
even when they are able to leave the nest they keep in their parents' 
company for some little time, the old birds still supplying them with food. 
When they are strong upon the wing they will still haunt the place of 
their birth, probably till the migratory period arrives, and roost at night 
upon the old nest. But one brood is reared in the season. 

The plumage of the head and nape is white, broadly streaked with brown, 
some of the feathers being elongated. The whole upper plumage is dark 
brown, sometimes with a purplish tinge ; the underparts are white, except 
a light brown band across the upper breast. Legs, toes, and cere blue ; 
beak and claws black ; irides yellow. The female resembles the male, but 
is slightly larger, and the head and breast are more marked with brown. 
Young birds resemble the adult female in autumn plumage, the males not 
assuming mature dress until the third or fourth year. The nestling bird 
is covered with blackish down. The Osprey completes its annual moult 
in December ; and then the feathers are more deeply coloured, have broad 
light-brown margins, and the upper parts display a purplish gloss. By 
the following spring, however, much of this disappears, and the feathers 
lose their pale margins. 



62 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus ELANOIDES. 

The genus Elanoides was established by Vieillot in 1818, in his ' Nouveau 
Dictionnaire d'Histoire Naturelle/ xxiv. p. 101, when he removed the 
Swallow-tailed Kite from the genus Milms in which he had first placed it. 
The latter genus was separated from the genus Falco (in which Linnaeus 
included the Swallow-tailed Kite) by Cuvier in 1800. The only species 
then known to Vieillot was E. furcatus, which must therefore be the type. 

This genus contains only one species, which is confined to the American 
continent, and only accidentally strays as far as Europe. It has no very 
near relations, but is distantly allied to the genus Nauckrus. It may 
always be distinguished by its long narrow wings and the deep fork in the 
tail, which resembles that of the Barn-Swallow. 



SWALLOW-TAILED KITE. 63 

ELANOIDES FURCATUS. 

SWALLOW-TAILED KITE. 

(Plate 6.) 

Accipiter milviis caroliuiensis, Sriss. Orit. i. p. 418 (1760), 

Falco furcatu^s, Li/ui. Si/sf. Xat. i. p. 120 (1766); et auctorum plurimorum — 

Wilson, (^Aiuh/boii), (GoukT), (Bonaparte), &c. 
Milvus furcatus {Linn.), VieiU. Ois. Amer. Sept. p. 38, pi. 10 (1807). 
Elanoides furcatus (Linn.), Bonn, et Vinll. Enc. 3Ie/Ii. iii. p. 1204 (1823). 
Elanoides yetapa, Bonn, et I'ieiU. torn. cit. p. 1205 (1823). 
Elanus furcatus {Linn.), Tiij. Zoul. Journ. i. p. 340 (1824). 
Xauclenis furcatus (Linn.), Vii/. Zool. Journ. ii. p. 387 (1825). 
Falco yetapa {BorM. et J^ieilL), 31ax. Beitr. Orn. Bras, iii, Abth. i. p. 141 (1830). 
Nauclerus forficatus (Linn.), liidijicay, Pr. L'hit. ..load. 1870, p. 144. 

This singularly haudsome bird appears to have once or twice wandered 
as far as our islands^ but is not known ever to have visited any other part 
of Europe. Its claim to rank as a British bird rests upon the undoubted 
capture of two specimens. The first of these examples was at Ballachulish, 
in Argylshire, in the year 1772^ and recorded by the late Dr. Walker^ of 
the University of Edinburgh, in his manuscript journal for that year. 
The first published account of this capture was made by Fleming, in his 
' History of British Animals.' The precise cii'cumstauces under which it 
was taken, however, are not known. The occurrence of the second 
specimen was recorded in the fourteenth volume of the ' Transactions of 
the Linnean Society,' under date November 4, 1823, by Dr. Simmons, on 
the authority of the late Mr. Fothergill, of Carr End, near Arkrigg, in 
Yorkshire. It was captured alive at Hardraw Scarr, near Hawes in 
Yorkshire. Newton, in his edition of Yarrell's ' British Birds,' further 
corroborates the statement by publishing the original note of the bird's 
capture, supplied to him by the son of the last-named gentleman, Mr. 
William Fothergill, of Darlington. This note states that "on the 6th of 
September, 1805, during a tremendous thunderstorm, a bird, of which a 
correct description follows, was observed flying about in Shaw Gill, near 
Simonstone, and, alighting on a tree, was knocked down by a stick thrown 
at it, which, however, did not prove fatal, as I saw it alive, and had an 
opportunity of carefully examining it four days after it was taken. The 
bird was kept to the 27th, and then made its escape, by the door of the 
room being left open while showing [it] to some company. At first it 
arose high in the air ; but being violently attacked by a party of Rooks, 
it alighted in the tree iji which it was first taken. When its keeper 



64 BRITISH BIRDS. 

approached it took a lofty flight towards the south, as far as the eye could 
follow, and has not since been heard of." 

Other specimens of the Swallow-tailed Kite have been said to have been 
killed in England and Ireland, but on evidence that is too unsatisfactory 
to be taken as conclusive {cf. Zool. 1854, pp. 4166, 4366, 4406, and 
Zool. 1856, p. 5042) . A fourth specimen is also said to have been obtained 
on the Mersey, in June 1843. 

The Swallow-tailed Kite is a summer migrant to the Southern S tats 
of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, its breeding-range 
extending somewhat further north, in the valley of the Mississippi, into 
Southern Wisconsin. It winters in the West Indies and in Central 
America, where a few remain to breed in the mountains, wandering south- 
wards into the northern and central portions of South America. 

The Swallow-tailed Kite is said to return to its breeding-grounds in the 
beginning of April, and breeds later than the other birds of prey. Accord- 
ing to Audubon, " in the States of Louisiana and Mississippi, where these 
birds are abundant, they arrive in large companies, in the beginning of 
April, and are heard uttering a sharp plaintive note. At this period I 
generally remarked that they came from the westward, and have counted 
upwards of a hundred in the space of an hour passing over me in a direct 
easterly course. At that season and in the beginning of September, when 
they all retire from the United States, they are easily approached when 
they have alighted, being then apparently fatigued, and busily engaged in 
preparing themselves for continuing their journey." 

" Marked among its kind by no ordinary beauty of form and brilliancy 
of coloui-, the Kite," writes Dr. Cones in his 'Birds of the North ^Vest,' 
"'courses through the air with a grace and buoyancy it would be vain to 
rival. By a stroke of the thin-bladed wings and a lashing of the cleft tail, 
its flight is swayed to this or that side in a moment, or instantly arrested. 
Now it swoops with incredible swiftness, seizes without a pause, and bears 
its struggling captive aloft, feeding from its talons as it flies ; now it 
mounts in airy circles till it is a speck in the blue ether, and disappears. 
All its actions, in wantonness or in severity of the chase, display the dash 
of the athletic bird, which, if lacking the brute strength and brutal ferocity 
of some, becomes their peer in prowess — like the trained gymnast, whose 
tight-strung thews, supple joints, and swelling muscles, under maivellous 
control, enable him to execute feats that to the more massive or not so 
well- conditioned frame would be impossible. One cannot watch the flight 
of the Kite without comparing it with the thorough-bred racer. The 
Swallow-tailed Kite is a marked feature of the scene in the Southern 
States, alike where the sunbeams are redolent of the orange and magnolia, 
and where the air reeks with the pestilent miasm of moss-shrouded swamps 
that sleep in perpetual gloom." 



SWALLOW-TAILED KITE. 65 

According to Audubon^ "the flight of this elegant species of Hawk is 
singularly beautiful and protracted. It moves through the air with such 
ease and grace that it is impossible for any individual who takes the least 
pleasure in observing the manners of birds not to be delighted by the 
sight of it whilst on wing. Gliding along in easy flappings, it rises in 
wide circles to an immense height, inclining in various ways its deeply- 
forked tail to assist the direction of its course, dives with the rapidity of 
lightning, and suddenly checking itself reascends, soars away, and is soon 
out of sight. At other times a flock of these birds, amounting to fifteen 
or twenty individuals, is seen hovering around the trees. They dive in 
rapid succession amongst the branches, glancing along the trunks, and 
seizing in their course the insects and small lizards of which they are in 
quest. They always feed on the wing. In calm and warm weather they 
soar to an immense height, pursuing the large insects called Musquito- 
Haivks, and performing the most singular evolutions that can be conceived, 
using their tail with an elegance of motion peculiar to themselves. Their 
principal food, however, is large grasshoppers, grass-caterpillars, small 
snakes, lizards, and frogs. They sweep close over the fields, sometimes 
seeming to alight for a moment to secure a snake, and holding it fast by 
the neck, carry it off and devour it in the air. When searching for grass- 
hoppers and caterpillars, it is not difficult to approach them under cover 
of a fence or tree. When one is then killed and falls to the ground, the 
whole fiock comes over the dead bird, as if intent upon carrying it ofi'. 
The Fork-tailed Hawks are also very fond of frequenting the creeks, which 
in that country [States of Louisiana and Mississippi] are much encum- 
bered with drifted logs and accumulations of sand, in order to pick up 
some of the numerous water-snakes which lie basking in the sun. At 
other times they dash along the trunks of trees and snap off the pupae of 
the locust or that insect itself. Although when on wing they move with 
a grace and ease which it is impossible to describe, yet on the ground they 
are scarcely able to walk." 

Dresser, writing on the habits of this bird in Texas (Ibis, 1865, p. 325), 
says : — " On the Colorado, Brazos, and Trinity rivers it is one of the com- 
monest birds, and every child knows it under the names of Scissor-tailed, 
Forky-tailed, and Fish-tailed Hawk, or Fish-Hawk. It only remains 
during the summer months, arriving early in April. ... I watched one 
very closely as it was hunting after grasshoppers on a piece of prairie 
near Brenham. It went over the ground as carefully as a well-trained 
pointer, every now and then stooping to pick up a grasshopper; and, 
to me, the feet and bill appeared to touch the insect simultaneously. 
They seem very fond of wasp-grubs, and will carry a nest up to some 
high perch and sit there, holding it in one claw, and picking out the 
grubs. I once saw one drop a nest and catch it before it reached the 

VOL. I. p 



66 BRITISH BIRDS. 

ground. I examined the stomachs of all I shot (some ten or twelve), and 
found them to contain sometimes beetles, sometimes grasshoppers." A 
very interesting note on the Swallow-tailed Kite's partiality for bees in 
Guatemala is recorded by Mr. R. Owen, in ' The Ibis ' for 1860, p. 241 : 
— "Proceeding on our journey, and passing over the brow of a hill which 
rose considerably above those surrounding us, we suddenly saw, on the 
slope beneath us, a large number of Swallow-tailed Kites, gliding back- 
wards and forwards through the air, directly over the road which we were 
pursuing. They were near the ground, many of them within ten or twelve 
yards of it, and numbered from 150 to twice that quantity. They were 
closely packed, not one straggling for a moment fi'om the rest, and 
reminded one of our English Swifts as they congregate in flight round an 
old and lofty edifice. My companion was surprised, no less than myself, 
to find so many of these birds in company ; for, according to the experi- 
ence of the Coban hunters, they generally go in pairs, although three or 
four may be occasionally met with together. A few yards of precipitous 
descent brought us immediately under the birds, and into a swarm of bees 
upon which they were feeding. The swarra was slowly skirting the hill in 
compact order, its persecutors sweeping through and through it, with 
wings extended, and their scissor-like tails widely opened .... At 
times birds would pass within four or five yards of us, giving us time to 
observe their movements accurately. Every now and then the neck would 
be bent slowly and gracefully, bringing the head quite under the body, 
the beak continuing closed ; at the same time the foot, with the talons 
contracted as if holding an object in its grasp, would be brought forward 
until it met the beak. This position was only sustained a moment, during 
which the beak was seen to open ; the head was then, with closed beak, 
raised again, and the foot thrown back. . . . The bees, so far as I 
could observe (for I could not catch one for examination), were about the 
size of our English hive-bee, but of a brilliant colour, between red and 
yellow." 

Although the Swallow-tailed Kite is so abundant in certain localities, 
but little information has been published respecting its nidification. 
Audubon mentions that it pairs immediately on its arrival in its summer 
haunts, and that its courtship takes place in the aii', where its fine powers 
of wing are displayed to even still greater perfection than usual. The 
same accomplished naturalist also states that the nest is usually placed 
amongst the topmost branches of the tallest trees, usually on the margin 
of a stream or pond, and that it resembles that of a Crow, being made of 
sticks intermixed with " Spanish moss," and lined with coarse grasses and 
feathers, and that the eggs are from four to six in number. Dresser, in the 
article previously referred to, on the birds of Southern Texas, mentions 
that he found the Swallow-tailed Kites very numerous on a creek near the 



SWALLOW-TAILED KITE. 67 

Rio Colorado, on the 36th of May, but, on shooting and dissecting them, 
found that they had not at that date commenced breeding. Preparations 
for nidification were, however, in progress ; and from what he observed of 
their habits, he suggests that they may possibly breed in society — a fact 
not at all unlikely when we bear in mind the gregarious habits of the bird. 
He was told that the birds in Texas built high up in the oak, sycamore, 
or cotton-wood trees. He did not at that time succeed in obtaining eggs, 
but has since received them through Mr. Henry Buckley, and most kindly 
lent them for use in the present work — probably the first authentic spe- 
cimens of the eggs of this bird which have been figured. Two specimens 
taken in Iowa differ considerably : the first is decidedly an Osprey type of 
egg ; the second is very pale bluish white, irregularly and sparingly marked 
with minute specks and one or two larger spots of rich reddish brown ; 
the shell resembles that of a Harrier in grain, and possesses no gloss 
whatever. They vary from 1"9 to 1'95 inch in length, and from 1"5 to 
1'47 inch in breadth. Mr. Buckley^s correspondent asserts that the eggs 
are usually two in number — a statement at variance with Audubon's. 

The colours of this very handsome bird are in bold contrast and decided. 
The head and neck all round, the rump, and the whole of the underparts 
are white, the remainder of the plumage being black with blue and purple 
reflections. Cere pale blue ; irides red (but Audubon describes them as 
black) ; feet dirty bluish Avhite according to Audubon, but yellow according 
to Wilson; claws white or flesh-coloured. Male and female do not differ 
in external characters, save that the latter bird is more robust and slightly 
larger. 




f3 



68 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus PEENIS. 

The genus Pernis was established by Cuvier in 1817 in his ' Regne 
Animal/ i. p. 322^ for the reception of the Honey-Buzzard, which he 
removed from his genus Buteo, in which Vieillot had erroneously placed 
it. As the Honey-Buzzard was the only species of the genus known to 
Cuvier^ it became unquestionably the type. 

There is only one European species of this genus^ which may at once be 
distinguished from any other European bird of firey by its feathered lores. 
The genus is confined to the Old World. Besides the European bird, two 
other very nearly allied species are known, inhabiting some of the islands 
of the Malay archipelago, and two more distantly related — one inhabiting 
New Guinea, and the other South Africa. 



HONEY-BUZZARD. 69 

PERNIS APIVORUS. 

HONEY-BUZZARD. 

(Plate 3.) 

Accipiter buteo apivorus, Briss. Orn. i. p. 410 (1760). 

Falco apivorus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 130 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

{Niiumann), {Temminck), (Cinier), (Bonaparte), (Sharpe), &c. 
Falco tachardus, Daud. Traite d'Orn. ii. p. 164 (1800, ex Lev.). 
Falco poliorynchos, Beckst. Orn. Taschenb. i. p. 19, pis. 3, 4, 5 (1802). 
Buteo tachai-dus {Baud.), VieiU. N. Diet. d'Hist. Kat. iv. p. 479 (1816). 
Buteo apivorus (Linn.), VieiU. N. Diet. d'Hist. Nat, iv. p. 479 (1816). 
Aquila variabilis, Koch, Sijst, haier. Zool. p. 115 (1816). 
Pernis apivorus (Linn.), Cuv. Heijne An. i.p. 323 (1817). 
Accipiter lacertarius. Pall. Zoogr. Rosso-As. i. p. 359 (1820). 
Pernis communis. Less. Traite d'Orn. p. 75 (1831). 
Pernis apium, Brehm, Viig. Deutschl. p. 46 (1831). 
Pernis vesparum, Brehm, Vog. Devtsehl. p. 47 (1831). 
Pernis tachardus (Daud.), Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 20 (1869). 

The Honey-Buzzard was formerly a regular summer visitant to this 
country, breeding in most of the counties of England and Wales, where 
the woods were large enough to afford it a secure retreat for its nest. In 
Scotland and in Ireland the information we have is very meagre; but it 
appears to have formerly bred in both these countries^ where it has now, as 
well as in England, become a rare summer visitor. It is also occasionally 
seen on the autumn migration. It is a great pity that such an extremely 
handsome and entirely harmless bird should be on the vei'ge of extermina- 
tion in our country. In addition to the persecutions of the gamekeepers, 
who have not yet learnt to distinguish between useful and harmful birds of 
prey, it is much sought after by collectors, both for its skin and for its 
remarkably handsome eggs. In spite, however, of all its enemies, it still 
yearly breeds in the New Forest and some other parts of England and 
Scotland. 

On the continent the Honey-Buzzard, though nowhere very common, 
breeds in some numbers north of latitude 45° up to the Arctic Circle. Its 
occurrence further north rests upon very insufficient evidence. It appears 
to be a very local bird ; but it breeds regularly in well- wooded districts in the 
north of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Denmark, S. Norway 
and Sweden, and Russia. Eastwards its breeding-range appears to be 
comparatively little known. Pallas records it from Southern Siberia; and 
my Siberian collector has sent me a skin from Krasnoyarsk. Taczanowski 
records an example without a crest from Lake Baikal ; two examples from 
Japan are mentioned by Temminck and Schlegel as undistinguishable from 



70 BRITISH BIRDS. 

European birds ; and Pere David obtained it in North China. On migration 
it passes through Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, the whole of North Africa, 
and Turkestan. It winters in West Africa, occasionally wandering as far as 
South Africa; and in the British Museum is a specimen from Madagascar. 
In the Oriental Region a very closely allied form (P. ptilorhynchus) occurs, 
differing principally in having a conspicuous crest. In Java these crests 
appear to attain their greatest development, measuring 3-7 inch in length. 
In Sumatra the longest measurement of the crest given is 2-3, and in 
Malacca 2'0 inch ; in India none have been recorded with the crest longer 
than 1-9, whilst in Tenasserim Hume and Davison say that the crests are 
only incipient. Some ornithologists have referred the Siberian, Japanese, 
and Chinese birds to this species ; but, until examples with crests have been 
obtained from these localities, we can scarcely accept this determination. 
A more rational explanation of these curious facts appears to me to be that 
our Honey-Buzzard ranges as far east as Japan, and that the Eastern birds 
winter in India and the Siamese peninsula, occasionally remain there, 
and interbreed with the southern species P ptilorhynchus, thus producing 
the intermediate forms. 

Although the Honey-Buzzard is a tolerably common bird in the neigh- 
bourhood of Archangel, still it is one that arrives at its breeding-quarters 
very late. This late arrival is probably caused, not from the bird's sus- 
ceptibility to cold, but from the late appearance of those insects on which it 
principally feeds. Erom the middle of April to the middle of May it passes 
Gibraltar, Malta, and the Bosphorus in large flocks, returning on its 
southern passage in September and October, in smaller parties. Although 
the Honey-Buzzard is not a shy bird, still it is one that is very seldom seen. 
As a rule it does not seek its food upon the wing. During my visit to 
Brunswick and Pomerania, although the bird had certainly arrived, and in 
the latter country had begun to breed, we only once obtained a sight of it, 
sailing over a forest somewhat in the manner of a Buzzard. In the late 
summer months its principal food is wasps and their larvae ; and it will spend 
hours on some obscure bank on the outskirts of the forest scratching down 
to the nest and picking the grubs out of the comb. Besides wasps and bees 
and their larvfe, the Honey-Buzzard feeds upon grasshoppers and other 
insects, and eats frogs, lizards, arid mice, and occasionally earthworms and 
small birds. Saehse says that this bird, besides the nest in which it lays 
its eggs, frequently makes use of some old nest in the neighbourhood, 
to which it retires to eat its food ; and he suggests that these nests may 
also be used as a sort of storehouse, as he has found in them half-eaten 
birds, mice, &c. It is almost as much mobbed by small birds as the Cuckoo 
is, partly in consequence of which it has obtained the reputation of robbing 
their nests— a reputation which it occasionally deserves. In autumn, when 
short of food, it is said to eat berries and small fruits. 



HONEY-BUZZARD. 71 

The Honey-Buzzard is a comparatirely silent bird ; but its alarm-note at 
the nest resembles that of the Peregrine Falcon, though not so loud. 

In Pomerania the Honey-Buzzard does not build a nest of its own, but 
selects one of the numerous Buzzards' or Kites" nests which abound in the 
forest, relining them with a profusion of fresh green leaves or the ends of 
branches of trees in full leaf. This lining is apparently renewed from time 
to time. A preference appears to be given to beech-leaves ; but a nest 
which was taken for me on the 11th of June last was redecked round the 
edge with green pine and birch twigs, with a final lining under the eggs of 
beech-leaves. The nest was in a beech tree about 25 feet from the ground, 
and had been occupied the year preceding by a Buzzard. The bird sat 
very close, and did not leave the nest until the climber threw a stick at it. 
It then suddenly jumped up, took wing, wheeled round once or twice, but 
soon settled on a branch near the nest, and looked down to see the cause 
of the alarm. The nest contained two eggs. The climber took me to see 
the old Buzzard's nest in a beech-tree about 45 feet from the ground, in 
which probably the same pair of birds had bred the previous year. Two 
seems to be the usual number of eggs ; but Sachse says that he once took 
a nest of three ; and Mr. Benzon, the well-known ornithologist in Copen- 
hagen, states that he has known four eggs to be laid. Sachse says that an 
interval occurs of a week between the laying of the first egg and the 
second. Incubation lasts three weeks ; and both sexes take their share of its 
duties. 

The eggs of the Honey-Buzzard are very glossy or waxy in appearance, 
and are very round, the small end being but slightly different from the large 
end. They run through the same variations as the eggs of the Common 
Kestrel or the Peregrine. The ground-colour varies from cream-colour to 
pale brick-red, and the spots from brick-red to deep rich purple blood-red. 
In some examples the ground-colour is entirely obscured ; in others 
the blotches are almost confluent at one end of the egg ; whilst in others 
they are more evenly distributed over the surface, or show signs of having 
been scratched or rubbed off when the colouring-matter was wet. It is 
usual to find in the same clutch an almost uniformly marked egg, and one 
with the markings dispersed in irregular blotches. In size they vary 
from 2-05 to 1-86 inch in length, and from 17 to 155 inch in breadth. 

In general appearance the Honey-Buzzard very much resembles the 
Common Buzzard, but may at once be distinguished by the scales on the 
tarsus which are finely reticulated all round instead of being in broad 
plates at the front and the back. Another equally important distinction 
may be found in the lores, which are finely feathered down to the cere 
instead of being only covered with bristles. There appear to be two 
forms of the Honey-Buzzard, a dark one and a light one. The adult male 
of both forms has an ash-grey head and the rest of the upper parts uniform 



72 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



brown ; and the underparts of the dark form are also uniform brown. The 
underparts of the light form are nearly white, intermediate forms being 
barred and spotted. The female of neither form has the grey head, that of 
the dark form otherwise resembling the male, and that of the light form 
otherwise resembling a male intermediate form. Adult birds have always 
three conspicuous nearly black bars on the tail, which is brown; and 
between these are rudiments of pale bars in both sexes, at all ages, and in 
both forms. In young birds the feathers of the upper parts have pale 
edges, with the under surface streaked instead of barred in the light form, 
and uniform in the dark form. According to the opinions of the best 
authorities on the subject, there is no important intermediate stage 
between the young and the adult. The beak is black; legs and toes 
yellow, claws black ; irides yellow in the adult, but hazel in the young. 
It is not known that the two forms of this bird have in any way different 
geographical areas of distribution; but far too little attention has been 
paid to this subject by the ornithologist, who, for the most part, has 
ignored the existence of local forms — 

A Honey-Buzzard, stout or slim, 
A Honey-Buzzard is to him, 
And it is nothing more. 




MILYUS. 73 



Genus MILVUS. 

The genus Milvus was established by Cuvier in 1800^ in his 'Le9ons 
d'Anatomie Comparee/ i. tabl. 2. Previous to that date the Kites were 
included in the genus Falco of Linnseus. Cuvier did not designate any- 
type ; but inasmuch as the Falco milvus of Linnseus is the Common Kite, 
it has the greatest claim to be considered the type. 

The Kites ditfer from all the genera previously mentioned in having 
the lower half of the front of the tarsus furnished vrith broad plates, 
contrasting with the fine reticulations on the sides and back. From all 
the genera hereafter described they differ in combining a long tail with 
a short tarsus, the former being more than four times the length of the 
latter. 

The true Kites are confined to the Old World, but have distant relations 
in the New. Two species are in the British list, though one of them is 
only admitted by courtesy. Besides these the genus contains no species 
except the local races of the Black Kite which are mentioned in the article 
on that bird. The Kites resemble the Eagles and the Buzzards very 
closely in their habits, and are very nearly allied to the Sea-Eagles. 
Like them they build in trees and sometimes in cliffs, but they have the 
peculiarity of preferring wool, rags, and paper as a lining to the nest. 
Their eggs are often scarcely distinguishable from those of the Buzzard 
nor is there much difference in their mode of flight or in their choice 
of food. 



74 BRITISH BIRDS. 

MILVUS REGALIS. 
COMMON KITE. 

(Plate 5.) 

Accipiter milvua regalis, Briss. Orn. i. p. 414, pi. 33 (1760). 

Falco milvus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 126 (1766). 

Mihus castaneus, Daiid. Traite, ii. p. 148 (1800). 

Milvus ictiuus*, Sav. Syst. Ois. (fEgypte, p. 28 (1810). 

Milvus regalis {Briss.), I^ieill. Faun. Franq. p. 14 (1821). 

Accipiter regalis (Briss.), Pall. Zoogr. Rosso-As. i. p. 358 (1826); et auctorum 
plurimortun — {Macgillivray), {Gray), {Bonaparte), (ScIiJegel), {Strickland), 
{SundevaU), {Begland et Qerhe), {Oovld), {Heuglin), {Salradori), (Gray), &c. 

Milvus vulgaris, Flem. Brit. An. p. 51 (1828). 

A hundred years ago the Kite was one of the commonest birds of prey 
to be seen in Great Britain^ but now it has become almost as rare as the 
Osprey or the Goshawk. All the old writers who have treated of the natural 
history of our islands have made reference to the wide distribution 
and abundance of the Kite. Even in busy London laws were once in 
existence for its protection^ the birds being so numerous there as to attract 
the attention of foreigners^ just as in our day the Doves^ the Vultures, 
and the Storks in Eastern cities arrest our own. 

At the present day the Kite must be looked upon only as an accidental 
visitor to England. In the southern counties there is no place now where 
it regularly breeds. There were nests in the large woods of Lincolnshire 
up to 1857; but since so much timber has been felled, the Kites have 
deserted that locality. A few pairs still remain in the secluded districts of 
Wales. When the first edition of Yarrell^s ' British Birds ' was published, 
the Kite still bred at Alconbury Hill, in Huntingdonshire, and the bird was 
said to become more numerous in the northern counties, where, however, 
no trace of it can now be found. Waterton spoke of seeing the Kite at 
his seat in Yorkshire; and, upon the authority of Dr. Heysham, it used to 
breed in the woods of the Lake district. At the present day it is seen but 
rarely in England. Some six years ago a specimen was recorded, said to be 
for the first time, in the Isle of Wight (Zool. 1876, p. 4760) ; and Mr. Gurney 
writes that he sometimes sees this bird in Norfolk, passing southwards in 
the autumn, in company with Buzzards. In Scotland it was formerly a 
very common bird, but is now rarely seen, and only breeds in one or 

* Although the Kite has been almost uuiversally known as M. regalis, and among con- 
tinental ornithologists is known by no other name, Messrs. Newton, Sharpe, and Dresser 
have all three allowed themselves to be blinded by the rules of the British Association 
and have unearthed a new name for this bird, which has been pretty generally adopted 
by modem English writers on birds, 



COMMON KITE. 75 

two favourite localities in the counties of Inverness, Perth, and Aberdeen. 
It formerly bred in the west of Scotland, in Stirlingshire, Ayrshire, and 
the Isle of Arran, but now seems completely exterminated from these 
districts. Mr. Booth, in his ' Eough Notes,' mentions that the Kite is 
still found in various districts ; and in most of the glens in which he col- 
lected eggs and birds, some six years ago, the birds were still present, 
although a few pairs seemed to have left the district. It does not seem to 
occur in any part of the Outer Hebrides ; but, on the authority of Elwes, 
it is still seen in the island of Islay ; and Dixon, when in Skye, in the 
summer of 1881, saw the remains of this bird nailed to the wall of a shed 
which served as a gamekeeper's museum. In the Orkneys and Shetlands 
the Kite appears still more rarely, Saxby having only on four occasions 
seen birds that may possibly be referred to this species. In Ireland it is 
only known as a very rare straggler. 

The Kite does not occur in Iceland or Greenland. It is a bird exclu- 
sively confined to the Western Palsearctic Region, and may be said to 
breed in most parts of Europe, to be resident in the central and southern 
portions, and migratory in the north. In Sweden it is said to breed as 
far north as lat. 61° ; but it is not known mth certainty to inhabit Finland, 
whilst in Russia it breeds as far north as Archangel. These northern 
birds migrate southwards in winter ; and at that season the Kite is a 
common bird in North-western Africa, in Algeria, the Dayats of the 
Sahara, and among the rocks of the Atlas, where a few birds also remain 
to breed. Its presence in Egypt, or in North-eastern Africa, is very 
doubtful ; and Captain Shelley observes that he knows of no instance of 
its capture in the former country, where its place is taken by an allied 
bird, Milvus (sgyptius. It occurs, however, on passage in Asia Minor, and 
winters commonly in Palestine. The western range of the Kite appears 
to be Madeira and the Canai'ies, where it is said to be a resident; and 
Dr. Dohrn also met with it in the Cape-Verds. Its eastern limit is 
somewhat difficult to trace. According to Eversmann it occasionally 
occurs about the Southern Volga; and Severtzow several times noticed it 
in the Government of Veronsk ; whilst Pallas says it winters on the Lower 
Volga. As Sundevall, however, declares that this is a mistake, and as 
Bogdanow never observed it in the Volga region, and says that it becomes 
scarce in the province of KiefF, its eastern range is probably the basin of 
the Don. In North-east Russia, SabanaefF, in his ' Avifauna of the Ural,' 
states positively that he has seen several Red Kites, amongst hundreds 
of Milvus ater, flying towards some dead animals in the Kaslinsky Ural ; 
so that it would appear that the bird gradually retires westward as it 
approaches the southern limit of its eastern range. 

The Kite may be easily distinguished upon the wing by its deeply-forked 
tail and the peculiar nature of its flight. For hours this bird will keep 



76 BRITISH BIRDS, 

the air^ sailing in slow circles without an apparent effort^ with wings and 
tail expanded to their fullest extent^ the latter ever and anon being twisted 
to assist it to describe its graceful curves. From this habit of sailing in 
the air the Kite has gained the almost universal name of " Glead " — a 
corruption of the word " glide/' which aptly represents its beautiful aerial 
movements. The haunts of the Kite in Great Britain are now the wildest 
districts of Wales and the mountain-forests and glens of the Highlands. 
These are the places it selects for nidification ; but at other times of 
the year it may be observed in the more open country where woods are 
scarce. Like most of its congeners, the Kite is a thorough wanderer, and 
will search miles and miles of ground for food. In its habits it is a shy 
and wary bird; and many of its actions partake of those of the Buzzards. 
In spite of its wandering habits, however, the Kite seems attached to 
certain districts, and may almost daily be seen high in air above them, 
progressing in graceful curves until finally lost to view. In its flight over 
the country it ever and anon pays more special attention to certain districts 
likely to contain its food, sailing once or twice above them, and then again 
passing onwards. Although it is said that the Kite is a migratory bird 
in Great Britain, still this statement is open to considerable doubt. The 
observations made by Mr. Booth point to the fact that it is a resident 
species; and I have known several instances of late years where the bird 
has been shot by gamekeepers in the winter months in districts where it 
is also to be found in summer. The birds that are seen in England during 
the autumn and spring months of the year are migrants, undoubtedly, 
and very often immature birds from the continent. 

When in search of food the Kite moves along at a moderate height 
from the earth ; but, like the Vultures, the Eagles, and the Buzzards, it 
soars to an immense elevation at times ; and then its powers of flight are 
seen to perfection. His long narrow wings are now at their fullest 
expanse, and the tail is constantly in motion to guide him in his trackless 
course through space. Now he glides forward, anon mounts upward in 
ever widening circles; now remains fixed and almost motionless — then 
onwards again, seeming to swim, instead of fly through the aerial ocean. 
The Kite has none of the dash that marks the Sparrow-Hawk or the 
Peregrine. His prey is taken on the ground ; and hence his flight displays 
none of that impetuous rush that is so characteristic of those rapacious 
birds that pursue their prey in open flight. 

From the peculiar nature of its flight, and from the inherent timidity 
of its disposition, the Kite was a very favourite object of pursuit when 
falconry was so largely practised as a sport. It was the custom to lure 
the Kite from its aerial height, sometimes by displaying a large Owl with 
a fox's brush attached to it, and then, when the Kite was low enough, to 
cast a Greenland or Iceland Falcon at it. The Kite, seeing its mistake. 



COMMON KITE. 11 

would instantly soar^ going higher and higher, pursuer and pursued each 
striving to gain the sky o£ the other, until, as we are told, both would 
often disappear from sight. On the other hand the Kite has sometimes 
been trained to take an humble quarry, sueh as rats. As a proof of 
its docility and tameness, Mr. R. Langtry kept a pair of these birds 
which were allowed their liberty, but always returned to the lure on 
being called. 

In the manner of taking its prey the Kite very much resembles the Buz- 
zards, and even the Harriers. It is by no means a bold and powerful 
bird ; for a clucking hen has been known to put it to flight, and the 
fiery little Sparrow-Hawk mobs it with impunity. The Kite takes its 
food upon the ground, and usually catches young or weakly birds or 
mammals, and does not even refuse to make a meal on carrion. Like all 
other rapacious birds, the Kite appears to have some favourite spot which 
serves it as a dining-table or larder, where the food brought to feed its 
hungry young is also plucked and otherwise prepared for them. The 
nest in the breeding-season is also a well-stocked larder, far more food 
being conveyed thither than is really consumed. In these places may 
be seen the remains of Grouse, Plovers, and young Curlews and Wild 
Ducks. In addition to this food the Kite also takes young hares and 
rabbits, mice and rats, frogs, lizards, more rarely snakes, and the larger 
coleopterous insects — creatures that are taken without much exertion or 
prowess. In former days, when the Kite was more abundant in these 
islands than it is now, it was said to be a great enemy to the poultry, 
young chickens forming a favourite object of its pursuit. At the present 
day, however, the Kite need cause the poultry-keeper no alarm. Its 
haunt now, where but a remnant of its former numbers find a last retreat, 
is in the wildest districts of Scotland, where the Red Grouse is probably 
its favourite fare. How the Kite manages to take so large and strong a 
bird as a cock Red Grouse is surprising ; and it is most probably only the 
young and weakly ones that fall victims to its swoop. Mr. Booth also 
suggests that the Peregrine ofttimes unwittingly finds the Kite a meal, and 
puts a bird in its way that would never be secured unless weakly or 
wounded. As is well known, that bold rapacious Falcon often strikes a 
bird for mere sport, and will leave it where it lies ; and there, no doubt, it 
is sometimes found by the less active Kite and conveyed away. 

The note of the Kite may be compared to a wild plaintive scream or 
" mew " and is but rarely heard, save in the breeding-season. Unmusical 
as its cry may be, still it appears to be full of a wild harmony with 
the rugged scenery of its haunts, imbues them with life, and, when heard 
as the bird is sailing far overhead, lends a charm to districts where other 
bird-life is almost wanting. 

The breeding-season of the Kite commences early in May, and in 



78 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Scotland^ where a few nests are still to be met with in the most secluded 
glens^ the pine-woods appear to be its favourite nesting-place. The Scotch 
fir is the tree almost invariably selected. According to Mr. Booth^ whose 
experience with these birds in Scotland of late years makes his observa- 
tions upon them the more especially interesting, the nest varies con- 
siderably in its position. Sometimes it is at the summit of a slender 
bending pine, sometimes amongst the broadly spreading branches of a 
gigantic fi.r — and at times at a height of but fifteen or eighteen feet from 
the ground, and placed close to the trunk where several large limbs 
branch out. In such a situation as this its bulky nest is often scarcely 
visible from below. It is made principally of dry sticks and twigs, the 
dead branches of pines, and lined with withered grass, moss, sheep's wool, 
old rags, scraps of paper, or, in fact, any old rubbish that is conveniently 
accessible. Few rapacious birds show such a partiality for collecting 
rubbish for their nests as the Kite ; in fact it far excels the Jackdaw 
or the House- Sparrow in this respect, or even a tame Raven or Magpie. 
The nest is sometimes a very bulky structure, and is flat, similar to that of 
the Sparrow-Hawk. 

I found the Kite by no means uncommon in the forests both of Bruns- 
wick and Pomerania, where it is a summer visitor, arriving towards the 
end of February or early in March, and leaving again for the south about 
the middle of September. Dr. Holland informed me that they are gre- 
garious during migration ; and on the 11th of last March I saw a flock of 
migratory birds, consisting of eight Kites, a Crane, and a Peregrine 
Falcon, crossing the Pyrenees near St. Sebastian. My kind friends 
Dr. and Prof. Blasius and Oberamtmann Nehrkorn undertook to show me 
plenty of Kites' nests in the Brunswick forests; and very successful they 
were. We took the first nest on the 4th of May, in a beech tree, about 
ninety feet from the ground. Both birds were flying over the forest all 
the time. The nest contained two highly incubated eggs, and was about 
twenty inches across and nearly as high. It was lined with all sorts of 
rubbish — old rags, part of a newspaper, a piece of embroidery, part of an 
old stocking, some moss, and goat's hair. The second nest we took on 
the 12th of May. It was on a comparatively slender side branch of an 
oak, about eighty feet from the ground, very long, about two feet by one 
foot wide. We knocked loudly on the tree ; but the only result was that a 
Kite appeared and began to fly around; so we concluded that she had 
accidentally been absent when we arrived. Before, however, our climber 
had got more than a fourth of the way up to the nest she flew oS, and 
both birds continued to fly to and fro over the tree. The nest contained 
three young Kites and the foot of a hare. It was lined with sheep's wool, 
some rags, blue worsted, and some paper. 

We took the next nest on the 17th of May, in an oak tree, about forty- 



COMMON KITE. 79 

five feet from the ground. When we were about twenty-five yards from 
the nest the bird flew slowly off and wheeled round towards us. The nest 
was lined with rags, the remains of a worsted stocking, part of a news- 
paper (the ' Gartenlaube ') , lumps of hair from a cushion, and brown 
paper. It contained two young Kites, the remains of a rabbit, and a 
h.a.vas,ier v&t {Cricetus vulgaris) . On the same day we shot a Kite from 
its nest in an oak about eighty feet from the ground, took another 
Kite's nest from an oak only forty feet from the ground, containing only 
one young bird, and took a fourth nest from an oak about thirty- 
five feet from the ground, containing two young birds. In neither of 
these two last nests was there any food ; but both were lined with wool, 
rags, pig's hau-, and bits of newspaper. 

In Pomerania I only inspected one Kite's nest, which was at least 
two miles from any house ; nevertheless it was lined with rags and paper. 
It is not known that the male assists in the task of incubation ; but he feeds 
the female on the nest . 

Sometimes the Kite will pick up a fish from the surface of the water in 
the same way that his near relation in the south does. At Riddagshausen 
I watched a Kite beating up and down over the lake, and once I saw it 
stoop down to the surface of the water and apparently pick something up 
in its claws, probably a fish, with which it flew away to a tree. 

The eggs of the Kite are generally three, sometimes only two in number, 
and most closely resemble those of the Buzzards, but are, as a rule, dis- 
tinguished from them by their more scratchy and streaky appearance. 
When newly laid they are the palest bluish green in ground-colour, which 
soon fades to white or nearly so, sparingly spotted and blotched with dark 
reddish brown, with a few shell-markings, ill-defined and pale purplish 
grey. Some specimens are far more heavily marked than others, being 
clouded and dashed with colour, similar to Bough-legged Buzzards' eggs; 
others are dirty bluish white in ground-colour, faintly streaked, in true 
Bunting style, with wavy pale lilac markings ; and in others the markings 
are evenly distributed almost over the entire surface, mixed with scratches 
and streaks of colour, and sometimes massed thickly together on one end 
of the egg. They vary in length from 2-4 to 2"! inch, and are seldom less 
than If inch in breadth, the short eggs being the roundest and bluntest. 
Fresh eggs may be obtained from the beginning to the end of April. 

The general colour of the upper parts of the Kite is reddish brown, each 
feather with pale edges, those of the head and neck much elongated, greyish 
white streaked with brown ; lower parts rufous-brown, streaked with dark 
brown; tail, which is deeply forked, reddish brown, with dark bars. Bill 
horn colour; cere, irides, and tarsi yellow; claws black. The female 
bird is rather larger than the male, and has the underparts more rufous 
and the head greyer. 



80 BRITISH BIRDS. 

MILVUS ATER. 
BLACK KITE. 

(Plate 5.) 

Accipiter milviis niger, Briss. Orn. i. p. 413 (1760). 

Accipiter korscliuii, Gmel. N. Comm. Petrop. xv. p. 444 (1771). 

Falco migrans, Bodd. Tail. PI. Enl. p. 28 (178.3). 

Falco ater*, Gmel. Syst.Kat. i. p. 262 (1788) ; et auctorum ^IvLnxnoT-axci—Temminch, 

(Sunderatt), {Kaup), {Layard), (Jerdon), Naumann, &c. 
Milvus ater (Gmel.), Baud. TraiU, ii. p. 149 (1800). 

Falco fusco-ater {Gmel), Meyer, in Mey. u. Wolfs Taschenb. i. p. 27 (1810). 
Accipiter milvus, Pall. Zoogr. Rosso-As. i. p. 356 (1826). 
Milvus niger, Bp. Cnmp. List B. Eur. §• N. Amer. p. 4 (1838). 
Hydroictinia ater {Omel.),Kaup, Classif. fiduy. u. Vog. p. 115 (1844). 
Milvus aitoUus, Sold. Toy. Nederl. pi. 32 (1854). 
Milvus migrans {Bodd.), Strickl. Orn. Syn. p. 133 (1855). 

The Black Kite has no right whatever to be considered a British bird. 
It is inchaded in the British list solely on the authority of a single example 
caught in a trap in the Red-Deer Park at Alnwick in May 1866 (' Ibis/ 
1867j p. 253). This may have been a spring migrant which had acci- 
dentally overshot its mark ; or it may have escaped from an aviary. 

There are five forms of the Black Kite. One of these, M. (Bgyptius, 
distinguished by having a yellow bill^ is probably specifically distinct. It 
breeds in N.E. Africa^ Palestine, Arabia^ and Asia INIinor, occasionally 
straying into Greece, and wintering in South Africa. Of the other four 
forms, two (an eastern and a western) are northern races, and two (also 
an eastern and a western) are southern races. M. ater breeds in suitable 
localities throughout Europe south of the Baltic^ and eastwards in Asia 
Minor, Palestine, Persia, and Turkestan. On migration it has been known 
to stray as far north as Archangel. It passes through N.W. Africa on mi- 
gration, where a few remain to breed, and winters in Africa south of the Atlas 
TNIountains. In Turkestan it meets and apparently interbreeds with M. 
melanotis, which extends eastwards through S. Siberia to China and Japan, 

* The Black Kite is best known as M. ater or 71/. 7iiyer ; but the former name has not 
only been used by the greatest number of ornithologists, but is also the oldest of the two. 
Messrs. Xewton and Dresser have, however, set a bad example in following Strickland in 
his adoption of Boddaert's name; and Sharpe has made bad worse by adopting a name 
which is practically unknown. There can be no doubt that Gerini was probably the first 
ornithologist after Linnaius who clearly discriminated between this species and the 
Common Kite ; and under cover of the mischievous law of priority it is not improbable 
that some future ornithologist with more zeal than discretion wiR attempt to call the 
Black Kite F. milano, foimded upon his figure (i. pi. xxxviii.). 



BLACK KITE. 81 

many passing through Cashmere on migration to winter in India. Th is is a 
slightly larger bird, with the white at the base of the outer primaries 
extending below the wing-coverts, and the white on the margins of the 
feathers of the head confined to the forehead. Of the two southern forms, 
M. govinda is confined to India, where it is only subject to unimportant 
internal migrations, whilst M. affinis inhabits Australia, Malaysia, Siam, 
and Burma, occasionally wandering into India. In neither of these forms 
is there any white on the forehead or crown ; the principal difference be- 
tween them is one of size, the eastern bird measuring in length of wing 
from 16 to 18 inches, and the western bird from 17^ to 19| inches. The 
former is said to have less white at the base of the primaries than the 
latter ; but this seems to be a veiy variable character. 

The Black Kite is not only one of the commonest birds of prey, but 
also one of the most interesting, its aerial movements, great familiarity, 
and gregarious habits arresting the attention of the observer and fixing 
the bird upon his notice. The Black Kite becomes more numerous in 
the southern portion of its range. Dixon, when in Algeria, made the fol- 
lowing notes regarding it : — " It is very generally supposed that the Black 
Kite is, like the Common Kite, an inhabitant of forests and wooded dis- 
tricts ; but such is not invariably the ease. In Algeria I met with the 
Black Kite in the most desolate of desert country, both on the plains and 
at altitudes of 7000 feet in the Aures j\Iouiit;iins. I well remember to 
have seen this fine bird flying over the stony ground on which we obtained 
our new Chat (Saccicola seebohmi) , where scarcely a tree or bush was to be 
seen, and where the only other large birds were a few Choughs and Ravens. 
In the oases of El Kantara and Biskra the Black Kite was also the com- 
monest Raptorial bird. At the former place they evidently nested in the 
stupendous cliffs of the pass ; for I constantly saw them entering and 
leaving the rocks. At Biskra they were to be seen hawking over the desert 
country in slow graceful flight. The Blacli Kite also inhabits the towns 
of Algeria as well as the wilderness, and in company with the Vultures 
plays the part of a scavenger — evidently a welcome and respected guest, 
for it is never molested by the natives. I usually saw this graceful bird 
flapping lazily along some fifty yards above the ground ; and sometimes 
as many as half a dozen were in the air togethei-, wheeling gracefully 
about in circles for no other purpose, it seemed, than their own enjoy- 
ment. At Constantine the Black Kite could be seen flying in company 
with the Egyptian and the Grifi'on Vultures ; but I ne\'cr saw it 
on the ground searching for garbage like those birds. Because it is 
left unmolested, the Black Kite is a very bold and fearless bird, and 
often soars just above the houses, and passes the observer within easy 
gunshot.'" 

VOL. I. ^ 



82 BRITISH BIRDS. 

At Bayonne I observed the Black Kite sailing over the market-place 
for some time^ and afterwards beating up the river picking up float- 
ing garbage. Its motions on the wing are very similar to those of the 
Common Kite ; but the tail is shorter and much less forked^ and the bird 
is altogether a smaller one. The Black Kite is said to arrive at Bayonne 
in March, and is very common until June, when it disappears. They are 
nearly all immature birds, adult examples being rare. I am informed by 
Dr. Holland that in North Germany the Black Kite arrives at the end of 
March or beginning of April, and leaves again in September. 

In the Volga district the Black Kite is the commonest Raptorial bird, 
and also the most useful of its order. Bogdanow made many careful ob- 
servations on the habits of this bird. He says : — " Upon my arrival at 
Astrachan I was greatly surprised at the numbers of Black Kites li^dng■ in 
the town, and at their tameness. One could hardly throw any thing out of 
the window without two or three of these birds pouncing upon it. As 
soon as the August fishery commences, all these birds leave the town and 
go to the fishing-places, where the small and useless fish are cast away by 
the fishermen. The different localities inhabited by the Kite, and its 
occurrence in the steppes and valleys, certainly does not make it a formal 
resident of the plains ; and its real habitation is the forest ; there it breeds, 
and there it retires to roost. In the A^olga district it never builds an 



b" 



IV- 



where else but on trees ; but in the Volga delta, where no oaks nor any otlier 
high trees exist, it constructs its nest on the very low trees which some- 
times grow amidst reeds. In the wooded parts of Kasan their food con- 
sists of young hares, moles, mice, and small birds, and in the towns and 
villages of garbage. In the river-valleys it preys upon frogs, water- 
rats, ducks, and other water-birds; but in no case and in no locality does 
it despise carrion. Its migration from the province of Kasan commences 
in September, and draws to a close in October. This, however, largely 
depends upon the weather, as in dry and mild autumns, when there are 
many mammals on the steppes, they leave later." 

Dr. Holland informs me that the Black Kite is very fond of fish, but 
that it only takes them from the surface and when they are swimmino- 
in the shallows. 

I observed the Black Kite nesting in North Germany during the spring 
of 1882. About 20 miles from the coast, oil the southern shores of the 
Baltic between Stettin and Dantzig, is the town of Stolp. About the same 
distance south of Stolp is the Lantow See, a lake about four square miles 
in extent, and surrounded on three sides by forests. This forest is princi- 
pally composed of Scotch fir, with a few beeches and now and then an oak. 
The first " Horst " that we were shown was that of a Black Kite. The 
birds, which used always to be observed fishing on the lake, were, however. 



BLACK KITE. 83 

nowhere to be seen. They had ]n-obably deserted the locality in conse- 
quence of Ulrich, the forester, haA'ing shot at the bird as she flew from the 
nest the week before our visit. He probably wounded her. The nest was 
about 45 feet from the ground, in a beech in the fork of one of the main 
branches of the tree. It was an entirely new nest, built this year, rather 
shallow, and perhaps three feet by two and a half, outside measurement. 
It was built of sticks and lined with dead moss and a scrap or two of paper. 
It was situated at the boundary of the estate where it joins Bismark's estate of 
Varzin. The Bismark Platz, a clump of pines on a hill, looked down onto 
the nest. On this hill Bismark once picnicked; and the path by the lake-side 
under the nest is said to be a favourite walk of the great statesman. The 
nest was empty; but the Black Kite is so much shyer than the Common Kite 
that we thought she might have seen us and have flown away, though had 
she been there we ought to have seen something of her mate on the lake. 

It is said that the Black Kite does not line its nest with rags; but this 
statement is not correct, for Salvin, who met with this species very com- 
monly when birds'-nesting in the Eastern Atlas, found its nest adorned with 
pieces of the Arab burnous and lined with rags. He also states that its nest 
is usually built amongst the roots of a tree growing out of the rocks. The 
nest is often covered with fish-bones ; and, according to Dr. Holland, the 
young are fed on reptiles and young birds. The Black Kite will also rob 
the nests of other birds when it is bringing up its young. In Southern 
Spain Saunders states that the Black Kite is quite a sociable bird, as many 
as ten nests having been found in a small patch of the forest ; and the 
same authority also states that colonies of Sparrows often take up their 
quarters near its home. 

Goebel, who found many nests of the Black Kite in Southern Russia, 
states that the nest is very small, and that very often the head and tail of 
the sitting bird may be seen over each side of the nest. He also states 
that, if the eggs are taken before the full complement has been laid, the 
bird goes on laying, and will sit on the remainder ; and should her eggs 
be taken, she lays again. He found fresh eggs during the last week in 
April and the beginning of May. When the nest is approached the parent 
birds will fly round the place uttering their cries. 

I am indebted to Capt. Verner for the following interesting notes 
respecting this bird in the south of Spain : — "At Gibraltar I observed great 
numbers of Black Kites flying northwards, in company with Egyptian Vul- 
tures, Short-toed Eagles, Honey-Buzzards, and other birds, dui'ing the last 
week in March, in the years 1877-8 and 9. In May 1879 I was on board 
the Crown Prince of Austria's yacht on the Guadalquivir, and found the 
Black Kite nesting in great numbers in the pine-woods on the north bank. 
On the 26th I climbed up to several nests only to find them unfinished. 

g2 



84 BRITISH BIRDS. 

At last, however, I found one containing two fresh eggs. It was built on 
a horizontal branch near the summit of a lofty pine tree, and was con- 
structed of sticks, lined with fragments of paper of all sorts and colours, 
and with an equally mixed assortment of dry dung (of horse, cattle, &c.) . 
During the day the Crown Prince and some of his party found two more 
nests containing eggs very slightly incubated. The Black Kite breeds 
later than the Common Kite ; for I found a nest of the latter containing 
three young, and Graf Wilszek took a clutch of three hard-set eggs. In 
all the nests that I visited there was a quantity of paper and dung. These 
pine-forests are frequently broken by broad strips of sun-baked mud, which 
during the winter are, no doubt, a series of ' lagunas.'' The Black Kites 
congregated in numbers on these open places, where they crouch very much 
after the manner of Pratincoles. I crept under cover of some scrub to within 
a hundred and fifty yards of a party of twenty-two, and watched their pro- 
ceedings through my binocular. Some were crouching on the ground, 
whilst others were walking about, apparently feeding. When they de- 
tected my presence they rose with a shrill tremulous cry. I came upon 
many such parties of them, and on each occasion tried to make out what 
they were feeding upon. The ground was as hard as iron, and the scanty 
vegetation on it brown and dead ; so I conclude that they must have been 
catching some insects, judging from the frequency with which they pecked 
at the ground." 

The eggs of the Black Kite vary from two to five in number, 
but in Pomerania two is the regular clutch. Groebel states that the 
number of eggs is usually three, occasionally only two. He has 
also found four, and on one occasion as many as five. The eggs of the 
Black Kite closely resemble those of the Common Kite, but are perhaps, 
on an average, more jichly marked. The ground-colour is either dull white 
or the faintest of pale blue, more or less boldly spotted and blotched with 
browns of different shades. Some specimens are far more richly marked 
than others. In some eggs the markings are deep rich reddish brown, dis- 
tributed in large patches, with scratchings and specks of lighter brown 
between. Others are finely powdered over the entire surface with 
freckles of colour, here and there becoming confluent, especially on the 
larger end. A very handsome variety has the smaller end clouded with 
pale brown, here and there marked with rich brown, and the rest of the 
egg spotted with pale brown and faint shell-markings of lilac. Another 
and more rare variety is streaked on the small half with pale brown, similar 
to a Bunting's egg, the streaks becoming confluent at the small end of 
the egg. Many Black Kites' eggs are almost vmdistinguishable from 
Common Buzzard's, and, except that on an average they are slightly 
smaller, scarcely differ from Common Kite's. They possess little or no 



BLACK KITE. 



85 



gloss, and have the shell somewhat coarse in texture. They vary in length 
from 2'25 to 2-05 inch, and in breadth from 1"8 to 1'6 inch. 

The Black Kite has a considerable superficial resemblance to the Com- 
mon Kite, especially on the wing. It is a slightly smaller bird, with a 
somewhat shorter tail (the respective measurements of the latter are about 
11 in. and 15 in.), which is decidedly less forked (the difference between 
the longest and shortest feathers being over 3 inches in one case, and 
under 2 inches in the other) . The readiest mode of distinction, however, is 
the colour of the tail, which in the Common Kite is chestnut, and in the 
Black Kite dark brown. There is no difference between the two species in 
the colour of the soft parts. 




NEST OF COMMON KITE. 



86 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus HALIAETUS. 

The genus Haliaetus was established by Savigny in 1810, in his ' Systeme 
des Oiseaux de I'Egypte et de la Syria/ p. 8, for the reception of H. albicilla, 
which therefore becomes the type. This genus had previously formed 
a part of the genus Aqidla of Brisson. The latter was included by 
Linnreus in his genus Falco, and is one of Brisson's genera which are 
additional to those in the twelfth edition of Linnaeus^'s ' Systema Naturae/ 
specially admitted in the explanation of Rule 2 of the Stricklandian Code. 

The Sea-Eagles may at once be distinguished from the true Eagles by 
having the lower half of the tarsus denuded of feathers, and from all other 
European genera of Raptorial Birds by its being scutellated on the front 
and reticulated behind, except from the Kites, which have the tail very 
long, more than four times the length of the tarsus. The claws are deeply 
hooked. The wings are long and ample, the tail slightly rounded. These 
birds are less vigorous than the true Eagles, although possessed of great 
strength and daring. 

The genus Haliaetus is almost cosmopolitan. With the probable excep- 
tion of the Neotropical Region, the Sea-Eagles are found throughout the 
world, from the Arctic regions to the tropics. In the British Islands but 
one species of the genus breeds, although another, the White-headed Sea- 
Eagle of North America, has been said to occur. 

They feed much on carrion, fish, small and weakly quadrupeds, and 
reptiles. 

They build large bulky nests on trees and rocks, made of sticks, roots, 
turf, and lined with moss and green plants and wool. The eggs are two 
or three in number, generally pure \vliitc, or sparingly marked with pale 
brown. 



WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. 87 



HALIAETUS ALBICILLA. 
WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, 

(Plate 2.) 

Aquilaalbicilla, Briss. Oni. i. p. 427 (1700); et auctorum plurimorum— (ij;m«Ms), 

{Giiieliii), Pallas, (C'uvier), (Ndumann), (Temiiuach), {.Sluirpe), &c. 
Aquila albicilla minor, Biixs. Orn. i. p. 4i".) (1700). 
Aquila ossifmgra, Briss. Oni. i. p. 4-!7 (1700), 
Vultiu' albiciUa \_inisxpclt albiulla], Liaii. Sysf. Nat. i. p. VI'-j (17'J0), 
Falco 03sifra;4U3, i(»«. tSi/st. Nat. i. p. 124(1706). 
Falco albicilla (Linn.), Oiiu-l. Si/.tf. Nat. i. p. 2-j3 (178">j. 
Falco albicaudus, Oinel. Sijst. Nat. i. p. 2o8 (178S, e.i- Bri.ss.). 
Falco bimiulariu.s, Bath. Ind. Orn. i. p. 15 (17'.jO, ex Chart. ). 
Falco pygaruas, Daud. Trait I'l d^Orn. ii. p. 02 (1800, e.r Bri.-:s.). 
Haliretus nisus, Sav. Syst. Oi-i. de t'Bi/ypte, p. 20 (1810). 
Aquila leucocephala, Wulf, Tasrhentj. i. p. 10, pi. 4 (1810, luv Linn.). 
Haliaetus albicilla (Lin/i.), LearJi, Sy.-it. Cat. Manon. iSj'c. Brit. 3Ias. p. 9 (1810). 
Falco albicilla borealis, Faher, I.sis, 1827, p. oO. 
Haliaetus brookai, Iluntc, Hjis, 1870, p. 438. 

Although the White-tailed or Sea-Eagle is far commouer in the British 
Islands than the Golden Eagle, still it is an inhabitant of the wildest and 
most secluded districts alone. Owing to incessant persecution it may now 
be fairly said to be extinct in England and AValcs, save only as a rare 
straggler. In the British Islands Scotland is the home of the White- 
tailed Eagle. It breeds pretty regularly throughout the wild rocky islands 
of the Hebrides and the Western Isles, being particularly numerous on 
the rugged coasts of Skye, one of its most famous eyries being on the 
rocks known as " IMacleod's ]\Iaidens " on that coast. Other eyries are in 
Eiggj Scalpa, North Hist, Benbecula, the Shiant Islands, Rum, and (^anna. 
On the mainland it is much less numerous, although there are several 
breeding-stations in the wild districts of the west, from the Mull of 
Galloway to Cape Wrath. Ailsa Craig once contained an eyrie of this 
species, likewise the .Mull of Oe, Bol^a, and the Bass Rock ; but they have 
now been deserted for some years, only visited by a passing bird, attracted 
thither, it would seem, by old associations. Formerly this species was 
abundant in England, and bred in many suitable situations round the 
coast ■ but now its presence is for the most part confined to birds of the 
year, and adults on migration. Among the localities formerly frequented 
by this species in the breeding-season in Englandmay be mentioned 
Lundy Island, the Isle of ^^'ight, the Lake district (so recently as 1835), 



88 BRITISH BIRDS. 

and the Isle of Man. In Ireland the White-tailed Eagle is not uncommon 
in the mountainous districts, especially on the west coast. In Connemara 
I have often seen several on the wing together, and once climbed up to 
a nest with the help of a rope hung over the cliff. I have also seen 
the eyrie on the Blasquets, where these birds have bred from time 
immemorial. 

The White-tailed Eagle is a Palsearctic bird, being confined to the 
northern portion of the eastern hemisphere and Greenland. It breeds in 
suitable localities throughout Europe, from the Arctic circle to the 
Mediterranean. It winters in South Europe and North Africa, a few 
remaining to breed in the Canary Islands, Algeria, and Egypt. Eastwards 
it breeds throughout Siberia, south of the Arctic circle, and winters in 
Persia, Turkestan, and South China, occasionally crossing the Himalayas 
into India. This Eagle has several close allies in various parts of the 
world. From the Crimea eastwards to India and Burma it is partially 
replaced by Pallas's Sea-Eagle [HaJiaetus leucoryphus), a much more 
rufous-coloured bird, with a broad terminal black bar to its otherwise 
white tail. In North-east Siberia, North China, Japan, and Kamtschatka 
it is pai-tially replaced by Haliaetus xjelaijicus, the largest Eagle known, 
and easily distinguished by having the thighs, rump, and lesser and median 
wing-coverts white. In the Aleutian Islands and throughout Northern 
America, with the exception of Greenland, the White-tailed Eagle is re- 
placed by the well-known White-headed or Bald Eagle [Haliaeins leuco- 
cephalus) . The latter bird has been said to have occurred in Europe ; but 
no example killed on this continent is known. It is very easy to mistake 
old birds of the White-tailed Eagle for this species, especially on the 
wing. 

The haunt of the ^Vhite-tailed Eagle is not necessarily a maritime one, 
although the bird is more attached to the coasts and the sea-cliffs than the 
Golden Eagle. It may, however, be often seen far away from the ocean, 
choosing for its haunt some large inland lake, especially if there be lofty 
cliffs and rocky islets on which it can perch to scan the surrounding 
country. The haunts of this noble-looking bird are the brown hills of the 
Hebrides and the adjacent Isles, and the wild mountain-country of the 
mainland in the West. On the bold and rocky headlands of this wild 
rugged coast, whose hoary peaks are washed by the treacherous waters of 
the Minch, the Sea-Eagle finds a congenial home. The scenery of Skye 
is typical of this Eagle's favourite haunt. On that bleak and desolate isle 
it occurs in probably larger numbers than in any other place in Great 
Britain. Dixon writes of its occurrence there as follows: — "Almost every 
sheep-farm possesses one or two eyries ; and in most of the remote and 
stupendous cliffs of the coast a pair have built their nest. Wild indeed 
are its haunts here ; and from the great inaccessibility of its nesting-places, 



WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. 89 

together with its habitual wariness, it will probably hold its own for many 
years to come, in spite of the price set upon its head. What scenery, for 
instance, is more adapted to the requirements of the solitude-loving Eagle 
than the tall bleak rocks of Storr or Tallisker ? or what is more favourable 
to his presence than the rocks known as ' Macleod's Maidens ' and the 
cliffs round about them ? or what country so attractive as ' Macleod's 
Tables,' round about wild Dunvegan, or the fastnesses of Genbrittle ? 
Stray into districts such as these, far away from man's haunts and in- 
dustries, and there it is the Sea-Eagle will come from out the mountain- 
mists yelping fright at your intrusion, and sail proudly onward, displaying 
his grand powers of wingmanship to your astonished and delighted gaze. 
Like the Golden Eagle the present species will often sit for long intervals 
silent and motionless on some tall rock-pinnacle, dreamily scanning the 
country or the waters below. Of all birds the Eagles are certainly the 
most difficult to approach, and rarely indeed have you the good fortune to 
get within gunshot of them. Aided with a good glass, however, you may 
often observe their attitudes as they sit on the pinnacles and shelves 
basking in the sun with expanded drooping wings, after the manner of 
Cormorants. Then see them launch heavily into the air, mounting upwards 
in wide curving flight ; now sailing with wings fully expanded and the tips 
of the primaries slightly recurved, they sweep along over mountain, moor- 
land waste, and sea, advancing seemingly with but little effort. 

High o'er the watery uproar, silent seen, 
Sailing sedate, in majestj- serene. 

A right grand sight indeed it is to see a pair of Eagles so engaged in the 
early months of spring, sailing lazily round and round in the dark blue 
heavens, ever mounting upwards, until the eye can but just discern them 
like minute specks moving in slow course along the sky. Or, better still, 
see two male birds in the love-season buffeting each other in the air, 
screaming out their peculiar yelping cries, and displaying so many singular 
postures as each seems to try its best to gain the sky of its opponent. 
The usual flight of the White-tailed Eagle, when passing from place to 
place, is performed by a series of slow and regular flappings ; but its varied 
evolutions are beyond all description wlien engaged in aerial combat with 
one of its own species, or perhaps, better still, when mobbed by some 
troublesome Hawk, Gull, or Raven, whose nest it is too near. Although 
so large and powerful as the White-tailed Eagle is, still we have seen him 
completely beaten off by a Peregrine, and glad to seek safety in flight. 
Save in the nesting- season, White-tailed Eagles are for the most part 
solitary birds, although each pair haunts the neighbourhood of their eyrie 
the year throughout." 

The roaming disposition of thf White-tailed Eagle seems almost ex- 



90 BRITISH BIRDS. 

clusively confined to young or immature birds. From tiie Tyne, north- 
wards up the east coast oi' Scotland, immature specimens of this Eagle 
are usually met with in autumn ; and at several of the bold headlandsj 
notably at St. Abbs Head in Berwickshire, a solitary bird will make its 
appearance and remain a week or so until the supply of food is exhausted 
or the incessant persecution to which it is subject sends it oflf to more 
suitable quarters. Again, in the south-eastern counties of England this 
bird is often seen in the autumn months in immature plumage. In these 
districts they frequent rabbit-warrens, or take up their station on one of 
the large sheets of water, where they wage an incessant warfare on the 
waterfowl congregated there for the winter. Eagles of all kinds are 
thorough gipsies in their mode of life — here one day, fifty miles away the 
next, a flight of a hundred miles being nothing but a morning stroll for 
an Eagle. This circumstance, coupled with tlie fact that their haunts are 
so vast and difficult of access, explains Avhy it is that the birds are so 
rarely seen, and why the impression is so deeply rooted that the birds are 
well nigh extinct in Great Britain. 

In Pomerania, especially between Stettin and the Baltic, the Sea-Eagle is a 
common resident, breeding in the forests. It builds an enormous nest, some- 
times six to eight feet in diameter, near the top of a pine or on the horizon- 
tal branch of an oak or beech, preferring forests near inland seas and large 
lakes. Instances have been known of its breeding in the same " Horst " for 
twenty years in succession. Every year some addition is made to the nest, 
until it becomes five or six feet high. Occasionally a pair of Sea-Eagles have 
two " Horsts," which are used alternately. They are shy birds, and leave the 
nest at the least alarm, but do not easily forsake their old home. If the eggs 
are taken early in the season, they will frequently lay again in the same nest. 
They make a very flat nest, and generally line it at the top with moss. The 
male and female are said to sit alternately, and the female is said to be 
shyer than the male at the nest. Two is the usual number of eggs ; but 
frequently only one is found; in rare cases as many as three are laid. 
Eggs may be taken from the first week in March to the middle of April. 
The Sea-Eagle is more gregarious than other Eagles, and they are fre- 
quently seen to hunt together. They are by no means innocent birds, and 
often make considerable havoc in the carp-ponds. Though they do not 
refuse carrion, as many as six ducks have been found in a nest at one time, 
and they often take hares or even very young roebuck. In winter the 
number of Sea-Eagles in Pomerania is increased by migrants from the north. 
Dixon writes : — " Within my own observation the favourite food of this 
Eagle is the stranded fish and shore-garbage on the beach of its maritime 
haunts ; while further inland a dead carcase or a weakly bird or animal are 
shared with the Raven and the Crows. I once remember to have seen a 
bird of this species alight on a drowned sheep lying on the shore of Loch 



WHITE-TAILED EAGLi:. 91 

FoUart, in Skye, on which a number of Hooded and Carrion Crows and a 
few of the larger Gulls were feeding. After surveying the carcase as he 
sailed round it in the air for a few moments, he finally alighted a few yards 
away, and then leaped forward to his meal. The Crows cleared out of his 
way, retiring to a little distance to watch his operations; while the Gulls, 
in light bouyant flight, hovered above or alighted on the sands, apparently 
waiting patiently for his departure. Before he had well settled down to 
his meal, however, a shepherd, whistling to liis dogs on the cliffs near by, 
disturbed him, and he rose into the air with a large piece of the almost 
putrid flesh in his talons, and flapped lazily away over the loch towards 
Dun vegan Head, leaving the Gulls and the Crows in undisturbed possession 
to quarrel over their prize. Keen of sight as this Eagle is, still one is 
almost led to think that the Raven and the Crow are possessed of sharper 
powers of vision ; for very frequently indeed it is led to its meal by seeing 
these birds congregated on a carcase. It may be, however, that the Crows and 
Ravens are more prying birds than the Eagle, and search every nook and 
corner more carefully. The White-tailed Eagle is also said to take living 
fish from their own element, something after the manner of the Osprey ; but 
howthe bird accomplishes this feat it is hard to conjecture, unless, u hen flying 
very low over the waves, it snatches some fish basking on the surface with its 
claws, conveying it to land to devour at leisure. AVhen carrion is scarce the 
White-tailed Eagle seeks other prc}^ — the ducks and sea-fowl, taking them 
more by stealth than prowess. In the winter months this sjieeies takes up 
its abode on the banks of a locli or inland sheet of Avater, to live almost 
entirch^ on the water-birds. Daily it may be seen in one particular tree, 
watching, in comjjany with a pair of Peregrines, the ducks on the water, 
and waiting in the hope that they will rise and oiler an easy capture. 
At this season the bird will come mneh nearer to man's habitation in search 
of garbage and refuse, ofttimes being hard pressed for food, although, iu 
common with the Raptores generally, it is capable of great endurance." 
The many tales told of this bird, as well as of the Golden Eagle and the 
Lammergier, which are all represented as carrying off children, are no 
doubt myths; for, as Saxby, in his 'liirds of Shetland,' very justly 
remarks, every Eagle's eyrie in the islands is pointed out as the one made 
famous for all time by its owiieis carrying oft' that world-renowned baby in 
times so long ago as to be clouded in deejJ obscurity. 

The White-tailed I'^agle is undoubtedly mated to its partner for life ; and 
even should one of the birds be destroyed the survivor will obtain a fresh 
companion in an incredibly short space of time — a habit peculiar to most, 
if not all, rapacious birds. For many seasons in succession this bird returns 
to its old eyrie, merely making a few necessary alterations each season, 
adding to the structure, or making good what damage it may have sus- 
tained during the storms of the previous winter. The site is \'aried 



92 BRITISH BIRDS. 

according to locality^ and may be on rocks, trees, or the ground. lu the 
inland districts the birds usually select a rocky islet in the middle of a 
loch, where they either build their bulky nest on some ledge of the sloping 
gro^md, in a tree, or on the rocks, as occasion offers. Sometimes a site is 
chosen at some distance from the water in small open woods ; but such 
instances are rare. Inland rocks, too, are often selected, in similar jolaces 
to those which the Golden Eagle frequents — broken cliffs, often quite easy 
of access from above or below. But the most characteristic eyries of this 
bird in our islands are on the coast, built high up in the almost inaccessible 
rocks, hundreds of feet above an ever turbid sea, and in situations to which 
none but the most intrepid climbers dare venture. Some nests in these 
situations are indeed quite inaccessible, and the birds have remained in un- 
disturbed possession from time immemorial. Two of these were visited by 
Dixon, who describes them as follows : — " One was, in the season of 1881, 
in the terrible cliffs of the ' Storr ' rocks in Skye, its precise locality being 
unknown, although the pair of birds might be seen almost daily entering 
or quitting the rocks, or sailing in circles high in air above them. The 
other safely rests on the breast of one of Macleod's ''Maidens,'' also on the 
coast of Skye ; and I was informed that these nests have been tenanted for 
a great many seasons, presumably by the same owners. It may be the 
'witching force of fancy ; but the rocks which contain an Eagle's nest 
seem the grandest in the whole district, and the ones from which the most 
uninterrupted view may be obtained. Let us, while standing in this eyrie, 
endeavour to convey a word-picture of the scene around us. Far below 
are the deep-green waters of the ocean. On every side, and towering 
far above our heads, are the beetling cliffs, crag beyond crag, clothed 
with stunted herbage and here and there broken up into turfy banks. 
On these banks the sea-pinks and the primroses are full of fairest blooms, 
lending a delicious fragrance to the bracing air, now made resonant with 
the barking cry of the male Eagle, perched on yonder rock-stack — angiy 
at our intrusion, although too timid to evince his displeasure in a more 
marked degree. The female Eagle, too, must be included in this picture. 
She is high in air above us, occasionally sweeping past the face of the cliff 
well out of gunshot, and showing her anger by thrusting out her legs 
and expanding her sharp talons, as though anxious to seize us in their 
fierce grasp. Now an examination of the platform on which we stand. 
Here and there are scattered the large bones of various fish; and just 
on the edge of the nest a few Puffin's feet and an entire beak of 
that bird, together with numerous castings and droppings of the old 
Eagles on every side. The nest itself is a bulky structure — evidently 
the accumulation of years, flat in form, and about five feet in diameter. 
It is made of large and small sticks, matted slightly together, yet firm in 
texture, a few branches of heather, some of them quite recently obtained 



WHITE-TAILED EAGLE. 93 

others time-worn and bleached, and a few pieces of seaweed. It is lined 
with fine and coarse grass, a few leaves of the sea-campion, and one or 
two tufts of wool and turf, on which the two eggs, slightly dirty with 
nest-stains, lie so temptingly. Such is an average nest of the White- 
tailed Eagle. Sometimes, however, it is not so elaborately made, and the 
soft earth of tlie rock-ledge is almost the only bed on which the eggs 
lie ; while yet again, when built on a tree, it is often of great size, and is a 
conspicuoLis object throughout the surrounding district." 

Several instances are recorded of the Sea-Eagle breeding upon the 
ground, Herr Tancre describes a nest which he found upon the island of 
Hiddensoe, on the southern shores of the Baltic near Stralsund, on the 
naked meadow among the reeds. The nest was carefully made of sticks, 
and was about two feet high. Similar occurrences have been recorded 
from Jutland and the lagoons of Lower Egypt. 

The eggs of the Sea-Eagle are roundish in form, slightly smaller than 
Golden Eagle's, and rather coarser in texture, and are pure white in 
colour; they vary from 3'3 to 2'75 inch in length, and from 2'-L to 2'1 inch 
in breadth. It is doubtful whether eggs of this bird ever have any true 
colouring-matter upon them, only a few brownish stains, received, in all 
probability, from the materials of the nest or the feet of the sitting bird. 
Although unspotted eggs of the Golden Eagle resemble €ggs of this species, 
still the much coarser grain of those of the White-tailed Eagle serves as a 
sure guide by which to determine them. The young are hatched early in 
June, and are covered with greyish-white down, and remain in the nest some 
five or six weeks ere they are able to fly. 

There are instances where several eyries of this bird have been built very 
close together, even in Scotland. Although the birds breed so frequently 
on the oeean-clifis, still each particular " eraig-an-Iolair " is otherwise 
deserted of bird-life, the Gulls and the Guillemots keeping at a respectful 
distance. Sometimes, however, a Peregrine Falcon's nest is quite close to 
the Eagle's ; and the Raven will not unfrequently rear its young near at 
hand. 

When able to forage for themselves the young quit their parents' com- 
pany and their birthplace for ever, becoming thorough wanderers, until, if 
fortunate, they reach maturity, pair, and select some craggy haunt, some 
sea-girt fortress or inland loch, as a castle for themselves, or retire to some 
forest. Although not, perhaps, strictly gregarious, these young birds often 
hunt at no great distance from each other, searcliing the hills and shores 
in search of carrion or weakly birds and animals. 

The upper plumage of the White-tailed Eagle is brown. The head and 
neck are paler, in very old birds almost wliite ; the underparts eliocolate- 
brown ; tail white ; bill, cere, irides, and feet yellow ; claws bluish black. 
The female resembles the male, but is somewhat darker, larger in size. 



94 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



and has not the head and neck so lightly coloured. In young birds the 
beak is black, the cere darker than in adults, the irides brown, and the 
whole plamage more uniform in colour and much darker ; the tail-feathers, 
too, are dark brown, not becoming purely white until the bird is some six 
or seven years old. In this stage of plumage it is the Aquila ossifragus of 
some authors. 

Varieties of this bird sometimes occur. Meyer figures, in his ' British 
Birds,' a specimen taken in Ireland, which has the whole of the plumage a 
uniform bluish-grey colour. Gray, in his ' Birds of the West of Scotland,' 
mentions a specimen in the possession of Sir James Matheson, Bart., of 
Stornoway Castle, very bright in colour (a uniform yellowish grey) and of 
extraordinary size. Mr. St. John records a specimen pure silvery white, 
another albino specimen being also in the museum at Dunrobin Castle. 
Great differences of size are also to be observed in this species, its alar 
extent varviiia- from six to seven, and even seven and a half feet. 




AQUILA. 95 



Genus AQUILA. 

The genus Aquila was established by Brisson in 17G0, in his ''Orni- 
thologie/ i. p. 419. Since Brisson called the Golden Eagle Aquila 
aquila, there can be no doubt whatever that J. chrysaetus is the type of 
the genus. 

The Eagles may at once be distinguished from any other European Birds 
of Prey by their feathered tarsi, which are entirely concealed by feathers 
down to the toes, in this respect resembling most of the Owls. The genus 
Aquila is a cosmopolitan one, containing about thirty species. Nine only are 
found in Europe, of which three are British. Although large and powerful 
bii'ds, the Eagles are not courageous. They feed much on mammals, birds, 
and reptiles. They nestle in cliffs and trees, some members of the genus 
on the ground, making large nests of twigs, turf, wool, and moss, and lined 
with green plants and foliage. Their eggs are from two to three in number, 
varying from pale bluish white to cream in ground-colour, with brown 
markings of various shades, and violet and grey shell-markings. Under- 
neath the ground-colour there is always a pale bluish green, causing the 
shell, when the egg is held up to the light, to appear that colour. 



96 BRITISH BIRDS. 

AQUILA CHRYSAETUS. 
GOLDEN EAGLE. 

(Plate 2.) 

Aquila aquila, Briss. Orn. i. p. 419 (1760 ; imm,, probably second plumage). 

Aquila chrysaetos, Briss. Orn. i. p. 431 (1700, adult). 

Aquila melangeetus, Briss. Orn. i. p. 134 (1760, young in first plumage). 

Falco chrysaotua, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 125 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

(Gutild), [yiucyiUivrmj), {Bonaparte), Naumann, {Jerdon), {Newton), {Cuues), 

(Sharpe), %c. 
Falco fulvus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 125 (1766). 
Falco fulvus /3. canadensis, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 12o (1766). 
Falco pygargLis, Scop. Ann. L Hist. Nat. p. 14 (1708). 
Falco melanaetos, Gmel. Syst. Nil. i. p, 254 (1788). 
Falco americanus, Gmel. Syst. Nut. i. p. 257 (1788). 
Falco niger, Gmel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 25U (1788). 
Falco cygneus, Lath. Ind. Orn. i. p. 14 (1790). 
Falco melanonotus, Lath. Lid. Orn. i. p. 16 (1790). 
Falco aquila, Baud. Traite d'Orn. ii. p. 47 (1800). 
Aquila americana {Gmel), Vieill. Ois. Am. Sept. i. p. .31 (1807). 
Aquila fulva, Sav. Syst. Ois. de VEyypte, p. 22 (1810). 
Falco regalis, Temm. Man. d'Orn. p. 10 (1815). 
Aquila nobilis, Fall. Zoogr. Rosso-As. i. p. .338 (1826). 
Aquila regia, Less. Traite d' Orn. p. 36, pi. 8. fig. 1 (1831). 
A(|uila ? daphanea, Llodys. in Gray'-^ Zool. Misc. p. 81 (1844). 
Aquila barthelemyi, Jaub. Mev. et Mag. Zool. 1852, p. 545. 
Aquila canadensis ' {Linn.), Cass. B. N. Amer. p. 41 (1858). 
Aquila intermedia, Severtz. Turk. Jcvvtnie, p. 112 (1873). 

The Golden Eagle, one of the largest and most powerful birds of prey 
found in the British Islands, although occasionally seen and obtained in 
England, may now be said to be confined to the wildest and most isolated 
districts of Scotland and Ireland. Time was when the bird bred in 
England and Wales. In the days of Willughby it was said to breed on the 
cliffs of Snowdon ; and that ornithologist also describes a nest found in 
Derbyshire in the year 1668. Wallis also states, in his ' History of 

* Dresser, in his ' Birds of Europe,' includes in the synonymy of the Golden Eai;le 
''Aqiii/a canadensis (Gm.), Wils. Am. Orn. pi. Iv. fig. 1 (1808)." There appear to be uo 
less than three inaccuracies in this quotation. The authority for the specific name cana- 
densis is either Liunasus or Cassin, according to whether names which are quoted as 
varieties are recognized or not. Wilson, on his plate Iv. fig. 1, calls this species liino-- 
tail Eagle, and in the text Falco fulvus. This plate illustrates vol. vii., which is dated 
1813, although vol. i. is dated 1808. How is it possible to make so manj' blunders with 
Sharpe's ' Museum Catalogue ' to copy from ? Or is there an edition of "Wilson of which 
we know nothing m this country ? 



GOLDEN EAGLE. 97 

Northumberland/ published in 1769, that the Golden Eagle bred on the 
highest and steepest part of Cheviot ; and Sir William Jardine, writing in 
1838, mentions the cliffs o£ Westmoreland and Cumberland as once its 
home. The Golden Eagle's only stronghold in our islands now is the 
western and northern counties of Scotland and throughout the Hebrides — 
and also in the wildest parts o£ Ireland, although the bird of late years 
appears to have decreased in numbers there. It also formerly bred in the 
Orkneys, but, according to the best authorities, has not been known to do 
so in the Shetlands. Outside the British Islands the Golden Eagle has 
a very wide and extensive range. With the exception of Iceland, it 
breeds throughout the greater part of the Palaearctic Region, from 
Scandinavia to North Africa, and from Spain across Europe and Asia * 
(except the extreme north, but as far south as the Himalayas), to Dauria 
and China, being migratory in the extreme limits of its northern range. In 
the Nearctic Region, with the exception of Greenland, it is found from the 
temperate to the Arctic regions, chiefly confined to the mountainous 
districts, but is nowhere numerous. 

It is not till the vast solitudes of the Scottish Highlands are reached 
that the Golden Eagle may with any confidence be expected to be seen. 
Once, however, among the wild grand scenery there, and the imagination 
seems to create an eagle in every wild glen and on every rocky pinnacle. 
Glens and mountains are on every side of you — here a deer-forest or a 
birch coppice — there a rocky glen or a broad stretch of heathery waste, 
over which the Plovers and the Redshanks rising, scream at your intru- 
sion. On every side the mountains rear their hoary peaks ; and the clouds 
hang densely round them, hiding their summits, and giving them a truly 
wild and weird appearance. The wild scenery is enlivened and varied 
by a mountain-loch, with its hilly banks clothed in verdure to the water's 
edge. Streams roll down from the mountains in mad career; over huge 
rocky moss-grown boulders they fall and plunge, or flow slowly through 
still dark pools, where trout and salmon sport and birch trees hang so 
gracefully. Or, again, the scenery becomes desolate and dreary — grey 
rocks, stupendous hills, romantic glens and moors, in all their wild 
primeval seclusion, where the Eagle's barking cry and the hoarse 
croaks of the Raven and Hoodie are the only signs of life. Such haunts 
as these are the lordly Eagle's home, his hunting-grounds, his regal fast- 
ness ; and hither you must repair if you wish to make his acquaintance. But 
the Golden Eagle is no common bird, and is often " not at home.'' Days 
and weeks may pass when not an Eagle is to be seen ; for, except in the 
breeding-season, the bird is a thorough wanderer, and explores vast tracts 
of country in search of prey. It is also when not engaged with nesting- 

* Dybowski obtained it near Lake Baikal, and Radde obtained it in the Amoor. 
VOL. I. H 



98 BRITISH BIRDS. 

duties that the bird wanders out of its favourite haunts and visits more 
pastoral scenes. Then it is sometimes seen sailing proudly over the Low- 
lands, and, more rarely still, gets as far south as England and Wales; 
although there is no room to doubt that by far the greater number of 
Eagles reported to have been seen in this country are nothing but the far 
commoner Sea-Eagle, Haliaetus albicilla. 

You may cage the proud king of birds, you may confine him in mena- 
geries, and observe him there ; but to gain an insight into his nature you 
must see him in his haunts, where his eagle soul is unfettered, and where 
he can roam the mountain-tops at will. Far away from man's busy haunts, 
on the brown heathery hills of the north, you must seek him, where nature 
and her wildest scenery is yet unchanged, and the wilderness is wrapt in 
an endless solitude. See him perched on yonder grey pinnacle of rock 
. overhanging one of the ravines of the snow-capped Cullins, and ivatching 
the blue hares sport amongst the rocks — or see him soai'ing in boundless 
freedom over the peaks of Rum and Canna, or hastening across the clear 
blue waters of the Minch to his nest and mate in the hoary fastnesses of 
Glen Brittle — then you see the Eagle as he is at home, fi'ee as the tempest, 
and the monarch of the wilds. 

Most certainly the Golden Eagle, when he lives where game is scarce, is 
a pest — truly, indeed, " the pride and the pest of the parish," aye, and of 
the whole country-side as well. The Golden Eagle has been known, on one 
Highland sheep-farm alone, in the course of a single season, to carry off 
as many as tliirty-five lambs. Probably the amount is underestimated ; 
for on such immense tracts of country as the Highland sheep-farms 
it is impossible to tell how many lambs are really taken. It is in 
these districts, where game is scarce, that the Golden Eagle does so much 
harm ; and it is scarcely to be expected that sheep-farmers will put up 
with the questionable pleasure of having the bird for a neighboar at such 
an expense of live stock. But in other districts the Golden Eagle 
is comparatively a harmless bird. In deer-forests Eagles are of the 
greatest service ; for although they sometimes take a sickly deer-calf, they 
live almost entirely on the blue hares, so troublesome to the deer-stalker ; 
and most certainly the deer are the better for the removal of the weak and 
sickly ones, which would only possibly live to transmit their diseases to 
posterity. The Golden Eagle strikes his prey, if it be a lamb, behind the 
head, and, as a rule, carries it off at once — to the nest, if the bird be bur- 
dened with family cares, or to some wild secluded place where he can con- 
sume it in peace. But lambs are not the Golden Eagle's only food. High 
up among the mountains, almost in a region of pei'petual snow, the blue 
hare lives ; and this interesting little animal forms his favourite prey. This 
hare, like the Ptarmigan and the stoat, changes its summer dress for one 
of purest whiteness when the winter commences — this change doubtless 



GOLDEN EAGLE. 99 

being effected from motives of self-preservation from the large raptorial 
birds that are almost its only enemies. The Golden Eagle (noble as 
he is thought to be) will eat carrion when pressed for food. Eagles are 
not noble birds like the true Falcons ; and their claims to regal rank 
rest on their size and prowess alone. Here, for instancCj a sheep, ven- 
turing too near the edge of the cliff, has lost its balance and been 
dashed to pieces on the rocks below. The Eagle has found it out, 
either by sight or smell, perhaps both, and made his meal upon its decay- 
ing flesh. Or, again, a dead rabbit lies on the cliffs, and the prowling 
Eagle espies it and carries it off bodily to his nest to feed its ever hungry 
young. The Eagle in his habits is more a Vulture than a Falcon; and his 
motions are sluggish, cowardly, and tame compared with the death-swoop of 
the Peregrine, or the bi'illiant performance of the Sparrow-Hawk or 
the Merlin, who would not deign to feast on such lowly fare. The Golden 
Eagle also preys upon various species of birds, notably the Blackcock and 
the Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Curlews, and Plovers, dropping upon them 
unawares or simply taking the young and weakly ones ; for never does the 
bird pursue and strike them like the true Falcon. 

The flight of the Golden Eagle is truly a grand performance. Stroll up 
the mountain-side some bright ^lay morning when there is but little wind 
and the sun is warm, and see the bird engaged in those aerial motions 
which have rendei'cd him so justly famous as a mariner of the air. As 
you lie amongst the tall brown heather, dreamily gazing upward into blue 
space, listening, it may be, to the humming of the passing insects, or the 
bleating of the lambs on the opposite hill-side, and the croak of the Ravens 
from the " Storr," your eye is riveted to a dark speck high in air, and 
looking no larger than a Crow. Nearer it comes ; the shepherd who per- 
chance is with you exclaims with almost bated breath "lolair dhubh \" (the 
Black Eagle) ; and breathless you watch the king of birds explore the air. 
Nearer and nearer he comes until he is directly above you — now flapping 
his broad wings at irregular intervals, now with them fully expanded, 
gliding round and round, without giving them any perceptible motion, the 
tips of the primaries separated and turned upwards, and the tail ever and 
anon turned from side to side as a rudder. Although he seems so near, he 
is still well out of the range of the heaviest shot, and for some time he 
busies himself by surveying our reclining forms on the hillside below him. 
But, see ! the pair of Ravens that are nesting in the " Storr''^ are uneasy 
at his presence, and sally out to mob, if they dare, their king. Although 
pirates the same as he, they evidently do not put much faith in the old proverb 
of " honour amongst thieves," and croaking fiercely forth their displeasure 
at his presence, one flies above him, the other beneath, and each tries to 
buffet him. But prudence forbids, and they content themselves with noisy 
clamour, which is increased, in seeming exultation and triumph, as the 



100 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Eagle sweeps slowly onwards, rising higher as lie goes to clear the neigh- 
bouring hills, and disappears over the summit to pursue his course over 
the adjoining valley. Follow him in imagination there; see him at last 
alight on yonder hoary crag, his favourite perch for a generation. Notice 
how gracefully he folds his long, broad wings, slightly drooping, his neck 
closely retracted, with its bright golden plumes glowing in the light. 
There he remains for hours basking in the bright sunbeams, digesting his 
meal, and collecting his energies for a fresh foray upon the defenceless and 
the weak. That favourite perch has been used for years and years. In fine 
and storm the monarch of the mountain seeks that favoured rock-pinnacle, 
there to bask in summer, or cling, firm as the rock itself, whilst the 
storm and the sleet drive past in blinding fury. This peculiar habit of 
choosing a certain perching-place is common to many of the larger raptorial 
birds ; and it is often the place to which they convey their food and make 
their meal. 

All raptorial birds are capable of great endurance, and will live for a 
considerable time without food ; yet none are more hardy in this respect 
than the Golden Eagle, which has been known to fast for weeks. In 
Eastern Turkestan the Golden Eagle is a bird of the chase, the young 
birds being taken and trained for the purposes of falconry. Its quarry 
is antelopes and foxes, and, it is said, even wolves. These trained birds 
are carried about by a man mounted on a pony, who holds the bird 
on his wrist, which, together with his hand, is protected by a leather 
gauntlet. 

The Golden Eagle is remarkably fond of bathing, and will often stand in 
a little pool for half an hour or more, scattering the water over its plumage 
and seeming to enjoy its submersion immensely. The number of stories 
about people being attacked by Eagles, and of their carrying off children, 
have, we are confident, but little foundation in fact. The Golden Eagle is 
a powerful bird ; but he is not a courageous one, and often allows himself 
to be beaten off by a much smaller and less powerful antagonist. When 
its nest is menaced, the bird betakes itself clear away, never venturing 
within gunshot, and usually consoles itself by watching operations 
from a respectful distance, or leaves the j)lace entirely. 

Golden Eagles are most probably life-paired birds, and tenant the same 
cliff's for many years in succession. The same nest is not always used each 
season, especially if the birds be disturbed ; but it will usually be found 
that they have several favourite places, which appear to be used in 
turn. Very early in spring the birds prepare their eyrie, by strength- 
ening it, adding to it a new lining, and otherwise repairing what 
damage has been done by the storms of winter, much as the Rooks do ; or 
if they are not so fortunate to possess a home, they commence building. 
As a rule, the Golden Eagle chooses an inland site — one amidst the 



GOLDEN EAGLE. 101 

mountains or ovcrlooldng a loch^ but always in a commanding situ- 
ation, and with a broad uninterrupted view of the surrounding country. 
The selected rock is usually a rugged one, partly a broken bank clothed 
with grass and ferns, and partly a precipitous cliff, the place in which the 
eyrie is made usually being sheltered by the overhanging rock. But the 
Golden Eagle does not always select an inland site, and occasionally 
breeds on maritime cliffs. An account of an eyrie in such a situation 
will doubtless prove interesting ; for it certainly is the exception, not the 
rule, to find the bird breeding there. Dixon on this occasion made the 
following notes : — " One of the principal objects of my visit to the Western 
Isles in the early summer months of 1881 was for the purpose of trying to 
make myself acquainted with the Golden Eagle, his habits and his nest, in 
his own wild mountain solitudes. But the Golden Eagle is now a scarce 
bird. Time was when almost all the wild rugged cliff's possessed their pair 
of birds ; but now, alas ! the Golden Eagle's race is well nigh run in 
Britain, and one is bound to confess that, if protection is not soon vouch- 
safed to this companion of the wild Highland scenery, it will soon cease to 
be. I chose the island of Skye for my researches ; and for the first week 
of my visit there the chances of making acquaintance with the bird seemed 
small. All the keepers and the shepherds I questioned on the subject gave 
me disheartening reports — one keeper having shot one of these noble birds 
the previous winter, and none had been seen on his land since ; another had 
trapped the bird some few seasons ago, but said it had become very scarce ; 
while a third proudly showed me the feet and heads of several Golden Eagles 
nailed to his dog-kennels ! All agreed, however, that in this part of Skye 
(Portree) the Eagle was not to be met with ; and I began to despair. Was the 
lordly Golden Eagle to be found or not ? Contemjjorary writers of quite 
recent date speak of finding the bird here ; but has the unwarranted jDerse- 
eution already done its work and banished him from the glens and mountains 
of Skye for ever ? Such were my thoughts, when one evening I had the rare 
fortune to meet with a gentleman sheep-farmer of Skye, who informed me 
that there was a Golden Eagle's eyrie on his farm, and that one of his 
shepherds trapped the female bird that very day, and that he was taking 
it with him to have it preserved in Inverness. No time was to be 
lost, and I made a few hasty arrangements for an early start in the 
morning to the place, some four and twenty miles away on the west 
coast of Skye. 

" After providing myself with the assistance of three shepherds and a 
long coil of rope, we started forth to harry Aquila's lordly castle. A four- 
miles tramp over the mountains in the bracing morning air served to 
nerve me for the task I had before me. The sun was just rising over the 
distant hills ; a raven was croaking dismally from the ' Storr / a pair of 
Peregrines were sailing in graceful circles high in air above; and the 



102 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Carrion-Crows and Hoodies^ cunning fellows that they are, just kept at a 
respectful distance, and that was all. But we were not bent on such lowly 
game; our quarry was of nobler stamp, and I scarcely heeded them at all. 
I remember a Skylark trilled out its morning anthem ; and the shrill 
screams of the Herring-Gulls and the Kittiwakes, and the harsh cry of the 
Oystercatcher, were repeatedly heard. On the hillsides one could hear the 
faint bleating of the lambs, whose enemies' castle we were about to storm. 
We reached the cliffs at last ; a right glorious Eagles' home it was too. But 
so soon as we got to the brink of that terrible cliff, a loud barking cry 
rang shrilly out on the morning air, a yelping cry of defiance echoing 
amongst the rocks ; and the Golden Eagle sailed proudly from his castle, 
carried so stately forward by his magnificent stretch of wing. A right 
royal bird he was ; and all thoughts of his e-\'il deeds were for the time for- 
gotten. It was the Eagle — the king of the feathered race, the bird so 
famous in all times ; and I was lost in admiration. As he sailed so grandly 
on, his rich dark plumage came out in bold relief against the blue waters 
far below, the morning sun causing his head and neck to shine like 
burnished gold. I paused to admire this feathered robber, this proud and 
unconquered bird of the mountains and the heaths. He speedily flew out 
to sea, ascending the air as he went ; and when about three or four 
hundred yards from the cliff, I had an opportunity of observing his easy 
flight to perfection. Slowly sailing round in ever widening circles — now 
on motionless wing, now with rapid beats — he surveyed our unwelcome 
intrusion. Silent as death, now he scooped along, now elevating his long 
wings, hovering like some huge Kestrel ; or, taking a long downward swoop, 
he passed directly opposite the cliff, the white patches on his wings 
coming out in strong contrast with his rich dark plumage. He did not 
long remain in our company, but went far out to sea ; and I finally lost 
sight of him as he doubled a point some half-mile away, leaving us to 
storm his rocky citadel if we could or dared. As I said before, it was just 
the place one could imagine a Golden Eagle's eyrie to be in — the grandest 
piece of cliff on the coast, and the best for a look-out too. The cliffs were 
something terrible in their wild and rugged grandeur. They here rose fully 
600 feet above the sea at least, partly in a sloping grassy cliff, broken here 
and there by precipices, and partly in a beetling rock. Far down below, the 
waters of the jMinch dashed against its base, rolling through the caves with 
a sound like thunder — fitting artillery, I thought, for such a scene, a truly 
regal salute indeed to the noble bird's abode. Far down on the sea 
below, the "■ Scoots ' and the Gulls, looking not much bigger than Sparrows, 
were playing on the waves, or sitting on the rocks quiet and motionless. 
The grassy parts of the cliffs were studded with the fairest primroses and 
sea-pinks ; and in all the rock-crevices the delicate spleenwort fern grew in 
lovely luxuriance. The nest of the Eagle was in a little grass-covered 



GOLDEN EiVGLE. 103 

cavity about midway down the precipice, in a place where the rocks over- 
hung, forming, as it Avere, a natural roof to the nest. The only way of 
getting to the nest at all practicable was from below ; and after giving 
orders to the men, I and a shepherd commenced climbing down the rocks 
to the grassy platform at the base of the cliff. We were able to climb down 
some 400 feet without the aid of ropes, a cool head being all that was 
required ; and when about some hundred feet or so from the eyrie, we 
awaited the arrival of the rope from above which was to assist me to the 
nest. The nest was built on a ledge of the cliffs, in a little grassy hollow, and 
was made externally almost exclusively of heather and a few large sticks, the 
lining being composed of dried fern-fronds, grass, and moss, in small 
quantities, and large tufts of green herbage. The nest itself was not 
very large nor deep; and the lining-materials were built quite close up to 
the Avail of rock behind. The materials of the nest were not much inter- 
woven, although they were very firm and solid. All round and about 
the place, and in the nest itself, were quantities of animal remains, fur and 
feathers, bones and decaying flesh of hares, grouse, and lambs ; for 
the two young eaglets were rapidly coming to maturity. They opened their 
mouths, snapped their beaks, and retired to the further end of the nest ; 
yet otherwise seemed to bother themselves little at the intrusion. The nest 
was a somewhat bulky structure too, perhaps some four or five feet in 
diameter. And what a noble view there was to be had ! surely the Eagles 
were wise in choosing such a home. As I clung to the grassy face of the 
cliff, stupendous and rugged, every object wag taken in at a glance — the 
sea beneath, the sky with its large masses of white clouds, the birds and 
all, even the fleet of herring-boats fishing in the Minch, some twenty 
miles away, and the bleak and rugged peaks of Rum and Canna, whilst 
' hull down ' on the horizon the Long Island lay in gloomy indistinctness, all 
serving to add a charm and a grandeur to the Eaglets wild abode. What 
an impressive scene ! how wild, and yet how beautiful ! Long may the 
Golden Eagle haunt the wild cliffs and mountains of that rugged shore; 
for so long as he is there the crowning object of its beauty is ensured ! 
Surely it is worth an effort to preserve this last remnant of a noble race — a 
bird which must be so closely connected with the Scotch, their traditions, and 
their literature for all time. Surely the few lambs or fawns the Eagle takes 
is but a cheap price for its preservation and maintenance in the land to which 
it is so noble an ornament. Before it be too late, Scotchmen, protect your 
national bird, the Eagle of your ancestors, and stay the cruel war waged 
by grouse-shooter, deer-stalker, sheep-farmer, and skin-collector — a war 
which will, ere long, play its part but too surely, and take the Eagle from 
your mountains for ever ! " 

The eggs of 'the Golden Eagle are often laid before the snow is off the 
hill-sides; and very beautiful objects they are, varying very much in the 



104 BRITISH BIRDS. 

amount of markings they contain^ the well-marked egg certainly being the 
rule, not the exception. They are from one to three in number; but 
two is the usual clutch. As a rule, in the nests which contain three eggs 
one proves addled. They are laid at intervals of a few days ; and as soon as 
the first is deposited the female bird commences to sit. Eggs of the Golden 
Eagle may be found representing those of all the other birds of prey ; and 
almost every type occurs. Typical eggs of this species are dull white in 
ground-colour, with lilac-grey underlying shell-markings, and rich reddish- 
brown surface-blotches and spots. One of a pair of British specimens 
resembles an egg of the Iceland Falcon, the other is boldly blotched and 
dashed over the entire surface. Others, also British, are uniformly spotted 
with one or two deeper spots on the large end. A fine egg from Scotland 
has a dirty white ground-colour, dusted finely with reddish brown, heavily 
blotched and spotted over the entire surface with deep-brown markings ; 
while the companion egg from the same nest is white and spotless. One of 
another pair, also British, resembles fairly typical eggs of the Common 
Buzzard, while its fellow is a pale and spotless bluish green, similar to the 
ground-colour of the Sparrow-Hawk's. Two fine clutches from Ireland are 
remarkably uniform, one of each pair being more thickly clouded with 
colouring-matter, the other with the spots more remote and the underlying 
violet dashes larger and more numerous. It is rare to get two eggs from the 
same nest resembling each other. One is usually more heavily marked 
than the other ; and these characteristics may be observed in the same 
eyrie for many years in succession. In size they vary largely, Irish eggs 
apparently being the smallest. In shape they also vary considerably ; 
even in the same nest one egg is often much rounder than the other. 
They vary from 3'1 to 27 inch in length, and from 2-5 to 22 inch in 
breadth. The eggs are hatched by the latter end of April or the first 
week in May ; and the young are covered with down of snowy white- 
ness. The female Eagle sits very close ; and should she be destroyed, the 
male bird undertakes the duty of incubation, and hatches and rears the 
young. 

In some instances the Golden Eagle has been known to build its nest 
in a tree in Scotland ; and on the continent, notably in Germany and 
Lapland, trees are selected, doubtless owing to the fact that suitable rocks 
are not to be found for the purpose. The young Eagles are tended by the 
parents for some little time after they quit the nest ; then they abandon 
the place of their birth for ever. Before they leave their parents, they 
may from time to time be seen hunting in company, the old birds appa- 
rently teaching them to take and kill their own prey, which, at that time 
of the year, is largely formed of young Grouse, Ptarmigan, and leverets — 
helpless creatures, easily caught and overpowered. 

Many continental ornithologists divide the Golden Eagle into two races 



GOLDEN EAGLE. 105 

or species. The northern form, A. chrysaetus, is said always to have some 
rufous colour on the breast, and in the adult bird has the basal half o£ 
every feather, including the quills and tail-feathers, mottled or marbled 
vrith brown, which gradually disappears, leaving the terminal half uniform 
brown. The southern form, A.fulvus (which I take to be the young), is 
said never to have any rufous colour on the breast, and the basal half of 
the small feathers of the body are said to remain white throughout life ; 
but the white basal half of the quills and tail-feathers in the adult become 
mottled, similarly to that of its near ally, but more defined. I am, how- 
ever, of the opinion that this so-called adult A.fulvus is only an interme- 
diate stage between young and adult of A. chrysaetus, in which the quills 
and tail are a stage in advance of the smaller feathers of the body, which 
have not yet been moulted. Severtzow obtained examples in Turkestan 
exactly the reverse of this, and called them A. intermedia, apparently birds 
Avhich had moulted the small feathers into the adult plumage, but still 
retained the immature quills and tail-feathers. At all ages the terminal 
half of a newly-moulted feather is a rich chocolate-brown, which gradually 
fades into a pale greyish brown, and the crown and nape are more or less 
rusty, approaching gold-colour in newly-moulted old birds. Irides rich 
hazel-brown; cere and feet yellow; bill and claws dark horn-colour. The 
female resembles the male, but is slightly larger. Accidental varieties, 
with one or two white feathers in the scapulars, occasionally occur : 
Messrs. Jaubert and Barthelemy-Lapommcraye record an example from 
the south of France ; Loche met with several in Algeria ; and Dixon saw 
one in Scotland. This peculiarity is permanently developed in the adult 
Eastern Imperial Eagle, and is said frequently to occur in the Booted 
Eagle. In von Homeyer's magnificent collection of Eagles I observed 
examples of both young and adult Lesser Spotted Eagles with one or two 
white feathers in the scapulars. Ihe Golden Eagles figured by Dresser 
are so hopelessly bad that it is impossible to believe that they were drawn 
by Wolf, the statement on the plate to that effect being no doubt a mis- 
print. At no stage of plumage has the Golden Eagle a regularly barred 
tail, as there represented ; nor have I ever heard of any local race supposed 
to possess one. A circumpolar bird like the Golden Eagle is sure to pre- 
sent some local variations in colour ; but none of these have been satisfac- 
torily determined. The British and Scandinavian birds are more rufous 
(less grey) than those from Central Europe, and American birds are still 
more so ; but how far they may be subspecifically separable has not yet 
been ascertained. 



106 BRITISH BIRDS. 

AQUILA N.EVIA. 
LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE. 

(Plate 3.) 

Falco maculatus*, Omel Syst. Nat. i. p. 258 (1788). 

Aquila nsevia, Meyer, Taschenh. p. 19 (1810) ; et auctorum plurimorum— (Xoh- 

mmin), {Temmmck), Gould, Gray, Bonaparte, Schlegel, Neioton, Heuglin, &c. 
Falco naevius, Navm. Yog. Beutschl. i. p. 217, pis. 10, 11, figs. 1, 2 (1820). 
Aquila planga, Bonn, et Vieill. Enc. JSIeth. iii. p. 1190 (1823). 
Aquila pomarina, Brehm, Vog. Beutschl. p. 27 (1831). 
Aquila maculata (Gmel), Dresser, Ann. Nat. Hist. 1874, xiii. p. 373. 
Aquila rufonuchalis, Brooks, Stray Feath. 1876, p. 269. 

The Spotted Eagles differ from the Steppe Eagles in having round instead 
of oval nostrils, and in having long tarsi, longer than the distance from 
the point of the bill to the back of the head. There are four races of 
Spotted Eagles, which are probably only subspecifically distinct. The 
Spotted Eagle jmr excellence, Aquila clanga, has a very wide range. It is 
found in the Pyrenees, the Alps, Albania, the Lower Volga, Turkestan, 
India, Mongolia, and Northern China. The local race peculiar to Europe, 
the Lesser Spotted Eagle, Aquila nmvia, breeds in North Germany from 
Hanover to Dantzig, extending southwards to East Turkey and North-east 
Greece, where its breeding-range joins that of the wide-spread form. It 
is not known that there is any difference in the adult birds, except that 
the average size of one is a little smaller than that of the other, as the 
following measurements of the length of the wings, measured with a tape 
on the convex surface, show, the figures in brackets being the number of 
examples which I have measured : — 

Males. Females." 

Aquila ncBvia (16) 18 to 20 inches. (10) 19 to 31 inches. 

Aquila clanga (19) 30 to 311 ^^ (9) 21 to 33 „ 

Young in first plumage difl^er in colour as well as in size. The young 
of the smaller form have a well-defined yellowish-brown patch on the nape, 
whereas in the larger form the ends of the feathers of the nape are some- 

* The absolute impossibility of arriving- at a uniform nomenclature under the Strick- 
landian laws of priority of publication and clear definition is well exemplified in the 
history of the nomenclature of the Lesser Spotted Eagle. Messrs. Newton, Sharpe, 
Dresser, and Gurney have each of them endeavoured to carry out these rules to the letter ; 
and instead of uniformity being the result, we find that they have each selected a different 
name for this bird. The first step towards attaining uniformity of nomenclature is to 
discard these rules before they have produced more confusion. 



LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE. 107 

times, but not always, pale. The pale spots on the ends of the feathers of 
the upper parts of the smaller form are only well developed on the inner- 
most secondaries and on the wing-coverts, whereas in the larger they are 
well developed also on the scapulars, and especially so on the rump. The 
other two local races are found in India. A. fulvescens, with the head, 
neck, and underparts pale chestnut instead of brown in the adult, is only 
known to breed in India. Immature birds are also fulvous, combining 
the dimensions of the smaller form Avith an even greater development of 
spots than in the larger form. A. liastata is common to India and Cochin 
China. It has the dimensions and colour of ^. ncevia ; and adults of the 
two races are inseparable ; but the young have no nuchal patch, and also 
resemble the young of A. clanga in having frequently traces of bars across 
the innermost secondaries, the scapulars, and the rectrices. At best they 
are only local races. If they were treated as good species, and the same 
principles carried out in other genera, the number of species of Palsearetic 
birds would be doubled. 

In the ' Ibis ' for 1877 Mr. Gurney refers the two Spotted Eagles killed 
in Cornwall, and recorded in the 'Zoologist^ for 1861, to Aquila clanga, 
the Larger Spotted Eagle. In Dresser's ' Birds of Europe ' this decision 
is quoted and indorsed. I believe, however, that I am in a position to 
prove that it is an erroneous one, and that it is the Lesser Spotted Eagle 
(to which species Dresser gives the name of Aquila pomerina, but which 
the great majority of ornithologists have called, and, doubtless, will still 
continue to call, Aquila navia) which has occurred in Britain. 

The error has, doubtless, arisen from the extreme poverty of English 
collections in examples of these Eagles. In some of the continental 
museums they are, however, largely represented : in the magnificent 
collection of E. F. von Homeyer in Stolp I devoted a day to an inspection 
of the regiment of Spotted Eagles, all carefully selected examples picked 
out of some hundreds that have passed through his hands. Of the 
British-killed examples one bird, shot in Cornwall on the 15th December 
1860, recorded by Mr. E. H. Rodd ('Zoologist,' 1861, p. 7311), is 
described as a male; length of wing 20 inches. The measurement of a 
second example, shot at St. Columb ('Zoologist,' 1861, p. 7817), is not 
given ; but Mr. Gurney, who has measured this example, which is now in 
the Truro ^Museum, gives it as 19J inches. Mr. "Warren has been kind 
enough to measure the example in the Dublin Museum, which was shot 
near Youghal in January 1845, and informs me that it is 19f inches. 

It seems to me that the St. Columb bird is undoubtedly A. ncevia, as is 
also the Youghal example. The first Cornwall Eagle is not quite so clear. 
It may be a large male A navia or a small male A. clanga. Under any 
circumstances it is very poor evidence for the admission of A. clanga as a 
British bird. 



108 BRITISH BIRDS. 

The Spotted Eagle is still a common bird in Pomerania during tlie 
breeding-season. It arrives early in April, and leaves again for the south 
early in September. It is a somewhat local bird, being almost entirely 
confined to forests which are sAvampy, no doubt in consequence of the ease 
■with -n-hich it can obtain frogs in such localities. I was surprised to find 
how absolute this rule appeared to be in the forests near Stolp. In the 
dry forests we searched in vain ; but in those which were swampy we never 
failed to hear of or to find the nest of this bird. It was very late for eggs 
of birds of prey when I visited this district ; but I saw several nests of the 
Spotted Eagle. The first was on the 30th of jNIay, in a forest overlooking 
tlie Lantow See. The situation was charming. On three sides of the 
lake the hills were covered with forest, and on the fourth beyond the 
reeds, where the Great Reed-Warbler and a colony of Crested Grebes were 
breeding, some marshy ground led to the meadows and arable land. We 
crossed the lake, which has an area of about four square miles, in a boat, 
and had scarcely landed before we heard the cry of a Spotted Eagle, a 
loud, clear, rich-toned ke-iqj. It is said that the female often betrays the 
position of her nest by crying for food to the male, who feeds her whilst 
she sits. Dr. Holland and I were looking with proper ornithological 
veneration at the large flat nest of a Black Stork, which the forester 
pointed out to us about thirty feet from the ground in a beech, but w hich 
had not been occupied for the last year or two, when we heard a rustle of 
wings near us. Turning round we saw a large "■ Horst " in a lofty beech 
about seventy feet from the ground, on which an Eagle was standing. 
She had evidently heard us talking and had got up. Before we reached 
the tree she took wing, descending slowly for some distance and then 
ascending to clear the trees, so that we could see the large white spots on 
her back quite distinctly. The tree was difficult to climb ; but with the 
help of ropes the nest was at last reached. It was an unusually large 
structure, four feet long, two and a half feet wide, and two feet high. 
Like the nests of all birds of prey, it was very flat, the depression in the 
centre not being more than four or five inches. The foundation was 
composed of sticks nearly an inch thick ; but at the top they were verv 
slender. The final lining was slender beech-twigs with fresh green leaves 
on them. There was also a little down, and a feather or two, which had 
probably been accidentally rubbed off the breast of the parent bird. The 
nest contained two eggs nearly ready for being hatched. Durino- the 
whole time that we were at the nest both birds continued to sail round 
and round over us. Occasionally we heard them cry ; and once one of 
them perched on the top of one of the neighbouring trees. 

The second nest I saw was on the 6th of June. Herr von Putkammer 
had kindly invited me to inspect a heronry on his estate ; and after dinner 
we drove to a neighbouring forest, where Herr von Homeyer was to 



LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE. 109 

introduce me to the Red-breasted Flycatcher. In the course of our walk in 
the forest we started a Spotted Eagle from her nest about eighty feet 
from the ground in a beech tree. She flew slowly ofF^ and alighted on 
the summit of a pine tree not far away, where we watched her for some 
time. 

On the following day, in a swampy forest between Stolp and the sea, we 
took another nest of the Spotted Eagle. This time it was in a grand old 
oak in a beech-forest interspersed with a few oaks and birches. It was 
about sixty feet from the ground. The bird was on ; and as I was anxious 
to obtain a specimen, we stationed ourselves round the tree. Tapping on 
the trunk of the tree and shouting failed to alarm her; so we fired a 
shot, when she flew oft' rather rapidly and fell to the forester^'s gun. She 
proved to be a fully adult female. The nest was large, two feet in 
diameter, and very flat. The final lining was fresh green grass. It con- 
tained two eggs, one of which was chipped. 

A couple of hundred yards oft" was last year's " Horst," somewhat the 
worse for a year's wind and rain. It was built in the fork of a birch tree 
where five branches sprung from the main stem, about forty-five feet from 
the ground. 

On the 11th Dr. Holland showed me two nests of the Spotted Eagle in 
another forest, from which he had obtained the eggs. Both were in beech 
trees, one about thirty-five and the other about sixty feet from the ground. 
He told me that he had seen nests of this bird in Scotch fir trees. 
The nest has once been found on the ground (' Journ. fiir Orn.' 1855, 
p. 510). The male is said occasionally to relieve the female in the duties 
of incubation. 

Although the Spotted Eagle looks very aquiline, sailing majestically in 
grand sweeps over the forest, its habits appear to be very much like those 
of the Buzzard. It rarely pursues its prey on the wing. Now and then 
it may surprise a small bird on the ground ; but its principal food is frogs. 
It is said to run after lizards and snakes, to eat grasshoppers and other 
insects, the remains of which have been found in the pellets cast up by the 
young birds, and even not to disdain carrion. 

The time to obtain fresh eggs is the first half of May ; and the number 
in each nest is almost invariably two. Now and then one only is laid; 
and instances are on record of three eggs having been found in one nest; 
but these are extremely rare. The female is said to sit three weeks. The 
ego's vary considerably both in size and colour, and are best described as 
miniatures of those of the Golden Eagle. The surface is dull and some- 
what rough, and both ends are very nearly alike in shape. They vary in 
size from 2'65 by 2T5 inch to 2"3 by 2'0 inch. The ground-colour is a more 
or less creamy white. The two eggs figured were collected by Dr. Kriiper 
in jNIacedonia, and are fair average examples. Some are much handsomer. 



110 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



almost like eggs of the Osprey, -vvliilst others are scarcely spotted at all. 
Not unfrequently the spots are confluent^ occasionally at the larger end, 
but more often at the smaller end. The colour of the spots is generally 
a brownish brick-red ; but sometimes they are a rich dark blood-red. The 
underlying spots are dull purplish, and seldom very conspicuous ; occa- 
sionally, however, they are a chief feature of very handsome eggs. 

The general colour of the Lesser Spotted Eagle is a uniform brown, the 
colour of the newly moulted feathers being rich chocolate-brown, that of 
the old abraded ones greyish brown. Bill dark horn-colour, cere and feet 
yellow, claws black; irides yellowish brown. The female resembles the 
male, but is larger in size. Birds in first plumage have a rusty patch on 
the nape, which gradually fades as the bird gets older; the scapulars, 
wing-coverts, and innermost secondaries have a terminal greyish- white spot. 
The underparts are streaked with rufous-brown. 




THE ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD EAGLE. Ill 

AQUILA LAGOPUS. 
THE ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZAED EAGLE. 

(Plate 5.) 

Accipiter falco, viir. leucocephalus, Briss. Ont. i. p. 32o (1700). 
Falco lagopus, Brilnn. Orn. Bor. p. 4 (1764). 
Falco norvegicus, Lath. Gen. Syn. Siippl. i. p. -2^2 (1787). 

Falco lagopus, Briinn. Gniel Syst. Nat. i. p. 260 (17^8) ; et auctorum plurimorum 
— Xaumann, (Gould), Schlegel, {Oraij),{Xewtoii),{Sahadoi-i), (Sharpe), (Dresser). 
Falco sclavonicus, Zath. Ind. Orn. i. p. 26 (1790). 
Buteo pennatus, Baud. Traite, ii, p. loij (1800). 
Falco plumipes, Daud. op. cit. ii. p. 163 (1800, e.r Levaill.). 
Buteo lagopus (Briinn.), Leach, Sy.^t. Cat. Mamm. ^-c. Brit. Mus. p, 10 (1816). 
ArcMbuteo lagopus (Briinn.), Brehm, Isis, 1828, p. 12G0. 
Butaetes lagopus, Bp. Comp. List B. Eur. ^- X. Amer. p. 3 (1838). 

The Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle is a somewhat aberrant species of the 
genus Aquila, inasmuch as the back of the tarsus is not feathered. It 
has hitherto been placed among the Buzzards. Sharpe, in his first volume 
of the ' Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum/ separates the 
subfamily of Aquilin/s from the subfamily of Buteonina, characterizing 
the former as having the back of the tarsus reticulate, and the latter 
as having it scaled. He figures the tarsus of the Rough-legged Buzzard 
Eagle with the feathers at the back parted to show the scales^ in order 
to prove that^ although the species in his genus Archibuteo have the 
front and sides of the tarsus feathered like some of the Eagles, they have 
nevertheless the back of the tarsus scaled like true Buzzards, and not 
reticulate as is the case with those Eagles in which the tarsus is not 
feathered. Unfortunately for his argument, the back of the tarsus of the 
Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle happens not to be scaled, but is reticulate, 
as is also the case with the other species in his genus Archibuteo ; so that 
they are certainly Eagles and not Buzzards, according to his own definition. 
The Eagles and the Buzzards are so nearly related that there can be no 
excuse whatever for placing them in separate subfamilies; and the Rough- 
legged Buzzard Eagle and its allies differ so little from the true Eagles 
that there seems no adequate reason for considering them more than sub- 
generically distinct. j\ly friend Dr. Gadow informs me that he has dis- 
sected many of these birds, and that he has found that in many points of 
their anatomy the Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle and the Spotted Eagle 
are very closely allied. . I have therefore discarded the use of the genus 
Archibuteo , as being a name likely to mislead. 

The Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle can only be looked upon as a pretty 



112 BRITISH BIRDS. 

regular but rare visitor to the British Islands^ occurring most commonly 
in the immature plumage and in autumn. Although it has been obtained 
in almost every county of England, and in certain years appears in large 
numbers, but two reliable instances have been recorded of its remaining 
to breed in Great Britain. Respecting one of these instances, particulars 
are given by Mr. A. G. More in the ' Ibis' (1865, p. 12), furnished to 
him by Mr. Alwin S. Bell, of Scarborough, as follows : — " Mr. John Smith, 
who was gamekeeper for twenty years on the estate of Sir J. V. B. John- 
stone, remembers the Rough-legged Buzzards perfectly well ; there was no 
mistake as to the species, as they were feathered right down to the toe-ends. 
They used to breed, year after year, on tbe ground, amongst the heather, 
in tbe moor-dells near Ash Hay Gill, Whisperdale, about three miles from 
Hackness. One pair only bred every year during most of the time that 
Mr. Smith was keeper (twenty-four years ago). They were not seen except 
in tbe breeding-season. Mr. Smith has himself shot them from the nest, 
and remembers that they sometimes had young." Mr. Edward, of BanfB, 
says (Zool. 1856, p. 5.201) that its nest has been found in that neighbour- 
hood ; and in confirmation of this statement he says that in the season 
of 1864 he saw three young birds which were taken by a boy from a nest in a 
wood some six miles from the town. In Scotland its appearance is 
usually in autumn, in some years far more plentifully than in others ; and 
as these birds are undoubtedly migrants from Northern Europe, it is but 
natural that they arc far more frequently seen on the east coast than the west. 
Certain places in the Peak of Derljyshire, as Strines, and the moors near 
Sheffield, appear to be in the direct line of migration of this species, and 
rarely a year goes by without birds either being obtained or seen ; but 
they do not appear to winter there. In the southern and western counties 
of England it appears to occur less frequently than on the east coast; but 
in the eastern counties it may almost be said to be a regular visitor, 
varying considerably in numbers in different years. In Ireland it is an 
extremely scarce visitant, this country being too far to the west of its 
regular southern flight; nor does it ever appear to visit Greenland, Iceland, 
or the Ereroes. 

The true home of the Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle is in the northern 
portions of the European and Asiatic continents. It breeds throughout 
Arctic Europe and Asia, being a very common species in Norway and 
Sweden, up to the North Cape, becoming rarer in Russia, yet more 
plentiful in Siberia, where it ranges as far to the east as the watershed of 
the Yenesay and Lena. In the winter it retires southwards, to various 
parts of Central and Southern Europe and the steppes of Russian Tur- 
kestan. How far to the south this species strays it is difficult to say ; 
but it has never been seen in India or Persia, nor does it ever appear to 
cross the Mediterranean. 



THE ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD EAGLE. 113 

In N"epal, Thibet, and possibly in China the present species is repi'esented 
by A. strojMatus of Hodgson, which has tlie ci'own of the head, throat, 
and chest uniform brown ; whilst on the North-American continent its 
place is taken by A.sanctijohannis, differing in its more rufous and darker 
plumage. 

In this country, if any direct habitat can be assigned to a species that 
occurs but as a wanderer, the Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle appears to 
prefer open country — -tracts of wild moorland and especially rabbit-warrens, 
and low-lying districts devoid of timber — marshy places abounding with 
wild fowl and the smaller mammals which compose its food. In its 
general habits it more closely resembles the smaller Eagles than the B uzzards. 
Although a sluggish-looking bird, it is by no means slow on the wing, is 
capable of much rapid graceful movement, and may sometimes be seen 
gliding along, eagle-like, with outspread wings and tail, surveying the 
ground below. Like the Eagles, too, the pi'esent species seems not to have 
that love for wooded districts and forests which is so marked a trait in the 
character of the Common Buzzard, but resorts to wilder districts amongst 
the mountains. In the breeding-season the Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle 
ofttimes betrays the site of its nest by its plaintive wailing cry, something 
like the mewing of a cat, and which is much louder than the note of the 
Common Buzzard. 

A diurnal bird, its food is obtained in the daytime, sometimes just in 
the evening's dusk, and its hunting-grounds are for the mo.?t part the 
open tracts of country. Here it leisurely sails, at a moderate height, 
ready to pounce down upon the usually small and insignificant creatures 
that form its food, which is composed of small mammals of various kinds, 
such as field-mice, lemmings, and moles, frogs, lizards, and also young 
rabbits and hares. When pressed by hunger it will often feed on 
carrion, like the Eagles ; but it does not appear to prey miich on birds, 
unless when it discovers them wounded and comparatively helpless. This 
bird has been known to follow the sportsman, and actually seize dead 
birds, an interesting note respecting this being found in Stevenson's 
' Birds of Norfolk ' (i. p. 31). 

I have never taken the nest of the Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle ; but 
my friend Ilarvie-Brown has lent me the journal of his visit to the Fille 
Field in South Norway, in company with the late jNIr. E. R. Alston. 
In the wild rocky valleys of this district, three to four thousand feet 
above the level of the sea, this interesting bird breeds in considerable 
numbers, and many nests were taken during the month of June. In 1871 
fourteen breeding-places were known in this locality, all of them in the 
clefts of more or less inaccessible rocks. In every case a rope was neces- 
sary to secure the eggs ; but the inhabitants pointed out many old breeding- 
places in easily accessible cliffs, leading to the supposition that the 

VOL. J. I 



11-i BRITISH BIRDS. 

selection of more secure sites is a habit recently acquired, in conse- 
quence of the persecution of modern ornithologists. The following is a 
condensed account from the notes made on the spot by Harvie-Brown of 
the taking of a nest of the Rough-legged Buzzard Eagle at Valdersdal :— 
The nest was first visited on the 15th of June. The ' Fjeld Orus ' rock 
was reached after a walk of about ten miles over deep snow-drifts. Early 
in the day the walking was easy over the frozen snow ; but later on pro- 
gress became more difficult, some of the party occasionally sinking up to 
their hips in snow. The ice had not yet left the lakes on the high fjelds ; 
and the appearance of five reindeer did not make the scene less winterly. 
Arrived at the rock, the male bird was seen sitting on a boulder at 
the top, and the female soon left the nest. Harvie-Brown fired at the 
male but missed him, and climbed up to Avithin twelve feet of the nest. 
Whilst he was descending the female flew on again. The party then made 
a detour to reach the top of the nest, and one of them was lowered down 
with a rope, which proved too short. The female remained sitting; big 
stones were rolled down, crashing past the nest within a few feet of it, 
but she would not move. For two hours all attempts to dislodge her 
proved in vain, although two shots were fired, one bullet passing through 
the edge of the nest. All this time the male kept flying round at a great 
distance. On the following day the party returned to the nest with a 
longer rope, seeing the reindeer again en route. This time the female 
flew off at once ; and Harvie-Brown shot her whilst his collector, Lars 
Eraker, was attempting to reach the nest. In this he was unsuccessful. 
Six days afterwards they visited the nest with Peder ITongcn, a more 
active collector. The snow was still perfectly crisp, and it was easy to walk 
on the high fjelds. Peder simply took the rope in his hand, and litei-ally ran 
down the steep slope till he disappeared from sight. To the astonishment 
of all, off came a second female from the nest, the male bird having 
secured another partner since the previous visit ; and both birds were seen 
to get clear away. Ten minutes after Peder's head had disappeared over 
the edge of the rock, a shout from below announced that he had secured 
the eggs ; and soon he was descried 300 feet below, at the base of 
the hill. The nest was a large structure formed of juniper-branches, 
and contained three well-marked eggs considerably incubated. The 
number of eggs varies from two to five. The nest is generally large, 
composed of branches of dwarf birch or juniper, and lined with thin 
wiry grass ; but occasionally it is a mere hollow lined with grass and 
without any sticks. 

At Quicldock, Wheelwright describes the nest as often being placed on a 
fell-ridge and often in a tree; and at Muonioniska, Wolley and his col- 
lectors found them only on Scotch firs, some being taken as early as the 
middle of May. This difference in the habits of the bird is no doubt 



THE EOUGII-LEGGED BUZZARD EAGLE. 115 

accounted for by the nature of the country, this part of Lapland being 
on the borderland between the forest and the tundra. Thei'e are no 
cliiFs ; but the country is described as a wild tract of undulating ground, 
abounding with forest, river, lake, and swamp. 

The eggs of this bird are subject to considerable variation in colour 
and size, some specimens being poorly marked, whilst others arc very 
richly blotched with dark red, or clouded and mottled Avith pale brown. 
In some eggs the colouring is confined to a few large rich blotches of red ; 
others are evenly spotted with colour, just as intense, over the entire 
surface. A more rare variety is delicately streaked and pencilled with a 
few irregular dashes of pale brown, something similar to a Kite's. Other 
varieties are seen in which all the colouring is distributed in pale purplish 
shell-markings, with, perhaps, a few streaks of rich brown. The hand- 
somest type of egg is the clouded variety. They vary from 2'25 to 21 
inch in length, and from 1'8 to 1-G.j inch in breadth. 

The general colour of an adult bird is bufi&sh Avhite, variegated with 
several shades of brown, most closely on the back and rump. The quills 
have the basal half white, terminal half blackish brown ; a broad patch of 
brown on the belly ; basal two thirds of tail white, remainder brown, 
narrowly tipped with huffish white. Legs feathered to the toes, fawn- 
colour, streaked with brown. Bill blackish horn, bluish at the base; 
irides brown; feet and cere yellow; claws black. The sexes only differ in 
size, the female being slightly the largest. Immature birds may always 
be distinguished from adults by having the brown markings on the lower 
parts longitudinal instead of transverse. 




i2 



116 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus BUTEO. 

The genus Buteo was established by Cuvier in 1800^ in his ' Lejons 
d'Anatomie comparee/ i. tab. 2. Previous to that date the Buzzards were 
included in the genus Falco of LinnEeus. Cuvier did not designate any 
type ; nor has any later writer in any subsequent subdivision of the genus 
done so. It is impossible to say what species was considered typical by 
Cuvier ; but it is perfectly obvious that the Common Buzzard (the F. buteo 
of Linnseus) ought to have been so considered; and we cannot do wrong in 
so accepting it. 

The Buzzards are very nearly allied to the Eagles^ forming a connecting 
link between them and the Harriers and the Hawks. From the Eagles 
they may be distinguished by having no feathers on the lower half of the 
tarsus, which is scaled before and behind, a character they have in common 
with the Harriers and the Hawks. From the former they are distinguished 
by their thick tarsus (circumference about one third of length), and from 
the latter by their long wings and short tarsus (less than a fourth the 
length of the wing, and less than half the length of the first primary). 
In their habits the Buzzards very closely resemble the Eagles, being, as a 
rule, somewhat heavy in flight, rarely catching their food upon the wing. 
They feed upon reptiles, mice, and other small mammals, insects, and 
occasionally birds, which they catch when sitting. They build a mode- 
rate-sized nest of sticks &c., which is sometimes placed on trees, and 
sometimes ou rocks. They lay from two to four eggs, gj-eenish white or 
pure white in ground-colour, marked sparingly with reddish-brown and 
violet shell-markings. When held up to the light the shells of Buzzards' 
eggs look green. The Buzzards, of which there are twenty or more species, 
are almost cosmopolitan in their range, but are seldom found north of 
the Arctic circle. But one species is found in the British Islands. 



COMMON BUZZARD. 117 



BUTEO VULGARIS. 
COMMON BUZZARD. 

(Plate 5.) 

Accipiter buteo, Briss. Orn. i. p. 408 (17G0). 

Falco buteo, Linn. Sijst. Kut. i. p. 127 (176(3). 

Aquila glaucopis, 3[errem, Av. liar. p. 22, pi. vii. (1780). 

Faloo albus, Baud. TraiiS, ii. p. 165 (1800). 

Buteo vulgaris, Leach, Syst. Cat. M. S,- Birds Brit. Mvs. p. 10 (1816) ; et auctorum 
plurimorum — Or ay, Kaup, Schleyel, Stricldand, Jerdon, Gould, Sundevall, New- 
ion, Sharpe, Dresser, &c. 

Buteo mutans, Vieill. X. Diet. dUiist. Nat. iv, p. 469 (1816). 

Buteo fasciatus, I'ieill. Noiw. Diet. iv. p. 474 (1816). 

Buteo spiralis, Forst. Syn. Cut. Br. B. p. 44 (1817). 

Falco pojana, Savi, Xaov. Oiorn. Pisa, xxii. p. 68 (1822). 

Buteo communis, Less. Traite, p. 78 (1831). 

Buteo fuscus, 2IucffiU. Hist. Brit. B. iii. p. 18.3 (1840). 

Buteo cinereus, Bp. Cunsp. i. p. 18 (1850). 

Buteo variabilis, Bailly, Orn. Suv.i. p. 127 (1853). 

The Common Buzzard was formerly pretty generally distributed through- 
out Great Britain and Ireland, probably with the exception of the Outer 
Hebrides, the Orkneys, and Shetlands ; but it is now confined to a few of 
the larger forests, principally of Scotland and Wales, and the sea-coasts 
where the rocks are lofty and precipitous. 

The Buzzard varies so much in the colour of its plumage, and frequently 
approaches so closely to its nearest allies, that it is very difficult to define 
its exact range. It is impossible to draw a hard and fast line between B. 
vulgaris, B. ferox, B. desertorum, B. japonicus, and B. plumipes. Many 
ornithologists have attempted to do so ; but no one has been able to dis- 
cover a diagnosis which harmonizes with geographical distribution. The 
Buzzard is by no means an Arctic bird, and rarely, if ever, strays within 
the Arctic circle, only approaching it in the western limit of its range. 
In Scandinavia it is said to breed up to lat. 66°, at Archangel to 65°, 
and on the Urals to 59° ; consequently there is no Arctic form of this 
bird. The southern limit of the breeding-range of the typical form of the 
Buzzard is the Mediterranean, the valley of the Danube, the northern shore 
of the Black Sea, and the lower valley of the Volga, not reaching so far 
south as the Caspian, but extending eastward to the Urals. In the northern 
portion of its range it is only a summer visitor ; in the central portion a few 
remain during the winter ; and in the southern portion of its range it is a 
resident, its numbers being increased in winter by migrants from the north. 
The Ural birds appear to winter in Turkestan. Its occurrence in Africa in 



118 BRITISH BIRDS. 

winter is probably accidental. There are two extreme forms of the Euro- 
pean Buzzard. One is deep blackish brown^ with pale edges to a few of 
the feathers of the underparts. The other is pale brown on the upper 
partSj with white edges to each feather ; whilst on the underparts the 
white edges have spread over the entire feather^ except on a few feathers on 
the breast and flanks, where a little pale brown is left in the centre. 
Between these two extremes every intermediate form occurs. 

East of the Ural Mountains lie the Barabinsky Steppes, where there is 
no forest, and consequently no Buzzards. But beyond the steppes the 
forest reappears, and with it the Buzzards. In the upper valley of the 
Yenesay, in the trans-Baikal country as far as the Stanowoi Mountains on 
the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk, and in Japan the Japanese Buzzard 
(fi. japonicus) is found in summer, wintering in China, Burma, and India. 
This is a very near ally of our bird, said to differ from it in having the 
tarsus feathered for a slightly greater extent, and in varying from dark 
brown to rufous in general colour ; but the former character is by no 
means constant, though it has suggested the name {B. plumipes) for the 
Indian bird, which some writers have considered distinct. 

Besides the two northerly forms of the Common Buzzard, there are two 
tropical forms. The African Buzzard [B. desertorum) is, on an average, 
slightly smaller than its European representative, the length of wing 
varying from 13^ to 15;^ inches, whilst in our race it varies from 15 to 
16J inches. As might be expected in a tropical race, it is very rufous in 
colour ; but it is subject to the same variations as our bird, and a small 
dark bird of our race is scarcely to be distinguished from a large dark bird 
of the African race. The range of the latter extends to the Azores, where it 
is a resident — to Tangiers, Algeria, and Tunis, where it is also found 
throughout the year — and to the plains of Northern Turkey and South 
Russia as far east as the Kirghis Steppes, where it is a common summer 
visitor, passing the Bosphorus in great numbers on migration and 
wintering in South Africa. The other tropical form is the Long-legged 
Buzzard (i?. /eroa'), with the same variations from dark brown to rufous- 
brown wliioh are found in its tropical ally ; it is a larger bird, the wing 
varying from 16j to 19^ inches in length. In Algeria and the Kirghis 
Steppes its range overlaps that of the African Buzzard ; but it extends 
eastward through Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Persia, and Turkestan to 
India. Both the rufous forms are remarkable for the way in which the 
bars on the tail become nearly obsolete in adult birds. All these forms 
are probably conspecific to a greater or less extent. 

It is very unfortunate for the Common Buzzard that it looks so much 
like an Eagle. The consequence is that in England, where the preserva- 
tion of game is conducted irrationally, the innocent Buzzard has almost 
become exterminated by the gamekeepers. In order to study its habits 



COMMON BUZZARD. 119 

during the breeding-season it is necessary to visit the forests of North 
Germany, where it is still a common bird, by far the commonest bird of 
prey. The Prussian foresters are well educated, and understand the dif- 
ference between destructive and harmless birds. The Buzzard breeds on 
the outskirts of the forests, whence it issues in search of food, and may 
often be seen perched on the bare hill-sides, waiting for mice and other 
small mammals, or may be observed crossing the open fields with some- 
what heavy and indolent flight. It is equally common in dry as in swampy 
woods, and breeds in pine-forests as freely as in those of beech or oak. • In 
the forests near Brunswick I found the nests mostly in beech and oak ; but 
in Pomerania many were in Scotch firs, one in a birch, and one in an elm. 
Many Buzzards remain in North Germany during the winter ; but most 
leave for warmer climes in September and October, returning to their 
breeding-grounds about the middle of March. The Buzzard builds a nest 
from one and a half to two feet in diameter, and, if it is in the fork of a 
tree, sometimes nearly as high. The foundation is of large twigs, finished 
at the top with slender twigs. It is very flat, the hollow in the middle 
containing the eggs about the size and depth of a soup-plate. The final 
lining is fresh green leaves, generally beech ; but in one nest, although it 
was in a beech tree, the lining was green larch-twigs. This lining must 
be renewed from time to time. Out of eleven nests near Brunswick, five 
of which contained eggs, five young birds, and one three eggs and a young 
bird, all but one were lined with fresh leaves. The one that had no green 
lining was the last we examined, and contained three very large young 
birds. This was also the only nest containing young which did not also 
contain some food, and the only nest where we saw nothing of the parent 
birds; they were no doubt absent in search of food to satisfy the vora- 
cious appetites of their three children, and had probably no time to spare 
to renew the lining. What the obj ect of this fresh lining of green leaves 
can be I do not know. We never found any birds in the larder. One 
nest contained a blindworm in two pieces, and two short-tailed field-mice. 
A second nest contained a frog and half a long-tailed field-mouse. A third 
contained no fewer than eleven short-tailed field-mice ; whilst a fourth nest, 
containing three young, was supplied with six large short-tailed field-mice 
and seven smaller ones. A fifth nest, containing only one young bird, also 
contained a mole and a long-tailed field-mouse. The nests varied from 50 
to 90 feet from the ground ; but some, to which we did not attempt to 
climb, were higher. In Pomerania I saw several nests in Scotch firs, not 
more than 25 feet from the ground. My friend Dr. Holland, who has 
paid great attention to the birds of prey in Pomerania for many years, 
informs me that the Buzzard begins to lay about the middle of April (I 
took eggs, all highly incubated, near Brunswick, between the 4th and 17th 
of May) , that the period of incubation lasts three weeks^ and that the male 



120 BRITISH BIRDS. 

relieves the female at her duties. He tells me that, besides small mammals, 
the Buzzard will eat grasshoppers and other insects, reptiles, and occasion- 
ally small birds, if it gets a chance of catching them sitting. The spines 
of the hedgehog have been found in the stomach of the Buzzard ; and Dr. 
Holland also mentioned an instance of a female bird haying been found 
dead on the nest with a live viper under her. 

The Buzzard returns year after year to the same nest, but is said not to 
breed a second time the same year if the eggs are taken. When the 
eggs are much incubated she sits very close. Sometimes we could see the 
tail projecting beyond the edge of the nest, but were unable to drive the 
bird from her place by shouting, sometimes not even by hitting the trunk 
of the tree. Once or twice the sitting bird did not fly off until the climber 
was halfway up the tree. When she does take wing, she flies straight off 
and clears herself from the tops of the surrounding trees as soon as pos- 
sible. She sits on the nest head to wind, and flies off also head to wind, 
but, when she has a clear course, generally soon "Mheels round, and keeps 
up at intervals a melancholy cry like pe-e-i-o-oo. The Buzzard is said to 
breed in its first spring, in immature plumage. As soon as the duty of 
feeding the young is nearly come to an end, which is late in May or early 
in June, the moulting-season comes on. First the wing- and tail-feathers 
are renewed, but slowly, only one or two at each side at a time, so as not 
to interfere much with its power of flight. During August and September 
the body-feathers are moulted. 

Dixon met with this bird in the north of Scotland, and made the follow- 
ing note respecting its nesting-habits there : — " Far in the deepest soli- 
tudes of the deer-forests the Buzzard ofttimes builds its nest. Its cradle 
is usually placed in some dense hoary pine tree, the patriarch of the forest, 
and the one most difficidt of access too. It is here, but sometimes also 
just on the borderland of the forests, that the Buzzard flnds the solitude 
of his choice, the seclusion which he loves. Nothing breaks the silence 
here save the occasional cry of a Blackcock or the light tread of the moun- 
tain-hare as it hurries ofi' at your approach. The scenery around is grand, 
befitting surroundings to such an abode. The distant mountains come out 
in bold outline against the clear morning sky ; and the sunlight glistens 
brightly on the red bark of the pines around you. The nest is situated on 
a flat branch, some sixty feet from the ground. It is a large bulky struc- 
ture, indeed almost flat, and made of sticks. In the cavity which contains 
the eggs are a few bits of wool and down, similar to what are often found 
in the Sparrow-Hawk's nest. Indeed the whole structure bears a very 
close resemblance to the nest of that bird ; only it is situated further from 
the trunk of the tree, like the nest of the Heron. Since this nest was 
robbed, the pair of birds have commenced building another, choosing for 
their situation this time the face of an old ivy-covered cliff." 



COMMON BUZZAliD. 121 

In some joarts of South AVales tlie Buzzard breeds on tlio cliffs. Dr. 
Propert has kindly furnished me with particulars of eight nests, all built 
on tlie roclis overlooking the sea on the coast of St. Bride's Bay, in Pem- 
brokeshire. They were taken in 187G and the two following years ; the 
earhest date was the 19th of Aprils and the latest the 9th of IMay. Two 
were on the clifl's of the mainland, near St. David's Head, and the other 
six on Ptamsey Ishmd. The rocks were ahxiost perpendicular, and in four 
cases they were overhanging. The cliffs rise from three to four hundred 
feet above the sea. In every case the nests were almost inaccessible, and 
could only be reached by letting a boy down with a rope ; and where the 
nests were under an overhanging rock, the eggs could only be secured with 
a net fastened to the end of a stick. One nestj a large one, was a slight 
hollow, with sticks carefully disposed around it. Another nest was under 
some thorn-bushes, and a third in a very damp place where water was 
trickling down. One nest contained four eggs, and six nests contained 
three eggs each. The eggs varied somewhat in size ; and in one of the 
nests the third egg was abnormally small. Some clutches were much more 
handsomely coloured than others. In two cases the eggs were perfectly 
fresh; but in one taken on the 1st of May they were almost hatched. In 
the ' Ootheca "Wolleyana ' is also an interesting account of the nesting of 
the Buzzard on rocks in Sutherlandshire. 

Three seems to be the usual number of eggs, sometimes only two, and 
not unfrequently four. They vary very much in size and colour, are rough 
in texture, and possess little or no gloss. Common Buzzards' eggs vary 
from milky blue to pale reddish white in ground-colour, blotched, streaked, 
spotted, or clouded with rich brown surface-spots and pale lilac shell-mark- 
ings. Some specimens are most richly and handsomely marked, others 
more sparingly, wliilst many are almost devoid of markings. jNIany speci- 
mens very closely resemble certain varieties of the Common Kite's, others 
the pale and spotless eggs of the Goshawk. A rather rare variety is 
finely streaked and scratched over the smaller half of the egg with pale 
brown, with one or two larger spots. In some the colour is confluent on 
the larger end, Avhilst in others the rich brown colouring-matter is covered 
with a thin coating of lime, giving the egg a beautiful delicate lilac-pink 
appearance. In form the Buzzard's eggs vary considerably, some speci- 
mens being almost round, others strictly oval, some elongated, and more 
rarely elliptical. In size they vary from 2\ to 2 inches in length, and 
from 1'9 to 1-65 inch in breadth. 

The peculiar motion of the Buzzai'd's flight has been noticed by the 
earliest writers on British birds, who speak of its rising in the air to a 
great elevation in a spiral course. So much did this motion on the 
Buzzard's part impress itself upon Forster, that he gave the bird the name 
oi spiralis. In passing from place to place the Buzzard flies very slowly. 



122 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



and usually very low, just above the ground. Sometimes it may be seen 
sitting on the road-side, on a large stone or fence, from which it flaps 
slowly forward to secure, with unerring certainty, some mouse or other 
small mammal. At times the Buzzard flies at a great height, sailing 
slowly about the heavens in graceful swoops and curves, its broad wings 
and tail expanded to their fullest extent, the motion of the tail helping to 
guide the bird through space. 

In the typical form of the Common Buzzard the tail is crossed with 
about ten pale bars, and has a slight pale tip ; legs and toes yellow ; claws 
black ; beak bluish black ; cere yellow ; irides yellowish brown, dark hazel 
in the young. 

Three other species belonging to the genus Buteo have been recorded as 
occurring in the British Islands. The Red-tailed Buzzard {Buteo borealis), 
a species inhabiting Eastern North America and the West Indies, is said 
to have been killed, in the aiitumn of 1 860, in Nottinghamshire. Another 
American species, the Red-shouldered Buzzard [Buteo Uneatus) , is reported 
to have been killed in Invernessshire in 1863, and is recorded in ' The Ibis ' 
for 1865 (p. 549). Lastly, the African Bu.zzard {Buteo desertorum) , of 
which three examples are said to have been obtained : the first was killed 
at Everley, Wiltshire, in September 1864 ; the other two specimens were 
obtained in Northumberland — one near Newcastle in 1830, the other 
at Tynemouth in November 1870. There is no evidence to prove that 
these birds had not escaped from confinement; nor is it certain that the 
identification was correct. 




CIRCUS. 123 



Genus CIRCUS. 

The genus Circus Avas established by Lacepede (Mem. Classe So. math.- 
phys. Inst. iii. p. 506) in the year 1801. Previous to that date the 
Harriers were included in the genus Falco of Linna2us. Lacepede did 
not indicate any type; but Bonaparte, who afterwards unnecessarily sub- 
divided the genus, retained the j\Iarsh-Harrier in his restricted genus 
Circus, and this bird may therefore be considered the type. 

The Harriers are intermediate between the Buzzards and the Hawks, 
having the somewhat long wings and short tarsus of the former, and 
the long tail and slender tarsus of the latter, but agreeing with both 
in having the lower half of the tarsus seutellated both at the back and 
front. 

This genus is almost cosmopolitan, and contains about twenty species, 
of which four are European, three of these breeding more or less commonly 
in the British Islands. 

The food of the Harriers is composed of small mammals, birds, reptiles, 
fish, insects, and birds' eggs. Their nests are built on the ground; and 
their eggs, from three to five in number, are bluish white, generally 
spotless^ but in some cases marked with pale brown ; when held up to the 
light the bluish-green colour which underlies the white ground-colour is 
always observable. 



124, BRITISH BIRDS. 



CIRCUS J^RUGINOSUS. 
MARSH-HARRIER. 

(Plate 6.) 

Accipiter circus palustris, Biiss, Orn. i. p. 401 (1760). 

Accipitei' circus rufus, Briss. Orn. i. p. 404 (1760). 

Falco Ecruginosus, Lui/i. Syst. Nat, i. p. 130 (1766); et auctorum plurimorum — 

(Oral/), {Bonaparte), [Jerdon), {Newton), {Sundevatt), (Sharpe), &c. 
Falco rufus, Gmel. Syst. Nat. i. p. :2G6 (1788). 
Falco arundinaceus, Bechst. Orn. Taschenb. p. 23 (1802). 
Circus feruginosus (Linn.), Savign. Syst. Ois. de I'Egypte, p. 30 (1810). 
Circus rufus {Gmel), Saviyn. torn. cit. p. 31 (1810). 
Accipiter seruginosus {Linn.), Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. i. p. 119 (1816). 
Accipiter circus, Pall. Zooyr. Rosso-As. i. p. 362 (1826). 
Buteo feruginosus {Linn,), I'lem. Brit. An. p. 55 (1828). 
Circus arundinaceus (Bechst.), Brehm, Toy. Dcutschl. p. 01 (1831). 
Buteo rufus ( Qmel), Jenyns, Brit. Vert. p. 88 (1835). 
Circus umlirinus, Heiigl. Syst. Uehers. Toy. N.O.-Afr. p. 12 (1850). 

The Marsh-Harrier has not yet beeu quite exterminated from the 
British Islands. It still breeds in the Norfolk broads and in Devonshire, 
and occasionally escapes the gamekeeper's gun in other parts of the king- 
dom. In Scotland it is still more local, being chiefly found in the central 
counties, Aberdeenshire, and the Western Isles. In Ireland it was for- 
merly very abundant, but is now said to have become very local. 

It breeds in swampy districts throughout Europe south of the Baltic, 
occurring rarely in South Sweden, and only visitiug Norway accidentally. 
It winters in Africa north of the equator, occasionally wandering as far 
south as the Transvaal. In Greece, Palestine, Persia, and also in Algeria 
and Tangiers the winter range overlaps that of the breeding-season, and 
the bird is to be found all the year round. Eastwards it breeds in the 
upper valley of the Obb and in Turkestan, and winters in India and Ceylon. 
It is said occasionally to breed in India. No Marsh-Harrier has yet been 
obtained from the valley of the Yenesay; but from Lake Baikal east\iards 
to Japan and China an allied form occurs, C. spilonotus, with the whole 
of the underparts pure white, except the thr(3at and breast, which are 
longitudinally streaked with black. The female difi'ers from the female 
of our bii'd by having the tail transveisely barred. If the latter character 
be reliable, then either our bird turns up again in Japan and China or 
occasionally wanders there, as females without bars on the tail have 
occurred in both those countries. The more probable explanation is 
that old females of the eastern form lose the bars on the tail. This 
eastern representative of the Marsh-PIarricr breeds iu Siberia from Lake 



MARSH-HARRIER. 125 

Baikal eastwards^ and probably also in Japan and North China. It winters 
in South China, the Philippine Islands, and the Malay Peninsula, and 
would seem accidentally to wander into Eiirope. It is evidently a nearly 
adult male of this species that Dresser has figured in his ' Birds of 
Europe^ as the adult male Marsh- Harrier. The example from which this 
figure was drawn was obtained by Messrs. Danford and Harvie-Brown in 
Transylvania, whither it had probably strayed from Lake Baikal — birds 
from this district having apparently a great propensity to turn up unex- 
pectedly in Heligoland and various parts of Europe. It is probable that 
the two species interbreed, as intermediate forms, with the thighs white 
streaked longitudinally with chestnut, occur both in Europe and North 
India. Other nearly allied species occur in South Africa, Australia, 
and South America. 

The large feu-districts in the eastern counties of England, which 
have within the past few centuries been drained, and their willows and 
rushes obliged to give place to corn and pasture, tell most plainly the 
history of the Marsh-Harrier's disappearance. In the days when 
this low-lying country was a reed-covered tract the ]\Iarsh- Harrier, in 
common with the Stork and the Avocet and many other birds now of 
extreme rarity, was a well-known bird. The Marsh- Harrier is never seen 
in the mountainous districts. It is a bird of the plains ; and its haunts 
are almost invariably low swampy districts, the banks of rivers and lakes, 
inundated fields, and wet meadow-land. It is especially fond of marshes, 
but is never seen in woods. The ]\Iarsh- Harrier is usually seen passing 
slowly over its swampy haunts a few feet from the earth, quartering the ground 
much as a well-trained dog searching for game. Its flight is somewhat 
slow and laboured, performed with measured beats of the wings, varied 
bv gliding motions as it surveys the ground below. It will beat over its 
hunting-ground, returning backwards and forwards as if diligently search- 
ing every spot likely to contain its prey. Now and then it is seen to drop 
somewhat slowly to the earth to secure a frog or mole, which it will either 
eat at once or convey to some distance. The Marsh-Harrier is said 
seldom to perch on trees ; but I have repeatedly seen it so doing, as well 
as sittino- on large stones and fences, and sometimes on the ground. It is, 
however, a bird that is rarely seen at rest, mostly on the wing, and is said 
to roost upon the ground amongst reeds. Although the Marsh-Harrier 
possesses great power of flight, still it is either incapable of taking birds 
upon the wing or never chooses to exert its power in this respect. It will 
take a sitting bird which it has surprised, or it Avill strike the wounded and 
weakly birds and animals, but it never flies them down like a Falcon or a 
Hawk. Birds and animals that can be seized upon the ground, together 
with birds' eggs and insects, form the iMarsh-Harrier's favourite fare. As 
a robber of birds' eggs the ]\Iarsh-Harrier seems to be too well known; 



136 BRITISH BIRDS. 



nests 'are often found robbed of their egjgs in the vicinity of its own ; 
and Dr. Holland informs me that he ouce found Curlews' egg-shells in 
the nest itself. This bird hunts chiefly in the morning and evening, 
and is said occasionally to eat a young hare or rabbit which it has been 
able to surprise. It also takes fish from the shallows, and young nestling 
birds. Jerdon mentions that it will carry off wounded Snipe and Teal, and 
that it often follows the sportsman. 

The note of the female Marsh- Harrier, according to Naumann^ is a high 
and clear pitz-pitz, varied very frequently by a long-drawn peep-peep. 
The male bird, on the contrary, especially in the breeding-season, utters 
several pleasant notes, which resemble the word koi or Icai — not " keew,""^ 
as erroneously given by Dresser in an unacknowledged free translation 
from the same authority. 

The breeding-season of the Marsh-Harrier varies slightly according to 
climate. In Gibraltar, where many o£ these birds breed, they begin to lay 
by the end of March; but in Denmark and North Germany the eggs are 
seldom laid before the second or third week in May. During the laying- 
season the birds often soar to a great height, uttering a wailing cry ; and 
when the hen is sitting the cock bird soars above the nest, as is the case 
with many other raptorial birds. Irby mentions that in Gibraltar as many 
as twenty nests have been found within 300 yards of each other; so that 
it would seem the bird is partially a social one. The situation of the 
nest varies but little ; though Montagu says he has found it in the fork 
of a large tree, it is usually built upon the ground amongst the reeds, or 
beneath the shelter of a bush, or on a grassy tussock in the reeds. 

At Riddagshausen, near Brunswick, on the estate of my friend Ober- 
amtmann Nehrkorn, on the 10th of last May, I took a nest of this bird. 
It was in a large extent of swampy ground, on the margin of one of the 
numerous lakes and ponds where the reeds had not been mown down. 
They are too thick on the ground for a flat-bottomed boat to be forced 
through ; but the water comes above the knees as one wades amongst them. 
In the middle of this bed of reeds the Marsh-Harrier had built. The nest 
was very large, the outside composed of two thirds reeds and one third 
small branches of trees ; and the extreme diameter was at least four feet ; 
but the outside was very loose and straggling. It stood two feet above 
the surface of the water ; and one could see underneath the nest by stooping 
down. The inside of the nest was neat and compact, measuring less than 
a foot across, and warmly lined with dry flag-leaves and dry grass. It 
contained four eggs of the Marsh-Harrier and one of the Coot, which had 
doubtless been taken thither to feed the sitting bird. The bird flew off as 
we approached the nest ; and after we had left it we saw her return with a 
bunch of sticks in her claws. Nehrkorn says they keep on adding to the 
sides of the nest as they continue sitting, so that when the young are 



MARSH-HARRIER. 127 

hatched they may not fall out of the nest into the water. It is, however, 
extremely probable that this adding to the nest is but a precaution against 
floods, just as is the case with the Swans and the Moorhens. Three pairs 
of jNIarsh-Harriers used to breed regularly on this lake; but they made 
such havoc amongst the young Moorhens and the young Ducks that 
Nehrkorn was obliged to give over protecting them. Within forty yards 
of the Harrier's nest, curiously enough, was a Duck's nest containing five 
eggs. The eggs of the Marsh-Harrier are from three to six iu number, 
roundish in form and rough in texture, the short eggs being usually the 
roundest. They are very pale bluish green (sometimes almost white), very 
faintly marked with pale brown, or (most often) spotless, or covered with 
nest-stains like the eggs of Grebes. In size they vary from 2'1 to 1'8 inch 
in length and from 1-6 to l'f5 inch in breadth. The eggs of the J\Iarsh- 
Harrier are very small proportionally for the size of the bird. The 
female bird alone incubates the eggs, according to Dr. Holland ; and she 
is fed assiduously by the male. The young birds are fed by both parents ; 
and at this time Dr. Holland informs me that he has known ]\Iarsh- 
Harriers, in one day, bring to their nest six Partridges, four hares, and two 
leverets. If continually disturbed, the old birds become very wary, and 
will then drop the food into the nest from the air above. It is also said 
that the old birds teach their young to hunt by dropping food for them to 
catch. According to Naumann the Marsh-ITarrier is extremely sensitive 
to cold, and leaves very early in his neighbourhood. 

The male Marsh-Harrier has the head and nape white, tinged with rufous 
and streaked with dark brown ; rest of the upper parts dark reddish brown 
with lighter margins ; primaries brownish black ; secondaries and tail 
ashy gi'ey ; lower parts, including the thighs, rich chestnut-brown. Beak 
bluish black ; cere, irides, legs, and toes yellow ; claws black. The adult 
female resembles the male, but is slightly larger, and she has, like the 
young birds of both sexes, the irides yellowish hazel. Birds of the year 
are uniform chocolate-brown, each feather tipped with lighter brown, 
except the crown of the head and throat, which are creamy buff. 






'jY>x. '^^^f- '"%, [■M'i 



"s>' '-^ ^:J'-'^^'^'it 



■7 



^mwm^ 



128 BRITISH BIRDS. 

CIRCUS CYANEUS. 

HEN-HARRIER. 

(Plate 6.) 

Accipiter falco torquatus ( 5 ), Briss. Oni. i. p. 345 (1760). 

Falco cvaneua, Zinn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 12(3 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Teimnmc];, Yarrell, (OouJd), {Gray), (Netvton), (Sharpe), &c. 
Aquila variabilis, Schranh, Fauna Boica, i. p. 108 (1798). 
Circus gallinarius, Savii/n. Ois. d'Egypte, p. 81 (1810). 
Pygargus dispar, Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. p. 128 (1816). 
Cirrus regithus, Leach, Syst. Cat. Maimn. 8fc. Brit. Mus. pp. 9, 10 (1816). 
Falco strigiceps, Nilss. Orn. Suec. i. p. 21 (1817). 
Accipiter variabilis (Schr.), Pall. Zooyr. Rosso- As. i. p. 364 (1826). 

The Hen- Harrier was formerly a regular summer visitor to the British 
Islands, a few even remaining through the winter, and it has only very 
recently been exterminated in the breeding-season from most parts of 
England. Now it is principally seen on the autumn migration, but is still 
said to breed occasionally in some of the wilder districts, such as Devon- 
shire, Cornwall, and the Lake district. In Wales, the Highlands of 
Scotland, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, and in the mountainous parts of 
Ireland it still breeds, although in decreasing numbers. It has not been 
recorded from the Faroes ; but in the Shetland Islands, where it formerly 
bred, it has become only an autumn visitor. 

On the continent it is a summer visitor to Holland, Jutland, Northern 
Norway, Poland, Northern and Central Russia, and North Turkestan, the 
Avhole of Siberia, and the north island of Japan. Its breeding-range 
extends north of the Arctic circle, but not quite so far as the limit of 
forest-growth. In Spain, France, Germany, Southern Sweden, Italy, 
Turkey, South Russia, Palestine, and Southern Turkestan it is principally 
known as passing through on the spring and autumn migration. In all 
these countries a few remain during the summer to breed, and a few are 
found during \Yinter ; but these latter are probably visitants from further 
north, so that the bird cannot anywhere be strictly called a resident. It is 
found in winter only in Northern Africa as far south as Abyssinia, Sar- 
dinia, Greece, Asia IMinor, Northern India, jMongolia, China, and the 
central island of Japan. 

On the American continent, from the Arctic circle to Panama, a very 
nearly allied species, which many writers consider only subspecifically dis- 
tinct from our bird, occurs. This species, C. hudsonius, di&'ers in having 
the lower parts striped with rufous, similar to Montagu's Harrier. A 
species having the underparts still more streaked, C. cinereus, is found in 
the southern half of South America. Another very near ally of this 
species occurs in the eastern hemisphere, having very nearly the same 
range as Montagu's Harrier, but has not vet been recorded from the 



HEN-HARRIER. 139 

British Islands, viz. the Pallid Harrier, C. sivaiiisoni. The adult male is 
easily distiaguished by its barred upper tail-coverts and the female and 
immature bird by the shape of the fifth primaries. In C. ci/a/wus the 
outer web is notched ; in C. sioainsoni and C. cineraceus it is plain. 

The Hen-Harrier (a more appropriate name for which would be the 
Mountain-Harrier) has a much more northern range than the othor 
European and Asiatic species ; I have often seen it on the tundras of 
North Russia and Siberia, more than a hundred miles beyond the Arctic 
circle. In its habits it differs little from the other European Harriers, but 
is very partial to hill-sides, hunting them systematically with great per- 
severance like a pointer, returning backwards and forwards over the same 
ground. I have never seen them soar very high. They fly remarkably 
steadily, with slow regular beats of the wings, like a Heron, turning sharply 
with a twist of the tail like a Kite, now and then hovering like a Kestrel, 
and anon skimming over the ground like a Grouse. In the valley of the 
Petchora we used to see them resting on a manure-heap or flying over the 
cultivated ground near the town ; and in Siberia I have shot down at them 
from the top of the river-bank as they lieat up and down stream on the 
ground between the frozen i;iver and the forest, in search of Snow-Bun- 
tings. The Hen-Harrier is a migratory bird. According to Goebel they 
pass through South-west Russia during the last half of March, one or two 
occasionally remaining to breed. At Kazan they arrive in the middle of 
April, and breed in some numbers. Bogdanow says they are occasionally 
seen in the forests, but soon after their arrival hunt the plains and the steppes 
with great regularity. In the valleys both of the Petchora and the Yene- 
say we did not see them until the last week of May ; but it must be remem- 
bered that we were on the Arctic circle. On the autumn migration they 
pass through Germany during the month of September. I have never 
found the nest of the Hen-Harrier ; but it is generally reported to be a late 
breeder. Harvie-Brown gives the 24<th of May as the date when the first 
egg was laid in a nest which he found in Sutlierlaudshire; and Goebel 
found two nests, in which the full number of eggs was not laid, in the 
middle of June in South-west Russia. The site usually chosen is a dry 
moor or amongst the heather ; and it has often been found in a cornfield. 
The size and material used vary with the locality. Harvie-Brown describes 
one on the bare hill-side as merely consisting of a few loosely arranged 
heather-stems with a shallow depression in the centre lined with a\ iry dry 
grass broken into small pieces. Another, placed in deep heather, was more 
than a foot high, and composed of stout rank steuis and roots of heather. 
Goebel found one nest in the middle of a cornfield, and another concealed 
in the long grass on a dried-up marsh. He says they «ere two feet and a 
half wide and nearly a foot high, made of dry straw and plants, \'ery flat, 
and lined with a few feathers. It is said that the ieuiale alone sits on the 



130 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



nest and is fed by the male. The number of eggs is usually five; but four 
and six are often found. 

The Hen-Harrier is a bolder bird in the pursuit of its food than the other 
two British Harriers^ and undoubtedly often chases its prey on the wing. 
It catches small birds^ mice^ frogs^ but does not disdain to make a meal 
off the eggs of its neighbours when it has the opportunity. The graceful- 
ness of its flight and the ease with which it can skim over the brow of a 
hill make it a favourite with the ornithologist^ in spite of an occasional 
young grouse that may fall a victim to its prowess. 

The eggs of the Hen-Harrier are bluish white, like those of the other 
two British Harriers, and are on an average intermediate in size between 
those of the Marsh and Montagu's Harriers. They vary in length from 
1'8 to 1'65 inch and in breadth from 1-5 to l'4< inch. It is unfortunately 
impossible to distinguish them from excejstionally small eggs of the Marsh- 
Harrier, or from very large eggs of Montagu's Harrier. 

The adult male Hea-Harrier is a very beautiful bird, of a delicate pale 
slate-grey colour, with black primaries and with the upper tail-coverts and 
the whole of the underparts below the centre of the breast pure white. 
Cere, irides, and legs yellow ; bill bluish black, claws black. The female, 
which is a slightly larger bird, has the general colour brown, paler below, 
and streaked with reddish brown ; the upper tail-coverts are white, faintly 
marked with rufous ; tail dark brown, broadly barred with huffish brown, 
and tipped with pale buff. 




HEN-HARRIER S NEST. 



MONTAGU'S HARRIER. 131 

CIRCUS CINERACEUS. 
MONTAGU'S HARRIER. 

(Plate 6.) 

Accipiter falco torqiiafus (d), Briss. Orn. i. p. 345 (17G0J. 

Falco pygai'gus, Liitn. S'l/st. Nat. i. p. 120 (17G6). 

Falco cineiaceiH, Munt. Orn. Diit. i. (1802) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Temminck, Xaumanii, {Ciirier), (^Goiikl), {yeuian), (Dresser), &c. 
Falco hyemalis, Gmel. npud Pcim. Brit. ZooL i. p. 243 (1812). 
Circus cinerarius (Mont.), Leach, Si/st. Cat. Mamm. S)C. Brit. Mi/s. p. 9 (l8lGj. 
Circus ater, Vieill, X. Diet, d'llist. Kat. iv. p. 4.J0 (1816). 
Circus moutag-ui, Vieill. N. Diet. eVHist. Ned. xxxi. p. 411 (1819). 
Falco ciueraceus (J/o/i.i.), Temin. Man. d'Orn. i. p. 76 (1820), 
Circus cinerascens, Steph. S/iaic's Gen. Zool. xiii. pt. ii. p. 41 (1820). 
Buteo ciueraceus (Munf.), Flem. Brit. An. p. 55 (1828). 
Circus ciueraceus (Mont.), Cue. Regne An. i. p. 338 (1820). 
Circus pratorum, Brehm, Toff. DeutscAl. p. 95 (1831). 
Falco cinerascens (Steph.), Barb. Itev. Zool. 1838, p. 221. 

Strigiceps ciueraceus (Mont.), Bp. Cfjinp. List B. Bur. ^- N. Amer. p. 5 (]838). 
Circus nipalensis, Iloele/s. Oraij's Zool. Misc. p. 81 (1844). 
Strigiceps cinerascens (Steph.), Bp. Conxp. i. p. 3.'j (1850). 
Ciicuy pygargus * (Linn.), Sharpe, Cat. B. Brit. Mus. i. p. 04 (1874). 

Though formerly a resident in Great Britain, Montagu-'s Harrier is now 
only an accidental visitor, occasionally breeding where it is left unmolested. 
It is still rarer in Scotland, and in Ireland has ouly twice been obtained. 

In France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Central and Southern 
Russia, Turkestan, and South-western Siberia, as far east as Krasnoyarsk, 
it is a summer visitant. In South Russia a considerable number remain 
during the winter ; in Greece it is only found during the winter ; and in 
Italy it is chiefly found at that season ; whilst in Spain it ajjpears to be a 
resident. It passes through North Africa on migration ; but a few are 
found there all the year round. Its chief winter-quarters are the whole of 
South Africa from the Cape as far north as Abyssinia. The Siberian 
and Turkestan birds appear to winter in India, Ceylon, and Burmaf- 

Montagu's Harrier is a partial resident in our islands like the Marsh and 
Hen-Harricrs, but is most frequently seen in summer. Like the Marsh- 
Harrier, it is never seen in the mountains, and hardly ever in the forests ; 
but, unlike that bird, it appears to prefer a dry moor to a swamp, and a corn- 

' It is much to be regretted that Sharpe should have raked up a deservedly forgotten 
came for this bird; but, so long asthe law of priority continues inforce,uniformity of nomen- 
clature can never be attained. 

t It is a pity that Dresser, Sharpe, and Newton should have copied Swinhoe's error in 
recording this species fi-om the Yang-tsze kiang, which he himself corrects (' Ibis,' 1874, 
p. 208). 

k2 



132 BRITISH BIRDS. 

field to a reed-bed. It seeks its food in true Harrier style, quartering the 
ground regularly, beating up and down the fields in search of grasshoppers, 
lizards, mice, and other small prey. Now and then it secures a small bird 
which it has surprised before it had time to take wing, and occasionally it 
pays a visit to some neighbouring mai-sh to pick up a frog or small 
mammal. Its long and pointed wings give an especial gracefulness to its 
flight; now it darts rapidly with half-closed wings, now it makes a sudden 
turn with one wing elevated, and now it sails over the surface of the 
ground with motionless outspread wings ; but with all its apparent power 
of flight it seldom if ever pursues small birds if they attempt to escape. 
Montagu's Harrier has also the habit of sailing in wide circles, like many 
other birds of prey. Mr. Howard Saunders describes the female, which 
he put off a nest in the Isle of ^Vight, as flying away in repeated and 
gradually widening circles. The same feature was remarked on the return 
to the nest : the wide circles gradually narrowed ; and the wings were 
suddenly closed as she swept over the nest and droj)ped upon it. 

In Germany Montagu's Harrier is a somewhat late breeder. The 
only time I have taken the nest was on the 23rd of last May. The 
eggs were quite fresh. The nest is very difficult to find. Saunders's 
nest above referred to was in a small clearing not two yards across, 
amongst the gorse on the open heath, and was a mere hollow in the 
ground lined with dry grass, with an outside border of heather twigs. The 
nest I took was a few miles out of Halberstadt, in the middle of the great 
praii'ie lying north of the Hartz Mountains. We were a party of four — our 
host Oberamtmann Ferdinand Heine, Dr. Blasius of Brunswick, my son, 
and myself. We were all in very high spirits, " coming thro' the rye " 
with three Great Bustard's eggs which we had just taken. Suddenly we 
observed a pair of Montagu's Plarriers flying over the corn, crying and 
toying with each other almost like Terns. In this district of enormous 
farms and high farming, the ground is very fertile, and the rye stood more 
than five feet high in a field which could not be much less than a hundred 
acres in extent. It seemed bke looking for a needle in a haystack ; but 
our host and guide told us that several pairs of Harriers bred annually on 
liis farm ; so we walked down each side of the rye, one of us followino- a 
narrow path up the centre. We saw at different times five or six birds, 
one pair especially seeming to show some anxiety at our presence. Finally 
one of the birds dropjjcd somewhat suddenly into the waving corn 
Dr. Blasius undertook to stalk her uj), but, when she rose, missed her with 
both barrels. We were, however, delighted to find that she had risen from 
her nest containing four fresh eggs. There was no hole whatever in the 
ground ; the rye had only been trampled down, and a slight but somewhat 
neat nest made of corn-stalks lined Avith a little dry straw. The nest was 
rather more than nine inches in diameter and about two inches and a half 



MONTAGU'S HARllIER. 13:5 

deep in the middle. The discharge of the two barrels caused a Mallard 
to rise from her nest in the rye about five and twenty yards off, and nearly 
a mile from any water. 

Heine told us that Montagu's Harriers arc very destructive to young 
hares and partridges, but frogs, lizards, mice, moles, and grasshoppers form 
its j)rincipal food. It is also fond of eggs. In Germany it arrives early 
in March, and leaves in October. 

The number of eggs varies from four to six. They may be readily 
distinguished from the eggs of the other British Harriers by their decidedly 
smaller size. The largest egg iu my collection measures 1'75 by I'Sinch, 
whilst the smallest is only 1-5 by r25 inch. Very frequently the shape of 
the egg is much rounder. One from the Halberstadt nest measures 
1"65 by I'^inch. The surface of the eggs is fine-grained, but not glossy, of 
an unspotted greenish white. The example figured is an exceptional 
variety, with pale reddish-brown spots, from the Volga. 

The adult male of Montagu's Harrier is a pale slatc-groy bird, with 
black primaries and a black bar across the secondaries. The inner web of 
the outer tail-feathers is barred with reddish brown and white. The 
underparts below the breast are white, with longitudinal streaks of reddish 
brown on the axillaries and thighs. Cere, irides, logs, and feet yellow ; 
claws black ; bill bluish black. Varieties occasionally occur which arc 
uniform dark brown all over. The females and immature males, as well 
as the adult male, may be distinguished from the near allies of this species, 
especially from C. swainsnni, by having the notch in the inner web of the 
first primary and in the outer web of the second primary an inch beyond 
the tip of the primary-coverts iustead of being nearly or quite hidden 
by them. 

'J'he two birds which approach nearest to iNIoutagu's Harrier in general 
appearance, in consequence of having the lower portion of the underpaii s 
streaked with rufous, are the two American species, C. c'nwreus and 
C. hudsonius. These birds, however, are forms of the Hen-Harriei-, and 
have like that bird and the Marsh-Harrier, the outer web of the fifth 
primary notched, which is not the case with C. cineraceus and C.swaiii.aoni^ 









Su^v'i 



134 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus ACCIPITER. 

The genus AccipUer was established by Brisson in 1760, in his ' Orni- 
thologie/ i. p. 414, and is additional to the genus Falco of Linnseus, which 
also includes the genus Aqu'da of Brisson. The tj^pe of this genus, the 
AccipUer accipiter of Brisson, is the Sparrow- Hawk. 

The Hawks may be distinguished from most other British genera of 
birds of i)rey by having the lower half of the tarsus covered, both at the 
front and at the back, by broad transverse oblong scales (which in old 
birds of the Sparrow-Hawks almost disappear)*. The only other genera 
of British birds of prey possessing these characters are the Buzzards and 
the Harriers. From both these the Hawks are readily distinguished by their 
long legs, the tarsus being one fourth, or more than one fourth, the length 
of the wing, and more than half the length of the first primary, and nearly 
as long as the tibia. 

Three species of this genus are found in the British Islands — two as 
very accidental stragglers, the other as a common resident. The Hawks 
are cosmopolitan in their distribution, and number between fifty and sixty 
species. 

The Hawks are birds moderate in size, and elegant and slender in form. 
Their wings are short and rounded, the tail long. They are birds of great 
courage, and never feed on carrion. Their food is birds, small mammals, 
and insects. They build large nests, made of sticks, in trees or on rocks, 
and lay from three to seven eggs, varying from pale spotless blue to blue 
richly spotted and blotched with reddish brown. 

* Ornithologists seem to have a fatality for making petty hlunders. Yarrell, in his 
generic characters of Astur, says "the tarsi covered in front with broad scales," of 
Accipiter " legs smooth,'' and of Circus " tarsus naked." Newton copies these characters 
word for word in his new edition. Dresser says of Circns "tarsus smooth,'' of Astur 
" tarsus scutellate," and of Accipiter "tarsus non-scutellate." Sharpe does not mention 
the front of the tarsus of either of these genera, but separates Circus, in consequence of 
his erroneous belief that in this genus the hinder ' aspect of the tarsus is reticulate, from 
Astur and AccipUer, in which he says it is scaled. After a careful examination of 
numerous examples of Hawks and Harriers, I am unable to find any generic characters to 
separate the Hawks from the Goshawks. It appears to me that in both the Hawks, 
including the Goshawks and the Harriers, the upper part of the tarsus is feathered in front 
and reticulated behind, the lower part scutellated both in front and behind, and the sides 
reticulated from top to bottom. The Sparrow-Plawks, however, appear to lose these 
characters with age. They are very conspicuous in young birds ; but in old ones the 
scales coalesce and the unfeathered part of the tarsus becomes smooth. 



SPARKOW-HAWK. 135 

ACCIPITER NISUS. 
SPARROW-HAWK. 

(Plate 4.) 

Accipiter accipiter, Briss. Orn. i. p. :',10 (17G0). 

Falco nisus, Linn. Si/st. A'af. i. p. l.'JO (17(j(;j; et auctorum plurimorum — iV«m- 

matin, Tarrell, (Pallas), (Gray), (Nezv.'un), (S/iarpe), kc. 
D8f3dalion fringillarius, Sav. Ois. d'JEiji/pti', p. :j4 (1810J. 

lerax f ringillari us (Sub.), Leach, iSi/of. Cat. Maimn. 8,-c. Brit. Miis. p. 10 (1810j. 
Sparvius nisus (Linn.), Vieill. N. Bid. d'lList. Kat. x. p. 31 !l (1817). 
Accipiter fringillarius (Sav.), Viij. Zuol. Journ. i. p. .'i3s (1Kl;4). 
Accipiter nisus (Linn.), Pall, Zoogr. Iivsso-..is. i. p. 370 (18-!G). 
Buteo nisus (Linn.), Flem. Brit. ^In. 1. p. 5") (1828). 
Astur nisus (Liim.), Cuv. Meyne An. i. p. 333 (Isi'tt). 
Nisus communis, Less. Traite d'Orn. p. 58 (1831). 
Falco nisosimilis, Tichell, Journ. ^l.s. »S'oc. Beng. ii. p. 571 (1833). 
Accipiter nisosimilis (Till-.), Blyth, .Tmnui. As. Soc. Benij. xii. p. 311 (1843). 
Astur major, Deyl. Orn. Bur. i. p. 86 (1840, ex Behker). 
Nisus fringiUai-ius (Sar.), Kaup, Contr. Orn. 1850, p. 64. 
Nisus major (Deyl.), Jaub. Mots. Bur. Orn. p. l'9 (1851). 

This handsome little species is the commonest and at the same time 
most extensively distributed of our native diurnal birds of prey. A Gos- 
hawk in miniature, elegant in form, agile and graceful in movement, the 
Sparrow-Hawk is an interesting ornament to the woods and fields ; yet, 
from its boldness and destructive habits, but little favour is shown to it, 
and the game-preservers and poultry-keepers wage an incessant war of 
extermination against it. Throughout the ^vhole of Great Britain and 
Ireland it is a common species in all well-wooded and cultivated localities. 
In the wild and comparatively treeless districts of Ireland, the west of 
Scotland, the Hebrides, the north of Scotland, and the Orkney and Shet- 
land Islands the Sparrow-Hawk becomes much rarer, and in many of these 
localities, notably in Shetland, it is only known as a summer visitor. In 
England and Wales and the Channel Islands it is a resident and widely 
distributed bird, very common in all the game-coverts, woodlands, and 
Partridge- grounds, up to the suburbs of our most populous cities; but 
in many districts the incessant persecution to which it is subject has 
sensibly decreased its numbers. 

The Sparrow-Hawk is found commonly throughout Europe up to the 
limit of forest-growth, about lat. 69°. In the northern limits of its range 
it is a migratory species, wintering in South Europe and North-east Africa, 
beino- very common in Egypt, Kordofan, and Sennaar. It breeds in 
Algeria, accordiug to Loche, and also in the Canaries. In Asia it extends 



136 BRITISH BIRDS. 

across the continent up to the Arctic circle, where I shot it both in the 
valley of the Petchora and that of the Yeuesay ; and MiddendorfF found it 
common on the Stanavoi Mountains, near the Pacific coast. It is found in 
Japan and China, in the latter country at least as far south as Canton ; 
occurring throughout India in the cold season, a few birds breeding in 
the wooded valleys of the Himalayas. 

The Sparrow-Hawk does not vary very much. Western examples, espe- 
cially those from the British Islands and the Canaries, are a little darker 
and browner than those from the east. In the Himalayas a resident semi- 
tropical race appears, A. melanoschistus , a decidedly darker bird, especially 
on the head, and apparently rather more boldly spotted in the young in 
first plumage. In all probability this local race is only subspecifically 
distinct. Nearly allied but perfectly distinct species to the Sparrow- 
Hawk are found both in the Old and New Worlds. 

Prom the nature of his food, the Sparrow-Hawk is seldom found in the 
wildest districts ; there his place is taken by the Merlin. His haunt is the 
lowland woods and coppices or the fir-clumps on the borders of the moor- 
lands — the rich well-cultivated lands on which game abounds, interspersed 
with woods and plantations : this is the Sparrow-Hawk's favourite home, 
where the food of his choice is found in great abundance. Although 
he frequently takes his station on the ground, or more often on a tree or 
fence, or on a stone wall or rock-ledge, using these situations as points 
of observation, the air is his province, and his flight in some respects 
stands almost unrivalled amongst birds. When seeking his food he flies 
down the wood-side, silently and swiftly gliding along just above the 
ground. If he sees you as he passes, with incredible speed he swerves into 
the cover, threading his way amongst the tangled network of branches 
gracefully and unharmed, to emerge a little distance further down and 
pursue his search as before. Often he will tarry for a moment above a 
clump of wild roses or brambles : mayhap a Robin is there ; but he hops 
into cover in time to cheat his enemy. Onwards again flies the Sparrow- 
Hawk, now bounding over a fence, now gliding rapidly down the side of 
the cover, shooting and turning from side to side, or ever and anon rising 
in a beautiful curve over a hedge, scanning its further side, then back 
again. Perhaps a Thrush is started, and the relentless Hawk pursues it ; 
but the Thrush is often too quick, or the Hawk mayhap is not hungry ; for 
it gains a thick bush and its pursuer passes on, to sweep lightly upwards 
and perch on some decaying ivy-grown stump, standing erect and motion- 
less, surveying the ground around him. Again he takes the air, leisurely 
at first, but with a quick swerve to the left, descending as he goes, he 
strikes a small bird, sitting quite unconscious of danger on a topmost twig, 
and bears it ofl' in an instant into the wood from which he emerged but a 
short half-hour before. The amazing swiftness with which the Sparrow- 



SPARKOW-HAWK. 137 

Hawk takes its prey^ and the dexterity with which it threads its way 
through the branches at its fullest speed, are quite beyond the powers of 
written description ; they must be witnessed to be fully appreciated. How 
often does the rush of its wings disturb your reverie, as you are, mayhap, 
watching some little chorister a few yards away ! and before you have time 
for thought, the little creature in whom you were so interested is quivering 
in death-agony in the talons of this warrior bird. Your presence seems 
totally disregarded, and the Hawk appears only to see its intended victim. 
But its swoop is not always attended with success ; and probably far more 
birds escape than are taken when the chase is a prolonged one. Dixon 
has, amongst many other notes, one to the effect that he was on one occa- 
sion observing a Robin engaged in song, when a Sparrow-Hawk struck at 
it, but missed its intended victim, which at once took refuge with loud cries 
of alarm in the densest part of the thicket. It may be that the sudden 
sight of man disconcerted the Hawk, and caused it to miss its prey. On 
another occasion he witnessed one of these Hawks pursue a Blue Titmouse 
for fully fifty yards up a fence; when the little creature, calling loudly all 
the time, at last managed to gain the shelter of a thick bush. In this 
instance, however, the Hawk perched near at hand, and appeared to be 
waiting for its quarry to again come forth into the open, until it was driven 
reluctantly away by an incautious movement on the part of its observers. 
The moment a bird is pursued it endeavours to seek safety in some dense 
cover which the Hawk cannot penetrate, and which no amount of fluttering 
ou the part of the Hawk will cause it to quit when once safely reached. 
Numerous, indeed, are the instances on record of this bird's boldness and 
rapacity, it being almost impossible to read any account of this species 
without coming across some fresh instance of its daring. 

A favourite place to find the Sparrow-Hawk in the evening is in the 
stack-yards, especially in winter, when so many birds are congregated 
there in search of a scanty sustenance. The Chafiinch is, perhaps, the first 
bird to give notice of his approach ; for it is one of the wariest of birds, 
and never fails to give the alarm the instant danger threatens. The 
Sparrows clustering so thickly on the corn-stacks, seek the cover of the 
neighbouring thorn-bushes ; and the Buntings and Greenfinches, busy near 
the barn-door, fly upwards into the tall trees or perch on the walls, while 
the Robin utters his sharp " chic " and disappears under the evergreens. 
Between the stacks their enemy comes gliding like a shadow ; their twitter- 
ings increase; and before one has time for thought, he clutches one of the 
terrified little creatures and is off as quickly as he came. All is now con- 
fusion for a moment ; but the alarm soon dies away, and the birds are 
engaged once more in feeding, until his approach again sends terror through 
their ranks and renews their noisy fears. The Sparrow-Hawk always strikes 
its prey with the claws ; and the death-stroke is given by them alone. 



138 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Ill wandering through the depths of the woods or the closest thickets^ 
you will sometimes notice a heap of feathers ; these are the remnants of the 
Sparrow-Hawk^'s meal. Search closer and you will probably find portions 
of the skull and entrails of the victim ; and by your knowledge of the 
plumage of birds you will also be enabled to tell what little chorister has 
been destroyed. These remnants are most frequently found on elevated 
places — a moss-covered rockj large stone^ or even the broad horizontal limb 
of a tree. The Sparrow-Hawk does not consume many of the feathers, 
except inadvertently, the wing and tail-feathers being invariably rejected ; 
but most of the bones are eaten, as also, in the case of small birds, tlie 
feet. The refuse of the bird's food is ejected in the form of pellets, after 
the manner of all raptorial birds. The food of the Sparrow-Hawk is 
chiefly composed of the smaller birds up to the size of a Thrush, although 
he is capable of destroying, and does destroy, much larger birds, as Par- 
tridges and Pigeons; and in the poultiy-yard his depredations are consi- 
derable, especially when the young chicks are about. Most of the small 
birds are his victims, more or less — the Bunting on the hedgerow, the Pipit 
cowering in the meadow-grass, the Robin and Accentor in the garden, 
and the Creeper and Wren in amongst the trees, as also the various 
species of Finches and Warblers. But birds do not form the Sparrow- 
Hawk's only fare. Sometimes you see him dip silently and swiftly down 
amongst the marshy vegetation in old watercourses and bear off a rat or 
frog; and field-mice, leverets, and young rabbits are often victims of his 
rapacity : indeed a young rabbit is a favourite bait with gamekeepers to 
lure this little Hawk to his doom. The Sparrow-Hawk seems to love the 
evening's dusk the best for searching for his food ; and darkness is often 
falling round, wrapping the evergreens and thickets in dense obscurity, as 
he glides rapidly past you into their gloomy foliage to his roosting-place. 

The Sparrow-Hawk is a somewhat late breeder, its nest being seldom 
found before early May. The probable cause of this lateness is that, 
like the Kestrel, it does not begin to breed until the woods and fields 
are replete with those migratory birds that form its chief support during 
the summer months. Notwithstanding the belief to the contrary, the 
Sparrow-Hawk always builds its own nest. Certainly it is not because 
no old nests are accessible ; for the Can-ion-Crow and the Magpie build 
in plenty all around, and their deserted nests arc on every side ; still it shuns 
them all and makes its own. Varied indeed are the sites selected for the 
purpose. You find it in the deepest woods, in the oak probably more 
frequently than in any other tree ; you see it midiray up the alder bor- 
dering the stream flowing through the coppice ; and it is not unfre- 
quently built in a pine tree. Hewitson says this bird occasionally builds 
on a rock : but I have never heard of an authenticated instance of its doina: 
so. The nest is very rarely found on the topmost branches; it is always 



SPARROW-HAWK. 139 

placed on the broad branches and near the trunk, not at their extremities. 
The nest itself is a large one, but the cavity which contains the eggs is 
small and very shallow. It is always made of sticks, the majority being 
dead ones, sometimes perhaps conveyed from neighbouring Magpies' nests; 
and it contains no lining beyond a few roots and, in rare cases, a little 
moss ; but in all the nests which I have seen there was much down, some- 
times halfway down the tree, probably accidentally rubbed off the bird as 
she flew off and on the nest. The larger and coarser twigs form the outside 
portion of the nest, smaller and finer ones the cavity in which the eggs are 
laid. If built in the fir-woods, the branches of that tree are almost exclu- 
sively used, the withered ones being seemingly preferred, although a few 
living sprays are sometimes wove amongst the rest, and give the nest a 
bright and pleasing appearance with their emerald-green bursting buds. 
From the fact that these birds pair for life, the same nest will not unfre- 
quently be used in successive seasons, being patched up each spring, as 
occasion demands. The nest of the Sparrow-Hawk is finished some time 
before the first egg is deposited ; Dixon has, in some cases, known nests of 
this bird, although quite finished, remain empty for a week and sometimes 
more before the first egg has been laid. The Sparrow-Hawk not unfre- 
quently lays her eggs at irregular intervals, and, is as usual in such cases, 
sits on them as soon as laid. They are from three to six in number 
(although five may be said to be an average clutch), round in shape, and 
most richly marked. In ground-colour they are a delicate bluish green ; 
and the spots, bold and decided, are reddish brown of various shades 
and intensity. Some specimens are so richly marbled and clouded as to 
hide the ground-colour ; others have the spots in a zone round the end 
of the egg, or more rarely round the middle; while yet, again, some are 
spotless, or very faintly marked, thus approaching very closely to certain 
types of Harrier^s eggs; and even in the same nest one egg will be con- 
spicuous by its small size or the absence of spots. They vary from 1'78 
to 1"5 inch in length, and from 1'39 to 1'2 inch in breadth. You may 
remove the eggs of the Sparrow-Hawk indiscriminately, and the female 
bird will still continue laying in the same nest, like the Starling and 
several other life-paired birds. Dixon has known as many as fourteen 
eggs to have been taken from a nest of this species in a single season. 

The female Sparrow-Hawk is usually found upon the eggs ; yet the 
male will occasionally take his turn. A close sitter, the bird will not 
unfrequently allow you to reach the nest ere it quits its charge, to dash 
silently, like a meteor, through the labyrinth of branches. As is usual 
with Ptaptorial birds, the female is much the largest, and by far the most 
courageous, often brushing an intruder's head with her wings when her 
nest is menaced. Upon leaving the nest no sound escapes her, as a rule ; 
but sometimes she disturbs the shady stillness with a harsh scream of 



UO BlUTISH BIRDS. 

anxiety for her home. The male Sparrow-Hawk, as is the case with many 
birds of this order, often soars above the nesting-place to an inmense 
height, wheebng round and rouud with wings expanded. But one brood 
is reared in the year, although, if the first eggs are taken, as has been 
already remarked, others will be laid. The young are fed assiduously ; 
and at no time of the year are the Sparrow-IIawks so bold and veaturesotne 
as now, when they have hungry young to cater for. It is then the game- 
coverts yield their tribute of young chicks ; it is then the smaller birds are 
even more sorely pressed ; and it is then they will dash silently and swiftly 
into the poultry-yards and bear off the young chicks so quickly. When 
the young reach maturity, which is but slowly, they are abandoned by 
their parents, and quit their birthplace for ever. 

The eyrie of the Sparrow-Hawk is a very interesting place to visit when 
the young are almost ready for flight. Young Sparrow-Hawks exhibit 
great diversity of size and colour. Indeed there are seldom two in the 
same nest alike when they have attained their first plumage. In the nest 
are pellets and feathers in abundance — not the feathers of game-birds, as 
a rule, but usually of the smaller Finches and Warblers, notably of the 
Chaffinch and Willow-Warbler. Animals are sometimes brought, as the 
fur of the rabbit and the mole tells us pretty plainly. A few days before 
the young gain the use of their wings they spend the greater part of their 
time upon the tree, flying from branch to branch, trying and strength- 
ening their pinions, and uttering their peculiar tremulous notes. Even 
before they are fully fledged, if the nest is visited, the young birds will 
scramble out onto the branches, using their beaks to assist them, and 
usually getting quite out of reach. The leaves and branches of the tree 
round and about the nest are white with their droppings, just as though 
they had been whitewashed ; yet but little or no smell pervades the place. 
Before finally taking wing and quitting their birthplace for ever, they 
repair to the neighbouring trees, where they are for a few days more fed 
and tended by their parents, until strong and matured enough to gain their 
own living. 

Such a bold and ravenous bird as the Sparrow-Hawk very naturally 
receives no favour from the game-preseivcrs ; he is shown no mercy, is shot 
and trapped whenever the occasion is afforded. That the Sparrow-Hawk is a 
destructive bird I am not going to deny; but certainly there are some few 
good points in his character which deserve a passing notice. The small 
birds are certainly kept in check partly through his agency ; and the Ring- 
Doves (a perfect pest to the farmer in some districts) are his favourite food 
when those birds congregate towards the autumnal equinox to feed on the 
acorns and beech-mast. Then, again, the taking of weakly birds and animals 
by the Sparrow-Hawk serves to keep disease away and preserve that 
healthy standard of perfection which Nature inexorably demands. 



SPAREOW-HAWK. 



141 



In a trained state the Sparrow-Hawk is a useful bird for taking Quails, 
Partridges, Blackbirds, and Tlirushes; but, as Lord Lilford very justly 
remarks, it is of uncertain temper and difficult of management, and re- 
quires quite a different system of training from that employed for the true 
Falcons. In India the Sparrow-Hawk is very highly prized, and flown suc- 
cessfully at Coursers and Sand-Grouse. 

The Sparrow-Hawk's upper plumage generally, with the exception of a 
small white patch on the nape, is dark bluish slate-colour ; the tail greyish 
brown, transversely barred with darker brown ; the underparts are rufous, 
barred with darker rufous-brown. The beak is blue ; cere, legs, and toes 
yellow; irides orange; claws black. The female is usually three or four 
inches longer than the male, and has the upper parts brown, with a white 
nape-spot, and the underparts greyish white barred with brown. The 
young males resemble the female ; but the brown feathers of the ujoper 
parts have rufous margins ; the tail is reddish brown, especially at the base. 
Very old females sometimes assume the plumage of the male. 




">- / ^^'i. "'^r.^'gJC 



SPAEROW-HAWK S NEST. 



142 BRITISH BIRDS. 

ACCIPITER PALUMBARIUS. 
GOSHAWK. 

(Plate 5.) 

Accipitei- aatur, Briss. Orn. i. p. 317 (1760, adult). 

Accipiter circus iniij(ir, Briss. Orn. i. p. 303 (17U0, imm.j. 

Falco palumbarius, Linn. Sijat. Nat. i. p. 130 (1766) ; et auctorum plTirimorum— 

Temminch, Navmann, (Gould), {Newton), (Sltarpe), &c. 
Falco albescens, Bodil Tabl. PL Enl. p. L'5 (1783, ex D'Auhmton). 
Falco gallinarius, Omel. Sijst. Nat. i. p. 266 (1788). 
Falco marginatus, Lath, Lnd. Orn. i. p. 26 (1790j. 
Falco tigriniis, Besehe, Vog. Kurl. p. 10 (1792). 
Astur palumbarius (Lijtn.), Lacep. Mem. de I'lnst. iii. p. 505 (1801). 
Dsedalion palumbarius (Linn.), Sav. Ois. de I'Egypte, p. 33 (1810). 
Sparvius palumbarius (Linn.), Vied/. N. Diet. d'Sist. Nat. x. p. 331 (1817). 
Falco longipes, AV/.ss. Orn. Suec. i. p. 18, pi. 1 (1817). 
Accipiter astur, Pall. Zoogr. Eosso-As. i. p. 367 (1820). 
Buteo palumbarius (Linn.), Flem. Brit. An. i. p. 51 (1828). 
Astur galliuarum (Gmel.), Brehm, Vog. Deutschl. p. 83 (1831). 
Accipiter palumbarius (Linn.), Jenyns, Brit. Vert. p. 85 (1835). 
Astur indicus, Ilodgs. in Gray's Zool. Misc. p. 81 (1841). 

The Goshawk probably was never a common bird in the British Islands ; 
and of late years, since the forests have nearly all been cut down and 
game-preserving has become so universal, this noble bird of prey has 
become only an accidental visitor. It is only within the last half-century 
that it has ceased to breed in Scotland. The Goshawk is not strictly a 
migratory bird ; otherwise it would probably appear much more commonly 
in this country. Many birds of prey zealously guard their hunting-grounds 
from trespassers of their own species, and drive away their own young to 
seek new breeding-grounds. The Goshawk is no exception ; and occasion- 
ally one of the young birds, which may be looked upon as an emigrant 
rather than a migrant, finds its way to our shores. They usually arrive 
on the east coast, and soon fall a prey to the gamekeeper or the bird- 
stufFer. Newton mentions the comparatively recent capture of seven ex- 
amples in Northumberland, eleven in Norfolk, and five in Suffolk. 

The Goshawk is nowhere very common, but is generally though sparingly 
distributed throughout the wooded districts of the whole of Europe, from 
the Mediterranean up to the limit of forest-growth. It is partially migra- 
tory in the extreme north, but has been obtained in winter at Tromso, on 
the shores of the Varanger Fjord, and at Archangel. In Africa it is prin- 
cipally known as a somewhat accidental winter visitant, though it has been 
said to breed in Tangiers, and it certainly does so at Gibraltar. Eastwards 



GOSHAWK. 113 

it is found throughout Siberia up to the limit of forest growth, Asia Minor, 
North Palestine, Persia, Turkestan, the Himalayas, Mongolia, and North 
China. In India it is occasionally seen on the plains during the cold 
season. 

The Goshawk is a giant Sparrow-Hawk. In spite of his comparatively 
shoi't wings, he is a bird of very powerful flight and of ixndaunted courage. 
He disdains to eat carrion, and will scarcely stoop to catch a sitting bird. 
He hunts on the wing, and nothing is safe from his attacks, from a Sparrow 
to a Grouse, or from a mouse to a young roe. The Goshawk has the 
reputation of being a very bloodthirsty bird, killing more game than he 
can possibly eat. This bird is essentially a forest one, and in summer 
confines himself principally to the woods and the open places in their im- 
mediate neighbourhood ; but late in atitumn and winter he extends the 
range of his hunting-grounds, pursuing Partridges and hares, and 
making raids on the pigeons belonging to the farmers, and sometimes 
snatching the game from under the very nose of the sportsman. The Gos- 
hawk, however, is a Haiuk, and not a Falcon ; and his powers of flight are 
not sufficient to enable him to fly down a bird when it has fairly got under 
weigh ; consequently he resorts to artifice, stealing upon his prey from 
behind some cover, and dashing upon it unawares. Naumann describes 
the alarm-note as a shrill keerk-keerk-kecrk, very similar to that of the 
Sparrow-Hawk; and besides this he has a call-note, a deep gyukgyak-gyak, 
much resembling a similar note of the Peregrine. 

The Goshawk very seldom perches on the ground or on a stone, or on 
the topmost twig of a tree. Its favourite food is pigeons and ducks. 

Where the Goshawk is a resident bird, it is a very early breeder, the 
eggs being laid in the second half of April or the first half of May. It 
generally selects a lofty beech for the situation of its nest^ which is usually 
placed at some considerable elevation from the ground in one of the main 
forks. It also breeds in oaks and pine trees ; and, even when systematically 
robbed, it will breed year after year in the same nest. On the 7th of May 
last, Herr Kroll showed me a nest in an oak tree from which he had taken 
eggs nearly every year for the last eighteen years. Early in June I saw 
several nests in Pomerania, from one of which the bird flew ofl'. One 
of these was built in the fork of a beech tree 75 feet from the ground, 
and was an enormous structure, measuring at least four feet by two. It 
builds a deeper nest than the Eagles or the Buzzards, and lines it with fine 
twigs, roots, moss, and lichens, but not green leaves. The largest nests 
are most probably the oldest, and have been added to year after year. All 
the nests I saw were in the forests, but not at any great distance from the 
outskirts. The statement that this bird sometimes builds on rocks should 
be received with great caution. The usual number of eggs is four; but it 
occasionally lays three, and sometimes five. They are very pale bluish 



144 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



green, approachiDg white, and in very rare instances show decided spots of 
dirty blood-red. Wolley mentions eggs marked with pale olive ; but none 
of these have ever come under my notice. The clay-coloured blotches 
mentioned by Dresser are not uncommon, and appear to be stains. In 
size they vary from 2-45 to 2'1 inch in length, and from 1-85 to 16 
inch in breadth. Unspotted eggs of the Common Buzzard often resemble 
the eggs of the Goshawk so closely as to be undistinguishable from them. 

The Goshawk was one of the falconer's favourites, and was flown at 
Hares, Rabbits, Pheasants, Partridges, Rock-Doves, Teal, and Crows. It 
does not, however, appear to have been a bird of long flight, and would 
soon give up its quarry if not successful, and perch on some tree or bush 
to await a new one. 

The general colour of the Goshawk^s upper parts is dark greyish brown, the 
tail with four bars of darker brown ; eye-stripe, lores, and nape dull greyish 
white ; rest of the underparts nearly white, spotted and barred with dull 
black, except on the under tail-coverts ; cheeks dark brown. Legs and toes 
yellow, claws black ; beak bluish horn-colour ; cere yellow ; irides orange. 
The female resembles the male, but is larger and browner. 

The young bird has the upper parts brown, the underparts buflBsh white, 
closely marked with drop-shaped spots of reddish brown; cere and legs 
greenish yellow ; irides yellow. 




AMERICAN GOSHAWK. 14-5 

ASTUR ATRICAPILLUS. 
AMERICAN GOSHAWK. 

Falco atrioapillus, Tf^ils. Am. Orn. vi. p. 80, pi. -52. tiji-. .'i (1812) ; et auctorum plur - 
morum — {Oi-ai/),(Kaup),{lJujiapiirte),(C'assut),(Xewton), {Sharpc), (Dresser), he. 
Sparvius atricapillus (Wils.), Bonn, et Vieill. Enc. Meth. iii. p. 1274 (182 ij. 
Hierofalco atricapillus ( Wils.), Cue. Regne An. i. p. 32-'j (1829j. 
Astur atricapillus ( Jl'il.s.), Bonap. R. A. Cuv. Oss. p. 3.3 (1830). 
Falco regalis, I'emm. PL Col. i. pi. 49-^ (1830j. 
Dsedalion pictum, Less. Traite, p. 67 (1831). 

Astur palumbarius, var. atricapillus ( Wils.), Ridij. N. Ainer. B. iii. p. 237 (1874). 
Astur palumbarius [Linn.), apud Swainson Sf Richardsun, (Audubon), &c. 

The claim of the American Goshawk to be considered a British bird 
rests upon three examples. The first was obtained in 1869 by iMr. Robert 
Gray, at Brechin, in Forfarshire, from a bird-stufFer, who said it had been 
shot by a keeper on the flanks of Sheechallin, in Perthshire : Mr. Gray 
describes it as having the breast and underparts an almost uniform grey, 
but showing, on closer inspection, faint transverse markings and a thin 
longitudinal streak in the centre of each feather (see Gray's 'Birds of 
W. of Scotland,^ p. 39). The second example is recorded in the 'Ibis' 
for 1870, p. 538, by Sir Victor Brooke : he states that it was shot in the 
February of that year in the Galtee Mountains, Tipperary, and that he 
had carefully compared it with an American specimen in the Dublin 
Society's collection. The third example is recorded by Mr. A. Basil 
Brooke in the 'Zoologist' for 1871, p. 2.525: after referring to the 
previously mentioned example, he adds that a second specimen was after- 
wards shot near Parsons Town, King's County. All three examples are 
said to be adult females. 

It breeds throughout Arctic America and the northern portions of the 
United States. In its habits and in the colouring of its eggs it does not 
diifer from the Palsearctic species, of which Ridgway considers it a mere 
variety. 

The American Goshawk is very nearly allied to our Goshawk, but is 
apparently a distinct species. It has been said to be greyer on the upper 
parts and blacker on the head. In a large series of skins these difl'erences 
do not appear to hold good, being apparently dependent upon age and 
season, and found equally in European and American birds. The great 
difference is in the pattern of colour on the feathers of the underparts, 
especially those on the breast and flanks. In the European bird the dark 
markings take the form of distinct transverse bars, whilst in the American 
bird the feathers are irregularly marbled with brown. 

VOL. I. L 



146 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Family STRIGIDiE, or OWLS. 

The Owls are a very well-defined group of birds, and are associated by 
Sclater with the Cuckoos, the Parrots, the Birds of Prey, the Pelicans, the 
Herons, and the Ducks. Forbes places them with the Groatsuckers, Rollers, 
and Bee-eaters, near the true Passeres. Gadow aUies them with the Parrots, 
the Birds of Prey, the Pigeons, and the Gallinaceous birds. Here, again, 
our three authorities do not all agree as to any of the families which are 
allied to the Owls, which I place as my second family, with the caution to 
the reader that it may or may not be related to the families which precede 
or follow it. 

To the ordinary observer the Owls appear to be closely related to the 
Birds of Prey by the form of their bill and claws, and by the shape of 
their eggs. They appear to be specially related to the Harriers by their 
facial disks, to the Ospreys by their reversible third toes, and to the Eagles 
by their feathered tarsi. It is difficult to believe that all these similarities 
are accidental; and when we find such differences of opinion amongst 
scientific men as to their true afiBnities, it is difficult to avoid coming to 
the conclusion that the value of osteological, myological, and other internal 
characters have been somewhat overrated. 

Owls only moult once in the year, and appear to accomplish their change 
of dress in July and August. Birds shot from September to December are 
in splendid plumage ; but in April, May, and June the plumage is often 
very shabby and worn. 

The Owls are, perhaps, the most cosmopolitan group of birds. They are 
represented in the most northerly point of the Arctic regions and on most 
of the Oceanic Islands. The number of species and subspecies known is 
about 200, of which at least 10 are recorded as British, which may be 
generically separated as follows : — 

A. Hinder margin of sternum entire ; inner margin of claw on middle toe 

serrated ; inner toe about equal to the middle toe in length Aluco. 

B. flinder margin of sternum with two or more distinct fi.ssures or clefts ; 

inner margin of claw on middle toe not serrated ; middle toe longer 
than the inner one 

a. Ear-conch with an operculum Sthix. 

b. Ear-conch without an operculum. 

a) . Nostrils placed in a projection formed bj' an inflation of the cere. Xocti'a. 
h\ Cere not inflated. 

<r. Underparts white or IjaiTed transversely ; shaft-streaks and 

ear-tufts obsolete or nearly so Subnia. 



ALUCO. 117 

Underparts with the broad lougitudiual streaks generally far 
more conspicuous than the narrow transverse bars, which 
are sometimes obsolete ; ear-tufts very conspicuous. 

a?. Wing over 12 inches Bubo. 

v. Wing never exceeding 9 inches Scops. 



Genus ALUCO. 

Tlie Barn-Owl has been knocked about by modern ornithologists from 
genus to genus until it can scarcely find rest for the sole of its foot. 
Sharpe (Ibis, 1875, p. 324) evolves an elaborate argument to prove that it 
is the type of the Linnean genus Strix; whilst Newton (Ibis, 1876, p. 94) 
gives excellent reasons (if his premisses are true) why it should be placed in 
the genus Aluco. I am unable to accept Newton's premisses, as I cannot, 
for the reasons stated in the remarks on the genus Striv, admit that 
Brisson made a genus of Owls additional to that of Linnaeus ; but I accept 
his conclusions on the ground that in 1767 Gerini, in his ' Ornithologia 
Methodice Digesta,' i. p. 88, founded the genus Aluco for the Barn and 
Snowy Owls ; the latter of which was removed in 1826 by Stephens to a 
genus o£ its own, leaving the Barn-Owl the type of Aluco. 

The Barn-Owls belong the group of Owls having large ear-openings 
protected by an operculum, but are isolated from all the other genera of 
Owls by the absence of clefts to the hinder margin of the sternum. 

They form a somewhat aberrant division of the Strigidfe, and may be at 
once distinguished from all other birds of this family by the serrated or 
toothed margin to the middle claw. Their facial disk is also more elon- 
gated. The bright orange-buff of various shades of their upper, and the 
silky whiteness of their under plumage is also another characteristic 
peculiar to them. The wings are very long and ample, but the tail is 
somewhat short. 

The Barn-Owls are an essentially tropical genus, being found in the 
tropics of both hemispheres, and only in Western Europe extending much 
more than forty degrees from the equator. They are all very nearly allied, 
but are usually divided into five or six species, some of which are again 
subdivisible into several subspecies, varieties, or local races. The British 
species is the only one found in Europe. 

Like most other Owls, the Barn-Owls are principally nocturnal in their 
habits, seeking their prey on the wing. Their plumage is extremely soft, 
and their flight almost noiseless, enabling them to drop unawares on little 
birds and small mammals, the latter forming their principal food. They 
also feed on insects and occasionally fish. They are only migratory in the 
northern limits of their range. They breed in holes, and lay pure white eggs. 

l2 



148 Burns H BIRDS. 

ALUCO FLAMMEUS. 
BARN-OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Strix aluco, BHss. Orn. i. p. 503 (1760) ; Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 132 (1766). 

Strix flammea, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 133 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

Temmimk, Naumann, Gould, Macgillivray, Bonaparte, Sharpe, {Newton), &o. 
Aluco albus, Oenni, Orn. Meth. Bir/. i. p. 89, pi. Ixxxxii. (1767). 
Strix alba, Scop. Ann. L Hist. Nat. p. 21 (1769). 
Aluco flammeus {Linn.), Fleni. Brit. An. p. 57 (1828). 
Strix guttata, Brehm, Vog. Dentschl. p. 106 (1831). 
Bustrinx flammea {Linn), Wehh Sf Berth. Orn. Canar. p. 8 (1841). 
Strix poensis, Fraser, P. Z. S. 1812, p. 189. 

Stridula flammea {Linn.), Selys-Longch. Faune Beige, p. 60 (1842). 
Strix insularis, Pelz. Journ. Orn. 1872, p. 23. 

The Barn-Owl is a common resident throughout the British Islands, 
including the Hebrides, and appears only recently to have become extinct 
in the Orkneys. 

It is by no means the cosmopolitan bird that it has been represented to 
be. It is, in point of fact, a tropical bird, found throughout the equatorial 
region of both hemispheres, and not ranging more than forty degrees north 
or south of the equator, except in Western Europe, where the influence of the 
Gulf-stream has produced a climate mild enough to allow of its wintering 
there. It is very rare in South Sweden, and is found nowhere else in the 
Scandinavian peninsula. It is rare in Western Russia, but is otherwise 
absent from Russia, Eastern Turkey, G-reece, Asia Minor, Persia, Siberia, 
Mongolia, and China. There appear to be seven colonies of Barn-Owls. 
The first comprises Western Europe south of the Baltic, and Western Africa 
from Algiers to the Gold Coast, including the Azores, Madeiras, Canaries, 
and Cape- Verd Islands ; the second South Africa and Madagascar ; the 
third the valley of the Nile and Palestine; the fourth the whole of India, 
extending to the north-west into Turkestan, and to the east into Burma; 
the fifth Java, Lombock, and Celebes; the sixth Eastern Australia and 
some of the Pacific Islands ; the seventh North and South America from 
lat. 40° north to lat. 40° south, including the West Indies. In this latter 
colony alone Ridgway recognizes four subspecies. Barn-Owls from the 
other five colonies appear to be all subspecifically distinct from those of 
the first colony, though possibly not in every case from each other. In 
the West-European and West-African colony there are three forms — a 
pale eastern form, a dark western form, and a rufous southern form, with 
every possible intermediate form, and considerable irregularity in their dis- 
tribution, all three forms, for example, having been found in the British 



BARN-OWL. 149 

Islands. The question o£ the number of subspecies into which the Barn- 
Owl must be subdivided is far too complicated a one to be discussed here. 

Although the Barn-Owl is not found in any other part of the world in 
such a high latitude as the British Islands, it is nevertheless the commonest 
Owl we have. In the daytime it is not often seen ; it is preeminently a 
nocturnal bird. When the sun rises it retires to its hiding-place, which 
is generally the locality chosen in which to rear its young. This is 
generally a hole, sometimes on the top of an old pollard willow, often in 
the hollow of the trunk of an old oak, as often in some crevice in an ivy- 
grown ruin ; and it is fond of nesting amongst the Pigeons in the farm-yard 
dove-cote. Other favourite places are the top of a wall under the roof of 
the barn, or in the belfry of the church ; but occasionally it may be found 
away from its nest in the dark recesses of a thick pine-plantation. It 
sleeps all day ; and if on a flat stone, where it cannot grasp its perching- 
place, it sleeps bolt upright, often on one leg. If it is disturbed and driven 
from its hiding-place, it seeks the nearest shelter from the sunlight, and 
all the little birds in the neighbourhood, conscious of its powerlcssness to 
catch them in the daytime, fly after it and mob it most impertinently. 
But when the dusk of evening comes on, and " impudence '' has gone to 
bed, " dignity " comes out from his hiding-place, and woe be to any little 
bird roosting in an exposed position on his beat ! There is something 
weird in the silent flight of the Barn-Owl, as with measured but noiseless 
beat of wing he crosses and recrosses your path, looking unnaturally 
large in the half-light, or skims before you over the grass, ever and 
anon dropping down on some unfortunate mouse or rat, which he bears 
away in triumph to his lair, quickly returning to quarter the ground 
regularly backwards and forwards over his favourite hunting-fields. How 
successful he is is amply proved by the bushels of pellets which he dis- 
gorges in or under the nesting-place. My friend Mr. Frank Norgate 
once found twenty dead rats in a Barn-Owl's nest, all fresh killed ! And 
yet the stupid farmer will slay him if he can, and nail his body against the 
barn-door, under the delusion that he will eat his pigeons ! Both the 
gamekeeper and his master are his sworn foes, one generally as ignorant of 
his usefulness and as indifferent to his fate as the other. Norgate tells 
me that he has generally found by an examination of the pellets that each 
bird seems to have his favourite food. Those under one nest are often all 
mice, those under another all rats. Each pellet contains the indigestible 
remains of two, and sometimes of three animals. The wing-cases of beetles 
are also found in the pellets, but very seldom. Out of seven hundred 
pellets of this Owl, which were carefully examined by Dr. Altum, remains 
were found of 16 bats, 2513 mice, 1 mole, and 22 birds, of which 19 were 
sparrows. The Barn-Owl is undoubtedly the farmer's best friend. Out 
of between thirty and forty nests which Norgate has had an opportunity 



150 BRITISH BIRDS. 

of examining, he only in one instance found remains of a bird ; and that 
was half a blackbird. Waterton records an instance, which he saw himself, 
of a Barn-Owl dropping down into a pond, like an Osprey, and flying off 
with a fish. 

The usual note of the Barn-Owl is a screech inexpressible in words. It 
is most frequently heard early in spring, and always at night. It may 
not be so discordant as the music that was heard when 

Ye torn cats were sitting atop of ye wall 
As Sir Plimsoll sat sipping his wine, 

or so melancholy as the wild cries of the Black-throated Divers that 
greeted our ears all night through as we were driven up stream in the 
' Thames ■" on the Yenesay, amidst ice-floes and pack-ice ; but it is harsh 
enough and weird enough to have given the bird a bad name amongst 
ignorant and superstitious country folk. Besides this " screech ^^ the 
Barn-Owl has a " snore," generally supposed to be confined to the hungry 
young, though Norgate tells me he has heard it from a bird on the wing. 
Barn-Owls are very fond of nesting in the roofs of churches; and the 
"snore" is often heard during service, the unwonted noise having 
apparently wakened the young Owls, who naturally feel hungry after their 
sleep, and begin to " snore,^' a habit which the bipeds with feathers may 
have learnt sitting over some pulpit from the bipeds without feathers 
sitting under it. 

The Barn-Owl is not an early breeder, eggs seldom being found before 
the end of April or the beginning of May ; but it often has two, and some- 
times three broods in a season. Norgate tells me he has found unfledged 
young in November ; and Waterton found one in December. Occasionally 
the eggs are laid at intervals. I once climbed up to a Barn-OwFs nest in 
a hollow oak near Oxford, and took out of the hole two nearly fresh eggs, 
two young birds recently hatched, and two nearly fledged. This must have 
been an exceptional ease, as out of the numerous nests which Norgate has 
taken he has never met with a similar instance. 

The Barn-Owl makes no nest ; but the eggs are often surrounded by 
pellets. The number of eggs varies from three to seven. They are pure 
white, not quite so round as Owls^ eggs usually are, and with little or no 
gloss. They vary in length from 1-7 to 1-53 inch, and in breadth from 
1-3 to 1-2 inch. 

The southern form of the Barn-Owl has the general colour of the upper 
parts buff, with fine grey vermieulations and black and white spots ; wings 
and tail obscurely barred with dark brown; face and underparts silky 
white, with a few spots on the flanks, and more or less rufous on the 
breast; feet covered with bristly hairs ; claws black, irides black, bill pale 
yellowish. The female resembles the male. Nestling birds are covered with 
pure white down. 



BARN-OWL. 



151 



Of the climatic variations of the Barn-Owl less is known than of those 
of the other Owls. The varieties of the Barn-Owl which occur on the 
American continent have been ably classified by Ridgway ; but, although 
Sharpe has collected an array of facts on the subject, occupying no fewer 
than fifty pages of Rowley's 'Ornithological Miscellany,' no one has yet 
attempted in any way to classify the varieties of this bird which occur in 
the Old World. 

Of the three forms found in the British Islands, the rufous southern form 
is the commonest^ and is well figured in Gould's ' Birds of Great Britain ' 
(i. pi. xxxviii.). The pale eastern form and the dark western form are 
both figured in Dresser's 'Birds of Europe' (v. pi. 302); but a better 
figure of the latter may be found in Rowley's ' Ornithological Miscellany' 
(i. pi. X.). 




152 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus STRIX. 

The genus Strix was founded in 1766, by Linnaeus, in his ' Systema 
Naturee/ i. p. 133, to contain all the Owls. Linnaeus had the good luck 
to adopt a binomial system of nomenclature ; and consequently his twelfth 
edition has been selected as the starting-point of the present system, all 
previous specific names being under the Stricklandian Code absolutely 
ignored. Under the auctorum plurimorum system which I have 
adopted this restriction is no longer necessary, so far as regards specific 
names. In the selection of generic names I propose to try and follow the 
Rules where it is possible to discover their meaning. Much ingenuity has 
been expended in the endeavour to find the type of the restricted genus 
Strix. Whatever credit is due to Linnaeus for his system of nomenclature, 
there can be no doubt that his knowledge of birds was very limited, and 
his attempts at the diagnosis of species in most eases a complete failure. 
In no group is this more clearly shown than in the Owls. Their synonymy 
is consequently in the greatest confusion. It seems almost incredible, but 
there can scarcely be a doubt that LinuEeus was unacquainted with either 
the Short-eared Owl, the Ural Owl, the Lapp Owl, or Tengmalm's Owl, 
all four species more or less common in Sweden. An equally surprising 
circumstance is the fact that, out of the twelve Owls which Linnaeus 
attempted to describe, the identifications of five have been or still are 
subjects of disjmte. As an ornithologist Brisson stands head and shoulders 
above Linnaeus ; and it was doubtless a consciousness of this superiority 
that induced Strickland to write the illogical and inconsequent explana- 
tion to Rule 2, under which Brisson's genera, though dating prior to 1766, 
are admitted whenever they are additional to those of Linnaeus. Brisson 
divided the Owls into two genera, making the Wood-Owl (his Strix striw) 
the type of Strix, and the Long-eared Owl (his Asio asiv) the type of Asio. 
As, however, I consider these two Owls to be congeneric, I am obliged to 
regard Brisson^'s two genera as synonyms of each other ; the alleged 
additional genus falls to the ground ; and, consequently, by the rules his 
names are out of court. The first subdivision of the genus Strix was in 
1767, when Gerini, in his ' Ornithologia Methodice Digesta," pp. 90, 91, 
restricted the genus Strix to nine species, placing the Wood-Owl first as 
Strix aluco. As this species is also the Sti-ix strix of Brisson, the 
arguments in favour of its being accepted as the type are almost 
conclusive. 

The Wood-Owls may be distinguished from all other Owls except the 
Barn-Owls by their large ears, half the size of the head, protected by an 



STRIX. 



153 



operculum. In their habits they scarcely differ from other Owls. Their 
eggs are pure M'hite. This genus contains about forty specieSj which are 
distributed all over the worlds except in the Australian region ; and even 
here one species has found its way to the Sandwich Islands. Seven species 
are found in Europe^ of which four have occurred in Great Britain. The 
Wood-Owls may be divided into subgenera^ either on the presence or 
absence of ear-tufts or on the character of the markings of the underparts 
— in some the transverse bars being principally developed, and in others 
the longitudinal stripes. The first characters are those usually adopted, 
but the latter are probably the most important. 




154 BRITISH BIRDS. 

STRIX ALUCO. 

WOOD-OWL. 

(Plate 6.) 

Strix strix, Briss. Orn. i. p. 500 (17G0, rufous form). 

Strix ulula, Briss. Orn. i. p. 507 (1760, grey form). 

Strix stridula, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 133 (176G, rufous form). 

Strix ulula, Linn. Si/st. Kat. i. p. 133 (176G, grey form). 

Strix aluco, Gerini, Orn. Meth. Dig. i. p. 90, pi. Ixxxxiv. (1767) ; et auctorum 
plvirimoruin — Latham,Pallas, Vieiliot, Naumann, Temminch, iSunderall, {Newton), 
(Gould), {Gray), {Bonaparte), Schlegel, {Strickland), {Sharpe),&.c., nee Linneevs. 

Strix syls^estris, Scop. Ann. I. Hist. Nat. p. 21 (1760). 

Strix sylvatica, Steph. Shatv's Gen. Zool. vii. pt. 1, p. 2.53 (1809). 

Syrnium ululans, Sav. Syst. Ois. de I'Egypte, p. 52 (1810). 

Syrnium stridiilum {Linn.), Steph. Shawns Gen. Zool. xiii. pt. 2, p. 62 (1820). 

Syrnium aluco {Lin».), apud Boie, Isis, 1828, p. 315. 

Ulula stridula (Linn..), Selhy, Lll. Brit. Orn.i. p. 102 (1833). 

Aluco stridulus (Linn.), Macgill. Eapac. B. of G. Brit. p. 367 (1836). 

Ulula aluco (Linn.), apud Keys. 8f Bias. Wirh. Eur. p. 143 (1840). 

Linneeus somewhat hesitatingly separated the grey form of the Wood- 
Owl from the rufous form of this species, naming the former Strix stridula 
and the latter St7'ix ulula. Latham^ Tunstall, Pennant, and others con- 
sidered them distinct under these Latin names, calling them the Brown 
Owl and the Tawny Owl; but subsequent writers for the most part have 
united them. Gmelin and Pallas, naturally considering it impossible that 
Linnaeus could have been unacquainted with the Short-eared Owl, 
applied the name of Strix ulula to that bird. Bonaparte, Gray, Newton, 
Sharpe, and Dresser, in defiance of the careful description in the ' Fauna 
Suecica,' and regardless of the fact that Linnaeus described the Hawk Owl 
as Strix funerea, inhabiting both Europe and America, adopt the startling 
proposition that Linnaeus intended to describe the European Hawk Owl 
under the name of Strix ulula. 

Although Linnaeus clearly gives two names to the Wood-Owl, by far 
the greater number of ornithologists have selected for that species a third 
Linnean name, Strix aluco, which most likely belongs to the Barn-Owl, 
though the evidence is not very satisfactory. 

The Tawny Owl is not so common in Britain as it once was. Incessant 
persecution is slowly producing its extermination, although it is still a 
resident bird in most densely wooded districts. Owing to its inordinate 
love of seclusion, gloom, and retirement, its distribution in the British 
Islands is restricted to wooded localities ; and as tree-planting and improve- 
ments increase, the range of the bird is becoming more extensive, even if 
its actual numbers are decreasing. 



WOOD-OWL. 155 

Tlie Wood-Owl is not generally a migratory bird ; nor does its range 
extend far to the nortli. Under the influence of the Gulf-stream, the 
winters in Scandinavia are mild enough to allow of its finding food u.p 
to the Arctic circle. In West Russia its range does not extend to Arch- 
angel ; and in East Russia it is said not to be found north of lat. 58°. It 
has never been recorded from Siberia ; but it is a rare resident in Tur- 
kestan, the Himalayas, and Thibet. Pere David found it at Moupin ; and 
Swinhoe obtained it in North China, The southern range of the Wood- 
Owl extends into North Africa. In Algeria it is a resident ; and it has 
once occurred in Egypt. It is found in Asia Minor and Palestine, and 
has been obtained in the Caucasus, but not yet in Persia. Like many 
other birds, and especially other Owls, it has adapted itself to its surround- 
ings, so that the colours of its plumage are " protective " — not to protect 
it from any enemies, but to protect it from discovery by its prey. Tlie 
tropical form of the Wood-Owl breeds in the Himalayas and is a very 
rufous bird. Some ornithologists treat it as a distinct species under the 
name of S. nivicolum. The typical form of the Wood-Owl, commonly 
known as the Tawny Owl, is an intermediate link between the tropical 
form and the semi-arctic form commonly known as the Grey Ow). 
The tropical form inhabits a region where the rainfall is excessive, the 
typical form, as a general rule, where the rainfall is moderate, and the 
grey form where the climate is very dry. In the British Museum is an 
example of the grey form from Thibet ; and I have a skin from North 
China. In Europe the grey form is principally found in the north and 
east, and occurs also in North Africa ; but it is diflBcult to account very 
precisely for the geographical distribution of these two forms, as the females 
and young of the grey form are more rufous than the adult males, and 
both forms appear to have occasionally strayed to some extent out 
of their beat, as if the cause which produced the difference of colour had. 
ceased to exist. 

The Tawny or "Wood "-Owl, as it is often called^ differs greatly from 
the well-known Barn-Owl, both in the colour of its plumage, its haunts, 
and its notes. The Tawny Owl is a dull and sombre bird, well adapted to 
escape discovery in its gloomy haunt in the quiet and seclusion of the 
forest. It sometimes chooses a retreat in the thick pine-woods or in the 
tangled game-coverts where the undergrowth is dense and the timber well 
matured. It also frequents the oak-forests, selecting a home in the 
interior of one of the decaying giants that for centuries has withstood the 
assaults of time and tempest, and where the solitude is rarely broken, 
except by the laugh of the Woodpecker, the murmur of the Doves, and the 
Pheasant's harsh and discordant moining and evening call. In some in- 
stances I have known this bird choose a hole in a ruin or a cave for its 
daily resting-place ; but such instances are rare. The Tawny Owl is also 



156 BRITISH BIRDS. 

easily distinguished from the Barn-Owl by its note. The latter bird 
utters a harsh shrill screech ; but the jiresent species hoots a loud and clear 
hoo-hoo-hoo, or perhaps, more accurately, o, 6, 6. Singularly startling and 
weird-like is this note of the Tawny 0\x\, especially when it is accompanied 
by the darkness and the silence of the forest. 

The Owls, as a rule, are only active at nightfall; consequently their 
habits are but little known. The Tawny Owl only invites you to observe 
its actions when the sun has sunk behind the horizon and the landscape 
is enshrouded in gloom. Guided by its loud and clear hooting cry, you 
may know its whereabouts; and a dissection of the pellets it ejects will 
tell you of what its food consists. Even in the forest at nightfall 
there is much to interest and instruct. Numberless strange sounds greet 
the ear, and inform you that nocturnal creatures are abroad. Now the 
rustle of the bracken tells you that some truant stoat or weasel is on a 
marauding expedition. The shrill squeal of the wood-mouse is heard as it 
burrows under the withered leaves. The almost noiseless tread of the rat 
or mole may startle you, or the purr of the Nightjar disturb your reverie, 
or you may obtain a glimpse of the rabbits holding high carnival in the 
open glades and drives. All these creatures are of nocturnal habits ; and 
many of them furnish the Tawny Owl with a meal. When the moon, 
hitherto hid behind a dense mass of cloud, peeps forth, the shadows 
suddenly lengthen, and the still forest assumes an almost daylight bright- 
ness, you may hear the Owl's strange hooting note borne low and soft on 
the night wind, and may perchance see the bird fly softly through the 
air and alight on the dead top of an oak. At close quarters its hooting 
cries startle by their depth of tone and clearness. If you are very well 
concealed and scarcely breathe, you may see the bird ruffle up its plumage, 
sit motionless for a second, and then launch into the air. Downwards it 
seems to swoop ; for the gloom will not permit you to observe it closely, 
and you can but conjecture that its bright eye, most piercing in the dark- 
ness, has detected some mouse, mole, or frog, that falls a victim to the 
noiseless approach of its enemy. But these creatures are not the Tawny 
OwFs only prey ; for it will take beetles and insects, and more rarely the 
surface-feeding flsh. Occasionally it will take a benighted bird from the 
hedgerows, a Bunting, or a Whin chat, or other birds which are late in 
seeking their roosting-place (a habit which frequently costs them their 
life). 

The Tawny Owl does not escape the persecution of the game-preserver ; 
but, although not entirely guiltless of the charge of poaching, its inroads 
on the preserves are trifling, and usually confined to a feeble leveret or 
young rabbit. In its habits the Tawny Owl is strictly nocturnal, and 
rarely indeed leaves its place of concealment in the daytime unless 
disturbed. Most Owls have a great aversion to the light, yet none more 



WOOD-OWL. 157 

so than the present species ; and when by aecideut driven from its place 
of concealment during the day into the sunshine^ it seems utterly bewildered, 
forming a butt for all the smaller birds, who mob it unmercifully. During 
the summer the adult Tawny Owl is not heard to hoot so frequently, the cries 
heard at that season being from the young, and usually uttered in the day- 
time. It is in the autumn nights when its voice is heard to perfection ; 
and it keeps up its cry with little intermission until the following breeding- 
season. This note is most frequently uttered in the evenings and just 
before dawn, and, although somewhat weird in tone, is far from melancholy. 
In the pairing-season the male bird has a peculiar call, which sounds 
singularly wild and uncanny. 

During the moulting-season, in July and August, the Tawny Owl does 
not leave its forest home ; but when that time has passed it will often, 
with its young, visit the farmyards and villages in search of prey, or 
hunt the stubbles and open fields. In the dark and foggy days of winter 
this Owl is sometimes seen abroad before sunset. 

Tawny Owls, to a certain extent, are migratory ; but the birds that breed 
in our own land probably never quit their old home. In the autumn they 
are frequently taken in the flight-nets on the low-lying coasts — sometimes 
as many as half a dozen being caught together in a single night, leading 
to the conclusion that they perform their annual wanderings in company. 
These migrants come from northern lands, where the -winters are severe, 
and of the small mammals and birds the former are all lying dormant 
during the long northern night, and the latter ha\'e sped away to a 
southern haunt to escape its severity. 

It is very probable that the Tawny Owl pairs for life, and confines itself 
to one district if left undisturbed, although it seldom nests in the same 
hole each successive year, but, like many of the raptorial birds, has two 
or three favourite spots, using each in turn. It breeds somewhat earlier 
than the Barn-Owl, its eggs often being laid early in March. But the eggs 
and unfledged young are sometimes taken throughout the summer up to 
the month of August; it is therefore possible that this bird has two or 
more broods in the year. The bird's daily roosting-place, however, is not 
always its nesting-site; for it will sometimes frequent dense ivy-clumps or 
pine trees, only quitting them during the breeding-season. Usually the 
eggs are laid in a hole in a tree — in some cavity in a venerable moss and 
lichen-covered oak, or in the interior of a beech or elm whose trunk is 
rifted and decayed into a dozen suitable nesting-places. Occasionally the 
bird will rear its young in a similar situation to that which the Barn-Owl 
selects. It will also sometimes breed in an old Wood-Pigeon's nest or 
squirrel's " drey " in an ivy-covered tree, and at other times will choose 
a deserted nest of a Crow or Magpie. More extraordinary choice, how- 
ever, still, is a hole in the ground. Mr. Gurney records that in Norfolk 



158 BRITISH BIKDS. 

it occasionally breeds in a deserted fox- or rabbit-burrow ; and Mr. A. W. 
Johnson has made similar observations of the nesting of this species in 
Northumberland. He writes to me as follows : — 

" The Tawny Owl is fairly abundant in this district, and is found breeding 
in suitable localities throughout the valleys of the Tyne^Wear, and Derwent. 
The situations chosen by this bird are very various ; for when its favourite 
sites (such as hollow trees, holes in cliffs, or under roots) are wanting, it 
avails itself of rabbit-burrows, and even lays its eggs upon the ground under 
the thick branches of the fir. One locality within ten miles of Newcastle, 
which, owing to the abundance of food, always contains two or three pairs 
if not more, is a particularly good place in which to study their breeding- 
habits, when thus driven, by the absence of suitable hollow trees &c., to 
nest perforce elsewhere. The wood consists of some 500 to 600 acres, 
and is mostly composed of young trees, and contains but one piece of cliff, 
some 80 or 100 feet high, that overlooks the Derwent. This cliff is yearly 
tenanted by one pair of these Owls, which rear their young in one of its many 
recesses. The other pairs I have found nesting twice in rabbit-burrows ; 
one had young, and the other eggs, when discovered. Again, the eggs were 
found laid upon the ground, somewhat concealed by the thick foliage of the 
lower branches of a fir. The fourth site chosen was an old nest of the 
Sparrow-Hawk, built upon a small fir, and some 15 feet only from the 
ground — in fact, just such a place as the Long-eared Owl often makes 
use of for similar purposes. Twice have its eggs been found laid in out- 
buildings ; once upon the inner wall of a cow-byre in use, part of which 
was in ruins, thus admitting of easy ingress to the Owls ; and once in a 
ruined house, partly used as a hen-house, partly as a coal-house. This 
outhouse was in close proximity to the woodman's cottage. Perhaps the 
most curious situation of all was when a pair took possession of a disused 
dog-kennel, which lay upon the lawn and within 25 or 30 yards of the 
farmer's back door. This bird makes no nest, merely scratching a hole in 
the earth when laying in holes of cliffs or under roots ; and when making 
use of old nests, it does not seem to reline them at all. The number of 
eggs laid is generally three or four. I have never taken more than the 
latter number, and never heard of any one doing so in this district ; in fact 
three eggs seem more commonly to be the full clutch than four. The last 
week in March or the first in April seems to be the average time when fresh 
eggs may be found." 

The eggs are three or four in number, and much larger than those of the 
Barn-Owl ; in fact the eggs of this bird cannot well be confused with those 
of any other species of British Owl. Tliey are pure and spotless white, 
round in form ; but the texture of the shell is much smoother than the 
Barn-Owl's and far more highly polished. They measure from 19 to T/ 
inch in length, and from 1'6 to 1'45 inch in breadth. As is the case with 



WOOD-OWL. 



159 



many raptorial birds, the first egg is often sat upon as soon as laid; so that 
young birds and eggs are found frequently in the nest together. 

The young birds, covered with greyish-white down, remain in the nest 
some considerable time ; afterwards they betake themselves to the neigh- 
bouring branches, where they are fed by their parents until the summer is 
well advanced. Here they utter their plaintive clicking note almost 
incessantly, attracting the attention of the parent birds and calling for 
food. The young of the Tawny Owl are easily reared in confinement, 
soon become very tame, and rank amongst the best birds for the aviary. 

The typical form of the Wood-Owl (commonly called the Tawny Owl) 
has the colour of the upper parts reddish brown, spotted and vermiculated 
with darker brown and blackish, and with large subterminal white spots 
on the outer webs of the wing-coverts. The lower parts are huffish white, 
barred with brown and streaked with dusky brown. Legs feathered to 
the claws ; bill greyish yellow ; irides dark brown ; claws whitish at base, 
darker towards the tip. The female resembles the male, but is larger. 

The semi-aretic form (commonly called the Brown Owl) differs from the 
typical form in having the reddish brown of both the upper and under 
parts replaced by grey. In the tropical form the reddish brown is richer 
and darker, and the white parts are replaced by buff, and the dark vermi- 
culations are blacker and more developed. 



160 BRITISH BIRDS. 



STRIX OTUS. 
LONG-EARED OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Aaio asio, Briss. Orn. i. p. 486 (1760). 

Stiix otus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 132 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— FjeiWoJ, 

Naiimann, Temminck, Schlegel, Sundevull, (Newton'), &c. 
Bubo minor, Oerini, Orn. 3Ieth. Dig. i. p. 85, pi. Ixxiii. (1767). 
Bubo vulgaris, Gerini, Orn. Metli. Dig. i. p. So, pi. Ixxxii. (1767). 
Bubo otus (Linn.), Sav. Syst. Ois. de l'Egy2)te, p. 49 (1810). 
Otus asio (Briss.), Leach, Syst. Cat. 3Iam?n. ^-c. Brit. Mus. p. 11 (1816). 
Otus otus (Linn.), C'uv. Megne An. i. p. 328 (1817). 
Otus europeeus, Steph. Shaw's Oen. Zool. xiii. pt. 2, p. 57 (1826). 
Otus vulgaris [Oerini), Fleming, Brit. An. p. 56 (1828). 
Asio otus (Linn.), Less. Man. d'Orn. i. p. 116 (1828). 
Otus communis, Less. Traite, p. 110 (1831). 
Otus aurita, Benn. ed. Mont. Orn. Diet. p. 262 (1833). 
Aegolius otus (Linn.), Keys. S/- Bias. Tl'irb. Eur. p. 143 (1840). 
Otus varus, Finsch, Journ. Orn. 1859, p. 381. 

The Long-eared Owl is generally distributed throughout the British 
Islandsj being most common in those districts which abound in pine- 
forests. It has not been met with in Greenland, but is an accidental 
visitor to Iceland and the Orkney and Shetland Isles. It is not found 
in the Outer Hebrides, but breeds in Mull and Skye. It is distributed 
throughout the Palsearctic Region^ and the Himalayas as far east as the 
shores of the sea of Ochotsk and Japan, but becomes extremely rare towards 
the arctic circle. It has been recorded from the Azores, the Madeiras, and 
the Canary Islands. It is a partial migrant; and on the east coast both of 
England and Scotland its numbers are increased by autumn arrivals from 
Scandinavia. In South Europe and North Africa it is principally a winter 
visitant, in Sjjain breeding only on the mountains, doubtfully recorded 
during the breeding-season from Algiers and Egypt, and hitherto observed 
only during passage or in winter in Greece. In Palestine and Asia Minor 
it probably breeds on the mountains and highlands, descending to the plains 
during winter only. In Turkestan it is found principally on migration, 
and winters in Persia and Afghanistan. The Himalayan birds winter in 
the plains of North India. In the valley of the Amoor, Japan, and in 
North China it is apparently a winter visitor. In the Nearctic Region it 
is represented by S. americanus, a species which approaches so near to 
the European one that only a practised eye can detect the difference. 

The American bird has the upper parts more uniform in colour, the 



LONG-EARED OWL. 161 

broad lon^tuclinal streaks on the centre of the back and scapulars being 
finely mottled like the rest of the feather. On the imderparts, especially 
on the feathers of the flanks, the transverse bars are straighter, broader, 
and more distinct in the American than in the European species. JMy 
collectors have not yet sent me skins from Siberia, nor have I seen an 
example from Archangel, where the bird is said to be very rare; but it is 
extremely probable that a pale northern form occurs. 

The Long-eared Owl is an inhabitant of woodland districts, and is espe- 
cially fond of spruce and Scotch firs ; and since the planting of these trees 
has greatly increased it seems that the bird has extended its range in a 
corresponding degree. Large woods are not at all necessary to this 
species, and a pair will very frequently take up their abode in the small 
fir-plantations and in the clumps of trees on the borders of the forest. 
Large game-coverts are also favourite haunts of this bird ; but it does not 
appear to frequent ruins, barns, or other buildings. It is a resident in this 
country, and is a strictly nocturnal bird, rarely straying from its roosting- 
place till dusk. "When seen abroad in the daytime, however, it seems to 
be but little troubled by the glare of sunlight. Its retreat in the daytime 
is usually amongst the foliage of a dense tree close to the trunk, or in a 
clump of ivy, from which it sallies in search of food as the evening's dusk 
is falling. Its flight is like that of all the Owls, a buoyant but slow and 
wavering one ; and although it is by no means a noisy bird, it repeatedly 
calls upon the wing. My friend Norgate informs me that he has heard 
this species uttering a note like the barking of a spaniel as it flew round 
him over the pine-woods; and he also tells me that it has another note, 
somewhat similar to the mewing of a young kitten, and which can be 
heard fully a mile off. He supposes this note to proceed from the young 
birds . 

The food of the Long-eared Owl is largely composed of rats, mice, voles, 
and occasionally beetles and insects. It also takes the smaller birds — 
those species that are to be seen abroad late in the evening — catching them 
as it skims past them in the dusk. The Yellow Bunting is often to be 
seen on the hedgerows long after sunset ; ajid its remains are often found 
both in the nest and also near the roosting-place of this Owl. It may 
also obtain many small birds by disturbing them from their perches in its 
nocturnal wanderings. 

Of the migratory movements of the Long-eared Owl but little can be 
said. It seems not to journey in such large flocks as its congener 
the Short-eared Owl, although a man once told Norgate that he had seen 
as many as fifty fly from one tree in the d;iytime ! It also makes its 
appearance on our coasts much later in the year, sometimes not until 
the beginning of December ; but i\Ir. Cordeaux informs me that a pair 
of these birds were obtained at Spurn in 1881 during the last week in 

VOL. I. M 



162 BRITISH BIRDS. 

August. This bird is also occasionally takeu in the flight-nets on the 
Lincolnshire coast. 

The Long-eared Owl is an early breeder : fresh eggs may be obtained 
by the second week in ]\Iarch ; and the young are hatched by the end of 
April or beginning of May. It is doubtful if this bird ever builds its own 
nest. It usually takes possession of a deserted Crowds nest, sometimes a 
Wood-Pigeon^ s, and more frequently the deserted " drey " of a squirrel. 
Norgate informs me that at Didlington he was told that this bird nested 
habitually in the Herons' nests, and he himself saw quantities of pellets 
beneath the trees in which the nests were built. On one occasion he 
climbed up to a deserted nest in a pine tree, from which he looked 
down upon a deserted squirrel's " drey " in a neighbouring tree, and saw a 
pair of Long-eared Owls sitting side by side on the top, which was slightly 
flattened, and on which were laid seven eggs. At this nest were the 
remains of a Yellow Bunting. Dixon has found the eggs of this bird in 
old Wood- Pigeons' nests, amongst dense masses of ivy growing on trees. 
The selected nest does not appear to undergo much alteration, although 
many naturalists have asserted that it is lined with wool and feathers; but 
pellets are often found in it in great numbers. The eggs of this bird 
are from four to seven in number, generally five or six ; and it appears 
that, as is the case with many other birds of this family, the eggs are 
sat on as soon as laid, as young birds and fresh eggs are seen in the same 
nest. The eggs of the Long-eared Owl are somewhat oval in form, 
possessing some little gloss, and are pure white in colour. They measure 
from 176 to 1'5 inch in length and from 1'35 to 1'26 inch in breadth. 
The young birds remain in the nest some weeks, and when able to fly 
usually take up their quarters in the adjoining branches, where they 
are fed for some time by the parents. 

My friend Mr. A. W. Johnson writes to me as follows respecting the 
habits of the Long-eared Owl in Northumberland : — " The Long-eared 
Owl breeds somewhat sparingly, in suitable localities, throughout Northum- 
berland and Durham — plantations of black firs, bordering upon moors or 
other open ground, being its favourite haunt. If this bird was only 
allowed to dwell in peace, and was not so commonly and erroneously 
regarded as vermin by the keepers, and destroyed accordingly, it would 
soon become a fairly common bird here. In proof of this, some years 
ago, in one district of Northumberland, where the birds were undisturbed, 
my friend Isaac Clark, of Blaydon, used to find large numbers of their 
nests for several consecutive seasons. A letter of his just received (2oth 
August 1882) proves how common they were in 1871. He writes, 'In 
answer to your note about the Owls breeding, they always repair an old 
Wood-Pigeon's or Magpie's nest. The earliest date I have found a 
nest containing young was one which had three young birds and two 



LONG-EARED OWL. 163 

rotten eggs in it upon the 1st April 1871. On the same day we took 
seven other nests with eggs/ This Owl seems alivays to make use of the 
old nests of either Carrion-Crow, Wood-Pigeon^ or Magpie, and never^ 
so far as I have been able to discovei% builds a wholly new nest for itself, 
being content with repairing the other nests — if a Crow or a jNIagpie's be 
the one selected, by flattening them down a little, and sometimes by the 
addition of a few sticks to an old Wood-Pigeon's when the original struc- 
ture was too slight. They are very early breeders, eggs being sometiaics 
found when snow is still upon the ground. The earliest eggs I have known 
were taken the last week in February; but the usual time of laying is 
from the beginning of March until the first week in April. The bird, when 
incubation has commenced, sits very closely indeed, often not leaving the 
nest until the climber is within 6 or 8 feet of it. This makes the taking of 
their eggs very hard work, as any old nest may contain eggs ; and as no 
amount of knocking the trunk below, or firing of missiles at the nest above, 
is certaia to start the Owl if there, there is nothing for it but climbing 
every tree that holds an old nest that looks likely ; and as these firs usually 
have a vast number of old nests of one sort or another in them, the work 
soon becomes very hard, and (unless successful early on) an enthusiastic 
oologist of not too mature an age is necessary, or the abandonment of the 
search in disgust is more than probable. There seems to be no fixed 
height for the nest preferred; the lowest I have seen was some 12 feet 
above the ground, and the highest some 40 or 45 ; but usually 20 to 30 is the 
height ; when the trees become very high, the Owls seem to leave them for 
lower trees with thicker under-branches. The number of eggs laid is from 
three to six; many nests contain four; five is also commonly found, whilst 
a six clutch is not a great rarity. I have known one nest that contained 
six young ones (in various stages of growth), and several with five; but 
such successful hatchings are not common ; more frequently three to four 
young ones are found, and often also one or more addled eggs are in the 
nests with the young birds." 

The Long-eared Owl has the general colour of the upper parts ochraceous 
buff, mottled and vermiculated with brown of various shades ; the ear-tufts 
large, and composed of black feathers edged with buff. The underparts 
are of a lighter ochraceous buff, with broad streaks of deep brown and faint 
transverse bars of paler brown ; beak and claws dark horn-colour ; irides rich 
orange-yellow. The female resembles the male, but is slightly more 
rufous in general coloration. 




164 BRITISH BIRDS. 

STRIX TENGMALMI. 
TENGMALM'S OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Strix tengmalmi, Omel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 291 (1788) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 
Temminck, Naumann, Vieillut, Schlegel, SuncleviiU, (^Newton), {Sahadon), (^Shelley), 
(Sharps ^- Dresser). 

Strix dasypus, Bechst. Naturg. Deutsc/il. ii. p. 072 (1806). 

Athene tengmalmi ( Omel.), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 549. 

^g'oliua tengmalmi (Gtnel), Kaup, Naturl. Syst. p. 34 (1820). 

Noctua tengmalmi {Gmel.), Cuv. Riyn. An. i. p. 345 (1829). 

Uhila tengmalmi {Gmel), Bp. Oss. Key. An. Cuv. p. 63 (1830). 

Symium tengmalmi {Gmel), Eyton, Hist. Rarer Br. B. p. 90 (1836). 

Scotophilus tengmalmi (Gmel.), Swains. Classif. B. ii. p. 217 (1837). 

Nyctale tengmalmi (Gmel), Bp. C'omp. List B. Eur. ^ N. Amer. p. 7 (1838). 

Nyctale richardsoni, Bp. Cotnp. List B. Eur. ^ K. Amer. p. 7 (1838). 

Strix frontalis, LiM. Abh. Akad. Berlin, p. 430 (1838). 

Nyctale dasypus (Bechst.), Gray, List Gen. B. p. 6 (1840). 

Nyctale tengmalmi (Gmel), var. richardsoni, Ridyw. Am. N(tt. 1872, p. 285. 

Nyctale funerea (Linn.), apud Bonaparte, Schleyel, Taczanoicski, &c. 

Tengmalm's Owl is an accidental visitor to the British Islands. At 
least a couple of dozen instances of its occurrence have been recorded, 
three of them in Scotland, but none in Ireland. Some of these alleged 
occurrences are myths ; for example, the specimen killed near Horsham, 
and now in Mr. Borrer^s collection, I found on examination to be a Little 
Owl [Noctua Moc<z«a), whilst some have undoubtedly escaped from captivity. 
On the other hand, it is quite possible that some of the recorded instances 
of the capture of the Little Owl in our islands refer to this species. 

The migrations of Tengmalm's Owl are generally confined to a descent 
from the mountains, where it breeds, to the plains ; but there can be little 
doubt that in certain seasons some individuals extend their migrations 
much further, as it has several times occurred in the autumn on Heligoland, 
whence it doubtless crosses the sea to our islands. 

Tengmalm's Owl is a circumpolar bird. At the time Messrs. Newton 
and Dresser wrote on this species its distribution in Siberia was unknown. 
Some writers, amongst whom are Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, attempt to 
make the American bird subspecifically distinct from the European one, on 
the ground of there being more of the brown spotting on the plumage, 
especially on the feet and under tail-coverts — a feature characteristic of 
immature birds. I have been imable to detect any diflference between 
examples from the Palsearctic and Neartic Regions beyond the fact that 
American birds are slightly darker than Palsearctic ones, and may have the 
feathers on the feet not so pure a white. There does not even seem to be 
an Arctic form ; examples sent by my collector fi'om Krasnoyarsk scarcely 



TENGMALM'S OWL. 165 

differ from skins from South Sweden. This species breeds in the pine- 
forests of Europe aud Asia south of the Arctic circle. In Northern France, 
Germany, Southern Scandinavia, and Central Russia it is principally found 
in winter. It is said to breed in the Alps and the Carpathians ; but there 
is no reliable authority for its occurrence either in the Pyrenees or the 
Caucasus. In Lapland it breeds up to lat. 68° ; in the Ural Mountains it 
has not been found further north than lat. 59° ; but Dr. Finsch obtained it 
on the Obb in lat. 61°. Sharpe and Dresser copy Shelley's error in 
assigning Egypt as a locality for this species * On the American con- 
tinent its range is very similar, extending during the breeding-season 
nearly up to the Arctic circle from Alaska to Labrador. It occasionally 
appears in winter in the most northerly of the United States. 

Tengmalm's Owl has no very near ally in Europe ; but on the American 
continent it is represented in the central and southern portions of the 
Nearctic Region by Strix acadlca (the Saw-whet Owl), a somewhat smaller 
bird, having much less white on the upper parts, with the forehead streaked 
instead of spotted with white, and having only three white bars instead of 
five on the tail. The capture of a bird of this species was rec(jrded in the 
' Zoologist ' (1860, p. 7104) by Sir W. Milner, not far from Beverley in 
Yorkshire. The species may have been wrongly determined ; or, if the 
identification was correct, it may have been an escaped bird. 

Tengmalm's Owl is principally confined to the pine-region; and very 
little is recorded of its habits. South of the Arctic circle it is said to be 
a strictly nocturnal bird. ATheelwright states that he rarely went out 
into the forest near Quickjock on any night without seeing this pretty 
little Owl hawkiug after its prey. In that latitude, however, there is 
scarcely any difference between night and day. For some weeks in summer 
the sun never sets, and during the whole twenty-four hours brilliant sun- 
shine is the rule rather than the exception. All that can be said is that 
Tengmalm's Owl does not appear to be incommoded by the light, but 
nevertheless prefers the midnight sun to that of midday. 

This bird is a very early breeder : and even in lat. 67° Wheelwright's eggs 
ivere all takcu l)etween the 2nd and the 13th of May ; whilst at Muoniovara, 
a degree still further to the north, WoUey obtained eggs between the 18th 
of ilay and the 2nd of June, and received them from a little further north 
between the 1st and the 27th of .June. Wheelwright describes its call-note 
as a very musical, soft whistle, never heard except in the evening and at 
night. Its food consists of mice, beetles, and small birds. Wheelwright 
says that it i>i a bold voracious little bird, and that one night he shot a 
female in full chase of a lemming on a frozen lake. 

Tengmalm's Owl is said not to build any nest. The eggs are laid in 

* In the Cat. B. Brit. Mus. ii. p, ]G0, Sharpe includes the specimen upon which this 
statement was founded in the list of examples of Carim- rjhiijj: 



166 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



hollow trees j and Wolley obtained some which had been laid in one of the 
hollowed-out logs which are closed at each end^ with a hole cut in the side, 
to induce the Golden-eye Ducks to breed in them. A favourite nesting- 
place appears to be in the deserted nest of the Black Woodpecker. The 
number of eggs varies from fovir to seven. They are pure white in colour, 
smooth, and differ somewhat in shape, some being elongated, others almost 
round. They vary in length from IS to l',io inch, and in breadth from 
1-1 to 1-05 inch. 

Tengmalm's Owl has the upper parts brown spotted with white, and the 
underparts white barred with reddish brown. The beak is yellowish white, 
claws black ; irides yellow. The female resembles the male, but is slightly 
larger and has the white less developed. Young birds are much darker than 
adults, and have the white spots almost confined to the wings and tail. It 
is a slightly larger bird than the Little Owl, from which it may also easily 
be distinguished by the tarsus and feet being thickly plumed to the claws. 
The Little Owl also has the underparts longitudinally streaked instead of 
barred. 




LON'G-EARED OWL. 



SHORT-EARED OWL. 167 

STRIX BRACHYOTTIS. 
SHORT-EARED OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Strix noctua major, Briss. Orn. i. p. •511 (1760). 

Stiyx accipitrina, Pall. JReise Bii^s. Meichs, i. p. 4-j5 (1771). 

Noctua minor, Gmd. Xov. Comm. I'etrup. xv. p. 447, pi. 12 (1771). 

Strix braclij'otus, Forst. Phil. Trans. Ixii. p. 384(1772); et auctorum plurimorum 
— G)n('lui, II ils'iii, Vieillot, Nainuann, Tcmmiiick, Iluu.c, Swainson, Richardson, 
Audubon, Schlegel, Yarrell, Sundevall, (Oould), (Gray), (Kaiip), (Jei-don), (Gur- 
net/), (JJCume), (Finsch), (Sioinhoe), &c. &o. 

Strix arctica, Sparnn. Mus. Carls, iii. pi. 51 (1788). 

Strix palustris, Bechst. Xutury. Deutschl. ii. p. 344 (1791). 

Strix tripennis, Schrank, Fauna Boica, i. p. 113 (1798). 

Strix caspia, Steph. Shaw's Gen. Zoul. vii. pt. 2, p. L'72 (1809). 

Otu3 microcephalus. Leach, Sy.^t. Cat. Mamm. SfC. Brit. Mus. p. 11 (1816). 

Strix brachyura, Nilss. Orn. Suec. i. p. 62 (1817). 

Otus lirachyotns (Fvrst.), Steph. Shaics Gen. Zonl. xiii. pt. 2, p. •07 (1820). 

Strix sandwichensis, Bloxh. Byron's Vuy. of H. M.S. ' Bhinde,' App. p. 2.")0 (182(')). 

Brachyotus palustris (Bechst.), Bonap. Cunip. List B. Eur. S; N. Anier. p. 7 (18.j8). 

Asio brachyotus (Forst.), Macyill. Brit. Birdi, iii. p. 4(jl (1840). 

Aegolius brachyotus (For.^t.), Keys. ^ Bias. Wirh. Ear. p. xxxiii (1840). 

Asio sandTicensis (Bloxh.), Blyth, Ibis, 180.'!, p. 27. 

Asio accipitrinus (Pall.), Newt. ed. Yarr. Brit. B. i. p. 163 (1872), 

Strix ulula, Linn, apud Boddaert, Gnndiii, Pallas, Lesson, &c. 

The Short-eared Owl is a regular winter visitor to Great Britain and 
Ireland, and has not yet been completely exterminated from the fens, 
where a few still breed. It is generally distributed on moorlands and 
marshes in the north of England, Scotland, the "Western Isles, the 
Orkneys, and the Shetlands. 

Outside our islands its range is almost eosmopolitan. It appears to be 
only a summer visitor to Holland, North Germany, Scandinavia, and North 
Russia, passing tlirough France on migration. In South Europe it is 
principally known as a winter visitant ; but in South Russia and the Cau- 
casus many apparently remain to breed. It probably also breeds in some 
parts of Africa, although its distribution there is comparatively little known. 
It has been recorded from several parts of North Africa, is a regular 
winter visitant to North-east Africa, and an example has been obtained 
in Natal. Eastwards it is a summer visitor throughout Siberia, passing 
through Persia, Turkestan, and Japan on migration, and wintering in India 
and Burma. It does not appear to have occurred in Australia, or in any 
of the islands of the Southern Pacific ; but it is said to be a resident 
on the Sandwich Islands. On the American continent it is a summer 
visitor to Alaska, Canada, and Greenland up to about lat. 70°, wintering 



168 BRITISH BIRDS. 

throughout the United States^ where a few remain to breed, some passing 
still further south to Central America, the West Indies, and tropical South 
America. It has been found throughout South America, breeding at Buenos 
Ayres and Patagonia and probably throughout the Chilian subregion. The 
South- American birds are probably also partial migrants, and in their 
Avintcr- quarters may meet the birds from North America. 

TTie habits of the Short-eared Owl are very different from those of any 
other British species, and thus lend an additional interest to the bird. 
Unlike the other members of this gloom-loving family of birds, the present 
species rarely in this country frequents woods or plantations, nor does 
it haunt ruins, barns, or hollow trees. Its home is in the exposed and 
open parts of the country, the broad-stretching meadow-lands and turnip- 
fields, commons and dense furze-brakes, sedgy mar.shlands and the flat 
uninviting and monotonous fens. From its peculiar habit of frequenting 
the open, the Short-eared Owl is perhaps more often seen than any other 
0-n'l ; and it is from this circumstance that the bird is considered to 
be numerous and widely diiSused. Although generally a migratory bird, 
a few are permanently resident in suitable districts — where it was formerly 
a far more common resident than it is at the present day, being now only 
represented in the summer by a few straggling pairs. 

The great autumn migration of the Short-eared Owl takes place in 
October, from the second week to the end of the month, the time during 
which the Woodcock also makes its appearance. From this circum- 
stance and from the fact that both the birds choose similar haunts upon 
their arrival here, the Short-eared Owl has gained for itself the name 
of " Woodcock-Owl." Short-eared Owls migrate in companies, and, 
iu fact, are more or less gregarious during the whole of the winter, as 
many as twenty birds having been flushed within a comparatively small 
space of ground. The flight-nets on the Lincolnshire coast unerringly 
proclaim the advent of this Owl upon our shores ; and during the mi- 
gration period it is one of the commonest birds taken in them. Short-eared 
Owls migrate at night ; and they do not seem to fly at any great height 
above the waves whilst pursuing their journey, for these nets arc but a 
few feet from the surface of the sea. Strangely enough, however, their 
companion the Woodcock is seldom, very seldom taken in the nets, leading 
us to suppose that it flies much higher through the air and drops suddenly 
down from above as soon as the shore is reached. Upon its arrival 
here the Short-eared Owl betakes itself to turnip-fields, stubbles, the 
sides of hedgerows, or the tall herbage on the banks of a stream, and dry 
ditches overgrown with coarse vegetation. Upon being flushed it flies 
quickly off with undulating motion, swaying its body fi-om side to side 
alternately, much after the manner of the smaller Gulls. This Owl is 
perhaps less incommoded by the light than any other species, and may 



SHORT-EARED OWL. ]G9 

be seen quartering the ground in search of food at all hours of the 
day. When flushed it will not unfi-equently rise to a considerable height 
in the air and then fly steadily away, without displaying any of that 
wavering undecided action so characteristic of the Barn-O^il when rudely 
sent into the sunshine. 

The food of the Short-eared Owl is composed of small mammals, small 
birds, coleopterous insects, and various species of surface-feeding fish ; its 
favourite and usual fare, however, is doubtless composed of field-mice and 
the various species of short-tailed voles. It will glide in noiseless airy 
flight above the marshy wastes, or quarter the stubbles and meadow-lands 
in search of its food, sail swiftly down the hedgerow-sides and take a 
Warbler from the spray, or search the old weedy watercourses for rats. 
It will also now and then strike the Bat as it sallies from its hole in the 
dusk of the evening, or prey upon the larger beetles that come abroad at 
night^s approach. Mr. Low states that the remains of Red Grouse and 
Plovers have been found in its nest ; but such, certainly, if captured 
at all, were possibly only young or weakly birds. This species is one 
of the most deadly enemies of mice, rats, and, in Scandinavia, of 
lemmings. During the great plagues of mice that have from time to time 
occurred in various parts of Britain, notably in the Forest of Dean in 
Gloucestershire, the Short-eared Owl has flocked in numbers to the place, 
and played a principal part in extirpating the unwelcome and destructive 
hordes. Too often, however, the poor harmless Owl is shot down by the 
thoughtless farmers or ignorant gamekeepers, who foolishh' imagine they 
are ridding their domains of a pest, although in reality they are taking the 
life of one of their most valuable friends. 

It is very possible that the Short-eared Owl pairs for life. Unlike the 
other British members of this group of birds, that seek a covered site for 
their nests, the Short-eared Owl always rears its young upon the ground, 
and, most curiously enough, in an exposed and open nest. Its breeding- 
grounds are the marshy feus of the low-lying eastern counties, and in the 
north the broad expanses of heath on which the Harriers and the Grouse 
rear their voung. In the southern counties the draining of the fenlands 
has done much to decrease its numbers in the breeding-season, and at the 
present time but few pairs are to be met with. Its eggs have been taken 
in the first week in April ; but ilay is probably its usual laying-season, 
the young being abroad by the 12th of August. In the early summer of 
1881 (May) I had the good fortune to examine the nest of this bird, to 
procure its eggs, and gain some little personal knowledge of the bird 
itself. Howard Saunders and I went down to the Norfolk Broads under 
the guidance of our mutual friend iNIr. A. H. Evans. The moment we 
arrived at the little inn close to Iliekling Broad I was struck with the 
exact similarity of the scenery to that of Horster Mere in Holland, where 



170 BRITISH BIRDS. 

I went to see tlie breeding-place of the Spoonbills and Cormorants. A 
■winding river passes through lakes and marshes down to Yarmouth ; and 
in the deep channel boats heavily laden sail up and down^ whilst on the 
shallow broads and in the narrow lanes cut through the marshes we were 
punted along in little boats with ease. "When we were near enough to the 
sea, the " denes " or sandhills that skirt the coast formed a consjDicuous 
object on the horizon. 

The marshes (or "meshes" as the raavshmen call them) are covered 
over with reeds^ with a thick undergrowth of Juncus and Carex. Most 
of the marsh is accessible with wading-boots ; and in many places we 
found shooting-boots sufficient. The reeds are regularly cropped, and 
sold for thatching and as a substitute for straw for cattle. Here and 
there willows are found, sometimes in sufficient quantity to make it worth 
while to employ women and children in peeling twigs for basket-making. 
Fishing is carried on in some of the broads ; and in winter these sheets of 
water are a great resort for Wild Ducks and other water-birds. Great 
numbers of half-tame Swans breed on most of the marshes. 

In the evening Joshua, the old fenman whom Mr. Evans had chartered 
as guide, took us to Hickling TNIarsh, about a square mile in extent. As 
we walked along the lanes between the high hedges, Corn-Buntings and 
Sedge-Warblers were the principal songsters. The part of the marsh 
which we visited had lately been in the hands of a farmer who had suc- 
cumbed to the bad harvests; and the reeds were cut and lying in heaps on 
the ground. For one of these heaps or reed-cocks Joshua steered by a 
somewhat circuitous route to avoid the dykes, which were generally just 
too wide to jump across with safety. Peewits and Redshanks got up as we 
went along ; but we kept steadily to our goal. At length, after a three- 
mile walk, during which the daylight had perceptibly diminished, Joshua 
pointed out a heap of cut reeds as " the place." We advanced cautiously 
to about half a dozen yards from the heap, when rapidly but silently rose 
before our admiring eyes a Short-eared Owl, displaying her nest iidth six 
eggs conspicuously placed at the foot of the " reed-cock " and half sheltered 
by it. The bird looked very large as she rose in the evening light and, 
after a short flight, turned back and wheeled in circles round us. In half 
a minute she was joined by her mate ; and the two flew round as long as 
we remained near the nest. Sometimes she hovered at a considerable 
height perpendicularly over her nest, as if she would assure herself that 
we had not taken her eggs, and as if she could only see them when she 
was directly above them. When she had apparently adjusted the focus of 
her great eyes upon them, she fluttered her wings in a very agitated manner 
for a few seconds. Whether this peculiar movement was the result of her 
great anxiety to return to cover them from the chill evening air, or an 
active expression of her delight at seeing them still in the nest, or an 



SHORT- EARED OWL. 171 

attempt to attract our attention in order to lure us away from the spot, it 
was difficult to determine. The eg^s were extremely conspicuous from 
one side of the heap of rushes when the bird was oft' the nest; but so long 
as she sat close it might very easily be passed by without notice. Both 
birds were quite silent the whole time. Joshua told us that when the 
nest was first found there were seven eggs in it, but that the man who 
found it had broken one. The eggs were considerably incubated. There 
was not much attempt at a nest, not more than the Peewit makes. The 
ground seemed to be trodden into a hollow^ which was lined with a few 
dry broken reeds and sedges. The reeds were lying in a heap on the 
ground ; and in the place selected for the nest the thick cut ends slightly 
overhung the base of the heap and formed some shelter over the nest on 
one side. We found a second nest on the following day containing six 
fresh eggs. It was in a part of the marsh where there were very few reeds^ 
the ground being covered with Car ex and Juncus. This nest was very 
similar to the one we found on the previous day, and was lined with flat 
leaves of Carex, with a feather or two, and was surrounded with a few 
slender willow bushes. The bird made a harsh scream as she flew up, but 
went right away, and we saw her no more. 

This species lays from four to seven eggs ; and has been said, on the 
authority of Hutchins, cited by Richardson in the ' Fur-countries of North 
America,^ to lay as many as ten or twelve. In shape they are scarcely 
so round as those of the Tawny Owl, and much smaller, creamy white 
in colour, and possess but little gloss. The eggs may easily be con- 
founded with those of the Long-eared Owl; and certain specimens are 
not easy to distinguish from eggs of the Hawk Owl. They measure from 
r65 to r5 inch in length, and from TBI to 1'2 inch in breadth. 

The Short-eared Owl, like nearly all other Owls and most other Palse- 
arctic birds which have a wide range, is subject to considerable variation 
in colour. Besides the typical plumage there are two " phases " of 
plumage — a light "phase" and a rufous "phase." The word phase, as 
restricted to the various plumages of the Owls, is a very objectionable 
one. These so-called phases are climatic races of exactly the same cha- 
racter as the climatic races of Tits, Nuthatches, Dippers, or Shrikes, and 
of the same subspecific value. The typical plumage is that of a temperate 
climate with a moderate allowance of rain and sunshine. The so-called 
light " phase " is the Arctic plumage, geographically coexistent with, and 
in all probability produced, either directly or indirectly, by a large allow- 
ance of sunshine and a small supply of rain. In this plumage the buff 
ground-colour of the upper parts and of the lower portions of the under- 
parts is replaced by almost juire white, whilst the brown spots or streaks 
are darker and greyer than in the typical form. This subspecies, con- 
nected with the typical form in intermediate climates by intermediate 



172 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



forms, was named by Pallas Strix eeguUus, and ranges from Archangel to 
Kamtschatka. It probably reappears in the Arctic regions of America ; but 
I have not been able to examine a skin of an adult male from that district. 
The so-called rufous "' phase " is the tropical plumage^ which is known as 
St?-ix cassini, a climatic race^, ajiparently most developed -nhere there is a 
deficiency of sunshine and an excessive rainfall/as in the Falkland Islands 
and the Eastern Himalayas. In this form the buff ground-colour is more 
rufousj and the brown spots and streaks are not so grey as in the typical 
form. In the females the difl'erence between the two extreme forms is 
much less pronounced^ and in the young in first plumage it is scarcely 
observable. The latter all belong to the rufous form, which we must 
therefore accept as the oldest, or least changed from the postglacial 
ancestors. In the Galapagos Islands the Short-eared Owls appear to have 
been so long isolated from their confreres as to have become specifically 
distinct. S. galapagoensis is said always to differ from the rufous form of 
S. brachyotus (which it otherwise greatly resembles) by having the legs 
streaked. It seems to be the only very near ally of this almost cosmo- 
politan species which is deserving of specific rank. 

The general colour of the typical form of the Short-eared Owl is dark 
buiF. The wings and tail are transversely barred with dark brown ; the 
rest of the plumage, except the thighs and under tail-coverts, is broadly 
streaked longitudinally with dark brown ; bill and claws nearly black ; 
irides bright yellow. In the Arctic form the dark buff is replaced by 
nearly white, except in the centre of the back, which is suffused with 
rufous. 




NOCTUA. 173 



Genus NOCTUA. 

The Little Owls were first separated from the genus Strix by Geriui in 
1767, in his ' Ornithologia ]\Icthoclice Digesta/ i. p. 87, under the name 
of Noctua, a name which was afterwards adopted (in 1810) by Savigny. 
Neither of these ornithologists indicated any type ; but inasmuch as the 
Little Owl is the Noctua vulgaris of Gerini and the Strlx iwctuu of 
Scopoli, it has every right to be considered the type. 

The Little Owls may be distinguished from all other Owls by the 
nostrils being placed in a projection formed by an inflation of the cere. 
Their habits do not differ from those of the other Owls ; but their food is 
more insectivorous. Their eggs are pure white in colour. 

The genus Noctua contains upwards of fifty species, which are distributed 
over the whole world — principally confined to the tropical regions, a few 
species being found in the Nearctic and Pala^arctic Regions. Only two 
or three are European, of which but one has been found in the British 
Islands. 



]74. BRITISH BIRDS. 

NOCTUA NOCTUA. 
LITTLE OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Sliix nootua minor, Briss. Orn. i. p. 514 (1760). 

Ndctua vulgaris, Gerini, Orn. Mt'th. Big. p. 87, pi. Ix-^cxvi. (1767). 

Strix iidctua, Scap. Ann. I. Hist. Nat. p. '2i (1769) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Nunmuiin, (Bonaparte'), (Gray), (SchlegeV), (Ootdd), (Sharj)/'), &c. 
iStrix nudipes, Nilss. Orn. iSnec. i. p. 68 (1817). 
Strix psilodactyla, Nilss. Skand. Faun. 1st ed. p. 88 (18:^4). 
Carine noctua (Scop.), Kanp, Natiirl. Si/st. p. 29 (1829). 
Surnia noctua (Scop.), Bonap. Oss. Becjn. An. i. p. 48 (1830). 
Noctua nudipes (Nilss.), Gunld, B. Bar. i. pi. 48 (18.07). 
Scotophilus nudipes (Nilss.), Jard. Brit. B. i. p. 274 (1838). 
Athene noctua (Scop.), Bonap. C'unp. List B. Eur. c$- N. Amer. p. 6 (1838), 
Syrnia psilodactyla (Nilss.), Macgill. Brit. B. iii. p. 417 (1840). 
Noctua veterum, Schl. Mns, Pays-Bas, Striijes, ii. p. 28 (1862). 
Noctua minor, Deyl. l^ Gerhe, Orn. Eur. i. p. 122 (1867). 
Strix passerina, Linn, apud Gnwlin, Boie, Cuvier, Teniminck, Roiix, Yarrell, Brehm, 

Lesson, Selhy, Stevenson* 

The Little Owl is an accidental visitor to England and Wales^ and may 
be much rarer than its recorded occurrences would lead us to suppose. Two 
examples in Mr. Borrer's collection must probably be erased from the list, 
as he informed me that he subsequently ascertained that two birds of this 
species were released from captivity by a gentleman living in the neigh- 
bourhood where they were caught. As this species is very frequently sent 
alive to England, it is impossible to say how many of the score or more 
recorded examples may not have had a similar origin. 

The Little Owl is a resident throughout the whole of Europe south 
of Scandinavia. In Northern Africa it is represented by a very nearly 
allied species, Noctua glaux ; but examples from Greece are paler than 
the northern form, approaching N. glaux; and in Asia Minor both 
species occur, together with intermediate forms. East of the Ural Moun- 
tains another nearly allied species occurs, N. hactriana, having the toes 
thickly feathered almost to the claws instead of only covered with hairy 
bristles, and having also a much shorter tarsus. This species extends as 
far east as Northern China. 

The Little Owl is by far the commonest Owl in the south of Europe, 
and one that is both seen and heard, not only in the evening but also in 

* The number of ornithologists who have confounded the Little Owl with the Pygmy 
Owl makes it neces.gary to add to the name of the latter bird Linn, nee Gnicl. in order to 
avoid the possibility of error. This coufusion has arisen from the generally insufficient 
and frequently incorrect diagnoses of Linnaeus and other writers, who attempt to describe 
a species in a couple of lines, and thus pave the way fjr future comphcations in its 
synonymy. 



LITTLE OWL. 175 

broad daylight. I first made its acquaintance near Smyrna^ where it was 
very common. We did not very often see it; but now and then wc caught 
a glimpse of it, flying from one tree to another, near the villages that 
nestled on the mountain-sides overlooking the flat plains through which 
the river winds amongst the olive-groves and vineyards. The flight of the 
Little Owl reminded mc very much of that of a Bat. It was not an undu- 
lating flight, but a steady slow beating of the wings without any apparent 
exertion; and yet there was a butterfly-like uncertainty about it, as if it 
continually changed its mind and slightly altered its cou.rse. The flight 
was very silent, occasionally very rapid ; and I remember seeing it skim 
over a tree like a Partridge. In Holland I once watched a Little Owl 
flying in the garden behind the inn at A^alconsward. A boy had caught 
it on the nest, and brou.ght it to us with one egg and three young ones — 
the latter only a few days old, aud covered with short pure white down 
not unlike the fur of a mole. We did not want the old bird; so we let 
her go in the garden. She had scarcely got more than forty yards from 
us when she was pursued by a mob of Starlings, Swallows, and other 
birds, fi-om whom she soon took refuge in a chestnut-tree, to the evident 
annoyance of a Chaffinch, who immediately began to tipink spink in a most 
excited way. At Athens it was very common on the Acropolis, and was 
evidently breeding in holes in the rocks and ruins. In the Parnassus we 
often heard its curious note cuc-koo-vah!-ee, cuc-koo-vah! -ee , and were told 
that it remained there all the year. It feeds on small birds, mice, grass- 
hoppers, cockchafers, moths, beetles, &c., which it catches both on the 
wing and on the ground. It may be seen perched on a tree, a rock, or on 
the roof of a house. It is a somewhat early breeder ; and fresh eggs may 
be obtained from the middle of April to the middle of May. The situa- 
tion of the nest, which is a mere scratch round of whatever rubbish may 
be accidentally collected on the spot, is varied. Sometimes it is in a hollow 
tree, sometimes in a cleft of a rock, sometimes in the roof of a house ; and 
I have seen it under the roots of a tree. The number of eggs varies from 
four to six ; they are pure white in colour, oval in form, and measure from 
1-4 to 135 inch in length, aud from 1'15 to 1'08 inch in breadth. 

The Little Owl has the upper parts greyish brown, striped on the head 
and spotted on the back and wings, and barred on the tail with white. 
The underparts are white, broadly streaked with brown. Irides and bill 
yellow, claws black. The female is a slightly larger and paler bird than 
the male. Young birds are somewhat more dingy and less grey in colour. 
The Pygmy Owl, N. passerina, has been recorded as a British bird, but 
on unsatisfactory evidence. It is a much smaller bird (wing only 4 inches 
instead of 6 inches), with a more rounded wing (first primary not much 
more than half the length of the second) . 



176 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus SUENIA. 

The Hawk Owls were first separated from the genus Strix by Dumeril 
in 1806, in his ' Zoologie Analytique/ p. 34, under the name of Suriiia; 
and the Snowy Owl was separated in the year 1826 by Stephens, in 
Shaw's ' General Zoology,' xiii. pt. 2, p. 62, under the name of Nyctea. 
In compounding a genus out of these two genera, the earliest of them, 
which is apparently unobjectionable, has been selected ; and its type A^^ill be 
Suritia funci'ea. 

The Hawk Owls have no operculum, nor are their nostrils inflated — 
characters which separate them from all other genera, except Bubo and 
Scops, from which they may be distinguished by the absence of any 
longitudinal streaks on the underparts, and by the absence of any con- 
spicuous ear-tufts. 

The Hawk Owls are confined to the Arctic regions, and are conse- 
quently less nocturnal in their habits ; otherwise they differ little from 
the other Owls, in their mode of flight, food, and nesting-habits. Their 
eggs are pure white in colour. The Hawk Owls are circumpolar birds. 
Only two species are contained in the genus, both of which are accidental 
visitors to the British Islands. 



SNOWY OWL. 177 



SUENIA NYCTEA. 
SNOWY OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Strix alba freti-hudsonis, Briss. Orn. i. p. 022 (1760). 

Strix nyctea, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 1:32 (1766j; et auctorum plurimorum— 

{Thompson), {3Iaci/illivray), {Selby), {Gould), (Deyland), (fJerhc), Teimniuch, 

Naumann, Schlegel, Sundevnll, kc. 
Akico diurnus, Geriiii, Orn. Mefh. Dig. i. p. 89, pi. Ixxxxiii. (1707). 
Strix nivea, Thiinb. Su. Ahad. Fork. 1798, p. 184. 
Sti-ix Candida, Lath. lad.. Orn. Suppl. p. xiv (1801). 
Strix erminea, Sfeph. Shaw's Gen. Zool. vii. pt. 1, p. 2ol (1809). 
Koctua nyctea (Linn.), Cuvier, Rigne An. i. p. .3.32 (1817). 
Nyctea erminea (Steph.), Steph. S/iaia's Gen. Zool. xiii. pt. ii. p. 63 (18213). 
Surnia nyctea (Linn.), James, ed. IVils. Am. Orn. i. p. 02 (1831). 
Nyctia Candida (Lath.), Sivains. Classif. B. ii. p. 217 (1836). 
Nyctea nivea (Thunb.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. .34 (l84o). 
Leuchybris nyctea (Linn.), Sundev. 21etli. Av. Tent. p. 106 (1872). 
Nyctea scandiaca (Linn.),.apud Xnut. ed. Tan: Brit. B. i. p. 187 (1872). 
Nyctea scandiaca (Linn.), apud Ridgway, var. arctica (Bart.), Ridgw. K. Amer. B. 

iii. p. 70 (1874). 
Leucbybris scandiaca (Linn.), apud Jleres, Ofii. Kongl. Fet.-AJc. Ftjrh. 1879, p. 39. 

The Soowy Owl is a regular, thougli uncertain, visitor to the British 
Islands. Scarcely a year passes without a record of its capture in some part 
of Scotland ; but in England and in Ireland it is less regular in its appear- 
ance. The Snowy Owl belongs to the class of "^ Gipsy migrants/'' who 
have no settled home in winter. It breeds on the tundras beyond the 
limit of forest-growthj or in similar climates at high elevations in less 
northerly latitudes, and it only leaves these breeding-grounds in conse- 
quence of the scarcity of food caused by exceptional cold. It is conse- 
quently only a partial migrant. Some remain throughout the winter in 
the frozen north ; others retire to a greater or less distance during a storm 
or a harder frost than usual, and return when it is over. Some of these 
often wander very far in search of food ; and it is only when the winters 
in the Arctic Regions are exceptionally mild that the outside stragglers 
do not reach our islands. In the Orkneys and the Shetlands scarcely a 
season passes without birds occurring, usually after northerly gales ; whilst 
on the mainland it has been obtained in most of the Highland counties and 
those bordering the Firth of Clyde. The same may be said of the Hebrides 
and Western Isles, where, according to Gray, it is regarded as an almost 
regular spring visitant; but probably an irregular late winter guest would 
be more correct. In England, although of not quite such frequent occur- 
rence, it has without doubt occurred thrice in Northumberland, once 

VOL. I. N 



178 BRITISH BIRDS. 

at least in Yorkshire^ eight or nine times in Norfolk, and once in Suffolk. 
In Ireland its recorded occurrences are almost as numerous, and it lias 
been met with in most counties, except in the extreme west. 

The Snowy Owl is a circumpolar bird, breeding principally within the 
Arctic circle. It is common in some parts of Greenland, and was found 
breeding in Grinnell Land by Capt. Feilden, as far north as lat. 82° 33'. 
It is found in Iceland usually during winter, more rarely in summer, and 
has been found several times on the Faroes. It breeds throughout 
Northern Europe, including Nova Zembla, but in Spitzbergen is said only 
to occur as an occasional straggler. In winter it accidentally strays as 
far south as Holland and Belgium, and has once occurred in Northern 
France. In Pomerania it occurred in considerable numbers during the 
winters of 1858-59 and 1865-66; and, on the authority of von Pelzeln, 
it has once occurred in Lower Austria. In Asia it is an inhabitant of 
the northern portions of the continent, sometimes straying in winter as 
far south as South Siberia, Turkestan, Afghanistan, and Mongolia. On the 
American continent the Snowy Owl breeds in the extreme north, straggling 
south in winter to almost all parts of the States, and has more than once 
been observed in the Bermudas. It has been known to occur as far south 
as TexaSj where a single specimen was obtained by Dr. Heermann. 

Ridgway, in the third volume of the ' North American-Birds,^ separates 
the Snowy Owl into two races, one inhabiting the Old and the other the New 
World. The character by which these two races are distinguished is said 
to be the dusky bars, which in the Palasarctic species are " sparse, narrow, 
and umber-brown," and in the Nearctic species " more numerous, broader, 
and clear brownish black." These dififerences, however, are probably due 
to individual variation ; for birds from Europe are found to match exactly 
birds from the American continent. Sharpe, in his ' Catalogue of Birds,' 
vol. ii. p. 127, points out that the amount of feathering on the toes of 
European birds is much greater than on American specimens ; but this is 
probably due to a seasonal change, as is the case with the Willow-Grouse. 

Some writers have supposed that the white birds are the old and the 
more spotted birds the young ; but what little evidence there is points 
to the existence of two races of Snowy Owls, a white race and a dark 
race, which alter little with age. Young in first plumage are said to show 
quite as marked a variation as adults ; and birds kept in confinement are 
said to retain the original character of their plumage year after year, 
though the dark markings do to some extent decrease in size and number 
with age. 

The Snowy Owl is a bird of the tundra ; and its home is on the fjelds of 
Lapland, the tundras of Russia and Siberia, and the prairies of Arctic 
America. Although its breeding-range extends over nearly twenty 
degrees of latitude, its nest is never found within the limit of forest-growth. 



SNOWY OWL. 179 

The history of animal and vegetable life on the tundra is a very curious 
one. For eight mouths out of the twelve evei'y traee of vegetable life is 
completely hidden under a blanket of snow six feet thick, which effectually 
covei's every plant and bush ; trees there are none to hide. During at 
least six months of this time animal life is only tl'aceable by the footprints 
of a reindeer or a fox on the snow, or by the occasional appearance of a 
Raven or a Snowy Owl wandering iDcyond the limit of forest-growth, 
whence for the most part they have retired for the winter. For two 
months in midwinter the sun never rises above the horizon, and the white 
snow reflects only the fitful light of the moon, the stars, or the aurora. 
Early in February the sun just peeps upon the scene for a few minutes at 
noon and then retires. Day by day he prolongs his visit more and more, 
until February, March, April, and May have passed, and continuous night 
has become continuous day. Early in June the sun only just touches the 
horizon at midnight, but does not set any more for some time. At midday 
the sun's rays are hot enough to blister the skin; but they glance harmless 
from the snow, and for a week or two you have the anomaly of continuous 
day in midwinter. 

Then comes the south wind, and often rain, and the great event of the 
year takes place ; the ice on the rivers breaks up, and the blanket of snow 
melts away. The black earth absorbs the heat of the never-setting sun ; 
quietly but swiftly vegetable life awakes from its long sleep ; and for three 
months a hot summer produces a brilliant alpine flora, like an English 
flower-garden run wild, and a profusion of Alpine fruit. Birds arrive in 
countless thousands to breed in this Eldorado. Long before the snow is 
melted its surface is reticulated with the tracks of small quadrupeds, whose 
period of hibernation has come to an end, and who climb up the stems of 
the stunted bushes and venture out into the sunshine. The Snowy Owls 
repair to their nests, if nests they may be called, and bring up a numerous 
family in peace and plenty in a perpetual summer's day, diversified only 
by storms from the north, which sometimes bring a two or three day's 
spell of cold and rain down from the arctic ice. 

But early in August the sun begins to dip for a few moments below the 
horizon, and every succeeding midnight sees him hide longer and longer. 
One by one the various species of birds flock together and leave for 
southern climes : a large proportion of the Snowy Owls follow their food 
for some distance ; for in September the nights are cold, the fi'osts begin 
to kill vegetation, and early in October winter has set in, snow has fallen 
not to melt again for eight months ; the nights get longer and longer, 
until towai'ds the end of November the sun has ceased to take his midday 
peep at the endless fields of snow, and the two months' night and silence 
reign supreme. 

In summer the Snowy Owl is a very conspicuous bird on the tundra; 

n2 



180 BRITISH BIRDS. 

but food is then so plentiful that his " struggle for existence " is over for 
the timOj and possibly his very conspicuousness may be of advantage to 
him amongst so many innocent Gulls and Swans. He himself is wary 
enough, and I have only twice succeeded in shooting a Snowy Owl. The 
first time was on the shores of the lagoon of the Petchora. My attention 
was first attracted by seeing a great white bird which seemed to me to 
ahght upon a distant lake. Taking it to be a Bewick's Swan, I put a slug- 
cartridge into my gun, and walked rapidly on in its direction. Before I 
got within shot the bird rose, and I recognized it at once as a Snowy Owl, 
as with measured but rapid flight it disappeared behind some sandhills 
on the shore. I carefully stalked it ; and looking cautiously around 
under cover of the sandhill, I descried at length a white spot on the 
opposite shore of the creek, which, with the aid of my telescope, I found 
to be the Owl. He, too, must have been watching me : perhaps he took 
my sealskin cap for some new species of lemming; for presently he rose 
and flew across the water directly towards me. By the time he had 
crossed the creek doubts on the subject seemed to have occurred to him, 
and he alighted on the beach about sixty yards in front of me. I rose 
and walked towards him; he also rose; but before he had flown ten yards 
my shot reached him, broke one of his wings, and dropped him into the 
sea. As he lay struggling in the water a score of Glaucous and Arctic 
Herring-Gulls came flying towards him, and sailed round and round him, 
making quite a small uproar with their cries. The other time that I 
brought one down was on the voyage home, a little to the east of Kolguev. 
Early in the morning I turned out of my berth and went on deck, and 
the first thing I saw was a Snowy Owl on each mast. I ran down 
for my gun and shot one of them. We were out of sight of land at 
the time. 

Audubon and Wheelwright describe the Snowy Owl as passing with 
quick noiseless flight over the fells and marshy parts of the shore, more 
like a large animated snowflake than a bird, seizing its prey by darting 
quickly down upon it, and usually devouring it on the spot. When 
pursuing larger birds or animals, its manner is much the same as that of 
the Peregrine Falcon. 

In the extreme northern limit of its range the Snowy Owl is no doubt a 
regular summer migrant, repairing north to rear its young during the short 
arctic summer, and drawing southward again at the approach of winter. 
The winter-quarters of this species are undoubtedly in the highest northern 
latitudes in which a sustenance can be obtained, the birds which are fou^nd 
so far south in temperate regions being but exceptional wanderers or young 
birds. Capt. Feilden mentions that in Grinnell Land the Snowy Owl 
was first seen on March 29th, and was common during the summer, but 
by the end of August all had disappeared from Discovery Bay. During 



SNOWY OWL. 181 

the time of migration large flights of the Snowy Owl have frequently been 
observed far out at sea ; and Thompson gives us some very interesting 
details respecting a flock of this species which accompanied a ship half- 
way across the Atlantic, from the coast of Labrador to the north of 
Ireland. This migration was described by the captain of the ship as a 
very beautiful sight, the birds sometimes flying near the vessel, or perching 
on the spars and the rigging. 

The lemming forms the Snowy Owl's chief food in the far north, the 
range of both mammal and bird being generally the same; but other small 
rodents are taken, and it will sometimes attack Ptarmigan and Willow- 
Grouse, or even the Arctic hare. It is said occasionally to feed on fish. 
The note of this species is said by Wheelwright to resemble a loud krau-au 
repeated several times in quick succession, and sometimes a loud rick-rick- 
rick as it rises startled from its perching-place. 

The nest of this Owl is a simple structure, made of a few lichens, mosses, 
and feathers, sometimes placed in a hole in the ground, at others on some 
steep bank or cliff, or on some little eminence rising above the surrounding 
plains, where it is nothing more than a mere hollow scraped in the rein- 
deer-moss. The eggs are from six to eight in number, sometimes more, 
creamy white in colour, and somewhat rough in texture, with little gloss. 
They are smaller than the eggs of the Eagle Owl, and, as a rule, a little 
more elongated. They vary from 2^ to 2 inches in length, and fi-om 1'8 to 
1-6 inch in breadth. Collett in his ' Remarks on the Ornithology of 
Northern Norway,'' states that " the Snowy Owl does not always lay so 
many as ten eggs at a time ; it did so, however, last year (1871) in many 
cases ; and the various circamstauces attending the phenomenon are not 
without interest. As with all birds of prev, the eggs would appear to be 
laid not in uninterrupted succession, but with that species at intervals of 
indefinite duration during a hnythened period, fcetation taking place 
previous to the laying of each egg. A natural consequence is that the 
young of each brood are widely different in appearance, according to the 
stage of growth which each has attained. Thus the first of the brood Avill 
be almost fledged before the last has broken the shell. And, again, the 
nestlings, thickly clad with down, necessarily assist in process of incuba- 
tion ; the old birds have enough to do to provide for the young already 
hatched, several of which, being more than half-grown, require a good 
deal of food." The Snowy Ovii's breeding-season varies in date a little 
according to latitude. In Norway and Lapland the begiuning of June 
may be said to be its laying-season ; whilst in the high north the eggs are 
not laid before the end of that month. According to Collett, " When the 
female is sitting the male is ever on the watch, and warns his mate at the 
slightest sign of danger by a loud cry, whereupon she immediately quits 
her nest, and both birds, screaming incessantly, keep flying for hours 



182 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



together in the immediate neighbourhood of the nest. On such occasions 
the males are bold to a degree, attacking savagely whomsoever ventures to 
approach their nest ; they will swoop down on the sportsman or his dog, 
especially the latter, and can with difficulty be driven away. The females 
take matters more coolly, posting themselves near the nest in some con- 
spicuous spot, but always out of gun-range. It devolves upon the male 
bird to go in search of prey, the duty of the female being to divide it, when 
brought to the nest, among her young. Hence the former are always in 
poor condition, whereas the females are generally plump. Round about 
the nest are found mice and lemmings, dismembered and entire." 

The plumage of the male Snowy Owl varies from pure white, marked 
very slightly on the crown, back, and primaries with dark brown, to white 
conspicuously barred all over with dark brown. Legs and feet covered 
down to the claws with long hairy feathers. Bill and claws black ; irides 
orange-yellow. The female is larger than the male, and it is said always 
to be more spotted and barred than the male. The nestling bird is covered 
with sooty -black down, with brownish tips. 




HAWK OWL. 183 

SURNIA FUNEREA. 
HAWK OWL. 

Stiix canadensis, Bn'ss. Oni. i, p. ■~A><, pi. xxxvii. fig. 2 (1760). 

Strix fi-eti-hudnonis, Briss. Oi/i. i. p. fyJO (17tj0). 

Strix fvmerea, Linii. S^/st. Xat. i. p. l.'iS (17(;<i); et auctorum plurimorum — 

{Bonaparte), ((!<,iild), [Sfricldand), Middendorff, Sclirenck, Radde, {Dresser), 

{Xeictnn), &c. 
Strix caparocli, Miill. Natursyst. Supjil. i. p. Ori (1770, ex Bdwards). 
Strix hudsonia, Gin///. Syst. Xat. i. p. 29.5 (1788j. 
Strix nisoria, Meyer, Taiehenh. p. 84 (1810). 

Surnia cauiukiipis (Briss.), Sfeph. Shatc's den. Zool. xiii. pt. ii. p. 02 (182.5). 
Stryx doliata, I'all. Zuugr. Ilnsxn-As. i. p. .310 (l.'^20). 
Koctua nisoria (Meyer), Ciiv. Regne An. i. p. 344 (1829). 
Surnia borealis, Less. Traite, i. p. 100 f 1831). 

Surnia hudsonia (Giiiel.), James, ed. IJ'ds. Am. Orn. i. p. 90 (1831). 
Xoctua fuuerea {Liim.), Jen. Brit. Vert. p. 520 (l83o). 

Surnia funerea (Linn.), Bonap. (Jump. List B. Eur. ^ N. Amer. p. 6 (1838). 
Surnia funorea {Linn.), Macgill. Brit. B. i. p. 139 (1840). 
Nycthierax nisoria {Meyer), Meoes, Ofo. L\iiinyl. Vel.-Ah. Fiirli. 1879, p. 39. 
Surnia ulula {Linn.), apud Bonaparte, {Schlegel), C'as.^in, Sharpe, &c. 

At least six examples o£ a species of Hawk Owl have been obtained in 
the British Islands within the last half-century^ particulars of which are 
given below. Some writers, as Sharpe and Dresser, consider the American 
and European Hawk Owls "perfectly distinct species;" others, as Baird, 
Brewer, and Ridgway, make the Palaarctic form only subspecifically 
distinct from the Nearctic form ; whilst Newton, in his edition of 
' YarrelFs British Birds,'' unites the two forms without note or comment 
of any kind respecting the alleged diiferences between them. 

There are in reality three varieties of the Hawk Owl. ^\ hudsonia is the 
American form, scarcely differing at all in the colour of the upper parts 
from the typical bird, except that the white bands on the tail are rather 
more developed, also the white spots on the quills, feathers of the head, and 
scapulars. On the underparts the difterence is much more striking; the 
dark transverse bands are much redder (chestnut-brown instead of greyish 
brown) and broader (varying from one to two of white, instead of two to 
four, to one of brown). The typical or European form, for which the only 
name that has not been misapplied is /S. nisoria, is an intermediate form 
between the American one and the Siberian or Arctic one. The latter, 
B. doliata, differs from the European form in having the white parts purer 
white and the dark parts darker and greyer. The differences between 
these three varieties, however, are very small, and not much greater than 
those of age, sex, and season. Females and young males are paler on the 
upper parts, and have the dark bars on the underparts slightly broader and 
more rufous than adult males. In young females these differences are still 
more pronounced. 



184 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Of the six examples enumerated as Laving occurred in the British 
Islands^ I have only seen one, which belonged undoubtedly to the American 
variety. Two others were identified by Sharpe and Dresser as the same 
species. Of the remaining three, two cannot now be traced ; but one of them, 
at least, was brought by a sailor to be stuffed, and was probably caught on 
board ship. A description of the third in Saxby's 'Birds of Shetland' is 
sufficiently minute to leave little doubt that it is the Palsearctic variety. 

The American variety of the Hawk Owl breeds in the pine-forests of 
Alaska, Hudson's Bay Territory, and Newfoundland, a few straying in 
winter as far south as the Northern United States. 

The European variety breeds throughout the pine-forests of Scandinavia 
and North Russia, occasionally reaching as high as the birch-region on 
the confines of the tundra. In winter it sometimes visits Denmark, is 
more common in Northern Germany, and has been known to stray as far 
as Northern France, Austria, and Poland. Eastwards it winters in Central 
and Southern Russia. In Siberia the range of the Arctic form of the 
Hawk Owl extends from the Urals to the Pacific ; but its migrations appear 
to be confined within the country, as it is a resident in Northern Turkestan 
and the Amoor, and has not been recorded from further south. 

This bold little bird, in many of its habits and deeds of daring, appears 
to hold the same place amongst the Owls as the Sparrow-Hawk does 
amongst the Hawks. Its true home is in the Arctic pine-forests, where it 
is a resident bird throughout the year, only a few individuals wandering 
southwards at the approach of winter. The HawkOwl is far from being 
a shy bird, and, like the Falcons and the Plawks, hunts for its prey in the 
open daylight, gliding along with all the impetuous rush of a Hawk, yet 
with the soft noiseless flight peculiar to its kindred. It is occasionally 
mobbed by the smaller birds, and even by the Magpies and Siberian Jays, 
but appears to take but little heed of their attacks, although it will some- 
times dash into the midst of its tormentors and bear one off in an instant. 

The principal food of the Hawk Owl is mice and lemmings ; and the 
bird follows the migratory parties of the last-named little mammal to prey 
upon them. From its indomitable spirit, however, few birds of the forest 
are safe from its attacks. In addition to the smaller birds which it 
captures. Wheelwright mentions the fact that he has seen the Hawk Owl 
strike down the Siberian Jay, and has also disturbed it feeding on an old 
Willow- Grouse. The same naturalist has also taken insects from its 
stomach. It may often be seen sitting perched on the dead summit of a 
lofty pine, from which it flies off to pursue some tempting quarry. Seen 
thus, the bird bears a striking resemblance to the Hawks; and its long 
tail and short wings, when the bird is in motion, also increase the delusion. 
It is one of the easiest birds to approach, and, when fired at, will not 
unfrequently again alight on the same tree, as if challenging the unsuc- 



HAWK OWL. 185 

cessful marksman to a fresli trial of his skill. The note of this bird was 
compared Ijy^Wolley to the cry of a Hawk. 

The breeding-season of the Hawk Owl appears to commence in the 
middle of April, and to last to the end of June. As this bird possesses the 

bit, in common with many of its congeners, of laying eggs at intervals, 
and sitting on them as soon as laid, eggs may be found as late as the 
third week in June. It makes no nest ; and the eggs are usually laid in 
the hole of a decayed pine tree, and rest on the powdered wood alone, as 
is the case with the eggs of the Woodpecker*. Collett mentions a nest of 
this Owl in Norway, on the top of a broken pine-trunk, some six feet 
below which a Golden-eye Duck was sitting on her nest. Wolley mentions 
a similar instance in Lapland, as does also Dall in Alaska. This Owl will 
also frequently take possession of the nest-boxes placed by the peasants 
for the Ducks, and rear its young in them. The eggs of the Hawk Owl 
are from five to eight in number, white in colour, smooth, and possess 
considerable gloss. They measure from 1'65 to 1'55 inch in length, and 
from 1'25 to 1"17 inch in breadth. The eggs of the Hawk Owl cannot be 
distinguished from those of the Short-eared Owl, thus rendering an addi- 
tional figure unnecessary. Both birds sit upon the eggs, and are some- 
times found on them in company. While the female is upon her charge 
the male bird xiill perch close at hand, ready to do battle with any intruder, 
not even excepting man himself. Numerous instances are recorded of 
this bird^s dauntless courage when its nest is assailed. It strikes at the 
intruder again and again, seeming not to care for its own safety, and too 
often pays the price of its temerity with its life. 

The Hawk Owl commences its moult before the young can fly, and 
completes it by the time they are in full feather. Wheelwright asserts 
that the breast and belly of the female in the breeding-season are strongly 
tinged with reddish brown, doubtless from the decaying wood. 

During autumn the Ilawk'Owl still keeps in company with its young, 
hunting in little parties for food; then they become gipsy migrants, and 
a few wander far south of their native forests. The habits of the American 
variety of the Hawk Owl are not known to differ from those of the Palse- 
arctic species ; and its eggs are undistinguishable. 

The general colour of the upper parts of the Hawk-Owl is blackish 
brown mottled with dull white ; tail barred narrowly and tipped broadly 
with white. Underparts white, barred with dark reddish brown; tarsi 
and toes covered with greyish- white feathers. Bill yellowisli white ; irides 
straw-yellow; claws bluish black at tips, paler at base. The female bird 
is a little larger than the male. 

* Macfarlane's account, quoted by Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway, of the nest of this bird 
being built of small sticks and twigs in pine trees in Arctic America, is contrary to the 
experience of every other ornithologist who has taken its eggs. 



186 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus BUBO. 

The Eagle Owls were first separated from the genus Striv in 1760 by 
Brisson, who associated them with the other horned Owls in a somewhat 
heterogeneous group, to which he gave the generic name of Asio. In 
1767 they were temporarily dissociated from the Scops Eared Owls by 
Gerini, and placed in the genus Bubo ; but in 1806 Dumeril reunited them 
with their smaller relations, retaining the name of Bicbo for the composite 
genus. In 1810 Savigny finally separated them from the Scops Eared 
Owls ; and in 1817 Cuvier, in his ' Rfegne Animal/ p. 331, restricted the 
genus to its present limits, but \yithout indicating any type. As Bubo 
maximns is the Stria; bubo of Linnaeus and the Asio bubo of Brisson, it 
must, of course, be considered the type of the restricted genus. 

The Eagle Owls are not really distinct from Scops, the only generic 
distinction being difl^erence of size, none of them measuring less than a 
foot in length of wing. They are furnished with ear-tufts. The tarsi are 
always feathered ; but in some species the toes are almost naked. They 
belong to the group of Owls in which the ear is small, about the size of 
the eye, and not furnished with an operculum. The underparts are both 
transversely barred and longitudinally streaked ; but the bars are almost 
obsolete, and the sti'eaks very conspicuous — a character which distinguishes 
them from the Hawk Owls. In their habits they do not difi'er materially 
from the other Owls. 

The Eagle Owls are found almost all over the world, with the exception 
of Australia and the Pacific Islands. There are about twenty species. 
Only two, very nearly allied ones, are found in Europe ; and of these 
only one visits our islands. 



EAGLE OWL. 187 

BUBO MAXIM US. 

EAGLE OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Asio bubo, Briss. Orn. i. p. 477 (17C0). 

Strix bubo, Linn. Si/st. A'at. i. p. 1.31 (1760). 

Bubo maximus, Oerini, Orn. Ifeth. Dig. i. p. ?4, pi. Ixxxi. (1707) ; et auctorum 
plurimorum — Flemin;/, Gould, Bonaparte. Marrjillh-rmj, Gray, Strickland, 
Eaup, Schlet/el, Xeu-ton {Ootheca Wnlleyana), lietujlin, Hume, Schtter, &c. 

Bubo ignavua, Forster, S'l/n. Cat. Brit. B. p. 46 (1817). 

Bubo europaeua, Less. Tralte, i. p. 115, pi. xvii. fig. 1 (1831). 

Asio bubo {Linn.), Su-nlns. Classlf. B. ii. p. 217 (If^.'iG). 

Otus bubo (Linn.), ScU. Rev. Crlt. p. xiii (1844). 

Bubo atbenieusis, Bonap. t'onsp. i. p. 48 (18.jO). 

Bubo bubo {Linn.), Licht. Nomencl. Av. p. 7 (18-j4). 

Although this fine species of Owl is pretty generally distributed ovfr 
the northern portions of the Old ^Vorld, it is very rarely noticed in the 
British Islands, and only at uncertain intervals. j\Iany instances of the 
capture of this species iu Great Britain which are on record may very 
probably be those of escaped birds, as it is very frequently kept in confine- 
ment. It is chiefly met -nith in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, but 
even there rarely and at uncertain intervals. It has several times been 
recorded from Scotland ; and Gray, in his '' Birds of the West of Scotland,' 
mentions a specimen, on the authority of Mr. Angus, captured in Feb- 
ruary 1866, in Aberdeenshire. In England it has been obtained in Kent, 
Sussex, and Devonshire ; and an example was caught alive at Hampstead, 
near London. It is also said to have occurred in Durham, Yorkshire, 
Derbyshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Oxfordshire, also at Swansea in South 
Wales. Several other instances of the supposed occurrence of this bird in 
Great Britain are on record. Among the most trustworthy may be men- 
tioned a female, shot near Stamford, Lincolnshire, in April 1879, and 
recorded in the ' Zoologist ' by Mr. J. CuUingford. This example was 
examined by Canon Tristram soon after it was skinned; and he assures 
me that the bird bore no traces of having been in confinement. It is 
doubtful if the Eagle Owl has ever occurred in Ii-eland, the only record of 
its appearance there being a statement quoted by Thompson to the effect 
that four of these birds appeared in Donegal after a severe snowstorm and 
remained for two days, but were not seen afterwards. 

The Eagle Owl inhabits the forest-districts of all the countries of con- 
tinental Europe, from Scandinavia, Lapland, and North Russia, south- 
wards to the shores of the Mediterranean, and is a rare winter-straggler 



188 BRITISH BIRDS. 

to North-east Africa*- LocLe, however^, records it as common ia Algeria, 
especially in the mountains and forests, where it breeds. 

As its range extends eastwards the Eagle Owl becomes larger and paler — 
examples from the Volga and Archangel gradually leading on to the 
Arctic form, which has received the name of B. sihiricus f. This sub- 
species inhabits Siberia, extending its range southwards to Persia, Tur- 
kestan, Afghanistan, the Himalayas, and probably Mongolia. In the valley 
of the Amoor the colour again becomes more rufous, until in Japan and 
China the typical European bird reappears. The Arctic form has not 
occurred in the British Islands. 

On the American continent the Eagle Owl is replaced by a nearly allied 
species, B. virr/iiiiatius, a bird of very similar habits, and differing from the 
Old- World form in being smaller (length of wing not exceeding 16 inches). 
Like the Eagle Owl, it appears to be subject to much climatic variation; 
and Messrs. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway separate it into no less than 
four subspecies or races. 

The Eagle Owl is one of the most powerful of rapacious birds, and is 
principally nocturnal in its habits ; but when disturbed in the daytime it 
seems little troubled by the light, and is extremely shy and difficult to 
approach. As with most of the nocturnal birds of prey, we know but little 
of the habits of this species. It usually remains in its retreat in some 
secluded rocky pass, or in the depths of the forest, throughout the day, 
coming out in the dusk in quest of food. Its flight is powerful, yet, like 
all Owls, almost noiseless, so that it drops upon its prey completely un- 
awares. Its deep, loud, hooting cry, sounding strangely weird and startling 
in the dark and silent woods, or when the bird is passing overhead, is 
well calculated to inspire the superstitious natives with awe; and no wonder 
the bird figures so prominently in the various native legends as a bird of 
doom and death. Except in the pairing-season, it is said to rarely utter 
its note, which resembles the syllables oo-hoo modulated in various ways. 

Few rapacious birds are so destructive to large game as the Eagle Owl. 
Even the powerful Capercailsie, the Blackcock, and the Hazel-Grouse are 

* lu Xortli Africa a neariy allied bird occurs, JBnbo ascalaphus, which may have been 
possibly confused with, or mistaken for, the present specie.^. 

t The synonymy of the Arctic form of this Owl is as under : — 

Asio bubo laponicus, Bi iss. Orn. i. p. 480 (17G0). 

8tiix scandiaca, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 1.)'2 (17(10). 

Bubo albus, Bmul Traite, ii. p. 210 (1800). 

Strix turcomana, Eversin. Add. Pall. Zootjr. fasc. i. p. G (18.".j). 

Strix sibirica, Susem. Vog. Eur. pi. xliy. (1S40). 

Bubo oiuereus, Eversin. fde Gray, Gcii. J3. i. pi. xiii. (ISJ-")). 

Bubo sibiricus (ScMei/.), Graij, Cat. AccipUr. Brit. Mus. p. 90 (1848). 

Bubo scandiacus {Linn.), Cab. Joiirn. Orn. 1854, p. oU7. 

Bubo paUidus, Brehm, Naum. 18.55, p. 270. 

Bubo hemachalana, Hume, Stray Feath. 187.'', p. 315. 



EAGLE OWL. 189 

overpowered ; whilst fawns^ hares, and rabbits form a prominent feature 
of his diet. Yet he also takes much more lowly game, and hunts for the 
various " small deer " whieh haunt his wild solitudes, as mice, rats, and 
moles. The Jays and Crows, so abundant in northern forests, also form 
part of his fare ; and in more cultivated districts he preys on Pheasants 
and Partridges. 

This Owl appears to bear confinement well, and is a bird constantly to 
be seen in menageries and birdfanciers' shops, and has bred in confine- 
ment at Arundel Castle and other places. j\'Ir. E. Fountaine, of Easton, 
near Norwich, has been singularly successful in his treatment of this bird 
in captivity, and has induced it to breed and rear its progeny ; in ' The 
Ibis ' for 1859, p. 273, a detailed description and full particulars will be 
found of the nesting of this species in his aviary. The Eagle Owl must be 
a bird of great longevity; for he mentions that the original hen bird, from 
which he had so many eggs, had been kept twenty years in confinement 
before she came into his possession. 

The Eagle Owl is an early breeder, and commences to lay in March or 
early in April. It is essentially a forest-bird, generally breeding on some 
strong branch or fork of a tree. It seldom, if ever, makes a nest of 
its own ; but takes possession of any old nest that it can find, I'arely 
choosing one more than thirty feet from the ground. In the forests of 
Pomerania, where it is frequently met with, it usually breeds in a tree; 
but the eggs have very often been found in a slight hollow scratched in 
the ground at the foot of the tree. It is very shy and wary at the nest, 
and seems to possess as keen a sight to detect the presence of an enemy as 
the most diurnal bird. Von ITomeyer related to me his repeated efforts to 
shoot the old bird at the nest ; but, although he concealed himself as much 
as possible, she always caught a glimpse of him before she got within shot, 
and turned round and flew off. In the more mountainous forests, where 
there are rocks, it seems to prefer a nesting-place upon some ledge or 
convenient shelf; but even in such a locality the eggs are not always laid 
on the rocks. Wolley mentions two clutches in Lapland taken from the 
ground under the shelter of the roots of a fallen tree. 

In the Parnassus I visited two nesting-places of this bird, from one of 
which I obtained an egg, and from the other shot one of the parent birds. 
In neither case was much nest made. The situation chosen was in one of 
those clefts or caves so common in limestone rocks; and apparently it was 
used as a roosting-place, for in both cases the young broods had flown. 

Linnseus met with an Eagle-OwFs nest on the higher hills of Lapland, 
which contained an addled egg and two young birds. But the most graphic 
and minute description of the nest of this fine bird is that by Wolley : — 
" It was on the 20tli of May, and after climbing to the mysterious cave of 
Skulbero' that our road lay under a steep mountain-side broken up into 



190 BRITISH BIRDS. 

crags and ledges of the character wliich is usually so attractive to birds of 
prey. There was a little village at the foot, and an old man pointed out 
the direction from which the hootings were to be heard every evening. 
Whilst I was listening to the consultation, and taking a survey with my 
glass, an Osprey flew along the edge of the cliff; and at a great height 
above us, and mellowed in the distance, there came a full note from a Berg- 
ufo, who no doubt had seen the stranger bird. This was very encouraging, 
and it did not take long to arrange the order in which the various likely 
rocks were to be visited . An active woodman accompanied me axe in hand. 
When we were fairly in the cliffs we came to a point where some large bird 
was in the habit of sitting to tear its prey, and feathers and white feet of 
hares were lying about. A great Owl flew before us, showing a beautiful 
expanse of back and wings ; and as we proceeded in the direction from 
which it came, another large 0\^i rose from the face of the cliff, flew a 
hundred paces forward, turned its wide face towards us, and came a short 
distance back. I stopped to examine it with my glass to be quite certain 
it was S. bubo. Satisfied on this point, we only had to walk a few paces 
along a ledge before the family group was in sight — two blind little puffs 
covered with down just tinged with yellow, and an egg with the prisoner 
inside uttering his series of four or five chirps through the window he had 
made in the shell, with a voice scarcely more feeble than that of his elder 
brothers. There did not seem to be much difference in the ages of the 
three ; they were lying upon a small quantity of compressed fur, princi- 
pally of rats, the remains of the castings of the parent birds, their bed 
nearly flat, for there was not more than two inches of soil. Uva-ursi 
and several other plants grew near ; and a small Scotch fir tree had its 
trunk curiously flattened to the perpendicular rock at the back ; the ledge 
was not more than two feet wide, and terminated abruptly just beyond the 
nest; the rock beneath was also perpendicular. We waited at the nest a 
long time in the hope that they [the parent birds] would show themselves : 
but it was not till we had left it that we saw them again sitting on the top- 
most shoots of spruce firs with their ears finely relieved against the sky ; 
and as we were nearly in the village again they hooted with a troubled 
note." The Eagle Owl very often chooses a place for its abode similar to 
that selected by the Golden Eagle, and often quite exposed and open to the 
full glare of day. 

The eggs of the Eagle Owl are usually three in number, sometimes only 
two ; but no authentic instance is on record where four or more eggs have 
been found in one nest. It will thus be seen that the number of eggs laid 
by the Snowy Owl is much larger ; yet the two birds occur in pretty much 
the same numbers. It is therefore possible that the Snowy Owl lays more 
eggs to support a greater mortality to which its more northern range exposes 
it, where food is extremely precarious, and the climate so severe. The 



EAGL1<: OWL. 



101 



eggs are pure white, very rotund, and the shell is somewhat rough in 
texture. Their superior size prevents them being confused with those 
of any other speeies of European Owl. They measure fi-om 2'55 to 
21 inch in length and from 2 to 1'85 inch in breadth. 

The general colour of the upper parts of the Eagle Owl is a mottled 
mixture of reddish brown and dark brown ; the primaries and tail trans- 
versely barred. The underparts are brown, palest on the breast, which is 
marked with longitudinal patches of dark brown, whilst the remainder of 
the under surface is marked with numerous transverse bars of dark brown. 
Beak, which is nearly hidden by feathers, black ; irides bright orange ; 
claws black. The tufts on the head ai'e composed of elongated dark brown 
feathers barred with light brown, and form two large horns erected or 
depressed at pleasure. The female bird is similar to the male, but larger 




192 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus SCOPS. 

The Scops Owls were first separated from tte genus Strix by Gerini 
in 1767, in his ' Ornithologia Methodice Digesta/ i. p. 86^ under the name 
of Asia, of which he enumerates seven species. As Gerini's Asio is not 
the same as the Asio of Brisson^ which has been extensively adopted by 
ornithologists, its retention would be liable to produce considerable con- 
fusion ; and it is therefore wisest to pass it over in favour of the Scops of 
Savigny C Systeme des Oiseaux de I'Egypte et de la Syrie,' p. 9), esta- 
blished in 1810, and of which the Strix scops of Linnaeus may be fairly 
considered the type. 

The Scops Owls have no operculum, and the nostrils are not inflated — ■ 
characters which distinguish them from every other genus except Surnia 
and Bubo. From the former they may be distinguished by their conspicuous 
ear-tufts, their more compact plumage, and by the fact that the longitu- 
dinal streaks on the underparts are more conspicuous than the compara- 
tively obscure transverse vermiculations. From the latter they are only 
generically separated for the sake of convenience, the wing never exceeding 
nine inches in length, whereas in the genus Bubo it is never less than 
twelve. 

There is nothing peculiar in the habits of these birds, which resemble 
those of the Owls in general. Their eggs are pure white. There are five- 
and-twenty or more species recognized by ornithologists, and as many sub- 
sjjccies, in this genus. 

They are almost cosmopolitan in their range, principally confined to the 
tropical regions, being only found in the southern portions of the Nearctic 
and Palfearctic regions, and not extending into the extreme south of South 
Ameiica. One species only is found in Europe, which is only an acci- 
dental visitor to the British Isles. 



THE SCOPS OWL. 193 

SCOPS SCOPS. 
THE SCOPS OWL. 

(Plate 7.) 

Asio scops, Briss. Orn. i. p. 495, pi. xxxvii. fig. 1 (17G0). 

Strix scops, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 1.32 (176G) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Temminck, Naumann, Yarrell, (Keijseiiing), (Blasius), (Gray), (Saluadori), 

(^Schlegel), &c. 
Strix giu, Scop. Ann. I. Hist. Nat. p. 19 (1700). 
Stryx pulchella, Pall. Reise Muss. Reichs, i. p. 4.56 (1771). 
Strix zorca, Oinel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 2rS9 (17^8). 
Strix carnioliaca, Omel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 290 (1788). 
Scops ephialtes, Sav. Syst. Ois. ch VEc/ypte, p. 47 (1810). 
Bubo scops {Linn.), Bote, Isis, 1822, p. 549. 
Scops aldrovandi, Flem. Brit. An. p. 57 (1828). 
Scops europoeus, Ltvs. Traite, p. lOG (1831). 
Scops senegalensis, Swains. Classif. B. ii. p. 217 (1837 ). 
Scops zorca (Omel.), Swains. Classif. B. ii. p. 217 (1837). 
Epliialtes scops (Linn.), Keys. Sf Bias. Wirh. Bur. p. xxxiii (1840). 
Otus scops (Linn.), Schl. Itev. C'rit. pp. xiv, .38 (1844). 
Scops vera, Finsch, Journ. Orn. \>>~/,), p. 3.sl. 

Ephialtes zorca (Omel.), Jaub. 8f Barth. Lap. BicJi. Orn. p. 78 (18-59). 
Scops longipennis, Katip, Trans. Zool. Soc. iv, p. 223 (18G2). 
Scops giu (Scop), Newt. Oath. Wulley. p. 153 (1SIJ4). 

The Scops Owl was first recorded as a British bird in the spring of 
1805j from specimens killed in Yorkshire. One of those examples was 
killed near Wetherby^ and formed the subject of Bewick's woodcut of this 
species. Since that period a score or more examples have from time to 
time been obtained in England, the bird being now sufficiently well known 
as an accidental visitor to render a detailed account of each occurrence 
unnecessary. From Scotland but one specimen has been recorded, which 
was shot in Sutherlandshire in the early summer of 1854. The Scops Owl 
has also occurred twice in Ireland : one, mentioned by Thompson, was shot 
at Loughcrew, in co. Meath in 1837, and another at Kilmore, in Wexford, 
in the spring of 1847. 

The Scops Owl breeds throughout Europe south of the Baltic, wintering 
in North-east Africa as far south as Abyssinia. Eastwards it breeds iu 
Asia Minor, Turkestan, and Persia. In North-west and "^Yest Africa 
there is a resident race which is slightly smaller, but does not differ in 
colour; whilst in North-east Africa and South Africa another smaller 
variety (S. capensis) occurs, with shorter wings and of a dark grey colour. 
In the North-west Himalayas a pale form occurs {S. brucii), which is most 
probably a fairly distinct species. In Nepal, Madras, and Malacca three 

VOL. I. o 



194 BRITISH 5lRDS. 

varieties occur, somewhat smaller in size, and having more rounded wings, 
the first primary being shorter than the seventh, and the second primary 
much shorter than the fifth. (In the European and North-west Himalayan 
birds the first primary is considerably longer than the seventh^ and the 
second primary much longer than the fifth.) Similar small varieties 
with rounded wings also occur in China, Japan, and the valley of the 
Amoor. 

The Scops Owl is a nocturnal bird, its note being more often heard 
during the night than during the day. Its food is procured principally 
during the evening; and in the daytime it is very seldom seen on the 
wing. That it is not exclusively nocturnal in its habits is proved by the 
observations of Dresser, who states that he not unfrequently saw it in 
Spain flying, about during the brightest portion of a hot summer's day. 
Heuglin, in describing its habits on the Nile, where it is only a winter 
visitant, also says that it is frequently seen during the daytime, frequenting 
not only copses, but occasionally isolated bushes where there is scarcely 
any shade. During the day it is seldom seen far from the trees where it 
roosts; but in the evening it frequents the open ground, feeding upon 
grasshoppers, beetles, cockchafers, and large moths, and occasionally 
catching a mouse or a shrew. Naumann says that it also picks up small 
birds and frogs, and on clear nights hunts till dawn. The Scops Owl not 
only frequents the country, but also comes into the gardens and avenues 
of trees in many southern cities. Irby mentions that their monotonous 
single note may be heard repeatedly by day as well as by night, even 
in the trees which fringe the Delicias, the Rotten Row of Seville. 

In Greece and Asia Minor I found it a not uncommon bird, but one 
which was very rarely seen. The Little Owl was often seen in the day- 
time ; but the present species seemed more especially to be a nocturnal 
bird. I never once met with it on the wing, but have often listened to 
its monotonous note, as monotonous as a passing bell, and almost as 
melancholy. To my ears this note is exactly represented by the sound of 
the syllable ahp repeated in an unvarying and desponding tone every ten 
or twenty seconds. This bird is generally, if sparingly, distributed all 
over Greece, from the seashore almost, if not quite, up to the pine-regions 
on the mountains. I have often listened to its note as I lay in my camp- 
bed in a peasant's cottage at Agoriane, halfway up the Parnassus, when it 
was almost too cold to sleep with comfort ; and I have heard it from the 
hotel at Buyukdere, on the Bosphorus, when, with window wide open, the 
heat made it still more difScult to pass the night in happy unconsciousness 
even of ornithological sounds. 

In the extreme south of Europe a few Scops Owls are to be seen during 
the winter ; but by far the greatest number are migrants, arriving early 
in April and leaving again in October. Immediately after its arrival the 



THE SCOPS OWL. 



195 



old nesting-place is taken possession of, and probably used as a roosting- 
place during the day ; but the eggs are seldom laid before the middle of 
May. The female sits very close, and can generally Ijc caught on the 
nest. Irby says that it breeds very abundantly in the cork-woods round 
Gibraltar, and that the nest is very easily discovered by beating the tree 
with a stick. 

The Scops Owl breeds almost universally in hollow trees ; but Tristram 
found its nest in holes in walls, and Kriiper describes it as especially 
common on the island of Naxos, laying its eggs in the scaffold-holes which 
the indolent Greeks omitted to fill up in the houses. Like all the Owls, 
the present species makes little or no nest, merely a little hollow scratched 
out, and lined with the indigestible portions of the bird's food. The eggs 
are from five to six in number, pure white in colour, and varying in length 
from rS to 1-15 inch, and in breadth from 1-1 to I'O inch. The only 
eggs of a British Owl with which those of the Scops Owl can be confounded 
are those of the Little Owl. Small examples of the latter measure the 
same as large examples of the former, but are generally rougher in texture 
and not so round in shape. 

The Scops Owl is the smallest British Owl. The general colour is grey, 
each feather with a dark centre, vermiculated with brown of various shades. 
It has two not very conspicuous ear-tufts, and may be distinguished from 
every other British Owl by its bare feet, the tarsus only being feathered. 
Toes brown ; claws black at tip, whitish at base ; beak black ; irides yellow. 
The female is similar to the male ; but young birds are more rufous than 
adults. 

The American Screech-Owl, S. asio, an aUied species to the present, 
is said to have occurred twice in England. One is recorded in the 
' Naturalist/ 1855, p. 69, as having been shot near Kirkstall Abbey 
in Yorkshire in 1853; the second is mentioned by Mr. Stevenson, and is 
supposed to have been killed near Yarmouth in Norfolk. The evidence 
in both cases is extremely unsatisfactory. 




o3 



196 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Family PASSERIDiE, or SINGING BIRDS. 

The Singing Birds^ together with three other families* (o£ which there 
are no representatives in Europe) ^ constitute what are frequently called 
the true Passeres, the great central group of dominant birds — by far the 
most numerous in genera and species^ yet exhibiting few anatomical 
differences inter se — the most highly developed, and yet at the same time 
the most cosmopolitan of birds. They may indeed be said to be absolutely 
cosmopolitan, being found throughout the world, except on such rocky 
coasts where no bird can exist which does not obtain its food from the 
water. 

The Passeres are the typical birds, the great central apex of the genea- 
logical tree, very nearly related to each other, and surrounded by outlying 
families or branches much more distantly related, and consequently pre- 
senting important anatomical characters by which to separate them from 
the great central group and from each other. 

The Passeres are the true Aves ; the other families are the failures, the 
least developed descendants of the intermediate forms which once connected 
Birds and Reptiles, families containing comparatively few genera and 
species, some fast dying out, but so widely separated from each other that 
to trace their relationship we should have to go back almost to the roots 
of the genealogical tree. So obscure indeed is this connexion that orni- 
thologists cannot decide in some cases (the so-called Ratitcs, for instance) 
whether they form one family or great group, or are the remnants of 
several distantly connected groups. 

The Passerida are separated from the other three families to which 
they are most nearly allied by a peculiar structure of the singing-appa- 
ratus at the lower end of the windpipe; but this apparently exhausts 
the anatomical characters which our physiologists have been able to discover, 
and leaves us with nearly half the known species of birds so closely 
related to each other that no known internal characters exist by which 
they may be subdivided. 

* Sclater (Ibis, 1880, p. 34-5) divides his order Passeres into four suborders : — Oscines, 
comprising about 4550 species (nearly half the species of birds known), principally found 
in the Old World, but many peculiar to the New ; Oligomyodce, comprising about 550 
species, principally found in the New World, but some peculiar to the Old ; Tracheophona?, 
comprising ahout 500 species confined to tlie New World ; and Pseiidoscines, comprising 
half a dozen sjeoies confined to Australia. 



TURDINtE. 197 

In order to divide the PasseridcB into subfamilies we have to rely entirely 
upon external characters, many of which may be of very recent origin, 
and developed by a common cause simultaneously from several centres, so 
that our classification must be more or less an artificial one, and in many 
cases, no doubt, not corresponding with genealogical relationship. So 
unreliable as a test of family connexion are these external characters, that 
a humorous ornithologist has said " that no external characters are so 
unreliable as the form of the beak and the feet, except the shape of the 
wings and tail " ! The wisest course is to acknowledge our ignorance^ and 
accept an admittedly artificial classification until future discoveries reveal 
a natural system. 

The British species of birds belonging to the Passerida may be arranged 
in the following subfamilies : — 

TtTBDiM.-E, or Thrushes. SxtrHNiN^, or Starlings. 

Sylvun^, or Warblers. Fhingillin^, or Finches. 

P.vitiNiE, or Tits. HiEUNDiNiN^, or Swallows. 

OoRA-iN.T!;, or Crows. Motacillin.e, or A\'ag-tail3. 

Laniin.i-;, or Shrikes. Alaudinjo, or Larks. 
AjiPELix^, or Waxwings. 

The order in which these subfamilies should be arranged and their 
mutual relationship remain a mystery. The Alaudina and the Hirundiiuiue 
are probably the most aberrant, and ought perhaps to be placed at the 
outside. It is impossible to say which is the central or most typical 
group ; the Turdina, Sylviince, Corvince, and Fringillina; have equal claims 
to the distinction. 



Subfamily TURDIN^, or THRUSHES. 

The Thrushes and their allies form a large group of birds so nearly related 
to the Warblers and the Tits, that it is impossible to draw a hard and fast 
line between them. Their chief character consists in having the front as 
well as the back of the tarsus covered with one long plate instead of several 
smaller ones ; but this peculiarity is often absent in young birds, and is 
also to be found in some of the smaller Tits and Warblers, especially in 
old birds, where the scutellte become confluent. In the other sub- 
families the scutellation of the tarsus is generally well marked. The 
bill in this family is very variable. It is usually slender, a typical 
insectivorous bill ; but in some genera it is widened to adapt it to catch 
insects on the wing. It is not always furnished with rictal bristles. 
There is usually an almost obsolete notch or indentation near the tip, but 



198 BllITISH BIRDS. 

never a Raptorial tooth as in the Shrikes. The bastard primary is always 
present — a character which separates the Thrashes from the Wagtails and 
the Swallows J and also from all the British Finches. In the British 
examples of the Turdinm it is sometimes very smallj but never so minute 
as in the Starlings and in the Waxwings. In all of them^ however, it is 
much narrower than the second primary, and not half as long, a character 
which will serve to distinguish the British Thrushes from the Crows. The 
young iu first plumage differ from the adults in having the upper and 
underparts more or less spotted; but they moult into adult plumage in 
their first autumn before they migrate. Adults moult only in the autumn, 
usually attaining their nuptial dress by casting the ends of the feathers, 
which deepen in colour at the same time. The Turdinm are nearly cosmo- 
politan, and probably number more than seven hundred species, of which 
about one hundred are European. Nearly one third of these inhabit our 
islands, or visit them more or less regularly. The British Tiirdince belong 
to ten genera. Many of these are so closely related, that they can only 
be recognized by courtesy or as a matter of convenience. There are no 
structural characters on which to form a key to the genera. The chief 
character which has been relied upon is the pattern of the colours, which 
will be described in each genus. 



Genus GEOCICHLA. 

The genus Geocichla is supposed to have been established by Kuhl 
about the year 1825; and Geocichla interpres is considered the type; 
but the original publication of this genus has not yet been found, and is 
probably in some obscure Dutch periodical. It contains a number of 
Thrushes distinguished as Ground-Thrashes, and supposed to be the least 
changed descendants of the ancestors of the true Thrushes and Ouzels. They 
are characterized by having the basal portion of the outside web of all the 
secondaries and of many of the primaries whitCj occasionally tinted with 
buff", but abruptly defined from the brown of the rest of the quills, and 
forming a peculiar pattern on the under surface of the wing. The axil- 
laries are particoloured, the basal half being white, and the terminal half 
black, slate-grey, or brown. Most of the under wing-coverts are similarly 
particoloured ; but the relative position of the colours is reversed, the white 
portion being on the terminal half. These characters serve to distinguish 
them from all other allied genera. 

The genus Geocichla contains about forty species, principally confined 
to the Oriental and iEthiopian Regions. Three species of the genus 



GEOCICHLA. 



199 



are not tropical — one breeding in "Western North America, and two in 
Eastern Siberia. Of these latter, individuals occasionally take the wrong 
route of migration in autumn, and wander into Europe, sometimes as far 
as our islands. 

The Ground-Thrushes are 'par excellence ground-Thrushes, and frequent 
trees and shrubs far less frequently tlian the Thrushes or Ouzels. They 
haunt dense groves and jungles^ as well as the ground in the open parts of 
the woodlands. These birds possess considerable powers of song. Their 
food consists of worms, grubs, insects, fruits, berries, &c. They all build 
open nests, made of dried grasses, rootlets, moss, and mud, placing them 
at various heights from the ground in trees and bushes. Their eggs, three 
to five in number, vary from pale bluish green to dark bluish green in 
ground-colour, spotted and freckled with rufous-brown. 




200 BRITISH BIRDS. 

GEOCICHLA VARIA. 
WHITE'S GROUND-THRUSH. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdus aureus, ILAandre, Ann. de Verr. 1825, p. 310. 

Turdus varius, PaU. Zoogr. Mosso-As. i. p. 449 (1826) ; et auctorum plurimorum 

— Gould, Macijillivray, Temminck, Hometjer, JRadde, Gray, Newton, Ttveeddale, 

D^'esser, Siouihoe, &c. 
Turdus squamatus, Boie, Isis, 1835, p. 251. 
Turdus whitei, Eyton, Rarer Brit. B. p. 92 (1836). 
Oreooincla whitei (Ei/fou), Gould, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1837, p. 136. 
Oreocincla varia (Pall.), Gould, Proc. Zool. Soc. 1837, p. 136. 
Oreocincla aurea (Hoi.), Bonap. Cat. Ucc. Eur. p. 34 (1842). 
Turdus lunulatus. Lath, apud Bias. List B. Eur. p. 9 (18G2). 
Turdus dauma. Lath, apiud Peheln, Verh. k.-h. zool.-bot. Gesell. Tfien, 1871, p. 703. 
Geocichla varia (Pall), Seehohm, Cat. B. Brit. Mus. v. p. 151 (1881). 

This handsome hird has occurred in the British Islands at least a dozen 
times. The first record is that of a bird which was taken during the 
winter of 1828. This specimen was announced as new to the British fauna 
by the late Mr. Eyton, who^ erroneously believing the bird to be unde- 
scribed, named it in honour of Gilbert White, of Selborne, as a just and 
fitting tribute to one who did so much for the cause of natural history. 
In England the bird has been obtained in several of the southern and 
south-midland counties, once in Norfolk, twice in Yorkshire, and once 
in Durham. In Ireland it has been obtained twice — one specimen in 
South Cork and the other in the county of Longford. Most of these 
specimens were taken in the depth of winter, two in spring, and one in 
autumn. On the continent of Europe it has occurred perhaps a dozen times, 
besides five or six times on the island of Heligoland. Gaetke's examples 
arc among the gems of his unrivalled museum. The occurrence of White's 
Thrush in Europe can only be considered accidental, though accidents 
of this kind happen regularly. After the breeding-season is over in the 
Arctic regions the great stream of migration which passes from north to 
south through Central Siberia appears to divide before it reaches the 
mountains of Mongolia, to avoid the deserts beyond. Some species of 
birds turn east, and others west ; and of the species which Nature has 
ordained to winter east, some individuals, probably for the most part young 
birds who have never migrated before, lose their way and get into the 
wrong stream, and thus find their way into Europe as strangers from the 
east, some of whom fall into Gaetke's hands on Heligoland every year. 

The breeding-ground and true home of this fine bird is South-central 



WHITE'S GROUND-THRUSH. 201 

and South-eastern Siberia and North China. It winters in South Japan, 
South-west China, and the Philippine Islands, occasionally straying 
as far west as Sumatra. The limit of its western range in summer is 
difficult to ascertain, but is possibly confined to the watershed of the 
Yenesay and the Lena. It was obtained by Gmelin * at Krasnoyarsk ; and 
on the shores of Lake Baikal Dybowski records it as common at the 
migration-seasons. 

The haunts of this bird are but little known. It has always been found 
in well-wooded districts (chiefly mountain-woods), well-timbered banks of 
streams, gardens, and wooded plains. The specimens that have occurred 
in the British Islands have all been taken in similar situations to those of 
its true eastern home. Mr. R. Tomes describes the capture of the 
specimen obtained in Gloucestershire ('Ibis,' 1859, p. 379) as follows :• — • 
" I may commence by stating that the village of Welford, five miles west 
of Stratford-on-Avon, where the specimen was obtained, is situated in a 
bend of the Avon, and that the soil is a rich alluvium. Its position is 
highly favourable for the growth of timber and fruit-trees ; and it is well 
shrouded in orchards and small enclosures, fringed with their hedgerows 
and ivied elms, affording a favourite haunt for many of the smaller birds, 
with a good supply of cherries and other fruits in the summer months, 
and of berries through the autumn and winter seasons. From a cherry- 
orchard, a few miles down stream, I obtained, a few years since, a specimen 
of the Rose-coloured Pastor; and Starlings and Thrushes abound. Of 
insect-feeders there is an equally good supply ; and I have had more than 
one opportunity of inspecting the nesting of the Lesser Spotted Wood- 
pecker. 

" In a small grass inclosure immediately adjoining the village, and 
thickly surrounded by elms, a friend of mine observed a bird rise from a 
dry leafy ditch, which, at the first glance, was mistaken for a Woodcock, 
but soon recognized as one of the Thrush kind. This happened on the 
6th of January ; and on hearing the account I stimulated further search, 
but without efi'ect until the 23rd of that month, when the bird was again 
flushed from the same inclosure, and, as before, from the bottom of a dry 
ditch amongst dead leaves. Again on the 26th it rose from the same 
ditch, and within a few yards of the same spot. On each occasion it was 
busied in turning over the dead leaves, from beneath which it appears to 
have taken its food. Although Blackbirds, Thrushes, and Missel-Thrushes 
were abundant and seen at the same time feeding on the ivy and hawthorn- 
berries, the present bird was alway.s observed to resort only to the trees or 
hedges when disturbed, and then merely as a place of rest, remaining for 

* J. G. Gmelin the Siberian traveller, not J. F. Gmelin, tlie compiler of the 13th 
edition of Linnseus. 



202 BRITISH BIRDS. 

some time perched in an upright position in one spot^ without noticing 
the berries or the species feeding on them. Its flighty when roused from 
its feeding, was very und\ilating, Uke that of the Green Woodpecker, and 
low, often settling on the ground, and only making choice of a tree when 
it happened to pass under one, into which it rose almost vertically. As far 
as its habits could be ascertained from these short opportunities of obser- 
vation, it would appear to be almost entirely a ground feeder.'" 

The above description of the habits of White's Ground-Thrush accords 
well with what little is known respecting them in the bird's true haunts. 
All the Thrushes are, to a certain extent, ground feeders ; but the members 
of this genus [Geocichla) are, par excellence, " ground "-Thrushes. Beetles, 
grubs, spiders, worms, and mollusks, found on the ground in humid situa- 
tions, at the foot of trees, under shrubs, and amongst withered leaves, 
evidently form its favourite food ; and its beautifully mottled plumage 
blends closely with the tints of surrounding objects, as the Woodcock's 
russet dress hides him so effectually from view as he sits so quietly amongst 
the withered autumn leaves. But various berries are also eaten, notably 
those of the banyan. These berries are most probably eaten as fruits, just 
as garden fruit is eaten by many of our own insectivorous birds. 

As to the bird's claims to the rank of a songster we are still in doubt. 
No one has yet informed us what his love-song is, or whether he is silent. 
A closely allied bird, the " Mountain-Thrush " of the Australian colo- 
nists {Geocichla lunulata), was never heard to sing by Gould during his 
sojourn in its favourite haunts. But, judging from analogy, it seems 
probable that the bird has a song, and that when its habits are better 
known to naturalists we shall have a confirmation of this. Its call-note 
is somewhat different fi-om that of the Song-Thrush ; and when passing 
through the air on migration it occasionally utters a melodious whistling 
cry. 

The only record of the nest of White's Thrush being taken is of that 
obtained by Swinhoe in North China, published in Rowley's ' Ornithological 
Miscellany,' vol. ii. p. 256. Mr. Swinhoe writes : — " It was not until I got 
to Ningpo, in 1872, that I found that White's Thrush spent the summer 
in the wooded parts of the hills around that neighbourhood ; and I thence 
conclude that it resides in similar hills, in summer, all down the coast of 
China, resorting to the plains and gardens in its winter migrations. In 
May 1872 I resided for a time at a large temple near Ningpo called 'Chin- 
hooze,' in the midst of woods situated on a hillside. Some boys pointed 
to a nest hidden in the upper branches of a high pine tree, and asked if 
they should climb to it. Thinking it was a Blackbird's, I assented, and 
then wandered away. Soon after I met the boys, who carried in their 
hands the nest (to all appearance that of a Blackbird), with three eggs, 
which, though so like a Blackbird's, had the dots so minute that they 



WHITE'S GROUND-THRUSH. 203 

struck me as being of an allied species^ probably the Oreocincla. I went 
back to the tree ; and on the bough where the nest had been were the 
parent birds in trouble at their loss. I saw them distinctly, and recognized 
them as being of this species." 

This nest, with two of the eggs, is now in my collection. It was built 
on a fork on a horizontal pine-branch, and is about 2i inches deep inside, 
and about 4 inches outside, 7 inches in outer and 41 inches in inner dia- 
meter. The outside is composed of withered rushes, fine and coarse grass, 
and moss, with an occasional twig and withered leaf, and plastered most 
copiously ATith mud. Here and there are a few pieces of some green weed, 
apparently conveyed in the mud from the swamps. The inside is lined 
with a thick coating of mud, like the nests of our own Ring-Ouzel or Black- 
bird ; and is then finally lined with fibrous rootlets, quite as coarse as those 
the Magpie uses, and one or two pieces of sedgy grass. In general ap- 
pearance the nest resembles most closely a common Magpie's without the 
sticks — just the mere cup, and is far more coarsely made than the nests of 
the true Thrushes. The eggs, greenish white with minute reddish spots, 
were three, although most probably the full number had not been laid. 
They resemble those of the Missel-Thrush ; but the ground-colour is slightly 
paler, and the spots much finer, more numerous, and more evenly distri- 
buted. They measure 1'2 inch in length and 0'9 inch in breadth. 

The whole upper plumage of White's Thrush, which is ochraceous brown, 
and the under plumage, which is white, tinged with bufi^ on the breast, is 
boldly marked with black crescentic spots. The wings are brown, margined 
with buff; and the wing-coverts also are tipped with the same colour. The 
tail, which is composed of fourteen feathers, has the four central ones 
ochraceous brown, the rest dark brown, all more or less broadly tipped with 
white. Bill brown above, pale below. Legs and feet yellowish brown. 
Irides dark brown. The sexes are presumably the same. 

White's Thrush has many very near allies ; but most of them may at 
once be distinguished by having only twelve tail-feathers. Two, however, 
have fourteen tail-feathers : one {Geocichla hancii) is simply a greyer- 
coloured bird, which may be regarded as little more than a local race 
that has apparently become a resident in the island of Formosa ; the 
other is an unquestionably good species [Geocichla ho7-sfieldi) , v/hich is a 
resident in the island of Java. In this species the general colour of the 
upper parts is ochraceous brown instead of olive-brown, and the pale 
ochraceous brown subterminal spots, which are found in White's Thrush 
on the feathers of both the head and back, are confined to the head only. 
The wing, probably in consequence of its having ceased to migrate, has 
become rounder, the second primary being intermediate in length between 
the fifth and sixth, instead of between the fourth and fifth. 



204 BRITISH BIRDS. 

GEOCICHLA SIBIRICA. 
SIBERIAN GROUND-THRUSH. 

Tmdua sibiricus, Pall. Reis. Muss. Reichs, iii. p. 694 (1776) ; et auctorum pluri- 

morum — VieiUot, Temminch, (J^oukl, Bonaparte, Gray, Newton, Dresser, &c. 
Turdus auroreus, Pallas, Zoogr. Rosso-Asiat. i. p. 448 (18:2(j, 5 )• 
Turdus leucocillus, Pallas, Zoogr. Rosso-Asiat. i. p. 450 (1826, cJ ). 
Turdus atrocyaneus, Homeyer, Isis, 1843, p. G04. 

Turdus mutabilis, Tmnm. fide Sonap. Compt. Rend, xxxviii. p. 5 (1854). 
Cichloselys sibiricus {Pall?), Bonap. Cat. Parzud. p. 5 (1856). 
Oreocuicla sibirica (Pall.), Jaub. et BaHh.-Lapomm. Rich. Orn. p. 202 (1859). 
Oreocincla inframarginata, Blyth, Journ. As. Soc. Beng. xxix. p. 106 (1860). 
Turdus inframarginatus (Blyth), Gray, PLand-l. B. i. p. 254 (1860). 
Geooicbla mutabilis {Temm?), S. Midler, fjle Blyth, Ibis, 1870, p. 167. 
Merula sibirica {Pall), Byh. Journ. Orn. 1872, p. 437. 
Turdulus sibiricus {Pall.), Hume, Stray Feath. Ti. p. 255 (1878). 
Geociohla sibirica {Pall), Seehohm, Cat. B. Brit. iMus. v. p. 180 (1881). 

The only claim of the Siberian Ground-Thrush to be included in the list 
of British birds rests upon a single example which was sent to Mr. Bond 
by a dealer who informed him that it was a variety of the Redwing that 
had been shot between Guildford and Godalming in the winter of 1860-61. 
The evidence is not very satisfactory. There can be no doubt that dealers 
are under very great temptation to pass olF foreign skins as British-killed, 
Although it is the boast of Englishmen that they are more truth- speaking 
than any other race, it is unfortunately the fact that amongst our shop- 
keepers and merchants there are many who do not scruple to lie for the 
sake of gain. But although ornithologists are perfectly justified in looking 
with suspicion upon examples of rare birds whose only authentication as 
British-killed is the word of a dealer, there does not seem to be any 
reasonable ground for doubt in the present case. Twenty years ago skins 
of the Siberian Ground-Thrush were so rare in collections that it would 
have been extremely difficult for a dealer to procure one, and the price was 
so high that the temptation to obtain an extra profit by passing a foreign 
skin off as British can scarcely be said to have existed. So far as is known 
the Siberian Ground-Thrush is confined during the breeding-season to 
Eastern Siberia; and this fact may of itself be supposed to be an argu- 
ment against its occurrence on our shores, were it not for the circumstance 
that the accidental appearance of Siberian birds in Europe is so common. 
One of the most extraordinary facts connected with that most extraordinary 
island of Heligoland is that these accidental occurrences occur almost re- 
gularly. I am not aware that the Siberian Ground-Thrush has occurred 
on Heligoland ; but I have lately examined a female of this species in the 
collection of my friend Eugene von Homeyer which was shot on the 25th 
of August 1851 at Elbing, near the Gulf of Danzig. Other occurrences in 
Europe have been recorded, from the Hartz Mountains, from Upper Silesia, 



SIBERIAN GROUND-THRUSH. 205 

from the Lower Oder, from the island of Riigen, from France, Belgium, 
Italy, and Turkey. The Siberian Ground-Thrush breeds in the valleys of 
the Yenesay and the Lena, between lat. 67° and 68°, and also near Yokohama 
in Japan. It winters in China, Burma, Sumatra, and Java, and has once 
occurred on the Andaman Islands. 

When Dresser's ' Birds of Europe ' was written nothing whatever was 
known of its habits or its breeding-haunts. I am sorry that I cannot give 
many particulars respecting these. When I was in Siberia I occasionally 
caught a hasty glimpse of a dark-coloured Thrush with a very conspicuous 
white eyebrow, not far from the village of Koorayika on the Arctic circle, 
whilst the remains of the ice were still straggling down the Yenesay. It 
was an extremely shy and wary bird ; and though I occasionally saw it 
crossing the open ground between the birch-plantations, I did not succeed 
in shooting one until the ] 9th of June. I was then walking in a dense 
birch-plantation ; the leaves were not yet out on the trees ; and a fortnight 
before the ground had been covered with a thick bed of snow. This had 
melted and exposed a thick bed of leaves, the accumulation of many years. 
As I was walking along I noticed a bird at some distance before me on the 
ground, and presently caught sight of its white eyebrow. The bird was 
very busy searching for food amongst the dead leaves ; and I had the good 
fortune to secure it. It proved to be a fine male in adult plumage. I saw 
one or two afterwards in the same locality, but was unable to get within 
shot. I did not see it further north than the Koorayika ; but my travelling 
companion, Mr. Boiling, assured me that he saw one in lat. 68°, and I found 
that it was well known to the inhabitants as the Chdrnoi Drosht, or Black 
Thrush. They informed me that it was by no means uncommon during 
the breeding-season at Toorokansk. Messrs. Blakiston and Pryer, in their 
notes on the Birds of Japan (Ibis, 1878, p. 211), state that this bird is 
possessed of a not very loud but sweet song, for which reason it is a favourite 
cage-bird there. Nothing whatever is knoAvn of its eggs or nest. 

The male bird is dark slate-grey, with a very conspicuous white eyebrow, 
and with the centre of the belly, the tips of the under tail-coverts, a spot at 
the end of the outside tail-feather on each side, and the peculiar Geocichline 
pattern on the under surface of the wing pure white. BiU black ; legs very 
light brown ; irides dark hazel. The female differs from the male in having 
the upper parts olive-brown, shading into dull slate-grey on the rump and 
upper tail-coverts ; eye-stripe buff, shading into white on the nape ; wings 
and wing-coverts russet-brown ; underparts white, shading into brown on the 
flanks, and into buff on the breast, each feather tipped with olive-brown. 
Males of the year are suffused with brown on the head and wings, and have 
ochraceous tips to the greater and some of the median wing-coverts ; the 
chin and throat are also suffased with ochraceous, and the thi'oat and breast 
are barred. 



206 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus TURDUS. 

The genus Turdus was established by Linnseus in 1766^ in his ' Systema 
Naturse/ i. p. 291^ and T. viscivorus has by common consent been accepted 
as the type. It contains the true Thrushes^ which may be distinguished from 
the Ground-Thrushes by not having the peculiar Geocichline pattern on the 
wing, and from the Ouzels by having the throat streaked and the sexes 
alike. 

The true Thrushes are most abundant in the Neotropical Region, whence 
about five and twenty species have been described, and in the iEthiopian 
Region, where about a dozen species are resident. Half a dozen species or 
more are peculiar to the Nearctic Region, whilst in the Palsearctic Region 
only five species occur, of which two are residents in our islands and two 
winter visitors. 

The Thrushes are closely connected with the Ouzels. The haunts they 
affect are almost entirely arboreal ; and in their habits they do not differ 
from the Ouzels. They are even more sociable than the preceding group 
of birds. Like them they possess great powers of song, being probably 
amongst the finest songsters in the world. They all build open nests, well 
made and compact, of dry grass, sticks, moss, and mud, and place them 
usually in bushes, sometimes high up in the branches of trees, and more 
rarely on the ground. Their eggs are from four to six in number, varying 
from clear bluish green to green in ground-colour, spotted and mottled 
with various shades of brown. Their food also does not differ from that of 
the Ouzels. 



THE MISSEL-THRUSH. 207 

TURDUS VISCIVORUS. 

THE MISSEL-THRUSH. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdus major, Briss. Orn. ii. p. 200 (1760). 

Turdus viscivoru?, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 201 (ITliO) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Latham, Pallas, Temminck, Nauinann, Bonaparte, Neiotun, Gould, Sharpe, 

Dresser, &c. 
Sylvia viscivora (Linn.), Savi, Orn. Tosc. i. p. 208 (1827). 
Ixocossyphus viscivoi'us (Linn.), Kaup, Natiirl. Si/xf. p. 14-j (1820). 
Morula viacivora (Linn.), Selby, Brit. Orn. i. p. 158 (1833). 

The " Stormcock/' as this bird is popularly called, is one of those few 
species which, during the progress of very recent times, has extended its 
range in the British Islands. This extension has taken a northerly direction, 
and may be attributed to a variety of causes — tree-planting and the laying- 
out of shrubberies and pleasure-grounds being possibly the chief encourage- 
ment. So far as tlie earlier history of the Missel-Thrush has been recorded, 
the bird was an inhabitant of the sheltered places, the pastoral districts of 
the lowlands; but from them it has gradually spread itself over more 
isolated and northerly plantations, woods, and coppices, up to the moor- 
land wastes. It may now be said to be a common bird in most sufficiently 
wooded localities throughout Great Britain and Ireland, becoming rather 
more local and rarer in the extreme north. The Missel-Thrush has 
gradually spread itself over the Western Isles of Scotland. In Skye 
Missel-Thrushes were fairly numerous up to the severe winter of 1879-80, 
since which time the birds have almost entirely disappeared again. Dixon 
during his stay in the season of 1881 found one nest of this bird on the 
wooded banks of a burn ; but now the bird is certainly a rare one there. 
Upon the Orkneys it is sometimes found after easterly gales — birds most 
probably blown out of their course during migration ; but it has not yet 
been recorded from Shetland. Upon the European continent the Missel- 
Thrush breeds thronghout the temperate portions, extending on the west 
coast as far north as the Arctic circle. Eastwards it ranges through 
Turkestan to the North-west Himalayas and Lake Baikal. In many of 
the milder portions of its haunts the bird is resident, or is subject to in- 
ternal migration from the hills to the valleys ; but by far the greater 
number winter in Southern Europe and North Africa, a few birds remain- 
ing to breed in the former locality, the Siberian birds wintering in South 
Persia, and the Indian ones seeking the lower valleys and sheltered districts 
at that season. 



208 BRITISH BIRDS. 

The haunts of the Missel-Thrush are considerably diversified^ the rich, 
■well-cultivated districts and the borders of the moorlands bein^ equally- 
tenanted by them. In the former situation it is usually found in the 
neighbourhood of large gardens^ in orchards, shrubberies, small woods, and 
plantations, and especially in well-wooded parks and pleasure-grounds. 
On the borders of the upland wilds it frequents the fir-plantations, wooded 
roughs, and the banks of mountain-streams and coppices of birch and 
alder. The Missel-Thrush is found in Great Britain throughout the year; 
but it is subject to some little internal migration. For instance, the birds 
that frequent the upland districts in summer retire to the lower lands in 
winter ; and birds from the more isolated woods and coppices draw nearer 
to the cultivated districts should the weather be severe. But these re- 
marks apply to our indigenous birds alone. The rigours of a northern 
winter send the Missel-Thrush southwards ; and considerable numbers of 
these migrants remain on our shores throughout the winter, arriving at 
the same time as the Fieldfare, with which bird they often associate. 
Although for the greater part of the year the Missel-Thrush is a non- 
gregarious bird, still in the early autumn, when the breeding-season is 
over, and the young birds are strong on the wing, a sociable disposition 
manifests itself. The birds are then seen in little parties ; and as the 
autumn progresses they congregate in considerable flocks, very often being 
mistaken for early arrivals of Fieldfares. At this season the Missel- 
Thrushes are extremely wild and wary, and are usually seen on the turnip- 
fields or newly-ploughed lands in the early morning, and later in the 
day on the grass-fields and stubbles. In the turnip-fields they choose 
the parts where the crop has been cleared off, and, as a rule, do not skulk 
under the broad leaves, like the Song-Thrush ; but they are, nevertheless, 
easily alarmed, and take wing the instant danger threatens, rising into the 
air, and flying from tree to tree, uttering their harsh and grating cries 
both as they fly and when they are at rest in the tree-tops. As the year 
begins to wane and the leafless twigs tell of the approach of winter, these 
bands of Missel-Thrushes, from some unknown cause, disperse ; and for 
the rest of the winter the birds either live in solitude or congregate in 
small parties only. Although in the nesting-season few birds excel the 
Missel-Thrush in trustfulness, at all other times of the year he is a shy 
and wary bird, and rarely comes near houses, save when hard pressed for 
food. Missel- Thrushes, as a rule, fly much higher than Song-Thrushes 
or Blackbirds. They are capable of flying with great SAviftness, and have 
considerable command over themselves in the air — witness their motions 
round the head of an intruder when in the neighbourhood of their nest. 
At other times they fly with a scries of rapid beats with but short intervals 
of cessation, and with but very little undulation. The Missel-Tbriish 



THE MISSEL-THRUSH. 209 



a 



when about to alight on a tree usually ascends some little distance to 
perching-place. It is a decided inhabitant of trees and shrubs, except 
when in search of food, which for eight months in the year is found chiefly 
on the ground. The remaining four months he is for the most part a 
berry feeder, although, if the weather be mild and open, we find him 
pretty frequently on the grasslands in company with the Redwing. 

The Missel-Thrush is partly graminivorous and partly insectivorous, 
according to the season of the year. In the spring and summer it is seen 
on the pastures just as frequently as the Blackbird j but, unlike that 
species and the Song-Thrush, it never seeks its food under the evergreens 
and hedgerows, but always in the open. On the grass it obtains earth- 
worms, snails (both those with and those without shells), larvje of 
various kinds, and insects. In the late summer, and throughout the 
autumn, fruit and berries are largely sought after. This fare is obtained 
in gardens as well as woods, and is composed of cherries, gooseberries, 
raspberries, and in the upland districts the various moor fruit and the 
berries of the mountain-ash. The berries of the service-tree in the 
autumn months are perhaps more eagerly sought after by the Missel- 
Thrush than any other food. Where the trees are covered with fruit the 
birds may be seen incessantly, frequenting them until they are entirely 
stripped. In late autumn and in early spring, when sowing-operations 
are in progress, the l\Iissel-Thrush will frequent the fields and pick up the 
scattered grain, varying this fare with grubs and insects. In winter the 
bird is to a great extent a wanderer. Its food is largely composed of 
berries of the hawthorn ; and, like the Fieldfare, it wanders from one district 
to another. The berry that is perhaps most closely associated with the 
Missel-Thrush is that of the famous parasite the misseltoe. Popular 
opinion regards this waxen berry as the staple food of the " Stormcock," and 
assumes that the bird is the principal disseminator of this parasitic plant. 
Pliny even propounded the startling theory that the berries of this plant 
will not germinate unless they have previously passed through the intes- 
tines of birds, notably of the Missel-Thrush ! This bird does not eat the 
berries of the misseltoe to such an extent as is popularly believed. In 
districts where this plant abounds it is rarely found denuded of its berries, 
although the jMissel-Thnish may be the commonest of birds in the neigh- 
bourhood. The berries of tlie hawthorn, the ivy, and the service-tree are 
its staple food in the winter season. It is not at all improbable, however, 
that when the birds do occasionally eat the berries of the misseltoe the 
seeds are disseminated by their clinging to the bill of the bird, who, to rid 
itself of them, cleans it on the bark, and thus unwittingly places them in 
some crevice where they eventually germinate. The Missel-Thrush sings 
throughout the winter. In early autumn, after being silent throughout 
the breeding-season^ he regains his powers of song, and may be heard to 

VOL. I. P 



210 BRITISH BIRDS. 

sing until the nesting-season in the following spring. Xo sooner has this 
time arrived than the " Stormcock " drops his wild melody, and, unlike 
all his congeners, performs the duties of breeding in silence. The song 
resembles in some of its tones that of the Song-Thrush and Blackbird; 
but it possesses a peculiar loudness and wild variation strictly its own, and 
may, by one who pays attention to the songs of birds, be instantly dis- 
tinguished from the notes of any other British songster. Like the notes 
of the Ring-Ouzel, it is somewhat monotonous, but rich and mellow. 
Before the first streak of dawn shoots across the dull wintery sky, the 
jNIissel-Thrush may be heard pouring forth his wild carol; and in the 
evening, when the dusk is falling, he sings equally well. But perhaps 
the time the " Stormcock's " song is heard to best advantage is on some 
wild day when part of his performance is drowned by the storm. Perched 
on the leafless branches of a lofty tree, he sits and warbles forth his song 
amidst the driving sleet and the roaring tempest. Should you disturb the 
Missel-Thrush when singing, he usually drops silently down and awaits 
your departure, though sometimes he merely retires to a neighbouring 
tree and warbles as sweetly as before. The call-notes of the ^lissel-Thrush 
are extremely harsh and discordant, resembUug those of the Song-Thrush, 
yet infinitely louder and harsher. 

ilissel-Thrushes pair- about the first week in February, and at that 
season they are very pugnacious ; and when paired they often frequent 
the locality of their nest weeks before a twig is laid in furtherance of it. 

Very probably, on account of its exceptional wariness of disposition, the 
Missel-Thrush prefers somewhat different nesting-sites, and, to a certain 
extent, breeding-grounds, from those of its near allies the Song-Thrush and 
the Blackbird. Still much of this inherent wariness disappears in the breed- 
ing-season, and it will frequently rear its young in the most exposed situa- 
tions. The Missel-Thrush is an early breeder, commencing in some cases 
in February ; and two (and sometimes three) broods are reared in the season. 
Its nest may be found on most of the forest ti'ees, and but rarely in the bushes. 
The birch-copses, larch-plantatious, woods, and orchards are its favourite 
haunts, and in some cases trees standing alone, especially a road-side oak 
or elm. A favourite situation is the alder trees bordering a stream, even on 
the banks of the mountain-torrents on the moorlands. The nest is built at 
various heights, sometimes only a few feet from the ground, at others near 
the topmost branches. You never find it in the slender twigs, but either 
placed on some horizontal bough away from the trunk, or on a suitable fork 
of the main stem. Instances are known of the bird building in evergreens, 
only a few feet from the ground ; but such cases are exceptions ; indeed 
this bird seems to have a peculiar aversion to using evergreens for a nesting- 
place. 



THE MISSEL-THRUSH. 211 

No other British Thrush exposes its nest in such a seemingly careless 
manner as the " Stormcock ;" yet it is surprising how often it escapes 
detection in its open position until the young are safely reared. This 
may be partly attributed to the bird's quietness of disposition ; for few 
birds are so silent in the breeding-season^ until it is aware that its nest is 
discovered. Probably few other British bird's nests exceed in pictu- 
resqueness the home of this Thrush. There is a peculiar rustic beauty 
about it which few others possess. Like the nest of the Blackbird (indeed 
of all the Thrushes) J it undergoes three distinct stages before completion. 
Firsts the outside is composed of grass, chickweed, bog-moss, and often 
large masses of wool, through which are artfully woven a few slender 
twigs to strengthen the sides of the structure. This nest is lined with 
mud or clay ; and, lastly, a very thick lining of grass, usually in a green 
state, completes the work. No attempt at concealment is made ; indeed 
it seems that the birds rather court discovery than otherwise ; for it is no 
uncommon thing to see a large piece of wool hanging loosely from a nest, 
or a portion of the nest itself so lightly put together as to cause it to arrest 
the attention at once. The eggs of the Missel-Thrush very rarely exceed 
four in number, and in but very few cases are less. They are somewhat 
different from the typical Thrush's eggs, being of a greyer tinge. The 
ground-colour ranges from bluish white to reddish brown, spotted, blotched, 
and clouded with various shades of rich purplish brown and with greyish 
underlying spots. They vary considerably in size, form, and colour, very 
often in the same clutch. They vary in length from 1'32 to 1"03 inch, 
and in breadth from 094 to 0'8 inch. 

Missel-Thrushes are amongst the noisiest of birds should their nest be 
menaced by danger. Uttering their harsh grating cries, they fly round 
the intruder's head and do their best to make him quit its vicinity. No 
Thrush is bolder or more vigilant ; and the Magpie, the Jay, and even the 
Sparrow-Hawk are often frightened away by the vigour of their attack. 

The Missel-Thrush, from its superiority of size, cannot readily be mis- 
taken for any other British Thrush. Its colouring is chaste, the whole 
upper parts being olive-brown, more or less suffused with rufous on the 
back; the underparts are white, boldly spotted with large dark brown 
fan-shaped spots. Bill dark brown, paler at the base. Legs pale brown. 
Irides dark brown. Its pure white axillaries will serve to distinguish it 
from all other British Thrushes except from the Fieldfare, whose slate- 
grey rump contrasts strongly with the ochraceous brown rump of the 
Missel-Thrush. 

Eastern examples of this species from Turkestan and North-west India 
are slightly greyer in the general colour of the upper parts, and are, on 
an average, larger in size, European examples varying in length of wing 
from 6-1 to 5-6 inch, whilst examples from Turkestan and India vary from 

p2 



212 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



6-7 to 6'0 inch. In Asia Minor intermediate formSj however, occur, 
varying in length of wing from 6'15 to 5'85 inch. Some ornithologists 
consider the Eastern form a distinct species, which they recognize under 
the name of Turdus hodysoni ; but as intermediate forms occur, it can only 
rank as a subspecies or local race. 

American ornithologists would undoubtedly call this bird T. viscivorus, 
var. hodgsoni. There can be no doubt that this form of nomenclature, 
though somewhat complicated, has the great advantage of showing at a 
glance the affinities of the bird. It is impossible for our nomenclature to 
denote the degree of relationship which exists between species. To 
attempt to express this would be to return to the old mode of designating 
a species by a sentence. Were these local varieties rare, ornithologists 
would not have much difficulty in remembering which names only repre- 
sented subspecific forms ; but modern researches have shown us many 
local varieties, and there can be little doubt that many more remain 
to be discovered. If we still retain the binomial system of nomenclature 
for all these local races, our catalogues of birds will be doubled if not 
trebled in length, and will become exceedingly misleading. I see no other 
alternative to avoid this except to join our American ornithologists in 
reviving the system of nomenclature originally proposed by Linnseus and 
already adopted by botanists. 




THE SONG-THRUSH. 213 



TURDUS MUSICUS. 

THE SONG-THRUSH. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdiis minor, Bviss. Oni. ii. p. 205 (1760). 

Turdus musicus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 2'J2 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum — ■ 

Latham, Bechsti'ln, Pallas, Temmmck, Naumann, Neivton, Oould, Gray, Sharpe, 

Dresser, &e. 
Turdus iliacus, Linn. a27ud Bodd. Table PI. Enl. p. 24 (1733). 
Turdus pilaris, Linn, a^md Bodd. Table PI. Enl. p. 29 (178.3). 
Sylvia musica {Linn?), Savi, Orn. Tosc. i, p. 211 (1827j. 
Merula musica (Linn.), Selby, Brit. Orn. i. p. 102 (1833). 
Iliacus musicus {Linn.), Lies JIurs, Traite d'Ool. p. 292 (1860). 

The Song-Thrush breeds throughout Great Britain and Ireland in all 
well-cultivated districts, or Tvhere the ground is sufficiently wooded to 
afford it shelter. In the extreme north of Scotland, although birch trees 
abound, the bird is rare, but appears to be increasing in numbers. It 
breeds in the Orkney Islands ; but its nest has not yet been taken in the 
Shetlands. On the Hebrides, even to the wild isolated rock o£ St. Kilda, 
the Song-Thrush is found, and in many of the islands it is quite numerous. 
In Skye it is one of the commonest of land birds, and is sometimes seen 
far amongst the wide stretches of heath where not a tree or bush is visible. 
The bird also breeds on the rocky heights of Ailsa Craig, where its only 
nesting-sites are amongst the rocks and caves. 

The breeding-range of the Song-Thrush extends across the Palsearctic 
Region from the Atlantic as far east as the valley of the Yenesay and Lake 
Baikal, but the bird is much commoner in the west than in the east. In 
Norway, probably in consequence of the influence of the Gulf-stream, it 
is found up to, and occasionally beyond, the Arctic circle ; but in Siberia 
it is rarely met with north of lat. 60°. In Southern Europe it breeds very 
sparingly, and only at higli elevations. In England the Song-Thrush is 
only a partial migrant ; but on the continent, where the winters are so 
much colder, it leaves the north, like other summer visitors, and repairs 
in great numbers to winter in South Europe and North Africa. In the 
latter continent it has been found wintering as far south as Nubia. The 
Siberian Song-Thrushes apparently winter in South Persia. 

The home of the Song-Thrush is the woods and hillsides, the banks of 
streams, and all sheltered places where brushwood abounds. Near dwell- 
ing-houses the "Throstle" is a common bird, frequenting orchards, 
gardens, and hedgerows ; in fact, wherever we find the Blackbird we may 



214 BRITISH BIRDS. 

expect to find the Song-Thrush. Like that bird, his favourite haunt is the 
bright glossy foliage of evergreens. Amongst the wild scenery of the High- 
lands the Song-Thrush gladdens the moorland wastes, and his varied 
melody is often heard amidst the mountains. 

The Song-Thrush is a skulking bird, although not perhaps so much so 
as the Blackbird. It is extremely fond of hiding under dense thickets and 
the broad close foliage of evergreens where the branches sweep the ground. 
It is here the birds obtain much of their food ; and in some cases regular 
paths are made through the dense underwood, especially behind walls or 
hedgerows, which often put you in mind of a weasel's " run." Indeed the 
Song-Thrush is, of all other birds, perhaps the most frequently caught in 
the " figure of four" traps set for weasels, owing to its peculiar habit of 
hopping under the brushwood. Like the Blackbird, it is flushed with diffi- 
culty when in these situations, and always prefers to hop quickly along the 
ground rather than take wing. AVhen flushed it flies rapidly away, and 
alights suddenly, as though anxious to enter the nearest suitable cover 
and hide itself as quickly as possible. The Song-Thrush is more often seen 
above the tree-tops than the Blackbird, and will take long and rapid flights 
to and from its feeding-grounds at some elevation, seldom uttering a note. 
It becomes unusually vociferous towards evening ; and its chattering cry is 
heard well into the night. Autumn, or, perhaps, still more in the last few 
fine days before winter fairly sets in, its garrulity is the greatest. Then 
in the wooded depths of his roosting-place you hear his sharp cry, almost 
like the noise made by a ratchet-drill, which he keeps up as he flits from 
place to place long after it begins to be dark, and when most other birds 
have retired to rest. Upon the ground the Song-Thrush proceeds in a 
series of hops, seldom if ever running or walking. His attitude when in 
the act of listening intently is with the wings drooping slightly, tail almost 
horizontal, and head slightly raised ; but he never elevates his tail upon 
alighting like the Blackbird. 

More than twenty years ago Professor Newton endeavoured to show in 
the pages of the 'Ibis' (1860, p. 83) that the Song-Thrush was a regular 
migratory bird in Great Britain. My own observations as well as those of 
Dixon and others confirm this theory. This fact has been overlooked by 
most British writers ; but continental naturalists class the bird as a regular 
migrant. In our own country, as soon as the days of summer decline and 
autumnal tints appear in the landscape, the Song-Thrush is seen in little 
companies ; and as autumn passes away, and the fogs and chilly nights of 
November arrive, the birds nearly all take their departure, and where they 
once swarmed only one or two solitary individuals are to be seen. The Rivelin 
valley, a few miles from Sheffield, is annually the scene of an unmista- 
kable migration of the Song-Thrush. Late in autumn the birds for a few 
days literally swarm in the Rivelin copses, where at all other times of 



THE SONG-THRUSH. 215 

the year they are absent altogether, or nearly so. Although the birds 
abound here so plentifully they arc not at all gregarious : social they 
may be ; yet each seems to coniine itself to its own affairsj to fly off alone, 
and apparently to live by itself. By the latter end of January or early in 
February, when the first faint signs of approaching spring are seen, the 
Song-Thrushes are back once more in their old haunts. There can be 
little doubt that they migrate, like the Redwing, in the night ; for one day 
not a bird is to be seen in their favourite haunts, but the next their 
mellow varied song fills the air. Instantly upon tlicir arrival they are in 
fall song, and pairing begins at once. Heligoland is an excellent post of 
observation for seeing the migration of the Song-Thrush. On the eastern 
end of this interesting little rock are the " throstle-bushes." The island 
contains scarcely any trees or shruljs, and is for the most part laid out 
in potato-patches. These "throstle-bushes" are erected by the inhabi- 
tants, and have a net on one side, into which the poor Thrushes are driven 
with lanterns and sticks the instant they alight. By the side of these 
artificial bushes the Heligolanders watch on favourable nights for the 
arrival of the birds. Aeuckens, the bird-stuffer there, related to me 
with great gusto how, suddenly, a rush and whirl of wings would be heard, 
and, without a moment's warning, the throstle-bushes would swarm with 
Thrushes, not dropped, but as if shot like an arrow from a bow perpendicu- 
larly down from the invisible heights of mid-air. The number of Thrushes 
thus caught is almost incredible, it being no unusual thing for several 
hundreds to be taken in a single night, thus clearly proving to what 
a very great extent the Song-Thrush is a migratory bird. In our own 
land we suspect the reason this migration has been overlooked is from the 
fact that the birds leave so quietly, and that the Redwings take their place 
and are mistaken for them. 

At feeding-time in early morning and evening the actions of the 
Song-Thrush may be best observed. "Watch him hop cautiously from the 
laurels, just venturing a yard or so upon the lawn, and, with body crouching 
low amongst the grass, stand motionless for a few moments as if fearful 
of being discovered so far out in the open. Note well his elegant and 
sprightly form, his neat trim figure, his richly spotted breast, and large 
bright eye, as he sits so wary, yet unconscious of your presence. See 
him at last hop quickly forward and pull out a worm with a jerk from its 
hole in the earth, and swallow it at once. Not a sound escapes him as he 
Lops hither and thither in search of worms, grabs, and snails, or snaps now 
and then at a passing fly. But your careless movements have alarmed 
him ; he crouches low and timid for a moment, and then takes himself off 
to the cover whence he came. Although the Song-Thrush does not feed 
on berries so much as the Blackbird or the Fieldfare, still it eats them 
freely in autumn and early spring, especially those of the mountain-ash. 



216 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the hawthorn, and the wild rose. The Song-Thrush is not so much a fruit 
feeder as the true Ouzels. He eats a few of the wild fruits of the woods, 
such as the blackberry, raspberry, and wild strawberry, and even visits 
the garden in cherry-time ; but his food is far more animal than vegetable. 
The Song-Thrush is a large feeder on the snails whose pretty shells are 
found in almost every hedgerow. In some retired situation you may not 
unfrequently find little heaps of shell-fragments near large stones and 
under the hedges. These shells have been broken by the Song-Thrush to 
obtain the snails within them, and are a silent proof of the bird's usefulness. 
This bird obtains much of its food amongst the withered leaves and marshy 
places in woods and shrubberies, and in autumn frequents the turnip- 
fields and cabbage-beds in search of snails and grubs. At this season of 
the year the fields of white turnips especially abound with Song-Thrushes, 
and you may sometimes flush them almost at every step. These birds are 
on migration, are only resting here on their journey, and in a few days at 
most will be again on their way to their winter-quarters. In hay-time the 
Song-Thrush frequents the newly mown grass-lands near its favourite 
haunts in search of worms and insects. In all parts of the field they 
may be seen, some sitting upon the newly mown swathes, others digging 
away amongst the short herbage. To see them now, the inexperienced 
observer would think them gregarious bu'ds ; but such is not the case, 
and, as soon as its wants are supplied, each returns to its haunts again, 
alone and solitary as it came. 

The Song-Thrush sings very early in the year, his rich and varied notes 
commencing as soon as he arrives in his old haunts. From this time 
forward he warbles incessantly up to the moulting-season in July, when, 
by the way, birds of the year may often be heard making attempts at song. 
Dixon writes of the S ong- Thrush : — "In Great Britain the 'Throstle's' 
song is the favourite music of the country, as well known as it is dear to 
the hearts of all who have opportunity of listening to its strains. Amongst 
all the ranks of our feathered musicians we cannot find a bird whose 
melody is so pleasing and varied as that of the ' Throstle.' His notes may 
be said to be almost endless in variety, each note seemingly uttered at the 
caprice of the bird, and without any perceptible approach to order. The 
Song-Thrush warbles throughout the day ; but morning and evening are 
the times that his melody seems the best, and when he sings in largest 
numbers too. Stray, gentle reader, into his haunts at the dawn of day, 
when the first streak of morning appears glimmering over the eastern 
horizon, and surrounding objects are beginning to assume a more decided 
outline against the grey morning sky ; then you will be greeted with his 
few first notes, his first attempt at music since the previous evening. 
Gradually it swells into a lovely song, and is carried for half a mile or 
more along the valley by the gentle zephyrs of early morn. Shortly you 
will hear another from a neighbouring tree ; another and another are 



THE SONG-THRUSH. 217 

heard in rapid succession as the day spreads widely around; and finally 
the air seems laden with their joyous notes^ now intermingled with the 
charming song of the Robin and Wren, and the rich and flute-like tones 
of the Blackbird, the whole forming a perfect plethora of music — Nature's 
morning concei't, the morning anthem of the woods and fields. Or should 
his morning melody not suit your convenience, pay his haunt a visit as the 
sun nears the western horizon ; hear his requiem to the parting day. It 
may not please so much as his morning song; for then there is a 
freshness and a vigour throughout all animated nature that probably gilds 
his performance with a higher charm and lends it an additional sweetness. 
Still its rich modulations, its infinite variety, and its soothing strains 
will give unspeakable delight, should the love, the poetry of nature be at 
all prominent in the soul. Listen, then, to its sweetness till the evening 
has wrapped the woods in gloom, or the night mist creeps round the moun- 
tains, hiding the speckled songster from your view ; for he will warble so loug 
as the last streaks of day are visible. But darkness does not always stay 
his music ; and in the hours of midnight, notably near the summer solstice, 
when the dawn is spreading almost as soon as the twilight leaves the western 
sky, he will sit and warble too. There is no monotony in the notes of the 
Song-Thrush; they are for ever on the change; and when the birds are 
numerous and full of song, the cflTect produced is indeed a grand one, and 
far beyond the art of the most graphic pen to describe." 

The Song-Thrush delights to sing when the soft summer showers are 
falling. He will perch among the branches under the broad leaves, or 
sometimes under a projecting rock, and there warble for hours. He has 
also been known to sing most vigorously during severe thunderstorms. 

The Song-Thrush is a remarkably tame and confiding bird. It is their 
music which make him and the Sky-Lark so prominent. At most times of 
the year he is a skulking bird ; but as soon as the first signs of the coming 
spring warn him to chose a mate, he forgets his life of seclusion. Perch- 
ing on the topmost branches of trees and shrubs, even on walls and 
other exposed situations^ he then fills the air with his rich and powerful 
notes — notes so indescribably beautiful, so varied, and continued for such 
length of time, as to irresistibly arrest the attention and win the warmest 
admiration. A peculiarity in the song of this bird, which distinguishes 
it from the songs of other Thrushes, is that it constantly repeats itself. 
No sooner has it uttered three or four notes, than, apparently pleased with 
the combination, it instantly repeats them. Then it tries another quite 
different combination, which it as constantly repeats. The song has not 
the rich full melody of that of the Blackbird ; but it is infinitely more 
varied and generally more prolonged. The call and alarm notes of the 
Song-Thrush are somewhat varied. Its call-note is a peculiar low cry, 
something like a Redwing's ; its note when alarmed is a harsh guttural 
cry, more like a low scream than any thing else ; and its alarm-notes when 



218 BRITISH BIRDS. 

its nest is approaclied, or when disturbed at roost, are harsh chattering 
cries, ahiiost like those of the Missel-Thrush, yet uttered more rapidly, and 
perhaps more metallic in sound. 

One of the first birds, after winter has passed, to cross a twig as a 
beginning of its nest is the Song-Thrush. March has scarcely arrived 
ere we notice the first rude foundation of this charming songster's cradle. 
We find it in every species of evergreen far more frequently than amongst 
the branches of deciduous trees : — in the trailing ivy on walls or rocks or 
growing up the trunks of trees at various heights from the ground; in 
the dark-mantled yew, the laurel, and, perhaps most frequently of all, in 
the green branches of the holly. It is also placed on the ground on banks, 
in whitethorn trees and hedgerows, and more rarely on walls. A favourite 
situation is against the trunk of a tree, upon a bunch of little branches 
that partially conceal it. Here the bird may often be seen sitting close, with 
tail pointing one way and beak the other, each at the same angle to the plane 
of the nest, and you may pass almost under it or even catch the bird's eye 
if you walk quietly past, without causing it to leave its eggs. The nest is 
a bulky structure, and composed outwardly of dry grass, with generally a 
few twigs and sometimes a little moss. This grass-formed nest is then 
lined with a thick coating of mud or clay, and sometimes cow's dung, with 
decayed wood as a final lining. As the Song-Thrush is the only Tlirush 
that lines its nest in this peculiar manner, a detailed description of the 
process may not be out of place. Decaying fences and tree-roots, or 
rotten branches torn from the trees by the wintry blasts, are the source 
from, which the bird obtains a supply of this material. When her nest 
has arrived at a certain stage, she repairs to this decaying wood for the 
means of completing her handiwork. She choses those logs, fences, or 
roots already well saturated with moisture ; or failing to find them in this 
state, she moistens the wood in the nearest water. Bit by bit it is convej^ed 
to her nest, and there, by the aid of pressure, she moulds it with her body, 
forming a lining in some instances an eighth of an inch in thickness, and 
which, from the warmth of the sitting bird, soon becomes hard and 
dry. Nests are, however, met with where this lining is very scanty — pro- 
bably from the scarceness of decaying wood. When finished the nest is 
usually left for a day or so to dry ere the first egg is deposited. Several 
days are employed in its construction, although in rare instances it is 
begun and finished in a single day. Dixon gives the following in the 
article on the Song-Thrush in his ' Rural Bird-Life : ' — " I found a nest of 
the Song-Thrush in a small yew bush, and in a very exposed situation, 
which I removed. Three days afterwards I again visited the place, and 
was surprised to find that the birds had almost completed a fresh nest. I 
removed this also, and visited the place the following day, when I was still 
further surprised to find that the little songsters had almost completed a 
third nest, so attached were the little architects to their somewhat ill-chosen 



THE SONG-TIIRUSII. 219 

site. This structure, ho^yevcr, was removed like the former ones ; and on 
the evening of the following day a fourth nest was there, and the bird upon it, 
putting the finishing touches ; and an egg was laid the following day ; for I 
could not find it in my heart to remove this their fourth piece of handi- 
work. I may add that all the nests were excellently made." 

The eggs of the Song-Thrush are four or five in number, and may 
readily be distinguished from those of any other species of British bird. 
They are of a beautiful clear greenish blue, marked with small spots of a 
deep rich brown approaching to black. Eggs of this bird vary considerably, 
both in size and markings. Many eggs (doubtless the production of the 
older birds) are exceptionally large ; others more resemble the Redwing's 
in size. Some eggs (though these are rare) are spotless ; others are very 
richly spotted and blotched with reddish brown and various tints of purplish 
grey. Eggs that are boldly blotched never have the colouring-matter so 
intense as those on which the markings are small. They vary in length 
from 1'16 to "95 inch, and from '9 to "7 inch in breadth. 

The Song-Thrush is a very close sitter, often remaining upon her charge 
until touched by the hand of some prying naturalist. Her conduct when 
disturbed from the nest is similar to that of the ilissel-Tlirush ; her 
harsh cries and active motions, with those of her mate, awaken the 
silent woods, and speak most plainly of the anxiety of the birds for their 
treasure. Both birds sit upon the eggs and young, and tend their young 
for a short time after they have left the nest. The Song-Thrush rears two, 
and occasionally three, broods in the year, a fresh nest in all cases being 
built for the purpose. 

The general colour of the Song-Thrush's plumage is olive-brown 
above, the wing-coverts tipped with rich buff; the under plumage is 
whitish, with a fulvous tinge on the breast and sides, which, in addition to 
the ear-coverts, cheeks, fore neck, chest, and flanks, are spotted M'ith black ; 
bill dark brown, paler at the base of the under mandible; legs pale; irides 
brown. The sexes are alike ; but the nesting birds are mottled all over the 
upper surface with ochraceous buff; yet after the first moult they are like 
their parents. The abrasion which takes place during winter and spring 
causes the upper parts to be slightly greyer, much of the yellowish buff on the 
breast and flanks disappears, and the spots on the underparts become smaller. 

The nearest relation of the Song-Thrush is Pere David's Thrush (Turdus 
auritii.s), inhabiting Northern and Western China. 

This species appears not to be a migratory bird ; and probably from 
this cause its wings have become rounder; the second primary, instead 
of being intermediate in length between the fourth and fifth, is very little 
longer than the seventh. The colours are darker and richer, and the spots 
more developed. It differs also in the colour of its eggs : Prjevalsky, the 
great Central-Asian traveller, found it breeding in North China, and 
states that its eggs are always unspotted blue. 



220 BRITISH BIRDS. 

TURDUS ILIACUS. 
THE EEDWING. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdus iliacus, Briss. Orn. ii. p. 208 (1760) ; Lmn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 292 (1766) ; et 
auctorum plurimorum — Latham, Bechstein, Temminck, Naumann, Gould, 
Oray, Bonaparte, Newton, Sharpe, Dresser, &c. 

Turdus mauvis, Midi. Syst. Nat. Suppl. p. 141 (1776). 

Turdus illas, Pallas, Zooyr. Hosso-Asiat. i. p. 456 (1826). 

Sylvia iliaca (Linn.), Savi, Orn. Tosc. i. p. 215 (1827). 

Merula iliaca (Limi.), SeVnj, Brit. Orn. i. p. 165 (1833). 

Iliacus illas {Pall.), Des Mnrs, TraiU diOol. p. 293 (1860), 

Iliacus minor, Des Mu)-s. he. at. (1860). 

The Redwing may be distinguished from the Song-Thrush (the only- 
bird in Britain for which it can be mistaken) by the conspicuous creamy- 
buff or pure white eye-stripe, its reddish flanks, and its gregarious habits. 
R,edwings are perhaps the first winter visitants to arrive on our shores : 
they are not hardy birds ; and their susceptibility to change of temperature 
undoubtedly influences their migratory movements. They take the place 
of the Song-Thrush, and give life to the almost otherwise deserted fields, 
woods, and shrubberies ; and their pleasant evening chorus and regularity 
of movement render them prominent and pleasing objects of the winter 
landscape. 

The Redwing is a regular winter visitant to Great Britain and Ireland. 
In the west of Scotland the bird does not arrive as soon as on the east 
coast, and is not so numerous. This is owing to the fact that the birds 
that winter in the British Islands, principally from Scandinavia, arrive on 
the east coast of our islands and gradually spread themselves westwards. 
Another reason that the birds are not so numerous is probably because the 
districts of the extreme west are less cultivated and afford a less abundant 
supply of food than the eastern counties. The Redwing is also a common 
winter bird in the Hebrides, and is said to linger longer in these islands 
than it does on the mainland. This bird is perhaps most numerous in the 
midland and southern counties of England, where food and cover are 
most plentiful. Instances of the Redwing remaining in Britain to breed 
are on record ; but the gravest doubt encircles them all. Until satisfactory 
evidence is forthcoming of this fact (the birds actually shot and the eggs 
taken), the cautious ornithologist must question their truth and consider 
the Redwing a winter visitant only. 

The principal breeding-range of the Redwing is at or near the Arctic 
circle throughout the Palaearctie Region, though it appears to become 
very rare east of the Yenesay river. It winters in western and southern 



THE REDWING. 221 

Europe, occasionally crossing the Mediterranean into Algeria. In the 
district of Kasan on the Volga (the same latitude as Scotland) the Red- 
wing only passes on migration. It arrives there in the early part of April, 
remains the whole of that month and the first half of May, when it 
again goes northwards. It reappears again in September in large flocks, 
remaining sometimes as late as the third week in October, frequenting the 
leafy woods of the Volga islands, which abound with wild rose and 
mountain-ash, the birds sometimes mixing with the Song-Thrushes, which 
are there on migration too. In Asia it has been found sparingly in winter 
in Persia, Turkestan, and North-west India. In the valley of the Petchora 
Harvie-Brown and I found it as far north as lat. 68°. The Redwing 
frequents the birch-region and the upper zone of the pine-region, occurring 
in limited numbers sou.th of the Arctic circle in many places where these 
trees are found, in South Norway and Sweden and on the Russian shores 
of the Baltic. It is the most northerly in its range of any of the Thrushes, 
and occasionally wanders as far as Greenland. 

In the valley of the Yenesay it reached the Arctic circle on the 5th of 
June, a few days before the Fieldfare, and soon began to breed in the 
willows and birches, generally nearer to the ground than the Fieldfare 
did. In lat. 71°, beyond the limit of forest-growth, it was still common, 
but breeding on the ground. I took several of its nests on tlie sloping 
banks of the tundra, a little further north than any of the five other 
species of Thrush which I found in the same valley. I never found it 
breeding in colonies ; but sometimes, in an uniisually swampy part of the 
forest, where the pines were small and stunted, several nests would occur 
at comparatively short distances from each other. In Lapland, as well 
as in Russia and Siberia, I found the Redwing commonest where the 
trees were small, and where open swampy ground separated the forest into 
plantations. The richness of the foliage in these localities and the 
brilliance and profusion of the wild flowers reminded me of an English 
garden run wild ; and the presence of the Redwing and other song-birds 
assisted in the reminiscence, and added greatly to the charm. 

The winter haunt of the Redwing is, as a rule, the most cultivated parts 
of the country — well-wooded parks, pleasure-grounds, and shrubberies, 
and the adjoining pasture-lands. When once these birds arrive in a 
certain district, they usually remain there throughout the time of their 
sojourn in this country — roosting in one certain favourite place, feeding 
on certain pastures, and, in fact, as regular in their habits and movements 
as the Rooks themselves. The favourite haunt of the Redwing is a 
sheltered valley down which a little brooklet runs, with trees scattered 
here and there, and tall hedgerows of thorn and hazel. They are very 
partial to small parks thickly timbered and studded with clumps of white- 
thorn trees, with here and there a cluster of hollies or a dense shrubbery, 



223 BRITISH BIRDS. 

"O'liither they repair at nightfall to roost. They prefer districts where the 
evergreens are dense and plentiful — laurels, yews, and hollies a century 
old or more, and the intervening space between them taken up by thick 
underwood and forest trees, and where huge sycamores, elms and beeches, 
oaks and horsechestnut form a regular labyrinth of arboreal seclusion. 
They feed in the lands adjoining, pasture and turnip-fields, stubbles and 
meadows, with here and there a " summer fallow." In a district like this, 
from October till April, the Redwing is a common bird. In the daytime 
they frequent the pastures ; and when the dusk is falling they seek the 
evergreens of the gardens and shrubberies. Regularly every year the birds 
will come, and, if they are not molested, remain stationary throughout the 
winter, giving animation by their presence to the landscape, and filling 
the wihtery air with their cheerful pleasing notes. But the Redwing has 
other haunts, quite as dear to it as those in our own land. In spring 
the Redwings seek the northern forests for the purpose of propagating 
their species. In Scandinavia they frequent the fir- and birch-woods. 
Here amongst these scattered forests, which lie at the feet of the high 
stony ranges of the fells, the Redwing finds a summer home. Wild and 
romantic are its breeding-grounds — plains and valleys, meadow and culti- 
vated land, and dells covered with the marsh-loving alder and willow and 
birch trees growing in wildest luxuriance. Vast morasses, rivers, inland 
lakes whose margins are fringed with a heavy growth of various reeds and 
sedges, forest lands, meadows and plains are the features of the ever- 
changing landscape. In such wild and secluded regions as these, the 
border land between forest and fell, the Redwing breeds, far from those 
busy haunts of men which the bird delights to frequent so confidingly 
when the blasts of winter render its northern home untenable. 

The migrations of the Redwing form a prominent feature in its life- 
history. When the woodlands are painted with the ruddy hues of autumn 
and the corn is garnered, the first flocks of the Redwing may be looked for. 
They come to our islands during the latter days of October — although their 
arrival is very irregular ; for occasionally Redwings come in the opening 
days of the month, yet in other seasons not a bii'd has arrived until tlie 
first week in November, the state of the season possibly influencing their 
movements. Redwings, like Song-Thrushes, perform their migrations 
under the cover of darkness. On the clear starlight nights of October 
their peculiar call-notes may be often heard as the birds flit across the sky 
above, invisible of course in the gloom. The Redwing's early arrival on 
our shores, as compared with that of the Fieldfare, is attributable to two 
causes. In the first place Redwings are more susceptible to cold than 
Fieldfares ; and, secondly, they are more exclusi^'ely insectivorous. At 
their arrival Redwings are exceedingly shy and wary ; but after a 
few weeks this natural shyness of disposition is overcome, and they are 



THE REDWING. 223 

theu one o£ the most trustful members of this charming family of choristers. 
Towards the latter end of March the Redwings visibly decrease in number, 
and as the month of April approaches they rapidly leave us for the 
north; flock succeeds flock; and by the middle of the month few are left 
behind. 

Redwings remain perhaps later on their feeding-grounds than any other 
British Thrush. As you wander over their favourite pastures at nightfall, 
when most other birds have gone to rest, you will often flush the Red- 
wings from their evening meal. Here and there they rise from the 
herbage, uttering their plaintive whistling note, fly quickly off, and are 
soon lost in the gloom. If disturbed on the pastures in the daytime they 
rise irregularly, and when in the air there is none of that uniformity or 
precision of movement observable which is so characteristic of the Common 
Starling. Redwings pass through the air on rapid wing, often at a con- 
siderable elevation ; and their flight is rather undulating, being performed 
by a series of quick flappings, with short intervals between, when the 
wings are closed, and during which they descend a little out of the direct 
line of flight. Sometimes, however. Redwings perform en masse the most 
graceful evolutions in the air, almost like a flock of Starlings. This is 
usually the case when they are disturbed from their roosting-places. They 
wheel and manoeuvre in the air, and pass round and amongst the topmost 
branches of the forest trees, occasionally dipping near to the earth or 
alighting on the top of some tall tree, until the cause of the disturbance 
vanishes, and they can seek their nightly perches in peace. As a rule, 
except when a flock is going to roost, the Redwing is not a noisy bird ; 
and when a whole tree-top is covered with them only one or two notes will 
be heard. How different from a flock of Starlings or Bramblings ! who 
seem to delight in making as much noise as possible when congregated 
together. 

Redwings are found in the same localities year after year, and nightly 
«eek the same places for repose. A dense and impenetrable shrubbery is 
1 favourite roosting-place for the Redwing, sometimes for years, especially 
.here the evergreens and tangled brushwood are so dense as to make 
passage through them almost impossible ; and where the tall sycamore and 
elm saplings and the gigantic forest trees whose rugged stems and limbs are 
covered with ivy almost like a winter foliage make the place a suitable one 
in all respects for the concealment and shelter of bird-life, in such a place 
the timid Bullfinches pipe to each other, the Greenfinches, Chaffinches, and 
Bramblings congregate in incredible numbers at nightfall, the Ring-Doves 
and the Titmice are found in greatest plenty, and occasionally the Field- 
fare, the Jay, and the Magpie are seen amongst the branches. Early in 
the evening a few Redwings may be seen sitting quietly on the neighbour- 
ing tree-tops, their forms coming sharply out against the clear western 



224 BRITISH BIRDS. 

sky. The night may be a frosty oae, snow lying thickly on the ground^ 
and the broad-leaved laurels bending under their snowy wreaths. But just 
as evening merges into nighty and the moon assumes her borrowed rays, 
the birds come in flocks from the pastures, their wings rustling in the still 
evening, and their call- and alarm-notes filling the air around with tumult. 
Down they settle on the tallest underwood, choosing the sapling trees, 
where they can best survey the vicinity ere entering the evergreens. One 
by one they quit these perching-places, or drop quickly down from the 
surrounding tree-tops, and seek their roosing-places, scattering the snow 
from the branches as they enter, which falls like bits of ice upon the crisp 
covering below. Numbers retire to the ivy, others to the yew, whilst 
many seek the gloomy sprays of the holly. Now and then one will enter 
the bush under which you ai-e stationed, but, noticing your presence, will 
quickly seek more suitable quarters. Others come up and perch so 
silently close to your head that their presence is only I'evealed when one 
of them utters its cry of alarm as it takes wing, and you see the sapling 
quivering from its hasty departure. The air above is resonant with their 
plaintive whistling call-notes as the birds continue to arrive to seek a 
suitable resting-place. Almost imperceptibly they settle down to rest : their 
cries become fewer and fewer; the birds are more rarely seen; and finally the 
woods are wrapped in silence. During the night the Redwing is as much 
gregarious as in the day. Numbers seek the same bush in which to roost ; 
and you will often see them billing each other, sitting close together, and 
preening each other^'s feathers, as in the pairing-season. 

The food of the Redwing, during its winter sojourn in the British Islands, 
is composed of worms, snails, beetles, various insects, and berries. The 
Redwing feeds on the open pastures, and never resorts to bushy places, or 
the ground under hedgerows and near walls, as the Song-Thi'ush does ; nor 
is it seen in gardens, unless on the evergreen trees and shrubs, or when 
hard pressed for food. The partiality of the Redwing for worms and insect 
food is no doubt the primary cause of its permanent residence in one certain 
neighbourhood throughout the period of its stay ; and the bird is not nearly 
so much a berry feeder as is supposed. True, upon their arrival we find 
them regaling themselves on the fruit of the service-tree ; but this only 
occurs for a few weeks, and then for the most part they are only seen on 
the grass-lands. As a proof of this fact, the actions of the Redwing in 
the severe winter of 1879-80 may be adduced. The lands which they 
most love to frequent are the marshy meadows in which worms and insects 
occur so plentifully. As these marshy places began to freeze the Redwings 
were more and more confined in their feeding-range. Each little swampy 
place was searched for food, and as surely abandoned when the frost closed 
it. Manure-heaps were then visited by the distressed birds, until a heavy 
fall of snow buried these places deep beneath it. All this time the Red- 



THE REDWING. 225 

wings were becoming poorer in condition, more feeble, and still more 
tame and confiding. But the frost still continued, and they repaired to 
the banks of the running streams and brooklets; numbers perislicd ; 
numbers were caught by hand; and eventually they disappeared from 
many districts altogether, having most probably joined the vast flocks 
of their congeners that were incessantly passing over the snow-covered 
landscape in a direct line southwards. Nevertheless the bushes and 
hedgerows abounded with berries, the Fieldfares seemed scarcely to suffer 
from the frost, and were always to be seen feeding upon them. It can 
be only as a last resource, therefore, that the Redwing becomes a berry 
feeder, except in the autumn when the luscious fruit of the service-tree 
is ripe. Its winter food is worms and insects ; and where these are to be 
found the birds will only repair to the bushes and trees when alarmed or 
in order to roost. The Redwing also feeds on various species of snails. 
It is a pleasing sight to watch a flock of these birds searching the grass- 
lands for food. How nimbly they hop amongst the frosted grass, ever in 
motion, thorough Song-Thrushes in attitude and action, occasionally taking 
short flights or starting up to look warily round. They are scattered 
over the entire field, and each is busy searching for its food. If alarmed 
they fly ofi" in small parties and take refuge in the topmost branches of 
the nearest trees, and, when the danger is passed, leave their elevated 
perching-places in the same manner. First one will fly boldly down; 
others follow, and so on, until the whole flock is again engaged feeding 
as before. One or two birds sometimes remain behind in the trees near to 
which the main flock is feeding. These do duty as sentinels, and utter 
alarm-notes on the approach of danger, at which the birds take wing. 
Even if fired at, the Redwing will soon return to its favourite feediug- 
ground. 

The rich wild notes of the Redwing are always pleasant to the ear as they 
are borne hither and thither by the breeze. True, the song may not be so 
varied as that of the Song-Thrush, nor so rich and powerful as that of the 
Blackbird, nor yet so wild and free as the " Stormcock's " lay ; but it has 
a rich sweetness about it which justly calls forth the praises of all who 
have had the pleasure of listening to the strain. Its low warbling song 
is usually preceded by whistling call-notes, or a few guttural cries, as the 
bird sits on the topmost spray of a pine tree. Dixon gives an instance of 
this bird singing in this country ; he writes : — " I know not whether the 
song of this bird is frequeully heard in the winter months; but with me 
it is certainly of the rarest occurrence. I have given the birds my 
closest attention ; but their song has only once greeti d my ear. It was one 
of those sunny days in December, when every thing around almost put me 
in mind of the coming spiing — the Robin chanting his delightful notes far 
up in the naked branches, and the little Wren pouriiig forth his jerking 

VOL. I. <■! 



226 BRITISH BIRDS. 

song from the undergrowth ; a number of Redwings, too, were feeding on 
the surrounding grass fields, when one of their number flew from the rest 
and perched on a lowly hawthorn tree some ten yards away and com- 
menced singing. I can only compare its song to a mixture of Song- 
Thrush and Blackcap melody, the whole being given forth in one long 
warbling strain, varied by several harsh and guttural notes. AA^ell does 
the Redwing merit the title of ' Swedish Nightingale,'' a title bestowed 
upon it by the great and illustrious Linnaeus ; for still more beautiful must 
be his song when inspired by love, still more charming will its tones appear 
when given forth amongst the pine-clad hills of his far northern home. He 
continued singing for a few moments, when an unlucky movement on my 
part sent him hastily away to the company of his kindred on the adjoining 
meadows. Redwings in the winter months are ofttimes heard warbling in 
a subdued tone, and varying their performance by the utterance of low 
guttural notes. This usually happens at nightfall, when the birds are 
about to retire to rest^ and sit congregated on some tree-top — then you 
have music sweet to a degree ; singly it is a poor performance, but each 
bird^s notes chime in with the rest and make music pleasing to the ear. 
Linnets and Bramblings will often do the same thing in the winter months, 
each bird warbling in chorus or giving a variation by uttering low mur- 
muring cries." 

The breeding-season of the Redwing commences early in June, fresh 
eggs being found by the first week of that month, although in high 
latitudes nests are often found containing newly laid eggs in the middle of 
July. Though the Redwing does not usually nest in colonies like the 
Fieldfare, still it seems to prefer the society of its larger and more powerful 
relation ; for wherever a colony of Fieldfares establish themselves, there, 
almost as surely, a pair of Redwings will build their nest close to them. 
In districts where trees abound the Redwing seems to show preference for 
the small firs, where it builds its nest at no great altitude and close to 
the stem ; but occasionally it will build upon the ground at the foot 
of the tree, instead of in the branches. As is the case with the nests of 
all Thrushes, it passes through three distinct stages before it is completed. 
The birds form a loose nest of moss, dry grass, and a few fine twigs inter- 
twined, the better to bind the materials together. This structure is then 
lined and plastered with mud or clay; and finally a thick lining is made 
of fine dry grass, and sometimes a few rootlets. It is neatly made, and 
somewhat resembles the nest of the Ring-Ouzel, though it is smaller and 
perliaps more firmly put together. The eggs of the Redwing are from four to 
six in number, most frequently the former, and cannot easily be confounded 
with the eggs of the other British Thrushes, ou account of their smaller size. 
The streaks or spots generally almost hide the ground-colour, and are 
evenly distributed over the entire surface. The usual colour is a pale 



THE REDWING. 



227 



bluish green, thickly marbled over the entire surface with greenish 
brown. Some specimens have the spots dispersed in irregular streaks and 
blotches, like miniature Blackbird's eggs ; in others the ground-colour is 
almost clear, except at the large end of the egg, where a zone is formed of 
confluent brown spots ; whilst others are almost clear pea-green devoid of 
all markings. They vary but little in size or shape, and are never large 
enough to be mistaken for small specimens of the other eggs of this group 
of birds, which they resemble in colour. They vary in length from I'l to 
09 inch, and in breadth from 0'8 to 0'7 inch. Song-Thrush's eggs are 
often found as small ; but their peculiar tints prevent the slightest con- 
fusion. As is the case with the Song-Thrush, the Redwing exhibits the 
greatest anxiety when its nest is approached, especially should it contain 
young birds. Throughout the whole laying- and hatching-season the 
Redwing continues in full song ; his warbling strains are heard con- 
stantly and from all parts of his haunts ; at all hours his melody floats 
on the air, as though he were loth to lose a moment of the short sunny 
Siberian summer. 

The upper parts of the Redwing are olive-brown in colour, with a very 
conspicuous pale eye-stripe extending to the nape. The underparts are pale 
buff, shading into almost white on the belly, and into rich chestnut on the 
flanks and under wing-coverts, and are spotted with dark brown. The bill is 
dark brown, the legs pale, and the irides brown. Young birds are spotted 
on both upper and underparts, and after the autumn moult have the pale 
tips to the wing-coverts larger and more clearly defined. The breeding- 
plumage of the Redwing is lighter than its autumn dress, and the under- 
parts and eye-stripe whiter, and the spots have attained greater definition. 

The Redwing has no very near ally. 




Q 2 



228 BRITISH BIRDS. 

TURDUS PILARIS. 
THE FIELDFARE. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdus pilaris, Bdss. Orn. ii. p. ^14 (1760); Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 291 (1766); et 
auctorum plurimorum — Latham, Otnelm, Bechstein, Pallas, Temminck, Nau- 
mann, Oray, Bonaparte, Schleyel, Sharpe, Dresser, &c. 

Sjilvia pilaris {Linn.), Savi, Orn. Tosc. i. p. 209 (18i7). 

Arceutliornis pilaris (Linn.), Kanp, Naiiirl. Syst. p. 93 (1820). 

Merula pilaris {Linn.), Selhy, Brit. Orn. i. p. 160 (1830). 

Planesticus pilaris {Linn.), Jerd. B. Ind. i. p. 530 (1802). 

The Fieldfare, although the colours of its plumage are sober and chaste, 
like those of most Thrushes, is still a very fine and handsome bird; and its 
arrival in autumn is looked forward to by observers of birds in the country 
as the sign of the winter's advent, just as surely as the summer's approach 
is known to be heralded by the Cuckoo and the Swallow. A regular 
winter visitant to the British Islands, the Fieldfare is commonly distributed 
over the cultivated districts, and as far on the uplands as the mountain- 
farms extend. The arrival of Fieldfares in Scotland is usually noticed first 
in the eastern counties, as it is quite natural to expect it would be, for 
their path in autumn is south and south-westwards. A few birds are said 
to be found on tbe Orkneys throughout the year, but they do not breed 
there. On the Hebrides the Fieldfare does not arrive till midwinter, and 
is only found on the farms and pastures — in the little oases of culti- 
vated land so sparingly scattered amongst the wide-stretching moorland 
wastes. In Ireland these birds also arrive late, and are found commonly 
distribvited over those districts suitable to their habits and needs — the 
cultivated tracts. Fieldfares have been said to have bred in the British 
Islands ; but until definite proofs are forthcoming it is not safe to admit 
the truth of the statement, the birds being very liable to be confounded 
with Missel-Thrushes by careless observers. The Fieldfare has a some- 
what more southerly breeding- range than the Redwing. It breeds in the 
Arctic circle, extending up to, and occasionally beyond, the limit of forest- 
growth, and in north-temperate Europe as far south and west as the basin 
of the Baltic, and throughout Siberia as far east as the watershed of the 
Yenesay and the Lena. Its occurrence in Iceland is doubtful ; but it has 
been occasionally met with on the Faroes. It winters in Southern Europe, 
occurring very rarely in the Spanish peninsula, but crossing the Mediter- 
ranean to Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Nubia. In Asia it winters in 
Turkestan and Cashmere ; and one specimen at least has been obtained at 
Simla, in the Is'orth-west Himalayas. 



THE FIELDFARE. 22L» 

The Fieldfare's haunts m Britain are varied ones. A thorough wanderer, 
it is seen almost everywhere; either passing over on its journeyings from 
place to place, or stationary as long as its food is to be obtained. It 
prefers the isolated woods and pastures to shrubberies, although in severe 
weather it is often seen amongst evergreens, in company with the Redwing. 
These birds also frequent the well-cultivated districts, seeking their food 
on the tall hedges ; and occasionally a few stragglers come quite close 
to the houses to feed on the hawthorns in the gardens. As long as the 
weather keeps open, the Fieldfares seem to shun man's presence almost 
entirely ; but the first severe fall of snow, the first sharp frost, brings them 
" in " in great numbers. 

The first visit to the breeding-place of the Fieldfare is an event in the 
life of an ornithologist never to be forgotten. As you drive along the 
excellent Norwegian roads in the carioles or light gigs of the country, 
through the pine-forests or by the side of the cultivated land near the 
villages, there is little in the bird-life to remind you that you are not in 
one of the mountainous districts of England. As you approach the 
Dovrefjeld, however, the ground rises, the pines become smaller, and the 
hill-sides are sprinkled over with birch trees. Now is the time to look out 
for the Fieldfare. Presently the long watched- for tsak, tsak is heard. You 
tie your horse to the nearest tree, climb the hill-side whence the sound 
came, and presently find yourself in a colony of Fieldfares. The birds 
make a great uproar as you invade their domain, but soon escape beyond 
gunshot, and their distant tsak, tsak is the only sound you can hear. 
Your natural impulse is to ascend the first tree where you can see a nest, 
which is almost sure to be placed in the fork of a birch against the trunk 
and the first large branch. Close by are sure to be many more nests, 
some built on the flat horizontal branch of a pine ; and outlying nests 
belonging to the colony will be found for some distance all round. 

As vou go further north the colonies become smaller ; and as the limit 
of forest-growth is approached beyond the Arctic circle, the Fieldfare can 
scarcely be called a gregarious bird. On the tundra, in the absence of 
birch trees or larches, it breeds on the ground, choosing a niche under the 
turf on the edge of a clifi', exactly as the Ring-Ouzel so frequently does. 
In the valley of the Petchora we did not see the Fieldfare north of lat. 68° ; 
but in the valley of the Yenesay I found a nest in lat. 69°, and saw the 
birds up to lat. 70^° ; in the former locality it arrived at the Arctic circle 
on the 17th of May, and in the latter on the 8th of June. 

The Fieldfare arrives on our shores a little later than the Redwing — in 
the last week of October, or, perhaps more frequently, in the beginning of 
November. It is, however, a difficult thing to give the exact date of this 
bird's appearance ; for its wandering mode of life in this country baffles 
precise observation, and renders a record of the exact date of its arrival 



230 BRITISH BIRDS. 

almost an impossibility. Like the other members of this group of birds, 
the Fieldfare migrates for the most part at night, and usually at a 
considerable height ; but Dixon noticed its arrival during the day on 
the east coast of England. He writes : — " On the low-lying stretch of 
shore from Skegness to Boston I well remember to have once seen this 
bird arrive in countless numbers. The season was late autumn, the 28th 
of October ; and the wind was light from the north-west. Throughout the 
whole day tlie birds were passing over in flocks, in company with Sky-Larks, 
Golden Plovers, and a few Redwings ; and during the ensuing night, whilst 
we were out on the mud-flats wild-fowl shooting, their peculiar harsh and 
startling cries were heard as the great tide of migration continued, unim- 
peded by darkness, across the gloomy sky above.'''' 

"When the first heavy fall of snow is lying on the ground, a walk 
abroad will probably cause you to make the acquaintance of the Fieldfare. 
There is something about the first heavy fall of snow peculiarly attractive 
and interesting to the naturalist — in fact to all who take a delight in 
rural scenes. The whole landscape then bears a strange novel look ; it is 
something fresh ; and, what is more, bird-life in the snow is an interesting 
study. If you stroll out into the woods on a wintery morning, before the 
first freshness of the snow-storm has passed away, a dreamy quietness 
seems to be everywhere ; animals that betrayed their presence amongst 
the autumn leaves when the ground was bare, now steal silently away, and 
every thing seems changed by the sudden transformation of a night. The 
broad-leafed laurels and the dense yews and hollies bend under their heavy 
pall of dazzling whiteness. Here and there on the trunks of the forest- 
trees the snow has lodged in the rifts of the bark, and each branch and 
twig of the hedgerows is clothed in a fair frost-work of silver filagree, 
whilst overhead the network of branches comes indistinctly out against 
the leaden sky above. Animals are now betrayed by their tracks upon the 
snow. Here a hare has crossed, and, doubling, has passed over the 
turnips, and found her " seat " in some warm hedgerow. There a weasel 
has come from the stone-heap, and, in irregular march, has entered the 
shrubbery. The Blackbird has hopped out onto the snowy lawn, in vain 
search for a scanty sustenance; and on an old stump a Robin has 
perched, to warble his morning song. The "spoor" of each is now made 
plain — the tell-tale snow reveals them all. But if you want to see the 
Fieldfares you must not look for them on the ground, but in the hawthorn 
trees. Long before you approach them they probably take wing in a 
straggling train, scattering the snow in showers from the twigs, and their 
harsh notes of tsaJc, tsik, tsak ring clearly out on the bracing frosty air. 
From tree to tree they fly before you, always keeping out of gunshot, or, 
if thoro'ighly alarmed, mounting into the air, and, in a widely scattered 
flack, taking themselves off" to a distance, their dark forms appearing large 



THE FIELDFARE. 231 

against the sky as they quickly pass away. The flight of the Fieldfare is 
not particularly rapid^ but is straight forward, and with but little undula- 
tion, and is performed by a series of quick flapping movements. Some- 
times the birds will go throvigh a number of graceful evolutions in the air 
before alighting on a favourite pasture. When alarmed, they fly to the 
nearest tree-tops, where they sometimes join in a melodious concert, like 
Redwings, although just as frequently they will fly straight away. But 
the Fieldfare is far the oftenest seen in the branches. Like the Missel- 
Thrush, with whom they often associate, they haunt the berry-bearing 
trees and shrubs ; and as soon as the stock of food is exhausted in one 
locality they commence their nomad life again, and are off in search of 
more suitable pastures. At nightfall the Fieldfare is found in the shrub- 
beries and near the evergreen trees and bushes, where it retires to roost. 
Like the Redwing and the Blackbird, the Fieldfare becomes vociferous at 
the approach of dusk, and its peculiar chattering cry and low guttural call- 
notes are heard well into twilight. It has been said that the Fieldfare 
roosts upon the ground ; but this is undoubtedly from necessity, not from 
choice ; for the bird, though, like all other Thrushes, for the most part a 
ground feeder, has none of the characteristics of groand-birds, as the 
Larks and Pipits, and where evergreens are at hand it always avails 
itself of their shelter. Instances are alleged of these birds having been 
flushed from the stubbles or the pastures at dusk ; but this is the 
Fieldfare's feeding-hour ; and if shrubberies be near at hand, it is there 
they spend the night. 

The Fieldfare is less exclusively insectivorous than the Redwing. In 
winter these birds are sometimes found upon the stubbles and wilder 
pastures (places the Lark loves to frequent), where they consume the scat- 
tered grain, and pick out the seeds of the various grasses. But they also 
search at times the marshy meadows and pasture-lands for snails, worms, 
and beetles ; and if the frost lasts long and vegetable food is hard to find, 
they will haunt the banks of the running streams for the sake of the 
scanty insect-fare they afford. In winter the Fieldfare seems most at 
home amongst the branches of berry-bearing trees and shrubs. He is then 
a thorough berry feeder, and all the winter fruits form his fare. He is 
often seen in the mountain-ash, or in amongst the dense thickets of wild 
rose and bramble, where the " hips " grow the thickest ; but the food he 
loves best appears to be the berries of the hawthorn. It is a pleasing 
sight to see a flock of Fieldfares, when the ground lies inches deep in 
snow, in the dense branches of these trees, obtaining the berries which 
hang in such tempting clusters from almost every twig. It is difficult to 
say when these trees look best — in the spring, when they look almost 
as white as the driven snow, and their delicate foliage shines like emeralds, 
or in the winter, when their rich red fruit sets off the leafless branches. 



232 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Under the trees the berries lie in all directions^ for the birds drop or knock 
off almost as many as they eat ; and the stones are ever falling as they are 
dexterously shelled out by the feeding birds above. The Fieldfare-'s 
summer food is insects, worms, caterpillars^ and grubs, and on its arrival at 
its breeding-grounds in high latitudes the fruit of the various moorland 
berries that are preserved by the snows of winter. 

Although the Fieldfare -vvarbles occasionally during its winter sojourn 
amongst us, still its love-song is only heard amongst the wild scenery of its 
northern haunts. About the end of April or the first week in May the 
Fieldfare quits British shores for the north ; and upon its arrival its love- 
song commences. This bird is not a free singer at all ; and his song is for 
the most part confined to the pairing-season. It is often commenced when 
the bird is on the wing — a wild desultory warble, which he often supple- 
ments on his perch by notes reminding one of the peculiar chatter of the 
Starling. From all parts of the forest the birds are heard to sing; and 
their wild carols break the stillness of the daily lessening arctic twilight. 
By many persons the Fieldfare is thought to be a songless bird ; others 
speak but poorly of his musical attainments. But the former have evidently 
missed the season of the bird's melody ; and the others have possibly been 
too much accustomed to more ambitious songsters to do justice to his simple 
strains. The Fieldfare's love-song is a pleasant addition to the thousands 
of songsters that make the Arctic summer so gay and lively. The call or 
alarm-note of the Fieldfare is a sharp chattering cry — a kind of laughing 
cackle — several times repeated, and uttered most frequently during the 
breeding-season ; and in the winter it is often heard to utter a low guttural 
warble, usually at roosting-time. 

The Fieldfare builds its nest in the branches of the birch, the alder, 
or the pine at various elevations from the ground. Sometimes, though 
rarely, it is placed in outhouses, in situations similar to those which our 
own Blackbird would choose, or in heaps of rubbish or low bushes only a 
foot or so from the eai-th. Nesting-operations usually commence about the 
third week in May ; and eggs may be obtained from that date up to the 
first week in July. This bird is very irregular in breeding. You may not 
unfrequently take young birds and newly laid eggs from the same colony. 
The nest is very similar to the Blackbird's or the Ring-Ouzel's in construc- 
tion and materials. The outside is made of coarse dry grass, with some- 
times a few birch-twigs or a little moss interwoven, then plastered with 
mud, and finally lined with a thick bed of fine grass. The eggs are 
from four to six in number, and, in rare instances, as many as seven or as 
few as three. None of our British Thrushes' eggs vary so widely as do the 
eggs of the Fieldfare. The average type of egg is bluish green in ground- 
colour, thickly marbled, speckled, and blotched over the entire surface with 
rich reddish brown, the spots being the densest on the larger end, in fact 



THE FIELDFARE. 233 

resembling a very handsome Blackbird's egg. Some varieties are pale 
greenish^ with the spots and streaks distributed equally over the whole 
surface and very pale and indistinct^ like the duller eggs of the Blackbird; 
in others the egg is paler in ground-colour, but thickly and boldly blotched 
with reddish brown, like typical eggs of the Ring-Ouzel; while yet, again, 
specimens are more rarely met with almost as blue as Song-Thrush's, and 
with but one or two streaks of liver-brown on the larger end. Tbey vary 
in length from 1'85 to 1'02 inch, and in breadth from "9 to '7 inch. When 
their nests are approached the birds often become very noisy and behave 
like INIissel-Thrushes, flying round the head of the intruder, and en- 
deavouring to drive him away from their haunt. This conduct is more 
noticeable should the nests contain young birds ; but their constitutional 
shyness soon prevails over their parental instincts, and before you have 
climbed your second tree, all trace of the Fieldfares has vanished, except 
the sound of their tsak, tsak in the distance. 

When the young quit the nest they still keep in their parents' company, 
wandering about the edges of the woods and open localities, appearing 
in the morning and evening on their feeding-grounds, retiring to the 
thickets at noon and at nightfall. Their food now is principally insects ; 
but in July, when the wild strawberries are ripe, these constitute 
their principal fare. This regular mode of life continues throughout this 
month until the latter end, when the moulting-season commences. By 
the end of August the moult is over, and the birds begin to flock, and theu 
their regular nomad life commences. They frequent all the large woods, 
and draw near to those districts where the rowan tree and the wild rose 
abound, on the berries of -which they live for the most part, until the 
autumn sends them southwards to their winter haunts. 

The upper parts of the Fieldfare are slate-grey, except the wings and 
tail, which are dark brown, and the head, Avhich is spotted with black. 
The centre of the back is dark chestnut-brown. The throat and breast 
are rich brown, and the centre of the belly is pure white. With the ex- 
ception of the centre of the belly, the whole underparts are spotted and 
marked with rich brown. The bill is yellow, feet and legs black, and irides 
very dark brown. The female resembles the male. Upon its arrival in this 
country the bird has very broad margins to the feathers of the lower parts, 
giving it a pale appearance ; in fact they are newly-moulted feathers ; but 
after the winter has passed these edges are cast and the spots are more 
clearly defined, leaving the bird in its nuptial dress. Like the young of 
all other Thrushes, the Fieldfare is spotted on the back when it leaves the 
nest, but moults again with its parents, before it migrates, almost int 
fully adult plumage. 

The Fieldfare has no very near ally. 



234 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus MERULA. 

The genus Merula, though foreshadowed by Brisson^ was only half 
adopted by Gerini, and dates a doubtful pedigree from 1816, when Leach, 
in his ' Systematic Catalogue of the Mammals and Birds in the British 
Museum/ adopted the prae-Linnsean name oi Merula nigra for the Blackbird. 
As this species is also the Tardus merula of Brissou and Linnseus, there 
can be no doubt that it is the type of the genus Merula. 

The Ouzels differ from the Ground-Thrushes in not possessing the 
peculiar wing-pattern of those birds, and from the Thrushes in having the 
adult male either quite different from the female, or without any streaks 
on the throat. 

The genus Merula contains about fifty species. The Neotropical and 
Oriental Regions contain about fifteen species each, and the Palsearctic and 
Australian Regions about ten each, whilst in the Nearctic and ^Ethiopian 
Regions the genus is unrepresented. Only two species breed in Europe 
(both of them in England) ; but several of the Siberian Ouzels occasionally 
wander westwards, and one of them at least has visited our shores. 

The Ouzels are most of them strictly arboreal birds in their habits, 
frequenting woods, groves, shrubberies, and well-timbered lands. They 
are somewhat shy atid retiring birds, seldom straying far from cover, and 
are more or less sociable among themselves. Amongst this group of birds 
we find the power of song most highly developed, no bird exceeding the 
typical Blackbird in the rich compass of its notes. These birds aU build 
open well-constructed nests, usually made of dry grasses, twigs, moss, 
and mud, placing them in bushes, sometimes on the ground, and more 
rarely in the higher branches. Their eggs are from four to seven in 
number, bluish green of various shades in ground-colour, more or less 
richly marked with reddish brown. Their food consists of worms, grubs, 
snails, insects, fruits, and berries. 



TFIE BLACKBIRD. 235 

MERULA MERULA. 
THE BLACKBIRD. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdua merula, Briss. Orn. ii. p. 227 (17<;0); Linn. Si/st. Kat. i. p. 29.j ("1700); et 
auctorum plurimoriom — Latham, Scopnii, Gmelin, Beclistuin, NuKniann, Tem- 
viinch, Ticillot, Ora;/, IlnnapdHe, Newton, Hlinrpe, Ljrexxcr, ^-c. 

Merula vulgaris, Geiini, Oni. Mefh. Diy. iii. p. 4ij, pi. ccxcix. (17157) ; Sclby, Brit. 
Orn. i. p. 167 (18.3.3). 

Merula nigra, Leach, Sijxt. Cat. Manini. ^-c. Brit. Mus. p. 20 (181G). 

Merula merula (Linn.), L'uie, Isis, 1822, p. .5-j2. 

Sylvia merula (Linn.), Sari, Orn. Tosc. i. p. 20o (1827). 

Turdus menegazzianus, I'criiii, JJcceUi Vironesi, p. ^jG (18-!i8), 

Turdus dactylopterus, Bp. fide Gray, Ilund-l. B. i. p. 2-J-j. no. 3714 (1869). 

The Blackbird is perhaps the most elegant in appearance of all our 
British Thrushes, and the most graceful and sprightly in its motions. Its 
highly developed vocal powers and its familiarity with man justly win for it 
universal admiration ; and its neat plump form and rich song are associated 
most closely with all rural scenes. 

Throughout Great Britain^ wherever trees abound, the Blackbird is 
very commonly met with^ and occasionally frequents the wild mountain- 
wastes, but only near the upland farms or in gardens or orchards on 
the border-lands of the moor. On the comparatively desolate Hebrides 
the Blackbird appears but irregularly ; on some of the islands it is a 
somewhat rare resident, whilst on others it is a winter visitant alone. 
In Skye it occurs in fair numbers, but is not nearly so common as the Song- 
Thrush. In all the well-wooded parts of the island you may hear his 
mellow song — in those cheerful oases of sylvan beauty that do so much to 
relieve the wildness of moorland wastes. On the isolated rock of Ailsa 
Craig one or two pairs of Blackbirds live ; and the Bass Rock in the Forth 
contains a pair, so strangely out of place, where not a single bush or tree 
exists. As cultivation advances and the wastes are gradually reclaimed, 
the Blackbird increases his range, encroaching upon that of the Ring- 
Ouzel. In Britain cultivation and the Blackbird are almost inseparable ; 
and as improvement extends the birds follow in its wake, spread them- 
selves, and take possession of haunts once sacred to the birds of the wild 
alone. It is only in recent times that the Blackbird has extended its 
range to the remotest of the Plebrides; for, according to Macgillivray, the 
bird in his time did not breed upon them ; now it is a resident bird even as 
far north as Stornoway in Lewis, owing undoubtedly to the improvement 
and cultivation of late years. In the Orkneys it breeds ; but the Shetland 



236 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Isles are only visited in winter, most probably by storm-driven birds from 
NorAvay, carried out of the general line of migration. It bas been 
occasionally found on the Faroe Islands ; and in Iceland its occurrence 
rests on two somewhat doubtful instances, one in 1823, the other in ]March 
1860. It is a resident in the Azores. The Blackbird is a more or less 
constant resident in every country in Europe and North Africa ; but its 
range does not extend very far north. In Norway, in consequence of the 
milder climate caused, by the Gulf-stream, it breeds up to the Arctic circle ; 
but in Russia it does not appear to range further north or further east 
than the valley of the Volga. In Asia it is found in Asia ilinor, Palestine, 
Persia, Turkestan, A-fghanistan, and Cashmere. In the three last- 
mentioned countries it attains a somewhat larger size, which has given 
rise to the name of Merula maxima having been applied to the Eastern 
form. In this race (which, according to the excellent American system 
of nomenclature which ten years hence will also be used in this country, 
ought to be called Merula merula, var. majima) the length of wing varies 
from 6-0 to 5'2 inch, whilst Enropean birds only measure from 5'1 to 
4'6 inch. The Blackbird is a partial migrant. In the extreme north of 
its range it is very rare in winter, whilst in the southern portion it is 
especially abundant at that season of the year. 

The Blackbird is shy and wary ; and his haunts are chosen in situations 
well adapted to afford him concealment and seclusion. He inhabits the 
woodlands, plantations, dense hedgerows, gardens, and orchards ; but per- 
haps the places he favours most are the shrubberies and thickets of ever- 
greens. Here, where the laurels, the yews, and the hollies spread their 
glossy branches, and the ivy festoons almost every forest-tree, the Black- 
bird is found in greatest abundance, more especially so should lawns 
or pasture-fields adjoin them. The Blackbird also loves the fences in 
the fields in summer, where the vegetation is thick and close, and more 
particularly so if small streams of water wander beside them. The briars 
and the brambles growing most luxuriantly over the hazel-bushes, with 
here and there a guelder rose or blackthorn bush, afford a friendly shelter ; 
and the banks clothed densely with herbage, wild hyacinths, primroses, 
anemones, and fern-tufts afford a fitting site for his nest. But in winter, 
when these situations lose their verdure, the Blackbird quits them for the 
seclusion and warmth of the evergreens in the shrubberies and gardens. 
In spare numbers the Blackbird also frequents the upland districts, on 
those broken tracts of country which occur between the cultivated grottnd 
and the moors. Here he frequents the dense thickets of thorn and bramble 
by the side of the little streams, or, further in the open, the tall holly 
bushes and gorse clumps occasionally intermingled with a birch or moun- 
tain-ash. Wherever the upland farmhouses nestle amongst clumps of trees 
and are surrounded with a partially neglected garden or orchard, the Black- 



THE BLACKBIRD. 237 

bird will also be found. In fact he follows man to the wilds as long as 
sufficient vegetation exists to afi'ord him the seclusion which he loves. 

The Blackbird is especially fond of swampy places and the neighbourhood 
of water. Wherever streams with well-wooded banks occur^ there just as 
surely Blackbirds will be found ; and in the little swampy corners of woods 
and shrubberies they congregatCj sometimes half a dozen birds taking wing 
together at your approach. Yet the Blackbird is not gregarious ; and its 
presence here in company with its kindred is explained by a common 
purpose^ the search for the food the swamps contain ; and each bird flits 
ofl: solitary as it came. 

Most birds become more or less vociferous at the approach of night, 
and the Blackbird particularly so. As you wander through the shrubberies 
in the evening, you will often hear a rustling noise amongst the withered 
leaves under the shrubs and plants. A rustle and then a pause, another 
more hasty movement, and at last a Blackbird dashes rapidly out, and, 
uttering his loud harsh cry of alarm, flits off in unsteady flight and hastily 
disappears again in the nearest cover. As the darkness deepens you have 
good opportunity of watching their actions when retiring to rest. Conceal 
yourself under the spreading branches of a dark gloomy yew tree and wait 
patiently ; you will hear their loud cries in all directions, and catch occa- 
sional glimpses of their dark forms flitting hithei' and thither in the gloom : 
pbik-fink-pink, tac-tac-tac, is heard on every side. Now a bird conies flut- 
tering into the bush under which you are concealed, and his notes startle 
you by their nearness. A short distance away another answers : another 
and another in different directions also swell the noisy clamour; and you 
hear on every side their fluttering wings amongst the evergreens around 
you. As night comes on and all objects lose outline and distinct- 
ness, the cries cease and the birds settle down to rest. A solitary 
bird will, perhaps, dash past just fresh from the pasture-lands outside ; or 
a frightened bird will utter his alarm-note as he shifts his quarters ; yet all 
else is now silent, save indeed the few last evening notes of the Robin, or, 
perhaps, the purr of the Goatsucker. 

The Blackbird is with difficulty flushed. It is a skulking bird, and 
prefers to hop quickly under the hedgerows and brushwood rather than 
take wing, its motions partaking more of those of a mouse or a rat than 
of a bird. When compelled to take wing, its flight for a short distance is 
remarkably unsteady. Turning and twisting from side to side, it dashes 
quickly away, and, as a rule, just as suddenly and unexpectedly alights in 
the nearest cover. Across an open place, however, the Blackbird flies 
quite steadily, and his motion through the air is rapid. Rarely, indeed, 
does the bird fly at any great height ; and should he be compelled to fly 
far, he seems to prefer skulking along the hedgerows or close to the ground 
from bush to bush rather than expose himself to view. In the pine-forests 



238 BRITISH BIRDS. 

at Arcachon, where both the Blackbird and the Song -Thrush winter in some 
numbers, it was especially noticeable that^ whilst the latter were generally 
seen in the loftiest pines, the former were exclusively found in the under- 
wood, which there consists of furze, broom, and heath, the latter frequently 
attaining a height of from six to ten feet. As a rule. Blackbirds are 
extremely sedentary birds, rarely make excursions to any distance, and for 
weeks, nay, whole seasons, regularly frequent one locality. The Blackbird's 
flights are almost entirely restricted to those taken from or to its feeding- 
grounds, should they not be immediately adjoining its haunts. From the 
shrubberies to the gardens it regularly passes, especially in early morning 
and in the dusk of the evening ; yet the bird is apparently always in a 
hurry, and anxious to reach the shelter and seclusion of its haunt as soon 
as possible. 

There is no reason to think that the Blackbird is migratoiy in the 
British Islands. Many birds shift their quarters, either from the colder 
districts and those parts of the uplands which they haunt in summer, or 
they quit the open fields when the hedgerows are rendered bare by the 
wintry blasts ; but the bird is not a migrant in the accepted meaning 
of the word. In severe winters, however, the numbers of our resident 
birds are perceptibly increased by birds from the continent driven south 
by stress of weather. On Heligoland, that interesting little island, of all 
other places the best for observing the annual movements of the bird world, 
the Blackbird is regularly obtained on spring and autumn migration, clearly 
demonstrating the fact that the species is, at all events, a migratory one 
in the northern portions of its range. 

Morning and evening are the times when the Blackbird usually seeks 
his food ; and then you can study his graceful attitudes and sprightly 
bearing to perfection. In spring and summer it is, for the most part, 
obtained from the grass-lands — the lawns and pastures near his haunts. 
At the morning's dawn, or when the sun is well down in the west, 
you can observe them with ease. One by one you may see them fly 
rapidly out of the dense shrubbery or wood and alight amongst the grass. 
They remain motionless for a few seconds after alighting, with legs at a 
graceful angle, neck arched, head turned slightly aside, as if they were 
listening intently, and tail almost at right angles to the body ; for these 
birds, like Ring-Ouzels and ]\Iagpies, always elevate their tails upon 
alighting. They crouch low amongst the herbage, thus presenting an 
appearance the very model of easy though wary gracefulness and beauty. 
Few birds are more shy vrhile feeding than the Blackbird ; and the instant 
he is alarmed, he either crouches lower to the ground or retires into the 
fastnesses whence he came. The Blackbird most frequents the pastures 
in the morning and at evening — when the small white snails occur in 
largest numbers, and the earthworms come nearer to the surface of the 



THE BLACKBIRD. 239 

ground or crawl out completely. An animating and interesting sights indeed, 
it is to watch him seek his meal. As soon as he alights he pauses a moment, 
then hops quickly forward and begins to dig for a worm, or snatches a 
snail from the grass-stem. Then another pause with head erect, then a 
few more rapid hops forward, and again he renews the digging motions, 
drawing the worms from their hiding places, and, if they be too large to 
swallow whole, breaking them in pieces. Now he is tugging away at some 
tenacious worm, now exploring the heaps of manure in search of insects, 
every now and then pausing in his labours to look warily around. In this 
manner the birds will advance a hundred yards or more from their cover ; 
but should any one of them utter its alarm-notes, the whole party 
seek shelter, leaving the pasture in a straggling train, the boldest birds 
sometimes tarrying until you approach them within gunshot. But all the 
Blackbird^s food is not obtained from the pastures. Lurking amongst the 
hedgerows are numerous snails inhabiting prettilj^-marked shells ; these 
the Blackbird breaks by dashing them against a stone or even the hard 
ground. Insects and grubs are also eaten, and in autumn the berries of 
the mountain-ash, wild rose, and elder, and also wild fruits, as raspberry, 
blackberry, and sloe. The Blackbird is also, to some extent, a gramini- 
vorous bird, and will feed on grain and various seeds. The bird's love for 
fruit also makes him but a poor favourite with the gardener, who is ever 
on the alert to kill him for the cherries, currants, gooseberries, and peas 
that he pilfers in the season. But the bird's thefts in fruit-time are amply 
repaid by the amount of undoubted good he does at other times of the 
year in ridding the garden and the orchard of many of their unwelcome 
pests. A little watching in the fruit-season is all that is necessary. His 
good deeds amply repay his little pilferings ; and his sprightly form and 
tuneful song should be far more highly valued than a handful of fruit. 

In autumn the Blackbird is often found in the turnip-fields, seeking 
the snails and worms which abound so plentifully in the damp loose 
soil under the broad leaves. In such numbers do the birds congregate 
that it is no uncommon thing to flush a dozen of them on an acre of 
turnips. Ilere they are flushed with difficulty, always preferring to run 
under the leaves than to take wing, unless absolutely compelled to do so. 
In winter the Blackbird's table is the hawthorn, whose berries form its 
favourite food. At this season of the year it also eats the berries of the 
misseltoe and the ivy ; yet always, when the frost is absent, it fi'cquents 
the grass-lands, manure-heaps, and little watercourses in search of the 
various insects on or near them. 

The song of the Blackbird is first heard in the latter part of February, 
and continues with undiminished power until the end of May, when his 
notes are on the wane throughout June ; and in July his mellow pipe is 
hushed during the autumnal moult until the advent of the following spring. 



240 BRITISH BIRDS. 

ThoTigh rich and full in tone it possesses little variety ; but still the Black- 
bird's melody is one of the finest of all known birds'"; for what it lacks in 
variation it makes up in compass and richness of tone. Early morning, 
about sunrise, and after five o'clock in the evening, in the latter part of 
April, are perhaps the times the Blackbird's powers of song are heard to 
best advantage. On the topmost twig of some lofty oak tree, or hid away 
amongst the foliage of the lower branches, he will sit in the dusk of early 
morning and warble his wild flute-like song, which floats gently on the 
still cool air, as he greets the now glowing eastern sky, and later the 
rising sun. Then again in the evening he sings as loud and full as in the 
morning ; and you may note that his melody is pai'ticularly charming 
during a passing shower or thunder-storm, even in the middle of the day. 
Although the Blackbird warbles his delightfal strains at all hours of the 
day, still it is in the morning and evening that the lover of nature can 
pause and listen to the bird's wild strains in fullest enjoyment ; for he 
seems to strive his best to herald the approaching day and sing its requiem 
in his choicest tones. The Blackbird's alarm-notes have been previously 
noticed, and resemble most closely those of the Ring-Ouzel. The call- 
note of the male bird in the breeding-season resembles the call-note of the 
Robin — a kind of wild piping cry, indescribably plaintive and beautiful. 
The female bird is not near so noisy as her mate. She is perhaps still 
more skulking in her habits, and in the breeding-season especially is rarely 
heard to utter a sound. 

Blackbirds are extremely pugnacious creatures during the mating-season. 
A little before the period of the vernal equinox it is no uncommon thing 
to see male Blackbirds fighting with perfect fury, and chasing each other 
rapidly through the branches until one comes off' victorious and the other 
slinks silently away. Most birds in the mating-season are more or less 
pugnacious, although peaceable enough at other times ; but the Blackbird 
may be often seen displaying animosity towards its own species at all 
seasons of the year. The Blackbird pairs early in the season ; but its 
nest is not found quite so early as that of the Song- Thrush or the 
Stormcock. 

Its chief breeding-haunts are the woods, the shrubberies, pleasure- 
groimds, gardens, and hedgerows of the highly cultivated districts. The 
site for the nest is a varied one, embracing at times very singular situa- 
tions. Preference, however, is given to evergreens. Its nest is placed far 
up the ivy-covered branches of the tallest trees, or amongst the ground- 
ivy, in the gloomy yew-trees, snugly buried under the broad-leaved 
laurels, hid from view in the holly's impenetrable and glossy foliage, and, 
more rarely, in the dark and frowning Ijranches of the cedars and the 
pines. A favourite situation for a Blackbird's nest is amongst the ivy 
growing on walls, especially where a few stray brambles hang over to 



THE BLACKBIRD. 241 

support it, the materials of the nest being artfully interwoven with them. 
It is also found pretty frequently on the ground in the banks of wooded 
ravines, amongst fern and hyacinths, and also in hedges. In all these 
varied situations, however, the materials of the nest are the same ; and 
often little or no attempt is made to conceal it. Cui-ious sites, indeed, are 
sometimes chosen. The Blackbird has been known to make its nest on a 
stone projecting from a wall, with no other support whatever ; in another 
instance under the eaves of a shed ; whilst a third was placed amongst the 
roots of a large tree, far under a bank, in just such a situation as a Wren 
would select for a nesting-site. The nest passes through three stages 
before it is completed. It is composed, first, of coarse grasses, amongst 
which a few twigs are sometimes woven, a little moss, and dry leaves. 
This somewhat loosely built structure is lined with mud or clay, when 
it is a difficult matter to distinguish it from an unfinished nest of the 
Song-Thrush. This mud-formed cavity is finally lined very thickly with 
finer grasses, admirably arranged, and forming a smooth bed for the eggs. 
When completed and dry, the nest of the Blackbird is very firm and com- 
pact — a proof of which may be seen in the number of their nests which 
remain intact through the storms of winter, forming refuges and larders 
for the field-mice. In form the Blackbird's nest is somewhat shallow, 
and is usually a large, bulky structure. The eggs of the Blackbird are 
from four to six in number, although this is in some few cases ex- 
ceeded, for nests have been known to contain eight eggs. They differ 
considerably in size, form, and colour : some specimens are exceptionally 
large, others small ; some are quite pear-shaped, others almost round. 
The usual colour is a bright bluish green, spotted, streaked, clouded, 
and blotched with rich reddish brown and various tints of purple. Some 
specimens have most of the spots and streaks round the large end of the 
egg in a zone or band ; others are finely blotched ; whilst some speci- 
mens are so highly marked as to hide all trace of the ground-colour. 
Varieties of the Blackbird's eggs are occasionally met with very similar to 
the eggs of the Starling, pure and spotless. Apropos of these light- 
coloured eggs, Dixon writes that "in Derbyshire, for three successive 
years, a pair of Blackbirds built their nest in a spreading laurel, in exactly 
the same situation yearly ; and each season their eggs were remarkable for 
being pale blue and spotless. This pair of birds produced during this 
period some thirty eggs, all similar in colour, thus affording considerable 
proof that the colour of birds' eggs is to a great extent hereditary. I 
have known similar instances with the Starling, the Titmouse, and the 
Robin, where for several seasons the eggs have possessed certain peculiar 
characters. The eggs vary from I'.'iG to 1 inch in length, and in 
breadth from '9 to "79 inch. The Blackbird usually rears two, and 
sometimes even three broods in a year, nests containing newly laid eggs 
VOL. I. R 



242 BRITISH BIRDS. 

not unfrequently being found in July and early in August. The young 
birds are fed on worms^ snails^ grubs, and insects ; and the parent bird 
tends them but a short time after they quit the nest. When visiting the 
nest with food, both male and female birds are extremely cautious ; and 
should they obtain a glimpse of any intruder, they will sometimes fly 
restlessly about for hours with the food in their beaks rather than betray 
the site of the nest. Both the male and female bird assist in hatching 
the eggs and I'earing the young ; but the female is l)y fur the most 
frequently found upon the nest; and she conveys the greater part of the 
food to the young as well. In the rearing-season the male Blackbird 
sometimes ^varbles as he flies through the air to and from the nest. 

As a cage-bird the Blackbird is held in high esteem. Poor fellow ! he 
bears captivity a\ ell ; and his tuneful melody is often heard in the densest 
thoroughfares of the busy metropolis as the little jet-black chorister 
warbles from his prison-home, iu seemingly just as joyous a strain as his 
wild congeners, gladdening the hearts of all who hear it, and doubtless 
bringing to the mind of many a tired wayfarer rural scenes far away, and 
brighter and happier times no«' long past and gone. 

Our Blackbird's nearest relation is the South-Chinese Ouzel, Mcriila 
iiuuidarina, which has the upper parts very dark brown, never quite black. 
There are several other species of Merula in which the male is quite black 
— one in Central America, three or four in South America, and one on 
the Samoa Islands in the Pacific Oceau ; but these may be distinguished 
at a glance from their Palsearctic relation by their yellow legs. 

As its name implies, the Blackbird is entirely black, with an orange 
bill, a ring of orange round the eye, black legs, and hazel irides. Shake- 
speare dispenses with long pages of description, and gives his diagnosis 
in a single sentence : — 

" The Ouzel-C(j(.k, so Ijlack of line, 
With orange-tawuy bill." 

Midmiiuiicr Xii/Jif's D/'i-tnii. Act iii. sc. 1. 

The female bird differs greatly from the male, is brown with a dark 
brown bill, and is more or less rufous on the throat and breast, which are 
streaked with dusky black. The young birds in nestling plumage have 
most of the feathers with pale shaft-streaks, dark tips to those of the upper 
parts, and the under plumage with dark bars. After the first moult 
the young birds resemble their parents ; but the males have the bill black, 
and the females are suffused on the throat and breast with vinous red. 
It is worthy of remark that both immature birds and old males and females 
have a few fine hairs on the hind neck, growing quite independent of the 
feathers; so, too, have its near ally M. mandurina and many other 
Ouzels. 



THE RING-OUZEL. 243 



MERULA TORQUATA. 
THE RING-OUZEL. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdus merula torquata, Briss. Orn. ii. p. 2'J5 (1760). 

Tiu'dus torquatus, Linn. Sj/st. Nat. i. p. 206 (I7136); et auctorum plurimorum — 
Gmeliii, Latham, Pallas, TeinmincJi, Oray, Xt'W.'un, Sharpe, Dresser, (Gould), &c, 
Merula torquata (Linn.), Boie, Isis, ld-!J, p. 552. 
Sylvia torquata (Linn.), Suvi, Orn. Tost: i. p. 20(3 (1827). 
Copsichus torquatus (Linn.), Kaup, Nalijrl. Syst. p. 157 (1820J. 
Thoracocincla torquata (Linn.), Retch. Nat. Syst. pi. xliii. (18 oO). 

The range of tlie Riag-Ouzel in Great Britain is pretty much restricted 
to the moorland wastes and northern mountains. In the south of 
England the bird is seen on spi'ing and autumn migration, and breeds in 
one or two loealities, notably on Dartmoor. It has also been known to 
breed in Cornwall, Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Warwick, and Leicester, and 
in a few of the Welsh mountain-districts. From Derbyshire northwards 
the Ring-Ouzel is a common bird on the moors, extending its range to the 
Scottish Highlands, but is only seen on autumn migration in the Orkney 
■and Shetland Islands. Curiously enough, on the Outer Hebrides the bird 
is unknown ; and even on the innermost western isles it is a rare bird, 
although the ground seems eminently suitable to it. Throughout Ireland 
in all suitable localities it is commonly found. Upon the European con- 
tinent the Ring-Ouzel is a summer visitant to the bare rocky portions of 
the pine-districts ; yet in most of the mountainous districts of the south 
which the birds pas? on migration numbers remain to breed. But it does 
not appear to range further east than the Ural ^louatains. Its winter- 
■quarters are the lowlands and alpine districts of South Europe, North 
Africa, Asia Minor, and Persia. 

The Pting-Ouzel is an especial favourite with most ornithologists — not 
so much from its rarity as from the localness of its distribution, and not 
so much from any thing specially interesting in its appearance or habits 
as from the romantic scenery of its breeding-grounds. It may be said to 
be a mountain form of the Blackbird. The lowland species seldom ascends 
the hills more than a thousand feet, where it is replaced by the Ring-Ouzel. 
In the Caucasus the lling-Ouzel frequents the rhododendron region, seven 
thousand feet above the level of the sea ; and when I was toiling up the 
steep ascent of the North Cape in Norway, in lat. 7l\°, I amused myself 
with watching the Ring-Ouzels on the rocks. As it is not recorded from 
Archangel, and Harvie-Brown and I did not meet with it in the valley of 

k2 



244 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the Petchora^ we may almost assume that rocks are indispensable to the 
Ring-Ouzel. It appears again more to the east amongst the rocks of the 
Ural Mountains ; but its further range eastwards appears to be barred by 
the rocldess steppes of West Siberia. When the Redwing and the Field- 
fare are on the point of departure from our shores for their northern 
breeding-haunts, the Ring-OuzeFs bold and defiant cries are first heard^ 
and his song, carried hither and thither over the moorlands by the breeze, 
sounds wild and sweet as, tempered by distance, it greets our ear as the 
bird sits wary and watchful on the highest pinnacle of some projecting 
rock. Impelled by resistless impulse, this handsome Ouzel has again 
sought the solitudes of the moors for the purpose of rearing its young, 
arriving towards the end of March or early in April. 

The Ring-Ouzel is a somewhat remarkable bird ; for although not the 
only migratory British Thrush, still it is the only Thrush that visits our 
country for the purpose of rearing its young ; and, in addition to this, it is 
the only Thrush that principally confines itself to the upland wilds. A true 
bird of the wilderness, it prefers the deepest solitudes that our land affords. 
Truly, indeed, the Ring-Ouzel's home is a wild and romantic one. You will 
first make his acquaintance where the heath begins, where the silver birch 
trees are scattered amongst the rock-fragments, and the gorse bushes and 
stunted thorns and bracken are the last signs of more lowland vegetation. 
The scenery gets wilder, but still the bird is your companion; he fiits 
from rock to rock before you, or, by making long detours, returns to the 
place whence you flushed him, uttering his loud, harsh, and discordant 
call-notes. The hills of Derbyshire are one of his favourite haunts : 
almost on the very summit of Kinder Scout, the highest peak of the High 
Peak, nearly two thousand feet above the sea-level, the Ring- Ouzels rear 
their young. The plateau on the summit of this wild mountain, the view 
from which is one of the finest in the north of England, is intersected by 
deep watercourses, the principal ones worn down to the solid rock, but 
the greater part of them mere trenches in the peat alone, too wide to jump 
across, and destitute of the least trace of vegetation. The innumerable 
islands which lie in this network of " groughs," as they are locally called, 
are covered with heath, bilberry, crowberry, clusterberry, and, in some 
places, with cranberry, bearberry, and cloudberry. The latter plant is the 
great feature of the wild Siberian tundras, the " maroshka " of the Russians, 
and the " molteberre " of the Norwegians. But the botanist is not the 
only one who finds an interest here. Bird-hfe is on every side ; and the 
handsome " Torr-Ouzel," as the peasant lads and herdsmen call hiiu, lives 
in company with the Red Grouse, the Curlew, the Peewit, and the Golden 
Plover, which also breed in this wild upland solitude. 

The Ring-Ouzel is a shy and wary bird, rarely allowing the observer 
to approach it within gunshot, except when its nest is in danger. The 



THE RING-OUZEL. 245 

bird flits before you, ever at a respectable distance, and, if repeatedly 
disturbed, will take itself off with strong rapid flight to some place of 
safety. There is much in the Ring-Ouzers habits and movements in 
common with those of the Blackbird, — its garrnlousness at nightfall, its 
method of searching for food, its peculiar elevation of the tail upon alighting, 
and its shy, restless, and vigilant disposition, all being characteristic of that 
coal-black chorister. Directly after its arrival on our shores the Ring- 
Ouzel is sometimes observed in large flocks, not unfrequently consisting 
of several hundred individuals. They remain gregarious for a few days, 
frequenting the marshes and swamps before they pair and distribute them- 
selves over the moors. At this season the birds are more vigilant than 
ever, and, if disturbed, rise like Fieldfares and take themselves off to safer 
and more secluded quarters. 

The food of the Ring-Ouzel is varied, and is both animal and vegetable. 
At dawn, or just as the evening^s mist is stealing up the mountains, you 
will not unfrequently see him on the wild pasture-lands of the upland 
farms, or on the stretches of marshy grass-land, studded with rush-tufts, 
on the moor. Here, in a precisely similar manner to the Blackbird, the 
Ring-Ouzel seeks his food, which consists of the worms and small slugs 
abounding in the earth and on the blades of grass. Every few moments he 
hops forward, looks warily around, and then commences digging for his 
prey, occasionally pausing in his labours with head erect, as if fearful of 
discovery so far from the friendly cover of the heath. On the moor itself 
he obtains much of his sustenance. The droppings from the cattle and the 
sheep that pasture there abound with small beetles and insects, which the 
bird searches for and captures, just as the Blackbird does on the lowland 
pastures. Then, too, amongst the wild luxuriant growth of vegetation on 
the moor, numerous shells are found ; and the snails that tenant them are 
eaten, the bird breaking the shells, just like the Thrush or Blackbird, on 
some convenient stone or rock. The Ring-Ouzel is also passionately fond 
of fruits and berries ; indeed, from July to the time of his departure for 
the south, these form his favourite fare. The wild berries of the moorland, 
the billberry, cranberry, cluster-berry, and other fruits, are eaten, as are 
also the berries of the mountain-ash. The gardens near the Ring-Ouzel's 
haunts are also visited and plundered, all the smaller fruits being eaten, 
and also the plums and cherries. Ivy-berries, elder-berries, and the 
luscious fruit of the bramble are also part of the bird's autumn food ; and 
the vineyards of France and Spain are visited on the bird's passage south 
for the sake of the dainty fare they afford. 

Soon after their arrival at their breeding-grounds the male Ring-Ouzels 
are heard singing in all directions, and, by exercising a little caution, you 
may get within a few yards of the bird and thus observe him closely. 
Sometimes he is perched on the rocky walls that there do duty for hedges ; 



346 BRITISH BIRDS. 

sometimes he is sitting on a tuft of heather, or on a gorse bush, or on the 
branches of some silver birch or mountain-ash, yet, perhaps, most fre- 
quently of all on the summit of a grey boulder. Monotonous as is the 
song of the Ring-Ouzel, still its loud tones and the bold bearing of the liiird 
itself fully harmonize with the wild surroundings. You may often see him 
perched on some storm-riven tree growing out of the grey rocks, where, 
with his white breast glistening in the sun, he sits motionless and pours 
forth his wild notes. His song resembles in part that of the Starling, the 
Blackbird, and the Song-Thrush. The bird, after several piping notes, 
utters a few harsh tones, as if in mockery of his own performance, pro- 
bably a minute passing between each snatch of song. If you. alarm him, 
his wild notes cease at once, and, with his wild cries echoing in the rocks 
around, he either drops doAvn into the heath or flies away to a more 
secluded resting-place. The claims of the Ring-Ouzel to the rank of a 
first-rate songster may be disputed, and his musical powers be unfavour- 
ably compared with those of the Song-Thrush or the Blackbird; still there 
is a wild freedom in them which gives them a pecu.liar charm, and the 
wild nature of the surrounding landscape is also much enhanced in beauty 
bj' a song as clear and melodious in tone as the scenery around is grand 
and impressive. If it be the surroundings alone that gain the Ring-Ouzel 
his musical reputation, then most surely it is the shaded dells and wooded 
copses that bring the Song-Thrush's music and the Blackbird's trills into 
such high repute. 

The call-notes of the Ring-Ouzel are somewhat varied. Sometimes they 
are as low and musical as a Wheatear's (call-notes to each other, in fact) ; 
sometimes the note is a piping cry, apparently confined to the male bird 
alone, with which he speaks to his mate. But the alarm-note is a sharp 
tac-tac-tac, tac-tac-tac, repeated more frequently and loudly should you 
happen to be in the neighbourhood of the nest. 

The Ring-Ouzel very probably pairs annually, soon after its arrival at 
its breeding-grounds ; and a week or so later the birds are engaged in the 
duties of the season — towards the end of April ; yet eggs can be obtained 
throughout the whole of JMay and even till July, although these may be 
the eggs of birds whose first clutch was destroj'ed. The nest of the Ring- 
Ouzel is generally placed on the ground, in a hollow in the midst of the 
ling, which efleetually conceals it. Occasionally it will be found in a 
bush or stunted tree, but never at any great elevation. In the heather on 
an embankment, where the soil has given way and left an abrupt edge, is a 
favourite place. Wherever there is a steep bank covered with high heath, 
whether it be sloping down to a stream or an old road, you may almost 
safely calculate on finding a ne^ every few hundred yards or so, always 
placed in the shelter of the highest heather (a foot high or more). Some- 
times holes in the rock itself are chosen, where a few plants of heath have 



THE RING-OUZEL. 247 

gained a footing and almost completely shelter the nest from view. Like 
the nests of all the Thrnshes, that of the Ring-Ouzel undergoes three distinct 
stages before completion^ and is always well and compactly constructed. 
It is made of coarse grass, with perhaps a few twigs of heather to bind the 
materials together ; and a few withered leaves are sometimes added. This 
grass-formed nest is then lined with mud or clay from the neighbouring 
bogs or stream-banks. At this stage the nest is remarkably deep; but 
the thick lining of fine grass which is now added brings the nest to more 
even proportions. When examining the nest of this bird, its close resem- 
blance to that of the Blackbird will be noticed. Indeed it would be 
almost impossible to discriminate between them, were we not aware that 
the Blackbird does not haunt the wild open moor. In the districts where 
the habitats of these two birds adjoin (the boundary of cultivation and the 
wild), nothing but a sight of the parent birds can make identification 
sure. 

The Ring-Ouzel lays four or five finely-marked eggs, bluish green in 
ground-colour, boldly and richly blotched with reddish brown, and some- 
times streaked with dark brown. One variety is very elongated and very 
pale in ground-colour, the markings being represented by small specks, 
with a few splashes on the larger end. A second is almost round, 
intense bluish green in ground-colour, boldly yet sparingly blotched with 
surface-markings of purplish brown and pale dashes of purple. A third is 
brownish green in ground-colour, blotched, clouded, and spotted with pale 
reddish broM'n and light dashes of purple; while a fourth is similar in 
ground-colour, but has the brown markings chiefly on the larger end of the 
egg, where they form a broad zone, and is also streaked with dark wavy 
lines of brown. So closely do the eggs of this bird resemble those of the 
Blackbird and the Fieldfare, that, were a series of the eggs of these three 
birds mixed promiscuously, it would be absolutely impossible to separate 
all of them con-ectly. Xevertheless, on an average, the Ring-Ouzel's eggs 
have the ground-colour clearer, and are more boldly and richly marked, 
than those of the Blackbird. They vary in length from 1-35 to 1'08 inch, 
and in breadth from 0-9 to OvH inch. 

No birds defend their eggs or yormg with more matchless courage than 
the Ring-Ouzel. Approach their treasure, and, although you have no 
knowledge of its whereabouts, you speedily know that you are on sacred 
ground, or, more plainly speaking, on the nesting-site of this bird of the 
moor. Soinetiiing sweeps suddenly round your head, probably brushing 
your face. You look round ; and there the Ring-Ouzel, perched close at 
hand, is eying you wrathfully, and ready to do battle, despite the odds, 
for the protection of her abode. ]\Iove, and the attack is renewed, this 
time with loud and dissonant cries that wake the solitudes of the barren 
moor around. Undauntedly the birds fly round you, pause for a moment 



248 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



on some mass of rock, or reel and tumble on the ground to decoy you 
away. As you approach still closer, the anxiety of the female, if possible, 
increases ; her cries, with those of her mate, disturb the birds around : 
the Red Grouse, startled, skims over the shoulder of the hill to find 
solitude ; the Moor-Pipit chirps anxiously by ; and the gay little Stonechat 
flits uneasily from bush to bush. So long as you tarry near their treasure 
the birds will accompany you, and, by using every artifice, endeavour to 
allure or drive you away from its vicinity. Even when the nest is but 
half built, the birds display remarkable attachment to it, as is also the case 
with the Chaffinch ; and the same motions are gone through as though it 
contained eggs or young birds. 

Upon leaving the nest the young birds are soon abandoned by their 
parents, and fly about singly or in little parties in search of food. 

The general colour of the adult male is a uniform very dark brown, 
approaching black, with the exception of a nearly white gorget extending 
across the lower throat from shoulder to shoulder ; most of the feathers of 
the body show traces of pale margins, more or less conspicuously. Bill 
yellow; legs, feet, and claws brown; irides dark brown. The female 
differs from the male in being much duller brown, and the white gorget 
is suflFused with brown. Birds of the year have very broad margins to 
the feathers of the underparts. In young females the gorget is scarcely 
perceivable ; in young males it is also suffused with brown. Young in 
nestling-plumage have the back and breast barred with black and pale 
brown, and have ochraceous tips to the wing-coverts. 

The nearest relation of the Ring-Ouzel is imdoubtedly the Blackbird, 
and the next nearest is the South-Chinese Ouzel {M. mandarina), all three 
black -legged Ouzels. The White-collared Ouzel of the Himalayas bears 
a superficial resemblance to the Ring-Ouzel ; but the pattern of its colour 
is quite different, the white collar going completely round the neck ; and it 
belongs, moreover, to the yellow-legged group of Ouzels. 



THE BLACK-THKOATED OUZEL. 249 

MERULA ATRIGULARIS. 
THE BLACK-THROATED OUZEL. 

Turdua atrogularis, Tcmm. Man. d'Oni. i. p. 169 (1820); et auctorum plurimorum 
— Meyer, Gould, Gray, Blyth, Bonaparte, Newton, Harting, Dresser, &c. 

Turdus bechsteinii, Naum. Viig. DeutscJd. ii. p. 310 (1822). 

Cichloides bechsteinii (Naam.), Kaup, Natiirl. Syst. p. 153 (1829). 

Sylvia atrogularis (Tetmn.), Savi, Orn. Tosc. iii. p. 203 (1831). 

Merula atrogularis (Temm.), Bonap. Comp. List B. Eur. Sf N. Ainer. p. 17 (1838). 

Turdus atrigularis (Temvi.), Keys. ii. Bias. Wirb. Eur. pp. li, 177 (1840). 

Turdus varicollis, Hodys. MS. Draiviiigs (in the Brit. Mus.) of B. of Nepal, Passeres, 
pi. 148, nos. 198, 199, & pi. 149, nos. 198, 199 {ieon. iwd.). 

Merula leucogaster, Blyth, J. A. S. Beng. xvi. p. 149 (1847). 

Planesticus atrogularis (Temm.), Bonap. Cat. Parzud. p. 5 (1854). 

Cichloides atrigularis {Temm.), Tytler, Ibis, 1869, p. 124. 

Turdus mystacinus, Severtz. Turkest. Jevotn. pp. 64, 118, 119 (1873). 

The occurrence of this Ouzel iu England^ so far from its true home, 
together with the fact that its eggs are here described for the first time, 
renders it a species of considerable interest, not only to British ornitho- 
logists, hut to all European naturalists who take an interest in the regular 
migration or nomad wanderings of birds. Its only claim to rank as a 
British species rests on a a single example taken in the south of England 
during the winter of 1868. Its occurrence was recorded by Mr. T. J. 
Monk, into whose possession it came, in the ' Zoologist ■" for February 
1869, p. 1560, thus:— "On Wednesday, 23rd of December, a fine 
example of the Black-throated Thrush was shot near Lewes. The bird, 
wbich proved on dissection to be a male, was in excellent condition, 
and, having been carefully handled, was in fine order for preservation, 
and in this respect has received ample justice from the hands of Mr. Sways- 
land of Brighton, where it may be seen." Mr. G. D. Rowley also brought 
the circumstances before the Zoological Society of London, where the 
bird was exhibited. He said (P. Z. S. 1869, p. 4) :— "The specimen of 
Turdus atrogularis was shot near Lewes, Sussex, on December 23rd, 1868. 
It is a young male, as shown by its plumage ; dissection also confirmed 
the fact. I saw the bird in the flesh, and took particular care to ascertain 
its history, because it belongs to the fauna of Central Asia, and is only an 
accidental visitor to Europe. To find such a species on the south coast of 
England appears to me a matter of considerable interest. It is now in 
the collection of T. J. Monk, Esq., of Mountfield House, near Lewes, 
who purchased it for a trifle of a working man." The late Mr. Gould also 
recorded its capture in the ' Ibis ' for 1869, p. 128. 

The Black-throated Ouzel is only known as an occasional straggler into 
Europe, where it has been obtained in Russia, Germany, Denmark, Bel- 
gium, France, and Italy. Like White's Ground-Thrush and the Siberian 



350 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Ground-Tlirnsli, the Black-Throated Ouzel belongs to the Eastern Palse- 
aretic Region, and is one of many Siberian birds which are in the habit of 
occasionally missing their way on their autumn migration, and wandering 
into Europe instead of South Asia. I met with it twice in the valley 
of the Yenesav on my return journey from the Arctic regions, between 
latitudes 60° and 63°, early in August ; I found it a very noisy active bird. 
I was too late for eggs ; but the not fully fledged young, three of which I 
secured, were a source of great anxiety to their parents, whose alarm-notes 
resounded on the skirts of the forest on every side. They principally 
frequented the neighbourhood of the villages on the banks of the river, 
where the forest had been cut down for firewood, and clumps of small trees 
were scattered over the rough pastures where the cattle of the peasants 
are ttirned out to graze in summer. They showed a marked preference for 
the pines, and were very wary. The males kept out of gunshot ; and I only 
obtained one adult, a female. 

It probably also breeds in the same latitude of the Obb, and in a similar 
climate in the pine-regions of the Himalayas and Eastern Turkestan. It 
winters in Western Turkestan, Baluchistan, and North India, occurring on 
migration as far eastwards as Lake Baikal, and in winter as far as Assam. 

Severtzow says that it breeds in Eastern Turkestan in the cultivated 
districts, gardens, grassy steppes, and salt plains, up to 4000 feet above the 
level of the sea ; and there cannot be much doubt that it breeds also at a 
considerable elevation in the pine-regions of the lofty Himalayas. In 
winter when the Arctic forests are frost-bound, and all its northern haunts 
untenable, the Black-throated Ouzel is quite a common bird in Baluchis- 
tan and North India, where it regularly spends the cold season. In 
India its winter haunt is the more open woods at a level of from 3000 to 
8000 feet, and it is occasionally seen on roads and pathways. In Baluchis- 
tan its haunts (according to Blanford) are the miserable apologies for 
gardens at Guiidar, one of the most desolate of inhabited spots on the 
eartli''s surface, in the vicinity of houses, and on the sand-downs near 
the sea ; and in other districts it frequents well- wooded plains. In Eastern 
Turkestan it winters amongst the trees bordering watercourses or growing- 
near tanks. Favourite places to observe these birds in the winter, 
according to Dr. Scully (Stray Feath. 1876, p. 80), are amongst the 
sand-hills and low scrub-jungle ; and further on (p. 140) he says that 
" the birds disappear entirely in the spring, migrating in a north-easterly 
direction, towards the hills and the Lob district, where it is reported to 
breed. It feeds chiefly on Elcar/nus-hervies, called "■ jigda ' in Turki, 
and commonly known as ' Trebizond dates ;' hence its name Jigda-chuk, 
i. e. 'jigda-eater.' This food is also varied with insects and worms, much 
similar fare to that selected by the other members of this family of birds." 

Nothing is known of the nest of this birdj but a series of its eggs has 



THE BLACK-THROATED OUZEL. 251 

been obtained by Herr Taucre's collectors on the Altai Mountains. They 
exhibit tlic same variatiou in colour as the eggs of the Blackbird, and 
measure from 1'2 to 1'15 inch in length, and from '8 to '75 inch in breadth. 
The young in nestling-plumage which I brought from the valley of the 
Yenesay are very like the young of the Fieldfare, although the chestnut 
wing-liuing and axiliaries distinguish them at a glance, as also from the 
30uug of another closely allied Asiatic bird, of which I had the good 
fortune to obtain both eggs and young, the Dark Ouzel [Merula ohscurd). 

The autumn plumage of the Black-throated Ouzel is olive-brown above, 
daikest on the wings and tail; below, the throat and breast are black, with 
pale margins to the featlicis, and the sides and flanks are greyish brown, 
becoming pure white on the belly. The wing-lining and axiliaries are rich 
chestnut. During winter and spring the edges to the feathers are cast ; 
and the nuptial plumage displays the throat and breast pure black, the 
white of the underparts more distinct, and the whole colour of the upper 
parts much paler. Bill dark brown above, pale below ; legs and feet pale 
brown; irides dark brown. Females want the black on the throat and 
breast, the feathers having dark centres, except on the lower throat, which 
is uniform creamy white. Males of the year are like old females. 

The nearest relation of the Black-throated Ouzel is undoubtedly the 
Red-throated Ouzel (Merula ruficoUis). So nearly allied are these species 
that there seems every reason to believe that they interbreed. In the 
Berlin ]Museum is a complete series of intermediate forms, from one to the 
other, including both extremes, all collected by Dybowsky on the southern 
shores of Lake Baikal in April and May. 

The Gf Id-vented Bulbul (Pi/cnonoius capensis) has no claim whatever to be considered 
a British bird, or even an accidental \isit(jr to Europe. It has been included in the list in 
consequence of a single alleged occurrence more than forty years ape : this bird may have 
escaped from a cage, or it may have been accidentally changed for a foi eign skin. The only 
fXiiiiiple on which its claims to the Britit^h fauna rest is a specimen iillrtipd to have been 
shot near "\\'ati!rtord, and which was in the collection of Dr. Robert Biirlcitt. In the same 
colli'Ction is also an example of Subo capensis, which is represented to ha-se been shot in 
Ireland and which is labelled Subo inaxiiiiiis — a cir('Uinstance which throws great doubt on 
the accm-acy of the localities of the birds in this collection, and suggests the idea that the 
specimen of the Gold-vented Biilbul was also a South-African skin. The true home of the 
Gold-vented Bulbul is South Africa, where it seems to be exclusively contined to the 
Gape Colony. 

It is a common mistake, into which many ornitholopist.s, and amongst them Professor 
Newton in his edition of Yarrell'a ' British Birds,' have fallen, to suppose that the Biilbula 
of modern naturalists belong to the same group as the Bulbul so celebrated in eastern 
song. The latter is the Per.-iau Nightingale, -Z?/(V/(«(Hs i/ofcu. None of the birds which 
ornitholooists call Bulbuls have any great powers of song, unless it be the Palestine Bulbul, 
Pi/ciionoii(s .ranthopygas, which, in Canon Tristram's opinion, almost equals the Nightingale 
in power of voice. 

TTie general colour of the Gold-vented Bulbid is brown, a little darker on the head, 
wings, and tail ; it is almost white on the centre of the belly, and has the under tail- 
coverts bright yellow. 



252 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus CINCLUS. 

The genus Cinclus was established by Bechstein ia 1802, in his ' Orni- 
thologische Taschenbuch/ i. p. 206. As C. aquaticus, or one of its numerous 
local though unnamed races^ was the only species with which Bechstein 
was acquainted, it becomes of necessity the type of his genus. It contains 
the Dippers, which may be distinguished from the true Thrushes by their 
short concave wings fitting tightly to the body, and their dense plumage, 
adapted to their aquatic habits. 

The Dippers, of which about a dozen species are known, extend over the 
entire Palsearctic Region wherever mountain-streams occur ; but in the 
Indian Region they are apparently confined to the Western Himalayas and 
the mountains o£ China and Formosa. In the Nearctic Region they are 
found throughout the Rocky Mountains, in the same chain through Central 
America into the Neotropical Region, where they are found in the Andes 
of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. One species is resident in the British 
Islands. 

Ornithologists differ in opinion as to the affinities of the Dippers. 
Brisson was hopelessly wrong in placing them amongst the Sandpipers; and 
Linuseus was probably mistaken in considering them to be Starlings. I 
think Latham was not far wrong in including them amongst the Thrushes, 
though Sharpe appears to think otherwise and has placed them with the 
Wrens. The Dippers are probably most nearly allied to the subgeneric 
group of Ground-Thrushes known as Zoother(B. Most of the species, how- 
ever, have lost the Geocichline pattern on the wing ; but the American 
species still retain it, although in a somewhat rudimentary condition. They 
are aquatic in their habits, frequenting mountain-streams and obtaining 
most of their food from the waters. Their food consists of aquatic insects, 
ova of fishes, and Mollusca. They are fair songsters. They build bulky 
nests, domed, and made of moss, dry grass, leaves, &c., placing them under 
banks, amongst rocks, or between the roots of trees. Their eggs, from 
four to six or seven in numberj are, so far as is known, pure white. 



COMMON DIPPER. 253 

CINCLUS AQUATICUS. 
COMMON DIPPER. 

(Plate 11.) 

Tringa merula aquatica, Briss. Orn. v. p. 2o2 (1700). 

Sturnus cinclus, Zinii. Syst. Kat. i. p. I'OO (17<jO). 

Turdus cinclus (Linn.), Lath. Iii,l. Orn. i. p. .343 (1700). 

Turdus p;ularis, Lath. hid. Orn. Siippl. p. xl (1801, juv.). 

Cinclus aquations, Bechst. Orn. Tasch. p. 206 (1802) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Mi^ijrr, Teinminck, Naumann, Qimld, Bonaparte, Schlegel, Saloin, Newton, Dressen 

iSharpe, &e. 
Aquatilis cinclus (Linn.), Muntar/. Orn. Diet. Suppl. (1810). 
Cinclus europaeus, Leach, Sy.st. Cut. Brit. 3Lu,i. p. 21 (IsUi). 
Hydrobata cinclus {Linn.), Gray, List Gen. B. p. -'j-j (1841). 

The Dipper, in spite of sundry dark tales and grave charges, is almost 
universally the angler's favourite — a bird of the stream, from its birth 
amongst the peat and heather high up the mountains, throughout its wander- 
ing course of fall and pool and i-apid. Its distribution in Great Britain is 
chiefly confined to the mountainous districts of the west and north of 
England, including \yales, and throughout Scotland, extending to the Outer 
Hebrides and the Orkneys, but not to the Shetland Isles. In Ireland it is 
found in similar localities to those in Britain- — mountain-streams and wild 
uplands, its distribution being affected by the nature of the country. 
Wherever the waters are wild enough, either in the countries of the south 
or the upland wilds and mountain-districts of the north, the Dipper is 
pretty sure to be commonly found, naturally becoming much more frequent 
in the Highlands of Scotland, where it is provincially known to a very 
great extent as the " Kingfisher." 

The Dipper in a more or less modified form appears to occur throughout 
the Palfearctic Region and the Himalayas wherever rocky mountain-streams 
are to be found. Modern evolutionists seem to have come to the con- 
clusion that the successive stages of the development of the individual are 
more or less an epitome of the histoiy of the species. If we accept this 
theory, the attempt to interpret the changes of plumage which our Dipper 
undergoes would probably lead to the conclusion that the genus Cinclus 
originated in Central Asia, whence it spread east and west to North America 
and Europe. The original form probably differed little from typical 
examples of C. leucogaster, which we may accept as the slightly changed 
descendants of the Prcglacial Dippers of that region. I say slightly 
changed, because the young in first plumage, not only of our Dipper, but of 
all the known Dippers of the world, besides retaining the nearly white colour 
of the whole of the underparts, show traces of dark tips to the feathers, which 



254 BRITISH BIRDS. 

disappear in the adult of C. leucogaster, but which were probably charac- 
teristic of its Preglacial ancestors. In the course of ages the original 
Dipper with the spotted underparts appears to have become separated into 
two species. In the western form circumstances seem to have favoured 
the development of the white of the underparts^ whilst in the east the 
reverse appears to have been the case, so that during the Glacial period it 
is probable that there were two species of Dipper — a form with white under- 
parts in the west, and one with dark brown underparts in the east. It 
seems not impi'obable that at this time the Dipper was a migratory bird, 
its small bastard primary being possibly a relic of its past powers of flight; 
and as the Glacial period passed away, and the rapid and important deve- 
lopment of Palaearctic birds which accompanied the semitropical period 
which followed took place, the Dippers seem to have caught the general 
spirit of enterprise, and some of the eastern race seem to have spread along 
the eastern coast of Asia and to have crossed Behring's Straits into America, 
and, following the Rocky Mountains to Central America, seem to have 
reached the Northern Andes. Amidst their new surroundings they have 
comparatively rapidly changed their character ; and those birds which 
reached South America have reverted to the particoloured plumage of 
their ancestors, though in somewhat new and modified forms. 

As the other species of Dipper spread eastwards, the infl.uence of the 
changed climate, or some process of natural selection which may some day 
be discovered, caused the underparts below the breast to become a sooty 
black, a character which is still retained by the adults of many of the present 
Western Palcearctic Dippers and by the birds of the year of all the Euro- 
pean species. This circumstance has given rise to much confusion in the 
accounts of the geographical distribution of the dark-bellied form C. mela- 
nogaster. Dresser records it from Ireland and England, Newton from 
Spain, and Salvin from Asia Minor. In all these cases it will probably be 
found that the examples which have been identified as C. melanogaster are 
birds of the year of the species inhabiting the countries where they were 
severally obtained. 

It seems to me that there is only one species of Palsearctic Dipper, which 
may be divided into many subspecies or local races which are imperfectly 
segregated, and interbreed whenever they come together. It is difficult to 
see how any differences which they present can have any protective value ; 
they may possibly be due to undisturbed climatic influence. In the 
British Islands C. aquaticua occurs, the damp climate caused by the Gulf- 
stream having developed the chestnut on the belly to its greatest extent, 
and the cold having in some mysterious way blackened the brown of the 
head and nape. Further south in the Vosges Mountains and in the Pyre- 
nees C. aqiuiticus-albicoUis occurs, an intermediate form between the 
British and Mediterranean races. The latter, C. albicollis, difl'ers in having 



COMMON DIPPER. 255 

the upper parts much paler than in our bird. It is found in Southern 
Spain, Algiers, Italy, and Greece. In Asia Minor, the Caucasus, and Persia 
the chestnut on the belly is much darker and the brown of the head and 
nape extends lower down the back. This form may be called C. albicollis- 
cashmiriensis ; for in the latter race (C. canlimtrieitsis), which ranges from 
Cashmere, through South Siberia, to West China, the brown of the head 
and nape attains its greatest development ou the back, and all traces of 
chestimt on the breast are lost in the brown of the belly. This race would 
appear to interbreed, on the one hand, with C. fewco^fts^e;-, for in Krasnoyarsk 
(where the ranges of the two forms coalesce) every iuteriiiediate form is 
found, — and, on the other hand, with C. sordjdu, for in the Altai ^Mountains 
(where the ranges of these two forms coalesce) every intermediate form occurs. 
In Scandinavia and the adjacent countries of Xorth G-ermauy C nidano- 
gaster is found with dark head and neck, and with the chestnut below the 
breast replaced by nearly black. This race is connected witli the South- 
European form by what we may call C. 'iiielanoyaster-alblcoUis from the 
(Carpathians, in which the chestnut reappears beluw the breast. 

Besides these variations there are others still more local. In the Peak 
of Derbyshire, for example, the Dippers, which are found 1500 feet above 
tlie level of the sea, are darker in colour than those which aie found lower 
down the valleys, only 500 feet above the sea-level. The same dift'erences 
have been I'ccorded in Dippers from the Pyrenees ; and it is birds of the 
year of these forms from high ele\ations which have led so many orni- 
thologists astray in speaking of the geographical range ot Cluchis agaalicui-, 
var. inelanog aster. 

The haunts of the Dipper are exclusively confined to the swift-flo\^ ing 
rocky mountain-streams. On these he is found all the year round, in places 
where the waters now curl over hidden rocks, or dash round the exposed 
and mossy ones, and toss and fall in never-ceasing strife. The banks must 
be rugged also to suit the Dipper, all the better if in the rock-clefts a few 
mountain-ashes and birches have gained a good hold. But the Dipper is 
not a bird of the branches. You will make your first acquaintance with 
him most probably as he dashes rapidly from some water-encircled rock, 
or as he shoots past you uttering his sharp but monotonous call-note, to 
alight on some distant stone, or mayhap seek the boiling current itself, to 
astonish and amuse you by his aquatic gambols. The Dipper is also 
found on the barest of mountain-torrents, places where not a tree or 
shrub is found, where the waters roll and tumble in wildest mood across 
the heathery moors, and down the bare mountain-sides. In the Britisli 
Isles the Dipper is not a migratory bird, the only wanderers being young 
birds which emigrate or are driven by their parents from too crowded 
districts. Daring the keenest weather the resident Dippers do not 
quit the waters of the I'oaring stream, and are as active amongst the 



256 BRITISH BIEDS. 

icicle-draped rocks as when the summer sun was scorching them with 
its meridian rays. The very fact of the stream being ever iu troubled 
motion is the cause of the perpetual residence of the Dipper on its 
banks ; for the frost never binds its troubled waters, and thus his food 
is always accessible. A bird full of activity, he flies in rapid Kingfisher- 
like course, now alighting on the grassy banks, and then on the rocky 
boulders round which the foam-crested waters dash and boil in seemingly 
exhausted rage. Sometimes he skulks, and is flushed with greatest 
difficulty, often flying as though he were disabled ; but should you be 
tempted by his seeming helplessness to pursue him, he takes good care to 
evade you, advancing in short flights it is true, and gradually going up or 
down stream for a certain distance, until all at once he refuses to be 
driven any further, flies off determinedly, and, passing high over your head, 
doubles back to his old quarters ' again, as if afraid to trespass too far on 
the hunting-grounds of the neighbouring pair of Dippers. Except in the 
breeding-season, the Dipper is for the most part a solitary bird, and is 
rarely found in the company of any other species. The pairs of birds 
appear to haunt a certain part of the stream, to which they strictly keep, 
and are but rarely observed in company. Should the ornithologist wish 
to observe the actions of the Dipper, he must approach him with the 
greatest cavition; for he is a shy and wary bird. But ample means of 
concealment are at hand ; and by hiding behind one of the rocky bonlders 
and remaining quiet and motionless you may observe his actions with 
ease, so long as his restless nature allows him to remaiu in your company. 
You probably see him first perched on a stone projecting out of the water 
a few inches, or, it may be, standing in the water itself. Warily he looks 
around, now crouching low as if fearful of discovery, now erect as if on 
the point of taking wing. Now he fearlessly enters the water, and, aided 
by his wings, floats buoyantly to land, where you see him running and 
hopping about, picking up the small insects found amongst the marshy 
shores of the stream. Then he will sit for a few moments on the bank, 
motionless as a statue, and you cannot help admiring the purity of his 
breast, white as the driven snow. Suddenly, and doubtless to your 
surprise if you are unacquainted with his habits, he takes to the water 
and disappears under the surface, and, aided by his wings and feet, explores 
the sand and moss-grown pebbles at the bottom of the pool, turning the 
little stones with his bill, iu search of the various water-insects that form 
his food. He will proceed for a certain length of water, then return, 
sometimes swimming aided by his wings, and sometimes darting under 
the surface, occasionally pausing to rest for a moment on a projecting 
rock. Sometimes the Dipper, seemingly for very sport, enters the boiling 
pool below the falls, or dives under the foam-crested waves of the tiny 
rapids ; and you may sometimes see him splashing in the water, as if trying 



COMMON DIPPER. 257 

again and again to reacli some object. Perhaps he was foiled in his first 
attempt ; or it may be that he has found a colony of caddis-worms and acts 
upon the sportsman's motto of sticking to his covey. But where the 
stream glides on more smoothly he obtains the most part of his food — 
places where the bed of the stream is a mossy one^ and affords plenty of 
shelter for his favourite fare. The sandy islets in the stream and places 
where driftwood and other refuse congregate are favourite haunts of the 
Dipper, as are also the falls below the weirs and water-wheels. 

In studying the habits of the Dipper it will be observed that the bird 
never enters the water by a sudden plunge, like the Tern or the Kingfisher, 
but either wades into it or drops from some little eminence. In fact 
the Dipper does not need that amount of force which the Kingfisher and 
the Tern require to carry them beneath the surface ; for its proficiency as 
a diving bird is at once manifest when seen in the water; hence the reason 
it is never seen to plunge. When under the surface of the water, the form 
of the Dipper seems largely increased in size and distorted, and the number 
of air-bubbles that cling to its plumage give it a very peculiar appearance. 
\Yhen alarmed the Dipper instantly takes wing, and does not, as is 
erroneously supposed, enter the water for safety, unless disabled, when it 
will sometimes take refuge under the banks with only its bill out of the 
water. The Dipper's flight is rapid and straightforward, and performed 
by incessant beats of the wings, as if it required such constant exertion 
to sustain flight that the little rounded pinions must not stop for a 
moment. Usually he flies along just above the surface of the stream ; 
and, as a rule, the devious windings of its course are followed. The 
Dipper will sometimes sit for a considerable time on some stone in the 
centre of the stream, or on a rock projecting over the pool — a habit 
also common to the Kingfisher. 

The Dij)per, like the Redwing and the Starling, often warbles a few 
notes in .mild open weather in winter ; but his love-song is rarely heard 
before the spring. Plis "song is a short and pleasing one, and uttered at 
irregular intervals. It bears no resemblance to the varied song of the 
Thrush or the melody and wild loudness of the Blackbird or the " Storm- 
cock," but is a low warbling strain. He carols his lay from the banks of 
the stream, or not unfrequently when crouching low on the rocks in the 
midst of its roaring waters. There, with the milk-white foam dancing on 
the crests of the waves and the spray falling like mist around him, he 
chants his love-song, a performance which only greets the ear at intervals, 
amidst the turbid strife of the ever-flowing waters, making the romantic 
scene still more romantic, and giving it just that touch of life required to 
make the picture complete. The call-note of the Dipper, uttered when at 
rest or flying through the air, and most frequently heard just as the bird 
is taking wing, is a sharp but not particularly loud chit-chit. 

VOL. I. s 



258 BRITISH BIRDS. 

When I was in the Pyrenees last winter we visited Pierrefitte, where 
the valley divides into two gorges. We took the one leading to Bareges. 
The sun was bui'ning hot ; but there was hoar-frost and ice in the shade. 
The gorge is ver^y fine : sometimes there is a little grassy land near the 
rocky river ; but in other places the valley becomes narrower, and for a 
long distance is only a ledge which has been blasted out of the steep 
sloping rock, and you can look down a couple of hundred feet and see the 
river boiling and roaring in the chasm below. The gorge is well timbered, 
shrubs and trees even growing in the crevices o£ almost pei'pendicular 
rocks. In winter it is not easy to see what the trees are ; but oaks and 
chestnut seemed to abound, and the abundance of misseltoe was very 
striking. We noticed a quantity of juniper and bo.x; -trees in the under- 
wood, whilst high up near the mountain-tops the sombre pine-forests 
looked almost black against the snow. This gorge was a paradise for 
Dippers ; almost every hundred yards we came upon a pair. We watched 
them chasing each other up and down the river and screaming almost like 
Swifts. More often they were conspicuously perched upon a rock in the 
stream, perpetually dipping down their heads and jerking up their tails. 
Several times we watched them wading iu the shallow water or swimming 
and diving in the deeper pools. Now and then they perched on the 
mossy banks and seemed to fly up and catch insects on the o\'erhanging 
moss. 

Doubtless from the peculiar manner in which the Dipper seeks its food, 
and the situations iu which it is chiefly found, the bird has gained much 
of its reputation as an enemy to the ova of the salmon and the trout. The 
Dipper is seen to enter the stream, to disappear beneath the surface, and 
explore what are well kno^i u to be the breeding-grounds of these flsh ; 
and hence it is very easy to see why the bird has fallen into such bad 
repute with the ignorant pisciculturist and the bigoted angler. Not 
taking the trouble to seriously investigate the matter, they at once set 
down the poor Dipper as the enemy of the ova and fry, and persecute 
him accordingly — a fate that befalls too many harmless animals. But 
instead of being the fish-preserver's enemy, he is in fact one of his 
firmest friends. His food consists of various creatures which, in their 
larval stages of development, are themselves the greatest enemies to the 
ova. His journeyings to the bed of the stream are for the purpose of 
obtaining the caddis-worms, water-beetles, and various species of small 
mollusca and insects found amongst the moss-grown pebbles and sandy 
bed of the waters, and occasionally a small fish. He also obtains some 
portion of his food on the marshy banks of the stream, such as worms 
and grubs and, more rarely, the seeds of various grasses. 

From what evidence it is possible to obtain on the subject, it is most 
probable that the Dippei' is a life-paired bird, and either frequents each 



COMMON DIPPER. 259 

season the same nest or constructs a new one close to that of the pre- 
vious year. The Dipper^s nesting- season commences early in the year; 
and possibly two, if not three, broods are reared. By the first week in 
April, should the weather be at all favourable, the birds are engaged in 
nest-building. The site for the nest is usually amongst the rocks, never 
in a tree or bush, although occasionally amongst their gnarled and moss- 
grown roots. A favourite place is amongst the tree-roots which prevent 
an overhanging bank falling into the water below— as is also a mossy 
bank, or a hole in the stonework near a water-wheel, or under a bridge. 
The nest is not unfrequently found within a few inches of the water, and 
occasionally in the rocks over which the water rushes in mad career, 
passing directly before the nest, and keeping it in an incessant state of 
moisture by the spray continually beating against it. Although placed in 
a most conspicuous position, it is so artfully concealed that its discovery 
is often a difficult task. The site chosen, the materials have not far to be 
sought. The moss which grows in luxuriant profusion all around is 
selected ; and the outside of the nest at least is composed entirely of this 
soft and beautiful material. In form it is somewhat like the Wren's, 
domed ; but the hole which admits the parent birds is very low down the 
side, and can seldom be seen unless from below, the entrance overhanging 
a little. Inside this mossy dome a nest of the ordinary open style is 
constructed, apparently quite distinct from it, Avithout being in any way 
woven into it. In a nest which I carefully pulled to pieces, the inside 
nest was composed of dry grass, the roots of heather, and slender birch- 
twigs, and lined with a profusion of leaves, layer after layer of birch- and 
beech-leaves, and, as a final lining, a mass of oak-leaves, laid one on 
another, like leaves in a book. The outside dome was so closely woven 
together of moss, with here and there a little dry grass, as not to be torn 
to pieces without considerable force ; and the inside nest was so tightly 
compacted, that, when the materials were pulled to pieces you could 
hardly believe that they could have been made to take up so little room. 
Outside it appeared nothing but a large oval ball of moss, about 11 inches 
long, 8 inches wide, and about as high. Keen and piercing must be the 
■eyes of him who can, at a casual glance, discern the home of the Dipper 
when placed amongst the moss-grown rocks ; for it is just like a piece of 
the bank on each side of it, or, if placed on the bare rock-ledges, it only 
looks like a patch of moss. The eggs of the Dipper are four or five in 
number, and can never be confounded with the eggs of the Thrushes, 
except in size and form. They are pure white and spotless, somewhat less 
than a Song-Thrush's egg. The shell, however, does not possess that beau- 
tiful gloss so characteristic of the eggs of the Kingfisher and the Wood- 
pecker, and is somewhat rough in texture. They vary in length from I'l 
to 0!)5 inch, and in breadth from 0'77 to ()'7 inch. 

s2 



2G0 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



Like the Starling and many other life-paired birds, the Dipper will con- 
tinue laying in the same nest if its first clutch of eggs are removed. The 
old birds disjilay great caution in returning to and quitting the nest; and 
should you discover it, they manifes.t little or no outward signs of anxiety 
for the safety of their treasure. The Dipper is a very close sitter, and 
seklom quits the nest until the hand is about to be inserted. Should the 
nest be approached when it contains full-fledged young, the little creatures 
will often escape out of the nest ; and I have seen them flutter to the water, 
dive into the clear stream, and swim away, their dark bodies looking grey 
through the air-bubbles clinging to their plumage. They jerk their wings 
lustily, in a manner not unlike a frog with its hind legs, and, rising to the 
surface where the waters become shallow, float down the stream and are 
soon out of view. 

The Dipper, from the peculiar manner in which the colour of its plumage 
is distributed, is a remarkably fine and handsome-looking bird. The 
whole of the upper pai'ts are slaty grey, except the head, which is brown, 
with paler margins to the feathers of the back. The chin, throat, and 
upper parts of the breast are pure white, and the remainder of the under- 
parts chestnut-brown. The bill is black ; the legs, toes, and claws brown ; 
irides hazeL The sexes are alike in the colour of their plumage. 








ERITHACUS. 261 



Genus ERITHACUS. 

The Robins were originally included in the genus MntaciUa of Linnaeus, 
from which, in 1769, Scopoli separated a number of species, including 
the Robin, and placed them in his genus Sijhna. In 1801, Cuvier, in 
his ' Leqons d'Anatomie Comparee,' tab. ii., separated the Robins, esta- 
blishing the genus Erithacus for their reception. Since then they have 
been unnecessarily split up into groups wliich it is most convenient to 
consider only of subgeneric value. Cuvier did not indicate any type; 
but there can be little doubt that he regarded the Robin as typical. 

There is no character that I have been able to discover in the Ouzels 
that is not to be found in some of the Robins ; nor have I been able to 
discover any character in the Robins which does not exist in some of the 
Ouzels. The only definite character appears to be that of size, the smallest 
Ouzel being larger than the largest Robin. From the Redstarts and Chats 
and allied genera they may be distinguished by having either pale legs or 
the throat brilliant in colour, in violent contrast to the cheeks. In the 
Robins the bill is generally black on the upper mandible — a character which 
will serve to distinguish them from the smaller Ouzels, which have the 
bill yellow. IVom the smaller Thrushes they may be distinguished by 
having the underparts unspotted; whilst from the Flycatchers and the 
Stonechats their much longer tarsus serves to distinguish them. The 
Robins have the throat frequently ornamented with rich colours, in some 
species having a metallic gloss ; and the cheeks usually differ in colour 
from the throat. 

The Robins frequent bushes, several of them showing a marked pre- 
ference for swamps, and are principally migratory. They all possess con- 
siderable powers of song. They breed on or near the ground^ building 
open nests, either amongst herbage, foliage, or in holes. They lay from 
five to seven eggs, which vary from pure white to bluish green in ground- 
colour, generally sparingly marked with pale confluent brown spots. Their 
food is chiefly insects and worms. 

There are sixteen species in the present genus, confined to the Palsearctic 
region, the northern portion of India, Mongolia, China, and Japan. Half 
the species occur in Europe; and three are British, of wliich one is a 
resident, one a summer migrant, and the other an accidental visitor. 



262 BEITISH BIRDS. 

ERITHACUS RUBECULA. 
THE ROBIN. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula rubecula, Briss. Ovn. iii. p. 41 8 (1760j. 

Motacilla rubecula, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 337 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

(Scopoli),{Temmmck),{Oovkl),{Orrt>i),{HeuyUn),{S(iJtvA(lor{), {Newton), {Shelley), 

(Dresser), {Irby), (Bkniford), &c. 
Sylvia rubecula {Linn.), Sco/i. Ann. I. Hist. Nat. i. p. 156 (1769). 
Curruca rubecola (Linn.), Leach, Syst. Cat. Mamin. ^r. Brit. Mas. p. 25 (1816). 
Curruca rubecula (Linn.), Forst. Syn. Cat, Brit. B. p. 54 (1817). 
Ficedula rubecula (Linn), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 55.^. 
Dandalus rubecula (Linn.), Boie, Lsis, l-*26, p. (»72. 

Erytbacus rubecula (Linn.), Stoains. Faun. Bor.-Anur., Birds, p. 4i^8 (1831). 
Rubecula familiaris, Blyth, Field Naturalist, i. p. 424 (1883). 
llbondella rubecula (Linn.), Rennie, TJ'hife's Selborne, p. 437 (1833). 
Lusoiola rubecula (Linn.), Keys. «. Bias. Wirb. Eiir. pp. hiii, 191 (1840). 
Rubecula rubecula (Linn.), Bonap. Consp. i. p. 295 (1850). 
Luscinia rubecula (Linn.), Sundev. Sv. Foyl, p. 56 (1856), 

The Robinj so closely associated with all our earliest recollections of the 
bird-Avorldj the ever-trustful, pert, and lively little favourite and companion 
of man, is welcome everywhere, protected and encouraged; and hence its 
distribution is a wide one, and its numbers as large as its popularity is 
universal. Wherever mane's abode may be, if only surrounded by trees 
and shrubs, even a garden alone, the Robin is almost surely found. 
Throughout Great Britain and Ireland it is everywhere a well-known bird 
in those localities where there is sufficient cover. The Robin, like the 
Sparrow, is a close attendant on cultivation and improvement. Formerly 
it was a rare bird on the wild and desolate Hebrides ; but now it is com- 
paratively common, as improvement and the planting of trees and shrubs 
have increased. It breeds as far north as the Orkneys, but has not yet 
been known to do so on the Shetlands, and only rarely occurs on the 
Faroes in the autumn. The Robin breeds throughout Europe as far 
north as the Arctic circle, rarely beyond; but becomes of far less frequent 
occurrence in Russia, and is not known to breed east of the Ural Moun- 
tains. Southwards its breeding-range extends to many parts of western 
North Africa, the Canaries, JNIadeira, and the eastern and central group of 
the Azores. 

In those districts where the winters are severe, it migrates southwards in 
autumn to South Europe, North Africa, Palestine, and the cultivated 
districts of North-west Turkestan. It is said to be a resident, though 
rare, in South Persia. 

The Robin lias one veiy near ally, the Persian Robiii {Erithacns hyr- 
canus), inhabiting the forests oF the southern shores of the Caspian, west- 



THE ROBIN. 263 

wards into the Caucasus ; and another, not so near, the Japanese Robin 
[E. cA-aAi^e), inhabiting- the high mountains of Japan and North-east China. 
The former bird is easily distinguished from the Common Robin by having 
the olive-brown of the upper tail-coverts replaced by rich chestnut, and by 
having a slightly larger bill ; in other respects the two birds are identical. 
From the second species our bird is easily distinguished by the rich chest- 
nut tail of the Japanese species, and the slate-grey on the lower breast. 
The Persian Robin has been said to be richer in colour, especially on the 
breast, than our bird ; and examples of the latter from Algeria and the 
Azores are said to be paler ; but an examination of a considerable series 
convinces me that the alleged differences are only those of season, the rich 
dark birds being newly moulted autumn examples, whilst the paler spe- 
cimens are in more or less faded summer plumage, the Robin, like all its 
Turdine allies, having only one moult in the year. 

The haunt of the Robin is varied a little according to the season. 
In the summer it is a common bird in the most secluded woods, in plan- 
tations, shrubberies, dells, lanes, copses, and hedgerows. In winter it 
draws nearer to the houses, and haunts the gardens, road-sides, and farm- 
yards. But the bird may be seen near the homesteads throughout the year ; 
and its numbers are only increased during the cold season. Where, indeed, 
is the garden, the orchard, or the shrubbery that does not possess its pair 
of Robins, so trustful, so jealous of their rights — the favourites of all ! 

The migrations and internal movements of the Robin form one of the 
most interesting, although perhaps least known, features of its history. 
Take its wanderings at home, for instance, iii our own country. As soon 
as the rigours of winter have passed away, the Redbreasts visibly begin 
to decrease in numbers and betake themselves to the more sequestered 
woods, plantations, and hedgerows, and up the hill-sides to the copses near 
the moorland wastes, to remain throughout the summer. In the early 
autumn, when the moult takes place, the Robin is a still more shy and retiring 
bird, and withdraws to the deepest solitudes to perform its annual change of 
plumage unseen. After the moult the Robin again appears near our 
houses, and remains our constant companion and favourite throughout the 
winter. Upon the continent the Robin is almost universally a bird of 
passage, and during the season of its migrations is found on our coasts 
resting on its joui-ney south to the warm climate of Southern Europe, or 
the oases of the African deserts. They pass over Heligoland during 
September and early in October in immense numbers. Upon the 
continent, in South France and Italy, the Robins are caught in autumn 
for the table, in common with other small migrants. In Italy they 
are usually snared or taken by limed twigs set round a Little Owl, 
which serves as an attraction to draw them to the toils. As for its worth 
as an article of food, Watei'ton, in his accustomed humorous way, tells us. 



264 BRITISH BIRDS. 

wlien expressing regret at seeing so many of his favourites on the bird- 
stalls in the Roman market^ that the dealer assured him that if he took a 
dozen for his dinner that day he would come back for two dozen on the 
morrow. Even in our own country the migratory instincts of the Robin 
are sometimes manifested during the prevalence of severe and prolonged 
frosts^ the birds for the most part quitting their northern haunts and 
retiring southwards, leaving but a few birds whose exceptional trustfulness 
and familiarity render them semi-domesticated, and who require but little 
enticement to make them regular indoor guests. Few birds are more con- 
fiding in their nature, or more trustful in disposition, than the Robin, a 
circumstance that has won for it universal protection. It may be safely 
said that in all lands where the English language is spoken, some bird 
more trustful than the rest, or with a garb approaching the little songster 
of our own land in colour, is singled out and made a substitute for the 
Robin. The Americans call the Migratory Thrush, T. migratorius, the 
Robin ; whilst in the Antipodes the Australian colonists have found a 
substitute in several members of the genus Petroica — a group of Chat-like 
birds, with bright red breasts, and possessing peculiarly sweet and plaintive 
songs. 

The Robin, like the Chats and Redstarts, is almost constantly in motion. 
Now hopping from under the densest bushes out onto the lawn or garden- 
bed, he droops his wings, elevates his tail a little, and with several sharp 
bobbing motions, utters his few loud shrill call-notes, and sits and eyes 
you so trustfully, with head turned slightly aside, and his large dark eye 
betraying just a shade of fearfulness at your presence. He hops confi- 
dently towards you, perches daintily on some overthrown flower-pot, or on 
the spade you have left but the moment before, and seems to know he is a 
welcome guest and perfectly safe. 

The Robin must be classed amongst the most pugnacious of birds, and 
guards most jealously his favourite haunt from intrusion. He is apparently 
recognized as the lord of all the smaller birds ; and even the pert little 
Sparrows do not seem to care to try conclusions with him, and sometimes 
retire from the heap of crumbs as soon as the Robin appears. Even with its 
own species it is none the less quarrelsome and pugnacious, combats 
taking place between rival birds incessantly. Many are the instances on 
record of this peculiar trait in the Robin's disposition. Dixon writes : — 
" Upon one occasion I was strolling through a dense shrubbery, under the 
gloomy yew trees, when I heard a flutter amongst the withered leaves on 
the banks of a tiny rivulet flowing down a ravine. Closer inspection 
revealed a bird struggling in the water ; and I went down the bank to 
find out the cause of this strange proceeding, and found a Robin tangled, 
as it appeared, in the herbage growing on the water's edge. I took hold 
of the bird with the intention of releasing it from its captivity, and was 



THE ROBIN. 265 

about to lift it up wheUj judge of my surprise^ I pulled out from under the 
bauk a second Robin that had evidently, when conquered, tried to seek 
safety by squeezing under the bank, also in the water. Both birds, 
like two warriors bold, were locked in deadly embrace, the one first seen 
being entangled in the breast-feathers of its antagonist by its claws ; their 
plumage, too, was all wet and raggedy and they had lost many feathers. 
After keeping them for a short time, I restored them to liberty : the 
victorious one, I should say, flew quickly off, while its greatly exhausted 
antagonist just managed to gain a thick bush and was soon lost to view." 
Other instances of this bird^'s pugnacity might be given. 

The Robin is a bird of the underwood, the thicket, and the hedgerow, 
and very similar in his peculiar shadow-like movements to the Hedge- 
Accentor ; and, like that bird, he often frequents heaps of old wood in the 
farmyard, disused outbuildings, and heaps of hedge-clippings and other 
rubbish. Like the Accentor, the Robin hops from his cover into the 
open, and retires just as quickly and gracefully if disturbed. The Robin's 
flight is rarely indeed taken at any great elevation in the air, except whilst 
performing its annual wanderings, and is somewhat irregular if continued 
for any great distance. The Robin, however, seldom flies far, and always 
prefers to hide and creep through the branches and seek safety in the under- 
growth and densest parts of its haunts to using its wings as a means of 
escape from impending danger. We certainly have not in Britain a more 
trustful little bird than the Robin ; and, in the winter especially, he seems 
to know that man is his friend and protector. 

The food of the Robin is varied a little according to the season of the 
year. During all the " open " months it lives on the smaller earthworms 
and various kinds of insects and their larvse, obtaining the former food 
much after the manner of the Thrushes, and much of the latter as the 
Flycatchers and the Titmice. When the early gardening is going on, he 
attends the gardener ; and ever and anon gliding quickly from his perching- 
place to the newly-turned earth, he takes the worms thrown upon the 
surface. In the bright sunny mornings, or in the cool grey dawn soon 
after sunrise, he is at work amongst the withered leaves and under the 
shrubs and garden-plants, seeking his morning meal, occasionally sallying 
out from a favourite perch to take the insects that are flitting in countless 
thousands in the air around. The Robin also explores nooks and crannies 
for larvse, and will search for insects in the expanding buds, like the 
Finches or the Tits. Again, in fruit-time, when the summer is fast pass- 
ing away, the Robin eats the cherries, currants, and other garden-fruits ; 
while the Robin of the woods and flelds makes a meal upon the various 
soft, luscious, wild fruits and berries. In winter, when insect food is 
scarce, the Robin not unfrequently seeks the sides of little watercourses, 
or draws near to the houses to subsist upon the crumbs and other 



266 BRITISH BIRDS. 

fragments that are scattered for the poor fi'ozen-out birds^ and for " Cock 
Robin " in particular. At this season the Robin is also found in the farm- 
yards, and about manure-heaps, stables, and piggeries, the latter places 
especially, where he takes his meal from the troughs with the greatest 
confidence, seeming to know that he is a welcome and invited guest. 

The Robin is one of our few perennial songsters, and warbles incessantly 
throughout the year, except for a few weeks in early autumn whilst under- 
going his annual change of dress. We have scarcely a bird in Britain that 
possesses a song so rich and plaintive as that of the Robin — a song that pos- 
sesses so peculiar a charm as to border on sadness, especially when it greets 
the ear in the decline of autumn when the year is fast ebbing away. 
When the Robin is in song the observer may have a convincing proof 
of his trustfulness and familiarity. He will approach quite closely 
within a few feet of your head, or sit unconcerned in the branches near 
you, with his bright dress contrasting with the surrounding foliage, and 
his soft dark eyes looking trustfully at you, and pour forth his charming 
song. Regularly every day the Robin will frequent some chosen perch to 
warble forth his notes, and will strictly guard this place from all intruders. 
The Robin is the countryman's best weather-guide ; for when he sits high 
up in the branches it is a true sign of fine weather ; or should he skulk 
down in the lower cover, it is a bad sign, and almost invariably fortells a 
wet day. Robins often sing in response to each other ; and these concerts 
not unfrequently lead to combats, especially in the spring. The Robin is 
one of the first birds to greet the dawn with its song, and also one of the 
last, possibly the last, to retire in the evening, singing very often at mid- 
night in early summer. The autumn song of the Robin is, perhaps, his 
best performance ; or it may be that the total absence of other songs and 
the dreamy state of all nature at that season of the year lend it an additional 
charm. In the moulting-season the Robin is seen but occasionally and 
is never heard to sing ; the young birds are most frequently seen, easily 
recognized in their sombre dress ; and it is their sharp call-notes that are 
most frequently heard. Our other songsters, with few exceptions, lose 
their music with the autumn moult ; but the Robin, as soon as this im- 
portant operation, which takes place in July, is over, regains his powers of 
voice to warble throughout the winter. First we hear them sing in very 
small numbers ; bvit as August passes away these numbers increase, and 
when September arrives they are in full song once more. There is nothing 
at this season of the year more beautiful than the song of the Robin. 

The call-note of the Robin is a wonderfully sharp and clear one, and 
usually uttered several times in rapid succession, accompanied with a quick 
bobbing motion of the body. Its alarm-note in the nesting-season is a 
plaintive piping one, monotonously given forth every few moments, more 
quickly uttered should its nest be threatened by danger. 



THE ROBIN. 267 

Paired^ in many instances, for life, the Robin is another very early nest- 
builder. We find its nest in woods adjoining cultivated lands, in the shrub- 
beries, imder the hedgerows and banks in our gardens, in holes of walls 
and trees, and frequently amongst ivy. The Robin is another of those 
birds which often select curious sites for their nest. It has been known to 
build iu an old water-can lying neglected and half buried in withered 
leaves. 

The Robin's nest is very bulky, and somewhat peculiar in its construction. 
In the first place, should the nest be on the ground, a small cavity is made 
as a foundation for future operations. Then with withered leaves, dry 
grass, and moss, a somewhat rude nest is made, but with a neat deep 
cup lined with hair, and sometimes a little wool, and rootlets, the latter 
material being the most extensively used. When examining the nests of this 
bird, it will be invariably noticed that the nest itself is at the extreme end of 
the nesting-cavity, and the "frontage" to the nest is exceedingly extended, a 
peculiarity noticed in the nests of very few birds ; for the cavity containing 
the eggs, instead of lying in the centre of the nesting-materials, is on the 
side, as may easily be observed when the nest is removed from its original 
site. 

The eggs of the Robin are from five to eight in number; but probably 
six may be taken as an average clutch. In ground-colour they are pure and 
shining white ; the markings, which in some eases are very rich, are brown 
of various shades, red, and sometimes dashes and freckles of grey. In 
colour they differ considerably. Some are pure white without a trace of 
markings, others have a zone of colour round the larger end; many are so 
clouded with spots as to hide the ground-colour, while not a few are 
richly and boldly blotched with reddish brown, streaked with dark brown 
approaching black. The eggs possess a considerable amount of gloss, 
which fades to a very great extent after being kept any length of time. 
To be seen in all their delicate beauty they must be examined soon after 
they are laid and before the contents have been removed. They vary in 
length from 0'9 to Ov inch, and in breadth from O'Co to 0'56 inch. 

The Robin rears two and sometimes three broods in the year, but never 
in the same nest. This bird, however, will rear its young in certain locali- 
ties for years if left unmolested. An instance is recorded of a certain 
site being tenanted for five successive years ; but every year the old nest 
was removed, leaving a clear site for the little builders. 

What becomes of the great numbers of Robins which, on account of the 
bird^s immunity from persecution, must of necessity be reared in this 
country ? Considerable discussion has of late years taken place re- 
specting this subject; and many are the reasons advanced to account for 
the bird's numbers still remaining about the same. Without doubt the 
Robin is, to some extent, a migratory bird, even iu our own land; and 



268 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



many of the young birds pass southwards in the autumn, and never come 
back again : many die from the dangers of the journey ; and some probably 
settle elsewhere. The young of most birds rarely, if ever, remain in the 
locality of their birth. As soon as they reach maturity and can shift for 
themselves, the old birds, in a great number of instances, drive them off; 
■whilst with some birds the movement is a voluntary one. Another cause 
which prevents the increase of our resident birds is the occurrence of hard 
winters. A long-continued frost or heavy fall of snow causes great mor- 
tality amongst small birds, of which any one may convince himself 
by noting the comparative abundance of birds in the beginning and 
towards the end of winter. The number of resident birds in a spring 
which follows a hard winter is generally conspicuously below the average. 
The general colour of the Robin is olive-brown, shading into bufiish 
brown on the flanks and into greyish white on the centre of the belly; 
the forehead, lores, ear-coverts, chin, throat, and bi'east are rich orange- 
chestnut, the chestnut margined with a few grey feathers on the crown 
and the sides of the neck. Legs, toes, and claws pale brown ; bill and 
irides black. The male and female birds are similar in colour. After the 
autumn moult the colour of the breast &c. is richer. Birds of the year 
scarcely differ from adults ; but the young, in nestling-plumage, are 
spotted, caused by ochraceous centres and nearly black tips to all the 
smaller feathers of the upper and under parts. 




ARCTIC BLUE-TIIROATED ROBIN. 269 



ERITHACUS SUECICA* {Brehm, nee Temminck). 
ARCTIC BLUE-THROATED ROBIN. 

(Plate 9.) 

Motacilla suecica, Linn. Sysl. Xut. i. p. 336 (1766, partim) ; et auctorum pliiri- 

morum— (.&%), {Brehm), (Bli/th), (Gould), {Sundevall), (Jerdou), {Xemton), 

(Dresser), &c. 
Ficedula suecica (Linn.), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 0-13 (partim). 
Motacilla cferulecula, Pali Zooc/r. Rosso-A^iat. i. p. 480 (1820). 
Curruca suecica (im>j.J, Selhy, Trans. Nut. IList. Hoc. Xorthumb. i. p. 25.') (1831). 
Cyanecula suecica (Linn.), Brehm, Voff- Deuischl. p. 350 (1831). 
Phoenicura suecica (Linn.), Si/7;es, Proc.Zool. Soc. 1.-32, p. 92. 
Pandicilla suecica {Linn.), Blyth, Field Natnralist, i. p. 291 (1833). 
Euticilla cyanecula (Wolf), apud Mac;iill. Br. B. ii. p. 300 a830). 
Lusciola suecica (Linn.), Keys, u. Bias. Tllrb. Eur. pp. Iviii, 190 (1840, partim). 
Cy.mecula fastuosa, Less. liev. Zool. 1.^40, p. 220. 

Sylvia suecica (Linn.), Nordm. JJnnid. T'oy. Ltti.ss. merid. iii. p. 13fi (1.^40). 
•Sylvia cyane (Pall.), apud Ecersm. Add. I'tdl. Zoogr. Busso-Ajiid. fasc. ii. p. 12 

(1841). 
Phoenicura suecoides, Hodys. MS. Drawings (in the Brit. Jfns.) of B. ofXrpal, Passeres, 

pi. xci. no. 703, unde 
Calliope suecioides; Hodys. Ctray's Zool Misr. p. 83 (1844). 
Cyanecula suecioides, Hodys. Grays Zool. Misc. p. 83 (1844). 
Erithacus suecica (Li/in.), Deyl. Orn. Eur. i. p. jjIS (1.^49). 
Sylvia CEeruliguIa, Pallfde Blyth, Cat. B. Mas. As. Soc. p. 107 (1849). 
Cyanecula cserulecula (Pall.), Bonap. Consp. i. p. 290 (1850). 
Cyanecula dichrosterna (Pcdl.),Jide C'ah. Mus. Hein. i. p. 1 (1850). 
Sylvia ((Cyanecula) suecica (Linn.), var. cjerulecula (Pall.), Middend. Reis. Sihir. 

Zool. ii. pt. 2, p. 177 (18-53). 
Niltava fastuosa (Less.), Bonap. Omqjt. Rend, xxxviii. p. .34 (1854). 
Cyanecula cyaue (Eversm.), Bonap. Cat. Parziid. p. 5 (1850). 



* The earlier ornitholopists did not disting-uish between the Bluethroat with a white 
spot on the blue throat, and the Bluethroat with a chestnut spot on the blue throat. 
Some of them applied the specific name svecica to one species, and some of them to the 
other, whilst a. few applied it indifferently to both species. It seems probable that the 
name was more or less misapplied by Linnfeus, Gmelin, Bechstein, Latham, Temminck 
A'i.jiUot, Naumann, Koch, Boie, Gould, Keyserliiig, Blasius, Gray, Bonaparte, Cabanis 
Degland, Gerbe, Loche, and some others. Ornithological blunders are sooQ forgotten ; 
but to avoid the possibility of mistake, it is wisest for the present either to adopt Pallas's 
name, which, so far as I know, has never been misapplied, or to append an authority to 
the name which clearly denotes the species intended to be discriminated. It appears that 
Brehm was the first to distinguish between the two species ; but we cannot give him much 
credit for doing so, because he was not content to make two species, but must needs split 
them into five. Of the ornithologists who have misapplied the name, perhaps Temminck 
is the earliest who applied it only to the wr(jng species. 



270 BRITISH BIRDS. 

Lusoinia suecioa (Linn.), Sundev. Sv. Fogl. p. 60 (1856). 

Cyaneoula suecica (Linn.), ft. caerulecula [Pall,), Newt. List B. Eur. Blasius, p. 10 

(1862). 
Eutioilla suecioa (Linn.), iS^eicf. cd. Tarr. Br. B. i. p. 321 (1873). 
Erithaciis cfenileculus {Pall), Seeholim, Cut. B. Brit. Mus. v. p. 308 (1881). 

The Arctic Bluethroat is a far more eastern and northern bird in 
its distribution than the White-spotted species (which is essentially a 
southern and temperate one), and is a summer visitant only to the higher 
and northern portions of Europe. It was first recorded as a British bird 
by Mr. Fox, in his ' Synopsis of the Newcastle Museum/ pp. 298, 308, 
and in the 'Zoological Journal,'' iii. p. 497, from a specimen obtained on 
the Town-Moor of Newcastle-on-Tyne, on May 20th, 1826, by Mr. Thomas 
Embleton, who presented it to the museum. The second specimen, said 
to have been killed in Dorsetshire, was recorded by Mr. J. C. Dale, in the 
' Naturalist,' ii. p. 275. The next two occurrences are recorded by Yarrell, 
in his ' British Birds,' i. p. 322 — one of a specimen killed near Birmingham, 
and in the possession of Mr. Plumpti'e Methuen ; the other, a male bird, 
found dead on the beach at Yarmouth, September 21st, 1841. Mr. 
Morris also mentions, on the authority of Mr. E. Cole, one shot at Margate, 
in September 1842; and in September 1844 two specimens, an adult and 
a bird of the year, were sent, in the flesh, to Yarrell for inspection, by Mr. 
Gardner, and were said to have been shot in the Isle of Sheppey. An 
eighth example is in the Strickland collection in the University Museum 
of Cambridge; but no particulars are known respecting it beyond those on 
the label, "Britain, 1846." Lord Lilford recorded in the 'Zoologist,' 
p. 3709, another example, shot about Sept. 15th, 1852, near Whimple, in 
South Devon. A female, killed at Worthing on May 2nd, 1853, is men- 
tioned by j\Ir. Stevenson in the ' Zoologist,' p. 8907 ; and a male bird, 
killed early in May 1856, near Lowestoft (Zool. p. 5149), is now in Mr. 
Gurney's collection. Mr. Cecil Smith notices one said to have been taken 
in Somerset in 1856, and now in the Exeter Museum; and Mr. H. Pratt 
records in the 'Zoologist,' p. 8281, a male caught at Brighton, on October 
1st, 1862, and now in Mr. Borrer's collection. Captain Hadfield gives us 
a series of notes on a Bluethroat which frequented a locality in the Isle 
of Wight from February 1865 to September 1867, and recorded in the 
' Zoologist ' for those years, being part of the time accompanied by a 
second example. It is doubtful, however, whether this bird was the true 
E.siu'cica; for in the 'Zoologist' for 1866, p. 172, he states that the 
bird's breast was "pure and spot/ess blue " — a characteristic of the E. ivolfii 
of Brehm. Professor Newton has also been informed by Mr. Gray that a 
male bird was caught on board a fishing-boat oft' Aberdeen, on May 16th, 
1872. Mr. G. P. Moore mentions, in the 'Zoologist' for 1877, p. 449, a 
male bird, in the possession of 11. C. Fowler, Esq., of Gunton, near 



ARCTIC BLUE-THROATED ROBIN. 371 

Lowestoft, found, in July of that year, strangled in a fishing-net, on 
Gunton Denes ; and^ lastly, Mr. Eagle Clarke has sent me a female bird 
of the year for examination, which was shot in his presence this autumn 
on Spurn Point. 

The Arctic Blue-throat breeds within the Arctic circle, or in the birch - 
regions at high elevations of more southerly climes, both in Europe and 
Asia ; in the latter continent it breeds as far south as the Himalayas, and 
occasionally crosses Behring's Straits into Alaska. The European birds 
pass thi'oiigh Central and Southern Europe and Palestine on migration, 
and winter in North Africa as far south as Abyssinia; whilst the Asiatic 
birds, with the exception of those individuals breeding at high elevations 
in the south, pass through Turkestan, Mongolia, and North China, and 
winter in Baluchistan, India and Ceylon, Burma, the Andaman Islands, and 
South China. 

It is only durtug the periods of migration that ornithologists in tem- 
perate Europe have an opportunity of observing the habits of this interesting 
little bird ; for it spends its summer far away in the arctic north, and its 
winter in Africa. Perhaps no other place of call at which this little song- 
ster stays on its annual journey is so favoured with its presence as the 
little island of Heligoland, to the natives of which it is a well-known and 
anticipated guest. IMy friend Gaetke, the veteran ornithologist, writes to 
me : — " Here, during the month of May, if a cold, dry noi-th wind is not 
actually blowing, this little bird is without fail a daily visitor; but should 
the weather be fine, if a gentle east or south-east wind should have been 
blowing early in the morning, accompanied by fine warm drizzling rain, it 
is often so numerous that Aenckens and I have frequently each shot from 
thirty to fifty birds on such a day, picking out only the finest-plumaged 
males. From the middle of August to the middle of September, whenever 
the weather is suitable, it is generally even more frequent. At this 
season of the year they confine themselves almost entii'cly to the potatoe- 
fields outside the town, -whilst in spring one sees them most frequently 
hopping about under the gooseberry and currant-bushes in our gardens. 
They seem, however, to have a special preference for the beds planted 
thickly with cabbages, just beginning to resprout in spring-. They also 
frequent the dead branches of the so-called ' Throstle-bushes,' as well as 
shady corners in the fences of the gardens ; and sometimes they are even 
found at the foot of the rocks amongst the fallen stones, or in dark 
clefts of the cbffs. This charming bird, like the Robin, is a most confiding 
little creature. When you are at work in the garden, if you only take care 
to appear as if you were taking no notice of him, he will remain for 
hours together within twenty paces of you, hopping constantly about with 
quick steps, at each of the many pauses standing erect with quivering 
outspread tail raised above the wings, and looking eagerly around with 



272 BRITISH BIRDS. 

his clear dark eyes. If at that moment the idea enters his little head that 
you are watching him, he vanishes with long hops as quick as lightning 
under the bushes or between the vegetables, to reappear again in half a 
minute with as much confiding trust as ever. Many a time I should have 
been glad to add such a fine-plumaged bird to my cabinet, but could not 
find it in my heart to injure a creature which was such charming company 
and seemed to trust so confidingly to my protection.''' 

During the short summer in the northern regions the Arctic Blue- 
throat is one of the commonest of birds, and in Sweden is known as the 
Swedish Mocking-bird. Generally it is shy and retiring, seeking food in 
the densest thickets and bushes, haunting the marshy grounds sprinkled 
over with small spruce-fir, dwarf willows, and juniper. But when newly 
arrived from its winter home, and beginning to sing, it comes more promi- 
nently into notice and is far from shy. On its first arrival it often warbles 
in an undertone so low, that you fancy the sound must be muffled by the 
thick tangle of branches in which you think the bird is concealed, whilst all 
the time he is perched on high upon the topmost spray of a young fir, his 
very conspicuousness causing him to escape detection for the moment. 
His first attempts at singing are harsh and grating, like the notes of the 
Sedge- Warbler, or the still harsher ones of the Whitethroat; these are 
followed by several variations in a louder and rather more melodious tone, 
repeated over and over again, somewhat in the fashion of a Song-Thrush. 
After this you might fancy the little songster was trying to mimic the 
various alarm-notes of all the birds he can remember ; the chiz-zit of the 
Wagtail, the tip-tip-tip of the Blackbird, and especially the whit-vjhit of 
the ChaflBnch. As he improves in voice, he sings louder and longer, until 
at last he almost approaches the Nightingale in the richness of the melody 
that he pours forth. Sometimes he will sing as he flies upwards, descend- 
ing with expanded wings and tail to alight on the highest bough of some 
low tree, almost exactly as the Tree-Pipit does in the meadows of our own 
land. When the females have arrived, there comes at the end of his 
song the most metallic notes I have ever heard a bird utter. It is a 
sort of ting-ting, resembling the sound produced by striking a suspended 
bar of steel with another piece of the same metal. The female appears 
to shun the open far more carefully than her mate ; and while he will be 
perched on a topmost spray, gladdening the whole air around with his 
varied tuneful melody, she will remain in the undergrowth beneath him, 
gliding hither and thither, more like a mouse than a bird, through the 
branches. 

The Arctic Bluethroat is a bird of the swamps; if it does not 
go to the far-off tundras beyond the limit of forest-growth to rear its 
young, it selects some swampy part of the forest, or some boggy moor 
where mosquitoes abound when it has to feed its nestlings. The fjelds of 



ARCTIC BLUE-THROxVTED ROBIN. 273 

Lapland and the tundras of Siberia are not level. The peat is imper- 
vious to water; and there is a constant struggle going on between the 
rich and rank vegetation -^vhich establishes itself there and the water 
which lies on the flat places and is always running down the slopes when 
the snow melts. The tundra is seldom smooth like a common, but is 
generally a cluster of little hummocks or mounds covered over with rushes 
carices, cloudberry, and other ground fruits, with sometimes a stunted 
birch or willow scarcely higher than the coarse grass. These hummocks 
are the favourite breeding-places of the Arctic Blucthroat. I have 
generally found the nest well concealed in a snug hole on the side of one 
of these hummocks, just such a place as a Robin would choose in such 
a locality. 

The nest is not unlike that of a Robin. The hole is well filled m ith 
dry grass and roots, and at the far end a neat deep cup is formed lined 
with fine roots and hair. It is almost impossible to find the nest, except 
by accidentally frightening off the bird, and even then it often takes some 
time, so carefully is it concealed. The eggs are from five to six in 
number, and are laid about the middle of June. They are greenish blue, 
more or less distinctly marbled with pale reddish brown, and are very 
similar to the eggs of the Nightingale. They may be described as 
miniature eggs of the Redwing. They measure from '8 to 'GO inch 
in length, and from '56 to "53 inch in breadth. 

The food of the Arctic Blucthroat is partly vegetable and partly 
animal. A lover of low and swampy districts — marshy grounds studded 
with willow clumps, and wet meadows, it obtains earth-worms in 
abundance, also various kinds of insects and their larvae, its principal 
food during the breeding-season being undoubtedly mosquitoes. It also 
eats small seeds of various kinds. Like the Robin, the Redstart, and 
other nearly allied birds, the Arctic Bluethroat obtains much of its 
insect food when hovering in the air in a similar manner to the Fly- 
catchers ; and when searching amongst withered leaves or moss upon 
the ground, its actions are almost precisely the same as those of the 
Robin or the Hedge-Accentor. 

The Arctic Bluethroat has the whole of the upper parts uniform brown, 
except a white or pale buff' streak over the eye from the base of the bill 
backwards, and the tail, which is blackish brown with the basal half bright 
chestnut, except the two centre feathers, which are uniform brown. The 
chin, cheeks, throat, and upper breast are metallic cobalt-blue, with a large 
chestnut spot in the centre of the lower throat; below the blue is a band of 
black, and below that the chestnut reappears in a broad band across the 
lower breast, the rest of the underparts being huffish white. Bill black ; 
legs, feet, claws, and irides dark brown. The female is not so showy as 
the male, simply having a dark-brown band across the chest ; but some- 

VOL. I. T 



374 BRITISH BIRDS. 

times she attaias by age some of his bhie and chestnut markings. After 
the autumn moult the bright plumage is partially hidden by broad margins 
to the feathers^ which^ however, are cast in the spring. Males of the year 
resemble females; and young in nestling plumage have all the small 
feathers nearly black with huffish centres, palest and most prominent 
on the belly. 

The European Bluethroat {Erithacus cyaneculus) is the Southern and 
Western representative of the Arctic Bluethroat. It has been included 
in the British list, but on far too slender evidence ; and although I have 
figured the egg of this bird, for the sake of comparison, its claims as a 
Bi'itish species must remain in abeyance until more satisfactory evidence 
is forthcoming. A bird alleged to be of this species was seen in the Isle 
of Wight (Zoologist, 1866, p. 172) ; but the evidence is unsatisfactory 
and meagre. Another specimen is said to have been picked up dead 
under the telegraph-wires at Seamer, near Scarborough (Zoologist, 1876, 
p. 4956) ; as, however, this specimen was a female, and as the adult 
females of the two species are very often the same in plumage, and 
immature females are apparently always undistinguishable, it is impossible 
to recognise the bird as an undoubted European Bluethroat. The third and 
last recorded instance of the bird's capture in Great Britain was announced 
by my friend Mr. J. A. Harvie-Brown in the 'Zoologist^ for 1881, p. 451. 
This specimen was obtained from the Isle of May on the 24th of September 
of that year. I have seen this example ; it is a bird of the year, and there 
is not a shadow of evidence to indicate to which species it belongs. 

The European Bluethroat breeds in Central and Western Europe, 
but becomes rarer during the breeding-season as y\'e trace it eastwards. 
It is said to pass through Turkestan and Northern Cashmere on migration, 
and to have been occasionally obtained in India and Persia ; but I have 
never seen an Asiatic skin, and doubt its occurrence in Asia. Great 
doubt attaches to the specimens of this bird obtained so far to the east- 
Avards as Persia and India; and it is possible that immature birds of the 
Arctic species have been mistaken for them. The greater number of these 
birds pass through South Europe on migration, and winter in Palestine 
and North Africa. 

In its habits and mode of nesting, and in its song and call-notes, the 
European Bluethroat resembles its Arctic ally. Like that bird it is a lover 
of swampy places, fond of concealment, and creeps in a silent mouse-like 
manner through the bushes and undergrowth ; and its food, so far as I can 
determine, is also similar. Its nest is placed similarly to that of the pre- 
ceding species — on the ground under the shelter of a tussock, or at the foot 
of a small bush ; and the materials which compose it are much the same. 
The eggs of this bird present much the same types, and possess similar 
variations to those of its northern congener. 



ARCTIC BLUE-TimOATED ROBIN. 



275 



I found this species by no means uncommon in the swampy districts 
near Valkenswaardj in Holland. 

The only difference between this and the preceding species is in the 
colour of the throat-spot, which is pure white. There are three forms of 
the Blue-throated Robin, the adult males of which, when in full breeding- 
plumage, may be readily distinguished. First, we have the Northern or 
Arctic form, with the spot in the centre of the throat red ; secondly, the 
South-European form, with the spot in the centre of the throat pure and 
silky white ; and thirdly, the form of which the throat is uniform blue. 
The two former of these birds have different breeding-grounds, and quite 
distinct areas of geographical distribution ; but the uniform-blue-throated 
form is chiefly met with in localities frequented by the Southern or white- 
spotted form. In the specimens I have examined of this blue-throated 
form, in which the breast at first sight appeared unspotted blue, I have 
generally found the bases of the feathers on the throat white. Newton, 
in his edition of Yarrell's ' British Birds,' asserts that these differ- 
ences of plumage (especially in the white-spotted and spotless forms) are 
coexistent with differences in the length of the tarsus ; but in an examina- 
tion of a series of these birds, T find that the measurement of the tarsus is a 
variable quantity, and of no value in separating the species. 




276 BRITISH BIRDS. 

ERITHACUS LUSCINIA. 
THE NIGHTINGALE. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula luscinia, Briss. Orn. iii. p. 397 (1760). 

Motacilla luscinia, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 328 fl766) ; et auctonun plurimorum — 

Omelin, Bechstein, {Bathatn), (Temminclx) , (Selhy), (OouM), {Bonajiarte) , (JDe- 

gUind), (Oerhe), {Loche), (Sahadori), (Netvton), Itc. 
Sylvia luscinia (Linn.), Scop. Ann. I, Hist. Nat. p. 154 (1769). 
Aedon luscinia (Linn.), Forst. Syn. Vat. Br. B. p. 53 (1814). 
Ourruca luscinia (Linn.'), Koch, Syst. baier. Zoul. i. p. 154 (1816). 
Daulias luscinia (Linn.), Boie, Lsis, 1831, p. 542. 
Philomela luscinia (Linn.). Selhy, Brit. Orn. i. p. 206 (1833). 
Lusciola luscinia (Linn.), Keys. ri. Bias. Wii-h. Eur. pp. Iviii, 189 (1840). 
Eritliacus luscinia (Linn.), Degl. Orn. Eur. i. p. 499 (1849). 
Luscinia vera, Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 220 (1869). 
Luscinia phUomela (Beehst.), apud Brehm, Bonaparte, Gray, Cahanis, Gould, Heuglin, 

Harting, &c. 

The Nightingale is a common summer visitor to all the counties of 
England, except those in the north and west^ being comparatively rare in 
South Yorkshire, Shropshire^ and East Devon^ which may be considered 
the limits of its range in our islands. It has never been recorded from 
Ireland ; and its alleged occurrence in Scotland rests upon very doubtful 
authority, though it may possibly visit the latter country as an accidental 
straggler. 

It is pretty generally distributed on the continent of Europe during the 
breeding-season south of Scandinavia and west of Russia, only occurring 
in the latter country accidentally. It passes through North Africa on 
migration, a few remain to breed in Algeria ; but the majority winter in 
the interior somewhere south of Abyssinia. In South Sweden and Central 
Russia our Nightingale is replaced by the Eastern Nightingale {Erithacus 
philomela), a species whose breeding-range extends eastwards into Asia 
Minor, Northern Turkestan, and South-western Siberia. Westwards its 
range overlaps that of our bird, occasionally reaching as far as the valley 
of the Rhine. It is not improbable that this bird has occurred in Great 
Britain^ but its presence has been overlooked. An equally near ally, the 
Persian Nightingale (Ei-ithacus guhii), breeds in the cultivated districts 
of Turkestan and West Persia, extending its western range as far as 
the Caucasus. In coloration this species is intermediate between our 
Nightingale and E. philomela, being slightly more olive than the former 
and slightly more russet than the latter. In its wing-formula it resembles 
the former species ; but may be distinguished from both by its slightly 
longer bill (•07 to '06 inch) and much larger tail (3'32 to 2'95 inch). 



THE NIGHTINGALE. 277 

The Nightingale arrives at its breeding-grounds in the south of England 
about the middle of Aprils but not before the latter end of the month or 
the beginning of May in the most northerly localities. As the male 
Nightingale sings well in confinement and possesses such rich and varied 
musical powers, it is sought after eagerly by the bird-catcherSj and during 
the first week or so of its sojourn in England great numbers are caught. 
But the Nightingale does not bear captivity well ; and by far the greater 
number that are caught die within a short time of their capture. It is 
said that if a male is caught after having found a mate, he seldom lives in 
confinement, but pines away. The bird-catchers, therefore, are always on 
the look-out to entrap their victims the moment they arrive. Birds caught 
in the autumn seldom live long. 

The Nightingale in many of its habits closely resembles the Robin ; 
and the haunts it affects are in many cases very similar. Singularly 
enough, it is only found in certain localities in England, shunning 
others which seem in all respects suited to it. The Nightingale is a very 
skulking bird, frequenting the dense undergrowth, hopping restlessly about 
the cover, and when alarmed it instantly finds shelter amongst the tangled 
vegetation. Sometimes in the woods and coppices it is seen flitting across 
the path ; and its harsh croaking call-note, something like the Whitethroat's, 
may be heard from all parts of the cover. The haunts of the Nightingale 
are woods and plantations in which the undergrowth is particularly thick and 
close. Tangled hedgerows and the thickly-wooded banks of streams are 
also favourite haunts of this bird. In this respect it shows the same 
preference as the Robin, seeking marshy places whore worms and insects, 
which form its chief food, are found abundantly. 

When searching for its food the Nightingale instantly puts you in mind 
of the Robin. It alights on the ground, looks carefully around, and then 
commences to turn over the dead leaves in search of worms and grubs. It 
will then hop daintily along, every moment pausing to listen with head 
slightly turned aside, and its full dark eye gazing intently at you. Like 
the Robin, the present species has a habit of repeatedly jerking up its 
tail, lowering the head, and drooping the wings. Although so fond of 
concealment, and so shy and timid that it seeks the cover the instant it is 
alarmed, it may often be seen in the open places in the woods, sometimes 
by the roadside, or in gardens; but if observed, like the Thrushes, it 
soon seeks seclusion. "When alarmed its note is a low guttural one, 
and it will repeatedly snap its bill in its extreme anxiety. Its call-note 
is a long-drawn plaintive weet, very similar to that of the Robin. Its 
voice is heard soon after its arrival ; and it sings incessantly from 
pairing-time in April until the young are hatched in June. From 
this period its notes are rarely heard ; for the bird is too busy bringing 
up its young to find time to sing; and when they are safely reared. 



278 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the autumn moult is at hand — a time when no bird is heard to sing. 
The song of the Nightingale has possibly been overpraised. Its beauties 
have been the poet^s theme for ages ; and men have immortalized it who 
have probably never listened to its strains. Fiction has described the 
bird as leaning against a thorn^ and has thus explained the cause of its 
singularly melancholy notes. The Nightingale's song nevertheless is 
not equalled by that of any other bird ; and the ^olume^ qualityj and 
variety of its notes are certainly unrivalled. It is impossible in words 
to convey its delightful strains to the reader ; the bird's haunts must 
be visited^ and its sweetness listened to there. The Nightingale does 
not always sing in the hours of night, as is very popularly believed to be 
the case ; and it may be heard warbling at all hours of the day. Neither 
is the Nightingale the only bird that sings under a starlight sky; the 
Sedge-Warbler, the Robin, the Thrush, the Cuckoo, the Grasshopper 
Warbler, and others repeatedly do so. I have heard persons describe in 
rapturous language the music they liave heard at night, which they attri- 
buted to the present bird, when the Sedge-Warbler was undoubtedly the 
musician that had charmed them so much. 

The food of the Nightingale is for the most part obtained upon the 
ground : — worms, that are searched for in the marshy portions of its haunts 
and under the decaying leaves ; ants and their larvae, and also other insects, 
many of which it obtains amongst the herbage on the ground or in the 
decaying timbers found in its marshy haunts. It is also said to be 
extremely partial to fruit, like most of the small summer birds of 
passage, and to eat both elder-berries and currants. The young 
birds were observed by Montagu to be almost entirely fed on small green 
caterpillars. 

It seems that the Nightingale resorts yearly to its old haunts, and, like 
the Robin, is somewhat pugnacious during the pairing-season, zealously 
guarding its own little domain from intrusion. The breeding-season com- 
mences early in May ; and the nest is usually on or near the ground. In 
the woods the site of the nest is lisually amongst the tall rank grass or 
beneath the low underwood, sometimes in a recess amongst old gnarled 
roots, and occasionally in ivy several feet from the ground. At other 
times it is bvrilt in the close dense hedgerow-bottoms, and on the banks of 
a lane amidst the luxuriant summer plants there. Sometimes it is jjlaced in 
a heap of dead leaves at the foot of a tree. The nest is a large structure 
loosely put together outside, but neatly finished. It is composed externally 
of dry grass, sometimes fine flags and rushes, and strips of withered bark, 
together -with dead leaves of the oak, the hawthorn, and the birch, usually 
the former. The nest-cavity, which is deep and round, is lined with fine 
grasses, dry rootlets, sometimes vvitli horsehair, and more rarely with 
vegetable dowu. 



THE NIGHTINGALE. 



279 



The eggs of the Nightingale are four or five in number^ usually the 
latter^ and sometimes as many as six have been foimd. There appear to 
be two types of the egg of this bird — a rich olive-brown one^ and a bluish 
green- one. The ground-eolour of the olive-brown type of egg is bluish 
green, where it can be seen through the surface-colouring, which is pale 
reddish brown. The bluish-green type is very faintly mottled with pale 
reddish brown, the colouring-matter sometimes being collected on one end 
of the egg like a cap. In some specimens this cap is to be seen on each 
end, the egg becoming paler round the centre. Some eggs are finely 
streaked here and there with darker brown. In size they vary from '93 
to -75 inch in length, and from '65 to '57 inch in breadth. But one 
brood is reared in the year. 

The Nightingale passes Gibraltar every season in great numbers on 
its migrations, arriving about the 12th of April, returning in August 
and September. Tliis locality appears to be the favourite route of the 
Nightingale over the sea from its summer to its winter quarters. Still 
many birds cross the ^Mediterranean at other points ; and Dixon has a note 
to the effect that a nightingale flew on board the steamer when in mid-sea 
on the 21st of April, crossing from ^Marseilles to Phillippeville. This bird 
was remarkably tame, and alighted on the back of one of the French 
soldiers lying on the upper deck. Tlie flight of the Nightingale is buoyant 
and quick ; but seldom long sustained, for it usually confines its movements 
to flitting from bush to bush, and rarely crosses the open. 

The Nightingale has the general colour of the upper parts russet-brown, 
shading into brownish chestnut on the upper tail-coverts and tail. The 
underparts, including the lores, are huffish white, shading into greyish 
white on the breast and flanks, and into brownish white on the axillaries 
and under wing- and tail-coverts. Bill brown above and pale horn-colour 
below. Legs, feet, and claws brown ; irides hazel. The female in the 
colour of her plumage does not difi^r from the male. Young in first 
plumage have pale centres to most of the feathers. 



i80 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus MONTICOLA. 

The genus Monticola was established by Boie (Isis, 1822, p. 552), who 
indicated M. saxat'iUs as the type. It contains the Rock-Thrushes, which 
may be distinguislied from the Ground-Thrushes by the absence of the 
Geocichline pattern under the wing, from the true Thrushes by never 
having the throat streaked, and from the Ouzels by their black legs and 
bills, or, where the legs are black in the Ouzels, by having the bill less 
than '9 inch. From the Robins and the Redstarts and the smaller Chats 
they may be distinguished by their stout bill ('74 or longer). From the 
larger Chats the fact that the under tail-coverts are blue or chestnut is a 
sufficient distinction. These generic distinctions are purely artificial. 
The genera Monticola, Kuticllla, Saxicola, Erithaciis, and Myrmecocichia 
are all artificial ; and the eighty species which they contain really all belong 
to one genus. I have only retained them out of deference to the practice 
of ornithologists. The mania for making new genera is a great evil ; and 
I have only retained the pseudo-genera in cases like the present for the 
sake of convenience, or to avoid change. 

The Rock-Thrushes, of which about ten species are known, are confined 
to the Old World, frequenting the southern half of the Palsearctic Region, 
the iEthiopian Region, and the Oriental Region, being absent from the 
Australian Region. Two species range throughout South Europe to 
North China during the breeding-season. One species is resident in 
Abyssinia, and three in South Africa. Two species breed in the Himalayas, 
one of which extends also to West China. One species breeds in South- 
east Siberia and North-east China, whilst another appears to be confined 
to East China and Japan. One of the European species has without 
doubt occurred in our islands, whilst another has been included in the 
British list on unsatisfactory evidence. 

The Rock-Thrushes, although closely allied to the other Thrushes, are 
still more so both in structure and habits to the Redstarts and Chats. 
They are in fact nothing more than large Redstarts. They frequent open 
rocky country, and, like the Redstarts and the Chats, are restless, solitary 
birds. Most of the Rock-Thrushes are possessed of fair powers of song. 
Their food consists largely of insects, grubs, and worms, and also, more 
rarely, of fruit. Their nests are loosely made of rootlets, dry grasses, moss, 
hair, and feathers, and placed in holes of walls and rocks. Their eggs are 
from four to six in number, pale greenish blue in colour, very rarely 
spotted with pale brown. 



THE ROCK-THRUSH. 218 

MONTICOLA SAXATILIS. 

THE ROCK-THEUSH. 

(Plate 8.) 

Turdua merula saxatilis, Briss. Oni. ii. p. 238 (1700). 

Turdus saxatilis, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 294 (17(36) ; et auctorvun plurimorum — 

Bechstein, Wolf, Pallas, Vieillot, (Blyth), {Loche), (Ileiiglin), (yeioton), 

{Dresser), &c. 
Lanius infaustus'/3. minor, Gtnel. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 310 (1788). 
Turdus infaustus (Girul.), Lath, Ind. Orn. i. p. 3-j5 (1790). 
Saxicola montana, Koch, Syst. iaier. Zool. i. p. 18.5 (181C). 
Monticola saxatilis (Linn.), Boie, Isix, 1822, p. •5-j2. 
Petrocincla saxatilis (Linn.), Viyors, Zool. Journ. ii. p. 396 (1820). 
Petrocossyphus saxatilis (Linn.), Boie, Lsis, 1820, p. 972. 
Sylvia saxatilis (Linn.), Sari, Orn. Tosc. i. p. 218 (1827). 
Saxicola saxatilis (Linn.), Ltiipp. Neue Wirt). Vog. p. 80 (183-5). 
Petrocichla saxatilis (Linn.), Keys. u. Bias. Wirb. Eur. pp. 1, 175 (1840). 
Orocetes saxatilis (Linn.), Horsf. ^ Moore, Cat. B. Mas. E.L. Co. i. p. 180 (1854). 
Petrocinla saxatilis (Linn.), Heugl. Syst. Uehers. p. 29 (1850). 
Petrocinchla saxatilis (Linn.), Newt. List B. Enr. Blasius, p. 9 (1862). 

The occiirrence of the Rock -Thrush in England is only accidental j but 
two specimens are known to have been taken, and one more is said to have 
been identified but not secured. Both these captures were first recorded 
by Yarrell. In the first instance (19th May, 1843) the bird was obtained 
by a Mr. Joseph Trigg, who shot it at Therfield in Hertfordshire^ while it 
was sitting on an ash-tree. The second specimeuj of which Yarrell omits 
to state the locality^ was shot by a gamekeeper, who only preserved its 
head and neck, sufficient evidence however to refer it to the present 
species. A specimen of this bird was also seen and followed for two miles, 
in June 1852, near Robin Hood's Bay, by a Mr. Bedlington, who, however, 
failed to secure it (see ' Naturalist,^ 1856, p. 21). The Rock-Thrush breeds 
across Southern Europe as far north as the Hartz Mountains, and east- 
wards through Persia, Turkestan, and South Siberia, as far as Lake 
Baikal, South-east Mongolia, and North China. It passes through North 
Africa on migration, where a few remain to breed, and winters in 
Senegambia and Abyssinia. Eastwards its winter range extends to the 
borders of India and into North Burma. 

The haunts of the Rock-Thrush embrace some of the wildest of scenes. 
Its summer home is amongst the rocky gorges of the mountains, in and 
amongst old ruins, ravines, and rough broken ground strewed with rock- 
fragments, with here and there a few stunted trees or bushes. On the 
Parnassus I found this bird inhabiting the wildest districts up to the pine- 



282 BRITISH BIRDS. 

region. As his name implies, lie is a bird of the rocky wilderness, and 
like the Chats and the Redstarts, prefers such situations to more pastoral 
districts. His winter home in Africa is in the neighbourhood of the Arab 
burial-places, on the borders of the arid desert the vast and trackless 
Sahara, the gorges, embankments, rocky bluff's and ravines, and the oases 
of the desert. 

The Rock-Thrush begins to arrive at its breeding-grounds early in April, 
most of the birds probably pairing before they quit their winter quarters, 
as they are usually seen in pairs at the various places they touch at en 
route, and arrive in pairs at their breeding-stations. Upon one occasion 
Canon Tristram met with this species on migration during one of his 
wanderings in the Holy Land, and thus describes the strange and interest- 
ing sight : — " Of the Rock-Thrushes, Petrocincla saxatilis, whose red tail 
and Redstart-like habits link it most closely with the Ruticillince, is in 
most parts of Palestine merely a passing traveller, and tarries but a night. 
On the 8th of April the whole of Mount Gerizim was covered by a restless 
flock of these birds, which, at a distance, we took for the Black Redstart, 
so exactly did they resemble that bird in their actions. They hopped rest- 
lessly from rock to .rock, never taking a flight of more than a few yards ; 
and in this fashion, in loose order, ranging for perhaps a mile in breadth, 
they appeared to be steadily proceeding northwards. When the foremost 
line had reached the valley they took a flight across to the foot of Mount 
Ebal, over the gardens, and then more leisurely mounted the hill." In 
some instances the male birds are the first to arrive at their summer 
hau.nts, notably in the Alpine districts, sometimes preceding the females 
a Aveek or more. After pairing they remain amongst the rocks of the 
lower hills, until the snow has left the mountains and made their nursery 
ready for them. Many of the habits of the Rock-Thrush closely resemble 
those of the well-known Wheatear. A shy and wary bird, it flits before 
the observer, alighting on masses of rock, choosing those situations that 
afford it a good look-out, and from which danger can be most readily 
detected. Usually seen in pairs, they continue to flit before the observer ; 
and if he pursues them too closely they retire to some secluded place 
amongst the rocks, or, by making a long detour, return to the place from 
which he disturbed them. Now they may be seen on the ground, or 
perched Chat-like ou old walls and ruins, sitting motionless, and 
starting rapidly off the instant they are alarmed, tli,e rich and beautifully 
blended plumage of the male contrasting strongly m ith his mate's more 
sober dress. 

Like the Song-Thrush and the Redwing, the Rock-Thrush is essentially 
an insectivorous bird, and what few berries it does cat are taken as fruit, 
just as the Blackcap or the Whitethroat will eat currants or raspberries. 
The Rock-Thrush is often seen upon the ground in search of insects, or 



THE ROCK-THRUSH. 283 

on the small patches of grassy land near streams, seeking for earthworms 

and snails. Amongst these mountain haunts the bird's fare is a bountiful 

one. The quantity of insect-life is something wonderful. Grasshoppers 

of nearly every conceivable shape and variety of size and colour vie with 

the birds in loudness if not in melody of song; butterflies^ both rich and 

beautiful, float lazily about ; and the ground and rocks around are alive 

with beetles and other forms of insect-life — almost endless in variety, and 

whose dreamy hum is, in the noon-day heat, almost the only sign of life in 

these mountain solitudes. The Rock-Thrush is not content with picking 

his food from the ground or rocks, but often pursues it in the air like 

the Flycatcher. You see him perched so quietly on a rocky boulder, 

in a mood of seeming indolence ; yet he is ever on the alert ; and his sharp 

eye is scanning the insects around him. Suddenly he launches into the 

air, and, after a short fluttering butterfly-kind of flight, he snaps at a 

passing fly and again returns to his perching-place, or goes ofl^ to his nest 

should his young be already hatched. In the late summer months these 

birds eat the berries of the various shrubs in their haunts, and sometimes 

visit the gardens for the fruit. But this kind of fare is not sought to a 

very great extent, the Rock-Thrush being almost as insectivorous as the 

Chats and Redstarts. 

As soon as the birds arrive in their summer home their song com- 
mences. In the early morning, during the season of courtship, it may, 
perhaps, be listened to with the greatest advantage. The bii'd usually 
sings from some rocky perch, sometimes from the old walls of ruins, 
or, more rarely, on the topmost branch of some lonely tree. But he 
does not always sing when at rest. Like the Redstart, he will ever and 
anon rise into the air and descend with wings expanded upon his perch 
again, singing all the time. Sometimes these peculiar aerial motions are 
continued several times in succession before the bii-d alights. The song 
of the Rock-Thrush is, indeed, a sweet and varied one ; and iu those 
countries it frequents the bird is in the highest_ request as a cage-songster, 
sometimes the most fabulous prices being paid for birds whose musical 
powers are beyond the ordinary degree of sweetness and variation. Its 
wild powerful song is equal to that of the Blackcap, and, for variety and 
tone, comes little short of the ever-changing notes of the "Throstle," and 
the rich flute-like warblings of the Blackbird. Its call-note is a peculiar 
piping cry, somewhat similar to that of the Ring-Ouzel. 

The nest of the Rock-Thrush, from the peculiar nature of its site, is 
one of the most difficult to disco vcj'. You may search for hours, and turn 
over tons of rock and stones unsuccessfully, and at last owe its discovery 
to mere accident. It is usually placed in some convenient rock-crevice, at 
various heights, sometimes under a mass of rock lying on the ground, 
sometimes in heaps of stones, and sometimes in holes of ruined buildings ; 



284 BRITISH BIRDS. 

andj more rarely, in holes in houses and in trees and stumps. Vineyard- 
walls, holes in mountain-fortresses, and amongst the debris carried down 
the mountain-sides by the melting of the snow, may be also cited as places 
frequently selected by this bird for its nest. Wherever it is found, how- 
ever, it is usually well concealed from view, and always in a hole. The 
bare ground will not unfrequently be chosen, under a bush, or even under 
a dense overhanging grass-tuft. The nesting-season commences in the 
latter end of April or beginning of May. The nest is very different in 
construction from the nests of the true Thrushes, and, as is the case with all 
hole-building birds, somewhat loosely made. The materials of different 
nests also vary to a great extent, according to the locality in which they 
are found. Nests in the more cultivated districts are made of roots, fine 
and coarse grasses, moss and bents, and lined with hair and feathers. 
Those taken from more isolated places, the rocky districts high up moun- 
tain-sides, are similar in outward construction, rarely lined with hair or 
feathers, but with fine rootlets and dry grass. Other nests will sometimes 
be found constructed entirely of roots and withered grass. In examining 
the nest of this bird, its close resemblance to that of the Redstart or the 
Wheatear will be noticed. No mud is found in themj they are loosely 
put together; and this circumstance, coupled with the covered site and 
the colour of the eggs, still further suggests the bird's nearer aflSnity to 
the Chats than to the true Thrushes. The eggs of the Rock -Thrush are 
four or five in number, of the same beautiful bluish green as those of the 
Song-Thrush, but slightly paler and rounder; indeed they are almost 
intermediate between a Song-Thrush's and a Starling's. The markings 
are confined to a very few faint light-brown specks, usually on the larger 
end; but the eggs are very often spotless. In the same clutch these pecu- 
liarities may be noticed ; for sometimes one egg will be faintly marked 
and the rest spotless. They vary in length from 1-05 to 0'95 inch, and in 
breadth from '83 to '7 inch. Like most hole-building birds, the Rock- 
Thrush is a very close sitter ; and the showily- dressed male assists in incu- 
bating the eggs. The young birds are fed by both parents, and are tended 
for some little time after they leave the nest. They are fed on insects, 
larvae, spiders, and grubs. The Rock-Thrush is said to rear two broods 
in the year. When the nest is approached, especially should it contain 
young birds, the old birds become very anxious, and exhibit signs of the 
greatest distress for their helpless offspring. 

The male Rock-Thrush is a very handsome bird. Its head, neck, and 
throat are cobalt-blue, shading into bluish black on the upper back, wing- 
coverts, and rump ; the wings are brown. In the centre of the back is a 
nearly pure white patch, a few of the feathers being tipped with grey. 
Except the throat, the entire under surface is rich chestnut, including the 
tail, the two centre feathers of which are darker than the rest. Bill, legs. 



THE ROCK-THRUSH. 



285 



and feet black ; irides hazel. The female is a speckled brown bird, with a 
shade of rufous underneath, but the tail is similar to that of the male. 
After the autumn moult the feathers of both sexes have pale margins, and 
the white on the back of the male is not so conspicuous. Birds of the 
year are very similar to the female. The nestling resembles birds of the 
year, but the spots are larger. 

The Blue Rock-Thrush (Monticola cyanea) has been said to have been 
once obtained in Ireland. The bird is now preserved in the Museum of 
the Royal Dublin Society, and is stated to have been killed in the county 
of Westmeath, on November 17th, 1866 (see 'Zoologist/ 1870, p. 2019). 
Although this bird has occurred as a straggler on the island of Heligoland, 
it is a strictly southern species ; and considerable doubt attaches to the 
example in question, which was examined by Sharpe and Dresser, and 
pronounced by them to have the appearance of a specimen mounted from 
a previously prepared skin, and not from a fresh-killed bird. 





286 T3E1TISH BIRDS. 



Genus RUTICILLA. 

The genus Rididlla was established by Brehm ia 1828, in the 'Isis/ 
p. 1280. He designated R.phcenicuriis (the Ficedula ruticilla of Brisson) as 
the type. Most of the birds in this genus have the rump- and the tail- 
feathers, except the two centre ones, chestnut. The culmen is short, not 
more than one fourth the length of the tail, and the legs are always black. 
All the male adult birds, except one species, have black or very dark-blue 
throats. 

There are about thirteen species in the present genus, Avhich are distri- 
buted throughout the temperate portion of the Palsearctic Region and the 
Highlands of the Himalayas, the number of species being greatest in the 
latter district. Two species breed throughout temperate Europe, one of 
which is a regular summer migrant to the British Islands, and the other is 
a regular though rare winter visitant to the south coast of England. One 
other species has accidentally wandered as far as Heligoland. 

The Redstarts form a link between the Thrushes (through the Rock- 
Thrushes) and the Chats, and are closely connected with the Robins 
through the Blucthroats. They are birds more or less arboreal in their 
habits, frequenting bushes and cultivated places, although one or two 
species affect mountainous localities. They are sprightly, restless birds, 
feeding chiefly on insects, many of which they secure on the wing. The 
Redstarts are fair songsters. Their nests are very loosely put together, 
made of dried grasses, feathers, moss, wool, hair. Sec, and usually placed 
in holes of trees and rocks. Their eggs, from five to eight in number, 
range from pure white to pale blue, as a rule unspotted, although the eggs 
of one or two species are sparingly marked with pale brown. 



THE REDSTART. 



RUTICILLA PHGENICURUS. 

THE EEDSTAET. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula ruticilla, Brias. Orn. iii. p. 403 (1766). 

Motacilla phcenicurus, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. 335 (1706) ; et auctorum pltirimorum 

— (Temminck), {Bonaparte), (Gray), (HaHlaub) , {Loche), (Oould), {Newton), 

{Dresser), {Bkmford), &o. 
Sylvia phoenicurus {Linn.), Lath. Gen. Syn. iSiqjpI. i. p. 287 (1787). 
Saxicola phcenicurus {Linn.'), Koch, Si/.if. baier. Zool. i. p. 188 (1816). 
Ficedula phcBnicurus {Linn?), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. .053. 
Phcenicura murai'ia, Strains. S,- Rich. Fiiun. Bor.-Atner. ii. p. 489 (1831). 
Ficedula ruticilla, Bi/fon, Cat. Brit. B. p. 10 (1836). 
Phoenicura ruticilla {Eytoni), Gould, B. Evr. ii. pi. 95 (1837). 

Ruticilla phoenicura {Linn.'), Bona}). Comp. List B. Evr. and N. Amer. p. 15 (1838). 
Lusciola phcenicm-us (IJnn.), Keys. n. Bias. Wirh. Eur. pp. Iviii, 101 (1840). 
Erithacus phcenicurus (Linn.), Degl. Orn. Eur. i. p. 502 (1849). 
Luscinia phcenicurus {Linn.), Sv,ndev. Sv. Fogl. p. 69 (1856). 

This handsome little bird is of somewhat local distribution in the British 
Islands^ and can nowhere be said to be of very common occurrence. Its 
Robin -like appearance, short and pleasing song, bright plumage, and 
regularity of appearance in the early spring combine to make it a general 
favourite. It breeds regularly, although locally, in all the counties of 
England and Wales, but becomes rarer in the west, and is commonest in 
the south. In Scotland.it is found, though still more sparingly and locally, 
up to Caithness, and occasionally in Shetland; but in the Hebrides it is 
not known. In Ireland the bird may virtually be said to be absent, a few 
instances only being on record of its occurrence, apparently merely acci- 
dental. The Redstart breeds throughout Central Europe as far north as 
the Arctic circle. In South Europe it is rarely seen, except on spring 
and autumn migration, although a few remain to breed at high elevations, 
usually selecting the pine-regions for this purpose. It winters in North 
Africa. In Asia its range during the breeding-season extends eastwards 
as far as the valley of the Yenesay ; and the winter home of these Asiatic 
birds appears to be in Persia. 

As the Wheatear is the tenant of the cairns, the rocks, and the ruins 
of the wilds, in like manner the Redstart may be designated a bird 
of the ruins and the rocks in the lower, warmer, and more cultivated 
districts. You will find it in orchards and gardens, about old walls, and 
in the more open woods and shrubberies. Another favourite haunt of the 
Redstart is old crumbling ruins, abbeys and castles, on whose battlements 



288 BRITISH BIRDS. 

and still massive walls, ivy-covered and moss-grown, it delights to sit and 
chant its short and monotonous song. The Redstart, however, is by no 
means confined to the vicinity of rocks and ruins. I have often chased 
him in the pine-forests, where his habit of keeping near the tops of the 
trees causes him to pass unnoticed by those who are unfamiliar with his 
simple song. He is very restless, and is seldom secured without a long 
chase. The Redstart also has his home in wilder places — in the coppices 
just on the borders of the moorland, the birch-groves, and woods where old 
and decayed timber is abundant and the ground beneath is strewn with 
rock-fragments, amongst which the bracken and the briars grow in wild 
uncurbed luxuriance. Rocky commons, mingled with hawthorn and holly, 
brambles and briars, and old and disused lanes where walls alternate with 
hedges are also favourite haunts of the Redstart. 

The spring migration of the Redstart is usually performed during the 
first week in April, sometimes a little earlier, according to the state of the 
season. About that period of the year the male birds may be noticed in 
their favourite haunts ; for they precede the females a few days, as is the 
case with most of the British warblers. At this season of the year Red- 
starts may be often seen in large numbers on the coast, in similar situations 
to those which the Wheatears choose upon their arrival ; and they are 
often seen hopping about the rocks and cliffs, or frequenting the bushes 
amongst the sandhills. They are restless and shy, and gradually retire 
inland to their breeding-places, or go on again still further north to more 
distant climes to rear their young. The Redstart migrates at night ; and 
hence the birds may be entirely absent one day, but may literally swarm 
the next. The autumn migrations of the Redstart are not so easy to 
observe as its spring movements. It departs imperceptibly : its song has 
been long relinquished ; its call-notes are rarely heard; and hence its pre- 
sence is seldom missed until it has probably long set out on its southern 
journey. The shyness of the moulting-season seems to be retained; and 
the fact that the male bird departs some little time before the female, 
whose sober colours and retiring habits causes her to be often overlooked, 
also tends to make their autumnal movements difficult of investigation ; 
but during the last week of September, when I was on the island of 
Heligoland, I had an excellent opportunity of seeing the migration of the 
Redstart. On the 24th, and again on the 26th, these pretty birds abounded ; 
and among the examples which the boys caught in their traps, I selected a 
dozen for my collection. 

The Redstart is a familiar although a shy bird, — familiar as to its choice 
of a haunt, being often seen in the same locality as the Robin or the Hedoe- 
Accentor ; and shy, rarely allowing a close approach, generally frequenting 
the tops of lofty trees, but sometimes hiding itself from view in the 
thickest cover, or flying away as soon as its privacy is intruded upon. 



THE REDSTART. 289 

Sometimes, as you wander on, the bird will flit uneasily before you, dis- 
playing the rich chestnut of its tail, which is spread out repeatedly, like a 
fan. A restless little creature, indeed, it is, incessantly flitting about from 
wall to wall or stump to stump, and repeatedly waving its tail like a rapidly 
moving fan. These singular tail motions are a very striking peculiarity 
of this species ; and it may be noted that the tail is always moved ver- 
tically, never sideways, although it is usually expanded and closed every 
few beats, giving the bird a very pretty and animated appearance. Upon 
its arrival at its old haunts the male bird is much less shy than at 
any other season of the year. He will sometimes advance quite close to 
you ; and for the first week or so of his sojourn here he seems to press 
himself into notice as much as possible — frequenting the tree-tops, gate- 
posts, and all other similarly exposed situations. The Redstart flies 
with a succession of short jerks, not particularly rapid, but extremely 
irregular. Sometimes, however, in the pairing-season, two male birds 
will chase each other, and dart like rays of coloured light through the 
branchy mazes of the woods, aU the time uttering a shrill and peculiar 
guttural note. The Redstart is rarely seen upon the ground : its food is 
obtained for the most part on walls, rocks, and trees, and in the air ; and 
hence it has no cause to visit the earth. 

The Redstart is almost entirely insectivorous — flies, gnats, small butter- 
flies, and various kinds of beetles, caterpillars, and larvae are its favourite 
food. It is an adept at catching insects on the wing, like a true Flycatcher, 
the bird being seen to launch suddenly into the air and often to take 
several passing insects ere seeking its perch again, all the time performing 
a rapid fluttering motion of the wings, and displaying its rich contrast of 
plumage to perfection. You may see it high up the decaying branches 
of some lofty forest giant, or lower down on a pollard stump or mouldering 
log, seeking for the various forms of insect life which those places conceal ; 
or you may notice it fluttering before old walls or rocks, or searching 
the nooks and crannies of the ivied ruins. The bird will sit without 
movement, except the regular and graceful fanning of the tail. Now a 
cloud of gnats appear ; they are visited and captures made. Now it is a 
little butterfly flitting lazily along : this capture is a more difficult one ; for 
the insect seems to know its danger and tries to escape its captor, thus 
causing the bird to prolong its aerial motions for some considerable dis- 
tance until its quarry is secured. Now the bird is seen to flutter along 
over the tall grass, seizing the various insects from the grass-stems. 
It will sometimes take a long sallying flight over the clear still waters of 
the pool, to regale itself upon the flies which congregate in such dense 
numbers there. In the late summer, when the smaller garden fruits 
are ripe, the Redstart, like all its congeners, adopts a partly vegetable 
diet, and is also known to haunt the fields of growing corn, just before 

VOL. I. u 



290 BRITISH BIRDS. 

its ripening, to prey upon the soft millvv grain, as the Pipits and the 
Willow- Warblers will do. 

Although the Redstart's song may be a pleasing one, it is not to be 

compared with the warblings of the Blackcap, or even the Whitethroat, 

or the sweet little performance of the Willow- Warbler. To hear the 

Redstart's song to best advantage, a visit should be made to his haunts 

early in April : and the earlier in the day the better; for the music of all 

birds is best at, or directly after, sunrise. The song bears a striking 

resemblance to the loud and varied notes of the Wren ; yet it wants their 

vigour and sprightliness, and is somewhat monotonous. It may well be 

described as a low, weak. Wren's song, without any of that dashing 

vivacity which seems to be characteristic of the music of that active little 

creature. It may also be noticed that the Redstart, directly after its arrival 

in April, seeks the tree-tops for his orchestra ; but as the summer comes on 

this habit is lost, and the bird warbles fi'om a lower perch, usually in the 

neighbourhood of his nest. At this time of the year the bird will sing at 

night, very often supplementing his day-performance with a few strains 

under a midnight sky. The Redstart sings as he flies. Sometimes he 

launches into the air, as though bent on insect-capture ; but it is merely to 

warble forth his little unattracti\'e song, and he again returns to his perch. 

Not unfrequently he will chant his music when flying from one perching- 

place to another. As the summer passes on his music is heard less 

frequently and in still more subdued tones, until finally it ceases, a little 

before the period of the autumnal moult, never more to be renewed until 

the time of courtship awakens his powers of song anew. In confinement 

the bird will sing equally well by night as by day, and will readily 

imitate various songs and notes, like the Starling. The call-notes of the 

Redstart are varied according to circumstances. Thus its regular call-note 

is a sharply uttered weet-tit4it, something like a Stonechat's. Its notes 

in the pairing-season are low guttural warblings, confined to the male 

alone, and usually uttered as they chase each other through the air; 

and if you threaten its nest, its alarm-note is peculiarly low and sweet, 

very much like the call of the Willow-Warbler, a plaintive ivhit. 

May is the Redstart's nesting-season. We must not seek its nest 
amongst the branches, nor yet amidst the brambles or vegetation on the 
ground, but always in some hole well protected from the wind : holes in 
walls and trees are, as a rule, selected ; but most peculiar sites are some- 
times chosen — for example, gate-posts, flower-pots^ and crevices under 
the eaves. Indeed, in this respect the Redstart is almost as famous as 
the Robin. The Woodpecker, if the nesting-hole is not quite suitable, 
alters it accordingly, or, if holes be scarce, makes one itself with its strong 
beak ; bnt the Redstart does no such thing. The graceful birch tree 
or the mountain-ash very often aftbrds a nesting-hole, whilst in the old 



THE REDSTART. 291 

walls nesting-sites occur iu abundance, sometimes but a few inches iu 
depth, at others several feet, it matters but little. Favourite situations 
are also amongst old ruins, but rarely at any great height from the ground. 
The nest itself is a very slovenly piece of workmanship, so loosely made 
m some cases as to render it impossible to remove it entire from its 
resting-place. It is made of dry grass, moss, sometimes a little wool, 
but neatly lined with hair and feathers, and will frequently remain empty 
for a few days when comijleted ere the first egg is deposited. The eggs 
are usually five or six in number, occasionally seven, and even eight. 
They are a paler blue and more highly polished than those of the Hedge- 
Accentor ; and the shell is far more fragile. They vary in length from 
■8 to '7 inch, and in breadth from '57 to '5 inch. You may remove the 
eggs of the Redstart, and yet she will continue laying, seldom forsaking 
the nest ; indeed Dixon has taken, by way of experiment, as many as 
twelve eggs consecutively from one nest. The same remarks apply to the 
Starling, and also to most life-paired birds and those who tenant the same 
nest each successive season, or build a new one close to that of the pre- 
ceding year. The young are fed entirely on insects and larvae. It is most 
probable that only one brood is reared in the year ; but should the first 
nest prove unfortunate, the birds will renew their attempts to rear a 
family. 

The Redstart cannot easily be confounded ^lith any other British bird. 
Its head and back are slate-grey ; the wings are brown, the forehead white ; 
and the rump, tail (except the two central tail-feathers, which are much 
darker than the rest), breast, and flanks arc rich chestnut, becoming much 
paler on the belly. A narrow band at the base of the upper mandible, the 
chin, upper throat, and ear-coverts are rich black. Legs, feet, and claws 
black; irides dark brown. The female is a brown bird, but has the vent 
and tail chestnut, although not so brilliant as iu the male. Birds of 
the year are like the female ; so, too, are the nestlings, but spotted above 
and below. After the moult in autumn the male bird closely resembles 
the female, owing to the broad brown margins of the feathers ; but in the 
spring these margins are cast and the brilliant nuptial dress is assumed 
without a moult. 

In the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and Greece, Ehrenberg's Redstart {Ruticilla 
mesoleuca) occurs, but has been, to a very great extent, confounded with 
its near although perfectly distinct ally. It is easily distinguished from 
the Common Redstart by the white patches on the wings, similar to 
those on the wings of the Black Redstart. Ehrenberg's Redstart has only 
become known in this country within the last few years. When I brought 
the first skin over from Asia Minor, no ornithologist would admit it to be 
more than an accidental variety of our bird ; but the late Mr. Verreaux 
pointed out to me that it was an Eastern form of our Redstart which 

u2 



293 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



had been described by Hemprich and Ehrenberg as long ago as 1832. 
My friend Mr. Danford afterwards procured a large series ; and every one 
admits it now as a good species. In this series^ however, the white on the 
wing varies to such an extent that it seems probable that in Asia Minor 
the two species interbreed. 

Still further to the east, in the Himalayan range, another very nearly 
allied species (Ruticilla hodgsoni) is found, in which the white patch on the 
secondaries is slightly more developed ; but it has the wing more rounded. 
Further investigation may possibly prove that Ehrenberg^s Redstart is 
an intermediate form between this species and the Common Redstart. 




BL/VCK REDSTART. ■ 293 



RUTICILLA TITHYS. 
BLACK REDSTART. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula phoenicurus, Sriss. Orn. iii. p. 409 (1760). 

Motacilla phcenicurus 13. tityg, Linn. Syst. Xat. i. p. 3-j-j (1706). 

^j\y\a.t\thys, Scop. Anti. i. p. 157(176IJ)); et auctorum plurimorum— Sco^Wz, 

Bechstein, Teniminck, (Xewlun), (Dres.ser), {Luche), {Gray), {Hartiny), 

(Shelley), &c. 
Motacilla atrata, Gniel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 08^ (1788, c.v Lath.). 
Motacilla erythrourus, Rqfin. Canift. p. 6 (1810). 
Saxicola tithys (Scop.), Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. i. p. 186 (1816). 
Ruticilla titys (Scop.), Brehm, Vog. Bcutsihl. p. .805 (1831). 
Phoenicura tithys (Scop.), Gould, B. Eur. ii. pi. 96 (1837). 
Lusciola thitys (Scop.), K<ys. u. Bias. IVirb. Mir. pp. lix, 191 (1840). 
Ruticilla cairii, Gerhe, Diet. Univ. (£Hist. Xat. xi. p. 2-'J0 (1848). 
Erithacus tithys (Scop:), Deyl. Orn. Eur. i. p. 504 (1849). 
Erithacus cairii (Gerhe), Deyl. Orn. Ear. i. p. 507 (1849). 

The Black Redstart is a regular winter visitant to the whole of the 
south coast of England, and is not uncommon in Cornwall; but there is 
no positive evidence that it has ever bred in the British Islands. White 
eggs believed to be those of this species have been repeatedly produced 
from various British localities ; but in no case has the bird been obtained 
or satisfactorily identified. Sterland asserts that he saw the bird in 
Sherwood Forest ; but the position of the nest in a hedge almost amounts 
to proof that he was mistaken in his identification. 

The geographical distribution during the bi*eeding-season of the Black 
Redstart is a somewhat peculiar one. In the south it extends from 
Portugal through Algeria to Palestine. Northwards its range becomes 
more restricted, and apparently does not extend east of the valleys of the 
Dneister and the Vistula or north ofHolstein. In autumn sti'agglers have 
been known to occur in West Russia, Scandinavia, the north of England, 
Scotland, and Ireland, the Faroes (on the authority of Captain Feilden), 
and even, it is said, as far as Iceland. North of the Alps it is for the 
most part a migratory bird, though a few are known to frequent situa- 
tions where open water is to be found during the winter. South of the 
Alps it is found throughout the year, its numbers being increased during 
winter, its range at that season extending as far south as Nubia. In 
the Caucasus and in Persia it is replaced by R. ochrura (the R. erythro- 
procta of Gould), which differs in having the colour of the lower belly 



294 ' BRITISH BIRDS. 

bright chestnut instead of huffish brown. This species is intermediate 
in colour between R. tithys and R. rufiventris, which is found still further 
east. 

As the Black Redstart very rarely occurs in Norfolk, and has not been 
recorded from the Lincolnshire coast, it seems probable that the birds 
which visit our islands come from Holland, where it is exceedingly common, 
and follow the coast, choosing the shortest passage across the Channel. 

In Algeria the Black Redstart appears to be confined during the 
breeding-season to a few chosen localities in the Djebel Aures ; Dixon 
met with it in some of the rocky gorges there. He writes : — " It was to be 
seen in the rapidly drying up beds of the mountain-streams, hopping about 
from rock to rock, and sometimes perching on the storm-riven decaying 
stumps of the old juniper trees. It was now and then seen in close company 
with the charming little Bushchat {Pratincola moussieri), and, like that bird, 
was somewhat shy, and, the moment it became aware that it Avas observed, 
glided rapidly amongst the bushes and rocks and was soon lost to view. 
I did not meet with this bird in the neighbourhood of the Arab houses or 
near the towns at the base of these mountains ; and it seems that what 
few birds do remain in Algeria to breed select some elevated locality. 
I saw them at an altitude of nearly 6000 feet, the snow lying thickly 
in places on the sides of Djebel Mahmel, less than a thousand feet above 
them." 

The Black Redstart resembles the Robin very closely in its habits and 
manner of life. It is an extremely familiar bird, and in most parts of 
North Germany is common in the gardens and farmyards, perching on 
the eaves of the houses, or on the apple-trees in the orchard, frequently 
catching its food in the air like a Flycatcher, and sometimes seeking it on 
the ground on the newly raked beds. It is very fond of perching on a 
rail or a stump, and builds its nest, without the slightest attempt at 
concealment, on the rafters in the farmbuildings, or on a ledge in a 
summer-house. Its song is very simple, consisting only of three or four 
melodious notes. Like the Robin it is constantly in the habit of drooping 
its head and slightly lifting its wing, whilst the tail is suddenly jerked up 
and half expanded. The Black Redstart is one of the first birds astir in 
the morning ; and occasionally on a hot summer^s night, when, from some 
cause or other, unable to sleep, I have heard its few rich notes through 
the open window between two and three o'clock in the morning. In 
spite of its predilection for gardens it is seldom seen in the woods. 
When it is not found near houses, like the House-Martin, it seeks 
the rocks. I found it breeding in the rocky valleys in the pine-region 
of the Parnassus, 4000 feet above the level of the sea; and in winter 
it is a very common bird on the rocky plateaux on the spurs of the 
Pyrenees, where it may be constantly seen both on the rocks and on the 



BLACK REDSTART. 295 

few stunted bushes which defy the blasts of the i\'esteru gales from the 
Bay of Biscay. 

The food of the Black Redstart is chiefly composed of insects, caterpillars, 
and occasionally small garden fruits. 

According toNaumann the Black Redstart arrives in South Germany early 
in March, and in North Germany during the latter half of the same month, 
the autumn migration taking place throughout the month of October. It 
breeds early in May. On the 5th of May last I saw two nests, each contain- 
ing eggs, in a summer-house in the garden of Dr. Blasius at Brunswick. In 
a shed in the farmyard of Oberamtman Nehrkorn, at Riddagshaiisen, two 
miles in the country, several nests were finished and ready for eggs ; and 
on the 14.th we took a nest with five eggs. On the 1 8th a fresh uest had 
been made in the same place, and one egg had been laid. The nest of 
the Black Redstart resembles that of the Robin, being a very large loose 
structvire outside, and inside extremely round and neat. This uest 
measured 9 inches in diameter, and was 3 inches high, jprincipally com- 
posed of straw and stalks of plants, with a few twigs and a little moss, 
some roots, cobwebs, and the flowers of the reed, and a little dried grass. 
The nest-cavity was not in the centre, and was 21 inches in diameter and 
If inches deep, very carefully lined with horsehair, and with half a dozen 
featliers neatly interwoven. On the 6th of May 1873 I took a nest of this 
bird with four eggs in a recess on the moss-covered walls some yards within 
the entrance of the celebrated cave in the Parnassus. It was composed 
principally of green moss lined with goat's hair. Holes in walls and 
ruins are also favourite situations for the nest. Curious situations are 
sometimes chosen by this bird in which to build. At Bonn Dr. Sclater 
and I found one built on a shelf in a compartment of one of the large 
Rhine bathing-machines, after having watched the bird fly through the 
window. It is said seldom or never to build in hollow trees. Sachse 
says that two broods are always reared in a season. The alarm-note of 
the Black Redstart is very similar to that of the Robin, a loud rapid tek- 
tek-tek-tek. 

The usual number of eggs is five ; sometimes only four are laid; and six, 
and even seven have been recorded. The colour is usually pure white ; 
but sometiiues there is the faintest tinge of browu, and a clutch in my 
collection from jUteukircheu shows the faintest possible tinge of bluish 
green. Dresser describes a clutch, also from Altenkirchen, which were 
minutely spotted with brown at the large end. The eggs arc very finely 
grained, and the surface polished. In length they vary from "SS to '7 inch, 
and from '(J to '50 inch iu breadth. 

The adult male Black Redstart is a very handsome bird, the general 
colour being slate-grey, witli brown wings margined with white on the 
outside webs of tlie secondaries ; the two centre tail-feathers are also 



296 BRITISH BIRDS. 

brown ; but the rest of the tail-feathers^ as well as the rump and the 
upper and under tail-coverts, are bright chestnut. The feathers round 
the bill and the eye, the ear-coverts, the throat, breast, axillaries, and 
under wing-coverts are black ; belly and flanks bufSsh brown. Legs, 
claws, and bill black; irides brown. In the female the ujDper and under 
tail-coverts and the tail and the white edgings to the secondaries resemble 
those of the male, but are tinged with brown, the rest of the plumage being 
sooty brown. Young birds in first plumage have most of the feathers of the 
upper and underparts barred and tipped with black. Males of the year 
resemble adult females, in which plumage they have been found breeding, 
and have been described as a distinct species. It is probable that these 
birds moult into the adult plumage during their second autumn. 



SAXICOLA. 297 



Genus SAXICOLA. 

The genus Saxicola was established by Bechstein in 1802j in his ' Orni- 
thologisches Taschenbuch/ i. p. 216. He did not indicate any type; and 
his genus included the Whinchat and the Stonechat; but as these two species 
were removed in 1816 by Koch in his ' System der baierischen Zoologie/ 
p. 191, and placed in the genus Pratincola, S. mnanthe is left as the type of 
Bechstein's genus. The Chats may be distinguished by their black legs and 
by the colour of the rump, upper tail-coverts, and the base of the tail, which 
in typical species are white, whilst in the few aberrant species where these 
parts are Ruticilline in colour the proportion between the culmen and the 
tail serves to distinguish them : in the Redstarts the tail is more than 
four times the length of the culmen; in the Chats it is less. 

The genus contains about thirty species, and is principally confined to 
the ^Ethiopian Region and the southern portion of the Palsearctic Region. 
Six species are peculiar to South Africa ; five more to Nubia and Abyssinia. 
Six species inhabit North Africa, of which the range of three extends to 
Palestine and the remaining two to Turkestan. Eight species are European, 
of which the range of three extends to Persia, one to Turkestan, two to 
China, and one to the coasts of Greenland and North America. Four 
species breed only in Persia, and four only iu Turkestan. In the British 
Islands one species is a common summer visitor, whilst two others are 
very rare stragglers. 

The Chats or AYheatears are birds allied to the Bush-Chats on the one 
hand and the Redstarts on the other. Unlike these birds, however, they 
frequent open ground, rocky mountain-sides, cultivated plains, and dry 
and arid deserts. They perch freely on rocks and stones, but are rarely 
seen in the branches of trees. Their powers of song are somewhat limited. 
Their food consists largely of worms and insects, the latter sometimes 
being obtained whilst the bird is hovering in the air. They build loose- 
made nests of dry grass, hair, feathers, &c., placed in holes either in the 
ground or in walls or rocks ; and their eggs, from five to six in number, 
are blue, sparingly marked with pale reddish brown. 



398 BRITISH BIRDS. 

SAXICOLA CENANTHE. 
THE WHEATEAR. 

(Plate 9.) 

ficedula vitiflora, Sriss. Orn. iii. p. 449 (1760). 

Ficedula vitiflora grisea, Briss. Orn, iii. p. 45:3 ( 1760). 

Ficedula -viliflora cinei'ea, Briss. Orn. iii. p. 454 (1700). 

Motaoilla ceuauthe, Linn. Syst. Kat. i. p. 102 (1766); et auctorum plurimorum — 

(BecJisfein), (^Wolf), (Gould), (Grai/), (Degland), (Bonaparte), (Cabanis), (Sun- 

devall), (Neu'to7i), (Dresser), &c. 
Sylvia cenanthe (Linn.), Lath. Gen. Syn. Hupp], i. p. 288 (1787). 
Motacilla leucorhoa, Gnul. Syst. Nat. i. p. 966 (1788, e.v Buff.). 
Sylvia leucorhoa (Gmel), Lath. Ind. Orn. p. 531 (1790). 
Saxicola cenantlie (Linn.), Bechst. Orn. Taschenb. i. p. 217 (1802). 
Vitiflora osnanthe (Linn.), Leach, Syst. Cat. Mamm. 8fc. Brit. Mus. p. 21 (1816). 
CBuanthe vitiflora (Briss.), Forster, Syn. Cat. Brit. B. p. 54 (1817). 
CEnanthe cinerea (Briss.), Vieill. N. Diet. d'Hisf. Nat. xxi. p. 418 (1818). 
Motacilla vitiflora (Briss.), Pallas, Zoogr. Bosso-Asiat. i. p. 472 (1826). 
Saxicola rostrata, Hempr. et Ehr. Symb. Phys. Ares, fol. aa (1833). 
Saxicola libanotica, Hempr. et Ehr. Symb. Phys. Ares, fol. bb (1833). 
Saxicola oenanthoides, Tig. Zoul. ' Blossom,' p. 19 (1839). 
Saxicola leucorlioa (Gmel.), Hartl. Orn. W.-Afr.-p. 64 (1857). 

This interesting and lively little bird is one of the first to arrive in 
Britain in early spring, his presence being often noted before the last snow 
has disappeared. A lively little creature, of conspicuous plumage, and 
haunting the open ground, the Wheatear is rarely overlooked, and is 
often the only representative of bird-life in districts both wild and 
desolate. Although it is pretty generally diflfused over the British Islands 
during the summer, it is certainly a local bird, and its breeding-grounds 
are almost invariably confined to the wilder districts and tracts of open 
country. It is much rarer in the south, and parts of the west of England, 
becoming much more frequent as we go north ; whilst in Scotland, even 
in the outlying Hebrides, the Orkneys, and the Shetlands, the Wheat- 
ear is one of the commonest of birds in all the wilder districts. The same 
remarks will apply to the bird's distribution in Ireland, it being a regular 
summer visitant, and found commonly in all suitable localities. Outside 
tlie British Islands the Wheatcar's range is exceeded by few other British 
Passerine birds. It breeds throughout Central and Northern Europe, going 
as far north as laud is found, and in Southern Europe where the mountains 
are high enough to allow of tlie growth of the pine and the birch. Westwards 
its breeding-range extends over Iceland as far as (xreenland and Labrador, 
and eastwards throughovit Northern Siberia, the mountains of Persia and 
Syria, and beyond Behring's Straits into Alaska. In winter it is found m 



THE WHEATEAR. 299 

North and "West Africa ; and on the east coast of that continent it has been 
obtained sonth of the equator. The Asiatic birds winter in Mongolia, North 
India, and Persia ; and on the American continent it has been found as far 
south as the Bermudas at that season. 

The breeding-grounds and summer haunts of the AA'heatear embrace 
some of the wildest and most romantic portions of our native scenery. 
On the breezy wastes near the ocean — the low-lying sandy coast or the 
rough shingly beach and rugged limestone cliffs, — or the solitudes of 
the upland moors and mountains, where the rocks, the heather, and the 
lochs are the salient features of the landscape, the Wheatear equally 
abounds. He is also seen on the summer fallows, and haunts old and 
disused stone- quarries and sand-pits. Favourite situations for the bird 
are high up the mountain-sides where the peat is cut, the birds frequenting 
the clearings and incessantly flitting about the peat-st;Lcks and perching 
on the turf fences or the cots of the peasants, to whom it is known as the 
" Stone clatter," or, in Gaelic, the " Clacharan." The A\'heatear may also 
often be seen on the broad tablelands, about old cairns and sheep-folds, 
and on the road-sides. Even the bare and uninhabited rocky islets of the 
west of Scotland are usually tenanted by a pair or so of birds, the chief 
sign of bird-life upon them. The Wheatear is rarely seen in the well- 
wooded and cultivated districts, except one or two straggling birds, and 
then usually during the autumnal season of migration. 

The first Wheatears are seen in the south of England at the latter end 
of March ; and by the first week in April the remotest districts of the 
Orkneys and Hebrides are tenanted by them. The annual migrations of 
the Wheatear are a prominent feature in its history. But these movements 
can seldom be studied except on the coast ; for by the time the birds have 
reached their more inland haunts, they have dispersed themselves. In the 
same manner the autumnal movements are made, and the vast !j;atherings 
of this bird are only seen on the sea-shore, where it appears that thev 
finally congregate ere taking their departui'e for their winter-quarters. 
Like most birds, the Wheatear performs its migrations in the night, 
and often arrives on our coasts long before daybreak. From early 
August until the middle of Septembei', Wheatears are seen in vast 
numbers on the Downs of Sussex, for the greater part young l)irds reared 
in the north and now^ passing southwards on their autumnal journev. 
Being at this season excessively fat and rich in flavour, they are subject 
to an incessant persecution. The birds are snared iu great quantities 
by the shepherds whose flocks arc pastured on the open downs. But 
the Wheatear does not now occur so plentifully as formerly. The decrease 
in their numbers is probably less owing to this incessant persecution than 
to the destruction of their favourite breeding-grounds, which are yearly, 
to such a large extent, placed under cultivation. 



300 BRITISH BIRDS. 

In nine cases out of ten the observer will first make acquaintance with 
the Wheatear when the bird is perched on some wall, rockj or other 
little eminence. There is no mistaking him — his grey, black, and white 
plumage, and his neat slender form and monotonous note, making doubt 
impossible, as he sits eying you suspiciously and incessantly fanning with 
his tail. His mate also in her more sombre garb is not far away, and sits 
watching your actions. Should you approach them too closely, they fly a 
little distance before you and again alight on a rock or piece of turf, 
retreating as you advance, or making a long detour to their old perching- 
place, which is usually close to the nest. Its flight is usually a low one 
and taken by short starts ; and the moment it alights its tail is jerked 
several times after the manner of the Wagtails. Although a wary bird, 
still it is by no means a shy one, and often allows a close approach, the 
more especially should you happen to be near its nest. The Wheatear 
has a peculiar habit of perching on old walls : it will flit before you inces- 
santly, dipping behind the wall on the opposite side and again appearing 
a little distance away, to repeat the manoeuvres as you again approach it. 
To a certain extent the Wheatear is partial to moist situations, and may 
often be seen standing or wading in the little pools. Although the bird 
does not, as a rule, perch amongst the branches or twigs of shrubs and 
trees, it may frequently be seen on the summit of some tall tuft of heather 
delicately poised, and seemingly balancing itself by its incessant and rapid 
beats of the tail, giving it a very pretty appearance. 

The food of the Wheatear is composed of insects, grubs, worms, beetles, 
and small snails. It may often be seen hopping about with great celerity 
on the little open patches of turf or marshy places in search of this 
food, and it sometimes pursues insects in the air like the Flycatcher. 
Choosing a favourite perching-place — some wall or turf fence, block of 
peat or rock — it will sit quietly like the Flycatcher, occasionally uttering 
its sharp call-note and incessantly fanning with its tail. An insect flies past, 
and the bird hurriedly quits its perch and secures it, and again returns to 
its old station, having displayed the striking colours of its plumage and its 
airy butterfly-like flight to perfection. The Wheatear may also often be 
seen exploring turf fences and old walls — fluttering before them, clinging 
to them, and taking the various larvte that find concealment among the 
crevices. Again, the droppings of the cattle and sheep on the moors and 
upland pastures are explored for little beetles and grubs; and in the 
late summer, when the moorland fruits are ripe, the birds subsist partly on 
them — a habit common to all, or nearly all, insectivorous birds in the fruit- 
season. 

The love-notes of the Wheatear form a short but pleasing song ; and the 
more particularly are we apt to view his performance with favour, because it 
generally greets the ear in wild and lonely places. It is uttered shortly 



THE WIlEAl^EAR. 301 

after the bird's arrival here^ either when the little songster is perched on a 
stone or a fence^ or when fluttering in the air. Sometimes he begins his 
warbling notes on his perch, accompanying them with graceful motions 
of the wings, and finally launching into the air to complete his song, 
the aerial flutterings seeming to give his performance an additional 
vigour. Dixon has seen " two Wheatears in the air together, buffeting 
each other, and singing lustily all the time Mith all the sweetness that 
love-rivalry inspires." Its song appears to be suspended early in the 
summer, but is not unfrequently resumed in autumn. Their call-notes 
bear some resemblance to the syllables chick-chack-chack, and have a 
singularly piercing sound, almost like the noise produced by striking two 
small pebbles togethei', which circumstance, and the bird's love for 
stony places, have gained for them their Gaelic name, signifying the 
" little mason.'' 

As the male birds precede the females a few days, and when paired do 
not commence nest-building at once, it is usually the middle of April, 
sometimes later, ere the nest is in course of construction. The nest of the 
AVheatear, from the pecuUar nature of the place chosen for its site, is 
extremely difficult to find. Par under a piece of rock, or in a crevice 
of a huge boulder, not unfrequently in the holes of walls, or under a 
convenient earth clod on the fallow are the usual situations chosen. It 
will, when nesting on the sandy downs, take possession of a deserted 
rabbit-burrow, or other suitable hole in the sandy soil, where it safely 
rears its young, but never, so far as is known, excavates a hole for 
itself. Two more favourite nesting-sites may be noticed. One of them is 
amongst the stones of cairns, or even the heaps of stones Ij'ing on a pebbly 
shore, just above high-water mark, and on the same portion of the beach 
on which the Oyster-catcher rears its young. The other situation is rather 
a novel one. On the desolate moors, when the peat is cut for firing-pur- 
poses, the Wheatear, as previously noted, is a common bird. The peat- 
'blocks when dry are piled up in stacks to be used as occasion demands ; 
and in amongst the crevices of these peat-stacks the bird finds a favourite 
nesting-place. The nest is placed at various distances from the opening 
that admits the parent birds; and sometimes entrance to the nest is made 
by several ways. Sometimes it is close to the opening of the hole; at 
others, especially should it be in a stone heap or amongst rocks, it may be 
several feet from the place at which the birds enter. It is a simple little 
structure, loosely put together, and made of dry grass, occasionally a few 
rootlets and moss, and lined with a little hair or feathers, sometimes both, 
according to the locality in which the nest is made. Thus, v, hen the nest is 
near the shore or close to the ocean itself, a few stray Gull-feathers will often 
be found ; and should the birds be nesting near rabbit-warrens, a little fur of 
that animal will usually be mixed with the other materials; ^hile, yet 



302 BRITISH BIRDS. 

agaiuj on the upland sheep-pastures, wool very frequently forms the lining 
of the nestj the bird utilizing those materials which its haunts supply. 
Dui'ing the whole nesting-season, from the time the first bit of nest-mate- 
rial is laid, the old birds are excessively wary, and rarely betray the exact 
site of their nest. Although the birds may fi'equent its locality, be inces- 
santly seen on one old stone-heap or peat-stack, telling you plainly by 
their actions that their treasure is there, it is only the most careful 
watching and patience combined that will cause the birds to reveal 
their nesting-hole; and to search for the nest by turning over the stones 
or peat is a task far more likely to lead to failure than success. 

The eggs of the Wheatear are from four to seven in number ; but six seems 
the average clutch. They are pale greenish blue, elongated in form, and 
usually spotless. Occasionally, however, they are found with markings 
upon them, usually confined to a few faint purplish specks on the larger 
end, sometimes so indistinct and fine as to be scarcely perceptible, unless 
examined closely. The eggs vary in length from '95 to "79 inch, and 
in breadth from '65 to "6 inch. 

The young birds are tended by their parents for some considerable time 
after leaving the nest ; and when an intruder happens to disturb a family- 
party, their actions are full of interest. The young birds, not so strong 
on the wing as their parents, and more confiding, alight close to the 
observer; and the old birds fly at a considerable height in the air in 
circles round his head, all the time uttering a short plaintive note. 
Sometimes, when suddenly alarmed, a brood of young Wheatears will 
scatter and hide themselves, taking refuge under the herbage or in holes 
of walls and rocks ; but this usually happens when they are not sufii- 
ciently matured to trust to their wings to convey them out of danger. 

Although the Wheatear's colours are somewhat chaste, still their bold 
contrast, and the manner in which they are distributed, make the bird a 
very pretty one. In summer the male bird's upper plumage is slaty grey, 
with white rump and black and white tail ; from the bill to the eye and 
over the entire ear-coverts is a black band, surmounted by an eye-stripe 
of white ; the wings are black and dark brown ; and the whole under 
surface of the body is buff, deepest on the throat and breast ; legs, bill, 
and feet black ; irides dark brown. The female bird is sandy brown, darkest 
above; and the wings and tail are similar to those of the male. Young 
birds are like the female, but are spotted both above and below. After the 
moult in autumn the male and female are almost alike ; for the pale 
buff margins to the feathers of the former hide the slate-grey portions of 
the feather, and the uuderparts are darker. As the winter passes on 
these buif margins apparently die and drop off, whilst the rest of the feather 
seems to acquire new life and an additional intensity of colour, so that 
without a second moult they appear in early spring in full nuptial dress. 



THE WHEATEAR. 



303 



Tlie fact that there are two races of Wheatears has frequently been 
noticed. Some weeks after the arrival of the typical birds a larger and 
buffer race is reported to arrive on our shores^, and to pass northwards on 
migration. Some ornithologists think tliat the later arrivals are the young 
of the previous year^ which retain more of their autumn plumage in the 
spring than older birds do ; whilst it has been suggested that they are the 
Wheatears which breed in Greeulandj passing through on migration via 
the Shetland Islands and Iceland, and which are somev^hat larger and 
buffer than our birds, and almost constitute a distinct local race. 

The Wheatear has no very near ally ; and the male is not likely to be 
confused with any other species of Chat. The female may be distinguished 
from )S. isabellhia and the female of S. deserti by having less black on the 
tail. The black on the terminal portion of the tail-feathers (except the 
two centre ones) occupies less than one third of the length of the feather 
in .S'. cenanthe, whilst in the other two species it occupies more than one 
third. 




304 BRITISH BIRDS. 

SAXICOLA DESERTI. 
DESERT- WHEATEAR. 

(Plate 9.) 

Saxicola stapazina (Linn.), ajmd Lichf. Eoersm. Reis. Buchara, p. 128 (1823). 
Saxicola deserti, Teinm. PI. Col. pi. 3.j0. fig. 2 (182.5) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

Oray, Bonaparte^ Cabanis, Ilniglia, Jerdon, Dresser, &c. 
Saxicola isabellina, Biipp. apud Temm. PI. Col. pi. 472. fig. 1 (1829). 
Saxicola pallida, Biipp. Neite Wirb. T'oV/. p. 80 (ISS-")). 
Sa.ricola atrogularis, Blyth, Jnurn. As. Soc. Beng. xvi. p. 131 (1847). 
Saxicola salina, JEversm. Butt. Soc. Mosc. xxiii. pt. 2, p. 567, pi. viii. fig. 2 (1850). 
Saxicola gutturalis, Licht. Komencl. Av. p. 35 (1854). 
Saxicola homocliroa, Tristram, Ibis, 1850, p. 59. 
Saxicola albomargiuata, Salvad. Atti Soc. Tor. p. 507 (1870). 

The claim of the Desert-Chat to a place in the British fauna rests upon 
the capture of a single specimen. This hird was ohtained on the 26th of 
November 1880, near Stirling ; and its occurrence was recorded by Mr. J. 
Dalgleish in the ' Transactions of the Royal Physical Society ' for the 
following year. It was killed by a Mr. Watt, gamekeeper to Lord Balfour, 
of Burleigh, whilst sitting on a stone in a piece of moorland at the side of 
Gartmorn Dam, on the property of the Earl of Zetland, near Alloa. It even- 
tually came into the possession of Mr. J. Taylor of Alloa, who, struckby its 
unusually late appearance and different markings from those of the Common 
Wheatear, sent it to Mr. Dagleish. This gentleman kindly forwarded it 
for exhibition at the first April meeting of the Zoological Society last year, 
when I had an opportunity of examining it. It is a male in autumn 
plumage. Although ten days elapsed ere it was preserved, it has been 
mounted vei'y successfully. The contents of the stomach consisted of 
small flies. To the European fauna the claim of the Desert-Chat is equally 
slight. It rests upon two specimens obtained on the ornithologically 
famous little island of Heligoland, which are now in the possession of Jlr. 
Gaetke. One of these birds is a male, with black throat, in autumn plumage, 
captured on the 26th of October 1856 ; the other a female, without the 
black throat, also in autumn plumage, taken on the 4th of October in the 
following year. The true home of this interesting little bird is, as its name 
implies, dry and sandy regions. Although thus comparatively an unknown 
bird north of the IMediterranean, it has nevertheless a very wide and 
extensive range. It is a resident wherever the country is suitable to its 
habits, from the trackless wastes of the Algerian Sahara east« ards to the 
plains of India. It is found in Egypt, Nubia, Palestine, Arabia, and the 
highlands of Southern Persia, occasionally wandering into Abysinnia 
during the winter. Still further to the north and east it breeds on the 
plateaux of Turkestan, at varying elevations from 1000 to 12,300 feet 



DESERT-WHEATEAR. 305 

above the level of the sea. The winter-quarters of these birds are in 
Baluchistan, Scinde, and the North-west Provinces of India. 

The Desert-Chat is an inhabitant of those arid regions that appear, at 
first sight, to be utterly incapable of supporting life of any description — ■ 
dreary trackless wastes of sand and rocks, devoid of trees and shrubs, whose 
sameness is only relieved by the variety of their physical aspect. But, " with 
all its monotony," writes Canon Tristram (Ibis, 1859, p. 277), "the Desert 
has its varieties. One day you laboriously pick your steps among bare rocks, 
now sharp enough to wound the tough sole of your camel, now so slippery 
that the Arab can scarce make good his footing. Another day you plunge 
for miles knee-deep in loose suffocating sand-drifts, ever changing and 
threatening to bury you when you halt. Sometimes a hard pebbly surface 
permits a canter for hours over the level plain amidst dwarf, leafless, dust- 
coloured shrubs. Perhaps, on surmounting a ridge, the mirage of a vast 
lake glittering in the sunshine excites both the horse and his rider. On, 
on, gallops the wiry little steed over sand hard and crisp, and coated with 
a delicate crust of saltpetre, the deposit of the water, which at rare inter- 
vals has accumulated there, and formed the Chotts and Sebkhas of the 
Desert." Here, in such dreary solitudes, the little Desert-Chat may be 
seen hoppiing restlessly amongst the sand, or, when alarmed, flying off' to 
some considerable distance out of danger and away from intrusion. It is 
often seen sitting quietly on the edge of the di'ifts, and, as their crumbling 
sides give way, appears to search for its sustenance amongst the falling 
sand. 

The habits of this bird appear much to resemble those of the Common 
Wheatear. It possesses the same characteristic drooping flight, and, as 
in the well-known bird of our own islands, its tail is ever in jerking motion, 
accompanied by a slight shaking of the Avings. Sometimes it Mill perch 
on a little stunted bush in the desert, or on the banks of fields or mud- 
walls of gardens, and more frequently on a stone. Here it utters its short 
and pleasing song, which is said to be given forth both in the summer and 
winter months. In the rainy season they collect in small flocks, and 
wander about the country in company with allied species. 

The food of the Desert-^Vheatear is, like that of other Chats, composed 
of small insects, picked up amongst the sand or, at times, when flutter- 
ing in the air ; and Messrs. Dickson and Ross also record it as feeding on 
ants. 

Of the habits of the Desert-Chat during the breeding-season but little 
is known. Its nest is said, by ornithologists who have met with it, to 
resemble that of the Black-throated Chat, and is placed on the ground, 
sometimes in the shelter of a bush or in a fissure of the rocks, or not 
unfrequently in the walls of wells. Canon Tristram also reports it as 
building its nest in burrows. Eggs of this bird are very rare in coUcc- 

VOL. I. X 



306 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



tions. They closely resemble those of the Black-throated Chat, but are 
not so brightly coloured, and the pale liver-coloured spots are larger. 
They are light greenish blue in ground-colour, spotted with liver-brown 
of varying degrees of intensity, usually in a zone round the larger end. 
They measure -^l inch in length and -49 inch in breadth. 

The general colour of the upper plumage of a male in breeding-dress is 
buff, richest on the lower back and dullest on the head, and shading into 
pure white on the rump and upper tail-coverts. The cheeks, throat, and 
sides of the neck are black ; the eye- stripes, which meet over the bill and 
extend to the nape, are dull white. Wing and wing-coverts nearly black, 
with obscure pale tips ; tail black, white at the base. The uuderparts are 
white, washed with pale buff on the breast and flanks ; the under wing- 
coverts are white, and the axillaries are black, tipped with white. Bill, 
legs, feet, and claws black ; irides dark brown. The female, in breeding- 
plumage, has the upper parts duller and greyer than in the male ; the eye- 
stripes are scarcely visible, and the rump and upper tail-coverts are washed 
with rufous. On the underparts the black throat is absent, the whole 
under surface is bufi:, and the wings are brown. After the autumn moult, 
but little change is visible in either sex ; but males of the year have the 
black feathers of the throat and wings margined with buff. Young, in 
first plumage, are like the young of other Chats, and have pale centres to 
the feathers of both upper and under parts, except on the rump and belly. 
The females of the Desert-Chat very closely resemble an allied species, the 
Isabelline Chat (<S. isabeUina) , but they are always distinguishable by their 
small feet. 

It has frequently been observed by ornithologists that the proportion of 
birds of this species obtained in the female plumage is very small compared 
with those obtained in the male plumage. Mr. Gurney estimates the pro- 
portion in Algeria to be about one of the former to eight of the latter. It 
is therefore very possible that the female birds assume the plumage of the 
male, but gain it later in life, as is the case with many other birds. 
Careful sexing of specimens by collectors would, however, place the matter 
beyond all doubt. 



THE BLACK-THROATED CHAT. 307 

SAXICOLA STAPAZINA {Vieillot, nee Dresser). 

THE BLACK-THROATED CHAT. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula Titiflora rufa (c? nee 2), Briss. Orn. iii. p. 459 (1760). 

Muscicapa melanoleuca, O'dld. Nov. Com. Pet)-, xix. p. 468, pi. xv, (1775, Western 
form). 

Motacilla stapazina {Linn.)* [^ nee 2 ), apud Gmel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 966 (1788) ; et 
auctorumplvLrimorum— (rcm»!meA.),(iW"«yec), ((?o!(/ff), {Keyserliny), (Biasius), 
(Nordmann), (Hiippell), {Begland), (Oerbe), {Bonaparte), {Cabanis), {Heiiglin), 
{Tristram), {Lindermeyer) , {Newton), {Filippi), {Doderlein), {Gray), {Fritsch), 
{Salvadori), {Oottld), {Jauhert), {Loche), {Irhy), &c., &c., &c., nee Dresser, nee 
Blanford. 

Sylvia stapazina {Ltnn.) (cj nee J), apud Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. 530 (1790). 

Vitiflora rufa (d' nee 2), Steph. Shato's Gen. Zool. x. p. 569 (1817). 

(Enantke stapazina {Linn.), apud Vieill. N. Diet. d'Hist. Nat. xxi. p. 425 (1818). 

Saxioola stapazina {Linn,), apud Temm. Man. d'Orn. i. p. 239 (1820). 

Vitiflora stapazina {Linn.), apud Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 552. 

Saxicola xanthomelsena, Hempr. et Ehr. Symb. Phys., Aves, fol. aa (1833, autumn 
plumage of Eastern form). 

Saxicola eurymelaena, Hempr. et Ehr. Symb. Phys., Aves, fol. bb (1833, summer 
plumage of Eastern form) . 

Saxicola albicilla, von Miill. Naumannia, 1851, p. 23 {Eastern form) . 

Saxicola rufa {Brehm), Blanf. §• Dresser, Proe. Zool. Soc. 1874, p. 221 ( Western form) , 

Saxicola melanoleuca {G'uld.), Blanf. ^ Dresser, Proe. Zool. Soc. 1874, p. 222 ( Western 
form). 

The Black-throated Chat is divided into two formSj which have been 
specifically separated by Brehm, Blanford, and Dresser. Although the 
difference between them is so slight, yet, as their geographical distribu- 
tion coincides with it, it is best, perhaps, to afford them subspecific rank, 
and regard them as imperfectly segregated subspecies or varieties. The 
one form, Saxicola stapazina, breeds in the south of France, Spaia, 
Western Algiers, and Morocco, and winters in Western Africa ; the other, 
Saxicola stapazina, var. melanoleuca, breeds in Greece, South Russia, Asia 
Minor, Palestine, and South Persia, passes through Egypt and Nubia on 
migration, and probably vpinters in Central Africa. 

One would naturally expect to find a bird breeding in Western Europe 
occasionally straggling to the British Islands ; but it was a specimen of 

* The Motacilla stapazina of Linnaeus is undoubtedly the Eared Ohat, S. aurita (without 
the black throat), though there cannot be any reasonable doubt that Linnteus considered 
the latter species the female of the bird which has generally been called S. stapazina, 
inasmuch as he refers to Brisson and Edwards, who both asserted this to be the case. 
According to the British- Association rules, Linnesus's name must stand for the Eared Chat, 
or lapse altogether for want of clear definition. 

x2 



308 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the Eastern race that paid our shores its hurried and fatal visit. It is 
worthy of remark that on Heligoland far more stragglers from South- 
eastern Europe than from South-western Europe occur. Its capture was 
first recorded in ' Science Gossip ' for October 1878, by Mr. R. Davenport, 
of Bury, Lancashire, who writes ; — " It is a pleasing duty to me to record 
the taking of a very beautiful specimen of what I consider an exceedingly 
rare bird in our neighbourhood {Saxicola stapazina). The specimen was 
shot by a friend of mine, about the middle of May this year, on the margin 
of the Bury and Badcliffe Reservoir; and though much mangled with 
number-6 shot, it has been very well mounted indeed by my friend 
Johnson, of Prestwick. Considering the condition it was in from being 
killed with such large shot, I really doubted at one time whether it could 
be mounted j however, it has been ; and a valuable addition to our list of 
birds it is." I had an opportunity of examining this specimen when it 
was exhibited at the second November meeting of the Zoological Society 
in 1878. It appeared to be an adult in full plumage. At the following 
meeting of the Society (P.Z. S. 1878, p. 977), Mr. Sclater read a letter 
with enclosures from Mr. R. Davenport, of Bury, fully confirming the 
capture of this interesting bird. It was shot by Mr. David Page, of Bury, 
on or about the 8th of May, 1875, whilst sitting on the ridge of the out- 
buildings belonging to the Bury Angling Association near the reservoir. 
It was taken in the fiesh to Mr. Wright Johnson, of Prestwick, to be 
mounted; and by him the sex was detei'mined, by dissection, to be a 
male. 

The Black-throated Chat and its ally, the Black-eared Chat, are two of 
the commonest birds in Greece and Asia Minor ; and I am not exaggerating 
when I say that I have thrown away hundreds of their eggs which the 
Greek peasant boys have brought me, because it was absolutely impossible 
to identify the species unless they caught the bird on the nest, which they 
were very clever in doing. They are both summer birds of passage to 
Asia Minor, arriving there about the third week in March. They evidently 
lose no time in pairing, and set about building their nests soon after their 
arrival, for when I crossed the mountains behind Smyrna on the 2nd of 
June they appeared all to have young. They were especially abundant on 
the edge of the cultivated ground between the rocky cliflFs and the vine- 
yards. The weather was so hot that on our arrival at Nymphi we did not 
do much climbing, but preferred to skirt the base of the mountains just 
high enough to catch a little of the sea-breeze, which fortunately sets in 
towards the land soon after noon and slightly alleviates the heat of the 
broiling sun overhead. This sort of borderland is half rock and half 
jungle, with here and there an old olive tree or a small cluster of pines. 
On the bushes and the luxuriant, though somewhat parched, herbs that 
towered up above the vegetation at their feet, the Black-throated Chat was 



THE BLACK-THROATED CHAT. 309 

a very conspicuous object. The contrast of the blackj white, and buflf was 
very handsome as the bird sat perched on the topmost twig of a bush, 
jerking its tail up and down as it loudly protested against our intrusion on 
its home. Most of the birds we saw had insects in their mouths, and 
were evidently anxious to feed their young, but were afraid to do so until 
we had retired. In the first week in May the following year I was in the 
Parnassus and found the Black-throated Chat breeding abundantly in the 
rocky slopes between the pine-region and the region of the olive and vine, 
about three thousand feet above the level of the sea. In this district of grass 
and rocks every hundred yards brought us to a pair of either the Black- 
throated or Black-eared Chats, and I obtained several nests on which the 
females were caught. The nests were usually in the grass in some rock- 
sheltered crevice, and were loosely made outside of moss and grass, but rather 
neatly lined with roots and goat's hair. The number of eggs was usually 
five, but sometimes only four. In their habits these Chats scarcely differ 
from the Wheatear; they are usually detected on a rock, and are shy 
enough, except when they have young. Their song is simple but pleasing, 
and resembles that of our Wheatear. 

The eggs of the Black -throated Chat vary in ground-colour from pale to 
dark bluish green, spotted with reddish brown of different shades. In 
some specimens the spots are dark (almost liver-) brown and sharply defined ; 
in others they are pale, many of them confluent. As a rule, the markings 
are confined to the large cud of the egg, where they usually form a zone ; 
but sometimes they are irregularly dispersed over the entire surface. 
Some eggs are almost spotless, whilst others have an indistinct band of 
very pale spots at the large end. They measure from -8 to '7 inch in 
length and from -63 to "56 inch in breadth. 

In the male the crown, back, rump, upper tail-coverts, breast, and the 
rest of the underparts, except the throat, are white ; the throat and the sides 
of the head, extending slightly above the eye, the wings, and upper and 
under wing-coverts are jet-black; two central tail-feathers black, except at 
the base, which is white; outside tail-feathers white, broadly terminated 
with black, the black tips to the remainder being narrower and generally 
quite obsolete on several. Bill black ; irides brown ; legs, feet, and claws 
black. In the female the general colour of the upper parts is almost 
uniform brown, darker on the wings and darkest on the tail ; the rump 
and the white on the tail-feathers are the same as in the male ; the 
feathers of the throat are buff, showing half-concealed dark bases. Breast 
buff, shading into bufifish white on the rest of the underparts except the 
axillaries and under wing-coverts, which are dark brown. It is not known 
that any change in the colour of the plumage is produced by the autumn 
moult. Birds of the year have the whole of the white feathers (except 
those of the rump, upper tail-covcrts, and tail) suffused with buff, the 



310 BRITISH BIRDS. 

wing-coverts and innermost secondaries broadly edged with buff, the quills 
narrowly tipped with buff, and the tail-feathers narrowly tipped with 
white. Young in first plumage resemble the female of the year, but have 
obscure pale centres and dark terminal bars to the feathers of the throat, 
breast, crown, and back. 

The Western form of the Black-throated Chat differs in having the 
black on the throat not extending beyond the upper throat ; it is also 
more constantly suffused with buff on the back and breast. Intermediate 
forms also occur; and examples from Spain, in which the black on the 
throat is more extended than usual, are indistinguishable from examples 
from Asia Minor, in which the black on the throat is less extended than 
usual. There is no difference in size. 

A nearly allied, but distinct species, the Euphrates Pied Chat (S.finschii), 
has the upper breast as well as the throat black. This species breeds in 
the rocky hills of the Caucasus, Eastern Asia Minor, and Persia. It passes 
through Egypt on migration, and is found in Nubia in winter. 




PRATINCOLA. 311 



Genus PKATINCOLA. 

The Bushchats were included by Bechstein in his genus Saxicola, but 
were removed by Koch when he subdivided this genus and established the 
genus Pratincola for their reception, in 1816, in his ' System der baier- 
ischen Zoologie/ p. 190. Koch did not indicate any type ; but he placed 
the Whinchat first upon his list ; and this bird has, by common consent, 
been regarded as such. 

The Bushchats are a small group of birds allied in some respects to the 
Chats, and in others to the Flycatchers. The bill is shorter and broader 
than that of the Chats, but not so broad as that of the Flycatchers. The 
tarsus is comparatively short, and the plumage much more fluffy and loose. 
The rictal bristles are large and well developed. 

Sharpe, in his ' Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum ' (iv. 
p. 178), enumerates thirteen species which are distributed over the Palae- 
arctic, Ethiopian, and Oriental Regions, but absent from the Australian 
Region. Three species are found in Europe, and the occurrence of a 
fourth is somewhat doubtful. One is a resident and one a regular summer 
migrant to the British Islands. 

The Bushchats are more arboreal in their habits than the Chats, fre- 
quenting bushes, low trees, and tall herbage. Like the Flycatchers, they 
obtain much of their food on the wing. They feed principally on insects 
and worms. They are possessed of considerable powers of song. They 
build loosely made nests, open, and composed of grasses, hairs, feathers, 
moss, &c., placing them amongst tall herbage and under bushes. Their 
eggs, from four to six in number, vary from pale to dark blue, sparingly 
spotted with reddish brown. 



312 BBITISH BIRDS. 



PRATINCOLA RUBETRA. 
THE WHINCHAT. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula rubetra major sive rubicola, 7?;-/ss. Orn. iii. p. 432, pi. 24. fig. 1 (1760). 
Motacilla rubetra, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 332 (1760) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

Latham, {Temminck), (Naumann), {Gould), {Schkgel), [Ni-uiun), (Dresser), 

(LTenfflm), {S/iatye), &c. 
Sylvia zya, Scoj}. Attn. I. Hist. Kat. p. 158 (1760). 
Sylvia rubetra (Liim.), 'Scoj^. Ann. I. Hiit. Kat. p. 100 (1769). 
Motacilla feryida, Ginel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 068 (1788). 
Sylvia fervida (GmeL), Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. 52.5 (1790). 
Sa.'iicola rubetra {Linn), Bechst. Orn. Tasclienb. i. p. 219 (1802). 
Pratincola rubetra [Linn.), Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. p. 191 (1816). 
Curruca rubetra {Linn.), Leach, Syst. Cat. Mamm. ^-c. Brit. Mus. p. 24 (1816). 
OEuantbe rubetra (Linn.), Vieill. N. Diet. d'Hist. Nat. xxi. p, 427 (1818). 
ffinautbe feryida (Lath.), Vieill. N. Diet. cF Hist. Nat. xxi. p. 4.36 (1816). 
Fruticicola rubetra (Linn.), Macc/ill. Br. B. ii. p. 273 (1830). 
Rubetra major, Gray, List Gen. B. p. 22 (1840). 
Pratincola fervida (Gmel.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p, 179 (1846). 
Pratincola senegalensis (Briss.), LLartl. Orn. W.-Afr. p. 68 (1857). 

The Whinchat may be said to be pretty generally diiFused throughout 
the three kingdoms, and in certain localities is a common aud abundant 
species. It is rarer and more local in Ireland, and only breeds occasionally 
in the extreme south-west of England ; whilst in Scotland in many districts 
it is absent altogether, although it ranges up to the extreme north, and 
has occasionally been seen on the Orkney Isles. On the Hebrides it is a 
fairly common bii'd, and it has once been recorded from the Faroe Islands. 
The Whinchat breeds in all suitable localities throughout Central and 
North Europe, ranging from the Arctic circle as far south as the pine- 
regions extend. It passes through South Europe on migration, a few 
birds remaining to breed at elevations that place them in a similar climate 
to their more northern congeners. It winters in parts of South Europe 
and North Africa, ranging as far south on the latter continent as the 
Gambia and Fantee country in the west, and Nubia and Abyssinia in the 
east. The Whinchat is found in the Caucasus. The record of its occurrence 
in Persia by De Filippi seems doubtful ; and the eastern range of the species 
is most probably the Ural Mountains. 

The haunts of the Whinchat are the upland wastes quite as much as 
the lowland pastures. The bird is commonly seen in the large gorse- 
coverts, from which it receives its name of Whin- or Furze-Chat. Its 



THE WHINCIIAT. 313 

favourite haunts are in the pastures and the hay-meadows ; whilst far up 
the mountain-sides on the broad stretches of heather it is common in 
summer. The Whinchat is also abundant on the commons and rough 
open wastes clothed with stunted bushes, briars, and brambles. In the 
south of England it reaches its favourite haunts by the middle of April, 
the northern districts being tenanted by these birds a little later, some- 
times not until the beginning of ]May. In some few instances the 
Whinchat has been known to winter in England ; but the authentic 
occurrences of the bird at this season are so few that it must be considered 
a strictly migratory bird, leaving us for the south in the third week 
in September. It will most probably arrest your attention as it either 
sits on the very topmost spray of some bush or heath-tuft or clings firmly 
to a stout grass-stem or dock-plant, swaying gracefully up and down 
by the weight of the bird upon it. There it sits quietly, incessantly 
fanning its tail with graceful motion, and occasionally uttering its 
monotonous call-note of u-tac u-tac-tac-tac-tac, a note which has gained 
for the bird its local name of " Utick " in many country districts. As you 
approach the little creature seems to awaken to its danger, and flits rapidly 
off, in undulating fitful flight, to another stem of herbage or topmost twig, 
where it sits and watches you as before. Although the Whinchat so often 
chooses a perch near the ground, it by no means shuns the trees, and, 
especially towards the end of summer, it is seen with its young brood 
high up amongst the branches. The bird does not show that partiality for 
walls and rocks which is so marked a feature of the Redstart or Wheat- 
ear. In the pastoral districts the Whinchat, directly after its arrival, 
frequents the fallows which are being worked for the turnip-crops, and on 
these places is found almost continuously until the neighbouring pastures 
afSord it sufficient shelter. The Whinchats never roost in trees, but 
always on the ground. When they first arrive we may find them at night 
on the fallows, but for the remainder of the season grass-fields and turnip- 
lands are frequented. In the wilder parts of its haunts the Whinchat 
roosts amongst the heath and the tangled undergrowth of gorse-covert 
and brake. Another remarkable trait in the character of this bird is its 
activity in the dusk of the evening, a time probably when some insect 
that forms its favourite food is abundant ; and its well-known call-notes 
may be heard long after the birds themselves are concealed from view by 
the falling shadows of night. 

Like the Redstart and the Wheatear the Whinchat seeks much of its 
food in the air. It takes its stand on some favourite perch and watches 
the clouds of insects sailing dreamily around. Ever and anon it launches 
into the air to catch a fly or a gnat. The food of the Whinchat is 
almost exclusively confined to insects and small worms obtained amongst 



314 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the herbage on the ground. Beetles and the small flies so abundant 
amongst the grass form its favourite fare. It feeds largely on the 
wireworm ; and this explains the bird''s presence on the fallow land in the 
spring and on the turnip-fields when the young plants are in their first 
leaves, the only time at which they are exposed to the inroads of the 
dreaded " fly/' which also forms part of its sustenance. It is doubtful 
whether this species feeds on fruit or berries ; but it has been known to 
eat the growing corn. In the early autumn, when the young birds are 
with their parents, the pastures are frequented, and the droppings of the 
cattle searched for beetles and worms. 

Shortly after its arrival the Whinchat is in full song. Its melody is so 
unobtrusive, so low of tone, that it is very often overlooked. It is a song 
very similar to the Redstart^'s, and chiefly uttered when the bird is hovering 
in the air. It will, however, warble from a perch ; but this is, for the 
most part, after the pairing-season, and usually from some twig near the 
nest. The Whinchat is one of the first birds to lose his powers of song. 
He warbles incessantly throughout the month of May, not so frequently in 
June, and by the first days of July he is sougless, for the autumnal change 
of plumage is shortly to be made. The call-notes have ah-eady been 
mentioned; but, in addition to these, it utters a peculiarly low peep, 
which seems to be a note expressive of anxiety when its nest is 
menaced. 

By the middle of May the Whinchat is seen in pairs, and after a week 
or so their nest is completed. If on the moorland, the female bird finds a 
place to build her nest amongst the heather; if in the gorse-coverts, she 
will repair to the herbage in their midst, and make her home under some 
dense and impenetrable whiu-bush ; while if her haunt is the open fields, 
her home is built amongst the grass, sometimes in the centre of the fields, 
or at others close to the hedgerows. During the whole time the birds are 
engaged in building their nest they are the very essence of wariness. 
Notice, for instance, how the male bird, when bringing materials to the 
nest, will try to weary your patience by his deceptive motions. From 
spray to spray he hops, sometimes sitting motionless for a few moments, 
and then flying to some distant bush, all the time uttering his monotonous 
note, then back again to alight in the herbage, to reappear the next 
moment, however, with the materials still in his beak. Aware of your 
presence he will not visit the nest ; and if you wish to find it you must 
search the locality closely, and depend upon good fortune for success, for 
you may rest assured the bird will not betray its whereabouts. The nest 
of the Whinchat is usually made in a little cavity in the ground, and the 
thickest tufts of herbage are selected. Dry grass, moss, and a few straws 
form the outside of the nest ; internally it is composed of rootlets and 



THE WHINCHAT. 315 

horsehaii'j loosely put together and almost enshrouded in the surrounding 
herbage. The eggs are from four to six in number, greenish blue like the 
Hedge- Accentor^s, but different in form, being more pointed at both ends. 
The markings are somewhat faint, and usually consist of a zone of small 
light browu spots round the larger end, although in some specimens 
this zone is round the smaller end. They vary in length from '81 to '71 
inch, and in breadth from '6 to "55 inch. 

It has been stated that the Whinchat rears two broods in the season, 
but probably erroneously. Certain it is the Whinchat of the pastures 
only rears one brood in the year, for the grass is usually mown even before 
its young have reacted maturity, and consequently cover for a second 
nest is wanting. The decline of the male bird's song is another conclu- 
sive proof that the birds are single-brooded, for rarely do we hear him 
sing after the first week in July. 

Much anxiety is evinced by the Whinchat, especially by the female, 
when tbe nest is approached. They will fly round and round your head, 
or take short flights from one stem of herbage to another, all the time 
uttering their low peep, or their louder and better-known call-note. The 
nearer their nest be approached the more anxious the little creatures 
become, and flit about more rapidly, and sometimes flutter in the air 
above you or drop silently down into the herbage. The young birds keep 
with their parents throughout the autumn, and probably migrate in com- 
pany. At this season of the year, wben the grass is cut, the Whinchat 
is rather more shy and difficult of approach, and is seen on the swathes 
of newly cufc grass flying restlessly about, and seemingly highly concerned 
at the loss of the friendly shelter whicb the long grass afforded. 

The general colour of the Whinchat above is blackish brown, with sandy 
buff margins to the feathers, brightest on the rump. The wings and tail 
are dark brown, the former having the smaller coverts white and the latter 
having the basal half white, except the two centre feathers, which only 
have the extreme bases so. There is a buffy white streak over the eye, 
round the chin, and along the sides of the neck ; the ear-coverts are black, 
and the remainder of the under plumage rich rufous, palest on the centre 
of the belly and under tail-coverts, and deepest on the breast. Bill, legs, 
toes, and claws black ; irides brown. The female bird, although similar 
to the male, is much paler in colour, and the white parts that adorn the 
male are not so pure, and the black parts are brown. The nestling bird 
is similar to the female, only the spotting of the upper parts is more 
defined, and the breast is waved and barred with darker brown. After 
the autumn moult the male birds resemble the females ; the rufous tints 
are not so dark, and the broad pale margins to the feathers give the bird a 
much lighter appearance. 



316 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



As we previously stated^ the eastern range of the Whinchat is probably 
the Ural ; but the bird has an eastern representative in the Indian Whin- 
chat {Pratincola macrorhyncha). It differs from our bird by having a 
longer and somewhat more slender bill, is much larger, has very much 
more white on the tail, and the wing-formula is different. In the Com- 
mon Whinchat the second primary equals the fifth, but in the Indian 
bird it is equal to or longer than the seventh. 




THE STONECHAT. 317 



PRATINCOLA RUBICOLA. 
THE STONECHAT. 

(Plate 9.) 

Ficedula rubetra, Briss. Orn. iii. p. 428, pi. :io. fig, 1 (1760). 

Motacilla mbicola, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. Z'ii (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 

{Bechstein), (TemmincI;), {Xaumann), (Yarrell), (Schleffel), (Xeivton), {Dresser), 

{Bonaparte), &c. 
Sylvia muscipeta, Scop. Ann. I. IIisl. Nat. p. loO (1760). 
Sylvia rubicola (Linn.), Lath. Lid. Orn. ii. p. Wl-', (17!l0). 
Saxicola rubicola {Linn.), Bechst. Orn. Taschenh. i. p. 220 (181)2). 
Pratincola rubicola (Linn.), Koch, Syst. haier. Zoid. p. 192 (1816). 
Curruca rubicola {Linn.), Leach, Sy^t. Cat. Manim. Sfc. Brit. Mas. p. 24 (I8I61). 
Fruticicola rubicola {Linn.), Macgill. Brit. B. ii. p. 270 {ISS'.)). 

The Stonechat closely resembles the Whinchat in form and general 
habits, and slightly so in appearance, a circumstance which has caused 
much confusion to arise between the two sf)ecies ; for in almost all parts 
of England the Whinchat, by far the commonest species, popularly does 
duty for the Stonechat, and in many parts of Scotland the AYlieutear is 
universally known by that name. But, unlike the Whinchat, the present 
species is, in our islands at least, a constant resident, and may be seen in its 
favourite haunts at all times of tlie year. Its distribution in Great Britain 
is somewhat local, much more so than that of the Whinchat. The Stouo- 
cliat breeds in suitable localities in all the counties of Great Britain and 
Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Hebrides, and is occasionally found 
on the Orkney and Shetland Isles, but is not known to breed there. On 
the continent the Stonechat is not found north of the Baltic or east 
of the valley of the Volga; but it is a resident in North Africa, Palestine, 
and Asia Minor. 

The Stonechat has several very near allies, with some of which it ap- 
parently interbreeds, as intermediate forms occur. In North-east Russia 
and Siberia P. maura is found, with black axillaries and unspotted white 
rump. In North-east Africa P. hempridui occurs, with more white than 
black on the tail in thorough-bred birds. In South Africa our species is 
represented by P torquata, in which the rump is white and the chestnut 
on the breast more restricted. 

The haunts of this charming little bird are almost exclusively confined 
to the heaths and commons and rough open wastes, rock-strewn and 
ovei'grown with tangled briars and brambles and a few stunted bushes. A 



318 BRITISH BIRDS. 

likely place to look for the Stonechat is on the borders of the moors, 
where their-monotony is relieved by patches of broken ground, strewed with 
rocks and overgrown with bilberry, heath, bracken, and bramble, and 
studded pretty frequently with bushes, with here and there an occasional 
birch or mountain-ash tree. But the Stonechat is not exclusively con- 
fined to the wild barren wastes or to the " roughs " adjoining them, for 
sometimes it is seen, usually in the winter or spring, in the fields of the 
well- cultivated districts — birds most probably driven in by stress of 
weather, or on migration and merely resting on their jom'ney. 

Although the Stonechat is migratory on the continent, it is a resident 
bird in the British Islands. It is, however, possible that a few of the 
birds bred here leave us in the autumn and return in the following 
spring. In Ireland, although the bird is a resident, its numbers are said 
to decrease in the summer and again increase in the autumn. 

The Stonechat is usually seen in pairs, indeed it is not improbable that 
this bird is mated to its partner for life. In its general habits it is very 
similar to the Whinchat. It flits before the observer, perching on the 
topmost sprays of heath and bush, or makes long detours to its favourite 
haunt from which it was first disturbed. Like the Whinchat, its tail is 
almost incessantly in motion, and its call-note is uttered repeatedly. 
Always restless and noisy, this little creature is sure to press itself upon the 
attention, if it be present at all. Perhaps the situations which seem most 
in harmony with the Stonechat's rich and varied dress are the gorse- 
coverts in the early spring. The richly attired male bird hops amongst 
the dense branches of the gorse, or balances himself daintily on some spray 
of golden bloom, or flutters in the air in butterfly-like flight to poise 
lightly on some spray where his rich plumage contrasts with the golden 
tints in such abundance all around. If seriously alarmed, the little creature 
will seek safety amongst the densest portions of the surrounding vegetation. 
Rarely, indeed, does the Stonechat visit the ground except for the purpose 
of searching for food ; nor does it, as a rule, perch as much as the Wheat- 
ear on the turfs or stones. In the winter the Stonechat may still be seen 
in its summer haunts. Even though the moorlands are lyiug deep in snow 
it ■^'iill be there to flutter from bush to bush, or start from the places 
where the snow has been driven past and left ground which may be searched 
for a scanty sustenance. But if the weather still keeps severe, if the 
storm contiimes unabated for any length of time, the Stonechat often 
comes nearer to the houses, and seeks its food in company with the Robin, 
the Wren, the Sparrows, and other birds that depend so largely on our 
bounty in the cold and cheerless winter season. Dixon observes " that 
one pair of Stonechats keep most closely to a certain locality, from which 
they seldom stray far. Nor can they be driven away from the haunt of 
their choice. You may follow them, harass them incessantly, but they will 



THE STONECHAT. 319 

merely flit from bush to bush, elude you probably at last, but eventually 
again appear after some little time on their favourite perching-places. 
We have thus known portions of rough land, not an acre in extent, always 
tenanted by a pair of birds, and for years they have not been seen away 
from it. We would also here note that the name ' Stone ^-Chat is a 
misnomer as applied to this species. The Wheatear is the true Stone-Cha.t, 
the present bird and the Whinchat being far more aptly called 'Bush- 
Chats,' a name applied to them by the ever- discerning and talented 
Macgillivrav." 

The food of the Stonechat is very similar to that of the Whinchat ; but 
in the winter it eats seeds of various kinds, worms, and small grubs and 
larvae. Its summer fare is composed almost entirely of insects, and the 
small beetles and worms found in marshy places and amongst the droppings 
of cattle. Like the Whinchat, the present species secures much of its 
insect food whilst hovering in the air, catching flies on the wing just like 
the Flycatcher or Redstart. It is in these flights that the bird's varied 
plumage is seen to best advantage, especially if its quarry be pursued 
for any considerable distance, as is frequently the case. The Stonechat 
has been known to make flights after small brown moths, and occasionally 
to take the common white butterfly. In winter, should the frost be 
severe, the Stonechat is often seen in marshy places, or on the banks of 
the streams that wander through them, in search of whatever it can 
find edible at a time when food is so scarce. 

In spring, when all nature seems reviving under the cheerful beams of a 
brighter sun, the Stonechat's melody is amongst the first to inform us of 
the change of season. It is the first music heard on the upland wastes, 
except, indeed, that of the Skylark. Long before the Meadow-Pipits are 
in song, or the Buntings chant their monotonous music, the little Stonechat 
may be heard to pour forth his cheering notes. Nothing very remarkable, 
it is true — a short performance, low of strain, and little varied ; yet it 
forms a pleasant variety in itself, and a cheerful contrast to so much that 
is wild and lonely in the surrounding country. The little creature starts, 
may be, from a spray of broom, which rebounds and quivers as he leaves 
it, and, flattering in the air, he utters his music and retires to his perch 
again. His song is like his flight, short and irregular, and no sooner 
heard and began to be appreciated and listened to with pleasure than 
it ceases, only to be renewed when the little chorister bounds fluttering 
into the air again. Its call-notes are somewhat similar to those of the 
Whinchat, a sharply uttered u-tsik, tsik, tsik, or, more frequently, but 
one syllable alone, tsik, tsik, tsik, the tail usually being gracefully wafted 
to and fro as each note is uttered. 

The barren moors, the wild uplands and heaths where the furze bushes 
attain such luxuriance, and where the stunted juniper bushes, brambles. 



S.'.'O BRITISH BIRDS. 

and thorns are interspersed with heath, are the Stonechat's favourite 
nesting-places. Its breeding-season eommences in the third week of April, 
sometimes not until the beginning of May, according to the state of the 
season. The nest is invariably on the ground, and always cunningly 
concealed. Some recess under a gorse bush, perhaps in the very centre 
of the covert, or in the herbage growing at the foot of a solitary shrub 
on the open moor, is the site usually selected. The nest is composed 
of dry grass and moss, occasionally a few rootlets, and is lined with 
finer bents, hair, feathers, and sometimes a little wool. Although some- 
what loosely put together and exhibiting but little skill, the nest of this 
bird is a pretty one. 

The eggs of the Stonechat are from four to six in number, and vary 
considerably in the extent and intensity of their spotting. They are pale 
bluish green in ground-colour, clouded and spotted with reddish brown. 
In most eggs of this bird the spots are confined for the most part to 
a broad zone round the larger end, and in some specimens the end is 
covered completely with them. The pattern is very similar to that of the 
eggs of the Whinchat, only far more intense and more widely dispersed. 
Eggs of the Stonechat are sometimes found almost spotless, others are so 
richly marked as to resemble the eggs of the Spotted Flycatcher ; and it will 
also be noticed that clutches of eggs are seldom uniform in the intensity of 
their colouring, the last-laid eggs being usually paler. They vary in 
length from "75 to '65 inch, and in breadth from '59 to 'do inch. The 
Stonechat shows much anxiety for the safety of her eggs and young; and, 
once disturbed, she will tire any, except the most patient observer, by her 
protective wiles. She flits from bush to bush, occasionally alighting hi 
them, as though about to visit her nest, which, however, is most probably 
some distance away ; or she sits on some slender spray calling incessantly 
to her mate on a neighbouring bush. Of all the nests of the smaller birds 
that of the Stonechat is perhaps the most difficult to discover ; and the 
peculiar motions of the birds themselves make the search still more so. 
In some cases so closely does the female bird sit upon the nest that the 
bush which shields her home may be rudely shaken ere she will leave 
it ; and even when thus scared away she usually prefers to creep and glide 
through the surrounding cover than to take wing. As the Stonechat 
ceases to sing by the third week in June, it is very probable that but 
one brood is reared in the season. The young are tended after they leave 
the nest, as is the case with the AVhinchat; shy little creatures they 
are, and upon the least alarm retire immediately to the shelter of the 
nearest cover. 

The male bird has the throat, head, and back black, with the feathers of 
the upper parts slightly edged with brown ; rump white, each feather 
with a dark centre and rufous margin ; w ings and tail dark brown ; base of 



THE STONECHAT. 



321 



the innermost secondaries and the smaller coverts pure white, which forms 
a patch on the wing, most conspicuous when the bird is flying. Sides of 
the neck and breast Avhite, the remainder of the underparts rufous-brown, 
richest on the breast ; bill, legs, and feet black ; irides dark brown. The 
female is not nearly so richly clothed as her mate, being browner in every 
part, and with the white patches of her plumage suffused with a rufous 
shade. The nestling bird is spotted and streaked above and below, and 
has broad buff margins to the quills and tail-feathers, and no trace of the 
dark throat or white patches that distinguish the adult. In the autumn 
the male Stonechat's plumage is brownei", more like the female, from the 
effect of the broad buff margins to the feathers. The nuptial dress is 
gained, not by a moult, but by the casting of these buff margins in the 
spring. 




VO]-. I. 



322 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus MUSCICAPA. 

The genus Muscicapa was established by Linnteus in 1766^ in his 
' Systema Nature/ i. p. 324. As Linnaeus adopted this name from Brisson 
(Orn. ii. p. 357), and as the Muscicajm muscicapn of Brisson is the Spotted 
Flycatcherj that bird may fairly be considered the type. The Flycatchers 
may be distinguished by the shape of the bill, which is very broad at the 
base, slightly flattened, and by their numerous and conspicuous rictal 
bristles. The tarsus also is short, in the British species less than a quarter 
the length of the wing. 

Sharpe, in his ' Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum ' (iv. 
p. 149), includes twenty species in this genus. The Flycatchers inhabit 
the Palsearctic, Oriental, and ^Flthiopian Regions, extending southwards 
to the Moluccas, but not occurring in the Australian Region. Four species 
are found in Europe, of n'hich two breed in the British Islands and one is 
an accidental visitor. 

The Flycatchers are essentially arboreal birds, and frequent the out- 
skirts of woods, groves, and gardens. They seldom alight on the ground, 
but sit perched on the branches, from which they sally into the air to 
catch their prey, vihich is almost exclusively composed of insects. They 
will also occasionally eat fruit. They are birds possessing small powers of 
song. Their nests, which are loosely constructed of dry grasses, moss, 
wool, feathers, &c., are built in holes of trees and walls and in crevices 
of bark. Their eggs are from four to six in number, and vary from 
pale blue completely spotless, to pale bluish green mottled and spotted 
with reddish brown. 



SPOTTED FLYCATCHER. 323 



MUSCICAPA GRISOLA. 
SPOTTED FLYCATCHER. 

(Plate 9.) 

Muscicapa muscicapa, Briss. Oni. ii. p. 357, pi. xxxv. fig. 3 (17110), 

Muscicapa grisola, Linn. Si/st. Nat. i. p. .Sl'8 (1706) ; et auctorum plurimoruin — 

Temminck, Macffi/livra)/, Yarrell, Oray, OvuJcl, Simderall, Layard, Shelley, 

Nnvton, Sharpe, Dren.'ier, (Iluiiie), &c. 
Butalis grisola {Linn.), Ilaie, Lsis, lyi'G, p. 973. 
Butalis africana, Bonap. Compt. Rend, xxxviii. p. 652 (1854). 
Muscicapa africana (Bonap.), Gray, Iland-l. B. i. p. ''y2\ (18(JU). 

The Spotted Flycatcher is one of the latest of our summer migrants. A 
sombre^ unassuming little species it is, and solitary and sedentary in its 
habits ; yet from its partiality for gardens, and its great familiarity, it is 
one of the best known of our summer birds of passage. Throughout Great 
Britain it is a common bird from May until September, breeding in every 
county, but becoming rather less numerous in Scotland and in the 
Channel Islands. Northwards the Spotted Flycatcher becomes rarer 
and far more local in its distribution, and on the islands of Orkney 
and Shetland it is very rarely seen. Thompson describes it as a regular 
summer visitant to some parts of Ireland, and perhaps to suitable 
localities throughout the island; it is, however, but very locally distri- 
buted, even in those counties in which it is found, as Cork, Kilkennj', 
Tipperary, Clare, Dublin, and those in the north-east part of Ulster. 
Throughout the European continent and the islands of the jNIediterraneau 
it is a very common bird, and, for the most part, a regular summer 
miarant. It breeds in tolerable abundance in Scandinavia, as far north 
as Tromso. In Russia it ranges as far north as Archangel, and is a 
common species in Central Russia, but does not range far north in the 
Ural district. Harvie-Brown and I did not meet with it in the Petchora; 
but my collectors have sent me skins from Krasnoyarsk. Throughout the 
rest of Europe it is a common bird, although in some localities it is far 
more numerous than in others. It has not yet, however, been recorded 
from Greenland, Iceland, or the Faroes. It breeds in great numbers in 
Palestine and Turkey in Asia, and was met Avith by De Filippi and 
Blanford in Persia, the latter gentleman remarking its exceptional abun- 
dance in certain localities on the highlands of that country. It is also 
found in Arabia. It is recorded as breeding throughout Turkestan, and 
has at least occurred as far to the east as Lake Baikal. A few specimens 
occasionally wander into Western Continental India during the winter 

y3 



324 BRITISH BIRDS. 

season. In Africa the Spotted Flycatcher is found as far south as Cape 
colony, in some parts, both of the north and south of the continent, being 
said to be a resident or partially migratory species. It is apparently a 
rare bird in Egypt, but common in Algeria, where it occurs on passage, a 
few remaining to breed. We have no record of this species from any of 
the Atlantic islands off the coasts of this continent. In China southwards 
to the Philippines and the Moluccas the Spotted Flycatcher is represented 
by a nearly allied form, the Muscicapa griseisticta of Swinhoe, differing in 
being slightly smaller, in being browner above, more broadly streaked on 
the breast, and with a shorter tail. In Eastern Siberia it is represented 
by two other nearly allied species, M. latirostris and M. sibirica. In the 
valley of the Angora the range of the Spotted Flycatcher overlaps that 
of its eastern representatives. M. sibirica has much darker underparts; 
M. latirostris is without the spots on the breast ; and both are much smaller 
birds than M. grisola. Sharpe, in his ' Catalogue of the Birds in the 
British Museura,^ vol. iv., places these three species in three different 
genera, the characters of which chiefly depend on the form of the bill. 
This group of birds appears to me to be one in which the general style of 
coloration is of much greater generic value than slight differences in the 
shape of the bill. 

The Spotted Flycatcher rarely arrives in its summer haunts in Great 
Britain before the first or second week in May, generally not until the oak 
trees are partially in leaf, and the season affords abundance of insect food. 
It frequents the well-cultivated districts, and delights to haunt the borders 
of woods and well-timbered parks. It is also found commonly in gardens 
and pleasure-grounds and in orchards, often on the wooded banks of 
streams and ponds, and, more rarely, attaching itself to some small clump 
of trees in the centre of pastures, on whose long, drooping boughs it sits 
and ever and anon sallies forth to catch the passing insects. Gifted with 
no great powers of song, and exceedingly sober and chaste of dress, this 
little bird is very often passed unnoticed, unless its oft-repeated call-notes 
arrest the attention of the passer-by. Here, in his favourite haunts, 
you will most frequently observe him sitting upright and motionless on 
some favourite perch, either on a stake or iron fence, haystack, or long 
bare branch, watching intently the clouds of insects playing round him. 
As the flies come near he sallies out repeatedly and, fluttering in the air, 
secures them with a sharp snap of his bill, returning quickly and silently 
to his perch again to sit motionless as before. If it be in autumn, 
his mate and brood will be near him — perhaps all sitting in a row on a 
convenient fence, the parent birds catching insects and feeding their 
young. Spotted Flycatchers are often seen hovering in airy flight over 
the meadow-grass, every now and then alighting to secure the small 
insects and beetles lurking on the stems of the herbage. They will some- 



SPOTTED FLYCATCHER. 325 

times pursue an unusually large insect for fifty yards or more; and then 
the Flycatcher's peculiar flight is seen to perfection. This bird also often 
visits manure-heaps, feeding on the small beetles; and it may be seen 
searching old walls for food, by fluttering in front of, and occasionally 
clinging to, them. 

The Spotted Flycatcher often seeks its meal in the dusk of the evening, 
pursuing various small moths and beetles ; and it is one of the earliest 
birds astir in the light summer mornings, its monotonous call-notes 
being heard just as early as the songs of the Thrush and Blackbird. 
The food of this species is composed largely of insects, especially 
of flies and gnats ; spiders and beetles are also eaten, as well as various 
kinds of butterflies and moths ; and, on the authority of Collett, it is said 
to feed on berries in the autumn months, and is then caught in snares 
laid for Thrushes, and baited with the berries of the mountain-ash. 

It is very widely and popularly believed that the Spotted Flycatcher is 
not gifted with any powers of song ; but this is an error. His song is 
heard but rarely, it is true, and is uttered in such a low tone as to be 
scarcely heard a few yards away. It is given forth both when the bird is 
sitting at rest and when fluttering in the air after insects. It consists of 
a few rambling notes, not unlike part of the Whinchat's song. The 
monotonous call-note may perhaps be best expressed by the letters ~t, zt ; 
it is uttered in rapid succession from one perching-place, and every now 
and then the tail is jerked to and fro with graceful motion. Sometimes a 
second syllable is added to the call-note, which then sounds like zt-chick. 

Although the Spotted Flycatcher is capable of rapid undulating flight, 
it but rarely avails itself of its powers, and seems unwilling to fly for long 
distances at a time. Its usual mode of progression is from tree to tree or 
bush to bush; and when once it has taken up its summer-quarters, it 
rarely strays far away from them until it leaves them in the autumn for 
its winter home. The date of its departure is a comparatively early one ; 
this bird leaves our shores long before the last Swallows take their depar- 
ture, and is rarely seen after the third week in September. 

Although the Spotted Flycatcher arrives here in ^May, its nest is seldom 
found before the latter end of the month, and sometimes not until early 
June. Its breeding-grounds are gardens, orchards, well-timbered parks, 
and woods, on the outskirts of which the birds may be repeatedly seen in 
search of their insect prey. The nesting-site is a varied one^ — in the 
crevices of the bark of old trees, in trellis-work overgrown with creeping 
plants, on the horizontal limbs of trees (usually near the trunk), and 
on wall-trained fruit-trees. A favourite place is in shallow holes in tree- 
trunks, such as a small cavity formed by the action of the rain rotting the 
wood where a branch has been broken away. In all instances, however, it 
is well supported, on one side at least, either by the trunk of the tree or by 



b 



3.26 BRITISH BIRDS. 

the wall against which the fruit-trees are trained. The materials which 
compodc the nest are dry grass, cobwebs, moss, and perhaps a few feathers, 
together with the wing-cases of various insects. It is lined with rootlets, 
a thick bed of hair, and occasionally a few feathers. Owing to the peculiar 
nature of the site, which affords so much siipport, the nest is small and 
but loosely put together. 

The Spotted Flycatcher sometimes builds its nest in very curious situa- 
tions, without the slightest attempt at concealment. When I used to go 
to a day-school we had to pass through a doorway that separated the 
garden from the shrubbery. The door itself had been taken away, but 
the iron hinges on which it formerly swung still projected from the brick- 
work. One day one of my schoolfellows pointed out to me a nest stuck 
behind the upper hinge, just out of our reach. I laughed at him when 
he told me that a bird had built it there, and pulled it down, telling him 
that some boy must have put it there for a freak. He, however, assured 
me that he had seen a bird fly from it, and climbed up and replaced the 
nest behind the hinge as well as he could. The next morning I myself 
saw the bird fly from the nest as we approached the doorway, and on 
climbing up I was astonished to find that the nest contained an egg of a 
Spotted Flycatcher. 

A very handsome nest of the Spotted Flycatcher in my collection is 
somewhat larger than usual, and resembles certain nests of the Robin. 
The lining contains no feathers, but is completely composed of fine 
dry grass and a few hairs. It is deeply cup-shaped and the frontage 
to the nest is broad. Externally it is chiefly composed of moss, long 
stems of water-plants, grass-blades, and leaves of herbage — now dry 
and withered, but evidently gathered in a green state. Here and there 
may be seen parts of dead leaves almost skeletonized and a few scraps of 
green lichens. Nests of this bird are sometimes composed largely of 
sticks and fibrous roots, and then they are usually warmly lined with wool 
and feathers. Each season the Spotted Flycatcher returns to the haunt 
of its choice and rears its brood for years in succession in one favoured 
place. Sometimes it will desert a locality for a season, especially if it is 
repeatedly disturbed, but afterwards return to it again. 

The eggs of the Spotted Flycatcher vary in number from four to six, and 
range from bluish white to pea-green in ground-colour, blotched, spotted, 
and clouded with various shades of reddish brown. Some eggs are so 
richly covered with spots as to hide the ground-colour, and resemble 
very closely certain varieties of Robin's eggs ; others have the markings 
confined to a zone round the larger end ; while many are more evenly 
marked and singularly clouded with a faint roseate tinge, which adds 
considerably to their beauty, but which soon fades after they are blown. 
They vary in length from '8 to "7 inch, and in breadth from '62 to '52 inch. 



SPOTTED FLYCATCHER. 



327 



From causes wliich it is not easy to explain, the female bird sits upon her 
eggs as soon as they are laid, and we therefore sometimes find them in 
various stages of development in the same nest. 

As the Spotted Flycatehcr breeds so very late in the season, and departs 
so early for its southern haunts, but one brood is reared in the year. 
Instances, however, have occurred where this bird has been known to rear 
two broods in the season. 

The whole of the upper plumage of the Spotted Flyeatcber, including 
the wing-coverts, is hair-brown, the wings and tail being a little darker, 
with a few darker spots on the crown of the head. The lower parts 
are greyish white, suffused with buff on the flanks, and with light brown 
across the breast, which is streaked with dark brown. Beak dark brown ; 
irides dark hazel ; legs, toes, and claws black. The female does not differ 
in colour from the male. The young birds in the nestling-plumage are 
"spotted" Flycatchers in the strict sense of the word, each brown feather 
having a buff-coloured centre ; the underparts, however, are very similar to 
those of the adult. After the autumn moult, the innermost secondaries 
and the wing-coverts are broadly, and the quill and tail-feathers narrowly, 
tipped and margined with buff, which colour is suffused more or less distinctly 
over the entire upper surface, most prominently on the rump and upper 
tail- coverts. 




328 BRITISH BIRDS. 

MUSCICAPA ATRICAPILLA. 
PIED FLYCATCHER. 

(Plate 9.) 

Muscicapa nigra, Srus. Orn. ii. p. 381 (1760, ^ ). 

Fioedula ficedula, Brias. Orn. iii. p. 369 (1760, $ ). 

Ficedula rubetra anglicana, Briss. Orn. iii. p. 436 (1760, ex Edwards). 

Muscicapa atricapiJla, Lian. St/st. Nat. i. p. .326 (1766) ; et auctorum plurimorum— 

Yarrell, Gray, Blyth, Bonaparte, Cabanis, Schlegel, Sundevall, Loche, Oould, 

Seuglin, Sharpe, Newtm, Dresser, Blanford, &c. 
Emberiza luctuosa. Scop. Ann. I. Hist. Nat. p. 146. no. 21.5 (1769). 
Muscicapa muscipeta, Bechst. Naturg. Deutschl. iv. p. 502 (1795). 
Muscicapa luctuosa {Scop.), Temm. Man. d'Orn. p. 101 (1815). 
Muscicapa alticeps, i 

Muscicapa fuseicapilla, i Brehm, Vog. Deutschl. pp. 225, 226, 227 (1831). 
Muscicapa atrog^isea, I 

Muscicapa picata, Swains. Jard. Nat. Libr. a. p. 254 (1838). 

Hedymela atricapilla {Linn.), Sundev. €Efv. K. Vet.-Akad. Fork. Stochh. 1846, p. 225. 
Muscicapa speculigera, Selys,Jide Bonap. Consp. i. p. 317 (1850). 
Muscicapa speculifera, Selys,fide Schl. Vog. Nederl. p. 225 (1854). 
Ficedula atricapilla {Linn^, Sund. Av. Meth. Tent. p. 23 (1872). 

The Pied Flycatcher is not nearly so common or so widely dispersed in 
Great Britain as the Spotted Flycatcher. Its distribution is compara- 
tively restricted and confined, for the most part, to one or two favoured 
localities in the north of England and the south of Scotland. Although it 
breeds in some districts in North Wales and the English counties on the 
Welsh border, its chief summer haunt appears to be from South-west 
Yorkshire, extending northwards to the Lake-districts of England and the 
eastern and midland counties of Scotland, from Berwickshire to Caithness. 
It is also known to breed in Inverness-shire ; and Messrs. Baikie and 
Heddle assert that it is often observed in the Orkneys ; but it does not 
appear to have been recorded from Shetland. Returning to the midland 
counties of England, we find it a rare straggler ; but it has been noticed in 
the counties of Leicester, Derby, Stafford, Worcester, and Hereford. It 
has also been obtained in al] our eastern and southern counties from Norfolk 
to Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, and occasionally in North Devon, 
Somerset, Gloucester, Oxford, Wilts, and Dorset. It has never been 
recorded from Ireland, nor does it ever appear to reach Iceland or 
Greenland ; but a small flock was once seen on the Faroes. 

On the Continent the distribution of the Pied Flycatcher is somewhat 
peculiar. It is common in Scandinavia during summer, havino- been 

found breeding up to lat. 69°; but in Russia it is not found so far north in 

Finland ranging to lat. 65°, and in the Ural JMountains (which appear to 



PIED FLYCATCHER. 329 

be the eastern limit of its range) only to lat. 57°. It is a common, but 
somewhat local, summer visitor to Prance, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. 
In Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, South Russia, and Asia Minor it is prin- 
cipally known as passing through on migration, though it is possible that 
a few may remain to breed. It is found in the Caucasus and North Persia, 
but whether as a summer or winter visitant is not known. In Palestine 
Canon Tristram says that it is a rare summer visitor ; Heuglin says that it 
passes through North-east Africa on migration ; but in Algeria it appears 
to be a resident, and in West Africa it has occurred as far south as the 
Gambia, but only as a winter visitant, as it is also in the island of Teneriife. 

Referring to its occurrence in Algeria, Dixon writes : — " In many parts 
of Algeria the Pied Flycatcher is a very common bird throughout the year, 
and its conspicuous plumage arrests the attention at once. In the 
luxuriant valley below Constantine it was to be seen on the outskirts of 
the fig-groves, also in the fast drying-up bed of the river Roumel, where 
its favourite perching-places were the old roots and heaps of refuse brought 
down by the floods. In the oases_of El Kantara and Biskra it was also a 
fairly common bird, and was very frequently to be seen perched on the 
old leaf-stems on the tops of the date-palms. At the former oasis one or 
two pairs of this bird were breeding in the holes in the apricot-trees, 
showing no fear of man ; whilst at Oued Taga, at an elevation of 5000 feet, 
it was an inhabitant of the Arab gardens. In its habits and flight, and in 
its manner of searching for food, it did not difl^er from the Spotted Fly- 
catcher, its inseparable companion.'-' 

The Pied Flycatcher, although it looks such a very different bird, and 
lays such very differently coloured eggs, has many points in common with 
the Spotted Flycatcher. Like that bird, it is very fond of gardens. At 
Valkenswaard we found it in every garden in the village; and in Tron- 
dhjem its song resounded from every square in the middle of the town. It 
was equally common in the wildest scenery ; and we took a nest in a hollow 
elm tree in Romsdal, a magnificent valley, somewhat like Dove Dale in 
Derbyshire on a large scale. Its choice of a haunt in our own country is 
given to the wilder districts. In the birch-copses far in the wild it may 
be seen, also in the deepest and quietest woods it shares the solitude with 
the Woodpecker ; whilst far amongst the mountains, on the wooded shores 
of those lakes that sleep so peacefully beneath the frowning hills, it finds 
a suitable home. Insects abound near the waters, and on such an un- 
failing supply of food its young are safely reared. Unlike the Spotted 
Flycatcher, the present species is an early migrant, arriving usually in 
the last week of April, and soon afterwards commencing the duties of 
incubation. 

In many of its movements the Pied Flycatcher resembles its dingy 
congener. Far more of a restless species than a shy one, it may fre- 



330 BRITISH BIRDS. 

quently be seen hovering, in butterfly-like flight, ia the air. Sometimes it 
sits quietly on some decayed limb^ ever and anon uttering its call-notes 
and incessantly jerking its tail and half opening its wings, as though 
anxious to sally into the air. Its food consists almost entirely of insects, 
especially of flies and gnats, which it often takes from the leaves of the 
forest-trees whilst hovering daintily above them. It is also said to feed 
on various kinds of berries, such as raspberries, currants, elderberries, &c. 
and also on worms. Its visits to the fruit-trees, however, are most likely 
principally for the purpose of catching insects, and not exclusively to feed 
upon the fruit. 

The song of the Pied Flycatcher is a very j)leasing one, short and some- 
what feeble, something like the Redstart^s, yet uttered pretty frequently, 
especially in the early part of its sojourn in our islands, during the pairing- 
season. 

The Pied Flycatcher's nest is always placed in a covered site, which 
varies but little in its situation. It is built in the holes of birch and 
other trees, sometimes in a deserted Woodpecker's hole, or crevice of a 
wall or rock, at various heights from the ground, sometimes but a few 
feet, at others far up the trunks. In these holes a slight nest is formed of 
dry grasses, dead leaves, moss, and feathers, sometimes a little wool from 
the sheep on the neighbouring hills, or a few horse and cow's hairs. 

Few of our British eggs are more beautiful in colour than those of the 
Pied Flycatcher. They are a delicate pale blue, sometimes almost ap- 
proaching white, perfectly spotless, somewhat frail in texture, and slightly 
smaller than those of the Hedge-Accentor. In number they vary from 
five to eight, the latter number, however, being somewhat exceptional ; and 
but one brood is, as a rule, reared in the year. The eggs vary in length 
from '8 to '65 inch, and in breadth from '58 to '52 inch. 

Dixon once found a beautiful nest of this bird near the moorlands a 
few miles from Sheflleld, his attention being attracted to the place by 
seeing the bird hovering before the nesting-hole. It was built in a large 
rotten stump of a birch, the wood of which crumbled away easily and 
revealed the nest, which contained eight pale-blue eggs, almost ready for 
hatching. Since this nest was disturbed, the bird has not, to his know- 
ledge, bred there. 

The general colour of the upper parts and tail of the Pied Flycatcher is 
black, duller and greyer on the rump ; wings brown, with the central 
coverts white and the innermost secondaries broadly edged with white. 
A small patch of white on the forehead at the base of the bill ; underparts 
pure white. Beak black; irides dark brown; legs, toes, and claws black. 
In the female the black is replaced by brown, and the whole plumage is 
dingy. Males of the year resemble the adult female, but are slightly 
darker. Young birds in nestling-plumage are spotted above with buff 



PIED FLYCATCHER. 



331 



and the white of the underparts is irregularly spotted with blackish brown. 
After the autumn moult, the upper parts of the male are brownish instead 
of black, the white patch on the forehead is obscured, and the underparts 
are washed on the breast and flanks with buff. 

The \Yhite-collared Flycatcher [Muscicapa collaris) was included in 
the British avifauna by the late Mr. Gould, who saw a specimen in the 
flesh in the possession of Mr. Leadbeater ; but he knew no particulars 
concerning it. As this is the only evidence on which the bird's claim to 
rank as a British species rests, it is certainly premature and inadvisable to 
include it in our lists. It is found in company with the Pied Flycatcher 
throughout most parts of South Europe, and differs from it in having the 
white spot on the forehead much more developed and the white sides of the 
neck meeting on the nape and forming a white collar. The Pied Fly- 
catcher does not appear to have any other very near ally. 




332 BRITISH BIRDS. 

MUSCICAPA PARVA. 

RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER. 

(Plate 9.) 

Muscioapa parva, Bechst. Naturg. Deutschl. iv. p. 505 (1795) ; et auctorum pluri- 
morum — Temminck, Naumann^ Gould, Gray, Schleyel, {Bonaparte), {Cabanis), 
Nexnioii, Dresser, {Hume), (Brooks), &c. 

Muscicapa albicilla, Pall. Zoogr. Rosso-Asiat. i. p. 462 (1826). 

Muscicapa rufogularis, Brehm, Vog. Deutschl. p. 226 (1831). 

Saxicola rubeeuloides, Sykes, Froc. Zool. Soc. 1832, p. 92. 

Muscicapa lais, Hempr. et Ehr. Synib. Phys., Aves, fol. t (1833). 

Erythaca tytleri, Jameson, Edinh. Phil. Journ. 1835, p. 214 (descr. nulla). 

Muscicapa minuta, Hornsch. et Schill. Verz. I'oy. Pomm. p. 4 (1837). 

Muscicapa rubecola, Swains. Jard. Kat. Lihr. x. p. 221 (] 838). 

Muscicapa leucura, Gmel. apud Swains. Jard. Nat. Libr. x. p. 253 (1838). 

Erythrosterna parva (Bechst.), Bonap. Coiitp. List B. Eur. (§• N. Amer. p. 26 (1838). 

Synorais leucura (Gtnel.), ajmd Hodgs. Gray's Zool. Misc. p. 83 (1844). 

Synornis joulaimus, Hodgs. Gray's Zool. Misc. p. 83 (1844). 

Erythrosterna leucura ( Gmel.), apud Blyth, Cat. B. Mus. As. Soc. p. 171 (1849). 

Thamnobia niveiventris, Swinhoe, Ibis, 1 860, p. 54. 

Erythrosterna albicilla (Pall.), Sioinhoe, Proc. Zool. Sue. 1802, p. 317. 

This pretty little species^ so like a miniature Robin in general appearance, 
is fairly entitled to a place in the British avifauna, three examples (one 
of •which was accompanied by a mate) having been obtained. The first 
British example of the Red-breasted Flycatcher ^as obtained on the 24rth 
of January, 1863, by Mr. Copeland, near Falmouth ; and that gentleman 
supplied Mr. Rodd with the following note of its capture* : — " The little 
Flycatcher alluded to we had seen some days before it was shot. We first 
observed it on a dead holly tree, which, with the ground around the 
house, were its favourite resort. It was particularly active, skimming the 
grass to within about a foot, then, perching itself, darted occasionally with 
a toss, resting either on a shrub or the wire fencing. Its habits were 
interesting, partaking in a great measure of those of our summer visitor 
[the Spotted Flycatcher] . There is another in the neighbourhood, for 
which a vigilant watch will be kept. I saw it a few days ago in a planta- 
tion four hundred yards from my house." The specimen, a female, was 
unfortunately damaged by mice, the head being completely eaten away. 
It was sent in the flesh to the British Museum. In the October following 
of the same year another bird of this species was captured, in company with 
young Pied Flycatchers, on one of the Scilly Isles by Mr. A. Pechell and 
a nephew of Mr. Rodd's. This bird turned out to be a young male. A 

* See Gould's ' Birds of Great Britaiu,' vol. ii. letterpress to plate xs. 



RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER. 333 

third example was shot on the 5th of November, 1865, and was recorded 
in the ' Annals and Magazine of Natural History ' (ser. 3, xvi. p. 447) and 
the ' Zoologist ' for 1866, p. 31, by Mr. Rodd. This bird was taken on 
Tresco Island in Scilly ; but from the injuries it received from the shot 
it was impossible to determine the sex. 

Upon the European continent the range of the Red-breasted Flycatcher 
is somewhat restricted. It breeds in Germany, Austi-ia, and South Russia 
as far north as the Baltic Provinces, arriving during the latter end of 
April or early in May, and departing again in August or September. Its 
occurrence in Western Europe is only accidental. A single bird was taken 
in the Baltic near Laudsort, off the coast of Sweden, and it has once been 
obtained near Copenhagen. Two specimens have been killed in the south 
of France ; one example has been killed and another observed in Spain ; 
and its occurrence in Italy is almost as exceptional. Loche says that it is 
found in Algeria, where it may be a rare winter visitor. It passes through 
Transylvania, Turkey, Greece, and Asia JNIiuor on migration, and winters 
in Nubia, where it was found by Hemprich and Ehrenberg. It breeds in 
the Caucasus and winters in Persia. In Asia, Severtzow says that it passes 
through Turkestan on migration. Radde, Schrenck, and Dybowsky all 
record it from the Baikal district ; and it is said that skins from Kam- 
schatka, collected by Wosnessenski, are in the St. -Petersburg jMuseum. It 
winters in North India and South China. 

The Red-breasted Flycatcher is represented by Prof. Newton as forming 
an exception to the ordinary rules of migration. He suggests that the 
European birds winter in India. It appears to me, however, that both 
Prof. Newton, in his edition of Yarrell's ' British Birds,^ and Mr. Sharpe, 
in his ' Catalogue of the Birds in the British ^Museum,' have entirely 
misunderstood the geographical distribution of this bird. In my opinion, 
the range of this bird during the breeding-season extends from Pomerania 
to Lake Baikal, the Asiatic birds wintering in India and China, the 
Caucasian birds in Persia, and the European birds in North-east Africa. 
Eastern examples have been described as another species under the name 
of M. leucura, which has been said to differ in having the chestnut confined 
to the throat and not extending onto the breast. It seems probable, 
however, that the latter are merely not fully adult examples of the former. 
Radde found both forms at Tarei-nor ; and I have a perfect series from 
one to the other. The two extremes are both found in India and China, 
European examples being somewhat intermediate. My Indian skins, 
showing the greatest development of the chestnut on the breast, are 
labelled M. hyperythra ; but this species may easily be distinguished 
by the chestnut extending onto the flanks and under tail-coverts, 
and by the nearly black line separating the chestnut of the breast from 
the slate-grey of the neck. That this bird does not lose this dark line in 



334 BRITISH BIRDS. 

winter, as my friend ]\Ir. Brooks supposes, is abundantly proved by ex- 
amples shot in January and February in Ceylon *. 

The Red-breasted Flycatcher is not such a rare bird as it was formerly 
supposed to be. By some observei's it has been confounded with the 
Robin, and by others it has been overlooked altogether, in consequence of 
its retiring habits. It does not frequent gardens during the breeding- 
season, like the other European Flycatchers, but seems to live entirely in 
the forests. Beech-forests are its favourite resort, probably because its 
favourite food is some insect which is found principally on beech trees. 
On its first arrival it is frequently seen in open places near the forests ; 
and after the young are able to fly it will visit any gardens that may 
happen to be near the beech-forest where it has bred ; but during the 
bresdiijg-season it seems to live entirely secluded. It arrives in North 
Germany somewhat late, being seldom seen before May, and is one of 
the first birds to leave in the autumn, disappearing early in September. 

The Red-breasted Flycatcher appears to be a connecting-link between 
the Robins and the Flycatchers. It has almost the tail of a Pratincola, 
with a still wider bill and more developed rictal bristles. This formation 
of bill shows it to be a true Flycatcher ; and birds of this species in con- 
finement feed upon the common house-fly with great avidity, preferring it 
to any artificial food. In the forest its fly-catching propensities are not 
so obvious; but it has been observed to catch flies on the wing like its 
congeners. Its habits are ditBcult to observe, as it appears to feed prin- 
cipally on or near the tops of lofty trees, rarely descending until it has 
satisfied its appetite. In the gardens the currants seem to be the attraction, 
and it is often seen in the cherry-trees. 

When I was in Pomerania last spring with my son and Dr. Gadow, 
Herr von Putkammer was kind enough to invite us and our friends, Herr 
von Homeyer and Dr. Holland, to visit a heronry on his estate, on which 
is a grand old family mansion, surrounded by a moat, in a noble park 
about ten miles south-east of Stolp. We spent the day among the Herons ; 
and after dinner Herr von Homeyer engaged to pilot us to a beech-forest 
where the Red-breasted Flycatcher used to breed. The carriage was 
ordered, and our hospitable host drove von Homeyer, Dr. Holland, and 
myself through his park to an adjoining estate, where we entered a forest 
of mixed beech and oak on a hill-side which sloped down to the country- 
road. We had not proceeded far before we came to the nest of a Spotted 
Eagle, from which the bird flew as we approached. Leaving our com- 
panions to watch the Eagle, Dr. Holland and I set off in quest of the 

* This species probably only winters in Ceylon. Brooks found it in summer at Goond, 
on the Scind river, in Central Cashmere — not in Sindh, as erroneouslj' stated by Dresser 
in his ' Birds of Europe.' It is somewhat remarkable that it has not been obtained on 
migration in the intervening country. 



RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER. 335 

Flycatcher. We soon heard a song which was new to me, but we followed 
it a long time before we could see the bird. It was a very unobtrusive 
song, intermediate between the notes o£ the Robin and the Redstart. For 
some time the bird kept at the top of the beeches. It was as restless as a 
Redstart ; and we followed it in vain, until, just as the sun was setting, he 
came down upon the lower branches and sang his simple song within 
twenty feet of us. We might have mistaken him for a Robin with his 
red breast, but every now and then he half spread his tail and showed the 
white on it. A few days later (on the 11th of June) Dr. Holland and I 
went to a forest beyond Schlave to take the nest of a Honey-Buzzard. 
In the forest we several times heard the alarm-note of the Red-breasted 
Flycatcher, a pink, pink, pink, something like the spink of a Chaffinch, but 
softer, clearer, and quicker. Our guide showed us presently a nest, scarcely 
six feet from the ground, in a hollow in the trunk of a beech tree. We 
caught the bird on the nest. He also showed us a second nest which he 
had taken a few days before, likewise composed principally of green moss ; 
but it had been built close against the stem of a beech, supported by a 
bunch of small twigs, which made a convenient shelf for it. In its habits 
this charming little bird reminds one both of a Flycatcher and a Tit. It 
catches insects on the wing with ease, and flutters before the trunk of a 
tree to pick an insect off the bark. 

The nest of the Red-breasted Flycatcher is a very handsome little 
structure, almost entirely formed of green moss, with here and there a few 
scraps of lichen and a downy feather or two. The inside is sparingly lined 
with fine dry grass and hairs. The nest-cavity measures about two inches 
in diameter and one and a half inch in depth. Many of the eggs of 
this bird very closely resemble Robin^'s eggs in colour, others as closely 
the eggs of the Spotted Flycatcher. They are the palest of bluish 
green in ground-colour, closely freckled with reddish-brown and greyish- 
brown shell -markings. Some eggs are much greener in general 
coloration, and the amount of spotting also differs considerably. A 
clutch of five in my collection are an almost uniform pinkish brown, with 
scarcely a trace of the ground-colour discernible, and somewhat resemble 
certain varieties of the Blackcap's eggs. Some specimens have most of 
the markings confined to a zone round the larger end. The eggs are 
from five to seven in number, and vary from '07 to '06 inch in length, and 
from "Si to 5 inch in breadth. 

The Red-breasted Flycatcher has the general colour of the upper parts, 
except the crown, nape, and sides of the head and neck, which are bluish 
grey, olive-brown; central tail-feathers blackish brown, the outer ones 
white at base and broadly tipped with blackish brown; throat and breast 
orange-chestnut; rest of underparts white, suffused on the flanks and under 
tail-coverts with buff. Beak brown, paler at the base ; irides hazel ; legs. 



336 



BEITISH BIRDS. 



toeSj and claws dark brown. The female in general coloration resembles 
the malCj except that the rich orange-chestnut throat is replaced by buff, 
and the bluish grey is wanting on the head and sides of the neck. 

Males of the year scarcely differ from the female, and breed in the 
following spring in immature plumage {M. minuta). In the second year 
the chestnut appears on the throat {M. leucura) ; in the third year the 
chestnut appears on the upper breast {M. parva) ; and in the fourth year it 
extends also onto the lower breast, in which plumage they are the M. 
hyperythra of Cabanis apud Brooks. Young in first plumage are spotted 
on the breast and upper parts, as in all the allied species ; but this plumage 
is of course moulted before the birds migrate. 

It is needless to say that this bird, like all the rest of its genus, has twelve 
tail-feathers, though Newton, in his edition of YarrelFs ' British Birds,' 
represents it as only having ten. This is doubtless a misprint ; for every 
ornithologist will admit that Professor Newton compensates his readers for 
the slowness of his work by its accuracy. 




SYLVIINiE. 337 



Subfamily SYLVIIN^, ok WARBLERS. 

The Warblers and their allies constitute a large group of birds which 
vary considerably amongst themselves, and approach so near to the allied 
subfamilies that it is very difficult to give precise characters by which 
they may in all cases be distinguished. Their more or less distinctly deve- 
loped first primary serves to distinguish them from all the other sub- 
families of the Passeridse, except the Thrushes, Tits, Shrikes, and Crows. 
Besides the scutellated tarsus which separates them from the Thrushes, 
and the absence of the distinct well-marked notch in the beak, which 
separates them from the Shrikes, they may be distinguished from all 
these subfamilies (except the Crows) by their having a spring moult in 
addition to the one in autumn. It is more difficult to give precise 
characters to separate them from the Crows : but the latter family is 
composed of birds usually of much larger size — broadly speaking, ranging 
from the size of a Thrush up to that of a Raven ; whilst the Warblers 
range in size from the dimensions of a small Thrush down to that of a 
Wren. The Crows are almost omnivorous birds with comparatively stout 
conical bills ; whereas the Warblers are almost exclusively insectivorous, 
with very slender bills. In this respect they are not distinguishable from 
the Turdinse ; and, like that subfamily in some genera, the bill is widened 
to enable them to catch insects on the wing. The rictal bristles are some- 
times absent and sometimes present ; and the notch in the bill is nearly 
obsolete. The first primary is always present, but varies from an almost 
obsolete bastard primary to a well developed first primary. The young 
in first plumage differ very slightly in colour from the adults, both being 
generally unspotted above and below, and the difference being confined to 
the shade or degree of colour, a difference which is generally most con- 
spicuous on the underparts. In the rare instances in which the upper 
parts are spotted in the adults, the spots are less conspicuous in the young 
birds. In the first autumn before migration, if a partial moult takes 
place, it is simply a renewal of certain feathers by feathers of the same 
colour ; so that, in winter, birds of the year are generally easily recognizable 
by a diflTerence of shade in the colour, especially in that of the underparts. 
This diff^erence, however, is lost in the complete moult which takes place 
in both adult and young in spring — a moult which usually occurs in 
March, sometimes earlier, before the spring migration begins. In autumn, 

VOL. I. z 



338 BRITISH BIRDS. 

usually in September, shortly before the birds return to their winter 
quarters, a second annual complete moult takes place in adult birds. The 
autumn plumage is usually intermediate in colour between the spring 
plumage and that of the bird of the year. 

The Sylviinee are, so far as is known, confined to the eastern hemisphere, 
one species only having been known to cross Behring^s Straits into Alaska. 
The Sylviinse might be again subdivided into three groups : — the migratory 
Sylviinse, of which there are about ninety species, principally confined to 
the Palsearctic Region, with the wings long, pointed, and flat, and the 
first primary less than half the length of the second ; the non-migratory 
Sylviinse, of which there are several hundred species, principally confined 
to the iEthiopian and Oriental Regions, having rounded concave wings and 
the first primary more than half the length of the second ; and, lastly, 
the wide-billed Sylviinae, of which there are a hundred or more species, 
inhabiting the tropical portions of the Old World, having, in addition to 
the wide gape, the rictal bristles very largely developed, both characters 
being of importance in assisting the birds to catch insects on the wing. 
About a score species of the Sylviinse have been found in our islands, 
belonging to five genera, the British examples of which may be distin- 
guished as follows : — 

M. Asillaries yellow. 

«\ Bill slender, more or less dark underneath Phyiloscopus. 

6\ Bill stout, pale underneath Hypolais. 

h. Axillaries buff, white, grey, or brown. 

c'. Tail nearly even, or, if much graduated, longer than the wing Sylvia. 
d' . Tail with the outside feathers considerably shorter than the 
central ones ; never longer than the wing. 
a^. Outside tail-feathers less than three fourths the length 

of the longest. No rictal bristles Locustella. 

i^ Outside tail-feathers more than three fourths the length 

of the longest. Rictal bristles moderately developed. Aceocephalus. 



Genus LOCUSTELLA. 

The Grasshopper Warblers were originally included by the earliest 
writers who were acquainted with any of them in the comprehensive 
genus Motacilla, and were afterwards removed from it into the genus 
Sylvia with the rest of the Warblers. When the latter genus was broken 
up, the Grasshopper Warblers were associated by the elder Naumann with 
the Reed-Warblers in his genus Acrocephalus, in which Prof. Newton still 



LOCUSTELLA. 339 

retains them. The recognition of such nearly allied groups of birds as 
genera or suVjgenera is a purely arbitrary proceeding. I regret that the 
genus Locustella has been so largely used by modern ornithologists ; but 
it certainly is the most clearly defined of the allied subgenera, and its 
adoption is perhaps the course which makes the least change in the gene- 
rally accepted nomenclature. The genus Acrocephalus was divided by 
Kaup in 1829, in that eccentric book of his, ' Natiirliches System der 
Europaischen Thierwelt,' into five genera, of which Locustella was de- 
scribed at page 115, the Grasshopper Warbler being designated as the 
type. 

The Grasshopper "Warblers comprise a small but well defined group of 
birds nearly allied to the Reed- Warblers [Acrocejjhalus) , agreeing with 
them in having twelve tail-feathers, and the bastard primary so minute as 
rarely to extend beyond the primary-coverts, but differing in having a 
more rounded tail and nearly obsolete rictal bristles. The outside tail- 
feathers are shorter than the under tail-coverts, except in one instance ; 
but in no case are they more than three fourths the length of the longest. 
The bill is long and slender, as in the Calamodine group of Acrocephali, 
which many of the species further resemble in having the upper parts 
spotted. The predominant colours are russet-brown and olive-brown. 

The Grasshopper Warblers frequent marshy districts, dense thickets 
near water, reed-beds, and the luxuriant vegetation on the banks of 
streams. Their nests are usually built amongst rank vegetation on or 
near the ground ; and their eggs are from four to seven in number. So far 
as is known, all the species have the continuous monotonous note which 
can scarcely be called a song, and which has given them the name of 
" Grasshopper" Warblers. 

Three of the species breed in Central Europe and winter in North 
Africa. A fourth breeds in Turkestan and West Siberia and winters in 
India. Three others breed in East Siberia and winter in the islands of 
the Malay archipelago ; and one of them is said to visit Eastern Europe 
accidentally on migration, and has occurred during the breeding-season 
near St. Petersburg. Two species are British, one of which is a regular 
summer visitant to our islands ; but the other, although formerly a regular 
summer migrant, is now probably extinct or only breeds very sparingly. 







S'iO BRITISH BIRDS. 



LOCUSTELLA LOCUSTELLA. 
GRASSHOPPER WARBLER, 

(Plate 10.) 

Ficedula curruca grisea usevia, Biiss. Orn. vi. Sii.ppl. p. Ill' (1700). 

Motacilla nsevia, Bodcl. Tohh- PI. E,tl. p. 35. no. 581 (1783). 

S^-lvia loeustella, Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. .jlo (1700) ; et auctorum plurimorum — 
(Koch), Tl'olf, Vieilht, Tciiiminck, Meij('i-,jS^aumann, Jenijns, Nordmann, (Schlegel), 
[Gray), Sundecall, (Brehin), (Keyserling), (Blasius), (Fhming), (Thompson), 
(Hayiiny), Macyillicruy , &c. 

Muscipeta loeustella (Lath.), Kocli, Syst. baier. Zuul. i. p. 166 (181(j). 

Muscipeta dlivacea, Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. i. p. llJ7 (1816). 

Calamoherpe loeustella (Lath.), Bute, Isis, 1822, p. 552. 

OuiTuea loeustella (Lath.), Steph. Shaw's Gen. Zool. xiii. pt. 2, p. 213 (1825). 

Loeustella loeustella (Lath.), Kaup, Natiirl. Syst. p. 115 (1829). 

Oalamohei'pe tenuirostris, Brehm, Vog. Deutscld. p. 440 (1831). 

Saliearia loeustella (Lath.), Selby, Brit. Orn. p. 199 (1833). 

Loeustella sibilans, Gould, B. Eur. letterpress to pi. 102 (1837). 

Loeustella avieula, B.ay,fide Gould, B. Eur. pi. 103 (1837). 

Loeustella rayi, Gould, fide Bonap. Comp. List B. Eur. S( N. Amer. p. 12 (1838). 

Sibilatrix loeustella (Lath.), Mucgill. Br. B. ii. p. 399 (1839). 

Psithyroedus loeustella (Lath.), Gloger, Gem. Ilandb. Naturg. p. 298 (1842). 

Loeustella njevia (Bodcl), Degl. Orn. Eur. i. p. 589 (1849). 

Loeustella duuietieok, Blyth, White's Selborne, p. 119 (1850). 

Parnopia loeufitella (Lath.), i\>(r<. List B. Eur. Blasius, p. 11 (1862). 

Calamodyta loeustella (Lath.), Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 210. no. 2972 (1869). 

Aei-ocephalus iisevius (Bodd.), Newton, erf. Yarr. Brit. B. i. p. 384 (1873). 

Threnetria loeustella (Lath.), Schauer, Juurn. Orn. 1873, p. 183. 

The Grasshopper Warbler appears to have been first described by 
Willughby and Ray in their ' Ornithologia ' in 1676, under the heading 
of Loeustella avieula, from information supplied to them by a Mr. D. 
Johnson, of Brignal, near Greta Bridge, in Yorkshire, possibly the father 
of Mr. Ralpli Johnson, to whom Ray, in his preface, acknowledges that 
he and Willughby were indebted for much information respecting British 
birds. They make mention of the spotted back, thighs, and under tail- 
coverts, and of the very rounded tail, which, together with their allusions 
to its grasshopper-like note*, leaves no room for doubt that Pennant was 
perfectly correct in identifying Willughby and Ray's bird with one which 

* Mr. Johnson's letter to Ray is dated 1072, and the habits of the bird described re- 
semble mo.st those of the Wood- Wren ; but the bird sent to Ray, if correetly described, is 
certainly not that species, but the Grasshopper Warbler. Possibly Mr. Johnson confounded 
the two notes tog-ether. 



GRASSHOPPER WARBLER. 341 

he himself received from Shropshire, and described and figured in his 
' British Zoology' in 1766, under the name of the " Grasshopper Lark." 
Two years later Gilbert White of Selborne sent Pennant a very inter- 
esting and probably the first correct account published of the habits of 
this bird ; but both the latter ornithologists had been forestalled in their 
discoveries, not only by Willughby and Ray, but also by Brisson, who, 
eight years previous to the last-mentioned date, described and figured an 
unmistakable Grasshopper Warbler from an example obtained in France, 
and then in the Museum of Mons. Cotelle, under the name of "La 
Fauvette grise tachetee," a bird which must not be confounded with his 
" Fauvette tachetde " with a forked tail. 

The Grasshopper Warbler is a somewhat local bird in the British 
Islands ; but there is probably no county in England, Wales, Ireland, or 
Scotland south of the Firth of Forth where it does not breed ; and in some 
places it is found in considerable numbers. 

On the continent the range of this bird appears to be very restricted. 
It is probably confined to Western Europe, is rare in Spain and Italy, but 
more common in North Europe, south of the Baltic, from France to the 
neighbourhood of St. Petersburg. It is said to be a winter visitor to 
Morocco and Algeria ; but probably a few remain in these countries to 
breed ; and a few are said to remain during winter in Spain. It has not 
been recorded from Turkey, Greece, or Asia Minor, nor does it appear to 
visit Eastern Africa ; but it is found to the south-east as far as Transyl- 
vania, and occasionally in South-west Russia. In Siberia (and, it is said, 
as far west as St. Petersburg) it is replaced by a nearly allied species or 
subspecies L. lanceolata, whose range extends across Siberia to the Amoor, 
and possibly to China. A still more nearly allied form, L. straminea 
(miscalled by many ornithologists L. hendersoni) , is principally confined 
to Turkestan during the breeding-season ; but its range appears to extend 
northwards as far as Ekatereenburg, where it touches the range of 
L. lanceolata. It is probable that the latter form may interbreed with 
both its near allies, as intermediate forms sometimes occur which it is 
very difficult to determine. 

The chief point of interest in the Grasshopper Warbler is its song. 
This exactly resembles the note of the grasshopper, except that it is slightly 
louder, not quite so shrill, and somewhat steadier and more prolonged. 
It is a rapid trill, absolutely monotonous, and is continued from a quarter 
of a minute sometimes to a couple of minutes without cessation. The 
Grasshopper Warbler is said to have ventriloqual powers ; but I have 
never noticed any thing of the kind, though the bird is common enough 
in the neighbourhood of SheflSeld, and I have listened to its song at all 
hours, from before dawn to long after sunset. I have never had the 
slightest difficulty in following the direction of the sound. It is not 



•■^^2 BRITISH BIRDS. 

always easy to judge of the dulance; but as much may be said of all 
sounds. 1 doubt if it varie, much in the loudness of its note, which 
sounds distant when the bird buries itself in the deep grass or other 
foliage, and near when it runs up some stalk and takes a look round, as it 
frequently does in early morning. 

It is certainly one of the most skulking birds which visit this country, 
almo^t as much so as a Corncrake or a Water-Rail. It is rarely seen on 
the wing, and seldom perches on a tree. I have followed it for hours 
backwards and forwards from one clump of underwood to another, rarely 
obtaining a sight of the bird, but always able to trace its whereabouts 
from its song. Very often it left the underwood altogether and frequented 
the long grass, and it was only occasionally that it was possible to see 
the bird. So retiring is the Grasshopper Warbler in its habits, that were 
it not for the peculiarity of its song it would be passed by without notice 
by the great majority of naturalists. The song is first heard in Yorkshire 
early in May ; but in the south of England the bird arrives somewhat 
earlier at its breeding-quarters. Gilbert White gives the date as the 
middle of April. It is consequently, if not the latest bird of passage to 
arrive on our shores, one of the last batch of spring migrants. It by no 
means confines itself to swampy places, and is equally abundant on dry 
open commons amongst the furze bushes and in woods where there is 
plenty of underwood. Occasionally it is also heard from the tall heather 
on the grouse-moors. Whenever I have accidentally seen it on the wing 
its flight has been very peculiar, what might be described as a frightened 
flight, fluttering over every bush, descending into every hollow — appa- 
rently anxious every moment to dive into some thick shelter, and con- 
sequently always having its tail depressed and half-spread so as to be 
ready to alight at a moment's notice as soon as an opportunity offered. 
On the ground it runs like a Sandpiper, dodging in and out between the 
clumps of grass with marvellous celerity. 

The Grasshopper Warbler is no doubt almost entirely insectivorous ; but 
it probably regales itself in autumn on some of the soft fruits which 
abound in the localities which it frequents, a practice common to most if 
not all soft-billed birds. 

The following notes respecting this charming bird are from the pen of 
my friend Mr. A. W. Johnson, who has had an excellent opportunity of 
observing it in the neighbourhood of Newcastle : — " This interesting 
AA^arbler is fairly abundant during the breeding-season within a radius of 
fifteen miles of Newcastle ; and in a few favourite situations it is frequently 
found in very considerable numbers. It is especially numerous in the 
county of Durham, perhaps in no locality more so than in the warm and 
sheltered valley of the Derwent. This valley in parts is well studded 
with young plantations, where the undergrowth is thick and rank, the 



GRASSHOPPER WARBLER. 343 

ground well exposed to the sun, and concealment for bird and nest good. 
Such situations as these are the most attractive, as the great number of 
nests found in them testify. The number of birds breeding here appears 
to varj very much in different years. Some seasons considerable numbers 
breed here ; and then for one or two years they are comparatively scarce. 
The years 1879 and 1880 were what may be termed good seasons, many 
nests being found ; whilst 1881 and 1882 were poor seasons, the number 
of nests being found was less than half as many as were taken in the two 
preceding years. The number of nests taken one season does not seem to 
affect the number found the following one; and comparatively few nests 
all together are taken, for the difficulty in discovering them is so great. 
Besides the plantations already referred to as this bird's breeding-grounds, 
many nests are found in the bottoms or sides of thick hedgerows. During 
the season of 1880, of seven nests found by myself the last week in May, 
five were in young plantations (three nests in one and two in another), 
whilst the others were in hedgerows. The situation usually chosen for the 
nest is on the ground or close to it in a thick tuft of dead rank grass, 
and well concealed. Sometimes, however, this is not the case, and after 
flushing the bird but little search is needed to discover the nest. I have 
found the nest built on the ground at the foot of a young larch, and, 
without moving any of the herbage, the eggs were plainly visible as soon 
as the bird flew oflf. The nest is also often placed under a whin bush, 
and is then sometimes very difficult to find. The sitting bird usually 
flies off the nest very quietly when flushed, and drops into the under- 
wood at once. One instance, however, came under my notice, where the 
bird flew up and over some tall trees ; and if the eggs are hard sat, or 
the nest contains young, the bird comes stealing back in and out amongst 
the grass like a mouse, and will approach within a few j-ards. The number 
of eggs laid varies from three to seven : the usual number is five or six 
(very many of the nests found in May or early in June contain six) ; 
and seven is very rarely found. The earliest full clutch of eggs I have 
was taken on the 14th of May. The usual time, in an ordinary season, 
for the first nests containing a full complement of eggs is from the 
20th to the 28th of May ; but many nests are found with fresh eggs 
up to the 10th or 14th of June. Two broods appear to be reared in 
the season, as fresh eggs may be found in the last week of June, and 
sometimes even in July. Should the nest be taken, the bird will frequently 
build another, sometimes within a few yards of the first. One or two 
clutches of the eggs of this bird in my collection have a distinct and well 
defined band or zone of dark spots round the larger end ; another has 
streaks dispersed over the eggs, similar to a Bunting's ; whilst those of 
another clutch are of a uniform pale brown colour without spot or streak." 
I have taken the nest of the Grasshopper "Warbler near Brighton. It 



344 BEITISH BIRDS. 

appears to be a late breeder, and is scarcely likely to bave more tban one brood 
in tbe year. On the 21st of May, two years ago, Swaysland sent me up two 
nests of this bird, one containing six and the other five eggs. At the same 
time he informed me of a third nest which then contained only two eggs. 
On the 28th I went down to Brighton to see it. About half a mile from 
Hassock's Gate station is a small plantation. Most of the elms had then 
been cut down, leaving an underwood of nut-trees interspersed with small 
shrubs of various kinds and tangled vegetation of all sorts. Beyond the 
wood we looked over a farm onto the downs, behind which was the sea. 
The nest was about fifty yards from the gamekeeper's cottage, in the middle 
of the plantation, and was so admirably concealed that, standing over the 
clump of grass in which it was placed, which was not more than about two 
feet high, and was mixed with a few wild-rose briars, we could not trace the 
slightest appearance o£ any thing of the kind, and only caught a momentary 
glimpse of the bird as she glided away from the clump. The nest was 
placed in the centre of a bunch of long coarse grass, which raised it perhaps 
six inches above the actual level of the ground. It was round, compact, and 
rather deep, the outside woven principally of green moss mixed with a few 
dead leaves and a little dry grass. The lining was entirely dry, slender, 
round grass-stalks. It contained six eggs. We arranged the grass so that 
we could just see the nest, and left the place, returning again in about ten 
minutes. In order to get a better sight of the bird, we approached the 
nest from different sides, and saw her slip off and glide like a mouse through 
the grass, until she came very near one of us, when she took wing for about 
a yard, flying with depressed outspread tail, and again took to the grass. 
A quarter of an hour afterwards we again stole cautiously to the place, and 
saw her on the nest. On our still nearer approach she slipped off the eggs 
and ran about at our feet, threading her way in a zigzag course through 
the grass exactly like a mouse. We never heard her utter a note ; but, 
according to Naumann, the call-note of the Grasshopper Warbler must be 
a tic, tic, something like the sound produced by knocking two stones 
together. In another wood, where the elms were still standing, the game- 
keeper showed us the place where one of the other nests had been. It was 
in a slightly open part of the wood, in a similar clump of grass and rose- 
briars. 

The ground-colour of the eggs of this bird is a pale pinkish white, gene- 
rally profusely spotted all over with small rufous-brown spots or dots 
interspersed with paler and greyer underlying spots of the same character. 
In most eggs the spots are slightly larger towards the large end of the 
egg, and sometimes very decidedly so. Occasionally the overlying spots 
are sparsely distributed, and in some instances they are almost absent 
altogeth er. Not unfrequently irregular short and thin hair-lines of very 
dark rufous-brown are observable. The eggs vary in length from -75 to 



GRASSHOPPER WARBLER. 345 

•7 inchj and in breadth from "55 to '5 inch. The number ranges from 
four to seven. 

The general colour of the upper part of this bird is olive-browDj but 
sometimes it approaches russet-brown ; each feather has an obscure dark 
centre^ which becomes nearly obsolete on the sides of the neck and on the 
longest upper tail-coverts. The outer webs of the quills and tail-feathers 
are edged with olive-brown, most conspicuously so on the innermost 
secondaries. The chin and the centre of the belly are nearly white, which 
shades into buflBsh brown on the breast^ flanks, thighs, and under tail- 
coverts, most of the latter having dark brown centres. Bill dark brown 
above, pale horn colour below ; legs, feet, and claws pale brown ; irides 
hazel. 

In birds of the year the whole of the underparts are more or less suffused 
with yellow, and many of the feathers of the throat and flanks have dark 
centres. A slight tinge of yellow on the underparts, and some of the 
pectoral streaks are frequently found in young birds after their first spring 
moult. 

It is very difiBcult to form a diagnosis which may always distinguish the 
Grasshopper Warbler from its two very near allies ; but L. straminea 
appears always to have a more rounded wing than the other two. The 
second primary is always shorter than the fourth, and frequently shorter 
than the fifth ; whilst in the other two species it is sometimes equal in 
length to the third and sometimes only to the fourth, but is never shorter 
than the fourth. L. lanceolata may usually be distinguished by having the 
general colour of the upper parts russet-brown instead of olive-brown ; 
but in a large series the most russet examples of L. locusteJla are un- 
distinguishable in colour from the least russet examples of L. lanceolata. 
As regards the spotting on the under surface, the breast is generally 
spotted in L. lanceolata and occasionally slightly so in the other two 
species. The flanks are spotted sometimes in L. locustella, generally in 
L. straminea, and always in L. lanceolata ; whilst the under tail-coverts 
are always spotted in L. straminea, and generally so in the other two 
species. 



346 BRITISH BIRDS. 



LOCUSTELLA LUSCINIOIDES. 
SAVI'S WARBLER. 

(Plate 10.) 

Sylvia luscinioides, Savi, Nuom Oiornale dei Letterati, \n. p. .341 (]824) ; et aucto- 
rum plurimorum — Temminck, (Goald), Nordmayin, {Gray), {Schkgel), {Salca- 
dori), (Neioton), (JDresser), %c. 

Locustella luscinioides {Savi), Gould, B. Eur. ii. pi. 104 (1837). 

Pseudoluscinia savii, Bonap. Comp. List B. Eur. ^- N. Atiier. p. 12 (18.38). 

Salicaria luscinioides (Savi), Keys. u. Bias. Wirb. Eur. pp. liii, 180 (1840). 

Lusciniopsia savii {Bp.), Bonap. Ucc. Eur. p. 36 (1842). 

Oalamodyta luscinioides {Sari), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 172 (1848). 

Oettia luscinioides (Savi), L. Gerbe, Diet. Univ. d'Hist. Nat. vi. p. 240 (1848). 

Calamoherpe luscinioides (Savi), Schl. Tog. Nederl. p. 149 (18o4). 

Lusciniola savii (Bp.), Bonap. Cat. Parzud. p. 6 (1856). 

Locustella savii (Bp.), Salvia, Ibis, 1859, p. 356. 

Lusciniopsis luscinioides (Savi), Newt. List B. Eur. Blasius, p. 1 1 ( 1862). 

Pseudoluscinia luscinioides (Sari), Shelley, B. Egypt, p. 89 (1>^72). 

Acrocephalus luscinioides (Savi), Newton ed. Yarr. Brit. B. i. p. 389 (1873). 

Cettia fusca, Severtz. Turkest. Jevotn. pp. 66, 181 (1873). 

Sylvia (Threnetria) luscinioides (Savi), Scliatier, Journ. Orn. 1873, p. 161. 

Threnetria acheta, Schauer, Journ. Orn. 1873, p. 183. 

Potamodus luscinioides (Savi), Blanf. East. Pers. ii. p. 199 (1876). 

Savins Warbler has every claim to be included in a work on British 
Birds, though it is in all probability extinct in our islands. The marshes 
where it formerly bred have been to a great extent drained ; and nothing 
has been seen of this interesting bird in its old localities during the last 
five-and-twenty years. So far as is known, the first Savi's Warbler ever 
obtained was shot ten miles south-east of Norwich, about the year 1819. 
Temminck pronounced the bird to be a variety of the Reed-Warbler^ and 
afterwards seems to have confounded it with Cetti's Warbler. Savi did 
not describe the species until five years later ; and it cannot be said to 
have become generally known until Temminck published his Manual of 
Ornithology in 1835. Many examples of Savi's Warbler, as well as nests 
and eggs of this bird, were obtained at various dates from 1843 to 1856 in 
the fens of Norfolk and Cambridge and in one or two other adjoining 
counties. It is not known that Savi's Warbler has occurred in any other 
district in the British Isles. 

On the continent the distribution of this species is also somewhat 
restricted, though in many localities it is a common bird. It is never 
found except in reed-beds ; but in most places where these occur of suffi- 
cient size, in Spain, the south of France, Holland, Italy, Austria, and 



SAVI'S WARBLER. .347 

South Russia, it has been found. It appears to be equally common in 
suitable localities in North Africa, and has been obtained in Palestine ; 
but so far as is known it is entirely absent from North Europe, and also, 
strange to say, from Germany, Turkey, Greece, Asia Minor, and the 
Caucasus. In the northern portion of its range it is strictly a migratory 
bird ; but it is said to remain during the winter in the delta of the Rhone, 
and a considerable number undoubtedly remain in North Africa to breed. 
In the delta of the Volga, the Kirghis steppes, Western Turkestan, and 
Persia examples of Savi's Warbler have been obtained ; but the few that I 
have seen in the collections of Hencke and Severtzow, instead of being of 
a rich russet-brown on the upper parts (the colour of ground coffee) , were 
of a more pinky earth-brown (the colour of chocolat-au-lait) . Spanish 
examples in nestling plumage of Savi's Warbler are similar in colour, but 
somewhat darker. Severtzow described the Turkestan birds as new, under 
the name of Cettia fusca (not Cettia fulva, as I erroneously stated in my 
paper on the Birds of Astrakhan in ' The Ibis ' for 1882, p. 213) ; but he 
afterwards identified them with Savi's Warbler. It will be an interesting 
problem for future travellers to solve, whether young birds retain the 
colour of the nestling plumage beyond their first spring moult until their 
first autumn moult, and whether the examples hitherto obtained of this 
species east of the Black Sea have only been birds of the year, or whether 
these forms are specifically or subspecifically distinct. It is possible that 
Savi's Warbler originally came from Turkestan, and originally had the 
colour which the Turkestan birds may still retain, and that a long resi- 
dence in Europe, where the rainfall is so much greater, has directly 
or indirectly caused the colour of adult birds to become so much more 
russet, the original colour being still retained in the young in first 
plumage. 

Savi's Warbler appears to bear the same relation to the Grasshopper 
Warbler that the Reed-Warbler does to the Sedge- Warbler. In each case 
the uniformly coloured bird is almost entirely confined to the uniformly 
coloured reeds, whilst the spotted bird principally frequents the rank 
herbage, whose foliage is much more variegated. If there is any mutual 
relationship between these facts, it would be difficult to say which is 
cause and which is effect. The plain-backed birds may have been exter- 
minated from the variegated swamps, because the spotted plumage of the 
allied species gave them a slight advantage in the struggle for existence ; 
or all four species may originally have had spotted backs, but those which 
lived in the reeds may gradually have lost their spots to accommodate 
themselves to their surroundings. 

Savi's Warbler arrives at the reed-beds of Galicia during the first week 
in May ; but in the south of Spain it must arrive much earlier, since 
Col. Irby obtained eggs in Andalusia on the 4th of May. He states. 



348 BRITISH BIRDS. 

however, that the birds were all gone by September j so that possibly 
it may be only exceptionally that it winters in the south of France. 
It must, however, be remembered that birds of such skulking habits may 
easily be overlooked after they have ceased to sing. Although most 
observers agree that Savins Warbler is by no means so shy as its two 
European allies, the Grasshopper Warbler and the River- Warbler, yet it 
seems only to frequent large reed-beds, and can rarely be seen except 
from a boat or by wading in the marshes. Although it drops down into 
the sedges for concealment if pursued, it seems to avoid the sedges and 
other water-plants when feeding, and is seldom seen perched except upon 
the reeds. It runs up one of these, searching for insects on the stem and 
leaves, then drops down onto another, up which it runs in like manner, 
never still for a moment except when it pauses to sing on the top of 
a reed, where, with outstretched neck, head somewhat thrown back, and 
extended throat, it runs off its monotonous reel, whence it has been called 
the Reel-bird (in Dutch Sivorr, in German Schwirrvogel) . 

The song of Savins Warbler is said to resemble the note of the tree-frog. 
It is a monotonous whirr or trill, like the note of a grasshopper, and is 
described as more melodious but less powerful than that of the other two 
European Grasshopper Warblers. It is pitched in a higher key than either 
of them, and sounds further or nearer as the bird turns its head from or to- 
wards the listener. It may be heard at all hours of the day or night in calm 
warm weather; but on cold nights the bird is silent, and in windy weather 
it either does not sing at all or its voice is drowned by the rustling of the 
reeds. Its call-note is described as a short krr. It is said to be a very 
quarrelsome bird, and frequently to chase so eagerly any rival which may 
invade its domain as to be at such times regardless of danger. In 
Andalusia it breeds early in May ; but in this country, in Holland, and in 
Galicia it is recorded to have bred late in May or early in June. Graf 
Casimir Wodzicki, describing its habits in the latter country (Journ. Orn. 
1853, Extra-Heft, p. 49), writes : — " I have often watched this delicate little 
bird building its nest, and noticed with what trouble it collects the materials. 
At first both sexes are thus employed ; but later the female alone collects 
the leaves, which the male takes from her beak and arranges without her 
assistance." The nest is carefully concealed amongst the sedges [Carex], 
and is placed upon a heap of tangled blades, usually six inches, but some- 
times two or three feet, above the water. It is composed of flat leaves of 
broadish grass, generally of sweetgrass [Glyceria), carefully woven together, 
the narrowest leaves being chosen for the lining. It is a marvellously neat 
structure, very deep, sometimes deeper than the inside diameter. Graf 
Wodzicki says that " an inexperienced ornithologist would take it for a 
nest of the Little Crake, so exactly similar is it, only smaller." He also 
states that both male and female sit on the nest, and allow themselves to 



SAVrS WARBLER. 349 

be watched without leaving it. If frightened offj they soon return. During 
the breeding-season Savins Warbler is rarely seen on the wing; but early in 
spring it sometimes flies up from the reeds and dives down into them again 
with wings laid back. It is said not to sing on the wing. When it does 
take wing its flight is said not to be undulating, but with continuous beats 
of the wing, like the flight of a Wren or a hawk moth. It is not known 
that Savi's Warbler feeds upon any thing but insects and their larvae. 

The eggs vary in number from four to six. They are French white or 
pale buff in ground-colour, thickly sprinkled over the entire surface with 
ashy-brown spots, most numerous at the larger end of the egg, where they 
usually form an obscure zone. The pale violet-grey underlying markings 
are numerous ; and on some eggs there are a few very dark, irregular, hair- 
like streaks. In many specimens the indistinct zone of colour is largely 
composed of underlying spots, giving the eggs a scarcely perceptible pink 
appearance in this part. The eggs of Savins Warbler somewhat closely 
approach those of the Grrasshopper Warbler, but are always browner. 
From certain varieties of the eggs of the allied L. fluviatilis they are 
absolutely undistinguishable. They vary in length from '8 to "75 inch 
(Professor Newton gives a measurement of '84), and from '6 to '55 inch in 
breadth. 

Savi's Warbler has the general colour of the upper parts uniform russet- 
brown, slightly duskier on the quills, and somewhat paler on the outside web 
of the second primary. The underparts are pale bufiish brown, shading 
into nearly white on the throat and the centre of the belly ; the under 
tail-coverts are pale chestnut, with obscure paler tips. Bill dark brown 
above, pale horn-colour below ; legs, feet, and claws pale brown ; irides 
hazel. It is not known that the sexes diff'er in plumage, or that the 
autumn moult produces any change of colour. Birds of the year are said 
to be less rufous on the upper parts and paler underneath. 

Savins Warbler may be distinguished from its near ally L. fluviatilis by 
its russet-brown upper parts (which in that species are olive-brown), and by 
the absence of the striations on the breast so conspicuous in the latter 
species. 



»i®i«i®i^^'g^«i«i®i« 



350 BRITISH BIRDS. 



Genus ACROCEPHALUS. 

The Reed-Warblers were included by Linnaeus in his extensive genus 
Motacilla, and were afterwards removed by Scopoli, along with the other 
Warblers, into his genus Sylvia. The elder Naumann was the first to 
subdivide Scopoli's genus; and in 1811, in the Supplement to his ' Natur- 
geschichte der Land- und Wasser-Vogel des nordlichen Deutschlands und 
angranzender Lander/ p. 199, he founded the genus Acrocephalus for the 
Reed- War biers, and placed A. turdoides first on his list. This bird, which 
is a fairly representative example of the genus, may therefore be accepted 
as the type. 

The Reed-Warblers are a well-marked group of birds, distinguished by 
the possession of a very minute bastard primary and a moderately rounded 
tail. The bastard primary is so minute that in adult birds it does not 
usually extend as far as the primary-coverts ; but in birds of the year, and 
in one or two species slightly aberrant in this respect, it is usually some- 
what longer, occasionally extending beyond them. The bill is typically 
large, depressed and broad at the base, with moderately developed rictal 
bristles. In two of the species the bill is somewhat aberrant, being as 
slender as in the genus Locustella. These two species are also distinguished 
by a different style of colouring, each feather on the head and back being 
darker in the centre. The existence of two other intermediate species, 
however, makes it advisable not to separate them more than sub- 
generically from the typical Acrocephali, of which they form the Cala- 
modine group. 

The tail is more rounded than in Hypolais, and much more so than in 
Phylloscopus, but not so much so as in Locustella, the outside tail-feathers 
being longer than the under tail-coverts. The general colour of the 
plumage is a more or less uniform brown, sometimes olive-brown, some- 
times russet-brown, gradually fading, as the plumage becomes abraded, 
into a neutral brown or dust-brown, not inaptly described as museum- 
colour. 

The Reed- Warblers, as their name implies, frequent marshy districts, 
reed-beds, and the dense vegetation on the banks of still waters. They are 
possessed of considerable powers of song. They build well-made open 
nests, sometimes suspended over the water, attached to reeds or twigs, and 
sometimes in the bushes ; and their eggs are from four to six in number. 
Their food is principally insects. 

The breeding-range of these Warblers extends over the whole of the 
Central and Southern Palsearctic Region ; and one species is found as far 



ACKOCEPHALUS. 



351 



north as the Arctic circle. They winter in the tropical regions of Africa 
and Asia, and are especially common at that season in the islands of the 
Malay archipelago. Two species apparently migrate south instead of 
north to breeds and resort to the swamps of Australia for that purpose. 
Seven other species appear to be non-migratory — -one having found a 
permanent home in South Africa, and the others in the islands of the 
PacifiCj from the Carolines in the west to the Marquesas in the east of that 
ocean. Five species are regular summer visitors to Europe j and the range 
of two others extends as far as the extreme south-east of Europe. Three 
of these breed in the British Islands, and two are accidental visitors. 



->^:*!i.^ 




■■ ■ >i'T t 






WHINCHAT S NEST. 



352 BRITISH BIRDS. 



ACROCEPHALUS PHRAGMITIS *. 
SEDGE-WARBLER. 

(Plate 10.) 

? Fioedula curnica sylvestris, Bri^s. Orn. iii. p. 393 (1760). 

? Motacilla sohoenobffinus, Linn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 329 (1766). 

Motacilla salicaria, Linn, apud Tunst. Orn. Brit. p. 2 (1771). 

Sylvia salicaria (Liym.) apud Lath. Gen. Syn. Suppl. i. p. 287 (1787). 

F Sylvia sclicenobsenus {Linn.), Lath. Lnd. Orn. ii. p. 510 (1790). 

Sylvia phragmitia, Bechst. Orn. Taschenb. p. 186 (1802) ; et auctorum pluri- 
morum — Wolf, Temminck, Naumann, Menetries, Jenyns, Eversmann, Nordman7i, 
{Koch), (Bote), (Brehm), (Macr/illivrai/), (Schlegel), {Katip), (Selby), (Gould), 
(Keyserlmg), (Blasius), (Thompson), (Lindermayer) , (Hartiny), (Bonaparte), 
(Degland), (Gerbe), (Locke), (Salvadori), ^-c. 

Acrocephalus plaragmitis (Bechst.), Naum. Nat. Land- und Wass.- Vog. twrdl. Deutschl., 
Nachtr. iv. p. 202 (1811). 

Muscipeta phragmitis (Bechst.), Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. i. p. 163 (1816). 

Sylvia schcenobasnus (Linn.), VieUl. Faun. Franq. i. p. 224 (1820). 

Calamoherpe phragmitis (Bechst.), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 552. 

Curruca salicaria (Linn.), apud Fleming, Brit. An. p. 69 (1828). 

Calamodus phragmitia (Bechst.), Kaup, Naturl, Syst. p. 117 (1829). 

Calamoherpe tritici, Brehm, J'og. Deutschl. p. 449 (1831). 

Calamoherpe schoenobfenus (Linn.), Brehm, Vog. Deutschl. p. 450 (1831). 

Salicaria phragmitis (Bechst.), Selby, Brit. Orn. i. p. 201 (1833). 

Calamodyta phragmitia (Bechst.), Bonap. Camp. List B. Eur. §• N. Amer. p. 12 
(1838). 

Calamodyta sohoenobaenua (Linn.), Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 209, no. 2964 (1869). 

Acrocephalua achcBnobBenus (Linn?), Neioton, ed. Yarr. Brit. B. i. p. 376 (1873). 

Calamodua schoenobBenus (Linn.), Blanf. East. Pers. ii. p. 199 (1876). 

Although there can be no doubt that Linnseus was acquainted with the 
Sedge- Warbler, yet his diagnoses are so vague that it is impossible to say 
whetlier he intended to designate it by the name of MotaciUa schoenobcBnus 
or Motacilla salicaria — -Vieillot, Sundevall, Brehm, and Newton identifying 
it with tlie former, and Tunstall, Donovan, Latham, Leach, Forster, and 
Fleming with the latter. The first clear definition seems to have been that of 
Pennant, who described and figured the bird in 1766 under the name of the 

* In my opinion no posaible good can arias, and much confuaion must be caused, by 
rejecting the name in common uae for the Sedge-Warbler, which was well defined 
by Bechstein, in favour of the ill-defined name suppoaed to have been given to it by 
Linnaeus. I admit that the evidence of the ' Fauna Suecica ' leaves little room for doubt 
that LinnsBua intended to deacribe the Sedge-Warbler ; but hia description waa so meagre 
that it met with the neglect that it deaerved. 



SEDGE-WARBLER. 353 

Willow-Larkj although Gilbert White appears to have unwittingly done 
his best to confuse him by confounding the Reed- Warbler with the Sedge- 
Warbler*. Pennant, however, was indebted to White for a correct descrip- 
tion of the habits of the bird, which fortunately do not differ much from 
those of its ally. 

This now well-known bird is a common summer visitor to all parts of 
England, breeding more or less abundantly in every county. In his 
' Birds of Guernsey/ Mr. Smith states that it is local and by no means so 
common as the Reed-Warbler. In Scotland it is a very abundant species, 
especially in the western counties, from Wigtown to the north of Argyle ; 
and it is not uncommon in Western Inverness and Sutherland. It becomes 
more local in the Western Islands, being found in Mull and Islay, but is 
apparently absent from the Outer Hebrides. In Ireland the bird is. equally 
common and widely distributed. 

On the Continent the Sedge- Warbler has a somewhat extensive range, 
being found in Norway as far north as lat. 70°, in Sweden and North 
Russia to lat. 68°, and in the valleys of the Obb and the Yenesay to 
lat. 67°. Its extreme abundance in the latter valley makes it very probable 
that it may occur still further to the east in the valley of the Lena. In 
the south of Europe it is principally known as passing through on migra- 
tion ; but it is said occasionally to remain to breed in Spain, the south of 
France, Italy, and Greece. In Corfu and Crete Colonel Drummond Hay 
states that it is a resident. In Algeria, Egypt, and Asia Minor it is prin- 
cipally known as a winter visitor; but a few probably also remain in these 
localities to breed, as Dixon shot it in the oasis of Biskra in Algeria in 
May. Canon Tristram states that it breeds in Palestine ; and Bogdanow 
saw it in the Caucasus in autumn. It does not appear to have occurred in 
Persia ; but it is found in North-west Turkestan. It is perhaps more 
abundant in Russia than in any other country, and is generally distributed 
throughout the rest of Europe; but, curiously enough, it is said not to 
occur in South Norway and in Lombardy — two localities apparently well 
suited to its requirements. Its winter range extends far down into South 
Africa, as it has been obtained in Damara Land and the Transvaal. I 
have in my collection two skins from Potchefstrom, in the latter district, 
one dated February and the other dated 18th of April, both of which are 
moulting their quill feathers. 

The Sedge-Warbler arrives in its breeding-haunts by the latter end of 



* It is remarkable that such an accurate observer as Gilbert White should have con- 
fused two such distinct birds together. His description, " head, back, and coverts of the 
wings of a dusky brown, without those dark spots of the Grasshopper Lark," can only 
apply to the Reed-Warbler ; but his further remark, " over each eye is a milk-white 
stroke," must surely apply to the Sedge-Warbler. 

VOL. I. 2 A 



354 BRITISH BIRDS. 

April, its appearance usually being noted a little earlier in the southern 
than in the northern counties. In Ireland it appears to arrive even later 
still. Thompson states that it appears in the neighbourhood of Belfast 
during the first ten days of May, but he has known it to arrive as early 
as the 16th of April. It would also appear to depart in the autumn earlier 
from Ireland, the same careful writer giving the 5th of September as the 
latest date he has known it to be met with ; but in England it remains 
until the end of September, and has even been met with in Norfolk on the 
20th of October. 

The Sedge-Warbler is by no means, as its name would possibly suggest, 
confined to the sedges and the reeds. Its haunts are as much in the 
tangled brake and dense vegetation of marshy plantations as amongst the 
ever-murmuring reeds. It is especially fond of frequenting the stunted 
willow-bushes by the water-side. The Sedge- Warbler is much more often 
heard than seen. Like all the Reed-Warblers it is a shy and retiring 
little bird, although now and then its curiosity seems to get the better 
of its habitual shyness, and prompts it to mount to the top of some 
waving spray to take a more extensive view of the world than can be 
obtained from the seclusion of its shady haunt. Sometimes a hurried 
glimpse of it may be got as it hops rapidly from one twig to another ; 
but it soon disappears again, and its harsh notes are the only sign of its 
presence. Although such a skulking little fellow, the Sedge-Warbler may 
always be detected by its song. If it is not actually to be seen, a stone 
thrown into its favourite retreat will rouse it from its reverie, and cause 
it to start its song at once — a song of seeming defiance and mockery, 
as though the cunning little musician knew full well that it was able to 
elude detection at will. When thus aroused it will often mount to the 
top of the bushes and, for a few moments, warble forth its lay in full 
view, shifting restlessly about in the meantime as if fearful of its own 
boldness. 

The song of the Sedge-Warbler is most pertinaciously kept up. It 
somewhat resembles that of the Whitethroat, but has a much larger 
range of notes. It is qu.ite as vehemently uttered. Some of its notes 
are round, full, and rich ; but many parts of the song are almost as 
harsh as the notes of the House-Sparrow. The Sedge-Warbler will also 
appear to imitate the songs of other birds, and varies its own performance 
so as often to make the hearer imagine that it is introducing the notes of 
its neighbours. It not unfrequently sings as it flies ; and it is also one 
of the few feathered musicians that regularly warble at night. In Ireland 
this habit has gained for the bird the title of " Irish Nightingale ;" but 
the music of that sweet chorister is beyond all comparison finer than the 
" Sedge-bird's ■'•' garrulous song. In the pairing-season especially, it sings 
so loudly as to often appear but a few feet from the observer when in 



SEDGE-WARBLER. 355 

reality it is iu the depth of its cover many yards away. The call-note is 
a harsh churr rapidly repeated ; and its alarm-note is a scold something 
like that of the Whitethroat. 

The nesting-season of the Sedge-Warbler commences early in May. Its 
nest is never suspended between the reeds like the Reed- Warbler's, but is 
supported by the branches. The site is varied a little, according to the 
nature of the haunts it frequents. On the broads and in marshy places 
the bird usually selects some convenient place in the willow bushes. In 
other haunts the nest is often placed in the thick branches of a hedge near 
a stream ; at other times the brambles growing in wild confusion in its 
marshy haunts, or the bushes and woodbine drooping over the water, wiU 
be selected to hold it. Few of our British nests are so unassuming as the 
Sedge- Warbler's. It is a small and simple little structure, not very deep, 
made of dry grass-stems, portions of sedgy plants, sometimes lined with a few 
hairs, sometimes with scraps of vegetable down. It is sometimes placed as 
much as ten feet from the ground, but more frequently at a height of one 
or two feet, and rarely on the ground itself. Writing of the nest in the 
latter situation, Mr. Stevenson, in his ' Birds of Norfolk," states : — " I have 
also found it in some few instances in a little hollow on the ground, but 
so concealed amongst the surrounding moss as to be discoverable only by 
the bird rising frightened from the spot. Again amongst the sedges, as 
its name denotes, it seeks concealment in the treacherous nature of the 
soil, and the nests may be there found supported, but not suspended, on 
the dead weed and leaves of the sedge broken down.'^ The eggs of the 
Sedge- Warbler are five or six in number, and differ considerably in colour. 
For the sake of convenience it is perhaps best to divide them into two 
types, very distinct from each other, but connected together by inter- 
mediate varieties. The ground-colour of both types, when it can be seen 
(which is not often), is bluish white. The first type is stone-colour, with 
pale and indistinct mottlings of yellowish brown. The second type has 
the same bufifish appearance, but the markings are very much more pro- 
nounced and of a richer brown, in some specimens deep red-brown. 
Almost all eggs of the Sedge- Warbler, of both types, are also marked 
with fine scratchy streaks of rich blackish brown; on some eggs these 
pencillings are not continuous and can scarcely be traced ; in others they 
are almost as pronounced as the marks on a Bunting-'s egg. They vary 
in length from '75 to '6 inch, and in breadth from -55 to '5 inch. 

The food of the Sedge-Warbler is largely composed of insects, which it 
may often be seen catching in the air whilst fluttering over the waters and 
reeds. It also feeds upon worms; and Naumann states that it will eat 
elder-beri'ies. 

The Sedge-Warbler has the general colour of the upper parts russet- 
brown, each feather having an obscure dark centre. These dark centres 

2a2 



356 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



are most conspicuous^ becoming nearly black on the head, wing-coverts, 
and innermost secondaries, and disappear altogether on the rump, which 
is very tawny. The eye-stripe is very distinct, huffish white, but does not 
extend to the nape. The underparts are huffish white, darkest on the 
breast and flanks. After the autumn moult the eye-stripe and the under- 
parts are still more sufl^used with buff. After both moults, but especially 
in spring, the whitish tips to the quills are very conspicuous ; but these 
are soon lost by abrasion. Bill dark brown above, pale below; legs, feet, 
and claws pale brown ; irides hazel. 




Mhr 



AQUATIC WARBLER. 357 

ACROCEPIIALUS AQUxVTICUS. 

AQUATIC WARBLER. 

(Plate 10.) 

? Sylvia schoenobsenus (Linn.), apud Scop. Ann. I. Hist. Nat. p. 158 (1769). 

.P Motacilla ac[uatica, Omel. Syst. Nat. i. p. 050 (17t;8, ex Scop, et Lath.). 

? Sylvia aqiiatica (Gme!.), Lath. Lid. Orn. ii. p. 510 (1790). 

Sylvia salicaria (Linn.), apud Bechst. Orn. Taschenb. p. 185 (180:2). 

Acrocephalua salicarius (Linn.), aptid Nauin. Nat. Land- ii. Wass.- Vog. nijrdl. Deutschl., 

Nachtr. Heft iv. p. 203 (1811). 
Sylvia aquatica {Gmel.), Temm. Man. d'Orn. p. 1.31 (1815); et auctorum pluri- 

morum — (Naamann), (^Ooiild), (Orai/), {^Schlcyel), (Salvadori), (^Newto 

(Dresser), life. 
Muscipeta salicaria (Linn.), apud Koch, Syst. haier. Zuol. i. p. 104 (1816). 
Sylvia paludicola, Vieill. X. Bid. d'Hist. Nat.xi. p. 202 (1817). 
Sylvia cariceti, Nainn. Isis, 1821, p. 78-j. 
Calamoherpe aquatica ((--finel.), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. •5.")2, 
Calamoherpe cariceti (Naum.), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 552. 
Calamodyta aquatica {Gntel.), Kaup. Natiii-l. Syst. p. 118 (1829). 
Calamoherpe limicola, Brehm, ^'lijj- DeiifscJd. p. 451 (1831). 
Calamoherpe striata, Brehm, Viiy. Drnischl. p. 452 (1831). 
Stilicaria aquatica {Omel.), Oould, B. Ear. ii. pi. iii. fig. 2 (1837). 
Calamodyta cariceti (Xavm.), Bonap. Comp. List B. Eur. 8,- X. Amer. p. 12 (1838). 
Calamodus salicarius (Linn.), apud Cub. Mii.i. lleiu. i. p. 30 (1850). 
Acrocephalus aquaticus (Gmel.), Xetrtvn, ed. I'arr. Brit. B. i. p. 380 (1873). 

As long ago as 1822 the Aquatic Warbler must have been known to 
British ornithologists; for Mr. J. H. Gurney^jun., has pointed out ('Trans. 
Norfolk and Norwich Nat. Soc' 1871, p. 62) that the figure o£ the "Sedge- 
Warbler " in Hunt^s ' British Ornithology ' was evidently taken from an 
example of the present species. At least three other specimens have been 
recorded as British. Professor Newton discovered an example in the 
collection of Mr. Borrer, and exhibited it at a meeting of the Zoological 
Society ('Proc. Zool. Soc' 1866, p. 210), with the following note from its 
possessor : — "My specimen was shot on the 19th of October, 1853, in an 
old brick-pit a little to the west of Hove, near Brighton, and was stuflTed 
by Mr. H. Pratt of that place. I saw it just after it was skinned. It was 
observed creeping about amongst the old grass and reeds." In 1867 
Mr. Harting recorded the second example simultaneously in the "^ Zoologist^ 
(p. 946) and 'The Ibis' (p. 468). It was obtained in the neighbourhood 
of Loughborough, Leicestershire, during the summer of 1864. The third 
example was recorded in the ' Zoologist •" for 1871 (p. 2521) by Mr. J. H. 
Gurney, jun., who detected it amongst a collection of British birds in the 
Dover Museum. Mr. Cordon, the curator, informed Mr. Gurney that it 



358 BRITISH BIRDS. 

was shot by himself in the neighbourhood^ although the date of its capture 
could uot be traced. It is no subject for surprise to find this bird occa- 
sionally wandering across the English Channel, when we know it breeds 
pretty commonly on the opposite coasts of France and Holland. As it is 
also apt to be confused with allied species, it may easily escape notice. 

The Aquatic Warbler has not a very extensive range. It has never been 
found north of the Baltic, and is only known to pass through Spain on 
migration. It is a regular, though local, summer migrant to France, 
Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and South Denmark. South of the 
Danube it is only known to pass through on migration, a few remaining 
during the winter in Greece and Asia Minor. In South Russia Goebel 
found it rare in the valley of the Dnieper; and Nordmann once obtained 
it at Odessa in spring. Bogdanow did not meet with it either on the 
Volga or in the Caucasus ; but Meves found it abundant in the marshes of 
the Southern Ural, which, so far as is known, is its eastern limit. It is 
said to winter in the Canary Islands and in various parts of North Africa; 
but our information respecting its winter quarters is very meagre. There 
is no doubt that a considerable number remain to breed in Algeria and 
Tunis. 

The only occasion on which I have met with the Aquatic Warbler 
was on the island of Heligoland. Mr. R. Bowdler Sharpe, Mr. Frank 
Nicholson, and I arrived on the island on the 33rd of September. We 
devoted the 24th to Gatke and his wonderful collection ; but on the 25th 
we turned out early in the morning before breakfast, and were delighted to 
find that there had been a considerable migration of birds duiing the 
night, and that, out of the crowds that must have passed over, many tired 
or hungry birds had been left behind, and were to be found feeding on the 
edges of the cliff, or skulking among the potatoes. It was very curious to 
see what a mixture of birds we had on our breakfast table after about three 
hours' desultory wandering on this bare little earth-covered rock out of 
sight of land. To say nothing of common birds, such as Wheatears, Sky- 
larks, Woodlarks, Meadow-Pipits, Redstarts, &c., we had shot a Starling, 
a Peewit, a Snow-Bunting, a Jack-Snipe, a Corncrake, a couple of Grey- 
headed Yellow Wagtails, and an Aquatic Warbler, and had seen Kestrels, 
Song-Thrushes, and Ring-Ouzels. The Aquatic Warbler was skulking 
amongst the potatoes ; and a few days afterwards we picked up a second 
example. 

The Aquatic Warbler is said to arrive at its breeding-haunts in North 
Germany dui-ing the last half of April ; so that it belongs neither to the 
earliest nor to the latest group of migrants. As its name implies, this 
bird is only found in swamps, but is said to neglect the large reed-beds, 
and choose the ditches, ponds, and banks of lakes and rivers, which abound 
in coarse aquatic vegetation, being especially partial to sedges, in which it 



AQUATIC WARBLER. 359 

delights to hide. Tangled masses of wild roses, brambles, and thorn- 
bushes are also places where it is often found. Like all its congeners it 
IS an active and restless bird, and is remarkably cautious and shy, con- 
cealing itself on the least approach of danger. The Aquatic Warbler is 
said never to hop, but on a branch or on the ground to run almost like a 
mouse. The song is described as much like that of the Sedge- Warbler, 
but is said to be shorter and more rapidly executed, and to want the clear 
flute-like notes which make the song of that bird so fine. Its food is 
insects ; and it is not known that it ever feeds upon fruit of any kind. 

Naumann says that this bird arrives in North Germany a week or two 
before the Sedge- Warbler, and is also a somewhat earlier breeder. Fresh 
eggs may be obtained in the last half of May. It never makes its nest 
amongst the reeds over the water, but chooses a bunch of sedge or water- 
plants near the bank, or a thorn or willow overgrown with rank herbage. 
The nest is never placed on the ground, but frequently only a few inches 
above it ; seldom more than a foot or eighteen inches. It is suspended 
between the stalks of the plants which grow close to it, and which are 
woven into the sides. It is described as smaller than the nest of the 
Sedge- Warbler, somewhat roughly and carelessly finished outside, but 
inside very deep, round, and smooth. ' The foundation is of coarse grass, 
completed with fine round grass-stalks and roots, neatly lined with horse- 
hair. Occasionally spiders' webs, the flowers of the cotton-grass, and 
even feathers are used for its construction ; but the final lining is said 
always to be horsehair. The number of eggs varies from four to five. 
They are brownish white in ground-colour, thickly mottled and clouded 
over the entire surface with yellowish brown, and sometimes with one or two 
streaks of dark brown. They vary in length from '1 to '67 inch, and in 
breadth from "52 to '5 inch. It is impossible to give any character by 
which the eggs of this bird can be distinguished from those of the Sedge- 
Warbler. Those that I have examined are not perhaps so yellow in tint 
and may be a trifle smaller; but in a large series it is quite possible that 
these diff'erences will be found to be only individual ones. 

The Aquatic Warbler has the general colour of the upper parts pale 
tawny brown. The eye-stripe is very distinct, greyish white, and extends 
almost to the nape ; and over each eye-stripe a broad, very dark-brown 
streak passes to the nape, leaving a narrow pale mesial line on the crown. 
Each feather of the rest of the upper parts, including the wing-coverts, 
innermost secondaries, and tail, has a more or less distinct dark brown 
centre, the quill feathers only being uniform brown. In abraded summer 
plumage the underparts are nearly white ; but in spring the throat and 
flanks are bufifer, and in autumn the underparts are more or less sufi'used all 
over with buff. In many skins the lower throat and flanks are striated ; in 
this plumage they are the 8. cariceti of Naumann. These striations occur 



360 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



principally in birds shot in the pale breeding-plumagBj but are sometimes 
sparingly found in the fulvous plumage after the autumn moult. Some 
ornithologists ascribe the striated underparts to the adult plumage, and 
the unstriated to birds of the year ; but I have come to the conclusion, 
after examining a large series of these birds, that the striated plumage is 
that of summer and the unstriated that of winter, though this appears to 
be a somewhat exceptional change. Bill dark brown above, pale below; 
legs, feet, and claws pale horn-colour; irides hazel. This bird may be at 
once distinguished from its near ally the Sedge-Warbler by the difference 
in the stripes on the head. In that bird every feather on the head has a 
dark centre, forming, when the feathers are not ruffled, four or five distinct 
but narrow dark stripes on the crown between the two pale eye-stripes. 
In the Aquatic Warbler there are only two dark stripes on the crown, very 
broad, distinct, and conspicuous. 




GREAT REED-WARBLER. 361 



ACROCEPHALUS TURDOIDES*. 

GREAT REED-WARBLER. 

(Plate 10.) 

Turdus arundinacua, Briss. Orn. ii. p. 219, pi. xxii. fig. 1 (1760) ; Linn. Sysl. Nat. 
i. p. L"J6 (_1766). 

Acrocephalus lacustris, Natim. Nutiir. Land- u. Wuss.- Vdff. nordl. Deutschl. Kachtr. 
iv. p. 201 (Ifill). 

Sylvia turdoides, Meyev, Voy. Lie- u. Esthl. p. 116 (1815) ; et auctorum plurimo- 
rum — Temminck {Boie), Nauinann {Kaup ), Menltries, (Brehra), ( Lesson), ( Gould), 
(BonajMi-te), Crespon, {Keyserliny i^- Blasius), Nordmann, Werner, Kjcerhdlliny, 
Sundevall, (Jaubert ^ Barthelemy-Lapommeraye), {Deyland c^' Oerbe), (Loc/ie), 
(Heuglin), {Duderlein), (Sahadori), Fallon, (Shelley), ^-e. 

Muscipita lacustris {Naum.), Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. i. p. 166 (1816). 

Calamoherpe turdoides (Meyer), Boie, Isis, 1822, p. 552. 

Turdus junco, Pall. Zooyr. Rosso-Asiat. i. p. 458 (182(j). 

Hydrocopsichus turdoides (Meyer), lump, Natiirl. Syst. p. 121 (182!J). 

Arundinaceus turduides (Meyer), Less. Traite d^Orn. p. 419 (1831). 

Calamoherpe lacustris (jVattm.), Brehm, Voy. DeuHchl. p. 442 (1831). 

Calamoherpe stagnatilis, Brehm, T'dy. Deutsehl. p. 442 (1831). 

Salicaria turdoides (Meyer), Ooiild, B. Eur. ii. pi. t\i. (1837). 

Acrocephalus arundinaceus (Linn.), Gray, List Gen. B. p. 28 (1841). 

Sylvia turdina, Gloger, Handb. Natvry. p. 312 (1842). 

Salicaria turdina (Gloyer), Schley. Rev. Crit. p. xxvii (1844). 

Calamodyta arundinacea (Linn.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 172 (1848). 

Calamoherpe media, Malm. (Efv. J'et.-Ak. Handl. 1851, p. 159. 

Calamoherpe turdina (Gloger), Schley. Toy. Kederl. p. 142 (1854). 

Acrocephalus turdoides {Meyer), Heugl. Orn. N.O.-Afr. i. p. 289 (18G9). 

Acrocephalus arahicus, Heugl. Orn. N.O.-Afr. i. p. 289 (1869). 

Salicaria arundinacea (Linn.), Harting, Handb. Br. B. p. 14 (1872). 

Acrocephalus fulvolateralis, Sharjie, ed. Layard's B. S. Afr. p. 289 (1877). 

Linnaeus placed this fine Reed- Warbler amongst his Thrushes, and thus 
laid the foundation for much confusion in its synonymy, whilst some 
British ornithologists have confounded it with the Eastern Nightingale, 
a bird which really is very closely allied to the Thrushes. The only 
satisfactorily authenticated instance of the occurrence of the Great Reed- 
Warbler in our islands is the one recorded by Hancock in his ' Catalogue 

* It is to be hoped that British ornithologists -will support me in using the name which 
has been applied to this species by far the greatest number of authors, and which remains 
in universal use on the continent. It is impossible to protest too strongly against the 
practice of transferring a name from one species to another — a practice which strikes at 
the root of all attempts to obtain scientific accuracy and precision, and paves the way for 
endless confusion. There can be no great harm in calling this species A. lacustris or A, 
juncu, but under no circumstances should it be called A. arundinaceus. 



362 BRITISH BIRDS. 

of the Birds of Northumberland and Durham/ He writes^ " A male 
specimen of this rare casual visitant was shot by Thomas Robson near 
Swalwellj four miles west of Newcastle^ May 28thj 1847. It was skulking 
in the low herbage by the side of a mill-dam. A notice of this capture 
is recorded in Annals and Mag. Nat. Hist., August 1847, Vol. xx. p. 135. 
The specimen is in the possession of Mr. Thomas Thompson, of Win- 
laton; and was, I believe, the first recorded occurrence of this large 
Warbler in the British Islands." 

On one of my visits to Constantinople I spent a day at Ortakoi, on the 
Bosphorous, with the above-mentioned Mr. Robson, and listened with 
great interest to the account of his capture of this rare visitant to our 
shores. I found Mr. Robson an excellent field-naturalist, well acquainted 
with the songs of all our common birds. He told me that whilst he was 
a Avorking mechanic at Newcastle he used to devote much of his leisure 
time to the study of field-ornithology. One morning his attention was 
suddenly arrested by the song of a bird differing entirely from any thing 
he had ever heard before. It was so skulking in its habits that he had 
some difiiculty in procuring it. Other occurrences are recorded from 
Kent, Essex, &c. ; but I cannot learn that in any case the facts of the 
examples having been killed in this country and having been correctly 
identified are placed beyond doubt. 

The Great Reed- Warbler is a western Palsearctic species, breeding in 
Central and Southern Europe, and ranging eastwards into Northern Persia 
and Turkestan. It also breeds in some parts of North Africa, and winters 
in South Africa. It is abundant in suitable localities in summer in 
Portugal, Spain, and all the countries of Europe south of the British 
Channel and the Baltic. In South Sweden, as in the British Islands, it 
appears to be only an accidental visitor. Its most northerly recorded 
locality is the islands at the entrance of the Gulf of Riga. In Russia it 
has not been found north of the valley of the Volga. In Africa it breeds 
iu Morocco and Algeria ; and it is a regular summer visitor to Palestine and 
Asia Minor. It winters on both the east and west of South Africa, having 
been obtained in Lower Guinea, Damara Laud, Natal, and the Transvaal. 
From the latter country I have examples in full moult obtained in March 
and April. 

The Great Reed- Warbler is the Reed-Warbler par excellence, being 
absolutely confined during the breeding-season to districts where the 
common reed {Arundo phraginitis) abounds. Hence its distribution is 
somewhat local. It is, however, very abundant in suitable localities, and 
frequents the reed-beds on the banks of rivers, in lakes, and even in small 
ponds. It is somewhat remarkable that this bird is not found amongst 
the reed-beds of the Norfolk broads. Although ^it breeds as far west as 
Portugal, and its northern range extends almost to the Gulf of Finland, 



GREAT REED-WARBLER. 363 

and although it is able^ on its winter migration, to reach as far south as 
the Transvaal, and even Natal, for some reason or other it objects to cross 
both the English Channel and the Baltic. We are therefore obliged to 
visit the continent to make the acquaintance of this charming bird ; but 
long before the steamer reaches Rotterdam the ornithologist who crosses 
over late in May will hear its loud, if not very musical, song in the reeds 
on the banks of the river, and, before he has become familiar with the 
note, may possibly mistake it for the croaking of frogs as he hears it 
for the first time amidst the splashing of water and the muffled jar of the 
engine. 

Early in May, when many of the commoner summer migrants whose 
range extends also to our islands are busily engaged in the duties of incu- 
bation, a few of the most adventurous Great Reed-Warblers arrive at their 
breeding-grounds ; towards tlie middle of the month they are tolerably 
common, and begin to make preparations for building ; biit it is vain to 
look for eggs before the last week in May. One reason for their late 
migration may possibly be the fact that the reeds in which they build 
do not reach maturity earlier ; but probably the more potent cause of delay 
is connected with the supply of food, as they are not only very late in 
arriving, but are also very early in departing. Their song ceases about the 
middle of July ; during August their numbers rapidly diminish ; and early 
in September you may search the reeds for them in vain. 

When the Great Reed- Warbler first arrives at its breeding-quarters it 
may occasionally be seen in the willows and other bushes which are often 
found in the marshes near the reed-beds; but usually it is only seen in 
the reeds. Its loud song causes its presence to be at once detected ; and 
with a little caution there is no difficulty in obtaining a sight of the bird. 
In May, last year, I saw a great deal of this bird as I strolled amongst the 
twenty-two ponds in the grounds of the old Cistercian Monastery at Rid- 
dagshausen, near Brunswick, now converted into the residence of my friend 
Oberamtmann Nehrkorn. Many of these ponds are full of reeds, and are 
frequented by great numbers of these birds. On the 16th of May I stood 
for some time under a pollard willow not five yards from a Great Reed- 
Warbler, listening to his harsh croaking as he sat unconcerned on one of 
the branches. When finally I frightened him away to see what he would 
do, he did not plunge into the reeds, which, by the way, were not yet full- 
grown, but he flew over them to a willow bush, where, conspicuously 
perched near the top of a perpendicular branch, he resumed his song. 
Four days later I found his nest ; and on the 22nd it contained one egg. 
Both birds were in the reeds close by, and flew angrily at me as I bent 
down the reeds to peep in, croaking at me like a couple of frogs. Later 
on, in Pomerania, on the 5th of June, in the reed-beds in the Garde 
See, the Great Reed- Warbler was equally common. Now and then we 



364 BRITISH BIRDS. 

saw a bird run up the reeds, and occasionally flutter along over their tops 
with hurried flight and outspread depressed tail, as if ready at any moment 
to alight. The water was above my knees, and the reeds much above my 
head and very densely planted ; but I soon found a nest containing four 
eggs. There is no evidence of two broods having been reared in one 
season ; but Mr. Sclater and I took a nest with fresh eggs on the 29th of 
June, at Riddagshausen, which may have belonged to a pair whose first 
nest had been taken. 

The song of the Great Reed-Warbler is something like that of the Sedge- 
Warbler, but shorter, louder, and harsher. It consists for the most part 
of variations on the few notes which I wrote down on the spot as kar-r-a, 
kar-r-a, kee, kee, interrupted with what appears to be the alarm-note, a 
root of kr-r-kr-r, as loud and as harsh as the croaking of a frog, but which 
nevertheless sounds like music in the ears of a British ornithologist, who 
listens to it as the note of a rare bird. Like most of its allies, this bird 
sings from early morning to late at night. 

Its food is principally insects, which it procures on the reeds — small 
beetles, flies, and various kinds of larva. It is said occasionally to catch an 
insect on the wing, and sometimes to pick them up from the muddy banks 
of the river or lake. In autumn, like most other insectivorous birds, it 
varies its diet with some of the softer wild fruits, especially elder-berries. 

I am not aware of any reliable instance of this bird's breeding other- 
wise than in reeds. The nest is usually placed in the middle of the reed- 
bed, about halfway between the top of the reeds and the surface of the 
water. Three, four, and sometimes five reeds are deftly woven into the 
outside of the nest, which is a large compact structure, composed almost 
entirely of the dead grass-like leaflets of the reed interwoven with a few 
roots, and lined with the dead flowers of the reed and a few slender grass- 
stalks. The nest is deep and cup-shaped, having an inside diameter of 
about two inches and a half, and being of about the same depth. Outside 
it measures about five inches in height, with an outside diameter of four 
inches. Occasionally the leaves of water-plants are interwoven in the 
nest, and sometimes moss, wool, a feather or two, and downy seeds (such 
as those of the clematis and cotton-grass) . The number of eggs is generally 
four or five, but frequently six. In colour they almost exactly resemble 
those of the Marsh-Warbler, but are twice the size. The ground-colour 
is a pale blue, sometimes approaching green, and often tinged with grey. 
Few eggs are more boldly or richly spotted. Large blotches of olive- 
brown or russet- brown, sometimes pale but occasionally approaching black, 
are distributed pretty evenly over the surface, and are relieved by minute 
spots of the same colour, and by the underlying blotches, which show pale 
through the ground-colour. The eggs vary considerably in size ; the 



GREAT REED-WARBLER. 365 

largest in my collection measures 1"0 by '"inch, and the smallest "8 by 
•63 inch. 

My friend Captain Verner has sent me the following notes on the habits 
of this bird: — "On May llth^ 1875^ I observed many Great Reed- 
Warblers amongst the tall reed-beds in a Laguna in Southern Andalusia. 
They were flying about in a restless manner^ now and then alighting on 
the reeds and singing loudly. By taking advantage of the cover afforded 
by the patches of reeds I was enabled to wade to within three or four 
yards of single birds, and watch them closely. They varied their song 
with a chattering note, much like our Sedge-Warbler's, but more noisy. 
On being disturbed they darted off with a strong and bold flight, doubling 
the corner of the nearest reed-bed, and settled again to recommence their 
song with fresh vigour. Although I hunted diligently for some hours, 
at times up to my waist in water, and amongst reeds some six feet in 
height, I only succeeded in finding two unfinished nests. They were 
suspended between the stems of the reeds in a similar manner to the 
common Reed-Warbler's." 

The Great Reed-Warbler bears some superficial resemblance to a 
Thrush ; but its slender shape, minute bastard primary, rounded tail, and 
scutellated tarsus, to say nothing of its double moult and unspotted young, 
ought to have prevented it from being confounded with the Thrushes, 
even by cabinet naturalists who were unacquainted with its Acrocephahne 
song and nest. The general colour of the upper parts is olive-brown, 
suflrused with rufous-brown on the rump, tail, and wings. The under- 
parts are pale rufous-brown, shading into nearly white on the chin, throat, 
and the centre of the belly. In the bill the upper mandible is dark brown, 
and the under mandible pale brown. The irides are brown, and the legs 
pale horn-colour. In the autumn plumage the brown of both the upper 
and underparts is more rufous than in spring ; but much of this rufous 
shade is lost by abrasion both in winter and summer. Birds of the year 
occasionally show traces of streaks on the breast. 

The Great Reed- Warbler has several very near allies, with which it has 
often been confounded. It is, however, slightly larger than any of them, 
has a somewhat more pointed wing, and decidedly paler legs. Its nearest 
ally is the Chinese Great Reed- Warbler (A. orientalis), which breeds in 
the valley of the Amoor, North China, and Japan, and winters in the 
Burma peninsula and the islands of the Malay archipelago. The Indian 
Great Reed- War bier (A. stentoreus) has a still more rounded wing and 
a somewhat longer bill and tail. It is much moi'e restricted in its migra- 
tions, and appears to be a resident in Egypt and Ceylon. In the inter- 
vening country, Persia, Turkestan, and the Himalayas, it is partially 
migratory, breeding in the highlands and wintering in the plains. Two 



366 



BRITISH BIRDS. 



slightly smaller species occur in Australia. The Western species (A. longi- 
rostris) is very rufous in colour; and the Eastern species {A. australis) has 
a comparatively shorter bill. Both species breed in the south, retiring 
north on the approach of the cold season. A iifth near ally of our bird^ 
Kittlitz's Great Reed- Warbler [A. syrinx), appears to have become slightly 
diflFerentiated by its isolation on some of the Caroline Islands in the 
Pacific Ocean. There are several other more distantly allied species. 




REED-WARBLER. 367 

ACROCEPHALUS ARUNDINACEUS * {Brisson nee Newton) . 
REED-WARBLER. 

(Plate 10.) 

Ficedula curruca arundinacea, Briss. Orn. iii. p. 378 (1760). 
? Motacilla salicaria, Zinn. Syst. Nat. i. p. 330 (1766). 

Motacilla arundinacea, Liglitfoot, Phil. Trans, Ixxv. p. 11 (1785); et auctorum 
plurimorum — Gmelin, (Bechstein), (Wolf), (Leach), {Temminch), (Naumann), 
(Koch), (Jeny^is), (Crespon), (Nordmann) , (Sundevall), (Sahadori), {Fallon), 
(Bonaparte), (Macgillkray), (Selya-Longchainps), (Schlegel), (Degland), (Oerhe), 
(Loche), (Doderlem), (Droste), (Shelley), (Gould), (Keyserling), (Blasius), 
(Thompson), (Lindermayer), (Fritsch), nee (Gray), (Newton), (Blanford), 
(Gurney), (Harting). 

Sylvia arundinacea (Briss.), Lath. Ind. Orn. ii. p. 510 (1790). 

Acrocephalus arundinaceus (Briss.), Naum. Nat. Land- u. Wass.- Vog. niirdl. Deutschl. 
Nachtr. Heft iv. p. 202 (1811). 

Muscipeta arundinacea (Briss.), Koch, Syst. baier. Zool. i. p. 165 (1816). 

Sylvia strepera, Tieill. N. Bid. d'Hist. Nat. xi. p. 182 (1817). 

Calamolierpe arundinacea (Briss.), Biiie, Isis, 1822, p. 552. 

Curruca arundinacea (Briss.), Fleming, Brit. An. p. 69 (1829). 

Ourruoa fusca, Hempr. et Ehr. Symh. Phys^. Aves, fol. cc (1833). 

Salicaria arundinacea (Briss.), Selby, Brit. Orn. i. p. 203 (1833). 

Calamodyta strepera (Vieill.), Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 172 (1848). 

Sylvia affinis, Hardy, Ann. de V Assoc. Norm. 1841, fide Degl. Orn. Eur. i. p. 572 
(1849, nee Blyth). 

Calamoherpe obscurocapilla, Dubois, Journ. Orn, 1866, p. 240. 

Calamodyta arundinacea (Briss.), Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 208, no. 2940 (1869). 

Salicaria strepera (Vieill.), Harting, Handb. Br. i?. p. 14 (1872). 

Acrocephalus streperus (Vieill.), Nervton, ed. Yarr. Brit. B. i. p. 369 (1873). 

Salicaria maoronyx, Secertz. Turkest, Jevotn, pp. 63, 128 (1873). 



* In order to prevent the possibility of being misunderstood it is necessary for tbe 
present to add tbe authority after this name. It was applied to the Great Reed- Warbler 
by Linnaeus, Gmelin, Latham, Bechatein, Wolf, Temminck, and Vieillot ; but as all these 
writers thought the Great Reed- Warbler was a Thrush, and placed it in the genus Turdus, 
no one was likely to confuse the great Turdus arundinaceus with the modest Acrocephalus 
arundinaceus. In process of time the earlier ornithologists discovered that they were 
mistaken in supposing the Great Reed- Warbler to be a Thrush ; and finding that the 
eenus to which it properly belonged abeady contained an arundinaceus, they most sensibly 
adopted a new and extremely appropriate name for the Thrush-like Reed-Warbler, 
turdoides, as a perpetual memorial of their former blunder. For upwards of a quarter of 
a century all went well, and everybody knew what bird was meant by Sylvia arundinacea, 
Acrocephalus arundinaceus, Calamoherpe arundinacea, or Salicaria arundinacea. In 1841 
the first false step was made by Gray. Led astray by the plausibility of the Stricklandian 
Code which received the sanction of the British Association the foUovWng year, he 
transferred the name of the Reed-Warbler to the Great Reed- Warbler, raking up a long- 
forgotten name for the smaller species. But the pedantry of Gray was not hkely to do 



368 BRITISH BIRDS. 

The Reed-Warbler appears to have been known to Willughby and Ray^ 
■who most unaccountably placed it amongst their " Woodpeckers less pro- 
perly so-called " ! but was not accurately described until Brisson's great 
work appeared. Gilbert White must have been acquainted with the bird, 
which he describes as differing from the Grasshopper Warbler by having 
the head, back, and wing-coverts without the dark spots of the latter 
species. He also identifies his bird with the Lesser Reed-Sparrow of 
Willughby and Ray, which is undoubtedly the Reed-Warbler ; but as in 
a subsequent letter he lays great stress on the white streak over the eye 
and the tawny rump, many writers, amongst whom are Blyth, Yarrell, 
and Newton, have concluded that he meant the Sedge-Warbler. He pro- 
bably confounded the two birds together. Fourteen years afterwards any 
confusion that may have arisen was cleared up by Lightfoot, who 
described both the bird, its habits, and its nest, from observations made 
in West ^liddlesex. 

The Reed- Warbler is common enough in the south of England ; but in 
the north it is very rare, and has consequently acquired, in the eyes of 
northern naturalists, the fascination which naturally emanates from the 
halo of mystery which surrounds rare birds. It seems vei-y doubtful 
whether the Reed-Warbler breeds in Great Britain north of the Humber 
or west of the iMersey. Writing to me of its occurrence in North-east 
Lincolnshire, ^Mr. Cordeaux states that it is rare. " In the summer of 
1876 and two following years two or three pairs nested in a reedy drain 
in this parish (Great Cotes) . Since that period I have not met with them, 
which is more remarkable as they were not disturbed in rearing their 
young. It occurs tolerably regularly on migration through the district in 
the autumn." It has been recorded from Ireland and Scotland, and is 
even supposed to breed in Lothian ; but as the writers who mention its 
occurrence do not appear to have been aware of the singularity of 
the circumstance, we may fairly imagine that no great pains were 
taken to verify the statements, and we may consequently accept 
them with some doubt. On the continent the range of this bird is not 
very limited. It is found in suitable localities in summer throughout 



much harm ; and his unscientific nomenclature would have been forgotten as a passing 
eccentricity, if, thirty-two years afterwards, Xewton had not adopted it. As a natural 
consequence, the minor ornithologists blindlj- followed their leaders — Harting, Blanford, 
Gurney, Dresser, and nearly every contributor of the ' Ibis ' and the ' Zoologist ' adopted 
the new names, until the name of Acrocephalus arunJinaceus meant one bird in England 
and another in France and Germany. English ornithologists must accept the penalty of 
having followed such blind guides, and must add an authority (Bris-'in) to their name, 
or a repudiation of other significations, such as nee Gray, nee Xrwtnn, or nee Dresser, 
until the confusion produced by the^e writers has blown over and been forgotten. 



aEED-WARBLER. 369 

Europe, south of latitude 58°, and in Asia Minor, Palestine, South-west 
Siberia, Turkestan, Persia, Baluchistan, and probably in Afghanistan. 
It is said to be a resident in Greece and the surrounding islands ; but it 
passes through North Africa on migration, and winters in Central Africa. 
Severtzow maintains that the Turkestan birds are a distinct species, which 
he has named Acrocephalus macrony.v; but the last time I was in Moscow 
we very carefully examined his series of these birds, principally from the 
valley of the Syr-Darja, where he says his new species is a resident, and I 
failed to detect any specific difference whatever*. 

The Reed- Warbler, as its name implies, is a denizen of the reed-beds 
and sedges which often abound on the shallow margins of rivers, lakes, 
ponds, and ditches. It is, howevei', by no means confined to the reeds, 
and is very partial to brushwood in the vicinity of water, and also frequents 
gardens, especially where there are ponds. Some continental ornitho- 
logists have attempted to discriminate between the birds frequenting reeds 
and those frequenting bushes ; but there does not appear to exist a 
shadow of evidence in favour of their being distinct. 

The habits of all the Reed- Warblers are almost exactly alike. They 
are migratory birds, never remaining in this country during the winter, 
and arriving somewhat late in spring. Even in the south of England the 
song of the Reed-Warbler is not heard before the last week of April, and 
many birds do not arrive before May is well advanced. A bird so retiring 
in its habits is more often heard than seen ; but with care it is not difiicult 
to obtain a sight of the indefatigable songster as it clings to a perpen- 
dicular reed or willow-twig, or flies across the water from one reed-bed to 
another, or hurries over the tops of the reeds along a ditch or across a 
pond. In cold windy weather they do not sing much unless disturbed ; 
but in bright sunny mornings or warm still evenings they sing inces- 
santly, half a dozen birds apparently trying to outrival each other in the 
loudness and rapidity of their notes. In calm close weather they will 
sino- almost all night. The song is somewhat more monotonous than 
that of the Sedge-Warbler ; the whistle is not so full, so rich, or so 
loud • but, as if to compensate for this, the scold is by no means so harsh, 
and is decidedly gentler ; but the notes follow each other in rapid suc- 
cession, and possess considerable variety and some melody. Its call-note 

♦ Severtzow kindly lent me one of his types for comparison. The wing measures 
2-85 inches the tail