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Full text of "Habits and characters of British wild animals"

HABITS AND CHARACTERS 

OF 

BRITISH WILD ANIMALS 



BY 

H. MORTIMER BATTEN 

Author of ' Tracks an J Trading ' 



ILLUSTRATED BY 

WARWICK REYNOLDS 



LONDON : 38 Soto Square. W. 

W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED 

EDINBURGH : 339 High Street 



.55" 



BIOLOGY 

LIBRARY 

G 



Edinburgh : 
Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited. 



Printed, Sept. 1920. 



CONTENTS. 



MM 

INTRODUCTION .... 7 

THE RED DEER .... 11 

THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK 37 

THE Fox 49 

THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE) .... 74 

THE OTTER 103 

THE PINE-MARTEN 139 

THE BADGER 161 

THE POLECAT 185 

THE BROWN HARE 192 

THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE 211 

THE RABBIT 218 

THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN 248 

THE SQUIRREL 271 

THE GRAY OR BROWN RAT 289 

THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE 312 

THE WILD CAT 337 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



The Roe-Deer, or the Roebuck Frontispiece 

The Red Deer facing page 16 

The Fox ii .1 48 

The Weasel ; 80 

The Stoat (the Ermine) 96 

The Otter 112 

The Pine-Marten MM 144 

The Badger i n 160 

The Polecat H ,t 176 

The Brown Hare * 192 

The Blue or Mountain Hare 208 

The Rabbit , 224 

The Hedgehog or Urchin DM 256 

The Squirrel H it 272 

The Gray or Brown Rat 288 

The Water-Rat or Water- Vole .... 320 

The Wild Cat . 336 



INTRODUCTION. 

IN the hope of achieving to some degree the virtue 
of originality if originality can truly be termed 
a virtue this book has been written from practical 
observations, and, so far as possible, without the 
aid of references. It is understood that originality 
strikes the keynote of interest, and while I have 
perhaps been guilty of shirking the more burden- 
some and technical details concerning the animals 
dealt with, I have endeavoured to include not 
only necessary facts, but also to infuse into each 
record something of the character of the beast 
itself. I have considered it essential not only to 
describe an animal as a creature of certain habits, 
but also to treat it as a thing of temperament 
and character, for it is only by the power of 
insight into this side of nature that one can 
hope to arrive at a thorough understanding of 
the denizens of the wild. An American Indian, 
when trying to impart his knowledge concerning 
some wild beast, tells you not of its habits, but 
of its character ; and it is because he himself knows 
so well the temperaments of the creatures he 
hunts that he is so much a master of woodcraft, 
for with this knowledge he is at once on the 
highroad to penetrating the innermost secrets of 
their lives. In the same way the man who is 
dependent upon his traps for a living profits at 
every turn by his intimate knowledge of the 
creatures he is out to trap. Some he knows to be 
inquisitive, so he appeals to their curiosity ; others 
he knows to be wary, and he trades on their 
wariness ; all, he knows, have some weakness, some 



8 INTRODUCTION. 

vulnerable point in their all too inadequate armour 
of defence, and if he can find it a rich harvest 
awaits him. We in Britain do not wish to destroy 
the wild creatures of our woods, but if we are 
to learn their ways we must first become au fait 
with their characters. 

It is, of course, impossible to write from personal 
observation and study all the data that are neces- 
sary for the completion of a book of this kind. 
One may be tolerably familiar with the life-habits 
and customs of a certain beast, may indeed regard 
it as an intimate friend; but life is too short 
for one to learn from practical observation all the 
details concerning it that are necessary its changes 
of coat, length of life, and so on. If one could 
devote all one's studies to one particular species, 
it might be possible ; but in dealing with several 
there comes a point when inaccuracy must be 
risked or extensive references made. Realising this, 
my method has been first to write all I know 
concerning the animal dealt with, and, this done, 
to apply to outside authority for such supple- 
mentary evidence as might prove necessary. If 
my original notes have appeared sufficient, they 
have been left untouched ; and in every case my 
own data, when sufficiently wide, have been given, 
whether or not they happen to coincide with the 
notes of other, and probably far better qualified, 
naturalists. On other occasions, personal data on 
a certain point have either been entirely lacking 
or insufficiently substantial, in which case the best 
authorities have been sought and quoted. 

A final reading of the finished chapters has 
brought home very forcibly the realisation that 
at least half the information contained in this 
volume is the result of the studies of my boyhood. 



INTRODUCTION. 9 

It dates back from my ninth year, and a very 
large number of the incidents quoted occurred 
during the succeeding seven years. In those days 
the study of wild birds and animals, particularly 
animals, combined with an intense love for angling, 
led me to explore many lonely mountain lochs 
and forests, and was so absorbing an attraction 
that it is to be feared it excluded studies of a 
more important kind. I had no books on British 
animals ; so far as the school library was concerned, 
no one seemed to have written any, and during 
holidays a reference library was not within hailing 
distance. The natural history books annually 
presented by kindly relatives were given over 
to such curiosities of the African veldt and the 
Indian jungle as best lent themselves to illus- 
tration, and contained nothing concerning the 
creatures I knew and loved. Gamekeepers, stone- 
breakers, and water-bailiffs were the only references 
available; and I very soon learnt that the sole 
way to acquire accurate knowledge was to find 
out for one's self a state of affairs for which I 
to-day thank my lucky star ! 

It was at my special request that the services of 
my friend and colleague, Mr Warwick Reynolds, 
were obtained for the illustrations, and the delightful 
pictures he has produced more than realise my 
highest expectations. One of the chief reasons 
for inviting this well-known artist to undertake 
the task was his reputation for minute accuracy 
as regards details. The animals he draws are 
creatures instinct with life and character, set 
amidst their true environment ; Mr Reynolds's 
striking effects are invariably obtained without 
sacrifice of that fidelity to truth which is essential 
in a work of this nature. 



10 INTRODUCTION. 

There is undoubtedly an astounding dearth 
of books dealing with the wild life of our woods 
and hills which strike a happy medium that is, 
books which are sufficiently informative without 
being burdensome to all but the seriously minded 
naturalist. For every man or woman who wishes 
to delve deeply into technicalities, there are hun- 
dreds who, while not desiring to imbibe solid chunks 
of knowledge, are sufficiently fascinated by the sub- 
ject to read with the keenest interest of the life- 
habits and characters of the wild beasts they see. 
The tendency is for human life to speed up, and 
as the tension increases year by year, the need 
for complete relaxation becomes more and more 
marked, and tired brains turn more and more to 
the fresh, calm things of the country. To-day 
natural history books are more popular than ever 
before, and it is with the realisation of this growing 
popularity that I have endeavoured to produce a 
book which, while being popular, is painstaking 
and thorough so far as is within the scope of my 
ability to make it. I hardly hope that it adds 
very much to the sum of man's knowledge; but 
if it adds one drop to his cup of contentment, 
my purpose is achieved. 

KILLIN, PERTHSHIRE. 



Habits and Characters of 
British Wild Animals. 



THE RED DEER. 

Thrice the age of a dog is that of a horse ; 
Thrice the age of a horse is that of a man ; 
Thrice the age of a man is that of a deer ; 
Thrice the age of a deer is that of an eagle ; 
Thrice the age of an eagle is that of an oak. 

SO says an ancient and interesting adage, which 
at any rate lacks nothing in extravagance of 
statement. Throughout Scotland the belief is still 
firmly rooted among shepherds and foresters of the 
old school that deer live to an enormous age, 
often exceeding two hundred years. It is a very 
curious fact that till quite recently this belief in the 
longevity of the red deer went practically undis- 
puted, and in glancing through old records of the 
chase one repeatedly finds reference to famous 
stags reputed to have evaded many generations of 
hunters. Indeed, the recognised name of ' Spy- 
tard ' existed as a designation for harts over a 
hundred years of age, and I believe that a Spytard 
was granted certain protections not shared by the 
younger generations of its race ! 

Scrope relates one or two incidents which might 
be taken as conclusive in indicating the abnormal 
length of life this animal attains, though he himself 
did not uphold such extravagant views. Concern- 
ing a stag which was shot by Glengarry in 1826, 



12 THE RED DEER. 

Scrope writes : ' On going up to him [the stag] a 
mark was discovered on his left ear ; the first man 
who arrived was asked what mark it was? He 
replied that it was the mark of Ewen-mac-Jan Og. 
Five others gave the same answer ; and after con- 
sulting together all agreed that Ewen-mac-Jan Og 
had been dead 150 years, and for forty years 
before his death had marked all the calves he 
could catch with this particular mark ; so that this 
deer (allowing the mark to be authentic) must 
have been 150 years old, and might have been 180. 
The horns, which are preserved by the present 
Glengarry, are not particularly large, but have a 
very wide spread.' 

Later the same writer says: 'I venture to 
mention that, according to tradition, Captain Mac- 
donald, of Tulloch, in Lochaber, who died in 1775 
at the age of eighty-six, knew the white hind of 
Lochtreig for the last fifty years of his life; his 
father knew her an equal length of time before 
him, and his grandfather knew her for sixty years 
of his own time ; and she preceded his days : these 
three gentlemen were all keen deer-stalkers. Many 
of the Lochaber and Brae Rannoch men knew her 
also ; she was pure white without spot or blemish.' 

A very large stag was known for two hundred 
years in the Monalia, a range of mountains lying 
between Badenoch and Inverness. He was always 
seen alone, keeping the open plains, so that he was 
unapproachable. 

Almost every history of the red deer one picks 
up furnishes some similar 'proof of the animal's 
capability of carrying an unlimited burden of years ; 
but for that matter one can find corroborative 
proof of almost any traditional belief that is 
sufficiently widely accepted. At the same time, I 



THE RED DEER. 13 

am inclined to think that present-day naturalists 
are insufficiently generous in estimating the length 
of life of this animal. It is usually held that a stag 
begins to decline after its fourteenth year, and so 
far as its antlers are concerned this is undoubtedly 
so. Deer kept in captivity are seldom known to 
live so long as thirty years, and as a general rule 
they become so far advanced in senile decay as to 
play little or no part in the social intercourse of 
their kind long before this age is reached. Yet 
an old stag may live a more or less solitary life 
for many years ere finally it vanishes. 

A great deal, however, must depend upon the 
conditions under which the animal lives, and taking 
the normal conditions of the normal hart of the 
Scottish mountains, there is certainly very little 
that would seem conducive to great longevity. A 
seventeen or eighteen stone stag may not turn the 
scale at eleven stone by the end of the rutting 
season, and in this weakened and susceptible con- 
dition the first savage onslaught of the upland 
winter finds him. Unable to stand the conditions 
of the greater altitudes, he seeks the sheltered 
corries, or may even wander down to the compara- 
tively moderate climate of the forests at river-level. 
Weeks of scanty fare, of miserable chill and cold- 
driving mists, fall upon him at a time when he is 
all too poorly fitted to meet such conditions, and, 
unless artificially fed, he may sink into a pitiable 
state of weakness. Stags have been known to 
fall in the act of crossing comparatively shallow 
torrents, and, too feeble to rise, to perish miser- 
ably within a few feet of solid ground. They have 
also been known to become too feeble to shake 
the snow from their coats, and, the first layer 
freezing solid, another rapidly collects, and yet 



14 THE RED DEER. 

another, till the accumulating burden weighs the 
wretched creature down to die in its own tracks. 

Such is the temperament of the red deer, such 
the conditions under which it normally lives, that 
in endeavouring to estimate its powers of repro- 
duction a very liberal margin must be left for 
death by circumstances more natural than shot 
and powder that is to say, if not protected by 
man, the red deer of the north country would 
be only just able to hold their own against 
starvation and the elements; and so vigorous is 
the life they lead, so subjected to periodical 
fluctuations of strength and vitality, that it is 
hardly reasonable to suppose such a life would 
prove remarkable for its durability. In addition 
to the rutting season there is the drainage of an 
annual growth of antlers, the development of 
which must be a process as irritating and trying 
to their wearer as the cutting of teeth to human 
children ; so that, all things considered, it might be 
conjectured that the hinds stand a far better chance 
of long life than do the harts. 

Particularly difficult is it to lay down hard-and- 
fast rules with regard to the red deer, for their 
environment controls their habits, and therefore to 
attempt to be conclusive is to invite criticism. 
Some deer live on the bleak mountain-tops, while 
others spend the whole of their lives in sheltered 
woodlands. In all cases, however, they seem to be 
more susceptible to misfortune than are roe-deer. 

The red deer that dwell in sheltered woods 
naturally live at a more easy-going rate than do 
those of the highlands. Whereas a highland stag 
may begin to show the first signs of senile decline 
by the steady deterioration of his antlers after his 
fourteenth year or so, the antlers of a woodland 



THE RED DEER. 15 

stag may be at their zenith of development in his 
sixteenth or seventeenth year, and thereafter the 
rate of decline may be very much slower than 
is the case with the mountain-stag. Naturally, 
therefore, one concludes that the animal living the 
life of shelter and plenty far outlives his kinsman 
who has chosen the bleak and hungry heights as 
a habitat. 

A mountain-stag exceeding twenty stone in 
weight is considered a good one, and it is notice- 
able that the heaviest stags killed are invariably 
those which have chosen their home-range with 
a view to shelter and plenty. Thus a woodland 
stag killed at Atholl scaled thirty stone six pounds, 
and another outlying stag killed on the same 
estate tipped the beam at thirty-four stone much 
higher weights than are to be found in the deer 
forest * of Atholl. 

A horse lives thirty years, but does not reach 
maturity till six years of age. How are we to 
judge the age at which a deer reaches maturity ? 
Very young stags endeavour to consort with the 
hinds; but mild flirtations of this kind occur in 
animal life of every kind, and are certainly no 
indication of complete maturity. Probably a stag 
is not fully matured till his third year, which would 
argue that his allotted span of life is considerably 
shorter than that of the horse. Gestation in the 
case of the horse lasts ten months, in the case of 
the deer eight months ; and, moreover, horses suffer 
none of the fluctuations peculiar to deer, so that 
all presumption is in the direction of the horse out- 
living the deer. The camel outlives the horse by 
at least twenty years; its period of gestation is 

* It should be noted that a Scottish deer forest is not usually wooded 
but is merely a large, almost barren tract 



16 THE RED DEER. 

the same, and it reaches maturity one year later. 
So much granted, it may be added that all the 
evidence we have seems to show that the period 
of gestation has no bearing upon the length of life, 
for some animals are born at a far earlier stage 
of development than are others. The grizzly, for 
example, undoubtedly outlives any creature dealt 
with in this book, yet the period of gestation lasts 
only six months, the mother being denned up in her 
hibernation when the birth occurs, and remaining 
so for a considerable time after. A grizzly cub, 
when born, weighs less than two pounds, the 
weight of the adult being probably six hundred 
pounds ; yet, though the grizzly may live to eighty 
or ninety years of age, it has reached maturity by 
its third year. 

By reason of these facts we realise the impossi- 
bility of arriving at any basis by which the allotted 
span of an animal's life can safely be estimated. 
The weasel family alone provides a chaos of con- 
tradictory facts calculated to produce a sense of 
mental paralysis, and the ' cervides ' are no less con- 
founding. There is no logic in the ways of nature. 
The pace at which an animal lives, the abundance 
or otherwise of its chosen food, and its fertility, 
are factors which to some extent determine how 
long it can hold out against its foes, which normally 
is the only condition which decides its length of 
life. It would seem to be a provision of nature 
that the wild stag ceases to play any considerable 
part in the reproduction of its kind ere it reaches 
twenty years of age, and how long it exists there- 
after is dependent upon conditions. It no longer 
figures in a capacity that is of any consequence 
to the community to which it belongs ; that 
is, it is no longer able to hold out against its 




THE RED DEER. 

B 



THE BED DEER. 17 

foes, and therefore, by nature's order of things, 
has ceased to live. But that the wolf and the bear 
are gone, a stag that had been driven out by 
younger stags owing to its age would be singled 
out for the special attentions of its animal foes, 
and having no friends at hand to help, would perish. 

In Scotland we have no technical names in 
common use to distinguish deer of various ages, 
but confined deer are designated as follows : 

Males and females less than one year old are 
called Calves. 

The male after one year old is called a Brocket. 

A male at three is called a Squire, at four a 
Staggart, at five a Stag, and at six a Warrantable 
Stag. He may afterwards be called a Hart. 

The female between one and three is called a 
Hearst; at three she aspires to being a Young 
Hind, and thereafter a Hind. 

Immature males are recognised by their antlers. 
A Brocket has only upright knobbers, with occa- 
sionally small brow antlers. A Squire has good 
brow antlers and upright. A Staggart has brow, 
bay, tray, and two uprights. At five a stag is 
complete with all the above, and the cup is well 
formed ; at six there may be a third upright 
branch from the cup, and thereafter the heads 
vary considerably. 

ANTLERS. 

This difficult subject has been dealt with so fully 
by numerous students so much better qualified 
than is the present writer that he has decided 
to deal only passingly with this most absorbing 
question of the red deer's history. 

The antlers of deer are very closely associated 
with matters appertaining to sex, though in just 

W.A. b 



18 THE RED DEEE. 

what way it is difficult to ascertain. Castration 
has an immediate effect upon the antlers, though 
as to exactly what this effect is writers on the 
subject appear to disagree. At one time it was 
thought that if castration takes place when the 
animal is too young to have grown horns, they 
never grow ; if when the horns are grown, they 
are never shed ; if when they are shed, they never 
grow again. No doubt the effect is not always 
the same, for Judge Caton has shown us that a 
buck castrated when his antlers are nearly grown 
will shed them within thirty days, and that next 
year he will grow a new pair which never harden. 
They remain full of life till frozen or broken off, 
and thereafter the stump will grow larger, and 
though a new antler may be projected, it will never 
develop. However this may be, the evidence is 
sufficient to show that the antlers are sexual 
appendages, and any injury that may befall the 
sexual organs of a deer is at once recorded on the 
antlers, and may recur with each year's growth 
from that time on. When a deer is found with 
one crippled horn, the deformity can generally be 
traced to an injury on that side of the animal's 
body, which has directly or indirectly affected 
these organs. 

Red deer shed their antlers annually. As a 
rule they drop in February, sometimes in the 
Highlands as early as December. The Cumbrian 
deer seldom shed their antlers until April, and an 
immature stag might carry them till May. 

The growth of the antlers would appear to 
be very considerably influenced by the feeding. 
Samuel Carter, writing in the Zoologist, makes 
reference to this point. Of eleven calves in 
captivity he had under observation, one had nine 



THE BED DEER. 19 

points in its third year. He considered that the 
fine antlers of Exmoor were due mainly to the 
excellent browse in the large coverts of scrub 
oak, &c. 

In Devonshire a stag's brow, bez (bay), and trez 
(tray) antlers are called his Rights ; upright points 
on top of the horns (cup), his Crockets. The horn 
itself is the Beam, the width the Span, the rough 
part at the base the ' Pearls.' Technical terms vary 
both in their pronunciation and their spelling in 
different localities. Harts that are crowned with 
three points at the upper extremity of each horn 
are called Royals. 

Very few people have actually seen a stag 
drop its antlers. The incident is said to occasion 
the animal much surprise and bewilderment, and 
having dropped one antler, it is said to bound 
away, as though fearful of what is about to happen 
next. It may be some hours before the second 
antler drops, and occasionally a deer may be 
watched browsing with its antlers so loose that 
they are perceived to move. One curious fact 
remarked upon by almost every student of the 
red deer is that very few antlers are found com- 
pared with the number that are shed. This may 
be due to the fact that they very soon bleach, and 
assume the semblance of a dead and barkless elm- 
branch, and when most of the antler as it lies on 
the ground is covered by leaves or vegetation, it 
requires very keen sight to detect it. I have 
myself stepped on a shed antler, and not till it 
rose beneath my foot, casting off its partial cover- 
ing of leaves, did a second scrutiny reveal what 
it was. Deer are fond of gnawing dead antlers, 
or any kind of bone substance for that matter, 
but it is not reasonable to think that they com- 



20 THE RED DEER. 

pletely consume all the antlers that are shed. It 
may be that they gnaw off most of the upstanding 
points, so that the antler lies flat on the ground, 
and thus escapes detection ; for in localities where 
the water is short of bone-making elements, hinds 
and stags will unite to gnaw persistently at any 
antler found lying about. 

Seton comments on the similarly mysterious 
disappearance of the antlers of the elk in Montana. 
He says : * ' What becomes of these wonderful 
growths ? Why is not the forest littered with 
them, since they are dropped and renewed each 
year? 

' Firstly, the forest is littered with them to some 
extent in districts where the Elk abound. In 
several parts in the West I have seen small garden 
fences made of the cast-off antlers, and I am told 
that in California it was common to see a rotten 
survey stake replaced by a pile of elk-horns, which 
were the handiest and most abundant substitute. 
But still their numbers are nothing compared with 
what one might expect. If they were as durable 
as stone, they would be as plentiful as stones in an 
ordinary Montana valley. The explanation is that 
they are easily destroyed by the elements, and are 
habitually preyed on by mice and other rodents. 
In all the thousands of shed elk-horns that I have 
picked up or seen in the West, I do not think I 
ever saw one that was not more or less gnawed by 
Mice, Rats, Gophers, or Porcupines.' He adds 
that, as Caton long ago showed, ' while bone is 
one-third animal matter or gelatine, the antler 
substance is about thirty-nine parts animal matter 
and sixty-one parts earthy matter of the same 
kind and proportions as is found in common bone ; 

* Life Histories of Northern Animals. 



THE RED DEER. 21 

besides which, the inner structure of the antler is 
exceedingly porous or cellular. " Soon ripe, soon 
rotten," is a north of England proverb that has a 
bearing in this case.' 

The same convincing explanation may be satis- 
factorily applied as regards the antlers of red deer in 
this country, and what appeals to me as infinitely 
more extraordinary is that the carcasses of deer 
that die from natural causes or wounds are so 
rarely reported to be found by man. The carcass 
of so large an animal would naturally advertise 
its whereabouts ; yet who has ever found a" dead 
deer ? Occasionally the bodies of deer that have 
been killed by blizzard or avalanche, or that have 
died of starvation, are found by foresters ; but how 
many foresters can recall ever having found the 
body of a deer that was not suddenly overcome 
by misfortune ? Hundreds of deer die naturally, 
and doubtless, like many beasts of the forests and 
hills, they creep away and hide when the lassitude 
of death falls upon them. Elephants, of course, 
have their recognised burial-grounds ; the caribou 
are believed by the Indians to wander off into 
some distant range, unknown to their kind, when 
death is drawing near ; the eagle is said to fly out 
to sea in pursuit of the sunset as the shadows close 
upon its native hills ; but we have neither fable nor 
fact concerning the closing scene of the red deer's 
life when it be spared to die by the kindly hand 
of Time. 

To return to the subject of antlers for a time 
the stag carries two red, raw patches at the points 
from which the old horns have dropped, but at the 
end of about ten days the points swell up and the 
new horns are projected. At this time the stag 
is probably living a quiet and secluded life. He 



22 THE RED DEER. 

may move about in consort with a younger stag, 
or with a favourite hind with whom he has pre- 
viously mated, finding his companion's alertness 
conducive to the rest and quietude he craves, as it 
saves him the trouble of watching. He is painfully 
conscious of the soreness of his head, and generally 
avoids the society of his fellows. He realises that 
any young stag which he perchance punished during 
the rutting season may now be in a position to 
make things very uncomfortable for him ; and if 
a small dispute has to be settled, he uses only his 
forehoofs and perhaps his teeth, the latter being 
brought into play in much the same manner as a 
horse uses them. 

All spring the red deer devotes to the growing 
of new antlers and the laying on of fat. When 
first they come the horns are covered with soft, 
steel-gray velvet. They are charged with blood 
and nerves, and are very sensitive to injury. If 
held in the hand they are found to be hot, and 
must at this stage be a source of continual 
anxiety to their wearer. I have handled the 
budding antlers of a tame elk, and the animal 
seemed to enjoy having them gently rubbed. A 
keen frost during the time that the new antlers 
are growing must cause the animal extreme dis- 
comfiture, for they are so sensitive that the elk 
referred to used to shake his head in an irritated 
manner if the beam of his horns was quite lightly 
tapped with the finger-nail. 

Later in the season the blood recedes, as the sap 
recedes to the roots of a tree in autumn. The out- 
side velvet dries, peels, and for a time hangs from 
the now fully developed antlers in untidy ribbons. 
The animal cleans them by constant rubbing 
against branches, bushes, the end of a broken rail, 



THE BED DEER. 23 

or any other object that comes handy. By this 
time the new horns are about three months old, 
and they are carried for just so long as the hind 
carries her fawn. 

A span of about forty inches is perhaps the 
average that the antlers of the red deer of this 
country attain. 

VALUE OF ANTLERS. 

Of what value are these kingly growths towards 
the cultivation of which this noble animal devotes 
so much of its life ? If it were that the deer with 
the finest antlers was best able to hold his own 
against other bulls, thereby producing more off- 
spring than those less well able to defend them- 
selves, nature's scheme would at once be evident ; 
but this is not so. In fighting, a stag's brow 
antlers are the only points calculated to be of 
use to him. With these he may inflict a mortal 
wound, but the whole vast superstructure is merely 
so much weight and hindrance. It can, indeed, 
be used as a lever against him, and so prove his 
undoing. A stag burdened with heavy antlers is 
no match for a polled stag, and polled or horn- 
less animals are yearly becoming more common. 
These stags come off best in the supreme con- 
tests for possession of the hinds, and to-day on 
many reserves it is no uncommon thing to see the 
hornless harts in possession of the largest harems. 
These hornless stags attain greater weight and 
strength than do the alleged kings of the forest 
which supports a foregoing statement to the effect 
that the annual cultivation of new antlers is a 
severe drain on the animal's vitality. 

Since, then, it is proved that the crowning 
glory of the red deer is more of a hindrance than 



24 THE RED DEER. 

a help in the attainment of the end for which they 
would appear entirely to exist, it would seem to 
our crude reasonings that nature is guilty of yet 
another blunder. The horns are sexual append- 
ages, yet their existence defeats sexual aims. If 
they are purely decorative, then they fail in that 
respect also. Nature does not waste valuable 
material on ornaments that are not appreciated 
by the species on which they are bestowed ; for 
example, the red back of the male shrike is to 
attract the eye of the female shrike, and not to 
decorate the woods for the advantage of all in- 
terested therein. The hinds do not appreciate the 
antlers of a royal head, or they would not meekly 
follow at the heels of a hornless rival. 

It may be argued that such spreading antlers 
were designed by nature to present a wide front 
of defence to the massed attack of wolves, the 
stag, turning at bay, thus being able to defend his 
flanks or even the hinds cowering behind him. 
To this I would reply that the closely allied 
Whitetail deer of Canada, which is more harassed 
by wolves than any other creature on earth, is 
designed by nature to go hornless during the very 
season when attack from wolves is most likely ! 
A good vigorous Whitetail sheds its antlers in 
mid-December, and wolves hunt in packs at least 
till the end of February. In fact, it is realised by 
the Indians that wolves are more likely to prove 
dangerous during January and February than at 
any other time of the year the very season at 
which the deer have no horns wherewith to defend 
themselves ! It may further be added that though 
the antlers of the Whitetail are far more effective 
as stabbing weapons than are those of the red 
deer, a hunted stag seldom or never turns to 



THE RED DEER. 25 

face the wolves. It runs till it dies, or is thrown 
in the open, and there is no question whatever 
of its defending itself in any way other than by 
speed. 

As weapons of defence against the wolf-packs, 
then, antlers can be written off as worthless. The 
deer that turns at bay is just as surely doomed 
as is the deer that falls exhausted in the snow. 
Speed and stamina are the only weapons it has 
against wolves, and heavy antlers handicap the 
deer from the outset of the chase not only by 
their weight, but by forcing it to make many 
a detour to gain wider gaps in the timber. Far 
from the antlers being protective, it may indeed 
be that the protection lies in the shedding of them 
before the wolf peril reaches its zenith ! 

Of what possible value, then, are the spreading 
antlers of the red deer and its allies ? 

There is just one plausible explanation that 
might be worth advancing that the antlers exist 
in order to single out the males, and so to prove 
the salvation of the females. If the male popula- 
tion sank as low as 2 per cent., the species might 
yet exist; but a hind killed means a direct loss 
to the species. 

The stag himself is well aware that his antlers 
are his betraying feature that they mark him 
out as one apart, and worthy of special attention. 
When alarmed, he will hide himself in the midst 
of a parcel of fleeing hinds, and run with his 
neck extended, his head held low, so that his 
towering points no longer serve as a landmark 
proclaiming afar ' There is a Stag.' Does not 
this instinctive striving on the animal's part, his 
immediate impulse to skulk low and so hide his 
head, seem to suggest that the head is there for 



26 THE RED DEER. 

reasons which, though beneficial to his kind, are 
injurious to his own personal welfare ? 

The ears of the hare are not protective ; neither 
are the antlers of the stag. They are there to 
catch the eye, and for no other reason. They 
are there to mark him out as the object of the 
chase, while the hinds escape to safety. 

The man who understands the ways of wild 
nature does not scoff at the seeming futility of 
that which we, for want of a better word, call 
society. He knows that in every grade of life, 
from the mouse colony in the fibrous roots, from 
the beaver city by the river, to the cities of 
man himself, the whole fabric of Nature's scheme 
revolves and pivots on certain laws of intercourse 
which mark society in its various settings. We, 
like other things, were meant to have our social 
strata, and in the grading of societies the chase 
stands forward as an important feature. We are 
given beasts of the chase, many of which are 
designed primarily for that purpose. Nature has 
not been ungenerous in providing them with their 
own protective means, otherwise they would be 
imperfect as creatures of the chase ; but in their 
creation she has deliberately included some 
feature which stamps them unmistakably as 
things to be hunted. They are our natural food- 
supply. 

The deer, like the hare and the rabbit, is 
absolutely a creature of the chase, and, like prac- 
tically all others of this class, it is polygamous. 
The killing of the males is the preservation of 
the females, and in that way beneficial to the 
species. In the deer, the noblest creature of the 
chase, Nature has adopted no half-measures in 
marking out what we may kill as distinct and 



THE RED DEER. 27 

separate from that which, for the sake of the 
species, which is our own sake, we must not 
kill. She crowns him with an oak-tree, towering 
aloft, proclaiming from afar ' I am the noblest 
beast of the chase ! These drab little creatures 
with me are only hinds, unworthy of a worthy 
hunter.' 

Thus by a system of wheels within wheels 
Nature weaves her fabrics. We cannot tread even 
upon the fringe of such theories without realising 
the unfathomable depths that lie beyond ; but 
of this we can be sure, that the purposeless and 
wasteful belongs only to the works of man him- 
self, and not to the creations of the wild. 

THE RUT. 

By early October the harts have reached the 
zenith of their majesty, and now the lonely corries 
begin to reverberate with the challenging echoes 
of rival bulls. Some idea as to the strength of 
the stag can be judged by the volume of his roar. 
It is one of the most inspiring sounds in wild 
nature. Under normal conditions it can be heard 
at a distance of two miles ; but if the atmosphere 
be favourable, and the stag below the listener, it 
carries a considerably greater distance. 

In Scotland early frosts precipitate the rut, but 
normally it begins early in October. The stags 
then start to swell in the neck, and to roll rest- 
lessly in peat-pools. The rut lasts about a week, 
and later the older harts collect and go off to 
places of seclusion, leaving the hinds to younger 
bucks. 

Beautiful at any season, the stag is truly an 
impressive beast when the glory of his purpose 
reaches its height. He becomes hunched in the 



28 THE RED DEER. 

back like a greyhound ; he roams from point 
to point, roaring incessantly, watching, listening. 
The cracking of a twig, and he freezes in his tracks, 
one hoof outstretched, antlers aloft, nostrils gaping 
wide. He may swim to distant islands in pursuit 
of his desires. He is prepared to trample any 
moving thing into the earth prepared and ready 
to match his strength with that of any rival hart. 
He digs his antlers into the earth, tosses high 
the ling-roots, and roars. He rolls his eyes, 
and throws himself into his wallows, rolling 
grotesquely and with savage energy. He emerges 
slimy and dripping, and swings into a stiff-legged 
stride as an answering roar rumbles over the 
brow. 

On the other side the two rivals meet. They 
approach with heads upraised, testing each other's 
scent, while the hinds stand watchfully by, ready 
to throw in their lot with the victor. The rivals 
meet with a clash of antlers, and the moonlight 
flashes on dilated eyes and madly ploughing hoofs 
that cut the soft earth into furrows. Striving 
with all their strength to outpush or outmanoeuvre 
each other, one at length obtains the advantage 
of a sound footing. The other is forced to his 
knees, the leverage of his long antlers is used 
against him, but by a terrific sidelong and back- 
ward bound he manages to extricate himself. Again 
the clashing antlers fill the corrie with echoes, 
and the contest goes on, until, fairly weighed 
in the balance together, one knows himself to 
be the victor, and the other knows himself to be 
vanquished. 

The latter disengages and bounds away, the 
master-stag in hot pursuit. The vanquished hart 
circles round the hinds, reluctant to leave them, 



THE RED DEER. 29 

till in the end he is forced to take to his heels and 
seek his fortune elsewhere. The hinds then follow 
the victor not probably because they are moved 
by any special sense of admiration, but because 
they know very well that if they endeavour to 
do anything else they will be gored and beaten 
by their master till they acquire a becoming sense 
of conformity to the rules. 

But for so long as the hart holds his harem, the 
hinds are a source of unceasing anxiety and vigil- 
ance. Every hart in the range is ready and 
waiting to fight him for possession of them, and 
the difficult task of retaining what he holds is 
now his lot. He has no chance of resting, no 
time even to eat. In the offing dallies a litter 
of younger stags, who, between bouts with one 
another, are ever ready to poach on his preserves. 
He may encounter a larger stag already possessing 
a harem outnumbering his own, in which case 
all the wives are pooled, and the winner takes the 
pool. 

The red deer is not essentially a beast of the 
mountains. It is merely that the vast mountain 
retreats are the last place of sanctuary in which 
it has been able to retain its footing. Thus 
the wild grandeur of the hills adds no little to 
the romance of a romantic existence. Charles 
St John describes how, when sleeping in the 
mountains, he had heard stags roaring their chal- 
lenge all round him, till the air of the glens 
trembled with the majesty of the sound. 

Normally, red deer are silent beasts. Almost 
the only sound they utter in communicating with 
each other is a sharp bark, very closely resembling 
the startled bark of a terrier. In this way they 
give the alarm, and when a company is separated, 



30 THE RED DEER. 

they reunite by signalling their whereabouts to 
one another in the same manner. 

THE YOUNG. 

Barren hinds are called Yell or Yeld Hinds. 
They come into season when the harts go out, 
and are better eating. They can be distinguished 
from the breeding hinds by their sleek and compact 
figures ; though, as a matter of fact, even the most 
experienced hunters are subject to error in their 
selection, and it is generally unwise to shoot at 
a supposed yeld unless one's opinion as to her 
class is backed by a gillie or one's host. 

Generally the fawn is dropped in deep heather, 
and left hidden till evening, when the hind, having 
assured herself that all is tranquil, goes by devious 
ways to feed it. Though apparently she leaves 
it all day, she is never far away, and should the 
little one utter a cry of distress she at once appears, 
wide-eyed and stamping, prepared to fight valiantly 
in its defence. Her attack, too, is very formidable, 
for she can use her sharp forehoofs with deadly 
effect ; and woe betide the wild-cat or prowling 
dog that falls foul of her defensive 1 

The young are born with an instinctive faith 
in their protective colouring. The mother makes 
her fawn lie down by pushing it with her nose 
and patting it with her forehoofs; and when she 
has left it, it will not stir on the approach of 
danger until actually touched. It is then up in 
an instant with a bleating cry to its mother. 
When crouching, it lies with its neck stretched 
out, its head upon the ground, and only its bright 
eyes are likely to attract notice. 

A very young fawn does not recognise danger. 
It has to be taught by its mother the fear of man. 



THE RED DEER. 31 

If found and gently handled, particularly if allowed 
to satisfy its burning desire to suck one's fingers, 
it will follow like a dog, and may prove very 
difficult to get rid of. In the Algonquin forests 
of Canada a little Whitetail fawn struck up a 
friendship in this way with the writer and his 
companion, and all attempts to scare it off proved 
utterly fruitless. 

There is no more beautiful and graceful creature 
than a little red deer fawn. To look at it is to 
lose one's heart to it; and when older and able 
to scamper after its mother, it is indeed the fairy 
spirit of the mountain-dells materialised. 

A mountain-hind generally begins to breed in 
her third year; that is, she consorts with the 
stag when two and a half years old, and gives 
birth to her fawn the following summer. Most 
of the calves are born in June or early July, 
the earliest offspring appearing towards the latter 
end of May. Two at a birth is very unusual, 
though it occurs sometimes, and, according to 
the Rev. H. A. Macpherson, was by no means 
uncommon with the Martindale deer. As a rule, 
hinds living in a wild state do not breed annually, 
though this would appear to be dependent upon 
feeding conditions. A tame deer may breed 
annually after maturity ; and at Hatfield Broadoak 
Forest a hind produced offspring annually for ten 
years, though she apparently paired with her own 
progeny. 

The fawns follow the dams till autumn. If the 
mothers then join the herd of a master-stag, the 
male fawns are apt to be forcibly ejected, and 
thereafter are compelled to fend for themselves. 
The stag allows his consorts to be accompanied 
by their hind calves, and consequently the young 



32 THE RED DEER. 

are often suckled by their mother for twelve 
months. 

The males are capable of reproduction at the end 
of two years ; but their presence is never tolerated 
by the master-stags, wherein we see a double pur- 
pose fulfilled by nature. 

FOOD. 

In feeding, the deer is more omnifarious than 
sheep and cattle, and its food depends considerably 
upon the country in which it dwells. Red deer 
are particularly partial to nettle-roots, which 
possibly are medicinal, and, in common with all 
split -hoofed animals, salt is essential to their 
welfare. They will visit the coast in order to 
lick the brine-coated rocks. When hard pressed 
in winter, deer have also been known to congregate 
upon the sands in order to feed on seaweed ; but 
this is taken in quantities only when the stern 
alternatives are seaweed or starvation. 

In Avinter the food of the Highland deer is not 
widely different from that of the reindeer. They 
scratch away the snow with their hoofs in order to 
get at the mosses and lichens below. They are 
fond of heather, but the bright-green, short-bladed 
grass that caps the mounds by mountain-rills is 
chief among their foods. Coarse bent is also eaten. 

In woodlands the deer eat leaves and green 
shoots of almost any kind, and in winter mosses, 
the bark of trees, and even fungi. 

Ever since the deer were preserved as beasts of 
the chase they have maintained a lively notoriety 
for their depredations upon crops and farm produce 
of every kind. Standing wheat and root-fields 
have a special attraction for them, and the task 
of adequately fencing in the plots that they have 



THE RED DEER. 33 

once visited is by no means an easy one. The deer 
come silently at dead of night, and finding their 
usual way of access closed to them, quickly seek 
out another. If one lies in waiting for them, it 
is probable that the only glimpse one will obtain, 
after hours of chilly watchfulness, is that of 
towering antlers silhouetted against the sky, and 
in a moment gone. 

In winter deer have been known to come down 
and enter lowland barns in search of hay ; in fact, 
it is difficult, when they are pressed by hunger, to 
keep farm produce from them. 

HABITUAL WARINESS. 

Among all creatures of the hills red deer are the 
most wary, ever ready to take the cue from the 
other creatures of their habitat. The sight of a 
fleeing hare in an instant sets the herd on the qui 
vive, watching the skyline in the direction from 
which the hare came. Even if nothing further 
happens they remain suspicious, and soon steal off 
to some other feeding-place. 

The curlews, the most solicitous sentries of the 
hills, are invaluable to the ever-watchful deer ; the 
green plovers and the grouse are likewise their 
valued guardians. The red deer never miss an 
alarm, or ignore the warning of others. The 
faintest suggestion of danger, and one hind or 
another instantly raises her head ; and should the 
alarm be repeated, her agitation is at once com- 
municated to the others. 

The large stags seldom depend upon their own 
vigilance. They depend upon the hinds ; or, if two 
stags live together, the smaller does the watching. 
Similarly, the master-stag is seldom the leader of 
the herd, though if a tight corner be encountered 

W.A. o 



34 THE RED DEER. 

his greater boldness probably causes him to move 
to the front ; and when he breaks, all the hinds will 
follow him, even though it be through a whole line 
of beaters. Usually the leader of the herd is an 
old hind who has previously impressed the others 
by the soundness of her judgment, and she it is 
who sets the routine for the rest, leading them 
from hill to hill, or perhaps to some distant salt- 
lick. Her selection is by universal suffrage, and, 
once having attained to the place of eminence, her 
decisions are accepted without comment. 

COATS. 

Hinds cast their winter coats from May onwards, 
though a hind in poor condition may still be carry- 
ing her old coat, or a part of it, as late as July. 
The stags begin to cast their coats immediately 
their horns are shed, and the new coat appears 
seldom later than June. The colour varies, and 
the shade of the eyes varies with the coat. In this 
way we have distinct clans ; but, generally speaking, 
the deer of low countries are lighter than those of 
the heights. White deer are rare in Scotland. In 
winter the colour of the stag and the hind alike is 
a general brown, shading off into gray, especially 
about the face, while down the spine there exists 
a ridge of much darker hair. The belly and the 
inside of the ears are generally pure white. 

These white ears, with their black rims, render 
the animal very conspicuous amidst certain settings. 
In summer the correspondingly darker patches are 
a rich, reddish gold, sometimes very beautiful in a 
prime animal. In the case of the stag the jaws 
and the neck are heavily maned, the longer hairs 
being tipped with glossy black, and the face is 
often very richly coloured. 



THE RED DEER. 35 

In Atholl I have noticed young hinds more 
vividly red than in any other deer forest of the 
kingdom. 

WEIGHT AND DIMENSIONS. 

The Rev. H. A. Macpherson wrote that the 
Martindale stags attain 22 stone, but that a stag 
of 18 or 19 stone is considered a good one. This 
is a fair estimate for Scotland also. Some autho- 
rities set down the weight of a good stag as being 
400 Ib. ; but this is a big beast, and greater weights 
are suggestive of woodland breeding or of inter- 
mixture of German blood. Stags have been killed 
at Atholl well over 400 Ib. in weight, but such 
figures are exceptional. The average mountain- 
bred stag does not exceed 250 Ib. 

The hinds are markedly smaller than the harts. 

A 300-lb. stag will stand close upon 4 feet 
at the withers ; but hinds do not normally exceed 
3 feet 6 inches. 

TRACKS SOME TECHNICAL EXPRESSIONS. 

A stag that leaves a slot fully two inches at the 
heel is worthy of the huntsman's attention. A 
track three inches in width, and deep and heavy in 
proportion, is that of a large, fine animal scaling 
well above the average. It indicates an old and 
heavy hart that brings his hind-feet up to the 
impression of his forefeet. 

The track of the hind is longer for its width, 
more pointed and more elegant, than that of a stag 
the latter, indeed, can be distinguished by its 
comparatively blunt, round tip. 

The following terms are used in connection with 
deer. Where a stag lies down is called his harbour; 
his favourite haunt is called his lair. The swampy 



36 THE RED DEER. 

spot where he rolls himself is called his soiling pool, 
and it is not a very pleasant place. His breaking- 
place over an enclosure is called his rack ; when he 
goes to water he is said to be going to soil. A 
hunted stag that turns back suddenly is said to 
have blanched ; a wounded stag is said to be cold. 
When a hunted stag goes to water and lies down, 
or hides under the roots in a pool, he is said to 
have sunk himself. 

The terms vary, of course, according to locality, 
and in many places most of the old technical 
phrases have gone out of use. 

Normally a deer runs up-wind, so that it is 
forewarned as to what it is approaching; but a 
stag pursued by hounds generally runs down- wind 
if there is any chance, so that he can scent the 
hounds, while they cannot scent him. When he 
goes to his harbour he goes down-wind, then lies 
with his nose 'watching' his back tracks, and his 
eyes in the opposite direction. 

Above all things the red deer is a master of 
woodcraft, and it can hardly be questioned that 
deer-stalking is the finest and noblest sport our 
island offers. 



THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

THIS interesting little woodland deer has 
managed to hold its own in a completely 
wild state throughout many areas from which the 
red deer are long since gone, and it can be said to 
be fairly evenly distributed throughout the Scottish 
mainland. In the Lowlands it is particularly 
abundant to the west of Dumfries, and it is to be 
seen almost any day in the forests of Kirkcudbright- 
shire and Ayrshire. In the Highlands it has, of 
course, free run of the wild. It exists also in 
Cumberland and the New Forest. 

With regard to the last-named reserve, fallow deer 
are perhaps most characteristically representative 
of the deer family, though roe are probably most 
abundant. There are few red deer in the Hamp- 
shire Forest, and those that exist there confine 
themselves chiefly to the north end of the reserve. 

We have not far to search for the cause of the 
survival of the roebuck. In the first place, it is a 
woodland deer, and therefore is less subjected to 
the weeding-out process inflicted by the elements 
than the red. It is hardier than the fallow, which 
probably would not survive in this country very 
long unless artificial means were resorted to in the 
way of winter feeding, whereas the roe will flourish 
almost anywhere. The chief reasons for its com- 
parative abundance are, however, that it carries 
not the noble head of its congener, and that it is 
regarded by country-folk as hardly worth killing as 
an article of food. So little molested, indeed, are 
the roe-deer in most of the Scottish forests that in 
the ordinary way they are quite easily approached. 



38 THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

I have particularly noticed, however, that whereas 
one can walk through the woods on Sunday and 
see more roe-deer than one cares to count, there 
is never a deer to be seen when one is cover- 
shooting, and the sound of a shot has once dis- 
turbed the echoes. 

I remember, after an afternoon's random pheasant- 
shooting, we passed homewards through a strip of 
covert where we were accustomed to seeing roe- 
deer daily ; and on nearing this strip a member of 
the party asked our host if there was any objection 
to his taking a shot at a roe. ' No,' the host replied 
with a covert smile ; ' you may shoot all the roe- 
deer you see.' 

Exactly what sport was to be derived from 
shooting at a half-tame roe-deer with a shot-gun is 
difficult to understand, and when such an incident 
occurs it is usually a matter of necessity rather 
than sport. Roe-deer multiply very quickly, and 
unless killed off by some means or other are capable 
of considerable destruction, while they do little to 
pay their way beyond beautifying the woods. In 
most parts of Scotland they are not highly esteemed 
as sporting animals, and I have noticed repeatedly 
that when roe deer and red have appeared on the 
menu, the carver of the roe-deer, who must indeed 
be skilled with the carving-knife, has proved the 
idlest man at the board. 

CUNNING. 

I have often wondered what becomes of the roe- 
deer when the woods are being scoured for other 
game. Where do they hide themselves ? At one 
time we used regularly to walk up a narrow covert 
completely surrounded by open moorland. It was a 
favourite haunt of many roe-deer, but when the guns 



THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 39 

were astir, traversing the wood from end to end, not 
one of them was ever seen. The natural conclusion 
was that they left the wood at one end immediately 
the sportsmen entered at the other ; but that this 
was not so I satisfied myself. To have evacuated 
by the north end of the wood when we entered at 
the south would have meant that they had no 
alternative but to face the open moors, which in 
that direction rose to a tremendous altitude, and 
were unwooded for ten or eleven miles until, 
indeed, the next valley was reached, which was 
entirely out of the home-range of this band of deer. 
Moreover, a hind living at that end of the wood 
told me that he had never seen them cross the 
hills. Therefore, either the deer left the wood 
by a break in the surrounding wall, and doubled 
back till they were behind the line of advancing 
gunners, or they took cover where they were 
and allowed the gunners to walk over them. I 
rather incline to the latter view, as I have heard 
a deer, disturbed by a dog, break cover behind us, 
in which case we are afforded an example of sagacity 
on the part of the roe which is worthy of special 
notice. Unfortunately I never knew this wood to 
be systematically beaten, or I might have obtained 
some clue to the mystery. 

If, then, the roe-deer, on knowing itself to be 
in danger, seeks out the densest cover and crouches 
there like a hare, remaining hidden till the danger 
is past, when it steals out and retires swiftly to 
safety, we may consider that therein lies one of the 
secrets of its survival. 

At one time I spent many fruitless days in 
attempting to photograph roe-deer in their natural 
state, and during this experience I was impressed 
not so much by their cunning for in some respects 



40 THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

they seemed most foolish as by their possession 
of a subtle instinct which rendered them almost 
impossible subjects for the photographer. I was 
tolerably familiar with their breaks, runways, and 
resting-places, which they were seen to use daily. 
On an appropriate occasion a camouflaged cotton- 
thread, invisible to the human eye until it was 
actually touched by the hand, was stretched across 
their path. The camera was then hidden twenty 
or thirty yards away ; on one occasion it was built 
into a wall, on other occasions it was literally 
buried in bracken and moss, while every precaution 
was taken against tell-tale scent. Regularly a 
box to curtain the camera was hidden for the deer 
to become used to long before the camera was 
placed inside it. 

Immediately the cotton was touched the shutter 
of the camera was electrically tripped, but I never 
succeeded in inducing the deer thereby to make 
an exposure. True, we got several photographs 
one of the keeper, one of his dog, and an excellent 
likeness of the local rabbit-catcher, but never of 
the roe. Many times I have watched them 
approach to within a few feet of the cotton, then 
turn hesitatingly aside, leaving their beaten run- 
way to cross the burn by a seldom frequented 
break. 

The keeper on this particular reserve told me 
that in the days when it was customary to trap 
hen-pheasants by means of the slide-door and a 
long length of cord, he has repeatedly seen roe 
approach the cord till they almost touched it, then 
suddenly turn back. What, then, the roe lacks 
in sagacity it certainly makes up by the posses- 
sion of an uncanny suspicion and quickness of 
conception. 



THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 41 

The only occasion on which I knew a roe to 
break the thread in circuit with the camera was 
one winter's day after a light fall of snow, and on 
that occasion, unhappily, the weight of snow on 
the thread had operated the shutter only a few 
seconds before the passing of the deer ! 

These experiences have never ceased to mystify 
me. It is inconceivable that the deer actually saw 
the cotton, which was no more visible than a 
spider's web, while being deeply hidden in the 
bracken. Nor was it scent that warned them, for 
man's scent was everywhere in the wood. On 
some occasions a veritable maze of threads covered 
the field of the camera, so that it was impos- 
sible for a deer to approach without touching 
one or another of them, but the only difference 
was that the deer did not approach. Yet these 
deer were so tame that, when unarmed, one 
could easily approach within ninety paces of 
them. 

HOME-RANGE. 

The home-range of an individual roe is seldom 
more than two miles in length ; that is, the deer 
lives within a mile of some central point. I have, 
however, known them to wander six miles from 
point to point ; but this is rare. 

The roe-deer is a creature of more or less regular 
habits and regular runways, and even a two-mile 
range may contain many miles of visible track. 
Also, it will contain at least three harbours in 
regular use. One of these is probably an open, 
sunny plateau, where the bracken alone affords 
sufficient cover for safety, while not excluding the 
sun. The other two beds may be on compara- 
tively swampy ground, in the heart of the densest 



42 THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

cover, and comfortable only in so far that they 
afford adequate shelter from the wind. At these 
recognised resting-places dung is dropped more 
liberally than elsewhere, the wild deer having no 
need for sanitation. The roe-deer can, therefore, 
be said to have at least one dry sunning-bed on 
its range in addition to other harbours used when 
the luxury of warm sunshine is not obtainable, and 
chosen with a view to obtaining shelter, food, and 
freedom from disturbance. 

To and from these harbours the runways extend, 
and the following is typical. Coming down from 
the north end of the wood the deer hold the high- 
land, close to the boundary wall, but on the forest 
side, and thus on to the beech-wood. Here there 
is a harbour, much frequented by does with their 
fawns, which are very limited in range. The trail 
then drops to the burn-edge, and, winding in and 
out of the rich undergrowth, turns straight back 
to the northern boundary, where it crosses the 
burn and turns southward down the opposite 
bank, encompassing every willow -swamp and 
traversing the thickest growths of forest. Here 
it taps a new planting, there it encompasses a 
small loch, and so on till the southern boundary 
is again reached, when again it doubles back, 
keeping near the opposite border, and terminating 
finally at the sunning plateau. All the runways 
are, of course, interconnected, but if left undis- 
turbed the deer keep more or less to the same 
paths. 

Thus it will be seen that, though a roe may 
spend the major portion of its life within a mile 
or so of some central point, its trodden paths are 
many miles in extent ; and if it set out to complete 
the circuit in the systematic manner just described 



THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 43 

which probably it never does the task would 
occupy at least one day of steady walking. 

MATING. 

The roe-deer is distinct in that it is monogamous 
or, at any rate, very much more so than the red 
and the fallow. A stag is not entirely blind to 
the charms of his neighbour's wife ; he may even 
have two wives ; but, generally speaking, he lives 
in consort with his own best beloved, and is 
entirely devoted to her. 

The courtship of monogamous birds and animals 
is not such an elaborate affair as that of the 
polygamous, and the roe-deer does not roll himself 
in mud-pools, toss up the earth, and make himself 
otherwise absurd for the benefit of the community 
at large. Nor does he indulge to the same extent 
in the terrific duels common among polygamous 
deer which is just as well, since the antlers of the 
roe are truly formidable weapons. 

June is the mating season of the roe-deer. In 
July the bucks become very amorous, and are to 
be seen pursuing the does, which run in narrow 
circles, encompassing one obstacle, then another, 
while the buck persistently follows, the chase often 
lasting many minutes, but usually at a more or 
less leisurely speed. This habit of running in rings 
is peculiar to the roe, and is indulged in at all 
seasons irrespective of love interests. Captain 
Scott Elliott showed me an interesting example 
on his property near New Galloway, where the 
deer had trodden out a distinct ring encircling an 
old shooting-butt. He suspected it was the work 
of fawns. 

The union of the roe-deer does not occur till 
August, but the mated couple generally remain 



44 THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

together thereafter. Whether or not they remain 
mated for life is difficult to say, owing to the fact 
that their respective home-ranges overlap, and to 
the difficulty in recognising individuals. Some- 
times a doe and a buck and a fawn will be found 
living together in midwinter ; sometimes a doe 
and a fawn live unaccompanied by a buck ; some- 
times a half-grown fawn will be found living alone. 
One recognises the company rather than the indi- 
viduals, and, having repeatedly seen three together, 
it is very hard to tell, when one day a solitary roe 
appears in the same place, whether it is one of the 
three temporarily isolated, or whether it is a new 
and habitually solitary specimen ; moreover, two 
parties may unite, and remain united for some 
days, so that out of the generous chaos and inter- 
mixture one cannot easily arrive at just who is 
whose. I am inclined to think that all the roe- 
deer of a given locality are well acquainted and 
on friendly terms with one another, and that the 
individual couples are not inseparable during the 
winter months, as they certainly are during 
the summer. An almost adult fawn may leave 
its parents for a brief period, and browse with 
other deer to which it is not related, ultimately 
rejoining its mother when she happens to pass 
that way. This I have repeatedly noticed in the 
Scottish Lowlands. 

It is a curious fact that, though mating occurs 
in August, a pregnant female shows no signs of 
her pregnancy till late in winter, when the develop- 
ment of the calf begins. It is born early in May 
a period of nine months' gestation, as compared 
with eight months in the case of the larger red 
deer. The fawns are spotted when first born, but 
the spots fade during the first year of the animal's 



THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 45 

life, only those of the neck (sometimes) recurring 
with the winter coat. Generally the little creature 
remains with its mother till the next fawn is born 
a year later, and may even accompany her after 
that, though it does so uninvited. Hence the idea 
that milord sometimes has two wives may arise 
from his being thus accompanied by two does, one 
his wife and the other her fawn. 

Normally the doe is hornless, the exceptions 
being occasional barren specimens. I have never 
seen a horned doe accompanied by a fawn, nor 
have I ever met any one who has. 

FOOD. 

The roe-deer is a woodland feeder. It does not 
appear to possess the partiality of the fallow for 
horse-chestnuts, nor to my knowledge does it feed 
to any extent on heather. I have often found 
signs of roe having scratched away the leaves in 
pursuit of some favourite root or fungus, which 
possibly are eaten medicinally. It lives chiefly 
on foliage of various kinds, and is an expert at 
stripping the lower branches. It can reach a 
surprising height by standing upright on its hind- 
legs, supporting itself against the trunk or some 
convenient limb by its forelegs. I have seen a 
roe stand upright on its hind-legs without any 
support at all, and it is a very pretty sight to see 
a herd feeding thus. The giant moose and the 
giraffe straddle down saplings between their fore- 
legs to feed on the topmost and tenderest shoots, 
and it is interesting to note that these animals 
have developed accordingly, very high in the fore- 
legs, and carrying their weight well over the 
fo'c'sle. 

The roe- deer has developed an extraordinary 



46 THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

reach for so small an animal, and its activities in 
a cultivated garden are usually attended by con- 
siderable loss to the owner of the property. 

In autumn the roes search out berry-bushes, 
and in winter they are compelled to eke out a 
living on swamp grasses, the tips of saplings, 
fungus, and bark. 

FEROCITY. 

A buck in the rutting season is just as likely 
to prove dangerous as is a stag, and, though 
a smaller animal, his antlers are very deadly 
weapons. Roe have been known to attack 
children returning from school, but when they 
are in a truly wild state there is little to be 
feared from them. I have repeatedly disturbed 
a buck in full rut in order to see if he would 
show any signs of fight, and though the animal 
has clearly resented such disturbance, I have 
never known one to show the least trace of 
aggression. A half- tame roe might prove an 
entirely different matter, and very often an animal 
that would not dream of attacking a full-grown 
man will prove dangerous to a woman or a child. 
This is particularly noticeable with sheep and 
cattle. 

Cases are not infrequently reported of roe-deer 
attacking men. 

COLOURING, &c. 

The summer and winter coats are very distinct 
in shade. The summer coat, which is assumed 
in May, is of a distinctly ruddy tinge. Very 
often the dark undercoat tones down the surface 
colour, and at any appreciable distance the deer 
appears brown. Between October and April the 



THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 47 

coat is much heavier, and seen in the winter light 
against a faded landscape the general impression is 
of dull brown. 

The face-markings are very attractive and dis- 
tinct. The jet-black muzzle is set off by a sur- 
rounding band of white, succeeded again by a band 
of black, one feature showing off the other. The 
black muzzle, the large, gray, black-rimmed ears, 
and the great luminous eyes, appearing suddenly 
from the undergrowth of the forest swamp, catch 
the eye with a most striking impression of tense 
alertness no less striking, indeed, than the flash- 
ing white rump, which so often is all one sees of 
the roe as it bounds lightly through the under- 
growth. The object of this white rump may be 
to assist the deer in following each other; or, 
again, it may be taken as supporting the theory 
that roe are among those animals which exist to 
be pursued. 

ANTLERS. 

These vary considerably. Generally they rise 
almost vertically for four or five inches, then fork. 
The lower prong represents the brow antler of the 
stag, and is for purposes of defence or attack. 
There is a second fork two or three inches higher, 
the rear prong of which points straight behind 
the animal as it stands with head up. There 
are occasionally as many as five points, but three 
are more usual. Freak heads, including the 
growth of a third and central antler, frequently 
occur. 

Of the many antlers I have picked up, none 
have exceeded ten inches from the coronet to the 
topmost tip. 

The bucks drop their antlers about the end of 



48 THE ROE-DEER, OR THE ROEBUCK. 

December, and by late February the new ones are 
almost perfect. 

VOICE. 

Roe-deer use their voices considerably when 
feeding at night-time, when disturbed, and during 
the rutting season when a pair accidentally become 
separated. The doe is said to have a bleating cry 
of her own at this season, which is instantly 
answered by the buck, but I have never heard it. 
The only cry I know is the sharp, barking note, 
which resembles strongly the bark of a dog, but 
which, once learnt, cannot be mistaken. The 
deer utter it constantly when startled and bound- 
ing off, barking as they run, the notes coinciding 
with the bounds, as though the impacts with the 
earth were partly responsible. If one becomes 
separated from the rest, it can be heard bounding 
up and down the forest, uttering the call re- 
peatedly, and when conditions are favourable, as 
on a summer night, the note carries a considerable 
distance. I have heard it across the middle of 
Loch Ken, over a mile of water, the deer being 
high in the forest on the opposite shore. 

SIZE. 

About 24| inches seems to be the average 
height of the Scottish roe (buck), as compared 
with 36 inches in the spotted variety of fallow 
deer, and 47 or 48 inches in the red deer. A 
roe standing 26 inches at the withers is a large 
specimen, and the female is considerably smaller. 




THE FOX 'NIGHTS OF PLENTY.' 



' 

: :": .-': - ':, 



THE FOX. 

IN the wilderness only the fittest survive. The 
jackal and the wolf are gone ; but because the 
fox is the wisest of his race, because he has proved 
best able to adapt himself to changing conditions, 
he has lived on as the lone and last survivor of his 
tribe. 

There is only one species of fox in the British 
Isles, the common Red or Royal Fox. The 
beautiful silver, the black, and the cross fox furs, 
so much prized as robes of fashion, are merely 
northern colour-freaks of the red fox, just as the 
Silvertip is a colour-freak of the common grizzly. 
Thus a red vixen may produce cubs of different 
varieties, one of them being worth as much as 
five hundred pounds for its pelt, while the re- 
mainder of the litter may be worth only a few 
shillings apiece. (In North America there exists 
also the Kit Fox, or the Swift, which is a distinct 
species from the Red.) 

Similarly, the strong and wiry mountain-fox of 
the north, dreaded by keepers and shepherds alike, 
is a red fox whose wild and rugged surroundings 
have changed his habits and his form, so that he 
would seem quite a different creature from, say, 
the foxes of Leicestershire and the New Forest. 

Black fox pelts are so much prized solely on 
account of their rarity, for they are certainly not 
more beautiful than the red pelts. See our 
common fox in his autumnal coat, shaded with 
gold and russet, and even touched with silver, and 
you will think him the most beautifully clothed 
of all living things ; and were he as rare as the 

W.A. d 



50 THE FOX. 

far northern varieties, his coat would be the apparel 
of kings. 

SCENT. 

When foxes are reared in captivity in a hunting 
country, the tails of the vixens are often docked 
before the animals are liberated, so that hounds 
will have difficulty in following their scent-trail, 
and they will thus survive to breed and multiply. 
Whence comes this mysterious scent which hounds 
so easily follow ? Not actually from the tail, but 
from the musk-glands which are situated at the 
root of the tail. All animals have these glands, 
though in some they are more highly developed 
than in others. In the weasel and the polecat 
they are well developed hence the unpleasant 
saying, ' Stink like a polecat ; ' while in the skunk 
they reach the zenith of obnoxious perfection, this 
animal being able actually to eject the musk as a 
means of self-defence, and a very effective means, 
too ! By docking a fox's tail the scent is not so 
readily led to the ground, and the animal is 
difficult for hounds to follow. 

As is the case with all highly intelligent animals, 
foxes are much attached to their young. Fox- 
farming is now a well-established industry, and on 
these farms foxes are reared in captivity for their 
pelts, the original stock being taken young from 
their dens in the north. Enormous prices are paid 
for live black and silver vixens, to be kept for 
breeding purposes, and some of the professional 
hunters of the north are not particular as to the 
means they adopt in hunting. They have been 
quick to realise the devoted motherhood of the 
vixen, and to profit by it. It is almost impossible 
to locate a litter of foxes by tracking down the 



THE FOX. 51 

vixen, owing to the cleverness with which she 
hides her trail in passing to and from the den, 
linking up the new tracks with the old, or resorting 
to the densest undergrowth, where she can leap 
from windfall to windfall. A vixen having been 
located, the method most commonly employed is 
to run her to earth with hounds. Sometimes the 
vixen will not expose her cubs to danger by 
denning up with them, however, and sometimes 
trained hounds are not available, so that other 
methods have to be resorted to. The blood- trail 
is, alas ! among these. The man, armed with a 
light rifle, lies in waiting for the vixen, and 
wounds her more or less lightly, so that she leaves 
a blood-trail. Her first thought is of her cubs, 
and thither she goes ; but this time the old, old 
tricks find the human sleuth still behind her, her 
closely guarded secret betrayed by those tell-tale 
spots in the snow. 

TRICKS WHEN HUNTED. 

History lives in Fox Country, but Leicestershire 
is not the only county that breeds clever foxes. 
Every master of fox-hounds can tell you the 
history of some fox, which, surpassing his fellows 
in fleetness and cunning, led hounds and huntsman 
many a pretty chase, baffled them and checkmated 
them, and finally left them with a mystery to 
solve nothing but a mystery ! 

The beginning of wisdom is in profiting by 
previous experience, and undoubtedly the fox does 
this. Reynard knows that the scent he leaves 
behind is the true cause of his peril, and does all 
that he can to break or scatter that tell-tale line. 
He will run along a railway track, knowing that 
the glazed steel and the tarred sleepers do not 



52 THE FOX. 

retain the scent well ; and more than once he has 
been known deliberately to lead the hounds under 
the wheels of an express train, which, of course, he 
could hear from afar, with the result that several 
of the hounds were killed, and the hunt so broken 
up that the fox escaped to safety. 

Running water is a never-failing friend to the 
hunted fox, and well he knows the value of it. 
When fishing by the river Wharfe some years 
ago, I heard the hounds coming towards me at 
full cry, and as presently the sounds ceased, I 
judged the chase had changed in direction. A 
few minutes later, however, I saw a fox daintily 
paddling down the shallow margin of the river, 
coming straight towards me. Seeing me, he turned 
without haste, ascended the bank, and made again 
for the hills ; but when, a few minutes later, a whip 
came galloping up and asked if I had seen the fox, 
did I betray him ? At all events many another 
lively run did that same fox give the field ! 

A fox will deliberately run among a flock of 
sheep so as to mix and scatter his scent with 
theirs, and he has even been known to jump on 
the back of a sheep and ride a considerable dis- 
tance, thereby breaking the tell-tale line. 

But many a good fox who has fooled and baffled 
the hounds and given them a glorious run has 
won his freedom only at the cost of his constitu- 
tional fitness. Emerging at length from his 
sanctuary, after a rest of many hours, he is no 
longer the wonderful running-machine that he was 
when the hounds took up his scent, but is now a 
broken creature lungs gone, heart gone, merely 
a physical wreck. And, again, many an exhausted 
fox, seeking shelter in a wet drain, lies there till, 
sick and chilled, and his vitality becoming low, he 



THE FOX. 53 

falls a victim to the fatal red mange, the scourge 
of the fox kind. In the mountains of the north, 
where the rugged nature of the country does not 
permit of fox-hunting, red mange is quite un- 
common among the foxes, simply because they 
are never run to exhaustion. 

The enormous distance a fox will cover in a 
single day, leading the hounds at full cry for hours 
on end, tells its own story. His powers of endur- 
ance may be marvellous, but after all he is only 
flesh and blood, and when," at the end of hours of 
running, he sets out with pounding heart and 
panting breath for quite new country away over 
the hills in a last mighty and supreme effort we 
know that the end must be near. How one's 
heart goes out to the fox dragging on and on 
with foes on every side, seen at every open gate, 
shouted at and turned aside, and always with that 
awful death-like ' music ' at his heels ! 

Yet not always is the end of the chase a tragic 
one. One day we see him, in his burning need 
for water, drag himself into the swamps of the 
river-margin, the hounds hard behind, and we 
apprehend that ere many seconds are past his 
gorgeous coat will be dragged and trampled 
through the mire. He pauses at the very brink 
among the rushes, and looks half-hopefully ahead. 

The river ! His old, old friend, truer far than 
friends that change or move to distant hills ! 
Many a time before has she served him with a 
generous hand many a time away in the blue 
hills there, where he spent his cubhood days. 
Will she fail him now now in the time of his 
direst need ? 

A fresh outburst from the hounds urges him on 
he slips into the water, swiftly, silently, and 



54 THE FOX. 

unseen. For a few paces he swims, and then, only 
his nose above the surface, he drifts. The friendly 
waters close about him, soothe his burning skin, and 
bear him on. The hounds, red-eyed with blood-lust, 
surge to the river-bank, and cross. No scent ! 

Is that a fox drifting down the river, far out in 
the central race that limp, waving object, looking 
like an old cast-off garment as it moves with the 
tide ? If so, no one sees it, or, having seen it, gives 
it a second thought. 

Far down the river Reynard drifts, till the 
hideous sounds of death are left behind ; then, 
refreshed and rested, he climbs ashore. All is 
very peaceful and quiet here. Just up the hedge 
an old cock-pheasant is scratching in the leaves, 
but Reynard, hardly seeing it, heads wearily for 
some distant spot whither no hound will follow. 
He heads for home, a wiser fox than before, and 
free ! 

VOCAL POWERS. 

Just as foxes are clever and original in deceiving 
the hunter, so are they clever and original in their 
own hunting. Reynard possesses remarkable vocal 
powers, and can imitate exactly the bleat of a 
lamb, the squeal of a hare or a rabbit, and numerous 
other sounds belonging rightly to the creatures he 
is out to kill. One night, when driving home along 
a country lane in Dorsetshire at the time of the 
year when young lambs are about, I heard what 
I took to be the bleating of a lost lamb coming 
down the hedgerow towards me. On my making 
some commonplace remark concerning the sound 
to the farmer who was driving me, he replied, 
' That isn't a lamb, sir ; it 's a fox. You can hear 
them bleating any night this time of year.' 



THE FOX. 55 

Many seasons later I again heard the bleating 
of a fox this time in the hills near Burnsall 
village. I was spending the evening with a shep- 
herd in his tiny cabin out on the moors, and as 
we both sat at the open door, smoking our pipes 
before he turned in, we heard the bleating of a 
lamb coming towards us down the wall-side. The 
cry was exact, save for an indescribable sinister 
ring about it, which at once raised my suspicions, 
bringing to mind the night in Dorsetshire some 
years previous. The shepherd reached for his gun ; 
but Reynard evidently saw the movement, for 
there was brilliant moonlight, and we just caught 
a glimpse of him as he slipped, flattened out, over 
the wall-top. 

Reynard clearly thinks that by mimicking the 
cry of a lamb he will spread unrest among the 
nursing ewes, and if any ewe has lost one of her 
lambs she may set off eagerly towards the sound, 
deserting her remaining charge, which is then at 
the mercy of the fox. 

Rabbits are often called by a fox to within 
striking distance, Reynard lying concealed behind 
a tuft of grass or inside a bush, and imitating 
exactly the squeal of a rabbit in pain. I have myself 
called rabbits to within a few yards by this means 
the old bucks or nursing mothers of the colony 
coming hopping up, stamping, and full of foolish, 
goggle-eyed importance, to see which member of 
the community it is that has fallen into difficulties. 
If the squealing is kept up for any length of time, 
however, such is the intelligence of the rabbit that 
the whole colony becomes used to it, and at the 
end of five minutes or so they take no further 
notice, merely steering clear of the spot from which 
the sound issues. 



56 THE FOX. 

Rats, however, are a very different proposition, 
and when one rat sits up and squeals, every rat 
within hearing is likely to hasten to the spot, so 
that Reynard is pretty sure of a coup should he 
consider it worth while to attempt this squealing 
stunt in the vicinity of a farmyard. 

In Canada I one day saw a fox come out of a 
poplar-grove, and peering through the scrub, he 
caught sight of a brace of plump, snowshoe rabbits 
nibbling the second-growth spruce that dotted the 
snow-covered plateau. For a long time he eyed 
them covetously, evidently thinking out a scheme 
for bringing about their downfall. It was a diffi- 
cult problem, however, for the snowshoe can skim 
the drifts more easily than a fox, and if once the 
rabbits succeeded in gaining the underbrush, Rey- 
nard would not get a look in. His only chance 
lay in snapping up one of them in the open ; yet 
how? The plateau was level as a billiard-table, 
and, save for the thinly scattered spruce, afforded 
just about as much cover. 

Presently the fox began to scratch in the snow, 
digging a trench under the jumper, and extending 
it out into the open towards the rabbits. Evi- 
dently he knew they would return to the grove 
this way, for, having extended the trench well into 
the open, he was content to lie concealed behind 
his breastwork and wait. Sure enough the rabbits 
began to nibble their way towards him, but at 
this juncture the cold warned me to move on. 
There is little doubt, however, that one or the 
other of the rabbits would fall to the fox. 

In that particular part of Alberta foxes existed 
in most surprising numbers, and all through the 
night one could hear them yapping. Sometimes 
they uttered a long, thin, wavering howl, which 



THE FOX. 57 

was often taken up by others, till it became a 
veritable concert such as Seton describes in one 
of his absorbing animal stories. 

TRAPPING. 

The cleverness of the fox in avoiding steel traps 
has had no little to do with its survival in the 
many parts of the world where it still flourishes, 
but from which the wolves are long since gone. 
So far as one can judge, the wolf of Great Britain 
was an arrant ass, and of very much inferior in- 
telligence to the gray wolf of the New World. 
Remnants of wolf -pits still remain in various 
parts of the country, and from these one would 
judge that the wolf population of those days was 
quite incapable of discriminating between the 
most obvious sets and the natural features of 
the landscape. In certain parts of the prairies the 
wolves and the coyotes bid fair to outli ve the foxes, 
probably because they are less given to attempting 
raids on homesteads than is Reynard, confining 
their depredations to the less-frequented alley-ways 
of the night ; but it is little wonder that the foxes 
of this country have long outlived the wolves 
which once ranged the same forests. 

Foxes are quick to locate the scent of steel, 
and fear it greatly. Every fox inherits this fear, 
springing, as he does, from a line of ancestors to 
whom the steel trap has been an hourly peril ; but 
if he learns in addition what the steel trap really 
is, then keen must be the trapper who is to outwit 
him. 

There was an old fox which became an absolute 
pest to one tiny village away back in the Pennines, 
nipping up geese, ducks, and fowls in broad day- 
light, and defying the many efforts made to bring 



58 THE FOX. 

about his destruction. When in the end this old 
fox was dug out and killed, he was found to have 
one paw badly crippled, having evidently left part 
of it in a trap years ago, which accounted for 
his extreme wariness thereafter in avoiding such 
engines of warfare. 

An experienced fox-trapper, however, is pretty 
sure of his pelt so long as it is worth his while to 
persevere in the pursuit of it. There is one thing 
that effectively hides the scent of steel running 
water. Therefore the trapper suspends his bait in 
the branches of a bush overhanging a stream, just 
so high that the fox, standing in the water, is bound 
to jump for it. His traps he sets in the water, 
directly below, so that any fox trying to get 
the bait is sure to encounter one of them, and 
having encountered it, he inevitably springs the 
second. 

Foxes are fond of following water on their 
nightly forays, game being most abundant there ; 
so another method is to set the trap in the centre 
of a narrow stream, covering it with moss so as to 
form a little island directly above the spring-plate. 
Baits are then set on each side of the stream, so 
that any fox coming along is sure to locate the bait 
on his side. Having taken it and found it to his 
liking, he noses round for more, and it is then oh 
fatal discovery! that he scents the bait on the 
opposite bank. A fox hates to wet his feet, and 
he makes a leap for the deceptive island of moss 
in mid-stream, when ping ! He is caught ! 

The commonest method employed by game- 
keepers in trapping foxes is to utilise the stinking 
carcass of a cat, placing it in such a position that 
the fox is sure to locate it, and setting the traps 
all round. A fox cannot resist the attraction of 



THE FOX. 59 

such a bait, and in circling round he is sure to 
spring one or more of the hidden traps. 

VALUE OF THE TAIL. 

The bushy tail of the fox has many uses, fore- 
most among which is its value as a wrap or a travel- 
ling-blanket. In referring to the foxes of Manitoba, 
where the cold is intense, Seton says that he does 
not believe a fox which has lost its tail would 
survive the winter ; but this certainly does not 
apply in the British Isles. As already mentioned, 
vixen cubs reared in captivity are often docked 
before being liberated, and a tailless vixen gener- 
ally lives to produce many litters. There is no 
doubt, however, that the tail is a considerable 
comfort to its possessor, for the fox, when resting, 
curls into a ball, its exposed nose and paws packed 
closely together ; then it wraps its tail over them, 
and breathes through the long, close hair. 

Thus curled, a fox is very difficult to distinguish 
against a background of leaves or bracken, and 
will lie perfectly motionless so long as it thinks 
itself unobserved by the passer-by watching 
through the hair of its tail, which thus serves an 
additional useful purpose by hiding the bright eyes 
that might otherwise give the show away. 

Foxes use their tails considerably when fighting, 
the combatants striking each other in the face, 
and thereby causing a momentary diversion which 
serves to cover a snap or a parry. I have heard it 
stated in all seriousness that a fox, before going 
out in search of a rival whom he intends to engage 
in combat, will deliberately sprawl in water, then 
roll in sand till his tail, and indeed the whole of his 
fur, is filled with grit, which so bunds his opponent 
that victory is easily gained 1 



60 THE FOX. 

Again, the tail of the fox is of value in assisting 
him to follow the lightning twists and turns of 
Brer Rabbit, acting as a rudder and a stabiliser ; but 
nevertheless there are times when this generally 
useful piece of equipment is a severe drag. A 
hard-run fox that has been compelled to take to 
water finds his wet brush a sorry burden, and in 
the end the slight additional weight may prove his 
undoing. A badly wounded fox in Wharfedale, 
which was ultimately shot and killed, was found 
to be rendered almost helpless in its enfeebled 
state by the heavy load of ice which had collected 
in the long hair of its tail. The poor creature was 
evidently too done up to bite out the ice-clots, 
which rapidly accumulated, and in the end might 
conceivably have sealed the animal's fate had not 
a more merciful form of death stepped in. 

SPEED. 

I doubt very much whether the fox is so fast in 
a short sprint as the rabbit ; 28 miles per hour is 
probably the average maximum, but between the 
maximum speed of Reynard and the speed he is 
capable of maintaining over a considerable distance 
there is but a narrow margin. Thus the prime 
fox, whose maximum speed is 30 m.p.h., will prob- 
ably prove capable of maintaining 20 m.p.h. over 
a distance of four or five miles where the going is 
favourable, whereas a rabbit, which may attain 
33 m.p.h., could not maintain 20 m.p.h. for more 
than five hundred yards. 

THE YOUNG. 

Gestation occupies fifty-one days. The young 
are born early in April, and are blind for about 
two weeks. Usually they appear at the den- 



THE FOX. 61 

mouth when about three weeks old, but they do 
not venture far from the area of trodden sand till 
about three months old, when, singly or together, 
they begin to accompany their mother on breath- 
less mouse-hunting expeditions. 

In fox-hunting country, where the home-den of 
the vixen and her cubs is never disturbed, foxes 
often choose the most exposed and open place for 
their 'earths,' as the home-burrows are called; 
for instance, I have known one to be located in 
the centre of an open fallow field, slick on the 
skyline, the mound of newly turned earth vastly 
visible against the sky. In mountainous districts, 
however, where the nature of the country forbids 
hunting, the utmost caution is exercised by the 
parent foxes in the location of their den. They 
choose some little-frequented and almost inaccess- 
ible spot as far from human habitation as possible, 
knowing full well that their little ones, if dis- 
covered, will be dug out and killed by keepers or 
shepherds. Very often an old and abandoned 
quarry, which catches the sunshine, but shelters 
the den-mouth from easterly winds, is chosen, and 
here the cubs gambol when old enough to leave 
the den, chasing the moths and the insects about 
the warmth and shelter of their stronghold, 
while the parents, in their coming and going, 
take care to leave no beaten track which might 
betray their secret. 

The dog-fox, in spite of various doubts raised on 
the point, is a devoted father, though while the cubs 
are small he has little to do with their upbringing. 
His share at this time is to bring food to the 
vixen, leaving it at the den-mouth for her; and 
thus, by making sure that she is well fed, he can 
have no doubt that her precious cubs will not be 



62 THE FOX. 

neglected. Also, he acts as guardian of the den, 
making note of any strange figures that appear, 
and warning the vixen in case of danger. It 
is to be feared that in the days of spring-time 
plenty he often destroys more food than is needed, 
going out on long excursions of piracy, and earning 
a bad name for himself. Should the vixen meet 
her fate while the cubs are small, their father nobly 
takes charge of them, carrying them perhaps to 
some safer locality, and caring for them in the best 
way he knows.* 

In the mountains of the north the parent foxes 
generally work their den so that a root or a boulder 
obstructs the entrance not far down, and here, where 
the burrow cannot be enlarged, they take up a stand 
should their home be invaded by an enemy. Very 
often the fox-diggers, having dug down a goodly 
distance, and thinking themselves near the nest 
containing the young foxes, find to their annoyance 
that they cannot dig farther owing to the presence 
of a huge boulder which obstructs the way, and far 
under which, in all probability, the cubs are hidden. 
Even should the diggers find the nest, they are by 
no means sure of the cubs, for generally there are 
side-pockets, or ' hide-holes,' running off in different 
directions, often so small that they become filled 
in during the digging, and so escape notice ; 
but at the end of each of these secret corridors 
is huddled a little fox, who squeezed himself in 
immediately the digging commenced. When an 
enlarged rabbit-burrow is used as the earth, the 

*This is not a random statement. I have known the dog-fox to 
return to a completely buried earth, after the vixen had been killed and 
the cubs dug out, and to open it ; and keepers in the Highlands set 
traps in anticipation of the dog-fox's return. If the cubs are left, it has 
been proved over and over again that he will carry them away ; every 
cowboy of the prairies knows this. H. M. B. 



THE FOX. 63 

foxes * generally redesign parts of it to their own 
tastes, filling in the unused corridors to exclude 
draught. 

CUBHOOD DAYS. 

Every infant fox is taught the lessons of life by 
its parents, and the cubs of a wise mother grow up 
wise foxes.t As soon as they are old enough to 
play about the mouth of the den, their lessons 
begin. First they are taught to use their noses ; 
the parents, having brought food for them, hide 
it some little distance from the earth, and leave 
the cubs to locate it by their own keenness and 
cleverness. Thus the clever cub fares well, while 
the dull member of the family comes in only at 
the tail-end of the feast. A little later they are 
taught to pounce mice out of the grass ; taught 
the folly of chasing the fleet-winged grouse that 
rise from the heather ; and taught that, above all, 
stealth and cunning are the crowning virtues of 
the master of woodcraft. 

One day their mother leads them to a new track 
on the hillside, and sniffing it, she bristles and 
growls, looks this way and that, then sneaks 
swiftly into the heather, keeping in the hollows, 
never showing herself against the skyline. Each 
cub sniffs the new track, bristles and growls 
because his mother did so, and sneaks furtively 
after her, fearful of some unknown peril. And 
after that day the scent of that track brings fear 
to the heart of the fox-cub, and encountering it in 
his rambles, he sneaks off through the hollows, for 
it is the scent of the watchful shepherd ! 

Every nursery of fox-cubs has its playthings, such 

* I have seen both parents engaged in digging the burrow. H. M. B. 
+ See HARE. 



64 THE FOX. 

as the wing of an old cock-grouse, dried by ex- 
posure to sun and sand, and durable as leather. 
The fittest cub picks it up and 'swanks' I can 
think of no better word round with it, casting 
glances of defiance at his brothers and sisters till a 
tug-of-war ensues, the opponents snarling in a most 
fear-inspiring and terrible manner. In the midst 
of the contest the humorous cub for every litter 
has its humorist runs full tilt into the wing, 
knocking the others flying, and snatching up the 
trophy, he tears off with it, running in circles and 
colliding with everybody. There ensues a wild 
scramble, during which the surly cub loses his 
temper, fights in real earnest for the wing, and 
finally gets it. Then he carries it off, growling 
as he goes, and tries for the ninetieth time to 
eat it, so that there shall be no further misunder- 
standing as to whose it really is ! 

Until three or four months old fox-cubs give 
practically no scent at all ; so little, indeed, that 
hounds will run over them a very generous pro- 
vision on the part of Dame Nature. At the time 
when they are old enough to play about the den- 
mouth, the vixen, evidently with the idea of 
widening their outlook a little, sometimes prepares 
for them a yard or a playground a little distance 
from the earth, and thither, on fine nights, or 
even during summer days if the place be suffi- 
ciently secluded, she takes them at regular intervals. 
Usually the yard is located in the midst of dense 
bracken, or some other suitable cover, and easily 
accessible from the den. The dam treads out a 
bed for herself at one side of the small open space, 
and there she lies watching her little ones while 
they roll and scuffle in front of her keeping, 
always, to strictly defined limits. Usually they 



THE FOX. 65 

show no desire to wander off into the whispering 
quietude beyond ; but should one of them attempt 
to do so, it is at once called back and severely 
reprimanded. 

Mountain-foxes are more given to this custom 
of instituting a ' home from home ' than are ' long 
valley ' * foxes probably because they inhabit less 
thickly peopled regions, and are, therefore, less 
likely to be disturbed. Some keepers are of the 
opinion that in the case of the true mountain- 
foxes the vixen leads her cubs from the den as 
soon as they are old enough to follow, and that 
thereafter they do not return, making their home 
in the heather. Occasionally a shepherd crossing 
the hills will come across a fox 'yard' far out 
in the open, no earth anywhere near, the yard 
being betrayed from afar by the litter of feathers 
and, alas ! lambs' wool. If the cubs are there, 
they simply crouch in the heather, making little 
or no attempt to escape, and a massacre follows, 
the shepherd's dog giving short shrift to the 
defenceless youngsters. It is surprising to how 
great an extent the hatred of the fox is born 
in these hardy dogs of the hills ; for generations 
past they have shared, fang and nail, in their 
masters' feud. 

The parents of the cubs are often very fearless 
and cunning in their efforts to draw away any 
intruder from the vicinity of the family. A friend 
of mine rose early one morning in the hope of 
catching a glimpse of a litter of young foxes he 
knew to be located in a certain wood. As he 
neared the spot where they were, stealing as 

* I use the term ' long valley ' to distinguish the wide, long valley 
of the lower basin of a river from the upper or mountain valley. The 
term is used in the East, and might conveniently be adopted by sports- 
men and naturalists at home. H. M. B. 



W.A. 



66 THE FOX. 

silently as he could through the undergrowth, he 
was suddenly startled by a vicious snarl just ahead 
of him, and a moment later one of the adult foxes 
leapt from behind a bush, and momentarily barred 
the way, snarling and bristling. Immediately the 
fox saw that the intruder was a human being it 
slunk off, uttering as it went two sharp 'yaps,' 
which were evidently the signal for the cubs to 
retire hastily underground. 

In all probability this was the dog-fox, and 
certainly the part the father plays at this season 
is by no means insignificant. No doubt in the 
world of foxes there are fathers and fathers, as 
there are in the world of human beings ; but 
observers are too apt to conclude when a fox is 
seen near a den that it is indisputably the vixen, 
though as a matter of fact the father is generally 
on outpost duty somewhere near, and he is more 
likely to be seen than is the vixen. It is he 
who gives the first warning of danger, and, if 
possible, leads the intruder in another direction ; 
the duty of the vixen is to hasten to her cubs, 
if she is not already with them, and see that they 
take cover immediately. 

I give the incident upon which the above 
statement is based. A keeper in a non-hunting 
country (Upper Wharf edale) sent his dogs into 
a wood which he knew contained a fox family, 
taking up his station at the end of the wood 
near to a point at which he thought the vixen 
would bolt. The dogs struck the scent of a 
fox almost immediately, and were led hither and 
thither through the undergrowth for some minutes. 
Presently the keeper saw the vixen cross the boun- 
dary wall about two hundred yards from where 
he was standing, and lope across to an adjoining 



THE FOX. 67 

wood. Her tongue was lolling, so assuredly it 
was she the dogs had followed, though by some 
trick she had now successfully thrown them off 
the scent. 

Next day the keeper repeated the performance, 
this time taking up his station at the point where 
the fox had emerged. Exactly the same thing 
happened the fox was viewed by the dogs, led 
them on a wild-goose chase for some minutes, 
then tricked them. A minute later Reynard 
appeared on the wall-top, crossing at exactly the 
same place as yesterday, and, of course, met its 
fate. On going up, the keeper was surprised to 
find that it was the dog-fox he had shot 1 

A Highland keeper told me that one day, when 
crossing a moor, he was much mystified on seeing 
two foxes running apparently aimlessly round and 
round a boulder. He thought they were chasing 
each other for amusement, and forthwith proceeded 
to stalk them. Almost immediately, and without 
looking in his direction, the foxes made off, 
keeping together for a short distance, then sepa- 
rating. The keeper urged his dogs in pursuit, and 
was about to make his way to a point of observa- 
tion, from which a chance shot might be obtained, 
when it occurred to him to look round the boulder 
where he had first seen the foxes, for clear it 
was that they had seen him before he saw them. 
Going to the place, what was his surprise to find 
a solitary little cub seated under the rock, so 
young that its eyes were hardly open 1 The man 
could not find it in his heart to kill the lonely 
little wean apparently the sole charge of its 
parents, who, the man now realised, were busy, 
when he first saw them, scattering their own 
scent about the place so as to overwhelm that 



68 THE FOX. 

of the cub, finally running off together in order 
to leave an unmistakable line to lead away the 
intruder ! 

Early in the autumn, when the cubs have learnt 
to hunt and to take care of themselves, the family 
finally splits up, the fox and the vixen driving the 
cubs out of the home-range, this being a natural 
prevention of overstocking, which would result 
in many enemies or in scarcity of food. Each cub 
now sets off to seek his own fortune, and he 
may travel for days ere he finally settles on a 
range of his own. During this time of migra- 
tion, while travelling restlessly from hill to hill, 
from forest to forest, the cub invariably carries 
something in his jaws. It may be an old sheep- 
horn or the sole of a boot, or possibly it is the 
last thing he killed a water-vole or even a frog. 
Exactly what his idea is one cannot say, unless 
it is that, feeling himself an emigrant, he is con- 
strained by a desire to carry his worldly possessions 
with him. More probably, however, the ruling 
instinct is that of carrying a small store of food 
lest, in his wanderings, he should encounter a 
fruitless land and suffer hunger. 

Many foxes have little secret caches or hiding- 
places, where they bury certain things which 
happen to take their fancy. All manner of 
strange oddments are buried here little things 
the fox has picked up during a night's wanderings, 
carried for an hour or two, then hidden with his 
secret store, to be meditated over in leisure 
hours. An old barrel mole-trap containing a dead 
mole, a medicine -bottle which had held some 
strange-smelling concoction, a bit of a slipper, 
and an old dog-collar were found in one such 
cache, which was located in the decaying root 



THE FOX. 69 

of a tree in the centre of a lonely forest. Evi- 
dently the fox spent much leisure time in the 
vicinity of his secret store, for he had amused 
himself by stripping the bark from adjacent dead 
trees in order to nose out the grubs which lay 
beneath it. (Personal observation.) 

LENGTH OF LIFE. 

The fox is a hard-living animal, and, like all 
the canines, is not remarkable for longevity. He 
is old at ten years. Eight years is probably 
Reynard's allotted span of life, for immediately 
infirmity sets in, immediately his senses lose their 
keen edge, he inevitably succumbs to one or 
other of his foes. He is so much dependent 
on his sight for his living that were this to fail 
in the least, hunger would hasten the natural 
decline of his health, and if not killed he would 
probably, in his weakened state, fall a victim to 
red mange, and die a month or two later. 

NUMBERS. 

Taking the number of foxes killed annually 
before hounds in Great Britain as 12,000, and 
the number killed in other ways as 10,000, making 
up a total of 22,000 foxes killed annually over 
an area of 80,000 square miles, it is possible to 
arrive at a rough estimate of the fox population 
of the country. On St George Island, Behring 
Sea, foxes are fed and protected for their pelts. 
The stock consists of about 270 mated pairs, 
and it is found that not more than 500 pelts can 
be marketed annually without reducing the stock. 
On this basis it may be argued that 11,880 pairs 
of foxes breed annually in Great Britain, though 
it is reasonable to suppose that this is a very 



70 THE FOX. 

low estimate. In the first place, the St George 
Island vixens produce from 5 to 12 cubs to the 
litter, whereas the wild vixens of this country 
produce from 4 to 9. Again, it may be taken 
that the accidental death-rate is higher among 
animals that are purely wild than among those 
fed and protected by man, so that in all probability 
the stock in this country is close upon 13,000 
breeding pairs. 

ENEMIES AFIELD. 

Afield, Reynard is no more popular than is a 
prowling cat in the hedgerows or a sparrow-hawk 
in the pine-tree. When out at night-time, I 
have marked his passage down from the heather 
into the fertile valley-levels by the frenzied calling 
of the pewits, circling over him, accompanied 
occasionally by the drumming of snipe and the 
wild alarm of the curlews. The pewits are truly 
the sentries of the night during the spring of the 
year, and their unrelenting watchfulness must 
occasion Reynard many a muttered oath as he 
sallies forth on booty bent. He will hide in a 
drain or in a stone wall in order to get rid of them, 
for so long as he remains visible they will assuredly 
follow him, one bird keeping up the vigil till it is 
relieved by another, and so on by mutual arrange- 
ment from field to field. 

Sometimes comparative silence reigns upon the 
uplands. The moon is not yet out and the stars 
are dim. One hears the scream of a hare two 
fields away; it fades, and the silence closes in 
again like the closing of water at the stern of a 
vessel. Then suddenly a pewit calls. The call 
is answered shrilly, then repeated. Reynard is 
abroad, and in a minute or so the whole mountain- 



THE FOX. 71 

side is apulse with sound, the very rushes seeming 
to find voice and to join in the general chorus. 

SENSE OF SMELL. 

The fox is gifted with extraordinarily keen sight, 
and, like all predatory animals capable of speed, 
he uses it very considerably in his hunting. His 
nostrils, however, are as well trained as those of 
the best setter or pointer. In hunting, the general 
trend of his direction is against the wind, and his 
nostrils are aquiver at every step. Suddenly he 
stops, head aloft, ears acock, one paw upraised in 
an attitude of sculptured gracefulness freezes into 
a statue, save for that never-ceasing quiver of the 
nostrils. He moves a step or two to left or right, 
tests the wind again, then slowly sinks to ground. 
In that dense clump of heather just ahead a blue 
hare is crouching. He cannot see it, but his nostrils 
have marked it down to within an inch. He leaps, 
pinning down the heather between his forepaws ; 
then a thin-edged scream goes up, a pewit rises 
a-wing, another follows but what matters the hub- 
bub, now that Reynard has procured his supper? 
He lopes easily away, and the night sentries mark 
his going, screaming aloft. 

When Reynard and, of course, the same applies 
to other animals hunts by scent, he must, at every 
stride, 'watch the wind.' His exquisite sense of 
smell would be of no value whatever to him unless 
it were worked in conjunction with an equally 
exquisite sense of wind -direction. Scent alone 
could not have told him just where that blue hare 
lay. The scent was of a potency and a property 
which meant ' two yards away,' but it was wind- 
direction, and wind-direction only, which marked 
its exact whereabouts. 



72 THE FOX. 

Thus the nose of a fox is not only his scent- 
machine, but also his wind-vane. Both functions 
are performed by that small, moist, cold member 
which leads the way everywhere. If you desire to 
ascertain the direction of the wind, you moisten 
your finger and hold it up before you. The cold 
side is the wind side. Reynard's nose is moist by 
the natural course of events, and is so sensitive that 
it conveys to its owner the direction of currents of 
air so slight that they amount merely to faint 
movements of the atmosphere. The most breath- 
less days are not devoid of such movement, or, if 
so, the creatures that are dependent on their ' scent ' 
for a living would fare badly. It would perhaps 
be more accurate if we said that these creatures 
are dependent upon their senses of smell and 
wind-direction, for one sense is worthless without 
the other. 

When a dog becomes thirsty its nose dries, and 
it is said to lose its scent. Most probably its 
' scent ' remains unaffected, but owing to the 
drying of its nose the dog is no longer able to 
'watch the wind,' and thus has lost its chief 
guidance. Keepers seem to have some knowledge 
of this, for I have watched a keeper deliberately 
moisten a dog's or a ferret's dry nose in order 
to assist it in locating game. 

When a dog or a fox falls ill its nose becomes 
hot and dry. This is one of nature's remedies. A 
period of starvation is the finest medicine in the 
world, and with the drying of the animal's nose 
starvation is temporarily enforced, and, its hunting 
abilities gone, the sick creature is content to den 
up and sleep itself well. Thus at every turn we 
find nature's schemes worked out to attain a definite 
end. 



THE FOX. 73 

It will be seen that the fox has many character- 
istics which are not unknown in man himself. 
We have our nurseries and our museums so has 
he. His school is the great school of the woods, 
in which, during his cubhood days, the fox learns, 
lesson by lesson, the things which are to carry him 
through later life. If he learns earnestly, he lives ; 
if not well, there is no place in the Wild for the 
dull-witted and the foolish. The clever fox lives on 
the fat of the land ; the fool is hungry and hunted 
till he falls a victim to the merciless weeding-out 
process that permits only the fittest to survive and 
breed their kind the offspring of wise parents. 

DIMENSIONS. 

The length of head and body in an average dog- 
fox is about 3 feet, tail 1 foot 2 or 3 inches ; 3 feet 
6 inches is a big fox. 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT 
(THE ERMINE). 

THOUGH easily distinguishable from one an- 
other in habits, the stoat and the weasel are 
very similar, and in the following the word ' weasel ' 
can be taken as applying to both unless a distinction 
be made. The stoat is much the larger, and gener- 
ally a shade lighter in colour, while the conspicuous 
black tail- tip, fleeing always in pursuit of his sinister 
little form, proclaims from afar : ' I am a stoat, and 
not a weasel ! ' 

The weasel lives chiefly on mice, moles, rats, and 
so on, and though often guilty of grave misdeeds, 
such as wholesale murder in the hen-house, it 
probably pays its way so far as the farmer is con- 
cerned. Gamekeepers, on the other hand, destroy 
weasels whenever an opportunity occurs, knowing 
that they will attack game of any kind as impartially 
as they will attack anything else there is the faintest 
chance of their pulling down, and the fact that the 
weasel destroys vast quantities of small ground- 
vermin does not exonerate him in the keeper's eyes. 
On game-reserves, however, the weasel is much 
less harmful than the stoat, as the latter, being 
larger, is unable to make such free use of the 
burrows of small rodents which perforate the fields 
and hedgerows ; and, hunting more in the open, it 
makes a business of searching during the season for 
sitting birds, destroying the mother and the whole 
clutch or brood should it locate her. 

Though capable of surprising destruction, the 
weasel is very little thicker in the body than a 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 75 

man's thumb, and is designed in every way for 
hunting underground invading the burrows of 
the smallest rodents, and negotiating them at such 
speed that their rightful owners, if caught at home, 
have no chance whatever of escape. Catching up 
a mouse by the head, the weasel kills it instantly, 
then, thrusting it aside, hurls himself furiously on 
the rest of the family, dealing death left and right, 
and never ceasing to kill so long as there is a living 
creature within his reach. Such ruthless and un- 
warranted massacre is common to all the polecat 
tribe. They do not kill merely what they require 
for food, but destroy everything that comes within 
their reach ; thus, on gaining the interior of a 
chicken-house, for example, they go mad with 
blood-lust, killing in a few minutes enough poultry 
to satisfy their material needs for several weeks. 

I once watched a weasel raiding a water-vole 
burrow in the centre of an open pasture. About 
nine voles, young and old, left the burrow immedi- 
ately he entered it, and squatted trembling in the 
grass by the mouths of the various holes. The 
weasel, working underground, nosed them out one 
by one with lightning rapidity. One just saw his 
wicked little head dart, like the strike of a rattle- 
snake, from the mouth of a hole by which a vole 
was crouching, heard a squeal, and the vole was 
jerked backwards into the burrow with hardly a 
kick in self-defence. A second or two later the 
head of the weasel would appear at another hole, 
and the same thing would happen, the whole family 
being exterminated in the course of two or three 
minutes. I allowed this to happen because the 
voles were doing considerable damage by under- 
mining the artificial bank of a stream near by, 
causing it to flood the meadow; but when the 



76 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

work was completed I strode up and introduced 
the weasel to my terrier, who knew just how to 
handle such gentry. 

Unlike the stoat, the weasel never hunts on the 
earth's surface if there is any possibility of pursuing 
his whimsical and murderous way underground. 
He will follow stone walls, running along inside 
them in travelling across open country ; then, leaving 
the wall, he makes for a drain, emerges to follow a 
mouse-run, and so on and so forth, seeming to possess 
an instinctive knowledge as to where such shelters 
exist. This is all the more remarkable since this 
little killer never remains long enough in one 
locality to become properly acquainted with every 
tunnel and cranny. Generally he is exploring new 
country, with which he must be totally unfamiliar, 
yet when fired at, or suddenly beset by dogs in the 
open, he darts unerringly for the nearest tunnel, 
the mouth of which may be completely overhung 
and concealed by grass. 

It may be a matter of surprise to many that 
so small and short-legged a creature is capable of 
running down animals that are much larger and 
more speedy than itself; but one only needs to see 
a weasel at work in order to realise that no animal 
it normally hunts has the least chance of escape 
when pursued, terrorised, and perhaps surprised by 
so unwelcome a visitor. The weasel can outrun a 
hare, and is bold enough and savage enough to 
invade a building literally swarming with large, 
ferocious house-rats. One afternoon I was amusing 
myself by shooting rats which had taken possession 
in vast numbers of an old outlying barn. Having 
put some meal down in the open, I waited a little 
distance away, armed with a B.S.A. air-rifle, and 
almost immediately veritable strings of rats, large 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 77 

and small, came streaming forth from the nooks 
and crannies to feast on the meal. I had shot 
eight or nine of them, when suddenly every 
rat mysteriously melted away, and peering up to 
ascertain the cause, I beheld a small russet animal 
bounding nimbly down the wall-side towards the 
barn. It was a weasel, of course ! 

He saw me instantly, and darted into the wall ; 
then, after the manner of his kind, he poked his 
head from a cranny much nearer and regarded me 
with his small black eyes. Immediately I raised 
the rifle he darted back, to appear, almost the same 
second, from another cranny several yards distant, 
and again to disappear. This he did probably a 
score of times, now only two yards distant, now 
away up the wall, then actually from under the 
eaves of the barn, passing from one point to the 
next with such speed that it was almost impossible 
to believe there was only one weasel present. One 
would have thought there were half-a-dozen of the 
little beasts stationed all up and down the crazy 
building, and popping out their heads in turn 
such was his quickness in running through the 
interior of the masonry. It would have required 
a good snap-shot to kill him, even had I been 
bent on doing so ; but it occurred to me that 
he was capable of playing more havoc among the 
rats in five minutes than I could have executed in 
a week, so I left him to it. Presently he lost 
interest in me, and judging from the stirring-up 
and the sounds of murder that then began to issue 
from inside the barn, I imagine the rats were well 
aware some one had called.* 

* To-day, 24th March, I found the skeletons of a stoat and a rat 
lying about two yards apart on the moors in the Lyne valley. They had 
evidently perished in mortal combat. H. M. B. 



78 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

On other occasions, when carrying a shot-gun, 
I have wasted as many as three or four cartridges 
before ultimately bagging a weasel taking stock 
of me from an adjacent wall. His head would 
appear from a cranny, but the very instant I 
pressed the trigger he would draw back, the shot 
splatting all round the hole the merest fraction of 
a second too late. The report seemed not to 
disturb the animal in the least, for in a second 
he would be peering from another cranny, quite 
motionless, his black eyes full of inquiry. Gener- 
ally he appears once too often, and a stray shot 
gets him, but it would seem that he is usually quick 
enough to draw back in time on perceiving the 
movement of the gunner's trigger-finger. 

When out with a dog, I have had a stoat 
follow along the wall, appearing every few paces, 
and chattering abuse and defiance at the dog, 
sometimes only a yard or two away. 

Many wild animals, among which the weasel 
family stand as typical examples, adopt the habit 
of moving in jerks so rapid as to deceive the eye, 
and of 'freezing' between each movement. In 
hunting, when it is necessary to escape observa- 
tion, this is a very effective way of approaching 
game, and is made use of by the American Indians. 
In stalking deer I have sometimes desired to raise 
one hand, perhaps to remove a troublesome fly 
from my face, perhaps to adjust the breech of my 
rifle, and I have noticed that if the movement be 
made instantly it is very seldom observed, pro- 
viding one remains perfectly still before and after, 
whereas a slow, cautious movement is almost 
certain to give the show away. The deer know 
this themselves, and on hearing a suspicious sound 
up goes every head in the twinkling of an eye ; 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 79 

then every deer remains stock-still till the cause 
of the disturbance is arrived at, when they bound 
away. Slow, cautious movements, then, are a 
mistake except at very close range, and it is to 
be observed that all animals that are most expert 
in hunting, or in evading those who hunt them, 
adopt this method of alternate ' freezing ' and rapid 
movement. 

HEARING. 

The hearing of the weasel family is marvellously 
keen, and it is said that these animals can hear the 
scream of a mole, a sound so high pitched that 
the human ear cannot distinguish it.* Weasels 
are guided very considerably in their hunting by 
their hearing, and many a time in the dusk of 
evening one can observe one of these little free- 
booters sally forth, and, as though undecided 
which direction to take, sit bolt-upright and listen. 
At this hour of half-light, the sun having already 
dipped behind the hills, though a sea of crimson 
and gold still floods the west, a weasel is very 
difficult to recognise when seated thus, and having 
once removed one's eyes from him, it is almost 
impossible to locate him again. Motionless and 
straight as a picket-pin, he looks for all the world 
like one of the dead thistle-stems that surround 
him, and sometimes for several minutes he will 
remain thus, taking no notice should a motor 
vehicle or a farm-cart thunder by only a few paces 
distant. Then suddenly, having evidently heard 
sounds too faint for the human ear, he darts off 

* I once caught alive a female mole which was in the act of feeding 
its young. As I held the animal by the skin of the back it opened 
its month, and though no sound was audible, the fact that it was 
'screaming' was indicated by its quickly escaping breath and its 
general attitude of defence. H. M. B. 



80 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

in some chosen direction, plainly with some fixed 
goal in view. 

This habit of evening listening is shared equally, 
or perhaps to even a greater extent, by the stoat, or 
it may be that the stoat is more conspicuous than 
the weasel, and therefore more often seen. In his 
winter garments, however, seated thus against a 
background of snow, it would require a very keen 
eye to locate a stoat at all, or, having located 
him, to keep the sight focussed upon him. While 
hunting, also, these animals pause to listen every 
few paces, evidently making greater use of their 
sense of hearing than their sense of smell. 

It has often occurred to me that since the hear- 
ing of a weasel is tuned to catch sounds much too 
high for the human ear to hear at all, it is quite 
reasonable to suppose that the other extreme 
applies also that is, that there are many deep 
sounds which, disturbing enough to us, escape a 
weasel's senses. Certain it is, as already stated, 
that a gun-shot does not disturb these creatures 
in the least, and the question arises as to whether 
so deep a report is within the range of their 
hearing. 

THE MURDERER ABROAD. 

Though the weasel's underground habits tend 
to reduce the destruction it does, for the reason 
that, progressing thus, the animal comes across 
sufficient rodents to keep it busy and prevent it 
devoting its destructive abilities in other directions, 
at the same time the weasel often uses these 
underground runways as a means of circumventing 
game which otherwise would be out of reach. 
One would not imagine the blind, subterranean 
mole to be in any way an enemy to game-birds, 




THE WEASEL HUNTING. 

F 



,'. -. : ;: '-". 
:--' "''..: 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 81 

yet indirectly it is, because its underground 
passages, running out into the open, enable the 
weasel to surprise game which otherwise he would 
stand no chance of surprising, except by a very 
elaborate and cautious stalk. Locating game- 
birds out in the open, he makes the best of his way 
towards them through the mole-runs, peeping out 
now and then to correct the direction, till ulti- 
mately he darts to the surface in their very midst, 
seizing one of them ere the startled creatures have 
time to realise what manner of death has burst 
upon them. A strong cock-pheasant or a grouse 
will often succeed in rising in the air, taking the 
weasel with it, but generally the bird falls after a 
short flight, the weasel's teeth fast in its throat 

On one occasion I saw by the tracks in the 
snow that a grouse, thus surprised, had carried 
the weasel a matter of eighty paces, heading down 
into the glen, and evidently intent on making for 
the burn, as a hard-pressed bird often will. It 
had landed, however, two or three feet short of 
the water, on a sandy bar, and here a terrific 
struggle had taken place, the grouse making for 
the water, while the weasel was fighting to restrain 
it. Apparently the weasel had not had it all his 
own way, as the tufts of russet fur clinging to the 
snow indicated ; but in the end he of course killed 
the grouse, and tried to drag it into a tiny cranny 
under a shelf. The body of the victim was much 
too large to be dragged in, and in his infuriated 
endeavours the weasel had actually dragged the 
bird's head off! 

The ferocity of the weasel passes all belief. 
One day my brother and I were motoring slowly 
along a tortuous country-road, when on rounding 
a corner we saw two weasels, one in pursuit of the 

W.A. / 



82 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

other, tearing along the road towards us. Their 
tails and fur were bushed out, making them look 
double their real size, and we could hear the angry 
chattering sound they were both uttering. They 
saw the car immediately, and swerved ; then the 
foremost one, in its eagerness to escape its pursuer, 
made straight for the car again, passing clean 
between the front-wheels. Without hesitation the 
other followed, while my brother and I hastily 
dismounted, clutched our sticks, and gave chase. 
For fully five minutes we hunted the two little 
demons up and down the roadside, several times 
being within an inch of killing one or the other ; 
yet so preoccupied were they in hunting each 
other that they took very little notice of us, at 
times breaking cover, and, in the eagerness of their 
feud, taking appalling risks of having their spines 
broken by our sticks. I believe both stoats and 
weasels often hunt each other down in this way, 
following and fighting till one or the other is 
killed. 

When a boy I caught a stoat in the very act 
of killing a rabbit, but the little brute saw me and 
made for the wall, not abandoning the rabbit until 
he was compelled. The rabbit being now quite 
dead, I tied one of its hind-legs to the roots of a 
Scotch thistle, then, with my stick ready, waited 
out of view. After four or five minutes the 
stoat reappeared, made a careful survey, then 
darted again upon the rabbit, shaking and worrying 
the poor dead creature like a miniature tiger. He 
next tried to drag it away, and, unable to do so, 
his fury was laughable to witness. Quietly I rose 
and darted towards the place. Seeing me, the 
stoat chattered and snarled, still dragging at the 
rabbit ; but he delayed a moment too long, as I 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 83 

had thought would be the case, and, much to my 
delight, paid the penalty with his life. 

Though, like most very bold and ferocious 
animals, the weasel family is very low down in the 
scale of intelligence, the little renegades neverthe- 
less resort to many clever and effective tricks when 
hunting. On approaching in the open game that 
cannot be reached in any other way, they will 
begin a series of the most wonderful feats of con- 
tortion leaping into the air, chasing their tails, 
looping the loop a foot from the ground, and so 
on, till the creature they are after becomes con- 
sumed with curiosity, and, owing to the quickness 
of their movements, is unable to judge their exact 
distance. Pheasants and barn-door fowls become 
so overcome with curiosity on seeing a stoat or 
a weasel behaving thus that they actually stroll 
to meet him, as though mesmerised, while each 
evolution takes the little murderer nearer and 
nearer on his way. A final leap, a quick dash, 
and his object is reached out goes another good 
pheasant or barn-door fowl 1 

The weasel is certainly of royal blood in the 
family to which he belongs, and the stoat, though 
so much larger, will not face him. The domestic 
cat is a fierce and formidable fighter, but I have 
seen an old poaching torn flee in furious panic 
from one end of a heap of sticks when a weasel 
entered the other.* A fox will similarly turn away 
from a weasel if he can conveniently do so ; indeed, 
it seems that few animals can tolerate this musk- 

* Since writing this, I have been informed by Mr F. J. Hutchison 
that in the garden of his house, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, he 
watched a stoat ' running ' a domestic cat round the grass plot. Finally 
they closed, the stoat intent on business, the cat obviously in terror. 
Unfortunately, however, a noise from the house broke off the interest- 
ing conflict. H. M. B. 



84 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

bearing little fighter, and will give him a wide 
margin every time in preference to disputing the 
right-of-way. The weasel is quite impartial as 
to whom he attacks, having been known to kill 
calves, lambs, and even foals, the first named, it 
is said, by suffocating them. 

MIGRATION. 

Like all other members of his family, the weasel 
is of wandering habits, and the covert which yester- 
day contained no stoats or weasels may to-morrow 
be overrun by them. In the autumn their migra- 
tory instincts seem to be at their strongest, and 
at this season they are most commonly seen by 
roadfarers, darting across the open road and 
bounding down the hedgerows. These wanderings 
are quite unaccountable, as the animals do not 
migrate, for example, from the high, bleak hill- 
tops to the sheltered valleys, but remain evenly 
distributed. One merely takes over the hunting- 
range of another, a general shuffling and sorting- 
out taking place. 

Stoats and weasels very often travel in families, 
eight or nine of them keeping together, working 
and hunting in unison like a pack of hounds. 
Sometimes in wild country family joins family, 
till an immense gathering of them is formed 
travelling east or west, and leaving an area of 
devastation behind them. An army of weasels 
will turn aside for practically nothing, even the 
shepherd and his dog being unsafe should they 
encounter it. There are many cases on record 
of such an army having attacked men, and no more 
uncomfortable predicament could be imagined. 

A Yorkshire shepherd with whom I was well 
acquainted was one day walking the moors, when 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 85 

his dog gave chase to a stoat. The man readily 
lent a hand, when he was surprised to see more 
stoats, and still more, bounding towards him and 
his dog, giving tongue angrily like so many little 
panthers. The man stuck to his ground, and 
during the next few minutes he and his dog 
killed a large number of the little brutes. Finally, 
however, they were compelled to withdraw, the 
dog becoming tired ; and it is a fact that the animal 
retained so strong a ' weasel ' smell that for two or 
three days after the encounter it was not permitted 
to enter the house, having to sleep out in the 
barn. 

Scottish shepherds regularly recount similar en- 
gagements with these small creatures both stoats 
and, less commonly, weasels which, for their size, 
are the fiercest and most terrible fighting-machines 
in all wild nature. 

POSSIBLE ENEMIES. 

Though so fierce and formidable a fighter, the 
weasel does not always get it his own way with 
the creatures he sets out to destroy, and working 
a drain or a barn freely inhabited by house-rats is 
risky work for him. Rats have sufficient intelli- 
gence to combine against a common foe, and some- 
times a veritable army of them will unite to drive 
a weasel from their habitat, handling him very 
roughly or even killing him. Generally, however, 
a weasel succeeds in getting away when thus set 
upon, probably leaving a train of dead, limping, 
and staggering rats behind him ; for, though he 
bites and holds on bulldog fashion when hunting 
to kill, he strikes like a rattlesnake to left and 
right when fighting in self-defence. 

Nevertheless, an old buck-rat will sometimes 



86 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

prove more than a match for a single weasel, and 
a very ample handful for the sturdiest of stoats. 

A doe-rabbit with young to defend will turn 
and face a stoat or a weasel most gallantly, driving 
him out of her burrow, and stamping on him 
with her powerful hind-paws till all the fight 
is knocked out of him. Similarly, a mother-hare 
will attack one of these creatures with such fury 
that, unless he beats it for cover, he may find him- 
self with a crippled spine. 

Stoats and weasels attack and kill snakes with 
great dexterity, even the poisonous varieties often 
falling victims to their swiftness. Toads, frogs, 
beetles, and worms likewise figure conspicuously 
in the bill of fare of these animals ; while any dead 
thing they find is welcome to their multifarious 
tastes. 

HUNTING RABBITS. 

When a weasel (the term is here used as apply- 
ing also to the stoat) sets out on the trail of a 
rabbit, he sticks to that one rabbit, never wavering 
from his original selection till he has run it down. 
The quarry may run through half-a-dozen burrows 
thickly tenanted by other rabbits ; it may cross and 
criss-cross its trail with a hundred other trails ; but 
every trick it plays, every sidelong leap and double 
back, finds the remorseless little pursuer still on 
its trail. A young rabbit does not run far when 
hunted by stoat or weasel, but after one spasmodic 
sprint it seems to give up all hope, and become 
paralysed with terror. Immediately it catches 
sight of the weasel behind it, indeed, after one 
half-hearted endeavour to escape, it throws up the 
sponge, beginning to run in foolish circles, while 
without haste the weasel follows by sight now. 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 87 

Narrower and narrower become the circles, the 
rabbit begins to squeal, then finally it crouches 
helplessly and awaits its fate. 

An old rabbit, however, will sometimes give a 
weasel a good run, keeping him occupied for an 
hour or more, and leading him far afield. A rabbit 
will even take to water when pursued in this way, 
and I have known one to swim a wide river, 
arriving at the other side in a much-exhausted 
state. 

Weasels seem to be capable of exercising a 
hypnotic effect upon the creatures they pursue, 
and even when a rabbit has succeeded in getting 
away, and is on safe soil, it is often overcome by 
temporary paralysis. So helpless is it that a man 
can pick it up, as I myself have done on more than 
one occasion. I have seen a rabbit so paralysed 
after having fairly escaped that it was capable only 
of dragging itself along on its forepaws, its hind- 
quarters trailing helplessly, as though its spine 
were broken. 

When two stoats or weasels are hunting together, 
they work as rapidly and systematically as a pair 
of well-trained dogs, one following the trail, while 
the other ranges to left or right. Should the trail 
turn in the direction of the one that is ranging 
wide, he picks it up, thus saving his companion a 
wide detour, and in this way they cut out many 
a circuit, so saving much time. So keen is their 
sense of smell, however, that they can scent the 
trail thirty or forty yards away should the wind 
be in their favour, and instead of following every 
twist and turn, as a dog does, they cut off the 
corners, travelling more or less straight, and re- 
joining the trail farther up. A weasel seldom 
actually treads the trail he is running, but follows 



88 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

a yard or more on the leeward side, the distance 
depending upon the strength of the wind. This 
can be seen by any one who studies weasel signs 
in the snow. 

It is a fact that sometimes a bitter feud will 
open up between a stoat and a fox, the stoat 
following the fox for great distances, probably 
with the idea in the first place of profiting by 
his hunting. It is part of the nature of the stoat 
to follow and follow on till he has killed the 
creature he is pursuing, and perhaps it is some 
such notion that causes him to follow a fox in this 
way, irritating and threatening poor Reynard till 
he is at his wits' end. A fox will seldom turn on 
a weasel of any kind if he can conveniently lope 
away, but to be followed and molested for hours 
on end is more than any self-respecting fox can 
be expected to endure. So, having left the stoat 
behind half-a-dozen times, he probably turns in 
the end and ' chops ' it, and there is one little 
murderer less in the woods. 

The weasels are the sworn enemies of every 
creature of the moors and the forests, rooks and 
crows mobbing them on sight, or hovering about 
with loud cries till the little assassins are driven to 
take cover. A friend of mine living in the High- 
lands kept for many years a tame buzzard, which 
used to hop about the garden, and during its career 
it succeeded in catching a large number of weasels, 
to which it was very partial. Certainly there is 
no accounting for tastes ! I knew also of a large 
game cockerel, the property of a Lowland keeper, 
which not only killed rats and mice, swallowing the 
latter whole, but was reputed by its owner to have 
killed weasels and stoats. Its method was to 
pounce upon the creature, stamping and holding 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 89 

it down with its large and powerful feet, then to 
deliver several sledge-hammer blows at the victim's 
head with its beak secretary-bird fashion. 

The best cure for stoats, however, is the steel 
trap, and the destruction of these hateful and 
bloodthirsty little animals, which are a terror to 
the woods they inhabit and certainly no ornament 
at the best of times, is a worthy pastime for the 
country boy with idle moments to spare, and an 
act which will be appreciated by game-warder and 
landowner. 

HABITS IN SNOW. 

In deep snow, when the Hunger Moon reigns, 
the weasels do not share in the general famine 
which then prevails over the land. Indeed, deep 
snow and frost suit them exactly, for they are as 
much at home in the snow as the otter is in water. 
Working beneath it, among the roots of the heather 
or under the thick entanglement of bracken and 
briar, it matters not to the stoat and the weasel 
how wildly the blizzard blows overhead, for these 
animals live now in an underground world, secure 
from gale and tempest, with the frozen snow as their 
roof and the crisp leaves as their bed. Sometimes 
the animal rises to the surface, breaking through the 
crust as an otter breaks the surface of the water ; 
then, diving below the surface again, quick as a seal, 
he pursues his unseen way secure from his foes. 

At this season of the year many of the mice 
have stopped up the entrances of their burrows to 
exclude the cold, and are sound asleep underground ; 
but the keen scent of the weasel enables him to 
locate them and dive in upon them, the mice, 
torpid in their winter sleep, making never a kick 
in self-defence. The rats are gone from the banks 



90 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

and the hedgerows to congregate in immense num- 
bers about warm outhouses and in man's dwellings, 
so that a visit to these habitations is well worth the 
weasel's time. Birds, particularly partridges, form 
a habit at such seasons of huddling together in 
little groups, out in the open fields, and the hunter, 
locating them, has nothing to do but run under 
the snow till he is directly below ; then, breaking 
surface suddenly in their midst, he is sure of a kill. 
In the same way he hunts larks out in the open, 
dragging them down from below, just as a fly is 
snatched from the surface of a pool by the trout 
lurking in the depths. Thus he is now independent 
of the mice-runs and the mole-runs in catching his 
quarry, and heavy is the toll he takes of field and 
game covert at such times. 

It is only when there lies a thin tracking snow, 
and the ground is bone-hard with frost, that hunger 
is apt to fall upon the weasel population; and 
should such conditions last, they gather into packs, 
after the manner of wolves, and work the country 
systematically for game. But they are not the 
only sufferers at these times ; in the hedgerows 
scores of small birds perish by hunger and cold. 
Daybreak finds them still seated among the 
branches, just as they were when the twilight 
shadows closed upon them ; or, perhaps, hanging 
by one toe to the undergrowth, to fall with the 
first gust of wind into the kindly shadows which 
have so long befriended them. Stoats particularly 
hunt the hedges for such pathetic tokens of the 
Hunger Moon, and it is to be feared that not 
only the dead go to fill their hungry maws. At 
night-time they hunt the hedges silently for roost- 
ing birds, climbing high among the branches, and 
surprising the birds where they sit ; for stoats, 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 91 

though belonging to the earth, are nevertheless 
quite at home in the branches more so than are 
weasels. Even the old cock -pheasant, the survivor 
of many a fiery blast of shot and powder, is by no 
means secure from them, though he may roost 
high up on the limb of some great oak, huddled 
close to the sheltering trunk, and screened from 
the vision of the human poacher who, armed with 
an air-rifle, searches for him from below. 

Dead tree-trunks, thickly overgrown with ivy, 
afford excellent resorts for stoats during the Hunger 
Moon. All manner of birds, including wood- 
pigeons, seek the thick shelter of these trees in 
times of extreme cold ; while the numerous little 
roots and stems of the ivy afford ample foothold 
and shelter for the hunting stoat. The remains 
of many kinds of birds are to be found among 
the dense cover of such trees, indicating that they 
have worse enemies than the harsh winter spells 
death, swift and silent, falling upon them while 
they sleep. 

In his eagerness the stoat will mount the barest 
of trees in pursuit of game. During keen spells 
the black -game in Scotland come down from 
the hills to feed upon the catkins of the alders 
in the valleys. I have seen an avenue of these 
trees crowded to their topmost branches with 
gray hens, and one day I watched a stoat foolishly 
trying to get at them, slick in view of the whole 
pack. He was about eighteen feet up from the 
ground, cautiously climbing towards an old gray 
hen, who was cunningly watching him with one 
eye. Every time the stoat drew near, the gray 
hen moved slowly out on to the thinner branches, 
till finally, with a cry of derision, she flew to the 
next tree. The stoat chattered abuse after her, 



92 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

then began to descend, clutching and falling from 
one icy branch to another till within ten feet of 
the ground, when he dropped and made off 
perhaps realising the utter futility of such a method 
of hunting. Weasels also climb during keen, cold 
snaps, though they are less given to this form of 
hunting than stoats. They feed at such times 
almost exclusively on mice. 

TRAPPING. 

Weasels and stoats are the easiest animals on 
earth to trap, as they make use of every drain 
that comes in their way, and, indeed, are not 
opposed to going out of their way in order to 
run down a drain of any kind. They do not 
fear the scent of steel, and will bound on to the 
spring-plate of the most obvious gin that clumsy 
fingers ever contrived. Keepers use dreadful traps 
very considerably for weasels. These consist of 
small square wooden tunnels placed through wall- 
bottoms so as to lead, perhaps, from the moorland 
to the covert boundary, or between any other 
favourite hunting-grounds of the weasel kind. In 
the centre of the tunnel is the trip mechanism 
which the weasel is sure to disturb in passing, 
whereupon a heavy log falls like a guillotine from 
above, shattering the life out of the little freebooter, 
as he himself has shattered the life out of so many. 
On one occasion a stoat was taken in a false floor- 
box trap set for rabbits, and during the night two 
rabbits and a big tom-cat fell into the pit to keep 
him company. The company must have been 
very lively while it lasted, for next morning the 
box was found to contain two dead rabbits, a 
dying tom-cat, and a much-mangled, though still 
lively, stoat. 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 93 

If one can succeed in shooting one member 
of a family of these little killers, the extermina- 
tion of the rest is merely a matter of patience, 
for weasels and stoats always come back for their 
dead. The best way, then, is to leave the shot 
weasel where it falls, and quietly take cover near 
by. In a few minutes one or two of the others 
will come back for the corpse, and they too should 
be shot and left without being touched, the gunner 
still remaining concealed till he has done his work. 
One need not be led away by any false sentiments 
to the effect that they come back for their dead 
prompted by a sense of family love for them, 
for the weasel loves no one, and is just as ready 
to murder his own mother as he would be to 
murder a family of blind and helpless kittens. 
He is a renegade and an outlaw, in whose character 
there is not one lovable feature, unless it be that 
he maintains a lifelong feud against a creature 
more loathsome and destructive than himself 
the gray rat of our hedgerows and outhouses. 

VALUE TO MAN. 

Though a mortal enemy to the gamekeeper, 
the weasel is unquestionably a friend to the farmer. 
The desirability of reducing the rat population 
in every way possible is dealt with in the chapter 
treating of that animal, but here it may be stated 
that the weasels are one of nature's methods of 
keeping within reasonable limits the population 
of earth-burrowing rodents. Sometimes a stoat 
or a weasel takes up its abode among rat-infested 
granaries and outhouses, and the destruction it 
works among the rodents is enormous. To quote 
an actual example : A farmer in Yorkshire, whose 
outbuildings were overrun by rats, one day noticed 



94 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

a most objectionable stench in one of the buildings 
where grain was stored. In the course of a few 
days the stench became so unbearable that part 
of the floor was removed to ascertain the cause, 
whereupon it was found that numbers of dead 
rats lay in the space directly under the floor-boards. 
Here and there the carcasses lay in heaps, as though 
they had been carried with some idea of storage, 
while many more had been dropped on the run- 
ways to and from these heaps. Examination 
revealed that a stoat or a weasel or possibly a 
whole family of these dreadful little killers was 
responsible for the slaughter, and for the remainder 
of that season very few rats were observed on or 
about the farm. 

Reference has been made to the weasel's sense 
of hearing and its value as a guide in hunting 
activities. I was one evening strolling over some 
lowland meadows, on the off-chance of a shot 
at game of some sort, when the village boy who 
was with me drew my attention to a stoat 
sitting bolt-upright at a wall-foot in an attitude 
of listening. Anxious to observe its movements 
for it had not seen us I refrained from shooting 
the little pirate, and after a few seconds it began 
to bound off in a northerly direction, pausing 
now and then to sit up and listen, then bounding 
off in the same direction as though reassured. 
All its actions clearly indicated that it was going 
in the direction of some sound that had attracted 
it, and having travelled fully three hundred yards 
probably considerably farther it came at length 
to a small barn where numerous rats had lived 
all summer, and disappeared into the massive walls 
of the building. 

This passing observation, of which little was 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 95 

thought at the time, has since occurred to me 
as affording evidence of some importance. In 
the first place, it goes to prove the perfection of 
this animal's hearing. The stoat had undoubtedly 
heard those rats when first we caught sight of 
it, and it is rather remarkable that so minute 
an atom of sound could be heard so far above 
the general chorus of sounds of much greater 
volume. An animal's hearing and powers of con- 
centration on one individual sound can evidently 
be screwed to a pitch far above our under- 
standing ; and I have noticed a blackbird success- 
fully listening for worms in the earth, while not 
four yards away a lusty navvy was hammering 
a post into the earth and his mate used a shovel 
among loose gravel ! 

Again, the incident goes to show that the 
hearing of the weasel family is one of their chief 
guides in their hunting ; and if every weasel passing 
within three hundred yards of a barn can tell 
at that distance whether the barn is rat-infested, 
there must indeed be few barns that escape their 
activities at some time during the season. 

A weasel or a stoat that takes up its quarters 
amidst such buildings probably continues to scatter 
destruction in every direction till it becomes ex- 
hausted by its gruesome work, and this process 
is repeated after intervals of rest for so long as 
there are rats to hunt. Thus it is conceivable 
that in the course of two or three days a single 
weasel might annihilate and drive out the entire 
rat population of quite a flourishing rat stronghold 
indeed, this regularly occurs ; and were it not 
for the matter of polluting the atmosphere, it 
would be interesting to note the results that would 
follow the liberating of a small army of, say, semi- 



96 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

domesticated stoats among the docks and ware- 
houses of London or Liverpool ! 

STORAGE. 

The habit of storing food is curiously developed 
in the land weasels probably because they destroy 
so much more than they actually require for food 
that the natural impulse is to cache a certain 
proportion for a rainy day. But the rainy day 
seldom or never comes. I have known a weasel 
to drag five young larks into a cranny under a 
flat boulder of rock and leave them there, evidently 
with the idea of returning. Passing the place 
two or three weeks later, I found the larks still 
untouched. A weasel family living in a disused 
lead-mine had caches in every other nook and 
corner; indeed, anything killed and not for the 
moment required was tucked into the most con- 
venient crevice and apparently forgotten. So far 
as could be judged, none of the stores was ever 
visited with a view to recovering its contents. 
The unquenchable thirst of the weasel is for hot 
blood, and though it will eat almost any filth 
it finds by way of a change of diet, I cannot 
imagine any weasel, save perhaps a maimed one, 
returning to a cold cache for its meal in prefer- 
ence to pursuing its lifelong march of destruction. 
In other words, it would be an exceedingly hungry 
weasel that turned to yesterday's store in prefer- 
ence to searching for fresh, hot blood ; and since 
a weasel is never hard pressed for food except 
under the most unusual conditions, it is curious 
that it has developed the storage habit so strongly. 

The more a weasel kills, the more it stores, 
and having spoilt its own hunting on a given 
range, dotted all up and down with bulging caches, 




THE STOAT OK ERMINE' WINTER'S KEEN EDGE.' 



' * * *f ' , 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 97 

it moves to a new hunting-ground, and there 
repeats the appalling business. 

WARRENS. 

The home -burrow of a weasel, in which the 
young are probably born, is often very extensive 
may, indeed, underlie several acres of forest, the 
weasel-tunnels tapping the mouse-tunnels in so 
many ways that it becomes impossible to tell 
where one set begins and the other ends. Where 
mice are abundant, the earth for acres may be 
a veritable network of creeps and runways just 
under the leaf-mould, so that the mouse fraternity 
can hold intercourse freely without venturing 
above ground. The individual communities live 
in the dead tree-roots, &c., each of which is a 
castle of habitation, while all are interconnected 
by underground corridors. The weasel takes 
over one of these castles, and is thus in touch 
with the whole mouse community of the forest; 
it could live for days without showing itself 
above ground. The mouse-creeps lead to and 
from the stream, and branch off from hedgerow 
to hedgerow, a veritable labyrinth throughout the 
wood ; and the weasel, passing like a phantom of 
death along these corridors, slaying in every corner 
and leaving the slaughtered where they lie, is, 
moreover, able to surprise the pheasant scratching 
obliviously among the leaves by darting from some 
screened opening in the ferns, or even by thrusting 
its way through the leaf-mould at the pheasant's 
very feet. To most wild creatures the earth is 
mother only she screens their blind and helpless 
babyhood in her damp recesses, but thereafter 
the earth is regarded by them only as a place of 
sanctuary ; but this little usurper of every creature's 

W.A. g 



98 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

domain uses such sanctuaries at its pleasure, and 
moulds each and every one to the murderous desires 
of its will. Barring the fox, the badger, and the 
otter, no creature of our fields and hedgerows is 
safe from a surprise attack by weasels. They 
are the most dreaded and the most destructive of 
all four-footed things, and were their numbers to 
multiply greatly it would be to the extermination 
of every bird in the trees and hedgerows, and every 
warm-blooded, fur-covered denizen of the earth. 

NUMBERS. 

But the weasel population does not multiply 
beyond certain limits prescribed by nature. If an 
area of country were left undisturbed for a number 
of years and no weasels or stoats were killed, 
they would not become unduly common not so 
common, indeed, as they are to-day in certain 
well-stocked coverts where, owing to the abundance 
of food, every passing weasel is tempted to dally. 
At first thought this may seem strange, but if 
we have due regard to the weasel's life-habits, the 
reason is not obscure. 

Finding conditions suitable, a weasel takes unto 
himself a certain hunting -range, and any other 
weasel trespassing on that range has either to 
fight or to fly. Being a weasel, he probably fights, 
and a weasel-fight is generally a fight to a finish. 
By the time the conquered one begins to realise 
he is getting the worse of it if a weasel ever 
does realise such a thing he is probably too badly 
knocked about to escape from his opponent, who, 
knowing he has the upper hand, goes all out to bring 
the combat to a conclusion. The more plentiful 
weasels are, the more commonly these meetings 
occur, and thus we have nature's prevention of 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 99 

overstocking. Added to this is the huge mortality 
that occurs by family disagreement, a litter of 
seven or eight youngsters finally dwindling to 
about three ere they have finished running to- 
gether. Again, the weasel is no respecter of sex, 
and a male weasel meeting a female is just as 
likely to kill her in endeavouring to realise his 
desires as he is to add to the number of his 
kind. These repulsive facts account for the limita- 
tion placed upon an entirely repulsive creature. 
The weasel is the weasel's worst foe ; traps and 
guns contribute little in keeping down his numbers 
compared with the measures nature has brought 
to bear, and did not such measures exist, the 
weasel population would multiply till the exter- 
mination of other life alone brought their numbers 
to a halt. 

BREEDING OF THE WEASEL. 

The weasel makes a nest of leaves and moss, 
locating it among the roots of a fallen tree, in 
the bank of a hedgerow, in the foundations of 
a dry rubble wall, or in a rabbit-burrow. Gesta- 
tion occupies just under six weeks, and the young 
are blind for nine days after birth. They are 
totally dependent on their mother for four weeks ; 
at six weeks they are well able to fend for them- 
selves. The female weasel is a devoted mother, 
and has been known to return in the face of 
gun-fire, at the cost of her life, as it proved, 
to pick up one of her young too badly injured 
to follow her to safety.* 

Naturalists disagree as to how many litters are 
produced per season. Some state emphatically 
not more than two ; others infer that four litters 

Personal observation. H. M. B. 



100 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

per year are not uncommon. My own observa- 
tions in the north of England and in Scotland, 
where the weasels feed plenteously on the titlarks 
that swarm in the bent and the ling, go to prove 
that at least three litters, and commonly four, are 
the regular order. I have seen young weasels 
from May till late September. 

Mating begins in the middle of February, while 
there is still snow on the hills. The first brood is 
born at the end of March. Now be it noted that 
the young are dependent on their mother for just as 
long a period as gestation takes. Since she runs with 
her mate throughout the season, it is probable that 
she conceives her second litter within a day or two 
of her first litter being born. This would mean 
that the second family would appear about the 
middle of May, the third at the end of June, and 
a possible fourth in the middle of August. Even 
then, if four litters were produced, the latest kits 
would be self-supporting by the end of September, 
which coincides with my own observations. 

By this reckoning we are not allowing any 
wastage of time, and there is no special reason 
why we should. A weasel has been known to be 
nursing her new brood ere the previous brood was 
properly self-supporting, and there is no doubt 
that when food is sufficiently abundant this process 
is repeated throughout the spring and summer. 

The nest, if not deserted, is rebuilt for each new 
litter, and the half-grown young have been known 
to take shelter in a nest containing their newly 
born brothers and sisters. 

SIZE. 

The length of an adult male weasel is usually 
about 8 inches from the tip of the nose to the root 



THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 101 

of the tail. The tail seldom exceeds 2^ inches. 
The female is about 1 inch shorter. 

PECULIARITIES OF THE STOAT BREEDING. 

Curious though it may seem, there is no evi- 
dence to suggest that the stoat produces more than 
one litter per season. The young are born in 
April, and they take little, if any, longer to mature 
than do weasels. I have watched the growth of 
the young in Galloway, in the south-west of Scot- 
land, but by August I have never seen any but 
fully grown stoats. The mated couples appear 
more faithful to one another than are weasels. 

SIZE OF THE STOAT. 

A full-grown male stoat will measure 11 inches 
from the tip of the nose to the root of the tail ; 
tail, about 6^ inches. The female seldom exceeds 
9 inches ; tail, about 5 inches. 

DISPOSITION AND COLOUR-CHANGE. 

The stoat is described by gamekeepers as a 
more playful creature than the weasel, which 
means that it is more commonly seen bounding 
along hedgerows and hunting generally in the 
open rather than about burrows. As already 
stated, the stoat is easily distinguished by the 
conspicuous black tip that adorns its tail, this 
feature being absent in the weasel. During the 
periodic stoat plagues that fall upon most of our 
woods, the animals can be seen at almost any hour 
of the day or night pursuing rabbits, &c., whereas, 
if a similar plague of weasels exists, they are much 
less conspicuous. 

In winter the stoat sheds its russet coat and 
assumes one in keeping with the snowy landscape. 



102 THE WEASEL AND THE STOAT (THE ERMINE). 

The change is not always perfect, but grades with 
the altitude. In the south of England the stoats 
often remain brown throughout the winter. In the 
Midlands the brown shades into gray, sometimes 
only a streak of brown remaining along the 
animal's back and about the legs and the paws, its 
flanks being gray. In the north of England and in 
Scotland the stoat of summer becomes the ermine 
of winter, the animal being quite white except for 
the black tip to its tail, which remains under 
any conditions hence the black-flaked ' ermine of 
kings.' Generally the furs are delicately tinted 
with yellow, which, though seemingly a beautify- 
ing feature, nevertheless detracts from their market 
value. 

Ireland has a stoat of its own, smaller than the 
British variety, though identical in habits, &c. 
The common weasel (Putorius nivalis) is unknown 
in Ireland. 



THE OTTER. 

PROBABLY quite a small percentage of 
readers have seen a wild otter in a free state, 
and one is unable to form a just opinion of this 
beast from the pitiful stuffed specimens one sees 
in taxidermists' windows. In truth, the otter is 
among the most graceful and beautiful of living 
things, a perfect sample of animal activity ; but its 
perfection is in its very life, its beauty in its ever- 
changing poses, each pose full of grace and ease. 

One day, when fishing a Highland loch, I found 
my way barred by a tumultuous burn tumbling 
down from the heights. In order to cross it I was 
compelled to climb up the mountain-side to a much 
higher point, on reaching which I chanced to look 
down to the spot at which the burn joined the loch. 

The scene was one of exquisite beauty, the burn 
emptying into a cauldron at the loch-margin, the 
mosses and ferns of which stood out in wonderful 
tints in the evening sunshine. One could smell 
the fresh, scented spray as it floated upwards ; 
mountain-ash and silver-birch shadowed the pool, 
and the whole little scene lay below, a veritable 
fairyland of loveliness. 

All at once a shadow appeared in the centre 
of the cauldron, and began to slide swiftly among 
the moss-covered stones till it reached one larger 
than the rest, which it mounted. It was an otter ! 
There she rested, glancing to left and right ; then 
suddenly she uttered a hoarse, penetrating note, 
exactly like the call-note of a moorhen. 

In a few seconds the first otter was joined by 
a second supple, boneless creature, evidently her 



104 THE OTTER. 

mate, and the two began grooming themselves, 
quick and changing in their attitudes as the light 
effects upon the water. They might have been 
striking poses for a camera the whole of the time, 
yet neither of them remained still in any one posi- 
tion long enough for one to make a ^th second 
exposure of them. Presently, as though prompted 
by a simultaneous impulse, they slid back into the 
water, making scarcely a ripple, and evidently they 
had caught my scent, for they did not reappear. 

Before then and since I have watched otters 
many times on the Esk, the Eden, the Wharfe, 
and on one or two Scottish burns and rivers, and 
have always been struck by their beauty and their 
extraordinary vivacity, returning home after such a 
glimpse with the feeling of having seen something 
worth while. To watch otters fishing the pools 
of some wide, shallow river about sunset is a 
sight worth seeing, as by the ripples above one 
can then follow their movements as they glide 
hither and thither below the surface. The speed 
at which an otter can travel under water is most 
astounding, twisting and turning this way and 
that, and resembling nothing more closely than a 
huge conger-eel, as it threads its way in and out 
among the boulders, or flashes torpedo-like across 
the shelves. One curious thing about the otter is 
that, however rapidly it moves in the water, it is 
always deadly silent, never lashing the surface into 
foam or creating so much as a bubble by its move- 
ments. The creature leaves the water or slides 
instantaneously into it, making only the faintest 
ripple, and it is difficult to believe that an animal 
so much at home there is not really a water 
animal, but has taken to that element simply for 
convenience. 



THE OTTER. 105 

At one time the otter was a fierce and terrible 
land hunter, like the stoat and the weasel, and it is 
probable that he took to hunting the waterways 
simply because he found food most abundant 
there. Voles had their creeps to and from the 
margin, wild-fowl were in the rushes, and rabbits 
swarmed within the sandy banks. These were the 
otter's natural prey, and so he took to hunting 
by the water's edge, where such food was most 
plentiful ; but he came upon bad times, when the 
river was frozen and there were no wild-fowl, when 
voles and rabbits were scarce owing to the floods 
of the previous spring, and when only the rapidly 
flowing burns were free of ice. At that season of 
the year the trout lay within these tiny burns, 
weak with spawning, and gigantic salmon rolled 
upon the gravel redds. The hungry otters found 
the fish easy to catch, affording food in abun- 
dance during the Hunger Moon, and so the otter 
became more and more of an angler and less and 
less of a land hunter. By degrees he grew into 
a master in the art of swimming, easily out- 
manoeuvring the lightning-darting trout and the 
kingly salmon, and earning his living in this way 
very much more easily than he ever earned it 
on land. 

To-day the otter is regarded by most people 
solely as a water animal ; yet young otters dislike 
the water, and are only made to take to it by their 
parents, who, diligently and patiently, teach them 
the art of swimming. 

NIGHT HABITS. 

At what time the otters take their rest no man 
can say, for when undisturbed they are never still 
day or night. In thickly peopled areas, where 



106 THE OTTER. 

they are apt to be disturbed during the day-time, 
they seldom show themselves before dusk, moving 
about under cover of the rushes while daylight 
lasts ; but in many a lonely Highland loch they are 
to be seen active the day through, and to be heard 
during the night. 

When fishing at night-time on the Wharfe, I 
have had otters come within reach of my rod, 
swimming round in circles as though unable to 
make me out, and uttering many strange noises 
in their conversation together. One of these 
noises is a shrill whistle, exactly like a human 
whistle, and doubtless produced by quick exhala- 
tion through the nostrils. The most common note 
is the ' moorhen call,' already referred to ; then 
they have a series of friendly, rapid ' duckings,' 
used much when playing together. They break 
surface clucking, so evidently they cluck when 
under water. It is rather an uncanny experience to 
have these beasts so closely investigating when one 
is fishing alone by a lonely part of the river the 
quietude, the moonlight on the water, the gliding 
shadows across the pools all adding to the general 
eeriness of things ; and I remember once my com- 
panion, who chanced to be a city man, found the 
otters altogether too much for him. He stuck it 
for some time, then came over to where I was 
fishing and confessed that the brutes frightened 
him ; nor could I ever again induce him to remain 
at the river- side after sunset, albeit the finest 
trout rose most freely at night. 

When about twelve years of age, I myself was 
badly frightened by an otter. It was sunset, and 
I was fishing at a point where a large burn joined 
the river. Here the water flowed very rapidly 
among the boulders, and every trout-fisher knows 



THE OTTER. 107 

how deceptive the moving shadows are under such 
conditions how, to the imaginative mind, they 
are apt to take on the semblance of great, moving, 
octopus shapes floundering below the surface. 

I was just in the act of landing a fine trout, when 
one of these phantom shadows suddenly separated 
from the rest, and began to wind a rapid, sinuous 
course towards me. All that I saw was a large 
black animal, having a snake-like body of appa- 
rently unlimited length, gliding, sliding, making 
its way through the riffles, while in the dim light 
it assumed unheard-of and terrifying dimensions. 

Of course it was an otter, but I did not wait to 
investigate further. Without delay I dropped my 
tackle and fled back to the farm, soliciting the 
company of a friendly farm-hand, who accom- 
panied me back to recover the rod, not forgetting 
to subject me to a goodly amount of chaff then and 
thereafter. I have no doubt to this day that the 
otter was in pursuit of the trout I was actually 
landing, which had attracted its notice by fighting 
on the surface. 

ON THE SALMON REDD. 

A very old and hardened angler with whom 1 
am acquainted was one night badly frightened by 
an otter. This man was, and is still, the most 
notorious salmon-poacher on the Tweed which is 
saying a good deal ! He lives by his rod winter 
and summer, and, like so many Border men,cherishes 
a deadly feud against the water-bailiffs, who are 
set to protect the salmon against illegal capture. 
The law enforces certain regulations ; the poachers 
say that the salmon come from the sea, and there- 
fore belong to no one which is every one that 
they are the property of the man who catches 



108 THE OTTER. 

them. Be that as it may, the poaching of salmon 
amounts almost to a religious duty with my old 
acquaintance, and on the night in question he was 
resorting to a most illegal device namely, ' burning 
the water.' This consists in throwing a light on to 
the surface of the water ; then, as the fish hoves in 
view, attracted perhaps, like a moth, by the light, 
the poacher strikes a large gaff into its body, and 
hauls the kingly monster ashore. 

But Ronald knew where the salmon were, and 
the light was good enough for him to dispense 
with any illumination. Approaching the shallow 
spawning ' redd,' his keen eyes located a veritable 
leviathan, and wading in behind it, Ronald began to 
stalk slowly upstream, his eyes on the salmon, his 
folding cleek in his hand. He was within a yard 
or so of his target, and in the very act of striking, 
when a movement at his feet arrested him, and 
looking down, he saw two green eyes, flaming with 
hunting lust, peering up into his ! Also he saw a 
very vicious face and a dark outline almost touching 
him, for the otter was in the act of stalking the 
same salmon, and, like Ronald, was so much 
absorbed in the stalk that it had never noticed 
the rival angler ! 

With a yell Ronald fled for the bank, crying out 
that the ' devil was in the water ; ' while in the 
opposite direction, as much scared as he, fled the 
otter. 

One evening, when I was fishing on the Tweed, 
an otter reared itself high out of the water within 
two yards of me, its head and shoulders appearing 
well above the surface ; then, having taken a long 
and fearless look, it slowly sank, and reappeared 
about thirty yards away, only its head up this time, 
to look again. This it did time after time, working 



THE OTTER. 109 

its way up the river, and revealing itself each time 
at a greater distance, till fully a quarter of a mile 
away I lost sight of it. 

FEROCITY. 

It is fairly certain that the stories one hears from 
time to time about otters following human beings, 
apparently intent on attack, are the result of this 
animal's uncontrollable curiosity. I do not believe 
that one otter in a hundred actually knows what 
man is ; they know his scent, and fear it, taking to 
deep water or to cover immediately that scent 
assails their nostrils ; but man in the flesh is an 
unknown quantity to them. I have myself, as 
related, known otters to come close up in order 
to investigate. Had I moved away, they would 
probably have followed, not having caught my 
scent, and it would have been an easy matter to 
send a letter to the local press relating how an 
otter, intent on mischief, had pursued me 1 

The most surprising facts concerning an otter's 
ferocity came to my hearing in Yorkshire, and 
when sifted proved to be genuine. A church- 
sexton was one night fishing for eels near Ripon, 
accompanied by his wife, when an otter was 
observed to slide out of the water a few yards 
away and come straight towards them, sneaking 
through the long grass on its belly, much like an 
eel crossing a meadow. The man at once rose, 
shouting and clapping his hands ; but, hardly 
pausing, the animal came on, refusing to turn 
aside even when something was thrown at it. 
The two people then withdrew, but the otter still 
followed, till eventually the man tried to drive it 
off by striking it with his wife's umbrella. The 
umbrella was broken over the animal's back, but 



110 THE OTTER. 

the otter did not desist till the two gained a foot- 
bridge, which they crossed, the otter seeming for 
a time still inclined to pursue. 

This must have been the case of a female whose 
young were very near at hand ; but the story 
merely goes to support my belief that the majority 
of otters do not recognise man when they see him, 
and would be as likely to attempt to drive him 
from the vicinity of their young as they would be 
to attempt to drive away any other trespasser. If 
such acts of aggression on the part of otters were 
out of sheer ferocity, it is curious that they never 
attempt to attack sheep, &c., which they would be 
much more likely to drag down and kill than they 
would be to drag down a man. 

A gentleman with whom I am acquainted was 
recently snipe-shooting in early autumn on a moor 
near to Pateley Bridge, when, on reaching a small 
tarn in the comer of an extensive bent-allotment, 
he sent his spaniel into the water to flush any birds 
that might be in the rushes. The dog, having done 
its work, proceeded to swim about, grabbing at the 
floating weed, and amusing itself as a hot and thirsty 
dog will under such conditions. Suddenly it ap- 
peared to be in great difficulties, thrashing the 
water with its forepaws and yelping, but, in spite 
of its frantic endeavours, making no progress 
towards the bank. The bed of the peat-pool was 
too treacherous for the owner of the dog to attempt 
to wade in to the rescue, and he concluded that 
the animal must have become entangled in some 
submerged barbed wire or weed probably the 
former, as it seemed to be in great pain. Shifting 
his standpoint, however, the gunner was astounded 
to see that a large otter had hold of the dog by the 
shoulder, evidently intent on drowning the poor 



THE OTTER. Ill 

animal by dragging it under. Both animals were 
more or less mixed up ; but taking a risky shot, my 
friend managed to effect the dog's rescue, the otter 
relaxing its grip and disappearing. 

The dog was very badly injured, and had to be 
carried by its master two miles or more to the 
nearest farm, where a conveyance was obtained. 
I myself saw the wound the otter had inflicted, 
and have no doubt whatever that had there been 
no human help at hand the spaniel could never 
have succeeded in gaining the bank of the tarn. 

A fact worth relating is that whenever that dog 
again passed near the tarn it would hunt through 
the rushes with savage enthusiasm, and it became 
really keen on hunting otters, though, fortunately 
for its safety, it never again found itself engaged in 
a single-handed combat with a 'water- weasel.' 

The bite of the otter is truly dreadful, and, except 
by a stroke of good luck, no dog could succeed singly 
in killing one of these beasts in its natural environ- 
ment. 

MIGRATION. 

Like most of the members of the weasel family, 
the otter is of nomadic habits. A female with 
young, of course, does not go far while her 
kits are little, and similarly a pair of otters, 
travelling together, may be tempted to stay for a 
while in or about any stretch of water which 
affords fishing of the kind that suits their tastes ; 
but, generally speaking, this animal recognises 
neither border nor range. Its whole life consists 
of one gigantic migration, which only old age 
terminates. Beginning, perhaps, at the sea, it 
works up the estuary of some chosen river, passing 
huge cities by the way, where railways thunder 



112 THE OTTER. 

over the steel-girder bridges, and the lights of 
'garret and basement' quiver far out on the oily 
flood. How many tired-eyed Londoners whose 
windows overlook the great Thames realise that 
while they sleep this creature, the otter, usually 
associated only with the rugged grandeur of High- 
land burns or the silent, dew-spangled meadows of 
the far-away, passes them almost nightly on its 
way to a happier hunting-ground? Yet all the 
otters of the upper Thames and there are many 
have probably passed through the lights of London 
at one time or another on their lifelong wanderings. 
Away up the river they go, dallying only here 
and there, till that which was once a mighty tidal 
water, bearing the trading-vessels of many nations 
upon its bosom, becomes a tiny trickling brook, 
too shallow now to afford fishing and shelter for 
the wanderer. The otter then leaves the water at 
a chosen place, and makes the best of its way over 
the watershed to the source of some neighbouring 
river, which it follows to the sea. 

SYSTEMATIC HABITS. 

The otters have recognised runways by which 
they pass from the head- waters of one river they 
frequent over to the head- waters of the next, and 
just as it is said that if a bear crosses a certain 
creek at a certain place, any bear following, even 
ten years later, will cross at exactly the same 
place so the otters tread in each other's footsteps 
generation after generation. Thus, if an otter 
leaves the stream at a certain tree and begins to 
make its way overland, it may be taken that every 
succeeding otter will leave the water at the same 
tree and make use of the same runway. In 
Canada the professional trappers know the otter 



' ."' 'fl 

> 

., .v. 




THE OTTER 'LEAN DAYS.' 
H 



THE OTTER. 113 

runways across the watersheds, and such knowledge 
is carefully guarded, to be handed from father to 
son or grandson, or whoever may succeed to the 
trapping-range ; for an otter runway is a source 
of unlimited supply, capable of yielding a definite 
number of pelts each year. 

The same applies to the otter landing-places. 
They have certain recognised landing - stations, 
probably flat boulders or shelving plateaux of 
sand, which they frequent while fishing, making 
use of no other. Having located one of these 
landing-places, one can easily keep count of the 
otters that pass, and if it be a sand-bank, it is 
worth while washing out old prints in order to 
keep trace of the new. A flat boulder of rock 
at the head of a pool at a point at which the river 
narrows and becomes too rapid for the animals to 
negotiate is often chosen, and here the remains of 
large trout that the otters have taken out of the 
water are often to be found. I remember one 
such landing-place on the river Wharfe which 
told many a woeful story to passing anglers, and 
which, incidentally, did the otters no great good 
in that locality. 

UNDERGROUND HABITS. 

Lead -mining was once a flourishing industry 
among the hills of the West Riding, and many 
great mines existed in the heart of the lonely 
moorland districts. The discovery of surface-lead 
in Italy was, I believe, the chief factor that caused 
their abandonment, and the great majority were shut 
down within a year. Veritable hives of industry 
some of these workings were, situated in desolate 
and wind-swept regions ; now for forty years or 
more they have been left to crumble into waste. 

W.A. h 



114 THE OTTER. 

visited only by an occasional shepherd", and answer- 
ing no more useful purpose than to shelter the horned 
mountain-sheep from the upland gales, and to afford 
roosting-places for countless thousands of starlings. 
The birds arrive in flocks about dusk, filling the 
air with their strange call-notes and chatterings, 
and alighting among the ruins till every turret and 
pinnacle is black with them. 

There is a spirit of romance about these long- 
abandoned sites, for each has its strange history 
known only to the oldest village-folk. Many of 
them had their own reservoirs, designed to feed 
underground canals by which the ore was earned 
out deep in the valleys, and to supply water for 
the great washing-floors, which are still intact. In 
the Bolton Abbey vicinity the bursting of one of 
these dams one rainy night led to the inundation 
of an entire mine, and to-day a few masses of water- 
washed masonry lying in a quiet glen are all that 
remain of a tragedy about which the outer world 
never heard men, women, and children being 
drowned in their sleep by the sudden assault of a 
mighty wall of water. In other localities feuds of 
considerable bitterness arose between the imported 
miners and the dalesmen, free fights occurring 
everywhere ; and in one instance, in order to avenge 
an imagined grievance, the miners stealthily raided 
a village by night and stole the May-pole ! 

But though tradition lives on, the mines are 
fast fading into the blue level of the landscapes, 
and only the vast underground workings remain 
intact. In many cases the mine -workings tap 
natural corridors running for miles under the 
moors, a labyrinth of underground rivers and 
waterways, which in turn tap the ravines and 
canons, thus laying open for the convenience of 



THE OTTER. 115 

the otters an underworld of dripping corridors by 
which they can travel, unseen, far into the heart 
of the moors. 

To what extent do the otters use these subter- 
ranean passages, the innermost secrets of which are 
denied to all but themselves ? This is a question I 
have tried hard to solve, and the evidence gathered 
may be of interest. Otters have been known to 
rear their young among the ruins of the lead-mines 
close upon two miles, through the deepest heather, 
from the nearest trout-bearing waters, and in the 
midst of regions where food of the kind they 
require must indeed have been scarce and hard to 
get. Did the parent otters come and go by the 
mine-workings ? If so, the whole vast underworld 
of corridors must have been at their disposal. 
Some of the underground rivers contain white, 
wall-eyed trout, like the subterranean rivers of 
Colorado the offspring of imprisoned burn trout, 
no doubt, which, by long confinement, have become 
a well-defined underground species. The most 
interesting item of evidence I have is that a shep- 
herd, whose word could generally be relied upon 
in such matters, told me that he was much mysti- 
fied at the discovery of one of these fish lying on 
a slab of masomy among the mine ruins fully a 
mile from the nearest water. The fish was partly 
eaten, and the work undoubtedly looked like that 
of an otter. If so, the fact proves that the dark- 
ness of those profound workings is no handicap to 
this creature in its hunting ; and that being so, it 
is reasonable to suppose that the otters breeding 
among the mines obtain some, at any rate, of their 
food from the subterranean streams and rivers. 

There is no doubt that an otter losing its way 
among these corridors might live for months, even 



116 THE OTTER. 

years, without seeing the daylight, for frogs and 
lizards are plentiful here in addition to occasional 
fish. It is further possible that, finding such 
habitat to their liking, the otters frequenting these 
workings might, generation by generation, become 
more and more underground in their habits, and 
less and less dependent on the open streams 
finally becoming a distinct species, like the white, 
wall-eyed trout, or like the cave-snakes about 
which we have read so much. 

I have never heard of anything approaching a 
species of underground otter, but such things may 
exist if not in this country, where it is only 
recently that the workings of man have rendered 
such a thing likely, at any rate in countries where 
the conditions are more favourable, and where 
man's knowledge of nature's doings is at the best 
superficial. 

SEA-OTTERS. 

The 'sea-otter' is often spoken of as a larger beast 
than, and a different species from, the river-otter, 
but to the best of my knowledge this is not so. 
There is only one sea-otter, surviving to-day on the 
Asiatic and American shores of the Pacific coast. 
It is a highly specialised animal, bearing a strong 
resemblance to the seal. In this country there is 
only one species of otter Lutra vulgaris. The 
commonly-spoken-of sea-otter is not a sea-otter 
at all ; nor does that animal come within the scope 
of this book. It is merely that an old and heavy 
otter steers clear of the shallow waters of the river- 
heads, limiting its hunting to the river estuaries 
and the sea itself. Otter-hunters record that the 
largest otters are always taken near the sea, and 
on the rugged coasts of Scotland and the west of 



THE OTTER. 117 

Ireland many otters have the sea-caves as their 
habitat, these beasts often being of immense size, 
and capable of uttering many weird noises of their 
own. They are merely old river-otters, which, 
having outlived the restlessness of their youth with 
its many perils, have taken to a more leisurely life 
amidst their ocean fastnesses. ' Land-otters,' pass- 
ing visitors, no doubt, occupy the same caves, and 
many otters born by the sea seldom or never leave 
it, and, thanks to an abundance of food, grow to a 
great size. This, to my mind, explains the theory 
of the big sea-otter. He is either an old otter 
who has taken up permanent residence in the sea- 
caves, or an otter that has grown to a great size 
owing to abundant sea-food; and all spring from 
the same stock. 

Much sport can be had hunting these sea-otters 
with dogs and shooting them with rifles as they 
' emerge from the caves, their skins being valuable, 
while they are certainly of no value to man in such 
secure retreats, where they are never seen, and do 
nothing to pay for the amount of fish they destroy. 
It is best to obtain a good seaworthy boat, and 
not to land, leaving the dogs to work the shore 
while one waits with the rifles just beyond the 
surf. A calm day and low tide are necessary ; 
otherwise there is a great danger of striking a 
submerged boulder, and a greater difficulty in 
shooting. If the otters once see the men they 
will not bolt from the caves, remaining and fight- 
ing off the dogs ; but they are far more ready to 
bolt from a white dog than from one that is dark 
in colour. Incidentally one gets any amount of 
other shooting thrown in ; and if a rifle is used for 
the otters, a shot-gun also should be earned, as 
often whole flocks of rock-doves emerge from the 



118 THE OTTER. 

caves, in which they breed, while seafaring wild- 
duck of different species are not uncommonly met 
with. The sport, combined with the grandeur of 
the scenery, the wholesome air and exercise, and 
the element of risk, makes a day of this kind 
thoroughly worth while. While enjoying a day's 
otter-hunting by the river as much as any one, 
I must say that my sympathies are too much with 
the otter on such occasions, and the nature of the 
sport too cut-and-dried for it to compare for real 
pleasure with the Bohemian element of an im- 
promptu shore hunt. (See Wild Sports and 
Natural History of the Highlands, by Charles 
St John.) 

HABITS ON LAND. 

To deal further with the otter's recognised 
migrating routes, the following account, apart from 
numerous passing observations, goes in support of 
what has been said. During one extraordinarily 
severe cold snap, when even the most rapidly 
flowing mountain-brooks were festooned and in 
places partially blocked by fantastic ice-formations, 
a moorland boy located the tracks of an otter fol- 
lowing the course of a small mountain-brook in 
the very wildest of regions at an altitude of 2000 
feet or more above sea-level. The brook emptied 
into a spacious tarn or loch, which, again, was 
drained by a small tributary of the Wharfe. The 
otter had evidently come, then, from the Wharfe, 
followed the tributary to the tarn, and, fishing there 
for a time, was now making his way up the brook 
still farther into the heart of this No-Man's-Land. 

There was a good tracking snow on the ground, 
and it was interesting to note the animal's ma- 
noeuvres. The brook was all but ice-bound, every 



THE OTTER. 119 

pool being frozen over except at the point where 
the water, with the metallic ring of extreme cold, 
tumbled into it. Accordingly the otter was com- 
pelled to travel along the bank, but every now and 
then he had dived into a pool, and invariably re- 
turned with a fish. If there was no fish in the 
pool or 'dub,' as it would more expressively be 
termed in that locality then he had passed it by 
with only a casual glance, and many of the most 
promising pools he had treated in this way, taking 
his fish from the least likely and least noticeable 
places of harbourage. Evidently the animal was 
able to tell in some mysterious manner whether or 
not the tiny bay contained a lurking trout and 
this with the water covered with ice, upon which 
rested a layer of snow, rendering it entirely opaque. 
One can only judge that an angler's ' sixth sense ' 
guided him in his hunting not an unlikely state 
of affairs considering to what extent man himself, 
who is but a casual visitor to the water at the best 
(or worst) of times, and in no way dependent upon 
it for his next meal, cultivates an instinctive know- 
ledge as to the whereabouts of fish. Probably if 
we thought less deeply and followed our instinctive 
promptings without question, as the otter does, we 
should be more successful in our angling. 

For well over two miles the otter had followed 
the burn, which then became so precipitous and 
narrow as to bar the ascent of fish, and here the 
animal had set out across the heather in the direc- 
tion of the Nidd valley, evidently being intent on 
striking some tributary of that river. The tracks 
appeared very fresh, so out of curiosity the boy 
still followed. What was his surprise when, cap- 
ping the next ridge, he came right upon the otter 
descending to the next burn ! 



120 THE OTTER. 

Seeing the intruder, the animal turned, and for 
fully ten seconds stared hard, as though on the 
point of showing fight ; then he set off at his best 
speed down the icy incline. Naturally the boy 
pursued, keeping close up to him, and could have 
killed him with his stick had he been so disposed. 
The otter's manner of progress was very peculiar, 
for, bounding awkwardly a few paces, he would 
suddenly fling himself on his chest and belly, his 
forepaws tucked limply under him, and giving 
himself the necessary impulse with his hind-legs, 
would slide quite a considerable distance, not 
troubling to get up till he had actually come to 
a standstill. Though the ground was in good con- 
dition for tobogganing, he made but poor progress, 
and seemed too much dismayed to be capable even 
of selecting the favourable down-grades ; in fact, 
one is inclined to think the poor animal was 
dazzled by the whiteness of the snow, as the 
sun was shining brilliantly. Finally, however, 
he reached deep heather, and diving through the 
frozen crust as he would have dived into water, 
he disappeared from view, making his way out of 
the danger-zone among the roots of the heather. 

When the boy recounted his curious experience 
that night by the kitchen-fire of the shepherd of 
that locality, the man was much interested, saying 
that he himself when quite a boy, over forty years 
previously, had tracked an otter one winter up the 
same burn, and that it had left the burn to make 
its way across the watershed at the very point the 
boy described ! 

WINTER. HABITS. 

During long spells of frost otters are very apt 
to become out of condition, but this applies only 



THE OTTER. 121 

to those inhabiting streams in which they are 
solely dependent on trout for food. During ex- 
treme cold snaps the healthy trout become torpid, 
and lie hidden under the rocks at the river-bed 
except when a gleam of sunshine calls them 
forth, the only fish remaining within the otter's 
reach being badly conditioned spawning fish, which 
afford very little nourishment. At such times an 
otter will become entirely diurnal in its habits, 
fishing during the hours of the day when the light 
is at its best, and when, presumably, it is attracted 
forth by the healthy fish astir at that time only. 
On one such occasion the river was frozen save for 
a narrow channel down its centre, and the otter 
could be seen swimming back and forth between 
this channel and the ice-covered stretches. Some- 
times it would come quite close to the village, 
swimming and diving this way and that while 
groups of interested villagers watched from the 
highway above. 

Hard pressed by hunger during a cold snap, an 
otter has been known to venture far from its 
beloved element in search of food. These animals 
have even been found guilty of plundering hen- 
roosts and invading rabbit-warrens. I believe also 
that during such times they kill a fair number of 
water-fowl, either by swimming beneath them and 
dragging them under, or by surprising them in 
cover. The otter referred to above formed the 
habit, during the long cold snap, of hunting in 
the wood that bordered the stretch of river it 
chiefly frequented. In the centre of this wood, 
about half a mile from the river, was a small, round 
pond, amply screened by undergrowth, and here a 
water-vole had taken up its winter home seeking, 
no doubt, security from the floods, while possibly 



122 THE OTTER. 

the presence of the otter in the river below had no 
little to do with the isolation of the vole's chosen 
sanctuary. Anyway, there it was, in a snug little 
burrow having its exit below the ice-line of the 
pool, and its entrance under a dense entangle- 
ment of briar and dead bracken in the bank 
above. 

But alas for the most carefully laid plans of 
mice and men ! True that it lived in immunity 
from the flood, which never came, anyway ; but 
one day, in visiting the pool, I found that the otter 
had been there too. It had laid waste the bank 
burrow, and evidently hunted the pool for the 
vole, which had escaped by the back-way, but 
whether or not its efforts had been crowned with 
success I could not ascertain. 

On the other hand, I have known water-voles 
to live and have their families during the summer 
months in parts of the river much frequented 
by otters, and I doubt very much whether in 
the ordinary way the attitude between otters and 
voles is otherwise than one of alert neutrality. 

To turn to a cognate topic for a moment : it is a 
curious fact that in Canada the otters and the 
beavers live on the most friendly terms ; in fact, the 
otter is known to go out of its way in order to 
share the habitat of the beaver. Where there are 
beavers, trappers are fairly sure of finding an 
otter or two ; and where there are no beavers, 
the recognised way of drawing otters to the locality 
of the traps is by the use of beaver castor. The 
castor is generally placed on a stick just above 
the trap, which is set near to one of the recognised 
otter landings or slides. 

In countries where the winters are consistently 
severe, the otters do not appear to fare badly. 



THE OTTER. 123 

Adapting themselves to circumstances, they live 
under the ice along the margins of the great 
lakes, perhaps not appearing above the surface 
for days on end. After the freeze-up the lakes 
usually sink a little, owing to the sealing of the 
creeks, with the result that along the shores and 
surrounding the boulders shallow air-spaces are 
formed, to which the otters resort to rest and 
breathe. Sometimes, where the ice is clear of 
snow, the otters in Canada are killed by the 
Indians, who follow them about hither and 
thither till they become exhausted. They are 
then left to drown, and the ice is ultimately 
broken ; or, alternatively, a steel spear is carried 
in a hollow tube, and when a favourable oppor- 
tunity occurs the tube is flung downwards, and 
the spear, thus ejected, penetrates the ice and 
impales the body of the unfortunate creature just 
beneath. This is a method largely employed by 
the Canadian Indians in hunting musquash. 

A WILD OTTER IN CAPTIVITY. 

When a boy of about fourteen, I one day watched 
an otter enter a drain which, I knew, terminated 
in the centre of a meadow. My first act was 
securely to stop up both ends of the drain, then 
run for the gamekeeper, who, like myself, had a 
perfect mania for catching things alive. Having 
heard my story, he produced a chicken-coop which 
had the usual type of sliding door, and this we 
fixed at one end of the drain, building it up so 
that we could push down the door should the 
otter prove sufficiently obliging to bolt into the 
coop. 

When all was ready, a small Welsh terrier, 
whose real business was in the badger line, was 



124 THE OTTER. 

insinuated at the other end of the drain, while we 
stood in expectancy by the coop. Sure enough, 
scarcely two minutes had passed when something 
entered the box, whereupon the door was jammed 
home, and we had our otter ! 

Just what we meant eventually to do with him 
I cannot recall, but our first act was to convey 
him to the keeper's wash-house, where, having 
stopped up the drain in the centre of the floor, 
we climbed to the sink, and from this place of 
security cautiously opened the lid. The poor 
captive lay flat on the bottom of the coop, re- 
fusing to blink an eyelid, when the brilliant 
notion occurred to us of flooding the floor of 
the place, trusting that the otter would feel 
more at home when surrounded by his familiar 
element. 

We pumped singly and together, and after 
about half-an-hour's steady toil succeeded in cover- 
ing the floor with an inch of water, whereupon 
the otter slid cautiously out and began to investi- 
gate. His mode of progress was much as described 
in the pursuit across the snow. Lying flat on 
his stomach, his forelegs tucked limply under 
him, he propelled himself by spasmodic strokes 
of the hind-paws, worming like a salmon into 
the nooks and corners in search of a way of escape. 
We spent a most interesting half-hour watching 
him. 'But,' said the keeper, 'you wait till my 
missus comes home and sees this mess ; then I 
shall get otters ! ' 

We made the animal a prisoner for the night 
in the yard, building a barricade of barrels, 
weighted with large stones, closely around the 
space containing him; but such was his strength 
that he contrived to move two of the barrels 



THE OTTER. 125 

apart during the night, and next morning he 
was gone 1 

PLAYFULNESS. 

When in danger an otter presses his throat 
close to the ground, evidently for protection ; and 
the habit of sliding is peculiar to this animal. 
In regions where otters are abundant and un- 
disturbed by man they have recognised sliding- 
places, where a number of them unite for social 
amusement. A high, steep bank at the water's 
edge is chosen, preferably where the ground is 
of clay formation. First of all, such obstacles as 
stones and roots are removed from the selected 
site. The otters then slide down the bank into 
the water, several of them joining in the game, 
their smooth, wet fur soon imparting a frictionless 
surface to the clay, so that the game becomes 
hotter and faster. 

Normally, otters have abundant time for play, 
spending hours together rolling and tumbling 
in the water much as kittens play on dry land. 
Indeed, they are among the most light-hearted and 
peaceful of beasts, being much attached to one 
another, and desirous of avoiding unpleasantness 
of any kind. 

Otters emerge into the open shortly after dusk, 
which is their recognised feeding-time. For an 
hour or so they are busy fishing, and the rest 
of the night is spent in sportive gambols. An 
otter comes to know every current and backwash 
of its home-waters, and all these mighty forces 
it moulds to its will. First swimming idly up- 
stream, it then stretches itself luxuriously in the 
central race, and drifting, drifting, is borne under 
the stars over the edge of the waterfall, down, 



126 THE OTTER. 

down, into the pounding surf to be caught by the 
eddies of the whirlpool and sucked into its very 
vortex. Drifting limply, yet with every force at 
its command, the otter plays such games when the 
lights of the village are dimmed when the mist- 
wraiths beat against the alders, and the woods 
resound with a creeping drip, drip, drip ! Rain 
and wind detract not a jot from its joy of living ; 
moonlight or starlight, its happiness is complete 
this creature that knows no enemy other than man 
and his dogs, and for whom nature has provided 
so liberally that it spends nine-tenths of its joyous 
life in frolics. 

AFFECTION. 

When good fortune permits it, the otter remains 
mated for life, though naturally many bonds are 
severed by the activities of otter-hounds, &c. 
The faithfulness of these animals to one another is 
very strong, and in this connection a miller living 
in Northamptonshire tells the following story. 

One evening he heard an otter diving and 
creating a great disturbance in a bed of rushes 
at one corner of the mill-dam. As night fell 
the animal appeared to become more and more 
excited, snorting and calling, and making as much 
noise as a horse in the water. This he kept up 
all night, even disturbing the sleep of the house- 
hold ; so next morning the miller went down to 
ascertain, if he could, the cause of the disturbance. 
Among some old logs behind the reed- bed he 
found a dead bitch-otter. The poor animal had 
evidently been creeping about among the logs, 
when she disturbed the whole structure, bringing 
a veritable avalanche on to her head, one of the 
logs, which still imprisoned her body, killing her 



THE OTTER. 127 

instantly. The disturbance, then, had been caused 
by her mate, who, refusing to leave her dead body, 
had shown his grief in the manner described 
perhaps with the thought of keeping any intruder 
from the spot till she came round. 

If a bitch-otter is hunted by hounds when she 
has cubs, she will not leave the vicinity of her 
holt, though in all probability the youngsters are 
gobbled up by the hounds early in the proceedings. 
I remember an incident of this kind when a bitch- 
otter tried every trick she knew to save her own 
life and that of her kit's, keeping the hounds busy 
for over an hour about the same fifty yards of river. 
During the hunt I saw a big hound chewing up 
something, which, by its tail, was unmistakably 
an otter kit, and in the end the poor dam, quite 
unconscious, floated to the surface like a wet rag, 
to be snapped up by the nearest hound and 
killed without so much as a kick. 

Before she gave in this otter played every 
trick known to her kind, and so well known to 
every M.O.H. On one occasion she lay for ten 
minutes under a thick scum of decayed reeds, only 
her nostrils protruding through the scum, while 
she herself was invisible beneath it. On another 
occasion she rose under a bush which overhung 
the water, and from the submerged branches of 
which long streamers of weed and drift moved 
with the current. She lay among these streamers, 
moving in the same limp manner as they were 
moved, and practically indistinguishable among 
them. At times whole parties of men and women 
stood within six feet of her, eagerly searching the 
water ; but it was some minutes ere one sportsman, 
more experienced than the rest, realised that that 
dark, drifting thing was not a weed, but an otter ! 



128 THE OTTER. 

The other man who had seen her at the first was 
not there to betray her. 

Again, driven from one hiding, she dived, and 
remained below till her lungs gave out ; then, 
drifting to the surface, she lay there, only her 
nostrils exposed, while her poor tortured body 
swung softly with the stream, for all the world 
like an old water -logged garment drifting in 
this way, apparently at the mercy of the current, 
till imperceptibly she drew near some other place 
of refuge. 

Otters cannot live long under water certainly 
not so long as most naturalists make out two 
minutes at the most ; and when hunted in this 
way they generally creep out on to dry land when 
exhausted, to remain at the mercy of hounds and 
huntsman. This brave little mother, however, 
kept to the water till she met her fate in the 
way described till a dozen lusty hounds and a 
dozen lusty huntsmen swooped, with a triumphant 
blast of brazen trumpets, on to her poor remains ! 

That was the end of the chase that the crown- 
ing glory 1 A beautiful wild creature tortured 
out of existence, a wonderful fighting -machine 
killed without a fight ! And yet how the blast 
of the huntsman's horn brings a ribald flush to 
the cheek, an eagerness to the footstep, and we 
feel that we must be up and away a crowd of 
swarthy men and a pack of ugly hounds to torture 
and destroy one small and lovely thing ! 

THE YOUNG. 

The nest of the she-otter is commonly located 
in a bank burrow, having its only entrance under 
water or covered by the roots of timber. Usually 
the kits number three ; two, or even one, are not 



THE OTTER. 129 

uncommon. Gestation occupies about sixty-one 
days, and not more than one litter is produced 
each year. The young are born blind, and remain 
so for seventy or eighty days, being directly 
dependent upon the milk of the dam for fourteen 
or fifteen weeks. During this period the father 
plays no part in their upbringing ; or, rather, he 
plays a very important part indirectly, for, though 
he never sees them, he looks well after the dam, 
and is eternally on sentry -duty near the holt. 
The young first see daylight at the age of about 
eighty days, when, with the opening of their eyes, 
the mother digs a dry-land exit from the burrow, 
and encourages them to creep out into the moon- 
light. They do not take naturally to a fish diet, 
and it requires many patient lessons and much 
persistent example on the mother's part to induce 
each cub to swallow his first finny meal. Each 
day thereafter the fish diet is increased and the 
drain on the mother reduced. At the age of 
about ninety days they are taken to the water. 
At first they like it no better than so many 
domestic kittens, and they have to be taught 
lesson by lesson the art of swimming. One 
youngster at a time is carried out into the pool on 
its mother's back, and deposited there to fend for 
itself. At this juncture the father begins to lend 
a hand, the dam at last yielding to his burning 
desire to sniff one of the tiny mites over, and 
thereafter one or another drifts into his charge. 

Their training is not hurried, [and many days 
may elapse ere any of them can be induced to 
follow their parents under the water. They are 
taught that the otter who is prepared to dive is 
rewarded by a delicious catch of miller's-thumbs 
among the pebbles, and thus by easy stages, 

W.A. I 



130 THE OTTEE. 

learning first to hunt the shallow water, they 
acquire the arts on which their success in after-life 
depends. By the time the kingly salmon reappear 
they are as swift as the lightning-darting trout, 
prepared to outmanoeuvre and outswim the fittest 
and wisest of their quarry to meet it on its own 
ground and beat it at its own game. 

Very often the she-otter locates her nest at some 
distance from water, in which case it is abandoned 
as soon as the young are old enough to leave it. 

The incident I have quoted re an otter attacking 
a dog may again be referred to. It was early 
autumn when this occurred, and the tarn, situated 
in the midst of a veritable No-Man's-Land of 
desolation, was at least two miles from anything 
in the way of a trout-brook. The patch of water 
was not more than forty paces in width, much 
overgrown with rushes, while the water itself was 
stagnant and foul with weed. Certainly the pool 
contained no fish of any kind, yet the ferocity of 
the otter and the isolation of her retreat would 
seem to indicate that she had her holt there. 

Thus, her presence not being merely a chance 
passing, she would be dependent upon land- 
hunting till her kits had their eyes open, and 
were strong enough to be taken to the river 
and initiated into the great art of the waterways. 

I have known otters to breed three-quarters of 
a mile from the water's edge, but nesting activities 
at a greater distance than this are probably rare. 

YOUNG FEMALE OTTERS. 

An aged angler who had made a lifelong study 
of the otter's habits informed me that, whereas 
the dog-kits of a family depart from the locality 
of their birth probably the autumn succeeding that 



THE OTTER. 131 

event, the she-kits remain in the neighbourhood 
for at least a year, and probably produce their own 
first litter quite near to where they themselves 
were born. The only evidence I have in support 
of this theory, which I believe to be correct, is 
that the otter referred to as hunting in the wood 
during the extreme cold snap was a young she- 
otter who, presumably, was one of the litter born 
the previous spring somewhere among the loose 
rocks at the river-side bordering her home. The 
rest of the family had wandered off; she alone 
remained ; and this supposition that the she-kits 
remain resident in the locality of their birth may 
account for the apparently resident but unmated 
otters occasionally met with on certain stretches 
of water. 

At all events, the theory is interesting, and, if 
true, there must be a very definite reason under- 
lying it. Nature's motives may be obscure, but 
behind each and every one of her peculiarities there 
is a purpose. Even distribution of the species may 
be at the root of the reluctance of the young 
females to leave the region of their nursery-days. 
If they departed with the rest, it is quite conceiv- 
able that when the next mating season came the 
ambitious young gentry of the species, journeying 
upstream on their voyages of discovery, would 
find the head-waters of this river and the next 
untenanted by the female element, with the result 
that they themselves would spend the season 
unmated, and that certain stretches of river, in 
every way suitable for nursery purposes, would 
add nothing to the multiplication of the species. 
In other words, if the she-kits remain, the distribu- 
tion of the species is maintained within its original 
bounds, and the young she-otter, who may lack 



132 THE OTTER. 

sound judgment of her own, is at any rate backed 
by the experience of her parents as regards a 
suitable locality for her first home. There the 
knight-errant finds her ; there, or somewhere near, 
little otters are again brought into the world ; and 
in this way the otter population is maintained 
more or less in accordance with the food-producing 
properties of the chosen waters. 

Other questions revolve around this point. 
Does every adult otter visit the sea once a year 
in order to obtain a change of scenery and diet ? 
There is no particular reason why we should 
believe it does, whereas there are certain facts 
which seem to point in the opposite direction. 
In the British Isles such peregrinations are not 
impossible, but it is hardly reasonable to think 
that otters found in, say, Canada, one or two 
thousand miles by river from the nearest salt 
water, ever so much as sniff the scent of the brine. 
In certain parts of the North American continent 
the otters undoubtedly follow the movements of 
the migrating fish to some extent, in the same 
manner as does the mammoth brown bear, and 
that they make immense journeys cannot be 
doubted ; but there are others, haunting waters 
which the migrants do not reach, that restrict their 
wanderings to a circuit of inland creeks, certainly 
never visiting salt water till old age falls upon 
them, when it is possible that, like the senile 
caribou and the mammoth trout of the lakes, 
they wander off into regions they have never seen 
before. 

I believe that in this country quite a large per- 
centage of the otter population, particularly the 
male element, wanders back and forth between 
the sea and the head- waters of the rivers ; but the 



THE OTTER. 133 

condition of things in other lands proves that a 
periodical change of diet in the way of sea-fish is 
not essential in this animal's bill of fare, and there- 
fore it can safely be assumed that the nomadic 
habits of the species are not caused by necessity, 
and many of them, no doubt, remain exclusively 
in fresh water till old and heavy. 

If change of diet is necessary for the otter's 
well-being, it is found in the ordinary course of 
inland travel. During the early spring, when the 
courtship of the frog is at its height, many otters 
leave their home-streams, and, guided doubtless by 
their hearing, hunt the stagnant ponds in fields 
and forests in search of frog communities. A pair 
of otters will in a single night entirely deplete a 
pool of its frog population, leaving the skins and 
the eyes of the victims scattered broadcast every- 
where. Their liking for frog amounts almost to 
a mania, and I remember one ' frog pond,' at least 
a mile from the river, that the M.O.H. always 
insisted on drawing early in the day very often 
with profitable results. 

TRAPPING. 

If otters are to be trapped at all, it may as 
well be done humanely, and the beaver set is the 
most humane method I know. When a beaver 
is trapped it instantly dives, and such is its 
strength that, unless measures are taken to pre- 
vent it, it will amputate its imprisoned limb. The 
same applies to an otter, except that a trapped 
otter is more likely to make for dry land than 
for deep water. 

Find one of the otter's landing-places at the 
edge of a deep pool. Set the trap here, preferably 
just under water, and cover it with soft mud. If 



134 THE OTTER. 

possible, the process should be carried out from a 
boat, as the animal becomes very wary immedi- 
ately on encountering the scent of man. Attach 
the chain of the trap to a stake driven vertically 
into a part of the bed below deep water. The 
chain should have an iron ring, a loose fit over the 
stake, at its extremity. The stake is trunnied (so 
that the ring can slide freely down it), except for 
two snags left near its pointed end. The first of 
these snags is short, so that the ring will readily 
slide over it, but the second is employed to pre- 
vent the ring sliding off the end of the stake when, 
at the close of the operations, the stake is pulled 
up, in order that the trap may be retrieved. 

Caught in the trap, the otter attempts to ascend 
the bank, but, unable to do so, it makes for the 
deep water. At this juncture the ring slides down 
the stake and becomes hitched beneath the first 
snag, so that the otter is unable to regain the 
bank. The weight of the trap speedily pulls the 
victim under, and it is drowned within a short time 
of encountering the jaws. The dead otter is re- 
trieved from the water by pulling up the stake, 
which need not be very firmly driven in, the ring 
hitching up on the bottom snag. 

It need not be added that the occasions when 
the trapping of an otter is in any way excusable 
are few and far between. 

FOOD. 

Many a time has the otter been accused of 
murders he has never committed ; and I remember 
a farm-labourer killing one of these poor creatures 
he found asleep on a tree-trunk because, he said, 
they were worse than foxes for killing lambs. 
That isolated cases are on record of the otter as a 



THE OTTEK. 135 

lamb-killer I do not doubt ; yet one can live in the 
midst of otter country all one's life, seeing the 
traces of their habits every day, and come across 
no single instance of destructiveness to the pro- 
perty of man. Fish are the otter's birthright, 
and while it follows that where there are many 
fish there are naturally many otters, it may be 
asked, How can this be so if otters are so destruc- 
tive to our fisheries? I know of certain small 
lochs which are swarming with trout, and yet 
which never harbour less than two otters ; and 
the fact remains that fish maintain their numbers 
so long as there are only otters to hunt them. 

The fact of the matter is that otters do more 
good to our fisheries than they do harm firstly, 
by destroying the eels, their favourite diet ; and, 
secondly, by killing off the older generation of 
trout. These trout, if not killed off, become 
cannibals, each one of them destroying vast 
numbers of the rising generation of its own kind. 
The monster lies in the depth of the pool, never 
rising to a fly, and doing nothing to warrant its 
existence or to counterbalance the harm it does. 
Nature can keep pace with the requirements of 
the otter, and it is only when man steps in that 
her whole balance is upset. I know certain lochs 
which used to afford the most excellent fishing 
when only a few of us and several otters fished 
them ; but now that hatcheries have been set 
up, restrictions laid down, and the otters driven 
away, the fish have either become small and too 
numerous, or large and given over to cannibalism, 
so that the fishing, once excellent in its wild state, 
is worthless in its new. Indeed, I am of the 
opinion that if some of the carefully stocked and 
preserved reservoirs of the south of England were 



136 THE OTTER. 

subjected to the activities of otters, the sport they 
afford would be much improved. 

Otters kill a goodly number of salmon on the 
spawning-beds, eating only a small portion of the 
fish they kill sometimes taking only one bite 
from the back of the salmon's head, and leaving 
the rest of the carcass to drift away ; so that many 
an old Highland woman, who knows where to 
look, keeps herself abundantly supplied with 
salmon while they run, thanks to the activities 
of the otters. 

So long as there are eels to be had, however, an 
otter will disturb neither trout nor salmon, first 
ridding the water of these vermin ; and so far as 
otters disturbing the water goes, I have seen 
trout rising freely in a pool while an otter was 
hunting all around them. 

One hears the otter accused of robbing the nests 
of game-birds after killing the brooding mother ; 
but I simply do not believe such stories, for the 
reason that I have repeatedly known water-fowl 
successfully to rear their broods among the rushes 
of lochs where otters were to be seen or heard 
nightly, making use of the tracks the birds them- 
selves used. The fact of the matter is that the 
otter can more than supply its needs by the 
natural procedure of fishing, and only in very 
exceptional circumstances does it trouble to seek 
a change of diet, such as when the folly of the 
moorhen proves too tempting to resist, or during 
the frog harvest. Practically the only exception 
I myself have come across has been in the otter- 
killing gulls that roost on the mud-banks of rivers 
near the sea. An otter, coming up from the sea, 
may conceivably have struck very bad fishing, in 
which case it is not surprising that he is attracted 



THE OTTER. 137 

by the crowds of -white gulls roosting full in his 
course of travel. 

Let those who find pleasure in the otter-hunt 
continue to do so, by all means. Sport is a natural 
asset to the country, and the healthy outdoor 
variety needs to be encouraged in every way ; 
but there is positively no need for otter- hunting 
enthusiasts, backed by the daily press, to court 
popularity and support by emphasising the pastime 
as a boon to our fisheries and a necessity from the 
point of view of the angler. Such a course is un- 
fair to the otter, and incidentally, by giving the 
animal a bad name, does not improve the hunting. 
How many otters are shot and trapped annually 
owing to the bad repute in which they stand ? 
Remove all ignorance on the subject, let the otter 
multiply within reasonable limits, and there will 
be better hunting and, I believe, better fishing. 

I have fished side by side with otters night 
after night. I have never known the fishing to 
deteriorate one jot owing to their presence. It is 
the tyro in waders, who wades where he should 
fish, and fishes for the most part in the trees, who 
spoils water. The expert angler who takes, prob- 
ably, ten times the number of fish does no per- 
ceptible harm ; and the otter stands out as facile 
princeps among all experts. 

LENGTH OF LIFE. 

What is the span of life allotted to the otter ? 
Probably it lives longer than a dog, but not so 
long as a badger. Its slow rate of maturity would 
seem to argue long life, but I have never heard of 
one of these creatures living in captivity for any 
lengthy period. The only captive otter I knew 
died in its ninth year. Death seemed to be from 



138 THE OTTER. 

some natural cause, yet in its latter days there 
were no signs of senile decline. A large dog-otter 
shot in the Wharfe showed signs of considerably 
advanced years. His mask was almost white ; one 
of his corner-teeth was broken ; his eyes bore 
evidence of declining sight. With only guess- 
work to go on, I should say that sixteen years 
is the average life of this creature, and at eighteen 
years senile decay is far advanced. 

WEIGHT AND SIZE. 

What was considered a record otter, killed in 
Kirkcudbrightshire, on the Dee, in the winter of 
1918, weighed 42 Ib. ; 18-22 Ib. appear to be the 
average weights killed inland by hounds. In the 
' Kenmure Arms,' New Galloway, there is a stuffed 
otter that must scale fully 45 Ib. The tip-to-tip 
measurement is generally about 42 inches ; tail, 
16 inches. 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 

THIS beautiful and graceful creature is now so 
rare that to most people it exists only as a 
name on the list of our British Fauna. It can 
still be said to inhabit north Devon, Yorkshire, 
Cumberland, and Durham, but in all these Eng- 
lish counties its occurrence is such a rarity that 
when one falls foul of the gunner, the event is 
considered worthy of wide comment in the press. 
In the north and west of Ireland, the Highlands 
of Scotland, and the wilder parts of Wales it is a 
little more plentiful ; but it is to be feared that the 
depredations of this active little weasel must ere 
long lead to its final extermination. Indeed, if 
the marten is to keep its place among the wild-folk 
of our woods, its protection should be made as 
thorough in this country as is that of the osprey ; 
for, considering its rarity, the era is long since past 
when the pine-marten could justly be persecuted 
on account of its destructiveness. The obstacle in 
the way of its preservation is, of course, the diffi- 
culty of inducing any game-preserver to realise, when 
his preserves are subjected to the ravages of such 
a visitor, that he is under an obligation patiently 
to endure such things solely with the end in view 
of establishing an undesirable strain. Many game- 
preservers can think no further than the creatures 
they are out to preserve, and this being so, it is of 
little use appealing to their sympathies for the 
protection of those ' undesirables ' that are border- 
ing upon extinction. Their extermination is just 
what the average game-preserver or, perhaps more 
justly, the average gamekeeper wishes to see, 



140 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

and since the matter is in his hands, little can be 
done. Legislative protection only leads to secret 
kilh'ng, though it is of value in so far as many 
gamekeepers are not without their enemies, who, 
as a rule, are pretty well ' in the know ; ' but even 
so, the activities of rural police are not generally 
unbiassed by personal considerations, which far out- 
weigh their interest in the fauna of the land. The 
buzzard and the peregrine are on the schedule of 
protected birds, yet during a recent spring Scottish 
and Cumbrian gamekeepers made no secret of 
their destruction ; and of two buzzards' nests, one 
peregrine's, and two ravens' the writer had under 
observation, the young were in each case destroyed 
or the old birds shot with the connivance of the 
local police. One cannot blame the gamekeepers 
for such activities, for, after all, the preservation of 
game is their business and the means whereby they 
live ; one can only regret their lack of discrimina- 
tion in killing such birds as the buzzard and the 
raven, and hope that some day tenants and estate 
owners will fall into line with the true sporting 
gentry of the country, who make the protection of 
rare beasts and birds a matter of personal interest. 
'Like master, like man,' is never so true as when 
applied to those occupied in the preserving of 
game, for gamekeepers are, as a rule, a highly loyal 
fraternity, readily adapting their views to those 
of their employers, and the keeper who is told to 
preserve such creatures as he would normally dub 
vermin will do so with a solicitude just as eager as 
that which he extends towards his game-birds. 

Legislation is effective, then, only up to a certain 
point, but it cannot prevent the extermination of 
such creatures as the pine-marten and the peregrine 
whose preservation is a matter purely of senti- 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 141 

ment unless backed by intelligent interest. The 
matter lies in the hands of shooting tenants and 
landed proprietors, and more harm than good 
generally results from over-zeal on the part of the 
nature-lover. It has become customary for natu- 
ralists to plead the cause of the birds and the beasts 
they wish to see protected by under-estimating the 
amount of harm they do, and by putting forth 
sentimental claims which merely irritate the man 
who knows. Accurate reports, backed by authentic 
figures, are far more likely to yield the desired re- 
sults ; and while admitting the regrettable activities 
of such birds and beasts, we can at least base the 
plea for their preservation on the fact that their 
rarity reduces the actual damage they do to a 
point far below that done by more plentiful 
creatures. The latter may, on account of their 
very commonness, escape systematic persecution. 
The keeper who destroys a dozen gray rats living 
within his preserves, or who shoots three crows or 
magpies during his weekly round, has attained 
results more beneficial to his interests than he 
would have attained by shooting one peregrine, 
or half-a-dozen ravens and buzzards. 

While it must be admitted that the pine-marten 
has few characteristics to excite our love and 
sympathy, it should nevertheless be preserved 
firstly, on account of its rarity ; and, secondly, on 
account of its unsurpassed beauty as a creature 
of the trees. In forests that are given over to 
the production of timber rather than the pro- 
duction of game-birds the presence of the marten 
is undoubtedly beneficial to man, as it keeps 
down the squirrel and rabbit population, and is in 
no way harmful to young forests. The problem 
as to whether or not it would actually pay 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 

its way from the gamekeeper's point of view is 
by no means an easily decided one. True, the 
marten may destroy pheasant-nests, chicks, and 
even the old birds ; but the question arises as to 
whether it would do more harm in this way than 
the numerous squirrels, gray rats, stoats, &c. that 
it ousts. In this way nature usually strikes a 
balance to prevent the extermination of any one 
species, the presence of a large killer bringing 
about the removal of many smaller killers, the 
total of whose depredations would be at least equal 
to its own a fact which is very easily lost sight 
of, especially when the traces of the murderer are on 
every side and the evidence in its favour is purely 
a matter of conjecture. It must be borne in mind, 
furthermore, that the pine-marten is a creature of 
the trees, and far less likely to destroy the nests 
of ground-birds than are stoats and weasels. Tree- 
birds of all kinds, from hawks and ringdoves to 
the smallest songsters, are its natural prey, and 
its cleverness in circumventing them is largely 
due to its knowledge as to the whereabouts of 
their favourite perches. It will lie invisible in the 
crotch of a tree, and the very instant a bird alights 
near while, indeed, the unfortunate victim is 
absorbed in gaining a footing the marten darts 
forth like a streak of light and clinches the matter. 
The trouble with the marten is that there is 
never any telling what it will do next. For a time 
it may occupy its allotted range without com- 
mitting any grave offence ; then suddenly one 
night it sallies forth and commits some unspeak- 
able crime sufficient to raise the whole country- 
side in arms. For this reason I do not see the 
feasibility of cultivating martens as an ornament 
to our suburban parks, as advocated by one 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 143 

prominent naturalist, for it is easily conceivable 
that a brace of these picturesque little cut-throats, 
enjoying the liberty of, say, Hyde Park, would 
establish a highly successful business among the 
duck community for so long as it was permitted 
to last. 

DESCRIPTION. 

The pine -marten is a beautiful tree -weasel, 
possessing the gifts of all the musk-bearing fra- 
ternity to which it belongs, together with several 
unique accomplishments of its own. It does not, 
however, secrete musk ; in fact, while a weasel in 
spirit, and of the pukka fighting breed, it seems 
to have been shorn by nature of the repulsive 
features most conspicuous in the land-weasels 
the polecat, the skunk, the mink, the fisher, and 
the two smaller members of the family resident in 
this country. It is so large and formidable a beast 
that it has no wild enemies on British soil ; while 
all, excepting the fox, the badger, and the otter, 
probably come within the scope of its destructive 
powers. Even wild deer enjoy no immunity from 
the marten cat, for the tiny mottled fawn, lying 
among the leaves, has been known to fall to it. 
It will, moreover, dispute the right-of-way with 
any wildling of our woods, and has been known 
vigorously to pursue a fox out of its home-range. 

The exquisite sable is a marten, though in this 
country the marten's fur is not of great value. In 
general colour the creature is chocolate-brown, 
the longer hairs being richly glistened with sepia 
and umber. The under-fur is squirrel-red ; the 
paws are generally black ; and the tail is long and 
bushy. The hall-mark of the marten is, however, 
its flaming orange breast, touched with lighter 



144 THE PINE-MAIITEN. 

shades towards the sides. Sometimes, but rarely, 
the breast is pure white. 

SIZE. 

The tip-to-tip length of adult specimens is gener- 
ally about 22 inches, the tail being from 9 to 12 
inches. 

The marten differs from the true weasels, among 
other points, in possessing four pairs of premolars 
in each jaw, while they possess only three. 

IN CAPTIVITY. 

In a small town in the Vosges which served as 
a base-hospital during the war, there lived a tame 
(beech) marten which afforded me many an hour's 
happy diversion during brief spells of alleged 
' rest ' from the line. The town was subjected to 
shell-fire almost daily, and aircraft usually helped 
to enliven the hours of darkness; in fact, the 
condition of things became so bad that there 
eventually followed an almost complete trek of the 
civilian population to healthier quarters. This 
meant the departure of the marten's mistress, duly 
succeeded by an influx of American soldiers, each 
intent on occupying in the little captive's heart the 
place previously held by that lady. Bread, nuts, 
biscuits, cheese, and chewing-gum littered the cage 
in unsavoury confusion ; but whether these atten- 
tions or the shell-fire were responsible, the marten 
became so fierce and distrustful in disposition that 
it was the height of folly to attempt any liberties. 

I was told that before the war this creature was 
as gentle and lovable as a kitten, curling itself 
round the woman's neck in poses of affection, and 
spending hours gambolling on the veranda and 
about the eaves while she sat at her sewing. It 




THE PINE-MARTEN'S LAST LEAP, 
j 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 145 

was said to be seventeen years of age ; and the son 
of the house, who was aged twenty-one, told me 
that he could remember its existence in the yard 
for so long as he could remember anything. This 
fact would appear to indicate that the pine-marten 
is a long-lived creature, albeit the most active and 
restless of all the wild beasts with which this book 
deals. 

The cage which held the captive was about six 
feet high, three feet wide, and nine feet long, and 
the antics it performed in this confined space were 
truly marvellous. Choosing a quiet time, and sit- 
ting at some little distance, so as not to excite 
the animal's interest, I have watched it for minutes 
on end looping the loop round its cage at a speed 
which made one giddy and bewildered to behold. 
It would mount the wire-netting on one side at 
a speed which carried it, back downwards, across 
the narrow span of corrugated iron roof, obtain 
fresh impetus as it descended the opposite wall, 
head down, to tap the floor, and bound up the 
wire again so lightly that the movements of its 
paws were scarcely audible. It was more like 
some accurate machine on frictionless wheels than 
a living creature of flesh and blood. Occasion- 
ally it would vary the programme by lengthen- 
ing the loop, mounting the wire, and descending 
the wall at an angle from the perpendicular. It 
must have run miles in this manner every day, and 
except for the very natural sense of pity one felt 
for so active a thing in confinement, its evolutions 
were certainly a joy and a wonder to behold. 

Even in this way a captive specimen, with a 
warm bed and all the food it required at hand, 
obtained less exercise than was necessary for its 
perfect health ; so one can readily imagine that a 

W.A. j 



146 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

wild marten, hunting for its living and with all 
the great woods at its disposal, would hardly prove 
a sluggard. 

The only wild marten I have been fortunate 
enough to see in a natural state lived in some 
low crags in the heart of a beech-wood in a 
secluded West Riding valley. I saw it on two 
occasions, and each time its behaviour was 
identical. As I silently approached the foot of 
the crags it darted from a cranny somewhere 
among the heather and ferns at the brow of the 
cliff, and ran up the slanting trunk of a blasted 
mountain-ash growing from a shelf. Here it 
crouched, tilting its head first on one side, then 
on the other, as it regarded me with an air of 
playful innocence. One could not but be struck 
by its exquisite beauty a picture, indeed, amidst 
its rugged setting ; yet in those bright eyes was a 
hint, the merest hint, of the devilish brain which 
commanded that death-darting body. After a 
few seconds of closest scrutiny it descended the 
trunk a little, as though to obtain a better view ; 
then, like a flash, it was gone. 

This was the only specimen I ever knew to 
exist in the secluded dales of the West Riding, 
and the marten seems now to have departed even 
from the wilds of Wigtownshire and Kirkcud- 
brightshire. Seton, however, in dealing with the 
Canadian species, comments specially on the 
marten's powers of avoiding detection. While in 
northern Ontario we used regularly to take 
marten in steel traps and dead-falls, but I have 
never seen a wild one in those woods ; neither have 
I met any white man who has. I remember 
a correspondence in Rod and Gun in Canada 
some years ago, following an article the writer of 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 147 

which alluded to the various martens he had seen, 
in which one trapper stated that, though he had 
lived in marten country all his life, and took as a 
rule seventy or eighty marten-pelts in his traps 
each winter, he had during his whole experience 
seen only three wild martens at large in the 
timber 1 It is possible, therefore, that this beast is 
not so rare as is generally thought, and that where 
it exists its presence may be unknown even to 
the oldest woodsmen. Seton comments also on 
the animal's preference for dense timber, and on 
its habit of retreating to more remote cover, never 
to return, on being disturbed by man ; and if 
this be so in the wilds of Canada, where most 
animals are utterly fearless of man, owing to their 
ignorance of his ways, it would certainly apply with 
far greater strength to the wild martens of our 
own woods, where man is a much more potent 
enemy than in a bush country. Among most of 
our northern hills vast coniferous forests clothe 
the mountain-sides over great areas, forest adjoin- 
ing forest, and here occasional martens might live 
unknown to man, the indications of their work 
being taken for those of stoat or weasel. 

FOOD. 

Mice, birds, squirrels, rabbits, hares, rats, berries, 
fish, lambs, and occasionally poultry, are, in the 
order given, the pine-marten's special fare. As 
the otter has specialised as a water-weasel and 
become a past-master in the art of swimming, 
so the pine-marten has developed the art of climb- 
ing to such a standard of skill that it can truly 
be described as the weasel of the trees. Like the 
otter, the marten is a creature of exceptional gifts ; 
but whereas the first named is of a loving and 



148 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

sociable disposition, the pine-marten is fierce and 
solitary, avoiding its own kind at all times except 
during the mating season. 

All the weasels are notorious for their reckless 
bravery, which often outruns sound judgment, 
and the marten is by no means an exception. It 
is both nocturnal and diurnal in its habits ; in- 
deed, like the otter, it is one of those creatures 
which seem never to rest. Probably it curls up 
in some sunny or sheltered spot after a meal, 
and when the meal is digested, an hour or so 
later, sallies forth again on its lifelong pathway 
of destruction. 

Martens have been known boldly to raid heron- 
ries, attacking the young birds in their nests, 
forthwith to be themselves attacked by a croaking, 
gasping, screeching army of bayonet-armed de- 
fenders ! Herons readily unite to help members 
of their own clan, and the marten that failed to 
make himself scarce when the massed attack 
descended would have a very thin chance of 
getting to earth alive. This animal has been 
known to fall upon a nesting ringdove, shattering 
the life out of the brooding bird ere she had time 
to know what manner of death had descended 
upon her ; in fact, any birds that nest in trees, 
barring, perhaps, the larger owls, are subject to 
the attacks of this gifted little climber. 

The squirrel is no sluggard in the branches, yet 
compared with the marten it is an indifferent 
climber. In hunting squirrels the marten is at 
a disadvantage at the outset, for, being a heavier 
animal, it must leap sooner and alight later in 
passing from tree to tree ; it cannot run to the 
extreme end of the slender branches as does the 
squirrel, and so must take much longer leaps at 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 149 

every turn of the chase. Well the squirrel knows 
this, and tries to profit thereby, seeking the slen- 
derest branches and making the longest leaps ; yet 
its chances of escape are as good as nil from the out- 
set. Its stronger and more agile foe is its superior 
in both speed and distance, and a short run, generally 
tending earthwards, usually suffices to bring the 
little drama to a close. The squirrel is caught 
and killed instantly, then speedily borne off to 
some fork high up in the timber, where its remains 
are left to bleach. 

Very often, however, in the lightning fury of the 
chase, the marten miscalculates its own abilities, 
and if there is no undergrowth to break its fall, 
it may be crippled or even killed on striking the 
earth below. Martens have been found lying dead 
owing to a fall of this kind, and in the slender 
likelihood of such a mishap lies the squirrel's only 
chance of escape. 

In the Highlands at one time a good many 
lambs were killed by martens, and the little 
murderers have been known so to mangle the 
faces of the defending ewes that, but for man's 
merciful intervention, a lingering death would 
inevitably have followed the injuries. 

As a raider of hen-roosts the marten is a very 
occasional offender, save in those localities where it 
may have become more or less indifferent to the close 
proximity of man, and in these its raids are common. 
A half-tame animal is at any time calculated to 
be infinitely more destructive to man's property 
than a truly wild one ; and whereas a wild marten 
characteristically steers clear of all human habita- 
tion, seeking the most lonely glens and corries, a 
marten educated out of this highly desirable 
characteristic will very readily attack hens, ducks, 



150 THE PINE -MARTEN. 

geese, turkeys, even cats anything that suggests 
a meal and a lively exchange of civilities. At the 
same time, it is not entirely unknown for a wild 
marten to enter a Canadian trading-post and steal 
dried fish or other such stores, intended as, though 
not really fit for, woodsmen's food. Indeed, I 
heard once of a marten which was caught in a 
store-room owing to its inquisitive investigation 
of a patent trap lying on the bench for demon- 
stration purposes, and this at no great distance 
from Toronto city. 

The marten will pursue hares and rabbits in just 
the same manner as does a stoat, and in the case 
of a well-seasoned hare the chase is often of con- 
siderable length. This may be owing to the fact 
that the pine-marten is scentless, and therefore 
incapable of exercising upon the fugitive the 
same hypnotic effect as do its musk-tainted 
relatives. (It cannot be doubted that the stink of 
stoat or weasel is as fear-inspiring to its normal 
prey as is the very sight of the beast itself, for 
many animals well able to defend themselves, such 
as foxes and cats, will turn away in fear from that 
ominous taint.) 

The pine-marten is an expert swimmer, and has 
been known to live by hunting such creatures as 
musk-rats and beavers, so no doubt it just as readily 
hunts water-voles and gray rats, whose swimming 
powers would not suffice to save them from it. In 
common with its near relative, the fisher which, 
by the way, does practically everything except fish 
the marten can be said to hunt for fish only in 
so far as it will attack partially stranded speci- 
mens, lying in such shallow water that they are 
unable to escape ; though one or two authorities 
hold that this animal will systematically work 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 151 

a stream, as does a cat, while the trout are 
running. 

Berries the marten eats readily, but probably 
more by way of medicine than as a staple article 
of diet ; and, so far as I know, this is the only 
exception to an otherwise strictly carnivorous fare. 
If facts were obtainable, I believe we should find 
that all our four-footed, warm-blooded carnivores 
eat berries to a greater or less degree. From the 
evidence afforded by the captive (beech) marten 
in France, I should say that the marten, in spite 
of its squirrel-like form, strictly eschews anything 
in the way of nuts. 

MATING. 

During my early studies of this animal I was 
of the opinion that at any rate it observed the laws 
of propriety and decency so far as its marriage 
customs were concerned that, indeed, the marten 
was strictly monogamous, and that both parents 
shared in the upbringing of their young. The 
occasional newspaper reports that ' two martens 
were shot at So-and-so' were probably respon- 
sible for this belief, together with the fact that I 
had often heard Highland keepers state that, one 
marten having been shot, it was usual to find 
' the other ' somewhere near. Unless, however, 
the British marten differs widely from its Canadian 
cousin in this one respect, and unless the habits of 
caged martens serve as no criterion for the customs 
of free specimens, the marten is totally despicable 
in its mating habits. In this respect, if in this 
respect only, its habits indicate a lower standard 
of sexual morality than that of the common stoat ; 
for in the wild the attainment of a higher standard 
usually begins with the observance of marriage- 



152 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

bonds and some sense of tenderness on the father's 
part towards the young. 

Seton says that after the young are born, the 
less they see of their cut-throat sire the better. 
He also says that no two martens have ever been 
known to meet with feelings other than those of 
deadly enmity. It is probable, then, that the 
' mated ' couples run together only for a short 
time, and that thereafter, though their respective 
home-ranges may not be far apart, they do not 
associate as mated couples. This would account 
for their distribution being usually in pairs, while 
at the same time supporting the probable fact 
that a marten is a marten the world over, whether 
caged or free. 

Wild British martens kept in captivity behave 
in just the same way as do those on the fur- 
farms in Canada. The big cage system, in which 
a number of martens are allowed to run together 
in a large confined space, has never yet proved 
possible. This is owing to the fact that the 
member of the clan who is strong enough to kill 
all the rest cheerfully proceeds to do so or, rather, 
he kills the survivors of the general melee with 
which the social intercourse begins. In this way 
a cage of promising martens has been reduced 
to one tattered and moth-eaten specimen when 
the man came next morning with food for a 
dozen a somewhat expensive process, by which, 
nevertheless, a very fit strain can speedily be 
arrived at ! 

Thus fur-farmers, having found that the big 
cage system merely resulted in providing amuse- 
ment for one solitary specimen, soon tried the 
separate cage method, which is to-day yielding 
good results. Marten -farming, however, is not 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 153 

likely to prove widely profitable, as owing to the 
disposition of the marten its rearing is somewhat 
precarious. Overfeeding leads to infertility, and 
a large cage must be employed for each individual 
specimen ; otherwise the beast suffers from lack of 
exercise. The violence of the males is, however, 
the chief difficulty and the most common cause of 
loss. The cage of the female must be provided 
with shelters into which she can retreat in order to 
escape her lord, though even when every provision 
is made in this way the female is apt to be killed 
by the male's long corner-teeth penetrating her 
brain. 

It is probable that in a wild state such mortality 
does not occur. It is as unjust to judge the 
characters of wild creatures from examples afforded 
by their less fortunate kindred kept in captivity, 
as it would be to attempt to gauge the character 
of man by a study of prisoners in solitary confine- 
ment ; and particularly as concerns the mating and 
breeding habits of animals does captivity upset the 
natural order of things. How can they be natural 
when everything that nature gave them as a birth- 
right is taken away ? And we can only hope that 
a more intimate knowledge of the marten of our 
woods will finally dispel many of the evil charges 
which experience with his captive kin has caused 
to be brought against him. 

THE YOUNG. 

The wild marten usually adapts a bird's nest as 
a nursery for its young, though it may choose a 
hollow tree or a crevice among boulders, in the 
latter case loosely constructing a nest of grass and 
moss. 

Gestation lasts about ninety days, very consider- 



154 THE PINE -MARTEN. 

ably longer than with the otter and the polecat ; 
but whereas the young of the otter are blind for 
three months or more, the young martens receive 
their sight at the end of four weeks. In other 
words, dating from the day of the parents' mating, 
young otters reach that stage of development when 
their eyes open at the end of about 150 days, and 
young martens at the end of 120 days. When 
they are about six weeks old the parent marten 
begins to take meat to her offspring, and by about 
the end of the seventh week they first leave the 
nest. They are full-grown at six months. 

The number of young per litter ranges from two 
to five. Three is the usual number, and occasion- 
ally as many as seven occur. Sir Harry Johnston 
thinks it probable that two litters per season are 
born ; but in view of the fact that the first litter 
must occupy the mother well on into the summer, 
this would seem rather an open question. 

It is probable that the young begin to breed the 
spring succeeding their birth ; so, considering their 
longevity, martens cannot be said to be unprolific 
creatures. 

FIGHTING. 

The marten has not developed its climbing- 
powers at the expense of its powers of running. 
On the ground it is considerably the fastest of 
all the weasels. A boy of twelve can easily out- 
run a stoat on open ground, while an otter is 
comparatively helpless if surprised far from its 
beloved element. A marten, on the other hand, 
can hold its own over a short distance against a 
normal sheep-dog. True, it will tree-up at the 
first possible opportunity, or seek refuge among 
the rocks ; but nevertheless it will probably escape 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 155 

the dogs unless the run be a long one. The 
marten is a past-master in keeping up a running 
fight, and will punish an inexperienced dog severely 
at every effort made to close. 

A Canadian trapper wrote me some time ago 
on this animal's tenacity of life when trapped : 
' Mink and marten live longer than any other fur- 
bearers we get out here when held in a trap. I 
have known a marten to live two days, and then 
to face you with a most diabolical fear and ferocity 
when you went up to it. Skunk and otter die 
fairly soon comparatively, but the mink and the 
marten seem impervious to cold, and will linger 
on indefinitely. For this reason we usually set 
our traps on a log elevated from the ground, so 
that when the animal is caught it falls off and is 
suspended. They die much sooner this way, and 
are not so likely to escape maimed. I think the 
Indian dead -fall is the best for these tenacious 
animals.' 

He continues : ' You ask me about the food 
of the marten. In summer, I reckon they eat 
pretty nearly anything they can catch, barring 
black-bear and moose. In winter, God knows what 
they eat up in this country [Mattagami River], 
but the Indians say that the number of martens 
depends on the number of snowshoes [snowshoe 
rabbits], which would seem to indicate that rabbits 
are their staple diet. I asked Joe Long [Indian 
chief] what you asked about whether marten ever 
kill porcupines like fishers do, but he said he 
had never heard tell of it We generally use 
partridge [spruce partridge] meat for marten, 
though they will come for any raw, bloody meat, 
the same as a skunk something with feathers 
on it preferred. Of course, where birds are plenti- 



156 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

ful the martens kill a fair number in the trees 
and in the drifts. I don't reckon they suffer 
hunger anyway.' 

STORAGE. 

Martens, like weasels and stoats, store food 
during times of superabundance, but the storage 
habit is not so strongly developed in them as 
in the common weasel. The marten leaves what 
it does not want, and may return for it later if 
there is no more killing to be done. The creature 
will leave a partly devoured bird resting in the 
fork of a tree, and there it may remain for some 
days, conspicuous as it moves in the breeze, till 
eventually the destroyer happens to pass that 
way again. 

INQUISITIVENESS. 

The marten's hankering to learn and to know 
is a characteristic by which hunters are often 
able to profit. The unaccustomed sound of an 
axe is calculated to bring any marten hearing 
it to the ' spot, to peer through the leaves in 
eager inquiry, then to dart off to the uttermost 
corner of the forest on having satisfied its curiosity. 
Any unwonted sound has the same effect, and a 
trick sometimes practised by keepers is to remain 
perfectly still, making at intervals the grouse-call 
by sucking between closed lips through the stem 
of a pipe. The marten will then come quite near, 
moving from point to point in search of a better 
view, and a quick shot probably puts an end to 
the little creature's craving to see and to know. 
In the same way it is sure to be attracted by 
anything moving which it does not immediately 
recognise, and a common method of trapping it is 



THE PINE-MARTEN. 157 

to use as a lure some conspicuous object, such as 
the wing of a partridge, so placed that the bait 
moves from side to side as the wind blows. A 
marten will always go for a moving bait even 
though he is suspicious of it, and such a set 
generally yields good results, as the animal is not 
likely to escape seeing it. 

SEASIDE HABITS. 

More especially along the west coast of Ireland 
martens regularly become attached to the sea- 
cliffs, making their homes in the rocky fastnesses, 
and seldom or never venturing inland. They 
become almost a cragland species, and, owing to 
the constant abundance of food, are apt to grow 
into finer specimens than those inhabiting inland 
forests. 

Naturally the marten is thoroughly at home 
among sea-cliffs, and a vast variety of food is 
always at hand. Rabbits are generally abundant 
among the crags, shore-scavenging rats exist in 
thousands in many parts, and countless numbers 
of wild-fowl throng the ledges. These seaside 
dwellers are said also to quarter the sea-shore in 
search of shell-fish or any stranded sea-life washed 
up by the tide. 

Probably the day is not far distant when the 
marten will no longer exist as a creature of our 
woods, but long after that day has dawned it 
will continue to hold its own here and there along 
the coast-crags. It is not likely to be exterminated 
on the west coast of Ireland for many decades to 
come, for among those wild and inaccessible crags 
it is practically secure from man's destruction. 
The only trouble is that a little' marten goes a 
long way by which is meant that, since they are 



158 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

not sociable beasts, two martens for every mile of 
coast would be a comparatively dense population, 
and the rising generations that could not claim 
and hold a hunting-range along the crags would, 
perforce, have to travel inland in search of their 
fortunes. So, when the day comes that it can 
truly be written, 'The marten no longer exists 
except here and there among the inaccessible 
crags of the west coast of Ireland,' then the 
marten will indeed be a rare animal, exterminated 
in so far as it is possible for man to bring about 
its extermination. 

Is the marten doomed to become extinct ? In 
Ireland, no ; but in Great Britain it is most assuredly 
following the beaver and the wild cat. Our chil- 
dren's children will probably read with regret 
that 'what is considered to be the last pair of 
wild martens existing in the Highlands,' &c. The 
shrinkage of its home-range during the last few 
years has proceeded rapidly. So far as I can 
ascertain, it is eight years since the last pine-marten 
was shot in Wigtownshire, where once it was 
abundant; while it is entirely gone from Kirk- 
cudbrightshire and Dumfriesshire, where it is a 
creature unknown to the present generation of 
gamekeepers, though comparatively familiar to 
their fathers. The marten can be said, therefore, 
to have gone entirely from the Scottish Lowlands, 
or, at any rate, to have become so scarce as to be 
undetected. In the Highlands its range is slowly 
gathering in on every side. In England it can 
only just be said to exist. 

Why preserve the marten ? Why preserve any 
other gem of nature or of art ? If there is anything 
at once tragic and pathetic in the ways of Dame 
Nature, it is that she should have presented this 



THE PINE -MARTEN. 159 

least lovable of all our fur-clad fauna in the most 
lovely form. The beauty of the marten is in its 
quickness, its restlessness, its darting, animated 
poses in its very life. Take that life away, and 
there is left but a piece of carrion, no more beauti- 
ful than a paper rose. A dead marten is an object 
from which we shrink, knowing it to have been a 
bloodthirsty and cruel thing; but to have seen a 
living marten in the trees is to go your way the 
richer and happier for the view, for you have seen 
Life Life radiantly materialised, the most living 
and lively of all God's moving things. 

Is the marten to go ? That is what we have to 
decide, and to decide to-day. To most lovers of 
the great outdoors the interest of a landscape is 
decided to some extent by the wild life that dwells 
therein. One looks over miles of rolling forest 
conscious not only of its beauty, but of a sense 
of charm and romance because one can say, ' Herein 
still dwell the wolf and a thousand other unlovely 
things God gave when the world was untarnished 
by man's hand.' One can wander for days in the 
wild woods of the Highlands, through the lovely 
glens and corries, gray and cloud-wreathed, end- 
lessly happy in the thought, 'Here the wild deer 
and the marten have their home.' On the Conti- 
nent one may view panoramas just as lovely, just 
as wild, but holding no lasting charm because 
therein is no wild creature in whose existence lies 
the true romance of the Wild. 

Outside its beauty the marten has perhaps but 
one feature to plead its case its rarity. One 
would plead for the protection of the hated wolf of 
the northern wilds if it had become so rare as no 
longer to exist as a source of danger to man and 
his interests ; yet the wolf is not beautiful. We 



160 THE PINE-MARTEN. 

can gain nothing by allowing the marten to die 
out, while few would learn of its final departure 
with feelings other than regret. Our mammals 
are so few that we can spare but one of them, 
and that one is not the marten. 




THE BADGER. 

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THE BADGER. 

THOUGH now scarce or utterly exterminated 
in many districts where once it was abun- 
dant, the badger can hardly be set down as a rare 
animal. In some places where it is still compa- 
ratively numerous, its presence is unknown except 
to a few local followers of woodcraft, for the badger 
is so much of a recluse, so strictly nocturnal in its 
activities, and, above all, so cautious in secreting 
its runways where one would least expect to find 
them, that the naturalist must first know some- 
thing about Brock's habits in order to locate him. 

Coniferous forests are the badger's chief abode 
in the British Isles, and he is particularly partial 
to pine-woods generously surrounded by cover. 
This is probably because pines grow, as a rule, on 
water-washed hillsides and ridges where the ground 
is of sandy formation, which suits Brock's sub- 
terranean architecture. Fir-forests, where the 
undergrowth is rank with bracken and bramble, 
similarly meet his tastes, and in certain parts of 
the New Forest, particularly the vicinity of Boldre- 
wood, badgers are as numerous to-day as ever 
before. In fact, provided one is acquainted with 
the district, I know of no better country than 
the New Forest for studying the badger at home. 

Amidst the game-preserves of Northamptonshire 
the badger still holds out in many localities, 
and considerable warrens are to be found if one 
knows where to look. In parts of Wales he is 
common ; in fact, Wales may be set down as his 
true home, so far as Britain is concerned, and 
the keen and plucky terriers used for badger- 

W.A. k 



162 THE BADGER. 

hunting are bred chiefly in the Principality. In 
most parts of Scotland the badger is now rare, 
though occasional families are to be found in 
remote Highland localities. 

PROTECTIVE COLOURING. 

Judging from its markings, one would con- 
clude the badger is truly a beast of the night. 
In daylight it is conspicuous, the markings of the 
face seeming to catch and hold the light; but 
when at night-time Brock moves among the silver 
patches of moonlight and the ebony, shifting 
shadows, he himself is a shifting shadow of silver 
and ebony so wonderfully camouflaged that the 
keenest night-watcher must keep very wide awake 
indeed if he is to see anything at all. 

HABITUAL CAUTION. 

I have said that the habitual caution of the 
badger renders it difficult to locate. One must 
know where to look and what to look for, as 
the lifelong endeavour of this animal seems to 
be to avoid encounters with man and his dogs. 
I know of one warren situated in the heart of 
a small, dense pine-forest, surrounded by open 
fields. In passing to and from this forest during 
their nocturnal pilgrimages the badgers prefer 
always to follow the course of a hedgerow rather 
than venture into the open moonlight. They 
will even make a detour of two or three fields 
to avoid passing an open gateway, and in this 
way they gain a strip of wild undergrowth border- 
ing a stream, which they visit regularly for the 
roots of the common wild hyacinth. The un- 
dulating portions of the New Forest are drained 
by means of narrow canals or gutters, which 



THE BADGER. 163 

follow the ridings, and are generally about two 
feet in depth and a foot in width. In due course 
these canals become overgrown with grass, a pit- 
fall for the unwary, and they are greatly used 
by the badgers as runways in passing from one 
place to another. It is possible for the animal 
to escape unseen within a yard or so of one's feet 
by means of these artificial cuttings ; but their 
use entails a counterbalancing disadvantage from 
the badger's point of view, in that, though he is 
unseen, he himself cannot see, and should his keen 
nostrils fail to give him warning, he can very easily 
be surprised as he noses about the trench-bottom. 

The New Forest badgers obtain a good deal 
of their food from these canals. Beetles, worms, 
and all sorts of small life fall into them and are 
unable to escape, while snails, slugs, &c. abound in 
the long grass and the brambles overhanging the 
cuttings. On one occasion a friend of mine located 
a badger simply by the ungenteel sounds of enjoy- 
ment the animal made while eating its way along 
one of these herbaceous tunnels. The ditches are 
often tapped by an emergency hole from the warrens. 

POWERS OF DIGGING. 

Seton states that a badger spends thirty hours 
underground for every hour it spends on the earth's 
surface, which is probably a pretty accurate esti- 
mate. Its whole mode of living is to come up 
for a few hours, gorge itself to the extreme limits 
of repletion, then remain underground or about 
the warren in a more or less torpid state till 
again hungry possibly a period of four or five 
days. On many occasions after a badger-earth 
has been stopped prior to a meet of the fox-hounds 
(a fox will readily hole up with a badger), it has 



164 THE BADGER. 

been some days ere the badger inside troubled 
to unearth the entrances. In some cases he would 
partially open the hole from within, scratching 
away just enough earth to admit air, though not 
sufficient to allow the passage of his body. This 
was done a few hours after the holes were stopped, 
and thus matters would remain, perhaps, for seven 
or eight days, at the end of which the animal 
would finally take the trouble to liberate himself. 

In soft, sandy ground a badger, when disturbed, 
will sometimes bury himself where he stands, 
sooner than take to his heels, going practically 
straight down, like a mole ; indeed, his powers 
of digging are almost proportionate to those of 
the mole. For this reason it requires a keen and 
plucky dog to keep a badger in one place in his 
earth while the diggers get down to him. A 
half-hearted dog, that does not keep its quarry 
employed defending himself the whole time, is of 
no use to the badger-digger, for the badger im- 
mediately turns his tail to the dog and begins 
to scratch, throwing out a blast of sand behind 
that no animal can face. The dog has to draw 
off, blinded and suffocated, while Brock rapidly 
extends his tunnel. If one can succeed in stop- 
ping up the pocket behind the badger he can 
scratch no further, being unable to dispose of 
the earth he loosens, and thus he becomes jammed 
up, powerless to escape. 

In the hills of the north, where these animals 
are now comparatively rare, one regularly comes 
across solitary male specimens, which wander from 
valley to valley and forest to forest. On hearing 
that badgers have taken up their abode in a certain 
locality, it is often found that one of these nomadic 
old dogs is at the bottom of the rumour. An 



THE BADGER. 165 

old badger, living thus, will convert a chosen 
patch of land into a veritable warren in a single 
night, but by the time the warren is located 
he has betaken himself to the next valley. Thus 
the would-be badger student, after watching an 
abandoned prospect shaft for two or three con- 
secutive nights, is apt to become somewhat dis- 
heartened, and finally turns to a more fruitful 
field for his activities. 

THE WARREN. 

The badger-warrens I have studied were all 
models of system and cleanliness. The animals 
never occupy the same warren for more than two 
or three months at a spell ; it is then completely 
forsaken for a corresponding period, and thus 
given a chance thoroughly to sweeten, the colony 
removing itself in the interim to another country 
residence, probably not more than a mile distant. 
In the meantime their old residence is taken over 
by rabbits. As regards the numerous stories one 
hears about Brock as a rabbit-killer, I can only 
say that I know of numerous warrens in which 
rabbits and badgers share the tenancy. Generally 
the rabbits occupy one end, while the badgers 
inhabit the other, but all the holes are intercon- 
nected, and the little community appears to dwell 
in an atmosphere of perfect goodwill. 

The badger is a slow-footed animal, and though 
perhaps he would possess few scruples if the oppor- 
tunity of dining off Brer Rabbit occurred, it is 
not worth his while to hunt his active neighbour 
when there is so much other food ready to hand. 

Badgers are a good deal troubled with neighbours 
of a more personal and intimate character, and 
the cleanliness they exercise in their home-life 



166 



THE BADGER. 



has not a little to do with these gentry. One 
can always tell whether or not a badger-warren 
is occupied by the condition of the bedding that 
litters the ground and carpets the entrance of 
every earth the dry grass or bracken they use 
being strewn everywhere about the warren and 



( -- -} 

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OLB WT 

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EB L J^ 

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BOUT a CARTLOADS of 

DCJt BO-CM1& 

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Plan of Badger- Warren in New Forest, showing Runways, Earths (E), 
Sunning-Nests, Sanitary Pits, &c. 

along the runways. During every night of activity, 
which appears to be about one night in five, the 
animals, having fed, spend the small hours raking 
the old bedding out of the warrens and substi- 
tuting new, dry material. A bed is never allowed 
to become old and stale, and the huge dump- 
heaps at the burrow-entrances will, if examined, 



THE BADGER. 167 

be found to consist of 50 per cent, old bedding, 
drawn out and intermingled with the sand. Very 
often a single dump-heap of this kind would form 
several cartloads the work of generation after 
generation of badgers who have occupied their 
spare time in tidying up and enlarging. 

NESTS. 

From the mouth of the main burrow there 
generally exists a clearly defined runway to the 
patch of open ground at which the bedding 
material is collected. Dry grass is preferred on 
account of its softness, but often the badgers make 
shift with bracken. Following the runway, one 
arrives at an opening amidst the trees (probably 
within a distance of fifty yards) from which all 
the low herbage has been dragged and clawed up, 
so that the entire plot has an untidy appearance. 
(Indeed, the whole area of the warren is untidy 
owing to the litter of bedding, this being the 
chief indication that it is a badger-warren.) This 
is the hayfield of the colony. All these features 
are clearly shown on the rough plan-sketch repro- 
duced herewith, which shows the lay-out of a New 
Forest warren close to the main Bournemouth 
road, and is typical of many others in the locality. 

The grass or the bracken as collected is rolled 
into tightly packed balls, a number of which appear 
to be made in readiness for transportation before 
the badgers leave the field, as one often finds these 
balls lying forsaken on the ground ; and the 
amount of bedding rolled into such small com- 
pass is surprising. The animal carries the ball 
between its chin and its forepaws, cuddling the 
bundle against its chest, and half-pushing, half- 
supporting it in this way. 



168 THE BADGER. 

On one occasion Smith, the keeper at Boldre- 
wood, watched a badger thus occupied in the dusk 
of evening, being unable to tell what the animal 
was about as he stood on a neighbouring ridge. 
It was a small badger, and it had collected rather 
more grass than it could conveniently carry, so 
that it had some difficulty in surmounting the 
obstacles of the runway. Finally emerging into 
the open riding, the animal made better progress ; 
but here, unfortunately, it caught wind of Smith, 
and promptly made for the dense cover. The 
keeper was standing clearly in sight the whole 
time, but he is of the opinion that badgers (like 
the bear and the wolverine, and, indeed, all animals 
of the undergrowth that are short in the leg) are 
possessed of very poor eyesight. They depend 
almost entirely on their keen hearing and scent, 
and I doubt very much if the average badger 
would recognise a man even at forty paces, and 
provided it could not scent him, the animal would 
probably not be greatly afraid. 

In addition to their nests underground, badgers 
make use of sunning-nests, which they construct 
for temporary use at the mouth of the main earth. 
This is a point concerning which many naturalists 
profess disbelief; but having seen such nests and 
photographed them, I am naturally satisfied. 

The sunning-nest is a large and untidy bundle 
of bedding, trodden out to the curvature of the 
animal's body, just as a cat or a dog hollows out a 
bed for itself. It is always placed directly above 
the mouth of the earth, so that, should its 
occupant be disturbed, he or she has nothing to 
do but roll out and tumble underground in the 
twinkling of an eye. Also, the nest is so situated 
that it catches the sunlight falling through the 



THE BADGER. 169 

trees during the warmest hour of the day, the nest 
standing out as an excrescence amidst the darkness 
of the undergrowth. 

Though there are indications that a nest has at 
one time been in use at the mouth of the main 
burrow of almost every warren, one may search 
far and diligently before rinding an actual 
example ; for, having sunned himself so long as 
the light lasts, it would appear that Brock drags 
the material into the earth after him, making good 
use of it below rather than allowing it to become 
damp and rotten on the earth's surface. Thus, if 
one locates a sunning-nest, and returns only an 
hour or so later in order, perhaps, to photograph 
it, a hundred to one it will be gone especially 
if one handled it on first arriving. Nor has 
any man I have met actually caught a badger 
asleep in its sunning-nest. One might as well 
attempt to catch a fox asleep in a hen-house. 
Smith, the keeper at Boldrewood, tells me that 
on several occasions he has arrived to find the 
nest still warm from contact with the badger's 
body, but Brock himself had heard or winded the 
intrusion, and tumbled underground with seconds 
to spare. 

SANITATION. 

In sanitation the badger stands out as a model 
of system and virtue many beasts would do well 
to copy, the perfection of his sanitary arrange- 
ments being unrivalled by those of any other 
woodland creature, not even excepting the beaver. 
Only once have I found any traces of uncleanliness 
about the warren, which in this instance was occu- 
pied by young badgers, who evidently had not 
learnt the full value of systematic cleanliness. 



170 THE BADGER. 

One of the most distinct runways from the main 
earth will be found to terminate, after a few paces, 
at a hollow in the ground often the pit left after 
the filling in by the earth-stopper of an old bur- 
row, which the family has not troubled to reopen. 
Here vertical holes (about six inches deep and four 
inches wide) are dug, each hole being used so long 
as its capacity permits, when another is dug close 
to it, and so on till the bottom of the pit becomes 
covered with these scratchings. Thereupon it is 
forsaken and an adjacent plot taken up, every 
warren having several of these special allotments, 
old and new, within easy reach of the burrows. 
The amount of deposit left in a single night is 
really surprising, and the exhaustion of available 
space for this purpose may have something to 
do with the periodical abandonment of warrens. 
It is also true that, after a warren has been in 
use for some weeks by a large family of badgers, 
the place is none the worse for a rest. 

These few facts are sufficient to excite our 
admiration for the badger as a beast of cleanly 
habits. That he is seldom an offender against man 
I hope shortly to show ; and since he is so easily 
located by those who know him, and so much at 
our mercy when located, having only his own 
powers as a marvellous fighting -machine with 
which to withstand our unjustifiable persecution, 
the lover of wild woodland life has every right to 
call for the badger's protection. The killing of a 
badger is never excusable. Dig him out where 
he is too plentiful, for this must be so at times ; 
but having caught him alive, enclose him in a 
wooden box and send him to some part of the 
country where he is rare. Many Scottish land- 
owners would be glad to have him back on their 



THE BADGER. 171 

estates, and would willingly pay for the oppor- 
tunity. Brock is worth more alive than dead. 

INTERCOMMUNICATION. 

Badgers, like bears, possess the habit of measur- 
ing their full height against some obstacle which 
affords exercise for their claws, and thither, to 
the recognised scratching-post, the whole family 
adjourns at more or less regular intervals to leave 
the sign of their passing. One sees the claw- 
marks of father and mother high up on the scale 
of reach ; lower down are the claw-marks of the 
cubs, each having registered its height ; and from 
surrounding signs we should judge that this is a 
recognised rendezvous of the family. 

There is every reason to think that these 
scratching-places afford a system of intercommu- 
nication for the badger population of a given 
district, for I have noticed the claw-marks of 
strange badgers on a tree-trunk habitually visited 
by one family in a locality where badgers were 
none too plentiful. For example, an old dog- 
badger living alone has his own individual scratch- 
ing-log, which he visits, perhaps, once every ten 
days. Near to the log is a boulder of rock having 
one sharp edge against which he invariably rubs 
himself when calling. Another badger crosses the 
range, and, guided by some subtle sense, it visits 
this place. It registers its height against the 
trunk, and scratches its neck on the other side 
of the sharp edge of rock. The owner of the 
rendezvous returns. He knows immediately that 
another badger has been there. Whether he is 
sufficiently astute to read if it is larger or smaller 
than himself is, of course, open to question ; but, 
at any rate, the main fact is instantly conveyed 



172 THE BADGER. 

to his conception. If it is a nomadic old dog- 
badger that has passed, he is not interested ; but 
if, on the other hand, an eligible lady-caller has 
seen fit to leave the sign of her passing, he is 
all on edge. In all probability he follows, and so, 
in due course, they make each other's acquaintance. 

Intercommunication in the wild exists for but 
one purpose that of bringing the sexes together. 
The wolves have their calling- posts, the beavers 
have their castor-signs, the weasels have their 
musking-places, and it is reasonable to think that 
the scratching-post of the badger answers the 
same purpose as the rest. It is the marriage ex- 
change of the district, the agony column of the 
local press. Of course, a badger may exercise its 
claws against any tree it happens to pass, but 
there is always one tree in particular recognised 
for this purpose. 

Moreover, a badger living in solitude resorts to 
the practice more regularly than the mated couples 
it may, indeed, have several calling-places all up 
and down its range, and the necessity for claw- 
exercise alone cannot demand such activity. It 
would seem that the more earnestly a dog-badger 
desires a mate, the more blatantly does he advertise 
the signs of his stature, and the more diligently 
does he search for the records of other badgers 
left in the same way. That the habit plays some 
important part in the multiplication of the species 
can hardly be doubted, and possibly the old male 
badger wandering restlessly from place to place is 
searching chiefly for such signs. 

DESTRUCTIVENESS. 

I would see the peregrine preserved just as we 
would preserve a picturesque landscape, a beautiful 



THE BADGER. 173 

picture, or any other gem of nature or of art ; 
but having beheld a peregrine hurtle through 
a pack of grouse, knocking four of them side- 
ways, and never even looking round as they 
fell, it gives me infinitely more pleasure to 
see him on my neighbour's moor than on my 
own. A good deal of nonsense is talked by 
naturalists about the non-destructiveness of cer- 
tain birds and beasts they would see preserved, 
their service to man, and so on, but generally it 
would be more useful to refrain from allowing 
one's keen sentiments to get the better of one's 
sane judgment. 

As regards the badger, I have studied him very 
closely, and can honestly say that I have yet to 
discover this creature guilty of a crime sufficient 
to warrant his destruction even in a single instance. 
There is no doubt that should he stumble across 
a game-bird's nest, he will devour its contents as 
greedily as he will devour the contents of a wasp's 
nest ; but he certainly does not go out of his 
way to look for the nests of game-birds. In 
one instance a pheasant brought off her brood 
amidst some long grass directly overlooked by 
an occupied warren and within forty yards of 
it, and had the hunting of eggs been in any 
way the badgers' line of business, they could not 
have failed to locate this feast. The fact is that 
normally in the spring the badger is surrounded 
by such an abundance of food which requires no 
hunting that there is no need for him to hunt 
live prey ; and since he is a slow-moving beast, 
he would not be exactly successful as a hunts- 
man even were he so disposed. True that he has 
flesh-tearing teeth and goodness knows he needs 
them for purposes of self-defence but, like the 



174 THE BADGER. 

black-bear, he can and does subsist very comfort- 
ably on an exclusively vegetable diet, with a little 
rubbish thrown in, should he actually stumble across 
it in his short-sighted, pig-like forages. Except in 
the spring (when the badger has vegetable foods 
everywhere), the sort of game man protects is 
chiefly of the variety demanding, and often defying, 
the swiftness, cleverness, and long-sightedness of 
Reynard at his best. At all events the keepers 
of the New Forest, who know as much about 
badgers as any one, have no quarrel with them 
except that their many earths require a good deal 
of stopping before each meet of the fox-hounds, 
which is the only reason why badgers are kept in 
check in this region. 

FOOD. 

Roots, insects, worms, beetles, frogs, and berries 
when in season, are the chief food of Brock at 
home. In the forests of the Vosges Mountains, 
south of Verdun, there are many badgers, and 
during the war they seemed to lose much of their 
fear of man, often appearing on the mountain-roads 
quite near the muleteers, and occupying the forests 
right up to the fighting-line, apparently undisturbed 
by the noise of the guns, since no one had the time 
to hunt them. Here their food consisted in the 
season entirely of the wild raspberries that are 
abundant on the open hillsides, while earlier in the 
year beetles and other insects formed their staple 
diet. In the New Forest they appear to live 
chiefly on beetles, destroying thousands of the 
common black-backed variety to be found in the 
roots of moss, the wings of which they do not 
digest. In winter roots, or almost any other soft 
substances they can nose out of the ground, are 



THE BADGER. 175 

acceptable ; in fact, the badger will eat nearly 
anything he happens to stumble across. 

HIBERNATION. 

The badger does not hibernate in the true sense 
of the word. During a spell of wild winter 
weather he may extend considerably his periods 
underground may not emerge, indeed, for two or 
three weeks ; but immediately the conditions change 
he is up and about, as lively as at any other time 
of the year. In high, wind-swept country he 
makes this winter denning more of a permanency ; 
while in warmer latitudes the Gulf states of 
America, for example the badger does not den 
up at all. During the chief period of hibernation 
he generally stops the mouth of the den to exclude 
draught, which would seem to indicate that his 
respiration at such times becomes very low ; indeed, 
it must be something approaching a death-like 
stupor that tides so heavy-feeding an animal over 
such a long period without food. But with practi- 
cally every beast hibernation is merely a matter of 
convenience, which can be put off when desired ; 
and even the black-bear of the Far North, which 
normally hibernates in the true sense of the word, 
is ready enough to remain awake and active when 
kept in captivity and liberally fed even though his 
home be an Arctic trading-post. In this country, 
then, the badger hibernates if his environment and 
the conditions of the season demand it; but normally 
his hibernation is on a par with that of the squirrel, 
eagerly cut short should the wintry weather relent. 

THE YOUNG. 

I imagine the young, varying from three to five 
in number, are born in February, as I have observed 



176 THE BADGER. 

their tracks on the 15th of March at the earliest. 
Generally they are to be seen at the mouth of the 
earth in March, seldom venturing farther than a 
few yards till early in April. In May the home 
den is forsaken, the whole family journeying to 
a new warren. Sometimes, but not always, the 
dog and the 'sow' badger remain together the 
whole year round. 

Badgers are not playful animals, and, except in 
their cubhood, they seldom frolic, devoting their 
time to the more important business of nosing for 
food. The old game of King of the Castle is said 
to be systematically indulged in by the cubs, even 
their mother occasionally lending a hand. One of 
the youngsters mounts a dead tree-stump or a 
boulder of rock, and from this point of eminence 
menaces his brothers with naked fangs. The others 
then set to work to drag him down, attacking from 
every point of the compass, while the central figure 
twists and turns, till finally he is dislodged and 
another scrambles into his place. And so the 
game goes on during the chilliest hour before the 
dawn ; but it is a game unlike those of our own 
little people in that it is played in silence such is 
the degree of caution instilled into the young by 
their parents. 

This game is said to be a recognised institution 
of the badgers, each family having its own ' castle ' 
and its special little plot laid aside, the ground soon 
becoming trodden hard and bare of verdure by the 
beating of active paws. Normally the youngsters 
just roll each other about, butting at each other 
and pulling at the loose skin of each other's necks, 
much like little bears, which they closely resemble 
in many ways. 

Badgers are good-tempered beasts, and the old 




THE POLECAT. 

L 



THE BADGEK. 177 

saying ' surly as a badger ' lacks support in actual 
fact. Naturally Brock is surly when imprisoned in 
a box and tortured by men and dogs, but I believe 
that in their home -life badgers live in perfect 
harmony, with never an ill word. The devotion 
of the mother is heroic. She has been known, in 
one instance at least, to hold the den while her 
little cubs made good their escape, facing hope- 
less odds, and gamely meeting her death in 
covering their retreat. On this occasion the 
warren was invaded because, as the farmers said, 
the sow-badger had been proved guilty of killing 
young lambs. When she was dead and the cubs 
were gone the lamb -killing still continued, and 
finally it was traced to some far more likely, though 
less suspected, cause. 

FIGHTING ABILITIES. 

Many extraordinary beliefs exist concerning the 
badger. I have been gravely told by country- 
people that his legs on one side are shorter than 
those on the other, with the result that he is com- 
pelled to walk on the hillsides, where the angle of 
the ground counterbalances this natural deformity. 
How he fares when it comes to going home is 
not generally explained. Presumably he has to 
complete the circular, route of the range ! Similarly 
some peasants believe that the jaws of a badger are 
provided with a patent locking device, so that, 
when once he has obtained a firm grip, he is unable 
to let go. One man actually told me that by 
thrusting a piece of red cloth fixed on the end of a 
wire into a burrow you are easily able to catch a 
badger, in much the same manner as one fishes for 
crabs, the badger being pulled out immediately he 
has locked his jaws on the fabric ! 



W.A. 



178 THE BADGER. 

In the same way one hears that a dog cannot 
hurt a badger that he is so tough of hide as to 
emerge without discomfort from any kind of an 
encounter with terriers. Nothing could be further 
from the truth. A badger feels and suffers just 
the same as any other warm-blooded beast. I 
have seen the state of a dog after an underground 
encounter with Brock, and how he will fret and 
suffer, unable to eat his food owing to the mangled 
condition of his muzzle, even though every care 
and comfort man can give him be his. How 
much worse must be the plight of the poor wood- 
land creature, injured and frightened by the 
invasion of its sanctuary, and having no human 
mind to understand or human hand to help ! I 
am convinced that many a badger that has been 
baited and worried underground emerges in appa- 
rent safety, only to hide away and die a linger- 
ing death from the wounds about its mouth and 
tongue. Yet badger-digging is considered by some 
as the sport of gentry 1 

To send terriers in to a badger among rocks is a 
doubly cruel business, for the cruelty embraces the 
dogs also. A keeper with whom I am acquainted 
lost both his terriers in this way. The den of the 
badger was at the foot of a wood, where large and 
small boulders, overgrown with bracken and fern, 
lay in wild profusion. One terrier was sent in, but 
appeared to be in difficulties ; so the other was 
liberated. For a long time the sound of fighting 
came from below, but suddenly all was quiet. 
Dusk fell, night followed, but still no terriers. At 
dawn next day a horse and chains were taken to 
the spot, and one by one the boulders were removed. 
Both terriers were found bitten through the throat, 
just as they had fallen after a terrific encounter, 



THE BADGER. 179 

and there were indications which showed precisely 
how their deaths had taken place. 

At this point the underground passage was 
barred by a shelf or step, which rose vertically 
about two feet, the passage continuing beyond it. 
On the top of this shelf the badger had crouched, 
so that the dogs were at a hopeless disadvantage, 
having to leap up at him as he lay, his own body 
protected, just out of convenient reach. The 
keeper believed that Brock had brought about the 
end by resorting to an old badger trick, that of 
tucking his head down between his forepaws, so 
that only the tough muscles at the back of his 
neck were exposed. Immediately a terrier gripped 
him by this portion of his anatomy he uncurled, 
so that the terrier's throat was exposed to his fangs, 
which, of course, settled the matter. 

POWERS OF DEFENCE. 

I have many times heard it disputed as to 
whether one terrier is able to hold a badger out 
in the open. Some assert emphatically that no 
terrier on earth can hold a full-grown badger that 
is bent on gaining a place of safety, while other 
authorities on the subject are equally emphatic in 
backing their belief that any terrier can hold any 
badger so long as he concentrates his energies on 
doing so. The evidence on both sides seems equally 
strong. Mr Smith, the keeper at Boldrewood, 
was one night out earth-stopping, when a badger 
bolted for the very hole he was in the act of 
closing. A terrier caught the animal at the mouth 
of the hole, between the keeper's legs, and in 
the scuffle that followed the lamp was upset, and 
a general melee ensued. Nevertheless, the terrier 
was successful in preventing the badger from 



180 THE BADGER. 

gaining earth ; and this, be it noted, within a yard 
of the burrow-mouth, when the animal would 
undoubtedly put forth all its energies to gain 
the goal so near at hand. 

On the other hand, an experiment was carried 
out in order to settle a wager between a Welsh 
landowner and the owner of a set of terriers 
reputed to possess exceptional mettle. The land- 
owner was convinced that four of the terriers could 
not hold a badger out of cover, and the proud 
owner of the dogs was equally convinced that they 
would not only hold him, but would make very 
short work of his execution. 

Accordingly the unhappy badger was taken into 
the centre of a field and dumped, blinking, out of 
a bag. Gaining his bearings, he began to amble 
off for the nearest cover ; whereupon the terriers 
were released. They immediately closed, but the 
running fight continued steadily in the direction 
of the patch of cover. At times all four terriers 
gained a hold of the unfortunate beast, yet doggedly 
and persistently the badger bore on his way, and 
in a very short space of time disappeared under- 
ground at the very feet of the surprised dog-owner, 
who, resultantly, lost his bet ! 

Of course, there are exceptional badgers, just as 
there are exceptional terriers, but I doubt very 
much whether any terrier could hold its own in 
single combat, either closed or open, with an old 
fighting male badger or with a sow defending her 
young assuming that the badger had not previ- 
ously been scared out of its wits. Though retiring 
and peace-loving by disposition, this animal is a fierce 
and terrible fighter when roused, and long perse- 
cution has taught the badger to use its fangs and 
claws with deadly effect. Even when terrified by 



THE BADGER. 181 

man, and forced to make a stand amidst surround- 
ings and conditions new to it, a good badger will 
hold its own for an indefinite period against entirely 
hopeless odds ; and fighting amidst its own chosen 
environment, uninterrupted by man, it would very 
speedily wear out and probably kill a terrier handi- 
capped by the conditions that were in the badger's 
favour. In other words, let Brock choose his own 
ground and do not interfere, and it will go badly 
with the terrier facing him, even though the latter 
be of the best fighting blood obtainable. 

The front part of a badger's skull is extremely 
strong, like that of a bear. (In bear-hunting one 
never shoots at the head of the beast, as the thick, 
slanting skull is very apt to deflect the bullet, and 
a blow on the skull has the effect of sending a 
bear temporarily mad. The neck is the proper 
target, as one then stands a chance of severing the 
jugular vein or of paralysing the animal by injur- 
ing the spine.) The back part of a badger's head, 
however, is extremely poorly protected, and a 
blow behind the ears stretches him out instantly. 

How TO IDENTIFY HIS WHEREABOUTS. 

The best way to locate any animal is, of course, 
by its tracks. Learn to read the writing of the 
woods, and half their secrets are yours. The 
spoor of the badger is easily recognised by what 
keepers call the ' bar.' This is the oblong or oval 
tread of the ball of the foot, which in most other 
animals leaves a round, or almost round, indenta- 
tion. Also, a badger-track is considerably larger 
than that of any other wild beast likely to be 
sharing its environment, and once the track has 
been seen, there is no mistaking it, as it is so 
distinctly sui generis. 



182 



THE BADGER. 



\A\ 




FORE.. 



Track of old Dog-Badger, actual size. The fifth toe does not leave 
an imprint except on very soft going. 



THE BADGER. 183 

A badger-warren can always be recognised as 
such by the litter of bedding that strews the earths 
and the runways ; while if there are badgers in the 
district they generally advertise the fact by rooting 
up the ground, in the same way as a family of 
little pigs. If the earth is nosed away round the 
trunks of fir or pine trees, so as to explore the bark 
below ground-level, it is assuredly the work of 
badgers, this being one of the most certain tell- 
tale signs they leave. Perhaps some grub to which 
they are very partial exists round the trunks of 
these trees ; or it may be that insects, particularly 
wood-lice, follow the trunk of the tree and seek 
hiding and shelter just below the earth -line, where 
they are easily nosed out by the badger. 

A trick which I have tried with success, when 
in doubt as to whether or not badgers were in a 
certain locality, is to bury a few raisins two or 
three inches underground near to the suspected 
spot. The keen nose of the badger is sure to 
locate these dainties, and he will root them out 
when next he sallies forth on his nocturnal 
wanderings. 

The foregoing will serve to show that there is 
much to rouse our sympathies in the character of 
this quiet dweller of the forest shadows, and it is 
sincerely to be hoped that such sympathies may 
prove instrumental in relieving this ancient and 
much-persecuted creature of some of the miseries 
that have so long and so unjustly been its lot. 
One sees in the badger a brave, indigenous beast 
struggling to retain a footing in the land of its 
heritage against the cruelty and ignorance of those 
who still seem to regard it as designed for the 
' sport ' of man. The badger was once diurnal to 
almost the same extent as it was nocturnal. Where 



184 THE BADGES. 

undisturbed by man it is still diurnal in its habits. 
In this country, through sorrowful experience, it has 
become solely nocturnal. It has retreated to the 
depths of our deepest forests in the hope of finding 
security from man, and every movement of its life 
is characterised by the earnest desire to avoid 
encounter with man and his dogs. Because the 
badger is a brave and an able fighter, it has been used 
as a means of trying out the mettle of beasts as 
brave and able as itself, which, in the broad light 
of things, savours of the barbarous, and of a spirit 
hardly worthy of the lovers of cricket. 

DIMENSIONS AND WEIGHT. 

The measurements of an adult female killed in 
Yorkshire were from the tip of the snout to the 
root of the tail, 31 inches ; tail, about 7 inches. 

The only two badgers I have ever weighed were 
evidently far below average; they were 16f Ib. 
(female) and 14^ Ib. (male), both killed in the New 
Forest. The average weight of the Cornish badger 
is given as 30 Ib. ; and, according to Sir Harry 
Johnston, the heaviest specimen known was killed 
in Warwickshire, and scaled 43 Ib. 



THE POLECAT. 

Known also as the Foumart or the ' Fitchet.' 

FROM the polecat tribe spring our tame ferrets, 
the dark variety of which is distinguished from 
the more common albino strain by the designation 
'polecat' ferret. The polecat is, in fact, a wild 
ferret, and has often been trapped in the act of 
visiting the cages of tame ferrets, with which it 
will readily interbreed. 

The polecat is to-day a rare animal, and except 
for the sorrow one naturally feels at the loss of any 
one of our fauna, there is no special need to regret 
its rarity. 

SIZE AND DESCRIPTION. 

This animal is the largest of our true weasels, 
and an adult male will measure 17 inches from the 
tip of the nose to the base of the tail. The tail, 
which is of the bottle-brush variety, measures about 
6^ inches. In all the true weasels the female is 
very much smaller than the male, and an adult 
female polecat seldom exceeds 18 inches, tip-to-tip 
measurement. 

The colour varies with the altitude, and, to a 
less degree, with the seasons, sunshine and warmth 
being conducive to darker shades. The lips are 
white, enclosed by a belt of dark brown encom- 
passing the muzzle and the eyes. A lighter band of 
gray succeeds this marking, and includes the fore- 
ead, the temples, and the cheeks. Sometimes this 
band is quite white, and the dark colour begins 
again behind it. The ears are white-rimmed, and 



186 THE POLECAT. 

the body-colouring varies from quite black to a pale 
ochre. The general impression of the summer coat 
is usually a blackish-brown, and in old specimens 
the hair is sometimes found to be matted, like that 
of the fisher. Its call-notes and its menaces are 
identical with those of the ferret. 

CHARACTER, 

In character the polecat is no more lovable than are 
its congeners, the stoat and the weasel, and, being a 
larger and stronger animal, it is far more destructive 
to man's interests. It feeds on anything and every- 
thing it can catch and kill. It never engineers a 
home of its own ; and though probably less nomadic 
than the stoat, it will live for weeks within a limited 
home-range, sleeping where and when conveni- 
ence dictates. In habits it is both nocturnal and 
diurnal ; that is, it hunts when hungry and sleeps 
when fed a state of things which applies to most 
of the blood-loving ' killers.' If it feeds in a warren, 
then in the warren it sleeps ; if it kills its prey in the 
open, it speedily drags the victim into a cranny, and 
there, having fed, it rests till such time as it is 
hungry again. I do not think the polecat adheres 
to any particular denning-up place except while its 
young are small. 

In common with all the true weasels, the polecat 
destroys for destruction's sake. On coming upon 
a brood of pheasant-chicks, it will kill every chick 
in the brood, finally carrying one of them away to 
feast at leisure. If it visits a poultry-yard, the same 
process is followed. It will kill turkeys and geese 
too large to be dragged away. A brace of polecats, 
hunting together, have been known to attach them- 
selves to an extensive rabbit-warren, and in a 
comparatively short space of time so to deplete the 



THE POLECAT. 187 

burrows as to spoil their own hunting, thus forcing 
themselves to find fresh quarters. 

On game - reserves the polecat is undoubtedly 
the most destructive of all the weasels infinitely 
more so than the marten ; and while the latter 
has beauty to recommend it, the polecat is perhaps 
most remarkable for its offensive stink. Its rarity 
alone warrants such protection as may be forth- 
coming. 

Living at Upton, near Northampton, the writer, 
when a boy, one day put up a polecat in a root- 
field quite near to the house. It bounded off after 
the manner of a ferret, and was sufficiently swift to 
gain a strip of coppice about a hundred yards away 
ere two spaniels could overtake it. Doubtless it 
was attracted to the vicinity of the house by the 
cage of tame ferrets kept in some outbuildings. 

Subsequently the same dogs pursued the crea- 
ture several times, but never succeeded in out- 
manoeuvring it, and in due course it disappeared 
from the locality. 

Some weeks later my brother and I were walk- 
ing up a fallow field about three miles from the 
house, when the polecat suddenly appeared, bound- 
ing along a furrow at some considerable distance 
from us. My brother gave it the ' choke ' at long 
range, whereupon it arched its back and bounded 
along sideways, uttering the familiar clucking chal- 
lenge of an excited ferret. It was, however, very 
slightly wounded, and made good its escape. 

Up to the last fifteen years polecats were com- 
paratively common on the wild stretch of moor- 
land that lies between the upper basin of the 
Wharfe and the Nidd valley, and keepers and 
shepherds used regularly to trap and shoot them. 
I remember, in boyhood, seeing as many as four 



188 THE POLECAT. 

freshly killed polecats, destroyed by the shepherds, 
nailed to a barn door at Gate-Up Gill, Grimwith ; 
and I recall an exciting chase after another of these 
creatures in that secluded moorland district. It 
hissed and chattered at us as it bounded from 
cover to cover amidst a fusillade of stones and 
sticks, and going up to the place later, we found a 
filthy brown secretion left on the rocks over which 
the terrified creature had run ! 

On this moor, as on others, the destruction of 
the polecat was so vigorously pursued that since 
about 1905 it has no longer figured among the 
moorland keeper's foes, and it is probable that in 
less wild regions its extermination was considered 
complete long before that date. Even in the 
wilds of Scotland it no longer holds a place in 
the list of living 'vermin,' while in the Lowlands 
it is practically extinct. In England occasional 
specimens occur from time to time, particularly in 
Hampshire, Cumberland, and Durham ; but so rare 
is the foumart that, even when one is in intimate 
touch with things of the fields and the woods, 
news of its passing is seldom gleaned. 

FOOD. 

In addition to the articles of diet already re- 
ferred to, the polecat feeds on snakes, lizards, frogs, 
fish, and eggs. In moorland districts lizards and 
mice are probably its staple summer diet ; in winter 
it feeds largely on birds that roost on the ground 
larks, redwings, and game-birds. 

There seems to be, at any rate, a foundation of 
truth for the old belief that the polecat feeds 
largely on frogs. It has been said that a nesting 
polecat bites a frog through the head so as to 
paralyse but not kill it, and in this unhappy plight 



THE POLECAT. 189 

the amphibian is carried off to the nest, where it 
is stored to await the pleasure of the family of 
budding cut-throats. One observer claims to have 
found a regular horde of live, paralysed frogs 
stored up within reach of the young polecats. 

Be this as it may, stoats and weasels feed very 
largely on frogs and even toads. A ferret, too, 
appreciates such fare. I have known a lost ferret 
to live for several weeks along the bank of a 
stream where there was little food for it other than 
frogs and toads, on which it fared so well as to be 
in perfect condition when ultimately found. 

NESTING. 

The polecat is most at home in loose, rocky 
country, broken by strips of forest, with the 
sandy earth liberally tunnelled by rabbits. The 
nest is commonly situated in a rabbit-burrow, 
though any suitable cranny will serve the purpose. 
I knew one pair to breed in the foot of a high 
boundary wall between the pine -forests and the 
heather of the moors. This ancient structure 
was about twelve feet in height, and was built of 
massive boulders at its base, gradually decreasing 
in size towards the coping. The polecats did a 
good deal of their hunting along the base of the 
wall. Hares, from the lowlands, had their creeps 
through it leading up to the heights, and the 
rabbits from the heights had to pass through it on 
their way to and from the lowland pastures. A 
large number of rabbits lived permanently in the 
thick base of the wall, and repeatedly the polecats 
were seen by shepherds working their way along 
the structure. This was in Upper Wharfedale. 

The polecat is particularly partial to deserted 
and partially ruined buildings, amidst the tumbled 



190 THE POLECAT. 

masonry of which it makes its stronghold and rears 
its young. It is also said to breed in the thickets 
of whins, to which it is probably attracted by the 
rabbits which habitually make their home amidst 
such thorny shelter. 

The young, which are born blind, come in May, 
and number from four to seven. Only one litter 
is produced annually ; and since the sexual excite- 
ment of the species that is, the time when the 
males become most restless is about the middle 
of March, the period of gestation is probably about 
seven weeks. 

Apparently the polecat is no less monogamous 
than the stoat. When permitted to do so, a mated 
pair remain together at least from early spring 
till the hardships of winter necessitate for each a 
separate hunting-range ; and where food is plentiful, 
they may remain united throughout the winter. 
The young accompany the parents till almost full- 
grown, though the family union does not appear 
to be so strong as is the case with the other true 
weasels (stoat, weasel, and mink). 

HUNTING. 

In hunting, the polecat follows the mode of 
procedure adopted by the stoat ; that is to say, it 
hunts above ground, and does not adapt itself to 
the use of underground alley-ways and passages 
to the same extent as does the weasel. When 
hunting it listens repeatedly, sitting bolt-upright, 
drawn this way and that by every sound it hears. 
If startled or alarmed, it instantly darts under- 
ground, presently to peer with caution from a 
distant cranny, taking stock of the situation. In 
disposition, it is less given to arguing the point 
than is the stoat ; that is, it does not chatter abuse 



THE POLECAT. 191 

for the sake of hearing its own voice, but will, if 
possible, make clean away from the danger-zone. 

The polecat is a good swimmer, and will take 
to water readily in pursuit of its quarry. It is less 
arboreal than the stoat, though it can climb moder- 
ately well. One was shot in the act of climbing a 
wire-netting screen some ten feet in height. It 
was near the top and making good progress, and 
on the other side of the screen were about two 
hundred quarter -fledged pheasant -chicks ! This 
was near Brancaster, in Norfolk. 



THE BROWN HARE. 

ONE of the marvels of wild nature is that 
the hare survives not only survives, but, 
if given any chance whatever, thrives and multi- 
plies. It is one of the few wild-folk to whom 
nature has given no secure sanctuary. The 
common prey of all, pursued first by one, then 
by another, only its marvellous speed and its 
superb staying-power enable the hare to hold its 
own against so many foes. The foxes and the 
rabbits have their burrows, but the hare has no 
such shelter ; he meets his foes on their own 
ground, and beats them at their own game. He 
is a superb running-machine, wise in the wisdom 
of the trails, and withal a joy to behold. Away 
he goes starting from a tuft at our feet, floating, 
gliding, over the pasture, light as a thistle-seed, 
keeping always to the hollows, seldom showing 
himself on the skyline. And what lover of the 
great outdoors has never felt the desire to follow 
on in wild pursuit ? 

Truly he is the common sport of all, this 
creature which is always game to the end living 
a life of hair-breadth escapes till he can hold out 
no longer against his foes. Particularly is this so 
when the snow is on the ground ; for it is not the 
hard, swift run that kills the hare ; it is the slow 
' tramp, tramp, tramp ' of a dogged pursuer on his 
trail. In times of snow the shepherd and the 
farm-man know that the hare is at their mercy, 
and taking down the old gun from its shelf, the 
hunter sallies forth. Here is the quarry's over-night 
trail ; there is nothing to be done but follow that 




THE UKOWN HARE 'AWAY!' 

M 



THE BROWN HARE. 193 

chain of tracks to the winter form, which is found 
in a sheltered hollow of the pasture, facing south. 
The man stops short in readiness ten paces away. 
The tracks lead to that tuft, but beyond the tuft 
the story of Jack's life, written in the world's 
oldest writing, ceases abruptly. Stooping, the 
man picks up a twig, and throws it at the tuft ; 
then away goes the hare, ears laid back, eyes watch- 
ing behind, eager to place some obstacle between 
himself and his pursuer. There is a loud report, 
a squeal, and the hare zigzags ; another report, 
and silence. There, tinting the snow with his 
life's blood, lies the hero of many a fiery run, 
who owes his fate, like so many of his kindred, 
to the tell-tale writing of the snows ! 

One glorious winter day, when there was a 
light tracking snow on the ground, I saw a run 
which opened my eyes as regards the staying- 
powers of the hare. I was high up in the hills, 
commanding an incomparable view of the wide 
valley, and had with me a hound which was both 
fast and powerful. Putting up a hare, the dog 
set off in pursuit, pressing the animal hard down 
the mountain-side ; for, owing to its long hind-legs, 
a hare is not at its best when running down- 
hill, and has often been known to fall badly. 
Once in the valley, a mile away, the hare began 
a wide circuit, over field after field, round the 
village, over the pine ridge, and across the burn, 
the dog, with lagging steps, following by scent 
now. Yet another circuit of the Boulder Hill, 
adding three more miles, much of the pursuit 
hidden from our view ; then we saw the hare again 
on our side of the hill saw him pause and listen, 
deliberately tying knots in his trail. Finally he 
sought the cover of the frozen swamp, and after 

W.A. m 



194 THE BHOWN HARE. 

some minutes the dog reappeared, tongue lolling, 
almost at a walk. Skilfully, yet laboriously, he 
unravelled the tangle of tracks, headed for the 
swamp, and again put up the hare. 

Numbers of people who had seen or heard of 
the chase now began to appear at gates or on 
the hill-tops to watch the sport, and the hare once 
more set off, now with weary steps, but never- 
theless leaving the hound. Behind a gate a 
labourer was waiting for him with one of the 
fastest, best-winded sheep-dogs in the country, 
and the poor exhausted hare ran right into them. 

Was he exhausted ? Be that as it may, he 
instantly doubled his speed, breasting the steep 
mountain-side at one long, floating glide. Up 
went the little spurts of powdery snow from his 
heels, and between him and the fresh dog the 
white expanse of snow rapidly grew in width. 
Up the mountain-side he came, passing quite near, 
and behind him that great iron-limbed hound. 
Down into the valley once more, round the village, 
over the burn, then westward through the foot- 
hills hard pressed now. Through Bethman's farm- 
yard, scattering the hens ; and then Bethman's 
dog was after him, the third fresh dog, running 
hard and fast, and gaining, gaining, gaining ! 

At a gate a woman turned the hare through 
the churchyard then, and along the road, down 
the steep bank to the river, here ninety yards in 
width and thundering between the rocks. We 
watched long for him to emerge on the other side ; 
but no. We saw Bethman's dog, dripping wet, 
come back ; and just then my old dog, still 
patiently following the trail at about three miles 
an hour, came plodding towards us, imagining he 
had done marvellously. 



THE BROWN HARE. 195 

' That hare is drowned ! ' we all agreed, and 
went our respective ways. 

But just on the edge of dusk, as I was descend- 
ing the mountain-side, I saw a very tired and 
bedraggled hare wending his way towards me. 
Constantly he paused and listened ; then, making 
off by the old familiar runs, he departed into 
the gloom, heading for the mountain heights. 

Did I recognise him? I can't swear to that; 
but I know there was only one hare on that part 
of the mountain-side, and I know the hare I 
saw, returning wearily home at dusk, followed the 
private runway of the creature we had pursued. 

How far will a hare run before dogs ? Some 
say eight miles at the most. Personally, I think 
eighteen a fully conservative estimate. Before 
a pack of hounds he will not run far, because 
his spirit is broken by fear ; before a single dog 
no faster than himself he is capable of putting 
up a very different show. 

HABITS WHEN PURSUED. 

Each hare has its own runways or, rather, 
passes to and from its feeding -grounds by the 
same routes. Normally it will never go through 
or over a wall if there is a gateway through 
which it can pass, and it is to be feared that this 
partiality towards open going often proves the 
hare's undoing. The poacher knows it well, and 
has nothing to do but place his net across the 
gate-gap, and then drive the hare into it, using 
his snares in the same way. But occasionally an 
old hare knows these things, and once having been 
frightened, he never faces a gate again. 

The hare is one of the few animals that can 
see behind it as it runs, and it is owing to this 



196 THE BROWN HARE. 

faculty that the animal is so well able to dodge 
hounds at close quarters, doubling and twisting 
in the ace of time, and thus tiring and dishearten- 
ing its pursuers when every one thinks the run 
is at an end. So absorbed does the hare often 
become in looking behind that it forgets to 
calculate for danger ahead ; and many a hare, 
pursued by dogs, has been known to run into 
the legs of spectators, never seeing them, so 
intent was its backward gaze. 

Most motorists have indulged in a short, if 
unsuccessful, pursuit of a hare, the animal sticking 
to the open roadway ahead of the car, watching 
the vehicle as he runs, never thinking of turning 
aside till the car is actually on him. Pursuing 
a hare thus, I have timed it by speedometer to 
maintain a pace of twenty-eight miles per hour 
over a short distance, which seems about the 
animal's limit. 

One wet night I was motoring near Birmingham, 
when a hare got up in front of the car, and posi- 
tively refused to get off the road, setting the 
pace for over two miles. During the run we 
noticed that the lamps were getting dim, and it 
appeared as if we were passing through a heavy 
shower. Finally the hare dodged off, and descend- 
ing, we discovered that the dimming of the lamps 
was due to the mud thrown up on the lenses 
by the hare's hind-legs ! The whole front of the 
car was literally drenched in dripping mud, the 
wind-screen was opaque, while we ourselves were 
splashed about the face. One would never have 
believed so small an animal was capable of dis- 
placing so much* liquid in so short a space of time. 

The hind-legs of a hare are most abnormally 
developed, for, like those of the kangaroo, they 



THE BROWN HARE. 197 

are the animal's propelling-members. Often the 
creature's life is dependent upon a sudden, lightning 
spurt shooting off into space to foil the first 
dash of Reynard, who has discovered it in its 
form, and knows well that if once the hare gets 
on its legs the game is up. A hare has even 
been known to break one of its legs in shooting 
off the mark, the bone proving insufficiently strong 
for the sudden strain thrown upon it. The fore- 
legs are comparatively feeble, functioning more 
or less as pivots over which the creature bounds, 
and it is because the forelegs are inadequate for 
the strain thrown upon them by the gigantic 
bounds that a hare is so much at a disadvantage 
in going downhill. If by any accident one of 
the hind-legs becomes injured, the cripple will 
most assuredly disappear, for, robbed of its powers 
of flight, it can no longer hold out against its many 
foes. The first fox it meets knows instantly that 
'there is something wrong with that hare,' and 
Reynard soon succeeds in profiting by the poor 
creature's disablement. 

LIMITATIONS. 

A good hare will run any ordinary dog to a 
standstill, with miles of energy to spare ; but 
though one of the most marvellous running- 
machines in creation, he is, nevertheless, a creature 
of mortal limits. Pursued by beagles, bounding 
ahead of them mile after mile, and keeping them 
on the distant skyline, in the end he mounts a 
wall as a point of observation, and hounds and 
huntsmen, coming up, find him crouching there, 
still watching his back trail ! But it is a limp 
and lifeless form the huntsman tosses to the 
hounds ; for here, again, the old, old tricks are 



198 THE BROWN HARE. 

set at naught, the marvellous uphill sweep has 
failed to leave his pursuers behind, and he has 
died as he has lived watching his back trail. 
Looking behind ! That is why he holds the road- 
way ahead of the motorist ; that is why he often 
falls when descending a mountain-side at speed ; 
and be his last effort the act of climbing to a 
point of observation, or launching himself into 
space in a final supreme effort to outstrip his 
pursuers, he is always looking behind. 

No creature has so many foes, no creature is 
so widely coveted. Snares, nets, dogs, guns 
these are but a few of the perils that beset him 
every hour of his life ; yet he has survived, while 
so many wild-folks that once shared his habitat 
have quietly laid down their arms and retired 
from the field. 

DISPOSITION. 

In disposition hares are the most solitary of all 
four-footed, warm-blooded things. They never 
associate except for the brief period of the honey- 
moon, being, of course, polygamous animals. 
Something of the solitude of their disposition 
begins to show immediately after birth, when very 
often the youngsters separate, and each makes 
for itself a solitary form, uniting only when the 
mother calls them at meal-times. If two hares be 
started side by side, they invariably run in different 
directions, the only exception to this rule I have 
come across being that subsequently recorded of 
two Jacks running together to engage in combat. 
If a honeymooning couple be flushed together, they 
separate immediately, to reunite later on, guided 
as to each other's direction by their sense of smell. 
The scent-glands are highly developed, purely for 



THE BROWN HARE. 199 

mating purposes. Were these glands less developed, 
the animals would never find each other where 
mating is most necessary for the survival of the 
species that is, where hares are few and far 
between. I have never heard of hares uniting in 
any way purely for social amusement, though such 
a thing does not seem to be unknown among 
certain northern varieties. 

NATURAL AND ACQUIRED ENEMIES. 

A wild animal has two kinds of foes hereditary, 
and those which are brought about by a change 
in the conditions under which it lives. The former 
it contends with guided by inherent knowledge, 
which is instinct ; the latter it learns to circumvent 
only by experience. The hereditary foes of the wild 
hare are the fox, the weasel, the hound, even man 
himself. Against each of these the hare has its means 
of defence. A young hare that has lived its life 
in perfect immunity instinctively dodges through 
a narrow opening to baffle a pursuing hound, and 
as instinctively doubles back and leaps aside when 
going to its form in order to delay a pursuing 
stoat. All these tricks, clever in their way, are 
the outcome of endless decades of experience ; 
they are, indeed, inherited habit. A young hare 
obtains little or no education from its mother. 
The fox-cub or the otter-kit is taught by its parents, 
lesson by lesson, the things on which its later life 
depends ; but this does not apply in the case of 
the hare. The leverets leave the dam when about 
a fortnight old, and each day thereafter they 
become less and less dependent upon her. Her 
duty in life is merely to suckle them ; and as they 
become independent of her for support, the family 
bond is split asunder, and leveret and mother live 



200 THE BROWN HARE. 

their lives apart. Not one single lesson as regards 
the circumventing of their numerous foes is taught 
the young hares by their mother, yet they grow 
up to hold their place among the wiliest of all 
four-footed things. 

Among the comparatively modern enemies of 
the hare, regarding which it must learn by experi- 
ence, are the hempen-net, the snare, and the net 
set across the open gateway. If hares, like foxes 
and deer, possessed among their gifts the ability 
to hand on their experience to their children, then 
these modern engines of man would be set at 
naught by their cunning. A hare lives to grow 
wise ; by chance rather than sound judgment it 
has evaded death time and again ere, in its 
old age, the wisdom of experience is added to its 
inherited knowledge. But the children of that 
hare profit in no way by its learning. They are 
as unsophisticated as regards the modern engines 
of mankind as are the first brood of a dam who 
has lived in perfect security. This is yet another 
factor that makes it difficult to understand the 
hare's powers of survival. It is surrounded by 
foes ; anything that can catch a hare can kill it ; 
it is prone to all the ills and ailments of mortal 
flesh barring, perhaps, kleptomania and orator's 
throat ; the knowledge of the parents is denied the 
children they have no friends or guardians, save 
the strength and agility of their own hind-legs and 
their own powers of reproduction. Truly the hare 
is among the marvels of modern existence. 

My sympathies are all with the village poacher, 
though hating the petty meannesses and unmanly 
vengeances peculiar to the class. The hare is a 
glorious creature of the chase, to be coveted not 
so much for its value as so much meat, but for the 



THE BROWN HARE. 201 

joy of having outwitted a waiy quarry. The hare- 
poacher, whatever he may be as we see him to-day, 
the product of rough beds and tap-rooms, must at 
some time of his life have possessed a very real 
love for the great outdoors, backed by a sense of 
romance concerning the life that dwells therein. 
Meagre results, irregular hours, a temperament 
which shuns the prescribed pathways of life for an 
existence of freedom and excitement, have reduced 
him to what he is as viewed by the world at large ; 
but beneath the rough exterior there often dwells 
a spirit of kindly and sympathetic understanding. 
He might, indeed, have been a poet, had not society 
designed for him the fate of the moucher. 

Concerning the hare's modern foes, it is interest- 
ing to note that in bush countries, such as northern 
Canada, man is not among the hare's natural foes. 
I have sat by a camp-fire in the Ontario bush, and 
seen a ' snowshoe rabbit ' hop to within reach of 
my axe, and sit there calmly grooming itself. Yet 
these same hares, which simply did not recognise 
man as an enemy till they had learnt by sad 
experience his true nature, would bolt from a dog, 
and put up as fine a run for their lives as any 
creature of their size in this country. It was 
merely that the dog came within the scope of their 
hereditary foes, while of man they possessed no 
inherited dread. 

Will the hare come in time to eschew the open 
gateway or the gap in the boundary wall ? Will 
the hempen-net and the drift-net and the snare some 
day rank among this animal's hereditary foes ? Not 
in our time, nor in the days of our grandchildren's 
grandchildren. Such knowledge takes as long 
to acquire as the growth of new teeth to suit 
changed conditions of diet, or the cultivation of 



202 THE BROWN HARE. 

a new coat to suit a landscape which has changed 
in colour. It is not a matter of ten years, or 
yet of ten hundred, but of unchanged conditions 
throughout immeasurable time, that produces in- 
herited knowledge. 

The wolf and the coyote have learnt the meaning 
of strychnine and of the buried trap, and how to 
evade them. They have changed with the times ; 
they have become modernised, and thus have 
managed to hold their own. But in their case 
the experience of the parents is handed on to the 
children ; only thus have they survived, and the 
hare is denied the privilege which comes to them 
as a birthright. He is a creature of the open, 
trusting solely to his superb powers of flight to 
evade his foes. Denied the benefit of the experi- 
ence of his parents, he will make for the open 
so long as he is pursued, and will fall to the 
poacher at the gap or the gateway at which his 
mother and his mother's mother fell. 

A good many hares are killed on the railway- 
lines, and a railway workman employed in Norfolk 
told me that in the early summer, when the young 
hares of the season are first abroad, he procured 
many a Sunday dinner in the shape of a partly 
mangled hare found on the line. Evidently 
they run in front of the train just as they run 
ahead of an automobile on the road, sticking to 
the open way instead of turning aside and so out 
of danger. An old hare, however, is seldom killed 
thus, just as an old partridge is seldom killed by 
flying into the telegraph-wires. 

MATING. 

March is the hare's love-making season ; hence 
the saying, ' Mad as a March hare ! ' Hares are 



THE BROWN HARE. 203 

truly mad in March, and during that month many 
a stern battle takes place between the gentlemen 
who, unfortunately, fall in love with the same 
lady, which appears to be the common order of 
things. Neither are the contests worked out on 
Marquis of Queensberry rules, the chief ambition 
of every gentleman hare in March being to kick 
every other gentleman hare into insensibility. 
The one who can jump highest and kick hardest 
wins the fair lady, and it is a laughable sight to 
see two hares indulging in one of these sky- 
hopping contests. Taking a run at each other, 
they collide in mid-air, striking furiously, each 
trying to kick the other over the wall and into 
the next field. I have seen two hares, startled 
by a common foe, make off side by side, and 
simultaneously take one of these running jumps 
at each other ere going fifty yards, to come to 
earth and repeat the performance time and again 
till finally out of sight. Also, a male hare, on 
seeing a rival, will stand straight up on his hind- 
legs, appearing of enormous size, and utter such 
a scream of rage that the other hare will bolt 
rather than remain to fight this veritable elephant 
among hares I 

BREEDING. 

The Mad Moon lasts generally into the second 
week of April,* and at about this time the first 
leverets of the season come into the world. Hares 
continue to breed till September, and at least three 
litters are produced annually. Curiously enough, 

* In Scotland and in the Pennines hares may be seen in pairs, or even 
in groups, during the dusk of the evening, till well on in the month of 
May, or even later in very high country. Much depends on the weather 
conditions. H. M. B. 



204 THE BROWN HARE. 

the young are born with their eyes open, though 
they remain in the form till about a fortnight old. 
Gestation takes approximately four weeks, and 
two or three at a birth is the usual number. 
During the periods of abnormal increase in their 
numbers, to which subsequent reference is made, 
five or even six may be born, but the number 
always returns to the original two or three. 
The young are mature at one year, and the 
first two years of a hare's life are the most 
critical. If it survives these, it is well on the 
way to becoming a wise hare, which is the only 
hare that lives till the decline of its powers 
heralds its going. 

As soon as the young are old enough to leave 
the nest they are able to dispense with the services 
of their mother. Each day thereafter they become 
more and more independent of her, living their 
lives apart. By this time she has probably formed 
new associations, and is well on the way to the 
production of another family. It is seldom that 
the young are seen following the mother, except, 
perhaps, during abnormally dry seasons, when water 
becomes necessary to their existence ; then, occa- 
sionally, the young may be seen accompanying the 
dam down to the drinking-place. She will, how- 
ever, fight on their behalf till she becomes occupied 
with a second brood, and the squeal of one of her 
leverets brings her instantly to the place, prepared 
to do battle with cat or stoat as the occasion may 
demand. 

In passing to and from the form in which her 
young are hidden, a mother -hare exercises the 
utmost care to break the line of tell-tale scent she 
leaves. This she does by back-tracking a certain 
distance, so as to leave a dead end in her trail ; 



THE BKOWN HARE. 205 

then she takes a terrific leap to one side or the 
other, and repeats the performance. I knew one 
hare whose leverets were hidden at the edge of a 
swamp, and in coming and going she always 
threaded a tortuous course through this swamp, 
jumping and back-tracking many times, and seeking 
out the wettest patches, where the scent would 
not lie. 

I have heard of a hare leaping on to a hedgerow, 
then off again at a tangent, in order to break the 
line ; and I have watched one leap into a swamp 
that lay out of its direct pathway when going 
down to its feeding-grounds the diversion being 
made, apparently, for the sole purpose of breaking 
the line. 

INTELLIGENCE. 

Just where does the hare stand in the scale of 
animal intelligence ? Higher than the rabbit, yet a 
long way below the deer and the otter. It has not 
even advanced to the first stage of civilisation by 
keeping its home clean and sanitary, and in this 
may lie the secret of the fearful epidemics which 
occasionally devastate the whole hare population 
of certain areas. 

But the hare profits by previous experience, and 
in this lies the beginning of wisdom. A mother- 
rabbit blunders into the same mistakes season by 
season, and her young are taken from her by the 
same harsh fate ; but a hare seldom blunders 
twice into the same mistake. ' Once bitten, twice 
shy,' is the axiom of her existence. The whole 
trouble lies in the fact that the young do not 
profit by the experience of their elders. Each 
has its own way to make and its own experience 
to gain. Were this not so, the hare would 



206 THE BROWN HARE. 

assuredly be among the fittest of the land, for to 
its natural gifts would be added the ability 
to adapt itself to changed conditions, and thus 
to become modernised, as have the deer, the 
otter, and the fox. 

DISEASES. 

But it is as well the knowledge gained by 
experience is not transmitted, or nature would 
fall back upon disease to make up what was 
lost by the baffling of the hare's foes. In this 
country the hare population is reasonably free 
from disease, owing to the fact that they are 
never over-plentiful ; but in other countries the 
number of hares periodically becomes so enormous 
that they literally overrun the land. In certain 
parts of Canada, for instance, hare plagues occur 
regularly. In two or three seasons their numbers 
increase from a moderate sprinkling to tens of 
hundreds per square mile. It becomes impos- 
sible for man to cope with their numbers, for 
thousands may be killed without making any 
appreciable difference. One can stand in a 
clearing of the forest and count literally dozens 
of hares without moving one's standpoint. Seton 
estimates their numbers at such times as five 
thousand to the square mile, allowing one mile 
in two as not suited to the hare's tastes, and, 
therefore, being unoccupied by them, which means 
ten thousand to the square mile of suitable 
grazing. 

Such plagues do not last long a few months 
at the most sees them through ; for disease, every 
disease under the sun, soon becomes rife, and in a 
season or two not a hare is left. It takes not only 
the weak, but also the strong ; it clears the whole 



THE BROWN HARE. 207 

country of its hare population, and the dead bodies 
of the victims are littered like leaves over hundreds 
of miles of territory. 

HABITS IN SNOW. 

The ' long valley' hare, like the rabbit, is subject 
to fits of torpor during periods of deep snow and 
cold. Seeking out its form, it allows itself to be- 
come snowed in, and there remains, perhaps, for 
several days in a more or less torpid condition. 
This is about the wisest thing it could do under 
the circumstances, for a hare in deep snow is de- 
prived of its only weapon of self-defence its speed 
and is, therefore, at the mercy of its foes man 
included. Its enemies, moreover, realise its help- 
lessness at such times, and are quick to profit by 
the fact. One cannot imagine a kestrel being 
guilty of attacking a hare in normal times, but 
this small hawk will readily do so when the 
hare is at a disadvantage in the snow. One 
snowy morning I was walking down a hedge- 
row in Northamptonshire, when I heard a hare 
screaming in a thicket ahead. Going up to 
the place and beating the hedge, I was sur- 
prised to see a hare make off from one side 
and a small kestrel from the other. Evidently 
the hawk had attacked the hare out in the open, 
but, unable to hold it, had been dragged into 
the hedge. 

I once shot a merlin which was seated, as I 
thought, on the snow. Going up to it, I found 
that the little bird had just killed a white 
mountain-hare, which was several times larger 
than itself. 

Thus the hare's possible enemies in normal times 
become probable enemies in snow times, and wise 



208 THE BROWN HARE. 

is the hare that during such season hides deep 
under the drifts. 

SWIMMING. 

Few people, perhaps, have seen a hare de- 
liberately take to the water, for this animal 
is no more partial to such an element than is 
the cat ; yet a hare, hard pressed, will enter water 
and swim for its life as readily as any other 
creature. 

When fishing in the Galloway highlands, a 
friend and I noticed a hare browsing on a point of 
land jutting far out into the loch, so we promptly 
cut off the only possible land retreat and began 
to approach the animal. Speculation was rife 
as to whether it would take to the water, or 
whether it would try to dodge between us, which 
it could easily have done without passing danger- 
ously near. Finding itself in difficulties, the hare 
ran backwards and forwards once or twice in 
search of a dry way of escape, but discovering itself 
marooned, it jumped unhesitatingly into the loch, 
and struck out manfully for the nearest point, fully 
ninety yards away. Its action in the water was 
truly ludicrous, for it swam in a series of bounds, 
propelled evidently by the hind -legs. At first 
each stroke raised it head and shoulders out of 
the water ; then it would sink back till almost 
totally submerged ; but as the distance increased 
the strokes became feebler and more erratic, till 
we feared the poor beast would drown. It just 
succeeded in getting across, however, but had the 
water been really cold it would probably have 
perished. 

I have at other times seen hares swim short 
distances, but from the exhibition just described, 




THE BLUE HARE 'WHERE NONE DARE FOLLOW.' 
W.A. N 



* ^ 





THE BROWN HARE. 209 

I should put this animal down as a very feeble 
swimmer. 

SECRET OF SURVIVAL. 

Wherein lies the secret of the hare's survival ? 
In its fecundity, and there alone. It survives 
simply because it is better able to stand the huge 
drainage on its numbers than the creatures that 
once shared its environment, but are now gone. 
In some districts its numbers have dwindled to 
the merest few, and were it nowhere preserved 
its extermination would be a matter of ten years 
at the most. Over vast areas of country the 
hares are totally exterminated by the end of 
winter ; but during spring and summer, when the 
warfare against them abates a little, other hares 
creep in from the sanctuaries farther afield, and 
make good the shortage. Our old English and 
Scottish estates are responsible for keeping the 
hare alive ; and were they to go, the hare would 
most assuredly go with them, and we should lose 
a creature that is not only inoffensive to man, 
but is a joy to behold truly a child of the wild 
March winds and of the great open places. 

SPECIES. 

Ireland rejoices in a species of hare among 
other things quite its own. The Irish hare has 
been introduced to Great Britain, and the British 
hare to Ireland. 

LENGTH OF LIFE. 

I have no notes on the length of life of captive 
hares, but there is no doubt that if both were in 
captivity the hare would in all probability outlive 
the rabbit by two or three years. In the wild this 

W.A. n 



210 THE BROWN HARE. 

does not apply, for, whereas a wild rabbit may live 
to become old and decrepit, a hare never does. As 
soon as its senses begin to lose their keenness, it 
inevitably falls a victim to one or other of its foes. 
A rabbit can seek the shelter of mother-earth, and 
becoming conscious of its enfeebled state, it ceases 
to wander far afield, remaining always near to some 
place of sanctuary. Not so the hare. When old 
age comes upon him, he must still sally forth into 
the open, meeting his foes on their own ground ; 
and the day of his first and last failure inevitably 
dawns with the falling off of his powers. 

The average hare is well past its prime at nine ; 
it is old at ten ; and few, if any, live to see twelve. 

WEIGHT. 

The mean weight of the brown hare is between 
7 and 9 Ib. A 9-lb. hare is a good one ; and 11-lb. 
hares are occasionally heard of, though seldom 
bagged. 



THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE. 

Known also as the Snow- Hare, the White Hare, 
the Varying Hare, &c. 

'TpHOUGH indigenous only to the Highlands 
J- of Scotland, this distinct species has been 
introduced to most parts of the Scottish Lowlands, 
where it now flourishes exceedingly, also to Wales, 
Northumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and other 
English counties. In Scotland generally it is on 
the increase, and in some parts its progress is 
marked by a proportionate decrease in the number 
of brown hares probably a matter of cycle in 
both cases. 

Both in character and in appearance the blue 
hare is more nearly related to the wild rabbit than 
is the brown. Whence came its name it is difficult 
to ascertain, for it is not blue. The species is most 
easily distinguished from the brown hare by its 
ears, which are proportionately shorter and smaller, 
while the black tips are less distinct ; the ears of 
the blue hare are, indeed, very much like those of 
the rabbit. Its limbs are shorter, more compact, 
and designed less for speed. Its head is more 
stubby and rounder, and its tail consists of a white 
ball of wool, like that of the rabbit. It is consider- 
ably smaller than its congener, and its coat is softer 
in texture, more woolly, and shorter ; while the 
species is without the strong, cat-like whiskers of 
the brown hare. The undercoat is seal-blue, the 
hair being tipped with rabbit-brown, and in parts 
touched with the russet shades of the common 
hare, so that when the coat becomes worn a dis- 
tinct bluish cast predominates, rare individuals 



212 THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE. 

being quite blue. Normally the blue hare is no 
more blue than is the brown rabbit. 

In December the blue hare begins to 'turn 
white,' in order ' to match the snow.' Asa matter 
of fact, the 'turning' process is effected by a moult, 
as in the case of its near relative, the snowshoe 
rabbit of North America ; and so far as the animal 
matching its winter surroundings goes, it would 
probably be better off if it remained brown. The 
change is not always complete. A certain amount 
of colour-pigment generally remains down the 
spine, and the ears always retain their black tips 
by way of a striking contrast. This fact would 
seem to support the theory that animals that are 
essentially creatures of the chase are coloured so 
as to attract, rather than evade, detection when 
they rise in flight. By the end of December most 
of the hares are in full winter coat, which they 
carry till March, when they quickly reassume their 
spring-time garb. 

DISPOSITION. 

The blue hare is a less cautious and a less wary 
animal than the brown. When disturbed it does 
not run right away, but generally sits up and looks 
curiously round after running a few paces, and 
this it repeats several times ere finally passing out 
of sight. I have known one to come limping un- 
concernedly up to the butts where the guns were 
in full blast, and to regard the sportsmen with cool 
inquiry ! Often these hares are a great nuisance 
on the moors, as their stupidity is apt to distract 
the attention of the dogs. 

Though a comparatively solitary creature, the 
blue hare is nevertheless more gregarious than 
the brown. Sometimes, during a severe winter, 



THE BLUE On MOUNTAIN HARE. 213 

the animals will migrate from one range to an- 
other, or from the heights to the more sheltered 
levels, and at such times quite a string of them 
may be seen moving in company, apparently enjoy- 
ing each other's society by jumping and skipping 
together. 

If the white coat of the blue hare were intended 
for protective purposes, nature would seem to have 
made a badj'auxpas. True that during the winter 
months the hills of this creature's habitat are 
generally white ; but if there is a black spot any- 
where, such as under the shelter of an overhanging 
rock, any white hare in the vicinity is sure to go 
and sit on it, vastly conspicuous from afar. Also, 
the hares naturally seek out any patch on the hill- 
side that is wind-swept of snow, so that when pro- 
tection is most needed namely, when they are at 
their feeding-grounds, or when basking in the day- 
light they are more likely to be rendered con- 
spicuous by their ' protective colouring ' than they 
are to derive protection from it, especially when 
it is borne in mind that the most deadly of the 
snow-hare's natural foes are the eagle and the 
peregrine. 

RANGE. 

Normally the blue hare and the brown do not 
interbreed, though their ranges considerably over- 
lap. I have known brown hares to live the season 
through at an altitude of sixteen hundred feet, 
coming down to feed during the winter months in 
the valley-levels, but immediately returning to the 
heights when disturbed. Two thousand feet is 
probably the topmost altitude of the brown hare's 
range, except during hot summer months, when it 
may mount to an altitude of two thousand five 



214 THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE. 

hundred feet. Above that the territory is sacred 
to the blue. 

Blue hares, on the other hand, observe no fixed 
rule as to boundary. The heights are theirs un- 
dividedly, but they are quite at home in the 
valleys. Occasionally a very severe winter will 
drive all the blue hares from the heights into the 
sheltered lowlands, where they remain at river-level 
intermingling with the brown. Particularly does 
this occur along the Scottish coast, and it may 
be well into spring ere the last of the mountain 
residents find their way back into the mountains. 
In such cases interbreeding often occurs, but the 
offspring of such unions are evidently pukka 
hybrids, for, so far as I know, no intermediate 
strain has ever been established. 

The blue hare is not very much valued by 
sportsmen. Existing as it does in the realms of 
nobler game, it is generally regarded as vermin. 
Systematic hare-drives are regularly organised in 
the hills in order to keep the number of blue hares 
within reasonable limits, and in some parts of the 
Highlands it is no uncommon thing for as many as 
a thousand hares to fall to six or seven guns during 
a day's drive. For the table the blue hare is 
regarded as inferior to the brown, but the quality 
of its flesh is entirely dependent on the nature of 
its food. A hare that has lived on heather and 
similar mountain vegetation is not good to eat, 
but one that has fed in the valleys is as good 
as any other hare. The snowshoe rabbit of the 
Canadian woods is quite unfit for human con- 
sumption during the winter months, when the 
animals live exclusively on the tough evergreens 
and the bark of sapless trees ; but a spring-fed 
snowshoe is excellent eating. 



THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE. 215 

The snow-hare has larger feet than the 'long 
valley' hare, to enable it the better to skim the 
drifts, and, needless to add, it is a much hardier 
and more violent animal. 

BREEDING. 

Whereas the brown hare produces on an average 
three litters per year, the season for the mountain- 
hare is shorter, and it seldom, if ever, produces 
more than two litters annually. What it loses in 
this way, however, it makes up in the number of 
young per litter. A brown hare may breed three 
times during the year and produce a total of seven 
young ; a blue hare may breed twice and produce 
eight. For, whereas two or three kits per litter is 
the normal number of the brown hare's brood, four 
or five regularly occur with the blue. 

A brown hare may, certainly, have as many as 
eight kits per litter, but hi that case she breeds 
at the most only twice, possibly only once, in the 
season. A blue hare may similarly have eight or 
nine to the litter ; but even if the number mount 
to ten, she is still fairly sure to produce her two 
litters. Thus, not only on account of its hardy 
disposition and the seclusion of the regions it 
inhabits, but also on account of its fecundity, the 
blue hare is better able to hold its own than is the 
brown; and with the increasing rarity of eagles 
and peregrines the reduction of its numbers is 
almost undividedly in the hands of man. 

The mating activities of the blue hare occur 
almost entirely by night. Very little seems to be 
known as concerns this chapter of the animal's 
existence. There is no particular reason to suppose, 
however, that its mating customs differ widely from 
those of the brown. That the same old fights 



216 THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE. 

occur between the rival bucks is indicated by the 
tufts of hair that cling in patches to the ling-tips 
during the Love Moon, and the creatures are, of 
course, polygamous. 

FOOD. 

The strong teeth of the blue hare enable it to 
eat almost any vegetable matter that comes its 
way. It is less of a dainty feeder than is the 
brown. I have known it to eat, or at any rate 
to tear asunder, the cones of coniferous trees, 
probably to obtain the seed, leaving the earth lit- 
tered with husks, as does the common squirrel. 

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. 

The blue hare is nothing like so speedy, nor is 
it so resolute in flight, as is the brown. A good 
sheep-dog can run it down often without any 
great resistance on the part of the hare. 

It is seldom indeed that a brown hare takes to 
earth, whereas a blue hare will den up readily if 
hard pressed seeking safety in a cranny among 
the rocks or in a disused rabbit-burrow. A Perth- 
shire keeper showed me several short burrows or 
seats scratched in the peat, so shallow that one 
could in every case reach the end with a walking- 
stick. The keeper himself was most emphatic in 
his belief that these shafts were engineered by the 
hares as emergency tunnels, chiefly for shelter from 
birds of prey, and he assured me that the hares 
regularly used them as breeding-nests ; but this I 
very much doubt. There seemed to be a lack of 
evidence to prove that the burrows were not the 
work of rabbits, taken possession of by the hares, 
though the keeper had probably more grounds for 
his beliefs than there were tor my scepticism. 



THE BLUE OR MOUNTAIN HARE. 217 

Information bearing on this point would lead to 
a more complete understanding of the blue hare's 
habits. 

WEIGHT. 

The weight of the blue hare is generally between 
5 and 6 Ib. Where food and conditions are favour- 
able, it attains a weight not exceeding 8 Ib. Its 
average length from the nose to the tip of the tail 
is 21 inches, as compared with 23 inches in the 
brown. 



THE RABBIT. 

AS a rule, young rabbits are born in a shallow 
-i*. burrow known as the 'stop' or the 'stab,' 
often not more than a yard in depth, and so small 
that one would hardly think an adult rabbit could 
squeeze into it. Generally this hole is out in the 
centre of an open field, facing south for warmth. 
It is the rabbit's first step towards hiding her 
young, though her ideas in this direction are 
still so undeveloped that she often digs her stop 
within view of the whole colony, the fierce old 
bucks of which are as great a source of danger to 
her children as is the weasel or the stoat. The nest 
consists largely of down the mother has stripped 
from her own breast, intermingled with soft dry 
grass or moss scratched from the rocks, so that 
nothing warmer and softer could be imagined. 
While the young are still blind and helpless, 
the mother sometimes, but not always, covers the 
mouth of the hole, on leaving it, with sand and 
loose bedding, treading down the covering so that 
it resembles the features of the surrounding earth.* 
Nature devotes a good deal of energy, however, 
to keeping the rabbit population within reasonable 
limits, and it is just as well that it is so ; other- 
wise Bunny would overrun the whole universe. 
Often this thinning-out process begins before the 
babes have seen the light of day. Perhaps 
the mother is young and inexperienced in nest- 
making, and instead of digging the burrow half- 

* This occurs only in the case of a 'stop;' when the yonng are 
born in a common burrow, the mother never attempts to close the 
entrance. H. M. B. 



THE RABBIT. 219 

way up the sloping bank, she digs it at the bottom, 
and the day after her infants are born there occurs 
a heavy thunder-storm. Water collects in the little 
hollow, and begins to trickle into the burrow. It 
may finally fill the chamber within, drowning the 
whole family ; or it may merely damp the bedding. 
In the latter case three of the young ones, perhaps, 
contract paralysis, a fourth dies, while the remaining 
two, being sturdier than the rest, take no harm. 
When the mother comes again to feed them, she 
rakes out the dead one, and evidently carries it 
off so as not to advertise the whereabouts of her 
home, for I have never seen the missing member of 
the family lying near the nest. Yesterday there 
were six in the hole ; to-day there are only five. 
The weakly one is gone, but there is no sign to 
indicate where. 

In a few days all the young have their eyes open, 
and are old enough to begin to think about a 
vegetable diet. The first favourable night, there- 
fore, the mother leads them out of the nursery- 
burrow into the moonlight, shepherding them and 
pushing them along, while, dazzled and bewildered, 
they try to get beneath her. Slow is the progress 
that they make; but presently, topping a ridge, 
they see scores of other rabbits squatting about 
on the moonlit plateau, some quietly feeding, and 
others sit up with ears erect, doing sentry-go. 

The mother-rabbit now becomes very goggle- 
eyed and important, stamping her hind-legs as she 
herds the sprawling little ones across the open. 
Several rabbits sit up and look at her ; then, 
seeming to take it as a matter of course, go on 
with their feeding. One long-legged old gentleman 
(more like a hare than a rabbit), through whose 
ears there are many shot-holes, hops up with a 



220 THE RABBIT. 

look of inquiry, circles inquisitively round once or 
twice, then scratches his neck with an air of in- 
difference. His very manner seems to indicate that 
this old fighting buck is the king of the colony, 
and that one will hear more about him later on. 

The mother-rabbit takes her family to the home- 
warren, whither most young rabbits go as soon as 
their nest-days are over, and here their worldly 
training begins. By no means are they the only 
young rabbits occupying the burrow, for on sunny 
days scores of the same age are to be seen sitting 
about the warren- entrances, enjoying the warmth, 
or shivering in the wind, between intervals of 
nibbling the closely cropped grass. 

As the days pass they find more and more of 
their own food, thus becoming less and less de- 
pendent on their mother ; and she, sad to relate, 
is very rapidly losing interest in them. Old Long- 
Legs, the king of the colony, now begins to make 
himself felt. When he has nothing else to do, 
or the time seems favourable whenever, indeed, 
he happens to think of it he amuses himself by 
chasing the youngsters through the burrows, kick- 
ing them and nipping them, and making himself 
an unholy terror in their lives. At first their 
mother sticks up for them in a half-hearted way, 
for they are still quite small. But soon she seems 
actually to forget which are her children among 
the many that throng the burrows ; and so Long- 
Legs bites their ears, kicks them head over heels, 
chases them, and makes them squeal for mercy, 
till finally they run and hide at the sight of him. 

NIGHT FEEDING. 

Each night the young rabbits venture a little 
farther afield, becoming more and more interested 



THE RABBIT. 221 

in the movements of their elders. At dusk an 
old doe sits up and begins to hop out along one 
of the clearly defined runways that lead from the 
burrows. Slowly and cautiously she goes, placing 
her feet just where she placed them last night and 
the night before, while behind her comes first one 
rabbit, and then another. A second old doe (a 
buck never leads) sets out along a second run- 
way, leading in the opposite direction; then the 
move becomes a general one, almost every adult 
rabbit sallying forth on its nightly foray. For 
a minute or two the whole earth is brown with 
them, and one would never believe a single 
warren could contain so many residents. Rapidly, 
almost mysteriously, they melt away. In the 
dimness you just see a leading doe, perched like 
a silhouette on the break in the wall, as she 
pauses for a final survey ere she leads her train 
into the next field. She disappears, and a second 
black speck takes her place; then a third and a 
fourth are seen, like bobbing clockwork toys ; till 
finally the gathering darkness blurs out the gap. 

Not long do the rabbits stick to their runways, 
one branching off here and another there, so that 
by the time the moon is up they are scattered all 
over the country-side old Long-Legs being two 
miles away, nibbling a cottager's cabbages at the 
very threshold of the village. At the home-burrow, 
squatting about the plateau, there remain only a 
sprinkling of youngsters^and a few nursing mothers 
keeping guard. 

The youngsters join in at the tail-end of the 
procession ere very long. The first night out, 
the wall across the meadow appears to them as an 
insurmountable obstacle, so they nibble the grass 
on this side of it; the night following they try 



222 THE RABBIT. 

the leap, and succeed, browsing on the other side ; 
ere a week is up they are nibbling the grass 
nearly a mile away keeping a weather-eye open 
for Long-Legs, who is apt to pounce furiously 
upon them at any time. 

All along nature's weeding-out process, designed 
to keep their numbers in check, is going on. 
There comes a rainy spell, during which several 
of the young rabbits contract liver complaints 
through eating too much wet grass, and die. In 
the wood near there lives a wild-cat of the tame 
variety. She actually shares a room under a rock 
with several adult rabbits, and each night she 
steals forth along a rabbit-runway, as though 
she were one of the colony; yet ten minutes 
later she is crouching behind a wall, a sinister 
vision of bristling fur and gleaming eyes, wait- 
ing for the first unwary youngster that comes 
her way ! 

Then one night a whole battalion that set off 
northwards fails to return ; and at dawn, before 
the respectable world is astir, a ramshackle motor- 
car takes a sackload of netted rabbits to a neigh- 
bouring station. 

In spite of these drainages, however, the home- 
warren becomes more and more thickly stocked, 
every mother taking her young there as soon 
as they are old enough. And now we see the 
value of old Long-Legs, who in the past has been 
a bully and a tyrant, apparently neither useful 
nor ornamental. The family whose career we have 
so far followed are now strong and independent ; 
but Long-Legs is still the terror of their lives, 
driving them out whenever he sees them, as if 
intent on inflicting some bodily injury. Glad to 
be rid of him, they turn at length to the great 



THE RABBIT. 223 

wood at the mountain-foot to the west, and here, 
among the loose rocks, thickly overgrown with 
bracken and briar, they make homes for them- 
selves, free to do what they choose. 

THE OVERFLOW FOREST. 

This wood is really the overflow reservoir for 
the home-burrow. Each year scores of young 
rabbits have been taken to the burrow, remaining 
there till old enough to take care of themselves ; 
and then, bullied and harried by some old buck, 
they have gladly moved to the shelter of the 
wood, which, as the season proceeds, becomes 
thronged with the surplus stock of young rabbits. 
Were it not for this the home-burrow would 
become overcrowded, and disease, nature's never- 
failing remedy, would fall upon the colony. 

COMMUNICATION. 

Almost all animals of gregarious habits have ways 
of signalling danger to one another. The beaver, 
when alarmed, strikes the water with its tail as 
it dives ; and this system of signalling is of value 
in that it conveys the warning to the members 
of the colony who are under water, preventing 
them from rising hap-hazard, while at the same 
time the loud report is heard by the beavers on 
land, admonishing them to be on the qui vive. The 
rabbit thumps the ground with his hind-legs when 
danger threatens, and, just like the 'smack' system 
employed by the beaver, this notice conveys the 
tidings to those below in addition to those feeding 
on the earth's surface. 

One of the first things young rabbits learn to 
do is to signal danger by thumping the ground 
with their strong hind-legs, and it is to be feared 



224 THK RABBIT. 

that in their inexperience and ignorance they 
misuse the alarm when they are small, thumping 
away at the very slightest pretext, and apparently 
carrying on a Morse system of telegraphy with 
each other in this way. Little Bill, nibbling the 
grass, sees a beetle fall off a twig, arid at once 
thumps ; Janie, down below, thumps in answer ; 
then everybody else thumps, because it is the 
fashionable thing to do, and the very earth shakes. 
Having thus scared themselves, they all keep 
quiet for a second or two, then forget all about 
it till another false alarm is given. 

Old rabbits, however, never thump unless they 
suspect serious danger, and the more suspicious 
they are the more vigorously they thump, the system 
being of endless value in their constant watchful- 
ness for their foes. One night, for example, when 
most of the rabbits are away at their distant feeding- 
grounds, the few that remain at home at the 
warren namely, the very young and the nursing 
mothers hear the alarm afar off, and at once are 
on their guard, drawing near the mouths of the 
holes so that they can instantly pop underground. 
The alarm was possibly given by a rabbit three 
fields away, thumping as he ran, and on the still 
night the sound carries far and wide, warning 
the entire rabbit population of the district that 
danger is abroad. Similarly, one rabbit above 
ground sees danger approach the warren, and 
giving the alarm -signal as he pops down, he 
warns all the rest against emerging, which other- 
wise they might easily do, to meet danger at 
their very threshold. 

Then rabbits have another and a far more 
important way of signalling danger to each other, 
which they do unintentionally and without sound. 




WILD RABBITS 'THE COLONY OF THE HUNTED.' 



THE RABBIT. 225 

There are times when the thump system would 
merely attract the attention of their foes when 
it is better that every rabbit should steal swiftly 
away, as silently as possible, as they often do. 

Of what value is the rabbit's white tail ? One 
would think it merely makes him conspicuous 
when otherwise he might escape unseen ; and this, 
indeed, is the case. His white tail is of no value 
to him personally in fact, he would be better 
without it ; but it is endlessly valuable to his 
friends, in the same way as their white tails are 
endlessly valuable to him. 

The whole colony is at its feeding-grounds, and 
suddenly danger appears over the ridge. The 
rabbits are as yet unseen, but the faintest sound 
would betray their presence ; so the cony 
nearest the danger rises and bolts swiftly and 
silently, and every rabbit he passes sees a bobbing 
white danger-signal, which means there is not a 
moment to be lost. And each rabbit, as he beholds 
it, rises and glides away, unintentionally giving 
the alarm to those nearest to him, so that in a 
few seconds it has spread north and south and 
down the forest -side, and the man stealing 
through the shadows with his gun wonders why 
there is not a rabbit abroad to-night, for by the 
time he reaches the foot of the wood the alarm 
has flashed ahead of him over two or three fields ! 

Many a time, in the dusk of evening, I have 
peered down into a ravine I knew to be literally 
full of rabbits, but not one of them could I see 
until, on my loosening a pebble, the whole green- 
sward below has instantly become dotted with 
bobbing white danger-signals, nothing else being 
visible. For the rabbit does not exhibit his white 
tail when feeding ordinarily ; it is only when he 

W.A. o 



226 THE RABBIT. 

rises and runs that it shows up vastly visible, and 
he can run at full speed through the densest of 
undergrowth without displacing a leaf. 

On their runways, rabbits always place their 
feet in exactly the same places, so that the track, 
instead of being evenly worn, like a human path- 
way, consists of a string of worn patches, from 
one to the other of which they hop. The rabbit- 
catcher knows this, and places his snare in such 
a way that it will catch the rabbit mid-leap ; but a 
pathway of this kind is of value in that the patches 
become trodden hard and free of crackling leaves 
and twigs, so that the owners can run along it 
without creating undue noise. 

ENEMIES. 

Rabbits appear to exist simply as a natural 
food for other things another reason, perhaps, 
for the aforesaid white tail and there is no end 
to their foes. Guns, nets, snares, traps, dogs, 
weasels, cats, and foxes are but a few of their 
everyday enemies, for tens of thousands of rabbits 
meet their fate annually by flood-water or by 
disease. Those killed by man, the veritable cart- 
loads which go to our cities each week during 
autumn and winter in fact, the whole year round 
are but a driblet compared with the gigantic drain 
on their numbers effected by the ordinary course 
of nature ; yet everywhere the rabbit thrives and 
multiplies, often to so great an extent that the 
most stringent measures have to be taken in order 
to keep its numbers in check. 

In the mountains of the north the rabbits, for 
ages past, have made their burrows in the sandy 
banks of the mountain-burns ; and the very fact 
that these banks are of sandy formation, which 



THE RABBIT. 227 

so exactly suits the rabbit's burrowing habits, 
proves that the streams are subject to sudden 
torrent from the heights, the silting and sifting 
process of endless floods having washed away 
the earth and left only the insoluble sand. 
Each year, when these burrows are full of young 
rabbits, the flood -waters come down and ex- 
terminate whole colonies the victims merely 
huddling in batches at the ends of their holes, 
making no attempt to escape ere their retreat 
is cut off. In fact, the abundance or scarcity of 
rabbits in the autumn in these regions is governed 
entirely by the number of spring and early summer 
spates. If there have been no floods, then August 
finds the glens and the woods alive with rabbits ; 
but if, on the other hand, floods have been frequent, 
there is hardly a rabbit to be found in the country 
when August comes along. I have walked in 
May down a glen, and seen more rabbits in five 
minutes than one could count. Then have followed 
days of thunder and heavy torrent on the heights, 
the mountain-burn rising from a mere laughing 
brooklet to a roaring cataract, bearing whole trees 
on its troubled waters ; and when, a month later, 
I have walked down that glen, scarcely a rabbit 
have I seen. The receding waters draw hundreds 
of the dead bodies from the burrows, bearing them 
away to the sea. 

It is just as well that nature should impose these 
immense drainages. We have rid the land of many 
of the rabbit's natural foes the wolf, the eagle, 
and so on while foxes and weasels are everywhere 
kept in check, so that, if nature did not inflict these 
wholesale losses upon the rabbit's numbers, man 
would be hard put to it to keep them down. 

House-rats, indirectly, are among the rabbit's 



228 THE RABBIT. 

worst foes. When a rat becomes diseased he is 
driven out by his fellows, and forced to make 
his home far from them. Probably he resorts to 
rabbit-burrows, and rabbits, being very subject 
to disease of any kind, rapidly pick up the rat's 
ailment, which spreads from one to another 
throughout the whole colony perhaps through- 
out the whole country-side. Most of the rabbit's 
fatal diseases are conveyed to him through the 
loathsome house-rat, and ferreters regularly dis- 
cover diseased rabbits and a diseased rat occupying 
the same water-side burrow. 

BLIND RABBITS. 

Of all ways man employs of taking rabbits, 
probably more fall by the snare than in any other 
way, for its use is world-wide and universal. Every 
village has its rabbit- catcher ; perhaps he is an 
old man, who goes dothering round to look to 
his snares long after he is too old for any active 
form of hunting, and great is his fund of know- 
ledge for the select few who come to know him. 

Netting is the only humane way of catching 
rabbits, as, in shooting, a certain percentage get 
away, however deadly a shot one may be, to perish 
miserably ; while in ferreting, numbers of rabbits 
are injured by the ferret if not by his teeth, 
then by his claws and have to be abandoned in 
their burrows. I consider snaring more humane 
than ferreting ; but the cruelty begins when old 
and rotten snares are used, and the rabbit gets 
away with the tightly drawn noose about his neck. 

What fate is then in store for him ? Better far 
that he had met the weasel on his own ground, or 
perished by the flood-waters when he was small. 
There is no getting rid of this hateful thing about 



THE RABBIT. 229 

his neck, and he does not know what ails him. 
For days the wretched creature lingers between 
some sheltering cranny and a patch of green-sward, 
wearily dragging himself back and forth, unable 
to eat or to take an active part in the world of 
sunlight about ; and in the end blindness over- 
comes him, if not death in some merciful form. 

Sometimes, after days of torture, a rabbit gets 
rid of the cruel noose, and finally recovers his 
strength ; but he is now a blind rabbit. Every 
colony of any size has its blind rabbits, just as long 
ago every herd of buffaloes on the prairie had its 
blind members. And just as the blind buffalo, his 
other senses becoming quickened, was often the 
first to give warning of danger to the rest of the 
herd, so blind rabbits, feeding with the rest of 
the colony, are frequently more alert and keen 
than any of their brothers and sisters. 

I have seen a rabbit, totally blinded by the 
broken snare or by shot, get up and bolt like an 
arrow on the first approach of danger, dipping 
underground at the exact spot without hesitation 
or fault. His foes are many, however, and, thus 
greatly handicapped, it is merely a matter of time 
ere he falls to one or other of them. Once off 
his own runway, once turned aside from the path 
he knows so well, and he stumbles, falls, and is 
lost, finally crouching in the open without further 
attempt to save himself. 

The rabbit is swifter than the hare when on its 
own ground and over a short distance, the superi- 
ority of the hare lying in its staying-powers and in 
its marvellous maintenance of a high average speed. 

It is generally thought that the natural home of 
the rabbit is its burrow, that this creature belongs 
to the earth, and comes up only for food ; but this 



230 THE RABBIT. 

is not so. Like most wild creatures, rabbits love 
the sunlight and the air as much as we do, and 
seek the ground only as a place of sanctuary from 
their foes or from storms. A far greater number 
of rabbits live and have their homes above ground 
than dwell in burrows, their open-air houses con- 
sisting of little seats in the grass, wisely chosen to 
suit the weather ; and here they crouch as you pass 
by, never stirring unless you threaten actually to 
tread on them. 

In an alder-grove near to my house an old rabbit 
had his home for a long time, seeking safety in the 
midst of the village, and never associating with any 
of his kind. He dined on the fat of the land 
namely, the produce of the village gardens ; and 
though many a hairbreadth escape did he have, 
for long he evaded his foes. I fancy he knew 
every dog in the village, and how he could fool 
each one of them. The big sheep-dogs he could 
get rid of merely by running under a certain gate, 
which was filled in with wire-netting, and the 
pursuing dog, after ramming its face in the netting 
and probably making its nose bleed, had lost so 
much time that the cony was well able to get out 
of sight and gain the shelter of a tiny bridge under 
the burn, where no dog could reach him. 

There was one dog, smaller and cleverer than the 
rest, that many times all but brought about this 
rabbit's destruction. This was a fox-terrier be- 
longing to the rectory, and on seeing the cony 
head for the gate he would at once dart through a 
sheep-hole in the wall, and be ready to meet him 
on the other side. But eventually the rabbit hit 
upon the notion of diving under my summer-house, 
where even the terrier could not follow, and that 
world-wise little dog used to spend his Sundays, 



THE RABBIT. 231 

when the family was at church, undermining the 
summer-house quite oblivious of the fact that the 
cony had long ago escaped from the other side, 
and was now safely under the bridge. 

There followed a very severe winter, and the 
rabbit, hard pressed for food, took to gnawing 
the bark from the garden trees, spoiling numbers 
of them, so that a price was placed upon his head. 
I could have shot him any day, but had not the 
heart to do so, since he had thrown himself on my 
charity, and regarded me entirely as a friend. So 
I saw to it that all household refuse suitable for 
rabbit consumption was placed near the door at 
his disposal, and for weeks the cony fed at the 
kitchen door, thriving and keeping fit during that 
terrible spell of snow and frost. 

This rabbit had no burrow, but in the alder- 
grove he had many seats. It was a walled-off 
patch of land, overgrown with coarse grass a tiny 
corner which belonged, I believe, to the church, but 
in which no one seemed to be interested. Here 
my little friend had fine-weather seats and wet- 
weather seats, hot-weather seats and cold-weather 
seats. Some were open and faced south, so as to 
catch all the sun ; others were mere shady summer- 
houses facing east ; while still others were deep 
down in the grass, secure from wet and wind. 

In the end this rabbit met a sad fate. Frightened 
by village children one stormy April evening, he 
sought his old sanctuary under the bridge, and a 
few minutes later the burn began rapidly to rise. 
The rabbit evidently stuck it till he was flooded 
out ; then, forced to swim, he took to the water. 
As bad luck would have it, the two sheep-dogs, 
which he had fooled a hundred times, were just at 
that moment crossing the bridge as they brought 



232 THE RABBIT. 

down the cows to be milked. One of them saw 
the cony as he battled gamely with the current, 
and his mate having been given the hint, the two 
dogs took up their respective stations on opposite 
sides of the burn. 

Many times the rabbit tried to land, but always 
a dog was waiting to snap him up. Well, he had 
fooled them before, and he would fool them again ! 
This was the end, perhaps, but he would choose 
his own closing chapter I 

We saw him fighting gamely down the centre 
of the stream, now disappearing bodily under the 
surface, then struggling up again and sweeping on 
with the current. The cow-boy and half-a-dozen 
other youths had joined the dogs, pointing and 
encouraging, throwing stones, sticks, anything they 
could lay hands on, at the little fugitive, as though 
he had not already difficulties enough to contend 
with. 

Did he try to land again ? Ah no ! not to be 
crumpled and crushed without a fight here on his 
own land, where a hundred times he had beaten 
them singly or together by his own fleetness 
and quickness of wit. Fifty yards away the burn 
joined the river, now bank-full with dark, racing 
waters that crashed and roared among the rocks. 

When last I saw my little friend he was drifting 
rapidly no longer struggling with a current far 
too strong for him, but borne this way and that 
like a straw in the rapids. I saw him reach the 
point where the burn joins the river, and there, 
with a mighty swish, he was gone ! 

A group of boys and two dripping dogs stood 
like statues and stared across the troubled waters, 
tinted now with the crimson and gold of evening 
as they swept on their course through the quiet 



THE RABBIT. 233 

valley. Away off were the yapping of a sheep-dog 
and the soft low of cattle, while overhead the jack- 
daws and the rooks sailed clamorously home to 
roost. 

For nearly a year he had lived at my threshold, 
but now I had seen him for the last time leaving 
his pursuers far behind, as so often before, but 
heading at last into that wonderland of gold and 
crimson whither our vision could not follow. 

METHODS OF CATCHING. 

Rabbits are valuable for food, and, moreover, it 
is necessary for man to take a heavy toll of their 
numbers owing to the damage they do to the land. 
It is doubtful whether they can be raised profitably 
on grazing-land at the customary market-price, as 
not only do they keep the grass closely cropped, 
but also they kill a good deal of it, while a sheep 
will not eat where a rabbit has been. All these 
things being so, it may be as well to describe one 
or two of the methods employed by rabbit-catchers 
in their necessary work of keeping the rabbit 
population within reasonable limits. 

One of the best rabbit-traps I know, and cer- 
tainly the most humane, is the box-trap. This is 
usually set in the surrounding wall of a wood 
well peopled with rabbits. The rabbits leave the 
wood every evening on their way to their feeding- 
grounds, passing through holes in the wall wherever 
there is a convenient runway for them. Let us 
first describe the trap, when its manner of working 
will become obvious. 

Its first essential feature is a wooden tunnel or 
runway which is built into the wall. This runway 
is provided with a false floor, which can be locked, 
but which, when unlocked, immediately swings 



234 THE BABBIT. 

downwards when a rabbit places its weight upon it, 
returning to its natural position immediately the 
weight is removed. Directly below this false floor 
is the wooden box into which the deceived rabbit 
falls, to remain a prisoner till the owner of the 
trap comes along to empty the box. The whole 
thing must be made to work freely and silently, 
even though thoroughly saturated by rain. 

This device is best set in position in the spring, 
being placed in a locality which rabbits always 
frequent. All spring the false floor is left locked, 
so that the young rabbits become accustomed to 
using the trap as a natural runway, care having 
been taken to stop up the other gaps in the wall 
above and below the box. By August, if all goes 
well, numbers of rabbits will be passing nightly 
over the false floor, regarding the tunnel as their 
own property, and at any time the owner of the 
trap likes he can release the false floor, and he is 
pretty sure of a haul. 

The advantage of this trap is that, when once 
made, it lasts for years, providing good waterproofed 
wood be used ; but it must be well made, any noise 
or hitch in its working being likely to detract from 
its value. 

NETTING. 

I have had many an exciting night netting 
rabbits at the tail-end of the season, though for 
this one must know one's ground pretty well, and 
the runways of the rabbits that frequent it. Also 
a clever dog, trained to the work, is more or less 
necessary. 

One waits till fall of darkness, by which time 
the rabbits have left the wood and are well away 
at their feeding-grounds ; then, very quietly, one 



THE RABBIT. 235 

steals into the wood, selecting as the position for 
the nets a gap in the wall or an open gate which 
the rabbits are known to use on returning from 
their nightly wanderings. Silently then the nets 
are fixed out in the open opposite the gap, two 
of them being used, placed vertically, running 
parallel about eight inches apart. The net which 
the rabbits will first encounter is of fine mesh too 
fine for a rabbit to escape through ; but the other, 
erected behind it, is of very large mesh so large 
that if used singly the rabbits could run straight 
through it almost unhindered. The idea is that 
the rabbits bolt into the first net, and, such is 
the force of their rush, they pass through the 
meshes of the second net also, carrying with them 
the portion of the first net in which they are 
enveloped. They thus become drawn up in a bag, 
as it were, and are quite unable to escape, even 
though left for some minutes. If a single net is 
used, many of the rabbits, encountering it, at once 
turn back and probably escape ; so that the man 
in charge of the net must catch each rabbit as it 
comes. In so doing he turns more than half 
the rabbits aside, and thus spoils his chances of 
a good catch. Hence the advantage of the double 
net. 

As soon as the nets are fixed, the men working 
them hide behind the wall in readiness ; they 
then give the word to the dog, who has been 
waiting in shivering excitement for this part of 
the performance. The dog, knowing his work 
well, quietly circles round to the far side of the 
rabbits, where he begins to show himself, slowly 
quartering the ground towards the net. 

The men crouching behind the wall hear the 
' thump-thump-thump ! ' of an approaching outpost 



236 THE KABBIT. 

of the colony. Nearer and louder it sounds, till, 
on the night stillness, it resembles the tread of 
a galloping horse. Suddenly the net shakes, and 
number one is fast in the meshes. 

Thump-thump-thump ! Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, 
pitter-pat ! Everywhere rabbits can be heard ; the 
whole place seems alive with them ; yet, save for the 
shaking of the net and the occasional flash of a 
white tail, there is nothing to be seen. The noise 
becomes louder here and there the dark outline 
of a cony is seen for an instant as it nips over the 
wall. The net veritably creaks one thinks that 
the pegs must ere long be torn up by the solid 
weight of rabbits flooding into it ; then there is a 
sniffing and a snorting, and close behind the rear- 
guard of the rabbit-colony the little spaniel heaves 
in view, having done his work well. The net must 
now be emptied without a moment's waste of time, 
for the rabbits are already escaping, like herrings 
from a salmon-net. In half-an-hour all is cleared 
up, and we hasten silently to the other side of 
the wood, or, perhaps, to the other side of the 
valley, to repeat the performance. 

Rabbit-netting is generally regarded as a poach- 
ing, disreputable game, and so, alas ! it often is ; 
but in many parts of the country it is resorted to 
as one of the events of the year ! In the part of 
Scotland where the writer lives, for example, no 
one troubles to shoot rabbits, there being so much 
nobler game to be had everywhere, with the result 
that in some seasons rabbits exist in thousands, a 
serious annoyance to farmers and foresters, eating 
the grass, and stripping the young trees of their 
bark. It is then that netting begins in earnest, 
and to the accompaniment of dry humour and 
an occasional wee dram a rollicking evening is 



THE RABBIT. 237 

spent often more remarkable for the amount of 
laughter it provokes than for the number of rabbits 
finally sent to market. 

SNARES. 

Rabbit-snares are generally set with the bottom 
of the loop the height of a man's clenched fist from 
the ground, the fingers one above another, and the 
thumb lying flat across the index-finger. (For a 
hare, the bottom of the loop should be placed an 
inch higher.) 

The whole art of snaring lies injudicious selection 
as regards the position of the snare. The actual 
setting of it is merely mechanical, and can be learnt 
by any one, but it requires a huntsman's sixth 
sense to guide one in choosing the very best place 
for that deadly noose. At one time I used to set 
snares daily, and could almost state before starting 
out to inspect them just where rabbits would be 
found imprisoned ; but returning to the same 
country after some years, I found, on trying my 
hand, that I had forgotten the art, or, at any rate, 
lost that guiding sixth sense that most hunters 
acquire in the special lines they follow. The old 
trapper knows by the general look of things where 
to make his sets, but he certainly could not tell 
you just why he knows or what it is that guides 
him. Constant practice, close observation, and 
what might be termed ' poachers' instinct ' are the 
only guides to successful snaring of any kind, and 
the best way to acquire these is to be dependent 
on one's sets for one's next meal, as is so often the 
case when travelling in a pioneer country. 

It is a mistake to cover the whole ground with 
snares ; use as few as possible, placing them only 
on likely spots where they stand more or less 



238 THE RABBIT. 

shielded from view. If the runway is closely 
examined, it will be found that it consists more 
or less of a series of patches, the rabbits taking off 
and landing at the same points while progressing 
along it that is, treading in each other's foot- 
steps, as already described. Therefore place the 
noose so that the rabbit will encounter it in 
mid-leap. 

Do not use old wires. When a wire has been 
several times subjected to strain in all weathers 
it becomes brittle, and it is then only a matter 
of time before a rabbit gets away, to suffer tor- 
ments from the tightly drawn noose about its neck. 
There is no economy in employing old snares, and 
their use is calculated to be abominably cruel, while 
it takes but a few minutes to renew the wires at 
regular intervals. Brass eyelets are made for the 
purpose, and should always be used ; otherwise the 
wire lasts a very short time, and the noose can 
never be made to run so freely as is desirable. 

The only hints I can give as regards choosing 
the position for the snare is to select the most 
likely-looking runway, and hide the snare in the 
best way possible. It will sometimes be found 
that rabbits are in the habit of running under a 
gate, having trodden the grass away below the 
bottom bar, and no better point could be chosen 
for secreting the noose. Never set a snare at the 
mouth of a hole or at a cranny in the wall ; place 
it on one of the runways leading to and from the 
burrow along the edge of the wood, or a few feet 
from the cranny in the wall. 

If the ground be of a consistency which does not 
permit it to hold the peg very firmly, it is not a 
bad plan to tie a branch across its centre to the top 
of the peg, so that, should the peg be drawn, the 



THE. RABBIT. 239 

branch will be dragged along crosswise, or at right 
angles to the path chosen by the rabbit. Thus if 
he tries to hole-up he is detained at the mouth ; 
while if he keeps to the open he is not likely to 
travel far, the branch hitching up in the first fence 
or wall he encounters. At all events, the plan 
generally enables one to recover the snare, if not 
to capture the rabbit. 

Very good results are often obtained by placing 
the snares in a wood where the runways are distinct, 
and where there is ample natural cover for the wire 
noose. 

The Indian snare is by far the most humane, 
being designed to hoist the captured animal high 
into the air, out of the way of forest thieves such 
as cats and foxes. The noose is arranged as in 
an ordinary peg-snare, but instead of the cord 
being attached to a peg driven into the ground, 
it is fastened to one notched to engage with a 
separate ground-peg. The notched peg is attached 
at its other extremity to a cord holding down a 
sapling (or a branch) so that when the snare is 
sprung this sapling springs back into its natural 
position, hoisting the captured animal off its feet, 
and practically hanging it on the spot. There is 
not much chance of an animal escaping from a 
snare of this kind, as it is never able to obtain a 
fair purchase on the ground, and the device is 
used by the Indians not only for rabbits, but for 
foxes, bears, lynxes, &c., which would very soon 
gain their freedom by biting through the detaining 
cord were they able to get hold of it. The same 
plan is used for deer even the gigantic moose and 
caribou though there is no need to express an 
opinion on the matter of snaring such noble 
game in any country save in one where they are 



240 THE RABBIT. 

urgently needed for food. This snare takes too 
much setting to be popular among rabbiters, 
and I have never known it to be used in the 
British Isles. 

The foregoing, though in no way intended as a 
guide to the ' gentle art of snaring,' may prove of 
interest as a side-path of woodcraft concerning 
which so little is known by the respectable lovers 
of outdoor life. Truly the man who knows best 
the runways of wild nature is the man whose pocket 
is to some extent dependent on them ; though such 
an individual, having gained his knowledge by 
years of toil and observation, is naturally some- 
what reluctant to part with it. 

MATING AND YOUNG. 

Rabbits are polygamous or, rather, they are 
wholly licentious as regards their marriage cus- 
toms. ' Faint heart never won fair lady ' is the 
code of the rabbit metropolis, and he who, by 
strength of hind-leg and readiness of tooth, is best 
able to hold his own against his fellows is, to put 
it bluntly, the father of the most children. 

A doe wild rabbit probably begins to breed when 
three months old. Some naturalists put the age 
at six months ; but since a rabbit is full-grown at 
three months, and it is no uncommon thing to 
find does that are not full-grown already heavy 
with young, three months would seem to be a 
conservative estimate. 

The number produced per litter varies with the 
time of the year. An early spring or a late autumn 
litter may number only three or four, late spring 
and summer litters being from five to ten. The 
young are born blind and deaf; they begin to 
hear at the end of ten days, and their eyes to 



THE RABBIT. 241 

open about the eleventh day. These data are the 
result of observation among the rabbits of the 
Pennine heights. The young are independent of 
their mother when about three weeks old during 
a season of plenty, and almost as soon as they are 
self-supporting she begins to bethink herself of yet 
another family. Indeed, it would seem that the 
female pairs again within twenty-four hours of 
producing her young ; and having these facts to 
work upon, it does not require much imagination 
for one to arrive at an understanding as to how the 
rabbit survives. 

Sometimes a buck and a doe will live together far 
removed from their kind. In this case some under- 
standing of the marriage laws seems to exist between 
them. They are said to have been known to unite, 
for instance, to face a common foe in defence of 
their young, though it is true that here again 
deduction may be in error. Who can say that it 
was not a case of two does occupying the same 
burrow, and that, both having young, they united 
because each was moved by purely personal 
interests ? I cannot imagine a buck-rabbit parti- 
cipating in any form of engagement involving per- 
sonal risk unless he himself was directly concerned 
in the issue ; and the idea of this beast defending its 
young, which, at the best, it never visits unless to 
destroy them during their mother's absence, hardly 
seems a likely proposition. 

TEMPERAMENT. 

Though closely allied in many ways, the rabbit 
and the hare are totally different from one another 
in character and temperament. ' Rabbit-hearted ' 
is an expression commonly used not only by white 
races, but also by red and brown people, and except 

W.A. P 



242 THE RABBIT. 

in the case of a mother defending her young, this 
creature has no heart whatever. When pursued, 
it trusts to a short burst of speed taking it to 
the sanctuary of its burrow, and if foiled in any 
way and unable to find immediate shelter, it at 
once loses heart. I have known a rabbit, on find- 
ing its burrow closed, to begin immediately to run 
in foolish circles, screaming piteously, though its 
pursuer was nothing more fleet and formidable 
than a small boy, into whose hands the creature 
ultimately fell ! 

A rabbit's first dash for cover is exceedingly 
swift ; but a hare, on the other hand, nurses and 
reserves its strength. It has no place of shelter to 
which to flee, and can look for escape only in the 
length of the chase. A hare starts off easily to 
test the speed of its pursuers ; if they begin to close, 
it accelerates slightly ; if they prove really fast, it 
resorts to dodging ; and in this way it will foil, for 
minutes on end, a pair of dogs considerably swifter 
than itself. The twists and turns tire the dogs, rob 
their speed of its keenest edge, and when the hare 
runs straight again it is found that the pursuers 
can no longer gain. A hare will run till it dies ; 
a rabbit often dies because it has not the heart to 
run. A rabbit is beaten as soon as it is foiled ; a 
hare is never beaten. I have seen an exhausted 
hare, simply encompassed by men and dogs, settle 
down to dodging and manoeuvring though its fate 
seemed inevitably sealed, till finally it triumphed 
over the seemingly hopeless odds, and by its own 
pluck and tenacity gained its freedom. On the 
other hand, a rabbit, losing sight of immediate 
shelter, becomes undecided which way to run, and 
either gives up all attempt at escape, or creeps into 
a hiding so absurdly insecure that the result is 



THE RABBIT. 243 

the same. One has every respect for the hare, but 
neither the character nor the mentality of the brown 
rabbit is calculated to excite our admiration. It 
will return and nest time and again in the hollows 
of a swamp that is periodically flooded, and where 
death by drowning inevitably awaits its young ; it 
has no morals to speak of, and no pluck whatever. 
True that it figures as an important item on the 
nation's bill of fare ; but even here the rabbit does 
not pay its way, and only because it is to the poor 
man what the pheasant is to his employer is the 
existence of the creature justified. 

HARDINESS. 

Rabbits are not supposed to be particularly 
hardy animals, as they are said to be susceptible 
to damp, yet they seem capable of surviving under 
any conditions whatever. In the heights of the 
Scottish hills, where they live for seven months 
of the year amidst the driving wet of the cloud- 
wraiths, they flourish exceedingly. On every 
wind-swept island bordering the coast, though 
some are so bleak and rugged that practically 
nothing grows in the shallow soil, the rabbits 
fatten and multiply till periodical disease wipes 
them out. Among coast cliffs they are entirely 
at home. Here, on a dizzy shelf, the young are 
born ; they grow up to share their burrows with 
the puffin and the shearwater ; they become a 
crag-fast race of their own, thriving and multi- 
plying till some, perforce, wander inland. 

Amidst such surroundings the rabbit is, at any 
rate, secure from man. The peregrine, the buzzard, 
the weasel, and in some cases the eagle are its 
only foes ; but so fleet and sure-footed does the 
cragland cony become in negotiating the perilous 



244 THE RABBIT. 

shelves, so numerous are its hidings, that its 
feathered foes must be fleet indeed in order 
to catch it. The peregrine, hurtling from the 
blue, may meet with moderate success, but the 
carrion -eating buzzard and the eagle are easily 
circumvented, except by the very young. Thus 
the overflow population from a mile or two of 
rabbit-infested crags will keep the country inland 
well supplied with rabbits over a considerable 
area. 

This animal's partiality for allotment gardens 
often tempts it into the suburbs of our great 
cities, where, for some reason unknown to any 
but itself, the rabbit takes up its residence, living 
in hourly peril, and with only the most doubtful 
burrow as shelter. At night-time Bunny creeps 
furtively forth into the cat-infested gardens, and 
eats an uneasy meal to the accompaniment of 
the clanging street - cars in the roadway just 
beyond. He dodges through the wooden fence 
at the heels of a tipsy reveller returning late to 
roost, and at dawn creeps for shelter under the 
floor of a laundry, where gray rats swarm, and 
human feet tramp all day perilously near his 
head. He is denied everything which for a rabbit 
makes life worth living ; yet he is devoid either 
of the decision of purpose or of the sense of direc- 
tion necessary to guide him back to happier and 
healthier regions ! One can only echo the senti- 
ments of the Christian nigger-boy who spent 
his time skinning rabbits : ' Thank God I ain't 
one of them 1 ' 

DESTRUCTIVENESS. 

Rabbits do considerable damage on the grazing- 
lands which they frequent not only by what 



THE RABBIT. 245 

they eat and by so defiling the land that sheep will 
not graze after them, but by bringing about an 
entire change in the flora of their habitat. Where 
rabbits flourish the grass soon dies, and its place is 
taken by thistles, nettles, and other weeds which 
are very difficult to displace. The areas of useless 
sand-grass found in some localities are probably 
due to rabbits, the more useful growths that once 
clothed these areas having been killed off, so that 
the coarser, hardier growths finally took possession. 
On sandy hillsides the rabbits do considerable 
damage by casting up vast mounds of unfertile 
earth, and thus burying the fertile surface. The 
steep hillsides of the Tweed valley furnish examples 
of this on an extensive scale. Passing along this 
valley, particularly in the vicinity of Peebles, one 
is struck by the patched and mottled appear- 
ances of the hillsides, every second pasture on the 
steep slopes being dotted with yellow patches 
which catch the sunlight and stand out conspicu- 
ously against the background of green. 

Farmers do not generally realise the full extent 
of the damage done by rabbits on their property. 
It is customary to let the shooting, if in the 
farmer's own hands, and the rent received for 
it is supposed to compensate for the damage 
done. On the many rabbit-shoots I myself have 
rented, however, it would, on almost every occasion, 
have been possible, had one cared to work, to 
pay the rent by selling the rabbits killed at 
sevenpence per head. Those rabbits cost the 
farmer more than sevenpence each to rear, and 
by letting the shooting he was by no means 
assured that the work of extermination would 
be thoroughly done. I do not mean to infer that 
farmers would be well advised to increase the 



246 THE RABBIT. 

rent of their rabbit-shooting ; on the contrary, 
from the tenant's point of view, it is seldom worth 
what is paid for it, and the best arrangement is 
for the farmer to come to an agreement with 
the tenant that, after a certain date, measures will 
be taken systematically to reduce the rabbit popu- 
lation preferably by the employment of a pro- 
fessional rabbit-catcher. The man who is simply 
out for sport does not kill down the rabbits as 
they should be killed, and by February at the 
latest traps and snares should have been brought 
to bear, and should be kept in operation till 
they no longer yield results. The doe -rabbit 
killed in February could profitably be bought at 
ten times her market-price by the farmer on 
whose land she was killed, and this is a point he 
should bear in mind ere he decides to dispense 
with the rabbit-catcher's services. 

LENGTH OF LIFE. 

So few wild rabbits die by the kindly hand of 
Time that it is difficult to arrive at their natural 
length of life. In an enclosed park in the West 
Riding a rabbit, distinguishable from his fellows 
by a white ruff about his neck, was seen by the 
family at breakfast almost every morning for nine 
consecutive years. He was born about the same 
time as the eldest son of the house, and, curiously 
enough, he died, judging from his disappearance, 
on the same night as the child's grandpa died ! 
His name went down with the family traditions. 

This rabbit lived a hedged-in and protected 
life in the precincts of a city, and under such 
conditions he might, indeed, have lived to see 
his fifteenth year. How long a wild rabbit lives 
depends upon the speed at which it lives. Safe 



THE RABBIT. 247 

from its foes, passing its days in peaceful security, 
it would probably live many years longer than if 
it were eternally but unsuccessfully chivied by 
stoats and lurchers. Since normally wild rabbits 
live less strenuous lives than hares, they live 
proportionately longer. I should set down the 
average life of the normal wild rabbit at eight 
years ; senile decay generally sets in rapidly at 
the end of the ninth year, and few of them live 
to reach eleven. 

WEIGHT. 

The weight of flourishing adults is generally 
between 3 and 3^ Ib. The first figure may be 
taken as the average; 3^ Ib. is a good market 
rabbit, though during favourable seasons 4 Ib. is 
not an uncommon weight in some localities. 
Contrary to what obtains among hares, the bucks 
are generally the heavier. 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

WHAT boy who has ever camped out is 
unfamiliar with Milord the Hedgehog ? 
Who has never heard his nocturnal rustling in 
the leaves, his loud sniffs of inquiry ; and, above 
all, who has never experienced his unwavering par- 
tiality for the frying-pan ? Have we not always 
to hang this universal piece of culinary equipment 
high in the trees, or bring it into the tent ? 
Otherwise he will spend half the night climbing 
in and out of it, and skilfully contriving to mix 
a maximum amount of the soot of the exterior 
with the thin grease of the interior. 

But, believe me, the hedgehog is a jewel to have 
about the camping - ground compared with his 
counterpart, the Canada porcupine. The hedgehog 
may possess a strong partiality for anything that 
suggests the least flavour of salt, but with the 
porcupine this partiality amounts to a mania. I 
have known a porcupine to eat a whole packing- 
case because there was a tradition attached to it to 
the effect that it once contained salt kippers ; and 
later, remembering the packing-case, the same por- 
cupine calmly settled down to eat a hole through 
a canoe, thinking that, if it wasn't salty, it ought to 
be ! Having visited the camp twice, a porcupine 
thinks he owns the place, and you have to clout 
him out of the same old mischief with the same 
old frying-pan a dozen times a night. 

The hedgehog is truly an ancient creature, and 
dates at least from the upper and middle Miocene 
of European strata. It was well known to the 
ancient Egyptians, and figured in their art. 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 249 

Though seemingly nearly related, the similarity 
between the hedgehog and the Canada porcupine 
is not a lasting impression. The hedgehog is a 
stoic ; the porcupine is impulsive and spasmodic. 
Both depend on their quills for protection, and so 
naturally have contracted certain habits that are 
in common such as the habit of moving noisily 
about, and the utterance of fretful sounds when 
disturbed. The porcupine is almost exclusively a 
vegetarian, and will remain in one tree till he 
has stripped it of every leaf and bud, never de- 
scending unless a golden opportunity of making 
a nuisance of himself is seen ; but the hedgehog 
feeds almost entirely on the earth. A porcupine 
seldom diverts from a strictly vegetarian diet, and 
I have never heard of a hedgehog eating green 
vegetables of any kind. This creature is, indeed, 
a purely carnivorous feeder. 

FOOD. 

A hedgehog will eat almost anything of animal 
origin. Slugs of all varieties, many of which 
birds will not touch, are perhaps its staple diet, 
accompanied by every species of beetle and insect 
that flies or runs. 

In Upper Wharfedale, near Burnsall village, 
I possessed a unique opportunity of studying 
the feeding habits of the urchin. A picturesque 
wood, particularly rich in animal life, extends 
from the moorland heights to the river-level, and 
is bordered on its lower boundary by a wide belt 
of sand, deposited by the main stream, which 
every creature passing between the wood and the 
lowland meadow must cross, thereby leaving the 
record of its passing. 

The belt of sand is dotted over with pebbles 



250 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

large and small, and here black beetles of several 
varieties are particularly abundant, hiding during 
the heat of day under the shelter of the stones, 
so that, crossing the sand-bed, one is certain to 
send dozens of them scuttling in different direc- 
tions. In running across the sand they leave the 
familiar race-like tracks of their passage, and by 
carefully following out one of these tracks one 
can without much difficulty trace a beetle to its 
hiding, though in most places the beetle-tracks are 
so interlaced that tracking becomes impossible. 

From the signs left by hedgehogs it was clearly 
evident that they hunted these beetles by scent, 
running the trail of an individual beetle just as 
a hound runs the trail of a fox. When fishing 
at night-time I have seen as many as three hedge- 
hogs hunting the sand-bed together, while others 
could be heard not far distant in the darkness. 
If, however, one trod out on to the gravel-stretch, 
where a silent approach was impossible, every hedge- 
hog would scuttle into the wood almost with the 
alacrity of a rabbit. The hedgehog is, indeed, 
more fleet of foot than is generally thought. If 
one be surprised it merely twitches into a ball, 
making no attempt at escape, but trusting to 
its quills for defence; but if, on the other hand, 
it hears the approach of danger in the distance, 
and knows that there is time to flee, it will 
make off quite speedily to some familiar cover. 
Once in the dusk of evening I shot a hedgehog 
in mistake for a rabbit ; it was working a hedge- 
bottom, possibly in pursuit of mice, and was so 
quick in its movements that much surprise was 
occasioned by the discovery of the error. 

Allusion has been made in the chapter on 
Badgers to the draining -gutters that border the 



THE HEDGEHOG OE URCHIN. 251 

ridings of the New Forest. It is no uncommon 
thing to find hedgehogs making use of these 
gutters, just as the badgers do, doubtless attracted 
by the insects that fall from the herbage above 
and become imprisoned there. It is quite possible 
that the hedgehog might find itself unable to 
escape from a cutting for some considerable time, 
though the creature would fare quite well during 
its imprisonment. 

From the sand-bed previously alluded to an 
overflow arm of the river ran out across the 
pastures. One of its banks was so undermined 
by flood-waters that it formed, as it were, a wall, 
and beneath its overhanging edge was a shelf of 
which free use was made by the rabbits. The 
hedgehogs also used this shelf, for in the sandy 
wall all manner of sand-burrowing flies had their 
homes, while slugs and worms were apt to fall 
from the fibrous roots of the grass-covered brow. 
Emerging from the wood, the hedgehogs seemed 
to have a fixed routine. First they would explore 
the sand-bank ; then, following the overflow arm 
by the sandy shelf, they would ultimately gain the 
river half a mile distant; finally returning to the 
wood by a slight detour under cover of the walls 
and the nettles. 

As a rule, however, the hedgehog is not a crea- 
ture of fixed runways. It has a strictly defined 
home-range, which extends, probably, not more than 
a hundred yards in any direction from its recog- 
nised sleeping-quarters. It is entirely a creature 
of the night. In the day-time it ventures abroad 
only when warm showers disturb vast numbers 
of insects, causing them to creep forth into the 
foliage. A hedgehog will then sally out to take 
advantage of the feast. The only other times 



252 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

when it is to be seen abroad by day are either 
during frosty weather, when food is scarce and 
the animal is hard put to it to pick up a living, 
or while it is suffering from the effects of an injury. 
The hedgehog's method of hunting is most re- 
markable for its entire lack of systematic quarter- 
ing. Hither and thither the creature goes, as 
regardless of direction as a clockwork mouse. 
Now he heads north at quite a sprint, then turns 
west for no apparent reason at all ; veering south, 
he noses under a dock, then continues east till his 
progress is barred by a wall. All the time he 
is munching steadily and noisily, consuming an 
enormous number of insects ; and in this way he 
rids the land of many troublesome pests. Bats 
and swallows hawking for insects are, of course, 
equally erratic in their movements, so the ap- 
parent want of system of the hedgehog is quite 
excusable on the same grounds. If one keeps 
quite still, the animal will, when hunting thus, 
come right up to one's feet, which he seems to 
regard as a natural feature of the landscape. 

As RABBIT-KILLER. 

A hedgehog will eat anything it can catch and 
hold ; nor is it particular as to its method of 
killing. It is regularly guilty of robbing the 
rabbit-catcher's snares, and thereby often brings 
destruction upon its own head. The rabbit fast 
in a snare that is discovered by a hedgehog must, 
indeed, experience a bad time of it, for, like all 
animals that are not among the true killers, the 
hedgehog has no idea of inflicting a merciful end. 

Hedgehogs destroy quite a considerable number 
of young rabbits ; but I think the animal's love of 
warmth, and its habit of creeping into any snug 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 253 

and cosy nook that presents itself, is in the first 
place the cause of the mischief. Finding a rabbit- 
stop during the absence of the mother, the hedge- 
hog creeps in to enjoy the warmth of the nest at 
the end of the shallow hole. Whether or not he 
eats the young makes little difference. Their 
chances of a healthy survival are small with a 
hedgehog as temporary bed-mate. His first in- 
tention is not, probably, to destroy. He may 
already have fed, and is merely in search of 
warmth and sleep. The idea of eating the 
youngsters presumably occurs to him as an after- 
thought ; and having gorged, he sleeps again, in 
all probability occupying the stop for three days 
or so. He may even finally make his home there. 

The sentiments of the mother-rabbit on return- 
ing, to find the narrow hole filled from top to 
bottom and from side to side by a stubborn ball of 
prickles, can well be imagined. Her helplessness is 
complete, and realising this, she promptly forsakes 
the nest. 

Having once profited in this manner by the 
discovery of a rabbit-nest, a hedgehog quickly 
acquires the habit of hunting for such places. 
Thus a single urchin may make enormous inroads 
into the rabbit population of a given area during 
the spring and summer. In Upper Wharfedale 
hedgehogs are particularly numerous, and times 
without number I have thrust my hand into 
a stop presumably containing young rabbits to 
find a hedgehog occupying it. Indeed, it was 
the exception rather than otherwise for a rabbit 
nesting on a certain sandy hillside to bring off 
her brood successfully ; usually she was victimised 
by the hedgehogs a day or two after her young 
were born, and on numerous occasions we have 



254 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

caught the murderer walking about with a litter 
of rabbit -down and other nesting materials en- 
tangled in his quills. 

To sum up, then, the hedgehog is among the 
most potent of the rabbit's foes. True that it 
takes only the very young, before the merciless 
weeding-out process has had time to operate, and 
that many of the rabbits the hedgehog destroys 
would be destroyed in other ways ere they became 
adult ; yet the hedgehog takes not merely one or 
two, but the whole family. Many may consider, 
however, that the keeping down of the rabbit 
population, combined with the hedgehog's un- 
doubted effectiveness as a devourer of noxious 
insects, is an argument which pleads for the 
animal's preservation. 

ON THE GAME-RESERVE. 

From the point of view of the farmer the hedge- 
hog is of unquestionable service to man ; but, 
unhappily, the activities of this creature are not 
limited to the destruction of mice, insects, and 
rabbits. On the game-reserve the hedgehog does 
little good, while it is capable of doing a great 
deal of harm. 

So far as my own experience goes, I have never 
found striking evidence of the hedgehog's destruc- 
tiveness to game-birds, but weightier opinions than 
mine amply warrant the condemnation. It is 
conceivable that a hedgehog, finding a pheasant's 
nest, would be attracted to it in just the same way 
as it is attracted to a rabbit's nest. The idea of 
devouring the clutch would not necessarily be the 
initial impulse ; the hedgehog would first be 
drawn by the warmth and comfort suggested by 
the nest, and from this it is but a short step to 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 255 

the discovery of the waiting feast. And, having 
once feasted, the animal would undoubtedly profit 
by the experience, and thereafter search diligently 
for similar banquets. 

Many naturalists are of the opinion that hedge- 
hogs feed largely on the eggs of ground-breeding 
birds during the spring of the year, but this is 
evidently a case of individual acquirement. Where 
many ground-birds nest, the hedgehogs soon dis- 
cover that nest-hunting is a profitable business, 
but where such nests are comparatively rare the 
animals do not seem to learn their value. I have, 
for example, known tree and meadow pipits to 
rear their young successfully in a bank which a 
whole family of hedgehogs were in the habit of 
parading nightly for food. I have also seen a 
conspicuous pied wagtail triumphantly bring off 
its family affairs in a kitchen-garden within the 
confined limits of which a hedgehog was imprisoned. 
These facts would seem to indicate that egg- 
hunting is an acquired art in the case of the 
hedgehog, just as it is in the case of the squirrel. 

I believe, on the other hand, that hedgehogs 
destroy quite a number of fledglings of all kinds 
that have just left the nest to sally forth on their 
first perilous voyage of discovery ; but it is futile to 
condemn the creature on these grounds when the 
' tame ' cats of our own households accomplish more 
destruction in this direction within three days than 
a wild hedgehog does in a year ! Indeed, we are 
only too apt energetically to persecute some 
creature of the wild for sins which we somehow 
overlook in our own domestic felines ; and practi- 
cally every crime for which wild creatures are 
destroyed, resulting in the total extermination of 
not a few, is perpetrated by the cat which hunts 



256 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

abroad, and probably on a far more extensive 
scale. I have known a whole family of badgers 
to be wiped out for alleged misdeeds which con- 
tinued after the poor creatures had ceased to exist, 
and which were doubtless attributable to a wild 
cat of the 'tarne' variety. I have even found 
a landowner to urge the destruction of hedgehogs 
on the ground that they destroyed game-birds' 
nests, while on a single one of his farms there 
were sufficient half-wild cats to exterminate every 
pheasant-chick within a radius of miles ! For the 
half-wild cat, like the hedgehog, attacks at the 
very root ; she takes not one or two, but the whole 
brood. 

ASSOCIATIONS WITH THE GRAY RAT. 

But one thing may be said in favour of hedge- 
hogs on game-reserves that where they exist in 
any numbers ' summer ' rats do not readily take 
up their quarters. This is not on account of any 
particular dread on the part of rats of meeting a 
hedgehog, for of all creatures the gray rat is best 
able to look after itself, but simply because rats 
and hedgehogs do not make good neighbours. 
The rats know that it is of no use arguing with a 
hedgehog; when the latter wants a thing he goes 
right in, and either he gets it straight away or it 
means a fight, and from a rat's point of view a 
fight with a hedgehog is not worth while. I have 
known a certain little valley in the midst of a 
pheasant-covert to become literally alive with rats 
during the summer months, and doubtless the 
damage they did at night-time was enormous. 
Had there been a family of hedgehogs resident in 
that valley the rat plague would never have oc- 
curred ; for, knowing that at all events the hedge- 




THE HEDGEHOG 'SMALL GAME.' 

W.A. Q 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 257 

hogs will not move elsewhere, the rats simply 
avoid the place. 

Certainly it is not probable that the hedgehog 
has sufficient sense to avoid an encounter with 
the gray rat, fierce and terrible fighter though the 
latter may be ; in fact, I am quite convinced that 
a hedgehog would devour either young or old 
rats when the chance occurred just as readily as 
it would devour any other small creature that fell 
within its power, and quite heedless of all con- 
sequences. Truly does the saying, ' Fools step in 
where angels fear to tread,' apply to this creature, 
for a hedgehog will deliberately trespass within the 
stronghold of a veritable army of rats, and there 
commit a crime sufficient to bring immediate and 
dreadful disaster upon itself when it is in the power 
of the rodents to inflict it. 

The incident on which this statement is based 
occurred when I was a boy in the West Riding. 
At the back of the house were a number of ancient 
outhouses, which at that time were occupied by 
one of the periodical rat-swarms. One evening 
when passing near I heard a squealing and scuffling 
issuing from some nettles behind the outhouses, 
and, peering cautiously over the wall, was sur- 
prised to see two or three large rats circling round 
a hedgehog, endeavouring apparently to find a 
vulnerable point in the creature's armour. The 
hedgehog appeared quite undisturbed, and, though 
not rolled up, its coat of prickles seemed to be 
drawn so far forward as to defend its head. While 
I watched, the animal sauntered calmly off, quite 
undismayed by the attack of the rats. Going to 
the place where it had crouched, I discovered the 
skin of a young rat, perhaps half-grown, eaten 
completely empty. Evidently the hedgehog had 

W.A. q 



258 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

caught the rat and killed it, calmly settling down 
to the meal while the outraged adult rats spent 
themselves in impotent fury ! 

This incident seems to cast some light on the 
hedgehog's abilities as a rat-killer, but at the same 
time I have known a hedgehog to be very severely 
mauled by rats. This happened at the same place 
some years later, when we discovered a hedgehog, 
apparently in a drowning condition, floating down 
a brook which flowed near the house. On exam- 
ination we found it to be covered all over with rat- 
bites, and in a mortally wounded state so mangled, 
indeed, as to be unable to swim. The rats of the 
outbuildings claimed the banks of this stream a 
little higher up as part of their territory, and 
seemingly the hedgehog, trespassing within their 
domain, had been chastised in consequence. 

Owing to its armament, a hedgehog could 
probably kill any normal gray rat in single combat, 
and it is easily conceivable that so prudent a creature 
as the last named would readily avoid all likelihood 
of argument with such a gentleman. Even though 
a massed attack might result in the defeat of the 
hedgehog, the experience would not be pleasant 
for the rats participating in it. 

SNAKE-KILLING. 

Hedgehog* are supposed to kill snakes, but here 
again we have another example of the creature's 
tendency to try to eat anything it finds. The 
hedgehog does not begin with the idea of killing ; 
it sets out merely with the idea of eating, and 
whether it happens to come across a worm, a 
snared rabbit, a snake, or a dead kitten, the result 
is the same. If the creature proves troublesome, 
the hedgehog advances its bayonets and quietly 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 259 

persists ; and no matter what the encounter in 
which the animal finds itself involved, there is no 
ferocity or malice on the hedgehog's part. Its 
intention is to eat, and the creature that objects 
to being eaten must either defend itself adequately 
or get out of the way. 

Thus the hedgehog is just as likely to prove 
snake-killer as it is to prove frog-killer. Seeing a 
snake, it would undoubtedly attack the reptile, and 
the supposition seems to be well founded that the 
victim thereafter beats itself to death in fruitless 
attacks upon the hedgehog's armament. This 
effectively accomplished, the hedgehog calmly 
settles down and eats the snake. 

A common belief also exists that the hedgehog is 
sometimes guilty of sucking cows ; but the hedge- 
hog's sharp teeth and inadequately shaped mouth are 
features which would exclude all possibility of wel- 
come relief on the part of the cow thus imposed on. 

THE QUILLS. 

It has been said that the hedgehog is a far more 
active creature than is generally supposed. One 
kept imprisoned in a garden was fond of climbing 
up the trellis-work that supported a dense creeper 
on the sunny side of the boundary wall. Several 
times it was found there, seven or eight feet from 
the ground, and there in a bower of leaves it had 
its day-time nest. Unfortunately it died ere winter 
came, or in all probability it would have hibernated 
in the creeper. 

Again, hedgehogs are prone to climb into 
honeysuckle or some other flowering creeper in 
pursuit of the bees that are attracted by the honey 
and the sweet perfume of the flowers. In the de- 
struction of bees, however, they are less active than 



260 THE HEDGEHOG OR UECHIN. 

mice, and probably pay their way from the bee- 
keeper's point of view by scaring off the mice. 
I remember once examining a clover-patch near 
to some hives in a Northamptonshire garden, and 
finding the ground liberally littered with the wings 
of bees killed by mice. 

The hedgehog's coat of spines is designed not 
only to protect the creature from bird and animal 
foes, but also as a safeguard against the effects 
of falls. A hedgehog has no fear of falling. A 
twelve-foot drop on to a bed of decaying leaves 
causes the animal no discomfort whatever, and 
may be undertaken in the ordinary course of 
travel. Just as a black-bear, feeding in a tree, 
will loose its hold and drop fifteen or twenty 
feet, striking the earth as a closed-up ball and 
rebounding into safety ere its disturber has time 
to realise anything, so a hedgehog, finding in its 
route a twelve -foot drop into a quarry or over 
a boundary wall, will unhesitatingly topple over, 
striking the earth like a ball, and remaining rolled 
up till it comes to rest, when it coolly uncurls and 
trots off in search of insects. Hedgehogs are, 
indeed, fond of rolling and tumbling, and their 
spines are so designed that even a heavy blow 
delivered on the business extremity does not cause 
them to penetrate at the roots. 

A friend of mine in Northamptonshire kept a 
tame hedgehog in his garden, and one day, when 
the creature was prospecting among the wall- 
newel's that grew in the mud-coping of the ancient 
garden wall, it caused great distress to my friend's 
children by losing its balance and falling. Con- 
vinced that their pet must be badly injured, the 
children were rather surprised when the hedgehog 
promptly mounted to the top of the wall by the 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 261 

rockery, and again fell off as though for no other 
reason than that of making itself conspicuous ! 

I have, when rabbit-shooting, seen a hedgehog 
roll down from the top of the hedge-bank to the 
bottom presumably as the quickest and easiest 
way of getting there ; and doubtless, by rolling, 
running, and dodging through the densest thickets, 
a hedgehog can cover a considerable amount of 
ground during its evening rambles. 

The quills of the urchin are subject to the perfect 
control of the muscles of the skin. The skin can 
be moved forward so that the quills, pointing in 
a forward direction, protect the animal's face and 
head from assault while it is eating. In this way 
it is able calmly to devour the young of a desperate 
woodland mother, while the bereft parent merely 
brings injury upon herself by her attacks. The 
case quoted of the hedgehog devouring the young 
rat, while other rats vainly attempted a belated 
rescue, is an example very much to the point. 

When a hedgehog is rolled up, the quills are so 
placed in the skin that they point in every con- 
ceivable direction. It is impossible to touch the 
creature without meeting a bayonet-point, though 
ordinarily, when the hedgehog is running about, 
the quills lie flat on the skin, so that it can be 
stroked without discomfort to the stroker. 

As to whether or not this animal should be 
destroyed is purely a question of locality. In 
gardens it is beneficial, and worth cultivating as a 
pet. On game-reserves only is it detrimental to 
man's interests, and so much of the fauna of the 
country is sacrificed at the shrine of the sacred 
pheasant that the destruction of hedgehogs can 
safely be left entirely to the game-keeping fra- 
ternity. Gipsies kill hundreds ; and now and then 



262 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

a dog of good mettle, that has been badly pricked 
by a hedgehog, develops a spite against the breed, 
and thereafter kills every one it finds. I possessed 
one dog that must have killed hundreds during its 
life, for whenever it was taken into the woods it 
would seek out one or more of these creatures, and 
never rest till its purpose was achieved. Nor could 
the dog be broken off this bad habit. 

Apparently the hedgehog has no fixed moulting 
season ; new quills are always growing and old 
ones being shed. As the animal ages, the quills 
become very stiff and strong, and turn grayish in 
colour. A young hedgehog is generally brown, 
an old one yellowish-gray, the quills being more 
distinctly barred than in youth. 

ENEMIES. 

Other than man and his dogs, the hedgehog's 
enemies are few. Among the birds of the air it 
has none, which appears to be amply proved by 
the fact that it seems quite incapable of looking 
up. Foxes destroy a few hedgehogs, but not 
many. During a hard winter a fox will scratch 
out a hibernating hedgehog and devour it, leaving 
only the skin ; but such is the discomfort of the 
proceeding that Reynard leaves the urchin alone 
unless the stern alternatives be urchin or starvation. 
On one occasion a river-keeper reported to me the 
finding of the empty skin of a hedgehog among 
some rocks near an otter's den. In all probability 
the otter killed it. The pine-marten, though rare, 
is, with the polecat, the most deadly of the hedge- 
hog's animal foes ; and it is said that the polecat 
not only goes out of its way to destroy these 
creatures, but having destroyed them, eats bones 
and even quills without ill effects. If this be so, 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 263 

the case is analogous to that of the fisher and the 
porcupine. The fisher, which is a larger member of 
the polecat family, is particularly partial to porcu- 
pine, and the deadly quills of this creature, each 
quill armed with numerous minute barbs which 
prevent it from being withdrawn should it penetrate 
an animal's flesh, curiously enough cause the fisher 
no discomfort Entering its flesh, they work in- 
ward to lie under the skin, finally collecting along 
the back to work out at the roots of the tail. Any 
normal creature that attacks a porcupine is almost 
inevitably doomed to a fate of the most terrible and 
lingering kind ; but in this respect the fisher is an 
exception, just as the polecat may be an exception 
in its methods of dealing with the far less formidable 
hedgehog. 

As to stoats habitually killing hedgehogs, it 
would seem unlikely, for I have known hedgehogs 
to amble about in the dusk of evening in apparent 
immunity where stoats were most abundant. The 
keeper with a club and with a penchant for killing 
every four-footed creature he sees, the gipsy-boy, 
and the terrier are the hedgehog's only foes that 
count for anything. 

HIBERNATION. 

By early autumn the hedgehog has become fat 
and lubbardly, and as the weather turns colder, 
and the russet leaves come drifting to earth, the 
animal grows more and more torpid each day. 
Its quills are not very adequate for keeping out 
the wind ; but its skin is strong and thick and 
not very sensitive to cold, and under the skin is 
the hedgehog's real overcoat a thick layer of fat 
which resists the cold, and on which the animal 
subsists during its winter sleep. 



264 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

I have repeatedly noticed a curious and interesting 
habit of this creature during the days of autumn. 
As soon as the wind becomes cold, the hedgehog 
begins to acquire an overcoat of leaves. It may 
be said that this is purely accidental, that it would 
be quite impossible for such a ball of prickles to 
move about when the woods are thick with leaves 
without acquiring such an overcoat ; but at all 
events, accidental or not on the hedgehog's part, 
it would appear to be one of nature's provisions. 
As the cold weather comes, the hedgehog is to be 
seen running hither and thither in its coat of leaves, 
making as much noise as a team of foresters. 
Then, as the days pass, and the weather becomes 
still colder, the hedgehog collects a second coating, 
and yet a third, each new covering ramming the 
previous one farther home, till the leaves are 
impaled to the very base of the quills. The work 
is done so thoroughly that it could not very well 
be due entirely to chance ; and it needs to be borne 
in mind that such an overcoat resists not only the 
cold wind, but also the rain. Moreover, during the 
autumn, a hedgehog has been watched purposely 
rolling down a leaf-strewn bank, ascending, and 
rolling again, apparently with no other object than 
that of collecting leaves. 

It would seem that the habit plays an important 
part in the history of the hedgehog's hibernation. 
It is the first step in the direction of denning up. 
Equipped with an efficient, though artificial, over- 
coat, the animal very soon becomes sluggish in its 
habits. Its den is probably lined with leaves, and 
the covering of leaves on its body lessens the con- 
trast in temperature when at intervals the animal 
quits its nest. 

By late October the hedgehog is seldom seen 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 265 

abroad and is difficult to find. It remains noc- 
turnal in its habits, but is abroad only for a short 
time during the night. The drowsiness of winter 
is taking a firmer and firmer hold ; but if the earth 
be frost-bound, and the days bright and sunny, it 
may steal out for a little during the warmth of 
midday, though more probably it does not venture 
out at all. 

Thereafter, till the middle of March, the life 
of the urchin is more or less of a closed book. 
Whether or not its sleep is generally unbroken 
throughout the long winter is difficult to say. If 
so, the hedgehog is rather an exception. Bats, 
mice, squirrels, &c., which are supposed to hiber- 
nate, take their hibernation less seriously than 
is generally thought. If the conditions are in 
any way favourable, they are up and abroad for 
a brief spell of activity ; but certainly it would 
seem that the hedgehog is the most truly hiber- 
nating of all our mammals, and I am inclined 
to think that if a hedgehog is abroad during the 
winter, it was in such poor condition when it 
denned up that it has found itself unable to stand 
the long drainage on its strength. A healthy 
hedgehog, in perfect condition when it denned, 
probably does not emerge till the joyous spring 
calls it back to the world of activity. 

THE DEN. 

A rabbit-stop generally serves as the hedgehog's 
winter den. Into the den an immense quantity 
of leaves is dragged, not only forming the nest, 
but effectively excluding all draught by filling 
up the passage. On one occasion we unearthed 
a hibernating hedgehog. The mouth of the 
small hole was so filled with decaying leaves 



266 THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 

that one could never have told a hole existed 
there. Out of the passage we dragged at 
least a sackful of leaves, and when the hedge- 
hog himself was removed he lay perfectly still, 
partly uncurled, making no effort at self-defence, 
and apparently still sleeping a deep, untroubled 
sleep. 

A decayed tree- root may be used, and grass 
may function as bedding material instead of leaves. 
Even sheep's wool may be dragged into the nest 
anything, in fact, that suggests the desirable warmth 
of covering. A hedgehog will hibernate in thick 
ivy, perhaps a few feet from the ground ; and one 
took possession of some sacks in a corner of my 
motor-house, and there settled quite contentedly, 
though the house was in frequent use. Its habits, 
however, were so unclean that ultimately we 
were compelled to eject it. Curiously enough, it 
appeared in midwinter, so evidently it had been 
compelled to abandon its previous den. I have 
known one to try to den up in a potting-shed till 
it was forcibly ejected by the gardener ; in fact, it 
is impossible to lay down fixed rules as regards 
the location of this creature's winter abode, as it 
will den up anywhere that suggests the desirable 
degree of warmth and comfort. Nor does it appear 
to be opposed to changing its den in midwinter, as 
it may try half-a-dozen different retreats, from each 
of which it is ejected, ere finally it disappears. 

No doubt the first call of spring finds the hedge- 
hog community sadly reduced in numbers. Some 
have chosen their nesting -sites unwisely, and 
simply do not waken ; while others, with the 
torpor of winter still upon them, have fallen 
victims to their foes. 

Those that successfully sally forth with the 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 267 

spring, however, do so in a feeble and half-comatose 
condition. Nature's wakening, like nature's falling 
asleep, comes by degrees. The first journey forth 
is slow and short, for the creature is sorely handi- 
capped by the softness of its paws. This is nature's 
safeguard against the overloading of the stomach, 
the muscles of which have become weak by long 
inaction. A few mouthfuls of food gathered near 
the den, and the tenderness of the feet sends it 
back to cover, where its stomach has ample time 
to recover ere again it sallies forth this time a 
little farther ; and so on till its normal condition 
is regained. 

The hedgehog does not lay up a winter store, 
as do mice and squirrels. Its store is on its back, 
and serves not only as sustenance during the 
foodless days of sleep, but also to exclude cold. 
The storage habit does not seem to exist in the 
case of this creature. There is no reason to think 
that it ever resorts to stowing food in its den or 
elsewhere ; its method of going through life is to 
gorge to repletion, sleep, then gorge again. Its 
food is generally abundant ; it will feast on carrion, 
apart from the varieties of fresh food which are 
generally at hand ; and, if astir during the lean 
nights of winter, it will visit village garbage-heaps, 
eat its fill, and den behind the open kitchen door if 
such shelter be undisputed. Normally it has little 
fear of man ; in midwinter it has none ; but, as 
previously stated, hedgehogs that are astir at this 
time are probably sick, or they denned up in poor 
condition. 

INDIVIDUALITY. 

There is a good deal of individuality among 
these creatures; that is, an individual specimen 



268 THE HEDGEHOG OK URCHIN. 

may develop habits peculiar to itself. One hedge- 
hog we had under observation spent a good deal 
of its time rooting among the old dry cow-dung 
dropped in a pasture, evidently for the grubs and 
the beetles found within it. Evidences of the 
creature's work were on every hand, though this 
curious habit on the part of an individual seems 
to stand out as exceptional. Others, as already 
stated, doubtless take up egg-hunting as a pro- 
fession, though not all are guilty of depredations 
of this kind. One was known to enjoy for a 
considerable time the warmth of a hen-roost 
without misconducting itself in any way. 

FIGHTING AND VOCAL POWERS. 

Hedgehogs fight furiously with one another 
sometimes, it is said, to the death. I have 
watched them squabbling for the possession of a 
frying-pan, but have never seen a couple in close 
combat. 

They possess a fairly wide range of vocal powers. 
When searching for food a hedgehog sniffs and 
grunts in a most fearless manner as it walks 
about ; and if in distress, it utters a wailing 
sound not unlike the cry of a hare. It can 
sometimes be made to utter this sound, when 
rolled up, by turning it over and tickling its 
hind-feet with a twig. Also, when several are 
abroad together at night, they occasionally utter 
a bleating call of peculiar cadence ; it appears to 
be done partly as a challenge and partly as an 
expostulation. 

Like all animals that are lovers of warmth, the 
hedgehog entertains many guests, and I well 
remember the horror that prevailed when this 
discovery was made on a hedgehog being placed 



THE HEDGEHOG OR URCHIN. 269 

in the centre of the drawing-room floor to enter- 
tain a number of lady callers ! 

BREEDING. 

According to the best authorities gestation 
occupies seven weeks. The young number from 
four to eight, and the first litter may be born as 
early as the end of March. The first mating 
season, then, must be early in February, as soon 
as the creatures begin to move from their winter 
quarters. A second litter is produced between 
the middle of August and the middle of Sep- 
tember. 

According to Gilbert White, the young are born 
blind, and the quills, though present, are flexible 
and white. At the age of eight days or so the 
young begin to sally forth with their mother. 
They are then more or less at the mercy of their 
foes, for their quills are still so soft as to afford 
little protection. So far as one can ascertain, 
they remain with their mother till full-grown ; 
and even after that they probably do not 
wander far from the locality of their birth, as 
the whole family, now composed solely of 
adults, may be seen together throughout the 
season. 

WEIGHT. 

The weight does not appear to vary so much 
with the seasons as might be expected, though I 
have never had the opportunity of weighing one 
early in the spring. The male that denned up in 
my garage weighed only 1 Ib. 5 oz. in midwinter. 
Another specimen, taken in midsummer, tipped 
the beam at 2 Ib. 7 oz. This seemed rather a 



270 THE HEDGEHOG OR UBCHIN. 

big hedgehog, and the average weight in mid- 
summer is probably about 2 Ib. 

LENGTH OF LIFE. 

Considering the sedentary and sheltered life it 
leads, the hedgehog is not a long-living creature. 
One that had spent the major portion of its time 
in captivity seemed to be showing signs of old 
age in its fifth year; unluckily its fondness for 
water ended its well-meaning, ill -doing career 
ere the hand of Time struck the inevitable hour. 
Five or six years would appear to be the hedgehog's 
allotted span. A hardy specimen may still be 
flourishing at seven, and may live to see eight. 
Unfortunately, hedgehogs kept in captivity usually 
contrive to come to an untimely end ere old age 
steps in, with the result that it is difficult to arrive 
at a definite conclusion. 



THE SQUIRREL. 

WHERE squirrels exist, the woods always 
seem the richer for their presence ; but, alas ! 
this is generally the opinion of the passer-by rather 
than of the owner of the woods. In the hardwood- 
forests of the south of England timber-growers do 
not seem to be very much troubled by the activities 
of squirrels, but in the fir-forests of the north this 
beautiful little creature is often guilty of severely 
damaging young trees, stripping the saplings of 
their bark and their tender shoots so ruthlessly 
that it may kill every tree in a planting if left 
undisturbed to its work. The result is that in 
some localities the destruction of the squirrel has 
been so energetically pursued as considerably to 
reduce its numbers, if not entirely to exterminate 
it ; while in other districts, where the forest-owners 
have suffered to a less extent, squirrels have been 
left to multiply. The variation in treatment to 
which it is subjected chiefly accounts for the 
uneven distribution of this rodent. 

Though never idle save during exceptionally 
cold snaps, squirrels are seen at their best when 
the leaves begin to fall. At this season the animal 
spends much of its time on the ground, with the 
result that our attention is drawn to it by the 
rustling in the leaves ; and as the squirrel climbs 
into the branches he is more visible than in summer, 
when the trees afford his little russet form the 
shelter of their foliage. 

Though naturally highly inquisitive, squirrels 
can be very coy when so disposed. Recently I 
saw three of them seek the shelter of a solitary 



272 THE SQUIRREL. 

white-thorn bush on our approach. There was 
no other cover near, the bush standing alone in 
a field ; yet as we passed within a few feet of 
it nothing could be seen of the squirrels, so 
cleverly had they made the best of what little 
cover the leafless twigs afforded. In the woods, 
the squirrels desirous of avoiding detection manage 
always to place the trunk of a tree or a good stout 
branch between themselves and the passer-by, 
clinging to the bark and edging in jerky move- 
ments this way and that ; and so still do they keep 
on thinking themselves unobserved that it takes a 
keen eye to pick them out. The result is that, 
travelling through woods where they abound, one 
may catch only an occasional glimpse of a fleeing 
red coat, the squirrel generally disappearing as 
soon as he has gained the branches. If not 
molested, however, they become very tame, and 
the gray squirrels in the park at Exeter can be 
seen any day taking food from the hands of 
children. 

STORAGE. 

The squirrel is notoriously a food-hoarder, and 
quite early in the autumn the storage fever seems 
to take possession of him. At this season each 
squirrel has his individual range, seldom travelling 
much more than a hundred yards from some 
central point. This point is possibly a hollow tree, 
deep down in which the little tree-dweller has his 
home, consisting of bed and larder chiefly larder. 
Here, quite early in the season, the squirrel begins 
to lay up his winter store, but it is to be feared he 
is not very methodical about it, busily storing one 
day, and eating a good deal of what he has stored 
the next. He opens nuts by gnawing the small 




THE SQUIKREL 'THE FOOD-HOARDER.' 

B 



* . _?> -*) . ' 

*** r. . - . 

** * * . r * * ** 

>; *** rr<- - .' 



THE SQUIRREL. 273 

ends, then splitting the shells vertically, just as one 
would do with a penknife. The squirrel never 
wastes time and energy over cracking bad nuts, 
evidently being able to tell by their weight whether 
the kernel is sound ; and the apparently sound nuts 
often found in a squirrel's abandoned larder will, 
if opened, invariably prove to be empty. Among 
rocks, these abandoned larders are often seen to 
be half-full of empty nuts. 

Autumn being a time of plenty for the squirrel, 
there is no particular haste as regards the winter 
store, and having laid aside a goodly stock in a 
hollow tree or a cranny among the rocks, the little 
animal now resorts to a curious practice, which for 
a long time puzzled me. It is October, and he is 
to be seen climbing nimbly into the branches of 
nut-bearing trees, from which, at regular intervals, 
he descends to earth, runs off to the forest-edge, 
and scratches a hole in some soft piece of ground, 
where he buries his find. This done, he ascends 
the tree again ; then duly buries another nut in 
another place ; and so on time after time for so 
long as the sunshine lasts. In the Bolton Abbey 
woods I have watched squirrels thus employed 
during the greater part of the day, generally using 
for their burial-ground the exposed earth of a 
land-slide or some other treeless patch, but I have 
never been able to find the nuts thus buried. 

This is all part of the storage system. The 
squirrel cannot, of course, remember the exact 
whereabouts of all his hastily made caches, num- 
bering, as they do, many hundreds, but he retains 
a hazy notion that in such and such a bank nuts 
are buried, to be found by the diligent searcher. 
Meantime the food is safe, as nuts are best pre- 
served in damp ground, and should keen frosts 

W.A. r 



274 THE SQUIRREL. 

come it is as secure there as it could be any- 
where. But the wisdom of Nature's whole scheme 
is this that should the squirrel not find or not 
require the nuts he has buried thus, they duly grow 
into trees, enriching and extending the forests with 
the food-bearing growths on which the squirrel is 
dependent. The squirrel is, then, a natural planter 
of forests, selecting for his planting a patch of soft, 
open ground where forgotten nuts would be most 
likely to spring into trees, obtaining ample sun- 
shine, and unhampered by the growth of other 
timber. Thus it may be said that just as the 
squirrel is largely dependent upon oak, beech, and 
hazel, so these trees, in the virgin state of nature, 
are largely dependent upon the squirrel. 

During the autumn harvest one squirrel very 
much objects to a rival red-coated harvester tres- 
passing upon his home-range, chasing any visitor 
from tree to tree should the interloper venture 
within the prescribed boundary of his territory 
(see MATING). The nut season, however, is all too 
brief, and having laid in his store, the squirrel, 
providing the weather remains mild, divides his 
time between the berry-bearing bushes and the 
moist leaves which carpet the earth, scratching 
about among the latter for covered nuts, ' mush- 
rooms,' and the bulbs of woodland plants. There 
is nothing like wet leaves for protecting the earth 
from frost, the first keen night freezing the top- 
most layer, and forming, as it were, a roof which 
the frosts that follow do not easily penetrate ; 
so that, protected by the natural warmth of the 
earth under a coating of frozen leaves, the food 
of so many wild-folk is preserved throughout the 
keenest weather. 

In dealing with the red squirrel of Canada, Seton 



THE SQUIRHEL. 275 

makes an interesting observation with regard to 
the storage of fungi. Our own red squirrel feeds 
to a considerable extent on the poisonous-looking 
mushrooms that grow in sheltered woods, and it 
is probable that Seton's observations are applicable 
to the squirrels of this country also. He says : * 
' The second food-supply in winter is mushrooms, 
chiefly of the genus Russula. If these were to be 
stored in the same way as the other provisions, they 
would doubtless rot long before they could be of 
service. The squirrel stores them in the only 
available way that is, in the forked branches 
of the trees. Here they are safe from the snow 
that would bury them, from the deer and field- 
mouse that would steal them, and instead of rot- 
ting, they dry up and remain in good order until 
needed.' 

It would certainly seem that squirrels exercise a 
good deal of judgment in the selection of suitable 
storage-quarters ; and just as rooks are known to 
store walnuts in manure in order that they may 
not be frozen in, so the autumn campaign of the 
squirrel is conducted with intelligent regard for 
the changed conditions which come with winter. 

HIBERNATION. 

If a cold snap comes early, the squirrel each day 
travels a less distance from its den, rising a little 
later each morning, and retiring a little earlier. 
Finally, if the cold snap holds, he emerges for 
only an hour or so at midday, and one morning 
he does not emerge at all. There he is, in his cosy 
bed, dry and warm, with a goodly supply of food 
at hand, sleeping his winter sleep, of which we 
hear so much and see so little. 

* Life Histories of Northern Animals. 



276 THE SQUIRREL. 

His winter sleep ? It is to be feared he does 
not take it very seriously ! Even in midwinter, 
should the morning bring bright sunshine, he is 
pursuing his way in his oddly jerky manner, look- 
ing very drowsy when first he emerges, but soon 
wakening up to take a proper interest in things. It 
is now that, to save depleting his larder, the con- 
tents of which he may need when keener weather 
prevents his travelling far, he turns his attention 
to the nuts buried in the leafy banks, dodging 
hither and thither between the patches of pale 
winter sunshine in search of his hidden treasures. 
Snow falls during the night, and when to-morrow 
brings a biting wind, he is not to be seen. Winter 
and hunger settle upon the land, but the squirrel 
sees nothing of these things. He is a creature 
of the sunshine, and Nature in her harsher moods 
knows him not. One day an old lank fox puts his 
nose into a chink at the root of the hollow tree 
and smells squirrel. He sniffs and blows loudly, 
thinking of the feast so near at hand, and trying, 
by sheer wind-pressure, it would seem, to blow the 
squirrel out of the hole in the trunk high above ; 
but Reynard knows he will have to content him- 
self with the smell. Perhaps the squirrel pops his 
nose from the nook above, lets fly a volley of 
scornful abuse, and retires to his nest within, 
leaving the world without to the twittering of the 
blue-tits and the restless wanderings of Reynard. 

In the south of England squirrels do not hiber- 
nate unless the winter be of exceptional severity, 
and it is only in Scotland and the northern 
counties of England that storage is carried out in 
the systematic manner described. The hibernating 
abode is usually a hollow tree, though in Scotland 
I have known squirrels to den up among rocks 



THE SQUIIIREL. 277 

overshadowed by trees, or in a ruined wall. When 
the nest is so placed, there is always a branch 
handy on to which the animal can spring should 
it be disturbed. 

DISPOSITION. 

In disposition the squirrel is erratic, impulsive, 
and prettily impudent. In most of the forests of 
Canada squirrels team in countless thousands, and 
from sunrise till sunset their scolding chatter greets 
the woodsman. On Nighthawk Lake, Northern 
Ontario, I caught one in the act of swimming a 
bay at least a hundred yards from the nearest land. 
Probably he had been chased by a fisher or a 
pine-marten, and had taken to the water as a last 
resort, for no squirrel in its senses would voluntarily 
have essayed such a crossing. When I held out a 
paddle, the little creature at once took hold, and 
allowed me to deposit him inside the canoe, where 
he leapt from thwart to thwart, finally flattening 
himself against the gunwale, imagining himself 
entirely invisible. There he remained till we 
bumped the shore, where he leapt for the timber, 
and sat just out of reach, hurling abuse. 

On another occasion I witnessed an amusing 
incident in which a red squirrel figured prominently. 
A number of boys surprised the little fellow in the 
centre of an open road, whereupon the squirrel 
scrambled for the nearest tree. But the tree, alas ! 
turned out to be a telegraph-post, not more than 
twelve feet in height, and there he clung, too 
frightened to descend, unable to climb higher, 
while the party of juvenile warriors gathered round 
with shouts of triumph. The squirrel, quite panic- 
stricken, and probably not knowing what he did, 
leapt straight and true for the ringleader of the 



278 THE SQUIRREL. 

gang, fixing his teeth in the extreme tip of the 
boy's nose, and there he hung for a second before 
another leap took him to the safety of the woods. 
If ever there existed a band of demoralised and 
entirely routed warriors, it was that little band of 
backwoods urchins ; and as they escorted their 
blubbering and wounded leader homewards, one 
of them summed up the general verdict in the 
sentence, ' Squirrels and such-like varmints ain't 
worth meddlin' with I ' 

NESTING. 

Squirrels usually nest in trees, very often select- 
ing a high holly-bush, and placing their abode in 
a fork of the main stem twelve or sixteen feet from 
the ground. The nest is globular, having a side- 
entrance, like the nest of a dipper. The entrance 
is often difficult to find, owing to the fact that it is 
overhung with a brow of fabric, which prevents rain 
and wind from driving in. The nest is called the 
' dray ' when built thus, and many country dwellers 
have doubtless wondered why it is that not one 
in fifty of these nests is occupied. There are 
several reasons, the chief being that a dray made 
and used one season remains in the tree for several 
years ere finally it drops to bits. Another reason 
is that squirrels, like wrens, make several nests 
ere finally one is constructed that meets their 
requirements ; so, what with old nests and dummy 
nests, one may search far ere one ultimately finds 
the builder at home. Nevertheless, these structures 
are used for nursery purposes, the young occupying 
them till the space proves insufficient. At other 
times the squirrel builds its home inside a hollow 
tree, or even among rocks, where, of course, it is 
quite invisible and difficult to locate. 



THE SQUIRREL. 279 

The materials chosen for nest construction are 
decided by the materials at hand. One pair of 
squirrels I had under observation in Bolton Abbey 
woods spent much of their time rooting about at 
the foot of the undermined river-bank, which was 
draped with a trailing tapestry of roots. These two 
built their nest of closely woven fibrous roots, and 
a very neat nest they made. Another pair in the 
same woods built near the boundary wall, just over 
which were two hay -ricks, and hay was the material 
chosen. It made a very conspicuous and straggling 
structure, which soon went to bits, so I conclude 
they were an inexperienced and newly married 
couple. 

As a rule the nest is composed of leaves, moss, 
and twigs, and I have known green pine-needles 
and other unsuitable rubbish to be interwoven 
with it. 

MATING. 

It seems to be generally agreed that the squirrel 
has one wife only, and sticks to her for life. 
My own observations incline me to the view that, 
though the squirrel may have one wife only, 
he is not dead to the attractions of his next-door 
neighbour's wife, especially if his next-door neigh- 
bour chances to be a smaller squirrel than he is. 
Nor am I by any means convinced that the mating 
alliance always holds good through the winter. 
For every pair of squirrels one sees together in 
winter, one sees a dozen living solitary lives, each 
having its own little group of trees, in which 
it permits no other squirrel to trespass. One 
squirrel, thus observed, did to my knowledge 
rear a family the previous summer, but was 
never seen either with his mate or with his 



280 THE SQUIRREL. 

young after August ; he was distinguished by 
the possession of an almost white tail. Another 
solitary squirrel which we knew well finally fell 
to a keeper's vermin-trap, and proved to be an 
old male. 

Still, the fact that some pairs are seen together 
the year round would seem to argue that those 
that respect the laws of squirrel decency conform 
to the practice of true monogamy ; but the indi- 
viduality of squirrels is very noticeable. I do not 
believe that all young couples starting life together 
consider themselves in any way bound by the 
bonds of lifelong matrimony. If the male happens 
to be a ' gay dog,' his affections may last no longer 
than the mating season. As his wife becomes 
busy with affairs of her own his interest in her 
is apt to flag, and he may, indeed, become the 
possessor of a second wife ere the Love Moon 
wanes. Possibly in later life destiny moulds his 
ways along a single groove, but a good deal would 
seem to depend on the squirrel population of the 
immediate vicinity. Where squirrels are numer- 
ous, and the attractions of society are many, 
scandals of all kinds occur ; but isolated ' country ' 
squirrels, living remote from the giddy whirl, are 
generally faithful to one another. In New Gal- 
loway, in Scotland, I repeatedly observed these 
isolated pairs wintering together. Never was one 
seen without the other ; never were they more 
than a few paces apart ; often they were to be 
seen on cold days cuddling each other for warmth. 
I noticed also that the young remained with the 
parents till far into winter, a state of affairs 
which seldom occurs where squirrels are more 
numerous. Indeed, it would seem that the 
Scottish squirrels are more circumspect than 



THE SQUIRREL. 281 

are those of English forests, and it is conceiv- 
able that the question of mutual warmth in the 
more rigorous climate has something to do 
with it ! * 

THE YOUNG. 

Only one litter is produced per year, the young 
numbering from three to six ; they appear in 
May and June, and are not able to fend for them- 
selves till at least five weeks old. They remain 
with their parents for fully eight weeks, or, as 
already described, the family may remain united 
till winter. Certainly the father has nothing to 
do with the offspring till they are old enough to 
fend for themselves. He may then, in company 
with his wife, be seen piloting the brood from tree 
to tree, for squirrels have their runways in the 
branches, just as the beasts of the earth have 
their beaten tracks. In passing from tree to tree 
a squirrel recognises certain bridges, by which it 
invariably travels in going from one frequented 
feeding-place to another. In New Galloway, a 
squirrel used each morning to come from a beech- 
wood to feed in a fir-tree in one corner of my 
garden, and I noticed particularly that it came 
each day by the same beaten track. Dropping 
from a silver birch at the edge of the wood, it 
alighted on the moss-covered wall-top, lightly 
leapt a gap, pranced across the road, bounded 
on to a certain moss-covered rock, and thence 
into the tree. The young squirrels are taught 
by their parents all these leaps and crossings, 
and so by a thorough familiarity of their home- 

* I am inclined to think that very often one of the young, perhaps the 
weakling of the family, remains with the mother through the winter ; 
hence it is very difficult to arrive at a definite decision regarding mating. 
H. M. B. 



282 THE SQUIRREL. 

range they are often able to circumvent their 
foes. 

ENEMIES. 

Most of the squirrel's foremost enemies, the 
pine-marten and the larger birds of prey, are gone. 
One nest which I knew to contain young was 
laid waste by a stoat or a weasel ; it was in a 
low holly-bush, and the mother haunted the scene 
of the tragedy for some days. Rats rank among 
the enemies of all rodents in this country, though 
to a less extent in the case of the squirrel than 
in most others. Owls hold no important place 
among the squirrel's foes, one being strictly 
nocturnal, and the other strictly diurnal. In the 
Kells Hills I one day saw a merlin dragging 
something almost too heavy for it to carry. The 
little falcon was only just able to raise its load 
from the ground, flying low for a matter of fifty 

Saces, then again alighting, as merlins commonly 
o. I pursued with such haste that after several 
short flights the hawk was compelled to abandon 
its quarry, which proved to be a full-grown 
squirrel. 

Among the animal's enemies may also be in- 
cluded the pike. 

Motoring between Peebles and Edinburgh on 
2nd February 1920, I was approaching a fir- 
plantation, when I noticed something carried by 
the gale at an oblique angle across the roadway. 
It struck the edge of the road with considerable 
force and rebounded, for a half hurricane was 
blowing at the time. The article was about two 
hundred yards ahead of me, and I took it to be 
a portion of a pine-limb. On coming up, how- 
ever, I found it to be a squirrel ! 



THE SQUIRREL. 283 

The poor creature had evidently been killed 
instantly by its impact with the road, as it must 
have been blown from branches at least thirty 
feet above. 

Whether many squirrels meet their fate in 
this way during high winds I am unable to 
say, but it is possible that the dead specimens 
one so often finds in the woods very early in 
the spring are victims to the heavy winds which 
generally prevail at that season. 

CLIMBING. 

A gentleman with whom I was acquainted in 
Yorkshire did all that he could to induce the 
squirrels to take up their abode in the grounds 
of his home. Cosy nesting-boxes were put up 
for them ; there were abundant nut-groves and 
fruit -bearing trees; yet the squirrels, though 
plentiful in the surrounding country, for some 
reason would not attach themselves to this par- 
ticular estate. One comes across a similar state 
of affairs in the bush localities of Canada, where 
one valley is teeming with squirrel life, while 
in the next valley across the watershed, where 
the conditions appear to be exactly the same, 
one will not see a single squirrel in a long day's 
trek. 

Though seeming so much at home in the 
branches, the squirrel is not an expert climber as 
the tree-dwellers go. Compared with the death- 
darting pine-marten it is a sluggard. It does 
not habitually descend the trunk head downwards 
at full speed, and this is the test of the pukka 
climbing animals. Yet the squirrel is truly a 
creature of the trees in so far that, if caught away 
from their friendly shelter, it becomes utterly 



284 THE SQUIRREL. 

demoralised and dazed with fear, turning and 
showing fight before even making a proper attempt 
to escape. Quite recently I found a squirrel out 
on an open moor, several hundred yards from 
the nearest pine-fringe, though goodness knows 
what he was doing there ! The heather was deep 
enough for him to escape unseen, yet he persisted 
in running round in circles, uttering the most 
unspeakable abuse, and making himself entirely 
absurd. His behaviour was reminiscent of that 
of a foolish little musk-rat who, caught far 
from his beloved pond, turned and held up a 
team of horses with its lusty band of lumbermen 
till some one ended the performance by throwing 
a coat over him ! 

USE OF TAIL. 

Squirrels are particularly partial to forest-glades 
through which a stream winds its course, for 
here the unimpeded sunlight falls with its full 
warmth to the ripening of the water-side harvest. 
It is no uncommon thing for one of them to 
fall into the water ; in fact, the observer is tempted 
to think that they sometimes do this purposely in 
hot weather, for, as already shown, the squirrel 
is a moderately good swimmer. He thinks 
nothing of crossing a burn by leaping from stone 
to stone, plunging in should there be no stone 
conveniently placed. When in the water the 
squirrel has an odd habit of jerking its tail at 
intervals, and this motion is apt to attract the 
attention of large fish lurking in the depths. Pike 
or large trout will snap at anything, and, as Seton 
points out, many a squirrel has lost its tail while 
swimming owing to the attack of these fresh-water 
sharks. The skin strips away from the bone at 



THE SQUIRREL. 285 

the slightest pressure, as does that of many rodents, 
and though the accident seems to occasion the 
creature little discomfort at the time, its fate is 
most assuredly sealed. 

A squirrel that has lost its tail will not live ; 
in fact, no greater calamity could befall this little 
denizen of the branches. It will be noticed that 
when a squirrel runs along the top of a wall it 
carries its tail straight out behind, as it does when 
on the ground ; and should it desire to leap a 
gap in the wall its tail is given a downward sweep 
as it takes off, thereby giving an additional impulse 
to the leap. When climbing upwards a squirrel 
carries its tail vertically over its back, so that 
the impulse can now be given in an upward 
direction. And so, in every attitude Mr Squirrel 
assumes, his tail is so carried that it can be utilised 
to assist in the direction in which assistance is 
needed ; and similarly, in alighting, he breaks 
the force of his landing by a sweep of this 
ornamental extremity. It is his rudder and his 
parachute ; and what happens should he lose this 
important member, and be left only with the 
naked stump ? All through his life he has allowed 
for that little extra impulse his tail gave, and 
for the steadying effect it had when leaping 
through space ; but now he is hopelessly at sea. 
Here he falls short, failing to catch the branch 
at which he aimed, and tumbles heavily to earth ; 
there he makes a leap for the vertical trunk, 
and, unable to jerk his body upwards at the last 
moment, he crashes head-foremost into the tree, 
falling dazed and bewildered to earth. It is not 
the first fall nor the second that kills him, but 
the many falls that come each day, till in the 
end, unable to realise what misfortune is his, he 



286 THE SQUIRREL. 

creeps away to some sacred cranny among the 
kindly shadows. 

CRIMINAL SQUIRRELS. 

It is to be feared that squirrels do not all 
live exclusively on nuts and fruits, for there are 
individual squirrels that acquire a criminal liking 
for flesh, and when one squirrel in a certain district 
takes to destroying the eggs and the young of wood- 
pigeons and song-birds, the rest of the squirrel 
community of that locality very soon follow the 
lead. I do not think that all squirrels are given 
to the ruthless massacre of defenceless fledglings, 
but the squirrel that has done it once very soon 
does it again, and teaches his mate to do it. 
So the bad habit becomes an epidemic, and soon 
it is a matter either of exterminating the squirrels 
or of the squirrels exterminating the song-birds. 

When last I was in Toronto there was a great 
outcry against the squirrels in the city parks, it 
being said on all sides that unless the little 
murderers were killed off, Toronto would lose 
its song-birds. In Britain one hears few com- 
plaints of this kind against the little tree-dweller, 
and only once in this country have I come across 
an example of depredations of this kind. In a 
gentleman's garden in Kirkcudbrightshire it was 
found one spring that the song-birds' nests in 
the shrubbery were being robbed, and naturally 
suspicion fell upon the cat. The feline was, 
therefore, kept caged ; but still the robbing of 
nests continued. Then one day a squirrel was 
caught red-handed, calmly chewing away at an 
unfortunate fledgling that it had not even troubled 
to kill. The squirrel was shot on the spot, and 
from that day the destruction ceased, though many 



THE SQUIRREL. 287 

other squirrels occupied the grounds. This proved 
conclusively, then, that one little criminal was 
responsible for all the damage, and that the bad 
habit he had acquired was not shared by the 
squirrel community in general. One squirrel with 
which I became well acquainted took up the 
uncommon pursuit of fishing. This animal lived 
alone in the Knocknarling valley, near the town 
of New Galloway, one of those quiet spots Nature 
provides for her peace-loving kindred. It was 
a favourite haunt of the roe-deer, and whenever 
I went that way, keeping a weather -eye open, 
and moving silently through the trees, I invariably 
saw their graceful forms floating ahead through 
the undergrowth. 

The squirrel was invariably to be seen near 
the same bend in the burn, and several times I 
noticed him paddling about in the shallow water 
as though searching for pebbles. This struck me 
as curious, and, watching closely, one day I saw 
him take what looked like a nut from the 
water, crack it in his jaws, and proceed to con- 
sume its contents. This done, he continued to 
paddle, keeping his tail high and dry ; but, find- 
ing nothing further, he ran down-stream, and there 
repeated the performance. 

Going quietly up, I discovered that the objects 
of the squirrel's quest were a species of small 
water-snail or fresh-water winkle ! Here is an 
example of a squirrel developing very unusual 
individual tastes, turning from the trees to the 
widely different pastime of ' angling ' ! 

In America I have known the squirrels to be- 
come as multifarious in their tastes as the bears, 
visiting the lake-shores in search of dead fish or 
other carrion washed up on the margin, or gorging 



288 THE SQUIRREL. 

upon the scum of dead May-flies, which hatch 
out in such countless millions on many of these 
waters. 

But whatever the squirrel may be abroad, what- 
ever isolated examples we may find of individual 
criminals at home, this creature is a joy to behold, 
an ornament to our suburban parks, where old 
city clerks, pausing on their way home for a 
wistful glimpse of the country, are reminded of 
the quiet woods by a vision of his russet coat 
among the branches. 

SIZE, AND LENGTH OF LIFE. 

Taking the average of ten dead specimens I 
have measured, I arrive at the following dimen- 
sions : From tip of nose to root of tail, 8-3 inches ; 
length of tail, 6'8 inches. This appears to be about 
the average. 

I have no data bearing on the length of life 
of the squirrel, but such information as exists 
on the subject indicates that a squirrel has passed 
the zenith of its powers at eight years, and that 
it seldom lives to see ten. 

COAT. 

The coat seems to fade considerably as summer 
advances, particularly the tail. The winter coat 
comes in November earlier in the Highlands. 
By the end of November the ear-tassels are fully 
formed. The spring coat is assumed not earlier 
than May in the north of England and in Scotland, 
to which area my close observations are limited. 




THE GRAY OK BROWN RAT * THE SPOILER.' 

W.A. S 



THE GRAY RAT. 

Known also as the Brown Rat, the House -Rat, 
the Sewer- Rat, the Norway Rat, the Common 
Rat, &c. 

IN the following it is proposed to deal only with 
the less commonly known habits and character- 
istics of this odious and universally detested creature, 
for the gray rat is, unhappily, so well known to 
every one that a detailed account of its life's history 
would prove dull reading. 

Unto whom the world is indebted for the original 
stock of gray rats, and whence this animal came 
when first it made its debut on our shores, 
are subjects which hitherto have proved fruitful 
grounds for exploration among authors of the 
more serious type of natural history works ; but, 
to sum up the evidence, it would seem that the 
gray rat hailed originally from Persia, and that it 
first came to England from the Baltic early in 
the seventeenth century. Since then there has 
been a free exchange of gray rats all the world 
over. From every port where ships touch they 
have spread, steadily increasing in numbers from 
east to west till in many parts they have exter- 
minated not a few of the native animals, just as, 
with their introduction to Great Britain, they 
speedily exterminated the original black rat, which 
was a far less repulsive creature. In parts of 
America the rat population has become too great 
for the cities, with the result that the usual rat 
colonists, launching forth, have taken possession 
of vast areas of swamp, where they thrive and 
multiply remote from human habitation. 

W.A. S 



290 THE GRAY RAT. 

The extraordinary power of survival of these 
animals is largely due to their ability to colonise, 
the rat millions of the thickly peopled centres being 
ever ready to send their pioneers into new country 
in quest of fortune. So systematic and intelligent 
are their movements in this way that many 
picturesque accounts have been written in which 
something in the way of a central exchange, 
or distribution department, organised by the rat 
leaders for the benefit of the rat masses, has been 
feigned to exist ; but there is no special reason 
why we should imagine that these creatures 
possess any uncanny powers in the organisation 
of their numbers. Their intelligent distribution 
follows in the wake of their numbers as a 
natural course of events, and their seemingly un- 
canny ability to locate new quarters is probably 
owing to the fact that the pioneers and fore- 
runners leave a scent-trail behind them, which 
their fellow-citizens, uninvited, and probably un- 
wished for, readily follow. 

DISTRIBUTION. 

Here is an example illustrating to what ex- 
tent rats follow in the footsteps of their leaders. 
When the writer was a boy we had in the grounds 
of our home a small wooden outhouse where bulbs 
were stored, and where, incidentally, a brace of 
ferrets were kept. There was always sufficient 
food lying about this place to keep one or two rats 
in plenty ; yet, owing to its isolation from other 
buildings, no rats discovered it for a matter of four 
years after it was erected. Then one morning 
it was found that a rat was about. The creature 
was at once trapped, but it made no difference. 
Never again was that outhouse without its rat 



THE GRAY RAT. 291 

tenant. One at least was caught weekly, where- 
upon another would immediately take the place of 
the deceased, and the nuisance continued. 

Thus, when once rats have begun to come to a 
place, they will continue to do so for so long as 
food exists there for them a state of affairs which 
would seem to prove definitely that they follow in 
each other's steps, distributing themselves in such 
numbers as the quantity of available food alone 
determines. 

Hence, if an outhouse furnishes food enough for 
three rats, the pioneer is quickly followed by two 
others, which settle with him. Other rats come, 
and still others ; but though a sifting and changing 
may take place, the forerunners being ousted by 
stronger rivals, three rats remain in that outhouse. 
Those that are turned aside wander on in search of 
fresh quarters ; one settles here, another there, but 
each settler is tracked to his lair, which, if capable 
of sustaining more than one, he is compelled to 
share. Should the food-supply be adequate for 
the maintenance of a hundred rats, then more new- 
comers, and still more, arrive till the limitation of 
the food-supply is reached, and once again the over- 
flow goes drifting by to penetrate new territory. 

Were it not that rats are so extremely gregarious 
in their habits, it would, by this system, take 
them longer to occupy fruitful territory than 
to distribute themselves over a region where 
food was scanty, as the absorbing reservoirs would 
take longer to fill, and so the flowing tide of 
rats would move less speedily on its way. This 
proposition is supported by the known facts. It 
may take years for rats to penetrate into a region 
where food is scarce, whereas they occupy a fruit- 
ful territory in a veritable invading army, sweeping 



292 THE GRAY RAT. 

over the country in a wave of settlement. This 
is because any move of individual rats quickly 
becomes a general move ; and the greater the 
number that settle in one locality, the greater is the 
number of the scent-trails leading to that locality, 
and the stronger do these scent-trails become, till 
finally the drift may assume the form of a migra- 
tion, the rodents moving in shoals from their 
original feeding-ground to one of greater promise. 

It is highly improbable that one rat, finding a 
paradise of plenty, dutifully returns to inform his 
neighbours of the fact. Such a feat is not in 
accordance with the gray rat's disposition, and 
were he able to retain undivided possession of the 
new territory, he would readily do so. Reference 
has been made to the extraordinary hearing-powers 
of the weasel, and to how this power is exercised 
in its hunting. There is no doubt whatever that a 
weasel can tell from a very great distance whether 
or not the barn on the skyline is infested by rats, 
and in all probability the rats themselves possess 
the same power. In most country districts the 
barns where food-stuffs for horses or cattle are 
stored are often a considerable distance apart, and 
in the part of Scotland where the writer lives it is 
no uncommon thing for a barn to be located at the 
edge of moorland country a mile or more from any 
other building, and in the midst of a region where 
buildings of any kind are so remotely scattered that 
one can view vast tracts of country without a human 
structure in sight. Yet the rats find their way to 
each and every one of these barns where there is 
food to draw them, and, during the warm months 
at any rate, every barn has its full complement 
of rats. It is particularly noticeable, however, that 
the buildings near water, even though it be the 



THE GRAY RAT. 293 

smallest mountain-burn, are the first to be occupied, 
as migrating rats are fond of following water first, 
because they are habitually thirsty animals ; and, 
second, because its proximity affords them additional 
shelter. In winter most, if not all, of the rat popu- 
lations of these outposts drift back to civilisation ; 
nor do they return each year in the same numbers. 
All this would seem to indicate that the rats 
remember from year to year their various feeding- 
grounds, and since they have by now penetrated 
to the utmost corners of the country-side, only 
new buildings are immune from them during the 
summer months. Old buildings are most favoured, 
not only because their construction suits the rats' 
mode of living, but also because old buildings 
have their established records among the rat 
populace. 

MIGRATION. 

Some light has already been thrown upon the 
why and the wherefore of the rat migrations that 
take place during certain seasons. Rats are said 
to move occasionally en masse from one point to 
another, and many such migrations have been 
witnessed. The failing of food-supplies, or the 
superabundance of foes in one locality, quickly 
decides the rats to move elsewhere, but the rate 
of their going is governed by necessity. If the 
food-supply gradually gives out, the rats gradually 
dwindle away ; but should the famine be sudden, 
should the assault of their enemies be fierce and 
effective, should water or fire invade their terri- 
tory, then they seek strength in their unity of 
purpose and migrate in a body. One can be quite 
sure, however, that they know where they are 
going, and the horde will very soon split up into 



294 THE GRAY RAT. 

communities distributed with due regard for the 
necessities of life, just as one can be quite sure that 
they will drift back into the evacuated territory 
immediately the conditions which led to their 
sudden abandonment of it ameliorate. 

Such an invasion of rats must, indeed, be a 
fearsome proposition for the fauna of the territory 
they invade. A single rat is plucky enough and 
fierce enough to attack any creature it imagines it 
can pull down, and rats possess a power of combina- 
tion which is unparalleled in the animal world. A 
rat has only to utter a certain squeal in order to 
bring to the vicinity every one of his fellows within 
hearing, prepared to unite in a common attack, 
so that an army of rats sweeping the country leaves 
behind it an area of death and destruction. In 
Northamptonshire some years ago an old mill was 
burnt down, and the homeless rats sought temporary 
shelter in a long strip of coppice adjoining. It was, 
unhappily, in the spring of the year, and every nest 
the wood contained was harried and laid waste, 
in many cases the brooding birds being killed on 
their nests. The keeper who watched the property 
stated that it was some months ere pheasants 
returned to the coppice in their normal numbers of 
occupation, while the mice and the voles, with which 
the dense undergrowth swarmed, must have been 
entirely wiped out. Even the remains of devoured 
rooks were found lying on the ground, though it is 
not reasonable to suppose that the rats ascended 
the tall pine-trees in which the rook colonies roosted. 

Such rat armies, however, do not remain long 
united. They may travel together for the distance 
of a mile or more, but after that every hundred 
yards sees a considerable reduction in their 
numbers. The spreading and the redistribution 



THE GEAY RAT. 295 

commence immediately, but for several months 
thereafter as in the instance just recorded 
every stream and ditch within the vicinity of 
the migration may harbour more rats than usual. 

POWERS OF PRECONCEPTION. 

Many curious stories have been told about the 
gray rat's powers of preconception or prescience, 
and it is, of course, commonly believed that rats 
will leave a doomed ship, just as it is gruesomely 
said that a shark will follow a ship carrying a 
corpse. It is a matter of history that when, in 1887, 
a great fire broke out among some warehouses on 
the Thames Embankment, the rats were seen to 
leave the buildings in a closely packed army some 
hours before the fateful spark began its dread work, 
and, swimming together, were observed to put the 
river between themselves and the scene of the 
coming conflagration. 

During the early Zeppelin raids an old country- 
house in Norfolk was struck by a bomb and 
demolished by fire, and I remember reading in the 
local press a letter from the lady of the house, who, 
on the evening of the disaster, was alone in one 
of the downstairs rooms. At about 9.30 she was 
very much disturbed by the activities of the rats in 
the walls, stating that ' it sounded as though they 
were hurriedly leaving the building.' After twenty 
minutes or so, silence fell, and close upon eleven 
the air-ship was heard overhead. 

Unconvincing though such reports may seem, 
there is no doubt whatever that rats will leave the 
banks of a stream subject to sudden spate some 
time before the water rises to flood them out 
even though the storm which causes the water 
to rise may have occurred some miles away, so 



296 THE GRAY RAT. 

that they can have had no apparent warning. A 
house in which I lived in Yorkshire was close to a 
small stream which came down from the moors, 
and along the banks of which many gray rats made 
their summer home. Invariably, an hour or so 
before this stream rose in flood, the rats could be 
heard under the floor of the house, having forsaken 
the banks of the burn for this more secure residence. 
The phenomenon was of such regular occurrence 
that it ceased to create any wonder, it merely 
being observed, on the rats being heard, that the 
brook was about to rise again. 

SUMMER HABITS. 

I spent the spring and summer of 1919 at an 
angling-resort by Loch Ken, in Galloway, and here 
many interesting observations were made on the 
summer habits of the gray rat. The house stands 
at the loch-margin, considerably over a mile from 
any other human habitation. It is surrounded by 
picturesque woods in which wild life of every kind 
abounds, and considering the stern nature of this 
country one would hardly suspect the gray rat, so 
intimately associated in our minds with the hives 
of human industry, to be very abundant there. 
Early in May, however, the rodents began to leave 
the first signs of their passing, and thereafter, though 
they were seldom seen, indications showed that they 
were as numerous as the rabbits that thronged the 
upper cliffs. 

We may digress for a moment in order to contem- 
plate this fact as indicating the strength of numbers 
the gray rat has attained. We know that every 
town and city harbours its hundreds and thousands, 
yet so wide is their range that here, in the heart of 
the Galloway highlands, their unwelcome presence 



THE GRAY RAT. 297 

in the ever- unwelcome numbers is forcibly brought 
home to us. They penetrate to the most remote 
shooting-cabins in the heart of the hills ; they are 
to be found comfortably established by mountain- 
lochs and moorland-tarns far distant from agri- 
cultural activities ; in fact, it would be difficult 
to find any spot within the British Isles upon 
which the gray rat has not as yet obtruded 
its presence. Yet these millions, spread all over 
the country to the loneliest and wildest corners, 
are merely the overflow from our cities. Were 
it not that the great centres of population already 
harbour all the rats they can feed, there would 
be no country rats. Were all the urban rats 
destroyed by plague or by some other means, the 
country rats would throng back into the cities to 
take their place. The thought is rather a startling 
one Great Britain is to-day so overwhelmed with 
rats that their teeming millions are crowded into 
the most distant corners of the island in order that 
all may find the wherewithal to live ! This para- 
graph should be borne in mind in reading later 
the estimates by authorities of the rat population 
of Great Britain, for, whereas it may be a compara- 
tively simple matter to arrive at a roughly approxi- 
mate estimate of the rat population of our cities, 
he would be a bold man, rather than a wise one, 
who attempted even to guess at the rat population 
of country areas. Everywhere where the plough 
has turned the earth rats may be seen in scores 
about every storage building at the fall of dusk, 
and the scene is repeated even in the lonely glens 
and corries where the buzzard and the peregrine 
still hold their own. Can it be doubted for one 
moment that the gray rat, an alien to our shores, 
and two centuries ago unknown, is to-day over- 



298 THE GRAY RAT. 

whelmingly the most abundant of all our larger 
mammals ? These facts, together with such data 
as are forthcoming, serve to show that the rat peril 
is by no means a journalistic dream serve further 
to suggest that the era of nature's unfailing remedy, 
disease, with all its ghastly possibilities, must be 
drawing near at hand, unless man steps in and by 
systematic and widespread destruction diverts the 
ordinary course which nature would adopt in re- 
ducing the gray rat's numbers. 

To return to the rat population on the borders 
of Loch Ken. Early in May a distinct runway 
began to appear, winding up from the water's edge 
to some outbuildings at the back of the house. 
At first it was only just definable as it passed in 
and out among the bracken-beds ; but in two or 
three days it became deeply trodden, and as clearly 
defined as a human footpath, the earth being 
stained by the passage of numerous muddy paws. 
It could now be traced along the water's edge for 
fully a hundred yards away from the house ; Avhile 
from the outbuildings other runways could be 
discerned, the one which was most distinct, and 
evidently the recognised highway, passing straight 
from the outbuildings along the side of the house, 
crossing the kitchen-garden, and then on to the 
loch again. It thereby cut off the headland on 
which the house stood, the rats evidently con- 
sidering it unnecessary to make the detour along 
the water's edge. 

At other points by the loch -margin similar 
pathways could be found every here and there, 
being as a rule most distinct at the points at which 
the rats could save a needless circuit by making 
use of them. 

There is no doubt whatever that a constant 



THE GRAY RAT. 299 

stream of rats was coming and going by these 
runways ; and that their numbers were great was 
clearly indicated by the much-worn condition of 
the tracks. That new-comers were forever passing 
was proved by the fact that a trap set on one of 
the tracks would yield regular results throughout 
the season, whereas resident rats soon become 
acquainted with any such peril located on their 
immediate range, and when one or two have been 
caught, the whole rat community eschews the spot. 

But though many were coming and going the 
whole of the time, two huge rats, a buck and a 
doe, settled upon the property. Probably they 
were mated, but they did not live together. To 
me they were an endless nuisance, as I was at the 
time conducting various experiments with electric 
photography, and every night, if the release-plate 
were baited, one or both of these beasts would 
spring the release, flare the flash-lamp, and leave 
their sinister impressions on the plate. They seemed 
not to mind in the least the blinding flash, for they 
would return night after night in the face of it. 

The passage of this constant stream of rats, 
together with the fact that only two remained 
resident, bears out what has been said with regard 
to the distribution of these beasts and their habit 
of following in one another's tracks. 

Late in the summer it was decided to remove 
a chicken-coop that stood on the grass plot near 
the house. Immediately the coop was lifted a 
huge rat bounded from beneath it the buck 
of the two residents. Fortunately a small Skye 
terrier was present, and at once closed with the 
monster, the two keeping up a running fight till 
some alders were gained, into which the rat climbed 
with the agility of a squirrel. 



300 THE GHAY RAT. 

The dog was unused to dealing with such for- 
midable quarry, and when the rat was poked out of 
the tree it made its teeth meet in the terrier's nose, 
and there followed a rough-and-tumble encounter 
which at first promised the defeat of the terrier. 
Human interference, however, decided the fate of 
Mus decumanus. 

The rat's stronghold was then examined, and 
proved a source of great interest. The floor of the 
chicken-coop was insulated from the ground in 
the usual way by intermediate struts, and within 
the space thus provided between the floor and the 
ground the rat had made its summer home. Into 
the cranny it had dragged a vast quantity of leaves 
and dry grass, but the most interesting point was 
that the brute had cunningly closed all spaces that 
might admit draught (save for the one hole it used) 
with small sticks and bits of rushes. Near to the 
hole by which it came and went was an accumu- 
lation of loose leaves, which probably formed a 
virtually self-closing and draught-excluding door. 

The nest was located in the most sheltered 
corner, and near to it was the beast's larder. A 
more disgusting sight than the latter I never saw. 
It consisted of the entrails of a rabbit, the skin of a 
pike, and other oddments of filth and house-refuse 
in an advanced state of decomposition, and a 
swarming mass of burying beetles. The stink was 
positively unbearable ; yet there was every possi- 
bility that this loathsome beast, sleeping within 
touch of this foul mass of carrion, had on occasions 
entered the dairy of the house where our own food 
was stored ! This is what is happening daily all 
over the country, and still we find the majority of 
people quite indifferent as to whether rats thrive 
or are exterminated ! 



THE GRAY EAT. 301 

Unfortunately the female rat escaped us, though 
the gardener discovered her nest, all ready for 
young, when one day repairing a breach in the 
garden wall. She too had her larder, containing 
two adult sandpipers and their three pretty little 
newly hatched chicks. These birds had built their 
nest quite near the house, and, owing to their tame- 
ness and their pretty habits, had much endeared 
themselves to the household. We had, indeed, 
watched them closely since their nesting activities 
began, and it was with a sense of keen regret that 
we learnt thus of the falling of the whole family to 
so odious a trespasser. 

One big gray rat spent the summer two years in 
succession in the bank-burrow of a water-vole on 
the river Wharfe. Invariably this beast could be 
seen within fifty feet of the burrow. It was often 
astir during broad daylight, and on being disturbed 
would take to the water and swim below the sur- 
face till its burrow was gained, in exactly the same 
manner as a water-vole. One evening, when fish- 
ing, I caught the brute in my landing-net, but it 
contrived to escape ; though the fright it received 
evidently induced it to change its quarters, as it 
was seen no more in that locality. Invariably the 
summer quarters of gray rats that take to the 
country are at the edge of water. 

DESTRUCTIVENESS. 

The destructiveness of the gray rat is too big a 
subject to attempt to deal with in any exhaustive 
way, and accordingly a few facts must suffice 
to illustrate the point. A good deal has been 
written of late setting forth actual figures of the 
damage done by rats, and of the peril they present 
in our midst by spreading disease through the 



302 THE GRAY RAT. 

medium of their parasites, or even by the con- 
tamination and filth of their own persons. 

In this connection it may be as well to reiterate 
the fact that research has resulted in the discovery 
that the terrible bubonic plague, which at times 
reaches such horrifying dimensions in India and 
China, is communicated by rats to human beings 
by the medium of the rat flea, and it must be 
borne in mind that so long as rats remain with us 
in their present numbers we ourselves are assured 
no immunity. The plague is nature's plan of 
keeping the rat multitudes in check otherwise 
they would overrun the whole earth and the flea 
is nature's means of spreading the disease from rat 
to rat. Incidentally, it is also the instrument by 
which the infection is spread from rat to man. 

Deaths from this plague in India alone reach 
many millions periodically, and occasional outbreaks 
of it occur in Britain, generally in our big seaport 
towns, where rat-infested ships come to harbour. 
Rats suffering from plague have been caught in 
England, and if once the epidemic got moving in 
earnest it would be virtually impossible to check 
it. Since 1914 rats have increased enormously in 
numbers, and here and there the rat population 
must already be so dense that the animals can 
be regarded as living ' under unclean conditions,' 
which in the case of the rat means disease. 

As regards the material damage actually done 
by rats the destruction of valuable materials that 
is taking place in every village and town of the 
British Isles one needs only to picture the loath- 
some hordes to be seen swarming forth at the fall 
of dusk from every suitable harbourage where food 
for them exists. Rick-yards, knackeries, slaughter- 
houses, warehouses, docks, stores, sewers, shops 



THE GBAY RAT. 303 

everywhere and anywhere that food-stuffs or filth 
exist gray rats are to be found in numbers decided 
only by the shelter obtainable for them and the 
food-supply at hand. 

' In a knackery in the north of England,' writes 
S. L. Bensusan, 'food was placed in a room to 
entice the entrance of rats, and at midnight the 
door of the room was closed. Next day men and 
terriers entered to destroy the spoilers, and over a 
quarter of a ton of rats were killed ! ' 

' Kylratt ' estimates that in six months a hundred 
rats will consume two thousand quartern loaves 
and twenty -seven bushels of sharps. Another 
authority estimates that each rat costs the country 
7s. 6d.* annually. 

A farmer in the west of England who, in 1919, 
was prosecuted for allowing two of his stacks to 
crumble to bits owing to the activities of rats, 
admitted that the damage done to one stack alone 
approximated to a hundred pounds. To quote again 
from Bensusan : ' In 1917 two large wheat-stacks 
were not thrashed owing to the difficulty of obtain- 
ing a thrasher ; and when eventually a machine was 
procured, one stack yielded only four sacks of wheat 
and many hundreds of rats, while the other was 
considered unworth the expense of thrashing. The 
stacks had been estimated to be of considerable 
value when made, the wheat on neighbouring fields 
being well up to four quarters to the acre.' 

NUMBERS. 

In the first three months of 1919 Leicestershire 
made a return of sixty-five thousand rats killed, yet 
there was no appreciable lessening of their numbers 
in that county. Dr A. E. Shipley estimates the 

* Pre-war estimate. 



304 THE GRAY RAT. 

rat population of Great Britain and Ireland to be 
equivalent to one rat for every human being ; but 
this would seem to me a very conservative estimate. 
A large number of dwelling-houses harbour many 
more rats than they do human beings ; farms, 
especially those having rick-yards attached, retain 
a rat retinue which outnumbers its human in- 
habitants by at least ten, and possibly fifty, to one. 
In our cities the walls of many human dwellings, 
and of every factory, storehouse, and warehouse, 
harbour rats, while the animals congregate in 
thousands about slaughter-houses, refuse-dumps, 
and the like, to say nothing of the hordes that 
dwell in the underground sewers and culverts. It 
would seem, then, that the rat population of our 
urban areas far outnumbers the human population, 
and I have no doubt whatever that the balance in 
favour of the rat is even more marked in country 
areas, agricultural or otherwise. In many cases the 
rat population of a single barn would exceed the 
human inhabitants of the whole village ; then we 
have the numerous rats living remote from man's 
habitations, in stream and hedge banks, together 
with those that take up their quarters in isolated 
barns. Two hundred millions would probably be 
a more accurate estimate of the rat population of 
Great Britain and Ireland ; but taking it at Dr 
Shipley's conservative estimate of forty millions, and 
accepting the previous authority's calculation that 
each rat costs the country 7s. 6d. per annum, we 
are annually paying this creature the handsome 
sum of 15,000,000 for living in our midst ! Dr 
Shipley himself reckons the damage done by rats 
as amounting to 10,000,000 annually, while Sir 
James Crichton- Brown's calculations agree with 
the sum of 15,000,000. In all probability only 



THE GRAY EAT. 305 

those rats living in granaries, wheat-stacks, and 
such places do damage averaging out at 7s. 6d. 
per rat ; rats living in book-shops, hotels, furni- 
ture-stores, &c. probably do a great deal more, 
but this is liberally offset by the swarms of 
country rats that in summer do very little damage 
at all. 

IN AMERICA. 

It is estimated that fires in America due 
to defective insulation of electric cables cost the 
country 3,000,000 per annum, and it is defi- 
nitely proved that the majority of these fires are 
caused by the gnawing propensities of the gray 
rat. Fires are also produced by rats gnawing lead 
gas-pipes, and many disasters have occurred through 
their activities in this line. One American authority 
estimates that it costs large towns, such as Balti- 
more and Washington, four millions annually to 
maintain their rat battalions ; and it must be borne 
in mind that, owing to the construction of American 
buildings, fires are a far more potent peril there 
than in this country. 

In addition to gnawing cables, gas-pipes, books, 
and valuable ivories, rats have been known to 
gnaw the teats of pigs and goats, the feet of small 
children, and to destroy sucking-pigs and even 
calves. Nothing, indeed, not even man himself, 
is secure from them. In the main sewers of 
London it is customary for men to work in pairs, 
as owing to the size and numbers of the rats it is 
deemed unsafe for the workmen to venture singly 
into these dim corridors. Shelves and runways 
are provided for the rats, as at one time it was 
considered that they were of value as scavengers, 
though now it is generally realised that even amidst 

W.A. T 



306 THE GRAY RAT. 

the filth of their choice these obnoxious creatures 
are of little or no service to man. 

In ancient villages and old dwelling-houses 
generally the rats' subterranean tunnels tap the 
drains and the sewers, and passing thence into the 
walls of the buildings, allow foul gases to enter the 
living-rooms in fact, to permeate the whole of 
the dwellings a state of affairs which is doubtless 
the cause of sickness and disease. I remember a 
case of this sort occurring in the north of England. 
The atmosphere of the front-room of a small house 
was on several occasions noticed to be tainted, 
and in the end it became so bad that investigations 
were made. It was then discovered that the rats, 
by removing the mortar from the foundations 
directly under the room in question, had thrown 
the chamber into atmospheric communication with 
an old sewer, not previously known to exist, which 
ran alongside the house. The room had been in 
daily use by the family occupying the house 
they were accustomed to congregate there in 
the evenings. It goes without saying that this 
state of things exists in scores of old houses and 
cottages in our cities and in the country. No 
wonder the pressure of public opinion has at last 
induced one or two of our lethargical health autho- 
rities to take steps for the systematic destruction 
of this enemy in our midst, and the movement 
is one in which each individual should consider him- 
self or herself bound to be personally active. On no 
occasion should a gray rat be allowed to live if it 
is within our power to bring about its destruction. 

METHODS OF EXTERMINATION. 

It is of no use ridding a building of its rats 
unless, when this is done, steps are taken to prevent, 



THE GRAY RAT. 307 

or at least impede, the return of others. Ferrets 
and terriers probably afford the best method of 
getting rid of the rats in the first place, though 
in some cases they can be dislodged by pouring 
water into their holes. This method is obviously 
of no use where the rats are able to escape the 
water by climbing inside the walls. When it is 
practised, a piece of wire-netting should be placed 
over the hole into which the water is poured, to 
prevent the rats from escaping by that way, the 
terriers being kept in readiness at the adjoining 
holes. Immediately the work is completed, all 
holes in the masonry should be mortared up, slats 
of tin nailed over gnawed doors and other damaged 
woodwork, and holes in the ground thoroughly 
made up ; otherwise new rats will immediately take 
the place of those that have been killed.* 

Steel traps are not sufficiently wholesale in their 
effects to warrant general recommendation ; though 
it is a good plan to keep three or four always set 
in obscure corners, as their presence tends to make 
the place unpopular among the rats. They are 
also useful about chicken-runs, &c., and when set 
should not be baited. Rabbit-traps are far prefer- 
able to the small steel rat-traps, as they generally 
kill the rat outright ; and the trap should not be 
handled before being set. A clean steel trap has 
practically no scent, but an old one should be 
smoked or smeared with oil bacon fat is excellent 
before it is set. When it is being set it is best 
to erect a pen by placing two boards on edge, 
the trap being laid between them. 

A most efficacious plan for wholesale extermina- 
tion is to select a chamber which can be rendered 

* Holes filled with broken glass and tar are permanently abandoned. 
H. M. B. 



308 THE GRAY RAT. 

rat-proof by cementing up all the holes in the walls. 
Leave the door open two or three nights, and 
feed the rats in the chamber with some food 
they cannot carry away and store. When it is 
evident that the rat population has become accus- 
tomed to gathering there after nightfall, secure a 
string to the door in such a way that it can be 
slammed -to from a suitable distance. The rats 
having thus been trapped, they can be left im- 
prisoned till daylight, when terriers are introduced 
to do their work. 

Another excellent plan is one which was recently 
practised in a Liverpool warehouse, and with such 
effect that the refuse-collectors finally refused to 
handle any more dead rats from this particular 
warehouse. An iron tank, containing about eight 
inches of water and of suitable size, was covered 
over with a sheet of strong, glazed paper. Imme- 
diately above the tank, and about eight inches from 
it, a dead hen was suspended from a beam along 
which the rats were in the habit of running. 
Everything being thus prepared, several long slits 
were cut in the paper covering of the tank, so that, 
while appearing solid, it was in reality a pitfall. 
The rats that attempted to mount to the fowl by 
the tank inevitably met their fate, while those 
that climbed down from above naturally dropped 
rather than attempt the difficult climb back. 
Hundreds of huge rats were killed in this way, 
and it would appear to be a thoroughly practical 
method. 

BREEDING. 

Figures bearing upon the gray rat's powers of 
reproduction create a sense of dazed paralysis in 
the mind, and it need only be said that their rate 



THE GRAY BAT. 309 

of multiplication is such that, if none were killed, 
a pair of rats might at the end of two years have 
descendants to the tune of ninety thousand ! 

But, although figures illustrating this point may 
appeal to some as vaguely amusing, the actual 
results attained should provoke tears rather than 
laughter. Though not fully developed till six 
months old, a gray rat under suitable conditions 
may begin to breed at the end of five weeks. The 
first litter, however, is a small one, numbering, 
probably, not more than three. Thereafter the 
number of litters per year, and the number of 
young per litter, are decided entirely by the cir- 
cumstances in which the rat lives. If the season 
is normal, neither too hot nor too cold, and food 
is plentiful, the gray rat will produce six litters 
annually, the young numbering from eight to 
twenty at a birth. Working on a basis of a wide 
range of statistics, we arrive at the fact that a 
normal gray rat living under normal rat conditions 
in other words, the average rat successfully 
brings into the world forty-eight children per year. 
Accepting the predominance of bucks which seems 
always to exist, this would give us twenty female 
children to the year, each of which may begin to 
produce its equally fertile offspring at the end of 
five weeks, and thus ad infinitum. 

The young are blind for fourteen days, and if 
the male rat plays any part in their existence, it 
is by bringing that existence to a sudden end, to 
his own epicurean satisfaction. The young leave 
the nest at the end of about eighteen days, 
and at this age are to be seen abroad at all 
hours, little larger than mice, and readily falling 
victims to any kind of trap that may be set for 
them. 



310 THE GRAY RAT. 

If hunger happens to come upon the rat popula- 
tion, the feebler members of the community fall 
to the stronger which means that the very young 
are killed by the old, and that the very old are 
killed by the middle-aged. In short, only the 
fittest, which probably are the middle-aged, escape 
death at the hands of their own kind. 

It would seem that gray rats habitually kill off 
the old male members of their communities ; and 
it may be observed that when a rat is found living 
alone, as, for example, the summer rat described 
as living in a bank-burrow by the river Wharfe, 
it is invariably an old buck which, having had one 
attempt made upon his life by his clansmen, has 
sense enough to avoid further encounters by living 
a life of isolation and solitude. 

LENGTH OF LIFE. 

Sixty-eight years may be taken as the average 
length of man's life, which is approximately four 
times the period required for him to arrive at full 
organic, if not muscular, development. This rule, 
however, can seldom be applied successfully to 
animals of the lower order. By their rate of living 
man is a short-lived creature. Few of them have 
reached the zenith of their powers by the period 
at which, correspondingly, senile decline begins to 
show in human beings. This, together with such 
data as are given elsewhere in this book, seems to 
indicate that it is the mind, rather than the body, 
which decides a creature's length of life. Man 
wears badly in the carnal order of things, because 
his mind is more active than his body ; while as 
a general rule creatures that hibernate, and whose 
minds, therefore, are inactive for a portion of their 
existence, outlive those that are astir the year 



THE GRAY RAT. 311 

round. Slow thinkers are slow livers, and there- 
fore they live long. 

The gray rat has probably not reached le premier 
Octobre, as the French call it, by the end of the 
second year of its existence, and the solitary males, 
driven out from their colonies, are in all likeli- 
hood living in their fourth or fifth summer. At 
six years a gray rat would have far outlived the 
majority of its kind, and I doubt whether the 
females breed after their third year. These state- 
ments, however, are based on such scanty observa- 
tions that they border upon guess-work, and no 
doubt the whole question is decided by the con- 
ditions under which the rat lives, which means the 
rate at which it lives. A female that begins 
breeding at five weeks old, and thereafter produces 
five or six litters annually, naturally does not con- 
tinue to breed so long as one living at a more 
moderate rate ; and it is probable that the bucks 
outlive the does, as most of the very old rats 
caught or observed are bucks. 

DIMENSIONS. 

An adult male rat usually scales about 13 oz., 
the females from 14 to 16 oz. ; 20 oz. is not a rare 
weight. The average tip-to-tip measurement of 
males can be taken as 16 inches, of which the tail 
accounts for 7 inches. 



THE WATER=RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

FOR the benefit of the uninitiated, let us first 
be quite clear on one point that the water- 
rat or water-vole is quite a different creature from 
the house-rat, for whose sins this pretty and 
interesting little animal is often made to suffer. 
The water-vole belongs exclusively to the river 
pastures and the bank-burrows. It is often 
plentiful in towns where the gardens border a 
river, but it never under any circumstances tres- 
passes upon the odorous runways of the odious 
house-rats. Living in earth burrows around which 
vegetation is green, it seldom, if ever, penetrates 
the drains, but is a clean-living animal whose 
habits resemble those of the beaver. It is essen- 
tially a beast of the water's edge. 

The water-vole is very much smaller than the 
house-rat. Its fur is denser and deeper ; its head 
is short and blunt, somewhat like that of a guinea- 
pig. In fact, the animal is as blunt at one end 
as the other, and viewed at a distance, as it sits 
up nibbling a husk held in its delicate forepaws, 
it looks a strangely oblong little beast. 

The fur of the water-vole varies in shade from 
mole-blue to hare-brown. Occasional specimens 
are quite russet. The undercoat consists of fine, 
blue fur, so close and silken that water does 
not penetrate it, and the brown shades belong 
to the outer coat of hair, which is tipped with 
this pigment. I am inclined to think that as 
the animal grows older the outer coat the hair, 
that is, as distinct from the under-fur increases 
in length, so that the colour with which it is 



THE WATER-EAT OR WATER-VOLE. 313 

tipped predominates more and more as the seasons 
pass. Thus an old water-vole may be quite brown, 
simply because its blue under-fur does not show 
through its outer coating of brown hair ; but 
a young vole may be quite blue, the shade of 
its under-fur being the predominating hue. At 
all ages the fur is so dense as to give the oblong 
appearance already referred to, there being a 
distinct ruff round the neck, while the small, 
blunt ears are completely buried in their surround- 
ing covering. Black varieties are known in parts 
of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Scotland. 

The fact that in summer-time the gray or house 
rats often turn the water-voles out of the bank- 
burrows and take possession of them may be the 
cause of confusion between the two. Thus, in 
addition to suffering the first injury from the rats, 
the voles, as a direct result of the said injury, 
are subjected on their return to man's persecution 
in mistake for the unwelcome invaders. 

CLANNISHNESS. 

Water-voles are clannish little creatures. They 
live in families, and appear to be much devoted 
to each other. The families do not intermingle. 
Each little clan has its own strictly observed 
range, and does not trespass on the preserves of 
its neighbours. A boulder of rock in mid-stream 
may be the common property of all ; but even 
here the clans do not associate, though all may 
use the boulder in passing. If a member of one 
clan is already on the rock, and a member of 
another clan swims up to rest there, the first 
tenant immediately makes off, as though anxious 
to avoid a tete-a-tete. This I have noticed many 
times. Similarly, if one vole is compelled to 



314 THE WATER-EAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

cross the water-front of another, it does so, as 
far as is possible, by keeping to the water. Should 
it, while crossing, see the owner of the property, 
it at once quickens its pace almost to a stampede. 
It would seem that they at all times expect attack 
from members of their own race, except from those 
with whom they are associated, and to whom they 
are probably related. 

Very often the clans are distinct from each 
other not only as regards their recognised beats, 
but also as regards their appearance. Thus it may 
be observed that the voles occupying one corner 
of a river are quite a different shade from those 
across the way. This, however, is purely a matter 
of family characteristics. 

Let us follow the establishment of a clan. A 
male and a female water-vole who have survived 
the merciless weeding -out of winter establish 
themselves in a bank-burrow in the very early 
spring, and forthwith produce children. As these 
grow up a second family appears, and the first 
family now disperses from the nursery-burrow, 
each to make a home for itself quite near. The 
various members of the family do not live to- 
gether, but their respective homes are all on the 
same patch of property. When they meet, it is 
as friendly acquaintances, to nibble each other's 
faces, or perhaps to share in the same feast. They 
are members of the same clan. 

In due course more families, and still more, make 
their appearance, till the congestion is relieved by 
the older children developing ambitions of their 
own, which lead them forth in fortune's quest. If, 
however, the property be sufficiently productive 
of food, the children and their children may settle 
near, till gradually, with the growth of the colony, 



THE WATER-BAT OR WATER-VOLE. 315 

the family splits up automatically into different 
clans, each within hailing distance of the next, yet 
each respecting the other's rights. 

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. 

The water-voles are creatures of daylight habits, 
lovers of the sunshine and of the bright scenes of 
life. They are fond of crossing and recrossing the 
water by which they live, and many times, from 
high up in the hills, I have looked down into the 
valley, where the river wound like a silver ribbon 
across the green landscape, to see one of these little 
creatures, visible from an immense distance, gamely 
swimming across, the arrow-head of ripples clearly 
marking its course. The buzzard, hanging in the 
wind, evidently knows that it is of no use tilting 
his planes and gliding down in hot pursuit, just as 
the wolf knows that it is of no use trying to catch 
a prairie-dog at the mouth of its funnel-shaped 
burrow. 

Owing to its water habits, this species has 
managed to survive many of its near kindred 
which, though sharing its habitat and being more 
productive, were exclusively creatures of the land. 
The water-vole is essentially a beast of the water, 
and though it does not possess fully developed 
webbed feet, it is, at any rate, like the beaver, 
clothed for a watery habitat. The young take 
naturally to the water almost as soon as they are 
born before, indeed, their eyes are open to the 
light. This is evidently nature's safeguard against 
the effect of floods, which are the chief among 
the water-vole's foes. In hilly country the rivers 
and burns are apt to rise with surprising sudden- 
ness at any season of the year, flooding out the 
bank-burrows ; and though, as a rule, the nursery- 



316 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

dens are placed above normal flood-level, a spate 
of exceptional violence may reach the young ere 
their mother has time to carry them away. Were 
they totally unable to help themselves, such a flood 
might lead to terrible havoc among the water-vole 
population all up and down the river, and would, 
in all probability, sweep away that narrow margin 
which lies between extermination and the com- 
parative prosperity of the species a margin which, 
in wild life of every kind, is so narrow as to leave 
little room for new foes. 

But, though apparently more advanced in at 
least one respect as a creature of the water than is 
the otter, the water-vole is by no means a complete 
master of that element. How long can a water- 
vole live under water ? Probably no longer than a 
trained human swimmer. If flustered and hurried, 
it is unable to remain totally submerged for more 
than forty seconds, and, unlike the chicks of 
moor-hens and other water-fowl, it never hides 
completely beneath the surface. Its diving abilities 
are developed just so far as to enable it to achieve 
concealment by diving till it has reached some 
point of safe harbourage, such as a bank-burrow, 
the roots of willows, or dense rushes. Like the 
otter, it will lie submerged when hunted, only 
its nose above the surface, taking advantage of 
any drifting cover, and almost invisible as its body 
swings with the current. 

During heavy spates, when the rivers are bank- 
full and the burrows flooded, the water-voles are 
dependent for their lives upon ' playing 'possum ' 
in this way. I have many times observed them at 
it, swimming hurriedly from point to point, and 
lying concealed at every patch of cover to watch 
and listen. When one flood has succeeded another 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 317 

in quick succession, I have known them to forsake 
the river entirely, and to make temporary homes 
along the banks of the tiny brooks trickling down 
from the hills, or even in the heart of the upland 
woods, comparatively remote from their beloved 
element. 

But though the river may at times prove 
treacherous, it is nevertheless the water-voles' best 
friend. Accustomed to seeking the water when 
distressed, they have no idea of defending them- 
selves, or of making the best of what chances exist, 
when water is not at hand. A water-vole caught 
out in the open on dry land will even turn and 
face man, so great is the panic of its despair. If 
beset by stoat or weasel, it makes no attempt to 
get away, and, as described in the chapter dealing 
with the weasel, that animal will speedily exter- 
minate a whole family of water-voles if there is 
no water at hand for them to go to. 

The water-vole appears to be much prized as a 
food item by all predatory birds and animals, and 
for this reason it cannot be doubted that in its 
natural environment lies the secret of its survival. 
If the voles had been purely dry-land animals, they 
would not exist to-day ; but as things stand, the 
weasel or the stoat, entering a water-vole's burrow, 
is apt to find it empty, the occupants having escaped 
in the ace of time by the back exit, and so into 
the water, which retains no lasting scent. Similarly, 
the hawk, striking from above, is foiled by the 
vole's lightning plunge, and its eyes not being 
trained to look below the surface, the bird is 
unable to follow the course of its intended victim. 
Indeed, it is to be noticed that few animals seem 
to be capable of looking into water with an in- 
telligence that takes count of anything moving 



318 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

below the surface. I remember on one occasion 
a ratting expedition entirely failed owing to the 
fact that the terriers could not be made to see the 
bolting rats as they swam below the surface, albeit 
the water was dead-clear and not a foot in depth, 
while the rats were as visible to us as they dived 
across the gravel as they would have been on dry 
land. 

NATURAL FOES. 

The water-vole's natural foes are many, though 
it may suffer little by their activities except in 
winter. Since it is nocturnal in its habits as well 
as diurnal, owls probably stand foremost among 
its wild enemies. An owl will spend much of its 
time patrolling a river or a stream where these 
voles exist, or in waiting silently for their appear- 
ance, perched with alert watchfulness on a boulder 
or in the branches. The heron also is supposed to 
take water-voles, and there is no doubt that this 
bird would very readily snap up a young vole 
that it could easily swallow. The adult voles, 
however, appear to possess no fear of the gray- 
coated ' angler,' swimming boldly within reach of 
his bayonet bill ; and as regards any extensive 
damage, the heron can be written off as a winter 
foe only. The same applies to the otter, for, 
though living on apparently friendly terms with 
the voles during the summer, an otter will make 
terrible inroads into their numbers in winter, when 
trout are so poorly conditioned as to afford little 
nourishment. The gray rats probably do not 
destroy water-voles in any great numbers, as the 
more timid creatures simply clear out as soon as 
the rats come, having more sense than to dispute 
their right of entry. 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 319 

Next to the owl, large trout and pike probably 
rank as chief among this little creature's blood 
enemies. A seventeen-pound pike caught in the 
river Ken, in Kirkcudbrightshire, within a mile of 
Loch Ken, contained a whole family of half-grown 
water-voles, together with a full-grown wild duck ! 
It almost reminds one of Harry Tate's pike, which 
enclosed a motor-cycle, a sewing-machine, and part 
of a tree, and I would put it down as belonging 
to the same category of pike story if I had not been 
personally active in the downfall of this particular 
fresh-water shark. Large trout, similarly, will take 
anything moving that they consider there is the 
least chance of their swallowing ; but since they 
are less numerous than pike, and are probably 
less given to hunting along the margins, they 
figure less prominently among the water-vole's 
foes. 

Salmon, on their up-stream journey, do not 
interfere very much with the regular residents of 
the stream ; but in winter, when on the redds, 
they become ugly in character as well as in looks, 
and doubtless many a vole, crossing the sheet of 
water which he considers his, and which the salmon 
consider theirs, is savagely dragged down by them 
to be torn to ribbons in the gloomy depths. 

Otters, herons, and salmon, then, are added in 
winter to the list of the water-vole's standing foes. 
During that season frost and flood-waters, hunger 
and privation, beset the little creatures' lives, so 
that wise and cautious is the vole that lives to 
breed its kind. In summer the water-voles flourish 
and multiply ; in winter their numbers are reduced 
to the minimum which suffices to produce next 
year's normal stock. Thus, while autumn may 
see the water-vole population of a given stretch 



320 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

numbering five hundred, next spring may find only 
twenty mated pairs spared to maintain thereon 
the footing of the species ; and so on season after 
season. In flat country they probably fare no 
worse than in our northern hills, for, though the 
floods spread over a wider area, the flood-waters 
are less turbulent, food is more plentiful, and, 
generally speaking, the cold snaps are of shorter 
duration. 

The water-vole is seldom found at an altitude 
exceeding eight hundred feet. It belongs to the 
lush lowland valleys, where the growth along the 
water's edge is rich in seed-producing herbs and 
many varieties of green-stuff. Sometimes, but not 
often, specimens are found by mountain lochs and 
tarns ; but, so far as I know, the animal is never 
resident there, and the occasional specimens seen 
are probably ambitious wanderers that have loved 
and lost, and finally lost their way. 

The water-vole does not exist in Ireland. 

BREEDING AND NESTING. 

The water-vole's powers of multiplication during 
spring, summer, and autumn are not nearly so great 
as those of the gray rat, and naturally the rate 
of mortality is very much higher. The voles are 
strictly monogamous, and both parents are to be 
found with the young. The male, indeed, would 
appear to be an ideal parent, since he certainly 
helps his mate in her nesting activities, and seems 
to possess a sense of kindly solicitude for his 
offspring. Probably not more than two litters, 
numbering from seven to nine per litter, are 
produced during the spring and summer. 

Whether water-voles remain mated during the 
winter would appear to depend on circumstances. 




THE WATER-VOLE. 
U 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 321 

If their home be well sheltered and secure, it is 
probable that the union holds good; but during 
winter the water-voles of our rapidly flowing brooks 
and rivers in the north generally live solitary 
lives. It would seem that when the mating bond 
no longer exists they very easily drift apart, and 
the flooding- out of their burrow may cause each to 
seek new quarters quite independently of the other. 
In winter the struggle to keep alive is so unrelent- 
ing that, whatever their intentions may be, the 
mated couples are apt to be mercilessly separated ; 
though it is probable that, where circumstances 
favour it, a once mated couple remain mated for 
life. 

According to some authorities the young are 
sometimes born in the bank -burrow ; but more 
frequently, so far as I have observed, the nest is 
situated twelve or twenty yards from the water's 
edge, out in an open pasture or in a wood. Gener- 
ally it is underground, but so near the surface that 
cattle are apt to tread through the roof, bringing 
destruction upon the family. When the young are 
growing, they appear to obtain a good deal of their 
exercise by extending the burrow in every direc- 
tion, till eventually it becomes a warren, resembling 
a maze of mole-runs. 

Not infrequently the nest is above ground, con- 
cealed by the shelter of overhanging grasses. It is 
a large nest, consisting of reeds cut into suitable 
lengths, or of any other material that comes handy. 
In this case the young are conveyed to the bank- 
burrow, soon after they are born, by their mother, 
who carries them in her mouth by the loose skin 
between their forelegs, and the young forthwith 
amuse themselves by extending the bank-burrow 
in the way previously described. 

W.A. U 



322 THE WATER-RAT OE WATER-VOLE. 

It has been said that the young are sometimes 
born in the bank-burrow, but this statement is 
based on reference rather than on personal obser- 
vation. The bank-burrow often contains a cosy 
nest of which the newly born are found to be 
making use, but so far there is no definite proof 
that they are actually born there. I should say 
it occurs seldom, if ever. More probably they are 
born quite near at hand, possibly in the hollow 
trunk of a willow, possibly in an open nest, and 
are conveyed to the bank-burrow as soon as they 
are old enough to be carried. The dread of flood - 
waters is probably at the back of this guarding 
instinct. 

THE BANK-BURROW. 

The water-vole observes no rules or customs in 
its manner of architecture. It loves to construct 
its tunnels among the roots of river-side trees, so 
that its home is braced not only against the assaults 
of flood-waters, but against burrowing animals 
larger than itself. Generally there are one or 
more bolt-holes below the surface of the water, so 
that the occupants of the burrow can escape from 
it unseen, to take cover in the reeds or the bushes 
near. Well above the water-line the burrow 
is enlarged here and there, forming chambers 
sufficiently spacious for dining-rooms and bed- 
rooms. The burrows very often become consider- 
ably enlarged by the action of water, and may 
finally be taken possession of by otters. 

In addition to its water entrances and exits, the 
bank-burrow invariably has at least one exit on 
the land side, perhaps seven or eight feet from the 
water's edge. This, however, may be very little 
used, as it exists chiefly as a ventilator. Old 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 323 

burrows are often very extensive, representing, 
as they do, the activities of family after family 
of youngsters who have worked off superfluous 
energy by enlarging their quarters, while at the 
same time procuring a good deal of food by pros- 
pecting among the roots. 

DIGGING-POWERS. 

Like the mole and the badger, water-voles are 
expert diggers. They will even construct under- 
ground subways rather than risk exposing them- 
selves in the open. One of these tunnels may run 
for a considerable distance from the water's edge up 
into a wood, for example, or even to a river-side 
garden ; and, like the mouse-creeps in the grass, it 
is tapped by intercommunicating subways till a 
veritable maze is formed. What the beaver canals 
are to the beavers, these subways are to the water- 
voles. They exist purely for the transportation of 
food, and their chief value is that, the animals being 
of daylight habits, they can venture far afield 
without exposing themselves to the attacks of 
birds of prey, foxes, &c. 

As a rule, the subways are not connected 
up with the bank-burrows, for if this were so 
they would prove a source of danger by bringing 
weasels and the like to the very threshold of the 
little engineers. Generally the subway entrance 
is several yards from the home burrow, though 
sufficient cover lies between the two to enable 
the rodents to pass from one to the other without 
being seen. 

The tunnels are very similar to those constructed 
by moles, even to the casting up of mounds of earth 
which mark their course. In fact, I have known 
an experienced mole-catcher to make the error of 



324 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

setting his traps in water-vole subways which he 
mistook for mole-runs, finding out his mistake 
when he came to look at his sets. 

The digging propensities of the water-vole do 
not seem to be very well known, and the subways 
may exist only in localities where the earth is 
sufficiently soft to render their construction easy. 
Many examples were under my observation in the 
valley of the river Wharfe, near Burnsall village, 
to which locality these observations are almost 
entirely limited. 

PERIODICAL INCREASE. 

The water-vole population of any given locality 
varies considerably with the seasons, as seems to 
be the case with all wild creatures of the water-side. 
In some localities they may for a season or two 
become a veritable plague, infesting the water's 
edge in thousands, and drawing all manner of 
predatory birds to the vicinity. Such plagues, 
however, are of short duration, and are usually 
followed by a corresponding period of scarcity. 
What is the cause of this it is difficult to con- 
jecture. Disease does not appear to be among 
the water-vole's foes, flood -waters taking the 
place of it, and therefore their sudden disappear- 
ance after a term of abundance is probably due 
to migration. 

SOLITARY INDIVIDUALS. 

The case of the bank-beaver, which neither toils 
nor spins, but which lives its life remote from its 
fellows in a bank-burrow of its own, has its exact 
counterpart in the world of the water-vole. One 
regularly comes across old and solitary individuals 



THE WATER-HAT OR WATER-VOLE. 325 

living their lives in sunny bachelorhood or spinster- 
hood, unfettered by family cares, and existing only 
for their own pleasure. Whether, like the bank- 
beaver, they are outcasts, expelled from the social 
intercourse of their kind, or whether they are 
solitary merely from choice, it is impossible to 
tell. 

Such a solitary specimen inhabited the banks of 
a small pond, fed by an overflow arm from the 
river, all one spring and summer under the writer's 
observation. He was an exceptionally large vole, 
and seemed totally devoid of ambition. The roof 
of his bank-burrow had crumbled in, but he made 
no attempt to improve things. One of the main 
outlets contained in course of time a hornet's nest, 
but he did not seem to mind. A dead toad was 
never removed from another exit till the burying 
beetles removed it. 

This vole was seen regularly by the anglers who 
visited the pool, and many commented upon his 
tameness. It is quite probable that ' he ' was an 
old female vole, whose age forbade her taking a 
further active part in the multiplication of her 
species, and whose declining interests no longer 
embraced the various errant-knights that came her 
way. Other voles lived quite near at hand, but 
this romantic old recluse apparently never associated 
with them. 

Another solitary specimen lived by the banks of 
a whirlpool at no great distance from the first, and 
was seen on several occasions chasing other voles 
from the locality. So far as one could judge, this 
individual had entirely dispensed with the use of a 
burrow, evidently considering himself above such 
things, and made his home among the chaos of 
loose rocks piled at the water's edge. Here he 



326 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

had many runways and landing -platforms, and 
from the general aspect of things he did himself 
very well. Certainly he had annexed the most 
sunny and sheltered corner obtainable along the 
whole river-stretch. 

SIGNALLING. 

So far as is apparently known, water-voles have 
not advanced to the level of the beavers in the 
employment of any recognised system of inter- 
communication. A beaver in search of a wife 
forthwith advertises the fact by planting notice- 
boards (otherwise castor signs) all up and down 
the landscape, particularly at the river-forks, where 
the advertisement is likely to catch the eye of 
passing pedestrians of his own species, though not 
of his own sex. If the water-voles possess any 
such system, they have managed to keep it secret, 
and in all probability their sense of smell is their 
only aid to matrimony. 

These animals, however, adopt the same system 
as the beavers of spreading the alarm by diving 
noisily when danger threatens. They do not, appa- 
rently, strike the water with their tails as the beavers 
do, but dive with such suddenness that the water 
closes behind them with an abrupt 'plop,' which 
can be heard at a considerable distance. This 
action is instantly copied by other voles, startled 
by the noise, and so the alarm is spread up and 
down the river-bank ahead of the approaching 
danger. When diving ordinarily, water-voles do 
so in perfect silence ; it is only when they are 
alarmed that the suddenness of their immersion 
automatically creates the alarm-signal. So far as 
can be ascertained, this marks the limit of the 
water-vole's attainments in the way of intercom- 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 327 

munication which has for its end a purely social 
object. 

SWIMMING. 

It is a curious fact that though swimming comes 
naturally to the water-vole, while with the otter 
it amounts purely to an accomplishment, yet the 
water-vole never attains the complete mastery of 
the water attained by the otter. At the best it 
is but a poor swimmer, and compared with the 
otter it is a weakling and a land-lubber. When an 
otter is under water it swims with its whole body, 
like a leech, propelling itself belly upwards or in 
any other position convenience dictates ; but the 
water-vole, on the other hand, swims like any other 
rodent. When diving, it propels itself entirely by 
its hind-paws, using its forepaws for groping its 
way, grasping here a pebble, there a twig, and so 
turning and steering its course with its forepaws, 
while its hind-paws are used solely as paddles. 
Some authorities state that the animal propels 
itself with all four paws when diving in alarm, 
but though I have repeatedly watched water-voles 
most closely I have never seen the forepaws to 
be used as paddles. Their function appears to be 
limited exclusively to influencing the direction of 
travel. 

Of course, there are obvious reasons why the 
otter has attained a higher standard of perfection 
in the water than has the water-vole ; for, quite 
apart from the fact that the otter is a creature of 
unusual gifts, it is dependent on its swimming- 
powers for capturing its natural food ; that is, it 
has to swim for its living, whereas the vole swims 
merely for convenience and safety. The smaller 
animal is in no way dependent upon its diving 



328 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

abilities for its food ; in fact, its needs in the 
under- water line extend just so far as, and no 
farther than, is necessary for evading its foes. An 
under-water passage of a few feet generally suffices 
to take the vole to a place of safety, and its 
abilities do not exceed these simple requirements. 
It is, if anything, a weaker swimmer than is the 
house-rat, for if its initial dash for cover fails, it 
quickly loses heart, and falls an easy victim to its 
persecutor. 

MENTALITY. 

It will be seen from all that has been said that 
the water-vole stands well up in the scale of intelli- 
gence higher, indeed, than many of the larger 
mammals with which this book deals. It possesses 
the gift of profiting by previous experience, which 
is the true measure of wisdom in the wild. It has 
learnt by sad experience that flood-water is the 
most potent of its foes, and accordingly it guards 
against this inevitable peril in the best way it 
knows. It places its nest and its winter store, 
if such it should happen to possess, well above 
high-water mark. It constructs its bank-burrow 
in such a way that it cannot be drowned, or 
be frozen in during winter frosts. Realising the 
peril that lurks in the skies, it digs subways to 
its distant feeding-grounds so that it can come 
and go unseen. When its young are very small, 
surprise floods are their greatest danger, and so 
they are nursed above flood -line. Immediately 
they are old enough to move about a little the 
danger of surprise attacks from weasels or gray 
rats outweighs the danger of the flood, and so they 
are taken to the bank-burrow, where the water that 
might have drowned them is at hand to save them. 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 329 

Should a flood now occur, the young are old 
enough to contend with it, and unless it be one 
of exceptional violence, the peril it presents is less 
than that which exists from the murderous beasts 
without. 

All these things the water-voles of to-day do 
not, probably, reason out for themselves ; the know- 
ledge of them has been inherited from countless 
generations of forefathers who, atom by atom, 
grain by grain, have profited by their experience, 
and, acting accordingly, have handed their lessons 
on to their children, thus establishing such life 
habits and customs of the species that we have 
to-day a water-vole that can hold its own. Many 
have perished where the water-vole has survived, 
and no doubt it was the same gift of profiting by 
sad experience that, in the dim long ago, taught 
this little creature that water was its friend, and 
that at the water's edge it was better able to evade 
its many foes than on dry land. 

To-day the water-vole is aquatic simply for pro- 
tective purposes. Naturally it has acquired a taste 
for many water-loving plants ; but the requirements 
of its ordinary life, not taking into account its foes, 
do not necessitate the close proximity of water. 
It is capable of flourishing on dry land, as its foods 
are not limited to the water's edge, and it affords 
one of the few examples in wild life of a creature 
that has chosen its habitat solely with a view to 
holding out against its enemies. 

To this choice only does the water-vole owe its 
survival. Slow -footed, short-sighted, an excep- 
tionally slow breeder, prized as a food item by all 
carnivorous birds and beasts, and withal sufficiently 
large to provide a tempting meal, the water-vole 
could not have lived on had it not sought the 



330 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

water as a place of sanctuary ; and it is solely 
because it possessed this advantage of environment 
not shared by many other rodents which were 
infinitely more productive than itself that it lives 
to-day, while they are gone. The fact of its sur- 
vival alone, then, in the face of so many foes, 
and with its limited powers of multiplication, is 
sufficient proof of its intelligence. 

In a way that is more likely to come within the 
notice of the casual observer, the intelligence of 
this little animal is shown by its quickness in 
recognising certain individuals. The solitary water- 
vole already alluded to as living by the pond had 
no fear whatever of anglers. It evidently recog- 
nised them as peaceful individuals who did no harm 
to any one but themselves, and it was no uncommon 
thing for the animal to swim within a yard or so 
of an angler fishing the pool. One Sunday, how- 
ever, my brother and I went that way garbed in 
the garments of respectability, and the water-vole, 
with one fearful look at us, made a headlong plunge 
for shelter, and thereafter remained concealed ! 

A man in charge of some trout-hatcheries told 
me that the voles by his fish-ponds had become so 
tame that they almost permitted him to handle 
them, but if by any chance a stranger accompanied 
him to the ponds, there was never a water-vole to 
be seen ! 

FOOD. 

The water-vole is almost entirely a vegetarian, 
and one can study its habits closely for some con- 
siderable time without finding a single exception 
to its vegetarian tastes. It lives chiefly on the 
shoots of willows during the spring, sitting upright 
and stripping off the bitter bark with its forepaws, 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 331 

then nibbling the soft pith within. It eats also a 
variety of water-plants, and tender shoots of almost 
any kind. In autumn it eats practically any variety 
of seeds that come handy, and in winter may gnaw 
the bark of any species of hardwood, as rabbits do 
gnawing generally at the roots just where they 
enter the ground. Grass, daisy-roots, clover, bulbs 
of all kinds, and beech-mast lying on the ground 
appear to be appreciated items of diet ; while pota- 
toes and sweet chestnuts are regarded as most 
desirable dainties. 

I have never known this creature to eat carrion. 
On one occasion we threw a dead hedgehog among 
some driftwood about which water-voles were daily 
seen, but there it remained, untouched by them, 
till the next spate bore it away. On another 
occasion a dead sheep, carried by the current, lodged 
near a water-vole burrow, and a day or two later a 
portion of the sheep protruding above the surface 
was seen to be gnawed. Here, we felt sure, was 
the expected evidence, but subsequent observations 
proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the gnawing 
was the work of a gray rat. The water-vole, 
therefore, is of no value as a scavenger, and will 
even ignore the water-logged stem of a cabbage 
washed up near its home. 

Nor is this animal guilty of raiding the redds 
of trout and salmon, as is so often thought. Such 
depredations are limited to its interesting little 
congener, the water-shrew. A river-keeper in the 
north of England made a rule for many years of 
trapping and destroying in every way possible the 
water-voles that visited his trout-hatcheries ; but 
subsequently he learnt that, though the voles did a 
certain amount of damage by burrowing in the 
banks of the ponds, and further by forcing creeps 



332 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

under the wire-netting so that water-shrews and 
rats could follow them, their presence was in no 
way detrimental to the welfare of the young trout 
in the ponds or of the spawn in the hatcheries. In 
the end he allowed the voles to remain, as he 
discovered according to his own evidence, which 
quite satisfied him that they were effective in 
destroying a particularly noxious dragon-fly larva, 
which fed exclusively on the small and weakly fish. 
One of these destructive creepers would sit on a 
stone slab just where the water trickled into one 
of the ponds, and immediately a young trout 
drifted near it would propel itself forward by a 
downward flip of the upturned, fin-like tail, catch 
the fish in its powerful forceps, and drain its life in 
a few seconds. After the coming of the voles the 
remains of these hideous larvae were regularly found 
on a stone slab above ; but it is still a very open 
question whether they were destroyed by the water- 
voles, or by water-shrews entering the wire-netting 
by the creeps of the voles. If by the shrews, it 
is at any rate refreshing to find that they did 
something to pay their way. 

One or two naturalists refer to the water-vole's 
partiality for fresh-water mussels, which it is said 
to eat by gnawing a hole through the shell at one 
side near the hinge ; but there seems insufficient 
evidence to prove that this is the work of voles 
and not of shrews, which, while very carnivorous in 
their habits, are, moreover, very secretive. Water- 
voles are regularly seen close to a place where 
the empty mussel-shells lie about ; and since the 
shrews are never seen there, their activities being 
nocturnal, the natural conclusion is that the voles 
are responsible. Further information bearing on 
the water-vole's alleged carnivorous habits would 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 333 

be greatly valued. Up to the present we are 
probably fully justified in regarding it as no more 
carnivorous than is the beaver. 

WINTER HABITS. 

So far as one can judge, the storage habit is 
less strongly developed in the water-vole than in 
most of its congeners certainly less strongly than 
in the gray rat. The musk-rat and the beaver 
both have their stores, and it is probable that in 
a country of long, severe winters the water-vole 
would fall into line with the rest. 

Sometimes, but not always, the water-vole lays 
up a plenteous winter store. ' Starprint,' whose 
life-history I have written elsewhere, certainly laid 
aside a small store for the first winter of his exist- 
ence. It was situated in a short burrow in an 
upturned root at least a dozen paces from the little 
fellow's bank-burrow, and contained chiefly bulbous 
roots retrieved from the perilous wood high above 
his home. The store-room was at the end of a 
short passage among the twisted roots of the fallen 
tree, and when Starprint was flooded out of his 
bank-burrow he made his home there. It seemed 
a precarious winter home, since there was no back- 
way of escape ; but ultimately it proved to be 
an impregnable stronghold, the tough and twisted 
roots that bound the earth defying the efforts of 
Mr Reynard, who tried to dig Starprint out. 

His store, however, was entirely inadequate for 
the rigorous winter that followed, and could, at 
the best, have served only to tide him over a short 
term of frost and snow. 

When winter comes, many of the water-voles 
leave the river-banks for more sheltered quarters. 
They are particularly fond of small ponds nestling 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

in woods, and overgrown with a dense entangle- 
ment of briar and berry, and here, having their 
creeps deep in the undergrowth, they may spend 
the winter unseen and unsuspected. During ex- 
ceptionally cold snaps they often remain under- 
ground for days on end, and this fact would seem 
to suggest some kind of a store within the dwell- 
ing. In all probability water-voles, like many 
other creatures, hoard their stores unsystematic- 
ally in various places, a little here and a little 
there, instead of placing all their eggs in one 
basket ; and though we have on sundry occasions 
found caches at the water's edge, among the under- 
mined roots of river-trees, or in the hollow trunks 
of the trees themselves, and though the work 
looked like that of water-voles, no decisive proof 
was forthcoming. It is, however, very difficult to 
understand how this little animal could survive a 
winter of exceptional severity if it had no store of 
some kind on which to fall back. Its diving-powers, 
as already stated, are not great, and it is almost in- 
conceivable that it could keep itself alive for any 
length of time by procuring its food from the bed 
of the pond or the stream beside which it lived. In 
some cases this might be done, but the gravel-beds of 
most of our northern streams must be particularly 
unfruitful, though many water-voles manage to 
winter by them. Assuredly these individuals do 
not keep themselves alive by diving for their food. 
Similarly, I have known several voles to winter by a 
little woodland pond, the bed of which consisted of 
unfertile clay thickly covered with decaying leaves. 
In such cases the vole that had no store would, 
when the earth was frost-bound, be compelled to 
obtain all its food from above the ground, thereby 
exposing itself to such perils that it would un- 



THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 335 

doubtedly fall ere the coming of spring. It is 
only reasonable to suppose, then, that this creature, 
so highly intelligent in other ways, counts among 
its gifts the ability to lay aside for a frosty day 
with a forethought more liberal than is generally 
imagined. 

ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE. 

In no directly obvious way is the water-vole of 
any special value to man except in that sense 
whereby a wild creature of any sort adds something 
to the joy of life. On the other hand, it is to be 
feared that the tunnelling activities of this other- 
wise lovable little beast often lead to the partial 
inundation of meadow-lands dependent for their 
immunity from flood on artificial walls, and that 
these same activities bring the miller's curses 
upon the heads of the water-vole population for 
damage of various kinds. No doubt they cost the 
country a good deal in this way, for a bank once 
perforated is difficult to repair with any degree of 
permanency. Yet to encourage the general de- 
struction of this little creature would be to show 
a spirit of the utmost vandalism. 

DIMENSIONS. 

The weight of adult specimens is usually about 
6 oz., and may occasionally attain 8 oz. The 
length of head and body seldom exceeds 8 inches. 
The tail varies considerably in length, but rarely 
reaches 4^ inches ; from 3^ inches to 4 inches is 
probably about the average. 

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES. 

The forefeet have only four complete toes, the 
thumb being marked merely by a claw. The hind- 



336 THE WATER-RAT OR WATER-VOLE. 

feet have five complete slender toes, between which 
there exists the first indication of a webbing. The 
tail is thickly haired. The ears are very short, 
and almost hidden in the deep, soft fur surround- 
ing them. The water-vole's eyes are small and 
black, and regard one with a pathetic expression. 
Its sight is not good. 




THE WILD CAT. 
V 





' , ' 






THE WILD CAT. 

RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TAME SPECIES. 

THE true wild cat is now an exceedingly rare 
animal, existing only occasionally in the 
most remote Highlands, such as Lochaber and the 
wilds of Sutherland. Periodically reports appear 
in the daily press of wild cats having been killed 
in various parts of Scotland, or even Cumberland ; 
but one needs to accept such statements with 
caution. The most observant and experienced 
gamekeeper is apt to be misled into the making of 
a false report ; indeed, it is no uncommon thing to 
find stuffed specimens alleged to be wild cats set 
up for exhibition in public collections specimens of 
cats which, though truly wild in one sense of the 
word, have nevertheless sprung direct from fireside 
ancestors. 

If interbreeding has occurred, the task of identi- 
fying the animal is indeed a difficult one. For years 
past the true wild cat has been very rare, while the 
wild domestic cat has been proportionately common, 
with the result that it would not be impossible to 
obtain a graduated collection beginning with the 
domestic cat, and ranging over the various stages 
of the wild domestic cat to the half-breed wild 
cat, and so on to the full-blooded Felis catus. It 
would require some skill in the case of such a 
collection to draw a distinct line separating the 
two species ; in fact, I would go so far as to say 
that probably no such thing exists to-day as a 
wild cat in whose ancestry no trace of the domestic 
species has entered. 

W.A. V 



338 THE AVILD CAT. 

It is a curious fact that a domestic cat running 
wild very soon begins to lose the distinguishing 
features of its class, and to assume in their place 
the characteristics and appearances of Felis catus. 
Some years ago a half-starved and wretched little 
kitten came to my door in search of food. It was 
given milk, and thereafter came daily for two or 
three weeks, calling till it was fed, and it was 
noticed particularly that the animal was growing 
in strength and developing into a remarkably fine 
cat. It never attached itself to the house, and 
having been fed, it immediately assumed an atti- 
tude of distrust towards those upon whom, a 
minute or two previously, it had fawned for food. 

Spring came, and the kitten had disappeared for 
some weeks, when one morning I happened to 
look out of my window just at daybreak, and 
beheld an immense 'wild cat' prowling about on 
the top of a pergola green-eyed, heavy-coated, 
its tail bushed out like a bottle-brush ! It was 
almost twice the size of an ordinary domestic torn, 
yet there was no doubt whatever that it was the 
kitten I had fed thus, all unwittingly, having 
inflicted a veritable demon of destruction on the 
surrounding wood and moors ! When I opened 
the window the brute was off in an instant, nor 
did I ever see it again. 

This kitten was probably the offspring of a wild 
tabby parent of the tame variety, and its offspring, 
in turn, would acquire still other features in com- 
mon with the truly wild species, at a sacrifice of 
what remained in the way of domestic traits. 

Thus the longer domestic cats are wild in 
habits the more do they become wild in appear- 
ances. Given a lonely Highland country, we are 
apt to come across specimens which have sprung 



THE WILD CAT. 339 

from a long line of ancestors unacquainted with 
man's threshold, which have bred for generations 
past with renegades and cut-throats of the same 
stamp, till they have formed a race of their own 
a race as much distinct from the tame cat as they 
themselves are distinct from Felis catus. Those 
who would deny all strain of the wild cat in the 
domestic species should bear these points in mind, 
for it would certainly seem that the tame cat 
has more points in common with Felis catus than 
it has with Felis caff'ra, from which sprang the 
domestic cats of Egypt. It may be taken that the 
offspring of domestic animals which run wild ulti- 
mately return to the strain from which they sprang, 
and there is no doubt whatever that domestic cats 
left undisturbed to breed in the mountains would 
finally produce a strain so closely resembling the 
wild cat of our own island that, except in 
point of size, it would be hard to distinguish one 
from the other. Climatic conditions may, of 
course, account for the acquired similarity, for 
the conditions in our own mountains are widely 
different from those of Africa, Arabia, and Syria, 
the lands responsible for Felis cqff'ra ; so that 
a cat which has become wild by living among 
wild conditions is as likely to be influenced by 
those conditions as it is by a far-off ancestry which 
was probably mixed to begin with if, indeed, one 
can begin with a mixture ! 

There is, also, another possible explanation for 
the acquired similarities referred to. At one time 
Felis catus was far more plentiful than to-day, 
existing not only in the mountains, but everywhere 
that woodland shelter made its existence possible ; 
indeed, it existed in England long before it existed 
in Scotland. Thus our original stock of tame 



340 THE WILD CAT. 

cats, which may have sprung from Felts caffra. 
were wont to wander off into the woods, where 
undoubtedly many a tabby became amicably 
acquainted with Felis catus. Her kits were born 
under the shelter of man's roof and grew up as 
domestic cats, which, in turn, were impregnated 
by wild toms, till the blood of Felis catus became 
firmly infused in the make-up of their descendants 
possibly predominating over that of the original 
FeUs caffra. Had the interbreeding gone on long 
enough, an untamable strain would have resulted. 
Such strains probably did result, and remained in 
the wild, which brings us back to our starting- 
point, where it was stated that probably no such 
thing exists to-day as a wild cat in whose genera- 
tion the domestic species has not at some stage 
participated. Similarly, there is probably no 
domestic cat that has no strain of the wild cat 
in its blood. 

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES. 

The distinguishing features of the wild cat are, 
first, its great size. As a rule this alone settles 
the question, for an adult wild cat may measure 
as much as 3 feet 8 or 9 inches from tip to tip ; 
a wild strain of the domestic species never attains 
this size. Second, its tail, which is relatively 
shorter, more bushy, and more distinctly ringed 
than that of the other species. Pulled forward 
over the back, the tail does not extend farther 
than the tips of the shoulder-blades, while the fur 
covering the appendage is almost as dense as that 
of a prime red fox. 

The head of the wild cat is proportionately 
wider and less elongated than that of the tame 
variety, its ears being enormously far apart ; while 



THE WILD CAT. 341 

the centre-lines of the ears, if extended, con- 
verge at a much wider angle that is, the ears 
point outwards more. Thus : tame cat, (v-vj ; 
wild cat, \*~~^ . The eyes are very much larger 
and rounder, and, as a rule, the body-colouring 
is strikingly yellowish. The limbs are longer and 
much more powerfully developed ; indeed, the wild 
cat is a creature of enormous strength, far sur- 
passing that of any domestic offshoot. I have 
seen half-grown wild cats in captivity larger and 
more powerful than any domestic tabby that ever 
imposed its diabolical presence on a game-covert. 

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. 

The habits of Felis catus differ from those of 
the domestic torn only in so far as its inbred fear 
of man, its relatively greater strength, and the fact 
that it is a truly wild animal exert their influence. 
It is essentially a creature of the timber, and 
prefers the pine-slopes to the bleak mountain-tops 
which to-day often afford it sanctuary. It may 
make its home among the rocks, but always there 
is woodland near wherein it hunts even though 
such woodland consists only of pine-forest strips 
encircling the glens and corries. 

In circumventing their prey, few of the cats 
depend to any great extent upon their speed 
excepting, of course, the cheetah and the leopard, 
the former of which is reputed to be swifter than 
the greyhound or even the antelope. The lynx 
depends upon two or three final bounds for over- 
taking an intended victim it has previously stalked, 
and thus it possesses abnormally developed hind- 
quarters with which to perform these bounds 
just as the rabbit is similarly developed in order to 
evade them. All the cats are exceedingly strong 



342 THE WILD CAT. 

in the hind-quarters, but in the case of the domestic 
cat and of the wild cat it is for a different reason. 
In a dog-fight it is the top dog that comes off 
best ; the dog at the bottom is at the mercy of the 
whole of the community, and at once becomes the 
common sport of all. In a cat-fight, however, it 
is the bottom cat that holds the ' upper hand,' and 
woe betide the one on top when those awful hind- 
claws get to work with their rending, tread-mill 
action ! A cat's main idea in a close fight is to 
roll on to its back, and, holding tightly to its victim 
with foreclaws and tusks, set its deadly hind-legs 
to work with terrible effect. It is a devilish, 
cattish way of fighting, but one which is, never- 
theless, truly efficacious, for in this way a cat, wild 
or tame, will completely disembowel an opponent 
larger than itself. 

FOOD. 

It has been said that the wild cat is of arboreal 
habits ; and, undoubtedly, a great deal of its prey 
is caught in the timber. It catches and kills 
squirrels by cautiously stalking them ; then, waiting 
with the unrelenting patience of the cat tribe till 
the squirrel has no easy way of retreat, the wild 
cat bounds out a paralysing vision of thrashing 
claws and barred and bristling fur ! That it feeds 
largely on squirrels, where they are plentiful, is 
known ; but probably its methods of hunting them 
are quite different from those of the marten. I have 
known a tame(?) cat to catch squirrels by waiting 
till they descended to the ground, then surprising 
them either from above or by a tremendous leap 
across the open. A cat leaps so lightly and easily 
that the observer obtains no impression as to the 
speed at which it travels, but its great quickness 



THE WILD CAT. 343 

is indicated by the fact that very few creatures are 
sufficiently rapid in movement to evade it. 

It is probable that in forest country, where birds 
are plentiful and easily caught, and where mice 
abound in the leaves, the wild cat subsists chiefly 
on such small prey ; but as a rule it haunts country 
where larger game is abundant, and where its 
activities are not necessarily limited to woodland 
fare. It may surprise the whitethroat in the 
bushes, or the ringdove on her nest in the fir- 
thicket ; or, again, it may feast upon ptarmigan, 
grouse, black-game, or pheasant caught napping in 
the open moor or on the bracken-slope. Mountain 
hares and rabbits it kills in large numbers, but all 
the wild cats prefer feathers to fur. Generally 
they kill what they can catch most easily, and in 
the spring of the year young rabbits and the 
young of all kinds of birds, whether sacred to 
man's possession or not, form their prey. The wild 
cat has also been known to destroy roe-deer fawns, 
and it is even more destructive than Reynard 
where young lambs are concerned. Thus not 
only the hand of every keeper, but that of every 
Highland shepherd, is raised against it, which 
accounts for its present rarity. The wild cat 
could probably stand the drainage imposed by 
keepers alone, but when the shepherd joins hands 
with the keepers it is all up with the creature 
whose fate their forces are united to seal. The 
shepherds generally know the wild fauna of the 
hills as well as, if not better than, the keepers, 
and their method is stealthily to discover the lair 
of the wild cat, then to destroy her kits either by 
digging them out, or by poking a long stick with a 
knife attached into the nest. A tragic incident as 
to how a shepherd met his fate while engaged in 



344 THE WILD CAT. 

this wise is told by Colquhoun in his absorbing 
book, The Moor and the Loch. 

The food of the wild cat, then, may be summed 
up as follows. Like all the cats, it prefers an 
abundance of small game to worthier quarry, but 
where small game is insufficiently plentiful, or too 
difficult to catch, it will kill anything it can hold. 
Its destructiveness on game-reserves is, therefore, 
determined by the proportion of game-birds to 
other kinds of food. If rabbits and small birds 
are everywhere, it probably does little to bring 
about the unrelenting persecution to which it is 
subjected ; if, on the other hand, small game is 
scarce, and the creatures man wishes to preserve 
possess the country-side in excelsis, then naturally 
the wild cat makes a business of catching and 
killing those creatures which were its birthright 
ages before man took to controlling for his own 
ends the populace of the woods. 

The case of the wild cat to-day is exactly 
analogous to that of the pine-marten, in dealing 
with which I have endeavoured to set forth a 
common-sense view as regards ultra-rare animals. 
At this juncture it is interesting to call to mind 
that, in tracing back the history of the domestic 
cat, we find that it superseded the pine-marten 
as a domestic exterminator of mice and rats, the 
pine-marten having an earlier standing as a beast 
associated with man's hearth than has the tame 
cat of to-day. 

METHODS OF FEEDING. 

The wild cat's method of feeding is to seize its 
prey and depart with it into the timber leopard 
fashion. If there is no timber into which to 
go, it proceeds, snarling and spluttering as its 



THE WILD CAT. 345 

jaws close in the death-grip, into some corridor of 
the rocks where it can feast in security. It is not 
the way of the cat tribe to slay their game in the 
open and to feast under the rays of the sun or the 
moon, as the case may be. They prefer always 
the shadowy alley-ways where, by back-handed 
methods, they can avoid such inconveniences as 
are apt to arise as the result of dishonesty. If 
its prey is too large to carry, then the wild cat 
crouches upon it, trusting to its own terribleness 
of aspect to repel the would-be avenger of the 
murdered innocent ; and of one thing we can be 
sure, that never, within the normal order of things, 
does a wild cat face in mortal combat a creature 
which it knows to be half so well equipped a 
fighting-machine as itself. 

MATING. 

So far as I can ascertain, the wild cat is mono- 
gamous. Where a member of one sex exists there 
is usually a member of the other. The father, 
however, has nothing whatever to do with the up- 
bringing of his children. Probably he does not see 
them till they are three parts grown, when he may 
cuff them out of his way if he happens to meet 
them. It is merely that he dallies in the locality 
favoured by his wife in case he may be needed. 
Cats do not hunt together except in countries of 
extreme cold where the alternatives are unity and 
starvation or disunity and death. The days of the 
packing of the wild cats are long since past. 

BREEDING. 

Only one litter is produced per year under normal 
conditions ; sometimes, but seldom, a second litter 
appears in August. The number of kits per litter 



346 THE WILD CAT. 

is usually two or three ; four is not uncommon, and 
as many as seven have been reported, but this sug- 
gests interbreeding. It all depends upon the food- 
conditions and the age of the mother. Since few 
wild cats live to grow old, few have large families ; 
and fewer still reach the stage of saddling them- 
selves with a second litter as the year advances. 

HOME-RANGE. 

The wild cat is a creature of very limited home- 
range. If man did not exist, and there were no 
wolves and such like, it would probably live and 
die within a few hundred yards of some central 
point, its range being dependent upon the abun- 
dance or otherwise of food. As things are, a wild 
cat, or, rather, a brace of wild cats, haunt one 
locality till they are scared out. Then they be- 
take themselves elsewhere; and thus their home- 
range may appear to be greater than it is. 

At one time the life of the wild cat doubtless 
consisted of hunting until it was satisfied, then of 
basking on a pine-limb in the sunshine, occasionally 
stretching its long claws into the pink bark, or 
fawning under .the stream-bank where the herbs 
grow rank, rubbing its face against those that 
appealed to its fancies a life of idle plenty befitting 
its abnormal powers among the creatures of the 
wild. To-day we see the wild cat hanging on by a 
few remaining threads all too slender to hold its 
weight hanging on at the outside edge, skulking 
and nocturnal in habits a creature which, perhaps, 
we could well afford to lose, were it not that its loss 
would rob our remote Highlands of yet another of 
their rapidly shrinking romances. 

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THE WILD 
UNMASKED 

By F. ST MARS. 
Author of " Pinion and Paw," &c. 

Illustrated by HARRY ROUNTREE. 



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unsuspecting creatures. 

' ' With a brush as deft as frost on the window pane, Mr St Mars 
limns the protean beauty of Nature. 

"The narratives fascinate. Only a little episode in the life of a 
little creature but Mr St Mars gives that little creature the grandeur 
of the right to live. His details are so minute, without being merely 
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For these are the secrets of the woods and the fields, and the under- 
brush that are being divulged to us. It is as though some denizen of 
the wild was speaking revealing sharing with us the hidden things. 
Birds and beasts and the little creeping things of the earth have come 
under Mr St Mars' closest observation, but much of his knowledge has 
its root in an almost uncanny intuition. Sympathy and kindness, too, 
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him and us to pass." 



W. & R. CHAMBERS, LTD., 38 Soho Square, LONDON, W. I j 
and 339 High Street, EDINBURGH. 



5/- net ; per post, 5/6. 

SNAPSHOTS OF 
THE WILD 

By F. ST MARS. 
Author of "Pinion and Paw." 

Illustrated by G. VERNON STOKES. 

All lovers of Nature will revel in these graphic 
and picturesque tales of the denizens of the wild. 



From the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. 

"This work consists of a number of short sketches of the various 
activities of wild creatures, each scene being set in the month of the 
year when the incident described would naturally occur. Thus, in 
January, we have a little tragedy of birds in the snow, and a picture 
of Russian steppes in winter seen from the wolf's point of view, when 
the pack of Nature's hounds pursue a flying sleigh through the frozen 
woodlands, to their own undoing. In June we read of the vicissitudes 
of a mother-starling before her ever-hungry brood could be induced 
to take up their position 'all alive on to the roof-ridge,' in the summer 
sunshine ; or of a wounded and dying lion, feebly beating off the 
flies in the hot jungle, watched by a ring of hyenas waiting for the 
nearing end. 

"No complaint can be made of lack of variety in the wild things 
that the author has pressed into his service. Denizens of various 
countries are all calied upon to play their tiny tragedies and comedies 
in field, wood, or moorland, on river, sea, or shore. 

"We can well imagine that many readers, especially children, will 
follow the adventures of Mr St Mars' strange characters with awed 
fascination." 



W. & R. CHAMBERS, LTD., 38 Soho Square, LONDON, W. I ; 
and 339 High Street, EDINBURGH. 



2/- net ; per post, 2/3. 

TRACKS AND 
TRACKING . . 

By H. MORTIMER BATTEN. 



ILLUSTRATED. 



A Book for Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and every 
lover of Woodcraft. 



From the Morning Post. 

" This is a delightful little book by a true expert. Mr Batten does 
not boast of his ability as an intimate of Dame Nature, but now and 
again he relates an experience which shows he is 'far ben' in the 
loving-kindness of that Lady of the greater and lesser wildernesses. 

" There is not, of course, a trace of the ' Nature faker ' in Mr Batten, 
who does not impute human motives to wild animals, but deduces their 
characters from what he has seen of their doings and by the extra- 
ordinary wealth of circumstantial evidence which he has collected and 
here collated into less than a hundred pages. Diagrams of the tracks 
of all British wild creatures are given, and every careful student of 
his little book will leam to read the palimpsests of the fields, whether 
in snow-time or at more genial seasons, with absolute certainty." 



W. & R. CHAMBERS, LTD., 38 Soho Square, LONDON, W. I ; 
and 339 High Street, EDINBURGH. 



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY 
BERKELEY 

Return to desk from which borrowed. 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 



JUN 14 1948 

I960 

JUL 2 8 1950 



LD 21-100m-9,'47(A5702sl6)476 





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