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TO THOMAS PENNANT, ESQ.
SELBORNE, Feb. 22, 1770. DEAZ SIR,—Hedge-hogg * abound in my gardens and fields. The manner in which they eat the roots of the plantain in my grass walks is very curious : with their upper mandible, which is much longer than their lower, they bore under the plant, and so eat the root off upwards, leaving the tuft of leaves untouched. In this respect they are serviceable, as they destroy a very troublesome weed: but they deface the walks in some measure by digging little round holes. It appears, by the dung that they drop upon the turf, that beetles are no inconsiderable part of their food. In June last, I procured a litter of four or five young hedgehogs, which appeared to be about five or six days old; they, I find, like puppies, are born blind, and could not see when they came to
my hands.† No doubt their spines are soft and flexible at the time of their birth, or else the poor
dam would have but a bad time of it in the critical moment of parturition: but it is plain that they soon harden; for these little pigs had such stiff prickles on their backs and sides, as would easily have fetched blood, had they not been handled with caution. Their spines are quite white at this age"; and they have little hanging ears, which I do not remember
* The hedge-hog feeds indiscriminately on flesh and vegetables, is very fond of eggs, doing considerable mischief by destroying game during the breeding season. It will even enter a hen-house, and, when within its reach, will turn off the hens, and devour the eggs. They are frequently caught in traps, baited with eggs, for the carrion crows. They are easily tamed, and become very familiar in a state of confinement; will eat bread, potatoes, fruit, flesh-raw or cooked-without any apparent choice.-W.J. They will soon learn to distinguish the person by whom they are fed, and will uncoil themselves at the sound of his voice.-W.C.T.
+ The young are frequently detected and killed by keepers. The incessant cry they make for their mother when hungry, leads to their discovery. I am assured that the old hedge-hogs hunt eagerly for cockchafers which have dropped from the oaks in Richmond park.- Ed.
to be discernible in the old ones. They can, in part, at this age,
draw their skin down over their faces; but are not able to contract themselves into a ball, as they do, for the sake of defence, when full
suppose, is, because the curious muscle, that enables the creature to roll itself up in a ball, was not then arrived at its full tone and firmness. Hedge-hogs make a deep and warm hybernaculum with leaves and moss, in which they conceal themselves for the winter; but I never could find that they stored in any winter provision, as some quadrupeds certainly do.
I have discovered an anecdote with respect to the fieldfare (turdus pilaris), which, I think, is particular enough: this bird, though it sits on trees in the day-time, and procures the greatest part of its food from white-thorn hedges; yea, moreover, builds on very high trees, as may be seen by the fauna suecica ; yet always appears with us to roost on the ground. They are seen to come in flocks just before it is dark, and to settle and nestle among the heath in our forest. And besides, the larkers, in dragging their nets by night, frequently catch them in the wheat-stubbles; while the bat fowlers, who take many red-wings in the hedges, never entangle any of this species. Why these birds, in the matter of roosting, should differ from all their congeners, and from themselves, also, with respect to their proceedings by day, is a fact for which I am by no means able to account.
I have somewhat to inform you of concerning the moosedeer; but, in general, foreign animals fall seldom in my way; my little intelligence is confined to the narrow sphere of my own observations at home.
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, March, 1770, Os Michaelmas-day, 1768, I managed to get a sight of the female moose belonging to the Duke of Richmond, at Goodwood; but was greatly disappointed, when I arrived at the spot, to find that it had died, after having appeared in a languishing way for some time, on the morning before.
However, understanding that it was not stripped, I proceeded to examine this rare quadruped: I found it in an old greenhouse, slung under the belly and chin by ropes, and in a standing posture ; but, though it had been dead for so short a time, it was in so putrid a state that the stench was hardly supportable. The grand distinction between this deer, and any other species that I have ever met with, consisted in the strange length of its legs; on which it was tilted up much in the manner of the birds of the grallo order. I measured it as they do a horse, and found that, from the ground to the wither, it was just five feet four inches; which height answers exactly to sixteen hands, a growth that few horses arrive at: but then, with this length of legs, its neck was remarkably short, no more than twelve inches ; so that, by straddling with one foot forward and the other backward, it grazed on the plain ground, with the greatest difficulty, between its legs: the ears were vast and lopping, and as long as the neck; the head was about twenty inches long, and ass-like; and had such a redundancy of upper lip as I never saw before, with huge nostrils. This lip, travellers say, is esteemed a dainty dish in North America.* It is very reasonable to suppose, that this creature supports itself chiefly by browsing off trees, and by wading after water plants ; towards which way of livelihood the length of legs and great lips must contribute much. I have read somewhere, that it delights in eating the nymphea, or water-lily. From the fore-feet to the belly, behind the shoulder, it measured three feet and eight inches; the length of the legs, before and behind, consisted a great deal in the tibia, which was strangely long ; but, in my haste to get out of the stench, I forgot to measure that joint exactly. Its scut seemed to be about an inch long: the colour was a grizzly black; the mane about four inches long; the fore-hoofs were upright and shapely, the hind flat and splayed. The spring before, it was only two years old, so that, most probably, it was not then come to its growth. What a vast tall beast
* The legs of the moose are so long, and the neck so short, that they aro unable to graze on level ground, like other animals, but are obliged to browse on the tops of large plants, and the leaves of trees in the summer; and in winter they feed on the tops of willows, and the small branches of the tirch tree.—ED.
must a full-grown stag be! I have been told some arrive at ten feet and a half! This poor creature had at first a female companion of the same species, which died the spring before. In the same garden was a young stag, or red-deer, between whom and this moose it was hoped that there might have been a breed; but their inequality of height must have always been a bar to any commerce of the amorous kind. I should have been glad to have examined the teeth, tongue, lips, hoofs, &c., minutely; but the putrefaction precluded all farther curiosity. This animal, the keeper told me, seemed to enjoy itself best in the extreme frost of the former winter. In the house, they showed me the horn of a male moose, which had no front antlers, but only a broad palm, with some snags on the edge. The noble owner of the dead moose proposed to make a skeleton of her bones.
Please to let me hear if my female moose correspondis with that you saw; and whether you think still that the American moose and European elk are the same creature.
TO THE HON. DAINES BARRINGTON.
SELBORNE, April 12, 1770. DEAR SIB,—I heard many birds of several species sing last year after midsummer; enough to prove that the summer solstice is not the period that puts a stop to the music of the woods. The yellow-hammer, no doubt, persists with more steadiness than any other ; but the wood-lark, the wren, the red-breast, the swallow, the white-throat, the goldfinch, the common linnet, are all undoubted instances of the truth of what I advanced.
If this severe season does not interrupt the regularity of the summer migrations, the black-cap will be here in two or three days.* I wish it was in my power to
ure you one
* Through the attention of W. Carruthers, Esq., of Dor nont, I have lately received the black-cap, with some others of our summer birds, trom Madeira, where it is probable they partly retire, on leaving their breeding places.-W.J.
of those songsters; but I am no bird-catcher; and so little used to birds in a cage, that I fear, if I had one, it would Boon die for want of skill in feeding.
Was your reed-sparrow, which you kept in a cage, the thick billed reed-sparrow of the Zoology, p. 320; or was it the less reed-sparrow of Ray, the sedge-bird of Mr. Pennant's last publication, p. 16 ?
As to the matter of long-billed birds growing fatter in moderate frosts, I have no doubt within myself what should be the reason. The thriving at those times appears to me to arise altogether from the gentle check which the cold thrcws upon insensible perspiration. The case is just the same with blackbirds, &c.; and farmers and warreners observe, the first, that their hogs fat more kindly at such times; and the latter, that their rabbits are never in such good case as in a gentle frost. But, when frosts are severe and of long continuance, the case is soon altered; for then a want of food soon overbalances the repletion occasioned by a checked perspiration. I have observed, moreover, that some human coustitutions are more inclined to plumpness in winter than in summer.
When birds come to suffer by severe frost, I find that the first that fail and die are the red-wing fieldfares, and then the song-thrushes.
You wonder, with good reason, that the hedge-sparrows, &c., can be induced at all to sit on the egg of the cuckoo, without being scandalised at the vast disproportioned size of the supposititious egg; but the brute creation, I suppose, have
very little idea of size, colour, or number.* For the common hen, I know, when the fury of incubation is on her, will sit on a single shapeless stone, instead of a nest full of eggs that have been withdrawn; and moreover, a hen turkey, in the same circumstances, would sit on in the empty nest till she perished with hunger.
I think the matter might easily be determined whether a cucklo lays one or two eggs, or more, in a season, by open
By & wise provisior of nature, and to prevent the very circumstance which Mr. White here notices, we find the egg of the cuckoo scarcely larger luat that of the common chaffinch.-W.J.
But the young cuckoo is, beyond all doubt, larger than the birds that are usually found in the same nest.-W.C.T.