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A gentleman in this neighbourhood had two milk-white rooks in one nest. A booby of a carter, finding them before they were able to fly, threw them down and destroyed them, to the regret of the owner, who would have been glad to have preserved such a curiosity in his rookery. I saw the birds myself nailed against the end of a barn, and was surprised to find that their bills, legs, feet, and claws, were milk-white.*
A shepherd saw, as he thought, some white larks on a down above my house this winter: were not these the emberiza nivalis, the snow-flake of the Brit. Zool.? No doubt they were.
A few years ago, I saw a cock bullfinch in a cage, which had been caught in the fields after it was come to its full colours. In about a year it began to look dingy, and blackening every succeeding year, it became coal-black at the end of four. Its chief food was hempseed. Such influence has food on the colour of animals! The pied and mottled colours of domesticated animals are supposed to be owing to high, various, and unusual food. *
I had remarked for years, that the root of the cuckoo-pint (arum) was frequently scratched out of the dry banks of hedges, and in severe snowy weather. After observing, with some exactness, myself, and getting others to do the same, we found it was the thrush kind that scratched it out. The root of the arum is remarkably warm and pungent. Our flocks female chaffinches have not yet forsaken
The blackbirds and thrushes are very much thinned down by that fierce weather in January.
* Mr. Yarrell informs us that white, pied, and cream-coloured varieties of the rook occasionally occur. I have seen three white blackbirds from one nest, at Blackheath. Also, a white sparrow and a cream-coloured woodcock killed in Sussex.-ED.
+ Mr. White has justly remarked, that food has great influence on the colour of animals. The dark colour in wild birds is a great safeguard to them against their enemies ; and this is the reason that, among birds of bright plumage, the young do not assume their gay colours till the second or third year, as the cygnet, the gold and silver pheasants, &c. The remarkable change of plumage among the gull tribe, is a curious and intricate subject. Is the circumstance mentioned by Mr. Pegge true, “ that butterflies partake of the colour of the flowers they feed on?" I think not. See Anonymianan p. 469.-MITFORD.
In the middle of February, I discovered in my tall hedges, a iittle bird that raised my curiosity; it was of that yellowgreen colour that belongs to the salicaria kind, and, I think, was soft-billed. It was no parus, and was too long and too big for the golden-crowned wren, appearing most like the largest willow-wren. It hung sometimes with its back downwards, but never continuing one moment in the same place. I shot at it, but it was so desultory that I missed
I wonder that the stone curlew, charadrius oedicnemus, should be mentioned by the writers as a rare bird ; it abounds in all the champaign parts of Hampshire and Sussex, and breeds, I think, all the summer, having young ones, I know, very late in the antumn. Already they begin clamouring in the evening. They cannot, I think, with any propriety be called, as they are by Mr. Ray, “circa aquas tersantes ;” for with us (by day at least) they haunt only the most dry, open, upland fields and sheepwalks, far removed from water : what they may do in the night I cannot say. Worms are their usual food, but they also eat toads and frogs.
I can show you some good specimens of my new mice. Linnæus, perhaps, would call the species mus minimus.
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, April 18, 1768. DEAR SIR,—The history of the stone curlew, charadrius oedicnemus, is as follows: It lays its eggs, usually two, never more than three, on the bare ground, without any nest, in the field, so the countryman in stiring his fallows, often destroys them. The young run immediately from the egg like partridges, &c., and are withdrawn to some flinty field by the dam, where they skulk among the stones, which are their best security; for their feathers are so exactly of the colour of our grey spotted flints, that the most exact ob
server, unless he catches the eye of the young bird, may be eluded. The eggs are short and round, of a dirty white, spotted with dark bloody blotches. Though I might not be able, just when I pleased, to procure you a bird, yet I could show you them almost any day; and any evening you may hear them round the village ; for they make a clamour which may be heard a mile. Edicnemus is a most apt and expressive name for them, since their legs seem swollen like those of a gouty man. After harvest, I have shot them before the pointers in turnip fields.
I make no doubt but there are three species of the willowwrens; two I know perfectly, but have not been able yet to procure
the third.* Notwo birds can differ more in their notes, and that constantly, than those two that I am acquainted with; for the one has a joyous, easy, laughing note, the other a harsh loud chirp. The former is every way larger, and three-quarters of an inch longer, and weighs two drachms and a half, while the latter weighs but two; so that the songster is one-fifth heavier than the chirper. The chirper (being the first summer bird of passage that is heard, the wryneck sometimes excepted) begins his notes in the middle of March, and continues them through the spring and summer, till the end of August, as appears by
* Mr. White clearly distinguishes three species of these little birds; and he seems to have had some idea of a fourth : but on this point there is a confusion in the entries in the Naturalist's Calendar, which has perhaps arisen from his having used different names for the same bird in noting down his observations in different years. The small uncrested wren of the calendar, appearing on the 9th of March, is called in the Natural History, p. 84, the chirper, and is said to have black legs: it must be either sylvia rufa or sylv. loquax ; I believe the former, for I doubt the fact of sylv. loquax, the chiffchaff, which seems not to reach the north of England, arriving so early. The third entry in the Calendar, second willow or laughing wren, is certainly sylv. trochilus ; because he says in the Natural History, p. 82, that the songster has a laughing note. The fourth entry, large shivering wren, is unquestionably sylv. sylvicola. It appears to me that the second and fifth entries, middle yellow wren, and middle willow wren, mean the same thing as second willow wren, and refer alike to sylv. trochilus : but it is possible that at a later period than the date of Letter xix. written in 1768, he may have suspected the existence of a fourth species.—W.H.
There has hitherto existed very great confusion in the works of British and foreign naturalists concerning the four nearly allied species of wrens, which Mr. W. Herbert has satisfactorily cleared up in his very elaborate note on the subject, printed in Bennett's edition.—ED.
my journals. The legs of the larger of these two are flesicoloured; of the less, black.
The grasshopper lark began his sibilous note in my fields last Saturday: * Nothing can be more amusing than the whisper of this little bird, which seems to be close by, though at an hundred yards’ distance; and, when close at your ear, is scarce any louder than when a great way off. Had I not been a little acquainted with insects, and known that the grasshopper kind is not yet hatched, I should have hardly believed but that it had been a locusta whispering in the bushes. The country people laugh when you tell them that it is the note of a bird. It is a most artful creature, skulking in the thickest part of a bush, and will sing at a yard distance, provided it be concealed. I was obliged to get a person to go on the other side of the hedge where it haunted; and then would run, creeping before us for an hundred yards together, through the bottom of the thorns; yet it would not come into fair sight; but in a morning early, and when undisturbed, it sings on the top of a twig, gaping and shivering with its wings. Mr. Ray himself had no knowledge of this bird, but received his account from Mr. Johnson, who apparently confounds it with the reguli non cristati, from which it is very distinct. See Ray's Philos. Letters, p. 108.
The fly-catcher (stoparola) has not yet appeared: it usually breeds in my vine. The redstart begins to sing : its note is short and imperfect, but is continued till about the middle of June. The willow-wrens (the smaller sort) are horrid pests in a garden, destroying the pease, cherries, currants, &c., and are so tame that a gun will not scare them.t
• Sylvia locustella. Lath. Grasshopper-warbler.—Selby's Ornith.-W. J.
+ This sentence has probably been the cause of the murder of numbers of these most innocent little birds, which are in truth peculiarly the gardener's friends. My garden men were in the habit of catching the hens on their nests in the strawberry beds, and killing them, under the impression that they made great ravage among the cherries ; yet I can assert that they never taste the fruit, nor can those which are reared from the nest in confinement be induced to touch it. They peck the aphides which are injurious to the fruit trees ; and being very pugnacious little birds, I have sometimes seen them take post in a cherry-tree, and drive away every bird that attempted to enter it, thougla cf greater size and strength.
The birds which are mistaken for them are the young of the garden-warbler
A List of the Summer Birds of Passage discovered in this neighbourhood ranged somewhat in the order in which they appear.
Turtur aldrovandi ?
Muscicapa grisola. My countrymen talk much of a bird that makes a clatter with its bill against a dead bough or some old pales, calling it a jar-bird. "I procured one to be shot in the very fact; it proved to be the sitta europea (the nuthatch). Mr. Ray
curruca hortensis, Bechst., with which Mr. White was not acquainted, as it is not mentioned by him, and does not appear in his list of summer birds ; yet I im confident that they will be found plentifully at Selborne, when the Kentish cherries are ripe. They attacked my cherries in great numbers when I lived in the south of Berkshire, not much more than twenty miles from Selborne. These young birds have a strong tinge of yellow on the sides, which disappears after they moult, and gives them very much the appearance of the yellow wren when seen upon the tree, though they are larger and stouter, and in habits very much resemble the blackcaps, with whom they are associated in the plunder of cherry-trees. I have never seen the pettychaps in Yorkshire until the cherries are ripe, when they immediately make their appearance and attack the Kentish cherry particularly, being so greedy that I have often taken them with a ishing-rod tipped with birdlime, while they were pulling at the fruit. The moment they have finished the last Kentish cherry, they disappear for the !
If they finish the cherries in the morning, they are gone before noon. I am persuaded that they appear and disappear in the same manner at Selborne, and are probably to be found there only while the cherries are ripe, which accounts for Mr. White's having mistaken them for yellow wrens when he S.97 thom in the fruit trees. They breed in the market gardens about Loudre