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Birds are sometimes wholly black. I have heard of a male bullfinch which had changed its colours after it had been taken in full feather, and with all its fine teints. The full year it began to assume a dull hue, blackening every year,,, till in the fourth it attained the deepest degree of that colour. This was communicated to me by the Reverend Mr. White of Selborne. Mr. Morton, in his History of Northamptonshire, gives another instance of such a change, with this addition, that the year following, after moulting, the bird recovered its native colours. Bullfinches fed entirely on hemp-feed are aptest to undergo this change.
§ 11. The Goldfinch.
This is the most beautiful of our hardbilled small birds : whether we consider its colours, the elegance of its form, or the music of its note. The bill is white, tipt with black; the base is surrounded with a ring of rich scarlet feathers: from the corners of the mouth to the eyes is a black line : the cheeks are white : the top of the head is black ; and the white on the cheeks is bounded almost to the fore part of the neck with black: the hind part of the head is white : the back, rump, and breast are of a fine pale tawny brown, lightest 00 the two last: the belly is white: the covert feathers of the wings, in the male, are black: the quill-feathers black, marked in their middle with a beautiful yellow; the tips white . the tail is black, but most of the feathers marked near their ends with a white spot: the legs are white.
The female is distinguished from the male by these notes; the feathers at the end of the bill in the former are brown; in the male black : the lesser coverts of the wings are brown: and the black and yellow in the wiDgs of the female are less brilliant. The young bird, before it moults, is grey on the head ; and hence it is termed by the bird-catchers n grey-pate.
There is another variety of goldfinch, which is, perhaps, not taken above once in two or three year?, which is called by the London bird-catchers a cbeverel, from the manner in which it concludes its jerk: ■when this fort is taken, it fells at a very high price; it is distinguished from the common sort by a white streak, or by two, and sometimes three white spots under the throat.
Their note is very sweet, and they are anuch esteemed en ;hat account, as as
for their great docility. Toward winter they assemble in flocks, and feed on feeds of different kinds, particularly those of the thistlo. It is fond of orchards, and frequently builds in an apple or pear-tree: its nest is very elegantly formed of fine moss, liver-worts, and bents on the outside; lined first with wool and hair, and then with the goflin or cotton of the sallow. It lays five white eg^s, marked with deep purple spots 0:1 the upper end.
This bird seems to have been the y^verouiTfi; • of Aristotle : being the only one that we know of, that could be distinguished by a golden fillet round its head, feeding on the feeds of prickly plants. The very ingenious translator (Dr Martyn) of Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics, gives the name of this bird to the acalantbis or acantbis:
Littoraque eltyinen resonant, acimhida dumi.
In our account of the Halcyon of the ancients, we followed his opinion; but having since met with a passage in Aristotle, that ciearly proves that acar.tbis could not be used in that sense, we beg, that, till we can discover what it really is, the word may be rendered linnet; since it is impossible the philosopher could distinguish a bird of such striking and brilliant colours as the goldfinch, by the epithet xaxo^ooc, or bad coloured; and as he celebrates his acanthit fora fine note, Quiyv pit rot Myvpxt I^hc^ both characters will suit the linnet, being a bird as remarkable for the sweetness of its note, as for the plainness of its plumage.
§ iz. The Linnet.
The bill of this species is dusky, but in the spring assumes a bluish cast: the feathers on the head are black, eeged with ash-colour; the iidesof the neck deep ashcolour: the throat marked in the middle with a brown line, bounded on each iide with a white one: the back black, bordered with reddish brown : the bottom of the breast is of a fine blood red, which heightens in colour as the tpring advances: the belly white : the vent-feathers yellowish : the sides under the wings spotted with brown: the quill-seathers are dusky; the lower part of the nine first white: the co*
* Which he placet among the -•"^■1.iyx. Scalirer reads the word fi/rquirfic, which has i» meanmg; neither does the critic support hi> alteration with any reafana. Hjft. an. (I j.
3 Z a verts verts incumbent on them black; the others of a reddish brown; the lowest order tipt with a paler colour: the tail is a little forked, of a brown culour, edged with white; the two middle feathers excepted, which are bordered with dull red. The females .".nd young birds want the red spot on the breast; in lieu os that, their breasts are marked with short streaks of brown pointing downwards; the females have also less white in their wings.
These birds are much esteemed for their son-j : they feed on feeds of different kinds, which they peel before they eat: the feed of the linum or pax is their favourite food; from whence the name of the linnet tribe.
They breed among furze and white thorn: the outside of their nest is made with moss and bents; and lined with wool and hair. They lay five whitish eggs, spotted like those of the goldfinch.
$ 13. The Canary Bird. This bird is of the finch tribe. It was originally peculiar to those isles, to which it owes its name; the (ame that were known to the ancients by the addition of the sortumati. The happy temperament of the air; the spontaneous productions of the ground in the varieties of fruits; the sprightly and chearful disposition os the inhabitants; and the harmony arising from the number of the birds found there, procured them that romantic distinction. Though the ancients celebrate the isle of Canaria for the multitude of birds, they have not mentioned any iu particular. It is probable then, that our species was not introduced into Europe till after the second discovery of these isles, which was between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. We are uncertain when it first made its appearance in this quarter of the globe. Belon, who wrote in 1555, is silent in respect to these birds: Gefner is the first who mentions them ; and Aldrovand speaks of them as rarities; that they were very dear on account of the difficulty attending the bringing them from so distant a country, and that they were purchased by people of rank alone. Olina says, that in his time tbere was a degenerate sort found on the isle of Elba, off the coast of Italy, w hich came there originally by means of a ship bound from the Canaries to Leghorn, and was wrecked on that island. We once saw some small birds brought directly from the Canary Islands, that we suspect to be the genuine sort; they were of a dull green 2
colour; but as they did not sing, we supposed them to be hens. These birds will produce with the goldfinch and linnet, and the offspring is called a mule-bird, because, like that animal, it proves barren.
They are still found on the fame spot to which we were first indebted for the production os such charming songsters; but they are now become so numerous in our country, that we are under no necessity of crossing the ocean tor them.
§ 14. Tht Sky Lark.
The sength of this species is seven inches one-fourth : the breadth twelve and a half: the weight one ounce and a half: the tongue broad and cloven: the bill slender: the under mandible dusky, the lower yellow: above the eyes is a yellow spot: the crown of the head a reddish brown spotted with deep black : the hind part of the head ashcolour: chin white. It has the faculty of erecting the feathers of the head. The feathers on the back, and coverts of the wings, dusky edged with reddish brown, which is paler on the latter: the quill-seathers dusky: the exterior web edged with white, that of the others with reddilh brown: the upper part of the breast yellow spotted with black: the lower part os the body of a pale yellow: the exterior web, and half of the interior web next to the (hast os the first feather of the tail, are white; of the second only the exterior web; the rest of those feathers dusky ; the others are dusky edged with red; those in the middle deeply so, the rest very slightly: the legs dusky: soles of the feet yellow: the hind claw very long and strait.
This and the wood-lark are the only birds that ting as they fly; this railing its note as it scars, and lowering it till it quite dies away as it descends. It will often soar to such a height, that we are charmed with the music when we lose sight of the songster ; it also begins its song before the earliest dawn. Milton, in his Allegro, most beautifully expresses these circumstances: and Bishop Newton observes, that the beautiful scene that Milton exhibits of rural chearfulness, at the fame time gives us a fine picture of the regularity of his life, and the innocency of his own mind; that he describes himself as in a situation
Tu hear the lark begin his flight,
It continues its harmony several months
beginning beginning early in the spring, on pairing. In the winter they assemble in vast flocks, grow very fat, and are taken in great numbers for our tables. They build their nest on the ground, beneath some clod; Forming it of hay, dry fibres, &c. and lay four or five eggs.
The place these birds are taken in the greatest quantity, is the neighbourhood of Dunllable: the season begins about the fourteenth of September, and ends the twenty-fifth of February j and during that space about 4000 dozen are caught, which supply the markets of the metropolis. Those caught in the day are tak«.n in clapnets of fifteen yards length, and two and a half in breadth; and are enticed within their reach by means of bits of lookingglass, fixed in a piece of wood, and placed in the middle of the nets, which are put in a quick whirling motion, by a string the larker commands; he also makes use of a decoy lark. These nets are used only till the fourteenth of November, for the larks will not dare, or frolick in the air except in fine funny weather; and of courle cannot be inveigled into the snare. When the weather grows gloomy, the larker changes his engine, and makes use of a trammel-net twenty-seven or twentyeight feet long, and five broad; which is put on two poles eighteen feet long, and carried by men under each arm, who pass over the fields and quarter the ground as a setting dog; when they hear or feel a lark hit the net, they drop it down, and so the birds are taken,
§ I5. Tbt NlGHTINCALE.
The nightingale takes its name from night, and the Saxon word galan, to sing; expressive of the time of its melody. In size it is equal to the redstart; but longer bodied, and more elegantly made. The colours are very plain. The head and back are of a pale tawny, dashed with olive : the tail is of a deep tawny red: the throat, breast, and upper part of the belly, of a light glossy aih-colour: the lower belly almost white: the exterior webs of the quill-feathers are of a dull reddiih brown; the interior of brownish alh-colour: the irides are hazel, and the eyes remarkably large and piercing: the legs and feet a deep a(h-colour.
This bird, the most famed of the feathered tribe, for the variety, length, and sweetness of its notes, visits England the
beginning of April, and leaves ns in Au* gust. It is a species that docs not spread itself over the island. It is not found in North Wales; or in any of the English counties north of it, except Yorkshire, where they are met with in great plenty about Doncaster. They have been a'so heard, but rarely, near Shrewsoury. It is also remarkable, that this bird does not migrate so far west as Devonshire and Cornwall; counties where the seasons are so very mild, that myrtles flouiitTi in the open air during the whole year: neither are they found in Ireland. Sibbald places them in his list of Scotch birds; but they certainly are unknown in that part ot Great Britain, probably from the scarcity and the recent introduction of hedges there. Yet they visit Sweden, a much more severe climate. With us they frequent thick hedges, and low coppices; and generally keep in the middle of the bush, so that they are very rarely seen. They form their nest of oakleaves, a few bents, and reeds. The eggs are of a deep brown. When the young first come abroad, and are helpless, the old birds make a plaintive and jarring noise, with a sort of snapping as if in menace, pursuing along the hedge the passengers.
They begin their song in the evening, and continue it the whole night. These their vigils did not pass unnoticed by the antients: the slumbers of these birds were proverbial; and not to rest as much as the nightingale, expressed a very bad sleeper •. This was the favourite bird of the British poet, who omits no opportunity of introducing it, and almost constantly noting its love of solitude and night. How finely does it serve to compose part of the solemn scenery of his Penseroso; when he de« scribes it
In her saddest sweetest plight,
In another place he styles it the solemn bird; and again speaks of it.
As the wakeful bird
• Ælian var. hist. 577. bath in th* text and. note. It must be remarked, I.at nightingales ling also in the day.
3 Z 3 The
The reader must excuse a sew more quotations from the fame poet, on the fame subject: the first describes the approach of evening, and the retiring of all animals to their repose:
Silence accompanied; for beast and bird,
When Eve passed the irksome night preceding her fall, she, in a dream, imagines herself thus reproached with losing the beauties of the night by indulging too long a repose:
Why sieep'st thou, Eve? now is the pleasant time,
The fame birds sing their nuptial song, and lull them to rest. How rapturous are the following lines! how expressive of the delicate sensibility of our Milton's tender ideas!
Cave sign of gratulation, and each hill;
These, lull'd by nightingales, embracing slept;
These quotations from the best judge of melody, we thought due to the sweetest of our feathered choristers; and we believe no reader of taste will think them te« dious.
Virgil seems to be the only poet among the ancients, who hath attended to the circumstance of this bird's singing in the night-time.
Qualis populea rr.cercns Philomela sub umbra
Gborc. IV. I. 511.
As Philomel in poplar shades, alone,
From the warm nest, unfledg'd hath dragg'd away;
Pliny has described the warbling notes
of this bird, with an elegance that bespeaks an exquisite sensibility of taste: notwithstanding that his words have been cited by most other writers on natural history, yet such is the beauty, and in general the truth of his expressions, that they cannot be too much studied by lovers of natural history. We must observe notwithstanding, that a sew of his thoughts are more to be admired for their vivacity than for strict philosophical reasoning; but these sew are easily distinguishable.
$ 16. The Red Breast.
This bird, though so very petulant as to be at constant war with its own tribe, yet is remarkably sociable with mankind: in the winter it frequently makes one of the family; and takes refuge from the inclemency of the season even by our fire-fides. Thomson • has prettily described the annual visits of his guest. •
The Rid-iri Ast, sacred to the honshold gods,
Wifely regardful of th* embroiling Iky,
In joyless field;, and thorny thickets, leaves)
His shivering mates, and pays to trusted Man
His annual visit. Half afraid, he first
Against the window beats; then, brisk, alights
On the warm hearth; then, hopping o'er the fUtt|
Eyes all the smiling family askance,
And pecks and starts, and wonJers where he is:
'Till more familirr grown, the table-crumbs
Attract his flendcr feet.
The great beauty of that celebrated poet consists in his elegant and just descriptions of the œconomy of animals; and the happy use he hath made of natural knowledge, iu descriptive poetry, shines through almost every page of his Seasons. The affection this bird has for mankind, is also recorded in that antient ballad, The baits in tkt wood; a composition of a most beautiful and pathetic simplicity. It is the first trial of our humanity: the child that refrains from tears on hearing that read, gives bat a bad presage of the tenderness of his future sensations.
In the spring this bird retires to breed in the thickest covers, or the most concealed holes of walls iand other building-. The eggs are of a dull white, sprinkled with reddish spots. Its song is remarkably fine and soft; and the more to be valued, as we enjoy it the greatest part of the winter, and early in the spring, and even through great part of the summer, but its notes are put
* In his Seasons, vide Winter, line 246.
cf of that time drowned in the general warble of the season. Many of the autumnal songsters seem to be the young cock redbreasts of that year.
The bill is dusky: the sorehead, chin, throat, and breast arc of a deep orangecolour: the head, hind part of the neck, the back and tail arc of a deep asti-colour, tinged with green : the wings rather darker; the edges inclining to yellow: the legs and feet du£ky. *
§ 17. The Wren.
The wren may be placed among the finest of our singing birds. It continues its song throughout the winter, excepting during the frosts. It makes its nest in a very curious manner; of an oval shape, very deep, with a small hole in the middle for egress and regress; the external material is moss, within it is lined with hair and feathers. It lays from ten to eighteen eggs; and as often brings up as many young; which, as Mr. Ray observes, may be ranked among those daily miracles that we take no notice of; that it should feed such a number without passing over one, and that too in utter darkness.
The head and upper part of the body of the wren are of a deep reddish brown: above each eye is a stroke of white :. the back, and coverts of the wings, and tail, are marked w ith flender transverse black lines; the quill-feathers with bars of black and red. The throat is of a yellowish white. The belly and sides crossed with narrow duiky and paje reddish brown lines. The tail is crossed with dusky bars.
§ 18. The Swift,
This species is the largest of our swallows ; but the weight is most disproportionately small to its extent of wing of any bird; the former being scarce one ounce, the latter eighteen inches. The length near eight. The feet of this bird are so sjnall, that the action of walking ,and os rising from the ground is extremely difficult; so that nature hath made it full amends, by furnishing it with ample means for an easy and continual flight. It is more on the wing than any other Avallo.vs; its flight is more rapid, and that attended with a shrill scream. It rests by clinging against some wall or other apt body; from whence Klein styles this species Hiruntto muraria. It breeds under the caves of houses, in steeples, and other lofty buildings; makes
its nest of grasses and feathers; and lays only two eggs, of a white colour. It is entirely of a glossy dark sooty colour, only the chin is marked with a white spot: but by being so constantly exposed to all weathers, th« gloss of the plumage is lost before it retires. I cannot trate them to their winter quarters, unless in one instance of a pair found adhering by their claws and in a torpid state, in February 1766, under the roof of Longnor chapel, Shropshire: on being brought to a fire, they revived and moved about the room. The feet are of a particular structure, all the toes standing forward; the least consists of only one' bone; the others of an equal number, viz. two each; ir which they differ from those of all other birds.
This appears in our country about fourteen days later than the sand martin; but differs greatly in the time of its departure, retiring invariably about the tenth of August, being the first of the genus that leaves us.
The fabuloushistory of the Manucodiata, or bird of Paradise, is in the history of this species in great measure verified. It was believed to have no feet, to live upon the celestial dew, to float perpetually on the Indian air, and to perform all its functions in that element.
The Swift actually performs what has been in these enlightened times disproved of the former; except the small time it takes in sleeping, and what it devotes to incubation, every other action is done on wing. The materials of its nest it collects either as they are carried about by the winds, or picks them up from the surface in its sweeping flight. Its food is undeniably the insects that fill the air. Its drink is taken in transient sips from the water's surface. Even its amorous rites are performed on high. Few persons who have attended to them in a sine summer's morning, but must have seen them make their aerial courses at a great height, encircling a certain space with an easy steady motion. On a sudden they fall into each other's embraces, then drop precipitate with a loud shriek for numbers of yards. This is the critical conjuncture, and to be no more wondered at, than that insects (a familiar instance) should discharge the same duty in the same element.
These birds and swallows are inveterate enemies to hawks. The moment one appears, they attack him immediately; tue swifts soon desist: but the swallows pursue 3 Z 4. and]