Abbildungen der Seite

selves over in the air. Some birds have movements peculiar to the season of love: thus ringdoves, though strong and rapid at other times, yet, in the spring, hang about on the wing in a toying and playful manner; thus the cock-snipe, while breeding, forgetting his former flight, fans the air like the wind-hover; and the greenfinch in particular exhibits such languishing and faltering gestures, as to appear like a wounded and dying bird ; the kingfisher darts along like an arrow ; fern-owls, or goat

suckers, glance in the dusk over the tops of trees like a meteor ; starlings as it were swim along, while misselthrushes use a wild and desultory flight; swallows sweep over the surface of the ground and water, and dis

tinguish themSkylarks.

selves by rapid

turns and quick evolutions; swifts dash round in circles; and the bank-martin moves with frequent vacillations like a butterfly. Most of the small birds fly by jerks, rising and falling as they advance ; many of them hop; but wagtails and larks walk, moving their legs alternately. Skylarks rise and fall perpendicularly as they sing; woodlarks hang poised in the air; and titlarks rise and fall in large curves, singing in their descent. The white-throat uses odd jerks and gesticulations over the tops of hedges and bushes. All the duck-kind waddle ; divers, and auks, walk as if fettered, and stand erect on their tail : these are the compedes of Linnæus. Geese and cranes, and most wild-fowl, move in figured flights, often changing their position. The secondary remiges of Tringa, wild-ducks, and some others, are very long, and give their wings, when in motion, a hooked appearance. Dab-chicks, moor-hens, and coots, fly erect, with their legs hanging down, and hardly make any despatch ; the reason is plain, their wings are placed too forward out of the true centre of gravity for rapid progression ; as the legs of auks and divers are situated too backward.


SELBORNE, Aug. 7, 1778.



FROM the motion of birds, the transition is natural enough to their notes and language, of which I shall say something. Not that I would pretend to understand their language, like the vizier of the Spectator, who, by the recital of a conversation which passed between two owls, reclaimed a sultan, before delighting in conquest and devastation ; but I would be thought only to mean that many of the winged tribes have various sounds and voices adapted to express their various passions, wants, and feelings ; such as anger, fear, love, hatred, hunger, and the like. All species are not equally eloquent; some are copious and fluent as it were in their utterance, while others are confined to a few important sounds : no bird, like the fish kind, is quite mute, though some are rather silent. The language of birds is very ancient, and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical ; little is said, but much is meant and understood.

The notes of the eagle-kind are shrill and piercing; and about the season of nidification much diversified, as I have been often assured by a curious observer of Nature who long resided at Gibraltar, where eagles abound. The notes of our hawks much resemble those of the king of birds. Owls have very expressive notes; they hoot in a fine vocal sound, much resembling the vox humana, and reducible by a pitch-pipe to a musical key. This note seems to express complacency and rivalry among the males : they use also a quick call and a horrible scream ; and can snore and hiss when they mean to menace. Ravens, besides their loud croak, can exert a deep and solemn note that makes the woods echo; the amorous sound of a crow is strange and ridiculous; rooks, in the breeding season, attempt sometimes in the gaiety of their hearts to sing, but with no great success; the parrot-kind may have many modulations of voice, as appears by their aptitude to learn human sounds; doves coo in an amorous and mournful manner, and are emblems of despairing lovers ; the woodpecker sets up a sort of loud and hearty laugh ; the fern-owl, or goat-sucker, from the dusk till daybreak, serenades his mate with the clattering of castanets. All the tuneful passeres express their complacency by sweet modulations, and a variety of melody. The swallow, as has been observed in a former letter, by a shrill alarm bespeaks the attention of the other hirundines, and bids them be aware that the hawk is at hand. Aquatic and gregarious birds, especially the nocturnal, that shift their quarters in the dark, are very noisy and loquacious; as cranes, wild-geese, wild-ducks, and the like : their perpetual clamour prevents them from dispersing and losing their companions.

In so extensive a subject, sketches and outlines are as much as can be expected; for it would be endless to instance in all their infinite variety the notes of the feathered nation. I shall therefore confine the remainder of this letter to the few domestic fowls of our yards which are most known, and therefore best understood. And first the peacock, with his gorgeous train, demands our attention ; but, like most of the gaudy birds, his notes are grating and shocking to the ear: the yelling of cats, and the braying of an ass, are not more disgustful. The voice of the goose is trumpet-like, and clanking; and once saved the Capitol at Rome, as grave historians assert; the hiss also of the gander is formidable and full of menace, and “protective of his young." Among ducks the sexual distinction of voice is remarkable ; for, while the quack of the female is loud and sonorous, the voice of the drake is inward and harsh, and feeble, and scarce discernible. The cock turkey struts and gobbles to his mistress in a most uncouth manner; he hath also a pert and petulant note when he attacks his adversary. When a hen turkey leads forth her young brood she keeps a watchful eye; and if a bird of prey appear, though ever so high in the air, the careful mother announces the enemy with a little inward moan, and watches him with a steady and attentive look; but, if he approach, her note becomes earnest and alarming, and her outcries are redoubled.

No inhabitants of the yard seem possessed of

« ZurückWeiter »