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an erected crest and attitudes of rivalry and defiance; are shy and wild in breeding-time, avoiding neighbourhoods, and haunting lonely lanes and commons; nay, even the very tops of the Sussex downs, where there are bushes and covert; but in July and August they bring their broods into gardens and orchards, and make great havoc among the summer fruits.
The blackcap has in common a full, sweet, deep, loud, and wild pipe; yet that strain is of short continuance, and his motions are desultory; but when that bird sits calmly and engages in song in earnest, he pours forth very sweet, but inward melody, and expresses great variety of soft and gentle modulations, superior perhaps to those of any of our warblers, the nightingale excepted. Blackcaps mostly haunt orchards and gardens; while they warble, their throats are wonderfully distended.
The song of the redstart is superior, though somewhat like that of the whitethroat: some birds have a few more notes than others. Sitting very placidly on the top of a tall tree in a village, the cock sings from morning till night: he affects neighbourhoods, and avoids solitude, and loves to build in orchards and about houses; with us he perches on the vane of a tall maypole.
The flycatcher is of all our summer birds the most mute and the most familiar; it also appears the last of any. It builds in a vine, or a sweetbriar,
against the wall of a house, or in the hole of a wall, or on the end of a beam or plate, and often close to the post of a door where people are going in and out all day long. This bird does not make the least pretension to song, but uses a little inward wailing note when it thinks its young in danger from cats or other annoyances: it breeds but once, and retires early.
Selborne parish alone can and has exhibited at times more than half the birds that are ever seen in all Sweden; the former has produced more than one hundred and twenty species, the latter only two hundred and twenty-one. Let me add also, that it has shown near half the species that were ever known in Great Britain ; Sweden having two hundred and twenty-one, Great Britain two hundred and fifty-two species.
On a retrospect, I observe that my long letter carries with it a quaint and magisterial air, and is very sententious; but when I recollect that you requested stricture and anecdote, I hope you will don the didactic manner for the sake of the information it may happen to contain.
SELBORNE, Sept. 2, 1774.
To THOMAS PENNANT, Esq.
It is matter of curious inquiry to trace out how those species of soft-billed birds, that continue with us the winter through, subsist during the dead months. The imbecility of birds seems not to be the only reason why they shun the rigour of our winters; for the robust wryneck* (so much resembling the hardy race of woodpeckers) migrates, while the feeble little golden-crowned wren, that shadow of a bird, braves our severest frosts without availing himself of houses or villages, to which most of our winter-birds crowd in distressful seasons, while this keeps aloof in fields and woods; but perhaps this may be the reason why they may often perish, and why they are almost as rare as any bird we know.
I have no reason to doubt but that the soft-billed birds, which winter with us, subsist chiefly on insects in their aurelia state. All the species of wagtails in severe weather haunt shallow streams near their spring heads, where they never freeze; and, by
*Wrynecks appear on the grass-plots and walks; they walk a little as well as hop, and thrust their bills into the turf, in quest, I conclude, of ants, which are their food. While they hold their bills in the grass, they draw out their prey with their tongues, which are so long as to be coiled round their heads," says White in his Observations.”
wading, pick out the aurelias of the genus of Phry
Hedge-sparrows frequent sinks and gutters in hard weather, where they pick up crumbs and other sweepings: and in mild weather they procure worms, which are stirring every month in the year, as any one may see that will only be at the trouble of taking a candle to a grass-plot on any mild winter's night. Redbreasts and wrens in the winter haunt out-houses, stables, and barns, where they find spiders and flies that have laid themselves up during the cold season. But the grand support of the soft-billed birds in winter is that infinite profusion of aurelia of the Lepidoptera ordo, which is fastened to the twigs of trees and their trunks, to the pales and walls of gardens and buildings, and is found in every cranny and cleft of rock or rubbish, and even in the ground itself.
Every species of titmouse winters with us; they have what I call a kind of intermediate bill between the hard and the soft, between the Linnæan genera of Fringilla and Motacilla. One species alone spends its whole time in the woods and fields, never retreating for succour, in the severest seasons, to houses and neighbourhoods; and that is the delicate longtailed titmouse, which is almost as minute as the golden-crowned wren: but the blue titmouse, or nun (Parus cæruleus), the cole-mouse (Parus ater), the great black-headed titmouse (Parus fringillago, now major), and the marsh titmouse (Parus palustris), all resort, at times, to buildings; and in hard weather particularly. The great titmouse, driven by stress of weather, much frequents houses, and, in deep snows, I have seen this bird, while it hung with its back downwards (to my no small delight and admiration), draw straws lengthwise from out the eaves of thatched houses, in order to pull out the flies that were concealed between them, and that in such numbers that they quite defaced the thatch, and gave
* Derham's “ Physico Theology.”
it a ragged appearance.
The blue titmouse, or nun, is a great frequenter of houses, and a general devourer. Besides insects, it is very fond of flesh; for it frequently picks bones on dunghills: it is a vast admirer of suet, and haunts butchers' shops. When a boy, I have known twenty in a morning caught with snap mouse-traps, baited with tallow or suet. It will also pick holes in apples left on the ground, and will be well entertained with the seeds on the head of a sunflower. The blue, marsh, and great titmice will, in very severe weather, carry away barley and oat straws from the sides of ricks.
How the wheatear and whinchat support themselves in winter cannot be so easily ascertained, since they spend their time on wild heaths and warrens; the former especially, where there are stone quarries : most probably it is that their maintenance