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darting down from above on his back, and rising in a perpendicular line in perfect security. This bird will also sound the alarm and strike at cats when they climb on the roofs of houses, or otherwise approach the nest. Each species of hirundo drinks as it flies' along, sipping the surface of the water; but the swallow alone, in general, washes on the wing, by dropping into a pool for many times together : * in very hot weather house-martins and bank-martins also dip and wash a little.
The swallow is a delicate songster, and in soft sunny weather sings both perching and flying; on trees in a kind of concert, and on chimney-tops: it is also a bold flyer, ranging to distant downs and commons even in windy weather, which the other species seem much to dislike; nay, even frequenting exposed sea-port towns and making little excursions over the salt water. Horsemen on wide downs are often closely attended by a little party of swallows for miles together, which plays before and behind them, sweeping around and collecting all the skulking insects that are roused by the trampling of the horses' feet: when the wind blows hard, without this expedient, they are often forced to settle to pick up their lurking prey.
* “Now suddenly he skims the glassy pool,
Now quaintly dips, and with an arrow's speed
This species feeds much on little coleoptera, as well as on gnats and flies; and often settles on dug ground, or paths, for gravels to grind and digest its food. Before they depart, for some weeks they forsake houses and chimneys to a bird, and roost in trees; and usually withdraw about the beginning of October; though some few stragglers may appear at times till the first week in November.
[September 13, 1791. The congregating flocks of hirundines on the church and tower are very beautiful and amusing! When they fly off together from the roof, on any alarm, they quite swarm in the air. But they soon settle in heaps, and preening their feathers, and lifting up their wings to admit the sun, seem highly to enjoy the warm situation. Thus they spend the heat of the day, preparing for their emigration, and, as it were, consulting when and where they are to go. The flight about the church seems to consist chiefly of house-martins, about 400 in number; but there are other places of rendezvous about the village frequented at the same time. *
It is remarkable, that though most of them sit on
* Of their migration the proofs are such as will scarcely admit of a doubt. Sir Charles Wager and Captain Wright saw vast flocks of them at sea, when on their passage from one country to another. Our author, Mr. White, saw what he deemed the actual migration of these birds which he has described at p. 69, and again in the above extract; and I once observed a large flock of house-martins myself on the roof of the church here at Catsfield, which acted exactly in the manner here described by Mr. White, sometimes preening their feathers and spreading their
the battlements and roof, yet many hang or cling for some time by their claws against the surface of the walls, in a manner not practised by them at any other time of their remaining with us.
The swallows seem to delight more in holding their assemblies on trees.
November 3, 1789. Two swallows were seen this morning at Newton vicarage-house hovering and settling on the roofs and out-buildings. None
have been observed at Selborne since October 1. | It is very remarkable, that after the hirundines have
disappeared for some weeks, a few are occasionally seen again : sometimes in the first week in November, and that only for one day. Do they not withdraw and slumber in some hiding place during the interval ? for we cannot suppose they had migrated to warmer climes, and so returned again for one day. Is it not more probable that they are awakened from sleep, and like the bats are come forth to collect a little food? Bats appear at all seasons through the autumn and spring months, when the thermometer is at 50°, because then phalane and moths are stirring.
These swallows looked like young ones.]—OBSERVATIONS ON NATURE.
Some few pairs haunt the new and open streets of London, next the fields, but do not enter, like the
wings to the sun, and then flying off all together, but soon returning to their former situation. The greatest part of these birds seemed to be young ones.— MARKWICK.
house-martin, the close and crowded parts of the city.
Both male and female are distinguished from their congeners by the length and forkedness of their tails. They are undoubtedly the most nimble of all the species; and when the male pursues the female in amorous chase, they then go beyond their usual speed, and exert a rapidity almost too quick for the eye to follow.
After this circumstantial detail of the life and discerning otopyń of the swallow, I shall add, for your further amusement, an anecdote or two not much in favour of their sagacity.
A certain swallow built for two years together on the handles of a pair of garden shears that were stuck up against the boards in an out-house, and therefore must have her nest spoiled whenever that implement was wanted : and, what is stranger still, another bird of the same species built its nest on the wings and body of an owl that happened by accident to hang dead and dry from the rafter of a barn. This owl, with the nest on its wings, and with eggs in the nest, was brought as a curiosity worthy the most elegant private museum in Great Britain. The owner, struck with the oddity of the sight, furnished the bringer with a large shell, or conch, desiring him to fix it just where the owl hung: the person did as he was ordered, and the following year : a pair, probably the same pair, built their nest in the conch, and laid their eggs.
The owl and the conch make a strange grotesque appearance, and are not the least curious specimens in that wonderful collection of art and nature.
Thus is instinct in animals, taken the least out of its way, an undistinguishing, limited faculty; and blind to every circumstance that does not immediately respect self-preservation, or lead at once to the propagation or support of their species.
SELBORNE, Sept. 9, 1767.