Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

crocus sativus, the vernal and the autumnal crocus, which have such an affinity, that the best botanists only make them varieties of the same genus, of which there is only one species, not being able to discern any difference in the corolla, or in the internal structure. Yet the vernal crocus expands its flowers by the beginning of March at farthest, and often in very rigorous weather, and cannot be retarded but by some violence offered; while the autumnal (the saffron) defies the influence of the spring and summer, and will not blow till most plants begin to fade and run to seed. This circumstance is one of the wonders of the creation, little noticed because a common occurrence; yet ought not. to be overlooked on account of its being familiar, since it would be as difficult to be explained as the most stupendous phenomenon in nature.

· Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow
Congeal'd, the crocus' flamy bud to glow?
Say, what retards, amidst the summer's blaze,
Th' autumnal bulb, till pale, declining days?
The God of SEASONS; whose pervading power
Controls the sun, or sheds the fleecy shower :
He bids each flower his quickening word obey,
Or to each lingering bloom enjoins delay."

LETTER LXXXIV.

TO THE SAME.

SELBORNE, Aug. 7, 1778. “ Omnibus animalibus reliquis certus et uniusmodi, et in suo cuique genere incessus est; aves solæ vario meatu feruntur, et in terrâ, et in äere."--Plin. Hist. Nat. lib. x. cap. 38.

All other animals have a certain, definite, and peculiar gait; birds alone move in a varied manner both on the ground and in the air.

DEAR SIR, -A good ornithologist should be able to distinguish birds by their air, as well as by their colours and shape, on the ground as well as on the wing, and in the bush as well as in the hand. For, though it must not be said that every species of birds has a manner peculiar to

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

itself, yet there is somewhat in most genera at least that at first sight discriminates them, and enables a judicious observer to pronounce upon them with some certainty. Put a bird in motion,

“ Et vera incessu patuit.'

And it is truly declared by its gait. Thus kites and buzzards sail round in circles,* with wings expanded and motionless; and it is from their gliding manner that the former are still called, in the north of England, gleads, from the Saxon verb glidan, to glide. The kestrel, or windhover, has a peculiar mode of hanging in the air in one place, his wings all the while being briskly agitated.T Hen-harriers fly low over heaths or fields of corn, and beat the ground regularly like a pointer or setting dog. Owls move in a buoyant manner, as if lighter than the air; they seem to want ballast. There is a peculiarity belonging to ravens that must draw the attention even of the most incurious—they spend all their leisure time in striking and cuffing each other on the wing in a kind of playful skirmish ; and when they move from one place to another, frequently turn on their backs with a loud croak, and seem to be falling on the ground. When this odd gesture betides them, they are scratching themselves with one foot, and thus lose the centre of gravity. Rooks sometimes dive and tumble in a frolicsome manner; I crows and daws swagger in their walk; woodpeckers fly volatu undoso, opening and closing their wings at every stroke, and so

This sailing round in circles, with wings expanded, and apparently quite motionless, is very curious and difficult to understand. A friend tells me that he has frequently watched the flight of the carrion crow (Vultur Aura), both in Africa and the West Indies, where, as in all tropical countries, they abound, and are invaluable. This bird soars at very great heights-at one moment it seems stationary, and at another it sweeps round in large circles without the smallest visible motion of the wings, the wind blowing steadily from one point. How are these circles completed against the wind without perceptible muscular exertion ?-Ed.

+ “The hawk proineth,says the new glossary to Chaucer; that is, pricketh or dresseth her feathers. From hence the word preen, a term in ornithology, when birds adjust and oil their feathers.-Ed.

* In some parts of Scotland, that is said and believed to be the forerunner of stormy weather.-W.J.

are always rising and falling in curves.

All of this genus use their tails, which incline downwards, as a support while they run up trees. Parrots, like all other hooked-clawed birds, walk awkwardly, and make use of their bill as a third foot, climbing and descending with ridiculous caution. All the galline parade and walk gracefully, and run nimbly; but fly with difficulty, with an impetuous whirring, and in a straight line. Magpies and jays flutter with powerless wings, and make no dispatch ; herons * seem encumbered with too much sail for their light bodies; but these vast hollow wings are necessary in carrying burdens, such as large fishes, and the like; pigeons, and particularly the sort called smiters, have a way of clashing their wings, the one against the other, over their backs, with a loud snap; another variety, called tumblers, turn themselves over in the air. Some birds have movements peculiar to the season of love ; thus ring-doves, 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 a windhover; and the greenfinch, in particular, exhibits such languishing and faltering gestures as to appear like a wounded and dying bird; the king-fisher 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 missel-thrushes use a wild and desultory flight; swallows sweep over the surface of the ground and water, and distinguish themselves 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. Most small birds hop; but wagtails and larks walk, moving their legs alternately. Sky-larks rise and fall perpendicularly as they sing; woodlarks' hang poised in the air; and tit-larks 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

* When herons sail over their nests, when disturbed from them, they use their long legs as rudders in making their gyrations. They sometimes only use one leg, at others both. In a straight flight the head rests between the shoulders and the legs are extended together.-ED.

« ZurückWeiter »