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that these birds neither injure the goatherd nor the grazier, but are perfectly harmless, and subsist alone, being nightbirds, on night-insects, such as scarabæi and phalænæ ; and through the month of July, mostly on the scarabeus solstitialis, which in many districts abounds at that season. Those that we have opened have always had their craws stuffed with large night-moths and their eggs, and pieces of chaffers; nor does it anywise appear how they can, weak and unarmed as they seem,
harm upon kine, unless they possess the powers of animal magnetism, and can affect them by fluttering over them.
A fern-owl this evening (August 27) showed off in a very unusual and entertaining manner, by hawking round and round the circumference of my great spreading oak for twenty times following, keeping mostly close to the grass, but occasionally glancing up amidst the boughs of the tree. This amusing bird was then in pursuit of a brood of some particular phalæne belonging to the oak, of which there are several sorts; and exhibited on the occasion a command of wing superior, I think, to that of the swallow itself.
When a person approaches the haunt of fern-owls in an evening, they continue flying round the head of the obtruder ; and, by striking their wings together above their backs, in the manner that the pigeons called smiters are known to do, make a smart snap ; perhaps at that time they are jealous for their
young; and their noise and gesture are intended by way of menace.
Fern-owls have attachment to oaks, no doubt on account of food; for the next evening we saw one again several times among the boughs of the same tree; but it did not skim round its stem over the grass, as on the evening before. In May, these birds find the scarabæus melolontha on the oak; and the scarabæus solstitialis at midsummer. These peculiar birds can only be watched and observed for two hours in the twenty-four: and then in a dubious twilight, an hour after sun-set, and an hour before sun-rise.
On this day (July 14, 1789), a woman brought me two eggs of a fern-owl, or eve-jarr, which she found on the verge of the Hanger, to the left of the Hermitage, under a beechen shrub. This person, who lives just at the foot of the Hanger, seems well acquainted with these nocturnal swallows, and
says she has often found their eggs near that place, and that they lay only two at a time on the bare ground. The eggs were oblong, dusky, and streaked somewhat in the manner of the plumage of the parent bird, and were equal in size at each end. The dam was sitting on the eggs when found, which contained the rudiments of young, and would have been hatched, perhaps, in a week. From hence we may see the time of their breeding, which corresponds pretty well with the swift, as does also the period of their arrival. Each species is usually seen about the beginning of May; each breeds but once in a summer ; each lays only two eggs.
July 4, 1790.—The woman who brought me two fernowl's eggs last year, on July 14, on this day produced me two more, one of which had been laid this morning, as appears plainly, because there was only one in the nest the evening before. They were found, as last July, on the verge of the Down above the Hermitage, under a beechen shrub, on the naked ground. Last year, those eggs were full of young, and just ready to be hatched.
These circumstances point out the exact time when these curious nocturnal migratory birds lay their eggs and hatch their young.* Fern-owls, like snipes, stone-curlews, and some other birds, make no nests. Birds that build on the ground do not make much of nests.
No author that I am acquainted with has given so accurate and pleasing an account of the manners and habits of the goat-sucker as Mr. White, taken entirely from his own observations. Its being a nocturnal bird, has prevented my having many opportunities of observing it. I suspect that it passes the day in concealment amidst the dark and shady gloom of deep-wooded dells, or, as they are called here, gills'; having more than once seen it roused from such solitary places by my dogs, when shooting in the day-time. I have
* The fern-owl arrives one of the last of our migratory birds, and it has been known to remain in this country till late in November. I disturbed a pair of these birds on a bright sunny day as they were sitting on a stunted oak tree at the edge of some boggy ground in Wales. They made a short flight, and appeared stupified and unconscious of any danger. It is to be regretted that they should be wantonly destroyed, for they are very useful in devouring numbers of chaffers.- ED.
also sometimes seen it in an evening, but not long enough to take notice of its habits and manners. I have never seen it but in the summer, between the months of May and September.
MARKWICK. SAND-MARTINS.—March 23, 1788.—A gentleman, who was this week on a visit at Waverley, took the opportunity of examining some of the holes in the sand-banks with which that district abounds. As these are undoubtedly bored by bank-martins, and are the places where they avowedly breed, he was in hopes they might bave slept there also, and that he might have surprised them just as they were awaking from their winter slumbers. When he had dug for some time, he found the holes were horizontal and serpentine, as I had observed before; and that the nests were deposited at the inner end, and had been occupied by broods in former summers; but no torpid birds were to be found. He opened and examined about a dozen holes. Another gentleman made the same search many years ago, with as little success. These holes were in depth about two feet. *
March 21, 1790.—A single bank or sand-martin was seen hovering and playing round the sand-pit at Short Heath, where in the summer they abound.
April 9, 1793.—A sober hind assures us, that this day, on Wish-Hanger Common, between Hedleigh and Frinsham, he saw several bank-martins playing in and out, and hanging before some nest holes in à sand bill, where these birds usually nestle.
This incident confirms my suspicions that this species of hirundo is to be seen first of any; and gives great reason to suppose that they do not leave their wild haunts at all, but are secreted amidst the clefts and caverns of those abrupt cliffs where they usually spend their summers.
The late severe weather considered, it is not very probable * I am not sure that the habits of the little sand-martin (Hirundo riparia) do not interest me more than those of the swallow. They excavate their holes in sunny sand-banks with wonderful rapidity, and dart in and out of them in a way peculiarly pleasing, and which I am never tired of watching. When the male and female are resting for a few moments, in the recesses of their sandy retreat, their gentle notes of love and affection may be heard, and then they resume their rapid and “joyous” flight.-Ed.
that these birds should have migrated so early from a tropical region, through all these cutting winds and pinching frosts: but it is easy to suppose that they may, like bats and flies, have been awakened by the influence of the sun amidst their secret latebre, where they have spent the uncomfortable foodless months in a torpid state, and the profoundest of slumbers.
There is a large pond at Wish-Hanger, which induces these sand-martins to frequent that district. For I have ever remarked that they haunt near great waters, either rivers or lakes.
WHITE. Here, and in many other passages of his writings, this very ingenious naturalist favours the opinion that part, at least, of the swallow tribe pass their winter in a torpid state, in the same manner as bats and flies, and revive again on the approach of spring.
I have frequently taken notice of all these circumstances, which induced Mr. White to suppose that some of the hirundines lie torpid during winter. I have seen, so late as November, on a finer day than usual at that season of the year, two or three swallows flying backwards and forwards under a warm hedge, or on the sunny side of some old building; nay, I once saw, on the 8th of December, two martins flying about very briskly, the weather being mild. I had not seen any considerable number, either of swallows or martins, for a good while before: from whence, then, could these few birds come, if not from some hole or cavern where they had laid themselves up for the winter? Surely it will not be asserted that these birds migrate back again, from some distant tropical region, merely on the appearance of a fine day or two at this late season of the year. Again, very early in the spring, and sometimes immediately after very cold, severe weather, on its growing a little warmer, a few of these birds suddenly make their appearance, long before the generality of them are seen. These appearances certainly favour the opinion of their passing the winter in a torpid state, but do not absolutely prove the fact; for who ever saw them reviving of their own accord from their torpid state, without being first brought to the fire, and, as it were, forced into life again ; soon after which revivification, they constantly die.
SWALLOWS, CONGREGATING AND DISAPPEARANCE OF.*During the severe winds that often prevail late in the spring, it is not easy to say how the hirundines subsist; for they withdraw themselves, and are hardly ever seen, nor do any insects appear for their support. That they can retire to rest, and sleep away these uncomfortable periods, as bats do, is a matter rather to be suspected than proved: or do they not rather spend their time in deep and sheltered vales near waters, where insects are more likely to be found ? Certain it is, that hardly any individuals of this genus have, at such times, been seen for several days together.
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 four hundred 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 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 11. It is very remarkable, that after
* A correspondent informs me that he has observed that when a large number of swallows have congregated in the neighbourhood of Liverpool, they have suddenly disappeared, but, upon a strong gale of wind arising, they have as suddenly reassembled till the gale was over. -Ed.
+ On the 2nd and 3rd of December, 1842, several swallows were seen flying about some of the towers of Windsor Castle ; the thermometer then was 48, and the wind S.S.W.ED.