« ZurückWeiter »
Swifts are no songsters, and have only one harsh screaming note ; yet there are ears to which it is not displeasing, from an agreeable association of ideas, since that note never occurs but in the most lovely summer weather.
They never settle on the ground but through accident; and when down can hardly rise, on account of the shortness of their legs and the length of their wings: neither can they walk, but only crawl; but they have a strong grasp with their feet, by which they cling to walls. Their bodies being flat, they can enter a very narrow crevice; and when they cannot pass on their bellies they will turn up edgewise.
The particular formation of the foot discriminates the swift from all the British hirundines; and indeed from all other known birds, the Hirundo melba, or great white-bellied swift of Gibraltar, excepted; for it is so disposed as to carry “omnes quatuor digitos anticos "_"all its four toes forward ;” besides, the least toe, which should be the back one, consists of one bone only, and the other three of only two apiece: a construction most rare and peculiar, but nicely adapted to the purposes in which their feet are employed. This, and some peculiarities attending the nostrils and under mandi. ble, have induced a discerning naturalist to suppose that this species might constitute a genus by itself. In London a party of swifts frequent the Tower, playing and feeding over the river just below the bridge: others haunt some of the churches of the Borough next the fields; but do not venture, like the house-martin, into the close, crowded part of the town.
The Swedes have bestowed a very pertinent name on this swallow, calling it “ring swala,” from the perpetual rings or circles that it takes round the scene of its nidification.
Swifts feed on coleoptera, or small beetles with hard cases over their wings, as well as on the softer insects; but it does not appear how they can procure gravel to grind their food, as swallows do, since they never settle on the ground. Young ones, overrun with hippobosca, are sometimes found under their nests, fallen to the ground; the number of vermin rendering their abode insupportable any longer. They frequent in this village several abject cottages; yet a succession still haunts the same unlikely roofs: a good proof this that the same birds return to the same spots. As they must stoop very low to get up under these humble eaves, cats lie in wait, and sometimes catch them on the wing.
On the 5th of July, 1775, I again untiled a part of a roof over the nest of a swift. The dam sat in the nest; but so strongly was she affected by her natural otopyń for her brood, which she supposed to be in danger, that, regardless of her own safety, she would not stir, but lay sullenly by them, permitting herself to be taken in hand. The squab young we brought down and placed on the grass-plot, where they tumbled about, and were as helpless as a newborn child. While we contemplated their naked bodies, their unwieldy disproportioned abdomina, and their heads too heavy for their necks to support, we could not but wonder when we reflected that these shiftless beings in little more than a fortnight would be able to dash through the air almost with the inconceivable swiftness of a meteor; and perhaps, in their emigration, must traverse vast continents and oceans as distant as the equator. So soon does Nature advance small birds to their ņNexia, or state of perfection; while the progressive growth of men and large quadrupeds is slow and tedious!
SELBORNE, Sept. 28, 1774.
TO THE HONOURABLE DAINES BARRINGTON.
By means of the straight cottage-chimney I had an opportunity this summer of remarking at my leisure how swallows ascend and descend through the shaft; but my pleasure in contemplating the address with which this feat is performed to a considerable depth in the chimney was somewhat interrupted by apprehensions lest my eyes might undergo the same fate with those of Tobit.
Perhaps it may be some amusement to you to hear at what times the different species of hirundines arrived this spring in three very distant counties of this kingdom. With us the swallow was seen first on April the 4th, the swift on April the 24th, the bank-martin on April the 12th, and the house-martin not till April the 30th. At South Zele, Devonshire, swallows did not arrive till April the 25th ; swifts, in plenty, on May the ist, and house-martins not till the middle of May. At Blackburn, in Lancashire, swifts were seen on April the 28th, swallows April the 29th, house-martins May the ist. Do these different dates in such distant districts prove anything for or against migration ?
A farmer near Weyhill fallows his land with two teams of asses; one of which works till noon, and the other in the afternoon. When these animals have done their work, they are penned all night, like sheep, on the fallow. In the winter they are confined and foddered in a yard, and make plenty of dung.
Linnæus says that hawks “make a truce with other birds as long as the cuckoo is heard : ” “ paciscuntur inducias cum avibus, quamdiu cuculus cuculat:" but it appears to me that, during that period, many little birds are taken and destroyed by birds of prey, as may be seen by the feathers left in lanes and under hedges.
The missel-thrush is, while breeding, fierce and pugnacious, driving such birds as approach its nest with great fury to a distance. The Welsh call it “pen y llwynn,” the head or master of the coppice. He suffers no magpie, jay, or blackbird to enter the
garden where he haunts; and is, for the time, a good guard to the new-sown legumens. In general he is very successful in the defence of his family; but once