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Above the steeple shines a plate,
From what point blows the weather;
And chooses it the rather.
And thence securely sees
Secure and at his ease. The jackdaws soon become on familiar terms with man, who sometimes suffers from their incessant pilfering habits ; for the jackdaw, with all his agreeable qualities, is rather unmindful of human laws in his appropriations of property. Often some elegant bit of lace, frills, handkerchiefs, gloves, and even pieces of money, are found in the nests. Such objects, when placed on a bush to dry, or left on the grass, are soon seized upon by the meddling bird, which seems unable to resist the temptation to steal bright and attractive articles. This bad character belongs to the jackdaw in all countries frequented by the species, so that little hope exists of amendment.
Jackdaws remain in England through the year, but only visit the northern parts of Europe during summer ; for, unlike some members of the crow family, they love an easy life of bright sunshine, in pleasant climes, where insects, worms, and fruit abound.
This species is general throughout Europe, and abounds in Ceylon, where it performs the work of the carrion-crow, consuming the offal and other decaying substances. For these services it is protected by the natives, and leads a secure and happy life, unmolested by guns or snares. These birds keep in pairs through many years, and perhaps, as some assert, for life; thus presenting, amidst a multitude of mischievous propensities, one quality which betokens affection and steadiness. The eggs have a bluish or greenish tinge, over which many dark brown or black spots are scattered.
THE MAGPIE (Corvus pīca). Few would, perhaps, reckon the magpies amongst the crows, to which family their habits unite them. Certainly the dark crow differs much from the variegated magpie in appearance; but in temper and mode of life they will not be found to differ. The magpie is a beautiful bird, and few sights are more interesting to him who walks at eventide in a lane shaded by rich foliage, than the sudden appearance of the pied wings glancing in the golden sunset. There are two varieties of this bird, the larger, called by some the tree-magpie, the smaller, the bush-magpie.
magpie displays a more brilliant plumage, and is much heavier and stronger than the other variety, from which it is easily distinguished by an attentive observer. The beauty of the magpie cannot be clearly discerned during the short time of its appearance on the wing, when, startled from some leafy retreat, it flies heavily to the nearest sheltering copse or brake. We see then only the black and white plumage; but could we approach sufficiently near, various brilliant hues of violet, green, and purple would appear. These bright tints are lost in the tamed magpie, which has not a sufficiency of the excitement necessary to preserve the perfect colours of the plumage. As an Indian taken from his woods or wild savannahs to a dungeon loses the fierce air and bold carriage of his tribe, so do certain birds lose, in a restrained state, the vivacity and beauty which belong to them in their native haunts. The magpies are fond of dwelling in the neighbourhood of human habitations, though careful not to approach too near to man himself, a distrust taught by a too free use of the gun against their race. In Norway, where they are for some cause respected, numbers perch on the dwellings in the towns, building their nests about the houses and churches as swallows do with us, and are seen in the churchyards, perching on the grave-stones, and chattering amidst the solitudes of the tombs.
A peculiar custom prevails in Drontheim at Christmas, when the inhabitants place a sheaf of corn outside the houses for the magpies, that they may share in the festivities of the season.
In some parts of the north of England, the birds, being little molested, build close to farmhouses, where a pair will dwell year after year, growing in familiarity with the residents.
The magpie's nest has long been celebrated for its beautiful construction, and some marvellous stories are told of the ingenuity displayed in its formation. Whatever we may think of such tales, the architectural skill of the magpie is indisputable. This bird is placed amongst the dome-builders, in consequence of an arch-like structure thrown partly over the nest; the object of which is, probably, to secure additional protection for the eggs or young against the attacks of predacious birds.
The construction of the nest attracted the observation of the earliest writers on natural history, and Albertus Magnus, a bishop and voluminous writer of the thirteenth century, makes two assertions, which yet engage the attention of naturalists. The first supposes the magpie to construct a hole in that part of the nest which is immediately opposite the entrance, through which backdoor the bird escapes from an enemy attacking the front entrance. For hundreds of years has this been reported of the magpie’s nest. Is it true? One assertion may safely be made. All magpies do not so form their houses ; for in many nests no such opening can be detected. On the other hand, some magpies' nests exhibit something like an opening, through which the bird, in a moment of danger, might make its escape ; and Mr. Jesse states distinctly that a magpie once escaped from him through such an aperture, remarking that it was not a well-defined hole, but sufficient for escape. This writer very justly doubts whether all magpies form their nests on this plan, and is disposed to ascribe such nests to the bush-magpie, which, from building in low shrubs, is more exposed to danger than the larger species. If the twodoored structure be admitted to exist, it shews a peculiar application of bird instinct; and to deny it wholly seems unreasonable. May not this imperfect opening be a result of the bird's sitting on the nest ? The bush-magpie, in whose nest the hole occurs, has a tail longer, in proportion to its body, than the tree-magpie; and the nests being deep, the tail of the bird must press strongly against the side. May not this constant pressure displace many twigs, and produce an opening, through which the bird darts when the true entrance is blocked up by an enemy? We are also told by some, that the magpie aims to deceive those who search after its nest, by building a number of false nests in the vicinity of the true. May not these nests have been abandoned for some reason by the birds? The magpie undoubtedly evinces much caution in the choice of a place for its nest, which requires the densest foliage to conceal it, as the diameter from one outside to the opposite is full twenty-five inches, the sides being very thick. We accordingly find these structures in the centre of impenetrable masses of briers or thorns, which defy the approach of the naked human hand; or so concealed in the heart of tall thorns, or ancient ash-trees, that few eyes have a chance of detecting the bird's home. This combination of skill and prudence was the origin of the following fable, which depreciates the architecture of other birds, as much as it praises the skill of the magpie.
“ As the magpie alone knew the art of building a perfect nest, many of the feathered tribe came to him for instruction, upon which he began : • First of all, my friends, you must lay two sticks across, thus.' Said the crow, I thought that was the way to begin.' You must then lay a feather on a bit of moss.' 'Certainly,' said the jackdaw, • I knew that must follow. "Then place more straw, feathers, sticks, and moss, like this.'. Yes, doubtless, said the starling, any one could tell how to do that.' At last, when the magpie had gone half way, finding every bird seemed to know as well as he did what to do, he said, 'Gentlemen, I find you can all build nests, so you need not my instruction; and away he flew. So to this day, none but the magpie can build more than half a nest.” This bird has never fallen into a like bad repute with the raven or owl; but the peasantry in many parts regard the magpie's motions with superstitious feelings. Some imagine that all cattle will quickly die on which the bird has perched, though, with a peculiar logic, they infer the safety of a house on the roof of which a magpie has been
Should one of these birds cross a bridal party on the road to church, sad are the apprehensions of all. The magpie's food resembles that of the carrion-crow, consisting of eggs, which the bird carries off on its bill, young birds, leverets, fish, frogs, mice, carrion, and grain, to which last it only resorts when hungry. Rats are often killed by magpies, which thus compensate for any little tax imposed on the game preserves. Magpies often hide for the future the food which may not be required for present use, and great stores have sometimes been discovered by workmen. These birds inhabit an extensive range, being found in most European countries, also in China, North and South America. The variety of their food, and active habits, evidently fit them for such diversities of climate. The Irish think their country was formerly without magpies, and an old versifier sings
“ No pies to pluck the thatch from house
Are bred in Irish ground.” The magpie has now found its way thither, and the above lines can be sung no more by Irish harpers.
The magpie is exceedingly watchful during the night, when it is aroused by the least noise, and is suspicious of evil in any unusual sound. Thus orchard-stealers have been detected in consequence of the clamorous outcries raised by the frightened bird, and Waterton mentions the detection of a thief by himself from the same cause. The bird's concern is, of course, for its nest or young, when plunderers approach nearer than is agreeable to the magpie's notions of safety.
If one pair can arouse a whole house at night by their sharp angry notes, the reader may imagine the tumult caused by undue intrusion into their winter haunts in woods, where hundreds of magpies collect during the severe weather.
The eggs of these birds are of a pale yellow, spotted with brown and slate-coloured marks. Such are the usual markings, but those acquainted with birds are aware of the differences constantly occurring between eggs of the same species. Thus the magpie's egg has sometimes a greenish in place of a yellowish ground. These varieties are as much to be expected in the eggs belonging to the same species of birds as in the complexion of children of the same race or country.
The space appropriated to these birds compels us to close at this point our notices of the Corvidæ. We bad intended to furnish some account of the jays (Corvi glandarii), but the descriptions already given of the crow family will, it is hoped, suffice for the reader's introduction to this division of the birdworld. The Corvidæ are the first family of the order Insessores (perching birds), as yet noticed in the series ; others of this large order will follow, disclosing many of those principles of adaptation and beauty by which the world of life is ever ruled.
The Hirundinidae, or Swallow Family. None of the feathered tribes suggest more beautiful images than the swallows. Some birds usher in the approach of winter, and lead our thoughts to the departing splendours of autumn, forcing us to contemplate the invasion of snow, sleet, and tempest, and all the sharp severity of biting winter. Thus the cry of the birds which rush to our shores in the months of October and November reminds us of brightness and sunny beauty departing.
But the hirundines gladden all hearts, and seem like heralds of spring's perfumed gales, as, in fantastic whirl and dart, they exult beneath the life-creating, life-rejoicing sun. At first one skims the pool with an arrow's speed, as if fearing the touch of some icy blast; then others appear, darting over the gardens and circling our houses, till at last we see whole colonies busy in the airy hunting-spaces, or flashing, with snow-white breasts and purplish wings, by meadows, lanes, and rivers. The peculiar life in which the swallow family delights is another cause of the interest felt for these birds. They seem created for a more refined existence than other birds; earth is not their home, but the bright blue sky and the lofty pathways of the air. There do these happy birds sport