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tempests which strew the shores with wrecks. Sometimes, when far from land, the storm meets their hosts ; in which case they rest awhile on the solitary sea rocks, or descend on the rigging of some vessel, tossed by the same tempests as themselves. Thus, this migration is one of great toil, and attended with many dangers, and often accompanied by the deaths of thousands in a migratory troop.
The Hirundines are not classed amongst song-birds; yet the chimney-swallow has a soft and melodious note, which may, without the least abuse of language, be called its song. It twitters this sound both perching and Aying. A whole orchestra is formed on a still summer's evening, when the effect of the soft melody is most pleasant. The reader who has heard this pianissimo music stealing from the curiously-adorned parapets of some quiet family mansion in the country, will remember with delight the soothing influence of the melody, as it softly harmonises with the musical gush of the small fountain playing in its mossy basin.
THE HOUSE-MARTIN (Hirundo urbica). This species reaches England about three weeks after the chimney-swallow, with which it may have left Africa, but, being endowed with less power of wing, has been distanced on the journey; or the martins may be less able to face heavy gales, and therefore wait till the winter winds have spent their rage. It is a more elegant bird than the chimney-swallow, presenting to our admiration its beautiful snow-white breast, seeming as if formed to dwell in the purest regions of the air, where nought of taint could reach its delicate plumage. It also exhibits more of the rich purple on the back and wings than the first mentioned bird, producing a most brilliant appearance when a flock of these beautiful birds is seen wheeling for hours together in the sunlight, which develops every tint of their richly-coloured wings. Some may deem its shape less graceful than the form of its kindred species, as the body is shorter and the tail less forked ; the wings are also deficient in that sweep which contributes to form the beautiful movements of the chimney-swallow. On this point the hirundo urbica must yield to the hirundo rustica ; but its pleasing colours will more than compensate for the inferiority of form and movement.
The appellation urbica, given to this martin, designates one of its most interesting habits, that of building against the walls of our houses. This tendency brings the martin into the closest familiarity with man, whether the nest be raised under the weather-board of the cottage-door, where the peasant children gaze with delight on the bright creature, as with gentle twitter it flies over their curly heads to its home, or against the windows of the scholar's library, who oft pauses a moment from thought to mark its happy movements.
It is an interesting sight to watch a pair of these birds whilst constructing the nest. At first there is evidently something like thought respecting the choice of a position. This being settled, the birds begin to work with untiring zeal. They do not build through the whole day, but principally in the morning, and thus the work of one morning becomes dry and hardened by the ensuing: If the nest were raised without such intervals, the mass would become too heavy for the moist clay to support, and fall down; this is prevented by allowing one layer to dry before adding another. Just upon this principle do the cotters in Devonshire raise those walls of earth which are often seen in that part of England. After a stratum of earth is laid, no further progress is made until the whole part already formed is thoroughly dry, when a fresh stratum is formed ; after which there is another delay, and so the work is continued until the building is completed. But how does the martin produce that adhesiveness in the clay, which causes every part to cling together so firmly and so long? Let the most skilful mechanist try to form a piece of earthwork resembling the martin's nest, and placed, like it, against a perpendicular wall; he will soon find the attempt hopeless. We will watch the bird's operations in building. As soon as a fit place is selected, we hear at the earliest dawn a constant twittering about the spot, as if the birds, like merry, contented workmen, lightened their labours by pleasant carols. Approaching, we see first one bit of earth, then another, added to the tiny house. The martin does not merely place the bit of earth upon the previously collected matter, but works for some time kneading the fresh bit with its beak and chin into the substance of the old work. After some troweling of this nature, it flies away for more materials, which are again incorporated into the preceding deposit. The clay seems to be moistened in some way by a secretion from the bird's mouth-glands, and thus to acquire that glue-like property which renders the nest firm and durable. When well placed, they will resist for years both summer and winter storms, with all the alternations of heat and cold, drought and wet; after which time it requires some powerful blows of a stick to effect their destruction. So viscid is the substance of the nest, that the marks of its adhesion cannot be obliterated from the wood-work of a house without the application of mop and brush.
“ It wins my admiration
The martins are sometimes exceedingly unfortunate in the choice of a place for the nest, raising it where its destruction is inevitable; an illustration of the oft-repeated remark, that a little reason would avoid dangers which the finest instinct rushes into.
A pair began this year to build on the top frame of a window, opening outside in the manner of a door. As this window was shut every evening, the whole work of each day was constantly swept off the ledge by its closing. The writer hoped the birds would desist from building in that spot after one or two instances of destruction had occurred; instead of which, they pertinaciously repaired every morning the ruins of the previous evening, till after repeated disappointments the hopeless attempt was relinquished. One circumstance, rendering this pertinacity more remarkable, was the late hour at which the window was opened in the morning, thus forcing the birds to delay their labours some hours after their usual time of work had commenced. I was sorry to disturb or incommode the little things, but their instinct-illogicalness had led them to a place whence their dislodgment was unavoidable.
These nests are fully occupied during a season, as the martin has generally two broods in a summer, which sport round the houses honoured by their choice, till the autumnal gales sound the alarm of winter. As the martins do not appear to increase in numbers, such numerous families are clearly designed to replace the losses caused by their migrations to warmer homes. Thousands and tens of thousands of these snow-bosomed birds perish during their long journeyings, in which they are necessarily exposed to the fierce winds of the tropics, so prevalent during spring and autumn. The martins probably suffer more than the other swallows, in consequence of their less vigorous powers of flight, and this waste is repaired by the large families raised in a year by each pair. Perhaps no birds leave such numbers of their companions dead in the ocean waters as the martins. Thus, after a gay life amid the pastures and along the banks of the fair winding rivers of England, hosts of the Hirundines perish in the cold blue waves of the Mediterranean.
Their autumnal migration, which is generally towards the end of October, is performed in vast armies, which gather their companies together in our villages and hamlets, as if forming their battalions for some grand struggle with the elements of nature. The villages on the banks of gentle rivers, and especially those on the willow-fringed margins of the Thames, swarm with the gathering arrays, which send forth in still evening the not unmusical sounds from a thousand fluttering wings. None would willingly believe harsh things of these birds of beauty, but truth-loving philosophy will not hide the revelations of nature behind Himsy veils of fancy, nor substitute the gorgeousness of fable for the pure and starry brightness of reality. An astronomer would gain little by wilfully closing his eyes to the spots on the sun or the moon; nor will the true naturalist degrade his pursuit to a collection of childish babblings, seeking no end but the excitement of a weak admiration. What, then, must truth declare of the martin? No less than this, that these apparently gentle birds often leave their young to perish in the nest, when hatched late in the year, and provide for their own safety by joining in the general migration.
Their nests have often been examined, and great numbers found to contain dead birds, or eggs which have been abandoned when on the point of hatching. These deserted nests are only found late in the year, when an irresistible passion impels the parent birds to abandon objects which, at other times, they would most fondly have cherished. These desertions appear, in some seasons, to be numerous, as out of thirty-six nests examined in one autumn, fifteen contained dead birds. Such abandonments of the young by a bird are singular exceptions to the general law which prompts the feathered tribes to nurture and protect, with a fond assiduity, their nestlings. But these cases of apparent cruelty in the martin arise from the strong influence of another
law, that of migration in due time, upon obedience to which the existence of the swallow family depends. When the approach of winter stirs within the swallow the workings of this principle, all others yield for a time to its overpowering force : even a longtried affection for the young then submits to another impulse. Long the martin watches and tends its nestlings. At length it sees its fellows congregate, hears their signal for departure, and, seized by the wild impulse, springs aloft, and joins the migrating host, whilst its young are necessarily left to perish. Our house-martin is not found in America, where its place is probably supplied by the green martin (Hirundo viridis), which is beautifully marked on the back and wings by tints of green and blue ; or by the purple martin (Hirundo purpurea), distinguished by the purplish hues of its breast and belly. This last bird is sometimes seen in flocks of two miles in length, by half a mile in width, and receives protection and shelter from the people, who build compact bird-houses to attract this martin to nestle in their gardens.
THE SAND-MARTIN (Hirundo riparia.)
This species resembles, in its general habits, the other members of the swallow family, and is here noticed on account of the peculiar tendency to form its nest in deep hollows of river-banks, or such-like localities. From this habit it has been characterised by the term, riparia, which the English reader may translate by the word “bank ;" the full name, Hirundo riparia, signifying the bank-swallow. This habit was noted ages ago; and Pliny the elder, in his great work on natural history and science, applies the term riparia to the sand-martin. Thus for nearly 1800 years this bird has enjoyed the honour of an unchanged appellation. It is the smallest of the swallow family, and comparatively rare in the south of England, though more frequently seen than some imagine. These martins have not the bold and long-sweeping flight of the other swallows, but fly in a series of oscillations, somewhat resembling the motions of a butterfly, from which, perhaps, they are called, in some parts of Spain, Papilion di Montagna, or mountain butterfly.
The nests are usually formed in the banks of rivers, but are sometimes found in sand, at some distance from water. The active bird bores a winding opening into the bank, of more than two feet in length, at the extremity of which it forms a comfortable little home for its young. Some banks appear to have an especial attraction for these birds, and are completely riddled for some distance ; 400 holes having been counted within a space of eighty yards in one such bank. The solitary shores of the great