Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

out where, for several years after, scarcely a single vegetable made its appearance. Not far from Shelbyville, in the State of Kentucky, there was a breeding-place which stretched through the woods, in nearly a north and south direction, several miles in breadth, and upwards of forty miles in extent. In this tract al. most every tree was furnished with nests wherever the branches could accommodate them. The pigeons made their appearance there about the 10th of April, and left it altogether, with their young, before the 25th of May. As soon as the young were fully grown, and before they left the nests, numerous parties of the inhabitants, from all parts of the adjacent country, came with wagons, axes, beds, and cooking utensils, and encamped for several days at this immense nursery. The ground was strewed with broken limbs of trees, eggs, and young squab pigeons, which had been precipitated from above, and on which herds of hogs were fattening. Hawks, buzzards, and eagles were sailing about in great numbers, and seizing the squabs from the nests at pleasure; while, from twenty feet upwards to the top of the trees, the view through the woods presented a perpetual tumult of crowding and fluttering multitudes of pigeons, their wings roaring like thunder, mingled with the frequent crash of falling timber; for now the axemen were at work, cutting down those trees that seemed to be most crowded with nests, and continued to fell them in such a manner that, in their descent, they might bring down several others ; by which means the falling of one large tree sometimes produced two hundred squabs, little inferior in size to the old ones, and almost one heap of fat. On some single trees upwards of one hundred nests were found, each containing one squab only,-a circumstance in the history of this bird not generally known to naturalists. It was dangerous to walk under these flying and fluttering millions, from the frequent fall of large branches, broken down by the weight of the multitudes above, and which, in their descent, often destroyed numbers of the birds themselves.”

We have now given a short account of some of the more remarkable and interesting varieties of the widely-spread Columbide; neither forgetting the cooing pigeon of our English woods nor the migrating hosts of the American forests. All the species present to our eyes something pleasing, whether it be the graceful velocity of the carrier-dove, with its historical and poetical associations, the multitudinous flight of the winged armies which delighted the

gaze of Audubon, or the less noted but elegant motions of the blue rock-pigeon, which darts above the bright waters of the Grecian seas. To the reader's observation we must now leave these happy tenants of the air and earth, and turn our attention to other families of the bird-kingdom.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

BIRDS of song are favourites in all lands, and sources of delight to all persons. The ploughman hastening to his early work stops to listen to the merry lark, as it pours its prolonged strain over the vale, “ winnowing bright its dewy wing in morning's rosy eye." And then, at eventide, the most troubled heart is soothed, or the most perplexed spirit calmed, by the blackbird's wild note. Does a king wander, in the stillness of the summer night, from his palace to the deep quiet of a neighbouring wood or copse, the rich harmonies of the nightingale float through the air with a fulness of true musical power, which the royal band, with all its resources of instrumental agency, cannot excel.

As, then, the songs of birds bave pleased, and will through all ages please, multitudes, we must devote this chapter to a few notices of the little songsters which waken many a gladsome echo in the woods and fields of England.

Some readers may be prevented from hearing the wild bird's voice by a residence in large cities, into which the musicians of the groves rarely enter; but even such persons may at times escape from the hurry of man's life to the holy solitudes of nature, and listen to her varied sounds in forest or on hill. These will not be sorry to read a few brief descriptions of the birds which add so much to the pleasures of their short visits to the country.

Others live in what is called the country, and listen to the bird-voices which sound from every hedge-row and copse, when the spring calls the violets forth, and bids the forest leaves appear; but even to these the ensuing descriptions may not be without use and interest.

For, in the first place, all our song-birds do not inhabit the same localities, some species preferring one district, and some another. Hence the inhabitant of one county, or one part of a county, may be unacquainted with the feathered harmonists of a distant neighbourhood. In the next place, few even of those who always live in the country are aware of the number of our British song-birds, or of the many varieties which pour forth their notes of gladness at morning, noon, or evening-time. On both these particulars some useful intelligence may, we trust, be gained by even our country readers from this chapter.

We need not perhaps state that some of the following notices must necessarily be short; for when a writer attempts to give in a chapter the matter which might suffice for a volume, he must aim at condensation, and avoid all details not absolutely essential.

Nor do we profess to notice every song-bird in Britain ; for some being peculiar to remote districts, and others possessed of feeble powers of voice, do not require a description. Few, however, will be wholly omitted ; and the reader may therefore feel assured, when he has perused this chapter, that no important song-bird of Britain remains undescribed.

Where shall we begin, and what songster shall have the honour of the first entry? On this point there can surely be little doubt; and we shall therefore commence with

THE NIGHTINGALE.

We need not tell the reader that this is truly a famous bird ; not one celebrated in some narrow district, nor raised into notice by the writings of a persevering ornithologist; the simple magic of its song alone has given to the bird a name dear to the lovers of nature. Both in ancient Greece and modern Britain the nightingale has been loved as the sweet bird of night, whilst amid the rocks of Sweden, and in the hills of Italy, the ear of the native is delighted with its richness of song. Some often speak of the nightingale as if it were peculiar to Britain, as if we alone, of all the families of the earth,

were privileged to hear the elaborated music of this songster. This is a mistake; for the bird frequents most, if not all, the countries of Europe during summer, and is perhaps more numerous in the South of Europe than in England. In Spain and Portugal especially it abounds; and great numbers are found in the islands of the Ægean, where the mild climate suits the delicate habits of these passionate and elegant songsters.

But however attractive the scenery and soft the air, the nightingales generally leave Europe for Africa in autumn; and are therefore to be classed with the migrating birds which visit Europe when spring pours her gladness over hill and valley. They do not appear to retire far into the interior of Africa, but remain in the northern parts, near to the well-known woods and fields of Europe. The object of the birds in their autumnal migrations is not to indulge in the delights of the torrid zone, but simply to escape from the wintry storms which for a season rule the more northern portions of the earth.

There is something remarkable in the manner in which the bird distributes itself over its summer abode; for it does not reside in all parts of the same country, but selects some particular localities to which it perseveringly clings. Thus some counties of England never hear the song of the nightingale, though in others the birds are heard from almost every thicket. Wales appears to be avoided by them, and Ireland is unblessed by the visits of these rich harmonists. We know not whether the traditions of the Irish maintain that St. Patrick expelled the nightingales when he banished the reptiles; though perhaps the one supposition is as likely as the other.

It is very rarely, if ever, heard in Scotland, which some writers attribute to the want of those numerous hedges which in the South divide field from field. There are, however, parts of Scotland by no means deficient in brakes and sheltering glens, such as the nightingale might be expected to love. Even from these districts the bird, however, keeps aloof, whether from the humidity of the Scottish climate, or from some yet undetected peculiarity, we cannot say. It is evident that climate alone is not the cause which guides the nightingale in the choice of its breeding-places, for it scarcely ever visits Devonshire, where the atmosphere is so mild, even in the depth of winter, that myrtles grow wild in the valleys, and even consumptive patients retreat from other parts of England to the soft shelter of its western coast. Here we might have supposed that the nightingale would remain during even the winter, but not all the charms of a Devonshire summer tempt it to those western districts. This rejection of beautiful Devon is singular, for the birds approach to the very borders of the county, being plentiful in the neighbouring shire of Somerset.

We are not about to vex the reader by an inquiry into the causes which prompt the nightingale to select some and reject other localities. A cause does exist, of course, but whether this is to be sought in the vegetable productions, or in the atmospherical peculiarities of the places, is a matter much debated amongst ornithologists. Some writers assert that the nightingale never

66

а

frequents districts from which cowslips are absent; but whether this remark has been made after sufficient observation, or is a mere random guess, we are unable to determine.

Into whatever localities the birds are carried in spring by their migrating instinct, the month of April is the usual period of their appearance in Europe. From this time they remain with us till the autumn blasts warn them to retire southwards.

These birds are distinguished by various names, but the most appropriate is that of nightingale, or night-singer, which is the prevalent epithet throughout northern Europe. The nachtigall of the Germans, and nattergale of the Swedes, are expressive of the same idea.

The ancient Romans gave the term Luscinia to the nightingale, and this Latin term conveys the same idea of the bird's fondness for the hours of darkness which is denoted by our common English appellation. Most of our modern naturalists have adopted the name Luscinia in their descriptions of the nightingale, some joining with this word the epithet Motacilla, as did Linnæus ; whilst others prefix the descriptive term Sylvia. Thus, in the nomenclature of Linnæus, the nightingale is called Motacilla luscinia, whilst in the systems of other writers we see it described as Sylvia luscinia. Motacilla signifies a bird, so that the Linnæan name might be interpreted to mean bird fond of night;" a description suited to the nightingale. The term Sylvia denotes a creature of the woods, therefore the appellation Sylvia luscinia expresses the two characteristics of this delicious songster,—its love for shady thickets and its habit of singing during night.

The reader may suppose that the above names are sufficiently descriptive of the bird, but some ornithologists have not held the same view; whether actuated by the desire of honouring the nightingale, or of shewing their independence of judgment, is not easy to affirin. We have therefore a third name, that of Philomela luscinia, which many may not think unsuitable, if they believe, with some, that the nightingale's song is suggestive of melancholy ideas. For the usual sense given to the epithet Philomela denotes one inclined to sad and gloomy thoughts. All who adopt this view may therefore translate the name last mentioned by the words, “ melancholy night-bird,” an expression not very well adapted to the nightingale, which, though it sings in the silence of night, has not what may justly be called a melancholy note. The name Philomela may, however, find acceptance in the eyes of the classical student who remembers the sad fable of the sisters Progne and Philomela, the cruelty of Tereus, the wild revenge of the sisters, and the transformation of all the agents. He or she who remains a stranger to the classical writers, will of course excuse us for the following explanation of the allusions just made.

Progne and Philomela were two attached sisters, daughters of a king of Athens; but Progne, having been married to king

« НазадПродовжити »