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the chosen homes of this bird of bright skies, which seems especially to delight in the wild districts of the country.
It is rather singular that a bird which always rises high into the pure
air before it pours forth its song should be a tenant of the lowly turf, and make its nest among the rough clods of the ploughed lands. Thus the lofty regions of its place of song are in striking contrast with the lowliness of its nestling homes. Both results are produced by the structure of the creature's body, the form of the feet leading the bird to seek its food on the ground, whilst the peculiar power of the wing, combined with the instinct of the lark, urges it towards the sky in those moments when the impulse of song seizes upon it. This tendency to mount upwards is strikingly shewn when the bird is encaged, for even then it fails not, whilst singing, to flap its wings, as if the little prisoner fancied it was even then soaring aloft.
The lark is not always a solitary bird ; during the summer season they prefer a secluded life, each pair attending to the affairs of their own nests, and keeping to the chosen locality. But a change comes over them in autumn, for then they collect together in thousands, and seem to renounce all their former unsocial habits. Could the birds reason, they would probably feel that their loneliness conduces more to their safety than the gregarious state ; for no sooner do the larks begin to assemble, than the bird-catchers spread their nets, and capture vast numbers. Why are they thus caught? What will the lovers of romance and the admirers of nature say, when we declare that these larks are taken for the sole purpose of being eaten? Sad conclusion of their merry lives! We must, however, assure our lady readers, that it is principally on the Continent that the larks are thus dishonourably treated : English epicures seek a higher feast.
Having made these few remarks on the song and habits of the sky-larks, we must now proceed to notice another favourite songbird.
THE THRUSHES, OR MERULIDÆ. This family includes two favourite British song-birds, the blackbird and the song-thruslı ; both of which deserve a notice in this chapter. The reader did not perhaps expect to see these two birds classed together, since, at the first sight, there is a decided difference between them; but in habits, and in the general structure of the body, they agree, and have therefore been long arranged in one genus, under the term Merule or Merulide. It would not, of course, be correct, in common speech, to call the blackbird a thrush, as that would lead to mistakes; but, in strict truth, every blackbird is really a species of thrush. It would not, therefore, have been improper to call one species the blackthrush, as we name another the song-thrush ; such a nomenclature would have kept before all persons the exact relationship, of these birds to each other. Some writers class all the thrushes under the term Turdide, a word derived from Turdus, the Latin for a thrush. In fact, it is of little consequence whether Merulide or Turdidæ be used as the name of the genus, if writers would only adhere to one of the names. We shall not, of course, attempt to puzzle some readers, and exasperate others, by drawing out in teasing array, the long list of names, most ugly to the eye, and grating to the ear, under which some ornithologists have classed the different sub-families and species of the Merulidæ. Were any reader to accomplish the task of mastering all the names, he would be none the wiser, unless a high degree of anatomical knowledge were also stored up in his cranium. This would be necessary to enable him to see the reasons for the numerous divisions amongst birds which, to his untechnical eye, appear alike. We shall therefore content ourselves by describing only some of the more interesting species of the Merulide.
THE BLACKBIRD (Merula vulgaris). Every one is acquainted with the English name of the bird which delights us early in the morning with his commanding song, and soothes us in the evening hour with his plaintive note. The Latin name, Merula vulgaris, signifies a common thrush, and refers to the frequency with which the bird is seen in most parts, though in some districts other species of the thrush family may be as numerous. This bird is sometimes called the Merle by the French, a name which is evidently formed from the Latin word Merula, and from the same root comes the Italian name, Merlo.
Though the blackbird is frequently seen in its wild haunts by country people, and often enters fruit-gardens to gratify its really voracious appetites, it is nevertheless considered a shy bird, and one not disposed to seek a close acquaintance with man.
It is not, however, quite so shy as some may suppose, who have drawn their opinions from the apparent alarm with which this bird takes flight from a tree or hedge-row upon sudden surprises. On such occasions it darts away with a cry of peculiar emphasis, expressive of the highest terror. But, on the other hand, we all know with what pertinacity it hovers round fruit-gardens, until it pays with its life for numerous depredations committed on the property
of the irritated horticulturist. Its love of a cherry feast is no doubt stronger than its dread of man ; and hence arise a host of petty woes to the hapless gardener, who sees his choicest fruits scooped into most unpleasing forms by the active bill of the blackbird. Whilst upon this subject, let us listen to the plea offered by this dark songster. “I distinctly admit,” he says, " that my taste for fruit is certainly strong, that the example of my parents, and the whole course of my life, have tended to confirm my original gusto. As for a cherry, I consider it the blackbird's claret, and would rather die whilst seeking the enjoyment of my. vested rights, than renounce one iota of my privileges. But stop a moment, angry and unreflecting man ; raise not yet that long ugly tube you call a gun; I have something more to say, . I eat your fruits ; granted : but I also eat slugs and snails, which indeed form a principal portion of my meat diet. Do you not often see me hopping along your lawn in the early morning, and doing the work of an executioner, without fee or reward, upon sly slugs and daring snails? Do I not arrest the villains just as they are about to slip into their snug houses after spoiling your choice plants during the night? Is this service a trifle in your eyes, sir man? Then, have the goodness to remember that I give my services as a vocalist for nothing, and, though you may call me a vain fellow for saying it, I really do consider that some of my notes are quite equal to your famous songstress, Jenny Lind. I do not say this without some ground for my assertion, for I heard her sing the other day, amongst a party of her friends who were enjoying a fête champêtre in a Buckinghamshire wood which I sometimes frequent. Now, to hear this said Jenny Lind you pay large pieces of silver and gold, which you call money ; whereas you may constantly hear my best songs without the loss of your smallest coin. What say you now, that you agree to allow me now and then a cherry, receiving my services in return? What! you won't consent; you are going to shoot me, are you? then I am off with a shriek of execration at your selfishness.
The bird's defence, must be granted, is not a bad one ; for, though he or she does eat the cherries, he also eats slugs, and his lady is also quite willing to join in this work; in addition to which, his most determined foe must admire the rich melody of the blackbird's song. What is the character of the music for which the Merula vulgaris is so famous ?
The strength of its voice and power of song are known to all who keep a good singing blackbird. When it begins to sing in the morning, each sluggard feels that sleep is over for that time. On every side the merry echoes of the morning bird are heard, and it matters little whether the cage be placed outside the window in a London street, or hung over a cottage door in a village lane.
It might be supposed that the monotonous prospect of brick
walls and chimney-pots would enfeeble the bird's energies ; but not so, louder and louder swells the song, though none are there to listen save the early milkmaid and the sleepy policeman.
To this strength of song the blackbird also adds a flute-like clearness of note, which prevents the loudness of the voice from becoming offensive. Those who are accustomed to listen to its warblings will easily call to mind the whistle of this bird, and the distance to which the sound is borne in the soft quietude of the spring evenings. A rich mellowness of tone gives an additional charm to the notes, which thus possess the qualities of strength, clearness, and softness in combination. From such a union of tones arises the plaintiveness of the sounds which delight the ear of him who wanders meditatively in the fields at eventide. In the compass of its voice the blackbird yields to few birds; those which excel it in this respect being the nightingale, canary, skylark, and perhaps the black-cap.
Putting all these qualities of the blackbird's song together, we must acknowledge it to rank highly amongst our British songbirds, and that it adds, in a high degree, to the delights of a country life.
When this bird is kept in a cage, it will sing through the whole year, though in its state of liberty the voice is only heard from spring to autumn. But to secure this perpetual song, the blackbird must be kept in circumstances conducive to its health and happiness. The cage should, therefore, be large; for this active songster has a decided objection to be hampered in his movements. If some are kept in a large aviary, they will become so far reconciled to their condition as to build nests, and bring up flourishing families in their prison-house. But whether kept in a cage or in an aviary, plenty of food and clean water must be supplied, as the birds are not only addicted to good living, but to the free use of the bath.
Many persons, especially young ladies, take a pleasure in rearing young nestlings; it may be as well to give all such a few hints respecting the kinds of food most suitable for young blackbirds.
A soft paste composed of the yolks of eggs beaten up with bread steeped in water, and a little pounded hemp seed mixed with it, is perhaps the best food for the little creatures when first taken. When they have acquired a little more strength, minced meat and crumbs of bread may be given ; and in a very short time they will readily eat the fragments of the dinner-table and of the dessert. With care to keep the birds clean, and supplied with a proper quantity of food, their trainers may have the satisfaction of bringing up their feathered pets to maturity. One object with which the birds are thus reared is, to train them to pipe particular airs and favourite tunes, which the blackbird may be taught with as much facility as any of the feathered tribes, its