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powers of imitation being very great. So strong is the tendency to adopt the notes of other birds in some members of this species, that cases are recorded of blackbirds imitating the crowing of cocks and the cackling of hens. This happened, too, in the cases of the wild birds, which are less likely to acquire foreign notes than those in a cage. It is probable that these crowing and cackling blackbirds had been reared in nests close to farmyards, whence such sounds would frequently attract the notice of the young nestlings. As the Merula vulgaris has a good memory, it will
retain the airs it has once perfectly learned, and sing them without intermingling the tunes.
These active birds do not wait, when in their state of freedom, for the approach of the warm weather in spring before they begin to construct their nests, but raise their little homes while yet the last winds of winter are whistling through the leafless hedges. Sometimes the first family perishes from the inclemency of a late spring; but such an event rarely saddens the blackbird's spirits, for the watchfulness and attention of the old birds are usually sufficient to protect the young.
Some of our readers have probably never seen a white blackbird, and may be disposed to smile at the contradiction implied in such a name. Such varieties of the Merula have, however, been discovered, the colour being doubtless the effect of some disease which prevented the development of the black hue. That the species called a blackbird should sometimes be white, is no more surprising than that crows and rooks should be found of the same colour. A white blackbird was to be seen, some years ago, in the Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park, which had been taken in Nottinghamshire; and stuffed specimens of these varieties are not unfrequently found in farmhouses and provincial museums.
These instances are, however, the result of such peculiarities, that we must not talk of such white individuals as an established variety. We have, however, a distinct class of blackbirds marked with white on the breast, and with a short notice of these we must conclude our remarks on the blackbirds. The ring-ouzel, or ring blackbird, is the name given to this section of the Merulide, which is known by a white spot on the breast shaped like a crescent. The Latin name of this family is Merula torquata, or Turdus torquatus ; the word torquatus denoting a collar, which the white spot on the breast somewhat resembles.
This species is a migratory bird, coming here in spring and departing in October towards the south. There is, however, some mystery connected with the travels of the ring-ouzel, some naturalists thinking they arrive here in autumn to escape the severe cold of the northern winters, and return to those regions again in spring. It appears certain that they breed in some parts of the British isles, and in the most opposite districts, the young having been observed in Devonshire and also in Scotland. It is also stated that the ring-ouzels remain in Scotland the whole year, which it is not likely they would do were they unfitted to bear the common severities of our winters. Then why should they migrate to the south in autumn, if able to bear the winter? It is certain that these birds do migrate, for they are frequently seen in spring and autumn in flocks in the southern counties, as if on a journey, and, after resting a short time, depart, and are seen no more till the following season. The difficulty connected with a satisfactory knowledge of these migrations, proves how easily the human mind may be baffled in its researches into the facts of nature.
The ring-ouzel is not equal to its relative, the blackbird, in power of song, its notes being feeble, but the tones are melodious, and it is said to sing all the year round.
These singular members of the blackbird family are, of course, not often seen, and we have noticed them here on account of their rarity and the difficulties connected with their migrations. We must now proceed to notice another important species of the genus Merulidæ.
THE SONG-THRUSH (Merula musica).
All who have listened to the delightful strains of this bird will feel that it ought not to be omitted from an account of the song. birds of Britain. It is on this ground that we have singled it out from the numerous members of the tbrush family, none of which, save the blackbird, can approach within many degrees of the song-thrush in the beauty of their notes.
It may be proper to inform the reader, that many varieties of the thrush species are found in England which rarely attract the notice of the casual observer, but are nevertheless deserving of much attention from ornithologists. Numerous foreign species also excite the curiosity of the naturalist by the beauty of their colours, or the peculiarity of their notes; but these we must pass over without notice, as they have no connexion with the subject of this chapter. Two varieties of British thrushes may, indeed, demand a passing remark; these are the water-ouzel, or dipper, as it is often called, and the fieldfare.
The first is a truly remarkable bird, not indeed on account of its song, which is not very attractive, though one writer speaks of
a delicious murmur;” but the interest connected with this singular thrush arises from its ability to walk at the bottom of a river without the least apparent inconvenience. Often has the cottager who dwells near some waterfall in a solitary district noticed this strange habit of the water-ouzel. What is most surprising is, that the bird's feathers do not seem to be wetted by its submersion in the water. The dipper is chiefly found in rocky regions which abound in rills and gentle cascades, and is therefore more numerous in the Scottish Highlands than in the southern counties of England. The following remarks on this singular little bird are by Mr. Gould :
“The water-ouzel is a spirited and restless little bird, full of life and activity, flitting from stone to stone along the borders of the streams; and it is especially fond of perching upon any rock that happens to be elevated in the centre of the current, where, conspicuous by its white breast, it may be observed dipping its head and jerking its tail in a manner not unlike that of the wren
- at one moment pouring forth a lively twittering song, and at the next diving down, and rising again at a considerable distance. When so disposed, its flight is straight, low, and rapid, in fact, much like the kingfisher, and it is equally solitary in its habits. It is seldom seen in the same situations as the kingfisher, the latter being a frequenter of streams which flow through a fertile country, while the water-ouzel is peculiar to the rapid and limpid streams which descend the mountain-sides, and run through glens at the base."
Another British thrush is the fieldfare, which appears in autumn in great numbers, when large flocks may be seen making their short flights in the open fields. They never breed in England, preferring the more northern regions of Europe for this purpose.
We have mentioned the fieldfares in this place for no other reason than to remind the reader that these numerous flocks of migrating birds are really allied to the blackbird and the thrush.
Let us now confine ourselves to a few remarks on the songthrush. This is also frequently called the throstle or the mavis, and is too well known to require any description of its size and appearance. But what say the amateurs to its song? Some place it first amongst the thrush family, asserting that its song is superior to that of the blackbird.
This is an opinion, however, to which the admirers of that songster will not readily assent; and as it is a matter more depending on taste than on reason, we need not spend much time in discussing the claims of the two song-birds. Let us rather enjoy the delights of hearing each pour forth its strains, than weary ourselves in nicely weighing their merits. The notes of the song-thrush are as mellow as those of the blackbird, and possess, according to some writers, a greater degree of plaintiveness. But the latter opinion cannot, we apprehend, be held by many who have been accustomed to listen to both birds. The soft and almost melancholy whistle of the blackbird imparts to its song an expression which suggests something of a tender sadness. The truth is, the two birds are so nearly equal in all the attributes of song, that it is difficult to state in what respects the one excels the
other. When we listen to the thrush warbling out its melodies from the top of a bush in the middle of a bright day in spring, we may then conclude, that not one of our wild birds can utter such full and eloquent harmonies. But when, at the close of the same day, we listen to the song of the blackbird, as it echoes through the thicket, then the notes of the latter may sound more musical by far. One charm connected with the thrush's song is, the abovementioned fact of the bird singing merrily for some time at noontide, unwearied by the sun's glowing heat. They may often be heard at such times answering each other with a keen rivalry of song, which adds an additional joyousness to the natural delights of spring.
The song-thrush may be kept in a cage without much trouble, provided a sufficiency of insect food, especially worms and snails, can be procured; for these birds prefer such a diet to vegetables or fruits, though of these they will also frequently partake. Next to a fresh supply of such food, clean water must also be kept within reach of all caged thrushes, for they are accustomed, in their wild state, to bathe repeatedly in the shallow waters of running brooks. The wanderer amidst the thickets and brakes which grow near small towns and villages, may frequently have surprised the thrushes whilst enjoying their bath. Often the truant schoolboy, whilst lolling in all the delights of liberty near a babbling rivulet, has seen an agitated thrush approach the water's edge, as if overjoyed with the chance of freeing its feathers from insects by an application of the water-system.
The following lines, quoted from Bechstein's work on cagebirds, illustrate this habit of the song-thrush :
" The first which finds a convenient stream, and wishes to go to it, cries in a tone of surprise or joy, “Sik, sik, sik, siki, tsac, tsac, tsac, tsac ;' immediately, all in the neighbourhood reply together, and repair to the place; they enter the bath, however, with much circumspection, and seldom venture till they have seen a redbreast bathe without danger.”
The reader must not, however, suppose that the thrush will lose the luxury of the bath, even should no civil redbreast venture into the water first. All that Bechstein means is, simply that the bird is prudent, and prefers that the water should be tried by some mettlesome member of the feathered race, before he, the aforesaid thrush, exposes his valuable person to peril. The robin does undoubtedly answer to the “sik, sik, sik” of the thrush; for the redbreasted bird, being a gentleman of deternination, fear not to face the dangers of an untried brook, and accordingly walks in with a pert strut before the more timid thrushes.
If any should now be desirous of adding to his collection a thrush, he must remember not only to provide the bird with fresh water for its baths, but be sure to get a cage large enough to allow the captive to move about briskly after his ablutions. A
cage four feet long, and as many feet high, is not too large for the proper exercise and frisking of the mavis. The bird's spirits, and therefore his health and song, will be improved by allowing him a residence proportionate to his respectability and bulk.
This bird is easily provided with food in all places where worms, insects, snails, and fruits can be procured; and the reader must be singularly situated, if none of these are within his reach. Of course, in this case, he must not attempt to keep the thrush. This bird, in its wild state, may often be observed hunting for snails and worms, which it appears to devour with a most satisfactory and bird-like gusto. The following sketch gives a lively and natural description of the thrush when searching for its breakfast in the early morning:
“Watch an old thrush pounce down on a lawn moistened with dew or rain. At first, he stands motionless, apparently thinking of nothing at all, -his eye vacant, or with an unmeaning gaze. Suddenly, he bends his ear on one side, makes a glancing sort of dart with his head and neck, gives perhaps one or two hops, and then stops again, listening attentively, and his eye glistening with attention and animation. His beak almost touches the ground; he draws back his head, as if to make a determined peck. Again he pauses, listens, again hops perhaps once or twice, scarcely moving his position; then is once more motionless as a stuffed bird. But he knows well what he is about. For after another moment's pause, having ascertained that all is right, he pecks away with might and main, and soon draws out a large worm, which his fine sense of hearing had informed him was not far off, and which his hops and previous peckings had attracted to the surface, to escape the approach of what the poor worm thought might be his underground enemy, the mole.”
This prized songster is not confined to one or two countries, but extends over the whole of Europe, though it migrates from the northern regions to warmer climates on the approach of winter. During these journeys, the poor birds are caught by thousands for the table; but such a fate rarely befals any of our British thrushes, save when one is killed and cooked by some epicure of a schoolboy.
Having now briefly alluded to the notes and habits of the song-thrush, we must take our leave of the attractive family of the merulidæ ; amongst which we have noticed the blackbird, ring-ouzel, dipper, fieldfares, and song-thrush. The first and the last are those which charm' us by their song, and the rest have only been mentioned on account of their relationship to these.
Some readers may here ask, why the missel-thrush is to be omitted. Our reply consists of two very brief reasons : First, we make no prolonged mention of this bird, because its habits are so little different from those of the song-thrush, that a description of the one will apply to the other. To be sure, it feeds in some