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parts on the berries of the mistletoe, from which the bird has received the name of missel-thrush; but this is no sufficient reason for giving an extended account of this songster.
Nor, in the second place, is the song of the missel-thrush so marked by rare qualities that we should draw the reader's attention to its peculiarities. Some consider the notes of this thrush to possess a high degree of that plaintive melody which sounds so attractively amid woodland solitudes; but to describe this is unnecessary, after the remarks already made on the voice of the song-thrush.
The Latin name of this bird is Sylvia atricapella, which signifies, the warbler with a black head. This spirited songster is therefore named from that mark which so surely attracts the notice of all who have seen the bird. Some of our readers are not perhaps aware that a lively little bird, not weighing above a quarter of an ounce, of a dull brownish colour, a little relieved by greenish tints, may be often seen hopping about the lanes in many parts of England during the summer months, and which is said to have a song nearly equal to that of the nightingale. White says, it“ pours forth very sweet but inward melody, and expresses a great variety of soft and gentle modulations, superior perhaps to those of any of our warblers, the nightingale excepted.' And in another passage he
says, “The note of the former has such a wild sweetness, that it always brings to my mind those lines in a song in As you like it :
“ And tune his merry note
Unto the wild bird's throat.” Another writer observes : « Of all the birds that reside in or visit the British islands, there is none that come up to the blackcap for song, except the nightingale; and by some persons it is more admired than even that bird.”
So highly is its song esteemed, that the people in many parts of England call it the mock nightingale. Bechstein may be thought to go a little too far when he says it rivals the nightingale; he admits that its tone is less expressive, and possesses less strength than the voice of the famous philomela, but insists that " it is more pure, easy, and flute-like in its tone; and its song is perhaps more varied, smooth, and delicate.” Perhaps some persons are the more ready to compare the blackcap with the nightingale, because the former often sings during a great part of the night.
While, however, we may decidedly object to place the song of the blackcap on a level with that of the nightingale, we must all be ready to admire the dark-headed songster, and be willing
to give it a high rank amongst the wild singing-birds. Most musically does its soft note float in the still air when day is closing on the earth, and when the silence of the evening hour prepares the ear to distinguish the rich melodies of this little bird. Often, from the dark foliage of an old ivy-bush, the varied song of the blackcap may be heard in the bright months of spring, when the little creature seems to luxuriate in the abundance of food then at its service.
Few of our readers can hope to see the blackcap frequently whilst singing, as it then loves to screen itself from observation behind a dense leafy covering. Its voice may be most distinctly heard, we may feel sure that we could point out the exact branch on which it is sitting, but the eye is unable to pierce to the very spot where the unseen musician perches. How different is this tendency of the blackcap from that of some birds, which exhibit themselves freely whilst pouring out their notes, as if anxious for human admiration ! Birds care very little, doubtless, for our criticisms or remarks upon their songs, but we cannot refrain from feeling that some of the feathered songsters do really court our notice. Were a bird to give an opinion on such a point, he might ascribe the notion, “ that birds sing for man's pleasure,” to the exuberance of human vanity: Be this as it may, there is no doubt that the blackcap sings principally for his own gratification, and, keeping himself far from our gaze, seeks his own approbation alone. The small size of the bird 'enables it, with the greater ease, to secret itself among the leaves of bushes, for it is not much larger than a wren, and the plumage has no brilliant tints to attract the eye.
This elegant song-bird must be classed with the migrating species, as it generally leaves us in autumn for more southern regions, and does not return again till the following spring. A few of these birds may be met with in the winter; but this no more proves that the blackcaps do not migrate, than the occasional presence of a swallow in December disproves the departure of the swift or the martin. The blackcaps are supposed to betake themselves to the north of Africa when they leave us in autumn-á voyage of no mean extent for so small a bird, the wings of which are far inferior in strength to those of the swallow.
These birds usually leave the British islands about the end of September or beginning of October, and do not return till the early part of April. It is in that early period of the spring that the newly-arrived blackcaps betake themselves to the shelters of the clustering ivy-bushes, in which they not only find secure places for their nests, but also an abundance of food in the ripening berries. Thus, to the varied charms of spring, we must add the soft warblings of the sprightly little blackcap, which, in many parts of England, joins with the nightingale to make the evening hour a tuneful season,
This is another of our wild song-birds, which, though it leaves us during the winter, pours forth its gladsome song through the summer months.
In some ornithological works this species is named Saxicola ænanthe ; the first word of which signifies a dweller among stones or rocks, and is an appropriate designation for the wheatear, which loves to form its nest amongst the time-worn stones of ruined buildings, in the clefts of quarries, and the hollows of pits. The suitableness of the second part of the above name is not so evident, for the term ananthe appears to have been originally applied to the wild vine, and, though it was subsequently used as the name of the wheatear by Greek and Latin writers, from whom the moderns have borrowed the name, there appears no peculiar fitness in such an epithet.
Another name is motacilla enanthe, which was adopted by Linnæus, who did not feel disposed to reject the old epithet ænanthe, but contented himself with adding the term motacilla, which signifies a small bird.
The English name, wheatear, is supposed to have been origipally given by the Sussex peasantry, who, witnessing the arrivals of thousands of these birds on the south-downs about the time of harvest, applied the above appellation to their autumnal visitants.
A great variety of names is given to the wheatears in England; fallow-chat, fallow-finch, and fallow-smith, being common in some parts ; whilst in others, white-tail
, stone-chacker, chack-bird, and fallow-smiter, are the quaint names.
Of all these, the term white-tail is the most appropriate ; the broad stripe across the tail being so marked, as to attract the attention of all who see the birds.
The wheatears are migratory, arriving here about March, and
departing in September, when they collect in such multitudes on some parts of the southern coast, that thousands are taken by the shepherds, and sold in the markets for the table. So numerous are the birds in some seasons, in favourite localities, that certain shepherds have been known to take a thousand in a single day. The poor birds are quickly killed, then pickled, and preserved in pots for the delight of epicures.
The reader will presume that the wheatears are not peculiar to England; they are, in fact, found in most European countries, from Lapland to Italy and Greece. They always avoid the rigours of winter, leaving their summer homes in the North when the short days and storms of autumn warn all birds of sunny temperament to hasten to the South. There is, however, little doubt that some wheatears remain with us the whole winter in the more warm and sheltered districts.
The bird of which we have been speaking is a bird of song ; a fact which the epicures who eat them may perhaps forget. When kept in a cage, this is a pleasing bird, for it keeps singing throughout the year, and often utters its musical notes by night as well as by day. The wheatear's vocal powers are much stimulated by the presence of a light in the room ; for with such excitement it keeps up a merry and diversified song, notwithstanding the noise of a large party. Those who possess one of these birds, will preserve it in superior song by providing it with as many small insects as possible ; for the little songster delights in an abundant diet of moths, earwigs, and maggots.
Whilst regarding the wheatear as one of our British vocalists, it must be remembered that its song is not of that striking character which distinguishes birds of more powerful voice; but its notes are nevertheless of so pleasing and musical a kind, that the listener cannot fail of being pleased with the elegance, though he may not be startled by the loudness of the notes. The hasty passenger may often pass the very bush in which the wheatear is warbling, without pausing to heed the soft murmuring music; but when in a cage, the song is heard to advantage, each turn of the voice being then readily distinguished.
Perhaps this short notice of the wheatears may induce those who are fond of keeping birds to admit this songster into their aviaries, where its attractive appearance and pleasant song will repay the owner for his attention to its welfare.
This species is not presented to the reader's notice on account of any remarkable qualities of song or appearance, but because it is related to a very large family of birds which are known by the general name of warblers, or by the term sylviada. When ornithologists use these appellations, they refer to that extensive family of small singing-birds which frequent shady or woodland districts, possess short wings, and feed, for the most part, upon insects. The reader will perceive, that so general a description must include a great variety of species, which are diffused over the whole globe, and enliven alike the haunts of the Esquimaux and the lanes of Kent. Even the nightingale itself may be included in this extensive genus, and both the black-cap and wheatear form portions of this wide family.
The habits of all the warblers are so nearly alike, that a description of one species will comprehend the general characteristics of all. Some of these birds are called warblers, by a sort of appropriate emphasis, by which they are singled out from the rest. Thus we have the sedge warbler, the marsh warbler, the aquatic warbler, and then comes our little friend, the Dartford warbler, which we have selected to represent the rest of its fellows.
This species is usually about five inches long, and presents to the eye a pleasing variety of plumage; the grey tints of the upper parts being relieved by the purplish hues of the breast and sides, whilst the white colour of the under parts of the body exhibits a most marked opposition to the darker plumage of the tail.
The reader may have inferred from the name, that this bird is peculiar to Kent, where it is sought for in the vale of Dartford, This is not the case; this warbler being found in other counties in the south of England, and very often in the vicinity of London.