Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

The bird is not, however, by any means common in this island; and those best acquainted with our wild song-birds often acknowledge that they have never seen the Dartford warbler. It is not uncommon in some foreign countries, especially those which are near the shores of the Mediterranean. The English naturalist who has formed an acquaintance with the bird in his own country, may often see many of the same species whilst journeying through the southern provinces of Spain, or along the coast of Italy. Thus a bird having a name so peculiarly English is also found in regions far from the Kentish vales and the white cliffs of Britain.

This elegant song-bird must be sought for in places where the wild common stretches for miles away from the hamlets and villages. There it may be seen hopping from furze-bush to furzebush, or moving with short flights above the wide expanse of golden bloom, which spreads such a rich beauty over our English heaths. The country boy, whilst loitering on his way to the hamlet school on a bright spring morning, may often see a small bird rise suddenly, with a quivering motion, from the centre of a furze clump: he advances to search for the nest, which, if he be persevering, he will at last discover secreted amidst the thickest of the spiny branches. If he is cautious, and does not advance at once, he may hear the shy bird pour out a succession of short and rapid notes, which, though they want sweetness, possess much spirit and power.

The song is a little too hurried, and the bird sings as if . he were agitated; for he not only erects the feathers on his head, and swells out his throat, but puts his body into a number of odd positions. We cannot, of course, call the Dartford warbler either an awkward or a nervous bird, such terms having no appropriateness when applied to our little feathered friends, though often suitable enough to ourselves. The singular gestures which this bird exbibits during its song might, nevertheless, form an apology for us, were we so daring as to call it an impatient and hurried singer; for much of its melody is injured by the uncertain shakes and

twitterings in which it indulges.

But why do we thus criticise the wild bird's merry note, and write as if we ascribed defects to its voice, when all its peculiarities, whether pleasing to us or not, are its natural inheritance, and contribute to the wonderful variety which marks all the divisions of the animal world? Were all birds equally brilliant or powerful in their songs, should we not miss the diversified richness which now fills the earth with harmonies so contrasted, that the less striking are as necessary as the more impressive to fill up the measure of universal beauty? While, therefore, we prize the complex powers of the nightingale, and rejoice in the merry gush of music from the skylark, let us not lightly esteem the less remarkable warblers, which, on sunny heaths, or by the sides of ancient forests, utter their gladsome notes of purest joy.

Thus let us think of the Dartford warbler, should we ever succeed in hearing its wild solo, and consider that it fills its appointed place in that grand and most perfect oratorio of nature, to which à Handel or a Beethoven may listen with a profound interest and enduring profit.

To examine the habits, and to become minutely acquainted with the songs of birds, it is necessary to possess aviaries, in which the feathered captives may enjoy much of the freedom belonging to their natural state. Most birds may, however, be kept in cages, provided

some degree of attention is shewn for their health and comfort. Those who wish to domesticate the timid Dartford warbler, and desire to hear its singular voice in their apartments, must bear in mind one important caution—to get plenty of insects for food. Provide therefore flies, moths, beetles, and small caterpillars, or do not trouble yourself by attempting to keep Dartford warblers. When flies abound in a room, the possessor of such birds cannot do better than turn them loose into the apartment, when they will soon provide a dinner for themselves. If, however, this cannot be done, the insects and flies must be brought to the cage. A little chopped egg or meat may sometimes be given to these birds, and some currants and bits of cherries may be placed in the cage ; for even in the natural state the Dartford warbler will eat fruits and berries when insects are scarce. The chief difficulty in keeping these insectivorous birds consists in their love for insect food; but the ornithologist who wishes to observe the rarer songsters must make up his mind to this degree of trouble. The difficulty may be much lessened by following the hint above given, viz. mixing chopped egg, minced meat, crumbs of bread, and fruit amongst the food. Some of the most decidedly insectivorous birds may be kept for a considerable time with very little insect food by such an arrangement. We make no apology for giving these hints on the food of the warblers ; for the providing his birds with proper food must be the first care of every one who possesses an aviary. The health and song of birds are as much connected with their diet, as the comforts and well-being of men with their daily food. Let those, therefore, who wish to have in their rooms the notes of various birds, bestow their first attention on the food.

[graphic][merged small]

Every reader will admit that we might have omitted any reference to this bird, had our object been to take notice of the rarer members only of the winged world.

Doubtless the redbreast is well known in all parts of the kingdom; but a chapter on the song-birds of Britain would have been very incomplete without this little favourite. A few lines must therefore be given to the redbreast,--that bird which even the truant schoolboy spares, and from which the fowler's gun is ever turned away. The principal fact in the history of the robin is, no doubt, its familiarity. This it is which, in all probability, gained for it much of the half superstitious regard ever shewn towards it by the peasantry ; a feeling encouraged by the tales of the nursery and the traditions of boyhood. Why some birds shew so strong a desire to make their dwellings in the neighbourhood of man, whilst others avoid his presence, is a question not easily answered, though suggesting much matter for reflection. We must probably seek for the origin of such differences in the nature of the instincts implanted in the birds by the Author of the uni

This is doubtless the cause which leads the martin and the robin to establish their homes in the closest proximity to man.

verse.

66

The mere desire of finding sufficient food cannot be the only ground of such a choice.

Doubtless, the robin may be led to human dwellings by the knowledge that it can there obtain many crumbs of bread and scraps of other approved diet. But the pert sparrow is also well aware of the same fact, and watches for the moment when the servant scatters the fragments of the breakfast-table in the wellknown corner of the yard. Yet the sparrow never shews the same confidence in man which the redbreast so often evinces, but keeps at a suspicious distance, refusing companionship. Look, on the other hand, at the robin; how often it stands on the cottage threshold, as if asking to be invited; and how frequently does it enter the apartment, if no cat forbid the approach. See it tapping with its beak at the breakfast-room window, flapping its wings and jerking its tail, as if impatient at the delay, and wondering at the refusal of its rights. Are the windows left open during the day, the robin often takes the liberty of ensconsing himself on the back of a chair, or on the top of a picture-frame, where, after a few surveys of the locality, he strikes up a merry note, the substance of which doubtless is, "I hope I don't intrude." Sometimes the little fellow makes a complete tour of the house, now being seen on the highest balustrades, then in the hall, at another time even in the drawing or bed-rooms, whence, however, he is usually ejected with the broom, the housemaid not liking the trouble such visits give her. The party most annoyed by Bobby's free and easy visits is Puss; she watches his motions with a most determined spirit of resentment, which it requires all the little fellow's prudence to avoid. This familiarity of the robin has often attracted the notice of poetş; and Thomson thus paints, in the name of all his fellowbards, the domesticating tendency of the redbreast.

“ The redbreast, sacred to the household gods,

Wisely regardful of the embroiling sky,
In joyless fields and thorny thickets leaves
His shivering mates, and pays to trusted man
His annual visit. Half afraid, he first
Against the window beats; then brisk alights
On the warm hearth; then, hopping on the floor,
Eyes all the smiling family askance,
And pecks, and starts, and wonders where he is,
Till, more familiar grown, the table-crumbs

Attract his slender feet." Here is another verse-picture, by Grahame, in which this brave little bird is represented with all his man-trusting instincts.

“ Sometimes within the sound

Of heartsome mill-clack, where the spacious door,
White dusted, tells him plenty reigns around,
Close at the root of brier-bush, that o'erhangs
The narrow stream, with shealings bedded white,

He fixes his abode, and lives at will.
Oft near some single cottage he prefers
To rear his little home; there, pert and spruce,
He shares the refuse of the good wife's churn.
Not seldom does he neighbour the low roof,

Where tiny elves are taught." The tendency of the robin to associate with man is rendered still more striking by its solitary habits amongst birds, for it avoids rather than seeks the society of the feathered tribes, and often joins in most desperate combats with its neighbours. Nor is this the case with birds of other species only; but with individuals of its own kind the robin wages a fierce strife. Even the bold and impudent sparrow is often punished by the daring little robin, for invading the snug corner in some bush which the redbreast claims as his own inheritance. Now it is rather singular that a bird of so much pugnacity should seek a dwelling-place in the immediate vicinity of man, and so succeed in winning the favour of all, that its peculiar habits have been sung in a thousand ballads, which have alike delighted the fancies of boyhood, and given a richness of illustration to the stanzas of poets. Although we have already given two short descriptive pieces of verse, we do not think the following address to this favourite bird will be rejected by the reader.

66 Come, sweetest of the feather'd throng,

And soothe me with thy plaintive song ;
Come to my cot, devoid of fear,
No danger shall await thee here;
No prowling cat with whisker'd 'face
Approaches this sequester'd place;
No schoolboy with his willow bow
Shall aim at thee a murderous blow;
No wily limed twigs here molest
Thy olive wing or crimson breast.
Thy cup, sweet bird ! I'll daily fill
At yonder cressy bubbling rill;
Thy board shall plenteously be spread
With crumblets of the nicest bread :
And when rude winter comes, and shews
His icicles and shivering snows,
Hop o'er my cheerful hearth, and be
One of my peaceful family ;
Then soothe me with thy plaintive song,

Thou sweetest of the feather'd throng.' The first and last of these lines remind us that the robin is a bird of song, and that, in this character, it has a place in this chapter. We may not be prepared to admit that the redbreast is really the “sweetest of the feathered throng ;" but all who have heard its delicious notes will readily admit that it ranks amongst the sweetest warblers of Britain. Both during the day and night the melodious notes of this bird may be heard ; often, indeed, at

« НазадПродовжити »