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simplicity if you ask them whether the situation of these two different breeds might not be reversed ? However, an intelligent friend of mine near Chichester is determined to try the experiment; and has this autumn, at the hazard of being laughed at, introduced a parcel of black-faced hornless rams among his horned western ewes. The black-faced poll-sheep have the shortest legs and the finest wool.
As I had hardly ever before travelled these downs at so late a season of the year, I was determined to keep as sharp a look-out as possible so near the southern coast, with respect to the summer short-winged birds of passage.
We make great inquiries concerning the withdrawing of the swallow kind, without examining enough into the causes why this tribe is never to be seen in winter; for, entre nous, the disappearing of the latter is more marvellous than that of the former, and much more unaccountable. The hirundines, if they please, are certainly capable of migration, and yet no doubt are often found in a torpid state ; but redstarts, nightingales, white-throats, blackcaps, etc., etc., are very ill provided for long flights ; have never been once found, as I ever heard of, in a torpid state, and yet can never be supposed, in such troops, from year to year to dodge and elude the eyes of the curious and inquisitive, which from day to day discern the other small birds that are known to abide our winters. But, notwithstanding all my care, I saw nothing like a summer bird of passage ; and what is more strange, not one wheat-ear, though they abound so in the autumn as to be a considerable perquisite to the shepherds that take them; and though many are to be seen to my knowledge all the winter through in many parts of the south of England. The most intelligent shepherds tell me that some few of these birds appear on the downs in March, and then withdraw to breed probably in warrens and stone-quarries :
now and then a nest is ploughed up in a fallow on the downs under a furrow, but it is thought a rarity. At the time of wheat-harvest they begin to be taken in great numbers ; are sent for sale in vast quantities to Brighthelmstone and Tunbridge ; and appear at the tables of all the gentry that entertain with any degree of elegance. About Michaelmas they retire, and are seen no more till March. Though these birds are, when in season, in great plenty on the south downs round Lewes, yet at Eastbourne, which is the eastern extremity of those downs, they abound much
One thing is very remarkable, that though in the height of the season so many hundreds of dozens are taken, yet they never are seen to flock; and it is a rare thing to see more than three or four at a time; so that there must be a perpetual flitting and constant progressive succession. It does not appear that any wheat-ears are taken to the westward of Houghton Bridge, which stands on the river Arun.
I did not fail to look particularly after my new migration of ring-ousels, and to take notice whether they continued on the downs to this season of the year, as I had formerly remarked them in the month of October all the way from Chichester to Lewes wherever there were any shrubs and covert ; but not one bird of this sort came within my
observation. I only saw a few larks and whin-chats, some rooks, and several kites and buzzards.
About Midsummer a flight of cross-bills comes to the pine-groves about this house, but never makes any long stay.
The old tortoise, that I have mentioned in a former letter, still continues in this garden, and retired underground about the 20th November, and came out again for one day on the 30th : it lies now buried in a wet swampy
border under a wall facing to the south, and is enveloped at present in mud and mire!
Here is a large rookery round this house, the inhabitants of which seem to get their livelihood very easily, for they spend the greatest part of the day on their nest-trees when the weather is mild. These rooks retire every evening all the winter from this rookery, where they only call by the way, as they are going to roost in deep woods : at the dawn of day they always revisit their nest-trees, and are preceded a few minutes by a flight of daws, that act, as it were, as their harbingers.
SELBORNE, Jan. 29th, 1774.
The house-swallow, or chimney-swallow, is undoubtedly the first comer of all the British hirundines, and appears in general on or about 13th April, as I have remarked from many years' observation. Not but now and then a straggler is seen much earlier; and, in particular, when I was a boy I observed a swallow for a whole day together on a sunny warm Shrove Tuesday, which day could not fall out later than the middle of March, and often happened early in February.
It is worth remarking that these birds are seen first about lakes and mill-ponds; and it is also very particular, that if these early visitors happen to find frost and snow, as was the case of the two dreadful springs of 1770 and 1771, they immediately withdraw for a time—a circumstance this
much more in favour of hiding than migration, since it is much more probable that a bird should retire to its hybernaculum just at hand, than return for a week or two to warmer latitudes.
The swallow, though called the chimney-swallow, by no means builds altogether in chimneys, but often within barns and outhouses against the rafters; and so she did in Virgil's time
In Sweden she builds in barns, and is called Ladu swala, the barn swallow. Besides, in the warmer parts of Europe there are no chimneys to houses, except they are Englishbuilt : in these countries she constructs her nest in porches, and gateways, and galleries, and open halls.
Here and there a bird may affect some odd, peculiar place, as we have known a swallow build down the shaft of an old well, through which chalk had been formerly drawn up for the purpose of manure; but in general with us this hirundo breeds in chimneys, and loves to haunt those stacks where there is a constant fire, no doubt for the sake of warmth. Not that it can subsist in the immediate shaft where there is a fire, but prefers one adjoining to that of the kitchen, and disregards the perpetual smoke of that funnel, as I have often observed with some degree of wonder.
Five or six or more feet down the chimney does this little bird begin to form her nest about the middle of May, which consists, like that of the house-martin, of a crust or shell composed of dirt or mud, mixed with short pieces of straw to render it tough and permanent; with this difference, that whereas the shell of the martin is nearly hemispheric,
of the swallow is open at the top, and like half a deep dish. This nest is lined with fine grasses and feathers, which are often collected as they float in the air.
Wonderful is the address which this adroit bird shows all day long in ascending and descending with security through so narrow a pass. When hovering over the mouth of the funnel, the vibrations of her wings acting on the confined air occasion a rumbling like thunder. It is not improbable that the dam submits to this inconvenient situation so low in the shaft, in order to secure her broods from rapacious birds, and particularly from owls, which frequently fall down chimneys, perhaps in attempting to get at these nestlings..
The swallow lays from four to six white eggs, dotted with red specks; and brings out her first brood about the last week in June, or the first week in July. The progressive method by which the young are introduced into life is very amusing : first, they emerge from the shaft with difficulty enough, and often fall down into the rooms below ; for a day or so they are fed on the chinney-top, and then are conducted to the dead, leafless bough of some tree, where, sitting in a row, they are attended with some assiduity, and may then be called perchers. In a day or two more they become flyers, but are still unable to take their own food; therefore they play about near the place where the dams are hawking for flies; and, when a mouthful is collected, at a certain signal given, the dam and the nestling advance, rising towards each other, and meeting at an angle; the young one all the while uttering such a little quick note of gratitude and complacency, that a person must have paid very little regard to the wonders of Nature that has not often remarked this feat.
The dam betakes herself immediately to the business of