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a second brood as soon as she is disengaged from her first; which at once associates with the first broods of housemartins; and with them congregates, clustering on sunny roofs, towers, and trees. This hirundo brings out her second brood towards the middle and end of August.
All the summer long is the swallow a most instructive pattern of unwearied industry and affection ; for, from morning to night, while there is a family to be supported, she spends the whole day in skimming close to the ground, and executing the most sudden turns and quick evolutions. Avenues, and long walks under hedges, and pasture-fields, and mown meadows where cattle graze, are her delight, especially if there are trees interspersed ; because in such spots insects most abound. When a fly is taken a smart snap from her bill is heard, resembling the noise at the shutting of a watch-case; but the motion of the mandibles is too quick for the eye.
The swallow, probably the male bird, is the excubitor to house-martins, and other little birds, announcing the approach of birds of prey. For as soon as a hawk appears, with a shrill alarming note he calls all the swallows and martins about him ; who pursue in a body, and buffet and strike their enemy till they have driven him from the village, darting down from above on his back, and rising in a perpendicular line in perfect security. This bird also will sound the alarm, and strike at cats when they climb on the roofs of houses, or otherwise approach the nests. Each species of hirundo drinks as it flies along, sipping the surface of the water; but the swallow alone, in general, washes on the wing, by dropping into a pool for many times together; in very hot weather house-martins and bank-martins dip and wash a little.
The swallow is a delicate songster, and in soft sunny
weather sings both perching and flying ; on trees in a kind of concert, and on chimney tops : is also a bold flyer, ranging to distant downs and commons even in windy weather, which the other species seem much to dislike ; nay, even frequenting exposed seaport towns, and making little excursions over the salt water. Horsemen on wide downs are often closely attended by a littly party of swallows for miles together, which plays before and behind them, sweeping around them, and collecting all the skulking insects that are roused by the trampling of the horses' feet: when the wind blows hard, without this expedient, they are often forced to settle to pick up their lurking prey.
This species feeds much on little coleoptera, as well as on gnats and flies; and often settles on dug ground, or paths, for gravels to grind and digest its food. Before they depart, for some weeks, to a bird, they forsake houses and chimneys, and roost in trees; and usually withdraw about the beginning of October; though some few stragglers may appear on at times till the first week in November. Some few pairs haunt the new and open
streets of London next the fields, but do not enter, like the housemartin, the close and crowded parts of the city.
Both male and female are distinguished from their congeners by the length and forkedness of their tails. They are undoubtedly the most nimble of all the species : and when the male pursues the female in amorous chase, they then go beyond their usual speed, and exert a rapidity almost too quick for the eye to follow.
After this circumstantial detail of the life and discerning otopy of the swallow, I shall add, for your farther amusement, an anecdote or two not much in favour of her sagacity :
A certain swallow built for two years together on the handles of a pair of garden-shears, that were stuck up against the boards in an out-house, and therefore must have her nest spoiled whenever that implement was wanted : and, what is stranger still, another bird of the same species built its nest on the wings and body of an owl, that happened by accident to hang dead and dry from the rafter of a barn. This owl, with the nest on its wings, and with eggs in the nest, was brought as a curiosity worthy the most elegant private museum in Great Britain. The owner, struck with the oddity of the sight, furnished the bringer with a large shell, or conch, desiring him to fix it just where the owl hung: the person did as he was ordered, and the following year a pair, probably the same pair, built their nest in the conch, and laid their eggs.
The owl and the conch make a strange grotesque appearance, and are not the least curious specimens in that wonderful collection of art and nature.
Thus is instinct in animals, taken the least out of its way, an undistinguishing, limited faculty; and blind to every circumstance that does not immediately respect self-preservation, or lead at once to the propagation or support of their species.
SELBORNE, Feb. 14th, 1774. I RECEIVED your favour of the 8th, and am pleased to find that you read my little history of the swallow with your usual candour: nor was I the less pleased to find that you made objections where you saw reason.
As to the quotations, it is difficult to say precisely which species of hirundo Virgil might intend in the lines in question, since the ancients did not attend to specific differences like modern naturalists : yet somewhat may be gathered, enough to incline me to suppose that in the two passages quoted the poet had his eye on the swallow.
In the first place the epithet garrula suits the swallow well, who is a great songster, and not the martin, which is rather a mute bird ; and when it sings is so inward as scarce to be heard. Besides, if tignum in that place signifies a rafter rather than a beam, as it seems to me to do, then I think it must be the swallow that is alluded to, and not the martin, since the former does frequently build within the roof against the rafters; while the latter always, as far as I have been able to observe, builds without the roof against eaves and cornices.
As to the simile, too much stress must not be laid on it; yet the epithet nigra speaks plainly in favour of the swallow, whose back and wings are very black; while the rump of the martin is milk-white, its back and wings blue, and all its under part white as snow. Nor can the clumsy motions (comparatively clumsy) of the martin well represent the sudden and artful evolutions and quick turns which Juturna gave to her brother's chariot, so as to elude the eager pursuit of the enraged Æneas. The verb sonat also seems to imply a bird that is somewhat loquacious.*
“ Nigra velut magnas domini cum divitis ædes
O’er empty courts, and under arches flies ;
-DRYD. VIRG. Æn. xii. line 691.
We have had a very wet autumn and winter, so as to raise the springs to a pitch beyond anything since 1764, which was a remarkable year for floods and high waters. The land-springs, which we call lavants, break out much on the downs of Sussex, Hampshire, and Wiltshire. The country people say when the lavants rise corn will always be dear; meaning that when the earth is so glutted with water as to send forth springs on the downs and uplands, that the corn-vales must be drowned ; and so it has proved for these ten or eleven years past. For land-springs have never obtained more since the memory of man than during that period ; nor has there been known a greater scarcity of all sorts of grain, considering the great improvements of modern husbandry. Such a run of wet seasons a century or two ago would, I am persuaded, have occasioned a famine. Therefore pamphlets and newspaper letters, that talk of combinations, tend to inflame and mislead; since we must not expect plenty till Providence sends us more favourable seasons.
The wheat of last year, all round this district, and in the county of Rutland, and elsewhere, yields remarkably bad; and our wheat on the ground, by the continual late sudden vicissitudes from fierce frost to pouring rains, looks poorly ; and the turnips rot very fast.
SELBORNE, Feb. 26th, 1774. The sand-martin, or bank-martin, is by much the least of any of the British hirundines; and as far as
have ever seen, the smallest known hirundo; though Brisson asserts