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LAND-RAIL. A man brought me a land-rail, or daker-hen, a bird so rare in this district that we seldom see more than one or two in a season, and those only in autumn.* This is deemed a bird of passage by all the writers; yet from its formation seems to be poorly qualified for migration; for its wings are short, and placed so forward, and out of the centre of gravity, that it flies in a very heavy and embarrassed manner, with its legs hanging down; and can hardly be sprung a second time, as it runs very fast, and seems to depend more on the swiftness of its feet than on its flying.
When we came to draw it, we found the entrails so soft and tender in appearance, they might have been dressed like the
of a woodcock. The craw or crop was small and lank, containing a mucus; the gizzard thick and strong, and filled with small shell-snails, some whole, and many ground to pieces through the attrition which is occasioned by the muscular force and motion of that intestine. We saw no gravels among the food : perhaps the shell-snails might perform the functions of gravels or pebbles, and might grind one another. Land-rails used to abound formerly, I remember, in the low wet bean-fields of Christian Malford in North Wilts, and in the meadows near Paradise Gardens at Oxford, where I have often heard them cry “crex, crex.
.” The bird mentioned above weighed seven and a-half ounces, was fat and tender, and in flavour like the flesh of a woodcock. The liver was very large and delicate.-WHITE.
* The land-rail is common in Shropshire, and I have found three or four nests in a single hayfield. One of these birds was once brought in, in a load of hay, and when discovered feigned to be dead. It was laid aside, and recovered so quickly, that it made good its escape with remarkable speed.
more plentiful with us than in the neighbourhood of Selborne. I have found four brace in an afternoon, and a friend of mine lately shot nine in two adjoining fields; but I never saw them in any other season than the autumn.
That it is a bird of passage there can be little doubt, though Mr. White thinks it poorly qualified for migration, on account of the wings being short, and not placed in the exact centre of gravity. How that may be I cannot say,
but I know that its heavy, sluggish flight is not owing to its inability of flying faster, for I have seen it fly very swiftly, although in general its actions are sluggish. Its unwillingness to rise proceeds, I imagine, from its sluggish disposition, and its great timidity, for it will sometimes squat so close to the ground as to suffer itself to be taken up by the hand, rather than rise ; and yet it will at times run very
fast. What Mr. White remarks respecting the small shellsnails found in its gizzard, confirms my opinion, that it frequents corn-fields, seed clover, and brakes or fern, more for the sake of snails, slugs, and other insects which abound in such places, than for the grain or seeds; and that it is entirely an insectivorous bird.—MARKWICK.
FOOD OF THE RING-DOVE.
One of my neighbours shot a ring-dove on an evening as it was returning from feed, and going to roost. When his wife had picked and drawn it, she found its craw stuffed with the most nice and tender tops of turnips. These she washed and boiled, and so sat down to a choice and delicate plate of greens, culled and provided in this extraordinary manner. Hence we may see
may see that graminivorous birds, when
grain fails, can subsist on the leaves of vegetables. There is reason to suppose that they would not long be healthy without; for turkeys, though corn fed, delight in a variety of plants, such as cabbage, lettuce, endive, etc., and poultry pick much grass; while geese live for months together on commons by grazing alone.
“ Nought is useless made ;
-On the barren heath
That many graminivorous birds feed also on the herbage or leaves of plants, there can be no doubt; partridges and larks frequently feed on the green leaves of turnips, which give a peculiar flavour to their flesh, that is, to me, very palatable: the flavour also of wild ducks and geese greatly depends on the nature of their food; and their flesh frequently contracts a rank unpleasant taste, from their having lately fed on strong marshy aquatic plants, as I suppose.
That the leaves of vegetables are wholesome and conducive to the health of birds seems probable, for many people fat their ducks and turkeys with the leaves of lettuce chopped small.--MARKWICK.
HEN-HARRIER. A neighbouring gentleman sprung 2 pheasant in a wheat stubble, and shot at it; when, notwithstanding the report of the gun, it was immediately pursued by the blue hawk, known by the name of the hen-harrier, but escaped into some covert. He then sprung a second, and a third, in the same field, that got away in the same manner; the hawk hovering round him all the while that he was beating the field, conscious, no doubt, of the game that lurked in the stubble. Hence we may conclude that this bird of prey was rendered very daring and bold by hunger, and that hawks cannot always seize their game when they please. We may farther observe, that they cannot pounce their
quarry on the ground where it might be able to make a stout resistance, since so large a fowl as a pheasant could not but be visible to the piercing eye of a hawk, when hovering over the field. Hence that propensity of cowering and squatting till they are almost trod on, which no doubt was intended as a mode of security, though long rendered destructive to the whole race of Gallinæ by the invention of nets and guns.—WHITE.
Of the great boldness and rapacity of birds of prey
when urged on by hunger I have seen several instances ; particularly, when shooting in the winter in company with two friends, a woodcock flew across us, closely pursued by a small hawk : we all three fired at the woodcock instead of the hawk, which, notwithstanding the report of three guns close by it, continued its pursuit of the woodcock, struck it down, and carried it off, as we afterwards discovered.
At another time, when partridge-shooting with a friend, we saw a ring-tail hawk rise out of a pit with some large bird in its claws; though at a great distance, we both fired and obliged it to drop its prey, which proved to be one of the partridges which we were in pursuit of: and lastly, in an evening, I shot at, and plainly saw that I had wounded, a partridge, but it being late, was obliged to go home without finding it again. The next morning I walked
my land without any gun, but a favourite old spaniel followed my heels. When I came near the field where I wounded the bird the evening before, I heard the partridges call, and seeming to be much disturbed. On my approaching the bar-way, they all rose, some on my right and some on my left hand ; and just before and over my head I preceived (though indistinctly from the extreme velocity of their motion) two birds fly directly against each other, when instantly, to my great astonishment, down dropped a partridge at my feet. The dog immediately seized it, and on examination, I found the blood flow very fast from a flesh wound in the head, but there was some dry-clotted blood on its wings and side ; whence I concluded that a hawk had singled out my wounded bird as the object of his prey, and had struck it down the instant that my approach had obliged the birds to rise on the wing; but the space between the hedges was so small, and the birds so instantaneous and quick, that I could not distinctly observe the operation.—MARKWICK.
GREAT SPECKLED DIVER, OR LOON. As one of my neighbours was traversing Wolmer Forest from Bramshot across the moors, he found a large uncommon bird fluttering in the heath, but not wounded, which he brought home alive. On examination it proved to be colymbus glacialis, Linn., the great speckled diver or loon, which is most excellently described in Willughby's Ornithology
Every part and proportion of this bird is so incomparably adapted to its mode of life, that in no instance do we see the wisdom of God in the creation to more advantage. The head is sharp and smaller than the part of the neck