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from a great river, and therefore see but little of seabirds. As to wild fowls, we have a few teams of ducks bred in the moors where the snipes breed; and multitudes of widgeons and teals in hard weather frequent our lakes in the forest.
Having some acquaintance with a tame brown owl, I find that it casts up the fur of mice, and the feathers of birds, in pellets, after the manner of hawks: when full, like a dog, it hides what it cannot eat.
The young of the barn-owl are not easily raised, as they want a constant supply of fresh mice: whereas the
of the brown owl will eat indiscriminately all that is brought; snails, rats, kittens, puppies, magpies and any kind of carrion or offal.
The house-martins have eggs still, and squab-young. The last swift I observed was about the twenty-first of August; it was a straggler.
Red-starts, fly-catchers, white-throats and Reguli non cristati, still appear;' but I have seen no blackcaps lately.
I forgot to mention that I once saw, in Christ Church College quadrangle in Oxford, on a very sunny warm morning, a house-martin flying about, and settling on the parapets, so late as the twentieth of November.
At present I know only two species of bats, the common Vespertilio murinus' and the Vespertilio auritus.
I was much entertained last summer with a tame bat, which would take flies out of a person's hand. If you gave it any thing to eat, it brought its wings round before the mouth, hovering and hiding its head in the manner of birds
By Reguli non cristati are intended the three species of “ willowwrens," as they are generally called, and to which allusion has been already made.—Ed.
2 The common pipistrelle and the long-eared bat. In giving to the former, however, the specific name murinus White fell into a mistake which many others have since made. V. murinus being the common bat of the Continent, it was assumed that the common bat of this country must be the same species, and Pennant having once stated such to be the case, every subsequent writer on bats copied the mistake. It was left to the Rev. Leonard Jenyns to correct this long established error, and he has done so most satisfactorily in a paper published in the 16th vol. of the “Linnean Society's Transactions.”—ED,
of prey when they feed. The adroitness it showed in shearing off the wings of the flies, which were always rejected, was worthy of observation, and pleased me much. Insects seemed to be most acceptable, though it did not refuse raw flesh when offered : so that the notion, that bats go down chimneys and gnaw men's bacon, seems no improbable story. While I amused myself with this wonderful quadruped, I saw it several times confute the vulgar opinion, that bats when down on a flat surface cannot get on the wing again, by rising with great ease from the floor. It
It ran, I observed, with more dispatch than I was aware of; but in a most ridiculous and grotesque manner.
Bats drink on the wing, like swallows, by sipping the surface, as they play over pools and streams. They love to frequent waters, not only for the sake of drinking, but on account of insects, which are found over them in the greatest plenty. As I was going some years ago, pretty late, in a boat from Richmond to Sunbury, on a warm summer's evening, I think I saw myriads of bats between the two places: the air swarmed with them all along the Thames, so that hundreds were in sight at a time.
TO THOMAS PENNANT, ESQUIRE.
November 4, 1767. T
gave me no small satisfaction to hear that the Falco turned out an uncommon one. I must confess I should have been better pleased to have heard that I had sent you a
bird that you had never seen before ; but that, I find, would be a difficult task.
1 This hawk proved to be the Falco peregrinus ; a variety.-G. W. It differed from the ordinary type in having the under parts of the I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letter,' a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour, shape, size and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the
species is nondescript. They are much smaller, and more slender, than the Mus domesticus medius of Ray; and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour: their belly is white; a straight line along their sides divides the shades of their back and belly. They never enter into houses, are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves, abound in harvest, and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles. They breed as many as eight at a litter, in a little round nest composed of the blades of grass or wheat.
One of these nests I procured this autumn, most artificially plaited, and composed of the blades of wheat, perfectly round, and about the size of a cricket-ball, with the
body of a dirty yellow colour, but with the usual black bars. See Pennant, “Brit. Zool.” 1768, p. 560. It was shot in the adjoining parish of Faringdon.-ED.
1 Letter X. pp. 35, 36.
aperture so ingeniously closed, that there was no discovering to what part it belonged. It was so compact and well filled, that it would roll across the table without being discomposed, though it contained eight little mice that were naked and blind. As this nest was perfectly full, how could the dam come at her litter respectively so as to administer a teat to each ? Perhaps she opens different places for that purpose, adjusting them again when the business is over; but she could not possibly be contained herself in the ball with the young, which moreover would be daily increasing in bulk. This wonderful "procreant cradle," an elegant instance of the efforts of instinct, was found in a wheat-field suspended in the head of a thistle.'
A gentleman, curious in birds, wrote me word that his servant had shot one last January, in that severe weather, which, he believed, would puzzle me. I called to see it this summer, not knowing what to expect; but the moment I took it in hand, I pronounced it the male Garrulus Bohemicus, or German silk-tail, from the five peculiar crimson tags or points which it carries at the ends of five of the short remiges. It cannot, I suppose, with any propriety, be called an English bird; and yet I see, by Ray's Philosophical Letters, that great flocks of them, feeding on haws, appeared in this kingdom in the winter of 1685.2
The mention of haws puts me in mind that there is a total failure of that wild fruit, so conducive to the support of many of the winged nation. For the same severe weather, , late in the spring, which cut off all the produce of the more tender and curious trees, destroyed also that of the more hardy and common.
| We are indebted to Gilbert White for the first published account of this beautiful little animal as indigenous to this country, although it appears to have been previously seen by Montagu in Wiltshire (cf Trans. Lin. Soc. vol. vii. p. 274). White communicated his discovery to Pennant, who published it in the second edition of his “British Quadrupeds ;” and thence it has been copied, with but little addition, by almost every writer on the subject of British mammalia.—ED.
2 The waxwing, or Bohemian chatterer, as it is often called (Ampelis garrulus, Linnæus), may be regarded as an irregular winter visitant to this country, occasionally appearing in large flocks.—ED.
Some birds, haunting with the missel-thrushes, and feeding on the berries of the yew-tree, which answered to the description of the Merula torquata,' or ring-ouzel, were lately seen in this neighbourhood. I employed some people to procure me a specimen, but without success.?
Query- Might not canary birds be naturalized to this climate, provided their eggs were put, in the spring, into the nest of some of their congeners, as goldfinches, greenfinches, &c.? Before winter, perhaps, they might be hardened, and able to shift for themselves.
About ten years ago, I used to spend some weeks yearly at Sunbury, which is one of those pleasant villages lying on the Thames, near Hampton Court. In the autumn, I could not help being much amused with those myriads of the swallow kind which assemble in those parts. But what struck me most was, that from the time they began to congregate, forsaking the chimneys and houses, they roosted every night in the osier-beds of the aits of that river. Now this resorting towards that element, at that season of the year, seems to give some countenance to the northern opinion (strange as it is) of their retiring under water. A Swedish naturalist is so much persuaded of that fact, that he talks, in his “ Calendar of Flora,” as familiarly of the swallow's going under water in the beginning of September as he would of his poultry going to roost a little before sunset.'
An observing gentleman in London writes me word, that he saw a house-martin, on the twenty-third of last October, flying in and out of its nest in the Borough. · And I myself, on the twenty-ninth of last October (as I was travelling through Oxford) saw four or five swallows hovering round and settling on the roof of the county hospital.
Now, is it likely that these poor little birds (which, perhaps, had not been hatched but a few weeks) should, at that late season of the year, and from so midland a county,
| Turdus torquatus, Linnæus. 2 See Letters XIII. and XX.
3 Stillingfleet's “ Calendar of Flora,” Swedish and English, made in 1755, and published in 1761.—ED.