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sweep over the surface of the ground and water, and distinguish themselves by rapid turns and quick evolutions ; swifts dash round in circles, and the bank martin moves with frequent vacillations like a butterfly. Most of the small birds fly by jerks, rising and falling as they advance. Most small birds hop, but wagtails and larks walk, moving their legs alternately. Skylarks rise and fall perpendicularly as they sing; woodlarks hang poised in the air; and titlarks rise and fall in large curves, singing in their descent. The whitethroat uses odd jerks and gesticulations over the tops of hedges and bushes. All the duck kind waddle; divers and auks walk as if fettered, and stand erect on their tails: these are the compedes of Linnæus.' Geese and cranes, and most wild fowls, move in figured flights, often changing their position. The secondary remiges of Tringe, wild ducks, and some others, are very long, and give their wings, when in motion, a hooked appearance. Dabchicks, moorhens, and coots, fly erect, with their legs hanging down, and hardly make any dispatch ; the reason is plain, their wings are placed too forward out of the true centre of gravity, as the legs of auks and divers are situated too backward,
TO THE HONOURABLE DAINES BARRINGTON.
SELBORNE, Sept. 9, 1778. ROM the motion of birds, the transition is natural enough to their notes and language,
of which I shall say something. Not that I a 0626 like the vizier, who, by the recital of a con
would pretend to understand their language
1 "Pedes compedes,” Genus Colymbus, “Syst. Nat." i. p. 220.-Ed.
2 These are not the secondaries, however, but the tertials. Tbe secondaries are always short.-E..
versation which passed between two owls, reclaimed a sultan, before delighting in conquest and devastation ;' but I would be thought only to mean that many of the winged tribes have various sounds and voices adapted to express their various passions, wants, and feelings; such as anger, fear, love, hatred, hunger, and the like. All species are not equally eloquent; some are copious and fluent, as it were, in their utterance, while others are confined to a few important sounds: no bird, like the fish kind, is quite mute, though some are rather silent. The language of birds is very ancient, and, liko other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical; little is said, but much is meant and understood.
The notes of the eagle kind are shrill and piercing; and about the season of nidification much diversified, as I havo been often assured by a curious observer of Nature who long resided at Gibraltar, where. eagles abound. The notes of our hawks much resemble those of the king of birds. Owls have very expressive notes; they hoot in a fine vocal sound, much resembling the vox humana, and reducible by a pitchpipe to a musical key. This note seems to express complacency and rivalry among the males: they use also a quick call and a horrible scream; and can snore and hiss when they mean to menace. Ravens, beside their loud croak, can exert a deep and solemn note that inakes the woods to echo; the amorous sound of a crow is strange and ridiculous; rooks, in the breeding season, attempt sometimes, in the gaiety of their hearts, to sing, but with no great success; the parrot kind have many modulations of voice, as appears by their aptitude to learn human sounds; doves coo in an amorous and mournful manner, and are emblems of despairing lovers ; the woodpecker sets up a sort of loud and hearty laugh; the fern-owl or goat-sucker, from the dusk till daybreak, serenades his mate with the clattering of castanets. All the tuneful Passeres express their complacency by sweet modulations, and a variety of melody. The swallow, as has been
I Sec “Spectator," vol. rii. No. 512.—G. W.
observed in a former letter, by a shrill alarm, bespeaks the attention of the other Hirundines, and bids them be aware that the hawk is at hand. Aquatic and gregarious birds, especially the nocturnal, that shift their quarters in the dark, are very noisy and loquacious, as cranes, wild geese, wild ducks, and the like; their perpetual clamour prevents them from dispersing and losing their companions.
In so extensive a subject, sketches and outlines are as much as can be expected, for it would be endless to instance in all the infinite variety of the feathered nation. We shall therefore confine the remainder of this letter to the few domestic fowls of our yards, which are most known and therefore best understood. And first the peacock, with his gorgeous train, demands our attention ; but, like most of the gaudy birds, his notes are grating and shocking to the ear: the yelling of cats, and the braying of an ass, are not more disgustful. The voice of the goose is trumpet-like, and clanking; and once saved the Capitol at Rome, as grave historians assert: the hiss also of the gander is formidable and full of menace, and “protective of his young.” Among ducks the sexual distinction of voice is remarkable; for while the quack of the female is loud and sonorous, the voice of the drake is inward and harsh, and feeble, and scarce discernible. The cock turkey struts and gobbles to his mistress in a most uncouth manner; he hath also a pert and petulant note when he attacks his adversary. When a hen turkey leads forth her young brood she keeps a watchful eye; and if a bird of prey appear, though ever so high in the air, the careful mother announces the enemy with a little inward moan, and watches him with a steady and attentive look ; but, if he approach, her note becomes earnest and alarming, and her outcries are redoubled.
No inhabitants of a yard seem possessed of such a variety of expression and so copious a language as common poultry. Take a chicken of four or five days old, and hold it up to a window where there are flies, and it will immediately seize its prey, with little twitterings of complacency; but if you tender it a wasp or a bee, at once its note becomes harsh and expressive of disapprobation and a sense of danger.
When a pullet is ready to lay, she intimates the event by a joyous and easy soft note. Of all the occurrences of their life that of laying seems to be the most important; for no sooner has a hen disburthened herself, than she rushes forth with a clamorous kind of joy, which the cock and the rest of his mistresses immediately adopt. The tumult is not confined to the family concerned, but catches from yard to yard, and spreads to every homestead within hearing, till at last the whole village is in an uproar. As soon as a hen becomes a mother, her new relation demands a new language; she then runs clucking and screaming about, and seems agitated as if possessed. The father of the flock has also a considerable vocabulary: if he finds food, he calls a favourite concubine to partake ; and if a bird of prey passes over, with a warning voice he bids his family beware. The gallant chanticleer has, at command, his amorous phrases and his terms of defiance. But the sound by which he is best known is his crowing ; by this he has been distinguished in all ages as the countryman's clock or larum, as the watchman that proclaims the divisions of the night. Thus the poet elegantly styles him
the crested cock, whose clarion sounds The silent hours." A neighbouring gentleman one summer had lost most of his chickens by a sparrow-hawk, that came gliding down between a faggot pile and the end of his house to the place where the coops stood. The owner, inwardly vexed to see his flock thus diminishing, hung a setting net adroitly between the pile and the house, into which the caitiff dashed, and was entangled. Resentment suggested the law of retaliation: he therefore clipped the hawk's wings, cut off his talons, and fixing a cork on his bill, threw him down among the brood-hens. Imagination cannot paint the scene that ensued; the expressions that fear, rage, and revenge inspired were new, or at least such as had been unnoticed before : the exasperated matrons upbraided, they execrated, they insulted, they triumphed. In a word, they never desisted from buffeting their adversary till they had torn him in a hundred pieces.
TO THE HONOURABLE DAINES BARRINGTON.
Quid tantum Oceano properent se tingere soles
to make ornament subservient to utility : a
or park might be both an embellishment and a heliotrope.
Any person that is curious, and enjoys the advantage of a good horizon, might, with little trouble, make two heliotropes; the one for the winter, the other for the summer solstice: and these two erections might be constructed with very little expense, for two pieces of timber framework, about ten or twelve feet high, and four feet broad at the base, and close lined with plank, would answer the purpose.
The erection for the former should, if possible, be placed within sight of some window in the common sitting parlour, because men, at that dead season of the year, are usually within doors at the close of the day; while that for the latter might be fixed for any given spot in the garden or outlet, whence the owner might contemplate, in a fine summer's evening, the utmost extent that the sun makes to the northward at the season of the longest days. Now nothing would be necessary but to place these two objects with so much exactness that the westerly limb of the sun, at setting, might but just clear the winter heliotrope to the west of it on the shortest day, and that the whole disc of the sun, at the longest day, might exactly at setting also clear the summer heliotrope to the north of it.