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This colymbus was of considerable bulk, weighing only three drachms short of three pounds avoirdupois. It measured in length from the bill to the tail (which was very short) two feet, and to the extremities of the toes four inches more; and the breadth of the wings expanded was forty-two inches. A person attempted to eat the body, but found it very strong and rancid, as is the flesh of all birds living on fish. Divers or loons, though bred in the most northerly parts of Europe, yet are seen with us in very severe winters; and on the Thames they are called sprat loons, because they prey much on that sort of fish.
The legs of the colymbi and mergi are placed so very backward, and so out of all centre of gravity, that these birds cannot walk at all. They are called by Linnæus compedes, because they move on the ground as if shackled or fettered.-WHITE.
These accurate and ingenious observations, tending to set forth in a proper light the wonderful works of God in the creation, and to point out His wisdom in adapting the singular form and position of the limbs of this bird to the particular mode in which it is destined to pass the greatest part of its life in an element much denser than the air, do Mr. White credit, not only as a naturalist, but as a man and as a philosopher, in the truest sense of the word, in my opinion; for were we enabled to trace the works of nature minutely and accurately, we should find, not only that every bird, but every creature, was equally well adapted to the
purpose for which it was intended ; though this fitness and propriety of form is more striking in such animals as are destined to any uncommon mode of life.
I have had in my possession two birds, which, though of a different genus, bear a great resemblance to Mr. White's colymbus in their manner of life, which is spent chiefly in the water, where they swim and dive with astonishing rapidity, for which purpose their fin-toed feet, placed far behind, and very short wings, are particularly well adapted, and show the wisdom of God in the creation as conspicuously as the bird before mentioned. These birds were the greater and lesser crested grebe, podiceps cristatus et auritsu. What surprised me most was, that the first of these birds was found alive on dry ground, about seven miles from the sea, to which place there was no communication by water. How did it get so far from the sea ? its wings and legs being so ill adapted either to flying or walking. The lesser crested grebe was also found in a fresh-water pond which had no communication with other water, at some miles' distance from the sea.-MARKWICK.
On the 27th February 1788 stone-curlews were heard to pipe ; and on March 1st, after it was dark, some were passing over the village, as might be perceived by their quick short note, which they use in their nocturnal excursions by way of watchword, that they may not stray and lose their companions.
Thus, we see, that retire whithersoever they may in the winter, they return again early in the spring, and are, as it now appears, the first summer birds that come back. Perhaps the mildness of the season may have quickened the emigration of the curlews this year.
They spend the day in high elevated fields and sheepwalks, but seem to descend in the night to streams and meadows, perhaps for water, which their upland haunts do not afford them.-WHITE.
On the 31st January 1792 I received a bird of this species which had been recently killed by a neighbouring farmer, who said he had frequently seen it in his fields during the former part of the winter: this perhaps was an occasional straggler, which by some accident was prevented from accompanying its companions in their migration.MARKWICK. THE SMALLEST UNCRESTED WILLOW WREN.
The smallest uncrested willow wren, or chiff-chaff, is the next early summer bird which we have remarked; it utters two sharp piercing notes, so loud in hollow woods as to occasion an echo, and is usually first heard about the 20th March.—WHITE.
This bird, which Mr. White calls the smallest willow wren, or chiff-chaff, makes its appearance very early in the spring, and is very common with us; but I cannot make out the three different species of willow wrens which he assures us he has discovered. Ever since the publication of his History of Selborne I have used my utmost endeavours to discover his three birds, but hitherto without success. I have frequently shot the bird which “haunts only the tops of trees, and makes a sibilous noise," even in the very act of uttering that sibilous note, but it always proved to be the common willow wren or his chiff-chaff. In short, I never could discover more than one species, unless my greater petty chaps, sylvia hortensis of Latham, is his greatest willow wren.—MARKWICK.
FERN-OWL, OR GOAT-SUCKER. The country people have a notion that the fern-owl, or churn-owl, or eve-jarr, which they also call a puckeridge, is very injurious to weanling calves, by inflicting as it strikes
at them the fatal distemper known to cow-leeches by the name of puckeridge.* Thus does this harmless ill-fated bird fall under a double imputation which it by no means deserves—in Italy, of sucking the teats of goats, whence it is called caprimulgus ; and with us, of communicating a deadly disorder to cattle. But the truth of the matter is, the malady above-mentioned is occasioned by the æstrus bovis, a dipterous insect, which lays its eggs along the chines of kine, where the maggots, when hatched, eat their way through the hide of the beast into the flesh, and grow to a very large size. I have just talked with a man who says he has more than once stripped calves who have died of the puckeridge ; that the ail or complaint lay along the chine, where the flesh was much swelled, and filled with purulent matter. Once I myself saw a large rough maggot of this sort squeezed out of the back of a cow.
These maggots in Essex are called wornils.
The least observation and attention would convince men, that these birds neither injure the goatherd nor the grazier, but are perfectly harmless, and subsist alone, being night birds, on night insects, such as scarabæi and phalance; and through the month of July mostly on the scarabæus sol stitialis, which in many districts abounds at that season, Those that we have opened have always had their craws stuffed with large night moths and their eggs, and pieces of chaffers: nor does it anywise appear how they can, weak and unarmed as they seem, inflict any harm upon kine, unless they possess the powers of animal magnetism, and can affect them by fluttering over them.
The goat-sucker, like other birds, finds insects in attendance on cattle ; hence its apparent “ striking at them.” Magpies and starlings will coolly perch on the backs of animals and leisurely make their meal.
A fern-owl, this evening (August 27th), showed off in a very unusual and entertaining manner, by hawking round and round the circumference of my great spreading oak for twenty times following, keeping mostly close to the grass, but occasionally glancing up amidst the boughs of the tree. This amusing bird was then in pursuit of a brood of some particular phalana belonging to the oak, of which there are several sorts; and exhibited on the occasiou a command of wing superior, I think, to that of the swallow itself.
When a person approaches the haunt of fern-owls in an evening, they continue flying round the head of the obtruder; and by striking their wings together above their backs, in the manner that the pigeons called smiters are known to do, make a smart snap: perhaps at that time they are jealous for their young, and their noise and gesture are intended by way of menace.
Fern-owls have attachment to oaks, no doubt on account of food; for the next evening we saw one again several times among the boughs of the same tree; but it did not skim round its stem over the grass, as on the evening before. In May these birds find the Scarabeus melolontha on the oak, and the Scarabeus solstitialis at midsummer. These peculiar birds can only be watched and observed for two hours in the twenty-four; and then in dubious twilight, an hour after sunset and an hour before sunrise.
On this day (July 14th, 1789) a woman brought me two eggs of a fern-owl, or evening jarr, which she found on the verge of the Hanger, to the left of the hermitage, under a beechen shrub. This person, who lives just at the foot of the Hanger, seems well acquainted with these nocturnal swallows, and says she has often found their eggs near that place, and that they lay only two at a time on the bare ground. The eggs wese oblong, dusky, and streaked