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as long ago as April 11th, in frost and snow; but they withdrew quickly, and were not visible again for many days. House-martins, which are always more backward than swallows, were not observed till May came in,
Among the monogamous birds several are to be found, after pairing-time, single, and of each sex; but whether this state of celibacy is matter of choice or necessity, is not so easy discoverable.
When the house-sparrows deprive my martins of their nests, as soon as I cause one to be shot, the other, be it cock or hen, presently procures a mate, and so for several times following.
I have known a dove-house infested by a pair of white owls, which made great havoc among the young pigeons : one of the owls was shot as soon as possible; but the survivor readily found a mate, and the mischief went on. After some time the new pair were both destroyed, and the annoyance ceased.
Another instance I remember of a sportsman, whose zeal for the increase of his game being greater than his humanity, after pairing-time he always shot the cock-bird of every couple of partridges upon his grounds; supposing that the rivalry of many males interrupted the breed : he used to say, that, though he had widowed the same hen several times, yet he found she was still provided with a fresh paramour, that did not take her away from her usual haunt.
Again ; I knew a lover of setting, an old sportsman, who has often told me that soon after harvest he has frequently taken small coveys of partridges, consisting of cock-birds alone; these he pleasantly used to call old bachelors.
There is a propensity belonging to common house-cats that is very remarkable ; I mean their violent fondness for fish, which appears to be their most favourite food : and yet nature in this instance seems to have planted in them an appetite that, unassisted, they know not how to gratify : for of all quadrupeds cats are the least disposed towards water; and will not, when they can avoid it, deign to wet a foot, much less to plunge into that element.
Quadrupeds that prey on fish are amphibious : such is the otter, which by nature is so well formed for diving, that it makes great havoc among the inhabitants of the waters. Not supposing that we had any of those beasts in our shallow brooks, I was much pleased to see a male otter, brought to me, weighing twenty-one pounds, that had been shot on the bank of our stream below the Priory, where the rivulet divides the parish of Selborne from Harteley-wood.
SELBORNE, Aug. 1st, 1770. THE French, I think, in general are strangely prolix in their natural history. What Linnæus says with respect to insects holds good in every other branch—" Verbositas præsentis sæculi, calamitas artis.”
Pray how do you approve of Scopoli's new work? As I admire his Entomologia, I long to see it.
I forgot to mention in my last letter (and had not room to insert in the former) that the male moose, in rutting time, swims from island to island, in the lakes and rivers of North America, in pursuit of the females. My friend, the chaplain, saw one killed in the water as it was on that errand in the river St. Lawrence: it was a monstrous beast, he told me; but he did not take the dimensions.
When I was last in town our friend Mr. Barrington most
obligingly carried me to see many curious sights. As you were then writing to him about horns, he carried me to see many strange and wonderful specimens. There is, I remember, at Lord Pembroke's at Wilton, a horn room furnished with more than thirty different pairs; but I have not seen that house lately.
Mr. Barrington showed me many astonishing collections of stuffed and living birds from all quarters of the world. After I had studied over the latter for a time, I remarked that every species almost that came from distant regions, such as South America, the coast of Guinea, etc., were thick-billed birds of the loxia and fringilla genera ; and no motacillo or muscicapo were to be met with. When I came to consider, the reason was obvious enough ; for the hard-billed birds subsist on seeds which are easily carried on board ; while the soft-billed birds, which are supported by worms and insects, or, what is a succedaneum for them, fresh raw meat, can meet with neither in long and tedious voyages. It is from this defect of food that our collections (curious as they are) are defective, and we are deprived of some of the most delicate and lively genera.
SELBORNE, Sept. 14th, 1770. You saw, I find, the ring-ousels again among their native crags ; and are farther assured that they continue resident in ose cold regions the whole year. From whence then do our ring-ousels migrate so regularly every September,
and make their appearance again, as if in their return, every April ? They are more early this year than common, for some were seen at the usual hill on the fourth of this month.
An observing Devonshire gentleman tells me that they frequent some parts of Dartmoor, and breed there ; but leave those haunts about the end of September, or beginning of October, and return again about the end of March.
Another intelligent person assures me that they breed in great abundance all over the Peak of Derby, and are called there tor-ousels ; withdraw in October and November, and return in spring. This information seems to throw some light on my new migration.
Scopoli's new work (which I have just procured) has its merit in ascertaining many of the birds of the Tyrol and Carniola. Monographers, come from whence they may, have, I think, fair pretence to challenge some regard and approbation from the lovers of natural history; for,
man can alone investigate the works of nature, these partial writers may, each in their department, be more accurate in their discoveries, and freer from errors, than more general writers; and so by degrees may pave
the way to an universal correct natural history. Not that Scopoli is so circumstantial and attentive to the life and conversation of his birds as I could wish: he advances some false facts; as when he says of the Hirundo urbica that “pullos extra nidum non nutrit.” This assertion I know to be wrong from repeated observation this summer; for house-martins do feed their young flying, though it must be acknowledged not so commonly as the houseswallow; and the feat is done in so quick a manner as not to be perceptible to indifferent observers. He also
Ivances some (I was going to say) improbable facts; as when he
says of the woodcock that “pullos rostro portat fugiens ab hoste." But candour forbids me to say absolutely that any fact is false because I have never been witness to such a fact. I have only to remark, that the long unwieldy bill of the woodcock is perhaps the worst adapted of any among the winged creation for such a feat of natural affection.
SELBORNE, October 29th, 1770. AFTER an ineffectual search in Linnæus, Brisson, etc., I begin to suspect that I discern my brother's Hirundo hyberna in Scopoli's new discovered Hirundo rupestris, p. 167. His description of “Supra murina, subtus albida ; rectrices macula ovali albà in latere interno; pedes nudi, nigri ; rostrum nigrum ; remiges obscuriores quam plumce dorsales ; rectrices remigibus concolores ; caudâ emarginatâ, nec forcipatâ ;” agrees very well with the bird in question; but when he comes to advance that it is "statura hirundinis urbicæ," and that "definitio hirundinis ripariæ Linnæi huic quoque convenit,” he in some measure invalidates all he has said ; at least he shows at once that he compares
them to these species merely from memory: for I have compared the birds themselves, and find they differ widely in every circumstance of shape, size, and colour. However, as you will have a specimen, I shall be glad to hear what your judgment is in the matter.
Whether my brother is forestalled in his nondescript or not, he will bave the credit of first discovering that they