« PreviousContinue »
variety of its attitudes. Its plumage is a mixture of green and yellow, the former predominating: it is also known as the “ Aberdavine.”
“Common Linnet” (Linota cannabina). Extremely numerous throughout this county, more particularly on our downs, where they congregate in autumn in large flocks. In summer the old birds assume a red breast and red forehead, but this is only a nuptial plumage, which they lose when the breeding season is over, exchanging it for the more sober brown, in which they are commonly arrayed : this change of dress caused much confusion among our earlier Ornithologists, who mistook the bird in summer and winter plumage for two distinct species, and they named the former the Redpole, the latter the Grey Linnet; and this was another error which our countryman Montagu was the first to discover and rectify: it is a joyous gentle bird, quite harmless, and a sweet songster; and (Yarrell informs us) derives its name Linota, “ la Linotte,” “Linnet," from its partiality to the seeds of the various species of flax (linum).
"Lesser Redpole” (Linota linaria.) This is not a common bird in our Southern county, though abundant farther North : it inhabits the pine forests of Scandinavia, and seldom is seen here but in winter. Mr. Withers however informs me that he occasionally receives one to preserve; and Mr. Elgar Sloper has a female in his collection that was killed at Rowde on its nest in May 1850. It is a very small bird with bright plumage, and closely resembles the Siskin in all its habits and motions; hanging with its back downwards at the extremity of the smaller branches of the birch and alder; and assuming a variety of constrained attitudes, in its earnest endeavours to reach its favorite seeds ; in all which it also reminds us of the family of Titmice.
“Bullfinch” (Pyrrhula vulgaris). Handsome as this bird is, and sweet as is its song, I fear we must confess it to be one of the most mischievous of the feathered race, for the buds of fruit trees are unhappily its favorite food, and so well can it ply its strong parrot-shaped beak, that in an incredibly short time, it will strip a tree of all its fruit-bearing buds, and therefore of all prospect of
fruit. It is on this account most hateful to gardeners in early spring, at which season alone it has the courage to come so near human habitations, for it is essentially a shy timid retiring bird, and loves the depths of dark woods, and the thickest of hedges for its retreat. It is sparingly distributed throughout the County, and its plumage is too well known to require comment.
“Common Crossbill” (Loxia currirostra). Very eccentric in
« the periods of its visits here, no less than in the formation of its beak, is this truly singular bird. It is a denizen of northern latitudes, and though an interval of many years frequently elapses between its visits, it will occasionally arrive here in considerable numbers, when it frequents larch and fir plantations : and it is in extracting the seeds from the fir cones that its remarkable beak, (which at first sight appears a deformity) is so useful; this is of great strength, as are also the muscles of the head and neck, enabling it to work the mandibles laterally with extraordinary power, (this being the only British bird which exhibits any lateral motion of the mandibles :) these are both curved, and at the points overlap one another considerably : and when the bird holds a fir cone in its foot, after the manner of the parrots, and “opening its bill so far as to bring the points together, slips it in this position under the hard scales of the cone, the crossing points force out the scale, and the seed which lies below it is easily secured.” An old writer of Queen Elizabeth's time quoted by Yarrell says of it, “ it came about harvest, a little bigger than a sparrow, which had bils thwarted crosswise at the end, and with these it would cut an apple in two at one snap, eating onely the kernel ; and they made a great spoil among the apples.” I have many notices of its occurrence in almost all parts of the County ; suffice it to say that some years since they frequented the larch plantations at Old Park in considerable numbers : Mr. Marsh saw some trees in his garden at Sutton Benger covered with them in 1838, and relates that the keeper at Brinkworth killed fifteen at a shot. In plumage scarcely two specimens in a large flock are alike, so variously are its colours distributed, for while someold males are nearly crimson allover, others
Monthly Packet, “Our feathered neighbours," Vol. xi. page 274.
are of a lighter shade of red, and others again in a mottled garb of green, red, orange, and brown: its legs though short are very strong, and it will climb and swing from branch to branch, taking firm hold with its long hooked claws: it is very active too, and lively in its manners, and remarkably fearless and confiding.
STURNIDÆ. (The Starlings). This is an interesting family, the members of it so pert and lively, and with so many amusing habits : they are very sociable and usually move in large flocks : omnivorous, for nothing seems to come amiss to their appetite; and perfectly harmless, so much so as to have excited but little enmity and little persecution from
“ Common Starling.” (Sturnus vulgaris.) This is one of our most constant companions, frequenting the roofs of our houses for nesting purposes, marching about our lawns and gardens all day in search of worms, wheeling about on rapid wing in small companies around us, and otherwise demeaning itself as an innocent harmless bird should do, its mens conscia recti giving it confidence, and demanding its protection or at least comparative freedom from molestation at the hands of man: moreover it lends its gratuitous services to the shepherd, and may often be seen perched on the sheeps back, giving its friendly aid to rid them of their troublesome parasites. Though at a little distance of dull sombre dress, it will on examination be found to possess a remarkably bright burnished plumage, composed of long narrow silky black feathers, shining with metallic tints of green blue and purple, and each garnished with a triangular white spot at the tip. As autumn approaches, these birds congregate in vast multitudes in certain favoured spots towards evening, arriving in flights of forty or fifty, till many thousands and even millions are collected, and forming quite a cloud they whirl through the air as if guided by one impulse ; now ascending high, then wheeling round, descending with a roar of rushing wings, till they almost brush the earth in their rapid course ; and finally down they glide into the plantations or reedbed which they have selected for their roosting place : and then such a hubbub of voices ensues, such chattering and such scolding, each apparently anxious to secure the best berth for the night: but if a gun should chance to be fired, or any thing else occcur to startle them, away goes the whole flock in a dense cloud, with a roar which would astonish those who have not seen and heard them. Such a roosting-place exists on the Lavington downs at New Copse, and here I am informed by Mr. Stratton of Gore Cross, that these birds flock in thousands and tens of thousands, and he adds that it is curious to observe their tactics when a hawk appears ; for as the hawk prepares for the fatal pounce, they collect into balls or compact flocks, and so baffle their enemy, which immediately ascends higher for another swoop: meanwhile the Starlings hurry along towards some place of shelter, but ball again, as the hawk prepares to make a second dash. Another favoured haunt of the Starlings is a wood in the parish of Nettleton near Chippenham, where I am informed “one thousand were killed a few years since by thirty discharges from a single barrelled gun at one time,” a piece of wanton cruelty only outdone by the massacre which Col. Hawker records ; how he slew some thousands of Starlings at a single shot from his long gun, in the reeds near Lymington in Hampshire. In the fens of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire this habit of roosting in masses is productive of considerable mischief to the reed beds which are of great value, the vast numbers settling on the same reed bearing it down and breaking it with the unwonted weight: and even plantations and copses sometimes suffer a certain amount of damage from a similar destruction of the leading branches of the
? One of these enormous colonies of starlings had been for many years allowed without disturbance to roost nightly in one of the late Mr. Neeld's plantations. alongside the public way (the Foss road) at Dunley near “The Elm and Ash," about two miles from Grittleton. In April, 1850, the Keeper whose cottage was only a few yards off, having had occasion one night to take a few of the birds prisoners for some shooting practise the next day, the whole colony resented the breach of hospitality, and suddenly left the place altogether. It was then found that they had entirely spoiled the young trees and laurel shrubs on about one acre of the plantation ; but that to make up for the damage, had bequeathed a valuable deposit of guano, of which no less than 60 loads were hauled away. (J. E. J.)
“Rose coloured Pastor.” (Pastor roseus). This very beautiful
. bird is extremely rare in England, a few stragglers only having occasionally appeared : it is a native of the hottest parts of Asia and Africa, but migrates northward in summer, and is sparingly scattered throughout the southern countries of Europe every year, the outskirts of the army sometimes penetrating so far north as Britain. One and one only instance I can adduce of its undoubted occurrence in Wiltshire, and that was in 1853, when a specimen was killed by a shepherd on Salisbury Plain near Wilton, and is now in the possession of the Rev. G. Powell, of Sutton Veny. It is usually seen associating with the Starlings, to which family indeed it belongs, and which it much resembles in general habits, mode of feeding, &c. Its plumage is exceedingly beautiful in the living bird, but the delicate rose tint, whence it derives its specific name, loses much of its freshness after death, and in course of years fades to a dingy pink. The head wings and tail are of a glossy velvet black, with violet reflections; the whole of the under parts and back of a deep rose red : the head is likewise adorned with a long pendent crest of loose silky feathers of a glossy black. The legs are very strong, and with the upper mandible of the bill reddish orange. It is called “ Pastor” the shepherd or herdsman, from its habit, (which it shares with the common Starling) of attending flocks.
CORVIDÆ. (The Crow8). This is a very large and important family, very numerous too and widely distributed, and most of its members being of considerable size attract more general attention than the preceding smaller and more retiring birds, and are therefore familiar to the least observant: their general characteristics are stout compact body, large head, thick short neck, beak large straight and pointed, legs strong and well adapted for walking with ease as well as for perching: their flight too is strong and even, and as regards their appetite, they seem to devour every thing they meet with, being truly omnivorous, and refusing nothing eatable which comes in their way. From these several properties the Crows have been