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styled the most perfect of the winged creation, and it has been remarked that they seem to have received some peculiar property from each order of birds, by which they stand in the centre of the feathered kingdom, reflecting the characteristics of the whole, being so well fitted for walking, equally powerful on the wing, inhabitants of all climates, and capable of subsisting on all kinds of food. Notwithstanding their frequent association with man they are a vigilant cautious race, ever on the watch for an enemy, and scenting danger from afar.
Chough” (Fregilus graculus.) This is scarcely a true Crow, but rather a link between the Starlings and Crows, partaking most however, of the habits and appearance of the latter : It is a very graceful elegant bird, and slender in form : its plumage of a glossy bluish black, strongly contrasted with which are the beak, legs, and feet, which are of a bright vermillion red or deep orange colour : the beak is very long, slender, and considerably curved. It is said never to perch on trees, but always on rocks, and Montagu, (who gives a full account of one of these birds which had been tamed) says its inquisitive habits are equal to those of any Crow : its food principally consists of insects, for reaching which in the crevices of rocks its long sharp pointed slender bill is admirably adapted. Its true habitat is among the lofty precipices on the sea coast, or amid the rocks of inland countries, abounding in the Swiss Alps, and in the Tyrol ,where it frequents the loftier regions far up among the glaciers : in England it is sparingly found on some of our more rocky coasts, and is often styled the Cornish Chough, from an erroneous impression that it was peculiar to that County, though Shakspeare, with his usual wonderful knowledge of nature, shows that he did not share in that mistake, for in de, scribing the height of the cliff at Dover he says
6. The Crows and Choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce as gross as beetles.” Wiltshire too is one of the few inland counties which has had its stragglers of this species : Yarrell quoting from the Field Naturalist Magazine for August 1832, recounts how a Red-legged Crow was killed on the Wiltshire downs, near the Bath Road between Marlborough and Calne, by a man employed in keeping birds from corn: this must have been very near, if not in my own Parish of Yatesbury. In addition to this, Blyth the editor of White's Selborne, records the capture of another of this species on Salisbury Plain ; and I have one more instance of its occurrence in the County hitherto unpublished, for the Rev. F. Dyson killed one many years since on the downs at Tidworth, where two had been seen hovering about for many days previous. This I fear is likely to be the last specimen of this truly graceful bird, wandering to our County, for it is now become very rare even in those localities on the sea coast where it was once most numerous, and will probably soon be classed in that sad catalogue of species, which once abundant are now exterminated by the ruthless rage for slaughter so prevalent with all classes, in which the noble Bustard already figures, and will soon be joined by the Kite and the Bittern, and many another interesting bird with which the last generation was familiar.
“Raven” (Corvus corax). If the Crows exhibit more intelligence than all other families as is often asserted, here we have the most sagacious of the Crows : unlike many of its congeners, the Raven lives for the most part a solitary life, at least in this Country for I have seen some numbers of them together in Norway. It is by far the largest of all the pie tribe in Europe, of strong robust shape, of grave and dignified bearing ; its plumage of the deepest
, and glossiest black, with purple blue and green reflections. The term Raven is derived from an old word signifying to tear away, or snatch and devour, alluding to its voracious plundering habits, for it not only feeds on carrion, but attacks weak and sickly animals and birds. It is supposed to live to a very great age, but this does not seem to have ever been satisfactorily proved : it pairs for life, and breeds very early in the year, returning, if undisturbed annually to the same spot for the purpose ; but it always drives away the young birds when they are fully fledged and able to provide for themselves. Extremely wary and impatient of molestation, it has been expelled from many of its old accustomed breeding places by the persecution of gamekeepers and others; not many
years since it used to build annually at Erlestoke and Roundway Parks, indeed a pair very lately returned to their old haunt at the latter place, but were scared away: Mr. B. Hayward tells me that for twenty years they built in a clump on the hill above Lavington; but are never seen there now : we may still however meet with them on the downs, where they love to pass the day in solitary grandeur, far removed from the interference of man; and there are some favoured breeding places yet in the County, to which they still annually return, and where they rear their young in safety, as in an elm at Draycot Park, in a Scotch fir at Spye Park, and a few other chosen spots where they are guarded from molestation : and indeed a Raven tree is no mean ornament to a park, and speaks of a wide domain and large timber, and an ancient family, for the Raven is an aristocratic bird, and cannot brook a confined property or trees of young growth: would that its predilections were more humoured and a secure retreat allowed it by the larger proprietors in our County. The time has I trust gone by in England when the poor Raven was regarded as a bird of ill omen, and its croak dreaded as a sure sign portending some coming evil, and yet not long ago, such was the absurd superstition regarding this much maligned species, as we may see from various passages of Shakspeare as well as other authors of that and even a later date : in old time and in heathen countries we all know how anxiously its every note was listened to and its every action studied by the soothsayer; for as Virgil sang,
Sæpe sinistra cavâ prædixit ab ilice cornix.” And it was consecrated to Apollo as a foreteller of things to come; but it may not be so generally known that at this day not only do the North American Indians honour it as unearthly, and invest it with extraordinary knowledge and power, and place its skin on the heads of their officiating priests as a distinguishing mark of their office, but even in Christian Scandinavia and especially in Iceland, all which countries are some centuries behind the rest of Europe in civilization, it is regarded with like fear, so much so as to have gained for itself the sobriquet of the “bird of Odin,” whose satellite it is supposed to be. I forbear to touch on the Raven in con
VOL. VII.-NO. XIX.
finement, and its powers of imitating the human voice, and many interesting proofs of its wonderful sagacity and quaint manners, though I could fill a page or two with such anecdotes, trusting that the Rev. G. Marsh will some day write in this Magazine a monograph on this bird, with a full account of the notorious Raven, which is now domiciled at Sutton Benger, and of its predecessors which that gentleman has kept for many years, and with whose habits and manners of life he is so thoroughly acquainted. “ Carrion Crow” (Corvus corone).
(Corvus corone). So much resembling the last described in form and manners, but of smaller size, that it may well be termed “the Miniature Raven." This species is likewise seldom seen in flocks, pairs for life, and may be found in wooded districts throughout the County, in colour it is jet black, without the metallic lustre so conspicuous in the plumage of the Raven : it is very bold and a great enemy to young game and eggs as well as to the poultry yard : its ordinary food, for lack of carrion which it rarely finds here, is any animal matter it can pick up, and failing this, it contents itself with grain and vegetable diet. Though shy and with reason suspicious of too great familiarity with man, it is one of the most pugnacious of birds and will attack and drive away all intruders from its nest; Mr. Waterton, who has protected it and studied its habits closely at Walton Hall, says, “It is a very early riser, and long before the rook is on the wing, you hear this bird announcing the approach of morn with his loud hollow croaking ofrom the oak to which he had resorted the night before : he retires to rest later than the rook, indeed as far as I have been able to observe his motions, I consider him the first bird on wing in the morning, and the last at night, of all our non-migrating diurnal British Birds."
“Hooded Crow” (Corvus cornix). With all the bad and none of the good qualities of the preceding, this Crow is no favorite in those parts of England where it abounds : it is a determined destroyer of the eggs and young of game birds, more especially of the genus Grous, and is cowardly as well as cruel in the execution of its victims. Mr. St. John in his “ Field notes and Tour in Sutherland” speaks of it in no measured terms, and declares it is the "only
bird against which he urges constant and unpitying warfare" and he excuses himself for so doing on the plea that he has so often detected it destroying his most favorite birds and eggs that he has no pity on it: and Mr. Knox, the intelligent author of “Game birds and Wild Fowl” has not a word to say in its favour; not even Mr. Waterton, the general champion of the oppressed, has a good word for the Hooded Crow ; so that we may congratulate ourselves that it onty appears in Wiltshire occasionally : its visits however are frequent enough to render it familiar to most people : I have myself often seen it on the Marlborough downs, and I have many notices of it from various parts of the County, more especially in the neighbourhood of Salisbury, where it frequents the water meadows in the winter months, at which season only it migrates so far south : its true habitat is northern Europe, where I have seen it in great abundance, for it is the representative of the Corvidæ there, and very tame and familiar it seemed, searching the newly mown meadows for worms and slugs, and marching on the roads in front of our horses, just as its congener the rook does here. On the eastern coast of England I have found it in some numbers, as it resorts to the sea-shore for the never failing supply of food which it finds in the shell-fish and other marine productions thrown up by the tides : and Bishop Stanley says it may frequently be seen after vain attempts to break through the hard shell of a cockle or muscle, to seize it in its bill, mount with it to a great height, and then let it fall on a hard rock, by which it is broken, and the bird has nothing more to do than to reap the fruit of its forethought. In colour the head, throat, wings, and tail, are black, the rest of the plumage smoke grey. It is called the Hooded Crow from its black head, and the Royston Crow, as it was supposed to be peculiar to that district, where in truth I have seen it in considerable numbers : it is also provincially named the Grey-backed and the Scaul Crow.
“Rook” (Corvus frugilegus). Having devoted a whole paper to this most familiar bird, and endeavoured to prove its value in destroying grubs, so far exceeding any injury it may commit in occasionally consuming corn, I need add but little more about it: