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of impaling on thorns or sharp spikes, leaving them to be devoured at leisure, or proceeding immediately to tear them to pieces, as its appetite may incline it. Hence, from their cruelty, and the mere wantonness of destruction which they manifest, have this species and its relatives received the name of Butcher Birds. But in addition to insects, the Great Shrike preys upon frogs, mice, and small birds, which it attacks with great ferocity, destroying them by piercing the brain or by crushing in the skull with its powerful bill, grasping them at the same time with its toes, which, though slender, are armed with sharp claws, and are capable of firm compression. It does not, however, use them for striking, as the hawk, but merely for securing its victim.
The specific name of excubitor, or sentinel, was given to the present bird by Linnæus, for its vigilance in watching against hawks or birds of prey, whose approach it is ever the first to perceive, at the same time making it known by a querulous chattering, indicative no doubt of anger and fear. Hence it is commonly used on the continent by persons engaged in the capture of the peregrine falcon, during the migrations of that bird, in order to give warning of its appearance. The lure, a live pigeon secured by a string, is thrown out as soon as the Shrike proclaims the approach of the dreaded falcon, who, the moment he perceives the pigeon, pounces upon it, and refusing to give up the prize he has grappled, is gradually drawn into a trap-net artfully placed for his reception. As for the Shrike, it retreats while the danger is near into a box or hole constructed for it, and keeps up an incessant clamour till the redoubted foe is secured, when it comes out, and, should the occasion offer, repeats its warning as before.
The favourite localities which this bird frequents are thick hedges, coppices, and plantations, among which it breeds, building its nest of dried grasses and vegetable fibres. The whole of the upper surface of the present species is fine bluish gray; a black stripe passes from the base of the bill and covers the ear-feathers; the wings are black, with a white bar in the middle; the tail is graduated; the two outermost feathers are white; the rest are black, tipped with white, except the two middle, which are wholly black: the under surface white, the female having obscure dusky transverse lines across the chest; beak and tarsi black. Length nine inches.
Among the more remarkable of the foreign genera, that termed Vanga (distinguished by the size, compressed form, and hooked point of the bill, which is exceedingly strong and powerful) may be noticed, as containing a very singular bird from Australia, the New Holland BUTCHER BIRD, ( Vanga destructor,) so called from its ferocity and daring. We have seen one of these birds in captivity, when a live mouse or small bird has been exhibited in its presence, dart with the utmost eagerness and impatience about its cage, uttering at the same time a clamorous chattering, and evincing the utmost state of excitement. If the mouse were placed within its reach, it would seize it behind the head with astonishing rapidity and address, by means of its bill, and strangle it with every indication of exulting triumph. The victim being thus dispatched, it would next proceed to fix its body tightly between the wires of its cage, putting the head out at one space, turning it over the wire, and bringing it in at the next space, so as to render it capable of bearing a firm pull, before proceeding in its work of tearing it to pieces. No doubt, when at liberty, the Vanga destructor impales its victims upon a sharp spine, or fixes them between the prongs of cleft branches, in order to devour them, as is the case with the European Shrike, and it only adopted the mode described because such instruments were not accessible. This, however, was not the only singular trait in the bird alluded to. how easily a bad heart and an accomplished exterior may be united, the voice of the Vanga destructor is full and musical, and its imitative powers of a first-rate description; it copies, with great precision, a tune, the cries of other animals, the voices of parrots, and the notes of birds. The writer heard the individual alluded to perform a part of one tune in particular, “ Over the water to Charlie,” which it executed with much spirit and melody whenever excited.
As if to prove
Of the native manners of this curious bird we have but little information. It is said to skulk among bushes and low shrubs, prying in search of insects and small animals, and pouncing upon them by surprise, as indeed its short and rounded wing, ill adapted for rapid flight, together with its lengthened tarsi, indicative of terrestrial habits, might lead us to expect.
Closely allied to the Vanga, and principally to be distinguished by an increased length of tail, is the genus Thamnophilus, containing the Bush Shrikes of South America.
Our limits prevent our even hinting at all the genera this extensive family contains: we may, however, notice that termed Dicrurus, consisting of the Fork-tailed Shrikes, a group chiefly confined to Africa and India; the genus Irena, peculiar to the Indian islands, and containing that exquisitely coloured bird, the Fairy Shrike, (Irena puella, Horsf.) of which the back is of a metallic ultra-marine blue, exceedingly brilliant and intense, contrasting with the velvet black of the rest of the plumage; the genus Falcunculus, of Australia ; and other forms well worthy the attention of the naturalist, such as the Puff-backed Shrikes of Africa, and the genus Psaris of meridional America.
The next family is that of the Flycatchers.
FAMILY THE SECOND.-FLYCATCHERS, (Muscicapidæ.) With habits allying them, to a certain extent, to the shrikes, the Flycatchers differ in having the bill depressed horizontally, (a character in which they approach the todies, ( Todidæ,) as one or two of the genera in particular exemplify,) and garnished with bristly hairs at its base. The wings are more or less rounded." Though the larger species emulate or even exceed some of the shrikes
in spirit and intrepidity, driving away from the precincts of their nests birds far superior to themselves in size and strength, still they seem to be less terrestrial in their habits, less inclined to skulk among the foliage of bushes and underwood, and more rapid in their flight. The smaller species live exclusively on insects, which they
upon the wing, launching from a branch selected as an obseryatory, and returning to it again after each short but successful chase. The larger species add also small birds and quadrupeds to their fare.
The genera are pretty numerous. The subjoined sketch may be taken as a fair example of the typical form of the beak.
genus which forms the bond of union between the present family and that which preceded, is characterized by a straight, long, and powerful beak, hooked abruptly at its tip, moderate wings, and square tail, together with a stature equalling that of our butcher birds. The species are natives of America, where they are celebrated for their spirit and courage, hesitating not to attack even the eagle in the defence of their young, and maintaining a sort of dominion over most of their feathered competitors. Hence has the genus received the name of Tyrannus, (Cuvier.)
As the most appropriate example, may be selected the TYRANT FLYCATCHER, or King Bird, (Muscicapa tyrannus, Briss.; Tyrannus .. ..?)
This interesting bird, which in some of the southern states bears the name of Field Martin, is one of the migratory visitors to the United States, arriving in Pennsylvania about the 20th of April, and in Louisiana about the middle of March, returning southwards on the approach of autumn. The appellation of King, as well as
Tyrant, “ has been bestowed,” says Wilson," on this bird for its extraordinary behaviour and the authority it assumes over all others during the time of breeding. At that season his extreme affection for his mate, and for his nest and young, makes him suspicious of every bird that happens to pass near his residence, so that he attacks without discrimination every intruder. In the months of May, June, and part of July, his life is one continued scene of broils and battles, in which, however, he generally comes off conqueror.
Hawks and crows, the bald eagle, and the great black eagle, all equally dread a rencounter with this dauntless little champion, who, as soon as he perceives one of these last approaching, launches into the air to meet him, mounts to a considerable height above him, and darts down on his back, sometimes fixing there, to the great annoyance of his sovereign, who, if no convenient retreat or resting-place be near, endeavours by various evolutions to rid himself of his merciless adversary. But the King Bird is not so easily dismounted. He teases the eagle incessantly, sweeps upon him from right to left, remounts, that he may descend on his back with the greater violence, all the while keeping up a shrill and rapid twittering, and continuing the attack sometimes for more than a mile, till he is relieved by some other of his tribe equally eager for the contest. There is one bird, however, which, by its superior rapidity of flight, is sometimes more than a match for him; and I have several times witnessed his precipitate retreat before this active antagonist: this is the purple martin, one whose food and disposition are pretty similar to his own, but who has greatly the advantage of him on wing, in eluding all his attacks, and teasing him as he pleases. I have also seen the red-headed woodpecker, while clinging on a rail of the fence, amuse himself with the violence of the King Bird, and play bo-peep with him round the rail, while the latter, highly irritated, made every attempt as he swept from side to side to strike him, but in vain. All his turbulence, however, vanishes as soon as his young are able to shift for themselves; and he is then as mild and peaceable as any other bird.”