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bearing in many respects a close relationship to it, inasmuch as all feed more or less entirely on insects, and are characterized by a beak, straight, slender, pointed like a bodkin, sometimes slightly depressed above; they constitute the third family of our present tribe.
FAMILY THE THIRD.-The SoFTBILLED WARBLERS (Sylviada). The family of Sylviadæ contains a great multitude of birds at present imperfectly arranged, few systematic authors agreeing in the formation of the minor groups. It is here we find the choicest of our summer birds of song, whose voices resound through the groves and woodlands, swelling the universal hymn of Nature's praise to that great God who guides the seasons as they roll, and furnishes a repast for these pensioners on his bounty, though they toil not, neither gather into barns;" guiding them in their southward and their northward flight, and teaching such as are stationary how to change their diet with the changing year. Here we fin the sedge bird, the whitethroat, the garden warbler, the wren, the nightingale, and many more ; and if, in the selection of examples, numbers of exceeding interest, both native and foreign, are passed unnoticed, let the reader remember that a sketch, even of the principal groups, is all our limits will allow; and that, were a full history of each of the species which make up the numerous genera of this single family to be attempted, many volumes would not contain the matter. Our aim is rather to trace the leading points of a system, than minutely to fill up the details. From among the Sylviadæ, for such birds as approach nearest the flycatchers in habits and manners, as well as in the slightly depressed form of the beak, may be selected the birds constituting the genus Saxicola, (Bechst.,) such as the Wheat-ear, Stone-chat, Whin-chat, &c. It is true that the tarsi are considerably elongated, so as to fit them for terrestrial habits; still, insects constitute their sole subsistence, which they either seize as they run along with nimble celerity, or by darting at, upon the wing ; making a short flight and settling again. Downs, furzecovered commons, and stony moorlands are their favourite abodes ; they are active and lively, and ever upon the alert in chase of their insect prey. In Europe they are all birds of passage ; different species are peculiar to Asia and Africa ; but none have hitherto been discovered in the American continent. The two following are examples.
The Whin-chat (Saxicola rubetra, Bechst.) is one of our summer visitors, and is equally dispersed through a great part of Europe, advancing pretty far northwards. It appears in April and leaves us early for a warmer climate, passing over to the northern coast of Africa till its appointed time of return. Commons, wide open fields, and heaths are its residence; and in some counties it is peculiarly abundant, its well known cry of u-tick, u-tick, resounding from every bush and hedgerow; these syllables it utters with a singular jerk of the tail, repeating the last syllable two or three times in succession, and the next moment flitting to a distant spray, and reiterating its cry as before: most probably this is a note of distress or apprehension, lest its nest should be discovered and robbed of the eggs or young. The Whin-chat takes its food principally on the wing, darting at it from the top of some low bush or twig of thorn in the hedge, and settling, after a short flight, on another within thirty or forty yards' distance.
Active and sprightly in its manners, this pretty little visitor, though possessing but a trifling song, is one of the most engaging of the smaller birds of passage. Its attention to its mate upon the nest, its unwearied
industry, and the pleasing distribution of its colours, combining to render it a general favourite. The nest is made of dried grass and vegetable fibres, and placed on a bank among the roots of tangled shrubs, or at the foot of some thick bush which affords the requisite concealment. The are greenish blue, minutely speckled at the larger end with reddish brown.
The whole of the upper surface is of a yellowish brown, each feather having a central dash of brownish black; and a large spot of white occupying the centre of each wing. A broad streak of white passes above the eyes,
while the cheeks and ear-coverts are black; the throat, the sides of the neck, and the basal half of all the tailfeathers, except the two middle, are also white, the rest of the tail being black; chest, fine light rufous. The female wants the black on the cheeks, and the white on the wing; the white streak over the eye is much reduced, and the general colours of the plumage are much less pure and distinct.
The WHEATEAR (Saxicola enanthe, Bechst.) is too celebrated a bird to be passed by in silence. It is a bird of passage, and is abundant in most parts of Europe, but especially Holland. In England it frequents downs, sheep-pastures, plains, and commons in great multitudes, scattering over the country for the purpose of breeding, and collecting again after the young are reared; it then withdraws to the southern coast, waiting for a favourable opportunity of passing to the opposite shores. On visiting the downs of Kent and Sussex, about the middle of September, we shall not fail to be struck with the multitudes spread over the country, and increasing in numbers daily, by the arrival of fresh accessions. At this season they are caught by thousands, in snares and traps, for the table, being highly esteemed as delicacies. About Eastbourne they especially abound, and are taken in snares of horse-hair, to the amount, as Latham states, of more than one thousand eight hundred dozens annually. A single shepherd has been known to take eighty-four dozens in a single day. See Lin. Trans. vol. iv. p. 17. The Wheatear builds its nest on the ground, under the shelter of a turf, or stone, and not unfrequently in the mouth of a deserted rabbit burrow, constructing it of dry grass, moss, and hairs; the eggs are of a light greenish hue, and five or six in number. The food of this bird consists of insects, especially of the coleopterous order, larvæ, and
On examining many killed on their first arrival, the stomach has been found filled with the hard coverings of coleopterous insects, and that too in weather so cold and unpromising (the middle of March) as to render it surprising how such food could be obtained. The bodies have been almost invariably so loaded with fat, that the plumage has in many instances been spoiled by its oozing from the shot wounds.
In the adult male, the top of the head and the back are fine gray, a white line passes from the beak above the eye, succeeded by a black band, which, extending from the beak, surrounds the eye, and occupies the ear-coverts. Lower part of the back and two-thirds of the tail white; the tip and two middle tail-feathers black; wings black; chest delicate fawn colour, fading into white. The female wants the white superciliary mark, and the black stripe over the ears is exchanged for dull brown; the plumage generally is of a duller tint. The wings are brownish, and the under parts reddish, becoming gradually white.
From the genus Saxicola, we pass to that of Erythaca, (Swains.) of which the Redbreast is the type. The beautiful Blue-birds of America, forming the genus Sialia, (Swains.) are its representatives in the new world; and, indeed, offer so close an affinity as to render their generic separation almost a matter of doubt, the difference consisting principally in the proportion of the quillfeathers and the comparative shortness of the tarsi.
The REDBREAST, (Erythaca rubecula,) unlike its allies the Saxicolæ or the members of the following genus, braves the severity of a British winter, and forbears to migrate. It is, indeed, stationary throughout the whole of Europe; “ When summer leaves are green, and summer days are bright,” this interesting little bird is shy and unobtrusive; large gardens, orchards, coppices, groves, and woods being then favoured by its presence. Hence it is seldom noticed, and its song is lost in the general chorus. It is now busy in preparing its nest, or in rearing its young; its food, which at this season may be said to consist exclusively of insects and caterpillars, abounds on every side, and the observant lover of nature may see it intent on providing for its mate and young, duties which call forth all its activity. Circumspect and apprehensive, yet not timid, it refrains from going direct to the nest while the eye of the observer is upon it, yet will often suffer itself to be looked at while on the nest, without quitting it, returning the
gaze of the spectator with a scrutinizing glance of its full black eye. The nest is variously placed; the writer has known it frequently build among the ivy covering a gardener's tool-house, and return annually to the same spot; its nest has been found in a bank side, and among the roots of tangled brushwood. The young, on leaving the nest, are olive brown, each feather having a little triangular dot of dull reddish colour; the under surface of the body being dusky white.
When the task of incubation and of rearing the brood is all over, and the first signs of approaching autumn begin to warn its migratory relatives that it is time to prepare for departing, the Redbreast becomes more familiar; he now hops up and down the garden walks, or traverses the grass plat in search of insects, and stoutly