Page images
PDF
EPUB

( 110 )

OUR FEATHERED VISITANTS.

HERE are few facts more perplexing

than the migration of birds, especially

of those which visit us in the summer. Some people who accept migration as a household word, and talk about “flitting" themselves, have never thought or asked about the number of birds that migrate, which they are, whence they come, when they go. They rest their ornithological consciousness upon the swallow, but have no idea that many of the little bustling songsters which delight us in the spring have just come from abroad as well as he. The swallow is conspicuous by his domesticity and swiftness of flight. We detect his arrival at once; he comes to our houses when he comes to our country. He is our summer guest, and sits in the chimney corner. But the crowd of his companions are to most as nameless as the chorus of a concert. The swallow is the master of the ceremonies. Everybody sees him whisking about in his tail-coat, which is a sure sign

[graphic]

III

Birds fly Northwards to Breed. that the performance is at hand or in progress.

Again, there are people who perhaps would say that migratory birds visit us in the summer: so they do, but not in the summer alone. Huge, ponderous flocks of geese and ducks come over in the winter from the Arctic regions; Norway, Sweden, and the shores of the Baltic sending us large numbers of thrushes at the same season.

In fact, migration goes on throughout the whole of our year. One set comes to us in the winter, both to avoid the extreme cold of the north, and to find a sufficiency of food. Indeed, the severer the winter the larger the company--not because they like the frost, but are escaping from it. As soon as the winter moderates, this set returns to the north, whence it came, and another set arrives from the south not for warmth, although they sojourn with us during summer, but for comparative coolness. This last army is recruited over an immense area, from Guinea to France. When summer is over, they winter abroad like invalids.

One impulse seems to guide this great moving world of birds; they fly northward to breed. Although some remain, and rear their young with success, the mass breed at the northern

II2

Redwings and Fieldfares. limit of their wanderings. Why, many thoughtful naturalists are at a loss to say. There seems, for example, to be no hindrance in the way of the woodcocks' permanent residence here, for they have built and bred successfully in our heaths and desolate places; but the main body of these birds retires to Norway about the latter end of March. The redwing and the fieldfare, too, leave us, while the thrush remains. These are all birds of the same genus; but the former breed far away in a distant northern home, whilst the latter builds its nest in our gardens, copses, and hedges; hopping actively about our lawns, and eating our fruit with pleasant, though irritating confidence. The apparent preference of the redwing and fieldfare for wintry weather is the more remarkable as they are delicate birds, and are not unfrequently killed by hard frost, like their cousins the thrushes. During one severe season, Bishop Stanley tells us that he found dead redwings in greater numbers than any other birds. Sometimes they have come over to the northeast coast of Britain, followed so suddenly by hard weather, that it was evident that they were escaping from its pressing severity. It seems, however, a pity, that if they leave Norway in the winter for warmth, some one Hedge Popping

113 could not give them a hint of the warmer weather to be found south of our country. But, then, schoolboys and hedge-poppers in general would lose their head winter-game. Talking of this, I have often wondered at the restless nervousness of fieldfares. They are the most inaccessible of middle-class birds. You see a dozen on a bare tree, and (I speak as a boy) tucking your gun under your jacket, and yourself under a hedge, crawl with a beating heart, and triangular rents in your back, just near enough to be out of shot, when they cackle off. The Norwegians must be a fidgety persecuting race, to make the winter visitors from their woods so fearful of man. Perhaps, however, there may be some biography popular among fieldfares, representing England as peopled with crouching, bloodthirsty schoolboys.

These birds, Mr. Hewitson tells us, unlike our English thrushes, make a community of nests in the great pine-woods where they breed. Redwings are stated to frequent the shores of the Baltic during the summer.

Not only, however, does the great impulse to move northward for the purposes of breeding seem unaccountable when half the thrushes only obey it, but the exception is observed in

I

114 Capricious Migration. the case of several other birds. The crow may be considered an established resident. The disappearance, however, of one species from portions of England during the summer continues to puzzle naturalists.

White of Selborne, who retains his character for honest observation, says: "Royston or gray crows are winter birds that come much about the same time with the woodcock; they, like the fieldfare and redwing, have no apparent reason for migration, for as they fare in the winter like their congeners, so might they, in all appearance, in the summer."

To this, Jesse adds a note, that “the Royston crow breeds and is stationary on all the west coast of Scotland; and it is probable that most of those which visit England during winter arrive from Sweden and Norway.”

Here is a strange exception to the domestic habits of a family. The swallow, again, affords another instance of a seemingly needless deviation from a great rule. These birds come from a warmer climate, but, as it would seem, not necessarily because they cannot rear their families elsewhere.

Bishop Stanley tells us of a person who resided for seven years on the west coast of Africa, whence some of our swallows visit us,

« PreviousContinue »