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Separation by Mutual Consent.

I 25 remain with us the whole year. They change their whereabout, in company, for the sake of food. One remarkable feature of the winter flocking of these resident birds is the division of the sexes. Thus chaffinches separate, hens and cocks forming separate flocks. These migrate, too, partially, moving from one place in the same country to another. This takes place in the winter, when many of their summer associates have left their shores for warmer weather. This separation of the sexes, and, indeed, change from a married to a single life, would probably, in the opinion of selfish old bachelors, be a great recommendation to bird-society.

Sometimes we a young couple wholly wrapped up in one another. Edwin cares for no society but Angelina's; Angelina despises all balls since she danced with Edwin; the dear couple marry, and decline society. After a while they would be glad to accept the invitations, &c., which at first they refused. Of course this is very exceptionable and wrong ; but the chaffinches provide against it. Through the wooing and the wedding, the bird-world is to them tasteless and flat. They bill and coo; they eat caterpillars and grubs off the same twig ; they flutter through the garden in dual delight;



Partial Migration. but they grow tired of it.

Edwin ceases singing ; Angelina ceases to reciprocate. All at once they separate on the best of terms. Edwin joins a party of gentlemen like himself, who club together; Angelina consorts with her sex, till they all get tired of the change itself in turn, and pair again. The only thing like it in human life is the separation of the sexes after dinner,

There is another semi-migration among birds : I mean the retreat from the homestead to the wood during the summer months. Summer is not the time for robins—we seldom see them; but other birds seek the quiet of the forest more utterly than they. There is also a suspected migration of some birds during the summer from one part of England to another. On the whole, it seems as if all who had the means of locomotion, whether in the shape of wings or railway tickets, took a change in the autumn; showing surely that constant residence in the same spot is not only unpleasant, but unnatural.

( 127 )


HE starling is a common but a pecu

liar bird; it is at the same time

sociable and reserved. Some of our feathered friends live near man; but, though we are pleased to watch and welcome them, their familiarity is not always essentially amiable. The robin, for instance, which draws so close to us in winter, and will sit on the snow-powdered window-sill, and look steadily into the room with a half-remonstrant air, as if surprised at our not having already thrown some crumbs out for him, is a fierce, quarrelsome little gentleman. He will fight his fellows, friends and strangers alike. His very confidence has a dash of audacity about it. The sparrow, too, who makes himself so free about our yards, is an uncourteous, impudent fellow at times. He is dirty and rude. Indeed, he is altogether too bold and coarse to become much of a favourite ; besides, he can't sing Thus his audacity is not like the

128 Sociability of Starlings. robin's, tempered by any accomplishment. The starling, on the contrary, is often very confiding, and is easily domesticated; but his sociability is not marred by rudeness. He is very playful with his own kind, and lives on excellent terms with several other birds. When he makes friends with man, he approaches with a gentle reserve.

He trusts us, but he will not intrude. He never insists on attention, like the robin, or commits any breach of good manners, like the greedy vulgar sparrow. He is clean and civil; when other birds quarrel on a muck-heap, or rob our fruit-trees, he will walk about our lawns with a quiet, business-like air, looking for insects, larvæ, and worms, interfering with

no one.

His very gait is quiet. The starling does not hop, nor does he run about like the wagtail, but walks with a swift easy motion. No doubt there is a good reason for this : probably he moves about thus because his prey is small, and might be missed if he took such bounds as the thrush, which seems to prefer snails and slugs. These last are large objects, and not easily overlooked. The starling, however, would gain nothing by bouncing over his feeding-ground. Probably, too, being a much Starlings are Harmless.


eggs alone.

heavier bird than the robin, for instance, if he were to hop, he would give warning of his approach to worms, which are very quick in detecting any vibration of the ground. Depend upon it, there is a reason for everything, whether we can detect it or not.

The starling has been accused of sucking pigeons' eggs; but I fully believe this to be a slander. He has been seen flying out of dovecots in the laying season; but this is because he sometimes builds his nest there, and is looking after the business of his own

We had a very large pigeonhouse near our own, with breeding-holes for many hundred pigeons, and yet, though the starlings used to frequent it, I never found a pigeon's egg injured. I can't help fancying, too, that such shrewd jealous birds as rooks would never allow starlings to associate with them, and even build under their nests, if they were thus mischievous. Rooks punish thieves in their own society, and would hardly tolerate them among such near neighbours as starlings. Rooks can be very disagreeable to strangers, and will hurl themselves at suspicious characters—the swell-mob of the bird-world-with a rush in the air which you can hear from a distance. I don't think the starlings


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