« AnteriorContinuar »
College of Surgeons, balls composed of fine hairs, and taken from the stomachs of cuckoos; while Hunter himself, says Broderip, observed that at certain seasons, when the birds feed on caterpillars, their gizzards are full of hairs; the cuds of which he found to be inserted in the horny coat with which they are lined, while the remaining portion was laid, flat on its surface, and in one direction. It remained, however, for Owen to prove, by microscopic examination of their structure, that these were the hairs of the lame of the beautiful tiger-moth.
Hitherto we have spoken only of our common cuckoo (Cuculus canorui), but the tribe contains an immense number of species, which are very widely dispersed over the earth. Of these we believe that but one other kind, the yellow-billed, or American cuckoo, has been observed in Britain; and that but rarely. One of the most interesting of these birds is the honey-guide or honey-jar of the Cape; the C. indicator of Gruelin, which, feeding upon honey, announces its discovery of a swarm of bees by its wellknown cry, at the sound of which the honey hunters follow its flight and mark it down to some hollow tree; on which they commence their attack, to the great satisfaction of the bird, who is well aware that their fragmentary spoils will supply him with a sufficient meal. Sparrman tells us that this bird is considered as almost sacred by the colonists, who suffer no person to injure or to kill it.
To an Englishman there is something rather unnatural in the idea of eating a cuckoo, but the Italians eat it; as did their ancestors in the time of Pliny, who declares that no bird equals a young cuckoo just able to fly: so also thought the Greeks in the days of Aristotle. As a remedial agent too it was prized of yore, being wrapped, says Pliny, in the skin of a hare and applied to sick people in order to make them sleep. While Bodeletius prescribes its ashes as good for disorders of the stomach. In a different way also the cuckoo attained high honours, for the celebrated Argolian statue of Juno bore a sceptre on which reposed a cuckoo, emblematic of the transformation of Jove himself.
In our own land it is believed that whatever you may be employed upon when you first hear the cry of "cuckoo," will be your principal occupation through the ensuing STBANGE SITUATIONS OF BIBDS' NESTS. 157
year; and again, that if there be money in your pocket at this time you will not lack it for the next twelve months; a highly probable circumstance amongst our agricultural ancestors who originated all these quaint old sayings, and who were frequently in the very depths of poverty after a long winter.
In the commencement of this paper allusion is made to the change which takes place in the cry of the cuckoo: its syllabled note is prolonged to cuc-cuckoo, and not unfrequently ends in a mere repetition of the first syllable, cuc-cuc-cuc. It is then about to comply with the request so pathetically urged by Chaucer:—
Now, good cuckowe, goe somewhere away.
And we will therefore take leave of it and of our readers; merely adding the injunction of the old Welsh proverb; —" When thou hearest the cuckoo cry, take timely heed to thy ways; for it may be that he warns thee to a straighter line of duty."
Stbange Situations Oe Birds' Nests.
"The interior of a skull as well as the interior of a magpie's nest, were (however singular) at least better suited to the sedentary life of a bird when sitting upon her eggs, than the noisy work-shop of a brass-founder's factory; yet, in such an unlooked-for place did a female water-wagtail once build her nest, within a foot of the wheel of a lathe, in the midst of the din of hammerers and braziers. There unmolested and unconcerned she hatched four young ones. The cock not reconciled to such a scene, instead of taking his part in feeding the nestlings, carried the food he collected to a spot on the roof, where he left it till the hen fetched it when wanted. She became quite familiar with the men who were constantly employed in the shop, and flew in and out without showing signs of fear; but, if a stranger approached she immediately flew off her nest, or if absent, would not return till he had departed.
"We once found a wagtail's nest under the half-deck of a pleasure-boat, which was anchored on a sheet of water. Several times, from the discovery of the nest, to the final departure of the young ones, we embarked and sailed about, the old birds keeping a look-out upon our motions, and frequently alighting upon the gunwale. Finally the brood was reared and flew away with the old ones.
"The redstart, one of the prettiest summer birds of passage, though in its general habits very shy, is frequently in the choice of position for its nest, the very reverse. We remember one which built on the narrow space between the gudgeons or upright iron on which a garden door was hung; the bottom of the nest, of course, resting on the iron hinge, which must have shaken it every time the door was opened. Nevertheless, there she sat, in spite of all this inconvenience and publicity, exposed as she was to all who were constantly passing to and fro.
"Among robin redbreasts, many instances of strange selection have come to our knowledge quite as singular as those hitherto mentioned. Thus, we know of one which attempted to build in the library of a gentleman's house, at least so it was suspected, from a few suspicious materials, such as dried leaves, &c., having been occasionally found amongst the shelves, without anybody having been able to ascertain whence they came. Probably disappointed by perceiving that they were swept away as soon as deposited, the domestic bird determined to try another equally sheltered situation, and, accordingly, selected the dining-room, which as the family never entered it till luncheon-time, she had all to herself from the moment the house-maid had done her duty in the morning, and retired leaving, as she was accustomed to do, the window open. How long the bird had carried on her operations unnoticed, we know not; but a servant accidentally moving the drapery of one of the window-curtains, discovered in the folds of a festoon the robin's nest.
"In this instance the bird availed itself of a situation, in which, during the greater portion of the day she was in solitude and silence; but solitude and silence do not seem to be essential to all robin redbreasts, for we lately heard of a pair which took possession of a pigeon-hole book-shelf in a school, which was constantly frequented by seventy children. The hole selected was at the farthest extremity of the room, immediately above the heads of a junior class STEANGE SITUATIONS OF BIKDS' NESTS. 159
of little girls from four to five years of age, who, much to their credit, never disturbed the bird. There she laid and hatched five eggs. One of the young ones died in a few days, and the body was carried off by the parent-birds. The remaining four were regularly fed in the presence of the children, and in due time reared. Soon after their departure the old bird repaired the nest and laid three more eggs, which she attended to with the same perseverance and success. We have often alluded to the frequent return of birds to the same nests, and perhaps the most singular feature of this anecdote is, that about twelve years ago a robin built in that identical pigeon-hole. Why the visits were not renewed every year, it is impossible to conjecture; but that the pair of the present year were either the same old birds, or young ones of the brood then reared in it, is more than probable, from the circumstance of the pigeonhole being again selected; when others, forming the schoollibrary within the same frame-work, would equally have suited the purpose.
"Another nest was constructed, and for two successive years in a still more extraordinary situation, which we give not on our own authority, but fully believing it. A few years ago, a pair of robins took up their abode in the parish church of Hampton, in Warwickshire, and affixed their nest to the church bible as it lay on the reading-desk. The vicar would not allow the birds to be disturbed, and therefore supplied himself with another bible, from which he read the lessons of the service. A similar instance occurred at Collingbourne, Kingston Church, in Wiltshire, on the 13th of April, 1834: the clerk, on looking out for the lessons of the day, perceived something under the bible in the readingdesk, and in a hollow place occasioned by the bible's resting on a raised ledge, found a robin's nest containing two eggs. The birds not having been disturbed, laid four more, which were hatched on the 4th of May. The still more extraordinary part of the story is, that the cock-bird actually brought food in its bill, and fed the young brood during divine service, which is performed twice every Sunday; and it is further highly creditable to the parishioners, particularly the junior portion of them, that the birds were never molested, and not an attempt ever suspected to have been made on the nest and eggs deposited in so hallowed a spot. We can remember a robin, indeed, hopping more than once familiarly, as if aware how safe from peril it was at such a moment, upon our own bible as it lay open before us, whilst we were reading the lessons on a Christmas-day.
We will close our anecdotes of singular situations chosen for building nests in, with the instance of a sparrow, who, like the preceding robin, attached herself to a church, but instead of the parish bible, selected the middle of a carved thistle, which decorated the top of the pulpit in a chapel at Kennaway, in Scotland. It found free ingress and egress by means of the windows which were left open for airing the chapel upon week-days. This bird might literally be said to have verified the words of the Psalmist, 'The sparrow hath found a home, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord !'"—Stanley on Birds.
Of the mole-cricket, which Aikin mentions as first making its appearance this month, we give the following account drawn from Kirby and Spence, and other naturalists:—
"The most remarkable burrower amongst perfect insects is that singular animal the mole-cricket (Gryllotalpa vulgaris, Latr.) This creature is endowed with wonderful strength,