Imagini ale paginilor

air large detachments of woodcocks, of lapwings, and of plovers : these are followed by triangular bands of cranes, storks, of teal, of wild geese, and ducks. They delight in inundated fields, or reedy marshes, or spread themselves in the glades of humid and denuded woods. They continually utter clamorous and melancholy cries, in accordance with the bleak and wintry scene around them. It is a most curious circumstance to observe that the cranes leave and return every year, with marvellous exactness, on the same days.

The Palmipedes and Gralle come to us every winter from the northern climates, whither they are driven by the ice, and return in spring to their cold and humid habitations. The insectivorous and granivorous races return with the flowers and fine weather, from southern regions, to their native country, allured by the expectation of renewed enjoyment and abundant food. It is at the periods of the equinoxes that these great voyages of birds are performed. These are also the periods of great winds, as if nature had intended that the birds should be thus assisted in their flight. The cold which drives the birds of the polar regions into more temperate climates, sends those of temperate climates into the hot countries. But on the first indication of summer the hot climates send back to the temperate their aërial inhabitants, and the temperate send back to the cold regions their native tribes. Thus there is a general concentration of birds towards the torrid zone in winter, and a general dispersion towards the poles in summer.

The triangular figure which migrating birds adopt in their flight is the most favourable for cutting the air. The bird placed at the point is the most fatigued of the entire band; accordingly each takes this place in turn. The migrations of fishes are conducted in the same manner: the most robust places himself at the head; the other males follow, and the females and young come last. When the ranks of the storks are broken by the wind, they condense into a circle ; they do the same when attacked by an eagle. Thus it appears that whatever the migrations of birds may be, yet do they all adopt a peculiar country-each species has its distinct and never-varying habitat, where at a particular period of the year it may certainly be found. In the study of the




natural history of the feathered tribes, it is of great importance to remember this fact, and to note with exactness the times and seasons of departure and return. Nothing is more remarkable, nothing more truly wonderful in nature, than the regularity and celerity of these annual migrations ; the immense extent of illimitable space which the birds traverse, guided only by an unerring instinct; the intuitive knowledge which they seem to possess of the very day and hour of departure; the common consent with which they act, and the certain appointed order which they appear to preserve in their flight, all are evidences that a higher wisdom than mere animal intelligence, or than even human reason, must direct their motions.

Other facts deserve attention,” writes, Bishop Stanley, in his valuable work on birds, “proving that mere climate is by no means, in all cases, the cause of these periodical visits. Thus, some birds will, on the introduction of a new system of cultivation, make their appearance in countries where they were never seen before. The crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) has followed the apple to England. Glenco, in the Highlands of Scotland, never saw the partridge till its farmers of late years introduced corn into their lands. The sparrow again extended its range with the tillage of the soil. Thus, during the last century, it has spread gradually over Asiatic Russia, towards the north and east, always following the progress of cultivation. The foregoing instances, while they assure us (if assurance were necessary) that birds at wonted times change their habitations, still add to, rather than remove, the difficulties as to the real causes. But of these we must for the present remain in ignorance, we have enough left in the actual facts of migration to call forth all our wonder, in considering the regularity, order, and discipline, with which these unaccountable journeys are conducted; and the unknown compass, placed within the bosoms of these airy travellers, enabling them to go and return from points thousands of miles apart, with as much certainty as the sailor steers his ship across the ocean by his skill in navigation, and that mysterious needle ever pointing to the north.

" It is indeed the instinctive power and stimulus which is the real point to excite our astonishment in the migration

of birds ; for when we take into consideration what has been said of their rapid flight, which would enable an eagle in nine days, allowing him sixteen or seventeen hours for repose, to go round the world, there is nothing so very extraordinary in the journey of a swallow from the shores of England to those of Sierra Leone in Africa.

Birds, too, in their longer flights, no doubt avail themselves of different currents in the air; for we know that often, when the lower stream of air is blowing from the west, another stream far above may be blowing from another direction: this may be frequently seen by the motion of the upper clouds moving in contrary directions from those at a lower level.

“One other very remarkable fact connected with these long journeys, undertaken by birds over seas and lands, is that they are gifted with some secret power, enabling them not only to find their way to and from the distant countries they visit, but actually guiding them to the very same place from whence they came, and the very same spots for building their nests. This has been done by marking the claws of swallows which were in the habit of building in sheds or outhouses, where they could easily be retaken on their return in the spring and examined.

"It has been observed, that the time of departure of certain birds is by no means so exact as that of their arrival, which may be accounted for by a natural disinclination on the part of the old ones to desert the nests of young ones still requiring their care. But even this most powerful of all instincts, the attachment of a parent to its young, is not in all cases strong enough to conquer the still stronger impulse for migration; for swallows will actually desert their nests, and leave helpless little ones to perish by hunger, rather than remain long after their companions. A pair of martins, which had deserted their family in the autumn, on returning in the spring, were observed to drag out the bodies, which had most probably formed a dried mass with the wool and feathers in the interior, they entirely closed up the opening of the nest with clay, and leaving them thus entangled, proceeded to build another nursery.”

[merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small]

When weary, weary winter

Had melted from the air,
And April leaf and blossom

Had clothed the branches bare,
Came round our English dwelling

A voice of summer cheer,
'Twas thine, returning swallow !

The welcome and the dear.
We heard amid the day-break

Thy twitter blithe and sweet:
For life's auspicious morning

The precious and the fleet;
We saw thee lightly skimming

O'er fields of summer flowers,
And heard thy song of inward bliss.

Through evening's golden hours.
Far on the billowy ocean

A thousand leagues are we,
Yet here, sad hovering o'er our bark,

What is it that we see ?
Dear old familiar swallow !

What gladness dost thou bring !
Here rest upon our flying sail

Thy weary wandering wing.

What glimpses of our native homes

And homesteads dost thou bring !
Hore rest upon our flying sail

Thy welcome, weary wing.
To see thee, and to hear thee,

Amid the ocean's foam,
Again we see the loved, the left-
We feel at home, at home!


In addition to our quotation from Bishop Stanley, we will give the following from the new edition of Bechstein's “ Birds.”

NESTS. Much curious matter might be added respecting the situations in which the nests of jackdaws are sometimes built, and the substances of which they are composed, wool and other soft materials being used for the linings, and sticks loosely put together forming the exterior. Mr. J. Denson relates, in the “ Magazine of Natural History," " that at Cambridge, where the jackdaws are very numerous, they appropriated the wooden labels attached to the plants in the Botanic Gardens to the purposes of building to such an extent as to cause great perplexity and serious inconvenience; as many as eighteen dozen of these labels, which were principally of fir, and about nine inches long and one broad, were taken out of a single chimney shaft, in which the birds were in the habit of forming their nests." Of the extraordinary mass of materials sometimes collected by this bird, we have an instance quoted by Yarrell, from à letter addressed to him by C. Anderson, Esq., of Lea, near Gainsborough, who states, that a jackdaw began its nest in the steep and narrow steps of a spiral stone staircase in Saunby Church, Lea, and finding that it could not get a base suficiently flat and broad for its purpose, continued to pile up sticks to the height of five or six steps, until a landing was reached, where the structure was finished off securely, if not very neatly. An instance, giving evidence of still greater perseverance and sagacity, not to say intelligence, on the part of the bird, is recorded by Jesse, in his “Scenes and Tales of Country Life ;" this was in the bell tower or turret of the chapel of Eton College; and the

« ÎnapoiContinuați »