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The notes of the Gold-crested Wren*, the smallest of British birds, can hardly be called a song, but they salute the ear in the beginning of February, and the beautiful little bird, with its elegant nest and pale-brown eggs, weighing nine or ten grains each-the bird weighs no more than eighty-must not pass unnoticed. A pair, which took possession of a fir-tree in Colonel Montagu's garden, ceased their song as soon as the young were hatched; and, when they were about six days old, he took the nest and placed it outside his study window. After the old birds had become familiar with that situation, the basket was brought within the window, and, afterwards, was conveyed to the opposite side of the room. The male had regularly assisted in feeding the young ones as long as they remained outside the window; and, though he attended the female afterwards to that barrier, he never once entered the room, nor brought any food while the young were in it.
But the mother's affections were not to be so checked :-she would enter, and feed her infant brood at the table where Colonel Montagu was sitting, and even while he held the nest in his hand. One day he moved his head as she was sitting on the edge of the nest which he held. She instantly retreatedso precipitately, that she mistook the closed for the open part of the window, dashed herself against the glass, and lay apparently breathless on the floor for some time.
Neither the fright nor the hurt could, however, overpower her maternal yearnings. Colonel Montagu had the pleasure of seeing her recover, and soon return, and she afterwards frequently fed her nestlings while he held the nest in his hand. The little mother's visits were generally repeated in the space of a minute and a half, or two minutes, or, upon an average, thirty-six times in an hour ; and this continued for full sixteen hours in a day, which would amount to seventy-two feeds daily for each, if equally divided between the eight young ones, amo
mounting in the whole to five hundred and seventy-six. From examination of the food,” says the Colonel, “which by accident now and then dropped into the nest, I judged, from those weighed, that each feed was a quarter of a grain upon an average, so that each young one was supplied with eighteen grains weight in a day; and, as the young birds weighed about seventy-seven grains when they began to perch, they consumed nearly their weight of food in four days at that time. I could always perceive by the animation of the brood when the old one was coming ; probably some low note indicated
* Regulus cristatus. There are two species, viz., Regulus aurocapillus (Gold-crested Regulus), and Regulus ignicapillus (Fire-crested Regulus).
her approach, and, in an instant, every mouth was open to receive the insect morsel.”
When, we made our annual pilgrimage last year to Mr. Waterer's at Knapp Hill, we were attracted, even surrounded as we were by that wilderness of sweets—that assemblage of all that is rich and delicate in colour, when the azalias and rhododendrons form one splendid mass of bloom, almost too beautiful for this earth-by one of these little birds that had her nest in a yew hedge skirting one of the paths. An intelligent lad pointed out the “procreant cradle," put in his hand, and took out one of the young ones, then nearly fledged. After it had been viewed and admired-for it was very pretty, as most young birds are not—he replaced the tiny creature, and, to the inquiry whether the parents would not forsake the nest if so disturbed, he replied in the negative, adding that they were old acquaintance, and “ didn't mind,” for he often took the young ones out to see how they got on.” As soon as the nestling was returned to its happy home, the parent that had been watching the proceedings from a neighbouring rhododendron gorgeous with flowers, among which her small bright streak of a crest still shone brilliantly, repaired to her family, and covered them with her wings, as if nothing had happened. We trust that Mr. Waterer's noble collection has been spared by the ruthless season which, even now, chills us as we write; but we shall go to Knapp Hill under the fear that his lovely and rare hybrids have been sadly scathed. The air is pure and mild there, it is true ; but his Americans
“ All unfit to bear the bitter cold," must have had a severe trial, when hardy, indigenous plants have suffered.
Although the Gold-crested Wren braves our severest winters, it appears to be very susceptible of cold, as well as the common Brown Wren of our hedges. The Hon. and Rev. W. Herbert informs us that, in confinement, the least cold is fatal to them. In a wild state, he says, they keep themselves warm by constant active motion in the day, and at night secrete themselves in places where the frost cannot reach them : but he apprehends that numbers perish in severe winters. He once caught half a dozen Golden Wrens at the beginning of winter, and they lived extremely well upon egg and meat, being exceedingly tame. "At roosting-time there was always a whimsical conflict among them for inside places, as being the warmest, which ended, of course, by the weakest going to the wall. The scene began with a low whistling call among them to roost, and the two birds
on the extreme right and left, flew on the backs of those in the centre, and squeezed themselves into the middle. A fresh couple from the flanks immediately renewed the attack upon the centre, and the conflict continued till the light began to fail them. A severe frost in February killed all but one of them in one night, though in a furnished drawing-room. The survivor was preserved in a little cage, by burying it every night under the sofa cushions ; but having been, one sharp morning, taken from under them before the room was sufficiently warmed by the fire, though perfectly well when removed, it was dead in ten minutes."
The common Wren* is too often shot by the sportsman for the sake of the tail-feathers; these, when skilfully manipulated, admirably represent the spider of February, March, and April, when anything like an insect is considered a bonne bouche by the trout; and, indeed, the deceit, if lightly cast by a nice hand on the ripple, is sure to take fish, and good ones, too, “if,” as old Izaak hath it, “they be there.” The bird may be followed up and down the hedge-row till it will suffer itself to be taken by the hand. Then borrow—steal if you will—two or three of the precious feathers—but let the little warbler go to enjoy its liberty, and furnish “Wren's tails” for another year.
We must not forget the Redbreast, as we conclude this imperfect sketch of Resident British Song Birds, already too long. This, the familiar household bird, with its innocent confidence, would, we might have hoped, bear a charmed life everywhere : but no. Sonnini tells us that it arrives in the Levant in October, seldom passing into the open islands, but seeking the luxuriant myrtle-groves of Scio, and those other isles which offer shade and shelter. There the Greek bird-catcher takes them by dozens in the snares to which, assured by the presence of their murderer, they offer themselves; and the same war is waged against them, we are sorry to add, in other foreign countries, that one more dish may be added to the luxury and profusion of the table of Dives. With us this friendly bird is, and we trust ever will be, sacred. When everything is fettered by frost
“ When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail”even then the plaintive warbling of the Robin is heard; as if to remind man that, amidst all the apparent desolation, Nature is not dead, but only sleeps, like the Beauty in the wood, to awake with all her former charms renewed.
* Troglodytes Europæus, Motacilla Troglodytes, Linn.
“ Glad moment is it when the throng
Of warblers in full concert strong,
How different has the season been from that which frowned when we last addressed our readers on this subject. In the present year the honest ancient severity of winter bringing to our comparatively open southern waters clouds of hyperborean webfooted fowl, has been followed by a good old-fashioned spring, with the hawthorn in bloom, and even the oak-leaf out near, London early in May—such a spring as we remember in our childhood, when the live-long day was passed in the balmy open air. How tranquil was it to lie among the high and thick sward, already hained up for the scythe, on the verge of the orchard, then one sheet of blossom, looking askant at the insects in their goldbe-dropped and gorgeously emblazoned coats, climbing up the stalks of the herbage to gain vantage for their flight, or gazing into the clear blue heaven above in speculation whether the mote, all but invisible, were the lark, whose carol mellowed by distance fell upon the ear, while the little sister, near at hand
—“As in the shining grass she sat conceal'd, Sang to herself ;"
and then the importance with which we returned to the house, big with the secret that we had discovered the nest of some errant turkey or guinea-hen, which all the acuteness and experience of the dairy-maid had failed to detect. Those were happy days :—but this is prosing; and we proceed to fulfil our promise of passing rapidly in review those melodious visiters who hasten from foreign lands to make the hedge-rows, orchards, and gardens of these fortunate islands their nuptial bowers.
This is no place for physiological discussion, and our patrons may be assured that they are not about to be drawn into a dissertation on the general organization of the feathered tribes ; but there are few who have thought at all on the subject who have not been struck with the provision against the entire loss of progeny which would otherwise arise from the acts of those who rob nests for profit or wantonness. The eggs abstracted from the nests of the Phasianidæ,* Tetraonidant Plovers, and a long list of others, are frequently replaced by the females as long as the number appears to be incomplete. The pilferings of the schoolboy bear hard upon the constitutions of the Merulidat and the smaller birds; but, unless nature is quite exhausted by repeated robberies, the bereaved parents set about constructing a new nest, finish it, and replenish it. How is this effected? By one of those beautiful adaptations which meet the zoologist at every turn, and bring home to his heart the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. On the breast of the sitting hen is a plexus, or net-work of blood vessels, which are completely filled during the time of incubation; but as long as there is a demand for eggs, and the bird goes on laying, the blood is directed internally, in order to secure the supply till the full complement is laid. When that is accomplished, the blood is no longer sent inwards, but is determined to the plexus on the breast; and no doubt the smooth and rounded surfaces of the eggs are soothing to the heated bosom of the mother, making her apparently hard and close confinement a labour of pleasure as well as love.
We shall have occasion in the course of this sketch to present some striking instances which show that among other mental powers-yes, mental, for it is certain that birds are gifted with something beyond mere instinct—the songsters who visit us in the season of love, joy, and hope, have very retentive memories. Year after year, if they escape the ravages of the hawk, or of the still more destructive gun, the same pair of visiters will return to the identical nest in its cosy nook, if rude hands have not destroyed the comfortable little home. By those who respect their loves and domestic arrangements our feathered summer visiters are looked for as friends returning from a far country, and their first appearance on some warm dewy spring morning at the trellis of the cottage door, or the ivied window, or in the wellknown laburnum or lilac, is hailed by true lovers of nature with a thrill of pleasure. The songsters themselves seem hardly less pleased when they find all right; and while they warble right
* Pheasants, common fowls, &c. + Grouse, partridges, &c.
. Blackbirds and thrushes.