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more compact than the sky-lark's nest, but something similar. The eggs, from four to six in number, were bluish white, speckled and spotted with black.* This was on a part of the continent (Mr. Yarrell does not specify it) further north than that referred to by M. Vieillot, who states that it is most numerous in the southern parts of France, where its arrival is nearly contemporaneous with that of the swallow, and rather before that of the quail.
Neither the elegant form and colouring of the ortolan, nor its deep flute-like warbling, plead with success against the cravings of that all-devouring organ which has neither eyes nor ears. The happy birds are decoyed into a snare, and hurried from the fresh air and the blessed sun into a room lighted by lanterns, so that the prisoners can no longer distinguish day from night. Here they are abundantly supplied with oats, millet, and the crumb of white bread spiced. The loss of liberty seems to be forgotten by the devoted little gluttons in the more substantial enjoyments with which they are surrounded, and they apply themselves so vigorously and unweariedly to the good things set before them, that they become delicious lumps of high-flavoured fat. When they weigh about three ounces, their time is come; but such is their voracity, that if left to themselves, they would die of suffocation from mere obesity. The cuisinier des cuisiniers describes the victim, and pronounces its eulogy with a pregnant brevity.
“L'ortolan est un petit oiseau, à-peu-près de la grosseur d'une mauviette. Il est grisâtre, et a le cou jaunâtre, aussi bien que le ventre. Il n'est jamais si bon qu'en août et en septembre. Il est très délicat et se digère aisément."
But the voice of the cuckoo, heard from yon lofty tree, loud and clear above the flood of melody poured from the hanging copse below, warns us how much of our sketch remains untouched. The finches and true warblers are still unnoticed, and we must present them to such of our readers as may take an interest in the subject.
.“ British Birds."
This cuckoo-song is considered by those best qualified to judge, to be the earliest ballad in the English language now extant. Its date is about the latter years of the reign of Henry III., and it affords a curious example of the alterations which our tongue has undergone since that time ; whilst the descriptions, which breathe of rural sights and sounds, show that nature has suffered no change. For the benefit of those who are not Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, we subjoin the translation, which does not pretend to preserve the rhythm.
Summer is come in,
But before we inquire into the life, character, and behaviour of the vocal vagrant in whose honour the antique rhymes of our motto were composed, we must resume the thread which we
dropped, and present, according to promise, the finches and true warblers.
The Fringillidæ or finches being hard-billed, and consequently seed-eating birds, arrive in autumn and winter mostly.
The mountain-finch or brambling, descending from the north, is spread over the whole European continent in winter, and there is a solitary instance of a bird having been shot so late as the 6th of May, near York; but no evidence of their breeding in these islands, either in a state of nature or captivity, exists.
They have been observed to feed greedily on the seeds of the knot-grass (Polygonum aviculare), and have been considered useful in arresting the dissemination of that noxious weed. The bill of the male in winter is yellowish-white, tipped with bluish black. The iris of the eye is brown, and the crown of the head, the cheeks, the ear-coverts, the nape, and the back, are dappled with brown and black. The feathers of the smaller wing-coverts are tipped with white, and as well as the scapulars, are of a rich fawn colour. The greater wing-coverts are deep black, tipped with fawn, and the quills are black. The rump and upper tailcoverts are white, slightly mottled with black, arising from the
presence of a few feathers of the latter colour. The forked tail is black, edged with white, inclining to buff colour. The chin, the throat, and the upper part of the breast and sides are of the same rich fawn colour as the scapulars, smaller wing-coverts, and the broad edges of the tertials. The lower parts are white. The spring or nuptial dress varies from the winter plumage. In the season of hope and joy, the rusty brown tips of the head and neck feathers vanish, leaving the head and neck gear of a rich velvety black, and the bill becomes of a lead-blue hue throughout. In this state the bird remains till the autumnal moult again clothes it in its winter covering:
M. Temminck describes the bird under the name of Gros-bec d'Ardennes, and it is probably the Pinson d'Ardenne of Belon, and the old French authors. The ancient quatrain gives it a firm and uncompromising character
“ Pinson montain cest oyseau on appelle,
Ce nonobstant pinse, mord, et rebelle.” And the brambling is remarkable for its boldness and hardihood in confinement. Of the song, if it be gifted with any, nothing appears to be known; its call is a monotonous chirp.
As soon as the northern chills warn the siskin or aberdevine (Fringilla spinus), that it is time to quit the inhospitable regions where winter has already begun its reign, the bird moves south
ward, and arrives in these islands in the autumn, abiding with us from September to April, often in small flocks, but generally in the company of linnets and redpoles, to feed on the seeds of the alder, the birch, and the larch. The siskin has but rarely been known to tarry in this country; but its nest has been noticed twice in furze, some three feet from the ground, near Coombe Wood, by Mr. Meyer, who informed Mr. Yarrell of the fact, of which there could be no doubt, for the eggs were taken in both cases, and placed under canaries which hatched them, and some of the young siskins were reared. Nor are these the only instances of the stay of the siskin during the breeding season. Sir William Jardine, Mr. Drew of Paisley, a correspondent in the sixth volume of “ Loudon's Magazine of Natural History,” and Mr. Gardiner, junior, of Dundee,* all record evidence of its producing young in this country, and the last-named gentleman bred and reared the species in confinement. He ascertained that the incubation lasted fourteen days; the young were fledged in fifteen days, and quitted the nest at the end of the third week.
The plumage of this pretty species is so well known, that it would be needless to describe it here. If any one is not acquainted with it, he will find admirable descriptions and figures in “ Yarrell's British Birds,” and “Gould's Birds of Europe." is very sweet, though not loud; and the Saxon stocking-weavers fancy that they detect in it the noise made by the loom, which makes the siskin a great favourite with them. Siskins are not bad bird-mimics, and will give imitations of the tits, the chaffinch, and the lark; but their talents are unequal to repeating a musical air. They are indefatigable singers and feeders, caring so little for the loss of their liberty that they will eat as soon as they are let out of the hand of the captor. Like the goldfinches, they are taught to draw up tiny buckets, and perform other tricks, and are always gay. When they are not eating, drinking or singing, they are generally arranging their plumage, of which they take great care. Though it may be
“ Wrong for the greenfinch to flirt with the siskin," a liaison with a canary does not seem objectionable : for breeders pair the siskin with that bird, and thus obtain spotted mules, highly valued for their song, which is not too loud for a room.
The mealy redpole (Linota canescens), which is distinct from the lesser or common redpole (Linota linaria), is an arctic bird, with a very wide range over the North of America, Asia, and Europe, and is found in Japan. It is only an occasional visiter to this country, principally in winter, though it has been shot as late as May. Much cannot be said for its song; but the male mealy redpole in his spring dress, when his forehead and crown are bloodred, his throat and lore black, and the front of his neck, breast, and rump rosy, setting off the pure white of his underdress, is a very pretty bird. The seeds of forest-trees form the food of this species.
* Loudon's Magazine, vol. viii.
The mountain-linnet (Linota montium), though only a winter visiter in the south of England, breeds in the north of England and Scotland, as well as in the northern and western Scotch islands, annually. It is the Heather lintee of Orkney and Shetland, and may be known from the common linnet and the redpoles by its longer tail, its reddish tawny throat, and the absence of red on the head or breast at any season, though the rump has a tinge of red in summer. The song is described by Mr. Selby as pleasing, though scarcely equal in compass to that of the common linnet.
The pine grosbeak (Corythus enucleator), can only be considered as an occasional visiter to any part of these islands. The species is especially abundant in the north of Europe and America, and occurs in Lapland, Norway, Russia, Siberia, Sweden, and the north of Germany. The pine forests are its favourite haunts, though it will eat the buds and seeds of most trees, and occasionally take an insect.
The male, when in full plumage, is a very handsome bird. The bill is dark brown, tinged on the lower mandible with dark red. The base of the upper mandible and the eyes are surrounded by a narrow dusky black band. The iris is hazel, and the whole of the head, the cheeks, the ear-coverts, and the hinder part of the neck, are of a fine vermillion. The grayishblack feathers of the back and scapulars are edged with red, and those of the rump and upper tail-coverts still more broadly, so that the colour of the head and neck is apparently continued. The wing-coverts and quills are grayish-black, and both greater and lesser wing-coverts have broad outer edges, and the tips white with a red tinge. All the quills have a narrow outer edging of white, the first six of the primaries being partially tinged with red. The slightly formed tail is uniform grayish-black. When in their proper position, the feathers of the chin, throat, breast, and sides make those parts appear of a fine vermillion red; but if they are lifted, they will be seen to be only edged with that colour and gray at the base like the feathers of the upper parts. The belly and under-tail coverts (the latter with a white edging), are French-gray, and the wings and tail beneath slate-gray. The legs and toes are blackish brown, and the claws are black. The total length of this fine species is eight inches.