« السابقةمتابعة »
low hammer, a titlark, and an aberdavine. These are placed, in little cages, at small distances from the nets. He has likewise his flur-birds, which are placed within the net, and raised or let down according as the wild birds approach.
This, however, is not enough to allure the wild bird down; it must be called from the cages by one of the call-birds which are kept there, and which have been made to moult early in the summer, in order to improve their notes. Pennant observes, that there appears a malicious joy in these call-birds, to bring the wild ones into the same state of captivity. After they have seen or heard the approach of the wild birds, which is long before it is perceived by the birdcatchers, the intelligence is announced from cage to cage with the utmost ecstasy and joy. The note by which they invite them down is not a continual song, like what the bird uses in a chamber; but short jerks, as they are called by the birdcatchers, which are heard at a great distance. So powerful is the ascendency of this call over the wild birds, that, the moment they hear it, they alight within twenty yards of three or four birdcatchers, on a spot which, otherwise, would never have attracted their notice. After the fatal string is pulled, and the nets are clapped over the unsuspecting strangers, should one half of the flock escape, such is their infatuation, that they will immediately after return to the nets, and share the same fate with their companions; and should only one bird escape, the unhappy survivor will still venture into danger, till he be also caught; so fascinating is the power which the call-birds have over this devoted race.
All the hens that are thus taken are immediately killed, and sold for threepence or fourpence a dozen. Their flesh is so exquisite, that they are regarded as a delicate acquisition to the tables of the luxurious. The taste for small birds is however far from being so prevalent in England as in France and Italy; and even the luxury of the Italians will appear parsimony when
compared with the extravagance of their predecessors, the Romans. Pliny says, that Clodius Esopus, a tragedian of Rome, paid no less a sum than six thousand eight hundred and forty-three pounds for a single dish of musical birds; an immense tribute to caprice and gluttony. The highest price given for these singing birds in London is five guineas a piece; a strong proof how much more their song is relished here than their flesh.
It is remarkable, that the female of no kind of birds, except one or two species of the loxia, ever sings; that talent being every where else the prerogative of the male. All the laborious functions fall to the lot of the tender sex; theirs is the fatigue of incubation, and the principal share in nursing the helpless brood. To alleviate these cares, and to support her under them, nature has given to the male the gift of song, and all the little blandishments and soothing arts that can win affection or beguile trouble. These he fondly exerts, even after courtship, on some spray contiguous to the nest, during the time his mate is performing her parental duties. To the female this is not only a note of blandishment, but a pledge of her security. While her male continues on the neighbouring tree, to watch and sing, she remains in the nest in full confidence that no danger is near; whereas, if his loud and sportive strains stop all on a sudden, it is a certain signal of some dangerous intrusion, and a warning to her to provide for her escape.
Birds of this order are, in general, much more attentive to the structure of their nests than the larger kinds. As the size of their body is smaller, the heat of their nest is in proportion, and must be aided by the warm substances with which their nest is usually lined. As their eggs are much apter to lose their heat than those of superior size, these birds are proportionably more assiduous during incubation; the male constantly supplying the place of his female, and thus preventing the admission of the cold, which would prove fatal to his progeny. The habitation of
these birds is no less cunningly concealed than it is artfully built. Whether on the ground, or in a bush, it is always so covered that it can hardly be seen; and, the better to escape observation, the owners never come out or go in while any one is in view.
It wins my admiration,
The strong-billed small birds feed upon grain. They live upon the property of the husbandman, for which they repay him with their songs. They are not, however, without their use; for they often transport seeds from one district to another, and thus disseminate and vary the vegetable productions of the earth. The slender-billed tribes feed mostly upon insects or worms, and are exceedingly useful in destroying part of those superfluous beings with which the atmosphere and the surface of the earth teems, often to the ruin of seeds and tender plants. Their voice is supposed to be still more soft and delicate than that of the other kinds. Even the granivorous birds of this class, while young, live upon insects. During the three first days after their exclusion from the shell, they require little or no food. The parents, however, soon perceive by their loud and plaintive accents, and by their gaping, that they feel the approaches of hunger; and they are eager to gratify their wants by a plentiful supply. In the absence of the parents they continue to lie close together, and cherish each other by their mutual warmth. During this interval also they preserve a perfect silence, uttering not the slightest note till the mother returns. Her arrival is always an
nounced by a chirrup, which they perfectly understand, and which they answer all together, each petitioning for its portion. The parent distributes a supply to each by turns, cautiously avoiding to gorge them, by giving them often, and but little at a time. The wren will in this manner feed seventeen or eighteen young, although perfectly in the dark, without passing over one of them. A few days after they are fully fledged, and led out by their parents, during which they are taught to pick their food and to fly, they become totally independent of these admonitory aids*.
The different genera belonging to the class of PASSERES are: 1. Columba, pigeons. 2. Turdus, thrush†, blackbird. 3. Ampelis, chatterer. 4. Loxia, grossbeak. 5. Emberiza, bunting. 6. Motacilla, nightingale, redbreast, wren, water-wagtail, taylor-bird. 7. Hirundo, swallows, martins. 8. Caprimulgus, goatsucker. 9. Alauda, lark. 10. Sturnus, starling. 11. Fringilla, finches ‡, canary-bird, linnet, sparrow. Up springs the lark, Shrill-voiced and loud, the messenger of morn; Ere yet the shadows fly, he, mounted, sings Amid the dawning clouds, and from their haunts Calls up the tuneful nations.
See the 'PANTOLOGIA, or General Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, art. ZOOLOGY.
+ The thrush
And woodlark, o'er the kind contending throng
Now where the thistle blows his feathered seed
Or gently swinging o'er the cobbler's stall,
Soft warbling linnet, welcome to the vine
ORDER IV. GALLINE, or poultry kind. This order of birds must unquestionably be regarded as the most serviceable to mankind of the whole class. The rapacious kinds administer nothing to his utility, and not much to his amusement. The smaller birds contribute indeed to his amusement by their music, but to little or nothing more than to his amusement. It is from the poultry tribes alone that he derives any solid advantages, or considerable accession to the necessaries of life.
Birds of this order are distinguished by the comparative smallness of the head; by their heavy and muscular bodies; and the whiteness and salubrity of their flesh. Their bills are short, strong, and arched; the upper mandible shutting over the edges of the lower, and thus fitted for picking up grain, which is their principal nourishment. Their legs are strong and short; their toes furnished with broad claws, for scratching the ground. There are few of them qualified for long flights, or migrating from one country to another, on account of the shortness of their wings.
The variety of food upon which they are capable of subsisting, renders them, in general, proper for domestication; and the fertility, for which they are remarkable, when abundantly supplied with food, enables man to convert them into a mean of adding considerably to the stock of his provisions. Like the ruminant cattle, they are indolent, gregarious, and volup