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Activity of Spring— The Golden- crested Wren — Variety of Nests — The 
Robin — The Partridge — The Ostrich — The Golden Eagle — The Wood 
Pigeon — The Window Swallow — The Sand Martin — The Burrowing Owl — 
The Thrush — The Woodpecker — The Common Wren — The Ruby- throated 
Humming Bird — The Raven — The Jay — The Swallow — The Long-tailed 
Titmouse — The Rook — Lesson of Humility — The Esculent Swallow — The 
Tailor Bird — The Sedge Warbler — The Fantail Warbler — The Reed Wren 
— The Philippine Weaver Bird — The Bottle-nested Sparrow — The Sociable 
Grosbeak — The Capocier — The Oriole. 


The God of Providence — The Egg-organ — The Hoopoe — The Egg-tube 
—Variety in Eggs— Colour of Eggs — Form of an Egg — Internal structure 
of an Egg — The Corn-bunting — The Wrens — Hatching of Eggs — Egypt- 
ian Ovens — Reaumur’s Experiments — The Eccaleobion — The Pelican’s 
Nest — The Wood Warbler — Changes during Incubation — Escape of the 
Young Bird — Shells of Birds’ Eggs — Parental Care — Creation and Re- 




“ Nothing without God” — Downy covering of a Bird — Mould of a Fea- 
ther — Growth of a Feather — The full-grown Feather— Fibres of a Feather 
— The part first wanted first produced — Head and neck of the Vulture- 
Feathers of the Peacock — Water Birds— Colours of Feathers — Variety of 
Feathers — Colours of Male and Female Birds — Birds of Cold Regions — 
Colours for Concealment — White Feathers of the Bee-eater— Covering of 
Black Down — The Wings of a Bird — Flight of Birds — Plumage of the Owl 
— The Humming Bird — The Swift— The Frigate Bird. 


Variety of Tones and Qualities in the Voice of the Feathered Tribes — 
Simplicity of the means by which they are produced — Organs of Voice de- 
scribed — The Linnet — The Blackbird — The Missel Thrush — The Song 
Thrush — The Goldfinch— The Bullfinch — The Lark — The Nightingale — 
The Mocking Bird — Various Facts as to the Music of Birds— The Chris- 
tian’s Song. 


The Subject stated — Affection of Birds — Illustration of this Feeling — 
Peculiar Skill in Nest-building — Singular Abode of an African Bird — Rear- 
ing of the Young — The Ostrich — Bower-building Birds of Australia — The 
Brush Turkey — The Mountain Pheasant — The Honey- guide — Migration — 
The Stork— The Turtle Dove — The Swallow — What is Instinct? — Its limi- 
tations — The Mind of Man a contrast to it. 









Spring is a season of great activity. No sooner have 
the trees put forth their leaves, than millions of birds 
commence their labours. Here they may be observed 
bringing long pieces of straw to some hole in an old 
wall, and there they work in the windows of some lofty 
buildings. Some may be seen eagerly seizing on small 
tufts of moss, and others bearing away some fragments 
of wool which a sheep has left entangled in the thorns. 
One requires fine roots for its nest, another has cob- 
webs for the outworks of its abode. He who can now 
look on without emotion, while God is thus giving such 
foresight to the thoughtless, and strength to the weak, 
must have a mind in which darkness prevails. Let it 



not be so with us ; the God of providence is here de- 
manding our praises. 

The Golden-crested Wren. 

Various indeed are the places frequented by birds. 
The preferences of some of them have thus been stated 
by one of our poets : — 

The partridge loves the fruitful fells ; 

The plover loves the mountains ; 

The woodcock haunts the lonely dells ; 

The soaring heron the fountains. 

Through lofty groves the ring-dove roves, 

The path of men to shun it ; 

The hazel-bush o’erhangs the thrush, 

The spreading thorn the linnet. 



Thus, every kind their pleasure find. 

The savage and the tender : 

Some social join, and leagues combine ; 

Some solitary wander. 

The materials used by birds in forming their nests 
are also various. The same places and articles are 
rarely, perhaps never, found united by the different 
species, though we should suppose similar necessities 
would direct to an uniform provision. Birds that build 
early in the spring seem to require warmth and shelter 
for their young. Thus the blackbird, in common with 
others, lines its nest with a plaster of loam, which com- 
pletely excludes the keen icy gales of the opening year. 

We commonly think that a nest should be so formed 
that the eggs may not roll out ; yet many species nestle 
on the ground, without either finding or making any 
hollows. The robin usually selects a shallow cavity 
among grass or moss in a bank, or at the root of a tree. 

Humble is his home, 

And well concealed ; sometimes within the sound 
Of heartsome millclack, where the spacious door, 

"White dusted, tells how plenty reigns around ; 

Close at the root of brier-bush, that o’erhangs 
The narrow stream, with shealings bedded white, 

He fixes his abode, and lives at will. 

In like manner, the partridge makes no nest, but 
scrapes a small hollow in the ground, placing a few 
fibres therein to deposit its eggs on. 



Burchall, the traveller, speaks of an ostrich's nest 
which he observed in South Africa, as a bare concavity 
scratched in the sand. It was six feet in diameter, sur- 
rounded by a shallow trench, and without the smallest 
trace of any materials, such as grass, leaves, or sticks, 
to give it a resemblance to many other nests. 

As we think of other birds, we are reminded that 

The lark, too, asks 

A lonely dwelling, hid beneath a turf. 

Or hollow, trodden by the sinking hoof: 

Songster of heaven ! who to the sun such lays 
Pours forth, as earth ne’er owns. 

The structure, if so it may be called, of the golden 
eagle is quite flat, without any perceptible hollow, and 
commonly set between two rocks, in a dry inaccessible 
place. It is constructed nearly like a floor, with great 
sticks, five or six feet long, supported at the ends, and 
crossed with pliant branches. It has no covering above, 
and the same nest serves for a whole generation. 

The nest of the wood-pigeon is composed of the 
rudest materials. These are only a few loose sticks, 
but the dwelling is admirably adapted for concealment. 
“ How often," says Mr. Jesse, “ have I observed the 
strong, rapid flight of a wood-pigeon from a tree, and 
heard the noise produced by his wings, and then looked 


up into the tree expecting to see his nest, without being 
able to perceive it. This has been owing to the various 
deposits of dead leaves and small branches which have 
been accumulated in various parts of the tree, and 
which have exactly the same appearance which the 
nest of the wood-pigeon has.” 

When the window-swallow begins to provide a suit- 
able dwelling for its family, the crust or shell of its 
nest seems to be formed of such dirt or loam as is 
nearest at hand. This is tempered and wrought to- 
gether with small pieces of broken straw, to render it 
tough and tenacious ; and, as the bird often builds 
against a perpendicular wall without any projecting 
ledge under, its utmost efforts are needed to secure a 
firm foundation. To effect its purpose, the swallow not 
only clings with its claws, but partly supports itself by 
strongly inclining its tail against the wall ; and thus 
steadied, it works and plasters the materials into the 
face of the brick or stone. But then, that this work 
may not, while it is soft and fresh, be pulled down by 
its own weight, the bird does not proceed too fast. 
Building only in the morning, there is time enough for 
it to dry and harden. About half an inch seems a suf- 
ficient layer for a day ; yet in about ten or twelve 
days a nest is formed, strong, compact, and warm, with 



a small opening towards the top, and fully adapted to 
the purposes intended. 

The outer part of the nest is full of knobs ; nor is 
the inside smoothed with any exactness, but it is made 
soft and warm by a lining of small straws, grasses, and 
feathers, or by a bedding of moss and wool. Sometimes 
these birds begin many dwellings, and leave them un- 
finished ; but when once a nest is built in a sheltered 
place, after much labour, it serves for several seasons. 

The sand-martin mines deep holes in sand or chalk 
cliffs, to the depth of two or more feet, at the end of 
which it forms a loose nest of fine grass and feathers, 
put together with but little art. With what does this 
little bird make its chamber ? Merely with its beak, 
a sharp awl, which is very hard, and tapers suddenly 
from a broad base to a point. With this tool it works, 
picking away from the centre to the circumference of 
the opening, which is nearly circular, and working 
round and round as it proceeds, the gallery being more 
or less curved in its course, and being narrow and 
funnel-shaped at the end. One observer watched a 
swallow cling with its sharp claws to the face of a sand- 
bank, and peg in its bill as a miner would his pickaxe, 
till it had loosened a considerable portion of the sand, 
and tumbled it down amongst the rubbish below. 


Sand-Martins and their Nests. 


Another swallow often chooses the chimney of an old 
farm-house, while the martin occupies the eaves. Here, 
too, sparrows find a crevice ; sometimes they choose the 
roof of a house, or if the latter be of thatch, they scoop 
out a hole for their nests of hay and straw, lined with 
feathers. Failing here, 

Within the hedge 

The sparrow lays her sky-stain’d eggs. 

Nor will these birds disdain to fix their abode in some 
tree. They like to build, too, under the mud-bottom of 
a rook's nest, which defends them from the rain. 

The white owl seeks the antique ruin’d wall. 

Fearless of rapine ; or, in hollow trees, 

Which age has cavern’d, safely courts repose. 

« A different course is taken by the burrowing owl of 
America. It resides only in the villages of the marmot 
or prairie dog, where excavations are so commodious as 
to render it unnecessary that this bird should build for 
itself, as it is said to do in other parts of the world, where 
burrowing animals do not exist. These villages, which 
are numerous, vary in extent, sometimes covering a few 
acres, and at others spreading over the surface of the 
country for miles. They are composed of mounds, about 
two feet in width at the base, and seldom rising eighteen 
inches above the surface of the soil. The entrance is 


placed at the top, or on the side ; from this the passage 
descends vertically for one or two feet, and from thence is 
continued obliquely downwards. It ends in an apartment, 
within which the marmot constructs, on the approach of 
the cold season, a comfortable cell for its winter's sleep. 
It is composed of fine dry grass, in a globular form, and 
has an opening at the top, capable of admitting a finger. 
The whole is so compact that it might be rolled on the 
floor without injury. The burrows into which the owls 
have been seen to descend, on the plains of the river 
Plate, where they are most numerous, were evidently 
made by the marmot : and it is supposed that the owl 
was the sole occupant of a burrow by right of conquest. 

The following description of the thrush is beautiful : — 

Within a thick and spreading hawthorn bush. 
That overhung a mole-hill large and round, 

I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush 

Sing hymns to sunrise, while I drank the sound. 
With joy : and, often an intruding guest, 

I watch’d her secret toils from day to day, — 
How true she warp’d the moss to form her nest, 
And modell’d it within with wood and clay. 
And by and by, like heath-bells girt with dew, 
There lay her shining eggs as bright as flowers ; 
Ink-spotted-over shells of green and blue ; 

And there I witness’d, in the summer hours, 

A brood of nature’s minstrels chirp and fly. 

Glad as the sunshine and the laughing sky. 



The woodpecker chooses an apple, pear, or cherry tree. 
This is minutely examined for several days before ; and 
the work is first begun by the male, who cuts out a hole 
in the solid wood, as circular as if described with a pair 
of compasses. Occasionally, he is relieved by the female, 
both of them working with the greatest diligence. The 
hole, if made in the body of the tree, is generally down- 
wards at an angle for six or eight inches, and then straight 
down for ten or twelve more. -It is roomy, capacious, 
and as smooth as if polished by the cabinet-maker ; but 
the entrance is only large enough to admit the body of 
the owner. During this toil, the birds regularly carry out 
the chips, often strewing them at a distance to prevent 
suspicion. The labour sometimes occupies the chief part 
of a week. The female, before she begins to lay, often 
visits the place, examines every part both without and 
within, with great care, and at length takes possession 

The cavern-loving wren, sequester’d, seeks 
The verdant shelter of the hollow stump, 

And with congenial moss — harmless deceit- 
Constructs a safe abode. 

So cautious is this bird, that it leaves only a small side- 
entrance into the place it selects ; and if the nest be 
touched, the bird will rarely enter it again. In forming 
her dwelling, the wren does not begin with the bottom, 


as most birds do ; but first, as it were, traces the outline, 
if against a tree, and fastens the nest with equal strength 
to all parts. It afterwards encloses the sides and top, 
leaving only a small hole near the latter for entrance. 
If the nest is placed under a bank, the top is first 
begun, and well secured in some small cavity, by which 
the fabric is suspended. 

The reason for this dwelling being of a globular form 
is plain. The young would be too much exposed in an 
open nest; and the little bird, issuing from an egg of only 
twenty grains in weight, may be supposed to require 
defence from the weather. Hence, the chief bulk is 
from the thickness of the walls. It is remarkable, too, 
that the advantages of this nest are not limited to the 
period of the parent bird's care. The young birds, long 
after they can fly and provide for themselves, return to 
it at night, and sleep under the parental roof. 

Mr. Knapp, in one of his Notes of a Naturalist, says : 
“ I was much pleased to-day, by detecting the stratagems 
of a common wren to conceal its nest from observation. 
It had formed a hollow space in the thatch, on the inside 
of my cow-shed, in which it had placed its nest by the 
side of a rafter, and finished it with its usual neatness ; 
but, lest the orifice of its cell should engage attention, it 
had negligently hung a ragged piece of moss on the 



straw- work, concealing the entrance, and apparently 
proceeding from the rafter ; and, so perfect was the 
deception, that I should not have noticed it, though 
tolerably observant of such things, had not the bird 
betrayed her secret, and darted out.” 

The nest of the golden-crested wren is remarkable for 
its neat and compact structure. Usually suspended at the 
end of the sweeping branch of a larch or pine, attached to 
the under side of the foliage, and fastened skilfully to the 
twigs, it is covered by the leaves which form a sort of 
pent-house to defend it from the rain. Moss, the webs 

of spiders, lichens, and other materials, are employed to 
make a thick and well-compacted mass ; and within are 
downy feathers, that it may be exquisitely warm and soft. 


What a work of assiduity and toil is this ! The archi- 
tects are but three inches and three quarters in length, 
while the circumference of the nest is eleven inches. 

The nest of the ruby-throated humming-bird of 
Pennsylvania, as described by Wilson, is generally fixed 
on the upper side of a horizontal branch, not among 
the twigs, but on the body of the branch itself. Some 
instances are mentioned in which it was attached by the 
side to an old moss-grown trunk ; and others, in which 
it was fastened on a strong rank stalk, or weed, in the 
garden : but such cases are rare. This bird often 
chooses in the woods a white oak sapling to build on, 
and in the orchard or garden selects a pear-tree for 
that purpose. The branch is seldom more than ten 
feet from the ground. The nest is about an inch in 
diameter, and about as much in depth. 

The outer coat of a very complete one was formed 
of small pieces of a species of bluish-grey lichen, that 
grows on old trees and fences. These are thickly glued 
on by the saliva of the bird, giving consistency and 
firmness to the whole, and keeping out the moisture. 
Within were thick matted layers of the fine wings of 
certain flying seeds, closely laid together ; the downy 
substance of the green mullien and of the stalks of the 
common fern lines the whole. The base of the nest 



was continued round the stem of the branch, to which 
it closely adheres, and, when seen from below, appeared 
merely as a mossy knot, or accidental swelling. 

On topmost boughs 

The glossy raven, and the hoarse-voiced crow. 

Rock’d by the storm, erect their airy nests. 

The ouzel, lone frequenter of the grove 
Of fragrant pines, in solemn depth of shade 
Finds rest, or ’mid the holly’s shining leaves. 

Attachment to a nest is sometimes very strong. In the 
centre of a grove, there stood an oak, on which a pair of 
ravens fixed their residence for such a series of years that 
it was called the raven tree. Many attempts were made 
by youths in the neighbourhood to reach this nest, but 
the tree, though on the whole stately and tall, bulged out 
greatly about the middle of the stem ; and this was such 
an obstacle that the most daring of them gave up the 
effort. The ravens therefore built on, nest after nest, in 
security, till the very day in which the wood was to be 
levelled. It was in the month of February, when these 
birds usually sit. The saw was applied to the butt, the 
wedges were inserted in the opening, the woods echoed 
to the heavy blows of the beetle, the tree nodded to its 
fall, but still the bird sat on. At last, when it gave way, 
the bird was flung from her nest, and was whipped down 
by the twigs, which brought her dead to the ground. 



In passing to other birds, we are reminded that 

The thievish pie, in two-fold colours clad, 

Roofs o’er her curious nest with fern-wreath’d twigs, 

And side-long forms her curious door : she dreads 
The talon’d kite, or pouncing hawk; savage 
Herself — with craft suspicion ever dwells. 

The jay constructs its nest very slightly. Its eggs 
may be observed through the loosely-blended materials. 
The reason is, they are exposed to no peculiar danger, 
and the warmth needed in other cases is obviously not 
required in theirs. Variety is, however, continually 
apparent. Thus, the greenfinch places its rudely-formed 
nest in a hedge, little caring for concealment ; while 
the chaffinch, in the elm just above, hides its neatly- 
formed abode with the utmost care. 

Mr. Jesse, calling at the house of a gentleman in 
Warwickshire, was surprised on seeing a swallow’s nest 
built on the knocker of the hall-door, and the parent 
bird actually sitting on the eggs. When the door was 
opened, as it frequently was during the day, the bird 
left her nest for an instant, but returned to it as soon 
as the door was shut. He afterwards learned that the 
swallow hatched her eggs, and that the young arrived 
at maturity. 

It has been observed, that those birds which are 



necessarily long absent from their nests, in search of 
food, make much warmer dwellings than those which 
can procure it more readily. Of this the same writer 
furnishes the following instance. As the long-tailed 
titmouse has from twelve to fifteen young ones to pro- 
vide for, and must travel far in search of food, she 
not only lines her nest with a profusion of the choicest 
down and feathers, but makes it almost in the shape 
of a ball, with a small hole in the side to enter at, so 
that the young are effectually defended from cold in 
their snug dwelling. 

A nest of one of these birds was found by Mr. 
Jesse with a feather placed over the opening, evidently 
intended to defend it from the cold winds that prevailed 
at the time. It formed a sort of valve, and was pushed 
in or out as the birds entered the nest or left it. In 
different circumstances we discover no such protection. 
The thrush can readily procure worms in a lawn or in 
a meadow ; it therefore lines its nest with clay or cow- 
dung. The hen of the rook seldom leaves her nest, and 
is fed during the time she sits on her eggs by her mate ; 
and the dwelling has but little warmth of lining in it, 
though placed in an exposed situation. 

How beautiful are all these provisions ! To what are 
they to be traced? Many would answer, “ Instinct 


and there they would stop. But let us not do so ; for 
instinct is a gift of God, and shows most impressively 
his care for creatures whom men often despise. While, 
then, it becomes us to guard against all unkindness 
towards them, we should adore that wisdom and good- 
ness which they so constantly manifest. “ Let every- 
thing that hath breath praise the Lord,” Psa. cl. 6. 

We are taught no less certainly a lesson of humility. 
As we look on one of the little fabrics already described, 
we may well exclaim with Hurdis — 

It wins my admiration 
To view the structure of that little work — 

A bird’s nest. Mark it well, within, without : — 

No art had he that wrought ; no knife to cut, 

No nail to fix, no bodkin to insert, 

No glue to join — his little beak was all ; 

And yet how neatly finished ! What nice hand. 

With every complement and means of art, 

And twenty years’ apprenticeship to boot, 

Could make me such another? Fondly, then, 

We boast of excellence, whose noblest skill 
Instinctive genius shames. 

But the subject is far from being exhausted ; other 
remarkable instances of ingenuity among the feathered 
tribes will be given in the following chapter. 




The nest of the esculent swallow must be noticed, not 
only because it is curious in itself, but because it is one 
of the greatest luxuries of the Chinese, and actually 
becomes an important article of commerce in the Indian 
Archipelago. Sir George Staunton found, in a small 
island near Sumatra, several of these fabrics, placed in 
two caverns running horizontally into the side of the 
rock. They seemed to be composed of fine fibres, 
cemented together by a transparent, glutinous matter, 
not unlike what is left on stones by the foam of the sea 
when carried by the tide. The nests adhered to each 
other and to the sides of the cavern, mostly in horizontal 
rows, without any break, and at different depths, from 
fifty to five hundred feet. Their value is chiefly 


dependent on the uniform firmness and delicacy of the 
texture ; those that are white and transparent being 
most esteemed. 

The Esculent Swallow in its Nest. 

A native of India and Ceylon, the little tailor-bird, 
measuring only three inches and a half long, and weigh- 
ing about ninety grains, makes a nest, which all who 
see or hear of must admire. As snakes and monkeys 
are formidable foes to the feathered tribes, (and they 
abound in the country of the tailor-bird,) it makes a 
cradle of a leaf at the end of some pendant twig. If a 



single leaf be sufficiently large, it draws the edges toge- 
ther, thus forming a pouch, the end of which is made to 

assist in supporting the 
nest within. If one leaf 
be not large enough, an- 
other is sewn to it, and 
perhaps another, so that 
there may be a proper 
place for the nest. This 
is composed of down, 
mingled with fibres and 
a few feathers. 

The great sedge war- 
bler is not wanting in 
skill for its domestic fa- 
bric. Though not seen 
in this country, it is abundant in Holland, and it also 
finds a home in the marshy grounds near Calais. Its 
nest is found among the stalks of growing reeds, admir- 
ably interlaced with fibres and grass, so as to form a 
secure support. 

Another beautiful structure is made by the fantail 
warbler. It is placed in a tuft of tall grass, and raised 
above the ground. A number of the blades of grass are 
drawn together and sewed with a kind of cotton thread, 

Nest of the Fantail Warbler. 


which the bird manufactures. Thus secured, they form 
an outer case to a long and barrel-shaped nest, open at 
the top. It consists of a cotton-like material, fastened 
by threads to the blades and stalks, which surround it so 
closely that nothing can be more completely concealed. 
How the thread is formed, and how the sewing is done, 
we cannot tell. Truly “the God of nature is the secret 

The reed-wren also builds a pretty nest, wherever 
marshes, fens, and sluggish waters yield abundantly its 
food and shelter, in reeds and tall grasses. 

The Philippine weaver-bird skilfully weaves a nest, in 
the shape of an inverted flask : the entrance is at the 
end of a prolonged neck, through which is the passage 
to a snug little chamber in the round body of this sin- 
gular dwelling. It may sometimes be seen suspended 
over wells. 

The engraving (p. 26) is taken from the nest of an 
African species of this genus. It is fixed to the slender 
leaves of some kind of palm, and is remarkably firm and 
beautiful. It consists of the long tough stalks of one 
of the grasses, interwoven with admirable exactness and 
nicety. Who that dwells on the various stages of the 
work, from the twining of the first fibre round the leaf 
to the completion of long and depending passages, will 


Nest of the Reed-Wren. 


not be struck with the difficulties surmounted ? Colonies 
of these birds have been observed, several hundreds of 

The Weaver-bird and Nest. 

these pendant nests appearing on a single tree. This is 
chosen from its hanging over the bank of a river or 



Another bird remarkable for its pendant nest is the 
baya, or bottle-nested sparrow. It is found in most 
parts of Hindostan, associating in large communities, 
and covering extensive clumps of date-trees, acacias, 
and palmyras with their nests. These are very ingeni- 
ously formed by long grass, woven together in the 
shape of a bottle, and suspended to the extremity of a 
flexible branch, as a defence from many foes. The 
arrangements of these nests are still more singular. 
They contain several apartments adapted to different 
purposes. In one the hen broods over her eggs ; in 
another, consisting of a little thatched roof and cover- 
ing a perch, is her mate, who cheers his companion 
with his chirping note. 

The most singular assemblage of nests hitherto 
known is that of the sociable grosbeak, or weaver-bird 
of South Africa. Le Vaillant sent a wagon to fetch 
one, that he might open the hive, and examine the struc- 
ture in its minutest parts. On cutting it to pieces with 
a hatchet, it was found to consist of a mass of grass, 
Avithout any mixture, so compact and firmly basketed 
together as to keep out the rain. With this, which is 
to serve as a canopy, the structure begins ; it has a pro- 
jecting rim, and being a little inclined it serves to let the 
rain-water run off. Beneath this roof each bird builds 

Nest of the Sociable Grosbeak 


its nest, which is three or four inches in diameter ; but, 
as all are in contact around the eaves, they appear to 
form but one building. The nests are only distinguish- 
able by a little outer opening, which serves as an en- 
trance ; and even this is sometimes common to three 
different nests, one of which is placed at the bottom, 
and the other two at the sides. It is said, that as the 
number of cells increase with the inhabitants, the old 
ones become streets of communication. The largest 
examined by Le Vaillant contained three hundred and 
twenty inhabited cells. 

Wilson, the celebrated American naturalist, observed 
with much interest the movements of a bird he calls 
the capocier. The place chosen by a pair of these for 
their cradle was a corner of a retired and neglected 
garden, by the side of a small spring, and beneath the 
shelter of the only tree growing in that retreat. At 
first, they laid in this shrub a part of the foundation of 
their abode with moss, the fork of the branches chosen 
to receive their nest being already bedded therewith. 
The second day’s labour presented a rude mass, about 
four inches thick and from five to six inches in diameter. 
This was the basis of their fabric, composed of moss 
and flax, interwoven with grass and tufts of cotton. 

On the seventh day their task was finished. The 



fabric was as white as snow, nine inches high on the 
outside, but within not more than five. Its outer form 
was very irregular, because of the branches which the 
birds had found it necessary to enclose, but the inside 
exactly resembled a pullet’s egg, placed with the small 
end downward. Its greatest diameter was five inches, 
and the smallest four. The entrance was two-thirds or 
more of the whole height, as seen on the outside ; but 
within it almost reached the arch of the ceiling above. 

The interior of the nest was so neatly felted together, 
that it might have been taken for a piece of fine cloth 
a little worn ; the substance was so compact and close, 
that it would have been impossible to detach a particle 
of the materials without tearing the texture to pieces. 

Nearly all the orioles belong to America ; and their 
nests deserve notice. The Baltimore, however, has one 
remarkable for its superior convenience, warmth, and 
security. For these purposes, it generally fixes on 
the high bending extremities of the branches of trees, 
fastening strong strings of hemp or flax round two forked 
twigs, corresponding with the intended width of the 
nest. With the same materials, mixed with loose tow, 
it makes a strong or firm kind of cloth — in fact, a felt- 
like substance. This is formed into a pouch of six 
or seven inches deep, which is lined with various soft 



substances, well interwoven with the outward netting, 
and finished with a layer of horse-hair. The whole is 
shaded from the sun and rain by a canopy of leaves. 

It is a curious fact, that there is a great difference 
in the style and finish of these nests. One of the 
neatest among many observed by Wilson, the naturalist, 
was in the form of a cylinder, five inches in diameter, 
seven deep, and rounded at the bottom. The opening 
at top was narrowed, by a horizontal covering, to two 
inches and a half in diameter. The materials, flax, 
hemp, tow, hair, and wool, were woven into a complete 
cloth, the whole being tightly sewed through and through 
with long horse-hairs, several of which measured two 
feet in length. The bottom was composed of thick 
tufts of cow-hair, sewed also with strong horse-hair. 
This nest was hung on the end of the horizontal branch 
of an apple-tree, and, though shaded by the sun, was 
visible a hundred yards off. 

Another variety of this species, the orchard oriole, 
often attaches its dwelling to the pendant branches of 
the weeping willows. As they are often of great length, 
the nest, which is made of the materials just mentioned, 
is much deeper, to prevent the eggs or the young being 
thrown out. 

We might proceed with other remarkable instances of 



nest-building, but the space allotted to this interesting 
subject is now occupied, and it only remains to offer 
a few observations. A Christian mind will not have 
failed before this to recall the fact, that the provision 
made for the feathered tribes was denied to the Lord 
Jesus Christ, when he tabernacled with men on the 
earth. What was his declaration to one who proposed to 
follow him whithersoever he went? “The foxes have 
holes, and the birds of the air have nests ; but the Son 
of man hath not where to lay his head.” How deep 
was his humiliation ! How wondrous his love to man ! 

And why did Jesus thus appear as “ a man of sor- 
rows ?” It was to “ put away sin by the sacrifice of 
himself,” Heb. ix. 26 . Let us, then, keep this truth 
constantly in view. Our iniquities can only be forgiven 
through his precious blood. In him, therefore, may 
we trust, and in him alone ; for through him all that 
believe shall be freely and fully justified in the sight of 
that God against whom they have grievously trans- 
gressed. “ Accepted in the Beloved,” we shall be 
changed into his image, “ from glory to glory, even as 
by the Spirit of the Lord.” And, to be made holy, is 
to be made happy for ever. 







A deeply interesting circumstance is related in the life 
of Brentius, the chief reformer of Wurtemberg. Com- 
pelled to flee from the rage of persecution, he entered 
the first house he found open, went unobserved up stairs 
to the part under the roof, and creeping on his hands 
and knees between it and a pile of fagots, sought in 
one corner a refuge from his enemies. To this place, 
however, he was pursued ; and his feelings must have 
been indescribable, when he heard their spears thrust 
through the wood-pile that concealed him, and had even 
to shrink aside from one of the thrusts. 

In this situation he continued for fourteen days; 


and during this time was sustained by very extraordi- 
nary means. On the first day he was there, a hen came 
at noon to a spot near his feet, laid an egg, and then 
went away quietly, without the peculiar cry made by 
such a bird, and which, in this case, might have proved 
fatal to Brentius. This faithful sufferer for the truth's 
sake received the egg as from the hand of God, and ate 
it with a piece of the single loaf he had brought with 
him. To the same spot the hen resorted daily, and laid 
her egg while Brentius remained in this place : and it is 
equally remarkable, that the day in which the Spanish 
soldiers, who were ordered by the duke of Wiirtemberg 
to take him dead or alive, left the town she did not 

This fact is one among many, exhibiting the interpo- 
sition of the God of providence in behalf of his faithful 
servants. To him they are constantly indebted ; but, 
when they are in the path of duty, and circumstances of 
peculiar danger or difficulty arise, they are warranted to 
expect special supplies. Most encouraging are the 
words of our Lord and Saviour : “ Are not two sparrows 
sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the 
ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your 
head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are 
of more value than many sparrows," Matt. x. 29 — 31. 



How important is it, then, that every reader should in- 
quire, “ May I address God as my Father? Am I, 
though once at enmity, reconciled to him through the 
death of his only-begotten and well-beloved Son?” And 
if the only faithful answer is, “ I am not/’ let it be re- 
joined, “ I will cast myself on his mercy, which is re- 
vealed through the blood of the cross ; for ‘ he that 
believeth not is condemned already/ while ‘ there is no 
condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ ” 

If the special interposition of God in behalf of his 
people demand our serious and grateful consideration, 
there is also much to require, and also to repay atten- 
tion, in the ordinary movements of his providence, and 
in all his works. Let it be supposed, for a moment, 
that our previous knowledge of the facts were entirely 
effaced, and that after being shown an egg, we were 
told, that it was only for it to be exposed to a certain 
degree of heat, during so many days, and there would 
issue forth a creature belonging to a class of 

Birds, the free tenants of land, air, and ocean : 

Their forms all symmetry, their motions grace ; 

In plumage delicate and beautiful — 

how great would be our surprise and admiration at 
such a statement as this ! With what interest should 

3 7 


we glance at the little oval body, and then at a bird like 
that of which we have here a representation ! 

The Hoopoe. 

Similar feelings should now be indulged. It is pro- 
bable that the facts about to be stated will be as novel as 
they are marvellous to the generality of readers ; while 
others may be glad to have them in a form in which 
they have not before appeared. 


Let us, then, look first at the egg-organ of a bird. It 
contains all the eggs which 
are to be laid for several 
years, each one differing 
from the rest in composition, 
colour, and size. Those 
which are to be first laid 
are the largest, and of a yel- 
lowish hue ; the others are 
gradually less in size and 
lighter in colour. The egg 
first appears as a small yel- 
low globe, but its size in- 
creases till it drops from its 

slender fastening, and falls 

The Egg-organ, with the 

into the egg-tube. Before 
it does so, it has neither 
white nor shell ; and without the latter, eggs are some- 
times laid by a bird, from ill health or accident. 

On falling into the tube, the egg has only a single 
and very thin membrane for a covering, but soon after 
it has another, which is a little thicker. This is pro- 
duced by the egg exciting the vessels lining the tube 
to throw out a substance, which forms this second coat- 
ing, jutting out into small knobs at each end. As the 



egg passes along, it is also thickly covered with the white 
which fills the tube ; and proceeding onwards it obtains 
a third coating, which is the first layer of the membrane 
of the shell. Over this the second layer is formed ; and 
as the egg proceeds through the remainder of the tube, 
the shell is completed. 

The growth of an egg is exceedingly rapid ; and par- 
ticularly is this the case with the white and the shell. 
An extraordinary exertion of nature appears required 
for this result. A few hours only pass in forming the 
shell. Yet, how wondrous is the process which has thus 
far been traced ! 

The eggs of birds are sometimes not easily identified, 

Egg of the Reed Bunting. Egg of the Ptarmigan. Egg of the Black Tern 

from their varying so much ; the colourings and mark- 
ings differing greatly in the same species, and even in the 



same nest. Those of one colour retain it, with only 
shades of variation ; but blotches or spots are often very 
dissimilar, occasioned sometimes, perhaps, by the age of 
the bird. It should, however, be added, that though the 
marks are so variable, the shadings and spottings of one 
species never wander so as to become exactly figured 
like those of another family, but preserve a certain kind 
of figuring from year to year. The eggs of the house- 
sparrow are the most variable of all. 

Colour, in various circumstances, has frequently ex- 
cited much curiosity, without gratifying it ; and this is 
the case with the colour of eggs. The eggs of the 
barn-door fowl are white ; those of the nightingale of an 
olive-brown ; and other great differences might be easily 
mentioned. It is probable, however, that as there are 
glands which secrete the general ground colour of a 
shell, so there are others among these which supply the 
additional colouring matter. That the one may remain, 
while the other is removed, has been proved by various 
experiments. The egg of a song thrush, for example, 
has a bright blue ground colour, with irregular spots 
and blotches of black ; but the latter have been pre- 
served from the action of acid, which has entirely dis- 
solved the former : and this is only one instance of many 
that might be given. 



The egg of a bird is beautifully adapted to the pro- 
cess it has to undergo. Its oval form permits a greater 
part of its surface to be in contact with the warm skin 
of the parent than if it had been like a globe. The 
shell, too, being of a hard texture, and arched in form 
about the soft contents, sufficiently defends them from 
the pressure they have to bear. As warmth, moreover, 
is all which the egg derives from the parent, the shell 
is porous for the entrance of air. 

Other arrangements 
equally deserve attention. 
In an egg ready for 
the process of hatching, 
a small spot may be ob- 
served on the yolk : when 
examined, it is apparent- 
ly a vesicle, or bag, con- 

Egg showing the Embryo. ta i ning: a fluid matter . 

In this swims the embryo of the future bird ; and, as 
it is necessary that it should be close to the breast of 
the hen, and not at the cold bottom of the nest, pro- 
vision is made for this in a most admirable manner. 
The yolk is, in fact, a globe, and the little vesicle con- 
taining the embryo, involved in the surrounding mem- 
brane, is, consequently, at the surface of this ball. 


Now, were its axis through the centre, it would not 
move with the change 
in the position of the 
egg. But the axis being 
below the centre, it must 
turn round with every 
such change, whether 
the globe be heavier or 
lighter than the sur- 
rounding white. Were 

it heavier, the embryo Suspension of the Yolk and Embryo 
’ J m the Egg. 

would fall to the lower 

part of the shell ; but it is lighter, and therefore rises 
to the upper part of the shell. 

There is a well-known story of Columbus, of which 
we may here be reminded. After his discovery of 
America, there were many who said, that any one could 
have done what he did ; thus, in a very unkind spirit, 
attempting to deprive him of the honour he had fairly 
won. He, therefore, assembled them together, and asked 
if they could make an egg stand upright on a looking- 
glass, held horizontally. They tried, and repeatedly 
failed ; and, on giving up the experiment, he shook the 
egg, and thus, to their discomfiture, the thing was done, 
and a pungent and well-deserved reproof administered. 



The same part of the yolk being always uppermost, 
an egg cannot be balanced on its larger end while the 
membranes within remain unbroken, though this may 
be easily done if the membranes be ruptured by shaking 
the egg. 

The structure of the egg, as apparent in the last en- 
graving, deserves minute attention. Two dense, tough 
cords appear, each of them being strongly attached to 
the yolk-bag. They then pass through the white, and 
are connected with the inner lining membrane at each 
end of the egg. These cords contain, as represented, a 
spiral filament. There are thus two fixed points on 
which the yolk can rotate ; and the spiral filament, sur- 
rounded by thickened albumen, is, by its greater weight, 
always inclined to the lowest point. Nor is this all; 
for the elasticity of these cords is so nicely adapted to 
the force by which the yolk is borne up, as to restrain 
it at a given point, and allow sufficient space between 
the yolk and the inner lining of the shell for the white 
to lubricate the surface of the yolk, and thus defend the 
embryo from injury. 

There are instances in which the bird evades the 
trouble of hatching its young. Thus the European 
species of the cuckoo, by a wonderful instinct, lays 
its egg in the nests of soft-billed, insect-eating birds, 


such as hedge-sparrows, red- breasts, and tit-larks, to 
whom it can entrust the proper care of its young. 
The corn-bunting of America resembles, in some re- 
spects, the cuckoo of our regions. Dr. Potter, seeing 

The Cuckoo. 

a hen-bird prying into a bunch of bushes in search 
of a nest, he determined, if possible, to watch the 
result. Knowing how easily she would be disturbed 
by any one approaching, he mounted his horse, and 
proceeded slowly, sometimes seeing, and at others losing 
sight of her, till he had travelled nearly two miles 
along the margin of a creek. She entered every thick 



place, prying most minutely wherever the small birds 
usually build, and at last darted suddenly into a thick 
copse of alders and briers, where she remained for five 
or six minutes ; and then returning, soared above the 
underwood, and returned to the company she had left 
feeding in the field. 

On entering the covert, Dr. Potter found the nest of 
a yellow-throat, with an egg of each. This bird re- 
turned to the nest while he waited near the spot ; but, 
after darting in, she quitted it immediately, perched On 
a bough near the place, remained a minute or two, and 
entering it again, returned and disappeared. In ten 
minutes she appeared once more, accompanied by the 
male. They chattered in great agitation for half an 
hour, appearing to participate in the affront, and then 
left the place. The most remarkable circumstance is, 
that the young of the corn-bunting are hatched before 
those of the owner of the nest ; whose eggs, in fact, are 
never hatched at all, being pushed out of the nest ; and 
in a manner at present unknown. 

The following is an instance of loss being singularly 
supplied. A box, fitted up in the window of a room, 
became the abode of a pair of wrens ; but here, unhap- 
pily, they were not secure from cats, to which they 
have a strong dislike ; for, gleaning among the currant- 


bushes and other shrubs in the garden, those lurking 
foes often prove fatal to the feathered race. Of one 
of these, the wrens referred to were unconsciously in 
danger; for already was the nest built and two eggs 
laid, when, one day, the window being open, as well as 
the room-door, and the hen-bird venturing too far into 
the room, a cat sprang upon her, and made her a prey. 

Curious to see how the survivor would act, an ob- 
server carefully watched him for several days. At first 
he sang with great vivacity for an hour or so, but, be- 
coming uneasy, he went off for a short time. On his 
return he chanted again as before, went to the top of the 
house, of the stable, and of a weeping willow, that she 
might hear him ; but not finding his mate, he returned 
once more, visited the nest, ventured cautiously into the 
window, gazed about suspiciously, his voice sinking to 
a low and melancholy note, as he stretched his little 
neck about in every direction. Going to the box, he 
seemed for some minutes at a loss what to do, and 
soon after went off, and was seen no more that day. 
Towards the afternoon of the following one, he again 
appeared, accompanied by another mate, who, after great 
hesitation, entered the box, while he warbled forth his 
notes with great joy. After remaining there about half a 
minute, they both flew off, but soon returned, and began 



instantly to carry out the eggs, feathers, and some of 
the sticks, supplying the place of the latter with materials 
of the same sort ; and they succeeded in raising a brood 
of seven young ones, all of which escaped in safety. 

An equable heat is necessary to the hatching of eggs ; 
but this may be supplied in very different circumstances. 
According to Pliny, the Roman empress Livia took an 
egg, and carried it about in her bosom ; and when she 
was obliged to lay it aside, gave it to her nurse, for fear 
it should be chilled. Similar efforts are of recent date. 
Reaumur says, that one lady hatched four goldfinches 
out of five from the same nest; and other instances 
occurred of the same kind. There was great enthu- 
siasm for such experiments at the time, but it was of 
short continuance. 

The Egyptians have long been famous for the art of 
hatching fowls’ eggs by artificial heat. Though ob- 
scurely described by ancient authors, the practice appears 
to have been common in that country in very remote 
times. In Lower Egypt there are more than a hundred 
buildings for this process, called maamals ; and in 
Upper Egypt there are more than half that number. 
The maamal is built of burned or sun-dried bricks, 
having two parallel rows of small chambers and ovens, 
divided by a narrow, vaulted passage. Each chamber, 


according to Lane, is about nine or ten feet long, eight 
feet wide, and five or six feet high, and has above it a 
vaulted oven of the same size, or rather less in height. 
The chamber communicates with the passage by an 
aperture large enough for a man to enter ; and with its 
oven by a similar aperture. The ovens, also, of the 
same row, communicate with each other, and each has 
an aperture for the escape of smoke. 

The eggs are placed on mats or straw, one tier above 
another, usually to the number of three, in the small 
chambers, and fuel is placed on the floor of the ovens 
above. The entrance of the maamal is well closed. 
There are two or three small chambers before it, for the 
attendant, the fuel, and the chickens newly hatched. 
Each maamal contains generally from twelve to twenty- 
four chambers for eggs ; and receives about a hundred 
^nd fifty thousand eggs during the annual period of its 
continuing open. One quarter or a third of this number 
usually fail. The peasants of the neighbourhood supply 
the eggs ; the attendant of the maamal examines them, 
and afterwards commonly gives one chicken for every 
two eggs that he has received. The operation is per- 
formed only during two or three months in the year, in 
the spring ; and earliest in the most southern parts of 
the country. 



The manager, accustomed to the art from his youth, 
knows the exact temperature required for success, with- 
out any such instrument as our thermometer. On the 
twentieth day, some of the eggs first put in are hatched; 
but most on the twenty-first day, that is, after the period 
required in ordinary circumstances. The weaker of the 
chickens are placed in the passage, the rest in other 
apartments, where they remain a day or two, before 
they are given to the persons to whom they are due. 
According to an Egyptian newspaper, published on the 
1st of March, 1831, of our era, there were actually 
hatched in this way more than seventeen millions of 
fowls' eggs. 

Reaumur, after various experiments, tried to take 
advantage of the heat of the bread ovens of a nunnery 
in France. Having ascertained the heat of a room 
situated over the bakehouse, and provided for its being 
supplied uniformly, he arranged the eggs on the shelves 
of a small cupboard, placed in this chamber, and com- 
mitted the care of them to the inmates of the institu- 
tion. A single box containing a hundred eggs was 
entrusted to one of them, who was very ingenious ; and, 
though half proved useless, twenty were hatched one 
day sooner than they would have been by a hen. It 
was thus supposed, that by rooms over the ovens in use, 



chickens might be multiplied at a great rate ; but the 
plan has ended in a few experiments. 

In this country similar efforts have been made, by 
the agency of fire and steam. A remarkable and suc- 
cessful one appears in the use of a machine, which was 
exhibited some years ago in Pall Mall. To it has 
been given the singular name of the Eccaleobion, mean- 
ing, “ I bring,” or “call forth life. It appears to be an 
oblong, square, wooden box, about nine feet long, three 
broad, and three and a half high, and covered, excepting 
the doors, with cloth. As the doors are glazed, its eight 
divisions, in which the eggs are spread promiscuously 
without any covering, may be seen : the power in opera- 
tion is within ; and the whole stands on a table, and has 
no connexion with the walls against which it is placed. 
The Eccaleobion nicely adapts the heat required to the 
stage of the egg. The temperature suited to a thousand 
eggs during the last week of incubation, would not call 
forth life in a thousand fresh eggs ; while the tempera- 
ture necessary in the former case would be fatal in the 
latter. The heat actually required is therefore secured ; 
and so long as eggs ean be obtained plentifully and 
good* the average of birds hatched by the machine is 
said to exceed one hundred daily, or about forty thou- 
sand per annum. 




It will now be desirable to consider particularly the 
hatching of eggs by the parent bird. Our poet Mont- 
gomery has said, in reference to the pelicans he has so 
beautifully described — 

** The noble birds, with skill spontaneous, framed 
A nest of reeds among the giant grass, 

That waved in lights and shadows o’er the soil. 

There, in sweet thraldom, yet unweening why. 

The patient dam, who ne’er till now had known 
Parental instinct, brooded o’er her eggs. 

Long ere she found the curious secret out. 

That life was hatching in their brittle shells — 

Then, from a wild rapacious bird of prey. 

Tamed by the kindly process, she became 
That gentlest of all living tilings — a mother.” 

Various indeed are the situations in which hen-birds 
pass through this remarkable process. The engraving 


The Wood Warbler. 

Our chief knowledge of incubation arises, however, from 
the attention that has been given to the domestic hen ; 
and this, therefore, we proceed to notice. In a few hours 
after the hen has been brooding over her eggs, a con- 


shows the wood warbler in her ground nest; while 
others may be discovered in very different circumstances. 


siderable alteration takes place. The form of the em- 
bryo changes; it acquires length, and its progress is seen 
by a blood-vessel issuing from either side, branching 
into numerous smaller ones, which unite at their ter- 
mination, and become a boundary on the covering of 
the yolk. The chick is the centre of this net- work of 

vessels ; and as the embryo 
increases so do they multiply, 
until they nearly pervade the 
membrane of the yolk. It 
appears, from a recent experi- 
ment, that when these vessels 
are first formed, and proba- 
bly before, each branch is ac- 
companied by a vessel carry- 
ing yolk into the body of the 
chick ; and thus there is a 
supply for its sustenance and 

Between the third and fourth day a remarkable 
change may be perceived. The yolk becomes flattened, 
and a portion of the white has penetrated the yolk-bag. 
A vesicle, as it is called, has now so far become formed, 
as to have passed from the body of the chick to the 
lining membrane of the shell; and as the embryo grows, 


so does this vesicle increase. It is full of blood-vessels 
— a system of arteries and veins — carrying livid red 
blood from the body of the chick, and returning it a 
bright red colour, fitted for every purpose it is designed 
to answer. 

If an egg be opened between the twelfth and thir- 
teenth day, the pulses of the 
numerous blood-vessels will be 
seen propelling their contents, 
and presenting to the eye a 
beautiful spectacle. At the 
beginning of the third day, 
however, the beating of the 
heart is perceptible, although 
no blood is visible. But only a 
few hours elapse, and two vesi- 
cles containing blood appear, 
one forming the left ventricle, 
the other the great artery. The auricle of the heart is 
now seen ; and the writer will never forget the pleasure 
with which he some time ago beheld an egg at this stage, 
exhibiting the passage of blood to the unassisted eye. 

About the sixth day, the bare wings and legs may be 
fully seen ; the eyes are large and prominent, the brain 
begins to have a consistent form, and a little later the 


Nine days after Incubation. 


beak opens for tfie first time. The additional growth of 
a few days shows the wings and the body covered with 
short feathers ; and that which a short time before was a 
shapeless mass, has now form, proportion, and organic 
life. About the fifteenth day the yolk-bag begins to 
be received into the body of the chick, as is also the 
white, which disappears from admixture with it. 

On the eighteenth day, the faint piping of the little 
tenant of the shell is heard ; respiration has therefore 
taken place. The vesicle, which had increased with the 
growth of the embryo, has continued to enlarge over the 
surface of the membrane of the shell, which now it en- 
tirely surrounds, thus forming an external covering to 
the yolk. The large blood-vessels which connect the 
chick with this membrane — any one of which if left 
open would prove fatal to the bird — begin to be sealed 
and shrink, and preparation is making for its escape. 
The position of the chick is such as to occupy the least 
possible space. The head, which is large and heavy in 
proportion to the rest of the body, is placed in front of 
the belly, with the beak under the right wing. The 
feet are gathered up, like those of a bird trussed for the 
spit. The tip of the upper part of the bill is supplied 
with a thick, hardened, horny point; and with this it 
makes a mark within the shell, thus preparing it to be 


broken. And though the position of the bird is singu- 
lar, and apparently uncomfortable, it is by no means 
cramped or confined, yet there is space enough for the 
head and neck to acquire sufficient force to break 
through the shell, and to effect its escape. 

The air-bag, placed at the large end of the egg, as 
any one who examines it will readily perceive, ought 
now to be noticed. It is found in the eggs of all birds, 
but its size does not seem to vary either with that of the 
egg or the bird. Mr. Towne, of Guy’s Hospital, to 
whom we are indebted for the most recent and satisfac- 
tory information on this subject, has exposed the errors 
that have prevailed in reference to the structure and use 
of this part. He observed, that the lining membrane of the 
shell was much changed during incubation, and that by 
the alterations that took place he could tell how far the 
process was advancing successfully. The floor of this 
reservoir of air , however, did not change ; it remained thin 
and semi-transparent, and he proved it to be a distinct 
membrane, unconnected with that of the shell. The use 
of this inner lining membrane, as he calls it, appears to be 
to hold the contents of the egg suspended within the shell, 
and thus protect the chick from being bruised, which 
might otherwise happen were the egg put in motion. It 
acts to the chick as a natural hammock which the sailor 



has suspended between the decks of the vessel ; thus the 
little bird swings along with its movements, and is kept 
from being injured by the shell. 

But what is the use of the air contained in this bag ? 
The answer of this intelligent observer, founded on care- 
ful experiment, is at variance with the opinion commonly 
entertained, that air was first supplied by this means to 
the earliest-formed blood-vessels of the chick. It ap- 
pears that it does not come into use until the nineteenth 
day, which is within two days of the little bird leaving 
the shell. Great changes are now to take place ; the 
large vessels of the vesicle already described, which 
were of so much service, are about to be set aside, and 
the power of breathing is to take their place. From this 
time, therefore, they shrink and shrivel, and at the end 
of the twenty-first day they are detached from the 
body of the chick, and their remains are left in the 
shell when the bird has quitted it. It is also worthy 
of remark, that the distention of the lungs by air is the 
cause of the vigour so necessary in breaking the shell. 
And it may be added, as a curious fact, that the bag is 
not filled with atmospheric air; for if the larger end 
of an egg be punctured with the smallest needle, the 
embryo dies. 

It has been stated, that between the third and fourth 



days the yolk appears flattened, and the albumen, or 
white portion, begins to be mixed with it. On this 
point there has been much dispute ; but Mr. Towne 
appears to have set it at rest. On examining the con- 
tents of an egg at this period, he found on the lower 
part of the yolk, or that opposite the embryo, a white 
circular line, nearly the size of a halfpenny. On con- 
tinuing this inquiry, he observed the yolk-bag within 
this circle became clouded, stretched, and wrinkled. 
After examining many eggs, moreover, he at last found 
one where the yolk-bag was ruptured within this circle : 
but the yolk had not lost its form, nor had the white 
passed through the opening. On removing the portion 
of thick white, which adheres to the lower part of the 
yolk-bag, from a goose egg of fifteen days, a great part 
of the contents of the bag immediately escaped. He 
now observed a natural opening in it larger than a shil- 
ling, skirted by a vessel which rendered the boundary of 
the opening so strong, that he could readily introduce 
his finger and withdraw it, which he did repeatedly with- 
out its giving way. 

It appears, therefore, that at the appointed time a 
rent is made in the membranes of the yolk, at that part 
opposite to the embryo, through which the thin white 
passes, and immediately mixes with the yolk ; while the 



former sinks to the bottom, becomes more dense, and 
actually plugs up the opening. It next becomes sur- 
rounded by a vessel which contracts, thus reducing the 
size of the opening; and as it does so, the thick white is 
received within the yolk-bag, until, in the hen’s egg, at 
the thirteenth or fourteenth day the white has nearly 
all passed into the yolk-bag. The opening is entirely 
closed, and a very small portion of slimy matter is all 
that remains without. 

The manner in which the embryo is kept at the top 
of the egg has already been noticed; but when the white 
is thus mixed with the yolk, there is a great change of 
circumstances. How, then, is the chick found at the 
upper part of the egg? Most probably, the thick white 
sinking to the bottom by its own gravity, causes the 
embryo, which is exactly opposite, to rise to the highest 

The writer has heard the sounds noticed by Reaumur, 
of the chick hammering on the shell with its beak, but 
he has not been able to observe what that eminent 
naturalist discovered, through the covering membrane 
— the little creature at work. The result of the early 
efforts of the bird is a small crack, which is usually 
nearer the larger than the smaller end of the egg. The 
membrane is rarely ruptured at first, even when the 


hard part of the shell is detached ; and at this Reaumur 
observed a chick at work, not pecking it, but, as it 
seemed, trying to make it thinner by constant friction. 

As the strokes are continued the first cracks increase, 
always cutting the egg across, and fresh pieces of shell 
are driven off. The chick turns on its own body mean- 
while from left to right, probably doing so by means of 
its feet. The fracture varies in breadth in different eggs, 
and is even of different breadths in the same egg. The 
effect required is the separation of the hard shell, and 
then of the membrane. All chicks do not accomplish 
this task in the same time. Some complete it within 
an hour, others have been observed at work for several 
days together. It is, however, desirable that too early 
an escape should not take place. The little creature 
should take up the unconsumed portion of the yolk 
into its body — a provision which will suffice for four 
and twenty hours. If its exit takes place before this 
is done, it is certain to die a few days after it is 

Connected with this fact a beautiful provision is ob- 
servable. All who have noticed the hatching of chickens 
are aware that some are produced earlier than others. If, 
then, the first of the brood must immediately be fed, 
and the mother had to leave the nest in search of food, 



the remaining eggs would suffer injury for want of the 
necessary warmth ; but now this evil is completely pre- 

The shells of birds’ eggs are nicely adapted in thick- 
ness to the strength of the chick that is to escape. 
The little canary could not break through a shell like 
that of a barn-door fowl ; and were the shells of that 
bird as thin as those of a goldfinch, they would all be 
crushed by her pressure. The chick of the pheasant 
would try in vain to break the shell of an ostrich, of 
which a drinking cup has often been formed, thicker 
than a china cup, almost as hard, and sometimes seven- 
teen inches in circumference. How much is there to ad- 
mire in this nice adjustment ! The shell, however, be- 
comes more brittle by the process of hatching, and at 
the same time the lining membrane is partially separated. 

Sometimes the fracture of the shell does not exceed 
about three-fourths of the circumference. However 
this may be, the whole mass of the body is brought into 
action, the feet being used as a lever. By repeatedly 
pushing the body forwards, the chick gradually raises 
the upper portion of the shell, and at length tears off all 
its fastenings. Should any part remain, it becomes a 
sort of hinge, which allows the lid to fall on one side. 
It is sometimes found placed within the other portion, 


like one cup in another, and at others thrown to a con- 
siderable distance. Thus the work of liberation pro- 
ceeds till the brood is hatched, and the young become, 
in another way, the objects of their parents* care. 


Marvellous, indeed, is the process which has now been 
briefly described ; and it will appear still more so, when it 
is remembered that effects greatly vary, when the sub- 
stance employed, and the means in operation, are appa- 
rently the same. Seventeen hundred years ago, Galen 
said : “ Take three eggs, one of an eagle, one of a goose, 



and a third of a viper ; and place them favourably for 
hatching. When the shells are broken, the eaglet and 
the gosling will attempt to fly, while the young of the 
viper will coil and twist along the ground. If the expe- 
riment be protracted to a later period, the eagle will 
soar to the highest regions of the air, the goose betake 
itself to the marshy pool, and the viper will bury itself 
in the ground/ 7 How, then, can we refuse the acknow- 
ledgment, which ought to be made with profound adora- 
tion, “ This is the finger of God ! 77 

Wherever we look, his works show forth his perfec- 
tions, and demand our praise ; but with the poet we 
should say — 

Nature with open volume stands 

To spread her Maker’s praise abroad ; 

And every labour of his hands 

Shows something worthy of a God. 

But in the grace that rescued man 
His brightest form of glory shines ; 

Here on the cross ’tis fairest drawn 
In precious blood, and crimson lines. 

Here his whole name appears complete ; 

Nor wit can guess, nor reason prove. 

Which of the letters best is writ, 

The power, the wisdom, or the love. 







On the arms of one of the companies of the city of 
London is the motto, “ Nothing without God.” He, 
alas ! is often forgotten ; and even when some majestic 
object calls the Creator and Preserver of all to mind, 
it is frequently overlooked that his hand is equally 
manifest in what is minute, and apparently insignificant. 
It is quite possible, from the depravity of man, for the 
grandest scenes in nature to awaken no thought of Him 
who spake, and they appeared ; but should the traveller, 
as he surveys the ocean, or a range of lofty mountains, 
muse for a moment on God, he may not feel that a 
single feather from the plumage of the bird that flies 
over them, reveals also his power, his wisdom, and his 
goodness. This, then, is the fact which is now to be 
proved: its examination will doubtless yield a reward. 

It will first be desirable to notice the growth of a 



feather, which consists of three 
parts — the barrel, the shaft, 
and the vane. When a bird 
leaves the egg, it is covered in 
all parts, except the under side, 
with a downy kind of hair. On 
examining its first garment 
closely, several little tufts of 
ten or twelve hairs each will 
be observed, like the fibres of 
a camel-hair pencil. Each tuft 

Hair-like Feathers of a newly- grows from a bulbous root in 
hatched Bird. the skin, just as the parts of 

the future flower rise from the round root of the tulip 
or crocus. Commonly the first robe of down soon falls 
off ; but in the eagle and other rapacious birds, the tufts 
adhere to the feathers for a considerable time. 

Here, however, is another very remarkable fact 
While the down remains, as it usually does, a marvel- 
lous apparatus is being formed, which may be called 
a feather-manufactory. If we go to a type-founder, 
we shall see that to cast a letter, as C, or M, or S, a 
mould of it is formed, so that when the melted metal 
is poured into the mould, the letter C, or M, or S, for 
the printer to use, is produced. Now, little as it may 



be thought, a mould is made for every feather. First 
appears a small cone, which in a few days lengthens 
into a cylinder, like the round part of a quill, having 

Productive Capsule of a Quill Feather. 

a pointed end. Here, then, is the mould. 

Inside this cylinder, and at the pointed 
part, the materials of the several portions 
of the feather are formed, while the lower 
end receives the blood-vessels to nourish 
the pulp. At the very time in which the 
outer covering of the shaft of the feather 
is growing in one place, the spongy sub- 
stance is deposited in others. The parts 
which form the vane of the feather are, 
however, produced first. They do not 
grow from the base, like hairs from the 
head ; but the materials composing the 
fibres or threads are, so to speak, cast into 
moulds, where they harden, and acquire 
their exact shape. It is probable that small Productive cap- 
parts of these fibres yet to be described, Feather, opened: 
and called fibrils, are formed in moulds “quare^oThow 
still more minute. themoul<M ' 



As the parts of the feather thus 
advance below, those which are com- 
pletely formed rise above the skin, 
carefully covered, however, for a 
short time ; but soon they unfold y 
and assume their proper shape. On 
the feather becoming perfect, the 
substance which formed it dries up, 
the blood-vessels which nourished it 
disappear, and thus we have the pith 
which is removed from a quill before 
making a pen. Geese are sometimes 
plucked too soon, the feathers being 
still young ; hence the soft barrel is 
gorged with blood. 

Marvellous indeed, then, is this 
feather-manufactory. But let it be 
observed, that it is not merely in 
action once in the life of a bird : 
of U cim r pTe«oL ,n po r rt”ns all its feathers are generally moulted 

re f mo h ved b t U o showtheTn! annually, and even at shorter periods, 
terior The productive a new mould must, therefore, be 

capsule drying up. . 7 7 

produced every time a new feather 
is formed. Who, then, that admires the skill of the 
type-founder, does not feel, as these facts are duly 


considered, that a far higher tribute is due to the Author 
of this process, infinitely more marvellous ? 

A beautiful provision for the young bird, before its 
feathers are fully formed, appears in the tenderness of 
maternal care. It finds the needed warmth and defence 
under the wings of its parent. No wonder that an 
image derived from this should be employed in Scrip- 
ture to exhibit the Divine regard. Our Lord adopted 
it when he said, 44 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often 
would I have gathered thy children together, even as 
a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye 
would not !” Had they received him as the Messiah 
promised to the fathers, every evil would have been 
averted, and every blessing secured. 

As certainly is he able and willing thus to interpose 
for us. Guilty, we need pardon ; defiled, we need re- 
newal; condemned, we need deliverance from the curse 
of the law. Be it ours, then, to receive his gospel, to 
trust in his mediation as our only refuge, and thus to 
find that Christ is 4 4 made unto us wisdom, and right- 
eousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’' 

Ah ! see where he stoops from his sphere, 
And hows to the earth his bright wings ; 
’Tis the voice of an angel I hear, 

’Tis the song of redemption he sings. 



“His name shall be Jesus” — the Name 
All mighty to save or destroy : 

To the careless a beacon of flame, 

To the contrite an anchor of joy. 

I have tried it when burdened with woe, 

When the heart has been scared by its fears : 

It quenches the darts of the foe, 

It lights up this valley of tears. 

Pronounced in the whispers of prayer. 

It sets the poor prisoner free ; 

It hushes the groan of despair, 

And gives confidence — even to me. 




Now let us look at the full-grown feather. Take it in 
your hand. “ Light as a feather ” has long become a 
proverb. But it is also strong. In the upper part of 
the shaft is a material, used in no other class of animals, 
and in no other part of birds. The pith is also a very 
peculiar substance : it is neither flesh nor bone, mem- 
brane nor tendon. Like the former, it is made and 
used for one special purpose. The quill is composed 
partly of circular fibres, which must be scraped off in 
making a pen, or else it will split roughly, and make 
what boys call “ cats’ teeth.” This part is the base of 
the feather, and serves as a sheath while the feather 
issues from the skin, and during its future growth. 

If now the shaft be examined, it will appear divided 
into two portions by a long groove, and from each side 
proceed the parts which form the vane. One of these 
is usually stripped off in making a pen. The vane is 
formed to oppose proper resistance to the air. Rub 
the feather up and down in the line of the stem, and 



no difficulty will arise ; but press it in the direction of 
its greatest width, and it will resist the effort. And 
here is design ; the impulse of the air occurs just where 
the feather does not yield. It wants strength here, and 
here it has it. 

The resistance too is given, remarkably indeed, by 
a number of fibres or threads. They appear united ; 

but by what means? No glutinous 
substance can be detected. The 
microscope reveals the secret. On 
the margin of these threads are 
fibrils, fitted to unite together, some- 
thing like as many hooks and eyes. 
A thousand of these have been 
counted in the space of an inch. 
They are of two kinds : one being 
branched or tufted, and bending 
downwards; while the others do 
not divide into branches, and are 
directed upwards. They act like 
the fingers when the hands are 
clasped together. 

The close texture of the vane arises from this inter- 
lacing of these threads. When, too, after being separated 
by accident or force, they are again brought together, 

Apparatus for hooking to- 
gether the fibres of a Fea- 
ther. (Example, Common 
quill, greatly magnified.) 


they reunite at once, and the vane is as smooth and 
firm as it was before. Draw your finger down the 
feather, against the grain, and perhaps some of the 
threads will be broken off ; but if it be drawn the other 
way, all of them will appear in order. 

It is worthy of remark, that the part of the plumage 
first wanted by the bird is the earliest produced. Thus, 
in some cases, wings are not needed so soon as clothing, 
and hence the coat of down precedes the means of flight. 
No sooner is a young partridge hatched, than it runs 
off to pick up what gamekeepers call emmets’ eggs, 
properly the pupse, or chrysalises of the ant, which the 
parent bird scratches up for her brood from the earth. 
It is not necessary that the partridge should fly for 
some time ; and accordingly, from the first, the body is 
defended by a close-set downy covering, while all the 
strength of the bird is given to the parts in use, the 
thighs, legs, neck, and bill. The wings are afterwards 
gradually formed. 

A contrast to this appears in the case of a blackbird 
or thrush. The little songster of the woods must fly 
as soon as it leaves the nest; and hence, while its body 
shows only a few scattered bunches of weak, downy, 
hair-like feathers, the quills and other wing-feathers are 
rapidly formed. 



The feathers of birds are always exactly suited to 
the circumstances in which they are placed. The vul- 
ture, for instance, has been called one of the scavengers 
of creation. It lives in regions where the largest 
animals abound, where death is frequent, and where 
putridity speedily follows, filling the air with pestilence. 
Most important is it, therefore, that the masses of dead 
matter should be speedily removed ; and for this pro- 
vision is made. On the death of an animal, though 
not a wing should be visible in the sky, yet with in- 
credible swiftness multitudes of vultures are gathered 
together from various parts. Now begins the attack, 
and it continues till only the bones of the carcass are 
left, to be borne away in the night by hyenas and 
jackals. Other cases might be mentioned in which the 
vulture is of equal service. All this is provided for in 
the structure of its head and neck. Often buried as 
they are in a putrid mass, had these parts been covered 
with feathers, the bird would have been greatly incon- 
venienced ; and so there are none. Even the skin on 
the breast is more or less bare, and at most is covered 
with down, or short close feathers. 

How remarkable are the feathers that form the long 
train of the peacock ! Here is a star painted on a great 
number of small feathers, all beautifully arranged as 


they have found their way 
from the root. Not the 
slightest error of pattern 
or arrangement can be de- 
tected, even among more 
millions of feathers than 
fancy could conceive. 

Wonderful as the whole 
picture is, its parts will 
appear still more so. Tak- 
ing one-half of the star, 
the places and proportions 
of the several colours differ 
from those of the other 
half, as do their lengths 
and obliquities ; yet a sin- 
gle picture is produced, in- 
cluding ten outlines, which 
form also many irregular yet unvarying curves. Still 
further, there is a perfect correspondence in the two 
halves ; not from the texture of either being first formed, 
and receiving a complicated picture ; on the contrary, 
each fibre takes its place ready painted, yet never fail- 
ing to produce the pattern. Nor is this all : every 
annual renewal of this picture is equally accurate, as it 



has been in every peacock from the creation of the 
world. Well may the question be proposed, “ Gavest 
thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks ?” Well may 
we pause, filled with admiration at such a display of 
power — a power no less than that of God. 

A structure so wonderful and delicate as the feathery 
garment of birds, is preserved in its comfort and beauty 
by an instinct not a little remarkable. Soon after the 
nestling opens its eyes, even while the feathers have 
not replaced its first covering of down, it may be seen 
turning its head, and going over with its bill all the 
little bits of its garment, and the ends of all the sprout- 
ing feathers it can reach. It displays the same care 
throughout its future career. The instant any of the 
feathers of the bird are soiled, it sets about trimming 
them, perhaps from the uncomfortable feeling produced. 
Thus nibbling its plumes, it soon frees them from any 
incumbrance, and places them all in their proper 

The ruby-throated humming-bird, as it settles on 
twigs or branches, frequently opens and closes its wings, 
pluming, stroking, and arranging the whole of its bril- 
liant apparel with neatness and activity. It is particu- 
larly fond of spreading one wing at a time, and passing 
each of the quill-feathers in its whole length through 


the bill, when, if the sun is shining, the wing thus 
plumed is extremely light and transparent. 

Water-birds are, if possible, more diligent in trim- 
ming their feathers than land-birds. This may partly 
arise from the very close texture of their plumes, and 
from the air being quickly felt should it enter any open 

Summer Duck. 

space. This closeness of the feathers serves to shut 
out the water which the birds frequent, and aids their 
progress by the smoothness of its surface. 




Had we paused before this, enough has been stated to 
prove that even a feather, apparently insignificant as it 
is, surpasses all the productions of human power, and 
is worthy of the hand “ that stretcheth out the heavens 
as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell 
in.” But other wonders await us. 

Feathers exhibit in their appearance an amazing 
variety. Let the most lively fancy be tasked for forms 
they may assume, and hues they may bear, yet how 
meagre will be the result of its utmost efforts ! What 
is a finite compared with an infinite mind ! 

The plumage of the male bird is generally far more 
brilliant than that of the hen ; and when it is so, the 
young always put on first the plainer dress of the 
mother. When there is little difference between the 
cock and the hen, the young have a particular and dis- 
tinguishing plumage of their own. 

Colour is intended for important purposes, and not 
merely, as some suppose, for beauty. It is, in fact, a 
mode of concealment, the most universal of all means 


of defence, and one that appears in every race of ani- 
mals. As the strength, the weapons, and the velocity 
are all on the side of the pursuer, colour is much more 
resorted to, to defend birds than any other creatures. 
In the partridge, the quail, the woodcock, and the snipe, 
for instance, the likeness of their colours to the brown 
earth on which they move, is such as often to conceal 
them from every eye, and even from the acute and 
piercing sight of the hawk and the kite. The hovering 
foe may be observed above during the chase, though 
the prey has not escaped ; deceived also by smaller birds, 
even when the accordance in colour is not great. Often 
do they shift their position under the eye of the hawk 
longing to pounce upon them, and then stop, as if they 
knew the colour of the spot on which they are “ cowering 
and squatting,” as White calls it, were a sure defence. 

In this there is a display of Divine goodness, of which 
there is a special instance when the males are furnished 
with the most beautiful plumage, while the females are 
of a dull earthy colour, so that they can scarcely be 
distinguished from the ground on which they sit. This 
difference particularly appears in the pheasant, peacock, 
and duck tribes. Look at the golden pheasant, the 
“ gold-flower fowl,” as they call it in China, with its crest 
so delicately silky, and of a fine amber yellow ; the rich 

c 1 7 


orange-red feathers of the back of the head and neck, 
edged with a line of black ; the glossy and greenish- 
black feathers, having rounded edges, which lie on the 

Golden Pheasant. 

top of the back ; while this is of rich yellow, and the 
under surface is intense scarlet ; and blue, and chestnut- 
brown, and black, adorn its tail and wings. But the 
female is not thus gay and splendid in appearance. On 
the contrary, it is of a uniform rusty brown, with darker 
marks and spots ; and the tail is comparatively short. 
The difference between the drake and the duck, and 


the peacock and peahen, has often been noticed ; a 
similar one occurs in the chaffinch, the yellow-hammer, 
and many other birds. But where is the limit? Just 
where weakness ceases, and concealment is not needed; 
because the birds are able to defend themselves. Is not 
here, then, a display of infinite wisdom ? 

But it may be asked, What becomes of the birds that 
dwell in cold regions ? For them, also, it may be an- 
swered, a benevolent provision is made. The ptarmi- 
gan, for example, inhabits brown heathy moors and 
rocky wilds, overgrown with shrubs of a thousand min- 
gled tints ; and during summer its plumage is adorned 
with stripes of black and brown. But, did these hues 
remain, the hawk or the snowy owl might easily make 
it a prey, when the snows of winter fall and reveal it 
fully to their view. What, then, is the course of Him 
who makes even the feathered tribes his care ? 

As winter approaches, the ptarmigan is clothed in 
white : not by moulting its feathers ; for how could it 
bear such a loss — a loss to be only slowly replaced at 
such a time? In a way not yet understood, each indi- 
vidual feather changes its colour ; the brown and the 
black become white. All are white, except the tail- 
feathers, but these are short and not seen ; why then 
should they change ? Thus the ptarmigan may safely 



burrow in the snow, or search beneath it for leaves and 
berries ; its enemy may look on, but its snow-white 
covering is its defence. The same change passes on 
the snowy owl, the snow-finch, and the snow-bunting. 

All thy works praise thee, 0 God; they tell us of thee; 
they ask our tributes : how great are our insensibility 
and guilt, if with such displays of thy perfections as 
creation and providence present, and all the light of that 
word which thou hast magnified above all thy name, 
we fail to render thee the glory that is thy due ! 

Another purpose is sometimes to be gained by con- 
cealment : the support of the bird is attended to by 
Him who feeds the fowls of the air, no less than its 
safety. And here, as in other instances, the same 
means secure both ends. Professor Jones states, that 
some years ago he was conversing with a friend on 
the best dress for an angler, when the latter stated that 
he should prefer a sky-blue coat and a white waistcoat. 
Amused by the remark at the moment, it soon passed 
away : but, some years after, having occasion to examine 
a large number of wading-birds — the inhabitants, not 
of the woods and mountains, nor the verdant plains, 
nor even the surface of large lakes and rivers, but of 
the marsh and the morass, the oozy lands which skirt 
the sea and its little creeks and inlets — birds to whom 


fish afford a frequent meal — his friend’s sky-fashioned 
dress, as he called it, was at once recollected. The 
heron, for example, catching fish as its food, by darting 
its beak at them with the rapidity of an arrow, has, so 
to speak, a light blue coat and a white waistcoat. 

The design of this part of its plumage is obvious. 
As the fish looks upwards, these blue and white feathers 
conceal the foe ; the attire of its enemy is blended with 
the sky and clouds of the firmament : it passes onwards 
without fear, and is promptly seized as a prey ; when 
other hues would produce alarm, and the fish would 
hurry back in haste, or dive into the depths of the 
waters. This shows that the angler was right in his 
judgment : he knew, or very sagaciously guessed, the 
best means he could adopt for the same purpose. 

A similar provision appears in a richly-coloured bird, 
called the bee-eater, which occasionally wanders as far 
as the British isles, but never stays to breed. This bird 
dwells along streams and rivers, where, like a blazing 
star, it courses up and down in chase of its prey. Its 
chief food are bees and wasps, grasshoppers and butter- 
flies. Singularly enough, on its breast appear two white 
feathers, exactly resembling the blossom of a flower; and 
insects , attracted by these, frequently become an easy prey. 

There are still other important arrangements in 



reference to colour. Our own climate is proverbially 
changeable, and winter is with us sometimes very severe. 
At its approach we increase the number of our garments, 
and pity those who, in the depth of their poverty, are 
without any such provision. But what shall the fea- 
thered tribes do at this inclement period ? Multitudes 
avoid it, it is true, by migrating to more genial climes ; 
but, for those who do not, there are means of defence. 
“ In the small order of birds that winter with us, from 
a snipe downwards,” says Paley, “ let the external colour 
of the feathers be what it will, their Creator has univers- 
ally given them a bed of black down next their bodies.” 
Why, then, should this course be pursued? Because 
black, as all wearers of it may know, is the warmest 
colour ; that is, it retains most fully the animal heat : 
and here it is used that the bird may keep in the heat 
which arises from the action of the heart and the circu- 
lation of the blood. As small birds present, too, in 
proportion to their bulk, a much greater surface to the 
air than others, so they are much more exposed to cold, 
and need an attire which large birds have not. Thus, 
while some creatures are prepared to destroy, that in- 
ferior beings may not become too numerous, our hea- 
venly Father, without whom a sparrow does not fall to 
the ground, provides for the preservation of others. 




Our familiarity with the appearance of birds prevents 
our being duly impressed by the wondrous contrivances 
they exhibit ; and hence it has been said, that could 
a person who had never seen a bird be presented with 
a plucked pheasant, and set to invent a covering which 
should unite, in the highest degree, the qualities of 
warmth, lightness, and least resistance to the air — giving 
it also beauty and ornament— he would be the person 
to behold the work of the Deity, in this part of his 
creation, with the sentiments which are due to it. But 
will not some valuable impressions be produced by the 
facts that have been stated, and others that still re- 
main ? 

The wings of a bird are in every way complete. Thus 
they are moved by large muscles, which, taken together, 
are generally heavier than the rest of the body ; and 
the merry-thought, placed at the origin of the wings, and 
stretching from the one to the other, is a firm basis for 
their support. It is very elastic, and therefore tends to 



restore them to their proper place, after being disturbed 
by any violence. 

There is a great diversity in the flight of birds. Some 
close their wings every three or four strokes, flying by 
jerks, and having a waving motion, like wagtails, wood- 
peckers, and most small birds. Others fly smoothly, 
and their motion is even ; and some buoy themselves 
in the air, as the kite and the hawk, without any appa- 
rent motion of the wings. 

It is stated that a falcon, belonging to Henry iv. of 
France, escaped from Fontainebleau, and twenty-four 
hours after was found at Malta, a distance of not less 
than one thousand three hundred and fifty miles. Sup- 
posing the bird to have been on the wing the whole 
time, this velocity is equal to fifty-seven miles an hour. 
Such birds, however, never fly by night ; and, allowing 
the day to have eighteen hours’ light, this would make 
its progress at the amazing rate of seventy-five miles 
an hour. The probability is, that the bird had not so 
many hours of light for its journey, and that it was not 
retaken at the moment of its arrival, so that its actual 
course was even more marvellous. Colonel Thornton 
considers that a falcon pursuing a snipe will, in addition 
to its numerous turns, pass over the space of nine miles 

in eleven minutes. 



Even a sparrow is known to fly at the rate of more 
than thirty miles an hour. The occasional flight of a 
hawk has been considered by intelligent observers as 
not less than one hundred and fifty miles an hour, when 
either pursued or pursuing, and at the full stretch of its 
powers. One hundred miles is thought a fair reckoning, 
not only for the hawk, but the woodcock, snipe, and 
similar birds, during their migrations. The usual flight 
of the eider-duck has been found to be at the rate of 
ninety miles an hour. 

The extreme speed in these cases will still further 
appear from comparison with that of other creatures. 
One horse, greatly celebrated, passed over a space of 
four miles in eight minutes, which is but thirty miles an 
hour, and could not long be continued. Another is said 
to have gone at the rate of a mile in a minute, but this 
was for a very short distance. 

A different arrangement from that of the hawk or 
eider-duck, and one as peculiar, was required for the 
ostrich. It dwells in the desert, and, when attacked, 
trusts for safety to its speed. Stretching itself to the 
utmost, and vibrating its opened wings, it scours away, 
and sometimes defies the Arab and his horse for eight or 
ten hours. Hence it has muscular thighs, not covered 
with feathers ; a foot divided into two toes only, each 



one being well padded beneath, and the whole strongly 
resembling the hoof of the camel. Power was required 

for these parts, and here it is supplied. But it was not 
wanted for the wings, and therefore they have it not. 
They have no fibrils to fasten the feathers closely to- 
gether, as is the case with all birds designed for flight ; 
but the feathers hang loosely at the sides. 

Go, ask thy heart, then, What spirit thus abides 

In every region ? thus minutely works in deserts ? 

And thy heart shall answer, It is God. 

The owl supplies another case in point. It has been 
said, if this useful bird caught its food by day, instead 


of hunting for it at night, mankind would 
have full proof of its utility in thinning 
the country of mice, and it would be 
encouraged and protected everywhere. 

The mouse is extremely timid ; it is 
startled by the slightest sound : if, there- 
fore, its foe closed its wing to its side, as 
the partridge frequently does, with great 
force, that it may gain sufficient velocity, 
and thus its flight were noisy, the prey 
would hear and be gone, and the owl be 
without its proper meal. 

Examine, then, the plumage of the 
owl, and it will be found full, soft, and 
downy. The quill-feathers are so form- 
ed, that they cannot strike against the 
air so as to produce the rushing sound 
common in the flight of birds ; and 
especially is it so with the first quill 
feather. Instead of its outer edge being 
plain, as is usual, it is fringed with a fine 
comb -like line of short lashes. So 
loose and delicately soft, indeed, is the 
plumage of the owl, that it offers no resistance to 
the air, but yields to every breath. Thus singularly 


Feather of the Owl. 


provided for the service it has to perform, it passes 
through the air unheard by its victim ; while, as its 
wings are of great extent, the bird can not only make 
considerable progress, but whirl round, and drop directly 
on its prey. 

Of the humming-bird, a native of one of the fair isles 
in which it lives has said — 

Still sparkles here the glory of the west, 

Shows his crowned head, and bares his jewelled breast ; 

In whose bright plumes the richest colours live. 

Whose dazzling hues no mimic art can give. 

The purple amethyst, the emerald’s green, 

Contrasted mingle with the ruby’s sheen ; 

While over all a tissue is put on 
Of golden gauze, most marvellously spun. 

This beautiful and delicate creature has excited the 
admiration of all who have observed it, either revelling 
in its native glades, or at rest in some museum. The 
ancient Mexicans used the feathers of humming-birds for 
superb mantles ; and the Indian delighted to adorn his 
bride with gems and jewellery plucked from the starry 
fronts of these beauteous creatures. Ingenuity has been 
employed for terms to depict the richness of their colour- 
ing ; the lustres of the topaz, of emeralds, and rubies, 
have been compared to them, and applied in their names. 



The Indians call them by one which means beams or 
locks of the sun. Nor can we be surprised at this, when 
we consider the dazzling splendour of their plumage : 

Delicate and beautiful, 

Thick without burden, close as fishes’ scales. 

Humming-birds are of a lively and active disposition, 
almost always on the wing, performing with great ra- 
pidity all their movements, and displaying in a brilliant 
sun the variation of their plumage with the greatest 

Each rapid movement gives a different dye ; 

Like scales of burnished gold they dazzling show. 

Now sink to shade — now like a furnace glow. 

They remain suspended in the air in a space barely 
sufficient for them to move their wings. The humming 
noise they make proceeds entirely from the surprising 
velocity with which they do so, keeping their bodies in 
the air, apparently without motion, for hours together. 
When fearful or angry, their motions are very violent, 
and their flights rapid as an arrow, so that the eye 
cannot follow them. 

Now, while the beauty of these birds first awakens 
attention, the largeness of their wings cannot fail to be 
observed. In most cases the size of the wings, and the 



strength of their quills, appear disproportioned to so 
small a creature ; yet, on comparing them with its ne- 
cessities and the other parts of its frame, their design 
and usefulness are evident. The food of humming- 
birds is derived from the sweet juices of 
flowers, or from insects which must be taken 
in a rapid flight, or drawn from the deep tube, 
or cup-shaped recesses, of blossoms which 
grow and hang in all directions, and which 
they can only reach by being suspended above 
or under them. All the parts not used dur- 
ing flight are very slender, and unfit for any 
long support, or assistance in obtaining food, 
by climbing or hanging in various positions, 
like the titmouse, and many of the slender- 
Feather of ki}} ec [ wa rblers. Here, then, is one reason 
ming-bird. for the size and power of their wings. 

But another is, that they may pass safely through the 
long flights which are necessary for their preservation ; 
during which they have often to withstand a passing 
gale, a heavy shower, and even the rigour of a snow- 
storm. The climes they inhabit are at seasons subject 
to violent rains, which drench and almost inundate their 
abodes ; or to hurricanes, which speedily leave only a 
wreck of what was before so luxuriant and splendid. 



But, admirably furnished as they are for flight, they 
pass, before the dangerous season, to spots where a 
former wreck is being repaired, with a rapidity un- 
known in other climates. 

The form of the wings of humming-birds nearly re- 
sembles those of the swift, a bird whose address and 
dexterity on the wing are almost beyond conception, 
continuing in flight in the height of summer at least 
sixteen hours, its movements being computed at seventy 
feet in a second. The front outline of the wing is very 
much curved, and the first quill is always longest, the 
others gradually shortening. The plumes are narrow and 



compact, firmly united together ; forming, when used, a 
substance almost like a thin plate of whalebone. The 
shafts of the quills are remarkably strong and elastic in 
all species ; but in a few they are expanded to an ex- 
traordinary degree at the base, and nearly equal the 
breadth of the plume. 

The same arrangement is made in other instances. 
If short-winged birds migrate, it is to short distances. 
But if we turn to the frigate-bird, which is met with 
hundreds of leagues* from land, we may discover wings 
prepared for extraordinary speed, and a want of that 
close and downy texture in the general plumage which 
marks a bird designed to dwell on the surface of the 
deep, because its province is not the water, but the air. 
Or to take only one more instance, the wandering alba- 
tross has been observed between six and seven hundred 
leagues from land, in the middle of the Southern Ocean : 
it is not exceeded, therefore, by any bird in the vast 
spread of its wing ; and hence it can sail before the 
wind, or make way against it, as if that element were 
subject to its control. 








The music of birds arose towards heaven before the 
creation of man. Adam and Eve could not have 
heard their melody without lively emotions ; and from 
their days to ours, multitudes have felt with the poet 
when he said — 

A few, with melody untaught, 

Turn’d all the air to music, within hearing, 

Themselves unseen ; while bolder quiristers, 

On loftiest branches, strain’d their clarion pipes. 

And made the forest echo to their screams 
Discordant. Yet there was no discord there. 

But temper’d harmony ; all tones combining, 

In the rich confluence of ten thousand tongues, 

To tell of joy, and to inspire it. Who 

Could hear such concert, and not join in chorus ? 

Not I. 



The general interest felt in the present subject has 
dictated its selection, with the hope that it may aid in 
impressing the mind of the reader with the greatness 
and goodness of Grod. It is He who has formed alike 
“ the fowl to fly above the earth in the open firmament 
of heaven,” and the ear which is delighted with their 
strains. Well may the song of a bird call forth our 
praises — the praises not only of the lip, but of a 
grateful heart. 

The feathered race are remarkable for a very great 
variety of tones and qualities of voice, from the mono- 
tonous scream of the eagle to the rich and varied 
modulations of the nightingale. Not that all birds are 
musical. On the contrary, while each species has a 
note peculiar to itself, it is only to certain tribes that 
the power of melody is given. A voice capable of rapid 
inflexions, and full of harmony, has not been granted 
to the rapacious tyrants of the air, to the birds that 
play and dive among the billows of the ocean, to the 
wild swan and the host of water birds, that make the 
marsh or the dark morass their home, nor yet to the 
feathered creatures which yield food to man. It is to 
a multitude of smaller birds, the tenants of woodlands 
and groves, that we must listen, if we would hear a 
thousand voices, swelling the hymn of praise in mingled 


harmony. All, however, modify the voice by the will of 
Him who formed them, and has caused them to utter 
such sounds, and speak such a language, as are required 
by the circumstances in which they are placed. The 


cawing of the rook, the croaking of the raven, the cooing 
of the dove, as well as the warblings of the various 
birds of song, are all the results of the wisdom that 
never errs, and the benevolence which is inexhaustible. 


This fact is apparent when we consider, that among 
birds there is no confusion of sound ; every feathered 
warbler possesses its own music, a series of notes, and 
a style of modulation, peculiar to itself. And it will, 
therefore, prove interesting to investigate the structure 
of the apparatus by which sounds and intonations, so 
dissimilar, are produced. In doing so, the organ of 
voice will be found extremely simple, so much so indeed, 
that we might be surprised at the results of such a con- 
trivance, were it not for various facts with which we 
are acquainted. The organ of the human voice, for 
instance, though simple in the extreme, produces the 
most extraordinary variety and richness of tones by 
slight variations of muscular action, apparently too 
trivial for such surprising effects. Eut here the hand 
of God appears ; it is one of innumerable instances in 
which astonishing results are to be traced to causes 
apparently inconsiderable. 

In birds, and also in the various animals ranged under 
the class Mammalia, the trachea, or windpipe, is the 
organ of voice. This, as is well known, is the air-tube, 
that leads from the back of the mouth into the lungs, 
and through which the air is drawn and returned, in 
the action of breathing. Its name is derived from a 
Greek word meaning rough, because, being composed 


of a series of rings, it presents a surface rough with 
projections and intervening furrows. 

In man, and the mammalia generally, the different 
intonations are produced by the tension or relaxation of 
two chords stretched across an aperture ; but in birds 
these chords are wanting, and the intonations are pro- 
duced by the lengthening or shortening of the tube 
through which the air vibrates. The organs of voice in 
man have, therefore, been likened to an Eolian harp, the 
sounds of which are drawn from it by a current of air 
acting on the strings ; while those of birds are said to 
resemble an instrument like a Erench horn, where the 
notes, on a low key, are formed by affixing additional 
circles of tube, and in producing various tones, the 
extent of the opening is regulated by the hand. 

Another peculiarity should also be noticed* In man, 
who has a distinct articulate language, the tongue, 
aided by the teeth and lips, is the instrument by which 
sounds are formed into words ; but in birds, excepting 
the parrot tribe, the tongue has little or nothing to do 
with the inflexions of their native song. 

The tube of the trachea of birds is composed of firm 
cartilaginous rings, having two coatings of membrane, 
one external, the other internal. These are uninter- 
rupted in their course, occupying the spaces, great or 



small, between tbe rings, and thus rendering the tube 
very flexible. This tube greatly varies in form, length, 
and diameter, and these modifications produce corre- 
sponding effects on the character of the voice. Shrill, 
clear notes, as in singing birds, issue from short 
tubes ; and the various inflexions of these notes are 
greatly dependent on the slenderness of the rings, and 
the enlarged spaces between them; whence arises a 
freedom of motion and a consequent diversity of sound. 
The tube is, in such cases, governed by a single pair 
of muscles, which not only give it support, but adapt 
it to the varied motions of the neck, and influence its 

The longer and wider the tube, and the more it is 
formed of broad rings, closely approximating, the more 
monotonous and trumpet-like is the voice. In singing 
birds it is straight and short ; but in the tribe of waders 
and swimmers it offers every variety of form and con- 
volution. In the velvet duck there is a remarkable 
hollow bony enlargement, situated two-thirds down the 
tube, made up of rings firmly ossified together. A 
similar formation appears also in the goosander, and 
in the red-crested duck. Among other birds the tube 
has two remarkable enlargements, with corresponding 



But to these varieties of form this organ is not 
limited ; it assumes also folds, more or less intricate. 

Tracheal Tube of the Goosander Section of a part of the Tube 

and of the Red-crested Duck. of the Velvet Duck, showing the 

bony enlargement. 

These are of no little interest to the naturalist, for the 



constancy of these convolutions is frequently of great 
service. They aid him in ascertaining the difference 
between species nearly alike in outward character ; as, 
for instance, the three species of European swans, 
which are, indeed, truly distinct. 

In some birds this tube assumes, as has been already 
intimated, most singular convolutions, of which that of 
the wild swan may be given as an example. In this 
case, the trachea is lodged in a cavity of the keel of the 
breast-bone, which is opened in the engraving, on page 
11, so as to exhibit its convoluted course. It will 
easily be conceived that the folds of this tube, by which 
its length is materially increased, would modify the 
tones of the voice. We find, therefore, such birds 
uttering deep, grave, monotonous sounds, with more 
or less of a trumpet-like clang or reverberation. Though 
the voice is much influenced by the figure, diameter, 
and firmness of the tube, this is not the part in which 
it is produced. The true organ of voice — the organ 
acting on the air as it passes, so as to give it those 
rapid vibrations, moulded, so to speak, into notes, high 
or low in the scale, by the tube of the trachea, is the 
inferior larynx. This is situated at the end of the 
tube, and is variously constituted in different birds. 
Every species, indeed, has its own peculiarities. Some- 


times the inferior larynx is formed by the approxima- 
tion of several rings, ossified more or less together, and 
at others of solid bones. Nor does it vary less in form. 

Trachea of the Swan. 

It is by the muscles of the inferior larynx that those 
minute and varied movements of the organs of voice 
are produced, which modulate and vary its tones. These 
muscles are, therefore, better developed, and more 
numerous in birds of song than in such as have a 
harsh or monotonous cry. They are termed the muscles 
of voice, and vary in number from one pair to five. 
In a few species they are altogether wanting. 



The thrushes, larks, buntings, finches, warblers, 
swallows, and all birds of song, have five pairs of 
muscles of voice. The tube is here uniform, and very 

a b c 

The Larynx of Song Birds. 

A. B. The inferior larynx; a, b, c, d, e, five pairs of muscles which 
act on the larynx. C. The upper larynx ; /, /, pair of muscles for 
opening the glottis ; g , g , pair of muscles for closing the glottis. 

flexible. The muscle of the tube divides on each side 
into two slips. Each muscle has its appropriate place 
and action, by which the modulations and intonations 


of the voice of the richest songsters of the grove are 
produced. The preceding engraving will render, it is 
believed, the remarks that have been made more clear. 
It represents the larynx ; the upper extremity of the 
trachea, the superior opening of which is called the 
glottis, with the various muscles. 

Simple is the mechanism which is thus apparent ; 
but who that rightly considers the effects produced, 
will not perceive the operation of that God who is 
“ wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working?” 





After having thus made some remarks on the organs 
of voice in birds, and on the gift of song to some of the 
feathered tribes, it will be desirable briefly to notice a 
few of the warblers which have been most admired. 

The linnet is thought by some to excel all small 
birds in the sweetness of its notes. Its agreeable, flute- 
like, and even brilliant song consists of several strains, 
succeeding each other very harmoniously. When these 
are mingled with acute and sonorous tones, slightly 
resembling the crowing of a cock, there are many who 
consider the notes of the bird as peculiarly valuable. 
Its song is only interrupted during the year by moult- 
ing. A young one taken from the nest, not only learns 
the songs of birds that it may hear in the room, such 
as chaffinches, larks, and nightingales, but, if kept by 
itself, airs and melodies that are whistled to it. “It 


is very pleasant and surprising,” says Beclistein, “ to 
hear a young linnet that is well taught by a nightin- 
gale. I have one whose imitations are as perfect as 
possible. It amuses me throughout the year, but espe- 
cially when my nightingales are silent.” 

The largest song bird of our own land is the black- 
bird : it sings early ; and though there is not so much 
variety in its notes as in those of the thrush, they are 
soft and clear. The song of this bird makes a pleasant 
variety among the number of more sharp and trilling 
voices. As there are two, and frequently three broods 
of blackbirds in the year, the song continues through 
great part of the season. It is not, however, heard so 
constantly, for so long a time, or from so high a perch, 
as the song of the thrush. 

Of the bird last mentioned there are different kinds. 
The missel thrush is very clever and persevering in 
finding snails and slugs in their winter retreats, and is, 
therefore, among the first of the feathered tribes to feel 
the turn of the year. Its notes are not so varied and 
mellifluous as those of the song thrush, but they are 
still both powerful and musical. As this bird is the first 
that is heard in the woodland, after the howling of the 
wind among the leafless branches, it has often been 
hailed, as in the following verses, with peculiar fondness. 



Sweet thrush ! whpse wild untutor’d strain 
Salutes the opening year. 

Renew those melting strains again. 

And sooth my ravish ear. 

Though in no gaudy plumage dress’d. 

With glowing colours bright, 

Nor gold, nor scarlet on thy breast. 

Attracts our wondering sight ; 

Yet not the pheasant, nor the jay. 

Thy brothers of the grove. 

Can boast superior worth to thee, 

Or sooner claim our love. 

The song thrush is far more generally distributed 
over the country than the one just noticed. When the 
situation and the season are alike favourable, these birds 
are in full melody early in February ; and as there are 
generally two, and sometimes three broods of young 
in a year, the song continues till the beginning of 
October. The notes it includes are the finest of any 
of our permanent wood songs, and superior in clearness 
and power, though not in variety, to those of any of 
the warblers. They are never heard amidst desolation, 
and when they fall on the ear, the listener may be 
sure he is not far from a human dwelling. 

“During one spring,” says Mr. Knapp, “an indivi- 
dual song thrush, frequenting a favourite copse, after a 
certain round of time, trilled out, most regularly, some 


notes that conveyed so clearly the words Lady-bird ! 
lady-bird ! that every one remarked the resemblance. 
He survived the winter. And in the ensuing spring the 

The Song Thrush. 

Lady-bird! lady-bird! was still the burden of our evening 
song. It then ceased, and we never heard this pretty 
modulation more. Though merely an occasional strain, 



yet I have noticed it elsewhere — it thus appearing to 
be a favourite utterance.” 

Many have felt as Hurdis did, when he said, in re- 
ference to another favourite — 

I love to see the goldfinch twit and twit, 

And pick the groundsel’s feather’d seeds ; 

And then, in bovver of apple-blossom perch’d. 

Trim his gay suit, and pay us with a song. 

The song of the male bird generally begins in March, 
and continues improving till the middle of May, at 
which time it is in the greatest perfection. He sings 
from the perch, but prefers one which is not very lofty. 
He begins at daybreak, and continues his strain, with 
little intermission, till sunset. He sings later than al- 
most any bird ; indeed, he may be heard in the winter, 
and sometimes when there is snow on the ground. 

The song of the male and female bullfinch, in their 
wild state, is very harsh and disagreeable. Yet, if well 
taught while young, as they are in Hesse and Tulda, 
where there are schools of these little songsters, for 
England, Germany, and Holland, they learn to whistle 
all kinds of airs and melodies, with so soft and flute- 
like a tone, that they are favourites with many. They 
become also very tame, and sing whenever they are 



The bullfinch can imitate the songs of other birds ; 
but generally it is not permitted to do so, that it may 
only learn to repeat the airs that are taught it. These 
birds discover, it appears, when under tuition, different 
capacities. One learns with ease and quickness, an- 
other slowly, and with difficulty; the former will repeat 
without hesitation several parts of a tune it has learned, 
the latter will hardly be able to whistle one after several 
months of constant teaching. A seller arrives annually 
in London, in April or May, with birds for sale, which 
have been instructed in this way. They are sold at 
the rate of from one to several pounds each, according 
as they are more or less accomplished, whilst a wild 
one would only cost two or three pence. 

The most common of the British songsters is the 
lark. It rises upward like a vapour, borne lightly in 
the atmosphere, and yielding to its motions. Its ascent 
is spiral, gradually enlarging, when the course of the 
bird is without disturbance or alarm. Its song accords 
with the mode of its soaring. At first it is partially 
suppressed, but it swells as the spiral widens. 

Then oft beneath a cloud she sweeps along, 

Lost for awhile, yet pours her varied song ; 

Her form, her motion undistinguish’d quite, 

Save when she wheels direct from shade to light. 



After descending, with a sinking note, half way, the 
lark ceases to sing, and drops, with the velocity of an 
arrow, to the ground. 

The lark is greatly admired by our poet Wordsworth, 
who thus addresses it : — 

Leave to the nightingale the shady wood ; — 

A privacy of glorious light is thine ; 

Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood 
Of harmony, with rapture more divine ; 

Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam. 

True to the kindred points of heaven and home. 

A more general preference, however, is reserved for 
another bird, whose notes may be heard on the return of 
spring. It is when the trees are covered with foliage, 
and the hawthorn hedge-rows are whitened with blos- 
soms, giving out their perfume to every breeze, and a 
mingled profusion of flowerets bespangles bank and 
brae, that the voices of unnumbered singing birds are 
heard in united harmony. The flowers, indeed, will 
soon close, and many songsters will be mute ; but there 
is one, whose voice, heard only as yet at intervals, and 
undistinguishable, except by nicer ears, from the general 
chorus, will then take up the evening hymn, in strains 
of richest melody. That songster is a bird of sober 
plumage ; an unostentatious visitor to our shores, and 


arrayed in no gaudy trappings to attract attention — it 
is the nightingale, the theme of poets in all ages, the 
favourite of Milton. 

The Nightingale. 

The nightingale is one of our soft-billed warblers — 
birds inhabiting our copses, groves, and woodlands ; and 
hence forming the genus Sylvia of M. Temminck, and 
other authors. The chief food of these birds is insects, 
but many devour berries and summer fruits with avidity. 



Most go and come with the seasons ; and of these the 
nightingale is the chief. It seldom visits ns before the 
latter end of April, or the beginning of May, and de- 
parts in August, favouring us with its residence during 
a limited portion of our summer months. Its localities 
also are as limited as its stay. In the midland counties 
it is scarce; in the northern it is but occasionally heard; 
and in the western, namely Devonshire and Cornwall, 
it is almost unknown. As is the case with all the 
migrating birds of the great tribe of warblers, the males 
are the first to venture across the Channel, when they 
disperse over the country, resorting to thick hedges, 
copses, and plantations, where their song resounds at 
eve, and where they wait the arrival of their expected 
mates. The females follow in a few days, though not 
always, for it sometimes happens that cold winds and 
unpropitious weather delay their arrival for ten days, 
or even a fortnight. 

Dr. Latham informs us, that, as is usual among the 
migrating warblers, the male bird “ remains on the spot 
to which it first resorts, attracting the female by its 
song ; and, if by accident the female is killed, the male, 
which had become silent, resumes his song, and will 
continue to sing late in the summer, till he finds an- 
other mate ; in which case they will breed at a later 


season.” To this observation it may be added, that it 
is only prior to the work of incubation that the notes 
of this bird are poured forth in their fullest melody. 
At the latter end of the season, before departure, its 
voice has degenerated into a hoarse unmusical note. 

The nightingale is universally spread over the Euro- 
pean continent, and the proximate parts of Asia. It is 
the bulbul of Persian poets. Sonnini tells us, it is 
found in Lower Egypt. Thus, from England, through 
a wide range of countries, is this unrivalled songster 
of the Old World distributed. Who would think of 
such a bird being ever destroyed to swell the luxuries 
of the table ? Yet we read of Heliogabalus feasting 
on dishes made of the tongues of nightingales ; and 
Clodius iEsopus had a dish composed of the tongues of 
singing birds, among which those of nightingales were 
included. This dish, according to Pliny, cost about 
£6843 10s. of our money. So much for folly and 
extravagant luxury ! 

To keep the nightingale in confinement is very 
difficult ; and we are very glad of it. Why should we 
imprison the free-born tenant of the air for our grati- 
fication ? Why should we feast our ears on the in- 
stinctive song of a prisoner, torn from his mate, and 
fluttering to visit his grove, and finish his half-built 



nest ? Must the desires of man be pampered at the 
expense of the lower creatures ? "We are apt to con- 
sider such animals as beings of little value, or as utterly 
insignificant. Not so are they in the eyes of Him 
without wdiose permission not even a sparrow falls to 
the ground. 

The nightingale expresses his different feelings by 
suitable and particular tones . The most unmeaning cry, 
when he is alone, appears to be a simple whistle, the 
sound of which is like Jitt , but if err be added, it is the 
call of the male to the female. The sign of displeasure 
or fear, is Jitt, repeated rapidly and loudly before adding 
err ; while that of pleasure and satisfaction is a deep 
tack , which may be imitated by smacking the tongue. 

The male and female nightingale have musical power, 
but so striking is that of the former, that he has been 
called the king of songsters. In his case, the muscles 
of the larynx are much more powerful than those of 
any other bird; but it is the compass, flexibility, variety, 
and harmony of his voice, rather than its strength, 
which calls forth so much admiration. According to 
Bechstein, twenty-four different strains, or couplets, 
may be reckoned in the song of a fine nightingale, 
without including its delicate little variations ; for among 
these, as among other musicians there are some great 


performers, and others far inferior. “This song,” he 
says, “ is so articulate that it may well be written. 
The following is a trial, which I have made, as that of 
a nightingale in my neighbourhood, which passes for a 

“ Tioft, tioti, tiod, tiod. 

Spe, tiou, squa. 

Ti 6 , tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tix. 

Coutio, coutio, coutio, coutio. 

Squo, squo, squo, squo. 

Tzu, tzu, tzu, tzu, tzu, tzu, tzu, tzu, tzu, tzi. 

Corror, tiou, squa, pipiqui. 

Zozozozozozozozozozozozo, zirrhading ! 

Tsissisi, tsissisisisisisisis. 

Dzorrre, dzorre, dzorre dzorre, hi. 

Tzatu, tzatu, tzatu, tzatu, tzatu, tzatu, tzatu, dzi. 

Dio, dlo, dlo, dlo, dlo, dlo, dlo, dlo dlo. 

Quio, tr, rrrrrrrr, itz 

Lu, lu, lu, lu, ly, ly, ly, ly, lie, lie, lie, lie. 

Quio, didl li lulylie. 

Hagurr, gurr, quipio ! 

Coui, coui, coui, coui, qui, qui, qui, qui, gai, gui, gui, gui. 
Goll goll goll goll guia hadadoi. 

Couigui, horv, ha diadia dill si ! 
Hezezezezezezezezezezezezezezezeze couar ho dze hoi. 
Quia, quia, quia, quia, quia, quia, quia, quia, ti. 

Ki, ki, ki, i'o, i'o, i'o, ioioioio ki 
Lu ly li le lai la leu lo, didl 10 quia. 

Kigaigaigaigaigaigaigai guiagaigaigai couior dzio dzio pi.” 

Izaak Walton observes, with equal truth and beauty, 



“ He that at midnight, when the weary traveller sleeps 
securely, should hear, as I have often done, the clear 
airs, the sweet descants, the natural rising and falling, 
the doubling and redoubling of the nightingale’s voice, 
might well be lifted above earth, and say, Lord, what 
music hast thou provided for the saints in heaven, when 
thou affordest bad men such music upon earth !” 

With the nightingale, favourite as it is in many 
climes, the mocking-bird, which is peculiar to the New 
World, has often been compared. Attired in plumage 
having nothing that is gaudy or brilliant, he mounts on 
the top of a tall bush, or half-grown tree, in the dawn 
of a dewy morning, and, while his native groves are 
already vocal with a multitude of warblers, his song 
rises far above theirs. The ear, it is said, can listen to 
his music alone, to which that of all the others seems a 
mere accompaniment. His native notes are full and 
bold, and exceedingly varied. The eye is arrested with 
his expanded wings, his tail glistening with white, and 
the buoyant gaiety of his action, as irresistibly as the 
ear is engaged with his song. He sweeps round with 
great delight, and he bounds aloft with the celerity of 
an arrow, or descends as his notes swell or die away. 
While thus exerting himself, a bystander, destitute of 
sight, would suppose, so perfect are his imitations, that 


all the feathered tribes had assembled together in a 
trial of skill, each striving to produce the utmost effect. 
Even birds themselves are frequently imposed upon by 

The Mocking Bird. 

this admirable mimic ; they are decoyed by the fancied 
calls of their mates, or plunge with haste and fear into 
the depths of thickets, at the scream of what they 



suppose to be the sparrow-hawk. It cannot, then, excite 
surprise, that the mocking-bird has been pronounced 
by some natives of the country in which it is found, 
superior to every other. 

Throughout the year, in England, we may recognise 
the notes of some of the feathered tribes. Amidst the 
snow and cold of January the cheerful voice of the 
woodlark invites attention. In February, the hedge- 
sparrow, the blackbird, the yellow-hammer, and the 
thrushes begin their songs, which are continued, with- 
out intermission, till the days of autumn. April — 

A month of sunshine, and of showers, 

Of balmy breezes, opening flowers — 

brings the blackcap, with powers of song but little in- 
ferior to those of the nightingale ; the garden fauvette ; 
and indeed various tribes of choristers. At the close 
of this month we enter on the most melodious period 
of the year. 

Every copse 

Deep tangled, tree irregular, and bush 
Bending with dewy moisture o’er the heads 
Of the coy quiristers that lodge within, 

Are prodigal of harmony. 

The smaller reed-sparrow withholds his pleasant note 
till the cowslips appear in May, and continues singing 


till July. The grey linnet builds his nest, and whistles 
on till August, then drops his song, and reassumes it 
in October, when congregating with his brother min- 
strels. Thus is the whole creation filled with cheerful 
sounds, as if to remind us that, in like manner, we 
should constantly pour forth the hymn of gratitude. 

The complete song of birds includes : the call-note 
of the male, in spring ; the loud, clear, ardent, and fierce 
notes of defiance at the sight of a foe ; the soft, tender, 
full, and melodious warble of affection ; the sounds of 
fear and alarm at the approach of danger ; the war-cry 
when a bird of prey appears ; the note of the parent- 
birds to their brood ; the chirp of the young ; the soft 
tones of the male while feeding the female in the nest ; 
and also those which she emits in receiving the food. 
What a beautiful provision is here ! The birds of the 
air are prepared by these means to express to each 
other their various feelings, their mutual wishes, and 
their wants. 

It is probable that but few are familiar with “ the 
songs of earliest birds it has, however, been observed 
by that interesting naturalist, Mr. Knapp, that they 
appear abroad at very different periods, as the light of 
the morning advances. “ The rook, which seems rather 
to rest than to sleep, is perhaps the first to salute the 



opening day. Always vigilant, tlie least alarm after 
retirement rouses instantly the whole assemblage, not 
successively, but collectively. The robin, the last bird 
that retires in the evening, and one that is frequently 
seen flitting about when the owl and the bat ar^visible, 
also awakes very early in the morning. Next may be 
heard the cheerful melody of the wren, as it bustles 
from its ivied roost, when twilight almost hides the 
little minstrel from the view. The sparrow, which 
lodges in holes, and under the eaves of the rick or 
shed, where the light does not soon enter, moves rather 
tardily. The blackbird quits its leafy roost in the 
ivied ash, and mounting some neighbouring oak, it 
gratulates, with mellow, sober voice, the coming day. 
4 The plain-song cuckoo grey,’ from some tall tree, now 
tells its tale. The lark is in the air, and the ‘ martin 
twitters from her earth-built shed',’ all the choristers 
are tuning in the grove ; and amidst such tokens of 
awaking pleasure it becomes difficult to note priority 
of voice,” 

Another fact is too important to be omitted. The 
power of singing is not assigned to any chorister larger 
than a blackbird. And here we have another instance 
of wise and benevolent design. A large bird, pouring 
forth its notes, would not be properly concealed, and 


would therefore excite the attention of its enemies. 
A similar reason may be assigned for the general silence 
of female birds ; a tuneful voice would endanger their 
safety while engaged in their maternal duties. How 
manifest, then, is the tender regard of God for the 
fowls of the air ! 

In concluding these remarks, it is worthy of remem- 
brance, that pleasing as the songs of birds are to the 
generality of mankind, there are strains incomparably 
more delightful. These are grateful to the ear of the 
highest orders of our race, to angels, and even to God. 
They are the offerings of those who, though born in 
sin, have been renewed by the Holy Spirit, and having 
renounced all human hope of obtaining the Divine 
favour, trust in Christ alone for salvation. Such was 
the strain of the beloved disciple when he commenced 
the book of “ The [Revelation — “ Unto him that 
loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own 
blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God 
and his Father ; to him be glory and dominion for ever 
and ever. Amen.” Eev. i. 5, 6. How wondrous is the 
love that is thus celebrated ! How great the blessings 
which are acknowledged ! How high the honours of 
true religion ! 

Is it the privilege of the reader to rejoice in their 



possession ? Happy indeed is lie ; his joy is now 
“ unspeakable and full of glory;” and hereafter he 
shall take his station at the right hand of God, where 
there are “ pleasures for evermore.” Is the contrary 
his condition ? Then let a sense of the vanity of the 
world, of the evil of sin, and of the infinite value of 
spiritual blessings, urge him to the fulness which the 
gospel reveals, that the sorrows of the transgressor 
against God may be exchanged for the song of faith 
and of hope. “And the Spirit and the bride say, 
Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And 
let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let 
him take the water of life freely,” Eev. xxii. 17. 






The amazing diversity that exists in animated beings, 
from the smallest creature which has been detected by 
the microscope, to the animal that most nearly ap- 
proaches to man, presents an interesting and profitable 
range for attention and research. In one particular, 
however, there is a striking resemblance throughout 
the whole series. All are prepared by what is com- 
monly called instinct — the gift of the great and all- 
wise God — for the circumstances in which they are 
placed. In some instances, this bestowment may appear 
inferior to others, but it will be invariably found, when 
attentively examined, to be absolutely perfect. Of this, 
the instinct of birds furnishes a pleasing example. And 



hence it is now proposed to consider it, not indeed ab- 
stractedly, but rather as illustrated by facts, many of 
which have only recently become known, and all of 
which are calculated no less to instruct than to delight. 

Instinct appears, for instance, in feelings akin to 
those which are displayed by human beings. What 

The Turtle Dove. 

tenderness is manifested by the turtle dove ! Its at- 
tachment to its mate has long been proverbial; but 
it is equalled by that of some other birds. Thus, an 
African bird, the grenadier grosbeak, which is about 



the size of a linnet, was put with a hen goldfinch, into 
a cage ; and, after they had paired, a quantity of grass 
and other materials were placed in the cage, to enable 
them to make their nest. As soon as the hen began 
to sit, the grosbeak took a quantity of the grass and 
covered her with it ; and this he did punctually every 
day at eleven o’clock, when the sun came upon the cage 
— probably the practice of birds in very hot countries. 

The little love-parrot, too, sits beside his mate, and 
eagerly feeds her from his own bill. A pair of these 
birds were confined in the same cage ; and when the 
female became ill, her companion showed the strongest 
marks of attachment. He carried all the food from 
the bottom of the cage, and fed her on her perch ; 
and when she expired, went round and round her in 
the greatest agitation, attempting to open her bill and 
give her nourishment. He then gradually languished, 
and survived her only a few months. 

In other cases, the feeling of sympathy seems to be 
peculiarly strong. Thus Wilson, the naturalist, ob- 
served at one place, thirty miles from the mouth of the 
Kentucky river, great numbers of parrots. About an 
hour after sunrise they came screaming through the 
woods, to drink the salt water, of which they are re- 
markably fond. When they alighted on the ground 



it appeared, at a distance, as if it were covered with a 
carpet of the richest green, orange, and yellow. They 
afterwards settled on a neighbouring tree, which stood 
by itself ; they covered almost every twig of it, and the 
bright beams of the sun, shining strongly on their 
gay and glossy plumage, presented a very beautiful and 
splendid appearance. The mind revolts as it thinks 
of a gun discharged in such circumstances ; but this 
being done, and a number of the parrots shot, some 
of which were only wounded, the rest swept re- 
peatedly round their prostrate companions, and again 
settled on a low tree at a short distance. At each 
successive discharge, though showers of them fell, yet 
the affection of the survivors appeared to increase ; 
for, after a few circuits round the place, they again 
alighted, and looked down on their slaughtered com- 
panions, in a manner that clearly showed their sympathy 
and concern. 

One parrot, called Poll by Wilson, was carried by 
him upwards of a thousand miles in his pocket, but regu- 
larly liberated at meal-times and in the evening, to 
its great satisfaction. On arriving at the house of a 
friend, he procured a cage, and placed it under the 
piazza, where, by its call, it soon attracted the passing 
flocks : such is the attachment they have for each other. 



Numerous parties frequently alighted in the trees above, 
keeping up a constant conversation with the prisoner. 
One of these was wounded slightly in the wing ; and 
the pleasure expressed by Poll on meeting with this 
new companion was really amusing. She crept close 
up to it as it hung on the side of the cage, chattering 
to it in a low tone of voice, as if sympathizing in its 
misfortune, scratched about its head and neck with her 
bill ; and both at night nestled as close as possible to 
each other, sometimes the head of Poll being thrust 
through the plumage of its companion. On the death 
of her friend she appeared restless and inconsolable for 
several days. 

The building of nests may be taken as affording 
another instance of the instinct of birds. Without, 
however, describing the usual process, it may be re- 
marked, that the mode pursued by these little artificers 
is not always the same ; on the contrary, it varies so as 
to suit new and peculiar circumstances. In our own 
island, the nests of each particular species, when built 
in the open country, are always essentially alike ; yet 
when reared near towns and villages, where the same 
materials are not to be obtained, their form is adapted 
to their situation, and to the substance of which they 
are constructed. 


The engraving represents one recently brought from 
Africa, and well deserves attention. It is composed of 

An African Nest. 

the down of plants, felted as it were, so as to form a 
tolerably compact, though soft and delicate fabric, 



having a narrow entrance near the upper portion of the 
dome. This nest is generally placed among the twigs 
of thorny shrubs, but sometimes at the extremity of 
the branches of trees. This nest is usually of great com- 
parative size ; but though different specimens vary in 
this respect, yet, however large they may be, it is only 
in external volume, the walls being very thick, while 
the inner cavity of the largest does not exceed that of 
the smallest. Abundance or deficiency of material 
may tend to cause this difference, which varies from 
five, six, or eight inches to a foot in outward measure- 
ment, or even more, while the diameter of the cavity 
within is about three inches. Its colour varies with 
the raw material of which it is made; often it is of 
snowy whiteness, at other times it is of a brownish hue. 

Its outer form, though globular as a whole, is irre- 
gular, according to the direction of the branches on 
which it rests, and to which it is so intimately attached 
that it is impossible to move it without tearing the sub- 
stance, and leaving flakes and shreds of it still adhering. 
The twigs, indeed, pass through its walls, and are firmly 
embraced by the felted mass of down. Irregularity, 
however, only prevails without. If the finger be passed 
into it, surprise will be felt that a little bird, with no 
instrument except its beak, wings, and legs, should 



succeed so far as to render the lining of down as 
united and smooth as cloth of delicate texture. 

The entrance to the nest is a narrow circular open- 
ing, through a short neck projecting from some part 
near the upper portion of the dome, as convenience 01 
the situation of the nest may determine. At the base 
of the neck there may be observed, in the engraving, 
a little recess, which is intended to receive the end of 
the neck when pressed together by the wings or beak 
of the birds, so that the entrance to the nest may be 
completely concealed. The specimen now lying before 
the writer, in which, from the softness of the material, 
a few touches will do all that is required to close the 
nest, affords a most interesting illustration of the saga- 
city of birds. The artificer of this nest is the pincpinc, 
a bird resembling, in its habits and manners, our own 
wren, and in some respects those of the lark. 

Objects of interest may be discovered wherever 
in our rambles we can trace the haunts of birds, and 
there observe 

Their exquisitely woven nests ; where lie 
Their callow offspring, quiet as the down 
On their own breasts, till from her search the dam, 

With laden bill, returns, and shares the meal 
Among her clamorous suppliants, all agape ; 

Then, cowering o’er them with expanded wings, 

She feels how sweet it is to be a mother. 



It is, indeed, as parents that birds display their 
strongest feelings. The hen, timid in other circum- 
stances, appears with a new spirit when surrounded by 
her brood, and is ready to defend them from every 
foe at the peril of her life. The missel- thrush, during 
the breeding season, will fight even the jay or the 
magpie. A bird not much larger than a swallow has 
been known to attack a hawk. A pair of ravens, 
which dwelt in a cavity of the rock of Gibraltar, would 
never suffer a vulture or eagle to approach the nest, but 
drove it away with every appearance of fury. Similar 
strength of feeling is manifested in different circum- 
stances. One instance of this is given us by White, of 
Selborne. The common fly-catcher was accustomed to 
build every year in the vines that grew on the walls of 
his house ; and one year a pair inadvertently placed 
their nest on a naked bough. They did so, perhaps, 
when the season was shady, and they could not antici- 
pate the inconvenience that followed. Hot sunny wea- 
ther, however, coming on before the brood was half 
fledged, the reflection of the wall would have destroyed 
the brood had not the parent birds averted the evil, by 
hovering over the nest all the hotter hours, while with 
wings expanded, and mouths gaping for breath, they 
screened the heat from their suffering offspring. 



In other instances artifice is manifest: — 

Hence, around the head 

Of wandering swain the white-winged plover wheels 
Her sounding flight, and then directly on 
In long excursion skims the level lawn, 

To tempt him from her nest : the wild duck, hence, 

O’er the rough moss ; and o’er the trackless waste 
The heath-hen flutters, all intent to lead 
The hot-pursuing spaniel far astray. 

Nor is the display of other feelings wanting : — 

The nightingale, 

When returning with her loaded bill, 

The astonished mother finds a vacant nest, 

By the hard hands of unrelenting clowns 
Robb’d ; to the ground the vain provision falls ! 

Her pinions ruffle, and low drooping, scarce 
Can bear the mourner to the poplar shade ; 

Where, all abandoned to despair, she sings 
Her sorrows through the night ; and in the bough 
Sole sitting, still at every dying fall 
Takes up again her lamentable strain 
Of winding woe ; till, wide around, the woods 
Sigh to her song, and with her wail resound. 

It is worthy of remark, that where a nest is not 
built, and where the tenderness discoverable in con- 
nexion with such a dwelling is not manifest, there is 
no want of provision for the bird or its young. The 
cuckoo of Europe, for example, does not lay its eggs 
in other birds' nests indiscriminately, but chooses only 
those of soft-billed, insect-eating birds, to which it can 


entrust the proper feeding of its progeny. And North 
American cuckoos display an equal sagacity in select- 
ing the nests of the cowpen birds. The burrowing owls, 
found in some parts of the United States, reside ex- 
clusively in the villages of the marmot, or prairie dog. 
The excavations made by this creature are so com- 
modious as to render it unnecessary that the bird should 
dig for itself, as it is said to do in other parts of the 
world, where no burrowing animals exist. 

In some cases no information is possessed as to the 
nest of the bird ; of which the satin bower- bird of Aus- 
tralia may be cited as an example. The indefatigable 
naturalist, Mr. Gould, used his utmost endeavours, but 
could never discover the nest and eggs of this species ; 
nor could he obtain any authentic information from the 
natives or the colonists, a proof of the artifice employed 
in its concealment. Still, a remarkable display of in- 
stinct is apparent. This bird constructs, on the ground, 
a bower or arbour, which is not used as a nest, but 
as a playing ground, or hall of assembly, and which 
it decorates with beautiful feathers. This fabric is 
usually placed under the shelter of the branches of 
some overhanging tree, in the most retired part of the 
forest : the size and the quantity of materials used dif- 
fering in different circumstances. 



The structure of these bowers is as follows. An 
extensive and rather convex floor or base is laid, com- 

Tlie Satin Bower-Bird. 

posed of sticks firmly interwoven together; and about 
the centre the bower is built, in the form of two parallel 
walls, at a little distance apart These consist of 



slender, flexible twigs and stems, so arranged as to 
curve inwards, and nearly meet at the top, forming an 
avenue arched over head. The twigs are so placed that 
the forks and projections are always outwards, the 
interior being free from any obstruction to the passage 
of the birds through the avenue. The bower is deco- 
rated at and near the entrance with the most gaily- 
coloured articles that can be collected, such as the 
feathers of parrots. Some of these are stuck in among 
the twigs ; while others, with bleached bones and shells, 
are strewed about near the entrance. 

What is the precise object of this bower it is not 
easy to determine. There are numerous points in the 
habits and economy of animals, the design of which 
we cannot penetrate. As, however, God delights in 
his works, and provides for the happiness of his crea- 
tures according to their capability of enjoyment, it 
may be that these bowers are instinctively arranged, 
with no farther object than to afford pleasure. Cer- 
tainly they are not used as nests, but as places of 
resort for many individuals of both sexes, which, when 
there assembled, run through and round the bower in a 
sportive and playful manner ; and that so constantly, that 
it is seldom entirely deserted — at least, during the spring 
and summer. 



The spotted bower-bird constructs an arched avenue 
of twigs, often exceeding three feet in the length of the 

The Spotted Bower-Bird. 

run ; grasses tall and smooth are used for it as a lining, 
and the ornaments consist of pebbles, bleached shells, 
and bones whitened by exposure to the sun and air. 




Among the displays of instinct on which we are now 
dwelling, may be noticed that sense of coming peril 
which has been afforded by a wise and beneficent Pro- 
vidence. Had birds escaped some particular danger, 
they would naturally avoid it, as some do the gun of 
the sportsman ; but they are found actually to shun it, in 
cases where they have had no intimation of its approach. 
As soon, for instance, as a young duck has escaped 
from the shell, it will swim in a pond, and catch gnats 
and flies ; but it will avoid a wasp, the sting of which 
would prove injurious, if not fatal. Young chickens, 
too, will show no fear at the sight of a goose or a tur- 
key ; but if a hawk hovers at a distance in the air, they 
will promptly seek the defence of their mother’s wing. 
Rooks, while providing for their offspring, generally 
cater apart; but after the breeding season, like some 

c 17 


other birds, they have sentinels while feeding in parties. 
So vigilant are these sentinels, that there is some dif- 
ficulty in getting within shot of a foraging party ; and 
hence it has been supposed that rooks smell gunpowder. 
A walking-stick, if levelled at them, will, however, pro- 
duce equal alarm. Another curious fact may be men- 
tioned, in reference to a bird which visits us in summer, 
and is known by its cry of “ Crake, crake.” The corn- 
crake, as it is called, has the power, in common with 
some other creatures, of feigning death. A dog hav- 
ing brought one to a gentleman, which was dead to all 
appearance, he turned it over with his foot as it lay 
on the ground. He was convinced it was so, but stand- 
ing by in silence for some time, he suddenly saw the 
lorncrake open an eye ; he then took it up, but its 
head fell, its legs hung loose, it appeared, as before, 
totally dead. He then put it into his pocket, but there 
he soon felt it to be alive and struggling to escape ; he 
took it out, and it appeared lifeless as before. He 
soon laid it on the ground, and stood at some distance ; 
in a few minutes it carefully raised its head, looked 
round, and started off at full speed. 

A series of interesting facts might be selected, show- 
ing the expedients adopted by instinct in procuring 
food ; we can, however, only mention one or two. Mr. 



Pringle, an interesting traveller and poet, speaks of 
the country of the Caffer — 

Where laughing maids at sunset roam, 

To bear the juicy melons home ; 

And striplings from Kalumna’s wood 
Bring wild grapes and the pigeon’s brood. 

With fragrant hoard of honey-bee 
Rifled from the hollow tree. 

The manner in which the spoil is obtained is not a 
little remarkable. In some parts of Africa wild honey 
is found in abundance ; and the natives, in searching for 
it, frequently avail themselves of the singular instinct 
of the bee-cuckoo, or honey-bird. This bird, some- 
what larger than the common sparrow, is well known 
in that country for its extraordinary power of discover- 
ing the hives or nests of the wild bees, which are there 
constructed in hollow trees, in crevices of the rocks, 
or in holes in the ground. The bird being extremely 
fond of honey, and at the same time unable, without 
assistance, to gain access to the hives, is supplied with 
the means of calling to its aid certain other animals, 
and especially of man, to enable it to secure its object. 

It usually sits on a tree by the way-side ; and when 
any passenger approaches, greets him with its peculiar 
cry of cherr-a-cheer ! cherr-a-cheer ! If he shows any 
disposition to attend to its call, it goes before him in 



short flights from tree to tree, till it conducts him to 
a spot where it knows a bee-hive to be concealed. It 
then sits still and silent till he has extracted the honey- 
comb, of which it expects a portion as its share of the 
spoil ; and this share the natives, who profit by its 
guidance, never fail to leave it. 

It is stated, that the ratel, or honey-badger, avails 
itself of the help of this bird to discover the retreat of 
those bees that build their nests in the ground, and 
shares with it the plunder of these abodes. It is also 
asserted, that the honey-bird sometimes calls to its aid 
the woodpecker, a bird which finds in the caterpillar 
or the young bees a treat as enticing to its taste as the 
honey is to that of its ingenious associate. 

The habits of the fish-hawk are very peculiar. It 
subsists on the finny tribes that swarm in bays, creeks, 
and rivers ; it procures its prey by its own active skill 
and industry, and appears dependent on the land only 
as a resting-place, or, in the usual season, as a spot for 
its nest, eggs, and young. On the arrival of these 
birds in the northern part of the United States in the 
month of March, they sometimes find the bays and 
ponds frozen, and experience a difficulty for many days 
m procuring fish ; yet there is no instance on record 
of their attacking birds or inferior land-animals to 


supply the deficiency, though from their strength it would 
seem they could do this with ease. As soon as they 
arrive, however, they wage war on the bald eagles, 
as if these were a herd of robbers, sometimes by their 
numbers and perseverance driving them from their 
haunts, but seldom or never attacking them in single 

In the pursuit of food, the fish-hawk, leaving the nest, 
usually flies direct until he comes to the sea, and then 
sails round in easy curving lines, turning sometimes 
in the air as on a pivot, apparently without the least 
exertion, rarely moving his wings, and with his legs ex- 
tended in a straight line behind. The height at which he 
thus glides varies from one hundred to two hundred feet ; 
sometimes he ascends much higher, but all the while 
he calmly reconnoitres the face of the deep. Suddenly 
he is seen to check his course, as if struck by a par- 
ticular object ; and so intently does he survey it, for a 
few moments, that he appears flapping his wing and 
fixed in the air. It was a fish on which his eye was 
fastened, but it has disappeared, and he is seen sailing 
round as before. Again his attention is caught, and 
he descends with great rapidity ; but before he reaches 
the surface shoots off on another course, as if ashamed 
he had been foiled a second time. He now flies at a 



short distance above the surface, and then, by a zigzag 
descent, and without seeming to dip his feet in the 
water, seizes a fish, which, after carrying a short dis- 
tance, he perhaps drops, or yields up to the bald eagle, 
and again ascends by easy spiral circles to the higher 
regions of the air, where he glides hither and thither 
with all the ease, elegance, and majesty of his species. 
From this aerial height he now suddenly descends like 
a perpendicular torrent, and plunges into the sea with 
a loud rushing sound. In a few moments he emerges, 
bearing in his claws the struggling prey, which he 
always carries head foremost ; and having risen a few 
feet above the surface, shakes himself like a water- 
spaniel, and directs his heavy and laborious course 
straight to the land. Should the wind blow hard, and 
his nest lie in the quarter from whence it comes, he 
beats to windward with judgment and energy, not in a 
direct line, but by making several successive tacks to 
gain his purpose. 

Remarkable as his flight appears, it becomes more 
so if the size of the fish which he sometimes bears along 
be considered. A shad was taken from a fish-hawk, 
and though he had eaten a considerable portion of it, 
the remainder weighed six pounds. Other instances 
are mentioned in which a large booty was secured. It 


is singular that the hawk never descends to pick up a 
fish which he happens to drop, either on the land or the 
water. Sometimes when fishing he mistakes his mark, 
or overrates his strength, by striking a fish too large 
and powerful for him to manage ; in this case he is 
dragged under the water, and though he sometimes 
succeeds in extricating himself, after being taken three 
or four times down, yet oftener both parties perish in 
the struggle. The body of a sturgeon, or of some other 
large fish, with a hawk fast grappled in it, has, at 
different times, been found dead on the shore, cast up 
by the waves. 

Another instance of the power of instinct may be 
derived from the process of incubation ; and, for the 
sake of variety, the brush-turkey of Australia may be 
noticed, whose habits in this respect are very peculiar. 
This bird collects together an immense heap of decay- 
ing vegetable matter as a depository for the eggs, and 
trusts to the heat engendered by decomposition for 
the development of the young. The heap employed 
for this purpose is collected by the birds during several 
weeks previous to the period of laying : it varies in size 
from two to four cart-loads, and is in the form of a 
perfect pyramid. The construction of this mound is 
not the work of one pair of birds, but of the united 



labours of several. The same site appears to be resort- 
ed to for several years in succession, the birds adding a 
fresh supply of materials previously to laying. In every 
instance in which Mr. Gould saw these mounds, they 
were placed in the most retired and shady glens, and 
on the slope of a hill. The ground above was al- 
ways scratched clean, while that below appeared to be 
untouched, as if the birds had found it more conve- 
nient to bring the materials down the hill than to throw 
them up. 

The mode in which the materials are accumulated is 
equally singular; the bird never using its beak, but 
always grasping a quantity in its foot, throwing it back- 
wards to one common centre ; and thus clearing the 
surface of the ground for a considerable distance so 
completely, that scarcely a leaf or a blade of grass is 
left. The heap being accumulated, and the time al- 
lowed for sufficient heat to be engendered, the eggs are 
deposited, not side by side, but at the distance of nine 
or twelve inches from each other, and buried at nearly 
an arm's depth, perfectly upright, with the large end 
upwards. They are covered up as they are laid, and 
allowed to remain until hatched. It is not unusual foi 
natives and settlers living far from their haunts, to 
obtain nearly a bushel of eggs at one time from a 



single heap ; and as they are delicious eating, they are 
eagerly sought after. 

The migration of birds is too remarkable to escape 
the glimpse we are taking at the sagacity of the fea- 
thered tribes. As it regards our island, their course 
is both northwards and southwards ; in other words, 
there are a periodical ebb and tide of spring and winter 
visitors. How fully adapted is this fact to lead the mind 
to that Almighty Power, which, impelling the birds of 
the air from zone to zone, 

Guides through the boundless sky their certain flight ! 

No sooner do the daisy, the cowslip, and the violet 
adorn our meadows, than a multitude of them appear, 
as if they had just sprung into existence. With the 
advance of the season, they have gradually worked 
their way from the regions of the south, where, during 
our winter of frost and cold, they have enjoyed food and 
warmth. But they are still our birds, for here they build 
their nests, and rear their young, and return, many at 
least, year after year, to their old and well-tried haunts. 
Our summer birds of passage live on that kind of food 
which they find it impossible to procure during the 
severities of winter ; in addition to which they are in- 
capable of sustaining a low degree of temperature, and 



hence they seek not only a region where their wants 
may be supplied, but a genial climate. Their visit 
to our shores depends, however, on the weather, which 
appears to hasten or retard their progress. It often 
occurs that a few, taking advantage of a favourable 
opportunity, arrive some days before the main body, 
which is detained by a sudden return of bad weather : 

The Swallow. 

thus verifying the adage, “ One swallow does not make 
a summer.’' One singular fact connected with the ar- 
rival of our welcome visitors is this — the males appear 
in our woodlands several days, sometimes a week or two, 
before the females join them. It would seem as if they 
came to look out for a fit spot, a deep glen, or hawthorn 


hedge, to which to invite their expected mates, for their 
notes of call are heard in all directions. 

Truly 4 4 the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed 
times/’ The north of Africa, and especially Egypt, 
are the places of its winter sojourn, for there are a 
genial temperature and abundant food. In the month 
of March, or the beginning of April, this bird arrives 

The Stork. 

in small bands, or flocks, in Holland, where it univer- 
sally meets with a kind and hospitable reception. It 
returns year after year to the same town, and the same 
chimney-top ; it re-occupies its deserted nest ; and the 



gladness with which storks again take possession of their 
dwelling, and the attachment they manifest towards 
their benevolent hosts, have often been mentioned. 

Is it asked, Whither do all our summer visitors retire 
on leaving the temperate latitudes of Europe ? It may 
be replied, that all follow the mighty stream southwards ; 
some stop short on the confines of Europe ; some pene- 
trate into the adjacent parts of Asia ; but more, pro- 
bably, find in Africa, ever teeming with insect tribes, 
all they require. Other birds there are, natives of the 
region of the Arctic Circle — dwellers among morasses 
and forests, which afford, during summer, an abundance 
of food, and every advantage in rearing their young. 
Winter sets in early there ; and when it begins to freeze 
the lakes, and harden the surface of the earth, they 
depart southwards, arriving in our latitudes as our 
summer birds are departing. They do not, however, 
fill their place, for theirs is not the voice of song ; or, if 
m some instance it should be, the voice is mute, food 
only being the object of their visit. But if our winter 
guests are not prized for their melody, many are as 
luxuries for the table, of which the snipe, the wood- 
cock, and the fieldfare, may be cited as examples. 

To allude to only one more instance of instinctive 
power, reference may be made to the capacity for imi- 


tation with which all birds, to some extent, and others 
to a very remarkable degree are gifted. Montgomery 
has described some of the movements of the pelicans : — 

On beetling rocks the little ones were marshalled ; 

There by endearments, stripes, example, urged 
To try the void convexity of heaven, 

And plough the ocean’s horizontal field. 

Timorous, at first they fluttered round the verge. 

Balanced and furled their hesitating wings, 

Then put them forth again with steadier aim ; 

Now gaining courage as they felt the wind 
Dilate their feathers, fill their airy frames 
With buoyancy that bore them from their feet, 

They yielded all their burthen to the breeze. 

And sailed and soared where’er their guardians led. 
Ascending, hovering, wheeling, or alighting, 

They searched the deep in quest of nobler game 
Than yet their inexperience had encountered : 

With these they battled in that element, 

Where wings or fins were equally at home, 

Till, conquerors in many a desperate strife, 

They dragged their spoils to land, and gorged at leisure. 

Many caged birds, when young, will readily learn the 
notes of birds in the same room. One is mentioned 
which, from hearing the call of the sparrows out of 
doors, acquired it perfectly ; he also learned many of 
the notes of a blackcap, which was hanging near ; 
and, afterwards, attempted some of the notes of a robin, 
whose cage hung under his. At the same time, he 



could utter the call-note of his own species. In some 
instances the power of imitation is truly extraordinary, 
until we reach the mocking-bird, which Southey calls 

That cheerful one, who knoweth all 
The songs of all the winged choristers ; 

And, in one sequence of melodious sounds. 

Pours all their music. 

The ability of parrots to speak, and to increase their 
stock of words and phrases, is a fact with which all are 
familiar, and on which no space is left to expatiate. 

Having now accomplished the design proposed in 
offering some illustration of the sagacity of birds, the 
question may, perhaps, be proposed, What is instinct ? 
To this it may be replied, that what it is in itself we 
cannot ascertain. It is enough for us to know, that 
instinct is a gift of the all-wise Creator to the feathered 
tribes, in common with other creatures, preparing them, 
not only for the ordinary, but for peculiar circumstances 
allotted to them in his Providence. 

If instinct, in certain respects, resembles the minds 
with which we are endowed, there are others in 
which a contrariety is clearly apparent. Instinct may 
be improved by skilful training up to a certain point, 
but beyond this it is impossible to proceed. The circle 
in which it moves is, and must be, extremely small. 



The human mind, on the contrary, has a marvellous 
capacity for progression. Placed in circumstances fa- 
vourable to its development, it expands from the days 
of infancy to those of age ; and even then we know no- 
thing of its decline, but only of the decay of the instru- 
ments which it employs in its service. 

Unlike the instinct of inferior creatures, the mind — 
the soul — is immortal ; and prepared, therefore, for a 
constant advancement in the world of blessedness, or 
for inconceivable degradation and wretchedness in the 
world of woe. Let every reader, then, propose the 
solemn inquiry, To which state am I going? Am I 
in the path which will lead to the presence of God 
and the Lamb, to the innumerable company of angels, 
and to the society of the redeemed; or am I on the 
road which conducts to the prison of impenitent and 
condemned spirits ? 

With what seriousness should we attend to the words 
of the adorable Redeemer : “ The Father loveth the 
Son, and hath given all things into his hand ! He that 
believeth on the Son hath everlasting life : and he that 
believeth not the Son shall not see life ; but the wrath 
of God abideth on him,” John iii. 35, 36. It is, there- 
fore, that crediting of the testimony of God which leads 
the soul to renounce all hope of saving itself, and to 



repose its whole trust on our Lord Jesus Christ, that 
issues in salvation. It is by this faith that we obey the 
charge to “ look” to him ; that we accept his invitation 
to “ come to him ; ” that we are said to u eat his flesh, 
and to drink his blood.” Without faith, we can no more 
be saved than we could have been if the Son of God 
had remained in the bosom of the Father, and left a 
world of transgressors to perish. 

Should any one who reads this page be convinced by 
the dictates of eternal truth that he is still in a state of 
unbelief, the gospel of the grace of God demands his 
immediate reception ; it presents before him that message 
of compassion which it behoves him to embrace, and it 
points to that throne of mercy from whence all he needs 
may be obtained. Oh that without delay he may ex- 
ercise that faith which is the gift of God, which works 
by love, purifies the heart, and overcomes the world ! 



of the 

University of Toronto