Full text of "Birds"
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.
THE SONG 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-
INSTINCT OF BIRDS.
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.
NEST OF THE ORIOLE,
ACTIVITY OF SPRING — VARIETY OF NESTS — THE ROBIN — THE
PARTRIDGE — THE OSTRICH — THE LARK — THE GOLDEN EAGLE
— THE -WOOD-PIGEON — THE WINDOW-SWALLOW — THE SAND-
MARTIN THE SPARROW — THE WHITE OWL — THE BURROWING
OWL THE THRUSH — THE WOODPECKER THE WREN — THE
GOLDEN- CRESTED WREN — THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD
— THE RAVEN — THE MAGPIE — THE JAY — THE SWALLOW — THE
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
ACTIVITY OF SPRING.
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.
THE GOLDEN EAGLE.
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.
THE BURROWING OWL.
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
THE BURROWING OWL.
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
THE GOLDEN-CRESTED WREN.
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.
THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMING-BIRD.
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
THE RAVEN TREE.
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
It has been observed, that those birds which are
THE LONG-TAILED TITMOUSE.
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
A BIRD’S NEST.
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.
NEST OF THE ESCULENT SWALLOW — THE TAILOR-BIRD — THE
GREAT SEDGE WARBLER — THE FANTAIL WARBLER — THE REED-
WREN — THE PHILIPPINE WEAVER-BIRD — THE BOTTLE-NESTED
SPARROW' — THE SOCIABLE GROSBEAK — THE CAPOCIER — THE
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
THE ESCULENT SWALLOW.
dependent on the uniform firmness and delicacy of the
texture ; those that are white and transparent being
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
THE TAILOR-BIRD.— THE SEDGE WARBLER.
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
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.
THE REED-WREN.— THE PHILIPPINE WEAVER.
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
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.
THE PHILIPPINE WEAVER.
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
THE BOTTLE-NESTED SPARROW.
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
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.
EGGS OF THE BUNTING,
THE GOD OF PROVIDENCE— WONDERS OF HIS ORDINARY
OPERATIONS — STRUCTURE OF AN EGG,
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;
THE GOD OF PROVIDENCE.
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
we glance at the little oval body, and then at a bird like
that of which we have here a representation !
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
VARIETY IN EGGS.
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
COLOUR OF EGGS.
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.
FORM OF AN EGG.
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.
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.
INTERNAL STRUCTURE OF AN EGG.
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.
INTERNAL STRUCTURE OF AN EGG.
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 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
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
HATCHING OF EGGS.
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
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 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
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.
THE PELICAN’S NEST — CHANGES WHICH TAKE PLACE DURING IN-
CUBATION — PROVISION MADE POR THE BIRDS FIRST HATCHED
— PARENTAL CARE.
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.
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.
CHANGES DURING INCUBATION.
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,
CHANGES DURING INCUBATION.
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
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.
CHANGES DURING 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
CHANGES DURING INCUBATION.
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
CHANGES DURING INCUBATION.
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
It has been stated, that between the third and fourth
CHANGES DURING INCUBATION.
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
ESCAPE OF THE YOUNG BIRD.
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
ESCAPE OF THE YOUNG BIRD.
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,
ESCAPE OF THE YOUNG BIRD.
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,
CREATION AND REDEMPTION.
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.
GROWTH OF A FEATHER.
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
DOWNY COVERING OF A BIRD.
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
MOULD OF A FEATHER.
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 '
GROWTH OF A FEATHER.
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
CHRIST OUR ONLY REFUGE.
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.
THE REDEEMER AND COMFORTER.
“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.
THE FULL-GROWN FEATHER.
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
PARTS OF A FEATHER.
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
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.)
THE PART FIRST WANTED FIRST PRODUCED.
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
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
HEAD AND NECK OF THE VULTURE.
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
FEATHER OF THE PEACOCK.
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
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.
COLOURS OP FEATHERS.
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
VARIETY OF FEATHERS.
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
COLOURS OF MALE AND FEMALE BIRDS.
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
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
BIRDS OF COLD REGIONS.
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
WISE ADAPTATION OF COLOURS.
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
WHITE FEATHERS OF THE BEE-EATER.
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
THE COVERING OF BIRDS.
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-
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
FLIGHT OF BIRDS.
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.
FLIGHT OF BIRDS.
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
FLIGHT OF BIRDS.
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
PLUMAGE OF THE OWL.
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 SONG BIRD
THE SONG BIRD.
MUSIC OF BIRDS — VARIETY OF TONES— STRUCTURE OF THE ORGANS
OF VOICE OF SONG BIRDS.
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 ?
DIVINE WISDOM AND GOODNESS.
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
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
VARIETY OF TONES.
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.
VARIETY OF TONES.
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
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
VARIETY OF TONES.
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
STRUCTURE OF ORGANS OF VOICE.
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
STRUCTURE OF ORGANS OF VOICE.
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
These are of no little interest to the naturalist, for the
STRUCTURE OF ORGANS OF VOICE.
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-
STRUCTURE OF ORGANS OF VOICE.
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.
ORGANS OF SONG BIRDS.
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
^.ORGANS OF SONG BIRDS.
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?”
VARIOUS SONG BIRDS — THE LINNET — THE BLACKBIRD — THE MISSEL
THRUSH — THE SONG THRUSH — THE GOLDFINCH — THE BULLFINCH
— THE LARK — THE NIGHTINGALE — THE MOCKING BIRD.
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.
THE SONG THRUSH.
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
THE SONG THRUSH.
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,
THE GOLDFINCH— THE BULLFINCH.
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 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 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 !
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,
THE MOCKING BIRD.
“ 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
THE MOCKING BIRD.
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
NOTES OF VARIOUS BIRDS.
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.
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
COMPLETE SONG OF BIRDS.
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
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
THE SONG OF EARLIEST BIRDS.
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
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
THE SONG OF THE REDEEMED.
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
THE SONG OF THE REDEEMED.
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.
INSTINCT OF BIRDS
INSTINCT OF BIRDS.
INSTINCT ILLUSTRATED — AFFECTION AND SYMPATHY — NEST
BUILDING— PARENTAL FEELINGS — BOWER BIRDS.
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
THE TURTLE DOYE.
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
AFFECTION OF PARROTS.
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
SYMPATHY OF PARROTS.
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
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.
SYMPATHY OF PARROTS.
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
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
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
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.
CARE OF BIRDS FOR THEIR YOUNG.
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.
CARE OF BIRDS FOR THEIR YOUNG.
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 : —
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
THE SATIN BOWER-BIRD.
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 SATIN BOWER-BIRD.
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
THE SATIN BOWER-BIRD.
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
THE SPOTTED BOWER-BIRD.
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.
ILLUSTRATION OF INSTINCT CONTINUED — SENSE OF DANGER —
PURSUIT OF FOOD — INCUBATION— MIGRATION — POWER OF IMI-
TATION — WHAT IS INSTINCT ? — THE HUMAN SOUL.
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
SENSE OF DANGER.
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
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 :
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
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-
TRAINING OF PELICANS.
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
WHAT IS INSTINCT?
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 SOUL.
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
FAITH IN CHRIST.
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 !
University of Toronto