網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

awakened into life when the flowers begin to blow; but these fictions are rejected, for Catesby saw them through the year at St. Domingo and Mexico, where nature never entirely loses her bloom. Sloane says the same of Jamaica, only that they are more numerous after the rainy season; and prior to both, Marcgrave mentions them as being frequent the whole year in the woods of Brazil.

The method of obtaining these minute birds is to shoot them with sand, or by means of the trunk-gun; they will allow one to approach within five or six paces of them. It is easy to lay hold of the little creature while it hums at the blossom. It dies soon after it is caught, and serves to decorate the Indian girls, who wear two of these charming birds as pendents from their ears. The Indians, indeed, are so struck and dazzled with the brilliancy of their various hues, that they have named them the Beams, or Locks of the Sun. Such is the history of this little being, who flutters from flower to flower, breathes their freshness, wantons on the wings of the cooling zephyrs, sips the nectar of a thousand sweets, and resides in climes where reigns the beauty of eternal spring*.

Le charmant colibri
Qui, de fleurs, de rosée et de vapeurs nourri,
Jamais sur chaque tige un instant ne demeure ;
Glisse et ne pose pas, suce moins qu'il n'effleure:
Phénomène léger, chef-d'oeuvre aérien
De qui la grâce est tout, et le corps presque rien,
Vif, prompt, gai, de la vie aimable et frêle esquisse;
Et des dieux, s'ils en ont, le plus charmant caprice.

DE LILLE. · ORDER II. PASSERES. The bill is formed so as to operate in the manner of a forceps : their limbs are

* * Companion to Mr. Bullock's Museum, Piccadilly,' p. 66. In this delightful repository of natural history, there is a case containing more than one hundred humming-birds, the finest col lection in Europe of this beautiful little creature.

rather weak; their flight quick, with a frequent repetition of the movement of the wings, and they chiefly build in trees or shrubs. They excel in the art of ni. dification, or constructing their nests. Their food is either animal or vegetable; some live chiefly on ina sects, some on seeds, and some on both.

The order of passeres, or small singing birds, is by Linnæus considered as analogous to the order glires among quadrupeds. For the most part they are remarkable for their beauty and agility. They are continually in motion, and endowed with the powers of song. They enliven the retired and shady grove by the melody of their voices. Those birds, of the superior order, that interest us by their usefulness, or the fierceness of their habits, such as the poultry, or rapacious kinds, have all harsh and screaming voices. The plaintive accents of the pigeon, on the contrary, consist of a soothing tendency, while most of the other beautiful little families we are now to review, insinuate themselves into our affections by their delightful songs, their external beauty, and the familiarity of their manners,

Conscious of enjoying the favour of man, they live with him in some degree of confidence; and, while the larger birds, from a suspicion dictated by ill treatment, or suggested by guilt, fly to the depth of the forest, and dread the vicinity of man, these hop about the hedges and sides of the woods, seldom removing far from his habitation. This alliance is indeed interested on their part; for it is only on the cultivated fields, and even around houses and gardens, that they can find, in abundance, those seeds and insects upon which they subsist. In the extensive wilds, or in the depths of the forest, none of those kinds of food that are congenial to their natures is to be found. As we enter (says Goldsmith) deeper into the uncultivated woods, the silence becomes more profound : there are none of those warblings, none of those murmurs that awaken attention, till you draw near the habita

tions of men; there is nothing of that confused buzz, formed by the united though distant voices of quad rupeds and birds ; but all is profoundly dead and solemn. Now and then, indeed, the traveller may be roused from this lethargy of life by the voice of an heron, or the scream of an eagle ; but his sweet little friends, the warblers, have totally forsaken him.'

The want of food is not the only reason why the small birds do not penetrate into the forest. They avoid these dreary retreats also from the principle of self-preservation. Almost all the rapacious kinds, like robbers, hide themselves in the depths of the woods; and, if they do not find a desert there, soon make one ; for the passerine tribes fly from their tyranny into the open fields, where, in the vicinity of man, they find that the most audacious of their enemies are afraid to attack them.

When the small birds have taken up their residence in a particular grove or thicket, they seldom remove to any distance from the spot. The wren and the redbreast keep possession of their own hedge, with a perseverance that sometimes proves fatal; and even those birds of passage, that, at certain seasons of the year, remove to a different part of the country, are remarkable for the very limited range of their flights during the months of visitation. Food is the great cause of all their motions, and, as soon as that is obtained, they resume, in the vicinity of their nest and of their young, their sportive exercises or their song.

As food, however, is not found in equal quantities at all seasons of the year, in every part of the country, a great number of the passerine tribes are obliged to remove in quest of it to very distant countries; and even those which remain with us the whole year make periodical flights to a different district, at certain seasons. Their vernal flights are probably occasioned by the influence of love. They seem then to be in quest of a secure retreat, where they may obey that call of nature, and find a proper asylum for their future progeny *.

Some to the holly-hedge
Nestling repair, and to the thicket some;
Some to the rude protection of the thorn
Commit their feeble offspring : the cleft tree
Offers its kind concealment to a few,
Their food its insects, and its moss their nests.
Others apart, far in the grassy dale,
Or roughening waste, their humble texture weave.
But most in woodland solitudes delight,
In unfrequented glooms, or shaggy banks,
Steep, and divided by a babbling brook,
Whose murmurs soothe them all the live-long day,
When by kind duty fixed. Among the roots
Of hazel, pendent o’er the plaintive stream,
They frame the first foundation of their domes;
Dry sprigs of trees, in artful fabric laid,
And bound with clay together. Now 'tis nought
But restless hurry through the busy air,
Beat by unnumbered wings. The swallow sweeps
The slimy pool, to build his hanging house
Intent. And often, from the careless back
Of herds and flocks, a thousand tugging bills
Pluck hair and wool; and oft, when unobserved,
Steal from the baru a straw ; till soft and warm,

Clean and complete, their habitation grows. The business of bird-catching, which supports a number of people in the vicinity of London, is founded on the annual removals of those singing birds, which are termed birds of fight, in the language of that art. The metropolis affording a ready sale for singing birds, this trade has long been established in its neighbourhood; where it is carried on at a great expense, and with systematical perfection. The wild birds begin to fly, as birdcatchers term it, in the month of

* The autumnal flights, on the other hand, which are most numerous, seem to consist of many families, united by the parents, who are then conducting their offspring from the inland parts to the vicinity of the shore, where they may be more amply supplied with winter food.

October, and part of the preceding and following months. The different species of these birds do not make their periodical flights exactly at the same time, but follow one another in succession. The pippet commences his fight, every year, about Michaelmas; the woodlark next succeeds, and continues his flight till towards the middle of October.

It is remarkable, that, though both these tribes of birds are very easily caught during their flight, yet, when that is over, no art can seduce them to the nets. It has never hitherto been found what is the nature of that call by which the tame birds can arrest their flight, and allure them under the nets at that particular season, and at no other. Perhaps it is from their anxiety to carry the tame birds along with them, that these may avoid the severity of the winter. Perhaps, as the tame birds are males, it is a challenge to combat; or it may be an invitation to love, which is attended to by the females, who are flying above, and who, in obeying it, inveigle the males, along with themselves, into the net. If the last be the case, they are severely punished for ther infidelity to their mates; for the females are indiscriminately killed by the birdcatcher, while the male is made a prisoner, and sold at a high price, for his song.

The flights of these birds begin at daybreak, and continue till noon. Autumn is the time when the birdcatcher is employed in intercepting them on their passage. The nets are about twelve yards long, and two and a half broad. They are spread upon the ground, at a small distance from each other, and so placed, that they can be made to Alap suddenly over upon the birds that alight between them. As the wild birds fly always against the wind, the birdcatcher, who is most to the leeward, has a chance of catching the whole flight, if his call-birds be good. A complete set of call-birds consists of five or six linnets, two goldfinches, two greenfinches, one woodlark, one redpoll; and, perhaps, of a bullfinch, a yel

е

« 上一頁繼續 »