« PreviousContinue »
A reward of sixpence for every head would seem to have effected a complete "clearance" of water ouzels in some districts there; as Sir Wm. Jardine says he was unable to meet with a single individual in the most suitable localities. This author further mentions (p. 71) that, in one Highland district, he had the factor's authenticated report of 548 of these birds having been destroyed within three years. When spending the month of September, 1842, at Aberarder, in the north of Inverness-shire, I was gratified to find (although the erroneous notion just mentioned respecting it is current there), that the water ouzel "maintained its ground" about the streams where nature intended that it should be. It is known there by the name of king-fisher, as it is generally in the north of Scotland. Mr. Poole mentions that about Wexford also, the name of king-fisher is applied to this bird. He gives the following instance of its double signification:—Being one day on the look out for water ouzels, in a favourite haunt about a mill, and having fired at one, the report brought the miller to the spot. My correspondent anticipating much information from one who thus lived in their regular haunts, commenced questioning the miller as to the habits of the species; but the amount of his knowledge consisted in the remark that the hen birds are common enough, but the cock, which is a most brilliant creature, had never come under his notice but once. Water ouzels of both sexes were, therefore, considered by the miller as hens, and the true king-fisher (Alcedo ispida) as the male bird. In no part of Ireland am I aware of the species under consideration suffering, as it does in Scotland, from ignorant persecution.
THE MISSEL THEUSH *
Turdus viscivorus, Linn.
Is a resident species pretty generally distributed over wooded districts.
* This bird passes under the name of Jay in many parts of Ireland; abont Belfast I have heard it called corny keevor. Butcher-bird is the term applied to it in a part of Donegal.
The remarkable feature in the history of this bird, is its absence from the country until of late years, and its rapid increase from the period of its first appearance,—an observation which applies to Great Britain as well as to Ireland. The first individual that I have heard of, occurring in the north of Ireland, was shot by John Sinclaire, Esq., about the year 1800, from a flock of fieldfares, at Redhall, in the county of Antrim. Within a very few years afterwards, the species bred at Belvoir Park, county of Down; and in 1807 my friend just named observed a nest at Oriel Temple, county of Louth. In Tollymore Park, situated at the base of the mountains of Mourne (Down), it is said to have been first known about 1830. Mr. J. Y. Stewart remarked, in 1832, with respect to the north-west of Donegal, that it had been quite unknown there until within the few preceding years, but was then common and resident—flocks of from fifteen f o twenty being seen at the approach of autumn. About that time a specimen was sent to me from the county of Fermanagh. In 1839, the species was said to have been increasing much of late years in the neighbourhood of Portumna, county of Galway. Around Clonmel (Tipperary) it was then common. In 1845, missel thrushes were plentiful in the wooded districts of the county of Wexford, where they had been known only for about ten years; * and at the same period were numerous in the county of Waterford, where some years before they had been rare. They have for some time been common in the county of Cork:—one shot there by Mr. R. Ball, in 1818, was considered an extraordinary rarity. In Kerry, they were first seen in 1827 by the late Mr. T. F. Neligan, who observed a gradual increase annually to their numbers until 1837, when the communication was made to me.
In the counties of Antrim and Down, the missel thrush was at first confined to the warm and richly wooded districts, but gradually spread from them over the plantations generally; and of late years it has inhabited those which stretch farthest towards the mountain tops.
This bird builds very early;—before the trees put forth their * Poole.
leaves. On the 6th of April, 1833, a nest with four eggs was observed in an elder in the glen at Wolf-hill; where, however, two other nests, built on larch firs, were remarked, on the 26th of May in the same year, with the birds at that late period incubating; probably in consequence of the first eggs or brood having been destroyed. It is also noted as building on April the 5th, 1837. On the 7th of April, 1844, a nest, in a young ash tree in Colin Glen, examined by a juvenile friend, contained three eggs; on our proceeding thence from Belfast, pairs of missel thrushes were seen in two or three other localities attacking magpies, and driving them from the vicinity of their nests. Although the spring of 1845 was remarkably late, a pair of these thrushes was observed by an ornithological friend building on the 3rd of April, and, as usual, in an exposed place—the cleft of a birch tree, within a few feet of an avenue at Cromac, being the site;—on the 16th, incubation was going forward. The preceding are casual observations made in the neighbourhood of Belfast.
In the county of Wexford, they have been known to pair as early as the 29th of December; to have the nest completed on the 4th of March, and the eggs laid on the 22nd of that month.* The missel thrush sometimes builds in towns. When in Dublin in the year 1838, I was assured that pairs had bred for the few preceding years in the garden of Trinity College, and in the grounds attached to the house of the Eoyal Society:—in the trees at Donegal Square, Belfast, too, it probably builds, as towards the end of March, and early in April, its song is poured forth in the early morning from the tops of the loftiest trees. The nest is generally most conspicuous: almost every one that I have seen was placed in the forking of the main stem, or chief branches of trees, whether these were wholly bare, or clothed with cryptogamic vegetation; but they are sometimes situated eight or ten feet from the main stem, particularly on the branches of firs. Trees in young plantations, rising from twenty to thirty feet in height, are often selected. May it not be in some degree to counterbalance the danger to which its nest is subjected from the exposed site, (selected according to the dictates of nature,) that this bird is endowed with the extraordinary courage and perseverance manifested in its defence. Often have I seen a pair of these birds driving off magpies, and occasionally fighting against four of them. The pair to which the first mentioned nest belonged, attacked a kestrel, which appeared in their neighbourhood when the young birds were out, although probably without any felonious intent upon them. One of these thrushes struck the hawk several times, and made as many more attempts to do so but in vain, as the latter, by suddenly rising in the air, escaped the coming blow. This pair of birds followed the kestrel for a great way, until they were all lost to sight in the distance. In the wood at Cultra I was once (at the end of April) witness to a single missel thrush boldly attacking a kestrel, which fled before it. The courage of the thrush was further evinced by its flying to the summit of the highest pine in the plantation, from which commanding site it for a long time proudly looked defiance against all comers; but, by superior numbers, missel thrushes are, like their betters, sometimes overpowered. This happened at the Falls on one occasion, when a pair of gray crows (Corous cornix) joined, or it may be followed, in the wake of a pair of magpies in their assault on a nest, and the thrushes were unfortunately routed. A pair of these birds which bred at the residence of a gentleman of my acquaintance near Belfast, in the summer of 1837, flew angrily towards himself whenever he walked in the direction of their nest. But the missel thrush can exhibit boldness without its nest being attacked. At the end of June, 1848, a friend brought from Scotland to his residence, near Belfast, four young peregrine falcons. The first day that these birds, then full grown, were placed out of doors upon their blocks, contiguously, four in a row, they were assailed by a missel thrush, which for several hours continued dashing down at them, and all but, if not acactually, striking them occasionally. No reason, such as having a nest in the vicinity, &c, could be assigned for the thrush's inhospitable welcome to the Scotch falcons.
I am assured by Mr. James R. Garrett, that he has several times known one of a pair of missel thrushes to be killed in the breeding season, and in every such instance another mate was soon found to supply the loss.
The few nests which I have particularly examined, were outwardly composed of larch or birch twigs and strong grasses; the interstices being filled up with mosses KaiS.jungerma.nnia; they were lined in the bottom with fine grasses. There was no structure that csuld, correctly, be designated "a substantial wall of clay" (Architecture of Birds, p. 210). The bottom generally contained a portion of it; but in one nest there was not a particle of clay, nor any other substance that could be used in "masonry." Mr. Poole remarks:—" The nest is not, so far as my experience goes, (nor, it may be added, mine either) attached by lichens or anything else to the tree in which it is built. The materials composing it are remarkably heterogeneous; sticks, moss, grass, wool, feathers or shavings; and once, a portion of a newspaper entered into the composition."—This gentleman adds, that he has "known this bird to build, successively in the same fork of a tree for several years." The indiscriminate nature of the materials used in the structure of its nest by the missel thrush, has indeed, occasionally, brought against it the charge of pilfering, as in the following instances.
Some years ago, a lady residing near Ballymena lost in the spring a lace cap which had been laid on the grass to dry. In the autumn, when the leaves began to fall, something white appeared in one of the trees, and on inspection, proved to be the missing cap, which had been used by one of these birds in the construction of its nest.
I had evidence of a similar depredation, but of a minor degree of turpitude, being committed; a narrow piece of net, a yard in length, which was carried off when bleaching, being afterwards, in my presence, found composing part of a nest.
Like some others of the genus, the missel-thrush is, in England, noticed only as an early songster; but, except in the moulting season, its song may occasionally be heard in Ireland at every