Page images

place near the summit of the noble promontory of Fairhead. One or two pairs are said to inhabit the island of Eathlin,* a similar locality. Mr. Macgillivray, who gives a long and good account of the thrush, mentions it as abundant in the Hebrides, where it may be heard singing from the pinnacles of the rocks. B. B. vol. ii. p. 130.

This bird breeds early in the north of Ireland; sometimes in the month of March, and not uncommonly before the middle of April, incubation has commenced. The favourite sites chosen for the nest are ever-green shrubs, young trees, and beech hedges, yet even where these abound, the thrush not unfrequently prefers placing it in the holes of walls and beneath the roof of sheds. In one of the latter situations, I knew a pair to build on the top of the wall just beneath the slates, for three successive summers. The nest was exposed to view from every part of the house which, too, was in the midst of shrubberies and plantations. The site was such as the swallow would select, and similar to one I have known the robin appropriate to itself in a yard in Belfast. Thrushes' nests at the Falls are sometimes placed among moss on ditch-banks overshadowed by ferns (Aspidii) or the rank hemlock. A nest in a pear-tree in the garden there, near to which is a hay-loft, was with the exception of its inner clay coating, constructed entirely of hay. A relative, who has attended to the nidincation of birds, once found the nest of a thrush containing five eggs, on the ground in a meadow at Wolf-hill,—a place with grass about two feet high waving over it. This place abounded in such situations as are usually selected. Of four nests observed there in one season, two were in the holes of walls; a third was built among ivy against a wall, and the fourth beneath the roof of a small out-house:— a favourite place, always chosen when the opportunity offered, was among heaps of the small branches of trees lying on the ground in a corner of the garden, and ready for use as pea-rods. In a garden a few miles distant, the blackbird took possession of heaps of similar branches for its nest.

* Dr. J. D. Marshall.

The thrush has commonly a second brood: several memoranda are before me of young birds being unfledged late in August, and on one occasion the young were unable to leave the nest before the 1st of October. The following remarkable instance of fecundity, &c, which seems worthy of being fully detailed, has been furnished me by Mr. Edward Benn:—"Very early in 1836, a thrush built her nest in a beech hedge in our garden, at Saul, near Downpatrick. When the leaves were blown from the beech by the gales of early spring, she was quite exposed to view sitting on the nest, but on perceiving herself looked at, remained there without being disturbed. We commenced feeding her with worms, which, to avoid startling her by a too near approach, were offered on the end of a long rod; then with bread, which was taken from the hand. She soon became as tame as domestic fowl. There were three young. When these were fledged, a second nest was formed near the same place, and she fed as before, but in a bolder manner. There were in this instance five young. When these were well grown, so as to fill the nest, she would perch on the edge, and feed from the hand, allow her plumage to be gently smoothed down, but if too much disturbed, became noisy, and struck with her wings at the intruder. When this brood could provide for themselves, a third nest was constructed, the parent bird was fed as formerly, and five young were produced. These gone; a fourth nest was built at the farther end of the hedge from the house, and a person going to feed her here one morning as usual, remarked her in great consternation on the bank, and found the nest torn to pieces. A day or two afterwards, she began the erection of a fifth, and, evidently for the sake of protection, chose in this instance, a site quite close to the house. Four young got off in safety, after which we saw her no more. Thus in one season, five nests were formed, and seventeen young produced.* Thirty persons at least witnessed what is here related, and fed the bird in her nest. She was indifferent to the presence of strangers." Mr. Benn attributes the fecundity of this bird to its being particularly well fed, instancing in support of that view, the much greater number of eggs laid by a well fed domestic hen than by an ill fed one.

* An instance of a blackbird producing three broods in the same nest is mentioned in p. 144.

A friend mentioned to me, that in 1837, he had very frequently observed a thrush on coming to feed its young, pick up and swallow their mutings: this was its invariable practice, and the nest being within view of the windows of the house, several persons us well as himself, were witnesses to the proceeding.

Observations made on a pair of thrushes which had their nest in the ivy on one of the walls at Wolf-hill in 1847, were as follows:—That on wet days the male bird invariably fed the young, the female leaving the nest on his approach, and going to about a yard's distance from it during the time her mute was so employed. On fine days the female fed them, and the male sang perched on the top of a neighbouring tall tree. It was particularly remarked, that the female on going back to the nest after the male had fed the young, invariably eat all their mutings. In the second volume of MacgiUivray's Brit. Birds, which appeared in 1839, similar observations of Mr. Weir's are recorded (p. 138). To the volume itself I must refer for this gentleman's most interesting notes, on the number of times that a pair of thrushes fed their young during twenty-four hours; notes on the blackbird to the same effect will be found at p. 93 of the volume.

Although thrushes are very destructive to our cherries and other fruits, the admiration in which their song is held generally pleads so strongly in their favour as to save them from destruction. In a friend's garden near Belfast, I have known a few of them to forfeit their lives by eating of the fruit, with which traps were baited for blackbirds. In the hothouse at the same place, the gardener one day caught three or four of them regaling on his grapes, which reminds us of their partiality to this fruit in continental countries. By several British authors, Helix nemoralis is particularized as a favourite repast with this species, to which one author adds the H. hortenm, (Jour, of a Nat. p. 339,) and another the H. lucida, (Wern. Mem. vol. iii. p. 180,) but its predilection for such food is far from being limited to these species. The beautiful Helix arbustorum, whose delicate shell is much more easily broken than that of the others, is an especial favourite. So eagerly is it sought for by the thrash, (and probably also by the blackbird,) that in some localities, in which the fragments of broken shells first announced to me its contiguity, I have found it difficult to obtain specimens after the successful foraging of the birds.

In addition to the naked or externally shelless snails, insects (coleoptera, larva?, chrysalides), worms, seeds, and soft vegetable matter, the smaller Helices and other land shells form in winter a very considerable portion of the thrush's food.* From a single stomach I have taken the Helix cellaria, H. pura, and H. radiata, in addition to Limacelli; and have similarly met with the Bulimy* hibricus, and Vitrina pelhmda. I once, at the end of February, found several specimens of this last species in one bird; which contained also five shells of Limaces, (the snails themselves being wholly digested,) a coleopterous and another insect, together with chrysalides and larvae.

The intelligent gamekeeper at Tollymore Park (Down), remarked to me in 1836, that when living in Ayrshire some years before that time with the Marquess of Bute, he had seen four pair of cream-coloured thrushes in one season; that they bred and had also young of the same colour, some of which were attempted to be reared, but unsuccessfully. They were observed but in the one season.

It is interesting to remark how birds will follow their nests when removed from their original situations, as in the instances about to be related, which occurred in the neighbourhood of Belfast. In May, 1847, a thrush's nest built in a tree at a considerable height from the ground, was, when containing five eggs, brought down about six feet and placed on a branch. The bird followed it and sat on the eggs as usual. It was then brought down eight or nine feet lower, until it could be looked into by a person standing on the ground; the bird followed it here also, and continued to sit on the eggs until the brood was produced. Two of the young were taken out of the nest when they were ready to be transferred to a cage, but the thrush nevertheless continued to tend the remaining three, until they all took wing. A grey-linnet's nest containing young was put in a cage, into which the parent bird went regularly to feed them. The cage was then moved gradually nearer and nearer to the cottage, until at last brought within doors, whither the parent bird followed and fed the young.

* Since these notes were first published, Mr. Macgillivray has remarked that "Helit aspersa, hortemu, nemoralu, supply great part of its food in winter," p. 133.

Sky-larks have frequently been known to follow their nests when shifted by boys from place to place—occasionally several times in a day—across a field, or until the young were put in a cage, and placed beside the cottage. The parent lark then alighted on a little piece of board placed outside the cage as a perch for her, and from it, fed the young regularly through the wires. In such instances, the cottages were in the fields. In other cases, when the young were so far advanced as not to require the warmth derived from the parent sitting on the nest, this was rodded over to prevent their escape when fledged, and the old bird came and fed them. Both these practices respecting sky-larks, and more especially the former one, were common some years ago in the county of Down.


Felt. Small Felt.

Turdus iliacus, Linn.

Is a regular winter visitant, its migration, like that of the fieldfare, extending over the island.

In the north, it generally arrives about the middle of October,* sometimes early in the month; and remains until the beginning or middle of April: to the end of this month its departure was

* A sporting friend remarks that he never saw redwings so plentiful any where as at Aberarder, Inverness-shire, from the end of the first week, until the 18th of October, 1840.

« PreviousContinue »