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Wilson, Audubon, and Dr. Richardson give most interesting accounts of the snow-bunting from personal observation in North America. The last author had the gratification of meeting with the bird in its breeding-haunt on that continent. Mr. Macgillivray treats fully of it in Scotland, and Mr. Selby favours us with the result of his observations on the species in the north of England.
When ascending, in the month of July, above the perpetual snowline of the Alps of Switzerland, Mt. St. Gothard, Grimsel, Col de Four, &c., and to the height of 11,000 feet, the snow-finch (Fringilla nivalis), a bird which in size, marking, and note, reminded me at a little distance of the snow-bunting, was almost ever-present. Its feeble voice, mingled occasionally with that of the alpine accentor (Accentor alpinus), seemed in one sense, strangely out of unison with the stern grandeur of the scenery, where rarely any other sound broke upon the ear, than the rent of the glacier or the distant fall of the avalanche.
The Lapland Bunting (Plectrophanes Lapponica), which has in a very few instances been met with in England, has not yet been obtained in Scotland (Jard., Macg.) or Ireland.
THE COMMON BUNTING.
Emberiza miliaria, Linn.
Is found throughout the island, and is permanently resident.
The Common Bunting, as it is called, is not by any means so generally dispersed in Ireland, as the yellow bunting, and accordingly, is not so common * or well known as that species, which is one of the first birds that we become familiar with in childhood. The names of briar and corn bunting applied to the bird in the north, of Ireland are more correctly expressive; in the south, it is locally called corn-bird.t A few of these buntings were seen on Tory Island, off the north-west of Donegal, in August, 1845*
* Since the preceding was written, it has been observed that Sir Wm. Jardine comments in a similar manner on the name, as applied to the bird in the south of Scotland—Brit. Birds, vol. ii, p. 306.
t Mr. Poole.
VOL. I. R
On reading the opinion expressed by Sir Wm. Jardine, in his edition of White's Selborne, t that there is a migration of buntings to Great Britain in winter, I thought it might be likewise applicable to Ireland; but on subsequent consideration, did not feel altogether convinced that there is any increase to the number of these birds bred in the country. The change from the summer to the winter haunts of the bunting, might lead to such a supposition, as about the time that our winter birds of passage are arriving, flocks of buntings make their appearance in localities,— (often hedges along road-sides)—which, frequenting through the winter, they leave on the genial approach of spring: so late as the end of March, they occasionally remain congregated. Mr. J. E. Garrett is inclined to believe in a migration, from the circumstance that early every winter during his residence at Cromac, near Belfast, flocks consisting of from one to two hundred birds appeared, and continued until spring. They were to be seen every evening in a plantation of Scotch elm trees, where they remained like grey linnets for about an hour before retiring to roost in an adjoining shrubbery. A few pair only were seen about the place during summer.
The song of the bunting may be heard in the north throughout greater part of the year, including occasionally the months of November and December.
My observation is quite in accordance with that of White, who, in his history of Selborne, remarks of the bunting, that "in our woodland enclosed districts it is a rare bird/' It is rather an inhabitant of the bare arable, than of the rich and wooded parts of the country, and where some little portion of wildness still exists, such as is implied in the common name of briar-bunting. The ditch-bank run wild with "briars" or brambles (Rubi) has more charms for this bird than the "neat trim-hedge," and within the shelter of such humble underwood its nest is made. It also builds frequently on the ground in meadows.J In severe frost and snow, buntings not only betake themselves to the roads for subsistence, but may be seen at such times in the less-frequented streets and stable-yards of the town of Belfast. The plumage of this species is very liable to be varied with white or cream-colour, and when with the latter, some which I have seen were of a very rich and handsome appearance. Mr. R. Chute mentions his having obtained them in Kerry as yellow as the canary finch. On opening buntings killed in winter, I have generally found them filled with grain; sometimes with the seeds of weeds, in addition to which were fragments of stone. They possess a very strong gizzard.
* Mr. Hyndman. t It is not repeated in his subsequent work on Brit. Birds. % Mr. J. R. Garrett.
Yellow Ammer. Yellow Yorlin.
Bmberiza citrinetta, Linn.
Is common in suitable localities throughout the island, and is resident.
This handsome bird, differing from the last-noticed species in being a constant resident about the farm, and precincts of the rural dwelling, is very well known in Ireland. Its monotonous, and to my ear, mournful song, interpreted in Scotland as resembling the words, "de'il, de'il, de'il, take ye, that is, the cruel nesters," * is heard in mild weather throughout the greater part of the year. It sometimes breeds very late. The nest, from being placed in an open hedge or bare grassy ditch-bank, is often easily discovered. A person well versed in the sites chosen by birds for their nests, informs me, that he has most frequently found that of the yellow bunting in furze. A note is before me of one situated like a lark's on the ground in the middle of a field. It was lined as usual with hair, and contained the full number of eggs on the 25th of April. In a friend's garden near Belfast, a pair of these birds built their nest at the edge of a gravel-walk, and brought out four young, three of which were soon destroyed. In consequence of this, the nest containing the fourth was for greater safety removed to a bank a few feet distant, where the single young one was so well provided with food by its parents, as quickly to grow to an extraordinary size. A similar fact in the case of the redbreast is mentioned in a preceding page; but, in that instance, the young one was presumed to have died from over-feeding. The stomachs of such of these birds as have come under my observation in winter, generally contained wheat, or some other grain; together with particles of stone or brick. Yellow yorlin is the common name bestowed on this species in the north of Ireland. —Yellow-hammer is a term likewise used; but as Mr. Yarrell well remarks, the word should be Ammer, the German of bunting, and not hammer, which is meaningless as applied to this bird.
* Macgillivray, B. B. vol. i. p. 449.
About the shooting-lodge at Aberarder, Inverness-shire, a few of these birds were seen by us in September, 1842, although no sparrows were there, and but one robin appeared in the course of several autumns. In Holland, France, and Switzerland, the yellow bunting is commonly met with. The handsome species resembling this, but with a black head—Smb. melanocephala— flew on board H.M.S. Beacon when about eighty miles east of Malta, on the 23rd of April, 1841; and another of these birds was seen in a marshy place between Constantinople and the Yalley of Sweet Waters, on the 14th of May.
The Cirl Bunting (Emb. cirlus), as yet unknown in Ireland, is chiefly confined to the more southern portion of England, where it is indigenous. It has been recorded as occurring in Scotland* only once. The Ortolan Bunting (Emb. hortulana) has in very few instances been obtained in England, but not in Scotland -(- or Ireland.
* Jardine and Macgillivray. t Ifcid.
THE BLACK-HEADED BUNTING.
Reed Bunting. Reed Sparrow.
Emberiza Schceniclus, Linn.
Is a resident species distributed over the island, which from the prevailing humidity, is peculiarly well suited to it.
The reed-bunting is one of those birds, which, though not rare, are nowhere numerous. Owing to its abode being among the shrubby underwood or herbage in moist places and at the edge of waters, it is not very commonly or popularly known. It is interesting from being an inhabitant of -localities in which comparatively few other species are to be seen:—often have I been highly pleased by observing a few of these birds gathering in to roost for the night upon the exposed roots of alders or willows that overhung the gentlyflowing stream. Like their congeners, however, reed-buntings will betake themselves during the snow-storm to the public roads for food, but at such times only, have I met with them out of their favourite haunts.* Stomachs of reed-buntings shot in January, contained seeds, and much gravel.
In different parts of Ireland, the reed-bunting has the undue reputation of being a sweet songster of the night, and is believed to be the veritable "Irish nightingale;"—a name bestowed on the mysterious bird, be that what it may, which sings through the summer night. In strict justice, the sedge-warbler may lay claim to the flattering appellation. Montagu, with his usual acuteness, long since accounted for this error in the following words :—" It is somewhat extraordinary that the manners and habits of so common a bird should remain so long in obscurity; even modern authors tell us it is a song-bird, and sings after sunset.t * *
* Mr. Macgillivray considers the species as "migratory in most parts of Scotland, departing in October, and reappearing about the beginning of April." vol. i. p. 455.
t The omission here relates to the nest, respecting which Montagu was in error, having described that of the reed, in place of that of the sedge, warbler. I have altered a few words of the extract from plural to singular. A nest of this bunting which came under Mr. Poole's notice, was placed among the stems of dry grass, on the side of a bank overhanging water and was lined with cow-hair. The young were nearly Hedged on the 26th of May; their mutings almost filled the bottom of the nest.