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There can be no doubt, however, that the song of the sedgewarbler has been taken for that of this bird; for, as they both frequent the same places in the breeding-season, that elegant little warbler is pouring forth its varied notes concealed in the thickest part of a bush; while this is conspicuously perched above, whose tune is not deserving the name of song; consisting only of two notes, the first is repeated three or four times, the last single and more sharp.*" Eeed-sparrow, and blackcap, are the names commonly bestowed on this bird in the north of Ireland.
FringiUa Calebs, Linn.
Is a common resident species throughout the cultivated and wooded parts of Ireland.
It frequents also the squares and gardens of the town, where occasionally its song is heard. The beauty of the nest of this bird, with lichens and moss intermingled in its formation, has often been commented on; but the lichen is in many localities of necessity omitted, and the moss becomes externally the component material. Particular notes of several nests are before me, all of which (except one, built in a whin) were placed on the branches of trees. A nest which came under the observation of Mr. J. R. Garrett, was built against the stem of the common pine, and rested on one of the branches, to which it was bound with a piece of fine whip-cord. This was taken once round the branch, and both of its ends were firmly interwoven in the material of the nest. The chaffinch is said frequently to use "the nests of spiders in the formation of the outward embroidery of her own most beautiful structure." t It is remarked by Rennie of some species of our small birds, that its nests about a cotton-mill in Ayrshire were found to be lined with cotton. Mr. J. Grimshaw, junr., has informed me that at Whitehouse, near Belfast, the chaffinches and common sparrows, which built in the neighbourhood of two cotton-mills, always made use of cotton in the construction of their nests. The mills were a quarter of a mile distant from each other, and all the nests of these birds erected in the intervening plantations, as well as in the immediate vicinity of the mills, exhibited the foreign product, not only as lining, but exteriorly. On remarking to my informant, that its conspicuous colour would betray the presence of the nest, and not accord with the theory, that birds assimilate the outward appearance of their structures, to surrounding objects, he stated, that on the contrary, the use of the cotton in that locality might rather be considered as rendering the nest more difficult of detection, as the road-side hedges and neighbouring trees were always dotted with tufts of it.
* Ornithological Dictionary, t Poole.
Chaffinches feed chiefly on seeds and grain through the winter, as proved by my examination of many specimens:—in all of which fragments of stone or brick were also found,—the gizzard was very strong. Early in the month of May, when a choice of food was to be had, I have on different occasions, observed these birds suddenly dart from the branches of trees after flies in the manner of the spotted flycatcher. During the winter and early spring, a flock consisting of both sexes was observed regularly to frequent a merchant's yard situated on one of the quays of Belfast, for the purpose of feeding on flax-seed, which was always scattered about the place: this seed has proved a successful bait for taking them in traps. Chaffinches, with other seed-eating birds, have been observed in autumn employed in stripping the keys from ash-trees; getting the seed end in their bills, they chop it until the contents are dislodged, when the capsule falls to the ground.* They sometimes congregate in large flocks before winter actually sets in: at the end of October I have thus remarked them, and occasionally in company with green-linnets.
There has been much written from actual observation, both on the continent and in Great Britain, and from the days of Linnaeus to the present time, on the subject of the separation of the sexes of chaffinches in the winter. Montagu, writing from Devonshire, says, the sexes do not separate with us, and Mr. Knapp makes a similar remark with reference to Gloucestershire. White frequently observed large flocks of females about Selborne in Hampshire. Mr. Selby has noticed the females as keeping apart from the males, in Northumberland; and Sir Wm. Jardine remarks, respecting the south of Scotland, that young males are intermixed with the females. I have seen very large flocks in the north of Ireland, in which there were no males, and once during frost in the month of December, killed nine out of a flock, all of which proved to be females. Again, I have observed flocks of moderate size, consisting of a fair proportion of both sexes, and have always considered them to be our indigenous birds. The others, I am disposed to believe, from never having met with flocks of male birds, had migrated to this island from more northern latitudes, where they left their mates behind:—in the north of Europe, associations consisting of males only, have been observed during winter.
In July, 1840, Mr. E. Davis, junr., of Clonmel, forwarded to Belfast, for my inspection, a bird killed in that neighbourhood, and sent to him as a white chaffinch. It had frequently been seen in company with chaffinches, and was shot along with them, in the preceding month of May. It is thus described in my notes:—"This bird, which is singularly and beautifully marked, is of the full adult size of the chaffinch in every measurement. The prevailing colour of its plumage is pure white, but the head is tinted with yellow; the entire back is of the richest canary-yellow; wing and tail-coverts likewise delicately tinted with that colour. A few of the blackish-gray and cinnamon-brown feathers of the ordinary chaffinch appear as follows:—one or two on the head, some on the back, and some very few on the wings and tail, but altogether they are inconspicuous. The primaries and the long tail-feathers, as well as their shafts, are pure white. The plumage, on the whole, partakes as much of that of the canary as of the chaffinch." Mr. J. V. Stewart mentions a white chaffinch being shot in his neighbourhood. In May, 1844, two young birds of this species connected together by a fleshy ligament, like that of the Siamese twins, but placed lower down on the body, were presented to the Belfast Museum by John Legge, Esq., of Glynn Park, Carrickfergus. They were taken in that gentleman's garden after they had just left the nest.
When at Aberarder, Inverness-shire, and Ballochmorrie, Ayrshire, at the end of autumn, I have remarked that chaffinches are not only very numerous, but take the place of sparrows about the dwelling-house. In Holland, France, Switzerland, and Italy, we commonly meet with this species.
The description of the chaffinch and its propensities, in the Journal of a Naturalist, is admirable. Sir Wm. Jardine reports on both the good, and the evil that it does.* Brit. Birds, vol. ii. p. 302.
THE MOUNTAIN FINCH.
Fringilla montifringilla, Linn.
Is a frequent, if not a regular winter visitant.
The Rev. G. M. Black remarked a few of these birds in midwinter for several years successively on the mountains about Newtown-Crommelin, county of Antrim; occasionally they were in company with chaffinches. Almost every winter for many years past, I have been aware of their occurrence in the north in very limited numbers, and have learned from correspondents in all quarters of the island that they are of occasional, but generally (infrequent occurrence, in their respective neighbourhoods. They have been met with in the most southern parts, but seem rather to decrease from north to south. On the 18th of October, I once received a mountain finch, which was shot in the vicinity of Belfast, and in November, the species has been seen here, associating with green-linnets and chaffinches, when for some time before and after its appearance, the weather was mild. Such birds had evidently come hither in the ordinary course of migration; but, in one instance, I had interesting circumstantial evidence that others have been compelled to visit this island by severity of weather. This was a day or two before the very great snow-storm in the beginning of January, 1827, when one of these birds, which was secured aud sent to me, alighted on the Chieftain steam-packet, on the passage from Liverpool to Belfast. It had most probably been the forerunner of the many, which during the deep snow immediately following, were shot in different parts of Antrim and Down. They were chiefly met with about stack-yards, in company with other small graminivorous birds. The snow-storm as usual had commenced earlier in an easterly direction than in Ireland, which, to birds flying before the storm, would be the last place of resort in its latitude, in the eastern hemisphere. In like manner, mountain finches may have crossed the Irish sea, in the very severe weather early in the year 1841, as Mr. E. Davis, writing from Clonmel, stated that a flock, from which several birds were shot, was seen near that town on the 5th of February: * he had not before known them as visitants to that neighbourhood.
* A friend living near Belfast observed this bird to feed its young on the green caterpillars which destroy the leaves of the gooseberry.
In a preceding severe winter, 1837-38, they were much more numerous than usual. Specimens, shot during frost in the spacious yard of the Eoyal Society House, Dublin, came under my notice; and at the most inclement period of that season, I have been assured that some of these birds took shelter in the houses in the town of Dundalk. This was the first season in which they were known to visit the neighbourhood of Cork: they were found associating there, with sparrows, yellow buntings, &ct In the winter of 1842-43 they were more numerous than I have ever known them to be; specimens from the counties of Londonderry, Antrim, and Down, came under my notice, and about thirty were seen in a flock, on the shore of Belfast bay. My correspondent at Clonmel too, reported them as of occasional occurrence there, towards
* When at Fresh-water bay, Isle of Wight, in the autumn of 1841, I saw several stuffed specimens of the mountain finch on sale at the "Museum;" and learned, that they had been shot in the vicinity during the frost and excessive cold above noticed, when many of them made their appearance:—a circumstance of such rare occurrence, that their species was unknown.
t Dr,. Harvey.