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1841, he "got a singularly deformed female sparrow, in which the upper mandible is slightly twisted to one side, the lower one nearly two inches long, and turned down like that of a curlew: the bird was seen to feed by laying the side of its head to the ground."
These birds are very common in the island of Rathlin,* and in August, 1845, several were observed about the round tower, and neighbouring cottages in Tory Island.t Sir Wm. Jardine and Mr. Macgillivray say nothing of the scarcity of sparrows in any part of the mainland of Scotland, but about Aberarder, Inverness-shire, none came under my notice in September, 1842, though there are numerous corn-fields and cottages in the valley, nor were they observed about Ballochmorrie, in Ayr-shire, in October of the following year, but I am told that they do sometimes appear there—in both localities their place was supplied by chaffinches. They are said to be numerously dispersed throughout Shetland and Orkney. %
On account of the propensities alluded to, sparrows are perhaps the most amusing of our small common birds; but all bounds of propriety seem to be set at nought, when quite out of character with the scene, they, so begrimed, squat, chatter, and take up their abode on the stupendous cathedral of St. Paul's in London, beneath whose canopy, the ashes of the mightiest only among ourselves find a domeiile.
The Bishop of Norwich, in his Familiar History of Birds, treats very pleasantly of the sparrow, as Mr. Knapp also does in the Journal of a Naturalist. In the Becreations of Christopher North, a most ludicrous account of it will be found (vol. i. p. 45). Bewick too, waxes warm and eloquent in its defence, against the sweeping denunciation of Buffon.
The Tree or Mountain Sparrow (Fringilla mowtana) appears in Templeton's Catalogue of Irish Vertebrate Animals "as a doubtful native;" but to my ornithological friends and myself is quite unknown. The species is only partially distributed in England, (Yarr.) and has not been found in Scotland (Jard.; Macg.).
* Dr. J. D. Marshall. t Mr. Hyndman.
X Dunn's Ornith. Guide to Ork. and Shet. p. 80.
THE GREEN LINNET.
Coccothraustes chloris, Linn, (sp.)
Fringilla „ Temm.
Is common and resident in suitable localities throughout the island.
This bird is generally described, simply as found in cultivated districts, but this gives no correct idea of the true haunts of the species, or of its partialities. These, I have seen set forth, with the nice discrimination and fullness which are so desirable, in one work only,—the 'British Birds' of Sir Wm. Jardine.
This author remarks on the green linnets, "frequenting cultivated districts in the vicinity of gardens and limited plantations. During winter they congregate in large flocks, feeding on the stubble ground on various small seeds, and resorting towards night-fall to the vicinity of the plantations or evergreens surrounding some mansion. * * * In spring, when paired, they resort to the garden and shrubbery." The words in italics mark the nice discrimination alluded to, and are in entire accordance with my own observation on the favourite haunts of the green linnet, to which alone they will strictly apply. By the plantation of shrubberies, I have known this handsome bird to be attracted to, and soon become plentiful in, a rather wild district near Belfast, from which it had previously been absent: the Portugal laurel (Prunus Imsitanica), with its dense foliage being its favourite resort. It is usually described as a late breeding bird; but in the locality alluded to, which is at a considerable elevation, a journalnote of April the 4th, 1832, mentions busy preparations for building going forward in glen, shrubbery, and garden.* A nest, found in a beech-hedge at this place, was so tastefully lined as to be considered worth preserving. Outwardly, it was constructed of roots interwoven with mosses; but, mixed with black and white hairs in the lining, were swans-down and thistle-seed, this last being evidently made use of on account of its plumed appendages, all of which remained attached to the seed. Although these birds cannot strictly be said to build in company, yet so many as twenty nests may occasionally be reckoned in a moderate-sized shrubbery; and not unfrequently, too, be found in the same plant. Portugal laurels, hollies, and large evergreen shrubs, are the favourite sites. A correspondent mentions, that nests containing the young, have been removed to a considerable distance, without their being forsaken by the parent birds; and, that in several instances the males were observed feeding the females. The latter left the nests on the approach of their partners, and when partaking of the food brought to them, kept up a cry like young birds when being fed. Mr. Poole has once known the nest of this bird to be completed in the county of Wexford, so early as the 26th of March. Its "throwing itself about on wing at this season in a very striking and beautiful manner" has not escaped my correspondent's observation. This peculiar flight of the male bird is described by Sir Wm. Jardine.
* They commence breeding early, but have also nests very late in the season.
VOL. I. S
That greenlinnets collect into flocks, and remain so for the winter is well known. I have remarked about fifty together, in the neighbourhood of Belfast at that season, feeding in the highest cultivated fields adjoining the heath of the mountain-top, as well as in low-lying tracts, distant from any plantation or place, where they could roost for the night.* In summer likewise they are occasionally congregated. On the 27th of June, a flock of about thirty was once observed feeding upon a mountain pasture, and numbers have at the same season come to meadows at the sea-side when ready for being mown, apparently for the purpose of feeding on the seed of the dandelion (Leontodon Taraxacum), which was very abundant:—both localities were near to cultivated ground, and plantations of trees and shrubs.
* In favourite localities, both in the north and south, flocks consisting of from 200 to 300 birds are not unfrequent, late in the autumn and during winter; when they often feed about stack-yards. They are much fonder of the seed of the cornmarigold (Chrysanthemum segetum) than of the grain itself, among which that handsome weedgrows; chaffinches and goldfinches are likewise so.
I have known greenlinnets taken young at Fort-William, near Belfast, that after being kept for some little time, were given their liberty every morning. In the evening they returned as regularly to their cage to roost, as in a wild state they would have done to their favourite tree or shrub.* Old birds very soon become tame after capture.
The only food which I have found in the stomachs of a number of these birds killed during winter was grain and seeds of different kinds;—in addition to which there were fragments of brick or stone.
Coccothraustes vulgaris, Flem.
Is an occasional winter visitant.
A Very fine specimen was shot near Hillsborough, county of Down, upwards of twenty years ago. In the winter of 1832-33 (?), the Eev. G. M. Black observed a pair of these birds feeding for a long time upon the haws of some old thorn-trees at Stranmillis, near Belfast;—he managed to approach within about fifteen paces, so as to see them well. Mr. J. V. Stewart, in his paper on the Birds, &c, of Donegal, gives the following interesting account of two of these birds, which he killed and examined anatomically. The communication is dated from Ards House, Dec 4th, 1828:—
"I shot a pair of these birds a few days ago, in fine plumage; the first instance, I believe, of their occurring in Ireland. Their strength of beak, as compared with the size of the bird, is quite wonderful; it results from very strong and large muscles, which, extending on either side from the eye to the occiput [hind head] reach from the lower mandible to the top of the cranium, where they meet; they are separated from the eyes by deep bony ridges, to which they are firmly attached. By contracting these muscles, which are thus so firmly attached to the skull, it exerts such a force as enables it to crack, with its hard and strong bill, the thick stone of the haw
* The canary-finch will rarely do this. But one which flew away from its cage at Cromac, one morning in the beginning of September, returned on the following morning at an early hour before any of the inmates of the house were up, and made known its presence by tapping at one of the windows with its bill. On a cage being presented, the bird flew eagerly into it.
thorn berry, an operation requiring a strong exertion of the human jaw. On dissection, I found one of these stones thus cracked in one of their stomachs, with the fresh kernel still in one half of the shell. A few hours after they were dead, I took a strong pair of scissors and a knife, using them as levers, to force open their bills, and found the muscle had so firmly contracted, that to effect my purpose I had to use a wedge; a forcible proof, it will be allowed, of their strength. Their bills alone, however, are formed as a pair of nut-crackers, as the muscles of the neck, unlike those of the wood-peckers, are not strong. Not so with the wings, which are furnished with such strong muscles, that they could almost vie with the pigeon in strength and rapidity of flight. They would, therefore, unlike many of our birds of passage, be well calculated for distant migrations." *
Dubourdieu, in his survey of the County of Antrim, observes respecting Lough Neagh, that "the grosbeak (Loxia), like a green linnet, but larger, often resorts to the wooded farms in its neighbourhood in winter." The crossbill, and not the species under consideration, is most probably here alluded to. That the latter cannot be so, at least correctly,. seems to me sufficiently evident from the circumstance, that Mr. Templeton knew and corresponded with Dubourdieu, and in his catalogue of our native birds, he makes no mention whatever of the grosbeak. On the 8th of March, 1845, the gamekeeper at Tollymore Park, county of Down, sent me a detailed and excellent description of two birds, belonging to a species unknown to him, which had been lately shot there. They proved to be grosbeaks. He stated that there were one or two more still in the park, and that they fed on the stones of the laurel trees. At the end of March, 1846, the hawfinch was again seen there.
The Phcenix Park, Dublin, where there are woods of venerable hawthorns, has, above all places in Ireland, produced examples of this bird. Notes of its occurrence there in the following years are before me:—in 1828-29, when the first of the season was obtained on the 6th of November, and about a dozen more at various dates through the winter ;t in 1830 (?), numbers were killed and supplied to a bird-preserver in the metropolis at the rate of a shilling each; in 1831, the Rev. T. Knox records three individuals from this locality; % in 1832-33 several were
* Mag. Nat. Hist., vol. v. p. 582. t Dr. J. D. Marshall.
X Ibid. p. 734.