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pleton, Esq., is the following note:—"December the 20th, 1819. Yesterday heard from Mr. Montgomery of Belfast [a discriminating ornithologist], that Mr. Bradford had received a specimen of the Loxia Enucleator which was shot at the Cave-hill [vicinity of Belfast], and on showing the figure in the Naturalist's Miscellany, he recognised it to be the bird"
This species is an extremely rare visitant to Great Britain, hut has been met with both in England and Scotland.
Loxia curvirostra, Linn.
Has long been known as an occasional visitant to Ireland: —it has bred here of late years.
As much popular interest attaches to this bird, on account of the remarkable form of its bill, and the imagined rarity of its occurrence, I shall give particular notes on the subject.
In Harris's History of the County of Down (1744), it is remarked of crossbills, that "many of them were seen at Waringstown in 1707." Smith, in his History of Cork (1749), observes, that "these birds have been seen in this county, but are rare." Rutty, in his Natural History of Dublin (1772), says of the crossbill:—" It has been seen at Ireland's Eye, and we have had several flights of them to the counties of Wicklow and Dublin, particularly in 1714." In the Memoirs and Correspondence of the late Sir J. E. Smith, we find the following passage, in a letter from Mr. Caldwell, dated Dublin, Feb. 3rd, 1802:—"The winter here has been severe. * * * Vast flights of crossbills, Loxia curvirostra, I believe, made their appearance the latter end of August, and staid till the beginning of October. They made great havoc in the orchards; they never ate the apple, but cut it to pieces, and picked out the pippins. They came first over to the county of Cork, then proceeded to Waterford, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford, Wicklow, and Dublin, but no further north. * * * They were observed here, I am told, before the hard frost, and once since; and now this time, when there certainly has been severer frost than usual," vol. ii. p. 158. Mr. R. Ball informed me in 1842, that during his residence at Youghal, this species was known to him as occurring but once in the south, upwards of thirty years ago, when it committed great devastation in the orchards: its appearance in the south of the county of Cork, about that period, has been reported to me by others, who state that it was looked upon as an extraordinary rarity;— probably the same flight of birds is alluded to by all. M'Skimmin, in his History of Carrickfergus, mentions a flock being seen there in July, 1811. Mr. Ensor, in an article contributed to the 6th volume of the Magazine of Natural History (p. 81), dated Ardress, county of Armagh, remarks :—"There was a flight of these birds in my plantations for weeks in 1813 or 1814."* In 1821, when crossbills were so abundant in Scotland, they visited Ireland also, and some were killed about Belfast. A venerable friend has from his early years known them as occasional winter visitants to the neighbourhood of this town, and has captured them, when feeding, by means of fishing-rods smeared with bird-lime. Since my own attention has been given to the subject, the crossbill is recorded either in my notes or otherwise, as occurring at the following times and places :—
* Loxia coccoihraustes is the scientific name applied to the bird referred to, but from the observation that it is significantly called "cross-beak," it seems to me warrantable to conclude that Loxia curvirostra is meant.
Mr. Robert Millen has mentioned to me, that near Ballyclare (co. Antrim), about the year 1814, he became possessed of a crossbill by flinging a stone at a bird in a larch fir, which he believed from its colour to be a green-linnet. It was only stunned by the blow of the stone, and soon recovered. He kept it as a pet bird for about nine months, and provided fir cones as food, from which the seeds were adroitly extracted.
The Rev. Dr. Walsh, in his work entitled "A Residence at Constantinople," mentions his having obtained a crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) just after its being snared in a tree near that city, and states, that "it became as familiar as a parrot, sat on my shoulder while I wrote, and whistled to me for food. I discovered that it [the species ?] particularly frequented Turkish cemeteries, and was most commonly met with among the cypress trees. I collected, therefore, some of the cypress cones, and whenever he whistled, I presented him with one. He took it with great dexterity in one of his claws, and holding it up, he hopped to his perch on the other leg. He then split open with his cross beak the tough divisions of the cone with a force, and got out the seeds with a dispatch, that mandibles of any other construction could never accomplish. I kept this familiar and interesting bird for several months, till a rapacious kite, hovering over the palace garden, made a stoop, and destroyed it. I called it NepoiOToXi, its modern Greek name, and it answered to the sound by a whistle." vol. ii. p. 111.
In most of the preceding instances, these birds were seen feeding on the cones of the larch fir and common pine (Scotch fir), more especially on the former, with the seeds of which I have found their stomachs filled:—once only were there any fragments of stone in them. They generally attracted attention, by the noise produced in splitting open the cones, compared by some persons to that made by the breaking of sticks. When at Tollymore Park in June, 1838, the game-keeper informed me, that in the preceding winter, crossbills were abundant there, so many as fifty being sometimes seen in a flock. He pointed out a larchfir, upon which he and a gentleman visiting the park, saw fourteen or fifteen engaged in extracting the seed, some of the birds being at the time but a few yards above the spectators' heads, and sending the cones to the ground in numbers;—he remarked that they are generally very tame when feeding. He had seen them picking at the cones of the various species of firs and pines in the park, and particularized the spruce-fir, as one on which they were so employed.*
As the breeding of the crossbill is particularly noticed by Mr. Robert Davis, junr., of Clonmel, his observations on the species generally, are here brought together :—"About the 18th of Jan., 1838, a flock of these birds appeared at Ballibrado, near Cahir, and five of them were killed: they were very tame, and were observed to feed lite parrots, holding the fir-cones in one claw. On the 16th of August, the same year, four crossbills were thence sent to me, where they still continued in considerable numbers. I cannot hear of their occurrence anywhere else, except in the neighbouring demesne of Kilcommon; two more were sent to me early in September, but like the others, were much damaged, as, in consequence of their tameness, the person who shot them fired from too short a distance. They appeared to be adult males; males passing from the red state into the adult; young males just getting a few red feathers; and females (?), in the brownish-grey state: they seemed to be moulting rapidly. On the 11th of January, 1839, they were still to be seen at Ballibrado, where they have been all the winter, and when noticed about a week before, appeared to have paired. I am of opinion that they bred here last year, on account of their appearance very early, accompanied by a number of young, and from the destruction of the cones of the spruce-fir having been noticed throughout the year." On the 18th of May, 1889, my correspondent transmitted the skins of two specimens for my examination and remarked,—"from ten to twenty crossbills have remained all the winter, and up to the present time at Ballibrado, but, though some search was made, no nest was discovered. About five or six weeks since, two or more clutches of young birds were seen accompanying the old ones, who were observed feeding them. The young bird sent was shot in the act of taking food from an old male; I received it early in April; the other bird sent varies a little in colour from most specimens, and was shot about three weeks before that time. The young one had every appearance of a nestling, feet soft and weak, bill not strong, and a great number of the large feathers not fully produced.*" On the 18th of July of the same year, it was stated that crossbills had not been seen at Ballibrado for two months.
* My informant states, that about thirty years ago crossbills came "in thousands" to the plantations at Dumfries House, in Ayrshire, the seat of the Marquis of Bute, "and did not leave a cone upon the firs." The year 1821 is probably alluded to, as these birds are reported to have been then particularly numerous in other parts of Scotland, and some parts of England. Mr. Macgillivray (British Birds, vol. i. p. 425), gives a most graphic account of a flock of some hundreds he met with in the east of Scotland, feeding upon the fruit or seed of the mountain-ash (Pyrus aucuparia).
Notes on the plumage, and sometimes full descriptions from the recent specimens which came under my examination, were drawn up; but it is sufficient to observe here, that they were in every state from that put on at the first moult, to maturity; by far the greater number were in the bright red plumage: one only, (that already noticed,) displayed the markings of the young previous to the first moult.
* This bird is of adult size: the head, back, and rump, or whole upper plumage, is yellowish green, with a dark olive centre to each feather, this dark marking occupying more of the feathers anteriorly than towards the tail; the entire under plumage is yellowish-white, with an olive-brown streak down the centre of each leather; tail and larger wing-feathers dark brown, with the outer margin yellowishgreen.—W. T.