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Authors, generally, report the crossbill as arriving in Great Britain in June, but it has usually been a late autumnal, or a winter, visitant to Ireland, leaving the country again, early in the spring, like other birds of passage.* Mr. Yarrell's remark with reference to England, that crossbills " were more abundant during the greater part of 1836, 1837, and 1838 than was known for some years before,"—might it not be said, than was ever known before in three successive years?—applies to Ireland also, as shown in the preceding notes. In endeavouring to account for the cause of the more frequent visits of crossbills to the British Islands of late years, we should know in the first place, if any change has occurred in their metropolis, or the chief quarter whence they come; but, ignorant of this, we can only look at home, and see if there be any attraction for them now, that the country was deficient in before. Sir Wm. Jardine observes: "In the south of Scotland, at least, where an immense extent of young pine timber has been planted within thirty years, the crossbill has undoubtedly become more common, and we know now remains through the year."t In Ireland likewise, plantations including the Conifera, but above all, the larch, have greatly increased within the same period, and may be the means of prolonging the stay of crossbills, or inducing them to remain occasionally throughout the year. And as somewhat corroboratory of this, it may be remarked, that plentiful as these birds were in latter years, we have heard but little of damage done by them to orchards, as in earlier times, the seed of the Conifera having generally afforded abundance of food. Still, I cannot but think that the primary cause of theii more frequent migrations, must be looked for in their princial abode. A friend of excellent judgment, to whom this idea was mentioned, is, however, rather inclined to consider crossbills as a wandering tribe, having no proper home, but who pitch their tent, and take up their residence at a place just so long as it suits them, without contemplating a return to any particular region.
* The crossbill appears among the "Irregular Birds of Passage," in a paper by M. Duval-Jouve on the Migratory Birds of Provence, published in the Zoologist, for Oct. 1845. It is there stated, that "this bird is one of the first that arrives here from the north. It is at the end of June and beginning of July that the migration takes place. They are not seen every year, and a very long time often elapses between their visits. * * * They appeared abundantly in 1831, again in 1834, some few in 1837, and in great numbers in 1842. * * * I do not think these birds pass the Mediterranean; they remain too long in Provence to justify such a conclusion. We meet with them in the summer, sometimes even in the autumn, aud they disappear in the winter and spring to nestle I know not where. They sojourn in our large pine-forests."—p. 1115.
t Naturalist's Library, British Birds, vol. ii. p. 340 (1839).
I have not had the gratification of seeing crossbills in a wild state in Ireland; but early in September, 1837, my attention was directed to them by Mr. Selby and Sir "Win. Jardine, as they were on wing from one plantation to another, in the demesne at Twizell, and at Chillingham Park, Northumberland. On the 9th of Oct., 1847, when in a fine wood of oaks and beeches, adjoining the beautiful village of Southborough, near Tunbridge Wells, I was attracted by the peculiar call-note of some bird that I had not before heard, and discovered that it proceeeded from this species, one of which was seen perched on the summit of a tall oak tree: —its bill looked very large, from a considerable distance.
Bewick and Yarrell, in their respective histories of British Birds, treat us with entertaining and copious accounts of the appearance of crossbills in England in the olden time, when like a more potent enemy—" they were attacked with slings and crossbows," valiantly "never thinking of flying oft7 till some of them, stricken by stones, or apples, or leaden bullets, fell dead from the trees/' The grand point of view in which birds were considered at that period (1593), is not omitted to be mentioned, as in one account it is stated, that "their flesh was sufficiently savoury and delicate," and in the other, that "they were very good meate."
The Parrot Crossbill (Loxia pytioptittacus) is included in Templeton's Catalogue of Irish Birds, from the supposed occurrence of the species in one instance. A coloured drawing of the specimen, of natural size, was fortunately made by that accomplished naturalist. It represents the L. curvirostra with the point of the lower mandible not reaching beyond the profile of the upper. At the foot of the drawing, L, pytiopdttacus is followed by a note of doubt, which does not appear in the printed catalogue. The bird was shot by Bainey Maxwell, Esq., at Grenville, near Belfast, in May, 1802. Very few individuals of this species have been obtained in England or Scotland.
THE TWO-BANDED CROSSBILL.
European White-winged Crossbill.
Loxia Ufaseiata, Nilsson.
Has once been obtained.
The first notice of the occurrence of this species in the British islands, is that of Templeton, who communicated to the Linnean Society of London a note of one having been "shot at Grenville, near Belfast, January the 11th, 1802." An extract at p. 276, informs us, that the common crossbill was particularly numerous in the southern half of Ireland that season. M. Le Baron De Selys Longchamps, in his excellent "Faune Beige," is of opinion, that the bird called L. leucoptera, in works on British Ornithology, is instead the L. Ufaseiata, which has been until lately confounded with it: he describes the differences between them (p. 77), and figures the heads and bills of the two species. The latter has been obtained during winter, in Sweden, Germany, and Belgium: the former is a North-American species, which has been killed in England within the last few years.* As Mr. Templeton made a coloured drawing of the specimen, I was desirous that this should be seen by M. De Selys, on his visit to Belfast in the autumn of 1844, but unfortunately it had been taken by Mr; Robert Templeton, along with many other delineations and papers of his father's to Ceylon. The drawing has, however, by the kind attention of my friend just named, been since sent to me from that island, and proves the Irish specimen to have been the L. Ufaseiata, as described and figured by M. De Selys: it represents the bird of a greenish-olive on the head and back, with dark-brownish markings; rump yellow; tail-feathers blackish, bordered with yellow; entire under plumage yellow, with dark streaks; two conspicuous white bands across the wings, and the wing-feathers generally (but not all) tipped with white. The form of the bill is identically that of L. bifasciata.
* Noticed by Yarrell in the Zoological Proceedings, since the 2nd edit, of his Brit. Birds was published in 1845.
But few individuals of the white-winged crossbill have been obtained in England or Scotland.
Sturnus vulgaris, Linn.
Is common, and breeds in many parts of the island.
Montagu remarks of this species, that "many stay with us the whole year; but the vast flocks that are seen in severe winters probably migrate to this country [England] in search of food, and return northward in the spring. We have observed continued flights of these birds going westward into Devonshire and Cornwall in hard weather, and their return eastward as soon as the frost breaks up." Mr. Knapp observes that,—"towards autumn the broods unite and form large flocks; but those prodigious flights with which in some particular years we are visited, especially in parts of those districts formerly called the 'fen-counties/ sue probably an accumulation from other countries." The Bishop of Norwich, in his 'Familiar History of Birds,' gives as his opinion, "that they are partially migratory, quitting one part of the kingdom for another;" and Sir Wm. Jardine states, that "in many parts of Scotland where they do not breed, they are migratory, appearing in autumn and spring."
It is now many years since Mr. Templeton, in his valuable 'Naturalists' Report' published in the Belfast Magazine, called attention to the regular.migration of starlings into Ireland.
In that portion of the north of the island with which I am myself best acquainted, there is nothing irregular in the migration of starlings; they do not await any severity of weather; and although they may occasionally change their quarters when within the island, yet of all our birds, they present the clearest evidence of migration, as they are annually observed for several weeks to pour into Ireland from the north, and wing their way southward. To myself they have frequently so appeared, but I prefer giving the more full and satisfactory testimony of trustworthy and intelligent "shore-shooters," three of whom, being consulted, agree upon the subject. They state that the general autumnal migration of stares or stars* (as they are sometimes called) commences towards the middle or end of September, according to the season, and continues daily for about six or eight weeks. So early as the middle of July, a flock was once observed flying southerly in the autumnal course. When the weather is moderate, flocks consisting of from half-a-dozen to two hundred individuals, are seen every morning, coming from the north-east, passing over a point of land where a river enters Belfast bay about a mile from the town, and continuing in the same course until lost to view. They are generally seen only for one and a half, or two hours,—from eight to ten o'clock A.m.,—none appearing before the former hour, and rarely any after the latter, except when the wind is high, and then the flight is protracted until noon; if very stormy, they do not come at all. When they commence migration unusually late in the season, as was the case in 1838, they make up for lost time by an increase of numbers. Thus, they were first seen in that year on the 23rd of October, when they made their appearance at half-past eight o'clock A.m., and continued passing in flocks of from twenty to one and two hundred individuals, until two o'clock. At the season of their earliest appearance, there is daylight between four and five o'clock in the morning, and the fact of their not being seen before eight o'clock, leads to the belief that they have left some distant place at an early hour. On the same morning, the flocks all take the same line of flight, but the direction varies when the wind is sufficiently strong to affect their movements. Those which come within the hours already mentioned, very rarely alight; but when a flock
* Similar abbreviations are in common use among the dealers in birds (living and dead), in the north of Ireland; thus, in grey linnet, chaffinch, green linnet, &c, an economy of words is practised, and the first syllable alone is sufficient to indicate the species. In the same manner, I have in Perthshire heard the hooded or grey crow called simply huddy.