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county of Wicklow. My informant knew the. species of birds so well, that the individual in question must doubtless have been either the Faho subbuteo or F. rwfipes; probably the latter, as a flight of them appeared in England that year.
Very few specimens of F. ruffes,—a native chiefly of the more eastern half of temperate Europe,—have been taken in England, and the first on record, was procured in 1830. Their second appearance in that country was in 1832, in which year the first mentioned specimen was obtained in Ireland. The species has not been met with in Scotland.
Falco ossalon, Gmel.
Is indigenous both in the north and south of the island.
It breeds about Claggan, in the county of Antrim; and its nest, as well as that of the marsh and hen harrier, has been found on the ground, among the heath, by the gamekeeper in various years. On the Mounterlowney and other mountains of Londonderry and Tyrone, some of my sporting friends have met with their nests, and young birds have been brought thence to Belfast, to W. Sinclaire, Esq., who in due time trained them to the pursuit of larks and snipes. In Donegal, the merlin is occasionally met with in summer, but more commonly in winter, on and after the first week of October.* The intelligent gamekeeper at Tollymore Park (Down), states that this species breeds regularly in the mountains of Mourne, where, in the summer of 1836 (when the information was supplied), he saw four of their nests. The young have frequently been brought from the neighbourhood of Clonmel (Tipperary), to Mr. R. Davis, jun., of that town; as they have likewise been from the vicinity of Youghal (Cork) to Mr. R. Ball. A nest "in the Commeragh mountains (Waterford) was merely a slight depression in the peaty soil, arched over with heather, and situated on the edge of an enormous detached rock, near the foot of the mountain ."t The species is common in Kerry* There can be little doubt of the merlin's frequenting, generally, the mountainous parts of the country suited to it. The nests, by all who had seen them, were said to have been invariably on the ground among the heath.t This species, though breeding regularly in the south of Ireland, is said to be rare, and only seen in winter in the southern English counties of Devon
* Mr. J. V. Stewart. f Mr. J. Poole.
At the approach of winter, both the adult and immature merlins descend to the low grounds, where they sometimes remain until spring is far advanced. The 10th of September is the earliest date of its occurrence, to an accurate observer, in the more cultivated districts of Wexford. About Belfast, I have known it to appear so early as the end of July; and so late in spring as the 17th of April. There may not improbably be a limited migration of merlins to our lower grounds at the beginning of winter, more, I think, being seen during this season than are bred in Ireland.
Mr. Poole communicated the following note, dated March 7 th, 1848:—"A merlin has taken up his residence in a small grove near my house during the past winter, and at any time after dusk I can be sure of finding him there, generally in or near the same tree. He is remarkably tame, and on being startled, merely flies into a neighbouring tree; even after firing two barrels at him, he pitched again in the same grove. I once took, as I believed, a most deadly aim at this bird in the dusk, and on going to the base of the tree to pick him up as a matter of certainty, was astonished to find that he had never left the spot at which he was fired at, but remained quietly perched there, about twelve or fifteen feet above my head, apparently in the quiet enjoyment of his night's repose. After some time he seemed to awake from his slumbers, and, discovering my intrusion, quickly decamped." The same gentleman remarks, that a merlin which he once saw attacked by a number of swallows, was by no means satisfied to put up with their insults tamely, as a kestrel or a sparrow-hawk would have done, but darted about after the tormentors, and descended upon them from above in so furious a manner as quickly to put them to flight.
* Mr. T. F. Neligan. t Temminck notices the merlin as breeding in trees, and Mr. Hewitson, when in Norway, had the eggs brought to him from a tree; he subsequently found one of their nests himself, near the top of a tall spruce fir. In Dunn's Ornithologist's Guide to Orkney and Shetland, (published in 1837,) it is stated, that "like the peregrine, it chooses th* most inaccessible parts of the rocks for breeding places," p. 75. The merlin and peregrine falcon were the only species of hawks met with by the author in those islands.
t Tarrell, Brit. Birds.
On March the 9th, 1832, when walking on the shore of Belfast Bay, as the tide was flowing, I observed a merlin for some time coursing above the uncovered banks, the edge of the waves being the limit to his flight. This at once led me to believe he was in search of prey, which was confirmed by his giving chase to a large flock of dunlins (Tringa variabilis), in pursuit of which he disappeared. The oldest of the "shore-shooters" in Belfast Bay has often seen hawks, which were believed to be merlins, follow and kill dunbns on the banks at low water. This occurred more frequently in the autumn than at any other season. The merlin's thus resorting to the sea-shore has very rarely been noticed by authors: the weather was mild in the instances alluded to.* Another shooter since assured me, that he has frequently seen the meriin in autumn, and early in winter, about the beach of the bay, sometimes even daily during a week. Its visits are, he bebeves, for the purpose of obtaining wounded birds; but he has likewise seen it single a dunlin from a flock and pursue it, though not always with success. In one instance, he shot a merlin in the act of destroying one of these birds. The black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), too, he has seen pursued, though not killed, by hawks here; but the assailants of that bird, be remarks, may have been peregrine falcons. The merlin is occasionally seen perched on large stones, which rise above the waters of the estuary.
* Mr. Dunn, in his little work on Orkney and Shetland, already alluded to, remarks of the merlin:—" I have frequently shot it from my boat, while in the act of chasing small birds on the water," p. 75. In the 3d vol. of his History of Brit. Birds, p. 322, published iu 1840, Mr. Macgillivray mentioned his having shot a merlin at Musselburgh, that had just secured a sanderling, after along pursuit. It is the only sherebird noticed in the work as pursued by this hawk.
A person fishing in the bay, at the end of October, 1840, when about a quarter of a mile from the shore, saw a redshank pursued by a hawk (merlin ?) dash into the water, so as almost to conceal itself beneath the surface. The hawk then rose into the the air and soared,
"And the merlin hung in the middle air
With his little wings outspread,
while the redshank sought to make its escape; but so often as this was done, it was "put down" in a similar manner. Thus the two birds went out of sight, leaving the result of the chase unknown. The cry of the redshank is described to have been most piteous.
A gentleman residing at Moyallen (county of Down), who has merlins trained for the chase, frequently flies them at tame pigeons, which they kill well. Mr. W. Sinclaire has remarked to me, that when living prey was given to his merlins, they instantaneously extinguished life, whether or not they at the same time began feeding; while, under similar circumstances, the peregrine falcon has retained a bird in his grasp for some time, putting an end to its existence only when urged by hunger, though, like the merlin, when it did commence, the most vital part was invariably the first "entered upon." His sparrow-hawks, it need hardly be added, began feeding indiscriminately on any part of the living objects offered them.
The remains of food contained in four out of five merlins examined by me, were, in each, one small bird; in the fifth, were three skylarks.
The merlin breeds in the mountain-heaths at Aberarder, Inverness-shire, and has been observed in the low grounds there by the middle of August. To the 1st of October,—the time of my own departure in 1842,—I observed the species there; and about Megarnie Castle, in Perthshire, I have seen it on the 22nd of that month. One of these birds, brought to Mr. R. Langtry at the former locality, was captured in a cottage, which it entered by dashing through a pane of the window, in sparrow-hawk fashion, after a yellow bunting. This merlin was a female, as was another sent to him, which had been shot there, after having twice "put down" a ring-dove or wood-quest. This bird, though double its own weight, would have been killed at the second stoop, had not a sportsman, who witnessed the whole occurrence, shot the merlin, when in the act of seizing its prey.
Falco tinnunculus, Linn.
Is commoii and indigenous to suitable localities throughout the island.
The chosen locality for the eyrie of the peregrine falcon is always of such a nature as is suited to the kestrel, which we are almost certain to find there, be the place inland or marine; but much more humble cliffs than the larger bird would deign to occupy, are tenanted by the smaller one. Throughout the whole range of noble basaltic precipices in the north-east of Ireland, I have remarked the presence of the kestrel. Where there are no cliffs, its nest is placed in ruined buildings, church towers,* trees, and occasionally in pigeon-houses. This bird is but a poor architect. When trees are selected for its eyrie, the ruined nest of other species (generally of the magpie, or some one of the CorvicUe) is used for the purpose; and "among rocks or ruins it seems to make no nest, but lays its eggs on the natural or artificial floor."t A kestrel, after having been kept for four years at Castle Warren (co. Cork), laid eggs for the first time in April, 184-8, and when four were deposited in the nest, commenced sit
* The only place of this kind in the neighbourhood of Belfast, that I know to be selected for the purpose, is the tower of Ballylesson church, which alone, of the many edifices of this description in our populous neighbourhood, contains a set of musical bells. (Note of 1838.)
t Mr. J. Poole.