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As the dunlin is a shore bird, it may be remarked, that this owl is occasionally to be met with along the grassy margin of Belfast bay.
Capt. Portlock, in the Proceedings of the Koyal Irish Academy (vol. i. p. 52), mentions, on information communicated to him by Serjeant Neely, collector for the Ordnance Survey, that these birds are regular autumnal visitants to the rabbit-warren at Magilligan, county of Londonderry, and have been seen at the entrance of the burrows, within which they retired when disturbed; more than one was shot on emerging from the holes, and one was taken in a trap placed at the entrance of a burrow, when making its exit thence. As remarked by Captain Portlock, this habit brings to mind the burrowing owl of America, Strix cuniculcvria. By naming this species, the chord is touched which bears the imagination to far distant regions, and is therefore extremely pleasing; but there does not seem to me any analogy between the two cases. It is the general and natural habit of the American bird to live and breed within the burrows of the marmot, in the neighbourhood of the Rocky mountains; while we can only regard the S. brachyotus as a mere accidental tenant of the deserted dwelling of the rabbit in a particular locality.
A serjeant, who had been attached to the Ordnance Survey, informed me, that he saw a white owl also fly into a rabbit-hole at Magilligan, and by means of a trap, the bird was captured when coming out.
Dublin (1772), applies better to the short-eared, than to any other species of British owl:—" Owls are useful about stacks of corn, to destroy the mice, and the more necessary, as these are great breeders. They were of singular use to the inhabitants of Kent, and marshes of Essex, A.D. 1581, when they had a sore plague of strange mice suddenly covering the earth, and gnawing the grass-roots, which poisoned all herbage, and raised the plague of murrain among cattle grazing on it; no wit or art of man could destroy these mice, until another strange flight of owls came and killed them all."
A like observation is given us from Market-Downham, in the London Magazine, 1754, where we are told that the parishioners pay almost the same veneration to the Norway owls, \Strix brachyotus f ] as the Egyptians did to the Ibis, and will not at any rate annoy them, on account of their coming to them and destroying the field-mice, with which they are infested commonly once about six or seven years, and which otherwise, like locusts, would devour their corn of every kind. Young owls are eaten in Norfolk, and it is a proverb among them, as tender as a boiled owl.
THE WHTTE, OE BAEN OWL.
Stria: flammea, Linn.
Is the most common species, and takes up its abode in towns, as well as in country districts.
Where there is much old timber, the long-eared owl may be as frequent as this species; but throughout Ireland generally, the numbers of 8. flammea doubtless greatly prevail. It is said to be the only species of owl known in the island of Eathlin, and to be very rare.* Both this and the long-eared owl, which were once plentiful in the plantations at Springvale, county of Down, are said to have almost entirely disappeared of late years, without any apparent cause, although the greatest protection was always afforded to them.
I have had the following evidence of the white owl's regular flight to some distance from its domicile, just as twilight commences. Near Belfast, there is a considerable extent of low-lying meadows which are flooded by heavy rains, and at such times are resorted to by various species of wild-fowl (Anatida). The flood never attaining such a height as to cover the banks surrounding these meadows, they are frequented by persons for the purpose of shooting the wild-fowl on their evening flight, and to whom the owl, on as "murderous deeds intent/' occasionally falls a victim. It at first occurred to me that the owl's visit might be consequent on the flood having driven the rats, mice, &c, on which it preys, from the meadows to their banks, where, as the only place of refuge, these animals would be more than usually abundant; but I since ascertained that the owl equally haunts them when the flood is gone. I have seen it flying towards these grounds from the distance of nearly a mile.
This species builds its nest in the ordinary site, old houses, &c, about Youghal.t The family at Castle Warren, near Cork, were much alarmed on one occasion by hearing a loud snoring noise, like that made by a man after a day's hard labour, proceeding from one of the chimneys, and all apprehension was not dispelled until owls of this species, which had a nest there, were discovered to be the snorers. The young have been seen in the evening flying to the battlements of the castle, where they kept up a snoring noise, until the old birds came and fed them.* In the county of Wexford, its nest has been found in a hollow tree.t The white owl is a well-known visitor to the dove-cot,—though not with the evil intent commonly imagined,—and in such a place, or rather a loft appropriated to pigeons in the town of Belfast, an observant friend informs me that a pair once had their nest, containing four young, which were brought up at the same time with many pigeons. The nests containing the latter were on every side, but the owls never attempted to molest either the parents or their young. As may be conjectured, this owl's nest was frequently inspected during the progress of the young birds. On the shelf beside them, never less than six, and as many as fifteen mice and young rats have been observed (no birds were ever seen), this too being the number left after their night's repast. The parent owls, when undisturbed, remained all day in the pigeonloft. Mr. Waterton, in an admirable essay on this species, strongly urges the great good it does by the destruction of mice and allied vermin; as Sir William Jardine, in his full and excellent account of it, does also. J In St. John's Wild Sports of the Highlands, the great service rendered to the farmer, &c, by owls, is likewise fully expatiated on, p. 66-67. The localities, indeed, in which we chiefly find this species in towns, bear circumstantial evidence of this fact. These are, to my own knowledge, grain stores, breweries, &c, wherever mice and rats particularly abound.
* Dr. J. D. Marshall. t Ball.
Of the stomachs of four white owls examined by me, one contained the remains of rats; another, of mice; a third was filled to distension with portions of eight mice; and the fourth exhibited only an imperfect coleopterous insect of the family Harpalida, which could not when perfect have exceeded nine lines in length. A friend, too, on examining the pellets cast by these owls, has often, in addition to the fur and bones of rats and mice, perceived the wing-cases of beetles shining through them. The remains of birds he never detected. Mr. Ball has taken nine mice from the stomach of one of these owls. A thrush and sparrows, together with field-mice, have been found in one of their larders ;* but it is probably in the absence of other prey that any of the feathered tribe are attacked. Once, however, I knew a tame one kill a full-grown lapwing (Vanettus cristatus), its only constant companion in a spacious garden.
* Mr. Robert Warren, junr.
t Mr. J. Poole. See Jardine's Brit. Birds, vol. i. p. 254.
% Brit. Birds, vol. i. p. 256.
A white owl, kept for upwards of a year in a friend's house, was from the first kindly disposed to the servant who fed it, but pugnacious towards its master, instantly striking with its talons at his finger when placed against the cage; but he rather taught it to do this, that its expertness might be witnessed. When spoken to by any one, it returned the recognition by most grotesquely moving from one leg to the other on its perch, accompanied at the same time by a bow or inclination of the head sideways. It screamed greatly during the night. Standing with one leg drawn up, and the entire foot concealed in the plumage, the white owl has a most singular appearance. Mr. Ball has known one that escaped from a place in which it was for a few days confined, return to it again after a short interval, a voluntary prisoner.
The ruins of Biome are, as may be supposed, a fine locality for the white owl. From the Coliseum, tomb of Cecilia Metella, &c, I have startled it from its mid-day repose.
THE TAWNY OWL.
Symium aluco, Linn, (sp.)
stridula „ (sp.)
Strix „ „
If included at all in the Irish Fauna, must be considered extremely rare.
It is enumerated in the lists of birds published in several of the Statistical Surveys of counties, and in other catalogues, but in such a manner as to be unworthy of record here. It never occurred to Mr. Templeton, nor have any of my ornithological friends or correspondents met with a specimen. The only notice which seems authentic, is that published in the 1st volume of the Annals of Natural History, p. 156, to the following effect:—That in Feb., 1838, Mr. Adams, gamekeeper at Shane's Castle park, assured me of a specimen having been killed there, within the preceding few years. From the circumstance of my informant having served in the capacity of gamekeeper in England, before coming to this country, he became acquainted with the species, which he correctly described to me under the name of "brown owl." The gentleman who, in the Zoologist for June 1848, (p. 2141,) and Saunders' News-letter of the 9th of that month, noticed the tawny owl as having been obtained in the Queen's county, mentions, in a letter to me, that he was mistaken respecting the species.
Mr. Macgillivray remarks, that "in the northern parts of Scotland this species is seldom, if ever, met with; but in the wooded portions of the middle and southern divisions, it is more frequently obtained than any other, excepting the long-eared and barn owls," vol. iii. p. 442.
THE SNOWY OWL.
Surnia nyctea, Linn, (sp.)
Is a very rare winter visitant.
It is said to have been met with in 1812 and 1827.* Specimens killed in two winters only—1834-35, and 1837-38—have come under my own examination. To what I have already pub
* To Mr. J. Poole, I am indebted for the following note:—Mr. B. Vicary, of Wexford, when residing at Kilmore, on the south coast, in 1812, near an extensive rabbit-burrow, was told on the first day of the shooting season that year, of a very large, white, extraordinary looking bird being perched on a fence at a short distance from the house. It remained on the spot until seen in staring majesty by that gen