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Mr. Thompson says, in the work already quoted (p. 175), “In no part of Ireland have I seen the Whinchat numerous, and compared with the Stonechat it is very scarce.” In the south of Scotland, according to Macgillivray, it seldom makes its appearance before the end of April, that is, more than a fortnight after its arrival in England. It extends to Sutherland, Caithness, and the outer Hebrides (cf. More, “Ibis,” 1865, p. 22), and has occasionally been met with in Orkney, but not in Shetland. In winter it migrates to the south-east, and at that season is not uncommon in Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia, travelling also through Asia Minor, Arabia and Persia, as far eastward as the northwest provinces of India. In a south-westerly direction this species, passing through Spain and Portugal, proceeds down the west coast of Africa to Senegal, Gambia, and Fantee. The Whinchat differs a good deal in its habits from the Wheatear, and on this account, as well as on account of certain differences of
structure, it has been placed with the Stonechat and other allied species in a separate genus (Pratincola). It is doubtful, however, whether these differences are sufficient to entitle them to anything more than a specific Separation. The Whinchat perches much more than does the Wheatear, and may be seen darting into the air for insects, after the manner of a Flycatcher. It derives its name, of course, from the fact of its being found upon the whin, or furze, a favourite perch also for its congener the Stonechat. The derivation of the word while I have never been able to ascertain. Although the two species are frequently confounded, the Whinchat may be always distinguished from the Stonechat by its superciliary white streak, by the lighter-coloured throat and vent, and by the white bases of the three outer tail feathers on each side. Both species make a very similar nest, which is placed on the ground and well concealed, and lay very similar eggs, of a bright blue faintly speckled at the
S has been already stated, the Stonechat may be found in a few scattered pairs throughout the country all the year round. At the beginning of April, however, a considerable accession to its numbers is observed to take place, owing to a migration from the south and south-east. It takes up its residence on moors and heaths, and many a lonely walk over such ground is enlivened by the sprightly actions and sharp “choosé-chook” of this little bird. The male in his wedding dress, with jet black head, white collar, and ferruginous breast, is extremely handsome ; and the artist who is fond of depicting bird-life would scarcely find a prettier subject than a male Stonechat in this plumage upon a spray of furze in full bloom. In Ireland the Stonechat is considered to be a resident species, and this is attributed by Mr. Thompson to the mild winters of that island. In Scotland, on the contrary, Sir Wm. Jardine has observed that the Stonechat is not nearly so abundant as either the Whinchat or the Wheatear, and frequents localities of a more wild and secluded character. It ranges, however, to the extreme north of the mainland of Scotland, and is included by Dr. Dewar in his list of birds which he found nesting in the Hebrides. It is said not to breed in either Orkney or Shetland." The geographical range of the Stonechat is rather more extensive than that of the Whin
chat, for besides being found throughout the greater part of Europe to the Mediterranean, it goes by way of Senegal to South Africa, and extends eastward through Asia Minor, Palestine, and Persia, to India and Japan. In Europe, however, its distribution is somewhat remarkable, inasmuch as it is confined chiefly to the central and southern portions of the continent, and in Norway and Sweden is unknown. The Whinchat, on the other hand, breeds in these countries, and has been met with as far north as Archangel. In winter the male Stonechat loses the black head, and the colours in both sexes are much less vivid than in summer. Here again, as with the Wheatear, the change of plumage seems to be effected by a change of colour in the same feathers, and not by a moult.
Apropos of this subject, the reader may be referred to an article contributed by me to the Natural History columns of “The Field,” 16th September, 1871, on variation of colour in birds.