« AnteriorContinuar »
scarcity of the species. On the arrival of the hen birds the cocks soon pair, and assist in building, during which time, and during the time the hens are sitting, they are in full song. When the young are hatched the males leave off singing, and busy themselves in bringing food to the nest.
The song generally ceases before the end of the first week in June. Occasionally, however, I have heard a Nightingale sing on throughout June, but accounted for this by supposing that the nest had been robbed, and that the cock was singing while the hen hatched a second brood. Naturalists who live in London need not travel more than five miles from Charing Cross to hear the Nightingale in full song. Nay, a friend who is well acquainted with the note, has heard the bird frequently in Victoria Park; which is only two miles distant from the Bank of England, and on several occasions attentive observers have recognized the unmistakable notes of the Nightingale in the Botanical Gardens, Regent's Park, and in Kensington Gardens.
It is curious how wide-spread is the belief that the Nightingale warbles only at eve. The reason, no doubt, is that amidst the general chorus by day its song is less noticed or attended to. But that it sings constantly by day is a fact, of which we have satisfied ourselves repeatedly. Moreover, it is by no means the only bird to sing at night. The Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Woodlark, Skylark, and Thrush, may often be heard long after sunset; while the Cuckoo is frequently to be heard at midnight, and the Landrail constantly.
It would appear that of the large number of persons who profess a love for song birds very few, comparatively, have the ear to distinguish a song unless they can see the author of it. Hence it frequently happens that they listen to a Thrush or Blackcap in the early spring, and immediately inform their friends that they have heard the Nightingale weeks before it has reached this country.
Many poets have perpetuated the odd belief that the mournful notes of the Nightingale are caused by the bird's leaning against a thorn to sing! Shakespeare, for example, in his “ Passionate Pilgrim,” says:
“Everything did banish moan,
That to hear it was great pity.” These lines, by the way, although generally attributed to Shakespeare, and included in most editions of his poems, were written, it is said, by Richard Barnefield in 1598, and published by him in a work entitled “Poems in divers humors." Shakespeare's Lucrece, however, invoking Philomel, says:
“And whiles against a thorn thou bear'st thy part To keep thy sharp woes waking." Fletcher speaks of
“The bird forlorn, That singeth with her breast against a thorn."
1 See Ellis's “Specimens of the Early English Poets," vol. ii. p. 356.
- And Pomfret, writing towards the close of the seventeenth century, says :
“ The first music of the grove we owe
The origin of such an odd notion it is not easy to ascertain, but I suspect Sir Thomas Browne was not far from the truth when he pointed to the fact that the Nightingale frequents thorny copses, and builds her nest amongst brambles on the ground. He inquires “whether it be any more than that she placeth some prickles on the outside of her nest, or roosteth in thorny, prickly places, where serpents may least approach her ? ”l
In an article upon this subject published in the “ Zoologist ” for 1862 (p. 8029), the Rev. A. C. Smith has narrated the discovery on two occasions of a strong thorn projecting upwards in the centre of the Nightingale's nest. It cannot be doubted, however, that this was the result of accident rather than design ; and Mr. Hewitson, in his “ Eggs of British Birds,” has adduced two similar instances in the case of the Hedge Sparrow.
1 Sir Thos. Browne's Works, Wilkin's ed. vol. ii. p. 537.
The nest of the Nightingale is a very looselymade structure, composed for the greater part of dead leaves, and placed upon a hedge bank, generally at the root of some stout shrub or thorn. The eggs, usually five in number, are, like the bird itself, of a plain olive-brown colour. The young Nightingales are spotted like young Robins, having the feathers of the upper portions of the plumage tipped with buff colour. In some respects the Nightingale assimilates very much in habits to the Robin; and advantage has been taken of this in localities where the Nightingale is unknown to introduce its eggs into the nests of Robins, with a view to having the young reared in the neighbourhood, and so induced to return to it. But although, as regards hatching and rearing, the plan has been successful, the birds have never returned