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and Middlesex should entice such numbers of these little birds to remain in their vicinity throughout the summer.
The Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) is the earliest of the genus to make his appearance, and seems to be hardier also than any of his congeners. Many instances are on record of Blackcaps having remained in this country throughout the winter, and this has been noticed as particularly the case in Ireland. It is rather singular that Mr. Yarrell, in referring to the sister isle, says that the Blackcap “has been taken, once at least, in the north of Ireland,” as if he were of opinion that its occurrence there were doubtful, or at least extremely rare. Mr. Thompson, in his excellent “Natural His
Blackcap as a regular summer visitant there ; but he adds that it must be considered very local. In Scotland it is considered rare, being confined chiefly to the south; but since the observations were published from which these remarks are drawn, considerable changes seem
to have taken place in the local distribution of many species of birds. This is notably the case with the Blackcap and Garden Warbler, both of which have followed cultivation, and now are found commonly in localities where twenty years ago they were either unknown or stated to be extremely rare.
The Blackcap, like the Nightingale, appears to migrate almost due north and south, and ranges from Lapland to the Cape. It is resident in Madeira, the Azores, and the Canaries, and is also found throughout the year in Northern Africa and Southern Italy. In the fine collection of African birds (Passeres and Picarie) belonging to Mr. R. B. Sharpe, I have seen a specimen of the Blackcap from Senegal. În Spain and Portugal it is found only on the migration in spring and autumn. Mr. Godman, in his interesting work on the “Natural History of the Azores,” has described a curious variety of the Blackcap which is found in these islands,“ having the black marking on the head extending to the shoulders and round under the throat,” and he was informed that individuals were sometimes found with “the whole of the under parts of the body black.” This variety appears to have been met with also in Madeira, from whence it was described by Heineken (“Zool. Journ.” v. p. 75). A figure of it will be found in Jardine and Selby's “Illustrations of Ornithology,” pl. 94.
However much observers may be deceived by song, there is no mistaking either sex of the Blackcap as soon as the bird comes in view. The black crown of the male and the brown crown of the female suffice to distinguish the species amongst every other of our summer migrants. There is something very peculiar, too, about the half-hopping, half-creeping motions of all the Fruit-eating Warblers, which distinguishes them at once from other small birds frequenting the same haunts.
The males invariably arrive some days before the females; but both sexes seem to leave the country much about the same time—that is, early in September.
The nests of all the species in the genus Sylvia, as compared with those of the finches and linnets, are slovenly and loosely-made structures ; and that of the Blackcap is no exception to the rule. The birds take some pains, however, to conceal it, and both male and female bestow a good deal of trouble upon it. It is generally placed a few feet from the ground, and is composed of dry bents, and lined with horsehair. The eggs, usually five in number, are white clouded with pale brown, and sparsely spotted with black towards the larger end. They closely resemble the eggs of the Garden Warbler, but differ in being smaller, and as a rule of a warmer tint; the pink or reddish-brown colour with which the eggs of the Blackcap are often suffused is not found in those of its congener. Both sexes take their turn at incubation, relieving one another to
on the nest, and then sit and sing to her. As to the song, it is simply delightful. I refrain, however, from attempting a description, for two
reasons. The attempt has been made very often, and mere verbiage can convey but a very faint notion of its nature. It must be heard to be appreciated. If I were asked the question, " How am I to know the song when I hear it?” I would reply, “ Approach the bird as slowly and as noiselessly as possible, until you can see the individual singing.” This is the only way to learn the songs of birds. The note of each species then becomes impressed upon the memory, and can afterwards be detected without hesitation when the bird is not in sight. To acquire this knowledge, however, of the songs of birds, one thing is necessary—an ear for music. This, unfortunately, cannot be imparted by teaching; and unless it exist as a gift of nature, the delight of music can never be experienced. There is this consolation, however, for those who are not musicians—they cannot feel so much the loss of a pleasure which they have never experienced.