« AnteriorContinuar »
opinion, that I have frequently observed a horizontal movement.
Its mode of progression on the ground has been compared by the same observer to that of the Wheatear, “ for it neither walks nor runs," he says, “but advances by leaps.” I cannot, however, completely endorse this view, for I have frequently seen a Wheatear run, and at times very rapidly. “Unless on a wall, or on bare ground, however, it seldom hops much, for it procures its food chiefly by sallying after insects on the wing, or by alighting on the ground to pick up those which it has observed amongst the herbage, and on trees it flies from branch to branch."
Although generally distributed in England and Scotland, the Redstart is nowhere very common, being most plentiful, apparently, in the southern counties of England, and becoming rarer as we proceed northward. In Ireland it is scarcely known at all, and does not visit the Hebrides. On the Continent, however, it has a tolerably wide range, extending from Arch
angel throughout Scandinavia and the whole of Europe, except Portugal, to the Mediterranean, which it crosses to visit North Africa, Egypt, and Abyssinia for the winter season.
The haunts which it affects in this country are generally not far removed from human habitation, and it is not unusual to find the nest, containing five or six pale-blue eggs, upon a peach or plum-tree against a wall; upon a crossbeam of a summer-house ; or in a hole of a wall or tree, as opportunity may serve. The eggs are very similar to those of the Hedge Sparrow, but are invariably smaller and paler. It picks up most of its food, such as small beetles, spiders, and worms, on the ground; and its actions when thus engaged remind one more of the Robin than of the Wheatear, as Macgillivray thought. At other times it will sit upon an exposed branch, and dart forth into the air, like a Flycatcher, to secure a passing insect. Its song, though sprightly, is weak and seldom prolonged. It is generally poured forth from some bough or other “coign of vantage,” but is
occasionally uttered as the bird hovers on the wing, or flies from spray to spray.
Although a very shy bird, the Redstart occasionally takes up its quarters close to the house, and when once it has selected a site for its nest and hatched its young, it manifests such attachment for them as to allow a very near approach, and will even permit a visitor to stroke it as it sits upon the nest.
The beauty of its plumage, its sprightly and at times incessant song, and the good which it effects in ridding plants and fruit-trees of the green aphis, commend it to the notice and protection of all owners of gardens.
The Common Redstart has scarcely quitted our shores in autumn before its congener, the Black Redstart (Ruticilla tithys), arrives to pass the winter here, and occasionally even to linger on until the more familiar species returns again with the spring. But since it is properly regarded as a winter visitant to this country, any lengthened description of the species, and of its haunts and habits, would be out of place here. I shall therefore merely observe that it may be distinguished from the Common Redstart by the sooty-black colour of the breast and belly, which parts in the other are orange-brown, and that it generally arrives about the first week in November, and remains until the end of March or beginning of April.
The origin of the specific name “tithys" seems to be somewhat doubtful, although several ornithologists have attempted an explanation. Hemprich and Ehrenberg (“Symbolæ Physicæ,” fol. bb), and Von Heuglin (“Orn. NordOst Afrika’s,” i. p. 334) have referred it to tions, ultor, with which, however, in the opinion of Professor Newton (" Ann. Mag. Nat. History," Ser. 4, X. p. 227), it can have nothing to do. Professor Newton himself, in the magazine just quoted, and in a footnote to his edition of Yarrell's “ History of British Birds,” i. p. 333, writes: “Sylvia tithys (by mistake) Scopoli, Annus I. Historico-naturalis, p. 157 (1769). This naturalist admittedly took his specific name from Linnæus, who spelt the word 'titys' as did Gesner ; but the best classical authorities, Stephanus, Porson, and Passow, consider 'titis' to be right. This originally meant a small chirping bird, and is possibly cognate with the first syllable of our titmouse and titlark.” After the opinion expressed by such authorities, it may appear somewhat presumptuous on my part to offer a suggestion; but there is yet another explanation, which has apparently been overlooked. Might not the word “ tithys” (more correctly “ tithus") be derived from the Greek adjective τιθός, θή, θόν, which has the same signification as tibærós, that is,“ reared up in the house, domesticated.” Compare the domestic hens of Dioscorides, tobai