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"It would be futile to here enter into the controversy as to the expediency of exterminating or encouraging certain species of birds. Nothing but the temperate and deliberate consideration of an accumulation of well-authenticated facts will ever solve the difficulty. The following, however, seems worthy of record. About fifteen years ago the little village of Dale, in Unst, was much infested with sparrows, which, breeding abundantly in every possible situation, yearly assembled in large flocks at the time of the ripening of the corn. A newly arrived Methodist preacher, a Londoner, observing this, at once proceeded to explain to the inhabitants the nature of 'sparrow clubs,' and to urge upon them the necessity of losing no time in exterminating the whole of the mischievous race by every possible means. So implicitly were his instructions obeyed that for many successive years scarcely a grain of corn was touched, and the villagers were lost in admiration at the success of the experiment. Some time after his departure, on chancing to inquire how it happened that at Dale the potato crop was always a failure, although formerly the opposite was the case, I was informed that of late years 'the Lord had sent a storie' (worm) which destroyed the whole crop. Coupling this failure with the absence of sparrows, I asked and even entreated the people to try the experiment of allowing the poor birds to remain unmolested; but the proposal was merely received with the usual amount of head-shaking, and with the argument, which I did not attempt to refute, that a sparrow had never been seen to pick up a ' storie,' but that scores might be noticed upon any harvest day destroying the corn. Whether or not the people had become tired of persecuting the birds, I cannot say, but from thenceforward the sparrows were allowed to breed without molestation; and within two years from that time the potato crop was excellent, and it has continued so ever since, nor do the people complain of a smaller quantity of corn than during the time of the persecution."—P. 99.
The twite, or mountain linnet, is a great favourite of mine. It is cheerful, contented, active, neat and clean, and withal it is a comparative stranger in the land ofcockayne; therefore every scrap of intelligence we can gain respecting him is acceptable—indeed is received with gratitude. In October, 1863, Mr. Harting saw a solitary specimen on Harrow Weald Common, and in the following October several were taken near Kingsbury Keservoir. To see the twite in its native wilds, to watch it building its nest, to note its days of egg-laying, and to learn how it deports itself in its island home, is not a pleasure to be enjoyed by us dwellers in cities, and is reserved for those who are able to breathe the mountain air when and where they please. Dr. Saxby has enjoyed this privilege, and has enabled us to form a very good idea of the private life and domestic arrangements of the twite.
"One very favourite situation for the nest is under a long strip of turf which has been nearly reversed by the plough. In such a situation I once found the commencement of a nest, and derived much interest from watching the progress of the work. When one of the birds disclosed to me the site chosen for its future habitation, by flying out suddenly at my feet, I could perceive nothing more than a slight hollow which had been scraped beneath the turf, and although I frequently visited the spot in the course of the day, nothing more was seen of the bird until about twenty hours afterwards, when the pair began placing a number of fibrous roots in front in the form of a half circle, the back part of the cavity being left untouched. In a few hours' time some stalks of plants were added, and from four o'clock in the afternoon until noon next day the birds disappeared. They next laid the foundation of the other half of the circle, continuing steadily at their task until the structure was equal in height all round. They now appeared more eager to proceed, working so diligently that by the evening of the fourth day the mass of roots, grass and stalks of plants formed a perfectly circular wall an inch and a half in height and about two inches in thickness, somewhat loose and irregular upon the outside, but with the inside neatly interwoven and sloping rather suddenly to the bare patch of ground enclosed. On the morning of the fifth day I observed a few feathers upon the ground in the centre, and the number rapidly increased until the sides were covered more than half-way towards the brim; in the evening the feathers were almost concealed by a quantity of cow's hair, among which a little wool was intermingled. More work was done on that day than upon any other. Having often found rabbit's fur in the nest of the twite, I now procured a quantity of that material and strewed it over the ground, not too near lest it might cause suspicion. Although it was soon discovered, the birds were not quite contented, using it rather sparingly, and working it into a felt-like mass with wool and the hair of cows and ponies. This process appeared to be one of difficulty and to require great care, for it was not before the evening of the eighth day that the task was completed, the brim of the cavity being by that time neatly finished off with a few long black horse-hairs, and measuring exactly two inches and a quarter in diameter. On the ninth day the birds were not to be seen, but by the morning of the tenth day the first egg was laid. Every succeeding morning I found an additional egg until five had been laid, and the female began to sit. It is seldom that the lining of the nest touches the ground, as it did in this instance, a layer of fibrous roots, &c, being generally interspersed. I observed that the thickness of the lower part of the nest is greatest in those specimens which have been found in bushes far above the ground."—P. 109.
The raven is another species which we know only as a captive. Mr. Harting, who is our best authority on Loudon birds, does not record that he has ever seen one, but quotes Mr. Jesse's' Gleanings,' for a record of a pair having once bred in Hyde Park, a statement that I think must be received with caution. How different is the state of things in Shetland, where the raven is a migrant as well as resident: it is seen all the year round, but large numbers arrive every October in addition to those which are bred on the island. They feed on insects as well as carrion, and as many as forty have been observed within the space of a few acres, searching diligently for those larvae of Lepidoptera which feed on the roots of grass; but their chief food is certainly carrion, and a great attraction is the offal resulting from the annual slaughter of cattle in November. This, however, is not invariably the case.
"Sometimes they arrive without any apparent reason, but an unusual abundance of carrion is sure, by some mysterious means, to attract them from distant parts. A notable instance of this occurred during the third week of April, 1864, when a number of whales were driven ashore at Uyea Sound, and having been 'flinched,' were left to decay above high-water mark. Many of the ravens, if not most of them, must have been sitting upon their eggs at that time, and it therefore appears rather unaccountable that as night approached a considerable number of the gorged birds would flap across to the island of Uyea, where they would remain in safety until daylight enabled them to return to their horrid feast. The flock was continually added to by new arrivals, some of them coming to procure choice morsels either for'their young or for their sitting mates, and the numbers gradually increased until the 18th of June, after which day, the food being nearly all gone, the crowd of birds speedily began to lessen. On visiting the island of Uyea one evening about that time I was astonished to observe the edge of the cliff perfectly blackened with the ravens preparing to roost among the ledges. I heard several estimates of their number, but after making considerable allowance for exaggeration, felt satisfied that eight hundred would be very near the mark. Walking along the cliffs after they had retired, and shouting to bring them out, my brother-in-law fired and killed three at one shot as they flew from beneath—a previously unheard-of feat."—P. 122.
There is something horribly repulsive in the character of the raven, his hand seems lifted against every one and against every animal living or dead.. He kills and devours ducks and poultry; the half-starved- and enfeebled sheep he seems to consider his lawful prey: with his powerful beak he batters their heads, picks out their eyes, and feasts on the reeking entrails. The Shetland pony often shares the same fate, and calves dropped away from
SECOND SERIES—VOL. IX. 3 C
the homestead are certain to perish by his murderous assaults. We cannot wonder that in turn every one who has the power is his assailant: he has not a single friend, no one to palliate his misdeeds: even Dr. Saxby, the enthusiastic naturalist, compassed his destruction on all occasions; and well he might, for certainly the raven only lacked the opportunity to do the same by him.
"Some years ago I accidentally discovered a very successful method of shooting these birds, the only objection to it being the expenditure of time which it occasions. I was lying upon the heather, keeping my gun beneath mo to shelter it from a slight shower, when five ravens appeared in the distance, and, soon catching sight of me, began hovering and croaking overhead. Their curiosity was evidently excited, and they showed every desire to cultivate a closer acquaintance, but though I stirred neither hand nor foot, about half an hour passed without any further advance upon their part. Presently the profound truth dawned upon me that dead animals never move their eyes, and accordingly, to make the resemblance as complete as possible, I closed my own. Very shortly afterwards the birds began to wheel nearer, croaking louder than before, and occasionally alighting upon a distant hillock; and at last when they came within easy range I started up suddenly and killed two. Upon several other occasions I have shot them in a similar manner; but they would never come within reach either when the guu was exposed to view or when my eyes were open. Although so cautious in their dealings with mankind, they will fearlessly approach a pony, even when it is giving evident signs of life."—P. 126.
A dog and raven on a Shetland farm had long been sworn enemies; the raven was the aggressor; he continually annoyed the dog, and evidently trusting to his wings as a ready means of escape, seemed to taunt the dog with his inability to avenge the insult: the dog, after carrying on the war of words,—I mean growling, and snarling, and barking,—at length appeared to relinquish the hope of subduing his enemy, and therefore pretended utterly to disregard him.
f. "Seemingly in despair of ever being able to grapple with his enemy, the dog could never again be enticed to forget his own want of wings, and consequently the raven grew bolder and bolder, hopping along almost beneath his very nose, and sometimes even striking him with its claws. One day, however, as the dog was passing along a low turf-wall, the raven thought fit to repeat the performance, keeping most provokingly a little in advance, and occasionally varying the amusement with a croak or a sly pounce. The dog trotted along as briskly as usual, looking neither to the right nor to the left. Then the raven, making a short circuit, again assailed him from above, and, passing over his head, was about to alight deliberately upon the wall, when the .dog, making a mighty bound forward, seized his enemy by the wing, and tore him literally to shreds."—P. 127.
(To be continued.)
Notes on a Mongoose.
(Communicated by W. R. Hughes, Esq.)
If you remember, I promised to send you a report of our much admired little favourite Jenny; and so, to begin in the orthodox fashion, will say, Jenny, or rather our moongus, of the family Viverridae, named, according to naturalists, Herpestes griseus (and here, by the way of remark, if you will allow me to make an abominably ungrammatical pun, I can safely say Her (a) pest is), was born in India, carried to this island by a sailor, presented to a barber, who, to speak candidly, I believe was much alarmed at our little friend, and sold to me, with her cage, at the low price of one pound. When she came into our possession, now upwards of two years ago, I am free to confess she caused the household no small degree of concern, lest she might at some inopportune moment escape from her domicile, warily reach our beds at night, while we, unconscious of our fate, rocked in balmy sleep, should be quietly bled to death, as per the vampyre of old. By degrees, however, we became more familiar with our new acquisition, commencing at first, by dint of great care, to place a small collar round her neck, and lead her about with a string attached; but finding many symptoms of docility manifested, one or another would pick her up, stroke her head, and at last she was allowed to roam wherever she pleased.
Her colour, as you saw, is grayish brown, the hairs on the back very harsh, not sleek, as you would from appearance have judged; the head is smooth, nose pointed,—in fact, not at all unlike the ferret, save the tail, which is long and bushy (when excited), giving you an idea of the hen pheasant's tail; the feet are small, armed with powerful claws,and covered with small dark brown hairs; the ears short and rounded; the hairs have alternate bands, not altogether unlike the badger. Her length from end of nose to tip of tail