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The latest contribution on the subject is that of Mr. Gould, who in his splendid folio work on "The Birds of Great Britain," expressed himself a disbeliever in the popular story. He has since found reason to change his opinion, for in his recently published octavo "Introduction" to that work he says: "I now find that the opinion ventured in my account of this species as to the impossibility of the young Cuckoo ejecting the young of its foster parents at the early age of three or four days is erroneous; for a lady of undoubted veracity and considerable ability as an observer of nature, and as an artist, has actually seen the act performed [he seems to overlook the circumstance that others had previously seen it], and has illustrated her statement of the fact by a sketch taken at the time, a tracing of which has been kindly sent to me."
This tracing he has reproduced as an engraving in the "Introduction" referred to, and as he has been good enough to allow me the use of the wood block to illustrate the present remarks, the reader may consider himself in possession of a fac-simile sketch from nature.
The following is the account given by Mrs. Blackburn (the lady referred to) of the circumstance as it came under her observation :*—
"The nest which we watched last June, after finding the Cuckoo's egg in it, was that of the Common Meadow Pipit (Titlark, or MossCheeper), and had two Pipit's eggs, besides that of the Cuckoo.
"It was below a heather bush, on the declivity of a low abrupt bank, on a Highland hill-side, in Moidart. At one visit the Pipits were found to be hatched, but not the Cuckoo.
"At the next visit, which was after an interval of forty-eight hours, we found the young Cuckoo alone in the nest, and both the young Pipits lying down the bank, about ten inches from the margin of the nest, but quite lively after being warmed in the hand. They were replaced in the nest beside the Cuckoo, which struggled about till it got its back under one of them, when it climbed backwards directly up the open side of the nest, and hitched the Pipit from its back on to the edge. It then stood quite up
1 It would seem that this account was first published by Mrs. Blackburn, in what she terms "a little versified tale of mine," entitled "The Pipits," which appeared in Glasgow in 1872.
right on its legs, which were straddled wide apart, with the claws firmly fixed half-way down the inside of the nest among the interlacing fibres of which the nest was woven; and, stretching its wings apart and backwards, it elbowed the Pipit fairly over the margin so far that its struggles took it down the bank instead of back into the nest.
"After this the Cuckoo stood a minute or two, feeling back with its wings, as if to make sure that the Pipit was fairly overboard, and then subsided into the bottom of the nest.
"As it was getting late, and the Cuckoo did not immediately set to work on the other nestling, I replaced the ejected one and went home. On returning next day both nestlings were found dead and cold, out of the nest. I replaced one of them, but the Cuckoo made no effort to get under and eject it, but settled itself contentedly on the top of it. All this I find accords accurately with Jenner's description of what he saw. But what struck me most was this: The Cuckoo was perfectly naked, without a vestige of a feather, or even a hint of future feathers; its eyes were not yet opened, and its neck seemed too weak to support the weight of its head. The Pipits had welldeveloped quills on the wings and back, and had bright eyes, partially open; yet they seemed quite helpless under the manipulations of the Cuckoo, which looked a much less developed creature. The Cuckoo's legs, however, seemed very muscular; and it appeared to feel about with its wings, which were absolutely featherless, as with hands, the 'spurious wing' (unusually large in proportion), looking like a spread-out thumb. The most singular thing of all was the direct purpose with which the blind little monster made for the open side of the nest, the only part where it could throw its burthen down the bank."
Notwithstanding the objections put forward by sceptics, it is impossible, after reading the evidence of the above-named independent observers, to doubt that the young Cuckoo is capable of doing all that has been attributed to it in the way of ejectment. But it is still very desirable that some competent anatomist should examine and report upon the arrangement and development of the nerves and muscles, which must differ very considerably from those which are to be found at the same age in the young of other insessorial birds.