« AnteriorContinuar »
Tj^OLLOWING closely in the wake of the "■" Cuckoo, if not occasionally preceding it, comes the Wryneck, or Cuckoo's-mate, as it is popularly called from the habit referred to. In some respects it is a very remarkable bird, for not only is its appearance quite unlike that of any other of our summer migrants, but its actions and habits are also totally different. In size no larger than a Skylark, it at once attracts attention by the beauty of its plumage which, although of sombre hue, is prettily variegated with greys and browns of different shades, here and there relieved with black. The under parts, of a soft grey inclining to yellow, are transversely bound with delicate wavy lines. Although for the purpose of comparison, this species may be likened in point of size to the familiar Lark, its structure and habits fit it for a very different mode of life. It is a scansorial or climbing bird, like the Woodpeckers, with toes directed two in front and two behind; hence the term yoke-footed, which has been applied to the particular group of birds in which it is included. The genus to which this bird belongs has generally been associated with the genus Picus, to which it undoubtedly bears some affinity. The extensibility of the tongue is the chief character which they have in common, but in the one the extremity is barbed, in the other it is smooth. The fourth toe in the Woodpecker is directed somewhat outwards and backwards, whereas in the Wryneck its natural position is directly backwards, parallel to the first. The bill of the latter more nearly resembles that of Picus than that of Cuculus, although it is not wedge-shaped at the point. On the other hand the tail has no resemblance to that of the Woodpecker. The genus Jynx, therefore, seems to stand between these two genera and to form as it were their connecting link.
The colour of the plumage so closely assimilates to that of the bark and boughs of trees, that it is often difficult to detect the bird when in close proximity to such surroundings. But although the Wryneck may be considered as strictly a woodland bird, adapted by its peculiar structure to climbing the boles of trees and probing the interstices of the bark for lurking insects, it nevertheless finds a considerable portion of its food on the ground, and it especially affects the neighbourhood of ant-hills, where it preys largely on those insects and their larvae. In this employment its remarkable tongue, like that of the Woodpecker's, is of great service. It is long and slender, with a horny point, and is capable of being protruded for more than twice the length of the head, in consequence of the extreme elongation of the two branches of the flexible or hyoid bone, as it is termed, which supports the tongue, curling round at the back of the head, dividing and passing over each eye, at the forehead, where the branches reunite and extend to the base of the upper mandible. Two long salivary glands, situated beneath the tongue, open into the mouth by two ducts, and secrete a viscid fluid which covers the tongue, and thus causes ants, larvse, and other small insects forming the food of this species to adhere to it. Where the soil is loose the tongue is thrust into all the crevices to rouse the ants, and for this purpose the horny extremity is very serviceable as a guide to the tongue. The peculiar habit which the bird has of twisting the neck with a slow undulatory movement, like that of a snake, has obtained for it the name of Wryneck, not only in England but throughout the continent, wherever the bird is known.
Although common in the southern and southeastern counties of England, the Wryneck is only partially distributed in the British Islands, and the limit of its geographical area is almost coincident with that of the Nightingale before noticed. In the western and northern counties of England, as well as in Wales, it is comparatively a scarce bird; in Scotland it is very rare, and in Ireland quite unknown. Its arrival in April .is speedily announced by its loud and oftrepeated cry, which has been likened to the syllable—" dear, dear, dear, dear, dear," and which resembles, though less harsh, the cry of the Kestrel.
In its mode of nidification, the Wryneck resembles the Woodpeckers, selecting a hole in a tree wherein to deposit its eggs, which are six or seven in number, pure white, and laid with little or no attempt at a nest upon chips of decayed wood at the bottom of the hole. In about three weeks the young are hatched, and both parents take their turn at feeding them, bringing ants and their eggs in mouthfuls,