« AnteriorContinuar »
suggested that the bird hybernates. Writing' in the "Zoologist" for 1867, at page 679 he says : " I cannot divest myself of the belief that the Corncrake hybernates, notwithstanding my having found it repeatedly dead in the sea, both during autumn and spring, which many would say should prove migration to the most sceptical. I do not for one moment doubt that it leaves Ireland in numbers in the autumn, but where does it go? Does it hybernate where it goes to? Is it to be met with anywhere in numbers, flying or running, during our winter? Does it only crake in its spring or summer haunts? In support of hybernation, we have the great amount of fat, coming on in winter (Corncrakes often burst from fat when they fall on being shot), which all hybernating animals attain; the number of uninjured and healthy birds found in Ireland during winter, their peculiar skulking habits at this season, the old hollow ditches they frequent, their peculiar apathy and disinclination to fly, and their early appearance without 'craking' (I have seen
them in the middle of March) along the sedges of rivers, which would be the first places they would make for after their winter rest. I do not see why hybernation of birds is so much scouted, for scores of animals and millions of insects do so. Many fishes, too, become so torpid that you may fish for weeks and not get one, yet some fine day dozens of the kind you look for will reward your patience; still you have been told or read somewhere that that species migrates from our shores in autumn 'to seek more genial skies,' and that is why they are not caught in winter. The subject is very far from "being absurd, though many have considered it equally so with 'Corncrake turning to Water-rail.' I knocked down a ditch bank some years ago in January, and turned out three living Corncrakes, and ate them too. In the year 1861, during November and December, I used frequently to turn out of a particular hole one of these birds; I caught it at last one night in the hole—or nest I might say, for it was thickly bedded with leaves from a neighbouring dunghill, on which beech leaves had been thrown; but I let it go after some time—in honesty, not through kindness, but because I could not help it, for it could pass through any hole, almost, as Paddy used to say, 'as limber as a glove.' I could also state many instances of dogs chasing Corncrakes in winter to holes, and in one case remember how nearly I was summoned for tearing down a man's ditch bank 'in pursuit of rats,' as he said, though he had two eyes and saw the bird run from hole to hole. More learned men than he may have often thought the same thing. Hybernating, in my view, would not mean a dead, torpid state. I should consider it a sleepy, inactive state—a lying-up in cold weather, and a temporary arousing during genial days; and in this state I have met the Corncrake in winter."
Before one can accept the hybernation theory, however, some stronger evidence in its favour would be desirable—the discovery, for instance, of a Landrail in a torpid state from which it might be observed to recover. At present I do not remember to have heard of such an instance, and, so far as one's knowledge of the bird extends, it seems far more probable that it seeks holes in banks and old walls merely for shelter and warmth, in the neighbourhood of which it contrives to find sufficient nourishment to keep it alive, until such time as the increasing warmth of spring brings increase of insects and molluscous food. An examination of the alimentary system of the Water-rail (Rallus aquaticus) shows that this bird is no better fitted to withstand an English winter than its cousin the Landrail, and yet it is frequently found by sportsmen upon Snipe-ground at the height of the cold season. Its good condition too at this time testifies to there being a sufficient supply of food, which should be equally obtainable by the Landrail.
The nature of this food is miscellaneous— slugs and snails of several species, small freshwater mollusca, worms, leeches, beetles, the seeds of various weeds, and tips of grass blades; in addition to which the stomach is usually found to contain numerous small particles of gravel or grit as aids to digestion.1
In its search for this kind of food, the Landrail must traverse daily an immense tract of ground, for which, however, its strong muscular legs and large feet are well adapted.
For six months at least in the year it appears to be very generally distributed throughout the British Islands; and in Ireland, owing to the more humid climate and the general prevalence of meadow land, it is thought to be even commoner than in England. As regards Scotland, the latest authority on the subject, Mr. Robert Gray, in his "Birds of the West of Scotland," says: "There is, perhaps, no Scottish bird more generally distributed than the familiar Corncrake. It is found in every district, cultivated and uncultivated, on the western mainland, from the Mull of Galloway to Cape Wrath, and also over the whole extent of both groups of islands, and
1 A Landrail caught on Canvey Island, at the mouth of the Thames, lived in confinement on corn and water for a week, when it made its escape.