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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.
all the rocky islets on the west coast, extending to Haskeir Rocks, the Monach Islands, and St. Kilda. It will, in fact, take up its abode and rear its young on such places as are almost exclusively frequented by birds dependent on the sea for their daily subsistence, all that can be looked upon as an attraction being but an occasional patch of grass and a moist hollow, to remind it of the distant meadow where, perchance, it had its haunts the previous summer. I have observed it in the uninhabited islands of the Hebridean seas, and have heard it near the summit of Ailsa Craig, rasping its eerie cry after nightfall, as a rude lullaby to the Gulls hatching on the grassy verge of a precipice."
This is by no means the limit of its haunts northward and westward; for besides being found in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and the Faroe Isles, it actually visits Greenland, and on several occasions has been met with on the eastern coast of the United States, whither it must have travelled, doubtless, vid Greenland. A single instance is on record of its having been shot in the Bermudas,1 although this group of islands is distant from Cape Hatteras—the nearest point of the North American coast—about 600 miles. After this, English sportsmen need scarcely be surprised at its ability to cross the Channel.
Before the end of September it has commenced to migrate southwards on its way to its winter quarters in Algeria, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Palestine. It is said to be rare in Portugal, and seen on passage only in Spain, touching also at the Azores. It goes, however, much further south, as will be seen presently. Signor Bettoni includes it amongst the birds which breed regularly in Lombardy;4 and Messrs. Elwes and Buckley note it (" Ibis," 1870, p. 333) as found in Epirus and Constantinople. In Corfu it is met with sparingly in April and September, on its spring and autumn migrations.
1 Jones's " Naturalist in the Bermudas," p. 45.
2 "Storia Naturale degli Uccelli che nidificano in Lombardia," pt. xxxii. t. 91.