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And Pomfret, writing towards the close of the seventeenth century, says:
"The first music of the grove we owe
The origin of such an odd notion it is not easy to ascertain, but I suspect Sir Thomas Browne was not far from the truth when he pointed to the fact that the Nightingale frequents thorny copses, and builds her nest amongst brambles on the ground. He inquires "whether it be any more than that she placeth some prickles on the outside of her nest, or roosteth in thorny, prickly places, where serpents may least approach her ? "l
In an article upon this subject published in the "Zoologist" for 1862 (p. 8029), the Rev. A. C. Smith has narrated the discovery on two occasions of a strong thorn projecting upwards in the centre of the Nightingale's nest. It cannot be doubted, however, that this was the result of accident rather than design; and Mr. Hewitson, in his " Eggs of British Birds," has adduced two similar instances in the case of the Hedge Sparrow.
1 Sir Thos. Browne's Works, Wilkin's ed. vol. ii. p. 537.
The nest of the Nightingale is a very looselymade structure, composed for the greater part of dead leaves, and placed upon a hedge bank, generally at the root of some stout shrub or thorn. The eggs, usually five in number, are, like the bird itself, of a plain olive-brown colour. The young Nightingales are spotted like young Robins, having the feathers of the upper portions of the plumage tipped with buff colour. In some respects the Nightingale assimilates very much in habits to the Robin; and advantage has been taken of this in localities where the Nightingale is unknown to introduce its eggs into the nests of Robins, with a view to having the young reared in the neighbourhood, and so induced to return to it. But although, as regards hatching and rearing, the plan has been successful, the birds have never returned to the place of their birth. For some inexplicable reason, a limit appears to be set to the migration of the Nightingale, which has no parallel in the case of other migrants.
As autumn approaches it moves southwards towards the Mediterranean, and spends the winter months in North Africa, Egypt, and Asia Minor. We cannot help thinking that the Nightingale and many other birds which visit us in summer and nest with us,.must also nest in what we term their winter quarters; otherwise it would be impossible, considering the immense numbers which are captured on their first arrival, not only in England, but throughout central and southern Europe, to account for the apparently undiminished forces which reappear in the succeeding spring.
The late Mr. Blyth, however, was of a different opinion. Criticizing the above remarks, he wrote :—
"The only birds known to me that breed in their winter quarters are two species of Sandmartin (Cotyle riparia and C. sinensis). In India I have been familiar enough with birds in their winter quarters, and have no hesitation* in asserting that migratory species (with the remarkable exceptions named) do not even pair until they have returned to their summer haunts. Were they to do so, I could not but have repeatedly noticed the fact, and must needs have seen very many of their nests and young."
To my suggestion that from Mr. Layard's observation of young birds there, the Common Swallow, H. rustica, probably breeds at the Cape during the season that it is absent from the British Islands, Mr. Blyth replied:—
"According to my experience of Hirundo rustica (and I have had the best opportunities for observation), it decidedly does not breed in its winter quarters. Some birds of this species, which pass their non-breeding season within the tropics, may migrate south instead of north, and breed in the summer of the southern hemisphere instead of that of the northern hemisphere; but there is no reason to suppose that they are the same individuals. Were it so, the Cape colony would indeed be flooded with Hirundo rustica. Besides, these birds renew their plumage (as the Cuckoo likewise does) when in their winter quarters; whereas the Sand-martins (Cotyle), as I am all but sure from recollection, resemble the great majority of our summer migrants in moulting before they take their departure equatorward. That our British Sand-martin (C. riparia) breeds in Egypt during the winter months is noticed in the 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society' for 1863 (p. 288), and that its ordinary representative in India and the countries eastward (C. sinensis) does the same I can vouch from personal observation, having myself taken both eggs and young about the turn of the year from their burrows in the banks of the Hugli; while Mr. Swinhoe noticed their breeding when in their winter haunts, in the 'Ibis' for 1863, p. 257, and 1866, p. 134."