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T-?IVE species may be conveniently grouped '*- under the generic term Sylvia, or Fruiteating Warblers, and these, with one exception, visit Great Britain regularly in the spring. Two of them, the Blackcap and Garden Warbler, enjoy little more immunity from traps and birdlime than does the Nightingale. Their fine song marks them at once as the prey of the professional bird-catcher, and during the month of April immense numbers are taken daily. The Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat are also sought after as cage-birds, but not to the same extent, for their song is neither so musical nor so varied.
In no part of the country are these four species more plentiful than in the south-eastern counties of England; and the neighbourhood of the metropolis seems to have some special attraction for them. Far from shunning "the busy haunts of men," they appear to be nowhere more at home than in our gardens and orchards. The reason is obvious as soon as we become acquainted with their habits, and the nature of their food. We then discover that their motives are not so disinterested as we might suppose, since the real attraction is fruit. Upon this the parent birds live to a great extent; and after bringing up their young upon various kinds of insects which infest fruit trees—in which they unquestionably do us good service—they introduce their progeny at length to the more palatable pulp upon which they themselves have been faring so sumptuously. No wonder, then, that the large market-gardens of Kent, Surrey, and Middlesex should entice such numbers of these little birds to remain in their vicinity throughout the summer.
The Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilld) is the earliest of the genus to make his appearance, and seems to be hardier also than any of his congeners. Many instances are on record of Blackcaps having remained in this country throughout the winter, and this has been noticed as particularly the case in Ireland. It is rather singular that Mr. Yarrell, in referring to the sister isle, says that the Blackcap "has been taken, once at least, in the north of Ireland," as if he were of opinion that its occurrence there were doubtful, or at least extremely rare. Mr. Thompson, in his excellent "Natural History of Ireland" (vol. i. p. 183), notices the Blackcap as a regular summer visitant there; but he adds that it must be considered very local. In Scotland it is considered rare, being confined chiefly to the south; but since the observations were published from which these remarks are drawn, considerable changes seem to have taken place in the local distribution of many species of birds. This is notably the case with the Blackcap and Garden Warbler, both of which have followed cultivation, and now are found commonly in localities where twenty years ago they were either unknown or stated to be extremely rare.
The Blackcap, like the Nightingale, appears to migrate almost due north and south, and ranges from Lapland to the Cape. It is resident in Madeira, the Azores, and the Canaries, and is also found throughout the year in Northern Africa and Southern Italy. In the fine collection of African birds (Passeres and Picarice) belonging to Mr. R. B. Sharpe, I have seen a specimen of the Blackcap from Senegal. In Spain and Portugal it is found only on the migration in spring and autumn. Mr. Godman, in his interesting work on the "Natural History of the Azores," has described a curious variety of the Blackcap which is found in these islands, " having the black marking on the head extending to the shoulders and round under the throat," and he was informed that individuals were sometimes found with "the whole of the under parts of the body black." This variety appears to have been met with also in Madeira, from whence it was described by Heineken ("Zool. Journ." v. p. 75). A figure of it will be found in Jardine and Selby's "Illustrations of Ornithology," pi. 94.
However much observers may be deceived by song, there is no mistaking either sex of the Blackcap as soon as the bird comes in view The black crown of the male and the brown crown of the female suffice to distinguish the species amongst every other of our summer migrants. There is something very peculiar, too, about the half-hopping, half-creeping motions of all the Fruit-eating Warblers, which distinguishes them at once from other small birds frequenting the same haunts.
The males invariably arrive some days before the females; but both sexes seem to leave the country much about the same time—that is, early in September.