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The nests of all the species in the genus Sylvia, as compared with those of the finches and linnets, are slovenly and loosely-made structures; and that of the Blackcap is no exception to the rule. The birds take some pains, however, to conceal it, and both male and female bestow a good deal of trouble upon it. It is generally placed a few feet from the ground, and is composed of dry bents, and lined with horsehair. The eggs, usually five in number, are white clouded with pale brown, and sparsely spotted with black towards the larger end. They closely resemble the eggs of the Garden Warbler, but differ in being smaller, and as a rule of a warmer tint; the pink or reddish-brown colour with which the eggs of the Blackcap are often suffused is not found in those of its congener. Both sexes take their turn at incubation, relieving one another to feed; but the male will often feed his partner on the nest, and then sit and sing to her. As to the song, it is simply delightful. I refrain, however, from attempting a description, for two
reasons. The attempt has been made very often, and mere verbiage can convey but a very faint notion of its nature. It must be heard to be appreciated. If I were asked the question, "How am I to know the song when I hear it?" I would reply, "Approach the bird as slowly and as noiselessly as possible, until you can see the individual singing." This is the only way to learn the songs of birds. The note of each species then becomes impressed upon the memory, and can afterwards be detected without hesitation when the bird is not in sight. To acquire this knowledge, however, of the songs of birds, one thing is necessary—an ear for music. This, unfortunately, cannot be imparted by teaching; and unless it exist as a gift of nature, the delight of music can never be experienced. There is this consolation, however, for those who are not musicians—they cannot feel so much the loss of a pleasure which they have never experienced.
THE ORPHEAN WARBLER.
'I ^HE Orphean Warbler, as its name implies, -*- is another noted song bird; but, though not uncommon in some parts of Europe and Asia, its claim to be included amongst our British warblers rests on very slender grounds. So long ago as July, 1848, a pair of this species were observed in a small plantation near Wetherby, and the hen bird was shot and forwarded to Sir William Milner, who informed Mr. Yarrell of the fact. On this single instance it was included by the last-named naturalist in his "History of British Birds." Since the last edition of that work was published (1856), there is reason to believe that the Orphean Warbler has occurred again at least on two occasions in England. In June, 1866, the late Sergeant-Major Hanley, of the 1st Life Guards, well known as a bird fancier, purchased a young warbler, which had been chased and caught by a boy near Holloway. Mr. Blyth, who saw it in the following December, pronounced it to be without doubt a female Orphean Warbler. As the bird when caught was unable to fly, it is evident that a pair must have nested in the neighbourhood. I have seen a nest and eggs which were taken in Notton Wood, near Wakefield, in June, 1864, which certainly appertained to none of our common warblers, and the eggs could not be distinguished from well-authenticated eggs of Sylvia orphea.1 Mr. Howard Saunders has reported a similar nest and eggs from East Grinstead. The eggs differ from those of the Blackcap and Garden Warbler in being white, spotted, chiefly at the larger end, with ash-grey. The bird may be briefly described as a large form of the Blackcap, exceeding it by half an inch in total length, and by a quarter of an inch in length of wing, the male having the black crown which characterizes our well-known songster, and resembling it generally in appearance. It differs, however, in having the bill shining black instead of horn colour, the under parts white instead of grey, the legs brown instead of slate colour, and the outer tail feathers margined with white instead of being uniformly grey. In habits and mode of life it assimilates, as might be expected, very much to the species with which we are so familiar. Those who have seen the nest, state that it is large for the size of the bird—a loose and open structure, rather shallow, and generally placed in a low bush near the ground. Mr. Yarrell has given very scanty information about this species, particularly as regards its geographical distribution, from which it might be inferred that very little is known of it. This, however, is not the case.