« AnteriorContinuar »
once as Sylvia cinerea. Unlike the Garden Warbler, the Whitethroat sings a good deal on the wing, sometimes returning to the branch it has just left, after the manner of a Tree Pipit, sometimes re-alighting elsewhere. The song, which is commenced on arrival, generally ceases early in the month of July. Its habits, and as Mr. Thompson says, the grotesquely earnest appearance which the erected crest, feathers, and distended throat impart when singing, render this bird one of the most interesting of our warblers. It seems to prefer the tallest and thickest hedgerows, where there are plenty of brambles and briars, and ditches which are choked with weeds and nettles. It does not keep, however, to the fields and lanes, but visits our gardens and orchards in company with its young to pilfer currants raspberries, and other fruit when ripe. The caterpillars to be found on the currant trees are favourite morsels with this bird, and we should not forget that if it takes a few currants it is also the means of saving a good many.
The nest of the Whitethroat is generally placed near the ground, amongst nettles or other rank herbage, and is constructed of dry grass-stems and horsehair. The eggs, usually five in number, are minutely speckled all over with ash-brown or ash-green, and spotted at the larger end with gray. I have watched an old Whitethroat bringing food to its young, and have been surprised to see in how short a space of time it contrived to find food and return to the nest. Sometimes it was impossible to see even with a glass what this food was, but at other times I could plainly discern a caterpillar wriggling between the mandibles.
r I ^HIS is not nearly so common a bird, nor "*- so generally distributed in Great Britain, as the last-named. It is confined more or less to the midland and southern counties of England, is very rare in Scotland, and unknown in Ireland. Mr. Rodd, in his " List of Birds" before quoted, says the Lesser Whitethroat is only seen, in Cornwall during the autumn migration, and then only occasionally at Scilly. In Wales it appears to be equally scarce (cf. More,. "Ibis," 1865,
p. 25), but it is possible that, from its general resemblance to the last-named bird, it may have been often overlooked. The respective measurements of the two species are as follows :—
Total length. Wing. Tarsus.
Common Whitethroat . 5-5 in. . 2-9 in. . #8 in.
Independently, however, of its smaller size, the Lesser Whitethroat may be distinguished by its black ear-coverts, and by the absence of the pale rufous edgings to the secondaries, which are so conspicuous in the larger species. The legs also are slate-coloured instead of yellowish-brown.
In haunts, habits, and mode of nesting the two species are very similar, and what has been said of one will apply almost equally well to the other. Both arrive also about the same time— namely, the third week in April; and by the end of August, when the young are strong enough to shift for themselves, they depart again southwards. Although the nests of the two species are very similar, the eggs of the Lesser Whitethroat have a much clearer ground-colour, and are never so profusely freckled as those of its congener. On the contrary, the spots of ash-brown, or ash-green, are almost always at the larger end, leaving the smaller end of the egg almost spotless.
The range of the Lesser Whitethroat southward is probably more or less identical with that of the Common Whitethroat. It is abundant in Spain in winter and early spring, but does not remain to breed there. In Malta, strange to say, it has only been recognised once; but in Egypt and Nubia, especially from Dendera to the First Cataract, it is very numerous in winter. Individuals of this species have been seen to alight on vessels in the Mediterranean, even when upwards of sixty miles from the nearest land, and thus its ability to migrate from Europe to Africa, and back, is sufficiently established. Eastward it penetrates to Lower Bengal, where, in the cold season, it is said to be not uncommon.