Imagens das páginas


(Ruticilla phcznicura.)

^* PRTGHTLY in its actions, and more vi**—* vidly coloured than many of our Summer Migrants, the Redstart cannot fail to attract attention in the districts which it frequents during its sojourn with us. It would be difficult, indeed, to find a more beautiful little bird than the male Redstart in his nuptial plumage. The pale grey colour of the head and back, relieved by a silvery white spot upon the forehead and a jet-black throat, contrasts strongly wkh the bright chestnut of the breast, upper tail coverts, and tail. From the bright colour of its tail, in fact, it has derived the name Redstart, which is simply the Anglo-Saxon equivalent for " Redtail." "Fire-tail," "Brand-tail," and "Quickstart," are other local names by which it is variously known. The last-named has reference to the singularly characteristic movement of the tail, which is rapidly flirted horizontally instead of vertically, as in the case of most other birds.

Upon this point, however, there seems to be some difference of opinion. Macgillivray, a high authority in such matters, observes, "As to the motion of the tail in this bird, which has supplied some observers with a subject of dispute, I am convinced that it is vertical—that is, up and down, and not alternately to either side, although at each jerk the feathers are a little spread out, as is the case with those of many other birds of this order, as the Stonechat and Whinchat." I feel sure, notwithstanding this opinion, that I have frequently observed a horizontal movement.

Its mode of progression on the ground has been compared by the same observer to that of the Wheatear, "for it neither walks nor runs," he says, "but advances by leaps." I cannot, however, completely endorse this view, for I have frequently seen a Wheatear run, and at times very rapidly. "Unless on a wall, or on bare ground, however, it seldom hops much, for it procures its food chiefly by sallying after insects on the wing, or by alighting on the ground to pick up those which it has observed amongst the herbage, and on trees it flies from branch to branch."

Although generally distributed in England and Scotland, the Redstart is nowhere very common, being most plentiful, apparently, in the southern counties of England, and becoming rarer as we proceed northward. In Ireland it is scarcely known at all, and does not visit the Hebrides. On the Continent, however, it has a tolerably wide range, extending from Archangel throughout Scandinavia and the whole of Europe, except Portugal, to the Mediterranean, which it crosses to visit North Africa, Egypt, and Abyssinia for the winter season.

The haunts which it affects in this country are generally not far removed from human habitation, and it is not unusual to find the nest, containing five or six pale-blue eggs, upon a peach or plum-tree against a wall; upon a crossbeam of a summer-house ; or in a hole of a wall or tree, as opportunity may serve. The eggs are very similar to those of the Hedge Sparrow, but are invariably smaller and paler. It picks up most of its food, such as small beetles, spiders, and worms, on the ground; and its actions when thus engaged remind one more of the Robin than of the Wheatear, as Macgillivray thought. At other times it will sit upon an exposed branch, and dart forth into the air, like a Flycatcher, to secure a passing insect. Its song, though sprightly, is weak and seldom prolonged. It is generally poured forth from some bough or other " coign of vantage," but is occasionally uttered as the bird hovers on the wing, or flies from spray to spray.

Although a very shy bird, the Redstart occasionally takes up its quarters close to the house, and when once it has selected a site for its nest and hatched its young, it manifests such attachment for them as to allow a very near approach, and will even permit a visitor to stroke it as it sits upon the nest.

The beauty of its plumage, its sprightly and at times incessant song, and the good which it effects in ridding plants and fruit-trees of the green aphis, commend it to the notice and protection of all owners of gardens.

The Common Redstart has scarcely quitted our shores in autumn before its congener, the Black Redstart (Ruticilla tithys), arrives to pass the winter here, and occasionally even to linger on until the more familiar species returns again with the spring. But since it is properly regarded as a winter visitant to this country, any lengthened description of the species, and of its haunts and habits, would be out of

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