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it to its origin. It was known to the ancients that the Cuckoo leaves its eggs to be hatched byother birds, but they mingled fact with fable, believing, or at all events asserting, that the young Cuckoo devoured not only its foster brothers and sisters, but ultimately its foster parents. Hence the expression which Shakespeare put into the mouth of the Earl of Worcester to the effect that the youngster
"Grew by our feeding to so great a bulk
That even our love durst not come near his sight
For fear of swallowing."—Henry IV. act v. sc. 1.
But though so time-worn is the tale as to be very generally believed, it is singular how few writers have attempted to show a foundation for it from their own observations. So scattered, indeed, is the evidence on the subject, that many naturalists of the present day still hesitate to believe the story, pronouncing the alleged feat of strength on the part of the young Cuckoo to be "a physical impossibility."
Although my present purpose is to direct attention to the latest observations upon this vexed question which have come to us with authority, it will not be superfluous to glance very briefly at what had already been advanced in support of the statement referred to.
Dr. Jenner says positively ("Phil. Trans." vol. lxxviii. p. 225) :—" I discovered the young Cuckoo, though so newly hatched, in the act of turning out the young Hedge-Sparrow. The little animal, with the assistance of its rump and wings, contrived to get the bird upon its back, and making a lodgement for its burden by elevating its elbows, clambered backwards with it up the side of the nest till it reached the top, where, resting for a moment, it threw off its load with a jerk, and quite disengaged it from the nest. It remained in the situation for a short time, feeling about with the extremities of its wings, as if to be convinced whether the business was properly executed, and then dropped into the nest again."
Montagu, in the Introduction to his "Ornithological Dictionary," states that he took home a young Cuckoo five or six days old, when, to use his own words: "I frequently saw it throw out a young Swallow (which was put in for the purpose of experiment) for four or five days after. This singular action was performed by insinuating itself under the Swallow, and with its rump forcing it out of the nest with a sort of jerk. Sometimes, indeed, it failed after much struggle, by reason of the strength of the Swallow, which was nearly full feathered; but, after a small respite from the seeming fatigue, it renewed its efforts, and seemed continually restless till it succeeded."
Mr. Blackwall, who published some observations on this point in the fourth volume of the "Manchester Memoirs" (second series), says that a nestling Cuckoo, while in his possession, turned both young birds and eggs out of its nest, in which he had placed them for the purpose. He further observed "that this bird, though so young, threw itself backwards with considerable force when anything touched it unexpectedly," an observation subsequently confirmed by Mr. Durham Weir in a letter to Macgillivray.1
1 "Hist. Brit. Birds," vol. iii. p. 128.
Mr. Weir says a young Cuckoo was hatched with three young Titlarks on the 6th June. "On the afternoon of the 1oth two of the Titlarks were found lying dead at the bottom of the ditch; the other one had disappeared." Subsequently this Cuckoo was removed, and placed in another Titlark's nest, nearer home, for more convenient observation. On the following day Mr. Weir found it covered by the old Titlark "with outstretched wings from a very heavy shower of rain * * * while her own young ones had in the meantime been expelled by the Cuckoo, and were lying lifeless within two inches of her nest." Another instance is given wherein two Cuckoos were hatched in a Titlark's nest. "On the third or fourth day after this the young Titlarks were found lying dead on the ground, and the Cuckoos were in possession of the nest." Ultimately one of the latter, the weaker of the two, disappeared.
A German naturalist, Adolf Miiller, of Gladenbach, writing in a German periodical, "Der Zoologische Garten," in October, 1868, has given a curious account of the conduct of two young Cuckoos, which were hatched in the nest of a Robin. A translation of this account was published in "The Field" of Nov. 21, 1868, and it will be unnecessary therefore to give more than the merest outline of the facts detailed in it.
Two young Cuckoos, five or six days old, were found in a Robin's nest, four Robin's eggs lying on the heath before the nest. The two birds were extremely restless, striving to push each other out of the nest, the smaller one always the more active. Herr Miiller placed the smaller on the back of the larger one, which immediately began to heave it upwards, and, thrusting its claws into the moss and texture of the nest, actually succeeded in pushing it to the edge of the nest and about four inches further amongst the heath'stems. After every contest which was observed both birds contrived to creep back again into the nest. Ultimately the larger one was found lying dead outside the nest, while the Robin was sitting on the smaller bird and the eggs, which had been replaced.