Imagens das páginas

It is curious how wide-spread is the belief that the Nightingale warbles only at eve. The reason, no doubt, is that amidst the general chorus by day its song is less noticed or attended to. But that it sings constantly by day is a fact, of which we have satisfied ourselves repeatedly. Moreover, it is by no means the only bird to sing at night. The Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Woodlark, Skylark, and Thrush, may often be heard long after sunset; while the Cuckoo is frequently to be heard at midnight, and the Landrail constantly.

It would appear that of the large number of persons who profess a love for song birds very few, comparatively, have the ear to distinguish a song unless they can see the author of it. Hence it frequently happens that they listen to a Thrush or Blackcap in the early spring, and immediately inform their friends that they have heard the Nightingale weeks before it has reached this country.

Many poets have perpetuated the odd belief that the mournful notes of the Nightingale are caused by the bird's leaning against a thorn to sing! Shakespeare, for example, in his "Passionate Pilgrim," says:

"Everything did banish moan,
Save the nightingale alone.
She, poor bird, as all forlorn,
Lean'd her breast up-till a thorn;
And there sung the dolefull'st ditty,
That to hear it was great pity."

These lines, by the way, although generally

attributed to Shakespeare, and included in most

editions of his poems, were written, it is said,

by Richard Barnefield in 1598, and published

by him in a work entitled "Poems in divers

humors."1 Shakespeare's Lucrece, however,

invoking Philomel, says:

"And whiles against a thorn thou bear'st thy part
To keep thy sharp woes waking."

Fletcher speaks of

"The bird forlorn,
That singeth with her breast against a thorn."

1 See Ellis's "Specimens of the Early English Poets," vol. ii. p. 356

And Pomfret, writing towards the close of the seventeenth century, says:

"The first music of the grove we owe
To mourning Philomel's harmonious woe;
And while her grief in charming notes express'd,
A thorny bramble pricks her tender breast."

The origin of such an odd notion it is not easy to ascertain, but I suspect Sir Thomas Browne was not far from the truth when he pointed to the fact that the Nightingale frequents thorny copses, and builds her nest amongst brambles on the ground. He inquires "whether it be any more than that she placeth some prickles on the outside of her nest, or roosteth in thorny, prickly places, where serpents may least approach her?"'

In an article upon this subject published in the "Zoologist" for 1862 (p. 8029), the Rev. A. C. Smith has narrated the discovery on two occasions of a strong thorn projecting upwards in the centre of the Nightingale's nest. It

1 Sir Thos. Browne's Works, Wilkin's ed. vol. ii. p. 537.

cannot be doubted, however, that this was the result of accident rather than design; and Mr. Hewitson, in his " Eggs of British Birds," has adduced two similar instances in the case of the Hedge Sparrow.

The nest of the Nightingale is a very looselymade structure, composed for the greater part of dead leaves, and placed upon a hedge bank, generally at the root of some stout shrub or thorn. The eggs, usually five in number, are, like the bird itself, of a plain olive-brown colour. The young Nightingales are spotted like young Robins, having the feathers of the upper portions of the plumage tipped with buff colour. In some respects the Nightingale assimilates very much in habits to the Robin; and advantage has been taken of this in localities where the Nightingale is unknown to introduce its eggs into the nests of Robins, with a view to having the young reared in the neighbourhood, and so induced to return to it. But although, as regards hatching and rearing, the plan has been successful, the birds have never returned to the place of their birth. For some inexplicable reason, a limit appears to be set to the migration of the Nightingale, which has no parallel in the case of other migrants.

As autumn approaches it moves southwards towards the Mediterranean, and spends the winter months in North Africa, Egypt, and Asia Minor. We cannot help thinking that the Nightingale and many other birds which visit us in summer and nest with us, must also nest in what we term their winter quarters; otherwise it would be impossible, considering the immense numbers which are captured on their first arrival, not only in England, but throughout central and southern Europe, to account for the apparently undiminished forces which reappear in the succeeding spring.

The late Mr. Blyth, however, was of a different opinion. Criticizing the above remarks, he wrote :—

"The only birds known to me that breed in their winter quarters are two species of Sandmartin (Cotyieriparia and C. sinensis). In India

« AnteriorContinuar »