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ed a delicacy. Varro says that they were birds of passage, which came in autumn, and departed in spring. They must have been in immense numbers; as he declares that they were kept by thousands together in their fattening aviaries.
When the Blackbird has attained its full growth, it is of a fine deep black, the bill is of a bright yellow, and the edges of the eyelids are yellow. While it is young it has a dusky bill, and rusty black plumage, so that it is not to be distinguished from the female.
This beautiful and well known songster is one of the first that proclaims the genial spring, and his note, when heard at a distance, is the most pleasing of all the grove; though it is rather unpleasant in a cage, being loud and deafening. His strains are continued from early dawn till late in the dusk.- It is a solitary animal, generally found in sequestered woods, or other retired situations. It feeds on worms, snails, insects, &c. At snails it gets by dexterously dashing them against the stones, in order to break the shell. When domesticated it will eat any sort of flesh meat, either raw or dressed, provided it be not salt.
The female builds an artificial nest, well plastered on the inside with earth, and afterwards lined with fine dry grass, and she usually lays four or five bluish eggs, thickly covered with pale rust coloured spots.
MONOTONOUS as is the note of the Cuckoo, for it cannot be called a song, it is always heard with pleasure, because it is inseparably connected with our ideas of reviving spring. When emitting it, the bird is very seldom seen, as his shyness induces him to hide himself in thickets. There is a popular superstition that he who hears the Cuckoo before he has heard the nightingale will be unsuccessful in love. To this Milton elegantly alludes in his Sonnet to the Nightingale.
This singular bird is about fourteen inches in length, shaped somewhat like a magpie, and distinguished from all other birds by its round prominent nostrils. The head, neck, back, and wing coverts are of a dove colour : the throat is a pale gray; the breast and belly are white, crossed with wavy lines of black; the tail consists of ten feathers ;--the two middle ones black, with white tips ;-the others dusky, and marked with alternate spots of white on each side of the shaft. The legs are of a yellow colour, and the claws white.The plumage of the young birds is chiefly brown mixed with a ferruginous hue and black.-Its principal food consists of flesh and insects.
The female Cuckoo, soon after her arrival in England, which is early in the spring, prepares to forward the grand design of Nature, in the propagation of her kind : unlike all other birds, however, she neither provides a nest, nor betrays the least solicitude for the production of her young; but deposits her solitary egg in the nest of some other bird, and most generally in that of the hedge sparrow; this intrusion often occasions some disorder, for the hedge sparrow, at intervals, while she is sitting, not only throws out some of her own eggs, but sometimes injures them in such a manner that they become addled; so that it frequently happens that not more than two or three of the parent bird's eggs are hatched; but it has never been observed that the egg of the Cuckoo has either been thrown out or injured. The newly hatched Cuckoo itself also contrives to 'raise up the young, and throw them out of the nest, and Nature seems to have provided for its doing so, by giving to it a broad back, with a considerable depression in the middle; which shape it loses as soon as it has no longer any use for it. When the hedge sparrow has set her usual time, and disengaged the young Cuckoo and some of her own offspring from the shell, her own young ones and any of her eggs that remain unhatched are turned out of the nest.
The young bird generally continues three weeks in the nest before it flies; and the foster parent feeds it more than five weeks after this period. Hence it appears, that if a Cuckoo were ready with an egg much sooner than the time pointed out, not a single nestling, even of the earliest, would be fit to provide for itself, before its parent would be instinctively directed to seek a new residence, and be thus compelled to abandon its offspring; for the Cuckoos take their leave of this country the first week in July.
Such is the account which all naturalists concur in giving of the mode in which the Cuckoo is hatched, and there can be no doubt of its general correctness. It appears, however, equally certain that, in many instances, the Cuckoo performs the office of incubation for its own offspring; the bird having repeatedly been seen in the act of sitting upon the eggs, and feeding the young.
The Fern Owl somewhat resembles the cuckoo, but is easily distinguished from all other birds by the structure of its bill and feet. Its legs are very small in proportion, and feathered half way; and its bill, with reference to the size of its body, is the least which any bird has, and is rather crooked. The Fern Owl has a huge wide mouth and swallow, and on the sides of the upper mandibles, as also beneath the lower, are some black hairs like bristles. The under side of the body is painted with black and red.
This bird is rarely met with in England, but is occasionally found in Yorkshire, Flintshire, and the neighbourhood of London. Rocks, caverns, and ruined buildings are its places of resort; and it constructs a very rude nest in the most retired places, in which it lays five eggs, spotted with white and yellow. It feeds mostly on mice, which it tears into morsels with its bill and claws, and the birds that it kills it is said to pluck before it eats them.
The Redwing is somewhat less than the thrush, and its plamage in general is similar to that of the thrush, but a white streak over the eye distinguishes it from that bird; the belly is likewise not quite so much spotted, and the sides of the body and the feathers under the wings are tinged with orange red, which is its peculiar characteristic; whence also it derives its name. The bill is of a dark brown colour, and the eyes are of a deep hazel.