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ance to its plaintive kurrie, kurrie, kurrie, that is 'Lord, Lord, Lord,' Since that time it has never more been joyful, but has constantly winged its flight around the world, repeating its sorrowful cry." 1
PHASIANIDÆ (The Pheasants).
This family will not occupy us long, inasmuch as it contains but one species known in England, and that one almost in a state of semi-domestication; and consequently its habits and economy thoroughly well-known: for I pass over the Turkey of American origin, and the domestic fowl and Peacock of Indian birth, as having no claim to a place in the fauna of Wiltshire. I will but call attention, in passing, to the difference in plumage which the sexes of this family exhibit: to their polygamous habits; to the precocious nature of the young birds, which are no sooner hatched from the shell than they can follow their parents and feed themselves; to their custom of dusting their feathers in any dry heap they can find, and to the horny, conical and sharp spur with which the tarsus of male birds of this family is furnished. They derive their name, like other descendants of ancient and honourable lineage, from their ancestral seat on the banks of the Phasis in Asia Minor, whence Jason is said to have imported them into Europe.
"Pheasant." (Phasianus Colchicus.) Alone of this family is entitled to demand admission into the ranks of British birds: for though originally of foreign extraction, as I have shown, this handsome species has not only become in course of time thoroughly acclimatized, and capable of enduring our most severe winters, but completely naturalized, and able, when left to itself, to thrive and multiply in a wild state in our woods. Though grain and seeds form its food in winter, it feeds largely on insects and roots during the remainder of the year; but it is seldom considered in how great a degree it compensates for the partial injury it causes by the undoubted benefit it confers in thus ridding the land of noxious
1 Lloyd's Scandinavian Adventures, vol. ii., p. 361.
pests. I do not of course allude to those cases where the species is encouraged to multiply to excess; when the balance of nature being destroyed, confusion ensues as a necessity, as would be the result in the unnatural multiplication of almost any species in the whole animal kingdom. During winter the males congregate; but separate to their several domains as spring draws on. Many sportsmen have endeavoured to assign to a distinct species the Ring-necked, the Bohemian, and the pied varieties of this bird, but as these variations are by no means permanent or hereditary, ornithologists have wisely declined to admit them to any separate rank. The Pheasant has an innate shyness or timidity, which nothing seems able to overcome: though reared under a domestic hen, and though fed from the hand from its earliest days, it never attains confidence, but hurries to the shelter of thick cover at the first symptom of alarm. Though it retires to roost on the branches of trees, when once disturbed from the position it has taken up, it does not attempt to perch again during the remainder of the night; but on such occasions will crouch in the longest grass and under the densest bramble it can find. It crows on the least provocation, not only on retiring to roost, and at early dawn, but during the night as well as during the day when any unusual noise disturbs it; and a sudden clap of thunder will cause every pheasant in the wood to sound his call note of enquiry.
TETRAONIDE (The Grous).
Very closely allied to the Pheasants comes the family of Grous, a race highly prized in this country, and containing more than half the species of Ground birds known to have occurred in Wiltshire. In habits, in their mode of nesting on the ground, and in the food they seek, they very much resemble those last described. In like manner their head is small, beak strong and convex, wings short, feet stout, and tarsus feathered, but the distinguishing characteristic consists in the elevation and diminution of the hind toe, which in this family becomes exceedingly short, and in the succeeding family disappears altogether. Their flight though rapid and direct, is heavy, but they walk and run with great agility, and
they seek their food which consists of grain and vegetable substances, entirely on the ground.
"Capercaillie." (Tetrao Urogallus.) The occurrence of a single specimen of this magnificent bird within the limits of this county, as recorded by the late Rev. George Marsh, (whose loss we cannot cease to deplore), entitles me to include it within our Wiltshire list. That straggler made its appearance at Winterslow in 1841, and was supposed to have escaped from Mr. Baring's park, where several had been introduced: indeed it had entirely ceased to exist south of the Tweed, and was almost extinct in Scotland a few years back, till the Marquis of Breadalbane and other noblemen reinforced its fast diminishing ranks, by importing fresh colonists from Sweden, and preserved and protected it in their extensive forests, till it has now re-peopled its former haunts; so that it is not probable that our Wiltshire visitor had wandered from its home under natural causes; nor is it likely that a bird of so heavy a body and such short wings would have voluntarily strayed so far south. The male Capercaillie is as large as an ordinary Turkey, and well deserves the honourable title of "Cock of the Wood." Its general plumage is very dark green, or almost black; and it is a native of the extensive pine forests of Scotland, Scandinavia and Russia. It feeds on the leaves and young shoots of the Scotch fir, which impart a certain resinous taste to the flesh; but it also devours greedily the numerous ground-berries, blue-berries, whortleberries, cran-berries, &c., with which northern forests abound; and these I have found, in incredible quantities, in the crops of several specimens, whose skins I preserved in Norway. The peculiar "play" or love song of this bird, (lek, as it is termed in Sweden,) practised at the breeding season, I have fully described in my "Observations in Natural History, during a tour in Norway in 1850," published in the Zoologist for that year and the following, p. 2944, et seq.
"Black Grous." (Tretrao tetrix.) This too is but a straggler to our county, though its visits have been more frequent; and from the undoubted fact that it inhabits though sparingly, the New Forest and other suitable haunts in the neighbouring counties of Somerset
and Hants, its appearance here as a veritable wild bird may be more readily acknowledged. The late Mr. Marsh assured me that they were occasionally met with in the Winterslow woods; and I have a notice of one killed near Redholn turnpike, on the edge of the plain overlooking the vale of Pewsey, which came into the possession of Mr. Lewis of Wedhampton. Like the species last described it loves to frequent forests and wild uncultivated districts, where rank herbage and undrained morasses proclaim the non-intervention of man and a truly grand sight it is to see the old male or "Black Cock," as it is generally called, in all the pride of his dark glossy plumage, now appearing of jet black hue, and anon with splendid purple reflections, take flight with a startling rush of wings, when disturbed in his retreats. It is conspicuous for the outward curve of the four or five outer feathers of the tail on either side, and also for the bright red naked skin above the eyes. The female which goes by the name of the "Grey Hen," is of far less pretentious appearance, being contented with a sombre dress of brown, spotted and barred with darker shades. In general habits food and nesting, it does not vary from its congeners.
"Red Grous." (Tetrao Scoticus.) This species, so peculiarly British for it is almost unknown elsewhere, and in certain districts so extremely abundant, for where it has been most carefully protected and encouraged it literally swarms to an astonishing extent, is only of accidental occurrence in Wiltshire. Col. Montagu speaks of a female taken alive near Wedhampton in this county, in the winter of the year 1794, as pointed out to that distinguished Naturalist by Mr. Poore: and I have information of another killed by the late Mr, Colston's keeper at Roundway Park near Devizes, while a third is in the possession of Mr. Heneage, which was killed at Compton Bassett. These must have been stragglers from Wales, and were probably driven out of their course by the prevalence of high winds. Unlike the species previously described, the Red Grous is not polygamous, and never perches on trees: it also differs from them in having the toes completely feathered; in other respects its general habits and economy are similar.
"Pallas' Sand Grous." (Syrrhaptes paradoxus.) Up to the
VOL. XI.-NO. XXXII.
1863 this handsome species was almost unknown, not only in these islands but on the continent of Europe; when suddenly in the early summer of that year a vast irruption of them occurred, more especially on our Eastern coasts; and it subsequently appeared that this strange invasion extended over the whole of Central Europe. Driven from its home in the steppes of Tartary, if not in the more Eastern countries of China and Siberia, where it also abounds, this horde of wanderers started westwards, and spreading themselves over some twenty degrees of latitude, the more advanced portion penetrated as far as our island. What numbers migrated in this extraordinary manner; what vast flocks in all probability started on this lengthened journey; how many halted on the way; it is impossible even to guess: but in a most masterly paper on the subject drawn up by my friend Professor Newton, the talented editor of the Ibis, and published by him in that journal,' he has satisfactorily proved that several hundreds are known to have reached our shores, after a flight of, at the least computation some four thousand geographical miles. What could have caused this eccentric movement of the Asiatic species of Grous we are considering, this "Tartar invasion," or "Scythian exodus," as Mr. Newton styles it, it is beyond my power to explain: whether the prevalence of unusual easterly winds, or other atmospheric commotions impelled them on their westerly course, as some have suggested; or whether the colonization by Russia of large tracts of eastern Siberia, and the reclaiming of waste lands, once their haunts, as others have surmised or whether the remarkable drought that prevailed over central Asia that summer, had dried the freshwater lakes, and scorched up all vegetation, as others have concluded; or whether as Mr. Newton inclines to think, the natural overflow of an increasing species, prolific as are all of its genus, and exempt in a great measure from the enemies and risks which are apt to beset ground breeding birds, forced it to drive forth as colonists its superabundant numbers, I will not now stop to argue. Enough for us that, as in early times the tide of human migrations set in steadily from the east, and starting from the shores of the Caspian and the valleys of 1 Ibis, vol. vi., pp. 185-222.