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the daylight to anything like the extent above mentioned, the uproar among the little birds would have been almost incessant. A gamekeeper told me that once, when he climbed the tree, one of the old owls darted down upon his head, and scratched him with its claws. I could scarcely give credit to this, as I always saw both birds on the watch when I invaded their castle, but they never attempted any defence.
When the hen bird was sitting upon her eggs, the male did not take up his quarters so near, for I have frequently seen him, in the dusk, fly across the bay from the opposite oak wood, and settle upon an aged plane tree, uttering a low tremulous hoot. This was immediately answered by a sharp scream from his mate, who then left her nest and joined him on the tree.
Owls hoot all the year, except in the dead of winter, and even then, should the weather be calm and clear, they continue to mourn through the darkness of the night. During the severe winter of 1831, a fine old fellow, the very Tamburini of owls, haunted a clump of beeches; and, from one of the bare gnarled branches, I seldom missed hearing his fine tenor voice when I returned late from shooting. It struck me that he would make a first-rate specimen for my collection. As I passed one night with my duck-gun, I heard him in all his glory, so, creeping under the clump, I at last ascertained from which tree the sound proceeded, but to catch sight of the owl seemed impossible. Although he continued his cry at proper intervals, I strained my eyes for ten minutes, until I perceived, upon the very topmost branch, a little knob. I was slowly raising my gun, on the chance of this being my object, when it glided off,
plainly showing that I was far more visible to him than he to me. He immediately settled upon another tree, and began to hoot. I was, however, more successful this time, for, upon getting under the tree, I detected him, perched as before, near the top. Taking very deliberate aim, I fired, and the poor owl fell half-way down the tree, but, being only wounded, he managed to seize a twig with his claws. I threw a few stones to dislodge him, but as he was not hit in the wings, he flew a little way and dropped. The night was so dark that I could not find him, but next morning I went to the spot, and hearing a great clamour of jays and other birds, I guessed what was the matter, and soon detected my victim lying, persecuted and insulted, at the foot of his tree. He was, of course, at that season, in the finest feather; his back red brown, like an autumn leaf. I have shot some both early and late in the season, whose plumage was quite brown, without any tawny tint. These, I rather think, are the young males and females, but not a distinct species.
If there is no ruin near, these owls will rear their young in a thick ivy tree, or take possession of a magpie's nest, provided it is in some dark old fir-tree or cedar. They never construct one for themselves, but lay their eggs in a hole of the wall in ruins or outbuildings, only scraping a little sand or lime upon the stones. I have twice known the tawny owl hatch in the nest of a magpie, but never in any other bird's. The reason probably is that the nests of crows, rooks, hawks, &c., are all roofless. Once or twice in summer, I have heard the tawny owl hoot in the day-time, but they never continue to do so above two or three times. It has then a most unnatural
sound, and is, of course, not nearly so audible or imposing as during the stillness of night. I recollect once, when standing under a tree where an owl was hooting, being struck with the difference of the note from its sound at a distance. Far off, one wonders that so small a bird can emit such a volume of sound. The nearer you come, however, the less the sound appears; but what it loses in strength it gains in clearness and melody, which I suppose is the reason we hear it at such a distance. I have noticed this also in the sounds of other night birds, especially the nightingale's song, and the chur of the fernowl, or night-jar *. This last interesting compound of the swallow, the cuckoo, and the owl, is one of our latest spring arrivals. Its food consists of the larger night insects; therefore, unless perched upon a rotten stump, engaged in its sleepy song, it is mostly on wing in pursuit of its prey. Wayward and capricious its movements certainly appear to the solitary dreamer in the gloaming, who sometimes wonders what the bird can mean by its eccentric wheels—not considering that it has to follow the fickle multitude of moths and beetles.
If the winter nights are fine, and no moon, ivy owls may often be heard in full chorus at the grey of morning, which is sometimes continued till break of day. They take their station upon a few chosen perches, hooting some time upon each, and return night after night to the same places, whether a favourite tree, ruin, or outbuild
* The landrail, in the summer nights, is an exception to this rule. The nearer you approach, the more harsh and grating is the vibration of his crake. Not so the cuckoo, as any one will find who has the hap to be under the tree where he is calling, in the dusk of a still sum
ing of any kind. Three years ago, I had a pair of tame tawny owls, that lived in a tool-house in the garden. They hooted every fine spring and winter night. One was so tame that it always flew against my legs when I brought its food at nightfall. Sometimes it was so dark that I could not see it, but only heard a plaintive wail, and then felt a rush at my feet. If I was later than usual it perched on the balcony, uttering its weak cry. When I placed a bit of meat upon the table, it flew into the room, seized the meat, and flitting into the darkness again, was no more seen that night. Both of these owls were very fond of earth-worms, and devoured great numbers at a time. If given too much liver they hid the overplus under a bush, or in a box border, but never covered it up like a fox or dog. Both came every evening at dusk to drink at their water dish, which operation was performed after the manner of hens. I have seen them continue sipping at intervals for ten minutes at a time. After a fall of snow in early spring, I watched both rolling upon it, occasionally taking a small peck, which perhaps served instead of water. I rather think the tool-house, from being closely shut up, with only two small holes for air, was too hot for birds of such warm plumage-hence their thirst. These owls were not of the same brood; one (the male) was a bright tawny, the other sober brown. After remaining eight months at large, these most interesting pets took their departure about the time of nidification. Their hooting was occasionally heard some distance off, but they never returned to their former abode.
I have now supplied their place by another pair of white or barn owls. They are, however, kept close pri
soners by a wire door, which admits plenty of air into the tool-house. The habits of these owls are less nocturnal than those of the ivy ones. They frequently feed in the day-time, but I have never seen them drink, although supplied with water. They do hoot, but very rarely. I heard one six times in succession, and then it ceased. Their music is a little different from the brown owls. It is only one prolonged cadence, lower and not so mournful as the first hoot of the tawny fellow. They never utter the second juggling whoop of that owl, at least that I have heard. In fact, the habits of the white owl are to be so constantly on wing, beating hedgerows and fields for mice, that he seldom allows himself time for any nocturnal melody, except what he can utter during his silky flight. This is a most harsh scream, and has rightly dubbed him the screech owl. My tame ones very often give a sort of complaining squeak like a very young pig. This is repeated sometimes for hours. It may be that they are dissatisfied at not being allowed the free use of their wings. In the day-time they sometimes snore as loud as a plethoric gentleman of the olden time. Some naturalists say that this snoring is the complaint of the young in the nest for food. How comes it, then, that my two old ones, which have as much food as they can consume, are guilty of these nursery manners?
I have before noticed that the white owl comes out earlier than the brown; and may frequently be seen hunting for prey whenever the sun's glare is a little mellowed by the first shade of evening. Their eyes, not being so large as the ivy owl's, may collect fewer rays in the darkness, but this is made up by a clearer vision in light. They are evidently more expert mousers than the