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BIRDS OF THE MOOR.
THE AMERICAN WCODCOCK.
THE American Woodcock is a more interesting bird than we should suppose from his general appearance and physiognomy. He is mainly nocturnal in his habits, and his ways are very singular and worthy of study. He obtains his food by scratching up the leaves and rubbish that lie upon the surface of the ground in damp and wooded places, and by boring into the earth for worms. He remains concealed in the wood during the day, and comes out to feed at twilight, choosing the open ploughed land where worms are abundant. Yet it is probable that in the shade of the wood he is more or less busy among the leaves in the daytime.
The Woodcock does not usually venture abroad in the open day, unless he be disturbed and driven from his retreat. He makes his first appearance here early in April, and at this time we may observe that soaring habit which renders him one of the picturesque objects of nature. This soaring takes place soon after sunset, continues during twilight, and is repeated at a corresponding hour in the morning. If you listen at these times near the place of his resort, he will soon reveal himself by a lively peep, frequently uttered from the ground. While repeating this note he may be seen strutting about like a Turkey-cock, with fantastic jerkings of the tail and a frequent turning of the head ; and his mate is, I believe, at this time not far off. Suddenly he springs upward, and with a wide circular sweep, uttering at the same time
a rapid whistling note, he rises in a spiral course to a great height in the air. At the summit of his ascent, he hovers about with irregular motions, chirping a medley of broken notes, like imperfect warbling. This continues about ten or fifteen seconds, when it ceases and he descends rapidly to the ground. We seldom hear him in his descent, but receive the first intimation of it by the repetition of his peep, like the sound produced by those minute wooden trumpets sold at the German toyshops.
No person could watch this playful flight of the Woodcock without interest; and it is remarkable that a bird with short wings and difficult flight should be capable of mounting to so great an altitude. It affords me a vivid conception of the pleasure with which I should witness the soaring and singing of the Skylark, known to us only by description. I have but to imagine the chirruping of the Woodcock to be a melodious series of notes to feel that I am listening to the bird which has been so familiarized to us ly English poetry, that in our early days we often watch for his greeting on a summer sunrise. It is withi sadness we first learn that the Skylark is not an inhabitant of the New World ; and our mornings and evenings seem divested of a great part of their charm by their want of this lyric accompaniment.
There are other sounds connected with the flight of the Woodcock that increase his importance as an actor in the great melodrama of Nature. When we stroll away at dusk from the noise of the town, to a spot where the stillness permits us to hear distinctly all those faint sounds which are turned by the silence of night into music, we may hear at frequent intervals the hum produced by the irregular flight of the Woodcock as he passes over short distances near the wood. It is like the sound of the wings of Doves, or like that produced by the rapid wlisking of a
slender rod through the air. There is a plaintive feeling of mystery attached to these musical flights that yields a savor of romance to the quiet voluptuousness of a summer evening
On such occasions, if we are in a moralizing mood, we are agreeably impressed with the truth of the maxim that the secret of happiness consists in keeping alive our susceptibilities by frugal indulgence, and by avoiding an excess of pleasures that pall in proportion to their abundance. The stillness and darkness of a quiet night produce this quickening effect upon our minds. Our susceptibility is then awakened to such a degree that slight sounds and faintly discernible lights, convey to us an amount of pleasure that is seldom felt in the daytime from influences even of a more inspiring character. Thus the player in an orchestra can enjoy such music only as would deafen common cars by its craslı of sounds in which they can perceive no connection or harmony; while the simple rustic listens to the rude notes of a flageolet in the hands of a clown with feelings of ineffable delight. To the seekers after luxurious and exciting pleasures, Nature, if they could but understand her language, would say, “Except ye become as this simple rustic, ye cannot enter into my paradise.”
The Snipe has the nocturnal habits of the Woodcock, and is common in New England in the spring and autumn, but does not often breed here. It has the same habits of feeding as the Woodcock, and the same way of soaring into the air during morning and evening twilight, when he performs a sort of musical medley, which Audubon has described in the following passage: “The birds are met with in the meadows and low grounds, and by