Page images



The eggs

M. D'Aubenton was enabled to keep several of these birds for a considerable length of time, by supplying them with small fish, which he put into basins of water, and on which they fed. They refused all other kinds of nourishment.

The Kingfisher lays its eggs, to the number of seven or more, in a hole in the bank of the river or stream that it frequents. Dr. Heysham had a female brought alive to him at Carlisle, by a boy, who said he had taken it the preceding night when sitting on its eggs. His information on the subject was, that“ having often observed these birds frequent a bank upon the river Peteril, he had watched them carefully, and at last he saw them go into a small hole in the bank. The hole was too narrow to admit his hand ; but, as it was made in soft mould, he easily enlarged it. It was upwards of half a yard long : at the end of it, the eggs, which were six in number, were placed upon the bare mould, without the smallest appearance of a nest.' were considerably larger than those of the Yellow-hammer, and of a transparent white color. It appears from a still later account than this, that the direction of the holes is always upward; that they are enlarged at the end; and have there a kind of bedding formed of the bones of small fish, and some other substances, evidently the castings of the parent animals. This bedding is generally about half an inch thick, and mixed with earth. There is reason to believe, that both male and female come to this spot for no other purpose than to eject the refuse of their food, for some time before the latter begins to lay: and that they dry it with the heat of their bodies; as they are frequently known to continue in the hole for hours, long before the period for laying On this disgorged matter the female deposits and hatches her eggs. When the young.ones are nearly full-feathered, they are extremely voracious; and the old birds not supplying them with all the food they could devour, they are continually chirping, and may be discovered by their noise.

It was once believed that, when the body of a Kingfisher was suspended by a thread, some magnetic influ. ence always turned its breast to the north. This, however, is as fabulous as the tradi. tion, that it will pre


woolen cloth from the depredations of Moths.

The Belted King. fisher is an American variety of this bird.

186 BELTED KINarisan



THE bills of these birds are curved, slender, and pointed. The tongue is generally sharp, fringed, or tubular. The legs are strong, and formed with three toes forward.

The Creepers are dispersed through most countries of the globe. They feed chiefly on insects, in search of which they run up and down the stems and branches of trees. Most of the species breed in hollows of trees, where they lay many eggs.



The bill of the Common Creeper is hooked; and its legs are

slender, with the claws very long, to enable it to creep up and down the bodies of trees in search of insects. Its color is a mixed gray, with the under parts white. The quillfeathers of the wings are brown, and several of them are tipped with white. The tail is loug, and consists of twelve stiff feathers.

It is found both in Europe and Asia; and is also very common in some parts of North America, particularly in the neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Except the Humming.bird, this is the smallest of all the feathered tribes; its weight being no more than five drachmg. The length of its feathers, and the manner that it

has of ruffling them, give it, however, an appearance much beyond its real size. It is a bird which seems peculiarly fond of the society of man; and in some parts of the world it is often protected by his interested care. From observing its utility in destroying insects, it has long been a custom, with the inhabitants of many parts of the United States, to fix a small box at the end of a long pole, in gardens and about houses, as a place for it to build in. In these boxes the animals form their nests, and hatch their youn g-ones; which the parent birds feed with a variety of different insects, particularly those species that are injurious in gardens. A gentlem an, who was at the trouble of watching these birds, observed that the parents generally went from the nest and returned with insects from forty to sixty times in an hour, and that, in one particular hour, they carried food no fewer than seventy-one times. In this business they were engaged during the greatest part of the day. Allowing twelve hours

to be thus occupied, a single pair of these birds would destroy at least six hundred insects in the course of one day, on the supposition that the two birds took only a single insect each 1. me. But it is highly probable that they ofteu took more.

[blocks in formation]

I suspect that this is the bird which Mr. St. John, in his Letters of an American farmer, has called a Wren, and of which he records the following story - Three birds had built their nests almost contiguous to each other. A Swallow had affixed hers in the corner of a piazza next his house; a bird which he calls a Phebe in the other corner; and a Wren possessed a little box, which he had made on purpose, and hung between. These were all quite tame. The Wren bad for some time, shown signs of dislike to the box which had been given tc it, though it was not known on what account. At length, howerer, small as it was, it resolved to drive the Swallow from its habitation; and, astonishing to say, it succeeded. “Impudence.”

.says Mr. St. John, "gets the better of modesty; and this exploit was no sooner performed, than the Wren removed every material to its own box, with the most admirable dexterity. The signs of triumph appeared very visible; it fluttered its wings with uncommon velocity; and an universal joy was preceptible in all its movements. The peaceable Swallow, like the passive Quaker, meekly sat at a small distance, and never offered the least opposition. But no sooner was the plunder carried away, than the injured bird went to work with unabated ardor, and in a few days the depredations were repaired." Mr. St. John, to prevent any repetition of the same violence, removed the Wren's box to another part of the house.

The Creeper hatches twice during the summer, and has generally from eighteen to twenty eggs at a time.


This diminutive inhabitant of New Spain, smaller than even the last-mentioned species, I mention merely for the purpose of descri. bing its nest; which, differing, in this respect, from those of most of the other species of Creepers, is pensile.

The nest is formed not unlike a chemist's retort placed with the mouth downward, through which the bird ascends to its offspring in the bulb at the top. Its length is fourteen or sixteen inches; and it is suspended to the most extreme and tender branches of the trees, by means of a kind of woven work, of similar materials to the exte. rior of the nest. In the broadest part of the bulb, it measures about six inches in diameter. Within it is lined with soft and downy materials, to guard the bodies of the tender young.ones from injury; and it is altogether so very light, as to be driven about by the most gentle breeze.



The characters of this tribe are, a slender, weak bill, in some species

curved, in othere straight; the nostrils are minute: the tongue is very long, and formed of two conjoined cylindrical tubes: the legs are weak: the toes placed three forward and one backward : and the tail consisting of ten

feathers. The Humming-birds are the most diminutive of all the feathered tribes. They are natives of the warmer parts of America, and of some of the West-India islands; and bear a great resemblance to each other in manners. Their principal food, is the nectar at the bottom of tubular-shaped flowers: this they extract, while on wing, by means of their long and slender bill. Their name is derived from the humming noise they make with their wings. They are gregarious; and construct an elegant hemispherical nest, in which they lay two small white eggs, that are hatched by the sitting of the male and female alternately, The young ones are often attacked and devoured by Spiders. These birds may be caught by blowing water upon them from a tube; or, like many of our small birds, they may be shot with sand. Small as they are, they are extremely bold and pugnacious. Their colors are too brilliant to be expressed by any pencil.



The length of this diminutive creature is somewhat more than three inches; of which its bill occupies three quarters of an inch. The male is of a green-gold color on the upper part, with a change. able copper gloss; and the under parts are gray. The throat and forepart of the neck are of a ruby color, in some lights as bright as fire. When viewed sideways, the feathers appear mixed with gold, aud beneath they are of a dull garnet color. The two middle feathers of the tail are similar in color to the upper plumage, and the rest are brown.

The female, instead of the bright ruby throat, has only a few obscure brown spots; and all the outer tail-feathers, which in the male are plain, are in the female tipped with white.

This beautiful little creature is as admirable for its vast swiftness in the air, and its manner of feeding, as for the clegance and brilliancy of its colors. It flies so swiftly, that the eye is incapable of following its course; and the motion of its wings is so rapid, as to be imper




ceptible to the nicest observer. Lightning is scarcely more transient than its flight, nor the glare more bright tnan its colors.

It never feeds but upon the wing, suspended over the flower from which it extracts nourish. ment; for its only food is the honeyed juice lodged in flowers, and this it sucks through the tubes of its curious tongue. Like the bee, having ex. hausted the honey of one flower, it wanders to the next in search of new sweets. It admires most those flowers that have the deepest tubes ; and in the countries which these birds inhabit, whoever sets plants of this description before his windows, is sure to be visited by great numbers of them. It is very entertaining to see them swarming around the flowers, and trying every tube by putting in their bills. If they find that their brethren have anticipated them, and robbed the flower of its honey, they will pluck it off in a rage, and throw it on the ground; and sometimes they tear it in pieces.

The most violent passions animate at times these diminutive creatures. They have often dreadful contests, when numbers of them happen to dispute the possession of the same flower. They tilt against one another with such fury, as if they meant to transfix their antagonists with their long bills. During the fight they frequently pursue the conquered birds into the apartments of houses where the windows are left open; they take a turn round the room, as flies do in England; and then suddenly regain the open air. They are fearless of mankind; and, in feeding, will suffer persons to come within two yards of them; but, on a nearer approach, they dart away with wonderful swiftness.

The Red-throated Humming-Bird generally builds on the middle branch of a tree, but sometimes in a low bush, or even on a tobaccostalk : and the nest is very small. It is quite round: the outside is for the most part composed of the green moss common on old pales and trees; and the inside, of the softest vegetable down the birds can collect. The female lays'two eggs, of the size of a pea; which are white, and equal in thickness at both ends.

« PreviousContinue »