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THE CHIMNEY SWALLOW.
measure from the personal and domestic annoyance of flies and gnats, and what is of infinitely more consequence, they keep down the numbers of our minute enemies, which, either in the grub or winged state, would otherwise prey on the labors of the husbandman. Since, then, Swallows are guardians of our corn, they should every where be protected by the same popular veneration which in Egypt defends the İbis, and in Holland the Stork. We more frequently hear of unproductive harvests on the Continent than in England; and it is well known that Swallows are caught and sold as food, in the markets of Spain, France, and Italy. When this practice has been very general and successful, I have little doubt that it has, at times, contributed to a scarcity of corn. In England they are not driven to such resources to furnish their tables. But what apology can be made for those, and many there are, whose education should have taught them more innocent amusements, but who wantonly murder Swallows, under the idle pretence of improving their skill in shooting game? Besides the cruelty of starving whole nests by killing the dam, they who follow this barbarous diversion would do well to reflect, that by every Swallow they kill, they assist the effects of blasts, mildews, and vermin, in causing a scarcity of bread.
All the birds of this tribe have been observed to drink as they fly along, sipping the surface of the water; but the Swallow alone, in general, washes on the wing, by dropping into a pond many times successively. In very hot weather, House Martins and Bank-Martins, also sometimes dip and wash.
Swallows feed on small Beetles, as well as on Gnats and Flies; and often settle on dug ground or paths, for gravel, which assists in grinding and digesting their food. Horsemen, on wide downs, are often closely attended, for miles together, by a small party of Swallows ; which play before and behind them, sweeping around, and collecting all the insects that are roused by the trampling of the horse's feet. When the wind blows hard, the birds, without this expedient, are often forced to alight, in order to pick up their lurking prey.
Mr. White informs us, that for some weeks before the Swallows depart, they (without exceptions) forsake houses and chimneys, and roost in trees; and that they usually withdraw about the beginning of October, though some few stragglers may be seen at times till the first week in November. A few days previously to their departure, they assemble in vast flocks on house-tops, churches, and trees, from which they take their flight.
I shall conclude the account of this bird with an anecdote related by M. de Buffon. This celebrated writer informs us, that a shoemaker in Basle put a collar on a Swallow, containing an inscription to this purport:
"Pretty Swallow, tell me, whither goest thou in winter?" and in the ensuing spring he received, by the same courier, the following answer:
“To Anthony at Athens :—Why dost thou inquire ?"
The most probable conjecture on this story is, that the answer was written by some one who had caught the bird in Switzerland; for both Belon and Aristotle assure us, that though the Swallows live half the year
in Greece, yet they always pass the winter in Africa. The Rev. Revett Shepperd, F. L. S., a few years ago communicated to me the following acount of a Swallow which was domesticated by Miss Boldero of Ixworth, near Bury St. Edmunds: “On the 19th of July, 1806, three young Swallows fell down the chimney of this lady's bed chamber, and, being fond of birds, she determined, if possible, to rear them. Two of them died in the course of a week, but the third, by feeding it with boiled egg, mixed occasionally with bread, she succeeded in rearing. It grew fast, and continued in excellent health. As flies were its most natural food, she supplied it with these as frequently as possible. It drank plentifully of water, and seemed to derive great pleasure from regularly washing itself. This bird grew so tame that it would come to its mistress whenever she held out her finger for it to alight upon; and thus perched, would catch every fly within its reach. Its eagerness in this act, and its manner of catching these insects, the snap of its beak in so doing, and its general docility, rendered it a very amusing and interesting object. Frequently after dinner, Miss Boldero would bring it upon her finger into the dining. room, a large and lofty apartment. Here it would fly about with great freedom; and, when tired, would come to its mistress to rest itself upon her. It did not appear to notice a small Parrot, which was loose in the same room, and upon the perches of whose stand it was fond of alighting. If, however, the Parrot attempted to attack it, the Swallow always opened its beak in a threatening manyer, as if rosolved to defend itself from insult.
“When the usual term for the migration of its tribe approached, this bird became uneasy; and, as it was occasionally hung in a cage on the outside of the house, the other Swallows came about it, and appeared to invite it to go with them. The Swallows, so long as any remained, came every day to it; and when they had all disappeared it became tolerably tranquil. Miss Boldero was extremely anxious to preserve it through the winter, and though aware of the difficulty she should have in feeding it through that season, resolved to make the attempt. On the 9th of October, however, after she had fed it as usual, and had left it in apparent health and vigor, she had the morti. fication, on returning to her chamber, to find it dead. The cause of its death she was unable to ascertain; but she imagined that the bird might have been inadvertently struck by the servant, whilst she was cleaning the room."
About the 16th of April these birds begin to appear, and generally, for some time they pay no attention to the business of nidification, but play and sport about, either to recruit themselves from the fatigue of their journey, or else that their blood may recover its true tode
. TER MARTIX.
and texture, after having been so long benumbed by the severities
As this bird often builds against
to be well sheltered and secured from the injuries of the weather. The shell or crust of the nest is a sort of rustic work, full of knobs and protuberances on the outside: nor is the inside smoothed with any great exactness; but it is rendered soft and warm, and fit for incubation, by a lining of small straws, grasses, and feathers, and sometimes by a bed of moss interwoven with wool.
In this nest are produced four or five young ones; which, when arrived at full growth, become impatient of confinement, and sit all day with their heads out at the orifice, where the dams, by clinging to the nest, supply them with food from morning tonight. After this they are fed on wing by the parents; but this feat is performed by so quick and almost imperceptible a flight, that a person must attend very exactly to the motions of the birds, before he is able to perceive it.
As soou as the young ones are able to provide for themselves, the dams repair their nest for a second brood. The first flight then associate in vast flocks; and may be seen on sunny mornings and evenings, clustering and hovering around towers and steeples, and on the roofs of churches and houses. These congregations usually begin to take place about the first week in August. From observing the birds approaching and playing about the eaves of buildings, many persons have been led to suppose that more than two old birds attend on each nest.
The Martins are often very capricious in fixing on a nesting-place, beginning many edifices and leaving them unfinished; but (as we have before observed) when a nest has once been completed in a sheltered situation, it is made to serve for several seasons. In forming their nests, these industrious artificers are at their labor, in the long days, before four o'clock in the morning: in fixing their materials they plaster them on with their chins, moving the head with a quick vibratory motion.
Sometimes, in very hot weather, they dip and wash themselves as they fly, but not so frequently as the Swallows. They are the least agile of all the British hirundines; their wings and tails are short, and therefore they are not capable of those surprising turns, and quick and glancing evolutions, that are so observable in the Chimney-Swallows.
Their motion is placid and easy : generally in the middle region of the air; for they seldom mount to any great height, and never sweep long together over the surface of the ground or water. They do not wander far in quest of food; but are fond of sheltered places near some lake, or under some hanging wood, especially in windy weather.
During the residence of a Mr. Simpson, at Welton in North America, he one morning heard a noise from a couple of Martins that were flying from tree to tree near his dwelling. They made several attempts to get into a box or cage which was fixed against the house, and which they had before occupied ; but they always appeared to fly from it again with the utmost dread, at the same time repeating those loud cries which first drew his attention. Curiosity led this gentleman to watch their motions. After some time, a small Wren came from the box, and perched on a tree near it; when her shrill notes seemed to amaze her antagonists. Having remained a short time, she flew away. The Martins took this opportunity of returning to the cage; but their stay was short. Their diminutive adversary entered and made them retire with the greatest precipitation. They continued manœuvring in this way, during the whole day, but on the following morning, when the Wren quitted the cage, the Mar. tins immediately returned, took possession of their mansion, broke up their own nest, went to work afresh with extreme industry and ingenuity, and soon barricaded their doors. The Wren returned, but could not now re-enter. She made attempts to storm the nest, but did not succeed. The Martins abstaining from food nearly two days, persevered during the whole of that time in defend
ing the entrance; and the Wren, finding she could not force the works, raised the siege, quitted her intentions, and left the Martins in quiet possession of their dwelling.
THE SAND YARTIX.
In the banks of rivers, and in the perpendicular sides of sandpits, these birds dig round and regular holes, about two feet in depth, which run horizon. tally, and in a somewhat serpentine direction. At the further end of these burrows, the birds construct their rude nest of grass and feathers.
Though one would at first be disinclined to believe (says Mr. White) that this weak bird, with her soft tender bill and claws, should ever be able to bore the stubborn sand-bank with. out entirely disabling herself; yet with these feeble instruments have I seen a pair of them make great dispatch; and could remark how much they had scooped in a day, by the fresh sand which ran down the bank, and which was of a different color from what lay loose and had been bleached in the sun. In what space of time the little artists are able to mine and finish these cavities, I have never been able to discover; but it would be a matter worthy of observation, where it falls in the way of any naturalist to make such remarks. This I have often taken notice of, that several holes of different depths are left unfinished at the end of the summer. To imagine that these beginnings were intentionally made, in order to be in the greater forwardness for the ensuing spring, is allowing perbaps too much foresight to a simple bird. May not the cause of their being left unfinished, arise from the birds meeting, in those places, with strata too harsh, hard, and solid, for their purpose; which they relinquish, and go to a fresh spot, where they can work more freely ? Or may they not iu other places fall in with a soil as much too loose and mouldering, liable to founder, and threatening to overwhelm them and their labors? One thing is remarkable; that, after some years, the old holes are forsaken, and new ones are bored ; perhaps because the former habitations were become foul and fetid from long use, cause they so abounded with fleas as to become untenable." Sand Martins are so strangely annoyed with fleas, that these vermin bave been sometimes seen swarming at the mouths of their holes, like bees on the stools of their hives.
The Sand Martin appears in this country about the same time as the Swallow, and lays from four to six white and semi-transparent egys. These birds seem not to be of very sociable disposition: with us they never congregate in the autumn. They have a peculiar man: ner of flying: they flirt about with odd jerks and vacillations, not unlike the motions of a Butterfly.