18 OCTOBER 1946, Page 13


A NATURALIST of no little fame went out one day this summer to look at a nest of the short-eared owl in some rough ground near his house. He found the nest empty of eggs and the cock bird lying on the ground. He picked it up and saw that it had suffered a compound fracture of the wing. After some meditation he put the bird down and left it where it was. In a mood of both pity and curiosity he paid the patient daily visits and discovered that the hen bird was feeding it assiduously, with rats, voles and especially mice. oPradually the cock's strength returned. He began to shift his place a little from day to night and to look altogether more cheerful. At last, after some weeks, it rose on the wing and flew awkwardly but efficiently away. Nature had effected-some sort of rough cum. Now it is common for the cock to feed the hen. Did not Major Buxton watch a cock of this very species bring six voles in quick succession to its sitting mate, who received the first five but rejected the sixth, which he most gladly devoured. For the hen to feed the cock is a new experi- ence ; and the whole incident (in spite of our too scientific observers) is proof enough that birds (as most mammals) possess feelings singularly near akin to human feelings. They are affectionate to the point of self- sacrifice. A number of the larger birds are also faithful and sometimes, is seems, refuse to mate again if the mate is killed.