1 JANUARY 1898, Page 21


THE midnight passages of great flocks of birds over large cities which from time to time have attracted the attention of naturalists usually leave no trace of the visits of the fowl, which vanish as soon as the dawn appears. Though the calls of the birds and the sound of their wings may indicate that vast numbers and various species, such as herons, gulls, plovers, crows, terns, clacks, geese, and small birds, have hovered for hours over cities, as has been noted both at Norwich and Leicester on a "migration night," with the dawn of day the spell is broken, and the flocks resume their journey without leaving a single bird behind. The Manchester papers record a curious mishap which befell some large bird recently, probably while making one of these midnight flights. The Manchester Exchange, the highest building in the city, is surmounted by a spiked ball; and on one of the spikes of this finial, at a height of nearly 390 ft., a bird, said by some to be an eagle, and identified by others as a heron, was seen to be firmly impaled. An enterprising owner of a big telescope has fixed it up to oblige those of his customers who desire to ascertain what species of fowl met with this curious death, one which is, we believe, unparalleled in the animal "chapter of accidents."

If the "bills of mortality" in the animal world could be made out with precision, and the causes ascertained, accidents would, we think, account for a much smaller number of deaths than might be expected, or indeed desired, if the accidents were immediately fatal; for such sadden death would save them from that grim spectre of lingering starva- tion which lurks in the background of the life of most of the higher animals. But accidental death, or death hastened by injuries due to accidents, is not very common among wild animals, while domesticated species, though much more liable to injure themselves, have the enormous privilege of "first aid to the wounded" accorded them by man.

Birds are naturally the least liable to accidents of any living creatures. This immunity they owe almost entirely to the fact that the air in which most of their movements take place is absolutely free from obstacles to flight at a height of 400 ft. above the ground. The only objects against which collision is possible are other birds ; and this possibility is reduced to a minimum because they are not limited to any one plane, or even to one deep "layer," of the air for flight. Compared with the case of the terrestrial animals, all moving an the single level of the land surface, just as ships move on the one plane of the sea surface, the birds ought not to be liable to collision at all; and it is their theoretical freedom from this danger which makes the high rate of bird-speed possible, a speed denied to other animals, if for no other reason, be- muse, moving as they do on a single plane, they would be as liable to disabling collision as antocars running at express speed on Southsea Common. The sole risk of collision is when flocks are travelling together. As the direction is then usually the same, and the birds take most careful pre- cautions to avoid danger by maintaining regular distance, an even speed, and often a kind of military order, such mishaps are rare. They chiefly occur when birds which "get up steam" at once are rising from the ground. Partridges and grouse are most commonly liable to this accident, and in- stances are recorded every season ; but even small birds are oecaaionally "in collision," the most unusual instance recently noted being that of a pair of greenfinches, one of which flew

against the other and broke a wing. The windows of light- houses, and telegraph-wires, though causing very numerous accidents to birds, should properly be regarded as unintended traps. They are as much "fixed engines" for bird-killing as nets or snares, for the creatures are dazzled by the former, and at night are quite unable to see the latter. The only other accident common to birds is confined to some species of water-fowl, especially moorhens and dabchicks. These are commonly killed by ice, both by diving under it when newly formed and rising to the surface where clear ice covers it, or by being frozen in by their feet. This, which sounds im- probable, is a very common mishap, especially to moorhens, whose large feet are with difficulty withdrawn when pinched by the ice, Among wild quadrupeds, only the ruminants with large horns and long limbs seem commonly liable to accidents. Cases of stags dying with interlocked antlers are recorded from time to time, and Buckland gives an account of a curious accident which befell a big stag in Windsor Forest. The poor beast had been standing on its hind-legs to nibble leaves from a thorn-tree, and caught its hoof in a fork in the trunk. This threw it on its back, and broke the bone. Though red-deer are in this country mainly found wild on mountainous ground, we much doubt if they are really a moun- tain species, or specially clever on rocky ground. Mr. J. G. Millais mentions one pass where the bones of deer that have missed their footing and fallen down the crags may frequently be seen. Broken limbs are very CJIIIMOD., even among park stags, generally due to fights in the rutting time. This must usually lead to the death of deer in all districts where large carnivore are found ; but the astonishing way in which broken bones, or even worse injuries received by wild animals, cure themselves if the creature is let alone, shows that the most serious accidents need not lead to death, even if left to nature. The most striking of recent instances is the case of a doe antelope at Leonardslee, which smashed its hind-leg high up, and so badly that the bone protruded. It would have been shot, but it was observed to be feeding. as if not in pain. It survived the winter, and was seen to swing the injured leg forward to scratch its ear before the bone set. The fracture reduced itself, and the cut skin grew over the place, leaving a scar. Later, though lame, it was perfectly well, and reared a young one. A tiger, recently killed in the hot weather, had a bullet-wound a week old which had smashed its shoulder. This wound, though a very bad one, was perfectly healthy, and there was evidence that since it was inflicted the tiger had eaten no flesh, but only drunk water. In the Waterloo Cap coursing in 1836 Miss Glendyne ' and "the runner- up" for the Cup were slipped at a hare which went wild and strong. When killed after a good course by the two crack greyhounds, it was found to have only three feet. This may be compared with the accounts of a collie-dog, recently quoted in the papers, which had one fore-foot and one hind-foot cut off by a reaping-machine, but which still manages to help with the flock. Dogs, which ought to be little liable to accidents, are very frequent sufferers, largely from their association with man and intense desire to participate in all his doings. One of their commonest mishaps arises from their love of riding in carts. They become quite clever at scrambling or jumping in, but are not " built" for jumping down on to a hard road. If the cart moves as they make their spring the danger is in- creased, and fore-legs broken, usually just below the shoulder, are very commonly seen. Dogs also have dangerous falls when on the ground, accidents usually ascribed only to bipeds and horses. A greyhound going at full speed will trip, fly head over heels, and break a leg, or even its neck. Master Magrath ' in 1870 went through the rotten ice of the river Alt, from which Altcar takes its name, while following the hare, and nearly died from the effects. Bat the strangest mishap which the writer has ever seen fall to the lot of a dog was the case of a setter which " tripped " over a sitting hare. The dog, a large, heavy animal, was ranging at high speed in a field of thinly planted mangold. As it passed between the rows, its hind-feet struck some- thing, and it nearly turned a somersault. The object was a squatting hare, which, as the dog flew over in one direction, quietly scuttled off in the other. It is difficult to find a reason for the liability even of '• heather sheep," as well as of the more domestic varieties, to death by falls over

cliffs, and even by being thrown and unable to rise. They seem to have lost more of their inherited capacity for mountaineering than could be expected from the slight structural changes made in the wild sheep's domestication. We do not recollect a single recorded instance of accident from falls in the case of the wild varieties of sheep, though the domestic breeds seem to have been liable to these and other accidents from the days of the "ram caught by the horns" on the mountain in the land of Moriah.