21 AUGUST 1936, Page 17


A Lazy Cuckoo An ancient doggerel says of the cuckoo, " In August go he must." The trouble is that he can't. For instance, in a Warwickshire garden (where three cuckoos were born this summer) still resides a young bird which makes the garden hideous with his loud and petulant cries for food. Two hedge- sparrows work desperately hard to answer his calls. The bird has now grown a long tail and broad wings and looks able to fly anywhere and at worst to seek his own foil, but he has got into dependent ways and shows no sign as yet of launching forth on such a long hungry journey as the English- born storks have just begun. It is alleged that the young cuckoos migrate before their parents, but I fancy the evidence is a little slender. The instinct to migrate is very strong in the species and very precise. It is singularly punctual in arrival and as a rule in departure, and it follows a very definite line, again like the stork. The migratory experiment with the storks hatched in southern England has begun well. The birds were watched as far as the south coast and the hope is that the rings on their legs will presently announce their destination and prove the strong conjecture that instinct drives them to particular places by particular routes. Young birds know as accurately as old birds where to go to. It is difficult to imagine such a sense for a distant bourne in the clumsy, squawking, greedy youngster sitting still to receive the morsels that his tiny foster-parents shovel into his orange mouth.


Marking Migrants An attempt has been made to follow migrant flocks of birds with ael )planes, but the task is exceedingly compli- cated. It woua be easier if birds flew a little more quickly. We used to think them quick and, incidentally, we made exaggerated estimates of their speed. We now think them almost sluggish. Forty miles an hour is probably above the mark for the majority of migrants, though it is not un- likely that the higher-flying migrants, such as swifts, vastly exceed this rate. On the whole there is a preference for night-flying, as the observers on our light-houses know only- too well. The autumn migration is harder to watch than the spring, for it is more casual and dilatory in most species, though probe.14 both cuckoo and stork are exceptions. It might be possible to mark birds by other agencies than the ring on the leg. Our most modern observer of bees marks each insect with coloured cellulose and the spots are at once perceptible. Could a dye be used for birds ?

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A Late Brood

A group of amateur cricketers, mostly children, had been playing for an hour or so when they put up a partridge which had been sitting within a few yards of the place where they had gathered for the game. Will she rear her brood ? My experience with chickens hatched as late as August by a vagrant hen is that the young never grow to the size of their parents, though they are healthy enough. Some birds—the corn bunting, at any rate—habitually produce young in August, and presumably the chicks grow to full size. The nature of the available food probably matters most. With partridges those who rear the birds for experimental purposes in captivity find that ant grubs and so-called eggs are essential. Though the grown partridge can flourish in later months on grain and on salad, the younger need animal food, and it may become at this date difficult to acquire by those birds who are not well adapted for fly-catching or plumbing for worms and grubs. * * The Most Parental Bird

In what a number of ways the partridge shows itself to be a supreme lover of offspring ! It is worth while adding up the evidence. Both birds have been seen to fight a bird of prey till they were-nearly featherless and utterly exhausted. A scientist who removed each clutch as it was laid had no fewer than seventy odd chicks from one pair in one year. Both parents brood the eggs, sometimes sitting side by side on the clutch. Both feed and tend the young. The birds pair several months before the eggs are laid. The parents are peculiar among birds (with two or three excep-

tions) in keeping up the family connexion throughout the winter. Even latish in the year one parent leads the flock and sometimes the other guards the rear. The family sleep together at very close quarters : and great is the distress if all the survivors are not collected.

A Honeyed Coincidence

Surprising coincidences occur. I asked last week whether heather honey was generally understood to be ling honey. Be- fore that paragraph appeared in print, a little pamphlet, republished from the September number of the Ike World, was sent to me on the subject of this honey. It is worth notice that it is called heather honey in the title and ling honey in the body of the article. To leave the name for the reality, this sort of honey has qualities that are entirely its own. It is a species rather than a variety. It seems that there is a certain quality of viscosity in it that entraps more air and water than are found in any other sort ; and they give the fluid " a certain liveliness both of colour and con- sistency. Most honey presently loses its golden tint and its fluid state, and becomes a thick opaque substance rather like the old wet brown sugar. Many people prefer it in this state ; but, however this may be, ling honey does not suffer such a change. It remains the golden nectar that it was and is not converted into ambrosia.

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Ingredients of Honey

The scientific historian of honey has much that is of interest to consumers as well as to bee-keepers. The art of spinning the honey out of the comb, and so of retaining the product of more than half the bees' work, dates only from 1865, and was the discovery (and invention) of a Venetian bee-keeper. One of the few honeys that will not respond to the treatment is ling honey, which may contain 8 per cent. or so of non- saccharine solids of a curiously colloidal quality. In general, honey, which is usually held to be a much more wholesome diet than other sugars, contains about 80 per cent. of various sugars, dissolved in water containing traces of gums, dextrins, enzymes and other substances. The particular investigations made by Mr. Pryce Jones, and described in his pamphlet, have scientific objects of a more far-reaching character. and are perhaps of peculiar interest to scientific botanists. It may gratify those Scottish bee-keepers who transport their hives from one side of a loch to another to save their bees the long journey to know that their ling honey has other peculiar qualities than its colour and flavour, though these are the essential causes of its popularity.

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A Debt to the Post

Studies such as this by Mr. Pryce Jones arc rendered much more easy and effective by modern ease of communication. The Post Office ought to take a great deal of credit to itself for much scientific advance. An old family lawyer, living in the smallest of all county capitals. and abiding there very faithfully, drew a picture of every single British wild flower. He told me (somewhile before the Cambridge University Press published his drawings) that only the penny post (when will it return ?) enabled him to do the work. Plants reached him from every corner of Britain from a thousand corre- spondents. He could always find a willing botanist in any parish you please. So Mr. Pryce Jones. Honey has reached him from anywhere or everywhere where a particular flower prevails and a certain purity in the source can be assured. I wonder if he has ever analysed blackberry honey collected at the end of a dry summer ? It is the queerest honey that ever I saw or tasted.

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A Sunny Recovery

• It seldom happens that a change of weather makes quite so complete an improvement in any crop as late sunshine has made in the grain. The harvest, about which utterly gloomy views have been published, bids fair to be an average crop, and much oats has been cut in good condition, and the wheats and barleys are ripening much more evenly than was thought possible. Some fields are laid so flat that reaping is difficult and therefore costly, but the malady is not general. Hops