OUR SUMMER MIGRANTS.*
FEw of the enjoyments of life are less according to knowledge than the pleasure we take in the song of birds, yet there is scarcely one which even a little knowledge would do more to heighten. This will perhaps be disputed ; if, it may be said, we find delight in listening to their " thousand blended notes," what does it matter whether we can distinguish one from the other or not? In some moods of mind, perhaps, little ; when, for instance, we are feeding our minds with Wordsworth, "in a wise passive- ness," or when our own thoughts are too engrossing to leave room for more than a vague sense of pleasure in the music that floods the air around. The mind, however, is not always, perhaps but seldom, either purely passive or deeply self-involved ; it is more often disposed to a lively interest in outward things, and to feed itself in a not unwise activity, at such times, it can find no pleasanter or more wholesome occupation than in noticing the different voices that go to make up the general harmony, and in tracing them to their source.
It is surprising how many people of cultivated minds and with no deficency of musical ear or taste can scarcely tell one bird's note from another. To mistake an air of Mozart for a lied by Meudelssohn would show a sad want of ear. Yet they are puzzled to decipher the simplest phrases of bird-music, and own with serene indifference that they do not know if it is a blackbird or a thrush which is " straining his tuneful throat" from some neighbouring tree. This ignorance, moreover, is quite as frequent in those who live habitually in the country as in town-dwellers, whose opportunities are so much more limited. If the multipli- cation of manuals and helps of every description could take the place of the observing eye and ear, quickened by an intelligent in- terest, this state of things would be promptly remedied, and we must think the demand for such works as this really beautiful, though far from showy volume, iu which Mr. Harting has brought together some contributions to the Field (of which a reprint was called for), with much new matter touching the distribution throughout these islands of our summer visitors (for to these only he confines his attention), their times of appearance, range of travel, and modes of life, a hopeful sign for the future. For immediate practical purposes it has appeared a month or so late, since the woods and fields are silent now, and the earlier migrating birds (such as the cuckoo) are already on their way to the South ; but spring will come again, the birds will return in unchanged order, and "wake the world anew" with their voices. Mean- while, we may make acquaintance here with their haunts and habits, and with their looks also, so far as can be done by a study, not of nature, indeed, but of Bewick's admirable likenesses. The reproduction of these as illustrations to his volume does, as Mr. Harting suggests, " add considerably to its attractiveness."
A writer upon the natural history of Australia, speaking of ornithology, says :-
"The greatest charm attendant upon this study is that there is no monotony in its pursuit, no void or blank in the ornithologist's year. His time is constantly occupied; as soon as one class of birds leaves another arrives, and these migrations are without doubt the most won- derful of the many wonderful phenomena of nature. Instinct here stands forth clear and unguided, and the actions of the birds themselves arise from causes over which they can have no control. So beautifully and with such precision are they arranged, that we can time the arrival and departure of our regular summer and winter migrants almost to a day, and each particular class is the harbinger of a particular season."
Of birds it may be said with even more truth than of men that they change their sky, not their nature, when they cross the sea. Mr. Harting is well known as a defender of birds, small and great, from the careless brutality or ignorant hostility of man. Ile lets no occasion slip of setting in a clearer light their great services to agriculture, and to those fruit-gardens where they are most ruthlessly destroyed. Even the fruit-feeders, such as the whitethroat, which leads its fledged young to feast on our currants and raspberries, has earned his share by the unnumbered cater- pillars from those same bushes with which he has crammed the throats of his unfledged brood. The blackcap and other garden warblers are very partial to fruit of all kinds, but at the same time, they destroy vast numbers of caterpillars, spiders, and aphides. " Much against my inclination, I have shot a few garden
• Our Summer Migrants: an Account of Migratory Birds which Pass the Summer in the British Islands. By J. E. Harting, F.L.B., 5GB. London: Bickers and Son.
warblers in the spring, soon after their arrival, for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of their food, and can affirm from personal inspection that they destroy quantities of insects which are destruc- tive to foliage." He also enters a protest against the haste with which every man who sees a rare bird rushes to fetch his gun ; many kinds, rare now, would become regular visitants, if they were not destroyed before their young are hatched. Mr. Bankes Tom- line, of Dumpton Park, in.the Isle of Thanet, was rewarded for his humane interference in their behalf by seeing a brood of golden orioles flitting among his trees. " Let us hope," with Mr. Harting, " that they contrived to escape the eyes of prowling gunners beyond the park, and that they will return again in succeeding years to gladden the eyes and ears of their kind protector."
One of the most curious chapters in this book, as in the history of bird-nature itself, is that upon the cuckoo ; and there is a horrible picture, drawn by a lady from the life, engraved in the introduction to Gould's octavo edition of the Birds of Great Britain, and with his permission reproduced here,'which makes one wish that the "blythe new-comer" were, indeed, but "a wandering voice," so ugly does he look, in all the hideous naked- ness of his inward and outward deformity, as he hoists the young tit-lark over the edge of the nest—to whose shelter he has the better right—and feels round with featherless wings (just like the arms of devils in some mediaeval drawing) if the way is clear for a destructive fall on the outside.
The hybernation or non-hybernation of the corncrake is a pleasanter subject of inquiry. In Ireland, it seems, corncrakes are frequently met with in winter, and turned out of dry ditches and holes in the earth; and Mr. Blake Knox maintains the probability of their remaining through the winter in a sleepy, inactive state, lying by in cold weather and wakening up on mild days. " In support of hybernation," he says, " we have the great amount of fat coming on in winter, which all hybernating animals attain ; the number of healthy and uninjured birds found in Ireland during the winter, their peculiar, skulking habits at this season, the old hollow ditches they frequent, their peculiar apathy and disinclination to fly, and their early appearance without craking (I have seen them in the middle of March), along the sedges of rivers, which would be the first places they would make for after their winter's rest."
The theory of hybernation finds little favour in Mr. Harting's eyes ; that great numbers of these birds contrive to exist through the winter in Ireland is, however, an undisputed fact. We could find much more material for comment and discussion in the wide theme to whose illustration Our Summer Migrants brings a welcome and valuable contribution, but we must close with the hope that the perusal of Mr. Harting's account of our feathered visitors may give as much pleasure to others as it has given to ourselves.